Saturday, September 29, 2012


On the first full day of the festival I arrived a bit late - missed the morning films. I hadn’t slept well, but had found the time to write that first blog entry on the fest. I looked at the board to see what was playing that might be of interest and luck of the draw was a pair of 45 minute docs from Vice (some TV documentary program that is one of the fest’s sponsors) - one on a Scottish Wrestler and one of Jamaica Fashion Week. I thought both would be a snooze, but instead they were fascinating.

The Wrestling movie was about the Scottish Wrestling scene - they have started their own version of WWE, but kind of a throwback to the 80s version. Very character and story oriented - with heroes and villains and comic relief wrestlers. Lots of costumes and special moves that may be against the rules. The doc focuses on a guy who is a bartender 5 nights a week... and a wrestler on the weekends. He becomes the champion over the course of the doc. He’s this great guy - funny and wrestling because he loves it (not much money to be made in Scottish Wrestling at this point). He starts out as a comic relief character and because he’s an underdog eventually gets his shot at wrestling the champion. After the film the wrestler, the head of the Scottish Wrestling organization, and a couple of others showed up for Q&A. They were great. It was really a doc about chasing your dreams - even if they’re a bit silly.

The fashion week doc... was *not* about fashion week! They used fashion week in Jamaica as the background to look at fashion in that country - and specifically the use of illegal *skin bleaching* and the use of poultry growth hormone drugs in the slums to become more attractive... and maybe find a wealthy boyfriend. These women mix cleaning bleach and hand cream, put it on their bodies (including faces) and wrap them in plastic wrap so that the bleach *burns* their pigmentation off. It’s frightening. The result is also scary - because instead of looking lighter skinned, the women look ill. Deathly pale. The “chicken pills” are bought underground and taken to increase the butt and breast size (plumping them like a chicken’s breasts) - and often the pills they buy are something else entirely. They do all of these things to be more attractive... but it’s really frightening. They show a woman who is burned and disfigured due to the bleaching. All of this is going on in the slums while there’s a fashion show downtown. Afterwards the host of the documentary (who looks like an ex fashion model) talked about the experience and how these women damage their bodies to look beautiful. What I thought was interesting is that she didn’t think there was a correlation between the bleaching of skin and the dangers of skin cancer from tanning skin to look beautiful. I think it’s frightening the way people want to alter their bodies to chase some concept of beauty.

- Bill

Raindance Opening Night: HERE COMES THE DEVIL

Before the film is an improv troop to warm up the audience - and they are only mildly funny... but they do a pun-filled skit that uses the titles of Hitchcock films which might help me fill my class at the end of the festival on Hitchcock movies. Since I’m not being paid to do these classes, the audience headcount becomes my “payment”. After the comedy, the horror!

After the blog entry on depressing and odd films, the festival opens with a genre film. A very interesting and original horror film from Mexico called HERE COMES THE DEVIL. It opens with two naked women in bed together - one lesbian and one curious. Afterwards the curious woman feels guilty and strange... and then there is an unexpected knock at the door. The lesbian woman answers... and it’s a crazed serial killer who chops off all of her fingers and puts them in a bag! There is a fight, the serial killer is wounded, and we follow him as he drags himself back to this odd rock formation.

Years later, a family on holiday stops at the base of the same rock formation. The two tween kids - a boy and a girl - ask if they can explore the rocks. The parents tell them to be back in an hour... and once the kids have gone the parents begin fooling around in the car. They haven’t had sex in ages because the kids are always around. Afterwards they fall asleep in the car... and when they wake up the kids have not returned. They go to the police and report the disappearance, and then check into a motel to wait for word. The next morning the kids are discovered walking down the street - but they seem... different. More sullen than usual. Hard to tell with kids that age. They head home, but mom thinks the kids are really acting strange and...

