Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Schlock (1973)

This is one of my favorite films... and you have never heard of it.

First, a bit of background... In the 70s there were a bunch of skit comedy movies like THE GROOVE TUBE (with Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer and "Brown 25" - we make dolls out of it) and TUNNEL VISION (with Phil Proctor and Howard Hessman and Kissinger grilled on a Sesame Street type show about Viet Nam). And they were okay... and then came KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and it was 100 times funnier than the others. I saw KFM in my local cinema, and when I drove to Los Angeles I saw it in some funky old Hollywood Blvd cinema. That movie was made for me! I was alternating between short super 8mm thrillers and skit films, and KFM was the ultimate skit film. So much better than GROOVE and TUNNEL. Who directed it? Some guy named Landis.

I had a subscription to National Lampoon Magazine, which was huge back then, and they decided to make thier first movie, called ANIMAL HOUSE. And who did they get to direct it? That Landis guy from KFM!

I landed a job managing a movie theater, part of a small chain that began as Jerry Lewis Family Cinemas, but that company went bankrupt and this guy bought all of the ones in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was managing one out in the East Bay, and my biggest problem was that the owner never booked a studio movie. He booked all kinds of weird crap, and then expected us to sell tickets to this junk! We showed a comedy spaghetti western called ONION BREATH about a cowboy who wasn't a quick draw, he just had really bad breath. We had a low budget horror movie with Christopher Lee that had the worst special effects I have ever seen. We had one bad film after another...

And then we showed SCHLOCK!

Directed by that Landis guy!

It was his first film, it had been sitting around on the shelf for years, and the guy who owned the cinemas made some sort of deal to show it for a week. The doorman in my cinema, who was an artist and drew some amazing pictures (I hired him because he was talented and needed a job), actually drew and inked the poster... because whatever poster there had been previously we didn't have access to. Tim drew this amazing poster, and they made copies, and that poster went from cinema to cinema around the Bay Area along with the single print of the film.

But the amazing thing - SCHLOCK was funny as hell! We had a college nearby, and I made up mini posters and put them up all over campus (did the same for my Halloween show of PSYCHO) and we packed the cinema every night. Because it played 3 times a day and 5 times on weekends, I could quote every single line of dialogue from the movie. And it was *funny*. My favorite part - after the ape kills a whole playground full of people, the coroner puts all of the body parts into Hefty Trash Bags to take to the morgue and try to put them together to figure out exactly how many victims there were... and the local TV station has a contest: if you can guess how many people the parts all add up to, you can win a free dinner for 2 at a local restaurant. The TV news guys was a Ted Baxter type, who is shocked to find out the ape may be what is called "Homo Erectus". Plus, there is a cute blind girl who has been dating a guy for years and has just had eye surgery and when the bandages come off... will she like the way the guy looks? The killer ape tries to attack the blind girl, but she thinks he's a dog and plays fetch with him... And all kinds of other silly gags. I loved this film - it was the only thing we showed at that cinema that wasn't complete crap!

The end of the story: Because the cinemas were not making any money, the owner decided to do something controversial by booking THE SNUFF MOVIE. I argued against this until I was blue in the face. We were in suburbia. We had a church down the street. The cinema chain sold itself to the various communities as a family chain. People were going to torch the place! I suggested we show a bunch of old family friendly films instead - maybe 3 STOOGES movie double bills, or even some classic 1950s monster movies. I had a list of films I would rather show than SNUFF... and thgat I tought would sell more tickets.

My PSYCHO Halloween show had done well, I promoted the heck out of it, and the film was cheap to rent because it had been on TV a zillion times. But I turned the movie into an *event*, see the scary movie on the big screen and try not to scream! I was sure that if we showed good old movies and had a family discount night instead of the absolute crap films we had been showing, the cinema would make money. But the owner knew more than some stupid film buff kid... and booked SNUFF for a week.

The night the movie opened there were picketers.

And we did not sell a single ticket.

By 9pm that first night, the police arrived. They were going to confiscate the print of the film and arrest *me* for violating community standards.

I had a talk with the district attorney and told him I was completely against showing this crap, and the cinema chain owner had booked the movie over my protest. Would they let the little fish (me) go to arrest the big fish (my not all that big idiot boss)? I phoned the cinema chain owner, told him I had an emergency - there were police and picketers at the cinema and they wanted to take the print. He tried to get me to hide the print somewhere so that the police couldn't get it, but I told him he needed to come down here and explain to the police that we couldn't just have over a $15,000.00 print of a movie. The cinema owned drove down to the cinema...

And was arrested by the police. I waved to him as the cuffed him, and made sure his head didn't bump the door frame as they put him in the back of the police car.

Then I gladly handed over the print.

They closed the cinema, and I was out a job.

The real pisser? When I left I didn't even grab one of those SCHLOCK posters. That would be a big time collector's item, and I'll bet even John Landis doesn't have one!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Short Films - and how to write them.
Dinner: El Pollo Loco - black beans, corn on the cob.
Bicycle: Medium, probably should have been longer.
Pages: Kind of dropped the ball today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm sorry!

Movies 4 Men, Monday (today) at 1pm:

Steel Sharks

When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

Sorry to everyone in the U.K. who may accidentally see this. To make up for it...

* Orson Welles' TOUCH OF EVIL restoration

* TOUCH OF EVIL review

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Someplace Cool - the world of your screenplay and TOY STORY 3's day care center.
Dinner: Ham sandwich at Togos.
Bicycle: Really short - and that was a mistake.
Pages: Not much got done. I usually take Sunday's off, but wanted to catch up a little on the script and do some blog entries. Was going to take a longer bike ride to downtown Van Nuys where my friend Eric's video store is - it was his birthday - but I was afraid I'd be too tired to write if I rode that far. So, short bike ride... and then didn't get anything done! Should have rode out to Eric's and hung out.

Movies: Friday - KNIGHT AND DAY - I went in with low expectations and liked it. Hey, not a great movie or anything, but I had a good time and thought it had many more character moments than a film like that needed. Was it full of illogical and convenient plot things happening and about a hundred really lucky breaks - cars that wreck so that they take out badguy's cars but miss Cruise by an eighth of an inch. The end explosion that was sledge hammer set up (hey, after the second time they talked about it being unstable, I knew the end... so why the 5 more mentions?), but I went in thinking this was going to be a stupid summer movie so I gave some of the stuff a get out of jail free card. It was fun, so the convient stuff wasn't a big deal.

Cruise has got to be the least sexual man on screen. I would find it easier to believe that Diaz would want to have sex with Rupert Everett before Cruise. He just seems cold and plastic. So the big kiss scene didn't seem real to me.

But lots of ROMANCING THE STONE type moments of mistrust, and I *loved* the Diaz black out action scenes where she wakes up in the middle of some unseen major action scene, then passes out again.

And stuff about Diaz's father's car and her sister were great character things... and the car ended up part of the story, too.

One good thing about him in this film - though everything is over the top (that's just the way the story works), Cruise manages to underplay it enough that he seems subdued and "real". No sofa jumping.

Diaz needs to figure out what she's going to do when her ass is no longer a movie star, and just being cute and perky isn't enough. I like her, I think her personality comes through the screen and you want to hang out with her for a couple of hours... but she isn't getting any younger. She needs to cultivate an older type of character to play and maybe do some edgy indie thing.

Kind of a silly glossy star vehicle kind of thing - fluff. I think if KNIGHT didn't have all of the competition it would have been #1 this weekend. It's an okay movie.

Movies: Saturday - THUNDER SOUL at Los Angeles Film Festival. Produced by Keith Calder, his blog is over there --> and a great documentary about a High School jazz band in the 1970s that won a bunch of awards and did some touring... who get together 30 years later to play a concert for their 90-something year old music teacher who is in poor health. Funny and heart warming and very emotional. A great movie... and it won the Audience Award at LAFF (hey, I voted for it!). After the movie, there was a *rockin'* concert by the band - a bunch of guys and gals in their 50s whose lives were changed forever by this music teacher. I had a great time!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Trailer Day

Okay, the original plan was to have the SUSPICION edition of Fridays With Hitchcock ready by today... but the original plan was also to run a review of THE OUTFIT on Wednesday. None of these things got done.

The good news is, I think I am on track with the assignment script - I have one more difficlut day (tomorrow) and then all of the difficult things will be set up and the story kicks into gear... and it's the unexpected difficult things that will get in my way from that point on. Wrote a cool scene today, and I'm happy with it.

But I have nothing for today except this link...

1) Query Letters From Hell!

Plus some movie trailers and this short that I posted on FaceBook.

2) A great short I saw at Raindance last year which won Bablegum this year. Very creepy and beautifully shot - and well written. One of the great things about going to festivals is seeing all of this fantastic talent that's out there... that Hollywood has no idea exists. One of the great things is the title - who is the monster in this film?

