Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Thing Prequel And Suspense

From 2011...

I once saw John Carpenter in Dupar's Diner in Studio City eating breakfast. He'd have a forkful of eggs, then amble outside and have a smoke, then come back in for another forkful of eggs. When he walked past me, I whistled the theme to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. He either didn't notice, or purposely ignored me. My guess is the latter. But even after he has said terrible things about the profession of screenwriting, and given us some recent stinkers – I am still a big fan.

Carpenter movies are well-crafted, goofy, fun. To me they are meatloaf and mashed potatoes – comfort food. You won't find them on the menu at some snooty restaurant, and gourmet chefs will look down their noses... but it tastes great! Carpenter is never going to win an Oscar, but 50 years from now some of his films will be classics in the same way his idol Howard Hawks' films used to be popcorn and are now masterpieces. Some of his films are some form of classics *now*. Can we talk about modern horror films without bringing up HALLOWEEN? And then there is that great remake he did of a film Howard Hawks may have secretly directed, THE THING.

You can tell THE THING is considered a classic by the amount of anger over the remake-prequel from the moment it was announced. I thought much of this was amusing, in the same way I find the current outrage over the new remake of SCARFACE to be amusing – um, remaking a remake isn't exactly sacrilege. Hey, this could be THE THING for a new generation! But the weird thing about the “prequel” was that it would be the story of the Norwegians from the first couple of minutes of the Carpenter version... except Carpenter's version has video of the Norwegians that is either footage from the Hawks' version or a recreation... making the *Hawks* version the prequel. Um, are they remaking the Hawks version?

Just before the new prequel came out, I posted a scene from the Hawks Version here that was also in the Carpenter Version as the video footage. That was an iconic scene that, um, found its way into one of my scripts (in a completely different situation). In the Hawks Version the scientists circle the flying saucer in the ice with arms stretched to get an idea of the size of the object, in my script a group of people – one of whom may be a werewolf – join hands in a circle and wait for the moon to come up (while one sings a bastardized song from ANNIE). The thing about THE THING is that you have *two* great previous versions you have to match in quality. That's tough.


The problem with remakes is that people will compare them to the original – but the *solution* is that the original shows you the path to doing it right. Though you want it to be “the same but different” that doesn't mean you can just do a substitution thing like they did with HANGOVER 2 – because one of the things that make films work is their *originality*. Both ALIEN and ALIENS are spooky monsters in a dark house movies – and work in similar ways: isolating a member from the group in a dark place where we know that monsters lurk. But each tackles the basic idea from a different direction, and become different films. No “search and replace” involved in the screenplays. They understood that *originality* is one of the elements that made the first film popular, so they did something original and different for the sequel. Not a carbon copy – but still a member of the family.

And the two previous versions of THE THING were different and yet the same. The Hawks Version (directed by Christian Nyby) was a straight monster attack movie - and it was creepy as hell. A group of people living in isolation – no escape - with that carrot dude *somewhere* in the building. Not blasting through walls and killing people. Mostly hiding in the shadows. Suspense and dread were created by people walking through the Air Force Station hallways knowing that it was... somewhere. When the monster *does* attack – they are shock attacks where the creature is exposed for a couple of minutes before disappearing back into the shadows. I'm sure that one of the reason the “carrot-monster” played by James Arness (Matt Dillon from GUNSMOKE) is only seen briefly is that make up effects weren't that great at the time, so keeping the monster in the shadows was a great way to keep it from looking stupid. But as we know from JAWS, that's also a great way to amp up the dread-factor. So our shrinking group of survivors – civilians and scientists and Air Force guys – must learn to work together to fight the monster and survive. I'm sure this was a Cold War anti-Commie movie about coming together for the common good (ironic, huh?).

The Carpenter Version is is a paranoid horror story about the difficulty in trusting people these days. Going back to the original story by John Campbell, screenwriter Bill Lancaster (Burt's son – writer of THE BAD NEWS BEARS... and *there's* a double bill) has a monster that basically takes over the bodies of others... so that trusted friend may actually be the monster in disguise. We have the same snow-bound lab full of scientists (though I think they changed poles) and the same dark hallways and the same possibility for a monster to spring from the darkness, but the difference is that the monster may also be that guy sitting next to you at dinner. This is a core change that makes the film all about trust. And I think that is why the Carpenter Version is still will us all of these years later. The film was not a theatrical success, but had a long shelf life on video... because it's actually about something. Sure, it's got cutting edge for the time special effects that crank it to 11 on the gross-out meter, and some snappy dialogue... but the theme of *trust* is something we can relate to even today. Every scene in the film ends up being about *trust* - and all of those great moments are trust related: the wire in the blood is all about “who can we trust”?

Though the Rob Bottin special effects were cutting edge then (and look amazing now – better than much of the CGI stuff in the prequel) they were still smart enough to keep the monster mostly off screen and create *mystery* around it. Yeah, we got to get a good long look at the spider-head, but when the thing is in the dog cage it's mostly in the shadows. Familiarity breeds contempt – and that extends to monsters in monster movies. There are some great monster set-pieces where we see the monster, but like the Hawks Version the creature is never on screen long enough to wear out its welcome... or just become a boring effect. We fear the unknown – and the minute we “know” the monster too well, we can not fear it.

