Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lancelot Link: I Want To Believe!

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, 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) Future Movie Posters!

2) Jenna Fischer's Advice To Actors - works for screenwriters, too!

3) Memorable Movie Dialogue - It's A Science!

4) All Of The James Bond Cars.

5) Common Screenwriting Misconceptions.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

John Woo, Chow Yun Fat, ONCE A THIEF.

- Bill

Monday, April 23, 2012

RIP: Bill Finley & Jonathan Frid

While most people last week were mourning the loss of Dick Clark and wondering if the Mayans were right after-all, or dealing with The Weight of losing Levon Helm from The Band... Two other deaths may have gone unnoticed.

Back in 1962 a couple of college kids made a short film - one as director and the other as actor: WOTON'S WAKE was directed by Brian DePalma and starred Bill Finley. This was the beginning of a film partnership that lasted until 2006's BLACK DAHLIA. DePalma had an eye for talent, Robert DeNiro and Charles Durning and Daryl Hannah and many others got their big breaks from DePalma. And he continued working with many of them - who played Al Capone in DePalma's UNTOUCHABLES? Finley was in 9 of DePalma's films - and was the actual star of a couple. He was a weird looking guy, tall and gangly and with a face that seemed like it had been stamped in a record press long before that would happen on film in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Here are some clips of Finley and DePalma's work together...

In SISTERS Finley plays a riff on the mad scientist - a crazy doctor who has separated a pair of conjoined twins and married one of them. You can see him in this trailer with a cleaver performing an operation - wearing his trademark ultra-thick glasses:

SISTERS is a great drive in flick - shocking and creepy and manages to rip off a half dozen Hitchcock movies but still tell its own story. You know the trunk with the dead body from ROPE? Here it's a sofa-bed. Finley as the crazy doctor ends up kind of the ultimate antagonist. So in his next film for DePalma he was the protagonist - the lead!

PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is one of my favorite films, and though it's about a guy who sold his soul for rock and roll, the story can easily apply to screenwriting or any other creative gig. As a crazy musical satire of rock musicals it manages to hit a bunch of serious points in my life (and maybe yours, too). Here's the trailer with Finley as the Phantom:

Between these two films, Finley became a kind of cult actor and ended up working with John Huston and Chuck Norris. He came back to work for DePalma in THE FURY - a movie that kind of doesn't work and seems like Act 1 of a story without the rest. I read the novel before seeing the film, and the Finley was cast as the most interesting minor character - Raymond Dunwooody (I hope I got that right, because I did not look it up). Dunwoody is a man with amazing psychic powers who can't deal with them and becomes a drunk... but is recruited by the government to find other people with psychic powers who can be kidnapped, er, I mean - recruited.

This is a film student's look at the locations of THE FURY - and in the opening scene you can seen Finley as the creepy guy following the two girls. After that, you don't need to watch any more...

William Finley will be missed. He was kind of a cult actor who pops up in films made by fans on PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (or maybe SISTERS) and I remember how happy I was when I saw him in BLACK DAHLIA. He was never going to be a star - too weird looking - but that's what made him a great lead in PHANTOM. He was the not-handsome-guy in all of us. The one who was never going to get the girl. One of the things that you may have noticed from the clips is how versatile he was - he could play every type of odd. The crazy doctor in SISTERS is *nothing* like the shy musician in PHANTOM. Toys From Sing Sing.


The other star who passed was Jonathan Frid, who got a lot more press than Finley because he played the lead in the DARK SHADOWS TV series, and there's a big movie about to come out.

Much as PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE spoke to me as a young man trying to break into the film business, DARK SHADOWS was a pivotal show when I was a kid. It had monsters in it. For those of you who may have never heard of DARK SHADOWS before the Depp version - it began as a traditional soap opera that was failing in the ratings and about to be cancelled, so the producer (Dan Curtis - KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER) just started doing crazy stuff on the show, because no one was watching, right? So instead of the typical soap opera unwed mother scandal, he threw in a vampire... and a witch... and a werewolf (which is where Quentin Tarantino got his first name)... and some ghosts... and anything else weird. All of that happened before I began watching it as a kid - When I started watching it was already weird... and had a new audience. The housewives who normally watch soaps were not the audience for the weird show, but kids my age who liked monsters... and kids a little older who probably watched the show while using a controlled substance or two... became addicted to this crazy family with actual skeletons in the closet. The show was played straight - not a comedy at all - but it was just loopy! I ran home from school every day to watch it.

