Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thriller Thursday: MARK OF THE HAND

Mark Of The Hand

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



Season: 1, Episode: 4.
Airdate: 10-04-1960


Director: Paul Henreid (“Casablanca”).
Writer: Eric Peters based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong (“The Unsuspected”).
Cast: Mona Freeman, Jessie Royce Landis, Shepperd Strudwick, Rachel Ames, Judson Pratt.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: John L. Russell (“Psycho” and Hitchcock Presents).




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An instrument of murder is hardly a proper toy for an eight year old, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. And this instrument casts an evil shadow even beyond the death of this corpse. And upon it is the mark of the hand. That’s the name of our story. It’s from a novel by the celebrated Charlotte Armstrong. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: A woman screams. Paul Mowry (Berry Kroeger) races out of his house, across the yards, and into the luxurious home next door where he finds his brother Charlie dead on the floor of the library... shot in the back! Hottie Sylvia Walsh (Mona Freeman) stands over him, screaming. No gun in her hand. Paul looks at the third person in the room... calmly sitting in a chair holding the murder gun in her hand... 8 year old Tessa Kilburn (Terry Burnham). Sugar and spice and everything nice... a cold blooded killer!

Others rush into the room: Tessa’s father Douglas (Shepperd Strudwick), nanny Betty (Rachel Ames) and wheelchair bound Grandmother Kilburn (Jessie Royce Landis). All are shocked that the cute little 8 year old murdered the man who lives next door.



Detective Gordon (Judson Pratt) arrives and begins his investigation. Sylvia is the fiancé of Douglas Kilburn, they are soon to be married. She says that Paul often came over for coffee on Sundays, and they were having a pleasant conversation when she noticed that Tessa had opened the gun case and was playing with a pistol. When they told her to please put the pistol back in the gun case, Tessa *fired* the gun! First hitting the chandelier, then hitting Charlie in the back! Sylvia scuffled with Tessa and got the gun out of her hands, but by that time it was too late... Charlie was dead. She screamed, and Charlie’s brother Paul ran over from next door entering through the glass doors. Detective Gordon questions everyone else, ending with Tessa... who is in bed. Tessa tells him she will never speak again... and says nothing else.

Detective Gordon is frustrated, says if Tessa doesn’t talk he will have to put her in a psychiatric hospital under observation. He doesn’t want to do that. He asks Grandmother Kilburn if Tessa has ever been under psychiatric care... and she says of course not.

Meanwhile, Tessa stands at her bedroom window staring across the way at Paul in the house next door. Creepy! Is she crazy?



Detective Gordon continues his investigation, uncovering that Tessa *was* under psychiatric care at one point. Goes back to question the family and Douglas admits that Tessa began acting out when he began dating Sylvia... and caused some problems. But never did anything violent. Again he tries to get Tessa to talk, but she remains silent. Oh, and her fingerprints were on the murder gun (which is where the episode title comes from: the mark of her hand is on the gun). If Tessa would tell what happened, it might just be an accident and the case could be closed without sending an 8 year old to the gas chamber... but she remains silent (and creepy).

Detective Gordon gets information that one of the people involved has a criminal record (but we aren’t told who at this point). We *suspect* that it might be Douglas. Does crime run in the family? Detective Gordon eventually reveals that the *victim* had a criminal history: forgery and blackmail and all sorts of nasty things... and that Sylvia *knew* the victim years ago, before she met Douglas! Twist! Sylvia tells Douglas that she *did* know dead Charlie, was even engaged to him at one point... but after they broke up he was obsessed with her and stalked her and rented the house next door with his brother Paul... and she was doing *everything* to keep Charlie from doing something to ruin the upcoming marriage.

Detective Gordon goes next door to question Paul, but before he can discover anything interesting, Sylvia screams again! The two men rush next door where Sylvia says that cute (creepy) little Tessa tried to stab her with a knife! They run into Tessa’s bedroom, where the kid stands holding a kitchen knife in her hand. Tessa hands Gordon the knife, but doesn’t say a word. Creepy creepy creepy!



Detective Gordon questions Sylvia about this new incident... and Sylvia admits that she lied before. She made Tessa shooting Charlie sound like an accident, when in truth Tessa shot the man in cold blood. She’s an evil child who *kills* people she doesn’t like. She’s crazy, and needs to be institutionalized... or arrested for murder. Gordon doesn’t want to arrest an 8 year old kid, but it’s looking more and more like he has no choice. If he doesn’t put the little girl behind bars, she’s going to murder someone else.

Douglas goes upstairs and has a heart to heart with Tessa, apologizes for not being a good father, apologizes for seeming to care more about Sylvia than his own daughter. Tells her that he doesn’t believe she shot Charlie or tried to stab Sylvia or any of the other things she’s been accused of. He loves her, and will always love her. Big hug time.

Meanwhile, downstairs, nanny Betty has realized that something is wrong: Gordon said they found Paul’s fingerprints on the table, but he rushed into the room through the glass doors and went straight to his brother’s body... never touched the table. And the table had been cleaned after dinner last night... so how did his fingerprints get there?

Paul and Sylvia have a whispered discussion where they spill the beans: they have been in cahoots the whole time, setting up Douglas. Getting rid of little Tessa so that after the marriage Sylvia is the only heir. But when Charlie got cold feet, they shot him... and used his death to frame Tessa. They hear a noise and realize that Grandmother Kilburn has been listening. Sylvia opens the gun case, grabs a pistol, and goes upstairs to murder the wheelchair bound old woman!

