Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
BAD SANTA

Holiday Season is officially upon us!

BAD SANTA (2003)

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Writers: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac.

Glenn Ficarra & John Requa's BAD SANTA is about a foul mouthed, alcoholic, angry department store Santa played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton. He's not a nice guy, not looking for redemption, and not someone we'd ever want to hang out with in real life... but for ninety minutes in a cinema he's a whole lot of (mean spirited) fun. Here are a few of the reasons we may not like Billy Bob's character, but we can't tear ourselves away from watching him.



1) He's a rogue and a rebel. After a few days of crowded malls, listening to the same Christmas music over-and-over again, we may want to say "bah humbug!" to the whole Christmas experience... but that would be wrong. So we try to be cheerful and happy. Billy Bob does what we wish we could do - he rebels against everything cheerful and commercial about the Christmas season. He's fed up with the holiday season, and not afraid to show it. We may fantasize about knocking people out of the way at the mall, he *does it*. We secretly like people who break the rules and rebel against society - and what's a bigger symbol of society than Christmas?

2) We understand his bad behavior. He hates his job as a department store Santa, and we'd hate it, too. Kids sneeze all over him, wet their pants on his lap, demand toys, seem to speak in a foreign language (the kids ask for toys that he's never heard of - but expect him to know exactly what they're talking about), the kids (and parents) feel like they own him - he can't even eat his lunch in peace! If people kept bugging me on my lunch hour I'd probably get mad, too. He deals with the most crass and commercial aspects of Christmas, it's no wonder he's a Bah Humbugger.



3) We understand his character. BAD SANTA opens with Billy Bob sitting in a bar telling us about his abusive father - this is a guy who has never known love. Even his parents treated him badly. He's spent his entire life being abused, and now he's a bitter drunk. That may not be someone we identify with, but we can see how he became this angry guy. We're taken inside his miserable life. He's a guy with a chip on his shoulder, but the film explains where that chip came from. When his father died Billy Bob was left nothing except a basic knowledge of safe-cracking... which explains his current career. He doesn't want to be a department store Santa, it's just part of the department store robbery scheme. The key to writing a script with an unlikable character is making sure that we understand the character.

4) Someone to love. At first the snot-nosed Kid (Brett Kelly) is a nuisance - hanging around him, overly cheerful, a happy stalker. Then the Kid is an accidental helper - fighting off the crazed Gay rapist in the parking lot and providing Billy Bob with a place to hide out. But eventually a bond grows between the two - Billy Bob helps the Kid deal with the skateboard bullies and deal with his self esteem issues. He sees himself in the Kid - both have gotten the short end of the stick from society and are filled with self-loathing. By helping the kid, he's really helping himself. He's kind to the Kid, cares about the Kid, and we're able to see a softer side of his character.

And because the Kid worships him, we really hope he gets his act together... and we end up caring about him. The same goes for the cocktail waitress (Lauren Graham) he shacks up with. She may just be interested in him because of that weird Santa fetish, but she likes him. By giving him relationships with others, we have a chance to see him through their eyes.




5) Goal & Obstacle. Give any character a goal that requires struggle and we'll wonder if they can achieve that goal. Here the goal is to do a very bad thing - rob the department store on Christmas Eve. But a goal is a goal, and the obstacles are many. First we have the torture of being a department store Santa before the robbery, then we have his verbally abusive partner (Tony Cox) and his mercenary wife (Lauren Tom), then we have the *very* straight-laced Personnel Director (the late John Ritter), and the dangerous Head of Security for the department store (Bernie Mac).

6) Humor. You can have the most unlikeable character in the world, but if they're funny we'll hang around them for a couple of hours. This guy is sarcastic, but he's also funny because his behavior is completely inappropriate. He's the opposite of everything we expect in a Christmas movie. Whether he's screwing plus-sized women in the changing rooms or drinking on duty, he does those things we never expected a guy in a Santa suit to ever do on screen. When he comes up the escalator passed out, you can't help but laugh. His explanation for why he's wearing a fake beard is outrageously funny, and becomes a running gag throughout the film (the Kid walks in on Santa having sex with the Cocktail Waitress later in the film and calls her "Mrs. Claus' sister"). He's got a cynical (and funny) response to every situation.

Bill

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

BLACK FRIDAY SALES?

Before you eat your Thanksgiving Dinner on 11/26, or in that period after when you have loosened your belt and are vegging on the sofa, why not take a look at some of my books on Amazon... because a few will be on sale and a few will be FREE.

This is a countdown sale that BEGINS on Thanksgiving and ends on Cyber Monday - which means that the price will go up every day. Best price on Thanksgiving. Then it raises. So if you don't have any of the books that are on sale on Thursday - BUY THEM THURSDAY!

I'm sorry to say that this will only be in the USA - I wish Amazon would allow me to do a global sale, but they only allow USA and UK - so *one* of the books is on sale in the UK but not the USA. Sorry!

Again: not all of the books will be on sale.

I'm hijacking the New Zoo Reviews blog post for the Thanksgiving To Cyber Monday Sale...

So please forgive the appeal to readers to write a review... though it's still helpful!

