Monday, April 27, 2015

Lancelot Link: European Edition.

Lancelot Link Monday! Wait... half the world gets AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON 2 weeks before we do??? And they get STAR WARS 2 days before we do? What's going on here? 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 Furious 7....................... $18,259,000
2 Blart 2......................... $15,500,000
3 Adeline......................... $13,375,000
4 Home............................. $8,300,000
5 Unfriended....................... $6,244,000
6 Ex Machina....................... $5,441,000
7 Longest Ride..................... $4,365,000
8 Get Hard......................... $3,905,000
9 Monkey Kingdom................... $3,551,000
10 Woman In Gold.................... $3,501,000

LITTLE BOY opened wide but the best it could do was #13... which is pretty close to it's Rotten Tomatoes review rating.

2) AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has already opened in about half of the overseas markets, and made over $200m.

3) Alex Garland On EX MACHINA.


5) Kevin Spacey On The Importance Of Storytelling.

6) Guillermo Del Toro on CRIMSON PEAK.

7) The Golden God Becomes The Joker.

8) GOODFELLAS Anniversary... Are You Calling Me A Clown?

9) John Boyega On That Movie He's In...

10) Why Is Everyone Writing A Screenplay?

11) Release Date Shuffling For PACIFIC RIM 2, more.

12) Nickelodeon Wants You To Write For Them!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From the uncut version of MONKEY KINGDOM...


Buy The DVDs


Dinner: Chicken dinner (winner winner)
Pages: 8 pages on a chapter for one of the Blue Books.
Bicycle: Short ride (feeling crappy today).

Movie: Finally saw FURIOUS 7, and the fun thing is that I'm using it in a class for Writer's Store next month!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Elitism & Experience

From the beginning of 2011...

A few weeks ago John August had a post on his blog that got a rise out of me.

John wondered if the blog had become too advanced for a beginning writer, so he decided to read through his mail to see if he was too “inside baseball”... and printed a note from a writer that asked all kinds of stupid questions and then made fun of the writer. Ridiculed the dude. I posted in the comments section that I thought that even though many of the guy's questions could have been answered by spending some time searching John's site – at least the guy was asking questions, right?

And on Done Deal Pro I said basically the same thing: Lots of new writers don't know where to begin, they Google “How do I write a screenplay” and find a website and don't know the first thing about screenwriting so they don't know what to search for – they don't even know what a screenplay consists of.

In one of my favorite films IN A LONELY PLACE, a screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart says that people don't know screenwriters exist – they think actors just make up their lines... and when they become stars, they do. And that's where a lot of new writers are – what's on the page? Everything? If you just have a great idea – can you sell that? If you need an agent, can you tell me where to find one? On Done Deal Pro we regularly see new writers ask these questions and many more. And people on DDP ridicule them and make fun of how naive they are... but they also answer the questions and point them to places where they can read real screenplays and explain how the whole agent thing works. My theory is help them... then make fun of them.

Here's the thing – to me all of these questions sound silly. They sound like things people should just be able to figure out on their own, right? Things they could just find online, right? But when they land at someplace like John's site or DDP – they *have* looked online and ended up there asking questions. Things that we see as obvious. But that's because we forgot when we were them. Now that we know stuff, we think everyone else does!

Plus, there's that pecking order thing – I did a blog entry on that, and I think it's going to come up in this one, too. Nobody knows everything, and all of us are still learning and have things that we need to learn. Now, we can look at those who know less than us and make fun of them, or we can give them the information they need and send them in the right direction.

Or both.

The thing about writers is that many of us are smart asses and are just waiting for someone to say something that's a set up for our joke. I know I am. Yes, this makes me a partial asshole, but I also answer the questions so I figure I kind of earn my assholiness. But, if you just trash the person without helping them, you're building up some negative karma and eventually you will be the person who doesn't know something and someone will make fun of you. All of us are stupid about something.


One of the interesting things in life is how various different things happen at the same time... and all seem to add up to something larger. These random things are connected – which is just plain weird. Plate of shrimp. If I were crazy, I would imagine a giant conspiracy out to get me. But instead, it's just life.

Before the John August blog post, two other things happened back-to-back that connect to the concept of know-it-alls and know-nothings and screenwriting.

There's a message board I frequent that is filled with new writers – and many of them suffer from being overly artsie. This is a common thing. Many new writers think that Hollywood makes all of those remakes and sequels and comic books movies because there is a shortage of quality original screenplays... and *they* have the ability to write those brilliant screenplays!

In fact, when they compare the kind of crap Hollywood makes to what they are capable of, it's obvious that they are geniuses and the people who work in Hollywood now are all morons. Many of these folks believe that film is art, and Hollywood would make nothing but art movies if they had enough great artsie screenplays. Every film would be TREE OF LIFE, if they had a couple hundred similar (genius) (artistic) screenplays.

This is not true.

