Monday, October 30, 2017

It's A Wonderful Night Of The Living Dead!

Jim Wynorski's 976 EVIL 2, which stars Brigitte Nielsen - so you know it's good, has one of my all time favorite sequences ever put on film... one of the top-heavy babes is watching TV late at night and has to choose between NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but her remote control goes wacky and gets both movies... and she falls asleep and ends up in the mash-up flick...



This movie was made in 1992 when mash-ups didn't exist, yet. Because both films were in public domain, it was *legal* for them to use this in their direct to video flick. It always makes me laugh that every time you hear a bell, a zombie takes you to hell.

- Bill

Monday, October 23, 2017

Is 80's Style Action Dead?

From Feb 2013...

You may have noticed that Stallone’s new film BULLET TO THE HEAD was not #1 over the weekend (it came it at #6!)... and that An-nuld’s movie THE LAST STAND sunk like a stone last weekend (it opened at #10... and two weeks later was #27 behind the Oscar Nominated Short Films in limited release!). We have a new DIE HARD movie right around the corner, and there is lots of talk on various movie message boards that 80s style action movies are over. Maybe even action films are we know them are over. Do you think that’s true?

I hope it’s not true - since I have a book on how to write action movies (though it’s good for all genres).

Well, let’s take a look at 1980s action flicks. Both Ah-nuld and Stallone were the #1 stars of action films in that decade and they spilled over into the early 1990s.  These guys were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s! Hmm, maybe that wasn’t a good example...

After the 80s, Stallone continued acting, and his film career was kept alive mostly through ROCKY and RAMBO sequels, along with the recent 80s throwback EXPENDABLES films that are kind of like those 70s disaster movies that have a dozen has-been stars who combine to make one star.

After that 80s period, Ah-nuld quit films to become the Governator and ended up in EXPENDABLES 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO, which was a hit!  But LAST STAND was his big return to action movie stardom as the lead.

Other 80s action stars like Bruce Willis have stuck around, though aren’t as big as they used to be... and some like Jean Claude Van Damme and Seagal ended up working in B movies where they continued that thing they do, just at reduced budgets.

Are 80s action movies dead, or is it just the careers of those 80s stars (who are getting a little long in the tooth to be an action star)? Is it the stars or the genre?

ELEMENTS

One thing to consider is that a film is a popular film isn’t due to just one thing, but a combination of elements that include the star... plus dozens of other things. When they all come together you have a hit... but we can look at bot Stallone and Ah-nuld’s filmographies and find misses, even when they were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s. People often like the cherry pick one particular element and say the film was successful because of that. Sure, Ah-nuld was a big star and people would often go see movies just because he was in them...  but some of those films sucked, or didn’t have the other elements that audiences expected in an Ah-nuld film. Or, like RAW DEAL, the film had Ah-nuld and action... but the story was kind of bland, so the audience wasn’t as excited by it as they were by PREDATOR.

Often a film becomes a hit because of elements that might seem silly alone - I love BULLITT, but I think without both McQueen and that car chase, it would be just a standard cop film. It would still be on my DVD shelf, but probably not on almost everybody’s DVD shelf. I think RONIN is similar - take out the car chases and would anyone want to see this film a second time? But the car chases plus RONIN’s cast of great character actor types and a really hard edged attitude makes it a hit.

Studios and producers often cherry pick some element and decide *that* is what made the film a hit, which is why when some new take on a fairy tale does well... there are a half dozen more new takes on fairy tales, and some are HENSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. It’s never one element - it’s a combination. So just making a movie starring Ah-nuld doesn’t guarantee a hit... but Ah-nuld in the right combination of elements might. You have to look at *all* of the elements.

But shouldn’t Ah-nuld in a bad-ass action flick equal box office? Those are the two important elements, right? It’s not like Ah-nuld in a rom-com or something.

Well, let’s take a look at Ah-nuld’s big action hits from that 80s/90s period, starting with his biggest hit...

TERMINATOR 2 - robot from the future goes back in time to *protect* the boy who will someday lead humans to defeat the robot-ruled world in the future.

TRUE LIES - meek geeky husband is really James Bond like spy and must save the world (and his family) from terrorists after they steal a couple of nukes.

TOTAL RECALL - regular guy takes a vacation to Mars, where it ends up he’s a double agent who has been brainwashed to forget his action-packed past... and now is in danger!

