Friday, September 28, 2018

HITCH 20: BACK FOR CHRISTMAS (s1e4)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!



There is one more episode of HITCH 20 in this season, which I'll post next Friday.



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

Bill

- Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....



HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






HITCHCOCK'S MOST DARING EXPERIMENTS!



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

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



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Flashback: The Instant Pitch

A rerun from 2007...

Screenwriters have to be able to think on their feet. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, or where an idea night be hiding, or when a chance to sell a script might pop up. A novelist has the luxury of time, a screenwriter has to come up with the solution to a story problem in a meeting with the producer right after he points out the problem. One of the things I've learned is that the longer a problem goes without the writer solving it, the more likely someone else will jump in with a solution that just doesn't work... but it's now your job to make it work...

After selling the script that got me to Los Angeles, I made the mistake of locking myself in a Van Nuys apartment for two years writing scripts and NOT networking until my money from the sale was almost gone. I thought that my sale to a company on the Paramount lot would result in my phone ringing off the hook from other producers - didn't happen. Though my sale was announced on the front page of The Hollywood Reporter, the film was never made and the producer went back to TV... leaving me without even the connection that got me to town in the first place! Now I had a mound of scripts and didn't know anybody to sell them to. But I did know about the American Film Market - where independent films are sold to independent distributors. Though the AFM wasn't open to the public, I had connections with my hometown newspaper and managed to get a press pass into the event. I now had nine days to meet a producer and sell a script, or I would have to begin looking for a day job.

Though I have nothing against day jobs, and there's no reason to be embarrassed if you're paying the bills while waiting for your screen writing career to kick in, I'd rather sell a script than do heavy manual labor. So I was REALLY motivated.


I passed out business cards and script synopsis to everyone who seemed likely to buy a script from me. I met a director who was cranking out films for Roger Corman and had a new horror movie premiering at the end of the market, did I want to see it? Sure! Though I didn't know anything about this director, I did know about Roger Corman. He's responsible for giving half of Hollywood their start. Francis Ford Coppola make DEMENTIA 13 for Corman, Jonathan Demme's first film was for Corman, Scorsese made a film for Corman, Ron Howard directed car crash films for Corman, John Millius wrote some biker films for Corman, Jack Nicholson wrote and starred in a bunch of Corman films, and one of my screen writing idols, John Sayles, began his screen writing career with a string of great scripts for Roger Corman films. Corman gives raw talent a way to break into the business - like a film internship. The only drawback - he doesn't pay much (but it's better than working at Kinkos copies or McDonalds). This director had a particularly colorful Corman story - he'd began as a janitor at the company and worked his way up to director. I wondered what kind of movie a janitor might make.

After making some more good connections - even passing out some scripts - the end of the week rolled around, and the screening of the janitor-director's film. I bumped into the director and I got to tell him about my scripts on the way to the screening. He asked to read one - but told me most of the films he did for Corman were shot on existing sets. He was sort of the B Team - after the A Team had finished a film, he would shoot on their sets. Interesting.

We get into the theater and I see what kind of film a janitor makes... It had a funny script that poked fun at the horror genre, but the direction was crude.

Afterwards the director asked what I'd thought... more thinking on my feet! I told him I thought it was funny and mentioned a couple of the places where the direction was okay. I lied a little.

A couple of months later I got a call from the director. The A Team would wrap shooting a film tonight, could I show up at 6am, tour the set, then pitch him the best story I could come up with using that set at 7am? Sure! Why so early? Well, there was still a day left on the construction crew's contract, and if the set couldn't be reused they'd have them use that day to tear it down. Corman loved to save money by getting every last minute of labor out of his crew. I told him I'd tour the set at 6am and see him at 7am.

I'm not a morning guy. The last time I saw 6am was when I stayed up all night. The big challenge was going to be waking up and staying awake.

The next morning I drive out to "The Lumberyard", Roger Corman's studio in Venice. Venice is a beach community with a row of trendy shops and restaurants... and a really ugly industrial section where the city's bus repair yard and a couple of junk yards compete with overgrown vacant lots of "City's Greatest Eyesore" prize. The Lumberyard is a couple of old warehouse-style buildings surrounded by mounds of old sets and props. Parts of plywood rocket ships and sections of fake castle walls and parts from a plastic mini-sub mock-up. It looked like the junkyard at the end of time. I parked in the lot and the head of the construction crew opened the door for me and pointed out the sets: about five rooms.

You've probably never seen a set in natural light. They look fake. I once toured the STAR TREK set on the Paramount lot, and it looks like it's made out of plywood and Styrofoam (it is). When we shot GRID RUNNERS, the cloning lab was the old operating theater at a run-down mental institution. The construction guys painted only the places that would show on camera, and did a slap-dash job. It looked like an abandoned building... but from the right angle with the right lighting looked like a high tech cloning lab. All of the things that looked fake in real life looked real on film.

The set at The Lumberyard was no different. It was a futuristic night club, a spaceship interior, and a high tech office complex of some sort. Most of it was made out of Styrofoam hot dog and hamburger containers - like the kind your Big Mac used to come in. Sheets of these Styrofoam containers covered plywood walls, adding texture. They were painted a metal gray color, and didn't look like hamburger containers at all.

But the Big Mac container walls reminded me of what I'd be doing if I didn't land this job. As I toured the set, drinking coffee and brainstorming, I came up with a fantastic idea. Each section of the set added to that idea. Hey - I had a great lead character, a high concept conflict, some big emotional scenes, and a way to make use that nightclub set for a couple of pivotal action-packed scenes. By 7am, I was fully caffeinated and ready to pitch my great idea to the director.

