Friday, August 31, 2018

Hitchcock: The Kuleshov Bikini & MARNIE

There is a musical version of MARNIE? MARNIE THE MUSICAL - Review!

Originally I was going to rerun the MARNIE entry with some rewriting to both expand the entry and focus on the similarities to the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY trilogy to celebrate the musical, but you'll have to look at Hitch explaining Kuleshov using a babe in a bikini instead of a bowl of soup.

Hitchcock explaining the Kuleshov Experiment using a hot babe in a bikini:





But here is the rape/sex/honeymoon night scene from MARNIE to prepare you for the last FIFTY SHADES movie, which hit video a couple of months ago....



NOTE: When Mark and Marnie are in the outer room, check out the specific shots and how they tell the story. We begin with Mark at eye level as he looks at Marnie's shadow moving around in the bedroom. By showing Mark looking and then showing what Mark is looking at, we *become* Mark at this point.

But when Marnie enters the room, Mark is shown from a slightly low angle, making him superior to the audience... he becomes powerful (while sitting down and not really moving). He has become dominant... while Marnie is shown from a distance, making her distant and unattainable. Every *angle* and *movement* of the camera is part of telling the story the way words are when writing a screenplay. This is basic cinematic language, but something that some directors don't seem to speak these days.

Boning up?

Once Mark goes into the bedroom, we get a great shot with Mark on one side of the frame and Marnie on the other, separated from each other. They have a verbal battle, and at this point they seem to be evenly matched (according to the shot). But then the shot *moves* in on Mark's face. When a shot gets closer to the subject, they become more important... more powerful. So this shot begins with two evenly matched people on opposite sides of some issue and then turns one into the more powerful (and aggressive) one. That's where it gets all FIFTY SHADES OF GREY...

We get some shocking implied nudity... and Marnie seems to go catatonic. When Mark puts his coat around her, we get an interesting combination of shots: Mark and Marnie from an overhead (Mark is powerless to make her respond to his kisses) to a low angle (he's going to *take* the power) and that's when we get...

That great shot where Marnie seems to float into bed. This shot would be replicated by the Coen Brothers in BLOOD SIMPLE.

If you are going to direct, you have to speak the language!

And here is Sean Connery discussing working with Hitch on MARNIE...



And here's Hitch discussing MARINE...



- Bill




Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flashback: Set Crashing

My buddy Van Tassell and I hung out a week ago after seeing the movie FORBIDDEN POWER at a film festival in Las Vegas. I think Van is my oldest friend - I've known him since I was 18, and when I go home for the holidays we grab beers and see movies.

Whenever anyone filmed a movie in the San Francisco Bay Area, Van and I snuck on the set. Growing up in the East Bay Area - halfway between Oakland and Stockton - San Francisco always seemed like some far off place you only went to on special school field trips or when you went to the zoo on your birthday. Actually, we usually went to the Oakland Zoo on my birthday. I saw San Francisco more in movies than in real life.

So when I started making my own movies on 8mm and Super-8mm, my buddy Van Tassell and I began driving into the city and sneaking onto movie sets... to watch the pros at work.

Van installs carpets for a living (any out of work film guys could always find a job tearing up jute padding and carrying heavy rolls of carpet for Van) and his carpet tool pouch looks EXACTLY like a film grip's tool pouch. This was part of the plan to sneak onto movie sets - look like someone who belongs. So we would dress like grips, filling the tool pouch with film tools.

I subscribed to Weekly Variety, and they printed the films in production. Whenever anything was shooting in San Francisco (a popular location) we'd take a few days off from our day jobs to crash the set. To find out where they were filming I'd call the city permit office and pretend to be somebody from a newspaper covering the film or a caterer who forgot where to send the food truck. They'd tell me where the permit was issued for, but usually it was a vague answer like "They're shooting in the Marina District today" - maybe they didn't believe my story?

So Van and I would pile in his red Bronco - it was used as a picture vehicle in Paul's movie WEAPONS OF DEATH.... the hero's truck - and just drive around the Marina District until we spotted two dozen huge trucks. Then we'd just follow the cables to the set. The key was to be cool and blend in. We looked like grips, but we also had to ACT like grips. A couple of times someone would actually ask us to do something, and we always did it. I actually carried a 9-K light from the truck to where they were shooting on one set.

Van and I became pros at blending in, and we crashed a bunch of sets. Mel Brooks filmed HIGH ANXIETY in San Francisco, and we were there. Don Siegel shot TELEFON and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and we were there. But the best story is when they shot the James Bond movie VIEW TO A KILL. We didn't know it would become the worst James Bond movie ever - we just knew that James Bond was shooting in San Francisco, so Van and I decided to go out and watch. Dressed as grips.

The day Van and I crashed the set they were doing this huge effects scene - burning down City Hall. They had rigged all of these gas explosions on the building. They had Roger Moore's stunt double on a fire truck. They'd hired a bunch of extras to run in panic and some stunt men who would actually catch on fire. It was going to be very expensive, and they could only do it once. Boy did we pick the right day to crash the set!

