Monday, February 29, 2016

Lancelot Link: Awards!!!

Lancelot Link Monday! Oscar Winners!This was the big movie awards season! Best and worst and... 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 links to the winners!

1) Oscar Winners

2) Razzie Awards

3) Spirit Awards


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Friday, February 26, 2016

Hitchcock: Organic

Jimmy Stewart in REAR WINDOW uses a camera to defend himself... He's a professional photographer, what else would he use?

I have a whole article on this, written for Script Magazine about a decade ago, called Hitchcock's Chocolates that gets into using the character and story to find all of the details of your screenplay. It always goes back to character - any question or problem you are having with your screenplay - think character, theme, story... and you will find the answers.

- Bill

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Film Courage Plus: Writing On Deadline

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the fifth one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

I know you don’t want to hear this, but most spec scripts (screenplays written to sell) are never sold... they are “job applications” for paid writing assignments. You know, adapting some comic book or novel or board game or toy or whatever into a movie script. The *job* of writing. And like every job, there are deadlines.

Writers like to fantasize about quitting the day job and just sitting at home in their Pjs writing whenever the inspiration strikes. Being an artist. But reality is completely different - for a professional writer, writing becomes their day job and they have all of those things they hated from the old day job. Idiot bosses? Yeah, there are producers I’ve worked for who make my old day job bosses look like geniuses. Catty co-workers who blame you for their mistakes? You will encounter those, too - true story: on one of my films for a cable network the director came up with a scene that was so expensive it would bust the budget. I told him there was no way the producer would keep this scene in the script, because it not only served no story purpose it would cost as much as every other scene in the script combined. I suspected it was just come power play on the part of the director - to see how far he could push the producer, to see if he could get his way - but I told him I didn’t want to write the scene. He insisted. I wrote the scene. The next story meeting, the producer turned to me and said he was surprised that I would write a scene like that into the script; didn’t I know this was a cable film not a summer blockbuster? Before I could say it was the director’s idea, that director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a budget buster, but he didn’t listen and wrote it anyway.” And you thought your day job was bad! But the other thing from your day job you will have to deal with are deadlines. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes, you have to write to get things finished on time.

And the closer the project gets to production, the more those deadlines become etched in stone.

One of the production companies I wrote HBO World Premiere Movies for was Royal Oaks (no longer with us) and they were a factory for cable movies. At one point they were making 36 movies a year for a variety of cable networks. That was in the mid-1990s when every new start up network had their own movies, and when established networks like USA Network had 48 original movies a year. Add in Lifetime and all of the rest and there was this insane need to MOWs, and Royal Oaks supplied a chunk of them. Oh, and they also made movies for Studio’s Home Entertainment Divisions (direct to video). There was a “big board” on the wall that showed all of the projects and where they were at on the road from idea to finished film delivered to the network or studio. 36 films with 36 deadlines. And within each large deadline (delivery) were smaller deadlines - like the treatment and each draft of the screenplay. As I’ve said before, on a movie for HBO like STEEL SHARKS before I even pitched the story there was an airdate. A time slot at HBO that the movie would fill. If I didn’t get the screenplay finished in time, they wouldn’t finish making the movie in time... and HBO would be showing a test pattern or something on March 26th at 9pm.

You may not want to think of making movies as if it’s a factory, but at a production company or a studio that’s exactly what it is. They make movies as a consumer product just like some other company makes shoes... in fact, there was a point in time where a shoe company owned a studio! If you think that big studios don’t have big boards like Royal Oaks did, tell me - what are the release dates for the next ten Marvel movies? How about the next five STAR WARS movies? Okay, how about the next three FAST & FURIOUS movies? All of those deadlines! Most of those projects don’t have screenplays or writers or even story ideas! But they already have deadlines. That’s the film business! It is a business!

So you will need to get used to working on a deadline.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” Stephen King

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter,” Dan Poynter


I have self imposed deadlines on my spec screenplays, and try to treat them as if they were any other (real world) deadline. The reason why is that without a deadline I wouldn’t get anything done... I have to be my own boss and crack the whip on myself. Just as my protagonists wouldn’t be rushing to disarm a bomb if that big red LED cliche timer was set for five years from now, I wouldn’t have any real reason to finish a script if there was no deadline and my natural laziness would take over. And I am naturally lazy. I think most of us are. Our default mode is - check out Facebook and then maybe get lost reading articles on something you find mildly interesting and then maybe watch a little TV and then... hey, time for bed! I can do nothing like a pro! But a pro writer needs to write - so I have deadlines and page quotas and write as if it’s my job, because it *is* my job.