The director breezed in at 7:05 and I sat him down and pitched him my brilliant idea. The coffee was really kicking in by then, and I gave one of the most passionate pitches of my career. I explained the lead character's emotional conflict, and how he was forced to deal with it when this amazing event happens that thrust the entire world into danger. I told him about the fantastic action scenes that would take place in the night club set, and this chase I'd come up with for this long hallway, and a big romantic scene with the leading lady where the hero professes his undying love for him, then she breaks his heart by betraying him in a major plot twist. I could see him imagining every scene and knew I had him.

After I was finished he sat there for a while, thinking about the pitch. Thinking about the characters. Imagining the scenes. Imagining himself directing the scenes. He nodded a few times, thinking it over. Then he turned to the lurking construction guy, smiled, and said: Strike it!

The crew began tearing down the set.

By the time I left, it was half torn down!

A couple of days later I got a call from another producer I'd met - he wanted to buy my TREACHEROUS script. I wouldn't have to work at McDonald's after all!

- Bill


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE

About a year ago I watched all of the REC movies again and think the first one may be the best Found Footage movie ever made (*much* superior to the American remake) because, even though the entire movie is seen from the perspective of the news camera, the shots are composed beautifully. The American remake (QUARANTINE) just didn’t seem to understand the degree of difficulty ... and is filled with sloppy framing and soft focus. REC manages to have *artistic* framing even when the camera is “dropped” in an attack scene. I often wonder how many times they “dropped” the camera to get that perfect framing of what would be seen in the action that comes afterwards. But the very idea of Found Footage from someone’s video camera all traces back to this film, THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), an interesting experiment that fails.



Robert Montgomery was a star at MGM, who played pretty boys and dashing romantic leads... but he was ambitious and knew the days of being a handsome guy were numbered and wanted to direct (where you could get old and nobody cared). This was his first film as a director... and he managed to make the most experimental film made by a studio at that time (actually, no one has done this since). The Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novels were all told first person, so he thought he would make the *film* first person... as in “first person shooter games”. You see the story through Marlowe’s eyes. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

Here are the problems:

1) The cameras at the time were huge and heavy, so instead of agile movements that mimic a human walking, we have limited dolly shots. Most of the time the camera moves into a position and then *sits there*, maybe with an occasional pan to follow a pretty receptionist. Unlike Hitchcock’s ROPE which features a story told in a single take (sort of) and a fluid camera that moves from one amazing angle to another, these shots seldom move. Once the camera dollies into a room, it just sits there and people talk to it. There are a couple of scenes where the camera does a limited dolly in the middle of a scene to “look at something”, but mostly it just sits there. So we have these static shots most of the time which are *dull*!

2) No cutting! Because it’s Marlowe’s POV we can’t cut from one shot to another, we are stuck with the same shot for the whole scene! This kills the pacing. In ROPE we also have no traditional editing, but the camera moves from “shot” to “shot” and angle to angle, giving us the feeling of different shots. It’s that “dog juice” thing, because there are no cuts in ROPE the camera has to do even more movement to make up for it. But here: no cuts... and no camera movement.

3) One of the side effects of the limited mobility of the camera is that the film ends up mostly set bound. That title LADY IN THE LAKE? Well, a big chunk of the novel takes place at Little Fawn Lake (Lake Arrowhead)... where a dead body is found in the lake... but the film never goes to Little Fawn Lake so we never see the murder victim or any of the suspects from there! The problem is: there's a reason for the novel's title. The body found in the lake, and Marlowe discovering it (along with cabin caretaker Bill Chess) is critical to the story. It's what the story is *about*. Instead, about 75 percent of this film is Audrey Totter looking at the camera talking. This is a private eye movie, and when you think about other Marlowe movies like THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER MY SWEET, they are filled with action scenes! Here, no action scenes! The closest we get is a car chase done with process shots (so it’s still in a studio) which ends with a car wreck... where Marlowe/Camera dollies to a bush and hides behind it as a police car arrives. The fistfight scene is *one punch*, and you wonder what a director more interested in the action elements of the story could have done with that fight scene.

4) Because we never go to Little Fawn Lake, we get these scenes where Marlowe talks *straight to the camera* as he sits in his office, telling us the story. What this means is when Audrey Totter isn’t looking RIGHT AT US and talking to us, Marlowe is LOOKING RIGHT AT US and talking to us! It’s all exposition, all the time! So with damaged pacing from the experiment we add boring exposition... we might as well be sitting in a room having Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter just telling us the story! But even that would probably be better because we’d get Chandler’s great writing. Instead we get a pile of plotty exposition.

Oh, in addition to Audrey Totter, some other cast members may look familiar to you from TV! Lloyd Nolan went from B movie cops to TV doctors, playing the doctor lead on JULIA (first TV series starring an African American woman) and played doctors on QUINCY and ELLERY QUEEN and a million other TV shows as guest star or recurring characters. Leon Ames also played doctors on TV, but you know him as next door neighbor Gordon Kirkwood on MR. ED. Hottie Jayne Meadows has also been in a million TV episodes and has even played Florence Nightingale... but she also looks just like her sister Audrey who was Jackie Gleason's wife on THE HONEYMOONERS. All of these actors look straight into the camera whenever they are in a scene!



