Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: CRISS CROSS



CRISS CROSS (1949)
Director: Robert Siodmak
Writers: Daniel Fuchs, based on a novel by Don Tracy.
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, Dan Duryea.

This is one of my favorite movies, but I have no idea when I first saw it. Most likely on the Late Late Show. Back in the old days, when there were only 3 networks and a handful of local stations with local programming, they always had a late night movie. Networks like NBC would show some fairly new movie during prime time, kind of the way HBO has fairly new movies today. So the late show movies were always something old, from the 1940s or 1950s... stuff like CASABLANCA. After the late show movies there was... nothing. TV stations closed down for the night at 2 or 3AM and after the sign off (America The Beautiful over The Blue Angels flying in formation) there was a test pattern until the Farm Report the next morning. No infomercials. When I came home from working at the Movie Theater, I’d usually watch the Late Late Show on Friday and Saturday nights and catch some classic film... and that probably included CRISS CROSS.

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CRISS CROSS is a film noir based on a novel by Don Tracy and kicks off our Don Tracy Appreciation Week. Don who? you ask... hey, me too! The only reason why I know this novelist’s name is from the opening titles of CRISS CROSS, but when I came to this week’s Thriller Thursday episode it was based on a novel by... Don Tracy. Hey! What a weird coincidence! So I looked him up online and discovered his two most famous novels ended up as this movie and that TV episode. Tracy was a journalist who hit it big with his second novel “Criss Cross” and then crashed and burned with his third novel “How Sleeps The Beast?” about racial conditions in the modern south... which was too controversial for the times. After returning from World War 2, he shifted gears and wrote some sprawling historical adventure novels like “Crimson Is The Eastern Shore”, “Roanoke Renegade”, and “Carolina Corsair”. He came back to noir with “The Big Blackout” (Thriller Thursday) and in the sixties he wrote a detective series about a military policeman solving crimes on base and off (kind of like NCIS). Because this was the Paperback Revolution, he also wrote a huge stack of TV and movie novelizations under a pseudonym. A recovering alcoholic, he wrote an AA self help book in the 70s. Oddly, I have never read any of his detective series, even though those were the kinds of books I hunted for in used bookstores. Now I’m going to try and track some down.

But CRISS CROSS...



The film opens with Steve Thompson (muscular Burt Lancaster) making out in a night club parking lot with his ex wife Anna (sexy Yvonne DeCarlo who you may know from THE MUNSTERS), who is married to some other guy now... Slim Dundee (the slimy Dan Duryea who improves every movie he is in) a local crime boss. They enter the club separately, but later that night Thompson and Dundee get involved in a fight in a back room of the club, and Thompson’s detective pal Pete Ramerize breaks it up and asks Thompson if he wants to press charges. Thompson says no, then ends up with Dundee and his gang in the men’s room washing up... and we discover the fight was just for the sake of the detective.... but got out of hand because Dundee thinks his wife Anna may be fooling around with her ex husband. Thompson is an armored truck guard who is the inside man for a robbery by Dundee and his gang scheduled for the next day.

When the Armored Truck goes on a pick up, the two guys packing huge bundles of money into bags are talking about how their wives overpay on laundry soap by 3 cents... this kind of contrast is one of the things that makes the film great.

About 13 minutes into the film, just before the robbery, the Armored Truck now filled with bags of money, Thompson remembers how he came to be here...

And we get to the meat of the story in a 50 minute flashback (in an 88 minute film)... which is not a crime story, but the story of a man with a broken heart. Thompson returns to Los Angeles after years of drifting from city to city, working a variety of odd jobs, trying to forget Anna... his ex wife who broke his heart. Film Noir is all about the four Ds: Darkness, Destiny, Despair, and of course Doom... and Destiny plays a large part in Thompson’s homecoming. When he gets to his family house, no one is home... so he wanders through the city ending up at... the night club where he and his ex wife used to hang out. He tries to call her several times, but something always gets in his way... like a warning.



The night club has a separate bar attached, and there are two great recurring characters in that bar that you will remember long after you’ve forgotten the plot of some recent hit film. The bartender (Percy Helton) who thinks Thompson might be an undercover checker with the Alcoholic Beverages Commission is a real character, and it’s fun to watch their relationship change as time goes on. The lush who sits at the end of the bar all day (Joan Miller) is one of those great characters and great performances that makes you feel as if you’ve known her all of your life. And it’s *unusual* to make that drunk at the end of the bar a woman... you feel like she was maybe Rosie The Riveter during the war and afterwards her life went south... and here she is. I looked up the actress who played that role and she worked consistently. One of the great things about writing during the studio system was that they had all of these great character actors under contract and you could write a role for them. In the Supporting Characters Blue Book I talk about some of the great characters who pop up as Pirate #7 or Cowboy #9 (and often played both roles in different movies) and how well developed those little roles were. You remembered them. There’s a nice bit in CRISS CROSS where the Bartender is trying to tell someone how much he appreciates the Lush, his favorite customer... and she doesn’t know if she should be insulted or not. It’s a great moment for both of them. Oh, and at one point in the night club Anna is dancing with some handsome young man... a no lines extra in the film... played by a not yet famous guy named Tony Curtis!



But Thompson and Anna are destined to bump into each other... and that happens. He knows that she is wrong for him, that if they get back together again he will just end up heartbroken again... and that’s what happens. As soon as they begin dating again, she hooks up with Dundee and *marries* the mobster, leaving Thompson stood up at the night club. When Dundee leaves on business, destiny brings them together again... but this time he’s fooling around with a mobster’s wife.

How destiny brings them together: Dundee has to catch a train on business and at the last minute *doesn’t* take Anna. Thompson is at the train station... after learning about their marriage he’s thinking about splitting town to avoid the pain of bumping into her. An employee behind a center counter bends down for a moment and Thompson gets a glimpse of the woman on the other side... Anna. Thompson tries to avoid her by going outside... but Anna has gone outside as well. She plans on getting in her car and driving home... but Dundee’s #2 man is in the car, driving it to the city where Dundee is going so that they’ll have a vehicle there. Which leaves Anna and Thompson the only two people with nowhere to go outside the train station. Destiny keeps bringing them together... and if Dundee finds out about it they are both dead.



Let me take a minute to mention the Los Angeles locations. Union Station is the train station, and they really shot there. I know that sounds silly, but movies were made on the backlot at this time, and there was some train station set that all movies used. CRISS CROSS went out on the streets of Los Angeles, and you get all kinds of great shots of places in the city that no longer exist. The trolley cars, Hill Street, the old houses, this film is a moving snapshot of Los Angeles in the late 40s. It’s fascinating to watch just for the scenery.

