Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fixing Oscar (from 2008)

From March 8, 2008...

Okay, Gary has now been all over TV apologizing for his bad behavior on Oscar night, and claiming that he has a “excitable boy” personality that comes out at events like this.

Now that Gary has apologized, all that is left is for the Oscars to apologize to all of us for such an awful show. That was the lowest rated Oscar show in it’s 55 year history on television - nobody watched it. Nobody. All of those people who were nervous about making speeches in front of millions and millions of people? They shouldn't have worried so much.

This is the “Super Bowl of Movies” - and nobody tuned in to see who won! There were a bunch of theories flying around right after the show, some people suggested the writer’s strike may have had something to do with it... but it would make more sense if the end of the strike *boosted* ratings - people would be happy that their shows were going to come back on... and there was nothing else to watch on TV! We were in the middle of a TV drought, so the strike should have turned the Oscars into a huge ratings hit!

When they began looking at other Oscar flop broadcasts they found the common denominator (because I’ve been neglecting you wonderful people for a week and a half, this is all old news - Nikki Finke even wrote a column on much of this stuff in the LA Weekly last Thursday) - it seems that nobody watches the Oscars when they focus on films that very few people have seen. When the Oscars feature those big blockbuster films like LORD OF THE RINGS, it’s a ratings hit... but when they feature indie flicks, nobody cares enough to watch. If you don’t have a team in the game, you are less likely to watch... and when you’ve never even heard of any of the teams playing, who cares? It’s just like writing a script - we have to care about the characters! In this case, the characters are the movies in the running.

And this year - nobody cared about any of the movies. Very few people saw any of the movies. And many people who did see them, hated their endings.

For people to care about the Oscars, we need movies in the contest that people care about.

Though this *wasn’t* a ratings element, if you watched the Independent Spirit Awards over on that cable channel on Saturday night, the Oscars seemed like a repeat! The same movies were nominated (more or less)! The same people showed up to collect their awards. It was just like the Oscars, only less cheesy. The Oscars were just a duplicate of the Spirit Awards - and why have two awards shows that are alike on the same weekend?


While I was watching the 95th clip show on the Oscars, the one that showed all of the Best Picture Winners from the past, I noticed something interesting. Up until fairly recently the past Oscar Winners for Best Picture had all been mainstream studio films - movies that were popular with the mass audience. Sure, there were some more serious mainstreams films here and there - but the majority were crowd pleasers. And even after the invention of the art house indie film, most of the winners were mainstream movies with mass appeal. So let’s look at the past Oscar winners and see how they relate to the five films in the running a couple of weeks ago.... Would it surprise you if I said that 11 of the 80 films were musicals? That’s right - musicals. We need only look back a couple of years to find CHICAGO, and our second Best Picture went to BROADWAY MELODY OF 1929 - one in a series of backstage musicals. More musicals have won Best Picture than any other genre! Were any of the nominees this year musicals? The first Oscar went to WINGS, an action flick about two pilots in love with the same gal - famous for it’s dogfight scenes. You know, the first big Oscar sweep movie was IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - a romantic comedy. They say comedies never get nominated, but that’s only recently - YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU to ANNIE HALL... 10% of Oscar winners have been comedies. And *popular* comedies - YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU is a zany comedy. Somewhere in there was CIMARRON - a western. Westerns have won a few times, too. The key to winning Best Picture in the past seems to have been the epic genre film - from AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS to TITANIC to the LORD OF THE RINGS films - if you take a crowd pleasing genre and do the huge ship-breaks-in-half version, you have a hit film that wins an Oscar. GONE WITH THE WIND and GRAND HOTEL and several other winners are just big soap operas. Oh, and GONE WITH THE WIND is still the #1 film off al time adjusted for inflation - the most popular film ever made! And Best Picture!

