Thursday, December 31, 2015

These Films Are National Treasures

Each year the Library Of Congress Film Preservation Board selects 25 films to be deemed National Treasures and included in the National Film Registry. Here are this year's entries...

BEING THERE (1979)

BLACK AND TAN (1929)

DRACULA (SPANISH LANGUAGE VERSION) (1931)

DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND (1906)

EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE, ZOOPRAXOGRAPHER (1974)

EDISON KINETOSCOPIC RECORD OF A SNEEZE (1894)

A FOOL THERE WAS (1915)

GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944)

HUMORESQUE (1920)

IMITATION OF LIFE (1959)

THE INNER WORLD OF APHASIA (1968)

JOHN HENRY AND THE INKY-POO (1946)

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997)

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920)

THE OLD MILL (1937)

OUR DAILY BREAD (1934)

PORTRAIT OF JASON (1967)

SECONDS (1966)

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

SINK OR SWIM (1990)

THE STORY OF MENSTRUATION (1946)

SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE (1968)



TOP GUN (1986)

WINCHESTER '73 (1950)

I could not find a BluRay for THE STORY OF MENSTRUATION, but maybe now Critereon will start to work on one. SECONDS is one of my favorite films, and if you haven't seen it you should check it out. I am also a huge fan of the Spanish version of DRACULA, made at the same time and on the same sets as the Lugosi version. They would shoot the English language version by day and the Spanish language version as soon as they finished the day on the English version. The Spanish version is more sexual, with Dracula as a romantic figure that no woman can say no to. Also, the women in this version show a lot more cleavage. I figure you have all seen TOP GUN and SHAWSHANK, so I focused on the others. Oh, and if you don't know who Eadweard Muybridge was - he invented movies with his experiment to see if race horses ever had all four feet off the ground at the same time (to win a bet with Leland Stanford). Muybridge began his experiment... then had to put it off for a few years when he went to prison for murder! When he was released, he finished - using a string of still cameras to photograph a series of stills of horses racing which lead to the idea of moving pictures (and persistence of vision). A fascinating character.

Hollywood Reporter Story.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Scene Of The Week: GOODFELLAS

If you've read Secrets Of Action Screenwriting you know that one of my favorite writing tools is *Magnification*, which I learned in Dan Arnold’s acting class in High School. The basic idea is to make something normal sized and make it much bigger. Stakes and conflict and emotions are all raised. Something average becomes something larger than life... large enough to fill that big screen. This works with concepts, emotions, and understanding the emotions of your characters.

This scene also deals with *Tension* - which is unresolved conflict. To create tension you must have a conflict... and the conflict needs to be ongoing and active and not solved. Once you resolve the conflict, you remove the tension. If you allow the audience to forget the conflict, you remove the tension. On Fridays when I do the Hitchcock entries, there are a couple on tension and suspense and “poking the tiger” to keep the audience aware that there is an existing conflict. If you don’t poke the tiger the conflict dissipates and you lose all of the tension.

Buy the dvd

So here is a scene that uses both elements, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. From GOODFELLAS (1990) written by Nicholas Pileggi, based on his true crime book. Directed by Martin Scorsese, and it’s like his 15th feature film. He’s one of my favorite directors, never really had a hit like his fellow “Hollywood Brats” but is always doing great work. Ages ago, when I was fresh out of high school, I sent him a letter asking if he’d read one of my screenplays... and he said yes! I sent some crappy early screenplay and got a great letter back from the head of his production company telling me to stick with it, etc. The polite brush off - but the guy never had to be polite in the first place. That script was ANYONE CAN LOSE and a friend asked me about it a couple of days ago - it’s one of those scripts with some great scenes but the story doesn’t work well. People remember it and wonder if I ever figured out how to fix it. Nope. But, back to GOODFELLAS...

Henry Hill is a small time crook way out on the fringe of organized crime, who wants to move up. So he looks to make some new friends who are equally ambitious and see if they can team up to move up the mob ladder... and become the new generation of organized crime. Now here’s the thing - this is kind of like meeting someone *and* a job interview, and the people you are meeting may be armed and may have just killed someone five minutes ago.

