Monday, August 22, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Movie Star Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! If you build it they will come... unless what you are building is yet another remake of BEN HUR, in that case they will stay away and see something else. There are a bunch of people online who believe the failure of the new BEN HUR movie is that it's teh remake of a classic... but those people don't seem to realize that the Heston version was *also* the remake of a classic - the 1925 version with Francis X. Bushman was the definitive version that could not be topped... until the Heston version came along. The problem isn't remakes, it's *bad* remakes - every remake is going to be compared to the original, so you'd better make a film that compares well. One that people who love the original will also love. Wait... where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah, the failure of GHOSTBUSTERS. The problem is that those in charge have zero idea what *quality* is anymore - they are suits! If studios were smart, instead of promoting ex-agents to become studio heads, they would take a page from the Golden Age of Hollywood and promote *screenwriters* to run studios - people who understand story and know when things just aren't working. I think the biggest problem with studios today is that the are run by businessmen and businesswomen who have no idea who this particular business works. 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 Suicide Squad................... $20,710,000
2 Sausage......................... $15,325,000
3 War Dogs........................ $14,300,000
4 Kubo 2.......................... $12,610,000
5 Ben Hur......................... $11,350,000
6 Pete's Dragqueen................ $11,331,000
7 Bad Mom.......................... $8,068,000
8 Jason ReBourne................... $7,980,000
9 Secret Pets...................... $5,770,000
10 Jenkins! (not Alan)............... $4,300,000

2) Indie Box Office Numbers.

3) Do Movie Stars Matter?

4) Tom Cruise Thinks Movie Stars Matter *A LOT*!

5) My Favorite Hitchcock Film Is NOTORIOUS... Here's an article on the film PLUS THE SCREENPLAY!

6) LEBOWSKI Spin Off About Jesus!

7) Popularity Of Genres Around The World. Does Horror Sell Well In Transylvania?

8) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS Director On The Influence Of Kurosawa.

9) Do State's Film Incentives Work?

10) David Lynch's First Film... Watch It Now!

11) Mel Brooks - Why BLAZING SADDLES Could Never Be Made Today.

12) Are Characters The Color Of Their Skin? Or Are They The Character Of Their Character?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Monday, August 15, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Hits & Misses!

Lancelot Link Monday! Last week a group of angry fans signed a petition to destroy Rotten Tomatoes because it said bad things about SUICIDE SQUAD and BATMAN V SUPERMAN... even though RT doesn't write any of the reviews on the site, it just links them and averages out the "grade". They are only the messenger. This week we get an angry letter from an ex-WB employee about *why* those films got such bad reviews. We also got week #2 for SUICIDE SQUAD which nosedived by over 67% (which isn't really that bad... but also not good). Meanwhile, SAUSAGE PARTY - an R rated cartoon that everyone expected to open with about $10m in 5th or 6th place... was #2 with $33.6m. WTF? SAUSAGE was made for under $20m with a great voice cast, and everyone would have been happy if it had made the $10m and then was later released to disk and streaming. But the big question seems to be - has WB mishandled their DC theatricals? Was Zack Snyder the completely wrong choice to be in charge of those films? (my answer is *yes*). Should Zack Snyder be shown to the Hollywood city limits and told not to return? (my answer is...) 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 Suicide Squad................... $43,770,000
2 Sausage......................... $33,600,000
3 Pete's Dragon................... $21,501,000
4 Jason Bourne.................... $13,620,000
5 Bad Moms........................ $11,450,000
6 Secret Pets...................... $8,840,000
7 ST BATH & BEYOND................. $6,800,000
8 FF Jenkins....................... $6,580,000
9 9 Lives.......................... $3,500,000
10 Lights Out....................... $3,220,000

It's been a while since I posted a year-to-date comparison, so box office this year is only ahead of last year by 5.1%, only ahead of 2014 by 11.9%, only ahead of 2013 by 5.7%, only ahead of 2012 by 5.7%, and only ahead of 2011 by 10.4%. Though one of the issues is that this year has been packed with expensive duds (GHOSTBUSTERS was not in the top 10 this week!) so people may be going to the movies but they might not be going home happy; movies like BAD MOMS and SAUSAGE and LIGHTS OUT (and other horror flicks) are doing a great job of earning money on a budget. I still think the real solution is to *really* have a studio low budget genre division that does what BlumHouse does so well - great genre films for $5m or less. The problem is - studios have no idea how to make films at that budget, and when they hire some director who is used to making a film for $130 million to make one for $5 million the movie usually crashes and burns. The key here is to hire the next generation of John Carpenters (guys like James Wan) who know how to make a film on a budget. You know, there are plenty of guys and gals working in the low budget world right now that they could hire... and it would be nice to hire John Carpenter while they're at it. The thing about "budget friendly" movies is that they are a whole different animal than a $100m studio film, and require completely different skills. There was a time when every studio had a low budget division - which not only kept the average picture cost down, it was also a great training ground for writers and directors and everyone else... maybe they should return to that?

