Friday, July 31, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Dick Cavett interviews Hitchcock

On June 8, 1972 Dick Cavett had Sir Alfred Hitchcock on his late night talk show for a one hour interview about his films, his life, and his techniques. Though some of the interview is a bit frustrating for Hitchcock buffs (Cavett wasn't as well prepared as I wished he had been), this covers a lot of ground and has some classic clips. Eight years later, Hitchcock would pass away.



Next week we should have another of the "lost" BBC interviews from 1997.

- Bill



Of course, I have a couple of books about Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND is in the one that is on sale today...

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!

369 pages packed with information!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:

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



ON SALE!!! $2 OFF!

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.

SALE: $3.99 ENDS SUNDAY!!!!

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, July 30, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

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?

Yesterday was Hitchcock's birthday...

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS




That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






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.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

What's the use of having a blog if you can't plug your friends' movies?

EDDIE PRESLEY (1992)

Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Duane Whitaker
Starring: Duane Whitaker, Clu Gulager, Roscoe Lee Browne, Danny Roebuck, Quentin Tarantino, Lawrence Tierney, Tim Thomerson, Rusty Cundiff, Bruce Campbell, a million others.

A few years back the Egyptian Cinema did a double bill of indies written by my friend Duane, who I may be having coffee with as you read this. You know Duane as the Pawnshop Owner from PULP FICTION, but he's one of those guys who pops up in a bunch of movies playing redneck blue collar guys. EDDIE PRESLEY looked great on the big screen. I think I had seen it once before in the cinema, some others times on video. To me, what is strange about the film is that it's based on Duane's one man stage show... but that's only the last third of the film - about 40 minutes of screen time. I think the hour of material Duane wrote to more-or-less pad it out is more entertaining than the play material - the padding is the kind of stuff that is Duane's artistic sweet spot: he's the Robert Altman or PT Anderson of broken Hollywood dreams. Hmm, maybe some background...



Duane’s one man show was about this Elvis impersonator whose performance goes wrong and ends up having a complete nervous breakdown on stage and tells his life story and sings a couple of songs. It’s this crazy, funny monologue. Well, my friend Jeff, who directed the movie, had just gone through absolute hell on TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 - New Line had micro-managed the film, wanted him to tone the horror way down so that they could get a more favorable rating and play to a wider audience, then took the film away from him in editing and the film they released bombed because it was wimpy and the horror was tame. The CHAINSAW movies are about a guy with a chainsaw who chainsaws people - you can’t exactly make the PG-13 version of that and have it work. So Jeff was pissed off at the studio system and wanted to make his own movie his own way... and Duane, who had played a role in TCM3 had this one man show, and Jeff saw it and thought they could expand it into a feature. Because this was an indie film, they found the money completely outside the system - private investors. They made the film and it was released on video by a really small distrib (which also released John Lee Hancock’s first film) and that was basically that. Oh, the big coup for EDDIE PRESLEY was that it was the first movie bought by The Sundance Channel.

The 60 minutes that is not Eddie Presley on stage having a complete breakdown are about the days leading up to that performance, plus some great flashbacks in black & white to Eddie’s life before he ended up in Hollywood. Eddie lives in his van parked on the street in Hollywood - inside the van is a shrine to his past, when he used to make a living touring small-to-medium venues as Eddie Presley. He picks up his messages on a pay phone and works as a security guard at night. The Back Door Club is the location for the end of the film, the Van is a location, the Security Job is another location, and there’s also the Greasy Spoon Diner - that’s about it for locations.

In the Security Guard story thread, Ted Raimi is one of the other guards, and Lawrence Tierney is the hardass supervisor with a photo album of sleeping guard Poloroids. Willard Pugh plays another security guard and there's a nervous female security guard (Harri James) who has a major crush on Eddie. Raimi and Pugh and James’ characters and Eddie are best friends - and they would do anything to see him succeed. When he finally gets his gig at the Back Door Club, they take the night off from work so they can see him... and pull some favors from friends and friends-of-friends to get him a cut-rate limo to take him to the gig.

In order to stay awake on these night shifts so that he doesn’t get fired, Eddie fills his thermos at a greasy spoon cafe filled with Hollywood losers of all types... plus his girlfriend works there as a waitress. She’ll fill the thermos if the boss isn’t looking, and maybe get him a free breakfast. She wants to actually go out on a real date - but Eddie’s always broke. She’s a wanna-be actress, but has had no luck so far landing a role in anything. These characters in the Diner Thread are Duane’s forte - the struggling artists who litter the streets of Hollywood trying to hang onto their dreams but knowing that they are only dreams... and the reality is that they're a waitress. When Eddie’s not in the diner, there’s a skanky female porn star trying to make the moves on his waitress with promises of leading roles in adult entertainment... is a part a part? Will she do porn?




The other diner regulars are a colorful group, from the toll-taker guy who requires a cigarette from everyone who passes by his seat at the counter, to my favorite character in the film - Clu Gulager's sleazy agent. Hair badly dyed jet black, he tells prospective clients (all gals fresh off the bus) that he has major connections and can make them into stars... and when the pay phone on the wall behind him rings, he answers it with his talent agency name. I've had this agent!