And even if it is not your job now, you *want* it to be your job, right?

That means you will need to be able to write quality material on a deadline.

There are folks on message boards who think being forced to write on a deadline results in bad writing. They are probably not going to make it as a professional. Actually, they *could* make it as a professional if they quit fighting the idea of deadlines and just accept that is part of the job and they’ll have to learn how to incorporate deadlines into their writing. People always fight against what they fear - they proclaim that “X is the downfall of creativity!” because they know they are not good at X and they fear X so they want to avoid doing X at all costs. Hey, the world isn’t going to bend to you, you will have to bend to the world. You will have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with X like everyone else has. Just the way things are. In real life there are deadlines, and fighting against the idea of deadlines is not going to make them vanish. There are still those big boards at production companies and studios listing the release dates for movies that have yet to be written, and when you land one of those jobs you will have to make the deadline no matter what Douglas Adams may have said.


There are two methods to make deadlines - Slow & Steady and Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! You know these two methods from when you were in school and had homework. Slow & Steady is the recommended method - what your mom and teachers told you to do - and what I will tell you is the best way to do things. Not that you will listen... but it makes me feel better to know that I’ve told you.

Slow & Steady: In another of the Film Courage segments I talk about How To Be Productive (Even If You Have A Life) and talk about how I managed to write 3 screenplays a year while working a day job (and having a life) by writing one good page a day. Just one. Because those single pages add up to 3 screenplays by the end of the year. Once I “went pro” I used the same method, just upped the number of pages per day to 5. Five pages a day is a screenplay in a month. Yeah - a first draft, but still a screenplay. And that will result in you making almost every deadline you will encounter as a professional screenwriter. In the BREAKING IN Blue Book we look at assignments and deadlines, and how you will often “stack” assignments (take more than one job, because you never know if anyone will ever hire you again) and being able to do a draft in a month will cover you even if you stack a couple of assignments. You will make your deadlines. Slow & Steady wins the race.

The other method - the one your mom and teachers warned you about - is Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! and you know how that works when you pulled those all nighters after procrastinating for a couple of weeks and not doing your homework. You didn’t use the Slow & Steady method, so the only thing left is to just drink a whole pot of coffee or a six pack of Mountain Dews and write the damned thing. There are people who prefer this method to Slow & Steady, but I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with 30 pages to write and 5 minutes to write it in... and I’m just not that fast. I’m also afraid that I’ll burn out halfway through or that some unforseen event will sidetrack me. Heck, when I stacked a couple of projects with tight deadlines once, I ended up with walking pneumonia afterwards. I’d worked myself into exhaustion. What if that exhausting and pneumonia had struck when I was only halfway done with the script? I’d have missed the deadline!

One of the things that helps me on tight deadlines is that the Slow & Steady method creates a confidence that the Holy Crap method does not. If I know I can write 5 pages a day, every day, and not suffer burn out... I can adjust that up to 10 pages a day if need be. And I’ve had those crazy deadlines where I needed to turn out 10 great pages a day to make my deadline because there was a Start Shooting date on the big board. I think I talk about some of these deadlines in this Film Courage segment.

But in the real world of screenwriting, you will need to know how to use both methods. Because even though Slow & Steady is preferable, you may end up with some insane real world production deadline like I had on GRID RUNNERS when they had to scrap the Act 3 I had written due to a change in location and I had to write a brand new Act 3 *overnight*. There was literally a production crew sleeping while I was writing, and when they woke up in the morning and went to the set to shoot that day’s scenes? Well, I had to have finished writing them, get them to the production office so that they could make copies, and then those copies had to be sent to the set so that they could film them. The closer your project gets to production, the more important making those deadlines becomes! When the project is *in production* missing a deadline means the cast and crew have nothing to do (but are still being paid) and the film may crash and burn as a result. Yes, movies get shut down when the screenwriter misses a deadline. You may cost the production company tens of millions of dollars! Do you think they’re going to hire you again after that? That *anyone* is going to hire you again? So you need to be able to use both the Slow & Steady method and the Holy Crap method as a professional screenwriter, and I really think that using the Slow & Steady helps a lot when you need to do the Holy Crap method. But maybe that’s just me. No one really cares which method you use, as long as you make the deadlines.