2) Indie Box Office.

3) Open Letter To WB & DC About BvS and SS "Underperforming". Seriously - just get the person who is in charge of DC TV to take over DC features and problem is solved!

4) SUICIDE SQUAD - Can A Film Be A Hit & A Flop At The Same Time?

5) Feature Doc On John Carpenter?

6) The Best Movie Of The Summer... but is there an audience?

7) RIP: R2D2.

8) Jame Schamus On Adapting Philip Roth's INDIGNATION.

9) PETE'S DRAGON - How A Micro Budget Director Got A Hollywood Gig.

10) What Are You Seeing On Memorial Day 2017?

11) A Look AT THE THIRD MAN...

12) Things Writers Should Avoid In Contracts.

13) 13 Things You Need To Do If Making Your Own Film.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, dragon chase...


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

That's Exploitation!

From January 2010...

The last night I was in Northern California on my holiday visit, I had dinner and drinks and saw BITCH SLAP with my two oldest friends, Van and John. That almost didn’t happen. When I arrived in town those were the first two people I called - we often do New Year’s Eve together, and always see a bunch of holiday release films together and talk about those people we know who are no longer around and the great times we had when we were in our 20s... long ago. Got right through to John and we saw a bunch of movies (reviews are coming), but Van went right to voice mail... and his voice mail was filled. No way to leave a message. This concerned me a little, but I’d gotten a recent e-mail from Van so I knew he was alive and well... just hard to get in contact with, I guess.

Van is a character. The great thing about old friends is that you know what all of their issues are, have gotten mad at them a thousand times, and are now over it. Van is famous for being unreliable. Not in some serious way, he just gets side tracked sometimes. Also, he’s a dreamer... which is great when you are 20, kind of a problem when you are older. But no one on earth has a bigger heart, and when my life went to hell after NINJA BUSTERS fizzled and Wendy split, he gave me a job laying carpet and pointed out that there were other women in the world (mostly by example - you could drop Van into a Lesbian Convention and he’d convert some of them). But I can not count the number of times he’s been a no-show or ambled in hours late. Used to make me angry, now I just accept it. So, when I couldn’t get through to him I just figured it was the usual Van thing.

I kept calling and getting that full voice mail the whole time I was in the Bay Area, and John tried to call him with the same results. Finally I got an e-mail from him - hey, how come I hadn’t called him? All of this ended up being *my fault* - he had changed cell phone carrier, had a new number, and even *gave me his new number*. But I kept calling the old one, because I’m an idiot and it was on my cell phone. John was doing the same thing. Once I called the new number he had given me months before, he answered on the second ring. New Years Eve had passed and I was about to return home...

John and I had seen AVATAR in 3D without Van...

But BITCH SLAP was opening on Friday night in limited release! The perfect film for 3 guys who enjoy upper torso bundles of pleasure! I figured Friday might be crowded, and John was busy Saturday, so maybe Sunday? Sunday was a great day because the cast and writer would be in San Francisco that night! Except Van already had tickets for AVATAR on Sunday... so we last minute adjusted to Monday night. The next morning I would return to Los Angeles.

Van knows every single great hole-in-the-wall restaurant and bar in the Bay Area. When we were laying carpet, no matter what city the job was in, he knew the best place to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Van suggested we meet at this restaurant/bar called The Belltower which was a couple of blocks from the cinema. When I arrived, I recognized the place - we’d had breakfast there once and it was great. John arrived and we had a beer, and then Van showed. We had a great dinner, then went to the cinema...


The plot? Three hot chicks in the desert.

Directed by Rick Jacobson, who directed a couple of my movies and is a great guy - I may not agree with all of his artistic choices, but he *has* artistic choices and actually would listen to whatever I had to say. He wasn’t an asshole. After making a bunch of low budget films he moved to TV and directed a bunch of TV shows including HERCULES and XENA and now he’s a TV director.

He and one of the writers on XENA decided to bankroll their own film, made on the cheap, and the result is BITCH SLAP. The film uses all kinds of low budget tricks - most of the story takes place in a patch of desert in the middle of nowhere with a beat up old trailer and a windmill. Easy location to shoot at, and when things blow up and catch fire (which they do as the story goes on) probably easy to get permits and a fire marshal - not a burnable tree or scrub for miles in any direction.

The cast is also small: mostly the three women: Hel (Erin Cummings) who is all-business and dresses like a business woman. Camaro (America Olivo) who is the tough gal, just released from prison, who wears jeans and a tied off shirt. Trixie (Julia Voth) the stripper who appears to be all body and no brains, who is wearing a gold dress. The plot has them drive their vintage Thunderbird to this no-man’s land to find a buried treasure, and flashbacks fill in the details and provide plot twists. There are also two men who are part of the main cast, Gage (Michael Hurst) a gangster who has been skimming from legendary crime boss Pinky for years - and the buried treasure is that loot. He’s handcuffed in the trunk of the Thunderbird. And Deputy Fuchs (Ron Melendez) a cop who thinks the three gals might be in trouble and stops to help... and also becomes their prisoner - chained up in that old trailer. Five main characters, one main location, six breasts.