Lots of dread and suspense and at least one jump moment... but the relationship between the two kids is more frightening than that thing living in the basement. The director bought me beers one night until neither of us could stand... and is a friendly, funny guy.

3) A feature I saw at Raindance from Hungary - a zillion twists, lots of suspense, and an interesting character study thrown in for the subtitle crowd. A lonely medical examiner starts a relationship... and gets an offer to kill a stranger for a pile of cash. He is used to dead people, so maybe he could kill someone? But nothing is what it seems. Is the new woman in his life part of the assassination plot? And if she isn't, how can he kill a stranger and then act like nothing has happened when they go on their date? Greatest opening scene I've seen in ages!

4) Trailer for another movie I saw at Raindance... back in 2004. This one is available in the USA now... but the english trailer on YouTube is of poor quality, so here is the Belgium trailer. The worst lounge singer in the world's van breaks down in the backwoods, and a widowed resort owner takes him in... dresses him as his wife... and...

5) The winner of Best Foreign language film at Raindance last year (I handed out the award) was this kick-ass Spanish crime film that is like LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL with a dozen plot twists and some great characters...

Okay, hopefully *next week* there will be some of the new blog entries promised!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Original & Emotional Action Scenes and THE EXPENDABLES, WAR and TRUE LIES. Complete rewrite of an older tip!
Dinner: Steak & Baked Potato & Broccoli & salad & soup.
Bicycle: Longer than expected! Usually I ride away from home to some coffee shop, work, eat dinner nearby, and then ride back home to my local Starbucks for more work... but I decided to ride farther away from home to a restaurant miles away for dinner. Then return to the same coffee shop for my night shift, then ride all the way home. A good ride - worked off the dinner!
Pages: Great day for writing! 8 pages including some difficult stuff.
Movies: Hey, I've seen TOY STORY 3... and you should, too!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Retired, Extremely Dangerous

This looks like fun - great cast, and a great concept: what do you do with skilled spies when they reach a certain age?

Thanks to Terrance for the heads up.

Sorry I haven't been around lately, I've been trying to keep up with the assignment. I am still behind, but think I've got a good grip on it now. The first act is either a breeze or hard work - and this has been hard work. I have a detailed outline, but it tells the story instead of showing it, and I've had trouble trying to figure out how to get some of this info to the audience. A couple more days and I'll be out if act 1 (a week over schedule) and into the fun stuff.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: On The Nose Scenes and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's love scenes vs. the one in SEND IN THE CLONES.
Dinner: Turkey sandwich at Togos.
Bicycle: Really short.
Pages: Only 3 pages due to lack of sleep, but should make that up today.
Movies: Monday night - POINT BLANK and THE OUTFIT.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blackbeard: Legend Of The Pyrate King

And while I am plugging friend's works, the new issue of BLACKBEARD just hit the shelves at comic book stores. #4 - co-written by Jaime Nash who wrote the great DELIVERANCE-with-alien-rectal-probing film ALTERED.

The no-holds barred pirate adventure includes an all-star creative team (Written by Robert Place Napton & Jamie Nash; Story by Eduardo Sanchez & Gregg Hale; art by Mario Guevara & Romulo Fajardo Jr.)! In this issue: Teach makes a momentous decision that helps to forge his legend and his destiny forever.

- Bill

Family Bones - True Terror Comic!

And my friend Shawn Granger's true comic book series about the charming members of his family who were also notorious serial killers is now complete! He grew up with these people... and has turned that experience into a graphic novel. Part 2 comes out on July 4th (Amazon pre-order), here is the link to Part 1...

And here is the link to Part 2...

And here is the story description:

This is the final volume of "Family Bones", a true crime graphic novel about the elderly serial murderers from Missouri. In their 70's, Ray and Faye Copeland were sentenced to death for the murder of many farm workers that lived with them. The tale told through the eyes of their unwitting nephew comes to a gruesome conclusion. And through it all somehow this city boy finds young romance with a neighbor's daughter. Written by the actual great nephew of Ray and Faye Copeland, "Family Bones" is a gritty, fish-out-of-water American gothic that will send shivers down your spine. Art by many of the rising stars in the comic book industry; including Brent Giles, Mannie Abeleda, Pablo Agustin Lordi, Stefano Cardoselli, Kyle Strahm, Will Caligan, & more.

- Bill

Tossers Online!

After a very successful festival run, the SoCal Film Group's mockumentary TOSSERS, written and directed by Danny Grossman) is now online for all to see!

The description...

"Welcome Frisbee Dancers!

It started a few years back, when German performance artist Frederik Vilhelm was playing frisbee and ... tripped, basically, but did so in such an artistic and flamboyant way that a new art form was born. This season should prove especially exciting, as last year, we came close to almost very nearly breaking even.

We're excited to have returning champions Willow and Moonbeam Goldberg - they're practicing Vaicans (Vegans Against the Imagination of Cruelty to ANimals). We may also see the return of the famous frisbee dance team sensation Simon & Sherman (provided there's no full moon, and Sherman does not become a werewolf).

Join them and many more as they toss their way into your heart!"


Tossers from Danny Grossman on Vimeo.

- Bill

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Point Blank & The Outfit

Sunday and Monday at the New Beverly Cinema - Lee Marvin punches guys in the crotch. Whenever this movie plays in Los Angeles, I go see it... because it's always a *different* movie. Is he dead? Is he Gay? Is he just a bad ass? Plus, Angie Dickenson is *nekkid*. Based on the novel by Richard Stark (Don Westlake). Doubled with THE OUTFIT - a kinda sequel.

A scene from THE OUTFIT - Robert Duvall vs. the great Timothy Carey. I love the way Duvall casually slams the guy with his gun while entering the room - doesn't even slow down. THE OUTFIT is also based on a Stark novel - the one that comes right after POINT BLANK - and has Robert Duvall playing the badass... but this is just a straight 70s action flick with no weird stuff. Duvall and Joe Don Baker screw with the mob and prove that two clever badass guys are stronger than a hundred goons in suits.

Written and directed by John Flynn, whose next film would be ROLLING THUNDER (screenplay by Paul Schrader). He was one of those no-nonsense action directors. There's a great scene in the film (right from the book) with Sheree North as a backwoods temptress who loves to have men fight over her - a great tense scene where she tells her husband that Duvall screwed her. The film is not on DVD (hey, MGM or whoever owns this, get off your butts!).

Between POINT BLANK and THE OUTFIT, MGM made THE SPLIT with Jim Brown playing the role. Peter Coyote would later play the role in SLAYGROUND - which is the stupid version of the Stark novel... a real mess! Joel Silver was going to make 4 of the books as cable movies (I think for Showtime) with Stallone in the lead, but it didn't happen.

Here's my obit for Don Westlake (aka Richard Stark): My Three favorite Mystery Writers have Died.

Coming soon to the blog - an essay on POINT BLANK...
Coming soon to the blog - a piece on the Parker novels: how the same basic idea (a heist) can be told in dozens of different ways.

- Bill

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lancelot Link Thursday

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who think 100 monkeys with movie cameras might make MEMENTO, here are some articles about screenwriting and the biz that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

1) Is a new need for original screenplays on the horizon? Remakes and Sequels Are Failing!

2) You know those X-Ray glasses you could buy from ads in comic books? I bought a pair, and here's what you see... X-Ray Glasses & Super Hot Fashion Models - you CAN see through their clothes!

3) So, how is your vocabulary? New York Times - 50 Most Challenging Words.

4) Sequels Changing Hollywood?

5) Not a car chase, not Hitchcock...

6) And ROBIN HOOD finally broke $100m at the box office after more than a month!

- Bill


Dinner: Pastrami sandwich at Togos.
Bicycle: Short.
Pages: This was the stumble day - after 2 good days I did not make my 5 pages today. I have excuses - but they aren't gonna get the script finished.
Movies: No.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Eat One Lousy Foot!
Santa Fe Adventure 5

I drag my bags to the front desk, thinking about checking them and then going upstairs for my last free lunch, but decide to skip lunch today and get to the airport early. Since I’m going home on the same pocket sized plane, I *need* to get a bulkhead or emergency row seat. I pass the registration table - half filled with the Script Consultant’s books - she’s sold several... I am dragging every single CD I brought with me back to Los Angeles because it didn’t seem right to do a commercial for them during my class. I dump my luggage by the fireplace, track down Larry and ask if it’s okay for me to leave my post cards on the table for the weekend. Then go in search of Transpo Gal... again, wishing I could stay later so that I could go to the big BBQ party that night where the producers and agents and managers would be. One manager e-mailed me to say he was also going to be at the event, and maybe he’d bump into me. That seemed promising to me... too bad I wouldn’t be there.

