Monday, February 27, 2017

Lancelot Link Monday: Oscars!

Lancelot Link Monday! Oscars! Oscars! Oscars! Who will win Best Picture? That ended up being a more complicated question than anyone thought this year! 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 Get Out ........................ $33,377,060
2 Lego .......................... $19,208,097
3 Wick ............................ $9,358,982
4 Great Wall ...................... $9,125,960
5 50 Shades ....................... $7,792,655
6 Fist ........................... $6,571,348
7 Hidden .......................... $5,805,737
8 La La (not winner) .............. $4,689,292
9 Split ........................... $4,098,990
10 Lion ............................ $3,832,257

Both ROCK DOG and COLLIDE opened wide but failed to make the top ten.

2) Winners List.

3) Best Picture Winner Return On Ivestment.

4) Red Carpet Photos

5) Jimmy Kimmel's Opening Monologue.

6) Parties.

7) Opening Number.

8) Party Photos.

9) Screenwriter's Roundtable.

10) Independent Spirit Awards Blue Carpet.

11) Spirit Award Winners.

12) Spirit Opening Monologue.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Thursday, February 16, 2017


Coming Soon!



William Goldman says the most important single element of any screenplay is structure. It’s the skeleton under the flesh and blood of your story. Without it, you have a spineless, formless, mess... a slug! How do you make sure your structure is strong enough to support your story? How do you prevent your story from becoming a slug? This Blue Book explores different types of popular structures from the basic three act structure to more obscure methods like leap-frogging. We also look at structure as a verb as well as a noun, and techniques for structuring your story for maximum emotional impact. Most of the other books just look at *structure* and ignore the art of *structuring* your story. Techniques to make your story a page turner... instead of a slug!

SUBJECTS INCLUDE: Creative Steps, Hero’s Journey, Save The Cat, Seven Act Structure, Nine Act Structure, Leap-Frogging, Navajo Story Circle, Asian Structures, War Movies & Heist Films (2 Acts), Freytag’s Pyramid, Sequencing, Structural Freaks like “Pulp Fiction”, and strange story forms. How to use Chapters, Flash Backs, Parallel Chronology as in “Run, Lola, Run”, scrambled chronology as in the films of Nicholas Roeg, the importance of “flow”, and many many other freaky storytelling methods! Also professional techniques to structure your story - scene order, withholding information, twists, proper use of flashbacks, and dozens of other methods to create an exciting story.

Coming Soon!
Introductory Price: $3.99 ($1 off!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Do You Care? Act Like It!

From *ten years ago*!

Okay, I’m not an actor... I don’t even play one on TV. I have done some acting in the past - in high school it was the only creative class available (for some reason, they didn’t have creative writing class - just your standard English) - but I never really wanted to be an actor. Much of my time in acting class was either trying to see Janet Englebert in her underwear backstage, or trying to round up actors to be in one of my projects. Let me tell you - being the straight guy in an acting class gives you an advantage. I took exactly one semester of acting in Community College - to find a girlfriend and cast my short films. That worked out okay.

I have some friends who act, and my friend John directs stage plays in the Bay Area. So does my friend Dennis, who I met when I cast him in a short film I made about killer mice. I know a bunch of people in the Concord/Walnut Creek, CA area who act, and when I moved to LA I was also appearing every weekend at the Onstage Theater in Pleasant Hill, CA in a play called CHEATERS - I was a Televangelist on the TV. It was kind of fun, because I was on stage almost 400 miles away from where I was working on a script - you *can* be two places at once!


Since then, the only acting I do is a cameo in films I write. The Hitchcock thing. One summer I saw every single Hitchcock movie at the Telegraph Theater in Berkeley. The funny thing was - there was this group of people (together) who would just get up and leave after the Hitchcock cameo! They missed some great movies because they onky saw a few minutes of them.

So, I always write in a "featured extra" role with the intent of playing it. When they made TREACHEROUS, they shot it Mexico and didn’t pay for me to fly down... so you won’t see me in that movie. I’m also not in HARD EVIDENCE (shot in Canada). You’ll find me in the non-USA cuts of VICTIM OF DIRECTOR as the dead guy in the morgue that Pete Spellos is about to cut open - they cut me out of the USA version. That was a difficult role (dead guy) because I wrote all of this funny material for the Medical Examiner... then Pete knocked it out of the park with his delivery. I had to remain still (I was dead) while this actors was saying hysterical things a few inches away. I ruined a take when Pete took a wax pencil and - like an artist - trying to figure out the perfect place to make the incision, marking it with the pencil.

