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)!

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.

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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Saturday, November 11, 2017

AFM - Day Last

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

This is the sixth day of American Film Market, and I am on autopilot. I realize another issue with my AFM experience is not enough coffee. When I do an event like the Raindance Film Festival, I am sucking down coffee like crazy by the final days. But at AFM I’ve had a coffee before I leave the house and usually one for the drive in, and then I go to the venue and have no more caffeine. I should have bought a jar of Folger’s Crystals and ate it dry by Monday... but instead I was just tired again.



And the big problem is that I’ve decided today will be my last day at market, because I have writing assignments that need some attention. I just turned in a new draft of one assignment - a horror film, and am supposed to be working on the next assignment - a rewrite of an action film - this month. But so far, I have done nothing on it due to AFM, and this month has a holiday in it. So today is it for me at AFM...

And that was going to be a problem because I had put off talking to some of the larger companies until today, when it should be slower. The companies that I most need to have energy for... and I’m running on fumes. I walk upstairs like an old man, legs having a week of constant climbing already - like spending 6 full days on a Stairmaster at the gym.

LUCKY STARS




While walking down one of the halls I notice a pair of posters on the wall that sums up great luck with movie stars at AFM. To sell a movie, even a low budget movie, you need stars. If you tell someone that your script was made into a movie, the first thing they will ask you is “Who’s in it?” You can have the greatest story in the world, and people want to know who the actors are. Once low budget horror movies became saturated, having some name in the cast became the key to selling them. When you look at a movie poster, any movie poster, the stars names are right there on top above the title in big letters so that everyone can see them. Your name as writer? In teeny little letters near the bottom. Hey, maybe not fair, but that’s reality. There are three kinds of stars that get cast in movies that sell at AFM - stars on their way up, stars on their way down, and genre stars (B movie actors).

GENRE STARS: The funny thing about genre stars is that mainstream audience members may not know who they are. They are specialty stars, who have loyal fans within their genre. Distribs know who these genre stars are, and know which ones are hot and which ones are not and which ones have made so many movies over the past year that *they* are over saturated and no longer mean anything as a star. Some of these genre stars are supporting actors in A movies like Gary Busey, but others are stars who hit big in some genre movies and now are the big fish in the small pond, like Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) who is still a star in low budget horror movies decades after his big break and Tiffany Shepis who has worked her way up from really low budget horror films by shining in every single one of them. That’s usually how a genre star comes to be - they are cast in a film that becomes a genre hit, and suddenly the audience knows their name and wants to see more movies starring them... so producers hire them. Or they are the person who shines in some film where they may be the best thing about it. Those who start at the top, even after their stardom has waned, are still names and faces the genre audience knows so they can continue to work... probably for less money in less expensive films. Those who start at the bottom have an upswing to larger budget genre films, and often go from supporting role to star. Both Jeffrey and Tiffany are known to the genre audience, even if you have never heard of them.

Most of my films have starred genre people. Though I have zero input on casting, I always suggest the producers hire some actors who are on their way up or actors from indie films either instead of or in addition to the genre stars. That way the films might appeal to a larger audience, who may not know the genre star. But so far, no producer has listened to me. Casting genre stars is kind of a sure thing. The target audience knows who the star is and may even seek out their films. If the producer cast an Oscar winner in a genre film, it may actually have a negative effect on sales. The target audience cares about Tiffany Shepis, but may not care at all about Judy Dench... and may even be turned off by a horror movie starring Dench. Casting mainstream names in a genre film may be a waste of money. So producers usually do what is safe and cast a genre star. I get that, but still suggest some star on their way up or indie name in the supporting roles. Often I write a couple of great supporting roles just so they can be cast with actors who are known outside the genre to bring in folks who are not those rabid genre fans... so far, none of those roles has ever been cast with anyone I’ve suggested. Pisser.

STARS ON THEIR WAY UP:

One of the actors I always suggested for my films was Sam Rockwell, who is from the Bay Area (like me) and I met before he was ever in a movie. Back when they were casting CRASH DIVE there was a key supporting role that was written for someone who could act. The stars would still be whoever the producer thought could sell the film, but I figured the supporting roles might be where an interesting actor on their way up might elevate the whole film. But the producer said he’s never heard of Sam Rockwell (this was mid-90s). I said, “Yes, but are you planning on casting someone you have heard of in that role? Or just an actor from a casting call?” The answer was casting call, but the *director* wanted to pick the actor. So the guy cast wasn’t great, and nobody knows who they are today. We *did* score on two other actors from the casting call: Catherine Bell as the female lead (she had done an episode of HERCULES) and Chris Titus as the comic relief character (was doing stand up in clubs) - both went on to headline their own TV shows after we discovered them.