While looking for the Transpo Gal, this guy comes up and says hello... and I think he’s a student for a moment until he introduces himself as the manager. Cool. We have a good conversation - though I am at the tail end of whatever energy I’ve been cruising on, and no matter how much coffee I have drank - I am having trouble keeping my eyes open and my brain working. So, for all I know, I babbled about nothing and he just pretended to be interested in me.

There’s this thing that happens to me if I’ve been burning the candle at both ends to do something... the minute it is done, exhaustion kicks in. Same thing if I really have to go to the bathroom, I can hold it until I unlock my apartment door - then it’s a race to the bathroom before I wet my pants. Once I can see the finish line or have passed it, my body shuts down (or my bladder opens up - depends on the situation). So my conversation with the manager *seems* to have gone well, but I was too tired to be a good judge. The best thing seemed to be that the manager guy “got me” - he didn’t hate that I already had some sort of career and didn’t discount all of those dreadful credits of mine - instead he seemed impressed that I’ve been earning a living writing scripts that actually got made for the past two decades. He wants to talk when we get back to Los Angeles...

Transpo Gal zips by and tells me that we’ll be leaving soon, she just has to find Ian - who will be going with us. I try to imagine Ian in that pocket sized plane... can’t.

I drag my bag out to the curb in front of the hotel... and that’s when a producer grabs me. The producer knows who I am, IMDBed me, and has a script that is in serious need of a rewrite. This is *not* the rewrite gig I already had before I left Los Angeles, this is a whole new gig. The producer tells me a little about the project while I’m waiting for the large boat-like Lincoln Continental to show up or Ian to walk out... and the story sounds interesting... but the most interesting thing is that this is a $50m theatrical film. Someone else who will talk to me more when I get back to Los Angeles.

Ian comes out of the hotel, the Lincoln pulls up, and we are off to the airport.


Except we are not going to the airport. Ian wants to go to the Train Station, which is not really on the way to the airport, but is on the way out of town (away from the hotel). We drive there, and I talk to Transpo Gal, and learn about her and her husband and her stepdaughter and her short films. This is part of my job as a screenwriter - to interact with others of the human species and learn interesting things about their lives which may help me create a character later. Mostly, this involves *listening*. The A-TEAM movie came out over the weekend, and I interviewed the writers for Script Magazine, and part of interviewing people is making them feel comfortable enough with you that they forget you are interviewing them and think you are just having a conversation. In that interview, many folks said things they later asked me not to include in the interview. They spoke honestly... and may have been too honest. So anything they may have said that might have insulted a studio exec or someone else involved in the film did not make print.... but I made them feel comfortable enough to tell me those things. And that is part of my job as a writer.

So while Ian sat in the back seat, I listened to Transpo Gal talk about her life in Santa Fe. When we got to the Train Station, Ian looked at it and changed his mind. He wanted to go to Town Square instead. This required us to retrace our steps, driving back through traffic to Town Square... while I was looking at the time and now wondering if I was going to make my plane. I mentioned this, and Transpo Gal told me that Santa Fe was a small airport (noticed that on the way in) with only a handful of flights every day. No crowds to deal with, so getting there an hour before the flight probably wasn’t required. “Yes, but my bulkhead seat!” I did not say outloud.

We dropped off Ian at Town Square and then headed to the airport. I asked why Ian wanted to go to the Train Station in the first place, and found out that he had changed his flight out a half dozen times and even changed his day of departure a few times. This completely fit with other things I had observed at lunch - took him a while to order and he seemed to change his mind a few times. The result was, when Transpo Gal dropped me at the airport my flight would leave in about 40 minutes. Of course, the line at Security probably wouldn’t be very long, right?


I have lived in one bedroom apartments that were larger than the Santa Fe Airport. There’s a ticket counter. There’s a coffee shop. There’s a single gate. There’s a dinky waiting area on the other side of security. I race in with my bag, notice that there are about 4 people in line at the counter and 2 people in line at the computer check in machine, and pick the computer. Fidgeting while waiting. Looking at the time. Once I get my boarding pass and check my bag, I still have to get through security... which is closing up! I get to the front of the line, punch in my name and destination... and after getting to the very end of the process it tells me it can not check my bag because it is 30 minutes before departure.

I jump to the longer line in front of the human at the counter...

The plane to LAX leaves at 2:30. The only other plane out of the airport today is Dallas at 3:45. The people in line are all going to Dallas - buying tickets. Except for the people directly in front of me - this couple wants to go to Dallas, but they have some sort of ticket voucher for a plane going somewhere else and want to use it, and there are rules which must be bent to do this and the one person behind the counter doesn’t have the authority to bend them... so she keeps trying to phone someone who can approve of all of this... while time is ticking away! I’m going to be stuck in Santa Fe overnight!

What’s more, this couple seems to not have their ID in hand and have to search through carry on bags for it, and do that as slowly as possible, and anything that they mighty have done to prepare they have not done. It is now 10 minutes until the plane flies away and leaves me in Santa Fe...

The woman behind the counter returns and says she can’t give a yes or no, her supervisor will have to do that and he’s at lunch. Will be back in 10 minutes. At this point, I fear that they will want to wait at the front of the line until the guy comes back. Instead they decide to wait in the coffee shop - probably where the supervisor is having lunch. My turn... the phone rings and the woman behind the counter answers it. 7 minutes until my plane leaves. I untie my shoes and undo my belt and unzip my computer bag so that I can *run* through security like OJ in those car rental commercials, before he began killing people and then looking for the real killers. She hangs up the phone and I explain that I need to check my bag and get my boarding pass because the computer won’t give it to me because of the cut off time.

“It shouldn’t have done that, the plane for Dallas doesn’t leave for an hour and –“
“I’m not going to Dallas, I’m going to LAX.”
“Well, that plane is about to take off.”
“Yes, I know. I need to check this bag and get my boarding pass.”
“I’m not sure you’ll have enough time to get through security and everything.”
“Let’s try - it’ll be a challenge for me.”
“Well, you’ll have to be pretty fast,” she looks at the clock behind her as another minute ticks away, “you’ve only got 5 minutes.”
“Can you please check my bag.”
“You need me to check your bag?”
“Yes. This bag. On the scale. Here is my credit card for the fee.”
“Oh, we only take cash at the counter. For a credit card you have to check in at the automated check in.”
I rip through my wallet and pull out money. “Here - exact change - now check my bag please.”
“And your name again?”

I manage to RACE through security, carrying my shoes and belt to the boarding line. Bulkhead or emergency row seat on the pocket-sized plane? Not enough time to arrange that... more pretzel time.

Aside: All of this bicycle riding I have been doing recently has caused me to lose weight. This is great. I am also feeling better... and can obviously go for several days with minimum sleep because my blood is actually circulating. But I have lost over 2 inches around my waist, and my trousers will fall off without a belt. I mean, if I take off my belt, the fat ass that used to keep them up is no longer there to do that... and they fall down. You can cue up the Pants On The Ground guy’s hit song if you wish. But before going to Santa Fe, I decided to buy 3 new pair of trousers that reflected my slimmer waist and smaller ass. So the one *good* thing about running from security to the gate without first putting on my belt is that no one in the airport got to see my underpants. They were not the “forward thrusting” underpants, so even had my trousers fallen down, it would not have been much of a show. But I am actually going to make my plane, and that pigtailed gal who unloaded luggage by hand when we arrived was racing to put my bag on the plane. It was all going to work out! I was headed home.


Except we are sent back to the tiny waiting room. It is too hot the fly the plane.

Too hot to fly the plane?

We file back into the miniature waiting room, No vending machines, not enough chairs... and the Dallas people are now starting to crowd in with us. There’s one guy who has his luggage on the seat next to him... while a dozen people are standing. And what would a story like this be without a ticking clock? There are huge glass windows facing West overlooking the plane... and as the sun begins to set the burning hot light will shoot through those windows and incinerate us like ants under a magnifying glass. Or, at least make it a lot hotter in here.

As more Dallas people cram into the tiny room our body heat doesn’t help matters. Also, the waiting room past security is designed for short term waits, and it is not airconditioned. The coffee shop and front desk are airconditioned because people (employees with a union) spend a lot of time there. Because it is all one big building, some of the front desk airconditioning makes its way over here... under all of the right circumstances. That does not describe today.

The Dallas plane lands, people exit, and it is still too hot to fly the plane.

We question this, and are given some vague answer about runway length and plane weight and altitude and heat... and none of it makes sense to me. I’ve flown into Phoenix which is much hotter than Santa Fe. Maybe it’s that altitude thing. They tell us this happens all the time - we just have to wait for it to cool off.