END OF DAYS - Bodyguard has to save woman from becoming Satan’s girlfriend and having his kid... which will signal the End Of Days when Satan rules the earth.

PREDATOR - military team goes into the jungle to save politicians in a plane crash and come up against an alien hunter who sees them as prey.

RUNNING MAN - prisoners engage in a fight to the death on a game show that is rigged for ratings... and has some wild-ass contestants.

Okay, I’ve left out the comedies like TWINS and JUNIOR and KINDERGARTEN COP to focus on the action films. But compare the *type of action story* from Ah-nuld’s 80s/90s  films to LAST STAND. Do you see any difference?

Okay, let’s look at Stallone’s action films (excluding the Rocky and Rambo films)...

CLIFF HANGER - Mountain rescue dude is sent to save a group of people after a plane crash... except it was a mid-air heist and now he’s battling mega-criminals on a mountainside!

DEMOLITION MAN - When the world’s top criminal is thawed out in a pacifist future, the authorities thaw out the world’s most violent cop to stop him from taking over the world.

JUDGE DREDD - I am the law! Cop in the future is framed, sentenced, and now must escape and prove his innocence... by finding another cop who shares elements of his DNA.

DAYLIGHT - Robbers with a truck full of explosives take out the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, and a rescue guy goes into the tunnel to help the survivors escape... and ends up tangling with the robbers.

TANGO & CASH - Two extreme cops (almost cartoonish)  who hate each other are framed and thrown into prison together, and now must survive life behind bars, then escape and bring down the drug kingpin who framed them.

COBRA - When a massive cult of killers called “The New Order” descends on city and begins killing *lots* of innocent people, a cop must protect the only witness who can help convict them - an ultra hot model.

Okay, once again I’ve left out the comedies and series films, but compare the *type of stories* in Stallone 80s/90s films to BULLET TO THE HEAD. Do you see any difference?

It seems to me that the problems *isn’t* 80s/90s style action films, because BULLET TO THE HEAD (despite being directed by the great Walter Hill) and LAST STAND are completely unlike 80s/90s style action films. Both films are small and low key compared to the wild high concepts that were the norm in 80s/90s action films. There is no science fiction component nor any disaster movie component. Both of these two new films have *dull ideas* compared to the films from the 80s/90s. They are kind of bland... missing *key elements* of the films that made these two guys into stars. A cartel leader escaped and tries to cross the border? A cop partners with a hitman to take down a common enemy? Neither of these story ideas are all that interesting, leaving the only draw a couple of old movie stars playing roles much blander than they did when they were the world’s biggest stars... in stories that are much blander. One element does not make a movie!

GRUMPY OLD MEN

I think the 80s/90s style action film is fine - if anyone ever makes one again! Ah-nuld and Stallone might have some problems re-entering action movie stardom, but the easy answer there is to do what Eastwood did when he got a little long in the tooth - partnered with a younger ***star*** like Charlie Sheen. Johnny Knoxville is *not* a movie star (unless he’s sticking fireworks up his butt), he’s a comic relief sidekick at best. The problem is, Stallone and Ah-nuld need to be the comic relief sidekick now. They need to be re-introduced as the second billed actor... and maybe they will someday be back as the #1 star, maybe not. Hey, actors need to act their age. The odd thing about an action star is that they are beefcake to a female star’s cheesecake. You don’t see actresses Ah-nuld or Stallone’s age doing sexpot roles... they’re playing moms and grandmothers. That’s okay! And it’s okay for Ah-nuld and Stallone to play their age - and *not* be the star. One of the things about the new DIE HARD movie is that Willis is playing *dad* to a kid in the big action role. They get to play buddy action (an 80s staple - usually with a top comedy star partnered with an action star) and the story seems *big* and exciting (not a small story like Stallone and Ah-nuld got stuck with). A few years ago I got called in to pitch stories for a Vin Diesel buddy action film with Stallone (whose career wasn’t so hot at that point). Though I’m not sure Diesel is the star to bring back Stallone right now - I can easily see how putting them together might be good for both of them. Someone get on that!  Maybe The Rock and Ah-nuld can pair up? Or have Ah-nuld play Jake Gyllenhaal’s grandfather? (Both have difficult to spell last names.)