Grandmother Kilburn gets Sylvia to confess to everything one more time, then Sylvia points the gun at her and... Detective Gordon and Douglas and Betty rush into the room and overpower her, take the gun away and Gordon slaps the cuffs on Sylvia. It was a trap all along.



Review: Though better than the first two episodes, a bit of a slide back from our last episode. Though some real suspense is generated at the end when Sylvia goes up to murder Grandmother, much of the episode is more of a cozy murder mystery with some soapy elements.

There is kind of a Hitchcock reunion feel to the episode with Landis from NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF in the cast and John Russell behind the camera. Paul Henreid, Victor Laszlo from CASABLANCA, directs... and gives the episode some nice moving shots.



One of the problems might be the kid seems to be a “bad seed” in the story, but is shown to be more cute than threatening. When she stares out her window at Paul, she’s just not creepy enough. I’m sure part of this was probably network censors wanting them to tone it way down, but with Tessa portrayed more as a kid than a crazy psycho, the episodes loses a lot of impact. Though still a bit of a stumble from last week’s episode, we’re still on the right track. This one is much closer to a thriller than the other episode about a kid with a gun, and the story is tight and focused and easy to understand. All of the performances are pretty good, with the actor playing Paul exuding a weaselly menace even when he’s playing the brother of the victim. Landis is great as always, playing older than her age. Mona Freeman looks like trouble from the opening scene, and that might be a bit of a give away. She’s an obvious femme fatal in the role of faithful fiancé... and we know she’s probably the guilty one from the first scene. Strudwick, who gets a shout out in some Elmore Leonard novel, was an over the hill pretty boy at this point in his career, but is handsome and dignified and really brings tears to your eyes in that father/daughter scene. That scene elevates the whole episode.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Push To Open

From 2008...

Part of writing is understanding characters - understanding human nature - and I am stumped.

I am confused by people who don’t get it. One of the Starbucks I regularly write is kind of shaped like a T - with the seating area on the top of the T and the register at the bottom of the T. The bathrooms and some other things are actually at the bottom of the T - so the area between the counter and the back wall is *also* a passage to get to the bathrooms, and for Starbucks employees to get to the counter entrance, and for customers to look at the pastries... also, of course, for customers who have just ordered their coffees at the counter to get to the seating area at the top of the T. So, it’s *obvious* that the line can not block the passage. The first time I walked into this Starbucks, I could figure that out. In fact, *most* people can figure it out.

But obviously some people can’t figure it out. Today I am standing at the “next” position in a short line at this Starbucks with a gap in front of me so that people can pass... and this guy walks in, ignores the line, ignores me standing there with money in my hand, and blocks the passage by standing behind the customer at the register. Someone else in line said, “Excuse me, buddy, there’s a line” (I wanted to - but I’m usually the person who just grumbles to myself and lets the guy take cutsies) and the guy looks at the line, shakes his head, and *doesn’t move*... but when the customer in front of me is finished ordering - he *must* move so that they customer can get to the drink pick up place and the tables... and that’s when I step up to the register and kind of force the guy to stand in line. He’s pissed off...

But it’s not just the line at this Starbucks - there are all kinds of situations where some people don’t seem to get what everybody else figures out instantly. Why is that?

Another Starbucks has doors with handles on both the inside and outside - and it clearly says “Push” on the inside next to the handle. Yet, when I sit in that Starbucks writing, there’s always one or two people who pull on the handles. And when one door doesn’t open by pulling, they try the other door - pulling on that one. And they keep pulling despite the sign that says “push” and never even *try* to push the door open. When I pull on a door and it doesn’t open, I try pushing. In fact, most of the people who go through those doors and may not have noticed the (obvious) sign will push if pulling doesn’t work. But there is this percentage that will not push no matter what. It takes them forever to figure it out. It’s like - if they keep pulling on the door, maybe it will open.

I have no idea how this applies to screenwriting (or characters) but I can’t figure out why these people can’t figure out those things that nobody else even has to think about. I don’t think they are stupid - the guy who took cuts in line was wearing a suit and a Rolex and looked like a successful business guy - probably not “mentally challenged”. I don't think he was being rude, he just didn't seem to be able to figure out simple things. Is there some form of intelligence that governs things like this? Can you be a brilliant businessman and not understand how a line works?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Plot Twists Are The Answer - and STAY vs. GET OUT!
Yesterday’s Dinner: One of those Starbucks Thanksgiving sandwiches - it was free.

MOVIES: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Did Michelle Williams practice Katharine Hepburn's accent? Did Christopher Plummer study John Houston in CHINATOWN? Was that Kevin Spacey getting off the train in an early scene? The interesting thing about this film is that it's based on a true story about the richest guy in the world who refused to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson... and that's the premise. After that it's kind of a dry, just the facts story. The trailer makes it look like a suspense film, maybe with Michelle Williams kicking ass along with Marky Mark in order to get her son back. But much of it takes place in boardrooms where lawyers look over offers. One of the interesting things in adapting a true story is *how* you adapt it, what you decide is the important part of the story and what you leave out - and maybe what you create (was Marky Mark's character truth or fiction or composite?). I've done Script Tips on "casting a story" in a genre to take what might be a little dry and making it exciting... and here they didn't do that. This *could* have been a race against time thriller, with the decision by Getty not to pay the ransom as a big twist, and the machinations to get the grandson back as conflicts and twists with time running out. But they didn't take that path, here. They even downplay the emotions when it comes to the boy's mother - played by Williams. There is a scene near the middle of the film that could have been a big emotional twist - and seems to have maybe been written that way - but ends up filmed so "matter of fact" that it's just a scene.

