Friday, April 03, 2020

HITCH 20: Mr. Blanchard's Secret (s2e1)


This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

Mr. Blanchard's Secret... we can discuss the episode in the comments section, and maybe I'll add some commentary on the episode here.

I decided I would write this *before* watching the episode, so that I wasn’t influenced by what the others said (just as if I was part of this episode)...

The big lesson in this episode for me is ABLA, Always Be Leading the Audience. Just as the director frames the shot to draw the audience’s eyes to some object, you want the story to draw the audience’s minds to some conclusion... show them the information and allow them to make the jump. You create the misdirection. In a mystery, you don’t just throw a bunch of suspects into a room and let the audience pick the most likely suspect (who ends up not being the killer), you *point to the most likely suspect* so that everyone watching the mystery thinks the same person is the killer, that way there is a twist when the real killer is exposed. How a twist works is by misdirection, and just as a magician draws attention to one hand while palming something with the other, when we tell a story we will draw attention to one thing in the story so that the audience focus on that thing... and doesn’t notice the other possibilities. We want to always be leading the audience.

This is a story about storytelling, and the protagonist, Babs Fenton is a writer. A storyteller.

It’s kind of a comedy version of REAR WINDOW.

Babs is the audience surrogate *and* the leader in this episode. She gives us the information... it’s all filtered through her, the way a movie is filtered through the camera’s angle and movement and framing. She has never seen new neighbor Mr. Blanchard’s wife, so maybe he has murdered her? Now that we have been lead in this direction, all of the things we see add further evidence to this scenario. Our vision has been narrowed so that we only see things that fit that possibility. When Babs bumped into him at the grocery store (a husband doing the shopping?) he acted strange when she asked about his wife.

Babs makes a sandwich in the middle of the night... and sees Blanchard peeking through her window! She decides this is a good reason to throw on a robe and knock on his door... and when no one answers and the door is unlocked, she pulls a Grace Kelly and enters the house! Now we get a nice little suspense/dread scene as she pokes around in the house. More evidence! The house is decorated for function rather than beauty, obviously a man’s work. And upstairs, Mrs. Blanchard’s bedroom is suspiciously immaculate. But there is a photo of the Blanchards. When Babs looks in the closet, it’s filled with nice clothes...

And that’s when Blanchard pops up behind her... and startles her. Then escorts her to the front door and out of the house.

Even though her husband John acts as the voice of reason, and keeps telling her this is all her imagination in overdrive and there is obviously some logical explanation. The audience may even know that he’s probably right... but look at this evidence! Look at how weird things are! The fascinating thing about John is that he forces the audience to take a position. We dig in... John offers no explanation for the strange things happening at the Blanchard house.

The next place the story leads the audience is to the idea that Mrs. Blanchard is a prisoner in her own home due to some dark secret... maybe she’s a drunk? That Blanchard lost his well paid university professor job and became a teacher at the high school because of his wife’s drunken scandals. This new theory also fits the evidence, the way a new suspect might in a mystery. Instead of just having some vague scandal, we are pointed in the direction of a specific scandal. That leads to Blanchard killing his wife...

Which is when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at the door. After being lead in one direction, twist! When Babs invites her in and goes to get some coffee (the story is still leading us with the coffee), Twist again as Mr. Blanchard pops up to take his wife home.

And that leads us back to the prisoner in her own home scenario.

Until, in the middle of the night, Blanchard leaves the house carrying a heavy duffel bag... filled with Mrs. Blanchard’s body?

Again, husband John says all of this sounds like her imagination at work... but offers no explanation for the duffel bag in the middle of the night.

And then Mrs. Blanchard shows up again for coffee. Explains that she and her husband had a fight and he threw some clothes in a duffel bag and left. He’ll be back for dinner.

Now we get some nice misdirection: as Babs and Mrs. Blanchard have coffee and a smoke, we are lead to think about the Blanchard’s relationship which is being discussed rather than an important clue that happens right before our eyes. Magic!

When Mrs. Blanchard leaves, she steals the ornate cigarette lighter.

When Babs discovers the ornate cigarette lighter is missing, she knows the Blanchards’ secret: Mrs. Blanchard is a klepto! This explains why he lost his university job and why he keeps her locked up in her room.

Now we get a new twist that leads the audience in a different direction: A woman fitting Mrs. Blanchard’s description has been found murdered. Beaten to death. Babs is sure that when Mr. Blanchard discovered that his klepto wife has stolen again, he went crazy and killed her. Husband John says she’s imagining things again, and insists they go down to the morgue so he can prove to her that this *isn’t* Mrs. Blanchard. Again, we have been lead by the story: the focus is on that dead woman in the morgue. The audience only thinks of: will it be Mrs. Blanchard or not? The audience is not allowed to think of other things, only what the story has focused on.

When Babs opens the front door on the way to the morgue... there are Mr. & Mrs. Blanchard with the ornate cigarette lighter, which Mr. Blanchard has repaired as a housewarming gift. Twist! The end.

By leading the audience the story makes them think about what the writer wants them to think about, rather than the other thousands of possibilities. This way we can perform the magic of storytelling, creating suspense and twists and a fun experience.

Now I’m going to watch the new HITCH 20 episode and see what everyone else said.

Of course, I have my own books 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

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(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



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 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.


Thursday, April 02, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Masquerade



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

Season: 2, Episode: 6.
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by Henry Kuttner. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine, Jack Lambert, Dorothy Neumann. Music: Jerry Goldsmith channeling Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer, but has another most unusual talent as well: peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters... or was that old man flesh and blood? No, don’t answer too quickly, for this is the sort of night where all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm, and the wolfsbane reaches out with its evil, hungry brush. Yes, my friends, on just such a night as this who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose? Masquerade. That’s the name of our story. And the Masqueradrers: May I present Mr. And Mrs. Charlie Denham, played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston; and John Carradine, Jack Lambert, and Dorothy Newman as the infamous Cartas. Now that you’ve been formally introduced I’ll make you a promise. Before this terrifying adventure has ended you’ll change some of your outdated ideas about vampires... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Don’t be alarmed, I can assure you the old faithful weapons are not outdated. And those of you who happen to have some silver bullets or sharp pointed wooden sticks around the house have nothing whatever to fear. As for you others, perhaps you’ll be prepared next time... if there is a next time.”

Synopsis: Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his wife Rosalind (Elizabeth Montgomery) are on their second honeymoon... trapped in a rainstorm in a convertible with a torn roof in the middle of nowhere and stop at the most run down, decrepit bed and breakfast in the Southern half of the United States (the PSYCHO house making another guest appearance on the show). Charlie jokes that places like this are where travelers end up on the menu... and explains step-by-step what will happen to them beginning with the old fashioned door knocker falling off the door due to dry rot and the crazy old patriarch of the family inviting them in and warning them about the vampires in these parts...

When they get to the door there *is* an old fashioned door knocker, and then the door is opened by the crazy old patriarch of the Carta clan Jed (John Carradine) carrying an old fashioned oil lamp who invites them in. Jed is dressed in dirty rags, looks like a hillbilly cannibal’s poorest cousin. When the door closes, the knocker falls off - dry rot.

Rosalind keeps joking with crazy old Jed - about him eating them, and he responds by saying that they don’t eat the visitors, they just kill them and steal their money. A joke? Rosalind wants to get back in the car and drive to their destination - no matter the weather. Charlie counters that *she* was the one who insisted they stop. The old man is just joking, right?

Old Jed is building up the fire in the livingroom to warm them up, and tells them to make themselves at home. Charlie asks if they can borrow some dry clothes (WTF?) because Rosalind’s clothes are soaked. Jed says he’ll get something... then tells them about the local legends of vampires, and the recent suspicious deaths. When he leaves, Rosalind admits that she’s terrified... then strips out of her wet dress and wraps a blanket from the sofa around her. They have a conversation about hillbilly vampires - Charlie thinks that might make a good story idea, but Rosalind thinks no one would believe it... people have a preconceived notion of what vampires look like.

