Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Film Chums

From 11 Years Ago...

I had a couple of meetings today, and I might as well have combined them - they were the exact same meeting with different people. Both were people I’ve known for about a decade who have gone out on their own as producers - which makes them old film chums of mine. We've survived battles together.

Here’s what happened at one of the meetings - you can just re-read it and you’ll get the other meeting. I was doing a little work at Priscilla’s Coffee Shop in Toluca Lake before the meeting, closed up the laptop and walked down the street to their offices on the Warners lot. I needed the walk to get some blood flowing - this was probably going to be an “instant pitch” meeting.

After the offer of bottled water (I brought an iced coffee) and a couple minutes of waiting, my Film Chum comes out, shakes my hand, tells me how great it is to see me. Now, here’s the good part about meeting with people I know - I’m not the quivering mass of nerves that I am when I’m meeting some stranger who holds my career in their hands. I’m relaxed. I can small talk. One reason why it’s easy to small talk is that we have some history to talk about. We can either gossip about people we have both worked with (we talked about a couple of directors who have more ego than talent) or talk about past projects, or just bring each other up to speed on what we’ve been doing. So the small talk phase went well, and then we got down to business.

In both cases, the reason for these meetings was because I’m an idea guy. One meeting was about the studio sequel project - and the possibility of sequels to *another* studio’s library. The other was about a pair of cablenets that my Film Chum has made movies for in the past, that are looking for new projects. In both cases, the deal is exactly the same...

My job is to come up with a stack of spec one page synopsis (though the other guy only wants a few dozen single paragraphs). These are entirely spec - no payment involved. And they can’t control what I write (because it’s spec) - but they can tell me what *exactly* they are looking for. It’s like pre-notes. The good news is that it helps me focus my synopsis... the bad news is that it’s restrictive. It becomes kind of like a spec assignment. For the cablenet movies, there was more of an “instant pitch” thing - after my Chum explained what they were looking for, he asked if I had any ideas that fit the parameters... and I had to come up with something.

Give me a week and I’ll come up with a bunch of great ideas. Give me a day and I’ll come up some ideas, maybe a great one in the bunch. Give me a second? Well, you mostly get fumbling. The problem is, they aren’t going to ever cut a check for fumbling. Basically, you have to come up with enough good stuff that they don’t kick you out of the room. Both of these guys know *a lot* of writers. It’s kind of like auditions for American Idol - there are a hundred people waiting behind you for their chance, so you really have to make an impression. You have to be *the* performer that makes it to the finals from this city.

So I pitch a few ideas for one of the cable nets. One of the ways I get through these things is by having “deep pockets” - I have done so many that I can start with ideas I’ve pitched somewhere else... and use that time to think of new material that better fits what they are looking for. So I pitch a couple of old ideas - none of these fit. Then I do something strange - I pitch the spec I’m writing now, but change the genre and lead characters fo fit the cablenet. This becomes a completely different idea - I mean, it’s a different genre, a different lead character, and a different story... just the basic skeleton of the current spec exists - kind of the way SPEED was described as DIE HARD on a bus... but both of those are male lead action flicks. Change those elements, too and you have two completely different films.

And this idea connects. He has some pre-notes, which actually help story. And when he thinks one element of my concept won’t work, I show him how it will... and (oddly) this brings it back to the “skeleton” it shares with the spec I’m writing. So if I get this gig, some of the basic outlining and some of the basic character dynamics are already figured out. The characters and scenes will be entirely different, but the structure will be the same.

All of this is nice, but now I have to write up a bunch of one page synopsis for projects that might work for this cablenet and one pagers that might work for the other cablenet... at no pay. My Film Chum will then pitch these projects to the cablenets, and they will treat them the way the judges on American Idol treat all of those people auditioning. “Next!” “Next!” “Next!” They will wholesale reject most of the ideas... maybe even all of them.

Basically, this is fishing.

Sometimes when you go fishing you don’t catch anything. That’s still considered fishing.

All of this is just chumming for work - you throw enough bait in the water and hopefully that will attract a fish and that fish will bite and if you are lucky as hell you will reel it in and get it on the boat. A lot can go wrong in the process, and you won’t land the fish. Much of my job is fishing. You hope for a nibble. You hope to get something on the line. You pray the line doesn’t snag or break or the fish doesn’t swim away with your bait. And you just keep fishing, and keep chumming the water with concepts, until you reel one in.

So my mission now is to pound out a bunch of potential projects, knowing that most (and maybe even all) of this will be for nothing. This will side-track the spec for a while, but I need to have a sale on the horizon. I have to keep fishing until I catch something. Keep chumming the waters with cool concepts until I reel one of these things in. If I don’t catch anything, I don’t eat.

- Bill


Yesterday’s Lunch: Apple oatmeal.

MOVIES: Saw RUSH HOUR 3 and it was like warm leftovers. I thought the first movie was fun, did a tip on how the second movie disappointed me but was still fun, and now the third film is even weaker than the second... but still okay (but the worst of the #3s).

What is strange about these sequels is that the second film makes it's money on the quality of the first film. It used to be that the first film made the most money and then each subsequent film makes less, but now it's the *second* film that makes the most. People love the first film - whether they saw it in cinemas or on DVD - and can't wait to see the sequel. They want that same feeling the first film gave them. So the second film does great business on opening weekend. In the case of MATRIX 2, it actually makes more money than the first film within the first couple of weekends, even though most people don't like the movie. The third films tend to dip - people's expectations may not have been met by the second film, so they really aren't flocking to see the third film. Even if the third film is good, it may do less business based on expectations on the second film.

But even a bad third film does business - RUSH HOUR 3 was more of the same, luke warm, with less cool Jackie Chan fighting and more annoying Chris Tucker trying too hard to be funny... and a plot that makes no sense. But some of the stuff is funny, and the Eiffel Tower fight scene at the end looks damned good on film. You leave the cinema thinking it was okay... but I won't see #4 on opening weekend unless they do something radical as far as story is concerned. What #3 needed was a great high concept instead of just dropping the same exact story as the last two in France. And, since it was France, I would have rather had Luc Besson direct the film. And I wouldn't be opposed to pairing Jackie Chan with a local star instead of Tucker - someone with a different kind of humor to bounce jokes off so that we get a *variety* of humor instead of stale Tucker schtick. Something about the sequel needs to be *different* so that I have a good reason to pay to see this movie instead of just watch the DVD of the last one.
2018 Note: Just announced they are making #4.

DVDs: Watched CASINO ROYALE - and that is one effed up structure for an action film. The first two thirds are okay, then the villain is killed (not by Bond) and the movie turns into a love story. What they needed to do was *integrate* the love story so that it's not a huge chunk that slows everything down. Main reason why I watched it again - the action scenes. Trying to get into the groove to write this big action scene today.

Pages: Only 2 pages, because I'm packing for vacation - a couple of weeks in Vegas. Usually I spend my birthday there, but this year London got in the way, so I had to change plans. I was going to spend the time in Vegas hammering out this spec, but now it looks like I'm doing synopsis. Should probably have a week on the spec, but that's not going to getit finished. *Today* I'm working on a *sweet* action scene on the spec, so maybe I'll make my quota *today*.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE BORDER (1982)

Directed by: Tony Richardson
Written by: Deric Washburn (DEERHUNTER) Walon Green (WILD BUNCH) David Freeman (not the guru, the guy who wrote STREET SMART).
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Warren Oates, Valerie Perrine.

I saw this movie when it was first released and was shopping in Best Buys or someplace where the DVD was on sale, so I bought it... and it remained on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. With the news filled with stories of refugee children crossing the border illegally, I thought it might be time to break the seal on the DVD and use the film as a topical Trailer Tuesday. Yesterday’s earthquake in Guatemala made it even *more* topical (and I had to add that line to the already written blog entry).

