Monday, April 30, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: Die, Avengers, Die!

Lancelot Link Monday! PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL MOVIES FOR OTHER PEOPLE! You know the Cone Of Silence from GET SMART? That's the only place you can discuss the movie. Not online. Not in a public place. Not next to my table at Starbucks. I don't want to know who dies. 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 Infinity ........................ $250,000,000
2 Quiet Place ....................... $10,650,000
3 Pretty ............................ $8,130,000
4 Rampage ........................... $7,105,000
5 Panther ........................... $4,381,000
6 Troopers 2 ........................ $3,600,000
7 Truth ............................. $3,210,000
8 Blockers .......................... $2,945,000
9 RPO ............................... $2,435,000
10 Traffik ........................... $1,620,000

2) Interview With INFINITY WAR Screenwriters.

3) The Next Avengers Film (RETURN OF THE AVENGERS?)

4) Mostly Spoiler Free INFINITY WAR Review.

5) Joss Whedon's WONDER WOMAN Screenplay?

6) STAR TREK 4 Gets A Director.

7) Behind The Scenes on ALIEN (includes Screenplay)

8) Rise Of Smart Horror Films.

9) Chose Your Own Adventure: The Motion Picture.

10) The Conclusion To IT Will Require All Audience Members Wear Diapers!

11) Lost Color Films Discovered!

12) Shane Black's PREDATOR... the synopsis.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


Buy The DVDs




Wednesday, April 25, 2018

No Guessing!

From almost a decade ago...

Though Fridays With Hitchcock is going to run a little behind for a while - I'm too busy to spend my spare time doing something that seems like homework, I'd rather goof off - I feel compelled to tell you some of what is going on with the Top Secret Studio Remake Project. Because this hasn't been announced in the trades, I can't really tell you what the film being remade is, so I'm going to be vague for now.

The funniest part of this vague thing is that all but three of my friends (and one other person) know just as much as you do about what the film is - so they keep doing this crazy guessing game trying to figure out from whatever clues I'd dropped what this film might be... and so far no one has guessed it. The one other person is a business relationship that I gave one too many clues to and he figured it out. But I can't hang out with friends without them throwing out films from the 1980s that are ripe for a remake and fit my skill set. My two favorite guesses so far are IRON EAGLE and AMERICAN NINJA... and both of those are *way* wrong.

Which brings me to a pet peeve - that I was just guilty of - these friends aren't *guessing* they are *deducing* or maybe *trying to figure out*. They are using the clues to come to a logical answer... which isn't the same as guessing. Here's the definition of guess from Miriam Webster:

Main Entry: Guess
transitive verb
1 : to form an opinion of from little or no evidence
2 : believe , suppose (I guess you're right)
3 : to arrive at a correct conclusion about by conjecture, chance, or intuition (guess the answer)

That’s not the same as *knowing something* or *deducing* (like Sherlock Holmes) based on evidence and information. Or even *figuring out* which includes that figuring part, which is putting together the clues and information. Why this is a pet peeve is that 90% of the time when people say they guess something, they’re really using the information and evidence to figure it out. They are *thinking*. Finding answers by using logic and some brain work and maybe even some actual work hunting around for the clues and evidence. The other 10% of the time - you know, that question worth a million dollars on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? - they’re just throwing some crazy crap against the wall on the wild chance that it might be right. Guessing does not involve using the brain - you can’t show your work. It’s voodoo... except there may be some sort of logic in voodoo - I don’t want to insult someone’s religious beliefs. If you figured something out, you didn’t guess it. I’m afraid if we don’t differentiate the two, we will end up in an IDIOCRACY world where no one even tries to figure things out - they just guess. Okay, back to the story...

It’s not DELTA FORCE, either. *Way* wrong. But it was a movie in made in the 1980s by a Legendary Producer who was smart enough to hang onto the remake rights, and it opened at #1 and spawned sequels, and hasn’t been remade yet - which actually narrows it down, since they are remaking everything. Can’t wait to see the Dane Cook version of CITIZEN KANE.

One of the things that’s kind of interesting about this is that lots of work is being done before it’s even a blip on the radar. By the time there is any word of this in the trades, I will probably have been working on it for a while... this kind of traces back to a pre-strike lunch meeting with Legendary Producer over a year ago before anyone thought of remaking this film. That meeting was on another project, and another writer is doing that... and I ended up doing this. (It actually traces back probably a year before that - maybe two years ago - when we talked for the first time... and maybe even years before that when he read something of mine and liked it.) Since I’ve been *actively* on the project, I’ve done a bunch of work.

