Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Are You Flexible?

From five years ago!

No, that isn’t my best pick up line... we aren’t talking about being *physically* flexible, but *mentally* flexible.

Recently, one of my stalled projects started up again... without me.

Some other writer was hired and wrote a script completely different than the draft I was paid to write. It was an assignment based on the producer’s idea... which had some problems. One of the reasons why I dislike writing on assignment is that you often get stuck with the producer’s bad ideas, and no matter how much you explain that the idea is not the best possible idea for this story, the producer is the one writing the checks. In this case, the producer had a specific market he was aiming for - and his idea missed that market. His idea *did* fit a different market, and I explained this to him and used some other films as examples, and said that there were two ways to take the project - towards the market the producer was aiming for, or for the market that best fit the specifics of the idea he had. I also pitched some different versions of his core idea that *would* appeal to the market he was aiming for.

Hmm, that may all be confusing to you... let me use some examples if I’ve lost you. Imagine the producer wants to make a film aimed at the SAW audience about a group of college students on summer vacation in Mexico who run into some folks who want them to be organ donors... by force. But he wants to make it like one of those old AIP beach party movies, with a couple of musical numbers by this hot band he knows, and a major romantic subplot. Okay, the whole beach party thing is at odds with the SAW thing. You *can* make a light horror movie with beach party elements - actually, AIP did some DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE movies with Vincent Price back in the 60s. You could also tone down the beach party aspect and have the hot band perform in some smokey illegal rave held in a closed factory and make it more HOSTEL-like. But the producer has this image of college kids dancing on the bright sunny beach in bikinis, and he wants that in the movie. So the script goes off in that direction, with more focus on the romance and fun aspects, and the horror elements in some kind of Scooby-Doo world rather than torture porn. You know when you write it that the torture porn audience is not going to like it, but you have already pleaded your case with the producer and he has stuck by what he wants. And there *is* an audience for a “fun” horror romp like those Scooby-Doo movies.

I was flexible, and wrote the best version of the story the way the producer wanted it.

When I finished the script, some stuff happened, and the producer discovered *before making the film* that the SAW audience isn’t going to dig all of that dancing in the sand. So the project got shelved...

Except, in this case, the project returns with a page one rewrite by some other writer that is straight-forward HOSTEL-like torture porn. Hmm, exactly what I suggested before I wrote my draft.

Hey, I don’t blame the producer for having the script rewritten into something that he can sell once he’s made the film (or find the funding to make the film in the first place), but I *do* blame him for not listening when I told him this a couple of years ago. For being so stuck on his idea that he was blind to every example or piece of information I provided. If he had opened his mind to other possibilities back then, he wouldn’t have had to pay that other writer. And this is a problem for both producers *and* screenwriters...

Often *we* don’t open our mind to other possibilities and charge ahead with a version of the story we want to tell that just doesn’t work, or there is no market for.


One of my frequent bitches here is about writers who ask me for advice and then completely ignore it and then end up with projects they can not sell. I don’t understand why you ask for my advice if you plan to ignore it... or why a producer hires me because I have some screenwriting skills and then undermines everything I do to make the screenplay good. Though ego is always a factor, the other factor is some kind of weird artistic tunnel vision - they don’t *want* to see other possible ways for their story to work.

I bumped into a guy at AFM who had this problem. He wrote a genre script that no one wanted to buy. The reason why was that it completely crapped on the genre audience. It ridiculed the people who would want to buy tickets to the film or rent it on DVD. After just about everyone turned down the script, I bumped into him at Starbucks and he pitched me the script and asked why he was having trouble with it. I thought it was obvious, told him how he could change a couple of elements (and the over-all tone) and have himself a saleable script. He said he was thinking of making the film himself... and I suggested that he make those changes whether he was going to sell the script or make it. The audience is exactly the same either way, and they are not going to like being made fun of whether you make it or someone else does. But he had his vision... and now he has a film that every distributor has turned down. I have not seen it, but I don’t think he made any of the changes that would have made it something that didn’t insult the viewer. He had his vision for the story... and now he’s stuck with it.

Another friend, on a screenwriting board, posted his scenario for a script... and everyone pointed out the same basic problem. And he has fought everybody. He has his vision of the story, and his vision includes this basic story problem. What’s strange about this guy is that the story problem can be easily solved, and solving it would make the story *work*. But he’d rather fight everyone and maintain his story the way he wants to tell it.

And that is fine.

You are free to write whatever you want to write however you want to write it.

But when you write it your way and it doesn’t work, it’s not our problem.


I’ll bet you can find a half dozen blog posts where I complain about something that is *my fault* - I don’t want to make some change in my life that would make things a lot easier for myself. So, once again, I am the villain in my own story. I acknowledge this. This post is bitching about people who are doing the same thing that I sometimes do. There are some things that take me a long time to learn, and other things that I refuse to learn. But I have opened my mind enough to actually consider changes in my personal life - and many things I am working on. I don’t want to be some bitter old man bitching about how life screwed me over (unless I already am).

Hey, I started this post bitching about some producer. I should just stop my bitching and accept that this is the way things work. Producers have some crazy ideas, they are often bull-headed about those ideas, and screenwriters often have to write a bunch of drafts that don’t work before the producer realizes that the idea may not be working. As a screenwriter I can see that that idea isn’t going to work, and think they should be able to see it, too. But they don’t. So I bitch.

But when it comes to creative stuff? Instead of bitching I want to write the best screenplays possible and I also want to not only sell those screenplays but have them actually made into movies. So if someone has a better idea, I want to hear it! If someone thinks I zigged left in the script when I should have zigged right - I will consider that. One of the tips that recently ran was on “Challenging The Elements” in your screenplay, and I do that. Just today I was talking to a colleague about a script and decided a role written as a crusty old guy would be better for the project if it were a women in her late 30s to early 40s. Not only would that make it easier to cast with a name that still means something, it would add some sexual tension to a scene or two that would improve the story. That change was not *their* idea, it was *mine* - to improve the project. My original idea that it would be this crusty old guy wasn’t as good as making it a woman of a certain age. The goal is to make the story better, not stick by my guns trying to defend some not-quite-as-good version because it was the first version I came up with. You know, the first version of anything I come up with is a “first draft” - I expect to find some way to make it better.


On a message board recently I was giving some advice on how to avoid hitting those creative walls in Act 2, and warned against casting the details of your idea in stone. If you do *not* allow yourself to consider other possibilities, somewhere in act 2 your idea in its current form may just stop working. Though some other form of the idea might work, if you stick to your guns and try to force it to work... it may just crash and burn, leaving you with a 52 page screenplay. If your story *MUST* be about a 79 year old woman - that’s the only way you see your protagonist - when you hit some scene in the middle of your script where that character just doesn’t work, you never think "I’ll change the character". You have gone so far with it being *this* character that you can’t imagine it being anyone else. Except it *must* be someone else for the story to work. So you have written yourself into a corner, and will not back up. You have to be flexible enough to throw away the things that don't work in your script and creative enough to find the things that will work.

A friend of mine has a stalled script where the problem is the specific character he wants to have as his lead can not be the lead - they are a peripheral character and not involved in the conflict. He keeps trying to force them into the conflict, resulting in a bunch of contrived scenes that do not work. The real solution is to start from scratch and find the character who is actually involved in the conflict, or to start with a character and find a great conflict that explores their character. But just trying to push forward isn’t the answer. He has created limits on his screenplay, and that is why his screenplay has stalled. Problem is - he doesn’t want to open his eyes, be flexible and remove the limits.

I am a strong believer in outlines, which help you find these problems ahead of time. Brainstorming all kinds of possibilities up front, rather than get so far along that you don't want to start from scratch. You don't want to limit your story, especially if those limits run it into a wall on page 52.

What you discover when you brainstorm is that there are hundreds of possibilities for your story and if you challenge yourself to keep going - possibilities that you never knew existed. The story doesn’t have to work one way, it can work hundreds of different ways. To find the way that works best, you need to open your mind to *every* possibility. I'm a big believer in using both sides of the noggin - create like hell with no censor, then look at what you have and make intelligent choices. I know this is a generalization, but one of the things that always seems strange to me is that the “craftsmen” type of screenwriters often seem more likely to consider other possibilities and make changes to their story when it isn’t working than the “artist” type of screenwriter. The “artists” often seem so married to the details that they fight changing that 79 year old woman character into a character who actually fits the story they are trying to tell. They keep banging their heads against the wall, when there is a door only a few feet away. But they just feel the door should be here. They side with “creative instinct” instead of using logic and reason when the story isn’t working. If it isn’t working, *why* isn’t it working? Okay, now how do you fix that?

