Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Cash? Amazon Gift Card? Blue Books $1 Off!

BLUE BOOK SALE ENDS SOON!

Got Christmas Cash or Holiday money burning a hole in your pocket? Get an Amazon Gift Card from that Aunt who usually give you the ugly sweater? How about buying some ebooks? Start the year with some information and education to help you get more writing done? Or maybe you forgot someone on your gift list? Amazon even has a "gift button" that sends the book in a "wrapper" that must be clicked to find out what the gift book is! So if you are looking for a late stocking stuffer for people with electronic feet - check out these books! Hey, they don't even need a Kindle - Amazon has a free app for any device (it doesn't work on your Mr. Coffee - I tried). Blue Books are $1 off now... but they won't be forever!

- Bill

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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!

Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

Only $9.99 - and no postage!


HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR


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?

** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR **

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. Over 77,000 words, under $5!


HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99


STORY IN ACTION SERIES


bourne

Brand New!

*** THE BOURNE MOVIES

All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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Over 240 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR SERIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" was set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. Now James Cameron, Schwarzanegger, and Linda Hamilton are returning for a new film! What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!




bluebook

#1 GOT IDEAS?

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

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

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

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


BRAND NEW!

#2 OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?

Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.



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#3 STRUCTURING YOUR STORY

*** STRUCTURING YOUR STORY *** - For Kindle!


William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#4 HOW YOU TELL IT

*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!


This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#6 START STRONG!

*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!


Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#7 THAT STAR PART!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 208 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#8 DO YOU WRITE PICTURES?

*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)


Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


#9 DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!

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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?

Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

Only $3.99 - and no postage!



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#10 THEY SOUND DIFFERENT!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create great dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#11 WHAT IS A SCENE?

*** SCENE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

***

What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#12 GREAT SUPPORTING CHARACTERS!

*** SUPPORTING CHARACTERS & SUBPLOTS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 170 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#13 STUCK IN THE MIDDLE?

*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that's well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 208 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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#20 HOW TO SELL!

*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

$3.99 - and no postage!


Already got 'em all? Tell a friend!

- Bill

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fishing Expeditions

From 2008...

A while back I posted that I had a bunch of companies reading scripts, so I figured I’d bring you up to date.

I have this page in a legal pad that says CHANCES TO WIN across the top. When I send out a script or have a meeting or some other thing happens that may result in my name of some silly action movie, I write it down. Hey, it this script sells - I can continue to play the screenwriting game! If it doesn’t, I just cross it out. The thing about the legal pad is that it’s pages and pages of crossed out scripts and a couple that became paying gigs. So out of those six companies reading a month ago, I think one is a possible deal and the one is still just floating out there and four are completely dead - crossed out.

One of the companies requested a script that everyone seems to love and has almost been made 3 times. At one point, a director was hired (paid) and did location scouting on the script for my rewrite... and I hadn’t been paid a cent, yet. We were making a movie! Then there was a change in management at the Cable Net, and all of the old regime’s projects were shelved... including mine. I got the script back, and a year later someone else wanted to make it - and something similar happened. So this script is going to land somewhere someday, but I’m just waiting for the stars to align. Instant rejection from this company - after they requested to read it. This is the kind of thing that confuses me - it wasn’t the idea... was it the execution? If it was the execution, how come the other companies almost made it? My guess is that the company was looking for *something* and had no idea what... so they were reading anything that seemed to be close. Just fishing...

There’s this balance required in this biz between not taking rejection personally, and being blind to the faults of a script. So there’s a moment of “Was it the script? Do I need to fix it?” But I don’t think that was the case here. Next!

One producer instantly sent me a contract... Some boilerplate contract, but a strange one. It was designed for producers without money to go fishing with the script as bait - low option money for a long time period, and when it came to purchase it gets fuzzy and impractical, because that’s not important to this “producer”. Now, I’ve signed “shopping agreements” - which are fishing expeditions - but are up front about that. They don’t tie up the script for *years*. This was a contract that was all about the “producer” not getting cut out of any deal if they set it up... not about actually making a movie based on my script. You know, if I’m the guy who owns the bait, what do I need this “producer” for? I did not sign the contract.

I’d looked this “producer” up after they called me - a couple of “co-producer” credits on small films. One of the problems with producer credits is that it’s often hard to tell who was an actual producer and who just had access to the star they needed or had a facilities deal the company took advantage of. On one of my films, a guy got a producer credit because he *introduced me* to the actual producers. He didn’t do anything. It was a script that had been passed around, and he tore off the title page, gave it to the real producers, and told them if they wanted to buy it, he had the writer’s name, address and phone number. He got a credit and a finder’s fee for that title page! The thing is - how do you know what that producer title means if you’ve never worked with them before? I figured it was worth a shot.

Another producer read the script, liked it, and asked me how much I thought it would cost to make. Could I come up with a budget for them? Oh, and do I know any stars? You know, there are things that are really not the screenwriter’s job. I suspect fishing was involved there, too.

The fourth - oh boy! They wanted a list of all of my available scripts to show to their studio connection... and some sort of $1 option on anything the studio connection wanted to read. I explained to them that my $1 option days were pretty much over... and they told me how amazing their studio connection was - but they wouldn’t even tell me what company this guy was at. Come on!

A few years ago I got this call from a producer named “Terry” who had an office on Sunset and had heard really good things about me, and wanted to meet with me about a project. I drive over to his office, we talk about this project he has and this star who is interested in it... but they need a script to take to his studio connection. Okay, so far... but, of course, they aren’t financed, yet, so if I could write it for free... Um, no. “Come on, it will be good for your career. You’ll get a credit!” First meeting, so I had a couple of - well, probably VHS tapes at the time - in my bag. I pull out CRASH DIVE and toss it on the desk. “I already have some credits.” The guy gives the tape to his assistant who puts it in the player on the other side of the office and hits play - and the movie starts. And it has submarines at sunset... and then my credit comes up, and “Terry” looks confused. “You wrote this movie?” “Yes. And several others.” (I probably pulled something else from my bag.) Seems that “Terry” didn’t look me up - pre-IMDB days, but there was Film Writers Guide and some online databases... and he could have just asked me. But he asks me one more time if I’d write his script for free, and I decline. And as far as I know they never made that movie, and now that we have IMDB I’ve looked up “Terry” under his real name and he’s done nothing. Nada. Zilch. I’m kind of surprised, because he either had huge balls or a pea brain - and either could get him places a normal person can not go. Lotta fishing goes on in this town.