I started out watching the original movie, which I don’t own a copy of. From the time I got the phone call where they said, “Hey, we’re thinking of remaking this movie, how about coming by the office on Tuesday and talking about it” until Tuesday, I ran all over the place trying to find a copy of the film. Problem was, the film had come out on DVD a couple of years ago, so it was hard to find it on the shelf at Best Buy and Circuit City. I probably could have found it at Fry’s, but I stopped in at Odyssey Video - and they had it... in the What’s Good section! So I rented it, watched it, returned it... so that I could talk about the film like a fan on Tuesday. And, I actually am a fan - when this movie came out, I really liked it (as did many others - that’s why it opened at #1 and they made sequels) but just kind of forgot about it.

After that first meeting, I came up with 3 different basic takes on the project. A take is a direction, a basic story idea. There were elements from the original that were tied to events happening in the 1980s... but no longer valid. Those events had to replaced with something current (or timeless). I found 3 different ways the story could be told in 2010, and let the Legendary Producer select the one he liked best... open to the possibility he might say “None of these” and I’d have to come up with 3 more. I like to work in threes or fives - I don’t know why. But what this is about is giving the *producer* the choice. You don’t want to thrust your idea on them when it’s *their* movie.

Legendary Producer selected one of the three, and wanted me to come up with a pitch for it. I put together a *detailed* pitch, that changed all kinds of things from the original. The thing about remakes is that it allows you to solve any problem you may have had with the original film - and no film is perfect. This film always seemed to me like it was over developed - with things pasted on here and there to help the story. Today’s Script Tip is on Script Spackle, and the original film used a bucket of it. So I had to find the way to remove the spackle... and that ended up making all kinds of changes. The end was completely different - with some people who survived in the original dying a glorious death in the pitch. I was really happy with the pitch... But at whatever Meal Meeting that was, Legendary Producer *hated* the new ending. I killed his favorite character.

So I got notes, and a brand new pitch was developed... but never really pitched. Legendary Producer came up with a new direction for the story, and that pitch on 80 4x6 cards was trash before anyone heard it. The decision was made to go to treatment... and I was sent out to write a big fat detailed treatment... As I said in the previous post, that treatment was read (maybe) and a completely new direction for the story was devised - basically going back to the original film... just without the elements that set it in 1980 and *not* in 2010.

In many ways, that required that I throw out *everything* from the previous versions and start from scratch using the original film’s structure. The challenge became removing the script spackle but having the story work the same way as it did before. That became *more* difficult than solving the problems at their roots... but that’s the job. Oh, and can we have it in few days so that we can meet again in a week and give you notes on this version? (Which means I have to have it done and delivered in time for them to read it, think about it, and come up with notes... before the meeting a week from now.) Around there is when my head was about to explode.

Side note: somewhere in this process I went back to Odyssey and rented the original again, plus ordered a copy from Amazon. Due to the usual shipping delays - I also ordered a bunch of other DVDs - I got the original *after* I had finished that version of the treatment... and I ended up hanging onto the Odyssey rented version of the original long enough to have just bought the sucker... I think I paid $5 less at Amazon than my rental fees. Should have just gone to Frys and bought it.

Anyway - that treatment was close but no cigar... but in the right direction. Can we meet next week to discuss the new version? Sure....

Meanwhile, do you know how many cool ideas and cool characters and cool scenes and action gags are getting *thrown out* each time? Every version is like a whole new script with all kinds of new ideas and they have to be *amazing* ideas - this guy is a Legendary Producer, he works with top writers. What the hell am I doing here? So I’ve been really trying to come up with exciting and interesting things every time... and they get tossed out every time we change story directions. And it’s not that the ideas are bad - one of the issues with the Close But No Cigar version was that one of the main characters wasn’t nearly as cool as the version of the character in the previous version. (How many times *can* you use the word “version” in a sentence?) That character was gold... and the new version’s version was silver... maybe even copper.

The very first pitch is so radically different than anything now - yet full of gold - that I’m thinking about changing all of the elements that are the same as the original movie and turning that into it’s own story.

So now I had one week to come up with the gold version of the treatment, cleaned up, focused, and something that we can use for this round of studio meetings. And I’m brain fried.

