Monday, July 07, 2008

I'm Grumpy!

I’ve been more grumpy than usual for the past few weeks - sorry. A month ago I got a letter from my building manager saying that they would be re-painting the building and making some exterior improvements. That sounds like a good thing, right? I thought it was a good thing at the time. Hey, they’re taking care of the place! They aren’t going to bulldoze it and put up a new building (in Los Angeles, they often tear down a 20 year old building because it is “old”). The place would be freshly painted and look nice.

But when the very noisy construction guys began sawing and hammering and scraping and yelling at each other at 7:59am every morning, it wasn’t such a good idea. I know I’m getting no sympathy from most of you - 8am? What the heck is Bill complaining about? I’m up at 6am or 5am in order to get to work! Hey, but you don’t go to sleep at 2am or 4am like I do. Lately it’s been 4am, because of the bike. I often ride home at midnight, by the time I get there I’m hungry and my blood’s flowing, so I have something to eat and then watch Kimmel... and then catch the rebroadcast of the news at 1am, just to make sure the world didn’t end or something, then at 2am I begin to wind down... and sometimes I might watch a DVD.... and next thing you know it’s 4am.

Okay, I can sleep until noon, and still get in a bunch of writing during the day before Starbucks kicks me out at midnight. But when these noisy guys start pounding at 8am? I wake up and can not get back to sleep.

So I’ve been cruising on 4 hours a night, except on weekends when construction guys are off, for a couple of weeks. I thought once they finished getting the building ready to paint, it would be smooth sleeping... but do you know how loud a freakin’ air compressor is? Now that they are painting, it’s just as noisy... maybe even more so.

And after a couple of weeks of 4 hours sleep a night, I’m feeling like crap. Oh, and the week before they began making all of this noise we had a record breaking heat wave in Los Angeles, and by the time I’d get home every night my apartment was an over. It took forever for the AC got the apartment cool enough to sleep. So it’s probably been three weeks of bad sleep. The good news is, they are finished *spraying*, so I will be sleeping soon. And probably less grumpy in the future. How much noise can a paint brush make when they do the trim work?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: ONE (IDEA) IS NOT ENOUGH - and Semi-Pro's comedy shortage.
Yesterday’s Dinner: BBQ food - hot dogs and potato salad.

MOVIES: HANCOCK - The first trailer for this film had me laughing, the second trailer - with the prison scene - had me laughing even more. Add to it that this was a hot spec script - on the Black List. I never read the script, but just the idea of a dysfunctional superhero is great - and like all great ideas, my imagination began looking at the possibilities. Being a superhero means you are responsible for other people’s lives - and what if you don’t want that responsibility? It also means when you make a mistake, people die. What kind of guilt caused him to become this foul mouthed drunk? There was a solid dramatic element underneath the comedy idea. So when the reviews came out and were mixed - and not in a good way, I hoped they were just cranky critics who didn’t know what they were talking about.

But I hated the movie. Okay, hate is too strong - basically, I didn’t enjoy it. They took a great concept, and screwed it up.

I hated the direction - it was like Michael Bay on speed. Constantly moving hand held camera, quick cuts, and these long-lens extreme close ups often with “garbage” in the frame - usually the unlighted back of the head of someone else in the scene. Okay, maybe this is just “old man syndrome”? Maybe all of the noise really is music? Afterwards, in a Dennys, my friends and I talked about this... and, to be fair, we are all old men. No 20 year olds among us. But all of us disliked the direction, and for the same reason - it pulled us out of the story instead of brought us into the story. It was style without purpose - “look at me, I’m the director!” stuff. Instead of using the camera to tell the story, it was constantly fighting the story. One of the guys brought up this article he’s read where Kathryn Bigelow was interviewed about James Cameron’s directing style, and vice-versa (they were married at the time). And the article showed how each had a different style, but both styles were based on *purpose* - they were using the camera to tell the story. I mentioned the bonus material on THE LONG GOODBYE where Altman talks about wanting to give the viewer the feeling that they are voyeurs - spying on the people in the story. So the shots are often looking through a window at people arguing or peeking around a corner or rising over a fence - the camera moves were all based on a purpose - a feeling the director wanted to create in the viewer. It wasn’t just a bunch of style the pulls you out of the story.

