Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lancelot Link Thursday

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who want to see a movie about a gorilla who goes to live in the mist of New York City, here are some articles about screenwriting and the biz plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are three cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Larry Cohen comments on Eastwood's J. Edgar Hoover movie.

2) How NOT To Deal With Critics! - thanks to Harry Connolly

3) Greatest Query Letter Ever! "A magic unicorn who poops glitter and controls zombies."

4) And today's car chase...

CORVETTE SUMMER is the movie Mark Hammill made right after STAR WARS and everyone was sure it would be a huge hit... it was not.

- Bill

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rewrite Weekend

So, one of my circling projects is an older screenplay that some new folks are interested in. On Thursday I got a phone call that things were heating up and there would be some rewrite notes coming to me soon by e-mail, and if I might be able to do a quick rewrite over the weekend before it’s submitted that would be great.

By Friday evening, when I left to go to the movies with my friends - no e-mail.

Well, I made an executive decision - I had a basic idea of what the rewrite notes would be, and I also knew what *I* wanted to do to improve the script (and give it a better chance), so I thought I’d do a rewrite over the weekend anyway, and if their notes popped up I would work those in. I could wait (and do nothing) or work (and get things accomplished). I think human nature is to wait for the notes, but that's probably a mistake.

The two major things in this rewrite - a core change to match the demographics of the market which did not favor the sex of the lead character. Though there was some talk about giving every character a sex change - men turned to women and women turned to men, like in the second version of THE MALTESE FALCON - they decided it made more sense to keep everyone the same sex and just take the focus from the lead character and shift it two the two secondary leads of the opposite sex. The story stays the same, we just shift point of view - and that completely works in this story.

The other major thing was the ending. A dozen years ago when this was about to be made (and then fell apart at the last minute) that producer gave me some notes including a “Producer’s Twist”... and that screwed up the end of the script, and I’d have to rewrite the last 20 or so pages. You know how a plot twist isn’t something that *changes* the story, it merely reveals something that was already part of the story? THE SIXTH SENSE is a great example - that twist at the end isn’t a change at all, and when you view the film again you realize that the information revealed in that twist was *always* there - in every scene since page 7 - and you just hadn’t noticed it. (Or, maybe you had - some people claim they figured it out early). But a twist is something that has been set up and is part of the story all along, but revealed later. And once it is revealed, you go “Of course! It was there all along! How could I have missed it!” A “Producer’s Twist” doesn’t work that way at all - it’s some twist that was never set up, never part of the story - just tacked on at the end. Imagine if at the end of WITNESS there was this twist that Harrison Ford had been dead since getting shot in the parking lot and the Amish kid says in the last 5 minutes that he sees dead people... like Harrison. You watch the film again and there’s *nothing* that would ever make you think Harrison is dead - he interacts with everyone and dances in the barn, etc. It’s a complete tack-on. That would be a “Producer’s Twist” - they think they are being clever by adding an extra twist - and usually not just a twist that isn’t set up, but often makes no sense at all. Then you have to go off and type it up.

So, that producer a dozen years ago had come up with a “Producer’s Twist” to make the hero into the villain at the end... but the villain is also still the villain, so there’s just this extra unexplained villain at the end and no good guy at all. It just ruined the whole script, and the twist was completely unmotivated, and we ended up with no likeable characters by the end. So I had rewritten the last 20-25 pages to try to make it suck less and make slightly more sense, but I always hated that twist.

Okay, here’s the thing - technology has changed in the past dozen years. Back then a brand new desk top computer might have a 2GB hard drive... the laptop I’m typing this on has 500GBs! So storage was a premium, and all of my scripts were on floppies. Because floppies were not cheap, I didn’t have a disk for each draft - I’d just copy over the old draft with the new draft. Any cool scenes that got cut I’d save on another floppy - never know when I might find some use for them later. But when I did the rewrite that ruined this script a dozen years ago - I saved it over the good version. Now, somewhere there is a hard copy of that good version - but it would take me forever to find... easier to just figure out how to fix the end and remove that “Producer’s Twist” than find the old version on paper and *retype it*.

Again - another reason why it would be easy for me to do nothing. Hey, instead of working, I cvan just wait for the notes and do nothing! There are always good excuses not to work, we have to fight them. Nothing ever gets done if we allow all of those good reasons not to work to get in the way of working.

So, Saturday I did a marathon writing day - and by 1:25am (Sunday) I had rewritten the first 69 pages of the script, not only shifting the POV so that another character was the lead, but writing the big scenes that made that character into the lead and adding some new suspense scenes that I really liked... but Sunday would be the big day - those last 20 pages or so, plus the pages that came before them.