I try reading a book... and am just too uncomfortable. I’m squashed in here and it’s hot and I have had no sleep and no lunch and just want to go home and go to bed. Pretzeled into that pocket sized plane is beginning to sound good... at least it’s cooler than here.

As time passes - hours - the sun begins to set and it gets hotter and hotter in this little room. At one point, they offer anyone on the Dallas flight $300 and a free airplane ticket if they postpone their flight until tomorrow to bring down the weight of the plane. Hey, the Los Angeles people got here first - give me $300 and a free ticket and I’ll fly home tomorrow! But they are not offering us anything... not even food and water.

There are no bathrooms in this waiting area. If you have to go, you must find the armed TSA guard and get him to open the exit door, then enter the ticket counter area as if you were deplaning, use the restroom, then go back through security. You must take all of your carry on luggage with you, because the rules say no unattended bags - not even after those bags have gone through the ex-ray machine. A college girl sitting near me has to go, and takes her backpack and her computer bag and her purse and everything else with her... and then has to go through all of the crap at security to get back in. But what choice do we have?

The toothy gal with pigtails comes in every half hour to tell us it is still too hot to fly, and they are watching the temperature, and as soon as it cools off we will all fly out of here. Los Angeles plane first, then the Dallas plane - which is now several people lighter.

After waiting over three hours, they decide it’s close to cool enough to fly, and... Call to board the Dallas plane! Hey, we got here first!

The Los Angeles passengers jealously watch the Dallas people board the plane. The good news is that the waiting room is now much less crowded - no one’s butt is in my face - and everyone has a place to sit.

A half hour later, the Dallas people are deplaning and going into the ticket counter area. Still too hot to fly, so they have canceled the flight. Everyone gets a hotel voucher and rebooked on tomorrow’s flight out. Just think - they *could have got* $300 and a free ticket to anywhere in addition to this.

The toothy gal with pigtails tells us that their flight was canceled but the Los Angeles flight is still a go - we just have to wait for it to cool off.

I ask why, if this happens all the time, do they schedule flights in the afternoon when it is most likely to be too hot to fly? Why not fly to and from LAX in the morning or evening when it is cooler? I’m told the airport is only open in the late morning and afternoon. That makes no sense at all to me. Sure, from an employee angle you get all of your American Airlines and TSA people working a 6 hour block or whatever, which is probably cheaper than a split shift... but if it’s a regular problem that planes can not fly in the heat of the afternoon?

One of the guys served in Iraq, and says they would cool off planes with water tankers when it got too hot - why don’t they wheel up a tanker truck? And why keep the plane parked in direct sunlight?


Many of us are hungry, but the coffee shop has closed for the day. Some people decide to go out to the vending machines... but can not find the armed TSA guard - he’s on a break. When he returns, the college gal asks if she can leave her stuff in the waiting room - because it’s only this small group of us and the airport is closed and she doesn’t want to lug all of her stuff and then go back through security and... Well, it seems that rules are rules. She must take all of her stuff. That group goes out to the vending machines, one of which is broken. I know this because I can hear them pounding on it. Eventually one of the TSA people - they can go back and forth whenever they want and leave their stuff behind - goes to check and the pounding becomes much louder. The TSA guy says he almost broke the machine, but managed to get the candy bar out. From then on, any vending machine purchase is accompanied by loud pounding (off camera). Often swearing is involved. Once people get their candy bar, they must go through security all over again.

The sun is setting - and it is getting hotter and hotter in the waiting room. I’m wondering if the air conditioning shuts off at a certain time. We are sweating. I now know the home towns of everyone in the waiting room, what they do for a living, why they were in Santa Fe... and some of their secrets. Great material for characters in upcoming screenplays. One of the women is going to LAX to go to Hong Kong on business - so we talk about Hong Kong. One of the guys is a motivational speaker who has... er, HAD... a connecting flight at LAX to take him to a city where he is speaking. Though he is speaking tomorrow night, he *must* fly out today or he will arrive just in time to do his speech... and that isn’t going to work for him. Another guy is going home to London, and his problem is that he is flying Virgin Airlines from LAX - which is not a partner with American... and if he misses his London flight American can not instantly put him on a plane. There’s paperwork involved. We talk a little about London.

After waiting over 4 hours in the blazing hot sun, the toothy gal with pigtails brings us a bottle of water.

I joke that I’m going to call Dominos and let them send the pizzas and soft drinks through the ex-ray machine.

One of the guys who lives in Santa Fe, thinks this is a good idea - and calls his room mate to get him to bring him some Taco Bell food. The armed TSA guard tells him that won’t work - the airport is closed and locked at this time and they are not letting anyone inside. Plus, the unattended luggage thing - the guy would have to come through security with the Taco Bell bags, and to do that he would need an ID and a Boarding Pass... and they aren’t selling any more tickets for this delayed flight. The guy calls his roommate back and tells him to forget it. By then, the roommate has already bought the Taco Bell... and will be forced to eat it himself.

The threat of cannibalism is getting stronger. We are like those plane crash victims in the Andes who were forced to eat each other to survive... only our plane never left the gate.

So, if you are going to cannibalize people - is it best for all of us to pick one victim and eat all of them? Or to do some sort of pot luck thing where each of us donates a body part we could live without? Which of the passengers looks tender and juicy? What body part could I live without... that other people might want to dine on?

After 5 hours they bring us each another bottle of water - the last ones, we’re told. This is good because it will help me wash down passenger #17's foot, which is a little chewy. By now the sun is burning through the window, and I can feel myself getting a sunburn. If I had only brought along sunblock... but that would be a liquid that wouldn’t make it through TSA security. We are all burning up, tired and hungry and cranky and if I were not sweating like crazy I’d probably have to piss... but going through security is just too much hassle. The armed TSA guy - who is really nice - warns us that the rules say every so many passengers must go through a pat down and have their luggage torn apart, and we are getting close to that number again (someone had to go through this in the previous candy bar and bathroom run). We have empty water bottles, and there is serious talk about using them as bathrooms. I mean *serious* talk about it. The women are trying to figure out how they could do that.

After 6 hours of waiting, they bring us popsicles. One for each of us, but myself and another passenger end up with 2 that are frozen together. I hide my extra popsicle for fear that someone will kill me for it. The sun is blazing right through the window, now... magnified by the glass. We are all burning, and the popsicles are keeping us alive. My secret second popsicle melts before I can eat it. I tear a hole in the bag and drink the sweet syrupy water. Some gets on my face and dries in a red stain. I notice the London guy counting my popsickle sticks... and knowing that I got an extra... and plotting to bash my head in with his little rolling bag.

The college gal pleads with the armed TSA agent to let her leave her bags in the waiting room while she visits the bathroom. He’s nice, he understands, he knows it’s silly, but he must follow the rules. She must take all of her bags, and then go back through security. She grabs her stuff, he unlocks the door, and she goes to the bathroom...

They start up our plane.

The toothy gal with pigtails comes in and tells us it has just become cool enough to fly - well over 6 hours after we were supposed to take off. We grab our stuff, stand in line and show our IDs and boarding passes again and get on the plane before it gets hot again...

Meanwhile the college girl is going through security again... and gets the magic number. She is patted down and her luggage is torn apart. This just seems silly to me, as these bags have gone through security a half dozen times by this point and the airport is *closed* so there is no way any strange things from the outside world could have gotten into her bags. But it’s a race against time for her to make the plane, and she does just as they are about to close the cabin door. What would have happened if she had missed this plane after waiting close to 8 hours for it?

The plane door closes, I am *happy* to be squashed in the seat headed home. Two hours later I am at LAX on that shuttle that drives on active runways to get to the main gate, and after a half hour or so of waiting for my luggage, I’m on the blue shuttle van stuck on the 405 heading home... where I will sleep for a couple of days and then have some meetings on some projects including the assignment that just went to script.

Great to be back! Next time I fly into Albuquerque and rent a car or take a shuttle bus.


Hey - if you want to go to the Screenwriting Conference at Santa Fe next year, click back there for more info. It's a great event and lots of fun... as long as your plane isn't delayed due to heat.

- Bill

Dinner: El Pollo Loco - breast & wing and black beans and corn.
Bicycle: Medium - to an undisclosed coffee shop location.
Pages: 5 Pages on the new assignment.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Class Acts:
Santa Fe Adventure 4

I wake up before the alarm... 4 hours of sleep again. Hey, the good news is that I have time to go over student’s pages and the last minute redesign of my class... but first - which pages belong to my problem student. One of the two really good ones? Nope... her script is one that needs work. But she has sent me a revised version, and I read it before sunrise, and it’s 100 times better. All of the lessons from the previous day have been incorporated, and it’s like reading a different script. That’s great - I jot notes on her new pages and a couple of other student’s new pages... then try to figure out what part of the original lesson plan they will best illustrate.