Hollywood makes movies that will attract a mass audience. That mass audience is more interested in being entertained than seeing some great piece of art... check out the grosses for this year's Oscar winner... and TREE OF LIFE while you're at it. There was a recent article on how the general public no longer goes to see the Best Picture Winner – they don't care about it and don't relate to it anymore. The “Oscar bounce” is gone! They've worked all week long and this film is their escape from all of the crap of real life – they may want to laugh so hard they pass out. What makes them laugh that hard may be the bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER.

That makes that bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER great screenwriting. I know that makes some of you think I'm crazy or a massive hack – but do you know how hard it is to find something that makes 60 million people around the world laugh? That is the art of screenwriting – making 60 million people around the world feel something. Some emotion. That may be fear from a horror movie or love from a romance or excitement from an action film – but finding that universal thing... and 110 minutes of those universal things – is so difficult that Hollywood pays great money if you can do that. They pay lots of money if you can entertain lots of people. The fewer people you entertain, the less money you get. Kind of trickle down.

Now, that doesn't mean that art films are bad, or TREE OF LIFE is bad, or THE ARTIST or HURT LOCKER are bad... just that they may be really tough screenplays to get anyone to read, let alone buy and produce.

Well, on this message board full of artsie new writers a few people posted some stuff that was completely naive... and someone posted a well thought out reasoned response explaining why their theory of how Hollywood worked was incorrect and something an outsider might believe. Here's the amazing thing – this guy who posted has been nominated for awards, wrote a great critically acclaimed film which you have all seen, that got him a gig writing a couple of big Hollywood films you have also seen, and recently wrote critically acclaimed film that I really love and own on DVD. Dude is a great writer. He was lurking. He de-lurked to help this writer...

And got crapped on.
And argued with.

Nobody knew who he was. They thought he was just some other idiot hack like me who was defending Hollywood films. They trashed whatever he said. Now, I knew who he was from another board, but none of these jokers even tried to figure out who he was... or just respect what he said. The guy was using logic and reason and the people fighting him were defending their position without ever acutally *thinking*. They were too busy arguing with him.

For me, the amusing thing about this was that this guy *was* a legitimate artist as a screenwriter. And he was explaining that *in his experience* commerce was still a major issue and you will have to find the way to sell your screenplay. To businessmen. Who want to make money.

Okay, everyone on this board knows who I am – I do not lurk. I jump in to the discussion, with a different side than the famous writer. Based on my actual experience in the business – I used some real examples both from my stuff and some other well known and easy to Google examples. And my experiences lead me to very similar conclusions as the other writer. Because that's kind of the way things are. From the outside you might think "If only Hollywood had 200 TREE OF LIFE scripts they would make 200 films like TREE OF LIFE." From the inside, you know that a film like TREE OF LIFE is hell to get off the ground... and no one in Hollywood really wants a screenplay like that. In fact, TREE OF LIFE was not made by Hollywood!

If you were to take a hundred professional writers, we would all have similar experiences with slight differences. If you take 100 people who have gone to the DMV and taken a driving test, the main points will all be the same but there may be some individual differences due to that handful of variables there are. So I jump in and basically agree with the other writer – and so do the handful of other pros on the boards...


And now we have an interesting dichotomy – those who earn a living writing screenplays vs. those who do not. Those with experience in the business and those who do not have experience in the business. The working writers are saying “this is the way it really works” and the new writers are saying “no – it doesn't work that way”. When I say, “Hey, I've been doing this for a while, that really is the way it works.” And the professionals are branded “elitists” for saying that “our way” is the one that works and “their way” doesn't work.

This confused me.

I thought elitists were all about having power over others and excluding them... when the reason we were there giving this advice was to *include* these folks – to show them the secret way into the business. To help them. “You know that wall? There's a doorway through it over here!” But it seems that knowing what you are talking about, having actual experience, is a big negative thing.

Who knew?

The issue becomes facts vs. opinions – and that's crazy. But this seems to be something that isn't just on screenwriting messageboards, the whole country seems to think that a fact is the same as an opinion. That they are equal. If 99% of scientists think the world is round and 1% think it's flat – those 1% are “equal” to the 99%. Crazy! That 1% are the lunatic fringe. In science as in anything else there are always a couple of nutjobs... but the *majority* of people who know what they are talking about agree with each other... and 1% is *not* equal to 99%. Those are *not* two equally valid viewpoints – because at the end of the day the majority rules.

Except, when you are in that 1% you'd much rather believe that it's equally valid to believe the Earth is flat and the space program is a conspiracy and they put something in our milk as children to make us see that curve on the horizon...

And that's *science* - when you're discussing screenwriting and there's an art component and as many different definitions of “good movie” as there are people? More difficult to even agree on what is a “fact”!

But add to this – screenwriting is strange in that it is both art and commerce wrapped into one. Sure – there are arthouse indie films, but even those get some form of distribution because someone thinks they will make money. They are more of a niche thing – and aimed at being popular with that niche. If you plan on *selling* a screenplay then it is a commercial endeavor – not just for you but for who you sell the screenplay to... and for the screenplay itself. There are so many elements of the *craft* of writing that tie into the commercial aspects that you can't really talk art and craft without at least touching on the commercial part. And, on a messageboard filled with artsie types, bringing up the money part brands you a sell out.

