Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lancelot Link Thursday?

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who can't wait to see the new PLANET OF THE APES movie with James Franco, 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 eight cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Movie Ball Flow Chart!

2) The TV Pilots This Year.

3) Hollywood Films Overseas.

4) RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - stuntman's diary.

5) AVATAR 2 and 3 news.

6) STAR WARS opened 34 years ago yesterday...

7) Jimmy Stewart's VERTIGO apartment... today!

8) NETWORK notes.

And this week's car chase...

The genius of Bigelow.

Oh, and PIRATES 4 has made over $400 million in less than a week with bad reviews... So, why do they make sequels?

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Act 2 Is Quicksand! - one of reader's favorite tips - about the perils of act 2.
Dinner: Subway ham & swiss before a movie.
Pages: In act 3! Wrote a good scene, but needed to write 2.
Bicycle: Short bike ride.

MOVIES: THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS - a documentary about the STAR WARS movies and the fans love and hate for them... and the absolute stupidity of medichlorians. One of the reasons why I went was my friend and fellow screenwriter Chris Valin was one of the angry fans interviewed, and his name in the closing credits *twice* - once with middle initial, once without. But the film ended up *full* of people I know, to the point that I felt left out. The main thrust of the film is that Lucas made these magical movies... sold us all of the toys and action figures... then made three crappy prequels and recut the original three films and turned them into crap. We all know that Han Solo shot first - and having him just return fire changes the very core of his character. A big part of the film were the fan films... But how can you do an movie about STAR WARS and fan films and not have a single clip from HARDWARE WARS or interview with Ernie Foss? HARDWARE WARS was the original fan film, and was a huge hit back in the late 70s. One of the weird things was that the film seemed to focus on younger fans, with very few people in the film who saw STAR WARS without the crappy A NEW HOPE subtitle. Though there are no new interviews with Lucas, they use some footage from old interviews where he laments that he always wanted to make edgy indie films and now he can’t. Dude, you have all of the money in the world, if you want to make a movie just go make it. Who cares if it flops? If you’re afraid you won’t get a fair shake because you’re George Lucas, make it under a another name and see what happens. But complaining just seems false. Lucas also seems aware that many fans do not like the prequels... and there’s a cool solution for that: In some interview in the late 70s Lucas said he had planned 3 trilogies and claimed to have synopsis for all of them. Oddly enough, the prequels are fairly close to what he described back then... I think Lucas ought to produce the last trilogy, just to make up for the prequels. Skip whatever stories he had planned and do three more kick-ass space westerns like STAR WARS and EMPIRE.

MOVIES: INCENDIES - Canadian film in French that was nominated for Best Foreign Film (and lost) - and it's quietly disturbing. Emotional puzzle with a bunch of OMG! moments. When a kind of a boring middle class woman who worked 20 years as a secretary dies, her will is just weird: her twin children (one female, one male) now in their late-20s are each given a task. One must find the father they thought was dead, the other must find a brother they never knew they had... in the Middle East where there mother was born and raised. We follow the female twin as she discover's her mother's violent hellish past (not much of a spoiler, since someone gets their brains blown out in the first ten minutes). Seems they had no idea who their mother was... and that kind of means they have no idea who they are. The story just keeps escalating - the more she finds out about her mother the more frightening the story becomes. The movie is a little confusing because it alternates between the daughter’s quest and the mother as a young woman - and the actress who plays the daughter looks like the actress who plays the mother... and as the daughter follows her mother’s path she begins to *dress* like her mother - adding to the confusion! The mother wore a distinctive crucifix, and that could have helped tell them apart... until the daughter begins wearing the crucifix! But there are some *great* bits of visual storytelling - the long lost brother is given a tattoo on his foot when he is born, and there are some great shocking moments of flashback as we see a child soldier... who has the tattoo on his foot! Sometimes you think one character might be the lost brother grown up... and then we see that tattoo and realize the guy we thought was the villain is the hero or vice versa. Lots and lots of twists! This film is brutal! The more the twins learn about their mother, the more they realize she was just pretending to be that typical middle class secretary for 20 years. After seeing this film, I'm wondering what the hell my sweet old mom did when she was young!

MOVIES: Also saw another film that I will talk about later.

- Bill

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


My friend Danny's short film has completed its festival run and is now online. I saw it at some festival in Santa Monica and laughed my ass off. It's a 13 minute mocdoc about a Frisbee Dancing Competition...

Tossers from Danny Grossman on Vimeo.

By the way, today is his birthday.

- Bill

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's For You....

Don Siegel's film TELEFON based on the novel by Walter Wager (DIE HARD 2) was shot in San Francisco - and we you see the underground parking garage scenes in the trailer, I was there for that!

This film (and the book - read it back then) were inspirations for my SLEEPER AGENT script.

What's amusing about the trailer is that it uses the old landline telephone as its logo... and within a few years I'm not sure many people will still have traditional land lines.

- Bill

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Showbiz Expo 2011

Last Saturday was Showbiz Expo... which is not the same things as Screenwriting Expo (which still hasn’t paid me from last year’s classes)... *Showbiz* Expo was the original.