Because, like any other job, this one has deadlines. Often hard deadlines where a cast and crew is waiting for you to finish so that they can start. So start training for those deadlines *now*!

Good luck and keep writing!

Oh, and instead of a tip jar... if you liked this why not buy a book over there? Thanks! -->

- Bill

Monday, February 22, 2016

Lancelot Link: Box Office Battle Royale!

Lancelot Link Monday! Last week's new film was the vulgar and profane hard R rated DEADPOOL, and it broke all kinds of records. This week's big new film is the early Easter religious film RISEN... did it break records? Did it beat last week's film? As someone online said: "This is a battle for moviegoers souls!" Well, kinda. RISEN was released by a major studio (Columbia Pictures), directed by a major director (Kevin Reynolds, Kevin Costner's ROBIN HOOD, etc), stars a guy who has starred in hit movies (Joseph Fiennes, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE), and opened on 2,915 screens. Add to that a huge publicicty push, tying the film to previous big Christian hit PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Oh, and block selling seats to church groups. Plus, DEADPOOL made so much money it's probably exhausted its audience, right? So... which one do you think won the weekend? 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 Deadpool........................ $55,000,000
2 Kung Fu Panda 3................. $12,500,000
3 Risen........................... $11,800,000
4 The Witch........................ $8,685,270
5 How To Be Single................. $8,220,000
6 Race............................. $7,275,000
7 Zoolander 2...................... $5,500,000
8 Star Wars TFA.................... $3,836,000
9 Revenant......................... $3,800,000
10 Hail Caesar....................... $2,640,000

Business is still booming in 2016!

2) MERMAID Opens In China With A $400m Weekend. Take That DEADPOOL!

3) RIP: Harper Lee.

4) The Real Maltese Falcon. I was talking about this a couple of weeks ago, it's the inspiration for the third Mitch Robertson story, which I will write whenever I get around to finishing the second one!

5) A Look At Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND.

6) Interview: Inarritu On REVENANT and BIRDMAN.

7) THE WITCH Screenwriter Robert Eggers On Research And Influences.

8) "It's THE MARTIAN With Mastadons! It's THE REVENANT With Sabertooth Tigers!"

9) The Athena List - Best Unproduced Female Lead Screenplays.

10) Paul Schrader's ROLLING THUNDER (with his brother Leonard).


12) Bing Predicts The Oscars (though Vanity Fair doesn't seem to think screenwriters matter)

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Friday, February 19, 2016

Hitchcock: Suspense vs. Surprise

If it's Friday, this must be Hitchcock day on the blog! I'm squeezing in another Hitch interview segment...

And HITCH 20 is about to return for Season 3... Here's the trailer!

- Bill

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Film Courage Plus: First Time I Got Paid To "Do It".

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the fourth one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

This piece was from an interview in 2014, when my first produced film NINJA BUSTERS was a lost movie that could never be seen by an audience. As far as I knew, no prints of it existed. My skeletons were safely hidden in the closet. No one could ever see my baby steps as a screenwriter where I fell on my face *and* pooped my pants.

What a difference a year makes! In some weird version of STORAGE WARS, a film collector bought a warehouse full of old film cans, and one set of cans contained the only 35mm print of NINJA BUSTERS. More about that in this article by the director, Paul Kyriazi - the "official story". So now the masochistic among you can see my first paid gig as a screenwriter, which has become a cult film playing around the country at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Yikes! I was hoping this film would remain missing!

But since it’s out there, baby, it's out there! (as Kramer on SEINFELD would say) let’s talk about first films and breaking in to the business.

If you were to ask 100 screenwriters how they broke in you would get 100 different answers. There is no one way, and there are so many variables the best thing that you can do is try as many different ways as you can and eventually one will work for you. In the clip I tell the story of NINJA BUSTERS - giving a screenplay to one of the “success stories” from my community college film appreciation class who had gone on to make kung fu movies for the drive in circuit, and how that lead to my working on the set of one of his films and eventually getting the job of doing a page one rewrite on a film for him. The challenge of NINJA BUSTERS (called FALCON CLAW when I was hired to rewrite it) was that the cast and locations and even many of the props had already been locked down, and my job was to write a screenplay that used all of those things... differently.