Of course, you have to look at all of the non-epics, too. REBECCA is a Hitchcock thriller... and was Best Picture Winner in 1940. And FRENCH CONNECTION - the greatest car chase ever - won Best Picture. Other cop movies have won - IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won Best Picture... it was a big hit film that combined the detective genre with race issues, and spawned a couple of cop movie sequels. THE STING is a comedy caper film - a massive hit *and* Best Picture Winner in 1973. It was sandwiched in between the two good GODFATHER movies, both based on a huge best selling novel that was part soap opera, part gangster flick. Oh, and both of those films were stand-in-line-for-four-hours hits. Funny that people blame JAWS for being the first blockbuster, when the lines for THE GODFATHER were just as long... and the lines for GONE WITH THE WIND were probably longer! Oscar Winners used to *also* be the big hit film of the year - the movies that *everybody* saw. And, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see SILENCE OF THE LAMBS because it was art... I saw it because it was scary! Oh, and it later won Best Picture. They talk about the “Oscar bump” these days - the increase in box office just after a film wins Best Picture - but in the past, the Oscar Winners were already huge successes. The “bump” back then was people seeing the film for a third or fourth time. Oscar Winners used to be big hits!

For those of you running down the list of Oscar Winners - yes, there were serious dramas in there. They seem to be bunched around the wars - LOST WEEKEND and BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT right after World war 2, and THE DEER HUNTER after Viet Nam. There was also a period of social unrest during Viet Nam which turned popular movies upside down - a movie like MIDNIGHT COWBOY was a mainstream hit film (even though it seems like an art house film today). But these were still *popular* mainstream films - just in an era where what was popular was different than what is popular now. Times change, interest rates fluctuate.

The Best Picture Oscar used to go to a film that was both a mainstream hit *and* a great movie... but our last Oscars gave us 5 films that were not mainstream successes (JUNO - a foul mouthed teen comedy - has done well despite being sold as an indie film), So how do we make the Oscars relevant again? We can’t force the audience to watch NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - and even when they do watch it, they just hate the ending and tell their friends it’s not that good. We can’t change the audience... So maybe we need to change the Oscars? Turn them back into what they were before...


So, my plan to make the Oscars relevant is to make *only* major release films from studios eligible. Lat’s say they have to show on 1,500 screens. See, we already have the Spirit Awards for all of those non-mainstream indie films, and part of my plan is for the Spirit Awards to be just as important as the Oscars. Maybe have the Oscars partner with them - and if you want to broadcast the Oscars, you also have to take the Spirit Awards. So you end up with *two big nights of movie awards*! And, ratings-wise, Saturday is kind of a slow night, so having an Indie Awards Show on Saturday could be a really good thing. People who care would stay home to watch, and people who are already home would have something better than whatever ratings-challenged show they’ve moved to Saturday night before cancelling. Think of the Spirits as a “pre-game show” - to get the audience hyped up for Sunday’s Oscars. This helps *both* awards shows.

But when you remove the non-mainstream films from the Oscar competition, it does two things - it makes all of the nominees movies that a large segment of the population has seen or at least heard of (boosting ratings) and it *forces studios to make good films*.

Right now, why would a studio want to make a version of any blockbuster that is actually good? They have no reason. Not to say that some aren't good - but even the greatest summer blockbuster just isn't going to be nominated for an Oscar. I think the BOURNE movies are all really good - both popular hits *and* really well made movies that even make you think. Were any of them nominated for Best Picture? You know, we often have some pretty good mainstream films - though ENCHANTED was nominated for Best Original Song three times and lost, it should have been nominated for Best Picture. It was really fun, and also damned good. Oh, and as a musical - it fits right in with past Oscar Winners. Every year there are *at least* 5 really good mainstream films - usually many more. None of these films have a chance of being nominated when there are these art house indies that have already won at a dozen film festivals. What we have are apples and oranges - and the idea that they can even be in the same competition doesn’t really make much sense. So why not have one competition for the apples and one for the oranges?

