Saturday, February 24, 2007

Backstory On The 2 New Films...

Because I gave no idea how many people who visit this blog even know that I have a website with a different screenwriting article every day, I'm going to post some links to recent material about the actual writing of the scripts on these new films...

The orginal screenplay:

How it was written:

The original screenplay:

How it was written (in 3 weeks):

What I found interesting is how much the scripts and the films are comletely different. As if a drunk read the original script, told the story to another drunk in a bar who told it to another drunk in a bar who told it to... well, dozen drunks later they typed it up and filmed it.

- Bill

Friday, February 16, 2007


I believe in good movies. There’s a tip floating around my website about the two kinds of “good” in movies - good for critics and good for the mass audience. I don’t think a movie like JACKASS was mentioned during Oscar season, but I laughed my butt off when I saw it. That’s the mass audience good.

I try to write the best mass audience films possible - though I don’t expect to ever have to wake up at 5am on that Tuesday when Oscar nominees are announced. I believe that an entertaining genre movie doesn’t have to be stupid. My favorite films are mostly genre junk that ended up becoming art with the passage of time. These were the best films in their genres, and eventually even the critics forgot that they were just mass audience movies and realized that they were just great films. I sit down to write, that’s my goal - both kinds of good. I want to write an entertaining film that also has meaning.

Lately, I’ve been having a crisis of faith. Big time.

May have mentioned this in another post... One of my favorite books was bought for the screen - first in a series, destined to be big summer tentpole movie. The #1 or #2 male star in the world signed on to play the lead. I was excited. They were still searching for a director when the film was supposed to go into production, and because this is a huge star - he had another project and this film was postponed. A friend of mine snagged a copy of the script, and over the holidays I attempted to read it. This was *the* script written for the star - tailored to him. And it sucked. The first ten pages were talking heads exposition - and then it got worse. Much of the writing stumbled around as if English was their second language - or maybe it was one of those Chinese to English translations. And the story? I knew the story from the book - and we just weren’t getting there. I couldn’t make it past page 40... and I was sticking it out because I loved the book so much! I wanted to bail out after the first couple of pages.

Now, I have no idea how these two guys got the writing job on this big summer tentpole movie - but this was terrible writing. And I’ll bet they got paid huge money - since they were doing the rewrite for the star.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only bad big money script I’ve read. Have you read STAY? I know you haven’t seen the movie - nobody did. The writing was okay, but the story made no sense at all. That was a huge money sale.

I’ve also been seeing all of these dreadful horror films that I chronicled in my Trilogy Of Terror entries - and they suck big time. Though I’ll probably do a stand-alone post on the latest, let me just say that it’s awful. It’s two kinds of bad. And, even though the film has yet to find a distrib, they are going to make 2 more (private funding). They don’t seem to care about the scripts. This is the director-driven horror film, and I think he wants to be able to control the writer after years of TV work where the writer is in control. So they seem to *purposely* look for inferior scripts. This confuses me.

Meanwhile - some of the other folks from those horror films (like the screenwriter with the PR company) are getting new projects - even though the films they made have yet to find a distrib and suck. This confuses me.

I have coffee with my producer friend (from the Hype & Glory entry) who is still plagued with people who have projects that have Billy Bob attached... in their minds.... and he’s got a dilemma. Someone has brought him a horror project with $5 million attached. (Horror films are hot.) No stars spuriously attached, but the money is real. They want him to physically produce the film - which is his job. And he’s been turning down all of these bogus projects lately - and that means he needs to get something going. Everyone has bills to pay, even producers. So he reads the script - and it is awful. He actually pulls the script from his bag and reads me couple of pages - yikes!

He reads a line of action that is one run-on sentence that is half a page long. After finishing the sentence (he had to pause to breathe every so often) I had no idea what the sentence meant. Then he read some dialogue of the “Hello, I’m John Cavandish, your younger brother, when I was five you stole my favorite toy and I have never forgiven you” type. There seemed to be lots of that. I asked him if the script was scary - maybe it’s that other kind of good. No. There were a couple of places where the characters were walking around in the dark with the monster on the loose that were *potentially* scary with a good director... but this is a first time director.