You may be wondering where I find these people... but they’re the ones who find me. Usually someone passes them a script, or someone they have worked with in the past recommends me. So they often have already read a script when they call me. I do the best I can to vet them, usually just looking them up on IMDB (unless they mention some movie I’ve heard of) - and I usually ask what they’ve done. But that doesn’t always separate the nuts from the bolts. I figure if they come through with a deal, that’s great - if they just waste a little bit of my time, well... I’ve had *studios* waste my time.

One of the last two looks like it’s going to happen - should know at the end of this month (reffed twice, now) and one is still floating around... waiting to get crossed out.

But meanwhile some other things have taken the place of the crossed out chances. One is a remake of a 1980s movie for a studio (had a meeting on that Tuesday with the producer, two weeks from now with the studio). One is a movie for Spike TV - real producer with real credits. One is a movie for another cable-net (had a meeting with them a week ago - I thought it went terrible, they want me to bring them some scripts - may tell you more about that in a later post). And I have a producer who seems interested in taking a script to a studio’s new D2DVD label - that has an odd limited theatrical possibility. Probably most of those will be crossed off the CHANCES TO WIN list next month...

I guess I’m fishing, too... but at least I own my own bait!

- Bill

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Great Movie Moments:
Harry's Intro - THE THIRD MAN

When BAFTA - the British version of The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences - decided to come up with a list of the 100 Greatest British Films Of All Time, the #1 position did not go to an adaptation of Shakespeare or some other classic novel, nor to any of the gritty realistic films of the 60s and 70s... but to a *thriller* that was a huge financial success - THE THIRD MAN (1949). Based on a novel by Graham Green and directed by Carol Reed, it’s fun and funny and filled with chases and action scenes and other typical genre stuff. Just done right, and about the subject of black market medicine after World War 2.

If you have not seen the film - shame on you, and I’m going to spoil the heck out of it.

The story is about American Holly Martins - a pulp western writer with a silly name - who goes to Vienna when his old pal Harry Lime offers him a job. But when he arrives he discovers that Lime is *dead* - hit by a truck in a mysterious accident. Though only two people (who claim to have been Harry’s friends) were present when Harry died... one witness claims to have seen a third man, who was not questioned by the police. Martins acts like one of his Cowboy Sheriff characters and decides to track down the truth - because maybe Harry was *murdered* and the third man is the killer. This gets Martins into all kinds of trouble, because Harry was involved in the black market and those two “friends” of his are dangerous criminals. Between the criminals and the police (British military police) people are following Martins and maybe trying to kill him. Then, one night, he sees one of the people following him...



Twist - Harry is alive!

- Bill

Monday, December 04, 2017

Loglines For Hit Movies

From May 2009...

Many screenwriters have trouble coming up with loglines for their screenplays. A logline is a one sentence description of their story, like the ones used in TV Guide. The idea behind a logline is to sum up the story in the most interesting and provactive way, which will make readers of the logline wish to read the screenplay. So I have compiled three things to help all of you struggling screenwriters.

1) Often writers want to know what the loglines for hit movies look like, to help them construct their own loglines. Here is a place where you can read actual loglines for popular films: Loglines For Hit Movies!

2) And often writers can be stumped for a high concept story idea, so here is a website that will help you come up with the next seven figure script sale concept: Hit High Concept Movie Ideas!

3) And last... and probably least... here are actual loglines from the listings of my movies from the page for the U.K.'s Movies For Men Channels...

Movies 4 Men:
5/20 - 21:10 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

Movies 4 Men 2:
5/21 - 20:05 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

5/23 - 21:00 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

As usual, the writer gives no refunds...

- Bill

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will be off eating turkey (the bird, not the country) and watching some film afterwards. I would like to take this time to thank *you* for reading the blog and the daily script tips and for putting up with me on those days when I'm a grumpy a-hole. I hate those days.

I think the great thing about Thanksgiving is that its the holiday where we set aside of differences and come together to celebrate all of the good things that have happened over the past year. Even if your life has not gone exactly as planned (and whose ever does?) you are still here and still plugging away. Find the joy in your life, even when things are not going right. Laugh.



I'm a big fan of silent comic Buster Keaton - his character had the worst luck of anyone on the planet... and that's where he found his comedy. My favorite Keraton short is THE HIGH SIGN, makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Hey, here's Keaton's feature THE GENERAL - view it online or download it free.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive people. Be nice to complete strangers. Think of people other than yourself. And look at people who are different than you are and see the similarities. We all share this planet.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Picky Producers

From 2009...

Just read an advert from a producer who is still looking for a script, and doesn't want to read any of the previously submitted scripts again - he is looking for *different* scripts that fit his criteria. If you have already read all of the scripts submitted the first time, how many new scripts are there that fit your criteria a few months later?

A couple of years ago a screenwriter friend of mine had a movie stall out, and took a job on the other side of the desk as a development executive for a new company. Because he’s a good guy, the very first thing he did was call up all of his screenwriter friends and see if any of them had scripts that would fit the needs of his new employers. This was great, because we now had a friend “on the inside” who would really push our work to the company. My first question was, “What are they looking for?” If they were looking for rom-coms, I was out. If they were looking for family films, I had a treatment but not a screenplay - and that treatment is not high concept at all, so would probably not be in the running. If they were looking for a comedy, um... that’s also not me.

My friend got back to me (and everyone else) with the company’s needs... The good news was that they were looking for a thriller or horror screenplay. Hey, I have those! But that was not the end of it... They were also looking for scripts that can be made for $1m (hey, I got those), that were film festival quality (hey, I got those), that used an untraditional structure, like MEMENTO or RUN LOLA RUN (okay, now I’m in trouble) that was high concept (hey, I got those), that would not just be selected for the film festival, but would win a bunch because that was part of the distribution plan (um, I have no idea how I can guarantee a win), and would not require a star to be successful at the box office, oh - and would appeal to 15-25 year olds in the mainstream audience.