When I mentioned this one some message board, the reply was: So, you want TRANSFORMERS to win Best Picture? No. It’s still not about box office, it’s about quality of the picture. But we are going to look at the mainstream studio films - mass release films - and select which was the best of those films on Sunday night. The other films get Saturday night. Right now, a movie like BOURNE SUPREMACY has no real incentive to be “good”, except the people who make those films are intelligent enough to realize that people will want to buy their films on DVD and watch them again and again... and that making good films is what it’s really all about. But what if there was an added incentive? What if a studio could make a mainstream film that might win an Oscar and get that Best Picture bump at the box office, too? What if the folks who made VANTAGE POINT realized that the film didn’t just have to be a gimmick, but could also be in the running for Best Picture? What if, just by adding “quality components” they might end up with a film that not only makes money, but might also be in the running for Best Picture? Yeah, I know, easier said than done - but do you think the guys making TRANSFORMERS ever thought - “We might win an Oscar for this”? Of course not! They were thinking - we can make a crap load of money. There’s no way a mainstream film is going to be nominated. There’s no way a *popular genre* film is going to be nominated. Yet, one of the elements of a summer blockbuster is *scope* - large scale epic films are what summer is all about. And large scale epic films win Oscars. So why not do the *smart* version of TRANSFORMERS and be in the running for an Oscar?

Now, some of you are wondering what the smart version of TRANSFORMERS might be... and if that’s even possible. But when we look back over that list of Best Picture Winners form the past, all of those musicals and comedies and westerns and other genre films - they were good *and* popular. They were *about something* and had *great scenes* and *great characters*. Those things *could* be found in any film. Look at 28 DAYS LATER - a zombie film. Sure, like this year’s Oscar Nominees, it fell apart at the end... But it had great scenes about real human relationships. The scene where he risks his life to visit his home to see what happened to his parents. And that scene at home. Sure, it’s a zombie movie, but it’s also about larger issues. And deals with big character decisions - you have 20 seconds to kill that person who used to be your best friend once they have become infected. This is meaty, dramatic stuff... in a zombie movie. Any movie can be a good movie.

So, if you imagine a version of TRANSFORMERS made by Peter Jackson, could that have been Best Picture material? It would have been an entirely different movie. A better movie.

What if that July 4th movie would have other July 4th movies against it for the Best Picture Oscar. And, before they made the movie, they knew this. They knew that the competition wasn't oranges, but other apples. Right now, nobody cares if TRANSFORMERS wins an Oscar or not, because it has no chance... so it's all about the money. But what if the makers of TRANSFORMERS knew they were up against BOURNE SUPREMACY and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and IRONMAN and all of the other mainstream films? What if it wasn’t *only* about making money, what if it was also about being good? Now, wouldn't they start *thinking* about that Oscar? Wouldn't some studio guy realize that the Oscar bump on a big mainstream film may be another $100 million domestic? So there is a financial incentive, along with the old incentive of just being the best and rubbing the other studio chief's nose in it. "Our summer blockbuster was also *art*, and yours was not!" They would begin to think: “Hey, if we make better movies, we can make more money. We could get all of that free publicity from before the Oscar nominations, when they are talking about how good TRANSFORMER was, then the free publicity from the nomination... and all of the extra box office money while it’s one of the films nominated... then, if it wins? Mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money! And it costs us *nothing* to make TRANSFORMERS a better film - we just have to think about those art things, like good characters and good character scenes and making it about something. Instead of hiring a bunch of soul-less commercial people to make it, let’s find some people who can make it Oscar Worthy!” I think if every major studio release had a shot at an Oscar Nomination... and the free publicity and extra money that would bring in... studios would factor that into mainstream movies. They would take a movie like TRANSFORMERS and try to add in “quality factors” because there would be a reason to do that. A money reason.

