Monday, October 31, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Happy Halloween!

Lancelot Link Monday! Happy Halloween - this week's links offer some pretty scary stuff for screenwriters and film folks, from the Best Unproduced Horror Screenplays Of The Year to Tippi Hedren's new Memoir... and everything in between. What's in Between? 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 Boo! Madea ..................... $16,675,000
2 Inferno ........................ $15,000,000
3 Jack Reacher:NGB................. $9,550,000
4 Accountant....................... $8,475,000
5 Ouiji -1 ........................ $7,070,000
6 GOtT............................. $4,270,000
7 Peculiar Children................ $3,975,000
8 NOT Keeping Up................... $3,375,000
9 Storks .......................... $2,785,000
10 Mushkil .......................... $2,135,000

2) Happy Halloween! Here's *The Blood List* - Best Unproduced Horror Scripts!

3) Rise Of The Planet Of Great Female Horror Directors!

4) Shane Black's Writing Process.

5) The 1000 Monkeys Selected To Write SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 (Robert Downey, jr)

6) For Your Consideration: Legal PDF Downloads From Sony's Films.

7) Other For Your Consideration Scripts You May Have Missed.

8) How A New Writer Landed Idris Elba In The Starring Role!

9) Yesterday I Walked Past FFC's Restaurant In San Francisco - So Here's An Aricle On His DISTANT VISION.

10) I Joke About "Direct Plug" TV... NetFlix Is Actually Working On It!

11) Tippi Says Hitch Sexually Assaulted Her In New Book.

12) AFM Starts At The End Of The Week: How To Work It!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs




Friday, October 28, 2016

Trilogy Of Terror: Part 3.... Was Che A Vampire?

From 2006...

The last exhibit in our little gallery of gore might be called The Man Who Googled Himself... That’s not a very good title, this tale of terror really doesn’t have anything to do with Google - but my sister just sent me this new “game” where you Google the phrase “(Your first name) was arrested for” to find out about your sordid criminal past. You’d be surprised at all the criminal activities you’ve been involved in. You can only play this game once, so it isn’t as good as the Elephant Panty game, where you take two completely non-related words, throw quotes around them, and do a search. Then read all of the weird stuff on the hundred or so websites dedicated to “Sewer Golf” or “Television Trousers” or whatever you’ve looked up.

I Google myself every so often to find out if I’ve been linked to Paris Hilton or if they’ve finally discovered that I’m the father of the TomKat baby. I always run across something even more unbelievable. I might do a 2 hour class on Film Noir and quip that most of the characters in these films wear hats... Only to discover someone who took the class says on their website that “Martell says the main requirement in writing a film noir script is to make sure every character wears a hat” - and this person is *serious*. Out of the *one thousand* sentences in that class, they’ve latched on to *one* and decided that’s the key to writing a great script. This is some strange and misguided type of tunnel vision or selective hearing that leads to some really odd scripts. Pretty scary stuff!

I think how this happens is that the person already has some sort of odd hat fetish, and - like those dogs in Gary Larson cartoons who only hear “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah...” - these folks only hear what they want to hear. If it wasn’t about hats, they didn’t hear it. When I find something like this on a website or message board, I wonder what I can do to prevent it the next time I teach a class... but I’m not sure how. I welcome your suggestions.

A friend of mine is a young writer-director who sees everything as if it relates to the struggles of his ethnic minority. He would even look at the “Television Trousers” results of the Google search and come away with how it relates to his ethnic minority. This writer-director has found funding within in his community to make four very political films. All are dramas about the struggles of his people. His first film got a lot of press, played in some film festivals, but never got picked up by a distrib. I saw the film at a local festival, and it was more political than dramatic - lots of speeches. Haven’t see his other three films, but they’ve gotten less press and fewer festivals have shown them. None of them are on DVD - no distrib. Now his community funding sources are starting to dry up, so he decided to make a horror film, because horror films are hot right now.

When my friend told me about this, at first I was surprised. This is a guy who thinks Hollywood makes stupid movies for stupid people. Most of our conversations have been the great debate about selling out versus being true to your beliefs. If you’ve spent much time on my website you know that I advocate being subversive - making genre films with a message. The script I’m currently trying to finish rewriting before I fly to London is a sci-fi action story about an agent with the Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Androids hunting down some renegade androids set on overthrowing the US Government... but it’s really about tolerance. I’ve taken a bunch of situations that deal with prejudice against minorities and turned the illegal immigrants and Gay marriage and sweat shop labor and National Anthem in Spanish and people smuggled over the border in metal containers into... androids. I can deal with all kinds of issues in a script that most people will think is just an action movie.

So I told him I thought it was a great idea. Minorities are under-represented in Hollywood films, and horror films like my friend Darin’s TALES FROM THE HOOD and Snoop’s BONES were good, solid money earners with some cross-over (big fat white guys like me even paid to see them). I gave him a copy of my Horror Class CD and the usual advice to rent a bunch of horror movies and study them - take them apart and find out what makes them tick, and use that information to write his screenplay. I also told him that just because it was a horror movie, doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. You can make a point within a genre film.

