Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flashback: The Instant Pitch

A rerun from 2007...

Screenwriters have to be able to think on their feet. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, or where an idea night be hiding, or when a chance to sell a script might pop up. A novelist has the luxury of time, a screenwriter has to come up with the solution to a story problem in a meeting with the producer right after he points out the problem. One of the things I've learned is that the longer a problem goes without the writer solving it, the more likely someone else will jump in with a solution that just doesn't work... but it's now your job to make it work...

After selling the script that got me to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of locking myself in a Van Nuys apartment for two years writing scripts and NOT networking until my money from the sale was almost gone. I thought that my sale to a company on the Paramount lot would result in my phone ringing off the hook from other producers - didn't happen. Though my sale was announced on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, the film was never made and the producer went back to TV... leaving me without even the connection that got me to town in the first place! Now I had a mound of scripts and didn't know anybody to sell them to. But I did know about the American Film Market - where independent films are sold to independent distributors. Though the AFM wasn't open to the public, I had connections with my hometown newspaper and managed to get a press pass into the event. I now had nine days to meet a producer and sell a script, or I would have to begin looking for a day job.

Though I have nothing against day jobs, and there's no reason to be embarrassed if you're paying the bills while waiting for your screen writing career to kick in, I'd rather sell a script than do heavy manual labor. So I was REALLY motivated.

I passed out business cards and script synopsis to everyone who seemed likely to buy a script from me. I met a director who was cranking out films for Roger Corman and had a new horror movie premiering at the end of the market, did I want to see it? Sure! Though I didn't know anything about this director, I did know about Roger Corman. He's responsible for giving half of Hollywood their start. Francis Ford Coppola make DEMENTIA 13 for Corman, Jonathan Demme's first film was for Corman, Scorsese made a film for Corman, Ron Howard directed car crash films for Corman, John Millius wrote some biker films for Corman, Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in a bunch of Corman films, and one of my screen writing idols, John Sayles, began his screen writing career with a string of great scripts for Roger Corman films. Corman gives raw talent a way to break into the business - like a film internship. The only drawback - he doesn't pay much (but it's better than working at Kinkos copies or McDonalds). This director had a particularly colorful Corman story - he'd began as a janitor at the company and worked his way up to director. I wondered what kind of movie a janitor might make.

After making some more good connections - even passing out some scripts - the end of the week rolled around, and the screening of the janitor-director's film. I bumped into the director and I got to tell him about my scripts on the way to the screening. He asked to read one - but told me most of the films he did for Corman were shot on existing sets. He was sort of the B Team - after the A Team had finished a film, he would shoot on their sets. Interesting.

We get into the theater and I see what kind of film a janitor makes... It had a funny script that poked fun at the horror genre, but the direction was crude.

Afterwards the director asked what I'd thought... more thinking on my feet! I told him I thought it was funny and mentioned a couple of the places where the direction was okay. I lied a little.

A couple of months later I got a call from the director. The A Team would wrap shooting a film tonight, could I show up at 6am, tour the set, then pitch him the best story I could come up with using that set at 7am? Sure! Why so early? Well, there was still a day left on the construction crew's contract, and if the set couldn't be reused they'd have them use that day to tear it down. Corman loved to save money by getting every last minute of labor out of his crew. I told him I'd tour the set at 6am and see him at 7am.

I'm not a morning guy. The last time I saw 6am was when I stayed up all night. The big challenge was going to be waking up and staying awake.

The next morning I drive out to "The Lumberyard", Roger Corman's studio in Venice. Venice is a beach community with a row of trendy shops and restaurants... and a really ugly industrial section where the city's bus repair yard and a couple of junk yards compete with overgrown vacant lots of "City's Greatest Eyesore" prize. The Lumberyard is a couple of old warehouse-style buildings surrounded by mounds of old sets and props. Parts of plywood rocket ships and sections of fake castle walls and parts from a plastic mini-sub mock-up. It looked like the junkyard at the end of time. I parked in the lot and the head of the construction crew opened the door for me and pointed out the sets: about five rooms.

You've probably never seen a set in natural light. They look fake. I once toured the STAR TREK set on the Paramount lot, and it looks like it's made out of plywood and Styrofoam (it is). When we shot GRID RUNNERS, the cloning lab was the old operating theater at a run-down mental institution. The construction guys painted only the places that would show on camera, and did a slap-dash job. It looked like an abandoned building... but from the right angle with the right lighting looked like a high tech cloning lab. All of the things that looked fake in real life looked real on film.

The set at The Lumberyard was no different. It was a futuristic night club, a spaceship interior, and a high tech office complex of some sort. Most of it was made out of Styrofoam hot dog and hamburger containers - like the kind your Big Mac used to come in. Sheets of these Styrofoam containers covered plywood walls, adding texture. They were painted a metal gray color, and didn't look like hamburger containers at all.

But the Big Mac container walls reminded me of what I'd be doing if I didn't land this job. As I toured the set, drinking coffee and brainstorming, I came up with a fantastic idea. Each section of the set added to that idea. Hey - I had a great lead character, a high concept conflict, some big emotional scenes, and a way to make use that nightclub set for a couple of pivotal action-packed scenes. By 7am, I was fully caffeinated and ready to pitch my great idea to the director.

The director breezed in at 7:05 and I sat him down and pitched him my brilliant idea. The coffee was really kicking in by then, and I gave one of the most passionate pitches of my career. I explained the lead character's emotional conflict, and how he was forced to deal with it when this amazing event happens that thrust the entire world into danger. I told him about the fantastic action scenes that would take place in the night club set, and this chase I'd come up with for this long hallway, and a big romantic scene with the leading lady where the hero professes his undying love for him, then she breaks his heart by betraying him in a major plot twist. I could see him imagining every scene and knew I had him.

After I was finished he sat there for a while, thinking about the pitch. Thinking about the characters. Imagining the scenes. Imagining himself directing the scenes. He nodded a few times, thinking it over. Then he turned to the lurking construction guy, smiled, and said: Strike it!

The crew began tearing down the set.

By the time I left, it was half torn down!

A couple of days later I got a call from another producer I'd met - he wanted to buy my TREACHEROUS script. I wouldn't have to work at McDonald's after all!

- Bill


TUESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Chasing Movie Trends... a *brand new^ 2k+ script tip using BEOWULF and 300 as examples.
WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Edge Defines Substance... a 2k+ rewrite of a tip that hasn't run since 2000... using DELIVERANCE as prime example.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chinese food at Three Brothers in Pleasant Hill, CA.

Movies: AMERICAN GANGSTER. I thought it was dull. I know, it's Steve Zaillian, so I should love it... but I didn't. People have asked me about the structure - the idea of cop and crook stories that come together at the end. That's been done a million times, the best of them is HEAT. In HEAT the cop (Al Pacino) and the crook (Robert DeNiro) really only have one scene together... and it's one hell of a scene. Compare that scene to the Denzel/Crowe scene in GANGSTER.

If you look at HEAT, there are three stories:

1) The cop chasing the crook. From early on Pacino is chasing the wrecking crew guys, trying to get a bead on them, following them, spying on them... interacting with them in some way. In GANGSTER Crowe is after drug dealers, and targeting Blue Magic... but we mostly see the big board and not much actual invesigation on his part. Eventually we have the undercover buy... that takes us to the dirty cops rather than Denzel. So it's really a dead end. Not much actual pusuit or police work in GANGSTER.

2) The crook's life. Here's where HEAT totally kicks ass over GANGSTER. Early on, DeNiro gives his big rule for surviving as an armed robber - "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." This rule makes him a man alone (who claims he's not lonely, but who does he think he's fooling?). Right after he reveals this rule he meets a woman in a book store and begins a relationship. This creates a great conflict - we want DeNiro to find love and have a relationship... but we know this violates his big rule (and that rule is there for a reason). So we are torn. Should he keep her? Dump her? And as the police close in - the *relationship* is in jeopardy. The crook's life story is directly tied tothe cop & crook story!