The screenplay is by Steve Fischer, a pulp writer turned screenwriter (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and his work is usually really good... but I think here he is shackled by the concept and Montgomery’s idea of how the story should be told. Somewhere along the way, Marlowe has been changed from Private Eye to Pulp Fiction Writer for this story... so, if all of the above wasn’t boring enough now we have conversations about writing and publishing! In the novel the missing woman Marlowe is searching for is the wife of a perfume and cosmetics millionaire, in the film this is changed to the publisher of pulp novels... so that we can have even more talk about publishing! This film is trying to put us to sleep! Add to that, it takes place at *Christmas* so the opening title cards are happy Christmas Card pictures over Christmas Carols! You wonder if you may have put in the wrong DVD! It *does* end with a gun, but instead of being kind of a twist, it seems to me like a tonal car wreck (and the rest of the film continues that wreck). The audience at the time knew who Chandler was, and had seen a couple of Marlowe movies and were expecting something like THE BIG SLEEP... and ended up with this!

Lloyd Nolan, who played MICHAEL SHAYNE on the big screen (one of those films was based on Chandler’s THE HIGH WINDOW which would later be made as a Marlowe film starring *George* Montgomery) plays the cop, here... and not only do we lose Little Fawn Lake in this story, we also lose Bay City (seeing only the inside of the police station). Hey, Bay City is a major part of the novel! Chandler’s Bay City is one of those great fictional locations, but not in this film. Though we get slugged in the eye and kissed, it’s really lame compared to the subjective camera work in DARK PASSAGE made the year before. In that film, the camera doesn’t stick with the lead’s POV, but cuts all over the place to keep the pace going. Just, when we have those shots in the story that would have been “over the shoulders” instead we get a full POV shot. DARK PASSAGE *works*! This film does not. And having the whole film being people LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU is really weird!



Another issue with LADY IN THE LAKE is that there are *a couple* of shots of Montgomery's reflection in a mirror, which I'm sure was tricky, but there are a half dozen shots with mirrors where Montgomery is *not* reflected at all! Once you establish that we will see him reflected in mirrors, you have to show his reflection in mirrors from that point on (or get rid of the mirrors from the sets!). They show a mirror in some scene where he *should* be reflected, and he's not! It's like an epic fail!

I think people underestimate the difficulty of just making a movie. In this case, Montgomery (who seemed to have not a clue about the language of cinema) tried to do a huge experiment right out of the gate... and it fails big time. It would be interesting to see a first person movie like this *now*, with the level of action we expect to see in a first person shooter game. This film is a curio: like most experimental films, it fails. But interesting to see... and you instantly learn how *not* to make a private eye movie.

Skip the film, read the Chandler novel instead.

Bill

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thriller Thursday: WORSE THAN MURDER

Worse Than Murder

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



Season: 1, Episode: 3. Airdate: 09-27-1960

Director: Mitchell Lieson (Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN). Writer: Mel Goldberg based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman. Cast: Constance Ford, John Baragrey, Christine White, Harriet MacGibbon, Dan Tobin, Jocelyn Brando. Music: Pete Rugolo. Cinematography: John F. Warren (from HITCHCOCK HOUR).



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is difficult to violate the privacy of dreams. After all, there are no witnesses to our night time fantasies. But when a man’s nightmares are an accurate reflection of the truth, and in trying to relieve his suffering he commits that truth to paper, there he creates greater torments than those of his restless sleep, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a woman who makes use of a nightmare to persecute the innocent as well as the guilty. A persecution that is much worse than murder. That’s the name of our story. We assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: High estrogen crime drama. Three women, each commit some horrible crime, while the men stand by on the sidelines. Oh, and all of these women are related by marriage or blood, so this is a *family* of killers! A wealthy family.

The episode opens with ancient Uncle Archer in a hospital bed dreaming about the time he helped kill his father... then he passes away. Leaving behind a stack of diaries, including a new one on his hospital bed. High maintenance Connie Walworth, Archer’s “favorite nephew’s widow” arrives for a visit with flowers, is told that Archer has passed away, and lifts the new diary on a lark. Connie has been kissing up to Uncle Archer in hopes of a prime space in his will, but Archer died intestate... and all of the money will go to his bedridden sister Myra (Harriet MacGibbon) (who is Connie’s mother in law) and her plain jane daughter Anne (Christine White). Oh, and Myra *hates* Connie, since she’s been living off her since the death of her son (Connie’s husband) in a car wreck. When Connie goes to the family mansion and hits Myra up for a loan, she is refused... it’s time for her to find a job or a man or both. But when Connie mentions that Uncle Archer kept diaries, Myra reconsiders and gives Connie the loan in hopes that she will forget about the diaries. This, of course, makes Connie wonder what could be in the diaries.



Plain jane daughter Anne is dating Myra’s doctor Dr. Mitchell (probably old enough to be Anne’s father) (John Baragrey) and it’s fairly obvious he’s sniffing around for Myra’s money... When Connie leaves, Anne notices Dr. Mitchell checking her out. Maybe she should dye her hair blonde and dress more provocatively?

Connie is a sexy, scheming bottle blonde predator... a real femme fatale, in a story where the men are secondary characters. As in Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL, the female lead here uses men to get what she wants... and in Connie’s case, manipulates and blackmails women as well. It’s obvious she only married her (late) husband for his money, and after spending all of it on her and then dying; Connie needs a new source of income. If she can find a way to cut in to the family fortune, she’ll do it... even if that means playing dirty.



When Connie gets to her apartment, her landlord Ray (Dan Tobin) is waiting for her... wondering where the rent is. When she tells him Uncle Archer died and left her nothing, Ray *insists* on the rent, he’s waited long enough! Connie invites him up to her apartment to settle the bill. Yes, this is a 1960 TV episode, and she’s gonna screw her landlord to pay the rent! And our next scene has Connie in lingerie in bed reading the diary outloud to Ray the landlord! Yikes! The diary passage is Uncle Archer’s recurring nightmare about the night he and “M” murdered their father so they could inherit his fortune. Is “M” for Myra?