It began sometime in the late 80's or early 90s as a trade show for entertainment computer equipment, and quickly grew to a huge annual event that took over most of the Los Angeles Convention Center with every single element of the entertainment industry - from the latest in cameras and lighting and lenses and camera cranes and cast trailers and catering and everything else you would ever need to make a movie. I began going when I first came to Los Angeles in the early 90s, because it was *free*. It was two days, and there was so much stuff that you couldn’t see it all in a single day. Every single camera company was there.... every light company... and what was really fun were all of the peripheral companies you’d never think of.

You’ve seen movies like TERMINATOR 2 where a whole city gets nuked? Well, in those pre-CGI days those were models, and there was always a company who specialized in building model cities for movies... plus, if there’s one company that does it, there’s at least one other company that does the same thing and competes with them (usually two). So there’d be three companies that make model cities. And two companies that make radio controlled model planes for film - really detailed models that look like the real thing on camera. And a dozen guys who do storyboards. And five companies that make custom swords and weapons. And four people who train animals. And... well, think of every single thing you need to make a film, and all of those people were there! If you were interested in the biz, it was like Disneyland. Plus, there were always a bunch of catering companies with food samples - like a free lunch!

The parking lot of the Convention Center was filled with all of the big equipment - at least a couple of helicopters with camera mounts, plus trucks and generators and big camera cranes and all kinds of other stuff. It was fantastic.

But by the beginning of the 2000s, the show began shrinking - people could see demonstrations of the latest equipment online... and by 2003 it was gone. Then, in 2009, a new company bought the name and trademark and brought it back to Los Angeles... On the same exact weekend as Screenwriting Expo! Talk about confusion! It was a much much much smaller event, barely filling a small hall at the Convention Center, and focusing on *actors* - so it was a bunch of acting classes and no equipment. Only one day... but you can do the whole event in an hour and still have time left over. This is the third time for the show, and not that much has changed from 2009...


Just like in the old days, registration is free until the event. But unlike the old days, you now register online by filling out this seemingly never-ending form. The big problem is, you think it’ll just take a minute... but then it ends up being pages and pages and pages! You see, they also had a zillion add ons that cost money, and that free online registration is really a hard sell for the paid add ons. They have classes and webinars and an after party and networking tables (you pay to sit at a table with other people who paid to sit at that table), and focus groups (I don’t know what that’s all about) and a place an actor can leave a stack of headshots and a place a film maker canm shoiw their movie and maybe you want to put your flyer in the gimme-bag and maybe you want to sign up for a booth next year and maybe you want to run an advert in the program or...? Anyway, you have to check or uncheck a million boxes on a dozen pages as part of registration - and they have these great annoying pop up boxes that ask “Are you SURE you don’t want to take a webinar on Hand Gestures For Actors?” So, after going through all of this crap, instead of sending you a badge that you can put in their plastic holder when you show up (like the old show used to do, and other shows do), they just send you a page with a bar code so that you can complete registration at the event...

Complete registration.

What this means is - you show up, stand in a huge line, when you get to the front of the line they send you to one of a dozen or so laptops... when you enter your e-mail address and then have to go through all of those pages where you check and uncheck boxes for all of the add ons and then deal with the pop ups “Are you SURE you don’t want to take a webinar on Defining Your Character’s Walk For Actors?” (Click Yes or No.) About twenty minutes to half an hour of this stuff, in the event that you changed your mind from the day you registered until today. Um, not likely. I think part of the deal is they hope you miss something and they automatically charge you for the after party or that webinar on Eyebrow Movement For Actors. And you can’t skip ahead - you must go through every single check box and pop up in order to get to the page where you print your badge.

When I got to the front of the line, and they sent me to the computer... the wifif system crashed and we had to wait for at least a half an hour to do a half hour of checking and unchecking boxes... as the line grew longer and longer!

After clicking Print Badge I went to the printer station where a guy gave me the paper badge and a plastic badge holder... and I had to put the badge in the holder myself. Except the badge was about an eight of an inch too big! I had to fold part of it to get the thing to fit! This is the kind of silly stuff that makes you angry.


Still a small hall, but at least this year there were a few pieces of equipment in display - a jib-arm company, a company that sells remote-control camera helicopters, a rental company that specializes in Red cameras, and a hybrid honeywagon company. Nothing like the old days of Expo, but maybe getting there. The rest of the stuff was mostly aimed at actors like last year, but I wandered around even though I don’t think I may turn thespian any time soon. Last year they had a whole aisle of TV/DVD combos playing people’s backyard movies in search of distribution. You could put on a headset and watch for 90 minutes. This seemed weird to me, because I don’t imagine any distribs showing up at this event and signing some film after standing there with a headset on for 90 minutes. This is one of those strange things I see people doing sometimes - even screenwriters - finding the post passive and least likely way for their work to be discovered. “Well, I have all of my scripts posted on my website, so producers can find them and buy them...” - what are the odds of a producer stumbling on your website in the first place? Wouldn’t the odds be better if you tried contacting producers with query letters? Well, same deal with that movie you made - there are distributors out there, why not send them a DVD and query? Or try to meet them at film festivals? Or some other *active* method of getting your film sold? Hoping someone is going to walk down an aisle and watch the movie is the long shot of all long shots... but Showbiz Expo makes money on these people. This year: No TV/DVD combos... instead those little portable DVD players laid out on a table. Not impressive at all. There were also some CD players on the table with music composer samples. Fewer than last year - maybe half a dozen movies instead of a whole aisle.

