Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Films That Are Now National Treasures

A list of the 25 films being added to the National Film Registry... and on the list is one of my favorite films from when I was a kid - INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. That may have been the film that started me reading Richard Matheson novels. Two more great films I love are also on the list - THE MUPPET MOVIE and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. It's great when amazing works of art like these are acknowledged. Oh, and DOG DAY AFTERNOON and MARK OF ZORRO and the others on the list aren't bad either!

• "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

• "The Exiles" (1961)

• "Heroes All" (1920)

• "Hot Dogs for Gauguin" (1972)

• "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957)

• "Jezebel" (1938)

• "The Jungle" (1967)

• "The Lead Shoes" (1949)

• "Little Nemo" (1911)

• "Mabel's Blunder" (1914)

• "The Mark of Zorro" (1940)

• "Mrs. Miniver" (1942)

• "The Muppet Movie" (1979)

• "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968)

• "Pillow Talk" (1959)

• "Precious Images" (1986)

• "Quasi at the Quackadero" (1975)

• "The Red Book" (1994)

• "The Revenge of the Pancho Villa" (1930-36)

• "Scratch and Crow" (1995)

• "Stark Love" (1927)

• "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945)

• "A Study in Reds" (1932)

• "Thriller" (1983)

• "Under Western Stars" (1938)

- Bill

Monday, December 28, 2009

KICK ASS trailer - red band - bloody!

Yes, there is blood in this trailer, and violence... lots of violence. But there is also an adorable little girl who is sugar and spice and everything nice!

Okay, I lied about the "everything nice" thing. Sorry.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


So, there may be some blog entries over the next few days and there may not. Both Script Secrets and the blog are one holiday until January 4th. Script Secrets has a tip for all of these days, but they are older ones and you must manually click on them. Here on the blog, if something amazing happens I may post... but most likely not.

- Bill

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Santa Makes His Rounds On Christmas Day

You may be wondering how one fat dude manages to deliver all of those gifts on one day. Here is top secret film from Santa's training camp that explains everything...

Happy Holidays!

- Bill

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Arkham Tales

At the beginning of the year, one of my longest online friends Nathan started a cool online magazine called Arkham Tales that featured original weird tales. He asked if I would let him promote it on my message boards, and the answer was “Of course!” But then I was unbelievably stupid by not plugging it here on the blog, since this has many more readers than that ghost town I call my message boards. I just didn’t think of it. And when every new issue came out, I still didn’t think of it. Now Nathan has announced that this is the last issue. That’s terrible, because it’s a cool magazine.

So, here is a link to the last issue. The magazine is free - actually a donation thing - and if you read it and like it and want to donate, maybe there will be enough interest that Nathan might think about keeping it going. And if you read it and like it and have a blog or newsletter, spread the word.

And now, fasten your seat belt and prepare for a walk on the weird side...

- Bill

Monday, December 14, 2009

New *Improved* Movie Plan

Okay, some of you folks have been wondering what the heck happened with that movie I was making... and so have I! Well, there have been some hurdles and some plot twists and some major changes. Here’s what happened...

At the end of last year, when I landed the top secret studio remake gig, I was also planning on making my own little ultra-low budget movie to retain my sanity, have fun, experiment with the internet as a delivery system, recapture my youth by working with a bunch of old friends I used to make movies with when I was in my 20s, and get some practical experience for a proposed book on writing low, ultra-low, and no budget movies. All I need was enough disposable income to make the movie... and the top secret remake gig would provide that.

I had an old story that I really liked called NEAR HIT that was ambitious as hell, but I would have a pretty good cushion with that top secret remake income, so if I went over budget I could still finish the film. I wouldn’t film myself into the poorhouse, or end up with half a film and no money to finish it... and the cast scattered to the wind so that when I *did* have the money to finish it I could not find the lead actor, or maybe he shaved his head for a role or got a sex change or something.

Before I sold the script that allowed me to tell my boss at the warehouse to take this job and shove it, and I moved to Los Angeles for the fame and fortune of being a professional screenwriter, I used to make movies on Super 8mm film, 16mm film, and video. Because I owned a video camera and deck and lights and a union day job, I produced some projects that my friends directed. At one point I came up with a TWILIGHT ZONE type project for public access TV called SHADOWS. I wrote a few 24 minute scripts, provided the camera and deck and lights and sometimes meals and other costs, and my friends and I directed them. Though this was supposed to be fun, all kinds of complications ensued including one friend pretty much screwing over everyone he knew and doing many things that were shocking and unforgivable. Sorry, there will be no blog entry to explain that.

Anyway, back to the lead actor getting a sex change thing... My friend Curt Wells was one of the people making episodes and I wrote him a cool one called GIRL OF MY DREAMS about a guy in a dead end job and failing marriage who suddenly begins dreaming about that one big love he had in college. Remember your first real love? After having these dreams, he becomes obsessed with her - where is she now? Does she still dream of him the way he dreams of her? He hires a private eye to track here down while he comes up with a scheme to embezzle a bunch of money from his company and dump his nagging wife so that he and dream-girl can live happily ever after in some exotic local. So Curt finds an actor to play this guy and starts making the film - there is no pay for anyone, all of this is for the actor’s reel and for fun. Curt gets about halfway through filming and something happens - probably health related, because Curt had heart problems - and filming stops. When Curt gets ready to do some filming again, the unpaid actor has literally shaved his head and looks completely different... and Curt can not find any wig or toupee on a no-budget budget that looks even close to real. This means the project is shelved until the lead actor decides to grow his hair back... if he ever decides.

Um, I didn’t want that to happen to us on NEAR HIT, so it was important that we shoot all of it at once and not have to close down production because I ran out of money because the project was too ambitious for the amount of money I had in my disposable income column. When the secret studio remake thing kept being delayed... and then completely lost momentum and seemed to be shelved... I realized I would have to come up with something much less ambitious than NEAR HIT.

So I decided the best bet might be to do some sort of anthology movie, like the SHADOWS project many years ago. That way, we could make it one episode at a time and wouldn’t have to worry about some lead actor shaving their head because we could probably make an episode in 1 or 2 weekends. My killer mouse SHADOWS episode was made in 2 weekends and ran 24 minutes. If we could make 3 or 4 episodes and do a wrap-around, we could easily get to 85-90 minutes, even if some of the episodes were short. But what would be the hook? I started to look for something, and discovered some work by a writer in public domain. This writer was not known for horror stories, but like all writers, was struggling to earn a living and if someone was paying for horror stories he wrote them. The horror stories were practically unknown, but had once been collected in a book that was available used. Bought it, and the horror stories lacked... horror. No wonder nobody knew this guy wrote horror stories - they sucked. All had a kernel of horror in them, but the writer went in the wrong direction!

But, I could “adapt” the stories and take them in the right direction. Use the set up from the original stories and make them work as horror. The plan was to write up the first one and shoot it over the holidays (basically - now). But the added problem with these stories was that they were period stories, and tough to adapt to 2010, and that the least complicated one - that I would want to start out with - took place out doors. And it rains in my home town over the holidays... and is freezing cold when it is not raining. Probably better to schedule this for summer.

And the anthology format is kind of iffy in the low & no budget world.
And horror seems to be saturated right now.
And I really wasn’t sure that this old writer would be enough of a hook to sell the film.
And I might be trading one set of complications for another - period and outdoors.

Then my flurry of meetings and projects hit, and I would have no time to shoot anything over the holidays - I have writing to do!

Now I might have enough disposable income to do something less complicated (unless the top secret studio remake kicks in), but what?