I also hated the music - it just didn’t fit the story. We open up with a blues sound track, which you might think fits the drunk superhero thing - but it’s existing music and doesn’t match the rhythm of the film... and the thing about genre bending films is that the closer they stick to the elements we expect from the genre, the more effective the story twist. The more HANCOCK seems like a superhero movie, the better the drunken foul mouthed part works... let alone the later dramatic elements. In a way, the blues music was telegraphic that this wasn’t going to be your standard superhero movie *plus* completely undercutting the differences. But the blues stuff just seemed like a bad idea, it wasn’t until they used the theme to SANFORD & SON as the underscore to a scene that I really *hated* the music. Because first, the tone of the music didn’t fit a prison confrontation... and second, a few notes into the music you think, “Hey, isn’t that the theme to SANFORD AND SON?” which completely pulls you out of the film and makes everything you are seeing completely artificial. We always want to believe that what happens in the film is *real* - even if it’s a superhero comedy.

The story *happens*, but didn’t involve me - and I’m going to blame the music and direction for most of that - but there were things in the story that didn’t work as well as they should have. Now, maybe these things were in the script but didn’t make it to screen, or maybe they were removed in the rewrites (this script has been around). The big story problem for me was that they didn’t “water their plants”. There are three big emotional events that happen near the end of the film that had almost no emotions because they were not set up well, or set up and forgotten. Usually when we plant and pay off information, we *want* the audience to forget that Ripley is an expert with the loader, so that when she fights the Alien Queen in the loader we go - “Right! Cool!” instead of “I knew that was going to happen.” But when a character is going to do something that changes their nature, we need to establish that nature and continue to show that nature (and the conflict it creates) so that the scene at the end is a *big* scene, an *emotional* scene, not just another ho-hum scene.


Okay, there are twists in the story that I’m not going to spoil for you - though I alm going to talk about things that happen at the end. Hancock the drunken superhero is kind of “adopted” by PR guy Jason Bateman, his wife Charlize Theron and their son. Theron hates him - he’s a foul mouthed drunk. But Bateman’s career has hit a bump and he sees a way to help Hancock *and* help his career by becoming his PR guy. The “Hancock Makeover” is the basic story, and his interactions with Bateman and his family are an important part of that... theoretically.

Bateman’s son is young enough to see Hancock as a superhero and not really notice the swearing and drinking and bad attitude. By the end of the film, Bateman does something heroic - and his son is in that scene. So that seems to be set up and payoff. But the son doesn’t really display any hero-worship for Hancock. He likes Hancock, but the Feral Kid in ROAD WARRIOR worships Max more than this kid worships Hancock. And the kid never likes Hancock *at the expense* of his father. There is no sense that Bateman is losing his son to Hancock in the film. There is a scene where the son gives Hancock a present... but Bateman isn’t in that scene. And when Bateman does his little act of heroism at the end - we don’t see it from the kid’s POV... in fact, we don’t really see the kid much in that scene, even though he’s there. What could have been a *moment* - and seems to have been written as a moment - is just another thing that happens in a big action scene. To make it an emotional scene where Bateman becomes his son’s hero, we need to show the progression of Bateman losing his son to Hancock. We need scenes that show Bateman realizing he is losing his son. Scenes where the son chooses Hancock over Bateman. We need to do more than just plant it, we need to keep watering that plant throughout the story, so that the scene at the end has power... then we need to give that scene power.

Bateman’s PR guy is introduced in a scene where he’s trying to sell a company on this concept of doing a good deed for the publicity. They turn this down, and later Bateman and Theron are in bed and he says that his PR thing is really trying to save the world. Okay, by the end of the film Hancock helps Bateman with his quest to save the world... but I thought that was just a PR gimmick. I never believed Bateman really wanted to save the world - even though he does the “Save the world PR spiel” twice. The problem is, he’s a PR guy - and PR guys are full of crap. And Bateman is never shown as a particularly charitable guy - he never does anything himself that shows him really trying to save the world. Since the idea of doing a good deed to get good publicity is pretty basic PR stuff, I never thought it was anything other than him doing his job... and when he tells Theron that he wants to save the world while they’re in bed, I thought he was just trying to look like a good guy to his wife so that she won’t just roll over and go to sleep. I try to look like a good guy to get laid, too (so far, hasn’t worked very well). So when we get to this scene at the end that pays off Bateman trying to save the world, it’s just a thing that happens. In fact, it seems a *forced Hollywood crap ending* thing, instead of the big emotional moment - showing Hancock’s friendship and appreciation for Bateman - that it was probably intended to be. You need to make sure we know the “save the world” thing isn’t just some PR gimmick, but Bateman’s dream - his big goal. That means you need to keep watering that plant so that we know this is who Bateman *is* - that his purpose in life is saving the world. His actions in scenes that *aren’t* speeches about saving the world need to show him doing little things to save the world.