Connie calls to see if she can stop by the hospital to pick up the other diaries... finds that they have already been delivered to Myra. So Connie heads to the newspaper morgue where she discovers a story about Myra and Archer’s father’s death by accidental overdose of insulin... a nurse lost her job as a result. Connie goes to talk to the Doctor, only to find that he has passed away, but the disgraced nurse is still alive... living in a crappy apartment downtown. The Nurse (Jocelyn Brando) is a drunk, living in poverty because that long ago accident with Myra and Archer’s father still hangs over her. The Nurse refuses to answer Connie’s questions, but when she leaves the room, Connie searches her closet and jewelry... and finds all kinds of expensive things. Where did they come from? The Nurse breaks down and says she has been blackmailing *Myra* because Myra and Archer murdered their father.



When Connie confronts Myra with this, spilling the details that the Nurse gave her; Myra almost has a heart attack (literally) and Connie holds Myra’s digitalis over her head like a carrot. Then gives it to the old woman. Connie says she’ll take $100,000 to hand over the diary and not go to the police. Oh, and in 24 hours.

Listening at the door is plain jane Anne... who has fixed up her hair, put on some make up, and dressed up; to keep her Dr. Mitchell boyfriend from straying. She hears everything and realizes her aged mother might be thrown in jail if she doesn’t do something. She breaks her date with Dr. Mitchell, throwing the relationship into turmoil. When Myra phones the bank to have $100,000 delivered, Anne *knows* her mother is a murderer. To protect her, Anne becomes a criminal...

Anne breaks into Connie’s apartment, searching for the diary. Finds it... just as Connie pulls up, with Dr. Mitchell! See, Connie has been making a play for the doctor just to cover all the bases. She invites him upstairs to her room (to screw?) as both Anne... and Ray the landlord... watch. Dr. Mitchell kisses her and declines instead of reclines. Then Connie goes up stairs, and Anne scurries to find a hiding place in the apartment.



Problem is, when Connie enters she sees Anne hiding behind the sofa reflected in a mirror and grabs a fire poker. There’s a scuffle, Anne splits with the diary... Connie chasing after her.

Meanwhile, Myra’s condition gets worse and she is taken to the hospital... dying. She admits to Dr. Mitchell killing her own mother with Uncle Archer so they could inherit her money... and now Connie is doing something similar to Myra. She begs Dr. Mitchell to make sure Connie gets no more money... then dies.

Anne returns to the mansion, doesn’t notice the package of money from the bank waiting for Connie to claim it; and burns the diary in the fireplace. When Connie arrives, she pulls the burning diary out of the fireplace, then Connie and Anne scuffle as the burning diary sets the curtains and house on fire! Cat fight in the flames! Then Connie splits (never seeing the money) and the mansion burns to the ground. Anne escapes the fire into Dr. Mitchell’s arms... and Connie is arrested for blackmail.



Review: This is more like it! Though more of a crime drama instead of a thriller, it’s fast paced, filled with twists and turns and has some *awesome* dialogue. Not just the catty conflict lines (which are clever and fun), but the rest of this episode is filled with witty and quotable lines. I don’t know if this is the work of screenwriter Goldberg or if he pulled them from the novel, but it’s constantly entertaining. And lots of juicy scenes with women tangling (verbally and even physically). Constance Ford plays Connie like a sexual force of nature, and I believe costume department neglected to supply her with a bra, in addition to the blatant implied sex scene with her landlord there’s no shortage of what appears to be nipplage in many shots. Were the censors asleep?

The men in this episode are disposable objects used by the three women, even Uncle Archer only held his mother with Myra gave her the lethal injection. It’s interesting to see a show that focuses on the sex that is deadlier than the male... and has so much fun turning men into playthings. Director Lieson was a “woman’s director” in Hollywood, who made many lush female lead films... including the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married A Dead Man” with Barbara Stanwick called NO MAN OF HER OWN, which is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. This episode has gloss and a real feeling of those old Joan Crawford potboilers. Bitchy fun, with clever and cutting dialogue. This was a good (not great) episode, but on the right track! Will the next episode continue towards greatness... or derail?

FADE OUT.



Bill

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Film Courage Plus: What Unsold Screenwriters Need To Learn!

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



WHY HAVEN’T I BROKEN IN?

I love when they put me on the spot like this? Are professional writers just better writers than those who haven’t broken in yet? And the answer is: Maybe. A screenplay has so many moving parts and getting them lined up for a professional isn’t going to happen always. I have screenplays that just don’t work - and when I figure out how to make them work I will rewrite them and have something. But many new writers either don’t see the flaw in their script or see it and try to market the script. Hey, there is a chance that the flaw won’t matter to some specific producer - it’s not an issue with their company. And an amateur becomes a professional. But often there is some issue with the screenplay that stops it from going all the way.

There are three elements to a screenplay: The story itself, the way that story is told, and the writing itself. New writers often struggle with the first one and when they master that don’t even look at the other two items. The way the story is told is what I call “structuring” and it’s not three acts or saving cats, it’s when information is revealed to the audience. I look at it in the STRUCTURING Blue Book and in the STORY Blue Book. When is the best time to reveal this information? For a story to unfold it must be folded by the screenwriter first - we need to plant the information that will be revealed later. So this can be a difficult element. The writing itself is how well you write and your individual voice - your writing style. We look at that in the DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book. Part of the reason why they hire one writer over another is that their voice gives the script a feel that other similar screenplays do not have. So one thing that the professional has are those last two elements, and unsold writers may not have mastered those yet. They have told a great story, but how they tell it and how they write it may not be at a professional level, yet. Hey, they’ll get there!