Screenwriting is often problem solving. But you must be willing to solve the problems. To look at your screenplay objectively, and realize that even though you love the idea of kids dancing on the beach, that may not fit the dark and violent horror story you are trying to tell. Instead of fighting for your “vision” when it doesn’t work, fight for *the screenplay* and make sure it works. Be flexible enough to see when something doesn’t work - even if it is something that you love. A script that you love but doesn’t work at all (or stalls out at page 52 and you never get to Fade Out) isn’t a good script. You want to make that script work, and make it work all the way down the line so that it can be made into a movie and be seen by an audience. Hey, that might mean the crusty old guy you originally envisioned ends up being a woman in her early 40s. If that makes the script better, you make the change.


And if you thought making your script work to get past page 52 requires flexibility, wait until you get to development and production. That 92 year old woman lead? Who are the 92 year old women who can open a movie? Who are the 92 year old women stars? The very first note you will get is to change that character to a castable lead - a character who can be played by a current movie star like Will Smith or Tom Hanks or Angelina Jolie. And because getting a star to sign on is not easy - everyone has a film that needs a star - you will have to re-imagine your story with a lead character who is like whichever star they end up signing. Twice I have had the “old retired gunslinger who comes back for one last job” played by young stars nowhere near retirement age. Okay, there goes that story trope! Time to rethink why the guy is no longer in the biz! You need to be flexible enough to solve the problem and come up with that new version of your story that works for the star...

And heaven forbid they hire Jessica Alba.

Things are always changing, and you need to be ready and able - and in the right mind set - to solve these problems and protect the core of your screenplay. Your 79 year old woman may be played by Will Smith, but your screenplay still needs to work - and you need to rethink the story so that it works just as well and maybe even better. You know that great scene in your screenplay when she’s in the lighthouse and sees the man that she loves in a boat that crashes into the rocks and sinks... and then she hears the lighthouse door open and someone trudging up the stairs... sure it is the villain... but it is HIM and they embrace? Yeah, well we are shooting the film in New Mexico because of the tax credits and they have no lighthouses and no rocky shores for ships to run aground on. Are you flexible enough to rethink that scene and find a way to make it work just as well in New Mexico? Is your mind open to the change and ready for the challenge? Or is your script set in stone and unchangeable?

If you can't imagine your story working any other way than how your originally wrote it, you have a problem.

This stuff makes that hurdle on page 52 look like something you can hop over! You have to be able to see your story working in many different ways, not just so that you can deal with production and stars and actors who don’t believe in screenplays, but so you can find the very best way to tell your story in the first place. Not get trapped in some dead end version of your story, or some version of your story that nobody wants to see, or some version that is just not very good.

If you fight for the bad version of your screenplay, that’s what you will end up with.

If you allow yourself to think of all of the possibilities, you can find the best way for your screenplay to work.

Be flexible.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Why the MATRIX sequels sucked.
Dinner: China Wall in Concord: All you can eat Chinese Food.
Pages: Hey, halfway done with this treatment I should be 2/3rds of the way done with.
Bicycle: Nope, in my home town.
Movies: Nope, working.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lancelot Link: End Of The Year!

Lancelot Link Monday! It's the end of the year as we know it, and I feel fine! The end of the year brings out all kinds of lists, and this week we get all of the "early lists". How can you pick the 10 Best Films Of 2014 when there are a couple of days left in the year? I mean, what if someone sneaks in a film at the last minute? Say, some other movie North Korea didn't like gets released anyway? What if *that's* the best picture of the year? All of these early lists will be wrong! While you're thinking about that, 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 a baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Hobbit Five..................... $41,420,000
2 Unbroken........................ $31,748,000
3 Into Woods...................... $31,021,000
4 Museum Tomb..................... $20,600,000
5 Annie........................... $16,600,000
6 Hunger Games.................... $10,000,000
7 Gambler.......................... $9,300,000
8 Imitation........................ $7,930,000
9 Exodus........................... $6,750,000
10 Wild............................. $5,415,000

2) Hardboiled Slang Dictionary

3) The Mystery Of Martin Brest.

4) Starlog Magazine Presents Cinemagic.

5) * Documentaries on Cinematography.

6) THE INTERVIEW becomes Day & Date Experiment.

7) Best Indie Films Of 2014.

8) Empire's Best Films Of 2014.

9) Time Magazine's 10 Best & 10 Worst Movies of 2014.

10) Top 10 James Bond Deaths (since there's a chapter in the new Blue Book on Bond).

11) Say Anything Jackie Chan!

12) Adapted Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

13) Original Screenplay Oscar Contenders.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

CHRISTMAS VACATION... some of you probably headed home over the weekend.



TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Theme & Emotional Conflict & Jackie Chan - even a silly genre film can have substance.
Dinner: Fish & Chips & Beer @ The Warehouse in Oakland.
Pages: My day of rest before the new treatment for the page 1 rewrite of the script I sold a while back.
Bicycle: No. I'm in the Bay Area.

Movie: THE GAMBLER (remake) with Marky Mark (but no funky bunch). I have the poster for the original James Caan version, which was a product of it's time: a gritty drama about a man whose life is in a downward spiral. Though I haven't seen the film in years, I believe it has an ambiguous ending where he bets his life and you never know if he wins or loses. Darker than dark. So... they remade it. The problem with all remakes of any good or memorable film is that it will be compared to the original, and just because we have already seen that original and have fond memories of it... the remake can only fail. This is doubled when you have a film that works for the 70s but is completely at odds with current films. THE GAMBLER is kind of a cult film, now... and that was why it was remade, but also why it can never work. Saw it in a crowded cinema in Oakland (Jack London Square) with an audience that really wanted to see one of the other films which were sold out. Only a handful of people seemed to be there to see THE GAMBLER.

This is a character study about an addict who doesn't want to kick the habit, he wants to OD and die. Every time he has a chance to solve his problems, he screws up *on purpose* so that his problems grow... and the people he owes money to want to kill him. And he *wants* to be killed by them. Just as some people purposely break the law and brandish a gun when the police show up so that they can commit "suicide by cop", college professor Jim Bennett (Alex in the original, which is the name of the character in the Dostoyevsky novel) is trying to commit suicide by loan shark goon. When he has the chance to pay them off, he gambles away the money and then seems to beg them to beat the crap out of him. So this is a hard guy to like, and one of the problems with this story in 2014 is that we want him to get his shit together... but that isn't part of his life plan at all. You gasp at how he keeps screwing his life up again and again. How he brings other (innocent) people into his problems. In the original he bankrupts his mother in order to pay back the mobsters... and then gambles the money away instead of paying it back. Here, his mother is wealthy so she isn't reduced to rags by her son, but I'm not sure that makes Bennett any more likable or even understandable.

That may be the core issue with the film: as an addict it's impossible to understand his addiction. We wonder why he doesn't just stop. But an addict doesn't think the way we do... an addict *can't* stop, and that's impossible for understand on an emotional level. Every time he borrows money from someone who carefully explains they will break every bone in his body if he fails to pay it back... and he just blows it on some stupid bet... we might intellectually think "that's because he's an addict" but *emotionally* we are more likely to lose identification and understanding. Is he stupid? This is the problem with conflicts that are internal in a film: we can't see his cravings, only the actions caused by his cravings. We have to process the story intellectually instead of emotionally... and our emotions often turn to anger against the protagonist (instead of sympathy and understanding). So, a tough movie to watch. Things that were daring in the 70s are now a retread of daring (which is not daring).