Telling people about the books on social media helps inform people that the books exist without me doing my daily sledge hammer posts about where the books are in the rankings. I appreciate when you guys help me spread the word about the books, because there is no advert budget... it's just word of mouth. I really need to expand my market (often on message boards it seems most people haven't heard of the books) and that's also where you can help. Screenwriting groups online and in real life. I have no idea what the percentage of readers who write reviews are, but the more people who read the books the more reviews I'm going to get. As I said, it's all about trying to get to 50 and then 100 reviews on each of them. My SUPPORTING Blue Book has been out since September 17, 2012 and only has 29 reviews! And it's Pea's favorite, so it must be good!

So please, write a review if you haven't already. Thank you!

These books and the others not listed need reviews! Thank you for helping!


THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

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Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

Only $9.99 - and no postage!


NEW: WRITE IT: FILM IT!

WriteItFilmIt

WRITE IT, FILM IT! Low & No Budget Screenwriting


Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?

You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!

If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.

344 pages - ONLY: $9.99!


THE BLUEBOOK SERIES


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GOT IDEAS? (56 reviews)

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

***

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 178 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC! (38 reviews)

bluebook

OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?

Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.

Only $4.99!


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Got Structure? (26 reviews)

*** STRUCTURING YOUR STORY *** - For Kindle!


William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

STORY PROBLEMS? (37 reviews)

*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!


This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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START STRONG! (40 Reviews)

*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!


Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS! (42 Reviews)

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much morePrint version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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I WRITE PICTURES! (48 reviews)

*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)


Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!

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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE? (19 reviews)

Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

Only $4.99


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DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR! (56 Reviews)

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

***

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 41 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 160 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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SECRETS OF SCENES! (35 Reviews)

*** SCENE SECRETS BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

BEST SUPPORTING ACTORS? (29 reviews)

*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Includes Story Purpose of characters and Subplots. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 150 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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STUCK IN THE MIDDLE? (52 Reviews)

*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 208 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


All About Endings! (3 reviews)

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GRAND FINALES Blue Book!

The Perfect Ending For Your Story!

The First Ten Pages Of Your Screenplay Are Critical,
But What About The Last 10 Pages?

Creating the perfect ending to your story! This 100,000 word book shows you how to end your story with a bang, rather than a whimper. Everything from Resolution Order to Act Three Tools to Happy or Sad Endings? to How The Beginning Of Your Story Has Clues To The Ending (in case you were having trouble figuring out how the story should end) to Falling Action to How To Avoid Bad Endings to Writing The Perfect Twist Ending to Setting Up Sequels & Series to Emotional Resolutions to How To Write Post Credit Sequences to Avoiding Deus Ex Machinas, to 20 Different Types Of Ends (and how to write them) and much more! Everything about endings for your screenplay or novel!

Only $4.99 - And No Postage!


NEW!

bluebook

THE LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, & PITCHING Blue Book!

DISTILLING YOUR SCREENPLAY (21 Reviews)



Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics, oh my!

Every form of “distilled story” that you are likely to encounter as a screenwriter, and take you step-by-step through the creation. We will look at the most effective ways to pitch your screenplay, and how the pitch reveals problems with your screenplay. Just about every question that you might have is answered in this book! Including how to use Look Books as a creative tool as well as a sales tool, and why some commercial pitch platforms may be a waste of money. We look at the 4 types of pitches, how a one page synopsis is a “birth to death” element of your screenplay – you may use one to sell the screenplay, and the distributor may use that same one pager on the back of the Blu-ray box! The critical elements needed in any logline. And much more!

THE LOGLINES, TREATMENTS, & PITCHING Blue Book! - Only $4.99!


bluebook

Ready To Sell? (18 reviews)

*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

$4.99 - and no postage!


HITCHCOCK SERIES



LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER! (18 reviews)

*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!

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 $5.99


bluebook

Strange Structures? (23 reviews)

*** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR! *** - For Kindle!

***

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"?
HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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.

Only $5.99 - and no postage!


STORY IN ACTION SERIES


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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES

NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting! (10 reviews)

All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES - Only $3.99 !


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ALL THE BOURNE FILMS! (15 reviews)

*** THE BOURNE MOVIES

All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

He'll Be Back? (15 Reviews)

*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

ADVICE FROM #2 SCREENWRITER!

*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!

***

Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

Only $2.99 - and no postage!




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

Thank you all again.

- Bill

Any ideas or suggestions? Post them in the comments section!

Film Courage Plus: My First Pitch

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. 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?

MY FIRST PITCH


Shall we talk about pitching?

For some odd reason, new writers seem obsessed with pitching... maybe because they are shy by nature and worry that they will have to become performers, or that they believe all they need to do is tell someone their amazing idea and they get to meet Spielberg and date underwear models and live in a mansion. Neither of those is really true, but the last one is pure fantasy. If you are a new writer you will not be pitching unwritten screenplays, you will be pitching to get someone to read one of the stack of screenplays you have already written. And even though statistically some writer somewhere might be dating an underwear model, that’s probably never going to be you. Sorry. We’re writers. We date normal people, if we’re lucky. There is some chance of meeting Spielberg, though.

