Friday, October 31, 2008

If I Owned A Cinema Chain

In Los Angeles, it costs $11.50 to go to the cinema - and that's before you buy popcorn and a soda and red vines.

In today's crappy economy, what I would do if I owned a cinema chain is lower the ticket price to $10 maximum, and lower prices *everywhere*, to make the movies the inexpensive destination for entertainment. The cinema chains make most of their money on that popcorn and soda anyway. I'd also come up with a "family pack" that would include popcorn and sodas and tickets - like some sports arenas do. Maybe even a "family night" - like Tuesday or Wednesday, slow nights, with $5 tickets. Basically, *use* this financial downturn to build the cinema audience and get people in the habit of seeing movies.

Though movies have usually done great business in hard times, offering a low cost escape from all of the problems of the real world, this is the first time we’ve had financial troubles *and* so many different types of inexpensive home entertainment. Not only can I cruise the internet and argue about films and screenwriting with people from around the world in message boards, I can go over to HULU and watch old TV shows *for free*. I can stick around the house and pop in a DVD of a film that came out six months ago and watch it on my home entertainment system. I can also watch cable and network TV - and there are some good shows out there... though TERMINATOR has jumped the shark and I think they screwed up MY OWN WORST ENEMY by mixing up his personalities before season 2. Though I’m not a gamer, that’s another thing you can do at home for very little money.

All of these things that weren’t around last time we had a financial crisis may be taking the audience away from the cinema. But people need to get out of the house now and then or they’ll get cabin fever. When you’re at home, no matter how big your screen is, the bills are still there on the kitchen table waiting to be paid. Hard to escape your problems when they’re in the next room. So there is a need to get out of the house... but if it is too expensive to go to the movies, people will go somewhere else.

About 20 years ago a cinema chain did $2 Tuesdays and actually made *more* money per week... until the studios shut it down. The studios thought that the Tuesday night audience would have paid Friday night prices... but they didn’t realize these were two different audiences. The Tuesday night crowd was made up of people who didn’t go to the cinema because they thought it cost too much. They’d stay home and watch the movie when it came on TV. But at $2? Heck, no brainer - let’s go to the movies!

That's still a great idea - and you don't lose money from those Friday and Saturday night crowds because they still go on those nights. You pick up people who don't usually go to the movies; and 20 years ago, people like me who went to see some movie I didn't want to pay full price for. Guess what? That was $2 from me the cinemas were never going to get any other way. I’m not going to pay full price to see a movie that’s probably bad, but $2? Heck, no brainer - I’m going to the cinema!

So the studios really have nothing to worry about if a cinema chain does a $2 Tuesday or a Family Night with a discount package, or some other way to entice those folks with cabin fever and a limited disposable income.

I always wonder why the guys in the head office at the Cinema Chains don't come up with things like this. Timing is everything - and now we have this financial crisis where people will have less disposable income. So you lower the price and get them hooked on movies. It's good for everyone - families can afford to get out of the house, and they will buy popcorn and soda and red vines, and hopefully they get into the habit of going to the cinema... and keep that habit when things get better. Plus, the *kids* get used to going to the cinema and, like Catholics, you get 'em for life. I think one of the reasons why I became a movie fan is that my Aunt managed a movie theater and would sneak in my family for free some times. So I saw movies in the cinema at a young age, and enjoyed the experience. There really is something about sitting in the dark in a place where your phone isn’t ringing and all of the responsibilities of your life have been left outside the cinema doors, and having this larger than life story play on that big screen. It’s really a shared dream. Being in that dark cinema transports you into that world on screen in a way that your big screen at home can never do. Once you’ve experienced that as a kid, you want to experience it again and again. But there are kids today who have probably never been to the cinema - or seldom go. It’s just too expensive for many families. But a family discount package or a $2 Tuesday? Let’s go to the cinema!

But Cinema chains have to fo this *now*. They have to take advantage of the timing.

There was this church run coffee shop across the street from my local Starbucks. It was a good place to go if Starbucks was too crowded... because it was always empty. Now, it wasn't overtly religious or anything, just on the church property and owned and run by the church. I'm sure they used it for youth groups sometimes and they probably did most of their business after church on Sunday. But the other 6 days - empty. No reason why a Starbucks customer couldn't be stolen away by them. When the Starbucks closed for *a full week* for remodeling, this church coffee shop did *nothing*. Starbucks had announced they would be closing for a week in advance, and the church coffee shop could have printer flyers and littered the apartments with them as if they were Thai restaurant menus. They could have put a big sign in their window facing Starbucks. They could have even sent someone with flyers over to the Starbucks while it was closed - people were still going there. For one week, they were the closest coffee shop for hundreds of people. They did nothing... and went out of business a couple of months later. When the door opens, you have to walk through. It’s all about timing.