Sunday I was originally going to go to this paperback book show way the hell out in the west valley, but most of the writers I wanted to see were not going to be there... so I decided to skip it and finish the rewrite.

One of the things I had done in Saturday’s rewrite was to create a whole new suspense element that threaded throughout the screenplay - and paid off in some of Sunday’s early scenes. Another thing I had to deal with was intensifying a scene that created a domino reaction in Sunday’s pages. Plus the POV change stuff. Some of the characters who died before made it to the end this time around - and that had to be set up... and some of the characters who made it until the end last time died this time around (so they wouldn’t be there to do some of the story/plot things that had to be done, and some other character would have to do those things... and those characters would have to be changed to be the kind of people who would do those things - and that’s a major character overhaul that changes everything. Almost every line of their dialogue and almost every action had to be changed.

When I broke for dunch (between dinner and lunch - maybe “linner” sounds better?) I sat down with those last 22 pages (printed out) and figured out how the new ending would work. Some of the scenes could be salvaged, just with different characters in them (since the other folks were dead). Some new scenes had to be written. But the biggest thing was that the *order* of the scenes was completely different. Oh, and since the POV shift thing - a different character was the “hero” and a different character was the “love interest” and one of these characters had not survived before! But the romantic thing had to be wrapped up differently. I scribbled notes on the pages, along with arrows and cross outs and name changes... and by the time I had finished by dunch I knew what the last 20 pages or so would look like... now all I had to do is write them! Easy... not!

Just after midnight on Sunday (technically Monday) I had the rewrite finished. I did a final read through, caught 3 typos, made a decision to leave an iffy line of description, and e-mailed a copy for them to read first thing Monday morning.

I am happy with it - mostly due to some new suspense scenes I wrote Saturday that are "Hitchcockian". This thing is like WAIT UNTIL DARK and REBECCA and SPIRAL STAIRCASE and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN all rolled into one...

But the moral of the story? Sometimes you have to do an enormous amount of work in a limited amount of time and you can’t wait for inspiration - you have to learn to inspire yourself. For me, the hardest part is getting started. Once I get going, I get into the story and characters and get excited about figuring out how to fix that next scene. But I have to push myself for a while - and write even though I’d rather do something else (anything else). You have to learn how to give yourself that push - and get enough momentum going that you get into that writing groove... even though you may not feel like it. Screenwriting is a job where you might have plenty of time to write the first few drafts and then some insane deadline to do the rewrite they are actually going to film. In this case, most of the “work” was getting myself off my lazy butt and into that rewrite. I could have done some work on Friday, but thought I’d just wait for the notes... and mostly goofed off all day!

Today I’m “goofing off” writing this, when I’m supposed to be working on another script project. It’s easy to lose the momentum and watch the latest YouTube video where Hitler has problems with Rebecca Black’s FRIDAY song and blows his top... but we have to self-motivate and get those pages done! Especially if we have plenty of time to write that first draft.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Be Indispensible - what makes you a good employee at your day job makes you a good writer.
Dinner: Subway - tuna melt.
Pages: Didn't make my 5 pages on Monday, but did some work over the weekend.
Bicycle: New bike - hardly ridden! It's been raining every day in Los Angeles. Monday it didn't rain, but was cloudy and muddy. Plan to ride Tuesday.
Movies: LIMITLESS and LINCOLN LAWYER and 2 others in the cinema we'll discuss later... when they are released.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lancelot Link Thursday

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who wonder if there's a movie on the Planet Of The Apes that ends with Cornelius discovering a monkey version of the Statue Of Liberty buried on the beach, here are some articles about screenwriting and the biz plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

Here are five cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Fans vs. Suits and the fate of the film biz.

2) Ben Hecht's CASINO ROYALE?

3) Simpsons Jokes Per Episode Chart.

4) Famous Objects From Classic Movies Game.

5) First review of THE BEAVER!

5) This is the first car chase I have ever posted starring Chuck Norris... I know - this brings my masculinity into question. But there is a fruit cart!

Also, probably the only car chase where the driver is wearing a *sweater vest*!

- Bill

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Do It Yourself!

My article in the current issue of Script Magazine is about my project to make my own film for pocket change later this year. We've come to a point where you really can make your own movie or TV series for an affordable amount of money... and I'm going to do that, and maybe crash and burn and look like an idiot.

My friend Carlos, who took my big 2 day class the first time I did it in the USA has been writing screenplays over the years and decided to make his own web series. He has shot his first two episodes and posted them... and one of his actresses was nominated for an award for her work in the series!

