Thursday, June 28, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: A Third For Pinochle

SEASON 2!!!



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



Season: 2, Episode: 9.
Airdate: November 20, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty.
Writer: Mark Hanna and Boris Sobelman.
Cast: Edward Andrews, Doro Merande, Ann Shoemaker, June Walker, Barbara Perry.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “They hardly knew him. Well, if that’s the way Melba and Diedre Pennaroyd treat their casual acquaintances I shudder to think of the hospitality they keep in store for their very special friends, Or perhaps they subscribe to the words of that famous poet who relates that there are some who apparently feel that the best way to make friends is to do something dreadful and then make amends. But what the girls seem to have overlooked for a moment at least is that amends will never sooth the ruffled ego of a corpse. Such an untidy way to go. Pity. I dare say the ace of spades would have worked wonders for a bad hand of pinochle. Tonight’s story is concerned with that ancient game. And the players are: Edward Andrews, Doro Merande, Ann Shoemaker, June Walker, and Barbara Perry. You’ve heard the old saying, Lucky at cards, unlucky at love? Well as sure as my name is Boris Karloff you’ll learn tonight whether or not it’s true, And permit me to give you one piece of advice: Never lay all of your cards on the table. (Holds up a knife) Someone might cut the deck.”

Synopsis: Before Karloff’s introduction there is a scene shot entirely in silhouette where a woman grabs a cleaver, goes into a room where a man is packing, and hacks him up... only to be discovered by another woman (her sister) who scolds her. Now they will need another player for pinochle. This sets the tone - this is a bloody comedy episode...

Welcome to late 1950s/early 1960s suburbia. Peaceful. Conservative. White picket fences. Well manicured lawns. On one side of the street the elderly Pennaroyd Sisters live - they are characters right out of “Arsenic And Old Lace” - two cute little old ladies who often rent their spare room to single men. Melba (Doro Merande) and Diedre (June Walker). On the other side of the street live Maynard and Mrs. Thispin - he is the henpecked husband and she is the wife he mostly married for her money. The Pennaroyd Sisters spy on their neighbors through binoculars - watching the Thispin’s pull into the driveway across the street.

Mrs Thispin (Ann Shoemaker) is going on a trip to visit her sister, and Maynard (Edward Andrews) is doing everything in his power not to go with her. The doorbell rings and it’s a delivery man with *poison* - weedkiller - and Maynard must pretend there has been some mistake in front of his wife... but by this point we have seen enough of bossy Mrs. Thispin to understand why he might have ordered it. In Maynard’s basement workshop he phones his girlfriend - the pneumatic Babs (Barbara Perry) - telling her that he would be willing to possibly buy her a mink stole, and he’d like to discuss it with her at her apartment this afternoon. After he hangs up he pulls a paper mache head from a secret cupboard and puts a wig the color of his wife’s hair on it... then practices strangling it.

Mrs. Thispin has Maynard write notes to all of her friends telling them that she will be away for a while, then she wants him to go out and buy six packages of birdseed for her pet birds which he will have to feed while she is away. She has a huge stack of money in her purse, but gives him just enough to buy the birdseed... down to the penny.

After buying the birdseed he stops off at Babs’ apartment, where he tells her as soon as he inherits some money he will get her a nicer apartment and that mink stole.

When Maynard returns home he attempts to strangle his wife several times, but his timing is all wrong... a Door To Door Salesman (Vito Scotti) rings the bell, the phone rings, etc. Some slight suspense is created here, but it’s mostly played for laughs.

The Door To Door Salesman knocks on the Pennaroyd’s door, and they invite him in and try to rent him their spare room and one of the sisters chases him out with a meat cleaver. Hijinks have ensued.

Maynard keeps failing to strangle his wife - so he grabs a huge paperweight and smashes her skull. That worked. He takes his paper mache head on the dressmaker’s dummy and puts it in the passenger seat - so that it looks like his wife. Puts her suitcases in the car, and drives off... with the Pennaroyd Sisters watching him through their binoculars.

Maynard pulls the car off the road in a secluded section and puts the paper mache head in the trunk... next to his wife’s corpse. Them drives to the train station where he takes his wife’s purse and puts it above her assigned seat, then waits near the Red Cap (Burt Mustin) until a woman of about the right age needs helps with her bags, and makes sure the porter sees him carrying the woman’s bags onto the train with her, makes sure the conductor sees him, and then makes sure the porter sees him waving at the woman in the train as it chugs away. He tells the Red Cap he’s glad to get rid of his wife for a while...

Then drives the car to a remote area just past the next train stop and dumps his wife’s body in the bushes.

At home, he burns the paper mache head... all of the evidence is gone!

A few days later, a Police Detective (Ken Lynch) shows up to inform him they have found his wife’s body. Their theory is that she was mugged on the train due to the large amount of money she was carrying in cash. Maynard does not act broken up, and tells the Detective that they had been married for a long time and the thrill was gone. He knows that if they are thinking it was murder, that he is the prime suspect, and it often crossed his mind to kill her... but he didn’t. The Detective tells him they interviewed the Red Cap who remembers him helping a woman who may or may not have been his wife to the train, but who might have seen her leave the house with him?

Which takes Maynard and the Detective across the street to the Pennaroyd Sisters...

Who remembers watching them driving to the train station. So he is now off the hook.

A few days later Maynard calls Babsie and breaks up with her - he has met a beautiful young redhead and they are flying to Mexico together on vacation. After he hangs up, the phone rings - it’s the Pennaroyd Sisters who want to see him immediately. They have a secret... about his late wife.

Maynard goes across the street where the Sisters are waiting to play pinochle... they know it wasn’t his wife in the car, it was a paper mache head. He stays and plays a hand or two... and begs off. But the Sisters say they used to play around the clock - morning, noon and night! Mr. Thispen will move into the spare bedroom and always be there to play pinochle... or they will go to that nice Detective and tell him what they know.

Review: This episode seems as if they took two completely different stories and tried to tie them together by having them happen across the street from each other. But this doesn’t really work and it never seems like the two tales are connected... except by tone. The Pennaroyd Sisters story is a direct lift from ARSENIC AND OLD LACE with nice little old lady killers, and the Maynard story across the street is one of those cliche Husband-Kills-Nagging-Wife comedy stories we have seen a million times, including an episode of this show, A GOOD IMAGINATION, that also starred Edward Andrews. This is the kind of role he often played - the amusing suburban killer. He’s great at it. But split story makes doesn’t really work... and the Pennaroyd Sisters never really seem to be in desperate need of that third at pinochle which is not only the title of the episode but their sole motivation for doing all sorts of terrible things. It’s like a punchline without the set up.

There are gags, the like the boxes of bird seed, that aren’t very funny but the episode plays them up, hoping that you will laugh anyway. The wacky door-to-door salesman who gets stuck with the Sisters in a scene and is chased around the house with a meat cleaver is not clever. This episode feels a little like MASQUERADE - a few episodes back - where there seems to have been a joke somewhere, but it stayed on the page instead of making it to the screen. Perhaps the script was a laugh riot, but the episode just isn’t funny enough, and I wish they have done it as two episodes, or maybe even a two separate half hours... with the twist end that they are across the street from each other. By connecting the two into one story it just seems to undercut both.

Though this isn’t a great episode, what I find interesting about it is that both stories are part of a larger subgenre that was popular at the time (late 50s, early 60s) about how peaceful, quiet, conservative suburbia was really simmering with corruption and sin below the surface. PEYTON PLACE looked at the sex aspect on the big screen and fiction, but in this episode we have infidelity and murder and insanity hidden behind those lovely white picket fences and well manicured yards. The David Lynch idea that the polite surface always hides a more evil world than the cliche crime infested big city pops up a couple of times on this show, many times on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and in movies and TV shows and fiction of the time. It’s interesting to think that all of these horrible criminal acts are *normal*, and that in the repressed suburbs those evil acts still exist... but people just pretend that they don’t. I said earlier that much of Edward Andrews career was playing characters like this, who seemed respectable on the outside but were actually some form of nice monster. In the scene where he is interrogated by the Police Detective and offers him a martini, the perfect host, you get a “what kind of man reads Playboy” vibe. He is a married man with a “little black book” of mistresses he keeps hidden in his sock and a basement filled with all kinds of tools and toys - he has a secret telephone extension down there. Hidden. He seems nice and respectable on the outside, but underneath he is even more corrupt than some random guy in the big city.