The shy by nature thing probably isn’t as large of a problem as you may think, and we’ll get to that in a moment.

THREE TYPES OF PITCHES


There are at least three types of pitches: Elevator, Pitching Takes, Pitching Projects. There may be more, but this is just a short article to accompany the film clip!

ELEVATOR PITCHES: That’s the common term, but basically it’s when you briefly pitch a written screenplay. You’ll do this at Great American Pitchfest or some film festival or screenwriting event. Thought they give you 5 minutes at GAPF and most other events, but that’s *total* time in front of some junior development executive - you won’t be pitching that whole time! You’ll need time to introduce yourself and for a little small talk. These events are really more about making connections than selling screenplays - so you want to get to know them and for them to get to know you, *then* pitch. And that only gives you a couple of minutes for your pitch. I’ve been on the panel at Raindance Film Festival’s pitching competition Live Ammunition! and they start out giving the contestants 5 minutes, then it goes down to 3, and sometimes it gets down to 1 minute. So think 2 minutes, you can always go longer if they give you more time. Basically - think of how you will pitch your screenplays if you are on an elevator and Steven Spielberg steps on after you. You have to get the story across before you get to his floor! That means you will be focusing on the *concept* of your story and not actually telling the story. The key elements in your pitch will be the concept, the protagonist, and the conflicts (emotional and physical). Basically an elevator pitch is like a logline... but with a few more sentences. The seed of idea, not whole tree and all of its branches! Never bore people with the details. Keep it focused! Big idea, person, problem.

PITCHING TAKES: I have a whole Script Tip on pitching your take - basically that’s what you do when a producer has read a couple of great screenplays you have written and think you would be perfect for an assignment, so they give you the Intellectual Property to look over and have you come back and pitch how you would adapt that property into a movie screenplay. I have a stack of books and magazine articles and even a bunch of old VHS tapes (old movies a producer owned the rights to and was interested in remaking) from these meetings... and each one I came back and pitched my take for. If you complain that so many movies are remakes and sequels and you just wish someone would give a new writer a break and buy something original, you haven’t yet realized that even remakes and sequels are written by *somebody*, and that somebody might be you. Pitching your take is all about how your would adapt the material - and your unique spin on the material or the way you would crack a difficult book or the theme within the material you want to explore. One of the magazine articles I was given (a producer at Universal whose Oscars were on display in the lobby of his office) was a xerox of a xerox of a xerox - and every single screenwriter in Hollywood had been given a copy to pitch. So they aren’t looking for a standard, “Well, I’d just put it in screenplay format and then clean it up” type of pitch - they are looking for what *you* as the writer will bring to this... what you will do that makes it unique and interesting. I was up for a sequel at once, and what they were looking for was an *additional* amazing high concept idea to graft onto the one from the first film. These pitches range from something similar to an elevator pitch where you just explain your angle, to a full telling of the story scene-by-scene. Everything depends on what the producer wants - just ask.

PITCHING PROJECTS: You have sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or two and you are now an in demand screenwriter... with a cool idea for a movie. Now, you could write the screenplay on spec and sell it to a producer, but your reps decide it would be more advantageous for the producer to hire you to write the screenplay. There are all kinds of reasons for this, including keeping you on the project for rewrites... because they have originally developed the screenplay with you. This is a long form pitch that goes scene-by-scene and can include everything from props to flip charts to images and “look books”. You are basically performing the story to the executives, and they will decide if they want to pay you to write this script or not... after they give you notes (Does it have to be on a ship? Why couldn’t the Titanic be a *space* ship?).

Though we already had a screenplay on the HOUSE remake, it was decided to do a longform pitch at each of the studios we had meetings with... and I’d never formally done this before at the studio level. I’d done longform pitches to producers I’d worked with in the past - in fact, I’d pitched several different versions of this story. But it’s different when you’re pitching to a studio VP for a producer. More pressure, less casual. One of the things I did was use a Hot Wheels car as a prop in part of the pitch, and at the end of the pitch I would zoom the car across the conference table to the executive. If he caught the car before it went off the end of the table, I figured he or she was interested. Not many cars hit the floor. But this was kind of a frightening situation for me because I’m not a performer, I’m a writer - and these pitches depend to some degree on the performance.

You may think that pitching your project is great because you will get paid to write it, but the fact is - you pretty much have it already written (at least a very detailed outline) to pitch it in the first place. Much of the really hard creative work usually has to be done first. I really prefer to spec a script than pitch it and hope someone says yes. That way, the script goes all over town and I just stay home and wait by the phone... instead of me driving all over town having to do a bunch of performances in hopes someone says yes. I kind of hate pitching.

THE PITCH ITSELF


Wait, Bill, you said we shouldn’t be worried about performance when pitching... and now you say you hate pitching? Both can be true, you know. I hate longform pitching because it requires some performance skills, but chances are you won’t have to worry about longform pitching for a while (if at all). You will mostly be pitching scripts that you have already written in order to interest someone in reading them, or pitching your take on some project (which is usually short and to the point and not doing a one man show in front of a bunch of bored studio suits). Those are more about the concept than the performance. The Live Ammunition Pitch Competition at Raindance is a great example of how performance doesn’t matter that much. The panel are a bunch of top Executives from British film companies - BBC, Channel 4, and others. Here’s a picture of me sitting next to the producer of THE CRYING GAME on the panel.



