Thursday, April 19, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Papa Benjamin

Papa Benjamin

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



Season: 1, Episode: 26.
Airdate: March 21st, 1961

Director: Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE, GOODGUYS WEAR BLACK)
Writer: John Kneubuhl (PIGEONS FROM HELL episode) based on a story by Cornell Woolrich.
Cast: John Ireland, Jester Hairston, Jeanne Bal, Henry Scott, Peter Forster, Alibe Copage.
Music: Pete Rugolo (who was a big band leader).
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The harassed gentleman Eddie Wilson insists that he killed the man because he himself was being killed... with voodoo. Is there really such a thing? Can a voodoo Houngan really work black magic? Papa Benjamin does in this terrifyi8ng story by Cornell Woolrich. Our leading players are: Mr. John Ireland as Eddie Wilson, Miss Jeanne Bal as Judy Wilson, Mr. Henry Scott as Staats, and Mr. Robert Harris as Jerry. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you will witness fantastic events in this Thriller. Events as dark as the jungle where the voodoo rites and voodoo drums are seen and heard. It may even lead you to wonder what you yourself could accomplish with just an ordinary pin and a doll shaped like someone of whom you’re not particularly fond. Well I commend you to Papa Benjamin and an hour of thrills. I have things to do.” (pokes voodoo doll with pin)

Synopsis: Eddie Wilson (John Ireland) staggers into a police station on “Santa Isabel Island” (next to Haiti), dripping with sweat and looking ill. They lay him on a couch and ask if he needs a doctor... he says it’s too late for that. He pulls out a gun and says he killed a man. In self defense. A detective asks if the man was also armed? No. Was he strangling you? Hitting you? Did he have a knife? No to all of these. Wilson explains: it was Voodoo.



Detective Daniels (Peter Forster) says that there hasn’t been any voodoo on this island in fifty years, it was outlawed. He checks Wilson’s wallet, finds his name... hey, isn’t this that famous bandleader that was playing at the big hotel?

Flashback: That big tourist hotel a year ago... In the ballroom Eddie Wilson is stuck writing a new tune that he really needs *now*. He’s been playing the same stuff for too long, and that effects repeat business. The crowd in the hotel’s lounge is dwindling and he needs a new song to keep them coming. But he has “composer’s block”. He goes back to his room upstairs where his wife Judy (Jeanne Bal) who is also the band’s vocalist consoles him. Eddie says let’s go down to the ballroom and go over a song...

At the door to the ballroom they hear their drummer Staats (Henry Scott) playing an exotic beat and humming. (Just for fun, compare this humming and beat to humming and chest thumping Matthew McConnaugh did in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET... so *that’s* where he got it from!) As they spy on Staats from the doorway, it looks as if the drummer is in a trance. Is he on drugs again? Shooting up? Staats’ wife recently died, so that might explain a relapse. Wilson goes up to the piano and Staats breaks out of his trance. When he asks what Staats was playing, Staats says he doesn’t know, just kinda playing off the top of his head... and leaves. Wilson and Judy go over their number...

But Wilson can’t get that sound out of his head... it’s mesmerizing.



That night after their performance, Wilson and Judy are heading up to their room when Wilson realizes he has left his glasses on the piano and goes back to the ballroom... where he finds a chicken foot with a red ribbon tied to it on te stage. When he shows it to the (islander) cleaning woman, she freaks and runs out of the room. WTF? He hears someone coming and puts the chicken foot back onto the stage, and hides... as Staats comes back, grabs the chicken foot, and leaves. Wilson follows him into the night...

Staats walks through the city at night, down dark alleys, through bad neighborhoods, until he comes to an old abandoned plantation. Wilson watches as Staats knocks on the door, shows the chicken foot to a HUGE doorman, and is allowed entrance. Wilson sneaks up and starts looking through the windows... he can hear the music, that same beat that Staats was playing, coming from within, and climbs through a window into an empty room to get a closer look... spying on a Voodoo ritual!



Wham! He is *captured* and brought before the old Voodoo Priest Papa Benjamin (Jester Hairston) who wants to kill him. Wilson claims he came to *join* them, and Staats vouches for Wilson. “He is my friend.” Papa Benjamin indoctrinates him into the voodoo religion, making Wilson say “I believe” until Wilson may actually believe. Then making him say, “If I betray you in any way, I will die.” The ritual continues with some Carribean dancing (though Karloff did not introduce any of the Black cast members, the other stand out in the Voodoo scenes besides Hairston is dancer Alibe Copage who is not only hot, but insanely limber... though I suspect she had a ballet background I can find nothing on her online except her film credits).

When Wilson and Staats leave, Wilson explains that he was there to hear more of that music... and he’s going to write a rhapsody based on it. Staats says that music is sacred and if he uses it he’ll die. Wilson thinks Voodoo is fake. Staats says, “Goodbe dead man” and walks away... into the shadows. Never to be seen again. Creepy. Wilson goes back to the hotel, and writes the new Voodoo Rhapsody as if the music owned him. He’s so focused on the writing the new music that he ignores Judy... and their marriage begins to deteriorate.



The Premiere Of The Voodoo Rhapsody. Wilson makes sure the ballroom is packed with bigwigs from New York, and his agent Jerry (Robert Harris) is there. They play the music, and the crowd goes wild! Wilson’s career is about to skyrocket! But at the end of the piece, Wilson collapses on stage! Judy and Jerry come up to him, and he says it’s as if someone suddenly stuck a knife deep into his back. They think he’s just overworked... but behind him on stage is a Voodoo doll with a pin shoved deep into its back!

New York City: Wilson and his band play bigger and bigger venues. But it seems the more famous he gets, the more he battles illness. He is wasting away. After he passes out a few more times during Voodoo Rhapsody, some of his bookings cancel and Jerry gets worried. That’s when Judy asks for a divorce: Wilson hasn’t been himself lately, it’s as if the music owns him, control him... and there is no place for his wife in any of this. He has become so driven that his health is an issue, and he’s acting crazy. He tells her about the Voodoo curse, but she doesn’t believe him. She thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist. When he refuses, she *physically* walks out on him, closing the door in his face. Now he is alone, and wasting away more and more every day. The only way he can see to survive is to go back to the Island and have Papa Benjamin lift this curse!

The Island: Wilson is sweating and ill when he makes his way back to that old abandoned plantation. No music this time, no dancing. He finds Papa Benjamin and begs to have the curse lifted. Benjamin says Wilson had his chance, what is done is done and can not be undone. “Go away, dead man!” But Wilson doesn’t go away, he pulls out a gun and shoots Papa Benjamin dead! Then runs to the Island Police Station...



This is where we came in: Detective Daniels has Wilson show him to the Abandoned Plantation, and the body of Papa Benjamin... but the Plantation really is abandoned... spiderwebs fill the place, sticking to Wilson’s face as he leads the Detective and other policemen back to the room where he killed Papa Benjamin. All of the furniture is gone. And in that back room? No corpse. “I killed him, I tell you! Right here in this room!” They take him away...

New York City: Jerry visits Wilson in the mental ward. He’s getting better, and will soon be released.

When Wilson is released, he feels fine. Gained back weight. He goes to Jerry’s Office where he bumps into Judy. They’ve booked the band... on the island. Is Wilson up to this? Sure, that Voodoo stuff is fake. Superstition. He’s over it...

The Island: Wilson and Judy and the Band (minus Staats of course) play to a packed house. Wilson has never felt better. The crowd loves them. Then someone requests Voodoo Rhapsody. A moment... will Wilson play it? Of course! That whole voodoo thing was just superstition! The band starts playing, the crowd is loving it, then right as they get to the end... Wilson DROPS DEAD ON STAGE!

On the corner of the stage, a voodoo doll.



