Monday, January 30, 2017

Free Short Story!


FREE THIS WEEK!

NEW SHORT STORY!

*** PRIME RATE



Modern day cattle rustlers. If you've gone grocery shopping lately you know there's big money in stolen beef.

Chuck Skinner inherited his father’s neighborhood butcher shop. A dying business... until Lee Benjamin made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Benjamin was the head of the Mary-Anne Mob, a group of modern day cattle rustlers who steal truckloads of cattle... and need butcher shops like Chuck’s to cut and sell the meat. If you’ve gone grocery shopping lately you know there’s a huge profit in beef... and Benjamin provides Chuck with a fake USDA Prime stamp - making his cuts of meat superior than anything you can buy in a supermarket. Chuck’s butcher shop becomes *very* profitable...

But when Mr. Benjamin, his huge violent bodyguard Woodsie, and a strange little man in wire-rimmed glasses show up one night at the butcher shop and accuse Chuck of skimming money off the top and cheating the mob, the butcher ends up in a fight for his life. Can he outsmart Mr. Benjamin? Who is that guy in the wire-rimmed glasses?

FREE From Monday Until Friday!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Weird Tailor

The Weird Tailor.

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



Season: 2, Episode: 4.
Airdate: Oct. 16, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Bloch based on his (awesome) short story.
Cast: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, Sondra Kerr
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A man cries out in vain. His son can not come back. There is no power on Earth that can bring him back. But then, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, that was no Earthly power that took him. As you have just seen. What just took place behind those doors was strange and terrifying. I wonder just how many of you will have the courage or the curiosity to follow me through them to witness things even stranger and more terrifying. Our story is called “The Weird Tailor” and the fabric of our plot is woven by these distinguished players: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, And Sondra Kerr. Yes, my friends, they’re all waiting for you behind these doors! So come with me, come! Before it’s too late.”

Synopsis: Spoiled rich college kid Arthur (Gary Clarke) comes home top his father’s mansion from a night of drinking... interrupting his father’s occult experiment just as things are happening. Mr. Smith (George Macready from GILDA) has laid out a pentagram on the floor of his study, done some incantations... and now the pentagram is beginning to smoke. A lot! When Arthur knocks on the door Smith tells him to go away - but that’s like telling a drunk to come on in. “Hey, candles! I get it, you’re fumigating the joint.” Smith explains that he’s doing an experiment and Arthur needs to leave *now*. But the bar is across the room - across the smoking pentagram - and Arthur wants to get a drink first. He walks right into the center of the pentagram - there’s a flash of light, and Arthur is dead! And that’s just the set up for the story!



Mr. Smith visits psychic Madame Roberti (Iphigenie Castiglioni) who looks into her crystal ball and sees darkness within the light - Smith explains that his son has died and he would do *anything* to bring him back - anything. He says he would give his entire fortune to have his son back. She hands him a card with a name and address...

Nice little twist at the end of the scene where the psychic reaches down for her *guide dog* and we realize that she is blind (and all of the things she has seen and commented on about Smith were not seen through her eyes). This also adds a bit of weird to the scene - a blind woman who looks him right in the eye.

Honest Abe’s used cars is where the address leads Smith. Can this be right? The car salesman Nick (Abraham Sofaer), an older middle eastern man with a mustache who owns the place, takes him into the office where they can talk of things not of this Earth. Smith explains some of why he is here, and Nick says they must be careful - there are laws. Not police laws, laws of nature... laws of good and evil. Nick has an ancient spell book - Mysteries Of The Worm - one of 3 copies in the world. The rest were burned along with their owners. Nick is asking one million dollars for the book - which is all of Mr. Smith’s fortune. Mr. Smith balks... but eventually buys the book.



Erich Borg’s Custom Tailor Shop - somewhere in the wrong part of town. Landlord Mr. Schwenk (Stanley Adams) goes into the shop and yells for Borg in the apartment in back. No customers today. Borg (Henry Jones) comes out and asks if this is about a suit? But Schwenk is here about the late rent, and gives Borg one week to pay up or he’s out on the street. Borg has no idea how he will be able to pay this bill...

After the landlord leaves, Borg goes into the back room: workshop and apartment, where his wife Anna (Sondra Kerr) runs a sewing machine. Customer? No - landlord demanding they pay their back rent or move. Anna attempts to cheer him up, and gets beaten for her troubles. Borg is a violent jerk... and he takes out his frustrations on his wife. Borg says that on;y a miracle could save them... and the bell over the front door rings. They have a customer.

Mr. Smith has a very special job for Borg...

He needs a suit for his son. His son can not come in for a fitting, but he has his measurements. The suit will be made of this special material that Smith is providing and must be sewed by hand - no machines. Also, can only be sewn during certain odd hours in the middle of the night when the stars are aligned just right. He’ll pay $500 for the suit... and gives Borg his card. Borg wants an advance, but Smith says he’ll pay on delivery. Borg will have the suit finished in a week.



When Smith leaves, Anna comes out from the back room and asks if this is a job, money? Borg manhandles her again, tells her to leave him alone. She return to the back room, crying. Talks to a damaged mannequin she has named Hans about her abusive husband... then cries on its shoulder. “You are the only friend I have, Hans.” She breaks down crying.

Anna wakes up in the middle of the night - Borg is not in bed. Has he left her? She creeps out into the shop to find him hand sewing the suit. It’s the middle of the night? This is when the suit is supposed to be sewn, Borg has tried other times but the needle will not go into the strange fabric. The only thing that Borg cares about is that he gets $500 when he delivers the suit.

A few days later, Borg has finished with the suit. He folds it up and puts it in a box, preparing to deliver it. Anna has a feeling that something is wrong - the fabric is strange and hurts her eyes to look at it and tingles - maybe vibrates - when she touches it. Borg should know this, he made the suit. She begs him not to deliver the suit. But - $500.



Borg wonders what she considers weird - since she spends half the day talking to a mannequin. She’s even named it. Hans? There is a word for people who talk to statues. The reason why Borg took the mannequin from the front window and tossed it in the back room - it’s head is cracked. Is that her problem, too? A cracked head? Borg says maybe when he gets the $500 he’ll just go away by himself - she can keep the mannequin. He leaves to deliver the suit and she worried that he will never come back, leave her with the back rent problems.

She goes back and pours out her heart to the mannequin. How did the mannequin get its cracked head? Borg was drunk and beat it - just as he gets drunk and beats her. “When you get hit over and over and over again, something has got to break.” The front door bell rings, landlord Schwenk looking for the rent.

Borg finds the address on Mr. Smith’s card - this can’t be right. A tenement down by the docks? He knocks on the door and Smith answers... happy to have the suit. But Borg wants his $500 before he hands over the suit, and Smith wants the suit now and he will pay for it on the first of the month. Smith spent his entire fortune on the spell book and material to make the suit... but he’ll have money again, soon.



Borg wants to know how Smith can afford a huge freezer if he’s broke, and opens the freezer to see how much food is inside... except there isn’t any food, only Smith’s frozen dead son Arthur! Yikes! Smith and Borg fight over the suit - each fighting for their life. Borg stabs Smith to death! What has he done? He wipes away all traces that he was ever in the room, grabs the suit and races out.