There are usually 75-100 people pitching at the event, and many are nervous writers who screw up their pitches or get stage fright or whatever... they are far from perfect. But they may have an amazing idea or a character we’ve never seen on film before, and that’s what is interesting. The “judges” are people looking for a great story, not looking for the actor to star in that great story. One year, a writer actually got an actor friend to pitch their screenplay. This was an amazing performance by a talented actor... and it wasn’t even in our top ten! Why? The story was bland - something that no one would stand in line for an hour in order to pay to see. The winner that night was a writer who stumbled through their pitch and gave a *terrible* performance - but had a great story! And that’s really what matters - the great story. So don’t worry about performance, worry about have a great *concept* - something that is both unique and universal. Worry about have a great star role, that will attract an A-lister who can open the movie. Worry about having an idea that can generate a bunch of big, juicy, emotional scenes... and will also generate big spectacle scenes that can be used in the trailer along with that amazing concept to sell tickets. Don’t be afraid of the performance side of pitching - just make sure you have a great story to pitch! When you hear 75-100 pitches in a single night at something like Raindance’s Live Ammunition, you realize how many bland ideas are out there.

And now the Film Courage clip...

My First Pitch:




Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill

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French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Other countries check your Amazon websites... it's there!

Seriously - TEN TIMES larger than the paper version (still on sale on my website)! That's just crazy!



Thank you to everyone!

Bill

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

Directed by: Robert Montgomery.
Written by: Wild Man Steve Fisher, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler.
Starring: Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tulley, Jane Meddows.
Produced by: George Haight for MGM.
Cinematography by: Paul Vogel.
Music by: Rudolph G. Kopp.


About a year ago I watched all of the REC movies again and think the first one may be the best Found Footage movie ever made (*much* superior to the American remake) because, even though the entire movie is seen from the perspective of the news camera, the shots are composed beautifully. The American remake (QUARANTINE) just didn’t seem to understand the degree of difficulty ... and is filled with sloppy framing and soft focus. REC manages to have *artistic* framing even when the camera is “dropped” in an attack scene. I often wonder how many times they “dropped” the camera to get that perfect framing of what would be seen in the action that comes afterwards. But the very idea of Found Footage from someone’s video camera all traces back to this film, THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), an interesting experiment that fails.



Robert Montgomery was a star at MGM, who played pretty boys and dashing romantic leads... but he was ambitious and knew the days of being a handsome guy were numbered and wanted to direct (where you could get old and nobody cared). This was his first film as a director... and he managed to make the most experimental film made by a studio at that time (actually, no one has done this since). The Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novels were all told first person, so he thought he would make the *film* first person... as in “first person shooter games”. You see the story through Marlowe’s eyes. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

Here are the problems:

1) The cameras at the time were huge and heavy, so instead of agile movements that mimic a human walking, we have limited dolly shots. Most of the time the camera moves into a position and then *sits there*, maybe with an occasional pan to follow a pretty receptionist. Unlike Hitchcock’s ROPE which features a story told in a single take (sort of) and a fluid camera that moves from one amazing angle to another, these shots seldom move. Once the camera dollies into a room, it just sits there and people talk to it. There are a couple of scenes where the camera does a limited dolly in the middle of a scene to “look at something”, but mostly it just sits there. So we have these static shots most of the time which are *dull*!

2) No cutting! Because it’s Marlowe’s POV we can’t cut from one shot to another, we are stuck with the same shot for the whole scene! This kills the pacing. In ROPE we also have no traditional editing, but the camera moves from “shot” to “shot” and angle to angle, giving us the feeling of different shots. It’s that “dog juice” thing, because there are no cuts in ROPE the camera has to do even more movement to make up for it. But here: no cuts... and no camera movement.

3) One of the side effects of the limited mobility of the camera is that the film ends up mostly set bound. That title LADY IN THE LAKE? Well, a big chunk of the novel takes place at Little Fawn Lake (Lake Arrowhead)... where a dead body is found in the lake... but the film never goes to Little Fawn Lake so we never see the murder victim or any of the suspects from there! The problem is: there's a reason for the novel's title. The body found in the lake, and Marlowe discovering it (along with cabin caretaker Bill Chess) is critical to the story. It's what the story is *about*. Instead, about 75 percent of this film is Audrey Totter looking at the camera talking. This is a private eye movie, and when you think about other Marlowe movies like THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER MY SWEET, they are filled with action scenes! Here, no action scenes! The closest we get is a car chase done with process shots (so it’s still in a studio) which ends with a car wreck... where Marlowe/Camera dollies to a bush and hides behind it as a police car arrives. The fistfight scene is *one punch*, and you wonder what a director more interested in the action elements of the story could have done with that fight scene.

