Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Scene Of The Week: CARRIE (1976)

There's a new documentary about Brian DePalma (does it surprise anyone that he's one of my favorite directors?) that purports that DePalma does not copy Hitchcock, he just speaks the same language. The language of cinema. That DePalma has made all kinds of movies - from comedies to horror to thrillers to dramas - and even though he's obviously a fan of Hitchcock, much of what critics see as Hitchcock in many of his films is just speaking the visual language of film. Of course you shoot it that way - you don't want to look illiterate, do you? You want to clearly communicate to the audience, right? Last week we looked at a clip from JAWS with techniques that were lifted from Hitchcock, but few people diminish Spielberg's talent for speaking the language of film, why do they always go after DePalma? Before we look at our scene from CARRIE, here's a look at DePalma's low budget horror flick SISTERS...



And now the CARRIE entry...

After last week’s very long take that was locked down in the back seat of the getaway car in GUN CRAZY, I thought it would be fun to look at kind of the opposite - a scene where the camera moves but the protagonist stays in the same spot... and this underappreciated shot from Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). This was the first version of Stephen King’s first best seller to hit the screen, and so far the best. There was a TV version and a sequel/remake (RAGE) and now we are getting a remake by the talented Kimberly Peirce who directed one of my favorite indies BOYS DON’T CRY. I think she’s a great match for the material, and her version will end up different than DePalma’s because she has a different point of view...

Buy the dvd

But the DePalma film made him a star director (it was his *tenth* feature film!) And also made many cast members into stars. It was John Travolta’s *second* film (after THE DEVIL’S RAIN) and Piper Laurie’s return to the big screen after a *15 year* absence after her Oscar nominated performance as the love interest in THE HUSTLER opposite Paul Newman, and Amy Irving’s first movie, and P.J. Soles’ (ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, HALLOWEEN) first movie, and William Katt’s first movie, and Nancy Allen’s first movie, and Betty Buckley’s first movie, and Edie McClurg’s first movie. What’s interesting about all of these young actors is that they were cast in CARRIE after auditioning for another film... called STAR WARS. DePalma sat in on Lucas’ auditions and picked people for *his* film... yes, that means John Travolta and William Katt might have played Luke Skywalker!

Usually when we think of *Exposition* we think of Basil Exposition from the AUSTIN POWERS movies (or his cousin Prompter Exposition who always asks those leading questions so that someone can spend a couple of minutes of screen time talking on-and-on about what has happened and why it happened and any other story information the audience needs to know. “As a scientist, I’m sure you know that...” Boring stuff that often brings the story to a halt *and* ends up silly. Part of a screenwriter’s job is to find ways to hide exposition so that the audience has no idea they are getting the information. In the Dialogue Blue Book I look at some techniques like using conflict in the scene to disguise the exposition, but Lawrence D. Cohen’s screenplay for CARRIE uses *actions* to give us the necessary exposition. Instead of that verbal exposition dump, we get an intense emotional scene packed with information... and all in one shot!

This shot *begins* at Tommy (William Katt) and Carrie (Sissy Spacek)’s prom table after they have just decided to go ahead and vote for themselves as Prom King & Queen even though they don’t have a chance in hell of winning. That’s when Norma (P.J. Soles) picks up the ballots from the table, and we follow her as she picks up other ballots from other tables. We see how the ballots are collected from all of the kids at the prom, and then we see Norma kiss her boyfriend and drop the ballots on the floor behind him, telling him to kick them behind the wall, then she grabs *fake* ballots from his coat as she pulls away from him. We see how they switch the ballots so that Carrie and Tommy will end up winning. All of this information we get visually, through the actions of the characters. No one has to tell us that they are switching the ballots...

And so far no one has told us *why* they are switching the ballots. This builds mystery.

Then we follow Norma to the faculty table where the ballots will be counted, and then she knocks on the window under the stage where Chris (Nancy Allen) and Billy Nolan (John Travolta) are hiding... and Chris is holding on to a rope. This hands off the scene, and Nancy goes on as we hold on Chris and Billy for a moment. Chris pulls slightly on the rope, and we *follow the rope*... to the back of the stage where Sue Snell (Amy Irving) sneaks in and hides behind the stage. Sue feels the rope moving, and we follow the rope up to the rafters over the stage... and that bucket of pig’s blood directly over the King & Queen’s chairs on the stage, and then look past the bucket of blood - back to where the shot began - at Carrie and Tommy sitting at their table as their names are announced as King & Queen... and they head toward the stage.