When the alarm goes off, I shower and shave and dress and drink some more coffee. There are coffee urns at a couple of key places in the hotel’s “convention area” and I grab a cup downstairs to drink while climbing the stairs and a cup upstairs to drink during class. But something catches my eye downstairs...

The $2,500 a script Consultant has taken over half of the registration table with copies of her book. She has someone behind the table to sell them, but there doesn’t seem to be a “show discount”. So that’s why her bags weighed a ton when she made me lift them!

Now, I have brought enough Classes on Audio CD for an event of 300-400 people, which is 80 of them. The event has about 100 people due to shrinkage (cue George Costanza) and I could have brought about 20 CDs and packed lighter. I had to pay for my bag myself... damned airlines! But all 80 CDs are in my room still packed. There is no dealer room, and even though the Consultant went out of her way to mention her book and her services on the panel yesterday, I have not mentioned my CDs or even my website... though I did put out postcards.

I have not mentioned the CDs in my class at all, and feel it would be inappropriate. These students did not pay for commercials. At Screenwriting Expo, there are *many* teachers whose classes are basically commercials for their consulting services or products. This has been a problem there since year one, and seems to *still* be a problem. I bring CDs when I do Expo, and sometimes forget to mention I have them. A couple of years ago, I had the wonderful Emily from Bamboo Killers over there —> as my assistant, and part of her job was to remind me in that last minute before class was over to mention the danged CDs, and then help me sell them in the hallway after class. Even then, there were times I forgot to mention them.

The bag of CDs was never opened in Santa Fe. I brought 80 and took 80 home and never even unpacked them. No one in my class even knew I brought them.


I have decided to begin my class with an hour on Your First Ten Pages - since I brought that material and planned on doing an hour on your first ten and your last ten on the final day of my class. This went well, and everyone was scribbling notes. Then I grabbed the first 10 pages I was going to tear apart without mentioning the writer’s name, announced the title... and the writer said, “Hey, that’s mine!”

Hmm. The anonymous part of my plan was no longer going to work. I was going to end up tearing apart people’s scripts and look them in the eye. I hope no one brought weapons to class. I don’t want this to be BLACKBOARD SCREENWRITING JUNGLE.

And I manage to be honest without being cruel, and we have a good discussion of the flaws in about half of the first ten page samples. I had set it up so that a sample with dialogue issues would be used to get us to planned lessons on dialogue, and there were lots of questions and discussions and I think it worked out better than I expected. Nobody cried. Well, almost nobody. One of the two really not good samples took it personally and even fought the notes... but eventually accepted them. The issues with those first ten pages is that there were 3 separate protagonists and 3 separate story threads and tons of plot information and all of it was crammed into 10 pages in the most confusing way... plus a dozen key characters were set up as well in scenes that were “pre-story”. Nothing that could not be fixed, but many problems in one ten page sample. The writer had the reaction that I was afraid my problem student might have...

But the problem student’s 10 pages won't be discussed until *tomorrow*.

Many of the student’s whose pages had not been discussed on that first day asked if they could rewrite tonight and resubmit them. Um, sure - I’m not sleeping, why not read new pages?

One of the strange things about the class redesign is that I keep hearing loud movie music from Ian’s class next door - he is showing a zillion film clips! I have no idea if he is tearing apart student’s pages or not, but the clips seem non-stop.


Had lunch with Josh and Ian again - and again the Hotel Restaurant has reduced the menu to those 3 entries or the salad bar. Today I order a roast beef sandwich and potato chips - the students are paying $10 for this, I am getting it for free... and feel ripped off. The waitstaff in the restaurant are good, even if they don’t understand my jokes.

Again we talk about the classes and students, and the new conflict for Josh is that someone has told him that actors will be part of his afternoon class... and he does not want nor need actors in his class. Josh wonders if many of his students took his class just so that he would have to read 10 pages of their fucking scripts... I think that’s funny. Today he’s wearing a T shirt with the logo from the crop dusting company in CHARLIE VERRICK... and I recognize it. Josh is also a big Don Siegel fan, and mentions that he did the film’s commentary on Trailers From Hell with the son of the film’s screenwriters. Cool. He asks why I’m not over there doing commentaries on trailers, and I run down my list of things I already do, including this blog. As lunch ends, Josh gets a text from Joe Dante who runs TRAILERS about this guy’s great blog entry on ROBIN HOOD... um, mine. Small world.

My 90 minute class is small. All of the non-Academy teachers have a 90 minute afternoon class that is open to anyone at the event. I’m doing Finding Ideas, and hoped the room would be full. It was not. I mention this to the dozen people who show, and am told that some of the other classes have even fewer people... one yesterday had 2 people. This class goes well, and now I’m off to do my consults.

The consults go well - even though one of them is a script with very serious problems. Which brings up a good point about all of the stuff I read for Santa Fe: do a good read through before you give anything to anyone. Look for the problems and typos and really try to whip the pages into shape before anyone else reads them. One of my class samples had 2 characters having a phone conversation (without any VO or OS designation) and somewhere in the middle of the scene they were sitting across the desk from each other having a face to face conversation. Obviously there was a phone call version of the conversation that became a meeting version - but the phone call stuff was all still in the opening of the scene! This was confusing to me... and something that should have been spotted and fixed before it even got to me. Hey, there are always going to be a couple of typos you miss - happens to everyone - but really go over your stuff and try to find all of them, okay?


Again, I am splashing cold water on my face in my hotel room to try and stay awake. I have also done a “pre-pack” since tomorrow is the last day and room check out time is noon... and my last class ends at noon. I wander downstairs to see who is up for dinner and the Dallas people have already split, but Darren Foster is talking to some other people and grabs me. We head to dinner - and decide to go Chinese instead of Mexican or Southwest. Friday night and we do not have reservations and the restaurant is... empty. Last night was grad night and tonight seems to be “everyone is hungover” night. We take a table on the patio - and watch the sunset as every type of bug in Santa Fe tries to feed off our blood. Food was good, and we talked about how tough the business is, and how much time is spent just trying to get a damned job that will pay your expenses for the next year. He has a film in post and an assignment on the horizon. I have an assignment that has just gone to script and a rewrite gig on an action script and am trying like hell to get another deal set up while the iron is hot. The last time you want to look for work is when you need work... but that’s usually exactly what I do. Darren teaches film in Colorado and lives on the grounds of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park - the haunted hotel that the Overlook Hotel is THE SHINING was based on. I think he does some caretaker stuff there off season, making he and his wife Jack and Wendy from THE SHINING. Kinda weird.

After dinner we head back to the hotel, and park near the bar’s patio entrance... where someone calls my name. I go up to the bar’s patio, where a group of folks are talking movies and I join in the conversation. Though I will also not read your fucking script, I will answer your fucking questions about scripts and the business in the bar if you find a way to squeeze it into conversation without being obvious. “Hey, I saw IRONMAN 2 and it wasn’t as good as the first one, why was that... and if my script doesn’t have any direct conflict in Act 2, is that a bad thing?” Well, there’s one guy who is playing International Man Of Mystery and is talking about Los Angeles and his film career, etc every single night. I think he’s trying to get laid, since he’s always telling these stories about his upcoming film career to women. My problem is that my default mode is to believe people (with a grain of salt - I’m not an idiot). Hey, maybe later it’s proven that they are full of shit, but why *start off* believing that everyone is full of shit?

Well, the volunteer that I offered to do a free consult with today cancelled, so I happened to overhear this International Man Of Mystery’s consult... and even though talking about it here would be wrong... um, he had written a script that was almost 300 pages, and had cut the page count in half by removing every single line of dialogue. Yikes! And it’s symbolic, and an epic adventure, and...

Well, I half expect this guy to start asking me questions about his script... because I also overheard the professional screenwriter doing the consulting on his script mention that he should talk to me because I have written adventure stuff. Except he never does ask me a single question that isn’t about his upcoming move to Los Angeles to further his career. Other people are asking me stuff about their scripts, but not this guy.

I get another beer, just as I hear my name yelled from the parking lot - it’s Josh. Do I want to go to dinner with him? I chug the beer and head to the parking lot.

Though I do not remember the name of the restaurant, I think it might have been The Shack - which is not a shack at all. It had a wine list that was like a paperback book! Because I have just eaten dinner, I order an appetizer that sounds good - a smoked salmon dip and hand made tortilla chips. Josh orders a steak and we both get drinks and then talk about Low Budget Producers Who Have Screwed Us. It is a long conversation. The food arrives, and my appetizer is literally 4 tortilla chips with some salmon dip on them. 4 chips. Um, at an upscale restaurant’s appetizer price. They tasted great... wish there had been at least 12 chips, though. The service was great, Josh had funny stories and listened to stories that I thought were funny, and then we had a slight adventure getting back to the hotel (called a taxi, and when it arrived the driver came into the restaurant looking for us as we went out to the street looking for the cab and found it empty... and missed each other a few times).