And we’d end up with some really good commercial films - and that’s what I like. I think that’s what we all like. We want to see a good movie that we love. We want to see something that entertains us now and we think about later. Something that is art and commerce - not just one or the other.

I think that's what happened in those pre-indie days. No one was going to make a box office flop that won an Oscar - that would be stupid. Hollywood was a business even back then - and it was all about making movies that appealed to the mass audience and made a lot of money. But some guy like David O. Selznik was all about making big commercial movies that were *artistic*, too. A film that would not only make a bunch of money, but add a little prestige to his company. One of the things about the Golden Age of Hollywood was that all of those movie moguls were social outcasts. They were poor glove makers who moved west and made movies and made millions... but got no respect. So making a great movie would get them a little respect. Making a popular film that was “good” or even “great” made them into artists as well as businessmen. Today, money *is* respect, and studio heads are businessmen. Studios are owned by companies that make washing machines and television sets. They are all about business - and quality doesn’t matter because a crappy version of TRANSFORMERS makes as much money as a good version. So we need to appeal to the money side - to find a way to connect quality to money - and the Oscar Bump just might be that connection.

CASABLANCA, REBECCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT - all of these films are still great. And they were commercial films - GONE WITH THE WIND is still All Time #1 BO champ in adjusted dollars. Oscar Winners used to be hit films - before the indies took over the Oscars. Oscar winners used to be both good and popular... before the indies took over the Oscars. So let’s remove the Indies from the Oscars! Let’s have two big nights of movie awards instead of one! Lets take a page from the past, and bring the Oscars back to Hollywood.

So lets turn the Oscars *back* into an awards show for mainstream popular entertainment and turn the Spirit Awards into another big thing. Mainstream, mass release films on Sunday. Niche movies, art house films, and indie films on Saturday. Two big nights for Hollywood!

Oh - and neither show can go longer than 2 hours. Period.

Oh - and like the Super Bowl, the commercials are an attraction, too... we open it up to 60 second spots for the hot new event films. You know, *good* event films. I would have loved to see an “Oscars Exclusive” clip from Indiana Jones. Imagine the ratings boost if the only place you could ever see that trailer was the Oscars? (Currently, rules prohibit movie ads during Oscars - stupid).

Oh, and no endless clips of past movies that just seem like filler material in a show that’s already an hour and half too long.

- Bill

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lancelot Link: Ninja Monday

Lancelot Link Monday! Hey, it's the last Monday of the month... that's good for a celebration, isn't it? So, while you are in a good mood (until you realize it's still Monday), 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 links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 The LEGO Movie....... $31,450,000
2 3 Days To Kill....... $12,300,000
3 Pompeii.............. $10,010,000
4 Robocop............... $9,400,000
5 Monuments Men......... $8,100,000
6 About Last Night...... $7,400,000
7 Ride Along............ $4,667,000
8 Frozen................ $4,357,000
9 Endless Love.......... $4,301,000
10 Winters Tale.......... $2,130,000

2) The Cannes New Generation.

3) HANNIBAL Screenplays, anyone? Free downloads, from the show itself!

4) Where Did They Film That?

5) Conan O'Brien and the Simpson's Writer's Room.

6) The BOSCH pilot (free) at Amazon. Based on the novels by Michael Connolly.

7) Anonymous Production Assistant Blog. Funny!

8) Jack Kerouac On Writing.

And the car Chase Of The Week...

Don't ask...


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lancelot Link: President's Day Edition.

Lancelot Link Monday! Happy President's Day! This is a holiday in the USA, where we combined Lincoln's Birthday and a bunch of other Presidents who happened to be born this month into one day off. Okay, one day you probably have to work where the banks are closed. And government is closed. So *the President* probably gets today off, but you get time and a half (if you're lucky) and have to work. So, while you are pretending to work, 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 The LEGO Movie....... $48,810,000
2 About Last Night..... $27,000,000
3 RoboCop.............. $21,500,000
4 The Monuments Men.... $15,000,000
5 Endless Love......... $13,380,000
6 Ride Along............ $8,759,000
7 Winter's Tale......... $7,785,000
8 Frozen................ $5,855,000
9 Lone Survivor......... $4,076,000
10 That Awkward Moment... $3,337,000

2) Wanna read screenplays on your iPhone? John August has a new app!