A movie like NIGHTCRAWLER which also deals with a character that is impossible to understand and identify with seems to work due to the trajectory of the character. Where Bennett is on a downward spiral and doing everything he can to fail, Louis Bloom in NIGHTCRAWLER is doing everything he can to *succeed*. So we cringe at Bloom when he gets ahead through some unethical method. There's an interesting contrast between good (success) and evil (means of success) in that story that really isn't present in GAMBLER because Bennett is a degenerate gambler (not good) who counters every moment of winning with a whole lot of losing (also not good). Oddly, NIGHT CRAWLER is the more upbeat movie... and maybe even has a happy ending (which you wish had not have happened). Though this version of THE GAMBLER has a more upbeat and less ambiguous ending than the original, it never "earns" it. It never shows us what's going on inside Bennett's head that could produce this ending. And I'm sure in some film school somewhere there is a student with a theory that the ending was all a dream... even though *that* wasn't set up at all (but could have been, and maybe that would have been a better end than the one we got).

Cast is great. Yes, that old man dying in the opening scene *is* George Kennedy. You can't beat John Goodman as the heavy "heavy", he is always in a towel with big layers of flab hanging off of him. Goodman is so calm, so at peace with his girth, that he's chilling just sitting there... before he begins explaining the violent things which might befall Bennett. Michael Kenneth Williams as the more violent mobster is great. I have no idea whether that facial scar is real or great make up, but that dude is chilling. One of the things that makes his character work are little moments like when he dances with a hooker in a hallway and really has some moves. Alvin Ing as the Korean illegal casino owner is also great due to his sense of inner calm when others would project anger. A highlight scene when he's getting a manicure while his men are beating Bennett to a pulp is great stuff (though Bennett isn't as messed up as he should be... his nose is never broken and I've had worse facial cuts shaving). Jessica Lange as his mother is a complete bitch... you almost want her to lose her money. Anthony Kelley as the student who throws the basketball game for him doesn't seem to be the tragic figure the 70s version of the character was, but his scene where he sees right into Bennett is great. The nice things about Lauren Hutton replacement Brie Larson is that they film her without make up... and she looks like a regular person. She has pimples, like a real college student would have. Her performance is good, too... but you keep wondering why she enables him... why she *helps him* commit suicide by loan shark goon.

The problem is that the film could never live up to the original, so no matter how well made it was it was never going to work from an "art" standpoint, and due to the subject matter it's never going to work from a box office standpoint. I understand remaking some old hit movie to make money, but don't understand why someone would remake a good film for *artistic* reasons. Why not remake a bad film and make it better or just make an original film? You can't repaint the Mona Lisa and be seen as an artist... only a forger.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Back For Christmas

On the Seventh Day Of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me....

From Season 1 of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, directed by Hitch himself, this nice little episode about an extremely henpecked husband who begins digging a wine cellar in the basement of his house before a business trip. But is it really a wine cellar?

One of the things that is great about this episode is how it is subtly demonstrated that the Husband is henpecked. The Wife keeps telling him what he likes and finishing his sentences in ways he never intended. It's some nice character writing by Francis M. Cockrell (who wrote one of my favorite movies INFERNO with Robert Ryan, plus a bunch of other great Hitchcock Presents episodes and some Perry Masons) based on a story by John Collier (who was famous for stories with twist endings).

Though the story is kind of leisurely paced, it does have some moments of suspense with the wife and the couple who was late for the going away party, and later the hotel maid at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

A nice little treat for the holidays about a gift that backfires.

And here are some fun ideas for your Hitchcock Christmas celebration from artist Grant Snider!

Buy This As A Poster!



The perfect holiday gift!

Click here for more info!


We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lancelot Link: Adrian Messenger Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice, Franklin Leonard's Black List comes out today! The Black List is a list of best unproduced screenplays of the year, voted on by development execs from production companies and studios. Note that it's not The Best Unsold Screenplays... most of these have been sold and are heading towards production, just haven't been produced as of today. In honor of that, many of today's links feature lists. There's The Hit List, which is competition for the Black List, plus some other fun list links. When will someone do a list of Best Unsold Screenplays? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Exodus.......................... $24,500,000
2 MockingJay 1.................... $13,200,000
3 Penguins......................... $7,300,000
4 Top Five......................... $7,210,000
5 Big Hero......................... $6,145,000
6 Interstellar..................... $5,500,000
7 Horr Bosses 2.................... $4,630,000
8 Dumb Dumber 2.................... $2,757,000
9 Everything....................... $2,525,000
10 Wild............................. $1,550,000

2) Death Of The Midrange Movie

3) List Of The Best Undistributed Films Of 2014.

4) Add New Bond Script To List Of Stuff In Sony Hack.

5) List Of Every Episode of STAR TREK, Ranked.

6) 2014 Hit List (Screenplays).

7) The Black List 2014.

8) List Of 19 Worst Movies Of 2014.

9) List Of Golden Globe Nominations.

10) List Of Universal Blockbusters Released In 2014.

11) List Of Film Grants ($$$) You Can Apply For.

12) List Of Studios Al Pacino Wants To Work With...

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, more of a fox chase... from THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, score by the amazing Jerry Goldsmith.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Lancelot Link: BIFA Edition.

Lancelot Link Monday! Last night was the BIFAs, the British Independent Film Awards. I've gone to the awards a couple of times (thanks to Raindance) and it's cool that indie films get awards even in England. While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mockingjay...................... $21,600,000
2 Penguins........................ $11,100,000
3 Horr Bosses 2.................... $8,600,000
4 Big Hero......................... $8,130,000
5 Interstellar..................... $8,000,000
6 Dumb To.......................... $4,169,000
7 Everything....................... $2,668,000
8 Gone Girl........................ $1,500,000
9 Pyramid.......................... $1,350,000
10 Birdman.......................... $1,150,000

2) Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on writing bio pix.

3) SNL's version of STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS teaser trailer.

4) Pennywise Returns On The Big Screen In STEPHEN KING'S IT.

5) All Of The STAR WARS: FORCE AWAKENS Parodies In One Place!

6) New Bond Film Is SPECTRE and Mr. White From CASINO Returns.

7) GODZILLA Returns To Toho!

8) British Independent Film Award Winners (BIFAs).

9) Trailer For FOLLOWS.

10) Ryan Reynolds Returns As DEADPOOL, Ruins Alliterative Headline.


12) TERMINATOR: GENISYS Trailer... Ahnuld Vs. Ahnuld?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Film Courage Interviews

So, here are all of the Film Courage website interview so far...

Screenwriting means working on a deadline... sometimes an insane deadline:

How To Research Your Screenplay:

Creating suspense on screen:

How to land a gig:

It's a big screen, you need ideas big enough to fill it!

My First Pitch:

How to write 3 screenplays a year, every year:

You need to keep writing... even when you get an assignment:

Dispelling the myth of the Overnight Success:

The 100 Idea Theory:

The First Time I Got Paid To "Do It":

Take This Job And Shove It:

Is the thing on the counter behind me a Human Centipede With Deer?

Look for the next segment here: Film Courage Website.


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Lancelot Link: The Force Takes A Nap!

Lancelot Link Monday... er, Tuesday! We are a day late due to the holiday here in the USA, because we were celebrating that Crystal The Monkey earned $108,000 in 2012, which is more than the average screenwriter earns! So my advice to everyone is to become a Monkey Actor! While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Actuals:
1 Mockingjay 1.................... $56,972,599
2 Penguins........................ $25,447,444
3 Big Hero........................ $18,816,798
4 Interstellar.................... $15,743,005
5 Horr Bosses 2................... $15,457,418
6 Dumb & Dumber 2.................. $8,358,620
7 Everything....................... $5,011,146
8 Gone Girl........................ $2,465,434
9 Birdman.......................... $1,874,369
10 St. Vincent...................... $1,704,700

2) Sitcom Jokes Per Minute Ranking.

3) Twenty Five Most Powerful Authors (Source Material For Hits).

4) Tarantino On Screenwriting.

5) Writer's Round Table: Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Larry Karazewski & Scott Alexander (Big Eyes), E. Max Frye (Foxcatcher).

6) Ana Lily Amirpour on GIRL WALKS HOME AT NIGHT.

7) Malcolm McDowell On Working With Kubrick.

8) Bond Villains Ranked From Pussy Cat To Evil Genius Who Pets A Pussy Cat.

9) Because Of James Cameron There May Be Poo On Your Cinema Seat!

10) The Surprise Hits Of 2014.

11) Women In The UK Film Industry.