4) Because we never go to Little Fawn Lake, we get these scenes where Marlowe talks *straight to the camera* as he sits in his office, telling us the story. What this means is when Audrey Totter isn’t looking RIGHT AT US and talking to us, Marlowe is LOOKING RIGHT AT US and talking to us! It’s all exposition, all the time! So with damaged pacing from the experiment we add boring exposition... we might as well be sitting in a room having Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter just telling us the story! But even that would probably be better because we’d get Chandler’s great writing. Instead we get a pile of plotty exposition.

Oh, in addition to Audrey Totter, some other cast members may look familiar to you from TV! Lloyd Nolan went from B movie cops to TV doctors, playing the doctor lead on JULIA (first TV series starring an African American woman) and played doctors on QUINCY and ELLERY QUEEN and a million other TV shows as guest star or recurring characters. Leon Ames also played doctors on TV, but you know him as next door neighbor Gordon Kirkwood on MR. ED. Hottie Jayne Meadows has also been in a million TV episodes and has even played Florence Nightingale... but she also looks just like her sister Audrey who was Jackie Gleason's wife on THE HONEYMOONERS. All of these actors look straight into the camera whenever they are in a scene!



The screenplay is by Steve Fischer, a pulp writer turned screenwriter (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and his work is usually really good... but I think here he is shackled by the concept and Montgomery’s idea of how the story should be told. Somewhere along the way, Marlowe has been changed from Private Eye to Pulp Fiction Writer for this story... so, if all of the above wasn’t boring enough now we have conversations about writing and publishing! In the novel the missing woman Marlowe is searching for is the wife of a perfume and cosmetics millionaire, in the film this is changed to the publisher of pulp novels... so that we can have even more talk about publishing! This film is trying to put us to sleep! Add to that, it takes place at *Christmas* so the opening title cards are happy Christmas Card pictures over Christmas Carols! You wonder if you may have put in the wrong DVD! It *does* end with a gun, but instead of being kind of a twist, it seems to me like a tonal car wreck (and the rest of the film continues that wreck). The audience at the time knew who Chandler was, and had seen a couple of Marlowe movies and were expecting something like THE BIG SLEEP... and ended up with this!

Lloyd Nolan, who played MICHAEL SHAYNE on the big screen (one of those films was based on Chandler’s THE HIGH WINDOW which would later be made as a Marlowe film starring *George* Montgomery) plays the cop, here... and not only do we lose Little Fawn Lake in this story, we also lose Bay City (seeing only the inside of the police station). Hey, Bay City is a major part of the novel! Chandler’s Bay City is one of those great fictional locations, but not in this film. Though we get slugged in the eye and kissed, it’s really lame compared to the subjective camera work in DARK PASSAGE made the year before. In that film, the camera doesn’t stick with the lead’s POV, but cuts all over the place to keep the pace going. Just, when we have those shots in the story that would have been “over the shoulders” instead we get a full POV shot. DARK PASSAGE *works*! This film does not. And having the whole film being people LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU is really weird!



Another issue with LADY IN THE LAKE is that there are *a couple* of shots of Montgomery's reflection in a mirror, which I'm sure was tricky, but there are a half dozen shots with mirrors where Montgomery is *not* reflected at all! Once you establish that we will see him reflected in mirrors, you have to show his reflection in mirrors from that point on (or get rid of the mirrors from the sets!). They show a mirror in some scene where he *should* be reflected, and he's not! It's like an epic fail!

I think people underestimate the difficulty of just making a movie. In this case, Montgomery (who seemed to have not a clue about the language of cinema) tried to do a huge experiment right out of the gate... and it fails big time. It would be interesting to see a first person movie like this *now*, with the level of action we expect to see in a first person shooter game. This film is a curio: like most experimental films, it fails. But interesting to see... and you instantly learn how *not* to make a private eye movie.

Skip the film, read the Chandler novel instead.

Bill

Friday, November 20, 2020

Hitchcock's Lost TV Episode (s2e4)

In 1955 Alfred Hitchcock became the world's most famous director thanks to his TV show ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. The show ran from 1955 to 1962... when it expanded into the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR and continued to run until 1965. An entire decade as one of TV's top rated shows... with Hitch doing comic introductions and warning us about the upcoming commercials. Hitchcock directed a handful of episodes over the years as well.

In 1957, NBC decided to do an anthology series called SUSPICION which would be a mix of *live* TV and filmed episodes, hosted by Dennis O'Keefe (LEOPARD MAN) and co-produced by Hitchcock's company... with many of the filmed episodes using Hitch's TV crew (who would later make the movie PSYCHO). The very first episode was directed by Hitchcock... and has kind of been lost over the years. O'Keefe split after hosting several episodes and the odd mix of live and filmed didn't catch on... and the show didn't have enough episodes for syndication (only 40 episodes were made), so it never popped up in reruns like HITCHCOCK PRESENTS or the other show that used most of the HITCHCOCK crew - THRILLER hosted by Boris Karloff. So this Hitchcock directed episode has been unseen for years. Based on a great short story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) who is one of my favorite writers and the master of suspense on paper.







And that episode is the subject of the new episode of HITCH 20.