I ask about the lead character... and he laughed. You see, this script has a bunch of potential lead characters and he was at page 60 before he figured out who the lead was supposed to be and it took him until page 70 to figure out the *concept* of the script! Oh, and that guy he thought was the lead? Killed by the monster. Someone else kills the monster - someone who is introduced a page before the final battle! Anyway, the script is a mess.

Now, this producer is my friend, so the next time he talks to the $5 million man he mentions that the script seems to need a lot of work, and he knows a writer... in fact, that writer has a couple of horror scripts that can be made for $5 million and are ready to go *now*. A long pause before the $5 million man replies - this is the script he is shooting and he isn’t changing a word. He’s also the writer (my friend didn’t know this).

Now, I’m sure that all of you are wondering what my producer friend and I were wondering: how did this guy get $5 million?

Anyway - my producer friend would love to get a pay check, but he’s afraid that things are only going to get worse on this project. He joked that the lack of the bogus Billy Bob attachment probably means this guy thinks he’s going to make this movie for $5 million without a star - that he’s going to spend everything on below the line and shoot for 4 months or something.

Folks, the reason why the average Hollywood film costs $100 million by the time it reaches the screen is not because films cost a lot to make, it’s because *stars* cost a lot to hire. A star costs $25 million plus, maybe another $10 million for perks like first class travel and accommodations for family and entourage and other BS. Add some co-stars and probably half the budget or more is going to stars. That’s how movies work - even on a low budget film you will probably spend half the budget on stars. My friend is afraid this guy doesn’t want to spend anything on cast - which will make the script impossible to sell *at that budget*. Look at a film like SAW - made for $1.2 million in a dozen days at Lacy Street studios - and much of the budget went to cast.

Another big issue is that this guy is married to a bad script and *refuses* to budge. My friend suggested he get some coverage on the script, and suggested a couple of readers who regularly read for some big indie companies - the very same companies who might distribute this film. Nope - this is the script they are shooting and they aren’t going to change a word. Yikes! I think *anyone* who is going to spend $5 million on a movie ought to spend $50 for some coverage. And if they don’t like the coverage, spend another $50 to get a second opinion. And if both think the script stinks - it may actually stink. This $5 million man is so sure that his script is brilliant, he’s probably going to flush $5 million down the toilet.

Why? Why is the world so unfair? Why do these crappy writers get work when people like you and I are not? Why?

My crisis of faith really kicked in with that new film that doesn’t have my name on it.

There is a UK writer who will get the credit, and who actually did some rewrite work on the script. Because the original script was about an Air Force test pilot and the star doesn’t match that description, new scenes that introduce the star as an ex-CIA agent were written, along with the scenes that get him into the story. This UK writer has written the star’s last few films - which I have not seen. But I look him up on IMDB, and danged if he doesn’t have 3 gigs writing sequels to studio films... plus the next couple of films for the star. Now, these sequels are DVD originals - but they are studio films. Man, I want those jobs!

Then a strange thing happened... the first few reviews of this film without my name start to pop up on IMDB and other sites. These are reviews from the star’s fans. His core group. And the reviews all say the same thing - this film is much better than the star’s recent films (written by the UK dude) - and they all cite the *script* and the *story*. In fact, the reviews trash the UK writer’s past scripts and praise this one... even though most of these reviews have no idea that anyone else was involved in the writing of this script. They are all praising this UK writer for finally getting it right.

And that makes me laugh and gives me renewed faith.

You may find that strange, but this is proof that the QUALITY OF THE SCRIPT means something. These people - the star’s loyal fans - who have no idea that I had anything to do with this script, think the writing is superior. Complete civilians who have no idea about the entertaining good, let alone the quality good, an easily see distinction between writing they like and writing they do not like. The audience really is paying attention to the quality of the script - even if they don’t know it.