Review: This is the first of many THRILLER episodes that are based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) and I wonder why it took them so long. Woolrich was a prolific pulp writer who turned out hundreds of thriller stories, many of which have been put on screen. Woolrich wrote all kinds of things for the pulp mags, from Noirs to Thrillers to Hardboiled to Crime Fiction to Police Procedurals to Supernatural stories to "Whiz Bangs" (sort of screwball crime fiction) and is one of the three fathers of modern Noir fiction (along with Horace McCoy and James M. Cain). His “Black Series” is one of the reasons why “noir” is noir, and when Truffaut did his pair of Hitchcock homages he picked a pair of novels by Woolrich, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and WALTZ INTO DARKNESS. Hitchcock only made one film based on a Woolrich story (REAR WINDOW), which is surprising, but directed several short stories for his TV show and one for a *rival* TV show (FOUR O'CLOCK - a real nail-biter of a story about a husband who plots his wife's murder... then gets caught in his own trap and realizes *he* will die at 4 O'clock along with her!). Years ago I was up for a gig to adapt a great Woolrich story about an arson investigator who ends up prime suspect in a series of huge fires and must find the real arsonist... but all of the clues lead directly to him. Funny thing: I already had a treatment written, because this was one of my dream projects. Not funny thing: this was for a TV movie and they could not afford to have any buildings burn down... making a film about arson impossible. Hey, there are so many Woolrich stories out there, eventually I’ll get my chance.

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But what about *this* story? This is an okay episode, and Ted Post does some great work with having Staats just vanish into the darkness and that scene where the spiderwebs cling to Wilson’s face make you go Yech! But in mainstreaming the story I think they took some of the punch out. The problem is, this story is all about mood. It’s a set up/punchline story that has not just been expanded to an hour (when it might have made a nice half hour show) they also start with the punchline: the episode opens with us knowing that voodoo is real. That’s actually the way the short story begins as well. But the short story is a metaphor for heroin addiction, and is about a New Orleans Jazz Band rather than a Ballroom Orchestra, and Staats doesn’t just vanish into the darkness, he comes back as a human skeleton... wasted away by his addiction to Voodoo. And Staats *dies* in the short story, as an early warning to Wilson (Bloch in the short story) of what will happen to him if he continues along this road. But in Noir when the protagonist sees that he or she is on the wrong path, that doesn’t stop them... they are addicted to the woman or the drug or the whatever else plays that “spider woman” role in the story. Because the Voodoo As Drug thing is muted, the focus ends up on that “twist end” which really isn’t a twist. Also, some of the suspense in the short story isn’t transferred to the screen: when Wilson follows Staats to the old Plantation is filled with tension and once they get to the Plantation there is all kind of suspense built up around the Wilson character being caught (in the story he creates a fake chicken foot to get him through the front gate, and suspense is built around him being discovered as an impostor). One of the things that’s great about Woolrich stories is the suspense, and that wasn’t really exploited in this episode... check out next week’s episode, though.

John Ireland is an odd choice, but gives a good performance. The wife character and the romance thing was an invention for the TV episode, probably as a way to externalize what the protagonist was going through... but it ends up adding a soapy element to the story. In REAR WINDOW the love interest was also an addition, but there it was done brilliantly: they made it thematic. Here it was just an additional character, and no effort was made to make Judy into a believer/non believer to take us deeper into the story.

The episode is still entertaining, and they do a great job of creating an island off the coast of Haiti on the backlot. But this isn’t the best episode of THRILLER based on a Cornell Woolrich story.

Bill

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Joy Of Page Count

Because I'm way behind on the current project, here is a blog entry from 11 years ago when I was on schedule!

Yesterday I wrote 5 pages. That’s my quota. My goal. I can write more pages than that, but if I manage to turn out 5 pages every day, six days a week, I am a script machine.

The day before yesterday, I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that... well, it was just too damned hot to do anything. In fact, there were a few days where I did almost nothing.

Now, I am a human being. I would rather goof off than actually have to do something. Work is a four letter word (and I have seen the David Warner movie). Given the choice between working and spending the day in a cinema watching awful movies? Get me some Red Vines and a Sprite! Sitting around the (air conditioned) house watching a stack of DVDs? Sounds great! I’m an addict, and I have a huge stack of of DVDs I bought and haven’t seen, yet. Probably *months* of unwatched DVDs. I’d better put off work and watch some of them!

But when I get into the groove and start turning out pages, not only do I have that great feeling of accomplishment, I realize how much I really love writing. My problem is inertia. It’s tough to get started, but once I get going, I get going. When I’m working on an assignment, I *have to* turn out pages - and I can do my 5 a day and turn out a pretty good first draft in a month. I can also adjust my quota for really crazy deadlines if someone needs a script in 2 weeks. I’m good with deadlines.

But specs? Well, no deadline, no producer waiting for the draft, no pressure. Inertia can take control. I’d rather watch a DVD, I’d rather go online and argue with someone. I’d rather read other people’s blogs. It’s hard for me to get started. I’m like a car that needs to be push started... and how the hell do you push start the car *and* sit in the driver’s seat? Easier just to pop in a DVD.

But once I get going, like I have been, I realize how much I really love writing screenplays. The spec I’m working on, SLEEPER AGENT, is an action script. My theory on this one is to Always Be Moving. After a couple of set up scenes, there will not be any scenes that are not moving. You know those scenes where people are sitting somewhere having a conversation? Not in this script. If people are talking, either they will be running or in a speeding vehicle. And the more they talk, the faster the vehicle.

So, yesterday I had a talk scene... on a speeding hydrofoil ferry going 42 knots. This was a “catch your breath scene” after some action, but even on the speeding ferry I wanted to have something else happening... so I added some suspense. Now, the joy for me was figuring out what little things happened in the scene - I already knew what the big things would be (the conversation). Creating the details - not just the way the characters say what they say, but the suspense “scene subplot” and the cool way a suddenly violent fight scene turned out (I came up with a weird shock moment that actually gives us a bunch of information about the villains - and the *how* was created on the spot and was exciting to write)... but my favorite thing I came up with yesterday was the very end of the sequence - which left our heroes alone with a pair of crying Greek girls. You know when you come up with a little moment that turns an okay scene into a much better scene?

I love that stuff. I love writing that stuff. I love when some little thing that I wrote that had no meaning suddenly has a meaning. You create something that seems too good for you to have come up with. It’s like God, or maybe Steve Zaillian, was working through you. It’s that amazing moment of creation where a scene comes alive, or a moment seems real, or a scene has some original element and you have no idea where it came from... and you realize you are a freakin’ writer after all. That all of those days where you sat around avoiding writing were a huge mistake, because when you’re really in the groove, writing is *fun*. Writing is cool.

And the pages keep piling up, and you realize you will have a NEW finished screenplay in just a few weeks. A new baby.

Hey, this is why I go through all of the crap that comes with this job... I really like writing.

- Bill

Friday, April 13, 2018

On The Red Carpet With Jason Voorhees

A blog entry from 2009 - logged a few days before another Friday the 13th when I went to the premiere of the FRIDAY THE 13th remake...



This has been a busy week. I’m still playing catch up after turning in the quicky second draft (which I’m not counting as an official draft because I only made a few changes from the version we did our pile of meetings on) and on top off all the work that piled up over the holidays, on Thursday my parents were in town on their way elsewhere - and I had lunch with them, then on Friday my ex was in town and we spent the day together, and it’s been raining like crazy, and Saturday and Sunday I did a bunch of errands - and saw a movie Sunday night.... and then on Monday I went to the premiere of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, then the party afterwards. My top secret remake is for the producer of F13, and I was invited to the big premiere... maybe buttering me up before I get fired. “Let’s invite Bill to walk on the red carpet with the stars, it will be a nice memory for him when we replace him with David Koepp.”

The question is always - eat first? Since I was early, I decided to grab some food at one of the Hollywood & Highland restaurants - this place where you look at pictures of food on a screen at your table and touch the screen - ordering by computer - and then the waiter brings the food to your table. Kind of cool - except when I had my touch screen menu in GRID RUNNERS it was the table surface instead of this monitor in the middle of the table. Not as cool as my sci-fi version.

Because it’s been raining in Los Angeles, and I don’t mean the usual light sprinkles that brings out the TV news logos for STORM WATCH!, this has been danged heavy rain - no car windshield wiper can keep up with it. Buckets. Monday it was supposed to rain, so they had set up tents on Hollywood Blvd and a tent hallway over the red carpet. Because a prompt man is a lonely man, I was already in the cinema when the stars arrived, but it’s strange when the rope is up to keep people away from *you* (instead of the other way around).