One of the ways an AFM company can get lucky is by casting a talented actor who seems to be on their way up... and that star ends up in a huge hit studio movie. So the #1 live action movie over the weekend was DUE DATE starring Robert Downey jr and Zach Galifianikis and Zach did some low budget movies for AFM companies before being discovered by mainstream Hollywood... and the posters came out at AFM on Monday. Suddenly that old title the company had in their back catalogue became the hot title they were pushing to any territory that hadn’t bought it. I think this is why AFM companies *need* to look at the up and coming actors and have a good idea of who they are and how talented they are. One problem with many of the AFM companies (including guys I have sold to) is that they only care about the star that sells the film and the rest of the roles are meaningless to them... when those secondary roles may give the film a second life if any of the actors cast hit big later on.



STARS ON THEIR WAY DOWN: The other place AFM find actors to headline their films is stars on their way down... or stars whose future is uncertain. Either because the star gets too old for whatever gen re they are best known for, or completely screws up their career; they often end up starring in films at AFM. Tom Sizemore went from HEAT to headlining a Michael Mann produced TV show to crashing and burning (and doing some jail time) and ending up starring in AFM movies made for half a million bucks... which is probably what Sizemore was getting per episode for that TV show. The great thing about AFM movies is that they are kind of a safety net for actors that studios no longer want to hire. Last year’s hot babe in some studio film may be this year’s dramatic actress in an AFM film... or the chief of police in a genre film. Burt Reynolds may play a retired cop who gets involved in a murder investigation in an AFM film.

The big score was the company who had a star on his way up with Zach Galifianikis *and* a star is limbo with this Dakota Fanning movie. No longer a kid, and not a sexy babe, Fanning is at an awkward age for mainstream studio films which makes her perfect for AFM movies. Everyone knows who she is, so she can sell a movie, but she’s probably affordable because there aren’t many people who want to hire her. She’s in like an adult Culkin. So here she is in an AFM movie that will probably come to a Blockbuster near you... if they are still in business.

CLOSED MONDAYS


Hey, a couple of days ago I met Will Vinton, and now I’m using the title of one of his films! As I wander the hallways at AFM I notice that many of the doors are closed with notes on them. Some of the notes say they have closed early today and have a phone number where you can call if you want to meet with the company, and others are just plain closed for the rest of the market - the people have flown back to whatever country they came from (which might even be Beverly Hills). This tells me more about the market than the press releases I’m getting in my e-mail box every morning that tell me how business as AFM is booming and attendance is up 6% over last year. Um, business seems to be so slow people are leaving after the weekend.

Many of the other companies offices are run by skeleton staffs, making deals on whatever territories still need movies. If Bulgaria needs a couple of horror movies to fill out their slate, there’s someone in the office who can sell them... but not the boss. The boss may have already left.

This becomes another issue with interviewing people for my article - I wanted a huge number of interviews so that I could find a consensus, and so far I have a few interviews... and it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get many more today. Between my lack of sleep and energy and the closed companies, my “sample” is going to be smaller than I wanted. I’m worried about my article (though, if you are reading this blog you may not be as worried, since my AFM coverage is going to run about 65 pages). I go downstairs... and bump into Mike, who wrote a family film that has done well in Family Film Festivals. He asks me if I’m going to the seminar. “What seminar?” The one on making movies that starts in half an hour. “Who’s giving it?” Some group, but one of the panelists is Mark Damon. “I’m going.”

THE PANEL


Some of you may be wondering who Mark Damon is, others know that he is the pretty boy actor who played opposite Vincent Price in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Oh, yeah, and he’s the King of AFM. While living in Italy and being the American star in a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns (like JOHNNY YUMA), he began putting together deals for US indie films for Italy and Italian films for America, and started one of the first foreign sales companies. Since then he has been the driving force in international film sales, and has made many films you have probably seen and continues to make upscale indie films like MONSTER and THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. The other panelists were equally impressive. And it was free. I went in, grabbed a seat, clicked on my pocket recorder in the event anyone said anything quotable, and the panel began... and it was *all* quotable!