That’s when Lem Carta (Jack Lambert, from Don Siegel’s version of THE KILLERS) steps into the room with clothes, startling them. He’s creepy. Says that Mother is coming down to say hello later. Charlie tells Lem to leave, and don’t peek through the keyhole... which is weird because they are in the livingroom and there is no door. I suspect the script was written for a different location and nobody fixed it when they shot this scene in the livingroom - one of many weird disconnects in this episode between what people say and what we see. Lem is also supposed to be Jed’s grandson - except they are both similar in age... so they didn’t fix the script after casting, either. Lem leaves - there is no door - and Rosalind takes off the blanket to put on the dirty old dress (WTF?) - which is much shorter than what she had on. Charlie puts on the dirty checked shirt and overalls...

When Charlie hears a woman laughing... and it’s not Rosalind!

Then a bat flies through the livingroom startling Rosalind!

Charlie smells food, so they decide to creep deeper into the cobwebbed old house to seek dinner.

In the kitchen: Jed is sharpening a knife while Lem pleads to allow him to kill and butcher this one... Jed killed the last few. But Jed says he’s experienced in slitting throats , so he’s gonna do it this time.

Charlie and Rosalind follow the cooking smells to the kitchen... where Jed has finished sharpening the knife. Jed tells Charlie that Lem’s mother has been dead for a decade - found dead on her bed, drained of blood... legend was from vampires. Jed says that he doesn’t believe in vampires - they’d need to change with the times or they’d be discovered. Rosalind says she’s not hungry anymore and runs to the front door... which is locked! Charlie says they are locked in... and then that woman’s laughter begins echoing from the walls again!

Charlie decides they’re going to search for the laughing woman... and they run into more bats on the way to the kitchen where they discover a butchered pig in the pantry. They creep upstairs and discover Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) in a locked room - a prisoner, chained to the wall. She says she’ll show them the way out of the house if Charlie releases her. But after he does, she runs away into the night... after locking them in the room.

They escape the room, get into a spat, have a make up kiss... and then try to find the way out of the house. They discover some muddy footprints that *begin* at a wall. Secret passage or vampires who can walk through walls? Secret passage - with steps going into the basement. So they go down the steps... to the basement, where Charlie finds some moonshine and the guest book - which contains names of people and what valuables they stole from them!

That’s when Jed and Lem discover them! Jed is angry that they let Ruthie go - she’s a vampire. Oh, and Lem has set up a bed for them. So they go into the bedroom, where they find a locked door with the clothes of the previous guests. There are rats and lightning and other scary things that require Rosalind to jump so that her short skirt flips up (I know that sounds pervy to mention, but I see no reason why these hillbillies would give her an Ellie-Mae outfit except to provide scenes like these).

Later that night: the storm ends and Rosalind wakes up... and walks out of the room as if in a trance! Charlie wakes up and searches for her - finding Lem dead on the floor, sucked dry of blood with a pair of fang marks in his neck! Jed is shocked, says the whole vampire thing was just a joke. Laughter from the basement - Charlie wants to investigate, Jed warns him not to go down there. Charlie discovers Ruthie with a knife!

Later, Charlie comes upstairs and finds Rosalind, explains to her that he had to deal with Ruthie - it was her or him. Rosalind has the front door key - she knocked out Jed to get it, and they two leave. Hop in their car, drive away.

Just before dawn: at the resort destination where they had previously been driving to, they are finally able to get some rest... in a king-sized coffin. They are the vampires!

Review: Novelist Don Westlake has this term for stories that don’t fit in any genre, or maybe fit in too many genres - The Tortile Tarradiddle. It comes from Lewis Carroll (maybe even ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, which may be currently playing to almost empty cinemas near you). This story tries to be alll things to all people and ends up not working for anyone. Though we may look at something like this as “meta” now, I wonder at the time how following every single cliche in the genre played. As a short story, it probably worked - one of my favorite Richard Matheson stories, “Tis The Season”, is a clever comedy story that makes fun of post apocalyptic tropes. Because it’s cleverly written, we know that Matheson is making fun of these tropes. The problem with a TV adaptation is that we wouldn’t be able to read the writing and we’d just see all of the tropes, all of the cliches... and even with the comedy dialogue it still might not work. I don’t really think this episode works - but I’m fairly sure (without reading it) that the story it is based on probably does,

This points out a problem with adapted material - often a book or story is famous *for its writing* and none of that writing shows up on screen, only the physical things being written about. There are novels where the way a chair is described is laugh outloud funny, but on screen it is just a chair... or just a character... or just a simple action like a character sitting down. The humor (or whatever) of the novel is in *how* things are described rather than *what* is being described. And only the *what* ends up on screen. I’ve read screenplays that do this as well - a funny read, but nothing funny actually happening. The funny part is in how it’s described on the page.

So we have a story that’s a big bundle of cliches where they push the comedy to the point of it becoming obvious and less funny. Doesn’t really work. What’s kind of interesting is John Carradine’s character saying “She’s got spunk, I like a woman with spunk” years before Lou Grant would say that to Mary Tyler Moore. Also - is this the first time a married couple slept in the same bed on television? Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston do a pretty good job of playing the Nick & Nora Charles of vampires - and maybe because they are undead they could share a bed on TV and the censors didn’t care? The cast is interesting because this was a pre-BEWITCHED Montgomery, and she’s cute and sexy and lights up the screen. But just as we know Montgomery as a sexy young woman, we mostly know Poston as a crotchety old man from that last Bob Newhart show. So it seems slightly weird to see them as a couple (of about the same age) in this episode. The other thing that’s interesting about this episode is that it uses the “car breaks down in cannibal country” trope long before TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... long before it was a trope (at least in cinema). So we have an unsuccessful entry that wasn’t as much fun as they probably thought it was.

Next week, Ida Lupino returns behind the camera for an episode she wrote with her cousin.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Book Report: Circle Of Enemies

Because we are all trapped indoors, and Harry is currently writing the next book in this series, I thought I would rerun this...

CIRCLE OF ENEMIES by Harry Connolly.

Though I just finished reading a new short story collection by Lawrence Block, I’ll get to that next Tuesday... because I still haven’t reported on my friend Harry’s latest book CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, which I finished reading a week ago. Took me long enough! But I did a quick rewrite on a script and read some other friend’s scripts and have been working on the Action Book rewrite. I’ve been busy!

“I’m Raymond Lilly, and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed.”

This is the third book in the 20 Palaces series - and the best so far. The first book, CHILD OF FIRE, opens with car thief Raymond Lilly getting out of jail... Ray was waiting for trial, had a crappy public defender, was guilty as hell and figured he was going to do time. By when he went to trial, his public defender was gone and a high priced uber-slick lawyer was in his place, and the lawyer makes him a deal: If Ray never tells anyone what he saw, the lawyer will work his magic and Ray will walk. Oh, and Ray has to take a job with the organization so that they can keep tabs on him. Ray agrees, and moments later he is walking out of the courtroom a free man. Sounds like the Mafia, doesn’t it? But the twist is - the high priced lawyer works for the 20 Palace Society - a group of sorcerers. What Ray saw was some sort of magic thing... and his new job is the driver for Annalise - a sorceress assassin who tracks and kills anyone who uses magic who is not a member of the society. There’s maybe a good reason for doing this - using magic often opens the door to a dark world where predators live. If those predators escape, they can kill a bunch of people and possibly destroy the world. So only members of the Society are allowed to use magic... Annalise or one of the other assassins kills anyone else, and destroys the predators. Oh, Ray has another job other than driving her around - he’s her “wooden man” - her decoy, her bait. If there is a predator on the loose looking for a human to consume, Ray’s job is to lure it into Annalise’s trap. Um, his life expectancy isn’t very long. Kind of a miracle that he made it to book #3.