Here's a link to the show: LAS TUNDAS OF THE VALLEY. Check it out!

This ties in to yesterday's blog entry about the Get Off Your Ass And Do Something pill - Carlos took that pill and now has a webseries.

- Bill

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Women's Day
(not to be confused with DAY OF THE WOMAN)

One of my favorite directors had breasts.

Before Kathryn Bigelow directed a bunch of kick ass action movies, there was a hot actress from the early 1930s who played babes, but seemed more interested in edgy roles and ended up in some great crime films like THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT playing the femme fatale. She was versatile, and could play almost any role - from innocent sweethearts to mean bitches to vulnerable blind girls and *anything* in between. After starring in a bunch of great films where she stole the show from stars like Humphrey Bogart and Richard Widmark and Edward G. Robinson, at the end of the 1940s she decided to take control of her career and *did not* re-sign with Warner Brothers. She was smart and ambitious... but also no longer in her 20s.

Someone's video valentine to Lupino from YouTube. You can see how versatile she was be all of the different "looks" she had:

She starred in one of my favorite movies (THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT) - I have the original poster folded up in a box somewhere. If you haven't seen this one, check it out. The story's about a couple of long-haul truckers, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, just trying to earn a living. Bogart's the family man, and (SPOLIER!!!) about a third of the way into the movie gets into a horrible truck crash and gets his arm ripped off - spends the rest of the movie with only one arm. Raft stumbles into Noir territory when he manages a trucking company owned by Lupino's husband... and she is not happily married. There's a cool murder-by-automatic-garage-door-opener (really!). Here's a scene where Raft is torn between the nice girl he loves and manipulative Lupino:


Okay, Lupino's experiment being a non-contract player star isn't going exactly as planned - she's getting less work for less money. But she's smart. She starts writing screenplays - and selling them. The director of one of her screenplays NOT WANTED (1949) - about baby snatching - gets sick... and Lupino jumps in and finishes the film. And does a great job. This leads to work as a director - though mostly on B crime films. Except, that's what she's good at. She knows how to film action and suspense and make a film that really kicks ass! So she's now a triple threat - she is writing action films like PRIVATE HELL 36 (directed by the great Don Siegel) and directing great action and thriller films like THE HITCHHIKER and still acting in movies like:


Okay, before WOMEN'S PRISON she starred in this next one, directed by the great Nicholas Ray, where she plays a blind woman who kind of redeems a *very* violent cop. Oh, and when Ray got sick, Lupino took over and directed until he was back on his feet. This is one of my favorite films, with a great Bernard Herrmann score. The YouTube clips can not be embedded, but click on the links and check them out.



Scene from ON DANGEROUS GROUND with blind Lupino and violent cop Robert Ryan meeting for the first time. Oh, her brother is the killer he's chasing - and he tends to shoot first, and when the alleged perp is dead, read them their rights. So, this ain't gonna be a smooth romance.

Next, here's a clip from a movie she co-wrote with her husband (Collier Young) and directed 100% of, that is a great example of a contained thriller that doesn't seem contained. A ton of suspense is generated when two guys on a fishing trip pick up a hitchhiker who may or may not be a psycho killer on the run. The film is mostly 3 guys either in a car or at a camp site out in the middle of nowhere. There's an insane suspense scene at a campsite in the middle of nowhere - the psycho killer has a gun on the two guys... as they wait for him to fall asleep so they can escape. But is he really asleep? Or just pretending?


Lupino has 8 screenwriting credits on IMDB and 41 movies or TV series she directed. Usually multiple episodes of the TV shows (9 episodes of THRILLER, 8 episodes of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, etc.) She is the only woman to direct a TWILIGHT ZONE episode (THE MASKS) and directed a bunch of TV episode for action shows like THE FUGITIVE and THE UNTOUCHABLES... and GILLIGAN'S ISLAND! But where I fell in love with her as a director - the Boris Karloff Presents THRILLER show, where she was one of the "staff directors" in rotation. This show was like the HITCHCOCK PRESENTS show (in fact, shared many of the same key crew members and was shot at the same studio for the same company). When I was a kid, the show was re-run in the afternoon after I got home from school, and was just great stuff. My favorite episode was GUILLOTINE, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Ida Lupino. Your head will explode from the suspense!

