Sunday, May 31, 2009

Indoor Voice

So, I work almost every day in some coffee shop or another (usually 2 or 3 with meals or bike rides in between). I am in a Starbucks right now. I have my *headphones on*. I have the Jerry Goldsmith CRANKED. I can still hear the LOUD people sitting behind me. I can't hear my music, but I can hear them yelling at each other. And they are not fighting - they just have the volume cranked to 11. It is really pissing me off, and I can not wait for them to leave so that I can get back to work. I've been working here all evening without problem until they sat down.

Okay. I've vented.

- Bill

Bond vs. Bond

Pierce Brosnan wants his old job back...

- Bill

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

I had the same problem with this film that I had with STAR TREK - that kid is too young to play Kyle Reese!

The strange thing about TERMINATOR: SALVATION is that STAR TREK has all of the same problems - all of them - but for some reason got much better reviews and was more readily accepted by those people on message boards who bitch about movies. I do not know why this is - maybe because most of the past STAR TREK movies haven’t been winners, yet the first two TERMINATOR movies are classics that may be two of the best genre movies ever made. When you see a STAR TREK movie, if it’s enjoyable and in focus it’s good (though the lens flare thing still bugs me)... but with a TERMINATOR movie you can’t help but compare it to the first two - and almost any film compared to a James Cameron film is bound to suffer (unless you are comparing it to PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING). You just expect more from a TERMINATOR movie.

Though TERMINATOR: SALVATION has all kinds of problems, it’s still a fun, stupid, somewhat enjoyable action packed summer sci-fi movie... but as a TERMINATOR movie? Crappy. If there had never been any Terminator movies, or if this had not been connected to the franchise - would have been dumb summer fun. Problem is, the "baggage" of the past films means this has to be better than dumb summer fun - and it was not.

Though I do not know the whole script backstory, from press stuff I know that John Conner was a minor character in the original script - which focused on the Marcus character. When they hired Bale and he became the *star*, he had the whole script rewritten and (by Bale’s account) told the writer what he wanted to do. I think this may be the case of an interesting script being turned to crap in rewrites.

I think Marcus is the most interesting character - and all of the John Conner scenes undercut the Marcus story and undercut the film. Had this been all about Marcus, this guy who wakes up in the future after the world has gone to hell and tries to figure out what happened and figure out who he is now and what his place in this world is... that would have been involving and interesting. But when Marcus is often second banana to an emotionless dude who yells and makes speeches on the radio all the time - the film loses just about everything. (For instance - the big reveal scene becomes about how Conner was betrayed by Marcus, instead of how Marcus was betrayed.)

I liked the Road Warrior chase stuff - and was shocked that the kid from ROAD WARRIOR had a sex change and was now a mute little girl, and thought the different terminators were cool - but there wasn't that one cool thing... like the liquid metal T-1000 (or the T-800 in the first film). These different terminators were okay but not mind-blowing cool. The grabber one I liked best - it made me jump a couple of times... but haven’t I seen that in TREMORS? When you think about the first film - the concept of this completely unstopable killing machine from the future that can imitate the voices of your loved ones and repair it’s skin and pass for human... that was all amazing stuff back then. And it’s even amazing stuff now. When I rewatch that film, I forget how cool it is when the Terminator pretends to be Sarah’s mother on the phone... and lures her into a trap. And the cool factor of repairing itself - the exposed machinery under the skin is right out of that Matheson short story. T2 has the amazing shape shifting T-1000 - kind of the voice imitation taken to the extreme. These things are leaps of imagination that are not present in T3 and T4 - and that is a major problem with T4 as a Terminator film. It’s doesn’t have anything so amazing that you wonder how something even came up with that. Though the big *grabber* Terminators and their motorcycle attachments were cool - a great idea within the world of Terminators - there wasn’t anything that was outside what we expect... not a problem for a non-Terminator film, but the mid-blowing elements are what we *expect* in a Terminator film.

Just as STAR TREK had plot holes you could drive a whole convoy of trucks through, T4 has all kinds of plot problems.

The other three Terminator movies are chase films - with an unstopabale killer robot of some sort after a human character. In T1 we have Ah-nuld chasing Sarah Conner. In T2 we have Robert Patrick chasing Sarah and teen John. In T3 we have Kristanna Loken chasing John Conner as a young man. In T4? No one is being chased! No one is being threatened! The biggest problem with this film is that both the antagonist and protagonist have non-existent or hollow goals. Late in the game someone notices that it might be a bad thing for Kyle Reese to be killed - but that isn’t driving the story... nothing really is. And here’s the problem with the Kyle Reese thing - Skynet has a billion chances to kill him and is so inept it doesn’t act. What’s up with that?

Since the Marcus character and Kyle connect early in the film, I wonder if there was a draft of the script that focused on Kyle being the target of a chase, with Marcus protecting him... and eventually going into Skynet to rescue him? And I also wonder if the big reveal happened *near the end* in that Skynet scene that exists in the film?

The “machine stopping signal” thing - and even Michael Ironside (with both arms) in the submarine - undercuts Kyle Reese as a target. By creating a second plot that is all about destroying Sky Net HQ, we now have a second reason to go to Sky Net HQ. So, which is more important - Kyle Reese or blowing up Skynet HQ...

And it seems to be a regional HQ at that - not the thing that changes the fate of mankind, just a minor battle. Though we know this is the first of a proposed new trilogy, we still need to have the ending for a stand alone movie. McG has leaked to the press that he had a darker ending but decided not to shoot it - and even though that ending sounds interesting, it’s still a *crap* ending. It isn’t that big blow-up-the-Death-Star ending we need in a summer movie. Just more ho-hum crap... just more interesting ho-hum crap than the filmed version.