Third, there is a big emotional sacrifice a character must make at the end of this film that is tied to the plot twist - so I am not going to get into specifics, and the film doesn’t want to give it away so that the audience jumps the gun. But there were things they could have done to hint that would have worked withing the early scenes that wouldn’t have given away the twist at all... and *after* the twist they needed to do some more watering so that the sacrifice at the end was a sacrifice. We do get a scene that is *almost* the type of magical scene we need... but you can’t just water a plant once and expect it to grow. There is a reference in the film to positive and negative which made me think of magnets. And I think if the magnet idea had been used throughout the story, in several scene, that sacrifice would have actually been emotional - rather than just a scene. It’s like they had all of the elements in that scene to make it work - to make it into a big scene... but they didn’t spend enough time setting it up. And when I say “time” that doesn’t mean more pages in the script or more running time in the film (though at 92 minutes, they could have spent a couple more minutes if they wanted) - it means *better* using the minutes they had. And again, this may have been all in the poor direction - the script may have used that magnet thing throughout (since it was in the dialogue - and maybe that line of dialogue was a payoff to what happened in scenes... but the director neglected to focus on in previous scenes). But the film squanders the end scene by not spending enough time building up to that end. Not enough watering.

Last, there is the twist itself - which comes off as the most insane coincidence imaginable, because it was not set up. Again - the fear on a twist is that the set up will give away the twist, but that is where the skill of the writer (and director) comes in. At Dennys afterwards we discussed ways this twist could have been set up so that it becomes natural and motivated - instead of fake - without giving away the twist. One possibility was to have Hancock explain why he came to Los Angeles. Another had to do with the contents of his little tin of treasures - that was a great place to plant a clue to the twist... instead we get a stick of gum. But even that gum could have been used. We must have come up with a dozen ideas to make that twist logical - which made us all wonder why the filmmakers didn’t come up with any of them? The real tragedy would be that one or more of these ideas were in the original script - and developed out over the years.

The key to planting information that will be payed off with a change to the status quo or an emotional pay off at the end is that you have to do more that just set it up and forget it, you need to water it regularly... so that it becomes the normal world. That way, the pay off at the end is what changes the normal world... giving it power and emotions. I’m now curious about the HANCOCK script (TONIGHT, HE COMES) and want to see whether these problems came from development or poor direction... or if they were things on the page that could never be seen on the screen. You never want to leave the story on the page - you want to make sure everything can be seen or heard.

Pages: Still cooking on the SECOND SON spec - 5 pages - a bit behind because of the holiday on Friday and a party on BBQ Saturday. Though this is technically a page one rewrite of an old script, there isn't a single word in act 1 from the original script. It's all new material.

- Bill


Martin_B said...

"just the idea of a dysfunctional superhero is great"

I thought MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND with Uma Thurman's G-Girl as a female superhero with dating angst explored similar territory successfully.

Bryan said...

Well, Bill, here's where, as a writer, I need antidepressants. Everything you argue about Hancock is true enough. But I keep being reminded of an argument I had with a director. His point: nobody will ask these questions! Only you -- the writers -- give a damn!

To which I can only say, the box office never lies. It didn't with Indy 4 (blech) and it didn't with Hancock. Logical flaws? Crap storytelling? We got Will Smith, baby!

Toldja. Antidepressants. Now who can't sleep?

ObiDonWan said...

I just saw Nic Cage in NEXT. Which had a great mcguffin--that he could see only 2 minutes into the future and protect himself and, by seeing further, the girl he loves (and no wonder, lawsy she's gorgeous!). BUT near the end he develops yet another super power: the ability to separate himself into different "selves" and explore a complex scene and finally, sacrifice many selves to live bullets so that he can save the girl. Totally lost me; wasn't "watered" as you say.

Also, I admire your ability revise so totally. I haven't been able to do that since I basically like what I've written so far. Could you always do that or is it something you taught yourself?

Christian H. said...

Wow, it's amazing how many writers hated the movie. I loved it. LOVED IT. I didn't care about twists or emotional content.

I wanted to see someone get their head shoved up another guys ass.

I agree about the music. It sucked. That opening song was HORRIBLE. didn't notice Sanford and Son, but the theater had its own soundtrack.

I just wanted something light, goofy and "FX-y" and they delivered in spades.

I'm just waiting for Hancock II: Back To Rehab.

It was a great origin story in that it sets up TONS of material for a sequel.

I expect $400M worldwide.

Christian H. said...

BTW, I have Tonight, He Comes if anyone wants to read it. But be warned, the first section is SO BORING, you may kill yourself.

ObiDonWan said...

why not give the script to Bill and let him post it in his script section?

wcmartell said...

I have it now... Thanks!

- Bill

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