Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: The Haunting (1963)

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

I first saw this film in grade school on a rainy day when instead of going out to play we went to the multi-purpose room for a movie... and instead of just getting wet outside, all of us got scared to death and probably scarred for life. This film scares me *now*.



THE HAUNTING doesn't have any blood at all... yet it has regular scares throughout the film - and lots of DIRECT CONFLICT between the source of the scares and the protagonists. This is tricky, because THE HAUNTING is about ghosts and has no special effects - no guys in sheets, no double exposure FXs, nothing we can *see*.

The biggest mistake of the remake was turning it into a CGI fest... we fear the unknown, when we see a bunch of FX, it isn't unknown anymore.

"'Unknown.' That's the key word. 'Unknown.' When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child. A face on the wall. Knockings, bangings. What's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out."

Though we can't see the ghosts in the original, we CAN see what they do. The original version of THE HAUNTING has five characters and only one of them dies - at the very end. But they are constantly in peril throughout the film, and often in conflict with each other. Even though nobody dies for 99% of the film's running time, there are a bunch of big scary scenes - it's as much fun to have a character *almost* killed as it is to have them killed.

"Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"




It's a haunted house story about a team of ghostbusters who are going to "cleanse" a very haunted house. Richard Johnson is the professor leading the expedition into the world's most haunted house. Claire Bloom and Julie
Harris are two different kinds of psychics, Rusty Tamblin (from my INVISIBLE MOM movie) represents the owner of the house and the actress playing Johnson's wife (can't remember her name). The scares are (brilliantly directed) scenes with ghosts pounding on the walls or doors samming on their own or people almost being swept off balconies by the wind or spiral staircases becoming untethered and almost falling over or people having to walk down long hallways in the dark while wind or shadows chase them. The ghosts are constantly chasing our heroes! The ghosts are looking for fresh blood - and our five ghostbusters are in peril from the moment they enter that house. The ghosts don't just call on the phone and breathe heavy, they actively try to kill every member of the team!

"Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."

Though the most famous scary scene is probably that spiral staircase sequence, my favorite couple of minutes of absolute terror is a scene where ghosts pounding on the door to Harris and Bloom's bedroom actually begin to push the door inwards - bending it to the breaking point! The door just keeps bending inwards. Will the ghosts break through the door to get our team of psychics? This scene goes on so long you almost pass out from holding your breath in fear! And that door bows so far inwards you know it will break any minute! No blood (but the scene will drain the blood from *you*!) but scary as hell! This is the kind of "old school horror" audiences
are looking for - direct conflict between the terrifying and the protagonists... and when a movie like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (1,2,3) comes along, the reason why it's a success is that it builds that sense of dread that gets us on a primal level...

Real suspense based on a real threat.

"When people believed the earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear."

The best part about the original HAUNTING is that between these great bloodless scare scenes, you get to "catch your breath" with scenes of mentally unbalanced romance as Julie Harris interprets everything that Richard Johnson does as proof that he's secretly in love with her. The guy's married and doesn't even flirt with her - but she's so delusional that she's sure it's love. This is almost as creepy as the ghost attacks (just in a different way). So the "valleys" in the ghost story are "peaks" in the twisted romance story (kind of Harris's character coming of age late in life - she's been sheltered since that incident where stones rained on the family home when she was a kid... and has never been on her own or in love before). There are no slow spots in a (good) movie, just different kinds of excitement.

Robert Wise, the director, got his start as editor of a little film called CITIZEN KANE... and went on to direct CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and BODY SNATCHER for Val Lewton. After that, he directed a string of great films - everything from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW to WEST SIDE STORY to THE SOUND OF MUSIC to ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I think he kind pf blows apart the autuer theory because all of his films are just *good* - but I don't see much connection between them other than - *good*. THE HAUNTING was the height of his career - and it's a million times for frightening than the remake.

It was totally cool working with Rusty Tamblyn on INVISIBLE MOM - I made sure to show up on his days. It was totally cool.

Though THE HAUNTING is okay for kids - no sex, no blood, no gore - know that it is damned scary...

- Bill

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: Needle In The Haystack Shot

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock, and they did a special episode... starring me!





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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Film Courage Plus: First Time I Got Paid To "Do It".

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

So here is the fourth one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

This piece was from an interview in 2014, when my first produced film NINJA BUSTERS was a lost movie that could never be seen by an audience. As far as I knew, no prints of it existed. My skeletons were safely hidden in the closet. No one could ever see my baby steps as a screenwriter where I fell on my face *and* pooped my pants.

What a difference a year makes! In some weird version of STORAGE WARS, a film collector bought a warehouse full of old film cans, and one set of cans contained the only 35mm print of NINJA BUSTERS. More about that in this article by the director, Paul Kyriazi - the "official story". So now the masochistic among you can see my first paid gig as a screenwriter, which has become a cult film playing around the country at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Yikes! I was hoping this film would remain missing!

But since it’s out there, baby, it's out there! (as Kramer on SEINFELD would say) let’s talk about first films and breaking in to the business.

If you were to ask 100 screenwriters how they broke in you would get 100 different answers. There is no one way, and there are so many variables the best thing that you can do is try as many different ways as you can and eventually one will work for you. In the clip I tell the story of NINJA BUSTERS - giving a screenplay to one of the “success stories” from my community college film appreciation class who had gone on to make kung fu movies for the drive in circuit, and how that lead to my working on the set of one of his films and eventually getting the job of doing a page one rewrite on a film for him. The challenge of NINJA BUSTERS (called FALCON CLAW when I was hired to rewrite it) was that the cast and locations and even many of the props had already been locked down, and my job was to write a screenplay that used all of those things... differently.

