Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kiss Of Death

Day after Christmas, let's go back ten years on the blog and see what I posted...

This is Richard Widmark's first film role... and he steals the movie. Notice how the character is in contrast with himself - that's what makes him interesting. In films we'd had happy-go-lucky people who enjoyed their work, and we'd had hit men... but never happy-go-lucky hit men who enjoyed their work! He does those two things that don't seem like they belong together, and makes it all seem natural.



And another attack on Great Britain, sorry!

UK's Movies For Men 2:

Sunday April 12th, 21:00 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

Tuesday April 14th, 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Tuesday April 14th, 22:05 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub. 1997.

I'm sorry for the pain I have caused anyone who watches these.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Talent Shortage Part 2: The Revenge

Last Wednesday and today, this 2 part series from 2007!

Lots of response on the last entry, here are some more answers and thoughts.

So many of these bad AFM films were written-produced-directed by the same person, who might have been able to do *one* of those jobs right - but they were not looking to hire anyone else (or even get advice from anyone else).

I was in the lobby for a while yesterday, and talked to a few writers. One had financing from private sources and had written a script... and he was looking for a distrib and a director and someone to physically produce the film. This guy told me every producer or director who has read the script so far had the exact same problems with it... but he was sure he'd find someone who shared his vision.

I think this guy did an amazing thing in finding the money to make a film... but he either needs to fix the script or find someone to rewrite it. He isn't interested in doing either.

So many of the companies at AFM are clones of the company I talked about in a previous entry (about the stunt guys) - and they don't know what is a good script and even if they find one someone at the company rewrites it into crap. They don't have talent and they don't care... and they're in charge.

The main thing at market is still that the middle has fallen out - I was talking to a couple of producers who said the only films that can make a profit are extreme low budgets ($10-15k) and movies made for $2 million with stars working below their rate in the cast... or big stars in big budget movies that the studio will buy.

Oh, and those rare really great films.

The $15k and below movies - writers don't get paid.

The $2 million movies with stars - well, those deals usually begin with someone who has access to a star who will work below below their rate... the guy with access has a script, and no matter how bad that script is, that's the one that gets made.

The studio style films work just like any other studio film... and often they begin with star access. When I talk to these guys, the thing I hear over and over again is - who is attached?

One of the producers I talked with is a guy I know who made a $100k film that distribs are offering him the kind of money on that only makes sense if the film had cost $15k. He found his script on Craig's List (why even look there?) and I read it. The script had lots and lots of problems, not the least of which was that it could not be made on $100k. I gave him notes and told him he needed to create a small role and hire a name to play it. He passed my notes on to the writer... who ignored them. The problem is, the producer didn't have any money in his budget to pay the writer for rewrites or hire another writer... and the writer didn't want to lift a finger to improve his script. So it was filmed as is, without the role written for a name, and now it's a crappy film without even a single name in the cast. Hard to sell one of those.

Now, my first question is why not start with a good script? But obviously there aren't enough out there. Well, not enough out there that this guy could afford. But why not wait until you find a good script before making the film? Why just grab the first script that comes along? I would really worry if there wasn't a better script than this one... even on Craig's List.

Those middle movies that start with a script - very few of those are made these days. The focus is so much on the stars, that the scripts are an afterthought. Big mistake! When you're cruising the aisles at Blockbuster and you see some new movie you've never heard of with some big name star - that may be one of these suckfests.

I had 2 films come out on DVD this year, and both ended up completely screwed up because there isn't enough talent (or people who care) in the other creative departments. What pissed me off most is that in one case they had a script that everyone thought was really good... so they changed it. People who didn't know anything about screenwriting made changes that turned it into crap. But these people were in charge - they paid me - so they must know more than me, right? Okay... this is headed into sour grapes territory, so I'm going to get back on topic: There is a big talent shortage - and even if they buy a good script, it doesn't end up good by the time it hits the screen.

For me the frustrating part is that we could have better movies, producers could make more money, and good writing could be rewarded... if they just put quality first. The guy with the great star connection and the not-so-great script? You know, maybe it would be a better film with someone else's script? The guy with the great money connection and the not-so-great script? Wouldn't the investors be more happy with him if he found a great script that would bring a greater financial return? Shouldn't the focus be on making a good film?

Maybe the stars and producers and directors should learn the difference between a good script and a script that makes *them* look good? You know, they would make more money in the long run, and actually look better in the long run. You have to put the film first.

Look, if someone offered me a bus-load of money to write a rom-com, I'm not going to take it. I'm the wrong writer for that job. I know my limitations. This project would be better off with some other writer.