Some of you may be shocked that he had four previous films that didn’t get distribution even though they played at festivals. When people hear the phrase “didn’t get distribution”, they think that refers to *theatrical* distribution. I mean, they’ll put anything on DVD, right? You’ve seen some of the crap they put on DVD... maybe even one of my 36 Oscar Worthy Films Starring Tom Cruise. Hard to imagine a film not being good enough for DVD.

At a panel at VSDA (video software dealers association) the distribs said that about 27,000 independent feature films are submitted to them every year (you read that right)... and each distrib only buys a few of them. A company like Asylum makes 12 films a year and buys another 12. Even if there were 100 distribs buying that many films a year, it’s still only 1,200 films - that’s just over a fifth of the movies made every year. And I don’t think there are 100 big distribs out there... I’m not even sure there are as many as 30 distribs of any size. That means distribs can be really picky. And even the artsie distribs on the VSDA panel said it all comes down to what they think the public will buy or rent on DVD. Even artsie distribs have to pay their office rent and power bills.

I think the problem with my friend’s previous 4 films was that they had a target audience (his minority) but weren’t the most entertaining movies that targeted that audience. And that may even explain that crap that does get released on DVD - when you’ve spend 40 hours being abused by “The Man” for lower than average wages and having total strangers hate you for the color of your skin or the person you love or your wheelchair or your religion, do you really want to watch a movie about that? Wouldn’t you rather watch a lesbian vampire movie featuring members of your minority? Or a haunted house movie featuring members of your ethnic minority? Or a monster movie featuring members of your ethnic minority?

So the majority of the 27,000 films submitted to distribs every year get no form of distribution at all, because “The Man” can’t make a buck off them. So my friend is going to make a horror film, because “The Man” can make money on a horror film, and some of that money will trickle down to his investors and his community. Not a bad thing to make some money while showcasing the very talented people in his community.

The next time we have coffee, he’s telling me how his script is going - but all he talks about is the minority angle. It’s almost as if he’s talking out one of his other 4 films. I ask him if he’s had a chance to listen to my class, yet... he says he hasn’t gotten around to it. That’s okay, he’s writing. Always a good thing to be writing.

A few weeks later we bump into each other and I ask about the script. He tells me he’s almost done, and the good news is that his investors are really excited. They are going to give him more money than he had on his other 4 films, because this one is a winner. I ask about the story, and he gives me the capsule version - and it doesn’t sound like a horror story to me at all. In fact, it sounds like a love story! This is strange. I ask him about the horror scenes - and he describes a scene that doesn’t sound scary at all. It sounds *political*. I ask what horror movies he watched before writing the script. He tells me he started to watch NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET but turned it off after ten minutes because he thought it was garbage. He didn’t watch *any* horror movies. I ask if he’s ever seen a horror movie before. “Yeah, when I was a kid.” I ask him about that experience - he tells me he used to love movies like that, then he outgrew them. He’s opened his eyes to the world around him and has seen....

When I ask how he knows if he’s making something that even fits in the horror genre, he tells me it doesn’t matter because he’s writing from his heart and being heartfelt and honest is more important than selling out. Wow, we’re back to that.

I ask if anyone *dies* in his script, and the answer is “Of course!” But then he explains how a character who is prejudiced gets thrown in front of a bus and run over. The more he talks about his script, the more it sounds like the slightly more violent version of his other 4 films. But it doesn’t sound anything like a horror film at all (except for a big violent ending that could go either way).

I advise him that potential distributors are “The Man” and will care more about the commercial aspects than the social aspects of his film - so maybe he should grab some horror DVDs and watch them and maybe do a touch-up rewrite on his script (which probably needs a page one), just to fool distribs into buying his finished film. He says he might do that... but I didn’t think he would.

So, a couple of weeks ago I have coffee with him again - he has finished his script and begun pre-production. I ask him a few story questions - and it seems that the story has even less horror, now. The original ending he told me about, that was kind-of-horror, he changed into more love story. I am so confused by this, I ask him about the over-all story again... and it’s morphed into a social-political themed story where a couple of people get killed in ways that don’t sound scary at all. “But, weren’t you trying to make a horror movie?” “This is better.” “What about distribution?” “You can’t know what they want, so why even think about it? This is my best work so far. And, because it’s a horror movie, they’ll probably buy it.”

I would like to have said: But it isn’t a horror movie! though I didn’t. I wished him good luck. There’s a weird rule with friends - you have to be supportive. If this guy was a stranger on a message board I would have called him a moron and explained that he was continuing the same self-destructive patterns he was trying to break by making this film. But you have to wish a friend good luck and offer to crew for him if he needs you.

He didn’t need me. He had a nice budget.

