Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Can't Judge A Zombie By His Poster

Another ancient blog entry (from 2007) that I'm reprinting instead of writing anything new, because I'm lazy.

A whole bunch of posts and half a year ago, I wrote that my friend Rod and I were stuck in bumper-to bumper traffic on the 405, trying to get to a movie playing in Santa Monica. That movie is now out on DVD, so I thought maybe I’d talk about it. The movie was....

FIDO



Imagine that perfect 1950s suburbia from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER... combined with the bright, well manicured 1950s soap operas of Douglas Sirk (like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS)... and throw in that wholesome all American 1950s classic TIMMY AND LASSIE...

But Lassie isn't a dog, it's a domesticated zombie.

That's FIDO.

This is not some scary zombie attack movie, no friends, after we won the zombie war (which seems a lot like WW2 in the newsreel footage that opens the film) zombies have been domesticated and are a servant class. Every suburban family hopes to one day have a zombie of their very own - to take out the trash serve meals, mow the lawn, wash the car, and any other task that sophisticated people may find distasteful.

You end up with a send up of 1950s TV & films, zombie movies, suburbia, the class system, government, Douglas Sirk films, and all kinds of other stuff. I actually laughed so hard at one point that I almost lost consciousness. My stomach hurt. This was the best film I've seen in a long time.

Carrie-Ann Moss is mom, Dylan Baker is very repressed dad, Tim Blake Nelson is the next door neighbor and Henry Czerny (the asshole political aid who double crosses Harrison Ford in one of those Tom Clancy movies) as the pipe smoking perfect dad down the street... and Billy Connelly as the zombie Fido (an amazing performance, since all he does is grunt and growl).

The film is supposed to be the most expensive Canadian film ever made (cast, probably) but only played on a couple of screens in the USA and the showing we went to wasn’t crowded at all. The plan was to expand to more screens if the film is successful...

But it never came to a cinema near you. Instead it vanished, only to appear a couple of weeks ago on DVD.

And, just like HOSTEL 2, I think the problem was in the marketing. (That’s *twice* I’ve blamed marketing - really unusual). Here’s the thing - you need to get the people into the cinema on a movie like this, so that they will laugh and then tell their friends that have to see it. That’s where marketing comes in.

The first problem with this film is the title: FIDO. When I read a list of new films opening over that weekend, I saw FIDO and skipped right past it. G rated family film about a dog. Not even a good title for a G rated family film - tells us *nothing* about the story. LASSIE COME HOME - hey, Lassie is lost and has to find his way home! So FIDO not only makes you think it’s a family film when it’s really a horror comedy, it also doesn’t tell us anything about the film. Your title is like a mini logline - it needs to tell us what the story is about. Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, it’s about a zombie named Fido!” But we only know that *after* we have seen the movie. We want the title to tell us what the movie is about *before* we see it.

The target audience for FIDO would never see a film with that title.

Then we come to the poster...

What the hell is up with that? The poster is supposed to sum up the story in an image... Can you tell from the poster that this movie takes place in the 1950s? Or that it’s about a boy and his zombie? That it is a comedy? Or that Billy Connelly is even a zombie? He looks kind of weird in the poster, and has that punk collar thing, but that poster tells us *nothing* about the movie. The artwork that was on the NuArt Theater’s flyer was much better - it had silhouettes of the 1950s family (iconic images) and the boy holding a leash... with a zombie on the other end. That sums it up... but it’s not the poster.

The poster is in collage style - and I hate that. I was in a book store a while back and bought a Greg MacDonald book about Inspector Flynn. MacDonald created Fletch - the clever investigative journalist who always gets involved in some murder mystery - you may know the character from the Chevy Chase movie. If you haven’t read the books - check them out. Great writing and fantastically witty dialogue. The paperback versions in the 70s used to have a dialogue passage on the *cover* instead of art work. That was the selling point - really clever writing. Inspector Flynn pops up in the 3rd Fletch book, accusing Fletch of murder and chasing him throughout the book. He spun off into his own series, and this was a recent book I didn’t know existed...

Even when I saw it, I didn’t know it existed. Because the book cover was some sort of collage with the title written with every letter in a different font. It looked like someone dumped a bunch of stuff on a table, glued it in place, and that was the cover. Huh? I probably looked at this book a hundred times before realizing that it was a Flynn book. And the cover gives me *nothing* about the story - actually, under the crap there’s a sketch of a guy with a nail in his ear. That’s part of the story. But the sketch doesn’t look like a crime novel picture, it looks like something you’d find on the cover of a Gay romance. Cover doesn’t match the contents at all. Though there is a boy with a nail in his ear, the main story is something entirely different and much more exciting: someone is sending death threats to a Harvard professor and breaking into his house. Flynn has only a few days to stop the killer from striking. The nail in the ear thing is a minor subplot... but the cover of the book. Was that because they could find a sketch of a boy and add it to the collage?

When you look at old movie posters, they are amazing. They tell the story, set the mood, and usually feature the star’s face, The lower the budget of the movie, they less they could depend on the star and the more they had to find an *image* the sums up the story. I just did an article for Script about creating the poster image for your screenplay - because I think it’s important to know how they are going to be able to market your work down the line. When some producer says, “I love the script, but kid, I have no idea how the hell we’re going to market it”, you can pull out your poster. If you can’t figure out what the poster for your movie looks like, how the heck do you expect some non-creative guy in a suit to figure it out?

The thing about collage posters and collage book covers is that it’s just gluing together existing elements. It’s not creating the one iconic image that sums up the book or film, it’s using someone else’s stuff. The movie posters of the past were amazing, but somewhere along the line, movie posters have become all about star faces. Instead of finding that image that tells us what the story is about, we get George Clooney’s face. “I have no idea what the movie is about, but George Clooney is in it, so I’ll see it!” Hey, that’s great for Clooney fans, but what about everyone else? What about people who want to know what the movie is about before they plunk down their $11.50 (what I paid last night at the AMC in Burbank). What happened to those folks who created the amazing images that summed up the story?

Did collages - the concept of using pieces of *someone else’s* creation - squeeze them out? Have we been breeding humans to think “collage” instead of “creativity”?

I read scripts (and even see movies) that are just collages. Take existing elements from popular films and glue them together. Quentin Tarantino is the king of Collage Movies. Take a Ringo Lam Hong Kong cop film about a jewelry store heist gone wrong and the band of bandits in a warehouse aiming guns at each other and wondering which one of them is an undercover cop and add the color name thing from PELHAM 1-2-3 and the... well, eventually you have a bunch of scenes from other people’s films processed into a new movie. Check out Mike White’s WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING and YOU’RE STILL NOT FOOLING ANYBODY (about PULP FICTION).

Tarantino is a genius - he can take the pieces of other people’s work and turn them into something uniquely his own...

The funniest thing are the collage scripts that use bits from Tarantino movies - for a while it seemed like every other script was someone pretending to be Tarantino.

None of the other “collage scripts” I read seem able to do what QT does (make it work). All they have done is lifted scenes from better films. No creation involved, just some cut & paste. These scripts have no soul, no point of view, no theme... but they often have all kinds of scenes that would look good in a trailer. I think that’s why they sometimes get bought and made.

Now, I’m not talking about those homage scenes, or those scripts that have been influenced by some other writer (FIDO is influenced by Sirk and Lassie and George Romero - three things that don't seem like they'd work in the same movie)... I’m talking about the ones that are just collages. Nothing original about them. They were made on some assembly line somewhere. Nothing was created, it was just glued together.

I think fan fiction is the ultimate in collage writing. They take someone else’s character, someone else’s world, someone else’s basic situation... and they put together some sort of story *based on those existing elements*.

For me, movies and stories are *about* characters. The most important thing is to create your own, personal, characters.