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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

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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

Thursday, November 19, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Return Of Andrew Bentley

SEASON 2!!! THRILLER: The Return Of Andrew Bentley



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



Season: 2, Episode: 12.
Airdate: December 11, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: Richard Matheson, based on a story by August Derleth
Cast: John Newland, Antionette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, Reggie Nalder.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Can you hear me Andrew? Can you hear me? The frightened challenge of an old man, to who? Or to what? Questions. How does the old man know that he will soon be dead? And why does he fear that which may follow his death? Questions. Questions which will be answered before the night is done, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. But what of the questions that remain unanswered? Black secrets, carefully guarded and handed down. Spells, incantations, rituals, curses. The mysteries of the universe that have been revealed through the centuries only to a scattered unscrupulous few who thrive on evil. And aren’t too particular about the final disposition of their immortal souls. Such a man was Andrew Bentley. Our story tonight concerns the efforts of the living to combat his return from the world of the dead. Our players are: John Newland, Antoinette Bower, Philip Bourneuf, Oscar Beregi, and Reggie Nalder). Yes, my friends, there are those who believe in the occult arts. And it is said that even those who practice them, all that is required is the proper recipe, a gentleman’s agreement with the devil, and an unflinching faith in the supernatural. Can it really be true? I don’t think so... everybody knows there’s no such thing as magic.”



Synopsis: Sometime in the late 1800s. Newlyweds Ellis Corbett (John Newland) and his bride Sheila (Antoinette Bower) have been summoned to the rambling mansion and estate that Ellis grew up on by his last living relative - his Uncle Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney). Amos wants to meet the new wife. They pull up in a horse drawn coach on a foggy night, and ask the driver to wait for them. As soon as they are out of the coach the driver speeds away. The front door is opened by his uncle’s servant Jacob (Ken Renard) who is happy to see Ellis. This is where Ellis grew up, and Jacob is almost like a father to him. They go into Uncle Amos’ study...

Where crazy Uncle Amos seems just a bit paranoid. Though he seems in good health, he tells Ellis that he is going to die... and will leave the mansion and his sizable wealth to his nephew on one condition. That Ellis live in the mansion and check on Amos’ grave every day to make sure that someone... or something... hasn’t tampered with it. New Bride Sheila is trying not to shake her head - the mansion is creepy. But Ellis says yes - this is the house he grew up in.

In the middle of the night, Ellis and Sheila are awakened by organ music and follow it down to the cobweb filled basement where Uncle Amos is playing the organ... then collapses dead on the keyboard.



Uncle Amos’ coffin is taken down to the crypt, on a level even lowerr than the basement with the organ, because it is so easy to build *down*. Ellis seals the crypt according to Uncle Amos’ instructions, then draws an image on the crypt door in chalk - also according to the burial instructions. Weird.

Afterwards Ellis, Sheila and Dr. Weatherbee (Philip Bourneuf) have a drink, and the doctor tells them that Uncle Amos committed suicide by poison. Sheila remembers him saying the name “Andrew”. When Jacob the butler hears this , he tells Ellis that he wants to quit... after 33 years of service. Ellis talks him into staying for a couple of days... and asks Dr. Weatherbee who “Andrew” is. Was - Andrew Bentley died two years ago.

Before going to bed, Ellis and Sheila go down to check the crypt - not tampered with. See? Not a big deal. They leave the crypt... and Andrew Bentley (Nalder) floats into the crypt, sees the markings on the door, and floats away - looking very much like a vampire.

The next day there is a letter from Uncle Amos telling Ellis to get Burkhardt and check the book on the second shelf of the seventh compartment - Ellis and Sheila find a book: The Rites Of Protection. Knock at the door (not a shock moment, should have been) and Jacob tells him that Reverend Burkhardt (Oscar Berengi) is here... who tells them that he can not protect his Uncle, and to ignore the book... which Ellis reads a page of outloud - about demons lured on by man’s ignorance.



Ellis and Sheila have some relationship issues dues to the whole daily tomb check thing, and one night when Ellis goes down to check he bumps into the floating Bentley who scares him into a faint. Sheila goes down and finds him... he tells her he has seen Andrew Bentley.

Jacob the butler sees Andrew Bentley and drops dead.

Dr. Weatherbee shows up, and tells them Andrew Bentley is dead... and was “completely evil”. A sorcerer whom everyone feared. The only way to stop this is to destroy Bentley’s body - it’s somewhere in the cellar. They will need the Reverend to protect them. They get in the carriage and go to fetch him...



Spooky Bentley tries to scare the horses, but they just go around him. The wagon wheel breaks off, and they run on foot in the dark and foggy night. None of this is filmed in a frightening way.

They bring the Reverend back to the house where they have a running exorcism - chasing Bentley’s ghost through the house. They find his corpse in Amos’ laboratory and burn it. The end.



Review: Richard Matheson is one of my favorite writers, I discovered him as a kid due to all of his great TWILIGHT ZONE episodes and DUEL and those Corman Poe movies. So I was excited when I realized that he had written an episode of this series, even though it was an adaptation of someone else’s story (Derleth is also a famous horror writer, though I knew him through his mysteries). I didn’t remember this episode from my childhood... and there was a good reason. It’s thoroughly forgettable. Strange, because Matheson was coming off of HOUSE OF USHER and my favorite PIT AND THE PENDULUM - and he’d been writing scripts for a while (a dozen produced credits before this one). I have no idea what Matheson’s script was like, but the pieces of a spooky story are all present... and the direction seems to destroy all suspense and dread.