I also wonder if CGI stunts have created a focus on high concept stunts at the expense of high concept stories? If you look at the scenes in PREDATOR - they are great action scenes but *connected* to the high concept of the story itself. Now we have all of these wild CGI action scenes in stories that are kind of pedestrian - and because the action scenes are not connected to the concept, the concept may have to be more realistic to make up for the over-the-top action. They aren’t connected.

Another possible issue is *nostalgia* - why are we making 80s/90s style action flicks in the first place? Why aren’t we doing something new? Plus, these seem to be kind of the faulty memory version of what 80s/90s action flicks were like. Everyone complains about all of the remakes these days, and I usually jump in to point out that remakes have *always* been part of Hollywood movies. But the difference is - in the old days the remakes were *not* nostalgic - they were new spins on an old story. They would take a successful story and give it a modern twist. Now it seems they want to take an old story and make it seem like a film from the old days. Where’s the twist?  Instead of longing for those action films from the good old days, we should be making the amazing new films that people will be fondly remembering a couple of decades from now.

By the way, if you wonder whether the action film is dead... did you see the trailer for FAST 6 on last night’s Superbowl broadcast? I’d say action is alive and well.  Can’t wait to see it!



- Bill

Monday, October 16, 2017

Optimistic Disappointment

An old blog entry re-run... from 2008.

Tuesday I ran the Romeo-to-Rambo Script Tip, which is always good for a few messages and some spirited debate. The responses are always: "Why are you so pessimistic?" "Why would anyone want to be a screenwriter if your stuff is just going to get screwed up?" "Why do they always screw stuff up?" "How can I make sure they don't change a single word of my script?" and "How often can Bill name drop in a single blog entry?"

First - no matter who you are, no matter how many Oscars you have on your mantle, no matter how many #1 hit movies you'd written... you will be rewritten. It's just the way the business works. Hollywood goes through screewriters the way screenwriters go through toner cartridges. They are constantly replacing them. Not for any logical reason - the excuse you hear is often "We think you've given it your best shot, but it's time to move on" or "We're thinking about taking it in a new direction, and need a new screenwriter to take it there" or "We've used all of your contracted rewrites." Love him or hate him, when Joe Eszterhas was the top screenwriter in Hollywood, they paid him $3 million for BASIC INSTINCT... then fired him the next day and brought in another writer. That was the most anyone had ever paid for a screenplay, so you'd think they must have liked it; but replacing writers is business as usual in Hollywood. One of the amusing things about this business is that sometimes - after a parade of writers has ruined your screenplay - sometimes they hire you back to rewrite whatever mess they ended up with. Of course, you aren't rewriting your *original* script, you're rewriting the crappy messed up rewritten by an army of damned dirty apes version.

And often you are the one who ruins your script. They own it, and if your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish (as mine always do) they will order you to make all kinds of stupid changes. When you and I think of rewrites, we think of *improving* our screenplays, but producers think rewrites are to *change* your script. Change it completely. Change the genre, the protagonist, the arena, the locations... hey, can they be cowboys? As Joe Gillis says in SUNSET BLVD. "The last one I wrote was about Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat." You know, a writer wrote that line.

Even if you fund the film yourself (so that you’re the boss) things will get changed by the time they hit the screen. As directors will tell you, film is a director’s medium... so whatever weird idea the director comes up with goes in the film. And you can’t sell a film without a star - which gives the star all kinds of power over the film. On one of my movies the actor (who was being paid a cool million) decided that his character should recite some poetry in the film, to show his sensitive side. And he *must* wear his lucky leather jacket - even though it didn’t fit the character he was playing at all. You know what the answer to that was? Change the character! Plus, there were some things he wanted in the story that made no sense - but without this guy there was no movie. So I did the rewrites... hating every minute of it. I’ve had directors who had me change *researched facts* to be what the director thought was true. And this blog’s name comes from a really silly note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE - they wanted a sex scene in a film that takes place on a submarine manned by 110 *men*. No women allowed. “A *gay* sex scene?” I asked. “No! No! With a woman!” (Today they’d *want* the gay sex scene.) “How do I get a woman on the submarine?” “You’re the writer - be creative!” Next thing you know, there’s some hot woman having wild monkey sex on a submarine for no apparent reason.