One of the message boards where I regularly answer screenwriting questions has a large number of fan fiction people, all writing INDIANA JONES and STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS and PIRATES movies. *Not* creating their own characters. Whenever I feel like tilting windmills and mention this, I get the “Every writer started off writing fan fiction” from a half dozen people. Well, I have no idea if that is true today... but it was not true when I began writing. The idea then was to create your own characters and stories and situations. Sure, you may have read a lot of Raymond Chandler (like me) and your early work is about a private eye and seems influenced by Chandler (mine was) but my stories were about a private eye in my home town area who had completely different character issues to deal with than Philip Marlowe and what was cool for me was to *create* his methods, his office, his weapons, his *world* and make it completely my own - based on things I loved and problems I was going through and the world I knew. My first stories were about a Private Eye named Nick Carrico who had an alcohol abuse problem after accidentally shooting his partner when he was a police detective. Now, none of that is Philip Marlowe. The idea of writing something back then - when dinosaurs ruled the earth - was to *create* something. To *create* your own characters and situations and worlds and dialogue and scenes. Not to write about the time Captain Jack Sparrow and Will went on a pirate adventure in Cuba... and fell in love.

How we went from that to fan fiction is beyond me. At what point in time did people say, “I’d rather not go through all of the trouble to create my own characters... I’ll just use somebody else’s work”? When did *not creating* become the norm? When did people begin thinking that someone else’s creation was better than theirs? That their original work wasn’t good enough, so they should use someone else’s? That collage is art?

Collage is not better than creation.

YOUR individual creation is YOURS.

George Lucas can send of C&D letters from his lawyers closing down fan fiction sites - because *he* owns those characters... but no one can take away original characters that you created. Original situations and worlds you created. Those are *yours*. The thing about fan fiction is that it diminishes the writer.

The collage poster for FIDO was used on the DVD box... what a mistake! Was this because no one in the marketing department is capable of creative thought? That evolution has created a generation of people who can cut & paste, but not create? Or was it just some lazy guy in marketing who thought the collage was good enough for the poster (that managed to kill a great film) so why not use it on the DVD?

Whatever the case - create your own material... and check out FIDO on DVD. It's really good on a bunch of different levels.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Goals, The Hulk and Hulk 2 (with Ed Norton)... but not Hulk Hogan.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish Tacos at Islands in Burbank.

Movies: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. Okay... Marisa Tomei is nekkid in about a quarter of the movie. That may be a selling point for some of you - I read an interview where she said she didn't wanther parents to see the film because she's nekkid all the time. That is damned good PR work for a film with a story that is very low key, and looks like they dug it out of a 1974 time capsule.

My friend joked that it looked like they ran out of money and couldn't color time it.

Good dramatic thriller that escalates as one thing after another goes about as wrong as it could. Story does this thing where it backtracks and takes another primary character's POV for a bit - but there's no connective tissue between the segments, so there's no flow. It needed visual linking (like Sayles used in LONE STAR - that stuff has to be in the script). And sometimes it pulls you out of the story - or, at least, pulls you out of a character just when things are getting juicy.

You can also see a bunch of stuff coming from *way* down the pike - which is kind of lame plotting (in one instance) - setting up something that solves a problem later in the story, but actually creates a logic problem.

But I forgive all of the problems because what you end up with is some really tense material - basically a family drama with firearms. It's relentless.

DVDs: PULP... not PULP FICTION, but the film with Michael Caine playing a writer. One funny thing of note were the sight gags - all kinds of them. Many having to do with taxi cabs. The *same* taxi cabs heep coming back throughout the story - more and more banged up. Film is one of those comedies where you smile, but don't bust a gut. Mystery-based, with clues you can follow.

Pages: Nothing lately...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

RIP: Dan Arnold - Mentor

From 4 years ago... but a good pre-Thanksgiving post, even if it is a bit sad. I'm thankful for having had teachers like Dan Arnold and Bob Olsen, and maybe you've had teachers who changed your life. Be thankful for them every day.

If you have ever taken one of my idea classes or bought the Ideas Blue Book you have heard me talk about the Magnification Method... which I learned from my teacher Dan Arnold in High School drama class.

Dan’s class was a refuge for the freaks and geeks who were shunned by all of the cool kids... so it was my home while I was in High School. If you couldn’t act, Dan put you to work building sets while he taught you the fundamentals. Eventually, everyone got up on stage - even if it was just to play some small role. We became a family - with everyone rooting for a performer when they landed their first role. There were no filmmaking classes in my highschool, a terrible creative writing class; so this was the closest I could get to doing what I loved. Dan was the father to all of us - or, maybe the favorite uncle. He encouraged us, teased us, gave us confidence - and pushed us when we needed a good push.

Dan passed away Thursday from a heart attack. I don’t know how old he was, but I am not a young man and he wasn’t one of those young teachers... I figure he was around 80. He lived a full life - and was one of those people who lived life to the fullest. He leaves behind his wife, Silva. He lives on in his students.

Dan had some unusual ideas about High School Drama - he *never* did a play that might be done on some local community theater stage. So we never did a musical. Never. Dan liked to pick edgy and interesting material - plays that were more likely to be banned in high school than performed on some high school stage. Yeah, we did a couple of Neil Simon comedies... but instead of playing a romantic lead, I was more likely to play a killer or a victim or a guy who discovers that his fiancĂ© may be a lesbian, or one of those malcontents from an Albee play. Because there were more girls than boys in the class, one of Dan’s tricks was to do some dark edgy mostly male play... with the roles reversed. Robert Marasco’s thriller about violence in an all-boy’s Catholic school CHILD’S PLAY ended up being in an all-girl’s school - and the violence was even more shocking!

Before getting my first role, I built sets and usually ran the prop department for shows. Once I did some special effects on Gore Vidal’s cutting social satire VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET. These were great confidence building jobs for a geeky kid - we built flats from scratch and had to treat it as if we were doing a Broadway show. Things had to be done *right* and Dan would show us how to do something and then expect us to actually do it - and so we did. You lashed flats together as if a building inspector might be testing them later that day. If you screwed up, you kept at it until you learned to do it right. The cool thing with props is - there was no real budget, so you have to beg, borrow, steal. I had to make advertising deals with a local furniture shop so that we could get some banged up floor models to borrow for the show. Dan kind of forced us to do things that were frightening and required social skills we probably didn’t have - and this build our confidence so that we could do things we never thought possible. If I needed a sofa for a show and the furniture dealer didn’t want to give me one, I had to find some way to get him to change his mind. Trust me when I say the ad in the program of a high school play that no one was ever going to see isn’t much of an incentive. Dan pushed us to do those things that scared us, onstage and off. I think the first time I landed a role onstage... I still had to do props!

I could tell all kinds of stories about Dan and the drama department, but instead I have a better idea... I use his Magnification Method frequently - probably even used it today when I wrote a scene. So that Dan will live on, here’s how that method works:

Sometimes you have to play a character who is absolutely nothing like you - how do you *think* like them? How do you understand their motivations? How do you becomes them on stage so that you give a believable performance? I played killers a couple of times, and at that point in my life had not killed anyone... actually, at this point in ,my life I have never killed anyone, and I don’t think it is likely that I ever will. I’m pretty much a pacifist who would rather reason with people that get into any sort of fight. So, how do *I* play a convincing killer?