When I first saw the film back in 1982 I thought it had some great performances and scenes, but the story was trying to do too much at the same time and suffered because of that. Seeing it again in 2014... pretty much the same. There are three different writers on this, and they reshot the end after test audiences hated it. The problem with doing any screenplay around an issue is that the issue might overshadow the story and you end up with a mess... which is probably what happened here.

The story begins in Guatemala after a major earthquake levels a city and kills the young husband of a teen mother, Maria. With aftershocks bringing down any building left standing, Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) and her newborn finds her little brother Juan and they head North with a group of others left homeless by the quake.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Charlie (Jack Nicholson) is an Immigration Officer tasked with busting illegal workers. When he enters a sweat shop, the owner begs him not to close him down. All of the employees are illegals, because his business model for maximum profit is to pay employees no more than $6 a day. Busting all of the illegals will put him out of business, not to mention make it impossible for his employees to feed their families. Charlie has been doing this for years, knows how things work in the real world, and says he’ll take *2* employees... and then finds two without wives and families and busts them. The Boss assures the two that their jobs will be waiting for them when they sneak back across the border... both are good employees.

Nicholson gives a great performance in this film, *not* playing Jack Nicholson... but the character. He’s subdued, stuck in a rut at work and at home... and kind of a loser. Charlie and his wife Marcy (the great Valerie Perrine, nominated for Best Actress in LENNY) live in a trailer park, but Marcy dreams of living in her dream home... and goads Charlie into asking for a transfer to El Paso where her cheerleading friend from high school Savannah (Shannon Wilcox stealing every scene she’s in) and her Border Patrol husband Cat (Harvey Keitel) have a duplex... with the other side vacant. It could be their dream home!

Buy the border

El Paso is very different than Los Angeles: it’s the front lines in the illegal immigrant war. There is a constant flow of people being smuggled in by coyotes in vans and cars and delivery trucks... plus individuals who sneak across the Rio Grande. Add to that the drug couriers and mules offered free passage into the United States by coyotes in exchange for taping drugs onto their bodies. The boring job of busting illegal workers in Los Angeles is nothing compared to the chases and shoot outs along the border in El Paso.

Cat (Keitel) is his partner, and Red (Warren Oates) is the boss. My friend Gary Grubbs plays one of the other Border Patrol Officers in his first credited film role! Early on, Cat tells Charlie that illegals are a commodity, and like any commodity, you can make a fair amount of money for delivering them to the right people. Would he like some extra cash? Charlie turns it down, he’s compassionate but not corrupt.

After picking up a group of illegals and taking them to the giant outdoor pens where they wait for processing, Cat introduced Charlie to a slimy Border Officer from Mexico, Manuel. Cat seems to have some side deal going on with Manuel...

While chasing some illegals trying to sneak across the Rio Grande, a boy steals all of the hubcaps off his patrol truck and runs back across to the Mexico side. Charlie chases the boy (who is Juan) but loses him. One of his first days on the job and he’s going to get into trouble for bringing the truck back without hubcaps! That’s when Maria and her baby shows up on the bank of the river to return the hubcaps. Her brother shouldn’t have stolen them. Charlie thanks her.

When they bust a delivery truck full of illegals, Maria, her newborn, and Juan are in the group and get sent to the outdoor pens, which are separated by sex. One of the other illegals asks Maria if she would like her to take care of the baby while she went to get water... and this ends up a ploy to steal the baby. Manuel the Mexican Border Officer has a business stealing and selling babies, smuggling in drugs and illegals, forcing any attractive women into a life of prostitution or sex slavery, and *killing* any competition. The theft of the baby starts a small riot, which is quelled in time for the buses to come and transport the illegals back to Mexico. Maria *does not* want to be taken away from her stolen baby. Maria spits in Charlie’s face: now he has become the enemy to her...

Meanwhile, Charlie’s wife is spending more than he makes turning their half of the duplex into a dream house. Charlie is drowning in debt and asks Cat if there’s still a chance he can do some of that corrupt cop work? Of course! They next bust they make, they find two drug couriers among the illegals and Cat has Charlie load up the others while he deals with the two couriers... and then Cat just shoots them dead. They were not Manuel’s couriers, and part of the corrupt gig is killing the competition. Charlie says he didn’t sign up for killing people... Cat warns him he nets to get along to go along.

Later, when a group of illegals try to escape onto a freight train, young Juan attempts to jump onto the speeding train, falls between cars, and Charlie risks his life to save him. Maria changes her mind about him, he’s not the typical Border Patrol Officer (who would have just let Juan die). Maria says she will do anything to get her baby back... and this becomes Charlie’s mission.

When he goes to Red about Cat and the corrupt border officers group... he discovers that Red is part of it! In fact, Red runs the corrupt group. Now it’s basically Charlie vs. all of the other border officers. Red and Cat set up an ambush an attack Charlie in an interesting if poorly choreographed shoot out in a lots filled with giant earth moves and construction vehicles. Charlie kills both of them, goes to Manuel’s headquarters on this side of the border, kills the toothless dude in charge and rescues the baby... but Manuel gets away. The movie ends with Charlie crossing the Rio Grand to give Maria her baby back...

The story seems scattershot at times, not knowing if it’s an action film or an issues movie or a domestic drama or a SERPICO like corrupt cop saga. All of the acting is top notch, and the scenes between Keitel and Nicholson are a million times better than anything in TWO JAKES. It’s interesting to look up the young actress who played Maria on IMDB, because her career took off big time. She’s the rebel woman in PREDATOR! (And PREDATOR 2!) She’s in SEVEN POUNDS with Will Smith! She’s in the SOLARIS remake with Clooney!

Tony Richardson was a really odd choice for director, he’s best known for costume dramas like TOM JONES and JOSEPH ANDREWS and comedies like TASTE OF HONEY and THE LOVED ONE. It makes you wonder if some early draft of this was a straight drama and they added the action scenes to turn it into the kind of movie that would sell tickets... which might account for the patchwork feel of the story. The action scenes are not well done, even though you cam see the *intentions* by what the characters do. The big “ambush” shoot out is over in a minute, even though you can see that it was written to go much longer (Cat’s death is a cool idea... that isn’t set up in the shoot out at all).

What this film shows is that there is no easy solution to any of this. A few weeks back I watched the 40s movie BORDER INCIDENT with Ricardo Montalban about the same subject, with many similar scenes. Because RKO was one of the producers of THE BORDER I wondered if it was a remake of some earlier film, and when I looked up movies with similar titles on IMDB there were Mexican/American Border movies going back to the silent era! Couldn’t find one from RKO with “border” in the title, so it may have been based on some film with a different title. But there are over 200 movies with the word “border” in the title, and most deal with the Mexican/American border. I may do the Montalban movie sometime down the road because I really liked that one.

THE BORDER is a mostly forgotten film with good performances, but a story that’s all over the place.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: $400 Million Domestic In One Week!

Lancelot Link Monday! BLACK PANTHER broke box officer records last weekend, and this weekend as well - becoming on ly the fourth film to make over $100m in its second weekend. So if you thought it exhausted its audience with last weekend's largest President's Day Weekend Ever with $242,155,680 and largest February Opening Weekend (F,S,S) with $202,003,951 or Largest Winter Opening Weekend or Largest Monday... well, you ain't seen nothing yet! Over $400 million domestic after its second weekend... and $304 million overseas. That's a total of $704 million worldwide since opening. Um, it's in profit. And doesn't seem to be slowing down. My capsule review is: If Shakespeare wrote a James Bond movie. Though lots of people are saying between this film and WONDER WOMAN, there *is* an audience for female and minority superheroes, I think it's more about having two good movies. Though I had some problems with the action scenes in BLACK PANTHER, I forgive them because the rest was fun and emotional and had the best villain so far in a Marvel movie. As someone said online - the villain was *right* and by the end the hero realizes this (with a different solution to the problem). Good stuff. What will the Asylum rip off be? 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 Panther ....................... $108,046,000
2 Game ........................... $16,600,000
3 Peter........................... $12,545,000
4 Annihilation ................... $11,000,000
5 50 .............................. $6,915,000
6 Jumanji ......................... $5,640,000
7 15:17 ........................... $3,600,000
8 Showman ......................... $3,400,000
9 Every Day ....................... $3,104,000
10 Early .......,................... $1,700,000

2) Most Anticipated Horror Movies Of 2018.