On another board there is an intelligent, articulate, artsie screenwriter guy who makes great arguments in favor of seeing screenwriting as an art. I often argue with him, but I also encourage him to keep making his case - because he isn't one of those just fighting for his point - he also *thinks* and *considers the other side* and argues with facts rather than opinions. I like this guy. We need this guy in teh business. The funny thing about my art vs. commerce arguments is that if you drop me in a room full of artists I argue on the commerce side... but if you drop me in a room full of mercanaries I fight for art. Screenwriting is both.

The problem is – two people can write screenplays of equal artistic quality, but if one is about a farm boy in Ohio who dreams of moving to Cleveland and getting a job in a shoe store, and the other is about a farm boy on Tatooine who dreams of being a Jedi Knight and starfighter pilot and rescuing a hot Princess from an evil Black Knight... well, you can guess which screenplay is going to have an easier chance of selling.

There are commercial considerations involved with every screenplay that is bought – and that becomes part of the conversation on the experienced screenwriter side. It's not elitism, it's another danged lesson that most of learned the hard way – and we're trying to help others. Though everyone learns at their own rate, the biggest problem with many of these debates is that some people DO NOT WANT TO LEARN. Not just the commercial stuff (I mean, who really wants to learn that? I fought it) but much of the story stuff that's important. The artsie folks don't want there to be any elements that they can be judged by – so the concept of one script being better *even artistically* than another is some form of elitism.


The real problem with this whole “Elitist” thing is that it makes people with experience and actual knowledge, and brands them with a negative for *trying to help*. That does not make them want to stick around on some messageboard and continue helping when they really should be writing. It also demonizes education and intelligence and experience – which seems crazy to me. It guarantees that those folks on messageboards will stay exactly where they are – because the *do not want to learn*. Knowledge is a negative - ignorance is bliss - stupidity is art.

They often seem to think they know everything – which I don't think this famous writer or myself or any of the other working pros who these folks argued against believe about themselves. I believe there are tons of things that I don't know – and a large part of my life and my website and my blog are trying to figure out how things work and share that knowledge... but mostly trying to figure it out because there are things I don't know.

Do you think you know everything?


I think for most of us, the more we know the more we realize we don't know... and need to learn. Writing screenplays is incredibly complicated, and requires that you get a bunch of different ingredients in the proper mix.

The problem on some messageboards (and with some executives) is they think that one 110 pages of typing is the same as another 110 pages of typing. That writing the pages is the hard part. And there are plenty of screenplays that get so damaged in development that their 110 pages of writing *is* equal to just about any other 110 pages of typing. But those scripts die a quick death – and if they are made into films due to some mistake, the films die a quick death.

The key is to write something that people think about a decade later... because it will be good (art!) *and* because a decade later you'll want them to call you and hire you for some project. If they read your 110 pages of typing and instantly forget it, you have a problem. Though scripts can be developed into crap, you don't want them to start out that way. My belief (hope) is that even when a script gets mangled there's enough good stuff left to hint that there was a great version they bought. Though, I have no idea what that good stuff might be in the filmed version of CROOKED.

Of course, even if they screw up your screenplay on the way to the screen, your actual screenplay still exists as a sample - and I get all kinds of calls years later based on someone reading a screenplay before it got ruined. I have also used those screenplays as samples. In fact, I have some people interested in hiring me now based on a screenplay they read in the past... which they remembered.

You see - art is involved in screenwriting. Even in popular screenwriting. It's not just "write a 110 page action script", it's writing a 110 page action script that is better than the other hundreds of scripts they have read and will turn out an okay movie once it goes through the meatgrinder. If anything, a popular commercial film really needs to be *artistic* and great more than the art film - since if the art film ever gets made it is most likely to be written and directed and produced by the same person (no meatgrinder). The martial arts star lead isn't going to rewrite all of his lines... so that the actions end up being the thing that carries the story and theme and emotional conflict.

There are great commercial scripts and stinkers. Some screenplays are better than others. Some writers have learned more than others - and that is reflected in the quality of their writing. Doesn't mean those other writers can't learn as much and write scripts of equal quality eventually. Just means *at this point in time* the more experienced writer is, well, more experienced. They've done it many more times and learned more.

I think one of the issues with those who think all 110 pages are equal is what I call the WINO THEORY. I once dated a woman who worked in the wine biz, and know some people in the biz (one guy who gets paid to drink!) and a sommelier – and wrote a script called ROUGH FINISH that was James Bond as a wine taster.

Wine ends up being a lot like screenwriting.

The average person can drink two different glasses of wine and think one tastes good and the other does not – but that's about it. If you give that average person two different glasses of *good* wine, they may not be able to tell which is better. Both are equal to them.

But “educate their palates” and teach them a little about wine, and they can easily tell a cabernet from a merlot from a zinfandel from a pinot noir. They may prefer one over the other. They also know what a cabernet is supposed to taste like (basically) and whether it tastes strange or even has been cut with some other grape. At this stage they can also probably tell you whether the wine was fermented in oak or steel or even redwood or acacia or pine.

