Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zombies Invade Austin & With A Melon?

Yes, those clever zombies are back again. This time they are attacking Austin, TX... but at least it's being controlled:


And NBC has rejected a commercial from PETA for the Super Bowl. PETA asked NBC what it would take for the commercial to air. NBC suggested the following cuts be made:

:12- :13- licking pumpkin

:13- :14- touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli

:19- pumpkin from behind between legs

:21- rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin

:22- screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)

:23- asparagus on her lap appearing as if it is ready to be inserted into vagina

:26- licking eggplant

:26- rubbing asparagus on breast

- Bill

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Sides Of Stubborn

Emily over at Bamboo Killers will probably kill me for this, but you need to go over and read her new blog entry...

Bamboo Killers - Making A New Me

It is a great lesson in *screenwriting* even though it's all about her adventures as a high school teacher. One of the good things and bad things about most of us trying to make a living putting words in actor's mouths is that we're stubborn. That is a great character trait when everyone is telling us we'll never make it in this business - we stick with it. But also can be a problem when we hit a hurdle we can't make it over, and keep trying to do it the same way again and again and it doesn't work.

The great W. C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it."

But Emily has the better solution - if what you are doing isn't working, try doing something else. We all stick by our guns and resist changing... but changing is often the way we solve our problems. Great to be stubborn and stick it out when everyone tells you that you don't have a chance in hell, but not great to be stubborn when your method isn't working. Time to back up, look at what you are doing and see if there is a better way... even if that better way may be something you don't like. Like the kids in Emily's class who hate doing school work, the road to success isn't only doing what you like doing, it's doing what will be best for you in the long run. Sometimes you won't like doing it, but it's what has to be done.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Doing That Indie Thing which was a new tip last year at this time..
Yesterday’s Dinner: brown bagged it on my bike.
Pages: Finished and turned in the rewrite on the remake project, now writing some new tips and working on this country western bar spec.
Bicycle: After three weeks of not riding over the holidays plus a week of iffy weather when I returned, I rode to Eric's store opening... then we had a week of rain... and I rode yesterday and have sore legs today. So, I'm back on the bike today - doing a subway/bike excursion into Hollywood for a ScreamFest mixer.

Another one of my movies attacks England...

UK's M4M - Wednesday 28th - 10:45 - Black Thunder -When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

You have been warned.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Home For The Holidays Recap (part 2)

I was going to do blog entries over the holidays, but just never really got around to it. Instead I did all kinds of other things, including a bunch of new Script Tips. So here is the capsule version in two parts...


Part of the holidays is spending time with old friends, and this year that focused on our movie project. Before I even went home, I sent Van and John an e-mail reminding them of the project so that they could be thinking about it before our first meeting. I decided to change the logline slightly, to make it a more dramatic situation.

Building Contractor Dave Jackson checks into a San Francisco hotel for his second honeymoon... without his wife. She's just begun divorce proceedings against him. He's alone in the city. A knock at the door. When Jackson answers, no one there. Just a manila envelope. Inside the envelope: A man's photo, several bundles of hundred dollar bills, and a 357 Magnum. Jackson realizes the envelope has been delivered to the wrong room... And the hit man is after him! Caught between hitman and victim, regular guy Dave Jackson must fight to survive.

In the earlier version he was in the hotel for a class reunion, which doesn’t make as much sense as the second honeymoon thing... and getting dumped by your wife also makes for a juicy opening scene.

Now, our meetings work like this: we meet in some restaurant, have dinner, see a movie, then head to a bar and talk about the project... and anything else. John and Van both have experience making short films, and Van has DPed some features, and one of the great things about this project is that we already have some equipment and access to some of the things we will need - and we are making lists of things we have or can get to increase production value along with story ideas. Sometimes these are the same thing - if someone has access to a cool location, that location may spark a scene. For me (the guy who has to write this) the most important things are the cliffhangers - we need 11 of them. This is a multiple experiment: Though the main reason for making this film is probably just to have a good time with old friends, I also have a bunch of articles on writing on a budget and tricks for making a low budget project look like a big budget film, and I’m gong to fold that into a book on making your own film... and it would be stupid of me not to have actually done it. So making this movie is research for that book - so I’ll be writing some new articles that will take the film from planning stages to the shelf at Blockbuster (hopefully). But the other part of the experiment is “new media”. It’s being written as a 12 part web series, so that I can learn about that and include it in the book. You guys will probably get some of this before anyone else as blog entries. But the key to the webisodes are strong cliff hangers at the end of each episode - I’m modeling this after the old movie serials and kind of after the TV show 24. But the cliffhangers are the tough part, so much of our meetings (when we aren’t just hanging out) is trying to figure out those 11 cliffhangers.

Well, John and Van are completely different types. John is someone who thinks over a situation before he acts... Van acts first, thinks later. John is funny because he will start to say something, then stop mid sentence to think, then complete his sentence (or, stop again after a few words). Van just blurts stuff out. So at our first meeting, John says almost nothing about the stuff I’ve e-mailed him. Van is coming up with crazy ideas that make no sense. “What if the guy goes back to the hotel, and his wife’s super-hot friend is there, and they have wild monkey sex... then his wife walks in!” “Okay, Van, but why would he go back to the hotel if he knows that’s where the hit man is staying?” “He forgets his keys? Hey, maybe he *knows* the super-hot friend will be there?” John just sits there - maybe thinking.

Van’s idea ended up being great... because it sparked a better idea (from me) - since this hotel room was supposed to be for a second honeymoon/anniversary thing, what if the *wife* shows up at the hotel to make up with him? And the hit man captures her? Okay, that’s a cliff hanger! It also sets up a scene where the hit man uses the wife to lure the hero into a trap - which can be another cliff hanger!

Meanwhile, nothing from John on the story stuff from the e-mail.


One of the things about being home for the holidays is seeing how much everything has changed. Back in the old days, John, Van and I would probably be drinking in TR’S BAR & GRILL in Concord. The downtown section of Concord had become a slum - pawn shops and sleazy bars and dirty and ugly. So the city decided to renovate the area a few decades back. The big concern was the old bank building, which was built in the 20s or 30s and looks just like those banks they rob in 1930s gangster movies. It was a cool building... then a pawn shop. But when they kicked out the pawn shop, TR’s moved in, and went with the old building motif. They put in an upscale bar and restaurant that looked like something from the 20s or 30s - wood and leather and all kinds of Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia like dead animal heads that watched you drink. (Yes, I know Roosevelt was dead by the 1920s, but this was an old bank building, not a log cabin in the woods.) The great thing about TR’s was that it was both an upscale bar and a neighborhood bar. The Old Hideout Bar down the street was a really low end neighborhood bar where all of Concord’s drunks congregated. When they closed that to put up some more reputable business, the drunks moved down to TR’s... and were not kicked out. This gave the place lots of atmosphere - it was like a speakeasy, with wealthy clientele sitting next to people who spent the better part of the day drinking. And the drunks were always on their best behavior at TR’s - because they *would* be booted if they caused trouble. So they didn’t bother anyone, but would add their 2 cents to any sports or political debate; and were respectful of everyone else in the bar. TR’s was a great place to just drink, or to take a date you want to impress for dinner. A fun place...

And now it’s gone. A pizza joint has taken it’s place, and that once beautifully rebuilt downtown section seems to be taking the slow slide back to crummy. Give it a decade, there may be a pawnshop back in the bank building.

The other big change is John’s Theatre has been closed down by the city of Pleasant Hill and may be bulldozed. I know Van from the Film Appreciation Class at Diablo Valley College and even though John also took that class I mostly know him through the acting classes at DVC and the guy who ran the theatre program, Les Abbott. John is an actor who makes movies, and has remained involved with community theatre. One of the oldest buildings in Pleasant Hill (next door to Concord) is the old school house, and it had fallen into disrepair, so the city was looking for people to help renovate it and use it as a city building. The theatre company John was involved with, Onstage (my sister was a musician in their first show, directed by Les) was looking for a home... and was a perfect fit for the old school house. John (building contractor by day) built a beautiful 99 seat theatre inside the old schoolhouse, and for 20 years they’ve been doing shows there. In fact, they often have a New Year’s Eve party that I’m invited to as a friend of the theatre. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was appearing in a show at the school house theatre... as a TV announcer who interacts with people on stage when they turn on the TV. This year they didn’t have a New Year’s Eve party because they didn’t a theatre, the city of Pleasant Hill has closed the building because it’s potentially unsafe because it is old. Um, yeah. It’s a historical building. Of course it’s old. They found some sort of code violation, which John offered to repair... but something is going on behind the scenes and they declined his offer and shut the theatre. It’s a shame, because it’s the only place to see live plays in town, and they really try to do something interesting and different instead of the same old community theatre musical crap.


So, John, Van and I had a couple more meetings on the project, and Van kept coming up with crazy ideas, and John kept coming up with nothing. I was getting worried - I needed John to come up with some great ideas, if nothing else, so that he would have some of his story material in the screenplay. I want this to be *our* project, not *my* project. One of our meetings, John does come up with a potential actress, and we also talk about some locations... but not enough to balance Van’s crazy-creative ideas.

Because the Onstage New Years’s Eve party is canceled, and Van (who is some sort of unexplainable chick magnet) is going to be without a date on NYE, the three of us decide to do the usual NYE thing... which is pretty much what we’ve already been doing. Many times the three of us have done the bachelor New Year’s Eve...

