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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lancelot Link: TV Pilots

Lancelot Link Monday! Because most of the links this week seem to be about television and how it has become the promised land for screenwriters, I thought we'd talk about TV pilots. My favorite TV pilots. Well, Howard from THE BOB NEWHART SHOW tops the list. I mean, he was the greatest pilot ever on TV... because he was also an astronaut on I DREAM OF JEANNIE, so if the plane had somehow gone into outer space or maybe just into a different time period he probably could still figure out how to land the plane, even if there were dinosaurs and stuff. Can you think of a *better* TV pilot>? 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 fourteen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Maze Runner..................... $32,500,000
2 Walk Among Tombstones........... $13,126,000
3 Where I Leave................... $11,860,000
4 No Good......................... $10,200,000
5 Dolphin 2........................ $9,005,000
6 Guardians........................ $5,180,000
7 Let's Be Cops.................... $2,675,000
8 Teen Turtles..................... $2,650,000
9 Drop............................. $2,050,000
10 If I Stay....................... $1,835,000

2) TV Or Not TV That Is The Question.

3) Sundance Selects Writers For New TV Lab.

4) Bryan Fuller Interview: HANNIBAL TV Show.

5) David Fincher Interviewd, Why Hollywood Sucks.

6) Scott Frank Interviewed: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES... and TV.

7) THE GUEST's writer, director and star talk about the film (which you should see).

8) Why Being A Writer Is Great (scientifically).

9) Edgar Wright On Visual Comedy:

10) Movie Posters Become Violent Action Scenes!

11) If Porno Films Got TV Network Notes.

12) 7 Secrets For Breaking Into Film. (does not include: dynamite, blow torch, getting past security systems, that thing Catherine Zeta Jones does in the catsuit to get past the lasers in ENTRAPMENT, and other break in requirements.)

13) Bill Hader's List of 200 Comedy Movies You Have To See.

14) Yes, Hollywood Still Buys Specs For Big Money.

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Your TV Car Chase Song.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Free Book!
The first Mitch Robertson Mystery story!

Free this weekend: Friday, Saturday, Sunday!

A thank you to everyone who bought one of my books, here's a novella for free!

A couple of years ago I came up with this "retirement plan" to write mystery novels where I could tell all about those crazy things that happened to me in the business, but fictionalized so that I wouldn't get a lot of lawsuits. Though I've told some set stories here, and more are on the horizon; there are some tales that would either anger or embarrass and I figured I could fictionalize those and wrap a mystery around them and find some publisher who might be interested in them.

Except, with mid list publishing close to dead and ebooks taking over and lots of previously "traditionally published" writers escaping to the "indie world" I think these novels will end up as ebooks. My plan for next year is to write a novel one chapter a week (between all of the other stuff I'll be doing) (oh, that's the Jason Bolt book that is "coming soon" in the back of the Blue Books) and maybe scan in an old novel and clean it up. But to prime the prose pump I decided to write a short story with my "retirement plan" hero...

And that short story ballooned to 40 pages.

And I came up with a handful of other ideas for short stories with that hero, which I plan on poking around on over the year and publishing one or two more (unfortunately, the next Mitch story is on hold as I do other stuff).

But here's the first of the Mitch Robertson short stories...

Mitch Robertson was a Hollywood screenwriter with a problem...

"When his cell phone rang, Mitch Robertson was in Penny’s Coffee Shop in Toluca Lake trying to figure out what to do with the chopped up body parts. Gone were the days when you could just scatter the severed limbs and torso all over the city, now with DNA the body would be reassembled almost immediately. And after 9-11 you couldn’t just get the neighbor kid to do a “penmanship exercise” making address labels, get some other kid to lick the stamps, box up the parts and drop them in a bunch of random blue mail boxes all over town to ship them to the far corners of the world - now packages had to be under sixteen ounces or you had to mail them from the post office... where they asked you all kinds of questions about the contents. You take your, what, about 190 pound man... that means you’d need to cut him into at least 200 pieces to keep it under the weight limits, and not only would that require a lot of work and weighing, think of all of the stamps and labels! Just too much trouble. If Mitch couldn't figure out how to dispose of the body parts he would be in big trouble. And that damned cell phone continued ringing."

