Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Beat The Cat Thursday!

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE has never beat SAVE THE CAT on Amazon. The closest it got was #4 (CAT is almost always #1, but has been #2 lately due to the script for the new JK Rowlings movie taking the #1 spot). I would love to have it hit #1 on Thursday (tomorrow) June 30th.

I was supposed to raise the price on June 1, but forgot and just let it ride. But I'll probably raise it on July 1st (Friday) so this is the last chance to get it at $2 off.

LAST TWO DAYS TO GET IT AT DISCOUNT PRICE!

But, you already bought your copy! What can you do? You aren't going to buy a second copy just so I can Beat The Cat!

Of course not - but you can tell your writer and film fan friends about the book - and how Thursday is the last chance to get it at $2 off. You can go on social media like FB and Twitter and Linkedin and Google Plus (does that still exist) and MySpace (ditto) and whatever message boards or biker bars you frequent and let them in on the $2 off deal that's probably over Thursday (I'll probably actually raise the price Friday afternoon, but I want to beat the Cat on Thursday, right?) The great thing about telling all of your writer friends about the book? Doesn't cost you a cent!

Let's call this the Official Launch Party, with party hats and noise makers and clowns and balloons and... Okay, you have to provide all of those things yourself. On Thursday I will be wearing a party hat and I've hired a clown just to follow me around. So from now until the end of the month the book is $2 off! That's 2 days. Thank you to everyone who has bought the book, and everyone who helps with this Beat The Cat Thursday Promotion!

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

July Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Monday, June 27, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Actual Summer

Lancelot Link Monday! It's Actual Summer now, so we are getting Big Summer Films... and it's the correct season. 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 Finding Dory.................... $73,234,746
2 ID4 2........................... $41,600,000
3 Central Intelligence............ $18,370,000
4 Shallows........................ $16,700,000
5 Free James....................... $7,772,000
6 Conjuring 2...................... $7,705,000
7 Now U See 2...................... $5,650,000
8 X Men Apoc....................... $2,475,000
9 TMNT Shadows..................... $2,400,000
10 Alice 2.......................... $2,147,144




2) Indie Box Office Report. (They Can't All Be Blockbusters.)

3) The BLOOD SIMPLE Pitch Trailer That Launched The Coen Brothers.

4) The 100 Most Powerful People In Hollywood! (Spoiler: I didn't make this list, either.)

5) SHALLOWS Writer Sells Another Spec!

6) Oliver Stone On SNOWDEN and CONAN.

7) Two Of The "Movie Brats" Discuss Film For 45 Minutes. (The "Movie Brats" were a group of young directors who often worked on projects together behind the scenes - critiquing each other's films in rough cut & making suggestions, etc... in this case, we have Scorsese and DePalma who shared screenwriters and cast members...)

8) WESTWORLD - The Original JURASSIC PARK Which Inspired The HBO Series.

9) BET Award Winners!

10) A Look At Hitchcock's FRENZY... Plus The Screenplay!

11) Casting News Part 1. Casting News Part 2.

12) Has Oscar Season Already Began????

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



What's the connection to this week's #1 movie?

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Book Report:
A Princess Of Mars & Gods Of Mars

There's a new TARZAN movie about to open, so why not rerun this from 5 years ago?

One of the reasons I ended up buying the Kindle was to re-read a bunch of the books I read as a kid – most of which are public domain and *free* on Kindle (but cost $ as paper books, and some are no longer in print). Some of the first books I downloaded were the Burroughs Martian novels, which I read when I was about 13 years old. Probably 12. Though I was already a reader – a pudgy uncoordinated kid who wasn't good at sports, when I was in the sixth grade I had a teacher who opened the door to fiction for myself and probably every student in his class.




Bob Olson had a bunch of things in his classroom that made him the cool teacher – from animals and reptiles we had to take care of as part of class, to shelves and shelves of paperback books. Mr. Olson had this theory that if you gave kids who wanted to be adults, books that were aimed at adults (though safe for kids); they would read them to feel older and more sophisticated. “I'm not reading kid's books, I'm reading grown up books.” His “adult books” were also genre books – science fiction and private eyes and spies and fun stuff. I don't know what he had for the girls – I didn't read any of those books – but I imagine he had romance and adventure and gothic thrillers like “The Spiral Staircase” (which was actually called something else). Fun stuff. Bob Olson introduced me to Doc Savage and Perry Mason and Donald Lamm & Bertha Cool and Isaac Asimov and Edgar Rice Burroughs and many others. And because these books were adventures – and not educational in any way – I read shelves of them. Mr. Olson required that you read a certain number of books during the year, but you could get extra credit for reading more. I had a ton of extra credit.

Edgar Rice Burroughs appealed to my imagination – Tarzan was okay, but the novels that took place in weird worlds like Pellucidar and Barsoom and Venus and that World That Time Forgot transported me from my crappy blue collar life to some amazing world. Bob Olson's bookshelves changed my life. Made my life bearable. And probably made me a short story writer and novel writer and screenwriter.




The Burroughs Mars novels are probably responsible for most of the sci-fi fantasy today. There would be no STAR WARS without them – and Jaba The Hutt's flying boat is right from Burroughs. Also, CONAN THE BARBARIAN and every sword and sorcery novel comes from Burroughs. Burroughs stuck a bunch of stuff together that had never been in the same story before and created a genre. Now that they are finally bringing one of his Mars novels to the screen, I thought it would be cool to re-read them and see if they still held up. This is tricky because the stuff that a 12 or 13 year old boy likes may not be what a dude with some gray in his hair likes. The language and storytelling that a kid likes may be just awful when you are an adult. So I expected to read the novels and just kind of think they're good kid's books.

Except that's not what happened. Though I have only read the first three books in the series so far, and I'm only going to talk about the first book, PRINCESS OF MARS, because that's the one the movie is based on – all three have been fun and exciting reads. The old version of me likes them just as much as the young version did. Burroughs could *write*. Though some of the things are a little dated, I looked past those elements and just got caught up in the wild-ass adventure.




The books are this weird combination of western and swashbuckler and gladiator story and alien world travelogue. John Carter is a Civil War veteran out West to make his fortune who is attacked by Indians, hides in a cave – wounded – and goes into a coma... waking up on Mars! Teleportation. On Mars there are two main races (others pop up in later novels) – the Red Martians who are humanoid and have kingdoms, and the Green Martians who have an extra set of arms and are much taller than humans and are savage warriors who do not know love or compassion – kind of the Apaches from western pulp novels, only weird. Carter is captured by the Greens, but in trying to escape discovers that the difference in gravity allows him to jump like a danged frog!

The Greens would normally kill him, but because of his jumping skill they figure they'd better take him back to their chief. The Greens ride horse-like animals called Thoats – that also have an extra set of legs. Everything has extra legs or arms on Mars. This Green tribe inhabits a city deserted by the lost Martian race centuries ago. They have a guard dog-like thing make sure he doesn't escape, and have a female feed him. Carter learns Martian from the female – who is not like most of the other Greens, she was raised by her mother instead of hatching in an egg incubator and being raised by the tribe. She is *kind* to him. The other Green who Carter befriends is Tars Tarkas – a warrior who grows to respect Carter and thinks maybe they should not kill him.

When a few flying ships of Red Martians fly past, the Greens blast them out of the sky... and discover that one of the passengers is Red Martian Princess Dejah Thoris – who is ultra hot, and naked. The Martians do not believe in clothing. Let me tell you, to a 12 year old boy, this was great stuff! Hot naked women! The Frazetta book covers helped fuel the fantasies. Anyway, the rest of the novel has Carter rescue the Princess, lose her, get captured and fight in the gladiator ring against the prisoner who has become his best friend in the prison, discover the source of the Martian atmosphere – which is dying out... so all of the people on Mars will soon die, becomes best friends with Tars Tarkas, and has a lot of great amazing adventures. There are sword fights and climbing castle walls and great suspense scenes where Carter disguises himself as a Martian to infiltrate a fortress to try and save Dejah Thoris again. It's funny and heroic and exciting and romantic and non-stop fun.




One of the things I liked about it was how Burroughs creates vivid characters Рthough Tars Tarkas is one of the savage Green Martians, he's a a fully dimensional character rather than some 2-D clich̩. He is revealed to be very different than his exterior would lead you to believe Рthere is a great backstory that exposes a secret past. Dejah Thoris is no damsel in distress, either Рshe can kick ass and in one big twist completely rejects Carter, killing any chance of romance... and the romance is the through-line!

The theme of the story is that being kind to your enemies gets you farther than killing them – and Carter starts by being kind to his Thoat (Green Martians beat them into submission), he makes friends with the vicious dog-thing they have guarding him, befriends Tars and the female Green Martian who feeds him, and spends a lot of time trying to get along with the Green Martians who want to kill him. Carter has to make friends with his enemies and fight his friends to the death! Lots of great drama.