12) Monkey Actors, Grips, Location Managers... make more than Writers!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

"Oh no! They shot the monkey!"


Saturday, November 29, 2014


Cyber Monday... it's the day in America where we shop online. There are no shootings or stabbings or trampled fellow customers. Well, those things may still happen, it *is* America... but they don't happen due to a sale. I want to be part of the big Cyber Monday thing, so...

All of the Blue Books over there >>>>
Usually $3.99, now $2.99 (that's twenty five percent off!).

Sale lasts through midnight on Cyber Monday (12/1).

If I have record sales TODAY, the next Blue Book will release at $2.99 for 2 weeks.
The next Blue Book is:

And should be out in about a week! (was supposed to be today, but those danged holidays got in the way).

Tell your friends about the deal!
Tell your screenwriting group!
Mention it on message boards!
Go into a coffee shop and yell about it!
Tell the security guard who comes to kick you out of the coffee shop about it!

I believe Amazon can do a gift thingie where they send it to your friend in "gift wrap" for the holidays.

Lancelot Links will be Tuesday!

Oh, and this...


Monday, November 24, 2014

Lancelot Link: Part 1

Lancelot Link Monday! MOCKINGJAY PART ONE filled cinemas this weekend, but made me wonder about this practice of splitting movies in half. KILL BILL was filmed as *one film* then split into two... imagine doing that to other movies! TRAINS, PLANE and PLANE, AUTOMOBILES? THE ONE AND A HALF WORLDS OF GULLIVER and THE OTHER ONE AND A HALF WORLDS OF GULLIVER? Where does it all stop??? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Mockingjay Part 1.............. $123,000,000
2 Big Hero........................ $20,086,000
3 Interstellar.................... $15,100,000
4 Dumb & Dumber 2................. $13,820,000
5 Gone Girl........................ $2,815,000
6 Beyond Lights.................... $2,630,000
7 St. Vincent...................... $2,354,000
8 Fury............................. $1,900,000
9 Birdman.......................... $1,855,000
10 Theory Everything................ $1,500,000

2) How People Decide To See Movies.

3) Leak Casting Information, Go To Prison!

4) The Brit List

5) Interactive Short Films From Google... The Next Big Thing?

6) Joss Whedon: The Five Things Your Screenplay Must Have!

7) Five Big Mistakes Indie Films Make.

8) James Gunn on planning sequels before the first film makes any money... Counting chickens @ DC?

9) Mike Le's PATIENT ZERO gets a star. (Congrats to Mike!) (sat next to him at JOHN WICK)

10) My Portland Pal Daniel Wilson Writing New Film For Brad Pitt.

11) Mel Gibson's comeback film?

12) JURASSIC WORLD... an overly nostalgic trailer?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Everyone is going to the mall for Black Friday Sales!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Lancelot Link: Awards & Alcohol.

Lancelot Link Monday! The Hollywood Film Awards were broadcast last week and many of you are wondering what the heck those are and who the heck runs it? Good question! More proof that *anyone* can turn a screenwriting contest into an awards show and celebs will actually show up. This is more disturbing than NIGHTCRAWLER! While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Dumb & Dumber To................ $38,053,000
2 Big Hero Six.................... $36,010,000
3 Interstellar.................... $29,190,000
4 Beyond Light..................... $6,500,000
5 Gone Girl........................ $4,625,000
6 St. Vincent...................... $4,025,000
7 Fury............................. $3,810,000
8 Nightcrawler..................... $3,038,000
9 Ouija............................ $3,025,000
10 Birdman.......................... $2,450,000

2) INTERSTELLAR: From Spielberg To Nolan... what changed?

3) Six Studio Heads Discuss The Biz.

4) Number Crunching The Black List Site's Readers Reports.

5) Nicholl Fellowship Live Script Readings.

6) The Black List's Live Readings.

7) My friend Steve Weller's Blog is on props in Indie Films.

8) Five Types Of Twist Endings.

9) Egoyan talks about his new film.

10) James Gunn on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2.

11) The Hollywood Film Awards... WTF?

12) Women Who Can Kick Steven Seagal's Ass.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From HIT & RUN...


Monday, November 10, 2014

Lancelot Link: Hunt For The Blood Banana

Lancelot Link Monday! A week into NaNoWriMo... how are you doing? Even if you are way behind, keep going! Maybe this will just be NaNoDecWriMos in your case, but you will get something done! I suspect some of you may have been playing hooky from writing by going to the movies... this was a record weekend. In fact, we've been having a bunch of those lately! So why are there news stories about how Hollywood is in trouble? Is that just wishful thinking by sloppy entertainment news people who wish comic book movies weren't making so much money? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Big Hero........................ $56,200,000
2 Interstellar.................... $50,000,000
3 Gone Girl........................ $6,100,000
4 Ouiji............................ $6,017,000
5 St. Vincent...................... $5,707,000
6 Nightcrawler..................... $5,512,000
7 Fury............................. $5,500,000
8 John Wick........................ $4,075,000
9 Alex Terrible.................... $3,495,000
10 Book Of Life..................... $2,800,000

2) DeNiro Eats Pasta For RAGING BULL: 20 Greatest Actor Transformations Of All Time.

3) Fellow Raindance Juror Edgar Wright's Top Film Influences.

4) *Mensa's* Most Scary Movies.

5) BATMAN Home Video?

6) How Likely Is It That You Will Make One MILLION Dollars In The Film Biz?

7) INTERSTELLAR Interview With Nolan & Cast.

8) Remove One Letter And It's An Entirely Different Movie.

9) The Young & Hungry List: Give 'em A Sandwich & Wait 'till They're Older!

10) PULP FICTION 20 Year Anniversary Panel Discussion.

11) Martin Scorsese On His career So Far.

12) They Have Already Given Out Some Oscars! Who Got 'em?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

From BOLT.


Monday, November 03, 2014

Lancelot Link: NaNoWriMoNaNoNaNo

Lancelot Link Monday! Happy November! This is not only NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, where everyone writes a novel by the end of the month) it's also Movember (where people grow a mustache). I already have a mustache, and am working on a screenplay rewrite instead of a novel, but I urge the rest of you, men women or children, to write a novel while growing a mustache this month. Plenty of famous novelists had facial hair! I'm sure the Bronte sisters did. They were writing in a time before the invention of the NoNo Facial Hair Removal Device. Isn't it weird that the one things you would never want to use in Movemeber when participating in NaNoWriMo is the NoNo? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Nightcrawler.................... $10,909,000
2 Ouiji........................... $10,900,000
3 Fury............................. $9,100,000
4 Gone Girl........................ $8,800,000
5 Book Of Life..................... $8,300,000
6 John Wick........................ $8,050,000
7 St. Vincent...................... $7,752,000
8 Alexander Terrible............... $6,485,000
9 Judge............................ $3,400,000
10 Dracula Untold................... $2,946,000

2) Distribution Strategies For Your Indie Film.

3) 10 Lesson Learned From Making A Film For $10,000... that includes helicopters!

4) NIGHTCRAWLER's screenwriter Dan Gilroy Interviewed.

5) The 11 Scariest Films Of All Time According To Martin Scorsese.

6) Alexandre Aja on HORNS and PIRANHA 3D's TV Cut.

7) Behind The Scenes On TERMINATOR GENISYS... Will Ahnuld Use A Rascal?

8) Actors Who Win Oscars For The Wrong Roles.

9) Ivan Reitman: From Porn To Cronenberg To GHOST BUSTERS.

10) FLIGHT Writer John Gatins Hired For SKULL ISLAND.

11) JOHN WICK's Adrianne Palicki On Switching Genders!

12) An Ebola Proof Cinema For Your Safety!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Monday, October 27, 2014

Lancelot Link: Board Games Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! OUIJI is based on a Milton Bradley board game... the people who make Monopoly are helping you invite Satan into your house! While you're thinking about that, 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 ten links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Ouiji........................... $20,006,000
2 John Wick....................... $14,150,000
3 Fury............................ $13,000,000
4 Gone Girl....................... $11,100,000
5 Book Of Life..................... $9,800,000
6 St Vincent....................... $8,058,000
7 Alexander Terrible............... $7,023,000
8 Best Of Me....................... $4,736,000
9 Judge............................ $4,345,000
10 Dracula Untold................... $4,302,000

2) The Brown List: Which Execs Are Mean, Nasty, Shitty?