It's free this weekend! You can't beat that price, right?

Get It Free From Amazon, USA

Amazon UK (I guess still including Scotland)

Amazon DE Germany.

Amazon France.

Amazon Canada.

Amazon Australia.

Amazon Italy.

Amazon India.

Amazon Japan.

Because these are "tests" for the character, I think the next one will have more humor and maybe some action of some sort. I'm trying him out in different situations until I get a clear picture of him. I have no idea how he will do in a fight scene, and I'd love to see how fast he can drive that Sunbeam Alpine of his. So I guess I've have to come up with stories where he does those things.

Because these are experiments, I'm looking for your feedback. read it for free, tell me what sucks. It's free this weekend, then it returns to 99 cents... though I originally planned on having it free forever, Amazon gives you five free days a quarter. But now I'm wondering if 99 cents is too cheap? Lawrence Block (a famous best selling novelist who I shouldn't even be in the same sentence with) sells his short stories for $2.99 when they aren't on sale. I suspect this leads to more sales when they *are* at a deal price. This isn't about making money, as much as what people will think as the value of the story (you can be too cheap).

Next up for Mitch Robertson (probably at the end of the year)...

Rough draft of the first paragraph of the next story...

The Presidential Suite of the Hollywood Hoover Hotel looked like a bloody battlefield: bodies everywhere, furniture broken, red liquid dripping from the walls. Dead soldiers littered the elegant Berber rug, clouds of smoke bounced between two air conditioning vents. Mitch Robertson stepped over the body of an ex child star turned sex tape star turned pop star and entered the room, spotted a gun on the floor and picked it up. It felt light. Holding the gun, he saw the silhouette of an 80s action star sitting sideways on a tipped over chair. Was he dead? Mitch was still hung over from the Awards party the night before, and wondered whether this was all some sort of crazy nightmare that he would wake up from... but when he tripped over the bottomless Superhero (still wearing his mask), flaccid junk encased in a condom, and hit the edge of the sofa, gun skittering, he realized that it was all real. What the hell had happened here?


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Who Is A Star?

From february 2009... who is/was a star?

Every year Hollywood Reporter used to do The Ulmer List which ranked movies stars on a scale of 0-100 on several different factors that would result in, well, money at the box office. How popular the actor was in the USA, how popular overseas, whether they promoted their films, whether the actor is popular regardless of genre, etc. This chart was amazing - name the actor, and if they starred in a movie they were ranked. Producers used this to cast films - it didn't matter whether the actor fits the role, what mattered was their rating on the list.

The great thing about the list was that you might discover some "cult actor" who ranks higher than you thought... and higher than their quote (pay). You could get someone like Rutger Hauer to star in your movie, and he was way up there on the list. The ratings became a shorthand and kind of a joke among my friends (and even in business meetings) - you might be discussing casting with a producer and an actor's number would come up... or discussing a bad film with friends and mention that some actor is a "solid 35, what is he doing making crap like this?"

A few years ago Hollywood Reporter began selling the list for a chunk of cash (well, to you and me, producers have paid less for a lunch), and I lost track of who was "a solid 35!" Now Forbes has a similar list, and here are the top 100...