This link takes you to the red carpet slide show at IMDB... no shots of me.

Friday The 13th Red Carpet.

Dress was “business casual”, and since I have never worked in an office in my life, I have no idea what that is. I worked at Safeway, where we wore ties and aprons... and I worked in a warehouse where I wore jeans and steel toed boots. For the past 20 years I have worked as a writer... that is my business. Marcel Proust worked in his dressing gown and pajamas... in an interview Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH) said she wrote naked (and she’s a very attractive woman) - could I show up at the premiere in my PJs or nekked and be allowed in? I wore a good pair of jeans, a black dress shirt, and a tan sport jacket... and noticed some people who appeared to be dressed in some new homeless style that must be all the rage in Paris - they looked like they were going through the dumpsters behind Grauman’s moments before. Others were in suits... and the women who weren’t subscribers to homeless chic were in hot evening wear.



In the lobby I bumped into the producer - my boss - and he seemed happy to see me, but didn’t say a word about that second draft. I’m fired for sure. My giant ticket has an assigned seat number on it, and the ushers are freakin’ Nazis about making sure you sit in the correct seat. They are polite, they show you to the seat... but then they stand there and make sure you sit in the seat on your ticket and not some better seat. All of the ushers are big guys - probably bouncers in real life. My seat is okay, on the left side aisle. The stars and real VIPs are sitting in the center section. The producer and his date are sitting in the center section, along with some entourage members. The stars are the last to arrive... except for the guy who plays Jason - he’s early, and squeezing out every second of fame he can. There’s actually a line of people getting autographs.

The Head Of Production guy from the company and his girlfriend come down the aisle, lead by a bouncer/usher, and he stops to say hello. He mentions that everybody loves my draft, but also mentions with FRIDAY THE 13TH coming out, everybody is just loving the producer - they expect it to be a big hit, and studio eager to work with him on the next project... which seems to be mine. Then the bouncer/usher prods the HOP and his GF down to their seats, and I don’t get to ask follow up questions... so does he think they really loved my script or are just saying that to kiss the producer’s butt? Too late... but I do notice the HOP and GF have worse seats than I do - way on the end of a row. How did I get a better seat? Maybe he *asked* for a seat in the corner so that he could zip out if he got a phone call?

Then, the last stars trickled in as the house lights went down and the movie started....



The new FRIDAY THE 13th is okay. Not a remake, not a re-imagining, but kind of a sequel to the first film... using parts of the first 3 original films. Totally respects the first film (and its end twist) even though it has Jason alive instead of drowned... and then we get a totally 80s style horror movie, just with a much bigger budget. Boobs and blood and some cool kills. I would tell you my favorite kill, but that would be a spoiler. Let’s just say, it’s at the pier. We eventually even get the shh-shh-shh-shh-ha-ha--ha theme, too. There was a scene where they are being chased by Jason and blast into the cabin and the stoner kid is smoking.... and I wish the lead (Jared Padelecki - who is as tall as I am) would have told the stoner “Shh-shh-shh” and the stoner kid would have laughed. I also wish they had Kevin Bacon and Betsy Palmer do cameos, that would have been cool. There are some okay kills (some recycled from the first 3 films), some okay suspense scenes, and some stuff swiped from SEE NO EVIL and HILLS HAVE EYES (remake) 2. Completely delivered - and has the longest prologue scene ever. It starts out funny, some great lines and a good scene where a guy and gal are trying to hook up but the nerd just keeps getting in the way. And once we see Camp Crystal Lake, it’s abandoned, desolate, spooky... kind of reminded me of Mandalay from REBECCA.

Four problems (for me at least):

1) We get the Jason legend up front, so the people have nothing to discover or learn over the course of the film. No goal, no secrets to uncover... nothing to do except get killed one by one in interesting ways with a machete. Most of these films (like the first one) have the kids piece together the mystery of why they are getting killed as they are getting killed one-by-one. That gives them a goal and a purpose, other than just having the machete strike them in an unusual way.

2) There are two sets of teen victims, and they are interchangeable. Both sets have stoner kids, both have geek kids, both have handsome a-holes, etc. They needed a better variety of characters, since these guys were all lunchmeat. And the characters need to be not complete cliches. Not only did we get two identical sets of teens, they were stock characters... not real at all.

3) Jason has zero motivation. Yes, I know it’s a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, but there is a completely illogical kill in the film (actually two of them) that kind of make the film impossible. Yes, these kills are similar to ones from the original movies - but they didn't make any sense there, either. Jason has to have some reason to kill, and his motivation must aim directly at kids who go camping around Crystal Lake (like the camp counselors in the original, and all of the rest of the kids in the sequels). But here Jason kills some people who will bring in the authorities, and he can’t do that. There’s no reason for him to do it, and if he does it that will bring in the law. We don’t need an FBI task force at Crystal Lake headed by Will Graham and/or Clarice Starling.

4) and this ties to #1 - I love it when one of the characters fight back - that always gets a cheer from the audience. And you’d expect out of all of these *victims* that one person would have balls. Here, we *almost* get a fighting back scene - but it’s, um, nipped in the bud.

But I laughed and screamed and (this is sick) laughed at the more inventive kills and had a good time. It is what it is. It delivers what you want from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie. I think it's going to make some money.



Afterwards, I tracked down the producer to suggest a director I like (we don’t have one at this time - nor do we have our star anymore - and there’s a story behind that which I will tell after the statute of limitations runs out for this job) (oh, and I didn't tell him those 4 problems I had with the film - I'm not *trying* to get fired), and found him on the stairs - people passing him and congratulating him. He introduced some people to me as “the writer of the next one” - which made me feel like I am probably not going to be fired tomorrow - and then asked if I had a ticket to the afterparty in my envelope... *many* people didn’t get them. I had a ticket and free valet parking ticket with a map on the back. Cool that he made sure I had one. We all kind of walked out at the same time...

But the party was a block away at My House on LaBrea, so I decided to walk (with some other people) and they drove. Another rope to keep others out... but I got right in without a problem. The club was big, already crowded, and lines for food. There were also wait-people with trays of food, so I figured I’d avoid the lines, grab a beer, and grab stuff off trays. I ended up talking to another writer I know, a woman who I later discovered was a producer, and an FX guy I know. I know stunt men and FX guys - I have no idea why. I know Kane Hodder, who was Jason in some of the original films, he was also in at least one film I wrote.

Anyway, I’m not good at socializing. I don’t mingle well. I usually know somebody, and hang out with them at parties... but I had this pocket ful of business cards and I didn’t get out a single one. I basically sat in the corner and talked to people I already knew.



Okay, I have a thing for redheads. In any FRIDAY THE 13th movie (or clone) there are hot girls who get nekkid and get killed and the nice girl who keeps her clothes on and survives. This new film kind of mixes that up so that you aren’t sure who will die, but the nice girl from the first group of victims was this cute redhead, Amanda Righetti. I had joked on a message board that if anyone else was at the premiere to say hello to me (because I’d be wallflowering in some corner), but if I was with a hot starlet half my age - wait until she shoots me down before saying hello. The table we were at was away from the DJ so that we could talk... and most of the stars ended up in that area (so they could talk). That meant we were surrounded by hot starlets half my age in great evening gowns. Check out the IMDB slide show. Anyway, the FX guy went to get a round of drinks and I said if that redhead came over I would give away his seat. And here’s where it gets funny - FX guy comes back with drinks, other writer and producer go to mingle... and someone asks if they can sit down in the now empty seats... Amanda Righetti! And her boyfriend. So I say hello and try to start a conversation... but she completely shuts me down and focuses on her BF... and if I’m not sitting an inch away from her.

Eventually I do a circle of the club, Wes Craven nods and smiles to me - we were on a panel together once, but there’s no way he remembers my name. I’m just a familiar face. I also pass the Producer, his back to me, and overhear him say my name... but pass by before I hear the end of the sentence ("I'm firing him tomorrow!") - but that's my paranoia kicking in. Things seem to be going pretty good on this project. After drinking free beers and eating free food (chocolate chip cookie and chocolate milk shooters for desert), I split... passing some guy that looks a little like Carl Ellsworth (who wrote RED EYE and DISTURBIA and the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake) and it wasn’t until I was out the doors that I realized it probably *was* Carl. I thought about going back to say hello, but instead I walked back to Hollywood & Highland and my vehicle and headed home...