Borg returns to his shop, worried that the police will find him. Anna is relieved to see that he did not leave her... but if he got the $500 why does he still have the suit box? Borg threatens her - don’t tell anyone about the customer or the suit or the $500. He orders her to burn the suit *now*! Then runs out of the shop.



To a bar. Borg is getting drunk when Schwenk finds him and demands the back rent. Borg is drunk and has delusions - sees Mr. Smith dead, see’s Smith’s frozen dead son... throws his beer at Schwenk and runs out of the bar.

Borg returns to the tailor shop; very drunk, very angry, very confused. He yells for Anna, asks if she burned the suit. She says not yet - she put it on the mannequin to see what it looked like. Borg screams that the suit must be burned at once - it’s evidence. He tells her that Smith tried to take the suit from him without paying for it... and he killed him. She wants him to go to the police... and Borg freaks and starts beating her. Trying to kill her so that she doesn’t go to the police...

And that is when the old broken mannequin wearing the strange suit *moves*.



It herky-jerky walks out of the shadows. Legs moving as one piece because they have no joints. Eyes focused on Borg. It slowly crosses the room to him and takes her off Anna. As Borg backs up, the mannequin moves forward. Step by step. Anna watches as they both move out of the backroom into the store and then there is a scream.

A shadow over the door as someone walks back... back to her. The broken mannequin Hans! He approaches her, and his plaster face says that he has dealt with the man who beat both of them, and now they can be together.

Her turn to freak out.



Review: Just as the 1930s and 1940s were awesome decades for crime fiction, the 1950s and 1960s were awesome years for horror and science fiction. Suddenly, all of these writers like Richard Matheson and Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury and PKD and Robert Bloch just came on the scene all, seemingly, at the same time. There was an explosion of great genre fiction in the sci-fi and horror genres and a bunch of magazines that sprang up to accommodate them all. Many of these writers clicked with the anthology TV trend that coincided - and shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE OUTER LIMITS and even THRILLER benefitted from this.

Bloch, probably best known as the writer of PSYCHO, wrote a ton of great short stories during this period and many of them were adapted to television... including the notorious banned episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS with Brandon DeWilde THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. He often adapted his own work, and segued into TV writing - working on a number of shows. He either scripted or was source material (or both) for 10 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ten episodes of THRILLER, 7 episodes of the HITCHCOCK HOUR, and 3 episodes of STAR TREK (plus a bunch of other TV shows). Here he adapts one of his most famous stories, which you may know from the movie ASYLUM (1972) which was Bloch’s own anthology film - based on his short stories and adapted by Bloch himself. That version of WEIRD TAILOR may have better production value, but this is the first version that I watched... as a kid. And that mannequin that comes alive freaked me out. They did a pretty good job of making the actor look like he was maybe made of plaster, and that really helped.



But this episode has more than that scary ending scene - one of the great things about genre fiction is that it allows the writer to deal with serious social issues in a medium that people want to see. Genre is a great “spoonful of sugar” that makes discussions of issues people might find boring or too serious into something tasty and fun. TWILIGHT ZONE was famous for stories like this, but the same writers often worked for other anthology shows...

So we end up with this THRILLER episode that deals with the serious issue of domestic violence. This whole episode explores domestic violence - Borg beating his wife, Smith ignoring his son - and shows us two different paths. Smith’s more psychological abuse of his son results in the boy’s death - and Smith realizes he was wrong and that all of the wealth in the world doesn’t matter as much as his son. It’s kind of amazing that we see Smith go from that mansion to the hell-hole apartment just to bring his son back to life. Smith gets his priorities straight... but it’s too late. Borg just keeps beating on Anna, no matter what happens. He drinks and beats his wife. This is a great role for Henry Jones, who always plays nice guys and shows us that even the fellow that you think could not be a violent wife beater may actually be one. Your next door neighbor may beat his wife... or her husband. It’s not some issue that only belongs to big blue collar guys - anyone can be a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence.



Sondra Kerr gives off a Terri Garr vibe in this episode, quirky and funny and vulnerable. A month after this episode aired she married Robert Blake... and one wonders what kind of marriage that was. She was in a bunch of movies in the 70s, guest starred on a bunch of TV shows in the 70s and is still working - was in a movie made last year.

George Macready, who is great in GILDA, is equally great a decade and a half later here. Though we have two intertwining stories and his thread takes the backseat to the weird tailor’s after the first commercial, he continues to make an impression in the brief scenes he has as a father who realizes he has made the selfish mistake which cost his son his life and will do anything to bring him back. Anything.



Herschel Daugherty’s direction in this episode gives us some great shots like that opening longshot down the hallway as the son returns, along with a nice sequence with slightly canted shots when Smith hires Borg to make the suit. And there’s a great superimposition of a skull on the crystal ball in the medium scene... plus a great scene with Smith and Borg fighting shot through a wall made of fencing material in Smith's hell-hole apartment.

The big lesson from this episode is that Genre Fiction is a great way to explore social issues.

This episode continues the second season streak of great shows... but all of that will change with next week’s episode.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bill's Retirement Plan

Because I'm busy trying to finish this danged Blue Book, here is a blog entry from 2006 (over a decade ago) where I came up with the idea for Mitch Robertson (who will return in a new novelette at the end of February). Hopefully a new blog entry here next week!
- Bill


So, one of my problems with having a bunch of great behind the scenes stories is that I still have to work in this town... so there are some I just can’t tell. But I want to. I’m even compelled to tell these stories. Stop me before I dish again! I never knew what to do with these stories....

Until a couple of days ago.



While I was on my working vacation I bought a stack of books to read on the plane and in the airport, and finally got around to reading one after I returned. BLONDE LIGHTNING is the second book in a 2 book mystery series by T.L. Lankford. I’ve meet T.L. a few times because we have a friend in common - director Fred Olen Ray. Fred is a low budget director with zillions of films to his credit - many under pseudonyms. He directed by DROID GUNNER flick and my INVISIBLE MOM flick, and is a heck of a nice guy. Fred directed a few T.L. Lankford scripts before my stuff, and T.L. was at the DROID GUNNER wrap party... which Fred paid for out of his own pocket. So when BLONDE LIGHTNING hit paperback and got a great write up in Entertainment Weekly and the L.A. Times, I figured I should read it.

I’m a mystery and thriller guy, so this is my genre...

The bad news about BLONDE LIGHTNING (and the first book EARTHQUAKE WEATHER):
1) No real mystery. You know who done it, there are no clues and no twists.
2) Not much of a detective story. The protagonist, Mark Hayes, doesn’t do much to actively solve the crimes in the books, he just kind of hangs around until things sort themselves out. He doesn’t question witnesses or run down clues or anything like that. In LIGHTNING, the villain may not even be the villain - nobody ever actually investigates to find out whether he’s behind the crimes or not.
3) Not much suspense. Though Mark becomes a suspect in EARTHQUAKE, he’s not really a man on the run or anything. In LIGHTNING he’s never really in much jeopardy, and there are no suspense set pieces in either book and no real plot twists.
4) Not much action. The two biggest action scenes in LIGHTING are off screen - and don’t involve Mark. The villain gets wacked, then a mobster gets wacked (with Mark as look out - but he's in some other room when the action happens). There’s a great shoot out at the end where Mark gets to shoot a guy, but the rest of the book is pretty light on action. There’s a car wreck and a small fist fight, but 50 pages of any Mickey Spillane novel has more action than the entire book.