One memorable year, San Francisco decided to have this big free outdoor concert with fireworks. Cool! On New Years Eve, the BART trains run until 3am, so everyone takes the train to avoid driving drunk. So that year our plan was to eat dinner, see a movie, then find a cheap bar and have a bunch of drinks - because the free concert was no alcohol, and there were police searching everybody’s bags and patting you down for weapons. We did all of the above, but hit a snag when it came to cheap bars - on New Year’s Eve even the worst bar hires a band and has a hefty cover charge. We ended up walking halfway across the city until we found a restaurant with a bar that had no cover charge. After drinking, we made our way to the concert area, went through the search (they didn’t find the booze inside us) and discovered that everyone else got their way early... and we were too far away from the music to hear any of it. Place was so crowded you couldn’t *move*, let alone get to the porta-potties. You had to plan your piss about 2 hours in advance to give you time to get there. And somehow, people got booze past the police. In one case, I saw a guy pull a bottle out of the bottom of a trash can - he had hidden it there in the morning! We stayed for the midnight fireworks, then split and found a bar for a last couple of drinks... then I went down to the BART station (subway) to hop a train back to Concord. The station is packed almost as tight as the concert was... hundreds of people! And the trains come... full of passengers... and the doors don’t open. They just zoom away. Then a couple of empty trains zoom past without stopping. People are getting angry. Finally, just before the riot starts, a train comes and opens it’s doors and we cram in. Now we have a full train - overflowing almost. And this train zooms past other stations without stopping, and I get it. The BART train goes *under* the Bay. When they had the earthquake, the bridges went down, the BART tunnels were completely unharmed. But it’s a long ride underground... with a bunch of really drunk people... and one of them pukes. On the far end of the train car. But a chain reaction starts - you know how it is - and suddenly everyone is puking. By the time we reach Oakland, the floor of the train is a river. Yech! Problem is, Concord is end of the line, and I have to ride this puke train all the way there. When the train banks on corners, the river flows one way. When the train comes to a stop, the river flows another way. Yech! It takes everything I’ve got not to add to the river. I finally get home, and want to burn my shoes. Worst train ride ever.

This year, no concert. You see, it rains in San Francisco, making an outdoor concert silly. They still have fireworks, though, but we’re gonna ditch them. The plan is - dinner, movie, drinks. And we have a great plan. One year we went to this cool and usually crowded sports bar near the Metreon Cinemas, and found out the danged place closes at 9pm on New Year’s Eve! You see, they let their employees have the night off to go to parties. So what that means is that no one goes there on New Year’s Eve, and it’s pretty easy to get in... you have your pick of tables. Then the movie - again, people are partying so you can pick whatever seat you want. After that comes the hard part - finding a bar in San Francisco without a cover charge and some live band blasting music so loud we can’t talk. But Van knows about this bar in Chinatown, where they have a *different* New Year’s Eve (I think it’s today). And this bar has a ton of character - it’s a landmark kind of place, one of the oldest bars in the city, and a neighborhood bar filled with Chinese drunks... and enough other people know about it that there are always a group of hot gals who end up there on New Year’s Eve and some college kids who go there to avoid the crowds. The best/worst thing about this place is you go down a bunch of flights of stairs into some sub-sub-sub basement that seems to be miles below street level to get to the restrooms. Keeps you in shape.

So we start at the sports bar... and who shows up but Janet Englebert and her boyfriend! I went to high school with Janet, we were in a bunch of plays together, and I had a major crush on her. The great thing about being the heterosexual guy in the high school drama department is that you often get to see girls in their underwear doing quick costume changes backstage. Okay, this is probably getting pervy, so I’ll get back to New Year’s Eve... I haven’t seen Janet in decades! She starred in one of my super-8mm movies, playing the Grace Kelley role from HIGH NOON in my FISTFUL OF MOZZARELLA movie, and Van played the Man With No Social Security Number (male lead). He’s kept in contact with her all of these years, and invited her and her boyfriend along. Janet brought a bunch of pictures of me from one of the high school shows - it didn’t look anything like me. It was great to see that stuff again. We talked about the old days, and all of the people we went to school with back then. Here’s the thing - Janet hasn’t changed a bit. She looks exactly like she did in the photos.

From there we went to different movies, and John, Van and I went to Chinatown while Janet and her boyfriend went somewhere else. The bartender in the Chinatown bar is a character, and bought us a couple of rounds. We talked a little about the movie, but again - John just wasn’t coming up with anything and Van was coming up with crazy ideas that might have worked if we were doing a sci-fi film.


Our last dinner & drinks meeting didn’t have a movie. Van doesn’t just know every hole in the wall bar, he knows ever hole in the wall place to eat. I have eaten some of the best meals I’ve ever had at places in the Bay Area that Van knows about. Probably the best breakfast I have ever eaten was as this neighborhood place in Oakland that served home fries that were amazing. So, Van had just been paid for a job and had this Italian restaurant he wanted to go to - called Jackson Filmore - which is the cross streets where it’s located. The food was great, reasonably priced, and the waiters were great. Afterwards, Van asked what kind of bar we would like to go to - a fancy place, or a dive? We picked dive - and it was a great neighborhood Tiki Bar place. Great atmosphere and cheap beer - what more could you want?

So, we start talking about the movie project, and I finally ask John if he has any ideas... and he says, “I would if I knew what the story was.” Seems his spam filter had been removing all of the e-mails I had been sending him. Van was getting them, John was not. So we spent the last night the three of us were together to discuss the movie project telling John what the movie project *was*.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: All About Running Gags old tip from 2001, completely rewritten.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco chicken, black beans, corn.
Pages: Working on the rewrite of the remake project.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oscar Nominations

Best Picture: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire."

Adapted Screenplay: Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; John Patrick Shanley, "Doubt"; Peter Morgan, "Frost/Nixon"; David Hare, "The Reader"; Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire."

Original Screenplay: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"; Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"; Martin McDonagh, "In Bruges"; Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"; Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, "WALL-E."

Actor: Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"; Frank Langella, "Frost/Nixon"; Sean Penn, "Milk"; Brad Pitt, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler."

Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"; Angelina Jolie, "Changeling"; Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"; Meryl Streep, "Doubt"; Kate Winslet, "The Reader."

Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"; Robert Downey Jr., "Tropic Thunder"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Doubt"; Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"; Michael Shannon, "Revolutionary Road."

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, "Doubt"; Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"; Viola Davis, "Doubt"; Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Marisa Tomei, "The Wrestler."

Director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"; Ron Howard, "Frost/Nixon"; Gus Van Sant, "Milk"; Stephen Daldry, "The Reader"; Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire."

Foreign Film: "The Baader Meinhof Complex," Germany; "The Class," France; "Departures," Japan; "Revanche," Austria; "Waltz With Bashir," Israel.

Animated Feature Film: "Bolt"; "Kung Fu Panda"; "WALL-E."

Art Direction: "Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "The Duchess," "Revolutionary Road."

Cinematography: "Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "The Reader," "Slumdog Millionaire."

Sound Mixing: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Slumdog Millionaire," "WALL-E," "Wanted."

Sound Editing: "The Dark Knight," "Iron Man," "Slumdog Millionaire," "WALL-E," "Wanted."

Original Score: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Alexandre Desplat; "Defiance," James Newton Howard; "Milk," Danny Elfman; "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman; "WALL-E," Thomas Newman.

Original Song: "Down to Earth" from "WALL-E," Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman; "Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Gulzar; "O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire," A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam.

Costume: "Australia," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Duchess," "Milk," "Revolutionary Road."

Documentary Feature: "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)," "Encounters at the End of the World," "The Garden," "Man on Wire," "Trouble the Water."

Documentary (short subject): "The Conscience of Nhem En," "The Final Inch," "Smile Pinki," "The Witness — From the Balcony of Room 306."

Film Editing: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire."

Makeup: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."

Animated Short Film: "La Maison en Petits Cubes," "Lavatory — Lovestory," "Oktapodi," "Presto," "This Way Up."

Live Action Short Film: "Auf der Strecke (On the Line)," "Manon on the Asphalt," "New Boy," "The Pig," "Spielzeugland (Toyland)."

Visual Effects: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Iron Man."

Academy Award winners previously announced this season:

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (Oscar statuette): Jerry Lewis

Gordon E. Sawyer Award (Oscar statuette): Pixar Animation co-founder Ed Catmull

Hey, where's the Batman?

How come Mike Leigh keeps getting screenplay noms for improvised movies?

What are your favorites?

I'm really glad Richard Jenkins was nommed for VISITOR, he's one of those actors who have been in a million movies & TV shows and is always good. But VISITOR is really his movie, and it's hard to imagine some other actor pulling that off. He found out about his nomination when he got a phone call - he wasn't watching TV because he knew he didn't reallyhave a chance with a small movie that opened at the start of the year and is now forgotten. Surprise!

I was also surprised they didn't nom DARK KNIGHT best picture - I like BATMAN BEGINS much better, but worse films have been nominated (and won) and the awards show might have actually found some viewers this year. Or WALL-E, which made a bunch of critic's #1 spot on their top ten films. The Oscars are an Awards SHOW. Here's a link to my ideas for fixing the Oscars from last year: Fixing Oscar.

- Bill

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Presidents On Film

From DAVE, screenplay by Gary Ross...

"If you've ever seen the look on somebody's face the day they finally get a job, I've had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it's about respect, it's about looking in the mirror and knowing that you've done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don't really know how much you can do until you, stand up and decide to try."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Deja Vu All Over Again!

- Bill

PS: M4M2 Jan 18 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.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Remebering Bob Wilkins

Bob Wilkins passed away a couple of days ago from alzheimers disease. He had been suffering for several years, so it was probably a blessing that he was finally released from whatever pain he may have had. Though it is always a tragedy when someone has alzheimers, when someone was a quick wit like Bob Wilkins, it seems especially tragic. Wilkins was another of those people who influenced who I am today... and he may have been one of the earliest influences (right after my 6th grade teacher Bob Olson... but Bob Wilkins was *famous*).