That’s good, because I can’t imagine being on set for this film every day. It would be like watching someone try to kill themselves again and again. There’s this great scene at the end of Roman Polanski’s horror flick THE TENANT where the lead jumps out of the window of his apartment to stop the other tenants from trying to drive him crazy... he hits the pavement in front of the building... and lives! His landlord (who has bat wings) and his super (who has a lizard tongue) try to help him. They want to keep him alive and play with him some more. But he drags his battered body up the steps to jump again! That’s what working on that film would be like - watching someone keep trying to kill themselves over and over again until they got it right. I don’t have the stomach for that. When I see a *stranger* do something stupid like race across a busy street against the light to catch a bus or something, I worry about them. I want to stop them from their self-destructive behavior. I’m sure I would have spent every day on set hinting that maybe a scene with a guy in a hockey mask with a machete might be interesting at this location.

He’s filming right now. He managed to get a couple of known actors in his film - members of his minority group who are supporting the cause (not Snoop - he’s probably doing a *real* horror film). For all I know, this one may find a distrib... but I’m not holding my breath.

This brings our little trilogy of terror to a close. Hope you don’t have any nightmares. I said at the beginning that this was a fable, but I’m not going to tell you the moral to the story - I’ll let you figure that out on your own. You may come up with a different moral, or see these stories in ways that I could never imagine....

Maybe to you, it’s all about the hats.

- Bill

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Trilogy Of Terror: Part 2... I Was An Overpriced Zombie

From 2006...

Originally this was going to be one blog entry, but I decided to break it up into bite-sized pieces. Easier to digest, right? This painting in our gallery of gore starts with a director who made some forgettable low budget action films in the late 80s/early 90s and ended up directing syndicated TV shows. You remember all of those shows in the 90s that played on some non-network channel? Stuff like RISING SUN and COBRA and VIP? Well, they don’t make those shows anymore, so this director is out of work. But, like everyone else, he decided to make a horror movie because horror movies are hot right now. He assembles some private financing and a distribution deal – his budget is around a million bucks. I hint around that I would be willing to write a script for below my quote... and I even have a couple of horror scripts sitting around that could be made on that budget. He wants to develop his own project, and is going to work with a non-WGA writer (who he won’t pay until the film is completed) to save development money. Okay.

I suspect this is really a control issue. One of the strange things I’ve noticed in my career is that the more established you become, the fewer insecure people want to work with you. It’s the opposite of how it should be. If I have a script that went wide and got me 48 studio meetings, some people will refuse to read that script because they can’t easily dismiss it. A strange thing happens when directors or producers think your script may actually be good - it puts pressure on them not to screw it up. They can make a bad script better, but all they can do with a good script is screw it up... so they may be more interested in a flawed script than one that is ready to go. An actor in one of my films has a policy to *only* work with actors worse than he is, so that he always looks better. What makes no sense about this is - you should always be looking for the best elements. A good script, a good cast. If that actor surrounded himself with *better* actors, he wouldn’t look bad... he’d look like the star of a film with bigger names in supporting roles. Makes him look bigger than the other names! And with great supporting actors, the film becomes a better film. And when the supporting cast raises the bar, you’re more likely to step up and do better work... Unless you’re afraid that this will expose you as completely talentless. Then you want to work with people of lesser talent, and you end up with crappy films. That’s one of the reason B movies often suck. Even if they begin with a great script, they *need* to screw it up so that they retain their power.

So this director hires a writer with no credits... basically a typing monkey who will write whatever he says to write. He ends up with a script that he tells me is great (but will not show me) and starts pre-production. But in the small world of Hollywood, an actor friend of mine (not Jim) gets a copy of the script and passes it on to me after reading it. Why? Because this is a horror film completely without horror. It has a lot of action, some big stunts, a car chase, and several explosions... but no horror. It’s not scary. I think this director isn’t confident that he can make a scene scary, but he knows he can wrangle a car chase.

So he makes the film and his distrib releases it on DVD... and the horror fan magazines (like Fangoria) all mention the lack of actual thrills. One of the weird problems with this film is casting - he’s cast a female lead who has done horror films before, but everyone else is mostly unknown. All of my friends who have seen the film wonder where the budget went - not to the cast... but maybe the stunts were expensive. We later find out he paid himself his quote - the top $ he’s ever made - even though this made him the most expensive single element in the film. Money in his pocket, but not on screen.

The film ships okay, but it’s mostly a rental - few people buy it. The horror fans are not fans of this film, and the casting and story make it unappealing to the action fans. Not a flop, but not a hit. And everyone agrees that it stinks. The script is just awful. Obviously, this makes me angry for personal reasons - I could have done a much better job than this typing monkey did... Except I wouldn’t have been a typing monkey. The job was for a typing monkey, not a screenwriter.

And just to screw up any moral to this story... he’s just put together private financing of over a million dollar for another horror movie (even though he can’t find a distrib willing to take it before he’s made it). And this new project, with a different typing monkey (being a masochist - I hinted again that I had some horror scripts laying around and would take less than my quote - again he’s using a new, unsold writer), also seems light on horror and heavy on stunts. I wish I had a million bucks to make a horror movie!

Which brings me to that writer from blog entries past - the guy with the PR firm telling everybody how brilliant he is. Well, he’s managed to burn a bunch of bridges with late scripts that aren’t very good, and he’s finding it difficult to get hired for assignments. No one wants to buy his specs (the same old ones) and all of those stars who are attached in his mind aren’t attached in reality... making the projects not so hot. But, you know, what he’s always wanted to do is direct... and horror films are hot right now.

