Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Still Standing

From almost exactly this time of year in 2010...

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I didn’t get much writing done because I ran into some old friends at my local Starbucks and we just hung out all night. The very first question everyone asked me was, “Where’s Craig?” And I ended up telling each person as they arrived and asked me that question, “He moved back home”, which was an amazing conversation killer. Moments of silence as people processed this, and wondered if they would move home someday.

The group consists of people from the neighborhood who shop at the local Ralph’s Grocery and often eat at City Wok or Tortas across the street and grab a coffee on their way to work at Starbucks and a beer after work at Residuals Bar. Some of the folks have known each other longer than others - three of them all lived at the Oakwood Apartments (where Jay Leno knocks on doors sometimes as part of a gag) at the same time. The lynchpin that holds it all together is one guy who was one of the Oakwood guys - who would come home from work and go straight to Starbucks, sitting outside by the front doors whether it was summer or winter. We called him the Mayor of Starbucks. He’d say hello to you when you passed him - said hello to everybody. Knew most people by name. And when I hit a snag on a script and needed to step away from the laptop before I smashed it to pieces, I would take a break and sit outside with him for a while. And that’s how I became part of this loose group. We all knew this one guy, and we all started to hang out together.

Two or three times a week - no schedule and no set dates and no real organization - a bunch of us would be at Starbucks at the same time and go to dinner together at City Wok and then go back to Starbucks and sit around and BS. There were directors and stunt men and writers and cinematographers and FX people and a puppeteer. You read that right - a guy who puts on puppet shows. Oh, and actors. For a few years, this loose group would meet and have dinner and BS - sometimes our table at City Wok would be for 4 people, and sometimes they’d have to put a whole bunch of tables together. I often work in that Starbucks, as did a couple of others, so we would always be part of the group. Others came or went or whatever.

Sometimes people would move to the other side of Los Angeles, and we might not see them for months... and then they’d drop in one night out of the blue. Sometimes they moved and just never made it back. And sometimes they would go home in defeat.

Mostly guys, but one ultra hot gal who lived in my building landed a big deal - a TV show - and moved into a luxury pad by the beach on the other side of town and... then it all fell apart. She ended up going home. It was tragic.

One of the guys had the hots for this cute Barista gal, but was kind of scared to ask her out. Every time he was there he would flirt with her and she would flirt with him. She was single. She was dating. She was dating men. But this guy just couldn’t work up the nerve to ask her out. Every time he was there for dinner we would encourage him to just do it - what’s the worst that could happen? She says no. One night, he decides he’s going to do it. We’re all there - over a dozen of us - I think the puppeteer was even there - when he flirts with her for a while and she flirts with him and then he asks her out... and she BRUTALLY shoots him down. You could hear us gasp all the way in Long Beach. It was like a body blow to all of us. He grabbed his tea and sat back down with us and pretended like nothing happened. He was joking about something a few minutes later.

A couple of years ago the group began to dissolve. One of the guys got married (his wife is now expecting), some of the guys moved, and the lynchpin guy who kind of held the group together had some personal problems and doesn’t go out of his house much anymore. I seldom go to that Starbucks, because it became very crowded (difficult to get a table) and too many people know my name (so it’s hard to get anything done). Some days I check to see if there’s a table, some days I just get on the bike and go somewhere else without even checking. But a couple of weeks ago I showed up for the evening shift, the place was almost empty, and I grabbed a table and started working...

When one of the guys came in and said he’d gotten a call that some of others were going to show up later... and we ended up with around 8-10 people. All of whom asked me: “Where’s Craig?” And I had to answer that he’s moved back home.

Craig was one of those other guys in Starbucks with a laptop open writing something. To hear him talk, he had it all figured out. He had quit a high paying job back home and moved to Hollywood to make it big. Make millions. He drove a sports car - leased. He was one of those guys who could talk their way into just about anything - super confident, aggressive about business, a real hustler, cocky but also funny. That was really his biggest gift, because he could make you feel at ease - like you were an insider in his world, joking at the losers on the outside. He had cajones. He would just go up and talk to some movie star or producer and often get them to take his scripts. He landed a deal, that worked out well for him... and it seemed like this was the first step to bigger things. He was walking on air - king of the world - sure that he would just be climbing that Hollywood ladder rung after rung until he got to the top. But after that initial success, he stumbled a bit before he landed his next deal. The stumbling part he shook off, telling us that those deals weren’t met to be and not getting them was a good thing because it cleared the way for the big one. Then he landed his second deal, which looked like the big one... and that did not go as planned at all.