By now most of you are wondering just who the hell Bob Wilkins was?

If you grab your TV remote and click around the stations, you will probably find nothing but network stuff. Even after the merger of UPN and WB into CW, the stations that were left behind got gobbled up by Fox as part of that Telenovela experiment that failed, and now is My Network. Except for the news, you probably won’t find any locally generated programs. But back when I was a kid and dinosaurs ruled the earth, there were actual *independent* TV stations that created their own local TV shows. Every city had them, and big cities probably had more than one. Small towns may have even had them, but living halfway between Oakland and Stockton, we got our TV shows from one city or another.

Our big VHF (2-13) independent station was KTVU 2 out of Oakland. Though they probably had a syndicated show or two, mostly everything on channel 2 was homegrown. They made their own kid shows: Miss Pat’s Playroom was the little kid’s activity show where you would bend and stretch and reach for the stars and color pictures and do other creative things, and then there was an older kid’s hosted cartoon show, like Charlie & Humphrey. There was a cooking show and a dance show in the afternoon where they’s play the latest records. But the staple of KTVU was movies, and you always had to know the Count & Amount in case the phone rang during Dialing For Dollars in the afternoon... hosted by Pat McCormick (the weatherman). There was also the 8 O’clock movie, followed by the Don Sherwood Show - our local version of The Tonight Show hosted by radio comedian Don Sherwood (who was Chief Santa - the Native American Santa Claus - during the holiday season). And on Saturday nights, there was CREATURE FEATURES with Bob Wilkins.

Wilkins had begun the show on the NBC affiliate out of Sacramento, KCRA, and that’s where I first watched it... but when he moved to KTVU the show really took off.

CREATURE FEATURES would usually begin with Bob Wilkins in his yellow rocking chair, smoking a big cigar, and warning the audience that tonight's movie was so bad, you don't have to wait for commercial breaks to go to the bathroom. Go anytime, you won't miss anything good. I kind of swiped that for my Action book when I talk about pacing and the Bladder Buster movie. Bob Wilkins usually didn't show Bladder Busters...

Every city’s independent station had a horror host, but Bob Wilkins was different. He didn’t wear a costume, he wasn’t trying to be scary... he was kind of like Woody Allen. He wore glasses, dressed like school teacher, and didn’t have any horror props - no coffins or headstones. He had a quick wit - a dry wit - and would say the funniest things about the films during commercial breaks. Better than Mystery Science Theater comments. In a way, his method was more Hitchcock than Elvira - he’d have some joke or skit or something between film segments that was usually more entertaining than the films. That's when you didn't want to go to the bathroom - when the movie wasn't on and Bob Wilkins was. The commercial breaks were why you watched CREATURE FEATURES.

"Our second film is Monster From the Ocean Floor. This movie is so bad that it was delivered to Channel 2 in a brown paper bag. When we're through showing it tonight, it will be part of a garage sale in Alameda tomorrow."

The films were a great mix of good and bad. He showed all of the Japanese monster movies like GODZILLA, MOTHRA, and RODAN... and his comments about these films made you love them *because* of their faults. These days I have a love for movies so bad they’re good - and I owe that to Wilkins. He showed me (and everyone else watching) that a cheesy movie could be fun. The worse the film, the better his jokes about it. And when he wasn’t showing movies featuring Japanese guys in rubber suits, he was showing awful movies featuring American guys in rubber suits. All kinds of bad B movies with monsters and creeping unknowns....

And those silly movies that you would laugh at more than scream at were balanced with really good horror and sci-fi films. I probably saw CREEPING UNKNOWN and THEM! and CURSE OF THE DEMON and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and all of the Universal monster movies on CREATURE FEATURES. George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD made its TV premiere on his show. He warned everyone that it was a really scary movie - and really gross. We would want to cover our eyes, and it would probably give us nightmares... and he was right!

When you’re a kid with too much imagination who doesn’t really fit in, horror movies were a lifesaver. Horror movies not only taught you how to conquer your fears, they showed you stories about big ugly misunderstood folks like you... who made the normal people afraid. When Frankenstein’s Monster meets his Bride for the first time, and falls in love with her at first site... but she’s just not into him... “She hate me!” I could relate. Monster movies and science fiction films sparked my imagination and made me feel normal. Every Saturday night CREATURE FEATURES would either provide a movie so bad it was good that I could laugh at, or a really scary or really imaginative movie that I enjoyed as much as the old Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies they showed on Sunday nights.

Bob Wilkins also had great interviews with all of the stars of horror movies, the filmmakers, and often showed short horror films from viewers. I remember one of the short films to this day - a man comes home from work and takes off his neck tie, takes off his coat, takes off his shoes, takes off his shirt, takes off his right arm, takes off his legs, takes off his left arm... and then what is left falls into bed! The cool thing about the shorts and the interviews with film directors - and even the local film makers who made the shorts - is that a kid like me discovered that people made movies, even people in the towns near me! That meant maybe I could make movies, too!

Wilkins was probably the first person on TV that I met in person. During summers he would have a movie club that showed kid-friendly sci-fi and monster movies in school auditoriums. Mostly just to give kids something to do over summer instead of breaking the windows of some condemned building in the old part of town. One of the schools he always showed movies in was my Intermediate School - just beyond the creek behind my house. My parents wouldn’t let me cut through the creek, so I had to go around. But I must have seen The Three Stooges visit every planet in our solar system thanks to Bob Wilkins. And he’d have raffles and give away candy bars and sign autographs... I once got an autographed picture of Godzilla at one of his movie club showings! Godzilla! What star is bigger than Godzilla?

I don't think I would be the person I am, and love the films I love, if it hadn't been for Bob Wilkins. A few weeks ago I posted on a message board about discovering BASKETCASE on a video store shelf and renting it - would I have ever done that without a show like CREATURE FEATURES in my childhood?

Bob Wilkins is gone, now. I’m sure he’s somewhere up there in his chair, puffing on a big cigar and making fun of the Keanu version of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. I will always remember him, and his jokes, and those movies where you didn’t have to wait for the commercials to go to the bathroom. He will be missed.

Bob Wilkins tribute

Creature Features

- Bill

Friday, January 09, 2009

Home For The Holidays Recap

I was going to do blog entries over the holidays, but just never really got around to it. Instead I did all kinds of other things, including a bunch of new Script Tips. So here is the capsule version in two parts...


At my sister’s house. Our family has lived in Concord forever, my grandfather on my father’s side moved there to drill water wells for farmers. My mother’s side moved to the Bay Area during WW2 because there were jobs in the shipyards and in factories. And no one ever moved away. All but one of my mother’s three sisters live in the area. One of my dad’s brothers lived with my grandparents well into adulthood, the other brother set out for parts unknown - kind of an INTO THE WILD thing. Both my brother and sister live local. So the whole family is *there*. Both sides. Nobody leaves Concord. Ever.

For as long as I can remember, we had Thanksgiving at my parent’s house and Christmas at my Aunt Sharon’s. Now, the strange thing in my family is that when my Uncle Glen moved out of my grandparent’s house, it was because he married my Aunt Sharon. My father’s brother married my mother’s sister. That kind of stuff is still legal in most states. My Uncle Glen (who was married to my Aunt Sharon before he died) had all kinds of 8mm movie stuff, as well as a bunch of toys - he was an adult who lived at home with his parents for much of his life. If this had been today’s world, he’d have a ton of video games, but back then he had those 3 minute versions of GODZILLA on 8mm. Add that to my Aunt Norma who worked at the movie theater, and you have a kid who wants to grow up and make movies. When I was a kid my Uncle Glen used to make toy trucks out of old milk cartons, pencils and 8mm film reels. Anyway, after he passed away, we still at Christmas at my Aunt Sharon’s house in the horse country area of Concord. Then, I think between her two sons (my cousin-cousins) moving away and some sort of silly family skirmish, Christmas moved to my sister’s house. Part of that might have been my sister *having* a house.

The old family traditions are still there: there is a competition for best name tags at the place settings, there are still jokes about the time my Aunt Sharon made the crescent rolls and screwed up the recipe so that they weighed about a pound a piece (even though my Aunt Sharon now eats Christmas dinner alone - something I still don’t understand), and when it’s time for holiday pie everyone asks for mincemeat because they know nobody made one. Oh, and the candles usually remain unlit due to someone forgetting.

So this year, sisters two girls (my nieces) show up - one is now not only married, she’s about to pop a kid! Her husband Markus is a great guy, but he’s into tattoos and piercings and my niece is head to toe tattoos. Colorful. Markus is a big guy, who looks like he’s beat the crap out of you if you looked at him funny, but he’s really a quiet shy guy... who is a fan of kung fu movies and has seen all of my stuff (before he married my niece). My other niece, who is a nurse, is engaged to the guy she brought last year - who is clean cut and kind of preppy (I think he’s in medical school, soon to be a doctor) and has a sly wit. This came in handy, because my sister’s husband’s father’s wife is the third most annoying person on earth. I think she’s a trophy wife. She needs to be the center of attention at all times, and brought a couple of hundred vacation photos (some were even in focus) and then made sure we all looked through them. She said she would have brought *all* of them, but didn’t want to bore us. And she talked a mile a minute all night long. She was at the other end of the table from me, so I survived. My poor parents sat right next to her. They probably know every single thing that happened to her on vacation in minute detail. After diner we played a board game, and she insisted on being team captain and then complained about it. Eventually everyone went home... and I realized the next time I see my nieces, one will be a tattooed mother and the other will probably be getting married to a future doctor. Things are turning out well for both of them.


- Bill
Classes On CD On Sale!


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Likeable Leads & SWINGVOTE brand new tip for 2009.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Del Taco on the road.

NEXT FRIDAY: Hitchcock Returns!