Where a couple of streets over, every police and news helicopter was hovering and a couple dozen police cars and something like three SWAT trucks were ready for action because a night-long police pursuit had come to an end there. It had been on the news live for 2 hours as they chased this guy all over Los Angeles, ending up a couple of blocks away from my apartment. Eventually the helicopters stopped and I went to sleep.

Now I’ve only got a screening on Wednesday, a thing on Thursday, meeting friends for drinks on Friday... and all of the stuff still in my in basket from before the holidays.

UPDATE: Nada! We lost another star and another director and I think the perfect window of opportunity for this film closed. The heat disapated. A strange thing happens when a project has been sitting on the desk for too long - the producer thinks it needs to be "made fresh" by doing a rewrite that may change the very reason why people liked it in the first place. Several months after this premiere, the producer had a new idea for the script to freshen it up... and I thought the idea was a script killer that would destroy the project. I was afraid if this version were ever put to paper if would kill the film's chances of *ever* being made - so I became a difficult writer and walked away. Could have made a rewrite fee - but would rather have the film get made. Around the same time horror remakes as a genre lost heat, on to found footage... so now I don't think it will *ever* be made. Pisser. Only 1 in 10 scripts that are bought or developed ever get made, most end up on the shelf forever. I have scripts at studios all over town on the shelves...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Planned Unpredictablity - and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.



Movies: PUSH - One of those scripts that needed a lot of work or a great director... it didn't seem to get either. The story has this fatal flaw - the MacGuffin doesn't show up until act 3, and before that it's a lot of people talking in grungy rooms and every so often a completely pointless fight scene that doesn't accomplish anything and winning or losing doesn't matter to the story. So it's all filler material. Imagine RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but instead of finding the ark and having it stolen and trying to steal it back... they don't find the ark until the very end of the movie, and the rest of the time Indy and the Nazis just say mean things to each other. Indy can't kill the Nazis because the movie would be over, and the Nazis can't kill Indy for the same reason... so it would just be pointless filler action. That's PUSH.

There's a point in one of the fights where Fanning tells Hounsou they can't kill Evans, it will change the future - so Hounsou tells his guy to stop. And I wondered - what was the point if all they can do is beat him up and let him go so that they can have another fight where they *have* to let him go. It's pointless. Everyone is just wasting time until Act 3 when we can actually have an action scene that changes the story... maybe.

Dialogue is often terrible and expositional, characters are often caricatures, and action scenes are pointless - and often silly (things that looked good on paper look like cartoons in real life - telekinetic guns are just funny to watch). Also, key elements aren't introduced until *way* too late - sinking the story. Again - it's like they were making it up as they went along, when the plot twists required things to be set up.

I think most acting is brought down by dialogue - but the acting is okay. Hounsou needed to be given more to do - he's one of those great guys who can elevate crap, and they mostly just had him stand there. Fanning is okay - drunk scene is a highlight. Belle looks stoned, and is playing the femme fatale, but in the most unsexy clothes you can imagine. Evans is kind of the lead, and needed more character - or at least some personality. Cliff Curtis has a great role, and he's also one of those actors you can put in a crap film and he makes it better (10,000 BC with Belle).

Plot, by the way, makes no sense.

Plus, what is The Division going to do with this stuff? We don't have a demonstration of what's possible, and we don't have a villain's plan to thwart. They are cardboard villains after a worthless MacGuffin.

Directing is crap. The whole movie looks like they forgot to color time it. The angles and composition are often weird. They have these ultra grainy shots, and at first I thought it was for a purpose... but then they'll have one when there's no remote viewing, so maybe there is no purpose. Shaky cam, quick cuts, the usual crap. It's difficult to make Hong Kong look this bad on film - it's lighted wrong. Things that should be magic on film end up being dull. Fanning is psychic and has a sketch pad where she draws these images of the future, and instead of the magical match of sketch and reality, it's just kind of there. Hard to screw something like that up, but they do.

The film needed to be more fun, more exciting, and more emotionally involving. Just kind of lays there like a carp. No envelopes were pushed, though they did use some pretty red envelopes as part of the story.

- Bill


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Prisoner In The Mirror

Best Of Thriller: Prisoner In The Mirror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 34.
Airdate: May 23, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Arthur
Cast: Henry Daniell, Lloyd “It’s a cookbook” Bochner, Marion Ross.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The hand of death strikes suddenly, and without regard for the plain, the beautiful, the bad or the good. For when the hand of death is controlled by a force of evil the consequences can defy belief. Our story tonight concerns just such a force and it features a most unusual star: This mirror. In it you will see our players caught in a strange reflection. Mr. Lloyd Bochner, Miss Marion Ross, Mr. Jack Mullaney, Miss Pat Michon, and Mr. Henry Daniell. So be prepared to gaze through a glass darkly. But don’t! Please don’t stand too close! I should hate to see this happen to any of you.”

(Break to continue the prologue story in 1910)

“Young Robert was no murderer, nor was he mad as he may have seemed. He was a victim of one of the most diabolical practitioners of black magic ever known, Count Alessandro Cagliostro. Only a legend you say? Well, perhaps, but that’s for you to decide. Now we resume our tale, more than half a century later.”

(Now to present day)



Synopsis: Paris, 1910: The elegant Robert de Chantenay (David Frankham) and woman Marie Blanchard (Erika Peters) sip champagne in a restaurant. Robert does some amazing slight of hand magic producing a bouquet of roses, a bird, a diamond necklace! She is amazed and amused and wants more. He uses the diamond necklace to hypnotize her... but the end of his hypnosis is a frightening: “Life transformed into death.” He suddenly turns into a skeleton, and puts the necklace around her neck with a boney hand! Who is Robert de Chantenay? A sorcerer? A demon?

Later, Robert paints the mirror in his room black... when there is a knock at the door. It is his Mother (Frieda Inescort), who says there are men downstairs who want to speak to him... *police*men! They have a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Marie! Robert tells his Mother that he is innocent, but could never prove it... so he jumps out a window to his death! Splat! On the cobblestones below.

Back to Karloff for the second half of his introduction, then...



Paris, Today: In the Societe Curiosites Historiques, Professor Harry Langham (Lloyd Bochner) is investigating the historical figure known as Count Alesssandro Cagliostro but is warned not to by Professor Thibault (Peter Brocco) because Cagliostro was pure evil... undying evil. They are interrupted by Harry’s research assistant Fred Forrest (Jack Mullaney) who reminds Harry of an appointment. Harry tells Thibault that his research has lead him to look for a large mirror owned by Cagliostro that was acquired by Robert de Chantenay and sold soon after his suicide in 1910. Thibault suggests he look through the records at Armand’s, where every valuable antique bought or sold or stolen in Paris has been catalogued. Professor Thibault still wants Harry to abandon his quest for information about Cagliostro and offers to take him to the tomb of Yvette Dulaine, a favorite at the court of Louis The Sixteenth who fell under the spell of Cagliostro which lead to a strange and terrible fate. A dark tomb of a beautiful woman who suffered a terrible fate? Who could say no to that?

The Tomb: downstairs, gated and padlocked. Dark and creepy. Harry asks, “How did she die?” Thibault answers, “Did she die at all?” He opens the coffin and... Yvette (Patricia Michon) looks exactly the same as when she died in 1780. Is she dead or under a spell? Harry looks at her, she’s young and attractive... forever. Also probably dead. Is he falling in love with a dead woman? How could she remain so well preserved?



Harry talks to Mssr. Armand (Louis Mercier), who has a huge collection of antique mirrors... including one covered with black paint which was once owned by Robert de Chantenay. When Armand steps away to speak with someone else, Harry begins to remove the paint seeing the reflection of himself... and Yvette standing behind him!



