Thursday, November 30, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Man In A Cage.

Man In A Cage.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 17, 1961




Director: Gerald Mayer (the FATAL IMPULSE episode).
Writer: Maxwell Shane and Stuart Jerome, based on a novel by John Holbrook Vance.
Cast: Philip Carey, Diana Millay, Barry Gordon, Theodore Marcuse, Eduardo Ciannelli.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Producer: Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The frightened young man in the truck speeding away from death on a road in Morocco is Noel Hudson, and American. He fancies himself a soldier of fortune, running guns to a group of Arab nationalists. But now the adventure has turned to terror. Noel Hudson has goo reason to be terrified, there is some doubt that he will ever again be seen alive. Well what is the mysterious cargo that Noel is so frightened of? Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll learn the answer to that and many other mysteries in Morocco as you view THE MAN IN THE CAGE, from the novel by John Holbrook Vance. Our leading players are: Mr. Philip Carey, Miss Diana Millay, Master Barry Gordon, Mr. Theodore Marcuse, Mr. Al Ruscio, and Mr. Eduardo Ciannelli. Smuggling, murder and North African intrigue are the exciting ingredients in this Thriller.”

Synopsis: Noel Hudson (Guy Stockwell) is somewhere between Indiana Jones and Han Solo in a leather jacket and fedora, an American smuggler in Morocco. After delivering a shipment of guns, he is told at gunpoint that he’ll be taking a pair of boxes marked “soap powder” back to Tangier. He doesn’t want to take the mystery boxes, but they insist and even send one of their armed men with him. Noel is dead tired and wants to pull the old truck off the dirt road to sleep, but his armed passenger says he can sleep after they deliver the boxes. There’s a struggle in the truck cab, Noel twists the gun around and shoots his passenger by accident, dumps the body out of the truck and drives away into the night... never to be seen again. Both Noel and the truck completely vanish in the desert.



Just over 3 weeks later, successful businessman Darryl Hudson (Philip Carey) shows up in Tangier looking for his younger brother. When he checks into the hotel, a little Arab boy named Slip Slip (Barry Gordon giving the best performance in the episode while being just a little kid) helps him with the bags. Every one of the handful of extras in the hotel lobby looks obviously suspicious and listens in as Hudson checks in. There are no characters in this episode who act natural if there’s a chance to act shifty. Slip Slip tells Hudson that he helped his brother sometimes, and for a small price can show him where Noel’s apartment was.

The landlady (Danielle Aubry) tells Hudson that the apartment has been broken into a searched several times... and everything is in disarray. Hudson pokes around but can find no clues, and figures if there *were* clues they’ve been discovered and taken away by someone else. Hudson tells the landlady that he got a letter from his brother, and asks her if she can read the postmark. She can not. One thing Hudson does find is a picture of his brother and some blonde babe at the beach, which he pockets.

Back at the hotel, some Big Guy grabs Hudson at the front desk and says Mr. Upshaw wants to see him, and drags him into an alcove... where Upshaw (Theodore Marcuse) waits with his niece Ellen (Diana Millay). Upshaw was Noel’s “employer”, the fellow behind running the guns to Arab Nationalists... and he looks ethnic and speaks with some undefinable accent. But his daughter Ellen is blonde and looks and talks like she comes from Burbank. Upshaw wants to see the letter, Hudson refuses to show it to him. Upshaw says brother Noel split with his payment for the guns, and owes him a million bucks. Hudson manages to get out of there and heads to the hotel bar.



Everyone in this Tangier hotel bar seems to have come from New York City, judging by their accents. The Bartender says Noel was a regular at the bar, and some other New Yorker, a Car Salesman, says he hasn’t seen Noel for about 3 weeks. That’s when the Hot Girl from the beach photo sits down (Arlette Clark) another blonde in North Africa. What’s up with that? The Hot Girl says Noel stood her up 3 weeks ago, so she’s looking for a new boyfriend. Before Hudson can ask any more question, he gets a phone call from a Mystery Man (who actually looks like an Arab) and the Mystery Man says he has vital information about Noel, but of course can not give it to Hudson on the phone, so they must meet as Mystery Man’s apartment at 8pm tonight.

When Hudson gets there, Mystery Man has been tortured almost to death... bleeds all over Hudson’s suit... then Mystery Man jumps off his balcony to his death. When Hudson leaves the apartment, locals begin chasing him. Instead of getting an exciting chase, we cut to commercial.

After the commercial, Hudson is back in his hotel room trying to wash the blood out of his suit jacket when there’s a knock at the door. Inspector Le Boude (Eduardo Ciannelli) who questions him about Noel. Now, it seems as if the script may have built some suspense around the Inspector discovering the bloody suit jacket, but it’s fumbled so badly that no suspense is generated. The Inspector asks if Hudson talked to the dude who was tortured and Hudson says he didn’t and the Inspector tells him he’s gotta leave town in 48 hours and then leaves.



Hudson goes down to the hotel restaurant where he bumps into Upshaw’s blonde Burbankian niece Ellen, who tells him she’s supposed to use her womanly whiles to get her hands on that letter from Noel. She also spills the beans that the two cardboard boxes Noel was transporting back to Tangier for her uncle were filled her heroin. Hudson says his gun running brother would never transport heroin, that stuff kills people! But Ellen says it is true.

Slip Slip pulls Hudson away, saying he found a guy who knows where Noel is *now*. Hudson is taken to meet the guy in some office, and we recognize him as the Arab Nationalist guy who took possession of the guns and insisted that Noel take the two boxes of heroin back to Tangier as payment, Allah El Kazim (Al Ruscio) and his minon. They demand he hand over the letter from Noel, and when he refuses there is a 3 second knife and gun skirmish which ends in them searching Hudson and not finding the letter. Hudson says he mailed it to himself... so they take his passport (as ID to pick up the letter at the post office) and lock Hudson in a cage. Hey, you probably wondered when we’d get to the man in a cage part, right? Well, here it is!



Hudson gets out of the cage using a piece of rope and a branch and races to catch Allah El Kazim and his buddy before they can pick up the letter. Too late! But when Allah El Kazim and his buddy get into their product placement sedan in the post office garage, Hudson pops up from the back seat and takes their guns and the letter. He demands they give him information, and they tell him where Noel was last seen: a roadside hotel between the place where he delivered the guns and Tangier. Hudson then lets them read the letter... which has no actual information in it. Just a request for Hudson to send him enough money to fly back to the United States. So this letter from Noel that has been propelling the plot forward is actually pointless.

Hudson goes into the hotel bar, where everyone seems to be a New York City transplant and asks the Car Salesman guy if he can rent a car for tomorrow morning because he thinks he has a lead on where his brother Noel might be. Car Salesman guy says “sure” and that he’d like to go along and help.

When Hudson gets back to his hotel room, that blonde from Burbank is waiting for him for no apparent reason. He tells her he has a lead on Noel and has rented a car for tomorrow morning, she says “I have a car, let’s go now!” and they do.

At the roadside hotel, the desk clerk tells them that Noel spent a night there, sent the letter to Hudson from there, and also mailed these two boxes to his own address.



Hudson and Ellen the blonde Arab girl from Burbank drive back to Tangier, looking for the best place for someone to hijack Noel’s truck... why they never thought to do this much earlier in the story is a mystery. They find Noel’s truck at the bottom of a cliff. Noel dead behind the wheel. With zero emotions, Hudson says they need to get back to Tangier to find those two boxes of heroin!

Noel’s Landlady says, “Yeah, there were a couple of boxes mailed to Noel’s apartment, but I put them down in the basement rather than inside his apartment for no apparent reason except it would prevent all of those people searching the apartment from finding them.” Okay, she really didn’t say that... but it was something close. Hudson and the blonde Burbank babe go into the basement (do apartment building in Tangier even have basements?) and they find the boxes of heroin, and that’s when the Car Salesman shows up, because he’s the villain behind everything. The Car Salesman gets ready to kill Hudson and Burbank, when... the Inspector and a bunch of cops show up and save the day, because Slip Slip saw what was happening and called the cops. The end.



Review: Oh boy! After a few good episodes we return to the stinkers. It seems like every time they adapt a best selling novel on this show, it backfires. Here we probably had a big action packed foreign intrigue novel that got pared down for television until it’s a bunch of people acting suspicious in a hotel. Here it seesm like the novel might have been some wacky combination of THE MALTESE FALCON (that letter everyone is after, plus Marcuse playing some roadshow version of Sydney Greenstreet) and THE THIRD MAN (common man looking for killer of adventurous brother and in over his head). But the letter proves to be worthless, and our hero has *read* the letter and knows this. So the MacGuffin that moves the story forward has no value, and in the end no one really cares about it *or* the story. The main thing about a MacGuffin is that it needs to be the most important thing in the story. It’s what fuels the story. Here we have a lame MacGuffin and a lame story. Maybe in the novel the letter was more important and had a code or something, but here it’s just this false way to move the story forward. Bette Davis was after a more important letter...