The best scenes of the movie are when Williams and Plummer are on screen together, basically playing a high stakes chess game against each other with the boy's life in the balance. But that's just business. Which is maybe the issue here - there's a line Getty has about how emotions and even caring about *anything* is how you lose a business deal. You need to be cold. You need to be able to walk away. But the problem is - that ends up what the story is about. William's character doesn't get what is necessary to get her son back by *caring*, but by being cold and besting Getty at his own game. She becomes just as cold and calculating... and that may be intellectually interesting it's not very emotional. There *are* some exciting and emotional scenes - it's hard not to feel for the kid when the kidnappers, um, remove a body part as "proof of life", and the end sequence in the village which reminded me of that early scene in GODFATHER PART 2 builds some suspense (though not through techniques, more just because a kid is being hunted by killers) but the film often feels dry. A scene where Williams' character comes face to face with her ex-husband might have been about two strangers. In addition to the good scenes with Williams and Plummer, the scenes between the kid and the lead kidnapper character (who steals the show) work well. Plummer does a great job considering he's a last minute replacement in a pivotal role. It's a well made movie with good performances, but it's like reading a non fiction book that sticks to the facts... or one of Getty's pieces of "investment art".

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: PETULIA (1968)

PETULIA (1968)

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

PETULIA is an uncommon movie.

Bill

Friday, September 20, 2019

HITCH 20: The Case Of Mr. Pelham (s1e3)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20, where I am one of the "guest experts". This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

1) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

2) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

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

- Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 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.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: DIALOGUES WITH DEATH

NEW FOR SEASON 2!!!

Dialogues With Death

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



Season: 2, Episode: 11.
Airdate: December 4, 1961



Director: Herschel Daughtery
Writer: Robert Arthur.
Cast: Boris Karloff, Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, William Schallert, George Kane, Jimmy Joyce, Estelle Winwood.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Sound advice indeed. But rather the sort of thing one would expect to be offered by a psychiatrist to a patient who is still breathing in a surrounding such as these. But Pop Jenkins can hardly be described as a pillar of the medical profession with an upholstered office and a custom made contour couch. For his purposes however, I’m sure that he prefers the quiet dignity of the morgue and the solid support of the well refrigerated slab. I might also mention that he has one distinct advantage over his accredited colleagues. You see, his patients can never, never become violent. Imagine being able to carry on a tet0a0te with a cadaver. How fascinating. Well, tonight we have two stories for you about people who can do just that... and for reasons which must be apparent already, we call our play, “Dialogues With Death”. Our players are: Norma Crane, Ed Nelson, Estelle Winwood, and your obedient servant as Colonel Jackson Beauregard and Pops Jenkins. Now settle back, and listen, listen very carefully, you may find that you are one of the gifted ones.”



Synopsis: “Pops” Jenkins (Boris Karloff) who works the night shift at the city morgue gets a new customer - the millionaire night club owner Dan Gordon. Once the ambulance crew leaves, Pops pulls up a chair next to Gordon’s drawer and talks to the corpse... and he pauses and listens as if the corpse talks back. Is the old man crazy?

Three days later at the newspaper office: Editor Tom Ellison (Ed Nelson) and reporter Harry (George Kane) are trying to figure out what the next day’s headline might be. The police seem to have hit a brick wall when it comes to solving the Dan Gordon murder, and no news doesn’t sell papers. So Tom suggests they go down to the morgue and take some pictures of Gordon’s body and run them on the front page.

At the morgue they overhear Pops talking to a corpse...

While Harry takes his pictures, Tom asks Pops if he talks to all of his customers... and asks if Gordon might have mentioned who killed him. Pops says yes, but then regrets it. That was in confidence between Gordon and Pops. Tom presses Pops to the point that Pops accidentally blurts out that Professor MacFarland at the University shot Gordon. Now he has betrayed a confidence! Harry says that he took a picture of Professor MacFarland two years ago when he won a pistol shooting championship - MacFarland was an Army hero... but Harry is skeptical. Tom asks Pops why a Professor at the University would murder a night club owner? MacFarland’s sister Gloria was a singer at Gordon’s night club, and Gordon was attracted to her. Tom asks where the gun used to kill Gordon is, and Pops says it’s in the lower right hand drawer of his desk... but Gordon says he doesn’t blame the Professor for shooting him... and doesn’t want him arrested.



At Professor MacFarland’s Office: Tom and Harry ring the bell and MacFarland (William Schallert - Patty Duke’s dad on “The Patty Duke Show”) opens the door. They say they are working on a story about his sister, and they are invited in. MacFarland wants to know what this is all about, and Tom says that Don Gordon was murdered and they know that MacFarland’s sister had worked in his night club as a singer and was not treated well by the dead man. MacFarland asks them to leave. Now. He’s bust and doesn’t have time for this. Tom keeps pressing - says that he had heard MacFarland killed Gordon.