The next step might be to refine their palates so that they can tell which region the grapes were grown in – each soil leaves a mark. And maybe even make a good guess at the year due to the amount of tanic acid in the wine. Now they can take a dozen “good” glasses of wine and tell you more about each one – and maybe even taste minor defects in some wine that the average drinker never knew were there. They “have better taste”.

And with each increase in education, with each piece of knowledge, they can taste little details that the average drinker may not even know exist.

My character in ROUGH FINISH was a “private palate” who would break into a winery and taste the wine “before its time” to help investors and wine connoisseurs know which Bordeauxs to buy. He tastes something in the wine that only a handful of people in the world would even notice – and becomes the man who knows too much. Fun idea for a chase action script – but it's based on the (real) idea that an expert wine taster would be able to denote things no one else could... is that Elitism or Experience and Education?

My theory is that the new screenwriter might think the difficult part is getting to FADE OUT – and that *is* difficult. But a hundred thousand people a year get to FADE OUT... and the more you know, the more you can see what is just a bit off on one script and right on the money in another – and the more you know how to write that better screenplay.

You don't just give every character a unique voice and vocabulary and world view and attitude... you realize that all of those different elements are connected in some way to theme... and theme is connected to universal truths that connect to the audience. It just gets more and more complicated! And I don't think you ever reach some point where you know it all. There is always something to learn.

But if you think just writing 110 pages is all there is to it, you have failed.

If you think you don't need to learn anything more, you have failed.

If you think that the 1% who believe the Earth is flat are just as correct as the 99% who believe it is round, you aren't thinking and are not trying to learn and better yourself.

If you think someone who has learned more than you know at this point in time and is trying to help you is an elitist, you have failed.

And, if you know more than someone else – help them. Costs you nothing.

I've found that most established screenwriters want to help new writers – they empathize. They were that new writer at one time, and want to help you avoid all of the pitfalls they stumbled through. So, on a messageboard or in person or whatever – thank them for the help and don't fight them until they just give up on *everybody* and leave. I think it's all about learning - and continuing to learn. Any writer who is giving you advice - even if you don't like what they are saying - is trying to help you. they don't have to do that. They don't get paid to do that. They have many other things they can do that either pay more or are more enjoyable.

Experience and knowledge are not elitism.

If people are trying to *help you* - that's the opposite of elitism.

And DAYS OF HEAVEN is one of my favorite movies... along with AIRPLANE!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: EMOTIONAL OPENINGS - you don't need to start with a bang, you need to start by involving the audience.
Dinner: Subway - Teriyaki Chicken.
Movies: Have seen both CHRONICLE and THIS MEANS WAR - loved one and hated the other.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lancelot Link: Trailer Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! You may still be watching new movie trailers. There were a handful just released, from QT's HATEFUL EIGHT to BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN to FANTASTIC FOUR to STAR WARS to... Did you miss the HATEFUL EIGHT trailer? It was released on the same day at the same time as the new STAR WARS trailer and seemed to get buried. No mention of it on *any* of the entertainment TV shows (which are really just celeb TV shows now... could we have them arrested for false advertising?) and I wonder why they picked that time to release (or dump) the trailer? Could all of those terrbile things people said about the leaked screenplay fro HATEFUL EIGHT be true of the film? Or did QT take the notes and fix things? Why dump the trailer? 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 Furious 7....................... $29,056,000
2 Paul Blart 2.................... $24,000,000
3 Unfriended...................... $16,023,000
4 Home............................ $10,300,000
5 Longest Ride..................... $6,850,000
6 Get Hard......................... $4,830,000
7 Monkey Kingdom................... $4,715,000
8 Woman Gold....................... $4,587,000
9 Divergent........................ $4,150,000
10 Cinderella....................... $3,871,000

Box Office still surging: Summer hasn't even begun, and this is a summer filled with huge movies that everyone wants to see, and we are 4.9% ahead of last year and 14.8% ahead of 2013. FURIOUS 7 has only made $1.15 BILLION so far (worldwide). Give the audience what they want.

2) Indie Box Office Winners.

3) Okay, We Got The New STAR WARS Trailer And The New HATEFUL EIGHT Trailer And The New BATMAN Vs. SUPERMAN Trailer And The New FANTASTIC FOUR Trailer.... but what about the NEW NEW STAR WARS Trailer?

4) Banned TV episodes from your favorite shows!

5) Female Screenwriter Over 40? Streep Wants To Help!

6) Film Editing For Improv.

7) Film For Adults Keep Flopping... But Has "For Adults" Become Code For Boring And Downbeat?

8) This Year's Cannes Line Up.

9) Word Counts For Novels, Novelettes, Novellas, Towelettes.

10) Audio interview with Derek Kolstad, writer of JOHN WICK.

11) A novelist looks at the fight scenes in JOHN WICK.

12) Princess Leia Talks New STAR WARS.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

The best motorcycle chase ever filmed?


Buy The DVDs


A LATE START - Start when the story starts.
Dinner: All You Can Eat @ Hometown.
Pages: Just a couple
Bicycle: Short rides.