The common man in a dangerous world element also doesn’t work, since the world here isn’t all that dangerous. Villains like Upshaw (Marcuse) politely leave when asked. Once they put him in that titular cage, he’s out in a minute. There is a real shortage of action for a story in this genre: even the fistfights are over in a flash. We end up with an episode filled with talking and people looking overly suspicious. The episode Mayer previously directed, FATAL IMPULSE, was a suspense episode that generated some real tension. Here he fumbles the scene with the bloody suit jacket and the Inspector... was this due to the director or was the scene just not written well on the page? Add to all of this Philip Carey is kind of an action guy, which undercuts the fish out of water element that Joseph Cotton had in THIRD MAN. You never feel that our hero is in any real danger.

The bigger issue for me was the lack of ethnic actors in the episode. It’s one thing to have only a couple of characters who looked like Arabs, but another to have so many characters obviously look and sound American and not even try an accent. Except for the stock footage, you’d think this whole episode *takes place* in New York City! This was obviously shot on the backlot, but even a movie like CASABLANCA had a cast that looked like they belonged in North Africa. Both of the women in this episode are *blonde* without a single ethnic looking woman in sight! The Bartender’s wife who we see in a couple of shots looks American. This works against the stock footage of Tangier, so that watching it you never believe it’s anywhere other than Studio City, California (which is where it was shot). Los Angeles was a cosmopolitan city back then, with plenty of actors who looked Arab... why not cast any of them?

No suspense, no clever lines, no twists, it’s just a completely bland episode.

Because we’re back to Rugolo doing the music, I wonder if this episode had been shot earlier and aired later? Maybe they made a bunch of novel adaptations, realized they didn’t work, and spread them out throughout the season so that we didn’t start the show with a bunch of stinkers?

I wish I could say next week’s episode is going to be better...

Bill

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pre-Braggers

From 2010...

You just want to say, “Hey buddy, keep it in your pants!”

Message boards are full of them. People who brag about things they have yet to do. Accomplishments they have yet to accomplish. “I have written a great screenplay.” “My script is better than (current hit feature film).” “When I win my Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, I’m going to...” “Anyone can write a stupid script like that, I’m going to write ART!” And hundreds and hundreds of other boasts of things that have not yet happened. It is so easy to say the script you have not yet written is better than the script that was written and sold and made and distributed and just opened at #1 over the weekend. But how can you possibly prove that?

Pre-Braggers always join a message board and come on strong - they post all kinds of stuff about how great they are and how bad everyone else is moments after signing up. They never spend any time lurking on the boards and reading past posts to see who everyone is and get a hang for what is going on, because the other people on the board do not matter - only *they* matter. Whatever subjects were being discussed before they arrived do not matter. This often becomes amusing, because they have no idea how many pro writers are on the boards or how many other writers are *way* ahead of them on their journey to becoming a professional writer. They are the only important ones! And eventually they say or do something stupid to a pro who could probably help them if they weren’t the center of the world and no one else matters.

Pre-Braggers also *start topics* rather than add to existing topics, because what they want to talk about is more important than what anyone else is talking about. Mostly, they want to talk about themselves. Instead of being part of the group conversation, they want everyone to be part of their conversation (as long as other people agree with them, if they disagree - they snap). And the Pre-Bragger’s conversations tend to be about how great they are, or how awful Hollywood movies are, or how wrong headed someone who actually knows what they are talking about is. They are experts without experience. When they start a thread, it is not about *discussion*, it is about *them* - it is bragging disguised as whatever subject is in the thread title. They believe *their* opinion about some popular film is what is right, and your opinion is wrong... and any facts that do not support their beliefs are wrong, no matter how many there are. They will dismiss every fact other posters bring up, and support their theory with... nothing. Just their opinion. Which is more important than everyone else’s opinion because they are a brilliant writer and everyone else is not.

And that’s a big problem with Pre-Braggers - they believe they have some sort of amazing talent that the rest of us do no have, so they will just waltz in and succeed while the rest of us who have worked our butts off will fail. Because for the Pre-Bragger it is not about all of the hard work we have done, it isn’t about hard work at all... it is about them being special. Them being the chosen one. If we are working so hard and have not cracked it, yet, there must be something wrong with us.

SELF CONFIDENCE



A Pre-Bragger is brimming with self confidence... in fact, they have way too much self confidence. That can be very irritating. Now, I do not think self confidence is a bad thing - without it we would never venture from our homes. But, like in all things, there needs to be a balance. You can have too much self confidence and be an arrogant prick (many Pre-Braggers are) and be completely blind to your faults. Pre-Braggers never realize how much work their scripts need, because there is no room for improvement if you are already perfect. I believe that you need enough self doubt to make you do that extra rewrite before you give your script to your best contact... but enough self confidence to give your script to that best contact. The problem with the Pre-Bragger is that they seem to have no self doubt at all - and way too much ego!

Can I tell you what is completely unfair about all of this? Hollywood is full of crap, so when someone steps forward who is full of crap... people listen to them. There is usually that moment on a messageboard where people believe the crap the prebagger is dishing out... and this carries over into the real world as well. So, as much as I might hate those arrogant prick Pre-Braggers, they are the ones who push me aside to get *their script* into the hands of my best contact. When someone tells me they have written the greatest script in the history of cinema, red flags raise all over the place... but some executive might think they need to read that script, because what if it really is the greatest script in the history of cinema? Can they afford *not* to read it? When you have a producer whose career may be built on a big-old-pile-of-dung, they may hear a Pre-Bragger’s BS and think “This kid may have something!”

Of course, most of the time that script is dead on arrival - the thing is so awful that it gets cut down by negative coverage and that’s the end of it. When you have no self doubt, you don’t do those rewrites the script requires. On rare occasions there is a good idea in that dreadful script, and it may last a little longer... but in my experience with the scripts of Pre-Braggers they tend to have those ideas the rest of us throw away because they are too bland or silly. Because a Pre-Bragger believes in their absolute genius writing abilities, little things like having a good idea are often not part of the equation. Or they have one of those Cloning-Jesus-From-The-Shroud-Of-Turin plots that every other first time writer comes up with. To the no-self-doubt Pre-Bragger these ideas are brilliant!

I have no idea what happens on tracking boards, but I suspect any Pre-Bragger script that gets read is discussed... and word gets out about them. They may end up having very few people interested in their “genius script”. What you want as a writer is to develop “fans” of your work who will champion you to their bosses and remember you or your script when they end up in some situation where they need a great script. Without “fans” you don’t get very far, and probably a third of my income is due to “fans”. A Pre-Bragger might be able to do the sales spiel for a script and get someone to read it, but we are in a buyer’s market and the script itself has to be something they want to buy. They don’t make a movie from the sales spiel. (Okay, sometimes they do - if your name is Michael Bay or Steven Spielberg or Tony Scott... and those guys are not Pre-Braggers, they have done a bunch of stuff they can brag about.)

The rest of us, who are waiting until something actually happens before we start bragging, have a better chance of finding those “fans” because we really are working our butts off trying to make the script better before we show it to anyone. We know our shit stinks, so we try to remove all of the shit from the script before we let anyone read it. Hey, we also know we aren’t prefect and there may be some smelly stuff we missed this time around, but we will catch it on the next rewrite. I just had a producer request a script, so I did a quick rewrite on it before sending it to him. I have no idea how many times that script has been rewritten over the past 15 years, but this time I removed one line of dialogue I never really liked and added one line of dialogue that I think really improves a scene... plus many many small changes - better words or phrasing and sometimes a quick trim of a scene that seems to go on too long when I read it this time. It’s all honing the script... and I think you stop doing that when the script gets filmed. Though, I once did post production dialogue tweaks for ADR on one of my scripts. It’s not over until it’s on the shelf at Blockbuster or airing on TV or up there on the screen in front of a paying audience.

MY ENORMOUS TALENT



At which time, a Pre-Bragger sees your film and says on some messageboard that they are a hundred times more talented than you are. That they will break in with *art* that will not be compromised because everyone will see the brilliance of their work and will not wish to change it. They are geniuses! If they only got that lucky break like I did, we could all see that their scripts are true art because their enormous talent is larger than that of the writer of that script that was bought and filmed and is in wide release this week. But how can you prove that?

You can’t... which is the safety net for Pre-Braggers.