The Professor is about to physically remove them, when Tom picks up the picture of MacFarland’s sister from the top of the desk and tosses it to Harry, who moves to the other side of the room - MacFarland following to get the picture back. That’s when Tom goes to the desk, opens the drawer, and pulls out the murder weapon.

MacFarland wants the gun back, says he will call the police. Tom says go ahead and call them, then he and Harry leave with the gun.



Tom and Harry speed away on a foggy road at night. Tom believes this is the biggest story of their lives, they have the murder weapon and the killer is a prominent citizen whose sister was involved with a mobster. Harry doesn’t like any of this - how could Pop Jenkins know which drawer the gun was in? Tom turns a corner... and there is a man standing in the middle of the street!

Dan Gordon - who is dead!

Tom swerves the car to miss the man, but loses control and the car plows into the guard rails and goes off the side of the hill, smashing and crashing below...

Tom wakes up, crawls to the upside down car - Harry is trapped inside. He can’t get the door open to rescue him. Tom says he will go get help and climbs up the side of the hill to the foggy street. No sign of the dead man. No other cars on the road at this hour. He walks back to town. It’s a freakin’ long walk.



He walks past a few dark buildings towards one where the lights are on... the morgue. Opens the door and steps inside, and Pop runs up to him. Helps Tom over to a chair where he sits down and tells about the car wreck and finding the gun *exactly* where Pop said it would be - how was that possible? Tom wants Pop to explain how he could know where the gun was, and no “hocus pocus” about talking to the dead, that’s impossible...

That’s when the two ambulance crew guys who brought in Dan Gordon’s body enter, telling Pop that they have a couple of new customers for him. Pop tells Tom he’ll be back to answer all of his questions in a moment, goes to talk to the ambulance crew guys... who have put the two corpses in a couple of empty drawers. But they need him to sign for them. Pop signs for the two bodies.

When the ambulance guys leave, Pop calls Tom over to the drawers and pulls one open - providing all of the answers... under the sheet is Harry’s corpse. Killed in a car wreck. Tom is broken up, feels guilty. If only he had gotten help earlier. Then Pop pulls out the other drawer, pulls back the sheet covering the corpse, and calls Tom over. Tom looks down at his own corpse. When Pop pushes Tom’s corpse back inside the cooler, Tom is no longer there. Pop tells Tom that Gordon did not want the information about MacFarland and his sister becoming public, so he showed up on that foggy road to stop them... and caused their wreck. Then Pop gives advice on how to accept death.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, now that you’ve been exposed to an excellent example of communication with the dead, I wonder just how many of you believe that it can actually be true. What? You’re only half convinced? Well if what you are about to see fails to convince you completely than I’m afraid I must refuse to accept any responsibility whatsoever. Well, let us adjourn into a setting which in its own cheerful way bridges the gap between life and death every bit as effectively as the morgue. Morripo - a plantation which once wore the crown of antebellum splendor, but now rigor mortis has set in. It has been captured in the coffin of time and sealed in the shroud of the swamp. Yes, my friends, at Morripo you will be confronted with the final proof.”



Synopsis: Eccentric “Colonel” Beauregard Jackson Finchess (Karloff) and his equally strange sister Emily (Estelle Winwood) are at home in their rotting plantation one night when a car’s headlights shine outside. Someone is coming. Are they lost? Emily says she spoke with their nephew Charles, who is dead, just last night - he’s almost ready to continue his journey. There’s a knock at the door and their nephew Daniel Le Jean (Ed Nelson) and his wife Nell (Norma Crane) enter the room. Aunt Emily says, “We didn’t recognize you because you’re dead” cheerfully. “You were killed in a hold up in Chicago”, the Colonel adds. Daniel says the report of his death was a mistake, but he let it stand to escape from the police. The weird thing is that Aunt Emily insists that they are dead... she’s really weird. Daniel says he’s here to collect the money his brother Charles left him when he passed away... and to hide out from the police.

Daniel and Nell go up to his old bedroom, which is covered in an inch of dust and cobwebs - creepy! The weird thing here is that they don’t do anything a normal person would do in a dusty room. Nell doesn’t want to hide out in the old plantation for three weeks, she wants to split the minute they get his brother’s inheretence. D

aniel shows Nell around, pointing out the family mausoleum - the ground is too wet for burying people, so they all in the crypt. He tells a story about his grandfather Jules who was nailed into his coffin a bit prematurely. He and Aunt Emily went into the crypt, and when she had a “conversation” with his grandfather, Daniel closed the crypt door on her, locking her inside. Just a silly joke a kid would pull. Someone found Aunt Emily and let her out - and she said that Jules was already dead, told her so himself from inside the coffin. Since then she believes that she can communicate with the dead.



Daniel knows that his brother hid the money in the house somewhere, and wants Nell to keep the Colonel and Aunt Emily busy while he searches for it.

The Colonel gives Nell a tour of the house, showing her the paintings of all of the family members, including the great grandfather who was buried alive, and the grandfather who was buried with a telephone in his coffin, just in case.

Daniel finds a strong box in Charles’ room, and when he opens it - just papers but no money. Aunt Emily tells him the money is in Daniel’s empty coffin in the crypt - $50,000!

On that stormy night, Daniel and Nell enter the family crypt with tools to open the coffin and retrieve the $50,000. They search for his coffin, finding it behind a plaque that states the day of his death - a few days ago! Weird! They pry open the coffin... and it’s filled with money! But the crypt door slams shut... and they are trapped inside.