Rank Name Cumulative Score
1 Will Smith 10.00
2 Johnny Depp 9.89
2 Leonardo DiCaprio 9.89
2 Angelina Jolie 9.89
2 Brad Pitt 9.89
6 Tom Hanks 9.87
7 George Clooney 9.81
8 Denzel Washington 9.76
9 Matt Damon 9.69
10 Jack Nicholson 9.68
11 Julia Roberts 9.65
12 Adam Sandler 9.61
13 Tom Cruise 9.60
14 Russell Crowe 9.57
15 Will Ferrell 9.56
16 Meryl Streep 9.55
17 Robert De Niro 9.54
18 Ben Stiller 9.50
19 Jim Carrey 9.42
20 Clint Eastwood 9.33
21 Robert Downey 9.29
22 Nicole Kidman 9.27
23 Bruce Willis 9.16
24 Nicolas Cage 9.02
25 Al Pacino 9.00
26 Harrison Ford 8.69
27 Keanu Reeves 8.59
28 Mel Gibson 8.52
29 Christian Bale 8.49
30 Tobey Maguire 8.48
31 John Travolta 8.47
32 Vince Vaughn 8.39
33 Shia LaBeouf 8.38
34 Reese Witherspoon 8.24
35 Jackie Chan 8.13
36 Steve Carell 8.05
36 Daniel Day-Lewis 8.05
38 Charlize Theron 8.00
39 Cate Blanchett 7.85
40 Jodie Foster 7.78
41 Gwyneth Paltrow 7.78
42 Hugh Jackman 7.78
42 Keira Knightley 7.78
44 Drew Barrymore 7.76
44 Sean Penn 7.76
46 Daniel Craig 7.73
47 Cameron Diaz 7.72
48 Mark Wahlberg 7.68
49 Eddie Murphy 7.66
50 Sacha Baron Cohen 7.64
51 Kate Winslet 7.63
52 Jake Gyllenhaal 7.61
53 Jack Black 7.60
53 Sandra Bullock 7.60
55 Matthew McConaughey 7.58
56 Halle Berry 7.58
57 Jennifer Aniston 7.58
57 Hugh Grant 7.58
59 Robert Redford 7.56
60 Edward Norton 7.55
61 Michael Douglas 7.52
62 Richard Gere 7.50
62 Dustin Hoffman 7.50
62 Renee Zellweger 7.50
65 Anthony Hopkins 7.45
66 Clive Owen 7.45
67 Robin Williams 7.45
68 Hilary Swank 7.43
69 Jamie Foxx 7.42
70 Woody Allen 7.39
71 Penelope Cruz 7.39
72 Pierce Brosnan 7.37
73 The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) 7.37
73 Ashton Kutcher 7.37
75 Philip Seymour Hoffman 7.35
76 Bill Murray 7.35
77 Ben Affleck 7.34
78 Scarlett Johansson 7.34
79 Jude Law 7.29
80 Kate Hudson 7.27
80 Mike Myers 7.27
82 Colin Farrell 7.27
82 Anne Hathaway 7.27
84 Natalie Portman 7.27
85 Catherine Zeta-Jones 7.24
86 Seth Rogen 7.24
86 Owen Wilson 7.24
88 James McAvoy 7.23
89 Samuel L. Jackson 7.23
90 Tommy Lee Jones 7.19
90 Forest Whitaker 7.19
92 Tyler Perry 7.18
93 Steve Martin 7.17
94 Javier Bardem 7.16
94 Viggo Mortensen 7.16
96 Helen Mirren 7.15
97 Kevin Spacey 7.15
98 Uma Thurman 7.14
99 Jennifer Lopez 7.14
100 Naomi Watts 7.13

The list is several pages long and goes all the way down to 0.00. The people I usually work with are probably in the 2s and 3s...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Listen. Observe..

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lancelot Link: Wearing White After Labor Day

Lancelot Link Monday! You aren't supposed to wear white after Labor Day, but tell that to people who get shot in movies (who often wear white, because it shows the blood squib better). Whenever I see someone wearing white in a movie I know the odds are good that they will be shot (BOOGIE NIGHTS anyone?) which makes you wonder why they wear white in the first place. Do they *want* to get shot? 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 sixteen links plus this week's car chase...

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 No Good........................ $24,500,000
2 Dolphin Tale Two............... $16,550,000
3 Guardians Of Galaxy............. $8,041,000
4 Mutant Turtles.................. $4,800,000
5 Let's Be Cops................... $4,300,000
6 The Drop........................ $4,200,000
7 If I Stay....................... $4,500,000
8 November........................ $2,750,000
9 Giver........................... $2,620,000
10 Hundred Foot................... $2,461,000

2) Winners At Toronto Film Festival.

3) David Fincher on DRAGON TATTOO sequels.

4) Scott Frank's New Film A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is based on a terrific Lawrence Block novel.

5) Producer Brian Grazer On What Attracts Him To A Story.

6) Mark Verheiden (who wrote a nice blurb for Secrets Of Action) seems to have the hottest new TV show on TV this year!

7) Fall Movie Guide.

8) Dennis Lehane talks at Toronto Film Fest.

9) Daily Rituals Of Famous Writers.