Movie: EX MACHINA. Cool, stylish, 4 cast members and a handful of rooms... but what is the test and who is being tested? Young computer genius is hired to go to a remote location to test a sexy A.I. Robot for a rich and possibly crazy version of himself. The great part about this film is it turns *you* into the "tester", you have to figure out who is telling the truth, who is plotting, who is lying, and what are they lying about? There's a line in the film where they talk about a test where someone lives in a black and white world and then is introduced to color... and the inside of the facility is monochrome, and when characters go outside it's so colorful it blinds us... maybe confuses us. This is a film you think about for a week after seeing it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

No Middle Man!

From the beginning of 2011.

Before the holidays I had a meeting with a company about an assignment - they were looking for something in a specific sub-genre for a network they have a deal with that could be made on the network’s budget. One of the problems is that this network is one of the few left that make original movies and they have a target demo... and they want something they haven’t seen before. Imagine pitching someone like Sy Fy Channel and having to come up with two original giant monsters to battle - and a scenario for that we haven’t seen. Though I didn’t have to come up with any giant monsters, this network’s movies do tend to blur after a while - and they want something that stands out but still fits. So I worked to come up with a half dozen pitches that I didn’t think they had heard before. At least, in looking over their recent movies I hadn’t seen anything like these.

As with any bunch-o-pitches there’s always at least one that I love, a couple that are okay, and usually one that I hope they don’t pick because it’s the least thought out and least interesting to me. This time around there are two that I really like because they have ironic twist ends that I don’t think people will see coming, and both also have interesting characters and locations that I don’t think we’ve seen before... at least not in films on this network. As a test, I pitched them to a couple of writer friends... and the two I really liked got the best response.

Now, one of the problems is that you can’t have every story beat thought out for each pitch, so you decide which ones to give some extra thought to - and in this case it was the two I really liked and my friends had liked. So, I anticipated questions they might ask based on the kinds of questions I’d been asked in the past. I also went online and looked into the unusual locations - hey, could they be found in a state with film incentives?

Now, the way these things work is that the network is not at this meeting. The network doesn’t actually produce the movies, they have a few production companies that make movies for their network. The production company takes projects to the network for approval, and the network gives the production company the money to make the movie.

So the production company comes between me and the network guy (or gal), and I pitch it to them and they pitch it to the network - and sometimes things can get lost in translation, But also you are dealing with the production company’s taste rather than the network’s taste. Though the production company is a surrogate for the network, and much of the time they know what the network wants - sometimes they don’t. Everything is based on their past experiences, and that isn’t the same as all experiences. So one production company’s experience may be that all women in jeopardy movies must take place in the suburbs, but another company has had success with that sub-genre in a big city setting or a rural setting. So the network may *want* more rural women in jeopardy movies, but they aren’t getting them due to this filter of the production company’s experiences. If I’m pitching something like this, I like to do a little homework so that I can point out some other things the network has done, etc.

But you are still dealing with a middle man.

And I hate middle men.

I decide to start and end with my best ideas, and if something happens in the middle where I need to gain control I’ll just use that last great pitch early. These are short pitches, just the concepts and a few details - kind of an “elevator pitch”. Might be a page or two if it was on paper. So I go in, pitch that first great pitch... and before I can get to sentence #2, it gets shot down due to some strange thing. “Wait, the character wears a hat? No way is that gonna fly!” (The actual problem was that the conflict was a side effect of another conflict that they had seen before - like a woman running from an abusive husband who swaps identities with someone else... and they shot it down after “Woman running from abusive husband”.)

The problem is, you can’t argue and win. In this case, I mentioned that the real twist came next, but they had already decided they didn’t want it - so I pitched the next thing... and they didn’t like it at all. I was losing it!

So I pulled out that last great pitch and gave it all of my energy... and once again they shot it down after a few words. What? Okay, now my problem is that they are rejecting it before they even hear it! Can I have a full minute, please? Once again I try to explain that there’s more to the idea - that I’m taking a common situation that the core audience can identify with, and using that as the foundation for a completely original and different story. Could I please just get to that different part? No. They’ve heard enough. What else do I have?

So I pitch the last ideas... and they really latch on to the one that is the least developed and that I think is the dumbest. The larger problem is that this is what I call an “underhanded pitch” - something that sounds like a good idea, but when you start writing it you see that it is filled with problems. There are lots of ideas like this, that seem okay in short form but are one problem after another when you flesh it out - and many of them hit a brick wall about halfway in. I can see that brick wall from where I’m standing, but the D-Guy could not.

To me, the big problem is that the two great ones they shot down without listening to the whole things were something the network would really like. And I fear the one they like the network may not like - and that kills this deal. Now, I still own those two great pitches, and there are other producers who make movies for this network (plus I always try to come up with an idea that stands alone and can just be a movie), but it is frustrating to have a middle man get in the way of a deal.