But there was still the whole aisle of headshots with little boxes for business cards. “Hey, I saw your headshot and want to hire you for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 5! More passive methods to stardom. I did look at whatever credits these folks had (usually student films) to see if one of them might have been in one of my films. I remember going to an IFP screening once and the star of the indie movie was a guy who had a small role in CRASH DIVE... that was kind of cool. Because I show up on sets of my films for the free meal, I end up hanging out with the crew and the supporting actors - sometimes buying them drinks at the wrap party or the last day of shooting. So I knew this guy, and it was cool to see him play a lead in this little indie flick. But none of the headshots were actors who had ever been in anything I wrote. So, the next thing I did was look at hot actress headshots for a potential girlfriend. None of the damned headshots mentioned marital status... but they had mostly been in student films. I’m looking for a *rich and famous* hot actress, who can help *my* career.

After the headshots was a bulletin board where you could post crew and cast needs, and then the aisles of acting classes and head shot photogs and other mostly actor related stuff. Last year there were a bunch of start up “social networking for the film biz” places, and they were all back this year. Though the social networking thing may be a good idea, I wonder how many people are on some film specific place? Would you be able to interact with people higher up the food chain than you, like on FaceBook? Or would it mostly be other people at your level? Who signs up for these things?

Hey - there was a vegan catering company with free samples... a snack!

I walked past the Write Brothers booth - and the guys said hello. They make Movie Magic Screenwriter, which I’ve used forever, and for whatever reason they know who I am. I suspect they have flashcards of pro writers so that they can spot us in a crowd. They had a show sale for MMS, and I forgot to ask about it... I have a brand new laptop, still in the box, that I need to get all my stuff on eventually. The laptop I’m using now only holds an hour charge on the battery, and when I looked at replacement batteries they cost enough that it made more sense to just buy a new laptop... even though this one is only a couple of years old. A couple of years in Computer is a lifetime! So when laptops hit giveaway price a couple of months ago I bought a new one to cut my film on... and still haven’t set it up. Guess I missed my chance for the show price on Movie Magic...

The Writers Store was there, which was great. Smaller booth than usual and Jesse wasn’t there, but great that they had a presence. I bought that old version of Movie Magic Screenwriter, back when it was Script Thing, at the old Writers Store on Santa Monica - back when the idea of a specific program for writing screenplays was something new and exciting. Since then, I’ve shopped at Writers Store for screenwriting books and whatever else when they moved to Westwood... and bought a book a couple of months ago at their new Burbank location. It’s a great place!

On the very last aisle, facing the wall, I found the Scriptwriter’s Network Booth... and was recognized again. Now here’s the strange part - one of the members volunteering at the booth recognized me... from London! He took my class at the Raindance Film Festival once. Small world. Well, the Network is closing in on their 25th anniversary, and I’ve been a member for something like 20 years - since I first moved to Los Angeles. I talked to Joe about doing a class or something for the Network, and that’ll happen sometime in the future. The last time I did a class for them, afterwards some people wanted to buy Blue Books or CDs... and I didn’t bring any. I guess when people usually do classes for them they bring stuff to sell... I was just doing a class. This time, I guess I’ll bring stuff. We talked about how the organization is doing these days, etc. There was a demonstration stage in the center of the room - with no one doing any demonstrations - and I told Joe that next year if they did this I’d be happy to do a class or two on that stage to drum up some new members for the Network. I would probably be at the Expo anyway, and bored out of my skull after seeing everything in an hour... so why not?

Hey, and maybe some producer wandering through will hear me talk and want to buy a screenplay?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures - What do you want the audience to feel?
Dinner: Panera - sandwich.
Pages: Two great scenes (4 pages). Still behind, but getting there!
Bicycle: Rode all over the place.

Movies: EXPORTING RAYMOND - Documentary (sort of) about producer Phil Rosenthal (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) having one hissy-fit after another as Russian TV makes their own version of RAYMOND. The guy can not just sit back and watch, and can not let go - he must be the boss even though the show is in Russia. He wants to keep the show 100% the way it was in the USA, even though this is a different culture and many things just don't work. Though there are some actual problems with the Russian version (the costume designer and her dogs in cute outfits, and the actor the network wants to star) much of this film is Rosenthal nit-picking everything. At one point his driver/bodyguard claims to have a several week hospital appointment, I suspect just to get away from him. What was interesting to me is the number of successful US sitcoms adapted for Russia - and when they show clips from them you realize they are all heavily concept based... and then there's RAYMOND which is just about a guy and his family. One of the Russian network guys says the key to THE NANNY's success is that it's a Cinderella story, and that fits the crazy costume woman's theory that Russians want to see upscale people in nice clothes. Other things in RAYMOND seemed to not translate at all - Raymond gives his parents a subscription to the "Fruit Of The Month Club", but in Russia no such thing exists. While watching the movie, I wondered how many of the other little things about life that made RAYMOND funny just don't exist in Russia... and whether Rosenthal's nit-picking about how a line is supposed to be delivered makes any sense to the Russians. The film seems to be cut to show that Rosenthal was right all along - the Russian director gets tired of his constant notes about every single line and begins ignoring him... then in a later scene agrees with something Rosenthal says and fixes it and the scene works better... but I'm not sure that makes Rosenthal always right. He may have been completely wrong with his other notes. And it isn't until Rosenthal flies back to the USA that the show actually gets retooled and becomes successful. So it's hard to know if he was right all along... or just a major irritation. A few laughs in the doc, but mostly I was cringing and wanted to just slap Rosenthal and tell him that he's the problem. I ran a tip a few days ago on how the reader/audience can see your attitude between the lines, and this doc showed us more about Rosenthal than he probably wanted us to know.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Lancelot Link Thursday!