So he decides to make a horror film about two years ago. His theory is that the horror movies are easy to make, you just need some horror stuff in a script and all of those stupid horror fans will pay to see the movie. I mean, look at some of the crap that’s made money! So he throws together a script... and tells me the story one day. I don’t think it sounds like a horror story at all - even though it deals with zombies. It’s a zombie movie with only *one* zombie. And that zombie is part of government experiments - so it’s controlled. It’s a zombie in a lab. It never attacks anyone. It can't attack anyone. But some guys in the government lab poke it with sticks. Actually, the story sounds dull. I mention that it sounds kind of short on conflict, he dismisses this. He uses his press clippings to find financing. (Yes, the world is not fair.) He uses his agency, WMA, to help him with cast - a good mix of fading stars and up and comers. I’m actually impressed by the names he has *actually* attached. Part of his funding deal involves shooting out of state in New Mexico (tax incentives). He finishes the film and shows it to distribs... and they all turn it down. No horror. Part of the reason why they turn it down is because his asking price is so high - he wants to make a bunch of money from this movie. He wants a *guaranteed* theatrical deal. He wants the deal that matches the PR firm’s image of himself.

No one wants to give him that deal. The film is slow paced and not scary at all. Even with his cast, it’s a tough sell. Who wants to watch a not-scary horror film?

Last time I saw the guy, he told me that his film is great, and he’s going to have his PR firm take a stab at marketing it. This may mean it will be coming soon to a theater near you. Like I said, the world is not fair. You may soon be paying $10 to see a boring zombie flick with a pretty good cast - and that in itself is pretty scary stuff!

Episode number three is about a guy I know who makes political films about being a minority who decided to make a horror film... because horror is a hot genre right now. Some of you may not want to stay tuned, because you already know how this one’s going to come out.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trilogy Of Terror: Part 1.... The Acting Dead!

From 2006...

Ready for some really scary stuff?

This is a fable, even though the stories are true and the names have been changed to protect... well they aren’t exactly innocent, are they? A fable is when a story has a larger meaning, but I’m going to let you figure out that meaning on your own and take away any lessons you want. Our little fable concerns four people who set out to make horror movies. Horror films are hot these days...

We’ll begin our tour of this gallery of gore with the actor. You don’t know his name, but you know his face. He’s mostly a TV actor, but he’s done a bunch of movies, too. If the movie is about a prosecutor, he plays the defense attorney’s 2nd chair. If the story is about a defense attorney, he plays the #2 prosecutor - the sounding board guy. He also plays corporate VPs and the detective in a buddy cop movie who isn’t one of the buddies and FBI Agents. Oh, and I’ve seen him play a gangster before - but he’s kind of too clean cut for that. Basically, he’s *one* step down from the important characters in the film - a guy who gets two dozen lines in the whole film. That makes him a character actor - but one who is almost always working. Problem is, he’d like to be a star. Wait, that’s not the fable part - it’s not about hubris.

So, several years ago he started making his own movies, starring himself (of course). He’d gather together some other character actor friends and make a serious drama... but the films have no story at all. They are like a collection of really great scenes. You haven’t seen any of these movies, because none have ever found distribution. One actually played out of competition at Sundance one year (probably because of all the names in the cast) but no distrib picked it up. You need more than just some good TV names in your film, the disrib needs to make money from the film... and these films don’t even have a *story*. They are “actor porn”.

For instance, one is about four guys in their 40s who play golf together every Tuesday morning. The film isn’t about the relationship between the four guys (though there was a little of that), most of the film is about each one of the guys in some big dramatic scene. The scenes aren’t thematic - it’s not about 4 guys and their love lives, or 4 guys dealing with growing older, or 4 guys learning to accept (or not) how their lives turned out. That would be some form of story. No, the film was just a collection of great scenes with these 4 guys... and, of course, my character actor acquaintance getting twice as many scenes as everyone else. Only fair - it was his money. One character may have a big blow up with his wife. Another character might have a great big dramatic scene with his boss. And there was a scene where a character has a melt-down at a fast food place. None of the scenes were connected in any way - except these 4 guys played golf together every Tuesday morning.

After I saw the film, I thought it was like one of those books they sell at Sam French, 25 GREAT SCENES FOR ACTORS, shot with the same 4 actors and a couple of scenes where they golf together.

Because I know this guy, I’ve tried to give him a little advice about story... all of which he’s argued with or completely ignored. “It’s all about the truth of the dramatic moment, not some contrived story”. Okay... Every time I do my class in Los Angeles, his name is on the comp list... and he never shows. But after the third film he has funded out of pocket wasn’t picked up by *any* distrib for *any* medium (not DVD, not TV, nothing)... and his wife was about to divorce him, he decided to make a horror film (because they’re hot right now, and he can make some quick cash and save his marriage).

So he asks me for a little advice. I *give him* some Blue Books and the Horror CD and advise him to watch 5 to 10 horror movies and *study them* - figure out how and why they work. Then apply that information to his script. Kind of my basic advice.