Have you ever gone to bed in the summer, turned off the lights... and had a mosquito buzzing around your face? They always seem to target your ears. You swipe at them in the dark, but hit nothing... so you get up and turn on the lights. And can not find the mosquito *anywhere*. So you flip off the lights and slip back into bed and... buzzz, buzzz, buzzz. You flip on the lights again and give a *thorough* search of your bedroom - can’t find the mosquito anywhere. Turn the lights off, climb into bed... buzzz, buzzz, buzzz! You become more and more frustrated and angry! At first your plan may have been to open your bedroom window and shoo the mosquito outside where it belongs... but after a while you just want to find it and kill it, and if this keeps on going - you want to *murder* that mosquito. This has happened to you, right? Maybe not a mosquito, maybe it was a fly. Once I had a cricket hidden somewhere in my apartment that would make a ton of noise as soon as I turned off the light. I tore my apartment apart one night trying to find it - and couldn’t. That cricket eventually stopped chirping - natural causes - but if I had found it I would have SMASHED it. Okay, if you can understand killing a mosquito, you can *magnify* those emotions and understand killing a person. Someone whose “buzzing” is driving you up the wall.

This is a technique that can help you get into the skin of someone completely unlike you. There is some similar small experience that you have had that can be magnified into that larger than life character - and you can know how they feel. Playing a character whose wife just died? Have you ever lost a pet? In one of the Blue Books, maybe Protagonist, I use Magnification to show how to identify with someone who has been falsely accused of murder. Since I write about many people unlike myself (I sit on my ass and type all day), I am constantly using the Magnification Method that Dan taught me many years ago to figure out how this character would think or react. You may never have had your best friend confide that he just offed his wife and made it look like an accident... but you’ve probably had a friend tell you some secret you wish they hadn’t, and then had to pretend like it didn’t effect the way you thought of them. Dan Arnold’s Magnification Method!

So, I hope that you will find some use for Dan’s Magnification Method, and keep part of him alive. He was (and is) a great teacher - and one of those people who made me who I am today. It’s sad that he has passed away, but I think he still lives on within all of us who found refuge in his class and learned how to be comfortable in our own skin... as well as the skin of the characters we played on stage.

Rest In Peace, Dan Arnold.

- Bill

Monday, November 21, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Round Tables

Lancelot Link Monday! As we reach the end of the year, we get a lot of round table interviews from the trades focusing on what they think will be the Oscar nominated movies and artists... of course, they aren't always right and sometimes we just get some interesting discussions of film from a bunch of losers. Except they aren't really losers at all - sometimes their films are better than those which are nominated, because the Oscars are not much different than a beauty contest - the judges decide who is most beautiful and they work off their own criteria which may not match anyone else's ideas of beauty. So these interviews are often more informative than ones from the "winners". 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 Fantastic Beasts ............... $75,000,000
2 Strange......................... $17,676,000
3 Trolls.......................... $17,500,000
4 Arrival......................... $11,800,000
5 Almost Christmas................. $7,040,000
6 Hacksaw.......................... $6,750,000
7 Edge 17.......................... $4,825,000
8 Bleed ........................... $2,357,946
9 Accountant....................... $2,115,000
10 Shut In.......................... $1,600,000




2) Are Indie Films In Trouble?

3) People In Hollywood You Should Know!

4) Movie Producer Round Table Interview.

5) Film Composer Round Table Interview.

6) First Question To Ask Yourself When Writing A Novel...

7) Fall Film Fest Round Up - What Are The Oscar Contenders?

8) Michael Chapman On Restoring TAXI DRIVER.

9) Kenneth Lonergan - The Writer Behind MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and YOU CAN COUNT ON ME.

10) The Netflix/Amazon ATM For Actors.

11) Paul Schrader Talks Film.

12) Lew Archer Finds Lost Ross Macdonald Interview!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



It's the word... it's also all over these french fries.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Death By.... Encoragement!

(originally posted eight years ago)

Many pre-pro writers send out their scripts to agents or managers or producers and (usually as a result of hammering away for a response) get a nice rejection note saying that their masterpiece is “Well written, but not right for us”, or they “Loved it, but we have something similar in development”, or some other exciting and positive thing about how much they loved your screenplay. They celebrate how close they came to selling their script and brag to all of their friends that they are almost over that big wall that surrounds Hollywood. Everyone loved their script! They are great writers!

When I was living in my home town dreaming of Hollywood I had a chance to give a copy of one of my scripts to my idol at the time, Paul Schrader. He wrote TAXI DRIVER and OBSESSION and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and THE YAKUZA and ROLLING THUNDER and OLD BOYFRIENDS and other films I loved... and he took a copy of my script and read it (or had someone read it) and sent me a great letter of encouragement. I sent the same script to my favorite director, Martin Scorsese, and he had someone read it, and they sent me this great letter of encouragement on Columbia Pictures stationery! My script was the greatest script on the world!

Of course, when I read that script today I cringe at how awful it is and am embarrassed that people I admired had to read it - or get their assistants to read it. That script just sucked.

Pauline Kael once said, “Hollywood’s the only town where you can die of encouragement.”

No one will ever tell you that your script sucks. The reason why is simple - they read your current script, which sucks, but what if you keep working hard at this screenwriting thing and improve and a few years later you write a great script. One of those scripts that everyone in Hollywood is fighting with each other over. There are bidding wars - and the winner not only gets to pay you a huge amount of money, they get that amazing script you have written. But if Joe’s Productions tells you that your earlier script sucks, they won’t be part of that bidding war. You will not take your script there. What Joe’s Productions wants is for you to be the *first* place you go with that great new script - so that they can maybe buy it before there is a bidding war... or at least be the friendly producer that you want to sell the script to. So, instead of saying “Your script sucks” they come up with a euphemism like “Loved it, but we have something similar in development.”

That really means your script sucks.

Here’s how to tell if they *really* loved it:

1) They buy it or option it (for real money).
2) They want to meet with you to discuss other projects.
3) They offer you a writing assignment.
4) They *request* your next script or ask to read other scripts you have written.

I have a script tip on this floating around on my website, but you should even beware of producers who want to option your script for $1 or no money. Basically, you get what they pay for. If they have a dollar invested, that is what your script is worth to them, and tells you how hard they will work to bring it to the screen. In that tip, I talk about a producer I know of who literally options every script he can get his hands on for $1 and never reads any of them. He is a “material pack rat” and his theory is that if he options 100 scripts for $1 (sight unseen) one of them has to either be good enough to set up somewhere or has some strange elements that some real producer may be looking for. This guy has you write down “keywords” about your script, then takes your script to a warehouse where it will be forgotten like the Lost Ark, and if any real producer is looking for a script with the keywords for your script - this guy tries to set up a deal. If you’ve read any of those strange script requirements in InkTip listings, you know how oddly specific some producer’s needs are. And this guy has a warehouse full of scripts he *owns*, and one may fit those strange needs. If not, he’s only out $1. The thing about options - if they pay you $1, that’s what they think your script is worth, and most likely it’s not a real option. Sure, sometimes there are underfunded legit producers looking to have control over a script when they take it into a studio... but usually the $1 option isn’t much different than no option at all. And how much can you celebrate when all you have is $1?

If they read your script and did have something just like it in development, but thought the writing was great, they will ask to read something else or want to meet with you. If they actively pursue you, you have something they want (writing). If they say nice things but don’t *do anything*, they don’t think the writing is strong enough to follow up on.

Just like in a screenplay, in real life - actions speak louder than words.

Producers will tell you all kinds of nice things, but what they *do* tells you want they really think. If they do nothing, well...

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean your script *completely sucks*, but it’s just not there yet. Keep working at it, and eventually they *will* do something. They won’t just say, “We loved it but it’s not for us”, they will want to meet with you to discuss anything you may have that *may be* for them. Because producers need screenplays and they need screenwriters. Can’t make a movie without a script.

No matter how many great things they say about your script, look at what they *do* - that will tell you what they really think. And if they don’t do anything, all is not lost! You just need to keep writing until you get that script where they actually do something... not just tell you how much they loved it.