When they eventually get caught together by Dundee, Thompson tries to talk his way out of it... by saying that he actually was there to talk to Dundee. See, he has a job that needs some criminals. Thompson has gotten his old job as an Armored Truck guard back, and has a scheme to commit a robbery. Needs criminal help. Dundee and his gang come in on the robbery... and now Thompson’s cover story for being with Anna has turned him into a criminal. Maybe there’s a fifth D in Noir: degradation. Thompson would do anything to get Anna back, he has never gotten over her... she’s in his blood. And going from respected armored truck guard to criminal just to keep her in his life is a major fall for him. The problem is: he says it off the top of his head to pacify Dundee... but it all becomes too real when they bring in a planner and put together a crew and buy vehicles and explosives and fake uniforms and gear up to do the job.

Which leads us up to that sixty three minute mark with Thompson back behind the wheel of the Armored Truck as they head to the ambush... and our final twenty five minutes of the film.



Don Westlake writing as Richard Stark wrote a series of heist novels featuring a guy named Parker, and a handful of them are armored truck robberies... and no to are the same. The “high concept” in a heist story is the method they use to pull the heist. You need something original. The robbery here involves a monthly factory payroll delivery in cash, a tanker truck that will block the road to the factory to keep away the police, and other elements... but the main thing is the inside man: Thompson. He not only has to remove the third guard (who would stay in the truck and shoot the robbers) but put the second guard at ease when he thinks continuing the cash delivery might be dangerous for just two guards. In the planning scene we see how the plan *will* work, but execution is where things tend to go wrong...

And if you were Dundee and you had a chance to kill the guy who was sleeping with your wife during the robbery, what would you do? So instead of Thompson’s rule that the other guard (his friend Pops who is dating Thompson’s mom) and of course himself will not be harmed in the robbery; Pops is killed and Dundee tries to kill Thompson. The two exchange gunfire, wounding each other... but Thompson manages to kill a bunch of the other robbers... but the money and Dundee vanish.



Thompson wakes up in the hospital a hero... but his detective pal Pete Rameriz knows he had to be part of the robbery, and warns him that Dundee is still alive and will be hunting him. Which leads to a *great* sequence of complete paranoia as Thompson is trapped in his hospital bed, leg and arm in casts and elevated with cables... and suspicious people linger in the hospital hallways and shadows pass just outside his field of vision... often falling over the pebbled glass window. This has you on the edge of your seat. One particular guy is sitting in the hallway... and Thompson asks the nurse to bring him in. Ends up being a nice guy husband whose wife was in a car accident instead of one of Dundee’s thugs. Now Thompson *begs* the husband to stay with him (so that no one can sneak in and kill him in his sleep), but the husband says he needs to stay outside his wife’s door incase she wakes up... leaving Thompson alone.



Since this entry is now twice the usual length, I’m going to stop before we get to the ending... but what’s interesting is how it remains the story of a man with a broken heart, still in love with his ex wife, right up until the end. I think one of the things good films do is have an emotional throughline that is connected to theme. It’s Thompson still being hung up on his ex wife that drives the whole story... from the dramatic side of the story to the crime side of the story. These things are all connected. This is one of my favorite movies because all of the pieces come together perfectly... and I think we all still have some past love in our blood... and wish we could get over that long ago broken heart.

I suspect that CRISS CROSS is one of the Coen Brothers favorite movies, since Lancaster’s character often says “Sure, sure” a phrase said often by Paul Newman’s character in HUDSUCKER PROXY and there’s a dialogue from Anna, “I didn’t do anything wrong” which is echoed by Thompson later... and a very similar thing happens in BLOOD SIMPLE with the line “I didn’t do anything funny.” I think it would be fun to look at Soderbergh’s remake of CRISS CROSS next week...

Bill

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Thriller Thursday: The Watcher

The Watcher

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



Season: 1, Episode: 8.
Airdate: 10/25/1960


Director: John Braham
Writer: Donald Sanford (MIDWAY) based on a story by Dolores Hitchens.
Cast: Martin Gable, Olive Sturges, Richard Chamberlain, Alan Baxter.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Neal Beckner




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The incident you’ve just witnessed, described by the police and the press as an accident... which of course it wasn’t just as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with some of the people who live in the resort town where the... accident... took place several weeks ago. We’re going to see these people through the eyes of a murder at large. Unidentified, unsuspected, unpredictable. As the urge to kill again becomes irresistible. The name of our story is The Watcher, and our principle players are: Mr. Martin Gable, Miss Olive Sturges, Mr. Richard Chamberlain, Mr. Stewart Irvin, Miss Gloria Clark, Miss Irene Hervey, and Mr. Alan Baxter. Take my word for it, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: Before Karlloff’s opening, we see a middle aged man, Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), push an unconscious young woman into a lake from a row boat, and when she comes to and begins thrashing in the water... holds her head underwater until she is dead. Frietag is a mild mannered school teacher... who is a serial killer... and he is vacationing in this lakeside resort for the summer.

The Lakeside Resort has three distinctive classes of people: the Very Wealthy who have mansions and expensive sailboats, the Summer Tourists, and the Working Class people who take care of the mansions and sailboats and work in the restaurants and stores. Larry (an impossibly young pre KILDAIRE Richard Chamberlain who just had a birthday on 3/31) does boat repair and lives with his church going Aunt, his parents are dead. Beth (Olive Sturges) is the daughter of a socialite and lives in one of those mansions. Both are 20 years old and in love with each other... even though neither’s family would approve if they ever found out. Their relationship is a secret...



Except a man is watching them make out in Beth’s parked car a couple of houses down from where Larry lives. That man is Mr. Frietag (Martin Gable), who turns from the window of the boarding house room he is renting for the summer and types a letter to the town Sheriff, saying there is another “corrupter” and he will have to kill again...

At work the next day, Larry is doing boat repairs when Mr. Frietag visits... and warns Larry that an intelligent good looking boy like him shouldn’t get sidetracked by girls. They will just bring him down. Larry could go to college and improve himself. “An older man can sometimes keep a boy straight. Life is full of dark paths, it’s so easy at your age to lose the way. Many temptations come our way...” It doesn’t seem like Mr. Frietag really wants to keep Larry “straight”... more like he is obsessed with him sexually, keeps talking about how attractive Larry is. In this conversation Frietag mentions that Larry was distracted from his path by Suzie... the girl who was drowned. Larry should not make the same mistake twice.

Larry is creeped out by Frietag, tells him he can run his own life and gets rid of him.



