Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Scene Of The Week: THE GODFATHER

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER has no shortage of great scenes, and this week we’re going to look at one of my favorites - Michael’s First Kill.

Irony and Contrast are two connected elements that make for a great scene. If a bad man has to do a bad thing, it’s not interesting. If a good man has to do a bad thing, *that’s* a scene! If a good man has to do something just plain evil for a good reason - that’s the stuff that makes a film memorable.

In THE GODFATHER we have three brothers vying for their father's love in order to inherit the family business - a Mafia crime family:

1) First born Sonny is strong, aggressive, combative... and won't take no for and answer. He's quick with his fists - again, we have traits that come to mind when we think of running a crime family.

2) Middle child Fredo loves drinking and gambling and women and will lie through his teeth to get what he wants. These are all traits that might be of value if he were running the criminal organization.

3) Then we come to Michael - he's studious, quiet, honorable, patriotic and could be the poster boy for traditional American family values. If you were to make a checklist of things that don't fit our image of mobster, you'd have Michael. He's completely at odds with the other characters in the film - he's NOT a criminal type at all. He's the least likely brother to be chosen to run the family... which why he is perfect for this scene.

Buy the dvd

With Michael as the protagonist of this scene (and the film) we have a story that is constantly interesting because it has built in conflict - Michael is NOT as tough as Sonny was, he is not as duplicitous as Fredo... How can he possibly survive as head of the family? The original reason why he's eventually chosen by his father is that he is the kind of "straight-arrow" non-criminal type who can lead the family out of criminal enterprises into legitimate business. But that choice hasn’t been made yet...

Michael (Al Pacino) has returned from WW2 a hero, has a girlfriend from outside the mob world Kay (Diane Keaton) and is on course to become a legit business man. But problems begin when Sollozzo (the great Al Lettieri) wants the Corleones to finance his heroin business, and the Don (Marlon Brando) refuses to become involved in the drug trade. Sollozzo causes some very violent problems like having Don Corleone shot while buying oranges. Now *someone* needs to get revenge and stop the assault on the family once and for all. Should they send violent Sonny (James Caan) or liar Fredo (John Cazale) - people who could easily pull the trigger? Problem there is that Sollozzo and his pet cop McClusky (Sterling Hayden) *know* they can’t trust those two. But the straight arrow law abiding Michael? He’s the good son, the one even the villains can trust.

Which makes him the perfect assassin... and also the most dramatic choice. Can Michael do it? Can a good man do a bad thing? Will he break down?

These questions create lots of suspense in the scene. But the scene is *filled* with suspense. Some of that comes from the good man doing the bad thing, but there are great moments - when he can’t find the gun behind the flush tank, and then that pause at the bathroom door where he wonders if he can do this. Then, we get a whole damned conversation with Sollozzo. As the conversation goes on, we wonder if Michael will ever pull the gun and do it. Time is running out. What if they finish dinner and Sollozzo and McClusky are still alive?



Because there are no subtitles for the conversation in Sicilian (it’s kind of a silent moment with talking) here’s what they say:

SOLLOZZO: "I'm sorry..."

MICHAEL: "Leave it alone." ( or ) "Forget about it."

SOLLOZZO: "What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that."

MICHAEL: "I understand those things..."

[Waiter brings McCluskey's veal, then exits.]

SOLLOZZO: "Now let's work through where we go from here."

MICHAEL: "How do you say... ?" [Then Michael returns to speaking English.]

[After Michael returns from the bathroom]

SOLLOZZO: "Everything all right? I respect myself, understand, and cannot allow another man to hold me back. What happened was unavoidable. I had the unspoken support of the other Family dons. If your father were in better health, without his eldest son running things, no disrespect intended, we wouldn't have this nonsense. We will stop fighting until your father is well and can resume bargaining. No vengeance will be taken. We will have peace, but your Family should interfere no longer."

The great thing about a great movie is that everything gets tied together in a single scene: this is a *plot scene*, it's also a violent scene (and this is a gangster flick), and a character scene, and a story scene. It serves many purposes in the film, and is the thing that pushes Michael to the head of the family (also, Sonny gets machine gunned to pieces, so he’s kind of out of the running). It’s a fantastic scene from two fantastic movies (there is no GODFATHER 3 in my book), and there’s a good chance we’ll look at another film from one of the films later in the series. By the way, in the First 10 Pages Blue Book expansion that I’m working on, I have articles on *both* films’ opening 10 minutes. These are great films with great beginnings... plus great scenes like this one.

As usual, scene discussion in the comments section

- Bill

Monday, September 25, 2017

Briarpatch

Here's an old blog post from August of 2009:

The late, great, Ross Thomas, who specialized in action and spy novels with a healthy dose of humor, has a book called BRIARPATCH. In Thomas’ world, a Briarpatch was the territory under the control of a spy or criminal or political king maker. Might be a city or a larger territory, or maybe even a country. These guys built their territory from the ground up, and now nothing happened in their Briarpatch that wasn’t approved of or licensed or taxed by them. One of my favorite Thomas novels, THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE, is about an organization that moves in and takes over U.S. City Briarpatches from the old guard and installs their own governments - conquering the Briarpatch and making it their own. Behind this scheme was, I think, a retired spy with a thirst for power. They destabilized some U.S. city’s government - some old political machine that was some old guy’s Briarpatch, and then installed their own government... just as the ex-spy had done for the CIA in a number of oil rich third world countries.


Friday’s Hitchcock entry was originally postponed because I was traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area for a class reunion... and to help my dad with some manual labor around the house. I figured I’d write it and get it up Sunday, but that was before I fell into two different Briarpatches... which means you won’t get to read about ROPE and Hitchcock’s one shot movie until this coming Friday.

I spent Saturday afternoon helping my friend John doing some interesting construction work. John has been a friend of mine forever, he acted in some of my little movies decades ago and crewed on others. These days he makes short films for those 48 hour film challenge contests, directs live theater in the Bay Area, and has written a couple of plays that have been performed. He’s one of the founders of a Bay Area theatre company, too. But it’s not *his* Briarpatch that this story is about...

A local playwright named Kathy - John has directed a couple of her plays - read an article about a group who were trying to preserve one of the Word War 2 Victory ships, the Red Oak, which had been in the “Moth Ball Fleet” (hundreds of old Navy ships “stored” in the San Francisco Bay for decades - and featured in the Sam Peckinpah film THE KILLER ELITE). Since there was no World War Three, these ships had no purpose and were going to be scrapped by the Navy. The Red Oak Victory was built in Richmond, CA - in the Kaiser Shipyards - so a group turned preserving this ship into their Briarpatch. They had it towed back to the shipyards where it was built and have set about restoring it - as a floating museum. I’ve toured the ship and it’s really cool - many of the rooms are exactly like they were in WW2 - and they do sleepovers for Scouts in the crew’s bunks (which the kids probably think are neat, but the crew probably thought was just this side of torture) and tours and events.