A cinema chain can’t sit on their butts and then do this after the window of opportunity has closed. They need to strike while the cliche is hot! They need to do this *now*. And the Studios need to be onboard. The great thing about this is that it’s not just a way to lure a new audience into the cinemas and convert a bunch of kids into film fans and sell popcorn and red vines and soda... this is a great PR move. Imagine how much press a cinema chain would get if they lowered prices due to the tough times in America. That’s free publicity! The thing is - it only takes one cinema chain to do this... and the others will have to follow. Who wants to be the cinema charging $11.50 to see the same exact movie you can see at the cinema down the street for $10? And who wants to be the cinema showing PRIDE AND GLORY to 5 people on Tuesday night when you can fill every seat with people who paid $2? Do that math on that - it’s a no brainer.

And I will not be seeing PRIDE AND GLORY at full price. Not gonna happen. I saw WE OWN THE NIGHT, why would I want to see it with different actors? But there’s this thing with DVD prices that applies to movies not on my “must see” list. When a DVD of some movie like the remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 starts at $20, I’m not going to buy it. When it gets down to $15, still not going to buy it. When it hits $10, it’s not going in my basket. When it hits $7.50 at Target, I think about it. When it lands in that $3.99 bin at Circuit City? Buy! At $3.99 I’ll buy a DVD for a movie I thought was just okay, because some day I may want to see it again. Same thing with cinema tickets for some movie that doesn’t interest me and is getting mixed or even bad reviews. There is a price low enough that I’ll go just to say I’ve seen it and it really does suck. So PRIDE AND GLORY at $2 or $3? Buy! Hell, I’d see the talking Chihuahua movie at that price. I’d see GIGLI for that price. Doing a discount day is a great way for a bad movie to make more money. And the cinema chain gets my soda money and red vine money (unless I sneak them in - hard to do with a soda, though).

Good PR, increased audience, building the future audience, and survival in this age of a million things to do... some Cinema chain needs to step up and do this.

That way, I won’t have to pay full price to see those damned talking dogs.

- Bill

Top 5 Halloween Special!

Okay, you may not know this, but I am a contributor to the Top 5 Comedy List (movie list) which is one of the longest running internet comedy thing-a-ma-bobs. Five days a week, Chris White sends a Top 5 list to your e-mail box for a low yearly subscription. And there are the "Little Fivers" - that are a weekly list on a variety of subjects (like movies), which I think are free. This year, they've done a little visual list for Halloween...

For more info: Top Five Comedy Lists! - and check out the movie Little Fivers for some of my contributions.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Get Off My Lawn!"

There are directors who take years to make a single film... and then there's Clint Eastwood. He made *two* World War 2 movies back-to-back, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Right now he has THE CHANGELING in cinemas... and a few weeks form now he has another film coming out...

Looks like GRUMPY OLD DEATH WISH - and looks like a movie I'll see on opening day.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals how your pitch shows the flaws in your story.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco... when I could have had a free taco at Taco Bell!

Pages: Monday - 4 pages on the Top Secret Project script, which is also not FREE WILLY. But that's a good guess. We've gone to script! I'm still writing today (Tue) so I don't have a final page count.

Bicycle: I have been cycling regularly - though not today because I did laundry (ah, the romantic life of a Hollywood writer!) and stayed close to home.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Big Break

Thursday night was Final Draft’s Big Break Party, where the winners of the annual screenwriting contest are announced. For the past couple of years it was at this nightclub on Hollywood Blvd, I forget the name, that had multiple rooms and always had a Halloween party going on the same night in some other room, with hot women in skimpy costumes stepping out into the common area. There were probably hot men, too - but I didn’t notice. They also had a red carpet and interviews - just like the Oscars. This year was at the Knitting Factory, another Hollywood Blvd night club - but no red carpet and no Halloween party in the next room.

I’d had some meetings on the top secret studio project earlier in the day. Kind of some good news bad news (though it was really all good news) - things are progressing well on the business side, but some new ideas and some new characters means yet another version of the treatment. I’ve lost count at this point - but there have been a lot. I actually got a little pissy in the meeting, because one of the major changes is a change back to something that was in a previous draft (a few drafts back) and when the decision was made back then to make that change, I asked if they were sure that’s what they wanted... it was a little strange. I guess I should have just smiled at Thursday’s meeting and thought “I told you so”, but this was a difficult change to make in the first place, and changing it back means making a bunch of big changes to the current version. It’s like a house of cards. Hey, my job is to give them the script they want, so I’m going to stop whining and start working. I rode mt bike to that meeting, and was feeling pretty good... but when it was time to go to the party, I was losing steam.