We now know *why* the ballots were switched, and we also know what is about to happen. This creates tension and dread and suspense...

Carrie White, who begins this story in blood when she has her first period in the gym shower, and was doused over the head and face by a glass of water by her mother at the dinner table; now will be drenched with pig’s blood on prom night... and they’re all going to laugh at her. This creates emotions in the viewer - Carrie has gone from bullied weird girl in a sack dress to Cinderella prom queen... and now that her life seems to have turned around we don’t want anything bad to happen to her.

More exposition told visually. No one *tells us* what the plan to ridicule Carrie at the prom is, or how it will work. Instead we *see* the exposition. As the audience traces that rope to the bucket of blood, their terror builds. They wish they could find some way to stop the inevitable. Instead of some dry verbal exposition, we get an emotional experience.



I was looking for the earlier clip - a single amazing shot that shows the whole ballot-box stuffing scheme at the prom as Carrie and Tommy actually begin to have a relationship in the background, but that clip is nowhere to be found on YouTube. When I was looking for this shot on line, all of the clips available either began at the end of the shot or somewhere in the middle. It seemed as if no one realized this was all one single long take. The clip labeled “Full Prom Scene” started at the end of the shot! Another clip that was all about the camera work, managed to start in the *middle* of the shot! It’s as if no one noticed this was all one long take - they were too busy experiencing the story unfold. Finally I found a clip on YouTube that *linked* a clip of the actual entire prom scene, and I was able to start at the beginning of this shot (but had no way to end the clip). Here’s that clip of the whole prom - and it begins with a long slow take reminiscent of the ballroom shot from Hitchcock’s YOUNG AND INNOCENT. The purpose of the long takes is to slow down the pacing to create contrast and shock/excitement after the pig’s blood when the action and horror kick in. The same way we use long sentences to slow the tempo down and short sentences to quicken the pacing.

And in the next series of shots, Sue Snell will trace the rope to the rafters, realize what is going to happen, and try like hell to stop it. She becomes our surrogate in the scene. Her success would be our success, her failure becomes our failure. Here’s that scene:



Exposition doesn't need to be someone talking on-and-on to give us that dump of information, we can give the information to the audience visually... and make it emotional and exciting!

- Bill

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1 Wednesday!

It's make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1 Wednesday!

FREE BOOK????

In honor of the Oscars, VINTAGE SCREENWRITING #1 will be FREE through Wednesday.
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Kind of a BUY ONE Get one FREE!

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NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!



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Over 240 pages!
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UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer "The Mask Of Zorro", "Shrek" and "Pirates Of The Caribbean".

"William C. Martell knows the action genre inside out. Read and learn from an expert!" - Mark Verheiden, screenwriter, "Time Cop" and "The Mask", head writer on "Smallville" and "Constantine".

"This book is dangerous. I feel threatened by it." -Roger Avary, Oscar winning screenwriter, "Pulp Fiction" and "Killing Zoe".

"Bill Martell is one of Hollywood's best action-adventure writers, with 19 produced films to his credit. His "Blue Books" on the art of screenplay writing are legendary and "Secrets of Action Screenwriting" is the best." - Best selling novelist Dale Brown.

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"Finally a screenwriting book written by a working professional screenwriter. Bill Martell really knows his stuff, showing you how to write a tight, fast screenplay." - John Hill, screenwriter, "Quigley Down Under" and "Closed Encounters Of The 3rd Kind".


These links all lead to the USA store, if you are in some other country and want to write a review for your country, go to your Amazon website.

Thank you all again.

Bill

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Scene Of The Week: Gun Crazy (bank robbery)

This film is 69 years and one month old today... I read a blog entry on another blog with the 20 Greatest Long Takes In Movies and was surprised that they left this one out. Many of those long takes in movies are kind of stunts - they usually just set the scene or show scenery instead of tell the story. The opening from TOUCH OF EVIL and the whole damned film of ROPE are the exceptions. But how many long takes are not just showing the story - but the concept of the unbroken take is what creates emotions in the audience?