Even if you were the director, star, producer, writer, prop guy and everything else; you need to bend the script to fit the locations and shooting schedule - and that often means major changes. Things go wrong on every movie... and that means you’ll need to make changes on the fly to get things back on track. It rains, so that big outdoor scene now takes place in the warehouse where you store your equipment. When you make a film there are hundreds of people involved and hundreds of things that can go wrong. Everything seems to be conspiring against you. You never really get your vision up in screen. You have to compromise with real life and hope what ends up on screen is close to what you wrote.

I was at Frank Darabont's house once, and across from his desk he had a bookcase filled with his own scripts. I thought that was kind of odd (and maybe a little vain), so I asked him about it. He told me those were *his* screenplays the way *he wrote them*. I liked that idea so much, I now have a bookcase in my office with *my* scripts the way I wrote them. You know, I wonder what Frank's Indiana Jones was like? (Actually, I think I have the PDF in my “to read” pile along with INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (hey - spellcheck flagged that!)

The only thing we control is our scripts... so we have to be happy with what's on the page, not what ended up on the screen. If it's all about what ended up on the screen, it's a lifetime of heartbreak...

Which is why a screenwriter needs to be optimistic. You must have hope that some day you will end up with the right combination of director and actors and producers who all want to make the script you've written. Usually everyone wants to make a different story, and the whole thing goes to hell.

I’ve had a couple of films that got close to what I wanted. HARD EVIDENCE is probably closest to what I wrote (although the rewrites for location had the horrors of spending your life in a Canadian prison *instead of* a Mexican prison and much more sex than the spec script had), and it’s also my most financially successful films. You’d think that would be a compelling reason not to completely screw up my scripts - but Hollywood is all about changing a silk purse into a sow’s ear. On CYBERZONE the director and I were on the same page - but it was not a page that lead to Oscar nominations. The producer wanted a film about robot hookers from outer space... so that’s what we made. The director and I were both making the same movie - a comedy - but the distrib wanted a *serious* movie about robot hookers from outer space. So the jokes were cut out as well as some of the character stuff and we ended up with a silly movie instead of a funny one... but most of what I wrote is still there on screen, though. It’s a miracle.

And on every film (except CROOKED) something I wrote ends uo on screen. Usually a handful of scenes in each film remain more or less intact - and I can be happy about them. I used to *hate* BLACK THUNDER and CRASH DIVE, but both films have grown on me. The parts that I wrote now overshadow the parts that got messed up on the way to the screen. And I’m always hoping that the next script makes it to the screen the way I wrote it... or maybe even *better* - I would really love to work with a director with a vision and a cast with real talent who make *positive* contributions to the film. I don’t mind changes that improve the script - I *welcome them*. I have had some *good* notes on scripts in the past - and would love to get more of those! It’s the silly ones that change the script into crap I could live without. Every new script sale is another chance to have a great movie made!

I was on a panel once with Robert Roy Pool who wrote the spec script that became ARMAGEDDON a couple of years ago. His original script was about a guy in the government whose job was to write reports about reports. He'd read dozens of reports and condense them into a paragraph each for the Presidential briefing. He came across a bunch of different things in different reports that seemed to be connected - the most amusing one was an Indian tribe that wanted to move their reservation because their shaman had forseen a giant asteroid hitting Earth where their reservation was now. He discovers that there really is a giant asteroid heading toward Earth, but the government covers it up. So he goes about grabbing his estranged wife and everyone he loves and finding a safe place for them - some caverns he knows about from reading reports. They find safety... and the asteroid strikes. Okay, about a dozen writers were hired - one after another - to change that into ARMAGEDDON. One of the things that *every* writer hated was the scene where the Mir space station blows up for no reason. Now, some of these writers were being paid huge amounts of money to do these rewrites - there were Oscar winners - and every single one of them *lost* the argument and had to have the Mir space station blow up for no reason. The film is *nothing* like Robert's original script, and I don't think any of those dozen rewriters liked it much.

But Robert and none of those writers quit the business because the script was ruined by bad notes... instead, they went on to write other things. Because every script is a chance to have it all come together (by some miracle) or maybe just get pretty close. Good films *do* get made. Great films *do* get made. Sometimes it all comes together. You just have to have faith that it will happen sometime... and until then, you still have that bookshelf of scripts the way you wrote them.