In a moment I’ll talk about some of the other money saving tricks they used - I’ll bet the budget was lower than you might guess - but first let’s talk about...


The review in the Los Angeles Times complained that BITCH SLAP was an exploitation film send up without the send up... and this made me scratch my head, because I never got the memo that it was a send up, and when you read the poster or publicity stuff (they had a great gimmick to make you see it more than once - collectable postcards for each of the characters in the film, and they gave away a different one every night) there was nothing about this being a send up... it was pretty much advertized as a fun exploitation film that *knows* it’s an exploitation film. Which makes it just an exploitation film.

Back in the drive in days, there were lots of exploitation films - made cheap and filled with things that would attract and audience. Lowest common denominator stuff like fast cars and topless women and machine guns. A studio film might have all of those things in a pretty story - and those things serviced the story. An exploitation film was *about* the exploitation stuff, with a flimsy story connecting the elements. Now, some exploitation films had *great* stories connecting the elements, and now those films are considered art. Tod Browning’s FREAKS is a great film, but where would it be without the promise of seeing a bunch of side show freaks? And the suggestion of side show freaks having sex with a hot blonde woman? Hey - I gotta see that!

And the drive in exploitation films offered the same sort of forbidden thrills. Hey, what really goes on in a women’s prison where they evil lesbian warden enjoys whipping the hot naked prisoners? Hey - I gotta see that!

One of the things I hate in studio films, I love in exploitation films: “kitchen sinking”. So many of those A.I.P. drive in films seemed like a grab bag of cool stuff threaded together into a film. So you might have custom hot rods and acrobats and some rock & roll band and a bikini beach party and dogs that do tricks and martial arts and a monster... all in the same movie! Hey - I gotta see that!

I’ve seen studio films that try to throw in a little bit of everything and end up with nothing, and the reason why is that the film is supposed to be about the story... and just ends up being about a little bit of everything. A mainstream studio film is all about the story, and even though it may have fast cars and hot women and a machine gun, it’s not ever about those things. Those things are elements of the story, not the story itself. The exploitation is in the background not the foreground.

Someone on a messageboard a couple of months ago was lamenting the 50s and 60s when Americans went to see foreign films... and even though that was before my time sitting in a cinema seat, I can tell you from conversations with those older than I am - they went to foreign films to see boobies. American films had no nudity at all - we still had censorship under the old system. But foreign films managed to sneak in nudity and the censors didn’t seem to care, maybe because the films were “cultural” and had subtitles and not everyone was going to flock to see them. Except a surprising number of normal middle class Americans saw a bunch of foreign films... often featuring nudity or lingerie or lots-a-cleavage. Thank you, Sophia Loren! Hey - I gotta see that!

Foreign films ended up being exploitation films! Just, with culture!

And that is the problem with the poor exploitation film - it has no culture. It is honest about its intentions. You may see a foreign film for culture... um, cleavage culture... but you see an exploitation film for the exploitation. We always complain that people these days go to the movies for the explosions and CGI - the exploitation elements. And it’s funny that I will hate TRANSFORMERS and then have an excited conversation with another film fan about that amazing street shoot out in HEAT. Okay, why isn’t HEAT an exploitation film? Why is a long shoot out in some B movie just stupid and a similar scene in HEAT complete genius? Well, it’s that HEAT isn’t just that shoot out (and the other great action scenes). But, isn’t there room in cinema for a film that *is* just about the shoot outs? A film that isn’t going to try and pass itself off as culture, and just be its sleazy self? A film that knows that one of the main reasons why you go to see HEAT or some big budget Hollywood movies is the exploitation elements? “You’ll believe a man can fly.” “From the moment they met it was murder.” Movies are all about sex and violence and exploitables... Heck, how many pages would be left in The Bible if we cut out all of the sex and violence?

And another issue with exploitation is - why is some low budget genre flick that is aiming for being a just fun time, not good enough for a theatrical release in art house cinemas in select cities, and have critics for the L.A. Times show up and review the film; but a film trying to be “so bad it’s good” gets shown and reviewed? Why does society say it’s okay to make fun of exploitation, but not just accept a movie that may not have stars but does have plenty of stuff that blows up... unless there is a star in it or a massive budget? Why is *studio exploitation* taken more seriously than low budget exploitation? If John Sayles’ PIRANHA was released today, would Variety even show up to review it... let alone call it the best film ever made about the Viet Nam War? If DEATH RACE 2000 were released today, would anyone take it seriously? Or would it just be dismissed and sent to video and never noticed or reviewed? We used to have genre distribs like Canon and New World that made low budget action films and got them into cinemas and reviewed and on the mainstream radar, so that those stars and directors and writers could cross over to studio films. Where do you think directors like Jonathan Demme and writers like John Sayles came from? Does the Los Angeles Times review direct to video films? Nope... Rick Jacobson may have directed a stack of movies, but this is probably his first film that has ever been reviewed in print. Because it’s trying to be bad!