The thing about parties like this is - should I eat first? If I eat first, there’s always a ton of hors d’oeuvres. If I don’t eat because the invite mentions food, there are two trays of crackers and cheese that are empty by the time the server gets to me. I hadn’t eaten dinner, and didn’t want to be one of those two beer drunks - especially when the drinks are free. So I figured I’d better eat something, and wolfed down some Carl’s jr burgers and fries on my way to the party. So, you know what that means...

All kinds of food. Tons of food. Mini burgers. California roll. Chicken skewers. Veggies. Cake. Cookies. When I arrived, there was an endless flow of food - but I had just eaten. Pisser. And the food looked better than my quick drive through meal.

If you didn’t know, Final Draft software *bought* Script Magazine a couple of years ago, so they are technically my employer (one of them - pizza and beer money). So I said hello to the boss and he complimented me on my Deliverance article a few issues back. I also said hello to my other boss, Shelly the editor. When Final Draft first bought Script, they were really “hands on” and wanted to target the magazine to WGA members... which was a mistake. There are fewer WGA members than general screenwriters (people trying to break in, etc) and the WGA has its own magazine. So we had a rocky couple of issues after the “merger”, then Final Draft realized if it wasn’t broke, don’t try to fix it, and let Shelly go back to targeting general screenwriters. The magazine has done well, and if you live in Los Angeles or New York, you may have noticed it in your local Blockbuster Video Store - they ordered it from the distrib for their store’s magazine rack. Right next to Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. Kinda cool.

One of the cool things about a party for screenwriters is that I’m likely to know someone. I am shy around strangers, making me a bit of a wall-flower at most parties, but here I know all kinds of people. I bump into Joe and Charles from the Scriptwriter’s Network, which I’ve been a member of since moving to Los Angeles about 19 years ago. I haven’t been to a meeting in months, so we had plenty to talk about. The organization is starting a new international program where the monthly meetings will be podcast, so that you can hear whatever big name screenwriter is our guest speaker. I also bumped into Will and Kel from Done Deal, who are now married (Congratulations!). I remember when Kel moved to Los Angeles, she ended up in an apartment on my street and I went to her house warming party. I also remember when Will (and his business partner Jennifer) started Done Deal, I think as a Tripod website. Now it’s huge! I was one of the first screenwriters they interviewed when they got their own domain, and we talked about doing a new interview when my big deal is officially announced. I also talked to cute little Debra who writes about TV for Script, and a bunch of other writers I know.

They hustled us into another room, with a stage, where they announced the winners of the Big Break Contest - and there is *always* one from the U.K. Always. I don’t know why that is. After the winners grabbed their trophies (and, I think, checks), then introduced the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner - Stephen J. Cannell. After some screen and projector hi-jinks they showed some clips from his TV shows, Rockford, Greatest American Hero, A-Team, and over 2 dozen others. I grew up watching all of these shows. In fact, Cannell is one of the reasons why I am a screenwriter.

You may have heard me tell this story - when I was young (high school or middle school, I don’t remember) I started to notice those credits on movies and realized that someone wrote them. That was their job - writing movies. I wanted that job! My Grandmother had a subscription to TV Guide Magazine (my parents did not - if you want to know what’s on TV, just change the channel) and in the back there was an advertisement for a place that sold scripts from your favorite TV shows. I don’t remember how much they were, but I worked my after school job and saved my money and sent away for scripts from my favorite TV shows - Rockford Files and Colombo and The Law - and watched the mail box every day like a kid waiting for his mail order cereal prize. When they came, I read them, studied them, and even measured them to find out what the margins were supposed to be on a screenplay. Then I started writing my own scripts. But here’s the thing - that Rockford Files script was written by Cannell. He became one of “My Writers” - the people who wrote movies or TV shows that I loved. Levinson & Link were on that list - they created Colombo and wrote some great TV stuff. Lawrence Kasdan was on the list - he wrote RAIDERS and EMPIRE and CONTINENTAL DIVIDE and BODY HEAT. Paul Schrader was on the list, and John Sayles and John Michael Hayes and Ernest Lehman and some others. When any of those guys had a new TV show or a new movie, I *had* to see it.

So it was cool to honor him, and he gave a great inspiring speech about driving a truck for his dad’s company and writing scripts in his spare time... and doing this for *years* until he got his big break and someone actually bought one. If you want to do it, keep doing it. Don’t give up doing what you love. Part of that is loving it in the first place.

