Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kiss Of Death

Day after Christmas, let's go back ten years on the blog and see what I posted...

This is Richard Widmark's first film role... and he steals the movie. Notice how the character is in contrast with himself - that's what makes him interesting. In films we'd had happy-go-lucky people who enjoyed their work, and we'd had hit men... but never happy-go-lucky hit men who enjoyed their work! He does those two things that don't seem like they belong together, and makes it all seem natural.



And another attack on Great Britain, sorry!

UK's Movies For Men 2:

Sunday April 12th, 21:00 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

Tuesday April 14th, 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Tuesday April 14th, 22:05 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

I'm sorry for the pain I have caused anyone who watches these.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Talent Shortage Part 2: The Revenge

Last Wednesday and today, this 2 part series from 2007!

Lots of response on the last entry, here are some more answers and thoughts.

So many of these bad AFM films were written-produced-directed by the same person, who might have been able to do *one* of those jobs right - but they were not looking to hire anyone else (or even get advice from anyone else).

I was in the lobby for a while yesterday, and talked to a few writers. One had financing from private sources and had written a script... and he was looking for a distrib and a director and someone to physically produce the film. This guy told me every producer or director who has read the script so far had the exact same problems with it... but he was sure he'd find someone who shared his vision.

I think this guy did an amazing thing in finding the money to make a film... but he either needs to fix the script or find someone to rewrite it. He isn't interested in doing either.

So many of the companies at AFM are clones of the company I talked about in a previous entry (about the stunt guys) - and they don't know what is a good script and even if they find one someone at the company rewrites it into crap. They don't have talent and they don't care... and they're in charge.

The main thing at market is still that the middle has fallen out - I was talking to a couple of producers who said the only films that can make a profit are extreme low budgets ($10-15k) and movies made for $2 million with stars working below their rate in the cast... or big stars in big budget movies that the studio will buy.

Oh, and those rare really great films.

The $15k and below movies - writers don't get paid.

The $2 million movies with stars - well, those deals usually begin with someone who has access to a star who will work below below their rate... the guy with access has a script, and no matter how bad that script is, that's the one that gets made.

The studio style films work just like any other studio film... and often they begin with star access. When I talk to these guys, the thing I hear over and over again is - who is attached?

One of the producers I talked with is a guy I know who made a $100k film that distribs are offering him the kind of money on that only makes sense if the film had cost $15k. He found his script on Craig's List (why even look there?) and I read it. The script had lots and lots of problems, not the least of which was that it could not be made on $100k. I gave him notes and told him he needed to create a small role and hire a name to play it. He passed my notes on to the writer... who ignored them. The problem is, the producer didn't have any money in his budget to pay the writer for rewrites or hire another writer... and the writer didn't want to lift a finger to improve his script. So it was filmed as is, without the role written for a name, and now it's a crappy film without even a single name in the cast. Hard to sell one of those.

Now, my first question is why not start with a good script? But obviously there aren't enough out there. Well, not enough out there that this guy could afford. But why not wait until you find a good script before making the film? Why just grab the first script that comes along? I would really worry if there wasn't a better script than this one... even on Craig's List.

Those middle movies that start with a script - very few of those are made these days. The focus is so much on the stars, that the scripts are an afterthought. Big mistake! When you're cruising the aisles at Blockbuster and you see some new movie you've never heard of with some big name star - that may be one of these suckfests.

I had 2 films come out on DVD this year, and both ended up completely screwed up because there isn't enough talent (or people who care) in the other creative departments. What pissed me off most is that in one case they had a script that everyone thought was really good... so they changed it. People who didn't know anything about screenwriting made changes that turned it into crap. But these people were in charge - they paid me - so they must know more than me, right? Okay... this is headed into sour grapes territory, so I'm going to get back on topic: There is a big talent shortage - and even if they buy a good script, it doesn't end up good by the time it hits the screen.

For me the frustrating part is that we could have better movies, producers could make more money, and good writing could be rewarded... if they just put quality first. The guy with the great star connection and the not-so-great script? You know, maybe it would be a better film with someone else's script? The guy with the great money connection and the not-so-great script? Wouldn't the investors be more happy with him if he found a great script that would bring a greater financial return? Shouldn't the focus be on making a good film?

Maybe the stars and producers and directors should learn the difference between a good script and a script that makes *them* look good? You know, they would make more money in the long run, and actually look better in the long run. You have to put the film first.

Look, if someone offered me a bus-load of money to write a rom-com, I'm not going to take it. I'm the wrong writer for that job. I know my limitations. This project would be better off with some other writer.

I think the quality of the project has to come before ego. Has to come before everything... or we'll just end up with more bad films.

NOT MY JOB



I think this is the real problem: no one wants to do their job. Agents don't want to search for new talent, so they only read scripts that are referred to them. Producers don't want to search for scripts, they want agents to find them... and they would rather someone just hand them a script that already has Tom Cruise attached - saves them finding a star.

The result of all of this are films like BATTLEFIELD EARTH - John Travolta attached to a script, and he'll work for below his quote.

And speaking of Tom Cruise, I haven't seen LIONS FOR LAMBS, but it's not getting good reviews. The reason why it got made? Well, Tom Cruise's company and Redford's company wanted to make it.

Problem is - I don't see a major change in the way business is done any time in the future. Writers are the least important part of the equasion. So many companies at AFM believe that a script is a script. If they want to make good movies, movies with a shelf life, they need to start with a good script... then make sure every other element in the film is good.

This may happen because of the policy shift at Blockbuster - starting in January they are remodeling stores to focus on DVD sales instead of rentals. You may rent a DVD because of good box art, but you aren't going to spend $25 to *buy* a DVD unless it's a movie that you plan on seeing more than once - and that means it has to be a good movie... and good movies start wih good scripts.

Of course, this shake up will take *years* for producers to figure out. If they ever do.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Talent Shortage

For the next 2 Wednesdays, this 3 part series from 2007!

So, I’ve been wandering the halls of the American Film Market for the past couple of days, and it seems that there are more films than there are talented people who can make films.

If you don’t know, the American Film Market is a trade show for independent films held every year at the Leow’s Hotel in Santa Monica. It used to be in Beverly Hills, and it used to be in February. For the past few years it seems to get smaller as it gets larger. Now it’s in 2 hotels, but not nearly as crowded as it used to be.

Though Miramax and Focus Films show up, most of the companies at AFM fall under the classic definition of “Indie” - films made outside the studio system. That includes everything from future Oscar nominees (I think more Oscar winners come from AFM than anywhere else) to schlock genre films you find on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster... and everything in between. Hundreds and hundreds of movies - and most of them aren’t very good. Even the prestige films - the ones that they hope will be nominated for Oscars - often suck. They make a bunch of prestige films, and not all end up making it to the big screen... and only 5 of those get nominated. The schlock genre films? Well...

No one sets out to make a bad movie. Even the schlock genre films are trying to be great genre films. Budget really has nothing to do with whether a film is good or not - we’ve all seen a huge Hollywood summer film that stinks. But money can often hide the stink behind special effects or movie stars. Of course, none of that seemed to help EVAN ALMIGHTY. A low budget film is just stinky, not much you can do.

We’ve also seen great low budget films. I remember when I first saw EL MARIACHI, the $7k action flick with more cool action and more humor and more just wild stuff than most $100 million Hollywood action flicks. Did you see the mind-bender sci-fi flick PRIMER? Also made for pocket change.

Usually when I see a film that sucks, the most sucky part is usually the script. I can’t figure that out, because the one part you can work on until it’s close to perfect without spending a whole lot of money is the script. Sure, you have to pay a writer to do some rewrites... but the only other cost is *paper*. On sale at Fry’s Electronics - 500 sheets for 99 cents. And if you only buy good scripts, it’s up to the *writer* to do the rewrites before you buy it.

Bad writers are part of the talent shortage - readers say most of the scripts they read are crap... and you’ve read scripts on Zoetrope or some other site that stinks. You know there are bad scripts out there... in fact, statistically, some of you reading this are probably responsible for some of those bad scripts. You probably don’t know it. But *somebody* is writing all of those bad scripts. There is a shortage of good scripts, and it seems like there are many more films than there are good scripts.

Now, I know first hand that a good script can be turned into crap on the way to the screen. I was talking to an actor who was in one of my films about the director who completely ruined the film... and that’s part of the talent shortage. One you have a good script, there are a lot of people involved in making a film, and any of them can screw it up.