This scene from GUN CRAZY is all one take... and because we are *trapped* in that take with no edits to help us escape, the suspense escalates. We can not cut to inside the bank. We can not cut to some other place. We are stuck *here*, in *this shot*, dealing with all of the problems *in this shot* and can not escape! It's a great scene, and there's an interesting rif on it in SPRING BREAKERS where we see the robbery through the window of the getaway car. But the *economy* of this scene really adds to the tension...



GUN CRAZY is a great film, a low budget film, and I talk about it a little in the Film Noir Class, and here's my review...

Gun Crazy - the DVD
GUN CRAZY is an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real locations that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway car Now we get one of the greatest scenes in low budget history - that “backseat bank robbery” above. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money. back seat camera They get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot. This is a *great* scene!
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guardThis is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece. Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entre family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds cha!sing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where th!ey hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this


Nothing sexual about this... - Bill

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Scene Of The Week: DIRTY HARRY

This week’s scene is one of my favorites, and it does a great job of introducing the protagonist... using *visual* exposition rather than the often clumsy verbal kind. I use it as one of several examples of protagonist introductions in THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING, and because that book works for all genres let’s snag that scene for discussion here.

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Though the "Hot Dog" scene in "Dirty Harry" (1971) isn't the first time we see the character (it’s his third scene), it is a good example of how to pack lots of information in a single scene. Harry is sitting at the counter in a blue collar diner eating a hot dog when he spots a car idling in front of a bank across the street. Harry tells the diner owner to call the police, then unholsters his 44 Magnum and stops the bank robbery single handed, destroying anything which gets in his way. Finally he threatens the downed bank robber, and gives his signature lines from the film: “Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

A great scene, huh?

So let's take a look at that scene and then tear it apart to see how it works:



One simple little scene - what do we learn about Harry from this scene?

1) He's a blue collar guy. When Harry says he’ll have the usual, the fry cook asks “Usual dinner or usual lunch?” Harry asks what does it matter... and the fry cook makes him a hot dog. Not only is Harry a regular here - he’s a regular here twice a day sometimes. San Francisco has all kinds of great restaurants, he’s more comfortable eating a hot dog at some neighborhood joint. We’ll look at the scene that follows this one in a moment for more of Harry’s blue collar side... and a simple thing that helps us identify with this Bad Ass Hero.

2) He's incredibly observant and smart. He sees the smoke from the tail pipe of the car parked in front of the bank, and figures out that there is a robbery in progress. Harry is kind of like Sherlock Holmes - he sees all of the small details that others miss. Everyone else sees a busy city street - Harry sees the car idling in front of the bank. We’ll look at the actual introduction scene to Harry in a moment, which has more Sherlock Holmes elements.

3) He carries a non-regulation gun. A HUGE gun. A gun that isn't designed to wound, but to kill. That was one of the “selling points” of this film - that huge gun. It’s the most powerful handgun in the world. It’s a *hand cannon*. There’s a chapter of SECRETS OF ACTION called “Weapons For Weirdos” about how a character’s choice of weapon can give us character information and create a way for us to identify the character. If everyone uses the same (regulation) gun, they become bland. We want our characters - even the henchmen - to stand out. Have a “personality”. If giving Henchman #2 a cross bow helps turn a minor character into someone more memorable, go for it! That same theory applies to your protagonist. Don’t give them a bland weapon (or wardrobe or whatever) when you can give them a distinctive one.

4) He faces the robbers alone. He is fearless. He tells the fry cook to call the police department and tell them there is a 211 in progress. But the moment he hears the alarm go off, he gets off his stool, eating the last of his hot dog, and pulls his gun and starts shooting. There are two bad guys, one of him - and he’s still chewing on his lunch - and he just strolls out and engages them in a shoot out.

5) He doesn't wait for back up. He's a lone wolf, not a team player. He could have easily just waited for the police cars to come after the fry cook called in the 211. It’s his lunch hour, right? But that isn’t Harry. Harry isn’t really part of the police department, he’s his own man. In the second scene with Harry, he’s reporting to the Chief Of Police (John Larch) and the Mayor (John Vernon) and he’s paired with toady team player Lt. Bressler (Harry Gardino) to bring out Harry’s independence. Where Bressler is doing everything possible to kiss the Mayor’s ass, Harry is holding his disdain in check. He’s a guy who does his job but hates office politics. He is not a team member, nor is he a show off. He’s *independent* and *interdependent*, which matches the cowboy character Eastwood played in many films.