The original screenplay was about a pair of guys who land a job at a warehouse and discover that all of the warehouse workers are hypnotized so that they work for free and don’t ask any questions. They are some form of “zombie”. Our heroes somehow break out of the hypnosis and realize they are working for evil smugglers, and end up fighting the hypnotized warehouse workers and breaking up the evil smuggling ring.

When you are trying to land an assignment, be it for a studio based producer or some guys making kung fu movies in Oakland, CA; the first thing you do is “pitch your take” - come up with a different way to tell that story and pitch it to the producer. Sometimes it’s just finding the different angle to tell the same story, sometimes it’s finding a different story. In this case, I couldn’t find a way to make the “hypnotized dock workers” story interesting, so I had to come up with something similar... that also added more action scenes... that also used all of the same locations and actors and props they had already locked down. My story was about a pair of goofy guys who join a women’s self defense class to pick up girls and instead pick up trouble when they witness a mob murder by someone they know from their day job at a warehouse. The lead mobster uses ninjas to deal with big problems, and soon our two goofy guys and their dates are on the run from *ninjas*! The ninjas could be anywhere! I was a huge fan of SILVER STREAK, the Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor comedy chase film (a Hitchcock homage) and thought that would be a fun “model” for this page one rewrite. What if the story was a chase action film with these two guys racing across town one night to escape ninjas and rescue the women they love? Using all of the cast members, locations, props and anything else - I wrote a script in a couple of weeks I took off from my day job. And that was my first paid gig.

Which lead to...


Sure, I wrote a couple more screenplays for local producers, but none of those got made. So I went back to working the day job. And eventually broke in again.

Now here’s the thing they never tell you: you will *always* be breaking in. You don’t just break in once, and you’re in... you break in just about every time you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Because unlike working at my day job where I’d clock in every morning, work my shift, then clock out and go home; a movie is a “one off”. They make one movie at a time, and that movie is the job and when the job is over you are unemployed and need to look for work again. You need to break in again. Sure, there are times when you get some momentum going - and one job leads to the next. But eventually the momentum ends and you need to break in all over again.

You will always be breaking in. Get used to that idea.

After selling COURTING DEATH to a company who had a deal with Paramount for a couple of years worth of day job money, I quit the day job and moved to Los Angeles where I holed up in an apartment and wrote a stack of screenplays. Writers write! No longer stranged by that day job, I had enough time to do what I loved - and I wrote and wrote and wrote! Sometimes never leaving my apartment for days! Heaven!

But when COURTING DEATH was never made, I found myself out of money and out of work and I needed to break in all over again. And that’s the dirty little secret of this business - when this script job ends you have no job... and must find another screenwriting job. And that’s basically breaking in all over again. You send out screenplays and take meetings (job interviews) and do everything possible to land another job. Hollywood is both a small town and a vast town - and when you are looking for your next screenwriting job you are likely to be meeting with people and companies who don’t know you. The companies that do know you are the first places you go, and after that it’s all of those other companies... and that’s breaking in again.

There is also a lot of turnover in this town, so that great connection you had with production company A, may no longer be working there. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because they move to another production company and now you have connections at two places... but sometimes they just leave the business and you have no connections at all. You have to break in all over again as if you were that writer living in your home town dreaming of a Hollywood career. Except now you are in Hollywood and you’ve even had a career for a film or maybe two (or maybe ten). A friend of mine who had a great ten year run as a screenwriter found himself in trouble when a bunch of the projects he had been working on did not go to screen (only 10% of what you write will make it to screen, the rest will just collect dust on studio shelves), and a bunch of his great connections at production companies all retired at the same time. Oh, and so did his agent, and he was passed off to a new agent who didn’t know him. Suddenly, this guy had to break in all over again! And that is *common*. Screenwriting is not like a day job, there are no regular paychecks, there is no time clock, there is no job security at all! Once you finish your “day’s work” you need to find a new job! You need to break in again and again and again.

So when you read how some successful writer sold their first screenplay, that’s how they broke in the first time.

But the first time you break in will not be the last!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Only 418 Pages!
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Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lancelot Link: The President's Valentines Are Missing!