So, we're doing our best to look like grips - helping ourselves to doughnuts on the craft services table - when we notice these two guys hop the rope and sneak onto the set. Well, that creates a danger to us. If they start checking to see who belongs on the set and who doesn't, we'll be kicked off before they start filming. Van and I come to a dead stop in the doughnut line, causing REAL grips to complain.

These two sneak-ins are wearing warm-up suits and look WAY out of place. They're also laughing - probably a little drunk. Then they see the food and start to come over!

Oh man. They're walking right towards us. Laughing so loud, people are starting to notice them. A couple of big Security Guards hear the laughter, turn and see the two sneak-ins, and move to intercept them... Coming right at us!

Two big Security Guards.
Walking towards Van and me.
We both freeze for a minute, then one of the REAL grips tells us to stop hogging the doughnuts. So we try to move away from the craft services table, but that means moving TOWARDS the two sneak-ins... and those two big Security Guards.

Shit! No choice!
Van and I play it really cool and move away from the table, pretending to be REALLY interested in the sprinkles on our doughnuts. The two sneak-ins brush past us on the way to the food. One of the Security Guards says, "Hey! You two!" Van and I try NOT to look at them, but both of us are wondering if they're talking to us or the sneak-ins. What if the Guards know everyone on the crew and know we don't belong? Can they arrest you for crashing a set?

They two big Security Guards are coming right at us. One puts his hand on my shoulder. Busted!!!

"Excuse me," he says as he moves me aside to get to the sneak- ins. Van and I watch the sneak-ins get rousted by the two big Security Guards. They are told to leave the area... but they hang around on the sidelines.

Close call. Van and I eat our doughnuts and watch the extras get instructions on how to run in panic when City Hall explodes behind them. The extras are told they can't screw up the shot, because they are only going to do it once. Van and I watch as the FX guys turn on their remote controls and they get the Roger Moore stunt guy on top of the fire truck. "This is gonna be cool," Van whispers to me.

Everyone takes their places as they get ready to blow up City Hall. Lights blast on. The director whispers to the AD who yells: ACTION! They start filming. The extras walk down the street calmly. BLAM! City Hall explodes into flames! The fire truck races into the shot...

And the two sneak-ins in warm ups hop the rope, run RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA and yell "City Hall's on fire! City Hall's on fire!" Then they run away, like the rest of the extras... blending into the crowd.

Van and I have been on a dozen film sets and have always stayed in the background. Always played it cool. Always tried to blend in. We can say to friends, "Yeah, we were on the set of that James Bond movie. We watched them burn down city hall." But those two sneak-ins?

They're actually IN THE MOVIE!

- Bill

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Scene Of The Week: JAWS (bloody beach)


Buy The DVD!

The amazing thing about JAWS is that it is so well made it stands up now... and is better than most current films. In fact, compare JAWS to JURASSIC PARK (same director) and JAWS still wins. Better characters and situations and more suspense. The novel JAWS is kind of a pulpy beach read - a big chunk of it focuses on the affair between Mrs. Brody and hunky young Matt Hooper. All of that was removed for the film, and some great scenes were added. In fact, what always impresses me about JAWS is how many great scenes and memorable scenes are in the film. Just for fun, why not write a list of the great or memorable scenes you can remember. Doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have seen the movie, in fact - the longer it has been the better! If you haven’t seen the film since 1975, those scenes you can remember now made an impression.

Got your list? Well, I know which two scenes are on the top, and we’ll be looking at one of those later in the series, but now let’s look at one that is probably further down your list...  A memorable scenes.

This scene happens about 13 minutes into the film... you read that right! The movie begins with the teens on the beach, skinny dipping, shark attacking the girl. Great way to start a film! The audience knows there is a shark out there. Next we have a scene that introduces Martin Brody and his wife and kids - he’s new on the job. He was an NYPD cop, who came to Amity... and is not thrilled by the water. He’s also over protective of his kids - he warns them the swing set isn’t safe.

Next scene we have our missing girl, and the guy she was with is showing Brody where she disappeared... and then they find what is left of her. Shocking! The town’s medical examiner confirms it as “Shark Attack”. Brody asks where they keep the “Beach Closed” signs... and finds out they don’t have any.

So Brody heads down to the store to buy sign making supplies. Now, here’s the great thing - the bike shop guy wants Brody to deal with the kids at the Kung Fu class, because they keep kung fuing his fence and even his bikes. The small town problems he *thought* he was going to deal with! He gets to the store, and more small town problems are discussed as he buys the paint and brushes and signs. He tells his deputy to take the stuff back to the police station and have the *secretary* make the signs, she has better penmanship. This becomes an issue!

