Thursday, July 30, 2015

Flashback: On Set Rewrites... Overnight!

Those screenwriting Gurus like McKee hate flashbacks, but I think they are part of the language of cinema... and a good way to fill up a blog. So here's another thing that happened long long ago in a far off galaxy...

One of the things the WGA fought for a couple of contracts ago was the ability for writers to visit the sets of the films they have written. Some of you may find it shocking that they weren't automatically allowed on the set. Didn't we create the story? The scenes? The dialogue? That great car chase? No one would be there if it weren't for our script. That Teamster eating doughnuts and sitting on the apple box in the shade behind the star's trailer? He wouldn't be there without that script! Shouldn't we be allowed to watch our fantasies become reality?

But Hollywood thinks of writers on the set as a hooker the morning after - her job is done, why is she hanging around? We've got a movie to make - can we get this useless person out of the way? Usually by the time they are actually shooting the film, the writer is long gone. We have slaved over the script for years, sold it to a producer, that producer has taken years to set up the film, then it finally starts production... and we've written and sold a half dozen scripts by then. It's not uncommon for it to take ten years for a script to reach the screen, by then we may not eve remember our own story!

Plus all of those other writers the studio brings in to "re-energize" a stalled project. This may not make any sense, but it's a fact of the biz. Let's say you've written a really hot script called SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and it sells for big money to Universal Studios and the hottest actress in the world, Julia Roberts, signs to play the lead. But they have trouble casting the male lead and the film gets pushed back a couple of times... then completely loses momentum. How do you resurrect this project? You have to get the trades talking about it again - make it an exciting project again - so you hire a big name writer to rewrite the script (that sold for big money and signed the top star in the world). Maybe this writer improves an already good script, maybe they just change a few things but "re-energize" the project. Make it hot again. Take the deadest project in Hollywood and hire Diablo Cody to rewrite it and it's suddenly hot again. A script with a new writer is GOING SOMEPLACE... a great script that is just sitting on a studio shelf is dead. It's like Woody Allen's shark analogy in ANNIE HALL.

Add to that every director has his own "pet writer" that he brings in to implement all of those notes that might get shot down in the normal development process - stuff like having the Sheriff of Nottingham *also* be Robin Hood because it's a "cool idea"... and when that doesn't work, just make it a typical Robin Hood movie instead of the hot script about the Sheriff of Nottingham that sold for big bucks and everyone loved. What you end up with is a reality where the writer who worked so hard to create that script in the first place may be estranged from the project by the time the film gets made. I had a film that I was the original writer on, but by the time the thing got made so many other writers had worked on it that even the producer seemed to forget that I was involved in the project. They would need a Greyhound Bus to transport all of the writers involved to the set and clean out a dozen Cost Plus Stores to provide us all with a director's chair.

On most of my films I've been the only writer (except for director's girlfriends) so I've been allowed on set. In some cases I have been at war with the directors by the time we started filming, creating a very tense set visit... But I'm a nice guy and directors usually don't mind having me around. Some directors even LIKE me.


I usually time my set visits to coincide with the dinner break. Once a day (sometimes twice) a truck rolls up with tables and chairs and sometimes even a tent and another truck follows with a catered meal. These meals usually offer a choice of main courses (fish, chicken/meat, vegetarian), are usually all-you-can-eat, and are often prepared on the spot (some of the companies have portable barbecues). Anyone on a film crew will tell you that the most important thing on any shoot is the food - it's the thing the crew looks forward to - and Producers know this. The food is usually really good, and if you're involved in the production (the writer) it's also free. I try to get in as many free meals as possible during the filming. This not only gives you a chance to meet the crew (the people actually making your dream come true), because you're "above the line" you get to sit at the adult table - with the movie stars and the director and the producer. This helps your career - plus you get to pal around with movie stars.

You want to make friends with the star for many reasons, at least one of which is you'll get to see the "dailies" - the footage shot the previous day. Dailies aren't shown in a theater any more, they're usually shown on video in the star or director's trailer. I was sitting in a star's trailer watching dailies where I first realized how important it is to have writers on the set.


Many of my scripts have big plot twists, and this one had a doosey! A character with key evidence was assassinated by the villain's henchman in an earlier scene... but survived! Now the hero has to protect the witness as he tracks the villain - a conflict because the closer he gets to the villain the more likely the villain will discover the witness is still alive. I had a great scene where the hero and henchman fight - and the whole time the hero is trying to keep the henchman from seeing the witness in the next room. Except the dailies for that scene have the witness IN THE SAME ROOM as the henchman! The henchman actually puts a gun to the witness' head in a director-improvised bit of business. Later scenes where the henchman reports to the villain (and fails to mention the witness he shot in an earlier scene has been miraculously resurrected) have already been shot!

I attempt to tactfully mention the continuity problem to the director who tells me not to worry about it. Yesterday's location is gone - no chance to reshoot anything - maybe they can fix it in editing. The director never admitted he either forgot what the scene was about, or never understood what the scene was about in the first place. But even if the reason for the witness character to be in the room was a location change (from a 2 room office to a 1 room office) there were things I could have done as a writer to make that scene work. I could have fixed the continuity error with WORDS instead of making the editor try to reconstruct the footage they shot into a scene that made sense.

To tell you the truth - I don't think the director ever understood what the script was about, so even if I had been on set I might not have been able to do anything except lose an argument with the director on his "brilliant improvised action gag" of the henchman taking the witness hostage. I later found out he had never read the script... he had only read the coverage.

On another film I didn't get to see the dailies... I had to witness a huge script screw-up on the big screen at the premiere (which I was invited to... probably by accident). I am a meticulous researcher and had read a stack of books and hung around with cops in order to make my script realistic. One thing I discovered was a public misconception about a particular aspect of a police investigation... so I used that as a plot twist. The audience would naturally assume one thing, then I would have the detectives reveal the truth. I even had actual national crime statistics in the dialogue - shocking facts that most American's didn't know. I always hope to start a post-theater (or post-video) conversation in my audience about the theme of the film or one of these weird facts I uncover.

Except this film had gone through an on-set rewrite. The actors playing the detectives thought weird fact was just plain wrong and that my FBI crime statistics were made up off the top of my head. They talked to the director, who had no idea how much research I had done (they usually don't) and the three of them rewrote the whole scene... based on that common misconception that was about 180 degrees wrong. That meant the big plot twist was gone... so they had to make up a clue that lead to the killer on the spot. A clue that had never been planted in the previous 80 pages. A clue that just popped up from out of the blue in a scene about a completely different subject. Anyone want to guess how convincing this clue was? It only I had been on set to explain how much research I had done and point out how the whole darned solution to the mystery was based on that common misconception.


But you have to be careful what you wish for. While my HBO World Pemiere movie GRID RUNNERS (ala VIRTUAL COMBAT) was filming I dropped by the set for dinner one night and the director said the words I've come to dread: "Boy am I glad to see you! We've been calling you all day!" Whenever the director WANTS the writer to come down to the set, it can only be trouble. They were shooting at this huge glass and chrome skyscraper that was a victim of LA's real estate boom-and-bust. The place was empty, not a single business on any of the floors. The perfect location to shoot our evil corporate villain's lair. They had shot a bunch of scenes and were preparing to shoot the big end action scene where the villain tries to escape by helicopter from the helipad on the roof of his building and the hero and heroine try to stop him. The hero only has a handful of bullets left and has to use them to keep the helicopter from landing on the helipad... which means he has no bullets to take down the villain. But they ARE on a roof, so you can guess what happens.

Except they won't be on a roof.

The location was perfect except for two things: no rooftop helipad and no access to the rooftop. Could I completely rewrite the scene to take place in the courtyard in front of the building? By 5am tomorrow (so they can make copies of the new pages and have them on the set in time to film first thing in the morning)?

1) Why would the helicopter try to land in the courtyard?
2) What could replace the excitement of the rooftop fight scene, where our hero keeps getting knocked to the edge (and once OVER the edge) of the roof.
3) How can the villain fall to his death if the scene is at ground level?

Plus two dozen other problems I would have to deal with. It's not just hanging the slug lines, it's rethinking the entire scene. It was about 7pm when I showed up for dinner... and they had set up in the courtyard. So I couldn't even get a good look at my location until AFTER they had broken down the tables and got rid of the catering trucks. Swell!