In the living room of the Plantation, Aunt Emily returns from a walk outside in the rain, where she has closed the crypt... just as young Daniel had done to her years ago.

Daniel and Nell try to pry the door, but the pry bar breaks. Meanwhile, the water in the crypt is starting to rise... will they drown in the crypt? Nell remembers the telephone in Daniel’s father’s coffin. They pry the lid off the coffin and search under the rotted corpse to find the telephone. Daniel calls and gets the operator, asks to be connected to the Sheriff, it’s a matter of life and death! Gets the Sheriff and tells him the whole story. The Sheriff says to be patient, he’ll get there. Daniel hangs up the phone....

In the Plantation... The Colonel hangs up the phone, and Aunt Emily says it will take Daniel and his wife a while to get used to being dead, then she will go visit them and have a little chat. But first, how about some music? The Colonel sits down the harpsichord and plays a song.



Review: A fun pair of weird tales and a chance for Karloff (and Ed Nelson) two play two very different roles. Maybe even three roles, since he plays the host as well. I probably said this in another entry, but since Karloff is such a good host it is easy to forget that he’s a great actor as well. Here, as “Pops”, he is kind of the groovy old man... and as Beauregard he is the old Southern gentleman. Seeing him back to back in these roles, you can see how - even with the larger than life personality he had at this point in his career - he can find ways to slip into the characters. Pops is a youthful old guy, and Beauregard is a dotty old guy. The characters seem to be different ages... yet played by the same guy. Karloff’s career was all about playing characters - often under a ton of make up - but here we have him play two different people with no make up. Just a beret in one episode and his gray hair in the other. His *walk* is different.

Also a great showcase for Ed Nelson - who you probably recognize from a couple of other episodes like CHEATERS, but also probably recognize from every danged TV show from the late 50s to the mid-90s. This guy was in everything! And versatile enough to keep coming back in some TV series like HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL as five different characters... in fact, five seems to be his magic number of TV shows. In Westerns he would play a military officer, a Mexican, a farmer, a gunslinger, a lawyer... and then on to the next western. He did a bunch of early Roger Corman movies, and his last role was in RUNAWAY JURY. 192 movies and TV series with around 5 episodes per TV series (except for the ones where he was a series regular). One of those “that guy” actors.



The first story has an amazing opening shot - from the shadow of the City Morgue door sign on the floor to a slow tour of the morgue with ambulance drivers delivering a corpse and when they leave Pops walks across the room and grabs a chair and sits next to the drawer door and has a conversation with the corpse as the camera dollies closer and closer to his face. A three minute shot! Amazing. There are several nice shots like this in the episode, and considering they had to shoot two different stories in two different locations, this is one of Daughrety’s better episodes.

The crypt in the second story is a great set - and as it fills with water, you wonder if they built it in a tank. One of the weird issues with that second episode is that the bed is covered with cobwebs and dust... but nobody shakes off the bedding and cleans off the cobwebs before they go to sleep. Eeeew! This sort of odd behavior almost sinks the story. Also, Norma Crane who gets top billing and has about a third as many credits as Nelson, including FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, over acts like crazy in the episode.

Two stories for the price of one, and both of them fun.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Film Courage Plus: You Need To Keep Writing!

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

You have to keep writing after making a sale!



Welcome To Your New Day Job!

The good news is that you just sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or had a screenplay go out wide - you’re in the business, baby! You can quit that awful day job you have struggled with and finally have time to write full time!

Except for one small problem...

You have a new day job. All of the business bullcrap of being a professional screenwriter. If you think you are now a full time writer, think again! One of the things that happens when you have a script go out wide or sell is that everyone in town wants to meet with you. When I had scripts go to 50 studio based producers, I usually ended up with around 48 meetings and at 2-3 meetings a day that is a full month of your time driving from one studio to another... and you will never have all of your meetings on the same lot! My meetings were always on 3 different sides of town with insane traffic between them. One meeting I was late for because I blew a tire on the freeway and ended up dirty and frazzled when I finally got there. Great first impression!

And no writing got done when I was doing all of those endless meetings. I *wanted* to write, but at the end of the day I was just too tired.

But after that month, you are free to write, right?

Nope. One of the side effects of meetings is the “busy work” of “pitching your take” on projects. Out of those 48 meetings, none of them bought me screenplay but many of them had writing jobs they thought I might be a good fit for - so they gave me books and magazine articles and all kinds of other stuff to read and then return with my take on. Of course, I wasn’t the only one doing this - every writer they had met with over the past few weeks was reading the same book and pitching their take. But you end up spending a lot of time doing this... when you should be writing.

Meetings becomes your full time job, and you have to squeeze in writing in whatever spare time you have left over. It’s like you are back to having a day job!

But here’s the problem: Once you get done with all of the meetings and the meetings generated by the meetings? You need a new script in order to get new meetings. The hope is that one of these scripts sells or one of your takes gets you an assignment. But you need a constant supply of new screenplays.

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of scripts ready to go. Though I had a bunch of scripts written, most of them needed some rewrite work to match them with the current market... and that slowed things down a little. The more prepared you are for that big break, the better you can handle it. And you will need to adjust from writing in your spare time with your old day job to writing in your spare time with your new day job... and getting pages done!

Your career is going to be like a treadmill where you need to keep running!

ONE FOR ME

But what if your script sells or lands you and assignment? Will you still need to do all of those meetings?