Then Brody gets cornered by the Mayor and City Council Members on a ferry - and is pressured to change the cause of death to “boating accident” and pressured to keep the beaches open. The Mayor gives that great little speech about how when someone yells “Barracuda!” no one cares, but when someone yells “Shark!” it creates a panic. Brody *knows* this was a shark attack, but bends under the pressure. It’s him on that ferry against a handful of others - his bosses - who press him to do what he knows is the wrong thing.

Which brings us to this scene, about 13 minutes into the film. See how fast paced this film is? But it doesn’t seem that way - we get a good introduction to Brody and his family, a feel for small town life, introduce Body’s deputy and secretary, a look at small town politics... all while dealing with the shark attack. These aren’t a bunch of quick-cut MTV scenes, these scenes are concise and do many things at once. Packed with information, and emotion...

And then we have our day at the beach...




This scene is all about Brody *knowing* that he was pressured to do the wrong thing. He’s on edge - watching the people in the water.  We get to know some minor characters - the Kitner Boy and his Mom, the Boy and his Dog, the Woman on the raft... and Bad Hat Harry (Bryan Singer’s production company!). All of these people will be players in the scene.

This scene has two great Hitchcock techniques - the “Hitchcock Wipes” where a passing person bridges the cuts so that it all flows as if it is one piece of film. This technique was used in “Rope” and “Frenzy”.  In JAWS each wipe takes us closer and closer to Brody - focusing on how intently he is watching the people in the water... worried about a shark attack. The other technique is the “Dolly/Zoom” from “Vertigo”, where the camera dollys at the exact same rate as the lens zooms to that we get an expansion or compression of the background.

One of my favorite bits is when the guy *blocks Brody’s line of sight to the water* in order to talk about red curbs or whatever mundane thing. This creates suspense and frustration for Brody’s character - and that perfectly transfers to the audience. Conflict is the key to everything, and here we have another person with a small problem getting in Brody’s way when there is a much bigger problem. The great payoff with this is the screaming girl and her boyfriend. This heightens the tension. Even though it’s a fake out, we *know* that something is going to happen for real.

Now we “make it personal” with his kids getting into the water. He’s concerned, but hold back - tries to act cool. His kids swim way out there... towards the Kitner Boy.

Now it’s Bad Hat Harry who blocks his line of sight. The conflict has *escalated* because Brody’s kids are out there... in potential danger.

Escalating the tension and building dread is the Boy unable to find his Dog. That stick he was throwing is floating in the water... but no Dog fetching it. Something is wrong.

Buy The DVD!

Did you see that? One of the great things about the shark eating the Kitner Boy is that it happens *in the background* of the shot of Brody’s kids and their friends swimming. Instead of making it obvious, the shot puts it in the background so that we aren’t quite sure what we saw. That’s more ominous than if they made it obvious. The folks on the beach aren’t sure what they are seeing, as well. That’s when we get the great “Dolly/Zoom” and Brody - knowing this is all his fault for being spineless - runs to the edge of the water and yells for everyone to get out of the water.

Here’s where we get more wonderful conflict. The parents race *into the water* to grab their kids! Into danger! Now Brody is trying to get the parents back to the shore (unsuccessfully) as well as get the kids to swim to shore. Absolute panic! Once everyone is on shore and heading away from the water, one person is walking *toward* the water - Mrs. Kitner. The scene ends just over 18 minutes into the film... with the bloody raft brushing up against the shore.

That’s not even one of the top two scenes you wrote down, which were probably “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” and Quint relating his experience on the USS Indianapolis during WW2.

What does that look like on the page?



               EXT. AMITY BEACH - DAY

               A plump jelly-bowl of a woman plunges into the ocean. There's 
               enough there to satisfy the most gluttonous shark. Buoyant, 
               joyful, she splashes away in abandon. From her, we pan off 
               to reveal other cheerful bathers enjoying that last 
               uncluttered weekend before the season starts in earnest.

               ANGLE ON THE WATERLINE

               A Man and his dog are romping at the water's edge. The Man 
               is throwing a stick out into the surf, the dog, a happy 
               retriever, is bounding into the waves after it.

               TWO YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BEACH

               A Girl and her Boyfriend leave their blanket and run for the 
               water, playing tag, chasing each other, having a wonderful 
               time.

               ANGLE ON BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SAND - MARTIN AND ELLEN BRODY

               He is sitting stiffly in a beach chair, scanning the beach 
               with careful, cautious looks, eyeballing everything that's 
               going on.

               Around their particular blanket and umbrella are a number of 
               adults and their kids, the youngsters gathered to celebrate 
               Michael's birthday. Ellen is dishing out ice cream and cake 
               from a cooler chest to the raucous 10-year-olds. Michael's 
               hand is still bandaged.

                                     MAX TAFT
                              (an adult)
                         Looks like another big season. Gets 
                         worse every year.

                                     MRS. TAFT
                         And none of them from the Island. 
                         Just a lot of bother.