More would spoil it for you, but the film is very disturbing and the filmmaker compared it to Weir’s PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW - which are two of my favorite low-key horror films. There are also traces of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and COLUMBO and THE EXORCIST and CARRIE. The thing I liked about it is that it was a completely original horror film - not vampires or zombies or anything like that... but a cursed *place* and anyone who goes there is changed. What ends up great about this concept is that when mom and later dad go to the rock formation we worry that *they* will not return the same. The movie is very disturbing and gives us a look at Mexican middle class life, rocked by terrors both human and supernatural. Great performances by all - and there’s even a kind of Mexican Michael Berryman type weirdo who lives in a trailer at the base of the rock formation... and may have some sinister hobbies. I mentioned in my tweets that the film had more nudity than I expected from a Catholic country, but it also has the sort of haunting and disturbing horror that makes you worried about people you *think* you know - what if they have been to this rock formation and the evil has rubbed off on them?

There was an afterparty at Café Paris with The Real Tuesday Weld playing. I met Josh, a documentary filmmaker from Oregon who has a film at the festival and a guy who follows me on Facebook and has a short in the student films. Because I was tired and jet lagged - a couple of bees pretty much did me in and I went back to my hotel room to see if I could sleep even though my bodyclock was saying it was daytime. Eventually I fell asleep...

- Bill

Thursday, September 27, 2012

They Aren't All Depressing

It's the end of day 2 of the festival and I have fallen behind on my reports - but I thought I'd mention that I've seen some great films... and full reviews will follow.

The opening night film was a very disturbing horror film from Mexico called HERE COMES THE DEVIL, and it was not at all depressing... though after seeing it you will never trust anyone again.

I saw a pair of docs from the same "label" - one on a wrestler in Scotland and one on skin bleaching in Jamaica - though the skin bleaching thing is kind of scary, the people were not depressed or morose. The wrestling doc was funny and uplifting.

And I also saw an amazing film - HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG? - which is a musical... but not like CATS. It plays again on Monday at 1pm, and if you're around - go see it! It's a strange hybrid of indie film and Broadway musical, and you'll laugh, you'll fall in love, you'll cry, and you'll end up with some of the songs stuck in your head. The amazing thing about the film: funded with a Kickstarter program and made for pocket change. I didn't know that when I saw the movie, and just assumed that it cost much much more than it did - looks like a much bigger film. 

Story in a nutshell: struggling songwriter teaches music and plays for auditions and does anything else to make a buck, lives with a struggling actress who does Princess Parties and anything else to make a buck - and both are *fighting* for their big break. Songwriter's oldest friend tells him that it's a numbers game, and you only need *one person* to see your talent and give you that break that starts your career. 

Reviews to come! 

- Bill

My Screenwriting Classes At Raindance

So, in addition to being on *two* juries, they asked if I would do some lunchtime classes during the festival and I agreed. In the past I had done 4-5 classes, this time I'm doing *7* classes! I'm not sure when I supposed to sleep. But this is the deal of the century - the classes are L5 (except fore the two Saturday classes which are only L10) and several of them are brand new.  

Script Classes from A Fiver! 


Saturday 29 September - 16:00 Tickets £10.00 Call 08712 240 242
The class of the book! How to write an effective plot twist, create unbearable suspense, design an exciting action sequence, create a high concept villain's plan, use diversion & anticipation to make your script unpredictable, and create great heroes and villains. Why an action scene is a *character* scene and a *story* scene - or it's rubbish. How to write a page-turner action script. Dozens of techniques that can be used in any genre.


Monday 1 October - 12:30 Tickets £5.00 Call 08712 240 242
From MARTYRS to ORPHAN, horror is hot! You'll learn everything you need to know to write in this genre, from creating dread, loss of free will, fear of the unknown, classic horror (like THE OTHERS) vs. Stalk & Slash and Modern Horror. How to create a monster. What do ROSEMARY'S BABY, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE EXORCIST, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE OTHERS have in common? This class will tell you! All of the critical elements necessary to write a script that scares audience.


Tuesday 2 October - 12:30 Tickets £5.00 Call 08712 240 242
By page ten you have either hooked your reader and made them want to read more, or lost them... and they set your script aside. You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression! This class will teach you techniques that will make your first page exciting and engaging to readers, and methods to hook readers by page ten so that they *must* find out how your story ends. 