The last thread are the Flashbacks in beautiful black & white of Eddie’s pre-Hollywood life in Texas, with Joe Estevez as his strict father and Barbara Patrick (Robert’s wife) as his soon-to-be-ex-wife. Eddie was a successful pizza store owner (take out only) who sells his business to live his dream of being an Elvis impersonator. Father thinks he’s an idiot, wife divorces him and takes the kid... and Eddie and his band go out of the road. Jeff’s cuts from present to past and back are great - match cut stuff with a character from the present drinking a cup of coffee to one in the past drinking a cup of coffee. There is a great flow to the story which makes it seem less episodic. Because the black and white stuff was shot later, Jeff would end a scene with some action that could be duplicated months later when Duane had lost a bunch of weight and looked like a younger version of himself. Eventually the flashbacks get darker and darker (in tone, not lighting) and Eddie flips out in a burger joint and ends up sent to an insane asylum, where the guards include Quentin Tarantino (before he was famous) and Bruce Campbell and director Rusty Cundiff.

The last third of the film at the Back Door Club is filled with some great characters - the late great Roscoe Lee Brown plays the club owner, Tim Thomerson does a great cameo as an angry comedian, stand up comic Puppy Thomas is the world’s worst ventriloquist, and practically stealing the show is Danny Roebuck as Eddie’s warm up act - the world’s most unlucky magician: when he tries to pull the rabbit out of his hat, it bites him and he bleeds all over the place for the rest of his performance... which includes him accidentally catching fire and unable to put himself out. Then Eddie gets up on stage, everything goes wrong, and he has his big break down right in front of us.

Though that ending was the whole reason they made the film, I really like the parts of the film that come before that. You get a real feel for people on the fringes in Hollywood, the hopefuls without hope...

The film is available on DVD at Netflix, I have no idea if it's on their streaming service or not. Made for pocket change, a nice little labor of love. Bill

Friday, July 24, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Hal Hartley on NOTORIOUS

HAL HARTLEY ON NOTORIOUS.

Another one of the uncovered 1997 clips with famous filmmakers discussing the impact of Hitchcock’s work on their own work. I think they were trying to find people who might seem odd choices, like Mike Leigh who talked about REAR WINDOW, which is why Hal Hartley was their choice rather than someone more mainstream and commercial. Hartley was one of those indie filmmakers from the 1980s who is best known for his independent films from the 1990s. He broke onto the scene with THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and subsequent films were in competition at Sundance and Cannes and won a few awards.



I think he has an interesting point of view - coming from the indie world which seemed to think that Hitchcock’s movies were cold and precise and unemotional. There is an odd belief that precision and competence is somehow mechanical and unfeeling. That art must be ragged and spontaneous. But his comments on NOTORIOUS show that this just isn’t true - he sees the deep emotions at play in the big end scene of the film, and how the specific choice of shots and angles and pacing is what makes these emotions powerful on screen. I like when he talks about the length of time and deliberation of the scene on the staircase - how this is stretched out to make it a big moment, when it could have been a chase scene or designed to highlight the suspense of the scene (which is there) instead of the connection between these two people... with the third trying to push his way into the scene.

NOTORIOUS is my favorite Hitchcock film because of these emotions - in this scene and all of the others. It’s a romance film disguised as a spy movie. When I did the two day class I had a clip of all of the scenes on the park bench in Rio where they met so that she could report to him - and those scenes showed the relationship changing as she moves further and further away from him on the bench... until she just doesn’t show up and he is alone. That sort of precise writing (Ben Hecht) and directing is what makes those scenes emotional scenes - not just scenes where she reports her undercover work. The idea that Hitchcock is cold and unemotional because he plans his shots and uses specific angles and framing and movements is the opposite of the truth. Ragged and spontaneous doesn’t make it art - it just makes it ragged and less emotional. An interesting look at the film from the other side of the film world.

- Bill



Of course, I have a couple of books about Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND is in the one that is on sale today...

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!

369 pages packed with information!

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OTHER COUNTRIES:

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And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



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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.

SALE: $3.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

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- Bill

Thursday, July 23, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Trio For Terror

Trio For Terror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 25.
Airdate: March 14, 1961


Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Barré Lyndon (?) based on stories by August Derleth (Extra Passenger), Wilkie Collins (Strange Bed) and Nelson Bond (Medusa).
Cast: Reginald Owens, Robin Hughes, John Abbott, Michael Pate, Richard Lupino.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “This is an English pub. Just the place for a little something to warm the cockles of your heart... while I chill your blood. They give you a mulled claret here, guarenteed to fortify you against, well, against anything. If the people’s clothes seem strange, well it’s because we’re back in 1905. When a dollar was still a dollar and the British pound was a beautiful gold coin. We are going to see three forces of evil. Three stories, each a masterpiece of strangeness and terror.”

(First Story)

“In this room is a young man who is on his way to commit murder. She wants money, he wants her. Well, to satisfy both of these desirous young people someone will have to die. Drink your claret, you’re going to need it. You are about to meet the extra passenger in one of the eeriest tales ever told.”

(Second Story)

“You’ll take another glass of this claret, of course. It will brace you for a different force of evil. All of the night birds show up in a pub like this sooner or later. Musicians between shows, detectives looking for someone, peers of the realm, reporters, actors, men about town, floatsom of a great city. People in trouble, or looking for trouble.”