3) Isaac Asimov on Creativity.

4) The Next Generation Of Female Screenwriters... are here *now*!

5) David Fincher's DP With SIX Tips For Low Budget Cinematography.

6) Everything You Need To Know About Digital Cameras!

7) Ted has Hope that HBO & Netflix will lead to quality films.

8) My Portland pal Daniel Wilson says ROBOPOCALYPSE is on Spielberg's schedule.

9) Someone else I know: Larry Wilson on BEETLEJUICE sequel!

10) Keanu On JOHN WICK! Your Must See Film!

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Okay, horror movie chase scenes...


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Black Christmas (1974)

Before there was John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN there was Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie. I caught this at a drive in on a double bill with Larry Cohen's IT'S ALIVE - and IT'S ALIVE was the "A" feature! But this film really creeped me out, and also had me laughing outloud. Margot Kidder's phone number had me laughing for months - because this was a time when people didn't say things like that in the movies.

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS.

The great thing about this film - other than the call coming from inside the house - is the way the characters turn against each other when the bodies begin to pop up. Also a great cast - Olivia Hussey who was Juliet in ROMEO & JULIET plays the lead, Keir Dullea from some damned Kubrick movie was her boyfriend, John Saxon plays the cop in a horror movie for the first time, Andrea Martin from SECOND CITY is one of the gals, Margot Kidder is *hot* as one of the other gals - she had already starred in Brian DePalma's SISTERS and the next year would play the female lead in THE GREAT WALDO PEPPER opposite some guy named Redford. SISTERS is coming up in a couple of days...

What the heck, I love Larry Cohen, so let's look at the trailer for the "A" film on the double bill many years ago...

What I love about Larry Cohen movies is that the guy always has a social or political message in his weirdass horror films. His films like THE STUFF are complete cult flicks, but underneath it all are about something important. Here we have mutant killer babies caused by prescription drug side effects - kind of the ultimate Thalidomide baby. By the time Cohen got to IT'S ALIVE 3: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE he was doing a cult horror film that dealt with AIDS babies (except they were the killer mutant babies in the series).

He's one of my favorite filmmakers and one of those prolific screenwriters who is hit and miss - but when he hits he knocks it out of the park. Still alive and kicking and making films. He wrote PHONE BOOTH and CELLULAR! His last screenwriting credit was a couple of years ago... but his first writing credit was 1958. Oh, and he created the TV show THE INVADERS.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: EVERY STORY ASKS A QUESTION - Is yours asking the *right* question?
Dinner: Chicken, potatos, corn at Boston Market.
Pages: Almost finished another chapter - but got sidetracked.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lancelot Link: Gone Girl Edition

Lancelot Link Monday! A bunch of new movies opened over the 3 Day Weekend, but GONE GIRL remained on the top of the box office. Though the film has become controversial, mostly it's a twisty roller coaster ride. They have crowned Fincher the new Hitchcock, which just goes to show you how little people know about Hitchcock. Is anyone who does a movie with plot twists the "New Hitchcock"? I thought GONE GIRL's twists were more like BODY HEAT, so maybe he should be the "New Kasdan"? While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Gone Girl....................... $26,800,000
2 Dracula Told.................... $23,457,000
3 Alex Terrible................... $19,100,000
4 Annabelle....................... $16,365,000
5 Judge........................... $13,330,000
6 Equalizer........................ $9,725,000
7 Addicted......................... $7,600,000
8 Maze Runner...................... $7,500,000
9 Box Trolls....................... $6,676,000
10 Left Behind...................... $2,909,000

This is the first weekend that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was not in the Top 10. It was #12.

2) SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION Anniversary... How The Novelette Became A Film.

3) GONE GIRL and PSYCHO... do I need to add a page to my Hitchcock Book?

4) TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: Brilliant Script Analysis.

2) Favorite Books Of Your Favorite People.

2) Power Show Runners.

7) Ex Studio Heads Create New Companies... New Places To Sell Screenplays?

8) Insane Idea Prompts.

9) Complete Episode Guide and Analysis of WEST WING (all seasons)

10) Sacramento's Joe Carnahan's Unproduced Screenplays... There's A Stack Of Them.

11) Test Screenings: Help & Hurt.


And the Car Chase Of The Week!

GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS and it opens with a girl, best I could do...


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Raindance Film Festival Winners!

Sorry, another week without a THRILLER entry, and FINGERS OF FEAR was a pretty good episode starring hulking character actor Robert Middleton as a mentally challenged dishwasher who may also be a child killer. But my sleep patterns are all messed up and I didn't get the entry finished in time.

To the rescue: the RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, where I am usually at this time of the year, announced it's winners on Sunday night.

Special Jury Prize for Short Film – Heart / Coeur
Best Documentary Short – Our Curse
Best Animated Short – Tea With The Dead
Best International Short – Rangzen
Best UK Short – Nosferatu In Love
Short Film of the Festival – Rangzen
Best Music Video – Subtunes
Best Documentary Feature – Days of Hope
Best Debut Feature – Kebab & Horoscope
Best International Feature – The Light Shines Only There
Best British Feature – Luna
Feature Film of the Festival – Take Me To The River

Hopefully I'll be back there next year!

Heart / Coeur
The story of two young women spending a night out in the small town of Kortrijk. This night will take them to different places, random conversations, and a confrontation with a man who has a dark secret.

Our Curse
This painfully sincere documentary portrays the parents of a baby boy born with a rare and incurable disease. Leo Hueckel-Śliwiński is affected by Ondine’s Curse. The illness causes the complete cessation of breathing while he is asleep, meaning he must be attached to a ventilator for the rest of his life.

Tea with the Dead
Frank is a gentle unassuming embalmer from a small town in Connemara. After Frank has washed, disinfected, removed and replaced fluids, applied cosmetics and dressed the deceased, he always makes two cups of tea: one for him and one for the dead.

A film about a 8 year old Tibetan boy, Tashi - growing up as a refugee in a small hill town in Indian - the exiled home of the Dalai Lama. The film maps a crucial day in his life when he stumbles on his exiled refugee identity. When he's told at school that there is an invisible 'R' written on his forehead - Tashi goes on a quest to unravel this mystery.

Nosferatu In Love
In a fit of rebellion against his director which masks his own dark demons, a tormented movie actor (Mark Strong) starring as Nosferatu runs away to a nearby small Czech town. Loss and failure lead to a redemption, of sorts.

Days of Hope
A close look at the shocking struggles of illegal immigrants travelling across the Mediterranean, from Africa to Europe.

Kebab & Horoscope
Two down-and-out men, Kebab and Horoscope, go on a quest to re-establish themselves as marketing experts.

The Light Shines Only There
Tatsuo and Chinatsu, two deeply wounded people, fall in love – but their trials are far from over.

Dave McKean’s lyrical blend of live action and animation in a stunning sophomore film.

Take Me to the River
A star-studded documentary telling the story of the musical and socio-economic history of Memphis.

Congratulations to all of the writers and directors and everyone else involved!


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

I Threw That Script Away!

From 4 years ago...

Sometimes, instead of rewriting a screenplay, you have to throw it away and start from scratch. The problem is, most people never want to do anything this drastic. They become married to their writing and try to find some way to salvage what they’ve written, even though the best case scenario is to part it out... and the more likely scenario is that even the parts are defective in some way. It’s human nature to want to save what you’ve written, but often a first draft or second draft or even third draft is just a way to organize your thoughts and show you how *not* to write this story. In a couple of months I plan on throwing a screenplay away and starting from scratch - and last night I scribbled some notes on the new screenplay.

Usually outlining prevents you from having to scrap a script. You devote a creative step to making sure the story works and is the best that it can be, then you go to script. When you are finding your story with your first draft, you are more likely to have to scrap all sorts of things that are not the story when you go to second draft - and this may also be part of a larger refining process where you keep throwing away drafts until you have figured out the story and know which scenes matter and which scenes don’t. But even with an outline you can screw up and have to scrap the first version of the script. And that means you have to be objective enough to reject that draft and get on to the next draft.