After he got his trophy, they DJ jumped in and started playing music so loud none of us could hold a conversation anymore... and it’s a room full of writers, so no one was dancing. You know, for writers I think loud dance music probably isn’t the best choice. How about some nice jazz that can play in the background while we talk?

Several beers later, I was ready for some food... and there were no more servers with trays. There *was* a tray of cookies on a table, but all of the really good oatmeal cookies were gone. There were some sugar cookies... but what I really wanted were some of those mini hamburgers I turned down a hundred times earlier in the evening. I took a couple of cookies, wrapped them in a napkin, and put them in my pocket. In case of emergency. Then I talked to Shelly for a few minutes... and by some miracle, *one* tray of mini hamburgers came out of the kitchen on the hand of a server and I grabbed two.

Which lead to me forgetting about the cookies in my pocket...
Which lead to my reaching into my pants pocket for my keys when I got home and coming out with a handful of cookie crumbs. My pocket was *filled* with broken cookies.

My big break for the night - sugar cookies.

- Bill

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Final Draft Big Break Party

Tonight (Thursday) I will be at the Final Draft Big Break Party, drinking free Final Draft beer. If you are also there, say hello.

If you aren't at the party, here's some free 7-UP...

- Bill

PS: Friday, Movies 4 Men 2 (UK) 19:10, Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

You have been warned.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Those Danged Arty French Films!

I had a meeting yesterday at Lionsgate and they had a massive cardboard stand up for TRANSPORTER 3... which is a French film. That's right, those wine sipping dudes in berets who smoke unfiltered cigarettes and eat snails with little forks make kick ass action films.

And here's a trailer for the next French film I'm probably going to be first in line to see (caution - subtitles):

The trailer looks better than that Jodie Foster movie. This sure ain't NELL.

- Bill

Last Night, I Had A Weird Dream....

Last Night, I had a weird dream... no, I didn’t visit a WILD STRAWBERRY patch nor an outhouse I used as a child... and I don’t think you need a dream analysis too to figure this one out. Last night, I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie... sort of.

I was working on a script, and wrote a scene where I did my usual Hitchcock cameo - you can see me in NIGHT HUNTER and CYBERZONE and a bunch of my other movies - though sometimes you have to use the pause button. I wrote in this scene where I was walking a dog in the background of a shot - my childhood dog Waggles who is long gone. And when we come to shoot that scene the Director loves Waggles but comes up with this great idea on the set... instead of walking the dog, Waggles is off the leash and being chased by his owner - this really hot chick in a miniskirt. And then, throughout the movie, the hot chick chases Waggles! And by the end, there are scenes with the hot chick and Waggles and the lead characters. The hero gravs the running Waggles and gives him back to the hot chick in the miniskirt and they fall in love... while petting Waggles.

And I no longer have a cameo in the film.

So I write this on the set while everyone is waiting... and wanting me to hurry up...

They film it.

Everyone loves Waggles... and Waggles even gets scenes without the hot chick...

Waggles is on the poster! My name is in fine print at the bottom.

Waggles gets invite do the premiere in Westwood, and I do not.

Now, I can kind of understand why they’d want him on the red carpet. My long dead childhood dog was the cutest dig that ever lived - we named him Waggles because it wasn’t just his tail that wagged when he was excited - it was his whole body. It would start at the tail, then travel forward until he was completely wagging - even his head. Waggles was a small dog - a terrier mix - but he could jump the six foot fence in our back yard. At least once a month he’s jump the fence - a miracle or sheer determination - and find some girlfriend dog in the neighborhood, then come back to the front door of the house and scratch at it until someone let him in.

But about once a year, Waggles would jump the fence and be gone for days. We’d all be worried that he may have been hit by a car or something while on his adventure... but then he’d show up at the front door, tired and ready to get back to work with his job of being petted and fed and played with by my brother and sister and myself. Somewhere out there were probably some little Waggles and some pissed off female dog owners. Every time there were local kids with a box of free puppies in front of the grocery store, I’d check them out to see if they looked like Waggles... sometimes they did.

On time Waggles jumped the fence and didn’t come back... and weeks past. The first couple of days, we’d check the front porch to see if he was out there too tired to scratch oin the door... but he wasn’t there. After a couple of weeks, we began to suspect the worst - he’d been hit by a car and was dead on the side of some road. And, as the eldest kid, whenever I rode my bike on some road I’d look in the ditches for Waggles - so that I could take him home and we could give him a funeral... but I never found him. Other dogs, cats, and other animals - yeah. But no cute waggly terrier mix.

