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.


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


Unknown Screenwriter said...

Sounds like a great retirement plan. LOL.


Brett said...

Well, given that I just posted advice to do just this (fictionalize it and use it as fiction) in a response to a post below, I guess I have to say "helluva plan, man."

But why wait and make it a novel? Aren't you a screenwriter? Make it a screenplay and sell this sucker to the very folks who'd castrate you if you tried telling the same stories as fact.

Dame Irony appreciates it when someone buys her a drink.

steve said...

Any chance you'll post about the porn panel before you retire?! :)

Laura Reyna said...

Perhaps you were meant to be a hugely successful NOVELIST in this lifetime?

Just a thought.

If someone like Dan Brown can--

wcmartell said...

Yes - sometime before I retire, I will post all about the porn panel in Denmark. I promise.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

Bill -- there's a Danish film from the 80's called "Aarhus by Night", about a bunch of people making a low budget film.

I know your Denmark experience wasn't a happy one but I still thought I'd tell you.

This film is very true to life and the events that unfold are so bloody typical of low-budget filmmaking. The film (in the film) is an "art film". The director: young, inexperienced, upper middle-class and with very lofty ideas about himself. The script: Soppy and pretentious affair based on his childhood memories. The crew, however, is made of sterner (and coarser) stuff.

I thought "Aarhus by Night" (low-budget itself) was very funny but I noticed that not too many people in the theatre were laughing.

I think that's because it was too insidery. People on the audience couldn't relate to well.

This is also true -- to an extent -- of Truffaut's "Day for Night", another film about the making of a film.

When I first saw the film (in my teens) I thought it was only mildly interesting -- and in fact not very Truffaut-like. It was only after I'd worked in films myself that I was really able to understand it.

So when you write your novel (or better yet, script) please try to kill two birds with one stone. Draw a realistic picture of the filmmaking process -- even if it would only serve to titillate "insiders". And on top of that, make it a real mystery and / or thriller so as to draw in the general audience as well.

Cheers, Anna

wcmartell said...

I'll look for it!

- Bill

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