Friday, December 15, 2017

HITCH 20: Mr. Blanchard's Secret (s2e1)

HITCH 20, Episode 6: Mr. BLANCHARD'S SECRET.

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.



Mr. Blanchard's Secret... we can discuss the episode in the comments section, and maybe I'll add some commentary on the episode here.

I decided I would write this *before* watching the episode, so that I wasn’t influenced by what the others said (just as if I was part of this episode)...

The big lesson in this episode for me is ABLA, Always Be Leading the Audience. Just as the director frames the shot to draw the audience’s eyes to some object, you want the story to draw the audience’s minds to some conclusion... show them the information and allow them to make the jump. You create the misdirection. In a mystery, you don’t just throw a bunch of suspects into a room and let the audience pick the most likely suspect (who ends up not being the killer), you *point to the most likely suspect* so that everyone watching the mystery thinks the same person is the killer, that way there is a twist when the real killer is exposed. How a twist works is by misdirection, and just as a magician draws attention to one hand while palming something with the other, when we tell a story we will draw attention to one thing in the story so that the audience focus on that thing... and doesn’t notice the other possibilities. We want to always be leading the audience.



This is a story about storytelling, and the protagonist, Babs Fenton is a writer. A storyteller.

It’s kind of a comedy version of REAR WINDOW.

Babs is the audience surrogate *and* the leader in this episode. She gives us the information... it’s all filtered through her, the way a movie is filtered through the camera’s angle and movement and framing. She has never seen new neighbor Mr. Blanchard’s wife, so maybe he has murdered her? Now that we have been lead in this direction, all of the things we see add further evidence to this scenario. Our vision has been narrowed so that we only see things that fit that possibility. When Babs bumped into him at the grocery store (a husband doing the shopping?) he acted strange when she asked about his wife.

Babs makes a sandwich in the middle of the night... and sees Blanchard peeking through her window! She decides this is a good reason to throw on a robe and knock on his door... and when no one answers and the door is unlocked, she pulls a Grace Kelly and enters the house! Now we get a nice little suspense/dread scene as she pokes around in the house. More evidence! The house is decorated for function rather than beauty, obviously a man’s work. And upstairs, Mrs. Blanchard’s bedroom is suspiciously immaculate. But there is a photo of the Blanchards. When Babs looks in the closet, it’s filled with nice clothes...

And that’s when Blanchard pops up behind her... and startles her. Then escorts her to the front door and out of the house.






Even though her husband John acts as the voice of reason, and keeps telling her this is all her imagination in overdrive and there is obviously some logical explanation. The audience may even know that he’s probably right... but look at this evidence! Look at how weird things are! The fascinating thing about John is that he forces the audience to take a position. We dig in... John offers no explanation for the strange things happening at the Blanchard house.

The next place the story leads the audience is to the idea that Mrs. Blanchard is a prisoner in her own home due to some dark secret... maybe she’s a drunk? That Blanchard lost his well paid university professor job and became a teacher at the high school because of his wife’s drunken scandals. This new theory also fits the evidence, the way a new suspect might in a mystery. Instead of just having some vague scandal, we are pointed in the direction of a specific scandal. That leads to Blanchard killing his wife...

Which is when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at the door. After being lead in one direction, twist! When Babs invites her in and goes to get some coffee (the story is still leading us with the coffee), Twist again as Mr. Blanchard pops up to take his wife home.

And that leads us back to the prisoner in her own home scenario.

Until, in the middle of the night, Blanchard leaves the house carrying a heavy duffel bag... filled with Mrs. Blanchard’s body?

Again, husband John says all of this sounds like her imagination at work... but offers no explanation for the duffel bag in the middle of the night.

And then Mrs. Blanchard shows up again for coffee. Explains that she and her husband had a fight and he threw some clothes in a duffel bag and left. He’ll be back for dinner.

Now we get some nice misdirection: as Babs and Mrs. Blanchard have coffee and a smoke, we are lead to think about the Blanchard’s relationship which is being discussed rather than an important clue that happens right before our eyes. Magic!






When Mrs. Blanchard leaves, she steals the ornate cigarette lighter.

When Babs discovers the ornate cigarette lighter is missing, she knows the Blanchards’ secret: Mrs. Blanchard is a klepto! This explains why he lost his university job and why he keeps her locked up in her room.

Now we get a new twist that leads the audience in a different direction: A woman fitting Mrs. Blanchard’s description has been found murdered. Beaten to death. Babs is sure that when Mr. Blanchard discovered that his klepto wife has stolen again, he went crazy and killed her. Husband John says she’s imagining things again, and insists they go down to the morgue so he can prove to her that this *isn’t* Mrs. Blanchard. Again, we have been lead by the story: the focus is on that dead woman in the morgue. The audience only thinks of: will it be Mrs. Blanchard or not? The audience is not allowed to think of other things, only what the story has focused on.