The book is fast paced, the travelogue elements give you an amazing look at this alien world, and there is sword fighting and beautiful Princesses to rescue and some big emotional moments. I finished the first book and couldn't wait to read the second... which is good because it seems as if some of the characters from GODS OF MARS made it into the film...

GODS OF MARS



The first book is about the Red Martians and Green Martians, book #2 introduces some other colors to the mix. It’s years later, and John Carter is in New York City... wishing that he was back on Mars. His wish comes true - and he ends up at the Lost Sea Of Korus at the end of the Iss River on Mars, where religious Martians travel to meet their God. It’s a big spiritual quest - old people and sick people and those who just feel they would be better off serving the holy Goddess Issus take the trek up the river and find...

Well, John Carter sees what they will find, and is shocked that it is nothing holy. Instead, Plant Men *eat* some of the pilgrims and enslave the others for the evil Therns - White Martians - who are supposed to be the Monk-like religious leaders, but are actually bad guys. They manipulate the other Martian races for their own profit. The lead Thern is an evil dude who wants Carter dead because he knows too much - and it seems that Mark Strong will play that role in the movie. They are setting up the sequel - which reports say is already being written.

Carter ends up in a prison along with Tar Tarkas (who was leading a search party) and they meet Thuvia - another Martian hottie who gets her own book, later - and so begins our series of adventures for this volume. The books all have a couple of strange worlds, a gladiator bout, some twists where someone trusted ends up a bad guy, a race against time, and LOTS of swordplay and romance.

In the Therns’ prison, John Carter plans a revolt, escapes with Thuvia and Tars with much sword fighting and suspense as they sneak through tunnels. Thuvia wants to show her appreciation for the rescue, John Carter says he’s taken. Dude is in love with Princess Dejah Thoris and no naked hottie is going to steal his heart. We find out that Tars was searching for Carter’s *son*! Carter has a kid? But Tars tells him his son may be dead - he was kidnapped and never seen again...

Then they all get captured by Martian Pirates (Black Martians) - who have cool flying pirate ships - and taken to their subterranean city - where the *actual Goddess Issus* resides. There is a temple, and the Goddess is an evil old bitch who uses female slaves for all sorts of unspeakable things - then kills them a year later... and throws the males into the gladiator ring. Though these gladiator fights are different than the ones in PRINCESS, it's still a chance for Carter to do a lot of sword fighting. Oh, and there’s this rotating device that traps people for a full Martian year inside a container with no food (except anyone else who may have been trapped inside with them). Burroughs always has these twisted-but-cool torture devices and things in the books that 12 year old boys love.

The thing that doesn’t work in the book, or maybe does depending on what Burroughs wanted, is that when John Carter meets a teenaged Martian kid in the underground prison, he never figures out that this kid might be his son. We figure it out right away. Maybe Burroughs was using dramatic irony and wanted us to figure it out before Carter does - but it makes Carter look stupid. There are prison scenes between Carter and the kid where the kid seems to have some of Carter’s strength... and Carter still doesn't figure it out!

But Carter and the kid escape from the prison, rescue Thuvia... only to lose her in the one-year-prison-thing (but they shove food through the door and hope she survives), make friends with one of the Pirates (Carter is great at making friends and bringing warring tribes together) and then they escape to Carter’s Martian home in the kingdom of Helium...

Where his princess Dejah Thoris has recently left. After the “death” of John Carter a decade ago, and the kidnapping of their son by the Pirates, she decided to trace the River Iss to the Lost Sea Of Korus to meet her maker. Plus - Carter’s nemesis has taken over the Martian government. Now, if this were a STAR WARS prequel that subplot would involve a lot of government meetings and stuff like that - here we get fights to the death.

Now Carter and his son and Tars must go back to rescue Dejah Thoris from that evil Thern dude... and much sword fighting occurs! Except first Carter must deal with his nemesis who forbids the rescue and does not believe that the Holy Therns are bad guys - that would be blasphemy! So Carter has to do some sword fighting at home before he can rescue the woman he loves.

I have no idea what was happening in the USA with religion 100 years ago, but the theme here seems to be about blindly following a religion when it's been taken over by those who prey on those who pray. Both the Therns and the Goddess Issus are using religion as power in order to abuse the faithful. Both have become wealthy while their faithful suffer - and they created much of the suffering in order to keep those faithful faithful. The Therns are all about creating problems so that people become more religious... which gives them more power. I have no idea if 100 years ago they had some version of our boob-tube-reverands and their send-me-money ministries, but this book seems aimed at those guys... behind the sword fights and daring rescues and wild chases through dark places.

It makes sense to use the Therns in the first film, because they play such a big part in the second book... and if they make a sequel they have already introduced the villain. The best thing about Burroughs' Mars series is there are no teddy bear aliens... so no chance of an Ewok spin off.

I'm excited by the JOHN CARTER (OF MARS) movie because it looks cool – though Dejah Thoris is wearing clothes. Willem Defoe voices Tars Tarkas and the animation is based on his body movement - that is *great* casting. Defoe is such a strange guy. I hope they don't screw it up, and I hope it's a hit so that they can do all of the books. When I was a kid, my favorite was CHESSMEN OF MARS... and soon I will find out if that one holds up, too.

Here's a review of the movie:
JOHN CARTER screening review.

Each of the Frazetta covers clicks to a free Kindle version of a Mars book on Amazon.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Put A Donkey In It! -
Dinner:
Pages:

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lucky Bastard!

Lance is on vacation, so from 2010...

A week ago a friend mentioned that one of the producers of the BOURNE movies has been reading his blog and said “We should find a project to work on together”. Just out of the blue like that! That lucky bastard!

There are hundreds of screenwriting books and dozens of screenwriting classes and seminars and a bunch of websites offering advice and I almost have 400 Script Tips on my site with information on screenwriting... and nothing on luck. Though most of the books and seminars focus on some sort of over-all formula for screenwriting success, there are discussions about characters and stories and concepts and dialogue and actions and all of that writing stuff... and less discussion about hard work and determination and knowledge and skill and perseverance.... and we always seem to avoid talking about talent (because that can get personal, as in “what your writing lacks is talent” and “the reason why you have yet to succeed is that you have no talent” which often leads to that big question I ask myself daily, “What if I don’t have any talent?”), but we **never** talk about luck. Never.

But luck is just as much a requirement for success in screenwriting as great characters and talent. Maybe even more important than either.

The problem is - luck is even more frightening than talent. Sure, it may be that you are either born with talent or born without talent... but we are in even less control when it comes to luck. You can be on top of the world and then have a change in luck. You can have a run of bad luck. Luck can change. You can lose your luck. Luck can just screw with you. In fact, one of the reasons we don’t talk about luck is because the moment we say we have good luck, our luck changes to bad.

We can have everything else going for us, and luck might pass us by...

Both Mark Twain and Douglas MacArthur said that luck favors the prepared man (or woman) (or typing chicken). In some Script Tip, or maybe here on the blog, I have probably mentioned the time I was walking down a hotel hallways during an event, recognized a producer, ran out to my car and grabbed a script from that box of scripts I keep in the trunk, and ran up... hoping that he was still somewhere in that hallway. He was, he ended up taking my script, it got good coverage and he ended up having a meeting with me that led to the sale of that script. How lucky can you get!

But you may have also been at that event and also passed that producer in the hotel hallway... yet I was the lucky one who sold him a script.

The luck part of that was that he and I were in the same hallway... yet even that is less than luck because it was an event we were both attending. The real luck in this case - when I ran back from my car, he was still in the hallway. He could easily have gone into some room or down the elevator or up the elevator in the time it took me to run to my car and back. In fact, it’s kind of a miracle that he was still there - and that’s the luck part. But if you or someone else in that hallway had run to your car, he would have been there for you, too. So it wasn’t just luck that looked favorably on me, it could have looked favorable on you or anyone else in that hallway as well. The reason why it was only me who got lucky that day? I was prepared. I knew what the producer looked like - everyone else was just walking past him, unaware that he was a producer. Maybe he was just there to teach classes or sell something? I knew what he looked like... which isn’t luck. I ran to my car and popped the trunk, where I keep a box of script copies. And that isn’t luck either. The reason why that box of script copies is in the trunk of my car? Well, the numerous times I didn’t have a script copy when something like this happened. It took me several times to learn that a box of scripts back there with the spare tire was a good idea. There is a *selection* of scripts in that box, and I took a precious second to pick the one I thought this producer might like. The hard part for me was actually talking to the producer - I am scared and shy by nature. But nobody else was bothering him, so just recognizing that he was a producer and saying hello was enough to get a conversation started. Then *he asked me* about the script in my hands! Hey, maybe that’s luck, too - but I don’t think so. After being rejected on a daily basis, it’s easy to forget that a producer’s job is to buy (or develop) screenplays from writers. I had in my hands the thing he needs. He asked if he could read it, I gave it to him. Then, it was up to the screenplay... again, not a luck element.