Wednesday 3 October - 12:30 Tickets £5.00 Call 08712 240 242
How to find and develop ideas that Hollywood is looking for and you are passionate about. A great script with a dull idea is a dull script. Learn tools like Magnification, Flipping, Substitution, Cousins, Word Association, why High Concept is *Your* Concept, finding your personal themes in high concept ideas.


Thursday 4 October - 12:30 Tickets £5.00 Call 08712 240 242
Two of the hottest types of stories right now are Found Footage films like CHRONICLE and PROJECT X and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, and Contained Films like BURIED and CUBE and BRAKE and PHONE BOOTH. But how do you come up with ideas like this and how do you write them? We'll look at both types of films, plus the history of each in this class.


Friday 5 October - 12:30 Tickets £5.00 Call 08712 240 242
Making your own film? Writing for a niche market? Writing a web series? This class covers everything you need to know - from Central Locations to Confined Cameos to Robert Rodriguez's school bus. Using examples from MOON, THE COOLER, STATION AGENT and films produced by the instructor for pocket change, this class is packed with information. How Indie films challenge the audience (while mainstream films reassure the audience). Writing for a budget, writing for non-actors, getting the most production value out of your budget.  


Saturday 6 October - 16:00 Tickets £10.00 Call 08712 240 242
Radical story experiments from the films of Alfred Hitrchcock. From False Flashbacks to Multiple Stories (like PULP FICTION) to Single Shot Films to Parallel Stories to Fixed Point Of View to Villain Protagonists to Symbolism to Dream Sequences (from Dali!) - Hitchcock's stories often used experimental storytelling techniques that are seen as unusual and cutting edge *today*. Discover how you can use these techniques in *your* screenplays.

- Bill

Raindance: Pre-Opening Night

I arrive in London sleepy and disoriented and a night of sleep doesn’t really help. I wake up on Wednesday, which is opening night of the festival, and walk down to Raindance’s new offices. The old offices were in the heart of Soho, in a basement which had film production companies on the floors above. One day on the way to the old office I passed Hugh Grant - it reminded me of the time Gene Hackman and I were waiting to cross a street together in Beverly Hills. The old Raindance office was cramped. The new offices are near Charing Cross Railway Station in the old rehearsal place for The Players Theatre Company - there’s a theatre named after them a few blocks away. It’s still a basement - but a very large area with offices, two rehearsal spaces, and enough room for a jet lagged writer to have a seat and chat while the insanity of festival organization goes on around him.

One of the odd things about a commercial Hollywood writer at a film festival is that festivals often cater to odd tastes that mainstream cinema - and even arthouse cinema - tends to ignore. So there are always a handful of films that you can’t see anywhere else - and maybe for good reason. I had a conversation later that night with a couple of Facebook Friend filmmakers I had never met F2F before about the problems of a US film industry that is *too focused* on the bottom line - and allows great films with a limited audience to go unseen. But there are also films with audiences so slight that one cinema showing at a film festival attracts every single person in the world who would ever want to see this film - and half of the people in the cinema might be people like me who want those two hours of my life back after the house lights go on.

In the Raindance Office they see me as a new volunteer to do Q&A after some film screenings. But here’s the problem: the Raindance staff has already requested to do the Q&As for films that interest them - some films many staff members *fight* over to do the Q&A - and what is left are the films that no staff member wants to do the Q&A for (and a few that no staff member has selected). As they pitch me these films to do Q&A for, I look them up in the festivals program and read the descriptions... and I don’t want to do most of them. There are a couple that I say yes to - a thriller and a couple of indie films where the “making of” story sounds like it would be interesting - but when I look up many of the others my answer is that I am not interested at all...

Most of these films actually have the word “depressing” in the description that was designed to make you want to see the film!  The descriptions for these films all sound the same - two people in a room struggle with depression. They all took place in the winter. So here’s what I would have asked the filmmakers if I had done the Q&A....

Depression is a serious illness. Why would you want to make a film with the intention of *infecting* other people with this illness? Why would you want to be the Typhoid Mary of depression? Infecting total strangers around with world with this illness? How can you *morally* allow your film to be shown to an unsuspecting audience? I suspect none of the filmmakers have considered the moral implications of making a depressing film. I’m sure they were all thinking that this is self expression or showing reality as they see it - but are either of those a good reason to infect strangers with your illness?