3) The problem with religious based films: Damned if you do, Damned if you don't. NOAH hits rough waters.

4) Movie Title Break Up Video (post Valentine's Day).

5) TRUE DETECTIVE's classic crime fiction reference.

6) The BAFTA Awards (UK's Oscars)... did they predict the Oscar Winner?

7) The DUNE that almost was!

8) 20 years after Stephen Sommers (THE MUMMY) made his live action version of THE JUNGLE BOOK with Jason Scott Lee, we have 2 more on the horizon. Come on, Hollywood! Make something *original*!

9) Henry Miller: Tropic Of Writing Tips.

10) A Tale Of Two Holmes.

11) Friday night I saw Zak Forsman's new film DOWN AND DANGEROUS (selected cities and streaming), and it's great! Here's a review from The Film Stage. Support indie cinema and see it!

12) SHARKNADO 2 casting news. Yes, I think I gave this director his first Hollywood job...

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Everybody run, the President has a gun!


Monday, February 10, 2014

Lancelot Link: Monkey Monday!

Lancelot Link Monday! I'm doing some schedule changes, and Lance will end up on Mondays from now on. 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 six links plus this week's car chase...

1) New Spec Sale... One MILLION Dollars!

2) Pitching At Cannes?

3) Selling Your Film At Siundance?

4) Kurt Vonegut On Writing.

5) How Johnny Depp Made $1m A Day! (hint: involves Confined Cameos techniques).

6) Johnny Steinbeck On Writing.

And the car chase of the week...

Monday: Lancelot Link Monkey Monday!
Tuesday: Trailer Tuesday.
Wednesday: Grab bag. Rants, book reports, movie reviews, Scenes, etc.
Thursday: Thriller Thursday.
Friday: Fridays With Hitchcock.


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Lancelot Link: The Silver Chimp

Lancelot Link Thursday! Hey, this is the last *Thursday* for Lancelot... I'm doing some schedule changes, and Lance will end up on Mondays from now on. 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 four links plus this week's car chase...

1) Periodic Table For Stories.

2) 20 Great Writers On Rewriting.

3) So, How Does Oscar Voting Work?

4) Universal Has No Blockbusters This Year.

And the car chase of the week...

Monday: Lancelot Link Monkey Monday!
Tuesday: Trailer Tuesday.
Wednesday: Grab bag. Rants, book reports, movie reviews, Scenes, etc.
Thursday: Thriller Thursday.
Friday: Fridays With Hitchcock.


Monday, February 03, 2014


The official book of my London trip a couple of years ago was TRIAL JUNKIES by Robert Gregory Browne. When you have a couple of 11 hour flights and you can't sleep on anything that's moving (like a plane) you need something to read... and I'd had this book on my Kindle since it came out.

Now (February 3 2014) the book is on a "Countdown Sale" at Amazon... so you can pick it up cheap if you act fast!

The story is like THE BIG CHILL as a courtroom thriller. A bunch of old college roommates who shared a big old house off campus... but after college they went their separate ways - scattering and not really keeping in touch with each other. Hutch became a TV star, Matt became a newspaper reporter, Jenny became a lawyer, Veronica became a junkie, Andy just stayed Andy, Nadine became a real estate mogul . A decade later, the brutal murder of Jenny - Hutch's college girlfriend - brings the group back to Chicago for her funeral... and all of the old conflicts are brought to the surface. Before they can hash out their BIG CHILL issues... Veronica (Ronny) is arrested for Jenny's murder, further splintering the group.