I suspect this was a commentary on the times - the suburbs seemed like something out of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER but that was all a facade. In reality - and this episode was written in 1961 - it was a hotbed of what people of the time would call “sin”. When we fondly look back on that era, we need to include episodes like this that tell a different truth. If there is a whole subgenre of crime story on TV about quiet suburban men who cheat like crazy and murder their wives and nice little old ladies who kill between rounds of pinochle; there had to be enough of this going on at the time that this wasn’t shelved in the Science Fiction section. That David Lynch look at late 50s / early 60s suburbia almost makes this episode into something more than a time killer. Almost.

Though the episode is amusing enough to kill 50 minutes if you have nothing better to do, it’s one of those season 2 mis-steps. After finding the show’s “voice” as a horror and suspense show, it seems like they had a few season 1 scripts they needed to get rid of. And the next episode is another mis-step, though an unusual and timely one... The 1961 “MeToo movement” written by and directed by a woman.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Film Courage Plus: How To Be Productive

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. 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?



HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Writers write.

Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.

So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?

That’s a very good question.

Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...

1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.

2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.

3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...

4) But you'd rather write, right?

5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.

I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.

6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.

And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.

7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).

8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.

But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...

9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.

There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.

Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.

10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)

When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!

And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.

Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill



NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

What's the use of having a blog if you can't plug your friends' movies?

EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Duane Whitaker
Starring: Duane Whitaker, Clu Gulager, Roscoe Lee Browne, Danny Roebuck, Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Thomerson, Rusty Cundiff, Bruce Campbell, a million others.

A few years back the Egyptian Cinema did a double bill of indies written by my friend Duane, who I may be having coffee with as you read this. You know Duane as the Pawnshop Owner from PULP FICTION, but he's one of those guys who pops up in a bunch of movies playing redneck blue collar guys. EDDIE PRESLEY looked great on the big screen. I think I had seen it once before in the cinema, some others times on video. To me, what is strange about the film is that it's based on Duane's one man stage show... but that's only the last third of the film - about 40 minutes of screen time. I think the hour of material Duane wrote to more-or-less pad it out is more entertaining than the play material - the padding is the kind of stuff that is Duane's artistic sweet spot: he's the Robert Altman or PT Anderson of broken Hollywood dreams. Hmm, maybe some background...



Duane’s one man show was about this Elvis impersonator whose performance goes wrong and ends up having a complete nervous breakdown on stage and tells his life story and sings a couple of songs. It’s this crazy, funny monologue. Well, my friend Jeff, who directed the movie, had just gone through absolute hell on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 - New Line had micro-managed the film, wanted him to tone the horror way down so that they could get a more favorable rating and play to a wider audience, then took the film away from him in editing and the film they released bombed because it was wimpy and the horror was tame. The CHAINSAW movies are about a guy with a chainsaw who chainsaws people - you can’t exactly make the PG-13 version of that and have it work. So Jeff was pissed off at the studio system and wanted to make his own movie his own way... and Duane, who had played a role in TCM3 had this one man show, and Jeff saw it and thought they could expand it into a feature. Because this was an indie film, they found the money completely outside the system - private investors. They made the film and it was released on video by a really small distrib (which also released John Lee Hancock’s first film) and that was basically that. Oh, the big coup for EDDIE PRESLEY was that it was the first movie bought by The Sundance Channel.

The 60 minutes that is not Eddie Presley on stage having a complete breakdown are about the days leading up to that performance, plus some great flashbacks in black & white to Eddie’s life before he ended up in Hollywood. Eddie lives in his van parked on the street in Hollywood - inside the van is a shrine to his past, when he used to make a living touring small-to-medium venues as Eddie Presley. He picks up his messages on a pay phone and works as a security guard at night. The Back Door Club is the location for the end of the film, the Van is a location, the Security Job is another location, and there’s also the Greasy Spoon Diner - that’s about it for locations.

In the Security Guard story thread, Ted Raimi is one of the other guards, and Lawrence Tierney is the hardass supervisor with a photo album of sleeping guard Poloroids. Willard Pugh plays another security guard and there's a nervous female security guard (Harri James) who has a major crush on Eddie. Raimi and Pugh and James’ characters and Eddie are best friends - and they would do anything to see him succeed. When he finally gets his gig at the Back Door Club, they take the night off from work so they can see him... and pull some favors from friends and friends-of-friends to get him a cut-rate limo to take him to the gig.

In order to stay awake on these night shifts so that he doesn’t get fired, Eddie fills his thermos at a greasy spoon cafe filled with Hollywood losers of all types... plus his girlfriend works there as a waitress. She’ll fill the thermos if the boss isn’t looking, and maybe get him a free breakfast. She wants to actually go out on a real date - but Eddie’s always broke. She’s a wanna-be actress, but has had no luck so far landing a role in anything. These characters in the Diner Thread are Duane’s forte - the struggling artists who litter the streets of Hollywood trying to hang onto their dreams but knowing that they are only dreams... and the reality is that they're a waitress. When Eddie’s not in the diner, there’s a skanky female porn star trying to make the moves on his waitress with promises of leading roles in adult entertainment... is a part a part? Will she do porn?




The other diner regulars are a colorful group, from the toll-taker guy who requires a cigarette from everyone who passes by his seat at the counter, to my favorite character in the film - Clu Gulager's sleazy agent. Hair badly dyed jet black, he tells prospective clients (all gals fresh off the bus) that he has major connections and can make them into stars... and when the pay phone on the wall behind him rings, he answers it with his talent agency name. I've had this agent!

The last thread are the Flashbacks in beautiful black & white of Eddie’s pre-Hollywood life in Texas, with Joe Estevez as his strict father and Barbara Patrick (Robert’s wife) as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Eddie was a successful pizza store owner (take out only) who sells his business to live his dream of being an Elvis impersonator. Father thinks he’s an idiot, wife divorces him and takes the kid... and Eddie and his band go out of the road. Jeff’s cuts from present to past and back are great - match cut stuff with a character from the present drinking a cup of coffee to one in the past drinking a cup of coffee. There is a great flow to the story which makes it seem less episodic. Because the black and white stuff was shot later, Jeff would end a scene with some action that could be duplicated months later when Duane had lost a bunch of weight and looked like a younger version of himself. Eventually the flashbacks get darker and darker (in tone, not lighting) and Eddie flips out in a burger joint and ends up sent to an insane asylum, where the guards include Quentin Tarantino (before he was famous) and Bruce Campbell and director Rusty Cundiff.

The last third of the film at the Back Door Club is filled with some great characters - the late great Roscoe Lee Brown plays the club owner, Tim Thomerson does a great cameo as an angry comedian, stand up comic Puppy Thomas is the world’s worst ventriloquist, and practically stealing the show is Danny Roebuck as Eddie’s warm up act - the world’s most unlucky magician: when he tries to pull the rabbit out of his hat, it bites him and he bleeds all over the place for the rest of his performance... which includes him accidentally catching fire and unable to put himself out. Then Eddie gets up on stage, everything goes wrong, and he has his big break down right in front of us.

Though that ending was the whole reason they made the film, I really like the parts of the film that come before that. You get a real feel for people on the fringes in Hollywood, the hopefuls without hope...

The film is available on DVD at Netflix, I have no idea if it's on their streaming service or not. Made for pocket change, a nice little labor of love. Bill

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Lost Hitchcock Film

So here is some background on this “lost Hitchcock film” THE WHITE SHADOW...

When Hitchcock was 21 - the year was 1920 - he got a job with Famous Players Lasky, an American film company that opened a studio in England. That company would eventually become Paramount Pictures. Hitchcock was interested in film and studying advertizing art in college and submitted some art for title cards to the new studio... and was hired. In the silent era, movie title cards had the minimum dialogue to tell the story - hand lettered in an easy to read style - and a small illustration. Hitchcock’s example for Truffaut was: “George was living a fast life” and the illustration would be a candle burning at both ends. Writing title cards was part of post production, because often a film changed completely during production and the assembled shots might tell a completely different story. Hitchcock told the story of a drama that didn’t turn out well, so the title cards were comedy dialogue that transformed the meaning of the scenes so that the film became a crazy comedy.