Pre-Braggers often believe in that “Crap Plus One” theory of Terry Rossio’s - they see some awful film that has gone through the big meat grinder of Hollywood and think that anyone can do better than that... but they have not read the version of the script that sold. They think being better than the worst means you are better than everyone... but you are just better than the worst - and no one buys the worst (well, sometimes bad scripts do sell, but there is some amazing backstory involved in those sales that the Pre-Bragger doesn’t take into account). When people trash some “new writer” they often don’t realize how hard they have worked to get to that point - they might look at their IMDB listing and not realize that’s the tip of the iceberg. If only 10% of *sold* scripts end up on screen, for every credit listed there is a very good chance of 9 other “phantom credits” that don’t show up anywhere... but the writer still worked their butts off on them. The guys who wrote TOP GUN had been working as professional writers for 10 years before getting their first credit... that’s a lot of scripts that aren’t on IMDB, and a lot of actual hard work that those guys did. They may seem to just show up and sell a script, but they’ve really been working very hard “off camera”, and their scripts have gotten better and better.

Many Pre-Braggers haven’t even finished one screenplay - they are still working on it, because it is a work of epic brilliance. If you haven’t finished your script, it’s easy for it to be better than a script that is finished - because the script itself is still mostly fantasy. Whatever is in your head is much better than what is on someone else’s pages. Once we take those perfect fantasies from our minds and turn them into actual words, they always lose something. Which is frustrating. Why can’t my scripts be as great on the page as they are in my imagination? Well, as time goes on we get better at finding the best words and stringing them together into better sentences and putting those sentences in a better order - and our scripts get a little closer to the brilliant story sparking through our synapsis. But the fantasy of the script will always be better than reality... and those Pre-Braggers will continue to be legends in their own minds.

The thing about Pre-Braggers is that right out of the gate they insist that they are brilliant - before they have done anything! The most difficult thing for *any* writer is getting that stuff from their heads onto a page in some form that doesn’t stink. Name your favorite writer and they work hard. Sure, after a while things get easier due to practice and experience (two things a Pre-Bragger does not have), but writing is never easy. Who was it that said easy reading is damned hard writing?

The more you write, the more you learn. If you have not finished your first screenplay, or have only written one script, you are probably still in the learning phase and not the earning phase. If a Pre-Bragger has actually written 2 or maybe even 3 scripts, they often believe all 3 are *brilliant* because they haven’t learned enough to know how bad they probably are. When you’ve written a few scripts and go back and read your first, it may read like the work of a talented amateur - but you will see all of the places where it could be better based on *what you have learned*.

We learn from our mistakes, and if you don’t think you have ever made any mistakes... you are probably a Pre-Bragger. You might want to be a little more self-critical, because everyone you tell that you are faultless, will soon begin tearing you apart to find your faults. Human nature. Right now there are Pre-Braggers writing about what a blow hard I am in the comments section, because I obviously don’t see their genius. As one guy on a message board said recently, “You’ve never met anyone like me, you’ve never read a script as good as mine!”

Trust me when I say he will never let us read his script in order to prove this. What if I stole his idea? What if I stole his brilliant dialogue? “We can’t let the Russians see the big board!”
HANDJOB SEXPERTS



My favorite type of Pre-Bragger reminds me of that guy in the Monty Python Flying Circus “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink” routine - they come on strong but are a little short on experience. They want to write a sex manual, but they’ve never gotten any more than a handjob. These Pre-Braggers explode onto message boards with news that they have just been signed by some big agency or had a script go out wide that resulted in a bunch of meetings or may have even optioned or even sold some script to someone. They land an assignment and think they are king of the hill. So they start a bunch of topics that are all about how great they are - or they write some pseudo article about how to sell a script or write great stuff based on their experience... except the article is really all about how brilliant they are. Almost no practical information. Because *you* can’t achieve the brilliance that *they* have achieved because *you* are not an amazing genius like they are. They start these threads but the only real advice in them seems to be: “Be Me”. They aren’t about helping other writers, they are about bragging about their handjob...

But as the late great Bill Kelley (WITNESS) once said, you don’t really know anything until you’ve had a script filmed. Not to piss on your success, but there are all kinds of steps along the way, and even though you may have just optioned a script, and I congratulate you on that accomplishment, there are some more steps ahead of you. And even once you’ve had a film made, you have to figure out how to get the next film made... and then get a *good* film made. I’m still working on the last part. Most people realize that once you have optioned a script you still have a ways to go, but a Pre-Bragger thinks they have reached the top of the stairs and are above everyone else. So they start a thread to look down on all of us.

What is always amusing is when some Pre-Bragger pops up on the message boards as king of the hill because they got an option or an assignment... and fail to realize that a bunch of other people on the boards have also achieved this. So while they are bragging like crazy about their option, they don’t realize that some of the people they are bragging to have accomplished this long ago and often many times and don’t think it’s much to brag about... especially if the Pre-Bragger has the normal condescending attitude and occasional insult.

If you option a script or land an assignment and announce it on the boards, we will all congratulate you. If you start throwing your weight around and your ego is out of control... you are a Pre-Bragger and I am going to have fun sitting back and watching you self destruct. And you will. Because you can’t claim to be a sex expert if all you’ve had is a handjob. That handjob may put you ahead of some people, but not others. And that handjob isn’t intercourse, and we all know it - even the virgins. The more you claim to be the sex expert when all you’ve had is a handjob, the more you are setting yourself up for a big fall when the handjob is as far as it goes. You may be imagining that handjob is going to lead to a page-by-page reincatment of the Kama Sutra, but wait until you actually do that reinactment before you start bragging about it. Lots of people get the handjob and nothing else.

THE MAN IN THE MIRROR



Now, some of you may be wondering how the hell the writer of crap like CRASH DIVE and VICTIM OF DESIRE and BLACK THUNDER can be writing this without being the very Pre-Bragger that he’s talking about. Hey, good point! I am not an Oscar winning screenwriter, and never claimed to be. But I done it... and with a woman... and more than once! I’ve had sex 19 times so far (more like - I’ve been screwed 19 times), not with hot lingerie models, but with those gals who are still in the pick up bar at last call. The woman parts are still the same with those last call girls, so it still counts as sex. And those last call girls are drunk and have been around and are probably harder to satisfy - you really have to work at it! And you need to have skills that you may not need with those hot lingerie models - things the guy who has only had a handjob can’t even imagine.

It’s difficult enough to write a screenplay where a name actor will play the lead and they will throw a ton of money on FX and stunts, and a reasonably good director will be calling the shots... but I have to write a script for a guy whose skill is kicking people in the head, that has to be made for the catering budget of a studio film, with some idiot directing. Um, part of my job is to write a screenplay that takes all of that into account and still is tolerable to watch if you have had enough alcohol. Easy for a Pre-Bragger to think they can do better, but they may not realize all of those obstacles are involved. You have to be able to jump the hurdles that Pre-Braggers don't even know exist.

And I almost never start a thread on a messageboard, I mostly jump in with an answer or opinion as part of the discussion. Hey, I have this blog for my opinion, but I usually do not link blog entries unless they are educational (like the LEOPARD MAN entry). When I post on a messageboard I often include a signature link to my website, and if you are interested you can click on it... but I’m not going to post a whole Script Tip on some messageboard (to be honest - I *have* done this on MWS when my site moved from .com to .net - just to get the word out that I was still alive - and *yes* that was spammish). But I do not think any messageboard is my private blog that is all about me. Um, these are places for *discussions*... not posts that are all about a Pre-Bragger’s genius.

Plus, whenever I am in a *discussion* that is out of my pay-grade, I realize that I am not the expert and always back up whatever I say with some link to some article or statistics or corroborating evidence from a trusted source. I’m not going to try to pass myself off as an expert on some subject that I know something about but not everything about. And because these are *discussions* other people may call me wrong and pull out their evidence. It’s not all about me, it’s all about the subject and trying to figure out how to further our screenwriting careers... yours and mine. You may know something that I do not... and I want to hear that and figure out how to use it!

BREAK IN, STAY IN, SURVIVE



One of the things Pre-Braggers don’t realize is that even if they have gotten a handjob, the most difficult part of screenwriting is to continue working when you are not flavor of the month. Breaking in is close to impossible, staying in when everybody on that message board wants your job is even more difficult... And if years later you are still working as a screenwriter? Well, you are probably doing something right. And I extend that to all of the screenwriters that I have ever trashed in my life - Akiva Goldsman may have written the film version of LOST IN SPACE, but he’s still working in the biz and still writing popular movies. Pre-Braggers often discount the “popular” part, because they are geniuses and true artists, but we are writing for an audience. If the audience keeps buying tickets for movies written by Akiva Goldsman, that means he has something that other writers do not have. We need to look at his films and figure out what that thing is! I’ve had a couple of meetings with Akiva’s company and met him, and he’s a nice guy who reads science fiction novels and seems like he really cares about his work. Those things that I don’t like about his scripts are obviously not as important as the things that the audience *does* like... and I just hope that isn’t nipples on the Bat Suit.