10) Drinking Habits Of Famous Writers.

11) Why You Probably Need To Drink: Hollywood Is Toxic!

12) Practical Effects vs. CGI Effects.

13) Looking For A Creepy Location?

14) Looking For $100,000 To Make A Travel Documentary? (to visit those creepy locations)

15) First Trailer For JOHN WICK.

16) My Pet Peeve: Everyone In The Movies Works In An Office In Manhattan! Where are the blue collar people?

And the Car Chase Of The Week!

Savage Steve Holland's BETTER OFF DEAD!


Monday, September 08, 2014

Lancelot Link: Endless Summer

Lancelot Link Monday! This was the worst summer Hollywood has had in a few years... and also the best August of all time. Though there are all kinds of reasons why this summer didn't do as well, one interesting element is that *spring* did really well. We are now in the mode of endless summer movies: tentpole films are released every month! That means more big budget films... and fewer mid range 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 Guardians Of Galaxy........... $10,160,000
2 Mutant Turtles.................. $6,500,000
3 If I Stay...................... $5,750,000
4 Let's Be Cops................. $5,400,000
5 November Man.................. $4,200,000
6 Above/Below................... $3,723,000
7 When The Game................. $3,700,000
8 Giver......................... $3,591,000
9 Hundred Foot.................. $3,200,000
10 Lucy......................... $1,911,000

2) Dead Words!

3) Tarantino On How Film Festivals Suck.

4) Thriller UNLOCKED cast.

5) IRON MAN 4 news!

6) They are remaking THE SEVEN SAMURAI...

7) Your Screenplay Checklist.

8) Fall Movie Preview.

9) Writing Advice From Famous Writers.

10) So You Want To Be A Showrunner?

11) Screenwriter Quotes.

12) Hellish Development Notes!

And the car chase of the week!



Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Bad Timing: A Nonsensical Obsession.

From 2009...

While pulling links for Wednesday’s (complete filler) blog entry, I happened upon a completely non-sequitur comment about my ALTITUDE script. It seems that someone else has a script with the exact same plot and title, so I must have ripped it off. Except *my* ALTITUDE script was written and copyrighted first...

If you read my Script Tips everyday (and you should - that’s where the good stuff usually is, this blog just being my rants and appreciation of Kate Beckinsale nude scenes) you probably already know much of the backstory on this script, since I’ve used it as an example several times. But here’s the full version...

Back in 1992 my friends and I went to see this new action flick starring Wesley Snipes (who was a great actor before he decided to do that Steve McQueen imitation) called PASSENGER 57. Well, about halfway through the film, the hijackers *land the plane*! I turn to my friends and quip, “Hasn’t he seen A RAID ON ENTEBE?” And, just as in that film, as soon as the plane lands the SWAT Team attacks and it’s all downhill for the hijackers. Whenever the hero wins because the villain is an idiot, I lose respect for the film. Instead of the villain doing something stupid, I prefer films where the hero does something clever. The film was kind of disappointing, but I kept thinking about that quip - what if the hijackers *had* seen A RAID ON ENTEBE and knew the moment they landed the plane they were dead. In the air, who can get to them? Sure, the Air Force might shoot them down, but not if the plane was full of passengers. Once they land, SWAT Teams and Commandoes and everyone else has access to them - and they can’t win that fight. So, how do you prevent the plane from landing? Well, you could wire a bomb to an altimeter, and if the plane goes below 20,000 feet - kerblam. It’s SPEED on a plane!

The other thing I hated about PASSENGER 57 (and every other plane hijack script) was the lazy writing when it came to how they got the guns onboard. It’s *always* through food services. Always. Now, I would think about the third time that happened in a movie, the one thing that they would make sure they searched was food services. I know in real life things really are stupid sometimes, but our job is to make things believable, even if security really is lax at food services. You don’t want the audience to be rolling their eyes in the cinema (they'll get stuck in the puddles of Coca-Cola), and you can’t stand in the lobby and explain to everyone that in real life you could probably do that. A movie has to be believable, real life does not. (Side note: In real life, in the 60s, it was almost impossible to rob an armored truck. But these bumbling crooks realized that the Brinks garage had cheap alarms, and was easy to break in to... so they stole all of the armored truck *keys*, made copies, replaced them, then swiped an armored truck and went out to pick up money from a bunch of businesses. They stole millions! But, would you believe that scenario in a movie? No - because stealing millions shouldn’t be that easy.)