So let’s use our magnification tool. Remember those times in your past you were hanging out with someone who you wanted to impress... and *didn’t* want to offend? Might have been a job interview or a first date or meeting your romantic partner’s best friend or some other situation where you were hanging out with someone important and didn’t want to screw it up. Now, because we are all human, we have probably all screwed up in this situation at least once. I am socially inept and have some for of social tourettes that kicks in when I'm with people I need to impress - so that I always say the completely wrong thing. I get nervous and probably try too hard and end up saying something stupid. Because of that, I work hard *not* to do that when I meet people I want to impress, which makes me even more nervous... But you’ve probably blown it a couple of times, right? Now we’re going to take that anxiety and that mistake and *Magnify* it. We’re going to raise the stakes and emotions and turn that first meeting into a life or death situation. You are hanging out with a guy who kills people. You don’t want to say the wrong thing in this situation, you don’t want to accidentally offend him...



Funny how?

Great scene, and see how they keep “poking the tiger” to keep that tension alive?

This is a great example of how to take a “throw away scene” and make it so entertaining that we’re talking about it 23 years later... but it also helps us identify with Henry (Ray Liotta) and is the perfect introduction to Tommy (Joe Pesci).

While we’re on Joe Pesci - he won an Oscar for this performance, and his speech was: "This is an honor and privilege, thank you," because he didn’t think he was going to win and had no planned acceptance speech. Pesci as been in a bunch of great films, and is always great in lesser films. Would you believe his first time on screen was in HEY LET’S TWIST (1961) because he was a Rock & Roll guitar player for the featured band The Starliters... and even recorded a Rock & Roll solo album as a singer: “Little Joe Sure Can Sing”! He was a childhood friend of Frankie Valli, and was instrumental in the formation of The Four Seasons (he’s even a character in JERSEY BOYS!). So the whole Rock & Roll career, then a new career as an actor that leads to an Oscar win and another nomination plus a bunch of memorable films.

( Joe Pesci plays guitar in a band on The Lucy Show (1966) - Carol Burnett co-stars.) Magnification and Tension work hand-in-hand in this scene, but they can work separately as well in scenes. Tension is a great scene tool, and when I get around to doing the Scenes Blue Book there will be a whole chapter on tension techniques.

The comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

Monday, December 28, 2015

Lancelot Link: Fair Game?

Lancelot Link Monday! Is an episode of a TV series fair game to swipe the plot of and use it for your movie? 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 Force Awakens.................. $153,522,000
2 Daddy's Home.................... $38,800,000
3 Joy (no almonds)................ $17,500,000
4 Sisters (no DePalma)............ $13,880,000
5 Road Chip (no Ernie)............ $12,700,000
6 Concussion...................... $11,000,000
7 Big Shorts...................... $10,520,000
8 Point Break..................... $10,220,000
9 Hunger 3,2........................ $5,300,000
10 Creed............................. $4,600,000


HATEFUL EIGHT opened out of the Top Ten, but it's still the movie everyone is talking about this weekend - because it's either that or DADDY'S HOME!

This year *has* broken Box Office records, as predicted.

2) HATEFUL Digital Or 70mm?

3) Ennio Morriconne On HATEFUL EIGHT.

4) Quentin Tarantino & Paul Thomas Anderson Discuss 70mm.

5) Walt Goggins On Working With Tarantino.

6) RIP: George Clayton Johnson - TWILIGHT ZONE, LOGAN'S RUN, more. Met him several times, kind of a weirdo... but aren't we all?

7) DEADPOOL Red Band Trailer. And Commentary From The Director.

8) RadioHead's Unusued SPECTRE Theme.

9) Disneyland To Change Name To STAR WARS LAND.

10) HATEFUL Pirate... Is Hollywood Exec!

11) BOURNE 5 News.

12) Screenwriters Roundtable Interviews.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Okay, not a car chase at all... the episode of Andrew Fenady's THE REBEL with Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma that QT, um, homaged. That's the word.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Last Minute Stocking Stuffers!

Have some writer friends who need a stocking stuffer? These e-books are the answer! Amazon even has a "gift button" which will send your friend a surprise wrapped gift, that they "open" online! From TERMINATOR fans to ACTION writers to HITCHCOCK fans to generic writers who have barcodes instead of names, there is something here for everyone on your list! And don't forget to put *yourself* on your list! Amazon gift cards for the holidays? Treat yourself!


bluebook

THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!

Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

Only $9.99 - and no postage!


HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR


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?

** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR **

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. Over 77,000 words, under $5!



BRAND NEW!

bluebook

Over 240 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR SERIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Price goes up on January 1st!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

Only 418 Pages!

*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



BLUE BOOK SERIES

bluebook

NEW!

*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!


Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

SECRETS OF SCENES!

*** SCENE SECRETS BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

BEST SUPPORTING ACTORS?

*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Includes Story Purpose of characters and Subplots. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 150 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

STORY PROBLEMS?

*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!


This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE?

*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 208 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

I WRITE PICTURES!

*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)


Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

GOT IDEAS?

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much morePrint version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 41 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 160 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



FREE DECEMBER 26 - 30th!

bluebook

ADVICE FROM #2 SCREENWRITER!

*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!

***

Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

Only $2.99 - and no postage!



These links all lead to the USA store, if you are in some other country and want to write a review for your country, go to your Amazon website.

Thank you all again.

Bill

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lancelot Link: Alvin & The Chipmunks Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! All of my friends were excited about the new movie opening over the weekend, and those who saw it said they laughed and cried and it was so great they forgave the previous three crappy movies... so I went to see ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP! Kind of disappointed. You stand in line for hours, you'd think it would be worth the wait, right? 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 baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Star Wars:TFA.................. $238,000,000
2 Chipmunks:TRC................... $14,400,000
3 Sisters (not DePalma)........... $13,420,000
4 Hunger Games:MJ2................. $5,650,000
5 Creed:RB6........................ $5,085,000
6 Good Dino:WTF?................... $4,232,000
7 Krampus:HHH...................... $3,780,000
8 ITHOTS........................... $3,465,000
9 Dilwale.......................... $1,875,000
10 Bajiaro.......................... $1,660,000


STAR WARS record breaking $238m opening weekend... and when you include foreign it's hit $517m so far. First weekend. People online are saying they are going to see it a couple more times... which means it will continue to make a ton of money. Also - because so many showings have been sold out, and there are lines and crowds, many people are waiting until later to see the film. This was already a great box office year *before* STAR WARS. I suspect this will end up the new record ticket sales year in the USA.

2) STAR WARS: FORCE AWAKENS Cast Photo.

3) Old STAR WARS Characters Who Didn't Get Rehired Bitch About It.

4) Carrie Fisher On The STAR WARS Red Carpet.

5) STAR WARS Secret Cameos.

6) Other STAR WARS Cameos You May Have Missed - Obi Wan?

7) The Secret Backstory Of Finn's Character & Princess Leia's Cell Number.

8) JJ, Kathleen, Cast Members, Discuss The Power Of Storytelling.

9) STAR WARS Music Sung By The Cast On Jimmy Fallon.

10) Lawrence Kasdan (writer of the next two STAR WARS movies) Talks About His career.

11) Oscar Isaacs Covers Bill Murray's STAR WARS Theme.

12) Original STAR WARS Audition Tapes.

13) They'll Be Back!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



In keeping with this week's theme.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Special Guest: Harry Connolly on Studying Screenwritng

My friend Harry Connolly has been writing guest blogs to promote his new (awesome) GREAT WAY Trilogy, and knocking it out of the park with each one. All kinds of amazing insight and information on writing that applies to novels, short stories, and screenplays. He should write a book! So my blog is privileged to host this guest blog...



INT. BOOKSTORE - DAY: How Studying Screenwriting Made Me a Better Novelist (Mostly)

Way back in the misty dawn of the 1990s, I was a noob author on the internet, looking for advice.

Boy, did I find it.

One of the earliest places I went searching was from pro novelists. Nice people, but none of the advice they gave me seemed all that helpful. I wanted to know how to put together a really great book, and the responses were, essentially: "Try not to be boring."

Now, this is the ultimate advice. Really, there is no better advice than this. "Be interesting" is the only rule of writing. Everything a writer learns about their craft brings them toward this goal.

But I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to talk dialog. I wanted tips on creating characters and conflict. I wanted concrete rules. That's when I found screenwriting.

Now, this was back in the days of Syd Field, who specified actual page numbers where people should put act breaks. It was very, very rigid. Too much so, honestly.