3) Terrible Tropes! Does Your Script Do This?

4) Welcome To Silent Films - Stunts Without Special Effects.

5) Oscar Nominated Writers Round Table.

6) Film Dumping In February.

7) Hitchcock's VERTIGO, why we love it.

8) Writing The Superhero Film That Should Win The Oscar.

9) The Original Atomic Blonde.

10) One Of My Favorite Directors: Ida Lupino.

11) 150 Scripts To Read!

12) Slumdog Bond?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From the UK TV series VILLAINS.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Mr. George.


(Though I have the next episode in season 2 ready to go - I haven't pulled all of the images, yet... and am exhausted today. So I'm playing hooky and doing a rerun.)

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

Season: 1, Episode: 32.
Airdate: May 9, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Stephen Grendon
Cast: Gina Gillespe, Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, Howard Freeman.
Music: Sweet Jerry Goldsmith score.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our little friend Priscilla is obviously on urgent business. But in a cemetery, you say? Ah, my friends, this is no ordinary child as you can see, oh no indeed. You see, she has a very special friend and protector resting here. Oh yes, to the rest of the world her friend is properly deceased and quite quite cold. But since Priscilla is not aware of adult concepts of life and death she simply knows that Mr. George has changed his address. That’s the title of our story, Mr. George, and it concerns the fearful effect his untimely demise has on our leading players. They are: Virginia Gregg, Lillian Bronson, and Howard Freeman... and most importantly, Priscilla herself as played by Miss Gina Gillespe. And Mr. George. I warn you, hold tight to your own concepts of life and death because before the hour has ended Priscilla and her special guardian may change them.”

Synopsis: A mansion (Munster House) at the turn of the century. A little girl Priscilla (Gina Gillespie) watches from the top of the stairs until the adults have left the entryway to the house, then sneaks out to see Mr. George... at a graveyard. She goes to his tombstone and leaves a note on his grave... she wants him to come back and live with them.

Meanwhile, the adults are discussing their problem. Priscilla’s mother was wealthy and owned this house. When she passed away, the house and money was put in a trust for Priscilla with Mr. George (the family lawyer... and maybe Priscilla’s mother’s lover) as executor. Now that Mr. George has died, the trust will be passed to Judge Lambeau... who doesn’t trust these adults, who are Priscilla’s cousins: slightly crazy Adelaide Leggett (Lillian Bronson), stuffy Jared Leggett (Howard Freeman) and scheming Edna Leggett (Virginia Gregg). Edna’s dreams of wealth aren’t going to happen on the monthly allowance from Priscilla’s trust. Edna is already scheming: if Priscilla dies, they are next in line for the fortune. Jared goes upstairs...

Just as Priscilla returns. She waits until he’s gone before sneaking upstairs to her room... but she hits the squeaky step, and Edna races out to catch her. But Priscilla is already gone. Did she hear them plotting?

Edna tries to convince Jared to make sure Priscilla has some sort of accident. Jared tells her not to say such things, especially around Adelaide, since she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might do... and if she did something and was caught, well, she’d be out her share of the inheritance, right?

In Priscilla’s bedroom, the rocking chair next to the bed begins to move and Mr. George’s ghost (voice of Les Tremayne) talks to her. He verbally tucks her in, wishes her a good night, and then the light goes out (by itself?). It’s a really sweet scene... with an unseen ghost.

In the morning, Priscilla runs downstairs to find the cook gone. Edna has fired her along with the rest of the staff. Priscilla goes outside and has a tea party with her doll. She tells her doll how much she misses Mr. George... then the wind blows through the trees and Mr. George’s voice says that he’s back, to watch over her. She thinks Mr. George is playing hide and seek with her, and looks all over for him.

In the house, Adelaide grabs Edna and points out Priscilla talking to herself. Is Mr. George out there somewhere? Or just the kid’s imagination?

At breakfast, Priscilla tells them that Mr. George was talking to her. Jared tells her she must go to her room, and when she is ready to forget this nonsense she can come down. When she’s gone, Edna tells Adelaide she read in the newspaper about some children who climbed in an old trunk and the lid locked... and they suffocated. If such a thing were to happen to Priscilla, they’d all inherit her money.

Adelaide goes to Priscilla’s room and says she thinks she knows where Mr. George might be hiding... up in the attic. Let’s go up and look for him. Adelaide and Priscilla go up to the spooky attic, where Adelaide tries to get Priscilla to look in an old trunk. But when she gets close enough to push inside, Mr. George calls for her to run to her room. Adelaide yells for her to come back... and the trunk lid falls on Adelaide’s neck and kills her!

After Adelaide’s funeral, George’s sister Laura Craig (Joan Tompkins) comes to visit. When George was ill and thought he might be dying he wrote to Laura... telling her all about the evil cousins. There’s a nice moment where Edna, dressed entirely in black from the funeral, and Laura, dressed in a white hat and light colors; do a sort of verbal tug of war over Priscilla. Edna orders Priscilla go upstairs to her room, and they escort Laura out of the house. Darkness wins.

When Edna goes up to Priscilla’s room, the rocking chair is moving and the little girl is talking to Mr. George. Of course, Edna can’t hear him and thinks Priscilla just has an over active imagination. Orders her to stop fooling around and go down to dinner. Now. When they leave Jared walks past... and sees the rocking chair moving on its own. Could George’s ghost be haunting the house? Could George’s ghost have killed Adelaide?

The next day, Jared sees Priscilla on the swing and thinks this might make for a good accident... so he begins pushing her on the swing. Tells her his arms are getting tired and she should get off, then tries to push the swing at her head! Mr. George tells her to run to her playhouse, quick! The swing blasts at her head, missing it. Jared yells for her to come back... then notices the swing has stopped midair. How is that possible? Then it shoots down and hits Jared in the neck... killing him. Great swing POV shot as it moves back and forth over Jared’s body.

Another funeral wreath on the front doors of the house.

Edna finds Priscilla playing hide and go seek with her “imaginary friend” and punishes her. Priscilla says it is Mr. George. Edna asks how can she know who it is if she can’t see him? It’s all in her mind. Is it? Edna sends Priscilla to her room, then there is a knock at the door... Laura Craig. Judge Lambeau has given Laura custody of Priscilla. Light and darkness face off again. Edna can stay in the house. Laura will come to pick up Priscilla at 10am tomorrow.

The next morning Edna ties a piece of string across the top of the stairs and calls for Priscilla to come down. Priscilla starts to run down, but Mr.George tells her to go down the *back stairs* and go to the playhouse. Edna keeps yelling for Priscilla to come down stairs this minute! When she gets no answer, she goes upstairs to grab her... making sure the string is disconnected first. Priscilla isn’t upstairs. Edna blows a gasket and races downstairs... but the string *connects* all by itself! Edna trips and falls down the stairs to her death.

Priscilla meets Laura at the playhouse and they board the streetcar for Laura’s house. Priscilla tells Mr. George that he’ll have to hurry or he’ll be left behind. Mr. George tells her that Laura will look after her now, so this will have to be goodbye. Priscilla says goodbye to Mr. George (dare you not to cry) and the streetcar takes Priscilla to her new home, as the front gate to the old home closes by itself.