Well, I had to find some other way to get weapons onboard, and having once cut myself on a plastic picnic knife, thought that might be a solution. What if the hijackers had *plastic* weapons that could get past metal detectors? Remember that plastic gun from IN THE LINE OF FIRE? They could have real guns and the bomb in the luggage section, and retrieve them once they had taken control of the plane.

So, I wrote up a treatment to make sure I didn’t forget any of this stuff, registered it with WGA, and then went on to do other things...

In 1994 I actually had some sort of screenwriting career, and my friend Brenda (from my home town) who does make up and costumes on commercials was telling me about this Apple laptop commercial she’d just done on a 727 airplane that was owned by San Jose State College. A real plane! At the airport. And it rented for $1k a day, and you could easily get the acting class as extras for free (that’s what they did) and use the airport background. She remembered my treatment and thought we might put together a movie project. Great idea! I toured the plane, and wrote up my script (having the opening take place in San Francisco to keep the film in Northern California). Sent it off the LOC and my copyright form is dated September of 1994. So, while I tried to put ALTITUDE together as a Bill Martell Production, I also tried to get it set up at one of the low budget companies I had access to. No agent, no manager, and I didn’t know Tom Cruise’s gardener, so I had to just do whatever I could do. We could never find the money to make the movie ourselves, but some strange things happened with that script.

Many of those 19 produced films and many of the script deals that didn’t make it to the screen, happened because someone read the script and passed it to their best contact who passed it to their best contact who passed it to their best contact and then someone I do not know calls me and wants to meet on this script of mine. So, I get a call from the D Girl for Peter MacGregor-Scott’s company at Warner Bros (I want to say it was Building A, but that was over a decade ago, so I’m not sure). Hey, could I meet with them about this ALTITUDE script? Sure!

So, living in Studio City, and knowing that they make you park in some far-off lot, I rode my bike to Warner Bros... which confused the hell out of the security guys at the gate because the rules said they had to tape the lot pass to my car windshield - and I was on a bicycle. They actually had to call a superior to find out that they needed to tape the pass to my handlebars. So, I met with the D Girl and she tells me they really like my script and would have probably bought it, but... there’s another film on the lot with a similar plot. Called EXECUTIVE DECISION. What else did I have? Well, the problem was that all of my new scripts (including ALTITUDE) were written for Made For Cable budgets - and because of the success of HARD EVIDENCE I had a bunch of “suburban thrillers” that were kind of written for USA Network. None of those screamed Warner Bros Big Summer Tentpole Movie - and that’s what they were looking for.

They send me a pass to a press screening of EXECUTIVE DECISION, and it kicks ass. What I thought was funny about it - it’s kind of the airplane version of my CRASH DIVE script (which had been filmed and aired on HBO by then) - brainiac gets stuck as reluctant action hero. Both even took place in a “tube” (plane / submarine).

So I decided to do an e-mail “auction” of ALTITUDE to every AFM company I could find, as the potential low budget rip off of EXECUTIVE DECISION. Here’s what I learned from that - those AFM guys don’t like it when a writer tries to take control. Half of the companies sent me nasty e-mails telling me they did not want to ever get another e-mail from me. I couldn't even reply that I was sorry... that would be another e-mail form me. Three places were more open and read the script (I FedExed it, had to go to Toluca Lake to do that because there wasn’t a Fed Ex office in Studio City). All three wanted to know where the hell I expected them to get an airplane... and didn’t expect for me to tell them. One place said there was too much action... um, had they seen any of the films they produced? One guy told me I had to blow up the plane at the end or the script wouldn’t work... Um, I disagreed. That company really wanted it, though. We had a couple of meetings on it during AFM that year.

When EXECUTIVE DECISION came out, I used my ace-in-the-hole and went to the producers of CRASH DIVE. One of the producers really wanted to make an ED rip-off movie, and, script unread, put together a meeting with a director and a star (okay, it was American Ninja Michael Dudikoff, who was a kinda-star. He was on the HBO approved list and got $1m a movie). Everything went well - they had coverage on the script that was completely positive, which is good, because sometimes the same script that gets me accidental studio meetings might not get good coverage from the office boy intern at the low budget company.