NOTHING CAN STOP A GREAT SCRIPT

I tell the Garage Band story in the clip, as well as the story of the Temp Receptionist. Some other danged writer (too lazy to Google) said you could drop a great script on Hollywood Boulevard and it would find its way to a studio... and I believe that is true. I believe that once you get all of those moving parts in a screenplay to work together, nothing is stopping that script! It will travel!

My first "Hollywood sale" was a screenplay called COURTING DEATH that sold to a company at Paramount. I was living in my home town, and had zero connections. But I had scripts.

I had a low budget drive in flick called NINJA BUSTERS made in my home town by a local director... and then went back to the day job for a decade. I wrote 3 scripts a year - which is just a page a day. After around 7 or 8 years back at the day job I optioned a script called TREASURE HUNTER to a company in Beverly Hills for $5k. I had read an advert in the back of Variety - this company was looking for a jungle adventure script. I sent logline and they requested the script. Though I had an agent at the time, he was the worst agent in the business and he almost screwed up the option deal.

The director of NINJA BUSTERS was making direct to video movies after drive ins closed down, and worked with a local actress who was, um, very attractive, and single. And so I gave her my new screenplay and said, "There's a role in here that is perfect for you." She took the screenplay, read it, and promptly moved to Los Angeles. I am unlucky in love.

In Los Angeles she was hired to play Victim #5 in a low budget horror film. Her role was basically taking off her top and being killed. She gave my script to a guy on the crew (!) and told him there's a role in here that is perfect for her. Now my script began traveling around Los Angeles - everyone gave it to their best connection in the business. As I say in the clip, this is a business where people do favors to advance their careers. So my scripts floated around town, and three years later I am putting on my steel toed boots to go to work at my warehouse day job when the phone rings....

The guy on the phone says he's Daniel calling from New Century/Visions Entertainment at Paramount, is my screenplay COURTING DEATH still available?

Okay - obviously my friend Van Tassell playing a practical joke on me. We play practical jokes on each other all the time (still do). We had just gone to a party where Van had drank way too much, so on Monday while he was at work, I had every woman I know call his answering machine and say, "Hello, this is Heather, we met at that party Friday night and I'd really like to see you again, I gave you my number, call me." So he comes home from work and there are a dozen women who want him to call them, and he calls me in a panic and says, "Bill, did you see what I did with all of these phone numbers?"



So I figured this was payback.

"If you are really at Paramount, Daniel, how about giving me a number and I'll call you back." Daniel gives me a number with a 213 area code. Van really did his homework on this one!

I call back expecting to get a pizza parlor or a payphone, and realize it is not a joke. I ask where they got the script, and Daniel says a name of someone I don't know. This script traveled all over town and ended up at this company at Paramount.

Sold it. David Fincher was attached to direct at one point in time. I hated the idea because all he'd done was a couple of Madonna videos. He backed out to do ALIEN 3 and my project fell apart. They tried to put it together with some other directors but it was never made. Only 10% of the screenplays they buy ever make it to the screen.

But here's the thing: You need a script that travels. And that’s how things work in this business.

People think it’s all about who they know, but a great script opens doors for you.

Everyone wants to know the secret handshake or be introduced to the guy in charge... but none of that is going to matter if they don’t have a great script! So focus on writing a great screenplay - not a screenplays that you think is great, but a screenplay that people who hate you and want you to fail think is a great screenplay. You want a screenplay that strangers who are slogging through a stack of screenplays will read and think, “This is the one!”

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Thursday, September 13, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Return Of Andrew Bentley

SEASON 2!!! THRILLER: The Return Of Andrew Bentley



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



Season: 2, Episode: 12.
Airdate: December 11, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: Richard Matheson, based on a story by August Derleth
Cast: John Newland, Antionette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Can you hear me Andrew? Can you hear me? The frightened challenge of an old man, to who? Or to what? Questions. How does the old man know that he will soon be dead? And why does he fear that which may follow his death? Questions. Questions which will be answered before the night is done, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. But what of the questions that remain unanswered? Black secrets, carefully guarded and handed down. Spells, incantations, rituals, curses. The mysteries of the universe that have been revealed through the centuries only to a scattered unscrupulous few who thrive on evil. And aren’t too particular about the final disposition of their immortal souls. Such a man was Andrew Bentley. Our story tonight concerns the efforts of the living to combat his return from the world of the dead. Our players are: John Newland, Antoinette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, and Reggie Nalder). Yes, my friends, there are those who believe in the occult arts. And it is said that even those who practice them, all that is required is the proper recipe, a gentleman’s agreement with the devil, and an unflinching faith in the supernatural. Can it really be true? I don’t think so... everybody knows there’s no such thing as magic.”



Synopsis: Sometime in the late 1800s. Newlyweds Ellis Corbett (John Newland) and his bride Sheila (Antoinette Bower) have been summoned to the rambling mansion and estate that Ellis grew up on by his last living relative - his Uncle Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney). Amos wants to meet the new wife. They pull up in a horse drawn coach on a foggy night, and ask the driver to wait for them. As soon as they are out of the coach the driver speeds away. The front door is opened by his uncle’s servant Jacob (Ken Renard) who is happy to see Ellis. This is where Ellis grew up, and Jacob is almost like a father to him. They go into Uncle Amos’ study...