I think the quality of the project has to come before ego. Has to come before everything... or we'll just end up with more bad films.

NOT MY JOB



I think this is the real problem: no one wants to do their job. Agents don't want to search for new talent, so they only read scripts that are referred to them. Producers don't want to search for scripts, they want agents to find them... and they would rather someone just hand them a script that already has Tom Cruise attached - saves them finding a star.

The result of all of this are films like BATTLEFIELD EARTH - John Travolta attached to a script, and he'll work for below his quote.

And speaking of Tom Cruise, I haven't seen LIONS FOR LAMBS, but it's not getting good reviews. The reason why it got made? Well, Tom Cruise's company and Redford's company wanted to make it.

Problem is - I don't see a major change in the way business is done any time in the future. Writers are the least important part of the equasion. So many companies at AFM believe that a script is a script. If they want to make good movies, movies with a shelf life, they need to start with a good script... then make sure every other element in the film is good.

This may happen because of the policy shift at Blockbuster - starting in January they are remodeling stores to focus on DVD sales instead of rentals. You may rent a DVD because of good box art, but you aren't going to spend $25 to *buy* a DVD unless it's a movie that you plan on seeing more than once - and that means it has to be a good movie... and good movies start wih good scripts.

Of course, this shake up will take *years* for producers to figure out. If they ever do.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Talent Shortage

For the next 2 Wednesdays, this 3 part series from 2007!

So, I’ve been wandering the halls of the American Film Market for the past couple of days, and it seems that there are more films than there are talented people who can make films.

If you don’t know, the American Film Market is a trade show for independent films held every year at the Leow’s Hotel in Santa Monica. It used to be in Beverly Hills, and it used to be in February. For the past few years it seems to get smaller as it gets larger. Now it’s in 2 hotels, but not nearly as crowded as it used to be.

Though Miramax and Focus Films show up, most of the companies at AFM fall under the classic definition of “Indie” - films made outside the studio system. That includes everything from future Oscar nominees (I think more Oscar winners come from AFM than anywhere else) to schlock genre films you find on the bottom shelf at Blockbuster... and everything in between. Hundreds and hundreds of movies - and most of them aren’t very good. Even the prestige films - the ones that they hope will be nominated for Oscars - often suck. They make a bunch of prestige films, and not all end up making it to the big screen... and only 5 of those get nominated. The schlock genre films? Well...

No one sets out to make a bad movie. Even the schlock genre films are trying to be great genre films. Budget really has nothing to do with whether a film is good or not - we’ve all seen a huge Hollywood summer film that stinks. But money can often hide the stink behind special effects or movie stars. Of course, none of that seemed to help EVAN ALMIGHTY. A low budget film is just stinky, not much you can do.

We’ve also seen great low budget films. I remember when I first saw EL MARIACHI, the $7k action flick with more cool action and more humor and more just wild stuff than most $100 million Hollywood action flicks. Did you see the mind-bender sci-fi flick PRIMER? Also made for pocket change.

Usually when I see a film that sucks, the most sucky part is usually the script. I can’t figure that out, because the one part you can work on until it’s close to perfect without spending a whole lot of money is the script. Sure, you have to pay a writer to do some rewrites... but the only other cost is *paper*. On sale at Fry’s Electronics - 500 sheets for 99 cents. And if you only buy good scripts, it’s up to the *writer* to do the rewrites before you buy it.

Bad writers are part of the talent shortage - readers say most of the scripts they read are crap... and you’ve read scripts on Zoetrope or some other site that stinks. You know there are bad scripts out there... in fact, statistically, some of you reading this are probably responsible for some of those bad scripts. You probably don’t know it. But *somebody* is writing all of those bad scripts. There is a shortage of good scripts, and it seems like there are many more films than there are good scripts.

Now, I know first hand that a good script can be turned into crap on the way to the screen. I was talking to an actor who was in one of my films about the director who completely ruined the film... and that’s part of the talent shortage. One you have a good script, there are a lot of people involved in making a film, and any of them can screw it up.

A BAD FILM



So, a friend of mine is a distrib and sometimes producer, and he has a suite at AFM. He owns cameras and lighting equipment and a warehouse (studio) and makes his films for what you have in your checking account. The costs are digital tape, crew, cast, and food. As I’m wandering the halls he asks if I have time to see a movie. Sure, why not? I have missed the first few minutes, but the story is kind of RESERVOIR DOGS on Alcatraz with a monster. That may sound a little crazy to you, but it works - these heavily armed thieves pulling a heist on Alcatraz start double crossing each other... but when they start finding members of the team dead they blame the double crossers and don’t realize a monster is responsible. Eventually they have to take on the monster. A good little genre idea.