The original screenplay was about a pair of guys who land a job at a warehouse and discover that all of the warehouse workers are hypnotized so that they work for free and don’t ask any questions. They are some form of “zombie”. Our heroes somehow break out of the hypnosis and realize they are working for evil smugglers, and end up fighting the hypnotized warehouse workers and breaking up the evil smuggling ring.



When you are trying to land an assignment, be it for a studio based producer or some guys making kung fu movies in Oakland, CA; the first thing you do is “pitch your take” - come up with a different way to tell that story and pitch it to the producer. Sometimes it’s just finding the different angle to tell the same story, sometimes it’s finding a different story. In this case, I couldn’t find a way to make the “hypnotized dock workers” story interesting, so I had to come up with something similar... that also added more action scenes... that also used all of the same locations and actors and props they had already locked down. My story was about a pair of goofy guys who join a women’s self defense class to pick up girls and instead pick up trouble when they witness a mob murder by someone they know from their day job at a warehouse. The lead mobster uses ninjas to deal with big problems, and soon our two goofy guys and their dates are on the run from *ninjas*! The ninjas could be anywhere! I was a huge fan of SILVER STREAK, the Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor comedy chase film (a Hitchcock homage) and thought that would be a fun “model” for this page one rewrite. What if the story was a chase action film with these two guys racing across town one night to escape ninjas and rescue the women they love? Using all of the cast members, locations, props and anything else - I wrote a script in a couple of weeks I took off from my day job. And that was my first paid gig.

Which lead to...

Nothing.

Sure, I wrote a couple more screenplays for local producers, but none of those got made. So I went back to working the day job. And eventually broke in again.

Now here’s the thing they never tell you: you will *always* be breaking in. You don’t just break in once, and you’re in... you break in just about every time you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Because unlike working at my day job where I’d clock in every morning, work my shift, then clock out and go home; a movie is a “one off”. They make one movie at a time, and that movie is the job and when the job is over you are unemployed and need to look for work again. You need to break in again. Sure, there are times when you get some momentum going - and one job leads to the next. But eventually the momentum ends and you need to break in all over again.

You will always be breaking in. Get used to that idea.

After selling COURTING DEATH to a company who had a deal with Paramount for a couple of years worth of day job money, I quit the day job and moved to Los Angeles where I holed up in an apartment and wrote a stack of screenplays. Writers write! No longer strangled by that day job, I had enough time to do what I loved - and I wrote and wrote and wrote! Sometimes never leaving my apartment for days! Heaven!

But when COURTING DEATH was never made, I found myself out of money and out of work and I needed to break in all over again. And that’s the dirty little secret of this business - when this script job ends you have no job... and must find another screenwriting job. And that’s basically breaking in all over again. You send out screenplays and take meetings (job interviews) and do everything possible to land another job. Hollywood is both a small town and a vast town - and when you are looking for your next screenwriting job you are likely to be meeting with people and companies who don’t know you. The companies that do know you are the first places you go, and after that it’s all of those other companies... and that’s breaking in again.

There is also a lot of turnover in this town, so that great connection you had with production company A, may no longer be working there. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because they move to another production company and now you have connections at two places... but sometimes they just leave the business and you have no connections at all. You have to break in all over again as if you were that writer living in your home town dreaming of a Hollywood career. Except now you are in Hollywood and you’ve even had a career for a film or maybe two (or maybe ten). A friend of mine who had a great ten year run as a screenwriter found himself in trouble when a bunch of the projects he had been working on did not go to screen (only 10% of what you write will make it to screen, the rest will just collect dust on studio shelves), and a bunch of his great connections at production companies all retired at the same time. Oh, and so did his agent, and he was passed off to a new agent who didn’t know him. Suddenly, this guy had to break in all over again! And that is *common*. Screenwriting is not like a day job, there are no regular paychecks, there is no time clock, there is no job security at all! Once you finish your “day’s work” you need to find a new job! You need to break in again and again and again.

So when you read how some successful writer sold their first screenplay, that’s how they broke in the first time.

But the first time you break in will not be the last!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



bluebook
Only 418 Pages!
*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!

Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE

70 years ago *yesterday* (January 23, 1947) this movie opened in the USA...

About a year ago I watched all of the REC movies again and think the first one may be the best Found Footage movie ever made (*much* superior to the American remake) because, even though the entire movie is seen from the perspective of the news camera, the shots are composed beautifully. The American remake (QUARANTINE) just didn’t seem to understand the degree of difficulty ... and is filled with sloppy framing and soft focus. REC manages to have *artistic* framing even when the camera is “dropped” in an attack scene. I often wonder how many times they “dropped” the camera to get that perfect framing of what would be seen in the action that comes afterwards. But the very idea of Found Footage from someone’s video camera all traces back to this film, THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), an interesting experiment that fails.