JUST MY LUCK!


Now, you may think I’m lucky - and that this lucky streak is why I have a career. If you could only have had the lucky breaks that I have had! Okay, that’s a fair thing to think - I’m thinking my buddy with the new BOURNE connection got a lucky break, and in my evil jealous mind I probably think he doesn’t deserve that lucky break as much as I do... except that “lucky break” came from his hard work on his film biz related blog and his hard work in the film biz. The producer didn’t start reading his blog on a whim, he read the blog because it had substance. This lucky bastard friend of mine worked his butt off to advance his career... and even without this bit of luck, his career was moving right along. This bit of luck might help him move a little faster, now - but he wasn’t just standing there waiting for luck to find him - he was DOING SOMETHING.

I believe that I have more than my share of bad luck. Did I even tell you about TREACHEROUS? Okay, I write this script and after pounding on hundreds of doors get someone to read it, and then I have three people reading it, and one makes an offer. A low budget company. But here’s where things get lucky, kind of: the low budget company takes the script to Hemdale (PLATOON) who wants to make it... except my contract pays me the same whether it’s a theatrical or a direct to video movie. Mickey Rourke (when he was a star) signs to play the lead and I do a (free) rewrite to change the lead character to a boxer. Brian Dennehy is going to play the sidekick. Things are moving along, and even though I’m being paid crap - I have a theatrical film from an Oscar winning company. Then Hemdale goes bankrupt! One too many expensive art house films. And my script is dead - Rourke and Dennehy split. But the producer has some connection at Universal home video, and they read the script and like it and want to make it. A new cast is set up at Universal, Rutger Hauer in the lead. Then, the Universal executive dies in a plane crash. The project dies with him - his replacement doesn’t want to make any of the movies he was going to make. (I realize my project being shelved is nothing compared to the loss of his life, and the loss his family must have felt.) Once again the cast leaves and the producer has only the screenplay. He likes the script, and continues to try and get it set up somewhere... and gets it to ITC - a company that used to make TV shows, but now sells the rerun rights to those TV shows. They have been talking to both Cinemax and 20th Century Fox Home Video about projects, and think my script would be a good match for everyone... and set it up as a Cinemax Original Movie with Fox getting home video. And Adam Baldwin and Tia Carrere and C. Thomas Howell are cast... and the film actually gets made! But the director does a page one rewrite and it is nothing like my original screenplay. And it sucks. And the guy from ITC calls me (this is a miracle, by the way) and warns me about the film before the premiere. And the film completely sucks - and they mis-spell my name in the credits (probably a blessing) and that, folks, is my luck in a nut shell! Almost 2 years between initial sale and screening - and that money had been spent long ago by the time I saw the film.

Some of you may have seen a couple of films with my name on them, thought they sucked big time, and think I must be the luckiest guy on earth to still have a career. You and me both! But somewhere along the line I have realized that it is not all luck - and since there is a major string of bad luck for every little bit of good luck that comes my way, I figure there’s some of that perseverance and determination and hard work and maybe even a hint of talent involved in my 20 years making a living putting words in actor’s mouths. I have no agent, no manager, and no real connections. And 15 years ago when I had a couple of back-to-back lucky years where I had *three* scripts go to screen... they were all sold to different companies! So *different* producers all seemed to think those scripts were okay. Though there’s always some luck involved in every deal - the right script the right place the right time, or maybe my query letter arrived on the day they were looking for scripts - once that lucky break opens whatever door, the script still has to be something they want to spend the money to make.

I must be doing something right, it can’t all be lucky breaks.

ALL GOOD LUCK


Just as I believe my luck is mostly the bad kind - I don’t think I’ve ever had a script that was an easy delivery to the screen - I know a guy with amazing luck. He completely lucked into his first script job - he knew some people who needed a script and convinced them to pay him to write it (even though he had never written a script before). He wrote a script, it was not good, they brought in a guy to rewrite it, the rewrite guy did not get credit... and now this guy gets called in sometimes based on that script that he didn’t really write. He got an agent, and has been paid for a few assignments... but it always reaches the point where he delivers a draft, they read it... and think the writing sucks. He’s a friend of a friend, and at one point I suggested he secretly take some screenwriting classes and read a stack of basic screenwriting books and learn how to write a screenplay - but he told me that part didn’t matter as long as people were still hiring him to write scripts and do rewrites. Well, they aren’t anymore, and his agent dumped him, and I’m guessing that the word is out that he is not a good writer. He was depending on luck - depending that he would get hired based on the film and not his writing - and that luck has now dried up. He keeps making his rounds, trying to get hired, and nothing happens at all. He thought because he had a run of good luck that all he ever needed was luck - but the truth is you need to be that prepared man (or woman) (or typing chicken).

What I find interesting about this guy is that he is still not cracking a book or doing anything to improve his craft, nor is he writing spec scripts. Because luck is what got him in, he seems to be focusing on regaining his luck somehow. Though I don’t think you can run out of luck - if you had some lucky break and screwed it up (I’m the king of this) there will eventually be some other lucky break in your future. Just try not to screw that one up, too (I am the king of this). But even if this guy’s luck turns around, he is doing nothing to be prepared this time around. That door might open and he won’t have the script that will keep them from slamming the door on his leg. You can’t depend only on lucky breaks.

Another guy on a message board seemed to have a lucky break, and went from guy with an interesting background to a guy hired by a producer to write a screenplay about his interesting background. The problem is, once he has written that screenplay, what’s next? Right now he is getting a ton of meetings because his project is pretty high profile, but that will not last forever. Even though he is flavor of the month, the month will soon be over... and then where will he be? This is a type of luck - you get that break where suddenly everyone wants to meet with you, but if you are not prepared for that lucky break it will fizzle out. If all you have is one story, or even a couple of stories, those will soon be gone and you will have no stories. A guy who was involved in a big story in Iraq is someone everyone in town wants to meet with, but what happens after he’s had all of those meetings? What happens when he sets up his one or two stories... and what happens when Iraq is old news and no one wants to make any movies about it? The key is to be ready for your luck to change for the worst, and still have the hard work and determination and enough scripts about enough subjects to continue your career.

If you depend on luck, you are depending on something you do not control... and soon that luck will burn itself out and you’ll only have whatever *you* bring to the equation. You need hard work, you need determination, you need all of those other things in addition to luck. When luck leaves you, you need to still be able to pound out a great script that people will want to buy. If you end up writing a stack of scripts while waiting for your luck to change, you will be prepared when it does.

HOW TO BE LUCKY!


She will hate me for mentioning this, but Bamboo Killer Emily quipped on a message board that she makes her own luck. What balls she has! And... haven’t I heard that line in a movie before? But even though I don’t think you can actually make luck, I do believe if you hide from luck it will never find you... and Emily goes out looking for luck. She meets luck halfway. I knew Emily only as a name on some messageboard... until she e-mailed me and asked if I needed any help at Screenwriting Expo. She was volunteering to be my assistant for the Expo. And I needed an assistant and said yes. That is a great example of getting yourself out there where luck can find you (though, as she learned, I can do nothing for anyone’s career - so ask a *producer* if they need an assistant at Expo). Most writers want to hide out in their offices and just write, I know I do. But that is a sure fire way *not* to meet that producer in the event’s hotel hallway and be able to run to the car for a script copy. You have to meet luck halfway, and that is part of the prepared part. If there is someplace where people who can help your career are going to be, you need to be there, too. I’ve got a Script Tip and there’s more on the Guerrilla Marketing CD about things like going to local Film Festivals to meet producers and directors and even people in your hometown who make films - that’s part of finding luck. Getting yourself out there.

Another part of finding luck is that prepared part. Write scripts. Rewrite those scripts until they are great. Have a selection of scripts. Have scripts that are marketable (in that they are in a popular genre and interesting and the kind of movies producers seem to be making these days). Have scripts with great star roles that actors will want to play. Know who people are. Have a plan for your career - so that when someone asks you what you want or what’s next for you, there’s an answer (not just a glassy eyed dull stare). Always be prepared.

Most people who seem lucky are really just *ready* for when luck finds them. It’s not so much that the door of luck opens for them, it’s that they are ready to step through that door when it does open. We can’t depend on the luck part or create the luck part - we *can* meet it halfway and we *can* be ready for luck to find us. Hiding doesn't help, so get yourself out there in the world! And have a script or two in the trunk of your car! All of that brings us back to the hard work and determination and all of that other stuff that we can control. The stuff we usually talk about.