They needed to "build the legend" of the Sky Net San Francisco HQ - so that it is a really big thing, and no one has ever come out of there alive, and they steal people and... do something... to them there. Why do machines need people? Build that up into the thing that drives the story. Maybe there are other Skynet HQs, but none of them are stealing *people* and doing something with them... what could they be doing? There’s a great Philip K. Dick story (turned into the most boring movie in the world) called “Second Variety” about a future man vs. machines war where the automated machine assembly line has come up with a new type of killer machine... but nobody knows what it is. They only know it exists. The story is a quest to discover what this new type of machine is... and they discover it is an infiltration unit that looks and acts human... which leads to everyone pointing the finger at everyone else like in Carpenter’s THE THING and there’s a nice big twist end in the story *after* they think they have destroyed the man-machine. The initial mystery in that story about what the heck this new killing machine is could have been used to fuel T4. And even though *we* know what a T-800 is, and why they need human flesh to create them, the characters wouldn’t - which could be used to create suspense. We know they shouldn’t go in that old dark house where a bunch of people were killed in the first ten minutes, but they don’t. They could have given the characters clues to what happens in that factory, and the characters could have gotten them *wrong* - maybe thinking that they were peeling skin from people as a form of torture to interrogate these people and find out about the underground. That would have built some audience participation - we’d be yelling at the screen: No! They’re stealing people’s skins for T-800s! But they needed to **build** the legend and mystery of the San Francisco HQ so that it becomes the Death Star. It can’t just be some building, it has to be the biggest and most interesting thing in the movie.

Oh, and Marcus gets in too easy.

Oh, and the resistance isn’t ever the underdog in this film - making the story not work on a basic level. Hero must always be underdog. Here - people are constantly outsmarting the machines (oh, the old rope-across-the-street trick!) so that you wonder why we are watching this movie in the first place - humans are obviously going to win this.

Oh, and this was one of the reasons why people didn’t like *T2* - humans are at war against machines. So any time the humans use a machine, that’s stupid. It’s at odds with the concept. Giving the humans a huge airforce and all kinds of other helpful machines doesn’t just stop them from being the underdogs, it also has them collaborating with the enemy! BATTLE FOR TERRA has an *amazing* alien world where wind and wood have replaced metal. I think it would have been cool to create a post-apocalypse world where all machines were suspect, and humans *only* used non-computerized, non-metal, non-electronic devices. Let’s create a future where people actually *fear* machines!

You have great actress Jane Alexander, and she gets a couple of lines of dialogue? No way! I kept thinking she should be like the leader-woman from THE STAND - this could have been a great part! Instead I wondered why the hell she was in this film.

Thought Kyle Reese's speech after he was captured was good, and I liked the allusions to the war on terror in some other character's dialogue, much of the dialogue was OTN crap. Instead of finding ways to recycle some of those iconic lines of dialogue from the first two films, they needed to come up with *new* iconic lines. This is a major problem in the film biz right now - instead of trying to do something new and interesting and unique... a film that amazes us now - everyone seems to be picking through the bones of past films giving us a bunch of remakes that are more of the same. And T4's biggest problem is that it is nothing new - no amazing new ideas and no amazing new lines of dialogue. Find me an original quotable line of dialogue in this film! We can’t predict what is going to stick with the audience, but we can sure as hell write some amazing dialogue that gives them a selection of things they might quote. Give them bland, stale dialogue and they aren’t going to remember any of it.

Another big problem with the film is that it’s not emotional. The great thing about the first two Terminator movies... and even the third one... is that they were filled with big emotional scenes and big emotional decisions. “I now know why you cry.” Man, no line in film has gotten me to tear up like that one... and I was crying for a freakin’ robot played by the future Governor of Califlowernia. We can learn a great screenwriting lesson by tracing that line through the preceding movie - it was set up so well! The set up scenes were great scenes! There was *nothing* in T4 even close to this - the big emotional scenes all belonged to Marcus, and many were undercut by John Conner’s character. Conner had *zero* emotional scenes, and that is the biggest mistake in the film. By making the leader of humanity into this cold heartless idiot, they make me wonder why I should care whether the machines win or not. I mean, why would I want a world where humans act more like machines than the machines do?

I ditched the TV show when it became apparent that they had no idea what they were trying to do. The show jumped the shark in whatever first season episode that was when they jumped up in time - it became a dopey soap opera instead of a show about John Conner learning the skills he would need to lead the human race to victory. I don't think those are *fighting* skills - I think it's learning what makes us human. The first season ender was great - but second season was just more crap. They never figured out what the show was *about* - and that ends up being the problem with T4, too. What is this movie about? What are the big emotional decisions the characters must make?

Remember in T2 when Sarah goes to kill Dyson (the always great Joe Morton) who she thinks is the evil dude who will start Skynet... but he’s a nice guy with a family? And she realizes she still needs to kill him? That is one great scene without a single special effect. Hey, and if we *only* look at the character of Dyson, what an amazing journey that guy takes! How many big emotional scenes does he have? And his final scene - how haunting can you get? I can still hear his raspy breathing in my mind. Every character in T2 has *big* emotional scenes and *big* emotional decisions to make... And even in T3 we get some big juicy scenes - Kate and her father, John realizing he must step up to be the leader, and that ending... Plus, one of the fun elements of T3 was the bickering couple being chased - kind of like Hitchcock’s 39 STEPS - and even though they dislike each other, they are fated to be married. Doesn’t seem likely throughout the movie, until that big ending where we realize it’s inevitable. As much as you may not like T3, it still works as a Terminator movie, and it still has some great emotional moments and one hell of an ending.

T4 - what are the big moments? Where are the emotions? They squandered a great chance for -something- with the relationship between Marcus and the Moon Bloodgood character. A great place to put in those little detail moments that later pay off in “I now know why you cry” moments. But we got nada. And that relationship was nada. I really liked the idea of a hot kick ass woman, but they even squandered that! Hey, this was the CHARLIE’S ANGELS director - you’d think he could have at least got that part, right!

