Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thriller Thursday: The Big Blackout

The Big Blackout

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



Season: 1, Episode: 12.
Airdate: 12/6/1960


Director: Maurice Geraghty
Writer: Oscar Millard from a novel by Don Tracy
Cast: Jack Carson, Charles McGraw, Nan Leslie, Jeanne Cooper.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography:
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Our friend is in big trouble, because his name is Burt Lewis... was he also once a man named Bill Logan? He doesn’t know. Because until he took the cure, he spent two years in an alcoholic black out, and for long periods of time he couldn’t remember anything. Did he do something in that time for which a man with a gun has come to get him? He doesn’t know. All at once his big blackout has caught up with him. That’s the name of our story: The Big Blackout. And our principle players are Miss Nan Leslie, Mr. Charles McGraw, Miss Jeanne Cooper, and starring Mr. Jack Carson. Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, I advise you to slide back in your chair and take a firm grip on it, because this, my friends, is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Somewhere between Travis McGee and Woolrich’s BLACK CURTAIN is this Florida based story of a charter boat captain who may or may not have been a criminal in the two years he can’t remember. Total alcoholic blackout. The story opens with Burt Lewis (the always manly Jack Carson from MR. & MRS. SMITH, THE MALE ANIMAL, MILDRED PIERCE) getting a phone call in the middle of the night from the local motel owner that they have a drunk. Burt is the local AA guy, a recovering alcoholic who knows the best way to handle drunks. He tells his sleeping wife Midge (Nan Leslie) he’s headed out...



The Paradise Motel looks a heck of a lot like the Bates Motel... except it’s in Florida, right? Hot motel owner Ethel (Jeanne Cooper) leads Burt to one of the rooms where a guy who checked in under the name “Adams” is passed out drunk on the bed. In really bad shape. Ether is the widow of Burt’s dead best friend... and she needs a man... now. Burt reminds her that he’s married and they search the drunk guy’s room for contact information while they wait for an ambulance to take him to a local rehab facility. Burt finds a gun... and a note in the drunk’s wallet that says “Bill Logan is using the name Burt Lewis at Sea Beach. He runs a charter boat. Find him and ask him things. When he tells you what we want to know, put him away”.

Ethel tells Burt that the drunk was asking all kinds of questions about him, so she thought they might know each other. Burt has never seen this guy before in his life... or has he? That two year blackout... what did he do back then?

The next morning Burt goes to his boat to grab his gun in case things go south... but is interrupted by a strange old man named Hawkins (Paul Newlan) who wants to hire him for a fishing charter and asks a lot of questions about Ben Logan. The old guy gives him two crisp $50 as down payment on the fishing trip... which is way too much. Burt leaves without taking his gun.

Burt goes to the rehab clinic to talk to “Adams”, but the doctor tells him “Adams” isn’t ready for visitors, yet. Burt pretends to leave, but heads to the back door and breaks in... passing an old drunk named Charlie Pringle (Chubby Johnson) who apologizes for falling off the wagon but asks if Burt could find him a bottle somewhere... and sneaks into “Adams” room. He approaches the man, tries to wake him... but when he rolls “Adams” over there’s a bullet hole in the man’s head!



Mean town cop Wright (the always growling Charles McGraw) accuses Burt of killing “Adams” and asks where he got a pair of crisp $50 bills... did he rob the dead guy? Wright just hates ex cons... and where do you think Burt dried out? Prison. He had fallen in with the wrong crowd while drunk... but what else might Burt have done while he was drunk? Who would send a hitman after him? Burt is prime suspect in Adam’s murder, even though he never saw the guy before in his life (or did he?).

Wright tells his deputy Burt’s backstory: they used to be friends, until Burt’s wife and kid were killed in a car accident and he became a drunk... then a criminal.



At home, Burt’s wife Midge is waiting with Ethel the slutty motel owner. Both want to know what happened... but Ethel’s questions make it sound like she thinks he did it. When Ethel leaves, two hoods enter the house. Burt recognizes Fisher (Robert Carricart) from prison, who wants to know about Logan. They grab his wife, start beating on Burt...

Conveniently cop Wright shows up, the two thugs leave through the back door... and Wright gets another chance to hassle Burt. When Burt says the two men were looking for someone named Ben Logan, Wright reacts for a moment... then goes back to playing tough cop. He says they’ve found the gun that killed “Adams” and shows it to him... it’s *Burt’s gun!* He says he’s never seen it before. When Wright leaves, Burt heads to the liquor cabinet... then stops himself.



Burt decides to take his wife to the motel just in case the thugs come back. He realizes that whoever killed “Adams” had to walk right past Charlie Pringle’s rehab clinic room, and that crazy drunk would ask anyone walking past to get him a bottle to help him dry out. Burt calls the clinic and is told Charlie skipped... so now Burt must go from bar to bar looking for Charlie. A great device, because Burt is faced with temptation again and again. In joint the bartender tells him that Charlie was there, but left because he had some big deal meeting that would make him enough money to pay off his bar tab...

That’s when cop Wright shows up to hassle him... Burt says he’s there looking for Charlie, and Wright says Charlie’s dead: the victim of a hit and run. Everyone Burt comes into contact with gets killed. Burt looks down at a drink on the bar... almost takes it, but resists.

Burt calls one of his prison pals to get some background, and is told a man named Ben Logan was smuggling drugs into the country and stole $700,000 worth of product... and Logan was using a fishing boat... and just happened to have the same initials as Burt Lewis. Hence, all of these hit men coming after him.

The next morning is his fishing charter with the old man named Hawkins, who questions him relentlessly about Ben Logan... Hawkins is the father of a man killed by Logan, and is out for revenge. And here’s the twist: Hawkins knows that Burt *isn’t* Logan, because his son sent a picture of himself with Logan in the background. That’s when he gets the call on his radio... the motel owner was beaten up and his wife has been kidnaped!



Thug Fisher calls: wife for information. Burt meets them in an abandoned boathouse and shows him the picture of Logan from Hawkins... that *is* the guy they are looking for. Burt explains that guy is dead: he was Ethel the motel owner’s husband. *Ethel* must have the $700k in drugs (or have sold it, since she always seems to have money). Fisher leaves to get the drugs or the money from Ethel, and Burt kicks some ass with the thug they leave behind to guard him and his wife. You have Jack Carson in your episode, there’s gonna be a fist fight!

Burt races to the Motel, gets there after an off screen gun battle where all of the thugs are killed and Ethel is seriously wounded. Burt now knows that Ethel was the one who killed “Adams” and Charlie and framed him... to keep her part in the stolen $700k in drugs secret. But what was *Burt’s* part in this? Was he involved during those 2 years of alcoholic black out? He asks Ethel on her deathbed (in front of cop Wright) if he was involved in the drug running... and she says he wasn’t. He was too drunk to be dependable. And also, too honest. She dies, and the spider web closes over the screen as the episode ends.