Okay, you’d think that was a bad review, right? Well here’s the good news...

1) Though the mystery and thriller stuff is kind of light, LIGHTNING is still a page turner. Why? It deals with making a low budget film. The hero is Development Exec who is on the short list of suspects when his jerk-producer is murdered in EARTHQUAKE, and after being a studio level pariah, manages to land a job working on a low budget film with many problems in LIGHTNING. You may not care if the bad guy is captured in LIGHTNING, but you constantly worry when the film gets behind schedule or an actor completely screws up an entire day of filming. At one point the First AD quits the film, and I had to keep reading to find out if the film crashed and burned or not. What we have here is a Hollywood novel.
2) The film takes you behind the scenes and shows you how films are really made. Though I wish it had been more "Tom Clancy" small detail oriented, you still get a great picture of all of those things that really happen on a film - and so much of the book is devoted to the hell of making a film on a tight budget, it’s almost like being there. If you’ve never been on a film set, if you’ve never had a script put on film, this book will teach you what really happens - and it's not a pretty picture! Most Hollywood novels are about flashy movie stars and sex scandals, but LIGHTNING is about actually making a movie. I can’t think of another novel that’s about making a movie.
3) The roman-a-clef aspect. Lankford has combined real life people to create his characters, and I recognized some portions of his composites. One of the actors has some characteristics of an actor I know personally - a guy I’ve worked with. A guy Lankford has worked with. So he gets to dish about all kinds of behind the scenes scandals without actually naming names...

Which brings me to my retirement plan.

See, I have all of these juicy stories I can’t really tell... unless I fictionalize the incidents and create composite characters.

Hmmm...

So, when I get too much gray in my hair to sell scripts, my plan is to "retire" to writing novels. Long ago I wrote 3 novels - all in dusty boxes - two comedy spy novels and a noir thriller. The plan is to follow in Lankford’s footsteps and write some Hollywood mysteries... but do it my way. Real mysteries with lots of twists, real thrills with lots of suspense scenes, and that "Tom Clancy" detail that will make each book a lesson in how films are really made. So, without being too Harlan-Ellison-The-Novel-I’m-Writing-In-Ten-Years-Is-Titled.... my first "retirement" novel will be called FIRST TAKE and it will follow screenwriter Mitch Robertson as his first script is produced... and the producer is murdered while on location in Mexico and the films funds mysteriously vanish... and Mitch is #1 suspect on the run from the South-Of-The-Border law. Any resemblance to the filming of TREACHEROUS will be strictly coincidental. The fun thing is - I can tell all of those stories that will get me banned from Hollywood for life... in a completely fictional world.

Of course, before I retire I still have a big stack of scripts to write... and some new classes on audio CD to record, and I have to take that 6 screenwriting books worth of articles on my hard drive and actually turn it into 6 new screenwriting books (actually working on that now)...

And sell a stack of new scripts so that I can have some more adventures to share with you in this blog. In fact, I’d better get to work on that!

- Bill

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: TOPAZ (1969)

“Topaz” (1969)

Screenplay: Samuel Taylor based on the novel by Leon Uris Starring: Frederick Stafford, John Vernon, John Forsythe Roscoe Lee Brown.

This film was based on a big best selling beach read by Leon Uris - one of those ripped from the headlines things about the secret shenanigans behind the Cuban missile crisis, filled with as much intrigue between the sheets as behind the doors of the embassies... and a cast of thousands. And the major problem with TOPAZ is probably with the source material's scope. Novels are an entirely different medium than screenplays and the movies that come from them. There are many things that you can do in a novel that just don't work in a movie. As I noted in the last chapter, a movie is viewed all in one gulp and we expect the story to flow and the pieces to connect to each other. Usually the audience does what I call the “skin jump” where they imagine themselves as the lead character and live the story on screen vicariously. They imagine they are James Bond or Indiana Jones or Neo from THE MATRIX or the character looking for love in a romantic comedy.




A book is a completely different animal – though there *are* books that you might read in one gulp, for the most part books are read chapter-by-chapter and we put a book marker in and set it aside. We may take days or weeks or even months to read a single book. So the focus is often on the *chapters* rather than the overall story. Even if a chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, it also usually works as a self-contained unit, giving us someplace to put a book mark and set the book aside. Due to the way the story is delivered to us – chapter by chapter – a book can be episodic and doesn't need to be from the protagonist's point of view. Because we can “get into a character's head” it is easier for us to identify with everyone, even the antagonist. We can bounce from character to character without ever being pulled out of the story. So the problem with adapting some novels is that they work so much differently than a movie works that our best set is probably just to toss the book and just run with the concept... or just leave it as a book. Some things are more at home in the medium they were created in.



The big problem with TOPAZ is that there is no lead character - it bounces back and forth between characters - so most of the scenes “star” minor characters that we haven't really gotten to know. The tone also works against it – a “ripped from the headlines” story often plays like a “just the facts” documentary, which means low key drama and less focus on emotions and drama. Combine that tone with no lead character to identify with and we end up with a story that was probably exciting in book form but ends up dull on screen. The screenplay is by Sam Taylor who wrote VERTIGO, but his skill set may not have been able to tame this all- over-the-place novel. The film just isn't very good, but does contain an amazing experiment which makes it well ahead of its time. Twenty five years before PULP FICTION, this film does a very similar story experiment.

Experiment: A big one! The film actually has four plots - and each is like its own little story. Like PULP FICTION, different lead characters in each story with some overlapping characters who show up in more than one story, and one character who connects all four. It's a great experiment that probably comes directly from the novel's structure – but like most experiments, it ultimately fails. But let's look at it anyway, since PULP FICTION shows that it *can* work. Here are the four stories...

In Denmark: A top ranking Russian and his family defect to the USA.
In the USA: While the Cuban delegation is in town, secret documents are photographed that hint at Russian missiles sent to Cuba.
In CUBA: Spies find the Russian missiles.
In FRANCE: A high level spy ring in the French government is exposed.

Wow, that seems almost linear and not nearly as complicated as the movie is. But when Frederick Stafford (who?) walks into frame, we have no idea who the hell he is and he has to “earn” our identification... and in TOPAZ the characters are each on screen for only a brief time before we are on to the next character. Not enough time to get to know them, let alone like them or care about them or hope they resolve whatever problems we really don't have enough time to learn about. So that Hitchcock aversion to paying star salaries backfires in this film.