Review: This is a strange little story! A tale of ghosts and murder and revenge... that’s charming and heart warming! How do you maintain that balance for an hour? In a strange way this is similar to last week’s episode, since it deals with an underdog character surrounded by schemers... except this underdog is a completely innocent little girl who gets her revenge through her best friend who is a ghost. Not an evil ghost, but a protective ghost. Last week we had an adulterous wife and no shortage of men who don’t mind that she’s married, this week we get Killing Cousins. Both stories feature dark humor and a whimsical tone. It’s impossible not to root for the happy little girl when these downright evil people descend on her and try to steal her inheritance. While they scheme, she has fun! While they fight amongst themselves, she plays in the play house! They are all about money, she is all about just having a great time. And guess what wins in this parable?

One of the great things about this episode is that all three cousins die *by their own schemes*. Adelaide tries to trap Priscilla in an old trunk, and the trunk lid drops on her neck and kills her. Jared tries to kill Priscilla with the swing, not realizing that what goes up (out?) must come down... and the swing slamming into his throat and killing him. Edna creates the tripline on the top of the stairs, and then trips on it herself. It’s as if their own evil is killing them (with a little help from Mr. George).

Hey, Mr. George is an amazing character! He is never seen, but manages to make a real emotional impression on us. We love this (dead) guy! He seems to be as happy and playful in death as Priscilla is in life.

I mentioned the score in the credits, it’s a sweet Jerry Goldsmith score that kind of reminds you of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The innocence of childhood with a touch of seriousness (for those lessons we learn in childhood). In fact, this is kind of the ghost story version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD... similar tone of small town (even though this is a turn of the century city where Priscilla knows the driver of the horse drawn streetcar). There’s a real feeling of a simpler time.

Though this is Ida Lupino’s second episode on the series as a director (of nine), this shows what a remarkable director she was. She manages to maintain that tricky tone for the hour without a single fumble. She also does some wonderful camera work for an hour long show shot in a week. Other directors seem content to just set up the camera in the easiest spot and let the action unfold in front of it. Here Lupino opens with a complicated moving shot and then continues to pepper the episode of with great angle (that shot of the two evil aunts) and does an amazing shot where the camera is *on the swing* with Priscilla’s POV on the swing, and later a Swing Eye View as the swing passes back and forth over dead Uncle Jared. Cameras weighed a ton back then, so I have no idea how she pulled off this shot. It’s also a *haunting* shot, as the swing drifts back and forth over Jared’s corpse.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a huge fan of hers, and her work in Film Noir both in front of the camera and behind the camera is remarkable. But how could her work as director on THE HITCH HIKER prepare her for an episode like this? This sweet, tear inducing, ghost story? Before her stint on THRILLER she directed 8 episodes of my favorite western show, HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL. This is such a sweet episode, that it’s hard to believe she was directing a manly man western show before this! Or that she would direct the ultimate edge of the seat suspense episode of THRILLER only a few episodes from this.

Next week an episode directed by Paul Henreid (Victor Lazlo in CASABLANCA) about a famous pianist and his rival... and a war that goes beyond the grave.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Special Guest: Harry Connolly on Studying Screenwritng

From 2015...

My friend Harry Connolly has been writing guest blogs to promote his new (awesome) GREAT WAY Trilogy, and knocking it out of the park with each one. All kinds of amazing insight and information on writing that applies to novels, short stories, and screenplays. He should write a book! So my blog is privileged to host this guest blog...

INT. BOOKSTORE - DAY: How Studying Screenwriting Made Me a Better Novelist (Mostly)

Way back in the misty dawn of the 1990s, I was a noob author on the internet, looking for advice.

Boy, did I find it.

One of the earliest places I went searching was from pro novelists. Nice people, but none of the advice they gave me seemed all that helpful. I wanted to know how to put together a really great book, and the responses were, essentially: "Try not to be boring."

Now, this is the ultimate advice. Really, there is no better advice than this. "Be interesting" is the only rule of writing. Everything a writer learns about their craft brings them toward this goal.

But I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to talk dialog. I wanted tips on creating characters and conflict. I wanted concrete rules. That's when I found screenwriting.

Now, this was back in the days of Syd Field, who specified actual page numbers where people should put act breaks. It was very, very rigid. Too much so, honestly.

Not that I knew about Field at first. I was just this guy writing terrible fiction. Some actor friends told me to write a script so they could be in it, and gave it a try. Had I ever seen an actual film script before? Nope. Lots of plays (I studied Modernist Drama in college, mainly because plays are so short) but no screenplays. You can imagine how good they weren't.

Then, while bumping around from one message board to another, I discovered Wordplay.

I think just about every person who goes online is searching for a peer group, even if they don't realize it. They seek out a circle of friendly voices who share their interests, enthusiasms, and ambitions. Someone to cheer them on or buck them up. Someone willing to tell them they're full of shit.

Just as important are contrasts. The horror writer has a lot to learn from the kitchen sink drama writer, and vice versa. The woman who wants her name on big budget summer tentpole movies has a lot to learn from the woman writing arch indies. They define themselves and their work by their differences. And they can argue.

God, how we argued. Antagonists, flashbacks, outlining: it was an endless competition of ideas, and while I argued passionately, I was wrong as often as I was right.

But what did I learn in all that back and forthing that I'm still using today?

1) The elegant flourish. There's an early scene in Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run where a movie producer complains about an Ivy League playwright he's hired. The script he turned in had a 20 page scene where a husband and wife argued, bickered, and fought, and the playwright insisted every line of dialog was necessary to establish the man's contempt and the dismal state of their marriage. The producer brought on another writer, a guy with barely a high school education. New guy throws out the argument entirely and writes a new scene: The husband and wife are on an elevator. A pretty young woman gets on, and the man takes off his hat.

That was it, a single moment that encapsulated the situation perfectly. Short, simple, telling. I've been searching for ways to do that in my own writing ever since.

2) Hurry up! One of the first things screenwriters at the time were told was that any dialog over three lines was too long. (And script formatting is really narrow for dialog.) Get to the point without being on the nose, then get out.

The same was true for scenes. Start late and end early. Get to the conflict, then the next, then the next. Anything that didn't move the story forward had to be cut.

Novels can be a digressive form, with characters telling little stories about their lives, or doing the dishes, or stopping for coffee with an old friend. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly don't mind reading digressive books. I don't like writing them, though. I try to keep the story moving, and I inevitably get editorial notes asking me to slow things up and take a little more down time.

3) Be the expert. This was a hard one, because it doesn't mean what a novelist would assume it means. It's not an injunction to study sword-fighting before writing a duel, or to interview a bunch of cops before writing a procedural. That advice ought to be so obvious that nobody should need it. This means to be an expert in your own storyΓÇöto know it inside and out.

In fact, this came from the Wordplay column called You're The Expert; the reason screenwriters are supposed to be experts is to effectively respond to studio notes. That's not an issue for my type of writing, but when I'm stuck on a scene, or unsure what direction the plot should go, I ask myself what a really great would do. How would [extraordinary author] write this scene?

It's a surprisingly effective way to break through a block, and research has confirmed that people are more creative when they imagine themselves to be someone else. Research requires actual expertise, but creatively it helps to have the pretend kind.

What about that "Mostly?" There's one aspect of novel writing that studying scripts didn't prepare me for, and it wasn't what I expected. If you watch the opening of The Godfather, you see an amazing outdoor wedding partyΓÇöthe people, the decorations, the food, all of it. In a script, that's covered by the words EXT. WEDDING PARTY - DAY or whatever. A novelist has to do the work of the art department, the wardrobe department, casting, and all the rest.

But I expected that. What I didn't expect was the profound difference in the way prose text operated. In a script, the text doesn't have a lot of flow because so much of it is instruction. Scene headers, dialog names and parentheticals, "legends", all of them break the flow of the narrative and dialog.