Beth has lied to her mother, saying she’s going to a girlfriend’s house... when really she’s going to see Larry at work and bring him some food. Beth has a drunken Uncle (Stuart Irwin) who promises to cover for her if she’ll cover for him (he’s not supposed to be drinking). When Beth gets’ to Larry’s boat repair that night, it’s raining... and someone is watching her from the shadows (Frietag). She gets spooked, drops the food on the wet street and runs inside. Frietag keeps watching them, she will be his next victim.

Sheriff Archer (Alan Baxter) gets the letter from the serial killer and wants to do something about it, but before you can say “JAWS” his boss tells him to leave it alone. This is a tourist town and they don’t want to scare off the summer guests... and lets slip about the previous letter confessing to Suzie’s murder. Sheriff Archer asks why this letter was covered up, and is told that they don’t know if it’s a hoax or not. Why alarm people if it’s just some wacko with a typewriter claiming to have murdered a girl whose death was ruled an accidental drowning? Sheriff Archer decides to poke around on his own...

Larry’s only day off, and he goes on a picnic with Beth up in the mountains. Beth must be home early because Mother is having a huge garden party and Beth must attend. Not a problem. When they drive up to the mountain, Frietag follows in his car.



Of course, after they picnic food has been eaten, Larry and Beth (in bathing suits) make out on the picnic blanket... when they hear a noise from above. Someone is watching them. Creepy! Larry decides to confront the watcher, and climbs up the hill with Beth in tow. They get to the path above them and no one is there... but there is evidence that someone *was* there watching them the whole time. Creepy!

Time for Beth to get back, so they go to the car... but someone has slashed tires. Because Beth has twisted her ankle earlier, she has to stay with the car while Larry takes the tire and wheel into town for repairs. He rolls the tire down to the street and hitches a ride... leaving Beth alone in the car as the darkness settles over the mountain. Someone is in the brush watching the car. Bushes move, but whenever Beth looks closer, no one is there. Her imagination?

No Frietag. When night has fallen he creeps up to the car and tries to the doorknobs. All locked. This freaks out Beth inside the car as someone jiggles the car doors. Finally Frietag grabs a rock and tries to break the window! Beth lays on the car horn...



Frietag drives down the mountain, passing a gas station and spotting Larry working on the tire in the garage. Frietag sneaks in, clubs Larry with a tire iron, slides his body under a car up on a lift... and hits the button so that the car slowly descends and crushes Larry! So much for Larry and Frietag as a couple.

Sheriff Archer gets to the Mountain after getting a call about a dead girl in a car. Discovers Beth in the car... *alive*. Her horn honking brought others picnickers and Frietag ran away. Archer takes Beth home and her Mother wants her to put on a party dress and pretend like nothing happened. WTF? Mother thinks appearances are more important than her daughter almost being killed by a serial killer.



Archer gets the call that Larry has been found at the garage... alive. The tire rim saved him from the descending car... but the blow to the head has left him unconscious. Nearest hospital is far away, so they take him to his home with the doctor. Bed rest. Beth has an argument with her mother, says she isn’t going to be who her mother wants her to be, but who she really is... and that is a girl in love with a boy. Beth splits to be by Larry’s bedside.

But you know who is staying across the street from Larry? Mr. Frietag. And when he sees Beth go to visit Larry, well, he realizes he must kill her. Frietag has a *great* conversation with Larry’s aunt downstairs. Larry’s Aunt is religious, but Frietag is a religious zealot... he doesn’t see religion as a private matter but something that you must force on others. He’s a scripture ranting lunatic. But the Aunt must go to the pharmacy, and allows Frietag to stay in the house and look after the two kids upstairs.

The moment she’s gone, Frietag does that creepy serial killer stair climb, and tries to kill Beth while an injured Larry looks on. Things don’t go as planned and Beth throws Frietag out the second story window where he lands like Michael Myers on the lawn. Dead.



Review: Though not as great as the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS Unlocked Window episode, this is a creepy serial killer story in a time when that was still a new idea. This was made the same year as PSYCHO, which was kind of the first slasher film. Audiences hadn’t really seem stories like this, let alone see one in the comfort of their living room! The creepy scenes are okay, but don’t live up to the potential of the situations (Beth in her car as an unseen Frietag tries opening all of the doors is shown from *outside the car* instead on inside with Beth).

I wonder if anyone in that 1960s audience didn’t get the sexual obsession that ultra religious Frietag had for Larry. The show kind of plays it up as Frietag seeing Larry’s interest in women as “sinning” but there’s a real sexual undercurrent in there. Frietag is the sinner, but instead of dealing with his own issues lashes out at the innocent people who stir up those issues within him. Freud 101. In fact, the theme in this episode seems to be about hypocrisy: Frietag is the ultra religious man who uses his beliefs to cover his killing, Beth’s Mother is the society woman who would rather ignore her daughter’s almost murder to avoid a scandal, and Archer’s boss would rather pretend there is no serial killer than scare away tourists. The characters who go against the hypocrisy: Sheriff Archer, Beth’s Uncle, etc show us the other side.



It’s always interesting to read books or watch movies and TV shows from a different era, because we can see how much times have changed. When this was made (1960) being overly religious and sharing your religious beliefs with strangers was seen as odd... maybe even crazy. Today we see what was overly religious as just being religious. The traits that make Frietag a zealot in this episode are considered “normal” today. Strange how the “good old days” are very different than we imagine them to be. You watch an old show like this and see how people in 1960 reacted to things, or read a book from the 1940s where housewives and highschool students are smoking pot, or go back to when cocaine was the ingredient that gave Coca Cola its name... and today’s world seems *ultra* conservative. Except, it isn’t really conservative if it is different than “the good old days” is it?

This is another episode on the right track. Even though the trapped in the car scene and the stair climb and the mountain watcher scenes were not the best they could be, they were suspense scenes and this really was a thriller!

Bill

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cheerleading

From 2009...

Saturday I played hooky and rode my bike to the Laurel Canyon bus, went over the hill into Hollywood and then rode to a theater where my friend Danny’s film was playing at MockFest. It was either watch a movie or work on this troublesome scene... and watching a movie won. Danny is a member of the SoCal Film Group, which is comprised of a bunch of people I know from a screenwriting message board who just decided to make their own movies. They pooled their resources and labor and, well, it’s some kind of communism I’m sure. They work on each other’s films and use each other’s equipment. HUAC should be notified of their activities. Their short films play in festivals all over the world and often win awards. They had a film play on USA Network’s Halloween show. And their entries are usually picked every year at MockFest. A couple of years ago the film was CHILDREN OF SCUM, which I played a pivotal role in... and was cut. This year the film showing was TOSSERS about Gay Frisbee dancers. MockFest is all about mockumentaries, and SCUM was the DVD behind the scenes extra doc for a film that doesn’t exist. TOSSERS is a doc about the art of Frisbee dancing - think ice dancing without the ice and with Frisbees.