Period France: Man convicted of murdering the husband of some babe he was sleeping with is waiting for his execution day, by guillotine. There is an unwritten law that if the executioner dies, all of the people he was supposed to kill that day are pardoned. There's no back up executioner, and you can't just let a janitor do it. So our killer-hero has the hot babe whose husband he killed, seduce the executioner and poison him the night before the execution. But the executioner is a big man, and instead of dying, he's just sick. Terminally sick, but heading to the prison to do his job before he dies! And the episode cuts between the executioner struggling to make his appointment with our killer-hero... and the killer-hero getting his last meal and the guards testing the guillotine on heads of cabbage and the killer-hero telling the priest he expects a miracle. The suspense just keeps building until you can't stand it anymore. When I was a kid, I immedeately wanted to know who wrote that story and who directed that episode.

And the answers were Cornell Woolrich, and the great director Ida Lupino... who happened to be a woman.

Direceted 41 movies and TV series (multiple episodes). She died in 1995.

- Bill

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Class Movie Suggestions

For the first time in about 5 years I'm doing my class in the USA (Los Angeles) and will use my new "Thematic" method to break down 5 films in the class - I have selected 3 films, but need 2 more.

What I am looking for are recent popular films (made within the past 10 years) that I can use as examples of theme. What are your suggestions?

- Bill

SCRIPT SECRETS: THE BIG IDEA is an INTENSIVE two day course - screenwriting stripped of the theoretical nonsense! This is the "classic class" - starting with finding an amazing idea - the kind that makes producers salivate! Then we'll go step-by-step from blank page to the big screen and show you how to create great characters from that idea, plus solid techniques to improve your dialogue, create lean-mean-evocative description, flesh out your story and improve screenwriting abilities! Plus a section on selling your script!

April 16 & 17, 2011
Burbank Airport Marriott - Producer's Room.

Click For More Info.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotional Openings and those NARNIA movies.
Dinner: Leftover Chinese food.
Pages: Poked around on a spec when I should have been working on this rewrite (assignment).
Bicycle: New bike, not much riding. Weather is the major reason - it's cold, has been rainy, and I had a cross-town meeting. Hard to get back on the bike when you are freezing.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Please Stop Dying!

RIP: Jane Russell.

Some of my favorites:

HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) opposite Robert Mitchum, directed by the great John Farrow. Odd crime film that takes place in a Baja resort where gangster Raymond Burr is trying to force ultra-cool gambler Mitchum to get back into the United States without the law finding out about it. Mitchum's in love with singer Russell - but is she part of the scheme or not? Kind of breezy, loose plot that almost feels like a comedy at times.

MACAO (1952) again opposite Robert Mitchum with the great Josef Von Sterberg directing. Again, Russell plays a singer - this time on a ship to Macao where she has a night club gig. Mitchum is living in exile in Macao and his only way back to the USA is to take down a crime syndicate... which owns the night club Russell is singing in. And this is one of the William Bendix/Mitchum movies.

DARKER THAN AMBER (1970) based on a John D. MacDonald novel, with Rod Taylor playing Travis McGee and Thedore Bikel playing Meyer and Robert Clouse (ENTER THE DRAGON) directing. Russell plays The Alabama Tigress - a neighbor of McGee's who was a man in the books... but she plays the role perfectly even though she's a woman. This film is not on DVD, and hard to find anywhere without being cut down to nada. It's one of those kick-ass action flicks from the 70s that was neutered for TV... and the theatrical version seems not to exist any more.

But those are the movies of Jane Russell's that *I* love, she's best known for:

THE OUTLAW (1943) - the risque western directed by Howard Hughes about Pat Garrett starring Janes Russell's boobs (the poster shows her with cleavage reclined in hay... almost offering a roll in it) - she plays Billy The Kid's girlfriend.

THE PALEFACE (1948) - quasi remake of the Keaton short starring Bob Hope, with Russell playing Calamity Jane.

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) with that other pair, Marilyn Monroe, as a pair of singers who leave their boring lives behind to become sensations in Paris... and find love along the way. Plus the sequel - GENTLEMEN MARRY BRUNETES with Jeane Crain instead of Marilyn.

The other RIP is Gary Winick, producer of a bunch of films and founder of InDigEnt films - which made indie films on digital formats for pocket change with biog name stars who just wanted to act in a movie where they weren't replaced by CGI every other scene. He produced and directed TADPOLE with Sigorney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth and Ron Rifkin and John Ritter at a cost of $250k - and if you haven't seen it, it's a great little film! He made TAPE and PERSONAL VELOCITY and PIECES OF APRIL and many others - and even though I don't like everything he produced, he gave a voice to filmmakers who we would never have heard of without InDigEnt. As a director he made 13 GOING ON 30 and CHARLOTTE'S WEB and LETTERS TO JULIET and many others. He was 49 years old - too young to die. But he leaves behind many cool indie films. He'll be missed.

- Bill
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