Boston, Today: Professor Harry’s house, Fred and his sister Kay (Marion Ross looking nothing like Richie’s mom on HAPPY DAYS) are unpacking the mirror that Harry paid a fortune for in Paris. Cagliostro’s mirror? Fred wants Kay to hurry up and marry Harry so that he’ll settle down and stop these obsessive searches for weird historical artifacts. That’s when Harry comes home, kisses Kay, and asks Fred to help him carry the mirror upstairs. They place the mirror in the bedroom, and as soon as Fred and Kay are gone, Harry looks into the mirror for Yvette. He scrapes off the rest of the paint, until it’s a normal mirror again. No reflections but his own. Harry pulls up a chair to watch the mirror... and as darkness falls outside, he goes downstairs to dinner.

Professor Fred has dinner with his fiance Kay, who asks why he’s so distant. He tells her the story of Yvette... forever young and dead in that crypt. Kay wonders if he’s fallen in love with... a corpse. How can she compete with that? After dinner Harry goes up to his room and look at the mirror again. He is *obsessed* with Dead Yvette! Kay’s fears are not unfounded.



In the middle of the night, a weird reflection in the mirror: a flame? Yes! It’s Yvette lighting candles on “her side” of the mirror. Her side of the mirror is another room in another time, and Harry is not reflected there. It’s as if the mirror is a portal into another world. Harry talks to the mirror, on “her side” Yvette shakes her head when asked if she can speak... he wants to help her. Maybe he wants to kiss her, too, but Kay knocks on the door. She was worried about him. He was acting strangely at dinner, and then raced upstairs afterwards. Is he okay? Harry opens the door, but wants to keep her away from the mirror (and Yvette, the other woman in his life)... Then asks her to look in the mirror and tell him what she sees. Kay moves to the mirror, looks straight into the glass... but only sees her own reflection. The world on the other side of the mirror has vanished! “She’s gone! You scared her away!” He yells at Kay to get out of the room. She thinks he may have gone a little crazy and splits. He *has* gone a little crazy...

When Harry goes back to the mirror, instead of Yvette’s reflection in that other world he sees “another victim of Count Alexander Cagliosto” (the awesome Henry Daniel) who claims Cagliostro’s evil spell has made him and Yvette prisoners in this mirror... and Harry can help them escape. Harry looks at the beautiful Yvette, he can help her escape? All he has to do is repeat aloud one of Cagliostro’s spells... and then the Man hypnotizes Harry. Hey, that’s not a victim of Cagliostro, that’s the evil man himself! As Harry speaks back the spell, Cagliostro orders his soul to join them in the mirror... and Harry’s soul gets up from the chair (his body left behind) and walks *into the mirror*! Joining them on the other side! This is done in one shot, by the way: which is totally cool. A “how did they do that?” moment.



Harry wakes up in the mirror world...

Where Cagliostro tells him that he has left his body unoccupied by a soul, which will allow Cagliostro to occupy it! Harry watches as Cagliostro exist the mirror and enters Harry’s sleeping body on the other side... and then his body awakens! Harry has allowed the evil of Cagliostro to be release once more upon the world! He is trapped in the mirror with Yvette while his body goes on an evil rampage!

The body of Harry picks up some hot babe named Laura (Pamela Curran) in a sleazy waterfront bar, does some slight of hand magic to make flowers appear and gives them to her. He takes her for a walk in the moonlight...

Wakes up the next morning and has a conversation with Harry’s soul, trapped in the mirror. A knock on the bedroom door... and Kay says there’s a man downstairs to see you... a Policeman (echo from the opening scene!). Harry/Cagliostro tells Key he’ll talk to the Policeman in private, and then apologizes to her for acting strange these past few days. When Kay leaves, Harry/Cagliostro goes to the mirror and tells Harry that he plans on nailing her later. Why wait until after the marriage for the honeymoon? How can Harry get out of the mirror world and stop him?



Harry/Cagliostro goes downstairs and talks to Sgt. Burke from Homicide (Walter Reed) who wants to know where he was at 3AM this morning. Harry says he was here, working. Burke says that a cop on the beat saw him enter the house at 4:15 AM. Harry explains that he took a walk at 4AM. Well, Sgt Burke say it seems that one of his students saw him leave the bar with Laura... who was later found murdered. Harry/Cagliostro says he isn’t exactly the type to hang out in bars like that, and his students shouldn’t be, either. I mean, he’s a college professor! What would he be doing in such a place? Obviously a case of mistaken identity. Sgt. Burke leaves, agreeing that it’s most likely a case of mistaken identity.

Then Harry/Cagliostro lays a massive kiss on Kay. Rotor rooter tongue action!

That night Harry/Cagliostro and Kay leave for a night on the town, passing Fred... who has a copy of the paper with the murder headline in his hands.

In the mirror world, Harry is trapped... worried about Kay.

Fred goes up to Harry’s room to look for clues to Harry’s recent strange actions (is he the killer of that woman?), but as much as Harry yells from inside the mirror, Fred can not hear him. Fred eventually falls asleep in the chair facing the mirror...



Harry/Cagliostro and Kay come back from their night out and Kay wants a cigarette, looks in Harry’s coat pocket and finds some women’s ear rings... which match the ear rings in the newspaper photo of the murdered girl that Fred left on the table. Suspense: is her fiancĂ© a killer? What should she do? Run? Wimpy women run, Kay confronts Harry/Cagliostro... who takes the ear ring out of her hands and uses it to hypnotize her!

Fred hears a noise and goes downstairs, finding Kay... murdered! Fred chases Harry/Cagliostro upstairs into the bedroom. They have a big fight, and *the mirror breaks*! Harry/Cagliostro dies... and Harry’s soul is trapped with Yvette in the mirror world forever!



Review: That might be a happy ending, since he gets the girl, or a frightening ending because he should have been more careful what he wished for!

On a message board we’re talking about how amazingly high concept TWILIGHT ZONES were, considering they were made on sixties TV show budgets. This is another example of what you can do on a very limited budget. We not only have the idea of the mirror world, we have *body swapping* years before FREAKY FRIDAY! The great thing about body swapping is that it’s just two actors acting like each other. What does that cost? Here it’s particularly sinister because we have an evil man taking joy rides in other people’s bodies and leaving the body owner to clean up the mess (or commit suicide because there is no way to clean it up). It’s a frightening idea, and it’s dirt cheap to film.



The Mirror World is another great idea that costs nothing (but talent) to film. The “sells it shot” where Harry’s soul detaches from his body and walks into the mirror is done with two simple shots. One is a double exposure with the camera locked down and Harry sitting in the chair, then a shot of harry getting up and walking away from the chair. Marry them and you have one Harry sitting as a translucent Harry gets up and walks away from his sitting self. The other shot is a little more complicated, but still not a budget buster. We see Harry *walk into the mirror* and disappear from this side as he exists only in the other side! All one shot. Of course, this is a $1.98 special effect where the mirror is just a frame with the “mirror world” on the other side. Harry just walks up to the frame, steps over it, and continues walking on the other side where Yvette is. Then he turns and looks out at a shot of his body in that chair. The Marx Brothers did a more complicated version of this in DUCK SOUP for laughs. When the mirror world disappeared, they just put a mirror in that frame! Though they didn’t do this for the episode, if you wanted to do this now I’d get a semi silvered mirror (two way mirror) and you could make a real reflection fade out into the mirror world without any cuts at all. (It looks like they might have done this in the episode, but the fade is too quick.) If you are doing a low budget movie you have to use much more imagination... that’s what you have instead of money. Same was true in television when this episode was made.

The echo scene of the police coming to talk to Robert in 1910 Paris and later Harry in present day America is great because we know the outcome of the Robert scene and fear that this will be the outcome for Harry as well. Things like this work in any genre and create suspense and dread... at no cost.



Henry Daniell was in five episode of THRILLER and is one of those great hambone British actors who just stole every second he was on screen. No one could be as deliciously evil as Daniell. He was an excellent Professor Moriarty in the Universal Sherlock Holmes movies and costarred with Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER in 1945.

Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham from HAPPY DAYS, is a that young wholesome woman you’d take home to the parents and marry. She’s young and attractive, but not in an overt sexual way. This totally works for the story, because it’s one thing for Cagliostro to rape and murder some slutty bar girl, but much more shocking if it’s the super nice virgin. I realize that’s just plain wrong to say: it’s awful either way. But the in visual shorthand it’s one thing to kill a growling pittbull and another to kill a cute puppy. Yeah, both are dead dogs, but audience’s make value judgements and sometimes we use those value judgements for dramatic purposes.