It looked like it was going to be a movie... until this producer read the script and asked me where’s the scene with the other plane that attaches to the passenger plane so that the commandoes can get on board. I said, there is no other plane. The hero is a passenger on the plane, who organizes the passengers against the hijackers. The producer tells me that EXECUTIVE DECISION had this stealth plane that connects to the hijacked plane and we need the same thing!

So, I try to explain to this guy about copyright and outright theft of ideas and how my script actually came before EXECUTIVE DECISION so it’s not a rip off but an original and...

He told me he didn’t care about all of that, he wanted the plane-to-plane transfer.

I told him I’d write a new script that had that in it instead of ruining my script. He said I should call it EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE... um, isn’t that the tagline from American Express Card? I left the office before he began throwing things at me.

Here’s the page from Cannes listing the film, even though there may not have been a script at this point: 1996 Cannes Royal Oaks Films - note that part of the ALTITUDE story is still in there - the explosives that blow up if the plane flies below 20,000 feet.

Oh, the Vice President part... So, here I was, stuck writing a complete rip-off of EXECUTIVE DECISION when I *had* an original script that the studio which made EXECUTIVE DECISION had been interested in. I was going crazy! So I read in the trades about a script that had just sold called AIR FORCE ONE by Nichol Fellowship winner Andrew Marlowe, and was joking with a friend that they would never make a film called AIR FORCE TWO about the Vice President’s plane being hijacked, because nobody would care... and that joke became the inspiration for the American Express Card movie.

I wrote up my 15 page treatment while they were still putting together my contract and met with the producer to pitch him the new version (because, you know, it would save him from reading the treatment, and save him from reading the coverage of the treatment and save him from reading anything else). It would be the Vice President’s plane that got hijacked, and in that big scene in the White House Situation Room where they debate what to do, someone says: “It’s only the Vice President, let them blow him up!” But they have to send in a commando team anyway, because it may be a biological or chemical bomb and the population *under* Air Force Two may suffer if the plane explodes.

Well, the producer thought it was okay, but it still wasn’t *exactly* like EXECUTIVE DECISION. I told him he could not make a movie that had already been made, not only would he get his ass sued off for copyright, who would want to see the low budget version of a big budget film? The more EP was like ED the cheaper it would look. You want to do something different and unpredictable and cool...

And I just lost myself a job... before the contracts were signed.

See, the writer isn't supposed to tell the producer what to do.

So, some other writer or writers were hired... and they used some of the stuff from my treatment (which I hadn't been paid for), and the rest was a direct rip from EXECUTIVE DECISION. The guy they hired to direct it, Rick Jacobson, told me the characters in the script had the same *names* as the characters in EXECUTIVE DECISION. He’d had to go through the script and fix that. And for some stupid reason, the new writer dropped AF2 and have the Vice President flying on a commercial plane! What? That's just plain silly! Rick wasn’t happy with the script at all. Oh, and somewhere along the line enough people told the producer that using the American Express Card tag line was silly, so he called *me* and asked what he should title the film! I brainstormed up a list which included STRATEGIC COMMAND (because there was an old Jmmy Stewart movie called STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND) way down at the bottom. Of course, he didn’t pick any of the *original* titles I came up with. I don’t think the film sold well at the next AFM... but it was what the producer wanted - a rip-off of EXECUTIVE DECISION.

Meanwhile, everyone I tried to sell ALTITUDE to said the same thing: Too much like EXECUTIVE DECISION. There was an AFM company that made airplane movies, and I tried to sell it to them, but they never got around to reading the script!

In 2001, five years after EXECUTIVE DECISION, I did a rewrite on ALTITUDE and started sending it out again... and then on September 11th hijacked airplanes stopped being entertaining. And the hijackers had used plastic knives and other plastic weapons. And on United 93 the passengers had organized against the hijackers... just like in my script. I shelved my screenplay.