I liked that they brought back Helena Bonham Carter from the opening scene - but that scene was undercut by the earlier reveal. But it seemed like Bryce Dallas Howard (who is hot) is only in the film because her character was in T3... and they needed some way to make Christian Bale seem like less of a machine. And Common - who has one of the most interesting faces in the biz - is completely wasted as Conner’s pointless second in command. Why not give that guy something cool to do? This gets back to the “what’s it all about, McG?” thing - but why weren’t we given different characters with different theories about how best to *have* a future of mankind? Let Common completely disagree with Conner, let Jane Alexander have a strange theory that makes complete sense in this post-apocalypse world, create a *discussion* of what the future of mankind should be. A debate. Give us some *ideas* that we can think about later!

Problem is - I don't think McG knows why we cry.

The film seemed to fight any chance at being more than just summer action crap - it often seemed like they were on to something and then buried it - between Marcus discovering who he is and throblem is - I don't think McG knows why we cry.e signal going two ways (these things seem connected) it seemed like there was a better draft of the script somewhere that got destroyed in rewrites - where the intentions of things like this were not understood by the new writer... or maybe it was just the director who didn't get it.

Like STAR TREK, I think if you are going to do something in a beloved series you have to do something great... not something that just cashes in on the name brand. I still don’t understand why the stupid summer movie that is T4 is any worse than the stupid summer movie that is STAR TREK - they both have the exact same problems (Nero's loopy plot, only one big emotional moment, a massive amount of plot holes, crazy coincidences, how come Kirk & Spock can walk to the Fed Outpost when both had to hide in the cave from monsters earlier, etc, etc, etc). But since most of the previous STAR TREK films sucked, a silly summer movie version of STAR TREK is considered "good". TERMINATOR: SALVATION has to carry all of the baggage of the first two great fims, and the third okay film... and collapses under the weight. I liked the film as a dumb summer action flick, was disappointed in it as a Terminator movie.

Two more films in this proposed trilogy... but did this one terminate the last two?

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Where's The Beef? and why act 2 should be easy.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Caesar salad.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Green Latern Trailer

This fan made fake trailer is amazing. It makes me want to see a movie that doesn't exist, and makes me want to ask my friend Paul who is stunt-double for Nathan about all of the behind the scenes stuff (which obviously hasn't happened... yet!).

Things like this make me feel like a thawed out caveman - some danged kid probably made this on his laptop... and I can't figure out how to get my VCR to stop blinking 00:00.

AND: My friend Scott who does coverage for producers for a living, also offers his services to screenwriters. Find out what the studio reader thinks of your script - for $60. Sixty Buck Notes.

- Bill

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I'm on Twitter

As if I didn't have enough to do already.


It's connected to my Facebook page - so you can get all of my tweets there. Trust me, it's not like I'm going to have time to tweet much (and most of the time I'm doing something boring like writing).

HITCHCOCK: Because I was facing a deadline on an emergency article and was only half done with DIAL M and for many folks in the USA Friday was a half day, I decided to postpone that Hitchcock entry until next week.

PLUS: Go over to *Also, I Can Kill You With My Brain* (blog linked in that endless messy stream of links on the right ->) and check out Shakespeare's Star Trek.

- Bill

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Have I Seen Any Movies?

The summer I graduated High School I took off from work and just saw movies. Hundreds of them. All in cinemas (no other choice back then). I averaged three films a day in cinemas that summer - many of those films were in far off cinemas that required hours of driving from one cinema to the next with fast food meals in the car in between. I had a diary, and listed every movie I saw, where and when I saw it, and a couple of lines of what I thought about it.

When I first added the MOVIES element to the Important Updates on this blog, the plan was to start that diary all over again. Great plan, wish it would have worked. The first entries here were often the title of the movie and a line or two about what I thought of it. But some movies I wrote full reviews of, trying to figure out where they went wrong or what they did right and how all of that applied to screenwriting. And that’s where things went wrong. Because those full reviews were often mini screenwriting lessons, and I could use them either to update old Script Tips on my website or as the raw material for whole new Script Tips. Suddenly, the movie entries were more than just part of my daily diary on this blog, they were *important*. I couldn’t just jot down a sentence or two that night before going to sleep or the next morning while waiting for the coffee to kick in - I had to think each movie out and find the screenwriting lesson hidden within and analyze the good and the bad and... well, it became *work* (my least favorite four letter word). So everything depended on how much spare time I had, how much energy I had to write up the reviews, and how much I gave a crap about my website at the time.

I have notebooks filled with notes on films I have seen, but never gotten around to analyzing for valuable screenwriting lessons. Many of those notes have often found the lessons to be learned from these films, but I never found the time or energy or enthusiasm to type it all up for you folks to read... and later for “harvest” into Script Tip material. So months later I come across the movie entry in my notebook and realize that I should type it up, and that goes on the big To Do List along with everything else I never got around to. The worst thing is when I come across the entry for some awful film that is the *perfect* bad example to illustrate how some element of story can be done completely wrong - and I have some old tip that needs an example like this - but my memory of that awful film has thankfully been wiped... and writing it up would require me to see the film again. Um, do I really want to waste the time and money to see a *bad* movie again?

So I am rethinking the MOVIES and DVD update section - and hopefully from now on there will be three kinds of listings there - what I saw last night in a quick paragraph, what I saw last night in a longer review... and sometimes the full analysis of some movie which may have only gotten a quick paragraph the day after I saw it. That way it works as a diary entry... and also allows me to come back later with some details (or not). For a the next few days I’m going to try to clean out some movies recently seen with some quick reviews, starting with....

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Relationships and Cool Hand Luke.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Massive Buritto at Tortas on Ventura Blvd - so big I can not eat the whole thing.

Movies: GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST - How many movies have stolen the main concept of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Some steal it well, like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but most use the device poorly or for some silly reason that results in a terrible film. Add to that the number of actual versions of CHRISTMAS CAROL, whether they are faithful (like the Mr. Magoo cartoon version) or updates (like the brilliant Bill Murray version) and you have a plot device that is overused. But, where critics are quick to discredit a film because they’ve seen this one before, a familiar story is often an asset to the audience, provided there is some unique twist on it - like being haunted by old girlfriends who show the protag his past, present, and future romantic life. That actually seems like a fairly clever way to spin a rom-com.