Kathy was fascinated by the way these ships were built - often a whole ship was built in a single day - by shipbuilding crews that included a large number of women... Rosie The Riveter. My grandfather worked in the Richmond Shipyards, and probably worked on this ship, too. But Kathy wrote a play about the women in the WW2 workforce who built ships and did “man work” while most of the men where off fighting the war. And she contacted the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory to see if they would be interested in staging her play *on the ship*. They said yes, and the project I helped John and Kathy with was building a stage area in one of the ship’s holds. As we were working on this, one of the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory restoration/museum project was talking to Kathy about other plays that might also be performed on this new theater space - like MR. ROBERTS. Now it seems that Kathy may have her own Briarpatch - doing plays about the Navy and ship building on the Red Oak Victory. She built this territory from the ground up. Read about the ship being restored, talked to the people in charge about doing a play onboard, and now may be the “theatre director” for the ship. She’s in charge of the plays done in the new theatre area we built on the ship - and may even turn that into a career. Before Kathy, no one had even thought about doing plays on the ship.

TRASH FILM ORGY


After we finished work on the stage area, I dragged John to Sacramento to the Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie. I know Trashy Christy Savage from online (and may have met her before, but don’t remember). She (and a couple of friends) have created their own interesting Briarpatch - during summer they do a midnight movie festival at Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater - one of those grand old movie palaces from the 1930s. The place is huge! Because next weekend is my reunion, this was my only chance to go to the midnight show.


The movies are promised to be trashy and bad, and the whole thing is like a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW party. The event begins at 11:30pm with kind of carnival booths in the lobby of the cinema... I believe a fair number of folks had come from the bars nearby and were in a good mood to see a bad movie, so it was a party atmosphere. At the booth up front you could buy festival T shirts and paraphernalia, *plus* DVDs of the low budget movies Christy has produced. Christy and her friends make movies like
MONSTER FROM BIKINI BEACH in Sacramento - no reason to move to Hollywood - and sell the films online. MONSTER is a fun combo of 1960s beach movie and 1950s monster movie, and delivers everything you would want from a movie with that title. Unlike the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movies from the 60s, bikini tops do *not* stay on (the monster’s first move always seems to be tearing off the bikini top). This is the kind of film that would play at some second string drive in as the B side of the double bill - and that is meant as a compliment. Christy has made the perfect film for $2 a carload night when you smuggled in a couple of cases of beer.

Now, I don’t know whether the midnight shows exist to further their filmmaking projects, or if the filmmaking is an extension of the midnight shows... but it’s all Christy’s Briarpatch. She has built this territory in Sacramento where she gets to make films and have a party almost every Saturday night over summer where she shows so-bad-they-are-good exploitation movies. At midnight (actually, it was 12:08) they start the party in the theatre with a comedy group doing a skit to warm up the audience. Oh, there’s a DJ who has been playing records up until now - lots of metal. There is a giant talking Tiki Head who is MC - and gets the audience chanting all kinds of silly things. After the comedy, they start the film...


LADY TERMINATOR should not be seen sober. It’s a Indonesian knock off of TERMINATOR, but obviously someone in the legal department was worried, so the opening of the film sets it up as based on the legend of the South Sea Queen (I think) who had 100 husbands and bite off all of their man-parts with an eel she hides in her woman-parts. Blood sprays from many a man’s groin area in this film. Like a garden hose of red liquid. Not subtle or realistic. Well, after husband #100 pulls out the eel and saves his man-parts, the South Sea Queen puts a curse on his family - specifically his great grand daughter - and returns to the sea.

Cut to decades later, this smokin’ hot babe who could not act her way out of a rice paper bag, claims to be an anthropologist studying for her thesis who is researching the South Sea Queen legend. Whenever she said she was an anthropologist, it got a laugh - like Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in that James Bond movie.

Just when you are about to leave the cinema because her acting is so bad it actually hurts, she dons a bikini and dives into the cursed area of the South Sea where the Queen vanished, and comes back as the Lady Terminator... hell bent on finding that Great Grand Daughter and killing her.


And now we get the silliest rip off of TERMINATOR you can imagine, as this often topless killing machine (not really a machine, just a possessed anthropologist) chases the Great Grand Daughter chick - who is a disco singer (so that we can get a bunch of disco numbers throughout the film) and also uses the eel hidden in her woman-parts to bite the man-parts off a bunch of guys. Yes, she comes naked from the ocean and steals the clothes from some punkers on the beach (and bites off their man parts with her hidden eel), yes there is a TechNoir bar scene where she finds the Great Grand Daughter chick singing and machineguns at least a hundred extras, yes there is a scene where her eye is injured and she cuts it out... then washes it off in the sink, dries it on a towel, and replaces it, yes there is a scene where she drives a car into the police station and kills at least a hundred extras dressed as cops with a machine gun, yes she (thankfully) doesn’t talk much as the Lady Terminator. She just walks around bare chested with a machinegun and kills people. Just like Ah-nuld did.

But the funniest parts of this movie are when they try to make it look like it takes place in America. The cops - in a police station unlike any you have ever seen before (there are sofas and recliners) have a never-ending conversation about how much they love hot dogs. After about the third hot dog conversation you wonder if there is supposed to be a strang Gay subtext to these scenes... and wonder if this is plot related. Will the Gay cops save the day because they don't put their man-parts in lady-parts and are immune to the Lady Terminator?

Two of the cops are some sort of Starsky & Hutch undercover team - one has a dyed blond mullet that does not match his very ethnic features at all. They say strange things like, “I’m here in the States” which make you wonder where they might have been before. It’s just crazy - bad!

The often topless Terminator chick can not be killed - she takes a million bullet hits that don’t scar her smokin’ hot body at all, her car gets hit by missiles (and even the car is unscratched!) and almost at the end of the movie after she has caught fire and comes out of it with a totally burned face - but her boobs are completely undamaged. This film has its priorities!

Oh, for some unexplained reason after catching on fire and losing her machine gun, she develops laser rays from here eyes that burn men’s man-parts off. The writer of this film has some issues.

Anyway, halfway through this mess of a movie the Trash Film Orgy has an intermission, which is a good thing. Bad movies are only entertaining for so long, and then they just become bad. Because of all of the cop-talk about how much they enjoy eating hot dogs, the intermission show included a hot dog eating contest. I donated some Classes on CD as part of the prize package. All of the contestants were gals, and the Giant Tiki Head MC commented on this. Members of the comedy team gave play-by-play, and it was a lot of fun - people sitting in the first 8 rows were pelted with hot dogs. This primed us for the second half of the movie - which was just as silly as the first.