Back at the hotel, Josh goes to bed... I end up at the fireplace with the Dallas people. Tonight in the hotel bar is a live band playing techno, and the Screenwriting Conference has taken over the little theater (where we had the mentor panel) with Karaoke. Neither interests me, nor interests the Dallas people who sit by the fireplace. So we just tell jokes and talk about movies until the last karaoke song... which we go into the theater to *listen* as everybody else sings.

That night I actually sleep 6 full hours! A miracle! I still wake up before the alarm goes off and manage to read all of the new pages for the class. Everyone is getting dramatically better... so the class is working. Usually I just talk, and the students go home and write, and I have no idea if they actually learned anything. Here, I am *seeing* them learn with their new pages. Some people have sent me 3 sets of pages now - and I can see the day-to-day improvement. My problem student is one of these people, and comparing the 10 pages I read before class to the 10 pages at the end of class is amazing.

The last day’s class works well - the last half of the 10 page samples match up with lessons really well, and I think everyone is happy. I know the problem student is happy. The original plan was to talk about their loglines as well, but we end up doing question and answers and run out of time. I tell people I will go over a little to get in all of the questions, and that’s when Josh walks past the class and flips me off. I decide to take that as a good thing, and answer the last few questions before racing up to my room to grab my luggage and check out. Now I have a couple of hours before my plane takes off, just enough time for a last free lunch! And there is one item on the reduced menu that I have not yet selected! Today, I dine on Chicken Fingers!

Last Day & Leaving Santa Fe.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Basic emotional involement - and the movie BASIC with Travolta and Jackson.
Dinner: Daphne's Greek Food - which does not have lamb.
Bicycle: Medium - weather is nice in LA right now, warm but not hot.

Movies: GET HIM TO THE GREEK - Laughed a lot, and the film has heart and had more story and character than I expected... which I think is Apatow's secret weapon in all of his films. You go in expecting raunchy comedy, it delivers on that... but also has some strong dramatic scenes that elevate the story.

I love that this is kind of an ALIENS to ALIEN sequel - takes the first film and goes in a different direction with one carry-over character but still delivers. It's Brand's film - he has the big character arc... and does it without ever not being Brand (or Snow). The other great carry-over from SARA MARSHALL is that no dramatic moment is left unexplored (there's a Script Tip coming about SARA MARSHALL and not avoiding drama). In GREEK, Aldous Snow has a son, has pictures of his son on his phone, and in some other movie that might have been it... but here he has a big gut wrenching scene with his son that would have a great scene in the serious dramatic version of this film. The scene is brought down quality-wise by the kid not being a very good actor, but still works.

I wanted to know who wrote the songs, because they are real rock songs except the lyrics are exaggerated just enough to be funny... and Jason Segel wrote many of them ("Inside Of You" was Snow's song in FSM). Cool that the guy who created the character in the first film is part of this film. I haven't mentioned Jonah Hill or Elizabeth Moss (who played President Bartlet's daughter) or P. Diddy - but all three deliver great performances and are laugh-out-loud funny and still real characters. Diddy steals the show as the head of a record company who is crazy... and there is a *genius* scene showing him at home with his family watching WORLD'S BIGGEST LOSER that is both hysterical *and* grounds his character in reality.

Not just funny, GET HIM TO THE GREEK is also *good*. For a movie that is filled with montages and songs and other stuff that takes up a bunch of screen time, it probably delivers more character scenes than most other films. Now I wonder who they will spin off next from these films... Snow's dad? The religious couple from FSM? Diddy's character?

- Bill

Friday, June 11, 2010

Act 2 Conflict:
Santa Fe Adventure 3

Josh Olson (Oscar nominee for A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) bumps into me in the hallway on the way to the restaurant as does Ian Abrams (writer creator of EARLY EDITION TV show) and we share a table. I know Josh from the old days of the Wordplay website, when it was a magnet for professional screenwriters and serious “pre-pros”. Many of those folks had come over from the AOL Follywood Message Boards that Ted & Terry ran, and I *almost* ran (I turned down free AOL because it sounded like a lot of work, and T&T took the job). Online Josh has a very strong personality and will fight you to the death. Online we have tangled before... but in real life he’s a nice guy. Ian Abrams I met at my first Santa Fe Conference - he’s a pro screenwriter who got tired of the Hollywood bullshit and now teaches film at Drexel University. He’s a big guy, but it looks like he’s lost some weight.

The three of us have lunch - because the conference has taken over the hotel, there is a special conference lunch menu - 3 items and the salad bar. That’s it. That first day, none of the 3 items appealed to me. I ended up ordering a veggie burger - and requested it medium rare... which confused the waiter.

We talked about the event. Josh had never done one of these before, and was surprised that his Academy Class students - who were supposed to be the cream of the crop - were, um, not all cream. One of those things you run into when you teach at these events are those students who say they want advanced classes and don’t want to hear any information that might be considered basics... but their pages are filled with basic mistakes! They have heard these lesson before, but they have not *learned them*. This is often my frustration when teaching - there are people who believe they are much better than they actually are - and *reject* the information that will help them. I don’t know what to do with these folks - because I can’t teach them anything.

I’ve probably said this before - the big problem with so many films ends up being basic screenwriting stuff. Those are the lessons that most need to be learned... even by pros!

When Larry called Josh about doing a class, Josh thought a friend of his had said that Santa Fe was a great event - a non-stop party that’s all panels and drinking and BBQs. But this didn’t seem to be that at all. At lunch he called his friend to ask WTF they were thinking - this isn’t a non-stop party. His friend said - “No, that’s *Austin*”. So, Josh was stuck teaching a class with some students who may not be as talented as they thought they were.

Larry grabs me as I’m leaving the restaurant. One of my students has complained that I am not going to actually tear apart their pages in class. I explain my class plan to Larry, and Larry says this student was really unhappy. Just then, one of my students walks past and I grab her and ask how my class is going so far...

Of all of the students in my class, guess which one I grabbed?

I have the worst luck of anyone I know. If a bird craps over a crowd, the poop lands on me. Nobody else.

So I end up having a conversation with the complaining student, and explain my class plan to her - but she tells me she *wants* her script torn apart in front of the class. I explain that I’m a little uncomfortable ripping apart people’s work in public, but maybe there’s a way to make it work. I can tear apart the scripts without mentioning the writer’s names. Would that be okay with her? She says yes, I apologize... and then she asks if she can send a revised 10 pages based on some of the things she learned in class today. Sure, why not? I plan on turning in early tonight. I find Larry and tell his the problem is solved...

But I wonder if it is. Was her script the other good one? Or one of the bad ones? The other good one is a female lead comedy - and the lead character has some similarities to the lead (age/race/etc). I am hoping that the other good script is her’s, so that I can tear it apart without any more problems. The other thing that is frustrating is when people ask you for your honest opinion... but really want you to say, “It’s brilliant! A work of genius!” You will sell this for as million dollars and win all of the Oscars!” Trust me that you will never hear me say this. I would rather tell you the no BS truth (even if you don’t like it) than tell you that screenwriting is easy and have you not be prepared for just how danged close to impossible that it really is.

Which brings us to...


All of the teachers on one panel answering questions. In those early years there may have been 20 teachers on stage, this year - fewer... but no less impressive. Kirk Ellis - who won an Emmy for writing JOHN ADAMS, and Josh Olson who was Oscar nominated for writing A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and Terry Borst who specializes in new media & video games like WING COMMANDER, and Ian Abrams writer/creator of EARLY EDITION who also wrote a movie called UNDERCOVER BLUES, and cute Wendell Thomas who teaches at UCLA and has some credits, and me with 19 films that the United Nations and Amnesty International have deemed as torture, and... the squat woman on my flight who snagged the bulkhead seat and is a Script Consultant with a new book.

There are tall director’s chairs set up on the stage for us, but Ian thinks they look uncomfortable and convinces the rest of us to swap them out for regular chairs. Not a problem... though I kind of wanted to see the Script Consultant try to fit in one.

Darren Foster - who is a pro writer with a new movie in post production - is moderating, and allows each of us to introduce ourselves. Then he begins asking some questions about what we think are the most important elements in screenwriting. Kirk is on the far end and arrives during the opening announcements and asks if he can go last... so Ian on the other side goes first. Josh and I are in the center. As the questions continue, it becomes apparent that 5 of us are answering honestly - and telling it like it is... and one of us is talking about how talent should be nurtured and hugged and new writers should find someone who loves them and their work and is non-judgmental and non-commercial to help them with their quest to sell a screenplay. Can you guess who that might be?