Of course, they have the right to make their movies... but while people jump on violence in cinema and sex in cinema, why does no one jump on depression in cinema? When I see violence in a film, I do not wish to go out and perform violence. But when I see a depressing movie, I do become depressed. So when I return from the festival I’m going to make up some picket signs and pamphlets and begin my crusade to put an end to depressing films.  The world is an unhappy place and you are going to die - do we really need movies that rub our noses in it? Hate me if you want - I *am* a crazy crackpot.

Speaking of crazy crackpots - that’s one of the other kinds of extreme narrowcast films you will find at festivals. Folks who have a “unique vision”, as in: no one else understands their films. You can watch them as some sort of art curio - but that doesn’t make them any more accessible. There’s a survival of the fittest in all things - including cinema. Some films go largely unseen for good reason. There are films which are the arthouse version of BIRDEMIC - so bad or odd that they become an “I dare you to see it” sort of thing. Of course, when we’re dealing with an arthouse movie, sometimes the oddity of the film is mistaken for art... often on purpose. Any film which rebels against the conventions of cinema is automatically “great art”. Focus? Sound? Lighting? Good acting? Making sense? Our film rebels against those concepts and is a blurry mess of images too dark to fully make out with mumbling non-actors who all dress exactly the same! Critics hate my movie - and I wear that as a badge of honor! Audiences hate my movie - and that proves that it’s great! Everything anyone says is “wrong” with my film is proof that it is genius! Yes, I accidentally shot an entire reel without removing the lens cap - but that reel defies the conventions of cinema!  Here’s my question about films like this: If the filmmaker doesn’t make the film for the critics or audience - only for themselves - why do they show it to anybody? Why not simply make the film and shelve it? If it is *really* made only for themselves, why would they even want others to see it?

Well, I declined to do Q&A on any of those films.

Before leaving the office, Julian (Festival Director this year) mentions that there’s a cocktail party for the jury members and some select guests at 4:30... right before the opening night film. I look at the time - it is 3:00. I have my backpack and laptop - which means I have to walk back to my hotel and drop them off. By the time I make the round trip, it’s almost 4:30 and I have yet to have a meal. I am jet lagged and exhausted and... there are free beers!

I meet a couple of the other jurors, and some of the special guests (mostly sponsors of the festival) and have some free beer (mistake) and chat up the pretty bartender. I talk to one of the special guests who has a filmmaking program in Ireland and wonders if I teach screenwriting as well as write screenplays - yes, I do. So I may be headed to Ireland next year. I talk to some other folks - but the beers have hit me hard and I just want to go to sleep. But, I won’t be able to sleep, because the opening night film will begin soon, so our group walks from the bar to the cinema... where the jury members have roped off seats in the back of the cinema. I've never sat in the roped off seats before! Even at the premieres of my films, as screenwriter you don’t get a special roped off seat. The stars do, I don’t. I grab the seat on the aisle so that my knees won’t be under my chin for the whole film, and...

I wish I had eaten something.

- Bill

PS: Let the hate mail begin: Should depressing films be banned? Let's discuss it!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Raindance Film Festival

Okay, if you hadn't heard yet I've been called to London for jury duty at the Raindance International Film Festival.

I plan on posting my adventures here on the blog for the next couple of weeks, depending on how much sleep I get and how much spare time I have.

 Here is the Film Fest's homepage: Raindance Film Festival

 Here is the trailer for the fest:

 And in addition to being on the jury and attempting to OD on cinema, I'm doing some afternoon classes on screenwriting. Some of which I may be making up as I go along!

 - Bill

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Lancelot Link: Battle For The Planet Of The Links!

Lancelot Link Thursday! Summer is over... and now on to those artsie films of fall! Here are 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 eight cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) The 10 Most Inventive Shots In Film History.

2) Will the studio like my screenplay idea?

3) Ben Affleck on ARGO.

4) Celebrity Mugshots... from the Roaring 20s!

5) Amazon Studio's First Movie?

6) How a movie that made $450 million can be in the red!

7) What if Ebert's review isn't good?

8) Not many tickets sold last weekened.

This week's car chase is in black & white...


- Bill
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