Review: Though not one of the best episodes, it works okay for TV... and you can tell it was condensed from a novel (because it has some crazy story short cuts here and there). The main problem ends up being the wife character, who is underwritten and has awful dialogue (and/or is an awful actress). But it keeps the mystery as to who is Ben Logan going throughout... with plenty of false suspects, especially officer Wright and Hawkins. Because we are looking for a *man* we never suspect that Logan might be the motel owner’s dead husband... and she is basically “Logan” at this point.

One of the great things this episode does is tie the protagonist’s emotional conflict (he’s a recovering alcoholic) into the story in many different ways. The idea that *he* could be Logan and not remember due to his alcoholic blackout is the engine that runs the machine, here... but every place Burt goes is somewhere booze is served (except for the rehab center, which is filled with his mirror images). This is a story where the physical conflict and emotional conflict are twisted together so tightly that every scene about the plot ends up also being about the character. Even the cop Wright’s antagonism is due to a past scuffle they had when Burt was drunk which has left Wright physically scarred. The motel owner Ethel is *constantly* drinking in front of Burt... but asking if it’s okay first (calling attention to it!). The assassin who calls himself “Adams” (fake name) is a drunk! And the witness to the murder Charlie is a drunk, which means Burt has to hang out in bars to find him. There are scenes where Burt is home, and tempted by alcohol in the liquor cabinet... he is surrounded by the thing that brought him down, and the constant pressure of that murder frame tightening on him has him looking at that escape the bottle provides.



Another great thing the episode does is use visual storytelling... Burt’s gun has two pieces of tape on the grip. When officer Wright shows Burt the murder gun, it has two pieces of tape on the grip. We *instantly* know this is Burt’s gun and feel the same thing the character feels. Burt doesn’t show any reaction at all, that would land him ion handcuffs. But we know what he’s thinking and feeling because *we* are thinking and feeling the same thing. “Crap, that’s *his* gun!” It’s those two pieces of tape that make it work, finding the specific that is easy for the audience to spot.

Next week on Thriller we’ll look at an episode reminiscent of “Strangers On A Train” that deals with gambling addiction.

Bill

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Film Courage Plus: First Time I Got Paid To "Do It".

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. 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?

So here is the fourth one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

This piece was from an interview in 2014, when my first produced film NINJA BUSTERS was a lost movie that could never be seen by an audience. As far as I knew, no prints of it existed. My skeletons were safely hidden in the closet. No one could ever see my baby steps as a screenwriter where I fell on my face *and* pooped my pants.

What a difference a year makes! In some weird version of STORAGE WARS, a film collector bought a warehouse full of old film cans, and one set of cans contained the only 35mm print of NINJA BUSTERS. More about that in this article by the director, Paul Kyriazi - the "official story". So now the masochistic among you can see my first paid gig as a screenwriter, which has become a cult film playing around the country at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. Yikes! I was hoping this film would remain missing!

But since it’s out there, baby, it's out there! (as Kramer on SEINFELD would say) let’s talk about first films and breaking in to the business.

If you were to ask 100 screenwriters how they broke in you would get 100 different answers. There is no one way, and there are so many variables the best thing that you can do is try as many different ways as you can and eventually one will work for you. In the clip I tell the story of NINJA BUSTERS - giving a screenplay to one of the “success stories” from my community college film appreciation class who had gone on to make kung fu movies for the drive in circuit, and how that lead to my working on the set of one of his films and eventually getting the job of doing a page one rewrite on a film for him. The challenge of NINJA BUSTERS (called FALCON CLAW when I was hired to rewrite it) was that the cast and locations and even many of the props had already been locked down, and my job was to write a screenplay that used all of those things... differently.

The original screenplay was about a pair of guys who land a job at a warehouse and discover that all of the warehouse workers are hypnotized so that they work for free and don’t ask any questions. They are some form of “zombie”. Our heroes somehow break out of the hypnosis and realize they are working for evil smugglers, and end up fighting the hypnotized warehouse workers and breaking up the evil smuggling ring.



When you are trying to land an assignment, be it for a studio based producer or some guys making kung fu movies in Oakland, CA; the first thing you do is “pitch your take” - come up with a different way to tell that story and pitch it to the producer. Sometimes it’s just finding the different angle to tell the same story, sometimes it’s finding a different story. In this case, I couldn’t find a way to make the “hypnotized dock workers” story interesting, so I had to come up with something similar... that also added more action scenes... that also used all of the same locations and actors and props they had already locked down. My story was about a pair of goofy guys who join a women’s self defense class to pick up girls and instead pick up trouble when they witness a mob murder by someone they know from their day job at a warehouse. The lead mobster uses ninjas to deal with big problems, and soon our two goofy guys and their dates are on the run from *ninjas*! The ninjas could be anywhere! I was a huge fan of SILVER STREAK, the Gene Wilder / Richard Pryor comedy chase film (a Hitchcock homage) and thought that would be a fun “model” for this page one rewrite. What if the story was a chase action film with these two guys racing across town one night to escape ninjas and rescue the women they love? Using all of the cast members, locations, props and anything else - I wrote a script in a couple of weeks I took off from my day job. And that was my first paid gig.

Which lead to...

Nothing.

Sure, I wrote a couple more screenplays for local producers, but none of those got made. So I went back to working the day job. And eventually broke in again.

Now here’s the thing they never tell you: you will *always* be breaking in. You don’t just break in once, and you’re in... you break in just about every time you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Because unlike working at my day job where I’d clock in every morning, work my shift, then clock out and go home; a movie is a “one off”. They make one movie at a time, and that movie is the job and when the job is over you are unemployed and need to look for work again. You need to break in again. Sure, there are times when you get some momentum going - and one job leads to the next. But eventually the momentum ends and you need to break in all over again.

You will always be breaking in. Get used to that idea.

After selling COURTING DEATH to a company who had a deal with Paramount for a couple of years worth of day job money, I quit the day job and moved to Los Angeles where I holed up in an apartment and wrote a stack of screenplays. Writers write! No longer strangled by that day job, I had enough time to do what I loved - and I wrote and wrote and wrote! Sometimes never leaving my apartment for days! Heaven!

But when COURTING DEATH was never made, I found myself out of money and out of work and I needed to break in all over again. And that’s the dirty little secret of this business - when this script job ends you have no job... and must find another screenwriting job. And that’s basically breaking in all over again. You send out screenplays and take meetings (job interviews) and do everything possible to land another job. Hollywood is both a small town and a vast town - and when you are looking for your next screenwriting job you are likely to be meeting with people and companies who don’t know you. The companies that do know you are the first places you go, and after that it’s all of those other companies... and that’s breaking in again.