I’m also in VIRTUAL COMBAT as a homeless guy with a sign that says "Will Work For Credit" at the railroad yards. I’m in NIGHT HUNTER as the piss stained drunk who grabs the hero, looking for a handout, and almost gets him captured by the police. That’s actually my favorite role - I get a big juicy close up. I’m in INVISIBLE MOM (shot at the same time) as TEAMSTER #2. They "forgot" to call me for CRASH DIVE and BLACK THUNDER and CROOKED. I show up in CYBERZONE as one of the guys in the "pirate bar" and spent the day watching Brinke Stevens strip over and over again - not a bad day! For STEEL SHARKS I played the fattest whitest guy in the Iranian Army - and the director hated me and cut me out of the movie after keeping me up *all night* waiting for my scene. Sometimes I’m in the film, sometimes I’m not. It’s never in the contract, I just make a deal with the director. If the director doesn’t like me, I probably won’t be in the movie.


Well, my friends at the SoCal Film Group (I plug them in the new issue of Script Magazine) asked if I would do a cameo in a short film... and they put me in a role with almost no dialogue (they don’t know I’m a thespian) as Pizza Delivery Guy. So, I did half of my role a couple of weeks ago and finished it off yesterday. Though I think it all worked out, I was not ready for me close up. After having dinner with my friend Louis I planned on spending an hour in Starbucks reading over my script - which I hadn’t looked at for weeks... but one of the writer-directors of those horror movies from the Trilogy Of Terror entries was there and would not stop talking about his new project - so I showed up on set completely unprepared - the director’s nightmare. I read over my lines, did okay - except I kept forgetting some clever wording in one place. I eventually got one take right. Yeah, this from the guy who is bitching about Busey ignoring his dialogue in CROOKED.

But let me tell you about a couple of weeks ago - the short is a fake DVD behind the scenes extra... on what has got to be the worst movie of all time. So it’s interviews (yesterday) along with footage from the movie and out takes (shot a couple of weeks ago).

Now, if you live outside the USA you may think that shorts are a big thing... because they actually make them and show them in your country. Not here. No one ever sees shorts. They play in film festivals - then no one ever sees them again. Studios don’t fund them, producers don’t fund them, the government doesn’t fund them... Short films are made by someone cracking open their piggy bank and convincing people to work for free. There’s no profit, so there’s no pay. The *film* is the payment - and most people work on shorts in exchange for a copy of the short when it is finished. An actor might want it for their reel, same thing with the DP and director and... well, the craft services (snacks) were really good on this film, but I can’t see this short getting the craft services person any work. Hard to tell how good the food was when you watch the movie. But - this is a no pay gig. You make short film in the USA because you love making movies.

Which brings me to this actor a couple of weeks ago. I have almost no dialogue - nothing to memorize. This guy is one of the leads in the fake bad movie - and this is a scene from the movie. He has freakin’ pages of monologue. Okay - no pay... but this guy has it memorized. Not only does he have it memorized, he figures out physical things to do (business) while he’s doing the monologue that are... Genius. I mean - amazingly funny. He does the monologue - and we have to bite our tongues to stop from laughing - it’s an OSCAR worthy performance. Brilliant. Cut... let’s do it again. And he does a different version with just as much energy... and different really funny business! He does several takes - all at full force, all with really funny business. He’s doing amazing work, all for a copy of the short film.

I feel like a slacker for just memorizing my *line* and offering the director a couple of different ways I can say it.

There are people who don’t give their all when they are writing. You don’t want to be one of those people. You want to be the person who blows everyone away with your commitment, hard work, passion, creativity, and preparedness - even if you are just working for a copy of the danged short. You want to be the writers who goes the extra mile - even if there is nothing in it for you...

Because writing well is its own reward.

And people *do* notice.