Robert Montgomery was a star at MGM, who played pretty boys and dashing romantic leads... but he was ambitious and knew the days of being a handsome guy were numbered and wanted to direct (where you could get old and nobody cared). This was his first film as a director... and he managed to make the most experimental film made by a studio at that time (actually, no one has done this since). The Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novels were all told first person, so he thought he would make the *film* first person... as in “first person shooter games”. You see the story through Marlowe’s eyes. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

Here are the problems:

1) The cameras at the time were huge and heavy, so instead of agile movements that mimic a human walking, we have limited dolly shots. Most of the time the camera moves into a position and then *sits there*, maybe with an occasional pan to follow a pretty receptionist. Unlike Hitchcock’s ROPE which features a story told in a single take (sort of) and a fluid camera that moves from one amazing angle to another, these shots seldom move. Once the camera dollies into a room, it just sits there and people talk to it. There are a couple of scenes where the camera does a limited dolly in the middle of a scene to “look at something”, but mostly it just sits there. So we have these static shots most of the time which are *dull*!

2) No cutting! Because it’s Marlowe’s POV we can’t cut from one shot to another, we are stuck with the same shot for the whole scene! This kills the pacing. In ROPE we also have no traditional editing, but the camera moves from “shot” to “shot” and angle to angle, giving us the feeling of different shots. It’s that “dog juice” thing, because there are no cuts in ROPE the camera has to do even more movement to make up for it. But here: no cuts... and no camera movement.

3) One of the side effects of the limited mobility of the camera is that the film ends up mostly set bound. That title LADY IN THE LAKE? Well, a big chunk of the novel takes place at Little Fawn Lake (Lake Arrowhead)... where a dead body is found in the lake... but the film never goes to Little Fawn Lake so we never see the murder victim or any of the suspects from there! The problem is: there's a reason for the novel's title. The body found in the lake, and Marlowe discovering it (along with cabin caretaker Bill Chess) is critical to the story. It's what the story is *about*. Instead, about 75 percent of this film is Audrey Totter looking at the camera talking. This is a private eye movie, and when you think about other Marlowe movies like THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER MY SWEET, they are filled with action scenes! Here, no action scenes! The closest we get is a car chase done with process shots (so it’s still in a studio) which ends with a car wreck... where Marlowe/Camera dollies to a bush and hides behind it as a police car arrives. The fistfight scene is *one punch*, and you wonder what a director more interested in the action elements of the story could have done with that fight scene.

4) Because we never go to Little Fawn Lake, we get these scenes where Marlowe talks *straight to the camera* as he sits in his office, telling us the story. What this means is when Audrey Totter isn’t looking RIGHT AT US and talking to us, Marlowe is LOOKING RIGHT AT US and talking to us! It’s all exposition, all the time! So with damaged pacing from the experiment we add boring exposition... we might as well be sitting in a room having Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter just telling us the story! But even that would probably be better because we’d get Chandler’s great writing. Instead we get a pile of plotty exposition.

Oh, in addition to Audrey Totter, some other cast members may look familiar to you from TV! Lloyd Nolan went from B movie cops to TV doctors, playing the doctor lead on JULIA (first TV series starring an African American woman) and played doctors on QUINCY and ELLERY QUEEN and a million other TV shows as guest star or recurring characters. Leon Ames also played doctors on TV, but you know him as next door neighbor Gordon Kirkwood on MR. ED. Hottie Jayne Meadows has also been in a million TV episodes and has even played Florence Nightingale... but she also looks just like her sister Audrey who was Jackie Gleason's wife on THE HONEYMOONERS. All of these actors look straight into the camera whenever they are in a scene!



The screenplay is by Steve Fischer, a pulp writer turned screenwriter (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and his work is usually really good... but I think here he is shackled by the concept and Montgomery’s idea of how the story should be told. Somewhere along the way, Marlowe has been changed from Private Eye to Pulp Fiction Writer for this story... so, if all of the above wasn’t boring enough now we have conversations about writing and publishing! In the novel the missing woman Marlowe is searching for is the wife of a perfume and cosmetics millionaire, in the film this is changed to the publisher of pulp novels... so that we can have even more talk about publishing! This film is trying to put us to sleep! Add to that, it takes place at *Christmas* so the opening title cards are happy Christmas Card pictures over Christmas Carols! You wonder if you may have put in the wrong DVD! It *does* end with a gun, but instead of being kind of a twist, it seems to me like a tonal car wreck (and the rest of the film continues that wreck). The audience at the time knew who Chandler was, and had seen a couple of Marlowe movies and were expecting something like THE BIG SLEEP... and ended up with this!

Lloyd Nolan, who played MICHAEL SHAYNE on the big screen (one of those films was based on Chandler’s THE HIGH WINDOW which would later be made as a Marlowe film starring *George* Montgomery) plays the cop, here... and not only do we lose Little Fawn Lake in this story, we also lose Bay City (seeing only the inside of the police station). Hey, Bay City is a major part of the novel! Chandler’s Bay City is one of those great fictional locations, but not in this film. Though we get slugged in the eye and kissed, it’s really lame compared to the subjective camera work in DARK PASSAGE made the year before. In that film, the camera doesn’t stick with the lead’s POV, but cuts all over the place to keep the pace going. Just, when we have those shots in the story that would have been “over the shoulders” instead we get a full POV shot. DARK PASSAGE *works*! This film does not. And having the whole film being people LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU is really weird!



Another issue with LADY IN THE LAKE is that there are *a couple* of shots of Montgomery's reflection in a mirror, which I'm sure was tricky, but there are a half dozen shots with mirrors where Montgomery is *not* reflected at all! Once you establish that we will see him reflected in mirrors, you have to show his reflection in mirrors from that point on (or get rid of the mirrors from the sets!). They show a mirror in some scene where he *should* be reflected, and he's not! It's like an epic fail!

