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.

FREE LUNCH


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.

THEY FORGOT TO SHOOT...


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.

IS THERE A WRITER IN THE HOUSE?


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.


BILL
Are you inside?

VAN
Yeah.

BILL
Then I’ll see you in a minute.

VAN
You’re here?

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

VAN
No. I think he’s in L.A.

BILL
Okay, I’m confused - where are you?

VAN
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.

CHILDHOOD IDOLS... ALL SHRIVELED UP

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.

OLD FRIENDS AND FRIENDS WHO ARE OLD

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


IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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?

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

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
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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!

FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS


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.

PEOPLE FOLLOW THE HYPE!


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
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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:





Before ANT MAN there was HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS and the *great* INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN!

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

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!

Bill

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.

3) THE FORCE AWAKENS Sets.

4) Tarsem.

5) WESTWORLD.

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:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Darth Vader on the NYC subway

From 4 years ago...

I may have posted this before, it's from Improv Everywhere. They posted an April Fools clip where Jar Jar Binks gets the beat up on the subway a few days ago, which wasn't fun to watch. (As much as I dislike Jar Jar, I don't want to see him get beaten the crap out of.) This clip is fun...



- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: When You Want To Hurt The World - and James Bond movies.
Dinner: Hawaiian BBQ chicken.
Pages: Saturday - not much sleep or writing, Sunday - not much sleep again, but I did some outline work.
Bicycle: Good rides on both Sat & Sunday - though both days were overcast and I feared rain.
Movies: SOURCE CODE and INSIDIOUS and SUPER... was going to see BATTLE: LA, too but was tired.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Lancelot Link: Put On A Shirt!

Lancelot Link Monday! JURASSIC WORLD and INSIDE OUT continue to be neck and neck at the finish line, but newcomers TERMINATOR GENYSIS and MAGIC MIKE XXL both "underperformed". Why? Well both TERMINATOR and MAGIC MIKE contain scenes with shirtless men. This is obviously a box office problem. Shirtless men. Hollywood take note! 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 Jurassic World.................. $30,900,000
2 Inside Our...................... $30,105,000
3 Terminator: Phil Collins........ $28,700,000
4 Magic Mike XXSM................. $11,600,000
5 Ted 2........................... $11,000,000
6 Max (not mad).................... $6,610,000
7 Spy.............................. $5,500,000
8 San Andreas...................... $3,030,000
9 Me & Earl........................ $1,320,000
10 Dope............................. $1,098,000


Oh, and overseas where shirtless men are more accepted, TERMINATOR GENYSIS is doing great business and is on track to make $300 to $400 million just in those overseas shirtless countries. So this may actually be the start of a new trilogy (as planned).

2) Best Films Of 2015 Part 1.

3) CHIPS: THE MOTION PICTURE. (This is not a joke! Hey, I saw Estrada in Starbucks about a week ago!)

4) Tarantino Discusses HATEFUL EIGHT.

5) Wozniak On The New JOBS Trailer.

6) DEADPOOL... rated R!

7) Herzog's New Film... about a female spy.

8) Marky Mark & Ronda Rousey At MILE 22?

9) Liam Neeson's Son Cast In Role Liam Neeson Played For Prequel?

10) Next Reboot Of SPIDER MAN Movie Will Be Like A John Huges Movie... BABY'S DAY OUT... Says Kevin Feige. Casting Toddlers Now!

11) LONDON HAS FALLEN First Trailer...

12) Chris Pratt Is PSYCHIC! Predicts Future! Dramatic video proof!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From the low budget original...

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, July 03, 2015

All Five HITCH 20 Episodes!

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here are the first five episodes. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock. The new season begins next week... without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I will still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

1) This episode is REVENGE, which I am not a part of. The story is a corker, though: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.



2) This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





3) This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

A) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

B) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!



4) This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!







5) This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 in this season... and by next Friday I hope to have a new entry for Fridays With Hitchcock on SABOTAGE. Followed by the not so great Hitchcock film THE SECRET AGENT (which still manages to have some great screenwriting lessons in it's muddled story) and then THE 39 STEPS, which is a great Hitchcock film.



Of course, I have my own book focusing on Hitchcock...

Bill




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

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