Besides Mark Damon, the panel included entertainment attorney Todd Stern, casting director Ronnie Yeskel, publicist Erik Bright and was moderated by Sydney Levine and presented by Dreamago - an organization that connects talent with business.

Mark Damon said so many great things about screenwriting and the importance of the screenplay in an indie film deal, and how one goes about getting a good script, that I had my article for Script Magazine. A better article than if I had talked to every distrib at market (they never like talking about screenplays, probably because many have no idea what makes a good script and are afraid of having this pointed out in print). It was a great panel, lots of information, and plenty of stuff that writers need to know about this part of the business.

After the seminar there was a little party on the balcony, with wine and cheese and I grabbed some of each. During the panel I noticed a student from a decade ago when I lectured at Art Center College in Pasadena named Maja, and asked her what she was up to - she’s producing her second film! That’s great! She’s someone I see every once in a while at screenings and working in producer’s offices. There are people who work their butts off finding a way into the business, and they’re the ones who make it.


Not my bike!

After talking with Maja, I mingled... but am such a wall flower that I talked with no one else, not even Mark Damon who was only a few feet away or Sydney Levine who was talking to the person next to me. I have to get over this - I’ll talk to someone I know, but I am not good at meeting and chatting up strangers. Hey, I even had a meeting with Mark Damon over 15 years ago - that would have broken the ice. But instead I finished my wine and cheese and did a final lap of the lobby before leaving AFM for good. If they are closing up offices on *Monday* I can’t imagine what Tuesday will be like. For me, AFM was over... and now I had to get back to work on my script assignment.

- Bill

PS: Next Friday - the return of Fridays With Hitchcock, REBECCA... and then the Friday after that FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

American Film Market - Weekend
Part Two

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

As I climb the stairs, I pass the girl in the Backless Sundress and try to read her badge to see who she is working for, but can’t really do more than glance without looking as if I am staring at her cleavage. Dang - can’t read it. I keep climbing stairs. AFM is an endless stair climb - once the guard in front of the stairway door checks your badge, you are either climbing those endless metal steps or walking down a hallway. Once you get to the 8th floor - the top floor - the stairs continue up to the roof if you don’t stop. Sometimes you take a few steps up and realize you’ve passed your floor. The same thing happens going down - the stairs go all the way down into the hotel’s basement, and people frequently don’t stop at the lowest floor and keep on going. I’ve seen several people keep climbing down... but I never see anyone climbing up. What happens to them down there?



One of the problems with the weekend is that companies *are* doing business, and I don’t want to barge in to ask them silly press questions. The problem is, all of the other people with press badges don’t feel this way, and when I walk past a company some other reporter rushes in and interrupts a deal. So I am doing a lot of walking and not much talking. I decide to check in on the guys who produced (and ruined) my SOFT TARGET script a couple of years ago. When I get my foreign levy checks from WGA, SOFT TARGET is never listed - has it not sold any foreign territories? I want my residuals! So I climb the stairs to the 8th floor to see what territories they have sold...

SOFT TARGET NEWS




A few years ago I had a script that was almost a nice big studio action flick, but one of the millions of things that can go wrong with a deal did go wrong, and the option expired and the script was mine again. I was in the process of getting it back out there when an action guy I have worked with in the past called to tell me he had just opened his own company with another guy and was looking for scripts, did I have anything? The big problem with being a professional screenwriter is that you have no idea where your next sale is coming from, so you have to try just about everything. I had just had this deal fall apart and needed a new deal, so even though this guy was nowhere near the top of my wish list for producers, I have an inventory of spec scripts and maybe I can sell one and have the next year paid for. I gave him my list of availables, and pointed out one cool action script that I would be happy to part with (and might even be a good fit). So, of course, he wants the script that the studio producer had optioned, SOFT TARGET. The one script on the list I don’t want him to have. I try to sell him on the other script, but he wants SOFT TARGET. I call around to try and make some other deal, but get nada... so I reluctantly sell them SOFT TARGET after they tell me how much the love it and how they don’t want to change a word. By the way - when someone says they don’t want to change a word, that usually means they want to change every single word of your screenplay but one, and that was the case here. The movie they made from the script doesn’t even have the same *concept*!