There is also a lot of turnover in this town, so that great connection you had with production company A, may no longer be working there. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because they move to another production company and now you have connections at two places... but sometimes they just leave the business and you have no connections at all. You have to break in all over again as if you were that writer living in your home town dreaming of a Hollywood career. Except now you are in Hollywood and you’ve even had a career for a film or maybe two (or maybe ten). A friend of mine who had a great ten year run as a screenwriter found himself in trouble when a bunch of the projects he had been working on did not go to screen (only 10% of what you write will make it to screen, the rest will just collect dust on studio shelves), and a bunch of his great connections at production companies all retired at the same time. Oh, and so did his agent, and he was passed off to a new agent who didn’t know him. Suddenly, this guy had to break in all over again! And that is *common*. Screenwriting is not like a day job, there are no regular paychecks, there is no time clock, there is no job security at all! Once you finish your “day’s work” you need to find a new job! You need to break in again and again and again.

So when you read how some successful writer sold their first screenplay, that’s how they broke in the first time.

But the first time you break in will not be the last!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE LAST DETAIL

THE LAST DETAIL (1973)

There was a time when Jack Nicholson wasn’t a parody of himself and played a variety of diverse roles on film like the introverted writer in KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and the troubled oil rig worker in FIVE EASY PIECES. He usually played a rebel, but part of that had to do with the films being made in the 70s. Though he’d been in films and on TV since 1956, he got his big break when he replaced Rip Torn as the lawyer in EASY RIDER... which, of course, lead to the romantic interest in a Barbra Streisand musical. Seriously. Back in the late 70s the San Francisco Film Festival did a retrospective on Jack Nicholson, and being a stupid teenager I decided to sneak back stage after wards and talk to Jack, because he was a screenwriter as well as an actor. Did you know that? Yes, he’s written six produced scripts (and probably a stack of others) and directed 4 films. He’s not just a pretty face. Anyway, Nicholson could have had security remove me, but instead talked to me and called my business cards “pretty fancy”. Basically he encouraged me to stick with it, and told me it took him fifteen years to become an overnight success (everybody says that, but he *did* tell me that). So many of Nicholson’s films are kind of forgotten today, so I thought we’d look at one of my favorites.



Between KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and CHINATOWN, Nicholson made THE LAST DETAIL, which is another one of those “perfect storm” movies for me, where the writer is one of my favorites, the director is one of my favorites, and the star is one of my favorites. The script is based on a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who was one of my favorite writers at the time... and was a hot novelist at the time who wrote CINDERELLA LIBERTY which was made into a hit movie, and his novels TOM MIX DIED FOR YOUR SINS, THE RINGMASTER, and THE ACCOMPLICE were some of my favorite books at the time. The screenwriter is Robert Towne, who wrote CHINATOWN and a bunch of others and got his start writing movies for Roger Corman (probably some starring Nicholson). The director is Hal Ashby, who directed HAROLD & MAUDE, SHAMPOO, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME, BEING THERE and many others. Music by Johnny Mandel who wrote the theme to M*A*S*H which you probably know. And, of course Nicholson starred in the film. All of these people I love working on the same film!

Best Movie Ever Made



The story is about an impossibly young Randy Quaid playing a new Navy recruit named Meadows who has been convicted of stealing some change from the camp charity box and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The two Shore Patrol Officers who will take him to prison are Badass Buddusky (Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young), and they start out thinking this is just another transport job, but when they find out Meadows is a virgin who has never had a drink in his life... they decide to take a little detour and show him a good time before he spends the next 8 years behind bars. Carol Kane is the hooker who pops his cherry and Gilda Radner is a hippy chick and Nancy Allen is in there, too. It’s basically a road trip with these three guys going by train, car, and on foot sometimes from the Navy Base to the Naval Prison, with some side trips to New York City. At the core of the story, the two Shore Patrol guys have to follow rules that make no sense at all... and begin to question the authority of the government and maybe even society. The film is funny and rebellious and melancholy.

"I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer."

It’s weird that films like this, which were hits in their day and starred people who are still stars and working in Hollywood, seem to have been lost. People don’t know about them, and they aren’t on BluRay and the DVD is 15 years old. I remember when the film first came out, it was notorious for having lots of bad language (which doesn’t seem so bad these days), but it may not be for everyone. Check it out.

Bill

Friday, May 25, 2018

Creating Suspense & Dread:
The Leopard Man

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had this ugly 2 bedroom apartment in Van Nuys that ended up being the crash pad for all of my Bay Area friends. The sofa bed in my office was mostly used by the DEAD BEAT gang - we made this behind the scenes of horror movie show on VHS and sold them at Fango conventions. So I was hanging out with horror movie people and going to horror conventions since coming to Los Angeles, and was making little horror movies along with those private eye movies and Hitchcockian thrillers and cop action flicks and parody films on super 8mm film Though it’s a parody of PSYCHO, my film PSICKO! was still designed to be a horror film about the incorrect use of electric carving knives. I’m a longtime horror fan, and even though I can appreciate some gorefest like MARTYRS, the films I really love are the spooky ones like the original THE HAUNTING and those great Val Lewton low budget horror flicks for RKO. The ones that used suspense and dread. The ones that were evocative and creepy and used the darkness within our imaginations to fill in the gore.



For a completely fictionalized version of the Val Lewton story, check out THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL where low budget film producer Kirk Douglas gets a job making a movie about cat-men for a studio... and realizes the best man in a cat suit still looks stupid, so he decides to use suspense and dread instead of dudes in costumes and ends up with a hit. Lewton had the same thing happen at RKO - he got a job making horror movies in the low budget division and ended up making a bunch of classic horror films like CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD and LEOPARD MAN. These films played on Bob Wilkins Creature Features when I was a kid and on the Saturday afternoon movies sometimes, and they scared me. Scared me deeper than any of the other fright-fest movies. They played on my secrets fears, and touched me on some primitive level that caused them to live on in my childhood nightmares. As a jaded teenager when I watched these films, they still scared me. As an adult watching these films at the UC Theater in Berkeley, they still scared me. I bought the box set on DVD a couple of years ago, and they still scare me. Okay, I know that it’s a movie and I know that there’s no such thing as women who turn into panthers when they get horny and these movies are in black and white and shot on sound stages and are fake... but they still work just like that original version of THE HAUNTING works and the remake does not. Robert Wise directed THE HAUNTING... and was one of Val Lewton’s three “staff directors” in his horror division at RKO.



THE LEOPARD MAN is one of those trifecta movies for me like REAR WINDOW - produced by Val Lewton, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST) and based on a novel by Cornel Woolrich (REAR WINDOW). A bunch of my favorite people working together! The Woolrich novel is one of his “Black” series, where noir gets its name (Noir was a fiction genre in the 1800s, but it's resurgence in the 30s and 40s was due to the publication of novels and stories by the three fathers of modern noir: Woolrich, McCoy and James. M. Cain), and the novel BLACK ALIBI is an intense page turner. The book and movie have different endings, take place in different cities, and have some other minor differences, but the film is pretty faithful to the book. The main way it is faithful is the use of suspense and dread, which are really why all of the Lewton movies work so well. They all have these great suspense sequences that build and build and build...