I think people underestimate the difficulty of just making a movie. In this case, Montgomery (who seemed to have not a clue about the language of cinema) tried to do a huge experiment right out of the gate... and it fails big time. It would be interesting to see a first person movie like this *now*, with the level of action we expect to see in a first person shooter game. This film is a curio: like most experimental films, it fails. But interesting to see... and you instantly learn how *not* to make a private eye movie.

Skip the film, read the Chandler novel instead.

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

HITCH 20: The Crystal Trench (s3e5)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the last episode of the third season on THE CRYSTAL TRENCH and the importance of locations in story.



CRYSTAL TRENCH extras...

In this episode we look at the relationship between story and location, and how a location can be a character in your story. In an old article in Script Magazine called HITCHCOCK’S CHOCOLATES we sweated the small stuff and looked at the relationship between characters, their tools, and their environment. Using location and props to help tell your story. How do you keep all of these elements organic, and even explore theme through location?

"One of the interesting aspects of "The Secret Agent" is that it takes place in Switzerland," Hitchcock says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (1967 Simon And Schuster). "I said to myself, What do they have in Switzerland? They have milk chocolate, they have the Alps, they have village dances, and they have lakes. All of these ingredients were woven into the story. Local topographical features can be used dramatically as well. We used lakes for drowning and the Alps to have our characters fall into crevasses."



IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?


Most of us give little thought to our locations, using them only as backgrounds for our stories. They end up little more than theatrical flats - a two dimensional painting of a street our characters act in front of. But location can influence story, and story elements can grow from a location.

A man walking down a dark alley.

A man walking in a park filled with children.

Both scenes show a man walking, but each 'background' will have a different effect on the audience, and on the character's mood and actions. The location changes effects the character and the character effects the direction of the story.

Orson Welles' brilliant THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (based on a novel by Sherwood King) takes place in San Francisco and uses the location to advance the story. The story of a yacht captain (Welles) who becomes involved with a beautiful woman (Rita Hayworth) and her evil husband (Everett Sloan) in a strange fake murder for life insurance scheme is like a check list of San Francisco landmarks. From Chinatown to Sausalito to Steinhart Aquarium to Playland At The Beach amusement park.

In LADY FROM SHANGHAI locations are not just background to the story, they help shape it. When the scheme goes wrong and Welles is hunted through the city by the police - no one to turn to - he hides in a Chinatown theater. Surrounded by people speaking a strange language, laughing at jokes he doesn't understand, the character is out-numbered and alone simultaneously. The choice of environment strengthens the emotions in the scene.

My DEAD RUN script is a fast paced thriller about a conspiracy to keep a murdered political candidate alive through CGI computer animation. The logical location for this story was someplace where the computer industry has deep roots. Silicon Valley was the obvious choice, but I went with the second city on my list: Seattle, Washington.

What do we find in Seattle? The Space Needle, the logging industry, gourmet coffee shops, grunge-rockers, the monorail, Puget Sound, trolley cars, and Ballard Locks Park all made my list.

Then I decided what scenes would gain the most from each of my locations. The sunny Ballard Locks Park seemed like a perfect place for a sniper attack, my end action scene would be on the Space Needle, and I could use the monorail in a chase scene. My candidate would be involved in logging and environmental issues. Everything on my location list helped to shape the final script. The plot helped me choose the city, but each individual setting influenced the way scenes played. I used the location not just as a background, but to help tell the story.

It's important to make sure your story matches the location, that the story grows naturally from the location and vice versa. You want to find the most effective setting for your story. If you are writing a script about a pair of doomed lovers, can you think of a better location than a sinking ship? The minute Jack and Rose meet each other on the Titanic, the clock is ticking. We know their relationship will be over as soon as that ship sinks. Doomed lovers, doomed location. The location is an organic part of the story.

In THE CRYSTAL TRENCH that glacier *is* a character in the story, as is the mountain the men are climbing. How could this story work in a desert? In a city? On a farm? The story is all about the glacier!

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARAH





"In Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, James Stewart plays a doctor, and behaves like one throughout the whole picture," Francios Truffaut says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. "His line of work is deliberately blended into the action. For instance, before telling Doris Day that their child has been kidnapped, he makes her take a sedative." Stewart's character prepares the sedative calmly, professionally. He's using the tools and methods familiar to him to solve the immediate problem.

Characters will always use familiar tools, given the choice. Tools are an extension of occupation, and occupation is an extension of character and theme. A plumber with a slide rule or a nun with a machine gun seems strange. A character s choice of tools gives us insight into his or her personality and background. They are more than just props.

In Robert Benton's KRAMER VS. KRAMER Dustin Hoffman's wife runs off to find herself, leaving him to take care of his young son. The first morning without Mom, Hoffman has to prepare breakfast. Hoffman is used to grabbing a cup of coffee on the way out the door... that's the extent of his breakfast knowledge.

His son wants french toast. So Hoffman grabs the tools he is familiar with to make the french toast. Instead of using a bowl and a whisk, he uses a coffee cup and a spoon. Breaks the eggs into the cup, beats the eggs with the spoon, then tries to dip the bread in the egg batter. His attempt to make french toast is a complete failure. He will have to learn how to use new tools as a single dad.

In my NIGHT HUNTER film, Don "The Dragon" Wilson plays the last of the vampire hunters, drifting from town to town on the trail of blood suckers. I envisioned him as a man without friends, without family, without a home. Homeless.

In the script when all of his vampire killing tools are taken away from him by the police, he is forced to find new equipment. Would he go into a store and buy it? Not in character. He's homeless, he dumpster dives. He turns discarded items found in the trash into lethal killing tools. Tools that fit his character. One hundred percent organic.