Which brings us to the “prequel”. I wanted to like it, because the first two versions are great and it would be swell if the third was great in its own way. The ALIEN series dropped the ball on the third film and never really recovered. Can THE THING have a great third entry? I really like Mary Elizabeth Winstead from SCOTT PILGRIM (and if you have not seen that one – it's a blast) even without blue hair... but she doesn't look the least bit Norwegian. And that angry guy from BOURNE IDENTITY who played Robert Mugabe doesn't look Norwegian, either. This film *is* about Norwegians, right?


One of the things that I anticipated would be fun in this film would be the plants that all pay off in that scene in the Carpenter Version where MacReady and Blair visit the Norwegian camp. One of the things that made the 3rd STAR WARS prequel barely tolerable were the things leading up to Anakin becoming Darth Vader. So I was waiting to see which character was *defined* by using an old fashioned straight razor to shave with. That's unusual, so it's character related... but no razor is used in the film until their tacked-on ending. It's almost as if it became a “prequel” in post production. Talk about missed opportunities! A straight razor is such a cool thing for a character to use, that it would have added to the film even if it wasn't part of that tacked on ending. One of the great things about the Carpenter Version is that all of the characters – and it's a large cast – are distinctive and different. Each has an arc, too. I love how Gary shoots the Norwegian in that opening scene and takes flack from the others for *wanting* to use his gun, but the character gets this great moment of regret and sadness. He has taken a man's life. And if we take Gary or any of the other characters in the story and just follow them – they have their own story and their own journey in the film. In the “prequel” the characters are thin and not well defined... and none of them uses a straight razor.

By the way – if the fear was that showing one of the characters using the straight razor would be a dead giveaway that they'd be that frozen suicide dude at the end, the solution is to have another character *hate* that straight razor, think it's dangerous and doesn't want to be in the bathroom while the guy is shaving with it... and *that's* the character who uses the straight razor to kill themselves at the end. Or some fake-out version. But by *not* establishing that there even *is* a straight razor, that end just seems tacked on fake and makes me want to kill the filmmakers. But not with a straight razor. A ripe tomato.

The funny thing about the “prequel” is that it ends up being a remake of the Hawks Version, kind of... and yet also a "search and replace" of Carpenter's version. It's a monster attack movie in a snowbound location. But unlike the Hawks version – the monster is always in full light and they *dwell* on it! And it seems like every scene from the Carpenter Version gets a dopey version here: they did a "search and replace" on the wire in the blood scene and gave us a fillings in the mouth scene. Huh?

My main complaint with the prequel is that it's hollow - a movie about nothing. Not about a group of different people banding together to fight a common enemy like the Hawks Version (Cold War stuff) nor about the difficulty of trusting people in the modern world (Carpenter Version). It's just a monster attacking people. And it has no logic - if the creature doesn't want to be discovered why is it blasting out of places and killing people? And if it just wants to blast out and kill people, why doesn't it just do that (and the movie will be over in 10 minutes)? The story makes no sense at all. There is a point in the film where the monster has *escaped* - but then comes back just to kill some more people. It's one of those movies where the monster's goal seems to be: kill everyone, but kill the cute girl last.

The cute non-Norwegian girl.


The Hawks Version had a female in the cast, the Carpenter Version was all testosterone – and used that as an element. The “prequel” has a female lead and another female character – and this might have been an interesting thing to make the film *about*. To give it a story between monster attacks. As silly as it sounds, rom-com THING would have been a good angle for this film: not the com part, but use romantic part - and have these isolated people hook up because they are lonely... "Trust in a relationship's a tough thing to come by these days." We all seem to live in some form of isolation these days – we used to interact with each other in person, but instead of sitting in Residuals Bar listening to me talk about THE THING you are reading this online and I am writing it online. We do more and more things *alone* - and we may even date people who we previously knew *from online*. So, take an isolated group of people who are stuck in the same building for months, maybe years... and they become more lonely and more likely to hook up and the dating pool is all shallow-end.

I can tell you from experience that a film crew – working together for 12 hour days and maybe staying at the same Holiday Inn on location will sprout a bunch of set romances. And that leads to set break ups and no shortage of awkward situations where people who just broke up badly must be inches away from each other. That's some great drama to happen between monster attacks – and can become part of the story when your monster assimilates the bodies and memories of its victims. Oh, and monster-wise: if I'm going to have a scene where two guys' heads meld together, one of those guys is going to be set up hitting on the other earlier in the film... and have the other guy turn him down flat and be creeped out having to work with him for the rest of their time in the research center. Put a bunch of guys in an isolated snow bound place together and a certain amount of homophobia will bubble to the surface – and we can explore that in the story. They could have made the monster elements about the characters and the story instead of just a series of attacks in full light.

So the “prequel” becomes nothing more than a crappo monster movie with a tacked on ending that turns it into a prequel. But not only is the version of the script that ended up on film lacking, the direction kills any suspense and dread and scares that might have existed even after they keep showing the monster for expended periods in full light. This director has no idea what he is doing and needs to be kicked out of Hollywood as soon as possible – or forced to watch good movies until he can figure out *what makes them good*.