Where crazy Uncle Amos seems just a bit paranoid. Though he seems in good health, he tells Ellis that he is going to die... and will leave the mansion and his sizable wealth to his nephew on one condition. That Ellis live in the mansion and check on Amos’ grave every day to make sure that someone... or something... hasn’t tampered with it. New Bride Sheila is trying not to shake her head - the mansion is creepy. But Ellis says yes - this is the house he grew up in.

In the middle of the night, Ellis and Sheila are awakened by organ music and follow it down to the cobweb filled basement where Uncle Amos is playing the organ... then collapses dead on the keyboard.



Uncle Amos’ coffin is taken down to the crypt, on a level even lowerr than the basement with the organ, because it is so easy to build *down*. Ellis seals the crypt according to Uncle Amos’ instructions, then draws an image on the crypt door in chalk - also according to the burial instructions. Weird.

Afterwards Ellis, Sheila and Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) have a drink, and the doctor tells them that Uncle Amos committed suicide by poison. Sheila remembers him saying the name “Andrew”. When Jacob the butler hears this , he tells Ellis that he wants to quit... after 33 years of service. Ellis talks him into staying for a couple of days... and asks Dr. Weatherbee who “Andrew” is. Was - Andrew Bentley died two years ago.

Before going to bed, Ellis and Sheila go down to check the crypt - not tampered with. See? Not a big deal. They leave the crypt... and Andrew Bentley (Nalder) floats into the crypt, sees the markings on the door, and floats away - looking very much like a vampire.

The next day there is a letter from Uncle Amos telling Ellis to get Burkhardt and check the book on the second shelf of the seventh compartment - Ellis and Sheila find a book: The Rites Of Protection. Knock at the door (not a shock moment, should have been) and Jacob tells him that Reverend Burkhardt (Oscar Berengi) is here... who tells them that he can not protect his Uncle, and to ignore the book... which Ellis reads a page of outloud - about demons lured on by man’s ignorance.



Ellis and Sheila have some relationship issues dues to the whole daily tomb check thing, and one night when Ellis goes down to check he bumps into the floating Bentley who scares him into a faint. Sheila goes down and finds him... he tells her he has seen Andrew Bentley.

Jacob the butler sees Andrew Bentley and drops dead.

Dr. Weatherbee shows up, and tells them Andrew Bentley is dead... and was “completely evil”. A sorcerer whom everyone feared. The only way to stop this is to destroy Bentley’s body - it’s somewhere in the cellar. They will need the Reverend to protect them. They get in the carriage and go to fetch him...



Spooky Bentley tries to scare the horses, but they just go around him. The wagon wheel breaks off, and they run on foot in the dark and foggy night. None of this is filmed in a frightening way.

They bring the Reverend back to the house where they have a running exorcism - chasing Bentley’s ghost through the house. They find his corpse in Amos’ laboratory and burn it. The end.



Review: Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers, I discovered him as a kid due to all of his great TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and DUEL and those Corman Poe movies. So I was excited when I realized that he had written an episode of this series, even though it was an adaptation of someone else’s story (Derleth is also a famous horror writer, though I knew him through his mysteries). I didn’t remember this episode from my childhood... and there was a good reason. It’s thoroughly forgettable. Strange, because Matheson was coming off of HOUSE OF USHER and my favorite PIT AND THE PENDULUM - and he’d been writing scripts for a while (a dozen produced credits before this one). I have no idea what Matheson’s script was like, but the pieces of a spooky story are all present... and the direction seems to destroy all suspense and dread.

The director was the episode’s star John Newland, and he was no stranger to direction at this point in his career. Newland was host and director of all 96 episodes of the TV series ONE STEP BEYONDfrom the late 50s, which was “the TWILIGHT ZONE before there was THE TWILIGHT ZONE” - an anthology series about the supernatural and paranormal, often with a twist end. He was both the show’s “Rod Serling” host and the shows director. The show was interesting in that it was a docu-drama, and each episode was based on a true story. I tracked down some episodes and watched them - focusing on ARIEL because it starred MANNIX’s Mike Connors as a member of a famous trapeze family. In the episode he gets into an argument with his father (who leads the troupe) and that night his father slips out of his hands and falls to his death. He feels guilty and basically decides to commit suicide by trapeze and swings off the trapeze into the void... and his father’s ghost catches him and takes him safely to the platform. Based on a true story.



But watching the episode I could see where Newland might not have been the best director choice for THRILLER even though he had done 96 episodes of ONE STEP. Because ONE STEP was a docu-drama, it was mostly scenes of actors acting in front of a locked down camera - not much camera movement and not much editing. Kind of a filmed stage play. What made the show work was each of the episodes I saw had a few scenes at an interesting location - often using stock footage. So in this episode there was the whole big top circus trapeze scenes - one with a stock footage crowd and one without. But those scenes made up for the stagey scenes.

But this episode of TWILIGHT ZONE is all stagey scenes. There’s a sequence when they creep down to the crypt - and there are cobwebs and a spooky set, but the camera is stationary and there are no cuts or close ups. What I’m sure was written as the couple walking deeper and deeper into a dark and creepy basement is just two people walking... and avoiding all of the cob webs. Another scene is weird - there is organ music coming from the basement, but neither Ellis nor Sheila look towards the basement, so we don’t know where the music is coming from. Lots of non cinematic direction undercuts this story. So even though we have Matheson at his prime... we have kind of a lackluster episode.

Always great to see Reggie Nalder in an episode - his skulll-like face is perfect for this evil enemy from beyond the grave, but for some reason (Newland's direction?) he over acts in this episode, which he did not do in the TERROR IN TEAKWOOD eoisode.

- Bill

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Take This Job And Shove It!