When Babs opens the front door on the way to the morgue... there are Mr. & Mrs. Blanchard with the ornate cigarette lighter, which Mr. Blanchard has repaired as a housewarming gift. Twist! The end.

By leading the audience the story makes them think about what the writer wants them to think about, rather than the other thousands of possibilities. This way we can perform the magic of storytelling, creating suspense and twists and a fun experience.

Now I’m going to watch the new HITCH 20 episode and see what everyone else said.

Of course, I have my own books on Hitchcock...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

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.

And...




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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Ordeal Of Dr. Cordell

The Ordeal Of Doctor Cordell

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 24.
Airdate: March 7, 1961


Director: Lazlo Benedek
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Kathleen Crowley, Robert Ellenstein, Marlo Thomas.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Such are the hazards of scientific research. As strange as it may seem, this is not the end but only the beginning of “The Ordeal Of Dr. Cordell”. Are leading players are, Mr. Robert Vaughn, Miss Kathleen Crowley, Mr. Robert Ellenstein, and Mr. Russ Conway. Speaking if chemistry this Thriller is a mixture of one part scientific possibility, one part imaginative melodrama, and two parts pure terror.” (Poof! Karloff disappears from the lab) “Oh dear! Well these are the hazards of science!”

Synopsis: Like a script for THE OUTER LIMITS rejected because it had no monster...

On a college campus research facility...



Scientist Dr. Frank Cordell (Robert Vaughn) is working with chemicals in a safety lab with an airlock, with fellow scientist Dr. Lois Walker (Kathleen Crowley) supervising at the control panels on the other side of the glass. There’s an explosion and fire, and gas fills the safety lab! Dr. Walker wants to vent the lab, but Dr. Cordell says the oxygen will just feed the fire... he needs to get the fire out first. But as he uses the fire extinguisher to spray the flames, the gas seems through his gas mask and... he passes out just as he gets the fire out. Dr. Brauner (Robert Ellenstein) rushes in after hearing the alarm, and they vent the gas... but have to wait until has all been sucked out of the room before they can open the airlock and pull out Dr. Cordell. By that time, he’s dead.

Dr. Brauner does a Pulp Fiction and stabs him in the heart with adrenaline, gives him oxygen, and brings him back from the dead.



Dr. Cordell comes to, says he’s fine, and wants to go back to work. But he’s worried: They’ve spent 2 years trying to find an antidote to the enemy’s latest nerve gas... and by mistake he has just discovered something much worse... something that a gas mask doesn’t provide protection from. Dr. Brauner (the boss) orders Cordell to go home and get some rest. Walker offers to drive him home, and walks him to the door, where they kiss. They aren’t just coworkers, they are lovers. There’s a birdcage on the front porch of Cordell’s house, and the little bird begins ringing it’s little toy bell...

But to Cordell, the sound is magnified and is driving him crazy. Giving him the ultimate migraine headache. He reaches into the cage and grabs the bell, stopping the bird from pecking at it. Though he *was* going to invite Walker in, she thinks it may be better for him to get some sleep. He *was* dead only a couple of hours ago.

After she leaves, the bird starts pecking at the bell again, driving Cordell crazy...

Dr. Cordell wakes up the next morning when his maid Mrs. Heath (Helen Brown) tells him he has a phone call from Dr. Walker. He rubs sleep from his eyes and picks up the phone, and she wants to know if he wants to go to lunch. Lunch? Yes, it’s almost noon. That’s when Mrs. Heath screams from the porch.

Someone has crushed the bird to death. It’s mangled body on the floor of the cage. Mrs. Heath thinks it might be some neighbor kids.

Later, Dr. Cordell and Dr. Walker return from lunch, and when Cordell reaches in his pocket he pulls out... the bird’s little bell. He quickly hides it before Walker can see it.

Cordell becomes focused on recreating that gas again. When Dr. Brauner comes in to see how he’s doing, and Walker mutes the intercom, Cordell becomes paranoid and enraged. Why are they talking behind his back? Walker says Brauner just wanted him to stop in for a physical check up. Cordell sends her home and sticks around the lab...



When a pretty CoEd (yes, that’s Marlo Thomas) looking for the library. Cordell goes ballistic, asking how she got past the security door. Seems that the security door doesn’t close properly and needs to be fixed. Cordell calms down, steps outside to point out the Library Building on campus, and when the CoEd walks away, her bell ear rings ring, driving Cordell crazy. He races after the CoEd and...

Wakes up at home the next morning when the alarm goes off at 8am.
What happened last night?
There’s a single bell ear ring on his night stand, covered in blood.