Prose has none of that. Not only is the text very linear, it comes in a flow that's largely unbroken (with the exception of chapter headers or asterisks scene breaks). That task of stringing words together into sentences, then tying sentences together into paragraphs, then arranging paragraphs properly, it a lot like beadwork, and it was the biggest hurdle I faced. While revising first drafts, I found sentences in the wrong order, paragraphs that repeated exposition, unnecessary prepositional phrases, and worse.

Learning to control the flow of text and the transitions between sentences over page after page of prose, instead of in small bursts of narration, was the skill that elevated my game to earn a publishing contract and a career.

Obviously, it isn't absolutely necessary for novelists to study screenwriting; plenty of pros have done well without it. One of the strengths of the novel format is the extraordinary variety of styles and subject matters. Nothing really matters except that one rule I mentioned at the top.

But I'll always be wedded to the stripped-down, full-speed-ahead aesthetic of the script, and I'll always be grateful to the screenwriters (including my host here) who taught me what I needed to know to become a pro novelist.

Now watch me gently segue into a note about my latest, blurbed "Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller" by Greywalker author Kat Richardson.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

Have I mentioned that it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Bill wrote a review of the entire trilogy. You can also find out more about that first book on my website.

If you want to see the fast-paced style I've been talking about, you can read the sample chapters I've posted on my blog.

Thanks for reading.

BIO: Harry Connolly's debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it's the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

In case you missed any of Harry's other guest blogs...

My Favorite Bit.

Why Talent Is Evil.

My Superpower As A Writer.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone.

Failing On Your Own Terms.

The Most Difficult Part To Write.

Experts Vs. Bumpkins.

Always Blame Yourself!

And the books:

Click covers for more info!

Chaos Magic Darkness

PS: Lancelot Links will be on *Tuesday* this week!


Friday, February 16, 2018

Hitchcock: Content vs. Technique

Here's another bit of advice from Hitchcock while I get some writing done...

- Bill

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



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

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


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

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Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Last Of The Sommervilles


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

Season: 2, Episode: 7.
Airdate: Nov. 6, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: Ida Lupino & R.M.H. Lupino (her cousin).
Cast: Peter Walker, Phyllis Thaxter.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “And how does your garden grow? Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this one will flourish. Of courser it’s only proper there be to mark the final resting place of someone so unceremoniously interred. But then, of course, Ursula Sommerville has very little respect for the dear departed... Particularly since it happens to be a member of the family. Our story tonight concerns her slowly dwindling clan, as well as her sinister determination to become the last of the Sommervilles, which by the way is the title of our play. Our leading players are: Phyliss Thaxter, Martita Hunt, Peter Walker, and this odd looking chap is Doctor Farnham. You know I have the strangest feeling that I’ve seen that face before somewhere. Well, come - be my guests won’t you, as we resume our little garden party.”

Synopsis: On a foggy night at the Sommerville Mansion, a cloaked figure drags a dead body across the grounds to a hole and buries it, shoveling dirt over the corpse, then arranging ivy and flowers over the grave. Afterwards the figure pulls off her hood, exposing that this fiend is a woman! Ursula Sommerville (Phyliss Thaxter)... who smiles when she’s finished.

The prodigal nephew Rutherford (Peter Walker) returns to the mansion on a dark and windy night, rings the bell. Ursula answers the door - they have never met, and he assumes that she’s a servant. She tells him that his aunt has been expecting him, and sends him upstairs.

Aunt Celia (Martita Hunt) is a giddy old biddy who loves her nephew, and wonders why he hasn’t visited in the past 15 years. She invested in his African gold mine and some other ventures, and now he’s got a business venture in Paris, but he has this little problem - he needs some money. Celia says they can talk about that later, because tonight is the big party and she needs to bath and change. By the way, Aunt Sophie will be attending. Celia asks “her maid” Ursula where Sophie has been hiding herself, and Ursula reminds her that she left for Europe.

While Aunt Celia bathes, Rutherford flirts with “the maid” Ursula... until he discovers that she’s his cousin, four times removed by marriage. But that just slows him down. She tells him where the liquor is kept, and he leaves.

Later Ursula sees Rutherford passed out in the livingroom, grabs the fire poker and... pokes the fire after a moment where she seems to contemplate braining him. When Rutherford wakes up they have a conversation about Aunt Celia’s health - and her little heart seizures. Both seem to be scheming. Ursula informs him that there is no party, except in Aunt Celia’s imagination. “Nothing wrong with her being a little eccentric as long as it doesn’t interfere with her writing checks.”

A week later, and Aunt Celia has still not loaned Rutherford the money he needs for Paris. Ursula keeps talking her out of it after he talks her into it. Rutherford is becoming desperate, and is ready to leave... when Ursula offers him a deal. She has managed to become the sole financial beneficiary of Aunt Celia’s will, all the remaining living family members - Aunt Sofie and Rutherford - get some baubles. But if Rutherford helps Aunt Celia die, Ursula will pay him a large chunk of money - twenty times what he’s asked Aunt Celia for. “Murderers are often hanged.” “So are stockings.” As sole beneficiary, Ursula needs an airtight alibi for the time of Aunt Celia’s death... but Rutherford won’t inherit a cent so he has no real motive. The police will not suspect him in Celia has an “accident”.

The night of the “accident” Aunt Celia has thrown a monkey wrench into the plan by inviting her doctor to dinner. But is he really coming to dinner or is this just another one of Aunt Celia’s fantasies? Ursula and Rutherford change the plan, so that Dr. Farnum (Boris Karloff) will be a witness. Of course, Dr. Farnum has an interest in marrying Aunt Celia so that *he* can inherit. Rutherford is supposedly in town playing cards and drinking with friends, and after dinner Ursula needs to go into town for a charity auction... and Dr. Farnum offers to take her in his carriage (becoming her alibi witness).

When Dr. Farnum and Ursula leave, and Aunt Celia goes upstairs to have her bath; Rutherford sneaks out of the basement.

The murder plan involves Aunt Celia taking her nightly bath, and a live electrical wire in her sponge. When she uses the sponge, she will be electrocuted, then Rutherford removes the live wire and cleans us and it appears as if she has died from one of those heart seizures. There’s some nice suspense in this scene when Aunt Celia keeps *almost* grabbing the sponge, then grabbing something else instead... there’s a tray of chocolates next to the sponge, some bath oils, etc. She finally grabs the sponge, screams, and...

The funeral at the Sommerville crypt. Afterwards Aunt Celia’s lawyer Mr. Parchester (Chet Stratton) asks if they can read the will a week from Friday. When the lawyer leaves, Rutherford is angry - he’ll have to wait almost two weeks before he can get his money.

Someone begins sending them anonymous notes accusing them of murder... Who could know? Ursula accuses Rutherford of getting drunk in town and letting something slip. Rutherford wonders if Dr, Farnham is behind the notes... and maybe Ursula let something slip. Hmm, maybe the doctor could become victim to an accident? When Rutherford worries about two murders, Ursula corrects him - Three - she killed Aunt Sophie and got away with it. Everyone thinks Sophie is in Europe.

Dr. Farnham stops by unexpectedly, and Rutherford tells him that Ursula is in town. Farnham mentions that a storm is coming, would be a shame if she was caught up in it. Farnham wonders if they’ve told Aunt Sophie, Celia’s sister, about her death? Rutherford says she’s traveling in Europe and they have no idea how to reach her. Farnham keeps hinting around that Sophie’s vacation seems unusual. Everything he says is perfectly innocent... but a veiled threat. He knows.

That foggy night, Ursula - in the hooded cloak - wakes Rutherford and tells him that someone is out on the edge of the estate watching the house. They look out the window and there *is* a figure in the fog. It must be Dr. Farnham. Ursula gives Rutherford a gun and says, “In case there’s a prowler on the grounds”.