Nutshell: In the USA segment, an American CIA agent (John Forsythe) wants to bribe the secretary (Donald Randolph) to Castro's right hand man (John Vernon) to steal his papers.... but doesn't want it traced back to the USA, so he goes to his pal in the French espionage pal (Frederick Stafford) who is having problems with his wife (Dany Robin) to get his son-in-law (Claude Jade) to provide a sketch of the secretary so that his agent (the late great Roscoe Lee Brown) whose cover is a florist, can pretend to be a reporter for Ebony Magazine in order to get past security and bribe the secretary so that he can photograph the papers. Oh, and Castro's right hand man has a head of security and the florist has an assistant and the son-in-law is obviously married to the French espionage pal's daughter and... well, there are no shortage of characters in this one segment alone! And the character who does the actual spying stuff is Roscoe Lee Brown - a peripheral character who we will never see again.

That's the big problem with the story - in the Cuba section it's not any of our main *Cuba story* characters who sneak onto the military base to photograph the missiles, it's some characters we've never seen before who are only in this once sequence... so when they are in trouble, we don't care. They are disposable characters... and *all* of the characters in this film are disposable - they do their little bit of the story and then we never see them again.



It's like a movie about the extras instead of stars.... and there are no movie stars in the film. Zilch. Hitchcock had paid *half* the budget of his previous film TORN CURTAIN on Newman and Julie Andrews' salaries and that film bombed... so he ditched stars completely for this film, and it suffers because of it. The closest we have to a lead character is the French espionage guy played by Stafford - but he never goes on any dangerous missions himself - he hires someone else. Which means he ends up with soap opera plots - his marriage is in trouble, he's having an affair with an agent, his wife is having an affair with a guy who ends up being a Russian spy, his daughter and son in law have issues... All kinds of silly things that make for a great beach read, but don't work very well on the big screen.

Hitch Appearance: A nurse pushes him through the airport in a wheelchair... then he stands up and walks away.

Music: Maurice Jarre does an okay score that sounds a lot like his JUDGE ROY BEAN score - so maybe he recycled it.

Bird Sightings: Hey, a seagull ruins their whole mission in Cuba!

Hitchcock Stock Company: John Forsythe was an odd choice for romantic lead in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY.

The whole film is kind of ho-hum and shows the problem with doing experiments in a script and film - most experiments fail. That’s why we call them experiments. Even though some of the experiments in Hitchcock’s films don’t entirely succeed, they usually have a handful of great scenes to make up for it, or the experiment itself is interesting to watch (like in ROPE). Here we discover the importance of having a protagonist who is involved in the entire story - *the* pivotal character in each segment. We learn this because this experiment fails in this case - four stories with four different protagonists squeezed into a 143 minute film doesn’t give us much time to care about any of these people or get to know them... so they remain chess pieces moved around the board to tell the story. The more you split the focus among different protagonists, the more you split our emotions so that we don’t have time to care. We take a closer look at this film and it’s episodic structure (and how it paved the way for PULP FICTION) in HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR.

- Bill






Of course, I have my own books focusing 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:


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






USA Readers 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 52 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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

ATLiH: Rubber Gloves Of Death!

As usual, the names and details have been changed to protect the very very guilty!

One of the things about low budget movies that bothers me these days is that so many of them just suck. Now, I fully understand films made on low budgets have little or no money to do things, but often it seems as if no one on the film is trying to make up for that with creativity, imagination, and passion. It often seems like they just don’t care. I know that good films, even great films, can be made for no money. I see films in festivals made on a shoestring like FAVOR and DOWN AND DANGEROUS and FOREV and JOE SHERMANN SONG and dozens of others (sorry if I didn’t mention your film) that just kick ass. They are often *better* than anything Hollywood could do on a Hollywood budget. I also see some films that don’t quite work, but you can see the filmmakers really trying to make something excellent, they just didn’t have the cash or some small thing sunk them. But often I see low budget films where it seems like nobody gave a damn...

And that’s a problem.

Recently I rented a low budget film that a guy I know was involved in. A sci fi action flick. Now, I can get behind a cheap sci fi action flick. I interviewed the guys who made SIX STRING SAMURAI before the film came out, and *that’s* a wild ride! But this film just sucked... because the people involved obviously didn’t care. They were just making a product - and not even a very good one.

The way to become a loser in Hollywood is not to care. Even if you are making a cheapo genre film, make it the best it can possibly be. Not the best you can make it, because you always want to stretch and grow - so make it the best it can be (which is better than you can do... you have to stretch). In this case, the writer-director just didn’t care and made 90 minutes of pure torture.





This was one of those “Mockbusters” - a cheapo film designed to have enough similarities to a big studio blockbuster to maybe fool someone into thinking it’s a prequel or sequel or maybe that studio blockbuster available in a RedBox kiosk or on the shelves at Walmart at the same time it’s in the cinemas. These films basically use the TV adverts and trailers of the big studio blockbuster to help sell their cheapo version. Before striking gold with the SHARKNADO movies, producer The Asylum made a ton of these - even being sued by studios because they copied the posters and other elements of movies like BATTLESHIP (AMERICAN BATTLESHIP) and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED) and THOR (ALMIGHTY THOR) and TRANSFORMERS (TRANSMORPHERS) and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (18 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I AM LEGEND (I AM OMEGA). But this wasn’t an Asylum movie - it was made by other folks with the same scheme. Can I tell you the biggest problem with a “Mockbuster”? You can easily compare it to the actual big budget blockbuster... and these films don’t compare well.

The story opened on a space ship... which was the worst CGI exterior I have ever seen (why not use a model if you can’t afford good CGI? This looked like a really bad cartoon of a spaceship. Heck, you could build your own unique model of the space ship - all that takes is time *before production begins* when you don’t have a cast and crew waiting.) And when we cut to the interior? It was some office with a drop ceiling and a visible drinking fountain in the background (how would that work in zero gravity?) and there was a gameboy console or something on a desk. Nothing was done to dress the office to make it look like a spaceship. The space ship had drop ceilings and florescent lights and a drinking fountain and square windows with vertical blinds. WTF?





I worked on a friend’s sci fi movie where he took cardboard and curved it to look like a space ship wall and painted it gray and made some oval windows with black cardboard sheets that had little LED lights punched into them as stars. Cost him a couple bucks total. He also built a pretty nice control console and put a couple of $29 desk chairs behind it (the actor’s bodies covered the chairs, but they could turn like STAR TREK chairs). The console had knobs and buttons and blinking lights and screens with green gel and lights behind them. Basically, he took a couple of weeks before he made the film to build the space ship set in his garage. It looked amazing on film. This film made by this looser that I paid real money to rent? No time spent on anything!

The story had a spaceship filled with hot female prisoners crashing on an alien planet, and (of course) the aliens want to capture the women and mate with them... because if a spaceship filled with *alien* females crash landed on Earth, the first thing you’d think was: can we have sex with them? Sure, they’re green and look like lizards or something, but can we have sex with them? That’s the whole danged plot! Except the escaped female prisoners are attractive human women.