(Third Story)

“I sometimes think, perhaps you do too, how outrageous it would have seemed to anyone a hundred years ago if they had been told that someday men would be doing exactly what you’re doing now. Listening to a voice, watching a picture plucked as it were out of the air. We’ve learned a lot in the last 100 years. But how much do you suppose had been forgotten in the last five thousand? You know how scientists scoff at folklore and ancient beliefs? But every now and then they amaze themselves with a discovery that our remote ancestors were right afterall. Our third take of terror contains the echo of an ancient fable which may not be a fable at all. It begins with a manhunt, a search for a murderer, a strangler if you will.”



Synopsis: A turn of the century PULP FICTION episode, with a pub as the hub instead of that bar where Butch and Vincent Vega hang out.

THE EXTRA PASSENGER


Our first story begins in our turn of the century British pub where Simon (Richard Lupino) and Katie (Iris Bristol) plot murder. Simon’s crazy rich uncle spends all of his time studying the occult. When he dies, Simon becomes very wealthy... but Katie suggests that the old guy might need a little prodding into the grave and Simon has a perfect plan. An alibi that the police could never break. He buys out a private compartment on a train, the Conductor punches his ticket. When the train comes to the stop near his uncle’s house he sneaks off the train, races to his Uncle’s house. His Uncle (Terence de Marney) has a rooster chained to a Ouiji Board kinda thing, and is so focused on his experiment to bring a flower back to life temporarily that he doesn’t hear Simon sneak in... until it’s too late. Simon beats his Uncle to death with a pestle, wipes the blood from his hands, and leaves the house.



Outside he has a car stashed. He gets in the car and speeds to the next train station. According to his time tables, he can just make the train because the road takes a more direct route than the train. He parks the car, has to run to make the train, sneaks back into his compartment *seconds* before the Conductor checks into the compartment. Simon pretends he had dozed off, now he has the perfect alibi. He never left the train. He has gotten away with murder!

But when the Conductor leaves he notices he’s not alone in the car... there is a strange man in black sitting quietly in the corner. Simon tells him this is a private compartment, the Man In Black says his Uncle was a warlock and had the ability to send a *walking corpse* to do his bidding. When the Man In Black looks up... it’s Simon’s Dead Uncle! He attacks Simon...



The Detective examines Simon’s dead body on the train and says he was killed by a rooster’s talons.

A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED


Our second story begins at the bar of that pub, where Collins (Robin Hughes) and Ashton (Francis Bethencourt) are discussing how terribly bored they are. They’ve seen all of the plays on the West End, what is left for entertainment? An older woman (Jacqueline Squire) sitting alone at a table pipes up and suggests they go to Hussar House, which has gambling in the back room. The two men mention the establishment’s reputation: in the past dead bodies have been found in the vicinity with rumors that they were gamblers robbed of their winnings. The old woman says those are just rumors. Though Ashton pleads exhaustion, Collins decides to try his luck.



The back room at Hussar House is filled with gamblers, and Collins finds himself winning most of their money over the course of the night. He has a massive stack of chips! The Hussar himself (Reginald Owen), a war hero in full uniform, takes Collins under his wing and makes sure he is treated well. His drinks are on the house, and the Husser makes sure Collins’ glass is always full. Collins feels so lucky, he decides to bet everything on one spin of the roulette wheel... and wins! The Husser shows him how to wrap his money in an old cloth so that he won’t be robbed on the street... the cloth weighs as much as a cannon ball! But Collins has had so much to drink he’s wobbly. The Hussar comps him into a room for the night: the turn of the century version of a VIP room complete with a huge canopied bed. Collins puts his winnings under his pillow and goes to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Collins hears a noise and awakens... the canopy is lowering, about to crush him! He rolls out of the bed at the last moment and the canopy crushes the pillows... which would have been his head!



After he catches his breath, the canopy begins to rise again... and a secret door begins to open in the wall! Collins grabs his winnings and pops out the window onto the ledge, hiding. He grabs a drain pipe and starts to climb down... but the pipe breaks and he almost falls! It was never meant to hold a man. Lots of suspense generated. He finally gets to the alley, races away with his winnings wrapped in the old bit of cloth.

He gets to Ashton’s flat, tells his friend about winning all of the money and almost being killed. Then opens the old cloth to expose... one of the cannon balls that had decorated the military themed casino. And his winnings?

A yacht with the Hussar and the Old Woman from the pub sails for tropical climes.

THE MASK OF MEDUSA




A scream in the night! The Leighton Stranger has struck again! Another woman killed! But this time, the police have a clue: the killer left behind a black leather glove. The police have quadroned off the section of London where the woman was killed and are doing a house to house search for a man wearing only one glove (Michael Jackson?).

Hiding in an alley, Shanner (Michael Pate) runs his glove along the wall... the other hand is bare. As the police search, he tries to find somewhere to hide... an unlocked door. But this is the middle of the night, every door is locked... except this one! A strange shop with a sign announcing that it features statues of 12 Famous Killers. Shanner takes off his single glove and puts it in his pocket, then sneaks into the dark shop...

A group of people are *starring at him* in the darkness! Shanner freaks out! Then he realizes these are the statues. He puts his hands around the neck of a female statue... and someone *touches him* in the darkness.



