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.


Emily Blake said...

It probably would have made his time worth while if he had mentioned that right from the beginning.

Martin_B said...

"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..."

No, no, don't stop.

Christina said...

I used to live on Pacific two blocks away from Jackson Fillmore - I love that place. And I bet you went to the tiki bar on Geary in the Richmond, another one of my haunts.

Luzid said...

"...but something is going on behind the scenes and they declined his offer and shut the theatre."

Lot of that happening these days, even with our economy looking into its own grave (think the MPTF debacle).

laxel said...

It sounds like you're well into the first episode, but it seems to these untrained eyes that a good place for the first cliffhanger might be the moment it dawns on him that he is the target... end it with him turning from the door while lowering the envelope, a pallor coming over his face (working in a mirror for him to stare at as the photo falls to the floor might be a nice touch that reinforces the notion that it's him in the envelope).

Also, you probably thought of this already, but it might be easier to pull off (mysterious package, etc) if the envelope was marked with a number that could be read one way when right-side up, and another when upside down. Say he's in room 618, the hitman is in 819. A simple mix up to explain away the coincidence. This would help along any cut sequence from the hitman upstairs pacing and anxious in 819 to the unexpecting guy downstairs as he answers the knock.

The only advice I give, BTW, is bad advice. So I'd probably disregard the above.

wcmartell said...

Number thing is already part of the story, and even though it says "a man's photo" that's for the logline, it's more complicated in the story - a time and exact location. That way we don't know who the target is... and I can play with that.

he is *not* the target. He is the guy the hitman must kill because he knows about the target. The guy in the middle.

laxel said...

"He is the guy the hitman must kill because he knows about the target. The guy in the middle."

Sucks to be him. The idea that it's coordinates or a time and place probably lends itself to more imaginative scenes than a simple pic. Good choice.

I'll be interested to see how the 'guy in the middle' is gonna be played on screen. A youngish boomer stirred from a mundane existence to MacGyver style feats? Maybe a Randy Quaid-type from Lampoon's Vacation bumbling through a bunch of near misses? David Brent from The Office kissing all kinds of butt to get out of danger instead of taking it like a man?

Sounds like a fun project, no matter how you do it.

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