Book #3, CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, opens with Ray between assassin gigs working in landscaping in the Pacific Northwest. He comes home, takes a shower... and Melly, an ex-girlfriend (it’s more complicated than that - read the book for the relationship details), appears in his apartment. She’s from his past life as a car thief in Los Angeles... how did she know where he lives? How did she get in? While Ray is wondering all of this, Melly tells him that he killed her, and killed all of his other pals in Los Angeles. That their deaths are *his* fault... and then she just vanishes. A dream?

(Melly’s real name is Carmella - Harry does a great job of giving people realistic nicknames and even creating some confusion when different people have different nicknames for the same person.)

Ray grabs his stuff and drives to Los Angeles to look up his old car thief gang... and discovers that they have been cursed with magic - and have superpowers thanks to predators living inside them... eating them from the inside out. And now Ray is faced with an impossible choice: kill them or call Annalise to come in and kill them. These people are/were his friends! The other part of this is that Ray believes he is responsible for this... and so do some of this ex-pals. Ray tries his best to find some way to solve the problem without killing his old friends, and that requires him to figures out where the magic came from and then find the sorcerer who did this and see if it can be reversed... before his friends die one-by-one when the predators are finished with them.

The reason why I like this series is that it’s a weird combination of a Dash Hammett hard boiled detective novel and H.P. Lovecraft. Violent as hell. I don’t read stuff in this genre (Urban Fantasy) but I get the feeling from looking at some of the other stuff that pops up on Amazon when I search for his books looks more whimsical and “fun” and Harry is dark and violent and hard as nails. In Book #2 GAME OF CAGES Ray is forced to kill a whole bunch of people who have been possessed - and the end of that book is relentlessly violent. Though this book is probably less violent, it is more personal - and people you like die. No punches are pulled. I get the feeling the other popular Urban Fantasy novels are BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and this is THE WILD BUNCH. And, um, I like THE WILD BUNCH more than BUTCH CASSIDY (which may send me to Screenwriter Hell for admitting). These three books are serious stuff.


Kindle version:

Since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it, let me be vague about some of the stuff I liked about it - but still explain why I liked those things.

I really liked that this is Ray dealing with people from his past - that made this more than just an entertaining story. It deals with lost loves and ex-friends and guilt and remorse and every messy friendship situation you’ve ever had. I think that’s what earned this that great review in Publisher’s Weekly.

I think it’s a cool idea to give superpowers to low life small time criminals - because they don’t want to rule the world, they just want to make a few hundred more dollars. They are men (and women) of limited ambition and limited dreams - and they use these new powers in ways that totally fit who they are. Because it’s small time crime, it’s gritty and real and not some crazy Lex Luthor or James Bond villain plan.

The story takes place in Los Angeles, but is centered in the Studio City area where I live - and it’s kind of cool. Harry and I once had coffee in my neighborhood Starbucks in Studio City, and it’s kind of fun to try and figure out what real business gets a fake name for the book.

There’s a totally frightening suspense scene where Ray has to save a kid from being sucked into the world of predators that had me on the edge of my seat.

One of the great things is that Harry creates easy to understand “rules” for his magical elements, and because Ray is just a guy - Ray (narrator) often comes up with a description of these things that uses stuff we can relate to. “Drapes” is a good example.

Harry has *great* chapter ends, designed so that you can not put down the book. This makes it a great read, but also means you will be trapped reading the damned book and not get anything done. One chapter ends with Ray discovering a note threatening to murder a child... hard to just put the bookmark in and set the book down after that.

You’ll have to read the book to understand this - but the most frightening scene to me was when Ray is given some superpowers that have a side effect of maybe removing some of his soul and turning him into more monster than man. This scene works because you *care* about Ray and even though he works for an assassin and sometimes has to kill people himself - he doesn’t take any of that lightly. He does not like killing people - even if they have been possessed by predators within. He’s a thief but not a killer. And now that this has happened, I’m worried about him. Yeah, he’s fiction, but in the world of this series he seems very real.

There’s a great comparison of actual toughness and bravery when Ray works with an ex-soldier Talbot who is the “wooden man” for another sorceress-assassin. The ex-soldier is Mr. Macho and has a pile of guns (Ray doesn’t carry) and the way each reacts to the same situation tells us volumes about both of them. It’s a great way to show character - and expose how a reluctant man of action like Ray is the real hero. The same sort of comparison is used between Annalise and Csilla (Talbot’s boss) to show how Annalise - who seems to care little about collateral damage - really does have a heart. She may be a brutal killer, and she may kill people who get in her way... but she *tries* not to kill anyone who is not a target. Csilla? Um, if the whole human race got in her way, she’d just kill us all. And these are the *good guys*!

CIRCLE OF ENEMIES is just in time to expose the evil behind Google Plus “circles”... and is a fast, action packed read. Because it’s Ray dealing with the people from his past... and the “sins” of his past... the story ends up having strong emotions below the surface. Ray is a man who doesn’t let his emotions show - and he’s damned busy fighting people and *things* from the “Empty Spaces”, but the situations are filled with tough decisions and the regrets and guilt and messy relationships we all have in our pasts. Can Ray save his ex-friends... who are now his enemies?

Makes a great gift for people who like twisted violent stuff!

- Bill


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: COPS & ROBBERS (1973)

Cops & Robbers (1973)

Directed by: Aram Avakian (11 HARROWHOUSE).
Written by: Don Westlake, based on his novel.
Starring: Cliff Gorman, Joseph Bologna, John P. Ryan, Martin Kove.
Produced by: Elliot Kastner (every 70s crime film plus WHERE EAGLES DARE).
Music by: Michel Legrand.

This film is based on a novel by three of my favorite writers, Don Westlake, and he wrote the screenplay as well. Wait, some of you may wonder how one man can be three of my favorite writers, so maybe I should explain. Westlake was a prolific writer who broke in during the paperback revolution writing soft core porn under various pseudonym’s, often with his poker pal Lawrence Block (hey, another one of my favorites!). He was writing 2 novels a month for a while, and when he broke into mainstream mysteries he was just as prolific... and wrote different styles of fiction under different pseudonyms. So he wrote his comedy caper novels like THE HOT ROCK and BUSY BODY and SPY IN THE OINTMENT and HELP! I AM BEING HELD PRISONER under his own name, and the violent world of Parker novels like POINT BLANK under Richard Stark, and these great mopey private eye novels about a guy named Mitch Tobin under the name Tucker Coe. Plus some other books under other names. But here’s the kicker... nobody knew he was any of these other guys. Okay, maybe his agent knew, but these weren’t “Don Westlake writing as” books, these were completely different writers with completely different writing styles as far as anyone knew. A book written as J. Morgan Cunningham features a cover blurb by Westlake that says, “I wish I had written this book!” and everyone just assumed he hadn’t. So he was three of my favorite writers, three different guys who wrote different types of crime novels in different styles until he “came out” in an interview in the mid 70s which included all of his other personalities... and I was shocked!

Anyway, Westlake had this term for novels that didn’t fit in any genre, “Tortile Taradiddles” which I believe comes from Lewis Carroll... and COPS AND ROBBERS is definitely one of those. It’s a caper film that isn’t quite a comedy and isn’t quite serious. Maybe light comedy, but even that makes it sound funnier than it is. What it is is *amusing* (cue the great speech from GOODFELLOWS). That’s probably why no one remembers this film and maybe why it wasn’t a hit when it came out. It’s an amusing film written by Westlake, based on his own novel... but not really a comedy.

Click For Trailer.

Joe (Joseph Bologna) and Tom (Cliff Gorman) are New York City cops who live next door to each other in some crappy ticky tacky suburb in Long Island and car pool to work together every day. Because both are *honest* cops, they have mortgages and mounting bills and are basically risking their lives on the job every day for not enough money to live on. Joe is a patrol cop, Tom is a detective. Neither wants to be a corrupt cop, but it would be nice to have enough money to pay the damned bills every month.