Okay - someone is walking through dark, spooky room... what is it we (audience) want to see? The person *walking* or what might be skittering in that shadow in front of them? It's all about POV - what is important isn't the person walking, it's *what they see* (or think they see). Only an idiot director would keep the camera on the girl with the flashlight and not show us what the girl *sees* with that flashlight! If you look at 1955s DIABOLIQUE's end - there's more screen time spent on what Vera Clouzot is looking at than on hottie Vera Clouzot looking. The long hallway, the sliver of light coming from the door - jeeze - is her dead husband in there *typing*? The key to creating suspense is to put the audience in the protagonist's shoes – and we can't be in their shoes and be looking at the shoes. The most important shots are *not* the star, but what the star is looking at. The problem with THE THING prequel is that we **never** see what she is seeing – we only see her looking. No suspense or dread in that at all. That DIABOLIQUE scene works – not because we see *the star*, but because we see *what the star sees* - and by alternating those shots we feel like we are in her shoes looking through the shadows. Wait... I can describe that scene from DIABOLIQUE, but why not just show it to you and talk about it afterwords?


The story until now: Vera Clouzot is a shy (but hot) school teacher who has inherited this huge old private school. She has also inherited a heart condition, and could drop dead at any time. She's frail. Isn't supposed to get excited. And discovers that her slimy husband has found excitement outside of their marriage... with another teacher at the school played by the sultry Simone Signoret. Now usually these two would be fighting each other, but did I mention the husband is slimy? What happens is both women turn against the husband, and decide to kill him. Over a holiday break, Signoret lures him to her house where the two women drug his wine and drown him in the bathtub, and then take his corpse back to the school in a huge wicker basket and throw his corpse in the school's swimming pool that is closed for he season. A drowning accident. But the body is never discovered, and when they find an excuse to drain the pool... no corpse. WTF? The two women panic – what could have happened to his body? Did animals drag it away? If so, how can they prove that he's dead?

Which brings us to the scene....

Okay, let's take a look at how it works.

1) She's sleeping and a sound wakes her up... Footsteps climbing the stairs - then light from across the courtyard.

2) She looks out her window and there is a light on in her husband's office. Notice that she looks out the window, then we see out the window (and from her point of view – in Hitchcock/Truffaut they talk about the remake of THE 39 STEPS and how instead of using Hannay's POV looking at the two men watching on the street, they have a non-POV eye-level shot of the two men, which doesn't come from anywhere and takes us *out* of the protagonist's shoes, undercutting our identification – when people say “well, maybe the editor decided to do that”, the problem is that the editor can only work with the shots the director gives her... and if the director doesn't have a plan for the sequence and just shoots coverage, you end up with a bunch of junk shots that do not work). We see what Vera sees, then back to Vera looking, as she decides to investigate.

3) She opens the door and looks down the hallway... and WE see down the hallway from her POV. She walks down the hallway. She hears footsteps... and we see someone walking – this is a break in POV, and I think it doesn't work well. It splits us from knowing only what Vera knows and also having the additional knowledge that there is a man walking in the hallway. In the film there is a nosy cop – and I'm sure this was put here to suspect the nosy cop of setting her up... but *that* undercuts the scene. I think these shots are stumbles... but there are only a couple of them, and the rest of the scene just kicks ass.

4) She enters the next hallway. Looks down the long hallway... and WE see down the hallway from OVER HER SHOULDER at a faint light at the end of the hall (this is a great moving shot). An Over The Shoulder Shot is a great combo of POV *and* Star – even though it's usually just the star's back. Sometimes there's enough of the side of their face that it's really the best of both shots. Here the shot continues to see a door open *behind her* and someone step out. The cop?

5) The sound of the typewriter pounding away in the office. How is that possible? She walks down the long hallway, and this is the core of the scene. We cut back and forth between her cautiously walking to her husband's office and a POV shot of her getting closer to the office door... the light slicing from under it. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST we get shots of Cary Grant running and looking over his shoulder alternating with the zooming crop duster heading right at him. One of the great things in that sequence is the *pacing* - the length of the shots (in frames) becomes shorter with each shot – making the scene more and more frantic as it goes on. This was a common suspense editing technique in the days of Steinbeck Film Editors where actual physical frames of film were part of cutting. You counted frames and created a rhythm... or created an anti-rhythm to throw the audience off. Now, with editing on digital media I'm not sure editors even think in terms of frames anymore. The technique of shaving a frame or three with each shot to build tension may be lost.

6) When Vera gets to the end of the hall, the office door slowly opens sending a slice of light towards her – as if it's searching for her... and finds her!

7) She cautiously enters the office – and again we get shots of her alternating with her POV of inside the office – this puts us in her shoes and builds suspense up the wazoo. She sees the typewriter on the desk with a piece of paper in it – and that is two shots. She moves to the typewriter (shots of her, POV shots of the dark spooky room), pulls out the paper, and reads it – and we get a POV shot of the paper so that *we* can also read it. Her husband's name over and over again.

8) Footsteps coming from the darkness in her husband's room. She runs like hell.

9) Shots of her running all the way back to her bedroom - her running away, her running towards, her feet running. This is all about panic.

10) In her bathroom, she splashes water on her face... sees something and clutches her heart – this is a great tease shot, because we have not yet seen what she sees... THEN we get her POV shot of her dead husband's corpse in the bathtub. How did he get there? Who put him there? The nosy cop?

11) She backs up, looks... Her POV of her husband rising up!

And that's how you create a suspense scene on film. It's not just shots of cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding a flashlight walking from room to room – it's WHAT SHE SEES. That flashlight's pale beam searching the shadows and things skittering in the darkness.