You have to be optimistic in this business. You have to believe that the next script will end up on screen even better than the way you wrote it - that the producer and director and cast will come up with some amazing ideas that you never thought of and turn a great script into a completely fantastic amazing script. And even if that deal doesn’t work out and results in another disappointment... there’s the deal after that!

Somewhere down there, there’s a pony!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Conservation and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham.
Bicycle: Sunday they closed off some major streets in downtown LA so that cyclists could ride from downtown to the sea... but I'm on the other side of the hill, so I just rode west.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Tarantino's Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns

Now that Tarantino's BASTERDS has blown up the box office, it seems like a good idea to look at his favorite Spaghetti Westerns... I'm sure you'd read my article on BASTERDS in Script Magazine and have seen the movie and maybe even seen the Italian film with the same title in order to compare. So what else is there left to do but look at his favorite Italian cowboy films?

Tarantino’s Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns.




1. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly




2. For a Few Dollars more




3. Django




4. The Mercenary / A Professional Gun




5. Once Upon a Time in the West




6. A Fistful of Dollars




7. Day of Anger




8. Death Rides a Horse




9. Navajo Joe




10. The Return of Ringo




11. The Big Gundown




12. A Pistol for Ringo




13. The Dirty Outlaws




14. The Great Silence




15. The Grand Duel




16. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead




17. Tepepa




18. The Ugly Ones




19. Django, Prepare a Coffin




20. Machine Gun Killers





Click on the DVD box for more information on the movies. The score for THE BIG GUNDOWN is one of my favorites, and the Django films are a lot of fun. One thing about all of these films is you start to wonder if Lee Van Cleef just moved to Italy and got rich - he ends up being in so many of these movies it's crazy.

Somewhere, there is a land where men do not kill each other. Somewhere, there is a land where...

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!
Blue Books are back!
- Sweet 17 Bonus - a Joe Eszterhas book!


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Symbolic Dialogue (and comedy) and 40 DAYS AND 40 NIGHTS.
Yesterday's Dinner: Something at Mel's Diner.
Movies: I've seen the genius of GI JOE and will soon comment on that.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Scene Of The Week: Gun Crazy (bank robbery)

I read a blog entry on another blog with the 20 Greatest Long Takes In Movies and was surprised that they left this one out. Many of those long takes in movies are kind of stunts - they usually just set the scene or show scenery instead of tell the story. The opening from TOUCH OF EVIL and the whole damned film of ROPE are the exceptions. But how many long takes are not just showing the story - but the concept of the unbroken take is what creates emotions in the audience?

This scene from GUN CRAZY is all one take... and because we are *trapped* in that take with no edits to help us escape, the suspense escalates. We can not cut to inside the bank. We can not cut to some other place. We are stuck *here*, in *this shot*, dealing with all of the problems *in this shot* and can not escape! It's a great scene, and there's an interesting rif on it in SPRING BREAKERS where we see the robbery through the window of the getaway car. But the *economy* of this scene really adds to the tension...



GUN CRAZY is a great film, a low budget film, and I talk about it a little in the Film Noir Class, and here's my review...

Gun Crazy - the DVD
GUN CRAZY is an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real locations that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway car Now we get one of the greatest scenes in low budget history - that “backseat bank robbery” above. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money. back seat camera They get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot. This is a *great* scene!
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guardThis is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece. Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entre family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds cha!sing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where th!ey hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this


Nothing sexual about this... - Bill

Monday, October 02, 2017

Print The Legend

From 2009...

You may have read that bio over there and wondered why the hell I would ever turn down writing ANGELS & DEMONS. Was I crazy?

In the movie I LOVE YOU MAN Jason Segel is giving Paul Rudd lessons on being a man and explains the difference between telling a lie and omitting the truth. He asks Rudd when was the last time he masturbated, and Rudd doesn’t want to answer a question like that... but eventually admits he masturbated to a picture of his fiancĂ© a couple of weekends ago when she was away. Segel asks if he told his finace when she returned. “Of course not!” Was that a lie? No... but there was really no reason to tell her.

You may read that I turned down ANGELS & DEMONS and imagine Ron Howard or Tom Hanks begging me to write the script... and I still said no. I am going to allow you to believe that. Sounds really cool, doesn’t it? Telling Ron Howard to go to hell, you aren’t going to write a script for him... Or telling Tom Hanks - a guy who was born in the same hospital as I was - that I’m just too damned busy to script your damned film. None of that ever happened, but if you imagine it happened that’s okay with me. What really happened is kind of dull and uninteresting.