I read one of his scripts once, and it was wild and energetic and had no act 2 and kinda didn’t really come together at the end. But filled with cool stuff. I tried to give him some feedback on it, but he thought it was fine... good enough to get him though the doors. And it was. You know, it’s not easy to get through those doors. But once they tried to make a movie out of it all of the problems became apparent and it crashed and burned horribly and something happened to him - maybe he realized he could get through the door, but when it came time to make the movie he didn’t have those skills. Or maybe he had this dream that making it big would be easy and it wasn’t. Or maybe it was something else.

Anyway, after that second one crashed, he tried to set something else up and nothing happened at all, and then, while I was out of town for the holidays, he called me and said he was going home, I thought just for the holidays.... but he never returned.

The first or second year I was at the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference, William Kelley who wrote WITNESS said that you don’t know anything until you’ve had a script produced. You *think* you know something, but actually having that script turned into a film changes everything. I think that’s true. I think when it’s a screenplay, it’s all still kind of make believe and the decision to change something isn’t going to cost a pile of money or put production behind by a few days or make the ending impossible. You may have a script that’s an amazing read, but when it is time to put that script on screen most of the cool stuff stays on the page and the film doesn’t work. Or maybe can’t even be filmed. Once your dream becomes something that is going to be scheduled and budgeted and rewritten for budget and schedule and available talent and all of the other physical issues that come along with production (not even bringing in the artistic stuff), it often turns into something so real it is not enjoyable. That scene where he teaches her how to surf while they are on vacation in Hawaii and they fall in love? Well, we are shooting this film in New Mexico because of the tax incentives - Can he teach her how to ride a horse instead? Stuff like that destroys some people. And having to make something that only works on the page due to some fancy word-dancing, work on the screen where there is no dancing allowed, may be outside of some writer’s skill set. They may discover that they are not good enough for that next step.

There are 5 steps to screenwriting, and each is a chance for all kinds of failure.
1) Learning to write the screenplay.
2) Learning to write the screenplay that someone wants to buy.
3) Learning to write the screenplay that gets made into a film.
4) Going through the hell of production.
5) Remaining a screenwriter over a period of time.

I have seen a lot of “big talkers” come and then go. Maybe they are embarrassed because they told everyone how great they were and how great their work was and how easy it was for them to get their first thing set up someplace... and then it didn’t turn out easy after all. Maybe all of that talk is what *made them* go back home or make some low budget film that can’t find a distrib and drop out of sight so that they don’t have to answer questions about it. Maybe they have told everyone they are going to be Kings, and when they end up just pawns, they can’t deal with that.

But here’s the thing - you can get depressed or frustrated or heart broken and go back home, or you can stick it out and figure out what isn’t working and fix that. If you don’t brag about what hasn’t happened yet, no reason to be embarrassed when it doesn’t happen or takes much longer than expected.

At the TALES FROM THE SCRIPT panel, one of the writers said that screenwriting is a job where you get punched in the face again and again and again. And that is the truth. If you haven’t been punched in the face yet, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen... it means when it does happen you’ll be hit twice as hard. Maybe five times as hard. It will happen.

Best thing to do: Feel the pain, then get up and prepare to be hit again.

The best line in the last ROCKY film: “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”

Same is true in Hollywood, as I’m sure Stallone can tell you. You want to go the full ten rounds and take a bunch of hits and still be standing at the end of the fight. A setback is just a setback - shake it off, stay in the ring.

"Hello, I'm a screenwriter.... I want you to hit me in the face as hard as you can."

- Bill

I'm sorry, one of my movies is invading the UK again...
Movies For Men Channel: 4/27 - 16:20 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

(oddly wrong synopsis - it's a germ warfare scientist who is kidnaped by Iran, and a rescue attempt by Navy SEALS that goes wrong, etc.)

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Terror Of Act 2 - How to keep act 2 exciting... even if the conflict is with unseen forces.
Dinner: Arroz con pollo.
Bicycle: Medium-long ride deep into the valley.
Pages: Yesterday? Nothing but this blog entry.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday's With Hitchcock: Dial H Interview With Hitchcock

DIAL H FOR HITCHCOCK is an interview and examination of Hitchcock's work.

Interview With Hitch.

- Bill

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



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



USA Readers click here for more info!


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 52 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.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Scene Of The Week: GOODFELLAS

If you've read Secrets Of Action Screenwriting you know that one of my favorite writing tools is *Magnification*, which I learned in Dan Arnold’s acting class in High School. The basic idea is to make something normal sized and make it much bigger. Stakes and conflict and emotions are all raised. Something average becomes something larger than life... large enough to fill that big screen. This works with concepts, emotions, and understanding the emotions of your characters.

This scene also deals with *Tension* - which is unresolved conflict. To create tension you must have a conflict... and the conflict needs to be ongoing and active and not solved. Once you resolve the conflict, you remove the tension. If you allow the audience to forget the conflict, you remove the tension. On Fridays when I do the Hitchcock entries, there are a couple on tension and suspense and “poking the tiger” to keep the audience aware that there is an existing conflict. If you don’t poke the tiger the conflict dissipates and you lose all of the tension.