Now here’s the thing about cheapo films like this - they are exploitation flicks. My friend Fred Olen Ray says that “nudity is the cheapest special effect”, and many a bad film I rented back in the VHS days and watched with buddies from work while drinking beer and eating pizza were saved by nudity and inventive action and some funny lines. Here are two things about nudity (female or male or aliens wearing rubber gloves for some reason) - and these not only appeared in ever version of my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING book, they go all the way back to the xeroxed “generic script notes” that spawned that book: 1) A rape scene is **not** a sex scene (it’s a violence scene, and if you write it or film it to be “sexy” that’s just plain disturbing and wrong), and 2) All nudity must make sense! If a character just gets naked for no reason, that’s stupid! They have to get naked for a logical reason! Fred has a movie (don’t remember which one) where a character gets completely spattered with blood when one of their friends is killed by a monster, and what would *you* do if you were covered in blood? Wash it off! So the character takes a shower - and now we get a suspense scene where we know the monster is out there and this character is *vulnerable* because they are naked. Hey, it’s the danged “Psycho” shower scene, but with a monster instead of Mrs. Bates. I’m not saying this is art, but you understand why the character takes off her clothes. She’s not just disrobing for the pervs in the audience - there’s a logical reason. Nudity has to make sense! Even a crappy film where nudity might be the only thing that saves the movie from being torture needs to have *motivated* nudity. Or else it just seems cheap (which it is, but we don’t want the audience to be thinking that). Even with the six pack and the pizza, you want the story to make some sort of sense.





When I pitched my BLADE RUNNER type script STEEL CHAMELEONS about the underground railroad for androids that wanted to pass as human... and ended up getting paid to write a movie about robot hookers from outer space, I decided to write the exact kind of movie that my buddies from work would want to see. A six pack and pizza movie. Funny, lots of action, some inventive elements, maybe a little parody of some popular film snuck in there (EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in that case) and some *motivated* female nudity (and even some shirtless dudes in case someone watched it with their girlfriend). Fred directed that, by the way. So you might have watched that film and thought it was stupid, but it would at least be *fun* and include all of the elements the target audience wanted to see. “Hey, I saw this movie, and it was terrible... but funny and had a cool spaceship battle and beautiful women.” (Or hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoyed). But there’s a *criteria* for films like this... do you think this film delivered on any of the required elements?

The aliens chasing our escaped women? Well, they obviously bought some cheap alien masks the day after Halloween, and then had the actors playing the aliens dress in jeans and long sleeve shirts (so they didn’t need to do full body make up). Oh, and tennis shoes. But what about the *hands*? The alien hands that would be grabbing for these escaped women? Well, instead of doing any sort of make up, they just gave them yellow rubber gloves. Worst looking aliens *ever*! I did better stuff when I was making super 8mm films in High School!





Then the rest of that film was filled with “we don’t care” costumes and “we don’t care” acting and “we don’t care” sets and “we don’t care” props and a “we don’t care” script and, worst of all, no action! Most of the film was two or more characters standing somewhere talking about action that had happened earlier. No action scenes at all!!!!

You know what’s almost as cheap as nudity? A foot chase or a fight scene. Or even a shoot out - when I was doing those stupid super 8mm films in High School I had toy guys from Toys R Us painted to look real, and created cool muzzle flares by wrapping match heads in aluminum foil and heating the end (this was built into the toy gun - a disposable cigarette lighter to do the heating). The match heads exploded out of the barrel, which looked really cool at night. I also used flash bulbs built into those Toys R Us plastic guns with a battery that connected when the trigger was pulled. And blood squibs - a bent piece of aluminum tubing hidden in the victim’s shirt, plastic aquarium hose going down the body connecting the tubing to a lens cleaner bellows taped onto the bottom of their shoe, filled with Kayro Syrup blood. The victim stomps on the bellows and the blood sprays from their chest! You could shoot them in a long shot! People always wanted to know how I did that - because there was no visible special effects rig and the victim could show their empty hands on camera (no trigger in their hands). As long as the foot was angled right or off screen. So if I could do a cool shoot out when I was an idiot High School student, someone making a film that I could rent from a legit rental source could probably do the same... if they cared.





Now, here was the funny part: this was obviously shot in the woods somewhere. Once they were off the flying rental office, they landed on some wooded planet where the female prisoners escaped and those aliens in Playtex gloves chased them. Except they didn’t. There was no chasing in the film at all. When the hero woman escaped, she instantly twisted her ankle and was recaptured within seconds.

She got maybe two steps, max.

Then it was back to evil alien in bad Halloween mask making a never ending speech gesturing with his rubber gloved hands as if he had been interrupted while scrubbing the toilet as attractive female hero just sits there listening and waiting her turn to make *her* never ending speech. If I had the woods, I would sure as hell use them for a great foot chase. I would have characters hide and almost be discovered, generating suspense. I would have spent the time to write a great script, because the one thing a low budget film has as an advantage is pre-production time. The more time you spend in prep, the more you can solve problems long before they pop up on set. The more you can craft something exciting that won’t cost a lot of money to make. I would have taken the time to write the greatest script ever. I would do a big action chase thing like MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but with aliens! MOST DANGEROUS GAME was a low budget film when it was made...

But here? No chases, no danger, no nothing... just people sitting and talking.

Wearing rubber gloves and Halloween masks.

For 90 very very long minutes.

With absolutely no nudity, motivated or not.

And no hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoy.





And nothing they said was clever or amusing - it was dead serious, as if they expected the audience to take all of this stuff as if were Shakespeare or something. Hey, wait, Shakespeare is damned funny! All of that clever word play and those dirty jokes for the groundlings!

But nobody involved cared enough to make this even slightly amusing, or have any chases or suspense or action or anything else that people might want to see. That’s what makes the writer-director of this mess a loser. They didn’t care. They were just trying to fill 90 minutes of film so they could collect their check and go home.

You have to care. You have to do the best that can be done with what you have. You have to give it your all... even if the movie is about robot hookers from outer space when you wanted to make something like BLADE RUNNER. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

- Bill

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lancelot Link Monday: Hidden Fences

Lancelot Link Monday! Just in time for Martin Luther King Day - the #1 movie over the weekend was a true story about NASA's first manned space flight... and the *African American* *women* who made it possible. This film made more money that ROGUE ONE or the new Ben Affleck Movie or the horror movie (released on Friday the 13th). Awesome! If you make it they will come (unless you are Ben making the middle book of a trilogy). While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Hidden ........................ $20,450,000
2 La La .......................... $14,500,000
3 Sing ........................... $13,810,970
4 Rogue One ...................... $13,759,000
5 Bye Bye......................... $13,378,000
6 Patriots ....................... $12,000,000
7 Monster ........................ $10,500,000
8 Sleepless ....................... $8,468,787
9 Underwear........................ $5,815,000
10 Passengers....................... $5,625,000




2) LA LA LAND's Long Fight To The Screen.

3) Lonergan (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) On Writing.

4) My Friend Matt Altman On Screenwritin' and Kung Fu Fightin'

5) Wriring With A Partner: How To Avoid Killing Them.

6) The Reality Of Being A Best Selling Writer. The Same Is True For Screenwriters!

7) French People Prefer Thrillers Over Dramas. (Um, this is nothing new - check out the films of Chabrol or Robert Enrico or even Truffaut.)

8) Old Spielberg (he's 70).

9) Why People In Boston Hate PATRIOTS DAY.

10) Seven Screenwriting Tips From Oscar Nominees!