By the way, whenever the Great Grand Daughter chick did a disco number (which was fairly often considering she had a killing machine babe hunting her night and day), people got up and danced. Many comments were hurled at the screen (hey, it looks so easy on Mystery Science Theater - but most of the comments were just not funny). (They should have had the comedy folks or Tiki Head come up with some prepared funny material to throw at the screen, and I think the Tiki Head needs some Dean Martin style dancers.) And before they showed the film there were some comedy shorts and trailers for locally made films. It was a fun little party... I did a quick headcount and there were more than 200 people in the audience... Christy’s little cult, her Briarpatch.

To me, the most interesting thing wasn’t the awful movie and it’s odd ideas about male and female relationships and the care and feeding of eels, it was that Christy had carved out this piece of the world for herself where she can make her fun little movies and have a weekly party during summer showing old trashy movies. She didn’t need to move to Hollywood, she created her own Hollywood and became a big fish in a small pond.

There are alternatives to Hollywood. You don’t need to sell a script to a studio. You can create your own little Briarpatch and make your own little movies and have your own local events. You can be the big fish in the small pond - and never have to deal with stupid story notes or bone-head producers or all of the crap in this business. You can do it yourself like Christy and Kathy.

Saturday night at the Trash Film Orgy - BLACK BELT JONES with Jim Kelly (star of one of my favorite flicks, THREE THE HARD WAY) and more foley work than 20 studio films put together - if you’re in the Sacramento area, check it out!

* The Red Oak Victory
* RIVETS - The Musical
* Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie
* Monster From Bikini Beach

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Point Of View and RUNNING SCARED.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Denny's Grand Slam halfway to Sacto.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hunger Games Is A Rip Off Of...

From 2012...

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) is based on a novel from 4 years ago - and happened to be the #1 film of the weekend again.




So there’s a funny little picture being passed around on Facebook with a shot from PULP FICTION and the question - “Do you know what they call HUNGER GAMES in France? BATTLE ROYALE with cheese.” Amusing, but shouldn’t it be Japan?

The thing that I find most amusing about this are the people who think that HUNGER GAMES is just a rip-off of BATTLE ROYALE - as if the history of cinema began a dozen years ago. Hey, this story has been around almost as long as film! At least 80 years ago they made the same basic story!

"Do you like Gladiator Movies?"

So I thought ot would be fun to look at some of the films that came before HUNGER GAME and added to it’s story...

We’ll get to CONDEMNED (2007) when we look at the movies about prisoners who get chosen to play the game where they fight to the death, but first let’s take a look at innocent school children who are chosen in a lottery to fight to the death...

You are probably thinking about BATTLE ROYALE, and we’ll get to that, but about the same time as BATTLE ROYALE came out one of my favorite movies that no one has ever seen came out - SERIES 7. This indie flick is about a hit reality TV show where random people are chosen to fight each other to the death as SURVIVOR-like camera crews follow them. Instead of an island or an abandoned part of the city or a wooded area these contestants play in the city. They hunt and kill each other in the real world. The film follows a handful of contestants including the pregnant champion and a *cheerleader* who is driven to kills by her parents. I love this movie! It’s savage and funny and looks just like an episode of SURVIVOR.

SERIES 7 (2001)


Just before SERIES 7 we had the Japanese version of the story which seems most similar to HUNGER GAMES... except the tone is completely different and the characters and motivations and reasons for the game and even the details of the game are completely different. The parts that are the same? Kids as contestants. If you consider how many times this story has been made and how many other variables there are that are direct-connections to HUNGER GAMES... plus LORD OF THE FLIES which was remade the same year (2000) and was *originally* made in 1963 (Peter Brooks) and based on a novel that predates the BATTLE ROYALE novel by *decades*, why the heck is this the first film people think of when they are looking for a HUNGER GAMES source?

BATTLE ROYALE (2000)


By the way, BATTLE was directed by the same guy who gave us GREEN SLIME (not the pink stuff). The novel was written in 1996... which is long after Stephen King’s RUNNING MAN (published in 1982) which was made into a movie 3 years before BATTLE ROYALE. Hey! How come no one points to RUNNING MAN as the source for HUNGER GAMES? Probably more similarities between the two - the major difference being prisoners instead of just kids... but if you have read the book you know the prisoner thing was an invention of the screenwriters, in the book the protagonist was an out of work guy from a District called Co-Op City which is very much like the coal mining world of District 12, who volunteers for the game to save his daughter. The tone and feel of the book is similar to HUNGER GAMES - they almost share the same dystopian future. The movie?

RUNNING MAN (1987)
>

Though there are plenty of battles to the death on an island (HELL IN THE PACIFIC, 1967) and people hunting each other flicks (RUN FOR THE SUN (1956), NAKED PREY (1966), and the cheese-fest DEATH CHASE from 1988), but if there was ever a source for HUNGER GAMES it’s a crazy Italian film from 1965 based on a novel by Robert Sheckley called THE TENTH VICTIM. The film is about a TV reality show where ten normal people are chosen at random and given guns in order to hunt each other through the city. There is an MC, there is a TV audience, there are bets made on the outcome, just about everything in HUNGER GAMES is in this film... including the “star crossed lovers” aspect! Because the strangest part about THE TENTH VICTIM is that it’s kind of a rom-com! Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are contestants who fall in love along the way - even though they must kill each other in the end. Will they change the rules so that two can survive?

TENTH VICTIM (1965)


I love Ursula’s bra-gun! My James Bond parody film FOR SORE EYES ONLY featured a villainess named Greta Goodtits who had machineguns surgically implanted in her breasts - a pair of blazing 38s! The most amazing thing about this film is that it was made in 1965 and predicts reality TV shows... but the Sheckley story was published in 1953! How the heck could he have predicted reality TV shows in 1953?

I mentioned that RUNNING MAN changed the unemployed everyman who would have fit right in working in those District 12 coal mines with a prisoner played by Ah-nuld, but for the past 20 years or some we have had many versions of this story as junky action films about *prisoners* who get a chance at freedom if they kill each other on live TV. CONDEMNED was a recent version where prisoners fought to death on an island (like in BATTLE ROYALE), and the DEATH RACE remake they fought to the death in cars. There are a zillion steel cage match movies like THE OCTAGON which feature fights to the death, and lots of movies like HARD TARGET and SURVIVING THE GAME where the game isn’t televised - but still is played to the death,

I believe I am probably the only one who has seen this Prisoners Battle To The Death On A TV Game Show flick in a cinema - DEATHROW GAMESHOW directed by Northridge’s Mark Pirro... who makes films on Super 8mm, though this was shot on 16mm. I saw this flick at AFM one year...

DEATHROW GAMESHOW (1987) - caution: boobies!