6) He continues eating his lunch as he brings down the robbers. This is just another normal occasion for Harry. He’s calm while everyone else (robbers included) are running and screaming. Cars flip over! Shotguns are fired at him! At one point he looks down at his leg and sees red drops, and you can see him wondering: ketchup or blood? He is not afraid or hurt or affected. He is a bad ass. Everyone else has their adrenaline pumping like crazy, Harry is just trying to finish his lunch. While shooting bad guys.

7) Nothing gets in his way on his quest for "justice". He trashes the entire block while catching the criminals. Talk about collateral damage! There’s a great shot where Harry walks through the wreckage, past the flipped car and blasting fire hydrant, through the “rain”, passing a civilian car where people are screaming, directly to the injured suspect with the shotgun. Harry is a juggernaut. All of this destruction isn’t even on his radar, only the perp. This is an important character trait, because Harry will cause all kinds of destruction in his wake later in the story that will get him almost thrown off the force.

8) He doesn't give the wounded robber the Miranda-Escobito warning... He threatens to KILL him. No kid gloves, here. This guy treats criminals like scum. Here’s where he gets his signature line, and informs us that the gun will blow the bad guy’s head clean off.

9) For being such a bad ass, he has a sense of playfulness. Though the “Six shots or only five” line is a threat, it’s a *clever* threat. Harry isn’t some on-the-nose tough cop, he’s the kind of cop who is going to say things like “When a naked man is chasing a woman with a butcher knife and a hard on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross” to explain why he shot a suspect. Harry always has some amusing way of saying things - and the target of his wise cracks tend to be authority figures like the Mayor. This is a great way to balance out a character who is mostly seen in violent action.

10) Harry is always in control. After he threatens the wounded bank robber, who gives up and lets Harry take his shot gun rather that have his head blown clean off by that 44 Magnum, the robber says: “I’ve got to know.” Did Harry fire 6 shots or only 5? Was Harry’s threat just a bluff? Remember, Harry has that Sherlock Holmes element - of course he knows how many shots he fired in all of this excitement. But instead of Harry saying it was all just a bluff and his gun is empty, he walks up to the robber and aims the HUGE gun point blank at his face and pulls the trigger. Click. Harry smiles and walks away. Remember that actions not only speak louder than words, they are more visceral - and can be more clever. Of all of the ways Harry could have shown the bank robber that his gun was empty and this was a bluff, *this* method packs the most punch. Look for the small ways you can make an impact in your scene. The *beats* in the scene are important, and need to be just as creative and interesting as the scene itself. It’s not just the scene idea, but all of the little ideas within the scene.

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We learn many other details, and also get audience identification with Harry: This interrupts his lunch. Not even a sit-down lunch, but a lousy hot dog. Anyone who has ever had their lunch interrupted by work knows how Harry feels. I know that seems like a minor point of identification, but Harry is what I call a Bad Ass Protagonist, kind of a superhero without the tights. Though I go into much more detail in the book, the problem with protagonists like this is that they are more characters we wish we could be than characters we can identify with - so anything you can do to give us a point of identification helps. Being interrupted at lunch by work may seem minor, but it’s something. The writer was *thinking*.

This is a “fun” scene. At no time do you think it’s any form of exposition. You probably weren’t aware that you were learning anything at all about this character. It was a big shoot out and the protag’s signature line. A fire hydrant gets hit! A car flips over! And Harry’s reaction is *irritated* that his lunch has been interrupted! This is an *entertaining* scene, and we never realize that it is really and *information* scene. You never want the audience to realize you are establishing something that will pay off later or giving them critical plot information - you want them to be in the moment, enjoying the story. Storytelling is basically giving the audience information, but we don’t want them to be aware that they are getting that information - we want them to be wrapped up in the story.