Buy the dvd

So here is a scene that uses both elements, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. From GOODFELLAS (1990) written by Nicholas Pileggi, based on his true crime book. Directed by Martin Scorsese, and it’s like his 15th feature film. He’s one of my favorite directors, never really had a hit like his fellow “Hollywood Brats” but is always doing great work. Ages ago, when I was fresh out of high school, I sent him a letter asking if he’d read one of my screenplays... and he said yes! I sent some crappy early screenplay and got a great letter back from the head of his production company telling me to stick with it, etc. The polite brush off - but the guy never had to be polite in the first place. That script was ANYONE CAN LOSE and a friend asked me about it a couple of days ago - it’s one of those scripts with some great scenes but the story doesn’t work well. People remember it and wonder if I ever figured out how to fix it. Nope. But, back to GOODFELLAS...

Henry Hill is a small time crook way out on the fringe of organized crime, who wants to move up. So he looks to make some new friends who are equally ambitious and see if they can team up to move up the mob ladder... and become the new generation of organized crime. Now here’s the thing - this is kind of like meeting someone *and* a job interview, and the people you are meeting may be armed and may have just killed someone five minutes ago.

So let’s use our magnification tool. Remember those times in your past you were hanging out with someone who you wanted to impress... and *didn’t* want to offend? Might have been a job interview or a first date or meeting your romantic partner’s best friend or some other situation where you were hanging out with someone important and didn’t want to screw it up. Now, because we are all human, we have probably all screwed up in this situation at least once. I am socially inept and have some for of social tourettes that kicks in when I'm with people I need to impress - so that I always say the completely wrong thing. I get nervous and probably try too hard and end up saying something stupid. Because of that, I work hard *not* to do that when I meet people I want to impress, which makes me even more nervous... But you’ve probably blown it a couple of times, right? Now we’re going to take that anxiety and that mistake and *Magnify* it. We’re going to raise the stakes and emotions and turn that first meeting into a life or death situation. You are hanging out with a guy who kills people. You don’t want to say the wrong thing in this situation, you don’t want to accidentally offend him...

Funny how?

Great scene, and see how they keep “poking the tiger” to keep that tension alive?

This is a great example of how to take a “throw away scene” and make it so entertaining that we’re talking about it 25 years later... but it also helps us identify with Henry (Ray Liotta) and is the perfect introduction to Tommy (Joe Pesci).

While we’re on Joe Pesci - he won an Oscar for this performance, and his speech was: "This is an honor and privilege, thank you," because he didn’t think he was going to win and had no planned acceptance speech. Pesci as been in a bunch of great films, and is always great in lesser films. Would you believe his first time on screen was in HEY LET’S TWIST (1961) because he was a Rock & Roll guitar player for the featured band The Starliters... and even recorded a Rock & Roll solo album as a singer: “Little Joe Sure Can Sing”! He was a childhood friend of Frankie Valli, and was instrumental in the formation of The Four Seasons (he’s even a character in JERSEY BOYS!). So the whole Rock & Roll career, then a new career as an actor that leads to an Oscar win and another nomination plus a bunch of memorable films.

( Joe Pesci plays guitar in a band on The Lucy Show (1966) - Carol Burnett co-stars.) Magnification and Tension work hand-in-hand in this scene, but they can work separately as well in scenes. Tension is a great scene tool, and when I get around to doing the Scenes Blue Book there will be a whole chapter on tension techniques.

The comments section is open for discussion of the scene.

- Bill

Monday, April 01, 2019

50 Amazing But True Facts!

I found this seven year old list of amazing but true facts, so I'm using it as a filler post today.

Fifty Amazing-but-True Facts!

* The Mongolian pony is the only animal other than an elephant capable of fending off an attack by a healthy adult tiger.

* Because of their unusual shape, Hershey's Kisses contain more calories per ounce than the same amount of chocolate in other forms.

* The French language has seventeen different words for "surrender."

* The average person can fit exactly one half of their pinky finger in one of their nostrils. However, if an attempt is made to put a pinky finger in EACH nostril, only one quarter of each will fit.

* Showing off at a party one evening, Chopin played the entire "Minute Waltz" in under 10 seconds.

* If the air in your car's tires is not completely replaced every two years, it can turn to liquid and cause severe damage.

* If you tar and feather a 2x4 and place it in your yard, it will ward off bats.

* The largest home in the United States, North Carolina's Biltmore House, was originally intended to be the official residence of a new monarchy to be established when the South rose again.

* The Toltec calendar was based on a 360-day year, with each day being about 24 hours and 20 minutes long.