But all of these films go back to that film shot at the same time and on the same sets as KING KONG, the amazing MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) based on a story by Richard Connell published in 1924. Here we have the island, the hunting of people, the star-crossed lovers... and the hounds! Those killer dogs in HUNGER GAMES? They are in this version of the story, too! Not the DNA mutants from HUNGER GAMES, but dogs specially breed to find humans. I was looking for a trailer or good clip of the film, but could only find the whole damned movie (it’s in public domain). So don’t click on the clip below unless you have over an hour to kill watching people hunting people on an island.

MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)


So there you go - 80 years ago the first film that could be called a source for HUNGER GAMES was made, and in every decade since there have been a handful of movies with the same basic plot. Like all basic stories, this one is as old as time. There were probably cave men telling the story of fighting each other to the death... Hey, wait a minute - how does 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY begin?

What's important about a movie or screenplay isn't the similarities, it's the differences. Every story is like a bunch of other stories, but what are the elements that make *this version* unique?

- Bill


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Monday, September 18, 2017

I was a *Thespian* in High School!

From 2009...

So, over the holidays I had drinks with an old friend from High School, Janet Englebert. We were both in drama class and all of the shows together. She not only had a program from one of the shows - she had *pictures*! Of me at 16 years old! When I was working almost full time, going to high school, and working on or being in all of the plays. No time to eat - so it was one of the few skinny periods in my life.




The Program...


Cast List...


The Star's Bios (I remember this play, have no memory of Gloria Mundi)...


Here is a scene with Janet and me...


And me with a very sharp knife...


And Janet and the very sharp knife...


And Patty Loveland after she sees what happens through the rear window of her apartment...


And my *favorite* part of being an actor in High School - the chance to see girls in their underwear. That's Nora in her bra reflected in the mirror.

My goal was to see every girl in class in their underwear... and maybe even topless! That could happen when there were quick changes backstage.


We did a haunted house every year to earn money to put on plays. That's my severed head...






What a strange thing to see myself that young - and people who were my closest friends at the time... now, just memories. I wonder what happened to them all?

- Bill

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quality Rules

From May, 2009... the end of the DVD market is predicted!

From Patrick Goldstein's LA Times Article:
Even more alarming, especially for studios who've thrived on seducing moviegoers into seeing mediocre product, is the realization that audiences are becoming more quality conscious. In the past, if a forgettable action film hit pay dirt at the box office, it would perform correspondingly well in DVD, allowing studios in greenlight meetings to provide a conversion rate--i.e. that if a movie of a certain genre made $100 million in the theaters, that would equal X millions of units in DVD. But judging from recent DVD sales figures, films that had poor word-of-mouth--signaling significant audience dissatisfaction--were underperforming in DVD, even if they had enjoyed lofty box-office numbers.

The example that made the biggest impact in studio circles involved "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The two films, released within weeks of each other last summer, did almost the exact same amount of business in their U.S. theatrical runs--roughly $318 million. But when they arrived on DVD, "Iron Man," the film that performed far better in exit polls (not to mention with critics), easily outperformed "Indiana Jones," whose DVD numbers were far lower than expected. Among the big-grossing summer films, "Hancock" was also a poor performer (in terms of box office vs. DVD numbers), while the DVD numbers for such well-liked family films as "Wall-E" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" held up far better.


The rest of the article: DVD Collapse.

The problem, as on studio chief says in the article, is that they don't know what films will sell well on DVD and what films will sell poorly...

Hmmm.... if quality sells, shouldn't that be the focus?

And quality in this case doesn't seem to mean Oscar winners, those are not doing well on DVD. Quality seems to be big mainstream films that deliver what they promise and are *good* - so that you would want to see them again. IRON MAN... but not the new INDIANA JONES movie.

By the way, for all of you who have asked me over the years where they can get the actual sales numbers for individual DVD titles, the answer is in this article... you can't. They are kept top secret.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Lame Confessions
Yesterday’s Dinner: City Wok sweet & sour chicken.

Movies: CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE - If you like Roadrunner Cartoons, but don’t like animation - this is the film for you. The sequel is just like the first film, only more so. That’s either a bad thing, if you did not like CRANK; or a good thing, if (like me) you thought it was a fun way to kill a couple of hours. These films are so not to be taken seriously, there is no reason for that standard legal disclaimer at the end of the movie that the film is fiction. Folks, this film is so unreal it’s funny - and that’s probably the point. It *is* a cartoon with live actors.

It starts with a clever recap of the end of the last film - an Atari game showing two men falling from a helicopter and shooting and fighting until both are about to hit the ground... then they cut to “real life” as Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) slams into the roof of a car on the street, bounces, and lands right in front of the camera... dead... until one eye pops open. The end of the last film. Then, an unmarked truck pulls up and men in hazmat suits scrape him off the sidewalk and throw him in the back of the truck - taking off before the police and ambulances can arrive.

A couple of months later, Chev wakes up in some back alley doctor’s office hooked up to a million machines - alive - but his heart has been harvested for transplant (because it is the strongest heart of any man alive). Chev has an artificial heart keeping him alive so that the bad guys can sell of any other working parts he might have... including his penis. Chev doesn’t want them to harvest that particular organ and breaks out - fighting a bunch of people - and with his battery powered artificial heart goes on a cross-town quest to recover his actual heart. Even though that Atari game thing was only used for a minute at the beginning of the film, the rest of the movie is no more realistic with humans instead of bad video graphics - and that’s okay. This is a cartoon and cartoon laws of physics apply - also cartoon logic.

After Chev gets into a car wreck chasing his heart, the battery pack on his artificial heart is destroyed and only the small internal battery exists - and it must be manually recharged constantly... in a variety of silly ways that are fun. From jumper cables attached to some gang banger’s low rider car’s battery, to rubbing up against an old woman to create static electricity, to disregarding the Danger: High Voltage warning on a transformer box and just bear-hugging the humming electrical contents. Like Popeye with his cans of spinach, Chev must get charged up before he gets into a fight - and there are many of those. Along the way he finds his true love Eve (Amy Smart) working as a stripper (with strips of electrical tape over her nipples for some reason - makes no sense to me as her breasts are smashed against a police car window at one point just as the breasts of the Catholic High School Girls In Trouble breasts were smashed against the shower door in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE - and the combination of crass gratuitous nudity and those little bits of electrical tape modesty end up being funny... and maybe that was intended?).

Now that he’s found his true love, he must find his heart - and as silly and cartoony as this film is - this symbolism is entirely intended and is what made me like the first CRANK movie much more than I liked SHOOT ‘EM UP, even though no one can play a cartoon character like Paul Giamatti. The CRANK movies have heart... even though in this one the heart has been stolen.