- Bill

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: PresiVeteran's Weekened

Lancelot Link Monday! We've had both Presidential Eleections and Veteran's Day in the same week! How patriotic can you get? Also, maybe due to one or the other, a record weekend at the box office! 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 Strange ........................ $43,032,000
2 Trolls.......................... $35,050,000
3 Arrival......................... $24,000,000
4 Almost Christmas................ $15,564,000
5 Hacksaw......................... $10,775,000
6 Accountant....................... $4,570,000
7 Shut In.......................... $3,700,000
8 Boo ............................. $3,550,000
9 Reacher.......................... $3,325,000
10 Inferno.......................... $3,250,000




2) Why SUICIDE SQUAD Died...

3) SHUT IN Writer Sets Up New Deal.

4) Shane Black On Writing PREDATOR.

5) BEN HUR Remake Is Major Flop!

6) Eric Heisserer On Writing Arrival.

7) 5 Reasons Why ARRIVAL Scored.

8) GHOST IN THE SHELL Trailer.

9) More Suspects On ORIENT EXPRESS.

10) Someone Who Has No Idea WESTWORLD Was A Movie First, And Written By The Same Guy As JURASSIC PARK...

11) The Greatest Living Film Editor... Anne V. Coates.

12) Every British Swear Word In Order Of Nastyness!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Presidential Car Chase???

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock:
The Paradine Case (1947)

Screenplay by David O. Selznick.

Do I really have to say anything more?

Okay, for those of you who may not know who David O. Selznick was: He was the legendary producer who made the Best Picture Oscar winner GONE WITH THE WIND which is also the record holder for box office in adjusted dollars - yes, it even beat AVATAR. Name any film you think was a massive hit, GONE WITH THE WIND made more money in adjusted dollars. Selznick was also legendary for his ego and for micro-managing to the point of insanity. He would send lengthy memos to *everyone* involved in one of his films explaining what he wanted in minute detail. Often the memos were wacky - he once sent a 30 page telegram... and the last line of the telegram said to disregard the telegram! In the 1970s someone collected many of these crazy memos and published them in a book, MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK - I have a copy somewhere. At first, reading the memos made my brain hurt... then they became laugh-out-loud funny. He wrote memos on things so small and insignificant you wonder how he found the time to do anything else. So, imagine the lunatic, egotistical, head of production for the studio writing a screenplay...



To be fair, Selznick began in the story department at MGM - because in those good old days of Hollywood they promoted *screenwriters* and people who worked in the story department to producers and heads of production. Hollywood back then was not about deals and lawyers and agents, it was about *stories*. From the story department he worked his way up to producer at MGM, and produced a string of hits - which probably didn’t help that out-of-control ego of his. He married his boss’s daughter, Irene Mayer, and decided that he was too good for MGM, so he quit and started his own company - Selznick International. If you are ever on the Sony lot, you can still see his building. It looks much smaller than it does on film.

Selznick was the guy who brought Alfred Hitchcock over from England... and brought a bunch of European stars to the United States, including Ingrid Bergman. What he would do is sign them to a long term contract with his “studio”, which had yet to make a single film. Then he would “rent them” to another studio for more money... and make a profit. So, let’s say he was paying Ingrid Bergman $1X a month, he would rent her out to MGM for $5X and keep the difference. Bergman got paid the same no matter what. Because Selznick and Hitchcock did not get along, Selznick “rented” Hitchcock to other studios from 1941-1944 for five different movies, and basically lived off the money Hitchcock earned for him. Pimp-daddy Selznick. The director of an Oscar winning film could get top dollar... and all of that money went into Selznick’s pocket. During that period of time he made only one movie as a producer - SINCE YOU WENT AWAY... the rest of his money was from pimpin'.

Though he made a handful of successful movies at his “studio”, the film he made in 1939 was the one he’s best known for - GONE WITH THE WIND.

I think that film ruined him.

Imagine making the biggest box office film of all time *and* having it win Best Picture Oscar. What do you do for an encore?

Well, the year after he won Best Picture Oscar for producing GONE WITH THE WIND, he won Best Picture Oscar for producing REBECCA... directed by Alfred Hitchcock.



After that Selznick seemed to be *exclusively* trying to make movies that would be massive box office hits *and* win the Best Picture Oscar. Because Hitchcock was under contract to him, he was either being “rented” to some other studio or producer or making some film for Selznick. Some of these films, like SPELLBOUND, were “Hitchcock movies”, but THE PARADINE CASE is pure Selznick... a big glossy soap opera of a film that seemed created to pander to both the mass audience *and* the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences membership. The film starred his new discovery from Europe Alida Valli (THE THIRD MAN), who he hoped to rent out as soon as she became a star, and Gregory Peck - another contract player, and a young hunky French actor he was grooming for stardom, Louis Jourdan (SWAMP THING). Hitchcock disliked the project, but was under contract and had no choice but to make it. Hitchcock brought in his own writers, and Selznick didn't send anyone to pick one of the writers up at the airport - so he flew back home. Eventually Selznick took over and wrote the screenplay himself, which Hitchcock must have loved. Hitch and Selznick were battling every day on the set. It’s hard to believe that this film falls between NOTORIOUS and ROPE on Hitchcock’s resume, because it’s so unlike either one of those films... it’s overwrought.

It was also Hitchcock’s last movie for Selznick - he walked off the set at the end of shooting. His contract was complete, and he was now a free man...

THE PARADINE CASE was a massive box office flop.



Nutshell: In London, rich and beautiful widow Mrs. Paradine (Valli) is about to sit down to dinner when the police arrive and arrest her for the murder of her husband. She gets the most respected criminal barrister in England, Anthony Keane (Peck) to represent her in his robes and powdered wig...

Okay, while you’re wondering how Peck did with his British accent, we’ll get on with the synopsis.

Because Mrs. Paradine is the most beautiful and seductive woman in the world, Keane’s wife Gay (Ann Todd) becomes jealous and worries that she will lose her man. Keane’s older law partner, Sir Simon (Charles Coburn) also worries about this, but his college girl daughter hopes that Mrs. Paradine will break up the marriage and then dump Keane so that she can swoop in and take him, because she thinks he’s a dreamy older man.

Oh, speaking of older men, the trial’s Judge (Charles Laughton) is a complete letch and keeps hitting on Keane’s wife. It’s kind of implied that if she sleeps with him, he may favor her husband in the case. Though his character doesn’t show up for a while, Louis Jourdan plays the dead Mr. Paradine’s valet Latour who may or may not have been playing hide the salami with Mrs. Paradine while her husband slept in the next room. I know that I’m leaving out some people who were either having sex with other people or at least wanted to have sex with other people, but you get the idea.



The first 2/3rds of the story takes place before the trial while all of these people are trying to get into each other’s pants. The last third is all in the courtroom - but far from Perry Mason excitement. There are only two suspects and no surprises. The story isn’t about who the killer is, it’s about who is gonna sleep with who and who already slept with who. Sex for the mass audience, powdered wigs and frilly shirts for the Academy.

Peck doesn’t even attempt a British accent.

Experiment: I’m sure that the main experiment was trying to get through the film without killing Selznick...



But the film has one amazing shot - as Mrs. Paradine sits at the defendant’s table in court, Latour enters the court room behind her and walks to the witness stand, and Hitchcock does a great composite shot with Mrs. Paradine in the foreground (one element) and Latour walking in the background (the other element) with both images moving so that it seems as if she can *feel* him entering the courtroom and - without looking back - *sense* him as he walks around her. It’s a great shot concept - she knows he is there without ever seeing him.

There is also the reverse of the shot, from Latour’s POV when he leaves the witness stand. Basically one great shot done twice.

Oh, and a nice overhead of the courtroom when Keane leaves after realizing his client is guilty.

Hitch Appearance: Leaving the train station, carrying a cello.