So he makes his film... Whenever I bump into him, I ask him about it... and he tells me it’s great. The best horror film ever made. That’s good, because his wife files for divorce. He also missed pilot season for the first time ever. In other words - everything is now riding on this horror film. Now *that’s* a dramatic situation!

There’s this strange and illogical phenomena where the more important something is to a person, the more important it should be to everyone else in the world. If it is important for you to sell your next script, your next script is the best work you’ve ever done. It has to be, because if it’s just your average script, you’re screwed. This makes no sense at all - the script is the script and it doesn’t get better or worse depending on how much you need a sale. But this is often the way we think. So the more that was riding on my friend’s film, the better that film became. Had to be great, or he was screwed. In reality, it’s just creating and believing your own BS. Jim’s a good actor - and he convinced himself that he made a great film.

He rents a screening room on Sunset, to show the film to distribs. And he’s managed to get all of the major players to show up. He rounds up some folks to fill all of the empty seats in the screening room - a “warm body” audience to laugh and scream. Because I’m not an actor the distribs might recognize, I get to fill a seat. See - I’m good for something! This will be the first time I’ve seen one of his films on the big screen... and without the words “For Screening Purposes Only” not fading in and out at the bottom of the screen. I take my seat, he does a little speech to the distribs, the light dim, and...

We get off to an okay start - a maniac escapes from a mental institution, grabs an ax, steals a car. He doesn’t kill anyone, yet, but it’s early. Then we get some hot teen actors going on vacation at a cabin in the woods... then Jim playing the Town Sheriff (he’s still trying to ride this film to stardom) who warns the kids about the escaped maniac. Then we get about 20 minutes of completely unrelated big dramatic scenes with the kids (plus two, count ‘em, two, with the overly educated Town Sheriff chewing scenery like crazy.) (Dude, you won the audition, take it easy!) None of these scenes are about the maniac. A handful of the distribs sneak out during these 20 minutes.

About 30 minutes in, one of the teens is *discovered* dead on the back deck of the cabin. Killed by an ax. There’s blood and a lot of it... but we didn’t see the character killed or chased or anything. The guy’s just dead. Some FX guy has done great job of creating gore - but it just sits there.

This leads to maybe another 20 minutes where the teens have big dramatic discussions... but they seem more interested in chewing scenery than being afraid of some maniac with an ax (or that one of their friends is chopped up on the back deck). All but one of the distribs sneaks out during these 20 minutes. To tell you the truth, I want to sneak out, too. And I almost do. But what am I going to tell Jim the next time I bump into him? So I stick it out.

Another kid is found murdered with an ax. We never see the kid killed, we just see him dead. No stalk, no slash... just a body. This, of course, leads to about 20 minutes of big dramatic scenes about the nature of life and responsibility and all kinds of other things that start a little laughter in the screening room.

It’s difficult not to laugh when people are wasting time with these big dramatic scenes while some maniac with an ax is killing them one by one offscreen. Why don’t they *do something*? Why don’t they shut up and try to stop the maniac? Or at least run for their lives? The last distrib sneaks out sometime during these scenes. Now the screening room is nothing but shills. The screening room is being rented by the hour, and maybe Jim can get a partial refund if he stops the movie right now... but he keeps the projectors running. Like some maniac with a movie, he traps us in that screening room and forces us to watch the whole film.

“Stop me before I screen again!”

And it doesn’t get better. Another teen is found dead, which leads to another 20 minutes of big dramatic scenes. Not only are the dramatic scenes kind of funny given the situation, they also make the film boring. It’s all talking heads. And because the big dramatic scenes often have little or nothing to do with maniacs and axes, it’s almost as if the scenes are at war with the story... and the scenes are winning. There is no stalk, no slash in the entire stalk & slash movie. No suspense. No dread. No violence. The closest we get to anything even resembling a horror film is the dead people who are discovered *after* the action. The best gore money can buy.

Of course, the film ends with a 30 second battle between the leading lady and the maniac with the ax - no chase, no struggle, she just kills the sucker - the end.

Afterwards Jim says there’s a celebration at the Standard Hotel (rooftop) bar - he’s buying the drinks. If he’s buying drinks, I’m going next door. I want to be paid for my time. He compares the film to *Oscar Winner* SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and I mention that SILENCE wasn’t just Hopkins and Foster having endless conversations. “Yes! My film is better than that because I minimized all of the chase bullshit and focused on the drama.” My only response was to agree with that.

Jim thinks the distribs will begin calling in the next few days. They don’t. A couple of months ago, he calls me to ask if he can sleep on my sofa for a while. SAG has screwed up on some residual checks and he’s broke. All of his money was tied up in the movie... and his divorce pretty much wiped him out. I really want to tell him that he should have just listened to me and made a real horror movie, instead of some actor’s showcase. But instead I tell him this isn’t a good time for me, and suggest another mutual acquaintance who would hate me, now... except SAG got Jim his residual check before he was evicted, and he just landed a recurring role on a new TV show. For a couple of weeks I was sure he would end up sleeping on my sofa. I’m too nice to say no to people who are really in trouble... but part of me wants to start a serious discussion about personal responsibility that will drag on for 20 minutes until someone finds me hacked to death on the patio.