The director was the episode’s star John Newland, and he was no stranger to direction at this point in his career. Newland was host and director of all 96 episodes of the TV series ONE STEP BEYOND from the late 50s, which was “the TWILIGHT ZONE before there was THE TWILIGHT ZONE” - an anthology series about the supernatural and paranormal, often with a twist end. He was both the show’s “Rod Serling” host and the shows director. The show was interesting in that it was a docu-drama, and each episode was based on a true story. I tracked down some episodes and watched them - focusing on ARIEL because it starred MANNIX’s Mike Connors as a member of a famous trapeze family. In the episode he gets into an argument with his father (who leads the troupe) and that night his father slips out of his hands and falls to his death. He feels guilty and basically decides to commit suicide by trapeze and swings off the trapeze into the void... and his father’s ghost catches him and takes him safely to the platform. Based on a true story.



But watching the episode I could see where Newland might not have been the best director choice for THRILLER even though he had done 96 episodes of ONE STEP. Because ONE STEP was a docu-drama, it was mostly scenes of actors acting in front of a locked down camera - not much camera movement and not much editing. Kind of a filmed stage play. What made the show work was each of the episodes I saw had a few scenes at an interesting location - often using stock footage. So in this episode there was the whole big top circus trapeze scenes - one with a stock footage crowd and one without. But those scenes made up for the stagey scenes.

But this episode of TWILIGHT ZONE is all stagey scenes. There’s a sequence when they creep down to the crypt - and there are cobwebs and a spooky set, but the camera is stationary and there are no cuts or close ups. What I’m sure was written as the couple walking deeper and deeper into a dark and creepy basement is just two people walking... and avoiding all of the cob webs. Another scene is weird - there is organ music coming from the basement, but neither Ellis nor Sheila look towards the basement, so we don’t know where the music is coming from. Lots of non cinematic direction undercuts this story. So even though we have Matheson at his prime... we have kind of a lackluster episode.

Always great to see Reggie Nalder in an episode - his skull-like face is perfect for this evil enemy from beyond the grave, but for some reason (Newland's direction?) he over acts in this episode, which he did not do in the TERROR IN TEAKWOOD eoisode.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Film Courage Plus: What Unsold Screenwriters Need To Learn!

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



WHY HAVEN’T I BROKEN IN?

I love when they put me on the spot like this? Are professional writers just better writers than those who haven’t broken in yet? And the answer is: Maybe. A screenplay has so many moving parts and getting them lined up for a professional isn’t going to happen always. I have screenplays that just don’t work - and when I figure out how to make them work I will rewrite them and have something. But many new writers either don’t see the flaw in their script or see it and try to market the script. Hey, there is a chance that the flaw won’t matter to some specific producer - it’s not an issue with their company. And an amateur becomes a professional. But often there is some issue with the screenplay that stops it from going all the way.

There are three elements to a screenplay: The story itself, the way that story is told, and the writing itself. New writers often struggle with the first one and when they master that don’t even look at the other two items. The way the story is told is what I call “structuring” and it’s not three acts or saving cats, it’s when information is revealed to the audience. I look at it in the STRUCTURING Blue Book and in the STORY Blue Book. When is the best time to reveal this information? For a story to unfold it must be folded by the screenwriter first - we need to plant the information that will be revealed later. So this can be a difficult element. The writing itself is how well you write and your individual voice - your writing style. We look at that in the DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book. Part of the reason why they hire one writer over another is that their voice gives the script a feel that other similar screenplays do not have. So one thing that the professional has are those last two elements, and unsold writers may not have mastered those yet. They have told a great story, but how they tell it and how they write it may not be at a professional level, yet. Hey, they’ll get there!

NOTHING CAN STOP A GREAT SCRIPT

I tell the Garage Band story in the clip, as well as the story of the Temp Receptionist. Some other danged writer (too lazy to Google) said you could drop a great script on Hollywood Boulevard and it would find its way to a studio... and I believe that is true. I believe that once you get all of those moving parts in a screenplay to work together, nothing is stopping that script! It will travel!

My first "Hollywood sale" was a screenplay called COURTING DEATH that sold to a company at Paramount. I was living in my home town, and had zero connections. But I had scripts.

I had a low budget drive in flick called NINJA BUSTERS made in my home town by a local director... and then went back to the day job for a decade. I wrote 3 scripts a year - which is just a page a day. After around 7 or 8 years back at the day job I optioned a script called TREASURE HUNTER to a company in Beverly Hills for $5k. I had read an advert in the back of Variety - this company was looking for a jungle adventure script. I sent logline and they requested the script. Though I had an agent at the time, he was the worst agent in the business and he almost screwed up the option deal.

The director of NINJA BUSTERS was making direct to video movies after drive ins closed down, and worked with a local actress who was, um, very attractive, and single. And so I gave her my new screenplay and said, "There's a role in here that is perfect for you." She took the screenplay, read it, and promptly moved to Los Angeles. I am unlucky in love.