Not that I knew about Field at first. I was just this guy writing terrible fiction. Some actor friends told me to write a script so they could be in it, and gave it a try. Had I ever seen an actual film script before? Nope. Lots of plays (I studied Modernist Drama in college, mainly because plays are so short) but no screenplays. You can imagine how good they weren't.

Then, while bumping around from one message board to another, I discovered Wordplay.

I think just about every person who goes online is searching for a peer group, even if they don't realize it. They seek out a circle of friendly voices who share their interests, enthusiasms, and ambitions. Someone to cheer them on or buck them up. Someone willing to tell them they're full of shit.

Just as important are contrasts. The horror writer has a lot to learn from the kitchen sink drama writer, and vice versa. The woman who wants her name on big budget summer tentpole movies has a lot to learn from the woman writing arch indies. They define themselves and their work by their differences. And they can argue.

God, how we argued. Antagonists, flashbacks, outlining: it was an endless competition of ideas, and while I argued passionately, I was wrong as often as I was right.

But what did I learn in all that back and forthing that I'm still using today?

1) The elegant flourish. There's an early scene in Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run where a movie producer complains about an Ivy League playwright he's hired. The script he turned in had a 20 page scene where a husband and wife argued, bickered, and fought, and the playwright insisted every line of dialog was necessary to establish the man's contempt and the dismal state of their marriage. The producer brought on another writer, a guy with barely a high school education. New guy throws out the argument entirely and writes a new scene: The husband and wife are on an elevator. A pretty young woman gets on, and the man takes off his hat.

That was it, a single moment that encapsulated the situation perfectly. Short, simple, telling. I've been searching for ways to do that in my own writing ever since.

2) Hurry up! One of the first things screenwriters at the time were told was that any dialog over three lines was too long. (And script formatting is really narrow for dialog.) Get to the point without being on the nose, then get out.

The same was true for scenes. Start late and end early. Get to the conflict, then the next, then the next. Anything that didn't move the story forward had to be cut.

Novels can be a digressive form, with characters telling little stories about their lives, or doing the dishes, or stopping for coffee with an old friend. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly don't mind reading digressive books. I don't like writing them, though. I try to keep the story moving, and I inevitably get editorial notes asking me to slow things up and take a little more down time.

3) Be the expert. This was a hard one, because it doesn't mean what a novelist would assume it means. It's not an injunction to study sword-fighting before writing a duel, or to interview a bunch of cops before writing a procedural. That advice ought to be so obvious that nobody should need it. This means to be an expert in your own storyΓÇöto know it inside and out.

In fact, this came from the Wordplay column called You're The Expert; the reason screenwriters are supposed to be experts is to effectively respond to studio notes. That's not an issue for my type of writing, but when I'm stuck on a scene, or unsure what direction the plot should go, I ask myself what a really great would do. How would [extraordinary author] write this scene?

It's a surprisingly effective way to break through a block, and research has confirmed that people are more creative when they imagine themselves to be someone else. Research requires actual expertise, but creatively it helps to have the pretend kind.

What about that "Mostly?" There's one aspect of novel writing that studying scripts didn't prepare me for, and it wasn't what I expected. If you watch the opening of The Godfather, you see an amazing outdoor wedding partyΓÇöthe people, the decorations, the food, all of it. In a script, that's covered by the words EXT. WEDDING PARTY - DAY or whatever. A novelist has to do the work of the art department, the wardrobe department, casting, and all the rest.

But I expected that. What I didn't expect was the profound difference in the way prose text operated. In a script, the text doesn't have a lot of flow because so much of it is instruction. Scene headers, dialog names and parentheticals, "legends", all of them break the flow of the narrative and dialog.

Prose has none of that. Not only is the text very linear, it comes in a flow that's largely unbroken (with the exception of chapter headers or asterisks scene breaks). That task of stringing words together into sentences, then tying sentences together into paragraphs, then arranging paragraphs properly, it a lot like beadwork, and it was the biggest hurdle I faced. While revising first drafts, I found sentences in the wrong order, paragraphs that repeated exposition, unnecessary prepositional phrases, and worse.

Learning to control the flow of text and the transitions between sentences over page after page of prose, instead of in small bursts of narration, was the skill that elevated my game to earn a publishing contract and a career.