A couple of years ago MockFest was at a cinema in Beverly Hills, this year it was at a stage theater modeled after the Old Globe, with built in digital projector and sound system... in West Hollywood. Now, for those of you out of town, West Hollywood is the Gay district of Los Angeles, like the Castro in San Francisco. Though there’s a Gay nighclub down the street from where I live in the Valley, there are probably 40 Gay nightclubs in West Hollywood. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But this film is about *Gay* Frisbee dancing - would that be a problem in a theater in West Hollywood? When I rode up and locked my bike, it wasn’t just a theater - it was a theater specializing in Lesbian plays. This could be interesting.

The theater *was* interesting, by the way - some old building converted into a theater, not much from the outside but inside they had worked hard to replicate the Old Globe and it was really cool. And the posters on the walls from past and present shows was interesting, too - I never knew there were so many Lesbian plays. Maybe I’ll go back and see one sometime.

Danny and a handful of people involved in the film (or friends of Danny) arrived and they tore our tickets and allowed us into the theater for this program of short mocks.

First film was a promotional film for a very perky and aggressive female real estate agent who wanted you to vote for her as Relator Of The Year. This was a hundred times funnier than the two episodes of PARKS & RECREATION I have seen - and I love Amy Pohler! I’ve been a fan since she played Andy Richter’s little sister on Conan O’Brien. But this short just kept the gags coming. The relator was trying to sell us on this beautiful neighborhood - which appeared to be an un-kept slum filled with neck high weeds instead of a lawn and graffitied houses. Then they showed a series of people who bought houses from her - listing their jobs and credit scores and anything else that was funny. And the people were, well, you wouldn’t want any of them living in your neighborhood even if you lived in that slum. Crazy! Ended with her plea to vote for her as Relator Of The Year... short and sweet.

There were no protestors for TOSSERS, and the film was funny and didn’t make fun of Gay people... it made fun of just about everyone and everything else. There was archival footage of the founder of Frisbee dancing, an interview with the man running the annual competition and organization, and footage of two pairs of dancers as they prepare for the big competition. The male pair consisted of a full of himself artist who works in shopping carts and his boyfriend who believes he’s a werewolf... though he has yet to go through the transformation. The female pair are extreme vegans, one is a folk singer and the other... secretly wants to eat meat. And many complications ensue. I laughed a lot, but he strange thing is that by the end the film becomes a love story that is actually emotional.

The next film was about a couple that break up and then she hops a train at Union station and he follows - and they argue on the train. This was not a mockumentary. The two actors, playing the fighting couple, were on a real train full of real people and the film was about their interactions with the passengers. Now, this could have been a BORAT kind of film with the couple becoming more and more outrageous... but it didn’t go that way. Instead it was realistic and the reactions were realistically uncomfortable and watching it made you feel uncomfortable for the real passengers who were feeling uncomfortable around the bickering couple. And the film was seemingly endless it was a cross-country train journey - I wouldn’t know if it *ever* ended because after half the audience snuck out I followed them when we got the "Day Two" title card (after it had already seemed like a week). Eventually everyone from the TOSSERS group was in the lobby, and we decided to get a drink. Or five.

I like promoting my friend’s projects. That’s what a friend does.

Last week I had dinner with a friend of mine who works at a studio with a Christian specialty division and mentioned that I have two other friends who made a Christian film that is looking for distribution. I haven’t seen this film, but I know these guys and I’m going to support their film. It helps that the film has won at a festival and has some great reviews. The filmmakers are smart guys and I hope the studio picks it up.

I like helping my friends. I’m much better at pitching someone else’s projects than my own. I feel like I’m bragging if I tell someone about my projects, so I either say nothing about them or soft-pedal them. But someone else’s project I can pitch like crazy.

But sometimes cheerleading a friend’s project or a friend can backfire. A decade ago when I was getting three films made every year, I had a friend who would do anything to break in. I’d read one of his scripts and it was pretty good, so when a producer I had worked for in the past was looking for someone to write a script (and I was booked on another script) I did my best cheerleading job to promote my friend as the writer. He got the job... then proceeded to blow through the deadline without getting anything written. He had written a pretty good script, but I guess it took him forever to write it. Or maybe he just choked. Whatever the reason, I’d gone out of my way to tell this producer what a great writer my friend was... only to have my friend drop the bal and cause a major problem for the producer... who now hated me.

And when another friend did a terrible job of promoting his film, I jumped in and pushed the hell out of it for him, sight unseen. Well, that film ended up finding a distrib, and gets solid one star ratings on IMDB - most people saying it is the worst film they have ever seen. If you were to ask me point blank whether I thought that film was any good while I was talking it up, I would not have lied to you - I worried that it sucked. But it was my friend’s film! I was caught between being the supportive friend and being honest. And, I had never actually seen the film, so maybe it *was* good. Plus, there are plenty of bad films out there - and the publicity departments at the studios still promote them as brilliant. I’ve even seen Oscar campaigns in the trades for movies that just plain sucked.

And there are millions of times where I am saying encouraging things to friends when what I really want to say is: Your script sucks, get a day job now! You want to be honest, but at the same time the guy’s your friend. You give some constructive suggestions, but the guy doesn’t listen. I have one friend who gets the same constructive suggestions from all of his friends and completely brutal comments from everyone else... and doesn’t change his script. Oh, and always says that his friends “get him” and others don’t seem to. I think we all want to tell him that his script sucks - I don’t mean this script needs some work, it *completely* sucks. But how do you tell the guy? He won’t take it well. Some people take criticism well, this guy doesn’t take it well at all.

I have other friends who are on the wrong path in their writing and are about to hit a big brick wall. I think about telling them about the approaching wall, but I’m not sure they would believe me. I slammed into it, everybody else I know slammed into it, but they think they will be different. So I just continue to encourage them as I put my hand over my eyes to avoid witnessing the big car wreck that I know is coming. After they hit the wall, they will have learned and I will be there to encourage them when they head in the *correct* direction.

And I can't tell you how many screenings of friends films I've been to where they asked me what I thought afterwards, and I had to find something good about the movie that I could talk about... "Great cinematography! How did you get that shot where..."

I can never figure out what’s the right thing to do - be honest or support my friends?

It’s so much easier when it’s something like Danny’s movie, that is actually funny... and won Best Director Award at Mockfest! Or even my friends with the Christian movie that has also won awards and got good reviews. Then I can be honest and cheerlead at the same time.