There’s a police car parked outside the research building. A Detective Boutaric (Russ Conway) questioning Walker and Brauner. A CoEd was *brutally* murdered last night just across from the research building, did Cordell see her? Cordell says no one can get into the lab area due to the security door. So he didn’t see her. Cordell overhears Dr. Brauner unleash a big pile of exposition on Dt. Boutaric about how chemical imbalances in the brain may cause homicidal urges which can not be controlled. Oh, so that’s what’s up with Cordell! When the Detective leaves, Cordell asks Brauner if homicidal urges are caused by chemical unbalance, could they be cured with chemicals? Yes, that’s possible...

Cordell becomes even more obsessed with his lab work, discovering exactly what combination of chemicals caused his current (psycho killer) condition. When Dr. Walker brings Chinese take out to the lab and asks him to break for dinner, Cordell goes ballistic and screams at her. “Science and ego make lousy chemistry!” She breaks up with him and storms out... passing Detective Boutaric, who has just discovered that Maintenance *repaired* the security door because it wasn’t closing properly this morning, because Cordell asked them. So the CoEd *could* have entered the lab. Cordell insists she still did not come into the lab, but the detective is suspicious.

Dr. Brauner tells Cordell he is overworking and gives him a choice: Take a vacation or resign. He suggests that maybe Cordell and Walker might take that a vacation together as a honeymoon... but Cordell doesn’t tell him they’ve broken up. Cordell opts for the vacation.

When he leaves the research building that night and crosses the college campus to his car, he passes a big football game rally... including another CoEd ringing a cowbell. The sound drives him crazy... He follows the CoEd as she leaves and before you can say "Less cowbell!"...



He wakes up in a crappy downtown hotel... the bell the CoEd was ringing on the floor. The news reports another CoEd has been brutally murdered, crushed by someone’s monster’s hands. He calls the front desk: it’s *Wednesday*, how long was he sleeping? Cordell writes a suicide note and prepares to kill himself... then calls Walker at the lab and warns her *not* to continue the experiments. She asks why. “I have to talk to you somewhere alone.” She agrees to meet him at the campus chapel at midnight and leaves.

Meanwhile, Detective Boutaric has found the bloody ear ring in Cordell’s house and knows he’s the killer.

Cordell goes to the deserted chapel at the strike of midnight... which means the bell begins ringing, which drives him crazy! He climbs the stairs to the bell tower. At the top of the tower, he tries to stop the bell, but it’s huge. Walker enters the chapel and hears Cordell screaming and climbs the stairs. When she gets to the top of the stairs, Cordell sees her and attacks! She fights him off, pushing him away... and the bell knocks him out of the bell tower and he SPLATS! On the ground below.



Review: If the bells had turned Cordell into a *physical* monster, this could have been an OUTER LIMITS episode. The story has elements of Jekyll And Hyde and maybe Hunchback Of Notre Dame, and even though this was 3 years before THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn was probably a “get”. He had a bunch of TV roles in his past by this time. But I kind of think he’s slightly wrong for the role: part of Dr. Jekyll is that he’s more contemplative, and that’s the trait this role needs. An actor who really feels terrible that he’s been killing cute CoEds. Vaughn is such a charismatic guy that it covers the emotional side of this character. He does a great job, and is probably more subdued than usual... but he’s still Robert Vaughn. But what the heck, it’s a fun episode.

In addition to Marlo Thomas’ 4th role on film, you may recognize Robert Ellenstein who plays the supervising scientist as the assassin from NORTH BY NORTHWEST who says: “Yes, a joke. We will laugh in the car” when they grab Cary Grant out of that bar at gunpoint a couple of minutes into that film. He was one of those actors who did everything, and you may recognize him from the great original 3:10 TO YUMA or his recurring villain on THE WILD WILD WEST or STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME where he played the Federation Council President.



The production design and sets are great, all of the lab equipment looks real. There’s also some great stock footage of the pre game bonfire party from USC or UCLA that helps sell the big pre game rally scene.

The director, Lazlo Benedict, directed Brando’s THE WILD ONE before becoming a prolific TV director... but I’m not sure he had the visual skillset to handle suspense. The scene where Walker climbs the stairs to her possible death is kind of bland. By this time PSYCHO had played in cinemas with a great primer on how to make climbing stairs filled with tension and suspense. Some of these episodes are really well directed and others are kind of TV bland: with a director coming in and getting the shots on film (this becomes more apparent after next week’s episode which has one amazing shot that would be just as amazing if it had been in a big budget movie). But Lazlo does one amazing thing here: Cordell’s “crazy vision” is a nice twisted image effect done with a lens (there was no digital back then, so everything was practical to some extent). It’s a great way for the audience to experience his insanity... and it always ends in a blackout that is held just long enough to make us wonder what the heck happened during it when Cordell wakes up.