Joe’s partner gets shot during some stupid call and is hospitalized, Joe reaches a breaking point decides to rob a liquor store in uniform. Gets just over $200... enough to pay some of those bills that have gone to red notice. And here’s the thing: *everyone* says the robber was some guy masquerading as a cop. The liquor store owner says he didn’t act like a cop, the police department doesn’t want *anyone* to think that a cop might also be a robber, and the media warns the public about “fake cops” who rent uniforms from costume shops. So Joe completely gets away with it!

One morning while driving to work, Tom brings up the fake cop pulling a robbery and Joe admits that was him. Tom is not shocked, he’s curious... and the two begin planning one big heist that will set them up for life. Anything under a million bucks each isn’t worth it. One robbery means less chance of getting caught, the reason why robbers get caught is because they just keep doing it and the law of averages says they’ll eventually be caught or shot by a store owner. But who the heck has $2 million they can steal?

Well, these guys are *cops*, so they know *crooks*, and crooks know this kind of stuff, right? They have an endless supply of “technical advisors”. Tom knows just the guy to help them: “Patsy O’Neill” whose real name is Pasquale Aniello, and is biggest crime kingpin in New York City. Tom has his rap sheet, knows where he lives, knows his phone number, knows his criminal record. Never been convicted. An anonymous phone call later, Tom has a meeting with Patsy at his mansion. Wearing a bad disguise, Tom asks Patsy for his illegal advice in the crime lord’s private bowling alley. (There was a time when bowling matches were broadcast on network TV every week the way Monday Night Football is broadcast today.) Patsy tells Joe the easiest thing to steal pound for pound are barer bonds from a Wall Street brokerage house. But Patsy can only pay 20 percent of the face value, so for $2 million they have to steal $10 million... and Wall Street brokerage houses are like freakin’ Fort Knox! Impossible to rob!

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Hey, nothing is impossible. Joe and Tom come up with a clever plan to pull the impossible robbery... using their uniforms as a way past most of the security. But what they need is a huge diversion, and that comes with the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20th, 1969. On August 13th, 1969 the Astronauts had a huge ticker tape parade on Wall Street... the *perfect* diversion! There will be hundreds of cops on the street, so they can blend into the crowd, and most of the police force will be dealing with the parade! Plus, the brokerage house will be distracted by the parade as well.

Wearing fake mustaches, they enter the brokerage house in uniform saying there was a complaint that people were throwing objectionable material out the office window (near the vault). One of the managers takes them past all kinds of security almost all the way to the vault! Everyone is distracted by the parade, and these are cops... not crooks. Near the vault, Joe and Tom tell the manager they are not real cops, and they’re here to rob the vault. The manager cooperates (they are pointing guns at him) and takes them through the final security and into the vault. They handcuff the manager and his secretary and proceed to grab $10 million in barer bonds, easy as pie! Until the alarm sounds... and police flood the building searching for two guys dressed as cops. Realizing they will never be able to walk out with the $10 million in bonds, Tom comes up with a great plan: instead of stealing the bonds, all they have to steal is a *headline*. They shred the bonds and throw them out the window as part of the ticker tape parade (a suspense scene because the police are searching room by room for them). They walk out of the building pretending they were some of the police called to search for the two fake policemen. Heck, their badges are *real*! (More suspense as they have to get past the security guy at the front desk who thinks they are fake cops.)

The next day, the headlines are all about the two fake cops who stole $12 million in barer bonds. What? Where’d the other $2 million come from? That manager and his secretary each stole a million bucks and blamed them! So the danged manager ended up with more money than they did!

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But they have stolen a headline, and gangster Patsy believes they have $10 million in barer bonds and will trade $2m in cash for them. Now all they have to do is outsmart New York’s biggest crime lord and get his $2m in exchange for barer bonds they do not have. Of course, they manage to do this... but nothing is easy! And Patsy has to answer to his superior in the mob for losing the $2 million dollars.

The interesting thing about the film is that it takes place in the early 70s New York City that SERPICO and MEAN STREETS and FRENCH CONNECTION take place in. It has the same gritty look and feel as those films, even though it’s lighter in tone. The Michel Legrand music is often a little too upbeat, and I suspect it was trying to turn an amusing film into something they could sell as comedy. Cliff Gorman, who gets star billing in this film, was a 70s actor who was ain AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and ALL THAT JAZZ and a bunch of other NYC based films, and guest starred on every TV show that filmed there... then just kind of vanished from stardom, even though he continued working until his death in 2002. Bologna became the bigger star, and if you don’t know him by name you totally know him by sight. He’s Adam Sandler’s father in BIG DADDY and was Michael Caine’s horn dog friend in BLAME IT ON RIO. He has a movie shooting *now*. A tortile taradiddle like this would probably never be made today because it doesn’t fit in any genre and they’d have no idea how to sell it, but it’s a nice little film that is amusing if not laugh outloud funny. You want these two guys to get away with it.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Hitchcock Talks Terror

Here is a two part interview with Hitchcock from 1964 where he talks about all kinds of wonderful things, from fairy tale terror to "photgraphs of people talking" vs. pure cinema.

And Fairy Tales?

- 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

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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.

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: God Grante That She Lye Stille


God Grante That She Lye Stille

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

Season: 2, Episode: 5.
Airdate: Oct. 23, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews from the short story by Lady Cynthia Asquith.
Cast: Sara Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Victor Buono.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamine Kline
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “God grant that she lie still. How would you like to have that grim wish carved on your tombstone? Not rest in peace, but fear - fear of the undead for whom there is no rest. Or, as Shakespeare had King Richard say: ‘Let’s take of graves, of worms, of epitaphs. Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes might sorrow of the bosom of the earth, for nothing can we call our own... but death.’ Well, I trust that puts you in the proper mood for what you are about to see and hear. Our story is by Lady Cynthia Asquith, and to bring her tale to life we’ve chosen a cast of distinguished players: Sarah Marshall, Ronald Howard, Henry Daniel, Avis Scott, and Madeleine Holmes. They say that Elspeth Clewer dies three hundred years ago. But did she? We’ll find out now, my friends, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”

Synopsis: 1661: Condemned witch Elspeth Clewer (Sarah Marshall) is being burned at the stake in public by crazed local Priest Weatherford (Henry Daniel) “For if the body of a witch and vampire be not utterly destroyed by fire, her curse descends on her posterity until the last generation.” Elsbeth laughs at the priest and the townspeople, “You can not destroy that which will not burn. That within me will not be killed and will not rest!” They burn her alive - while she chants, “First fire, then death - so it shall always be until my body is returned to me!”

Present Day: Lady Margaret Clewer (Sara Marshall) hears her little Sheen dog barking, and ask him what’s wrong. She goes to the window to look out, but her maid Sarah (Madeleine Holmes) warns her not to - there’s... something... out there. Lady Margaret opens the doors and steps onto the balcony - nothing outside but a “witches moon”. The dog freaks and runs away... and Sarah goes to fetch him. Lady Margaret has returned to her ancestral home for her 21st birthday (this Sunday) in order to receive her inheritance, and this is her first night in the estate. Just behind the huge old mansion is the family cemetery... along with Elspeth Clewer’s grave. Behind Margaret her birds chirps in their cage and she puts a cover over them and wishes them a goodnight, then starts back to close the balcony doors...

When the ghost of Elspeth floats in. Margaret runs to close the doors... and the ghost vanishes. But when she turns to the mirror - Lady Margaret casts no reflection. What? Laughter from the bed - Elspeth’s ghost is in the bed, beckoning to her! Elspeth chants the fire & death thing... and Margaret screams and faints. Sarah runs in to find her on the floor... and the balcony doors open.