Lancelot Link Monday! This was both President's Day Weekend and Valentines Day Weekend, causing all kinds of confusion, not to mention thoughts of odd crossover film pitches. The only movies I could find for cross celebration were THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995) - Aaron Sorkin's predecessor for THE WEST WING, and KISSES FOR MY PRESIDENT (1964) - about the first woman President and her First Man... other than that, we tend not to think of the President in romantic terms. Why is that? 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 Deadpool....................... $135,050,000
2 Kung Fu Panda 3...... .......... $19,650,000
3 How 2B Single................... $18,750,000
4 Zoolander 2..................... $15,650,000
5 Revenant......................... $6,900,000
6 Hail Caesar...................... $6,590,000
7 Star Wars TFA.................... $6,194,000
8 Choice........................... $5,250,000
9 Ride Along....................... $4,130,000
10 Boy!............................. $2,913,000

So DEADPOOL broke all kinds of box office records and seems to have proven than audiences really want to see something Hard R on Valentines day weekend, since the last record holder was FIFTY SHADES OF GREY ($93m). Box Office Mojo has this huge list of records that DEADPOOL has broken so far, but on top of all that it has pushed 2016 ahead of previous years at this point in time... Ahead of last year by 2.8%, ahead of 2014 by 16.4%, ahead of 2013 by 29.6%, ahead of 2012 by 16.4%, and ahead of 2011 by only 35.4%!!!!

But this is a 3 day weekend in the USA, which means there's one more day to go!

Fox estimates it will end up with $150m, but BOMojo reports that other studios are pegging it as high as $156m. That would mean more records would be broken. I predict I will soon get a note from development about having the female lead wear a strap on, because that's what audiences pay to see. I'm sure DC is preparing THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN XXX or something as you read this. I think the real lesson here is that there is an audience for a hard R rated movie filled with all sorts of naughty things... because movies are a fantasy and we all fantasize about all sorts of naughty things (whether from DEADPOLL or GREY). But the *real* solution is just not to give me any stupid notes, and realize that when you hire someone for a specific skill it is because they know how to do their job. Just trust them.

Hey, if you *don't* believe that audiences love the nasty stuff, let's see what happens next weekend when the religious RISEN opens from Sony Pictures. Will it pull down the same numbers as DEADPOOL? $135m opening weekend? Come back next week to find out, same Batplace, same Batchannel!

2) The Real Superheroes In DEADPOOL - Screenwriters Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick.

3) Your Female Lead Character: She's Beautiful, But Doesn't Know It.

4) Writing INSIDE OUT.

5) Preston Sturges - Comedy Genius.

6) A Short Story Sells For High Six Figures! WTF?

7) Is Cuba The New Hot Location?

8) Drew Goddard On Adapting THE MARTIAN.

9) WGA AWARDS Winners! (kind if a buried lede, but what the heck)

10) NIGHT OF THE HUNTER - The Story Of The Film, Plus The Screenplay By Agee.

11) Shane Black (and others) On Suspense.

12) Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND - The Story Of The Film, Plus The Screenplay!

And the Fight Scene Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs




Friday, February 12, 2016

12 Hours Of Hitchcock/Truffaut.

Seems the new HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT documentary that just played at TIFF is just a rehash of what we already knew from the book and the recordings:


So since I'm still recovering from the Portland Film Festival... so why don't you spend 12 hours listening to the original recordings of Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock? It's only half a day...

Hitchcock Truffaut Master Tapes.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the third one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The 100 Idea Theory:

I never tell anyone that I’m a screenwriter, because the first thing that will happen is they will say they have this great idea for a movie and then spend a couple of hours telling me that idea and then offer to let me write their idea for 50% of whatever the script sells for. Awesome deal! My friend John has gone so far as to have fake business cards printed up for parties & social events where this might happen that say he builds custom septic tanks to fit your unique personality - no one wants to tell him their ideas of make him that 50% deal. *Everyone* has an idea for a screenplay. How many billions of people are there on Earth right now? They all have an idea for a screenplay.

It isn’t enough just to have an idea, or even have a good idea, you need a *great* idea.

One of the things we look at in the IDEAS Blue Book is not just how to find an endless number of ideas, but how to find the good ones... and the great ones. The gold. Because finding movie ideas is a lot like panning for gold - it’s 99% dirt and mud and 1% gold. The problem often is, new writers come up with one idea... and that’s part of the 99% that’s mud. Not a problem, unless they take that idea to script - and then they have a script with a dirt idea. How do you pitch that? How do you make the logline in your equery to managers and agents and producers sound good when it’s dirt? You can’t. In Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN due to a clumsy mistake by Igor, they build the monster using an abnormal brain - so the monster is alive, but has a “bad brain”. You don’t want a screenplay with a “bad brain”.