They also do a great job making us imagine the brutality of these murders while showing us nothing. I’m going to give the credit for this to writer Donald Sanford who wrote some of the other creepy episodes and seemed to know how to get maximum impact on a TV budget. The story has some great reveals, like when Dr. Cordell reaches into his pocket for a match to light Dr. Walker's cigarette and comes out with the bird's bell... then has to quickly hide it from her and grab his matches pretending that he didn't just learn who smashes his bird to death.

Hey, was that the bell or belltower set from VERTIGO?

A really good entry in the series, but with just a little more could have been one of the great ones... But that’s okay, because we’re about to get a grouping of great episodes!

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Film Courage Plus: Spec or Contest?

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

So here is the seventh one about having a great high concept spec *or* a high quality script that wins or places in a contest like the Nicholl. After doing all of my classes they grabbed me and interrogated me when I really wanted to just go home and take a nap.



In the clip I note two of the common ways to get into screenwriting - through spec scripts going out to market and through winning or being a finalist in one of the major contests. Spec scripts tend to get read due to their interesting concepts (“What’s it about?”) and contests are often more focused on the quality of the writing rather than the concept. Of course, there are a million spec screenplays in circulation in any given year and maybe 100 of those sell, so quality of writing is a massive component in spec screenplays as well. But whichever way gets you in, all roads lead to Hollywood... and Hollywood movies. You might write the awesome high concept screenplay which leads to an assignment writing that summer tentpole movie, or you might win a contest and land an assignment working on a summer tentpole movie. These days Hollywood is pretty much all tentpole all the time, so if you are a contest winner - be prepared!

There was a time - only about a decade ago - when Hollywood still made a certain number of mid-range movies, some of which were “prestige” films or dramas, but these days those films are made independently. Outside of the system, and usually written-directed-produced by the same person. They find the funding and make the film - no screenplay is actually sold (the film is funded). A movie like SPOTLIGHT doesn’t come from a studio, but from a filmmaker - Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film and secured the funding through his THE VISITOR producer Jeff Skoll. If you read my daily Script Tips you know that I've been a big fan of McCarthy since his first film THE STATION AGENT (which he found funding for). If you want to work outside the system and do your own thing, it has never been easier to do that. You can make a film for pocket change these days... and many people do. If you don’t want to write tentpoles and don’t want to make your own films, there are still some options available: TV is expanding right now, and even though many shows are high concept and similar to tentpole films (check out anything on the CW) there are still shows that are more low key and dramatic oriented like SHADES OF BLUE. The other option is to head to film festivals and find a director who needs a writing partner - some of my favorite genre films lately are the work of the director & writer team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. If you are a great writer there is a place somewhere for you in the business - studio or indie or TV or YouTube or whatever they come up with next. Every entertainment media needs *stories*, and that’s *us*. Finding your home will require that you open your eyes a little wider - if you are not writing the kinds of movies that are being made (and don’t want to write them), you’ll have to find the place where your type of writing is needed. Wait, how many ways to break in is that now?

The first thing you need to figure out is what your skill set is. You need to know what you do well, so that you can match that to a media and a method to break in. Heck, I have a book called BREAKING IN with dozens and dozens of ways to break in... but what’s important is what you are breaking in to... Studio films? Indies? Television? What are your skills and how do they match the media? If you want to break in to studio films, know that you will be writing studio films. There are people who want to write indie type stories for studios... and that seldom happens. Even if you win a contest, chances are if a studio based producer hires you it will be to do a rewrite on some high concept tentpole or comic book movie or maybe a board game turned into a script. That’s what Hollywood does - make big expensive mass audience films. No matter how you break in, that’s what you’re in for.

CONTESTS


I look at different contests in the Breaking In Blue Book, and note that the King of all screenwriting contests is The Nicholl fellowship, which is run by those people who give out the Oscars every year. These days the Nicholl pays up to five winners $35,000... but it’s not just about the money, Hollywood producers and agents and managers *fight over* the winners! In fact, even if you don’t win they will fight over you: finalists and even semi-finalists usually get meetings with producers and agents and managers. Of course, there’s a reason *why* semi-finalists are still pretty damned good... there are *thousands* of entries every year (over 7,500 in 2014) and only about 5% advance to the competition quarter-finals, and only about 2% make it to the semi-finals and about ten entries reach the finals.

The Queen of screenwriting contests is probably Austin, and danged if my friend Max Adams didn’t win both the Nicholl and Austin in the same year with two different screenplays! This is probably why you should grab Max Adams’ book (in addition to mine).

The Prince of screenwriting contests is probably TrackingB, because winners and runners up land agents and managers, and the finalist judges are often development people who end up fighting over the winning screenplays. Where Nicholl and Austin just get you on Hollywood’s radar, TrackingB gets you in front of the buyers. The Younger Prince is Tracking Board’s Launch Pad, which is the direct competition to the TrackingB contest... Again finalists are read by people actually in the business who read and buy screenplays for a living, which means if you have a great screenplay this contest will launch your career.