A BAD FILM



So, a friend of mine is a distrib and sometimes producer, and he has a suite at AFM. He owns cameras and lighting equipment and a warehouse (studio) and makes his films for what you have in your checking account. The costs are digital tape, crew, cast, and food. As I’m wandering the halls he asks if I have time to see a movie. Sure, why not? I have missed the first few minutes, but the story is kind of RESERVOIR DOGS on Alcatraz with a monster. That may sound a little crazy to you, but it works - these heavily armed thieves pulling a heist on Alcatraz start double crossing each other... but when they start finding members of the team dead they blame the double crossers and don’t realize a monster is responsible. Eventually they have to take on the monster. A good little genre idea.

And the script was pretty good. Some funny lines, some good conflict among the thieves, and the characters were interesting enough and more fleshed out than many big budget Hollywood films I’ve seen. So what went wrong?

Well, three things. First - though my friend told me there was Alcatraz footage in the beginning (that I missed), the film was obviously shot in his warehouse on a jail cell set they built. A couple of cells. It really needed some “scope” and some production value. I’ve taken the Alcatraz tour a few times - it’s not very expensive, and they take you out on a boat to the prison then take you through the entire prison and even lock you up in a cell and in Solitary as part of the tour. It would have been easy to grab a Southwest flight from LA to SF ($39 each way), take the tour with a video camera and shoot all kinds of great stock footage. Hey, for a couple of bucks more, they could have either brought one of the actors and grabbed some shots of them in the actual prison. Hey, if the actor was too expensive, just someone in the actor’s *costume* - shoot them from the back or from a distance. But someone has to *think of this*.

The second big problem was production design. This film was shot in my friend’s warehouse, and the prison cells looked pretty good... but two of the sets were downright awful. They killed the film for me. Like the script, the sets are something that you can put together long before you shoot the film. No need to keep a cast and crew waiting. The two sets that were so bad they ruined the film for me were the Warden’s Office - which looked like it was furnished out of a dumpster, and the Security Room. Okay, you have this security room that is supposed to be filled with monitors so that they can watch every square inch of the prison and make sure no guards or police or park rangers are coming to get them. They post one of the thieves there - think that guy in DIE HARD who pretends to be a security guard. This is a good part of the script - makes sense in the story and shows the writer was thinking. But we don’t see the monitors - what we see are the ass ends of a half dozen computer monitors. That don’t match. Probably the result of more dumpster diving. What they *should have done* is taken 50 different photos at Alcatraz - towers, hallways, cellblocks, fences, exercise yard, etc. Something else to do on that tour. Then take 49 of those photos and make 8x8 transparencies. Build a framework - 7 photos wide, 7 photos tall. Paint it silver or black. Mount the transparencies. Back light them. Instant bank of monitors! What’s more - you have 49 shots of *real* Alcatraz on the monitors! That’s *added production value*. But someone has to *think of this*.

Third problem was flat, boring, direction. Here’s the thing - you have no money. You have a cast that are mostly not that great. You have sets that look cheap. What you need to do is use a direction style that adds energy and takes the focus away from the stuff that doesn’t work. I would have done the EL MARIACHI thing and kept the camera moving and kept the angles changing. I would have use that gonzo style they used in SHOOT ‘EM UP. The subject matter opens the door for this. Moving shots and quick cuts and different angles would have focused us on the *actor* (or whatever the subject of the shot was) and kept us from seeing all of the cheapo stuff... but instead we get lengthy unmoving shots on sticks were you have time to notice all of the production value issues. By the way, the guy who wrote that pretty good script (much much better than most films at 10 times the budget)... also directed. As the writer, he should have asked for a better director! Again - someone needs to *think of the direction*.

The problem is - more movies than people who can think.

TALENT, TIME, MONEY



Look, I know how difficult it is to make a film with no money. I should probably be saving my criticisms for the $200 million dollar Hollywood suckfests. But when you are spending the *time* and what little money is in the budget to make a film, you might as well make a film that is going to change your career... or at least be pretty good. Why waste the money?

My robot hooker from outer space flick was made in 9 days with very little money. Really nothing to brag about. But someone (probably the director) found these freak fish with arms and legs at some fish store and had an aquarium full of them in one character’s office. That was a touch that elevated this low budget film a little - one of many. When you don’t have money, talent and creativity and even just trying to make a good film matter more than ususal.

At AFM there seems to be a talent shortage. There are scripts that aren’t good. Directors that aren’t good. Actors that aren’t good. DPs that aren’t good. Set designers that aren’t good. Either that or they don’t care.

I’m kind of a weird optimist type - I believe that almost everyone can learn and improve themselves. I believe that the bad director just needs to learn about film theory and work a little harder and maybe become a better director. The director the actor and I were talking about has a *massive* ego and thinks he knows it all... when he knows next to nothing. That’s probably the biggest problem with movies of any budget - the bigger the ego the more likely the emperor has no talent. But the bigger the ego the more likely some producer believes this kid really knows something.

There are people who think they don’t need to do the 100% job on a low budget film because it’s a low budget film... when the truth is, you *must* do the 100% job on a low budget film because there is no star or FX to distract the viewer from the problems. The lower the budget, the more talent required just to make it half good!

MY FILM IS GREAT



One of the things that bothers me the most when I wander the halls at AFM, watching the trailers playing on monitors, is the number of films where the script just stinks... in the 5 minute trailer! I mean, if they can’t find enough good bits of dialogue for the trailer, they’re in a heap-o-trouble! Plus the movies that have the exact same plot we’ve seen a million times before - watch for a new movie starring Daryl Hannah about a car load of teens on their way someplace whose car breaks down in some out of the way location where the locals stalk ‘em and kill ‘em one by one. Did they use carbon paper to write that script? Tracing paper? I mean, how completely unoriginal can you get? Why spend the money on a real cast (Daryl Hannah and some other names) for such a retread of a story?

When I look at the credits on most of these stinky trailers I often see that they are written and produced and directed by the same person. Now, I’m all for making your own movie... but I think a man needs to be aware of his limitations. If you are a talented director but can’t write worth beans - find someone who knows how to write. And I don’t mean find someone to type up your lame-ass kids car breaks down story, I mean find a good script with a good idea and buy the script... then don’t eff it up. If you are great at finding money but can’t direct or write, just find the money and hire talented folks to do the other stuff. I’ve seen movies that completely sucked - but the guy found the funding and keeps finding the funding for more movies that completely suck. The problem is - these folks who have one talent often think they have *all* talents. They don’t. The reason why we still talk about Orson Welles is because he was the guy who had all of the talents (except the one for making movies that made money). Hey, Welles was, like, 70 years ago! In all that time, we haven’t found some other guy to talk about... and it sure ain’t you. Most people struggle with *one* talent, don’t think you can do it all. Now, if you are making a film on pocket change that’s a different story - you can’t afford anybody else. Kevin Smith knows he’s not a visual director and knows he’s not a mainstream screenwriter - so he keeps his budgets low and does what he does. He knows his limitations. CHASING AMY cost $250k. If you’re making that credit card film, go for it. But when you get to the level of some of these guys who make one bad film after another - yet they have real budgets and real stars - maybe it’s time to figure out where your talents lie and let somebody else do the other stuff. If you aren’t a great writer find someone who is!

So many of the producers at AFM really don’t care - it’s all a product to them. That means we have to care twice as much. We have to work twice as hard. We have to call upon our hidden reserves of talent to turn some low budget genre flick into a film that really delivers the goods to the audience. The kind of film you might rent for the nice box art... but after watching it you realize you have found a real gem. You tell your friends about it. You *buy* the danged DVD so that you can see it again.

As I wander down the hallways of AFM and pass the poster for I AM OMEGA (I keep waiting for the copyright police to raid the Asylum offices), I realize there is only so much talent in Hollywood... and there’s not enough to go around.

If you have a choice... Be talented. Care about your work. Make good movies. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Don't be part of the talent shortage - be part of the talent solution!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Yesterday’s Dinner: Steak & Eggs at Norm’s in Santa Monica - kind of a low key celebration. More on that later in an entry called Seller's Remorse.
PAGES: Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trailer Tuesday:
BLACK CHRISTMAS

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder.

Usually when we think of director Bob Clark and Christmas, we think of his classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY about that wacky family (that's much like yours and mine) and that kid's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun... but I'm trying to avoid the obvious and find holiday films in unexpected genres.