I was distracted through dinner - probably making the cast think I was aloof and remote and "artistic" - then I had to wait around until the caterers left. The whole time the clock is ticking. Every minute the crew spent folding chairs was a minute I couldn't spend working on the rewrite. Finally I had the courtyard the way it would be tomorrow morning when they would start filming... and realized I had nothing to work with! You couldn't land a helicopter there if your life depended on it! So the part of the scene where the helicopter lands and the villain is racing towards it and the hero has to shoot at it? Not gonna work. Unfortunately they had already shot the scene where the villain calls for the helicopter... I was stuck with having a helicopter in the scene.

Driving home I remembered something I planted earlier in the script that I could use in this scene... and by the time I got home I was ready to write. I worked all night and got the new pages faxed to the production office by 5am. I missed my daily dinner visit that day - I was asleep. I never got to see them film the scene I had slaved all night to rewrite. Some parts of the new scene got scrambled because I wasn't there to explain them and the director and cast didn't have time to analyze the pages... but I'm sure the result (including a great villain's death) were better than anything that might have resulted from the director and actors improvising a scene for the new location off the top of their heads.

Do I think writers should be allowed on sets? I think if producers were smart they would insist on it. Who else knows the script as well as we do? Who else could have remembered that thing they planted in act one that is EXACTLY what is needed to make that act three rewrite work? Hey, I can sleep some other time... I've got rewrites!

- Bill

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Autograph Styles Of The Old And Famous

Rerun from 2006...

The plan for Saturday was to hang out with my hometown friends Paul and Van and catch up on old times.

Van is one of my oldest friends, we met when I was 18 years old and making short films. He was a celebrity in the local film community because his short film about the “mothball fleet” - rusting Navy battle ships harbored in Vallejo - won a bunch of awards and was bought by the Navy - it was showing in the Navy Museum in Washington DC or someplace.

Paul was also a local celebrity - he made drive in movies that played all over the United States... he also gave me my first screenwriting job on that classic Oscar nominated drama NINJA BUSTERS. Paul lives far far away in another country with very different plumbing than ours.

The three of us, and a handful of others, were the guys who were going to make it in the film business. We'd sit around the "big table" in the back of our local Denny's, eating burgers and discussing film until close to dawn. Back in the days when making movies was more dream than reality.

Now, we could hang out anywhere... but Paul has flown back to the USA for the Celebrity Autograph Show at the Burbank Marriott. That’s where we’re meeting.

I arrive at the Burbank Marriott, which used to be the Burbank Hilton, and is where they have the Fangoria Convention every year. It’s very close to the airport... as in, planes buzz the roof as they land and take off. Yahoo’s media HQ is right across the street, and Frys Electronics is on the other side of the railroad tracks. Oh, when the planes aren’t buzzing the hotel, freight trains are whizzing by - and the occasional Amtrak passenger train. You know, prime Southern California real estate.

I arrive, and since the Show costs $25 for a 2 day pass, I decide to phone Paul’s cell (mobile to you Europeans) to see if he actually made it through customs and is in Burbank. I get no answer, so I call Van’s cell. He picks up right away.

Are you inside?


Then I’ll see you in a minute.

You’re here?

Yes... I only had to come down the street. Is Paul with you?

No. I think he’s in L.A.

Okay, I’m confused - where are you?

Home (San Francisco). Working on a novel.

We talked for a while longer, but it seems like Van flaked at the last minute. He’s done that before - in fact, so many times that it no longer matters to me. There was a time when it used to piss me off... several times I waited in bars or restaurants for him, and once he was a last minute no-show on a trip to Reno. I’d set up these trips for the old gang - well, the ones who haven’t done anything unforgivable - and we’d hang out for 3 days somewhere. I’d pay for hotel rooms and airfare and meals... and the casino/hotel in Reno actually through in a bunch of drink and gambling coupons. No one could complain that they couldn’t afford to go, I had it covered. At the Oakland Airport, we’re waiting on Van... and he doesn’t show. This was when cell phones where the size of a brick (not that long ago) and I didn’t want one. We were all kind of worried when he didn’t make the plane... and when we arrived in Reno, I wasn’t going to spend $9 million on hotel long distance charges to find out what happened. The rest of us had a great time, and when we returned, I called... and Van said something had come up at the last minute. These days, I just accept that Van is Van... He looks at life differently than I do - he lives completely in the moment. No thoughts of future or past, only *now*. I am a planner - I try to turn the chaos of my life into some sort of order. Van is a great guy, who makes decisions at the last minute, so when he does show up, I think of it as a bonus. This means I would only be hanging out with Paul...

I gave him another call on his cell - and Paul’s gravelly voice answered. He was inside.

I paid, got a wrist band, and wandered into the big autograph room and found Paul.


If you’ve never been to one of these autograph shows, here’s how they work...

The big ballroom of the hotel is filled with rows of tables, and behind each table are a bunch of TV and movie stars that you thought were dead charging around $20 for an autographed picture from one of their films, or $15 to take a picture standing next to you. They often have other items for sale - self published memoirs, scripts from their shows, self produced films, and sometimes T shirts. In the back of the room and out in the lobby are tables selling memorabilia - movie posters, toys, DVDs and VHS tapes, and anything else that might be worth something with a star’s autograph on it.

There’s a hierarchy among the signing stars - featured tables (unusually in the corners of the room) with long lines of fans waiting for an autograph. Though the fame of the star is one of the factors in being at a featured table, the more important factor is whether the star’s autographs are rare or easily available, This often means a lesser star will end up at a featured table because they’ve never signed at a show before. Saturday’s featured guests included Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Elliot Gould, and Natasia Kinski. Long lines for each of them.

Gene Barry, recently in WAR OF THE WORLDS... dumped at some normal table.

They also do “theme tables” - often with all of the surviving cast from some classic TV show or movie. They had everyone from the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA TV show, from David Hedison to Del Monroe (who was also in the movie). When I was a kid VOYAGE was one of my favorite shows. It was like STAR TREK, but underwater.

They also had a James Bond group - with Richard Keil (Jaws) and George Lazenby (Bond in O.H.M.S.S. - probably the best Bond story, but nobody’s seen it) and Martine Beswick (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE) and Shirley Eaton (the hot babe who gets covered with gold in GOLDFINGER). I’m a huge Bond fan. When I look back on the movies I loved as a kid, the movies that would turn me into a film junkie and eventually into a screenwriter; Bond movies are right up on the top of the list. When I was a kid, my parents would see movies at the Drive In, let us kids watch the cartoons that came on first, then have us sleep in the back seat during the movies... but I always secretly stayed awake and watched the movie reflected in the back window of the car. For years I thought everyone in the movies was left handed. I don’t know if I saw GOLDFINGER reflected in the back window of my parent’s Plymouth, but the Bond movies were the first films I saw that had nekkid women in them. Ursula Andress getting hosed down after radioactive contamination and Daniela Bianchi running nude into Bond’s room and Shirley Eaton naked and covered in gold. As a little boy, seeing a nekkid girl was, well, amazing. I was too young to know why I liked nekkid girls, but I liked them. So seeing Shirley Eaton in person should have been a big thrill. Except she looked like my grandmother. She was really really old.

Of course she was old. Robert Culp from I SPY and GREATEST AMERICAN HERO was there - and he was really really old, too. In fact, everyone there - all of the stars I used to watch on TV and in the movies - were old. Wrinkled. Hunched over. Look, we all get old - I’m old - but when you can pop in the DVD of GOLDFINGER and see the hot, sexy, young version of Shirley Eaton - that’s how I want to remember her. That film image is who they are to me.

There are two ways to react to one of these autograph shows - either be excited to see all of these stars from the past and run around collecting autographs and photos (that’s what Paul did) or find it all kind of depressing and sad that these childhood idols are now old people selling their signatures for $20 (that’s me). Hitchcock tells a story in Hitchcock/Truffaut about a film late in his career where someone suggested he hire Graham Cutts as a lowly assistant. Hitchcock was embarrassed, because Cutts was the studio head who first hired Hitchcock when he was just starting out. Hitchcock thought it was demeaning to hire him for such a menial job... but then he’s told that Cutts really needs the job, so Hitchcock reluctantly hires him. That’s kind of how I feel about the stars at the autograph shows - I’m embarrassed for them, but I also worry that they need the money. These folks were stars when stars weren’t paid much.