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

Take This Job And Shove It:

What’s interesting to me about this clip is that the first question is about when you should quit your day job, but evolved into a story about my early career... and the troubled path TREACHEROUS took to get to the screen. What do they have in common? I had no idea at the time of the interview, but looking back on it I’ve realized that the TREACHEROUS story is a perfect example of how being a professional screenwriter is often not a dependable source of income. That’s one of the problems with any creative occupation - no regular paychecks.

Screenwriting is freelance - which means that you are the boss. Which means that you pay yourself. Which means that you need to find the jobs so that you can pay yourself. You will be an independent businessperson. Though you may fantasize about an Agent or Manager handling the business side, that is only a fantasy. Most of the deals you get will come from your hard work... and they will get their 10%. You are the only one who cares about your career, so you will need to get out there and find jobs.

One of the questions that new writers frequently ask is: when should I move to Los Angeles?

I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t have to move to Los Angeles at all. My first script deal, back when I was 21 years old, was writing a comedy martial arts film NINJA BUSTERS for a guy from my hometown community college and it was made in Oakland, CA - the nearest big city to where I grew up - and even starred the World Champion Oakland Raiders. Cool! I believed that I could have a career in my hometown, and NINJA BUSTERS was the first in a three script deal with the guy who produced and directed it, Paul Kyriazi. Paul had made a few successful kung fu movies for the drive in circuit and set up a company that would make more drive in films. After writing NINJA BUSTERS I wrote the next two scripts... and then NINJA BUSTERS hit some financial snags and there would not be two more films. The weird part was that there was enough publicity surrounding the film that I found a couple more local jobs - one of the producers on NINJA BUSTERS had an idea for a movie, and a real estate guy my girlfriend at the time knew had a bunch of vacant properties he thought we could use as film locations. So even after NINJA BUSTERS hit a snag, there were two more deals to be had in the Oakland area. And then there was nothing. I was the big fish in the small pond and had eaten up all of the fish food. I spent ten years working in a warehouse...

And during that time I optioned a script to a company in Beverly Hills and eventually sold another script to a company at Paramount... and that is when I moved.

Looking back on it: I wish I had moved right after NINJA BUSTERS hit the snag, because I could have forklift jousted in Los Angeles as easily as I did in my home town. I was working for Safeway Grocery, and they had stores and warehouses in Los Angeles. Could have easily moved here much earlier instead of driving down once a year for American Film Market. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you bump into people in line at the grocery store and can easily go to a bunch of meetings. I had an agent for a while still living in my home town and had no idea how terrible he was until I optioned that script to the producer in Beverly Hills and saw his 8x8 windowless office above a motorcycle repair shop in the slums. I would have been a lot more proactive had I known that he was doing nothing for me. I was probably the oldest dude to sell a script to Roger Corman - and had I moved to Los Angeles earlier I probably would have written a stack of scripts for him in my 20s!

WHEN TO MOVE?

One of the questions people often ask is when they should move to Los Angeles - before they make their first sale or after? That’s a very good question and everything depends on what you have established where you live now. I moved after my first sale and once I got here wished I had moved earlier - all of those Corman scripts I could have written. All of those connections I could have made. And I probably never would have signed with that terrible agent!

But it is likely that you will move here at some point.

Los Angeles is where the business is located. All of the studios are here, all of the production companies are here, all of those meetings you will need to go to are here. Though there are other places in the USA where films are frequently produced and you can make connections there, those films are made by companies in Los Angeles. New York doesn’t seem to be doing much these days - Miramax is closed and most of the New York City companies dried up when the indie film business evolved into guys and gals in their backyards with digital cameras a decade ago.

I have friends who live out of town and come here a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks to do wall-to-wall meetings so that they can maintain their career out of town. The rest they do by phone or Skype. That is a possibility, especially if you have a family and a house and a life set up elsewhere.

If you are single? Why not be single here? Yeah, it’s so expensive you’ll probably be living in some terrible apartment with room mates, but when you are single and young it’s an adventure! And there are places you can live within driving distance of Los Angeles that are affordable if you are looking for a house and no roommates.

If you have a good job in your hometown, that can be an issue... but do they have a branch office or store or whatever in Los Angeles? Can you transfer? Keep the good job, just do it in Los Angeles? If not, then you might want to keep the good job. One of the problems with trying to re-establish yourself in a new city is that all of the “ground work” takes time. I got my job at Safeway Grocery because I bumped into a store manager at a business we both frequented, and his son knew my brother. That sort of thing is a lot more difficult when your brother lives in your hometown and that store manager’s son lives in Los Angeles. So if you have a good job, you may want to move after the sale... or not at all.

You don’t want to get into a position where you are stressed about money and can’t write. That defeats the purpose!

WHEN I QUIT MY JOB

After selling COURTING DEATH - a series of flights to Los Angeles - I put in my 2 weeks notice, and I think I ended up working even longer. I was a good employee. And that’s a factor that some people miss - if you are a crappy employee at your day job, how do you think you’ll do when you are the boss of your own one person company and have to make deadlines and show up to meetings on time and all of the other things you may have hated about the day job? I was always a hard working employee, always the guy who would take an extra shift if need be, always the guy that the other employees got along with. Always on time. All of the things that make you a good employee at your day job are the same factors that will make you successful as a screenwriter. If you are not the very best employee at your day job, the person they can trust to show up on time and get the work done without mistakes, you will never be ready to quit your day job and write full time... because how will you (as boss) get you (as employee) to do better? You have already proven yourself a terrible employee - why would you hire yourself? I was the great employee then, and a pretty good employee now. So when I quit my day job, they threw a big party for me.