Like Bob Clark's horror masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. The concept is great, a college sorority house as the girls leave to head home for the holidays one by one... but *are* they going home? Or are they being murdered by a maniac and stored up in the attic? This film turns the holiday break background into mystery and suspense.

The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. So we have this great all star cast in a horror film that, like John Carpenter's THE THING, gets much of its mileage by having the characters suspect each other; and also gives us a logical possibility that no one has been murdered... and it's all in Olivia Hussey's head.




This film has a couple of amazing "you can't do that in a movie" twists, including one where we are *sure* we know who the killer is... and are then proven wrong *after* they have been killed. Hey, that's kind of like THE THING, too!

Also there's a great sense of Holiday humor, plus Margot's phone number....

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS. And it's a great holiday film, since Christmas is going on in the background. A disturbing double bill with Bob Clark's CHRISTMAS STORY... something to warm your heart, then cut it out with a rusty knife!




Bill

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

LIMITLESS!
Take a pill & scripts write themselves!

From about 7 years ago...

Okay, I hate the trailer for the new movie LIMITLESS, because it looks like some slacker’s fantasy. Bradley Cooper takes a pill and can access 100% of his mind and - after not writing a single word on his novel - pounds the thing out in 4 days and renegotiates his deal for more money! No hard work involved. Okay, is there anyone left in the world that believes that crap about only being able to use 10% or 20% of their brain? It comes from an advert for a self help book from 1936, and it’s complete bull shit. Though we can’t use 100% of our brain to *think* with, that’s because a large part of our brain is being used for unimportant activities like remembering to breathe and making sure your heart beats and blood flows and limbs move when you want them to move. If you really want to use 100% of your brain for thinking, that would be at the expense of your heart beating and stuff.




But, if we can get past that completely wrong fact, there already exists a pill that will allow you to work to your full potential - and it’s *free*! It’s called Get Off Your Ass And Do Something, and no prescription is required. Nothing prevents you from working at your full potential... except you. The problem with this pill is that it’s bitter and hard to swallow. Most people avoid it. Can you blame them? There’s nothing fun or easy or stylish about Getting Off Your Ass And Doing Something. It’s, well, WORK. That’s the four letter word most people hate. Would you really want to watch a movie where Bradley Cooper sits at his desk every day and *types*? Even if he did it shirtless, I don’t think many people would find that very exciting.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t much like that Get Off Your Ass And Do Something pill myself. I’ve taken them now and then, and it’s not pleasant. That work thing is boring and sweaty. Plus, I look silly typing in Starbucks with my shirt off.

There are lots of people on message boards who think they will sell their first screenplay for a million bucks and date underwear models while sipping champagne and floating around in Spielberg’s pool. That’s the LIMITLESS version. The more realistic version involves writing a stack of scripts, rewriting them, doing all kinds of hard work and networking, and maybe landing an assignment that never gets made. Sure, I know a couple of people from messageboards who worked their asses off and actually sold their scripts (not the first scripts for either one) and the scripts actually got made into theatrical movies with stars. Cool. Those are the couple that I know who *seem* like overnight successes - and I know a whole lotta people.

There’s a great guest blogger entry on John August’s site who tells her story of working her ass off and becoming a professional writer. She’s done some series work on the 90210 reboot and wrote the sequel to MEAN GIRLS. It’s a great story, an inspiring story.... and a bunch of LIMITLESS people in the comments section are tearing down her accomplishments. You see, in the LIMITLESS fantasy land, earning a living as a screenwriter is just a bunch of crap if you aren’t floating in Spielberg’s pool with those underwear models. It’s not about the reality (work) it’s about the fantasy (being a rich and famous writer). To the LIMITLESS crowd, you start at the top! And there is only the top!

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS!




Okay - I’m maybe not impartial, here, because I’m not floating in Spielberg’s pool, but the percentage of screenwriters who write big blockbuster movies is small. Look at all of the movies made every year for cinemas, TV, Cable, DVD, etc... now add in all of the TV episodes... now add in all of the stuff you may not think of like reality shows and game shows and talk shows and soap operas and upscale online content and... well, there are a lot of working writers in the biz who will never write a summer tentpole movie starring Will Smith or even Bradley Cooper. They are still professional screenwriters and still earn a living doing what they love to do. None of them are likely to be floating in Spielberg’s pool, unless it’s some sort of SUNSET BLVD. thing, and they’re face down. (Sorry - a moment imagining Spielberg walking down the stairs in that slinky Salome dress, asking if they’re ready for his close up.) Hey, we all dream of writing that script that sells for millions and makes us suddenly attractive to underwear models, and that’s okay - but we also dream we will wake up and gremlins will have rewritten our Act 2 overnight. Unfortunately, neither has happened to me. I have to do that damned rewrite myself, and underwear models still don’t seem to care about me.

But I’ve been writing scripts for a living for the past 20 years, now.

And it’s a lot of work.

But I get paid for doing what I love to do - mentally playing “dress up” and being a spy or a tough cop or whatever cool fantasy *I* come up with. So I love my work (even though some days I don’t really like it). Would be nice to have the millions and underwear models, but at least I’m not cleaning the bathrooms at the Rossmore, CA Safeway Grocery Store. And I’m not stacking pallets in a warehouse. I’m not working any sort of day job - just writin’.

But if you were to find one of those people who might be floating in Spielberg’s pool surrounded by underwear models, that Cinderella story of their that sounds a lot like LIMITLESS? Fiction. 99.9% of those overnight success stories had some very long and very dark nights. The LIMITLESS people like to point to those folks... without ever digging very deep into their legends to find out of they are true or not. LIMITLESS people would rather believe the fantasy than search for facts they’d rather not know...




Hey, Frank Darabont got to direct his first sale SHAWSHANK, so can I! Except, Darabont co-wrote NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3, and THE BLOB remake, and FLY 2, and then worked on a bunch of TV shows writing numerous episodes, and had already directed a TV movie before SHAWSHANK. But for PR purposes, we’ll just start with SHAWSHANK.

Stallone and ROCKY? Myth! Complete PR fabrication - the hot script was PARADISE ALLEY, not ROCKY... and Stallone had done 13 acting gigs before ROCKY including *starring* in two films... and he was a writer on LORDS OF FLATBUSH made two years earlier. But we’ll just start with ROCKY for PR purposes, and sweep the whole PARADISE ALLEY thing under the rug.

My favorite of all of these overnight success stories is Jeff Maguire who wrote IN THE LINE OF FIRE. If you haven’t heard the PR version of that one, he was broke and Tom Cruise wanted to buy IN THE LINE OF FIRE and star in it, but Maguire turned that down because Cruise was too young, and the script got to Eastwood and the rest is history. Overnight success. Cinderella story. LIMITLESS! Except, Maguire had something like a dozen *produced credits* before IN THE LINE OF FIRE, including one starring Stallone (VICTORY - directed by John Huston!). The PR people have erased all of these films from his bio, but his first produced credit was a horror movie called VAMPIRE LUST.

There was no overnight success for these people - they worked hard! They took that other pill and Got Off Their Asses And Did Something. I think it’s disrespectful to ignore all of the work they did before that overnight success (even if their PR people have erased it... like those missing days from Bradley Cooper’s life in LIMITLESS). But it’s crazy to think the fictionalized version will happen to you, when it didn’t even happen to them. It’s difficult enough to sell a script or get an assignment, let alone start at the top!

MY APPLICATION TO BE CEO




Love him or hate him, Paul Haggis is the only screenwriter to write back-to-back Oscar Best Picture Winners, and he picked up a Best Original Screenplay Oscar while he was at it. He’s got that new film on DVD - THE NEXT THREE DAYS - and lately he’s been in the news for dumping Scientology and talking about it in the press. But he’s another overnight success, right? He took the LIMITLESS pill, right? Well, before CRASH, Haggis was a TV writer - and the *creator* of WALKER, TEXAS RANGER. He often jokes that he makes more money on Walker rerun residuals than on CRASH and his other movies combined. So, if you’re one of those people who commented on John August’s site and don’t think you could ever write something like WALKER, TEXAS RANGER... that’s a route to an Oscar! Haggis wrote on a bunch of TV low-profile series like DUE SOUTH (that Mountie show on CBS that usually aired over summer) and YOU TAKE THE KIDS and FACTS OF LIFE and DIFFERENT STROKES and WHO’S THE BOSS... also some good shows like LA LAW and EZ STREETS and THIRTYSOMETHING. But he didn’t even start on those junky TV sit-coms... he started on Saturday morning cartoons writing SCOOBY-DOO. Because that’s where the doors open for a TV writer. I know a bunch of people who started out writing animation TV or syndicated stuff - things that are not glamorous and underwear models have no interest in. But it’s a start. It’s a foot in the door. It’s writing for a living. And if you end up with a career like Paul Haggis’ *before* CRASH and that’s all there is? Hey - you have earned a living writing screenplays for a living... and those WALKER, TEXAS RANGER residuals are pretty good!