Rutherford and Ursula sneak through the fog to attack the prowler... but she leads him into the bog, where he slowly sinks! He aims the gun at her and fires - empty! She watches him die, smiling. Then collects the coat on the branch that was the figure they saw from the window.

The reading of the will: Ursula gets the mansion and everything else (except the small things to the other (now dead) family members. But... to keep the family name alive, she will not be able to collect any of this until she marries her cousin four times removed, Rutherford, and bares a male child. If that is not possible, the entire fortune will be left to her lawyer Mr. Parchester who will be in charge of charitable donations...

Ursula is screwed! She inherits *nothing*!

Until the twist...

Ursula and Parchester were behind this from the very beginning! They’re a couple!

Years later, the mansion is for sale... because Ursula and Parchester died in a car accident.
(you can get away with murder in real life, but not on network TV - Standards & Practices forbids it!)

Review: This is probably the weakest of Ida Lupino’s episodes, but when you compare it to most of the other episodes it’s still probably in the top third as far as quality is concerned. Though all of these episodes were probably shot in a week, and many look as if they were thrown together at the last minute; most of Lupino’s episodes are filled with amazing imaginative shots and camera moves - using the same revolving bunch of cinematographers that the other episodes used. So it’s obvious that the difference between the blandly shot episodes and the amazingly shot episodes is the person calling the shots - director Lupino.

Even though here we get more standard shots that in her other episodes, we still get lots of creativity you don’t see in many of the episodes directed by others. At the beginning of the episode there’s a great point of view shot as Rutherford’s hand grabs the gate handle and pushes it open, then we dolly in maintaining the POV shot until Rutherford steps into frame and we continue with an over-the-shoulder top the front door.

And there’s a great moving camera shot as Rutherford checks himself in a mirror (no camera or crew reflection) and then enters his aunt’s room - all one shot.

Later there’s a nice German Expressionist shot as Rutherford’s *shadow* climbs the stairs - reflected on the wall - until Rutherford reaches the top of the stairs and steps into frame.

And several other nice mirror shots - enough great visual stuff to put this in that top third. The main thing that holds it back is the story itself, which is fairly pedestrian without much suspense or many plot twists. So Lupino does as much as she can with a story told in a fairly bland manner about people killing each other over an inheritance. Plot 53 B.

The only one to blame for the bland story blandly told is... Lupino and her cousin who wrote the script! She usually wrote with her husband Collier Young (even after they were divorced) so maybe he was her other half creatively as well, and her cousin was not. This isn't a bad episode, it's just not her best. Next week another new Season 2 entry... A mystery with not much in the way of thrills.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Landing A Writing Gig

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. So this year I'm trying to add material to each of them and post new entries (though this is an old one). There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?


In the clip I note two of the common ways to get into screenwriting - through spec scripts going out to market and through winning or being a finalist in one of the major contests. Spec scripts tend to get read due to their interesting concepts (“What’s it about?”) and contests are often more focused on the quality of the writing rather than the concept. Of course, there are a million spec screenplays in circulation in any given year and maybe 100 of those sell, so quality of writing is a massive component in spec screenplays as well. But whichever way gets you in, all roads lead to Hollywood... and Hollywood movies. You might write the awesome high concept screenplay which leads to an assignment writing that summer tentpole movie, or you might win a contest and land an assignment working on a summer tentpole movie. These days Hollywood is pretty much all tentpole all the time, so if you are a contest winner - be prepared!

There was a time - only about a decade ago - when Hollywood still made a certain number of mid-range movies, some of which were “prestige” films or dramas, but these days those films are made independently. Outside of the system, and usually written-directed-produced by the same person. They find the funding and make the film - no screenplay is actually sold (the film is funded). A movie like SPOTLIGHT doesn’t come from a studio, but from a filmmaker - Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film and was involved in producing it as well (he wrote-directed-produced WIN WIN). If you want to work outside the system and do your own thing, it has never been easier to do that. You can make a film for pocket change these days... and many people do. If you don’t want to write tentpoles and don’t want to make your own films, there are still some options available: TV is expanding right now, and even though many shows are high concept and similar to tentpole films (check out anything on the CW) there are still shows that are more low key and dramatic oriented like SHADES OF BLUE. The other option is to head to film festivals and find a director who needs a writing partner - some of my favorite genre films lately are the work of the director & writer team of Jim Mickle and Nick Damici. If you are a great writer there is a place somewhere for you in the business - studio or indie or TV or YouTube or whatever they come up with next. Every entertainment media needs *stories*, and that’s *us*. Finding your home will require that you open your eyes a little wider - if you are not writing the kinds of movies that are being made (and don’t want to write them), you’ll have to find the place where your type of writing is needed. Wait, how many ways to break in is that now?

The first thing you need to figure out is what your skill set is. You need to know what you do well, so that you can match that to a media and a method to break in. Heck, I have a book called BREAKING IN with dozens and dozens of ways to break in... but what’s important is what you are breaking in to... Studio films? Indies? Television? What are your skills and how do they match the media? If you want to break in to studio films, know that you will be writing studio films. There are people who want to write indie type stories for studios... and that seldom happens. Even if you win a contest, chances are if a studio based producer hires you it will be to do a rewrite on some high concept tentpole or comic book movie or maybe a board game turned into a script. That’s what Hollywood does - make big expensive mass audience films. No matter how you break in, that’s what you’re in for.


I look at different contests in the Breaking In Blue Book, and note that the King of all screenwriting contests is The Nicholl fellowship, which is run by those people who give out the Oscars every year. These days the Nicholl pays up to five winners $35,000... but it’s not just about the money, Hollywood producers and agents and managers *fight over* the winners! In fact, even if you don’t win they will fight over you: finalists and even semi-finalists usually get meetings with producers and agents and managers. Of course, there’s a reason *why* semi-finalists are still pretty damned good... there are *thousands* of entries every year (over 7,500 in 2014) and only about 5% advance to the competition quarter-finals, and only about 2% make it to the semi-finals and about ten entries reach the finals.

The Queen of screenwriting contests is probably Austin, and danged if my friend Max Adams didn’t win both the Nicholl and Austin in the same year with two different screenplays! This is probably why you should grab Max Adams’ book (in addition to mine).

The Prince of screenwriting contests is probably TrackingB, because winners and runners up land agents and managers, and the finalist judges are often development people who end up fighting over the winning screenplays. Where Nicholl and Austin just get you on Hollywood’s radar, TrackingB gets you in front of the buyers. The Younger Prince is Tracking Board’s Launch Pad, which is the direct competition to the TrackingB contest... Again finalists are read by people actually in the business who read and buy screenplays for a living, which means if you have a great screenplay this contest will launch your career.

In you win the Final Draft Big Break Contest, you can have a drink with me, since I’m at the big party where they announce the winner every year... along with screenwriters much more famous than I am (last year Max Landis was drinking with my group... so nobody really cared that I was there). So, maybe have a drink with all of the more famous people first.

Other good contests: PAGE, Scriptapalooza, SlamDance, ScriptPipeline, Sundance, BlueCat... and probably some that I’m forgetting, since I’m not a contest guy. Since I was a professional screenwriter before all of these contests began, I’ve been ineligible to enter them.

The thing to watch out for with small contests are the ones which are just money making schemes. Do your research! There have been some interesting scandals in the contest world, including one a few years ago where a small contest run by a script consultant had one of the contest readers admit that they didn’t read all of the screenplays... and I don’t mean they just read the first 10 or 20 pages of each screenplay (which isn’t unusual for first round on small contests, since you can usually tell a really bad screenplay after only a few pages of poorly written sentences), but there were some screenplays that they never read a single page! I discovered that another contest that is part of a small film festival had *no* “celebrity” judges and every screenplay was “read” by the person running the fest/contest and she pocketed all of the entry fees herself. I have no idea if she read all of the screenplays or even if she read any of them! It was all about her making money. The good news about fly-by-night contests like this is that the internet spreads the warnings, so usually all you have to do is Google some contest to find out whether it has had problems in the past. Always do your research!