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THE NEXT SCENE: After this shoot out, the red drops on Harry’s pants end up being blood rather that ketchup, and he goes to the emergency room. The doctor, Steve, grew up in the same neighborhood as Harry - establishing that Harry is a San Francisco native... and once had a childhood. (One of my favorite lines of dialogue is from ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ when Eastwood is asked how his childhood was and answers “Short”.) We also find out some personal information - the doctor tells Harry that if he has discomfort after being stitched up to have his wife... then stops cold and apologizes to Harry. And Harry has a flash of pain. The shotgun blast didn’t even register, but the mention of his wife does. This creates some character mystery which will be solved later in the story. Always great to withhold some information about your characters to keep the audience wondering (and involved) for a few scenes. This works especially well with Bad Ass Heroes because they tend to be mysterious. But when the doctor gets ready to cut off Harry’s trousers to remove the shotgun pellets, we get some character gold. Harry *painfully* removes the trousers, “For $29.50, let it hurt.” This guy lives on a budget, and that reinforces the blue collar aspects of his character and helps to create some identification with a character completely unlike us.

INTRO SCENE: The very first shot is the Scorpio Killer’s sniper rifle aiming right at the viewer! Then we see, through his sniper scope, a woman at a rooftop pool taking off her robe and diving in. Swimming laps. She’s beautiful, sexy, and the killer admires her through his sniper scope. Then fires - killing her - blood staining the water.

A door opens and Dirty Harry walks up to the rooftop pool. He’s silhouetted in the evening light - this is THE MAN. He studies the crime scene for a moment - and what we have is kind of a locked room mystery. Who could have gotten onto the rooftop to kill her? Who had access? Why didn’t she notice? Did she know the killer? But Harry is like Sherlock Holmes - he looks around at the other rooftops.

Harry walks down the streets until he comes to a skyscraper in the business district. On the rooftop, he walks around the perimeter - the city far below. Cars look like ants. You can’t even see people from this height. This is great, because we get a bird’s eye view of the city - and Harry is on top of it. There’s something subliminal about showing Harry looking over the city, not lost on Christopher Nolan. Harry walks around the top of the building until he comes to the side overlooking the rooftop swimming pool - way in the distance. We get a great telephoto shot of them removing the woman’s body that gives us a sense of how far away it is - just a blue rectangle from here. Harry searches the roof, finds a shell casing, uses his pencil to pick it up to preserve finger prints... then sees the paper flapping on an antenna and moves to read it. The Scorpio Killer’s note.

All of these actions in this opening scene have set the duel between Harry and the Scorpio Killer and shown how both are worthy adversaries. Harry has been established not just as a guy who uses the most powerful handgun in the world, but as a true detective like Sherlock Holmes. He can spot the clues where others can’t. A couple of minutes in and we have set up the entire story... and set up many elements of both protagonist and antagonist.

And in the Hot Dog Scene we learn at least ten very important things about Harry from this one brief scene. By the time Harry gets a new partner and is set out after the Scorpio Killer, we know exactly how he will react in every scene, because it was all set up in this character introduction scene. What we don't get in this scene – that Harry was married and his wife died after being hit by a drunk driver, but do we really need to know that to understand the character and their actions when the plot kicks in?

Do you feel lucky punk? Well, do you?

- Bill

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

ATLiH: Trilogy Of Terror: Part 3.... Was Che A Vampire?

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.

WAS CHE A VAMPIRE?

The last exhibit in our little gallery of gore might be called The Man Who Googled Himself... That’s not a very good title, this tale of terror really doesn’t have anything to do with Google - but my sister just sent me this new “game” where you Google the phrase “(Your first name) was arrested for” to find out about your sordid criminal past. You’d be surprised at all the criminal activities you’ve been involved in. You can only play this game once, so it isn’t as good as the Elephant Panty game, where you take two completely non-related words, throw quotes around them, and do a search. Then read all of the weird stuff on the hundred or so websites dedicated to “Sewer Golf” or “Television Trousers” or whatever you’ve looked up.

I Google myself every so often to find out if I’ve been linked to Paris Hilton or if they’ve finally discovered that I’m the father of the TomKat baby. I always run across something even more unbelievable. I might do a 2 hour class on Film Noir and quip that most of the characters in these films wear hats... Only to discover someone who took the class says on their website that “Martell says the main requirement in writing a film noir script is to make sure every character wears a hat” - and this person is *serious*. Out of the *one thousand* sentences in that class, they’ve latched on to *one* and decided that’s the key to writing a great script. This is some strange and misguided type of tunnel vision or selective hearing that leads to some really odd scripts. Pretty scary stuff!