11) Apple TV - Making Their Own Shows (someone has to write those).

12) Complete List Of For Your Consideration Screenplay PDFs Available For YOU To Read!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, January 13, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

Screenplay: Anthony Schaffer based on the novel by Arthur La Bern.
Starring: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alec McCowen.

Hitchcock’s second-to-last film manages to combine many of his most popular elements into one story: We get the wrongly accused man story - this time very similar to one of his other lost gems, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. We also get a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of guilt transferred. Plus we get a sexy, violent, shocking serial killer story like PSYCHO. Hey, add a twist ending and you've got quintessential Hitchcock. Oh, and it's funny and clever, too - screenplay by the brilliant Anthony Shaffer...writer of the original SLEUTH, the original WICKER MAN, and SOMMERSBY. This is the best Hitchcock film in the post-PSYCHO period.




After a bunch of interesting failures after PSYCHO - movies that only Robin Wood could love - Hitchcock needed a hit... and here it is. FRENZY is a return to England and to London. The business had changed, and Hitchcock - who always seemed ahead of the curve - had coasted on past brilliance in the 60s until he stopped dead. This was the film that restarted him - and probably the film he should have gone out on. Though it’s about a man who is wrongly accused, he isn’t on the run like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, instead he’s kind of “a man on the hide” - trying to find some safe place to hole up or some scheme to avoid the police by being smuggled out of the country. After years of sly winks from Hitchcock about sex - trains entering tunnels - the new permissive world of cinema practically demanded that he do a film full of nudity and sex. This is Hitchcock’s only R rated film. Instead of those glossy Hollywood “personality” stars like Cary Grant that he had used in the past, or the new method actors and low-key guys like Paul Newman - who didn’t match his style, FRENZY stars a bunch of fine British stage actors. You don’t know their names, but you may have seen them in movies or on TV before. The hostess of Masterpiece Theater, Jean Marsh, plays a role. Whether Hitchcock was returning to his roots or his comfort zone, the results are a fun and frightening little film that is still fun to watch.




Nutshell: Bitter bartender Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) seems to have lost everything in his divorce, including many of his friends. The one pal who took his side was Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) who runs a produce company at Covent Garden. These two are polar opposites. Where Blaney's life is a mess, Rusk is on top of the world.

London is plagued by the Neck Tie Killer - who strangles swinging single women with neck ties. When Blaney’s ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim only a day after they had a very public fight, he finds himself on the run from the police. Unfortunately, everyone sided with the ex-wife in the divorce, and no one will believe he's innocent. And when another Neck Tie Killer victim can be traced back to Blaney? Even his old pal Rusk thinks he’s guilty... and turns him in to the police. Lots of twists and turns, and one of those great end twists where the real killer is revealed.




Hitch Appearance: In a crowd listening to a political speech - right
at the beginning of the film... then someone spots a dead woman floating in the Thames River, naked except for a neck tie. “Is that my club tie?” someone asks.

Hitch Stock Company: Elsie Randolph who plays the Hotel Clerk was also in RICH AND STRANGE (1931).

Birds: One of the few Hitchcock films without birds - though there are some seagulls in the opening shot and a quail is served at dinner.

Experiment: Hitchcock plays it safe as far as story is concerned. FRENZY is a great example of taking us into a world, Hero & Villain “Flipsides”, character flaw creating story, set ups, and traditional twist endings. There are also some visual experiments in the film that we look at in MASTERING SUSPENSE.

A great summation of Hitchcock's thrillers that also works as kind of a little tour of London and a behind the scenes of Covent Garden market. Lots of suspense, twists, and a fun look at what happens when you lose all of your friends in the divorce... except for the bad boys you used to hang out with as a bachelor. Great script by Shaffer, great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Marred by iffy music by Ron Goodwin (replacing Bernard Herrmann after he had a falling out with Hitch). Hitchcock's best film in the Post-“Psycho” era (after he began to believe all of those critics that called him a genius - and made mostly cruddy films). A modern film, that holds up really well and has some great lessons on protagonist and antagonist relationships and twists.

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

- Bill

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:


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






USA Readers 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 52 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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

ATLiH: Walking The Concrete Carpet

An ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD entry from 2006...

Thursday night I went to a movie premiere. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were no shows, and I didn’t get a chance to joke with Bill Murray or Jack Black. Entertainment Tonight didn’t scream for an interview with me, and I wasn’t blinded by a million flashes from press cameras. I didn’t get a chance to ask either recently single Kate Hudson or just divorced Denise Richards to ask if anyone was sitting next to them (and might I?). You see, this wasn’t one of those fancy red carpet movie premieres in Westwood or at Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood... this one was held at the Culver Studios (where David O’Selznick’s huge mansion offices sit, you’ve seen it in the credits before GONE WITH THE WIND and NOTORIOUS) - it’s part of Sony. That still sounds pretty good, right? But this was a rented screening room - no red carpet, just a concrete sidewalk. And the movie wasn’t some big studio blockbuster, it was the latest film from legend-in-his-own-mind Donny Vitamin.

I *have* gone to those red carpet premieres a couple of times. The late Chris Penn was a friend of an actor I’ve worked with a few times, so I walked the red carpet at the premiere of MULLHOLLAND FALLS as part of his entourage. On the real red carpet it’s mostly about not ruining any photographer’s shot of Nick Nolte - basically trying not to be seen on the red carpet.

Here, no one cared if I was on the concrete sidewalk except the security guard who made sure my name was on the list before pointing out where to park the car.

This was a Donny Vitamin movie.

I don’t know where I first met Donny. Might have been at the American Film Market, might have been at a Film Artist’s Network meeting. Donny is a character. He has this comb-over-fro.... kind of reminds you of Trump’s hair. Poofy. And he's always popping vitamins... I think he told me he gets regular B-12 injections. Donny has been around forever, working as a comic book writer and cartoon writer. His big claim to fame: he wrote the novelization of a huge hit movie because he went to college with the director. That novelization became a best seller in paperback due to the film being a massive hit... and a career is born!



I saw Donny’s first film on the big screen TV in a coffee shop (also a premiere with no red carpet) - it was a *musical* about a guy who gets transported back to cave man times and has to escape stop-motion dinosaurs left over from some other movie and a clan of amazon-like cave girls lead by a too-old-for-a-loin-cloth Karen Black. If you can get past the song and dance aspect, the film is... clumsy and not all that well made. Compare it to DINOSAUR ISLAND, co-directed by my friend Fred Olen Ray and my arch-enemy Jim Wynorski which is a fun 6 pack movie about Navy guys who get shipwrecked on an island filled with half nekkid women and man eating dinosaurs. ISLAND isn't going to win any Oscars or make any ten best lists, but it's a pleasant waste of time. It uses the same elements as in Donny's - just put to better use. ISLAND is like an R rated Edgar Rice Burroughs story (and, as a kid reading those books, the Frazetta covers and descriptions of what the women were hardly wearing - the books were R rated to begin with). ISLAND is a fun T&A film, Donny's movie is... a really inept musical.