The script I’m throwing away had an interesting path to the page. A creative exec had asked me what I was working on, and I said I was trying to figure out this thriller script - and I pitched him the concept. Cool high concept - and the CE asked if he could read it when I finished the script. “Sure.” (Why else had I pitched him the concept? Part of the “what are you working on?” question is for them to see if they can get dibseys, and for us to pitch a script.) That would have been the end of that, but the production company connected with a distributor who was looking to do upscale action and thriller films... so the CE called me and asked if I could come in and pitch it to his boss. I had imagined the script as a big studio budget thing, they were looking for something a step down from that - but still a theatrical release with a star in the lead. Not a summer tentpole, but one of those genre films that comes at the end of summer - maybe $20m budget.

I pitched it, they liked it, they asked me if I would write a treatment for free that they could take to the distrib... I agreed... and wrote up a theatrical budget version of the story. There were still story problems that I hadn’t solved, but I did a good job of covering those up uin the treatment and hoped to solve them when we went to script. Everyone was happy with it - the producer gave it to the distrib and they were happy with it. They wanted the title changed - and I was cool with that...

And then something happened and the production company’s relationship with the distrib hit a bump and the project was dead before we went to script and before I was paid a cent. Welcome to Hollywood. But a couple of months later the CE called me again and asked if I would be interested in doing the low budget version of that idea for a cable network? I said I wasn’t sure it would work - though it had a cool concept, the treatment also had some big action set pieces and those wouldn’t work on a lower budget. Plus, the difference between an anything goes theatrical budget and a really tight cable budget meant lots of restructuring - I had to trim down the number of locations, get rid of crowd scenes, etc. But I was willing to write a new treatment - again for free. That new treatment didn’t work as well, and required that a bunch of set pieces that I thought were critical to the story be changed to small scenes at existing locations. Well, they liked the concept so much that they didn’t think the other things mattered... and they thought they had a star signed (I had two meetings with him to get his input - a guy who had starred in a couple of B theatrical action flicks). Because I was worried about the story problems that I still hadn’t ironed out (and they still hadn’t noticed) I thought I would get a jump on the project and start writing the screenplay - even though we didn’t have a contract, yet. Well, the whole thing crashed and burned when I was about at the end of act 1, so I never got paid a cent... and I still owned the script. I have actually bought back a couple of scripts that were shelved, but didn’t have to pay a cent for this one because I hadn’t been paid a cent.

At the time, I was doing other cable movies for other producers and though maybe this script would be something I could sell if I finished - so I got to Fade Out... and then set it aside because I had writing jobs lined up, and when I came back to it a couple of years later I decided the idea was too good for low budget, so I did a page one rewrite to bump the budget up to theatrical level and add some of the big set pieces... except not all of the big set pieces, because the story had changed. What I should have done at that point was throw the existing script away and started from scratch - but instead I tried to save what I had written. I ended up with big budget flesh on a low budget skeleton, and it just didn’t work. But a handful of big companies read it based on the concept... and almost all said they would read it again if I did a rewrite that fixed all of the problems. One producer asks about it every year... and every year I tell him that I have not done that rewrite, yet.

So, now I’m going to throw away the script and start from scratch. There may be some scenes from the earlier version that end up in this version - but they will be typed from scratch so that I don’t try to save something that doesn’t work. Basically I’m writing a new script with the same concept - only this time, hopefully it will work.

Sometimes you just have to throw all of that hard work away and just start from scratch.

- Bill

Monday, October 06, 2014

Lancelot Link: October Country

Lancelot Link Monday! Welcome to the fall, where Hollywood box office takes a break after summer... Except we just had a slow summer and we have kicked off fall with a record breaking weekend! This was the biggest weekend in October *ever*. Everybody went to the cinema this weekend. I have no idea why... maybe to avoid all of the Christmas stuff that's already going up in department stores? Or are we in an Endless Summer, where the seasons don't matter and films can be hits (or misses) all year long? One of the main reasons why Summer went from dead box office to the big box office season was *air conditioning*. Once cinemas got A/C people flocked from their hot homes to get cooled off and watch a movie. But now most people have A/C in their homes, and maybe the pattern is shifting... maybe there is no such thing as seasons in cinemas? While you're thinking about that, 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 ten links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Gone Girl....................... $38,000,000
2 Annabelle....................... $37,200,000
3 Equalizer....................... $19,000,000
4 Boxtrolls....................... $12,425,000
5 Maze Runner..................... $12,000,000
6 Left Behind...................... $6,850,000
7 Where I Leave.................... $4,000,000
8 Dolphin 2........................ $3,530,000
9 Guardians Galaxy................. $3,034,000
10 No Good.......................... $2,500,000

2) How did pro screenwriters get their first big breaks?

3) How Much Do The Stars Really Make?

4) Universal Emerging Writers Program Is Taking Applications.

5) Joss Whedon On Story.

6) Tarantino On Film Vs. Digital.

7) Billy Wilder On The Art Of Screenwriting.

8) How To Hire Bill Murray.

9) Fall Films In Pictures.

10) The Best Movies About Hollywood.

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Hey, it's *seasonal* (if there are still seasons).


Monday, September 29, 2014

Lancelot Link: Herstory

Lancelot Link Monday! In addition to the Nicholl Fellowship Finalists announcement, this week we have two great interviews with screenwriters who just happen to be women and a look at women's roles in post WW2 cinema. If you are a woman and want to make movies, don't let some old white dude tell you no or wait for permission: look at what guys like Kevin Smith did, and JUST GO DO IT! Make your film! Those old white dudes are not going to give you permission. So start an Old Girls Club and take control of the business by making a bunch of great movies! While you're thinking about that, 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Equalizer....................... $35,000,000
2 Maze Runner..................... $17,500,000
3 Box Trolls...................... $17,250,000
4 Where I Leave.................... $7,010,000
5 Dolphin 2........................ $4,835,000
6 No Good.......................... $4,600,000
7 Walk Tombstones.................. $4,234,000
8 Guard Galaxy..................... $3,789,000
9 Let's Be Cops.................... $1,515,000
10 Ninja Turts...................... $1,450,000

2) Diablo Cody On Writing Screenplays.

3) Emma Thompson On Writing Scripts & Failure.

4) MILDRED PIERCE And The Post WW2 Role Of Women On Screen.

5) Screenwriters To Watch (Because, You Know, Screenwriters Are Often Trouble.)


7) How 14 New Fall TV Shows Were Pitched.

8) Completely Wrong List Of Best & Worst Of Hitchcock.

9) Your Nicholl Fellowship Finalists!

10) John Ridley Talks Career Longevity.

11) John Carpenter Talks Directing HALLOWEEN.

12) Raindance Film Festival's Opening Night Film I ORIGINS Director on making the film.

And The Car Chase Of The Week!

Okay, foot chase and shoot out from BLUE STEEL directed by the awesome Kathryn Bigelow.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Writers Are Cattle

From June of 2008...

Friday night I had dinner with the winning writers from the Austin Film Festival’s Writer’s Ranch at some restaurant in Silver Lake. They gave me an address on Hollywood Blvd, so I figured I’d take the tinker-toy subway from Universal and ride my bike the rest of the way. When I mapquested the address, the closest subway station was on Sunset... so I’d have to do some cycling.

A few years ago I was at the Austin Film Festival, and it was great. The festival seems to focus on screenwriters - they have amazing panel discussions jam-packed with name writers. When you are sitting on a panel with Terry George and Shane Black, you don’t want to answer questions - you want to join the audience and ask them. The coolest thing about Austin is the access - you spend the event hanging out with the people on the panels. The barbeque lunches put a speaker or two at every table, and when you aren’t seeing movies you’re hanging out in the Driskill Hotel bar with guest speakers. The year I was there Shane premiered his little directorial; debut KISS KISS BANG BANG, then took us all out for drinks, and while we were drinking, called Robert Downey jr on his cell phone and passed it around so that we could all tell him how much we loved his performance. I was a guest speaker and this was amazing for me. I would love to go back, but Austin is usually the same time as Raindance Film Festival - so I’m usually in London instead of Texas...

Every year they select a group of writers, fly them to Texas and stick ‘em out on some ranch with a handful of great writers tutoring them for a week. After that, they fly ‘em to Los Angeles for meetings with producers and dinners with pro-screenwriters and producers. Friday was the final night of the Los Angeles segment, and dinner with me.