- Bill

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lancelot Link Monday: Pre-Oscar Awards

Lancelot Link Monday! As we close in on the Oscars Big Night, other awards are given out! You know how it's the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & *Sciences*? Well they gave out the science awards! You'll see a clip of this on the real Oscars - usually they find the hottest young actress in Hollywood and put her in the skimpiest gown and then have her call the names of the nerdy tech guys when they win - and it's that time in middle school when you were secretly admiring Debbie Morrow's new cleavage right before the bell rings and you had to put your science book in front of your trousers so that yo could leave the room without embarrassment. I think the Academy is secretly considering putting the screenwriting awards in the Science Awards because screenwriters are, for the most part, not pretty. Who wants to see us on camera (aside from our moms)? 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 Lego Batman ................... $55,635,000
2 50 Shades ...................... $46,797,825
3 JW2 ............................ $30,015,000
4 Split ........................... $9,321,110
5 Hidden .......................... $8,000,000
6 Dog Purpose ..................... $7,365,335
7 Rings ........................... $5,820,000
8 La La ........................... $5,000,000
9 Lion ............................ $4,083,000
10 Space ........................... $1,760,000

Note the big numbers for the top three films - this was a crowded weekend! SPLIT at #4 is a huge hit, made for pocket change. Once again, this year's box office is beating last year's. Hollywood is doing great!

2) Well, He's Really Big In China!

3) BAFTA Award Winners (British Oscars).

4) Technical Oscar Awards Winners.

5) Tim Sutton On Violence In Indie Films.


7) Coen Brothers - THE BIG SCARFACE? "My little friend really tied the room together."

8) We Have Some Notes On That Scene...

9) MGM Buys The Rock's New Film At Berlin Film Market.

10) Scriptor Award Winners.

11) The Failure Of Charlie Kaufman.

12) WGA Contract Update... Will I Have To Run My Strike Tip Again?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Okay, not a car chase...


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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Passing Notes

From a decade ago...

Part of this job is taking notes... and trying to figure out which notes to follow, which to discuss, and which to discard. Sometimes discarding the note requires a whole lot of discussion first. I have no idea how much of my life is spent trying to figure out notes - but probably more time than I spend writing the script in the first place. I guarantee there will be many more blog entries about notes.

I have a handful of buddy action scripts that feature a male and female team. After 48 HOURS, there was a flood of action movies featuring culture clashes - running all the way up to RUSH HOUR. I thought that eventually someone would want to explore a different kind of clash - and what is more different than male and female? And, it was a good way to explore my love and confusion for the opposite sex... in scripts where lots of stuff explodes real good.

But I never expected that in this day and age producers still would have trouble with a story where women have guns. Producers keep telling me to change the woman into a character some rapper could play - and not Lil Kim (even though she has firearms experience) - a *male* rap star. If it were only that easy. Imagine trying to change ADAM'S RIB into a story about two male lawyers - just can’t work.

So, when a producer became interested in one of my male-female buddy action scripts and *didn’t* want me to change the woman into a man, I thought this was a good sign. One of these scripts might finally make it to screen.

Now, no money had changed hands, yet. So it’s the beginning of the producer-writer relationship - you want them to like you so that they will pop the question: can I give you a big fat check for your screenplay? You don’t want to say the wrong thing.

The notes at this stage usually aren’t for a rewrite - they are just feedback on the project. Kind of a getting to know you stage. You are learning what they intend to do with your script once they buy it. But one of the things that often happen at this stage is a request for an unpaid rewrite. Here’s how that works - the producer says they have a great connection with a studio, and want to set up your script there. But, you see, there’s one or two little things that need to be done to make the script "studio quality" before they take your script in. You see, they only have one shot at this, and they want it to be the best shot - your best shot, too. So, if you could just do these couple of minor changes, the script will probably end up at the studio. Sometimes they pull out the "reputation" argument - they have a reputation as a producer, and they just can’t give the script to the studio like this. They don’t want the door to close on *them*.

The reputation thing frequently steams me - because often the studio they are taking this script to has already shown interest in other scripts of mine (through other production companies actually on their lot) and this producer would be *lucky* to ride my script through the studio gates. I’m the one who should get to play the reputation argument...

But that’s not the way to get them to pop the question and give you that big fat check.