The next segment of our Trilogy Of Terror deals with a director I know who decided to make a horror movie... because horror is a hot genre right now. And that screenwriter who hired the PR firm, who decided to write and direct a horror film... because horror is a hot genre right now. Stay tuned... the really scary stuff is yet to come!

- Bill

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: October Country

Lancelot Link Monday! It's actually fall in Los Angeles. The temperatures have dropped from the 100s, to the 90s to 70s! Where did I put my swaetshirt? Today it's overcast and we've even had some rain... it must be October! The time when pumpkins show up in grocery stores and Halloween decorations spring up. My favorite time of the year - not summer hot nor winter cold. Just right. And Halloween is a great "holiday" - a time of imagination and make believe, when adults even put on silly costumes and play let's pretend. I often wonder why we "grow out of" pretending and playing... aren't these the things that keep us young? Keep us *interesting*? Keep us having fun? 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 The Accountant ................. $24,715,000
2 Kevin Hart...................... $11,984,245
3 Girl Train!..................... $11,974,915
4 M. Peregrine..................... $8,900,000
5 Deepwater........................ $6,350,000
6 Storks........................... $5,600,000
7 Magnificent...................... $5,200,000
8 Middle School.................... $4,250,000
9 Sully............................ $2,960,000
10 Birth............................ $2,715,000

Box office is still breaking records even before that STAR WARS movie that comes at the end of the year. We are 3.4% above this time last year, 9.5% over 2014, 4.7% over 2013, 5.1% over 2012 and 9.5% over 2011... and this week's top film is about an *accountant*!

2) Specialty Box Office - What Indie Films Sold Tickets?

3) Ang Lee OPn BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK And Hyper Realistic Images.


5) For Your Consideration: Universal's Oscar Bait Screenplays In Legal PDF For You!

6) Darren Aronofsky On His Writing Pricess.

7) The Screenwriter Of SULLY Explains His Process.

8) TV Showrunners Survey.

9) Amblin Finds Chinese Funding... What Does This Mean?

10) The CIA's Sabotage Manual... For Real!

11) Jim Jarmusch's 5 Must See Movies (one is my gavorite!) (Two others are also favorites of mine!)

12) How Hollywood *Really* Works.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Another film about an accountant!


Buy The DVDs




Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Man In The Mirror

From 2011...

A few years back I had a producer *very* interested in an action script of mine, so he wanted to meet with me at his offices on Wilshire. Now, these first meetings are similar to first dates – they like your work and want to enter into a business relationship with you, but want to make sure you're compatible. You're going to be spending time doing rewrites through pre-production and then production and maybe even post production – and if you may end up locked in a room together (with a bunch of assistants and other execs) arguing about the story, they want to make sure they can work with you and you don't smell bad. I think I mentioned in a Script Tip about the time I was up for an assignment – and they liked my work and another writer's work and met with both of us... and the other writer showed up sweaty and smelly and generally unkempt. My guess is that he'd done a hard night of partying the night before and not at his best... and I got the job. That was another project that never got made – an invisible credit. (I've also been the “smelly one” - I once had a meeting with a producer in Ah-nuld's building in Venice and got a flat tire on the way there, so I ended up late and greasy and dirty. Gas station bathrooms aren't the best place to clean up really greasy hands and sponge off your clothes. Even though I explained the situation, my fingers were crusty looking. I did not get that job).

So these first meetings are usually to size you up and generally discuss the script and the situation and see if you bring anything else to the table in addition to the script... or if there's some “leach” attached to the damned script that will cause them problems in the future. Sometimes they don't want to buy your script at all, but they have another project that needs a writer. And sometimes it's one of those first dates where you really hit it off... and then he just never calls you again – there was something going on behind the scenes and they may have *wanted* to buy your script or hire you for a project, but there was some political reason they couldn't do it. I've had situations where the company had two partners who were secretly fighting and because one really loved your script, the other had to hate it (even if they also loved it) just to screw with their partner. Been there a couple of times. Also *many times* been in the situation where the development executive loves your work but producer doesn't seem interested at all... or the other way around. You're there to “sell” the other half of the equation, and the fact is – that is sometimes impossible.

But the other thing that often happens at these meetings is that they ask you to do a free rewrite. Usually they say they are going to take the script to the studio or the cable network or whatever for funding and think the script could use another pass. Now I'm supposed to Just Say No to that, but if they have great notes that will actually improve the script, I'm probably going to do it. Everything depends on the notes. If the notes really do improve the quality of the script, I'd be a fool to say no. A better screenplay has a better chance of being made (or, at least, getting me paid). But if the notes will screw up the script or if they are trying to anticipate the studio of cablenet's notes, the answer is usually no. Not for free. If Ashok had asked me to put a sex scene in CRASH DIVE because HBO will want one, I'd have said no – that would ruin the script and since none of us are mind readers, we don't really know what HBO will want changed. Once the money is there – I'm an employee and I might have to add that sex scene (well, I did – after a great deal of debate), but I'm being *paid* to make that change. I wouldn't make it for free. And, just to show you how pointless it is to try to anticipate notes – though HBO *insisted* on the sex scene in CRASH DIVE, it never came up in STEEL SHARKS. That film has no sex scene at all – and it was all the same people involved! So unless the note is making an *artistic* improvement in the screenplay, you have to pay me first. And until I've been paid... it's *my* screenplay.