Movies: CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON - This film is almost three hours long.... and based on some old short story and, you know, *important*. So I never really expected to really like it, let alone cry a half dozen times. The concept is simple.... yet complex... Benjamin Button is born a withered old man/baby and grows younger with each passing year... ending up a baby. Someone in the film says we begin in diapers and end up in diapers - and, honestly, how many babies look like bald little old men? That’s probably what sparked the short story ages ago, and it’s what makes this film from the writer of FOREST GUMP both interesting and insightful. The film gets to deal with aging and loss and being different and feeling old when you are young and young when you look old... and how we see things and people differently. Oh, and it’s a romance and an adventure and kind of does that FOREST GUMP thing with history - though more with time periods than with specific people and incidents.

There are people who always say Hollywood should make more movies like this and fewer of those big budget special effects movies where everything is fake... except BUTTON probably has more special effects than any of the LORD OF THE RINGS movies! There are only a couple of scenes where no character is in old age make up. Because Benjamin starts old and grows young, in the early scenes he is always in old age make up. As a baby, he’s a special effect. As a child, his face is all CGI - some amalgamation of Brad Pitt and digital aging and whatever they did to create the Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS. As Benjamin gets younger... the rest of the characters het older! So when we finally get Brad Pitt without make up, everyone around him must be in old age make up! Someone is always in make up in this film.

And because it takes place in the past... the backgrounds are all special effects. 1918 New Orleans no longer exists - they had to take 2008 New Orleans and use a bunch of special effects to transform it. And many of the locations and events in the film are special effects. This movie is all fake!

Because Benjamin is a freak, the story has many scenes about his adventures trying to fit in, and trying to act his age even though he doesn’t look it. He befriends a Pygmy - someone his own size - who takes him to the French Quarter and introduces him to night clubs and brothels and other adult diversions. He is surrounded by old folks who look just like him... and many have reverted to childhood. This film has a great running gag - one of the old guys tells him he was struck by lighting 7 times in his life - and each time he tells him of a different event, and we see the lightning strike. This is spread throughout the film and always gets a laugh. But the main thing about living in an old folks home is that characters are constantly dying. And Benjamin learns about death at an early age. Benjamin gets a job on a tugboat with a colorful crew - and every one of these characters is as different as Benjamin. The captain wanted to be an artist, but ended up running his father’s tugboat... and tattooing all kinds of interesting art on his body. He’s an illustrated man. Speaking of fathers, Benjamin’s father Mr. Button is often in the background of his life... and later a part of his life. They even steal a shot from FIVE EASY PIECES where Nicholson takes his aging father in his wheelchair out to the woods to have a heart to heart conversation as the sun sets behind them. Same shot, same scene with Benjamin and his father.

But the core of the film is the love story between Benjamin and Daisy (Cate Blanchet) the grand daughter of one of the people in the old folks home. They played hide and seek together as children and have an on again off again relationship throughout the story. This is a long film, and there is a point in the story where something happens in their relationship which leads you believe the film is probably over, so you grab your coat... and then the film goes on for another half hour. That half hour is okay, and has one of the great scenes in the film, but you kind of wish they had quit when they were ahead.

The most curious thing about BENJAMIN BUTTON is that it has lots of great scenes, and I did get misty eyed a few times and laugh at others, but it struggles to add up to a story. GUMP was also a bunch of great scenes with a similar type of story, but it seemed to add up better than BUTTON does. I think this may be because GUMP used history as a through-line, placing Gump in the center of major historical events. We not only had an event in history that we recognized, we had our protagonist right there in the newsreel footage! So we not only had Gump’s life as a through-line, we had history itself... and Gump ends up the most important man in each historical event. BUTTON never has Benjamin in the center of things - he gets to fight in WW2... but in some little sea battle that isn’t important...and what Button does in that battle isn’t very important. GUMP would have been on the Enola Gay or stationed at Pearl Harbor or on Omaha Beach... or all three... right in the middle of the big historical event. Benjamin is on the sidelines, so instead of having the world’s story to connect the scenes, we just have Benjamin’s story - and it’s too slight to connect these scenes. The story ends up episodic... and struggles to come together into a story.

Where GUMP used history as its throughline, BUTTON just doesn’t have a throughline... except for Benjamin. I’ve found that movie with external throughlines hold together more than films with internal throughlines. We can see the external throughline, but can only see traces of the internal one. Button’s life story just doesn’t seem strong enough to hold all of these pieces together. And I came away from GUMP with a handful of really memorable lines and scenes... but nothing like that with BUTTON. No lines so unforgettable that they’re going to pop up on T shirts, no scenes so good that they will be used in a half dozen parody movies. I’ll bet you can remember 5 lines from FOREST GUMP right off the top of your head... but not a single one from BUTTON. If you end up with an episodic film, at least make sure those episodes are strong enough to carry the film.

Another thing that I found curious was the scenes from Button’s life they decided to show. The theme here is time and aging, and we begin with the unveiling of a clock in a train station... and end with that same clock, no longer in use... replaced by a digital version. But once we leave the old folks home - actually a little before - we are not really dealing with time and aging as much as we are getting the diary entries of some guy with a vaguely adventurous life. He and the tugboat crew have all kinds of adventures, serve in WW2 and end up in Russia of all places. There he meets a woman (Tilda Swinton) and has an affair. Except for the one scene where they stumble into a battle, the tugboat’s WW2 adventures are kind of bland - they are still working as a tugboat. The relationship with the woman starts out sounding like it might be exciting, there are rumors that her husband is a spy, but the husband isn’t really a character in the story... and there is no intrigue or espionage involved (when there could have been). They also miss a chance to deal with aging and time - both the tugboat and the woman are a little long in the tooth, but neither is an issue in the story. I would have had the husband sleeping with a younger woman, the wife feeling old and unattractive, and really played that up. Then really played up that she thinks she’s the younger woman to Benjamin, when she is really the older woman to him. And dealt with the dynamics a serious difference in age makes in a relationship...

Or just zoomed through this stuff at high speed and then spent *more* time on the juicy parts of the story - exploring the differences in age in a relationship with the woman he loves, Daisy. The film seems to spend more time on the dull parts and then switch POVs to Daisy so that we don’t have to see the effects of aging on Benjamin when he gets to be old (but looks like a 20 year old Brad Pitt). Once Benjamin’s child is born, the film keeps jumping *decades* in the story... after showing us minute-by-minute what happens when Benjamin is living in the old folks home and on that WW2 adventure. The story robs us of the scenes that really have to do with aging - and that undercuts the theme. Most of the almost three hours ends up about Benjamin as a young man.

BUTTON ends up being an enjoyable movie while it’s on the screen, but there’s nothing that really sticks with you. It ends up a popcorn flick for critics and people who like “serious movies”. I liked it, and Pitt and Blanchett give great performances and the whole film is amazing and interesting... but an hour later you’re hungry again.

- Bill

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Script Magazine: January Issue - TOC

Win, Place & Showbiz: Handicapping the Writing Awards for 2008
by Bob Verini with additional reporting by Ray Morton
It’s an awards-season tradition: Bob Verini talks to the writers in contention for Best Adapted and Best Original Screenplay nominations. This year’s field is one of the most diverse in recent memory -- as far-reaching as Australia, as quiet as a revolution, as big-budget as a government bailout, as cute as post-apocalyptic robot love. Check out the odds on this year’s contenders.

Writers on Writing: Changeling
by J. Michael Straczynski
From the time he was a young scrap-diver, J. Michael Straczynski has been both methodical and meticulous about his creations. Reconstructing a true-crime tale from 1920s’ Los Angeles was no exception. Here, he recalls the process that brought his spec to Clint Eastwood, and Changeling to theaters.

Script to Screen: The Wrestler
by David S. Cohen
Former Onion editor Robert Siegel fought his instincts when stepping into the screenwriting fray. After a few comedy misfires, Siegel decided to go with his tastes -- Easy Rider/Raging Bull-type tales -- and found his voice. Now, he skips the laughs for the tragic character study The Wrestler.

Writers on Writing: Slumdog Millionaire
by Simon Beaufoy
Heretofore known best for his full-frontal comedy The Full Monty and last year’s comedy of manners Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Oscar®-nominee Simon Beaufoy headed for the slums of Mumbai to find out what he didn’t know. Hereafter known best for his affecting adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s Q & A, Beaufoy reflects on what he learned.

Scene Fix: Piano Red
by Jenna Milly
Psychological thrillers have to hit all the right notes. In this issue, Oscar®-nominees Bruce Evans & Raynold Gideon (Stand by Me) and American Psycho scribe Guinevere Turner give Bahiyyah Abdullah’s spec Piano Red a tune-up.

Interview: Peter Morgan on Frost/Nixon
by Ray Morton
At the end of an American president’s reign, Peter Morgan examines the after-effects of the abuse of power on a nation, personified in the 1977 David Frost-Richard Nixon battle of wits.

Small Screen: Burn Notice
by Aaron Ginsburg
Matt Nix, creator of Burn Notice, offered Script’s Aaron Ginsburg an up-close look at his Miami-set spy series. Ginsburg jumped at the
chance. Neither expected such explosive results.

The Case Against Character Arcs
by Mystery Man
One of the principles of structure, drilled into your brain by well-meaning gurus, promotes a discernible character arc for the protagonist of your script. Here, Mystery Man debunks the character-arc caveat.

Film School Confidential
by Mike Notzon
To be or not to be ... a film school enrollee, that is. Are screenwriters served in attending formal programs, and if so, how? AFI grads Jonathan Levine and Brad Ingelsby make their cases.

New Media: Videogame Writers Sound Off
by Robert Gustafson & Alec McNayr
Halo 3 outgrossed Spider-Man 3 in 2007, harkening a shift in the balance of entertainment-industry power. Learn how the growing videogame medium is
spawning opportunities for screenwriters.