There was a Pre-Bragger on a messageboard I frequent who came on strong because he’d had a handjob, and trashed all of the pros on the board because it was so easy for him to get this handjob, and we were all talking about how difficult the business is. Well, his handjob actually lead to a produced low budget film. Congratulations! Except after that - nothing. And I don’t think the low budget film was ever released. Now, he avoids that message board because he would just be saying all of those things he trashed us for - this is a difficult business! It’s easy to brag when things are going well, but when you hit that big brick wall we all hit eventually? When things go completely wrong? Again, the problem with Pre-Braggers (even the ones with a credit) is that they get their bragging ahead of their career. They think once they make that first sale, and it gets made, it’s smooth sailing from then on. Well, maybe it is - but you can’t brag about the “smooth sailing from then on” until you have gotten to some point in the “then on”. When you brag about something that hasn’t happened, you will always get in trouble because you don’t know what the future will bring. None of us does. Those of us who have struggled in this biz are still trying to figure it out.

It’s okay to brag about your accomplishments, but don’t get ahead of your accomplishments. Don’t brag about what has yet to happen. Do the work first. If you are a nice person online who doesn’t put down everyone who is not you, and you have some success (even a handjob), everyone will congratulate you. I know I will. If you are an @hole online who insults everyone and posts things that are all about your genius? If you win an Oscar, many people will still think you’re an @hole.

Don’t be an expert without experience! Don’t brag about things you haven’t done yet! Don’t substitute ego for talent and hard work!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals! - your pitch exposes all of the flaws of your screenplay.
Dinner: Del Taco in NoHo down the street from the dollar cinema.
Pages: Some work on an article for the First 10 Pages Blue Book Expansion.
Bicycle: Yes - a medium ride.
Movie: NEED FOR SPEED at the dollar cinema. Worth every penny (and not a cent more)!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Trailer Tuesday:
BAD SANTA

BAD SANTA (2003)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac.

Glenn Ficarra & John Requa's BAD SANTA is about a foul mouthed, alcoholic, angry department store Santa played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton. He's not a nice guy, not looking for redemption, and not someone we'd ever want to hang out with in real life... but for ninety minutes in a cinema he's a whole lot of (mean spirited) fun. Here are a few of the reasons we may not like Billy Bob's character, but we can't tear ourselves away from watching him.



1) He's a rogue and a rebel. After a few days of crowded malls, listening to the same Christmas music over-and-over again, we may want to say "bah humbug!" to the whole Christmas experience... but that would be wrong. So we try to be cheerful and happy. Billy Bob does what we wish we could do - he rebels against everything cheerful and commercial about the Christmas season. He's fed up with the holiday season, and not afraid to show it. We may fantasize about knocking people out of the way at the mall, he *does it*. We secretly like people who break the rules and rebel against society - and what's a bigger symbol of society than Christmas?

2) We understand his bad behavior. He hates his job as a department store Santa, and we'd hate it, too. Kids sneeze all over him, wet their pants on his lap, demand toys, seem to speak in a foreign language (the kids ask for toys that he's never heard of - but expect him to know exactly what they're talking about), the kids (and parents) feel like they own him - he can't even eat his lunch in peace! If people kept bugging me on my lunch hour I'd probably get mad, too. He deals with the most crass and commercial aspects of Christmas, it's no wonder he's a Bah Humbugger.



3) We understand his character. BAD SANTA opens with Billy Bob sitting in a bar telling us about his abusive father - this is a guy who has never known love. Even his parents treated him badly. He's spent his entire life being abused, and now he's a bitter drunk. That may not be someone we identify with, but we can see how he became this angry guy. We're taken inside his miserable life. He's a guy with a chip on his shoulder, but the film explains where that chip came from. When his father died Billy Bob was left nothing except a basic knowledge of safe-cracking... which explains his current career. He doesn't want to be a department store Santa, it's just part of the department store robbery scheme. The key to writing a script with an unlikable character is making sure that we understand the character.

4) Someone to love. At first the snot-nosed Kid (Brett Kelly) is a nuisance - hanging around him, overly cheerful, a happy stalker. Then the Kid is an accidental helper - fighting off the crazed Gay rapist in the parking lot and providing Billy Bob with a place to hide out. But eventually a bond grows between the two - Billy Bob helps the Kid deal with the skateboard bullies and deal with his self esteem issues. He sees himself in the Kid - both have gotten the short end of the stick from society and are filled with self-loathing. By helping the kid, he's really helping himself. He's kind to the Kid, cares about the Kid, and we're able to see a softer side of his character.

And because the Kid worships him, we really hope he gets his act together... and we end up caring about him. The same goes for the cocktail waitress (Lauren Graham) he shacks up with. She may just be interested in him because of that weird Santa fetish, but she likes him. By giving him relationships with others, we have a chance to see him through their eyes.




5) Goal & Obstacle. Give any character a goal that requires struggle and we'll wonder if they can achieve that goal. Here the goal is to do a very bad thing - rob the department store on Christmas Eve. But a goal is a goal, and the obstacles are many. First we have the torture of being a department store Santa before the robbery, then we have his verbally abusive partner (Tony Cox) and his mercenary wife (Lauren Tom), then we have the *very* straight-laced Personnel Director (the late John Ritter), and the dangerous Head of Security for the department store (Bernie Mac).

6) Humor. You can have the most unlikeable character in the world, but if they're funny we'll hang around them for a couple of hours. This guy is sarcastic, but he's also funny because his behavior is completely inappropriate. He's the opposite of everything we expect in a Christmas movie. Whether he's screwing plus-sized women in the changing rooms or drinking on duty, he does those things we never expected a guy in a Santa suit to ever do on screen. When he comes up the escalator passed out, you can't help but laugh. His explanation for why he's wearing a fake beard is outrageously funny, and becomes a running gag throughout the film (the Kid walks in on Santa having sex with the Cocktail Waitress later in the film and calls her "Mrs. Claus' sister"). He's got a cynical (and funny) response to every situation.

Bill

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will be off eating turkey (the bird, not the country) and watching some film afterwards. I would like to take this time to thank *you* for reading the blog and the daily script tips and for putting up with me on those days when I'm a grumpy a-hole. I hate those days.

I think the great thing about Thanksgiving is that its the holiday where we set aside of differences and come together to celebrate all of the good things that have happened over the past year. Even if your life has not gone exactly as planned (and whose ever does?) you are still here and still plugging away. Find the joy in your life, even when things are not going right. Laugh.



I'm a big fan of silent comic Buster Keaton - his character had the worst luck of anyone on the planet... and that's where he found his comedy. My favorite Keraton short is THE HIGH SIGN, makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Hey, here's Keaton's feature THE GENERAL - view it online or download it free.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive people. Be nice to complete strangers. Think of people other than yourself. And look at people who are different than you are and see the similarities. We all share this planet.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Picky Producers

From 2009...

Just read an advert from a producer who is still looking for a script, and doesn't want to read any of the previously submitted scripts again - he is looking for *different* scripts that fit his criteria. If you have already read all of the scripts submitted the first time, how many new scripts are there that fit your criteria a few months later?

A couple of years ago a screenwriter friend of mine had a movie stall out, and took a job on the other side of the desk as a development executive for a new company. Because he’s a good guy, the very first thing he did was call up all of his screenwriter friends and see if any of them had scripts that would fit the needs of his new employers. This was great, because we now had a friend “on the inside” who would really push our work to the company. My first question was, “What are they looking for?” If they were looking for rom-coms, I was out. If they were looking for family films, I had a treatment but not a screenplay - and that treatment is not high concept at all, so would probably not be in the running. If they were looking for a comedy, um... that’s also not me.

My friend got back to me (and everyone else) with the company’s needs... The good news was that they were looking for a thriller or horror screenplay. Hey, I have those! But that was not the end of it... They were also looking for scripts that can be made for $1m (hey, I got those), that were film festival quality (hey, I got those), that used an untraditional structure, like MEMENTO or RUN LOLA RUN (okay, now I’m in trouble) that was high concept (hey, I got those), that would not just be selected for the film festival, but would win a bunch because that was part of the distribution plan (um, I have no idea how I can guarantee a win), and would not require a star to be successful at the box office, oh - and would appeal to 15-25 year olds in the mainstream audience.

