Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hunger Games Is A Rip Off Of...

From 2012...

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) is based on a novel from 4 years ago - and happened to be the #1 film of the weekend again.




So there’s a funny little picture being passed around on Facebook with a shot from PULP FICTION and the question - “Do you know what they call HUNGER GAMES in France? BATTLE ROYALE with cheese.” Amusing, but shouldn’t it be Japan?

The thing that I find most amusing about this are the people who think that HUNGER GAMES is just a rip-off of BATTLE ROYALE - as if the history of cinema began a dozen years ago. Hey, this story has been around almost as long as film! At least 80 years ago they made the same basic story!

"Do you like Gladiator Movies?"

So I thought ot would be fun to look at some of the films that came before HUNGER GAME and added to it’s story...

We’ll get to CONDEMNED (2007) when we look at the movies about prisoners who get chosen to play the game where they fight to the death, but first let’s take a look at innocent school children who are chosen in a lottery to fight to the death...

You are probably thinking about BATTLE ROYALE, and we’ll get to that, but about the same time as BATTLE ROYALE came out one of my favorite movies that no one has ever seen came out - SERIES 7. This indie flick is about a hit reality TV show where random people are chosen to fight each other to the death as SURVIVOR-like camera crews follow them. Instead of an island or an abandoned part of the city or a wooded area these contestants play in the city. They hunt and kill each other in the real world. The film follows a handful of contestants including the pregnant champion and a *cheerleader* who is driven to kills by her parents. I love this movie! It’s savage and funny and looks just like an episode of SURVIVOR.

SERIES 7 (2001)


Just before SERIES 7 we had the Japanese version of the story which seems most similar to HUNGER GAMES... except the tone is completely different and the characters and motivations and reasons for the game and even the details of the game are completely different. The parts that are the same? Kids as contestants. If you consider how many times this story has been made and how many other variables there are that are direct-connections to HUNGER GAMES... plus LORD OF THE FLIES which was remade the same year (2000) and was *originally* made in 1963 (Peter Brooks) and based on a novel that predates the BATTLE ROYALE novel by *decades*, why the heck is this the first film people think of when they are looking for a HUNGER GAMES source?

BATTLE ROYALE (2000)


By the way, BATTLE was directed by the same guy who gave us GREEN SLIME (not the pink stuff). The novel was written in 1996... which is long after Stephen King’s RUNNING MAN (published in 1982) which was made into a movie 3 years before BATTLE ROYALE. Hey! How come no one points to RUNNING MAN as the source for HUNGER GAMES? Probably more similarities between the two - the major difference being prisoners instead of just kids... but if you have read the book you know the prisoner thing was an invention of the screenwriters, in the book the protagonist was an out of work guy from a District called Co-Op City which is very much like the coal mining world of District 12, who volunteers for the game to save his daughter. The tone and feel of the book is similar to HUNGER GAMES - they almost share the same dystopian future. The movie?

RUNNING MAN (1987)
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Though there are plenty of battles to the death on an island (HELL IN THE PACIFIC, 1967) and people hunting each other flicks (RUN FOR THE SUN (1956), NAKED PREY (1966), and the cheese-fest DEATH CHASE from 1988), but if there was ever a source for HUNGER GAMES it’s a crazy Italian film from 1965 based on a novel by Robert Sheckley called THE TENTH VICTIM. The film is about a TV reality show where ten normal people are chosen at random and given guns in order to hunt each other through the city. There is an MC, there is a TV audience, there are bets made on the outcome, just about everything in HUNGER GAMES is in this film... including the “star crossed lovers” aspect! Because the strangest part about THE TENTH VICTIM is that it’s kind of a rom-com! Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are contestants who fall in love along the way - even though they must kill each other in the end. Will they change the rules so that two can survive?