Usually on Fridays I’m seeing movies with my friends - would have been HULK, since it won the coin toss over HAPPENING - but this week I was dining with writers at 8pm. I didn’t want to be late, so I took my computer home, cycled to the Universal subway station, zoomed to the Sunset station, and cycled... heck, a block to Hollywood Blvd. I rode down Hollywood Blvd looking for the address, and got about 5 blocks when I realized I was going in the wrong direction. When I retraced my steps and found the address, it was a block away from the subway station... and I was way early. So I locked my bike and killed some time in the bar, drank a couple of beers...

When the Writers Ranch people start to show up, I move to the restaurant table and introduce myself - a couple of people already know me, others have never heard of me. Hey, I’m not famous, I’m a writer.

Some bottles of wine are opened, some food is ordered “for the table” (I’m not really a fan of this - I like to have my own damned plate of food and shovel it down), and all kinds of conversation about movies and screenwriting begin. Because I’m a strong believer in theme - that every story usually has some sort of point and isn’t just blathering on and on - I’m going to focus on a conversation going on at the opposite end of the table, where a writer was lamenting the good old days of comedy films... the 1980s.

You know, at first I thought this was funny that the “good old days” took place when I was an adult, but there were a lot of great comedies made in the 1980s. Bill Murray deserves a special Oscar just for being in so many funny films. And *good* funny films. I mean, even MEATBALLS was a good movie - it had real relationships and real characters and was really funny. Man, what happened to those good old days?

First, I think the suits that run Hollywood are getting suitier. The film business is run by companies that make washing machines and walkmans - not creative people. So it's probably more of a numbers biz than ever before. They are playing it safe - and looking to spend their money on projects where even if the film stinks, it still has the elements that will make its money back. Cram enough crude humor or toss in Will Farrell and you’ve got a hit! Hey, maybe have Martin Lawrence dress up in drag again - that always works! It’s easy to compare WILD HOGS with GROUNDHOG DAY and see which film is hog heaven and which is hog hell. What happened to, you know, *art*?


My favorite films are from the 30s & 40s - and were both art and commerce. Commerce, because the studio was making films to make money, but they were also trying to make good films. The producers in the old days used to be guys like Jerry Wald, who began as writers and were promoted up the ranks to producers. In a way, the Golden Age of Hollywood was run kind of like TV is run today - writers were often the guys in charge. The writer-producers still had to answer to the studio chief and the bean counters - so they couldn’t make some film that was *only* art, they’d get fired. But they would try to make the best commercial films possible.

And the writers at the time were the best writers in the world. There was no such thing as an Indie film, so if you wanted to write an artistic film it *also* had to be a Wallace Beery wrestling film. But at least it had that “Barton Fink feeling”. The results were films like - well, CAPTAIN BLOOD is one of my all time favorite films so I always use it as an example, but you can use CASABLANCA if you want or any of the other hundreds of studio films that came out.

Goldman did those great articles for Premiere Magazine where he would list 5 films from 1939 and ask which won the Oscar... and the answer was none of those because they weren’t even nominated, then he'd list 5 more and 5 more and 5 more and 5 more and 5 more... all absolutely great films, but none were the Oscar nominees for 1939. Finally he'd list the actual Oscar nominated films, and you'd be amazed at the *depth* of great movies from whatever year the article was about. And every single one of those films was a mainstream studio film made for commerce. Westerns and musicals and horror films and action flicks and adventure films and fantasy films and romances. Studios made *genre* films. They made entertainment. It was all popcorn.

Problem now is - it ain't Jerry Wald producing films. It's some ex-lawyer or ex-agent or whatever... and they're being told what to do by the company that owns the studio - which makes washing machines.

I have a theory about the studio heads back then, too - the Sam Goldwyns and Louis B. Mayers and Jack Warners. These guys were mostly immigrant merchants who traded a business making gloves for a business making movies... and they made lots of money. So here were these rich but mostly uneducated guys who got no respect from the society pages. They may have millions, but they were not respected like other millionaires. So, even though they made popcorn, they wanted to make “respectable” popcorn. So they would adapt some classic romance or classic adventure - and we’d get THE THREE MUSKETEERS or THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK or ROBIN HOOD or KING SOLOMON’S MINES or Dr. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE or FRANKENSTEIN or even some popular novel like REBECCA or GONE WITH THE WIND. The idea was to appear to be cultured and sophisticated. It was still about making popular movies, but if they could make a huge hit film that also made them look intelligent? Heck, everybody wins. Now, I didn’t know any of these guys so my decades-later psychoanalysis may be just plain wrong. But I do know that the board of directors of a washing machine company doesn’t care if the films made by their entertainment division make them look sophisticated or not. We have lost the class as class system in America and now just have the money as class system. You can be a complete idiot, but if you invent a hulahoop, you know, for kids, and it makes millions - you are now in the upper class. Money is all that matters anymore.


And we can also trace much of the crap in cinemas today to the auteur theory. Here's the thing -Martin Scorsese is a freakin' genius. If he's directing the film and he gives me a note, it will be a good note. But Hollywood treats all directors as equals - and that means Michael Bay's note is just as "valuable" as Martin Scorsese's. And (name the hack)'s note is just as "valuable". So when some complete idiot director gives a completely stupid note that *everyone* knows will ruin the film, the director is God and his note is executed by the screenwriter. This makes no sense to me. But the auteur theory is that directors are Gods, and all of us mere mortals must just nod our heads and do what they say - even when we know it is wrong.

Add all of this up and you get films that aren't good - not because they are commercial - all of those great films from the 30s & 40s were commercial - but because they aren't good. Nobody cares if they are good anymore. They only care that they make money. Hey, writers can go off and make indie films if they want - Paul Schrader doesn't write mainstream scripts anymore, nor does John Sayles. They're off making their own films.

Or writers bail to TV, where the writer is God and the director is just some guy they hired for this week. Writers control TV.

Though I'm probably a masochist, instead of making my own films or writing TV, my plan is to keep banging my head against the wall to try and make *good* commercial films. So far - no luck. I try to write CAPTAIN BLOOD every time and by the time it hits the screen it's crap. Someone recently asked what film I wish I had written and I joked that I wish I'd written CROOKED - my original script was about the difficulties in trusting people post 9/11... and how we *must* trust people (even strangers) or we're screwed. Of course, the film is a bunch of crap without a single line of my dialogue, not even my *story*! Every single thing was changed in that film. But I don't want to give up on movies. Good *commercial* films do get made - the BOURNE films give me hope - so I keep plugging away, trying to say something between the lines.


My theory is that DVD may actually help make better quality films in the long run - because people *buy* a DVD (instead of rent, like VHS) they are making an investment in a film they plan on seeing more than once. If Film A sells really well on DVD and Film B doesn't, studios may wonder why that is and do something about it.

After seeing INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL with a bunch of friends, none of us wanted to see it again, and none of us plan on buying it on DVD. When the new editions came out, I bought RAIDERS and LAST CRUSADE... but not TENTPOLE OF DOOM. No way in hell I'm ever gonna see that movie again.

Now, hopefully someone at Paramount will notice that sales of DOOM aren't as good as sales of the other two, but someone still has to figure out that's because people just don't like DOOM... and figure out why... and make sure they don't make any more movies like that (too late - SKULL is almost a remake of DOOM!). But this may happen.

Problem is - for all of us who didn't buy DOOM, there are a bunch of people who bought the latest Martin Lawrence Dresses In Drag movie (or whatever) because they thought it was really funny. And maybe they’re right? If you laugh, it’s funny...

And that's the big quality issue with studio films - there are 2 different kinds of quality. One: is this a great film? Two: did it make me laugh or scream or whatever. Many "bad" films made me laugh, and I would buy them on DVD just to laugh again. BEERFEST made me laugh. I own the first JACKASS movie on DVD... and it still makes me laugh. I can not imagine any world where that film would get an Oscar. I don’t think JACKASS is a bad movie, and I don’t think BEERFEST is a bad movie. I think they are entertaining movies. So we run into this strange thing - often bad films are good. We may not want to admit that Martin Lawrence film made us laugh, but if we laughed a lot, we'll buy the DVD so that on that bad day, we can pop it in and laugh some more. It's a SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS thing (made in 1941). Sometimes, we don’t want to think, we just want to laugh... and there’s nothing wrong with that.