Hitchcock did title cards on numerous films... and was curious about films, so he asked questions and learned about the various jobs. Part of titling a film was reading the screenplays, and he learned how to write scripts and occasionally wrote a last minute scene for the films - kind of production rewrite work.

During this time Hitchcock directed a short film, NUMBER THIRTEEN (1922) which he says was never completed.

When Famous Players Lasky left the studios, British producers took over and Hitchcock was promoted to assistant director. On a film called ALWAYS TELL YOUR WIFE (1922) the director became ill and Hitchcock and the star completed the film - Hitch was kind of coy when he told this story to Truffaut, so my guess is that the star actually directed the remaining scenes and Hitch just did his assistant directing chores and maybe made a suggestion or two.



In late 1922 producer Michael Balcon began producing films at the studio and hired young Hitchcock as his assistant director for a series of films to be directed by Graham Cutts, starting with WOMAN TO WOMAN. Hitchcock was ambitious, and when they needed a screenplay offered to write it... and had a spec script sample he had written to show what he could do. He wrote the script, was assistant director, did set design (art school background), did the title cards, and was Graham Cutts’ assistant. He performed these tasks on the entire series of films: WOMAN TO WOMAN (1922), THE WHITE SHADOW (1923), THE PASSIONATE ADVENTURE (1924), THE BLACKGUARD (1925), and THE PRUDE’S FALL (1925). Of the five, Hitchcock said WOMAN TO WOMAN was the best of the lot. Oh, the film editor and script supervisor on all of these films was Hitch’s future wife Alma - these are the projects where they met and fell in love.

Hitchcock had a falling out with Cutts on PRUDE’S FALL, but instead of being fired, producer Michael Balcon gave Hitch his first actual directing job on THE PLEASURE GARDEN (1925)... which will be the *last* entry in the Fridays With Hitchcock series.



The “lost film”, THE WHITE SHADOW, was the second in that series. Directed by Graham Cutts, screenplay co-written by Hitchcock who also did sets. Hitch had nothing to say about it to Truffaut, so I’m guessing it was just a job. These films were all melodramas, shot in 6 weeks, and none of them were very popular. This one was about twin sisters: one good, one evil. Maybe the first time they did that story, but I'm guessing not. It got bad reviews when it opened... many critics pointing to the silly script (co-written by Hitch). It would take a few more years for Hitchcock to find his footing and make BLACKMAIL (1929) before he started to become the director we now know. I suspect when these three remaining reels are restored and shown at that screening in Beverly Hills... it will be kind of a let down. Interesting to see an old film that Hitchcock did some work on, but not really a Hitchcock movie (he didn’t direct it).



The guy who *did* direct the film, Graham Cutts, basically fired Hitch... and that allowed him to begin his career as a director. Later, when Hitch was gearing up to make THE 39 STEPS (the film that would get him to Hollywood) he needed a second unit director for some odds and ends establishing shots and the producer suggested... Graham Cutts. Hitchcock said he couldn’t hire Cutts, since he had basically began as Cutts’ assistant. The producer told Hitch that Cutts had fallen on hard times and really needed a job and was willing to do the second unit stuff. Hitch hired him. So it came full circle, and Cutts sort of became Hitchcock’s assistant. Or maybe Hitch was repaying Cutts for the on-the-job-training on films like WHITE SHADOW. Maybe we should do a retrospective of Graham Cutts’ films, as the man who created Hitchcock?

And here's the film, if you're interested: THE WHITE SHADOW.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How Many Stories Can One Movie Tell?
Dinner: A family New Years Meal.
Pages: No, recovery from drinking instead.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thriller Thursday: Knock Three One Two.

Knock Three One Two.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 13.
Airdate: Dec. 13, 1960


Director: Herman Hoffman
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on the novel by Frederick Brown.
Cast: Joe Maross, Beverly Garland, Charles Aikman, Warren Oates, Meade Martin.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.
Producer: Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A compulsive killer of women stalks a town. This man has seen the killer. He doesn’t know it yet, but as sure as my name is Boris Karloff he will meet the killer again and will recognize him. You or I would turn him in, but this man uses the murderer for a most bizarre purpose. Knock three one two, that’s the name of our story. And our principle players are, Mr. Joe Maross, Miss Beverly Garland, Mr. Charles Aikman, and Mr. Warren Oates. Knock three one two. That friendly knock will cause a lovely woman to open the door with terrifying consequences. Let me warn you ladies, if you hear that knock in the next hour, do not open your door. Just sit there and enjoy the tingling suspense of this thriller.”

Synopsis: This overly convoluted tale begins with gambling addict Ray (Joe Maross) making calls from a corner phone booth, trying to find *someone* to loan him the money to pay back the mob so that they don’t break his legs... with no luck. When he walks back to his car, a preoccupied MAN (Meade Martin) bumps into him, then continues on without an apology. Ray grumbles something, gets into his car and drives away... just as a dead woman is found in the apartment the Man just left! That Man was the Silk Stocking Strangler, the killer everyone in the city is afraid of... so afraid that Ray and his wife Ruth (Beverly Garland) have put extra locks on the door and have a knock code: 3, 1, 2 to make sure she only unbolts the door to her husband and not the crazed killer.



After Ray knocks the code, Ruth lets him in... and he begs her to give him the money to pay off his bets. He’s afraid this time they will really hurt him. She says last time she gave him money from her savings account he just gambled it away. She tells him never again, her $8k savings account went down to $6k, and now she has to work harder to bring it back up to where it was. Ruth is a waitress on the night shift, Ray is a liquor salesman. Ray keeps asking for money, says they might even kill him this time, she says no and goes to work...

On the way she bumps into Benny (Warren Oates) who is mentally challenged and runs the local newsstand, a friend of both Ruth and Ray’s. Benny tells Ruth that he’s done it again... killed another woman. He thinks he is the Silk Stocking Strangler. Ruth asks him where he was at the time of the last murder and Benny says he was working. Ruth tells him he *couldn’t* be the killer... and the last time he confessed to the police they said he couldn’t be the killer. Benny still wants to be punished for these crimes. Ruth tells Benny to forget about this nonsense, and that they both need to get to work.



Ray can’t find anyone to give him the money, accosts Ruth at work... and her nice guy boss George (Charles Aidman) breaks it up and comforts Ruth. Along with the Benny character, the George character is another somewhat pointless complication. George is in love with Ruth and wants her to leave Ray, but Ruth is still in love with Ray.

When Ray leaves the restaurant he’s followed down a dark alley by the mob guys he owes money to: they beat the crap out of him and give him 24 hours to get the cash... or they’ll kill him. By some amazing coincidence, Benny walks down that same dark alley later and sees beat up Ray, takes him to his little apartment where he takes care of his wounds and offers him some soup with pieces of chicken in it. Benny tries to convince Ray that he’s the Silk Stocking Killer, but Ray also does not believe him. Benny tells Ray about the latest killing... and Ray realizes he was *right there* and that the Man who bumped into him had to be the killer. He knows what the killer looks like! Once Ray is okay, he leaves to try and find the money again.

Ray ends up in a bar asking the owner for an advance on his order, gets shot down... and then notices the Man who bumped into him sitting at the bar... the Silk Stocking Killer! Ray sits next to him, strikes up a conversation... and now we’re in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN territory. This is the great part of the story, which is kind of lost in the all of the subplots. Highsmith’s third novel, THE BLUNDERER, is about a man who attempts to make his wife’s death appear as if it is the work of a serial killer... only to have the serial killer confront him. Here we get a similar story, as Ray shows the Silk Stocking Killer a picture of Ruth in a bathing suit to get his interest, then tells him their address and the knock code for the front door... and that his wife will be home alone all night.



When the Silk Stocking Killer leaves (to murder Ruth) Ray asks the bartender to pour him another drink. The bartender mentions they will be closing at midnight tonight instead of 2am... because the place is empty. Oh no, there goes Ray’s alibi! He begs the bartender to stay open later, the bartender gives him a funny look. He’s the only customer in the place!

So Ray calls Benny and tells him if he goes to the police *right now* and turns himself in for the murders, and has the police call him *right away* at this bar pay phone, he will come down and tell the police that Benny is the killer. Benny says “sure” and Ray goes back to the bar waiting for the phone to ring.