So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character In Conflict - Rocky doesn't start as the champ, does he?
Dinner: Pizza.
Pages: Nothing - called for jury duty and had to wait to be not chosen.
Bicycle: Yes - cycled to Burbank courthouse and back.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Scene Of The Week: CARRIE (1976)

There's a new documentary in cinemas about Brian DePalma (does it surprise anyone that he's one of my favorite directors?) that purports thatr DePalma does not copy Hitchcock, he just speaks the same language. The language of cinema. That DePalma has made all kinds of movies - from comedies to horror to thrillers to dramas - and even though he's obviously a fan of Hitchcock, much of what critics see as Hitchcock in many of his films is just speaking the visual language of film. Of course you shoot it that way - you don't want to look illiterate, do you? You want to clearly communicate to the audience, right? Last week we looked at a clip from JAWS with techniques that were lifted from Hitchcock, but few people diminish Spielberg's talent for speaking the language of film, why do they always go after DePalma? Before we look at our scene from CARRIE, here's a look at DePalma's low budget horror flick SISTERS...



And now the CARRIE entry...

After last week’s very long take that was locked down in the back seat of the getaway car in GUN CRAZY, I thought it would be fun to look at kind of the opposite - a scene where the camera moves but the protagonist stays in the same spot... and this underappreciated shot from Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). This was the first version of Stephen King’s first best seller to hit the screen, and so far the best. There was a TV version and a sequel/remake (RAGE) and now we are getting a remake by the talented Kimberly Peirce who directed one of my favorite indies BOYS DON’T CRY. I think she’s a great match for the material, and her version will end up different than DePalma’s because she has a different point of view...

Buy the dvd

But the DePalma film made him a star director (it was his *tenth* feature film!) And also made many cast members into stars. It was John Travolta’s *second* film (after THE DEVIL’S RAIN) and Piper Laurie’s return to the big screen after a *15 year* absence after her Oscar nominated performance as the love interest in THE HUSTLER opposite Paul Newman, and Amy Irving’s first movie, and P.J. Soles’ (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, HALLOWEEN) first movie, and William Katt’s first movie, and Nancy Allen’s first movie, and Betty Buckley’s first movie, and Edie McClurg’s first movie. What’s interesting about all of these young actors is that they were cast in CARRIE after auditioning for another film... called STAR WARS. DePalma sat in on Lucas’ auditions and picked people for *his* film... yes, that means John Travolta and William Katt might have played Luke Skywalker!

Usually when we think of *Exposition* we think of Basil Exposition from the AUSTIN POWERS movies (or his cousin Prompter Exposition who always asks those leading questions so that someone can spend a couple of minutes of screen time talking on-and-on about what has happened and why it happened and any other story information the audience needs to know. “As a scientist, I’m sure you know that...” Boring stuff that often brings the story to a halt *and* ends up silly. Part of a screenwriter’s job is to find ways to hide exposition so that the audience has no idea they are getting the information. In the Dialogue Blue Book I look at some techniques like using conflict in the scene to disguise the exposition, but Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay for CARRIE uses *actions* to give us the necessary exposition. Instead of that verbal exposition dump, we get an intense emotional scene packed with information... and all in one shot!

This shot *begins* at Tommy (William Katt) and Carrie (Sissy Spacek)’s prom table after they have just decided to go ahead and vote for themselves as Prom King & Queen even though they don’t have a chance in hell of winning. That’s when Norma (P.J. Soles) picks up the ballots from the table, and we follow her as she picks up other ballots from other tables. We see how the ballots are collected from all of the kids at the prom, and then we see Norma kiss her boyfriend and drop the ballots on the floor behind him, telling him to kick them behind the wall, then she grabs *fake* ballots from his coat as she pulls away from him. We see how they switch the ballots so that Carrie and Tommy will end up winning. All of this information we get visually, through the actions of the characters. No one has to tell us that they are switching the ballots...

And so far no one has told us *why* they are switching the ballots. This builds mystery.

Then we follow Norma to the faculty table where the ballots will be counted, and then she knocks on the window under the stage where Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta) are hiding... and Chris is holding on to a rope. This hands off the scene, and Nancy goes on as we hold on Chris and Billy for a moment. Chris pulls slightly on the rope, and we *follow the rope*... to the back of the stage where Sue Snell (Amy Irving) sneaks in and hides behind the stage. Sue feels the rope moving, and we follow the rope up to the rafters over the stage... and that bucket of pig’s blood directly over the King & Queen’s chairs on the stage, and then look past the bucket of blood - back to where the shot began - at Carrie and Tommy sitting at their table as their names are announced as King & Queen... and they head toward the stage.

We now know *why* the ballots were switched, and we also know what is about to happen. This creates tension and dread and suspense...

Carrie White, who begins this story in blood when she has her first period in the gym shower, and was doused over the head and face by a glass of water by her mother at the dinner table; now will be drenched with pig’s blood on prom night... and they’re all going to laugh at her. This creates emotions in the viewer - Carrie has gone from bullied weird girl in a sack dress to Cinderella prom queen... and now that her life seems to have turned around we don’t want anything bad to happen to her.

More exposition told visually. No one *tells us* what the plan to ridicule Carrie at the prom is, or how it will work. Instead we *see* the exposition. As the audience traces that rope to the bucket of blood, their terror builds. They wish they could find some way to stop the inevitable. Instead of some dry verbal exposition, we get an emotional experience.



I was looking for the earlier clip - a single amazing shot that shows the whole ballot-box stuffing scheme at the prom as Carrie and Tommy actually begin to have a relationship in the background, but that clip is nowhere to be found on YouTube. When I was looking for this shot on line, all of the clips available either began at the end of the shot or somewhere in the middle. It seemed as if no one realized this was all one single long take. The clip labeled “Full Prom Scene” started at the end of the shot! Another clip that was all about the camera work, managed to start in the *middle* of the shot! It’s as if no one noticed this was all one long take - they were too busy experiencing the story unfold. Finally I found a clip on YouTube that *linked* a clip of the actual entire prom scene, and I was able to start at the beginning of this shot (but had no way to end the clip). Here’s that clip of the whole prom - and it begins with a long slow take reminiscent of the ballroom shot from Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT. The purpose of the long takes is to slow down the pacing to create contrast and shock/excitement after the pig’s blood when the action and horror kick in. The same way we use long sentences to slow the tempo down and short sentences to quicken the pacing.

And in the next series of shots, Sue Snell will trace the rope to the rafters, realize what is going to happen, and try like hell to stop it. She becomes our surrogate in the scene. Her success would be our success, her failure becomes our failure. Here’s that scene:



Exposition doesn't need to be someone talking on-and-on to give us that dump of information, we can give the information to the audience visually... and make it emotional and exciting!

- Bill

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lancelot Link: Pretty Scary Stuff!

Lancelot Link Monday! THE CONJURING 2 is over 2 hours long! It is also being compared to the films of Ken Loach. It's at 75% among Top Critics (real critics) on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good for a *horror movie*. Also, it is based on a true story. Yes, it really happened. 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 Conjuring 2..................... $40,350,000
2 World Of Warcraft............... $24,356,000
3 Now You 2....................... $23,025,000
4 TMNT 2.......................... $14,800,000
5 X-Men Apoc...................... $10,000,000
6 Me B4 U.......................... $9,210,000
7 Angry Birds...................... $6,700,000
8 Alice 2.......................... $5,544,821
9 CA:CW............................ $4,300,195
10 Jungle Book 2.................... $2,721,250


Note: WARCRAFT has made over $285 million outside the USA so far. It might seem silly to turn a video game into a movie, but when that game is popular internationally, it makes good sense. A big chunk of that $285 came from China where it made $156m in 5 days.

2) Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow On Brian DePalma... and the language of cinema.

3) I Have Both Of These DePalma Shorts On DVD...

4) Best Director Debuts Of Last 20 Years.

5) One Of My Favorite Films THE PARALLAX VIEW - Article, Interview, Screenplay!

6) 13 Finished Films That Were Never Released. Of course, there are hundreds of completed films that never get released every single year, but this is a list of famous ones.

7) Dan Gilroy On NIGHTCRAWLER.

8) The Next HUNGER GAMES?

9) I Want To See This Musical! What are the top five songs from this musical? Comments section!

10) Agathat Christie's Hercule Poirot Has Been In 45 Novels And Short Stories, But They're Remaking This One!

11) How Much Does each Crew Position Make On A $200m Blockbuster? (And, um, how much does the screenwriter make?)

12) Al Pacino & Anthony Hopkins Break Box Office Records!

13) We've All Been Replaced By A Machine! (the director of this, Oscar, is a friend of mine!)

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Young And Innocent (1937)

Screenplay by Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, and Anthony Armstrong, based on a novel by Josephine Tey (“Daughter Of Time”).