Okay, that’s a lot of different conditions for one screenplay... and a screenplay you are going to make for only $1 million. The company supposedly had access to $1m per film - probably some sort of revolving credit deal - so they were for real and could actually make several movies, one at a time. Now, $1 million may sound like a lot to you - it is what the average American will make over a lifetime of work - but it’s nothing in the movie world where the average studio film costs $106.7 million by the time it hits your screen. Making a film for $1m is difficult, and you really need a script designed for the budget. Limited cast, limited locations, limited night scenes, limited to no crowd scenes, etc. It is not easy to write a script that can be made for $1m. The biggest expense in a studio film are stars - and just because your film costs less than 1% of theirs doesn’t mean you can don’t need stars... you need a script that is set up for “confined cameos” where you can spend a chunk of money on one day of a name of some sort (or two) and try to get the biggest name you can for the least money. And you want *someone* in that lead role - a B level star or some TV person. All of this means the script for a $1 million movie is more difficult to write than one for a $106 million movie, because you must limit the cast and locations without looking like you are limiting the cast and locations. You can’t rely on amazing car chases or CGI or even fantastic locations or acting - the script has to be clever enough to work without those things. So, the $1m thing is already a tough thing to find in a screenplay.

But I have some scripts that were written for that budget.



The big problem seemed to be the elements that contradicted each other. A film that appeals to the 15-25 year old mainstream audience is not likely to have an untraditional structure or end up winning a film festival. If you look at the films that get *bought* out of film festivals, they tend to be the midnight genre films showing out of competition - like my friend Jonathan King’s horror comedy BLACK SHEEP. Now, BLACK SHEEP is a great movie and got some great reviews when it was released, but it is not the type of film to win a festival. It’s *fun*. It’s about killer sheep. It’s not some drama about an issue with a bunch of big speeches. And even BLACK SHEEP wasn’t a hit with the mainstream 15-25 year old audience - I think that demo prefers their horror without laughs and clever dialogue. They just want blood and guts and boobs.

It seemed to me that there were two factions at this company, and each wanted to make a different kind of movie... so they were looking for a script that would please both sides. One faction wanted an art house movie that would win at film festivals and the other wanted a movie that would make money with a mainstream audience. It is difficult for me to imagine the script that pleases both factions - and I am a fan of quality genre movies. THE DARK KNIGHT was a crowd pleaser *and* a critical success (though it was not nominated for Best Picture). But DARK KNIGHT had a traditional structure - wasn’t told backwards or sideways or any other strange way.

The problem for me was that I had clever genre scripts that could be made for $1m, but they were traditionally told and were not the type of scripts to win any film fests... though they might play midnight shows. I also had a couple of scripts that were not traditionally told (like LAST STAND), but these were aimed at an older audience and were too expensive to produce on a $1m budget. I had nothing that fit all of the criteria.

I thought my best chance was a thriller of mine, THE COMPLEX, which has almost been made three times, and whenever people pass on it they always say it’s “too art house”. Of course, it wasn’t art house enough for the company my friend was working for.

I talked to my friend, and he suggested I artificially break up the chronology of one of my scripts so that it fit that criteria - and that would get me through the door. Except I thought that would ruin the script. Here is where my ego gets in my way - because I should have just done it...

But first time film company with odd criteria seemed like a long shot to me.

Another friend had a script that was close enough (I think he may have jumbled the chronology in a rewrite to get through the door) and they had some meetings with him, but eventually did not think his script had all of the criteria. This writer is produced, and I believe he eventually sold that script (for much more money than this company would have paid) to a producer with plans to make a much bigger film. I’ve said this before on the blog, most low budget producers never even consider that the script they read for their $2m film still has fingerprints on it from a couple of studio based producers who were interested in buying it as one of those $106m films. They think the scripts are on the same level as they are, and are usually unable to tell a good script from a bad script.

Well, actually a “great” script from a “good” script - it’s like wine: An average person can tell a good glass of wine from a bad glass of wine. But the more you know about wine, the more refined your palate, the better you are at telling a great glass of wine from a good one. Suddenly that table full of wine bottles the average person thinks are good can be grouped into better and great and best and just downright amazing. The low budget producers usually just know what tastes good, and can’t tell which of those is great... and often are more interested in “bland good” than “interesting great.” So the company my friend worked for missed a chance at a script that sold for a bundle to others. They probably couldn’t see past their conditions.

If you are investing money in a script and film, you want it to be the very best you can afford. A producer is going to be stuck with that project through pre-production and production and post-production and selling the film and distribution and exhibition and DVD sales and cable sales and TV sales and then paperwork for the rest of their lives. They need to love the project. Making a film is like getting married, and you don’t want to chose some random person as your spouse. So I understand the need to be picky - in fact, I think I have a career *because* producers are picky. They want the best script they can afford, not just a bunch of action scenes connected by a flimsy plot and 2D characters. They want something good - and that’s what I want to provide for them. And I also understand that a movie, even a low budget movie, is an investment and the producer would like a return. That means the script has to be something that can be made into a movie that paying customers will want to see.



I know a director who makes genre films for a living, and when he finds financing for his own film, ends up making an “anti-genre film” - a boring drama of some sort. (may have blogged this before.) He has talked to me about writing one of these a few times, and I usually say no, because I’d like to write a film that will be seen and distributed (his previous arty films were not). I think the problem with this director and many picky producers is that they see all genre films as the same, and either do not look for or can not see the “art” in some commercial films. My theory has always been to write commercial genre films that are also about something - so that people will be talking about them 50 years from now... the way we're still talking about INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and other films that were made for commercial reasons but have stuck around because they are "commercial plus".

With the indie world drying up right now, there may not be financing available for non-mainstream films, so producers are going to have to make the kinds of films that are popular with a wider audience... but make *great* ones instead of dopey ones. Make genre films that will get good reviews. If you watch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and any Uli Lommel film on a double bill, you’ll see what I’m talking about. We need more really great genre films!

Now, all of this sounds like I’m happy that this company my friend worked for was picky as hell... but I’m not. The whole unusual structure thing is obvious indie stuff, and it seems like they were looking for a mainstream genre script that was also an unconventional niche market art house script. They were *not* considering making a really good mainstream genre film. Maybe they were unable to see how a mainstream genre film could be good, or maybe the money faction wanted one thing and the creative faction wanted the opposite. They continued to look for that one amazing script that did everything.

Though I am the first person to point out that there are probably close to a million scripts in circulation at any one time, most of those scripts stink. The ones that are good? Well, I’m not really sure there were any that fit all of the company’s criteria. You would think there might be that one in a million script out there, and maybe there was... but the longer you spend looking for the perfect script, the more time your money people have to wake up and realize that making movies is high risk... and back out. There comes a time when it makes more sense to buy the best script you can find and make the best movie you can make, rather than waiting around for that one perfect script to cross your desk. There comes a time to settle for the best available.



Because there are only so many scripts available - and once you’ve read through them and not found *exactly* what you are looking for, waiting around for someone to write it just doesn’t make sense. When you’ve read through all of the submissions and none fit the criteria, asking for submissions again will just get you the same stack. Makes more sense to select the best script from the stack and make it, even if it is not *exactly* what you were looking for.

I suspect part of the reason they wanted that *perfect* script is that they were thinking that everything was riding on this first film. They wanted to begin with the perfect film which would rocket them to fame and fortune and make their company instant players. Though that happens once in a blue moon, usually it’s a bunch of baby steps. How many films did Miramax distribute *before* PULP FICTION? Probably hundreds! You can’t plan on perfection out of the gate, you have to build up to it. If you wait for the perfect script to surface, you will be waiting forever and get nothing done. Better to make movies while you are waiting for that perfect script... and if you are constantly making movies I think you have a better chance of finding that perfect script - you are a player and people want to play with you. If you aren’t making movies, you are not even in the game.

The company my friend worked for never bought a script and never made a movie, and eventually their money source went elsewhere. They closed their doors without having made any films... as do many other picky start up companies. I see the script searches with too many conditions frequently, and sometimes have meetings with companies looking for that amazing script that will guarentee them an Oscar right out of the gate. If thse companies had just selected the best script that was offered to them, made it, then continued picking best scripts and making them; they would be a company with a library and a future... and maybe along the way they might have found that one in a million script. Instead, they didn’t even leave any junky mainstream genre flicks behind.

We all want to write great scripts, but our first script(s) are not going to be perfect. They are stepping stones to better scripts. A single script is not going to be a life changing property - it’s just a script. You will write a stack of scripts, and some will be the ones that open doors and some will be the ones that do nothing at all except get you to the next script that opens some other doors. Each open door takes you a little bit farther down the path. You may write that script that opens many doors at once... but that script was the result of lessons learned from all of the scripts you wrote before. There is no one perfect life changing script - nor is there one single perfect life changing movie that makes your company an instant major player.