EXTRA SPICY

One of the problems with being a writer is that you automatically turn everything into a story. Some boring thing happens to you, and you find some way to make it funny or exciting when you retell it to somebody else. You embellish a little. You twist things a little or withhold some information to spice up the story. One of my problems when I tell a friend about a really bad movie I’ve seen is that I tend to make sense of it - I turn a bunch of unrelated incidents that add up to nothing, into something resembling a story. My friends think the film doesn’t sound so bad, but when they see it - well, it’s much worse than what I described. The problem with being a storyteller is that you can’t help but turn those crappy scenes from a crappy film into something that resembles a story when you talk about it. Your mind makes the connections that the person who made the film did not make. You smooth over all of those really rough edges. You take unrelated events and either leave them out when you retell the story or find some interesting way for them to relate. You tell a story.

And when I’m writing a blog entry or telling someone a story, I remove the chaff and retain the interesting parts, and often focus on what is interesting or exciting and leave out the dull stuff. And maybe that dog that just barked at you, growled in the story version and wanted to take a bite out of me? A slight embellishment. Makes the story a little more exciting and it’s not really a lie - the dog may have wanted to take a bite out of me, I don’t speak dog so I don’t know. When a storyteller tells the story, they tend to spice it up a little. The meat is still the meat, you’ve just added some garlic powder. You are still eating steak, it’s just seasoned.

Blog entries here often are written to be more amusing than the mundane and crappy truth - I look back on events and laugh. If I don’t, I’d go crazy. An when I tell some horror story about some film that has my name on it, I tell it from my point of view and try to make it amusing. I have no idea how long I *actually* talked to an actress on the set of one of my films while maintaining eye contact the whole time - difficult because she was dressed *only* in black lace panties and was hired because she was beautiful *and* could act... but when I tell the story it was 45 minutes. I’m sure it was probably ten or fifteen minutes, it just seemed much longer. She was discussing her role with me... I was trying not to look at anything other than her face. I am a gentleman... and probably a fool.

But all of that actually happened. When I tell that story, I stretch it out so that you think I might look down... I spice it up a little. But it’s still true. Probably more true than any film that says BASED ON A TRUE STORY in the credits.

BELIEVING THEIR OWN BS

I have met any number of people who had business cards printed saying that they were producers. Hey - you can get 250 free cards from Vista Print that say you’re President Of Warner Bros Studios if you want. There are websites galore for guys who made a silly movie with their friends with their video camera and now claim they are motion picture producers or even a studio! Hell. I have cards that say I’m a producer. I am kind of like those guys with the video cameras - I’ve produced and directed a bunch of short films, and even made an ill-advised feature on Super 8mm film before - but I’ve made no 35mm films that have played at your local cinema. I’m a *wannabe* producer at this point. So, don’t send me your scripts or loglines.

I’m fairly sure that most of the people with websites and business cards would probably be completely honest if you asked them what they’ve produced... though there was a guy on Done Deal’s message boards recently who was a complete scam artist but would not admit it no matter how many people offered proof. This “producer” charged a $350 script reading fee! And had not produced a single film.

I’ve also had “producers” in real life who have told me stories about all of their various projects around town, but would not get specific. When I looked them up later - no projects around town that I could see. I could tell you stories about fake producers all day - and what I don’t understand is why *they* are telling these stories. It’s pretty easy to look up someone’s credits these days, and even look up what they have in development. And, what’s wrong with being a new producer? Everybody has to start somewhere, right?

When you aren’t just leaving out the negative stuff, but actually making up credits that never happened and *lying*, you are going to get in trouble. I may have mentioned a guy I knew who claimed he wrote one of the BATMAN movies and actually showed me a copy of the script from Warner Bros with his name on the title page... and it was the actual script whichever BATMAN movie that was later released. He managed to attract a hoard of toadies and sycophants from that showing around that script. Later I discovered that he was a *typist* at Warner Bros who made up a cover page with his name on it. That’s why he was still mostly broke and working at his day job even after writing Warner Bros big tentpole film for the year.