To add to the fun - these reviews trash part of the script.... the opening scenes. The stuff the UK guy wrote!

That makes me feel good. They can even see the difference between good writing and bad writing *within the same script* - and even pinpoint when the bad writing stops and the good writing begins. . This means that good writing actually matters. The audience for a dopey direct to video action film actually cares about the writing and can tell good writing from bad writing from one scene to the next.

The target audience for this dopey action film thinks *my* writing is superior.

Don’t get me wrong - this film is not getting great reviews. I’m not even claiming that my writing is great... just that people who had no idea that I was involved have mentioned that it’s better than the previous stuff. They noticed the difference.

Many producers I have worked with in the past don’t care all that much about the scripts. They may want “good scripts” - but only because it means they can get those stars to sign to their project (sometimes even for less than their quote). But I think over the years they care less-and-less about script quality - if they can get John Travolta to star in BATTLEFIELD EARTH, who cares if the script sucks? They have a big star! The big star will attract the audience. So if you buy some piece of crap script and buy the stars, you are also buying a hit. Well, we’ve seen films with big stars flop because the story sucked. Sure, sometimes a NORBET comes along that is probably not a very good movie but stars Eddy Murphy and may have enough laughs to become a hit - that’s the other kind of good tipping the scales. And there are stars, like Murphy, who can make inferior material enjoyable. But folks, I think this is proof that even the audience for a dumb action movie cares about the quality of the writing.

Anyway - I’m claiming this as a victory for good writing. My faith is renewed.

Recently, Summer Redstone (who owns the half of Hollywood that Rupert Murdock doesn’t own) said in an interview: “We are paying the talent (actors) too much. Because it is not the talent that makes the movie, it is the script. The play's the thing, as someone once said. And if you have a great script, the talent rushes to appear in it and not at too heavy a price.”

Obviously the producers of big budget films know that all of the Tom Cruises in the world can’t make a bad script good.

Now, if we could get those producers of the studio DVD sequels to care more about the quality of the writing than... well, whatever reasons they have for buying crappy scripts. For those DVD “stars” the script is even more important - and even the audience for those films seems to know this. When you are spending $5 million on the DVD star (as these guys did) why not just spend the time to find a good script? It would even benefit the stars of these films to go out of their way to find better scripts... or just leave the writing to the writers. It’s their face up there on screen. Time for the producers to wake up and smell the coffee - scripts matter.

- Bill

Thursday, February 01, 2007

February Is Martell Movie Month

Happy Groundhog Day!

No, this is not a holiday honoring Jimmy Dean sausage... it honors a rodent’s shadow. Now that’s a good reason for a holiday! It’s also the shortest month of the year, and Black History Month... so rent some Spike Lee movies like SCHOOL DAZE. And SHAFT’S BIG SCORE. And SOUNDER, even though it was directed by a white guy it’s still a really good movie.

Click To See The Other movie's DVD Box

This is going to be a strange month for me, because I have two films coming to DVD. Used to be one was coming out on the 20th and the other on the 27th, but now it looks like both are hitting the shelves on the 20th. I’ve never had two films come out in the same month before, let alone the same *day*. Of course, you should rent SHAFT’S BIG SCORE instead - it’s a much better movie than either (and I’ve only seen one of them).

The count is now 19 films - and I have no idea how many other screenwriters have 19 films... but I can tell you that the guys who wrote THE ISLAND and the second ZORRO movie and M:I-3 have been handed the STAR TREK franchise. Can’t wait to see what they do with Kirk & Spock. I’m hoping that having 2 films come out in the same month on the same day might help me find an agent or manager or maybe a well-connected dentist. I’ve been writing all of these new specs for the studio stockpile, and it would be nice to have someone who could get them out there before the potential strike. A potential strike usually means lots of people buying scripts... and I have lots of new scripts.

By the way - I’ve done a whole bunch of those things on my to-do list: producers have finally gotten their scripts and directors have gotten notes and scripts. I currently have a whole bunch of people reading - but the odds of having one of these things go would be better with an agent or manager or well connected dentist pushing a little.