Next morning, handsome Dr Stone (Ronald Howard) arrives to check out Lady Margaret - who has been in some sort of coma. He tells Sarah to open the curtains and windows, and as soon as the sunlight touches her face, Lady Margaret wakes up. She says she saw a face outside the window... and then freaks at the memory. Dr. Stone says her heart is strained and she’ll need to rest and take it easy - and gives her a sedative. Says he’ll be back that night. Margaret asks Sarah where Sheen is - and is told he’s vanished. Maybe found his way out of the house.

Dr. Stone takes a look for the dog on the grounds... wanders into the family cemetery... to Elspeth’s grave with its strange epitaph. When he turns around there is a man behind him! He’s John Weatherford (Henry Daniel) the local Vicker - who likes to walk while studying his sermon. Dr. Stone asks about the inscription, and Weatherford tells him Elspeth was a with and a vampire... Stone doesn’t believe in such things. Lady Margaret’s 21st birthday is the 300th anniversary of Elspeth’s death at the stake. Dr. Stone says this is all very interesting, then gets the heck out of there.

That night Dr. Stone is reading by the fireplace when his phone rings... Maid Sara calling to report that Lady Margaret has vanished. He tells her to keep calm, he’s on his way. He drives over, and the first place he stops is the cemetery for some reason... where he finds Lady Margaret passed out in the rain on Espeth’s grave. When he lifts her up to carry her back to the house, there is that pesky Weatherford standing behind him again! It’s as if the Vicker lives to be a jump scare... except the shots are framed wrong so there’s never any actual jump scare.

The next morning, Dr. Stone opens the balcony doors and looks down at the grave. Lady Margaret is awake, wondering if they’ve found her dog. Nope, but she still has those birds. Dr. Stone wonders if she needs a psychiatrist - because of seeing that face - and tries to psychoanalyze her. She has no memory of last night and how she ended up on that grave.

That night Dr. Stone is at home reading again when there is a knock at his door. Weatherford, with the records of Elspeth’s trial... then he vanishes mysteriously.

Stone reads the trial records when his door bursts open, and there’s maid Sarah. Lady Margaret has locked herself in her room, taken her phone off the hook and is screaming... and talking to someone named Espeth. So they head on over to the estate.

At the estate, Dr. Stone kicks open the door to find Lady Margaret in bed covered in mud... and for some reason Sarah decides to look in the bird cage, where the two birds are dead! Their heads have been torn off! Wham! The door opens and Weatherford is there (does nobody knock in this story?) along with his servant, who has been with him for many years... The servant has found Lady Margaret’s dog... murdered! Throat cut! Weatherford offers to have his servant bury the dog, and suggests Stone just tell Lady Margaret that the dog ran away. Um, okay. Then Weatherford leaves and Stone returns to Lady Margaret covered in mud and gunk in bed, previously in progress.

Sarah says there’s something sticky in Lady Margaret’s hand... and her mouth is covered with blood! Did she bite the heads off the birds?

When Lady Margaret wakes up, Dr. Stone has to tell her that her longtime maid Sarah has quit and split... but Stone has hired a private nurse, Miss Emmons. Stone leaves and we leave with him, because a doctor is much moire interesting than a woman who may be possessed by a with and may have bitten the heads off her birds.

Dr. Stone reads the witch trial transcripts - which gives us a whole bunch of exposition read by Henry Daniel about this curse and the witchcraft stuff... including drinking the blood of birds. Dr. Stone sets down the transcripts and bolts out of his house.

Dr. Stone arrives at the estate, where Nurse Emmons gives him a bunch of exposition about how Lady Margaret has been acting strange and talking to herself and yelling “Ley me in, I need a body!” and other wacky stuff. As soon as she finished with the exposition, Lady Margaret screams from upstairs and they run up to find out what’s going on.

Upstairs, the ghost of Elspeth is at the balcony... but she vanishes when Dr. Stone breaks down the door again. Lady Margaret is fine, she just screamed because that’s what the script said to do. She falls asleep. Dr. Stone decides to spend the night.

That night.... a possessed Lady Margaret stabs sleeping Nurse Emmons with a knife!

Except, the next morning Nurse Emmons is fine. Huh? Lady Margaret is sleeping. Huh? Dr. Stone tells Nurse Emmons that he has called a psychiatrist from London to come down. Then he calmly asks the nurse how that cut on her arm is. Fine. Wait - so Lady Margaret stabs Nurse Emmons in the arm, and that’s that? They just act as if nothing has happened? Who reacts like that?

The Psychiatrist (Victor Buono!) tells Stone that Lady Margaret is wack-a-doodle... and her heart condition has worsened. Oh, and she’s been asking for Dr. Stone. He goes upstairs as the shrink leaves. Stone and Lady Margaret *flirt with each other*, because that seems like the right thing to do in the situation. Then Lady Margaret says the best thing for her now would be to die, so that she’d be safe... then falls asleep. Or maybe passes out.

Later, Lady Margaret is sleeping as Dr. Stone sits up next to her when someone knocks on the door. He goes to answer it, opening the door to expose - Weatherford!

Upstairs, Lady Margaret wakes up, walks to the balcony as if in a trance, opens the doors so that Elspeth can enter. “I must be lodged!”

Downstairs, Weatherford tells Stone that Lady Margaret isn’t the only cursed family - his family has been sworn to make sure Elspeth never possesses another body and does very bad things again. That’s why he’s been lurking. Of course, that’s when Lady Margaret screams from upstairs, and both men run up to find out what is going on.

The break open the door in time to see Elspeth’s ghost pulling out of Lady Margaret’s body and walking out to the balcony. Lady Margaret wakes up - says that she’s won! She’s won! And then kisses Stone and then drops dead. That’s just the kid of girl she is!

Weatherford says Lady Margaret has defeated Elspeth by dying without popping any kids, ending the family line and any chance for Elspeth to inhabit any more bodies. The end.

Review: After a strong start to season 2 we get an episode that doesn’t really work... but at least it has Henry Daniel in the cast. One of the big problems with the episode is that it has no idea whose story it is - we begin in the past with our villain Elspeth, then jump to the present with Lady Margaret and spend a while with her as the protagonist, then jump to Doctor Stone for the majority of the story. The problem is that we go from a “first hand” character who is at the center of the conflict (Lady Margaret) to some secondary character (Stone) who has zero involvement in the conflict - he’s a “second hand” character who doesn’t have a dog in the race or a horse in the fight. There’s a point early in the story where we leave Lady Margaret’s house with Stone and basically spend the rest of the episode with him - watching him *read* in his house. How exciting is that? This is Lady Margaret’s story... or maybe even Henry Daniel’s Weatherford’s sort (since he is tasked to make sure Elspeth doesn’t take over Lady Margaret’s body), but this secondary character? Who cares?

And that’s only one of the episode’s problems - it’s also filled with endless exposition that just drones on and on and on, characters often act weird - doing things that help the plot move forward rather than anything a real person would ever do. It’s as if the characters know what needs to happen next and just does whatever creates that result. Though the writer may know what happens next, the art is getting to that next plot point in a way that’s logical and natural and completely what the character would do in that situation. It’s not that the writer doesn’t know what happens next, it’s that they find the way to get there that feels natural. What real humans would do in that situation. But this episode’s story is so contrived at points that characters do crazy things like look for a lost dog in a graveyard and go *straight to Elspeth’s grave* for no apparent reason other than the story needs to introduce that information. Again and again, characters do things that move the plot forward that just make no sense at all.

Henry Daniel’s character seems to exist just for exposition and failed jump scares - shot wrong so there is no actual jump scare. He’s suitably menacing and creepy (as usual), but seems as if he was just pasted into the story to give us a ton of back story and be creepy.

Herschel Daugherty was a competent TV director who did 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 16 episodes of THRILLER and one or two episodes of just about every show on TV for a couple of decades... but his work always seems more competent than inventive. Though last week’s episode WEIRD TAILOR had some great shots, there was nothing there to compare to some of the best work by other directors on this show. I think that often a not great episode might be “saved” by some interesting direction. Had the jump scares with Henry Daniel worked in this episode, it might have been better... but it’s just kind of bland.