So, we come to BITCH SLAP which is honest about its intentions - it just wants to be a Russ Meyer movie. It doesn’t want to be a *send up* of a 1960s exploitation movie, it wants to *be* a 1960s exploitation movie. Hey, what’s wrong with that? Why can’t the Los Angeles Times critic just judge it as an exploitation movie? When I saw the trailer, I said to myself, “Hey - I gotta see that!”


The film is what it is - good cheap exploitation. And though there’s lots of blood squibs, the level of violence is pretty tame for all of the machinegun fire. People get shot a zillion times and have little red dots on their clothes. And the sex? This film is one big tease! I don’t remember any nudity, though I do remember LOTS of cleavage and some simulated sex on a TV soap opera level. It just *seems* raw and nasty.

I mentioned the flashbacks, and they’re lots of fun. The movie opens with Trixie in her pretty party dress crawling through the burning wreckage of the trailer wondering how she came to be here, and we get a title card that says FOUR HOURS EARLIER and get a snippet of background, and then we go back to the wreckage for a minute or two of present day before we get a title card that says FOUR HOURS AND 8 MINUTES EARLIER... and that sets the tone for the flashbacks - they are frequent and often a little silly. I kept waiting for TWENTY YEARS EARLIER where the three girls are in the same crib awaiting diaper changes. This ends up being a great running gag that never seems to wear out its welcome.

The other thing is the split screen, which is over done on purpose... though not nearly as overdone as in the last OSS-117 movie. The thing I love and hate about Rick (director) is that he’s creative - in NIGHT HUNTER he did that shaky-cam thing in all of the action scenes, which I absolutely hated... even though Paul Greengrass swiped that technique a decade later for the second BOURNE movie. I loved what he did in BLACK THUNDER, though - he mounted the camera on a rig that allowed it to turn 360' (upside down) and slid the camera back and forth in the plane cockpit shots so that you could feel the plane banking and looping and doing all of the amazing dogfight stunts. That was genius! If the plane spun upside down in the dogfight, so did the cockpit shot of the pilot (our hero). So the split screen stuff in BITCH SLAP is cool 24-style stuff. It worked really well.

The film has some great confined cameos - characters whose roles are spread throughout the film but were probably shot out in a single day - by Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless (that Hercules/Xena connection)... with a twist! Lucy plays Mother Superior in a funny flashback that reveals that one of the gals used to be a nun in a convent who was *very popular* with the other nuns... and Sorbo plays the head of a spy organization in a bunch of little scenes probably shot in a single day, because one of the gals is revealed to be a top secret undercover female version of James Bond.

Here’s the confined cameo twist - Sorbo isn’t just at one location, he’s all over the place... thanks to green screen. The majority of the flashbacks are green screen shots. Now, this is a low budget movie that can not afford great special effects, and all of the green screen shots have those outlines that make them look like green screen... except thanks to SIN CITY and all of those stylized comic book films, we no longer need perfect looking green screen and effects as long as we can used a stylized cartoony background. And that’s just what BITCH SLAP does - the flashbacks are not real looking at all, they look like SIN CITY, so any imperfection in green screen or even location plate disappears. A scene in Russia where Sorbo meets with spy-gal Hel at a train station has a stylized cartoon look that adds to the production value instead of subtracts from it. The movie has these great surreal flashbacks that seem arty.

One of the other tricks the film uses is the old doorway in the ground gag - from A BOY AND HIS DOG. When they finally find the treasure, it’s not just some trunk full of cash - it’s a vault that opens into the earth, and they climb down a ladder to some gangster version of that huge warehouse from the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK filled with just about anything someone could steal... including nukes and heavy artillery and all kinds of loot.


The film is good sleazy fun. I laughed several times. The problem with making a “So Bad It’s Good” movie is that often it just turns out bad. The key to is to keep it funny, so that we know you aren’t taking this seriously. BITCH SLAP has enough gags to keep us laughing, and is so over the top in many of its scenes that you know they aren’t taking this seriously. Exaggeration is funny - and this film gets laughs from seeing how complicated it can make its Mexican Standoffs, and how crass it can make its simulated sex scenes. But some of the dialogue is raw instead of clever, and the characters are so paper thin there’s no way to mine anything but surface gags from them (Trixie pole dancing with a shovel while they are supposed to be digging is her best character-related gag). I wish it had been more clever, but maybe I’m the only one in the audience who cared about that? The plot and much of the action is contrived to the point of “Oh, come on!” - often for no reason at all the girls will get into a fight - maybe that was supposed to be a gag that didn’t work so it just seemed like a bad movie thing. I know it seems silly to point out that they needed a better excuse for their exploitation scenes, but that would have made me think “Bad on purpose” for those contrived scenes instead of “Just bad”. And the end of the film is just bad no matter how you slice it - there is a twist that is so contrived and sledge-hammered in that I walked away liking the film less. And both of my friends jumped on the end, too - so it wasn’t just picky Bill. You have to play fair with plot twists, folks! Hey, I saw the color of her underwear and figured out the twist - but the character doesn’t seem to know about their own double cross in the scenes where they are pulling the double cross! Again, this is one of those things where the film isn’t as clever as it needs to be. But those story issues aside - a lot of fun for 90 minutes!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Pigeon Holing Yourself - and the equally kinky practice of Self Branding.
Yesterday's Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad at Fuddruckers.