As Chev and Eve and the other characters chase and fight across Los Angeles, each one sillier than the one that came before - in one instance turning into giant Godzilla-sized people who battle it out in a bad miniature version of the city, knocking down buildings and power towers, we get some Road Runner-Wiley Coyote laughs and at least one public sex scene on a horse racing track. Eventually David Carradine makes his appearance as the Chinese gang lord who needs a new heart - and wants the strongest heart in the world as his replacement... and the villain from the first film, who is now - much like Walt Disney - a head kept alive by machines. It’s just this crazy movie that never tries to be real or even make a whole lot of sense... and by the time we reach the end, they have set up an impossible situation that you know will lead to the third film in the series. I suspect in that one, Chev will have to borrow people’s skin for short periods of time - so maybe he’ll be able to go undercover? At today’s ticket prices, you have to be a fan of the first film to fully enjoy CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE in the cinema, but on 99 cent rental night? You can’t go wrong.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Welcome To Hollywood!

From 2009...

From an article by Robert Elisberg in the Huffington Post:

Steve Martin tells of trying to pitch a movie based on the classic play "Cyrano de Bergerac." No studio executive knew what he was talking about, and all rejected it. Luckily, though, he was Steve Martin and knew the studio president, Guy McElwaine. And happily McElwaine was a bright adult who actually loved the play. And most fortunately of all, the movie got made - because otherwise no one would ever have seen the glorious "Roxanne."

A friend once pitched a version of Sherlock Holmes. "Who's that?" a studio executive asked, later thinking the world-renowned, fictional detective was a real person. Needless-to-say, it never got made. But imagine if that same executive had been pitched the new Sherlock Holmes movie which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. You wouldn't see it this December.

Another friend was pitching a buddy movie to an executive who prided herself on the subject. "Let's discuss great buddy movies," she enthused, "I'm an expert." My friend immediately mentioned, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." "What's that?" the executive asked.

Honest.


Studio Execs and Readers and Other People Who Make Script Decisions.

- Bill

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Thing Prequel And Suspense

From 2011...

I once saw John Carpenter in Dupar's Diner in Studio City eating breakfast. He'd have a forkful of eggs, then amble outside and have a smoke, then come back in for another forkful of eggs. When he walked past me, I whistled the theme to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. He either didn't notice, or purposely ignored me. My guess is the latter. But even after he has said terrible things about the profession of screenwriting, and given us some recent stinkers – I am still a big fan.

Carpenter movies are well-crafted, goofy, fun. To me they are meatloaf and mashed potatoes – comfort food. You won't find them on the menu at some snooty restaurant, and gourmet chefs will look down their noses... but it tastes great! Carpenter is never going to win an Oscar, but 50 years from now some of his films will be classics in the same way his idol Howard Hawks' films used to be popcorn and are now masterpieces. Some of his films are some form of classics *now*. Can we talk about modern horror films without bringing up HALLOWEEN? And then there is that great remake he did of a film Howard Hawks may have secretly directed, THE THING.




You can tell THE THING is considered a classic by the amount of anger over the remake-prequel from the moment it was announced. I thought much of this was amusing, in the same way I find the current outrage over the new remake of SCARFACE to be amusing – um, remaking a remake isn't exactly sacrilege. Hey, this could be THE THING for a new generation! But the weird thing about the “prequel” was that it would be the story of the Norwegians from the first couple of minutes of the Carpenter version... except Carpenter's version has video of the Norwegians that is either footage from the Hawks' version or a recreation... making the *Hawks* version the prequel. Um, are they remaking the Hawks version?

Just before the new prequel came out, I posted a scene from the Hawks Version here that was also in the Carpenter Version as the video footage. That was an iconic scene that, um, found its way into one of my scripts (in a completely different situation). In the Hawks Version the scientists circle the flying saucer in the ice with arms stretched to get an idea of the size of the object, in my script a group of people – one of whom may be a werewolf – join hands in a circle and wait for the moon to come up (while one sings a bastardized song from ANNIE). The thing about THE THING is that you have *two* great previous versions you have to match in quality. That's tough.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?




The problem with remakes is that people will compare them to the original – but the *solution* is that the original shows you the path to doing it right. Though you want it to be “the same but different” that doesn't mean you can just do a substitution thing like they did with HANGOVER 2 – because one of the things that make films work is their *originality*. Both ALIEN and ALIENS are spooky monsters in a dark house movies – and work in similar ways: isolating a member from the group in a dark place where we know that monsters lurk. But each tackles the basic idea from a different direction, and become different films. No “search and replace” involved in the screenplays. They understood that *originality* is one of the elements that made the first film popular, so they did something original and different for the sequel. Not a carbon copy – but still a member of the family.

And the two previous versions of THE THING were different and yet the same. The Hawks Version (directed by Christian Nyby) was a straight monster attack movie - and it was creepy as hell. A group of people living in isolation – no escape - with that carrot dude *somewhere* in the building. Not blasting through walls and killing people. Mostly hiding in the shadows. Suspense and dread were created by people walking through the Air Force Station hallways knowing that it was... somewhere. When the monster *does* attack – they are shock attacks where the creature is exposed for a couple of minutes before disappearing back into the shadows. I'm sure that one of the reason the “carrot-monster” played by James Arness (Matt Dillon from GUNSMOKE) is only seen briefly is that make up effects weren't that great at the time, so keeping the monster in the shadows was a great way to keep it from looking stupid. But as we know from JAWS, that's also a great way to amp up the dread-factor. So our shrinking group of survivors – civilians and scientists and Air Force guys – must learn to work together to fight the monster and survive. I'm sure this was a Cold War anti-Commie movie about coming together for the common good (ironic, huh?).




The Carpenter Version is is a paranoid horror story about the difficulty in trusting people these days. Going back to the original story by John Campbell, screenwriter Bill Lancaster (Burt's son – writer of THE BAD NEWS BEARS... and *there's* a double bill) has a monster that basically takes over the bodies of others... so that trusted friend may actually be the monster in disguise. We have the same snow-bound lab full of scientists (though I think they changed poles) and the same dark hallways and the same possibility for a monster to spring from the darkness, but the difference is that the monster may also be that guy sitting next to you at dinner. This is a core change that makes the film all about trust. And I think that is why the Carpenter Version is still will us all of these years later. The film was not a theatrical success, but had a long shelf life on video... because it's actually about something. Sure, it's got cutting edge for the time special effects that crank it to 11 on the gross-out meter, and some snappy dialogue... but the theme of *trust* is something we can relate to even today. Every scene in the film ends up being about *trust* - and all of those great moments are trust related: the wire in the blood is all about “who can we trust”?

Though the Rob Bottin special effects were cutting edge then (and look amazing now – better than much of the CGI stuff in the prequel) they were still smart enough to keep the monster mostly off screen and create *mystery* around it. Yeah, we got to get a good long look at the spider-head, but when the thing is in the dog cage it's mostly in the shadows. Familiarity breeds contempt – and that extends to monsters in monster movies. There are some great monster set-pieces where we see the monster, but like the Hawks Version the creature is never on screen long enough to wear out its welcome... or just become a boring effect. We fear the unknown – and the minute we “know” the monster too well, we can not fear it.