I think the reason why people on August’s boards poo-poo this professional writer’s career is that it’s the unglamourous hard work stuff - no fantasy! And they don’t want to even consider that they might have to dirty their hands writing MEAN GIRLS 2 or something. That’s *work*. They just want to take that LIMITLESS pill and skip all of that.

CUT TO: THE CHECK





The thing that amazes me is the LIMITLESS fantasy people. It’s as if they want to just cut to the Spielberg pool thing and avoid that whole *writing* part... and to me the writing is the fun part (well, you know what I mean). I didn’t want to become some generic form of rich and famous, I wanted to be a professional screenwriter - to write screenplays for a living. To make up stories and great lines of dialogue and cool scenes. I wanted to write! The part they don’t show in LIMITLESS, because it involves a lot of work typing and stuff. I may fantasize about cutting to: script finished, but I suspect if that really happened I would hate it. I love coming up with that killer line or story twist or bit of character. If I was in life just for the money I’d be doing something with much better odds of making a pile of money - I’ve joked that the guy who was hired as a bagger the same day as I was at Safeway is now a Regional Manager for the West Coast and probably making much more than I am and maybe working less. But I would not be happy doing that.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t aim high and try to be floating in Spielberg’s pool surrounded by underwear models (I hope they can swim) - always do great work and always aim for the stars - but allow for a bit of realism: know that you may not sell your first script for $2 million... instead you may end up getting a gig writing DVD sequels to movies or some other non-glamourous and non-famous gig... And you want to do your best work when you get those gigs and *enjoy them* (even though there’s a lot of typing involved) because professional writers don’t only write those Will Smith blockbusters, they also write SCOOBY-DOO cartoons, and TEEN WOLF TV show on MTV, and UNDISPUTED 3, and all kinds of other jobs where you get paid to write. All of that is *work* - no fantasy pill that you take and suddenly have the finished screenplay and a pile of money.

BLUE PILL OR RED PILL?


So, here’s is the pill: bitter and hard to swallow...




You need to look at your life. You probably have a family and kids and a job and all sorts of other responsibilities. You may not have much free time. Well, figure out just how much time you can spend writing every day - an hour? Half an hour? 15 minutes? Your lunch hour at work? Whatever you can spare. You know your life. You may have to organize your time better to find that half hour or whatever. But once you’ve figured it out, stick by it - that is your writing time. You are going to focus on *writing* during that time. Explain to the kids how important this is, and lock a door if you have to. But once you commit to that writing time - write (with a shirt or without - your decision). I’ve said this before - if you write 1 page every day, you have 3 first drafts by the end of the year. You know what the hard part is? Writing a page a day. Keeping that going. You will fail at first... or, more likely, you will get a page done every day for a while and then fail. Guess what? That’s okay. There is no such thing as permanent failure. Miss a few days (or months) and you can still go back to writing every day. If you keep screwing up and don’t write for two weeks for every week you do write? That’s a screenplay by the end of the year. How is that failure? You have given birth to a screenplay! But the more you stick to writing every day (yes, you can take weekends off if you want), the better. Everything is a habit. If you writing every day, when your time comes to write - your brain is ready to write.

Some people find that rituals help - I don’t mean sacrificing goats, I mean background music, having a beverage ready, maybe even wearing certain clothes. Whatever tells your mind that this is writing time. The important thing is to take that writing time and use it for writing. When I worked at the warehouse, I thought about my scene all day while I was on the clock, so that I could spend my writing time doing as much writing as possible - scenes already in my head. If you can find those moments in your non-writing time that allow you to think out a scene or exchange, that helps in many ways. For me, getting pages done is a form of reward. Momentum is a big thing. If I can write my pages today, it helps me write my pages tomorrow. I think it also helps if you can look forward to your writing time - if you can get excited about the scene you are going to write later that day or tomorrow morning while everyone else is asleep. If you find yourself spending your writing time *not* writing, you need to figure out why that is happening and change something. If you only have an hour a day, or 15 minutes a day, you need to spend that time putting words on paper (or computer screen).

I’m not going to lie to you and say that the Get Off Your Ass And Do Something pill tastes great and you’ll want to take one every day - it’s *work* - but in the real world we need to use the rest of our brain for stuff like breathing and making sure our heart keeps beating, so that LIMITLESS pill is probably not a good idea in the first place.

Maybe the film will address this?

In a speech where Bradley Cooper is not wearing his shirt.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

What Else You Got?

From March 2010...

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

BREAKING AWAY (1979) written by Steve Tesich, is one of my favorite movies. Hey, working class guys and bicycles, how could it not be? Tesich won Best Original Screenplay Oscar for that script, and if you’re on the Script Secrets newsletter mailing list, this month there was a nice big article about that film that used DVD box art from Tesich’s other films as art. Because I loved BREAKING AWAY so much when it came out, I became a huge fan of the screenwriter and tracked down every other movie he wrote and was in line to see it on opening day. Though all of them featured working class guy leads, none were as good as BREAKING AWAY. The one that came closest was his adaptation of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, a novel I had read before seeing the movie. Tesich died with only six movies...





Last week the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles showed 2 of Tesich’s films, EYEWITNESS and FOUR FRIENDS - both of which I had seen on opening day. I did not like FOUR FRIENDS at all back then, but thought EYEWITNESS was okay - which is not the same as good. Later on I would rent EYEWITNESS on VHS a couple of times, and it was watchable, had some great stuff, but nothing I wanted to buy. So I haven’t seen either film in a long time, and thought I’d zip over to Hollywood and watch them again.

The American Cinematheque is like a film museum - they show older movies and foreign films and cutting edge indie films that have no distrib. It’s funny, but you’d think Los Angeles would be full of things like this... but it is not. I used to go to revival cinemas in the Bay Area all the time - and practically lived in the UC Theater in Berkeley where they had a different double bill every night, and “theme days” so that you could see every John Huston movie on Tuesday nights... get that day off from work! But in Los Angeles, movie capitol of the world, we have the American Cinematheque at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, and the New Beverly down the street (now part owned by Quentin Tarantino) and the Silent Movie House between them. That’s pretty much it. Oh, the Nu Art and the Aero in Santa Monica. And the cinemas are not crowded - every time I go to the Nu Art I practically have the cinema to myself.

When I arrived at the Egyptian, it was almost empty... and pretty much stayed that way.

That’s a shame. In fact, it’s *shameful*.

Here we are in the film capitol, and no one is going to see films! The American Cinematheque has all of these great programs, and usually gets some great guest speakers between films. So they showed a couple of lost grindhouse movies a couple of nights ago and had stars and cinematographer and just about every living person involved in these two films made in the 70s. It’s like *live* DVD extras. And when they do these things... a couple more people show up. I went to one last year where there were more people on the panel between the movies than in the cinema seats! Hey, this is LA, can we get a full house? Can some studios push their employees to see some of these films? Would be wonderful if the development people would show up and see some films... I tend to think the priorities in the film biz get mixed up - it is about making movies. Movies are more important than anything else. If I ran a studio, I’d have a pop quiz every once in a while where I asked everyone at the studio to tell me what film they had seen in a cinema last week, and anyone who didn’t go to the movies gets fired. Bam, outta here. “Hey, I’m the head of production, I don’t have time to...” Bam, outta here. If you’re gonna make ‘em, you gotta watch ‘em.

So - studios and people who love film and live in Los Angeles - please go to the movies.