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Monday, August 08, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Rotten Tomatoes Must Die!

Lancelot Link Monday! The 12th link this week is to a story about a petition signed by thousands of DC fans to shut down the Rotten Tomatoes website because of the low rating they gave to SUICIDE SQUAD. 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 Suicide........................ $135,105,000
2 Bourne.......................... $22,710,000
3 Bad Moms........................ $14,204,000
4 Secret Pet...................... $11,560,000
5 ST:B............................ $10,200,000
6 9 Lives.......................... $6,500,000
7 Lights Out....................... $6,005,000
8 The Nerve!....................... $4,900,000
9 Ghostbusters..................... $4,800,000
10 IA:CC............................ $4,300,000

2) Indie Box Office Numbers.

3) Congratulations To Matt Altman On His Spec Script Sale! (hey, I know that guy!)

4) Ageism In Hollywood?

5) Billy Wilder Interview.

6) Reboots Of Reboots Of Remakes... based on a TV show that was based on a novel that was based on a notion...

7) New Lucy Statue Doesn't Frighten Children (and adults)!

8) Harvey Keitel On Working With James Toback On FINGERS.

9) Katheryn Bigelow's Next Film.

10) Advice For Screenwriters From The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

11) Behind The Scenes On SERPICO.

12) DC Fans Petition For Destruction Of Rotten Tomatoes!

13) SUICIDE SQUAD and Shelf Life.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Script To Screen:

Over on one of the message boards someone is *again* asking how to write an action scene, and isn't easier to just write "Hero kicks villain's ass" and let the stunt guys figure it out. Problem with that is that an action film is about the action - would you write a comedy script and leave the jokes up the the actors? We want our scripts to give the reader the feeling of the movie - the *whole* movie. The reason why we go to action movies is for the action... and the story and characters. Which is another thing about action scenes - they are character scenes and story scenes as well (or they are just junk). Part two of my article on action scenes is in the issue of Script Magazine (now folded into SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING book on sale at Amazon). One of the things I say in that article is to read some scripts with great action scenes.

Now, the truth is that sometimes, no matter how great that action scene you wrote, the stunt guys *do* come up with their own scene. I've bitched before about some of my action scenes being tossed in favor or scenes that not only were not about the character and didn't move the story forward - they sucked. In one of my films I wanted to smash that bad action cliche scene where Chuck Norris is surrounded by Ninjas, as each wait their turn to have Norris hand their ass to them. So I figured out how one man could fight a bunch of guys if they all attacked him at once. I wrote it up, it was a scene everyone loved in the script, and then the stunt guy tossed it out and had each of the bad guys wait their turn to get stomped by Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Very frustrating.

But sometimes the stunt guy is smart enough to get what you've written, and put that scene on screen. That happened in a few of my films, including BLACK THUNDER. Though that film had all kinds of other problems, it's one that I can watch without wanting to put out my eyes with a firepoker during the closing credits. So I thought it might be fun to look at the Chase Scene on the page, then see what they put on screen. Below is the *first draft* of the chase scene, but I don't think it went through much rewrite. After the scene is what they shot, and what aired on Showtime as one of their original movies.

THE SCRIPT (first draft):


Two big ugly bombs on the fork lift. Ratcher watches the biological weapons loaded onto the Nova. Stone startles him.

How much longer?

Almost loaded and ready for delivery. I'll get suited up.

Be in the air in one hour. Goodbye Kansas, goodbye yellow brick road.
Ratcher glares at Stone as he walks away.


The ancient pick up truck backfires and sputters away. Conners hidden in back amongst the melons and produce.

Rojar drives through the village.

You like the American Cowboy?

What about the check point?

We drive through.

They won't want to know where you're going?

I tell them the air field. Even the pilots like the fresh melons.

What if they search the truck?

He's hidden good. Casabas over him.

If they look under the casabas?

We see if this old fruit cart can out run a motorcycle.


They leave the village, headed to the check point, and the air field a mile beyond it.


The truck stops behind a beat up Peugeot waiting to pass through the check point.

A pair of SOLDIERS search the Peugeot, popping the trunk, looking behind the seats. Practically stripping it.

A pair of army motorcycles are parked behind the kiosk.


Mela watches the Soldiers search the Peugeot, tearing it apart. Tension: They will soon do this to the pick up truck.


Under the casaba melons, Conners stays very still.


The Soldiers lets the Peugeot pass through, and gesture for the pick up to move forward.