This year I plan on getting a bunch of stuff set up - to make up for the past few years where nothing ended up on film... and don’t know whether that will be easier with these two new films or not. I’m going to make the most of it - use this as a good excuse to get out there and hustle and try to find some representation. I have to admit to that I’m easily discouraged every time I go out looking for an agent or manager... I seem to think that if I’m selling things and getting work, why wouldn’t someone want to represent me?

What frustrates me are the agents or managers who insist on a referral. I can understand this if I’m someone off the street - it’s a screening process. But I can bring bag of DVDs with my name on them and dump them on their desk - shouldn’t that count for something? Not to them. It’s a situation where the rules are more important than the reason behind the rules. I can only imagine how tough it is for you guys.

The weird thing is that I have been at Film Festivals and at Writers Conferences with Agents and Managers who have been so kind as to refer me to their firms and ask someone to read my screenplays. In many cases it's the *boss* - the head of the management firm - who asks a junior manager to read one of my screenplays. Great! I'm in! The ultimate referal!

Except that Junior Manager then refuses to read me. They tell me that they are swamped and don't have time.

Putting me in a weird position where I can either narc on the Junior Manager and tell his or her boss that they refused to read me or just accept it and go on to the next possibility. I always do the latter, because I can't imagine getting a good read from someone who is pissed off at me for ratting them out to their boss. That Junior Agent is liable to tell their boss that they read my screenplay and it sucked. That would be worse than just walking away!

Almost every time I go to one of these things, I get the name of some junior manager or agent who is supposed to read my screenplay... and doesn't. So I just let it go. It would be nice if one of them actually did what the boss asked...

A couple of months ago I was recommended to a manager, who read a script... then I never heard from him. After a while I started peppering him with phone calls - which he eventually returned - asking to read another script. He couldn’t find the script I had sent him and didn’t remember it. So, I sent a second script (one that had studio interest at one time)... and haven’t heard back from him. I’ve decided that someone who screws up twice isn’t someone I want as my manager... and if he read and hated both scripts, he doesn’t want me. This kind of stuff frustrates me.

Meanwhile, actual real live producers - one who has made a movie that I know you have seen (everyone has) - are cycling through scripts based on reading other scripts by me. All kinds of people are reading my scripts right now. And this is what makes no sense to me - that the people who *buy* the scripts are easier to get scripts to than the middle-men. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Now, part of this is me. I want my past success to count for something and I want the quality of my scripts (which seems to work when it comes to producers I’ve never met before) to be more important than who I know. I don’t like the idea of referrals - that seems like cronyism to me. Yes, yes, I know that’s how the whole world works. I have freakin’ tips about how important it is to network - but I still want to believe that the material should be more important than anything else. I’m a stubborn moron when it comes to this - and I’m going to try to stop being such a moron and get on with my career. In my ideal Hollywood scripts would all have numbers instead of writer’s names and agency covers and it would all be about the script.

Some of you may think that is at odds with my wanting to be treated special for having a big stack of movies with my name on them. Except all of those sales were about the material. Oddly, one of these new films is actually a remake of one of my old films - that script sold twice. The other new film - a producer I sent that script to *years ago* called a few weeks ago to see if it was still available. Man, that company would have made much much bigger film and probably not screwed it up like the guys who made it. I had zero connection with that company - they asked to read the script off a cold query. Then I never heard from them and wrote them off. My entire career is some accident - people passing around a script or some script sitting on a shelf until someone gets around to reading it.

So - I’m looking at these two films on one day as chance to improve my career. But I also looked at January 1 as a chance to improve my career - I made a list of things that needed to be done to help my career and started to do them. In fact, I took my birthday as a good excuse to improve my career. Anything is a good excuse to get off my butt and do something. And whether I see instant results or some long-range results - whenever I do something there are eventual results.

When these two new films pop up on February 20th, will it mean a spring-like rebirth of my career? Or more dark and gloomy weather on my horizon?

- Bill
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