In CRYSTAL TRENCH we not only have the mountain climbing tools, we have that great telescope focused on the side of the mountain that features in scene after scene. The great thing about that telescope is that it’s not only a tool, it’s what I call a “Twitch” in my “Secrets Of Action Screenwriting” book - it’s a physical device that symbolizes an emotional conflict. It’s focused on the dead men, right? So the telescope *becomes* the dead men - a way to have them in a scene when they are actually on the side of the mountain many miles away.

Make a list of your character's "familiar tools", those things they're most comfortable using. These will be the first thing they reach for when they're trying to solve a problem. Tools they know how to use. Tools they know how to use. Tools which help illuminate character through actions.

STOCK COMPANY


In previous episodes of HITCH 20 we’ve talked about Hitchcock’s “stock company” of actors, and I look at Hitch’s loyalty to cast and crew members in HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE. Though many of the HITCH 20 episodes feature John Williams (the actor, not the composer) these past two episodes have featured THE AVENGERS’ Patrick Macnee. In ARTHUR he was the town constable, and here he’s the glacier expert - two very different characters!

This brings the third season of HITCH 20 to a close...

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, October 19, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

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



Season: 1, Episode: 20. Airdate: February. 7, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Alan Caillou Cast: Alan Caillou, Kenneth Haigh, Audrey Dalton, Alan Napier, J. Pat O’Malley Music: Jerry Goldsmith Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Do you believe in witchcraft? Witches have plagued the human race since history first began. Although now a days, in America at least, they’ve become nothing more than an illusion with which to tease the childish imagination on Halloween. But no so in the old world. In Italy for example witchcraft is still called The Old Religion. And in England, even today, the legal definition of a witch stands on the statute books as a person who has conference with the Devil. And in a place like Dark Woods, deep in the mountains of the Welsh borders, where the village cowers in the shadows of the Druid stones, and ancient sacrifical circle put there, oh, who knows when. For these simple villagers, time does not move very fast. The old habits, the old fears, die hard. Our story tonight deals with the attempts to exercise a witch. Our leading players are Mr. Kenneth Haigh, Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alan Caillou, Mr. Alan Napier, and Miss Doris Lloyd. Join us now, won’t you, as we try to beat the Devil at his own game.”

Synopsis: In the small village of Dark Woods on the Welsh border, there are not only Stonehenge like Druid Stone Formations... there are those who still practice Witchcraft and those who capture witches and burn them at the base of the stones. After a Farmer is the victim of a ritual killing, London detective Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haigh) and his new bride Nesta (Audrey Dalton) have their honeymoon plans changed at the last minute as he is sent to the remote village to investigate the murder. Some honeymoon!

No sooner do they arrive at the spooky crime scene at the Druid Stones than a creepy old man with a pitchfork (hay fork) confronts them. He wonders why anyone would be at this God forsaken place, used by Witches & Warlocks to sacrifice victims. Roberts says he’s a police officer, and the old man with the pitchfork says that is impossible because *he* is the only police officer in this area... he is Constable Evans (Alan Napier, Alfred The Butler from the TV show BATMAN). Roberts shows his ID, introduces his wife, and Evans lowers the pitchfork. Evans believes more in Witches than in city police procedures, thinking the whole idea of sending a city detective to deal with a rural issue like Witchcraft makes no sense. Roberts wants to talk to the “mayor” of the village, Sir Wilfred, and they walk down to Roberts’ car and drive down the winding country roads.



On those winding country roads, new bride Nesta screams “Watch out!” and pulls the steering wheel, forcing the car off the road and into a ditch. She claims she saw a black dog in the road, but neither Roberts nor Evans saw it. Evans says he’ll have the car towed and repaired in the morning, and they are close enough to walk to Sir Wilfred’s estate (a huge mansion which exists in stock footage).

Sir Wilfred (Alan Caillou) is a worldly and wealthy man, who explains that country folk are much different than city folk... and still believe in witchcraft. He also mentions that it would have been impossible for Nesta to see a black dog in the road, as no one in the village owns a black dog... because black dogs are associated with witchcraft. Legend has it that a black dog once turned into a woman, a witch! So no one in the village would own such an animal. Nesta insists she saw a black dog, and Evans clearly thinks she may be crazy. Sir Wilfred’s maid interrupts, saying that someone has stolen the clothes hamper... and this is sinister rather than silly because witches are traditionally burned in wicker baskets, like the missing clothes hamper. This is when Nesta notices the flicker of flames through the window at the Druid Stones, and they all race out of the stock footage mansion.

A woman has been burned alive as a witch!

In the local pub/hotel, Evans tells the locals that Nesta has seen a black dog, and everyone is shocked. The town drunk (J. Pat O’Malley) gives some nice exposition about the village’s recurring problems with witches and witchcraft. The question seems to be: is Nesta a witch?

That’s when Roberts and Nesta and Sir Wilfred enter, and we get another block of exposition which is less entertaining when Roberts says that this isn’t witchcraft, it’s the work of a lunatic. Roberts wants to know if anyone in town has mental issues. Sir Wilfred admits that his own father was institutionalized for a while. Since everyone in the village believes in Witches, that’s not going to be a clue to anyone’s insanity.

When Roberts and Nesta go up to their room for their honeymoon night, he asks if she’ll help with the investigation by doing research at the county seat a few miles away. Then Nesta goes wacky when she sees a black dog... where there isn’t one. Is she crazy?