In GANGSTER they attempt to contrast Denzel as the family man with Crowe as the guy losing his family in a divorce... but there is no *conflict* in either story. Denzel just rises to power and brings his family along. Sure, there's a quick scene with a brother who screws up, but there is no drama *built in* to his story. He just rises to power.

If you just compare the Denzel part of the story to a movie like SCARFACE (either version) it's also the lesser film. In SCARFACE with have Tony coming to America with nothing and struggling to work his way to the top. Denzel *starts out* as Bumpy's right hand man - the #2 guy - and after Bumpy is killed becomes the #1 guy. Now, he's more intelligent than Bumpy and manages to build his empire... but it's a pre-existing empire. Not as dramatic as starting with nothing. Hey, I'm not even going to mention the wife/sister emotional conflicts in SCARFACE. So, even if we just look at the gangster side of the story, GANGSTER is lacking the drama and emotional conflicts that other gangster movies have.

Okay, and now let's compare the *crimes* these crooks are involved in. Denzel is basically on the phone making deals, or in Thailand making deals. Neither is exciting. The most excitment we get in Denzel's story is when he blows away a rival during lunch. DeNiro is involved in *armed robbery* and we not only get that great set piece robbery and shoot out, we get all kinds of action along the way. Shoot outs. Suspense. Chases. Now, Denzel's story could have focused on the action side of his business (a previous version of this story, Larry Cohen's BLACK CEASAR*, focused on the war between the black crime lord and the Mafia), but it focused on the businessman side. You may say, "Hey - that's the story!" but watching a guy make phone calls is boring. Not the best choice for a story.

3) The cop's life. In HEAT Pacino is having the same kind of relationship issues as Crowe in GANGSTER... but those problems are tied to the cop chases crook story. Every time Pacino needs to spend time with his wife or daughter, the case comes up and he has to dump them (creating big dramatic conflicts). Compare this to Crowe, who gets a bunch of fairly dull scenes in court getting a divorce and then *not* fighting for joint custody of his daughter. Crowe doesn't even try to keep his relationship going - which makes his life non-dramatic.

Now, you may say: "Hey - based on a true story. What choice did they have?" Well, no story on film is really true - everything gets dramatized... and the other folks who were involved seem to think Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts exaggerated everything and made them the stars... when there were two other major black crime lords in New York at the time (one doesn't even get mentioned in the film - and that is the guy who, up until this film, was seen as the #1 black crime lord of all time). If they fudged some major things in the story, why not fudge some minor ones and make it more dramatic? Instead of starting out with Richie's marriage on the rocks, why not show it disintegrating (more dramatic) throughout the film?

AMERICAN GANGSTER is an epic style film with two great actors and it looks good and tells a story... but comes off like a dull documentary. Not a bad movie, just kind of a ho-hum one.

Movies: 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. A great idea... blandly executed. Lots of action, but it comes off kind of ho-hum. Two reasons for this:

1) No theme. There's a point in this film where Josh Hartnett says they can defeat the vampires because they know the town and they know the cold. Except that never plays out in the movie at all. There's another point where they talk about how the town is filled with non-conformists like Mark Boone Junior's character... but that really doesn't mean anything either. Maybe it's because there were 3 screenwriters - and they all may have been working against each other as far as theme was concerned. But the film comes off as being a nice collection of human vs. vampire action scenes that don't really add up to anything. By the end of the film, you feel vaguely unsatisfied, and may not be able to put your finger on what was wrong. Well, the film wasn't about anything. It didn't contrast one set of values with another.

2) No plan. There's a Terry Rossio article that I haven't read in probably a decade about "magnificent failure". CE who used to be on the Done Deal boards used to call this the "hopes & fears" in a story. Here's my version - your characters need to have a plan, and we need to know what that plan is and really hope that they succeed (and survive the vampires)... and then, as they struggle to make that plan work, things go wrong... and we fear that they will be killed by the vampires. That's what makes a film exciting - the plan that can save them, and how it goes wrong bit-by-bit. Remove the plan, and you have people just doing stuff. Nothing to hope for. And we can't fear the plan will go wrong, if there isn't one.

30 DAYS has characters who kind of make up their plan as they go along. In the beginning, they come up with this idea to go to the power plant place with the grinder that seems to exist only so that they can eventually throw a vampire into it... but they decide that's too far. So they go to a local house attic to hide out. And no one discovers them. They say at one point that vampires are searching the houses, but they don't search the house they're in until after other events have happend to bring them there.

Now, eventually they do decide to go to that power plant place - but that's the end of the movie. The small plans they come up with along the way are so vague we can't tell if the plans worked or not. They need to go to the storee to get some "supplies" - but what those suppies are and the gathering of the supplies is just a bland scene. We don't know exactly what they need, nor how things will go really really wrong if they fail - no stakes for that scene. It ends up more of a change of scenery than a scene. Getting there doesn't even have a failure factor or much of a plan. The way scenes like this work - it is important for one character to survive, and important to retrieve one specific item that will save their lives. The guy who can make that specific item work is the guy who must survive. Now, we have two chances for the plan to fail... and two things for us to worry about in the scene. We get one thing, but not the other. That allows the plan to succeed and fail at the same time. That creates a new conflict which requires a new plan and has a new chance for us to hope and fear that they will fail.

And by the time we get to the end of 30 DAYS, I think all logic goes out the window.

DVDs: *Resaw Larry Cohen's $300k version of AMERICAN GANGSTER called BLACK CEASAR. Crude, shot without permits on the streets of New York - often with hidden cameras and real people as extras, but juicy as hell. The rise of a poor shoe-shine boy who earns spare change working for gangsters to the most powerful gangster in New York - a Black man who is more powerful than the Mafia... yet, seems powerless when faced with his mother and trophy wife. He buys his mother the home she works in as a maid - then kicks out the rich white folks who live there and throws their clothes out onto the street. He is dogged by a corrupt cop - the cop who crippled him as a kid - and eventually gets tired of paying endless bribes and blows up the cop's prized possession... and when that doesn't work, forces the corrupt cop to cover his face with the shoe polish from the gangster's childhood shoe shine kit then treats the corrupt cop to his own racism before killing him. And no shortage of Black gang vs. Mafia action. (BLACK CEASAR is actually the story of Frank Matthews - the guy who *really* ran the Black crime family in New York.) Kind of a down & dirty, cheap movie... that's more exciting than the big budget version. No one making this film thought they were going to win an Oscar - they just wanted people in the cinema to have a good time.

Pages: Wednesday's new Script Tip, some outline work on a spec project about a Blackwater-like group (that will use lots of the research I did on THE BASE - none of which ended up in the crappy movie with that title).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Lancelot Link: Novelties

Lancelot Link Monday! This week's links begin and end with Hitchcock, but in between are several links about the art of mystery and horror writing, with all kinds of tips from some of the top writers in the field... who are long dead! But their advice still works, right? Also a link to an article about self publishing novels, which tends to get a bit wonkish... but if you start with the bullet points you'll get most of the important information. So, maybe you you try writing a mystery novel? While you're considering that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Hotel Tranny 2.................. $47,500,000
2 Intern.......................... $18,225,000
3 Maze Runner: Larry Storch....... $14,000,000
4 Everest......................... $13,090,000
5 Black Mass...................... $11,510,000
6 Visit............................ $6,750,000
7 Perfect Guy...................... $4,750,000
8 War Room......................... $4,275,000
9 Green Inferno.................... $3,494,000
10 Sicario.......................... $1,770,000

2) MARNIE's Diane Baker On Hitchcock & Actors.