Then, I don’t sleep well for a couple of nights... and produce nothing. And there are stupid life things that were put on hold while I did all of this writing that needed to be taken care of - some orders needed to be processed, copies made, laundry, scripts sent to a couple of places that wanted hard copies... and next thing you know, I’m closing in on my deadline with nothing written. And that may have been a good thing, because somewhere deep in my subconscious I was coming up with answers to story problems, and finding little connections between characters and elements that get me a little closer to gold (though some things are still just a bit off - and that’s why there’s a *next* draft). When I sat down to write, things flowed really well - previous versions involved lots of fighting the page and struggling to figure out how to make things work - and a new 40 page treatment was written in a couple of days.

I actually finished it a couple of hours earlier than my midnight deadline... and like a fool, e-mailed it to everyone so they could see it was early. That’s where Pride becomes one of the 7 Deadly Sins. I should have just held off and fine tuned a couple of things - I had some great ideas the moment I hit “send” that would have made a couple of scenes sing. But I was happy enough with what I’d written... and for the first time the writing was “easy”. I wasn’t fighting big problems, I was finding clever ways to tell this part or that part.

I felt great.

Meeting today (a couple of hours ago) and except for a couple of small things - taste issues - everyone was happy. One of the guys on Legendary’s team (I believe his title is Head Of Production) said he’d film it right now... when can we get a script? (Though Legendary could probably afford to go to script out of pocket, I think the plan at this point in time is to get the studio to pay for that.) We’re meeting with studios for the remainder of the week, and probably studios and money sources for the rest of the month... unless someone bites right away. There is a proposed budget and cast suggestions at this time, and the studios are basically *auditioning* to fund & distribute the film. In these rocky financial times, the big question is - will some studios want to make it for less than the proposed budget and save a buck? Legendary Producer doesn’t want to do a cheapo version of the movie just to cash in - he wants to make a great version of the movie, so that it can be #1 again. There’s much more to this, but I can’t go into that without giving you so many clues that you’ll be able to deduce the film before the official announcement.

See, it all came back around to “deduce” vs. “guess”.

- Bill

PS: Please - no guessing! I've had a couple dozen e-mails with possible movies it might be... and even if you get it right, I can't confirm it at this point! When I can tell you, I will... you *know* I will. And I'll spill details.


Yesterday’s Dinner: Panda Express - Orange chicken, fried rice, Bejing beef, egg roll.

MOVIES: I have seen a whole bunch of movies, and will get to those when things get back to normal.

Bicycle: Because I've been working so much, I've been a baaaad boy when it comes to the bicycle. Mostly riding to my corner Starbucks... and I even drove a couple of times, which is just stupid. But finsihing early, and feeling great, I took a nice bike ride on Sunday - going nowhere, just for pleasure. And I did a bike/bus combo to go to my meeting today (I usually do - and can ride right up to the front door and it ensures that I get a little blood circulating before the meeting). Sunday was the first time in a while that I didn't have a destination on the bike - I was just tooling around. I did go to a couple of stores and check out DVDs and some odds and ends I needed to buy, but those were impulse stops rather than planned destinations. My legs are a little sore today, but parts of yesterday I was soaring like Elliot in ET....

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Joy Of Page Count

Because I'm way behind on the current project, here is a blog entry from 11 years ago when I was on schedule!

Yesterday I wrote 5 pages. That’s my quota. My goal. I can write more pages than that, but if I manage to turn out 5 pages every day, six days a week, I am a script machine.

The day before yesterday, I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that... well, it was just too damned hot to do anything. In fact, there were a few days where I did almost nothing.

Now, I am a human being. I would rather goof off than actually have to do something. Work is a four letter word (and I have seen the David Warner movie). Given the choice between working and spending the day in a cinema watching awful movies? Get me some Red Vines and a Sprite! Sitting around the (air conditioned) house watching a stack of DVDs? Sounds great! I’m an addict, and I have a huge stack of of DVDs I bought and haven’t seen, yet. Probably *months* of unwatched DVDs. I’d better put off work and watch some of them!

But when I get into the groove and start turning out pages, not only do I have that great feeling of accomplishment, I realize how much I really love writing. My problem is inertia. It’s tough to get started, but once I get going, I get going. When I’m working on an assignment, I *have to* turn out pages - and I can do my 5 a day and turn out a pretty good first draft in a month. I can also adjust my quota for really crazy deadlines if someone needs a script in 2 weeks. I’m good with deadlines.