Okay, that’s a lot of different conditions for one screenplay... and a screenplay you are going to make for only $1 million. The company supposedly had access to $1m per film - probably some sort of revolving credit deal - so they were for real and could actually make several movies, one at a time. Now, $1 million may sound like a lot to you - it is what the average American will make over a lifetime of work - but it’s nothing in the movie world where the average studio film costs $106.7 million by the time it hits your screen. Making a film for $1m is difficult, and you really need a script designed for the budget. Limited cast, limited locations, limited night scenes, limited to no crowd scenes, etc. It is not easy to write a script that can be made for $1m. The biggest expense in a studio film are stars - and just because your film costs less than 1% of theirs doesn’t mean you can don’t need stars... you need a script that is set up for “confined cameos” where you can spend a chunk of money on one day of a name of some sort (or two) and try to get the biggest name you can for the least money. And you want *someone* in that lead role - a B level star or some TV person. All of this means the script for a $1 million movie is more difficult to write than one for a $106 million movie, because you must limit the cast and locations without looking like you are limiting the cast and locations. You can’t rely on amazing car chases or CGI or even fantastic locations or acting - the script has to be clever enough to work without those things. So, the $1m thing is already a tough thing to find in a screenplay.

But I have some scripts that were written for that budget.



The big problem seemed to be the elements that contradicted each other. A film that appeals to the 15-25 year old mainstream audience is not likely to have an untraditional structure or end up winning a film festival. If you look at the films that get *bought* out of film festivals, they tend to be the midnight genre films showing out of competition - like my friend Jonathan King’s horror comedy BLACK SHEEP. Now, BLACK SHEEP is a great movie and got some great reviews when it was released, but it is not the type of film to win a festival. It’s *fun*. It’s about killer sheep. It’s not some drama about an issue with a bunch of big speeches. And even BLACK SHEEP wasn’t a hit with the mainstream 15-25 year old audience - I think that demo prefers their horror without laughs and clever dialogue. They just want blood and guts and boobs.

It seemed to me that there were two factions at this company, and each wanted to make a different kind of movie... so they were looking for a script that would please both sides. One faction wanted an art house movie that would win at film festivals and the other wanted a movie that would make money with a mainstream audience. It is difficult for me to imagine the script that pleases both factions - and I am a fan of quality genre movies. THE DARK KNIGHT was a crowd pleaser *and* a critical success (though it was not nominated for Best Picture). But DARK KNIGHT had a traditional structure - wasn’t told backwards or sideways or any other strange way.

The problem for me was that I had clever genre scripts that could be made for $1m, but they were traditionally told and were not the type of scripts to win any film fests... though they might play midnight shows. I also had a couple of scripts that were not traditionally told (like LAST STAND), but these were aimed at an older audience and were too expensive to produce on a $1m budget. I had nothing that fit all of the criteria.

I thought my best chance was a thriller of mine, THE COMPLEX, which has almost been made three times, and whenever people pass on it they always say it’s “too art house”. Of course, it wasn’t art house enough for the company my friend was working for.

I talked to my friend, and he suggested I artificially break up the chronology of one of my scripts so that it fit that criteria - and that would get me through the door. Except I thought that would ruin the script. Here is where my ego gets in my way - because I should have just done it...

But first time film company with odd criteria seemed like a long shot to me.

Another friend had a script that was close enough (I think he may have jumbled the chronology in a rewrite to get through the door) and they had some meetings with him, but eventually did not think his script had all of the criteria. This writer is produced, and I believe he eventually sold that script (for much more money than this company would have paid) to a producer with plans to make a much bigger film. I’ve said this before on the blog, most low budget producers never even consider that the script they read for their $2m film still has fingerprints on it from a couple of studio based producers who were interested in buying it as one of those $106m films. They think the scripts are on the same level as they are, and are usually unable to tell a good script from a bad script.

Well, actually a “great” script from a “good” script - it’s like wine: An average person can tell a good glass of wine from a bad glass of wine. But the more you know about wine, the more refined your palate, the better you are at telling a great glass of wine from a good one. Suddenly that table full of wine bottles the average person thinks are good can be grouped into better and great and best and just downright amazing. The low budget producers usually just know what tastes good, and can’t tell which of those is great... and often are more interested in “bland good” than “interesting great.” So the company my friend worked for missed a chance at a script that sold for a bundle to others. They probably couldn’t see past their conditions.

If you are investing money in a script and film, you want it to be the very best you can afford. A producer is going to be stuck with that project through pre-production and production and post-production and selling the film and distribution and exhibition and DVD sales and cable sales and TV sales and then paperwork for the rest of their lives. They need to love the project. Making a film is like getting married, and you don’t want to chose some random person as your spouse. So I understand the need to be picky - in fact, I think I have a career *because* producers are picky. They want the best script they can afford, not just a bunch of action scenes connected by a flimsy plot and 2D characters. They want something good - and that’s what I want to provide for them. And I also understand that a movie, even a low budget movie, is an investment and the producer would like a return. That means the script has to be something that can be made into a movie that paying customers will want to see.



I know a director who makes genre films for a living, and when he finds financing for his own film, ends up making an “anti-genre film” - a boring drama of some sort. (may have blogged this before.) He has talked to me about writing one of these a few times, and I usually say no, because I’d like to write a film that will be seen and distributed (his previous arty films were not). I think the problem with this director and many picky producers is that they see all genre films as the same, and either do not look for or can not see the “art” in some commercial films. My theory has always been to write commercial genre films that are also about something - so that people will be talking about them 50 years from now... the way we're still talking about INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and other films that were made for commercial reasons but have stuck around because they are "commercial plus".

With the indie world drying up right now, there may not be financing available for non-mainstream films, so producers are going to have to make the kinds of films that are popular with a wider audience... but make *great* ones instead of dopey ones. Make genre films that will get good reviews. If you watch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and any Uli Lommel film on a double bill, you’ll see what I’m talking about. We need more really great genre films!