3) Interview With Nancy Meyers (THE INTERN) On Screenwritring.

2) Cinematographer Roger Deakins On Shooting SICARIO.

5) 2 Hour Interview With Robert Rodriguez On Indie Filmmaking.

6) Interview With Robert Zemeckis (THE WALK, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

7) The WARRIORS Come Out To Play Once More.

8) That Wacky Version Of ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU From The FX Crew's POV.

9) Should You Self Publish A Book?

10) 11 Tips From Horror Writers.

11) Raymond Chandler's (THE BIG SLEEP) Ten Rules For Writing A Novel.

12) S.S. Van Dine's (PHILO VANCE Novels, Lots Of Movies Based On Them) 20 Rules For Writing Detective Novels.

13) Hitchcock's YOUNG AND INNOCENT Novelist Josephine Tey - The Mystery Of The Writer.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From Hitchcock's final film.


Buy The DVDs

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lancelot Link: Tall Tales

Lancelot Link Monday! An eclectic mix of links from Tall Actresses to Towering Films to Big Deals in this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 MR: Scorch Trials............... $30,300,000
2 Black Mass...................... $23,360,000
3 Visit........................... $11,350,000
4 Perfect Guy...................... $9,640,000
5 Everest.......................... $7,560,000
6 War Room......................... $6,250,000
7 Christopher & James.............. $2,732,730
8 MI:RN............................ $2,250,000
9 Straight Outta................... $1,970,000
10 Grandma.......................... $1,595,820

After the #1 spot has been filled by STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and WAR ROOM and PERFECT GUY, shouldn't BLACK MASS have been #1? BLACK MASS opened with almost the exact same opening weekend box office as THE TOWN (another Boston set crime drama). Coincidence, or predictable for that specific sub sub subgenre?

2) Short Filmmakers Wanted! (I'm 6'4", so I can not apply.)

3) Gwendoline Christie Is As Tall As I Am, And Looks Great In Armor! Here She Talks About The New STAR WARS Movie.

4) Rumors Of STAR WARS Original Cut Coming To BluRay... And Maybe Cinemas.

5) Tommy Wiseau Celebrates As ROOM Wins Toronto Fest's People's Choice Award... is Oscar Next?

6) Nothing Better Than A Writer You Know Making A Big Deal! Congratulations Terrance Mulloy!

7) Keanu Says: I Know Car Fu...

8) GOODNIGHT MOMMY Interview: The Film Has To Still Work After You Know All Of The Twists.

9) Record Sale At Toronto Film Fest? HARDCORE... shot with a GoPro.

10) NETWORK's Act 2 Outline And More!

11) Wait? They're Still Making RESIDENT EVIL Movies?

12) Posters For My Favorite Movies (Originals, Not The Remakes)

13) Emmy Winners List!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Speaking of "Car Fu"... if you haven't seen Derek Kolstad's JOHN WICK, check it out!


Buy The DVDs




Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Portland Film Fest: Day 4

Insomnia. I am exhausted, but can not fall asleep. I finally falll asleep 4 hours before my alarm will go off. Alarms are always a problem for me. When I know one is going to go off in the morning I have trouble sleeping. The earlier it’s going to go off, the more trouble I have sleeping. Which is stupid.

4 Hours later: Wake up, get out of bed, run a comb across my head...

The good news is this class is at Stage 13, a couple of blocks from the hotel. I walk there, deciding to grab a coffee at Blue Star Donuts like yesterday... except today Blue Star has a freakin line snakes around its lobby and poking out the front door. No time for that! I back track to the liquor store across the street from my hotel where I buy a Doctor Pepper... then head to Stage 13.

Where I am the first one there. Cool. I drink enough of the Dr. Pepper to feel the caffeine melting the cobwebs in my head and flip through to my pages on Pacing & Structure. Once again noting that I have no pages for tomorrow’s class. Somehow, they ended up on my desk but not in the binder. Though I can wing any class, one of the things in the class description for tomorrow are 25 ways to land you work as a screenwriter, and I need to actually write those 25 things down so I’m not trying to remember them. Today I can’t remember anything (lack of sleep) and the notes get me through the class. Pacing and structure are those things screenwriters fight against, and I don’t know why. Most of what I know about pacing I learned initially from reading books on writing novels. Novelists have no trouble realizing pacing is part of their work. Screenwriters always want it to be some magical artistic experience that has nothing to do with that other side of their brains. Hey: use both sides of your brain for best results!

Anyway, I make it through the class, grab some lunch and write yesterday’s blog entries, and then head to the Mission Theater to see a movie made by a FB friend. This is always a bit dangerous, because the film might totally suck and then you are stuck saying something like “Well, the locations were great!” or “It was in focus!” or something else that gets you the hell out of there before you might accidentally blurt out that it was the worst film you have seen in your life.

Adding to this possibility: Made locally in Portland, made independently, and here’s the description from the program: “A failed sculptor is about to end it all until he finds a strange talking hole in the wall.”

Sculptor sets off “artistic alarms” even before we get to the talking hole in his wall part.

Oh boy.

And just to add to the building dread... As I am walking to the theater on a pleasant overcast day, the sky just opens up and pours BUCKETS of rain on everyone. People are racing for awnings and I see people run to outdoor table top *sun* umbrellas to try and stay dry. One guy sticks his head under the umbrella and lets the rest of him get drenched. Gotta protect the hair and mustache! This is Portland!

By the time I get to the Mission, I am soaked. The note cards in my pocket have had all of the great ideas I jotted down turn into grey ink stains. The good news is that I put a fresh bunch of cards in my pocket before flying to Portland, so not much is lost and I manage to figure out what some of those ink stains used to say. But that was later: at this point in time I’m soaked. I get to the theater and people are standing outside. Why?

Well, the previous movie is still playing and there is no lobby in this theater. I think it was originally a live music venue with a projector installed later. So we are all standing under the meager awning waiting for the audience from the last film to leave so that we can take their place inside where it is dry. When the doors finally open, an instant line grows at the women’s room for all of the hairdo emergencies.

When I take my seat in the cinema, I am not in a great mood. Now I have to watch some filmmaker’s artistic masturbation for 2 hours....


Was awesome.

The movie opens with our hero Hermann as a baby in his crip as his parents hang a mobile over him, and the voice over tells us this is when he knew he was going to be an artist and what his medium would be. Cut to Hermann as an adult approaching 30, living in his mother’s house, making mobile art... and his mother thinks it may be time for him to get a job and leave the nest. When Hermann complains that his art isn’t selling, his mother suggest he call his very successful Uncle for advice. His Uncle is some sort of sell out who has schlock art made in some third world country and makes millions. That isn’t the path Hermann wants to take.

But his mother is kicking him out, so he makes the call. His Uncle Felix tells him what he needs is an artist’s studio... and he happens to have one for rent for only $800 a month! This is the very studio Uncle Felix was living in before he made it big... and now he has purchased the building. Hermann checks his net financial worth and asks if he can rent it for 2 weeks....

The studio is in the building’s basement just past the garbage dumpsters. And the studio is a dump as well. Dirty walls, an old dorm fridge, a mattress on the floor. But for 2 weeks, it’s his. Hermann buys 14 of the cheapest frozen dinners available and *numbers them* from 1 to 14, giving us a great visual countdown to when his time is up. The film is filled with great touches like this!

Another great touch is a crooked painting on the wall. Every time Hermann tries to straighten it, it goes back to being crooked when he isn’t looking. This painting *belongs* crooked... and the dirty wall shows that it has always been crooked. The clean spot on the wall is crooked, too.