While wandering down the aisles, I bump into a bunch of the guys from the Thursday Night Drinking Group. Grabbing autographs and dishing about who was there and how they looked. Dan was standing in the very long line for Tony Curtis’ autograph... which is kind of funny, since Dan has probably been in more movies than Tony Curtis (he’s Agent Cody Banks’ dad and Tommy Lee Jones right hand man in THE FUGITIVE and was a regular on a half dozen TV show like MATLOCK). Duane was there, and I introduced him to Paul, who is a big fan of PULP FICTION. Again - Duane wasn’t there to sign autographs, he was there to collect autographs. Strange how these people are on one side of the table now, but may be on the other side of the table doing the signing someday.

After Paul collected a bunch of autographed pictures of stars from his childhood, he and I went out to the lobby, had a drink, and talked about old times and current projects. About ex-friends. About the old days when we’d bump into each other at the movies, or the gang would get together for an almost all night conversation in Denny’s about movies. That gang consisted of Paul, me, Van, Vick, Bruce, sometimes Debbie (assistant director on THE DEEP END), Tom, Mike, Hurley, Willy, Rhomboid Goatcabin (real name Michael) , and sometimes Rob the cameraman. Some of these people are, like Mad Max, just a memory now. All of us brought together by our love of movies.

Paul is no longer directing movies, now he is writing and directing these audio books... well, really they are audio movies. He puts together these great casts - often the same stars who are here at the autograph show - and top of the line sound effects and musical scoring. The result is a movie without the picture. He’s done a couple of them, now. HARD ROCK LOVERS (with a voice cameo by me) and now McKNIGHT’S MEMORY starring Robert Culp. He also did a 77 minute true crime story from Ed “Kooky” Burns from 77 SUNSET STRIP (before my time, but one of those kick ass 60s TV private eye shows). To bring everything back to Bond - Paul’s first audio thing was a seminar - LIVING THE JAMES BOND LIFESTYLE that I was director on.

Stars from the past. Friends from the past.

In the film that plays in my mind, we are always that bunch of young guys around the back table in Denny’s talking about movies. We never grow old. None of us ever go on to do things that are unexcuseable and criminal. None of us will die before our time. Just like the movie stars on film - we are in our perfect time, our perfect state. We may grow old, but like film... memories never age.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Diversions & Plot Twists
Yesterday’s Dinner: Broccoli Beef at CityWok.
DVD: Watched THE PARALLAX VIEW, one of my favorite movies. I saw it when it first came out, I was a kid, and it's one ofthe major influences on my writing. Warren Beatty plays a screw up reporter who discovers that all of the witnesses to a Kennedy-like assassination have died in mysterious accidents. He decides to investigate, and discovers a company that deals in assassinations - including the social misfit loners who get caught afterwards. So, he does what any reporter would do, he gets a fake ID and applies for a job. Great suspense, one of the best fist fights on film, and a very very dark ending. One thing that is interesting about the film is the use of *stillness* - the film is mostly big panoramic long shots with *nothing moving* except one person or thing. That draws your eye to the movement... and creates instant tension. There is a huge contrast between the still background and the violence. It's the *opposite* of Paul Greengrass and the last two BOURNE movies.
Pages: Still only a couple of pages on SLEEPER when I'm supposed to be doing *more* than 5 pages, and now I have to set it aside to prepare for my Expo Classes.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lancelot Link: Adam Sandler's Hitflop

Lancelot Link Monday! So, Adam Sandler's new film PIXELS did not do all that well in the USA. It came in #2 after last week's (and this week's) #1 movie ANT MAN... even though many of you are waiting for the ANT MAN / MAN FROM UNCLE double bill. So Sandler is obviously a failure. But PIXELS also opened well overseas, so it may end up a worldwide success. So Adam Sandler is obviously a success. Except Sandler used to do well in both the USA and the other 3/4s of the Box Office that is now the USA. Sandler has a new deal to make movies for Netflix, which (unfortunately) targets a USA audience. Did Netflix make a bad deal? 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 Ant Man......................... $24,765,000
2 Pixels.......................... $24,000,000
3 Minions......................... $22,100,000
4 Train Wreck..................... $17,300,000
5 Southpaw........................ $16,500,000
6 Paper Towns..................... $12,500,000
7 Inside Out....................... $7,356,000
8 Jurassic World................... $6,900,000
9 Mr Holmes (not John)............. $2,849,000
10 Terminator (Phil Collins)........ $2,400,000

ANT MAN is doing pretty good so far.

2) BBC's 100 List Vs. Oscar Winners!

3) Jake Gyllenhaal's Boxing Lessons.

4) International Film Noir List.

5) BIG LEBOWSKI Live Reading. Dude approved!

6) And the #1 Film In China Is...

7) Interview With The Writers Of Paul Newman's HUD.

8) Illegally Streaming Movies? Better Call Saul!

9) When the X-MEN met THE FANTASTIC FOUR... I won't have what she's having.

10) George R.R. Martin: GAME OF AVENGERS?

11) Peter Bart & Mike Fleming on Relativity's Problems.

12) SPECTRE Trailer, in case you missed it.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Doesn't it make you want to see the Burt Reynolds original again?


Buy The DVDs




Thursday, July 23, 2015

William Castle Noir Flicks

From 2011...

Noir City is underway at the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian - a couple of weeks of Film Noir movies that were not on DVD and some that were not on any sort of video - and I'm not there. Busy prepping the Reno class. So here is a blog entry from a couple of years ago...

The idea behind Noir City is to find the obscure gems that people may not have seen before, and show them on the big screen for a couple of weeks. They often have any of the cast and crew who are still around show up for Q&A afterwards. I believe they also restore - or push for the restoration - of these films. A big studio star vehicle from the 1940s might get restored by the studio, but some cheap little noir film may not. It's great to see these films on the big screen... and often the audience is packed with VIPS who are fans of the genre. Here are two films that I saw a couple of years ago...

HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951) directed by William Castle, written by Frederick Kohner & Fred Brady. Richard Conte plays a producer who decides to make a film about a 20 year old unsolved murder in Hollywood - a famous film director who had no shortage of enemies. He interviews the suspects and finds new clues and... the killer keeps trying to kill him. But who is the killer? Will he find out before the killer snuffs him? The victim 20 years ago: A big time producer who was involved in a love triangle. The story is based on a real Hollywood murder - William Desmond Taylor who was killed in 1922, still unsolved! The cast of suspects is great - hottie Julia Adams (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) is the woman in the love triangle's daughter (and Conte’s love interest) - and there's a great LAURA-like painting on her mom in the victim's office, Jim Backus is an agent, Richard Egan is a homicide detective, Henry Hull (LIFEBOAT) is a once famous screenwriter who now lives in a shack and is constantly drunk, Fred Clark is a producer who once worked with the victim, and there are relatives of the victim and studio guards who sleep through the shifts and about a dozen movie stars making cameos as themselves (possible suspects!) including Joel McCrea.

The cool thing about the story is that almost everyone involved in making the movie *about* the murder is a *suspect* in the murder. Hollywood is a small world, and when you hire the victim’s favorite screenwriter (Hull) to write the screenplay, because he *is* research as well as a writer; you not only end up with a guy who knows every detail of the crime, you end up with a guy who had all kinds of motive to kill the victim. Every single person hired to make this film is a suspect! This concept could be used for a fake documentary film or for a movie about an America’s Most Wanted kind of TV show that stumbles into the middle of the crime while investigating it. The more Conte digs into the case, the more the real killer (one of the people he is working with to make the film) tries to kill him. Nice little film - cheap to make because they shot it at the studio. Not on VHS, not on DVD.

Between the films, Julie Adams (that hot chick from CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) did Q&A - and was filled with great stories about the film. Her memory is better than mine! And, for however old she is, she looked great. She is still a working actress, doing a bunch of TV work now (she’s on LOST in flashbacks). She was at MONSTERPALOOZA a few days later as part of the CREATURE group.