Now, all of this sounds like I’m happy that this company my friend worked for was picky as hell... but I’m not. The whole unusual structure thing is obvious indie stuff, and it seems like they were looking for a mainstream genre script that was also an unconventional niche market art house script. They were *not* considering making a really good mainstream genre film. Maybe they were unable to see how a mainstream genre film could be good, or maybe the money faction wanted one thing and the creative faction wanted the opposite. They continued to look for that one amazing script that did everything.

Though I am the first person to point out that there are probably close to a million scripts in circulation at any one time, most of those scripts stink. The ones that are good? Well, I’m not really sure there were any that fit all of the company’s criteria. You would think there might be that one in a million script out there, and maybe there was... but the longer you spend looking for the perfect script, the more time your money people have to wake up and realize that making movies is high risk... and back out. There comes a time when it makes more sense to buy the best script you can find and make the best movie you can make, rather than waiting around for that one perfect script to cross your desk. There comes a time to settle for the best available.



Because there are only so many scripts available - and once you’ve read through them and not found *exactly* what you are looking for, waiting around for someone to write it just doesn’t make sense. When you’ve read through all of the submissions and none fit the criteria, asking for submissions again will just get you the same stack. Makes more sense to select the best script from the stack and make it, even if it is not *exactly* what you were looking for.

I suspect part of the reason they wanted that *perfect* script is that they were thinking that everything was riding on this first film. They wanted to begin with the perfect film which would rocket them to fame and fortune and make their company instant players. Though that happens once in a blue moon, usually it’s a bunch of baby steps. How many films did Miramax distribute *before* PULP FICTION? Probably hundreds! You can’t plan on perfection out of the gate, you have to build up to it. If you wait for the perfect script to surface, you will be waiting forever and get nothing done. Better to make movies while you are waiting for that perfect script... and if you are constantly making movies I think you have a better chance of finding that perfect script - you are a player and people want to play with you. If you aren’t making movies, you are not even in the game.

The company my friend worked for never bought a script and never made a movie, and eventually their money source went elsewhere. They closed their doors without having made any films... as do many other picky start up companies. I see the script searches with too many conditions frequently, and sometimes have meetings with companies looking for that amazing script that will guarentee them an Oscar right out of the gate. If thse companies had just selected the best script that was offered to them, made it, then continued picking best scripts and making them; they would be a company with a library and a future... and maybe along the way they might have found that one in a million script. Instead, they didn’t even leave any junky mainstream genre flicks behind.

We all want to write great scripts, but our first script(s) are not going to be perfect. They are stepping stones to better scripts. A single script is not going to be a life changing property - it’s just a script. You will write a stack of scripts, and some will be the ones that open doors and some will be the ones that do nothing at all except get you to the next script that opens some other doors. Each open door takes you a little bit farther down the path. You may write that script that opens many doors at once... but that script was the result of lessons learned from all of the scripts you wrote before. There is no one perfect life changing script - nor is there one single perfect life changing movie that makes your company an instant major player.

If a producer waits until they find that perfect script, they will never make a movie.

If a writer waits until they find that perfect concept, they will never write a script.

If a writer waits until they come up with that perfect line of dialogue, they will never finish that page!

Don’t create so many conditions that you limit yourself and create your own failure.

Just keep doing your best work.

Every step is a step closer... but if you wait to take that first step? You're going nowhere.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving...

Movies: BLIND SIDE - On message boards and in e-mails, people are always saying they have lead the most amazing life and someone should make a movie about it - and they would gladly pay me a third of whatever the script sells for if I write it for them. When I say that I’d be doing all of the work, they always say it was their life and they have had to live it, and once Hollywood hears their story, they will pay millions for it! Though most people don’t want to tell me about their life unless I’m onboard and have signed a NDA, the few who do share a few juicy morsels of their amazing lives... well, they don’t convince me to drop everything and write their stories. Most have lived unusual lives that would make them the center of attention at any cocktail party, but not exactly the center of attention at a multi-plex showing the latest superhero movies and disaster flicks and high concept comedies. This is the big problem with true stories on film - they seem really dull when compared with the other movies out there. Also, you are shackled by the truth - even if your story is about the survivor of an amazing event, you have to stay within the reality of that event.



BLIND SIDE is based on a true story, written as a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, the same guy who wrote MONEYBALL - he kind of has a niche writing strange-but-true sports stories. The screenplay and direction are by John Lee Hancock, who writes and directs heartwarming true sports stories that often take place in Texas. Perfect match - this story takes place in Texas and is unabashedly feel good material.

Quinton Aaron plays Big Mike, a homeless high school kid with great sports skills. His inner city friend’s dad uses Big Mike’s athletic skills as bait to get both kids into a private Christian school in the wealthy and safe suburbs on a scholarship... then kicks Big Mike off his sofa. So Big Mike sleeps in a 24 hour laundromat and sometimes in the school gym - because he can scavenge uneaten food after the games.

One night, after a game, he’s spotted walking through the rain by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her upper middle class conservative Republican Christian NRA family as they cruise past in their SUV. Leigh decides it is her Christian duty to provide shelter for this kid, and when she discovers Big Mike has no family to go home to for Thanksgiving, invites him to stay. Eventually he becomes part of the family, best friend and protector to her son SJ (Sean Junior played by scene stealer Jae Head), reluctant brother-figure to cheerleader Collins (played by Lilly Collins) and surrogate older son to dad (Tim McGraw, who provides a few tunes for the soundtrack). Oh, and later there is a college exam tutor played by always-fiesty Kathy Bates.

The problem with Big Mike’s amazing sports skills is that he needs better grades to make the team... so they set out to tutor him and give him a normal life base to work from. And he makes the team and is accepted by the other students. And folks, that’s just about it! There are some minor real-life complications that provide some drama and conflict, and a by-the-numbers lowest point in Big Mike’s new life that is a little exciting, but the world doesn’t end and Big Mike is not bitten by a radioactive spider. He just gets to play football and have a fairly normal life.

This is the kind of movie I can recommend to my mom - she would love it. Your mom would probably love it, too. It’s one of those good old fashioned feel good movies - and managed to be the #1 movie on Thanksgiving Day. I suspect lots of families went to see it after dinner, and it was the perfect film for that.