Meanwhile, the Silk Stocking Killer watches as George pulls up in front of the apartment and then walks Ruth to the door. They almost kiss. The George gets back in his car and drives away... and the Silk Stocking Killer comes out of hiding to kill Ruth. He knocks the code on the door, she unbolts and unlocks the door and opens in wide... then screams when he attacks her.

Ray gets the call from Benny, goes to the police station where he tells the two detectives that Benny *didn’t* do it (which pisses off Benny) and Benny needs mental help and can the police institutionalize him? Ray drags it out as long as possible to make sure he has an alibi: in the police station with the two detectives investigating the murders. He’ll be free and clear, Ruth will be dead, and he’ll be able to get the money from her savings account right away. The perfect crime!

George decides to turn around and go back to Ruth’s place for no apparent reason, and ends up finding the door open and the Silk Stocking Killer attacking her. George kicks some psycho ass, then calls the police.



When the detectives leave the room to take the call, Benny gets mad at Ray for betraying him... and *murders* Ray. When the detectives find out the name of the woman being attacked by the Silk Stocking Killer when he was captured, they realize it’s the wife of the man they have in their interrogation room, go in and find him dead. The end!



Review: Another episode based on a novel, and I suspect the novel did some fancy footwork to remove all of the coincidences. Compressed into less than fifty minutes, all of these strange coincidences stick out like a sore thumb! Plus, there are some things that the writer should have caught: Benny couldn’t have done the killings because he works every night until 2am... yet Ray calls him *at home* and needs him to be at the police station from 12 to 2am... how is that possible? The super locked apartment door that requires that knock code? George kicks it down in street shoes! There are a bunch of things like this in the episode that just make no sense at all.

There is a nice little conversation about Gambling Addiction, a public service message in the middle of the episode; and I think that’s a good thing. This was a genre show, and they managed to include a real social issue in the story without it seeming forced onto the story... it’s Ray’s motivation for needing the money bad enough to have his wife killed. No matter what your genre, you *can* have a serious issue in there... genre movies don’t need to be stupid.

Beverly Garland was beautiful, and played a blue collar waitress well. Though she had been a B movie star, she spent most of her career on the small screen... then retired to run a hotel a couple of blocks from where I live now. I did my 2 day classes there for a while, in the cinema decorated with posters from all of her movies.



Warren Oates is freakin’ Warren Oates! He did two episodes of THRILLER, and so many TV shows that I’m sure he couldn’t remember the number. Mostly westerns like THE RIFLEMAN ands RAWHIDE and THE VIRGINIAN and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, but he did every other genre and pops up in THE TWILIGHT ZONE and OUTER LIMITS. Shows like this is where a young actor could earn a living while working on their craft, and Oates is completely convincing as this mentally challenged newsstand employee.

Charles Aidman is another actor you’d instantly recognize as “that guy from every TV show in the 70s”, but here it’s kind of strange casting since the character has an ethnic last name... and this isn’t an ethnic guy. I wonder if that was even a plot element in the story originally, Ruth and George’s romance would be forbidden... but this serial killer brings them together. That’s not in the episode.

The actor who plays the Silk Stocking Killer is some pretty boy in a leather jacket, unlike any serial killer I have ever seen. He’s more of a juvenile delinquent from a fifties film! Truly odd casting.

The other problem is Ray sending the Silk Stocking Killer after Ruth in the first place... how can he know that the psycho will go there and kill her? What if she isn’t his type? Again, coincidences kill this episode. It does have some suspense, but the story is not well plotted. Not one of the good episodes, but not the worst. Next week’s episode stars Mort Sahl as a TV writer who knows too much... and talks too much.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Writing On Deadline

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 fifth 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.

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

I know you don’t want to hear this, but most spec scripts (screenplays written to sell) are never sold... they are “job applications” for paid writing assignments. You know, adapting some comic book or novel or board game or toy or whatever into a movie script. The *job* of writing. And like every job, there are deadlines.

Writers like to fantasize about quitting the day job and just sitting at home in their Pjs writing whenever the inspiration strikes. Being an artist. But reality is completely different - for a professional writer, writing becomes their day job and they have all of those things they hated from the old day job. Idiot bosses? Yeah, there are producers I’ve worked for who make my old day job bosses look like geniuses. Catty co-workers who blame you for their mistakes? You will encounter those, too - true story: on one of my films for a cable network the director came up with a scene that was so expensive it would bust the budget. I told him there was no way the producer would keep this scene in the script, because it not only served no story purpose it would cost as much as every other scene in the script combined. I suspected it was just come power play on the part of the director - to see how far he could push the producer, to see if he could get his way - but I told him I didn’t want to write the scene. He insisted. I wrote the scene. The next story meeting, the producer turned to me and said he was surprised that I would write a scene like that into the script; didn’t I know this was a cable film not a summer blockbuster? Before I could say it was the director’s idea, that director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a budget buster, but he didn’t listen and wrote it anyway.” And you thought your day job was bad! But the other thing from your day job you will have to deal with are deadlines. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes, you have to write to get things finished on time.

And the closer the project gets to production, the more those deadlines become etched in stone.

One of the production companies I wrote HBO World Premiere Movies for was Royal Oaks (no longer with us) and they were a factory for cable movies. At one point they were making 36 movies a year for a variety of cable networks. That was in the mid-1990s when every new start up network had their own movies, and when established networks like USA Network had 48 original movies a year. Add in Lifetime and all of the rest and there was this insane need to MOWs, and Royal Oaks supplied a chunk of them. Oh, and they also made movies for Studio’s Home Entertainment Divisions (direct to video). There was a “big board” on the wall that showed all of the projects and where they were at on the road from idea to finished film delivered to the network or studio. 36 films with 36 deadlines. And within each large deadline (delivery) were smaller deadlines - like the treatment and each draft of the screenplay. As I’ve said before, on a movie for HBO like STEEL SHARKS before I even pitched the story there was an airdate. A time slot at HBO that the movie would fill. If I didn’t get the screenplay finished in time, they wouldn’t finish making the movie in time... and HBO would be showing a test pattern or something on March 26th at 9pm.

You may not want to think of making movies as if it’s a factory, but at a production company or a studio that’s exactly what it is. They make movies as a consumer product just like some other company makes shoes... in fact, there was a point in time where a shoe company owned a studio! If you think that big studios don’t have big boards like Royal Oaks did, tell me - what are the release dates for the next ten Marvel movies? How about the next five STAR WARS movies? Okay, how about the next three FAST & FURIOUS movies? All of those deadlines! Most of those projects don’t have screenplays or writers or even story ideas! But they already have deadlines. That’s the film business! It is a business!

So you will need to get used to working on a deadline.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” Stephen King

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter,” Dan Poynter


LAZY WRITERS!


I have self imposed deadlines on my spec screenplays, and try to treat them as if they were any other (real world) deadline. The reason why is that without a deadline I wouldn’t get anything done... I have to be my own boss and crack the whip on myself. Just as my protagonists wouldn’t be rushing to disarm a bomb if that big red LED cliche timer was set for five years from now, I wouldn’t have any real reason to finish a script if there was no deadline and my natural laziness would take over. And I am naturally lazy. I think most of us are. Our default mode is - check out Facebook and then maybe get lost reading articles on something you find mildly interesting and then maybe watch a little TV and then... hey, time for bed! I can do nothing like a pro! But a pro writer needs to write - so I have deadlines and page quotas and write as if it’s my job, because it *is* my job.

And even if it is not your job now, you *want* it to be your job, right?

That means you will need to be able to write quality material on a deadline.

There are folks on message boards who think being forced to write on a deadline results in bad writing. They are probably not going to make it as a professional. Actually, they *could* make it as a professional if they quit fighting the idea of deadlines and just accept that is part of the job and they’ll have to learn how to incorporate deadlines into their writing. People always fight against what they fear - they proclaim that “X is the downfall of creativity!” because they know they are not good at X and they fear X so they want to avoid doing X at all costs. Hey, the world isn’t going to bend to you, you will have to bend to the world. You will have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with X like everyone else has. Just the way things are. In real life there are deadlines, and fighting against the idea of deadlines is not going to make them vanish. There are still those big boards at production companies and studios listing the release dates for movies that have yet to be written, and when you land one of those jobs you will have to make the deadline no matter what Douglas Adams may have said.