But it *was* a rom-com and my hopes were not all that high for this film. Which was probably a good thing, because it was better than I thought it was going to be, mostly due to Michael Douglas doing his best version of 70's stud Robert Evans (producer of THE GODFATHER and many other great films, and sex partner of many hot actresses and starlets). Douglas is funny as hell, and a little tragic at the same time, and pretty much steals the show.

The rest of the film is okay - amusing enough - but the big problem comes with the end and McConaughey’s character - who is a completely uncaring creepy who has slept with a million women (great sight gag as there is a never-ending night club filled with every one night or one hour or 15 minute-in-the-coat-room stand he has ever had... and it juts goes on and on into infinity), but is redeemed at the end and hooks up with the one girl he loved, Jennifer Garner (looking a little wide in the hips, here, compared to the army of hot bods in McConaughey’s past - but maybe that’s a good thing). Just like in Christmas Carol, he wakes up in the morning a completely changed man - and after being a complete jerk for the previous 90 minutes it’s hard to believe the change. The movie gives us a potential love interest for Garner that is everything McConaughey is not - and the problem is, since I like Garner I wanted her to hook up with that guy and not McConaughey. The better end would have been for him to release her to the other guy. That wouldn’t have been the rom-com ending, but after a whole movie about what a jerk McConaughey is, it’s hard to actually want him to hook up with Garner. Instead, you want him to pay penance somehow - maybe become a monk with a vow of chastity.

The film earns points for digging below the surface and giving us real characters and real relationships (like his relationship with his brother played by Breckin Meyer), for fleshing out even the minor characters like the bridesmaids at his brother’s wedding (all are potential bedmates for McConaughey, but each is actually given a unique character even though their screentime is limited), for acknowledging the Christmas Carol roots of the story with some clever gags, and for actually being funny - the film is genuinely funny. Oh, and Matthew McConaughey - not my favorite actor (is he an actor?) - does a great job of playing this jerk in a way that we don’t hate him... we actually like him. He’s smooth talking and funny and can beak hearts in ways that are either so over the top they are some sort of fantasy or so clever that the woman doesn’t realize she’s been dumped. Between the script and McConaughey’s performance, you like this character who by all rights should be unlikeable. You just don’t want him marrying your sister - or Jennifer Garner. And that’s the problem.

- Bill

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fango Tango 2009

The Sunday before my horror class I was living the horror movie life style at the Fango Horror Convention in Los Angeles. The whole thing began on Friday morning - it’s a three day event - when I met with my friend Rod at the LA Convention Center at 1pm, the convention began at 2pm but sometimes there’s a line for tickets.

Here’s the scam, in case you want to go next year - the 3 day ticket costs $65, but you can get $5 off coupons for every day and only spend $55. So that was the plan.

Another part of the plan - Rod and I split a room at the Holiday Inn across the street from the Convention Center so that we could drink all night and not worry about getting popped for a DUI. Last year a bunch of us closed a bar every night, and it’s so much easier to just walk back to the hotel and crash, than have to drive home and get up the next morning to drive back. Also, the hotel included parking... and Convention Center parking can be expensive (there was a Laker’s game one of the nights and a Brittney Spears concert on the other night - making parking *really* expensive. Those Convention Center lots have signs with all kinds of prices, depending on what’s going on.)

So, first thing I noticed - the event was even smaller this year than last year... and spread out in a crazy way. They had two rooms with speakers and presentations - a big one and a small one - on opposite sides of the Convention Center! You had to run from one event to the next. The screening room was a shoe box, like last year, and they didn’t have anything that was a must see. I always think this is one of those things they could easily turn into the center ring - we have so many new horror films coming out, why not *preview* the hot new films at Fango?

This year they *did* do my suggestion from last year and have some seminars - the screenwriting class was from Clive Barker. Clive is notorious for clubbing all night and then showing up for morning events the worse for wear, and I wondered how his 2 hour class went... and if he even made it there. By the way, his 2 hour class on writing horror cost more than my full day class a week later. Oh, and there were no fliers or adverts at the event for my class (should have been). A couple of years ago I told Tony I’d be happy to do a 2 hour class for them... but I guess Clive is a better draw than I am. Still curious what his class was like. They also had a class in make up effects and a class in low budget film making.

The dealer’s room was literally half the size of last year - same room with a divider down the middle. That may have actually been a good thing, because all of those vendors who had women with their asses hanging out last year were not there. Last year there were all of these crazy sex/horror things - from start up magazines that featured naked girls and horror movies to websites where you could find a hot girl penpal who would pretend to be interested in geeky horror guys (and probably take off their clothes and pose for a fee). That’s where all of the half naked girls came from. This year, those guys were gone - just a single naked girl/horror magazine. There were still some attractive women, but not a hundred half naked women packing the joint so that people would regret bringing their kids. I know that sounds silly when we’re talking about an event featuring people dressed as ghouls and zombies, but kids know that’s let’s pretend stuff and kids also have that love/fear thing going on with monsters and dinosaurs and scary stuff. The horror stuff is make believe, the tits and asses are real... hmmm, okay - the *asses* are real. Hmm, okay, never mind, it’s all make believe.

Corey Haim was there trying to sign autographs but no one was buying. He was in a film the began with a script I wrote that is so bad it is not even available on video in the USA... but I didn’t ask for an autograph, either.


Sam Raimi was in the big room on Friday with a preview of DRAG ME TO HELL... which I think we saw the trailer for last year. This year we got some clips - including a great one where bugs are projectile vomited. What’s interesting about Sam is that he started out making these dopey little horror movies but now he’s Mr Hollywood. Maybe this is a return to his roots? Looks cool... and it’s about home foreclosure leading to a Satanic curse. What could be more topical?