In you win the Final Draft Big Break Contest, you can have a drink with me, since I’m at the big party where they announce the winner every year... along with screenwriters much more famous than I am (last year Max Landis was drinking with my group... so nobody really cared that I was there). So, maybe have a drink with all of the more famous people first.

Other good contests: PAGE, Scriptapalooza, SlamDance, ScriptPipeline, Sundance, BlueCat... and probably some that I’m forgetting, since I’m not a contest guy. Since I was a professional screenwriter before all of these contests began, I’ve been ineligible to enter them.

The thing to watch out for with small contests are the ones which are just money making schemes. Do your research! There have been some interesting scandals in the contest world, including one a few years ago where a small contest run by a script consultant had one of the contest readers admit that they didn’t read all of the screenplays... and I don’t mean they just read the first 10 or 20 pages of each screenplay (which isn’t unusual for first round on small contests, since you can usually tell a really bad screenplay after only a few pages of poorly written sentences), but there were some screenplays that they never read a single page! I discovered that another contest that is part of a small film festival had *no* “celebrity” judges and every screenplay was “read” by the person running the fest/contest and she pocketed all of the entry fees herself. I have no idea if she read all of the screenplays or even if she read any of them! It was all about her making money. The good news about fly-by-night contests like this is that the internet spreads the warnings, so usually all you have to do is Google some contest to find out whether it has had problems in the past. Always do your research!

Since I can’t enter contests, I write and send out spec scripts.

SPEC SCRIPTS


Spec screenplays are the most versatile choice (even the screenplays you enter in contests are specs, right?) because there are so many different ways that you can submit them. In addition to contests, you can submit them directly to production companies (after a query and a request) and to managers (again - query and request) and agents (query and request), plus there are many other ways specs can open a door for you. One thing to keep in mind: the reason why anyone will request your screenplay is that the *concept* sounds interesting. Mangers and Agents and Producers are *business people* who only earn money when a script sells or a writer lands a writing assignment. (Producers are last paid, so they need a screenplay or writer who can create something that gets made if they want to get paid.) Even managers and agents who may be looking for writers they can send out for assignments will be looking for specs with great concepts (unless the writer is one of the handful who wins a contest). The way an Agent or Manager introduces a writer to potential employers is through specs - and the way they get people to read specs screenplays is the same way *we* get people to read our spec screenplays: a killer logline or killer elevator pitch that’s all about the concept. If your concept is dull or mundane or something that doesn’t sound like something millions of people worldwide will be lining up tp pay to see, it will be difficult to get and Agent or Manager to request your screenplay... and then difficult for that Agent or Manager to get reads for you. Yes - there are exceptions. Nothing is an absolute in this business. But you may have noticed that everything in the world is cutting frills and focusing on profit, and Agents and Managers and Producers are no different. Even with referrals, someone is going to ask, “What’s it about?” and then it’s up to the concept to sell them.

This is the reason why there is so much focus on that concept, and why so many new writers fail by writing a script that’s based on a dull or mundane idea. I used to say that TV was the only place where Private Eye and Cop stories were wanted, but if you’ve watched TV of late you may have noticed that the trend for *weird* cops and detectives has gone to extremes - a zombie who eats the brains of victims to solve crimes? So, unless you plan on using the contest method make sure you begin with a great idea! One of these Film Courage Interviews has my “100 Idea Theory” - where you should come up with 100 great ideas and then select the best of them all to script. A well written screenplay with a bland idea is going to be tough to get reads with... and a terribly written script with a great idea isn’t going to get you very far, either! As I’ve said before - there is no “or” in screenwriting. If the question is: which is more important, concept or execution? the answer is: BOTH!

But spec screenplays can also *travel*, and I think that’s come up in one of these Film Courage segments. This is a business of referrals, and there are referrals you know about and ones that you don’t know about. If someone reads your screenplay and thinks it’s great and passes it to someone else in the industry (“You’ve gotta read this!”) that screenplay can travel all over town, from one person to another, and eventually land somewhere that matters. I’ve said before that a great spec script given to the *wrong person* or just left on the street in Beverly Hills has a pretty good chance of being discovered and landing you a gig. There are so few screenplays that get everything right that one which does will go places. People who complain about the gate keepers in Hollywood don’t understand that those gate keepers are *actively* looking for that great screenplay that will earn them points with the boss and further their careers. Everyone wants to be the one who discovered the next big thing!

That next big thing could be *you*!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Trailer Tuesday:
THE SILENT PARTNER

THE SILENT PARTNER (1978)

Director: Daryl Duke
Writers: Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL)
Starring: Elliott Gould, Christopher Plummer, Susannah York, John Candy.