So, back to this producer and my action screenplay – he had some notes and was wondering if I might do a free rewrite to improve the chances of the studio giving him the money to buy my script. “What kind of changes did you have in mind?” “Well, I just don't believe this villain.” “Why not?” (others had really liked the villain – but maybe this guy had some notes to improve the character). “He's kind of a cliché, don't you think?” The villain in this script was a businessman who was egotistical and verbally abusive to his employees... and he'd screwed up a major business deal and turned to a criminal activity temporarily in order to make up for his financial loss... but he found himself *liking* the illegal work because it allowed him to screw the rules and do his own thing. He was kind of modeled after DeLorean... but as a bad guy who would rather kill than be caught. The producer continued, “Why couldn't he be something like a Middle Eastern terrorist or something?”

Hmm, the fallen businessman is cliché, but Middle Eastern terrorists are not? Was I missing something?

I explained that I wanted to get away from the Middle Eastern terrorist because they had become cliché, and asked him for the titles of some films with legit businessmen who had done something criminal... and found themselves liking it. (Okay, Craig T. Nelson in ACTION JACKSON.) But he didn't come up with that film or any other, it just “felt cliche” (but Middle Eastern terrorists didn't?).

Right about then, the producer's assistant came in with a message, and the producer *yelled* at him for interrupting our meeting, then proceeded to do many of the things the egotistical businessman had done in my screenplay... basically treating this guy like crap.

And it suddenly all made sense to me.

The reason why the producer didn't like the villain was because *he was just like him*!

And as he screamed at (and maybe threw things at) his assistant, I decided I would not make this change because it would not improve the script if the bad guys were a bunch of Middle Eastern terrorists... and they did not buy the screenplay (and I still own that sucker!).

But I realized one of the issues with screenplays not selling (or whatever) is that the characters or story make the producer uncomfortable... because he “resembles that remark”. There are characters and subjects and scenes that are difficult to get to the screen, not because they are taboo or non-commercial or some other reason... but just because someone on the food chain from script to screen sees their own flaws and wants that part removed.

A cousin to this are those things that *work too well*, and make the reader or producer or studio executive feel things they would rather not feel – so they want them out. Can you imagine the rape scene from DELIVERANCE making it all the way to the screen today? I don't think it would be cut because the audience might not like it, but because the executive would be really horrified by it – which is the intent of the scene.

And this made me wonder how many subjects and scenes and characters *I* avoid because they make me feel uncomfortable? How many *good things* do I leave out because they frighten me or expose me or make me feel things I would rather not feel? Would my scripts be better if I included those things? I have said before that a script should scare you – that it should be personal enough and real enough and deal with things that cut right into you. Emotional things, rather than bland things. But the first step to writing those things is to realize that you may be avoiding some subjects *because* they are painful or too personal or make you look bad. Instead – be brave and dive into those things. Here's the thing – we can't really control our subconscious, so those things are going to come out anyway. That producer had no idea what a freakin' dead giveaway it was when he wanted to change the egotistical businessman into a bunch of Middle Eastern terrorists.

I refused to do the free rewrite and did not sell that script or work with producer on any future projects... but I did learn something.

- Bill

Sunday, October 09, 2016

RIP: Danny Grossman

I’ve been in a daze... Last night I learned that my friend Danny Grossman had passed away. This confused me, and I am still confused. Danny’s a relatively young guy, in his 40s, in good physical shape as far as I know (he’s an actor, and a leading man type - so he has to stay in shape to land roles), and he was a hell of a nice guy. If he had been in a car accident it would have been a major shock... but things like that happen. But it appears that he died of natural causes, which makes no sense at all to me. I can’t get my mind around it. If he’d been morbidly obese or had substance abuse problems or some other thing that might have prepared my mind for his passing... but no. I’m probably a decade older than he is, and in crappy shape, and only miss Taco Tuesday when I stand in line for Popeye’s fried chicken. I should be dead. But I am alive and Danny has passed away. This makes no sense at all, and makes me mad as hell at the world.

Danny was an actor, a screenwriter, and a director of amazing short films. One of his films, FINDING SPACE, makes me cry every time I see it. Seven minutes long, and packs more of an emotional punch than most serious dramatic features. He was incredibly talented. This is also something that confuses me and makes me mad at the world - if someone has to die before their time, why this talented guy? I don’t get it. There are a whole lotta idiots in the world - why take the guy who created things that make the world a better place?