Since I can’t enter contests, I write and send out spec scripts.


Spec screenplays are the most versatile choice (even the screenplays you enter in contests are specs, right?) because there are so many different ways that you can submit them. In addition to contests, you can submit them directly to production companies (after a query and a request) and to managers (again - query and request) and agents (query and request), plus there are many other ways specs can open a door for you. One thing to keep in mind: the reason why anyone will request your screenplay is that the *concept* sounds interesting. Mangers and Agents and Producers are *business people* who only earn money when a script sells or a writer lands a writing assignment. (Producers are last paid, so they need a screenplay or writer who can create something that gets made if they want to get paid.) Even managers and agents who may be looking for writers they can send out for assignments will be looking for specs with great concepts (unless the writer is one of the handful who wins a contest). The way an Agent or Manager introduces a writer to potential employers is through specs - and the way they get people to read specs screenplays is the same way *we* get people to read our spec screenplays: a killer logline or killer elevator pitch that’s all about the concept. If your concept is dull or mundane or something that doesn’t sound like something millions of people worldwide will be lining up tp pay to see, it will be difficult to get and Agent or Manager to request your screenplay... and then difficult for that Agent or Manager to get reads for you. Yes - there are exceptions. Nothing is an absolute in this business. But you may have noticed that everything in the world is cutting frills and focusing on profit, and Agents and Managers and Producers are no different. Even with referrals, someone is going to ask, “What’s it about?” and then it’s up to the concept to sell them.

This is the reason why there is so much focus on that concept, and why so many new writers fail by writing a script that’s based on a dull or mundane idea. I used to say that TV was the only place where Private Eye and Cop stories were wanted, but if you’ve watched TV of late you may have noticed that the trend for *weird* cops and detectives has gone to extremes - a zombie who eats the brains of victims to solve crimes? So, unless you plan on using the contest method make sure you begin with a great idea! One of these Film Courage Interviews has my “100 Idea Theory” - where you should come up with 100 great ideas and then select the best of them all to script. A well written screenplay with a bland idea is going to be tough to get reads with... and a terribly written script with a great idea isn’t going to get you very far, either! As I’ve said before - there is no “or” in screenwriting. If the question is: which is more important, concept or execution? the answer is: BOTH!

But spec screenplays can also *travel*, and I think that’s come up in one of these Film Courage segments. This is a business of referrals, and there are referrals you know about and ones that you don’t know about. If someone reads your screenplay and thinks it’s great and passes it to someone else in the industry (“You’ve gotta read this!”) that screenplay can travel all over town, from one person to another, and eventually land somewhere that matters. I’ve said before that a great spec script given to the *wrong person* or just left on the street in Beverly Hills has a pretty good chance of being discovered and landing you a gig. There are so few screenplays that get everything right that one which does will go places. People who complain about the gate keepers in Hollywood don’t understand that those gate keepers are *actively* looking for that great screenplay that will earn them points with the boss and further their careers. Everyone wants to be the one who discovered the next big thing!

That next big thing could be *you*!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



405 Pages!

*** SELLING BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!

Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

Only $3.99 - and no postage!

USA Folks Click Here.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Other countries check your Amazon websites... it's there!

Seriously - TEN TIMES larger than the paper version (still on sale on my website)! That's just crazy!

The next 3 Blue Books will be DESCRIPTION, STRUCTURE, and BLOCKBUSTERs (all 3 in 2016 I hope). Everyone wants the OUTLINES Blue Book, and I've promised it for the past couple of years, but the problem is I don't have enough ideas for new chapters, yet... and I want to get it up to 200 pages. I hope that over the next year I'll come up with some new chapter ideas and get that out at the beginning of 2017.

Thank you to everyone!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: KING OF HEARTS

The new Trailer Tuesday will run next week, because tomorrow we have Valentine's Day...


This is a charming movie that may have fallen between the cracks today, but it’s out there on DVD and has a special place in my life... because it introduced me to director Philippe DeBroca who made comedy action films like THAT MAN FROM RIO (1964) and LE MAGNIFIQUE that would influence my writing. One of the things I find interesting looking back is how many movies and novelists have influenced *my* work, and I never know if that’s because I followed them or that they clicked with who I already was. I suspect the latter: that what appealed to me about directors like DeBroca and writers like Ross Thomas was that they shared my sensibilites... funny and action. KING OF HEARTS was probably the first DeBroca movie I saw, even though it wasn’t his first hit film in the USA.

The film stars Alan Bates and one of Geneveive Bujold's first movies. It's an anti-war comedy, made in the late 60s with a British star... and kind of became an anti Viet Nam War film. Probably wasn't even intended as such. The film has a strange history, because when it came out in the 60s, it flopped big time. Big time. It killed DeBroca's career... He had become famous for his action comedy films like MAN FROM RIO and then this film came out and died... and DeBroca was a has been in the USA. But a strange thing happened during the Viet Nam War, KING OF HEARTS started popping up in college area cinemas because of its anti war story. And was one of those movies that was playing *somewhere* up until 1975 when the war ended. In fact, there was one cinema that played it non-stop for *over five years* until the Viet Nam War was over. Imagine a film playing on the same screen for five years today! First time I saw it was at the UC Theater in Berkeley... and it played *somewhere* in Berkeley through the 70s... and brought back DeBroca's career in the USA.

The story is a light comedy that takes place in France during World War 1, the “Great War”. The German army has taken over a small village in France, but when they see a larger group of British soldiers (actually Scottish - kilts are funnier on film) approaching, they decide to evacuate... but hide a booby trap bomb in the town that will explode at midnight and kill all of the Scottish soldiers and their commanders. The next day, the Germans plan to return and re-take the town from any survivors. Great plan.

Best Movie Ever Made

Well, a French underground guy radios the Scottish Army and tells them about this plan... but tells them about it in French. So things get completely lost in translation. And the bomb is set to go off at midnight... and the town has a beautiful ornate clock in town square where a mechanical knight in armor comes out to strike the midnight bell with his mace. This information really loses something in translation - nobody knows what it means. The problem with a World War is that we don’t all speak the same language... and here it creates a massive problem that could end up killing the Scottish Army in their funny kilts.

The Scottish Army sends in a man to disarm the bomb before they occupy the town. Since none of the demolitions guys speak French, they send in Alan Bates - a communications officer. A geek. A non-heroic guy. He speaks French, but has no idea how to disarm a bomb... shoot a gun... win a fist fight, etc. I could identify with this guy. A clever, literate, non action guy in an action situation.

Once he finds the bombs, they will either send in a demo guy or have a demo guy talk Bates through disarming the explosives. That sounds like a plan that is doomed to fail. It also creates a great ticking clock, in a *comedy* film. Just as movie like M*A*S*H mixed comedy and the serious horrors of war, this film is both funny and serious at the same time. That odd tone may have lead to its failure when it was first released, and its later success when we had seen the horrors of the Viet Nam War on the nightly news in the 70s.

The whole village evacuates because of the bomb.
And they accidentally leave the gates to the asylum open.
And the crazy people venture out, don clothes of the townspeople, and kind of have a looney-bin holiday.

Best Movie Ever Made

So when Bates enters the town, well... the people are acting strange. And that's the set up. The rest of the movie compares the crazy people to the soldiers and the war... and guess which is crazier? And Bates has to figure out why the townspeople are strange, then figure out where the explosives are, then stop them from blowing up, then decide if this crazy-world is more sane than the war around it...

And he falls in love with Bujold in the process, and is crowned King of the crazy people.