TWO METHODS


There are two methods to make deadlines - Slow & Steady and Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! You know these two methods from when you were in school and had homework. Slow & Steady is the recommended method - what your mom and teachers told you to do - and what I will tell you is the best way to do things. Not that you will listen... but it makes me feel better to know that I’ve told you.

Slow & Steady: In another of the Film Courage segments I talk about How To Be Productive (Even If You Have A Life) and talk about how I managed to write 3 screenplays a year while working a day job (and having a life) by writing one good page a day. Just one. Because those single pages add up to 3 screenplays by the end of the year. Once I “went pro” I used the same method, just upped the number of pages per day to 5. Five pages a day is a screenplay in a month. Yeah - a first draft, but still a screenplay. And that will result in you making almost every deadline you will encounter as a professional screenwriter. In the BREAKING IN Blue Book we look at assignments and deadlines, and how you will often “stack” assignments (take more than one job, because you never know if anyone will ever hire you again) and being able to do a draft in a month will cover you even if you stack a couple of assignments. You will make your deadlines. Slow & Steady wins the race.

The other method - the one your mom and teachers warned you about - is Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! and you know how that works when you pulled those all nighters after procrastinating for a couple of weeks and not doing your homework. You didn’t use the Slow & Steady method, so the only thing left is to just drink a whole pot of coffee or a six pack of Mountain Dews and write the damned thing. There are people who prefer this method to Slow & Steady, but I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with 30 pages to write and 5 minutes to write it in... and I’m just not that fast. I’m also afraid that I’ll burn out halfway through or that some unforseen event will sidetrack me. Heck, when I stacked a couple of projects with tight deadlines once, I ended up with walking pneumonia afterwards. I’d worked myself into exhaustion. What if that exhausting and pneumonia had struck when I was only halfway done with the script? I’d have missed the deadline!

One of the things that helps me on tight deadlines is that the Slow & Steady method creates a confidence that the Holy Crap method does not. If I know I can write 5 pages a day, every day, and not suffer burn out... I can adjust that up to 10 pages a day if need be. And I’ve had those crazy deadlines where I needed to turn out 10 great pages a day to make my deadline because there was a Start Shooting date on the big board. I think I talk about some of these deadlines in this Film Courage segment.

But in the real world of screenwriting, you will need to know how to use both methods. Because even though Slow & Steady is preferable, you may end up with some insane real world production deadline like I had on GRID RUNNERS when they had to scrap the Act 3 I had written due to a change in location and I had to write a brand new Act 3 *overnight*. There was literally a production crew sleeping while I was writing, and when they woke up in the morning and went to the set to shoot that day’s scenes? Well, I had to have finished writing them, get them to the production office so that they could make copies, and then those copies had to be sent to the set so that they could film them. The closer your project gets to production, the more important making those deadlines becomes! When the project is *in production* missing a deadline means the cast and crew have nothing to do (but are still being paid) and the film may crash and burn as a result. Yes, movies get shut down when the screenwriter misses a deadline. You may cost the production company tens of millions of dollars! Do you think they’re going to hire you again after that? That *anyone* is going to hire you again? So you need to be able to use both the Slow & Steady method and the Holy Crap method as a professional screenwriter, and I really think that using the Slow & Steady helps a lot when you need to do the Holy Crap method. But maybe that’s just me. No one really cares which method you use, as long as you make the deadlines.

Because, like any other job, this one has deadlines. Often hard deadlines where a cast and crew is waiting for you to finish so that they can start. So start training for those deadlines *now*!

Good luck and keep writing!

Oh, and instead of a tip jar... if you liked this why not buy a book over there? Thanks! -->

- Bill

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: TOUCH OF EVIL

TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) (re-cut version)
Stars: Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, Dennis Weaver.
Writer: Orson Welles based on novel BADGE OF EVIL by Whit Masterson.
Director: Orson Welles

Almost sixty years after its initial release, a recut version of Orson Welles' classic film noir is back on the screen, fifteen minutes longer... darker, more evil than ever before.

Based on the 58 page memo Orson Welles sent to studio chief Edward Muhl after seeing Universal's cut down version, resorter Rick Schmidlin, Oscar winning editor Walter Murch, and film historian Jonathan Rosenbaum have created the film as Welles envisioned it. A posthumous director's cut.

The plot of TOUCH OF EVIL plays as if it were written yesterday. A Mexican district attorney (Charlton Heston!) takes time out from prosecuting a drug cartel to get married. While on honeymoon with his sexy American wife (Janet Leigh) they witness a car-bomb murder. While Heston helps the bordertown detective (Orson Welles) with the investigation, Leigh is taken to a motel for safe keeping. Some honeymoon. Detective Welles instantly finds a suspect, searches his apartment, and finds two sticks of dynamite... But Heston KNOWS the evidence was planted, and that Welles is framing the poor Mexican shoe clerk for the crime. While Heston is busy compiling proof that Welles is a corrupt cop, the drug cartel kidnaps Leigh. Now Heston must rescue his wife AND find the evidence which will bring down crooked cop Welles.

This may sound like a typical cop drama, but Welles turns it into a tour de force, taking us into the strip clubs, whorehouses, and dark twisted alleys of the border town. Creating nightmare images so vivid, you can practically smell the raw sewage in the canal that runs through the slums. In 1950s America, at a time when Beaver was Ward and June's son, the raw sexuality sweating from every enlarged pore of this film must have been more than shocking. The grimy streets, the gang-bangs with bull- dyke gang girls who want to stay and watch. "Hold her legs!" Even the phone sex between a lingerie clad Leigh (looking good enough to eat) and Heston at a store's public phone is given the added perverse twist of having the blind store owner listening to every word... and smiling. This is the type of twisted film David Lynch wishes he could make.

Welles was constantly pushing the limits of film making, and you'd be hard pressed to find a director working today who could pull off half the amazing shots in this film. Visually TOUCH OF EVIL would be innovating if it had been made today, and many of the filmic elements we take for granted had their roots in this film.

The most obvious change in the recut version is the famous 3 minute opening tracking shot (the subject of the opening scene in THE PLAYER). In the old version, Universal used this shot as a title sequence, destroying the suspense and obscuring the amazing camera work. The re-cut removes the titles, so that you can see everything clearly. This amazing shot opens with an assassin setting a bomb timer for 3 minutes. The assassin spots the victim, then races to the victim's car and plants the bomb in the trunk, darting into the shadows just as the victim turns the corner. Then the camera pulls to a high overhead as the victim drives away. The camera follows overhead as the victim drives through town, lowering to street level as the victim waits for a couple (Heston & Leigh) to cross the street. Suspense builds as Heston & Leigh walk on the street next to the car with the ticking bomb. At the border checkpoint, both Heston & Leigh and the car with the bomb are stopped for the usual round of boring questions. Tick. Tick. Tick. Heston & Leigh are allowed through the border at the same time as the car. It's when Heston & Leigh stop to kiss that the car zooms away... and explodes into the sky. ALL of this is done in one continuous shot.

Like nothing you have ever seen before.

touch DVD

Another amazing shot you may miss if you aren't watching carefully. It's so effortless, so smooth, you don't even realize you're watching one of the most difficult shots ever put on film. At the shoe clerk's apartment, there is a LONG continuous shot (X minutes) where the camera moves from room to room following Heston. In order to do this shot, the apartment set was built with break away walls and furniture on wheels. The camera glides through the apartment effortlessly, through a team of police investigators, into the bedroom, into a minuscule bathroom where Heston washes his face, then retraces its steps back to the living room through the crowd of investors to the front door of the building. More complicated than the long takes in Hitchcock's ROPE because of the break away walls, moving furniture, and sheer number of actors the camera must jockey around while maintaining a smooth glide.

Every frame of the film is meticulously composed by Welles and his DP Russell Metty (the camera operator was Philip Lathrop, who would go on to do amazing DP work himself in films like POINT BLANK). Giant shadows on buildings chase characters through the street. Deep focus makes hunter and prey clearly visible in the same shot, even though they are hundreds of feet away from each other. Characters are shown in shadow, from low angles, often with the neon from honky-tonk bar signs strobing across their faces. A scene in a file room using deep focus to underscore the amazing composition obtained when certain file drawers in the room have been pulled out, turning the shot into a fascinating visual puzzle.