Wendell and I are diplomatically disagreeing with her. Josh and Kirk and Ian are becoming more aggressive in their disagreements with her. I am sitting between her and Josh and fear that I will be killed in the cross-fire. Finally, she says something really wrong and all five of us strongly disagree with her - we are fighting over microphones.

I do not think Script Consultants are evil - that would be some sort of crazy generalization. There are probably some great script consultants out there who are worth every penny of the $2,500 they charge to read your screenplay. But often Script Consultants generalize about things... and then turn those things into rules... and sometimes those rules are just wrong. On a message board recently someone had a problem dealing with the "rule" that characters must either be called MAN or WOMAN until someone calls them by name. This person had pages and pages of MAN and WOMAN and they were all different people. How can we tell them apart? Well, that's one of those strange Script Consultant "rules" which aren't actually part of real world screenwriting. I'm sure the purpose of the "rule" is to make sure writers get their character's names into dialogue so that the audience knows who they are, but this is the wrong way to do that! Instead, why not just say - hey, make sure you have someone mention your character's name! Instead we have all of this confusion. And, um, what about REBECCA, where the lead character's name is *never* spoken? Are they WOMAN throughout the script? This is a silly "rule" that doesn't work at all, yet some Script Consultant is charging a pile of money to give people this advice.

So they often spread bad information... or, if they have only been readers - know what *not* to do but may not know what *to* do. And some are failed screenwriters who may pass on the reason for their failure to new writers. Plus, I think the more they charge, the more you wonder if you are getting what you are paying for. If a professional screenwriter was giving me their opinion on my script I might think $2,500 was fair, but someone who may have been a $50 a script reader who is now charging $2,450 more to read a script worries me a little. And this particular consultant is saying that all of the working professionals on the panel (including an Oscar Nominee and a multiple Emmy Award winner) are wrong and she is right. Um, I don't have the cajones to disagree with those two guys and I also write for a living. If both Josh and Kirk said they did the Macarena between scenes, I'd try doing that to see if it improved the quality of my writing. But this Script Consultant is disagreeing with the 5 pros on the panel... and we are disagreeing back.

Darren the moderator changes the topic and starts taking questions from the audience - but he waited until we all got out hits in. Obvious where he stood on the issue. The audience questions end up the usual variations on “How do I get and agent?” with a couple of craft questions after Darren asks for *only* craft questions.

What is interesting about having the same question answered by 5 professional writers is that we often disagree. Not on big things, but on small ones. Questions on outlining - some do, some don’t... but the ones who don’t do a lot more rewriting and *everyone* knew the end of their screenplay. None of us agreed on the same element as being most important in a screenplay, some thought it was dialogue, another character, another actions, another situations... we all see the same act a little differently - but none of us thought any of the others was wrong...

Well, except I don’t think any of us thought the Consultant was right. But, we don’t get $2,500 for our opinion, so we are probably wrong.

After the panel I zip off to do my Consults - 3 of them - and it is relatively painless. Major problem among students 10 pages and consult folks 10 pages is starting waaaay too early - we don’t need to see someone’s boring every day life. But the writing seemed okay on all three and one of them had the exact script an Oscar winning producer I met with a few years ago was looking for. I have no idea if they are *still* looking for a script like that, but I gave the writer the producer’s name. Would be cool if she sold the script.

After consults, I splashed cold water on my face to wake myself up and then found the Dallas group in the lobby discussing dinner. The locals had just split with their cars, but there’s a hotel shuttle that goes downtown every hour... but stops running early. Maura asked if the shuttle could take us into town and then if we could call later and be picked up. The driver would be gone, but there’s a maintenance man who could do it.

Mexican food at the Blue Corn CafĂ©... though most people ordered a burger and Steve and my orders got mixed up - and we accidentally ate a quarter of each other’s meals before we figured it out. Oh, and the guy at the table next to us had a heart attack - a sign of great Mexican food - and a team of paramedics were working on him while we ate. He was fine... but this single gal in our group who was hitting on the shuttle driver and the bus boy started hitting on the paramedics. Oh, and I had some Pomegranate Margaritas to ward off any cardiovascular problems.

Then we went back to the hotel bar and told dirty jokes until closing time. Back in my room - new pages from several students plus a redesign of the class for the following day followed by 4 hours of sleep, waking up before the alarm went off again.

Monday - does the last minute class redesign work?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Personal Keys To Unlock Your Screenplay - and my BLACK THUNDER script that was made into a film... twice.
Dinner: Cinema hot dog and popcorn.
Bicycle: Yes. Semi-epic. Had a meeting in Beverly Hills on a project and decided to subway and bike... then bike to the New Beverly Cinema to see some movies. The meeting ran over and I misjudged the distance between the office and the cinema and had to haul butt - riding really fast - to get there on time. Which is why I had a hot dog instead of Chinese food across the street from the cinema.
Movies: PRISON with Renny Harlin, Courtney Joyner, Irwin Yablans and Charlie Band doing Q&A... and THE HORROR SHOW (aka HOUSE 3). Renny Harlin was great - very funny, very honest, very down to earth. This guy directed DIE HARD 2 and CLIFFHANGER and other big films, but talked to people in the lobby.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lancelot Link Thursday

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who think Cheeta was *Tarzan's* sidekick, here are some articles about screenwriting and the biz that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

1) Perfectly Timed Photos - a picture is worth a thousand words... and these pictures are weird.

2) Word Clouds.

3) Guess who is writing the new BOURNE movie?

4) Part 4 of the lost interview with Hitchcock...

Suspense and how to create it... and Tom Snyder continues to be an idiot.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme & Story - and my BLACK THUNDER film.
Dinner: Ham sandwich.
Bicycle: medium, and I felt better than yesterday.
Pages: Finished the Script Article and did a synopsis.
Movies: No.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Real men Don't Sleep:
Santa Fe Adventure 2

By the time the pocket sized plane lands at Santa Fe, you just needed to add a little mustard to me and you’d have a pretzel. I wait until every one else, including the transvestite who stole the bulkhead seat, have deplaned before I move into a crouching position, grab my computer bag from the overhead glove box, and duck walk down the aisle to the little hatch they call a door (about chest high on me). The Santa Fe airport is tiny - they unload the bags by hand and carry them to the miniature lobby.

I was late for the plane, the plane was at some far away spur gate at LAX, and I fear that my bag may not have made the plane. This is a big problem for two reasons:

1. There really is only one flight a day into Santa Fe. The plane arrives at 2pm, and then returns to LA at 2:30pm. If my bag didn’t make the plane, the next flight arrives *tomorrow*, *after* my first class `and the panel.

2. Because I am a complete idiot, I am wearing my usual comfortable but ugly travel clothes... but have seemed to learn nothing from my London Adventure a few months ago when they lost my bags and I was forced to wear the same clothes until they found my luggage... except for those forward-thrusting underpants I bought in some store in London. Why hadn’t I packed a shirt and other stuff in my carry on bag? I am an idiot!

But a goofy looking gal in pig tails with a toothy grin in a ground crew uniform pulls my bag off the plane and drops it in the lobby. I grab it and wheel it to the center of the lobby, a couple of feet away, where there’s a gal with a cardboard sign that says Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference. Instead of getting my own personal driver with a list of strip clubs and biker bars, there is *one* driver for the whole conference. She’s a school teacher by day, and owns an ancient boat-like Lincoln Continental which belonged to her grandfather before he passed away. There are two other people on the plane she is picking up, cute Wendall Thomas who teaches screenwriting at UCLA and has worked in the biz for years... and the transvestite who swiped the bulkhead seat. A short, stout, woman who is a script consultant. She says she needs help with her bags... so I end up carrying them. That’s my job, right?

We drive to the venue - then her luggage is my problem again. I have no idea why this is. And the Transvestite is telling me to be careful with one of her bags because... Well, I already am being careful with her bags - they are not mine - but I am starting to think maybe I should drop one just so that I can be bitched at for something I actually did. But soon her luggage becomes someone at the hotel’s problem, and I check in.

I am exhausted. I have not slept and think about taking a nap... but can’t seem to fall asleep. I splash cold water on my face and go out to the hotel lobby...

Where there are some people I know, including Peter Hanson co-writer and director of TALES FROM THE SCRIPT who did a screening and Q&A in the morning. We talk, and more folks I know - many from the Dallas Screenwriters Association. They have a great organization, and often go to events like this in groups. DSA members always travel in flocks. There were five or six that were all there together and a couple of others who were there but hanging out with other people.