Great Scenes: Well, no suspense scenes, so let me talk about some of the soap opera stuff.

The opening scene where Mrs. Paradine is arrested is shocking, and managed to find a way to sneak in the victim visually. A huge painting of Mr. Paradine hangs on the wall, and is the center of much of the scene. But there is some great confusion by Mrs. Paradine about how one is supposed to get arrested - they just served dinner, will she be allowed to eat first? And what about packing a bag? She has no point of reference.



At the police station, she is searched and stripped and a matron goes through her beautiful hair with a comb searching for contraband. Hitchcock has done similar scenes that were even better - involving fingerprint ink you can’t remove. I would have gone full-force and had them delouse her with spray hoses, but it seems like everything is blanded... probably due to Sezlnick’s screenplay.

There’s a great scene with Charles Laughton as the horny old judge who sits next to Peck’s wife on the sofa and grabs her hand and puts her hand on her leg (stealing a feel) and makes it pretty clear that he wants to screw her and that it would be good for her husband’s trial if she said yes. Laughton steals every scene he is in - almost rescuing the film. Almost.



There’s kind of a spooky scene where Peck goes to the scene of the crime - the Paradine country estate - and it’s closed up, dark, spooky... and has a Mrs. Danvers-like woman showing him around... and Louis Jourdan’s valet seems to appear and disappear without ever leaving or entering a room. There’s more atmosphere in that scene than in the rest of the film.



The courtroom trial is boring because we have two suspects: Mrs. Paradine and the valet Latour, and neither tries to blame the other or has any shocking witness stand reveals. The one and only is that Mrs, Paradine may have visited Latour’s room after dark.

In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitchcock complains about all of the casting - and rightly so - but spends a great deal of time explaining why Louis Jourdan was dead wrong as Latour. If that is supposed to be the big shocker in court, it doesn’t work if she was sleeping with some beefcake guy like Jourdan. He’s better looking than she is!



There’s only shock if Latour is *ugly* - and this goes back to my problems with UNDER CAPRICORN - Hollywood often makes the mistake of hiring pretty people when the role requires really ugly people. That film was another woman-who-sleeps-with-a-man-beneath-her story, and Bergman and Joseph Cotton seem like a reasonable pair. In PARADINE, Valli is a beautiful woman, but Jourdan is a beautiful man. They belong together - no shock. You can “tell us” that Jourdan is a servant and Valli is wealthy and that it is scandalous for her to sleep with him, but there is no class distinctions on screen. There are only *physical* distinctions.



Hell, she goes to his room! If the script would have made him the groom and had him sleeping in an apartment in the stables and the first time they got busy was after a ride on the floor of the stable amongst piles of hay and manure, we have something! And that is something that a *screenwriter* can do to guard against casting issues. We can create a *situation* that is shocking, so the casting won’t kill the scene.

An *idea* doesn’t show up on screen, only the execution of the idea - the image or dialogue that turns the idea into something concrete that we can see or hear. The *idea* of sleeping with a man below her class needs to be turned into something we can see or hear. Since we are not involved in casting as screenwriters, it has to be a situation or dialogue. That roll in the hay (and manure) - whether we do that with actions (visual) or with courtroom testimony (dialogue) we need to get it out there. But we do not have shocking testimony or shocking visuals... Instead we have a very dull Q&A of suspects on the stand who do not want to incriminate each other so they don’t really say anything.

Sound Track: Excellent score from the always dependable Franz Waxman.

THE PARADINE CASE is basically a big glossy soap opera with a couple of interesting shots, that Hitchcock practically disowned. He walked off after his rough cut, leaving David O’Selznick to sort out the rest. I’m sure he sent a 30 page memo to Hitchcock afterwards.

- Bill

BUY THE DVD AT AMAZON:











The other Fridays With Hitchcock.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Compulsive Kindness

Now that the elections are over, From 2009...

When I was a little kid, my mother would always get compliments from other people on how well behaved my brother and sister and I were. When we were in public we never raised our voices, let alone ran around and roughhoused. We stood in a straight line. We didn’t touch things that were not ours. We might fight like cats and dogs at home, but in public we never pushed each other or hit each other or even raised our voices. Actually, that was part of it - we didn’t speak unless spoken to. My parents raised us well. We did unto others as we would have them do unto us. None of this had anything to do with religion or threats of being whipped with a belt - it was just good behavior. When we were out in public, we had a code of conduct to follow.

Back then I believe most kids had a code of conduct to follow when they were out in public. I know our friends the Holloway kids did... though I don’t remember them standing in a straight line - that may have just been something my mom came up with. Though some kids were little hellions, most behaved when in public. That’s what was expected of kids at the time. We always said “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me” and “may I be excused” when we had finished dinner. We had to ask permission before doing anything unusual - and if all of this sounds like we were some sort of Stepford Kids, nothing could be farther from the truth. We built forts and dug fox holes to play army and often played in the forbidden creek behind the house if mom was busy doing something and we didn’t think we’d get caught. We were normal kids, who had some manners and did unto others.

The mind set of doing unto others and considering other people has stuck with me into adulthood. So has saying “please” and “thank you”. When I’m working in a coffee shop and they put my drink on the counter, I always say “thank you” even if I am across the room plugging in the laptop. It’s only polite. And this got me thinking about all of the things that I do that are traces of those childhood lessons in being polite.

1) I always say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome”.

2) I always try to have a genuine smile for people. I hate those plastered on fake smiles, and I have been guilty of wearing them every now and then. When I smile at people, 99% of the time I mean it. I also try to be positive - and trust people and be nice to people as my default. I know people who start out suspicious and angry, I don't want to be one of those people.

3) I clean up after myself - I always try to leave things where and as I found them.

4) When I’m at a stop light, I always look *both* ways before turning right or pulling out. I also look both ways before crossing a street - or doing just about anything. Always good to know what's around you - instead of not caring.

5) Probably because I’m often on a bicycle, I stop my car behind the limit line, not in the middle of the cross walk. You know, that extra foot doesn’t get me there any faster. When I'm driving, I go with the flow of traffic - rather than race to the next stop light. Oddly, I get there the same time as the car that races through traffic.

6) When squeezing past someone or crossing in front of their sight line or any number of other things, I say either “excuse me” or “pardon me”. Since many people in Los Angeles speak Spanish as their primary language, I usually say “pardon me” because I think it is easier for everyone to understand. I don’t say “pardon me” for me, I say it to be polite to others.

7) I park within the lines, and as straight as possible. This means it may take me an extra minute to position my car - but that makes it easier for people parked on either side to open their doors and pull their cars out of their parking spot.

8) When I am paying at a cash register, I make sure my money is faced when I hand it to the clerk. When I worked retail I had to face my money at the end of the day, so I know what a pain it is to get a wad of messy money. It takes a second to put all of the bills face up and rightside up before handing it to the clerk.

9) I look before moving. If I’m going to take a step to the side or a step back, I look at the spot where I’m moving to *before* moving so that I don’t step on anyone. Saves me from having someone else's coffee on my clothes.

10) I am patient. Okay, not always - never at the post office - but I try to be patient most of the time. Whether I’m in a rush or not will not change how fast things happen or how fast other people move. Better to just take it easy.

11) By the time I get to the front of the line, I am completely ready to order. I know exactly what I want, and the answer to any of the normal question I might be asked (“Soup or salad?” “Do you want fries with that?” “Room for cream?”) I don’t want to waste the time of the people behind the counter or the people behind me because I am not prepared. By the time I stand in line, I know exactly what I want.

12) When I am walking on the sidewalk, I walk on the right side (or the left side) - never in the center. If the people in front of me are walking on the left side, I walk on the left side... so I'm not creating a maze for people walking towards me. Everyone moving in the same direction should be walking on the same side of the sidewalk. I want to make it easy for people behind me to pass me, and people coming in the opposite direction to get around me.