The most famous art gallery owner on the west coast, Devora Klein, is judging an art exhibition... and the winner gets a one man show in her gallery. Hermann creates a mobile titled “Blood, Sweat & Tears” which consists of bags those three items (he’s been selling his blood for money). As Hermann hangs his mobile, he notices his artistic rival as a blank canvas... did he forget to paint something? But the rival is a genius: he has a pen and anyone who bids on his painting gets to sign the canvas... so that the winning bid gets to gloat over the signature of all of the people he beat. Soon the canvas is filled with signatures... and no one has even noticed his mobile... until tragedy strikes and it gets stuck in a ceiling fan spraying *everyone* with blood, sweat, and tears. Devora signs the rival to a one man show and has Hermann arrested.

When Hermann gets home, he is a complete failure... and decides to kill himself.

Until he hears a voice coming from behind that crooked picture.

A woman’s voice... coming from a little hole in the wall.

At first the wall "passes him notes"... It offers him a deal: he will become a famous artist as long as he loves the hole in the wall. WTF? Obviously he has lost his mind. The wall provides him with a goopy alien egg like thing that he puts in his new mobile... and Devora *wants it*... and wants him... and she sells it for a fortune. Hermann has made a deal with the devil (well, a hole in the wall with a sexy voice) and continues down this path into madness and weirdness.

The film is *beautifully* shot and almost every scene match cuts to the next, giving it a great flow. The dialogue is funny and quirky and we totally step into Hermann’s life and go along with him on this journey into madness. The film reminded me of Polanski’s TENANT in how it takes absurd situations and makes them believable. As that hole in the wall demands more and more from Hermann (yes, it becomes sexual), we are brought along and wonder what we would do... would you kiss that dirty hole in the wall in order to continue creating popular art? Or go back to failure? This ended up being my favorite fiction film of the festival, and writer-director Michael Medaglia is someone to watch. He’s able to take this odd art house story and make it accessible to a mainstream audience. Beautifully made, incredibly well written. Dude knows how to make a movie. Oh, and the cast was great.

Stayed in the same cinema (probably raining outside) for the next film...


So, the only reason why I stayed to see this film was that I was afraid it was still raining and the closest other cinema was still a few blocks away in the rain. I had circled another movie, but that’s before it was raining.

I’m so glad I stayed.

This is the story of chess master Bobby Fisher playing against Russian champion Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War. A pair of government handlers played by Peter Sarsgaard (a priest who knew Fisher as a kid) and Michael Stuhlbarg (a CIA guy) think it would be great if prodigy Fisher (Tobey Maguire) *beat* the Russian World Champion Spassky (Liev Schreiber) and proved American intellectual superiority. Only problem: Fisher is insane and paranoid and impossible to control... so the two handlers have to play their own chess match with Fisher, trying to figure out how to be four moves ahead of his insanity.

Screenplay is by Steven Knight, who wrote DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES and wrote and directed LOCKE. One of my favorite screenwriters and he does a great job here. Direction is by Ed Zwick who, unfortunately, gives it a made for TV vibe at times instead of going all out when we’re experiencing Fisher’s insanity. I wish we had been brought into that insanity the way we were in DEEP DARK, but we remain detached. Zwick picks good projects but then does a workmanlike job directing them. Maybe he just believes he should stay out of the way of his actors... that worked in GLORY and COURAGE UNDER FIRE. But here it may have turned a potential great film into a really good one.

The reason why it’s really good: Tobey Maguire.

He’s a producer on this film, and I’ll bet he pushed to get this made so that he could play this role. It’s an Oscar calibre performance, and Maguire takes the character to the limits and way way past them. He’s so believable as being the mentally unstable genius that you forget the whole nice kid / SPIDER-MAN thing and fear this guy and fear for this guy. We have a whole generation of smart actors who can give great mainstream performances and then switch to something edgy as fuck like this and show that they aren’t just pretty boys. One type of film feeds the other. The edgy stuff brings intelligence to the mainstream work and the mainstream work brings an audience to films like this. I just wish the direction had been more like NIGHTCRAWLER and less mainstream... but what the heck. See it for Maguire.

The film probably played at Portland to get some publicity for its theatrical opening (Friday), but it was the kind of Hollywood film that can play at a film festival and fit right in with movies like DEEP DARK. Two films about disturbed geniuses.

After the movie there’s a block of short films running a couple of hours, but I decide to call it a night and walk back to the hotel and get some sleep before my morning class.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Lancelot Link: Color Blind?

Lancelot Link Monday! What do the past 6 weekends have in common? Here are the three movies that topped the box office: STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTOPN, THE WAR ROOM, and THE PERFECT GUY. All three have African American casts. The old theory was that only Black people saw movies with Black leads, unless that lead was Denzel Washington. But these three films have either unknowns in the leads or second tier actors like Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut. But all three have opened at #1 and then held onto that place (though this is the first weekend for PERFECT, it *did* beat M. Night Shyamalan's new movie which was heavily promoted). So here's the question: is the audience finally color blind? Do people not care about the skin color of the star and care more about the *story*? This is Michael Ealy's third movie in a row that has opened to $25 million or more domestic... doesn't that make him a star? He *does* have dreamy eyes. At what point does a studio cast someone like Ealy in a starring role, just because he's a good actor? When does Hollywood become color blind? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Perfect Guy..................... $26,700,000
2 Visit........................... $25,690,000
3 War Room......................... $7,400,000
4 Walk Woods....................... $4,620,099
5 MI: Rogue........................ $4,150,000
6 Straight Outta................... $4,090,000
7 No Escape........................ $2,879,000
8 Transporter...................... $2,700,000
9 90 Minutes....................... $2,160,911
10 Un Gallo......................... $1,900,000

2) RIP: Frank Gilroy Award Winning Screenwriter Whose Charles Bronson Movie FROM NOON 'TIL THREE Is A Personal Favorite.

3) Ridley Scott On THE MARTIAN and ALIEN.

4) The Lost Marx Brothers Movie?

5) Barefoot In Park City? Netflix Reunites Fonda & Redford.

6) Trailer For First Person Movie HARDCORE.

7) Lessons From David Fincher's GONE GIRL Commentary.

8) The Connection Between CHINATOWN And AMERICAN HUSTLE. (David O. Russell Interview)

9) Juliette Binoche Interview.

10) How Their Micro Budget Movie Ended Up In Best Buy & Walmart. Great lessons for DIY filmmakers.

11) Warriors, Come Out To Plaaaaay!

12) Creative Arts Emmy Winners (Full List).

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, not a car chase... but there is a car in the clip.


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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wesley Strick - True Believer

Will get back to Portland Film Fest Reports next week. Until then, this from almost 6 years ago...

Robert Downey jr is SHERLOCK HOLMES on screen right now, but years ago he co-starred in one of my favorite films you may have never heard of, TRUE BELIEVER. James Woods was the lead character, a larger than life lawyer who mostly defended drug dealers and almost never lost a case. Of course, he was an expert on legal technicalities. He gets a new law clerk (Downey) and a new case - an innocent kid accused of murder. Seems that it's more difficult to prove an innocent man is innocent than a guilty man.

I often use one of the lines from the movie to explain why that crap you see on screen is usually not the brilliance from the screenplay - their only witness is a paranoid mental patient who believes the telephone company killed JFK and says, "I suppose you don't know the phone company killed Kennedy because he was trying to b-break it up -- and they'll never let that happen. They control everything: what you say in the mouthpiece is never exactly what comes out the other end."

What you write in the script is never exactly what shows up on screen.