I thought THE THING “prequel” was a let down on many levels, but just as a monster attack movie, the *director* screwed up by not giving us those POV shots and only shooting the star wandering around with a flashlight. Is that because they think it is all about the star? Or because they are *not* thinking about the audience and how to create emotions within the audience? Alternating shots of the character and shots of what the character sees goes back to the pioneers of cinema – they knew how to do this stuff... how come directors today don't seem to know it?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Research For Story - and BLUE CRUSH... some warm weather background on a chilly day!
Dinner: China Wall in Concord, CA - all you can eat Chinese food.
Pages: Well, I finished revising the Action Book... and today I wrote this blog entry, and I *still* plan to write a new spec by the end of the year in warp drive mode!
Bicycle: No... but a long walk.

Movies: THE MUPPET MOVIE - I laughed, I cried. But, then, I love The Muppets. And the Muppets are back - in a great fun film filled with big Hollywood musical numbers. It's the most old fashioned musical made in the past couple of decades. I loved it - but that made me wonder who the audience for this nostalgic flick about smart-ass puppets is: It seems to be made for fans of the 70s TV show and the 1979 movie... and we are, um, old people. Will kids like this film? That's actually part of the plot - are the Muppets *relevant* in 2011? Well, whether they are or not - they are still entertaining. There's a huge musical number with thousands of dancers on Hollywood Blvd, a great song about being a man or a muppet than opened my tear ducts, and some other great stuff. At one point I thought we were going to go full-on MEET THE FEEBLES when they round up the old gang, but they kinda pulled that punch. A nice return for these furry friends, but I think the script needed another pass - especially in the Kermie-Piggy subplot. Also - considering all of the guest stars from the past, why pick these people? James Carville?

Movies: DESCENDANTS - Screw Sean Penn, George Clooney is our greatest living actor. Clooney manages to be a *real* movie star, plus do films like this that are small and interesting and dramatic... and the dude can act. There are scenes in this film that require a bunch of emotions playing behind his smile - and he does an amazing job of showing you each layer of emotion. The story: Clooney is a Hawaiian businessman whose wife gets hurt in an accident and is not expected to live - so this absent father must now take care of his two daughters while he tracks down all of his wife's friends and family to break the news that she's got about a week of life left. It's a sad movie, and an angry one. Here's a great screenwriting lesson: the story may sound like a small drama, but it has stakes up the wazoo. Clooney is the most hated man in Hawaii - his family owns a huge chunk of the island, and they may sell it to turn it into condos and crap. That's the big business deal that he's working on. And his family - "the cousins" - have formed groups and each has a developer to sell to - and Clooney is the man in the middle getting beat up on all sides... and that's before his wife gets in the accident and has about a week to live. His two daughters? Not some sweet sitcom kids - one is a recovering drug addict in a boarding school for problem kids, and his youngest (aged 10) is about to be expelled from school for acting out big time. She's a hellion. He has no idea what to do with these girls. So instead of some small quiet drama - he's in the eye of a tornado of crap... and his wife will be dead in a week. High stakes. Not some little story about a dying wife - the fate of Hawaii hangs in the balance, here. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the wife has/had a HUGE secret that is uncovered along the way. One of the things I liked about the film was how every character gets a great moment - there's this idiot stoner that the teen drug addict daughter *brings with them* as they go to tell friends and family of the wife to go to the hospital and say goodbye *now* because she'll be dead in a week. This dofus is great comic relief - when scenes get tense he says something stupid (and in one scene someone has a negative reaction to that) - but he also gets a great scene later in the film where you understand him. The two actresses playing the girls are both great. This is not a great film - but it's a very good one. And all of the cast does a great job - especially Clooney, who manages to use his charm in dark scenes where I think any other actor would have taken it too far. He gives a great layered performance.

- Bill




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Monday, April 25, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Are Spec Scripts Dead?

Lancelot Link Monday! After a bunch of articles claiming the spec script was dead (as far as sales go - that's still the way to get assignments), we suddenly had two big spec sales. Is this a chicken and egg situation? Do we need a bunch more articles about how dead the spec sales market is in order to get a bunch more spec sales? If so, can someone get on that? I've got a new script that needs a new home... 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 Jungle Book..................... $60,803,000
2 Huntsman WW..................... $20,080,000
3 Barber Shop TNC................. $10,830,000
4 Zootopia......................... $6,611,000
5 The Boss......................... $6,080,000
6 BVSDOJ........................... $5,520,000
7 Criminal......................... $3,100,000
8 MBFGW2........................... $2,100,000
9 Compadres........................ $1,350,000
10 Eye Sky.......................... $1,214,963

Tom Hanks new movie opened at #11 with $1,206,850.

2) Indie & Specialty Film Box Office.

3) IT Is Coming! - This is to be the first in the Warner Bros "Stephen King Multi-Verse".

4) A Look At VERTIGO - What's With Those Colors?

5) Marvel Films - It's Inhuman!!!!

6) Jeremy Saulnier on THE GREEN ROOM.

7) Bidding War Spec Script Sale #1.

8) Spec Script Sale #2 (is this a trend?)

9) Vince Vaughn Cast In BRUTAL Prison Screenplay BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99.


11) BLADE RUNNER 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO Changes Release Date.

12) Cannes Film Fest (and Market) Is Right Around The Corner!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From a movie I haven't seen in ages, that was the first time I saw Ed Harris on screen.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Jungle Out There!