So, these guys are like the in-laws you hate... but they are still part of your family. And, though I dislike the movie they have made from my script, I still would like to get some residuals from the deal, so I want it to be successful (even though the film sucks). So, after they made the domestic deal with LionsGate, did they sell the film to any foreign countries?

And find out that they sold SOFT TARGET to another distributor! The whole film (and a couple of others from their library) sold outright to another AFM company. My guess is that it was done to raise money, but I don’t ask. I do ask who the other distributor is...

Uwe Boll.


Uwe Boll's leg!

My film is in his company’s big catalogue! Right there with POSTAL and BLOOD RAYNE 3. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing... but having seen my film, it belongs with Boll’s films. I have to go downstairs to Boll Films and grab a catalogue, but first I ask how’s business... and get the usual AFM answer that it’s a little slow today but has been great so far.

The amusing thing about this company is that one of the partners is an action film guy and the other makes animated family films. On the wall next to the poster from some violent action film is a cute poster for an animated puppy movie. While I am there, the action guy mentions that some dude stopped by to see if they wanted to distribute his animated films, and left his card. The animation guy asks his name. “Will something...” (reads the card) “Will Vinton.” Both the animation guy and I say at the same time: “The Will Vinton?” And that’s who it was - the Oscar winning animator of those California Raisins and just about any Claymation animated film you have ever seen that wasn’t made by Nick Park. The animation guy grabs the card, pulls out his cell phone, and calls... gets Will Vinton, who is still in the building, and asks him to come back up! When Will Vinton arrives, I leave...

But not before action guy asks if I want to write a film for him and Manny Pacquiao to shoot in the Philippines?

After what they did to SOFT TARGET?

“I’ll think about it.” And I’m off down the hallways to some other suite... passing the girl in the Backless Sundress! Again I try to look at her badge without seeming to be looking at her cleavage... and again I can’t read the company name on her badge. Dang it! This is becoming an obsession! I must know who she is working for!

LOBBY RATS I KNOW




Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a prosumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct to DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert of Craigs List looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert... and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigs List, and most get paid zip - they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful - he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along - but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. LionsGate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies... but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.

So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie... doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigs List for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy - he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.

In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both of the movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180' rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?

The girl in the Backless Sundress passes by and I decide to just *stare* at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge... but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.



Moments later I bump into my friend Rob, who might actually be “my student Rob” - he took classes from me at Santa Fe and Expo many years ago and went on to write and produce some movies that are available from distribs upstairs. Unlike Max, Rob’s films have distributors who can sell the film to all of the foreign territories... problem is, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. And this is common - many of these AFM guys push whatever their new film is at this market, and then dump it in the catalogue and never think about it at the next market... a couple of months from now. So you may be excited by how much your film made first time out... but that may end up being pretty much all it makes. In an article in Script on AFM a couple of years ago, I advised you do your own international promotions on your film, to make sure the buyers want that film after your distrib buries it in their catalogue. You may not think this is your responsibility, and technically it’s not, but *someone* has to get the film sold after your distrib decides it’s yesterday’s news.

NO NBC INTERVIEW


I bump into the hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy, but don’t ask about that interview they wanted to do with me... and she doesn’t bring it up. So, I guess I’m not important enough for a TV network. Actually, I already knew that...

Hey, there goes the girl in the Backless Sundress with some buyer. Can’t see her badge from this angle...

PARTY BUS?


Maybe a year ago, this company in Hong Kong is looking for projects they can shoot in the Philippines and I send them my availables list which has a cool spec that takes place in the Philippines - a pair of college grads who buy a treasure map and have an Indiana Jones type adventure the summer before having to get a job and settle into the 9-5 world for the rest of their lives. The company says they have a project about the same treasure in pre-production already, and I wish I had some other things that would fit what they were looking for, but I don’t. Well, they just bought a building in Venice, CA and are having a huge AFM party to introduce themselves. And I’m invited.

Actually, just about everyone is invited. My friend Rob is invited. The director looking for work is invited. The NBC people are invited. For all I know Dennis Woodruff is invited (though, he’s a no show).