Here we go.

Rojar moves the truck up to the gate and puts on a smile. Mela is tense. Suspense builds as the Soldiers approach.

Hey! I have the melons for the men down there. Pilots love the melons.

Out of the truck. Let's see your papers. Hers, too.


Rojar steps out of the truck and shows the Soldier his papers. Mela hands her papers through the open window to Soldier #2.


Under the casaba melons, Conners stays very still.


As the Soldier examines his papers, Rojar moves to the back of the truck and pulls back the tarp a little.

See? Melons. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Chick-peas. I have to deliver before the sun comes up, to keep them from spoiling.

Rojar lowers the tarp back into place. The Soldier hands him back his papers, then raises the tarp himself.

Hey? You want one? They won't notice if a couple are missing. Don't touch them all with those filthy hands!

The Soldier begins digging around in the crates of vegetables.


Under the casaba melons, Conners stays very still.


Mela takes her papers back from the Soldier, trying NOT to look at the search of the pick up bed.

The truck keys dangle from the ignition... She may be forced to scoot to the drivers seat, start the truck, and take off.


The Soldier reaches a hand between the crates, feeling around.


Under the casaba melons, Conners stays still as the hand feels RIGHT NEXT TO HIM.
VERY close!


Rojar gets ready to brain the Soldier with a melon if he finds Conners. Tension builds.

Then the Soldier pulls his hand out, lowers the tarp, and takes the melon from Rojar with a smile.

You'll like that one.

Rojar gets back into the truck's cab, gets the ignition on.

Then Soldier #2 notices that Mela looks very much like one of the photos of dissidents on his clipboard. He shows the photo to Soldier #1.

Halt! Halt!

Rojar slams the truck into gear and roars away, smashing the gate-arm into a dozen pieces.

Halt! Halt!

Soldier #2 raises his rifle and opens fire. Bullets spark over the back of the truck.


A melon explodes, raining juice on Conners.


Soldier #1 joins in the shooting. Sparks off the pick up.


Mela and Rojar duck as the back window is BLOWN out.

Down! Stay down!

Rojar whips the pick up truck around a corner on the dirt road at high speed, rolling some melons out the back.


The two Soldiers hop on their motorcycles and give chase.


The Pick Up Truck roars down the dirt road.
The Two Motorcycles roar after it.


Mela sees the motorcycles.

They're right behind us.

I knew I should have put the new spark plugs in.


The Two Motorcycles are getting closer.

Soldier #1 breaks away, zooming up to the driver's side window of the truck.


Mela looks across Rojar at Soldier #1, who is aiming his gun through the window, preparing to fire.


Rojar and Mela duck as the bullet whizzes through the cab, in one window and out the other.

Rojar grabs a melon from the seat and throws it out the window at Soldier #1.


Soldier #1 has to pull back to avoid being hit by the melon.

Soldier #2 opens fire through the back window, shattering glass and exploding melons.

Suddenly, the tarp flips up and Conners pops to his feet in the pick up bed. He double draws his two 45s in one fluid motion and begins blasting away at Soldier #2.

Soldier #2 stops firing and starts zig-zagging, as bullets blaze all around him. One sparks off his handlebars.

Conners shifts aim, firing at Soldier #1.

Soldier #1 fires at Conners, bullets sparking off the cab.


Rojar tries to outrun the motorcycles, but the pick up truck just doesn't have the guts.

He sees Soldier #1 zooming closer to the truck to shoot at Conners, and jambs the wheel to the left.


The pick up truck weaves towards the motorcycle, and Soldier #1 has to back off.
Conners fires at him with both guns, bullets sparking off the cycle, but missing Soldier #1. Lucky.

Soldier #2 is roaring up on the right side of the truck.

Conners and Soldier #1 exchange gunfire, bullets sparking.


Hold on!

Rojar has to turn the wheel quickly, to make a sharp corner.


Almost losing Conners from the back of the truck as he fights for balance. As he tries to right himself, Soldier #1 blasts at him, exploding several melons.

Who taught you how to drive?


Conners drops clips, reloads, and blasts at Soldier #1.

That's when Soldier #2 attacks. Riding VERY close to the back of the truck, he opens fire at Conners.

Conners hits the dirt (melons) as bullets fly overhead from both sides. He grabs the tarp, yanks it off its hooks, and tosses it over Soldier #2.

Soldier #2 is driving his motorcycle blind: The tarp completely covering him like a poncho. He drops his gun and grabs at the tarp, trying to tear it off. Steering the cycle with the other hand.

Soldier #1 opens fire, Conners blasts back with both guns.


The road curves, and Rojar begins his turn.


Soldier #2 can't see that the road curves, and bumps up onto the shoulder, zooming over the dirt towards a tree.

Conners and Soldier #1 continue blasting at each other. With the pick up truck shaking, and Soldier #1 zig-zagging, Conners can't get a good shot.

Bullets are too small.

Then he notices the melons.