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who read Vonnegut's Welcome To The Monkey House in High School, 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 seven cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) New JAWS book!

2) Ten Coolest Hidden Passages (including one into an office).

3) If Summer Movie Posters Told The Truth!

4) Obi Wan Kenobi Is Dead!

5) Map To New York Superheroes.

6) Want To Buy Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang?

7) If you are one of the five people who hasn't seen Damn You Auto Correct! here is is.

8) This week's car chase: Luc Besson's TAXI 3, with the French Sylvester Stallone... and a cool bicycle vs. motorcycle chase!

That guy looks just like Stallone, doesn't he - but the voice is higher.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Sledge Hammer - if you want to send a message, call Western Union.
Dinner: Philly Cheese Steak.
Pages: A couple of good pages, still behind.
Bicycle: Short bike ride.

Movies: BRIDESMAIDS - about a half an hour too long, a scattershot plot (what's up with the roommate scenes?), and rated R only for language... but funny and Kristen Wiig is great. Show stolen by Melissa McCarthy. It's Apatow produced - so where's the nudity? In the sex scene Wiig wears this bra that looks bullet-proof! Come on! At least give her some lace! I would have loved to have the gal from RENO 911 nekkid (and her character was sex starved, so it would have worked), but aren't Apatow movies usually filled with male full frontal nudity? Here - the film is PG (except for language and really crude humor). They seriously should have focused the script before they filmed it and cut at least 20 minutes. It meanders all over the place and needs some more jokes. I want Wiig (and the women) to have a huge hit like HANGOVER, but am afraid this isn't it.

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Little Hard on The Beaver

Here's my entry on THE BEAVER screenplay written on 12/30/08. Now that the film has come out, I thought I'd re-run it.

Thought about running this on May 20, when the film was scheduled to open wider... but now it looks like that will not happen. According to the LA Times, THE BEAVER has flopped big time - so they have scaled back the "wide release" to only 30 cinemas after the film got mixed reviews and failed to sell any tickets.

Between writing new script tips and an article for Script Magazine and poking around on a spec about Country Western Bars, I’m reading some of the Black List scripts. First up was THE BEAVER, which got the most votes. Now, as someone who has been on a film fest jury or two, I know that just because something gets the most votes doesn’t mean it’s the best - often it means it’s the one more people agree on... and that is often the “most average” of the group. But I did go in with pretty high expectations - these are supposed to be the best scripts out there.

I should also mention that I have a huge problem with reading scripts (and this may even extend to writing them) - I am a real world, production oriented person. You may read a script for the beauty of a description - and I can appreciate that, too, but for me what is more important is: how will this look on screen? How will an actor deliver this line? How will this scene make the audience feel? Will there be enough donuts on set with sprinkles that I can snag one before the Teamsters get to them? So something that is pretty and practical is great, something that is pretty and not practical is just wasting my time and making me angry. When I read a script I’m looking at how it will translate to the screen... and then how it will translate to the audience.

The Black List "experiment" is an interesting one - the idea of finding the screenplays that development people think are the best. I think the weird thing from looking at the list is that it is skewed towards strange and quirky and arty and sometimes even "this is not a movie" screenplays. Instead of being great material that could easily be a *great* mainstream movie, it seems as if part of the criteria is that the scripts must be something no studio would ever touch... and THE BEAVER kind of fits into that theory. This is not a really clever genre script - the kind of great movie I wish Hollywood was still making - it's a weird non-genre story that I can not imagine ever selling... though I guess I'm wrong on that one, since it's now going to be a Steve Carrell movie. The Black List is like a rebel list: development people purposely picking projects their producer bosses would probably hate. At times it seems more like a "Fuck you!" list than a list of great scripts that need to be made. It'll be interesting to see how well THE BEAVER works as a movie... and any of the other strange scripts that made the list and now seems to be hot stuff in Hollywood.

THE BEAVER - the story is basically AMERICAN BEAUTY meets Triumph The Insult Comic Dog, about a upper middle class guy who comes to realize that his life is crap... but when he puts on a hand puppet, the puppet takes over in a strange version of Tourettes and he takes control of his life again. That’s a great idea for a comedy, though this is a drama - and the execution has some problems, but by the end the script has some solid emotional scenes that make it almost work.

If I’d had this idea, the problem I would see going in would be that the hand puppet could easily slide into becoming an exposition device that just blurts out what the character was thinking or feeling... and that is one of the big problems of the script. Much of the story is *told* instead of shown through the hand puppet... and on top of that, the writer decided to have the hand puppet narrate! Yikes! This results in long blocks of speeches by a hand puppet that tell us what is happening or what the protag is thinking or wants or needs. Much of the hand puppet interaction rings completely false - there is an endless speech to a board of directors (at our hero’s job) where not a single board member interrupts - even though the speech is major policy change and given by a talking beaver hand puppet. Everyone allows this hand puppet to drone on and on without interruption - which creates a pile of expositional speeches that litter the script.

