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

11 comments:

odo coileus said...

This may be your most heartening installment yet. I gotta figure, if this fool can get funding for 4 (!!!) pictures, anybody can.

Why do I call him a fool? Because he pretends to be a serious dramatist, but apparently has no awareness of the popular entertainment value of writers like Shakespeare and Dickens.

When those guys write, stuff happens. Entertaining stuff. Scary stuff. Funny stuff. Sure, in the intervening years, it's been annointed as great art, but back in the day, people liked it 'cause it was fun.

And how in the world can he attempt to work in a genre w/o knowing the traditions of the genre?

Ask any serious hip hop artist about the P Funk (which was in its heyday 30 years ago.) They know, because it's their business to know. They can't really be creative til they know what's come before.

It's all good, though. There are people with money who gladly hand it out to filmmakers who don't really know what they're doing, and don't care. Good to know.

Leif Smart said...

Isn't the moral of the story, to make a noir film your characters need to wear hats?

Joshua James said...

Moral of the story, when you have coffee with Bill, you should fucking listen to what Bill has to say.

Bill, I'd love to buy you a cup o' coffee if ever you're in the Big Apple though I'm a bit frightened what may await down that dark corridor of conversation, I'll take the chance that I could be a cautionary tale of industry-porn with the hopes I come out better for it.

Thanks for the trilogy of terror, really enjoyed them.

Emily Blake said...

I thought the moral was that we should all go make horror films whether we want to or not. Clearly that's where the money is.

I don't really watch horror movies myself. They give me nightmares. But obviously I should be writing one. I'm gonna go do that right now. That will take about three days, right? They're pretty easy, aren't they? Right?

DJ said...

I think you should've called your friend a Moron.

But I guess it goes to show, investors are just as stupid.

EJ

ObiDonWan said...

The Moral is..."Listen to Bill and do what he recommends."

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

The moral is your friends need to extract their heads out of their nether regions and wake up to the realities of the film business. Methinks they won't though. I guess they'll just have to learn the hard way.

Unknown Screenwriter said...

I need a shower.

Unk

Bill Cunningham said...

The definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over again...

expecting a different result.

mspira said...

For me, the truth of the matter is you can do your very best, and still fail.

From Bill's story, there is no indication that his friend isn't absolutely sincere. And if he's truly sincere, more power to his efforts.

At the same time, the implicit object lesson seems to be, "You need to really understand the true audience of your efforts."

It sounds like the guy Bill's talking about has a project that nobody in the development process wants to badmouth, but at the same time, nobody has any faith in the ultimate reception.

The bottomline when it comes to movies is people of any race tend to prefer being "entertained" to being "educated."

-Matt

Mystery Man said...

What a great post! It sounds like your friend could use some lessons on subtext. Hehehe...

This made me laugh out loud: "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."

One of these days, the world will acknowledge your obvious brilliance.

Hehehe...

-MM

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