Side note - about 15 years ago, the American Cinematheque had no home cinema and was kind of squatting at the Chaplin Cinema at Raleigh Studios (across from Paramount). Those were heady days for me - I had movies shooting and would go to see a Sam Fuller double bill and Sam Fuller was there! So were all kinds of hot shot young filmmakers and screenwriters. I had “season tickets” to the Fuller movies and had a big name director sitting behind me and a screenwriter who was the next big thing in the chair beside me. That little cinema was packed! Then they renovated the Egyptian - this big old movie palace like it’s more famous sister Grauman’s Chinese - and had a permanent home... and people seemed to stop going. I don’t think one thing caused the other, I think there may have been some sort of tidal shift in the business, and all of those movie addicts who worked in the biz were replaced by ex-lawyers and ex-agents and dealmakers. People who didn’t seem to need to see pre-code movies with female nudity from the early 1930s or “Race” westerns (Black cowboys!) or Fritz Lang thrillers from the 30s and 40s. *I* needed to see all of those films.

I also needed to see if the Tesich films were better than I remembered them. The guy had written one of my favorite films... how could I dislike FOUR FRIENDS those many years ago? Was I in a bad mood the day I saw it? Was I just too young to get it? The film was directed by Arthur Penn (BONNIE AND CLYDE, LITTLE BIG MAN) and written by an Oscar Winner.

THE MOVIES...


The small group of us turn off our cell phones, house lights go down, and...



FOUR FRIENDS (1981) was a mess. It’s obviously Tesich’s autobiography - a little boy and his mother come from Yugoslavia to live with his father - who works in the steel mills. Father ain’t the type to hug anyone. Then we get the first of about two dozen jumps ahead in time, since this is the characters *entire life* in one film. Now our boy Danny is in high school in the early 60s and played by Craig Wasson (BODY DOUBLE) and we also meet the other three friends: Jim Metzler (guest star on every TV show you can think of, star of the 2 NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries) as Tom, Michael Huddelston (who now plays pudgy middle aged guys) as David, and Jodi Thelen as the woman all 3 guys love, Georgia. The film has a half dozen different narrators, and instead of all being important characters in the story, our first narrator is Georgia’s next door neighbor. We only see her looking out the window of her house - she is not really a character in the story at all!

There is no main plot at all - except Danny’s life - but there are dozens of subplots. I’d list them all, but I’d have to pay more for bandwidth. Danny and his dad. Danny and his flute (plays it in band). Danny and his Black friend. Danny and his anti-steel-mill rant at career day. A bunch of others in this small High School segment of the film, but the main one is probably that Danny is in love with Georgia, when she wants to sleep with him thinks it’s too soon and turns her down, so she sleeps with the other two guys (separately). And gets pregnant by one of them. Oh, man - I forgot the school bully subplot! That one even plays out later in the film! Did I forget any other subplots that come back later?

To add to the story-mess, after high school the four friends split up and go their separate ways... So that we can introduce a whole new cast when Danny goes to college!

Film is a tonal mess, too. It has no genre at all, and seems to jump between teen sex comedy and class-warfare drama and druggy film and epic romance and TAXI DRIVER.

Yes, TAXI DRIVER... in more ways than one!

Anyway, Danny goes away to college where he has a disabled roommate (which is a whole subplot) and both guys are virgins and want to get laid. Their dorm room is wall-to-wall Playboy centerfolds and there are jokes about wacking off, etc, It’s ANIMAL HOUSE or AMERICAN PIE or whatever. Danny falls for his roommate’s hot sister, proposes to her, but her parents are filthy rich and they disapprove of him (especially her father played by James Leo Herilhey who wrote MIDNIGHT COWBOY and overacts like you would not believe. It’s a shame that he didn’t have any scenes with Georgia, because that actress is so over the top you’d think she was on some Broadway stage trying to make sure the people in the back rows can see her gestures.)

Anyway, rich father finally agrees to the wedding and we get this big epic wedding scene where working class Danny seems out of place, and then he jokes with his college roommate guy - hey, we’re kind of back in AMERICAN PIE territory for a moment, and then Danny’s new father-in-law gives a toast to the bride and groom and halfway through the toast pulls out a gun and shoots his daughter and Danny and then himself in the head. WTF?

In the middle of this mostly romantic and comedic streak when this hardcore violence erupts out of nowhere! Though there are some clues to the father-in-law being a bit wacky, the problem is that his motivations are kind of script spackled in there and none of the characters *behave* as they should before the incident. It’s as if *after* he’d written the shooting scene he went back and threw in a bit to justify it... but then didn’t change anything in between so it still comes off unmotivated.

Anyway, Danny survives, though he has lost an eye... except it seems to grow back later (huh?) and he gets a job driving a taxi, because that way he can introduce a whole new cast... and see Danny hit rock bottom - kind of a homeless taxi driver.

Meanwhile, Georgia and David are married and raising Tom’s baby and Georgia decides to split for New York to find herself and gets involved with hippies and drugs and some sort of glam-rock thing. She goes to a far out party with her friend where there is sex and drugs and rock and roll... and a pretty new sports car in the middle of the loft where the party takes place. Everything is wild and fun and hippish! Her friend - who has just been introduced and I’m not even sure what her name is - hops in that sports car in the middle of the party, and it starts and goes into reverse and zooms out of the top story loft and plummets to the street below where it explodes like something in a Michael Bay film. WTF? One minute a swinging good time, the next Georgia’s friend is incinerated.

While the tone is jumping around from light to dark to just weird, the story is too. Danny meets a nurse and they have a relationship and then Georgia shows up and Danny finally gets a chance to sleep with her, then she splits... and Danny’s relationship with the nurse is over and Danny becomes a steelworker like his dad and has a relationship with some other girl and we get more and more incidents and subplots and things that probably happened in Tesich’s life but don’t mean anything, and then he goes home to patch things up with his dad and... well, remember that bully from high school? He’s a cop now and there’s a zany comedy bar-room brawl with him, that Danny wins by barfing on him, and I’ve left out some subplot stuff - his Black friend from high school marching with Martin Luther King (off screen) and his college roommate dying and not being able to see man landing on the moon and Dave losing his toupee and Tom marrying a Vietnamese woman have having two daughters but still visiting the kid he had with Georgia and... well, there just isn’t enough bandwidth for all of it. Danny’s eye grows back and he ends up with Georgia at the end... but that hasn’t resolved his issues with his stern father, so we get some scenes about that. Finally it ends!

EYEWITNESS


House lights go up at the Egyptian... and when the lights go back down for the second film, we’ve lost a chunk of the audience.



EYEWITNESS is an okay film - with a great thriller concept. William Hurt plays a janitor in an office building who discovers the body of one of the tenants - an evil Vietnamese ex-General who got Hurt’s fellow janitor, played by James Woods at his James Woodiest, fired. Hurt worries that Woods may have killed the guy, so when the police question him (Detective #2 played by Morgan Freeman) he lies and says Woods hasn’t been at the building since he was fired. Actually, Woods was there the day of the murder. On his way out, he spots hot TV reporter Sigourney Weaver and realizes this is his chance to try and charm her into bed. He offers an exclusive interview... then hits on her on camera. In order to keep seeing Weaver, he has to claim to have information about the murder... yet never give it to her. Problem is, evil Vietnamese hit dudes overhear him and come after him. This is a cool idea - but the script pretty much ignores it. Sure, every once in a while some inept action scene pops up, but the story spends as much time on the romance and on all of these subplots (including Hurt’s romantic relationship with Wood’s sister played by Pam Reed, which includes an *amazing* great scene where they profess their non-love for each other) and Weaver’s romance with pretty-man Christopher Plummer who is involved in raising money for Jewish causes (huh?) and several scenes about horses and some scenes about Hurt's dog who is kind of the canine version of Burt Kwouk from the PINK PANTHER movies. Oh, and some *great* stuff with Kenneth McMillan as his disabled and drunken dad. But it’s a lot of light dramedy stuff crammed into a thriller concept.

The thriller scenes do not work at all. There’s a chase scene that’s okay... but a scene where bad guys give Hurt’s dog rabies or something as a way to kill him makes no sense at all, and the big action end (sarcasm) where Hurt fights the villain in a Manhattan indoor horse barn in some *building* makes no sense at all. Not enough thriller scenes and the ones we get don’t work at all. Oh, and who the villains are and what they’re after? Weirdest and most unbelievable coincidence in film history. Kind of a “Are You Effing Kidding Me?” moment.