So I play nice, and smile and try to explain why I think the changes they request will turn something that already is "studio quality" into the sort of cheese they’ve been making. Many notes are designed to file down any sharp edges in the script and make it... bland.

On this script, the producer doesn’t play the reputation card, but they do want me to do a rewrite before he takes it in. If the notes are reasonable, I may do that. I figure this guy already likes the script the way it is - he doesn’t want me to change the female cop into a male rapper cop - maybe the notes will be minor changes that actually improve the script?

And the first note is just a dialogue change. There’s a scene where my female cop first meets the male cop and she has a witty remark. Could that remark go to the male cop? Well, maybe not the same remark- but some witty remark. Lose her line and give him one? Sure, I think I can do that.

The second note is also a dialogue change... in fact, it’s another witty remark by the female cop. The male cop already has a witty remark - but can I lose hers?

The third note... the fourth note... the fifth note...

All of the notes are about giving the male cop all of the witty lines. Now, this is *banter* where the two trade insults - and by removing her lines, all we have left is the male cop insulting the female cop for the entire script.

The first note I get that isn’t about dialogue is about a scene where the female cop saves the male cop’s life in a scene - which is a set up for a later scene where he saves her. And throughout the script part of their relationship is based on her saving his life - so he owes her. Guess what the producer wants to do? Can we switch the script so that the male cop saves her in the earlier scene... then also saves her in the later scene?

So, I start out discussing these notes. The problem with the dialogue notes is that if it’s all him insulting her - it stops being funny. Part of these exchanges are the back-and-forth nature... they build to (hopefully) bigger and bigger laughs. Without the back-and-forth there is no build and the it won’t be as funny.

The producer disagrees - it’s just better without her responses. It just is.

So I discuss the relationship between the two - and how that will suffer if everything is one sided.

The producer disagrees again.

Anyway - no matter how I try to explain why it’s better if you have two evenly matched people playing the game, he’s not having any of it.

Now, here’s where this guy went wrong: he didn’t bring in the audience. It was all "because he knows what works". If he had explained to me that the audience for films like this are 15-25 year old males who are already insecure around women and by having a woman be an equal or even *potentially* dominant character would scare them away - and the movie would flop, I would have understood that. I’m not sure I would have made the changes - but I would have really given it some thought.

As it was, these notes were discarded. The producer obviously had problems with women and wanted me to change the script to make him happy. Just as I am going to consider notes that may change the script from what *I* want in order to make it a better script, I am also going to discard any note that will change the script just to make it what one person wants - be that a star or director or producer. Notes are to improve the script or make it more "filmable" - sometimes changes need to be made for location or cast or other practical elements in order to physically make the film. I’m more than willing to make those changes, even if they end up with some silly stuff like changing the fear of spending time in a Mexican prison onto the fear of spending time in a Canadian prison (HARD EVIDENCE). Some things just have to be done in order to get the film made.

In this case, I told the producer I disagreed - I thought the notes would ruin the script.

And that pulled the plug on the deal.

And maybe closed the door at this production company, because instead of being a discussion of what might work or not work in a movie - it was all about what he thought worked (no reason). His instincts. His experiences in the trenches as a producer.

Now, I also have instincts. I also have experience in the trenches.

As a writer, I often know what works and what doesn’t just by instinct. That might be good enough when I’m writing the script, but it’s not god enough when I’m discussing the notes with a producer. There I need *evidence*. You can’t discuss feelings and instincts and opinions. We all have those. The only thing we can discuss as facts. That means we need to be able to figure out why one thing works and another doesn’t so that we can discuss the notes. We need to be able to cite evidence when we discuss notes, so that it’s not "he said, she said" but creative decisions based on a logical reason. And this goes for both sides of the table - producers and development executives need to be able to explain the reasons behind their notes.

So, that one isn’t going to get made. On to the next chance for glory....

- Bill

Monday, February 06, 2017

Lancelot Link Monday: Awards!