The problem with a movie like this is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t - BLIND SIDE is not overly emotional, so it manages to avoid any criticism for being corny... but by avoiding all of those big over-the-top emotions, it comes off a little dull and distant. A little on the BLAND SIDE.



What saves this film is Sandra Bullock. After seeing her in nothing but silly rom-coms, it’s hard to remember that she can actually *act*. She was one of the saviors of CRASH, too - she just explodes in that film and makes you wonder why she isn’t cast in more serious films. In BLIND SIDE she is an amazing force of nature - you forget it’s Sandy Bullock. In a scene where she threatens the life of a vicious gang-banger, you fear for *his* safety! She is so fierce in this film, she practically burns a hole in the film in some scenes. This is a woman who knows what she wants and gets what she wants and *nothing* gets in her way. She’s also funny, and all of her passion comes from having a very big heart. I could imagine another actress getting the tough aspect down, but not the soft interior. Bullock manages to give a layered performance where she is tough *and* tender *and* funny all at the same time. Oh, and this may be TMI and just my personal opinion... but *hot*, too. She manages to be sexy while being tough and all of those other things. Though, that may just be wardrobe. When she goes onto the football field in a scene and man-handles the players - using them as props while explaining top Big Mike how to improve his game, you forget it’s Bullock. She just is that character.

The rest of the casting is also great - I mentioned Jae Head who plays SJ, who manages to make a work out montage funny, and a later college scouting montage laugh out loud funny. This little kid is amazing.

The film also has some great small moments, like when the cheerleader sister decides to have lunch in the cafeteria with Big Mike instead of her cheerleader friends. And when Leigh is reading the kid’s book Ferdinand The Bull to SJ and Big Mike... and cheerleader sis secretly listens from the next room. Moments of family life with this “adopted” family member.

Though the film also manages to show a conservative Republican Christian family and *use* those elements as a integral part of the story - the reason why they take in Big Mike in the first place is their faith, and the Thanksgiving prayer is another great moment - when they all take each other’s hands, and Big Mike becomes part of that circle of family. The way Leigh explains Big Mike’s job on the football field is that he is protecting his family of players. When those folks in the heartland complain that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for them, here it is. I have no idea how well it will play outside the USA, but it’s not strictly about football or religion, it’s mostly about *family*, and that may translate.



BLIND SIDE is a good movie... and probably the best movie your mom and her friends will see this year. And Sandra Bullock might even get some Oscar buzz from it.

- Bill

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Five Season 1 HITCH 20 Episodes!

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here are the first five episodes. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock. The new season begins next week... without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I will still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

1) This episode is REVENGE, which I am not a part of. The story is a corker, though: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.



2) This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





3) This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

A) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

B) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!



4) This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!







5) This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 in this season... and by next Friday I hope to have a new entry for Fridays With Hitchcock on SABOTAGE. Followed by the not so great Hitchcock film THE SECRET AGENT (which still manages to have some great screenwriting lessons in it's muddled story) and then THE 39 STEPS, which is a great Hitchcock film.



Of course, I have my own book focusing on Hitchcock...

Bill




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.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

AFM - Day Last

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

This is the sixth day of American Film Market, and I am on autopilot. I realize another issue with my AFM experience is not enough coffee. When I do an event like the Raindance Film Festival, I am sucking down coffee like crazy by the final days. But at AFM I’ve had a coffee before I leave the house and usually one for the drive in, and then I go to the venue and have no more caffeine. I should have bought a jar of Folger’s Crystals and ate it dry by Monday... but instead I was just tired again.



And the big problem is that I’ve decided today will be my last day at market, because I have writing assignments that need some attention. I just turned in a new draft of one assignment - a horror film, and am supposed to be working on the next assignment - a rewrite of an action film - this month. But so far, I have done nothing on it due to AFM, and this month has a holiday in it. So today is it for me at AFM...

And that was going to be a problem because I had put off talking to some of the larger companies until today, when it should be slower. The companies that I most need to have energy for... and I’m running on fumes. I walk upstairs like an old man, legs having a week of constant climbing already - like spending 6 full days on a Stairmaster at the gym.

LUCKY STARS




While walking down one of the halls I notice a pair of posters on the wall that sums up great luck with movie stars at AFM. To sell a movie, even a low budget movie, you need stars. If you tell someone that your script was made into a movie, the first thing they will ask you is “Who’s in it?” You can have the greatest story in the world, and people want to know who the actors are. Once low budget horror movies became saturated, having some name in the cast became the key to selling them. When you look at a movie poster, any movie poster, the stars names are right there on top above the title in big letters so that everyone can see them. Your name as writer? In teeny little letters near the bottom. Hey, maybe not fair, but that’s reality. There are three kinds of stars that get cast in movies that sell at AFM - stars on their way up, stars on their way down, and genre stars (B movie actors).

GENRE STARS: The funny thing about genre stars is that mainstream audience members may not know who they are. They are specialty stars, who have loyal fans within their genre. Distribs know who these genre stars are, and know which ones are hot and which ones are not and which ones have made so many movies over the past year that *they* are over saturated and no longer mean anything as a star. Some of these genre stars are supporting actors in A movies like Gary Busey, but others are stars who hit big in some genre movies and now are the big fish in the small pond, like Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) who is still a star in low budget horror movies decades after his big break and Tiffany Shepis who has worked her way up from really low budget horror films by shining in every single one of them. That’s usually how a genre star comes to be - they are cast in a film that becomes a genre hit, and suddenly the audience knows their name and wants to see more movies starring them... so producers hire them. Or they are the person who shines in some film where they may be the best thing about it. Those who start at the top, even after their stardom has waned, are still names and faces the genre audience knows so they can continue to work... probably for less money in less expensive films. Those who start at the bottom have an upswing to larger budget genre films, and often go from supporting role to star. Both Jeffrey and Tiffany are known to the genre audience, even if you have never heard of them.