Lancelot Link Monday! The first of *3* JUNGLE BOOK movies opened over the weekend... and made $291m in global ticket sales. That's just the weekend. That happens to include the #2 opening weekend for April in the USA, which beats movies like CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER and FAST 5. Okay, this version - like the other 2 that will open over the next year - is based on a *public domain* book published in 1894. You read that right - over 120 years ago. Though this version is a remake of the Disney cartoon from the 1960s, the other 2 movies are based on the PD book... and that book has been made into a huge stack of films over the years. Rudyard Kipling (the guy who wrote the book) has about 100 films based on his works over the years, many made over and over again. KIM? GUNGA DIN? MAN WHO WOULD BE KING? RIKKI TIKKI TAVI? Think about all of the great public domain stuff out there! 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 Jungle Book.................... $103,567,000
2 Barbershop: TNC................. $20,210,000
3 Boss............................ $10,170,000
4 Batman V Superman................ $9,010,000
5 ZooTop........................... $8,235,000
6 Criminal......................... $5,850,000
7 MBFGW2........................... $3,260,000
8 Miracles FH...................... $1,900,000
9 GND2............................. $1,700,644
10 EyeSky........................... $1,637,517

Box Office continues to grow - this is year looks like another record breaker, even without a STAR WARS movie. So far we are 8.3% ahead of last year, 14.6% ahead of 2014, 23.1% ahead of 2013, 8.6% ahead of 2012, and only 28.8% ahead of 2011. Yes - that's over a quarter more! People seem to be avoiding cinemas this year and would rather spend $50 to see a new movie at home... NOT!

2) The GHOST IN THE SHELL Kerfuffle And Max Landis (who once told em I'm funny - and I will keep repeating that forever).

3) To Text Or Not To Text - That Is AMC's Question.

4) Statham In New Rom-Com Titled MEG?

5) Behind The Scenes On THE TRUMAN SHOW.

6) All Star Cast In Aronofsky's Home Invasion Film.

7) Awesome Hong Kong Director Johnnie To's New Film THREE Trailer (ELECTION 3?)

8) Kubricks' THE SHINING Treatment.

9) How Much AVATAR Can You Take?

10) Would You Pay To See New Movies On Your TV? How Much?

11) From Writer's Imagination To TV Series.

12) 100 Years - 100 Shots!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Monsterpalooza 3

From 5 Years Ago... And Coming Next Weekend!

Over the weekend I went to Monsterpalooza 3, and every year it is *more crowded* than the last. This year, I looked outside at about 3pm and there was still a line *around the building*!

So, I was supposed to meet my friend Rod there, and looked all over for him... bumping in to other friends and talking with them along the way. As the day went on, I hadn't seen him, and decided to call. Should have done that earlier, but I figured we were in the same very crowded building and eventually would spot each other. Rod picks up - he's just left the venue. He was there - but it was so crowded we never even saw each other!

I went to a couple of panels - the guy who played Godzilla (in the suit) was speaking - a little old Japanese man who told amusing stories about being dressed in rubber and hanging from wires and sometimes being injured in a fight with some other stuntman in a rubber monster suit, but not telling anyone because it took so long to get the suit on and get hooked up to the wires that it was easier to work injured.

As a kid, GODZILLA movies were weekend afternoon TV movie staples. They were silly fun, and I've always been a fan of the big guy. Also Mothra. And Mothra's caterpillars. And those two little girls in the bird cage. I had a Godzilla plastic model and some Godzilla toys and a Godzilla movie poster. Mostly as a goof. Later I had a movie poster for Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE, a goofy movie that was actually about something...

The next panel was for THE HOWLING, which is one of my favorite movies. I fell in love with Belinda Balaski in PIRANHA and she and John Sayles and Joe Dante all went on to make HOWLING together. Also on the panel - Dee Wallace (who is in my INVISIBLE MOM movie) and Robert Picardo (this was his first film), and one of Rob Bottin's FX make up team. They had some good stories - one day Bottin took 13 hours putting the werewolf make up on Picardo... and by the time he was done they had run out of time to shoot! Other stories about the difficulties of acting opposite FX to be added later, and the stop motion scenes that were cut out of the film. Dante talked a lot about John Sayles contributions, and the decision to add humor - because audiences can find unintentional humor in an overly serious horror flick, so if you mix a little humor in they laugh at that instead and aren't trying to make fun of the real scares. The whole EST thing was Sayles' contribution, too. I know all of this stuff from reading every article on the film when it came out, but cool to see the real people talk about it. Belinda still looks great.

The next panel was American Grindhouse, and featured a bunch of great film makers - Joe Dante stuck around, but the highlights for me were the amazing Larry Cohen (IT'S ALIVE - and dozens of others, plus *hundreds* of screenplays from DADDY'S GONE A HUNTING (1969) to PHONE BOOTH and CELLULAR (a few years ago), plus Jack Harris (FOXY BROWN and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE) and Bill Lustig (MANIAC COP and RELENTLESS). All of that talent onstage, and the moderator (director of the doc AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE, which is great and a free view on Hulu if you are in the USA) screwed it up by not having any prepared questions and then asking a bunch of silly questions about experiences in 42 Street cinemas in the 70s. Huh? No real questions about making the films (though in the doc Larry Cohen tells some greats tories about shooting the end of BLACK CAESAR on the streets of New York with no permits and just people walking down the street as accidental extras. Fred Williamson (in my CROOKED movie) gets shot and staggers down the street bleeding and eventually falls over and dies - all with real New Yorkers as unknowing extras! I would have loved to have Lustig talk about making movies for grindhouses & drive ins... and then make similar movies for Cinetel like HIT LIST and RELENTLESS (great low budget flick) and then do direct to video stuff like UNCLE SAM. Nobody asked.