Over a month later there was a scratching at the front door - Waggles, in a strange collar. A really expensive collar. For a while, Waggles had been someone else’s pet... but he came back to us. My guess is that they fed him canned dog food - we fed him cheap dry dog food - and probably petted him and played with him more than we did, because we kind of took him for granted at that point. But after a month and a half of being pampered, he was homesick. We were his family. So he decided to end his long adventure and hop some other fence and come back to the people he loved. And for a while we petted and played with him constantly. We were happy to have him back. And his return became a family holiday - every year we would celebrate Waggles Return From His Long Goneness. On the big board of Scripts To Write, one is about Waggles adventures when he jumped the fence and lived with rich people... was he heir to some millionaire’s fortune?

In my dream, Waggles becomes a movie star and signs a three picture deal with Disney. And I am sitting at home watching Entertainment Tonight interview him. And Salma Hayak play with him and pet him on the big screen. And TMZ shows Waggles and Paris Hilton coming of out a trendy nightclub. And I watch the big dog star rise to the top and steal roles away from Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt like everyone else... on television. This is the life of a screenwriter....

It was a weird dream, because I was both proud and jealous of Waggles... I didn’t even get my cameo in the movie I wrote. Pisser.

In real life, I had long moved out of my parent’s house and Waggles was an old man when he hopped the fence one last time. I don’t know what kind of adventure he had, but it was his last. He never came back. I suspect he just didn’t want to die in the back yard, and found some porch to crawl under or dark quiet place to spend his final hours. But Waggles lives on in my memory... and in my imagination he’s always sipping Perrier in his dog bowl and having a private chef whip him up meals in some mansion up the hill... and I guess he lives on in my dreams as a movie star.

- Bill

What's your favorite Web site? E-mail AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle at jcoyle(at)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

2 Busy 2 Blog

You may be wondering where Friday’s Hitchcock entry on TO CATCH A THIEF went, ot where this coming Friday’s entry on REAR WINDOW vanished to... or maybe even next Friday’s Hitchcock entry... though I’m hoping to get my life back to normal by then. Over the past week I’ve written what would translate (by word count) into 100 novel pages. If I did that every week, I’d have a 400 page novel every month. Now I know what it feels like to be Stephen King.

But I haven’t been working on a novel, I’ve been working on the Top Secret Studio Remake Project. We have a stack of meetings lined up, and need the *perfect* treatment, so that’s what I’ve been writing and rewriting and rewriting and doing something 180 degrees from the original one time and then 360 degrees from the original the next. This is a speed and accuracy deal - the thing has to be written *fast* and it also had to be written well, or we may not get the deal... or the best deal (the original film was a hit, opened at #1, so I don’t see it not being remade). But, since there’s not cast signed or director signed... well, it’s the original property and my work.

And I can be replaced in a heartbeat. Somewhere, David Koepp is waiting for a phone call. Actually, he’s fit this material really well.... I’d better do a great job.

So I’ve been under a little pressure lately. You know, the kind where you think your head might explode? And I’ve been typing like crazy - and had a day when the laptop went wacky and I almost bought a new one but instead found a solution to the problem the next day - and there were days when I couldn’t figure out how part of the film could work, and had to wrestle with the story until I figured it out. The thing about a treatment is that it’s pretty much a condensed version of the script - you have to figure it all out in order to write it. All of the problems in the script have to be solved. And when they decide to take a different approach to the story - you have to figure out the entire script all over again. Fewer pages, but close to the same amount of brain work as writing the entire script.

So, while I’ve been doing this stuff, I’ve been neglecting the blog, and haven’t written any new script tips for the website and haven’t done a damned thing on Second Son (spec) or anything else. There was a day when I forgot to eat. When all of this settles down and I’m working on the script (or David Koepp is) the Hitchcock Fridays will resume - probably even before that, since once we get that perfect treatment it’s just a bunch of meetings where I have to pitch a story that will make a studio exec spend tens of millions of dollars. No pressure there.

Now, I may sneak in a blog entry like this one if my brain isn’t fried at the end of the day. Probably won’t be long, though. Oddly, I want to go back to work on Second Son - my brain keeps coming up with scenes on that one while I’m writing this one. The scenes are always greener on the other side of the fence...

- Bill

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Song Meme

It's going around, saw it on wcdixon's blog...

"Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want. Then tag 5 others to do the same."

So here's my choice...

NOTE: Due to some weird volume thing, you'll have to crank it to hear it - not like she was singing softly.

And I think the lyrics sum it up - there's kind of this love/hate thing with writing, you have to give a piece of your heart... but it makes me feel good. Sometimes it's too painful and you want to give up, but then the writing holds you in its arms...

But basically - this is just an excuse for me to hear one of my favorite songs again... and in someone's weird edit of NIGHTMARE!

- Bill
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