Next up, UNDERTOW (1949) - also directed by William Castle, screenplay by Arthur Horman and Lee Loeb. Kind of a riff on THE FUGITIVE movie made decades later. Scott Brady plays a guy framed for murder in Chicago who has cops chasing him night and day and must find the real killer before the cops find him. Because the cops have staked out all of his friends' houses, the only one who can help him is this gal he met on the plane to Chicago (cute Peggy Dow) - a complete stranger. This creates kind of a THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR kidnapping thing... and lots of suspense. Brady is an ex-mob guy who is now a legit businessman in Reno, but is in love with the Mob Boss’ daughter (Dorothy Hart in the femme fatale role). He’s going back to propose to her and take her back to Reno with him... but the mob boss gets killed and he gets blamed. Bruce Bennett (from every movie ever made - he played Tarzan and was in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and DARK PASSAGE and MILDRED PIERCE and co-starred with Elvis in LOVE ME TENDER and one of his last films was Terrence Malick’s DEADHEAD MILES) plays the cop chasing him - and much like in THE FUGITIVE, if Brady can convince the cop that he is innocent, they will start looking at clues that might lead to the real killer. There is a *great* scene where Brady shows up at Bennett’s house, holds a gun on him in his basement den, and tries to convince him that he’s innocent... while Bennett’s son watches through a window... tells his mother that dad is being held at gunpoint by a desperado... and mom tells him to quit making up stories and get ready for bed. The kid *knows* dad is in trouble and can’t get anyone to believe him... so he grabs his cap gun and goes to rescue his dad. Lots of chases and double crosses and a great plot - part of the story revolves around Brady being kidnaped by the (unseen) killer and shot in order to match the actual wounds the real killer sustained in the crime - all of the evidence created against him by the real killer is insurmountable. The film is full of twists and shot on location in Reno and Chicago - the Chi-town location work is fantastic - all kinds of great local landmarks wove into the story.

The amazing thing about both of these films is that they were low budget throw aways, but really well made, clever, well acted, and are better than some of the big budget crap that is released today. Both were directed by William Castle, who would become famous later in his career for gimmick horror films like THE TINGLER. He was a creative and competent director who knew how to squeeze a buck so that you never knew the film you were watching was made on the cheap. Neither of these films looked low budget - and UNDERTOW looks bigger budget than many of the films I’ve seen from the same period that cost a whole bunch more.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: No Script Before Its Time - is your script ready to be sent out?
Dinner: Some sort of bunless burger thing at Dennys.
Bicycle: Medium ride to a far off Starbucks, then to another, then back home (which hasn't happened as I type this).
Pages: Finished a new draft on the assignment treatment and also wrote a one pager for Cannes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Is Hollywood Dead?

From 4 years ago, the gloom & doom!

On message boards, there are always people who think that Hollywood is dead but just doesn’t know it, and there’s gonna be this whole new non-corporate paradigm. Look, we have the internet, and these cheap digital cameras - the movie industry as we know it will be dead in no time. We will not longer be *forced* to watch the movies that Hollywood makes, we can watch *good* movies for a change. No more TRANSFORMERS movies and no more sequels and no more HANGOVER lowest common denominator comedies. Once the evil corporations are gone, once Hollywood is dead and buried and being eaten by worms; we’ll be living in a freakin’ Entertainment Utopia! Only great films!

There is this theory on message boards that people are hungry for quality intelligent cinema, but Hollywood just keeps making this crap and people are forced to watch it because there are no alternatives... but now that we have inexpensive digital cameras plus streaming download as a method of distribution, Hollywood’s days are numbered and soon people will get the great movies they are craving!

If you build it they will come, right? The big problem with movies today is that Hollywood is building the kinds of movies Hollywood wants to see, not what *people* want to see. They make there crappy films that appeal to lowest common denominator, and if people were given a choice they will select the great films over the junk and the whole entertainment world will change - giving us more great films. The good forces the bad out of the market, right? The problem is the Hollywood monopoly, now that the truly talented have access to the equipment to make films, they will overthrow Hollywood and we all benefit! Throw away those 3D glass, you will never need them again. Forget about movies about boobs and blood and fast cars and explosions and superheroes! Michael Bay - find your place in the unemployment line now!


Sixty years ago, everyone thought Hollywood was dead - due to TV. Hollywood started doing all kinds of things to make films an experience you couldn't get anywhere else - like 3D. Sixty years later, Hollywood is still here, and all of this new media is scaring them into making films an experience you can't get on your iPhone - like 3D. Hey, I think 3D is a bunch of crap, but one of the reason for the success of GREEN HORNET earlier this year was 3D, and one of the reasons why PIRATES 4 is doing so well overseas is 3D. Some people like the 3D experience - it’s something that they can’t get at home. But, wait! PIRATES 4 is not doing well in 3D in the United States! That 3D bubble has burst and Hollywood is dead!

The only thing wrong with that - what are people paying to see *instead* of 3D movies? Were they seeing the uplifting drama SOUL SURFER? Tom McCarthy’s great new drama WIN WIN? The romantic drama WATER FOR ELEPHANTS based on the big best selling novel? Or Werner Herzog’s beautiful new film about prehistoric French cave paintings CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (oh, crap - that’s in 3D!)? No - the people who were not seeing PIRATES 4 in 3D were seeing PIRATES 4 in 2D! The others were seeing BRIDESMAIDS, THOR, FAST FIVE, or the junky comic book action flick PRIEST. People may be cooling on 3D, but not on Hollywood films.

2009 broke box office records at the cinemas, and *ticket sales* increased as well. It was a record year for cinema ticket sales - more butts in seats than in any recent previous year. Meanwhile, home entertainment (from Hollywood) took a nosedive. 2010 sold fewer tickets and made less money - but was ahead of 2009 as far as money was concerned until mid-December. The problem seemed to be there was no huge Holiday movie - TRON: LEGACY was no AVATAR... and all of the second tier films also did much less business. Hey, that was good for the Coen Brothers - TRUE GRIT is their first real hit! But that happened because there was no “mainstream” hit movie to go to. This year began slow, but box office rebounded to record levels in April. With $791 million, April of 2011 was the top-grossing April ever and was up five percent from April last year. And with 101 million tickets sold, April 2011 was the third highest-attended April in history. And it didn’t stop there - we just had the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend of all time at $277 million... and summer has just begun!

Hollywood is giving people the movies they want, even if they may not be the movies that *you* want to see. The major mistake in the theory that good films will force out the bad is the definitions of “good” and “bad”. I have a Script Tip on the two kinds of good - there is “critical good” and “entertainment good” - and when people have been working all week and want to just escape their crappy lives for two hours, most of them are not interested in movies that are challenging and intellectual - they just want to be entertained. When some critic says that FAST FIVE is a good movie if you just check your brain at the door, they mean it is well made entertainment... and that’s what most people want to see when they buy their tickets. They just want to be transported into some fantasy world where their problems do not exist. Sure, there are some people who *do* want to be challenged and *do* want to think... but that is a small percentage of the audience - a niche. If you fill the cinemas with “more intelligent films”, more people will not be watching them.

Already we *do* have films like WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (wide release) and SOUL SURFER (wide release) and LINCOLN LAWYER (wide release) that are the “adult” and “intelligent” alternatives to guys in tights fighting crime... and those films aren’t selling many tickets. They appeal to that limited audience that wants to see more intelligent films. LINCOLN LAWYER, based on a best selling novel, with real movie stars in it, well reviewed (83% on RT), and playing in every cinema in the USA... made a grand total of $57 million in it’s theatrical run... which is about what X-MEN: FIRST CLASS made over the weekend, and they’re calling it a flop! The problem is - if you make a bunch of “better movies”, most of the audience will still want to see explosions and poop humor. They *want* to check their brains at the door, and more films of quality won’t change anything.


Of course, the reason why X-MEN: FIRST CLASS made so much money over the weekend is all of the Hollywood Hype! That’s why no one goes to see Indie films - no big hype machine *telling* people to see WIN WIN! If everything was equal, and every movie had the same amount of hype, the audience would pick WIN WIN over X-MEN!

The problem is that theory doesn't work. You can't force people to see a movie they do not want to see - no matter how much you spend on adverts. The dollar store down the street is still trying to get rid of all of the tie-in merchandise for SPEED RACER - no one wants it. They did not want to see the movie, either - even though we had non-stop adverts for two months before it came out and Warner Bros thought it was going to be the #1 film of the summer. It flopped. Big time.