TENTH VICTIM (1965)


I love Ursula’s bra-gun! My James Bond parody film FOR SORE EYES ONLY featured a villainess named Greta Goodtits who had machineguns surgically implanted in her breasts - a pair of blazing 38s! The most amazing thing about this film is that it was made in 1965 and predicts reality TV shows... but the Sheckley story was published in 1953! How the heck could he have predicted reality TV shows in 1953?

I mentioned that RUNNING MAN changed the unemployed everyman who would have fit right in working in those District 12 coal mines with a prisoner played by Ah-nuld, but for the past 20 years or some we have had many versions of this story as junky action films about *prisoners* who get a chance at freedom if they kill each other on live TV. CONDEMNED was a recent version where prisoners fought to death on an island (like in BATTLE ROYALE), and the DEATH RACE remake they fought to the death in cars. There are a zillion steel cage match movies like THE OCTAGON which feature fights to the death, and lots of movies like HARD TARGET and SURVIVING THE GAME where the game isn’t televised - but still is played to the death,

I believe I am probably the only one who has seen this Prisoners Battle To The Death On A TV Game Show flick in a cinema - DEATHROW GAMESHOW directed by Northridge’s Mark Pirro... who makes films on Super 8mm, though this was shot on 16mm. I saw this flick at AFM one year...

DEATHROW GAMESHOW (1987) - caution: boobies!


But all of these films go back to that film shot at the same time and on the same sets as KING KONG, the amazing MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) based on a story by Richard Connell published in 1924. Here we have the island, the hunting of people, the star-crossed lovers... and the hounds! Those killer dogs in HUNGER GAMES? They are in this version of the story, too! Not the DNA mutants from HUNGER GAMES, but dogs specially breed to find humans. I was looking for a trailer or good clip of the film, but could only find the whole damned movie (it’s in public domain). So don’t click on the clip below unless you have over an hour to kill watching people hunting people on an island.

MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)


So there you go - 80 years ago the first film that could be called a source for HUNGER GAMES was made, and in every decade since there have been a handful of movies with the same basic plot. Like all basic stories, this one is as old as time. There were probably cave men telling the story of fighting each other to the death... Hey, wait a minute - how does 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY begin?

What's important about a movie or screenplay isn't the similarities, it's the differences. Every story is like a bunch of other stories, but what are the elements that make *this version* unique?

- Bill


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Monday, September 18, 2017

I was a *Thespian* in High School!

From 2009...

So, over the holidays I had drinks with an old friend from High School, Janet Englebert. We were both in drama class and all of the shows together. She not only had a program from one of the shows - she had *pictures*! Of me at 16 years old! When I was working almost full time, going to high school, and working on or being in all of the plays. No time to eat - so it was one of the few skinny periods in my life.




The Program...


Cast List...


The Star's Bios (I remember this play, have no memory of Gloria Mundi)...


Here is a scene with Janet and me...


And me with a very sharp knife...


And Janet and the very sharp knife...


And Patty Loveland after she sees what happens through the rear window of her apartment...


And my *favorite* part of being an actor in High School - the chance to see girls in their underwear. That's Nora in her bra reflected in the mirror.

My goal was to see every girl in class in their underwear... and maybe even topless! That could happen when there were quick changes backstage.


We did a haunted house every year to earn money to put on plays. That's my severed head...






What a strange thing to see myself that young - and people who were my closest friends at the time... now, just memories. I wonder what happened to them all?

- Bill

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quality Rules

From May, 2009... the end of the DVD market is predicted!

From Patrick Goldstein's LA Times Article:
Even more alarming, especially for studios who've thrived on seducing moviegoers into seeing mediocre product, is the realization that audiences are becoming more quality conscious. In the past, if a forgettable action film hit pay dirt at the box office, it would perform correspondingly well in DVD, allowing studios in greenlight meetings to provide a conversion rate--i.e. that if a movie of a certain genre made $100 million in the theaters, that would equal X millions of units in DVD. But judging from recent DVD sales figures, films that had poor word-of-mouth--signaling significant audience dissatisfaction--were underperforming in DVD, even if they had enjoyed lofty box-office numbers.