And the show opened the doors for other weird shows like TWIN PEAKS, and KOLCHAK and X-FILES.

Jonathan Frid played vampire Barnabass Collins, with his weird walking stick and hang up on his dead love Angelique (I named a character after her in NIGHT HUNTER), as if it were Shakespeare. This ended up being his defining role - he starred in Oliver Stone's first feature SEIZURE in 1974, and a TV movie... but mostly he was Barnabass Collins. He pops up in the new film in a cameo - his last role. Here is his introduction to the show - in the B&W days before I was watching...

Both of these guys will be missed. They were cult actors who gave great performances and live on in the memories of fans.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: BLAND HEROES - making sure the supporting characters don't take over!
Dinner: Subway - Teriyaki Chicken.
Movies: Sunday Night Noir: 3 Woolrich flicks at the Egyptian - PHANTOM LADY, BLACK ANGEL, and THE WINDOW. Have also seen AMERICAN REUNION (blah), CABIN IN THE WOODS (fun for horror fans), and another film I will talk about later.




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Only $9.99 - and no postage!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


So, Douglas Horn has a new project and he e-mailed me about it and I was busy and never looked at the trailer... until yesterday. And it blew me away. There is a moment about a minute in to the trailer where I went WTF? in the best way (you will, too) and there's a great fight scene move in here that reminded me of THE RAID (which I saw Friday night). The lead as a great voice - and I want to see more of this! Here's the trailer and their synopsis:

The action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE follows former U.S. Army Intel officer Mark Leonard who struggles with paranoia and PTSD until he discovers that he is, in fact, being tracked by people...who can disappear into thin air. As Mark fights his way deeper into this mysterious world looking for answers, he encounters different factions attacking him or offering help—but precious few answers. Each new discovery draws Mark deeper into a mystery that seems to center on his own dark past.

DIVERGENCE stars Dan Southworth, Damion Poitier, Marta McGonagle, and Courtney Munch. The series created by Douglas Horn and Dan Southworth of POPULAR UPRISING.


- Bill

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lancelot Link: Catching Fire!

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, 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) Screenwriter Jon Spaihts on PROMETHEUS.

2 Len Deighton on the hero of my second favorite movie - Harry Palmer.

3) Hitchcock posters as Nintendo Games.

4) Gavin Palone on the people who read our screenplays.

5) Foreign Posters for American Movies.

6) SCREAM's screenwriter Kevin Williamson gets sued.

7) Now showing at the Academy Of Natural Sciences: Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus!

And the car chase of the week, Stacy Keach test drives a car...


- Bill

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social Media

Over the weekend Script Shadow had their first ever Twitter Pitch where anyone could tweet their logline and Carson would select the Top 100 and read the first 10 pages of those scripts... and it would evolve into a script contest. Oh, it wasn’t just Carson who selected the Top 100 Pitches - it was *us*. The more people who liked a pitch, the more Carson considered it... and there were a certain number of slots open for “popular vote”. This is a great way to use social media to reach out to all parts of the world and bring the best stories to Hollywood. It didn’t matter where you lived, if you have a great pitch - it’s in the running.

And if you’ve read the pitches - #tp12 - there are some great ones and some good ones and some okay ones and some adequate ones and some that read like the instructions to that thing I bought that was made in China and they did a strange literal translation into English that makes absolutely no sense at all: just a bunch of random words.

I decided to just provide entertainment and post joke pitches... and what is strange is that my joke pitches are better than many of the serious pitches - you can see the story and characters (and they are absurd - which is what makes them jokes). But many of the real pitches are half formed ideas or situations without characters or things where the pitch does not allow you to imagine the whole movie. They’re half baked ideas that needed a lot more time in the mental oven at 450' before being served. Those are the *adequate* ones - they are in English, I can understand the sentence, but the sentence doesn’t show me the movie. I’m not even getting into the Chinese-to-English translations.

The great thing and the bad thing about social media - your pitch gets read!

Of course, the great thing is that Script Shadow, despite its faults, does a good job of promoting new writers to Hollywood producers. Carson has discovered some writers who now have careers. He’ll read and review your screenplay for the whole world to see - including some folks in Hollywood who might want to be the next person to read it.

But... do you really want that?

The thing about those Twitter Pitches that read like Chinese-to-English translations and the “adequate” ones is that *everyone can read them*. Everyone. Around the world. Plus any Hollywood Producers monitoring the event. When these people posted those did they consider that?