Independents: Investing in Screenplays
by William Martell
As the spec market continues to contract and the studios scale back, William Martell dissects the nine elements that make your screenplay a great investment for a producer.

Good Examples: Best of the Best
by Ray Morton
Does anything tie the canon of Best Screenplay winners together? Ray Morton takes a closer look at nine classic films and points to the elements that make them the best of the best.

Hall of Fame Honoree: Stephen J. Cannell
by Ray Morton
A prolific career in television, fierce determination, and an unwavering work ethic: all three are characteristics possessed by 2008’s Final Draft, Inc. Hall of Fame Honoree.

- Bill
Classes On CD On Sale!


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotional Openings & Narnia completely rewritten tip from 2001.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Mom's home cooking.

DVD: RED RIVER - When I was young I was *not* a fan of Westerns and definitely *not* a fan of John Wayne movies. The Westerns I could watch were the Leone spaghetti westerns - those were cool. But somewhere along the line I bumped into two John Wayne films that were completely unlike any other John Wayne films and opened the door to classic westerns for me: THE SEARCHES and RED RIVER. In both films, John Wayne does not play John Wayne and the stories are the kind of thing John Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead in... though, there he is.

RED RIVER is basically MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY on a cattle drive, with John Wayne as an obsessed, nasty, mean, and probably out of his mind Dunson with Montgomery Clift playing the protégée turned mutinous Matt. But the real stars of the show are about 1,000 head of cattle. The movie is about a cattle drive, and you get to see actors on horseback driving a herd. There are shots where you see at least a thousand steers interacting with the stars, and one kick ass shot that 360s around John Wayne on horseback showing steers for as far as the eye can see. Almost every shot in the film has a thousand steers in the background - if not the foreground with the actors. And there’s another great shot from inside Walter Brennan’s chuckwagon as they ford a raging river (for real) behind and ahead and surrounded by cattle. No special effects, no cardboard cows or CGI - this film is filled with real cattle.

One of the great things in the Borden Chase and Charles Schnee script is the bracelet - a “twitch” that helps tell the emotional side of the story visually. In the opening scene Wayne is tagging along with a wagon train and decides to veer off and claim some land in Texas as his ranch. There is a beautiful young woman n the wagon train that Wayne is in love with, and they have a romantic parting scene - which doesn’t seem like something from a John Wayne movie, because it’s actually romantic and tender. He gives her this bracelet that he wears - his grandmother’s - as kind of an engagement ring. He loves her, and once he’s settled and his ranch is built and up and tunning, he will send for her.

Wayne and his pal Brennan ride away, and later they see smoke on the horizon. The wagon train has been attacked by Indians. They are in Comanche country ( the Comanches needed a better PR person - in old westerns, their tribe is always the one doing the attacking and wagon burning and raping and killing). Later they are attacked by Comanches, and Wayne kills one who was wearing his grandmother’s bracelet. Without a word, Wayne takes it off the dead Indian and puts it on... and you *know* he is mourning the woman he loved, and you *know* that she is dead, and you *know* that he will never be the same.

After that they meet a kid who survived the attack, who has been wandering around with a cow. Wayne & Brennan’s cow was killed in the attack - they only have a bull. So they take in the kid, mostly for his cow, and a couple decades later that kid is Montgomery Clift and their ranch has 10,000 head of cattle on it. Oh, and the kid is wearing Wayne’s grandmother’s bracelet. The kid has become his adopted son more or less. The bracelet symbolizes love - and also lost love. And if you just keep your eyes on it throughout the film, it tells a story.

Wayne now has gray hair - which just goes to show you how this is not a John Wayne movie, because if you see the movies he was making in the 60s and 70s there wasn’t a gray hair on his head. He was John Wayne - he didn’t age. There’s a depression in Texas - post Civil War - and the only place to sell cattle is up north in Missouri. So Wayne sets out to brand his cattle and drive them north. Now here’s another place where this is not a John Wayne movie - when they are branding cattle, they have picked up some cattle belonging to other ranchers... and Wayne has them brand it all with his brand. He’s going to steal the other guys cattle. Even when he’s confronted by the other ranchers - he still brands the cattle with his brand. He is not an honest guy.

One of the great things about movies made in the Golden Age (1930s & 1940s) are the supporting characters - I mentioned this last year at this time when I watched CAPTAIN BLOOD again. There are all of these cowboys, secondary characters, but each of them has a real character and distinctive character traits. There are all kinds of great gags in the film designed to show the characters of these minor characters. They have an Indian on the crew who always wins at poker because they can’t tell when he’s bluffing - his face never changes expression. Walter Brennan loses his false teeth to him in a poker game, and this deal is made that the Indian will loan Brennan his teeth for meals, but afterwards they must be immediately returned. From this point on, every time there is a meal scene in the film it is followed by Brennan returning the teeth... sometimes just in the background of a shot. There is a character named Dave who has a wife he’s always talking about. Dave’s life is defined by his marriage - and when all of the cowboys are talking about what they will do with their money once they get paid (a great scene for showing the difference between all of these secondary characters) Dave’s dream is to buy his wife a pair of fancy red shoes. They live in a shack in the middle of nowhere, but he thinks his wife would love to own a fancy pair of shoes. There is another cowboy with a sweet tooth who is always licking his finger and sticking it in the sack of sugar on the chuckwagon... and that guy’s sweet tooth not only extends to other aspects of his character, it creates a plot event later in the film. The great thing about these little things that make each of the cowboys into individuals is that we feel like we know them, and care about them, and when things happen on the cattle drive to them we can relate. It’s like we are on that cattle drive with them.

So Wayne and Clift and Brennan and their cowboys (including a young John Ireland hired as a gunslinger) take their cattle north... and one thing after another goes wrong and we get all of these supporting characters we care about dealing with some pretty dangerous situations... and our three lead guys having to figure out what to resolve these problems. But as time goes on, it becomes apparent that John Wayne has maybe lost his mind. He isn’t sleeping. He doesn’t ever want to stop and set camp for the night... and that guy who steals sugar? Well, there comes a point where Wayne starts to tie him to a wagon wheel and whip him. When cowboys - these guys we know and love - talk back to Wayne, well, in one scene he pulls his gun and kills three of them. Not exactly what you expect in a John Wayne movie. Eventually this reaches a breaking point when they are told by a traveling cowboy that there is a railroad in Abilene that heads north to Missouri, and they don’t need to drive the cattle through the dangers of Comanche country. The cowboys, including Clift and Brennan, think this is great news. Wayne thinks it’s BS, and still wants to go to Missouri. He has a plan, and he’s gonna stick with it even if it’s proven to be the wrong plan again and again. There is a mutiny, and Wayne wants to shoot everybody... but Clift steps in. Not be a good son and help Wayne deal with these unruly cowboys, but to disarm Wayne and tie him up and maybe leave him to die in the middle of nowhere while they drive the herd to the railroad. This is a full on mutiny, and Wayne vows he will track them all down and kill them... including his best friend Brennan and his adopted son Clift. Wayne is an asshole in this film - the villain - and you can’t help but hate him.

On the way to the railroad, they come across a wagon train full of gamblers and hookers under siege by those PR deprived Comanches and Clift fights them off and rescues a hooker with spunk played by Joanne Dru and falls in love with her and gives her the bracelet... and later in the film Wayne will catch up with the rescues wagon train and spot the bracelet on the hooker and have an interesting conversation with her - both love the same man, Clift (who was Gay in real life), but Wayne hates him now. Plans on killing him the first chance he gets.

One of the things I forgot to mention was the great cussing in this film. They have this gag they do again and again where a character says something completely unprintable that the censors will cut... but someone cuts off the sentence just as it gets to the dirty word. So we get the whole sentence minus the dirty word - and know *exactly* what the character was going to say, but no dirty word for the censors to cut. This film was directed by Howard Hawks, and he did the same thing in THE BIG SLEEP when Agnes says, “He gives me a pain right in the a–“ and is cut off before she can say “ass”. You fill in the word in your mind, but there’s nothing for the censor to cut.

The whole thing is leading to this big show down between Wayne and Clift, and here’s where it suddenly becomes a movie starring John Wayne - because that showdown is over way too soon and Wayne manages to redeem himself. The film has the shortest Act 3 of any film from the period, and it makes you wonder if there was more in the script but they just truncated it to make Wayne come out okay in the end.

If you don’t like John Wayne movies, this is one to try out. He plays completely against type and for most of the movie is the villain. You also get to see 1,000 head of cattle upstaging the stars in many scenes... and you’ll find out whether Brennan ever gets his false teeth back.

- Bill

Monday, January 05, 2009

Scott Frank’s Flaming Sperm

Okay, maybe I’m and old fart who is set in my ways like Clint’s character in GRAN TORINO, but BEAVER disappointed me... and Scott Frank’s AFTER HAILEY was just great writing that actually made me cry three times.... and I predict someone will win an Oscar for playing the role of Richard when this sucker’s made. This script - at the bottom of the Black List - makes me wonder if that crazy theory of mine that the scripts on the Black List are a big "fuck you!" to the producers these Devos work for is true. Is the Black List completely reactionary? Is it not about finding the best, but finding the scripts that symbolize the anti-Hollywood?

There is no such thing as a perfect script or a perfect movie or a perfect person - everything is a mix of good and bad. When you read a script or see a movie, there are things that don’t work and things that do - and when there are more things that work than not, it’s a good movie. When there are more things that don’t work than do, it’s a bad movie. And there are degrees of good and bad based on how much stuff works. Same with all of these scripts - and for me, AFTER HAILEY had more stuff that worked than didn’t... and even though it's an arty drama, it's the kind of story that works on screen.