Obviously, it isn't absolutely necessary for novelists to study screenwriting; plenty of pros have done well without it. One of the strengths of the novel format is the extraordinary variety of styles and subject matters. Nothing really matters except that one rule I mentioned at the top.

But I'll always be wedded to the stripped-down, full-speed-ahead aesthetic of the script, and I'll always be grateful to the screenwriters (including my host here) who taught me what I needed to know to become a pro novelist.

Now watch me gently segue into a note about my latest, blurbed "Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller" by Greywalker author Kat Richardson.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

Have I mentioned that it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Bill wrote a review of the entire trilogy. You can also find out more about that first book on my website.

If you want to see the fast-paced style I've been talking about, you can read the sample chapters I've posted on my blog.

Thanks for reading.

BIO: Harry Connolly's debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it's the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

In case you missed any of Harry's other guest blogs...

My Favorite Bit.

Why Talent Is Evil.

My Superpower As A Writer.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone.

Failing On Your Own Terms.

The Most Difficult Part To Write.

Experts Vs. Bumpkins.

Always Blame Yourself!

And the books:

Click covers for more info!

Chaos Magic Darkness











PS: Lancelot Links will be on *Tuesday* this week!

Bill

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Caution: Subconscious At Work

From 5 years ago...

For me, part of writing is figuring out what my damned subconscious is up to. I am a planner by nature. Part of my outline process is trying to find the parts that go together and why they go together so that I can make sure to highlight that in the screenplay. Our minds are mysterious places. They connect things that may not seem to be connected on the surface. When I'm thinking about my story before writing it, all kinds of strange elements may pop into my noggin that don't seem to be part of the story... but my subconscious is way ahead of me. Often in outline stage, I discover the connections... sometimes I can't see the connections and either leave the weird stuff out or leave it in for the first draft hoping that I will figure out where the heck that idea came from as I am writing, and make it work in the next draft.

That's kind of what happened on the spec I'm working on now. There were 3 subplots, and though all were connected to the story on the surface, I had no idea how they were connected to the story on a deeper level. One subplot had to do with the character's problems in school. One subplot had to do with the character's father's problems at work. One of the subplots had to do with a specific type of sidekick and that sidekick's background – also specific. Now, there was some reason why my subconscious selected that sidekick with that background... but I didn't know why when I began writing the screenplay. I've read many screenplays where it seemed like characters and incidents were picked blindly from a hat and just jammed into the script arbitrarily. That's what I try to avoid at the thinking-about-it stage and the outline stage – I try to find the connections. But on this script? Not a clue.

But why did my brain pick these specific elements? There is always some reason, and the trick to a good screenplay is to know the reason so that it can be communicated to the audience in the film and not just some weird thing that only makes sense to you. Screenwriting is communication – and if for some reason you just know that the character is left handed, part of the job is to figure out why they are left handed and why that is critical to the story and make sure the audience understands these things so it's not just some whim that the character is left handed.

So, a few days ago I was writing a scene... and had this flash. Suddenly, I could see what my subconscious was getting at! I knew the why for these subplots. I knew why there was only one choice for type of sidekick and background of sidekick – no other version would have worked as well. No other version would have illustrated the theme. No other version would have shown the protagonist's emotional issues as well. And that sidekick was connected to the two other subplots in ways I'd never seen before. Connections that were always there, that my subconscious could see, but I had not been able to see before. This allowed me to write a scene that was about one of the subplots but also addressed the two other subplots on the sly... so that all three subplots could make sense as part of the story to the audience. Now, those subplots made sense to me so I could write a scene so that they'd make sense to the audience. My subconscious knew these were the best subplots for this script before I did.

The trick is to listen to your subconscious, but also to find the way through that wall between right brain and left brain so that you understand what the heck your subconscious is up to and get that stuff on the page in a way that the reader and viewer can understand as well.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Protagonist's Job - How your protag's job is part of the story and important to the story... using the new movie WIN WIN as an example.
Dinner: Subway sandwich.
Pages: Dang - fell off the horse! But I did get a couple of pages written.
Bicycle: Mostly short rides.
Movies: WIN WIN - great little movie by the writer-director of THE VISITOR and THE STATION AGENT.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lancelot Link: Nobody Wants To See That Film!