Somewhere out there, the friend of the guy with the endless train movie is telling people about that film and trying to make it sound interesting.

2018 PS: My friend Danny passed away a couple of years ago, so this is kind of a sad post now.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Take Us Someplace Cool & STAR TREK.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: DARK PASSAGE

Dark Passage (1947)

Directed by: Delmer Daves.
Written by: Delmer Daves based on the novel by David Goodis.
Starring: Bogart, Bacall, Bennett, Moorehead.


DARK PASSAGE is a great film, even though I did not own it on DVD until after seeing it on the big screen again a few years ago. David Goodis is one of those great Noir writers, darker than dark. His stories are bleak and contain all of those D Words that make Noir fiction a genre: Darkness, Despair, Doom, Destiny, and Dead ends. Now (2014) I'm getting ready to rewatch a couple of other films based on his books, MOON IN THE GUTTER and NIGHTFALL and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER.



The house lights go down, and some great Franz Waxman music begins (it is a week later, and I still can not get that music out of my head!) And the WB shield appears on the screen. I love Warner Bros movies - they were gritty when other films were glossy. Even their big Busby Berkeley musicals were about some broke composer and some out of work chorus girl who team up and put on a hit show that saves some theater.

DARK PASSAGE - based on a novel by the amazing Dave Goodis, produced by Jerry Wald (ex-screenwriter - back then they promoted *writers* to producer jobs and studio head of production), written and directed by Delmer Daves (DESTINATION TOKYO), starring Bogart & Bacall and Agnes Moorehead and lots of Warner Bros bit players.



The film opens with escape from San Quentin that is shot POV from the lead character (Bogart) - we never see him... just what he sees. Though the first 65 minutes of the film are from the lead character’‘s POV, and we don’t see Bogart’s face for that entire time, it isn’t 100% POV - it’s a combo of shots of POV and wide and long shots. So the film actually opens with a shot of a garbage truck filled with garbage cans leaving San Quentin Prison... then a pair of hands come out of a garbage can, and they rock it off the back of the truck. POV from inside the can as it rolls down the hill, then a great shot from *inside* the can as the prisoner crawls out, gets his footing, and escapes...

From there on it’s POV from the prisoner - as he ditches his prison shirt, hides from a dozen police on motorcycles looking for him, etc. He *hops a fence* to the road to hitch a ride - amazing stuff. Can you imagine trying to hoist one of those huge old 35mm cameras over the fence with some actor’s arms in your way (as the prisoner’s arms).

He gets picked up by a grifter... and they hear the radio report about the escaped convict! Great POV shot from our convict hero Vince Parry (voiced by Bogart) as the grifter hears the convict’s description and looks up and down at *us* - type of shoes, color of eyes, hair, etc. *We* punch the grifter and escape... and then we are picked up by Bacall, who has some connection to the convict... but what?



Bacall lets him hide out at her place, furnishes him with new clothes, and takes care of him... why? She won’t tell him. Vince was convicted of murdering his wife, has always claimed he was innocent, was convicted to life in prison, and now the only way to have a normal life is to find the real killer before the police catch up with him for escaping San Quentin. But how can he do that with his face on the cover of every newspaper?

Vince gets some back alley plastic surgery in some really dirty tenement where the doctor had his license yanked years ago... very similar to the scene in MINORITY REPORT. The doctor is this crazy guy, who tells him that a botched surgery could make him look like a bulldog... or worse. Does Vince have a place to stay? He’s not supposed to move for a while after the surgery, and needs someone who will take care of him. Well, Vince has already contacted his oldest friend who always believed he was innocent, who will take care of him after the surgery.

But when Vince is dropped off there after the surgery he finds his friend murdered - whoever actually killed Vince’s wife is getting rid of anyone who Vince can go to for help. So Vince has no choice but to *walk* across San Francisco right after surgery - climbing endless flights of stairs (those ones under Coit Tower) to Bacall’s apartment building. She takes him in again....



Okay - 65 minutes into the film, the bandages come off and we see the movie star's face for the very first time. Imagine doing that in a modern film. For half the film we do not see the star's face! While Bacall is slowly taking off the bandages there is this fear that he will look like a bulldog... or worse. But he looks just like Humphrey Bogart! After he looks in the mirror, we ditch the POV stuff and the last half of the movie is a Bogart & Bacall crime film.

I had mis-remembered the film (or maybe this is what happened in the book, which I read about a decade ago) - but I thought after he got the plastic surgery he re-enters his old life with his new face and gets to question all of his old friends about himself and see himself from their POV... and gets to hear what people really think about him. Though that’s touched on in a scene of the film, it really isn’t explored much because the last half of the story picks up speed and is action-action-twist-action! Relentless pacing, and some *savage* plot twists!



Bogart finds the one guy who can prove he's innocent, the guy fights him, the guy goes off a cliff and splats. No way to prove himself innocent! I'm not going to spoil the film with all of the other characters who die - but some *shocking* unexpected deaths in this film. Everyone who can help him prove that he didn’t kill his wife ends up dead. So not only do we not see the movie star’s face for the first 65 minutes, the film manages to kill off people that usually do not get killed off in a film like this. Lots of “you can’t do that in a movie!” scenes.

The film still works - is clever and has shocking twists and a great Franz Waxman score and really well done suspense scenes (one is almost a French Farce - with everyone wanting to go into the room where Bogart is hiding) - and fantastic San Francisco location work. Though San Francisco stuff was probably 2nd unit - the film feels like it was all shot there. You get a real feel for the city, and the film uses some interesting locations that you wouldn’t see in a film that just used the tourist locations.

A little side note on the novelist, David Goodis - in print he was the king of downer noir. A few months ago I read his “lost” novel THE WOUNDED AND THE SLAIN about a drunk and his wife on holiday in some Caribbean country... and while the husband is drinking and whoring, his wife starts screwing some other dude... and then everybody dies. He’s best known for DARK PASSAGE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER (filmed by Truffaut) and NIGHTFALL (made into another great noir film) and STREET OF NO RETURN and MOON IN THE GUTTER and CASSIDY’S GIRL and THE BURGLAR (which was made into the film THE BURGLARS which I featured some great stunt clips from in the blog entry “I Do My Own Stunts”). As a writer, he was famous for his crazy practical jokes - he would fall down stairs at movie studios and fake nose bleeds and do all kinds of things that seemed to upset studio folks. He was a loose canon in a fun way.



He also is famous for probably being the creator of THE FUGITIVE TV series... After the show aired, he sued that the show was swiped from DARK PASSAGE - the escaped man sentenced for murder who is searching for the real killer. By the time the lawsuit got to court, Goodis was dead and so were all of his relatives... and they settled with the lawyer for the estate for $12k! Stall long enough and everyone is dead and the people left standing don’t really care!

