Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Films That Are Now National Treasures

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

• "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)

• "The Exiles" (1961)

• "Heroes All" (1920)

• "Hot Dogs for Gauguin" (1972)

• "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957)

• "Jezebel" (1938)

• "The Jungle" (1967)

• "The Lead Shoes" (1949)

• "Little Nemo" (1911)

• "Mabel's Blunder" (1914)

• "The Mark of Zorro" (1940)

• "Mrs. Miniver" (1942)

• "The Muppet Movie" (1979)

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

• "Pillow Talk" (1959)

• "Precious Images" (1986)

• "Quasi at the Quackadero" (1975)

• "The Red Book" (1994)

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

• "Scratch and Crow" (1995)

• "Stark Love" (1927)

• "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945)

• "A Study in Reds" (1932)

• "Thriller" (1983)

• "Under Western Stars" (1938)

- Bill

Monday, December 28, 2009

KICK ASS trailer - red band - bloody!

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

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

- Bill

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


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

- Bill

Monday, December 21, 2009

How Santa Makes His Rounds On Christmas Day

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

Happy Holidays!

- Bill

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Arkham Tales

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

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

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

- Bill

Monday, December 14, 2009

New *Improved* Movie Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I find it within that hour. By accident.

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

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

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

- Bill


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

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meeting Flurry!

Nothing like those McDonald's milkshake things.

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

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

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

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

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

In 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

In 2009:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

Yesterday's Dinner: Mom's meatloaf.

Underpants T shirt

Top 10 Films About Underpants T Shirt: SALE $9.99

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Am Scum

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

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

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

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

Potential Oscar Scripts

- Bill

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Compulsions Web Series

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

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

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

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

- Bill
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