Well, 15 years ago a producer wanted me to come in and pitch some sequel ideas to a low budget thriller they had made. I came up with a way to expand that GIRL OF MY DREAMS Shadows episode into a feature with all kinds of twists and turns and 3 times more new material. The 24 page script would become 90 pages. They loved my pitch, but there was one big complication - I landed a better paying script job. I think that was one of the years where I had 3 films made in one year. I was too busy to write this low paying sequel... but I had a friend. My buddy hadn’t sold a script, yet, but I’d read one of his that just kicked ass. So I gave him a call and asked if he wanted an assignment that I didn’t have time for. Of course he said yes. The producer made one of the conditions that I would have to guarantee his work - do a rewrite on my friend’s script if it wasn’t good enough. I reluctantly agreed, wondering where I would squeeze in the time to do that rewrite. I warned my friend that he needed to schedule in a couple of days before handing in the script to polish it so that they would have confidence in him and let him do the rewrites instead of calling me. Not a problem. So I wrote out all of the notes from my pitch as well as any ideas I had and any suggestions on how to make the script cool. I had a complete step outline, plus the 24 page original script, too. This was like an instant script - just add writing. He could do anything he wanted with characters and dialogue and scenes and actions, as long as he followed the basic story I had pitched to the producer. And the producer would pay him half in advance and half when he handed in the script. My friend would be a professional writer - and have a produced script.

And then everything went wrong. He choked. That happens more often than you might imagine. I’m thinking of doing a Script Tip about it. Writers think, “If only I had a chance”, then someone gives them that chance and the fantasy turns to reality and they worry that they might fail... and all of that worry actually makes them fail. Hey, it’s just a bunch of writing on paper! No reason to worry. If you get to the point where someone is going to give you that chance, it’s because you have *earned it*. You are good enough. So, just write it! Well, my friend did not write it. And he had to give back the advance. And the producer was not happy with me, and also needed a finished script like yesterday so that they could make their film, and ended up buying something off the street and hammering it into a sequel to their film.

And I still have that step outline and all of those notes... somewhere.

Because that was a low budget movie, it had limited locations and limited characters and limited effects... but all kinds of cool ideas that could be filmed for next to nothing. Most of the story took place in a house... and one of my cohorts on this low to no-budget film project has a brand new luxury house in the Bay Area. Hmmm, a set we own and control! A limited cast, so less chance of someone shaving their head... though this was the same project where that happened and ruined Curt’s film.

But the big problem: where did I put those notes from 15 years ago?

In my office is the Closet Of Doom - filled with hundreds of notebooks and binders and scripts and short stories and half written novels and anything else that I think I will probably never need again. It was in one of those hundreds of notebooks. Problem is, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began writing an index on the outside of my notebooks for the contents within. So for the 13 years worth of notebooks between when I began writing the contents on the front covers and the notebook I was looking for... oh, and all of the notebooks *before that*... I had no way to know what was inside except opening them up and looking at page after page. VERY time consuming.

Add to that - I am busy right now with this flurry of meetings and assignments and it may take weeks of searching to find this stuff. Would be nice to see what it is now, so that I can tell my cohorts about it over the holidays. I knew that in the outline for the new 75 pages (unwritten) there were all kinds of cool ideas... but what were they? I can’t remember. All I can remember is that the producer thought they were cool ideas, too. When I reread the 24 page version of the script, I could not figure out how the hell I’d come up with any way to expand it. It was self contained. It had a beginning and middle and end. It was 24 pages. So I decided to give myself one hour to search through all of those notebooks in the Closet Of Doom. One hour.

And I find it within that hour. By accident.

So I now have the step outline and all of the notes to turn GIRL OF MY DREAMS into a feature - and the ideas really are cool. There’s a big high concept grafted on that works perfectly and turns this into a low budget MATRIX kind of thing (outline written before THE MATRIX, and going in a different direction than that film). And there’s a cool subplot grafted on that is filled with inexpensive thrills and plot twists. Some of the things that were off screen because they were too expensive to shoot in 1995 are now possible to do onscreen digitally for little or no money. This is gonna be cool. The problems on the horizon are all talent related. We will be shooting it in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one of the female roles may be difficult to cast... and we also need someone who does practical effects up there. There is no pay.

The NEAR HIT project is not abandoned, nor is that public domain anthology thing; they are just postponed until I find the money to do them. The plan has always been that if the first one works out, we just keep making one every year for fun. Using anything made on the last one to pay for the next one, and hopefully each one gets bigger.

So, once I get done with this flurry of projects, I use this ancient step outline to expand that short script and hopefully we film it in the summer when it isn’t raining. Hopefully we will figure out the casting and practical effects stuff between now and then. Oh, and I have to come up with another title and figure out how to break this story up into 5 to 7 minute webisodes and maybe add a couple of “confined cameos” so that I can cast some actor friends from Los Angeles if I find some extra money.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story Is Change - and the new Clint Eastwood movie INVICTUS.
Yesterday's Dinner: Pork Roast and salad at home.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meeting Flurry!

Nothing like those McDonald's milkshake things.

Screenwriters are part outlaw. Other people punch a time clock or have some set hours where they have to be at work - screenwriters can pretty much show up whenever they want to and do as much or little work as they feel like doing. We are freelancers. I joke that I don’t do mornings, but that’s kind of true. Unless I have a meeting, I’m sleeping until 10am and then lounging around drinking coffee until around noon, then I think about riding my bike to some coffee shop and doing a little work. Hey, and if I’m up all night doing something, I may not wake up until noon! I can work whenever I want, do whatever I want... and there’s no one to fire me because I’m self employed!

All of that outlaw freedom comes with a price - no regular pay checks. The worst part about being a freelancer is that you might write a whole stack of spec scripts... and sell none of them! And if you do sell one, there is no guarantee that you will ever sell another. A screenwriter I know sold a script for big money, it was in the trades and two top starts were fighting over playing the lead... and that was it. They never made the movie, and after a bunch of meetings and assignments that never got made, well... people forgot who he was. There was a whole new bunch of new screenwriters to take his place. The new writers got the assignments he had been getting, and that big name agent who signed him has some of those new writers and my friend ended up back at square one, having to break in all over again.

That’s the tough part about being a screenwriter - no regular pay checks, no job security, and about half of the WGA is unemployed every year. When you get that big check, you have to bank it because odds are next year you will get nothing. That Ferrari you dreamed of buying? Well, better to save the money and keep driving the old Toyota.

At the end of every year I am amazed and thankful that I have managed to make a living as a screenwriter... and wonder how the hell I’m going to make a living writing next year.

The past couple of years have had additional obstacles: the WGA strike, the potential SAG strike, and just when you thought it was safe... the financial meltdown.

In 2008:

My post strike airplane project crashes and burns before I get paid... though I have half the script finished by then on the promise of a contract being put together. There’s a long story here - but the statute of limitations has not passed yet. But I now own half of a cool script called AIR FORCE ONE DOWN, if anyone is interested.

My Hawaii project gets postponed due to a potential SAG strike... and doesn’t get made. No production bonus, but I do get a basic screenplay fee, and that covers expenses for the year. Hey, I can eat!

An action script I began writing for a producer fell apart right away - before I was paid a cent! That was kind of a pisser, because I really liked the idea. I think much of this was due to bad economy kicking in.

Several other projects also do not happen - great for my post strike bank account! You always want to be ahead, so that you can relax and be picky about projects... not just have the expenses for one year covered so you are always scrambling for work.

But at the end of 2008 I manage to snag this top secret studio remake gig. The good news is that it looks like the basic expenses of 2009 are covered by this gig... the better news is that the production bonus is nice... The best news is that this is a high profile project and the moment it his the trades, my phone will start ringing.

In 2009:

My top secret studio remake... seems to stall out. After a pretty exciting few months where I was walking red carpets and seeing a movie every week *starring* one of a series of actors attached to the project, things just slowed down. The producer had 2 films released in 2009 and has many things going on, and I think my project just fell through the cracks as he focused on other things.

The biggest problem with this is not the money as much as the *heat*. Because the producer had not announced this project, I kept it quiet... and that means no one has any idea that I wrote this script. If it had been in Variety and Hollywood Reporter, it would have generated a bunch of meetings and that would have generated some jobs, and that would have generated another paycheck... but nada. When the project stalled out, it took a bunch of future screenwriting jobs with it.

It was difficult to get anything going because of the bad economy - box office records this year, but no money available to finance movies!

Had a couple of projects crash and burn because the producers wanted to buy my script and make a movie... but there was no money available to do that. Lots of people *wanted* to buy my scripts, they just couldn’t afford to.

I began watching the stock market every day... hoping it would go up so that producers had money to buy scripts.