So let’s take a look at one of those great scenes from LEOPARD MAN, tear it apart and see how it ticks. This scene is almost word-for-word from the novel. Oh, I guess it needs some set up...

Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) is a night club singer stuck in New Mexico with her promoter Jerry Manning (the great Dennis O’Keefe) where the big star is flamenco dancer Clo-Clo (exotic one-named actress Margo). In order to steal the show from Clo-Clo, Jerry comes up with this great stunt - a rented leopard on a leash that Kiki will walk in with during Clo-Clo’s performance... then Kiki will go on and become the big star. Only things don’t go exactly as planned and the leopard escapes into the night. Now, the leopard is on the loose in the New Mexico town... waiting to attack anyone who ventures out at night. Both the novel and film have an interesting structure, which has Jerry and Kiki as the leads - but often in the background of a sequence. This is the first leopard attack, and it goes from the panic after the leopard escapes to Clo-Clo walking home at night and townspeople saying hello to her along the way... one of whom is Teresa Delgado, who becomes the lead character in this sequence.



Now let’s take a look at how that sequence works...

1) SUSPENSE is the anticipation of a known action. It is *not* the action - and the longer the anticipation is stretched out, the greater the suspense. A *known* action means the audience knows what is (probably) going to happen and that creates the suspense. Hitchcock’s examples were the two men discussing baseball statistics while a bomb with a timer ticks away under the table - and he directed a TV episode based on a Woolrich short story called 4 O’CLOCK about a man who rigs a bomb to kill his cheating wife and her lover at 4pm... then his house gets robbed and the robbers tie him up in the basement across from that ticking bomb. As each minute passes, the suspense builds. We *know* what will happen at 4pm, and the anticipation of that explosion is what creates the suspense. Hitch’s other example was similar to a scene from REAR WINDOW, where someone is searching an apartment and does not know that the apartment resident is climbing the stairs and will soon discover the searcher. This version of suspense has two things we do not want to see in the same shot getting closer and closer - like two trains on the same tracks hurtling toward each other. Even though the searcher does not know about the resident getting closer, the *audience knows*, and that’s where the suspense comes from. It’s Dramatic Irony - the audience knows what the character does not. Suspense is created by the anticipation of the resident discovering the searcher in his apartment... what will Grace Kelly do?

2) DREAD is the anticipation of an *unknown* action. We know that something bad is going to happen, but are not sure exactly what is going to happen or where the threat is coming from. Dread is usually the version of suspense that we find in a horror movie, because a major element in horror is *fear of the unknown*. For dread to work, we need to create a situation where a bad action of some sort might happen...

3) Like an escaped leopard in the town. That is the HORROR SITUATION, the same way Jason wandering around Camp Crystal Lake with his machete is a horror situation. This is the first requirement for a scene of dread - what the heck are we dreading? It must be established in some early scene, and like Jason wandering around with his machete, the escaped leopard will create the horror situation for the entire movie.



4) The SEQUENCE SITUATION. Okay, we know the leopard is out there waiting to kill someone, now we have to get some tasty someone out there to be killed. This is where horror movies often stumble - the stupid teens go into the house where the crazy old lady with the knitting needles is supposed to be hiding, and the last people who went into that house had their eyes needled out and died... so let’s just go in and look around, okay? You need some *good reason* to go into that house... or out into the town after dark when there’s a hungry leopard roaming the streets. So we have Mrs. Delgado run out of cornmeal while making dinner, and sending Teresa out into the night to buy some. The further motivation is that this is *Mr. Delgado’s* dinner, and mom doesn’t want her hard working husband to come home and not have the dinner he deserves. So Teresa will have to go to the store - simple as that.

5) REMIND US WHY. That escaped leopard was, like, ten minutes ago. We need to remind the audience why Teresa doesn’t want to go to the store. This isn’t done because the audience is stupid or forgetful - the title has “Leopard” in it - but to “poke the tiger”. Let’s say we have that bomb under the table while the two guys discuss baseball statistics from the Hitchcock example - if we never show the ticking bomb, we have lost the suspense. Even though the audience knows the bomb is under the table, we need to keep showing it to keep that fear in the forefront of their minds... so that they don’t get interested in those baseball stats. Every time we show that bomb, we are poking the tiger - and poking the audience’s fear. So when Teresa’s little brother makes the hand-shadow on the wall of the tiger, it reminds us what is out there. It puts it back in the front of our minds. Yes, we knew it was there, but the reminder pokes us.

6) TWO-FERS! Why the hand-shadow thing is genius - the leopard will be hiding in the shadows! So turning the leopard into a shadow in this scene makes us fear the shadows. Any time you have several ways to do something, look for one that is a “two-fer” - that manages to do two or more things at the same time.

7) MAKE US SYMPATHIZE. Okay, we have a teenaged girl about to go outside where a vicious leopard may be waiting, you’d think that was enough to make us sympathize with her, right? Well, probably... but why not do a little more? Why not show her fear? The problem with those stupid teens that waltz into the crazy knitting needle house is that they don’t show the basic fear anyone with an IQ over 70 would have. So let’s make Teresa smart enough to know she might get killed by that leopard, and try everything to get back into the house. This shows us that she’s afraid, and also shows us that she isn’t stupid - and both things make us sympathize with her. Of course if she is allowed to stay in the house we lose all of the dread... so her mean mom sends her back outside to get the cornmeal and tells her not to come back without it... and then does something that seems like part of this scene, but is actually a set up for a later scene: she bolts the door closed so Teresa can not sneak back in. Now Teresa has NO CHOICE but to go out into the night and get that corn meal.



8) NO EASY OUTS. One of the great ways to ratchet up suspense and dread is to create an easy solution to the problem... then yank it away. This knocks the audience off balance, and also tells them that there will not be an easy solution here - things are going to get worse. Because dread is the anticipation of an unknown event, we need to find ways to make things worse without tipping our hand to what, exactly, is going to happen. By having Teresa go to the “Provisions” market close to home, and have them closed, and the owner unwilling to reopen just for her; we have just made things worse without actually doing anything. No leopard has attacked her, yet. She isn’t even far from home... but she has already hit a roadblock. There has already been a reversal of fortune that has popped Teresa deeper into trouble. If she had just gone straight across the arroyo to the other market without going to the “Provisions” market, she would not have seemed as if she were in as much danger. This set back makes the trip to the other market a larger problem. Oh, and I love the situational irony that if Teresa had not fought with her mother for so long about going out, she would probably have made it to the “Provisions” market before it closed.