It’s no secret that thrillers are my favorite genre, and I saw this Canadian gem when it was first released back in 1978. I have no idea if some critic called it Hitchcockian or not, but it has that STRANGERS ON A TRAIN vibe where two strangers become connected by crime. It also takes place during the Holiday Season with a background of Mall Santas and Holiday Parties and the Christmas Rush at stores... and a Santa with a gun.

Shy, chess playing Miles (Elliott Gould) is the head bank teller at a mall branch. He is approaching middle age, and this is the best it is ever going to get for him. He has a crush on the woman who is in charge of safety deposit boxes, Julie (Susannah York), but she’s having an affair with the married bank manager. He has a dead end life, and part of that is not being very assertive.

During the busy Christmas season, Miles is in charge of all of the Merchant deposits from the mall... all of the money people spend on gifts and clothes and meals comes to *his* window. Tens of thousands of dollars in *cash* every day. The bank manager trusts him with the money, but won’t recommend him for a promotion.

Miles discovers a deposit slip with a hold up note written on it in block letters... but with a distinctive “G”. Someone was planning on robbing the bank, then decided not to. Later he notices that one of the Mall Santas has a sign asking for donations to the poor... hand lettered with the same distinctive “G”. That is the robber! The next day, Miles puts all of the big cash deposits in his lunch box instead of the cash drawer... and when that Mall Santa comes in and hands him the stick up note, Miles gives him all of the money in the drawer, then triggers the alarm... and puts his lunch box full of cash in his briefcase. The old Security Guard gets into a shoot out with the Mall Santa, but he gets away....



Everybody run! Santa's gotta gun!

Miles is interviewed on TV, they say his name... and also the amount stolen (which is much much more than the Mall Santa ended up with). So the Mall Santa calls Miles, tells them that they are *partners* in this robbery, and if he knows what is good for him he will share the money. This begins a great cat and mouse game between Miles and the vicious bank robber (Christopher Plummer) where each tries to outsmart the other without being caught by the police. The background is the holidays, and Miles ends up taking Julie to the Bank Manager’s Christmas Party so that the Bank Manager’s wife won’t figure out he’s cheating. This leads to Julie confiding that she is facing the same dead end as Miles... and they two hook up. While the Bank Robber makes Miles’ life hell in the background. Miles has to figure out some way to outsmart the Robber, without screwing up his new relationship with Julie. And it’s much more complicated than that! (a character gets their head cut off, Miles loses the money, all sorts of fun things happen!)



John Candy plays another teller who hooks up with the hottest woman in the film (the new teller hired as Christmas Help). This is a great thriller, edge of your seat suspense, and does an amazing job of quietly setting up later complications (the new bank’s vault will be surrounded by a massive underground wall of cement is mentioned in passing, and pays off much later!). A great little movie, and written by some guy named Curtis Hanson (who would later win an Oscar for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL). I love this movie so much that I tracked down the Danish novel it’s based on (“Think Of A Number”, found it in a mystery book store in London) and read it. The book ends differently (in the film Miles and Julia talk about running away from the city to some tropical paradise and starting over again... and that’s what happens in the book and that is where the Bank Robber finds them), but the story is basically the same and the book also takes place at Christmas Time.

Check this film out if you haven’t seen it!

Bill


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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

Friday, December 08, 2017

The French Hitchcock?



If you've seen INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, the movie playing at Shoshana's cinema that gets bumped for the Hitler Assassination Plan is called LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN) - she has to take the letters off the marqee. The film was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, who is often called the French Hitchcock. Clouzot also directed a couple of my favorite films, WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE. He is a great director - knows how to build tension to the breaking point. LE CORBEAU was only his second film, but it still works decades later.

LE CORBEAU is about an alof handsome young doctor in a village hospital who begins to get threatening letters signed by "The Raven". The letters accuse him of having an affair with an older doctor's pretty young wife... and of being an abortionist, who may even have been the one who knocked up all of the women he's accused of aborting. Because he wasn't born in the village, he's seen as an outsider... and when word gets out people believe these rumors.

The old doctor's wife also gets a letter from The Raven... and soon half the village are getting threatening letters accusing them of some rumored activity. The Raven knows *everyone's* secrets! Who can it be? The old cuckold doctor and young doctor basically must work together to find out who is The Raven. And there are some *great* suspects and a really shocking twist end. Actually, a double twist.



Though this is an early film of Clouzot's - not as suspenseful as DIABOLIQUE, it still packs a punch and has some very well drawn characters and it will keep you guessing until the end. The alof doctor is an interesting protagonist because he has a deep dark secret - and we think we know what it is and we are completely wrong. The character is a twist.

If you're curious about French films made during WW2 and during the Nazi Occupation, check this one out. Oh, and look between the lines for a message about living and working in Nazi Occupied France.