Most of my films have starred genre people. Though I have zero input on casting, I always suggest the producers hire some actors who are on their way up or actors from indie films either instead of or in addition to the genre stars. That way the films might appeal to a larger audience, who may not know the genre star. But so far, no producer has listened to me. Casting genre stars is kind of a sure thing. The target audience knows who the star is and may even seek out their films. If the producer cast an Oscar winner in a genre film, it may actually have a negative effect on sales. The target audience cares about Tiffany Shepis, but may not care at all about Judy Dench... and may even be turned off by a horror movie starring Dench. Casting mainstream names in a genre film may be a waste of money. So producers usually do what is safe and cast a genre star. I get that, but still suggest some star on their way up or indie name in the supporting roles. Often I write a couple of great supporting roles just so they can be cast with actors who are known outside the genre to bring in folks who are not those rabid genre fans... so far, none of those roles has ever been cast with anyone I’ve suggested. Pisser.

STARS ON THEIR WAY UP:

One of the actors I always suggested for my films was Sam Rockwell, who is from the Bay Area (like me) and I met before he was ever in a movie. Back when they were casting CRASH DIVE there was a key supporting role that was written for someone who could act. The stars would still be whoever the producer thought could sell the film, but I figured the supporting roles might be where an interesting actor on their way up might elevate the whole film. But the producer said he’s never heard of Sam Rockwell (this was mid-90s). I said, “Yes, but are you planning on casting someone you have heard of in that role? Or just an actor from a casting call?” The answer was casting call, but the *director* wanted to pick the actor. So the guy cast wasn’t great, and nobody knows who they are today. We *did* score on two other actors from the casting call: Catherine Bell as the female lead (she had done an episode of HERCULES) and Chris Titus as the comic relief character (was doing stand up in clubs) - both went on to headline their own TV shows after we discovered them.

One of the ways an AFM company can get lucky is by casting a talented actor who seems to be on their way up... and that star ends up in a huge hit studio movie. So the #1 live action movie over the weekend was DUE DATE starring Robert Downey jr and Zach Galifianikis and Zach did some low budget movies for AFM companies before being discovered by mainstream Hollywood... and the posters came out at AFM on Monday. Suddenly that old title the company had in their back catalogue became the hot title they were pushing to any territory that hadn’t bought it. I think this is why AFM companies *need* to look at the up and coming actors and have a good idea of who they are and how talented they are. One problem with many of the AFM companies (including guys I have sold to) is that they only care about the star that sells the film and the rest of the roles are meaningless to them... when those secondary roles may give the film a second life if any of the actors cast hit big later on.



STARS ON THEIR WAY DOWN: The other place AFM find actors to headline their films is stars on their way down... or stars whose future is uncertain. Either because the star gets too old for whatever gen re they are best known for, or completely screws up their career; they often end up starring in films at AFM. Tom Sizemore went from HEAT to headlining a Michael Mann produced TV show to crashing and burning (and doing some jail time) and ending up starring in AFM movies made for half a million bucks... which is probably what Sizemore was getting per episode for that TV show. The great thing about AFM movies is that they are kind of a safety net for actors that studios no longer want to hire. Last year’s hot babe in some studio film may be this year’s dramatic actress in an AFM film... or the chief of police in a genre film. Burt Reynolds may play a retired cop who gets involved in a murder investigation in an AFM film.

The big score was the company who had a star on his way up with Zach Galifianikis *and* a star is limbo with this Dakota Fanning movie. No longer a kid, and not a sexy babe, Fanning is at an awkward age for mainstream studio films which makes her perfect for AFM movies. Everyone knows who she is, so she can sell a movie, but she’s probably affordable because there aren’t many people who want to hire her. She’s in like an adult Culkin. So here she is in an AFM movie that will probably come to a Blockbuster near you... if they are still in business.

CLOSED MONDAYS


Hey, a couple of days ago I met Will Vinton, and now I’m using the title of one of his films! As I wander the hallways at AFM I notice that many of the doors are closed with notes on them. Some of the notes say they have closed early today and have a phone number where you can call if you want to meet with the company, and others are just plain closed for the rest of the market - the people have flown back to whatever country they came from (which might even be Beverly Hills). This tells me more about the market than the press releases I’m getting in my e-mail box every morning that tell me how business as AFM is booming and attendance is up 6% over last year. Um, business seems to be so slow people are leaving after the weekend.

Many of the other companies offices are run by skeleton staffs, making deals on whatever territories still need movies. If Bulgaria needs a couple of horror movies to fill out their slate, there’s someone in the office who can sell them... but not the boss. The boss may have already left.

This becomes another issue with interviewing people for my article - I wanted a huge number of interviews so that I could find a consensus, and so far I have a few interviews... and it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get many more today. Between my lack of sleep and energy and the closed companies, my “sample” is going to be smaller than I wanted. I’m worried about my article (though, if you are reading this blog you may not be as worried, since my AFM coverage is going to run about 65 pages). I go downstairs... and bump into Mike, who wrote a family film that has done well in Family Film Festivals. He asks me if I’m going to the seminar. “What seminar?” The one on making movies that starts in half an hour. “Who’s giving it?” Some group, but one of the panelists is Mark Damon. “I’m going.”

THE PANEL


Some of you may be wondering who Mark Damon is, others know that he is the pretty boy actor who played opposite Vincent Price in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Oh, yeah, and he’s the King of AFM. While living in Italy and being the American star in a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns (like JOHNNY YUMA), he began putting together deals for US indie films for Italy and Italian films for America, and started one of the first foreign sales companies. Since then he has been the driving force in international film sales, and has made many films you have probably seen and continues to make upscale indie films like MONSTER and THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. The other panelists were equally impressive. And it was free. I went in, grabbed a seat, clicked on my pocket recorder in the event anyone said anything quotable, and the panel began... and it was *all* quotable!

Besides Mark Damon, the panel included entertainment attorney Todd Stern, casting director Ronnie Yeskel, publicist Erik Bright and was moderated by Sydney Levine and presented by Dreamago - an organization that connects talent with business.

Mark Damon said so many great things about screenwriting and the importance of the screenplay in an indie film deal, and how one goes about getting a good script, that I had my article for Script Magazine. A better article than if I had talked to every distrib at market (they never like talking about screenplays, probably because many have no idea what makes a good script and are afraid of having this pointed out in print). It was a great panel, lots of information, and plenty of stuff that writers need to know about this part of the business.