I think how this happens is that the person already has some sort of odd hat fetish, and - like those dogs in Gary Larson cartoons who only hear “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah...” - these folks only hear what they want to hear. If it wasn’t about hats, they didn’t hear it. When I find something like this on a website or message board, I wonder what I can do to prevent it the next time I teach a class... but I’m not sure how. I welcome your suggestions.

A friend of mine is a young writer-director who sees everything as if it relates to the struggles of his ethnic minority. He would even look at the “Television Trousers” results of the Google search and come away with how it relates to his ethnic minority. This writer-director has found funding within in his community to make four very political films. All are dramas about the struggles of his people. His first film got a lot of press, played in some film festivals, but never got picked up by a distrib. I saw the film at a local festival, and it was more political than dramatic - lots of speeches. Haven’t see his other three films, but they’ve gotten less press and fewer festivals have shown them. None of them are on DVD - no distrib. Now his community funding sources are starting to dry up, so he decided to make a horror film, because horror films are hot right now.

When my friend told me about this, at first I was surprised. This is a guy who thinks Hollywood makes stupid movies for stupid people. Most of our conversations have been the great debate about selling out versus being true to your beliefs. If you’ve spent much time on my website you know that I advocate being subversive - making genre films with a message. The script I’m currently trying to finish rewriting before I fly to London is a sci-fi action story about an agent with the Federal Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Androids hunting down some renegade androids set on overthrowing the US Government... but it’s really about tolerance. I’ve taken a bunch of situations that deal with prejudice against minorities and turned the illegal immigrants and Gay marriage and sweat shop labor and National Anthem in Spanish and people smuggled over the border in metal containers into... androids. I can deal with all kinds of issues in a script that most people will think is just an action movie.

So I told him I thought it was a great idea. Minorities are under-represented in Hollywood films, and horror films like my friend Darin’s TALES FROM THE HOOD and Snoop’s BONES were good, solid money earners with some cross-over (big fat white guys like me even paid to see them). I gave him a copy of my Horror Class CD and the usual advice to rent a bunch of horror movies and study them - take them apart and find out what makes them tick, and use that information to write his screenplay. I also told him that just because it was a horror movie, doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. You can make a point within a genre film.

Some of you may be shocked that he had four previous films that didn’t get distribution even though they played at festivals. When people hear the phrase “didn’t get distribution”, they think that refers to *theatrical* distribution. I mean, they’ll put anything on DVD, right? You’ve seen some of the crap they put on DVD... maybe even one of my 36 Oscar Worthy Films Starring Tom Cruise. Hard to imagine a film not being good enough for DVD.

At a panel at VSDA (video software dealers association) the distribs said that about 27,000 independent feature films are submitted to them every year (you read that right)... and each distrib only buys a few of them. A company like Asylum makes 12 films a year and buys another 12. Even if there were 100 distribs buying that many films a year, it’s still only 1,200 films - that’s just over a fifth of the movies made every year. And I don’t think there are 100 big distribs out there... I’m not even sure there are as many as 30 distribs of any size. That means distribs can be really picky. And even the artsie distribs on the VSDA panel said it all comes down to what they think the public will buy or rent on DVD. Even artsie distribs have to pay their office rent and power bills.

I think the problem with my friend’s previous 4 films was that they had a target audience (his minority) but weren’t the most entertaining movies that targeted that audience. And that may even explain that crap that does get released on DVD - when you’ve spend 40 hours being abused by “The Man” for lower than average wages and having total strangers hate you for the color of your skin or the person you love or your wheelchair or your religion, do you really want to watch a movie about that? Wouldn’t you rather watch a lesbian vampire movie featuring members of your minority? Or a haunted house movie featuring members of your ethnic minority? Or a monster movie featuring members of your ethnic minority?

So the majority of the 27,000 films submitted to distribs every year get no form of distribution at all, because “The Man” can’t make a buck off them. So my friend is going to make a horror film, because “The Man” can make money on a horror film, and some of that money will trickle down to his investors and his community. Not a bad thing to make some money while showcasing the very talented people in his community.