I know Danny from a group of people who met on a screenwriting website and through meet ups and dinners became friends. This was a fairly close group, though many on the group knew Danny better than I did. But the year I was a guest speaker at Austin, just about the whole group was there due to some of their projects and it was like an extended meet up in exotic Texas. Harold Ramis was there that year, and Danny got to hang out with him... which was really cool. Even though we haven’t had a meet up in years, the group still stays in contact with each other and we care about each other.

Because he was primarily an actor, he was often on stage in some little theater in North Hollywood (easy bike ride for me) so I’d ride out to see him in things. I think the last show I saw him in was about a year ago in some little theater on Vineland near Little Tony’s Pizza. He was great, as ususal. The thing about people who come to Los Angeles to become actors is that many of them just want the fame part without any of the hard work... but Danny seemed to care nada about the fame and loved the work. He wasn’t chasing some impossible dream, his dream was acting so he was acting.

Danny is probably the nicest person I know. I think everyone who knows him will say the same. This is a competitive business, but Danny was never someone who thought of themselves before others. I’ve had “friends” who have stolen jobs from me, but I suspect Danny was the opposite of that - the kind of guy who might give you some job he landed if he thought you would be better (not that the biz works that way). He was a sincere, giving person who seemed to go out of his way to make sure *you* were doing okay. Another reason why I’m mad as hell at the world - why take a nice guy? There aren’t enough of them in the world. It’s just wrong. Unfair.

The world has lost a great guy. A very talented guy. And I don’t know how to process this. It’s just too strange to be true.

This is probably a good time to tell your friends and family that you love them, because we have no idea when it will be too late. And also probably a good time to contemplate our own lives and think about ways that we can be kinder to each other, be less selfish, be more encouraging, remove hate and distrust from our lives and focus on love and acceptance. We don't only know when the people we love may pass unexpectedly, we have no idea when it might happen to us. We don't went to go out on a note of anger or hatred or any of the negative emotions we may experience. Better to clean up our act while we still can. Be kind to people. Think of others before ourselves. Just be as nice as Danny was.

Even though I’m confused and angry at the world, I don’t think Danny would like that... I think Danny would want us all to be happy. So why not celebrate Danny by watching some of the great short films he made? Here’s a link to his Vimeo page....

Danny's Short Films - Check Out Finding Space!

And one of Danny's last roles on camera... with Amy Schumer. Amy Schumer Wants To Be A Real Housewife.

PS: Lancelot Link's Links are taking Monday off because it's a holiday in the USA. - Bill

Friday, October 07, 2016

Gus Van Hitchcock's PSYCHO

From back in 2009... so that must have been Raindance 2004

Five years ago at the Raindance Film Festival, I met these crazy guys from The Media Lounge who make film collages that play in London night clubs. They had a feature length program playing in the festival called BRING ME THE HEAD OF ROB LOWE, which had me laughing so hard I almost passed out. Basically it was a bunch of great short pieces connected by DVD extra interviews with Robe Lowe where he said *the exact same thing* in a different location. One of the great short bits was where they mixed up the audio track of one movie trailer with the video of another... and they matched! So, the audio voice over from some cute family film with the video from some violent action flick - and the words seemed to describe the images.

I wondered what those guys were up to... and they have a bunch of collage movies on YouTube, including this mash up of PSYCHO and the remake, set to music.

I swear, Fridays With Hitchcock *will* return...

- Bill

Of course, I have my own books on Hitchcock...



Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

Click here for more info!

Monday, October 03, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Welsh Diversity Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! So MISS PERIGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is getting some flack because there is little diversity among the children, who all seem to be pasty Welsh kids... because the story takes place on an island off Wales in the 1940s. I'm not sure how much diversity there was at that location at that time. I think films need more diversity, but it has to make sense. I thought Denzel was fine in MAGNIFICENT 7 because the West actually had Black cowboys... but I'm fairly sure there is a Chinese actress who could play Tilda Swinton's role in DOCTOR STRANGE (Michelle Yeoh?). And JUSTICE LEAGUE is looking very white... what's up with that? Hey, Superman is from another freaking planet - who says he has to be white? 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 Peculiar Children .............. $28,500,000
2 Deep Water...................... $20,600,000
3 Mag Seven....................... $15,700,000
4 Storks.......................... $13,800,000
5 Sully............................ $8,400,000
6 MasterBehinds.................... $6,600,000
7 Queen............................ $2,608,000
8 Breathe.......................... $2,375,000
9 BJB.............................. $2,330,000
10 Snowed In........................ $2,029,390

2) What Does A Key Grip Make Per Year?

3) Well Paid Screenwriters!

4) Nick Hornby On Screenwriting.

5) William Wheeler On QUEEN OF KATWE.

6) Bleeker Street Released Their "For Your Consideration" Screenplay PDFs! Free, Legal!

7) Writing Tips From Tarantino, Oliver Stone, many more!


9) Nicholl Fellowship Winners.

10) OXFORD DICTIONARY: THE MOTION PICTURE... Yes, Every Book You Can Imagine Has Been Optioned By Hollywood! Mel Gibson Is Starring!

11) A Look Back At THE BIRTH OF A NATION - And Art Vs. Content Questions.

12) Film News Grab Bag!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay... missile chase.


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