9) SPOOKY SETTINGS. To get to the other market before it closes, Teresa takes a short cut through the arroyo and under the rail road trestle. This scene is wall-to-wall dread. The location is unpopulated - no one there to help her. She is *alone*, and that makes her vulnerable. It is dark and spooky and bathed in shadows - and we have already been tipped to the black leopard hiding in shadows by the brother’s shadow-puppet. Under the train trestle is all shadows. When you are creating dread, find the spooky location that’s frightening even before you tell us there may be a hungry leopard roaming around in there. In CAT PEOPLE there is a great dread scene in an indoor swimming pool at night - one of the characters is stealing a swim, so there are very few lights on. The combination of darkness and water and being indoors all makes that location somewhere you wouldn’t want to be... then add that cat woman with her claws and... The dark train trestle is a spooky location - and the scene where Teresa walks under it is stretched out for maximum dread. Oh, but there are two more things about Teresa and the Train Trestle...



10) SCHLOCK SHOCK. You know those damned cats that jump out of cupboards in horror movies? Those hands that suddenly grab the lead’s shoulder, and turn out to be their friend? That stuff is what I call schlock shock. Schlock is poorly made, shoddy, merchandise. So Schlock Shock is a cheap jump moment. But it serves a couple of purposes - it is usually a diversion followed by the *real* shock moment. The cat jumps out of the cupboard, the audience screams for a moment, then realizes it is just a cat... and let’s their guard down... and then the killer crashes through the window! Because the audience has let their guard down the killer crashing through the window is a bigger scare. The other purpose for schlock shock is to “poke the tiger” some more. To remind us that bad things could happen at any minute. After an excruciating walk through that darkness (where there is standing water) she comes out the other side without encountering any leopards. Then that tumble weed comes skittering out from the darkness under the train trestle, we jump out of our skin for a moment... then realize it’s just a tumbleweed... then realize there could easily be a leopard in that darkness, too. We are reminded of the reason for our terror... Now, that has been one great bit of dread... but it was *really* just the set up for the return trip!

11) BREAKING THE TENSION. A good screenplay is peaks and valleys. Too much action, too much suspense, too much tension... dissipates the effectiveness. So to keep that dread strong, we need to mix it up a little. After that schlock shock tumbleweed, we get to the bright, well lighted market with the kind old man behind the counter. Guess what? Teresa has made it to her goal! She has made it to the market to buy the cornmeal. We can breath a sigh of relief, right? All of the elements here tell us that she is safe, that the leopard is not going to get her, that she will get that cornmeal home to mom and dad will have that dinner he deserves after his long day at work. The store keeper is paternal and funny and jokes with Teresa. And they have a conversation about being afraid of the dark, which is a great two-fer because it makes us think this might all be about Teresa having this silly childhood fear which puts us at ease... but also poke that tiger a little because it is still dark outside and there is still a leopard out there. Hmmm, I wonder which it will be? All just her imagination? Or a serious threat of leopard attack? This two-fer manages to keep us in unknown territory! When Teresa says she’s not really afraid of the dark, what could happen to her? We think “Leopard attack!” She prompts our thoughts of the danger in this situation.

And when she says that she is not afraid of the dark, that is not the truth, it is what she wishes were true. The safety of the market has allowed her to push her fears back into her subconscious and pretend they do not exist. She *says* that she is not afraid, but moments later she wil be back in the darkness, surrounded by shadows, and we will see that her actions speak louder than her words.

12) Though this has nothing to do with dread or horror or suspense, I love this line from screenwriter Ardel Wray, “The poor don’t cheat one another, we’re all poor together.”

13) SECOND TIME TERROR. Okay, the last time Teresa was at this train trestle the only danger came from a tumble weed, so it’s safe, right? Here’s the great thing about going back to the train trestle - we already know it is spooky, and the audience secretly knows we wouldn’t be going back there unless something was going to happen this time. It can’t just be another tumble weed. If it was just the spooky location again and nothing happens it’s a waste of time... so our dread grows because this is a *known* location, and horror is fear of the *unknown*, so if nothing was going to happen she’d have to walk through some *unknown* spooky place. Our subconscious tells us that you don’t go back to a spooky location where nothing happens twice - so something is going to happen this time... but what? Unknown. Teresa creeps to the dark trestle, shadows, dripping water, darkness...



14) TRIPLE SHOCK. Remember how I said Schlock Shock was a great way to make the audience lower their guard so that you can get ‘em with real shock? LEOPARD MAN has a great twist on that method - and any time you can break the pattern in a way that works better than the pattern is great. Here, we have Teresa see what appear to be a pair of glowing eyes in the darkness under the trestle... the leopard? Then the eyes disappear - was it just her imagination? Teresa takes a few steps deeper into the darkness under the train trestle, and we *know* those were the eyes of a leopard and it is now about to pounce on her! Just when the audience thinks this is going to be a real leopard attack... a train ROARS over the trestle - schlock shock! We jump out of our skins, then relax when we realize it was just a train, then remember those eyes in the darkness - we should not have relaxed! When Teresa recovers from the train scare and makes it all of the way through the darkness under the train trestle - which is stretched out to our breaking point, she doesn’t make it through quickly because that would kill the building dread - she looks up and sees the leopard! Waiting for her. The killer she has spent the entire sequence trying to avoid is now RIGHT THERE. And she is in serious trouble. Instead of the schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm we get a possible real/relax/schlock shock/relax/real shock rhythm that we don’t expect.

15) RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! The leopard pounces! Now that we have seen the leopard, we no longer have fear of the unknown and no longer have dread - so we switch to suspense and suspense techniques. A chase where the antagonist is getting closer and closer and closer is a basic way to create suspense - you’ve seen it in hundreds of movies, at least one with Cary Grant and a crop duster where there ain’t no crops. You have also seen it in a hundred horror movies, at least one with Michael Myers chasing Jamie Lee Curtis in Haddonfield on Halloween. And we get that chase here as well, including the typical heroine trip. What saves this trip from cliche country is that she spills the cornmeal all over the place - the very reason she was out in this dangerous situation in the first place! Ironic, isn’t it? Teresa trips, falls, spills the cornmeal, then scrambles to her feet and runs home with that hungry leopard in hot pursuit!