Next day, Roberts is at Evans’ house with Sir Wilfred examining evidence and notices that the victim’s pocket watch is missing. Here we meet Evan’s Old Mum (Doris Lloyd) who makes the finest tea in the village... if you know what I mean, and I think you do. (Heck, she’s *ancient*!)

We get some cross cutting between Nesta searching the county records while Roberts and Sir Wilfred and some military guys with metal detectors look for the missing watch at the crime scene. Nesta shows up just as the find the watch, and Roberts says they should easily be able to lift some fingerprints and find the killer. He’ll need to send the watch to Scotland Yard, and since the day’s mail has already left, will the watch be safe overnight at the post office? Sir Wilfred assures him that it will, and later we discover this is all Roberts’ scheme: he will stake out the post office that night and who ever breaks in is the killer. Another night without the honeymoon consummation! (Is Detective Roberts secretly Gay? Dude keeps finding new reasons not to sleep with his new bride!)

That night while Roberts is watching the post office, Evans and his Old Mum break into the hotel and kidnap Nesta, take her up to the Druid Stones, and prepare to burn her alive in a wicker basket. Sir Wilfred sees the fire and races up to the Druid Stones to battle it out with Evans, who is his bastard brother! They have the second least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television, and then Evans kills Sir Wilfred, shocking his Old Mum by killing is half brother! Evans prepares to burn Nesta... and that’s when Roberts sees the black dog at the post office and, like Lassie, the black dog gets Roberts to follow it up the hill to the Druid Stones where we get the *first* least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television. After Roberts knocks Evans down, he rescues Nesta, and then all four of them just walk down the hill as if nothing had happened. WTF?



Review: This is one of those episodes that tries to do too much at once, and succeeds at doing nothing well. Biggest problem is that it’s essentially a mystery about Evan’s Old Mum being mother to both wealthy Sir Wilfred and yokel Evans, and Sir Wilfred’s father being insane, and that town drunks father being hanged for killing witches. Somehow all of those things are connected, and the story takes too much time trying to figure all of that stuff out. The spooky stuff and suspense take the back seat, which makes this thriller not much of a thriller. Caillou is a good actor (you’d know him if you saw him), but despite writing a pile of TV episodes I’m not sure he was much of a writer. Actors are often so focused on the character and drama elements that they miss the overall story part... and this story has so much going on in it that it ends up a mess. The pub scene lasts almost a quarter of the show, and gets stagey after a couple of minutes. The episode is filled with exposition at the expense of suspense and action.

Hershel Dougherty who directed 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 3 episodes of the hour long Hitch show, brings nothing to this episode. Might be because it was shot on a tight schedule or that the script was more focused on the mystery elements, but even a “schlock shock” moment in the country records room where Nesta removes a book from the shelf to expose a man watching her on the other side is shot from an ineffective angle. The black dog looks *cute* instead of dangerous, and the Druid Stones just end up bland. The fight scenes were awful, and I wish someone would explain the ending where everyone just walks down the his as if nothing has happened. A real WTF? moment. Again, this may be because the script focuses more on the mystery than the suspense and spooky elements... but the director didn’t save the script.



Add to that, Kenneth Haigh’s performance as Detective Roberts, which seems like a roadshow version of Robert Morse... only prissy. He spends half of his screen time rolling his eyes. Part of that may have been dialogue that focused on the conflict between city and country, but he seemed to turn every line into a minor complaint... and this became irritating after a while.

Napier does as great job as a superstitious local, and manages to make his dialogue work (a line about trees having nothing better to do than grow ends up an insult to Roberts). A shame that he’s only remembered for BATMAN.

Best thing about the episode is Goldsmith's score, which adds suspense and thrills where there aren't any. One of his best scores for the series - he was working hard to make the episode work despite its problems.

Not a great episode, but next up is another Brahm episode based on a novel... by THE KILLING’s Lionel White.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

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

So here is the third one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The 100 Idea Theory:



I never tell anyone that I’m a screenwriter, because the first thing that will happen is they will say they have this great idea for a movie and then spend a couple of hours telling me that idea and then offer to let me write their idea for 50% of whatever the script sells for. Awesome deal! My friend John has gone so far as to have fake business cards printed up for parties & social events where this might happen that say he builds custom septic tanks to fit your unique personality - no one wants to tell him their ideas of make him that 50% deal. *Everyone* has an idea for a screenplay. How many billions of people are there on Earth right now? They all have an idea for a screenplay.

It isn’t enough just to have an idea, or even have a good idea, you need a *great* idea.

One of the things we look at in the IDEAS Blue Book is not just how to find an endless number of ideas, but how to find the good ones... and the great ones. The gold. Because finding movie ideas is a lot like panning for gold - it’s 99% dirt and mud and 1% gold. The problem often is, new writers come up with one idea... and that’s part of the 99% that’s mud. Not a problem, unless they take that idea to script - and then they have a script with a dirt idea. How do you pitch that? How do you make the logline in your equery to managers and agents and producers sound good when it’s dirt? You can’t. In Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN due to a clumsy mistake by Igor, they build the monster using an abnormal brain - so the monster is alive, but has a “bad brain”. You don’t want a screenplay with a “bad brain”.

Though ideas are a dime a dozen (because everyone on Earth has one) they are also gold. The key is to “pan for gold” and find the very best idea and then take it to script. Don’t end up with 110 pages of “mud”.