               Brody (and we) hear a shrill scream from the water. He 
               stretches to look past the group, to see what's happening 
               out there.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW - THE WATER

               The young lady is disappearing under the water, pulled under 
               the waves by some force. She is shrieking. She pops right up 
               again riding the shoulders of her boyfriend, who pulled her 
               under. She's laughing hysterically. Brody is unamused.

               THE ADULTS

                                     BRODY
                              (to Taft)
                         What?

                                     TAFT
                         Present company excepted, but off-
                         islanders are a pain in the butt. 
                         Pardon my French.

               Ellen captures Sean, and holds him playfully, an example.

                                     ELLEN
                         What about this kid? What if he were 
                         born here. That make him an islander?

                                     TAFT
                         Just 'cause a cat has kittens in an 
                         oven, it don't make them muffins.

                                     SEAN
                         I'm not a muffin! I'm a boy!

               Brody rumples his hair and sets him off to play.

               ANGLE ON ANOTHER SMALL BOY, PLAYING ALONE

               It's Alex Kintner, and his mother, nearby, reading a novel.

               Alex is towing a funny rubber raft, and headed for the water.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex Kintner! Where do you 
                         think you're going?

                                     ALEX
                         Water. Just once more, please?

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Let me see your fingers --

               He holds out his hands.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         They're beginning to prune. 10 minutes 
                         more.

               Alex starts for the ocean. Behind him, Michael and his gang 
               are also heading for the inviting waves. Brody is watching 
               them go, his spine rigid with tension.

               MAN AND HIS DOG

               As Alex and the boys hit the water, we see the man throwing 
               his stick into the waves, his dog swimming strongly after 
               it.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               Out beyond the kids and the dog, the Fat Lady is bobbing 
               around, out way too far, isolated from the other swimmers.

               UNDERWATER VIEW - EXT. - DAY

               A fish's-eye view of the bathers: lots of little kicking 
               legs, rafts with tasty arms dangling in the blue, slowing 
               circling, favoring one raft (little Alex's). The Kintner 
               boy's legs and arms are kicking and paddling, producing 
               bizarre underwater vibrations of more than passing interest.  
               Dog goes by, dog-paddling along.

               ON THE BEACH

               Brody is half-rising, looking out over the water. The Fat 
               Lady is not where he remembered her. He scans the water 
               anxiously.

                                     ELLEN
                         Do you want the boys to come in? 
                         Honey, if you're worried...

               A Black Object swims across the water. It's the dog, breasting 
               against the surf.

               ANGLE ON THE WATER - BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               It's the Fat Lady, floating, relaxing. A black object swims 
               up to her. It's not the dog. It rears up out of the water.

               It's a man in a black bathing cap. They exchange distant 
               pleasantries, he strokes away.

               ANOTHER ANGLE - WATER

               Alex Kintner, paddling around, making boat sounds, tooting, 
               going "vroom, vroom."

               ANGLE ON THE BOY AND GIRL

               They kiss, embrace, kiss again. Strong stuff. They sink 
               beneath the waves, knotted in an embrace.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL BRODY AND HIS FRIENDS

               He's trying to salvage a soggy piece of birthday cake, holding 
               it above the water, paddling with his other hand. The bandage 
               has come part way loose, and his cut is trailing in the water.

               BRODY AND ELLEN ON THE BEACH

               Ellen is rubbing suntan oil on his back, and he is allowing 
               himself to relax part way. His eyes still nervously scan the 
               beach in a constant surveillance. Mr. Keisel is coming out 
               of the water, toweling off vigorously, exclaiming to himself.

                                     BRODY
                              (to Keisel)
                         How's the water?

                                     KEISEL
                         Too cold. I'm going in again Labor 
                         Day. Hope we get this weather next 
                         weekend.

                                     ELLEN
                         You're very tight, y'know?
                              (digs in)
                         Right there.

                                     BRODY
                         Ow.
                              (he sees something)
                         He's gotta be more careful in the 
                         water...

               ANGLE ON THE GANG PLAYING IN THE WATER

               Michael has just been drenched. He splashes back. A big 
               waterfight ensues, the boys splashing and chopping at the 
               water, shouting battle cries and karate whoops. Alex is 
               paddling around near them, but not involved with them.

               ALONG THE WATERLINE ON THE BEACH

               The Man with the Dog is whistling into the ocean, looking 
               for his dog.

                                     DOG MAN
                         Buster! Hey, Buster! Here boy!
                              (whistles)
                         He continues to ad lib calling his 
                         dog, but there's no answer, no dog 
                         in the water.

               THE WATERFRONT

               A huge splash explodes in the water near the gang, an eruption 
               of foam and spray that stops everyone cold for a moment.  
               They stop to see who was responsible.

                                     A KID (MATHEW)
                         Hey, no fair splashing in the eyes!

               Before anyone can answer, another kid (P.J.) renews the 
               battle, whooping a karate cry, and slashing at the water 
               with his hand like a little kung-fu warrior, advancing through 
               the waves.