Though ideas are a dime a dozen (because everyone on Earth has one) they are also gold. The key is to “pan for gold” and find the very best idea and then take it to script. Don’t end up with 110 pages of “mud”.

But how do you find the best idea? There are people who think that any idea that “sticks with you” is a good one. You forgot that other idea, but remembered this one... it has to be good! I’m not sure having a faulty memory is any indication of an idea being good or not. Other people have a variation on the faulty memory theory they like to call “I’m really passionate about this idea!” But anyone who has lived long enough to have their heart broken a couple of times knows that passion sometimes doesn’t last, and passion also doesn’t equal quality. I have been passionate about relationships only to look back on them a year later and wonder if I was crazy. In fact, there are probably a hundred songs that equate love and passion with insanity! You can probably name a couple of those songs off the top of your head, right? So maybe being passionate about an idea is not the best way to judge whether it is good or not? Sure, we want an idea that we are passionate about, but *only* being passionate about it is excluding all other criteria and may end up falling in love with the wrong person. There are a bunch of movies about people who fall in love with people who then try to kill them. Do you want to write 110 pages only to find out this was one of those crazy lovers? FATAL ATTRACTION in screenplay form? Probably not - that’s why you’ll want to expand your criteria beyond only passion.

Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober, and that’s the key to this whole writing thing. Create in one step, edit in another step. Coming up with raw ideas is creating, but finding the best idea is editing. Most people leave out the editing part. They often just come up with an idea and write it... and end up with 110 pages of blah. You want to use both sides of your brain - the creative side and the analytical side. No half brained ideas! Come up with a bunch of ideas (drunk) and then (sober) analyze each idea and select the best one using rational criteria. Panning for gold. Because you love the idea isn’t good enough - remember that hell relationship you had? You thought you loved them. So take emotions out of the equation when you are *selecting* ideas.

The 100 Idea Theory in the Film Courage clip is about using that insane, passionate creativity to find 100 ideas... then using the sober analytical side of your brain to select the best idea from that 100.

One problem new writers often have is that they only have one idea. Hey, this is a business of ideas! I often get called in to pitch 4 or 5 ideas to fit a producer’s specific needs... and if they don’t like any of those, pitch 4 or 5 more. A decade ago when the SyFy Channel probably still had “i”s in their name, I had meetings with 3 different producers who were making movies for them. At one company I pitched 10 actual science fiction stories, at another I pitched 10 disaster stories that had not been done yet, and the third I pitched 10 monster movies that had never been done. 30 ideas - not a single one ended up a paid gig (though two of those companies each liked an idea enough to bring me back the next year and talk about it). But you will need to come up with a stack of ideas. Your manager will have you pitch a bunch of ideas and they’ll select the one they think has the best chance. So you need a bunch of ideas - not just one. Get used to the idea that you will need a bunch of ideas!

In the IDEAS Blue Book we look at how to open your eyes to ideas - they are all around you, but you have to look for them! One of the examples in that book is an idea I had while walking to a class on ideas I was teaching for the Raindance Film Festival one year. Ideas are *everywhere*! And here’s one of the secrets from that Blue Book - any idea that you come up with you have some personal connection to. If there are ideas all around you, the ones that *you* see are the ones that speak to you. The ones that I see are the ones that speak to me. The ones that you are passionate about, even though it may not be love at fights sight. Novelist John D. McDonald said that if you show ten writers the same event, each will come up with a different idea based on that event. Why? Because we see the ideas that are personal to us and miss the ones that have nothing to do with us. Which means those odd random ideas you come up with like that one I came up with while walking across London to my class at Raindance? Personal idea. Something I could be passionate about. I see the ideas that connect to me, you will see the ideas that connect to you.

Once you come up with a bunch of them, sober up and analyze those ideas to find the best one. Then script it. It’s much better to pick the great idea from the 100, the gold from the dirt, and script it... than to write 100 scripts and have 99 of them be “dirt ideas” and only one of them be gold. What do you do with the other 99 scripts? Train puppies? Line birdcages?