Lancelot Link Monday! I can't figure out why people are surprised that Ron Howard's new film is bombing. If you had pitched me that script, I would have passed on it... How many people want to see a remake of MOBY DICK, based on a famous novel? Okay, now divide that by 100 because this isn't based on the famous novel, it's based on the true story that inspired the novel. Snooze! What *dream* of the audience does this film fulfill? And it's not even "cultural" like some movie based on MOBY DICK (which allows you to sound as if you maybe read the book, when you just skimmed the Cliff Notes in High School). How did *anyone* think this would make money? Oh, and the title SUCKS! 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 Hunger Games 3 Part 2............ $11,300,000
2 Fart Of Sea...................... $11,005,000
3 Good Dino........................ $10,497,000
4 Creed............................ $10,120,000
5 Krampus........................... $8,010,000
6 Spectre........................... $4,000,000
7 Night B4.......................... $3,900,000
8 Peanuts........................... $2,650,000
9 Spotlight......................... $2,508,853
10 Brooklyn.......................... $1,975,000




2) Remember when the sequel to INDEPENDENCE DAY was going to be a remake of FANTASTIC VOYAGE?

3) Francs Ford Coppola on APOCALYPSE NOW and his recent films.

4) Golden Globe Nominations! Who Are The "Hollywood Foreign Press" Again?

5) Tarantino Talks With Nolan about HATEFUL EIGHT.

6) Adam Sandler's RIDICULOUS SIX Nominated In All Categories!

7) Brad Pitt's Company Also Making Movies For Netflix.

8) MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 breaks Kickstarter records.

9) Variety's Actors On Actors: McKellan & Blanchett.

10) Bradley Cooper directs Beyonce in STAR IS BORN remake.

11) Bill Murray On The New GHOSTBUSTERS and Wes Anderson.

12) Morricone on HATEFUL EIGHT score.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



This is *not* a Ron Howard movie...

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Scene Of The Week: THE THIRD MAN

Mondays we're going to look at a great scene from cinema. Though this entry is a re-run from the first time I tried this, I hope to keep it going every week this time.

The scene of the week is a nice bit of threatening dialogue from THE THIRD MAN, and a reunion between two old friends Holly (Joeseph Cotton) and Harry (Orson Welles)... after one of their funerals. The great thing about this conversation is how charming and fun Harry makes his threats and his justifications for criminal activities. He's a bad guy you just want to hang out with.



The British Film Institute selected THE THIRD MAN as the Best British Film Ever Made - and it's hard to argue with that. It does a million things right, it has one iconic scene after another, some amazing lines (this scene doesn't have the film's best lines!) and is a great thriller with a huge action-chase set piece at the end which has been lifted in dozens of other films. If you haven't seen it - check it out. Actually filmed in the rubble of Post WW2 Vienna!

This is one of my favorite films - and I can watch it again and again. The characters, scenes, and story are all great. The story has a really messy and messed up romance - can you fall in love with your dead best friend's girlfriend and not have it be just a little awkward? I also love the humor in the film - like all great thrillers it straddles absurdity. The yappy little dog. Saved by a speech on cowboy literature. The misplaced slide in the slide show. It's a great example of how to balance a film.

Comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures - Tip #1 - it's all about making the audience feel something!
Dinner: I've been brown bagging lately - to keep from eating so much fast food.
Bicycle: Short ride, even though Sundays are supposed to be my long ride day. I stuck around the dollar cinema area in NoHo so that I could see THE CALL.
Movies: PAIN & GAIN - Could this be Michael Bay’s best movie? A small time crime flick, based on a true story, that seems to focus more on characters than explosions. Marky Mark, The Rock, and Anthony Mackie are body builders in Miami who fall under the spell of a TV self help guru who preaches that material things are all that matter and you should DO whatever it takes to get them. Well, there’s this obnoxious rich guy (Tony Shalhoub) who works out at their gym; why not kidnap him, force him to sign over his house and car and boat and money to Marky Mark, and then they dump him on the side of the road, broke and powerless? Sounds like a plan!

Except Shalhoub continues to be a prick and won’t sign over anything... instead he insults Marky Mark for being too stupid and lazy to *earn* the money like he did. So they beat him with sex toys until he gives in and signs, then try to collect... except the contracts need to be *notarized* and that requires that a Notary witness Shalhoub’s signing of the documents - can’t exactly bring a Notary down to the adult novelty goods warehouse where they have him tied up, can they?