One of the problems with Fango has always been a sense of disorganization - they need to resolve this. It’s fine for some small show to be a little ragged around the edges, but the show is no longer something that takes place in some small rented hall - this is the Los Angeles Convention Center. Things need to look professional. When the announcing is just babbling and there are long pauses between guests and often the moderator is not prepared, this isn’t good. They should at least get a moderator who can both be prepared for the interview *and* tell jokes or kill time in an entertaining manner if they are waiting on late panel members. Every year Seth Green and some hot babe are there wandering around the dealer’s room - why not hire him to by MC? There has to be some stand up comic who is also a horror fan.

Oh, and another big problem is the way they do speaker autographs. After a guest or panel speaks in the big room, they go behind the stage to an autograph area... and the Gold Ticket holders in the first ten rows all get up and get in line for autographs... leaving the front of the auditorium vacant for the next speaker or panel. Half the audience is standing in line for autographs instead of sitting in their seats - the audience loses out and the speakers may be insulted by the empty room.

Other panels I went to had some problems. Every year they have a “Spooksmodel” contest to find some hot babe to be the Fango LA Spooksmodel (I have no idea what the duties are, and what would happen if one were not chosen some year - probably complete chaos.) The whole thing is just an excuse to get hot women to model for horror geeks. I have never been to the competition... but last year’s Spooksmodel was supposed to moderate the original cast of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT panel, and was about half an hour late. The audience was just sitting there for half an hour without any moderator explaining the problem - because there was no moderator. When she eventually showed up, she was unprepared and asked a bunch of dopey questions. So the panel took over for her and asked each other questions - which was really great. David Hess and Fred Lincoln were like a comedy team.

I went to the panel for my friend Darin Scott’s new movie DARK HOUSE about a Halloween haunted house event in a legendary real haunted house... that goes terribly wrong when the *real* haunts get confused with the fake haunts. The film looks like fun, and stars Jeff Combs and Diane Salinger and a bunch of young actors. But the moderator *only* asked questions to Jeff Combs! It’s like he had a man-crush on him or something. There were about 8 panelists, and all of the questions were directed on *one* of them. This was not only insulting to the other 7 who just sat there, but as an audience member I wanted to hear from all of the other cast members as well. Either Combs or Darin deflected a question to Salinger - who has been in a bunch of movies and TV stuff and was Simone in the first Pee Wee Herman movie! But after she answered, the moderator went right back to Combs... until Salinger finally interrupted and mentioned there were other people on the stage, why not ask them some questions? This got some applause from the audience. Seriously - they need a more professional group of moderators!

I also went to Fred Olen Ray’s panel on the TV show THE LAIR - which I have never heard of, except on Fred’s message boards. It was in the big room, and that was kind of strange, because Fred does little low budget genre films. He directed my robot hooker from outer space movie (and is probably the *nicest* director I have ever worked with). Well, THE LAIR is like a Gay version of DARK SHADOWS that plays on one of the Gay cable stations. Not my demographic. But it seems that Fangoria Magazine is reaching out to the Gay horror audience, which appears to be much bigger than you would think. They have a column on Gay horror, now. I think Dave DeCocteau pioneered that niche many years ago - and while the Fango Convention was running downtown, Dave had a triple feature of Gay Horror Films playing at a cinema in Beverly Hills. Anyway - Fred was funny as usual, and the clips were interesting. Fred said they shot as many as 22 pages in a single day - the budget was low and they had to shoot fast. The average low budget film is probably going to shoot between 5 and 10 pages in a day - and 10 pages is close to impossible. But 22 pages? What does this show look like? Well, the shocking thing was that it looked *great* - in the clips was this really creepy slow dolly shot on a dead body at the morgue which popped up. How the hell can you do dolly shots when you are shooting 22 pages a day? I asked Fred afterwards and he told me his theory of shooting fast (which is the same theory that I have) - most of the shots are going to be standard coverage - a wide shot, then some close ups. But every 5th shot Fred tries to do something interesting and artistic. That way the show has some style. On the robot hooker movie, we always had the camera on dolly tracks and Fred tried to have as many moving shots as possible because low budget films tend to be “sticky” - they look like they were shot on sticks (tripod) with no camera movement. But I’m amazed that Fred can shoot 22 pages (that’s like a whole half hour episode!) in one day and have style, too.


The big problem with the Fango Convention is that it seems like the same old people we saw last year and every year. The novelty of going to a convention and seeing the actors from some iconic horror film or seeing the trailers for new movies isn’t there anymore. Much of this probably has to do with the internet. It used to be cool to go into the dealer’s room and pick through posters and toys - I remember seeing Quinton Tarantino there one year - before he was famous - looking through posters in the dealer’s room. Now you can go on the internet and look at posters for sale all day. And while you are on the internet, you can see behind the scenes stuff from classic films, or even watch interviews and panel discussions. And there is no shortage of info on horror websites - from old movies to new movies to rumored movies. You know all of this stuff *before* you come to Fango - so what’s left to experience there?

Maybe Fango needs to partner with a studio or two and become *the* place to announce new films and show new footage - like Comicon has become? They need *exclusives* - things you can not see anywhere else but at the Fango Convention. Not on the internet. If they partnered with LionsGate to be the *exclusive* convention for their films - that would make it a must attend event. Problem is - why would LionsGate want to limit their publicity to Fango? They have to figure out an answer to that - a way to make LionsGate *want* to give Fango first dibs on exclusive clips and trailers.

Then they need to find some movies to *premiere* at the screenings. And not some crappy low budget back yard movie - a real big theatrical horror flick. See it here first. And keep an eye out for horror films at festivals that have not been released in the USA, yet - maybe turn the screenings *into* a horror fim fest? Right now DEAD SNOW is playing the festival circuit in the USA... why didn’t it play at Fango? Every time I go to a festival, there are horror films playing at midnight... and sometimes movies like CALVAIRE in competition. Why not snag these films and show them as *events* - movies that are not available in the USA yet, but you *can* see them at Fango! Now the screenings seem like an afterthought - a way to use up that extra room they rented.