This is a forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered... but it lives in the shadow of LADY VANISHES. It's a chase film like THE 39 STEPS with some amazing set pieces and some sparkling dialogue and clever scenes. In HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT, Hitch said he wanted to do a film starring young people... but I don't think the age difference between these characters and those in THE 39 STEPS isn't much – the leads are in their 20s somewhere, but both are adults and have already had some interesting experiences in life. My quip on the experiment behind JAMAICA INN was that it had a real star rather than some unknown like Nova Pilbeam... and *this* is the film with Nova Pilbeam above the title. This was her fourth film, and her best known role before this was as the kidnapped daughter in Hitchcock's original MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. As the kidnapped daughter most of her role was offscreen. Right before this film she had played Lady Jane Grey in NINE DAYS A QUEEN, and her studio was grooming her to be a star.. and here she is in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – the *star* of the film.

Ten years later she would be retired.




I had never heard of this film when I first saw it projected at the old Telegraph Theater in Berkeley, California. I hadn't heard of many of Hitchcock's early films. They would show two or three Hitchcock films a night with the hits like LADY VANISHES up front and the ones you've never heard of at the end of the night to a mostly empty cinema. Some of those late films I fell asleep during portions of, but this film kept me awake. It was fun and exciting and if it had only had “name stars” we would all know about it now. But instead it's that footnote: the movie Hitchcock made before LADY VANISHES.


Nutshell: Struggling young screenwriter Rob Tisdall (Derek DeMarney) is on his way to movie star Christine Clay's mansion on the beach for a story meeting when he sees something in the water... Christine, dead, strangled with a belt! He ends up arrested for the murder because Christine left him the balance she owed him for a screenplay he had written for her... and he is unable to explain where his raincoat and belt is. Lots of circumstantial evidence against him, so he escapes – kidnaps the Chief of Police's daughter Erica (Pilbeam) and tries to find his raincoat belt and any other evidence that will prove he could not have been the killer. Unlike THE 39 STEPS which has some big set pieces that will set the stage for NORTH BY NORTHWEST, here we have smaller set pieces and a rural setting. Rob and Christine chase his raincoat to a pub, where it was stolen by a homeless guy Old Will (Edward Rigby) and then they track down Old Will... and then things take a turn for the worst! We'll look at how the plot works, because that is one of the little lessons this film has to offer.

Experiment: Not much of an actual experiment, but Hitch said he was making a film with young leads – and that may be true. Pilbeam was the studios rising young star, and Hitch was the one who made her that by casting her in MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. She had been a child star on stage before that, and how much of her casting was Hitch's idea and how much was the studio's is anyone's guess. Looking back she seems an odd choice for a studio-groomed star – she's not the most photogenic person on Earth. Kind of like those child stars who grow up to look a little strange. Her problem is that she's kind of plain looking – and that's fine when you're a kid actor, but as an adult – as Valentin says in THE ARTIST – you need something that makes you look special and different. Pilbeam doesn't have a beauty mark or any other distinguishing features... except maybe unruly hair. Her co-star DeMarney had starred in a film called ADVENTUROUS YOUTH ten years earlier – making him probably not all that young when this film was made. Before this film he had been in THINGS TO COME – an international hit and one of the great science fiction films. But where Pilbeam did a handful more films and quit the business, DeMarney starred in British films until 1966. Though there are also some kids in the film, including one scene-stealer at a birthday party scene who has the greatest comic delivery I've seen on film in years, the rest of the cast are *not* young.

Some of the more interesting elements in the film are things that he had done before like use of models or “biggest to smallest” tracking shots or disaster movie elements that are particularly well done in this film. We will talk about them in the “lessons” section.




Hitch Appearance: He's a newspaper photographer outside the courthouse who does not want to go looking for the escaped murderer.

Hitch Stock Company: I mentioned that Nova Pilbeam was the daughter in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and playing her father in this film is Percy Marmont from RICH AND STRANGE and THE SECRET AGENT, plus Mary Clare (the Baroness in LADY VANISHES) as Pilbeam's aunt and Basil Radford (Charters in LADY VANISHES plus a bunch of other Hitchcock films) as her uncle, and George Curzon who plays Christina's husband was in JAMAICA INN and MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and John Longden who plays the handsome detective was also the handsome detective in BLACKMAIL. I thought it was great to see Radford and Clare from LADY VANISHES as husband and wife – and they had a great chemistry together... you could have spun them off as series characters like they did with Charters and Caldicott.




Bird Appearance: When the dead body is found on the beach there's a great shot of seagulls flying – I have no idea how he shot it, but we are in the air with the gulls!

Screenwriting Lessons: The film is a lot of fun, and I've used some of the elements in Script Tips in the past because it contains some great examples of gags and showing a decision on screen – we'll look at the gags and decisions, as well as opening your screenplay *in media res* and A-B-C plotting and disguises... as well as some film elements like models and biggest to smallest and disaster scenes. Though the last elements may not directly relate to screenwriting, I'll try to pull them in by looking at how those things might end up on the pages of our screenplays.




In Media Res: Latin for “in the middle of things” - the idea of starting a story when it is already in progress rather than starting at the beginning. The story hits the ground running with very little exposition, and the audience figures things out as the story progresses, or the story may start in the middle (to begin with action) then flashback to how the characters got to be in such a place. This is a common way to start screenplays which may have a bunch of potentially boring exposition up front. You've seen it done in movies like HANGOVER – which begins very close to the end when all is lost, and then flashes back to show us how they got to this point.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT starts in the middle of a *scene* and then just keeps going. No flashback to lead us up to that scene, the film begins in the middle of a major argument between movie star Christine Clay and her husband Guy – she wants a divorce and he refuses. He accuses her of cheating on him with a succession of “boys” - the 1930's term for boytoys or himbos. She is an attractive woman in her late 30s or maybe early 40s. The film begins with all of the dirt! The polite part happens before the film begins, and we are at the name calling part... and Guy calls his wife *something*, but thanks to a censor-friendly thunderclap we can't hear exactly what. Probably slut or whore. She slaps him *hard*... and does her best to explain away the parade of hunky men who have visited her bedroom.

The great thing about starting the film in the middle of this argument is that it allows a lot of secret exposition – when Guy says he found her in the chorus line and used his connections to turn her into a star, just so she can dump him and sleep with “boys” - it's like a verbal slap... but tells us who they are and why they are calling each other names and slapping each other. He's a musician, she's a movie star. She has outgrown him... but he will not allow her to divorce him. He has *invested* in her, and now that she's making money she wants to dump him? After the slap, Guy storms outside into the storm and puffs on his cigarette. When lightning flashes, his eyes twitch like crazy. That's a clue, too – but we don't know it at this point.

Starting a film with the story in progress like this forces the audience to pay attention. We have no idea who these people are or even their names – but they are yelling at each other and saying nasty things about each other.

The next scene has our hero Rob walking along the edge of the cliff overlooking the beach when he sees something in the water and climbs down to investigate – a dead woman! When he sees her face he says: “Christine” - so she is the woman in that first scene, and dead, and this guy knew her. One of her “boys”? As he runs to get help, two attractive girls come onto the beach, see the dead woman, see the man running away, and scream...

When the police arrive, they ask who found the body and Rob says he did... but the two girls say *they* did, and saw Rob running away. The policemen believe the attractive girls over the guy – and next thing you know he's being interrogated in the police station. Though these cuts to a scene in progress isn't exactly In Media Res, it's starting each scene *late* - when then conflict has kicked in. We don't need to see Rob arrested and driven to the police station and the beginning of the interrogation – it's more interesting to start the scene just before the big moment in the interrogation. The police ask Rob how well he knew the victim, and his answer makes him sound guilty... They ask if she had ever given him money (for services?) and he answers, yes – she paid him for a story. They're accusing him of being in the British version of SUNSET BLVD – some broke young screenwriter who took money from an older star in exchange for sex. Does he own a raincoat? Of course he does. Where is it? Well, it was stolen a week ago. Convenient... Everything makes him sound more guilty – then they drop the bombshell... she left him money in her will. Motive for murdering her?




Rob passes out... and that's when Erica comes in and tries to revive him. She knows how because she used to be a Girl Scout. And she used to work with the cornerman for a boxer. And she knows that a stiff shot of brandy will get his heart racing again. And she knows how to slap really hard because she's used to driving around with horny policemen. She has a great comeback for everything – and one of this film's charms is that the characters all have quick wits.