The shop owner Mr. Milo (John Abbott) turns on the light and asks if Shanner would like Milo to give him a tour. Shanner acts like a customer, and Milo goes from statue to statue telling the history of this killer, his methods, his victims, and other interesting information. It’s creepy. The statues are very detailed, very lifelike... but made of stone. Milo finally comes to the notorious killer Dr. Hartwell, and Shanner is confused: how could Milo have made a statue of the man, there were no known photographs of him and his victims couldn’t very well describe him. Plus, he was never captured! In fact, the police have never captured any of these killers on display! Shanner is suspicious and asks how he came to sculpt such lifelike figures. Milo says he has methods of his own. Shanner asks if this is a model of Dr. Hartwell... or the doctor himself? “Yes. That was Dr. Hartwell.” Shanner is shocked: “You killed them and petrified them! You’re a worse murderer than any of them!” Mr. Milo says he did not kill them. It was the Gorgon’s head. He is from Greece, and was digging around and found the head of Medusa carefully kept in a case...

Shanner wants to call him crazy... but there is a knock at the door. The Police doing their house to house search! Milo opens the door... and there are now 13 statues in the collection. Shanner stands very still as a pair of detectives (Richard Peel and Noel Drayton) enter the shop. There’s some great suspense as the two detectives poke around in the shop as they tell Mr. Milo they are chasing Leighton Strangler, and for the first time they have a real clue: the black glove. One of the detectives looks at the statues, examining them closely, commenting on how detailed they are but also mentioning that if they were statues of convicted and executed killers Milo might have a bigger crowd. One of the detective comes right up to Shanner, but moments before he discovers that Shanner is *not* a statue, the other detective says they need to be getting on to find the strangler.



Once they are gone, Shanner suggests that Milo help him sneak past the police. He says he’s had some problems with the police in the past, and if Milo could put him in a crate and then hire a wagon to take him past the police, he would gladly pay. When Shanner reaches into his pocket top pull out some money, he also pulls out the single black leather glove... and it drops on the floor between the two men. Milo looks at the glove and states that Shanner is the Strangler, the killer the police are searching for!

Shanner says that Milo is by far worse, having killed all of these other killers. Milo says they were turned to stone by the Medusa, and Shanner doesn’t believe him. Milo opens an ornate case, standing behind it, and exposes the head of Medusa... and Shanner turns to stone!

The last shot has Milo changing the sign on the door from 12 statues to 13.





Review: When I think of the THRILLER TV show, I think of Ida Lupino. When I watched these as a kid when they were rerun on some non network channel, my favorite episodes were GUILLOTINE and LATE DATE (coming up) and both were based on short stories by Cornell Woolrich, one of the three fathers of Noir fiction (oddly, there are no mothers). Sometime later I tracked down Woolrich’s novels and short stories (which had just been republished) and read them all. One of my first trips to Los Angeles included a trip to the UCLA Special Collections Library which housed a bunch of ancient pulp magazines, and I spent a few days reading stories in Dime Detective and others by Woolrich and Norbert Davis and many others. But also in those closing credits of GUILLOTINE was the name of the director, Ida Lupino. Wait, that’s can’t be the actress from that Bogart film HIGH SIERRA and that awesome Noir flick ON DANGEROUS GROUND, can it? Turns out it was. Turns out Lupino reached a point in her movie star career where she realized she would someday be too old to star and decided to start working on the other side of the camera. She wrote and directed all kinds of crime films from thrillers to noir to just plain old action. And she was *great*! Probably one of the main reasons why she caught my attention was that her career intersected with that on Don Siegel, who is one of my favorite directors. He directed a little film called DIRTY HARRY you may have heard of. Lupino cowrote PRIVATE HELL 36 which Siegel directed. Lupino cowrote that film with one husband () and costarred in it with another husband (Howard Duff), probably making for a tense set. But she went from actress to screenwriter to director, and was excellent at all of them. On Trailer Tuesday a while back I featured her film THE HITCHHIKER, which is edge of the seat suspense.



Lupino treats this episode like a movie, using camera angles and movement to build suspense and create visual reveals and reversals. I mentioned that last week’s episode had a pedestrian sequence of a character climbing a spiral staircase to their possible doom, but in this episode Lupino makes scenes like climbing down the drainpipe outside of the Hussar House incredibly suspenseful. But the most amazing bit of direction in the episode is an amazing single shot in MEDUSA where we go from Shanner looking at the Medusa head and pan and dolly to the Medusa head with Milo behind it, and then after Milo closes the case we follow him back to Shanner... who is now a statue. All in one shot. No cuts. I call these “sells it shots” because without a cut Shanner the human has becomes the statue of Shanner, and that sells that it really happened and isn’t some movie trick. That guy really turned to stone! Of course, behind the scenes there was probably a great deal of careful and quiet moving of the actor off his mark and the statue onto the mark. But tricky and inventive shots like this are something unexpected on a TV show’s tight shooting schedule... and this particular episode has *three* stories with *three* different casts, which would have been difficult for anyone to pull off. But all three segments use a level of visual storytelling that most of the previous episodes never got close to.