Though there was no epic night of drinking with fellow Fango fans in the hotel bar this year, there were a couple of gals in the hotel who were going to the convention for the first time, so Rod and I acted as their guides... and we had dinner together and went drinking in some interesting upscale bar downtown for the two nights they were there. I had no idea there were that many cool bars *downtown* (you know, where they shot SOLOIST). Sunday afternoon they caught a plane back to whatever state they came from, and I have no idea whether they will be back next year... or what the convention will be like next year. Half again the size? Maybe a closet with a single chair in it, like that cinema in the multiplex in BACHELOR PARTY?

How do you make a convention exciting in the age of information when people can find out anything just by going on line? Why is ComiCon growing every year and Fango shrinking? Someone needs to figure out the secret to ComiCon's success and apply it to Fango. I'm sure that it has to do with exclusive content - the reason why you go to an event like this is because you can not get the information anywhere else. Maybe they will figure all of this stuff out and next year will be amazing.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Love Racks! and how to make sex scenes interesting.
Yesterday’s Dinner: A couple of Big Burgers at Carls Jr which I think are better tasting than the more expensive burgers they sell.

Movies: - STAR TREK - I did not go into this film with high expectations - I do not think J.J.Abrams is a genius, and am a non-fan of the writers (THE ISLAND, LEGEND OF ZORRO, TRANSFORMERS, M:I:3)... but the film was okay, maybe even good. Just not great - and I think when you are rebooting a beloved franchise you need something better than “good”. On the whole, STAR TREK comes off as enjoyable summer junk food.

The movie opens up *great* - with a really emotionally wrenching *action scene* where Kirk’s father sacrifices himself so that Kirk’s pregnant mother will live... and she gives birth just as his father dies. A great opening scene that really involved me in the story... of Kirk’s father.

From there we get a scene with kid Kirk that is pointless - okay, it shows that Kirk is a troublemaker kid, but that’s an *external* - the scene doesn’t give us anything like the emotional material in that opening scene, and doesn’t take us inside the character. It’s a cool action scene that is also *cold*. The kid Spock scene is much better, showing him picked on in school for being biracial, and struggling to be a good Vulcan.

One reason why the kid Kirk scene doesn’t work is because it’s duplicate information - we have a nice bar room brawl with Kirk when he’s an adult that gives us all of the same info, plus introduces Uhra, plus introduced Pike, plus is the thing that gets Kirk to join Star Fleet. This is a much better scene, but we are still mostly on the exterior of Kirk’s character - we don’t understand why he’s a brawler. Is it because he didn’t have a father figure... or because he can’t measure up to his hero father? These are two opposites, and would take the character on opposite emotional journeys. There are dozens of other possibilities, as well - we get none of them. We just know the symptom, not the reason - so we can not know what Kirk must accomplish in order to become a whole individual. We don’t know what specific things in life will set him off into bad behavior, and what things will put him on the right track to conquering his demons.

And, the film doesn’t seem to really care.

After the great emotional opening, it’s mostly about cool stuff. We get another good emotional scene where a character’s family member is killed before their eyes, but that’s pretty much the end of human characters in this film - we are on to big summer brainless popcorn film.

A popcorn film with some cool scenes here and there, but a loopy plot that seems completely contrived - and not well contrived. I don’t understand what the hell Nero is up to - he wants revenge for something that hasn’t happened yet and also happens off screen - it’s just an excuse for the action, and not one that makes any sense. And though the planet implosion things was cool - and probably the one shot in the trailer that made me *have* to see this film - it’s complete nonsense. Red matter? Doesn’t matter. The Villain and the Villain’s Plan and even the method of that plan and the Villain’s motivations are the engine that runs the story, and this engine doesn’t work very well. It’s just a house of cards that creates conflict.

One of the critical things in an action film is the relationship between hero and villain - think of Indiana Jones and Belloq or Luke Skywalker and Darth or Itchy and Scratchy... Usually the hero and villain either have the same issue but different ways of dealing with it, or are polar opposite sides of an issue. Whatever point your script is secretly making, the hero and villain are the most important elements in illustrating that point. Here, Nero wants revenge and Kirk wants....?

The film gets some of the relationship thing between Kirk, Spock, Bones... but not the banter. Take any episode of the old TV show and these guys are throwing lines at each other and seem like they're the space version of the Rat Pack. I think the two things that made the original show memorable is the relationship between these three guys - always bickering and yet they are friends. It was a buddy comedy in outer space. Here, not quite as fun.

The other thing that made the original series something we think about today is that the shows were *about something* - made in the late 60s, and they always tackled issues. Even a comedy episode like TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES is tackling an important issue and making a point about our society. In the movie - no issues, none of that basic use of science fiction as a way to reflect our current social problems. And in most of those old episodes, Kirk usually learned some valuable lesson - yes, you may think that kind of stuff is corny, but it’s a basic part of storytelling. You can do it right - and it’s a deeply moving element of the story, or do it wrong and it’s fake. Here - not done at all! It’s almost as if all of the *character* elements from the original series were left out for some reason. I think that’s what makes this just popcorn junk - it is pointless and the characters are all surface, no depth... except for Spock, who - by nature of his biracialness (not a word) - gets to actually wrestle with his identity. He comes off as the best character in the film, and it makes you wonder why the others are so 2D. Was it because Spock has a built in emotional conflict from the original series and none of the others do? Hey, this is an origin story - so let’s dig into the characters and find out what made them who they would become!