The other thing about the hand puppet - it’s not funny or clever. There is *one* line about the CEO’s death by hooker, and all of the rest is just kind of bland stuff in a British accent. No great cutting remarks, nothing that you really wish you had said but couldn’t - because you didn’t have a hand puppet doing the talking for you. Since “sock puppet” is an online term for a false identity that says all of the things that you can not, I believed this sock puppet would say all of the things Walter could not. You know, the clever, cutting things that will get you fired or punched if you say them yourself. A couple of weeks ago I saw GRAN TORINO, which has got to have the most un-PC dialogue of any film in the past few years. Eastwood’s character is constantly saying things that are completely inappropriate - and that produces laughter. He calls people names to their faces! But here, the Beaver mostly just makes speeches or says something that is not clever or cutting... something that Walter might have easily said himself without fear. And, when you compare the Beaver’s dialogue to Triumph’s? Seriously - watch that first Triumph clip where he goes to the dog show and try not to hurt yourself laughing. That puppet says things you wouldn’t even think of thinking! Triumph is too honest... and you wish that the Beaver had been more honest and more funny.

And that may be because this script falls into no genre - it is not a Steve Carrel comedy and even says in the script at one point that it is not a Jim Carrey comedy. So maybe they weren’t trying for humor (in a script about a talking beaver hand puppet)... But if this script was supposed to be more dramatic, like AMERICAN BEAUTY, it still doesn’t measure up. Not only is AMERICAN BEAUTY *funnier* - Lester does say many of those fantasy things you’ve always wanted to say but would get fired or punched - it’s not as *dramatic*. When Lester snaps, he does all of the things he has always fantasized about... and basically relives the time in his life where he was most happy - he becomes a teen again. He buys the car he wanted as a teen, lives life as if there is no tomorrow, and even ends up working a teen type job at a drive through. He completely changes his life after the snap...

But once Walter finds The Beaver, he changes *nothing* - he has the same job, tries to get back to his old life with his wife and kids. He has this potential power to change - the Beaver hand puppet - and doesn’t use it. Once he has the beaver hand puppet - he does nothing differently, except talk in long speeches in a British accent (why doesn’t anybody ever interrupt him?). He just lives his old life, and more or less does it the way he used to. The changes - he takes his wife out to dinner and teaches his youngest son woodworking - are things he could have easily done without the puppet... and not really any big deal.

The great comedy idea of a guy possessed by a talking beaver hand puppet is also completely at odds with the serious tone of the script. I don't see how this is going to play on screen at all. When I imagine the serious scenes with dialogue coming from a hand puppet, it just becomes silly. The puppet undercuts the drama - and is going to create unintentional laughs no matter who directs it. On the page this may work, on screen I can't imagine it working at all.

The script also has these story cheats, like the woodworking. The youngest son is given a hunk of wood and many sharp and dangerous tools... and the kid is instantly happy! No actual dramatic scenes needed! And Walter’s failing company? Hey, they sell hunks of wood and sharp and dangerous tools to children - and they are back in the black! Like by magic! And everybody loves Walter! Walter writes a book... and it’s a best seller! He’s instantly on Oprah! Yes, I know it’s only a movie - but I like to see a little work done on things like this... even if it’s just a line about how kids are tired of passive toys and games, which give them nothing when they are done playing. They want something to show for the time spent playing other than a high score on some computer screen. Some *justification* for the woodworking set to become this massive hit. Though the Beaver says he did focus groups - we never see them, so I do not believe they existed.

These story cheats are most prevalent in the older son’s story track - from the cliche portion of wall where he bashes his head regularly to the cliche rubber band on his wrist he snaps when he catches himself acting like his father to the hot cheerleader who is secretly an artist and has murals hidden in her brother’s room... yet she never acts like an artist at all. We never see her as an artist pretending to be a cheerleader - she isn’t drawing on her peechee folders (or whatever they use these days). I drew on *everything* and was drawing in class when I was supposed to be listening - and still got good grades. And I’m not an artist - I was a bored kid with some basic drawing talent and lots of imagination. I wanted to believe she was an artist because she said she was, but the *evidence* didn’t support it... so I was always waiting for the twist that her brother was the real artist and she was just a silly cheerleader. By the way, she didn’t seem particularly bright, either... nor did Porter (oldest son). We get no *demonstration* - only what is told to us by the characters... and that might all be lies.

The script takes a strange, bloody turn at one point - that makes no sense.. But kind of reminds me of the Jim Carrey movie THE MASK - and, again, that’s a film with a similar premise that explores that premise much much better than this script does. The problem with this bloody scene is that it is so out of place in this tame story that you wonder if it will survive all of the way to the screen. Basic tone issues. If you think about the violence in AMERICAN BEAUTY, it is just as big as the other events in the story so it fits. When you are doing sound editing, you may get different volume levels from different sources, and there is a filter-gizmo that goes through the entire sound track and makes it all the same volume level, so that it doesn’t suddenly BLAST at you - like those loud commercials in the middle of a TV show. I think stories need something similar - sort of a tone adjustment - that makes sure you don’t have some scene so shocking and different than anything else we have seen so far that seems to belong in some other script. I am all for pushing the envelope, and even having that one scene in your script that you know will be cut because it goes too far... but you want that scene to fit the script that has come before. The violence in AMERICAN BEAUTY was completely within the world of that story... the scene in THE BEAVER just seems to come out of left field. Hard to imagine that violence working on screen at all.