               CLOSE ON MATHEW, SPLASHING BACK

               He hits the water, which sprays up suspiciously pink. He 
               stares at it, surprised.

               CLOSE ON P.J.

               His hands are dripping deep pink, the red matting his hair, 
               running into his eyes. He looks down. The boys are surrounded 
               with a deep pink slick, their little bodies ringed by a 
               spreading stain of blood.

               ANGLE ON SHORE, A TOURIST AND HIS WIFE

               He's pointing frantically out to sea.

                                     TOURIST
                         Something in the water. Right there! 
                         Didn't anyone see it?

                                     WOMAN
                         There's blood in the water.

               ANGLE ON BRODY

               He leaps to his feet, nearly knocking Ellen over, and starts 
               for the water.

                                     ELLEN
                         What is it...?

               Brody is pelting towards the water. He kicks sand over an 
               annoyed Mrs. Kintner, who looks up, just in time to hear 
               Brody's bellow.

                                     BRODY
                         Michael! Sean! Out of the water. 
                         Everybody out of the water! Michael! 
                         Get out!

               His urgency communicates itself to the others. Ellen snatches 
               Sean up from where he's been playing in the sand. Other 
               parents are calling their kids, hysteria mounting. People 
               rush into the water, dragging their children and families 
               bodily out of the ocean. The first kids coming out of the 
               surf are frantically trying to wash the sticky blood off 
               their bodies. The sight of the red sends the beach into a 
               full panic.

               CLOSE ON BRODY

               He rushes into the water, up to his ankles, and suddenly 
               stops, unable to move into deeper water. He is urging Michael 
               out, holding his hands out to his son, who is slogging through 
               the surf towards his dad. He stands there immobilized by the 
               water, nervously helping people out of it onto the beach.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL

               As he emerges from the water, Alex Kintner's raft washes in 
               behind him, ripped in half, the water pink, the foam spreading 
               the stain onto the sand as the wave breaks.

               ANGLE ON MRS. KINTNER

               Her voice rising into panic and hysteria with each unanswered 
               cry.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex? Alex...!


- Bill

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

What *Happens*? And What Happens Next?

From 2009....

The horror story of my life is that friends ask me for advice on their movie projects, then ignore what I suggest and make a film that is unwatchable and unsalable and wonder why. And it happens again and again and I always get invited to the screenings of these unwatchable films. A couple of years ago, a friend tells me his story over coffee, and instead of one of those pitches where he tells me the concept, this thing just goes on and on and on. I could have read the script in less time. But the big problem was - there was no story. It was one of those stories where nothing happens.

Now, because I usually write action and thriller stuff, you may think I mean a story where nothing blows up or there are no car chases... No, I mean nothing happens. One of my favorite movies from last year is THE VISITOR about an uptight college professor who discovers an illegal couple squatting in his NYC apartment, and learns to live again. Something happens in that movie. I also liked THE WRESTLER, where a washed up wrestler tries to make peace with his daughter and get his life in order after a health scare. Something happens in that film. I’m talking about a movie where the emotional conflict (if there is one) is buried so deep that it never erupts into drama, and there is no visual conflict at all - the “plot” of the story is to prevent something from happening by talking about it. A lot. So, by the end of the story, the event does not happen. The *concept* of the story is to prevent anything from happening - so nothing happens... and it’s not a dramatic debate that prevents things from happening, it’s a bunch of ho-hum scenes and conversations. You would think that the flaw here would be obvious. It wasn’t.

So I mentioned that it seemed like nothing was actually happening in this story, either from a plot standpoint or an emotional standpoint.

He began arguing that I didn’t understand the story, so I asked him: What are the big decisions the characters have to make in the story? Well, all the decisions are made before the story begins. So what are the changes that happen in the story? What happens... and then what happens... and then what happens next? He answered that nothing changes (happens), well, until the very end... except that isn’t actually a change because the characters make sure that the change is prevented, so nothing happens. Things stay the same.

Nothing happens, nothing changes...

He was reluctant to make changes to his brilliant script... and he never did. Maybe he's just anti-change. No change in the script and no change to the script. He filmed the story he told me, and when I watched it, nothing happened. Boring as hell.

So now he has this film where nothing happens, and my big question is: How could anyone miss something as basic as “something has to happen”?

Every year when I have to come up with classes for Expo, they want to know whether this class is aimed at Basic, Intermediate, or Professional screenwriters. This always confuses the heck out of me because when I see a movie that just plain doesn’t work about 9 times out of 10 it’s one of those basic things where they screw up. The dialogue may be filled with amazing subtext but the structure sucks, or the characters may have depth and are fascinating but they are not involved in any sort of conflict so there’s no story. Like in the novel WAR OF THE WORLDS it’s not the military that takes down the invasion, it’s something as simple as the common cold. Basics. So I always wonder if I should put my basic classes in the Pro section and my pro classes in the Basic section.