Here is an old interview with the great Wesley Strick on writing the screenplay for TRUE BELIEVER:

And, for a film you may never have heard of, it spun off into a TV show you also probably never heard of. Hits from the past, forgotten today.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Why Write Fight Scenes? - and the good MATRIX movie.
Yesterday's Dinner: Baja Fresh - Mahi Mahi tacos (grilled), black beans, rice.
Movies: 44 CHEST - review to come.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Evil Dr. Klan Hires Deadly Ninjas

In KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE the Evil Dr. Klan says, "We are building a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude. We forge our tradition in the spirit of our ancestors. You have our gratitude."

These are the audition tapes for the fighting force...

- Bill

Monday, September 07, 2015

Lancelot Link: Labor Day

Lancelot Link Monday! There is a low budget horror flick named after almost every holiday, and Eli Roth managed to even do a silly trailer in the movie GRINDHOUSE called THANKSGIVING DAY which has killer Pilgrims. But where is the LABOR DAY horror film?

Though Labor Day is the unofficial end of "Hollywood Summer" it is actually a day where we honor hard working people... and it's a Federal Holiday which *used to mean* that nobody worked on Labor Day, and Labor had a day off. They could take a break that lasted longer than 10 minutes. But now, Labor Day is all about Labor Day Sales, which means the day we set aside to honor those people who work hard... ends up being the day those people have to *work harder* because of those sales. This makes no sense! Federal Holidays used to mean *EVERYTHING IS CLOSED* and now it means *EVERYTHING IS OPEN LONGER HOURS*.

I would vote for a Presidential Candidate who said they would make sure the CEO of any company who had stores open on Labor Day would be arrested and jailed. It ain't Management Day, buddy! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 War Room................................... $9,350,000
2 Straight Outta ............................ $8,850,000
3 C. Walken & James Woods.......... $8,400,000
4 MI: Rogue Nation........................ $7,150,000
5 Transporter DeStathamed.......... $7,130,000
6 No Escape................................. $5,445,000
7 UNCLE..................................... $3,445,000
8 Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos....... $3,400,000
9 Sinister 2................................. $3,377,000
10 Inside Out................................ $3,146,000

That is one slow Labor Day Weekend! Last year was the slowest Labor Day Weekend in years... and it did better business than this year! GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was still selling tickets late in its run. Must be everyone working over the holiday so that they can't go to the movies.

2) Universal Pictures Makes Even More Money This Summer.

3) Aretha Franklin Has No Respect For Documentary, Halts Screening.


5) TERMINATOR GENISYS' Success Is Made In China.

6) Ask The Fake Agent Ari!

7) Randall Wallace on writing BRAVEHEART.

8) First Footage From Malick's KNIGHT OF CUPS... turns out it is *not* a sequel to TWO GIRLS ONE CUP as we all thought.

9) More DREDD?

10) REAR WINDOW set built in miniature.

11) May The Force Be With Your Eye Shadow?

12) Seeing Red?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

I was looking for a car chase scene with a woman giving birth, and couldn't find one! So no Labor Day Car Chase. Sorry!


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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Portland Day 3 (part 2)

The cinema lights go down and the movie begins...


On August 20, 1994 the circus came to Honolulu, Hawaii... which is unusual. Few circuses come to Hawaii because it involves a long ocean voyage with lions and tigers and elephants. So this was a big deal. But on that day, one of the elephants Tyke killed it’s trainer and crushed his assistant (who survived) and went on a rampage, knocking over families in the audience as it escaped the arena and then stampeded down the streets on Honolulu causing havok... until it was surrounded by the police and shot 37 times until it was dead.

This was a really well made documentary that not only used archival news footage of the incident, they went back and found *home movies* of people who were sitting in the audience and even uncovered unused news footage of Tyke arriving on the boat from a story on the circus coming to town. They interviewed survivors, the news field reporter covering the story, some families in the audience that day, and many others who were there when it happened (including the wildlife guy tasked with removing the body of the dead elephant using a crane and flatbed truck). But the documentary also looks back at Tyke’s life *before* the incident, and the two times before where Tyke had escaped during the performance and run away from the circus into some city’s streets. News footage of that (no one was injured so it was used as a somewhat humorous story). And interviewed Tyke’s trainer, who stopped using the elephant because it no longer wanted to perform (the trainer was a very sympathetic guy, he used what would be called “gentle training” with Tyke while previous trainers had used bullhooks). One of the fascinating things I learned is that circus animals are usually *leased* from a wild animal company by the circus... and “warehoused” between seasons.

The doc also did a great job of showing both sides: The owner of Walker Bros Circus was interviewed about the use of animals in circuses, and had some interesting reasons why these animals *should* be part of a circus. Also a “dirty tricks” guy for the circuses who disrupted animal rights demonstrations was interviewed at length, including his anti-PETA footage and some hearing footage showing him. These two guys gave the opposing viewpoint, but when you hear about how unhappy the elephant was and see it shot 37 times on the street, it’s hard not to think that maybe elephants and other animals shouldn’t be forced to do tricks for our amusement... that maybe they would rather be just having an everyday elephant life.

The trainer of Tyke who was interviewed talked about how elephants really don’t forget, they have feelings and emotions... and can hold a grudge. Trainers who use pain to train animals often find themselves with angry elephants waiting for a good time to inflict a little payback.

The news footage of Tyke being shot is horrific. And the people on the street are crying like crazy because this was a majestic animal. It was pushed to the brink and eventually rebelled... A senseless death.


Where TYKE was very professionally made, this film often looked like it was shot on a cheap consumer camcorder... but the story and “characters” were still compelling.

Three high school marching bands from the ghettos of New Orleans prep to march in the Mardi Gras Parade. When I say these kids are “at risk”, I mean that some get shot and die by gang and drug violence in the course of this film. These three different music teachers each take it upon themselves to take these kids who would end up gangbangers and drug dealers and instead get them focused on music. Their world is still dangerous, but they don’t become part of that danger. The film goes into their homes: and some of the camcorder looking stuff seemed to be kids taking a camera home to document their home life. Each of the three music teachers feels responsible for their kids, and in the words of one: he doesn’t want to be their father, he wants to be their uncle... the guy you can go to when you are in trouble who isn’t going to punish you, he’s going to help you.

One of my favorite bits from the film is when this cute little 10 year old kid plays the trumpet for one of the music teachers and the kid is *amazing*. The teacher says that kid plays better than his high school kids, so when he gets into the program he’ll be a star... and probably end up with a music career. If he lives that long.

Even the high school kids end up “cute” because we are taken into their lives and see how awkward many of them are when they aren’t wearing their tough street exterior. These kids don’t see any future for themselves, and these three music teachers give them something to do, some direction, some discipline and responsibility.

The title sequence consisted of these great illustrations of the marching bands and the crime on the streets, and we are introduced to the young artist who tried out for band but his talents lay elsewhere... so he became the unofficial chronicler of the three bands. They introduce each band with one of his illustrations... and then we never see the kid or his illustrations again, and I think that was a mistake. One of my problems watching the film is I often got confused by which band we were watching (though the teachers were easy to identify, the classes contained a bunch of students and it was often difficult to figure out who was who), I think using an illustration of a musician in the band’s signature color in the corner of the screen would have helped.

Also, the story was unfocused. I thought the big scene where they march in the parade was the end, but the film continues for a while after that with some stuck on subplots. Yes, those subplots were powerful story elements (one having to do with a student who gets killed) I think they could have reordered the scenes and made the story flow better. Yes, the student’s murder came *the following year* of school, but it would have been better to play a little with the time line so that we could have a more focused a coherent story. Still, powerfully emotional stuff.