I went to AFM, and it was a ghost town - no one seemed to be looking for scripts or screenwriters, they needed to sell the movies they made last year before thinking about making any new movies. Usually AFM generates some interest in scripts and some meetings that might eventually turn into deals the next year. Even if they don’t turn into deals, they keep me out there in the world and somewhere some screenwriting gig surfaces. But this year - nada. Would 2010 be a bust for me? 2009 was looking so good! I thought the top secret studio sequel would be a big career changer... but it just stalled out!

So, here we are going into 2010, and I have no idea where my next check is coming from. At Raindance I met an Italian producer who said, “We should work together”, but doesn’t everyone say that?

Then, some strange things happened a couple of weeks ago, resulting in a flurry (not the McDonald's milkshake thing) of meetings:

One: The Italian sent me a book to read so that I could script it and we could work together. I’m reading it now.

Two & Three: Then two different companies called to ask for scripts - I am so hoping that this time THE COMPLEX ends up on screen because it keeps *almost* getting made. One of the times, a producer paid a director to fly to Montreal and scout locations and bring pack pictures for my rewrite... then the company had a change in management and the new guys pretty much tossed out all of the old guy’s films, including my project. The only one to get paid that time - the director! THE COMPLEX has another chance, now - and so do a few other scripts being read.

Four: Then Bill from Pulp 2.0 and I were talking about how depressing AFM was, and how movies today seemed to all be based on games and breakfast cereals... and we decided to try to set up my ANDROID ARMY script as a video game and a movie and a floor wax and a dessert topping at the same time... and we have since had some meetings about it, and things are moving right along. We also had lunch with John Rogers - Kung Fu Monkey & producer/writer of LEVERAGE (one of my favorite shows) to pick his brain about video games and new media possibilities. That was cool.

Five: Then, another Bill called with a potential assignment writing a horror movie that I can not tell you about right now... and there was a meeting on that Monday where story and contract stuff was discussed and now a lawyer is typing up a contract for me to sign... and I’m already working on that project. This looks like it’s actually going to happen.

Six: Plus I got an e-mail from the top secret studio remake producer - he wants to get the project in the studio pipeline first thing next year when the studio has money again. (Biggest problem this year is that everyone ran out of money a couple of months ago, and stopped developing projects.) So that’s back on - I just need to do a little rewrite.

Seven: And the Hawaii film may also be back on! Got an email from that producer, too. No more potential SAG strike, and there seems to be some money flowing for the new year, and that adds up to the film being back on the boards.

So, 2010 is looking pretty good right now. Hey, it may all crash and burn, but at this point in time I figure one of these things is going to happen and pay the rent for 2010. Always nice to know I don’t have to practice saying, “Would you like fries with that?” Always nice to know I have another year as a screenwriter. Always nice to know the scripts are still opening doors for me. Always nice to know I get to keep doing what I love.

But I’ve had a busy couple of weeks... and it looks like the next couple of months will be busy, too.

The good news for all of us is - the economy seems to be stabilized enough so that money will become available again for the making of frivolous things like motion pictures, the new year brings production and development money to the studios, producers who haven't been making movies need to have some films in the pipeline for next year, and 2009 is looking like a record breaking year in Box Office and probably ticket sales. So I won’t be the only one with a flurry of meetings on projects, you may have them, too!

- Bill

Yesterday's Dinner: Mom's meatloaf.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Am Scum

Have you ever picked up some awful movie on DVD and found it filled with extras like director's commentaries and behind the scenes stuff from the world premiere? And you wondered just what the director says for 90 minutes of crap film? Excuses? "Perfect!" Details about how he got that shot of the plastic space ship on the obvious string & stick in his mom's backyard?

Here is the Making Of special feature from one of the worst films ever made, CHILDREN ON SCUM...

Children of Scum: A Retrospective from Danny Grossman on Vimeo.

Today - meeting on a project. I'll do an entry soon about all of this.

Potential Oscar Scripts

- Bill

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Compulsions Web Series

Monday night I went to the premiere of a new web series at Cinespace (a bar/restaurant/cinema in Hollywood). They showed the trailer and first four episodes, then did a Q&A with the cast and crew. Because I am planning to do a web series, this was very interesting to me.

The great thing about each episode was that it was 5 minutes long (including credits) and hit the ground running. Just - WHAM - you're in the middle of the story. And each episode is packed with story, packed with character, and so extreme that you feel the compulsion to watch the next episode to see what happens. As I was watching the first episode, wondering just what the hell this is and how could it possibly be anything I would want to see again... a character pulls out a dossier and the story kicks in - this is not just some random event, this is part of a larger story that will play out piece by piece in each episode. You have to tune in every day to find out just what this story is all about. All of that in 5 minutes, folks!

COMPULSIONS - a new web series that is sick and twisted and might not be safe for work (sledgehammers and people meet). Three people who seem to be "normal" actually lead secret lives. That dull guy working in the cubicle next to you? Don't get him angry! Here's the show...

The great technique they use is *contrast* - the dull day job and seemingly dull employee constrasting with his after work life which is anything but dull. Using contrast gives the story an automatic hook... and makes the character automatically interesting. By showing us two extreme sides of the same person, we want to know more about them. There's an episode every day if you want to find out more...

- Bill

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Sale

Just In Time For The Holidays!

Best Prices Ever on Class Audio CDs ($8) and other select items - prices will never be this low again (Okay, maybe *next* Black Friday)! The prices good ONLY November 27, 28, 29 & 30... Sale ENDS November 30th ("Cyber Monday") at midnight.

For those of you who don't know - Black Friday is our American shopping holiday. Day after Thanksgiving, when all of the Christmas sales begin... usually at 4am. People actually camp out in front of the stores days in advance to be the first ones inside to get the best deals before the store runs out of merchandise. Last year, someone was trampled to death trying to get a sale item. It's festive! Why do they call it Black Friday? A retail store in the red can get back in the black in one day. Not wanting to be left out of the festivities, I figured I'd slash some prices for 3 days. No need to camp out in front of the store or get up at 4.


And because it's Friday, here is Jonathan Coe on SABOTAGE:

And I hope that next Friday there will be an actual Fridays With Hitchcock entry!

Now I am going to go see what DVDs are on sale...

- Bill

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DVD Times Two

In Brazil, one of my films is a brand new double bill on DVD. You can now get BLACK THUNDER in Portugese *plus* get some movie I did not write! Thanks to my friend Osvaldo for sending this to me.

Does this mean hot models from Rio will dump Leo and come after me? I sure hope so!

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: That great one on Tennis Plotting - and SPEED.
Yesterday's Dinner: McDonalds halfway through a bike ride.
Bicycle: Crazy long bike ride as I attempted to find a non-crowded place to work... and the ride home last night almost froze me.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writer's Roundtable - Is The Film The Movie?

And here is part last of the screenwriters round table, where they discuss whether the films resembled their scripts...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: All about your villain - using past Oscar nominees SNAKES ON A PLANE, PHONE BOOTH and LAKEVIEW TERRACE as (bad) examples.
Yesterday's Dinner: Del Taco #6.

Writers Roundtable - Success?

Today I'm posting the other two parts of the Hollywood Reporter's writers round table discussion (last one is at 2pm). The problem yesterday seemed to be that every single writer's website linked or embedded the interviews, and you could not get through to see it. Same problem may happen today. I suggest trying after 5 or 6pm Pacific Time when most folks have gone home for the day.

So, here's part 2 about dealing with success... or even if these folks have found success...

Last one pops at 2pm.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: All about your villain - using past Oscar nominees SNAKES ON A PLANE, PHONE BOOTH and LAKEVIEW TERRACE as (bad) examples.
Yesterday's Dinner: Del Taco #6.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writer's Roundtable - Inspirtation & theme

Hollywood Reporter does a series of round table conversations with people in the biz around award season - each segment is about 2 minutes - and here's part one of the series about screenwriters...

Congratulations to the 100 folks who made the semi-finals in Script Shadow's logline contest! Um, I ended up being one of them. Entered on a whim. After reading the other entries - I don't have a chance in hell.

And I have other scripts and projects circling which I will blog about later. Now they're still dreams and possibilities. But, things are happening!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: You Are A Failure! - and there is nothing wrong with that.
Yesterday's Dinner: Togos sandwich - tuna.
Bicycle: Short ride to an undisclosed location that is not crowded.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Clash Of The Titans

Ray Harryhausen. When I was a kid, that name meant magic. Probably the first Harryhausen film I saw was MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, and it was one of those films that made me want to make movies. It's still one of my favorite movies. The creatures in that film were so real! How did they do that?