Soldier #2 is getting CLOSER to the tree. He finally yanks the tarp off, sees the tree, corrects his steering, and zooms back after the pick up truck.

Conners kicks melons at Soldier #1. The third melon hits the front wheel, sending the cycle flipping into a ditch.

Soldier #2 zooms up to the passenger side, and jumps onto the truck. His cycle zooms away.

Standing on the running board, he reaches inside the truck, grabbing Mela and punching her in the face.


Mela fights with Soldier #2, as Rojar drives. She knocks him away... but he swings into the truck bed, fighting Conners.


Conners fights Soldier #2 in the bed of the speeding truck.

Hit him! Use the strangle hold!

Soldier #2 socks Conners in the face, almost knocking him off the truck. Conners barely hangs on, kicks the soldier away. They trade punches until Conners knocks him off the truck.

Splash two soldiers.


Conners yells at Rojar.

Go back! We have to make sure they don't radio the hanger!

Go back? You're crazy!

Rojar yanks the truck into a 180 slide, almost losing Conners. The truck zooms back to the fallen soldiers.


Establishing shot.


DeMuth looks up as General Barnes enters.

No word, sir. A little over two hours left on the clock.

Is the strike team ready?


Okay, that segment of the screenplay is exactly 7 pages long (I cut it at the end of the page) and the segment of film is five and a half minutes. You can see that there were some changes made when it finally came to shooting it - some *better* stunts ended up in the final film. I would never have imagined Conners throwing one soldier at the other soldier's vehicle - that just sounds dangerous! But the stunt guy took what I had and *improved it*, which is what all writers want. We want them to ADD their skills to ours.


Though once they have filmed the chase, an editor is going to cut back and forth a zillion times between vehicles and INT and EXT, and maybe from vehicle to vehicle, in the script stage we are going to use sluglines to create suspense or a twist or a reversal or a “button”. We want the reader be excited by the chase – and give them the experience of the film viewer. Where a film editor is going to cut maybe a hundred times, doing that on the page would be choppy and distracting. So we want to cut *for effect*. When you go from EXT to INT in the script there is a reason - usually to create suspense or some other excitement. There may be a cliffhanger or a “button” or a reversal or some other kind of twist at the end of the EXT before we go to the INT or vice versa. You *use* the change of location within the scene to make the scene more exciting. It's not just arbitrary.

There's a bit in my car chase where Rojar, driving, has to do a very sharp turn... and we go from INT to EXT to see our hero standing in the back of the truck as he loses balance, almost falling out, *due to the sharp turn*. There is a cause and effect thing there - where the reader thinks making that hairpin curve is the excitement... but that's what causes our hero to almost get killed! You want to guide the focus of the reader/audience to increase the excitement of the scene on the page. Though the filmed version may be different, our job as screenwriters is to make the scene exciting and involving on the page.


Every action scene is a character scene and a story scene – it's not *only* there to provide excitement. If you can cut the action scene from the screenplay and the screenplay still works – cut the action scene! There's more on this in the revised version of my “Secrets Of Action Screenwriting” book. In this story the protagonist has been hiding since his mission went south, and this scene is when he erupts into action. This is basically the end of Act 2 and the beginning of Act three, and this chase leads into the big action scene at the end.

The story: terrorists steal our new ultra-stealth fighter plane (push a button and it is invisible to the human eye) with plans to use it against us, and hero Vince Conners and his co-pilot Rick Jannick fly behind enemy lines to steal it back. But once they get behind enemy lines, everything goes wrong... Jannick is captured and Conners goes on the run. Now he is behind enemy lines - with an entire enemy army searching for him. Now he must rescue his partner and steal the plane.

Here are two Script Tips I wrote about the creative process of writing this script, one on how the theme is connected to everything in the story (including this scene) and one on how I found a character key to help me understand the motivations of the characters:

Concept And Theme.
Keys To Your Story.

At this point in the story Conners has not trusted Mela (who may be working for the underground or may be the mistress of a badguy... or both) - and this action scene is when they begin working as sort of a team. He must make the decision to trust here. Both things change the course of the story from this point on - and the end of the script could not exist without this scene.

These things also tie into character, but the big thing in this scene is that he has been completely by the book in the story - not taking any chances. This compares to his partner Jannick (who is a captive at this point) who was always reckless and takes wild chances – which is what got him captured. This action scene is where Conners begins taking chances... and crazy ones... and kind of switches personalities with his partner - who is in a scene just before this as a prisoner, no longer taking chances - he has given up. Using the melons as a weapon and having the truck go back for the motorcycle are both things designed to show that he is now taking crazy chances and doing things that will result in the bad guys finding him... or him finding the bad guys. Some of the things in the scene are two-fers: they show the change in character and change the story - but story and characters are connected so that makes sense.