And every year there are massive flops that the studios think will be hits and advertize the hell out of. People did not want to see them or did not like them. Word of mouth is still more important than any amount of advertizing Hollywood can throw at a film.

One of the big problems is text messages - people in the cinema are texting friends in line telling them that the film sucks. They have charted bomb movies on opening day - they might have a good first couple of performances in New York City, but by the time they hit the West Coast word is out that the film stinks... and all of those adverts the studio bought are meaningless. There was a big drop on IRON MAN 2 between Friday and Saturday of opening weekend... and then a big drop the second weekend. It's just okay... and word is out. HANGOVER 2 had a great opening weekend, but just took a nose-dive. I suspect the reason is that everyone thought the film was funny, just not quite as good as the first film... and that qualification made the second weekend’s audience think twice about seeing it in the cinema... hey, we’ll just wait for Netflix. People’s opinions of the film control ticket sales.

If Hollywood could manipulate people into seeing movies, they would *all* be hits - but they are not. They have big budget summer films that just flop. You can not sell the public on a movie they do not want to see, nor sell them on a movie their friends told them was dreadful. Hype might get butts in the seats for the first few showings, or for the first weekend... but after that, the audience decides. They make a film a hit or a flop by paying to see it, telling their friends to see it, and liking it so much they pay to see it again and maybe again. A film that makes it into the Top Ten for the year is probably something that many people liked enough to see more than once.

People see what people want to see. They control Hollywood... not the other way around.

I honestly don't know how more indie films can bring about the demise of "Hollywood" (The Man, The Studios, Those Michael Bay Movies) because Hollywood is just a follower. Studios follow the money... and the money comes from the ticket buyers. If people want to see Indie films, studios make and release films that seem indie (see the 1970s). If people want to see big dumb action films, studios make and release big dumb action films. Studios always release these trial balloon movies too - just to see if people want to see medical dramas starring Harrison Ford or mature rom-coms starring Meryl Streep or musicals based on Fellini movies. If those films strike gold, they follow the money and more like them - maybe a musical based on Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL (they've already done one musical based on a Bergman film - it did not do well). If people are not interested in paying to see some type of movie, they don't make those. Hollywood just follows the audience.

So the only way to kill Hollywood is to kill the people who enjoy going to the movies. This does not sound like a good idea.

The good things that will come out of this new indie revolution are that niche audiences that Hollywood ignores - be it intelligent adult oriented films or movies for minorities or genres that have fallen out of favor - will get some films to watch. Those films may be streaming to their home entertainment systems, but they will be available. If you don’t like what Hollywood is making, there *will* be something out there for you to watch. They won’t be “mainstream” films with stars and Hollywood production value, but they are not being made for a mainstream audience. Niche films for a niche audience. I have no idea whether the film makers will be able to make a living doing this or not, but at least they can do it - make the films they want to make. The problem is, if you make a film aimed at the majority audience there are a lot more ticket buyers than if you make a film for a minority audience. You also kind of enter The Octagon - if there are 100 films aimed at a particular niche audience and only so many hours in the day that niche audience is going to watch films, some of those films will not be seen. The weirdest thing about do it yourself movies is that if everyone has a camera, who will be watching the movies?

But that’s the other good thing about low cost film making - if you are mostly making movies for self expression and you don’t care about the audience, you can make your movie! Maybe no one will ever see it, but you can still make it and get it out there! If it is all about self expression for you, you can now afford to express yourself! Your voice can now be heard (even if no one is listening)!

But Hollywood is not going to die any time in the near future - this may be a record year for cinema like 2009 was. The majority of the people who buy tickets like what Hollywood is dishing out. They like explosions and poop jokes. They may even like exploding poop jokes... DUMB & DUMBER made money, right? If you don’t like the kinds of movies that Hollywood is making, you can grab a camera and make your own.

Meanwhile, there’s a new TRANSFORMERS movie on the horizon. If people don't text their friends that it sucks, Michael Bay may be able to stay off the unemployment line for another year...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Forward Momentum - and superhero movies like X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and IRON MAN 2...
Dinner: bag lunch: ham & cheese on 12 grain, apple.
Pages: Cold almost gone, but this blog entry and some other stuff got today's energy instead of the screenplay.
Bicycle: Short bike ride.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lancelot Link: Incredible Shrinking Man

Lancelot Link Monday! There was this rumor that ANT MAN was going to be Marvel's first big flop... I suspect DC started that rumor. It ended up not being true. Though the film opened $2 million under predictions, it still raked in money and the audience loved it (A grade on Cinemascore). Not bad for a "lesser" Marvel movie about a character none of us have ever heard of. But Marvel is still fighting a BLACK WIDOW stand alone movie. WTF? Do think think male audience members don't want to see a strong woman in a skin tight catsuit kick ass? 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 Ant Man......................... $58,040,000
2 Minions......................... $50,200,000
3 Trainwreck...................... $30,200,000
4 Inside Out...................... $11,660,000
5 Jurassic........................ $11,400,000
6 Terminator....................... $5,400,000
7 Magic Mike....................... $4,500,000
8 Gallows.......................... $4,005,000
9 Ted 2............................ $2,700,000
10 Holmes........................... $2,489,000

July Box Office is up 28.8% over last year... so this has been a pretty good summer so far. The movie in the #10 slot, MR. HOLMES, was playing on only 363 screens!

2) Judd Apatow on TRAIN WRECK.

3) Black List Script Optioned...

4) THE REVENANT Trailer.

5) SPECTRE World Premiere...

6) Michael Sheen joins PASSENGERS.

7) Jack Nicholson & Marlon Brando in DELIVERANCE?

8) Matt & Ben Do SyFy!

9) Mark Hamill On Amy Schumer's Princess Leia...

10) One of my favorite films, DAYS OF HEAVEN, analysed.

11) National Lampoon's SPIDER MAN???

12) The Last Drive In....

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Buy The DVDs




Friday, July 17, 2015

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Under Capricorn (1949)

Screenplay by James Birdie and Hume Cronyn based on a play by Margret Linden and John Colton based on a novel by Helen Simpson.

That's a whole lotta based ons...

Still my least favorite Hitchcock film! Several problems, the biggest one is genre - this is a frilly shirt melodrama with no thrills at all and some sort of family secret, that when finally revealed ends up being a “So what?” moment. There’s a whole lot of acting going on and no real conflict... and though some scenery is chewed by the end of the story, most of the acting is realistic for the time period when the film was made, and until those end reveal scenes the acting is subdued. Not a bad story for a novel - the characters all make sense and it's interesting how one character's emotional issues trigger a bunch of other character's emotional issues... but all of that is internal. Stuff that shows up on the pages of a novel but not on screen. So we end up with a placid flaccid melodrama that takes place in 1831 in Australia but was shot on the backlot somewhere. This is a movie where everyone wears frilly shirts, outrageously tall top hats, and carries a waking stick... and no one has an Australian or Irish accent, because they are all played by Brits or Americans. Oh, and there are no Aborigines - Australia is an all white country for some reason.

Nutshell: Irresponsible and perpetually unemployed Irish Society Guy Charles Adair (Michael Wilding, who played the boring detective in STAGE FRIGHT but is okay here because he has a character to play) is shipped off by his family to live with his cousin, the new Governor Of Australia (Cecil Parker). They hope Adair will grow up, find a job, and get responsible... but that just doesn’t seem to be in his plans. He meets wealthy land owner Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotton) who was once a prisoner - Australia is a prison colony. He offers Adair a deal: since Flusky has purchased all of the (cheap) land from the government that is legally allowed, if Adair buys some property under his own name, Flusky will buy that property from him for more than he paid. Adair makes a profit, Mr. Flusky gets the government land he wants. Adair is invited to a dinner party at Flusky’s lavish, elegant, mansion that is really only a painting. There he meets Mr. Flusky’s drunken wife Henrietta Flusky (Ingrid Bergman, the only one even trying to do an accent in this film)... who he recognizes as a friend of his sister’s back home!