After that I did a final loop through the event and then went to the hotel bar and had me some beers on an empty stomach. Darin Scott and many from the Thursday Night Gang were there, plus Tyger Torres (was his birthday), and a bunch of others. I hung out, talked to Don about his DIY feature, and eventually realized I'd better get on the bike and pedal home while I could still balance. In previous blog entries I've talked about what the event is all about, so I'm linking those entries below:

Monsterpalooza #1 - 2009.

Monsterpalooza #2 - 2010.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Is Your Screenplay Ready? - a few ways to figure out.
Dinner: McD's chicken club while in transit on the bike.
Pages: No. Well, actually a page - but that wasn't enough. Trying to dive back into this script after working on 2 others for a week.
Bicycle: Yes. I've been doing medium rides every day. I've also thrown the bike on the front of the Orange Line "bullet bus" to ride in far off lands west of here.

Movies: YOUR HIGHNESS - It was better than I was lead to expect from the reviews, and I liked it more than PINEAPPLE... but have no idea how this will ever show on network TV. It's seriously R rated. I laughed, and thought the elements of parody were fun (from the mechanical bird to the endless shots of them marching on mountain tops like in LOTR). I also thought the hand villain guy was a cool idea. Some of the gags didn't work, but it had a story that made sense. I think the problem with a film like PINEAPPLE is that you have this shaggy dog nonsense story, so when gags don't work - nothing works. At least here we had a story to fall back on when a gag fell flat with a splat. Not a great movie (may use one of the big flaws in a script tip - dude starts out as a whinny worthless slacker... and ends up as one, too... I could not understand why he's a hero at the end) but no reason for the critics to trash it to this extreme. I think all of the reviews I read hated it because it was raunchy... and that's what it was supposed to be - a raunchy comedy. Well, it's seriously raunchy, but that's kind of the point.

What's interesting to me about this film: it tested *really* well and everyone thought it was going to be a big hit... but it wasn't. Is that because McBride isn't a star? Because they didn't want to see a raunchy comedy this week? Because there's a difference between test screenings and when a film opens?

Seeing a (secret) movie Tuesday and may see HANNA on Wednesday.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: No Matter Who Loses, The Boss Wins.

Lancelot Link Monday! BATMAN V SUPERMAN was beaten by THE BOSS after some severe drops in Box Office. I checked in on it on Wednesday, and in it's second Wednesday it had made only 2/3rds of what ZOOTOPIA made in it's *third* Wednesday. Word of mouth seemed to be killing the film. People were telling their friends to avoid it... so maybe the critics were right? Though the film has made 3/4 of a billion bucks, that's on a $400m budget (what was originally reported) and that means it needs to hit over $800m to break even, and it has already begun a pretty steep descent. It will probably make money, but not much. WB has moved WONDER WOMAN forward, but word is the story is just as dark... instead of being *fun*. We want to be entertained! Even a 70s style paranoid thriller like WINTER SOLDIER where everyone is Hailing Hydra at the end was *fun* and *entertaining*! DC needs to learn that audience's just want to have fun. You can explore dark territory, but you need some light. No light, we can't see anything. It's not DEADPOOL quips that we need, it's just fun. So, audiences would rather see THE BOSS (which also got terrible reviews, so don't expect it to spend much time in the #1 position). But - only 8 more months to ROGUE ONE! 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 Boss............................ $23,480,000
2 BvS............................. $23,435,000
3 Zootopia........................ $14,353,000
4 MBFGW2........................... $6,420,000
5 Hardcore Henry................... $5,096,000
6 Miracles From Heaven............. $4,844,000
7 GND2............................. $4,333,707
8 Allegiant........................ $3,600,000
9 10 Cloverfield................... $3,000,000
10 Eye In Sky....................... $2,829,375

THE BOSS wasn't loved by opening night audiences - only C+ on Cinemascore.

2) Hey, They're Making Another EDGE OF TOMORROW Movie... Or LIVE, DIE, REPEAT - if you saw it on DVD.

3) Hey, They're Making A New SPIDER-MAN... Do You Think He'll Be In Grade School This Time?

4) A Look At DePalma's BODY DOUBLE.

5) How Bette Davis Became A Star. (Her Birthday Was Last Week)

6) MTV Movie Award Winners... Yes, It's Still Awards Season!

7) Paul Greengrass Bitches The The Film Business Is Changing. Also - wants kids to get off his lawn.

8) And In Movies Shot On A Phone News....

9) Interview With LOUDER THAN BOMBS' Joachim Trier.

10) Guess What? They're Making Another Wolverine Movie! Will Deadpool Be Featured?

11) Theme Told Visually In CAROL.

12) Without A Box Vs Film Freeway (Film Fest Entries).

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs




Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Old Robert Mitchum

A year ago they released THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE on BluRay, and it's one of those great 70s crime films, gritty and real and with one of Mitchum's best performances (in a career of great performances). So I thought we'd take another look at the tail end of Mitchum's career...

In RESERVOIR DOGS Mr. Blonde is a big fan of Robert Mitchum movies, and so am I. The great thing about Mitchum is that he worked right up until he died - and was still a leading man when most actors his age were playing grandfathers. He was a star in Westerns and War Films in the early 1940s, was *the* star of Film Noir in the late 40s to mid 50s, then starred in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (one of the greatest films ever made) as the *villain*, and then spent the rest of the 1950s and some of the 1960s as a *romantic lead*, and did a bunch of revisionist westerns in the 1960s... and by the 1970s he was starring in action movies. You read that right - Old Robert Mitchum was the star of some great 70s action flicks, like THE YAKUZA (1974, co-written by Paul Schrader)...