The party is supposed to have food and drink, and a shuttle bus will takes us there from the Loew’s Hotel. Cool - no driving involved! About a half hour before the party is supposed to start, Rob suggests we see if the shuttle is parked out by the curb... the first ones to the party are the first ones to be served food, right? We go outside, and there is not a shuttle, yet. Rob goes to his car for business cards and I overhear someone say that the big bus across the street is the shuttle to the party. I cross the street and ask the driver, and he says no. He’s here for something else. A bigger party? I go back to the hotel and the director is there, says he’s going to the party - do I know where the shuttle is? Rob returns, and says he was told the bus across the street really is going to the party. We cross the street, and the big bus leaves, empty... and pulls up in front of the hotel. As soon as we cross the street, the bus goes back to where we were standing. We cross the street, and the bus pulls away again, and... There are now a group of us on the wrong side of the street, but the person in charge shows up, tells us *not* to cross the street again. The bus will pick us up on *this* side of the street, and will be back in a moment.

Bus comes back to our side, we climb aboard... and the driver pulls out, but has no idea where he’s going. The street is the same one that the FX studio that did the submarine battles for my CRASH DIVE movie was located at, so I have a basic idea of how to get there. Others on the bus had some other details, and we found our way to the party.

BIG FOOT PARTY


Party Photos!

The plan to be the first served food backfires! The food is not ready yet! So we all get our free drinks and mingle and tour the new facilities. The new facilities are impressive, and a company like Big Foot is the future of film companies... except it’s really the *present* of film companies. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, has studios in the Philippines, now offices and facilities in Los Angeles, and they make movies for an international audience. Film is a global business.

And it seems like everyone in the world was invited to this party! The really irritating guy who claims to be a producer from the party a couple of nights ago is here, as is John The Dancing Usher - this guy who worked at the AMC Burbank cinemas and used to sing and dance before every movie. Though you may be imagining that as entertaining, it was really more strange. John has a rambling conversation with me about 3D conversion and screenwriting, and I nod my head in the appropriate places... and wonder where the food is. I also look around for the girl in the Backless Sundress - if John The Dancer Usher got an invite, she had to get one, too. But I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was the only person in the greater Los Angeles are who wasn’t invited?

Several beers later, I am *really* wondering where the food is. The music is so loud you can’t have a conversation - why do they do that at parties? I would think the purpose of these things is to mingle with people, and to talk to the representatives from the company, but you can’t hear anyone unless they are *screaming* over the music. Same thing at the Raindance Film Festival last year - the music was so loud at the closing night party that people were leaving to have conversations in the street. Hey, turn it down a notch!

Finally, food arrives. A server comes out from a side door with a tray of chicken skewers... and everyone descends on her and cleans the tray before she can take more than a couple of steps. Rob gestures me over to the *door* and we wait for thr next server... and grab some food before it is gone. The poor servers are only getting to take a couple of steps before their trays are empty! While we are eating, a server actually makes it past us to the center of the party. John The Dancing Usher walks past with a *plate* of food and I ask him where he got it - inside there’s a room with some food. I wander inside and find Rob already there... with an empty plate. It’s kind of the same as outside - everyone in the room is waiting for the arrival of a serving tray of food. Several arrive at once - different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We attack the food... and the next trays have pork buns. It’s dim sum with long pauses between courses. I look into the next room and see the legendary Uwe Boll talking to some people. I think about joining the conversation and mentioning that he has an awful movie that began with my script in his catalogue... but what if he thinks it’s a great movie? I decide not to talk to him, because I am just drunk enough to say something that might result in him punching me. You know, he’s beat up critics before.

After I’ve had enough dim sum to add up to a meal, I go back outside to the ultra loud music and attempt to talk to some people. The CEO of the company stops the loud music to make a little speech, but either they turn down the volume for her speech or she speaks quietly, because I can barely hear what she has to say. Maybe it’s ear drum damage from the loud music? Whatever, I assumed it was the typical “Welcome to our new building and we make movies and we hope you will buy our movies and watch them.” Then the blasted blasting music began again.

After another half hour, the music was about to cause my ears to bleed, so I take one final look for the girl in the Backless Sundress - not here - and when the shuttle bus pulled to the curb outside the Big Foot compound, I jumped on and headed back to the hotel... and then back home from there.

Sunday is when the cheap badges go on sale, so some of the lobby rats actually get to go upstairs. Mostly, though, it’s film students and low budget producers. But the stair climbing is exactly the same, just a little more crowded. I never found out who the girl in the Backless Sundress was working for... that mystery will haunt me for the rest of my days. Monday would be my last day at AFM, and that entry will be coming next.

NEXT PART - AFM Day Last

- Bill
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