And that's how I got to know Harryhausen's name. I started to look for movies he did special effects on - and discovered fighting skeletons and sea monsters and cowboys who roped dinosaurs... and Dynamation (also, the Super type). This guy made things that could usually only exist in the imagination of a kid into something that could battle Kerwin Matthews on screen! He made magic into reality.

But the problem with being a star special effects guy is finding stories where the special effects were the stars... at least, that was a problem in the pre-CGI times. So CLASH OF THE TITANS was Harryhausen and his producing partner Charles Schneer's new excuse to do some stop motion work... and they cast prettyboy Harry Hamlin and brilliant-but-down-on-his-luck actor Laurence Olivier, and the film was, well, okay. The mechanical owl was kind of silly - I'm sure in response to STAR WARS' R2D2.

But a new generation of kids saw that magic and remembered the film... and became studio executives. So a film that was just an excuse for Ray Harryhausen's special effects has been remade *without* those effects. And here's the teaser trailer...

And here's the trailer for the original film...

- Bill

Makes 2012 Look Like A Disneyland Ride

Coming Friday to Los Angeles and New York, this nice little documentary shot at the same location as one of the low budget horror movies I worked on... but much more frightening. It's all about the end of the world. Not some Roland Emmerich natural disaster, but burning through all of our natural resources and killing ourselves. And not sometime in the future - sometime very very soon.

Maybe by 2012.

This looks interesting. It's the end of the world, baby!

- Bill

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

After the doom and gloom of yesterday's post, something to cheer you up. Sesame Street is 40 years old... and still going strong.

Though The Muppets were aimed at adults and kids, Sesame Street was aimed at kids... and still managed to appeal to adults. The characters where wild and fun and irreverent. Here's a song from Ernie...

And a cross-over from The Muppets Kermit singing a song...

Which brings me to my favorite song of all, from THE MUPPET MOVIE. It's not just some silly Muppet song, it's about *me* and it's probably about you, too.

That song just brightens my day.

Tomorrow - back to doom and gloom... and sometime soon, an entry about The Brad Pitt Guy.

- Bill

Monday, November 09, 2009

Is Cinema Dead?

The American Film Market is going on right now in Santa Monica... or maybe it’s *not* going on. If you have a film market and nobody comes, is it still a film market?

Is this the canary in the coal mine for cinema?


In case you don’t know what a Film Market is, it’s a market where they sell films. Obvious, huh? When a producer makes a film they still need to sell it to a distributor... actually, usually several distributors. Basically, these days a studio is really just a distributor and a bank... they fund a producer’s film in exchange for distribution rights. The producer makes a % of what the film makes after the studio subtracts distribution fees and overhead and the cost of making the film and the townhouse they keep in Marina Del Rey for the studio chief’s mistress to live in. But these days, even studios are looking for money from other sources, and often co-producing some film with some other studio in some other country, or just acting as a distrib for hire for films made in some other country.

Most studios either have long standing deals with foreign distribs or they have their own foreign distribution arm. At one point in time many of the majors shared a foreign distribution company, but I think those days are long gone - too much money in foreign distribution to share with the competition. But as more film finance money comes from outside the USA, in order to get the money a studio must often give up foreign distribution or at least share it.

But not every producer has a studio deal - some are independent and have no foreign distribution in place and sell their films to foreign distribs on a film-by-film basis. There are somewhere around 70 foreign territories that buy USA films for their country (or countries - some territories cover more than one country connected by a common language or geography). These independents go to markets - kind of like a trade show - and sell their films...

And USA indie distribs go to these markets to buy foreign films. Often the indie production company will buy the foreign films, take them back to the USA, and sell them to a USA distrib along with their own movies. Anyway - there’s this whole business of buying and selling films to overseas distribs, and the big markets are Cannes (the festival is the sideline, the market is what it’s really all about) and American Film Market. Now, the Hong Kong Market is taking hold, too. Used to be a marked in Milan, MIFED, but it’s gone.

The thing about these markets, and American Film Market is where it is most obvious, is that “Independent” covers a lot of ground - from all of those serious dramatic Oscar contenders to modern day grindhouse films. It’s not unusual to see some Merchant-Ivory style adaptation of some classic novel you read the Cliff Notes to in High School being sold across the hall from BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. Anything made outside the studio system is here...

Along with films you *think* are studio films but are really some sort of foreign coproduction starring Bruce Willis or Al Pacino or someone else who “likes to work”.


When I first began going to American Film Market it was held in Beverly Hills and *crowded* with buyers and sellers and a million cool movies. Those were the years where a small video company could still get films with B movie starts in cinemas - and you might see some Gary Busey action flick at your local multiplex, or one of those Canon Films with Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris or American Ninja Michael Dudikoff... and a year later the films would go to VHS where they probably belonged. But, as a guy working in a warehouse back then, those were the movies we all saw after work. Beers first, movie, then more beers. And sometimes these movies did some breakout business and became DIRTY DANCING (made by Vestron Video). That’s when cinema - and low budget cinema - was alive and kicking! (especially in the Chuck Norris movies)

A couple of years later AFM moved to Santa Monica, and was still going strong. The films were not getting that theatrical window anymore, but VHS was *hot* and had become a separate market with separate stars. It was strange because there were some stars who were huge in cinemas but when the films went to VHS they bombed... and other people who were nothing in cinemas but massive stars on VHS. And it seemed like the market was still *expanding* for independent films (both arthouse and grindhouse) - cable needed movies! DVD replaced VHS, and needed new movies. And then the studios began to realize that DVD was making so much money on non-theatricals that they jumped in making DVD originals... or, trying to. Studios always seem to have problems making movies on a budget, and are used to throwing money at a problem instead of creativity.

Well, a few years ago AFM began to contract instead of expand... though, they actually expanded geographically by taking over the hotel next door. For the first time there were fewer people at market than the year before, even though the PR firm the AFM hired kept trying to convince us there were more people.

But here’s the gauge - at Beverly Hills you could not get on an elevator. There were hundreds of people waiting for the elevator at any time of the day... so you had to climb the stairs. When they moved to Santa Monica - same exact thing. HUNDREDS of people waiting for the elevator... even on one of the slow days! You had to climb the stairs. By the end of AFM my legs were throbbing and jelly-like. But over the years the crowds at the elevators have gotten smaller, and my joke for the last couple of years is that you could actually get on an elevator right away if you didn’t mind being packed in there.

Saturday I’m at AFM, talking about how it isn’t crowded, and I mentioned the elevator thing, and looked over... and there was *no one* waiting for the elevator. No one. The elevator doors opened and *one person* walked out - no one else in the elevator.


Wednesday afternoon when I dropped by to pick up my badge and the catalogues, it was practically empty... but it’s a week day. Weekdays can be weak days. Never this slow before, but I was sure by Saturday and Sunday the place would be packed. Usually the weekend has a great show in the lobby - hundreds of undiscovered actresses wearing the legal minimum of clothing show up to pass out headshots (insert the obvious joke) and try to get a role in some movie being set up at the market. Also actors, composers, posers, directors, writers, and people who have business cards that say they are producers. They crowd the lobby, pouncing on anyone with a badge. I call them the Lobby Rats. After 6pm you might also see some B movie stars (or even an A movie star from one of the big budget films) in the bar, secretly looking for work. They are the center of attention and I’ll bet none of them even have to buy their own drinks. Just for fun, Troma often sends down some costumed superheroes to promote their films, and other companies or producers might have a team of hot women in T shirts with the film’s title or in costume from the film as promotion. It’s a circus, and fun to watch.

This year - no circus. I was there Friday, and the lobby was almost empty. After hours, Fred Williamson showed up, but the place was still mostly empty. Let me put it this way - there are maybe a half dozen tables in the bar area of the lobby, and usually you can’t get near one. This year, I could have sat at the one behind Fred... it was empty!