Which brings us to the “prequel”. I wanted to like it, because the first two versions are great and it would be swell if the third was great in its own way. The ALIEN series dropped the ball on the third film and never really recovered. Can THE THING have a great third entry? I really like Mary Elizabeth Winstead from SCOTT PILGRIM (and if you have not seen that one – it's a blast) even without blue hair... but she doesn't look the least bit Norwegian. And that angry guy from BOURNE IDENTITY who played Robert Mugabe doesn't look Norwegian, either. This film *is* about Norwegians, right?

FORSHADOWING IN THE SHADOWS

One of the things that I anticipated would be fun in this film would be the plants that all pay off in that scene in the Carpenter Version where MacReady and Blair visit the Norwegian camp. One of the things that made the 3rd STAR WARS prequel barely tolerable were the things leading up to Anakin becoming Darth Vader. So I was waiting to see which character was *defined* by using an old fashioned straight razor to shave with. That's unusual, so it's character related... but no razor is used in the film until their tacked-on ending. It's almost as if it became a “prequel” in post production. Talk about missed opportunities! A straight razor is such a cool thing for a character to use, that it would have added to the film even if it wasn't part of that tacked on ending. One of the great things about the Carpenter Version is that all of the characters – and it's a large cast – are distinctive and different. Each has an arc, too. I love how Gary shoots the Norwegian in that opening scene and takes flack from the others for *wanting* to use his gun, but the character gets this great moment of regret and sadness. He has taken a man's life. And if we take Gary or any of the other characters in the story and just follow them – they have their own story and their own journey in the film. In the “prequel” the characters are thin and not well defined... and none of them uses a straight razor.




By the way – if the fear was that showing one of the characters using the straight razor would be a dead giveaway that they'd be that frozen suicide dude at the end, the solution is to have another character *hate* that straight razor, think it's dangerous and doesn't want to be in the bathroom while the guy is shaving with it... and *that's* the character who uses the straight razor to kill themselves at the end. Or some fake-out version. But by *not* establishing that there even *is* a straight razor, that end just seems tacked on fake and makes me want to kill the filmmakers. But not with a straight razor. A ripe tomato.

The funny thing about the “prequel” is that it ends up being a remake of the Hawks Version, kind of... and yet also a "search and replace" of Carpenter's version. It's a monster attack movie in a snowbound location. But unlike the Hawks version – the monster is always in full light and they *dwell* on it! And it seems like every scene from the Carpenter Version gets a dopey version here: they did a "search and replace" on the wire in the blood scene and gave us a fillings in the mouth scene. Huh?

My main complaint with the prequel is that it's hollow - a movie about nothing. Not about a group of different people banding together to fight a common enemy like the Hawks Version (Cold War stuff) nor about the difficulty of trusting people in the modern world (Carpenter Version). It's just a monster attacking people. And it has no logic - if the creature doesn't want to be discovered why is it blasting out of places and killing people? And if it just wants to blast out and kill people, why doesn't it just do that (and the movie will be over in 10 minutes)? The story makes no sense at all. There is a point in the film where the monster has *escaped* - but then comes back just to kill some more people. It's one of those movies where the monster's goal seems to be: kill everyone, but kill the cute girl last.

The cute non-Norwegian girl.

ROM-COM THING




The Hawks Version had a female in the cast, the Carpenter Version was all testosterone – and used that as an element. The “prequel” has a female lead and another female character – and this might have been an interesting thing to make the film *about*. To give it a story between monster attacks. As silly as it sounds, rom-com THING would have been a good angle for this film: not the com part, but use romantic part - and have these isolated people hook up because they are lonely... "Trust in a relationship's a tough thing to come by these days." We all seem to live in some form of isolation these days – we used to interact with each other in person, but instead of sitting in Residuals Bar listening to me talk about THE THING you are reading this online and I am writing it online. We do more and more things *alone* - and we may even date people who we previously knew *from online*. So, take an isolated group of people who are stuck in the same building for months, maybe years... and they become more lonely and more likely to hook up and the dating pool is all shallow-end.

I can tell you from experience that a film crew – working together for 12 hour days and maybe staying at the same Holiday Inn on location will sprout a bunch of set romances. And that leads to set break ups and no shortage of awkward situations where people who just broke up badly must be inches away from each other. That's some great drama to happen between monster attacks – and can become part of the story when your monster assimilates the bodies and memories of its victims. Oh, and monster-wise: if I'm going to have a scene where two guys' heads meld together, one of those guys is going to be set up hitting on the other earlier in the film... and have the other guy turn him down flat and be creeped out having to work with him for the rest of their time in the research center. Put a bunch of guys in an isolated snow bound place together and a certain amount of homophobia will bubble to the surface – and we can explore that in the story. They could have made the monster elements about the characters and the story instead of just a series of attacks in full light.

So the “prequel” becomes nothing more than a crappo monster movie with a tacked on ending that turns it into a prequel. But not only is the version of the script that ended up on film lacking, the direction kills any suspense and dread and scares that might have existed even after they keep showing the monster for expended periods in full light. This director has no idea what he is doing and needs to be kicked out of Hollywood as soon as possible – or forced to watch good movies until he can figure out *what makes them good*.

SUSPENSE ON SCREEN

Okay - someone is walking through dark, spooky room... what is it we (audience) want to see? The person *walking* or what might be skittering in that shadow in front of them? It's all about POV - what is important isn't the person walking, it's *what they see* (or think they see). Only an idiot director would keep the camera on the girl with the flashlight and not show us what the girl *sees* with that flashlight! If you look at 1955s DIABOLIQUE's end - there's more screen time spent on what Vera Clouzot is looking at than on hottie Vera Clouzot looking. The long hallway, the sliver of light coming from the door - jeeze - is her dead husband in there *typing*? The key to creating suspense is to put the audience in the protagonist's shoes – and we can't be in their shoes and be looking at the shoes. The most important shots are *not* the star, but what the star is looking at. The problem with THE THING prequel is that we **never** see what she is seeing – we only see her looking. No suspense or dread in that at all. That DIABOLIQUE scene works – not because we see *the star*, but because we see *what the star sees* - and by alternating those shots we feel like we are in her shoes looking through the shadows. Wait... I can describe that scene from DIABOLIQUE, but why not just show it to you and talk about it afterwords?

OKAY: MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!!!
THIS IS THE **END** OF THE MOVIE!!!!!!