Yes. That’s part of the problem: you will need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s common for a screenwriter to do all of those meetings for the next gig while you are supposed to be writing the assignment you were just paid for. It’s common to “stack” assignments - use the heat from one job as bait to get other jobs and end up with two or three assignments with similar deadlines.... and now all you have to do is write them all! I once ended up with walking pneumonia because I was working non-stop on a couple of different screenplays that were going into production. A man’s gotta know his limitations - and I learned where mine are!

Your so called career will always be about the next script and the next gig. But even if you land an assignment, you will need to figure out how to squeeze in a new spec script so that you can do the next round of meetings and land your next assignment - because once you finish that assignment you are unemployed! One of the things I did on assignments was treat everything as “one for them, one for me” - I would make sure that I had enough time and made enough money to write a spec script that I could send out as bait for new assignments (or maybe even sell). Even in the years where I had three scripts go to screen (the mid 90s were very very good to me), and all of the rewriting on those three projects; I made sure to write 2-3 scripts a year for myself. So I wrote 5-6 scripts a year, 3 of them got made and went through all of the hell of rewrites. But I had new scripts to recharge my career if need be... and it often did. You are always breaking in!

One of the problems with those extremely low budget gigs that you see on places like Ink Tip is that you can’t earn enough money to pay for the time to write that one for me script, and it’s like the treadmill moving faster and faster. So part of every script deal you make needs to include some plan on your part for writing a new spec script. If you take one of thise low pay gigs, you need to make sure you are paid enough to write a one for you. That probably means asking for more money, but if that ends up a deal breaker: “Reading Periods” can be the answer.

One of the wacky things with assignment contracts is that they spell out how much time you have to write each draft, and how much time the production company has to read the screenplay and give you notes before the next draft. Now, *you* must turn in your draft on time... but they often screw up when it comes to the reading period. It might be 2 weeks in the contract... and end up a month! Hurry up and wait! But that 2 weeks which may end up a month? That’s the one for you. When I was having three scripts filmed a year, if they weren’t all happening at the same time, I would use the reading period to work on my own project. A great “palate cleanser”, and I would end up with some work done on the “one for me” script.

The important thing is not to get so tied up with *their* project that you neglect *your* project. I don’t expect you to have three projects going a year for a few years like I did... but that *could happen*!

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!

There is a tendency when you sell a script or land an assignment to relax. I think in another of the Film Courage interviews I talk about selling COURTING DEATH to the company with the deal at Paramount and then holing up in my apartment and just leisurely writing - living the dream! But the problem became that after my 2 years of money was gone, I had some new scripts but had done nothing to network or get those scripts to market... and had to scramble to find a deal. I know some people who didn’t even write new scripts... and were in real trouble! You have to keep generating material, even after you are “successful”. Every month there is a new “flavor of the month”.

Here’s the problem with waiting until you *need* a gig to write a bunch of new screenplays - you will be writing from desperation. Instead of having fun writing your spec scripts, you will be trying so hard to make this the one that will start the deals and meetings happening again that the script will suck. I have a friend on FaceBook who has been single for a long time and is at the point of begging women to date him. Do I have to tell you that doesn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work with screenplays either - they can read in your writing that you are trying desperately to make a deal. You want your scripts to be so cool they think they don’t have a chance to date them, not so desperate and needy that they are the nightmare date. So don’t wait until the last minute! Make sure writing new screenplays is part of your “business plan” and included in writing those assignments!

You can have a sale or assignment and think that you have “made it” and can take it easy for a while... but you can’t! You have to keep writing, keep generating new material, and keep getting that material out there in the world so that when this deal has run its course you have a new one waiting. Yes, take a vacation... but that’s a week or two, right? Taking a vacation for a month or six months is probably a mistake. When you are not on vacation, you need to be working! This is a career - a marathon rather than a sprint. You need to always be writing new screenplays... even when you think you have “made it”. The problem with being a freelance writer is that once you have sold a screenplay or completed and assignment... you are unemployed! You will always be looking for work. Which means you will always be working.

Make sure you have a plan to keep writing scripts after you have landed a gig!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: Sisters (1973)

Halloween is just around the corner!

Director: Brian DePalma.
Writer: Brian DePalma & Louisa Rosa.
Starring: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, the always awesome Bill Finley.
Sound Track: Bernard Herrmann.

With the film SISTERS (2015) on video, I thought we'd look at the original film from 1973... oh, wait, it *wasn't* a remake of the 1973 movie? Then why the hell didn't they come up with a different title so people wouldn't confuse the two movies? Well, hell - here's the Trailer Tuesday for SISTERS anyway...

Brian DePalma is one of my favorite directors, and not just because he does a great job of imitating Hitchcock - I love his comedies like HI MOM! and HOME MOVIES... and his dramas like CASUALTIES OF WAR. Though he makes a mis-step or two, he's always interesting and has done some amazing visual experiments - he's the king of split screen. My favorite faux Hitchcock film of his is OBSESSION, but his film SISTERS is creepy and has enough jump moments to keep you above your seat when you aren't on the edge of it.