Story Gags:




In the entry on FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT we talked about “gags” - which are one of my favorite things about older films. Gags don't have to be funny – they can be serious or suspenseful or romantic or “action gags” (covered in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING) – they are little details in a scene. Older films, for whatever reason, seem to be filled with all of these great details that make a scene seem real and are often amusing or entertaining... and *full*. Scenes in older films seem *packed* with information and entertainment. Often when I watch a recent film there is the basic scene and that's it! None of the details or “mini story beats” that gags used to provide. In the VISUAL STORYTELLING book I look at gags in silent films – and I suspect that's where came from. In a silent film there was no dialogue or even sound effects, so they needed more *story* to fill the screen. Gags were those bits of story. Probably when silents ended there were lots of writers who were either used to writing gags, or writers who specialized in gags – and when they worked in sound films they just added all of those gags... and when they died off, so did the gags.

When they lead Rob across the street to the courthouse he passes Erica trying to start her beat up old jalopy. To do this, she has a string attached to the throttle and she can pull on while cranking the engine... and this is a gag. Not funny at all, just a detail... that becomes part of the story every time her car is started. It's used in a variety of ways, to create suspense, to force her to come along on a car chase (she's the only one who knows how to start the car), and it prevents strangers from driving her car. When the detectives pull Rob past the car he tells her it might need a shot of brandy in order to start.




Rob gets stuck with the worst public defender in the history of courtrooms! He's scatterbrained, is sure that Rob is guilty, and wears glasses that are a quarter inch thick. And he wants to know how much Rob has on him, because once he's convicted they will take his money away and the lawyer won't make any money. He has 2.30 on him, and the lawyer takes the 2 (it's British money, so forgive me if I got the details wrong here). The money is part of an important “gag” that threads the story together – now that he's down to .30, and later in the story he will use that money to buy gas for the female lead... and she will realize he spent his last cent on her and that will be her motivation for going back to help him – to give him back the money she borrowed. We'll look closer at that in the section on Romantic Pivot Characters. But something as small as the coins in a character's pockets may be critical to your story... or *can be* fun to keep track of and use later. These details, or “gags” make a story seem real and “dense”.

When the lawyer puts his glasses down, Rob secretly snags them... and when their case is called Rob manages to give the bailiff and his blind lawyer the slip in a crowded hallway by walking next to a man of his build wearing similar clothes... and the police officer guides the other man into the courtroom.




Rob escapes... ducking through a courthouse door... where another bailiff seats him in the gallery for a trial... which ends up being *his* trial! Every good thing that happens backfires into a bad thing – and that's something that happens throughout the story. It creates a balance... and keeps the story exciting and suspenseful because of the good news/bad news aspect.

So now he's trapped in the courtroom he was supposed to be in – will they find him? Rob tries to leave... but the Bailiff stands guarding the door. As word of his escape spreads, the courtroom begins clearing, except for his public defender who is lost in thought trying to read paperwork without his glasses. That's when Rob pulls out the thick stolen glasses, puts them on as a disguise (the first of many – we'll look at disguises in a moment) and walks out of the court house past all of the policemen and bailiffs who are looking for him.




That's the good news – the bad news is that the glasses are so thick he *can't see where he's going*! And he is outside the courthouse where an army of policemen are searching for him! He stumbles down the sidewalk... to freedom.

Remember Erica's car gag? When a pair of policemen want to commandeer her car to give chase, they don't know how to use the string to start it... so she ends up the driver!

Next we get a great visual gag, as we see a beautiful country road as Erica and her old jalopy slowly enters the frame. Wait, where are the two cops? *Pushing* the jalopy – it's out of gas. When a horse drawn farmer's cart comes by, the two cops commandeer it... but the farmer has to drive... and the two cops have to sit in back with the pigs. Pigs and pigs? Was that a joke back in 1937? Yes it was! “Pigs” as slang for police goes back to 19th century Germany. Learn something new every day.

Romantic Pivot Character:




As soon as the two policemen leave in the pig cart, Erica pushes the car herself – and it's remarkably light... because Rob is actually doing all of the pushing.

One of the new chapters in SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is on “Pivot Characters” like Tommy Lee Jones in THE FUGITIVE who start out as an antagonistic character who believes the protagonist is guilty, but as the story progresses they begin leaning to the other side and end up *helping* the protagonist by the end. Pivots actually can work both ways, and we take a closer look at that in the book – but here we have a combination Pivot Character and Love Interest. Erica begins believing that Rob is guilty and that she will be arrested and convicted for helping him to escape... but as the story goes on, scene-by-scene she begins to wonder if he might be innocent, and then eventually she risks everything to help him.

The great thing about this is that it is a *gradual* change in Erica's character. Because she is also the love interest, and Rob is a charming man, the thing that comes between them in the “rom-com” thread of this story is that she believes he might be a killer... So they may have a witty conversation and we know they were meant to be together and hope they hook up by the end of the film, we understand why Erica isn't just jumping into his arms. This is a great combination of character purposes because when she begins to believe him, the barriers to their relationship begin to evaporate... so she can help him prove he's innocent *and* hook up with him at the end. But early on, she's just as much a kidnap victim as Faye Dunnaway in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. Scared, wondering how to escape without maybe setting this guy off. He's accused of murdering the last woman he was with, right?




When they get the car to a gas station, we get some more gags – the gas station owner's little boy pumps the gas, and has to stand on a bucket to reach... and the bucket falls over so Rob has to rescue him. This is a great bit because Erica finally has a chance to escape while Rob is helping the kid – but would a killer help the kid? She sticks around, and Rob spends his last cent on gasoline for her car. She stresses that she is *not* on his side – her father is the chief of police – and asks why he isn't taking his situation more seriously. Rob says, “I can laugh because I'm innocent. You don't believe me. I wish you did.” That sums up her whole Romantic Pivot Character.

Show The Decisions:

Whether your script is a drama, a comedy, or a thriller there's always a decision that must be made in order to solve the external (plot) problem. The decision your protagonist makes is the most important part of your screenplay - it reveals the theme. The meaning of your script. In the Visual Storytelling Blue Book I look at decisions as a way to reveal character – and that technique is used in YOUNG AND INNOCENT.




While they were at the gas station and Rob is helping the kid pumping the gas, Erica is unattended. Will she run? Will she tell the gas station owner that he’s a fugitive from the law? She almost does... but *decides* not to. When they are done, Rob asks the gas station owner for directions to the truck stop where he lost his raincoat - the evidence that exonerates him. “At the Y in the road, turn left ... if you turn right, it just takes you back into town.” The Y in the road is a *physical decision* - something where we can see the outcome.

But after they leave the gas station, instead of taking him to the Truck Stop where he lost his raincoat, she pulls up at a vacant old mill and kicks him out of the car. She is the daughter of the Chief of Police and can not help him. She drives home...




One of the other techniques in the Visual Blue Book is the Echo Scene – where the same location is reused in order to show the difference in characters or situation. Erica has dinner with her army of little brothers and widower dad two times - the first time shows the whole family (except Erica) happy and joking, the second time shows everyone quiet and solemn after Erica has been accused of aiding an escaped killer.

The first dinner scene the conversation is about the escaped murderer – and each of the brothers is a well defined character, from the intellectual brother to the youngest one who killed a rat with his BB gun and brought it to the dinner table. Erica listens to various theories on why he will be caught – biggest problem is that he only had .30 on him and will only last as long as the food he can buy. Intellectual brother says if he buys .30 of chocolate he'll last longer (and has a scientific argument to back it up). Erica realizes all of Rob's .30 went into her gas tank, and makes a decision...

So now we get the scene where she goes back to the old mill and gives Rob some food and repays the gas money. This is the first scene where she actually listens to him explain why he's innocent. But it's all cut short because the two policemen who were in her car and then the pig cart? They spot someone in the Old Mill and investigate. A gag where the policemen are “detained” by Erica's barking terrier – one cop says if he grabs the dog he'll earn an extra stripe on his sleeve, the other cop says what good is a stripe if the dog takes off his arm. It's a *terrier*!

Rob and Erica escape – starting the car string suspense – and race out of there with the dog chasing after them (as well as the two policemen). Erica wants to slow down so that they can grab the dog – Rob is afraid that will get them caught. A decision must be made. Rob decides to slow down for the dog – and this shows that he cares about her. He will put his safety in danger for her pet.

Now they are headed in the direction of that truck stop – and there is a road sign that shows the Y ahead and tells where each branch goes – just in case we've forgotten. Erica drives to the Y in the road, and she must make a decision - believe that he is innocent and turn left, or turn right and take him back to the waiting police. Which will she do? This takes something *internal* (does she believe him?) and turns it into an action. We can't see her believing him, we can see her turning one way or the other. She makes a left turn, and we know that she believes him and is going to help him. Each has made a decision that helps the other at the expense of their safety.