Whether the class is Basic or Pro, that class is at Expo and if you are having trouble with your screenplay you can take the class... and when you take the class you should pay attention and *learn something*. Use the information in the class to become a better writer. The issue with all of these people who ask my advice is that they ignore my advice. That makes no sense! I'm a professional screenwriter with a bunch of credits and a bunch of sold scripts and assignments that haven't turned into credits yet, so I have some idea of what works and what doesn't. Heck, why would you ask my advice in the first place?

Your script can’t be about nothing happening. It can’t be about making sure the conflict never happens - because that’s the same as having nothing happen. You must have a conflict, and you must have the characters deal with that conflict. That can be an emotional conflict (as long as your make it visual and dramatic) or a physical conflict (sharks and asteroids and other types of badguys). Something’s gotta happen! Action & reaction. If you remove the action you have no reaction... and you end up with this guy’s movie where people sit around and talk about what might happen... but never does happen.

It’s a basic!

Before you waste all kinds of money on equipment and tape stock and cast and crew and editing, make sure the script works. And before you even write the script, make sure the story works on a basic level. That it is about characters in conflict who must make tough decisions... and the characters and world are changed by the events of your story. And, you know, basic 3 Act structure stuff: Introduce your conflict, have the protagonist struggle with an escalating conflict, then resolve your conflict. And you don’t go 75 minutes with no conflict or with a crapload of subplots that have nothing to do with the story, then have the conflict introduced and resolved in 5 minutes and then ten minutes of happily ever after. If the sh*t hasn’t hit the fan by page 30, you’re stalling. Get in there and make sure something happens!

I have met Script Consultants at Expo who don't know half of what I know who charge $2,500 for the advice I gave this guy for free, but I'll bet if he told his mother the story, she would have said, "But nothing happens!" So now he has a finished film that no distribs are interested in and he will never get his money back.

Maybe that's what I should have done: charged him $2,500 for the advice? Then he might have listened. The reason he asked my advice in the first place is that he says he's a director, not a writer. So I helped him. Or at least tried. I don't think he realized how important his script problems were. Even after I told him. Maybe if I had charged him $2,500 he would have taken the problems more seriously?

I am concerned about this old script of mine I’m rewriting because a couple of new subplots may add a lot of fistfights and subplot conflict, they delay the *main* conflict from completely kicking in until about page 40 - ten pages later than I would like. Now, the main conflict is *introduced* pretty darn early, but the protagonist isn’t going to be locked in the conflict - trapped with no way to avoid the conflict - until about page 40. This worries me. I’m going to go back and see what I can trim here and there, but I’m afraid these two new subplots - one with someone attacking our hero (not *threatening to attack* - that’s not conflict, just the threat of it) and one where our hero finds out the last guy with his job was murdered and must find the killer before he’s next (this subplot is connected to the main plot) - can’t be trimmed enough to land the start of Act 2 at page 30. But at least I’m delaying Act 2 with fist fights and a murder plot - things happening that are both physical action and force the character to do many things he would rather not do... and which he will regret later in the story.

But I’m sweating all of this stuff in the script stage. My friend seems to only be sweating this stuff now that he can’t find a single distrib who wants to pick up the film, and had some trouble at his screening with other friends walking out after an hour. I mean, if your friends don’t want to sit through your film what are the odds that total strangers will want to?

The friends who stayed (I sat through the mess - looked nice, lots of creative camera work... But nothing happened!) you could divide into 3 groups: People who lied and told him it was brilliant (and you could tell that they were lying), people who were honest and said Nothing happened, it was boring, and people who were diplomatic and said things like "Well, it was in color!". By the way: if you get nothing but rave reviews and terrible reviews - one of those groups is lying and it's not the terrible reviews!

Before you rent the camera or write the script, look at your story. What happens? Okay, and then what happens? Okay, then what happens after that?

Something has to actually happen.

- Bill

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Pitch Your Script In 5 Words

This challenge has been making the rounds, so here is a blog entry from *February of 2009* with the same challenge!

The greatest thread ever on the Done Deal website is getting close to 2,000 posts. It was started over a year ago by Quazworld with the simple title "Pitch your script in 5 words". Since then people have posted both serious 5 word pitches and completely silly joke 5 word pitches - but here's what is amazing: even the joke 5 word pitches are 5 word pitches that work! They're just for silly stories. So it's almost "tell a joke in 5 words" - which is also a major challenge. The jokes are all the worst movie ideas you could think of... but when you can make liquids spurt from my nose with only 5 words, you should be a writer.

Here was my post, the first day of the thread...

Pitch your script in 5 words:

Bomb ticking *inside* man.

(That's four)

Serial Killer's shadow stalks reporter.

Victim's kid reincarnation tracks killer.

Spy enters dreamworld, uncovers attack plan.

(Crap! Six.)

Innocent is assassin after CGI.

James Bond - amatuer detective's butler.

Ex-Quarterback vs. Drug Runners in Key West.