Thrown in here is an odd variation on the Maid from REBECCA who takes care of Mrs. Flusky and likes to take something hot up to Mr. Flusky in his bedroom (whatever that means). The kitchen staff are all female convicts, and the Maid whips them into submission on a regular basis (off screen, unfortunately). After the Governor discovers his cousin is doing business with an ex-con, he is forced to live in that mansion-which-is-only-a-painting with all of those crazy people. And stuff happens. And Adair tries to get Mrs. Flusky off the bottle and back into Australian Society (whatever that is) in some weird riff on MY FAIR LADY. And eventually the big secret is revealed - Mrs. Flusky actually committed the murder that Mr. Flusky was convicted of! No! No! How could that be? This perpetually drunken woman killed someone? Then some other stuff happens. Then, Adair is shot by Mr.Flusky by accident after he has to shoot Marnie’s horse after it breaks a leg. Oh, wait, it’s Mr. Flusky’s horse. Anyway, the Governor wants to send Mr. Flusky back to prison, but Mrs. Flusky steps forward and says her husband didn’t violate his parole because *she* accidentally killed that guy in Ireland many years ago that sent her husband to prison in the first place.

The Governor now has a two-fer, and is going to send both to prison... but our hero Adair survives and lies and saves the day! No one goes to prison! And, for a movie about Australia as a prison colony, there are no scenes in this film outside or inside the prison - we never see it. Oh, I left out the part where the Maid is discovered slowly drugging Mrs. Flusky and encouraging her to drink and leaving a *shrunken head* on her bed some nights, so that Mr. Flusky will divorce her and marry the Maid because she brings something hot up to him in bed every night (whatever that means). Um, what the hell are shrunken heads doing in Austrailia?

Experiment: In Hitch’s previous film, ROPE, he did a great experiment in long takes - every shot in that film was a full reel of film, and often the cuts between reels used a “human wipe” where an actor would pass in front of the camera at the end of one reel and then pass in front at the beginning of the next so the two reels would seamlessly cut together as one take. That was a brilliant experiment that we will talk about next time. Problem is, Hitchcock tried doing long takes in this film, but it just didn’t work. The reasons...

ROPE is a stage play which takes place in one large apartment. It makes sense to try to do long continuous shots in one room, with the camera gliding around from person to person. CAPRICORN takes place in a bunch of locations, so we are constantly cutting anyway. And even when we are at one location, there are cuts. So there really is no experiment that we are aware of as the audience. Just some long takes - some are interesting, most are infuriating, because...

In ROPE the story is filled with tension. The story has two college students murder their friend, throw his corpse in a trunk they use as a coffee table, then throw a party for all of the victim’s friends including their college professor. So the whole film is unrelenting tension - will someone discover the dead body in the trunk? We are trapped in that room, and trapped in those *shots*. The experiment isn’t just a whim, it fits the story and *builds tension*. In CAPRICORN there is no body in a trunk, and we are not trapped in a room, so the moving camera is just a bunch of moving camera. Because there is no tension, no real conflict, we *need* cutting between shots to create some action. Instead, nothing is happening in the story and nothing is happening technically to keep us awake. The long takes become sleep inducing.

The best long take of the lot is probably when Adair first goes to Mr. Flusky’s house and walks around looking through windows - spying on what is going on - then is caught and invited in, and we move through the door with him and then see all of the things we have seen through the windows from inside the house... oh, if those things had only been not what they appeared! But, it was just the same stuff from a different angle.

Hitch Appearance: Outside the Government House in a long shot. You can’t really see him on DVD unless you have a huge screen TV... and I watched this movie on my laptop in a Vegas Hotel room while on vacation.

Great Scenes: No conflict = no great scenes. This is a melodrama, all about shocking scandalous behavior and family secrets. Those things don’t age well, yesterday’s scandal is today’s normal life.

MOVIES NOT THINKIES: Add to that, these are intellectual rather than physical... and that this film is adapted from a novel, where we get all sorts of information that might make the family secret much more shocking. On film, we only get what we see and hear. So we first see Mrs. Flusky as a drunk, and eventually learn that she came from a wealthy family in Ireland. On the page, we can have our hero remember her in Ireland, and remember how elegant and refined she was. As we read the book, we will picture the elegant and refined version of the character and mentally compare it with this drunken woman... and that’s shocking! On film, we have never seen the other version of the character, and even when it is revealed that she was that refined woman once, it means nothing to us. They’re only words. We can’t compare the word “Lady” and this image of a drunken woman in a house coat in the middle of the day.

ABSTRACT CONCEPTS DON'T FILM WELL: Similarly, all of the melodrama’s big shocking reveals don’t really work on screen. This elegant, refined woman was having an affair with... the stable boy! That stable boy is now Mr. Flusky, not a boy, not a servant of any sort, not covered in manure... Mr. Flusky as we know him is one of the wealthiest men in Australia. So that reveal isn’t much of a shocker. Again, in the novel we can “see” him as the filthy stable boy, and understand that he is a servant and not of the same class as Henrietta. How do we *show* that someone is not of her class? We can’t see that. The closest we can get is maybe showing that he’s not in her league as far as beauty goes. Part of the problem with film is always going to be casting - Joseph Cotton is one of the male leads, so the studio doesn’t want an ugly guy playing that role... and even if they had cast someone ugly, this is the wealthiest man in Australia, and there are many attractive women who marry less attractive men who are wealthy. And if we were to do a flashback to before Flusky became the richest man in Australia, when he was just that stable boy? Problem there is that in a novel you can get inside Henrietta’s head so that we understand why this manure covered boy is strong and virile and sexy to a young woman... even if he was ugly. On film, if they found an ugly man we’d wonder why she had the hots for him, if they cast an attractive actor, the women in the audience might have the hots for him, too... and there goes the whole shocking forbidden love thing. There is no way to make this work well on film, even though it can be a real shocker on the page. Some types of stories just don’t translate to the screen, which is why as writers we need to match our stories to the mediums best suited for telling them.

After Flusky was sent to prison in Australia, Mrs. Flusky sold everything she owned and followed him... living in some vile place while she awaited his parole. This was in a huge chunk of exposition, camera not moving and not cutting, as Mrs. Flusky tells Adair her life up until now, every big shocking moment of it. I’m sure in the novel we got a bunch of flashbacks, but that would have made this movie all about *the past* and not about what we were watching on screen now. As dialogue, that vile place she lived in could be a Motel 6. On the pages of a novel we could have a 2 page flashback filled with details about rats and cockroaches and shared toilets and straw beds with worms, and... see, that was a single sentence that probably grossed you out. On screen you’d have to show all of those things over a long scene or series of scenes so it didn’t become overkill and wind up *funny*.

HOW DOES THE AUDIENCE KNOW THAT? The big twist that Mrs. Flusky was the killer and not her husband is a big problem transferring from page to screen because we can’t show it up front, when it is Mr. Flusky’s backstory, because of the twist. In a book Flusky can be the killer on every single page, because it can be part of the narration. That makes the twist a corker. But on screen we can’t have Flusky be a murderer in the narration - there isn’t any. Unless you have him wear a sign around his neck that says “Murderer” we are going to see him as the wealthiest man in Australia. There’s not much room for editorializing in film. It’s what we see and what we hear, and seeing is believing - so the visual part is most important. We could *show* Mr. Flusky acting like a savage killer all of the time, but there’s one problem with that - he’s innocent.

But the big problem with the story as a *movie* is that we can not show distinctions in society on screen. In a novel we can spell these things out, just like with Flusky as the murderer, we can have him identified as a servant class. And the shocking stuff about the Maid bringing hot stuff up to his bed at night would be shocking. And when Flusky shows at the grand ball, it could be shocking. And when Mrs. Flusky is transformed into the society woman every society man wants to dance with, and then it’s discovered that she was that drunken woman married to Flusky... all of these things work on the page but do not work on screen at all. On screen all men are men, there is no class distinction. All women are women, there is no class distinction. As awful as this may be to say, it ends up all about *looks*. You can have ugly men and handsome men, ugly women and pretty women. That ends up being the “class distinction” on film. Which is why Cinderella is *always* a babe, she just needs better clothes. And why every other makeover movie has the woman taking off her glasses, pulling her hair out of the bun and shaking it out and... instant hottie! A movie can’t show us inner beauty - we usually don’t have time to get to know an unattractive character well enough to understand why another character would fall in love with them in 2 hours. So it all comes down to looks, so we can’t use looks as class distinction in a cross-class love story. On the page, not a problem. On screen, we can’t see class distinctions - so the do not exist. Making this story impossible to tell as a film with anywhere near the same impact as on the page.