But here’s the thing - a movie and a screenplay can be saved by their ending... and as a story continues, we tend to become invested in the characters... so by the time I reached the end of THE BEAVER I wasn’t thinking about all of the problems as much as I was thinking about all of the things it did well... and that end (which oddly uses the narration I disliked from the beginning) had me liking the script despite its flaws... even though the ending was also kind of a cheat. Instead of solving Walter's problems, he's kind of pushed aside in the story in favor of the older son and cheerleader subplot. It's the old switcheroo - which is not what you expect from a script that's #1 on the Black List, but at least gives us a big emotional resolution on the page. I can see why it got a bunch of votes - but still can’t see how it will work on screen as a Steve Carrell movie without some heavy rewrites. I'm wondering if that end that made me tear up on the page will just seem like some completely out of left field tack on when it hits the screen. Reading a script takes more time than watching a movie, and what seems like a gradual change from Walter's story to the oldest son and cheerleader story on the page might really seem like a cheat on screen. You have to read past the language in a script and see what ends up on screen... but maybe they'll fix the flaws and this will be Carrell's biggest hit since 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN?

Next, I think I’ll read Scott Frank’s script... which was at the bottom of the Black List.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Holiday Block older tips that need a rewrite and haven't run for a while.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Mom's home cooking.
Pages: Poking around on this old thriller script that takes place in a Country Western Bar - I hope to kick off the new year by finishing this sucker.

MOVIES: GRAN TORINO - The Clint squint is back! The second Eastwood movie to come out this season is completely different than THE CHANGELING in almost every way. From the trailer, it looks like GRUMPY OLD DEATH WISH - and it is - but the film is also much more. It’s a comedy. Now, when you think Clint Eastwood and comedy, you instantly think of orangutans or chimpanzees... but Clint is the closest to a lower primate in this film. He plays an old, racist, foul mouthed and really grump retired auto worker named Walt who lives in the same house in the same neighborhood he has always lived in... only the world has changed around him. What was a great neighborhood in the 40s or 50s is now broken down slums filled with immigrants. Hmongs - from Laos and Viet Nam. He hates ‘em. He has a dozen names for ‘em, each one more outrageous (and funny) than the one before.

Walter is a guy who is too old for the bullshit of being polite - maybe he always was - so he has an insult for everybody. The movie opens with the death of his wife, making Walter all alone in his old neighborhood... and when people try to comfort him, he snaps at them. He calls his Priest a virgin, and then goes on to trash him and all of the BS parts of religion. When his sons try to get him into a home for “active seniors” he tells them off - saying things that no one would ever really say... they might think them, but they’d never actually say them. That is Walter’s charm - he says what we think but would never say. All of the terrible things, all of the impolite things, all of the funny things. He’s like the late, great, stand up comic Sam Kineson.

This character of Walter says so many evil, racist, impolite, and downright mean things - you wonder what would have happened if another actor had been cast in the role. We know Eastwood, we like him... and Eastwood has a way of saying all of these terrible things so that they are more comedy than derogatory. Instead of hating Walter - which we might have done if another actor had played the role - we grow to like him because he says exactly what he thinks without any filters. Eastwood makes him not evil, just cranky. But some other actor - even a well liked star of Eastwood’s caliber - might not have been able to pull off this character. This is about the most unlikeable lead character I've ever seen on screen. I can just imagine all of the development notes this thing might have gotten about making Walter "more likeable"... probably from the save Devos who voted for THE BEAVER!

The trailer might make you think this will be wall-to-wall kick ass, but the film does something different. It takes this grumpy old man who is set in his ways and hates the immigrants who surround him, and through the story, forces him to deal with the world around him and become a member of his new neighborhood. After the kid next door tries to steal his prized Gran Torino, Walter has to deal with the kid and his family - he can’t just hurl insults at them from his porch - and discovers that these people who look very different than him are actually more like him than his own family. He takes the boy under his wing and teaches him to become a man... and that’s the meat of the story. Sure, there are kick ass scenes and Clint does an interesting variation on DEATH WISH, but most of the film is the growing relationship between Walter and the family next door... and how he becomes so involved with them that their problems become his problems (then there’s that ass-kicking portion of our show).

I believe the Hmong actors are civilians, but they give really good performances for non-actors in a film shot at Clint-speed (he shoots really fast, few takes, usually no rehearsals). Sue, the girl next door, comes off really well - she has a great personality and you believe this old fart might be talked into coming over for a big family dinner (and free beer) by her. Tao, the boy, gets to act sullen and introverted - much easier for a non-actor, but the kid also pulls it off. You believe every single one of these characters. I think the Priest needed a little rewriting - he’s okay, but the character comes off very passive and kind of bland. I’ve been rewatching a bunch of Noir films, and one of the great things about casting someone like Robert Mitchum or Burt Lancaster in the lead in those films is that they brought personality to the roles. Both of those actors were incredibly versatile, even though you might not notice it from only seeing a couple of films, but when you cast someone like Lancaster he could make low key characters interesting with a line reading or a gesture or some other character thing he would bring to the role. If the Priest role had been played by one of those old school actors, it might have been more interesting.... but he comes off kind of flat in the film.