One shot you may not notice is the conversation between Heston and an American District Attorney in a car moving through the back alleys of town at 60 mph. At the time this shot would normally have been done as rear projection, but Welles mounts the camera on the car and has Heston drive like a mad man. No stunt double. That's Charlton tearing through town, zipping through intersections without even slowing down.

touch DVD

Though the rec-cut version is a vast improvement over the studio's 96 minute trimmed down version, the problems with TOUCH OF EVIL remain the same. The parallel plots seem unfocused, Leigh's kidnapping taking away much of the power of Heston trying to bring down Welles' corrupt chief detective. The plotting is light: we are given little in the way of actual investigation into the frame ups, Heston just goes into a file room and comes out with evidence. Lastly, there's Heston's performance as a Mexican District Attorney: he's laughably unbelievable.

But the amazing work by Welles as an actor (fat, ugly, sad), Joseph Calleia as his second in command (not wanting to believe that "the cop who taught him everything" might be a monster), Valentin De Vargas as the handsome gang member who organizes the gang-bang, Dennis Weaver as the whacked out motel night man who can't think of woman and bed at the same time without getting flustered, and Akim Tamiroff as the crime lord with the bad toupee make this film memorable.

The rocking score by Henry Mancini uses Afro-Cuban rhythms and seems as modern as the theme Mancini would write for PETER GUNN the following year. And the pianola music that plays in Marlene Dietrich's whore house sticks in your mind for days. Dietrich, as the madam who was Welles' lover twenty years and sixty pounds ago gets all of the great lines:

"You're a mess, honey. You ought to lay off those candy bars."

Welles amazing direction and Metty's crisp, styling camera work are more modern, more innovative, than anything you will see today. After almost sixty years, TOUCH OF EVIL is more powerful than ever.

Bill

Article on the restoration: PURE EVIL

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thriller Thursday: ROSE'S LAST SUMMER

Rose’s Last Summer

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



Season: 1, Episode: 5.
Airdate: 10/11/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: Marie Baumer, based on a novel by Margaret Millar
Cast: Mary Astor, Lin McCarthy, Jack Livesey
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Rose French. In the blur of memory the face grows dim, but do you remember the name? Twenty years ago, Rose French... the remarkable Rose French.. As a servant girl or as a princess? She was a quicksilver star in a celluloid heaven. If a woman would sell her soul to achieve such fame, what wouldn’t she do to get it back? Poor Rose, that was all she wanted, to relive the past. And those who loved her, Frank Clyde for instance, could do nothing to stop her. For the comeback trail could lead to strange and sinister places. To a lonely garden, into a night of terror, it could even lead to the face of a painted doll. For the comeback trail is a journey without maps, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Poor Rose French, and her last desperate summer. That’s the name of our story: Rose’s Last Summer. Let me assure you, my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Mary Astor famously explained the Five Stages Of Stardom: “Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor Type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?”



Rose French (Mary Astor) is a once famous movie star, a real doll; now a washed up drunk living in a crappy apartment in Los Angeles... forgotten by time. She was married to three men... and divorced by them. Two were pretty boy actors who lived off her fame, one was a Howard Hughes like millionaire who may be the only man she has ever loved. But now she is alone. When she gets an unusual acting job out of the blue, she takes it... No fame or fortune involved, no spotlights and red carpets; that’s not what Rose is looking for. Just a chance to practice her craft... in some town in California called LaMesa. What’s the role?

A few weeks later, Rose French is found dead in LaMesa, in the garden of some dead millionaire’s toy manufacturer’s mansion. The young doctor at the rehab facility where she once dried out Frank Clyde (Lin McCarthy) and that Howard Hughes like ex husband Dalloway (Jack Livesey) show up at the inquest, where it is revealed she died of a massive heart attack, and had been in poor health for years. The two men team up, because the doctor had examined Rose not that long ago, and she had *no* heart condition and was in pretty good health for a boozer. Did someone kill her? Poison her and make it look like a heart attack? They head to LaMesa to investigate.



The garden of the dead toy manufacturer’s mansion is accessible from the street, did she just wander in and die? While poking around they spot an old woman watching from the window, and ring the bell. They talk to the son of the toy millionaire, Willet Goodfield (Hardie Albright) and his wife Ethel (Dorothy Green), about Rose’s death, and they claim they know nothing. She was just this strange woman who wandered into their yard and dropped dead. When they ask to talk to Willet’s mother, who may have seen something from her window, Willet tries to dissuade them. When they insist, old Mrs. Goodfield yells from upstairs that she will see them.

Mrs. Goodfield is heir to Horace Goodfield’s Sweet Marie Doll fortune, and old woman who walks with a cane and spends much of her time confined to her bed. She’s cranky, but answers Frank and Dalloway’s questions. She didn’t see anything, but it’s a tragedy that the woman died on their property. When Dalloway continues with a bunch of follow up questions, Mrs. Goodfield orders him out of the room, she needs her rest. While this is going on, Frank pokes around the house and discovers a piece of evidence that makes it look like Rose may have been inside the house. Frank and Dalloway leave highly suspicious of the family, and do further investigation...



Now we get our big twist, much like in the classic thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, the role Rose was hired to play is playing is a real person... Mrs. Goodfield. Millionaire toy maker Horace Goodfield left his fortune in an odd trust: his widow must live to her sixty fifth birthday for she and Willet to inherit... but the widow has a bad heart, and the family is afraid she will pass away before her birthday. So they hire Rose to play the window in the event she dies before her upcoming birthday. Rose does an amazing job, and Willet and his wife have trouble telling them apart. But when Mrs. Goodfield does die before her birthday, they have to figure out some way to get rid of the body... and decide to dye her hair, put her in Rose’s clothes with all of Rose’s ID and place it in the garden. Plan worked: nobody thought it was Mrs. Goodfield, and when her birthday rolled around Rose played the role perfectly and Willet got his hands on his father’s fortune...

But when Rose wants her money so that she can go back to her life, Willet asks, “What life?” You see, Rose is *dead*. Rose has nowhere to go, no life to live... nothing. Willet gives her a bottle of booze to wash away her depression... and when she’s passed out drunk they carry her out to their car to dispose of her. But Rose was *acting* passed out, and she escapes, running for her life as Willet and Ethel chase her in the car trying to run her down. A nice suspense scene, ending with Frank and Dalloway arriving at the Goodfield mansion with the police, hearing the screams from the car chase a few streets over, and rescuing Rose. Nice ending as Rose and Dalloway walk off together.



Review: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is about an actress who gets trapped in the role of a real person who was murdered, and can’t escape after she discovers they are setting her up as a suicide. This episode tells a similar story, but through characters outside the conflict who are investigating the mystery. This works fine, because by the halfway point we switch POVs and get Rose’s story, the character who *is* inside the conflict. What’s great is that Mary Astor gets to play duel roles, and pulls off both of them. When she is playing Mrs. Goodfield, you don’t recognize her at all and think she may be part of the conspiracy to kill Rose. And in the flashback sequence, she gets a *third* role, playing the real Mrs. Goodfield under the name “Helen Quintal” in the opening credits so that the audience won’t jump ahead of the story... the way Hitchcock did publicity shots with the chair for Mrs. Bates. She does a great job of playing the real Mrs. Goodfield against Rose playing Mrs. Goodfield, and manages to make each distinctive. So we get a great performance by Mary Astor at that time in her career she was probably the latter “Who is Mary Astor?”



The episode does some stock footage jet setting, from Dalloway’s yacht to San Francisco (where Horace Goodfield died) and from gritty downtown to the luxurious gated estate. All of this is very convincing, and gives the show some scope. Though the car chase and attack scene is tame compared to what we might expect on a TV series today, it’s great for the time. The novel it’s based on is by Margaret Millar, who was Mrs. Ross Macdonald (“Archer” filmed as HARPER with Paul Newman) and a great crime novelist in her own right. Again we get PSYCHO cinematographer John L. Russell shooting the episode, and Arthur Hiller who would go on to direct the hit LOVE STORY as well as critical favorite THE HOSPITAL does a good job... but on a show like this it’s all about pacing, and this episode works well.