13) When I step off and escalator or through a door I continue to walk several steps to make sure I am not blocking people behind me. I usually keep walking and survey my surroundings to see where I want to go, rather than stop and look around. That way I’m not holding up traffic.

14) When I am next in a check out line, I have money in my hand as well as a selection of change, so that nobody has to wait for me to dig into my pocket to find that nickle. I’m *prepared* to pay for my purchases. Oh, and because I’m strange, I often add up my items in my mind and figure in tax and have a pretty good estimate of what the total is going to be. I’m usually within a dollar either way, and that helps me know what kind of bills I should have in my hand when I get to the checkstand.

15) If I’m talking on my cell phone in public, I try to use a quiet voice or go outside - I don’t want to bother other people with my conversation... and I kind of like privacy.

16) I try not to kick a man when he’s down. Once I’ve made my point, I back off. Though I’m sure I’ve kept hammering away at somebody a few times on message boards, I usually back off. Also, when someone has a bad day, I don’t make it worse... even if I hate them and my evil side would love to destroy them. It’s not fair.

17) I always go to the restroom or go outside to blow my nose. It’s gross to do it somewhere people are watching or listening... let alone trying to eat a meal.

18) I gauge traffic when I am merging, and pull out in an opening with enough distance between the car in front and in back of me... and at the same speed they are going. I don't stop to merge - that's silly. I don’t want to cause anyone to jamb on their brakes or have to swerve - I want it to be a smooth blend of my car into the stream of traffic.

19) If I am walking with friends on the sidewalk and others approach us in the opposite direction, I step behind or in front of my friend(s) so that we are walking single-file, allowing those walking towards us half of the sidewalk to pass us. This isn’t always easy - I have some friends who don’t get it, and if I fall back, so do they.

20) When I’m wrong, I apologize, and I mean it.

21) My cell phone ringer is either set low or on vibrate - the rest of the world doesn’t have to know my phone is ringing, and I really don’t care if you hear my cool ringtone or not (it’s the Peter Gunn theme - which is used in a bunch of commercials, and I often reach for my phone when it’s just a Chase Bank commercial on TV.)

22) I don’t block other people in an aisle or a store or a walkway or anyplace else - and I try not to stand in front of things other people might want access to.

23) If I make a mistake more than once, I try to make sure I don’t make it a third time. You are supposed to learn from your mistakes, not keep making them over and over again. Sometimes, if it’s some sort of bad habit, I find some way to punish myself if I keep doing it. I’m too old to have my mom spank me, so sometimes I have to spank myself. Not literally. But I do not reward myself for failure or making mistakes - I take away some pleasure until I stop screwing up.

24) I do not talk on my cell phone when I get to the front of a line - that’s when I need to be focusing on paying or ordering or talking with the person on the other side of the counter. It’s rude to the person behind the counter, it's rude to the person on the phone, and rude to the people standing behind me when I fumble through trying to hold two conversations at once.

25) In the grocery store, I push my cart down the right side of the aisle, and either stay on that right side when grabbing items off the shelves or move far enough away from my cart that I am not blocking both sides of the aisle - one side with my cart and one side with me shopping. I always leave half the aisle empty so that other people with carts can get past me.

26) If I am crossing a street as a pedestrian (or just walking across a parking lot entrance) I look at traffic in all directions - some times it’s easier to wait for one car to pass even though I have the right of way. If I have to wait a minute so that things run smoother for everyone else, no big deal And if cars are waiting for me to cross the street, I walk *fast* - I don’t take my time when I’m also taking other people’s time.

27) I try to be aware of everyone around me and stay out of people’s way. If I’m blocking a bunch of people from getting where they want to go because I’ve got my head in the clouds thinking about something or talking on the phone or whatever - I’m holding up the whole danged world!

28) When I pick a table at a restaurant or a coffee shop, I try not to pick one that would be of better use to someone else - I’m one person, so I don’t take a large table that might be better used by a family or a group, I don’t take a table designed for handicapped access or might be more convenient for an elderly person. Sometimes these are the only tables available, so I have no choice - but I always think about others when I select a table.

29) If I’m walking in a shopping mall or hallway or sidewalk and need to stop, I move to the side (near the wall) and *then* stop, so that I am not suddenly stopping in front of someone and am out of the way *before* I slow down or stop.

30) I try to help people whenever possible - not because of some sort of karma thing where what goes around will come around back to me (that would be nice, but I’m not sure that’s really how the world works), but just because it usually takes the same amount of effort to help people as to put them down or even ignore them. There are all kinds of people who seem to go out of their way to be mean or dismissive to people - and that’s a lot of work just to be negative. Usually it takes the same amount of work to help people - and that makes the world a little better. I don’t go out of my way looking for people to help, I just help anyone whose path crosses mine. That may be holding the door open for someone with their arms full or answering a question on a message board I visit or helping somebody find something if I know where it is (a street, a business, or even an item in the store). Most of these are silly little things that are part of our day-to-day lives, but my “default setting” is helpful. One of those things I learned from my parents.

By the way, I think one of the reasons why my brother and sister and I were so well behaved in public is that my mom encouraged us to *think about playing* and imagine what we would do when we got home and were allowed to run around in the yard and have fun. Or think about our toys and hobbies (my brother and I would think about Hot Wheels, my sister would think about Barbies - Mattel Toys won either way). Or think about our favorite televison shows or the book we were reading. We would sort of play in our minds... and entertain ourselves. No need to be little hellions in the grocery store. Those good manners, and thinking of others as well as ourselves, have stuck with me from childhood into adulthood.

(This was going to be called "Compusive Manners" but that didn't have the same ring to it.)

Thank you for reading this.

- Bill

Monday, November 07, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Interview Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! Tomorrow is election day in the USA, but today we are all Brothers And Sisters In Cinema - no matter who we vote for or against, we all love it when the house lights go down and the trailers start showing and that anticipation of a great movie experience washes over you. We hope this is going to be one of those movies that make our all time favorites list... movies we'll be talking about for decades to come. To celebrate our Brother And Sisterhood In Cinema, here are a dozen links - many to interviews this week - all celebrating movies. The first link after the Box Office scores is a special one! Ages ago I met Jen Wescott online at the Wordplay site, and a few years ago I met her in person (along with her producer sister Victoria) at Raindance Film Fest where they were debuting their first film TRAPPED IN A GARAGE BAND. I probably wrote about it in one of my books. Now they have a new movie... with some guy named John Cleese! Click on the link to find out more! Here's the thing - they made their own movie, got it into a major fest, and now they're off to the races! 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 Dr. Strange .................... $84,989,000
2 Trolls.......................... $45,600,000
3 Hacksaw......................... $14,750,000
4 Boo Madea........................ $7,800,000
5 Inferno.......................... $6,250,000
6 Accountant....................... $5,950,000
7 JR:NGB........................... $5,580,000
8 O:OoE............................ $3,983,000
9 Girl Train....................... $2,775,000
10 Peculiar......................... $2,100,000


Yes, this is still a record year for Box Office... and we have that STAR WARS movie coming out later!

2) People I Know In The News!

3) Jeff Nichols On LOVING.

4)

5) David Koepp Talks About INFERNO And Writing Blockbusters.

6) Paul Schrader On Screenwriting... And Staying Relevant.

7) Podcast Interview With HACKSAW RIDGE Screenwriter Robert Schenkkan.

8) You Won't Have Tarantino To Kick Around Anymore!

9) Interview With The Writers Of BAD SANTA.

10) Awesome! Black Cinema Posters Through History!

11) They Did The Math - And Your Film Will Be A Flop!

12) Writing In Your Dead Time.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Everything's a remake!