Another thing that made the original series fun when I was a kid was that it took us boldly to where no man had gone before - it had that gee whiz factor. A sense of awe and discovery. Here - just kind of mundane. Everything has a “been there done that” feeling that makes the whole film kind of ho-hum. Some complete wrong headed thinking filled the Academy with aliens and had Kirk nailing a green alien girl between classes... hey, that stuff is supposed to come with exploring alien worlds! The original series would take the Enterprise and her crew to a new planet every week where there was a new crises, at least one new form of alien life (and some hot extra terrestrial for Kirk to nail), and some valuable social issue lesson for Kirk to learn by the end of the show (it was the late 60s). But here we get the alien girl is a given - just another girl. And the alien dudes at the Academy - just another dude at he Academy. Nothing special about them. Nothing special about *anything* in this film. Because the strange is made normal, the film seems old and bland. I know they thought they were being clever with this stuff, but the screwed the film for something that isn’t even a laugh - just an acknowledgment of the original show. They destroyed the *spirit* of the show to make a refence to the show. What were they thinking?

STAR TREK isn’t a bad film, it’s a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours. Some amusing scenes, some action packed stuff (but the action was not directed well - choppy and mushy and not as exciting as it could have been). I liked Kirk, I liked Spock, I really liked Uhura, I liked McCoy, I liked Sulu... I hated Checkov. Way too young to be flying the ship. And I *hated* the lens flares - what’s up with that? Calling attention to it being a movie makes it less real! Bad move. But I still enjoyed it more than a lot of the other films I've seen this year.

Oh, and the audience booed the Transformers trailer. I have no idea why, but it doesn’t bode well for the film. Or, maybe it’s just that STAR TREK fans don’t like TRANSFORMERS. Who knows?

- Bill

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Value Increases

My out of print book sells used on Amazon for about $100 - it's been as high as $321. It's sold on e-bay for $750... I get none of this money. It seems like most of the places on Amazon are book stores and used book stores - I can imagine someone coming in and trading 5 books (including mine) and getting one free... and then the book store sells the book online for $100!

Or maybe $182.15 - the current asking price for a used copy on Amazon!


Amazing! I hope the guy who traded it at the used book store got something nice.

I haven't checked e-bay, yet - but maybe there's a copy there for under $200!

- Bill (still working on the new edition)

George Lucas' STAR TREK Test Film

You may not know that Paramount (the distributor of the INDIANA JONES movies) offered the STAR TREK franchise to George Lucas a couple of years ago. Here's the leaked test footage he shot...

Wouldn't that have been better than the version they released?

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Projectors (how we can read your attitude in the script) & NETWORK.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Burgers at Carl's Jr.
Bicycle: I have been riding a lot. That is good. I did the North Hollywood jaunt yesterday - 6.5 miles, but seems like less because it's just down the street. But I'm taking a couple of days off from riding to rest a bit. I think I've been pushing myself too hard. But on Thursday, the car keys go back in the envelope and I ride into Toluca Lake.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Important Information For All Of Us!

Yes, it's Friday and the Hitchcock articles are still trapped in my computer trying to get out. But here's a public service message that will help everyone live a better life. It's about Zinc Oxide...

There - aren't you glad you took the time to watch that? Have a great weekend!

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Reversals in action & ROAR WARRIOR.
Yesterday’s Dinner: half a chicken at a non-chain chicken place while bike riding... against the freakin' wind!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Class Dismissed!

I know it’s been a while since my last real post, but I was busy with my class. A while back the Expo folks asked me if I wanted to do a one day class for them, and I said yes. Like I have nothing else to do! They wanted me to do the horror class because it always gets great “grades” from the students at Expo every year... and I’ve been doing it every year since the first Expo.

Well, two problems with that from my POV - the class is basically an hour and a half that I can expand to 2 with clips, and since I’ve been doing it every year at Expo to packed rooms I think everyone has already taken it. Well, they wanted a full day and they wanted horror because it was a proved success. My spit and gaffer’s tape solution was to combine the horror class with the thriller class (which is about 3 hours, and can be 4 hours with clips) - but that’s still 2 classes I’ve done every year at Expo.

My problem last year at Expo was that they picked the classes for me - instead of letting me do the 4 new classes I’d written, or even a mix of old and new, they gave me the same classes I had been doing since Expo #1 - because they had been successful in the past. Ironically, one of those classes is on ideas where I say that you need something the same but different. Something unique. And now I’m doing a one day class that is more of the same. How to attract an audience to something that most people have heard before?

Well, the first thing I decided to do was write some new material. That way, even if you took the class every year at Expo there would still be new material. So last week was spent writing new stuff for the class - 5,327 words on Contained Thrillers on Tuesday, 2,234 words on Creative Kills on Wednesday, and 6,136 words on Horror stuff and Thriller stuff on Thursday. And I was watching new horror films every night, looking for trends of elements that I could add to the class. Friday I selected clips and organized the class materials (and went to the movies). Saturday was my last day of prep...

The class began at 9am in Beverly Hills (Pico & Beverly Drive) and I needed to be there at least a half hour early. Problem is - as Beef says in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, “I am a professional”. I sleep until noon sometimes. I don’t do mornings unless there’s some important meeting. To get to Beverly Hills by 8am I’d have to get up... well, probably around 6:30. Sure, I probably could have slept until 7, but that’s when there’s a wreck on the 405 and I end up late. By the way, the location is not freeway close. Fastest way to get there would be over Laurel Canyon... which is a narrow road, one lane in places, and can get jammed.

And once I arrived? Even if all I did was quaff coffee in the car, I’d still be sluggish. No blood flowing, no exercise... I’d probably nod off halfway through class. That’s okay for a student sitting in the back of the room, not so good for the teacher. So I came up with a crazy idea (as usual) - I would ride my bike. Not over Laurel Canyon - that’s suicide - but there is a little bus with a bike rack that goes from the Laurel canyon News Stand over the hill to the Beverly Center. I could ride to the news stand, then drink coffee on the bus, then ride from the Beverly Center to the class. I’d get some blood flowing, get some fresh air, and would probably even zip by stop-and-go downtown traffic on my bike.

Of course, all of this was weather dependant. There was some rain in the forecast, and if that hit on Sunday instead of Saturday morning, I’d be driving and nodding off in class after lunch. The week leading up to the class had crappy weather for bike riding - lots of high winds - and the plan to get some good rides in before the class ride didn’t happen.