Next up is an episode based on a Woolrich story followed by *another* episode based on a Woolrich story followed by an episode based on Robert Bloch’s second most famous piece of writing.

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Film Courage:
How To Write Fast!

This new Film Courage segment (okay, 2015) is in response to a question about the fastest I have ever written a screenplay, and I decided to take it in a different direction and talk about *how* to write fast - because how you are going to make some insane deadline when it pops up might be worrying you a little. So let’s get to the clip...



I have written screenplays faster than 2 weeks, but who the hell cares? I know a couple of writers who did a FADE IN to FADE OUT race - all nighters. Hey, that's cool. Not sure when writing a screenplay in a weekend is ever really going to come up (might be good practice for TV, though). But congratulations if you managed to do that and end up with a great script - some people can. But *speed* and *accuracy* are two things professional writers need when crazy deadlines pop up... and they will. Nobody cares if you wrote a screenplay in a weekend if it stinks... and nobody cares if you spent 2 years writing your masterpiece and it was due 23 months ago. Both are problems. You need to be able to deliver quality work on a deadline, and sometimes an insane deadline. I know that I have mentioned before having to rewrite most of Act Three of an HBO World Premiere script *overnight* when we lost a location, because we were filming it the next morning... and because scenes are shot out of order, I needed *all* of Act Three rewritten by the morning call time.

In the interview I talk about a few times where I’ve had only 2 weeks to write a script (or less), that’s not how it normally works. Depending on the project, you are usually given a month to 12 weeks - sometimes more, in your contract. But just because they give you several months in your contract doesn’t mean they want you to wait until the last minute to turn in the script. I know a pair of writers who turn in their scripts at the very last minute... and I think their careers have suffered because of it. Just like anything else - you don’t want to wait until the last minute to do the work. Usually what will happen is the producer will call for a progress report, and though they sound happy and cheerful, what they really mean is “Where the hell is my script, slacker?” So even when you have a reasonable amount of time to write a screenplay, you don’t want to wait until the last minute...

And there may be times when you have an Unreasonable amount of time to write a screenplay, and it still has to be amazing. Because many of my assignments were for Made For TV or Made For Cable networks, we had an airdate *before* I started writing the screenplay. If that seems crazy to you - when are the next Marvel movies coming out? In this business they usually know when a film is coming out long before they have begun shooting it! A few of my projects were to fill a “hole” when another film dropped out at the last minute - and I had two weeks to write the script that went out to talent (who we were trying to get cheap - so the script needed to wow them). How do you do that? How do you write *good* and *fast*?

HAVE A PLAN

bluebook Prep time is your superpower - use it wisely!

I solve all of the basic story problems in the outline stage, including things like character purpose. Supporting Characters always serve the story. In the outline stage I make sure that the story is the very best that it can be - so I *work* my outline. It’s not just a jotted down list of things that happen, I go over and over it and make sure that everything happens in the best order. I want to find any story problems at this stage. Some of you don’t work from an outline because you think that it stifles creativity - but nothing is further from the truth. The outline is a *creative step*. For me the fun is writing for reader reaction within a scene. To lead the reader to believe A when B is true. Create emotions and twists and turns *within the scene* - so the outline is one creative step and the writing itself becomes another creative step. I focus on the story itself in the outline stage, and I focus on *telling the story* in the writing stage. That way I can perfect the way the story works, and I don’t have to worry about that aspect while writing it. If I have the story the best it can be in Treatment, I can focus on HOW I tell it within scene while writing. How to create impact, emotions. How to deepen character moments. I have more time for those things in in 2 weeks of writing because I have already figured out the very best way that the story can work in the outline stage, which is required for me to turn in a Treatment.

Treatment?

When you are working on an assignment, usually it works in steps... and that means you won’t have to do everything at once. The first step is a treatment, and on a normal project you may have a full month to write the treatment... on many of the crazy projects I’ve done, I’ve had a week or less to turn in a treatment. A couple were 3 days. That’s not much time to get the story aspect as close to perfect as possible, but there’s a loophole in “Reading Periods” which we will look at a bit later.

Much of your prep work will take place in that week (or 3 days). If you can figure out the basic story and characters and then do a beat sheet that you can turn into a treatment in a week, you’ll be okay. Most of the time they wanted about a 15 page treatment, and I could write that in a day from a beat sheet, so even if I only had 3 days, that was two days of “breaking the story” and figuring out the characters. Yeah, sometimes very long days, I can sleep later! Though you may need to compress some of your prep work to get that treatment done if you only have 3 days, and you may end up skipping some steps that you would normally do, and putting in some long hours. I think one of the things that helps me is having a working method to “break” the story, that I call the Thematic Method, and is in the Outline Blue Book.

After they read the treatment they’ll send you off to write the screenplay. Your contract will have a writing period for the first draft and a reading period for them to read it... or read the coverage... or have their assistant give them a 2 minute briefing on the way to the meeting. On a normal production there’s plenty of time... But my 2 week situations have all been about meeting an airdate or production start date or a window for a star or a funding source - and they need the script ASAP, so you need to get the rear in gear and write it. If there isn’t a hard deadline, and you’re just going by your contract - the producer will want it sooner rather than later - even though they may sit on it without reading it for weeks. Once they’ve commissioned the script, they want to see it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean do a half assed job writing it - turning in crap on time is still turning in crap - but it does mean getting the work done as soon as possible.