Saturday? The same. I saw Corbin Bernsen walk past, but no Al Pacino or Val Kilmer or any of the other guys who I’ve seen before. And the lobby was mostly empty - not even the costumed Troma people. Not even the undiscovered actresses. The place was dead!

The hallways were empty. The elevators were empty. The lobby was mostly empty.


One of the strange things this year was the exploitation companies selling those Oscar movies. It seems that when they closed down the studio indie labels and the independent art house labels began going out of business, there was no one left to sell art house movies to the foreign market except those grindhouse companies. The latest Polish Brothers quirky arthouse movie starring Billy Bob Thornton was being sold by the company best know for flicks like the Steve Guttenberg thriller FATAL RESCUE. I know you've seen that one - it stars the Gutt! There just aren’t any arthouse places left! They closed Miramax!

And that’s the thing that’s scary. The studios say they are hurting now that DVD sales are off due to the economy and need to find ways to cut their film budgets. The studios have stopped making indie films and don't make many prestige films. Those larger budget indie films with stars are not being made, and when they are, they end up being sold by some grindhouse company because they are still in business. But even the grindhouse companies are in trouble, because that middle has fallen out of low budget. There are still films made for under a million (many well under) and still films made for over $10 million that will get a theatrical release from some studio... but nothing in between.

Over the years I’ve seen big companies die and those scrappy little guys who had offices in the basement of the hotel start to climb floors until their offices were in prime real estate. I’m sure I have mentioned Brain Damage Films before - I’ve talked to the guy who runs it in the past (seems like a nice guy) and they specialize in no-budget horror films people shoot in their back yards for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY budgets (around $10k-$15k)... and they are not only still in business, when a movie is made that cheap, it’s hard not to make money. A baby step higher is The Asylum, who make all of those really bad films you see on SyFy and those knockoffs you see on the Blockbuster shelves with titles like I AM OMEGA and SNAKES ON A TRAIN. These guys used to make films for $100k... with a name in the cast! Now their budgets are a little bit higher (not much) and they have a couple of names... but we are still well below half a million bucks. Again, hard not to make money off a film made for so little. But the problem is - the budgets are getting smaller and smaller and there’s not enough money in the budget to make a living writing something like that... or directing... or anything else.

The canary in the coal mine is falling off its perch.



With studios aiming at some Hasbro toy tentpole crap, and the indie world decimated, and the grindhouse world being $10K wonders and $200k mockbusters, where is the business going? I’m having trouble seeing the future. I was talking to Bill from Pulp 2.0 about the market, and joked that the Mayans got it wrong - cinema is dead *today*. I was talking to Bill by phone, because I skipped AFM completely on Sunday - wasn’t worth driving out there. Bill did drive out there, and said it wasn’t worth it.

I think the Hasbo thing, as much as I hate it, is the future of cinema. Instead of making a movie, we will be making something that can sell as a video game, comic book, webisodes, toys, online entity, and maybe a DVD - but the deal will have to encompass all of those things in order to get the financing to make them. The world of selling ancillary rights to movies is over - the *movie* is the ancillary product, now. Marvel and Hasbro run Hollywood. And as the indie films just die, and the grindhouse films get smaller and smaller, the only future I can see for genre movies is if they evolve the same way studio films are evolving and become part of some larger product... We will look back on Uwe Boll and consider him the cutting edge genius who could see the future - he’s already making bad video game movies.

There is no more cinema, there is only the film version of toys and the film version of comic books.

Welcome to Hollywood. The new Hollywood.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Characters ARE Relationships - and ALIENS meets BLACKHAWK DOWN.
Yesterday's Dinner: Grilled Ham & Swiss on Rye at home.
Bicycle: No... but should have.
Pages: Um, do these count?
London Blog Entries: 42,000 words = 168 typewritten pages. Crap! I should have written a script instead! Or *two*!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Issue Of Script

The new issue of Script Magazine is out now! Sherlock Holmes on the cover. My article is reporting from the Ameriacn Film Market on Worldwide Cool - making sure your script plays globally.

Script to Screen: Precious
When director Lee Daniels first read Sapphire’s novel Push, he immediately wanted to see the story come to life. However, trying to illustrate the abuse the protagonist suffers without earning the movie an NC-17 rating seemed almost impossible. Daniels and scribe Geoffrey Fletcher collaborated on an adaptation that would retain its dramatic impact and become a work of art on the screen.

Nicholas Meyer: The View From the Scribe
Some writers struggle in transitioning from one type of writing to another, but Nicholas Meyer has conquered many forms. Learn Meyer’s cross-format storytelling processes and what encouraged him to write his recent memoir, The View From the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.

Independents: Worldwide Cool
Visual storytelling, clever scenes, cool battles, emotional plot twists, vivid characters—all of these things and more can be found in the Chinese import Red Cliff. So, what can writers learn from this dynamic film about international box-office appeal and about writing across borders?

Small Screen: How I Met Your Mother
The broadcast-network sitcom How I Met Your Mother is enjoying its fifth season of success on CBS, along with a fervent fan following bolstered by interactive Web content. Writer-creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas explain how they combine team writing, nonlinear storytelling, and the best of their favorite shows to create characters we all want to hang out with.

Anything but Elementary: Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson have captivated audiences for more than 100 years. As Lionel Wigram, Michael Robert Johnson, Tony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg pieced together a new story for the famous duo, they balanced the needs of a modern audience with the wit and subversive charm of the source material.

Susie’s Story: The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones touched a chord when it was published seven years ago. The tale of a 14-year-old murder victim examined the complexities of grief and hope. After spending years navigating Middle-earth, Oscar®-winning screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson were ready to explore a less epic, more personal story. Here Walsh and Boyens discuss bringing Sebold’s novel to film.

Writers on Writing: Invictus
After leaving behind his home in South Africa to pursue his screenwriting career, Tony Peckham never thought he would be penning the story of a hero from his past: Nelson Mandela. Invictus’ central challenges were crafting an interesting protagonist when the real-life subject behaved as a saint, and making new the well-worn theme of sports as social politics.

Writer, Edit Thyself!
Reality check: Your final draft is most likely as bad as your first. Unless you’ve made self-editing and heavy revision a priority, you’re nowhere near completing a flawless script. Mystery Man offers advice on how to sculpt your masterpiece while maintaining objectivity and catering to your audience.

Under the Big Top
Equal parts innovator, diplomat, taskmaster and ringleader, the showrunner wears many hats. Responsible perhaps as much as any one person can be for a show, the showrunner must balance creative interests, network interests, and personal conviction—to wide and varied results.

Writers on Writing: The Messenger
Especially during wartime, no civilian can guess what emotions a soldier experiences on a day-to-day basis. Scribe Alessandro Camon tells how he and co-writer Oren Moverman decided to explore the private heartache some soldiers face as part of the “casualty notification” team.

Writers on Writing: The Informant!
Writer Scott Z. Burns delved deep into the journey of Mark Whitacre from federal agent to criminal, but thought it would do more harm than good to talk to Whitacre himself. Read how a bizarre history of crime became a comedy for the big screen ... and even received glowing endorsement from its subject.

- Bill

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

North By Northwest - 50th Anniversary!

The original plan for Monday was to see NORTH BY NORTHWEST on the big screen again as part of the AFI Fest - in celebration of the film's 50th Anniversary.

Think about that for a moment - that film is 50 years old! Hey, 1:30 minutes into the film, the protagonist is kidnaped at gun point and taken to be killed! I love how those old movies took their time to get to the story!

This is one of my favorite Hitchcock films - it's funny and fast paced and exciting.

Here's is a link to... The Birth Of Roger Thornhill.

And here is a link to... The Fridays With Hitchcock Entry For NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

- Bill


Monday, November 02, 2009

Publisher's Weekly Best of 2009 List!

So, yesterday I reviewed my friend Harry's first (published) novel CHILD OF FIRE... and today it was selected by Publisher's Weekly as one of the 5 Best Mass Market Novels of 2009. It's his first novel, and it beat out all of those books at the airport and supermarket and front displays at Barnes & Noble and Borders - those books by big famous best selling writers! (well, beat all but the other 4) (well, it was #4 on the list, so it beat out all but 3).