And the script was pretty good. Some funny lines, some good conflict among the thieves, and the characters were interesting enough and more fleshed out than many big budget Hollywood films I’ve seen. So what went wrong?

Well, three things. First - though my friend told me there was Alcatraz footage in the beginning (that I missed), the film was obviously shot in his warehouse on a jail cell set they built. A couple of cells. It really needed some “scope” and some production value. I’ve taken the Alcatraz tour a few times - it’s not very expensive, and they take you out on a boat to the prison then take you through the entire prison and even lock you up in a cell and in Solitary as part of the tour. It would have been easy to grab a Southwest flight from LA to SF ($39 each way), take the tour with a video camera and shoot all kinds of great stock footage. Hey, for a couple of bucks more, they could have either brought one of the actors and grabbed some shots of them in the actual prison. Hey, if the actor was too expensive, just someone in the actor’s *costume* - shoot them from the back or from a distance. But someone has to *think of this*.

The second big problem was production design. This film was shot in my friend’s warehouse, and the prison cells looked pretty good... but two of the sets were downright awful. They killed the film for me. Like the script, the sets are something that you can put together long before you shoot the film. No need to keep a cast and crew waiting. The two sets that were so bad they ruined the film for me were the Warden’s Office - which looked like it was furnished out of a dumpster, and the Security Room. Okay, you have this security room that is supposed to be filled with monitors so that they can watch every square inch of the prison and make sure no guards or police or park rangers are coming to get them. They post one of the thieves there - think that guy in DIE HARD who pretends to be a security guard. This is a good part of the script - makes sense in the story and shows the writer was thinking. But we don’t see the monitors - what we see are the ass ends of a half dozen computer monitors. That don’t match. Probably the result of more dumpster diving. What they *should have done* is taken 50 different photos at Alcatraz - towers, hallways, cellblocks, fences, exercise yard, etc. Something else to do on that tour. Then take 49 of those photos and make 8x8 transparencies. Build a framework - 7 photos wide, 7 photos tall. Paint it silver or black. Mount the transparencies. Back light them. Instant bank of monitors! What’s more - you have 49 shots of *real* Alcatraz on the monitors! That’s *added production value*. But someone has to *think of this*.

Third problem was flat, boring, direction. Here’s the thing - you have no money. You have a cast that are mostly not that great. You have sets that look cheap. What you need to do is use a direction style that adds energy and takes the focus away from the stuff that doesn’t work. I would have done the EL MARIACHI thing and kept the camera moving and kept the angles changing. I would have use that gonzo style they used in SHOOT ‘EM UP. The subject matter opens the door for this. Moving shots and quick cuts and different angles would have focused us on the *actor* (or whatever the subject of the shot was) and kept us from seeing all of the cheapo stuff... but instead we get lengthy unmoving shots on sticks were you have time to notice all of the production value issues. By the way, the guy who wrote that pretty good script (much much better than most films at 10 times the budget)... also directed. As the writer, he should have asked for a better director! Again - someone needs to *think of the direction*.

The problem is - more movies than people who can think.

TALENT, TIME, MONEY



Look, I know how difficult it is to make a film with no money. I should probably be saving my criticisms for the $200 million dollar Hollywood suckfests. But when you are spending the *time* and what little money is in the budget to make a film, you might as well make a film that is going to change your career... or at least be pretty good. Why waste the money?

My robot hooker from outer space flick was made in 9 days with very little money. Really nothing to brag about. But someone (probably the director) found these freak fish with arms and legs at some fish store and had an aquarium full of them in one character’s office. That was a touch that elevated this low budget film a little - one of many. When you don’t have money, talent and creativity and even just trying to make a good film matter more than ususal.

At AFM there seems to be a talent shortage. There are scripts that aren’t good. Directors that aren’t good. Actors that aren’t good. DPs that aren’t good. Set designers that aren’t good. Either that or they don’t care.

I’m kind of a weird optimist type - I believe that almost everyone can learn and improve themselves. I believe that the bad director just needs to learn about film theory and work a little harder and maybe become a better director. The director the actor and I were talking about has a *massive* ego and thinks he knows it all... when he knows next to nothing. That’s probably the biggest problem with movies of any budget - the bigger the ego the more likely the emperor has no talent. But the bigger the ego the more likely some producer believes this kid really knows something.