16) DRAMATIC IRONY = SUSPENSE. For reasons we will get to in our next section, instead of showing the end of this chase scene, we go back inside the Delgado house. This allows some more of that wonderful dramatic irony, plus some great suspense. You may have noticed that two are often connected - if the audience knows something that the characters do not, we want to yell at the screen that the characters are making a mistake. That’s what happens here - I don’t know if this scene was gut wrenching for you or not, but it was for me. We start out with mom drying dishes and the brother reading the comics when there is POUNDING on the front door and Teresa yells “Let me in, let me in! If you love me, let me in!” And mom turns to the brother and says something about Teresa dilly-dallying and spending half the night just to get cornmeal. Not taking the threat we know is real seriously. We know Teresa has just outrun a freakin’ leopard to get to the front door - which is bolted - and her mom thinks she is just being pushy like a typical teenager. And the more the mom says pointless and unnecessary things, the more the suspense grows - it’s like those guys discussing baseball statistics! The less mom seems to care about Teresa’s problems outside the door, the more WE care... and the more we want to scream at her to shut the eff up and get that door open before the leopard attacks! The more mom says things that are mundane or boring or do not matter, the greater the suspense - due to the dramatic irony of the situation. We know Teresa is going to be *killed* if mom doesn’t do something right now, but mom doesn’t know this.

17) EVEN MORE SUSPENSE. Mom figures out something might be wrong when Teresa SCREAMS, and now she runs to the door to open it. But remember when she bolted the door at the beginning of this sequence so that Teresa couldn’t sneak back in? I’ll bet your forgot up until now - there’s been so much dread and suspense and fear, how could you remember a locked door? Well, that bolt is *stuck* and no matter how hard mom tries to shoot it open, it just won’t budge. Which creates suspense - will she get the bolt open and the door open before the leopard rips her daughter to shreds? The brother runs to get a block of wood to use as a hammer to POUND that bolt open. Suspense isn’t just that main thing, it is all of the details and actions that are part of the main thing. Each one of those details, like running to get that block of wood, extends and strengthens the suspense - in a way, those are tiger pokes. Just trying to loosen the bolt isn’t enough action to keep the suspense going, we need plans and possibilities. We need things that do not work - which are similar to that “provisions” market in that the failure builds our dread, builds our fear, escalates the terror.



18) VIOLENT ACTION. Since dread is the anticipation of an *unknown* action, we eventually have to get to the action or it has all been a tease. The difference between these Val Lewton movies and today’s gorefests is how they show the action. Not whether there is action or not, not whether the action is bloody and gory or not - but what they decide to show and what they leave up to your imagination. So the decision is made *not* to show cute little Teresa being ripped to shreds, which is one of the reasons we go inside the Delgado house instead of stay outside that door with Teresa and the leopard. We get that nice suspense bonus from being inside the house, but I doubt the censors would have allowed them to show Teresa being killed back in 1943. But if you think by not showing it the action is not violent, you are dead wrong. This is a horror movie. The level of violence is horrific. We just don’t see it. Teresa screams, the leopard growls, there are the sounds of a vicious and violent attack... and then... that pool of blood practically pours from under the door! That pool of blood is visual proof of the carnage on the other side of that door - and we need that proof to fill in all of the ugly details with our imagination. That blood tells us Teresa is dead. Without that blood, she may still be okay, just in need of a doctor. But the blood is a coda to the scene. Gotta have it.

19) EMOTION PICTURES. Movies are about emotions. Creating the emotions in the viewer, like dread and fear and suspense... but also allowing the viewer to feel the emotions of characters. One of the greatest parts of this sequence is when Teresa’s mom realizes that her daughter is in real danger and she has not believed her. And that whatever happens to her daughter, she bares some of the responsibility... and will feel as if it is all her fault. This is a gut wrenching emotional scene - Teresa’s mom realizes that she has doubted her daughter, and that doubt has lead to her daughter’s death. It is only a line, a moment, in the scene - but that moment is powerful emotions that will haunt us. Look for moments of emotion in your scenes, and remember that the most powerful emotions are the ones that make us uncomfortable. A mother realizing she may have killed her own daughter is more powerful than all of those scream moments in the film. Those are the emotions of great tragedy... and that is why LEOPARD MAN is more than just a cheapo horror movie from the 1940s... it is a work of art, and one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films.

20) You may have noticed that this sequence works in the basic three act structure: introduce the conflict, the conflict escalates, a midpoint (the market), the conflict escalates further, then the resolution of the conflict. Hard to avoid something so basic. This sequence seems like a stand-alone, but it is actually one of several sequences where the leopard attacks again and again, escalating the conflict for Jerry and Kiki who are responsible for the leopard’s escape. With every new victim, they get into more trouble with the town and the police and it becomes more apparent that Jerry will have to capture or kill the leopard himself. He is pulled deeper and deeper into the quicksand with every new victim, and must find a way out. Each sequence ends by tying Jerry and Kiki back into the story - with their problems worse than before.

Okay, that is one of a handful of sequences in LEOPARD MAN where people and leopards eventually meet without a pleasant outcome. It’s a good example of how to build dread and also how to create gory bloody violent deaths - that are not graphic. Just because the death is not shown doesn’t mean that it is pleasant and doesn’t mean that the audience doesn’t experience it. We want to make sure there is horror in the horror! If we can’t see it, you need to make sure we imagine it. This scene is a great example of how to make a scene scary and keep the fear and dread building until the violent pay off. Things to consider if you are writing a horror or suspense script.

Hey, what does that look like on that page? Do we just write “scary things happen” and the director makes up all of the details? Nope! Below is this sequence from the shooting script of LEOPARD MAN by Ardel Wray - and all of the thrills and chills are there on the page. Check it out!



INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

The Delgado house is typical of the poorer Mexican homes in New Mexico. This main room, which is small, serves as living room, bedroom and kitchen. An Indian blanket covers the doorway into the only other room. The adobe walls are plastered with pictures of religious subjects.

The wooden floor is bare. There is a charcoal-burning brasero in one corner. Pots and pans on the hearth of the fireplace show that it is a supplementary stove, The rest of the furniture consists of an iron bedstead, a large and hideous oak table and an open-faced china cabinet which contains the Delgado treasures.

Pedro, Teresa's nine-year-old brother is seated at the oak table, eating from a bowl of frijoles. He is, and looks like, an imp. Teresa is backing away from her mother, who turns away from the window to face her angrily.

TERESA
(evidently resuming a discussion)
But, Mamacita -- why can't Pedro go this time? I'm so tired...

PEDRO
(complacently)
I'm too young.

SRA. DELGADO
If your father comes home and there are no tortillas, he will shout and tomorrow it will be all over town: the family of Juan Delgado is too poor to buy corn meal! Do you wish we should be so disgraced?

Teresa shakes her head, but makes no move to go. Exasperated, Sra. Delgado reaches for the nearest weapon -- the broom.

SRA. DELGADO
Then go!

Sra. Delgado brandishes the broom toward Teresa, who backs up again.

PEDRO
I know what she's afraid of...

Pedro lifts his hand. It casts a sharp shadow on the wall behind him. Watching the shadow, he manipulates his fingers so as to create the shadow of a leopard's head in miniature.

PEDRO (CONT'D)
This!

SRA. DELGADO
And what, por todos los santos, is "this"?

Teresa braves the threatening broom and moves a step toward her mother.