But how do you find the best idea? There are people who think that any idea that “sticks with you” is a good one. You forgot that other idea, but remembered this one... it has to be good! I’m not sure having a faulty memory is any indication of an idea being good or not. Other people have a variation on the faulty memory theory they like to call “I’m really passionate about this idea!” But anyone who has lived long enough to have their heart broken a couple of times knows that passion sometimes doesn’t last, and passion also doesn’t equal quality. I have been passionate about relationships only to look back on them a year later and wonder if I was crazy. In fact, there are probably a hundred songs that equate love and passion with insanity! You can probably name a couple of those songs off the top of your head, right? So maybe being passionate about an idea is not the best way to judge whether it is good or not? Sure, we want an idea that we are passionate about, but *only* being passionate about it is excluding all other criteria and may end up falling in love with the wrong person. There are a bunch of movies about people who fall in love with people who then try to kill them. Do you want to write 110 pages only to find out this was one of those crazy lovers? FATAL ATTRACTION in screenplay form? Probably not - that’s why you’ll want to expand your criteria beyond only passion.

Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober, and that’s the key to this whole writing thing. Create in one step, edit in another step. Coming up with raw ideas is creating, but finding the best idea is editing. Most people leave out the editing part. They often just come up with an idea and write it... and end up with 110 pages of blah. You want to use both sides of your brain - the creative side and the analytical side. No half brained ideas! Come up with a bunch of ideas (drunk) and then (sober) analyze each idea and select the best one using rational criteria. Panning for gold. Because you love the idea isn’t good enough - remember that hell relationship you had? You thought you loved them. So take emotions out of the equation when you are *selecting* ideas.

The 100 Idea Theory in the Film Courage clip is about using that insane, passionate creativity to find 100 ideas... then using the sober analytical side of your brain to select the best idea from that 100.

One problem new writers often have is that they only have one idea. Hey, this is a business of ideas! I often get called in to pitch 4 or 5 ideas to fit a producer’s specific needs... and if they don’t like any of those, pitch 4 or 5 more. A decade ago when the SyFy Channel probably still had “i”s in their name, I had meetings with 3 different producers who were making movies for them. At one company I pitched 10 actual science fiction stories, at another I pitched 10 disaster stories that had not been done yet, and the third I pitched 10 monster movies that had never been done. 30 ideas - not a single one ended up a paid gig (though two of those companies each liked an idea enough to bring me back the next year and talk about it). But you will need to come up with a stack of ideas. Your manager will have you pitch a bunch of ideas and they’ll select the one they think has the best chance. So you need a bunch of ideas - not just one. Get used to the idea that you will need a bunch of ideas!

In the IDEAS Blue Book we look at how to open your eyes to ideas - they are all around you, but you have to look for them! One of the examples in that book is an idea I had while walking to a class on ideas I was teaching for the Raindance Film Festival one year. Ideas are *everywhere*! And here’s one of the secrets from that Blue Book - any idea that you come up with you have some personal connection to. If there are ideas all around you, the ones that *you* see are the ones that speak to you. The ones that I see are the ones that speak to me. The ones that you are passionate about, even though it may not be love at fights sight. Novelist John D. McDonald said that if you show ten writers the same event, each will come up with a different idea based on that event. Why? Because we see the ideas that are personal to us and miss the ones that have nothing to do with us. Which means those odd random ideas you come up with like that one I came up with while walking across London to my class at Raindance? Personal idea. Something I could be passionate about. I see the ideas that connect to me, you will see the ideas that connect to you.

Once you come up with a bunch of them, sober up and analyze those ideas to find the best one. Then script it. It’s much better to pick the great idea from the 100, the gold from the dirt, and script it... than to write 100 scripts and have 99 of them be “dirt ideas” and only one of them be gold. What do you do with the other 99 scripts? Train puppies? Line birdcages?

Once you go through the 100 ideas and find that one great commercial one - the one that millions of people worldwide will pay to see - now your job is to figure out why it is personal to you. What about that idea spoke to you. Knowing why that idea is personal to you is the key to making it your passion project even if it’s some wildly commercial high concept genre story. You will need to know why that idea is personal to you, why you spotted that idea among the billions and billions out there; before going to screenplay. If you don’t know why your subconscious was passionate about this idea, it will be tough to write it with passion. And the next creative step here is to “write drunk” and be giddy with passion about this idea and the story that comes from it. Once you’ve found the gold amongst the dirt and mud, you need to turn that gold into a wedding band and marry it for 110 pages and every rewrite that comes after that. You want the idea that isn’t that love at first sight (which may just be hormones), but love that is going to last. Love that inspires you to mix metaphors like panning for gold and falling in love and whatever other crazy things I’ve said here to explain screenwriting.

It’s a business of ideas, but not just any ideas - you want to find the gold! Start digging!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

bluebook

GOT IDEAS?

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


Other Countries: UK folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

German folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

French folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Espania folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Canadian folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Other countries check your Amazon stores!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: RIVER'S EDGE

RIVER’S EDGE (1986) written by Neal Jimenez, directed by Tim Hunter.

I have called Keanu Reeves “The Luckiest Actor In Hollywood” because he has been in so many hit movies. But maybe it *isn’t* luck? Maybe Keanu actually selects roles that he finds interesting or scripts that he thinks are mind blowing page turners? Keanu has not only been in a bunch of big box office hits, he has also been in a bunch of art house favorites like MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO and PERMANENT RECORD. Oh, and the now forgotten film RIVER’S EDGE which not only launched the career of screenwriter Neal Jimenez, it also brought back Dennis Hopper and probably paved the way for the films of David Lynch. The film is based on a true story, a murder that happened in the Sacramento area; and my friend Tom’s uncle was one of the investigating officers on the case. The story made the news because it was one of those “shocking how immoral our children have become” outrages, since all of the kids in the high school not only knew about the murder, they had visited the body for fun. Kind of like a field trip. Cool! A dead girl! Dare you to touch her!