And that’s the big problem, here. Tesich wrote one great script, did a really good adaptation... but seemed unable to do anything else. He did not seem to have the skills to pull of a thriller, and FOUR FRIENDS may be his life story but it has no story. The thing I liked about the movies was the working class background of his characters - whether it’s working in a steel mill or working as a building’s janitor, he shows real people doing real work and makes it part of the story. We need more of that. But it seems as if he’s just parting out the same story again and again. Like he has *one* story to tell - educated working class guy locks horns with immigrant father and enjoys bike riding (did I mention that aspect of EYEWITNESS? Sorry... and AMERICAN FLYERS is all about bike racing). The relationship between Danny and Tom in FOUR FRIENDS is similar to the relationship between Hurt and Woods in EYEWITNESS. It as if he has a few dozen scenes and a few dozen characters that he rearranges to make a different script.



We all have our “mega themes” that pop up in our scripts - those elements of our lives that show up in many of our character’s lives. That’s fine, in fact - that’s great. We want our screenplays to be personal rather than generic. But we need to have *many* stories to tell, and *different* stories, and be able to work within some popular *genre* so that once we’ve won our Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the phone starts ringing with people who want to buy our next original screenplay or have us come in and pitch stories, we can keep our writing career going.

There’s a script tip in rotation about having enough screenplays finished, so that when someone reads a script and likes it but doesn’t want to buy it and asks “What else you got?” you can give them some other script... and *keep* giving them scripts until they find one they want to make or hire you to write a script for them. You *need* more than one good screenplay...

But you also need the screenplays to be different stories with different characters. If all of your scripts are the same basic story with the names changed - or just similar stories - you burn out fast. Chances are, that producer is going to be reading script #2 and wonder why it all seems so familiar. Did he pick up script #1 by mistake? Even though it is smart to specialize in one genre, you want different stories within that genre. That means you need to be able to come up with dozens, maybe hundreds, of different stories... and different characters... and different scenes.

One script may open the door for you, but one script is not a career. If you spend 25 or more years writing screenplays and get paid for one script or assignment every year - that’s at least 25 *different* stories you’re going to need... but actually maybe 4 or 5 times that many, because you will also need fresh new stories for the scripts and pitches that *do not sell*. When I get called in to pitch ideas for some cable producer, I have to pitch 5 *different* story ideas the day after tomorrow... and if I get a call like that every month? That's 60 ideas a year - 60 *different* ideas a year. That’s a lot of different stories - do you have many different stories with different characters? Can you imagine yourself *writing* 100 different stories in your career? Do you have that many stories in you?

Hey, Steve Tesich won an Oscar for BREAKING AWAY, but I don’t think anyone will really remember his other films. (There *are* people who saw FOUR FRIENDS as kids and loved it, a small buy seemingly loyal fan base - the film is filled with topless scenes, has an anti-authority lead character, and deals with father-son issues... many teen boys liked these aspects - but the film was a flop when it was released and was not a hit on VHS or DVD... and the print the American Cinematheque showed was old and faded because there is no demand for it today.) I think someone should remake the *concept* of EYEWITNESS, just not the script... but the other films he wrote (with the exception of GARP) are forgotten now and will only become more forgotten as time goes on.

You don’t only need more than one script, you need more than one story.

* AMERICAN CINEMATHEQUE
* NEW BEVERLY CINEMA
* SILENT MOVIES ON FAIRFAX
* Nuart Theater


- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: OPENING GRABBERS - and old movies from the 1940s that took the time to introduce characters and stories... not like today's movies.
Dinner: Togos Tuna sandwich... whole wheat.
Bicycle: Zipped up to NoHo, then managed to get back to the Ventura & Vineland Starbucks with *perfect* timing as people began leaving for dinner.
Pages: Well, finished and turned in my interview with the A-Team writers only one day late... and then we had that quake, and now I'm working on the new assignment.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

RIP: Pablo Ferro.

Yesterday Pablo Ferro passed away. Who? you say... Ferro was one of the great film opening credit artists along with Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, and you have seen his work. Everywhere. He designed the titles for BEETLE JUICE, and almost a hundred other films. To connect the "deaths come in threes" - Ferro got his start as an illustrator working with Stan Lee, and did the titles for GOOD WILL HUNTING which William Goldman was an advisor on.

Here is a samle of his work...



Here is the full opening title sequence from BULLITT...



Here is the Dr STRANGELOVE opening totle sequence...



THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR titles mimic the multiple slip screens in the film...



Buy The DVDs

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mark Twain's Rules Of Writing

Mark Twain's Rules for writing, based on his reading of James F. Cooper's DEERSLAYER:

"Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in 'Deerslayer,' and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction--some say twenty-two. In Deerslayer Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the Deerslayer tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in the air.

2. They require that the episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the Deerslayer tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.

4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the Deerslayer tale.

5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the Deerslayer tale to the end of it.

6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the Deerslayer tale, as Natty Bumppo's case will amply prove.

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer tale.

8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as "the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest," by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the Deerslayer tale.

9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the Deerslayer tale.

10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the Deerslayer tale this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14. Eschew surplusage.

15. Not omit necessary details.

16. Avoid slovenliness of form.

17. Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple and straightforward style."

Most of those also work for screenwriting.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

0 to 110 in 60 Seconds

From TEN YEARS AGO!

FIRST: I have *finally* finished the first draft of the remake project, handed it in, and now kicking myself over all of the things I forget to write in the script. I’m actually planning on doing a touch up on the script while they are reading it. But mostly I’m happy with it, even though the whole project has been a challenge. Sometime in the future I may blog about the difficulties of remakes - do you remain faithful to the original or try to do something different and interesting?

SECOND: Between part 3 of my Writer’s Bloc interview and John August’s great blog entry on real world deadlines, you probably have a lot of questions about deadlines, and Grant was first to ask in the comments section. Because I’m sure many of you have the same question, and the answer is probably too long for the comments section, I’m answering here.

Grant has a good method for writing a script that allows him three weeks of prep time to really work out his characters and story before going to script. I have said this before - most people jump into their scripts way too soon, and don’t know their story and characters well enough - and it shows. Characters are inconsistent - or sketchy, and often the script wanders around looking for the story. Sometimes the best way to tell the story isn’t used - and it’s told in the easiest (and dullest) way. So spending the time to realy think through the story and characters before you go to script is a great thing....

But how does that work with real world deadlines?

Though in the interview I talk about a couple of times where I’ve had 2 weeks to write a script, that’s not how it normally works. Depending on the project, you are usually given a month to 12 weeks - sometimes more, in your contract. But, as John August mentions in his blog entry, just because they give you several months in your contract doesn’t mean they want you to wait until the last minute to turn in the script. I know a pair of writers who turn in their scripts at the very last minute... and I think their careers have suffered because of it. Just like anything else - you don’t want to wait until the last minute. Usually what will happen is the producer will call for a progress report, and though they sound happy and cheerful, what they really mean is “Where the hell is my script, slacker?” I got that call on the remake project because, even though I have a good prep method for writing scripts, I screwed up by abandoning it with this one. Instead of taking a couple of days to completely re-outline and write up a new treatment after getting the last minute changes, I thought I could just work those things out while writing the script... and boy was I wrong! I spent *weeks* trying to make the script work with the last minute changes - writing, throwing away, rewriting, reworking, throwing away, rewriting scenes. Much like my protagonist, I learned a valuable lesson.

When you are working on an assignment, usually it works in steps... and that means you won’t have to do everything at once. The first step is a treatment, and on many of the projects I’ve done I’ve had as little as a week - but never less than that. (Actually, I have had less time on one of those 2 week brain killer projects - but that’s unusual.) So much of your prep work will take place in that week. If you can figure out the basic story and characters and then do a beat sheet that you can turn into a treatment in 7 days, you’ll be okay. Most of the time they wanted about a 15 page treatment, and I could write that in a day from a beat sheet. Though you may need to compress some of your prep work to get that treatment done within the week, and you may end up skipping some steps... and maybe even putting in some long hours. But here’s your ace in the hole...

Once you turn in your treatment, there is a “reading period” - usually a week, or as long as the time allotted to write the treatment. That’s right - it takes them as long to read it as it took you to write it. Some of them probably move their lips while reading and have to look up “hard words” in the dictionary. But what this means to you - you have another week of prep for the script. While they are reading, you aren’t working on your tan in Mazatlan, you are doing all of the prep work that you couldn’t accomplish in that one week where you had to write the treatment. So you may turn in your treatment with a limited understanding of your characters and work that out while they are reading, or that place in the story you couldn’t quite figure out - so you faked your way through it in the treatment, you now have a week to figure out how to make it work.