TERESA
(eager to be believed)
The leopard, Mamacita. They say a lady at the El Pueblo had it on a string and it ran away. It hasn't been found yet...

SRA. DELGADO
A leopard?

PEDRO
(gleefully)
They're big -- and they jump on you!

Pedro jumps the shadow on the wall, to simulate the leap of a leopard.

SRA. DELGADO
(furiously)
Did you ever meet one of those things yet when you went to the store for me?

Teresa swallows, shakes her head mutely.

SRA. DELGADO
(bellowing)
Then you won't meet one this time either! Now get out! Do as I told you!

Sra. Delgado gives the broom such a backward swing of final purpose that Teresa hurriedly opens the door behind her and slinks out backwards -- her big liquid dark eyes, still futilely pleading, the last to disappear. Sra. Delgado moves after her, pushing the door closed.

She puts the broom in the corner and goes to where Pedro is seated. Here she stands a moment, fondly watching him as he masticates his beans. Behind her the door stealthily opens.

Teresa tries to sneak back into the room. Mamacita sees the movement and makes a tempestuous rush toward her, but Teresa sidles out of the door before she can be caught. Mamacita, muttering, slams the door shut and with difficulty pushes the heavy, rust-covered iron bolt into place.

EXT. DOORWAY DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

Teresa stands outside the door. We hear the heavy bolt inside driven home forcibly.

SRA. DELGADO (V.O.)
Now you will not come in again, not until you bring the corn meal with you!

EXT. STREET OUTSIDE DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

Teresa steps down from the single doorstep outside her house.

She crosses her arms and pulls her shoulders together in a gesture of fear. She looks once, despairingly, at the closed door behind her and then reluctantly steps out into the dirt road and starts walking.

EXT. CALDERON GROCERY - NIGHT

Only a large corner window, with the word. "Provisiones" printed on it shows that this ordinary house is a grocery store. In the moonlight, one can see a few boxes of groceries stacked on shelves inside. Teresa comes up to the window and peers in. She knocks on the window.

TERESA
Senora Calderon It is Teresa, Senor. Teresa Delgado.

Over Teresa's shoulder, we see the interior of the little store light up dimly as a curtain is pulled at the back of the room.

Beyond the curtain is revealed another room, brightly lit by a bare electric globe hanging from the ceiling on a cord. Under the light, a man sits at a table, heartily eating from a plate heaped with food.

The curtain has been pulled back by Senora Calderon. We see her only in silhouette and the details of her face and figure are indistinguishable. We do see, however, that her long black hair is down her back and she is braiding it. She walks a little ways into the darkened store.

SRA. CALDERON
(speaking loudly to be heard through the window)
The store is closed.

TERESA
I just want a sack of corn meal for my father's supper!

SRA. CALDERON
Tomorrow.

TERESA
(imploringly)
It'll just take a second. ..Please or I must go clear across the

Arroyo to the big grocery --

Teresa taps against the window hopefully. But Sra. Calderon turns back toward the doorway into the inner room, where the solitary feaster hasn't even bothered to look up during this exchange.

SRA. CALDERON
(as she goes)
It means taking off the lock again, putting on the light, measuring the meal. It's too much trouble. Once I close, I close!

Sm. Calderon steps into the inner room and draws the curtain closed behind her, as she speaks the last words. Again the store is in darkness -- only a rim of light showing around the edges of the curtained doorway.

TERESA
(quietly, hopelessly)
Senora...

There is no reply. Teresa turns away.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

The Arroyo is a deep narrow cut in the mesa, bone dry in this season. Its floor of bleached sand and weeds stretches desolately wider a vast moonlit sky. Here and there, children's feet have scuffed steep little trails down the banks.

Teresa appears at the top of one of these trails. She looks down into the Arroyo -- and then off to the right.

A distance down the Arroyo is a bridge which carries a train track across the dry river bed. To divert the rush of rain water in winter and spring, the bridge is underpropped by two slanting stone piers. They stand out like ribs against the blackness of the underpass, which they divide into three tunnels.

Teresa's face shows her dread of the Arroyo. She turns back the way she came, takes a step away, hesitates and then returns to the edge of the bank.

She starts down the little trail, her feet sliding in the loose sand and a shower of pebbles bouncing down ahead of her.

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

Teresa stands at the bottom of the bank. She looks off to the bridge again. Then she starts walking forward slowly, a very little figure in the large loneliness of the night.

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa comes up to the face of the underpass with its three openings. She stares from one black tunnel mouth to another.

She glances behind her, then looks at the underpass again.

Teresa goes forward again, toward the middle tunnel.

EXT. EAST ENTRANCE OF MIDDLE TUNNEL - NIGHT

The roof of the underpass is only a little higher than Teresa's head and the passage is not more than ten feet wide.

The opening is dimly lit by the moonlight, but beyond it is dense blackness. Teresa enters slowly. She takes a few steps toward the blackness - and stops. She listens. Teresa moves forward again, walking as lightly as possible. The light dims rapidly, so that after Teresa has taken a half dozen steps, she is swallowed up in complete blackness.

The CAMERA HOLDS for a moment on the dark underpass before Teresa emerges from the blackness on the West side. A light scratching sound is heard. Teresa's eyes widen in panic as she hears it and she hurries out of the tunnel, watching fearfully ever her left shoulder. She must cut across in front of this other tunnel in order to get to the south bank.

She starts across, never taking her eyes off the black tunnel mouth. Suddenly she gives a convulsive start and a little cry escapes before she can control it. A shadowy shape, low to the ground, detaches itself from the dimness of the tunnel opening and moves toward her. Almost at once, we see that it is a large tumbleweed, blowing clown the Arroyo in the wind.

Teresa sighs soundlessly and goes on to the foot of the bank.

She starts scrambling up another steep little path.

DISSOLVE

INT. BIG GROCERY STORE - NIGHT

This is a fairly good sized room, lined with shelves and counters. A tall, Indian-type Mexican with iron-grey hair puts a paper sack of cornmeal on the counter in front of Teresa.

She starts toward the door, but noticing a bronze cage with two toy birds in it, a mechanical device which has stood there for years, she goes toward it, puts down her sack of corn meal and goes up close.

TERESA
Oh, the toy birds!

MANUEL
You've seen them before. I couldn't chase you away from the counter when you were a little girl.

She winds up the bird cage.

TERESA
I'd forgotten them.

MANUEL
(smiling, good humoredly, skeptical)
Every day you see them --and you have forgotten them? Oh, I remember my little Teresita -- I remember the little girl who was afraid of the dark. They shouldn't send you.

The birds have begun to sing, a highly mechanical rendering of a bird song.

TERESA
I'm not afraid. What could happen to me?

The birds sing and she pretends to listen. Manuel leans against the inner door of the grocery watching her, smiling and amused. Finally his smiling irks her into action. She picks up her sack of corn meal.