We basically have the old "Two sisters: One Good, One Evil" - but this time they have a deeper connection. They were conjoined twins. Danielle and Dominique. The problem is - which one is this? The nice one, or the psycho? The movie opens with a Candid Camera type TV show where a guy in the men's locker room at a gym sees a hot blind girl come in and start taking off her clothes. How long before he tells her she's in the wrong locker room? After the episode is over, the guy and the girl hook up - she's Danielle (an actress who can see) and she lives in a NYC apartment with her sister Dominique. They go back to her place, her sister is out, and make love. The next morning, the guy discovers that today is Danielle's birthday... goes out and buys a cake... but when he comes back, runs into Dominique...



The scene ends with him writing Help Me on the window in his blood, and reporter Jennifer Salt sees it and calls the police. Dominique splits, leaving Danielle with the dead guy. Great split screen sequence where Danielle's ex-husband (Bill Phantom Of The Paradise Finley) is trying to clean up the blood and dispose of the body on one side while Jennifer Salt is leading the police up to the apartment on the other side. Instead of cross cutting for suspense, our eyes do the cutting as we look back and forth between the two sides of the screen. This is split screen used to tell the story - not as a gimmick.

The great thing about this film is that it's PSYCHO and REAR WINDOW and FREAKS and EYES WITHOUT A FACE and several other flicks all put into a blender and turned into one seamless story that never seems like it rips off a specific movie. The ending is in a mega-spooky metal institution - and is ultra-creepy.

The Crazy Dream Sequence From Sisters.

Music by Bernard Herrmann, who did so many great scores for Hitchcock. DePalma uses all of *his* stock company of actors, from Jennifer Salt to Bill Finley to Charles Durning - the only guy who doesn't show up is DePalma discovery Robert DeNiro. One of the great things in the end is when Jennifer Salt is attached to Dominique in a FREAKS inspired scene... so there's kind of a PERSONA reference going on there as well. This was a drive in movie that did really well and put DePalma back on the map after GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT flopped big time, and though it was schlock horror back then, today it's a Critereon DVD with a bunch of extras. The music is creepy enough to give you nightmares! And a textbook on how to use split screen. You'll never sit on a sofa bed again.

- Bill


Friday, September 13, 2019

Hitchcock 20: BREAKDOWN (s1e2)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:





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

Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Airdate: 11/22/1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...

Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...



Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...

Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!

The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.

Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.



Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.

Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.



Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.

Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!

Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.



Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.

The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...

And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.

Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?



Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.

Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.

The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!



For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.

Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!

Bill



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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Film Courage Plus: Writing On Deadline

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

I know you don’t want to hear this, but most spec scripts (screenplays written to sell) are never sold... they are “job applications” for paid writing assignments. You know, adapting some comic book or novel or board game or toy or whatever into a movie script. The *job* of writing. And like every job, there are deadlines.

Writers like to fantasize about quitting the day job and just sitting at home in their Pjs writing whenever the inspiration strikes. Being an artist. But reality is completely different - for a professional writer, writing becomes their day job and they have all of those things they hated from the old day job. Idiot bosses? Yeah, there are producers I’ve worked for who make my old day job bosses look like geniuses. Catty co-workers who blame you for their mistakes? You will encounter those, too - true story: on one of my films for a cable network the director came up with a scene that was so expensive it would bust the budget. I told him there was no way the producer would keep this scene in the script, because it not only served no story purpose it would cost as much as every other scene in the script combined. I suspected it was just some power play on the part of the director - to see how far he could push the producer, to see if he could get his way - but I told him I didn’t want to write the scene. He insisted. I wrote the scene. The next story meeting, the producer turned to me and said he was surprised that I would write a scene like that into the script; didn’t I know this was a cable film not a summer blockbuster? Before I could say it was the director’s idea, that director turned to the producer and said, “I told Bill it was a budget buster, but he didn’t listen and wrote it anyway.” And you thought your day job was bad! But the other thing from your day job you will have to deal with are deadlines. You can’t just write when inspiration strikes, you have to write to get things finished on time.

And the closer the project gets to production, the more those deadlines become etched in stone.

One of the production companies I wrote HBO World Premiere Movies for was Royal Oaks (no longer with us) and they were a factory for cable movies. At one point they were making 36 movies a year for a variety of cable networks. That was in the mid-1990s when every new start up network had their own movies, and when established networks like USA Network had 48 original movies a year. Add in Lifetime and all of the rest and there was this insane need for MOWs, and Royal Oaks supplied a chunk of them. Oh, and they also made movies for Studio’s Home Entertainment Divisions (direct to video). There was a “big board” on the wall that showed all of the projects and where they were at on the road from idea to finished film delivered to the network or studio. 36 films with 36 deadlines. And within each large deadline (delivery) were smaller deadlines - like the treatment and each draft of the screenplay. As I’ve said before, on a movie for HBO like STEEL SHARKS before I even pitched the story there was an airdate. A time slot at HBO that the movie would fill. If I didn’t get the screenplay finished in time, they wouldn’t finish making the movie in time... and HBO would be showing a test pattern or something on March 26th at 9pm.

You may not want to think of making movies as if it’s a factory, but at a production company or a studio that’s exactly what it is. They make movies as a consumer product just like some other company makes shoes... in fact, there was a point in time where a shoe company owned a studio! If you think that big studios don’t have big boards like Royal Oaks did, tell me - what are the release dates for the next ten Marvel movies? How about the next five STAR WARS movies? Okay, how about the next three FAST & FURIOUS movies? All of those deadlines! Most of those projects don’t have screenplays or writers or even story ideas! But they already have deadlines. That’s the film business! It is a business!

So you will need to get used to working on a deadline.