My other odd connection to this film is the actor who plays the teen killer Samson, Danny Roebuck, is a friend of a friend of mine and I’ve met him a couple of times. Danny is one of those actors who is in *everything*, from being the cop on Matlock to the dad in the Cody Banks movies. He’s a great guy, a real fan of horror movies, and when I was trying to “earn” my producer credit on CROOKED I got my friend Duane (the pawnshop owner from PULP FICTION) to talk to him about playing suspects... except the producers decided not to hire them and to hire complete unknowns (who were their friends) instead. So, instead of a group of suspects that you recognized so that you didn’t know who the guilty party was because *all* of the suspects were recognizable actors... there were a bunch of unknowns and Gary Busey. Who do you think the killer is? I didn’t know Danny when I first saw the film, didn’t know Tom’s uncle investigated the case, and had never heard of screenwriter Jimenez. I just thought the film was great.

The movie is all about how this younger generation is desensitized and unemotional, and that carries through the film in several story threads in addition to the main story. High school kid Samson (Danny Roebuck) murders a girl in his class Jamie (Danyi Deats) after having sex with her at the edge of the (Sacramento) river, then stops to have a cigarette as if nothing has happened. Ten year old problem kid Tim (Joshua Miller) watches this happen from a bridge... but doesn’t go to the police. Later Tim tells a group of high school kids, including his older brother Matt (Keanu) and perpetually stoned Layne (Crispen Glover) plus a couple of Jamie’s friends including Clarissa (Ione Skye) about the dead body... and they take a field trip. All of the kids look at the dead girl, kick her to make sure she’s dead, etc... and even though they all knew her, none of them seems to care. It’s just kinda cool. They go back to school and their every day lives as if nothing had happened.

Except both Matt and Clarissa separately realize they feel terrible, Jamie was their friend... and even though Layne wants everyone to rally around Samson, can they really support the friend who killed over the friend who was murdered?

Matt’s home life is hell, his mother is a nurse with an unemployed boyfriend... his bother Tim makes that kid from THE OMEN seem well mannered (Tim takes baby sister Kim’s doll and chops it up) and steals cars, smokes pot, robs houses and eventually steals a gun with the intention of killing someone. This is a *ten year old*. The little sister’s “dead doll” runs an amazing parallel to the dead girl at the river’s edge, and the doll’s grave eventually triggers Matt to call the police anonymously about dead Jamie and Samson. And narking on Samson is what leads to Kid Brother Tim gunning for Matt.

The police question all of the kids, and ask Matt how he feels about Jamie’s death, and he answers: “I don’t know.” Even though he was disturbed enough to anonymously call the police, he is still desensitized to emotions. The policeman says he’s tired of hearing “I don’t know how I feel” from all of the kids he interviews. They all say the same thing: none of them feel.





Samson is hiding out at drug dealer Feck’s house (Dennis Hopper in a signature weird role), where Feck lives with his blow up doll Ellie. Yes, he has a long term romantic relationship with an inflatable girl. Feck is another parallel story: he once contributed to the death of the woman he loved and still feels guilt over it. At first Feck thinks Samson has much in common with him, but then he realizes Samson feels nothing and no longer wants to hide the killer.

Matt confesses to Clarissa that he called the police, and they realize they may be the only two people in their school who are disturbed by Jamie’s death. Both have been plagued by nightmares and guilt. This leads to romance: both care, and care about each other. While they are making love they hear gunshots...

Feck has taken Samson to the river’s edge and killed him. In the process, Feck’s inflatable doll Ellie blows into the river, later prompting one of my favorite lines in the movie when the kids spot the blow up doll in the water: “That's Ellie. Feck's girlfriend. I wonder what she's doing here?”

Talked to Danny last night, and he sent me this awesome shot from the set!



The chilling thing about this film is how what was true about the younger generation in the 80s being desensitized and not caring seems even more true today. There’s a TV commercial for mobile phones that talks about the joy of being alone... and isn’t the least bit ironic. We live in a world where people don’t interact with other people, we interact with *screens*. Think about how crazy that is for a moment. There are people today who text each other when they are sitting across from each other. Talk about desensitized! THE RIVER’S EDGE held a mirror up to the 1980s... and had no idea things would only get worse. Keanu gives a great performance, as does Danny Roebuck and Dennis Hopper and everyone else in the cast. Let me mention one of the greatest acting jobs in the film: Danyi Deats as the dead Jamie. Imagine having to play dead for an entire film! Deats is a TV and Music Video producer now (some of Sting’s videos). This is one of those lost movies where everyone gave an amazing performance, and screenwriter Jimenez would go on to adapt Tony Hillerman’s Native American cop mystery THE DARK WIND and write and direct the amazing film WATERDANCE after he became paralyzed. He was one of the team of poker playing screenwriters who contributed to the fun film SLEEP WITH ME (famous for the Tarantino speech about TOP GUN as a Gay love story). If you like gritty, edgy flicks, check out RIVER’S EDGE.

Bill

PS: That set shot has a digital watermark, so steal it and I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you!

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.
eXTReMe Tracker