The story until now: Vera Clouzot is a shy (but hot) school teacher who has inherited this huge old private school. She has also inherited a heart condition, and could drop dead at any time. She's frail. Isn't supposed to get excited. And discovers that her slimy husband has found excitement outside of their marriage... with another teacher at the school played by the sultry Simone Signoret. Now usually these two would be fighting each other, but did I mention the husband is slimy? What happens is both women turn against the husband, and decide to kill him. Over a holiday break, Signoret lures him to her house where the two women drug his wine and drown him in the bathtub, and then take his corpse back to the school in a huge wicker basket and throw his corpse in the school's swimming pool that is closed for he season. A drowning accident. But the body is never discovered, and when they find an excuse to drain the pool... no corpse. WTF? The two women panic – what could have happened to his body? Did animals drag it away? If so, how can they prove that he's dead?

Which brings us to the scene....



Okay, let's take a look at how it works.

1) She's sleeping and a sound wakes her up... Footsteps climbing the stairs - then light from across the courtyard.

2) She looks out her window and there is a light on in her husband's office. Notice that she looks out the window, then we see out the window (and from her point of view – in Hitchcock/Truffaut they talk about the remake of THE 39 STEPS and how instead of using Hannay's POV looking at the two men watching on the street, they have a non-POV eye-level shot of the two men, which doesn't come from anywhere and takes us *out* of the protagonist's shoes, undercutting our identification – when people say “well, maybe the editor decided to do that”, the problem is that the editor can only work with the shots the director gives her... and if the director doesn't have a plan for the sequence and just shoots coverage, you end up with a bunch of junk shots that do not work). We see what Vera sees, then back to Vera looking, as she decides to investigate.

3) She opens the door and looks down the hallway... and WE see down the hallway from her POV. She walks down the hallway. She hears footsteps... and we see someone walking – this is a break in POV, and I think it doesn't work well. It splits us from knowing only what Vera knows and also having the additional knowledge that there is a man walking in the hallway. In the film there is a nosy cop – and I'm sure this was put here to suspect the nosy cop of setting her up... but *that* undercuts the scene. I think these shots are stumbles... but there are only a couple of them, and the rest of the scene just kicks ass.

4) She enters the next hallway. Looks down the long hallway... and WE see down the hallway from OVER HER SHOULDER at a faint light at the end of the hall (this is a great moving shot). An Over The Shoulder Shot is a great combo of POV *and* Star – even though it's usually just the star's back. Sometimes there's enough of the side of their face that it's really the best of both shots. Here the shot continues to see a door open *behind her* and someone step out. The cop?

5) The sound of the typewriter pounding away in the office. How is that possible? She walks down the long hallway, and this is the core of the scene. We cut back and forth between her cautiously walking to her husband's office and a POV shot of her getting closer to the office door... the light slicing from under it. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST we get shots of Cary Grant running and looking over his shoulder alternating with the zooming crop duster heading right at him. One of the great things in that sequence is the *pacing* - the length of the shots (in frames) becomes shorter with each shot – making the scene more and more frantic as it goes on. This was a common suspense editing technique in the days of Steinbeck Film Editors where actual physical frames of film were part of cutting. You counted frames and created a rhythm... or created an anti-rhythm to throw the audience off. Now, with editing on digital media I'm not sure editors even think in terms of frames anymore. The technique of shaving a frame or three with each shot to build tension may be lost.

6) When Vera gets to the end of the hall, the office door slowly opens sending a slice of light towards her – as if it's searching for her... and finds her!

7) She cautiously enters the office – and again we get shots of her alternating with her POV of inside the office – this puts us in her shoes and builds suspense up the wazoo. She sees the typewriter on the desk with a piece of paper in it – and that is two shots. She moves to the typewriter (shots of her, POV shots of the dark spooky room), pulls out the paper, and reads it – and we get a POV shot of the paper so that *we* can also read it. Her husband's name over and over again.

8) Footsteps coming from the darkness in her husband's room. She runs like hell.

9) Shots of her running all the way back to her bedroom - her running away, her running towards, her feet running. This is all about panic.

10) In her bathroom, she splashes water on her face... sees something and clutches her heart – this is a great tease shot, because we have not yet seen what she sees... THEN we get her POV shot of her dead husband's corpse in the bathtub. How did he get there? Who put him there? The nosy cop?

11) She backs up, looks... Her POV of her husband rising up!

And that's how you create a suspense scene on film. It's not just shots of cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding a flashlight walking from room to room – it's WHAT SHE SEES. That flashlight's pale beam searching the shadows and things skittering in the darkness.

I thought THE THING “prequel” was a let down on many levels, but just as a monster attack movie, the *director* screwed up by not giving us those POV shots and only shooting the star wandering around with a flashlight. Is that because they think it is all about the star? Or because they are *not* thinking about the audience and how to create emotions within the audience? Alternating shots of the character and shots of what the character sees goes back to the pioneers of cinema – they knew how to do this stuff... how come directors today don't seem to know it?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Research For Story - and BLUE CRUSH... some warm weather background on a chilly day!
Dinner: China Wall in Concord, CA - all you can eat Chinese food.
Pages: Well, I finished revising the Action Book... and today I wrote this blog entry, and I *still* plan to write a new spec by the end of the year in warp drive mode!
Bicycle: No... but a long walk.

Movies: THE MUPPET MOVIE - I laughed, I cried. But, then, I love The Muppets. And the Muppets are back - in a great fun film filled with big Hollywood musical numbers. It's the most old fashioned musical made in the past couple of decades. I loved it - but that made me wonder who the audience for this nostalgic flick about smart-ass puppets is: It seems to be made for fans of the 70s TV show and the 1979 movie... and we are, um, old people. Will kids like this film? That's actually part of the plot - are the Muppets *relevant* in 2011? Well, whether they are or not - they are still entertaining. There's a huge musical number with thousands of dancers on Hollywood Blvd, a great song about being a man or a muppet than opened my tear ducts, and some other great stuff. At one point I thought we were going to go full-on MEET THE FEEBLES when they round up the old gang, but they kinda pulled that punch. A nice return for these furry friends, but I think the script needed another pass - especially in the Kermie-Piggy subplot. Also - considering all of the guest stars from the past, why pick these people? James Carville?