It’s one damned thing after another, because these guys *haven’t * thought their plan through and aren’t very bright. They’re the kind of body builders who use steroids because it’s a short cut. They want the riches without the work. But they are DOERS and find a Notary at the gym they can coerce into signing and stamping their documents... and now all are rich! Marky Mark moves into Shalhoub’s mansion... and the neighbors like him better than the old owner.

But soon their money is spent and they need to kidnap someone else - this time a sleazy phone sex company owner. And here’s where things go very wrong, and the phone sex guy and his bimbo girlfriend end up dead on Mackie’s brand new carpet in his brand new house with his brand new wife coming home in a couple of hours. Which requires a trip to the hardware store for chainsaws and rubber gloves and all of the things one would need to chop up bodies into little pieces and dump them in the swamp. Somewhere in here Shalhoub - living in a crappy motel he can’t even pay for - hires a retired private detective (Ed Harris) to get his stuff back. And things begin unraveling even more...

The problem is, Bay is Bay. The story takes place in Miami, so there’s no shortage of shots of fast cars and girls in bikinis and all of those things from BAD BOYS. He uses all of his style-without-substance camera tricks, and the characters are all surface. Yeah, they aren’t very deep characters to begin with, but for a story that focuses on the characters we need to dig a little deeper into their lives. The Rock carries a skateboard everywhere, just got out of prison where he found God... but that’s the extent of his character. It’s just a bunch of surface things. You know, even people who aren’t very bright are still *people* - they have fears and dreams and regrets and secrets and souls. Even though this was based on a true story, I think Bay should have pulled out his checkbook and hired Elmore Leonard to write the book first, then adapted that book. These guys are the type of small timers that Leonard understands and could create vivid living characters - which this film really needs. It’s kind of ironic that a film about guys who are all about surface materia goods ends up all slick surface with nothing much underneath. Bay *is* these guys! He’d rather do his signature shots than find the shots that best tell the story. Style over substance. But the story is so loopy and fun that it even works with Bay’s direction - making this his best film so far.

DVDs: KILLING THEM SOFTLY - On the other side of the spectrum from Michael Bay is Andrew Dominic who adapted and directed this film. An ultra-low-key director who seems to like slow paced character studies... he should have directed PAIN & GAIN! This film is based on a book by the great George V. Higgins, who I discovered after seeing THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE with Robert Mitchum. I read a handful of his novels, and Higgins’ thing is dialogue. His stories are about small time crooks who sit in bars and cars in the middle of the day and discuss the problems in their mundane lives with witty street language. What Quentin Tarantino didn’t steal from Elmore Leonard he stole from Higgins - his books are like all of the Jules and Vincent conversations strung together with a really mundane shooting or two. Higgins’ stories * use* the mundane and ordinary to make his small time hoods into real people - those guys at the end of the bar who seem like regulars. His characters talk about all of the small problems associated with crime - in EDDIE COYLE one of the big issues is what happens to the family while you are behind bars... how do they pay the mortgage and buy groceries? By focusing on the details of criminal life, and using his gift for witty street dialogue, Higgins took us into the world of criminals. His books were like the anti-GODFATHER - no glamor at all!

In this film, based on COOGAN’S TRADE, Ray Liotta plays a charismatic host to an illegal back room poker club... one of those small time mobsters on the front lines. His club was robbed once by a couple of young punks - and the mob sent an enforcer to make sure Liotta didn’t hire the two punks himself. The enforcer (a nice Sam Shepard cameo) *likes* Liotta, so when he says he didn’t do it after a mild beating, he lets him go. But the robbery has caused *all* of the mob’s poker games in the area to shut down for safety reasons, and that costs them. Years later, Liotta get drunk and admits that he hired the two punks - but by then everything is okay and the mob does nothing. Hell, everybody loves Liotta - he’s a great guy.