Once you go through the 100 ideas and find that one great commercial one - the one that millions of people worldwide will pay to see - now your job is to figure out why it is personal to you. What about that idea spoke to you. Knowing why that idea is personal to you is the key to making it your passion project even if it’s some wildly commercial high concept genre story. You will need to know why that idea is personal to you, why you spotted that idea among the billions and billions out there; before going to screenplay. If you don’t know why your subconscious was passionate about this idea, it will be tough to write it with passion. And the next creative step here is to “write drunk” and be giddy with passion about this idea and the story that comes from it. Once you’ve found the gold amongst the dirt and mud, you need to turn that gold into a wedding band and marry it for 110 pages and every rewrite that comes after that. You want the idea that isn’t that love at first sight (which may just be hormones), but love that is going to last. Love that inspires you to mix metaphors like panning for gold and falling in love and whatever other crazy things I’ve said here to explain screenwriting.

It’s a business of ideas, but not just any ideas - you want to find the gold! Start digging!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



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

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

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

Only $4.99 - and no postage!

Other Countries: UK folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

German folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

French folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Espania folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Canadian folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Other countries check your Amazon stores!

Monday, February 08, 2016

Lancelot Link: On Vacation!

Lancelot Link, Simian Spy is on vacation today because Bill has a terrible cold and just said "Ef it!" and is on the couch watching movies. Sorry. But just for fun, here's the first Lancelot Link from 2009 - how many links still work?

Lancelot Link Monday! For those of you who buy Playboy for the articles, here are some articles about screenwriting and the biz that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

1) Overpaid Hollywood Stars - who is *most* overpaid?

2) Hollywood Reporters Next Generation List - Executives on their way up.

3) Why should you move to Hollywood to pursue your career?

4) And my friend Keith's movie BATTLE FOR TERRA is the #1 video-on-demand movie at Amazon (in its genre)...

Ranked 210 overall and
#1 in Amazon Video On Demand > Movies > Kids & Family > Animation
#1 in Amazon Video On Demand > Movies > Animation > Kids & Family
#2 in Amazon Video On Demand > Movies > Kids & Family > Adventure

I saw it in the cinema, liked it but never got around to reviewing it... even though it pops up as a *great* example of a future or alien world in my review of TERMINATOR SALVATION (which had a stupid and sucky future world). Congratulations to Keith, and if you have those short people in your house, you might add it to your Netflix que.

5) Congratulations to all of the folks who made the top 100 in the Script Shadow logline list - many of them I know, and at least one of them I have slept with. The Top 100 Loglines. Some are... interesting. What are your favorites and the ones that had you saying WTF? Comments section!

- Bill

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Lost Hitchcock Film

So here is some background on this “lost Hitchcock film” THE WHITE SHADOW...

When Hitchcock was 21 - the year was 1920 - he got a job with Famous Players Lasky, an American film company that opened a studio in England. That company would eventually become Paramount Pictures. Hitchcock was interested in film and studying advertizing art in college and submitted some art for title cards to the new studio... and was hired. In the silent era, movie title cards had the minimum dialogue to tell the story - hand lettered in an easy to read style - and a small illustration. Hitchcock’s example for Truffaut was: “George was living a fast life” and the illustration would be a candle burning at both ends. Writing title cards was part of post production, because often a film changed completely during production and the assembled shots might tell a completely different story. Hitchcock told the story of a drama that didn’t turn out well, so the title cards were comedy dialogue that transformed the meaning of the scenes so that the film became a crazy comedy.

Hitchcock did title cards on numerous films... and was curious about films, so he asked questions and learned about the various jobs. Part of titling a film was reading the screenplays, and he learned how to write scripts and occasionally wrote a last minute scene for the films - kind of production rewrite work.

During this time Hitchcock directed a short film, NUMBER THIRTEEN (1922) which he says was never completed.

When Famous Players Lasky left the studios, British producers took over and Hitchcock was promoted to assistant director. On a film called ALWAYS TELL YOUR WIFE (1922) the director became ill and Hitchcock and the star completed the film - Hitch was kind of coy when he told this story to Truffaut, so my guess is that the star actually directed the remaining scenes and Hitch just did his assistant directing chores and maybe made a suggestion or two.