This is one of those episodes where 100 monkeys with typewriters could have written a better script... and then it was just directed blandly. It’s probably not the worst episode of the series, but it’s in the bottom third.

- Bill

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Big Screens Need Big Ideas

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me, around 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?

It's a big screen, you need ideas big enough to fill it!

You say you have an idea for a movie... but do you? Maybe you have an idea for a TV show or a novel or a short story or a mini-series or a stage play or a ... How can you be sure that your idea is a *movie*?

In the clip I talk about the problem with many of my early screenplays - they were too small for the big screen. The story ideas would have been better suited to TV. Even though longform cable shows like GAME OF THRONES might make this theory a little confusing, for the most part the size of the average screen reflects the size of the idea necessary to fill that screen. So when you are coming up with ideas for movies - the big screen - you need larger than life ideas. That average FBI profiler chases serial killer idea is fine for a smaller screen, but you need something with a larger scope to make it big enough for the big screen.

"Look, there’s no question that we are heading toward a future where event films are only going to become more event-sized. You’ve got so many options in your home for viewing content that there has to be a need for you to leave your home, and what is going to drive you to do that?" Joe Russo - AVENGERS ENDGAME.

A movie is seen on a big screen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world at the same time (more or less). You sit in a crowded cinema to see a movie, so it is not a small intimate story. You are sharing it with 300 people when you see it. The story needs *scope* (not the mouth wash, the spectacle) - as I say in the clip, people have to spend a small fortune to go to the cinema these days, it needs to be an *event* in order to get them to leave their homes and drive and park and spend all of that money. Just a regular story is going to be a tough sell to the producer and a tough sell to the audience.

I know that many of you are mentally coming up with a list of movies that prove me wrong, and that’s fine... but the business is changing as I write this. The middle has fallen out and medium budget films are failing at the box office. There was an article a while back about movies like LONG SHOT that have two stars, a great funny story, and even though it deals with a Presidential race... the story was too small to attract the kind of audience it needed to make back it’s money. Low budget films can still work because they don’t have to make as much money to recoup their costs, but everything else needs to be a big enough event to get a mass audience. The middle movies end up being “we’ll wait for Netflix” - which seems to be where those mid-range romantic comedies are being made these days. So the bigger the screen, the bigger the idea needs to be...

Yeah, you have a wall sized TV and comfy cinema seats with built in cup holders at home... but the average person is watching a 32" TV set in their livingroom. They watch those kind of small, intimate, personal stories that fit that screen size. Cop shows and comedies and other things about real people - rather than larger than life characters. Of course, even TV has shows about witches and aliens and zombies - because even on a small screen people want to watch escapist stories. But in a cinema? Larger than life stories are expected. So is your idea big enough to fill the screen?


When I had my day job working in the warehouse for a decade, I wrote a good page a day - and that's 3 scripts a year for a grand total of 30 scripts. One of my current spare time projects (like I have spare time) is to rewrite all of these old scripts and make the ideas big enough to fit the screen. One that I finished a few years ago was about a bodyguard and a woman pregnant with the President's kid - and the President's people want her dead so that he can be re-elected. THE BODYGUARD meets what's in Bill Clinton's pants. This was pre-Clinton though, and was kind of a JFK-like Prez and a Marilyn Monroe type. There always seemed to be some movie with a similar idea, just as I prepared to send it out. First we had THE BODYGUARD, then we had all of those Clinton scandal movies like ABSOLUTE POWER and MURDER AT 1600 where the President is having an affair and kills the girl himself. Not exactly my script, but kind of the same idea. Just when those had run their course we got a half dozen Bodyguard-Protects-Pregnant-Babe movies, at least two or three of which starred Clive Owen. My script needed something that really made it different! That made it big enough for the screen.

One of those Clive Owen movies had the *only pregnant woman in the world* - after babies just stopped being born. That’s a big idea! I wrote this back when I didn't understand that high concept isn't just doing search and replace to make it The President or make the bad guys into Vampires or have the story take place In Outer Space. I had a weak concept - one that was obvious instead of inventive. The more unique your concept is, the less likely someone else will come up with it and the more likely it will be something personal.

What I needed was *more* imagination to make it more unique (and more personal) (and bigger in scope).

So, what I needed to do was give this old script a high concept injection that would change the core of the story. To take the basic plotting and characters and overlay a new high concept. Add a new weird element. Make it a bigger story. The bodyguard protecting the pregnant babe is still there - but instead of her pregnant with the President's kid, I raised the stakes and changed the genre by having the father be someone even more powerful. So the story is *now* about the Vatican's version of Indiana Jones who unearths the key to cracking a code in the missing Dead Sea Scroll... and discovers that the second coming is about to take place - the Second Son will be born in a certain hospital on September 29th... So the archeologist jets to the hospital to find and protect the pregnant woman from Satan's minions - who want to kill her before she gives birth. Various forms of demons attack (instead of The President's handler's secret hit squad) and each form of demon is some cool kind of monster. I tried to make the demons all kind of high concept. Coming up with them was fun. And the new end twist - she gives birth, and it's *Satan's* son! Okay - kinda RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK meets THE BODYGUARD meets DAVINCI CODE meets CONSTANTINE meets THE OMEN... but much better than the stale script it began life as... and it examines faith and responsibility, a couple of things I've been thinking about lately. I'm hoping they hire Clive Owen as the lead.


Here are two basic tools for making your idea bigger - MAGNIFICATION and SUBSTITUTION. The above is an example of substitution - I rewrote a script with a small idea about assassins trying to kill a woman because she is pregnant with the President’s child, and substituted Satan as the father. That only changes everything. Basically substitution is a “high concept injection” - you can take a small or smallish story and substitute a larger or more cinematic conflict. I really like 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE - which is the story of a woman who gets into a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house... and the stranger is pretty damned strange. Does that sound like MISERY? A man gets intro a car accident and wakes up in a stranger’s house? Same basic story concept. MISERY is about a novelist who wakes up in his Number One Fan’s house - and she wants him to write a new novel just for her... or else. A snow storm keeps him trapped in the house, until... In 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE it isn’t a snow storm, it’s an alien invasion. Substitution. The weirdo doesn’t want her to write a novel, but she may be needed to help him propagate the human race. Eeew!

The great thing about 10 CLOVERDFIELD is they use the alien invasion as a mystery element - she doesn’t believe it happened and thinks this old guy is just a pervert... until she sees what is going on outside the bunker. Substitution is kind of a cosmetic change - though you still have to do a page one rewrite to turn a story like MISERY into a story like 10 CLOVERFIELD, the story conflict remains about someone being held captive inside a building and the cat and mouse relationship between them. The snow storm or alien invasion is the background.

MAGNIFICATION is going to change the story conflict itself. Make the conflict larger. This is a tool that can be used to find your “doorway” into a story - so you probably don’t know what it feels like to be wrongly accused of murder and going on the run from the police... so how can you write about that authentically? How can you get into that character? But you probably have been wrongly accused of doing something at work - stealing Milton’s red stapler or maybe someone’s lunch or maybe screwing up when really it was someone else who screwed up. And you have had to hide from Milton (or whoever’s lunch went missing) for part of the day - avoiding them in hallways. So you can magnify those authentic emotions - blow them way out of proportion - to understand how it feels to be wrongly accused of murder and write something like THE FUGITIVE.

You can do the same thing with a small idea - use magnification to blow the conflict out of proportion so a small conflict is now a huge conflict. Big enough to fill the screen.