- Bill

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thriller Thursday: Child's Play

CHILD’S PLAY




Season: 1, Episode: 2.
Airdate: 9/20/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller.
Writer: Robert Dozier (THE CARDINAL and the Ryan O’Neal version of Elmore Leonard’s THE BIG BOUNCE.)
Cast: Frank Overton (Dad), Bethel Leslie (Mom), Tommy Nolan (Hank).
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sometimes children become so lost in a world of imagination, they’re unable to find their way back. Then there is only danger before them, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a boy whose imagination brings him to a crisis involving not only himself but also his family. A crisis that begins, but does not end as child’s play. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”



Synopsis: Kind of a scaled down version of THE SHINING, minus the supernatural elements. An ignored, love starved wife (Bethel Leslie) makes a last ditch attempt to save her family by insisting that her cold, self centered, workaholic husband (Frank Overton) and their completely neglected son Hank (Tommy Nolan) spend three weeks vacation in a remote mountain cabin where they will have no choice but to bond and heal. Great plan, but ahole Dad claims one room as his office and spends the whole time working (he’s a writer, like Jack from THE SHINING) and forbids any disturbance for the entire three weeks (though demands that his wife keep his coffee cup full). So, no healing for the family again this year.

While the wife sulks, the son (who is used to being completely ignored by his parents) spends his day imagining epic adventures outdoors... playing cowboy sheriff chasing an evil desperado named Black Bart. The episode begins in media res with an incident from close to the end of the episode where Hank points a *real* rifle at a terrified fisherman...

But our story opens with Hank playing with a toy six shooter and pretending that a fallen tree near the cabin is a dangerous cliff he must balance on the edge of wile chasing his quarry... as his Mom calls him in for lunch. She comes out and asks him what he’s doing, he explains the perils of falling off the end of a cliff, and she tells him he needs to hurry up and get across or he’ll miss lunch. That’s when Dad comes out, and orders him to come in right this very minute... and Hank falls off the log, screaming all the way down...

This is a great way to show the family dynamics and set up Hanks’s underlying motivations throughout.

Mom pulls Dad aside and explains the reason why Hank is spending this vacation in his imagination is because Dad is completely ignoring him. Dad says he’s very busy, doesn’t have time for this, and Mom suggests he take a break and take Hank hunting this afternoon. Dad says he’s too busy this afternoon... but maybe tomorrow. Which is what he says *every day*. They go in for lunch...



Hank tries to engage his Dad in conversation... but Dad is pretty much a dick. When Mom suggests Dad take Hank hunting this afternoon, Hank gets excited and starts talking about the animal tracks he spotted this afternoon... Then Dad says he’d like to take Hank hunting, but can’t: has too much work. Hank is broken hearted, excuses himself. Dad lashes out at Mom for putting him on the spot like that. An argument begins that will last the rest of the episode.

Hank puts on his toy gun... then sees the real rifles in the gun rack. Grabs one, fills his pockets with shells, and goes out to play.

Most of the rest of the episode focuses on the argument between Dad and Mom, with a few shots of Hank wandering around in the woods with a loaded rifle, chasing “Black Bart”. Dad wants to know why Mom doesn’t punish Hank more often, why she allows him to play let’s pretend instead of dealing with reality. The more Dad says things like this, the more we realize that he’s the reason why Hank is this way. Dad just wants to be left alone for the rest of the vacation so that he can work. Unlike Jack’s novel in THE SHINING, this Dad writes completely accurate technical articles... and has no understanding of imagination. At one point the argument escalates so that Mom admits she has been considering divorce, and this vacation was supposed to get the family back together... which leads Dad to snap back that she hates his job. Hates that he works. Why can’t she just raise the kid and do the housework and leave him alone!



Dad asks Mom why Hank is even here, why didn’t he go to the summer camp he went to last year, so that he’d be out of their hair and Dad could get some work done? Well, it seems that Hank has been kicked out of the summer camp for acting out last year. He tried to play William Tell by shooting an apple off another kid’s head! Dad asks why she didn’t tell him so that he could punish Hank? Mom says that may not have been the best solution to the problem, and Dad says he’s punish Hank when he gets back from playing. This guy is never going to win Dad Of The Year or Husband Of The Year.

Meanwhile, Hank has happened upon a Fisherman (Parley Baer) and aims his rifle at him. Fires a couple of shots when the Fisherman starts towards him. Then they both sit down while Hank figures out what to do next.

Mom and Dad’s blow up leaves Dad alone in his office... finally realizing that his family is disintegrating and maybe he should stop being a major dick. He decides maybe he will go hunting with Hank afterall, goes to grab the guns... and realize that one is missing! Mom and Dad are worried, Dad says he’ll go out and get Hank... and loads up the other rifle. Um, WTF? Dad is going to shoot his son? Mom mentions the rifle may not help the situation, so he reluctantly puts it back on the rifle rack and they go to find Hank together.