- Bill

Portland - Day 3 (Part 1)

The alarm goes off, but I just want to go back to sleep. Can’t do that because I have a class followed by a panel. Both are at the same venue, Stage 13 on 13th street... and the hotel is on 11th street... and Stage 13 is *2* blocks away. Maybe I *can* go back to sleep for a few minutes? Bad idea. I get up, clean up, head to class... passing a coffee and donut place along the way so I grab a coffee. Show up early (which is okay) and the great guy who runs Stage 13 (blanking on his name) wants to know what I need in the way of lights and sound and everything else. He’s doing this one handed because he’s sprained his wrist. They have a huge green screen area, and I consider asking him to green screen me into Hawaii for the class, but just ask for a light on my notes (when the house lights dim my notes end up in darkness. He sets this up right away. I feel bad, he’s doing this with an injured wrist.

This class is on Creating Individuals... and it began as “supporting characters” but evolved in the back and forth with Josh about what subjects people might be interested in. So my notes are still all about the supporting characters class. I planned to wing it... but I didn’t plan on being tired. There’s always one day where lack of sleep catches up with you, this was that day.

I managed to get through the class, and later some of the students told me it was great... so I guess I did okay winging it. Didn’t seem that way as I was doing the class, I felt like I was stumbling around.

When the class was over, I didn’t go anywhere... the panel was in the same room. The minor surprise was that they asked me to moderate, and I had zero time to prep for that. Always nice to IMDB the panelists first so that you know who they heck they are. The panelists were: Gordy Hoffman, who runs the Blue Cat Screenwriting Contest.
Randall Jahnson, who wrote DUDES, THE DOORS, and some TALES FROM THE CRYPT episodes.
Todd Trigsted, a documentary filmmaker who is doing a film on NFL concussions.
Lise Raven & Frank Bruckner, who just cowrote a film playing at the fest KINDERWALD. She is a director, he is an actor.

In the event you are ever magically turned into a moderator on a panel, just have the people introduce themselves. They know who they are.

I decided we’d just do Q&A with everyone on the panel giving an answer. Easy.

The interesting thing was that the panel was supposed to be on writing indie films, but ended up being more about general screenwriting. Lots of general screenwriting questions! This kind of threw me off, because in the “fantasy version” I was going to give a bunch of tips and techniques on how to stretch a budget at the screenplay stage so that you can make a much bigger looking film on whatever you manager to raise on Indie-Go-Go or Kickstarter. Never came up. Too bad.

In one of my danged classes (at this point the fest is kind of a blur) I talked about getting the submarine tour and crew Q&A for CRASH DIVE and STEEL SHARKS and how the other two production groups seemed to have done minimal research because they asked questions you could easily get the answers to just from reading a book... and I asked questions about *people* (the non tech stuff) which you could only get from the people who experienced that life. I felt the same kind of happened with the panel: people were asking general screenwriting questions which could have been answered by reading a book, instead of specific questions about indie writing where the panel assembled might have given some unusual answers. But the panel was for the audience, so the audience’s questions are what they needed to know.

After the panel was over, I realized the 4pm movie I was going to see at the Mission Theater wasn’t going to happen, because it was just past 4pm. So I made an executive decision and skipped the late afternoon movie to catch up on this blog and eat (um, for all of the food I bought to smuggle into cinemas so that I’d eat *something* other than cinema pizzas... I’ve eaten a lot of cinema pizzas) and go to the pair of films circled in my program at the Living Room Cinemas at 7 and 9 (ish).

- Bill

Friday, September 04, 2015

Portland Film Fest - Day 2, Part 2.


One of the great things about the Portland Film Festival is that, instead of being centralized at one cinema, it is spread out all over the city, so no matter where you live in Portland there is a cinema near you showing films from the fest. So go see them Portlanders! But the flip side of this is that if you are the out of towner who is just here for the festival some films won’t work into your schedule because they are too far away. The first couple of years I was here I attempted to get from a film on one side of town, over the river, to a film on the opposite side of town... and was late or then realized there was no way I was going to do the whole thing in reverse and see a movie in the cinema where I started out. If film A starts at 7pm and film B starts at 9pm, there’s no way in hell you are going to make it across town in time to see film B... better off just staying in the cinema where you saw film A and seeing what shows next there.

Which is how I came to see THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE. I was in the Mission Theater to see DARK CRYSTAL and could have raced to the Living Room Cinemas to see one of those movies, but worried that I might not make it in time. When I found out the line for JAKE was around the building and that now that I had my VIP badge I could take “cutsies” and just stay in the cinema... I decided to stick around. I grabbed the best seat in the house: corner balcony seat on the left side, which is where I watched Jason Momoa’s ROAD TO PALOMA last year. It’s right over the stage, great for the Q&A, next to the stairs (so you don’t have to get in anyone’s way if you need to go to the restrooms downstairs) and you get a great unobstructed view of the screen (no one in front of you). So I just stuck around.

This film was not what was circled in my program. I am not a wrestling fan (like that huge line outside), kind of never got into it. I understand it, I get why people are fans... I’m just not one of them. So I just figured I’d sit through the documentary and appreciate it as a movie (or not, if it didn’t work). The cinema *fills* with people. On the right side of the balcony there are *terrible* seats that face the left wall and would give you a stiff neck if you tried to watch the screen. Filled. Downstairs there are some sofas that are against the side walls, again not easy to see the screen: filled. This place is sold out!

Before the movie starts, UFC star Chael Sonnen comes on stage and introduces Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Diamond Dallas Page and director Steve Yu... and tells us they will be back for Q&A after the film, and DDP says they will sign every autograph and pose for every picture. Then the lights dim and the movie begins.

And this is the best movie I’ve seen at the Fest so far (writing this on day 4). Jake The Snake, big wrestling star, everyone’s favorite, had a secret alcohol and substance abuse problem, gets cut from WWF, and ends up kind of a pathetic mess... he gets a gig as the main event in some local wrestling bout, shows up drunk and downs 12 airline bottles of booze, staggers out into the ring and basically falls on his face without the opponent doing much. This ends up on TMZ, and Jake becomes a punchline. This guy makes Mickey Rourke’s character in THE WRESTLER look successful.

Retired wrestler Diamond Dallas Page sees this and realizes his friend (and mentor) needs help. DDP now has a successful yoga for manly men business and thinks some of the discipline elements of yoga might help Jake. Goes to see Jake... who is an overweight drunk who has basically burned every bridge behind him. When he was a famous wrestler he didn’t have much time to spend with his kids... and now that those kids are adults they don’t really want to spend much time with a loud drunk. This is the lowest point anyone can sink to... and what’s great about this movie is that it shows the struggles involved in digging yourself out of that point. DDP takes Jake back to his home and begins a long journey to get Jake sober and eating healthy and getting physically fit again. As Jake says, he always had his body (strength) to fall back on when everything else might be going wrong... but now his body is shot. He has a bad shoulder, a bad hip, he’s an old man. DDP gets him to start doing very simple yoga things, which are like hell for Jake. Gets Jake to quit drinking...

And the film shows the ups and downs of Jake’s struggle with alcoholism. The physical pain and deep rooted emotional pains make alcohol seem like a great temporary solution. One of the great things about this doc is that Jake bares his soul to us, tells us about his childhood issues with his father, all of the problems that drove him to be the best wrestler and now drive him to drink. Same problems.

This is the most uplifting film I’ve seen in years... and it’s uplifting *because* Jake’s struggle is not easy. He keeps falling down, and then has to pick himself up again. I cried several times, and I wasn’t the only one... this was a cinema filled mostly with manly men who love wrestling, and they were all crying, too. It’s an extremely emotional film. They did a great job of documenting Jake’s gradual evolution... when he steps on the scale and has lost a few pounds you cheer. When he finally gets back to his “fighting weight” and now has to see what he can physically do with this old body of his, it’s emotionally involving for us in the cinema (and I can say “us” because the whole audience was responding to this movie). I don’t want to spoil the film for you, because I want you to see it. Even if you are not a wrestling fan, this is a movie about a human being dealing with human problems. About a man who may have been strong on the outside, but had weaknesses within. And he fights his way out.