Much of my career is due to middle men - they pass the script to their best contact - but that also means a bunch of deals that never were is due to middle men screwing things up. Sometimes you get a Devo with kind of a “tin ear” and they completely fumble the pitch to their boss. Sometimes you get a person why knows someone looking for an action script, and they want to take submit your women in jeopardy script (WTF?). Sometimes it’s the middle man who is the problem - though I don’t think that Brad Pitt Guy actually had a good connection with Brad Pitt, it still might have been nice if he’d tried giving him one of my scripts. I also know of a “producer” who is just bad news, so when he hands a real producer a script and says he has to be attached, that script gets rejected even if it’s CASABLANCA. Sometimes there’s a different kind of “tin ear” at work - where someone has a connection to an ultra conservative producer and hands them your ultra liberal script... when you have scripts that would match that producer’s politics available. This is when someone doesn’t do their homework. On one of my projects that never was, the producer could not get this money guy’s name right whenever he talked to me. I kept correcting him, but he just kept getting the name wrong. Guess what? The project did not get funding from that source, even though the producer had access to the guy (it was a distrib that picked up his last film). I knew this was going to happen, dreaded it every time the producer talked to me, wished I could be at the meeting to get the guy's name right ("Mr. Lantos" not "Mr. Santos") and maybe save the deal... but no. This becomes frustrating after a while, and you just wish you could get rid of all of these middle men and just do it yourself.

But part of this business, or any business, is that you not only have the connections that you have, you have the connections that your connections have. I don’t have time to know everybody, I’m writing screenplays. I know a small handful of people, and my scripts sometimes travel to people I do not know. But each person knows someone who knows someone else - it’s networking. The thing about networking is that it’s one of those chains that is only as strong as its weakest link - so you should always expect a bunch of links and chains to break. There is no sure thing, it’s all a numbers game. There will always be people between you and the decision maker, and some of those people may screw things up for you. But others may champion your work and open doors for you. I often have people who read something long ago and remembered it, and maybe submit it at their new company. So it’s not really middle men I have a problem with, it’s just the ones that screw up somehow - usually in some way that seems obvious to me, but probably doesn’t to them.

So, I got an e-mail from the producer about that pitch of mine - they want to meet with me sometime to discuss it. In my reply, I included the paragraphs for *all* of my pitches, with the best two first. Maybe he'll read them all the way through, maybe not. I may end up having to write the worst idea of the bunch because the middle man likes it most.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Be Indispensable YOU want to be the one they ask for.
Dinner: Ham & cheese.
Pages: 4 pages on the side projects, still working on the main project as I type this.
Bicycle: Short ride to a Starbucks.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lancelot Link: TV Safe Edition!

Lancelot Link Monday! They are making a TV movie version of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. So, either we have progressed to the point where that film seems tame, or they are going to remove anything that might be slightly controversial about it and make it dull. Either way, we lose. So what is the point? 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 Furious 7....................... $60,591,000
2 Home............................ $19,000,000
3 Longest Ride.................... $13,500,000
4 Get Hard......................... $8,635,000
5 Cinderella....................... $7,225,000
6 Detergent........................ $6,850,000
7 Woman Gold....................... $5,852,000
8 It Follows....................... $2,027,000
9 Danny Collins.................... $1,600,000
10 While Young...................... $1,377,000

Box Office is still breaking records, even though summer is still months away! Hollywood is making the kind of films people want to see! This week's box office is ahead of 2014 by 7.2% and ahead of 2013 by only 15.6%. Um, we have an AVENGERS movie opening later this year!

2) Indie Box Office Numbers.

3) INterview with directors of cutting edge horror movie SPRING.

4) The Most Dangerous Film Ever Made... and I own it on DVD.

5) SUICIDE SQUAD casting.

6) Why You Should Write Strong Female Characters.

7) MTV Movie Awards Winers!

8) Willem Defoe Must Learn Subtext.


10) Children's Books You Should Give To Your Kids!

11) Complications Ensue on JUSTIFIED.

12) Behind the scenes shots of REAR WINDOW.

And the Bicycle Chase Of The Week:

One of my all time favorite scenes!


Buy The DVDs


GOAL ORIENTED - And The Not So Incredible HULK.
Dinner: Hamburger Habit, double cheese with bacon and CPR on the side.
Pages: I had a day last week where I wrote 19 pages... and then made up for it.
Bicycle: Short rides this week.

Movie: WHILE WE'RE YOUNG, about a guy whose life has become stagnant due to his own laziness who meets someone way more ambitious than he ever was and...

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Angelina Jolie Eats Live Human Babies!

Because Angie has been in the news lately, from 2011...

You know how movie stars keep looking young even when they get old? They eat live human babies. Tom Cruise is 50 years old and still looks like a teenager – how does he do that? He eats live human babies. Madonna is 50 but doesn't look anything like it – she eats live human babies. She even adopts them from different countries, maybe some kind of a balanced died thing. Angelina Jolie is approaching 40 but looks like she's in her 20s – she also eats live human babies, and also adopts them from different countries. Bridget Bardot was eating live human babies every single day, then she stopped – and look at her now! She just got ancient and ugly fast! See – it works! It's gotta be true that they eat live human babies because they look so young. What else could it be? Plus, I read this on a website that was all about Hollywood, so I know it's true. Movie stars all eat live human babies! Why would the website lie about something like that?