None of this is leisurely. Whatever writer said that his wife didn’t understand that when he was looking out the window for an entire afternoon - he *was* working... well, that guy isn’t going to be spending as much time looking out the window. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to inspire yourself. You have to work your butt off. The good thing about writing on a tight deadline - even though you may be pulling a lot of all-nighters and might become a stranger to friends and family, it’ll be over before you know it!

The thing about treatments - though WGA MBA says a producer can not reject a treatment and force you to rewrite treatments until they accept it, I would rather do a reasonable number of treatments (which means do some work for free) and get the story right before we move on to script, than go directly to script with a bunch of notes that completely change everything about the story... and have my first draft of the script be kind of a story experiment that everyone realizes doesn’t work... and you end up replaced by some other writer before there’s a story everyone agrees on. It seems like less work in the long run to write a few treatments than to have every draft be a completely different story with completely different characters. Sometime I will tell the story of my year writing treatments and scripts for a producer... you need to know when to say no!

Okay, so two weeks after they fire the starter gun, you have a meeting where they talk about the treatment they had a week to read - and often didn’t read - and if they want to go directly to script without continuing to play around with treatments, they’ll send you off to write. Your contract will a writing period for the first draft and a reading period for them to read it... or read the coverage... or have their assistant give them a 2 minute briefing on the way to the meeting. My 2 week situations have all been about meeting an airdate or production start date... and whenever there’s a hard deadline - be it 3 weeks or 3 months - it’s all about some real reason why they need the finished script. Whether it’s a pre-production date or a window for a star or a funding source - they need the script, so you need to get the rear in gear and write it. If there isn’t a hard deadline, and you’re just going by your contract - the producer will want it sooner rather than later - even though they may sit on it without reading it for weeks. Once they’ve commissioned the script, they want to see it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean do a half assed job writing it - turning in crap on time is still turning in crap - but it does mean getting the work done as soon as possible.

I guess everything depends on how rough your rough draft is. Rewrites are part of a step deal, too - but that first draft you turn in has to be something that looks and reads like a script. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it has to be good enough. Even though I’ve just turned in my first draft, while they are reading, I am tweaking. As long as that first draft reads okay, you’ll be doing the second draft... and that will be much better because you’ve been working while they were reading.

The main thing to do is not worry. Okay, worry a little. The first time you have to make some deadline, you may think it’s impossible - and you may go crazy getting the work done and panic every other day... but once you’ve handed in the draft on time, you realize you *can* do it. It’s like sky diving or bunjee jumping - the first time you are sure you will die. Once you survive, you have the confidence to do it again. You figure out how to adapt to whatever the situation is.

One thing I’ve learned about writing scripts on a deadline - you find some specific skill you have that is “coasting” - Oddly, I learned from NINJA BUSTERS and DROID GUNNER that I am pretty good at buddy banter off the top of my head - so if I have to write a script fast, I want it to be a buddy action script so that I can use that odd skill to turn out some pages that everybody likes quickly. I’ve also learned that my subconscious comes up with some great things when I don’t have time to think - and I’m sure yours will, too. And you will also discover that you will be able to come up with some great ideas on the fly - I never thought I could come up with anything off the top of my head (except hair pulled from the approaching deadline) but I come up with some amazing things when I’m in the middle of a scene - one trick of mine is to come up with *details* that may later pay off, and if they don’t - they are still good details.

Most of the time you will be given a reasonable amount of time to write your first draft. The producer does want the script as soon as possible, but they also want a good script. This *is* a business. There are deadlines. You need to be able to write on a schedule and get work done on time. You’ll get the hang of it.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How To Study A Script.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burger King on the run... Friday - mom's home cooking.
Pages: No pages yesterday, but I finished the danged script!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Halloween (1978)

Tonight I'm having cocktails at the Rabbit In Red Cocktail Lounge...

I don't think HALLOWEEN is the scariest movie ever made, but it's the film of the day. Saw it when it first came out - and probably saw it the next night, too. Here's what HALLOWEEN did - it wasn't the first stalk and slash film, but it was the first one to get it right... so all of the ones that came after it copied and stole from it without mercy. The cavalcade of bodies scenes comes from this film - even though PSYCHO kind of sets the stage with Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar. And one of the reasons why we all saw it was because it was Janet Leigh's daughter.



Carpenter really took the time to *build* the suspense and create the dread - and the film sticks with you. He also came up with story details that made it seem real... and frightening. And, unlike the stupid remake, Carpenter knew the way to scare the crap out of you was to show a perfectly normal suburban family and world... and have the killer come from that world. The cute little kid who knocks at your door tonight? Michael Myers. He's sweet and polite and maybe a *member of your family* - and he could just take a knife and stab the life out of you...

If he saw you having sex. It's not about family (stupid sequels), it's not about some pagan cult crap (stupid sequels), Michael sees his sister naked and kills her. Michael sees PJ and Nancy in sexual situations - and kills them. Dude doesn't like sexual situations!

Carpenter's shots are elegant, he makes Michael into a ghost - he's there one minute and gone the next... so you never know when or where he will pop up. This film still works (unlike the Zombie remake). The film was made for $300k... and made $58 million.

Happy Halloween!

- Bill




Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

So, I'm not usually one for remakes - and I'm a big fan of Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD because it's all about how consumerism has turned us all into zombies wandering through the mall mindlessly shopping - but the 2004 remake with a script by SLITHER's James Gunn works on its own terms. When I first did my Horror Screenwriting class at the Raindance Film Festival in London, I didn't bring any clips... but *did* have the DVD of DAWN OF THE DEAD in my luggage, and found an illustration of almost every point I was going to make in the film.

The opening scene is *textbook* horror - we start out in suburbia on a normal morning...




As you can see, in very little time we have gone from order to chaos, and the police and authorities are powerless, and the monster could be anyone - the little girl next door, the man you love - ANYONE. You are not safe.

The great thing about zombie movies is that they take people you know and love and turn them into monsters, which creates a huge emotional turmoil for the protagonist(s). You love them... but they want to kill you - what do you do? You have to kill them, but...

- Bill

Monday, October 29, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Rosemary's Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY deals with a first pregnancy... and all of the unexpected feeling and side effects. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is a typical New York newlywed - her husband (John Cassavettes) is an actor in commercials, not famous, more the struggling type. She's quit her job so that they can start a family. When she becomes pregnant, it's a joyous occasion, but she isn't quite sure what to expect - are these odd pains she keeps having normal? What about the weight loss? The strange cravings for raw meat? Hey, pickles and ice cream is one thing, but raw meat? Is that normal? Her new doctor tells Rosemary that every pregnancy is an individual experience, you can't compare it to your friend's pregnancies. It's impossible to know what to expect. Some pregnancies are easy, some are hard... some are painful. Feeling it kick is one thing, but did it just *bite* her? What's growing inside Rosemary? It's a baby, but a baby *what*?



The great thing about this film is how it takes a normal thing and twists it - even if you have never been pregnant, you know someone who has - and nothing that happens is *that* strange. But just enough strange that Rosemary wonders what the hell is going on.

Did the nice old couple next door give her a glass of unusually potent wine which lead to a not-so-immaculate conception involving Satan? Was she drunk, or did that guy really have horns? Was it all a dream? She wakes up with claw marks on her back and there's this thing growing inside of her causing strange cravings, dizziness, nausea, and depression. Rosemary's husband and the next door neighbors seem to be controlling her life - telling her what she should do for the sake of the baby. Pregnant for the first time, she doesn't want to do anything that might harm the baby. When she stops drinking those strange tanis root "vitamin drinks" the baby begins twisting her guts - making her so sick she can't even stand up. The baby is controlling her! Hey, it could be worse - she just gets ultra-morning sickness... her husband's business rival is suddenly struck blind the day before his job interview!




Rosemary's loving husband starts out thinking her strange beliefs about their neighbors are just a side effect of her pregnancy. The more weird stuff she uncovers, the more he believes she's just imagining things. Of course, her loving husband is a member of the Satanic cult. He's turned against her - allowed Satan to have his way with her in exchange for a role on a TV series... let's hope it wasn't the CHARLIE'S ANGELS revamp.

ROSEMARY'S BABY is not a scream-outloud scare movie - it's all slow build and things that are slightly creepy. But because it seems like something happening in the real world, it gets under your skin - this could really happen!