In Los Angeles she was hired to play Victim #5 in a low budget horror film. Her role was basically taking off her top and being killed. She gave my script to a guy on the crew (!) and told him there's a role in here that is perfect for her. Now my script began traveling around Los Angeles - everyone gave it to their best connection in the business. As I say in the clip, this is a business where people do favors to advance their careers. So my scripts floated around town, and three years later I am putting on my steel toed boots to go to work at my warehouse day job when the phone rings....

The guy on the phone says he's Daniel calling from New Century/Visions Entertainment at Paramount, is my screenplay COURTING DEATH still available?

Okay - obviously my friend Van Tassell playing a practical joke on me. We play practical jokes on each other all the time (still do). We had just gone to a party where Van had drank way too much, so on Monday while he was at work, I had every woman I know call his answering machine and say, "Hello, this is Heather, we met at that party Friday night and I'd really like to see you again, I gave you my number, call me." So he comes home from work and there are a dozen women who want him to call them, and he calls me in a panic and says, "Bill, did you see what I did with all of these phone numbers?"



So I figured this was payback.

"If you are really at Paramount, Daniel, how about giving me a number and I'll call you back." Daniel gives me a number with a 213 area code. Van really did his homework on this one!

I call back expecting to get a pizza parlor or a payphone, and realize it is not a joke. I ask where they got the script, and Daniel says a name of someone I don't know. This script traveled all over town and ended up at this company at Paramount.

Sold it. David Fincher was attached to direct at one point in time. I hated the idea because all he'd done was a couple of Madonna videos. He backed out to do ALIEN 3 and my project fell apart. They tried to put it together with some other directors but it was never made. Only 10% of the screenplays they buy ever make it to the screen.

But here's the thing: You need a script that travels. And that’s how things work in this business.

People think it’s all about who they know, but a great script opens doors for you.

Everyone wants to know the secret handshake or be introduced to the guy in charge... but none of that is going to matter if they don’t have a great script! So focus on writing a great screenplay - not a screenplays that you think is great, but a screenplay that people who hate you and want you to fail think is a great screenplay. You want a screenplay that strangers who are slogging through a stack of screenplays will read and think, “This is the one!”

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: PETULIA (1968)

PETULIA (1968)

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

PETULIA is an uncommon movie.

Bill

Friday, November 13, 2020

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: The Perfect Crime. (s2e3)

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 third episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics of Hitchcock's work 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.

THE PERFECT CRIME (Season 2, Episode 3).

Hitchcock was famous for saying that he didn’t like mysteries, so this episode ends up being a send up of the genre and Sherlock Holmes and C. Auguste Dupin are alluded to as our protagonist’s equals... then the story tears our protagonist apart piece by piece.



Oh, I should mention that this famous detective is played by Vincent Price... and for me that’s the coolest part of this episode: Hitchcock directing Vincent Price!

The story has a lawyer played by James Gregory coming to see the great detective about a case he may have got wrong... and an innocent man who may have been executed. Though most of the story is those two verbally battling it out in Price’s living room, there are a trio of flashbacks that show us portions of Price’s detective work and then Gregory’s information which changes the story so that some of the evidence from Price’s flashback has a different explanation. The flashbacks have no dialogue, they are all narration... and this reminded me of Hitchcock’s much better experiment alomg the same lines in BON VOYAGE (1944) one of his films for the French Resistence. I look at that film in EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR... it shows the same story twice, but the information we learn the second time around changes what we’ve seen the first time. In a way it’s the predecessor of movies like RUN LOLA RUN and HILARY AND JACKIE and RASHOMON where the same story is seen multiple times and possibly for different points of view so that it changes every time we see it. BON VOYAGE shows an RAF Pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines and a Polish POW using the French Underground to escape Nazi Occupied France... and that’s what happens the first time we see the story. The second time, we discover that the Polish POW is actually an enemy soldier who is killing all of the French Underground members that the RAF pilot takes him to! In PERFECT CRIME we see Price at the scene of the crime collecting evidence and noting things like the footprints of the killer pacing back and forth outside the crime scene... but in Gregory’s version of that event the innocent man isn’t pacing back and forth, he’s walking back and forth of the real killer’s footprints (his lover) to obscure them. The same piece of evidence has two different meanings!




One of the other interesting scenes in a episode is when Price and Gregory have a verbal duel, each trying to show the other that they are superior. Hitchcock shoots both men from about waist level aiming up at their faces so that they appear to be towering over us... superior to us. By having Price verbally blast away at Gregory from this angle which makes him appear to be superior, he gets the upper hand... until we cut to Gregory countering, verbally showing his superiority to Price (which the up angle makes Gregory seem superior to us)... and then we cut back to Price who counters... and because we cut back and forth between these two men shown at an upward angle so that they seem superior to the audience, we feel that this really is a duel of wits!

Things like camera angles, camera movement, composition, juxtaposition, and lighting are part of the basic language of cinema which Hitchcock was fluent in. Note the change in lighting on Price during the verbal dueling scene.





Bill

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99






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
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