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,” Stephen King

“If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter,” Dan Poynter


LAZY WRITERS!


I have self imposed deadlines on my spec screenplays, and try to treat them as if they were any other (real world) deadline. The reason why is that without a deadline I wouldn’t get anything done... I have to be my own boss and crack the whip on myself. Just as my protagonists wouldn’t be rushing to disarm a bomb if that big red LED cliche timer was set for five years from now, I wouldn’t have any real reason to finish a script if there was no deadline and my natural laziness would take over. And I am naturally lazy. I think most of us are. Our default mode is - check out Facebook and then maybe get lost reading articles on something you find mildly interesting and then maybe watch a little TV and then... hey, time for bed! I can do nothing like a pro! But a pro writer needs to write - so I have deadlines and page quotas and write as if it’s my job, because it *is* my job.

And even if it is not your job now, you *want* it to be your job, right?

That means you will need to be able to write quality material on a deadline.

There are folks on message boards who think being forced to write on a deadline results in bad writing. They are probably not going to make it as a professional. Actually, they *could* make it as a professional if they quit fighting the idea of deadlines and just accept that is part of the job and they’ll have to learn how to incorporate deadlines into their writing. People always fight against what they fear - they proclaim that “X is the downfall of creativity!” because they know they are not good at X and they fear X so they want to avoid doing X at all costs. Hey, the world isn’t going to bend to you, you will have to bend to the world. You will have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with X like everyone else has. Just the way things are. In real life there are deadlines, and fighting against the idea of deadlines is not going to make them vanish. There are still those big boards at production companies and studios listing the release dates for movies that have yet to be written, and when you land one of those jobs you will have to make the deadline no matter what Douglas Adams may have said.

TWO METHODS


There are two methods to make deadlines - Slow & Steady and Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! You know these two methods from when you were in school and had homework. Slow & Steady is the recommended method - what your mom and teachers told you to do - and what I will tell you is the best way to do things. Not that you will listen... but it makes me feel better to know that I’ve told you.

Slow & Steady: In another of the Film Courage segments I talk about How To Be Productive (Even If You Have A Life) and talk about how I managed to write 3 screenplays a year while working a day job (and having a life) by writing one good page a day. Just one. Because those single pages add up to 3 screenplays by the end of the year. Once I “went pro” I used the same method, just upped the number of pages per day to 5. Five pages a day is a screenplay in a month. Yeah - a first draft, but still a screenplay. And that will result in you making almost every deadline you will encounter as a professional screenwriter. In the BREAKING IN Blue Book we look at assignments and deadlines, and how you will often “stack” assignments (take more than one job, because you never know if anyone will ever hire you again) and being able to do a draft in a month will cover you even if you stack a couple of assignments. You will make your deadlines. Slow & Steady wins the race.

The other method - the one your mom and teachers warned you about - is Holy Crap This Is Due Tomorrow! and you know how that works when you pulled those all nighters after procrastinating for a couple of weeks and not doing your homework. You didn’t use the Slow & Steady method, so the only thing left is to just drink a whole pot of coffee or a six pack of Mountain Dews and write the damned thing. There are people who prefer this method to Slow & Steady, but I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with 30 pages to write and 5 minutes to write it in... and I’m just not that fast. I’m also afraid that I’ll burn out halfway through or that some unforseen event will sidetrack me. Heck, when I stacked a couple of projects with tight deadlines once, I ended up with walking pneumonia afterwards. I’d worked myself into exhaustion. What if that exhaustion and pneumonia had struck when I was only halfway done with the script? I’d have missed the deadline!

One of the things that helps me on tight deadlines is that the Slow & Steady method creates a confidence that the Holy Crap method does not. If I know I can write 5 pages a day, every day, and not suffer burn out... I can adjust that up to 10 pages a day if need be. And I’ve had those crazy deadlines where I needed to turn out 10 great pages a day to make my deadline because there was a Start Shooting date on the big board. I think I talk about some of these deadlines in this Film Courage segment.

But in the real world of screenwriting, you will need to know how to use both methods. Because even though Slow & Steady is preferable, you may end up with some insane real world production deadline like I had on GRID RUNNERS when they had to scrap the Act 3 I had written due to a change in location and I had to write a brand new Act 3 *overnight*. There was literally a production crew sleeping while I was writing, and when they woke up in the morning and went to the set to shoot that day’s scenes? Well, I had to have finished writing them, get them to the production office so that they could make copies, and then those copies had to be sent to the set so that they could film them. The closer your project gets to production, the more important making those deadlines becomes! When the project is *in production* missing a deadline means the cast and crew have nothing to do (but are still being paid) and the film may crash and burn as a result. Yes, movies get shut down when the screenwriter misses a deadline. You may cost the production company tens of millions of dollars! Do you think they’re going to hire you again after that? That *anyone* is going to hire you again? So you need to be able to use both the Slow & Steady method and the Holy Crap method as a professional screenwriter, and I really think that using the Slow & Steady helps a lot when you need to do the Holy Crap method. But maybe that’s just me. No one really cares which method you use, as long as you make the deadlines.

Because, like any other job, this one has deadlines. Often hard deadlines where a cast and crew is waiting for you to finish so that they can start. So start training for those deadlines *now*!

Good luck and keep writing!

Oh, and instead of a tip jar... if you liked this why not buy a book over there? Thanks! -->

- Bill



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