Big congratulations to Harry! If you read my review below, you know I really liked it and want to see what happens in the next book in the series. But Publisher's Weekly Best of 2009 List? Those guys know what they are talking about, I'm just some screenwriter who prowls used book stores looking for that missing Highsmith book I've never read. This is great news. Here's a link to the list, scroll down to Mass Market...

Publisher's Weekly Best Of 2009 List

The great thing about this is that Harry did not take no for an answer and kept writing, finding a place for his stories... not the big screen as it turned out, but a novel. Well, a series of novels. Well, a series of novels where the first one is one of the 5 Best mass market novels according to Publisher's Weekly.

- Bill

Friday, October 30, 2009

London 16C: Day 13 & 14 - Drinks & Airplanes (heading home)

So the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM, I shower and shave and zip up my suitcases and do a final room check (still not spotting that USB drive) and carry my luggage down the stairs (no lift) to the lobby and check out, and go stand in front of the hotel... at about 6:15. Damn - a prompt man is a lonely man!

The taxi arrives on time at 6:30 - actually a shuttle van - and the driver (a woman) tosses my suitcases in back, and we go to pick up the filmmakers. Except, it’s on the other side of London. We get to their hotel, and no one is standing out from, no one is in the lobby... no one seems ready to go to the airport. The driver calls dispatch to make sure she has the right address - she does - and makes sure she has the name correct. It’s two Japanese people - last name, Japanese, is not easy for the driver to pronounce. The driver sounds like she’s from Russia or Eastern Europe. She goes into the hotel, to the front desk, and asks where these people are. I am sitting in the shuttle van this whole time. Driver comes back - tells me the desk called up to the Japanese women’s room and they were getting ready to come down. We wait. We wait some more. We wait even longer. The driver is thinking about just leaving - I have a plane to catch. That’s when the two Japanese women with a whole cargo hold of luggage come out of the elevator. The bellman is pushing the overloaded cart, and he does not look happy. When he gets to the shuttle, he tells the Japanese women that he can’t unload the cart because he has a bad back. I’m thinking this guy’s a dick... but the Japanese women do nothing - they don’t even tough their small bags. The driver starts grabbing bags and putting them in the shuttle van. There are huge *boxes*, there are massive trunks that seem really heavy. She stacks them all in the van. The bellman gets no tip for loading up the cart. The two Japanese women get in the van, the driver races to the airport... and the women are putting on make up... then they crank the heater up to Hell and take a nap, while I’m sweating like crazy and nowhere near the heater controls.

Guess what? Their flight left before mine. So they were *really* not ready.

The driver gets them to their terminal, and unloads all of their stuff, including the heavy trunks... and the women want to know how their trunks and luggage will get from the curb to inside the airport. The driver points to some carts (free to use at Heathrow) and I think gets stiffed on a tip, then gets back in the van and takes me to my terminal. I tip her, give her a little extra to make up for the women, then drag my luggage into the airport where it costs more per bag to get them home than it did to bring them here.

In the waiting area for my flight, there’s a cute women near my age who is reading the Samuel French edition of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR. I want to strike up a conversation with her - I played Joe Cardin (male lead) in a community theater production while in high school - and it’s written by Hellman, who was Dash Hammett’s girlfriend. I could probably talk for hours about the play... but I say nothing. I’m tired and maybe still drunk and am afraid I’ll say something stupid. I’m never gonna find a girlfriend this way!

Several hours of absolute torture later - I am too tall for airplane seats - we land in New York where I have to go through customs, then recheck my luggage... then take this crazy shuttle bus to another terminal to catch the plane to LA - the bus driving too close to a runway where planes are landing for my taste. Kill time, they board the plane... and I find that I have the absolute worst seat on the plane - 22A - a window seat where there is no window. In fact there’s something in the wall, there, and instead on the indent between “ribs” it’s flat - meaning less headroom and less shoulder room. Probably not a problem unless you’re 6'4" tall - the most cramped seat I’ve ever been in - and my knees were mashed against the seat in front of me. Seriously - airlines need to tell you the maximum height for their seats, and have emergency exit and bulkhead seating prioritized for people who are too tall for their seats. Someone knows the maximum height number - let’s get that in print somewhere.

They close the plane door, and I realize I only have to be in this cramped position from New York to Los Angeles... when the plane loses all power. Something is wrong, and we haven’t even left the gate. Pilot comes on, says it’s a minor mechanical problem and a mechanic is on his way to fix it, so we’ll all just stay on the plane. Great - I don’t have a window and if the person in front of me leans back in their seat my kneecaps will snap off. It takes forever fo the mechanic to fix whatever is wrong. And we’re still on the plane, at the gate. Eventually it’s fixed. The plane takes off, and by they time we make it to Los Angeles and I take my shuttle home (I bought a round trip and had to make sure I knew where the receipt was the whole time I was in London and make sure I didn’t accidentally throw it away along with the receipt for those socks and British underpants) - and it’s *pouring rain* in Los Angeles - worse weather than in London - tip the driver and drag my luggage into my apartment, I have been traveling for almost 24 hours! Okay, sitting on an unmoving plane isn’t exactly “traveling”, but that took up a chunk of time. My refrigerator is empty. I walk to the store, buy some food, eat a frozen dinner, and go to sleep.

I have no idea how long I will sleep, but I’m hopping a plane to Hong Kong in 6 days, and Screenwriter’s Expo is in there somewhere. Of course, those are other adventures.

- Bill

London 16B: Day 13 & 14 - Drinks & Airplanes (drinks)

The thing I always forget about the Holborn station is that there are two exits on different streets. It’s not as bad as, say, Leicester Square where the exits are spread out on opposite sides of Charing Cross Road - no way to keep an eye on all of the exits there! But it’s a small problem. I stand at the main exit, figuring I not only have the best chance of being seen by someone leaving, but if someone exits on the other side and doesn’t see me they might check the main exit area. I don’t know who I missed, but I found most of the London regulars from past Drink With Bill nights, including the amazing English Dave... dressed in a suit! I almost didn’t recognize him!

I know English Dave from the Done Deal message boards, where he is witty and profane and combative and hysterical. He’s a TV writer in the UK, and he is constantly having run ins with idiot producers. Dave is a real character online, and when I first met him many Raindances ago, he lived up to his online persona. Somewhere back in the past on this blog, or maybe on my website messageboards that were kind of a blog before this, I have a story about one of the Drink With Bill nights where Dave shows up in a Hawaiian shirt and short pants - in London - and we drink until the pub closes at 11pm. Dave is a member of a club, so we can continue drinking... All we have to do is walk (or stagger) across central London to his club. We do this, and it seems like a long walk, even though I have since passed his club a few times sober and it’s really not that far from the Holborn Tube Station (at least by London walking standards). Well, we trek all the way to his club, where Dave tells the man at the door that he’s a member and pulls out his membership card and wants to bring all of the rest of us in as guests... and the guy at the door mentions to English Dave that there is a dress code, and loud Hawaiian shirts and short pants are not allowed. So we all staggered away, back to our various homes and hotels. So, the idea of Dave in a *suit* - what happened?

The other reason why it was great to see English Dave is because he seems to have disappeared. He left the Done Deal message boards in a huff years ago - some dope took was offended by something he said and started a flame war. Um, Dave is *funny* when he’s mean. You just have to laugh at that stuff, not get angry. Dave has a blog, it’s listed over there –> And that’s how I know that he got divorced, quit TV, got remarried, and wrote a novel... but his last blog entry was months ago. Was he still alive?

Yes, and a novelist and working as a consultant in a suit and tie for a while as the novel makes its way to market. As always, he told great stories. Paul & Wolfy talked about their script - the one they pitched at Live Ammunition Pitching Panel - and both wondered why I’m not doing classes to rooms filled with hundreds of people like McKee. The strange thing about Raindance this year is the number of people who have taken some class by me in the past who either have a film here or have come up after one of the free classes to tell me that they optioned or sold a script and some class I did in the past helped them. Maybe I’m selling myself short? The problem has always been - I don’t really want to be a teacher, I just want to write scripts. But maybe I need to find a way to really make both work. Right now the teaching this is completely half-assed. I haven’t done a class in Los Angeles for 3 years. I haven’t done the 2 day class for over 2 years *anywhere* - London was my return to teaching. These other guys teach for a living - I don’t want to do that. But what if I figured out a way to do 4 classes a year? That’s not much, still gives me time to write. Maybe come up with an online class like Max Adams has for people who can’t make it to a live class? I never really think about the classes until people start telling me how much they got out of one. Or I see some success stories with movies or books or working on some TV show.