In one of my Script Tips in rotation I look at one of the keys to an *indie* drama - give the protagonist an “active lifestyle”. BREAKING AWAY is one of my favorite films, about four blue collar kids about to graduate high school and wondering what comes next. A typical coming of age film. So what makes it a *movie*? What gives this story “scope”? Well, our protagonist is a cyclist and there is a world championship bike race in the city nearby - and he can race against the professionals! Now we have a protagonist who competes in a visually exciting sport, and a race that has cyclists from around the world - it’s a world event, not a small town event. In THE WRESTLER we have a story about where Mickey Rourke plays an old has been who is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter... but he’s an ex-wrestler (active lifestyle) who wants to prove his worth by climbing in the ring again. Now we have something visual and interesting. More cinematic.

You always want to come up with story ideas that are big enough to fill the screen, but also personal - so that you can write authentic emotions and not go crazy writing draft #27 because you have a connection to the story.

A year ago I had a project where I needed to come up with a bunch of pitches for sequels to movies in a studio's library. After selecting some movies, my next step was to let my imagination run wild and find interesting and unusual story ideas for a sequel - to take the unique idea from the original and add another unique idea. More high concept injection. While doing this, I looked for stories that were personal to me - things the protagonist could wrestle with that were things that I have wrestled with. Some of the ideas I came up with are really cool - personal and completely wild... and large enough to fill the big screen.

So, if you use your imagination and stay away from small stories, which puts your script in a good stack - there may be another script in there that has the same idea as yours, but there aren't hundreds of them. Then, if you make it personal, you have a script that may have the same idea as another script, but is still a *unique* take on that idea. And we get ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT. And if there is still a script in the stack that has the same general idea as yours, find all of the ways that your idea is different and do a major rewrite focusing on those elements... and if that doesn't do it, twist the concept even more and do a page one rewrite. If someone just sold a script with a similar idea as yours - just make yours different. And make sure that your story is big enough to fill the screen!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:


Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danielli.
Written by: Richard Matheson (as Logan Swanson) and William Leicester.
Directed by: Sydney Salkow.
Produced by: Robert Lippert (owner of a movie theater chain in the Bay Area!)

Okay, I am a huge fan of the Richard Matheson novel I AM LEGEND, even though I haven't read it in years. I first read it, probably in high school. Still have that copy. If you don't know who Matheson is, he's the guy who wrote all of those TWILIGHT ZONE episodes you remember. Seriously - make a list of 5 episodes and I'll bet at least 3 of them are his. Anyway, that's how I discovered him. I was a fan of old THE TWILIGHT ZONE TV show, noticed that Matheson wrote some of my favorite episodes, discovered that he wrote books, too... and Stephen King called his haunted house book HELL HOUSE the best horror novel ever written. And Matheson also wrote the book that was made into INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, one of my favorite Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi movies. Matheson was also the screenwriter on all of the previous Corman Poe movies except PREMATURE BURIAL.

This was the first adaptation of I AM LEGEND, which would be made twice more - once with Chuckles Heston and once with Will Smith (and is up for a reboot now)... and was the inspiration for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (so just about every modern zombie movie owes its existence to the book). Here's the thing - no one has ever done a completely faithful version of the book. So, several years ago they decided to correct that, and make *the book*. A screenplay was written that everyone loved - exactly like the book (which is awesome by the way). They needed a star, and Ah-nuld stepped up - not the guy I see playing Robert Neville, who is kind of a typical 1960s suburban husband. But I would accept Ah-nuld if the movie was like the book, rather than like that ultra macho mindless Heston version. Then Ah-nuld became governator and the project was shelved.... Until someone dug it out and did a bunch of rewrites and some more rewrites and suddenly it was nothing at all like the book... and so they made it with Will Smith, and it is the *least faithful* version of the book! I can only hope that this new reboot goes back to the theory of making a more faithful version of the book. Until then, this old movie from the 1960s is the best version.

The book is kind of a through-the-looking-glass commentary on 1960s suburban life - the kind of stuff on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and OZZIE & HARRIET and FATHER KNOWS BEST. Robert Neville is the typical suburban husband and father who carpools to work every day with his buddy Ben Cortman... then a plague breaks out that turns everyone into vampires. Now all of his neighbors and everyone he knows lives at *night* and he is the sole person who lives by day - his world has been turned completely upside down.

His car pool buddy Ben Cortman is now the leader of the vampire clan in his suburban town (I think it was either Pasadena or Glendale in the novel) - and comes for him every night, pounding on his door and screaming for him to come out... so that they can kill him. Every day Neville goes from house to house through the town, searching for the vampires and driving stakes through their hearts... mostly searching for the leader, Cortman. The people he stakes - are his neighbors, his friends. It's a terrible job, but they become an army at night... and soon they will be powerful enough to get through the barricaded windows and doors of his typical suburban home. Every morning, his lawn is littered with dead vampires - people he knows. He has to clear them, take them to the giant bonfires that were designed to burn the dead when the plague had just begun taking lives...

The film opens with the sun rising on the horizon, which may just seem like a nice shot... but it is life or death for Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). Next we see some spooky shots of a city - empty. Not a single person on the streets. No cars moving. Nothing. As we get closer - there are cars wrecked on the side of the roads and dead bodies in the streets. What happened? A sign in front of a church says: The End Has Come!

Now to suburbia - and Robert Morgan’s typical suburban house... dead bodies on the lawn. The alarm goes off, and Morgan wakes up. It’s 3 years after the apocalypse - the plague which wiped out everyone but himself. He goes about his typical morning - coffee, checking the garlic wreath on his front door, checking his electricity generator in the garage... where his typical suburban station wagon is housed. Unbolting and opening the garage door, and loading up all of the dead bodies on his lawn into the back of that station wagon, using his ham radio to see if there is anyone else out there... but he is alone.

A map on the wall shows all of the sectors of the city where he has searched for their “nest” - the place they hide from the sunlight during the day. He grabs a bag of wooden stakes and heads out for the day... a typical day in the life of Robert Morgan. His first stop is the fire pit where he disposes of the bodies. Then he goes shopping - an abandoned supermarket where he picks up garlic and supplies. Then he goes searching for sleeping vampires... staking the ones he finds. Then disposing of those bodies at the fire pit. Then he heads home before dark. New garlic wreaths for the doors and windows, and then night... alone in the house as they attack, lead by Ben Cortman (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) his old car pool buddy from before the plague. “Morgan come out! Come out!” He cranks the music to drown out their voices.

The next morning, it begins again...

He begins making a new batch of stakes on his lathe... then quits and goes to the mausoleum where his wife’s coffin is... and accidentally falls asleep there. When he wakes up, the sun has set! The vampires rule the world. He must get past an army of vampires to get back to his car, then speeds away.

At his house, Ben Cortman waits for him and an army of vampires surround the house. He gets out of the car and makes it to his front door, battling vampires along the way. Once inside, he is safe. That night, he plays home movies of his wife Virginia (Emma Danieli) and daughter Kathy (Christi Courtland) in happier times... his daughter’s birthday party. Ben Cortman is there - they were best friends before all of this. Morgan breaks down...

28:45 minutes in, Morgan flashes back to before the plague...

Kathy’s birthday party. Ben Cortman comes with presents - Kathy showers him with kisses, then goes to play with all of the other kids. When she is gone, Ben shows Morgan a newspaper story - Hundreds Killed By Plague. The plague is carried by the wind, will it reach the United States? Ben and Morgan are scientists working on the plague.

Weeks later, the winds are blowing and Kathy is sick. The plague? Or maybe just the flu? Virginia claims to feel fine, but she is secretly ill as well. Morgan is worried about Kathy... Virginia is scared.

At the Mercer Institute (like the CDC) Morgan and Ben try to solve the riddle of the plague. The streets are filled with bodies, which the government tries to take to the fire pit. The rumor is that if the bodies are not burned... they come back. As vampires. Morgan thinks these are just crazy rumors, Ben thinks it’s possible that the virus can cause vampirism. That’s crazy talk...