If a producer waits until they find that perfect script, they will never make a movie.

If a writer waits until they find that perfect concept, they will never write a script.

If a writer waits until they come up with that perfect line of dialogue, they will never finish that page!

Don’t create so many conditions that you limit yourself and create your own failure.

Just keep doing your best work.

Every step is a step closer... but if you wait to take that first step? You're going nowhere.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving...

Movies: BLIND SIDE - On message boards and in e-mails, people are always saying they have lead the most amazing life and someone should make a movie about it - and they would gladly pay me a third of whatever the script sells for if I write it for them. When I say that I’d be doing all of the work, they always say it was their life and they have had to live it, and once Hollywood hears their story, they will pay millions for it! Though most people don’t want to tell me about their life unless I’m onboard and have signed a NDA, the few who do share a few juicy morsels of their amazing lives... well, they don’t convince me to drop everything and write their stories. Most have lived unusual lives that would make them the center of attention at any cocktail party, but not exactly the center of attention at a multi-plex showing the latest superhero movies and disaster flicks and high concept comedies. This is the big problem with true stories on film - they seem really dull when compared with the other movies out there. Also, you are shackled by the truth - even if your story is about the survivor of an amazing event, you have to stay within the reality of that event.



BLIND SIDE is based on a true story, written as a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, the same guy who wrote MONEYBALL - he kind of has a niche writing strange-but-true sports stories. The screenplay and direction are by John Lee Hancock, who writes and directs heartwarming true sports stories that often take place in Texas. Perfect match - this story takes place in Texas and is unabashedly feel good material.

Quinton Aaron plays Big Mike, a homeless high school kid with great sports skills. His inner city friend’s dad uses Big Mike’s athletic skills as bait to get both kids into a private Christian school in the wealthy and safe suburbs on a scholarship... then kicks Big Mike off his sofa. So Big Mike sleeps in a 24 hour laundromat and sometimes in the school gym - because he can scavenge uneaten food after the games.

One night, after a game, he’s spotted walking through the rain by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her upper middle class conservative Republican Christian NRA family as they cruise past in their SUV. Leigh decides it is her Christian duty to provide shelter for this kid, and when she discovers Big Mike has no family to go home to for Thanksgiving, invites him to stay. Eventually he becomes part of the family, best friend and protector to her son SJ (Sean Junior played by scene stealer Jae Head), reluctant brother-figure to cheerleader Collins (played by Lilly Collins) and surrogate older son to dad (Tim McGraw, who provides a few tunes for the soundtrack). Oh, and later there is a college exam tutor played by always-fiesty Kathy Bates.

The problem with Big Mike’s amazing sports skills is that he needs better grades to make the team... so they set out to tutor him and give him a normal life base to work from. And he makes the team and is accepted by the other students. And folks, that’s just about it! There are some minor real-life complications that provide some drama and conflict, and a by-the-numbers lowest point in Big Mike’s new life that is a little exciting, but the world doesn’t end and Big Mike is not bitten by a radioactive spider. He just gets to play football and have a fairly normal life.

This is the kind of movie I can recommend to my mom - she would love it. Your mom would probably love it, too. It’s one of those good old fashioned feel good movies - and managed to be the #1 movie on Thanksgiving Day. I suspect lots of families went to see it after dinner, and it was the perfect film for that.

The problem with a movie like this is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t - BLIND SIDE is not overly emotional, so it manages to avoid any criticism for being corny... but by avoiding all of those big over-the-top emotions, it comes off a little dull and distant. A little on the BLAND SIDE.



What saves this film is Sandra Bullock. After seeing her in nothing but silly rom-coms, it’s hard to remember that she can actually *act*. She was one of the saviors of CRASH, too - she just explodes in that film and makes you wonder why she isn’t cast in more serious films. In BLIND SIDE she is an amazing force of nature - you forget it’s Sandy Bullock. In a scene where she threatens the life of a vicious gang-banger, you fear for *his* safety! She is so fierce in this film, she practically burns a hole in the film in some scenes. This is a woman who knows what she wants and gets what she wants and *nothing* gets in her way. She’s also funny, and all of her passion comes from having a very big heart. I could imagine another actress getting the tough aspect down, but not the soft interior. Bullock manages to give a layered performance where she is tough *and* tender *and* funny all at the same time. Oh, and this may be TMI and just my personal opinion... but *hot*, too. She manages to be sexy while being tough and all of those other things. Though, that may just be wardrobe. When she goes onto the football field in a scene and man-handles the players - using them as props while explaining top Big Mike how to improve his game, you forget it’s Bullock. She just is that character.

The rest of the casting is also great - I mentioned Jae Head who plays SJ, who manages to make a work out montage funny, and a later college scouting montage laugh out loud funny. This little kid is amazing.

The film also has some great small moments, like when the cheerleader sister decides to have lunch in the cafeteria with Big Mike instead of her cheerleader friends. And when Leigh is reading the kid’s book Ferdinand The Bull to SJ and Big Mike... and cheerleader sis secretly listens from the next room. Moments of family life with this “adopted” family member.

Though the film also manages to show a conservative Republican Christian family and *use* those elements as a integral part of the story - the reason why they take in Big Mike in the first place is their faith, and the Thanksgiving prayer is another great moment - when they all take each other’s hands, and Big Mike becomes part of that circle of family. The way Leigh explains Big Mike’s job on the football field is that he is protecting his family of players. When those folks in the heartland complain that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for them, here it is. I have no idea how well it will play outside the USA, but it’s not strictly about football or religion, it’s mostly about *family*, and that may translate.



BLIND SIDE is a good movie... and probably the best movie your mom and her friends will see this year. And Sandra Bullock might even get some Oscar buzz from it.

- Bill

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Five Season 1 HITCH 20 Episodes!

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here are the first five episodes. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock. The new season begins next week... without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I will still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

1) This episode is REVENGE, which I am not a part of. The story is a corker, though: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.



2) This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





3) This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

A) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

B) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!



4) This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!







5) This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 in this season... and by next Friday I hope to have a new entry for Fridays With Hitchcock on SABOTAGE. Followed by the not so great Hitchcock film THE SECRET AGENT (which still manages to have some great screenwriting lessons in it's muddled story) and then THE 39 STEPS, which is a great Hitchcock film.



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

Bill




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.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Man In The Middle

Man In The Middle

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



Director: Fletcher Markle
Writer: Howard Rodman from the novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Mort Sahl, Sue Randall, Frank Alberson, Werner Klemperer, Burt Remsen.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell.
Producer: Fletcher Markle




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The departing eves dropper is Sam Lynch, the conversation he has just overheard will change his life abruptly. It may even finish it. These two men, Mr. Clark (so called, he hasn’t used his real name in years), his good friend Mr. Baby Hoffman, take their work quite seriously. As you would have overheard, their current enterprise concerns the kidnaping and murder of a very beautiful Miss Kay Salisbury. Mr. Clark and Mr. Hoffman know that Mr. Lynch has overheard them. And Mr. Lynch knows that they know that he knows. Mr. Lynch also knows that if he talks, no one would believe him no one would believe him and he would be murdered. But if he doesn’t talk, Miss Salzbury will be murdered. This is the predicament of The Man In The Middle. That’s the name of our story based on a prize winning novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Our principle players are: Mr. Mort Sahl, Miss Sue Randall, Mr. Frank Alberston, and Mr. Werner Klemperer. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, eves dropping can be very dangerous. You will agree fervently, as you enjoy this... Thriller.”

Synopsis: Sam Lynch (Mort Sahl) is having a beer in a booth in the back of his regular bar when he overhears a conversation from the next booth... two men plotting to kidnap a young society woman named Kay Salisbury just before her wedding and hold her for ransom... but kill her after they get the money. The two men are Mr. Clark (Werner Klemperer from HOGAN’S HEROES) and Baby Hoffman (Julian Burton), career criminals. Sam doesn’t know what to do... and that’s when Clark spots him listening in a mirror on the bar’s wall. He is confronted by the two men, says he didn’t hear anything... but they don’t believe him. Sam sits at the bar, knowing the two will listen to *his* conversation with the Bartender, and tells a heck of a long story about the time he saw a dog on the freeway and wanted to save it, but realized *he’d* get hit by a car in the process and it made more sense to just let the dog die. It wasn’t his dog, why should he care? When Sam gets up to leave, he bumps into another bar patron who hits him up for some drink money (to show Sam is a good guy after that speech).