DARK PASSAGE is a darned good film, and if you have ever walked with me through an underground parking garage with one of those overhead signs that tells you the head clearance, you know Goodis is a major influence on my practical joking. Whack! Ouch, my head!

DARK PASSAGE is available once more on DVD thanks to Warner Archive (link below, click on the DVD box).

Bill




Thursday, July 19, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Cheaters

The Cheaters

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



Season: 1, Episode: 15.
Airdate: Dec. 27, 1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Robert (PSYCHO) Bloch.
Cast: Henry Daniel, Mildred Dunnock, Harry Townes, Jack Weston, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith takes over from Rugolo.
Cinematography: John Russell from PSYCHO.
Producer: William Frye and Maxwell Shane.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “When a man shuts himself off from his neighbors, when he conducts mysterious experiments behind locked doors, there’s bound to be talk. There were those who whispered that Dirk Van Prinn was a sorcerer, and worse. He might never have been remembered at all, had he not his research lead him to the discovery of a most unusual formula for making glass. Dirk Van Prinn hanged himself before dawn. His story might have ended there if he’s had the courage to smash those spectacles. But like many another scientist he could not bare to destroy his own creation. Too bad, because years later others tried them on. In The Cheaters, our story for tonight, a junk man named Joe Henshaw played by Mr. Paul Newlan, a little old fashioned lady named Miriam Olcott played by Miss Mildred Dunnock, her nephew Edward Dean played by Mr. Jack Weston, and finally a man who discovered the real purpose of the spectacles Sebastian Grimm, played by Mr. Harry Townes. What they saw through those yellow gold lenses they never forgot. And neither will you my friends, because as sure is my name’s Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller.”



Synopsis: Two hundred years ago, inventor Dirk Van Prinn creates a special type of glass after many failed experiments, and fashions a pair of glasses. These are not rose colored glasses, kind of the opposite. When Van Prinn looks in the mirror while wearing the glasses, what he sees drives him mad and makes him kill himself.

200 years and a commercial break later, junk man Joe Henshaw (Paul Newlan, who was also in the Big Blackout episode) has paid $100 for the contents of the long abandoned house where some crazy inventor used to live. It’s kind of like the sixties version of STORAGE WARS. His wife Maggie (Linda Walkins) and partner Charlie (Ed Nelson, who is almost as many episodes as Karloff) think he was crazy to pay that much! $100? What if there’s nothing inside?

Henshaw and Charlie go to the spooky old house and poke around inside... nothing worth anything in here. Henshaw climbs upstairs to Van Prinn’s laboratory... where the door is locked. Must be something good inside? They break open the door, and all of the lab equipment has already been taken away. There are shelves of books... which turn to dust when you open them. An old desk may be worth something... but the wood is rotted. The only thing Henshaw can find is a pair of glasses hidden in the desk... and he could use a pair of glasses.



When Henshaw gets home, Maggie is all dolled up and has an impressive meal laid out. What’s the occasion? It was Henshaw’s birthday a few weeks back and they never celebrated. Charlie comes over with some booze and it’s a party. But when Henshaw puts on the glasses he found in the old house, he can *hear* what Charlie and Maggie are thinking... he can see the truth. Maggie has been cheating on him with Charlie and they plan to kill him and take over the business. He pulls off the glasses, and they’re both just having a normal conversation. He notices a word etched in the old fashioned frames: Veritas... “truth” in Latin. When he puts the glasses back on, they’re planning his murder so that he can be together... get him drunk enough and... Henshaw takes off the glasses and walks outside to his junk yard, finds a crow bar, comes back inside and kills them both. A policeman (John Mitchum, Robert’s brother) hears the screams and arrests Henshaw.

A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Miriam Olcott (Mildred Dunnock) is an old woman confined to her bed and her room by her nephew Edward Dean (Jack Weston) and his wife Olive (Barbara Eiler). She wants to go out, but Olive says she should just take a nap. But Miriam sneaks out of the house and goes on an adventure. She goes wandering through the town, stopping in stores to look at things. She eventually ends up walking past Henshaw’s place, where some other junk dealer has bought the contents and is hauling it away. She spots a pair of antique glasses and buys them for a quarter from the junk dealer. Shopping excursion over, she heads back home...



Where Edward and Olive are waiting for her, worried. The reason why she must stay in her room is because if she wanders off she may just get lost and forget where she lives. Miriam says she was out shopping and tries on the glasses... and hears what they are really thinking. That’s she probably stole the glasses, she’s a senile old problem and they only reason they take care of her is that she’s worth a fortune and when she dies they inherit... except they hoped that she would already be dead by now. What’s keeping her so long? She takes off the glasses, shocked, and they tell her that her doctor is on his way, and Edward and Olive are heading out for the night.

When the doctor arrives, Miriam tries to tell him her nephew and his wife want to kill her, but the kindly doctor just believes it’s dementia and tries to calm her. He goes downstairs to get some brandy to calm her, returns and pours her a glass. Miriam puts on the glasses and discovers that her kindly doctor is in on the murder plot, and plans to get her drunk and push her down the stairs tonight while Nephew and Wife are out tonight establishing an alibi. She grabs a knitting needle, and when the doctor brings her the glass of brandy, stabs him to death.



A couple of years later and after the commercial break, Edward and Olive have inherited all of that money and are attempting some social climbing with their new found wealth. They have a costume party at their house and have invited all of the wealthy important people in town, including a judge and a semi famous writer, Sebastian Grimm (even though he’s a prick). Edward dressed as Benjamin Franklin, hoping to impress everyone, but Grimm (Harry Townes) does nothing but ridicule him because everyone knows Franklin wore spectacles.

The men go into the parlour to play poker, and Edward is trying to impress them with large bets... and losing money to everyone. Olive brings in some muchies... and Aunt Miriam’s antique glasses. Edward puts them on, and really looks like Ben Franklin! Even Grimm says those antique glasses make him look perfect. Edward is happy for a moment, until he hears what the other men are really thinking... they want to keep playing so they can take away all of Edward’s money that they don’t think he deserves. One of the players is cheating, and has hidden a pair of aces under his arm. Edward can’t believe these guys are cheating at cards, and calls the guy on it. The guy manages to make the accusation backfire on Edward... and make him look like a sore loser who is making false charges. This turns into a fistfight between the two men, and Edwards gets punched in the face, falls over and hits his head... dying.

Grimm scoops up the glasses...