So you have 2 weeks to write a feature length screenplay that is going out to stars... so it has to be great. How do you do that?

FOLDERS OF CHEATS

bluebook In addition to getting the outline the very best that it can be, I also work on characters in this week or two days or whatever. Again, the Thematic Method is a big help - I don’t write character bios as much as know the secrets and fears and goals and needs of my characters, plus have “dialogue patterns” - I make sure that every character has a different way of saying yes and no, hello and goodbye, I come up with their pet words and phrases and speech patterns and any mannerisms or physical actions that will help define them. One page per character. It’s easier to just write this stuff down, than to keep flipping back through the pages to find the last time the character said “Hello” and make sure that it’s consistent. All of these elements are *character related* - and are ways of showing the characters. I posted some lines of dialogue from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN on FaceBook a few days ago, and all of Jack Sparrow’s dialogue is filled with sentences with lots of commas where he changes course in the middle of a sentence as he’s trying to figure out the best lie... or avoid actually saying anything. He’s a great bullshitter - and his *speech patterns* are a part of that. So finding the way that a character speaks that *shows* the character is a great way to write that character quickly.

The other way is having Folders Full Of Cheats.

Prep time is your superpower... Whenever I come up with a great line of dialogue or dialogue exchange, I have a folder on my laptop to put it in. It used to be a big spiral notebook that was divided up into sections for dialogue, actions, character moments, interesting scene ideas, plot twists, suspense scenes, car chases, shoot outs, fight scenes, and a generic section. I also jot down ideas on note cards and have a card file just filled with unorganized cards with ideas on them... which we will talk about in a moment. But the files on my laptop and the old spiral notebook are my Folders Full Of Cheats.

When I am on deadline, those files are gold. On DROID GUNNER (9 day deadline), I robbed the dialogue file constantly. Almost every funny exchange was from the folder, something that I had thought of years ago and written down. We all have those ideas - we come up with some funny line at work or in the shower, and if you don’t write it down... you may forget it. If you have written it down and are writing against the clock and look through the folder before you write the scene - there it is! That amazing line that you came up with 7 years ago! Or you need a plot twist while outlining the script, that cool twist that you came up with 2 years ago! You always want these things to fit the story you are writing, but if you have enough of them, something in there will either work or spark a line that does work. I saw DROID GUNNER at a screening with an audience, and lots of lines got laughs - some people told the director afterwards that they thought it was his best film. One of the lines that got a good laugh was one that I had come up with almost a decade earlier while watching ALIENS and Lt. Gorman modifies the number of combat drops he’s done with the word “Simulations”. I came up with a variation, where a character says they’ve had over 200 hours of martial arts training... on the simulator. Response: Fine, if we run into any simulated killers, you can fight them. I took that raw line from the file and put it in the character’s voices and... it gets a laugh! When you only have 9 days to write a screenplay, all of the work in those files was a life saver! There were a bunch of one liners and asides and funny dialogue exchanges... and one of the things that I had on my character sheets is one of the characters just wants to get paid... but something always gets in the way. That became a running gag in the story - the big chase scene at the end had him constantly running past a sign pointing out where the payroll office was. That scene was cut, but it was a great read even if the audience didn’t get to see it.

So you can be prepared just by writing stuff down over the years. Even if you don't use it in this screenplay against the clock, it’s a great safety net... and gives you some confidence when you have an insane deadline. If you are stuck, you have that treasure trove of stuff to rob from - all of those folders of cheats!

Another thing I’ve learned about writing scripts on a deadline - you find some specific skill you have that is “coasting” - something that you are really good at, and make sure the script uses that skill. Oddly, I learned from NINJA BUSTERS and DROID GUNNER that I am pretty good at buddy banter off the top of my head - so if I have to write a script fast, I want it to be a buddy action script so that I can use that odd skill to turn out some pages that everybody likes quickly. Not everything has to come from the Folders Of Cheats!

I’ve also learned that my subconscious comes up with some great things when I don’t have time to think - and I’m sure yours will, too. And you will also discover that you will be able to come up with some great ideas on the fly - I never thought I could come up with anything off the top of my head (except hair pulled from the approaching deadline) but I come up with some amazing things when I’m in the middle of a scene - one trick of mine is to come up with *details* that may later pay off (“soft plants”), and if they don’t - they are still good details. One of the great things about writing fast is that you have to remove all of the filters and often get more honest writing. You don’t have time for the bullshit that comes from thinking about it - there isn’t time to think!

DO THE MATH

WriteItFilmIt Once you get the deadline, be it three weeks or two weeks or 9 days, it’s all about the math. If you have 9 days to write a 90 page screenplay, that’s ten pages a day. Simple! Okay, not simple to write 10 pages a day, but simple to figure out how many pages you need to write every day. I have a bunch of friends who keep saying that I write fast, but really I write consistently. Slow and steady wins the race. Though 10 pages a day may not sound like slow to you (and it’s not), the *steady* part is what’s important. If you are wildly erratic and write 20 pages one day and then 2 pages for each of the next two days, you will never be able to make your deadlines. I know writers who write a bunch of pages and then burn out and struggle for the next few days - and that’s the Hare who loses the race, not the Tortoise who wins it. You are better off writing a reasonable number of pages every single day.