The locations then and now: http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=1135

- Bill

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Night Of The Living Dead

One of the other films I first saw on Bob Wilkins' Creature Features was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – and it freaked me out! I think it freaked out everyone who saw it, and basically created the modern zombie film. Before that, Zombies were from Haiti and under the spell of a Voodoo Priest... after NOTLD zombies were flesh eating undead friends and relatives. The reason this works even today is because it takes regular people and turns them into the monsters. You can not trust *anyone*. The person sitting next to you in the cinema or on the sofa in your living room can turn into a flesh eating goul!



When I was a kid I used to scare the crap out of my little sister by saying “I am the monster!” - and the idea that someone you know and love can suddenly turn into a monster is at the heart of many horror films. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Barbara and her brother go to visit their father's grave on the same day a satellite from Venus crashes in the country side and brings the dead back to life... a harmless old man puts the bite on her brother, killing him... Barbara eventually runs into her brother Johnny again - but now he's a mindless zombie with a taste for human flesh. The people who you love have lost their free will and have turned into monsters! "They're dead! They're all messed up!" Some of the other survivors in the farm house, Cooper and his wife, watch their cute little daughter slowly turning into a monster... then she attacks Cooper and eats him! When mom tries to stop her, she attacks and eats her, too. You can't reason with these zombies, all you can do is shoot them in the head or burn them. And if one bites you? You lose your free will and start thinking of your friends and loved ones as lunch. That's a scary core concept!




The other element of NOTLD is the gore factor – which was way beyond anything I had ever seen at that time... and is even pushing the envelope by today's standards. Of course, the guts they eat are animal parts – but even *that* is pretty sick! Though Romero has said the casting of Duane Jones as the lead was not intended to make a racial point, the timing was in the film's favor – it hit at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and showed a hick sheriff killing an innocent African American man – our hero!

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the ultimate in friends turning against you. You can't trust anyone, because they may turn into a zombie. Kids attack and eat their own parents! Don't see it with someone you love... you'll wonder about them later.

- Bill
TODAY'S JACK-O-LANTERN:



IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: HIGH CONCEPT... OR HIGH STAKES? - Global or Personal stakes.
Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad to make up for all of the junk I've been eating lately.
Pages: Finished a chapter on the Action Book!

Today's Amazon Rank:

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Exorcist (1973)

My first job (other than mowing lawns and delivering papers and helping my dad) was at the Century Movie Theater in Pleasant Hill... when THE EXORCIST opened. I was too young to see the film, but old enough to work in the cinema... so I ended up seeing it 144 times. I can tell you how each scene works, how many shots are in the stair roll at the end, and all kinds of little details about the film.

But the big details are what make it scary.

The film (and novel) was a product of its time - but has also seemed to stand the test of time. The turbulent late 60s and early 70s, when children grew up too fast and became fouled mouthed hippies who believed in free love. Your kid was having sex and doing drugs and saying words that would make a sailor blush. So a film about a kid who goes through all of that - because they are possessed by Satan - connected with the audience on a primal level. The perfect film for parents.



But one of the reasons why it is with us today is that it's also a perfect film for kids. You reach puberty, and all of these crazy things happen to you - and it's as if you are possessed. You are not in control. I think the best horror films are the ones that take some real life problem and twist it - so that you can imagine this (impossible) thing happening to you, or someone you love. THE EXORCIST manages to work for parents of teens *and* teens. Plus, people who used to be teens and have had parents. The idea of someone you love turning into a monster is *emotional* and scary.



It's amazing how much fear a few gallons of split pea soup can produce.

- Bill

Friday, October 26, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween: Dead Of Night (1945)

One of the first horror anthology movies...

James Wan who directed SAW has a thing about killer puppet movies, and I'll bet it can all be traced back to seeing this film as a kid on TV. I know *my* fear of killer puppets stems from this, and the knowledge that Grover on Sesame Street is really a serial killer. But all of the ventriloquist dummy movies like William Goldman's MAGIC come from this creepy film.

Dead Of Night (1945)
Directed by: Cavalcanti ("Christmas Party", "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Charles Crichton ("Golfing Story"), Basil Dearden ("Hearse Driver", "Linking Narrative"), Robert Hamer ("The Haunted Mirror")
Written by: John Baines & Angus MacPhail.
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Googie Withers.

An architect arrives at a country estate and has a strange feeling of deja vu. The group of people at the estate each tell stories of terror... while the architect's deja vu increases. Has he been here before? He feels as if he has heard each story before... and feels like something terrible will happen when the last tale has been told. Each of the stories is frightening, but the ventriloquist and the dummy that controls him is the one most people remember...



The cast is worth noting, since most of them were in Hitchcock's LADY VANISHES. Not only do we get a variation on Caldecott & Charters, we get Bridesmaid Googie Withers and leading man Michael Redgrave! It's the whole gang! The cast is great, the film is spooky... yet realistic enough that you believe everything that happens no matter how crazy. The film was from Ealing Studios, famous for comedies... but this may be their most famous non-comedy film.




Five great stories of terror, with the "wrap" at the country house with our group. Directed by 4 different directors.
1) "Christmas Party" is about a girl at a Christmas Party who finds a hidden staircase that leads to...
2) "The Haunted Mirror" is about an newlywed couple - the wife buys a mirror that is... haunted.
3) "The Hearse Driver" is about a man who dreams a hearse drives by him and the driver says: "There's room for one more"... and then his dream seems to come true.
4) "Golfing Story" is about two golfers (Wayne & Radford) make a bet on the golf course - winner gets to marry the girl they both love, and the loser must die.
5) "The Ventriloquist" is the most frightening of all, about a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is out to get him... and he is.
Often stories like this peter out at the end, but DEAD OF NIGHT has an ending that will give you nightmares!

"There's room for one more."

- Bill

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

When I was a kid this was one of my favorite movies... because it was funny *and* scary. And it was so scary when I was a kid that parts of it were seen through the fingers covering my eyes. Though Bob Hope had made a comedy horror film before, this is the movie that does it best - and I think inspires most of the others. The great thing about the film is that it never makes fun of the monsters and treats the horror elements seriously. So there are *real* scares.



Universal studios had their two big box office draws fading fast - the monsters from their monster movie series and their comedy team Abbott & Costello - and some genius at the studio decided to combine them in the kind of "MEETS" movie that we might come up with as a joke today (HANGOVER MEETS JASON?). But the studio wanted to protect their monsters and not have them ridiculed, and that resulted in a great film where the comedy team ends up in a horror movie and cracks jokes in response to the situations. They never laugh at the monsters - they never make fun of them... they are real, and the conflict - the danger - is the fuel for the gags.



In that clip Lou Costello is not making fun of Dracula - he believes in him! He believes he is real danger.

In my horror class I talk about this film, and how the comedy makes the horror more frightening and the horror makes the comedy more funny. They compliment each other. In successful modern horror comedies they treat the horror elements seriously - but the characters are funny. Everything from PIRANHA to THE HOWLING to AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to SLITHER to BLACK SHEEP to SHAUN OF THE DEAD to SCREAM keep the scares real but has funny characters making jokes while they are in danger.

(My first produced script, the Oscar nominated NINJA BUSTERS, was inspired by this film... and even has a version of the Dracula coffin scene above... just with Ninjas.)




I don't remember whether the first time I saw this film as a kid was on TV or at one of the Bob Wilkins Creature Features roadshow screenings he did during the summer at the middle school behind my house. They would take over the multipurpose room and show films for kids and raffle off prizes. I'm sure the purpose was to keep us from getting into trouble, but these films were an important part of my life growing up. We didn't have much money when I was a kid so the only time I ever saw a movie was either at the drive in (reflected off the back window of the car while I was *supposed* to be asleep on the back seat) or those rare times we saw a Disney film at the cinema where my Aunt Norma worked (she'd sneak us in). But just going to the movies? Didn't happen. So these weekly summer showings were like heaven - it was all of the kids from my neighborhood - all of my friends (Mickey Gillan, Mike Webb, Bob Hayes, John Thomas, etc) and we'd sit together and scream at the monsters and laugh at the jokes. Once I won an autographed picture of Godzilla!

Now that I'm writing movies, I often write funny horror movies inspired by ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN...

- Bill

PS: Here's John Landis talking about the film on TRAILERS FROM HELL:

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