One of the Conference volunteers spots me and gives me a full tour of the conference location - the room where I’m doing my morning class, the room where we will have our mega panel the next afternoon with all of the teachers, the restaurant where I can get all of my meals for free just by writing the code word on the bill, and she asks if I need anything special for the class - I say a white board would be nice. Sometimes I like to draw pictures.

I also hint around to find out what Conference attendance is like these days - in those early days there were 300 to 500 people every year, but the first couple of Screenwriting Expos had somewhere in the 4,000 range... and now it has shrunk down to under 1,000. The “Screenwriting Conference Boom” has gone bust. It was dwindling *before* the economy went south. All kinds of explanations from easy access to info on the internet (like my website) to people leaving screenwriting for the next boom - YouTube videos and blogs. I brought 80 assorted classes on CD, and that will probably be enough for 300 people... but I find out there are around 100 people for the classes with *many more* for the producers events (when I’ll be on my way home). I could have brought 20 CDs and left my big piece of luggage at home.

I go back to the lobby, and there are more people who either I know or who know me. We sit around talking screenplays and movies and just life stuff until other groups begin drifting off to dinner - some in the hotel restaurant, but many go into town where there are a lot of great restaurants. Even though I have free dinners in the hotel (the conference picks up meals but not drinks), when the group asks if I want to go to dinner with them, I say yes. Most of the people are from Dallas, I think. A few locals are in the group and end up transpo captains.

Dinner is Mexican/Southwest - and I can not remember the name of the place. Marias? Pasquales? We had all of these possible places to go and this was the decision. I think it might have Maria's - but if any of you guys who were there that night read this and I am wrong, correct me. Anyway - Margaritas. Lots of them. I mostly drank Negro Modelo beer. The food was great. I had a tamale plate - 2 pork, 2 vegetarian, rice and refried.

Afterwards - back to the hotel... and the hotel bar.

Here is my problem with the hotel bar at a screenwriting conference - everybody knows me. Or, at least enough people know me and want to buy me drinks that I have several drinks. Several drinks I probably should not have the night before I teach a class with a brand new format I have never done before. Several drinks I probably should not have had on no sleep. But I want to be social, right?

Hey, let me take this time to thank all of you. Not just the people who bought me drinks, but the people who hung out with me and even the people who are just reading this blog. Writing is a solitary business (at least, until you get those stupid script notes), and it’s great to have friends in just about any place a pocket sized plane can land. Whenever I do one of these things and I’m miles from home, you folks make me feel at home. If I were ever wrongly accused of murder in Portugal and on the run from the police, I’m sure someone there who knows me from this blog or my website would hide me for a night and then turn me over and collect the reward the next morning. And if the reward was enough, I wouldn’t blame you. If it’s only a couple of bucks, well, I might be a little pissed off. But you folks are always nice to me, and I thank you for that.

After several beers which I did not pay for, I went downstairs to my room, set my alarm to give me enough time to coffee up and read over the 10 pages before my morning class.

And I can not fall asleep.

Might be that I am used to Los Angeles noise and the night noise is different here... fewer sirens and helicopter, more birds.

I finally fall asleep... and wake up 4 hours later before my alarm has gone off. About 2 hours before my alarm is supposed to go off. I try going back to sleep - it doesn’t work. I guess I’m awake, huh? More time for coffee and class prep, right?


An odd thing happens when I do these events - even with little sleep, I have a ton of energy. Might be nervous energy, because I’m really not comfortable doing public speaking, or maybe it’s because my blood is 75% coffee and 25% alcohol. Whatever it is, even without sleep I’m okay. I start the class, and try to match 10 page script segments to people - without remembering any of the writer’s names. So I try to do it by personality. Who is the funny person who wrote the comedy? Who is the person who wrote that script that seemed like it had been translated into Chinese and then re-translated into English? Who wrote the baseball movie? You try to find some clues.

Also, there are always people whose faces I recognize from someplace. Maybe they took a class from me somewhere else, maybe they are one of my facebook friends and I’ve seen their picture, maybe they were featured on America’s Most Wanted last night. While I’m teaching the class, part of my brain is wondering: Where do I know you from?

One of the other things I’m wondering is: where do I know you/your script from? One of the titles and loglines seems really familiar. I have read it before. The logline is problematic - it seems scattershot and loopy. I can’t remember where I have read it, and I’m scanning faces for someone I might have met with at some other event. Maybe I read it online somewhere - at Done Deal or MWSM or Wordplay or one of the other places I pop in now and then. When I was reading the student’s first ten pages, this one worried me. After reading the familiar logline, I thought was afraid it might be this crazy guy from MWSM who goes crazy and rants about the Hollywood Conspiracy whenever anyone mentions there is a problem with the logline or pages he posts. The last thing I wanted was a crazy guy who has a grudge against me from something I may have said online in the first row of my class. What’s in his backpack? A knife? A letter opener? One of those portable electric chain saws?

But after saving those ten pages for last, I read them... and they are funny! The second best pages in the class. I have notes on them - there are some places where they can be improved, but his pages are one of the two good ones. If these pages landed on the desk of a development exec in Hollywood, they could pass for the work of a pro. But, which one of my students wrote those pages and where the hell do I know them from?

At the end of the first 3 hour class, I have addressed some of the problems with the some of the student’s first ten pages without outing any of them, and everyone has been scribbling notes and nodding their heads when they hear something that makes that little light bulb go off over their head. At the end of class, a few students ask if they can submit a revised version of their first ten pages, based on this new information. I explain my lesson plan - that we may not actually tear apart the pages in class, instead just cover the weaknesses in the scripts with lessons on how to solve those problems and improve the writing of each element. But I tell them I *will* e-mail them notes on their 10 pages and logline. I have already scribbled this stuff down on the pages, no problem to type it up and e-mail it to them.

A few students come up after class to tell me that they’ve already learned a bunch after the first day, and a couple ask me if they can talk to me about their scripts outside of class. I explain that between classes, panels, consultations, I have very little time. Then the volunteer who showed me around yesterday and has been checking in to make sure all of the classes are running smoothly comes up and asks if I’ll read her 10 pages and give notes. I say that I have a hole in my consulting schedule on the last day, and if she wants that slot she can have it. After that I excuse myself to go to lunch... if I don’t get out of here I’ll be doing the afternoon panel without having eaten.

Off to the hotel restaurant, where the secret code words gets me a free lunch!

Friday: everything goes really wrong.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character & Dogjuice - and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM.
Dinner: Dennys BBQ chicken sandwich.
Bicycle: Yes - and it was hot, and I perspired.
Pages: Had a list of things to do and didn't get many done.
Movies: No.

I invade the UK again...
6/11 - M4M2 - 18:15 - Crash Dive - The crew of a nuclear submarine rescues supposed victims of a boat disaster, but the victims turn out to be terrorists intent on capturing nuclear weapons aboard the sub.

I am sorry!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Are Ticket Sales Down Due To No Original Screenplays?

We just had the lowest ticket sales for a Memorial Day Weekend in *17 years*, and after last year's record ticket sales (and box office), this year so far is off by 3%... Why? Well, here's an article from the Los Angeles Times that lays the blame on the lack of movies that began as original screenplays...

Why Does Hollywood's Heat Of The Summer Box Office Feel So Ice Cold?

There have been a few other articles in the trades and the papers pointing to the lack of original material on screen or the lack of *script quality* as reasons for this summer slump, and all of this bodes well for *us*, because the studios will probably start buying spec scripts again, and maybe even realize that it takes a great script to make a great movie. Screenwriters will get a little respect...

Until the next remake or sequel makes a ton of money.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: DVD Explosion! - and how theatrical releases are just commercials.

Congratulations - Julie Kenner!

From Deadline Hollywood:

1492 Pictures and South Korea-based CJ Entertainment unveiled their first slate this morning since signing a three-year development deal late last year to create family-friendly films with global appeal. 1492 partners Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe pick the projects, and CJ funds development and will co-finance production with studio partners.

They start out with three thrillers.

* Carpe Demon is an adaptation of the Julie Kenner novel Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom. Columbus will rewrite the story of a stay-at-home mother charged with cleaning up her demon-plagued small town.

I read this book a couple of months ago and it's a lot of fun - a soccer mom who was once a Buffy-like demon hunter keeps her past secret from her local politician husband and two kids... but when demons invade her town this becomes more difficult. Every chapter ends with a cliff hanger, and it does a great job of mixing domestic issues with supernatural suspense. The book is clearly aimed at the soccer mom set, but it was a fun read for those of us who don't fit that demo.

Now, we get to see the movie!

The Deadline Hollywood Story.

Congratulations to Julie!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: DVD Explosion! - and how theatrical releases are just commercials.
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