Movies: DESCENDANTS - Screw Sean Penn, George Clooney is our greatest living actor. Clooney manages to be a *real* movie star, plus do films like this that are small and interesting and dramatic... and the dude can act. There are scenes in this film that require a bunch of emotions playing behind his smile - and he does an amazing job of showing you each layer of emotion. The story: Clooney is a Hawaiian businessman whose wife gets hurt in an accident and is not expected to live - so this absent father must now take care of his two daughters while he tracks down all of his wife's friends and family to break the news that she's got about a week of life left. It's a sad movie, and an angry one. Here's a great screenwriting lesson: the story may sound like a small drama, but it has stakes up the wazoo. Clooney is the most hated man in Hawaii - his family owns a huge chunk of the island, and they may sell it to turn it into condos and crap. That's the big business deal that he's working on. And his family - "the cousins" - have formed groups and each has a developer to sell to - and Clooney is the man in the middle getting beat up on all sides... and that's before his wife gets in the accident and has about a week to live. His two daughters? Not some sweet sitcom kids - one is a recovering drug addict in a boarding school for problem kids, and his youngest (aged 10) is about to be expelled from school for acting out big time. She's a hellion. He has no idea what to do with these girls. So instead of some small quiet drama - he's in the eye of a tornado of crap... and his wife will be dead in a week. High stakes. Not some little story about a dying wife - the fate of Hawaii hangs in the balance, here. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the wife has/had a HUGE secret that is uncovered along the way. One of the things I liked about the film was how every character gets a great moment - there's this idiot stoner that the teen drug addict daughter *brings with them* as they go to tell friends and family of the wife to go to the hospital and say goodbye *now* because she'll be dead in a week. This dofus is great comic relief - when scenes get tense he says something stupid (and in one scene someone has a negative reaction to that) - but he also gets a great scene later in the film where you understand him. The two actresses playing the girls are both great. This is not a great film - but it's a very good one. And all of the cast does a great job - especially Clooney, who manages to use his charm in dark scenes where I think any other actor would have taken it too far. He gives a great layered performance.

- Bill

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Monday, September 04, 2017

What Was I Thinking?

From early 2010...

The plan was to write FADE OUT on my kinda-new spec script 2nd SON sometime on Saturday, and then meet my friends and go out to dinner and then see IRON MAN 2 at the Arclight. Tickets were purchased way in advance so that we had the perfect seats. A decision was made that the Friday Night Movie Guys would meet on *Saturday* instead, because we knew opening night for IRON MAN 2 would just be crazy. But the movie was my “reward” for typing FADE OUT sometime earlier that day.

Except I did not type FADE OUT on Saturday, nor did I manage to type it on Sunday. I will probably type it sometime today (Monday). Pisser.

But I *did* see IRON MAN 2 anyway - dessert without first cleaning my plate (and eating those gross mushy peas). I was sure this would lead to the end of the world... and maybe it did. It didn’t really lead to the end of my script, I spent Sunday trying to figure that out. Oh, I know the end-end, I just don’t really know how to get there.

The reason why is simple - I’m an idiot.

You may remember this script from a little over a year ago - I started it, was happy with the with the way it was going, then an circling assignment went to script and it got set aside. I pulled it out a couple of times last year wondering what the hell I was thinking and couldn’t quite get back into the flow - and then something else would come up. I wrote a couple of *other* spec scripts instead, and just when I got back into it, landed another assignment and set it aside again. Pisser. The script is so close to being finished it seemed stupid not to just take the time and get ‘er done. But when I pulled it back out and started writing I ran into a couple of problems.

Problem #1: One of the times I was working on it last year, I came up with a really cool twist that upped the ante and improved the story. Now, as you know, a script is like a house of cards and when you change one little thing you also change all kinds of other things and may even screw up the screenplay. It’s the domino effect or the ripple effect or whatever the hell you want to call it. I did re-outline the end of the script when I came up with this idea, but that didn’t include the small things... like how to kill the villain. I now have something similar to that overnight rewrite I had to go on GRID RUNNERS where they lost the rooftop location so my villain could no longer fall to his death. Though this problem is even worse than that. It would be like changing the location for the villain-death-by-skyscraper-roof-fall to the desert. Not a building for miles. Not a mountain for miles. And limited ways to die quickly.

Problem #2: This script has some DaVINCI CODE type riddles in it, and I thought it would be fun to put the riddle that kills a supernatural henchman in a scene on page 15 - that way, the audience would forget about it by the time we get to that henchman’s death - and I would **not** mention the riddle when our hero kills the henchman. I would leave it for the second time you saw the movie. One of the things I think about sometimes is how to get people to watch the film again. If it is a theatrical, that’s another ticket sale - and get enough of those and you have a hit. I had to see THE SIXTH SENSE a second time to see if the twist end was there throughout the film - and it was. I mean, about a couple of minutes into that film M. Night Shamalamadingdong sets up the twist, and does it with such skill that you never see it! And watching that film with the knowledge of the twist turns it into a completely different movie. Though I wasn’t doing anything like that in my script, I did want to have some cool stuff with the riddles, so that you might want to see it a second time to see if the riddle prophecies were there and came true. But when I re-read that clever riddle prophecy for the henchman’s death - I was stumped. What the hell was I thinking?

The larger problem is - I didn’t write it down. At the time, the answer to the riddle seemed completely obvious to me - something I could never forget that was so simple to figure out I didn’t need to include it in my notebook for the script. This makes that one even more frustrating, because at one point in time while writing the script this was obvious to me - and now it’s the ravings of a madman. What was I thinking?

THE PLAN...

So, my plan on Sunday was to get on my bike and ride until I figured out the solution to problem #1 - which was required if I was going to do any writing that day. I might have to ride past a dozen Starbucks and Coffee Beans and Mom & Pop Coffee Shops before I figured it out. That was okay. I did end up taking a fairly long bike ride... and I also came up with one heck of a great ending bit. It strengthens the *villain’s* character and manages to demonstrate the hero’s character arc being resolved. I’m happy with it. It did require a better piece of dialogue in an earlier scene - and that made me happy. I went from having an okay line to something similar to Agent Smith’s little speech about the *smell* inside the Matrix. I am very happy with this solution.

But no matter how many times I tried to figure out that simple riddle thing - I still have no idea what it has to do with killing my henchman. What was obvious a year ago is a complete mystery to me today.

Now, there are two possible solutions at this time - I could change something in the script so that it matches the riddle, or change the riddle so that it matches something else in the script. That’s probably what I am doing as you read this. But that’s a pisser, because whatever I had originally intended will not be in the screenplay.

THE LESSON...

Um, write everything down. Everything. Obvious things. Things you think you don’t need to write down. I have a spiral notebook for this screenplay and I’m almost at fade out and about a quarter of the pages are blank. It’s not like I was going to run out of room in the notebook, and I have a bunch of empty notebooks on the shelf if I *did* fill this one. It’s better to have that stuff written down and not need it than not written down anywhere and need it - like with this danged script. I posted this on Facebook Sunday night, and a few other people replied that they have been through the same thing on their scripts. I have been through this on previous scripts. So, when will we learn to write stuff down? We are *writers*, not *memorizers*. (Folks - that survived spellcheck!) I do not know why I think I will remember things - especially when they are those freakin’ amazing flashes of genius that are like God’s voice whispering some idea in your ear that is way over your head and you know this is something you can never think of again...

And I didn’t write it down.

What was I thinking?

- Bill

2017 UPDATE: 7 years later and I still can't remember what the solution to that riddle was. Pisser.
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