The next time we have coffee, he’s telling me how his script is going - but all he talks about is the minority angle. It’s almost as if he’s talking out one of his other 4 films. I ask him if he’s had a chance to listen to my class, yet... he says he hasn’t gotten around to it. That’s okay, he’s writing. Always a good thing to be writing.

A few weeks later we bump into each other and I ask about the script. He tells me he’s almost done, and the good news is that his investors are really excited. They are going to give him more money than he had on his other 4 films, because this one is a winner. I ask about the story, and he gives me the capsule version - and it doesn’t sound like a horror story to me at all. In fact, it sounds like a love story! This is strange. I ask him about the horror scenes - and he describes a scene that doesn’t sound scary at all. It sounds *political*. I ask what horror movies he watched before writing the script. He tells me he started to watch NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET but turned it off after ten minutes because he thought it was garbage. He didn’t watch *any* horror movies. I ask if he’s ever seen a horror movie before. “Yeah, when I was a kid.” I ask him about that experience - he tells me he used to love movies like that, then he outgrew them. He’s opened his eyes to the world around him and has seen....

When I ask how he knows if he’s making something that even fits in the horror genre, he tells me it doesn’t matter because he’s writing from his heart and being heartfelt and honest is more important than selling out. Wow, we’re back to that.

I ask if anyone *dies* in his script, and the answer is “Of course!” But then he explains how a character who is prejudiced gets thrown in front of a bus and run over. The more he talks about his script, the more it sounds like the slightly more violent version of his other 4 films. But it doesn’t sound anything like a horror film at all (except for a big violent ending that could go either way).

I advise him that potential distributors are “The Man” and will care more about the commercial aspects than the social aspects of his film - so maybe he should grab some horror DVDs and watch them and maybe do a touch-up rewrite on his script (which probably needs a page one), just to fool distribs into buying his finished film. He says he might do that... but I didn’t think he would.

So, a couple of weeks ago I have coffee with him again - he has finished his script and begun pre-production. I ask him a few story questions - and it seems that the story has even less horror, now. The original ending he told me about, that was kind-of-horror, he changed into more love story. I am so confused by this, I ask him about the over-all story again... and it’s morphed into a social-political themed story where a couple of people get killed in ways that don’t sound scary at all. “But, weren’t you trying to make a horror movie?” “This is better.” “What about distribution?” “You can’t know what they want, so why even think about it? This is my best work so far. And, because it’s a horror movie, they’ll probably buy it.”

I would like to have said: But it isn’t a horror movie! though I didn’t. I wished him good luck. There’s a weird rule with friends - you have to be supportive. If this guy was a stranger on a message board I would have called him a moron and explained that he was continuing the same self-destructive patterns he was trying to break by making this film. But you have to wish a friend good luck and offer to crew for him if he needs you.

He didn’t need me. He had a nice budget.

That’s good, because I can’t imagine being on set for this film every day. It would be like watching someone try to kill themselves again and again. There’s this great scene at the end of Roman Polanski’s horror flick THE TENANT where the lead jumps out of the window of his apartment to stop the other tenants from trying to drive him crazy... he hits the pavement in front of the building... and lives! His landlord (who has bat wings) and his super (who has a lizard tongue) try to help him. They want to keep him alive and play with him some more. But he drags his battered body up the steps to jump again! That’s what working on that film would be like - watching someone keep trying to kill themselves over and over again until they got it right. I don’t have the stomach for that. When I see a *stranger* do something stupid like race across a busy street against the light to catch a bus or something, I worry about them. I want to stop them from their self-destructive behavior. I’m sure I would have spent every day on set hinting that maybe a scene with a guy in a hockey mask with a machete might be interesting at this location.

He’s filming right now. He managed to get a couple of known actors in his film - members of his minority group who are supporting the cause (not Snoop - he’s probably doing a *real* horror film). For all I know, this one may find a distrib... but I’m not holding my breath.

This brings our little trilogy of terror to a close. Hope you don’t have any nightmares. I said at the beginning that this was a fable, but I’m not going to tell you the moral to the story - I’ll let you figure that out on your own. You may come up with a different moral, or see these stories in ways that I could never imagine....

Maybe to you, it’s all about the hats.

- Bill
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