Some members of the gang are sure that Ronny is guilty... others are sure that she is innocent. Hutch decides to stick around Chicago, staying in his dead parent's house, to watch the trial. He starts out believing that Ronny is guilty - she had all kinds of problems plus a temper - but Hutch discovers that she's a single mom and straightened out her life after having her son Chris.  Plus - why would she kill Jenny? Hutch ends up using his TV star money to pay for her lawyer and bail her out of jail... and due to the media circus at her home, brings Ronny and her son and her mom to live with him in his parent's old house.

Nadine believes that Ronny did it, but Matt and Hutch think she's innocent... and along with "Trial Junkie" Gus (a retired bailiff who watches trials for fun and knows the ins and outs of the law) they start their own investigation of the murder... and find some interesting suspects and also get into big trouble with the police (who have their killer and don't want to admit they may have screwed up) and Jenny's wealthy father who thinks that believing that Ronny is innocent is the same as wanting the killer to go free.

Fast paced, lots of twists, and Rob's signature race-against-time ending (KISS HER GOODBYE features an ending where the hero's daughter is buried alive and he must find her before her oxygen runs out).  Probably could have used another character pass, and the opening is a little confusing because we switch POVs from Hutch to Matt without notice (Stephen King solves this problem with kind of a character slug thing to tell us who's eyes we're seeing this chapter from), but a quick read and a cool idea. There's a KOJAK episode where a "Trial Junkie" who has sat in on so many trials that she knows who is guilty and who is innocent and knows more about the law than all of the lawyers helps Kojak crack a case... and since seeing that I've always thought that was an odd hobby: watching trials. This novel explores that - and gives us a very memorable character in Gus.

Check it out!

- Bill

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Black History Month:
Black Shadows On A Silver Screen

Welcome to Black History Month... Or maybe this is African American Heritage Month, which I think is the same thing, just with some new PC lingo... but “African American Power!” just doesn't sound the same. It is still the shortest month of the year. And we throw in a bunch of other holidays and events, which makes that short month seem even shorter. We have Ground Hog Day and Valentines Day and Presidents Day and...

I'm not Black and I'm no historian, so I'm going to use this month to talk about some of my favorite films which just happen to star people with darker pigmentation than myself. Years ago I did a blog entry about how stupid race was, since it's just a pigment gene, the same as having blonde hair or green eyes. Why would anyone care what color your skin is? There are blonde jokes, but never in the history of our country were there drinking fountains with signs that said NO BLONDES or restrooms where there were no blondes allowed or hotels and swimming pools with a No Blondes! policy. Or even cinemas that didn't allow Blondes inside.

Yes, just as everything else in the USA was segregated up until the 1960s, so were cinemas. There were Whites Only Cinemas or cinemas with sections for African Americans (the crappy seats). This lead to an independent cinema movement where Black people made movies for Black people... which played in Black Cinemas. Many of these films are gone now, but back in 1975 there was a great documentary on the History Of Black Cinema called BLACK SHADOWS ON A SILVER SCREEN. I saw the doc back then, and was amazed at all of the types of films that were made throughout the history of cinema by and for African Americans. Westerns? Detectives film? Musicals? Adventure films? Horror films? You name the genre, and there were movies! So I wanted to start with that documentary, except... well, it seems to not be on DVD or BluRay or anything else. Last time it popped up, was on VHS!

And this doesn't surprise me, much. The weird thing about any sort of "minority cinema" is that not enough people seem to care about it to keep it available. A few years back for Black History Month I was going to post my favorite films (like this year) but right out of the gate I found that many of theme were not on DVD... just unavailable! Movies like SOUNDER, not on DVD! One of the reasons why I'm taking another stab at this is that SOUNDER *is* on DVD now...

But BLACK SHADOWS is not. It was narrated by Ossie Davis, and had amazing clips and interviews. So, my wish for Black History Month 2014 is for someone to release this on DVD and BluRay.

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