The story is simple - plot 53B - a wayward son comes home for a family event. There have to be a hundred movies with the same basic plot... and there would probably be more of them if it weren’t so basic. Hard to get financing when your story is this routine. And that’s one of the flaws of the script - we’ve seen this a million times before.

Our protagonist, Doug, is a hot-shot young photographer for Newsweek who never gets involved or emotional while taking pictures of war or disasters or poverty - it ruins the shot. He sees the world through his view finder - detached. In Iraq he meets a beautiful recently divorced magazine editor at least a decade older than he is and they have an affair... and then get married. She is Hailey, the love of his life.

Two years later, Doug is returning home for his sister’s wedding... without Hailey. One of the cool things that Frank does is parcel out information a little at a time, creating a question, a mystery, and then answering it a few scenes later. Where THE BEAVER *told* the story in a bunch of exposition, here it unfolds before us - as if we are watching Doug’s life as it happens. As we watch Doug settle in to his old house - where he once lived with Hailey - we begin to piece together that she is dead... but not how she died. That mystery runs most of the script, and we don’t really get all of the information about her death until the very last scene.

Doug has got to be the least responsible person in the world, and seeing him deal with all of the things he has spent his life trying to escape from creates some great big dramatic moments. This is a small story, but really well written and *skillfully* written. Some minor scene that may have been blah in some other writer’s script is filled with big emotional moments, here. Doug must learn to stop seeing the world through the viewfinder and start actually living it. He is an extraordinary person in an ordinary story - a famous photo journalist who could probably walk into any bar anywhere in the world and be recognized - famous in Mozambique. His photos are famous. The reason he initially hooks up with Hailey is because he is this famous magazine photographer among dozens, maybe even hundreds of photogs and journos in Iraq. But now he’s back home, where he’s just Doug.

Doug has a stepson who isn’t that much older than he is, and he must learn to raise the kid. Hailey’s always-angry and usually violent ex-husband and his trophy wife are part oi this equation. Doug has another sister who is breaking up with her husband and crashes at his place... which used to be his and Hailey’s place. And because he’s the famous dude come home, he ends up sleeping with his best friend from high school’s horny wife... and almost getting caught again and again. Doug has *all kinds* of family issues - the most interesting of which is his father Richard who has suffered a stroke and is now hovering somewhere between absent minded and dementia. He doesn’t remember that Hailey is dead... and also doesn’t act like an adult. Completely unpredictable... and creates problems wherever he goes, I predict that the actor who plays Richard will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor - this role is so well written and so meaty I think the orangutan who played Clyde in those Eastwood boxing movies could get a nomination for playing this role. All of the characters, all of the dialogue, all of the scenes and situations are the best version of Plot 53B so far (except, maybe for HAMLET).

The stepson says that a gathering of Doug’s family is like having a brick of C4 explosives under the table that could go off at any moment, and that is one of the great things about this script. It is filled with “Oh crap!” moments where things go completely wrong, and at any time a quiet moment might turn suddenly dramatic or even violent. In every scene there is drama simmering below the surface - and it often explodes. But the script is also funny as hell, and has so many big tender moments that three of them actually had my tear ducts working. One of the great skills Frank has is to plant something that pays off again and again and again - in different and unexpected ways. Just when you think this thing was planted for one payoff... there is an even better pay off, then - later - a better pay off than that. And you never see them coming.

Because it’s Scott Frank (or, maybe this was in the novel it’s adapted from) someone does pull out a gun and actually shoot someone - those dramatic family explosions include fist fights and shootings - and what is amazing is how even the violence pays off in interesting character-oriented ways. One character has their greatest moment due to the presence of the gun. The film has a different story, but much of the same feel of Frank’s THE LOOKOUT - a character dealing with past mistakes and past tragedies. The strength is this script is the writing, not the story... and that may be why it only got 5 votes. It’s probably the least flashy script on the Black List.

The script is littered with “we see”s and camera direction stuff, and at 127 pages, I think it would have come out danged close to 120 without them... and you’d never miss ‘em. Those things take me out of the story and take up space. Another thing that bugged me was having everyone called MAN or WOMAN if they speak before being introduced - I have no idea whose fool idea this is, but if you’re doing breakdowns you end up with this character MAN in almost every scene, but when it comes to casting MAN it ends up not a character at all - but all of the male characters the first time they speak. I can understand if you are trying to keep the identity of a character secret, but when the same actor is going to play MAN and RICHARD, you’re just making it pointlessly confusing by referring to him by two names. The breakdown and scheduling programs go by the character name - and MAN and RICHARD are two different names and that makes them two different characters.

The bigger problem here may be that the story is plot 53B - it’s a great script with a generic idea... which means it’s all about the execution and the casting. The execution is great, but this is going to end up a prestige film - one of those movies released around this time of the year for Oscar consideration. The mass audience isn’t going to see it because of the idea - they’ve seen it before - so the cast is going to make or break this film... along with the critics. There’s a Dustin Hoffman/Emma Thompson “last chance at romance” movie (plot 27D) that’s coming out - and even with those two big names, the critics are tearing it apart and saying we have seen this story a hundred times before... we’ll see how the audience responds. The story we’ve seen before - no matter how great he execution - is a tough sell to most of the people who buy tickets. If the cast is appealing and the critics love it, it may still flop... but at least it has a chance.

This is a trap screenwriters seem to fall into when they get to make their own films. One of the reasons why I am a big fan of Scott Frank is because he usually works in the crime genre - his big break was DEAD AGAIN, a mystery thriller about reincarnation starring Emma Thompson as an amnesiac who was either a victim or a killer in her past life... and Frank kept you guessing until the very end. (Hey, also about regrets from the past.) Frank adapted two Elmore Leonard novels to the screen - and both were critical and financial successes (GET SHORTY and OUT OF SIGHT). Elmore Leonard calls him “his screenwriter”. I read the Cohen draft of MINORITY REPORT, and it was crap... then read the Frank draft and it was brilliant - all of the great things in the film are from the Frank draft. If you want a great crime-mystery-thriller type script, Scott Frank is the man.... But when he got a chance to make his own movie, he made THE LOOKOUT... which is more character study than crime drama. Look, I loved THE LOOKOUT - I wrote an article for Script about some of the swell, clever writing. I own the movie on DVD and watch it often. But no matter how great that film is, it is not MINORITY REPORT or DEAD AGAIN or GET SHORTY... and the film didn’t burn up the box office.

Take Tony Gilroy, who took a Robert Ludlum potboiler and turned it into a franchise that is not only the most freakin’ exciting action films made in a decade, they are also intelligent and character oriented and haunting. When the BOURNE movies are so powerful that they change James Bond... and recharge that series with CASINO ROYALE (until QUANTUM killed it) - you have a writer who knows how to please the audience and the critics. So they give Gilroy the chance to make a movie, and does he make something that will catapult him to the top? Does he write the script that will be a huge financial success and insure that he will be able to call the shots from now on? Does he write a critically acclaimed #1 box office filmn like BOURNE IDENTITY that will turn him into the new Spielberg? No, he falls into the trap and makes MICHAEL COLLINS, a really good character study that doesn’t make much money... though, I own that one on DVD, too and really like it. Basically, the writer’s trap is to make the film that other writers will really love... but won’t do very well with the mass audience that controls what films get made and who makes them. These guys end up making small films that either result in them being able to make more small films... or them not being allowed to make anything ever again. They make that one personal film that no one would ever buy or ever let them make in the past... without asking “Why?” Why wouldn’t anyone let them make it? Why wouldn’t anyone buy it? Why do they think this is the best script to make now? Why do they event want to make this script?

Instead, why don’t guys like Scott Frank and Tony Gilroy do what they do when they’re writing to sell - come up with a great genre story that will sell tickets like crazy... and write it with skill and passion and the focus on characters that makes them great writers? Do a variation on that Clint Eastwood "One for them, One for me"? Start with the *high quality* crowd pleaser that will make the studios so much money that they won't care if they make a personal film that doesn't make much money... they will *still* fund the next film. Instead of starting out by directing a tough sell, start out with a hit and write your own ticket!

I suspect Frank is looking at AFTER HAILEY as a potential directing follow-up to LOOKOUT... and it’s taking him in a difficult direction. Sure, if the film is well cast and becomes that must-see movie for us older audience members it might end up a hit... and if some cast members are nominated for Oscars, it can make some money and help his career... But he has proven that he can write an exciting genre movie that also makes you think and has all of the great character work and story-telling that AFTER HAILEY has, so why not do that for himself? Why write the intelligent and emotional crowd pleaser for Spielberg, and write the small film for yourself? Why not write the great crowd pleaser for yourself?

There is a Ross Macdonald novel with Plot 53B where the wayward son comes home for a family event... and there is a murder and the kid must not only deal with all of the “you can’t come home again” stuff, he has to solve the crime. Hell, the grand daddy of all Plot 53B stories is HAMLET - wayward son comes home for family event - father’s funeral - and must solve father’s murder... and that is one heck of a character oriented story that really digs deep into motivation and emotional situations and character growth... and it’s been a crowd pleaser for a few hundred years, now. The trap of writing something that will *not* be a big success with the audience, resulting in writers forever being the people struggling for power, is something to avoid. It hurts all of us. When you write enough big hits to get your own film - write another big hit! Do it right - make it a great script - but also make sure it’s something exciting enough to land you some more jobs where *you* are the one in power.

The story in AFTER HAILEY may be soft, but the writing is solid. We see Doug and his family trying to make their lives work, and get caught up in those lives. There’s a moment when the drunken stepson decides to make a speech at the sister’s wedding that has you cringing while you are reading it - expecting the worst... and when it begins to go *way* off course, you wonder if there will be more gunfire and fistfights - but as he drunkenly stumbles on, you realize this may be the best wedding toast you have ever heard. The script is a bunch of great moments, and no bad ones.