It was on the internet, so it has to be true, right?


(She should never have stopped eating the babies!)

Back when I was a kid I had a paper route, and delivered the “Green Sheet” - the Contra Costa Times. It was printed on green paper. Every morning I would get up, ride my bike to the newspaper shack, pick up my papers, take them home to roll them and band them, then deliver them before school. Once a month I would go door-to-door to collect. Ah, the joys of childhood! Back then major cities usually had two competing newspapers – one that backed the Democratic Candidates and one that backed the Republican Candidates – independents were out of luck. Newspapers had big staffs and editors and fact checkers and reporters out in the field and in other countries. They reported the facts, and had opinions on the editorial pages, Sure, they may have been a slight spin – if there was a fire the Republican paper would report how much money was lost in structure damage and the Democrat paper would report how many people were left homeless – but 99% of the story was exactly the same. Facts came first, opinion came last. What was important was the fire.

Then cable hit, and all of those news shows, and talk radio, and opinion shows, and two things happened to newspapers: Due to the competition, fewer people read the papers so they had to cut staffs down to the bare bones – fact checkers and editors and field reporters and everyone else was “let go” and they began using “pool reporters” and wire services... and to compete with the crazy TV shows the papers became more like tabloids – filled with gossip and rumor and unsubstantiated facts and opinion. So now the % of facts vs. opinion has changed big time – but newspapers still print retractions when they get something wrong and make an attempt to report the news.

Of course, now everybody gets their news online and the print journalism business is in the crapper. But even online there are legitimate news sources and... the other places: bloggers, 98% opinion news sites, and the rest. Places that are more rumor than fact, where Angelina Jolie eats live babies to keep that hot bod.

She is hot, right? So that proves it!


Recently there was a wonderful article about the Truth Behind Hollywood that was filled with all kinds of crazy things – some relating to screenwriters. This was not an article in The Hollywood Reporter or Variety or any legit news source – it was some website that generated excitement through incitement. One of those places that is full of scandal and finger pointing and end of the world scenarios – and this was the *Hollywood* end of entertainment scenario. Just reading the article, you could see that it was light on facts and full of opinion. Yet, like wildfire, that article was linked on Twitter and Facebook and messageboards and every place that screenwriters might congregate. And everyone believed it! Well, everyone who didn't know better. But what surprised me was how many people that was. The people who work in the business knew that it was mostly fabricated crap, but many writers who haven't broken in yet believed it without checking out the facts – even though it was not from a source known for facts. They *wanted* to believe it. The didn't want to check the facts – that would take time away from posting on those various messageboards how awful this all way and how Hollywood has actually gone to Hell in a handcart. Why do we want to believe the worst? Why do we believe stuff from suspicious sources?

I can not understand *wanting* to believe that Angelina Jolie eats live babies.

This stuff happens at least once a week – and sometimes it's *amazing* how the same bad info keeps getting passed around. You know that woman who claims that THE MATRIX and every other movie ever made ripped off her idea? You know that story that she took Warner Bros to court and won millions? And, of course, all of that is completely false – her case was thrown out of court for lack of basic evidence. And there are plenty of actual newspaper stories that reported the actual outcome, and if you go to it is listed as complete BS – the woman was interviewed in a *college newspaper* and said she won the case, and then worked her butt off to get that college newspaper story linked all over the place so that it seemed like a fact. But one minute on Google and you can easily find a bunch of legit news sources that dispute her story and have the facts that she lost. It's not hard to find the truth about that one...

Yet, sometime this month someone will post that story on a screenwriting messageboard as proof that Hollywood rips off writers. See, she won in court against Warner Bros. This weird screenwriting blog from someone in Peru proves it!

(Nothing against screenwriters in Peru – just using that as an extreme outside the Hollywood loop example.)


A while back on one of the messageboards I frequent someone asked a very good question: why would people believe some new writer who has no idea what they are talking about and can't even support their argument with a couple of facts over a working pro (not me, by the way)? And people were arguing *against* the working pro – and arguing *against* his experience! Huh? Though everyone has different experiences (ask a panel of pro writers how they broke in and you will get as many different ways as there are people on the panel), the experience of someone who does this for a living trumps the opinion of someone who does not. Hey, facts may still come into play here and show that the *average* experience is different than that guy who does it for a living... and that's cool. But those are facts from some reliable source, not some rumor mill website. The stuff on the rumor mill website? Not facts. Not a good source for information. Instead of reading stuff there, why not go to Variety or Hollywood Reporter or some other legit source?

Is it because the scandal element is what is exciting? The negative aspects of the “news” are more attractive than the truth? What amazes me are those people on messageboards who will *fight* against the truth. Who will argue against the real facts. Who will argue against someone with experience and do everything they can to tear them down rather than just listen and consider what they say. And, like I said, if you can find the facts that dispute what I say – I want to hear them! My experience may be a fluke! (Though, I take the time to Google stuff so that I don't make a complete ass of myself in print... though sometimes I still screw up. Sorry.)