This is one of those great action movies that seems to be forgotten. Mitchum played an ex-cop who goes to Japan to help a WW2 pal whose daughter has been kidnapped and gets involved with both current crime issues (those Yakuza dudes) and his WW2 past. He's not just the action guy kicking ass, he's the romantic lead, too! He's the one kissing hot Asian women!

He also *starred* in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973, screenplay by producer Paul Monash who was one of those big shot TV writers from the 50s who created a bunch of classic TV shows and also produced movies like CARRIE, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) another one of those great crime films that nobody has seen these days. The great thing about Old Mitchum in this film is that he's playing a tough old guy a few weeks from going to prison for a stretch who is trying to do some last minute crime deals to take care of his family... and things go wrong and some shooting has to happen. Mitchum is that guy who may be old, but you don't want to eff with him.

Then Old Mitchum played Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975, written by David Zelag Goodman who wrote STRAW DOGS and LOGAN'S RUN) which was kind of riding the coat tails of CHINATOWN, but pretty damned good. When Mitchum was younger he'd starred in the best Film Noir movie ever made, OUT OF THE PAST, playing a disgraced private eye... and you wonder why they didn't cast him as Marlowe back then - he was perfect. But when they did get around to casting him, being the Old Mitchum worked in his favor. He played the role as if he'd seen all of this crap a million times before. This film has a great score... and some dude named Sylvester Stallone playing thug #2.

Old Mitchum also made an updated version of THE BIG SLEEP, which should be avoided, three years later.

He finished the 1970s *starring in action movies* as a tough old guy - and was supposed to star in 48 HOURS in the 80s... but he was probably too busy *starring* in TV miniseries like WINDS OF WAR, NORTH AND SOUTH, and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. In the 90s, he *starred* in 3 TV series, was narrator for TOMBSTONE, and finished his career playing director George Stevens in the James Dean movie for TV the year he died.

Robert Mitchum's career lasted a hell of a long time... but those 70s action flicks he made as an old man contain some real classics.

"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail," Robert Mitchum.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Backstory - Creating the past for your characters.
Dinner: Popeyes Chicken & biscuits.
Pages: A bunch of catch up work on classes I'm teaching later in the year.
Bicycle: Short hops to Starbucks and back and then to the subway to Hollywood for drinks with friends and back.
Movies: Nada.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: April Fuels?

Lancelot Link Monday! April Fools is over! We can now go back to believing everything we read on the internet! 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 Batman V Superman............... $52,385,000
2 Zootopia........................ $20,000,000
3 My B F Greek 2.................. $11,130,000
4 God's N Dead 2................... $8,104,321
5 Miracles F Heaven................ $7,550,000
6 Allegiant........................ $5,725,000
7 10 C Lane........................ $4,750,000
8 Meet T Blacks.................... $4,086,000
9 Eye I T Sky...................... $4,055,000
10 Deadpool.......................... $3,500,000

Second weekend for BvS and the audience has spoken -0 the film fell 68.4% from last week, when the studio predicted about a 58% fall. That B grade from Cinemascore was a good predictor of what the audience thought of the film - and a hyped fan audience predisposed to like the film thought it was okay, but not great. Though the critics can't make or break a big studio tentpole movie, they often give an indication of what word of mouth by the audience might be (the critics have seen the film, the audience hasn't seen it when they pay for their ticket... but afterwards?). When a film gets a critical drumming studios are quick to jump in and say that critics don't matter, but more often than not the film's second and third and subsequent weekends seem to point out that the critics might be right. You can "buy" an opening weekend, but after that it's up to the quality of the film - and, as we've seen in the past, some movies take a huge nosedive in their second weekend. Though 68.4% isn't terrible, it isn't what the studio needs to keep the film earning money with repeat viewings so that they can make back that massive budget. The film has also ran into some problems overseas in second weekend, specifically in China - where it may have already run its course! This does not bode well for WB's DC plans. The time has come not just to replace Snyder, but to show him to the Hollywood City Limits and tell him not to come back.

2) The Bizarre Story Of How SUPERMAN Got Made... The 1978 Version.

3) Pay To Play Acting - Is Screenwriting Next?

4) Brian De Palma Interviews Francis Ford Coppola About THE CONVERSATION. Holy Sh!t!!!

5) Ben Wheatley's HIGH RISE From Sketchbook To Movie.

6) John Carpenter's "Lost Themes 2"... And Rescoring THE THING.

7) STARMAN Remake I Thought Was April Fools Joke Appears To Be For Real... Maybe They'll Hire Carpenter To Score it?

8) Jim Parsons To Star In Movie About Women Scientists At NASA... because the women don't really matter in Hollywood?

9) Filmmaking Is All About Point Of View.

10) An EX MACHINA Reunion Movie?

11) SHARKNADO 4 News... and title.

12) If Strangers Talked To Everyone The Way They Talk To Writers.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Buy The DVDs




Friday, April 01, 2016

50 Amazing But True Facts!

I found this seven year old list of amazing but true facts, so I'm using it as a filler post today.

Fifty Amazing-but-True Facts!

* The Mongolian pony is the only animal other than an elephant capable of fending off an attack by a healthy adult tiger.

* Because of their unusual shape, Hershey's Kisses contain more calories per ounce than the same amount of chocolate in other forms.