Oh, and the "flaming sperm" is Doug's description of his stepson's tattoo... which is really Hailey's comet.

I've read a few other BlackList scripts, and may get around to typing up my thoughts on them in the next month or two... but now I have to get back to work on these things called "screenplays".

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Twisted Chronologies Complete rewrite of a tip from 2003.
Yesterday’s Dinner: All you can eat at China Wall in Concord.

MOVIES: THE WRESTLER - Mickey Rourke is back... again... again again. Back in the days of BODY HEAT and DINER Mickey Rourke was The Next Big Thing and everybody knew it. He was this sexy, magnetic, talented actor who could play various types of bad boys with a charm that made you love them, whether they were felons in prison or that guy in high school who had sex with every girl you ever had a crush on. As his career took off, Rourke did the usual serious actor trying to self destruct thing by choosing roles that were interesting to him... but often in the wrong movies. You’ve got to read the whole script, stars, not just the highlighted portion that consists of your lines. So Rourke ended up in some bombs right when he needed to be in some hits, and his stardom began to fade. That’s when he scrambled and started making movies for the 9 AND A HALF WEEKS guy and his wife - steamy, sexy soft core movies where Rourke got to play the sexy bad boy and be nekkid with lots of hot women. While his acting career was in trouble, he decided to quit it all, get married to one of those nekkid costars, and take up professional boxing.


Now Rourke was probably an okay boxer when he was a kid, but as an adult his career seemed to be getting beat up a lot. He did this for several years, until nobody wanted him as an actor or a boxer. Then he crawled back to Hollywood by way of Austin and played a crazy CIA snitch in Robert Rodriguez’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO... and everybody loved him and thought he was back. Of course, all of that boxing had done a number on his face, and he wasn’t the pretty boy he once was. Now he was kind of Frankenstein Monster looking. And his career faded again... But Rodriguez is a loyal guy, and cast him in SIN CITY... and he was brilliant and all of the critics loved his performance and announced his return to stardom and... then his career faded again.

So Rourke seems to have brought all of that real life backstory to THE WRESTLER... and maybe the writer-director Darren Aronofsky brought some of his own real life backstory to the writing - he managed to take a promising directing career where he was the chosen one to bring Batman back to the screens and completely screw it up. Chris Nolan was the guy who replaced him... and THE DARK KNIGHT is the second biggest domestic gross film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). Aronofsky’s career? Kind of where Rourke’s is.

THE WRESTLER seems to be some sort of riff on ROCKY, but don’t be fooled. It’s a gritty, emotionally savage story that pulls no punches. It's more like one of John Huston's later films, FAT CITY, about washed up boxers in Stockton, CA trying to earn a living between fights. Rourke plays Randy The Ram, who was a famous wrestler 20 years ago. Now he lives in a trailer... which he is behind on his rent for, so it’s locked up and he’s sleeping in his van until he can make back rent. He wrestles every weekend in some local exhibition at the Elks Club or something... and on weekdays he does my old job, unloading trucks at a grocery store part time. He does it by hand (you wonder why they don’t even have any hand dollies at this place). He’s always fighting for more hours, the verbally abusive grocery store manager is always giving him fewer hours probably just to piss Randy off. Whatever money Randy does not spend on performance drugs and painkillers, he spends on strippers, mostly on one that he has a crush on: Cassie, played by Oscar Winner Marisa Tomei. His fantasy is that they get married. She has a completely different fantasy, which we’ll get to in a minute. Randy also has an estranged daughter whom he has not seen in many years. He has a grade school photo of her with a half dozen phone numbers crossed off on the back. The guy is a mess.

The great thing about the film is that it takes you behind the scenes in wrestling. You see the wrestlers talk out the match before they get in the ring - and a funny scene has wrestlers arguing about which one will do a specific fight move... between *all* of the wrestlers fighting in *all* of the matches that night. You also get to see how they hide razor blades in their arm wrappings so that they can cut themselves and bleed in the ring. Real blood. Their blood. And you see how physical and brutal this form of entertainment is - these guys take a real beating putting on a fake show. I found all of that stuff interesting, and it is shown in interesting ways. A funny trip to the Dollar Store to find props to hit each other with is fun.

But this film is all about the characters and the acting, and Rourke does an amazing job playing a guy who craves the fame that has gotten away from him. There is a tragic, cringe inducing scene where he convinces one of the trailer park kids to play the Atari Randy The Ram Wrestling game with him. Rourke manages to be charming and funny and tragic all at the same time. It’s a great subtle performance. Many times in the film he must act like a big star in a situation where it is obvious that his star has faded, and he plays both things - a layered performance. There’s a scene at an autograph event - a great situation - where he looks from one ex-wrestler to another, noting each of their permanent injuries.

The two big relationships in the film are with the stripper and his daughter. Evan Rachel Wood plays the daughter, and she’s okay. There are some big meaty scenes between them, as Randy tries to make amends for a lifetime of neglecting her... but keeps screwing up. There’s a really well written scene and sequence where he invites the stripper Cassie to help him shop at a thrift store for a gift for his daughter... and that gift has a swell payoff and twist in the story.

Though Rourke is getting all of the Oscar buzz, Marisa Tomei gives another great performance as the stripper Cassie whose real name is Pam and has a son and dreams and tragedies and struggles of her own. Tomei is a fearless actress. When she won her Oscar for MY COUSIN VINNIE lots of people thought there must have been some mistake - maybe they got the wrong envelope or something. But since then, she has proven again and gain that she deserved that Oscar. Here she is a mirror to Randy’s tragedy - and has a bunch of great scenes where she gives a layered performance to match Rourke’s. She is the stripper long past her pull date, who must act like she enjoys her job when she hates it... but maybe secretly loves part of it. Name another Oscar winner who would give a performance like this - so sad, so tragic - in a microscopic G string? Tomei is topless for most of the scenes in the strip club, and she looks great for a woman no longer 20... Okay, I’ve always had a crush on her. But some other actress would have played the stripper fully clothed - and that would have been bullshit. You’ve seen that in movies before. For some reason the movie star stripper never strips. Here, she’s just one of the strippers... but older and with more mileage. Like Randy, she’s in a business where she must take care of her body by any means necessary - and her body looks just as good as the girls half her age. But Cassie’s eyes are old. She’s seen too much. There are several great scenes where Cassie is smiling with every part of her face but her eyes... I’m not sure how Tomei did that.

One of the interesting things about this story is that Cassie desperately wants to escape the spotlight and just live a normal life... she wants to live as Pam, not Cassie. But Randy desperately wants to live his entire life in the spotlight and never have to live a normal life... he wants to live as Randy The Ram and hates when people call him by his birth name Robin... the name on his W4 at the grocery store, so they put it on his name tag. These people are star crossed lovers - and are struggling with almost identical problems, just the mirror reflection of those problems. Opposite solutions.

I am not going to give away the big spoilers that actually kick the plot into gear, there is so little plot here that even to tell you the inciting incident will give away too much. This is a film with two great performances, and so many great little details that you feel like you are there... and Mickey Rourke is back! But for how long?

Pages: Friday I managed to write 25 pages of blog related material (including this entry). Yikes!

- Bill

Thursday, January 01, 2009

My Three Favorite Mystery Writers Have Died

Don Westlake died of a heart attack on New Year's Eve, on the way to a party. He was 75. That's kind of ironic, because every year for the past decade or so Westlake has written a story for Playboy where his series character John Dortmunder crashes a Christmas or New Years Eve party while on the run from the law.

I would not be who I am today without having read Westlake. When I was in high school I saw the movie POINT BLANK with Lee Marvin, which is probably my favorite movie. Not the movie I think is the Best Movie, the movie I enjoy watching the most. It's based on a book called THE HUNTER by this guy named Richard Stark... and so I looked for books by that guy. And the books were great! Stark writes these brutal novels about this guy named Parker who steals for a living. There was this series of Parker books, and while in high scool I read through all of them... and would hang around the library waiting for the new ones to come out. The Parker books are the inspiration for everything from RESERVOIR DOGS (I talked to QT about the books one afternoon at a Fango convention before everyone knew what he looked like) to HEAT. In the books, someone would come to Parker (or one of the other thieves) with a score - something valuable that could be stolen and sold... or some payroll worth lifting, or maybe an armored car. Parker would put together a team of experts, pull the robbery, and then things would go wrong... and get really violent. Parker didn't like killing people, but sometimes it was required.

When I was about to graduate high school the books just stopped... and just as Parker's life had gone to hell. PLUNDER SQUAD managed to kill off half the characters when they went up against the Mob. Grofield, the comedy relief character, gets all of his fingers hacked off. I wanted to find out how they all got back on top... but there were no other books.

So, while I was looking around for something else to read, I found these private eye novels by this guy named Tucker Coe. As spartan and brutal as the Parker novels were, the Coe books were evocative and beautifully written - like a Chandler novel. This Coe guy loved words, loved language, and knew how to put together one of those sentences that were poetry. His books were about this private eye, Mitch Tobin, who always saw the worst parts of people... and became more depressed with every book. He was building a wall around his house - and around himself. The books were dark and kind of depressing - but you could get lost in the language. I don't know what happened to this Tucker Coe guy, but he quit writing around the time I began reading him - maybe even earlier. But his books were new in paperback, and fairly popular in the mystery section.