If someone gives me real information that conflicts with my experience, I'm going to use that real info. Things like that give me a larger picture and help *me*. You know, I'm trying to sell scripts just like everyone else. If I'm doing something stupid, I want to know. I'm not going to *fight* facts – that seems stupid.

But still some people seem to prefer the rumors to the facts and seek them out... when they could just as easily find the facts (and check to see if those rumors are true or not). Why do they *want* to believe that Angelina Jolie eats live babies? Why do they want to spread the rumor that she eats live babies? Why, when faced with the facts, would they fight those facts in order to continue to believe obvious lies? What's up with that?

Here's the thing – the internet is filled with crap. Messageboards are filled with crap. The whole danged world is filled with crap. Instead of just blindly believing something, do a minute of research before you spread that nonsense. Hey, you may learn things!

There are no producer's “staff writers” who script all of those ideas that producers steal from new writers. The WGA is not some evil cabal designed to keep out new writers so that their members can make more money (actually, the WGA makes a pile on initiation fees from new members – and that means they *want* new writers to get work). There are no secret handshakes or odd conspiracies – Hollywood mostly just wants to make money. They want to buy one script instead of another because they believe one will make more money than the other. They hire one writer to do an assignment over another writer because they believe that writer is a better writer (and/or has a better work ethic). Maybe the problem with the truth is that it's mostly pretty boring, but rumors are usually weird and amazing?

But, what else explains why Angelina Jolie is still so hot after all of these years?

- Bill

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Lancelot Link: LANCELOTUS 7

Lancelot Link Tuesday! FURIOUS 7 is on track to make at least a *billion* dollars by the end of its run. Death of the star and a new director (the great James Wan who is a *horror movie guy*) haven't put a dent in this franchise. It is Universal's superhero franchise. Don't you wonder how Dick Wolf feels about now? Buy The DVDs Yeah, Wolf is "Mr. NBC TV" now, with the LAW & ORDER franchise and now the CHICAGO FIRE/PD/MEDICAL franchise... but in the 80s he wrote a film called NO MAN'S LAND about a rookie cop who is sent undercover to join a car theft ring run by a charismatic criminal who loves driving fast, and thinks of his team as his family. Speaking of family, he has a hot sister that the young blond cop falls in love with, further complicating his undercover work. This script (and the film that was made from it) were filled with car chases and all kinds of cool car stunts. But, alas, it did just okay business... and is mostly forgotten now. D.B. Sweeny (Larry on TWO AND A HALF MEN) could have had a huge career... and the guy who played the charismatic gang leader who loved driving fast could have become a huge movie star... instead of *starring* in TWO AND A HALF MEN for a few seasons. What could have been! 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 fourteen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Actuals:
1 Furious 7...................... $147,187,040
2 Home............................ $27,011,303
3 Get Hard........................ $13,128,219
4 Cinderella...................... $10,178,750
5 Detergent....................... $10,126,715
6 It Follows....................... $2,513,459
7 Woman In Gold.................... $2,091,551
8 Kingsman......................... $1,808,652
9 Do You Believe................... $1,544,423
10 Second Best...................... $1,079,747

FURIOUS 7 only made $392 million worldwide over the weekend. That ranks it #9 in opening weekends of all time. And it had the misfortune of opening in April on Easter weekend. It broke all records for April, by the way. So, there will probably be an 8th movie, and I predict, like the second SHARKNADO movie, it will take place in New York City. You heard it here first! Box Office is ahead of last year, but only 14.2% ahead of 2013. So everything must be wrong with the Hollywood business model and the whole industry is obviously doomed. You picked the wrong year to be a screenwriter.

2) Your *BUT* Can Improve Your Story!

3) UK Action Writers? Here are a couple of UK action films, one written by friends of mine in the UK. (Congrats Bobby & Nathan!)

4) Unless Paul Giammatti plays Pooh and is *pantsless* for the entire movie, I will boycott this film!

5) SUPER TROOPERS 2... crowdfunded. Why?

6) JURASSIC WORLD Arbitration Saga Continues.

7) NBC Tries To Settle Unpaid Intern Lawsuit... for **much** less than minimum wage.

8) JURASSIC Credit Controversy.

9) Will Sir Isaac Newton's *nipples* be part of his costume?

10) Interview with Matthew Weiner on creating MAD MEN.

11) Interview with FAST & FURIOUS writer Chris Morgan.

12) Big Foot on Film (to celebrate Jamie Nash's EXISTS hitting Bluray!)

13) And EXISTS director talks about the film. 14) Storyboards from your favorite films.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Buy The DVDs


Always Be Prepared - If you met Spielberg in the grocery store, would you be prepared?
Dinner: People always eat Ham on Easter, which makes no sense... Jesus couldn't eat ham! So I had chicken.
Pages: 7 pages.
Bicycle: Nope. A short ride, but stuck around home and watched...

Movie: BEN HUR on DVD, which is two freakin' disks!

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Lancelot Link Will Be Tuesday.

Because my face and fingers are covered with Cadbury egg, Lancelot Links will run on Tuesday this week.
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