A B C Plot:

Plots can work in any number of ways – maybe as many ways as there are stories. In SECRETS OF ACTION I look at a few different ways that action films are plotted, and here's one of them: the A-B-C plot where one thing leads to the next thing which leads to the next. All of that sounds pretty normal, and you have seen this sort of plot in many films and stories. It's a staple of traveling mysteries – one clue leads to the next clue which leads to the next clue. There isn't a direct line from A to Z, it's a series of individual steps, each of them leading to the next step but none of them leading to the end.




At the truck stop, Erica goes in to ask about the raincoat while Rob waits outside. Surrounded by truck drivers, this gives her a great situation to show how clever she is when she slings a zinger at every trucker with a pick up line or rude remark. But when she asks about the raincoat – everyone clams up. When one trucker talks – saying that a homeless guy known as Old Will The China Mender was wearing a new coat one day, the whole joint erupts into a fist fight – which is filled with great gags. Erica must get across the room – which is filled with punching people. Once she gets out through the back door she sees Rob going in through the front door to rescue her – and now he's got to turn around and get out... and gets punched in the face, Another great gag as Erica tries to clean the wound in a drinking fountain where the water goes up and down in an unpredictable rhythm, so she never knows where to position his head... then the trucker who talked to her before tells her she can find Old Will at Nobby's Homeless Shelter by the railroad. That's where the next clue is – from A to B. Instead of the truck driver leaving the scene in any normal way, he's yanked back into the fight!




So the next clue leads to Nobby's and Old Will, and Old Will ends up having the raincoat – but it has no belt (meaning Rob has no proof that he's innocent) but Old Will says when the man gave it to him it didn't have a belt. A man? Old Will says the man had twitchy eyes – blinking all the time... but that's the end of the trail. Until Rob finds a matchbook in the raincoat pocket from the Grand Hotel – and that's the next destination (A to B to C). Each clue leads to another clue – but the first clue does not lead to the last. You have to take it step-by-step.

But before we even get to Nobby's, the story takes a detour to play...

Blind Man’s Bluff:

There are scenes in movies which are so well crafted that the purpose of the scene may not be apparent – that “drinks with an old friend” scene in FARGO is a great example. Here we have a similar scene – it seems as if you could cut it and not hurt the story... except it's one of those quiet pivotal scenes in the story. Erica needs a cover story to tell her dad (the Chief Of Police) where she went to today – and her aunt lives on the way to Nobby's, so if they can stop in there first for a minute...

Rob waits outside while Erica goes in to visit her Aunt for a minute – but today is her niece's birthday, and the Aunt insists she stay and have some cake. Now Erica is trapped inside while Rob waits outside... until Erica's Uncle pulls up and asks who he is and then why Erica would leave him outside... and brings him into the party!




Though the party is filled with silly hats and gags like the little boy who wants to go outside... because he has to pee, there is a deeper reason for this scene than its entertainment value. Erica's Aunt asks her who the young man is – typical relative reaction to a single gal turning up with an attractive guy - but Erica can't tell her his name (since he's wanted by the police) or even any details about him. Rob pops over and introduces himself – giving some crazy name right out of the FLETCH movie, and now he's stuck with that name for the rest of the party. When he zips away the Aunt asks what he does for a living and she makes up an occupation – advertizing slogan writer. The problem is, a moment later Erica has joined the festivities and the Aunt asks Rob about his job... and he has no idea what Erica has said – so his answers are *crazy sounding* (if he writes advert slogans). This makes the Aunt suspicious... and now Erica and Rob must work together to make all of these various lies sound like some form of truth.

In the past scenes with Rob and Erica – they were *together* and that meant the conflict was between them: she didn't believe he was innocent (and even if he was – he'd kidnapped her), but this scene has Rob and Erica surrounded by other people. Instead of the conflict being between them, it's the two of them against the world. This is the scene where Rob and Erica actually become a team and work together. It seems frivolous and funny, but it serves a deeper purpose – and when Rob makes jokes, Erica laughs at them. Earlier she wondered how he could joke at a time like this – now she is joking along with him. Before this scene they were at odds with each other, during this scene they must work together.




Where the Aunt is suspicious, the Uncle believes that they are young lovers who just want to get out of here so that they can make out – so within the party we have a quiet conflict between the Aunt and Uncle. When the Aunt does something that will force them to stay and give her more information, the Uncle finds some way for them to get out of there. Eventually it comes down to a game of Blind Man's Bluff, where the Uncle insists that the Aunt be “it” and wear the blindfold. Now we get a great little suspense scene where Erica and Rob must get out of the room quietly before the blindfolded Aunt grabs them (and that's who she's trying for). Several close calls, and finally they escape.

Rob and Erica *laugh together* in the car as they zoom away – on the same side for the first time. But remember the good news/bad news thing? For every good thing that happens there is some bad thing to balance it out? As soon as the Aunt finds out they have escaped, she rushes to the phone to call Erica's Father and ask who that man with Erica is... and the Aunt's description matches the escaped killer. Erica's Father calls for the police to be on the look out for his daughter's car, and things have just gotten much worse without Erica or Rob knowing about it.

Doesn't take long for them to find out – they get pulled over by one of the pig cart Cops as drive through town... and have to escape at high speed. Now Erica's Father knows she's somehow mixed up with the escaped killer – and Erica realizes that it is now serious – she is an accessory. Before she might have found a way to escape prosecution – now the only way for her to stay out of prison is to prove that Rob is innocent. Good news – they are together. Bad news – if they can't find the evidence, they are both going to prison.

Only A Model:




One of the amazing things in older films like this is the use of *very* detailed models. The exterior of the snowed in ski chalet at the beginning of THE LADY VANISHES and the beautifully detailed miniature of Hitler's headquarters at the beginning of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH look like the real thing – it's only the knowledge that they didn't have helicopter shots (and that the camera is not moving as if this were an actual location) that tips us off. The amazing thing about many of these models is that they are “articulated” - portions of them move, and they may even feature moving *humans*. All of this makes them seem very real. Even though modern audiences will know they are models, they will also probably think they are pretty amazing.

In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have this amazing overhead shot of the industrial section of the city down by the railroad track and slowly move in – past a moving truck on the street – and as a train passes by on the tracks, and move down to a parked car – where Rob stands outside talking to Erica behind the wheel. At one point Rob and Erica are miniatures – little model people on this detailed train set – then we cut to a different angle of the real people in the exact same positions for a conversation. Shots like this give the film a huge scope – these are *helicopter shots* of the town, which were pretty much impossible in real life back then. The moving model cars and trains look real – as do the buildings.

In LADY VANISHES we go from a high overhead of the train stuck in an avalanche and move slowly down to the village and the ski lodge... then – in the same shot – move up to the window of the ski lodge lobby and look inside. That's when we cut to a shot of inside the ski lodge with real people. But the detail is amazing – and having the ability to do a “helicopter shot” before there were helicopters adds production value... And gives us a “Biggest To Smallest” element, which we will discuss later in the blog entry.

After the Nobby's scene which comes next, more models are used in a car chase in the rail yards where Rob cuts across the tracks in front of a speeding train, leaving the police behind them. This would have been a dangerous (if not impossible) stunt to do at the time, but with the use of very realistic models you get all of the thrills. If you think the use of models and miniatures is something from the distant past, they were commonly used in films up until the advent of high quality CGI work – and the next time you watch THE STING note that the elevated train is a model! My friend Fred who does disaster movies for cable has used toy store model cars and forced perspective to create a street full of wrecked and burning cars – without having to wreck or burn any actual cars (which would be expensive). So the old techniques are still in use.

In a screenplay, there is no need to identify what is going to be a miniature or CGI or a special effect – just write what we see and let the people in charge decide how these things will be done. If a building blows up, it blows up. If a giant shark attacks, a giant shark attacks. No reason to call attention to what kind of special effects will be used – just write the screenplay!

Disguise & Disguise:




Rob is going to go into Nobby's to look for Old Will, and tells Erica that she will be safe in the car. Both are exhausted by this point – running on very little sleep. Because Erica's old jalopy is parked between two trains it is impossible to see, and she can sleep in the car without much worry of being disturbed.

But to get into Nobby's, Rob will have to disguise himself as a homeless man. One of the motifs in the film are people wearing disguises or altering their appearance. This may tie in to Rob appearing to be guilty, but it's used in several different scenes. Here Rob puts on an old cap, turns his coat inside out, covers it with dirt, and tries to look and act like he's homeless. At the front desk of the homeless shelter he says hello to Nobby behind the counter... except it's *not* Nobby – Nobby has been dead since before the war. Rob claims to be a friend of Old Wills and asks if he's there. The (suspicious) guy behind the counter says not yet, but they've held a cot 68 for him. Rob gets onto his cot, keeps his eyes on cot 68... then falls asleep. Wakes up and cot 68 is empty – but has been slept in. There are a bunch of homeless men hanging around talking, so Rob asks the guy behind the counter which one is Old Will... and the counter guy answers with “I thought he was your pal?” This disguise isn't working very well.