But specs? Well, no deadline, no producer waiting for the draft, no pressure. Inertia can take control. I’d rather watch a DVD, I’d rather go online and argue with someone. I’d rather read other people’s blogs. It’s hard for me to get started. I’m like a car that needs to be push started... and how the hell do you push start the car *and* sit in the driver’s seat? Easier just to pop in a DVD.

But once I get going, like I have been, I realize how much I really love writing screenplays. The spec I’m working on, SLEEPER AGENT, is an action script. My theory on this one is to Always Be Moving. After a couple of set up scenes, there will not be any scenes that are not moving. You know those scenes where people are sitting somewhere having a conversation? Not in this script. If people are talking, either they will be running or in a speeding vehicle. And the more they talk, the faster the vehicle.

So, yesterday I had a talk scene... on a speeding hydrofoil ferry going 42 knots. This was a “catch your breath scene” after some action, but even on the speeding ferry I wanted to have something else happening... so I added some suspense. Now, the joy for me was figuring out what little things happened in the scene - I already knew what the big things would be (the conversation). Creating the details - not just the way the characters say what they say, but the suspense “scene subplot” and the cool way a suddenly violent fight scene turned out (I came up with a weird shock moment that actually gives us a bunch of information about the villains - and the *how* was created on the spot and was exciting to write)... but my favorite thing I came up with yesterday was the very end of the sequence - which left our heroes alone with a pair of crying Greek girls. You know when you come up with a little moment that turns an okay scene into a much better scene?

I love that stuff. I love writing that stuff. I love when some little thing that I wrote that had no meaning suddenly has a meaning. You create something that seems too good for you to have come up with. It’s like God, or maybe Steve Zaillian, was working through you. It’s that amazing moment of creation where a scene comes alive, or a moment seems real, or a scene has some original element and you have no idea where it came from... and you realize you are a freakin’ writer after all. That all of those days where you sat around avoiding writing were a huge mistake, because when you’re really in the groove, writing is *fun*. Writing is cool.

And the pages keep piling up, and you realize you will have a NEW finished screenplay in just a few weeks. A new baby.

Hey, this is why I go through all of the crap that comes with this job... I really like writing.

- Bill

Monday, April 09, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: Quiet Please!

Lancelot Link Monday! I've often said that a true high concept is inexpensive to make because the *concept* is the special effect. "I see dead people!" - hey, the kid sees *actors* playing dead! Same with the movie GHOST - Patrick Swayze is just an actor in scenes and nobody can see or hear him because he's "dead". The real world is just a computer simulation called THE MATRIX... but it's just the *idea* that it's not the real world that is the special effect. So what if the *idea* that there are monsters out there with highly sensitive hearing? Make a noise and they attack - so you must always be quiet. *Sounds* become the real special effect - and making the slightest noise creates suspense. How much does a creaking stair sound cost? A QUIET PLACE cost only $17 million to make - with a couple of names in the cast - and made $71 million worldwide in its first weekend. A simple idea. Making a sound is the high concept, like DON'T BREATHE from a couple of years ago. That's our goal as screenwriters - finding the simple idea that costs little but has all kinds of built in production value. A true high concept is inexpensive to make. 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 Quiet Place ................... $50,000,000
2 Ready Player ................... $25,060,000
3 Blockers ....................... $21,439,000
4 Black Panther ................... $8,430,000
5 I Can Only ...................... $8,356,800
6 Acrimony ........................ $8,065,000
7 Quiddick ........................ $6,200,000
8 Sherlock ........................ $5,600,000
9 Pacific Rim ..................... $4,910,000
10 I Love Dogs ..................... $4,600,000

BLACK PANTHER just past TITANIC and is now #3 on the All Time Highest Domestic Box Office List. Saturday night Chadwick Boseman was on SNL and killed it playing T'Challa on Black Jeopardy... not promoting BLACK PANTHER (which he repeatedly noted in his monologue had been out for months) but promoting AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR which opens in a couple of weeks. BLACK PANTHER may still be in the Top 10 when the next Marvel movie opens! If INFINITY WAR can stay in the top ten until early July, when ANT MAN AND WASP opens...

2) The Real Writers Of A QUIET PLACE.


4) BLOCKERS Writer On Stealth Feminist Comedy.

5) How NOT To Introduce Female Characters. HINT: They are humans beings, not boobs.