* The French language has seventeen different words for "surrender."

* The average person can fit exactly one half of their pinky finger in one of their nostrils. However, if an attempt is made to put a pinky finger in EACH nostril, only one quarter of each will fit.

* Showing off at a party one evening, Chopin played the entire "Minute Waltz" in under 10 seconds.

* If the air in your car's tires is not completely replaced every two years, it can turn to liquid and cause severe damage.

* If you tar and feather a 2x4 and place it in your yard, it will ward off bats.

* The largest home in the United States, North Carolina's Biltmore House, was originally intended to be the official residence of a new monarchy to be established when the South rose again.

* The Toltec calendar was based on a 360-day year, with each day being about 24 hours and 20 minutes long.

* The universal size of the credit card is based entirely on the size of the 1960s US Communist Party membership card. Credit cards were designed so that they wouldn't cause the Communist Party card to stand out.

* Nobody born in Kentucky has ever been elected to Congress.

* In an effort to improve the nutritional value of its "Shamrock shakes," McDonald's colors them with broccoli extract.

* Winston Churchill was born with a third nipple, which he removed himself with nail-clippers at the age of 14.

* Only a single dissenting vote prevented the death penalty in Texas from being carried out by immersing the convicted person in a nest of fire ants.

* If you place a fresh Viagra tablet in a houseplant's soil every six months, the plant will not wilt.

* The ancient Arabic word "jorgbushii" translates roughly to "evil one who comes disguised in peace to drink Earth's black blood."

* In Finland, "Sintter Klaas" brings bad children a small bag of old toenail clippings.

* The practice of putting a letter "e" in front of words to mean "web-based" (e.g., eBusiness, eLearning, etc.) was patented byMicrosoft in 1992. They are waiting until their anti-trust trial has been officially completed to begin enforcing it.

* The noun "sled" originates from the name of a 18th-century mountaineer from Finland, Schletz Linden, whose body was used by his climbing partner to slide down a mountain during a winter storm after he froze to death.

* If a cricket were the size of Mount Rushmore, it could jump to the moon.

* The increase in the amount of metals mined and brought to the surface of the earth in order to manufacture SUVs has caused higher tides in the Northern Hemisphere.

* Children conceived on airplanes never suffer from motion sickness.

* The life span of dogs allowed to dine in cat litter boxes is on average 18 percent longer than that of dogs restricted to commercial diets.

* Charles Darwin once attempted to breed flying monkeys by crossing chimpanzees with vultures.

* The steady, rhythmic sound produced by dripping water increases the capacity for sleeping males to experience lucid sexual dreams.

* Blue water in a toilet bowl causes males to urinate 7 percent more.

* Women who use chewing tobacco are three times LESS likely to accidentally swallow it while they are pregnant.

* The melody of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace" originated from a 12th-century pagan song celebrating masturbation.

* The Federal Department of Online Commerce has been compiling a list of US-based e-mail addresses. Once 100 million addresses have been collected, the list will be sold to online marketers as part of President Bush's plan to reduce the deficit.

* A 9-volt battery contains roughly the same amount of kinetic energy as a bowl of Lucky Charms.

* The Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin can track game birds by the slight difference in warmth their shadows create on the forest floor as they fly by, for up to an hour after the birds have departed.

* Contrary to the popular saying, 99 percent of the time you lead a horse to water, it'll drink on its own.

* The first Ford Excursion was actually designed and built in 1951. It was never marketed because the then-current braking technology required a drum 3 feet wide on each wheel.

* Rapid deforestation has decreased the friction of the surface of the Earth, causing it to spin infinitesimally faster and thereby cool the air, combating global warming.

* The flush toilet was invented in Flushing, NY.

* The inner core of most standard golf balls is made of nougat, which helps the balls remain aloft longer.

* On occasions when the sun is shining brightly on falling snowflakes, they contain enough ionic charge to stun insects. Observation of this phenomenon inspired the invention of the bug zapper.

* Over the last two decades, more Americans died of heart attacks while watching horror movies in movie theaters than died while sky-diving.

* A common misconception is that the term "salsa dancing" derives from the food condiment called salsa. Actually, the dance was invented in the 1930s by a dance teacher named Frankie Salsa.

* Every common food product, with the exception of fish and veal, contains some traces of peanut enzymes.

* The number of words in the Bible divided by the number of verses equals exactly 666.

* An 18th-century law still on the books in Vermont makes it illegal for a woman to lick a stamp in a public place.

* Anthropologists have discovered a tribe of South American monkeys with a rudimentary system of government analogous to our own three-branch form of government.

* Constipation kills nearly twice as many people as diarrhea, mainly because the former mostly afflicts the old and weak while the latter mostly affects young, strong children.

* It is physically impossible to urinate and give blood at the same time.

* If you fill a standard 750ml wine bottle with live hornets, their angry buzzing will resonate at precisely the right frequency to shatter the glass.

* During his famous "Blue Period," Pablo Picasso invented the substance that eventually became known as Play-Doh.

* Every year in the fall, Niagara Falls is shut down for maintenance for 24 hours. The flow is diverted using a massive series of pipes and spigots built for this purpose in 1837.

* The rare Chilean hummingbird has been known to suck blood from animals like a giant mosquito.

* Tap dancers frequently forget to breathe normally during difficult routines, resulting in an average of 200 tap dancing-related tragedies per year.

- Bill

Okay it's Friday, how about a link to some Hitchcock stuff?
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