A few months and a commercial break later, Grimm tells his wife Ellen (Joan Tompkins) that he has been researching the glasses and has discovered all of the past deaths, starting with Van Prinn’s suicide, and believes these glasses show anyone who wears them the truth. But he has not put them on because he believes the glasses were invented not to learn the truth of what others think of you... but the truth about yourself. Grimm has written a new book about the glasses, except for the last chapter. The last chapter will come after he learns the truth about himself.

He goes to Van Prinn’s spooky old house, climbs the dark staircase to his laboratory, sits in front of the same mirror where Van Prinn put on the glasses... and puts the glasses on and looks in the mirror. And sees the truth about himself. And screams and goes mad, ripping nis face off with his bare hands. And just before the fade out, he drops the glasses and crushes them beneath his shoe. Then probably hangs himself.



Review: Now that’s more like it. A nice little Weird Tales type story about how dangerous the truth can be, written by the dude who wrote PSYCHO. I’ve read this story (and most of Bloch’s stuff) and it’s interesting how an episodic short story is a perfect match for a TV show with commercials. Each segment ends at the commercial, so we begin the new segment with different characters. This makes up for those early episodes with glacial slow pacing. Though the show is still kind of blandly directed, it moves quickly, has a cornucopia of stars, and wit (from Bloch’s story... that guy was a sick comedian who wrote lines like this one from PSYCHO. “It was the face of a crazy old woman. Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher’s knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream... And her head.”). The puns on “cheaters”, from the reading glasses to the cheating card players and couple elevate the story.

My bland direction comment is mostly about the scenes in the spooky old house, where production design did a great job of hanging cobwebs and covering everything with a believable 200 year old layer of dust, but the shots end up bland angles so the all of the spooky stuff goes to waste. The Brahm and Sanford team did well with PREDICTION and WATCHER, so maybe there was a time crunch with this episode? It is 4 stories with 4 casts and that might have lead to the pedestrian haunted house stuff. The cast has fun with their roles, especially Weston, who is a comic actor playing a petty social climber and manages to give a nuanced performance. Mildred Dunnock also has fun playing a possibly senile old woman who turns into a sly killer. Townes and Daniel are always great, and here both play their roles to the hilt.

One of the nice touches is how they create “glasses vision” so that the audience knows we are hearing the thoughts of the characters rather than what they are saying. The lighting scheme is changed, with the lights low and angled up, creating a spooky look. This way they can cut from a shot in “glasses vision” of people speaking to a shot normal lighting and we know that now we are hearing what they are actually saying.



One of the things that doesn’t work as well is having the lines they are saying when we are hearing what they are thinking replicate the lines they are actually speaking... just with a few different words. This is a great concept, but in practice we end up hearing most of the same words twice in a row. They might have been able to make this work with some better dialogue editing, but they may have been afraid the audience might have become confused.

The December 27th airdate makes it almost a Christmas episode!

A good episode, and next week another Bloch based episode that features a dozen mirrors... and Shatner! Can he stop himself from looking into all of those mirrors?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

California Scheming

From exactly 8 years ago...

I’m sitting in a fast food place writing this, and there’s a funny slogan on the soda cup. Somebody wrote that.

Mystery writer Ron Goulart wrote a private eye series in the 70s and 80s and also wrote just about anything else that would help pay the rent - you’ve probably read some of his work because he wrote puzzles and games and stories for the back of cereal boxes. He also wrote the best non-fiction study of the golden age of the pulp magazines.

As writers, we often only see the markets we want to see - and disregard the rest... to paraphrase Simon & Garfunkle. We often miss the niche markets... and even overlook some non-niche markets that may not have any obvious appeal to us. “Who wants to write ____?”

Well, a friend of mine is in a meeting right now with a producer, involving a scheme that I am a part of, and if everything goes okay he will sell his first screenplay and I will eventually tell you all about it. There are also some lessons to be learned about working in under-served genres and ideas that you may think are dumb and opening your eyes to possibilities that are so obvious that you do not see them.

My friend was looking for producers to sell his scripts to and happened upon a producer who was not interested in his wheelhouse genres... and did a very smart thing. He asked what they were interested in. Now, most people don’t do this - I don’t do this. I take the rejection and move on. But my friend asked a simple question. And got an interesting answer. He discovered this producer was looking for a specific niche genre that is popular but no one seems to want to write it. This is kind of strange, but not unheard of. On message boards there are often people who are excited by some cool, sexy genre, but don’t even consider some fairly popular niche genre because it sounds boring. People who want to write some popular genre always go for the cool ones... and often don’t care much about the “meat and potatoes” genres. Well, this producer makes some of those boring genre films, and is looking for scripts.

My friend had never considered this genre. It had never crossed his mind. Now, this is where most writers who ask that “Well, what *are* you looking for?” question get the answer and think, “Well, I don’t write that” and walk away. But my friend thought about the genre - it’s not porn, it’s nothing with some major stigma... it’s just kind of dull. This is not the genre that people sell million dollar scripts in. This is not the genre that wins Oscars. And this particular producer is making direct to DVD movies (for budgets in the millions with actual names in the cast) so it’s not going to play film fests and win you awards. It’s a pay check on a film that will be on the shelves at Blockbusters (well, until they close them all down). Meat and potatoes stuff. He could write that - and sell the script to this producer - and get his first credit - and use it as a stepping stone to some other work. My friend came up with a great story, wrote up a treatment, and set up a meeting with this producer - using his script in his favorite genre to get the door open.

Well, my friend called me yesterday, and told me about his scheme. The scheme on top of writing the film not his his favorite genre. See, this producer makes a handful of films a year in this genre, and my friend plans on pitching them not just his story... but one of mine... and our writing services for future projects. The producer needs a half dozen scripts a year, why not provide 4 of them between the two of us? Would I be interetsed in this? I thought about it, and said "Why not?" Hey, I can quit at any time, and though I currently have work - well, that's the best time to look for more work. This is a business with no visible means of support - sell a script, do the rewrites... and you are now unemployed! The weird thing is, even though I have never considered this niche genre, I instantly came up with some ideas for stories I would want to write. If someone says: "Lesbian Love Story" to me, my mind instantly comes up with lesbian love story ideas. Hey, how about a lesbian version of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN with a strong love story element? Anyway, it's not lesbian love stories...

So far, none of this seems very schemish, right? But here’s where his idea rocks... He is pitching them on the idea of developing some film franchises - and producers love franchises because when one hits, they can just keep making them... with the last film as the advertisement for the next film. Hey, maybe we even put them in numbered DVD boxes? The films all have non-number titles, but the packaging encourages consumers to collect them all. The great thing about franchises from a writer's perspective is that you are creating future work for yourself (though this did not work for me on INVISIBLE MOM as my sequel idea was for top secret gov't scientist dad to invent a time machine and the kid plays with it and gets sent back to the 1860s Wild West, and mom has to go back and rescue him - GUNSLINGER MOM - but the producer wanted mom to just be invisible again... so they hired some other writer... and I didn't write *any* of the 4 sequels!).