Kathy contracts the plague... and goes blind. The final stage before death. He and Virginia do everything they can to see to her medical condition. Virginia wants to call a doctor, but Morgan warns if they call a doctor the doctor will be forced to report Kathy as infected, and... They want a funeral, but if she dies under a doctor’s care they will take her body to the huge bonfire pit and toss her in with the others. There is nothing as sad and horrible as the mass pit where they burn the dead from the book... And that is also in this Vincent Price version.

Morgan’s turn to drive, he goes to pick up Ben and head to work. Ben has hung garlic wreathes from his door and gone into full survivalist mode - he’s not leaving the house ever again. Morgan drives to the lab alone... and find the lab vacant except for his boss Dr. Mercer. The only two people left to find the cure.

When Morgan goes home, he sees one of the government trucks driving down the street. His daughter Kathy has died... Virginia is practically catatonic. She called the doctor and...

Morgan gets in his car and races to catch up with the truck. There are crowds of people at the fire pit, mourning their loved ones as they are thrown into the flames. Morgan breaks though the lines, chased by guards, and tries to stop them from tossing Kathy’s body into the fiery mass grave. Instead, gets there just in time to see her body thrown into the pit with all of the others.

A few days later, it’s Virginia who has gone blind... and then dies from the plague. Can he call for the government truck to take her corpse to the fire pit? “No. I won’t let them put you there. I promise. I won’t let them put you there.” So he sews her up in a shroud and sneaks out in the middle of the night with her corpse in the back of the station wagon... and buries her somewhere beautiful. Under a nice tree. Where she can be at peace. .

Night. Home. Alone. He hears a sound... a whisper... “Let me in. Let me in.” The front door knob is moving! He opens the door to see who’s there...

His wife Virginia, covered in dirt! “Robert... Robert...” She tries to embrace him, to sink her teeth into him and feed off him. He backs away... This is the love of his life... back from the dead! A miracle. He just wants to hold her in his arms. Kiss her. Tell her how much he has missed her, how much he loves her... But instead he must pound a stake into her heart! This scene destroys him... and destroys us.

52:45 we come out of the flashback, Robert Morgan remembering what he was forced to do to what was once his wife. Outside his car pool buddy Ben Cortman - after he turns into the car pool buddy from hell - and his gang have torn the station wagon apart. These two characters had a *history* and a *relationship* which brings drama and baggage to the scenes where Cortman and Morgan battle each other. Having to kill his friends and neighbors by day is gut wrenching - a normal guy having to do terrible things to survive. But this is his new life, and has been his life for three years, now.

The next morning Robert wakes up, survey’s the damage.

He goes car shopping, comes home with a new station wagon. As he parks it, he sees the dog poking around for food. He tries to catch it, but the dog speeds away. The animal hasn’t stayed alive all of these years by allowing itself to be caught. But the dog is *hope* - another living thing! He isn’t the last living thing on earth. He searches for the dog without success... but does find a group of vampires staked with iron bars. That means there is another *human* alive somewhere.

Back at home he tries the ham radio again, trying to find that other human out there. Hears the dog yelping outside. Unbolts his front door and goes out to get him... the dog has been injured. Brings him in, tends to him. Morgan now has a friend... at 60 minutes.

He checks the dog’s blood... it has the plague. He’s forced to stake it before it turns on him. There is no hope.

As he is burying the dog, he spots a figure in the distance... in the daylight... a woman? 62 minutes in, Robert Morgan is not alone. He chases the woman, who runs like hell. He finally catches her. “Wait! I couldn’t be out here in the daylight if I was one of them. You know that they can’t come out until sundown. Do you want to come with me? Or do you want to face them?” She comes with Morgan... following him home as the dog did.

At Morgan’s house, he makes dinner for her. She is Ruth Collins (Franca Bettoia), her husband died in the plague. Morgan grabs a bunch of garlic and pushes it against her face, she turns away - and he accuses her of being one of them. He doesn’t trust *anyone* anymore. She says she watched her husband torn to pieces by those... things... and now he thinks that she is one of them?

Morgan relents, apologizes, and serves her dinner... but she isn’t hungry.

That night, Ben Cortman pounds on the door and yells fro Morgan to come out. He tells Ruth that Ben used to be his best friend, but now? “When I find him I’ll drive a stake through him, just like all the others.” She wonders how he can do that to someone who used to be his friend.

Morgan wants to give her a blood test, to make sure she isn’t infected. She just wants him to trust her - no blood test.

That night, Morgan hears her coughing in her room and goes in to see if she’s okay - discovers her shooting up! She admits, she *was* one of them. But now she is cured, as long as she gets her injection every night. A cure. “We’ve had it for some time, now.”

The vampire society... she’s a spy sent to find out what Morgan knows, but it seems he knows much less than they do. “We’re alive. Infected, yes, but alive. We’ve organized a society.”
“And you want me to join?”
“You *can’t* join us. You’re a monster to them. Why do you think I ran when I saw you? Even though I was supposed to spy on you, I was so terrified... from what I’ve heard about you. You’re a legend in the city. Living by day instead of night, many of the people you destroyed were still alive. You are a monster!”
She tells him they are coming for him tonight, and he job is to keep him here, in the house, until they come. To kill him. For all of the murders that he has committed.

She passes out... and when she wakes up, Morgan is giving her a transfusion of his blood. His immune blood has cured her. He gives her a wreath of garlic, and she can breath it without getting sick. She’s cured! Morgan says he can cure *everyone* with his blood. That’s when the Vampire Military comes to capture Morgan. They kill Ben Cortman and all of the “uncured” vampires and chase Morgan through the streets. Eventually they corner him in a church... and they stake *him*. As he lays dying, Ruth comforts him. “They were afraid of *me*? And he dies.

“We’re all safe now.”

Buy the pit

Though I haven't read the novel in years, one of the things I loved about it when I first read it was how it looked at vampires *scientifically* - all of the vampire lore gets a logical explanation that makes complete sense. In the book, Neville doesn't begin as a scientist, the part of his days not staking his friends and neighbors is spent trying to figure out what happened - and that leads him to learn about science and learn about the plague at the abandoned public library... which gives us all of these amazing logical reasons behind vampires being killed by wooden stakes, and garlic repelling them, and light burning them. You read the book and begin to believe that vampires *could* really exist. That feeling is in this film as well - with Morgan testing the blood of the dog and then Ruth.

The book's title comes from the end - a huge twist where we discover that Neville is a monster to the vampires. To them, he's a serial killer. I think they could have pulled that twist end in today's popcorn world in the Will Smith version or even this new reboot. I think as long as 99% of the film has Neville as "hero", that 1% where we reveal he's a monster won't rock the boat too much. And he's still a vampire killer - which may be a good thing to most of the audience. But to those of us who were looking for more than popcorn, that end would have had us thinking about being on the right side or wrong side in a war - is there really any difference? On both sides, people are killed.

There's a Matheson short story about a suburban guy who cuts himself shaving... and bleeds oil. Now, everywhere he looks he sees people eating greasy food and realizes that he's lived with his eyes closed his entire life - and he is a robot. I think the end of LEGEND and this Price film version has Neville opening his eyes... and Cortman and all of the vampires are not really any different than they were before - they still have their eyes closed. They see him as a monster... and he gets a chance to see them as people.

It's strange that this cheapo Vincent Price version you can download on the internet for free is closest to the book. Even though Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this version, *he* thought it got watered down on the way to the screen due to budget limitations and censorship restrictions and used a pseudonym. The film was shot in *Italy* subbing for suburban USA and every movie had to be acceptable for general audiences - and the book deals with the sexual issues of being the last man on earth surrounded by naked vampire women who are using their bodies to lure him out to their undeadly embrace. Matheson wished the film had more money and more artistic freedom, but oddly the two films made when with larger budgets and more freedom ditched what makes this story great - it holds up a mirror to *our world* and *our lives*. But, maybe this new reboot will be a faithful version. Who knows?


Buy the pit

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