(I'm taking Key West as one word - I could sub Florida)

Time Travel Theives change past.

Girl's glue horse wins rodeo.

Four security cameras - Four killers?

Family reunion with half-gator cousin.

PS: Some of these scripts are on my website.

***

Okay, now it's your turn to pitch your story in 5 words in the comment section. Have fun!

- Bill

PS: Sorry I haven't been blogging as much, I've been trying to get caught up.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Old Robert Mitchum

Today (August 6th) in Robert Mitchum's birthday - he would have been 100. So why not run this blog entry?
A couple of years ago they released THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE on BluRay, and it's one of those great 70s crime films, gritty and real and with one of Mitchum's best performances (in a career of great performances).




In RESERVOIR DOGS Mr. Blonde is a big fan of Robert Mitchum movies, and so am I. The great thing about Mitchum is that he worked right up until he died - and was still a leading man when most actors his age were playing grandfathers. He was a star in Westerns and War Films in the early 1940s, was *the* star of Film Noir in the late 40s to mid 50s, then starred in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (one of the greatest films ever made) as the *villain*, and then spent the rest of the 1950s and some of the 1960s as a *romantic lead*, and did a bunch of revisionist westerns in the 1960s... and by the 1970s he was starring in action movies. You read that right - Old Robert Mitchum was the star of some great 70s action flicks, like THE YAKUZA (1974, co-written by Paul Schrader)...



This is one of those great action movies that seems to be forgotten. Mitchum played an ex-cop who goes to Japan to help a WW2 pal whose daughter has been kidnapped and gets involved with both current crime issues (those Yakuza dudes) and his WW2 past. He's not just the action guy kicking ass, he's the romantic lead, too! He's the one kissing hot Asian women!

He also *starred* in THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973, screenplay by producer Paul Monash who was one of those big shot TV writers from the 50s who created a bunch of classic TV shows and also produced movies like CARRIE, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) another one of those great crime films that nobody has seen these days. The great thing about Old Mitchum in this film is that he's playing a tough old guy a few weeks from going to prison for a stretch who is trying to do some last minute crime deals to take care of his family... and things go wrong and some shooting has to happen. Mitchum is that guy who may be old, but you don't want to eff with him.



Then Old Mitchum played Philip Marlowe in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975, written by David Zelag Goodman who wrote STRAW DOGS and LOGAN'S RUN) which was kind of riding the coat tails of CHINATOWN, but pretty damned good. When Mitchum was younger he'd starred in the best Film Noir movie ever made, OUT OF THE PAST, playing a disgraced private eye... and you wonder why they didn't cast him as Marlowe back then - he was perfect. But when they did get around to casting him, being the Old Mitchum worked in his favor. He played the role as if he'd seen all of this crap a million times before. This film has a great score... and some dude named Sylvester Stallone playing thug #2.



Old Mitchum also made an updated version of THE BIG SLEEP, which should be avoided, three years later.

He finished the 1970s *starring in action movies* as a tough old guy - and was supposed to star in 48 HOURS in the 80s... but he was probably too busy *starring* in TV miniseries like WINDS OF WAR, NORTH AND SOUTH, and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. In the 90s, he *starred* in 3 TV series, was narrator for TOMBSTONE, and finished his career playing director George Stevens in the James Dean movie for TV the year he died.



Robert Mitchum's career lasted a hell of a long time... but those 70s action flicks he made as an old man contain some real classics.

"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail," Robert Mitchum.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Backstory - Creating the past for your characters.
Dinner: Popeyes Chicken & biscuits.
Pages: A bunch of catch up work on classes I'm teaching later in the year.
Bicycle: Short hops to Starbucks and back and then to the subway to Hollywood for drinks with friends and back.
Movies: Nada.
















Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Garage Films

From August of 2008!

A couple of weeks ago I went to a screening of my friend's new movie... and left early. The film wasn’t very good... but it was a finished film, and I think his 6th feature.

Hollywood is filled with dreamers and schemers. At one point in time this blog was going to be called “I Know All The Losers In Hollywood” - but that danged SNAKES IN A PLANE movie changed everything. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the losers from the winners. I met this guy in a non-Starbucks coffee shop, and one day he just decided to make movies. He came to LA to be a musician and played in a couple of garage bands, when that didn’t work out he tried to be an actor, and when that didn’t work out he decided to make movies... starring himself, playing music. This guy is a character... and his story is amusing and maybe inspiring.