Oddly enough, the cinematographer on DINOSAUR ISLAND was the cinematographer on Donny’s new film which is a sequel to his previous (low budget horror) movie that I watched on DVD - which was crudely made, but featured lots of naked women. The sequel is more of the same. Basically a soft core porn film about an aging museum curator who discovers an ancient amulet that allows her to recapture her youth as long as she has simulated lesbian sex with a different stripper-trying-to-act every night. Of course, the museum is some cinderblock building with a nick-knack shelf fill of Egyptian junk, and the editor’s office at a big tabloid newspaper is a desk and chair shoved up against the wall in some warehouse. In one of the first scenes, two strippers show up at the opening of the mummy exhibit at the museum. What were they doing there? They acted like strippers, with air-head dialogue about liking old stuff. You know what they were doing there? They were setting up a pointless simulated lesbian sex scene after they leave the museum. What does that have to do with the story? Nothing. Did they have to be air-head strippers? Nope - but, you know, all air-head strippers have lesbian sex in their free time. This is so far past lazy writing I don’t know what to call it!

The film had zero production value - as if it was thrown together at the last minute. The dialogue was awful and the story made no sense at all - in one scene a captured tabloid reporter is wrapped like a mummy for no apparent reason, except that it would be cool to have her unwrapped in the very next scene. They can't even come up with a *bad* excuse to wrap her up! Characters stumble into scenes without reason or motivation... and the whole film looks cruddy. Obviously shot in a warehouse, without anyone caring enough to make it look like whatever location it’s supposed to be in the story.



Before the film, Donny did a little intro where he told us the film was shot for $100k in a week. Now, that isn’t much time to shoot a film, but my CYBERZONE (DROID GUNNER) film was shot in 9 days (a week and an extra weekend) and it looks pretty good. It’s also a sci-fi action flick with space ship battles and all kinds of other time consuming production value elements. As for the $100k budget, afterwards I wondered what they did with the money. Seriously. I’ve seen films made for half that budget that looked much bigger and, well, competent. Since the whole thing was shot in a warehouse in a week, we aren’t talking much in the way of cost. Cast was non-SAG, crew was probably minimal... where did the money go? This terrible film a friend of mine made, SLAUGHTERHOUSE MASSACRE, was shot for a third of their budget in 12 days with lots of gore FX... and a couple of nekkid women. Oh, and we rented a small town location for a chase and did stunts and had a room full of sides of beef, plus a tower of pig heads and some other cool production value stuff. We *built* sets! Even when things went wrong, like losing the school at the last minute, they built a classroom set that looks like a real classroom. It was built in a warehouse, by the way. But there are classroom seats and a chalkboard and the walls are dressed like a classroom. This was all done at the last minute... and looks a million times better than anything in Donny's film.

It seemed as if the only reason this film was made was the simulated lesbian sex stuff. Now, I like nekkid girls as much as the next guy. I can understand why a middle aged man with a bad comb-over would want to make a movie filled with nekkid girls in their 20s. But why make it a *bad* movie? It seemed as if the film part was just an excuse for the nekkid girls. No effort was put into anything, except rounding up nekked girls. The thing that pissed me off the most was that tabloid office, because with a little effort they could have made it look like a real office - but they didn’t. Porn films have better production value - and who cares whether a location is convincing in a porn film?

Sure, this is just a cruddy T&A film, but why did it have to be a bad one? It’s being sold as a horror film, so why not spend a *minute* on the horror plot? Or some real horror? Or some suspense? Why not make the sets convincing? The story convincing? The characters more than moronic cliches (porn films have more characterization than this film - really!)? The leading lady’s acting was bad on purpose - she was given air-head dialogue and then played it so over-the-top that *cartoon characters* are more realistic. Why *try* to make it crappy? Why not make it the best it can be within the confines of budget and schedule and talent? Donny told me he spent twice as much time writing the script as he did making the movie - and the result is something that’s worse than a porn script! Those lucky plumbers and pizza delivery guys have better motivation and dialogue... and more realistic acting. If you’re going to go to all of the trouble to make a film, why not at least *try* to make it good?



You know that scene in ED WOOD where Johnny Depp watches the terrible scene and says “Perfect!” - that’s an untalented film maker who is passionate about his work. At least Ed Wood *cared*. The thing I don’t understand is when they don’t care. I once had a director *read the newspaper* on set, yelling “Action!” and “Cut!” when nudged by an assistant. What is this guy doing in the business? This is my big beef about Donny's film and many other films - the people making them don’t care.

I think you can have nekkid girls a third your age in the film and *still* make it a good film. Even if you have limited talent, if you *try* to do good work, if you *care*, at least the film will be the best you can make it. It may not be great, but it will be something.

After the film was over, there was a little reception with wine and veggie platters in the parking lot. Many cast members were there - including the strippers, who were more intelligent in real life than on screen (they had to be). I think more thought was put into the veggie platters than the film... but I was confused by the whole screening. Why would you rent a theater at Sony to show this film? Why not just collect your check and pretend you never made it? After a few minutes of mingling with sub-Z grade “celebs” (from the Rock Riddle cult - I will do an All The Losers post on them in the future), I bolted down that concrete carpet to the parking garage and got out of there.

Even if you are doing a low budget exploitation movie, you have to *care*. You have to make it the best movie possible at whatever your budget is. Donny only made one film after this... and then people stopped giving him money to make movies. I have no idea what he's doing now.

- Bill

Names have been changed to protect the... well, not exactly innocent!

Monday, January 09, 2017

Lancelot Link Monday: Those Golden Globes!

Lancelot Link Monday! The Golden Globes were last night and that means drunk celebs making acceptance speeches. The big winner was LA LA LAND which broke all kinds of awards records... does this mean it may win some Oscars, too? While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Rogue One ...................... $21,972,000
2 Hidden Fig...................... $21,800,000
3 Sing ........................... $19,573,670
4 Underwear 5 .................... $13,100,000
5 La La .......................... $10,000,000
6 Passengers....................... $8,800,000
7 Why Him.......................... $6,500,000
8 Moana ........................... $6,413,000
9 Fences .......................... $4,700,000
10 Ass Creed!....................... $3,800,000


Despite ROGUE ONE, so far this year is 5% behind last year at this time.

2) Indie Film Box Office... Jackie Chan Rules!

3) Golden Globe Winners List.

4) Golden Globes Gowns Showing Lots Of...

5) Behind The Scenes On HIDDEN FIGURES.

6) Trailer For THE LURE... You Won't Believe This!

7) David Lowrey's A GHOST STORY Sells At Sundance.

8) THE BIG SLEEP's 70th Birthday. Includes Screenplay!

9) New Head Of Development At Kinology.

10) Critics Did Not Love John Carpenter's THE THING.

11) National Society Of Film Critics Awards... Is David Spade On The List?

12) Carrie Fisher's First Film SHAMPOO. Includes Screenplay!

13) China / USA Feature Film Future Predictions.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



An Oscar Winner!

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Today's Script Tip: Fear Is The Key- Horror!
Dinner: My Mom Made it!
Pages: 16 Pages On A Short Story! 4,000 words.
Bicycle: Nope.

Movie: I have seen a handful over the holidays!