Twenty years from now someone might search #tp12 on Twitter and still be able to get all of those pitches - including the really bad ones. The funny thing about social media is that we think nothing of posting something online because it’s “not as serious” as if we were to *write it on paper* or *say it in person*, except online LASTS FOREVER! I have googled my name and came up with things from 1996 on the first page. Things I had forgotten that I had written.

We all know the dangers of posting those bachelor party pictures on Facebook, because your future boss might see them... not to mention your new bride and your mom. But what about posting text? Messageboards and stuff?

Lasts forever.

Plus, the whole world can see it.

To me the issue with the bad and translation twitter pitches is that the whole world can see them - including those people in Hollywood who might want to read your screenplay (or not). Though I used to tell people to be very cautious because you only have one chance to make a first impression - I think Hollywood changes employees often enough to give you a couple more chances... but why try to use them all up on crap? Being cautious is probably not a bad thing. Before you send out that logline to agents or managers or producers - maybe you should be sure that it makes sense? That it’s exciting and interesting and honestly tells the story of your screenplay. That it *ready* to be released into the world... and maybe be seen by that world forever if they google #tp12. Not just - here’s my chance, I’m not ready but I’ll take it anyway. Be ready. If you are not ready, there will be more chances. I expect Carson will have #tp13 next year. Most of those producers and agents and managers you want to query will be in business next year... and some may even still be in business the year after that. You have time to make sure your pitch and script are great *first*.

One of the great things about social media is that you can find people to swap reads with, and get feedback on pages and ideas and everything else. You can find all kinds of information online that will help your writing. You can find pro scripts online, read them, and learn how to do things and know when your script is getting close to the pro level. There is all kinds of helpful information out there.


Hey, the internet *is* international, what if those pitches that read like Chinese-to-English translations really *are* Chinese-to-English translations? Well, some might actually be from people who have English as a second language... but the issue is that if they are not proficient enough in English to write *one* sentence, I don’t think anyone will want to read 110 pages of screenplay. A Chinese writer might be better off writing a screenplay in Chinese for Chinese producers (there are many of them looking for screenplays, now). But I don’t think many of the pitches that read like Chinese-to-English translations actually were... I suspect they were just really bad writers.

There was this cute little kid on a messageboard who was asking all of these beginner questions and had trouble understanding big words and complex sentences but was fine if you kept things at about a 6th grade level. Hey - the future of screenwriting! So, many of us helped this cute little kid, and when something was too complicated for a pre-teen to understand we took the time to find the simple way to explain things. This kid was the message board mascot, and when he would tell us his story ideas, we would explain why they were naive and point him in the right direction.

Then we had a message board meet up in Los Angeles and guess who showed up? That cure little kid! Who was in his mid-40s and was an executive for some company. And was just as, um, unsophisticated , in person. Afterwards everyone wondered how he had ever gotten his job - and kept it. That’s the other weird thing about social media - because we don’t know who you are, we make assumptions based on your writing... and sometimes we are wrong. None of us helped the cute kid once we discovered he was really an unbelievably stupid guy in his mid-40s. He should have been able to figure out most of that stuff on his own.

So I’m fairly sure most of the translation pitches were from people who use English as their primary language - they just aren’t proficient at it. There are people who think they don’t need to be good at writing to write a screenplay - WRONG! It’s all writing. There are people who think they aren’t good enough writers to write a novel, but they are good enough to write a screenplay - WRONG! It’s all writing. I have several friends who tried to break into screenwriting for a while and turned to novels and are now successful novelists. Not because screenwriting is more difficult than writing a novel, but because writing is writing. They were good writers, there were no openings for writers at the Screenwriting Company, they put in applications at the Novel Writing Company and got hired. It’s all writing. But some folks think they can *easily* write and sell a screenplay because it doesn’t take any writing skills at all. The few really bad pitches - the translation ones - I really hope those were victims of last minute editing to 140 characters and those writers don’t communicate like that in real life.

Yeah - there are typos in this blog entry and in this blog and in my script tips and my tweets... and even in my books. But when you are “on stage” for 140 characters, maybe do a read through or two before hitting post?


One of the strange things that can happen to us online is that we become different people... for all the world to see and searchable until the end of time. I have always tried to be the patient and helpful person online - but I have had bad days and taken it out on strangers with “stupid questions”. There are also people on messageboards - like that cute kid who was really in his mid-40s - that I have reached my “idiot limit” with and try my best to ignore... but every once in a while they ask stupid question #1,000,001 and I am not kind to them at all. Sorry. But there are other people who are *monsters* online, even though they are very nice people in real life. And to those who don’t know them in real life? Well, to all of those people worldwide and to anyone who googles them 20 years from now - they are assholes.