Okay, I always try to disguise things so that I don’t completely spoil the movie, but I thought I should warn you anyway. The big problem I had with GRAN TORINO was the end. Eastwood’s revenge plan requires that the ultra close-lipped Hmongs who would never rat on even the most evil member of their community actually talk to the police... or the whole revenge plan falls apart. It is clearly set up that the Hmongs would *never* go to the police - yet Clint’s plan requires it... so the whole revenge plan kind of folds in on itself. For Clint’s revenge plan to work, a Hmong must do what they never do and go to the police... but if the Hmong would go to the police we wouldn’t really need Clint’s revenge plan - the cops would take care of it. It wouldn’t be as exciting as Clint’s plan, but it would be a potential resolution. Oh, and for the Clint revenge plan to work, the Hmong character must talk to the police at a specific time in order for the police to act in a specific way at the specific time that all fits in Clint’s revenge plan. In other words - it’s all up to chance and coincidence. A *better* method would have been to use the Priest character (who has a silly scene at the end already) and have him be the one who brings in the police at the right place and at the right time for Clint’s revenge plan to work. Clint might have given the Priest some information about his revenge plan, knowing that he would go to the police, but also lied about time or place so that the police wouldn’t get there too soon and prevent him from kicking a bunch of low-life ass. The Cavalry would show up in time to see that it was a fair fight and not Clint going psycho (so we can have a happy ending), but Clint could still kick enough ass to give us the movie we paid to see. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I am talking about, those of you who haven’t hopefully won’t guess the details of the end from that.


So GRAN TORINO manages to be two movies in one - a heartwarming story of an old guy who is alone in the world and finds friendship and community... and a badass GRUMPY OLD DEATH WISH flick about an old Korean War vet who is completely underestimated by the gangs and drug dealers and scumbags who are ruining his old neighborhood. While watching, I wondered if this whole script was sparked by the line “Get off my lawn”. And no one growls like Clint!

PS: My interview continues on the Writer's Bloc Show on Virtual TV Network, with the LAST part, about the postponed movie #20 and VOLATILE:


PPS: More of my damned movies showing on Sky in the UK! I'm sorry...

M4M2 (UK): Friday Jan 2 - 15:10 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

You have been warned.

- Bill

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lancelot Link Thursday!

Lancelot Link Thursday! For those of you who wonder if an infinite number of monkeys could have written the song Day Dream Believer, 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) Screenwriter Dan Fogelman.

2) Ten Amazing Flash Mobs!

3) Seven Pieces Of Conventional Movie Wisdom Disproved By The Success Of FAST FIVE.

4) Summer Movie Release Schedule - pick which film you will see each weekend!

5) How To Make *Good* Raunchy Comedies.

And today's Car Chase, from TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA...

I think I've probably used that one before, but here it is again in honor of the CASTLE episode with the same title.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Put A Face On It! - antagonists in stories that don't have villains.
Dinner: Togos ham & turkey sandwich.
Pages: Um, an awful day... just over a page.
Bicycle: Medium bike ride.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sleep Vacation?

I’m way behind on this script due to all kinds of things: Some quick page one rewrites on a couple of scripts going out, a rewrite on an assignment, some work that had to be done on another project, a couple of articles for Script magazine, general laziness, a two week period where I got an invite to a screening almost every night - and I went to sit-com tapings on the other nights, a bunch of crazy errands, and a complete lack of sleep. If you read the blog, you know that I’ve always had sleep problems - I’m often up late, or doing something, and add to that I’m a light sleeper. Paul Schrader made a film called LIGHT SLEEPER with Willem Defoe - I’ll watch anything that Paul Schrader makes, even though a large percentage of his films don’t work at all. He has tone problems. But he’s always interesting, and since I’ve always had sleep problems and always been a light sleeper I went to see Schrader’s film. Maybe even at a late late show.

Buy the enough DVDs

The thing about being a light sleeper is that some noise will wake me up in the middle of the night - and I have no idea what that noise is. The noise happened while I was asleep. Might have been a police helicopter chasing a suspect on the 101, might have been a sonic boom, might have been someone in my building dropping something heavy... like the safe they stole from the jewelry shop which lead to that police chase on the 101. I have new neighbors on my left side, and they had a couple of late parties that didn’t bother me as much as their early morning leaving-for-work door slamming loud conversations. A pair of young guys probably trying to break into show biz, but I think they work as salesmen or something - they wear ties. After the door slamming, they have a conversation (loud) as they walk down the hall... past my apartment. I can hear them through the damned walls! But it’s not just them, it’s all kinds of things that wake me up... and sometimes it’s just me. I have this bad habit of staying up later and later - there are some movies I’m watching for a project and I maybe I can squeeze in one movie before I fall asleep? (“The plot is wafer thin!”) Then, when I wake up after not enough sleep, I realize I have this damned script to write, so I shower and shave and grab the laptop and get to work.... and kind of drag myself through the day without getting much done because I’m exhausted.

So I decided to take two days, get out of town, just me and the laptop and that script. No distractions. No DVD player and no DVDs. Nothing except the script. Get two days worth of momentum going and then just keep going until I’m finished. Force myself to focus by removing distractions. I book a hotel, I book a flight, I pack only the script material and nothing else. (Okay, clothes.)

Working vacation.