He wrote a script - that was autobiographical and wasn’t very good. Because he loved MAGNOLIA and had no idea how to end an autobiographical script since he is still alive, he ended the script with an unexplained rain... of cakes! The script also featured the lead character furiously masturbating in a coffee shop bathroom. I never used the bathroom in that coffee shop where I met him again. So, he has no money... but he goes to a church function and explains that he’s trying to raise money to make a Christian themed film... and finds investors! He rounds up enough money to buy a prosumer grade camera, some lights, and a laptop and editing program... plus enough to pay for meals and video tape and expendables. He rounds up actor friends and friends with some crew experience and makes his little film. No budget. A shopping mall escalator gets some new signage and becomes LAX - just watch out for security guards! He steals locations - shooting with no permit at landmarks with lookouts posted to watch for police. And he sings and stars and it ends with unseen people on ladders dumping cakes on him - symbolic of something. The film is nonsense... but finished. He’s at the gym one day and sees a TV news guy, tells him about his movie... and they decide to do a story about him.

After he’s on TV, everyone in town wants to see his movie, and he sends out screeners. But his film is, well, weird, and nobody wants it. But he manages to find an investor to put up the couple thousand he needs to make the next film. Oh, and he actually gets a once famous actress to work for free (it will be her first time in a film in 2 decades). This film is slightly less strange, but still not in any genre and not mainstream at all. Despite the has-been star, no one wants to see this one. But, as with all of his films, he finds a theater that will donate some weeknight to him and he shows the film to cast, crew, friends, and anyone on his MySpace friends list. Just show up and see the movie, then have some wine and cheese afterwards.

He makes his movies for a couple of grand, none of them get any sort of distribution... but he doesn’t seem to care. He makes his movies just to make his movies. That’s the fun part for him. He has a day job to pay the rent, and making little movies and showing them to friends in some donated theater is his hobby.

Here's the problem with the new movie - it takes place at a workplace over a single day. But there is no spark (no inciting incident - in screenwriter talk) - so it's just a typical day at work. Nothing different happens. That means that all of the drama has to be artificially induced. So one character gets a phone call from their doctor that they have cancer. Another character decides - for no reason - to attempt suicide. There's a big chunk of exposition about their life outside the workplace falling apart. One character may have AIDS... they get a phone call, too. There are a bunch of dramatic elements that come from *outside* the office and *outside* the story. They just come from nowhere to create a scene. And, though things like this *do* happen in real life, on the screen it seems completely forced. You can see the writer-director off camera forcing the drama. None of it is connected to anything in the workplace. Just an out of the blue phone call that creates a false dramatic event. The film was contrived and fake.

Here's the irony - I'm sure my friend thought it was more realistic because there was no big inciting incident. That it was more natural and less contrived... but it seemed 100 times more forced than DIE HARD. Because in DIE HARD, once the terrorist take over the Christmas party, everybody does exactly what a real person would do - even the terrorists. They react naturally.

Now, that doesn't mean the workplace drama would have been better with terrorists, but he needed *some event* that made this day *different* than any other day. Look at GLEN GARY GLEN ROSS - this is the last day of the sales contest - someone will win and someone will be fired. That changes a normal day of selling into *the* day of selling - you can lose your job if you fail. So everyone is hustling on *this day* and maybe backstabbing their fellow employees and maybe having a melt down when things go wrong. Okay, now that we are in this pressure cooker situation at the workplace, the differences between characters can easily explode into drama without any outside phone calls. That's not the end of the world - but it is the end of a career for somebody. There are stakes. There is a deadline.

My friend's film would have been a million times better if the story had begun with them getting a new boss. Now you have people kissing up in all kinds of ways, people dealing with new authority, etc. No phone calls required - the drama would come from that spark - that change - that thing that alters the status quo. But you *must* have something that alters the regular world and creates a dramatic situation... or else you end up grafting on drama from the outside. Sometimes what is real seems fake and what is created by the screenwriter to kick off the story makes it all seem more real, more natural, less forced.

After an hour of phone calls creating artificial crisis, I snuck out of the theater. Some other people had snuck out before me, but I was going to try to stick it out. Couldn’t. I’m sure that others left after me (actually, three other people left at the same time I did).
Now, I would tell my friend how to improve his movie - but he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t care. He makes his little movies that way he wants. For him making the movie is all that matters. He doesn’t care if they never end up on a Blockbuster shelf and probably doesn’t care that some of his MySpace friends didn’t stay until the end.

*I* look at his films from *my* perspective and think that with a little change here and there - no terrorists or explosions, just a new boss as an inciting incident so that the film seems less contrived - he might make it into a festival or two and maybe get picked up by some art house oriented DVD label. Maybe not - but it’s worth a try. I think he and his unpaid cast and crew do a lot of work, and it would be cool if the films found a larger audience than the people who showed up at the screening in North Hollywood. But that’s from my perspective. From his perspective, he’s doing exactly what he wants to do.

But here’s the lesson I came away with when I snuck out of that theater after an hour of plot altering phone calls - he’s made 6 films for pocket change. He just does it. If *I* decided to just do it and make a movie for pocket change - with a better script - *I* could be the one with my little film in festivals and maybe on the shelf at Blockbuster. Hey, maybe you can, too! And if nobody wants my little film? Maybe I can talk some theater into donating a weeknight and post a bulletin on MySpace....

- Bill
eXTReMe Tracker