But a low level criminal nicknamed The Squirrel, who runs a dry cleaners, realizes that if Liotta’s illegal poker game is robbed *again* everyone will naturally suspect him... and no one will suspect The Squirrel. So, he hires a couple of punks - both fresh out of prison - to knock over the illegal poker club. These two losers are the center of the story - one is a heroin addict who steals pure breed dogs and sells them in Florida (but driving them there - they shit and fart and bark the whole way - is a hassle) and the other doesn’t have a car or a job or anything - and their bar and street conversations about their dreams and regrets make the story come alive. The poker game robbery is tense - because they are idiots and keep screwing things up. They use thick dish washing gloves which make it hard to handle the crappy guns they bought. They get the smallest size nylon stockings - which smash their faces when used as masks. They are completely incompetent... But manage to pull off the robbery.

So the mob calls for hitman Brad Pitt to clean up the mess. He’s met by Driver - the guy who handles all of the mob’s business transactions. Driver and Pitt have a series of car conversations about the job which focus on the small stuff - Driver complains that nobody in the mob will make a decision, they never agree with each other, and *he* ends up having to do everything. Pitt (Coogan) knows The Squirrel and doesn’t want to be the guy who pulls the trigger on him, because it means listing to the guy beg for his life and get all emotional and make all sorts of excuses. Pitt wants to hire a subcontractor hitman played by James Gandolfini...

But that ends up a nightmare. Gandolfini is a drunk womanizer who is henpecked by his wife and does nothing but bitch and complain. Pitt ends up just putting out this guy’s fires - he insults the hotel staff and runs up his bar tab and room service and has a parade of hookers he refuses to tip - and still hasn’t hit The Squirrel. Pitt spends all of his time trying to find some way to get Gandolfini off his ass... and eventually gives up.

Then Pitt shoots some people in bloody but mundane scenes and restores peace and balance to the mob world so that the illegal poker games can begin again.

So, this is my type of movie, and (unlike PAIN & GAIN) the style of direction perfectly matches the subject matter and story. But for some weird reason Dominic takes a book written in the early 70s and plops it into the 2008 financial melt down and *fills* it with radios and TV with George W. Bush speeches about bailing out banks and GM... and then campaign stuff from the Presidential election. This stuff is sledge hammered in so hard it threatens to capsize the whole film. Michael Bay subtlety. Actually, worse than that. You want the *story* to demonstrate the theme or point or whatever - not some obtrusive radio broadcast whenever two characters are in a car or TV broadcast when they are in a bar. Aren’t there any radio stations that play music? Don’t TVs in bars usually have the game on? If the idea was to parallel the financial melt down with the mob’s financial melt down after the poker games were closed - why not just stick with the mob story and let *us* draw the parallel? Come on! This is a movie that appeals to a smart audience, so why dumb it down? Why not *use the story* to make your point?

- Bill

Monday, December 07, 2015

Lancelot Link: End Of The Year?

Lancelot Link Monday! Some of this week's links are to Best Films Of 2015 Lists... and this year isn't even over! This is worse than Christmas decorations and music before Thanksgiving! Hey, most of the big Oscar movies will be released just before Christmas, so how can you know what the best movie of the year is when a whole bunch of really good ones haven't even been released yet? Did they use a crystal ball? Did they call one of those TV psychics? What if some movie that hasn't been released yet is better? 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 Hunger 3 Part 2................. $18,600,000
2 Krampus......................... $16,020,000
3 Creed........................... $15,540,000
4 Good Dino....................... $15,512,000
5 Spectre.......................... $5,425,000
6 Night Before..................... $4,920,000
7 Peanuts.......................... $3,525,000
8 Spotlight........................ $2,926,844
9 Brooklyn......................... $2,430,000
10 Secret Eyes....................... $1,950,000


Box Office has dipped below 2013 & 2014 at this point in time, but International Box Office is breaking records.

2) Lawrence Kasdan on writing STAR WARS movies.

3) Over 100 Free Legal Download Screenplays!

4) And The Best Film Of 2015 Is...

5) The BIFA Winners!

6) The Hit List - This Year's Hot Scripts!

7) Interview With Director Of HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

8) Relativity... Not Quite Dead.

9) Tarantino & Cast Talk HATEFUL 8 in 90 Min Interview.

10) HANNIBAL (TV show) Script To Screen Comparison.

11) L.A. Film Critics Awards... The Year Isn't Over Yet!

12) Last Year's Oscar Nominated Directors Talk About Their Favorite Scenes.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



The *Next* Series In The STORIES IN ACTION Books will talk about this chase.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:
eXTReMe Tracker