Funny - I don’t have any other kind. I take my work with me wherever I go, and even though I plan every year to *always* take Sundays off, last Sunday I was trying to get some pages written on this script... and that was Easter! I end up working 7 days a week... except I’m often so tired that it’s hard to call it work. Over the Christmas holidays? I wrote a script in a couple of weeks, plus did all of the normal holiday stuff.

So going out of town to get some work done is really nothing new. I hop my flight, take a taxi to the hotel and check in, grab dinner. I find a good rib joint and get barbeque sauce over most of my body as I eat a huge plate of ribs, a baked potato with the works (including actual bacon - and kind of Canadian bacon at that, not much fat), some corn, some slaw, some corn bread... and a couple of beers. By the time the cute waitress came back to ask if I wanted desert I was almost asleep on my plate. No desert tonight - tomorrow I’m a typing demon! I have done some outline work on the plane and I am prepared to write a stack of electronic pages! I head back to the hotel, wash my hands and face (those moist towels they give you just make you presentable to the public)... but it was too early to go to sleep. I’m on a two day *vacation*, right? So I walk back to a jazz joint I’d passed on the way to the rib joint and went in and listen to four guys play music... and have a couple more beers. When I was almost asleep, I walk back to the hotel... and read a book for a while. When I thought it was late enough to go to sleep, I get into bed with the TV on and eventually fall asleep...

Woke up the next morning, still tired - but I have a script to write! Instead of going back to sleep (which my body is begging for) I shower and shave and grab the laptop and head to a cool little indie coffee shop on some side street that I found while looking for a Starbucks. Tried to write, but was just tired. Exhausted. I basically dragged myself through the day, switched coffee shops halfway through the day - but the walk between didn’t get my blood flowing as much as it made me just want to lay down and go to sleep on the sidewalk. I actually get a page or two done, but the plan was 7.5-10 pages, and 5 pages is my normal quota... that I haven’t made on a new script since Christmas (when I was doing 7.5 on most days). I *need* to get pages done. I *need* to get some momentum going on this script so I can get to FADE OUT.

My dinner that night was a big salad, steak, garlic bread, another baked potato (no bacon), and a slice of chocolate cake. I think the last time I had cake was my birthday... but the picture in the desert menu looked delicious and the cake itself delivered on the photo. As I ate the cake, my eyes wanted to close - but I fought it. I will enjoy eating this cake, dammit! It’s *early* - children aren’t even in bed at this hour! Went back to the hotel... and was going to grab my laptop and go back out and work... but I was too tired. I thought about *forcing myself* to work, but that’s what I always do... and maybe that’s not the answer. I mean, when I’m exhausted like this forcing myself to work just means sitting and staring at the laptop screen with Movie Magic open. Not much actual work getting done. So I thought I might take a nap and then go out later and grab a beer somewhere and drag along the laptop...

12 hours later I woke up.

Maybe I needed to sleep? The thing is, I was still tired. Not groggy from oversleeping, I was tired enough to go back to sleep for a while. But, check out time was approaching. I considered staying an extra day, but I suspect changing my flight would cost me a fortune - so I packed and left - a couple of hours before my flight to sit in that indie coffee shop and do some work before grabbing a taxi to the airport. Even though I felt like I needed more sleep, I also felt much much better than the previous day. I *needed* that sleep. I actually got some pages done - though not as many as I wanted - and felt pretty good by the time I needed to get to the airport and have the TSA touch my junk.

But all of this made me wonder if I should use some of those air miles from my various journeys to take a monthly sleep vacation. Go somewhere - no computer, no notebooks, no work to do... maybe just my Kindle - check into a hotel, spend 2 days reading and sleeping, then head home. And if I feel like sleeping 12 hours plus? Just do it. Yes, I can sleep at home... if I had any willpower to ignore all of those distractions. And funny how sleeping in that hotel room allowed my brain to not worry that maybe that sound was the phone or someone buzzing at the front door or something that I needed to wake up for. Even though I’m a light sleeper, I managed to sleep through whatever noise there was in the hotel. Maybe my subconscious knows that whatever happens in the hotel isn’t really my problem. There’s a Do Not Disturb thing stuck in the mag-key slot, so there’s little chance that knocking is on *my* door (though once in a hotel someone knocked on my door in the middle of the night and it was a hot woman in a slinky dress who wanted to know if I was Mr. Walpurgus... I reluctantly told her it was the wrong room... probably couldn’t have afforded her, anyway... I always wonder if “Walpurgus” had already paid for her with a credit card, so maybe I could have pretended and gotten away with it? I mean, after it’s over she can’t exactly take it back, right?) - but the phone in a hotel room isn’t going to ring unless it’s some emergency and I’ve slept through check out or something. My brain knows it’s safe to click from Light Sleep Mode to Light Coma Mode. At home, some part of my brain worries that the phone *might* ring while I’m asleep.

Hmmm, maybe I should actually force myself to take Sundays off? Actually do the long bike ride to no fixed destination I always have planned? Even though I’m behind on this script - and just about everything else I need to do - maybe a day off every week will make all of the other days more productive?

And I’m also considering taking a sleep vacation... right after I finish this damned script!

PS: In an example of being both lazy and driven - this blog entry is about 7 pages of writing that *could* have been on that script I need to get finished!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: They Gave It All Away In The Trailer! - and the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.
Dinner: L&L Hawaiian BBQ
Pages: Still trying to dive back into this script!
Bicycle: Yes - rode against the wind for a while.
Movies: FAST FIVE.
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