Rob knows that Old Will repairs china, so he breaks a cup – which does the trick, but also gets the counter guy on the phone to the police. Rob grabs Old Will and runs for Erica's car – and we get our car chase with the near miss by the train.




Later in the story we will get two more examples of disguises – the matchbook that leads them to the Grand Hotel, an elegant place with a grand ballroom. So Old Will the homeless guy (with an attitude) must be transformed into a well dressed gentleman to get through the doors and look for the nan who gave him the raincoat. They take him to a suit rental place, and Old Will is Cinderella headed to the ball – except he's still a homeless guy under the fancy suit and top hat. He has a bad attitude, and when he orders tea at the Grand Hotel the waited asks “China or India?” and he yells “TEA!” no even understanding that there might be different kinds of tea. Just like Rob's homeless disguise, Old Will's gentleman disguise doesn't cover who he really is.




Once in the Grand Ballroom Old Will can't spot the man who gave him the raincoat... because *he* is in a disguise! So we have one disguised man looking for another disguised man! I don't know whether using the disguise motif was thematic or some sort of amazing creative coincidence (which is just another term for subconsciously thematic) but the characters keep dressing up- as people they are not throughout the film. Everybody does it!

Disaster scenes:

Back to the homeless shelter – after Rob drags Old Will out to Erica's car and they zoom away with the police in hot pursuit, they get a head start when they zip past that speeding train... but the police are still back there. So, in the middle of this car chase Rob grills Old Will about the raincoat, discovers that Old will *is* wearing it (he sports the homeless layered look) – but there is no belt! The belt that killed Christine Clay came from *Rob's* raincoat! Old Will tells him the man who gave him the coat had a twitch – both eyes blinking at the same time. Hey, we know that's Christine's husband! But Rob and Erica don't know that, and have no idea where to find the twitching man... and the police are chasing them. Old Will suggests they hide at the Old Mines, and she pulls her jalopy off the road and into the mine...

And we get an amazing disaster scene.




What's interesting about Hitchcock movies are that many have disaster scenes: the plane crashing and sinking in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, the ship sinking in LIFEBOAT, and here we get a great mine cave in YOUNG AND INNOCENT. They drive the jalopy into the mine to hide... and the ground gives way and the car begins sinking. Rob and Old Will scramble out... but Erica is still in the car, and it begins falling faster! Rob reaches down to grab here, and we get that signature Hitchcock shot of hands grabbing for hands that's in almost all of his films. To add to the suspense of this scene – the police arrive! Rob finally grabs Erica's hand, just as the ground completely gives way and the car plummets! He pulls her up, then scrambles away – but the police grab Erica.

The great thing about the mine cave in scene is that it is amazing spectacle – much like the plane crash in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. This is the kind of huge scene that elevates a little movie like this and gives the audience an exciting experience they probably did not expect. Our job as screenwriters is to fill the screen – and a movie screen is pretty darned big, so we will need some big scenes like this.

As Low As You Can Go:




Good drama is about conflict – and at this point the characters are overwhelmed with conflict. Rob has found his raincoat on Old Will – but not the belt. It seems that the evidence that he thought would prove him innocent proves him guilty. Erica is questioned by the police and may be charged – she goes home and we have the echo of that earlier dinner scene with all of her brothers, but this time they look on her with pity – she's either a criminal or a kidnap victim (or both). It is a tension filled meal, and after dinner it gets worse: Erica's Father calls her into his study and shows her his resignation papers. He can't be Chief Of Police if his daughter helped a killer escape. They have a big dramatic father-daughter conversation which might be at home in an Oscar nominated drama. But remember that even in a thriller or any other genre film, drama is basis of the story. It always comes down to the *people*. The events of the story have seriously damaged Erica's relationship with her father. Her whole life has gone to hell. She goes to her bedroom and cries herself to sleep.

This is the ultimate low point for all of the characters. One of the problems with many screenplays is that the characters never hit bottom. The writer doesn't want to make it too hard on them, wants to protect them, and makes their problems easier than they should be. But the lower you go, the greater the stakes and the conflict, the more we will cheer when those problems are resolved. Never make it easy on your characters!




Just when we think all is lost, Rob climbs through Erica's window – and they embrace. Part of going so low is giving them (as a couple) something to lose. That means they must be a potential couple by this time. I think part of saving her from the mine cave in was to solidify their relationship. They *are* in love – which means in addition to everything else they will lose, they are also going to lose each other. Rob has decided to turn himself in and stop running – probably end up convicted of a murder he did not do. Even if Erica is not convicted, she has caused her father to be ruined. It can not get any worse than this...

And that's when they find that matchbook from the Grand Hotel and have a new lead to the real killer.

Biggest To Smallest:

So once Erica and Old Will get to the Grand Hotel, with Rob hiding outside, they have to find a man who twitches... in a huge luxury hotel's ballroom. How do we show that needle in a haystack situation visually? One of the Hitchcock theories was biggest to smallest – and in the entry on NOTORIOUS we took a look at that theory in action in the party scene where the camera goes from a high overhead of the party and cranes down in a single shot to focus on the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand.




In YOUNG AND INNOCENT we have one of those amazing tracking shots – it starts outside, overhead - enter the night club - hundreds of people, which one is the killer? And as the camera slowly moves over the room with too many suspects for them to weed through before the police arrive, the camera slowly moves down to eye level and creeps up to the killer's *eyes* - they fill the screen... and then twitch! Cool shot and it makes us wonder how they will ever get through all of those false suspects to find the real killer - the needle in a haystack.

Though the two examples from Hitchcock films seem to be director related, *we* can also use “Biggest To Smallest” to show how a large event (like the party in NOTORIOUS) actually comes down to something small and personal. In the original DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, Klatuu causes the power all over the Earth to cut out for half an hour as a sample of what he can do. The sequence begins with global issues - the big picture - as cities across the globe go dark. Then each successive piece of the sequence gets “smaller” - from freeways filled with stalled cars to city streets... and finally down to a woman pulling wet clothes out of her stalled washing machine. From the global problem to the personal problem. You might not be able to relate to a whole city going dark, but you can sure relate to a bunch of half washed clothes. The “Biggest To Smallest” technique is a great way to take a major problem and show it at a personal level - and that’s something we can use in our screenplays.

To add to the difficulty in YOUNG AND INNOCENT – disguise and disguise – Old Will is dressed as a gentleman and the killer – Christine Clay's musician husband Guy – is in blackface. The whole band is in blackface. So even with Old Will looking around the room, he doesn't recognize the man who gave him the raincoat. The police are on their way – so the clock is ticking. Erica and Old Will decide that dancing around the ballroom will allow them to look at more people, only Old Will has no idea how to dance. They do it anyway – a bit of comedy – but Old Will doesn't see the man.




But the man sees Old Will – Clay recognizes the homeless guy he gave the raincoat to and begins twitching like crazy. There's a great visual here where Clay *sees* the dressed up Old Will as the homeless bum. When the police arrive and seal off all of the exits, Clay's twitch goes out of control and he's screwing up his music.

Just when you think the problem will be resolved, Rob steps forward and gives himself up to protect Erica. The police send a waitress in to ask Erica and Old Will to give themselves up and leave without incident – and they do! The killer is this close, and they are all leaving!




Just as we had good news/bad news to balance things out, at the end of the story we have some bad news/good news. Clay sees the police talking to Old Will and Rob (and Erica) and assumes they are here for him – and collapses. Someone calls for a doctor, but what they get is a Police Chief's daughter who learned first aid in the Girl Scouts... who helps the musician in blackface... and notices his eyes twitching... and calls over Old Will... who identifies him once they remove the make up... and when they ask Clay what happened to the belt on the raincoat, Clay is sure they are already here to arrest him and confesses to killing his wife. That solves all of the problems...

But there is still an important story moment.

Erica runs into Robs arms... then goes to hug her father and apologize... then brings the two men in her life together to shake hands. While all of these chase scenes were going on, another story was playing out in the background about a young women who meets a man and realizes she must leave her father's home to be with this man. The normal story of first adult romance. And even though her father at first does not approve of this man, she must make peace between them so that she has *both* of the important men in her life. All of that is done in a silent scene where she goes from one man that she loves to the other, and then brings them both together... THE END.

Sound Track: Louis Levy - nice score.

YOUNG AND INNOCENT is a fun forgotten Hitchcock film that deserves to be remembered. It's a chase film, about a struggling young screenwriter who is accused of murdering a famous actress, and the daughter of the police chief who hates him then loves him as he finds the evidence that proves he's innocent. This is a breezy chase film, kind of like 39 STEPS. Probably less known because the cast isn't as attractive nor as famous. But fun to see again.

- Bill

The other Fridays With Hitchcock.


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