Sam goes to his job as a TV writer... doesn’t realize that Clark and Hoffman are following him. In the writer’s room everyone is trying to write a skit, and Sam pitched a skit that is *exactly* what just happened to him in the bar. In minute and boring detail. The other writers don’t like it, and instead of Sam explaining what just happened to him, he gets all defensive and leaves... And Clark and Hoffman follow him again.

In Sam’s apartment, there’s a knock at his door: Clark and Hoffman! Clark watches as Hoffman beats the crap out of Sam as a warning to keep his mouth shut. If the police become involved, they will kill him.

Sam goes to warn Kay Salisbury’s father that she is in danger. In the elegant entry hall he bumps into Kay (Sue Randall) who is a sheltered young woman, and cute. When Sam gets his audience with millionaire Charles Salisbury (Frank Alberson) and Kay’s lawyer fiancĂ© (who is just a raging ahole), they mistake his warnings that Kay is in danger for some sort of shake down and refuse to pay him. Now, instead of just explaining the situation, Sam decides it’s time for one of his rambling monologues... this time about pacifists during the war. I’m sure it’s making some point, but neither I nor Mr. Salisbury got it... and still think Sam’s trying to get money from him based on some vague threat of danger that Kay might be in. When Salisbury agrees to cut him a check for his time, Sam storms out... without ever explaining the situation.



Sam bumps into Kay near his car, tries to warn her that she’s in danger but comes off sounding completely crazy. Then he notices Hoffman talking with the Maid at the servants entrance, and points him out to Kay. Kay says that’s the Maid’s boyfriend, nothing to worry about. Sam could explain that Hoffman is really a kidnaper, but it just seems easier for him to kidnap Kay himself and drive off with her unconscious in his car. That way she’ll be safe, right?

At Sam’s mountain cabin, he tries to calm Kay... but again doesn’t think that just telling her what is going on is a good idea. So she thinks he’s a kidnapper.

Meanwhile, Hoffman tells Clark that Kay has vanished unexpectedly, and the family has not called the police. They decide to call Mr. Salisbury and go through with their ransom demands even though they don’t have Kay.

Salisbury rounds up $80k of the $100k ransom and can’t get any more. When the kidnapers call, he says all he can get is the $80k and they reluctantly agree to accept $20k less than they asked. They give Salisbury directions for the drop and say they’ll release Kay 12 hours after they have the money. Salisbury delivers the money, gets knocked out by Hoffman, and makes it home when he comes to.



Meanwhile, Sam is pacing in the cabin and talking to himself as Kay listens. More boring monologue stuff. He decides to lock Kay in the cabin and go to a payphone to call Mr. Salisbury so that he won’t worry about his daughter. Except Salisbury misunderstands and thinks that Sam is the kidnapper and hasn’t released Kay because of the $20k. Now, all Sam would have to do is tell the truth at this point, but instead he decides to get offended and mention Clark and Hoffman’s names before he hangs up.

Sam calls the bar, asks to talk to that guy he gave some money to in the first scene and asks him to find Clark and Hoffman and tell them that he wants to deal with them, as long as they don’t kill Kay (or Sam). That guy says “sure” and Sam says they can meet in some other bar later. Who knows what Kay is doing all of this time.

Sam is sitting in the bar waiting for the guy he called, who is late. When the guy finally staggers in, Sam gives a speech about being drunk (because there’s always time for that) and then the guy says Hoffman *shot* him and he’s dying and Clark says: no deal, Sam & Kay both get killed. Then he dies. At no time does Sam ever think to himself that if he hadn’t have done that long speech about getting drunk the guy might have lived long enough for an ambulance to arrive. Nope.

Sam leaves the dead guy in the bar booth and goes to a pawn shop and buys a gun. Where we get a conversation about the price of an illegal gun in this city.

Meanwhile, Salisbury has called the police, and the police have rounded up Clark, who has an alibi for the time of the ransom drop... so the police let him go. But follow him.



At the cabin, Sam gives Kay his car keys and tells her to drive home. She wants to know what is going on, and instead of just explain, he argues with her or a while (which is mostly another one of his speeches). Eventually she takes the car keys and drives off, and Sam finds the best place to hide the gun in the cabin so that it will be easy to get to when he needs it.

Kay drives down the road... passing Clark and Hoffman who are headed to the cabin (I don’t know how they knew where it was) and Hoffman sees her and they turn around and chase after her. There’s a short car chase, they run Kay off the road, she escapes on foot and Hoffman chases after her while Clark drives to the cabin to deal with Sam.

Clark shows up at the cabin, and Sam tries to put him to sleep with another speech, and when that doesn’t work he pulls his hidden gun and aims it at Clark... which is when the door opens and Hoffman and Kay come in. When the shoot9ing starts, Kay dives for cover. Sam kills both Clark and Hoffman, and gets a flesh wound in the process. Because a TV writer who has never used a gun before is a better shot than two career criminals. The police show up, and it looks like Kay and Sam might hook up. The end.



Review: Where do I begin? This episode has a great concept, in fact... I seem to have accidentally ripped it off for a short story called “Rear Booth” that is coming soon. I”m sure I saw this decades ago and the only thing I could remember was overhearing the bad guys conversation... and my memory of that combined with “Rear Window” sparked *my* story idea (which is not the same as this story). But with this great concept, the story misfires again and again. There is no suspense, and way too much speechifying. I have no idea what Sam’s job was in the book, but I’ll bet it was not a TV writer. That just seemed like incestuous writing. The story manages to keep Sam and Clark on different story tracks most of the time, too. Oh, and the idiot plotting where Sam would rather get frustrated and walk away than just explain what is going on.

Mort Sahl (who is still with us) was the biggest comedian of the time, and they must have been incredibly happy to get him... and maybe they shouldn’t have been. Sahl was a low key political comedian who didn’t rely on punchlines, and had a vocal delivery that kind of reminds me of Norm MacDonald. Kind of a monotone with a little bite. All of that works great on a comedy stage, but doesn’t work at all in a dramatic role. He plays this whole thing in a sad sack monotone with almost no emotions. He’s too low key for these situations, and I wonder if they wrote all of those speeches because Sahl’s comedy routine was basically telling a long story about something from the headlines. He just sinks this episode.

And Colonel Klink also gives a very subdued performance, playing the brainiac crime planner who never gets emotional. So we have both protagonist and antagonist speaking in a monotone!

I suspect that the ahole fiancé was in on the kidnaping in the book, otherwise there would be no reason for his character to exist.

Director Markle was one of the staff producers on the show, and this was his last episode... and the only one he directed. He was responsible for many of the episodes up until this point that I didn’t think worked.

What could have been an interesting thriller ends up not working, due to a misfire script and bland direction and a terrible performance by Mort Sahl (admittedly out of his element). But next week we get a weird tales story about glasses that allow you to see... well, THEY LIVE may owe something to this episode.

Bill

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Scene Of The Week: DIRTY HARRY

This week’s scene is one of my favorites, and it does a great job of introducing the protagonist... using *visual* exposition rather than the often clumsy verbal kind. I use it as one of several examples of protagonist introductions in THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING, and because that book works for all genres let’s snag that scene for discussion here.

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Though the "Hot Dog" scene in "Dirty Harry" (1971) isn't the first time we see the character (it’s his third scene), it is a good example of how to pack lots of information in a single scene. Harry is sitting at the counter in a blue collar diner eating a hot dog when he spots a car idling in front of a bank across the street. Harry tells the diner owner to call the police, then unholsters his 44 Magnum and stops the bank robbery single handed, destroying anything which gets in his way. Finally he threatens the downed bank robber, and gives his signature lines from the film: “Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

A great scene, huh?

So let's take a look at that scene and then tear it apart to see how it works:



One simple little scene - what do we learn about Harry from this scene?

1) He's a blue collar guy. When Harry says he’ll have the usual, the fry cook asks “Usual dinner or usual lunch?” Harry asks what does it matter... and the fry cook makes him a hot dog. Not only is Harry a regular here - he’s a regular here twice a day sometimes. San Francisco has all kinds of great restaurants, he’s more comfortable eating a hot dog at some neighborhood joint. We’ll look at the scene that follows this one in a moment for more of Harry’s blue collar side... and a simple thing that helps us identify with this Bad Ass Hero.

2) He's incredibly observant and smart. He sees the smoke from the tail pipe of the car parked in front of the bank, and figures out that there is a robbery in progress. Harry is kind of like Sherlock Holmes - he sees all of the small details that others miss. Everyone else sees a busy city street - Harry sees the car idling in front of the bank. We’ll look at the actual introduction scene to Harry in a moment, which has more Sherlock Holmes elements.