The example that made the biggest impact in studio circles involved "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The two films, released within weeks of each other last summer, did almost the exact same amount of business in their U.S. theatrical runs--roughly $318 million. But when they arrived on DVD, "Iron Man," the film that performed far better in exit polls (not to mention with critics), easily outperformed "Indiana Jones," whose DVD numbers were far lower than expected. Among the big-grossing summer films, "Hancock" was also a poor performer (in terms of box office vs. DVD numbers), while the DVD numbers for such well-liked family films as "Wall-E" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" held up far better.


The rest of the article: DVD Collapse.

The problem, as on studio chief says in the article, is that they don't know what films will sell well on DVD and what films will sell poorly...

Hmmm.... if quality sells, shouldn't that be the focus?

And quality in this case doesn't seem to mean Oscar winners, those are not doing well on DVD. Quality seems to be big mainstream films that deliver what they promise and are *good* - so that you would want to see them again. IRON MAN... but not the new INDIANA JONES movie.

By the way, for all of you who have asked me over the years where they can get the actual sales numbers for individual DVD titles, the answer is in this article... you can't. They are kept top secret.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Lame Confessions
Yesterday’s Dinner: City Wok sweet & sour chicken.

Movies: CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE - If you like Roadrunner Cartoons, but don’t like animation - this is the film for you. The sequel is just like the first film, only more so. That’s either a bad thing, if you did not like CRANK; or a good thing, if (like me) you thought it was a fun way to kill a couple of hours. These films are so not to be taken seriously, there is no reason for that standard legal disclaimer at the end of the movie that the film is fiction. Folks, this film is so unreal it’s funny - and that’s probably the point. It *is* a cartoon with live actors.

It starts with a clever recap of the end of the last film - an Atari game showing two men falling from a helicopter and shooting and fighting until both are about to hit the ground... then they cut to “real life” as Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) slams into the roof of a car on the street, bounces, and lands right in front of the camera... dead... until one eye pops open. The end of the last film. Then, an unmarked truck pulls up and men in hazmat suits scrape him off the sidewalk and throw him in the back of the truck - taking off before the police and ambulances can arrive.

A couple of months later, Chev wakes up in some back alley doctor’s office hooked up to a million machines - alive - but his heart has been harvested for transplant (because it is the strongest heart of any man alive). Chev has an artificial heart keeping him alive so that the bad guys can sell of any other working parts he might have... including his penis. Chev doesn’t want them to harvest that particular organ and breaks out - fighting a bunch of people - and with his battery powered artificial heart goes on a cross-town quest to recover his actual heart. Even though that Atari game thing was only used for a minute at the beginning of the film, the rest of the movie is no more realistic with humans instead of bad video graphics - and that’s okay. This is a cartoon and cartoon laws of physics apply - also cartoon logic.

After Chev gets into a car wreck chasing his heart, the battery pack on his artificial heart is destroyed and only the small internal battery exists - and it must be manually recharged constantly... in a variety of silly ways that are fun. From jumper cables attached to some gang banger’s low rider car’s battery, to rubbing up against an old woman to create static electricity, to disregarding the Danger: High Voltage warning on a transformer box and just bear-hugging the humming electrical contents. Like Popeye with his cans of spinach, Chev must get charged up before he gets into a fight - and there are many of those. Along the way he finds his true love Eve (Amy Smart) working as a stripper (with strips of electrical tape over her nipples for some reason - makes no sense to me as her breasts are smashed against a police car window at one point just as the breasts of the Catholic High School Girls In Trouble breasts were smashed against the shower door in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE - and the combination of crass gratuitous nudity and those little bits of electrical tape modesty end up being funny... and maybe that was intended?).