In late 1922 producer Michael Balcon began producing films at the studio and hired young Hitchcock as his assistant director for a series of films to be directed by Graham Cutts, starting with WOMAN TO WOMAN. Hitchcock was ambitious, and when they needed a screenplay offered to write it... and had a spec script sample he had written to show what he could do. He wrote the script, was assistant director, did set design (art school background), did the title cards, and was Graham Cutts’ assistant. He performed these tasks on the entire series of films: WOMAN TO WOMAN (1922), THE WHITE SHADOW (1923), THE PASSIONATE ADVENTURE (1924), THE BLACKGUARD (1925), and THE PRUDE’S FALL (1925). Of the five, Hitchcock said WOMAN TO WOMAN was the best of the lot. Oh, the film editor and script supervisor on all of these films was Hitch’s future wife Alma - these are the projects where they met and fell in love.

Hitchcock had a falling out with Cutts on PRUDE’S FALL, but instead of being fired, producer Michael Balcon gave Hitch his first actual directing job on THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925)... which will be the *last* entry in the Fridays With Hitchcock series.

The “lost film”, THE WHITE SHADOW, was the second in that series. Directed by Graham Cutts, screenplay co-written by Hitchcock who also did sets. Hitch had nothing to say about it to Truffaut, so I’m guessing it was just a job. These films were all melodramas, shot in 6 weeks, and none of them were very popular. This one was about twin sisters: one good, one evil. Maybe the first time they did that story, but I'm guessing not. It got bad reviews when it opened... many critics pointing to the silly script (co-written by Hitch). It would take a few more years for Hitchcock to find his footing and make BLACKMAIL (1929) before he started to become the director we now know. I suspect when these three remaining reels are restored and shown at that screening in Beverly Hills... it will be kind of a let down. Interesting to see an old film that Hitchcock did some work on, but not really a Hitchcock movie (he didn’t direct it).

The guy who *did* direct the film, Graham Cutts, basically fired Hitch... and that allowed him to begin his career as a director. Later, when Hitch was gearing up to make THE 39 STEPS (the film that would get him to Hollywood) he needed a second unit director for some odds and ends establishing shots and the producer suggested... Graham Cutts. Hitchcock said he couldn’t hire Cutts, since he had basically began as Cutts’ assistant. The producer told Hitch that Cutts had fallen on hard times and really needed a job and was willing to do the second unit stuff. Hitch hired him. So it came full circle, and Cutts sort of became Hitchcock’s assistant. Or maybe Hitch was repaying Cutts for the on-the-job-training on films like WHITE SHADOW. Maybe we should do a retrospective of Graham Cutts’ films, as the man who created Hitchcock?

And here's the film, if you're interested: THE WHITE SHADOW.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How Many Stories Can One Movie Tell?
Dinner: A family New Years Meal.
Pages: No, recovery from drinking instead.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the second one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill


Click here for more info!


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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Monday, February 01, 2016

Lancelot Link: Everyone Gets An Award!

Lancelot Link Monday! STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS is about to hit $2 billion bucks. Disney paid $4 billion for the rights to make sequels to all of the LucasFilms titles - STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES being the two big series. With FORCE AWAKENS #3 in the USA over the weekend (still going strong) they have recouped have of that investment in *one film*. Hell, even if they burn out the franchise with one new Star Wars movie every year, they'll be deep into the black by the time we're sick of all of these characters. Sooner or later Disney is going to run out of characters to spin off with their own films... but I sure hope they explore that fan theory that Porkins (from STAR WARS) has evolved into Snoke. 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 Kung Fu Panda 3................. $41,000,000
2 Revenant........................ $12,400,000
3 Star Wars TFA................... $10,782,000
4 Finest Hours.................... $10,327,000
5 Ride Along 2..................... $8,345,520
6 Boy.............................. $7,894,000
7 Dirty Grandpa.................... $7,575,000
8 5th Wave......................... $7,000,000
9 50 Shades Black.................. $6,186,648
10 13 Hours......................... $6,000,000

2) Do You Know About TUGG? A Way To Get Your Indie Film Into Cinemas. LAZER TAG Just Made $1 Million At Tugg Screenings!

3) Never Buy Life Rights From A Bankruptcy Sale.

4) SAG Winners - Full List.

5) The Writers Of STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON Tell All!

6) Sundance Award Winners.

7) *Editing* As Storytelling And THE FORCE AWAKENS.

8) Christopher Nolan On The Future Of Film.

9) Relativity's Problems. Let The Hate Begin!


11) ACE (Editing) Awards Winners.

12) Gwen Returns In Next STAR WARS Movie... (Um, I like the tall women.)

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

The Marvel title from Lucas Films.


Buy The DVDs



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