You also need your action scene to be original and fresh – something we haven't seen before. Think of all of the hundreds of car chases – our job is to do something different.
This particular scene began as a joke: when I wrote this screenplay I was on a film message board with Roger Ebert and one of the movie cliches he often pointed out was the “fruit cart” - in a car chase one of the cars always ran into a fruit cart, spraying melons and fruits all over the street... so I thought it would be funny to have the fruit cart be one of the vehicles in the chase, and created Rojar Ebair The Produce King and his truck full of melons and fruit... and I would *use* the melons as weapons! I haven't seen “melon-fu” before in a film, have you? Once I had that, I brainstormed up a bunch of produce action gags. I was also influenced by the Yakima Canutt action scene from John Ford's STAGE COACH – but used motorcycles instead of horses. I also tried to come up with as many “gags” as possible that would put our hero in harms way. An action scene isn't exciting unless the hero can die... and *almost* dies again and again. If the hero isn't in danger, where is the excitement?

We want to create visceral actions, create emotions in the audience, which means the protagonist has to be in harms way - it's not just machines in the car chase, it is *people*. In SALT she jumps from the roof of one truck to another... and almost falls off - visceral action. How many times does Indiana Jones *almost die* in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK? Part of the reason why we cut back and forth from INT to EXT on the page is to create that excitement where the protagonist *might* die. One of the basic elements of an action scene is the *reversal* - more on that in the Action Book, but there's also a Script Tip in rotation on reversals in action that uses the big chase at the end of ROAD WARRIOR as an example. We want to use screenwriting techniques to make the script as exciting to read as the film will be to watch. To *use* our writing to create a visceral and emotional experience for the reader.

Eventually our writing gets transferred to the screen, and the scene may end up different (as this scene did) – but without that basic template of how the scene works to begin with, you may end up with a pointless action scene that isn't story or theme or character related.

Now, I have had all kinds of run ins with directors, but let me take a moment to thank the director of BLACK THUNDER, Rick Jacobson. There are directors you hate, directors you tolerate, and directors you like and would gladly work with again. Rick is the latter. We made two films together, and he was always a nice guy. There were no ego battles - we were both just trying to make the best movie possible. That's not to say that Rick and I agreed on everything - we had some battles, and I lost some of them. But Rick was always trying to make a good movie - he cared. And one of the great things about Rick is that he knew that good action scenes were important to an action movie. I've had other directors who pretty much cut the action scenes to spend more time on one B actor having a conversation with another B actor. No one watches a B action flick for the amazing performances... they want to see stuff blow up. Rick spent the time, and *used his imagination* to make the action scenes (and other scenes) really work. Rick also could make a film shot on a small budget look big - he has an eye for shots and angles and lighting, and his films always looked like big studio movies. I've worked with other directors who could make a $3 million HBO flick look like a $300k low budget film. I think Rick is working in TV, now, where his ability to work fast without sacrificing quality is a major plus.

Also, thanks to that amazing stunt department, and coordinator Patrick Statham. Cole McKay and Kane Hodder and the rest of the guys took what I wrote and made it real - which is what we all dream of. Having our words turned into pictures.

7 pages of script = 5.5 minutes of film... not exactly 1 = 1, but close enough. If it ain't on the page, it can't be on the screen.

- Bill





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Monday, August 01, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: The 1,000 Movie Challenge

Lancelot Link Monday! The last link this week is from Edgar Wright - his 1,000 favorite films. I have well over 1,000 films on DVD and Bluray, and there are so many "holes in my collection" that I'll probably buy 1,000 more eventually... I'm a movie addict. But I'm not sure I could make a list of my 1,000 favorite movies. That's a lot of movies! Even in my current collection, there are films which I think are okay but I'm not sure I'd put them on a favorites list. Could you come up with 1,000 favorite movies? 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 Jason Bourne.................... $60,000,000
2 ST: Beyond...................... $24,000,000
3 Bad Moms........................ $23,400,000
4 Secret Pets..................... $18,210,000
5 Lights Out...................... $10,810,000
6 Ice Age #57..................... $10,500,000
7 Goatbusters...................... $9,800,000
8 Nerve............................ $9,000,000
9 Finding Dory..................... $4,220,000
10 Tarzan........................... $2,405,000

Second best opening for a BOURNE movie after ULTIMATUM. My new book looking at all of the BOURNE movies is coming VERY soon!

2) Behind The Scenes On The Original OMEN Movie... By some weird coincidence I'm listening to the Goldsmith score as I type this! Did you know the devil chant was nominated for "Best Song" and was actually performed at the Oscars Show that year? Weird!

3) Paul Greengrass On The New BOURNE Movie.

4) THE WOLF OF WALLSTREET movie's own financial scandals.


6) The Screenwriter Of BRIDESMAIDS Interviewed.

7) BATMAN Vs SUPERMAN Wins Best Picture!


9) Guillermo Del Toro Is The New Forrest J. Ackerman.


11) New Hope For The Dead (Screenplays) - Company Buys Dead Scripts & Produces Them!

12) Fellow Raindance Juror Edgar Wright Lists His 1,000 Favorite Films!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

This was the first car chase I ever posted on the blog!


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