Lloyd Bochner is one of those actors who are *everywhere*. The year after this he would be on TWILIGHT ZONE in Richard Matheson’s TO SERVE MAN, and he’s *everywhere*. He’s in my favorite film POINT BLANK, he’s a villain on THE WILD WILD WEST, he’s on both THE MAN and THE GIRL FROM UNCLE, he’s on HOAGN’S HEROES and IT TAKES A THIEF, he’s on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and COLUMBO. He has 202 show credits on IMDB and some of those are TV shows where he was a recurring character, so it’s *hundreds* of total credits! This is a guy who could play heroes and villains and everything in between. This is his only THRILLER episode, and TO SERVE MAN was his only TWILIGHT ZONE episode, but he is memorable in both.

Though this episode isn’t as scary as some of the other horror eps, it has a creepy idea that sticks with you. What if someone could take your body for a joyride?

Bill



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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

ATLiH: Stunt Trouble

All The Losers In Hollywood...

For some reason, I know a bunch of stuntmen and special effects guys. My friend Rick’s friend Chuck rolled down the stairs at the end of THE EXORCIST and then, the next day, fell off the top of the Space Needle in PARALLAX VIEW. He’s an interesting guy - he’s worked on almost every Clint Eastwood movie and is still working now... even though he is no longer a young man. I’ll bet I know at least one stuntman on every U.S. movie that hits the big screen... and DVD. For this little story. I’m going to either change the names or leave them out... since these stuntmen want to keep working.

There is this low budget company that began by making low-end direct to video horror films. The company began as a distributor - and that’s really what studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Universal are - they distribute films. This company is way way way down the list from those studios. They “buy” a completed low budget film from an indie filmmaker (usually horror), then take it to American Film Market and sell foreign territories for as much as they can get... then release the film on DVD in the USA. They probably began with a boiler room, with out of work actors on the phone selling the movies to mom & pop video stores. Doing a hard sell, because these films have no stars in the cast, and probably no one who can even act in the cast. Plus, they were made on a shoe string and probably look like crap.

The problem these companies have is that they are dependent on the indie producers to make a film they can sell. As you know from my Trilogy Of Terror blog entries, most indie producers don’t have a clue... and end up making horror movies without any horror. I have no idea why they do this. But these really low end distribs have to wade through all of those movies, trying to find a horror film with some horror in it... at least enough to cut together a trailer. Eventually they find some indie filmmakers that have a clue, and they work with those guys - often telling them what sort of horror movie they would buy, so that the indie filmmaker can make that film. But people who have a clue tend to move on to bigger and better distribs... so eventually these low end companies decide it would be much easier to just make the films themselves.

And they start doing “in house” - making their own films.

Now, the creative force behind these films... are salesmen. The guys who sell the films at AFM or have graduated from the boiler room to VP Sales. They are not writers. They are not directors. They are not even producers. They are SALESMEN. They know what sells (boobs, blood) but know absolutely nothing about story or making movies.

They do know that if they are going to make a lot of money on these films, they have to be made for pocket change. So this company makes movies for $100k maximum and pays $1k for the screenplay. They started out paying $2k, but discovered the writer who would take $2k would take $1k. So why not pay the writer less and pocket the difference?

Now, here’s where it gets really good. At the company in this story, after they pay the writer $1k for the script, one of the salesmen does a rewrite. They don’t hire a writer to do the rewrite, because writers don’t know *what sells* the way a salesman does. This company makes over a dozen films a year - and has a deal with Blockbuster video. I have no idea how much Blockbuster pays them per film, but they make them for $100k. SAG signatory (extreme low budget deal) so they can get some names in the cast.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

So one of my stunman friends gets hired to work on a film from this company. The company has decided horror movies are oversaturated, so they’ve decided to make an action flick. Hey, and they are going to spend a little more (because they have to). My friend is a stuntman who wants to become a stunt coordinator (a step up) and they hire him in that position. He reads the script, and it’s not great, but it’s okay.

He goes to the first production meeting and discovers there is very little money in the stunt budget, but a whole lotta action in the script. My friend doesn’t want to be stunt coordinator on a film with very few stunts, how would that look on his resume? He wants to get a bunch of great clips for his reel out of this film, so that he never has to work for a company this low on the totem pole ever again. That means he’s going to have to pull favors.

He realizes the best way to get good clips on *his* reel is to find other stuntmen friends who want good clips on their reels. So he asks all of his buddies what stunts they have always wanted to do... stunts they would do just to have them on their reel (so that other companies will hire them at top dollar to do the same stunts in much better films). My friend goes back to the “producers” with a list of “stunts at cost” and they work them into the script. This is easier than you might think, since action films tend to have the same basic stunts. There are car chases and a high fall and fist fights and things like that.

Now, at this budget, the most impressive “stunt at cost” he can get is a car doing a multiple roll and exploding. My friend knows a stuntman who has always wanted a big car roll on his reel. If you’ve seen THE KINGDOM, you know that a good car roll can be really impressive. The SUV chase and explosion in that film is just amazing. There’s a behind the scenes on HBO that shows how they did it - and *that* is amazing. Back in the 70s when John Wayne was losing popularity, he made a film called McQ where he played a Dirty Harry type cop - and to sell the film, they did a record breaking car roll. The only reason why I own that film on DVD - the car roll.

Now, the car roll stuntman has never done one of these before, so he pulls all of *his* favors - and gets five top stunt guys in Hollywood to help him with his first car roll (and be there to watch... so they might hire him or recommend him later). They buy a car, build a roll cage, do all of the prep stuff. These expenses come out of pocket, now - the stuntguy will be paid for after the stunt. The stuntguy gets a pyrotech friend of his to explode a second car for cost. They will need an ambulance and a water truck on set for this... but the “producers” argue that they can do without both. The producers are thinking they can save money... and pocket it. What’s more, the ambulance and water truck and Fire Marshal don’t show up on film, so why pay for them? If it’s not on screen, it’s not important.

Well, the law says differently, so the producers are forced to comply. The producers will take care of the water truck and ambulance and Fire Marshal... because they are afraid if my friend the stunt coordinator does it, he won’t get the best price.

A week before the film goes into production, one of the two salesmen who own the company does his script rewrite... and now the script is much much worse than when my friend signed on. Now it’s crap. But the two salesmen turned “producers” who own the company think it’s brilliant. They think they know what they are doing, and what is good... and they are wrong.

But my friend thinks that maybe all of the cool stunts will make up for the (now) really bad screenplay....

THE CAR ROLL AND EXPLOSION

The call time is 9am. The stunt guys show up at 9am with the vehicles.... and no one else is there.

No one.

They wait around, and people start trickling in.

The pyro guy wants to run a test - explode the second car with a quarter of the pyro stuff... but there is no fire marshal on set. He asks when the fire marshal is supposed to show, and the Assistant Director says call time was 9am (even though he didn't show until after 10am himself). But he assured the pyro guy that there was a permit to explode stuff.

Well, the pyro guy *knows* the fire marshal who would be assigned to this film, and calls him. Guess what? There was never a permit. No one ever applied for a permit. This makes the pyro guy angry, but he’s already out here and set up... so he talks to the fire marshal. Smooths things over. Finds a way to make it work. The fire marshal will come out on set and they can fill out the paperwork and get a permit when he arrives. He will allow them to do the explosions (if they have a water truck on site) as soon as he arrives. By the way - this is a huge favor the pyro guy is pulling - he's getting a fire marshal to show up and do a permit on site... and it was the guy's day off.

The fire marshal gives them even a bigger break - he allows the pyro guy to do a test before he arrives.

My friend the stunt coordinator realizes that the test may provide an additional angle of the explosion (this is a low budget film - they have *one* camera to film the explosion) and tells the camera crew he needs a camera set up in 30 minutes. The camera crew seems to be working at their own pace, but assures him that the camera will be ready in half an hour.