Even though my script was *not* about terrorists, it was about a hijacked plane. A big part of my script was that it *looked* like a hijacking, but the hero discovers it's actually a robbery at 30,000 feet. A valuable cargo is secretly being transported to Washington DC on this plane, and this team is stealing it and using the hijacking as a smoke screen. Even though it wasn't terrorists, it was action on a plane... and no one wanted that.

If you wondered why the Jodie Foster movie FLIGHT PLAN was so lame, it began as an actual terrorist plane hijacking script... bought before 9/11. Since they were stuck with it, they sent it though the big development meat grinder to remove all traces of terrorism and hijacking, and what came out was a lame LADY VANISHES rip off with an end that makes absolutely no sense. You know, the end is the very last thing the audience sees before leaving the cinema and telling their friends what they thought of the film. You need a great ending.

Well, a couple of years ago, a director friend of mine knew a producer who was looking for an action film they could shoot for $15m with a once-famous action star and asked if I had anything. I pitched ALTITUDE and asked if it was too soon after 9-11. He said he didn’t know, he’d give it to the producer and see what they thought. I did a quick rewrite that added 9-11 to the story, and had the hijacker-thieves preying on our post 9-11 fears... and had an over-zealous Homeland Security Agent order the plane shot down. This added to the suspense and I hoped would allow the hijack story to work in a post 9-11 world. My director friend read it before passing it on, and really liked it. The producer also liked it, but thought it was too soon after 9-11 to make an airplane hijack movie... what else did I have?

Because I had just done a rewrite on the script, I started to use it as a sample. Whenever there was a producer or agent or manager interested in reading something, I sent ALTITUDE. I had been at a couple of Screenwriting Conferences with the head of a management company over the years, and had pitched ALTITUDE to him a couple of times. I’m pretty sure they said the same thing everyone else did - too soon after 9-11 for anything scary on a plane. That logline is still one of the first on my Available Scripts Page, but no one seems to be interested in an airplane action script...

Except, in January or February of this year, that management company sends out a script called ALTITUDE that was also “SPEED on a plane”. And, someone posted a comment on my blog that I had ripped off the writer of that script. Well, this copyright form seems to prove otherwise. Of course, I’ll bet money that the person who posted that comment *did not* post or e-mail the same comment to the management company after I mentioned I had a 1994 copyright form. Though, as I said on a couple of message boards back in January when the script went out, I’m sure it’s probably parallel development. A coincidence.

So, now I have a completely dead script... a victim of bad timing.

The thing that pisses me off is when I get there first, and still get screwed. That script was floating around town for fifteen years, and everybody liked it... it got me meetings all over. But it was never the right time... then some other script comes along and it *was* the right time for that script! And then I'm the copycat!

Every once in a while I bump into a DVD review for my NIGHT HUNTER film that calls it a complete rip-off of BLADE... many even note all of the scenes that are "identical" Vampires in a rave, the "Vampire family" boardroom scene, even that the lead is a leather-clad biker-samurai vampire killer... the last of his breed. A couple of times I've written these reviewers and mentioned that my film was released 3 years before BLADE. I was there first. And the response is always the same: I still ripped off BLADE. There is no way that the cheapo Cinemax Original could be the orginal and the big budget New Line film be the rip off (intentional or accidental or just synchronicity - I'm not accusing anyone of theft, here, just noting who got there first). No matter what facts I produce, my film ripped off BLADE three years before it was released! Oh, and for those of you who are thinking, Wasn't BLADE based on a comic book? Check out the comic book, I did as soon as BLADE came out. Not a match.

Bad Timing can be getting there first and even getting there first and best. You can be ahead of the curve and miss it. Just wish someone would notice the writers who often seem to be ahead of the curve, buy one of our scripts, and wait for the curve to come. Wow, that was just me bitching and moaning and whining for a couple of pages. Sorry about that. Okay, next blog entry will *not* just be me complaining like a wimp...

It'll be about Kate Beckinsale...

Screenwritng Classes On CD - Recession Sale! - $5 Off!
Brand New Classes CD - Structural Freaks!

PS: The mock up poster for ALTITUDE went to just about every AFM company and a bunch of others a few years back.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: No Money Options - should yu accept them?
Yesterday's Dinner: Carl's Jr - that double burger thing.
Bicycle: Just up to NoHo.

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!
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