There are people who think they don’t need to do the 100% job on a low budget film because it’s a low budget film... when the truth is, you *must* do the 100% job on a low budget film because there is no star or FX to distract the viewer from the problems. The lower the budget, the more talent required just to make it half good!

MY FILM IS GREAT



One of the things that bothers me the most when I wander the halls at AFM, watching the trailers playing on monitors, is the number of films where the script just stinks... in the 5 minute trailer! I mean, if they can’t find enough good bits of dialogue for the trailer, they’re in a heap-o-trouble! Plus the movies that have the exact same plot we’ve seen a million times before - watch for a new movie starring Daryl Hannah about a car load of teens on their way someplace whose car breaks down in some out of the way location where the locals stalk ‘em and kill ‘em one by one. Did they use carbon paper to write that script? Tracing paper? I mean, how completely unoriginal can you get? Why spend the money on a real cast (Daryl Hannah and some other names) for such a retread of a story?

When I look at the credits on most of these stinky trailers I often see that they are written and produced and directed by the same person. Now, I’m all for making your own movie... but I think a man needs to be aware of his limitations. If you are a talented director but can’t write worth beans - find someone who knows how to write. And I don’t mean find someone to type up your lame-ass kids car breaks down story, I mean find a good script with a good idea and buy the script... then don’t eff it up. If you are great at finding money but can’t direct or write, just find the money and hire talented folks to do the other stuff. I’ve seen movies that completely sucked - but the guy found the funding and keeps finding the funding for more movies that completely suck. The problem is - these folks who have one talent often think they have *all* talents. They don’t. The reason why we still talk about Orson Welles is because he was the guy who had all of the talents (except the one for making movies that made money). Hey, Welles was, like, 70 years ago! In all that time, we haven’t found some other guy to talk about... and it sure ain’t you. Most people struggle with *one* talent, don’t think you can do it all. Now, if you are making a film on pocket change that’s a different story - you can’t afford anybody else. Kevin Smith knows he’s not a visual director and knows he’s not a mainstream screenwriter - so he keeps his budgets low and does what he does. He knows his limitations. CHASING AMY cost $250k. If you’re making that credit card film, go for it. But when you get to the level of some of these guys who make one bad film after another - yet they have real budgets and real stars - maybe it’s time to figure out where your talents lie and let somebody else do the other stuff. If you aren’t a great writer find someone who is!

So many of the producers at AFM really don’t care - it’s all a product to them. That means we have to care twice as much. We have to work twice as hard. We have to call upon our hidden reserves of talent to turn some low budget genre flick into a film that really delivers the goods to the audience. The kind of film you might rent for the nice box art... but after watching it you realize you have found a real gem. You tell your friends about it. You *buy* the danged DVD so that you can see it again.

As I wander down the hallways of AFM and pass the poster for I AM OMEGA (I keep waiting for the copyright police to raid the Asylum offices), I realize there is only so much talent in Hollywood... and there’s not enough to go around.

If you have a choice... Be talented. Care about your work. Make good movies. Don’t let your ego get in the way.

Don't be part of the talent shortage - be part of the talent solution!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Yesterday’s Dinner: Steak & Eggs at Norm’s in Santa Monica - kind of a low key celebration. More on that later in an entry called Seller's Remorse.
PAGES: Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Trailer Tuesday:
BLACK CHRISTMAS

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Writers: Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder.

Usually when we think of director Bob Clark and Christmas, we think of his classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY about that wacky family (that's much like yours and mine) and that kid's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun... but I'm trying to avoid the obvious and find holiday films in unexpected genres.




Like Bob Clark's horror masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. The concept is great, a college sorority house as the girls leave to head home for the holidays one by one... but *are* they going home? Or are they being murdered by a maniac and stored up in the attic? This film turns the holiday break background into mystery and suspense.

The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. So we have this great all star cast in a horror film that, like John Carpenter's THE THING, gets much of its mileage by having the characters suspect each other; and also gives us a logical possibility that no one has been murdered... and it's all in Olivia Hussey's head.




This film has a couple of amazing "you can't do that in a movie" twists, including one where we are *sure* we know who the killer is... and are then proven wrong *after* they have been killed. Hey, that's kind of like THE THING, too!

Also there's a great sense of Holiday humor, plus Margot's phone number....

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS. And it's a great holiday film, since Christmas is going on in the background. A disturbing double bill with Bob Clark's CHRISTMAS STORY... something to warm your heart, then cut it out with a rusty knife!




Bill
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