Anyway, many Guineii were consumed and those damned people would not let me buy a round. That’s unfair! I’m getting smoke blown up my butt and getting drunk on their dime! Close to last call, a woman comes over to our table and tells us that we need to come with her immediately. I wonder if we’ve been too loud, but English Dave figures it out and starts making fun of this woman who is trying to kick us out! That’s when her drunken boyfriend comes over to fetch her - she’s just some drunk woman, not an employee of the pub.

Eventually it’s last call and an actual employee of the pub comes to tell us when we’ve finished our drinks it’s time to go. No staggering to Dave’s club tonight - even though he easily makes the dress code - he has a family to head home to. And it’s Monday night - tomorrow everyone has to go to work... and at 6:30 AM I have to be standing in front of the hotel for my taxi pick up.

Great to see all of the London folks and meet the new people, but now it’s time to stagger back to the hotel and finish packing.

At the hotel, I do the final bit of packing (except for the things I will need for tomorrow)... but what I don’t know then that I have since learned - a portable USB drive that had some materials for one of the 5 free classes that I’d had Elliot print out for me was on the desk with some other things. When I grabbed those things, I knocked the USB drive onto the floor... where it blended with the carpet. Didn’t notice this until after I returned and looked all over the place for it. Nothing critical on it, but a couple of things from an old computer I will now have to unbury from the closet-of-doom and fire up to download those items. Even though I have been back a couple of weeks, now, I still haven’t done that - lost of work for a couple of items. Problem is, I’m afraid I will forget about it and later panic when I can’t find those items on my current computer. Eventually I would figure it out, but when I really need something and it isn’t there, I tend to panic first and think much much later.

I'm tired and drunk and the alarm clock is going to go off a few hours drom now... I get some sleep!

- Bill

London 16A: Day 13 & 14 - Drinks & Airplanes (settling for less)

The morning after... and I feel fine. I go to the British Museum Starbucks to check my e-mail and get the blood-caffeine level up to Level Orange, then walk down to the Raindance office to talk to Elliot. Kind of dreading it. As much as I talk about conflict in scripts, I *hate* conflict in real life. I’d rather just avoid it. When I get to the office, I cool my heels for a while waiting for Elliot to finish what he’s doing, then he insist on taking me to a local café. Great - a public place. This is not looking good.

At the coffee shop, we have this innocuous conversation that seems to waltz around what he thinks he owes me and what I think he owes me. We talk about how much he wants me to come back next year and I mention how small the class is and how it would be nice to have some advertizing... or at least for them to tell me there will be no advertizing so that I can take care of that myself. I also mention that I think the 5 (FIVE!) Free classes undercut the weekend class - when a waiter serves you 5 trays of free hors d’oeuvres, then asks what you’d like to order for dinner, you probably have already had enough to eat. I bring up all of my problems politely... even timidly... trying not to create much conflict. Elliot says that preparing for the film festival, and all of the problems along the way this year (sponsors dropping out, cinema chains dropping out, etc) turned my class into less than a footnote - and he apologized for that. He wants me to come back next year at some time other than the fest to do my class... and we talk about some ways to insure a larger turn out. We also talk about some sort of deal where I would license my CDs for him to sell in the UK and give me a royalty. Seems he’s already done a test run and sold them., and he owes me $100. We leave the café so that he can show me a place that manufactures CDs for bands - and I keep thinking I haven’t pushed hard enough and we haven’t discussed payment at all.

We look at the CD stuff, swell, and I hint that I’d like to look over the numbers and see what is owed me. And Elliot says, “Of course” and we go back to the office... where we began. I am now ready to push hard to get my money - to argue and fight... but Elliot doesn’t need to be pushed. He apologizes again for the small turnout, and has one of the staff run up the numbers (without me seeing them).

Now, Elliot has told me that a majority of the class came in at half off - the made that deal to film fest pass holders... and just about anyone who would ask. I have done the math for 50% of the class price times the number of students... and I need most of that just to end up with *half* of what they usually pay me. And that’s my number - half of what they usually pay me. Usually there are 50 people in the class, this time... um, less than a third of that. So I may have to fight for my number, because it may leave them with nothing. The staff member totals what they’ve been paid, subtracts taxes, subtracts the room rate, and gives the page to Elliot... who says my exact number. Plus the $100 for the CDs they made and sold. I say, “Deal” and they pay me. Oh, and I find the envelope from the CD sales - $40 - and note that there are about 6 CDs left, and I say they can keep ‘em and sell ‘em.

We talk some more about the CD thing and ways to increase the class size and then I thank Elliot and the entire Raindance staff for a great festival and for helping me sell the CDs and have a great time at the fest. In all honesty, had the deal been teach 5 free classes and get to attend the film festival, I would have been happy. I had a great time and got to see a whole bunch of movies for free.

On the way out, I notice the piece of paper with the numbers... and realized Elliot had split the profits with me! Most people had paid full price, and even with the poor turn out, Raindance had made money off the class! Real, tangible money!

So, the Elliot part of this story had a happy ending. Not a great ending, because I only got paid half of what I usually get, but Elliot paid me what he agreed to pay me without any real problem. I think in retrospect, all of the evasiveness was due to him feeling bad that my class had fallen through the cracks while planning the film festival.

Before I leave they mention that they have a taxi that will take me to the airport tomorrow morning - it’s picking up a film maker and I’m on the way, so I have a free trip to the airport and don’t have to get up early and take the tube... except in order to pick up the filmmaker and to allow for traffic, the taxi will pick me up at 6:30am. Swell.

Because by now it’s close to dinner time, and I’m near that great fish & chips place on Poland Street, I decide to go there again. Once more, great food and great service. Not some little pieces of fish, this was like a huge whole fish! A giant serving of fries. And the homemade tartar sauce was great a second time. Once I’d finished dinner I had to get to a Starbucks to check e-mail and put up a blog entry. Mostly to check e-mail, because some stranger might be coming tonioght and have questions. Though I did a search on pubs near Holborn Tube Station and found one that got great marks that we had not been to in the past, and listed it on the blog, I had also mentioned in that blog entry that I would add more details later... and never got around to it. Though the meeting location and drinking location and time were not going to change, someone might e-mail to ask if it was still on. I needed to answer e-mails...

Except after buying my coffee (no milk!) I discovered the BT Online at this Starbucks was not working. Hey, there’s a Starbucks every other block in London, so I carried my drink to the next Starbucks. BT Online also not working here. After trying a half dozen Starbucks, it was obvious that the system was down... and obvious that I had better run back to the hotel to do a quick packing job before I jogged over to the Holborn Tube Station to drink with friends and strangers.

In my hotel room I do a quick pack - but run out of time and some things will have to be packed when I come back that night. Off to Holborn.

- Bill

Thursday, October 29, 2009

London 15C: Day 11 & 12 - Class & I find a Girlfriend (Party)

There are so many people crowded to get into the club for the closing night party - hundreds of them - that Suzanne suggests we get a coffee while waiting for the line to die down. Next door to the club - a late night donut shop! A strange thing in London. In the USA we have donut shops all over (some sections of the Valley seem to have a donut store in a strip mall on every single block!), but other parts of the world have no donuts at all. Donuts are an American invention - a relic of the Great Depression. Deep fried dough was about the cheapest thing you could eat. Odd that even after the depression was over, people had developed a taste for them and they stuck around... though very few people during this financial downturn can afford a dozen Krispy Kremes.

We drink coffee and I eat *two* donuts, trying to absorb some of that wine before adding beer to it. The huge heavy bag is dragging me down, but I’m stuck with it. The donuts are dry - yesterday’s donuts, or maybe donuts made at 6am that day. They donuts are like me - should have been retired hours ago.