After the seminar there was a little party on the balcony, with wine and cheese and I grabbed some of each. During the panel I noticed a student from a decade ago when I lectured at Art Center College in Pasadena named Maja, and asked her what she was up to - she’s producing her second film! That’s great! She’s someone I see every once in a while at screenings and working in producer’s offices. There are people who work their butts off finding a way into the business, and they’re the ones who make it.


Not my bike!

After talking with Maja, I mingled... but am such a wall flower that I talked with no one else, not even Mark Damon who was only a few feet away or Sydney Levine who was talking to the person next to me. I have to get over this - I’ll talk to someone I know, but I am not good at meeting and chatting up strangers. Hey, I even had a meeting with Mark Damon over 15 years ago - that would have broken the ice. But instead I finished my wine and cheese and did a final lap of the lobby before leaving AFM for good. If they are closing up offices on *Monday* I can’t imagine what Tuesday will be like. For me, AFM was over... and now I had to get back to work on my script assignment.

- Bill

PS: Next Friday - the return of Fridays With Hitchcock, REBECCA... and then the Friday after that FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

American Film Market - Weekend
Part Two

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

As I climb the stairs, I pass the girl in the Backless Sundress and try to read her badge to see who she is working for, but can’t really do more than glance without looking as if I am staring at her cleavage. Dang - can’t read it. I keep climbing stairs. AFM is an endless stair climb - once the guard in front of the stairway door checks your badge, you are either climbing those endless metal steps or walking down a hallway. Once you get to the 8th floor - the top floor - the stairs continue up to the roof if you don’t stop. Sometimes you take a few steps up and realize you’ve passed your floor. The same thing happens going down - the stairs go all the way down into the hotel’s basement, and people frequently don’t stop at the lowest floor and keep on going. I’ve seen several people keep climbing down... but I never see anyone climbing up. What happens to them down there?



One of the problems with the weekend is that companies *are* doing business, and I don’t want to barge in to ask them silly press questions. The problem is, all of the other people with press badges don’t feel this way, and when I walk past a company some other reporter rushes in and interrupts a deal. So I am doing a lot of walking and not much talking. I decide to check in on the guys who produced (and ruined) my SOFT TARGET script a couple of years ago. When I get my foreign levy checks from WGA, SOFT TARGET is never listed - has it not sold any foreign territories? I want my residuals! So I climb the stairs to the 8th floor to see what territories they have sold...

SOFT TARGET NEWS




A few years ago I had a script that was almost a nice big studio action flick, but one of the millions of things that can go wrong with a deal did go wrong, and the option expired and the script was mine again. I was in the process of getting it back out there when an action guy I have worked with in the past called to tell me he had just opened his own company with another guy and was looking for scripts, did I have anything? The big problem with being a professional screenwriter is that you have no idea where your next sale is coming from, so you have to try just about everything. I had just had this deal fall apart and needed a new deal, so even though this guy was nowhere near the top of my wish list for producers, I have an inventory of spec scripts and maybe I can sell one and have the next year paid for. I gave him my list of availables, and pointed out one cool action script that I would be happy to part with (and might even be a good fit). So, of course, he wants the script that the studio producer had optioned, SOFT TARGET. The one script on the list I don’t want him to have. I try to sell him on the other script, but he wants SOFT TARGET. I call around to try and make some other deal, but get nada... so I reluctantly sell them SOFT TARGET after they tell me how much the love it and how they don’t want to change a word. By the way - when someone says they don’t want to change a word, that usually means they want to change every single word of your screenplay but one, and that was the case here. The movie they made from the script doesn’t even have the same *concept*!

So, these guys are like the in-laws you hate... but they are still part of your family. And, though I dislike the movie they have made from my script, I still would like to get some residuals from the deal, so I want it to be successful (even though the film sucks). So, after they made the domestic deal with LionsGate, did they sell the film to any foreign countries?

And find out that they sold SOFT TARGET to another distributor! The whole film (and a couple of others from their library) sold outright to another AFM company. My guess is that it was done to raise money, but I don’t ask. I do ask who the other distributor is...

Uwe Boll.


Uwe Boll's leg!

My film is in his company’s big catalogue! Right there with POSTAL and BLOOD RAYNE 3. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing... but having seen my film, it belongs with Boll’s films. I have to go downstairs to Boll Films and grab a catalogue, but first I ask how’s business... and get the usual AFM answer that it’s a little slow today but has been great so far.

The amusing thing about this company is that one of the partners is an action film guy and the other makes animated family films. On the wall next to the poster from some violent action film is a cute poster for an animated puppy movie. While I am there, the action guy mentions that some dude stopped by to see if they wanted to distribute his animated films, and left his card. The animation guy asks his name. “Will something...” (reads the card) “Will Vinton.” Both the animation guy and I say at the same time: “The Will Vinton?” And that’s who it was - the Oscar winning animator of those California Raisins and just about any Claymation animated film you have ever seen that wasn’t made by Nick Park. The animation guy grabs the card, pulls out his cell phone, and calls... gets Will Vinton, who is still in the building, and asks him to come back up! When Will Vinton arrives, I leave...

But not before action guy asks if I want to write a film for him and Manny Pacquiao to shoot in the Philippines?

After what they did to SOFT TARGET?

“I’ll think about it.” And I’m off down the hallways to some other suite... passing the girl in the Backless Sundress! Again I try to look at her badge without seeming to be looking at her cleavage... and again I can’t read the company name on her badge. Dang it! This is becoming an obsession! I must know who she is working for!

LOBBY RATS I KNOW




Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a prosumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct to DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert of Craigs List looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert... and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigs List, and most get paid zip - they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful - he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along - but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. LionsGate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies... but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.

So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie... doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigs List for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy - he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.

In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both of the movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180' rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?

The girl in the Backless Sundress passes by and I decide to just *stare* at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge... but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.