DDP comes off as a genuinely caring guy who helps Jake and fellow wrestler Scott Hall who was also in poor shape when his wrestling career ended. In the Q&A afterwards, one of the things that DDP urged everyone in the audience to do was help someone in need. If you have a friend who is in trouble, don’t ignore them. Yeah, friends in trouble tend to *be* trouble, but that’s why they need a friend to help them.

The movie opened today (Friday) at the Living Room Cinemas in Portland and will do a city by city tour around the country. When it comes to your town, see it. If you *hate* wrestling, still check it out. It's about people. Though this is purely selfish on my part: I want to see it again because it made me feel great. It made me feel that no matter how bad things get, you can always turn them around and get back on your feet. It’s a movie that shows you there is always hope. Always.

See this film.

Most of the people in that packed cinema stood in line for autographs and pictures... I decided to head back to the hotel and try to get some sleep.

More information on RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE click here!

- Bill

Portland Film Fest - Day 2 (part 1)

The alarm goes off and I have to get ready for my first class of the fest which is on suspense and thrillers. It’s being held at the Equipment Rental house where most of my classes were last year, so I know right where it is. I’m running a little late so I decide to take the street car, since it has a stop a block from the hotel and a stop *right in front of* the Equipment Rental place. Except I can’t figure out how the ticket machine works. Figured it out a year ago, but have forgotten since. When I do figure it out (the machines have one set of buttons for everything *except* number of tickets... that’s a button much lower on the machine in a place where you aren’t looking) the street car comes and the machine hasn’t spit out my ticket. It’s a race against time! The street car doors open... the ticket starts printing... the street car doors close... the ticket finished printing... the street car zooms away. Crap.

Next street car: 15 minutes.

Okay, it would take me about 20 minutes to walk there. Wait? Or walk?

Well, I’ve had one cup of coffee, so I go to the Starbucks a block away and buy an iced coffee that I can sip in the class and get back in time to catch the street car... and now I am hoping the street car takes less that 15 minutes to get there because the class starts in 15 minutes. But at least I’ll be caffeinated, right? I come up with a clever line about keeping the class in suspense... when my phone rings. “Hey, your first class is in 10 minutes.” I tell them I’m on my way... and get there at about 4 minutes “early”.

The problem is, I know where I’m going so I don’t have to be early to find the place. Mistake.

But the class goes reasonably well (I’m never a good judge of these things). Now I go back to the hotel, dump my class stuff, grabs some of that snack food stuff, and head to the movies. I would have liked to have time for lunch or dinner or even dunch or linner first, but that’s not going to happen. This is Wendy Froud who did puppet design, creation and operation on THE DARK CRYSTAL along with a screening of that film... and there will be a line stretched around the cinema. I need to be in that line!


Josh (Mr. Portland Film Fest) obviously has a thing for the Henson fantasy films because last year he showed LABYRINTH and this year he has THE DARK CRYSTAL. When these films came out, I was already and adult so my memories of them are that they don’t quite work as stories even though the puppet work was amazing as was the production value and cinematography. And that was true for LABYRINTH when I saw it again last year. Harry Connolly posted a message somewhere (twitter or FB or maybe his blog) that the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs were some his favorites as a kid and one of the reasons he became a fantasy writer... but many don’t hold up very well as an adult. I have also found this to be true, but I wonder if that’s because I’ve been more discriminating (there’s a word) as a reader as an adult or whether I’ve just lost some of that childhood imagination and awe?

But the movie had amazing puppet work, and one of the great things about the Henson team was that they were always trying to do things with puppets that were “impossible”. Like Kermit *riding a bicycle* in THE MUPPET MOVIE. No CGI, that was some form of puppet riding a bicycle! Probably a marionette (if you know, please *don’t* tell me, I just want to believe it’s magic). And DARK CRYSTAL is filled with puppets doing things that puppets can not do. Sure, sometimes it’s people in costumes, but others times we have overhead shots of characters moving... and that’s not possible. Well, unless they ca,me up with some super imaginative way to make that happen. And that’s what’s amazing about this film now: no CGI, but many shots where you have no idea how they did that.

Afterwards Wendy Froud did a Q&A with Josh, and there were *very rare* behind the scenes photos of her and Frank Oz and the team operating Yoda. She had great stories of working on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and LABYRINTH and DARK CRYSTAL. It was great to hear her stories, and both her husband (who did costume design on the film) and son Toby (who played Toby in LABYRINTH) were in the audience. Very cool. Yes, there was a picture of Frank Oz with his hand up Yoda’s butt (which LucasFilms probably would rather no one ever saw).

I also saw THE RESURRECTION OF JAKE THE SNAKE, which is so far my favorite film of the festival... but I’m zonked so I’ll talk about that tomorrow. Now I have to get some sleep so that I can wake up and teach a class...

- Bill

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Portland Film Fest - Opening Night Movie & Party

The cinema lights dim and the movie begins...

First up is a short film called A PASSION OF GOLD AND FIRE, a documentary about an aging beekeeper in France who has been searching for someone to take over his business... but every young person he takes on as an apprentice decides beekeeping is boring and they move on. The film is kind of a visual tone poem with beautiful shots of bees and smoke... and the old beekeeper, of course. It shows you how beautiful and meditative beekeeping is, and why this job *could* be interesting. It’s becoming one with nature, taking care of the bees who in turn take care of you (they give you honey). The old beekeeper worries who will take care of his bees once he’s gone?

Now to the feature, and we are told by Josh (Mr. Portland Film Fest) that there will be Q&A with the cast and crew when the film ends.

The film is BIRDS OF NEPTUNE, homegrown in Portland. The story is about two sisters who live in their deceased parent’s old house. Older sister Mona (Molly Elizabeth Parker) works at a stripper in some artsie place that makes the stip acts in FLASHDANCE seem smutty. She is all about the *art*. Um, okay. Younger sister Rachel (Britt Harris who actually looks older, but plays a high school senior), smokes weed all day and hangs out with her friend Shay (Lauren Luiz) in the old house. The house is completely as it was when their parents were alive, nothing has changed.

When Mona brings home a dude from a bar the bearded Zach (Kurt Conroyd) he becomes curious about some of the strange things in the house (just as we are) and the past of these two sisters. For instance: the upstairs bathroom is off limits, and seems to have not been touched for years after someone used it... there are a boy’s underpants hanging on a rack and everything is covered in years worth of dust. What? There’s an old family photo showing the two sisters as girls with their parents... but all dressed in robes like monks or something. What? There’s an empty bird cage in the living room. What? Both sisters are a little weird and offputting... is there some weird tragedy in their past? Just as we want to know the secrets, so does Zach.

Oh, the opening scene was Rachel in a clinic waiting room holding a “Wait To be Called Ticket” that’s #29, but when they call her number she leaves the clinic, gets in her car, and tries to wreck it. What?

While Rachel and her pal Shay are smoking weed on the porch one day, a 15 year old boy crashes his bicycle and they go down to see if he’s okay... this is Thor (Christian Blair) who Rachel and Shay take under their wing. Thor spends most of the movie just sitting on the sofa watching what happens.

As the story goes on, the two sisters just become weirder and weirder, and completely impossible to understand. Mona wear porcelain masks and talks to herself. Rachel locks herself in the basement and plays odd music on an electric guitar which consists of chords reverbed into sounds (she claims to be a musical genius who hopes to be accepted into Juliard, but... electric guitar chords?) or she’s in the garden where she has hundreds of garden fairies and gnomes and a weird shrine in the back she blows pot smoke at. They have so much mystery they are just strange.