After we’re finished with our coffees, there is no line outside the club, so we show our ticket stubs and go in... where the crowd is. As usual, music turned up to ear-bleed, so many people packed into the room that you can’t turn around without hitting someone (and the heavy bag clips a bunch of people) and the line for drinks at the bar? Well, imagine those hundreds of people waiting for drinks! Janet and Suzanne and I split up and stand in different lines... and the race is on! I don’t think I win. But I do get some pilsner. This club is decorated Middle Eastern, so I guess they don’t serve Guiness. After we get our drinks we yell over the music to each other and I say hello to some of the Raindance staff people and some of the film makers and audience members I’d come to know. There is no place to sit - so we stand. As we get to the bottoms of our drinks, we discover that out ticket stubs *also* get us a free drink - from sponsor Absolute Vodka - Vodka mixed with... something. Hell, it’s free so we all stand in line again and snag another drink. I think they were supposed to take our tickets to prevent us from getting a second free drink, but they don’t do this - all of us still have our tickets. Though, I wouldn’t discover that until an hour later...

Because after getting my drink, I lost Janet and Suzanne in the crowded night club.

This really isn’t a problem - it’s a *party* - so I try to mingle as I casually wander through various sections of the club looking for them. A bunch of people come up to tell me how funny the steel cage match joke was (I could not tell if they’d been drinking before the awards ceremony) and most asked if I was an actor, because I had a good voice. Conversation after conversation... and then I find myself talking to the producer of REDLANDS and wondering if she had read my review and was about to poison my drink... but we just talked - I congratulated them on winning Best Debut Feature, and then said I had to split to find my friends (before she could ask me what I thought of her film, which I did not like). I finally found Janet and Suzanne, and they had found a place to sit. Just one place, so we took turns. We all had our tickets, and wondered if we could get another free drink - the bar line was only a couple of people.

One more free drink, but they took our tickets this time. Probably for the best, because Absolute was the sponsor, not whatever they were mixing it with, and the drinks were *strong*. I was glad I had those two stale donuts. After drinking most of the second drink, I’m floating. Janet and Suzanne skip to the loo, and I notice the Tall American Girl in the corner with a group of Raindance people, and wander over to say hello.

Though she was polite, for some reason she was not interested in a fat drunk guy probably twice her age who was hitting on her with zero subtlety. I wonder why? After saying goodbye, I went back to where Janet and Suzanne were standing and realized I’d made a complete ass of myself. I’m sure I wasn’t the first fat old drunk creep that hit on the Tall American Girl, but it was depressing as hell to think that I was the last. (Wait... is that some other guy talking to her now... hey, I *wasn’t* the last!) Janet suggested I try computer dating - but that’s not really the solution. I must actually find the time in my schedule to get out and find some woman to take to London next time I’m here. Every time I do something cool like this, I’m doing it alone. I need to fix that. And not with an escort who does nothing but talk about investment strategies.

Janet and Suzanne left, I talked to some of the filmmakers for a little while longer, then realized I needed to stagger back to the hotel and stagger up the stairs and get some sleep. Tomorrow would be my last day in London, and I had to settle accounts with Elliot and then head over to Holborn Tube Station to meet friends and total strangers for Drink With Bill In London Night. Great... I’m going to have to make my deal with Elliot hung over.

- Bill

London 15B: Day 11 & 12 - Class & I find a Girlfriend (Girlfriend)

After racing across town and over-shooting the restaurant by a block, I get there just in time, Suzanne and Janet are drinking wine so I order a large glass to dial down the caffeine... This is my first meal of the day, and the glass of Bordeaux I drink before we are served hits me hard. Great, I’m an easy drunk. So I order another glass to go with my meal.

I mention to Janet and Suzanne my fears that once Elliot has subtracted all of the expenses that I will go home with empty pockets. I brought a bag of CDs to sell, and that’s what I’ve been paying for meals and coffee and everything else with. I only brought a small bag of CDs because I was afraid of my bag being deemed “heavy” and the airline charges me not only for the bag, but an overweight fee as well. So I brought half of the CDs I usually bring - not knowing that they would not give me any per diem money - they always have in the past. London is not a cheap place to eat and drink. Though they are covering my hotel room, I have to pay for any phone calls, room service, and leave a tip for the maids who insisted on bringing me new towels every day, or a three page letter explaining where I could get towels if I needed them. Now, Raindance has been great about the CDs - I’ve been leaving them with an envelope for money at the T shirt & Poster table at the Raindance Café Bombshelter, and they have been selling them for me. I’ve taken no inventory, and take the money every night (so that I can buy coffee in the morning), so I’m just trusting them. The Raindance Café Bombshelter closed - with a handful of CDs and my money envelope being carted back to the Raindance Office (I hope) - but most of the CDs have sold, and my wallet is not brimming with cash. *Starbucks* wallets may be brimming with cash, though. I have what translates to maybe $300 left in my wallet after I pay the restaurant bill and take out the rest of my expenses for the stay - and would hate to think that’s all I will make after teaching 5 free classes and talking for 2 full days for the weekend class.

Janet has sent me all of the mailing list stuff she gets as a member of numerous film and writing groups - and none are promoting the 2 day class (though all have stuff about the 5 free classes). I discuss my plan of action - the 5 classes were part of the film festival. My airfare and hotel? Part of the film festival. That will not count against the weekend class. The only expense for the weekend class is that dungeon room. Janet and Suzanne think that sounds fair, and both tell me not to back down.

After the food comes, we eat and talk and laugh and then it’s time to go to the big closing night movie...


Before the movie starts, Elliot grabs me and asks if I would like to hand out the Best Foreign Film Award. Well, sure - wish I’d known, I would have dressed for it. He looks at my cinema tickets - I’m in the wrong cinema. The closing night film is playing on three screens, and Janet, Suzanne, and I are in one of the small cinemas. Elliot says he’ll trying to get me a ticket for the big cinema - where the awards will be. I say - hey, we need *three* tickets. I expect that will be the end of that, and someone else will hand out the BFFA - but one of the Raindance staff grabs me in the lobby and swaps out three tickets for three tickets in the main cinema. I jog up stairs to the men’s room to comb my hair and make sure I don’t have food on my face. I’m also feeling the wine a little... swell, I’m handing out awards hammered!

Our three seats are in the front row, and we watch close up as people collect their awards, then Elliot announces me, and I jump up to read the nominees, give the big dramatic pause, then announce the winner.

Except, when I open the envelope there are *two winners* - a tie! I announce both, then mention that both film makers will battle to the death in a steel cage match to see who goes home with the actual award. Gets a big laugh (everyone else must have had wine with their dinner, too) and 25 CARATS was not there, but an actor from MY SUICIDE is - in a mask - and races up to accept their half of the award. After all of the awards have been handed out, the movie begins...

MOVIE: THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE - USA - No, Soderbergh was not in attendance. Too bad, because that would have made it a much better evening. The film is non-chron, jumping all over the place... but the story just goes no place. It’s one of Soderbergh’s pocket change experimental films, and there isn’t a story to be seen. Escort (read: high class hooker) lives with a guy who is a personal trainer. He accepts her job, as long as it’s just sex. But when she develops feelings for a client (with no scenes to demonstrate this, by the way) the personal trainer guy gets jealous and leaves. Wow! That almost sounds like a plot! It’s that writer thing again - you try to make sense of nonsense and turn it into a story. Mostly, the film is a bunch of unrelated scenes with the same characters - often talking about the stock market crash and how their investments sure took a hit! When Soderbergh throws chronology out the window in a well plotted script like THE LIMEY is works really well, because we have that revenge plot to hold on to. We can sort the scenes by the plot and it all makes sense and is interesting. With something like GIRLFRIEND that has no plot, the non-chron thing becomes confusing... except it really isn’t confusing, because that would require that you *cared* about the story and characters, and here we don’t give a damn about any of them. Imagine making the life of a hooker boring! Lesson: Balance again - if the story is soft and not focused, the way you tell the story has to be strong and focused. You can’t have a fuzzy story and a fuzzy way of telling it, or you end up with nothing but fuzz. Opening night movie HUMPDAY was a million times better than GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE.

After the film, there’s a party down the street. *Not* at TYGER TYGER this time. They tell us our ticket stub is our ticket in. Okay - imagine three sold out cinemas walking down the sidewalk to the same place at the same time. Hundreds of people!

TO BE CONTINUED (in about 2 hours)

- Bill
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