Fifteen minutes later, my friend checks in with the camera crew, and they don’t seem to be working very fast. Part of this may be that my friend is the stunt coordinator, not the director... but it’s not like the camera crew is doing anything else. Today is a stunt day - it’s all about the stunt. The director, who is somewhere at the location on his cell phone talking to someone about something that has nothing to do with the movie. Seems not to care. I have no idea what they pay the directors on these films, but if the writer’s fee is any indicator, the director is probably making minimum wage. Now. I have this belief that what you are getting paid should have nothing to do with the amount of energy and enthusiasm you give a project. If you decide to do a crappy job because you are being paid crap... you won’t ever be offered a better job. Anyway, neither the director nor the camera guys seemed to give a damn.

This stunt man is going to risk his life by the end of the day, doing a dangerous car roll for peanuts, and the camera guys and director don’t care.

Half an hour later, the car is ready to explode... the camera is not ready to shoot. Now, my friend thinks the test explosion is pretty important on a low budget film... so he begs the pryo guy to give them another half hour to get the camera set up. Then he tells the camera crew that they have a half hour to get the camera set up and pointed at the car that is going to explode. If they aren’t ready in half an hour, they will explode the car anyway.

A half hour later, the camera is still not ready, and the pyro guy says he's going to do his test. The test is cool... and not on film.

When the camera finally is ready, the stunt guy gets ready to do his car roll. All of his buddies - big time stunt guys - are there to see the big event... and maybe pull him from the wreckage if things go wrong. They give him last minute advice on how to do the car roll, things to watch out for, things to remember... Then they all shake his hand. He’s about to do something very dangerous... roll a car over several times *on purpose*. Stuntmen are crazy.

The stuntguy asks when the ambulance is going to show, the Assistant Director says, “I don't know, but we're behind time, so just do it.”

The stuntguy thinks that is a very bad idea - they are *miles* from the nearest town out in the middle of nowhere. He asks how far the nearest hospital is - and the AD doesn't know. Folks, in case you don't know - the rules say they need to know where the nearest hospital is, and have directions on how to get there, even if all they are shooting is a *dialogue scene*. Usually the map to the hospital, along with all of the emergency numbers, is on the back of the call sheet. If a film is shooting a dialogue scene and someone gets hurt, has a heart attack, whatever, they need to know where the nearest hospital is.

This is a day where they are doing dangerous stunts *and* explosions and the Assistant Director has no idea where the nearest hospital is... not even the phone number!

Well, the stuntguy blows his top. The AD gets on the phone to one of the two salesmen turned film producers who run this company and explains that the stuntguy refuses to do the stunt unless they have an ambulance. The “producer” asks if an ambulance is really required? Maybe he can talk the stuntguy into doing the car roll without it, put him on the phone.

The stuntguy controls his temper as he explains how dangerous this stunt is. They have the car with the roll-cage, they have all of the safety equipment, they have a stunt team... it would be a shame to lose the stunt because they don’t have an ambulance. The “producer” tells the AD it's up to him to get an ambulance out there - free or dirt cheap.

Well, while the AD is calling ambulance companies, the fire marshal shows up - so they can blow up the second car. The fire marshal sees the water truck, and, for some reason, decides to tap the tank with his knuckles... it's empty. See, filling it with water would cost extra - somewhere between $20 and $50 - so they didn't do that. Well, the fire marshal blows up - what kind of morons are these guys? He's not going to let them do *anything* - even bullet hits - unless they get the water truck filled with water. The first AD calls HQ again, and the “producer” decides it's too much trouble to send a PA to fill the water truck, plus pay for an ambulance, etc.

So, they change the scene. They just want the car to drive up and down the dirt road, and they'll do everything else in post. They’ll superimpose some fake looking fireball on the car, and instead of the car roll, well... it just comes to a stop.

The stunt guys are all pissed off. The pyro guy is pissed off. The fire marshal is threatening an investigation.

Everyone has wasted their time, wasted their efforts, wasted their credibility... they’ve pulled all kinds of favors... for nothing. For want of a single horse a mighty empire fell... All of the cool stunts they would have had in their low budget movie for *free*? Not there.

This is why so many low budget film makers remain low budget film makers. They think it’s more important to save $20 than to make a better film. Who the hell would even *rent* a water truck and then not put water in it? These guys are low budget losers... the kind of people you never want to work for. They don't care, and they don't want to improve their work. The most important thing - the basic requirement - you have to care. You have to love what you do. You need to constantly be trying to do something better - to improve yourself and your work. Even if you are making a low budget horror flick, you need to try to make the *best* low budget horror film possible. If you don't have the money, use your imagination.

My friend and all of his stuntmen friends are never going to work for these low budget loser again, and have spread the word. No one will ever do them a favor again... no more free stunts, they'll have to pay full price. But the crappy film without stunts? On the shelves at Blockbuster.

Only in Hollywood, baby!

- Bill

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE

Directed by: Brian DePalma.
Written by: Brian DePalma, music & lyrics by Paul Williams.
Starring: William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Paul Williams.


He sold his soul for rock and roll...

About two years ago Edgar Wright hosted the 40th anniversary of Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE to a sold out crown in the massive Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. Most of the surviving cast was there, but star William Finley had recently passed away; so this was also a bit of a memorial for him as well. Since PHANTOM is one of my favorite movies, one that I saw in its brief initial run back in 1974, and several times since then... I was in that packed cinema. Wait, you’ve never heard of the film? That’s great! You have something to look forward to!

Buy the border Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and most people know him from BLOW OUT or maybe CARRIE... but those films were made in the middle of his career. He began making odd arthouse films and comedies... and kind of discovered Robert DeNiro (as well as many other actors who would later become famous). His first successful film was an anti (Viet Nam) war comedy starring Robert DeNiro, Gerrit Graham, and Jon Warden called GREETINGS (1968) about three friends who get their draft notices at the same time and each figures out a way to avoid being sent to Viet Nam where they will likely return in a body bag. It’s kind of a series of skits with these three characters that lampoons the time period and the social turmoil in the United States surrounding the war. Jon Warden was the star, with DeNiro and Graham as his sidekicks, and by the end of the film DeNiro is the only one who gets sent to Viet Nam... to return in the sequel HI MOM! (Introducing Charles Durning) which looks at the early 70s, and everything from Organic Food to the Black Power Movement (“Be Black Baby!”).

After a string of successful comedies, they gave DePalma a comedy studio film starring Orson Welles and The Smothers Brothers... which flopped. DePalma went back to indie films and played around with Hitchcock and horror (he had previously done a comedy with Hitchcock overtones called MURDER ALA MOD, starring William Finley... who was a member of his stock company of actors).



His brilliant Hitchcockian horror flick SISTERS was a big hit (I have the Critereon edition) and his next film was going to be called PHANTOM OF THE FILMORE, starring Finley in a mash up of every classic horror movie ever made, plus a satire of the music industry. After writing the script, he approached Paul Williams to write the music figuring he’d start at the top (Williams had written a string of hits at this point) but to his surprise this was *exactly* what Williams was looking for, When you’ve written a string of hit pop songs, you want to try the exact opposite. A rock opera that makes fun of the music biz? Sign him up! Williams also ended up playing the villain, Swan, who has made a little deal with the Devil to look forever young and be incredibly successful. Somewhere along the way, promoter Bill Graham had a lawyer inform them that they couldn’t use the name of his Filmore club, and the film became PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

This film came *before* ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and just about everyone believes it’s better... but it flopped, as did ROCKY HORROR. The difference? ROCKY HORROR’s distrib played it at midnight shows where it became the phenomenon that it is today. PHANTOM was distributed by 20th Century Fox and they didn’t even know what a midnight show was! So everybody was doing the Time Warp Again and nobody remembered PHANTOM. Well, that’s not exactly true. Those who had seen it the first time it came out kept it alive in revival houses where the introduced their friends to the film. I know I dragged friends to it whenever it played in Berkeley. I had the soundtrack on vinyl and played it frequently, and can sing along with every song if required. I also probably know every line of dialogue. Too bad they didn’t do midnight shows back in the day because then *everybody* would know about this film rather than ROCKY HORROR (though we wouldn’t know about Tim Curry, so maybe it’s good things turned out as they did). But what about the story?