Now, the next element of his scheme is also genius - one of the problems with this niche genre is that it is kind of old fashioned - it has been around forever in print fiction. Old fashioned is often thought of as a bad thing, especially if you are writing something cool. But old fashioned also means the genre has a long history... and that means public domain. Expired copyrights. My friend has found some public domain material in this genre with “brand name characters” - famous fictional characters. You’ve heard of them. The problem every low budget film company has is how to publicize their films - how do you make sure that people pick up YOUR DVD rather than the other company’s DVD when in that soon-to-be-closing Blockbuster? Well, a familiar title or famous character name is a great way to do that. Once those Blockbusters are closed and it’s all NetFlix, brand names may become even more important. But what amazed me is that no one else had exploited these characters, whose names you would instantly recognize. Maybe someone has written a script about them and I don’t know about it... but I doubt there are many floating around... and most are probably written as big budget projects. Though this is a popular niche, it’s not popular enough for some huge Hollywood tentpole. It’s a *niche*. So using this public domain material is a great idea, only if you look at the size of the audience for a film like this.

My contribution - nothing major - is the idea of doing *new* sequels to famous public domain titles in this under-served genre. Hey, if we can have Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, why can’t we take some other public domain book and give the protagonist some further adventures? I came up with some ideas and gave them to him. These were off the top of my head, and sounded like things that would be fun to write... even though they aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse, either. But I’ve always wondered what happened to that character after the famous story ended... You know, all of this stuff isn’t earthshattering - but a way to harvest some basic “mental real estate” the same way Hollywood is making TRANSFORMERS and MONOPOLY and remaking every film you ever saw in the 1980s. Taking that brand name character and finding new adventures in their lives.

Back when Spielberg had just signed to make JURASSIC PARK, I was at AFM trying to sell a producer, any producer, on making A.C. Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD - a novel in public domain with dinosaurs. I even knew a guy with some great stop-motion dinosaur footage. Every single producer said no - they had never heard of the book and one producer told me the best they could do was some sort of campy knock off of the Spielberg movie... which confused me. Why was that the best we could do? Well, all of this was before JURASSIC came out... after, many of those same producers discovered that THE LOST WORLD was in public domain and made their versions of it. We had a half dozen LOST WORLDS, plus a TV series. (More of my bad timing, I guess - should have come back *after* JURASSIC came out and pitched the same exact project.)

Though it’s probably too late by now, all of those crappy video games we played when computers first came out could probably be sold as movies these days.

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog entry - a friend of mine and I have a game where we come up with the *dumbest* idea for a movie we can think of... then count the days until someone sells a script with that same dumb idea. Do you see the problem with this game? We had the same dumb idea, but we aren’t making low-six figure against $1.2 million like the guys who wrote the scripts. We would *joke* about BATTLESHIP: THE MOTION PICTURE... and now they are making it. Hey, I’ve joked about SLINKY: THE MOTION PICTURE... maybe I should actually be developing a pitch for that? The thing is, we all have some form of tunnel vision - we see where we want to go, but don’t see all of the other cool places we *could* go. My friend asked a question, opened his eyes, and realized that there was a producer who was looking for material... and figured out the very best material to sell that producer. Any of us could have done the same thing... but we did not.

Another friend, Steve, realized that there is a minority (that he is not a part of) who are under-served by Hollywood... and the scripts out there written by the minority seem to mostly be about them struggling as a minority - not genre stuff. So Steve has decided to write some genre stuff for this minority and discovered producers are really interested. Seems the ticket buyers in this minority already know what it is like to struggle, and want to escape the struggle by seeing some cool genre movie where they get to have fun - like middle class white people in movies do. They need escapism, too - but the minority writers are all writing serious stuff. Personally, I would have never considered writing for a group that I am not a part of... and that was Steve’s genius - he found a need and filled it, even if he seems like the wrong guy to do that. They were looking for *scripts* and he’s a screenwriter.

If my friend’s scheme comes through, I may have a strange side job writing films in a niche genre that isn’t the least bit sexy or cool... but I can quit when it stops being fun, and I can those paychecks to finance some time to write more specs (where things *do* explode) that I can sell for lots-o-money or snag an agent or use as writing samples for the next next-next Tom Clancy film. Funny thing about this niche genre - for all I know it’s some big name producer’s favorite genre. By doing the thing not in my wheelhouse, I might be opening the door to sell some spec script that is in my wheelhouse. And if noting happens from all of this? Hey, both of us are back where we started... but maybe my friend sells *his* project to the producer. That would be cool.

Lesson learned - keep your eyes open for *all* possibilities. Not just the ones that seem on the direct route to your career destination. When someone is looking for something in a strange genre, don’t automatically think “I don’t write in that genre”, think “Hey, they need a script, I could write one for them!” When something sounds silly, stop and look at it again - maybe it’s a genius idea? And find some schemes for yourself - some unusual ways into the business.

What’s your scheme?

What's your *clever* plan to sell a script or two?

UPDATE: Well, it's 2015 and this didn't happen. Can I tell you what the problem was? My friend wrote a treatment that had one foot in the under served genre... and the rest of its body in his favorite genre. It was as if I were to write a family film and it was full of car chases and shoot outs and explosions... The worst thing is, when he told me what he was going to pitch I said that he needed to focus it on the genre they were looking for and he said that was exactly what he was going to do. But that's not what he did. The pisser for me is that I actually came up with stuff that *actually* fit what they were looking for. Not that this was my scheme, I didn't really care that much (and was actually a bit concerned that I might be stuck writing their whole damned slate of films when my friend found some way to screw up... that happened to me once before... which is why I don't cowrite with *anyone*). But it seemed like a missed opportunity. I think the lesson here is that once you see the possibility, commit!!!! Get both feet and the rest of your body into that genre and write the absolute best screenplay in *that genre*. Don't think of it as a scheme, but as a serious shot at something. Not something you're gonna hack out to make some money. Always do your absolute best work and make sure that you deliver the screenplay that is *better* than what they expected.

- Bill

Friday, July 13, 2018

On The Red Carpet With Jason Voorhees

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



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

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

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

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

Friday The 13th Red Carpet.

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



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

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

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



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

Four problems (for me at least):

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

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



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

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

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

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

Plot, by the way, makes no sense.

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

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

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

- Bill


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