Meanwhile, Hank has gotten the Fisherman to put an apple on his head, and the Fisherman is doing everything in his power to talk Hank out of shooting at it. The whole thing ends up about the William Tell trust test thing, and Mom and Dad find Hank in time for Dad to offer to take the Fisherman’s place and put the apple on his own head. Hank shoots it off, and the family hugs each other. Oh, and Dad’s name is *Bart*.



Review: Unlike the first episode which had too much happening for an hour long show, this episode is simple and direct... but suffers one of the same problems that first episode had: basically a drama until the end, when everything happens at once (and it feels rushed). For a show called THRILLER, these two first episode manage to spend 3/4 of the show on the build up (without suspense or thrills) and then try to cram in all of the thrills at the end. Though this show is about a kid trapped in fantasy world running around with a loaded rifle, the majority of the running time is that argument between Mom and Dad. When we get a shot of Hank with the rifle, he’s just walking around. (Though, at one point they have him cross a waterfall which is dangerous.)

It’s more than halfway through the running time when Hank stumbles on the Fisherman... and then they just sit down on the ground while Hank figures what he’s going to do with him. The last ten minutes (of a 50 minute episode) is when we get the William Tell Apple On The Head thing... and it’s only the final 7 minutes where we have Mom and Dad and Hank and the rifle (and the Fisherman, of course) all in the same scene! So, 7 minutes with some thrills in a 50 minute episode! Oh, wait, I forgot to subtract the family hug screentime.

The problem is, instead of focusing on the kid with the loaded rifle wandering around (and eventually holding a man hostage) which is suspenseful, they focus on the husband and wife arguing... which is boring. This argument doesn’t even work as a discussion of baseball statistics while a bomb ticks under the table, because there is no bomb until the last 10 minutes! The suspense stuff is rushed instead of stretched until it becomes unbearable. That’s how suspense works: because it is the anticipation of an event, we want to stretch out that anticipation. So instead of Hank trying to shoot the apple of the Fisherman’s head in the last 10 minutes, that should have been bumped forward. Instead of being in the last quarter of the episode, it should have been either at the halfway point... or maybe at the end of the first quarter. The show should have focused on the suspense of the kid with the gun rather than the bickering parents.

Frank Overton who plays the Dad is all one note ahole, even after they are out searching for Hank together at the end. It’s as if he’s still an ahole, and after this hug he’s gonna paddle the hell out of Hank. The performance needed to better show Dad realizing the errors of his ways and softening, the Overton didn’t do that. Overton was the Sheriff in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD who says “Let the dead bury the dead” at the end and lets Boo Radley off the hook... a compassionate performance. So maybe it was Arthur Hiller’s direction, though Hiller is a damned good director. The Dad character just never changes, when that is kind of the point of the story.



Also, the child actor who plays Hank is *way* too old. He’s a teenager, in a role that seems written for some one younger.

Music by Pete Rugolo is great this time around, lots of primal percussion instruments.

By the way, I really dislike stories that equate an active imagination with being violent and dangerous. Why do writers write stuff like this? There are freakin’ serial killer scripts (and movies) about kids with imagination who take it too far and kill a bunch of people. Um, I have an active imagination and am one of the least dangerous people I know. I kind of suspect those without imaginations are more dangerous, they may lack empathy. I can imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, they can’t. It almost seems like this episode was written by the Dad character at times!

The show will *soon* find its footing and live up to its name (episode 5, ROSE’S LAST SUMMER has some great hints of MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, and episode 7, THE PURPLE ROOM, is great stuff!), but these first couple of shows are not the best examples of the show I fell in love with as a kid.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Trailer Tuesday:
BLACK CHRISTMAS

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder.

Usually when we think of director Bob Clark and Christmas, we think of his classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY about that wacky family (that's much like yours and mine) and that kid's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun... but I'm trying to avoid the obvious and find holiday films in unexpected genres.




Like Bob Clark's horror masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. The concept is great, a college sorority house as the girls leave to head home for the holidays one by one... but *are* they going home? Or are they being murdered by a maniac and stored up in the attic? This film turns the holiday break background into mystery and suspense.

The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. So we have this great all star cast in a horror film that, like John Carpenter's THE THING, gets much of its mileage by having the characters suspect each other; and also gives us a logical possibility that no one has been murdered... and it's all in Olivia Hussey's head.




This film has a couple of amazing "you can't do that in a movie" twists, including one where we are *sure* we know who the killer is... and are then proven wrong *after* they have been killed. Hey, that's kind of like THE THING, too!

Also there's a great sense of Holiday humor, plus Margot's phone number....

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS. And it's a great holiday film, since Christmas is going on in the background. A disturbing double bill with Bob Clark's CHRISTMAS STORY... something to warm your heart, then cut it out with a rusty knife!




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

Friday, December 01, 2017

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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