6) "One day she could be president, if she could just find her car keys." How your favorite female characters were introduced in the script.

7) The Black List Is Producing Films.

8) The Secret Behind Amazon's TV Shows.

9) TV Writing Tips From TV Writers.

10) How To Distribute Your Indie Film.

11) China's Box Office Is Now Bigger Than The USA's... But foreign box office has been twice USA's for decades.

12) The Limits Of Chinese Box Office. They Mostly Want To See Chinese Movies, It Seems.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:

Because everyone is debating the best decade for movies, here are the best car chase from the 1970s.


Buy The DVDs


Whose Film Is It Anyway? - The Importance Of Point Of View In A Screenplay.
Dinner: Ham Sandwich & Carrot Sticks.
Pages: Worked on some new script tips.
Bicycle: Didn't ride today - walked.


Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Hey! They Stole My Idea!

From ten years ago, when Christian Slater had a new TV show...

About a dozen years ago I wrote 5 action ideas for ex-American Ninja star Michael Dudikoff - that was the business I was in. Oscar caliber material. One of the producers I worked for always wanted to do rip-offs of some other movie - and there’s an upcoming blog entry called *Imagine That!* with more about this guy. So he’d says something like, “Come back in a couple of days with some ideas - and it’d be cool if you can come up with something like TRUE LIES and that Steve McQueen movie HUNTER.” So I’d come up with 5 ideas, with one like TRUE LIES and one like THE HUNTER... and 3 that were original... or, at least, more original.

My theory on the “ideas like” was to take the movie and come up with some high concept twist on it. So here’s what I did when they wanted something like THE FUGITIVE...

When blue collar waste management exec Jack Caplan finds out his business partner, Fischer, is illegally dumping toxic waste, he confronts him at a convention. But Fischer is murdered, and Caplan is set up as fall guy. Now, Caplan must search the hotel for the real killer, while evading both the police and the killer's henchmen. (Think "The Fugitive" in a hotel, played in real time.)

Toxic waste instead of drug tests, and it all takes place in the hotel in real time. That’s the twist that makes it different... but usually the first thing the producer would say is, “Well, why can’t he be accused of murdering his wife, and get rid of the real time thing, and open it up - take it out of the hotel, have it take place in the whole city.” Turning into a carbon paper version of THE FUGITIVE... and something I wasn’t interested in writing. I ended up doing a full treatment for the HUNTER idea... and then jumped ship when it became a carbon copy.

For the TRUE LIES thing, I added a cool twist - THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (original) is one of my favorite movies, so what if Harry in TRUE LIES didn’t know he was a spy? What if the phone rang in his suburban home and a they triggered him with a phrase (“Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?”) or series of sounds to become James Bond? After they mission, the phone would ring and he’d be triggered back to being suburban dad Harry. So here’s what I wrote a dozen years ago for Dudikoff...

Rob Keller's job as a civil engineer takes him all over the world, building bridges in strange countries. When he’s home with his pregnant wife Mary, he’s the perfect husband, taking Lamaze classes and pricing strollers. But Keller’s hard hat job is a cover for his real work as a spy... only he doesn’t know it. A special sonic code activates him, like The Manchurian Candidate, turning the suburban husband into a lethal spy. When the mission is over, another phone call returns him to his regular life. But when Rob returns home from a mission, he brings trouble with him: A terrorist cell bent on revenge. Now Rob must juggle his home life, pregnant wife, and his secret life. When the terrorists kidnap Mary, unactivated suburban Rob has no choice but to stop them... permanently.

So Monday night I caught MY OWN WORST ENEMY with Christian Slater... which I liked, but had too much “personality bleed” which kind of lessens the impact of the end. It would be easy for me to say they stole my idea - only I don’t think they ever had access to it, and it’s obvious that they started with TRUE LIES meets TOTAL RECALL - from the brainwash device to the bit where one side of his personality sends the other side a video to give him information. The funny thing about that - in my action book, I describe TOTAL RECALL as a movies where Ah-nuld discovers he’s his own worst enemy. Hey, did they read my book?

The thing is, this idea was kind of sitting there waiting for somebody to use it. If we look at the two Ah-nuld movies, how many people have those two DVDs sitting next to each other on their shelf? All someone had to do is look at what they had in common, and mash the stories together. Hey, it’s been over a dozen years - how come it took so long?

Hmmm, think I can sell my dozen year old idea to someone today?

- Bill
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