All of the conflict is in the past... until the end where Flusky begins to believe that Adair may have the hots for his wife. Then we get a confrontation scene in public and an accidental shooting. Oh, and probably the best scene in the film which triggers the confrontation, where Flusky has bought his wife a necklace and she rejects it. Nice bit of visual storytelling there, too bad it’s in a silly film.

SOAP OPERA TWISTS: But the bigger issue is - even if all of these “twists” would have worked 100% on film, they are “soap opera twists” - they do nothing to change the course of the story. They just tell us scandalous background information about the characters. Henrietta married a servant! Okay, how does that change her life in Australia? It doesn’t change *anything* in the present at all! The closest the film ever comes to using one of these false twists to change the story is when Henrietta confesses to the Governor that *she* committed the crime her husband was originally accused of in order to save him from prosecution for shooting Adair... and it doesn’t work! Flusky is still going to be charged in the shooting of Adair! It takes Adair’s testimony to save Flusky from being returned prison.

A plot twist changes the direction of the story - it impacts the story. In THE CRYING GAME when we get that twist that the chick is really a dude, that changes the direction of the story - now our hero realizes he’s fallen in love with a dude and has to figure out what to do next... and the rest of the story is about trying to deal with that twist. But UNDER CAPRICORN we get “soap opera twists” that just reveal scandalous information about a character which changes nothing. So even if all of these “twists” had translated to screen, they wouldn’t really be twists.

Bad choice of source material for a movie. This story works as a book, doesn’t work at all as a movie.

Sound Track: Kind of a bland movie melodrama score by Richard Addinsell. Forgettable.

This film even looks like a bad period melodrama - between the costumes and the stock shots of Australia and big grand balls interrupted by angry husbands... it just looks like a big dumb Hollywood movie - a bad GONE WITH THE WIND knock off, but without the production value or dialogue or performances or even the cinematography. Many Hitchcock films seem modern, even today. They have aged well. UNDER CAPRICORN looks old fashioned.

- Bill


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Secrets Of Action Screenwriting

For the past 25 years I have earned a living writing movies.

Back in the year 2000 the last version of my book Secrets Of Action Screenwriting came out in paperback and went through a couple of printings without any revisions, and sometime before those books were gone I realized I needed to rewrite the first 6-8 chapters of the book - especially the first 4 - because they were pretty much unchanged from the xeroxed pages I had given friends before there was even the thought of a book. That stuff needed work! Plus, the book had gotten old. So I decided to do a rewrite before it went back into print... then life happened and it got shoved aside. Again and again.

Soon the book had gone out of print... and people began paying crazy prices for used copies on Amazon and eBay. Here is the price of a used copy on Amazon the day the Kindle version was released:

Yes - that says $510 for a book with a cover price of $21.95!

And it sold on eBay once for $999.00 (um, almost a thousand bucks! Wish I got some of that! I guess that means people thought it was good.)

All of this has amused me over the years.

And people keep asking me when the new edition was coming out, and just when I get ready to start the rewrite, some script job came up.

It just kept getting pushed back on the Big To Do List again and again... never getting To Done.

One of those years, the big Publishers Convention came to Los Angeles and I took what few copies of the book I had left and gave them to interested publishers - and there were a few... and I got some e-mails and some calls about the book and how I was doing on the rewrite... but what I had really wanted out of that was a contract with a firm deadline so I would be forced to rewrite the book. Funny thing is: one of those publishers is still interested but still can't seem to get me a contract and a check.

But in 2011 I decided I HAD to get it finished no matter what.

About halfway through 2011 I did a Kindle experiment with the Ideas Blue Book, then the Protagonist Blue Book, then the Dialogue Blue Book... and all three ended up in the top 10 on Amazon! That gave me some incentive to finish SECRETS OF ACTION. Over 460 pages. (Kindle doesn't have page numbers, so I had to go by number of words divided by average page of the paper book version - and that doesn't include title page, bio, etc junk - and *that* was 463 pages.)

The new edition was completely rewritten, has new chapters and new information and - like the old version - is technique based. Tools, no rules.

I thought about pricing it at $510... but the last version sold for $21.95, so I thought a fair price might be... $9.99.

So, twice as many pages, for less than half the 2000 original price.

Now fully revised! The Screenwriting Book recommended by an Oscar Winning Screenwriter and a Screenwriter with *Four* of the Top Twenty Box Office Movies Of All Time! The old version sells on Amazon for $399 (check it out!).

The old version was 240 pages packed with tips and techniques - the new version is fully expanded with new chapters and is around 500 pages! Real techniques from a working professional screenwriter that you won't find anywhere else! Let the other books tell you about the 3 act structure! This book covers: How to write a plot twist, the four kinds of suspense (and how to create it), reversals to keep your description exciting, ten ways to invent new action scenes, secrets and lies, creating the ultimate villain, five kinds of love interests, creating effective violence, is sex necessary?, theme, using magnification to create kick ass stories, weapons for weirdos, plans for world destruction and/or domination, four ways to explode cliches, twelve steps to a more focused script, *every* type of hero, emotional action scenes, your script's DNA, pre-story goal and the connection to story goal, pacing, *how* to plot, giving them something extra, and more.... Plus a complete analysis of the classic DIE HARD!

Though this book focuses on the Action and Thriller genres, the information can be used in any genre. This is the book professional screenwriters recommend!


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

California Scheming

From five years ago...

I’m sitting in a fast food place writing this, and there’s a funny slogan on the soda cup. Somebody wrote that.

Mystery writer Ron Goulart wrote a private eye series in the 70s and 80s and also wrote just about anything else that would help pay the rent - you’ve probably read some of his work because he wrote puzzles and games and stories for the back of cereal boxes. He also wrote the best non-fiction study of the golden age of the pulp magazines.

As writers, we often only see the markets we want to see - and disregard the rest... to paraphrase Simon & Garfunkle. We often miss the niche markets... and even overlook some non-niche markets that may not have any obvious appeal to us. “Who wants to write ____?”

Well, a friend of mine is in a meeting right now with a producer, involving a scheme that I am a part of, and if everything goes okay he will sell his first screenplay and I will eventually tell you all about it. There are also some lessons to be learned about working in under-served genres and ideas that you may think are dumb and opening your eyes to possibilities that are so obvious that you do not see them.

My friend was looking for producers to sell his scripts to and happened upon a producer who was not interested in his wheelhouse genres... and did a very smart thing. He asked what they were interested in. Now, most people don’t do this - I don’t do this. I take the rejection and move on. But my friend asked a simple question. And got an interesting answer. He discovered this producer was looking for a specific niche genre that is popular but no one seems to want to write it. This is kind of strange, but not unheard of. On message boards there are often people who are excited by some cool, sexy genre, but don’t even consider some fairly popular niche genre because it sounds boring. People who want to write some popular genre always go for the cool ones... and often don’t care much about the “meat and potatoes” genres. Well, this producer makes some of those boring genre films, and is looking for scripts.

My friend had never considered this genre. It had never crossed his mind. Now, this is where most writers who ask that “Well, what *are* you looking for?” question get the answer and think, “Well, I don’t write that” and walk away. But my friend thought about the genre - it’s not porn, it’s nothing with some major stigma... it’s just kind of dull. This is not the genre that people sell million dollar scripts in. This is not the genre that wins Oscars. And this particular producer is making direct to DVD movies (for budgets in the millions with actual names in the cast) so it’s not going to play film fests and win you awards. It’s a pay check on a film that will be on the shelves at Blockbusters (well, until they close them all down). Meat and potatoes stuff. He could write that - and sell the script to this producer - and get his first credit - and use it as a stepping stone to some other work. My friend came up with a great story, wrote up a treatment, and set up a meeting with this producer - using his script in his favorite genre to get the door open.