* The universal size of the credit card is based entirely on the size of the 1960s US Communist Party membership card. Credit cards were designed so that they wouldn't cause the Communist Party card to stand out.

* Nobody born in Kentucky has ever been elected to Congress.

* In an effort to improve the nutritional value of its "Shamrock shakes," McDonald's colors them with broccoli extract.

* Winston Churchill was born with a third nipple, which he removed himself with nail-clippers at the age of 14.

* Only a single dissenting vote prevented the death penalty in Texas from being carried out by immersing the convicted person in a nest of fire ants.

* If you place a fresh Viagra tablet in a houseplant's soil every six months, the plant will not wilt.

* The ancient Arabic word "jorgbushii" translates roughly to "evil one who comes disguised in peace to drink Earth's black blood."

* In Finland, "Sintter Klaas" brings bad children a small bag of old toenail clippings.

* The practice of putting a letter "e" in front of words to mean "web-based" (e.g., eBusiness, eLearning, etc.) was patented byMicrosoft in 1992. They are waiting until their anti-trust trial has been officially completed to begin enforcing it.

* The noun "sled" originates from the name of a 18th-century mountaineer from Finland, Schletz Linden, whose body was used by his climbing partner to slide down a mountain during a winter storm after he froze to death.

* If a cricket were the size of Mount Rushmore, it could jump to the moon.

* The increase in the amount of metals mined and brought to the surface of the earth in order to manufacture SUVs has caused higher tides in the Northern Hemisphere.

* Children conceived on airplanes never suffer from motion sickness.

* The life span of dogs allowed to dine in cat litter boxes is on average 18 percent longer than that of dogs restricted to commercial diets.

* Charles Darwin once attempted to breed flying monkeys by crossing chimpanzees with vultures.

* The steady, rhythmic sound produced by dripping water increases the capacity for sleeping males to experience lucid sexual dreams.

* Blue water in a toilet bowl causes males to urinate 7 percent more.

* Women who use chewing tobacco are three times LESS likely to accidentally swallow it while they are pregnant.

* The melody of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace" originated from a 12th-century pagan song celebrating masturbation.

* The Federal Department of Online Commerce has been compiling a list of US-based e-mail addresses. Once 100 million addresses have been collected, the list will be sold to online marketers as part of President Bush's plan to reduce the deficit.

* A 9-volt battery contains roughly the same amount of kinetic energy as a bowl of Lucky Charms.

* The Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin can track game birds by the slight difference in warmth their shadows create on the forest floor as they fly by, for up to an hour after the birds have departed.

* Contrary to the popular saying, 99 percent of the time you lead a horse to water, it'll drink on its own.

* The first Ford Excursion was actually designed and built in 1951. It was never marketed because the then-current braking technology required a drum 3 feet wide on each wheel.

* Rapid deforestation has decreased the friction of the surface of the Earth, causing it to spin infinitesimally faster and thereby cool the air, combating global warming.

* The flush toilet was invented in Flushing, NY.

* The inner core of most standard golf balls is made of nougat, which helps the balls remain aloft longer.

* On occasions when the sun is shining brightly on falling snowflakes, they contain enough ionic charge to stun insects. Observation of this phenomenon inspired the invention of the bug zapper.

* Over the last two decades, more Americans died of heart attacks while watching horror movies in movie theaters than died while sky-diving.

* A common misconception is that the term "salsa dancing" derives from the food condiment called salsa. Actually, the dance was invented in the 1930s by a dance teacher named Frankie Salsa.

* Every common food product, with the exception of fish and veal, contains some traces of peanut enzymes.

* The number of words in the Bible divided by the number of verses equals exactly 666.

* An 18th-century law still on the books in Vermont makes it illegal for a woman to lick a stamp in a public place.

* Anthropologists have discovered a tribe of South American monkeys with a rudimentary system of government analogous to our own three-branch form of government.

* Constipation kills nearly twice as many people as diarrhea, mainly because the former mostly afflicts the old and weak while the latter mostly affects young, strong children.

* It is physically impossible to urinate and give blood at the same time.

* If you fill a standard 750ml wine bottle with live hornets, their angry buzzing will resonate at precisely the right frequency to shatter the glass.

* During his famous "Blue Period," Pablo Picasso invented the substance that eventually became known as Play-Doh.

* Every year in the fall, Niagara Falls is shut down for maintenance for 24 hours. The flow is diverted using a massive series of pipes and spigots built for this purpose in 1837.

* The rare Chilean hummingbird has been known to suck blood from animals like a giant mosquito.

* Tap dancers frequently forget to breathe normally during difficult routines, resulting in an average of 200 tap dancing-related tragedies per year.

- Bill

Okay it's Friday, how about a link to some Hitchcock stuff?
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