Though not on a par with some of the great edge of your seat suspense episodes or the creepy horror episodes of the show, this is a solid entry that really showcases the talent of Mary Astor... and makes you realize there should *never* be a time when Hollywood asks “Who is Mary Astor?” just because an actor or actress is older. Mary Astor doesn’t play a 30 or 40 year old in this episode, and looks great... no crazy plastic surgery. For an actress who was a star in the silent age, and the femme fatale in the Bogart version of THE MALTESE FALCON, she gives a great star turn here and shows that she could still act circles around most actors half her age. What is the reason for that? Oh, yeah: *Experience*.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Elitism & Experience

From the beginning of 2011...

A few weeks ago John August had a post on his blog that got a rise out of me.

John wondered if the blog had become too advanced for a beginning writer, so he decided to read through his mail to see if he was too “inside baseball”... and printed a note from a writer that asked all kinds of stupid questions and then made fun of the writer. Ridiculed the dude. I posted in the comments section that I thought that even though many of the guy's questions could have been answered by spending some time searching John's site – at least the guy was asking questions, right?

And on Done Deal Pro I said basically the same thing: Lots of new writers don't know where to begin, they Google “How do I write a screenplay” and find a website and don't know the first thing about screenwriting so they don't know what to search for – they don't even know what a screenplay consists of.




In one of my favorite films IN A LONELY PLACE, a screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart says that people don't know screenwriters exist – they think actors just make up their lines... and when they become stars, they do. And that's where a lot of new writers are – what's on the page? Everything? If you just have a great idea – can you sell that? If you need an agent, can you tell me where to find one? On Done Deal Pro we regularly see new writers ask these questions and many more. And people on DDP ridicule them and make fun of how naive they are... but they also answer the questions and point them to places where they can read real screenplays and explain how the whole agent thing works. My theory is help them... then make fun of them.

Here's the thing – to me all of these questions sound silly. They sound like things people should just be able to figure out on their own, right? Things they could just find online, right? But when they land at someplace like John's site or DDP – they *have* looked online and ended up there asking questions. Things that we see as obvious. But that's because we forgot when we were them. Now that we know stuff, we think everyone else does!

Plus, there's that pecking order thing – I did a blog entry on that, and I think it's going to come up in this one, too. Nobody knows everything, and all of us are still learning and have things that we need to learn. Now, we can look at those who know less than us and make fun of them, or we can give them the information they need and send them in the right direction.

Or both.

The thing about writers is that many of us are smart asses and are just waiting for someone to say something that's a set up for our joke. I know I am. Yes, this makes me a partial asshole, but I also answer the questions so I figure I kind of earn my assholiness. But, if you just trash the person without helping them, you're building up some negative karma and eventually you will be the person who doesn't know something and someone will make fun of you. All of us are stupid about something.

AM I AN ELITIST?




One of the interesting things in life is how various different things happen at the same time... and all seem to add up to something larger. These random things are connected – which is just plain weird. Plate of shrimp. If I were crazy, I would imagine a giant conspiracy out to get me. But instead, it's just life.

Before the John August blog post, two other things happened back-to-back that connect to the concept of know-it-alls and know-nothings and screenwriting.

There's a message board I frequent that is filled with new writers – and many of them suffer from being overly artsie. This is a common thing. Many new writers think that Hollywood makes all of those remakes and sequels and comic books movies because there is a shortage of quality original screenplays... and *they* have the ability to write those brilliant screenplays!

In fact, when they compare the kind of crap Hollywood makes to what they are capable of, it's obvious that they are geniuses and the people who work in Hollywood now are all morons. Many of these folks believe that film is art, and Hollywood would make nothing but art movies if they had enough great artsie screenplays. Every film would be TREE OF LIFE, if they had a couple hundred similar (genius) (artistic) screenplays.

This is not true.

Hollywood makes movies that will attract a mass audience. That mass audience is more interested in being entertained than seeing some great piece of art... check out the grosses for this year's Oscar winner... and TREE OF LIFE while you're at it. There was a recent article on how the general public no longer goes to see the Best Picture Winner – they don't care about it and don't relate to it anymore. The “Oscar bounce” is gone! They've worked all week long and this film is their escape from all of the crap of real life – they may want to laugh so hard they pass out. What makes them laugh that hard may be the bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER.




That makes that bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER great screenwriting. I know that makes some of you think I'm crazy or a massive hack – but do you know how hard it is to find something that makes 60 million people around the world laugh? That is the art of screenwriting – making 60 million people around the world feel something. Some emotion. That may be fear from a horror movie or love from a romance or excitement from an action film – but finding that universal thing... and 110 minutes of those universal things – is so difficult that Hollywood pays great money if you can do that. They pay lots of money if you can entertain lots of people. The fewer people you entertain, the less money you get. Kind of trickle down.

Now, that doesn't mean that art films are bad, or TREE OF LIFE is bad, or THE ARTIST or HURT LOCKER are bad... just that they may be really tough screenplays to get anyone to read, let alone buy and produce.

Well, on this message board full of artsie new writers a few people posted some stuff that was completely naive... and someone posted a well thought out reasoned response explaining why their theory of how Hollywood worked was incorrect and something an outsider might believe. Here's the amazing thing – this guy who posted has been nominated for awards, wrote a great critically acclaimed film which you have all seen, that got him a gig writing a couple of big Hollywood films you have also seen, and recently wrote critically acclaimed film that I really love and own on DVD. Dude is a great writer. He was lurking. He de-lurked to help this writer...

And got crapped on.
And argued with.

Nobody knew who he was. They thought he was just some other idiot hack like me who was defending Hollywood films. They trashed whatever he said. Now, I knew who he was from another board, but none of these jokers even tried to figure out who he was... or just respect what he said. The guy was using logic and reason and the people fighting him were defending their position without ever acutally *thinking*. They were too busy arguing with him.

For me, the amusing thing about this was that this guy *was* a legitimate artist as a screenwriter. And he was explaining that *in his experience* commerce was still a major issue and you will have to find the way to sell your screenplay. To businessmen. Who want to make money.




Okay, everyone on this board knows who I am – I do not lurk. I jump in to the discussion, with a different side than the famous writer. Based on my actual experience in the business – I used some real examples both from my stuff and some other well known and easy to Google examples. And my experiences lead me to very similar conclusions as the other writer. Because that's kind of the way things are. From the outside you might think "If only Hollywood had 200 TREE OF LIFE scripts they would make 200 films like TREE OF LIFE." From the inside, you know that a film like TREE OF LIFE is hell to get off the ground... and no one in Hollywood really wants a screenplay like that. In fact, TREE OF LIFE was not made by Hollywood!

If you were to take a hundred professional writers, we would all have similar experiences with slight differences. If you take 100 people who have gone to the DMV and taken a driving test, the main points will all be the same but there may be some individual differences due to that handful of variables there are. So I jump in and basically agree with the other writer – and so do the handful of other pros on the boards...

THEM AND US




And now we have an interesting dichotomy – those who earn a living writing screenplays vs. those who do not. Those with experience in the business and those who do not have experience in the business. The working writers are saying “this is the way it really works” and the new writers are saying “no – it doesn't work that way”. When I say, “Hey, I've been doing this for a while, that really is the way it works.” And the professionals are branded “elitists” for saying that “our way” is the one that works and “their way” doesn't work.

This confused me.

I thought elitists were all about having power over others and excluding them... when the reason we were there giving this advice was to *include* these folks – to show them the secret way into the business. To help them. “You know that wall? There's a doorway through it over here!” But it seems that knowing what you are talking about, having actual experience, is a big negative thing.

Who knew?

The issue becomes facts vs. opinions – and that's crazy. But this seems to be something that isn't just on screenwriting messageboards, the whole country seems to think that a fact is the same as an opinion. That they are equal. If 99% of scientists think the world is round and 1% think it's flat – those 1% are “equal” to the 99%. Crazy! That 1% are the lunatic fringe. In science as in anything else there are always a couple of nutjobs... but the *majority* of people who know what they are talking about agree with each other... and 1% is *not* equal to 99%. Those are *not* two equally valid viewpoints – because at the end of the day the majority rules.