Zach says he is a psychology student, then calls psychology a pseudo science... making me wonder if *Zach* was a fraud or if this was filmmaker editorializing. But whichever way, Zach becomes weird and has sex with both sisters and not only uncovers the family secrets but then uses them against the sister in some sort of controlling and evil way.

The film was beautifully shot and the acting was great all the way through... but the film was detached and sterile. The problem is: both of the sisters are *mysteries* so we can not identify with them. Zach seems to be our identification character, since he begins by uncovering the mysteries... but then he turns downright evil... and now there is no one to identify with at all. So instead of being taken inside the story and inside the lives of these characters, we remain outside the story peering in. *Everyone* is a mystery. No one is opened up to the audience so that we can care about them. It’s clinical. Stuff happening to those people up on screen that we can not care about because we are never allowed to understand them and know what motivates them. So we watch, detached, great acting a great cinematography. But we don’t care.

After the film, Josh does not return for Q&A and everyone gets up and leaves until one of the film’s crew grabs the microphone and asks if there was going to be Q&A and ends up moderating it. Maybe a quarter of the audience hadn’t already left.

In the Q&A I discover:
A) The guy who wrote the music’s mom was in the audience and wanted to make sure her son got mentioned.
B) Though the film wasn’t improvised there was a *year* of rehearsals and actors figuring out backstories for their characters which were then incorporated into the script.
C) The Director and co-writer Steve Richter said the film was autobiographical and he was “Thor”...

Which explains a lot.

I think this film would have worked had it been told from the Thor characters’ point of view. But there was *no* point of view, and that’s what made it seem detached. If it's your story, tell it as your story.

After the Q&A, it was off to the afterparty....


Every year I mention the festival map, which is designed for people from Portland, but those of us who are out of towners (filmmakers) have no idea where anything is. It’s not a street map, it’s just a little map of the whole city with numbers on it which correspond to locations which have the street address. But you have no idea where the streets are, except maybe in the north west quarter of the city. That’s a lot of territory.

So I start walking to the afterparty. And discover some streets vanish for a block (etc) and soon come to realize that I am lost in Portrland and have no idea where this party is... I’m in a residential section. Not here. So I backtrack, deciding to just call it a night and go back to the hotel... when the star of the movie, Britt Harris, and her boyfriend turn the corner with a small group of people (including a cute young woman on a bicycle). They know the city and know where the party is, so I follow them. Hey, I was one street off!

Now we get to the party and I do not have my VIP Badge, and they won’t let me in. But I *do* have the Fest Program with my name all over it and *do* have my drivers license. That gets me in. There is free beer and some waitpeople with trays of horsdoeurves that get snatches away before they come close to me. The two ales they have are great ( and I try each a couple of times to make sure. I can see food, real food, in the VIP section... but I can not get past the bouncer.

Then I spot Michael Dunaway who I met last year (we were on panels) and he has great news: he’s shooting a feature film with Peter Bogdanovich in the cast. He tells me the story and it sounds great. Meanwhile, the brisk walk and beer have made me sweaty, which means and attractive woman will now want to hug me!

And that’s what happens.

The beautiful and talented Kelly Richardson shows up and hugs me. I met Kelly at Raindance (London) a few years back where she was showing her *awesome* documentary WITHOUT A NET about a guy in the favelas of Rio who teaches street kids acrobatics and tries to get them jobs with Cirque Du Soleil. This was one of my favorite films that year, and Kelly brought her *dad* to London as her “date”. It was so cool for her to bring a proud parent to the film fest. When we were talking I discovered she is from the East Bay Area like me, so we’re kind of homies.

Her film was selected for the Portland Film Fest 2 years ago, and somewhere I have a picture of us walking the red carpet together (she didn’t bring her dad). She told me she was moving to Los Angeles and looking for work as a stuntperson (oh, she made her documentary because *she* is an acrobat, and found out about this program). I was going to introduce her to some of my stuntmen friends... but some are, um, horndogs, so it seemed like it might be a bad idea. She’s been living in Los Angeles for well over a year and the first time I talk to her is in *Portland*. I’m a moron.

Why is she in Portland? Well, she was in Vancouver working on a TV show... she’s Rebecca Romijn’s stunt double in THE LIBRARIANS and has worked on 16 TV series and movies in the short time she’s been in Los Angeles. Watch for her in WESTWORLD where she’s not just doing stunts, she plays a recurring character! I'm proud and excited! She's doing great!

Anyway, I was sweaty.

After another beer and a chicken skewer thingie (the waitperson made it all the way to us and still had some food on the tray) I said my goodnights and headed back to the hotel, because my first class is tomorrow *morning*. I don’t really do mornings.

- Bill

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Portland Film Fest - Arrival

So the plan was to write about the Portland Film Fest every night before I go to bed, but my classes are at 11am and I just got back from the opening night party... so things may be a day or two late.


Last year I had insomnia the night before I flew to Portland for the film fest and arrived a grumpy old man who just wanted to go to sleep... but it was opening night so I tried to stay awake during the opening night movie and then went to the opening night party and then, finally, crawled into bed with fewer than 8 hours before I had to get up for my morning class. Last year I also skipped all kinds of meals, one day having my first meal at a 9:30 showing of a movie... cinema pizza! This year I decided to do everything possible to get a good night’s sleep, and I managed just over 6 hours before I had to head to the airport... which was fine. Good even.

I flew into Portland and as I was getting off the plane, got a call from the guy who was supposed to pick me up. He had car trouble, and would be about an hour late. So I cooled my heels in the airport, next to a sign that said for $5 I could take a train downtown and it would only take 35 minutes. Of course, once downtown I wouldn’t know which hotel they were putting me in. I’d been in a different one both times I’ve done Portland before.

The fellow shows up in an awesome yellow Corvette and we zoom into town. He had left the paper with the answer to where I was staying in the car that broke down, so he had to call in... and the answer was the Mark Spenser where I had stayed the first time. The rooms is some sort of mini suite with a kitchenette and a little living room area. Nice. The kitchenette has a microwave and fridge, so I walked over to Target to get some microwave meals and some other food things I could bring with me during the day so that I wouldn’t have to wait until that 9:30 cinema pizza again.

Now it’s 6pm and I have no idea where Film Fest HQ is or where opening night is. I walk to where HQ was last year... and it’s not there. I remember seeing a program at the hotel’s front desk, and backtrack to the hotel and ask to take a look at it... and get both the HQ address and the location of opening night (Cinema 21, where it was year before last) and the time it starts... 6:30.

Now, I was thinking that it would start around 7:30. I was wrong.

I race to the HQ address, which is closed, and then race (on foot) to Cinema 21. The hotel is on 11th Street, Cinema 21 is on 21st Street, so that’s 10 blocks plus a few blocks over. I manage to make it in time, but I have not eaten and stupidly did not bring any of the stuff I had just bought with me. Oh, and I have no pass. At the front door, there are people checking passes. Opening night tends to sell out, and this is a local grown film... so lots of friends and family of the filmmaker. I”m screwed.

But one of the volunteers recognizes me from 2 years ago and she gives me a hug... I am sweaty as hell from speed walking across town and she probably wiped her hands off when I wasn’t looking. Yech. Why do people always hug me when I’m the most sweaty?

But I get in... and find the line for the snack bar... which is *huge*. I get in line, and hear that they have sold the last slice of pepperoni pizza. By the time I get to the front of the line, they have olive pizza... fine, and a large diet Dr. Pepper. $10 total (which isn’t bad for cinema pizza and a large drink). By now the cinema is full and I sit in the front row, extreme left seat. Hey, legroom! That legroom I didn’t get on the flight.

Lights go down and the movie begins...

More on this tomorrow.

- Bill
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