Now that he’s found his true love, he must find his heart - and as silly and cartoony as this film is - this symbolism is entirely intended and is what made me like the first CRANK movie much more than I liked SHOOT ‘EM UP, even though no one can play a cartoon character like Paul Giamatti. The CRANK movies have heart... even though in this one the heart has been stolen.

As Chev and Eve and the other characters chase and fight across Los Angeles, each one sillier than the one that came before - in one instance turning into giant Godzilla-sized people who battle it out in a bad miniature version of the city, knocking down buildings and power towers, we get some Road Runner-Wiley Coyote laughs and at least one public sex scene on a horse racing track. Eventually David Carradine makes his appearance as the Chinese gang lord who needs a new heart - and wants the strongest heart in the world as his replacement... and the villain from the first film, who is now - much like Walt Disney - a head kept alive by machines. It’s just this crazy movie that never tries to be real or even make a whole lot of sense... and by the time we reach the end, they have set up an impossible situation that you know will lead to the third film in the series. I suspect in that one, Chev will have to borrow people’s skin for short periods of time - so maybe he’ll be able to go undercover? At today’s ticket prices, you have to be a fan of the first film to fully enjoy CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE in the cinema, but on 99 cent rental night? You can’t go wrong.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Welcome To Hollywood!

From 2009...

From an article by Robert Elisberg in the Huffington Post:

Steve Martin tells of trying to pitch a movie based on the classic play "Cyrano de Bergerac." No studio executive knew what he was talking about, and all rejected it. Luckily, though, he was Steve Martin and knew the studio president, Guy McElwaine. And happily McElwaine was a bright adult who actually loved the play. And most fortunately of all, the movie got made - because otherwise no one would ever have seen the glorious "Roxanne."

A friend once pitched a version of Sherlock Holmes. "Who's that?" a studio executive asked, later thinking the world-renowned, fictional detective was a real person. Needless-to-say, it never got made. But imagine if that same executive had been pitched the new Sherlock Holmes movie which stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. You wouldn't see it this December.

Another friend was pitching a buddy movie to an executive who prided herself on the subject. "Let's discuss great buddy movies," she enthused, "I'm an expert." My friend immediately mentioned, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." "What's that?" the executive asked.

Honest.


Studio Execs and Readers and Other People Who Make Script Decisions.

- Bill

Monday, September 04, 2017

What Was I Thinking?

From early 2010...

The plan was to write FADE OUT on my kinda-new spec script 2nd SON sometime on Saturday, and then meet my friends and go out to dinner and then see IRON MAN 2 at the Arclight. Tickets were purchased way in advance so that we had the perfect seats. A decision was made that the Friday Night Movie Guys would meet on *Saturday* instead, because we knew opening night for IRON MAN 2 would just be crazy. But the movie was my “reward” for typing FADE OUT sometime earlier that day.

Except I did not type FADE OUT on Saturday, nor did I manage to type it on Sunday. I will probably type it sometime today (Monday). Pisser.

But I *did* see IRON MAN 2 anyway - dessert without first cleaning my plate (and eating those gross mushy peas). I was sure this would lead to the end of the world... and maybe it did. It didn’t really lead to the end of my script, I spent Sunday trying to figure that out. Oh, I know the end-end, I just don’t really know how to get there.

The reason why is simple - I’m an idiot.

You may remember this script from a little over a year ago - I started it, was happy with the with the way it was going, then an circling assignment went to script and it got set aside. I pulled it out a couple of times last year wondering what the hell I was thinking and couldn’t quite get back into the flow - and then something else would come up. I wrote a couple of *other* spec scripts instead, and just when I got back into it, landed another assignment and set it aside again. Pisser. The script is so close to being finished it seemed stupid not to just take the time and get ‘er done. But when I pulled it back out and started writing I ran into a couple of problems.