We got our sprinkles early Saturday morning, so weather on Sunday was perfect... and even cool and not windy! Problem, as usual, was that no matter how early I went to bed on Saturday night I did not get to sleep until late. Alarm went off at 6am, I showered, rode to the newsstand, drank coffee over the hill, rode to the hotel... got there just before 8, so I found a Starbucks for more coffee and went back at 8am and set up. Got instructions on how to use the DVD player/projector and did a test before anyone showed up. Cool!

I wondered how many people would show, since it was a class I’d done a million time before, and there were some behind the scenes issues. I asked for a banner for the class - never got one. They promised that there would be Lunch With An Agent as part of the class - that didn’t happen. They were supposed to have an advert in Creative Screenwriting Magazine (*their* magazine) - didn’t happen! They couldn’t even get an advert for their own class in their own magazine! I still had to make the deadline to get my class description to them for the magazine press date - they just didn’t get it in there. So I had no idea how many people would show... ended up filling all but seven seats! Not bad.

Class went well - I was awake, felt pretty good. There were enough questions that I didn’t even use all of the new material!

So, after class was over I got on my bike and made a crazy decision. Instead of riding back to Beverly Center, I would ride to the subway station at Wilshire and Western. Take the subway back (the Universal Station is practically in my back yard). My theory was - if I got tired, I could put the bike on the front of a Wilshire bus like a wimp. I had no idea how far the Western subway station was... but it was a reasonable bike ride. A couple of times (at hills) I thought about wimping out... but decided I’d just work through it. Wasn’t until I got home and Mapquested that I realized it was a little over 7 miles without a break. Add the morning ride segments and that was over 9 miles for the day.

In the old days, before I got fat, I used to ride from my apartment to Priscilla’s Coffee in Toluca Lake, do a half day’s work, then ride to Coffee Bean on San Fernando for the rest of the day’s work, then ride home... round trip was 10.5 miles. I did that every day except Sunday, when I’d ride somewhere else. I am not even close to being able to do 10 miles a day every day in this fat incarnation of me, but after the 9 mile ride on Sunday I still felt pretty good... and did a 6.5 mile round trip down the street to North Hollywood and back to run some errands on Monday.

So I feel really good about being able to ride that distance without my legs turning to jello, then still being able to ride the following day without falling apart.

Now if I can just get this new spec script finished...

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Pork Fried Rice & Pot Stickers at City Wok.
Today's Script Tip: All About Antagonists!
Movies: I have seen a whole bunch of movies... reviews to come.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New Issue Of Script Magazine - Star Trek, Terminator

Here's what's inside:

Interview: Bob Peterson and Pete Docter Elevate the Art of Story Telling With Up
It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. No, not Russia -- Pixar! Writer Bob Peterson and director Pete Docter sit down to discuss the studio’s next feature, Up, and explain how the brand’s unique story process works.

Man Versus Machine Terminator Salvation
Skynet has become self-aware, Judgment Day has come, and Earth as we know it has been obliterated in a nuclear holocaust ... now what? Writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris pick up the story and switch gears in hopes that Salvation will uphold the Terminator franchise's legacy.

Writers on Writing: Land of the Lost
Sure, futuristic aliens stood alongside prehistoric dinosaurs, but that’s what made Land of the Lost a mid-70s’ Saturday morning staple. Scribes Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas recount how they updated the familiar weirdness in their big-screen adaptation.

Living Longer and Prospering: Crafting the new Star Trek
Dyed-in-the-wool Trekker Roberto Orci and passionate fan Alex Kurtzman were nonetheless surprised that the first adventures of the original Star Trek team had never been dramatized. Here, the writing and producing team talks about why and how they took on that challenge with a little help from two original cast members and one slightly warped timeline.

The Best is About to Get Better
As we approach the long-awaited release of Final Draft version 8, the Final Draft, Inc. Product Usability Team offers their impressions, assessments and expectations for the upgrade.

The Ultimate Writer's Workspace Giveaway
We’ve been stocking up on over $8,500 worth of essential screenwriting gear with the intent of handing it all over to you -- if you can prove that you deserve it. Take a look at all that’s included in our ultimate writer’s workspace and enter for your chance at the prize.

Reality Bites: Writers Get Clever
What can drama writers learn from reality television? Phil Gladwin examines the story of the late Jade Goody and ponders how reality serves writers in a world obsessed with voyeurism.

I *Heart* Unsympathetic Protags
Who says that every protagonist must be sympathetic? Just about everyone. Mystery Man, however, explores the possibilities of the unsympathetic protagonist and argues that audiences don’t need to feel for a character in order for the story to be successful.

ProdCo Spotlight: Radical Publishing
Barry Levine turned his cinematic approach to rock ‘n’ roll photography toward the animated world of graphic novels. In the midst of successful graphic novels turned box-office hits, he formed Radical Publishing -- a company focused on creating premium comic-book products that will eventually land on the big screen.

New Media: Anytime Creativity Strikes
When the writers strike left Bob Kushell and Russell Arch with an unfamiliar abundance of free time, they resorted to producing a five-minute Web talk show out of Arch‘s garage. The result, Anytime With Bob Kushell, proves that people like their talk any way they can get it.

Independents: Anatomy of An Action Scene, Part 1
What’s the point of action in a film? Should you even include it in your screenplay? Using Casino Royale and Hellboy II, William Martell explains how and why action scenes should do more for characters than beat them to a pulp.

Good Examples: Jonathan Nolan on The Dark Knight
By now the shattering performances by Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger have become synonymous with the success of The Dark Knight. But the seriousness of purpose with which its screenwriters crafted the script was key to the film’s triumph. Writer Jonathan Nolan recalls what went into the landmark screenplay.

For more info: Script Magazine

To subscribe (though Amazon): Subscribe To Script!

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Patty Melt.
Bicycle: Rode a little yesterday and a lot on Sunday... over 9 miles on Sunday! Not a record, but a record for Fat Bill.
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