Well, my friend called me yesterday, and told me about his scheme. The scheme on top of writing the film not his his favorite genre. See, this producer makes a handful of films a year in this genre, and my friend plans on pitching them not just his story... but one of mine... and our writing services for future projects. The producer needs a half dozen scripts a year, why not provide 4 of them between the two of us? Would I be interetsed in this? I thought about it, and said "Why not?" Hey, I can quit at any time, and though I currently have work - well, that's the best time to look for more work. This is a business with no visible means of support - sell a script, do the rewrites... and you are now unemployed! The weird thing is, even though I have never considered this niche genre, I instantly came up with some ideas for stories I would want to write. If someone says: "Lesbian Love Story" to me, my mind instantly comes up with lesbian love story ideas. Hey, how about a lesbian version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN with a strong love story element? Anyway, it's not lesbian love stories...

So far, none of this seems very schemish, right? But here’s where his idea rocks... He is pitching them on the idea of developing some film franchises - and producers love franchises because when one hits, they can just keep making them... with the last film as the advertisement for the next film. Hey, maybe we even put them in numbered DVD boxes? The films all have non-number titles, but the packaging encourages consumers to collect them all. The great thing about franchises from a writer's perspective is that you are creating future work for yourself (though this did not work for me on INVISIBLE MOM as my sequel idea was for top secret gov't scientist dad to invent a time machine and the kid plays with it and gets sent back to the 1860s Wild West, and mom has to go back and rescue him - GUNSLINGER MOM - but the producer wanted mom to just be invisible again... so they hired some other writer... and I didn't write *any* of the 4 sequels!).

Now, the next element of his scheme is also genius - one of the problems with this niche genre is that it is kind of old fashioned - it has been around forever in print fiction. Old fashioned is often thought of as a bad thing, especially if you are writing something cool. But old fashioned also means the genre has a long history... and that means public domain. Expired copyrights. My friend has found some public domain material in this genre with “brand name characters” - famous fictional characters. You’ve heard of them. The problem every low budget film company has is how to publicize their films - how do you make sure that people pick up YOUR DVD rather than the other company’s DVD when in that soon-to-be-closing Blockbuster? Well, a familiar title or famous character name is a great way to do that. Once those Blockbusters are closed and it’s all NetFlix, brand names may become even more important. But what amazed me is that no one else had exploited these characters, whose names you would instantly recognize. Maybe someone has written a script about them and I don’t know about it... but I doubt there are many floating around... and most are probably written as big budget projects. Though this is a popular niche, it’s not popular enough for some huge Hollywood tentpole. It’s a *niche*. So using this public domain material is a great idea, only if you look at the size of the audience for a film like this.

My contribution - nothing major - is the idea of doing *new* sequels to famous public domain titles in this under-served genre. Hey, if we can have Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, why can’t we take some other public domain book and give the protagonist some further adventures? I came up with some ideas and gave them to him. These were off the top of my head, and sounded like things that would be fun to write... even though they aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse, either. But I’ve always wondered what happened to that character after the famous story ended... You know, all of this stuff isn’t earthshattering - but a way to harvest some basic “mental real estate” the same way Hollywood is making TRANSFORMERS and MONOPOLY and remaking every film you ever saw in the 1980s. Taking that brand name character and finding new adventures in their lives.

Back when Spielberg had just signed to make JURASSIC PARK, I was at AFM trying to sell a producer, any producer, on making A.C. Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD - a novel in public domain with dinosaurs. I even knew a guy with some great stop-motion dinosaur footage. Every single producer said no - they had never heard of the book and one producer told me the best they could do was some sort of campy knock off of the Spielberg movie... which confused me. Why was that the best we could do? Well, all of this was before JURASSIC came out... after, many of those same producers discovered that THE LOST WORLD was in public domain and made their versions of it. We had a half dozen LOST WORLDS, plus a TV series. (More of my bad timing, I guess - should have come back *after* JURASSIC came out and pitched the same exact project.)

Though it’s probably too late by now, all of those crappy video games we played when computers first came out could probably be sold as movies these days.

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog entry - a friend of mine and I have a game where we come up with the *dumbest* idea for a movie we can think of... then count the days until someone sells a script with that same dumb idea. Do you see the problem with this game? We had the same dumb idea, but we aren’t making low-six figure against $1.2 million like the guys who wrote the scripts. We would *joke* about BATTLESHIP: THE MOTION PICTURE... and now they are making it. Hey, I’ve joked about SLINKY: THE MOTION PICTURE... maybe I should actually be developing a pitch for that? The thing is, we all have some form of tunnel vision - we see where we want to go, but don’t see all of the other cool places we *could* go. My friend asked a question, opened his eyes, and realized that there was a producer who was looking for material... and figured out the very best material to sell that producer. Any of us could have done the same thing... but we did not.

Another friend, Steve, realized that there is a minority (that he is not a part of) who are under-served by Hollywood... and the scripts out there written by the minority seem to mostly be about them struggling as a minority - not genre stuff. So Steve has decided to write some genre stuff for this minority and discovered producers are really interested. Seems the ticket buyers in this minority already know what it is like to struggle, and want to escape the struggle by seeing some cool genre movie where they get to have fun - like middle class white people in movies do. They need escapism, too - but the minority writers are all writing serious stuff. Personally, I would have never considered writing for a group that I am not a part of... and that was Steve’s genius - he found a need and filled it, even if he seems like the wrong guy to do that. They were looking for *scripts* and he’s a screenwriter.

If my friend’s scheme comes through, I may have a strange side job writing films in a niche genre that isn’t the least bit sexy or cool... but I can quit when it stops being fun, and I can those paychecks to finance some time to write more specs (where things *do* explode) that I can sell for lots-o-money or snag an agent or use as writing samples for the next next-next Tom Clancy film. Funny thing about this niche genre - for all I know it’s some big name producer’s favorite genre. By doing the thing not in my wheelhouse, I might be opening the door to sell some spec script that is in my wheelhouse. And if noting happens from all of this? Hey, both of us are back where we started... but maybe my friend sells *his* project to the producer. That would be cool.

Lesson learned - keep your eyes open for *all* possibilities. Not just the ones that seem on the direct route to your career destination. When someone is looking for something in a strange genre, don’t automatically think “I don’t write in that genre”, think “Hey, they need a script, I could write one for them!” When something sounds silly, stop and look at it again - maybe it’s a genius idea? And find some schemes for yourself - some unusual ways into the business.

What’s your scheme?

What's your *clever* plan to sell a script or two?

UPDATE: Well, it's 2015 and this didn't happen. Can I tell you what the problem was? My friend wrote a treatment that had one foot in the under served genre... and the rest of its body in his favorite genre. It was as if I were to write a family film and it was full of car chases and shoot outs and explosions... The worst thing is, when he told me what he was going to pitch I said that he needed to focus it on the genre they were looking for and he said that was exactly what he was going to do. But that's not what he did. The pisser for me is that I actually came up with stuff that *actually* fit what they were looking for. Not that this was my scheme, I didn't really care that much (and was actually a bit concerned that I might be stuck writing their whole damned slate of films when my friend found some way to screw up... that happened to me once before... which is why I don't cowrite with *anyone*). But it seemed like a missed opportunity. I think the lesson here is that once you see the possibility, commit!!!! Get both feet and the rest of your body into that genre and write the absolute best screenplay in *that genre*. Don't think of it as a scheme, but as a serious shot at something. Not something you're gonna hack out to make some money. Always do your absolute best work and make sure that you deliver the screenplay that is *better* than what they expected.

- Bill

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lancelot Link: ComiCon Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! Okay, you may have heard of this thing going on in San Diego right now called "ComiCon". This could be a million links this week, just for the trailers being revealed. But I've kept it to a dozen. I expect most of you have already seen all of these, anyway! 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 Minions........................ $115,200,000
2 Jurassic World.................. $18,100,000
3 Inside Out...................... $17,108,000
4 Terminator...................... $13,700,000
5 The Gallows..................... $10,015,000
6 Mike (Magic)..................... $9,640,000
7 Ted 2............................ $5,600,000
8 Self/Less........................ $5,379,000
9 Baahubali........................ $3,575,000
10 Max.............................. $3,420,000

MINIONS... so that swearing Minion helped sell tickets! Cool!

2) Joss Whedon.


4) Tarsem.


6) Why Batman and Superman Broke Up!

7) Del Toro.

8) Bryan Singer.

9) Solo (Napoleon, not Han)

10) Suicide.

11) Tarantino.

12) Gonzo.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs



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