So, I was dating this girl, Debbie, who asked me if I'd ever read anything by Don Westlake. I had read BUSY BODY and FUGITIVE PIGEON and liked them, and knew that the movie THE HOT ROCK was based on one of his books. But, you know, I'd never devoured his stuff. Debbie and I broke up, but I started buying and reading everything Westlake wrote - and this guy was funny as hell. There were comedy crime movies - sort of like those Bob Hope films - but this Westlake guy had perfected that genre mix. SPY IN THE OINTMENT was kind of Woody Allen meets James Bond - someone thinks this regular guy is a spy and now everyone is trying to kill him. You laugh your butt off and sit on the edge of your seat. But Westlake's Dortmunder books (like HOT ROCK) are what got me hooked. Dortmunder is this series character - a second storey thief with the worst luck of anyone on the planet. When he and his gang figure out some intricate split second timing to steal some gem or work of art... minute-by-minute things just go completely wrong. For instance, BANK SHOT is about a house trailer kind of thing being used as a temp branch of a bank while they build a new bank building. Dortmunder and his gang figure they'll just steal the whole bank! And if it were only that easy, but one thing after another goes wrong and they loose everything. These books had TOPKAPI type schemes and big belly laughs. Somehow, Dortmunder would always end up at a police convention with a priceless jewel that had just been stolen and every one of the cops wanted to get whatever promotion might be had by arresting the guilty party. Humor and crime combined? That's kind of where I'm most comfortable. Well, this Westlake guy just kept writing, and I kept reading....

And my three favorite writers at one point were Don Westlake, Tucker Coe, and Richard Stark...

And then all three were interviewed in one of the mystery mags I subscibed to... and in the middle of the interview, Westlake pulls a gun and kills Coe and mortally wounds Stark. Huh? Well, it was Westlake's coming out as the other two writers (plus some other writers I had never read). This had been a big secret - no one knew they were all the same guy until this point! And it was no wonder - all three had completely different writing styles. Different vocabularies. Different voices. These were three completely different people!

And that's where Stephen King got the idea for THE DARK HALF - about a novelist whose pen-name Stark starts killing people... and leaving behind the novelist's fingerprints!

So, every year a new Westlake novel comes out, I buy it and devour it... and every once in a while I read some book that seems like it might be Westlake in disguise. It's hard to tell, because the guy is a chameleon... but when I read the first Sam Holt book - about a Tom Selleck style TV star who keeps getting caught up in real mysteries - people think he's his Magnum-like character and ask him for help, or he'll be on the set or at some TV show related function and somebody gets killed... and they expect *him* to solve the crime like he does on TV. Only, he's just an actor! But in every book, Sam Holt figures out who the killer is - and the fun is in the difference between his TV character and his real life. That one ended up being Westlake in disguise. He's written under a half dozen other names - and usually nobody recognizes him until he reveals himself. I'll bet there are another half dozen we will never find out about...

Because he passed away.

Oh, and when he wasn't writing novels under a dozen names, he was writing screenplays. He wrote one of the greatest slasher-thriller films of the 80s, THE STEPFATHER - a film with more going on in it than you might expect. He was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for THE GRIFTERS. And many of his books have been adapted to movies by folks like Godard and Costa-Gavras.

No one can ever replace Westlake... it would take a dozen people just to write all of the novels! He will be missed.


Hunter (1962): "When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell."

The Man With the Getaway Face (1963): "When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a stranger."

The Outfit (1963): "When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed."

The Mourner (1963): "When the guy with the asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away."

The Score (1964): "When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call."

The Jugger (1965): "When the knock came at the door, Parker was just turning to the obituary page."

The Handle (1966): "When the engine stopped, Parker came up on deck for a look around."

The Seventh (1966): "When he didn't get any answer the second time he knocked, Parker kicked the door in."

The Rare Coin Score (1967): "Parker spent two weeks on the white sand beach at Biloxi, and on a white sandy bitch named Belle, but he was restless, and one day without thinking about it he checked out and sent a forwarding address to Handy McKay and moved on to New Orleans."

The Green Eagle Score (1967): "Parker looked in at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits."

The Black Ice Score (1968): "Parker walked into his hotel room, and there was a guy in there going through his suitcase laid out on his bed."

The Sour Lemon Score (1969): "Parker put the revolver away and looked out the windshield."

Deadly Edge (1971): "Up here, the music was just a throbbing under the feet, a distant pulse."

Slayground (1971): "Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other."

Plunder Squad (1972): "Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left."

Butcher's Moon (1974): "Running toward the light, Parker fired twice over his left shoulder, not caring whether he hit anything or not."

Child Heist (1974) (a Parker book they read in the Dortmunder novel Jimmy the Kid): "When the guard came to open the cell door, Parker said to the big man named Krauss, 'Come see me next week when you get out.'"

Comeback (1997): "When the angel opened the door, Parker stepped first past the threshold into the darkness of the cinder block corridor beneath the stage."

Backflash (1998): "When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first."

Flashfire (2000): "When the dashboard clock read 2:40, Parker drove out of the drugstore parking lot and across the sunlit road to the convenience store/gas station."

Firebreak (2001): "When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man."

Breakout (2002) : "When the alarm went off, Parker and Armiston were far to the rear of the warehouse, Armiston with the clipboard, checking off the boxes they'd want."

Nobody Runs Forever (2004): "When he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, 'Deal me out a hand,' and got to his feet."

Ask the Parrot (2006): "When the helicopter swept northward and lifted out of sight over the top of the hill, Parker stepped away from the tree he'd waited beside and continued his climb."

Dirty Money (2008): "When the silver Toyota Avalon bumped down the dirt road out of the woods and across the railroad tracks, Parker put the Infiniti into low and stepped out onto the gravel."

Great stuff, huh?

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Holiday Block older tips that need a rewrite and haven't run for a while.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Dinner with a bunch of friends in San Francisco, then drinking in a bar in Chinatown.

MOVIES: FROST / NIXON - Okay, so our story is about a TV interview - two guys sitting in chairs talking to each other. Oh, and we’re also going to go behind the scenes and show how the interview was set up - you know, the research and contracts and stuff. Oh, and this movies is about an old interview - which cuts one of two ways: you either are old enough to know about the interview and have probably seen it, or you are young enough to not know about the interview... so you also don’t care about the subject matter. By the way, the interview is on DVD - so you can watch the real thing, not the movie recreation, if you are really interested. Why watch some actor play the President, when you can go down to Blockbuster and rent a DVD with the real President? The original interview could be seen for free in your living room, this movie will cost you $11.50 at the cineplex - plus $5 for a soft drink and $5 for popcorn and $5 for candy you could buy for $1 in the store. Okay - how do you make this movie worth seeing? How do you make it exciting?

You cast the story in a genre. The historical drama ELIZABETH was one of my favorite films a few years back because they prevented the story from becoming a stuffy history lesson in corsets by “casting it” in the gangster genre. It became THE GODFATHER in frilly shirts - with Queen Elizabeth as Don Corleone having to deal with all of the treachery and skullduggery and double and triple crosses of being in power. Trying to decide who to align herself with when gang wars broke out. And dealing with those advisors who have their own secret agendas and alliances. I had never seen an historical film about people long dead that was as exciting as ELIZABETH. By treating the story as if it were a gangster film - and even turning the scenes of violence into something that would be at home in a gangster film, they turned history into an exciting genre film. The whole movie was told as if it were THE GODFATHER... including, after all if the betrayals are played out... the Queen’s final violent revenge plays just like Michael Corleone’s revenge in THE GODFATHER. The same scenes - just with frilly shirts and corsets.

So FROST / NIXON casts itself as a boxing film - sort of like ROCKY. We have an underdog taking on the undefeated champ. Instead of researchers, we get Boxing Coaches - kind of a Trainer and a Corner Man. Everyone keeps telling Frost he has no chance of winning this fight - he is hopelessly outmatched. And from what we see of Frost - he doesn’t have a chance. He is a talk show host about to take on the President Of The United States... a President who managed to resign from office without anyone ever laying a hand on him. No proof or wrongdoing. He’s like the Champion Boxer who retires without anyone ever laying a glove on him. How can this talk show host possibly manage to last 4 rounds with him?

The 4 rounds element is built into the story - Frost had 4 interview sessions with Nixon, and the film treats each as a round of boxing. In fact the number of rounds and conditions for the fight are set up in a meeting that could have been between Frost and Don King. The first battle is all about how the battle will be fought - how many rounds, what are the rules, how much will be paid... and even who will televise the bout. The Champ gets paid the same whether it’s a network or syndicated on a bunch of independent stations. In these negotiations, we see what a powerful opponent the Champ is - Frost doesn’t have a chance! He’s gonna have to do that full Rocky work out, including beating the meat (if you’ll pardon the expression).

But after the fight is set up, the Trainer and Corner Man get pissed off again and again at Frost because he’s spending more time in the spotlight at the Contender than he is in training. He’s screwing up! He’s gonna get K.O.ed in the first round!

Each of the four interviews plays out as a round of boxing - with questions and answers as punches. There are even two corners, where the Trainers and Corner Men from each side watch the fight as it unfolds - even doing the debate version of yelling “Throw a left! Throw a left!”. And the questions and answers become exciting, because it’s not just an interview - it is a championship boxing match between a completely overmatched contender and the undefeated champ. We see the questions as punches, the answers as blocks and counter punches. And you, as an audience member, start to look for that undefended area where you might land a punch. “Ask him about....”

As with all great boxing movies, our over matched contender takes a beating in the early rounds, but right before the last round has that big talk with his Corner Man and Trainer (is Oliver Platt or Sam Rockwell playing the Burgess Meredith role?) and works through his pain, uses that secret punch he learned in training but seems to forget when he’s in the ring getting pummeled, and goes out to win the fight.

FROST / NIXON is an exciting film... about an old television interview.

- Bill

M4M2 (UK): Sunday, Jan 4th - 3:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

You have been warned.
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