Problem #1: One of the times I was working on it last year, I came up with a really cool twist that upped the ante and improved the story. Now, as you know, a script is like a house of cards and when you change one little thing you also change all kinds of other things and may even screw up the screenplay. It’s the domino effect or the ripple effect or whatever the hell you want to call it. I did re-outline the end of the script when I came up with this idea, but that didn’t include the small things... like how to kill the villain. I now have something similar to that overnight rewrite I had to go on GRID RUNNERS where they lost the rooftop location so my villain could no longer fall to his death. Though this problem is even worse than that. It would be like changing the location for the villain-death-by-skyscraper-roof-fall to the desert. Not a building for miles. Not a mountain for miles. And limited ways to die quickly.

Problem #2: This script has some DaVINCI CODE type riddles in it, and I thought it would be fun to put the riddle that kills a supernatural henchman in a scene on page 15 - that way, the audience would forget about it by the time we get to that henchman’s death - and I would **not** mention the riddle when our hero kills the henchman. I would leave it for the second time you saw the movie. One of the things I think about sometimes is how to get people to watch the film again. If it is a theatrical, that’s another ticket sale - and get enough of those and you have a hit. I had to see THE SIXTH SENSE a second time to see if the twist end was there throughout the film - and it was. I mean, about a couple of minutes into that film M. Night Shamalamadingdong sets up the twist, and does it with such skill that you never see it! And watching that film with the knowledge of the twist turns it into a completely different movie. Though I wasn’t doing anything like that in my script, I did want to have some cool stuff with the riddles, so that you might want to see it a second time to see if the riddle prophecies were there and came true. But when I re-read that clever riddle prophecy for the henchman’s death - I was stumped. What the hell was I thinking?

The larger problem is - I didn’t write it down. At the time, the answer to the riddle seemed completely obvious to me - something I could never forget that was so simple to figure out I didn’t need to include it in my notebook for the script. This makes that one even more frustrating, because at one point in time while writing the script this was obvious to me - and now it’s the ravings of a madman. What was I thinking?

THE PLAN...

So, my plan on Sunday was to get on my bike and ride until I figured out the solution to problem #1 - which was required if I was going to do any writing that day. I might have to ride past a dozen Starbucks and Coffee Beans and Mom & Pop Coffee Shops before I figured it out. That was okay. I did end up taking a fairly long bike ride... and I also came up with one heck of a great ending bit. It strengthens the *villain’s* character and manages to demonstrate the hero’s character arc being resolved. I’m happy with it. It did require a better piece of dialogue in an earlier scene - and that made me happy. I went from having an okay line to something similar to Agent Smith’s little speech about the *smell* inside the Matrix. I am very happy with this solution.

But no matter how many times I tried to figure out that simple riddle thing - I still have no idea what it has to do with killing my henchman. What was obvious a year ago is a complete mystery to me today.

Now, there are two possible solutions at this time - I could change something in the script so that it matches the riddle, or change the riddle so that it matches something else in the script. That’s probably what I am doing as you read this. But that’s a pisser, because whatever I had originally intended will not be in the screenplay.

THE LESSON...

Um, write everything down. Everything. Obvious things. Things you think you don’t need to write down. I have a spiral notebook for this screenplay and I’m almost at fade out and about a quarter of the pages are blank. It’s not like I was going to run out of room in the notebook, and I have a bunch of empty notebooks on the shelf if I *did* fill this one. It’s better to have that stuff written down and not need it than not written down anywhere and need it - like with this danged script. I posted this on Facebook Sunday night, and a few other people replied that they have been through the same thing on their scripts. I have been through this on previous scripts. So, when will we learn to write stuff down? We are *writers*, not *memorizers*. (Folks - that survived spellcheck!) I do not know why I think I will remember things - especially when they are those freakin’ amazing flashes of genius that are like God’s voice whispering some idea in your ear that is way over your head and you know this is something you can never think of again...

And I didn’t write it down.

What was I thinking?

- Bill

2017 UPDATE: 7 years later and I still can't remember what the solution to that riddle was. Pisser.
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