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, November 04, 2016

Patricia Hitchcock on STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

Hitchcock's daughter, Pat, was *in* STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and these are her thoughts on the film...



We take a closer look at STRANGERS ON A TRAIN in my new Hitchcock book MASTERING SUSPENSE...

Plus: here's a HITCH 20 PLUS segment on basic cinematic language (which many directors today don't seem to speak!)...



- Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

Click here for more info!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

What Else You Got?

From March 2010...

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

BREAKING AWAY (1979) written by Steve Tesich, is one of my favorite movies. Hey, working class guys and bicycles, how could it not be? Tesich won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for that script, and if you’re on the Script Secrets newsletter mailing list, this month there was a nice big article about that film that used DVD box art from Tesich’s other films as art. Because I loved BREAKING AWAY so much when it came out, I became a huge fan of the screenwriter and tracked down every other movie he wrote and was in line to see it on opening day. Though all of them featured working class guy leads, none were as good as BREAKING AWAY. The one that came closest was his adaptation of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, a novel I had read before seeing the movie. Tesich died with only six movies...





Last week the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles showed 2 of Tesich’s films, EYEWITNESS and FOUR FRIENDS - both of which I had seen on opening day. I did not like FOUR FRIENDS at all back then, but thought EYEWITNESS was okay - which is not the same as good. Later on I would rent EYEWITNESS on VHS a couple of times, and it was watchable, had some great stuff, but nothing I wanted to buy. So I haven’t seen either film in a long time, and thought I’d zip over to Hollywood and watch them again.

The American Cinematheque is like a film museum - they show older movies and foreign films and cutting edge indie films that have no distrib. It’s funny, but you’d think Los Angeles would be full of things like this... but it is not. I used to go to revival cinemas in the Bay Area all the time - and practically lived in the UC Theater in Berkeley where they had a different double bill every night, and “theme days” so that you could see every John Huston movie on Tuesday nights... get that day off from work! But in Los Angeles, movie capitol of the world, we have the American Cinematheque at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and the New Beverly down the street (now part owned by Quentin Tarantino) and the Silent Movie House between them. That’s pretty much it. Oh, the Nu Art and the Aero in Santa Monica. And the cinemas are not crowded - every time I go to the Nu Art I practically have the cinema to myself.

When I arrived at the Egyptian, it was almost empty... and pretty much stayed that way.

That’s a shame. In fact, it’s *shameful*.

Here we are in the film capitol, and no one is going to see films! The American Cinematheque has all of these great programs, and usually gets some great guest speakers between films. So they showed a couple of lost grindhouse movies a couple of nights ago and had stars and cinematographer and just about every living person involved in these two films made in the 70s. It’s like *live* DVD extras. And when they do these things... a couple more people show up. I went to one last year where there were more people on the panel between the movies than in the cinema seats! Hey, this is LA, can we get a full house? Can some studios push their employees to see some of these films? Would be wonderful if the development people would show up and see some films... I tend to think the priorities in the film biz get mixed up - it is about making movies. Movies are more important than anything else. If I ran a studio, I’d have a pop quiz every once in a while where I asked everyone at the studio to tell me what film they had seen in a cinema last week, and anyone who didn’t go to the movies gets fired. Bam, outta here. “Hey, I’m the head of production, I don’t have time to...” Bam, outta here. If you’re gonna make ‘em, you gotta watch ‘em.

So - studios and people who love film and live in Los Angeles - please go to the movies.

Side note - about 15 years ago, the American Cinematheque had no home cinema and was kind of squatting at the Chaplin Cinema at Raleigh Studios (across from Paramount). Those were heady days for me - I had movies shooting and would go to see a Sam Fuller double bill and Sam Fuller was there! So were all kinds of hot shot young filmmakers and screenwriters. I had “season tickets” to the Fuller movies and had a big name director sitting behind me and a screenwriter who was the next big thing in the chair beside me. That little cinema was packed! Then they renovated the Egyptian - this big old movie palace like it’s more famous sister Grauman’s Chinese - and had a permanent home... and people seemed to stop going. I don’t think one thing caused the other, I think there may have been some sort of tidal shift in the business, and all of those movie addicts who worked in the biz were replaced by ex-lawyers and ex-agents and dealmakers. People who didn’t seem to need to see pre-code movies with female nudity from the early 1930s or “Race” westerns (Black cowboys!) or Fritz Lang thrillers from the 30s and 40s. *I* needed to see all of those films.

I also needed to see if the Tesich films were better than I remembered them. The guy had written one of my favorite films... how could I dislike FOUR FRIENDS those many years ago? Was I in a bad mood the day I saw it? Was I just too young to get it? The film was directed by Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE, LITTLE BIG MAN) and written by an Oscar Winner.

THE MOVIES...


The small group of us turn off our cell phones, house lights go down, and...



FOUR FRIENDS (1981) was a mess. It’s obviously Tesich’s autobiography - a little boy and his mother come from Yugoslavia to live with his father - who works in the steel mills. Father ain’t the type to hug anyone. Then we get the first of about two dozen jumps ahead in time, since this is the characters *entire life* in one film. Now our boy Danny is in high school in the early 60s and played by Craig Wasson (BODY DOUBLE) and we also meet the other three friends: Jim Metzler (guest star on every TV show you can think of, star of the 2 NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries) as Tom, Michael Huddelston (who now plays pudgy middle aged guys) as David, and Jodi Thelen as the woman all 3 guys love, Georgia. The film has a half dozen different narrators, and instead of all being important characters in the story, our first narrator is Georgia’s next door neighbor. We only see her looking out the window of her house - she is not really a character in the story at all!

There is no main plot at all - except Danny’s life - but there are dozens of subplots. I’d list them all, but I’d have to pay more for bandwidth. Danny and his dad. Danny and his flute (plays it in band). Danny and his Black friend. Danny and his anti-steel-mill rant at career day. A bunch of others in this small High School segment of the film, but the main one is probably that Danny is in love with Georgia, when she wants to sleep with him thinks it’s too soon and turns her down, so she sleeps with the other two guys (separately). And gets pregnant by one of them. Oh, man - I forgot the school bully subplot! That one even plays out later in the film! Did I forget any other subplots that come back later?

To add to the story-mess, after high school the four friends split up and go their separate ways... So that we can introduce a whole new cast when Danny goes to college!

Film is a tonal mess, too. It has no genre at all, and seems to jump between teen sex comedy and class-warfare drama and druggy film and epic romance and TAXI DRIVER.

Yes, TAXI DRIVER... in more ways than one!

Anyway, Danny goes away to college where he has a disabled roommate (which is a whole subplot) and both guys are virgins and want to get laid. Their dorm room is wall-to-wall Playboy centerfolds and there are jokes about wacking off, etc, It’s ANIMAL HOUSE or AMERICAN PIE or whatever. Danny falls for his roommate’s hot sister, proposes to her, but her parents are filthy rich and they disapprove of him (especially her father played by James Leo Herilhey who wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY and overacts like you would not believe. It’s a shame that he didn’t have any scenes with Georgia, because that actress is so over the top you’d think she was on some Broadway stage trying to make sure the people in the back rows can see her gestures.)

Anyway, rich father finally agrees to the wedding and we get this big epic wedding scene where working class Danny seems out of place, and then he jokes with his college roommate guy - hey, we’re kind of back in AMERICAN PIE territory for a moment, and then Danny’s new father-in-law gives a toast to the bride and groom and halfway through the toast pulls out a gun and shoots his daughter and Danny and then himself in the head. WTF?

In the middle of this mostly romantic and comedic streak when this hardcore violence erupts out of nowhere! Though there are some clues to the father-in-law being a bit wacky, the problem is that his motivations are kind of script spackled in there and none of the characters *behave* as they should before the incident. It’s as if *after* he’d written the shooting scene he went back and threw in a bit to justify it... but then didn’t change anything in between so it still comes off unmotivated.