The movie is charming. Not laugh outloud funny. What used to be called a "gentle comedy". It's kind of like going to the circus (hey, Bujold does tight-rope walking on power lines in a scene, and there are lions and bears!) - it's also a beautiful film... really well shot. DeBroca was one of those directors who could blend comedy and action and had a great sense of the absurd. After this film came back in the 70s, it revived DeBroca’s career so that he could go on to make a bunch of great action comedies like DEAR DETECTIVE and JUPITER’S THIGH and one of my favorites LE MAGNIFIQUE (about a nerdy action writer who fantasizes that he’s his macho action hero... and then has to become him). Hard to tell if KING OF HEARTS holds up - since it's already a period film, it can't really be dated. But it's a gentle film... kind of the anti-Michael Bay. And it still charmed me when I watched it on DVD before writing this entry.

- Bill

Best Movie Ever Made

Friday, February 09, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: Torn Curtain (1966)

Screenplay: Brian Moore.
Starring: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Tamara Toumanova, Wolfgang Kieling.
Director Of Photography: John F. Warren (a HITCHCOCK PRESENTS DP who also worked on THRILLER).
Music: John Addison.

Hitchcock's *other* Cold War movie (I'm not counting NORTH BY NORTHWEST - which uses the Cold War as a backdrop but isn't really about the Cold war) is much better than TOPAZ, but still a lesser Hitchcock film. As I've probably said before, despite the insistence of critic Robin Wood that the 60s films were Hitchcock's best, mostly they are disappointments with a good scene or two - Hitchcock was believing his press and coasting. Though Hitchcock hated having the studio stick him with big movie stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, they are part of what makes this film a hundred times better than TOPAZ. The film has a few cool shots, one great scene, and some other scenes that are okay. It's a watchable film, Hitchcock’s 50th film.

Nutshell: TORN CURTAIN is about a top nuclear scientist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) who attends a conference of atomic scientists in Denmark with his fiancé and assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Michael was working on the “Gamma Missile Program” which is top secret... but the government cut his funding. Michael seems distant and secretive and she thinks he may be up to something strange - perhaps having an affair - and she starts to follow him and spy on him. In the mix is a creepy East German scientist Karl who also seems to be following Michael around town. Sarah spies Michael picking up a plane ticket at the concierge desk and she asks him about it. He tells Sarah that he plans to skip the rest of the conference and fly to Stockholm, where he’s been offered the funding to continue with his research. But Sarah discovers his plane ticket *wasn’t* to Stockholm... it was to Berlin in East Germany. Behind the Iron Curtain!

When Michael defects to East Germany, Sarah follows... and now Michael is stuck behind the Iron Curtain with her... protecting her and trying to keep her from discovering exactly what he is up to. Is he cheating on her with the enemy? Nope - he's actually faked his defection in order to get close to one of *their* Atomic Scientists and work with him long enough to find the answers the United States needs for the Gamma Missile Project. Only a nuclear scientist could get this information from another nuclear scientist: no spy would know what to ask. But once Michael has his information, not only does he have to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, he must get Sarah out as well... Michael ends up kind of like that spy stuck with the bureaucrat from Hitch's pitch - except she's his fiance as well. Michael must fulfill his mission *and* make sure the woman he loves doesn't get killed in the process.

Experiment: No big story experiment in this film... but Hitch mentioned in “Hitchcock/Truffaut” the difficulties he had working with method trained Paul Newman.

Hitch Appearance: In a hotel lobby with a baby on his lap.... Here it is on YouTube:

Score: This film is probably most famous for being the movie that resulted in divorce between the long-term team of Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann. Hitch rejected his score, and hired John Addison.

Great Scenes: One of the greatest Hitchcock scenes is in this not so great movie - the murder of Gromek. Hitchcock thought movies make murder too easy - casual almost. When someone was killed on screen back then, they’d get shot, clutch their chest, and fall over dead. Since it was the 1960s, there was some blood... but not much. But even if you think about films today, the hero sprays a bunch of bad guys wit machine gun fire, there’s a blood squib, then they all fall over dead. It’s over in a second or two. That makes it look easy, and Hitchcock wanted to show how difficult it was to kill a man. This scene is intense, scary, messy, and makes the typical movie scene where the good guy kills the bad guy into a long and frightening experience.

Paul Newman’s scientist Michael is followed to his contact in the underground’s farm by East German Agent Gromek, and must prevent him from calling the police and having them all arrested. With a taxi driver waiting just outside te farmhouse, this must be a silent fight - they can’t use a gun and they can’t let Gromek use his gun. Newman knocks the gun from Gromek’s hand, the farmer’s wife grabs it, realizes it will make noise... and grabs a huge knife instead. But when she stabs Gromek, the blade breaks off inside him, and he’s *still* grappling with Newman. She hits him repeatedly with a shovel, and eventually he goes down... but he’s still very much alive. As Newman catches his breath, Gromek moves to his feet, opens the window to call for the Taxi Driver. Newman and the farmer’s wife, pull him away from the window and slam it closed... and Gromek proceeds to strangle Newman! This guy just won’t die! Eventually the farmer’s wife turns on the gas oven without lighting it, and they drag the fighting Gromek to the open oven door, stick his head inside... then have to hold him seemingly forever until he finally succumbs.

That is the single action or suspense scene in the first *88 minutes* of the film. The problem with this story is that the structure is all wrong: not much happens in Act One and Act Two, and then Act Three (the escape) is full of action scenes. Though there are some minor suspense scenes earlier, nothing that really gets the blood flowing! Small stuff like Sarah discovering his plane tickets and Karl the East German scientist helping Sarah find the bookstore. It’s all small potatoes stuff that’s not very exciting.

So Act Three is start and stop escape scenes... There is an overlong sequence on a bus trying to escape from East Germany that has a few tense moments. The bus is a fake, identical to the real bus, and filled with fake passengers, running 10 minutes ahead of the real bus. The problem is, the police are all over the place looking for Newman and Andrews by this time, and they are stopped and searched. Tension builds as the police check everyone’s papers, and we know Newman’s and Andrew’s papers are forged. After that bandits rob the bus... and the police decide to give the bus an escort! Now the police are *with them* the whole time, and the *real* bus is catching up to them! Some tension here... but the scene goes on four times longer than it should.

Other scenes - an escape from a research facility surrounded by police, an escape from the ballet - surrounded by police, an escape from the post office - surrounded by police... and for those of you who are fans of TOP SECRET, the bookstore scene! It’s always fun to see the exact scene parodied in a ZAZ film, and TORN CURTAIN has that scene. Somewhere in all of these escape scenes is an *endless* scene where they have coffee with an old East German woman who wants them to sponsor her moving to the United States... and an equally endless scene at the Post Office looking for a specific employee who is part of the underground... before the police surround the place. And if anyone can explain the reason why the ballerina *freeze frames* in the ballet scene, I'd love to hear it (yes, we get to watch a huge chunk of *ballet* in Act Three).

In my HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE book we look at the suspense scenes which all revolve around *escape* - and even though not all of them work, we look at how they *were supposed to work* or *could have worked* with lots of step-by-step information on how to make escape scenes work.

TORN CURTAIN is too long, not enough real suspense, and seems to have the scenes in the wrong acts - it doesn’t build to and ending as much as peter out to an end. Both Paul Newman and Julie Andrews seem way too low-key to make this work. Newman was a Method actor, and gives a quiet and realistic performance without any trace of personality... and Hitchcock relied on the personality of the actors to carry the characters. Working in the old studio system, where they cultivated exciting larger than life stars like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, he seemed to struggle in the new gritty version of Hollywood. This film was made a couple of years after Cary Grant starred in the best of the Hitchcock imitations, CHARADE directed by Stanley Donen, and the same year Donen directed another Hitchcock homage ARABESQUE starring Gregory Peck in a story very similar to TORN CURTAIN. Though this is not Hitchcock’s best film by a long shot, it does have an interesting idea and is much better than TOPAZ.

- Bill

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



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

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


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

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Espania Folks Click Here.

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