I moved to Los Angeles to begin this adventure in screenwriting... which is still going! I haven't had to fire myself yet!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: PETULIA (1968)

PETULIA (1968)

Directed by: Richard Lester.
Written by: Lawrence B. Marcus.
Starring: Julie Christie, George C. Scott, Richard Chamberlain, Joseph Cotten.
Director Of Photography: Nic Roeg.
Music: John Barry.

The British Invasion of the sixties extended to film, and two of my favorite movies are from UK directors who came to the USA in the late sixties to make films that partially take place in San Francisco and featured Alcatraz in the stories and used crazy fractured chronology that turned cinema into a visual poem... and both begin with the letter “P”. This is the *other one*. Everybody knows my favorite film is John Boorman’s POINT BLANK (1967) because it can be watched again and again and is open to so many different interpretations, not because the story is vague but because the story is so *dense*. Packed with more information than you can see at one viewing. Though PETULIA is probably something you might watch more than once, it’s more because you may not get the scene order in your mind first time around and need to see it again to confirm that you’ve put the puzzle together correctly... also because it contains some great performances and an amazing score by John Barry.



The story is kind of Plot 52B: Middle aged, recently divorced man Archie (George C. Scott) meets a free spirited young woman Petulia (Julie Christie) at a party and they have an affair that changes the direction of his life... except this is the dark, psychodelic version where nothing is as it seems. The story takes place in 1968 San Francisco. Which was ground zero in the cultural revolution. There have always been some form of “hippy”, a young anti establishment group that tries to shake up the world... from the Beats to Flappers to Wandervogels to Swing Kids. But add all of the things happening in the 1960s from Civil Rights to Women’s Rights to Viet Nam War Protests, we really had a cultural revolution. Add in the changes in technology and the explosion of drug culture in America and you have a volatile point in history... and that’s when and where this film takes place.

Where this movie takes that stock plot and makes it original is in its fractured chronology. It has flashbacks and flashforwards and flashsideways and just jumps around time like crazy... even pausing for some odd images that we can only assume are *symbolic* of the relationships. “It’s a Pepsi generation,” as Archie says at one point. Like POINT BLANK, the film comes off as a tone poem *and* a movie and has an amazing style that seems to have been lost today (except for filmmakers like Soderbergh who used it in his homage to POINT BLANK, THE LIMEY). Since two of my favorite films that begin with the letter P both use this technique... as well as all of those Nic Roeg films... I think it’s interesting that no one does this anymore. Oh, and speaking of Nic Roeg, he was the DP on this film... and his last film as DP for another director. He would co direct his next film, the equally trippy PERFORMANCE. Roeg's movies were a huge influence on me, and some of my screenplays (like the unproduced LAST STAND) use the fractured chronology that Roeg took away from this film directed by Richard Lester.

The other difference between PETULIA and all of the other films about middle aged dudes who hook up with a hippy girl half his age is the *bleak* and edgy look at life. This film has no shortage of shocking moments.



Archie is a doctor who attends a hospital fund raiser where Janis Joplin and Big Brother And The Holding Company and The Greatful Dead are entertainment, and this strange young woman Petulia keeps hitting on him. What? She’s half his age and way out of his league and doesn’t seem to take no for an answer. She points out her jealous husband (Richard Chamberlain) who is a wealthy failed yacht designer living off his uberrich father (Joseph Cotton) who is kind of the “whale” this whole shindig is aimed at. Petulia has only been married for six months, and is already trying to find someone to have an affair with... and Archie is the lucky guy. They head to an ultra modern no tell motel: where the desk clerk is on a video screen and the keys and credits cards or cash go into a vending machine below that video screen. Oh, the desk clerk on that video screen is played by Richard Dysart (from THE THING and a million other films) in his first role! So begins the affair from hell...

Petulia is wild and unpredictable, but not always in a good way. You see, she’s being physically abused by her husband who is a few steps from crazy. Returning from their honeymoon in Baja, a little Mexican kid tries to sell them some junk while they wait to cross the border back to the USA... and when Petulia jokingly invites the kid into the car... her husband David decides to *kidnap* the kid and take him all the way back to San Francisco! He beats the hell out of her a few times, and when Archie tries to talk to David about it, he’s basically told to mind his own business if he wants the hospital to get its regular donations. Petulia smashes windows in order to steal whatever she wants, including a *tuba* that Archie is stuck returning to the store (and probably paying for the broken window.) Archie gets more trouble than pleasure from this affair. Why did she pick him?



In a flashback at the *end* of the movie, you find out why... and it has to do with that kidnapped Mexican kid. The film is a puzzle, and you really have to pay attention to put the pieces together.

Along the way, Archie has to deal with all of the normal problems of a divorced guy, from his ex wife Polo (Shirley Knight) who is still in love with him... but dating the most boring man in the world (Roger Bowen) to try to make him jealous, to his two sons who like mom’s new boyfriend better, to fellow doctor Barney (Arthur Hill) who is about to break up with his wife, to the nurse May (Pippa Scott) who has a crush on him and wonders why he’s having an affair with a woman half his age who is so much trouble. Just as the film’s chronology is fractured, the way we live our lives is equally fractured.



PETULIA is more than just a time capsule of the late sixties, it’s a haunting film with a haunting John Barry score with strong images and a nightmare look at that cliche middle aged crazy plot... and an ending that might remind you of... ANNIE HALL! A movie you will never forget. Directed by Richard Lester, who probably invented the music video with films like The Beatles A HARD DAY’S NIGHT and HELP.

PETULIA is an uncommon movie.

Bill
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