Well the story is about a very talented artist who gets ripped off by The Man... something that screenwriters can identify with.

Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a struggling composer working on a rock opera version of Faust who manages to get a gig playing music between shows (when people are leaving the venue, glorified Muzak) for the multi platinum 50's nostalgia band The Juicy Fruits. Mysterious music producer Swan (Paul Williams) who represents the Fruits is about to open a new rock venue and is looking for a new sound... and when he hears Winslow’s music he thinks this may be it. He orders his tubby underling Philbin (the amazing George Memoli, who is also in Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS, ROCKY, Paul Schrader’s BLUE COLLAR and a bunch of other great 70s stuff) to grab the music and ditch Winslow. Buy the border After “submitting his music to Swan” through Philbin and not hearing back, he tries Swan’s office building, where he’s on a “beat up on sight” list, and after recovering tries Swan’s mansion where he discovers a long line of female singers practicing one of his songs. The best of the bunch is the beautiful and talented Phoenix (introducing Jessica Harper) and Winslow learns from her that Swan has stolen his music, claimed it as his own, and is auditioning females singers for the opening of the Paradise Club. Winslow tries to see Swan (by dressing up as a female singer) and gets beaten up and dumped on the street, where a pair of cops plant some heroin in his purse and arrest him.

In Sing Sing Prison (everything in this film is musical) Winslow is volunteered against his will for a medical experiment funded by Swan’s company where they extract every tooth in your mouth and replace it with stainless steel.

Winslow escapes prison, discovers that the Juicy Fruits have recorded an album of his music done 50's style, goes to destroy all of the vinyl record at Swan’s factory... but trips and his head lands in the record press... smashing his face and leaving the offensive album permanently engraved in his skin.

After recovering, Winslow goes to the Paradise Club where the Fruits are rehearsing for opening night (as a new group: the Beach Bums, doing early 60s style music)... and dons a costume and mask from the costume storage room (becoming The Phantom) before planting a bomb that injures the Fruits and stopping them from desecrating his music. Buy the border Winslow is captured by Swan, who locks him away to complete the rock opera for Phoenix to sing... except Swan has no intention of having Phoenix open the club, she’s way too wholesome. And when Winslow has finished his rock opera? Swan walls him into the room faster than you can say Poe’s Cask Of Amontillado.

So Swan has to find a new opening night act for the Paradise in a great *one shot* audition scene that features a dozen music acts so unbelievable that they’re believable... and settles on glam rocker Beef (Gerrit Graham, stealing whatever movie he is cast in). One of the great things about this film, which came up in the panel discussion afterwards, is how well it *predicts* new music trends and even specific bands. It’s kind of like NETWORK in that regard, you see it now and think they are making fun of KISS when they use the Juicy Fruit band members dressed in black with patterns painted on their faces in black and white... but KISS didn’t even exist when this film was made! Though this is a satire of the music business, it’s crazy creations would eventually come true! Buy the border On opening night for the Paradise, Winslow as the Phantom breaks out and threatens Beef, telling him that only Phoenix can sing his songs, and anyone else who tries dies. Beef doesn’t want to go on, Philbin insists... and in the middle of Beef’s CALIGARI style opening number the Phantom zips a neon lightning bolt down at Beef, electrocutes him, and Beef fries on stage... while the audience calls for an encore. Swan has Phoenix go out and sing to calm the crowd... and she’s a massive hit!





Realizing it will take something really amazing to top a rock star burning alive on stage, Swan decides he will *marry* Phoenix on stage, and then have a sniper kill her dead. That’s entertainment! Now Winslow/Phantom must stop this from happening, even though he knows that the woman he loves has willingly agreed to marry Swan in exchange for stardom. No matter what happens, things will not end happily ever after.

Buy the border

After the film, the panel spent about an hour talking about the making of the film (in Dallas Texas standing in for New York City) where their production designer Jack Fisk (his first film) had an assistant named Sissy Spacek who would later star in the movie CARRIE for DePalma after starring in some film called BADLANDS. Jack and Sissy married and are still together, and I bumped into them and chatted at some low rent Oscar party that made the mistake of inviting me. Jack and Sissy were not on the panel, but hammy GerritGraham, still hot Jessica Harper, Paul Williams, Juicy Fruits Harold Oblong and Jeffrey Comanor (who was carried onto stage, then got up and jogged around a little), plus the film’s editor Paul Hirsch, who learned how to edit films with DePalma who then introduced him to his Hollywood Brats friends where Lucas hired him to edit STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and he later edited MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL and SOURCE CODE and RAY and a zillion other big films, and William Finley’s widow Susan joined the panel later (she’s in the movie as an extra!). The always amazing Edgar Wright moderated. They had all kinds of great stories about making the film, and Williams talked about making this crazy decision to write music which was the opposite of what he was known for while trashing the industry he was a part of.

It was an amazing night, and the film is just as funny as the day it was made. A real gem waiting to be discovered by any of you who haven’t seen it yet. The songs have great pop hooks and subversive lyrics... you’ll be humming them later. Because it’s DePalma it is filled with all kinds of crazy film experiments and homages, including a recreation of the opening scene from TOUCH OF EVIL as a musical number with the Beach Bums band!



The Panel Discussion (someone videoed it!)

Bill

Buy the border

Monday, April 09, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: Quiet Please!

Lancelot Link Monday! I've often said that a true high concept is inexpensive to make because the *concept* is the special effect. "I see dead people!" - hey, the kid sees *actors* playing dead! Same with the movie GHOST - Patrick Swayze is just an actor in scenes and nobody can see or hear him because he's "dead". The real world is just a computer simulation called THE MATRIX... but it's just the *idea* that it's not the real world that is the special effect. So what if the *idea* that there are monsters out there with highly sensitive hearing? Make a noise and they attack - so you must always be quiet. *Sounds* become the real special effect - and making the slightest noise creates suspense. How much does a creaking stair sound cost? A QUIET PLACE cost only $17 million to make - with a couple of names in the cast - and made $71 million worldwide in its first weekend. A simple idea. Making a sound is the high concept, like DON'T BREATHE from a couple of years ago. That's our goal as screenwriters - finding the simple idea that costs little but has all kinds of built in production value. A true high concept is inexpensive to make. While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Quiet Place ................... $50,000,000
2 Ready Player ................... $25,060,000
3 Blockers ....................... $21,439,000
4 Black Panther ................... $8,430,000
5 I Can Only ...................... $8,356,800
6 Acrimony ........................ $8,065,000
7 Quiddick ........................ $6,200,000
8 Sherlock ........................ $5,600,000
9 Pacific Rim ..................... $4,910,000
10 I Love Dogs ..................... $4,600,000


BLACK PANTHER just past TITANIC and is now #3 on the All Time Highest Domestic Box Office List. Saturday night Chadwick Boseman was on SNL and killed it playing T'Challa on Black Jeopardy... not promoting BLACK PANTHER (which he repeatedly noted in his monologue had been out for months) but promoting AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which opens in a couple of weeks. BLACK PANTHER may still be in the Top 10 when the next Marvel movie opens! If INFINITY WAR can stay in the top ten until early July, when ANT MAN AND WASP opens...

2) The Real Writers Of A QUIET PLACE.

3) CHAPPAQUIDDICK Interviews.

4) BLOCKERS Writer On Stealth Feminist Comedy.

5) How NOT To Introduce Female Characters. HINT: They are humans beings, not boobs.

6) "One day she could be president, if she could just find her car keys." How your favorite female characters were introduced in the script.

7) The Black List Is Producing Films.

8) The Secret Behind Amazon's TV Shows.

9) TV Writing Tips From TV Writers.

10) How To Distribute Your Indie Film.

11) China's Box Office Is Now Bigger Than The USA's... But foreign box office has been twice USA's for decades.

12) The Limits Of Chinese Box Office. They Mostly Want To See Chinese Movies, It Seems.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Because everyone is debating the best decade for movies, here are the best car chase from the 1970s.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Whose Film Is It Anyway? - The Importance Of Point Of View In A Screenplay.
Dinner: Ham Sandwich & Carrot Sticks.
Pages: Worked on some new script tips.
Bicycle: Didn't ride today - walked.

Movie:
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