Lancelot Link Monday! Before the Oscars are all of the guild awards - awards given to Key Grips by other Key Grips. Though often these are a great indicator or what will win on Oscar night, and what is *really* the best in its category, sometimes these awards go to craftsmen who do weird outlandish things that are completely anti-Hollywood. They are sometimes awards for *balls*. This week we have lists of winners for some of those guilds (not Key Grips) and a bunch of other fun links. Why isn't there an award show for the Key Grips? 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 Split .......................... $14,584,485
2 Rings .......................... $13,000,000
3 Dog's .......................... $10,824,830
4 Hidden Fig ..................... $10,100,000
5 La La ........................... $7,450,000
6 RE: TFC ......................... $4,500,000
7 Sing ............................ $4,080,715
8 Lion ............................ $4,006,000
9 Space ........................... $3,820,000
10 XXX ............................. $3,700,000

THE SPACE BETWEEN US is a major major flop! Yikes!

2) This Is The Anniversary Of The Release Of BIRTH OF A NATION... and PBS Has A Documentary Tonight.

3) All Of The Super Bowl Trailers In One Place!

4) ASC Cinematography Award Winners.

5) Animation Awards Winners.

6) Screen Actors Guild Award Winners.

7) Directors Guild Awards: Winners

8) The Joys Of Pitching TV.

9) A Look At MIDNIGHT RUN (includes screenplay).

10) Working From Home.

11) Everything is a Damned Remake (1939 version)!

12) Clive Barker's Horror Film Contest - Win A $300,000 Budget.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Warming you up for Friday's release of JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2.


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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Happy Groundhog Day!

No, this is not a holiday honoring Jimmy Dean sausage... it honors a rodent’s shadow. Now that’s a good reason for a holiday! It’s also the shortest month of the year, and Black History Month... so rent some Spike Lee movies like SCHOOL DAZE. And MALCOLM X... And maybe SHAFT’S BIG SCORE. Plus SOUNDER, even though it was directed by a white guy. You can see a different *great* movie either directed by an African American or starring an African American every day this month! There are easily 28 - had Black History Month been last month, you may have had a problem. The Hollywood Man doesn’t let minorities makes movies all that often.

If only Ernie Hudson had starred in GROUNDHOG DAY, you could watch that today for a two-fer! But the fourth Ghostbuster kind of got swept under the rug when they could have made him into a star - have you seen HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE? That guy can act!

I plan on celebrating Groundhog Day in the traditional Native American way - the family has dug a whole in the living room floor and we have placed gifts around the hole. If the groundhog come up through the hole and sees his shadow - we have to return all of the gifts, even if they were the right size and exactly what we wanted. If he doesn’t see his shadow, we open the gifts and continue the celebration.

Have a great Groundhog Day, and watch some good movies!

Black History Movies on Amazon!

TCM's Black History Month Line Up!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Pitch Reveals - when you condense your script to a pitch, all of the flaws show.
Dinner: Togos - turkey & swiss.
Pages: A couple of the family script, but have to really get my butt in gear because they need to read it.
Bicycle: Yes.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Bad Ideas.... in 3D!

From a decade ago...

The summer movies are coming out, and almost all of them end in the number 3. Sequels and franchises have been a part of movies since the early days - and the beloved THIN MAN series although they may have been greeted with "Not another damned Thin Man movie" back in the 1940s. We love all of those Rathbone/Bruce SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, but they really lost quality after the third or fourth one - and the rest (where Sherlock was usually battling Nazis) were just the studio cashing in. The more things change the more they remain the same.

Horror movies always seem to end up franchises. The first one makes money, so they milk the premise for as many films as they can. But Horror films follow a strange pattern with their sequels....

Movie #1 sets up the series - though usually no one ever intended it to be a series..

Movie #2 sends in the military. ALIENS, the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, the new HILLS HAVE EYES 2... all send in the military to fight the monster.

Movie #3 is in 3D. JAWS 3D, FRIDAY THE 13th 3D, and many more.

After that, there’s always a movie where they Take Manhattan (Jason and The Muppets have both done this!)

Then there’s a movie where the monster is in The Hood. (LEPRECHAUN and a few others).

Then there’s one that gives us New Blood. (FRIDAY THE 13th did this).

Then they send the monster into outer space (JASON X, LEPRECHAUN 4, one of the HELLRAISER movies).

After that, they get to fight whoever wins the Alien vs. Predator bout later this summer.

Okay - what horror movie sequel cliches did I miss? What movies fit these patterns that I didn’t mention? And when will they send the shark from JAWS to the hood?

- Bill
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