TERESA (CONT'D)
(as she starts off)
I'll pay you tomorrow.

MANUEL
Never fear - - next time you come.
The poor don't cheat one another.
We're all poor together.

In the bronze cage the two birds continue to sing their mechanical song. Their heads turn from side to side.

We hear the door close behind Teresa. The birds are still singing as we...

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. CORNER WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

There is a sound of slow, measured dripping. It comes from water seeping out between two rocks and dropping onto another rock below. These rocks are piled up at the juncture of the bridge and the left bank and the water is evidently leaking from some water main or sews go pipe running under the highway overhead.

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa is approaching the entrance of the middle tunnel, She is evidently scared - her footsteps are lagging and she holds the sack of corn meal in both hands, as if feeling its weight. She looks fearfully at the black tunnel before her and comes to a standstill, trying to peer into the blackness.

In the silence, the dripping of the water can be heard.

Teresa looks up and to the left to locate the sound. She sees the shining dampness on the rocks.

She turns back to the middle tunnel before her -- and, drawing a deep breath of resolution, starts to enter it. But she hesitates and then, suddenly, veers over to the left. She peers into the opening of that tunnel.

INT. OPENING OF NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

The wall of the tunnel is also damp with the seepage from above. It reflects the outer moonlight in glistening streaks, so that the blackness here is not so complete as in the other tunnel..

EXT. WEST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

Teresa gets a fresh grip on the bag of corn meal by shifting her hands under it -- and walks into the entrance of the north tunnel.

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

Again, the crunching sound of Teresa's footsteps are magnified in the enclosure of the tunnel walls. It is very dim, but the luminosity of the damp wall casts a faint light on Teresa, reflecting in her wide, frightened eyes.

She walks slowly and lightly, her eyes going from side to side in the darkness, her neck and head held rigidly. Suddenly she stops with a sharp intake of breath, Ahead of her and to her left are two tiny gleams of light. Teresa backs away from them. As she does so, they seem to fall and vanish.

Slowly Teresa moves forward again, staring at the place where the lights had been. As she moves parallel to the spot, they appear again. A half-cry dies away in her throat --she sees that the gleams are two drops of seepage, trickling down the side of the tunnel wall.

Teresa half closes her eyes and sways a little, faint with fear. Then she forces herself to move forward again. She takes one -- two fearful steps -- and then the underpass reverberates with a sudden tremendous shock of sound - more a giant vibration than actual noise.

It is a train passing overhead.

INT. NORTH TUNNEL - NIGHT

As Teresa stands transfixed, the terrific roar continues.

Second after second, flashes of light as brilliant as lightning illuminate the interior of the tunnel the reflections thrown into the Arroyo by the train windows.

And then, as abruptly as it began, the noise ceases. It is cavernously dark in the tunnel again. In this thick stillness, Teresa walks forward once more.

EXT. EAST SIDE OF BRIDGE - NIGHT

In the frame of the tunnel opening, Teresa stands for a moment. Behind her, there is a new sound -- a mere whisper of sound carried forward on the light wind. A little shower of rubble falls from the top of the concrete pier. Teresa turns to look behind her.

Crouched on one of the piers of the trestle - and seen only very dimly in the darkness -- is the leopard, looking down into the Arroyo.

An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of Teresa.

An enormous big HEAD CLOSE UP of the leopard, its clear golden eyes fixed and staring.

EXT. ARROYO FLOOR - NIGHT

Teresa's nails dig into the paper sack of corn meal and little trickles of the meal start spilling from the slits.

Her eyes widen and her face falls slack from the horrible shock of what she sees. She turns and runs.

EXT EDGE OF ARROYO - NIGHT

Teresa scrambles frantically up over the edge of the bank.

She stumbles and falls and the sack of corn meal drops from her hands and spills onto the ground. In a single move, Teresa is on her feet and running again. A shadow flashes over the spilled meal and we hear a heavy, ripping snarl.

INT. DELGADO HOUSE - NIGHT

It is quiet and peaceful in the Delgado home. Senora Delgado is puttering about the brasero. Pedro, on all fours, is reading a comic book, his rump high in the air, his chin two inches from the book. Suddenly, a wild rain of knocks on the door fill the little room. Sonora Delgado, at the brasero, drops a spoon with a clatter and Pedro springs up.

TERESA'S VOICE
(screaming)
Mamacita, let me in! Let me in, let me in!

SENORA DELGADO
Hah!

Sonora Delgado smirks knowingly and puts her hands on her hips.

TERESA'S VOICE
If you love me, let me in -- !

SENORA DELGADO
(mimicking Teresa)
Mamacita -- let me in. Let me in, now that I've spent half the night getting the corn meal!

TERESA'S VOICE
It's coming - it's coming closer.
I can see it...

PEDRO
She is afraid of the leopard.

SENORA DELGADO
Just what she needs -- something to

NIP AT HER HEELS AND HURRY HER UP -

She is interrupted by a scream so high, of such agonized finality, that it makes the others before it seem like nothing at all. Mingled with the scream and blurring the end of it comes an impact of such violence that the whole door structure shakes with it from top to bottom. A puff of dust wells up around the door from the impact of the blow.

REPRO
(his voice high with fear)
Madre do Dolores, she isn't fooling!

Pedro jumps to his feet. An instant change has come over the face of Senora Delgado. She hurls herself forward.

SENORA DELGADO
(beseechingly)
Wait, Teresa! I come! I will let you in...

Senora Delgado tugs at the rusty bolt.

SEN0RA DELGADO
Only a moment, querida, hija do mi
alma -- your mother is here --

As Senora Delgado tugs vainly at the bolt, Pedro darts over to the fireplace and grabs up a stone from the hearth.

SENORA DELGADO
Your mother will let you in - -

Pedro rushes to the door and pushes his mother's hands aside.

He hammers the unruly bar back with the stone.

Then, he draws back and looks down at his feet. Senora Delgado's horrified eyes follow his glance.

Under the crack of the door seeps a dark tongue of blood, widening and lengthening on the rough wooden floor.



And here is a link to the entire script:
LEOPARD MAN screenplay by Ardel Wray.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Writing Over 40 - how to sell a script or land an assignment in age conscious Hollywood.
Dinner: Salad with some dead chickens in it.
Pages: Yikes! This article was the one I wrote *after* the one that I was going to run on the blog today. The other one got pushed back.
Bicycle: Yes - a NoHo ride on both Sat & Sun. I feel better, but there is still some pain in the wrist if I twist it in unusual ways, so I'm thinking about going to the doctor (which I fear, because I do not want a cast on my arm - I can take the brace off to type, but a cast?)
Movies: MACHETE and TAKERS...


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Thursday, May 24, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Stephen King has a new book out, so let's look at his favorite episode!

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. 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?

So here is the second one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

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