I would suggest that when you are on a public messageboard or Facebook or tweeting - that you try not to be an asshole. When I first joined Facebook I decided that I would only friend actual friends and escape the assholes I had friended on MySpace. Nice plan, but I became a complete friend-whore on Facebook. Anyone and everyone can be my friend. The only requirement is that they know some people that I know - and that’s just to keep me from friending some robo-spammer. So I have over a thousand “friends” - and actually know many of them from online even if I have never met them in person.

So I get to read over 1,000 people’s FB streams - and some of my “friends” are complete assholes. I should defriend them, but that seems like a lot of work. I seem to know a few bigots, and many more people who just hate the whole world and never have anything good to say about anything - they are completely negative. These are people who want to break into screenwriting. Now, you are a producer - would you want to work with someone who hates the world? Someone who trashes everything and everyone? Someone who is constantly fighting the world around them? Those are people I want to avoid working with. I want to work with *fun* people who are going to make me smile when things go wrong. People who are going to pitch in and help me when I fall. People who want to make this job and the world a brighter and better place. Life is too short to work with assholes...

And if your social media image to others is that person who is mean spirited or angry all the time or just a complete downer - some producer or agent or manager may not want to work with you. Yeah, social media has a confessional component and I’ve used that when I’ve had a bad day - but even then I try to be somewhat amusing if possible. Make a joke about the bad thing that happened, if possible. But also - I don’t *only* post downer and negative stuff. I also see social media as my stage, and I get to tell a joke now and then and maybe make you laugh if *you* are having the bad day.


My contributions to the Tweet Pitch were all gag movie pitches that I hoped would make people laugh. Because I wasn’t “performing” for real - I thought I’d try to ease the stress for those of you who were performing for real. You might have been worried that your pitch wasn’t as good as that one someone just posted - and then my silly pitch pops up and maybe you smiled. But, um, can I tell you my secret strategy? Let’s say some agent or manager or producer was watching the pitches - and had a laugh at mine... when I pitch them for real in an e-mail or have a meeting with them on some project, they are likely to think nice things about me (instead of thinking I’m an asshole). I know Harry Connolly was just having fun, and I don’t know Michael Stark so I have no idea why he was making me laugh outloud every few minutes - but it doesn’t hurt for people in the business to think you might be a fun person to work with.

Social Media is a great way to get yourself out there in the world and get yourself noticed. I have had a big name director PM me, and a couple of name actresses I follow on Twitter have DMed me (so, where exactly is the line where stalking starts?) And have had all kinds of FB interactions with those more famous than myself. It’s weird when I realize that some *movie star* knows who I am from social media. But remember - whether you are posting on a messageboard or FB or Twitter or a blog or whatever - you are *in public* and what you post can be read by everyone and maybe for all of time... so try not to post things that will make people never want to work with you or read your screenplays. And if you don’t have a 140 character pitch ready, maybe you should hold off this year and keep working on it and post it next time? Here’s the thing - Script Shadow gave plenty of lead time, so when I read those awful pitches I thought “They had all of this time to work on it, and *that’s* what they came up with?”

- Bill

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Tuesday Webinar!

On Tuesday I am doing a webinar for Final Draft on action screenwriting - part of their ongoing series of insiders with lessons on the biz. Last week was Chris (CE) from WME.

Stuff I'm supposed to talk about:

The most important element of your action or thriller script: The Villain’s Plan

Why you need an active villain ... or your story is dead

Making your villains’s plan unpredictable and exciting

The mistake of multiple villains ... and the ladder of henchmen

Heroes: supermen vs every man -- which choice is right for your story?

How to create bad-ass lead characters -- from Chuck Norris to Haywire.

Mirror images and flip sides -- the hero/villain relationship

Bad guy leads -- can my hero be a villain?

Creating high-concept action scenes

How to make your action scenes also character scenes

Found weapons and the Naked Kill System

Reversals and suspense and gags

In just over an hour? I'll be lucky to cover half of that! But that is my goal, and I plan to use some new examples (maybe 21 JUMP STREET) so you won't get bored.

Click for info: Final Draft Webinar!

- Bill

Friday, April 06, 2012

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