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: Family Plot

Fridays With Hitchcock is returning this year in a slightly different form. For the whole year we will be counting backwards through his films with a synopsis and some fun production details. The more detailed synopsis and look at each film will only be in my books (the third one won't even come out until early 2018... but you'll get a preview here). Since we are starting at the end, that's...

Family Plot (1976)

Screenplay: Ernest Lehman based on the novel “Rainbird Pattern” by Victor Canning. Starring: Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Barbra Hershey. Director Of Photography: Lenny South... who had an office on Lankershim in the Valley and I met him! Music: Great John Williams score!



Hitchcock's final film. I have a soft spot for this film - it was the only Hitchcock movie I saw in a cinema during it's initial release. I was too young to see the others when they came out, my parents wouldn’t let me see THE BIRDS in the cinema as a kid... had to wait for the cut down TV version. Though FAMILY PLOT isn't Hitchcock at his best, it's a fun film... written by the multi-Oscared Ernest Lehman who also wrote NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Though not a chase film, both films share the same sense of humor.

I sometimes think Hitchcock should have quit after FRENZY - that was a good film to go out on. The great thing about FRENZY is that it’s a 70s film - gritty and raw and really performance oriented. It seems like an unusual film for Hitchcock. FAMILY PLOT is kind of a return to his comfort zone. It’s like an old studio movie, and much of it *looks* like it was shot on a sound stage. It seems very tame compared to FRENZY, and even the sexy dialogue seems like something from a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie instead of a movie made in the 1970s..



Hitchcock had a bunch of projects crash and burn, and some he cancelled himself because they required extensive location shooting and he wasn’t up to it. He’d just had a pacemaker installed and was getting back up on his feet. One of the projects he was working on that didn’t pan out was an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s “Unknown Man #89" - which has a very similar plot to this film. “Unknown Man” is about a recovering alcoholic process server - famous for once serving a rock star on stage - hired to track down a missing heir by a freakin’ evil lawyer. This lawyer obtains lists of missing stockholders, tracks them down, makes a deal to get them their stock in exchange for a large percentage. In this case, it’s the son of a chauffeur who inherited some stock that is now worth millions. The problem is, that kid has grown up to become an armed robber who does not want to be found. The great thing about the book is the process server falls off the wagon big time and has to scrape his life back together again... and along the way finds some missing self respect and kicks a little ass. He goes from doing what he’s told, to standing up to that freakin’ evil lawyer and his trigger happy bodyguard... and we discover the true meaning of “Chinese And Canadian Food”. Anyway, Hitchcock made this film instead.



FAMILY PLOT is a great experiment in storytelling, but also offers experiments in casting and an interesting technical experiment that Hitch had done once before on NORTH BY NORTHWEST (so maybe it was really an Ernie Lehman experiment).

One of the great things about FAMILY PLOT is the strange cast - it *stars* Bruce Dern. Dern played psycho Viet Nam Vets and twitchy villains and is probably most famous for being the only actor to ever *kill* John Wayne on screen. Shot him in the back in THE COWBOYS. Not a leading man... but has a great sarcastic delivery like his pal Jack Nicholson. Dern had played a role in Hitchcock’s MARNIE early in his career, and played characters on the “Hitchcock Presents” TV show. In MARNIE he was the rapist - not the kind of guy you cast as your romantic lead. One of the reasons why I was interested in this movie when it first came out was Dern as the *hero*. Totally weird casting. Gotta see that!



On the villain side we have Karen Black, who was probably the biggest star in the cast when this was made. Karen Black was *the* leading lady of the 1970s. From EASY RIDER to FIVE EASY PIECES to PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT to the Redford version of THE GREAT GATSBY to NASHVILLE to AIRPORT 75 to TRILOGY OF TERROR, Karen Black was in *everything*. She had that great combination of animal sensuality and tough vulnerability that allowed her to play wealthy Southern Belles or Truck Stop waitresses. She always seemed *real*. I mentioned in the Protagonist Blue Book that FIVE EASY PIECES is one of my favorites, and she shines in that film. You feel for her.

Her partner in crime was played by the always suave William Devane, who replaced Roy Thinnes halfway through shooting - you can still see Thinnes in long shots. Devane had played JFK on TV, and was considered a leading man... not a villain. One of the great things he brings to the film is his charisma - early in the film you are rooting for him and Black to get away with their crimes - they are so clever and elegant and cool. Hey, and the great Ed Lauter plays a childhood friend of Devane's who will kill anyone for a buck fifty. This is an eclectic cast, unusual for a big studio film.



The reason behind the odd casting experiment? Hitchcock came up through the studio system where stars were under contract with the studio and didn’t really cost the production anything, the studio would assign a star to a movie or the star might select a movie based on script and director. Hitchcock was a name director and all of the stars wanted to work with him. He could pick and choose. But when the studio system began to disintegrate in the 1960s, stars became free agents and began demanding high salaries... and getting them. Hitchcock *hated* paying a huge chunk of his film’s budget to stars, after paying half of his budget on the stars for TORN CURTAIN in 1966 (when stars were still “cheap”) he never made another movie with a star in the lead. TOPAZ, FRENZY and FAMILY PLOT all use character actors in their lead roles. Karen Black, the only one who might be considered a star in this cast, was never the star of any of those films she was in. The closest she comes to being the main attraction in a movie are FAMILY PLOT and DAY OF THE LOCUST, where the rest of the cast are character types. TRILOGY OF TERROR was a TV movie, where she was big enough to carry the movie.

Though the cast of FAMILY PLOT is more edgy/indie than a typical studio film, that may have also lead to it’s relatively poor box office. Great to see Bruce Dern play the romantic lead... but few people did.

Hitch Appearance: Silhouetted in a window at city hall's bureau of records.



Nutshell: Fake psychic Harris learns that a wealthy client’s sister gave up a kid born out of wedlock when she was a teen, and now wants to find the kid and put him in her will. If Harris and Dern find him, the wealthy client will pay them a huge chunk of money. Only one problem - that bastard child is now a notorious jewel thief known as “The Trader” who is the top story on every TV news program. How do you find a man who is doing everything in his power not to be found?

Dern is a failed actor who drives a cab, and throughout the film gets to use his acting abilities to play everything from a private detective to a sympathetic friend in order to get information.

Meanwhile, suave criminal Devane and his accomplice Black have a novel way of getting rich - they steal wealthy *people* and ask for famous jewels as ransom. Hey, aren’t you supposed to steal jewels from wealthy people? By twisting that around, it makes Devane’s “Trader” an unusual jewel thief.



The film contains some great Hitchcock set pieces, including a Bishop kidnaped in the middle of Mass, a crazy out of control car going down a winding mountain road, a car chasing our couple who are on foot, and several other great scenes.

There’s more on this film in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book where we look at its use of *Intersecting Story Lines* and Extreme POV Car Chase and Double Entendres and the Puzzle Set Piece and the Arthur Adamson Montage and using Weird Weapons in the Thriller Genre and Start/Stop Story Issues. Check it out!

- Bill

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

- Bill

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






USA Readers 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 52 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.

eXTReMe Tracker