So once you have your deadline, just do the math. A feature script in 3 weeks is 5 a day for 6 days. Gets you to 90. I usually end up with 100+ pages due to good days. On a 2 week schedule, I do 7.5-8 pages a day to get between 90-100 finished pages after 12 days of writing. If possible, I try to save a couple of days at the end of the schedule for emergencies - and we’ll talk about that in a moment. But figure out how many pages you need to write every day to make your deadline... then write them!

This is another benefit of working with an outline - you know exactly what tomorrow’s scenes are going to be, and think about them a little at the end of the day. Let your subconscious do a little work while you are sleeping. If you know what the next day’s scenes are, you can prepare yourself to write them. BLIND TRUST was a thriller for USA Network that I had to write in 2 weeks, and all of the research came from books on my shelves already - but the night before writing tomorrow’s scenes, I would read the section of the specific type of poison that my character needed to know about, or whatever - and be prepared when I woke up the next morning. Knowing what you need to write tomorrow at the end of the day helps you make the crazy deadlines.

GOTTA KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS



An important part of being able to make a deadline is that consistent writing. Writing against a deadline is like running a race. If you wake up one morning and think it would be fun to run a marathon, you probably aren’t going to even get close to finishing. You need to *train* for the marathon. So I “train” for those insane deadlines by using self imposed deadlines on spec screenplays. I have a daily page quota that I write every day. My page quota is 5 pages a day. If I can write 5 pages a day for 6 days in a row without completely screwing up, and I am *used to that*, I can run a little faster to make my two week deadline. I know that I can do that. It’s just 2-3 more pages a day. I don’t expect that to be easy, but I know that it is *possible*. I know what I am capable of...

And I also know my limitations. If I were struggling to write 2 pages a day, I probably couldn’t write a screenplay in 3 weeks - I wouldn’t be in shape to run that fast. It might be possible, but I would always be afraid of screwing up, and those thoughts might cripple my writing. You don’t want to be the person who gets winded walking down the block who signs up for a marathon race. Hey, miracles can happen... but you don’t want to bet your career on them. So work to build up your daily page count - it’s about consistency. You can predict whether you can do something based on consistency, not based on that one time, in band camp... Writing every day turns it into a habit. If you can do 5 pages a day, you can do 7.5 pages a day. Of course, we all have bad days...

I’M STUCK!

bluebook The worst part of writing on a deadline is when you get stuck. No matter how well you have outlined your story, how well you know your characters, how well prepared you are to go from 0 to 60 on a screenplay and have the thing done on time and amazing by the deadline, you are going to have one of those days... or maybe two. It’s normal. None of us wants it to be normal, but it’s going to happen. What do you do?

Keep moving forward. Writing on a deadline is like a shark - you don’t want to stop and get hung up on a problem. If I get stuck on a scene, I make a list of everything that the scene needs to do to move the story forward: the things that need to happen, the emotions that I want the audience to feel, the things that the characters need to feel, the big decision in the scene that changes the direction of the story, and everything else that needs to be in this scene in order to get us to the next scene and to the end of the screenplay. Most of the time, while making this list, I figure out how to write the scene and write it. Sometimes I just type up the list where the scene is supposed to go, so that I know what I need to do when I come back to it later... and go on to the next scene.

I mentioned the card files of random ideas that I have, and this is another resource for when I get stuck. These ideas are completely unsorted - there may be title ideas and dialogue ideas and car chase ideas and ideas on how to find a manager. Random ideas. I read through a bunch of cards. Hey, there may be something on a card that sparks an idea for the scene? Or it may just completely take my mind off the scene so that my subconscious can do some work behind the scenes and figure out the scene. But I find that random ideas can help me when I’m stuck.

Obviously I look at the Folders Of Cheats, too.

But if none of this works, I need to just leave that list of things that the scene needs to do and move on to the next. I don’t want to be stuck for days trying to write a scene when there are other scenes that I could be writing.

My first drafts have “Insert Funny Line XX” sprinkled throughout. I know that I need a funny line there, but at the time I was writing that scene had no idea what the line might be. Later I will think of it, search for “XX” and insert the line. But I want to move forward! My subconscious will be working on the “Funny Line” or “Clever Comeback” or whatever while I am moving forward on the story.

There are times when I put in a temporary line with an XX behind it so that I can find it later... and sometimes the deadline is coming and I haven’t thought of anything better, and the temporary line is what gets into that first draft. I try to come up with the replacement during the reading period...

READING PERIODS

bluebook Once you turn in your first draft or your treatment, there is a “reading period” - usually a week, or sometimes as long as the time you were allotted to write the treatment. That’s right - it takes them as long to read it as it took you to write it. Some of them probably move their lips while reading and have to look up “hard words” in the dictionary. But what this means to you - you have another week of prep for the script, or another week or more to get a head start on the second draft, if there’s time for that. While they are reading, you aren’t working on your tan in Mazatlan, you are doing all of the prep work that you couldn’t accomplish in that one week or less when you had to write the treatment. So you may turn in your treatment with a limited understanding of your characters and work that out while they are reading, or that place in the story you couldn’t quite figure out - so you faked your way through it in the treatment, you now have a week to figure out how to make it work.