Anyway, Danny survives, though he has lost an eye... except it seems to grow back later (huh?) and he gets a job driving a taxi, because that way he can introduce a whole new cast... and see Danny hit rock bottom - kind of a homeless taxi driver.

Meanwhile, Georgia and David are married and raising Tom’s baby and Georgia decides to split for New York to find herself and gets involved with hippies and drugs and some sort of glam-rock thing. She goes to a far out party with her friend where there is sex and drugs and rock and roll... and a pretty new sports car in the middle of the loft where the party takes place. Everything is wild and fun and hippish! Her friend - who has just been introduced and I’m not even sure what her name is - hops in that sports car in the middle of the party, and it starts and goes into reverse and zooms out of the top story loft and plummets to the street below where it explodes like something in a Michael Bay film. WTF? One minute a swinging good time, the next Georgia’s friend is incinerated.

While the tone is jumping around from light to dark to just weird, the story is too. Danny meets a nurse and they have a relationship and then Georgia shows up and Danny finally gets a chance to sleep with her, then she splits... and Danny’s relationship with the nurse is over and Danny becomes a steelworker like his dad and has a relationship with some other girl and we get more and more incidents and subplots and things that probably happened in Tesich’s life but don’t mean anything, and then he goes home to patch things up with his dad and... well, remember that bully from high school? He’s a cop now and there’s a zany comedy bar-room brawl with him, that Danny wins by barfing on him, and I’ve left out some subplot stuff - his Black friend from high school marching with Martin Luther King (off screen) and his college roommate dying and not being able to see man landing on the moon and Dave losing his toupee and Tom marrying a Vietnamese woman have having two daughters but still visiting the kid he had with Georgia and... well, there just isn’t enough bandwidth for all of it. Danny’s eye grows back and he ends up with Georgia at the end... but that hasn’t resolved his issues with his stern father, so we get some scenes about that. Finally it ends!

EYEWITNESS


House lights go up at the Egyptian... and when the lights go back down for the second film, we’ve lost a chunk of the audience.



EYEWITNESS is an okay film - with a great thriller concept. William Hurt plays a janitor in an office building who discovers the body of one of the tenants - an evil Vietnamese ex-General who got Hurt’s fellow janitor, played by James Woods at his James Woodiest, fired. Hurt worries that Woods may have killed the guy, so when the police question him (Detective #2 played by Morgan Freeman) he lies and says Woods hasn’t been at the building since he was fired. Actually, Woods was there the day of the murder. On his way out, he spots hot TV reporter Sigourney Weaver and realizes this is his chance to try and charm her into bed. He offers an exclusive interview... then hits on her on camera. In order to keep seeing Weaver, he has to claim to have information about the murder... yet never give it to her. Problem is, evil Vietnamese hit dudes overhear him and come after him. This is a cool idea - but the script pretty much ignores it. Sure, every once in a while some inept action scene pops up, but the story spends as much time on the romance and on all of these subplots (including Hurt’s romantic relationship with Wood’s sister played by Pam Reed, which includes an *amazing* great scene where they profess their non-love for each other) and Weaver’s romance with pretty-man Christopher Plummer who is involved in raising money for Jewish causes (huh?) and several scenes about horses and some scenes about Hurt's dog who is kind of the canine version of Burt Kwouk from the PINK PANTHER movies. Oh, and some *great* stuff with Kenneth McMillan as his disabled and drunken dad. But it’s a lot of light dramedy stuff crammed into a thriller concept.

The thriller scenes do not work at all. There’s a chase scene that’s okay... but a scene where bad guys give Hurt’s dog rabies or something as a way to kill him makes no sense at all, and the big action end (sarcasm) where Hurt fights the villain in a Manhattan indoor horse barn in some *building* makes no sense at all. Not enough thriller scenes and the ones we get don’t work at all. Oh, and who the villains are and what they’re after? Weirdest and most unbelievable coincidence in film history. Kind of a “Are You Effing Kidding Me?” moment.

And that’s the big problem, here. Tesich wrote one great script, did a really good adaptation... but seemed unable to do anything else. He did not seem to have the skills to pull of a thriller, and FOUR FRIENDS may be his life story but it has no story. The thing I liked about the movies was the working class background of his characters - whether it’s working in a steel mill or working as a building’s janitor, he shows real people doing real work and makes it part of the story. We need more of that. But it seems as if he’s just parting out the same story again and again. Like he has *one* story to tell - educated working class guy locks horns with immigrant father and enjoys bike riding (did I mention that aspect of EYEWITNESS? Sorry... and AMERICAN FLYERS is all about bike racing). The relationship between Danny and Tom in FOUR FRIENDS is similar to the relationship between Hurt and Woods in EYEWITNESS. It as if he has a few dozen scenes and a few dozen characters that he rearranges to make a different script.



We all have our “mega themes” that pop up in our scripts - those elements of our lives that show up in many of our character’s lives. That’s fine, in fact - that’s great. We want our screenplays to be personal rather than generic. But we need to have *many* stories to tell, and *different* stories, and be able to work within some popular *genre* so that once we’ve won our Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the phone starts ringing with people who want to buy our next original screenplay or have us come in and pitch stories, we can keep our writing career going.

There’s a script tip in rotation about having enough screenplays finished, so that when someone reads a script and likes it but doesn’t want to buy it and asks “What else you got?” you can give them some other script... and *keep* giving them scripts until they find one they want to make or hire you to write a script for them. You *need* more than one good screenplay...

But you also need the screenplays to be different stories with different characters. If all of your scripts are the same basic story with the names changed - or just similar stories - you burn out fast. Chances are, that producer is going to be reading script #2 and wonder why it all seems so familiar. Did he pick up script #1 by mistake? Even though it is smart to specialize in one genre, you want different stories within that genre. That means you need to be able to come up with dozens, maybe hundreds, of different stories... and different characters... and different scenes.

One script may open the door for you, but one script is not a career. If you spend 25 or more years writing screenplays and get paid for one script or assignment every year - that’s at least 25 *different* stories you’re going to need... but actually maybe 4 or 5 times that many, because you will also need fresh new stories for the scripts and pitches that *do not sell*. When I get called in to pitch ideas for some cable producer, I have to pitch 5 *different* story ideas the day after tomorrow... and if I get a call like that every month? That's 60 ideas a year - 60 *different* ideas a year. That’s a lot of different stories - do you have many different stories with different characters? Can you imagine yourself *writing* 100 different stories in your career? Do you have that many stories in you?

Hey, Steve Tesich won an Oscar for BREAKING AWAY, but I don’t think anyone will really remember his other films. (There *are* people who saw FOUR FRIENDS as kids and loved it, a small buy seemingly loyal fan base - the film is filled with topless scenes, has an anti-authority lead character, and deals with father-son issues... many teen boys liked these aspects - but the film was a flop when it was released and was not a hit on VHS or DVD... and the print the American Cinematheque showed was old and faded because there is no demand for it today.) I think someone should remake the *concept* of EYEWITNESS, just not the script... but the other films he wrote (with the exception of GARP) are forgotten now and will only become more forgotten as time goes on.

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

* AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE
* NEW BEVERLY CINEMA
* SILENT MOVIES ON FAIRFAX
* Nuart Theater


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: OPENING GRABBERS - and old movies from the 1940s that took the time to introduce characters and stories... not like today's movies.
Dinner: Togos Tuna sandwich... whole wheat.
Bicycle: Zipped up to NoHo, then managed to get back to the Ventura & Vineland Starbucks with *perfect* timing as people began leaving for dinner.
Pages: Well, finished and turned in my interview with the A-Team writers only one day late... and then we had that quake, and now I'm working on the new assignment.
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