I also know an actor who claims he is related to a big movie star - and they have the same last name - but both the big movie star and this actor changed their last names when they went into the biz. So it’s a complete lie he tells people to land roles that is so easy to disprove I wonder why anyone believes it.

SCREW YOU OPIE!

But you want to know the truth behind Bill Turning Down ANGELS & DEMONS, right?

Just as I had that year where all I did was write one treatment forever, I also had a year around the same time where - for some reason - everyone wanted me to read books and pitch my take on them. This is pretty common. Someone reads some spec script from you, likes it but doesn’t buy it (few spec scripts actually sell, most just get you assignments) and thinks you might match a project they are working on. Now, these projects can be anything from a rewrite on a script (I turned those down) to magazine articles and books the production company has an option on that they need a screenwriter for. To get the adaptation gig you read the book or article and then come back and pitch your take on the story. “Your take” is how you would go about adapting the book or article into a script. Sometimes it’s focusing on a specific element as the spine of the story, sometimes it involves a little more imagination - I have never pitched my take on a *board game* but people do that.

So after doing a bunch of these things I landed one - a New York Times best seller. An erotic thriller kind of thing that perfectly fit my skill set. The producer was packaging it with stars and director and, well, things stalled out. He eventually sold the project to another producer... meanwhile I was meeting a whole bunch of other people who owned the rights to books and wanted me to pitch my take. I read a stack of books.

And one of the producers had an option on ANGELS & DEMONS.

At that time it wasn't high profile at all. This was pre DaVINCI CODE, and ANGELS & DEMONS was some odd-ball book published by the new age division of Simon & Schuster. It was probably a “worst seller” at the time.. The publisher had basically dumped it. This producer who I had never worked with before had read some of my scripts and liked them, had read the book and optioned it probably for carfare. I don’t know if anyone else was interested in the film rights to ANGELS & DEMONS at the time, but I doubt it.

The producer was kind of a character - he had a bunch of actual credits (I don’t know whether I looked him up on IMDB or somewhere else) but was an indie guy who worked out of his pool house when he didn’t have a deal with a studio. We mostly met in restaurants between the lunch and dinner hours when they were mostly empty. He liked to eat. He also loved conspiracy theories... and that’s what attracted him to ANGELS & DEMONS. That, and he knew where he could get a Rome set somewhere like Bulgaria. This, friends, is how movies get made. A producer knows where there is a set that looks like Rome and reads a book that takes place in Rome that he likes because he also believes that everything Art Bell says is gospel. We had maybe 4 or 5 meetings, once in the poolhouse office and the rest at restaurants - but never Italian restaurants. Maybe he was concerned that Italian restaurants might have some connection to the Vatican or the Illuminati or whatever.

He gave me a copy of ANGELS AND DEMONS (which I gave back - stupid - probably could have sold it for a fortune on e-bay) and asked if I wanted to adapt it. I read the book, and didn't like it that much (Dan Brown is not a great writer) - but the big problem for me was that the book had two plots that met at the end. This is great for a book, but not so great for a movie. You only have 2 hours to tell a story, and that’s tough to do when you only have 1 plot. I thought we should either go with one or the other - and I think I suggested killing the Cardinals because the blowing up the Vatican thing seemed silly. The producer wanted to do the whole damned book. Could I come back with a version that covered everything in the book? I tried - made notes, tried to outline how I might turn the book into a single movie under 120 pages that stressed the conspiracy aspects and only showed the portions of Rome that existed in Bulgaria... and couldn’t make it work. So on our last meeting I gave him back the copy of the New Age version of the book and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I turned the job down.

I’m pretty sure that I was not the only writer this producer approached... and I think *everyone* turned it down. The producer allowed the option to expire... and then DaVINCI CODE came out and became a bestseller and I felt like an idiot. The producer probably did, too.

If I had just written *one* draft of ANGELS & DEMONS, I would have been first writer on and I’m pretty sure my name would be in the "story by" credits.

But I didn't turn down a best seller, I turned down a non-seller that I didn't think was well written and I didn't think would make a good movie... I guess we will all find out on Friday whether they cracked it or not. If you want to imagine me telling Ron Howard that I simply refuse to write this script and he can go take a hike, that's okay by me.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Story Is The Story and HOUSE BUNNY.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Hot Pockets Calzone and carrot sticks.
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