Moments later I bump into my friend Rob, who might actually be “my student Rob” - he took classes from me at Santa Fe and Expo many years ago and went on to write and produce some movies that are available from distribs upstairs. Unlike Max, Rob’s films have distributors who can sell the film to all of the foreign territories... problem is, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. And this is common - many of these AFM guys push whatever their new film is at this market, and then dump it in the catalogue and never think about it at the next market... a couple of months from now. So you may be excited by how much your film made first time out... but that may end up being pretty much all it makes. In an article in Script on AFM a couple of years ago, I advised you do your own international promotions on your film, to make sure the buyers want that film after your distrib buries it in their catalogue. You may not think this is your responsibility, and technically it’s not, but *someone* has to get the film sold after your distrib decides it’s yesterday’s news.

NO NBC INTERVIEW


I bump into the hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy, but don’t ask about that interview they wanted to do with me... and she doesn’t bring it up. So, I guess I’m not important enough for a TV network. Actually, I already knew that...

Hey, there goes the girl in the Backless Sundress with some buyer. Can’t see her badge from this angle...

PARTY BUS?


Maybe a year ago, this company in Hong Kong is looking for projects they can shoot in the Philippines and I send them my availables list which has a cool spec that takes place in the Philippines - a pair of college grads who buy a treasure map and have an Indiana Jones type adventure the summer before having to get a job and settle into the 9-5 world for the rest of their lives. The company says they have a project about the same treasure in pre-production already, and I wish I had some other things that would fit what they were looking for, but I don’t. Well, they just bought a building in Venice, CA and are having a huge AFM party to introduce themselves. And I’m invited.

Actually, just about everyone is invited. My friend Rob is invited. The director looking for work is invited. The NBC people are invited. For all I know Dennis Woodruff is invited (though, he’s a no show).

The party is supposed to have food and drink, and a shuttle bus will takes us there from the Loew’s Hotel. Cool - no driving involved! About a half hour before the party is supposed to start, Rob suggests we see if the shuttle is parked out by the curb... the first ones to the party are the first ones to be served food, right? We go outside, and there is not a shuttle, yet. Rob goes to his car for business cards and I overhear someone say that the big bus across the street is the shuttle to the party. I cross the street and ask the driver, and he says no. He’s here for something else. A bigger party? I go back to the hotel and the director is there, says he’s going to the party - do I know where the shuttle is? Rob returns, and says he was told the bus across the street really is going to the party. We cross the street, and the big bus leaves, empty... and pulls up in front of the hotel. As soon as we cross the street, the bus goes back to where we were standing. We cross the street, and the bus pulls away again, and... There are now a group of us on the wrong side of the street, but the person in charge shows up, tells us *not* to cross the street again. The bus will pick us up on *this* side of the street, and will be back in a moment.

Bus comes back to our side, we climb aboard... and the driver pulls out, but has no idea where he’s going. The street is the same one that the FX studio that did the submarine battles for my CRASH DIVE movie was located at, so I have a basic idea of how to get there. Others on the bus had some other details, and we found our way to the party.

BIG FOOT PARTY


Party Photos!

The plan to be the first served food backfires! The food is not ready yet! So we all get our free drinks and mingle and tour the new facilities. The new facilities are impressive, and a company like Big Foot is the future of film companies... except it’s really the *present* of film companies. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, has studios in the Philippines, now offices and facilities in Los Angeles, and they make movies for an international audience. Film is a global business.

And it seems like everyone in the world was invited to this party! The really irritating guy who claims to be a producer from the party a couple of nights ago is here, as is John The Dancing Usher - this guy who worked at the AMC Burbank cinemas and used to sing and dance before every movie. Though you may be imagining that as entertaining, it was really more strange. John has a rambling conversation with me about 3D conversion and screenwriting, and I nod my head in the appropriate places... and wonder where the food is. I also look around for the girl in the Backless Sundress - if John The Dancer Usher got an invite, she had to get one, too. But I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was the only person in the greater Los Angeles are who wasn’t invited?

Several beers later, I am *really* wondering where the food is. The music is so loud you can’t have a conversation - why do they do that at parties? I would think the purpose of these things is to mingle with people, and to talk to the representatives from the company, but you can’t hear anyone unless they are *screaming* over the music. Same thing at the Raindance Film Festival last year - the music was so loud at the closing night party that people were leaving to have conversations in the street. Hey, turn it down a notch!

Finally, food arrives. A server comes out from a side door with a tray of chicken skewers... and everyone descends on her and cleans the tray before she can take more than a couple of steps. Rob gestures me over to the *door* and we wait for thr next server... and grab some food before it is gone. The poor servers are only getting to take a couple of steps before their trays are empty! While we are eating, a server actually makes it past us to the center of the party. John The Dancing Usher walks past with a *plate* of food and I ask him where he got it - inside there’s a room with some food. I wander inside and find Rob already there... with an empty plate. It’s kind of the same as outside - everyone in the room is waiting for the arrival of a serving tray of food. Several arrive at once - different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We attack the food... and the next trays have pork buns. It’s dim sum with long pauses between courses. I look into the next room and see the legendary Uwe Boll talking to some people. I think about joining the conversation and mentioning that he has an awful movie that began with my script in his catalogue... but what if he thinks it’s a great movie? I decide not to talk to him, because I am just drunk enough to say something that might result in him punching me. You know, he’s beat up critics before.

After I’ve had enough dim sum to add up to a meal, I go back outside to the ultra loud music and attempt to talk to some people. The CEO of the company stops the loud music to make a little speech, but either they turn down the volume for her speech or she speaks quietly, because I can barely hear what she has to say. Maybe it’s ear drum damage from the loud music? Whatever, I assumed it was the typical “Welcome to our new building and we make movies and we hope you will buy our movies and watch them.” Then the blasted blasting music began again.

After another half hour, the music was about to cause my ears to bleed, so I take one final look for the girl in the Backless Sundress - not here - and when the shuttle bus pulled to the curb outside the Big Foot compound, I jumped on and headed back to the hotel... and then back home from there.

Sunday is when the cheap badges go on sale, so some of the lobby rats actually get to go upstairs. Mostly, though, it’s film students and low budget producers. But the stair climbing is exactly the same, just a little more crowded. I never found out who the girl in the Backless Sundress was working for... that mystery will haunt me for the rest of my days. Monday would be my last day at AFM, and that entry will be coming next.

NEXT PART - AFM Day Last

- Bill
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