AIRPLANE and KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE and even TOP SECRET are among my favorite films. I love them. I wish they made more films like that. You might point to MEET THE SPARTANS as “that type of movie”, but that’s the crap version. Pick a 10 minute segment of AIRPLANE at random and I’ll bet it has more laughs that *all* of MEET THE SPARTANS. Heck, we’re talking about comedy films from the 1980s again, aren’t we? Maybe that was some sort of golden age of comedy... But the point I was trying to make is that those films are silly and stupid and have no deeper meaning and no importance. They are 100% popcorn with nothing for the art house crowd. Okay, maybe if the French can love Jerry Lewis they may see AIRPLANE as art, but when people talk about “serious films” and “social impact” and all of that other crap, they ain’t talking about AIRPLANE. It just makes us laugh.


Another thing about the Good Old Days Of Great Movies... not every movie was great. One of the things about the Golden Age is that we didn’t have TV, so if you take all of the great things happening on TV and cable today and add them to the good movies that Hollywood does make, we probably get the same amount of great work total. Back then, *everyone* went to the cinema on a regular basis. Today, the dating crowd regularly goes to the cinema and everyone else stays home and watches those great shows on TV. Okay, it’s summer, so we’re getting a bunch of reality crap, but you can still see great made for cable movies and series while waiting to see what Jon Voight does on 24 next season. So entertainment, like liquids, kind of finds its own level.

And that was also true in the Golden Age. Back then, movies had a class system. The studios took their biggest name stars and put them in their best projects. Those were the big A movies that were events. When an A movie was on a double bill, it was with a B movie - the second tier stars in a second tier project. Now, arts is what stands the test of time - so some of those B movies are now considered better than some of the A movies. One of the great things about B movies back then is that some great writers would be behind them... and often sneak in their social agendas. That’s why some throw away sci-fi film like the original INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS is now a classic - a work of art. It deals with conformity and individuality - and maybe McCarthyism and the paranoia that created in America. Even some of the “meaningless” material like the Rathbone / Bruce SHERLOCK HOLMES movies ended up classics today because the characters and performances are great. I can even watch the movies from the tail end of the series, when Holmes is fighting Nazis (huh?) again and again because they are fun. They still have an entertainment value.

And, did any of us know that ANIMAL HOUSE or CADDYSHACK or GROUNDHOG DAY or AIRPLNE or any of those other films would end up "classics" back when they came out? Look at BLUES BROTHERS - now it seems to be a beloved film, but when it came out it was a flop... and people didn't like it. It took time for people to discover the hidden pleasures of that film. Sometimes stuff that seems like crap today may end up brilliant tomorrow.

But also on those double bills there was a newsreal and a serial.... and over the holidays I bought a bunch of serials from Alpha Video (I’ll probably do a whole entry on Alpha Video some day). Anyway, I watched a couple of SHADOW serials with Rod LaRoque and a couple of John Wayne serials, including THE THREE MUSKETEERS... as a French Foreign Legion adventure! These movies were completely disposable... and not very good. The John Wayne movie had John Wayne - and even though he was a new actor, he had something. They also had all kinds of great horse and plane stunts. But the stories were junk. The SHADOW movies were close to unwatchable. Ah, the good old days! All of these films had that “we don’t care, we just crank ‘em out” feeling. I think the problem today may be that when you have a star like Will Farrell who can open a comedy, they just crank them out like they did those serials. “We need a Will Farrell comedy for fall!” So they make it. And usually, it makes enough money to justify it’s existence, even if it has zero chance of lasting the test of time... We may have even forgotten it ten years from now. Hopefully we can nip bad movies in the bud with word of mouth and this new texting revolution which has Hollywood scared - people texting friends in line to see some other movie because this one stinks. They see this now in the hour-by-hour numbers... first showings on Friday night may be packed, but by Sunday everyone knows to avoid this film.

I think we already tell people to go see a good movie and avoid a bad one. And our friends usually listen to what we say. Biggest flop of the summer - SPEED RACER. That’s the *power* of audience members telling each other what they think of the film. We should always do that. And I think it really helps to tell people to go see some small film like THE VISITOR that they may never have heard of. A friend of mine who is primarily a horror guy went to see it because I said it was great - and he liked it, and told his friends about it. That's how a little movie like that finds its way into the top 10 (it was #10 for a couple weeks in a row, and was #12 last weekend).

But Hollywood isn't going to start making films like THE VISITOR all of the sudden, so we need to reward the good movies that Hollywood makes and crap on the bad ones. So if the new BATMAN movie is as good as the last one, I'm going to see it again. If the washing machine makers in Hollywood end up just scratching their heads and giving Nolan money to make some other film, or just hire him to make BATMAN 3 (or is that 7?) that's okay. It's rewarding good film makers and making sure we get another good film in a couple of years.

I don't think anything short of an armed coup is going to change the way Hollywood makes movies... and even then it would be short-lived success, because at the end of the day, it's all about money... and all about what all of those people who buy tickets want to see (and they may not have the same taste we do). I want to be entertained and be able to talk about the movie in some coffee shop afterwards... and think about for the next couple of days (or longer). I like good entertaining movies - art *and* commerce.

I think the way we change Hollywood as writers is to write great commercial material - something that can be a summer blockbuster *and* maybe get some Oscar buzz. That doesn't sound easy to me, but that’s my goal. Obviously a masochist.

After the dinner was over (remember that - the Austin Writers Ranch?) I wished all of the writers good luck, hopped on my bicycle and rode the *block* the subway station, where I managed to catch the last train to Universal City and then rode home. May have missed HULK on Friday, but managed to catch it on Saturday.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Nudist Westerns.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Ended up being a Togo's sandwich (tuna) because I lost track of time and had to zip to the Arclight cinema to watch....

MOVIES: MONGOL - Totally worth the price of the ticket. This is a big LAWRENCE OF ARABIA epic - some of the shots were so big they needed an even bigger screen! When you have this beautiful location - a wide plane with mountains in the background - and it fills the frame - and then two armies charge each other from either side of the frame... and you can see the pattern, their strategy, it's just cool. That’s one of the great things about the movie - you can see how the battles work - almost like chess men on a chess board.

Story is about Genghis Khan, the early years... and it's a *romance*. As a boy he and his father set out to find him a bride - one from a warring tribe, so they can make peace. But the kid falls for a girl along the way - she's smart and cute. They hit it off. He picks her, and dad is pissed off because this girl brings him nothing. No truce, no dowry, nothing. And the rest of the film focuses on their love for each other - even though this guy *is* Genghis Khan, so there are many battles. Film also reminded me of CONAN (the barbarian, not the talk show host), because the kid has to grow into a warrior... and then settle some scores. If you like GLADIATOR or CONAN or BRAVEHEART you will probably like this film.

Cinematography is just amazing - and the locations are amazing, too. And the battles are well shot and manage to be exciting *and* Oscar bait all at the same time (this film was nominated for Best Foreign Film).

But it’s not all chick flick romance - there are huge bloody battles. Heads get lopped off. And the audience *cheers* when some particularly nasty folks get killed in nasty ways.

After seeing the film I looked it up, and discovered that the people in Mongolia are pissed off about this film. Not because it depicts Genghis as a sappy romantic, but because the actor playing Genghis isn’t Mongolian - he’s *Japanese*. They make him up to look Mongolian... kind of like having Kenneth Brannagh playing Martin Luther King, jr. I didn’t notice he wasn’t Mongolian... and I’m not sure if I should feel bad about that or not.

One problem I had - there were places where I wanted *more*. I suspect they cut this film down to 2 hours, and may have left out some scenes I really wanted to see. One thing that I wished had been in the film is a Khan speech before the final big battle. Maybe that's the sappy Hollywood thing (or the sappy Shakespeare thing) but I thought it needed that big scene before the battle.

Oddly, guy who plays the villain is so good I wish he had played Khan. This guy has charisma to spare, and does this great back-cracking stretching thing that makes him human and tough.

Playing on *5* screens in the USA, and it was the highest per-screen average film over the weekend (beating that HULK guy) - so it will probably expand to more screens. Check it out!

- Bill
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