3) He carries a non-regulation gun. A HUGE gun. A gun that isn't designed to wound, but to kill. That was one of the “selling points” of this film - that huge gun. It’s the most powerful handgun in the world. It’s a *hand cannon*. There’s a chapter of SECRETS OF ACTION called “Weapons For Weirdos” about how a character’s choice of weapon can give us character information and create a way for us to identify the character. If everyone uses the same (regulation) gun, they become bland. We want our characters - even the henchmen - to stand out. Have a “personality”. If giving Henchman #2 a cross bow helps turn a minor character into someone more memorable, go for it! That same theory applies to your protagonist. Don’t give them a bland weapon (or wardrobe or whatever) when you can give them a distinctive one.

4) He faces the robbers alone. He is fearless. He tells the fry cook to call the police department and tell them there is a 211 in progress. But the moment he hears the alarm go off, he gets off his stool, eating the last of his hot dog, and pulls his gun and starts shooting. There are two bad guys, one of him - and he’s still chewing on his lunch - and he just strolls out and engages them in a shoot out.

5) He doesn't wait for back up. He's a lone wolf, not a team player. He could have easily just waited for the police cars to come after the fry cook called in the 211. It’s his lunch hour, right? But that isn’t Harry. Harry isn’t really part of the police department, he’s his own man. In the second scene with Harry, he’s reporting to the Chief Of Police (John Larch) and the Mayor (John Vernon) and he’s paired with toady team player Lt. Bressler (Harry Gardino) to bring out Harry’s independence. Where Bressler is doing everything possible to kiss the Mayor’s ass, Harry is holding his disdain in check. He’s a guy who does his job but hates office politics. He is not a team member, nor is he a show off. He’s *independent* and *interdependent*, which matches the cowboy character Eastwood played in many films.

6) He continues eating his lunch as he brings down the robbers. This is just another normal occasion for Harry. He’s calm while everyone else (robbers included) are running and screaming. Cars flip over! Shotguns are fired at him! At one point he looks down at his leg and sees red drops, and you can see him wondering: ketchup or blood? He is not afraid or hurt or affected. He is a bad ass. Everyone else has their adrenaline pumping like crazy, Harry is just trying to finish his lunch. While shooting bad guys.

7) Nothing gets in his way on his quest for "justice". He trashes the entire block while catching the criminals. Talk about collateral damage! There’s a great shot where Harry walks through the wreckage, past the flipped car and blasting fire hydrant, through the “rain”, passing a civilian car where people are screaming, directly to the injured suspect with the shotgun. Harry is a juggernaut. All of this destruction isn’t even on his radar, only the perp. This is an important character trait, because Harry will cause all kinds of destruction in his wake later in the story that will get him almost thrown off the force.

8) He doesn't give the wounded robber the Miranda-Escobito warning... He threatens to KILL him. No kid gloves, here. This guy treats criminals like scum. Here’s where he gets his signature line, and informs us that the gun will blow the bad guy’s head clean off.

9) For being such a bad ass, he has a sense of playfulness. Though the “Six shots or only five” line is a threat, it’s a *clever* threat. Harry isn’t some on-the-nose tough cop, he’s the kind of cop who is going to say things like “When a naked man is chasing a woman with a butcher knife and a hard on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross” to explain why he shot a suspect. Harry always has some amusing way of saying things - and the target of his wise cracks tend to be authority figures like the Mayor. This is a great way to balance out a character who is mostly seen in violent action.

10) Harry is always in control. After he threatens the wounded bank robber, who gives up and lets Harry take his shot gun rather that have his head blown clean off by that 44 Magnum, the robber says: “I’ve got to know.” Did Harry fire 6 shots or only 5? Was Harry’s threat just a bluff? Remember, Harry has that Sherlock Holmes element - of course he knows how many shots he fired in all of this excitement. But instead of Harry saying it was all just a bluff and his gun is empty, he walks up to the robber and aims the HUGE gun point blank at his face and pulls the trigger. Click. Harry smiles and walks away. Remember that actions not only speak louder than words, they are more visceral - and can be more clever. Of all of the ways Harry could have shown the bank robber that his gun was empty and this was a bluff, *this* method packs the most punch. Look for the small ways you can make an impact in your scene. The *beats* in the scene are important, and need to be just as creative and interesting as the scene itself. It’s not just the scene idea, but all of the little ideas within the scene.

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We learn many other details, and also get audience identification with Harry: This interrupts his lunch. Not even a sit-down lunch, but a lousy hot dog. Anyone who has ever had their lunch interrupted by work knows how Harry feels. I know that seems like a minor point of identification, but Harry is what I call a Bad Ass Protagonist, kind of a superhero without the tights. Though I go into much more detail in the book, the problem with protagonists like this is that they are more characters we wish we could be than characters we can identify with - so anything you can do to give us a point of identification helps. Being interrupted at lunch by work may seem minor, but it’s something. The writer was *thinking*.

This is a “fun” scene. At no time do you think it’s any form of exposition. You probably weren’t aware that you were learning anything at all about this character. It was a big shoot out and the protag’s signature line. A fire hydrant gets hit! A car flips over! And Harry’s reaction is *irritated* that his lunch has been interrupted! This is an *entertaining* scene, and we never realize that it is really and *information* scene. You never want the audience to realize you are establishing something that will pay off later or giving them critical plot information - you want them to be in the moment, enjoying the story. Storytelling is basically giving the audience information, but we don’t want them to be aware that they are getting that information - we want them to be wrapped up in the story.

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THE NEXT SCENE: After this shoot out, the red drops on Harry’s pants end up being blood rather that ketchup, and he goes to the emergency room. The doctor, Steve, grew up in the same neighborhood as Harry - establishing that Harry is a San Francisco native... and once had a childhood. (One of my favorite lines of dialogue is from ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ when Eastwood is asked how his childhood was and answers “Short”.) We also find out some personal information - the doctor tells Harry that if he has discomfort after being stitched up to have his wife... then stops cold and apologizes to Harry. And Harry has a flash of pain. The shotgun blast didn’t even register, but the mention of his wife does. This creates some character mystery which will be solved later in the story. Always great to withhold some information about your characters to keep the audience wondering (and involved) for a few scenes. This works especially well with Bad Ass Heroes because they tend to be mysterious. But when the doctor gets ready to cut off Harry’s trousers to remove the shotgun pellets, we get some character gold. Harry *painfully* removes the trousers, “For $29.50, let it hurt.” This guy lives on a budget, and that reinforces the blue collar aspects of his character and helps to create some identification with a character completely unlike us.

INTRO SCENE: The very first shot is the Scorpio Killer’s sniper rifle aiming right at the viewer! Then we see, through his sniper scope, a woman at a rooftop pool taking off her robe and diving in. Swimming laps. She’s beautiful, sexy, and the killer admires her through his sniper scope. Then fires - killing her - blood staining the water.

A door opens and Dirty Harry walks up to the rooftop pool. He’s silhouetted in the evening light - this is THE MAN. He studies the crime scene for a moment - and what we have is kind of a locked room mystery. Who could have gotten onto the rooftop to kill her? Who had access? Why didn’t she notice? Did she know the killer? But Harry is like Sherlock Holmes - he looks around at the other rooftops.

Harry walks down the streets until he comes to a skyscraper in the business district. On the rooftop, he walks around the perimeter - the city far below. Cars look like ants. You can’t even see people from this height. This is great, because we get a bird’s eye view of the city - and Harry is on top of it. There’s something subliminal about showing Harry looking over the city, not lost on Christopher Nolan. Harry walks around the top of the building until he comes to the side overlooking the rooftop swimming pool - way in the distance. We get a great telephoto shot of them removing the woman’s body that gives us a sense of how far away it is - just a blue rectangle from here. Harry searches the roof, finds a shell casing, uses his pencil to pick it up to preserve finger prints... then sees the paper flapping on an antenna and moves to read it. The Scorpio Killer’s note.

All of these actions in this opening scene have set the duel between Harry and the Scorpio Killer and shown how both are worthy adversaries. Harry has been established not just as a guy who uses the most powerful handgun in the world, but as a true detective like Sherlock Holmes. He can spot the clues where others can’t. A couple of minutes in and we have set up the entire story... and set up many elements of both protagonist and antagonist.

And in the Hot Dog Scene we learn at least ten very important things about Harry from this one brief scene. By the time Harry gets a new partner and is set out after the Scorpio Killer, we know exactly how he will react in every scene, because it was all set up in this character introduction scene. What we don't get in this scene – that Harry was married and his wife died after being hit by a drunk driver, but do we really need to know that to understand the character and their actions when the plot kicks in?

Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do you?

- Bill

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