None of this is leisurely. Whatever writer said that their spouse didn’t understand that when they were looking out the window for an entire afternoon - they *were* working... well, that writer isn’t going to be spending as much time looking out the window if they have to turn in a script in two weeks. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to inspire yourself. You have to work your butt off. The good thing about writing on a tight deadline - even though you may be pulling a lot of all-nighters and might become a stranger to friends and family, it’ll be over before you know it!

One of the issues you will run into when using the “reading period” to work on your screenplay prep or coming up with all of those great lines of dialogue to replace the temporary lines in the first draft, is that it might be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Though the WGA MBA says that a producer can’t reject a treatment, nothing says that the can’t give you notes that end up changing everything about the story at the end of that reading period, right before you go to script. There *will* be notes on the treatment, that’s the purpose for the reading period, but usually the notes will be changes that are easy to incorporate into whatever you are figuring out during the reading period. But sometimes they have some crazy note that changes everything... and it’s scary if there’s a deadline. But I have found it’s better to be prepared - if you have an outline that you can change, you are ahead of the writer who has to rethink everything in their head... and accidentally forgets the changes for a big chunk of the screenplay. When something like this happens on a tight deadline, I take a day of my writing schedule to figure it out and rewrite the outline and treatment.

By the way, that treatment can be imported into your screenwriting program, (if it isn’t already a part of it) and insert the sluglines and you have a scene by scene outline that can be expanded. I have snippets of dialogue in my treatments that end up being the temporary dialogue... unless they are great lines. This will help you get the screenplay done on those 2 week deadlines. You may have to redo the math to figure out how many pages you have to write per day, now - 5 pages might be 6 pages, 7.5 pages may be 8 pages, but it’s not going to be a crazy increase in pages per day that you need to write. As I mentioned earlier, while I’m doing the math I always like to leave a couple of days at the end of the schedule, just in case....

TWO EXTRA DAYS

bluebook It’s always good to know that you have a day or two extra on the schedule, just in case something goes wrong... because it will. There’s a temptation to look at 2 weeks and schedule your writing so that you finish at midnight before you have to turn the script in... but that’s a great way to screw up. On a 2 week writing schedule, I write 6 days, take a day off, then write 6 days... with one day left before I need to turn in the screenplay. On 3 weeks I give myself 2 extra days. The extra days can help if I end up behind, but I still try not to get behind. I try to make up for a bad day on the next day - and usually I can. I want to end the first week on a 2 week schedule with the screenplay half finished (or more), and take a day off and relax. This works better for me than writing straight through. I need the “pit stop” in the middle of the race to recharge my batteries. And I might need that day off at the end of the schedule to either finish the screenplay or to do a quick rewrite.

The "two extra days for rewrites" thing is one of my tips in the SELLING: BREAKING IN Blue Book, because the last thing you want is a really rough first draft leaking, or even being delivered to your producer. I *have* delivered rough first drafts before, and regretted it. You want them to think you are a creative genius, not someone who writes the same level of first drafts as everyone else. On a 2 week screenplay, that extra day at the end of the schedule is required - because some of the writing might be a little rough, and having one (maybe really long) day to go over the screenplay before you turn it in can smooth over the rough spots and add ideas that you have come up with along the way.

On BLIND TRUST once I finished, I realized that I needed a lullaby that a man would remember his mother singing to him as a child, and a handful of other details that would really make the screenplay great. So that final day I came up with a creepy lullaby and several other details and really worked on replacing every “temporary line” with the very best line possible - and turned in a first draft after 2 weeks that impressed everyone. Which is why that film never got made. They thought they had a chance to sign an Oscar nominated actress to their Made For TV movie based on the screenplay (certainly not the money) and they did! And then they thought they could skip the whole TV movie thing and make it a theatrical or sell it to HBO, and they began looking for a male lead of equal stature as the Oscar nominated female lead... and the project eventually fell apart. Screenplays aren’t the only things that are like sharks and need to keep moving forward!

The main thing to do is not worry. Okay, worry a little. The first time you have to make some tight deadline, you may think it’s impossible - and you may go crazy getting the work done and panic every other day... but once you’ve handed in the draft on time, you realize you *can* do it. It’s like sky diving or bunjee jumping - the first time you are sure you will die. Once you survive, you have the confidence to do it again. You figure out how to adapt to whatever the situation is.

Most of the time you will be given a reasonable amount of time to write your first draft. The producer does want the script as soon as possible, but they also want a good script. This *is* a business. There are deadlines. You need to be able to write on a schedule and get work done on time. You’ll get the hang of it.

Even if you don’t have a deadline to write a screenplay now, it’s a good idea to train yourself to write consistently, so that you know your limitations... and what you are capable of doing. Though most contracts are going to give you 12 weeks or even 6 to 8 months to write a screenplay, in the low budget and cable world where it’s more like television than big studio features you will have to write on a deadline that is often 3 weeks for the first draft... and on some occasions only 2 weeks, and once for me was 9 days! I had 2 weeks to write the treatment *and* the screenplay that was filmed! And I did it. And it’s now playing on TubiTV, embarrassing me.

You can write fast. You just have to be prepared, and have a consistent page count.

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill
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