Except, when you are in that 1% you'd much rather believe that it's equally valid to believe the Earth is flat and the space program is a conspiracy and they put something in our milk as children to make us see that curve on the horizon...

And that's *science* - when you're discussing screenwriting and there's an art component and as many different definitions of “good movie” as there are people? More difficult to even agree on what is a “fact”!

But add to this – screenwriting is strange in that it is both art and commerce wrapped into one. Sure – there are arthouse indie films, but even those get some form of distribution because someone thinks they will make money. They are more of a niche thing – and aimed at being popular with that niche. If you plan on *selling* a screenplay then it is a commercial endeavor – not just for you but for who you sell the screenplay to... and for the screenplay itself. There are so many elements of the *craft* of writing that tie into the commercial aspects that you can't really talk art and craft without at least touching on the commercial part. And, on a messageboard filled with artsie types, bringing up the money part brands you a sell out.

On another board there is an intelligent, articulate, artsie screenwriter guy who makes great arguments in favor of seeing screenwriting as an art. I often argue with him, but I also encourage him to keep making his case - because he isn't one of those just fighting for his point - he also *thinks* and *considers the other side* and argues using facts rather than opinions. I like this guy. We need this guy in teh business. The funny thing about my art vs. commerce arguments is that if you drop me in a room full of artists I argue on the commerce side... but if you drop me in a room full of mercanaries I fight for art. Screenwriting is both.




The problem is – two people can write screenplays of equal artistic quality, but if one is about a farm boy in Ohio who dreams of moving to Cleveland and getting a job in a shoe store, and the other is about a farm boy on Tatooine who dreams of being a Jedi Knight and starfighter pilot and rescuing a hot Princess from an evil Black Knight... well, you can guess which screenplay is going to have an easier chance of selling.

There are commercial considerations involved with every screenplay that is bought – and that becomes part of the conversation on the experienced screenwriter side. It's not elitism, it's another danged lesson that most of learned the hard way – and we're trying to help others. Though everyone learns at their own rate, the biggest problem with many of these debates is that some people DO NOT WANT TO LEARN. Not just the commercial stuff (I mean, who really wants to learn that? I fought it) but much of the story stuff that's important. The artsie folks don't want there to be any elements that they can be judged by – so the concept of one script being better *even artistically* than another is some form of elitism.

Huh?

The real problem with this whole “Elitist” thing is that it makes people with experience and actual knowledge, and brands them with a negative for *trying to help*. That does not make them want to stick around on some messageboard and continue helping when they really should be writing. It also demonizes education and intelligence and experience – which seems crazy to me. It guarantees that those folks on messageboards will stay exactly where they are – because the *do not want to learn*. Knowledge is a negative - ignorance is bliss - stupidity is art.

They often seem to think they know everything – which I don't think this famous writer or myself or any of the other working pros who these folks argued against believe about themselves. I believe there are tons of things that I don't know – and a large part of my life and my website and my blog are trying to figure out how things work and share that knowledge... but mostly trying to figure it out because there are things I don't know.

Do you think you know everything?

WINO THEORY




I think for most of us, the more we know the more we realize we don't know... and need to learn. Writing screenplays is incredibly complicated, and requires that you get a bunch of different ingredients in the proper mix.

The problem on some messageboards (and with some executives) is they think that one 110 pages of typing is the same as another 110 pages of typing. That writing the pages is the hard part. And there are plenty of screenplays that get so damaged in development that their 110 pages of writing *is* equal to just about any other 110 pages of typing. But those scripts die a quick death – and if they are made into films due to some mistake, the films die a quick death.

The key is to write something that people think about a decade later... because it will be good (art!) *and* because a decade later you'll want them to call you and hire you for some project. If they read your 110 pages of typing and instantly forget it, you have a problem. Though scripts can be developed into crap, you don't want them to start out that way. My belief (hope) is that even when a script gets mangled there's enough good stuff left to hint that there was a great version they bought. Though, I have no idea what that good stuff might be in the filmed version of CROOKED.

Of course, even if they screw up your screenplay on the way to the screen, your actual screenplay still exists as a sample - and I get all kinds of calls years later based on someone reading a screenplay before it got ruined. I have also used those screenplays as samples. In fact, I have some people interested in hiring me now based on a screenplay they read in the past... which they remembered.




You see - art is involved in screenwriting. Even in popular screenwriting. It's not just "write a 110 page action script", it's writing a 110 page action script that is better than the other hundreds of scripts they have read and will turn out an okay movie once it goes through the meatgrinder. If anything, a popular commercial film really needs to be *artistic* and great more than the art film - since if the art film ever gets made it is most likely to be written and directed and produced by the same person (no meatgrinder). The martial arts star lead isn't going to rewrite all of his lines... so that the actions end up being the thing that carries the story and theme and emotional conflict.

There are great commercial scripts and stinkers. Some screenplays are better than others. Some writers have learned more than others - and that is reflected in the quality of their writing. Doesn't mean those other writers can't learn as much and write scripts of equal quality eventually. Just means *at this point in time* the more experienced writer is, well, more experienced. They've done it many more times and learned more.

I think one of the issues with those who think all 110 pages are equal is what I call the WINO THEORY. I once dated a woman who worked in the wine biz, and know some people in the biz (one guy who gets paid to drink!) and a sommelier – and wrote a script called ROUGH FINISH that was James Bond as a wine taster.

Wine ends up being a lot like screenwriting.

The average person can drink two different glasses of wine and think one tastes good and the other does not – but that's about it. If you give that average person two different glasses of *good* wine, they may not be able to tell which is better. Both are equal to them.




But “educate their palates” and teach them a little about wine, and they can easily tell a cabernet from a merlot from a zinfandel from a pinot noir. They may prefer one over the other. They also know what a cabernet is supposed to taste like (basically) and whether it tastes strange or even has been cut with some other grape. At this stage they can also probably tell you whether the wine was fermented in oak or steel or even redwood or acacia or pine.

The next step might be to refine their palates so that they can tell which region the grapes were grown in – each soil leaves a mark. And maybe even make a good guess at the year due to the amount of tanic acid in the wine. Now they can take a dozen “good” glasses of wine and tell you more about each one – and maybe even taste minor defects in some wine that the average drinker never knew were there. They “have better taste”.

And with each increase in education, with each piece of knowledge, they can taste little details that the average drinker may not even know exist.

My character in ROUGH FINISH was a “private palate” who would break into a winery and taste the wine “before its time” to help investors and wine connoisseurs know which Bordeauxs to buy. He tastes something in the wine that only a handful of people in the world would even notice – and becomes the man who knows too much. Fun idea for a chase action script – but it's based on the (real) idea that an expert wine taster would be able to denote things no one else could... is that Elitism or Experience and Education?

My theory is that the new screenwriter might think the difficult part is getting to FADE OUT – and that *is* difficult. But a hundred thousand people a year get to FADE OUT... and the more you know, the more you can see what is just a bit off on one script and right on the money in another – and the more you know how to write that better screenplay.

You don't just give every character a unique voice and vocabulary and world view and attitude... you realize that all of those different elements are connected in some way to theme... and theme is connected to universal truths that connect to the audience. It just gets more and more complicated! And I don't think you ever reach some point where you know it all. There is always something to learn.

But if you think just writing 110 pages is all there is to it, you have failed.

If you think you don't need to learn anything more, you have failed.

If you think that the 1% who believe the Earth is flat are just as correct as the 99% who believe it is round, you aren't thinking and are not trying to learn and better yourself.

If you think someone who has learned more than you know at this point in time and is trying to help you is an elitist, you have failed.

And, if you know more than someone else – help them. Costs you nothing.

I've found that most established screenwriters want to help new writers – they empathize. They were that new writer at one time, and want to help you avoid all of the pitfalls they stumbled through. So, on a messageboard or in person or whatever – thank them for the help and don't fight them until they just give up on *everybody* and leave. I think it's all about learning - and continuing to learn. Any writer who is giving you advice - even if you don't like what they are saying - is trying to help you. they don't have to do that. They don't get paid to do that. They have many other things they can do that either pay more or are more enjoyable.

Experience and knowledge are not elitism.

If people are trying to *help you* - that's the opposite of elitism.

And DAYS OF HEAVEN is one of my favorite movies... along with AIRPLANE!

- Bill

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