Monday, December 23, 2019

AMAZON MONEY? BUY SOME BOOKS!

Did you get some Amazon money for the Holidays? Why not buy some great screenwriting books?

Forget a friend or a relative who writes? E-books are great because Amazon actually has a "gift" button that will deliver the book to their email box in "gift wrap" from you! No worries about the ebook being delivered on time - you can order it from your phone at your holiday gathering when nobody is looking and it will be waiting for them on their phone or computer. You can claim that you bought it months ago, and who will know?

The new WRITE IT, SELL IT Screenwriting Book on writing Low & No Budget movies is available for pre-order... at $2 off! So if you order it now, you will get it for $7.99 instead of the $9.99 that people will pay for it Next Year.

SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING and the HITCHCOCK They make great gifts, so why not give them to a friend? Or buy them as a gift to yourself. YOU DESERVE IT! (remember - I'm trying to sell books, here!).

NEW: WRITE IT: FILM IT!

WriteItFilmIt

Making Your Own Movie?
Writing An Indie Film?
Writing A Low Budget Genre Script To Sell?
Writing A Made For TV Holiday Movie?

You will be writing for BUDGET. On a standard spec screenplay, you don’t have to think about budget, but these types of screenplays writing with budget in mind is critical!

Low Budget is not just avoiding explosions and special effects, it’s limiting the number of locations and speaking roles and dozens of other expensive elements that you may never have thought of as expensive. Exterior Night scenes? EXPENSIVE! Over 10 locations? EXPENSIVE! Crowd scenes? EXPENSIVE!

You need to know what is expensive *before* you write the screenplay.

This book will show you how to write a budget friendly screenplay that producers can’t say “No” to. All of the insider tips and techniques used by professionals.

If you are making your own movie, budget, is even more important - and you need to think about budget *before* you write your screenplay... or you will end up with a script that you can’t afford to make (or is a struggle to make). Everyone is making their own films these days, and even if you have done it before there are lots of great techniques in this book to get more money on screen - for less money! You can make a film that looks like it cost millions for pocket change.

PRE-ORDER PRICE: $7.99!

THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!



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*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!

Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio). (ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)

Only $9.99 - and no postage!



HITCHCOCK SERIES



LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

*** HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE *** - For Kindle!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Only $5.99


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Strange Structures!

*** HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR! *** - For Kindle!

***

Contained Thrillers like "Buried"? Serial Protagonists like "Place Beyond The Pines"? Multiple Connecting Stories like "Pulp Fiction"? Same Story Multiple Times like "Run, Lola, Run"?
HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock's 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock's *silent* films! We'll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Only $5.99 - and no postage!


STORY IN ACTION SERIES


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Brand New!

*** THE BOURNE MOVIES

All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. Plus a look at the TREADSTONE TV series! This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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Over 240 pages!

*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!


He's back! The release of "Terminator: Dark Fate" is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 33 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films before "Dark Fate", this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only $3.99 - and no postage!


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THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES

NEW: Updates On Films 7 & 8 Casting!

All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES - Only $3.99 !


NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!



BLUE BOOK SERIES


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GOT IDEAS?

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

SALE! $4.99 - and no postage!



BRAND NEW!

OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!

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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.

ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?

Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.

Only $4.99!


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NEW AND HOT!

*** STRUCTURING YOUR STORY *** - For Kindle!


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!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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STORY PROBLEMS?

*** STORY: WELL TOLD *** - For Kindle!


This book takes you step-by-step through the construction of a story... and how to tell a story well, why Story always starts with character... but ISN'T character, Breaking Your Story, Irony, Planting Information, Evolving Story, Leaving No Dramatic Stone Unturned, The Three Greek Unities, The Importance Of Stakes, The Thematic Method, and how to create personal stories with blockbuster potential. Ready to tell a story? Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 85,000 words - 251 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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BRAND NEW!

*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!


Your story doesn't get a second chance to make a great first impression, and this book shows you a bunch of techniques on how to do that. From the 12 Basic Ways To Begin Your Story, to the 3 Stars Of Your First Scene (at least one must be present) to World Building, Title Crawls, Backstory, Starting Late, Teasers and Pre Title Sequences, Establishing Theme & Motifs (using GODFATHER PART 2), Five Critical Elements, Setting Up The Rest Of The Story (with GODFATHER), and much more! With hundreds of examples ranging from Oscar winners to classic films like CASABLANCA to some of my produced films (because I know exactly why I wrote the scripts that way). Biggest Blue Book yet! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 100,000 words - 312 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much morePrint version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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I WRITE PICTURES!

*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)


Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!

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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.

IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?

Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

Only $4.99


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DIALOGUE TO DIE FOR!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 41 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 160 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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SECRETS OF SCENES!

*** SCENE SECRETS BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


What is a scene and how many you will need? The difference between scenes and sluglines. Put your scenes on trial for their lives! Using "Jaws" we'll look at beats within a scene. Scene DNA. Creating set pieces and high concept scenes. A famous director talks about creating memorable scenes. 12 ways to create new scenes. Creating unexpected scenes. Use dramatic tension to supercharge your scenes. Plants and payoffs in scenes. Plus transitions and buttons and the all important "flow"... and more! Over 65,000 words!
Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 210 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!



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BEST SUPPORTING ACTORS?

*** SUPPORTING CHARACTER SECRETS *** - For Kindle! (Exclusive)


Expanded version with more techniques to flesh out your Supporting Characters and make them individuals. Using the hit movie BRIDESMAIDS as well as other comedies like THE HANGOVER and TED and HIGH FIDELITY and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and many other examples we look at ways to make your Supporting Characters come alive on the page. Includes Story Purpose of characters and Subplots. Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is around 150 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


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STUCK IN THE MIDDLE?

*** ACT TWO SECRETS *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more techniques to help you through the desert of Act Two! Subjects Include: What Is Act Two? Inside Moves, The 2 Ps: Purpose & Pacing, The 4Ds: Dilemma, Denial, Drama and Decision, Momentum, the Two Act Twos, Subplot Prisms, Deadlines, Drive, Levels Of Conflict, Escalation, When Act Two Begins and When Act Two Ends, Scene Order, Bite Sized Pieces, Common Act Two Issues, Plot Devices For Act Two, and dozens of others. Over 67,000 words (that’s well over 200 pages) of tools and techniques to get you through the desert of Act Two alive! Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 208 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

Only 418 Pages!

*** BREAKING IN BLUE BOOK *** - For Kindle!


Should really be called the BUSINESS BLUE BOOK because it covers almost everything you will need to know for your screenwriting career: from thinking like a producer and learning to speak their language, to query letters and finding a manager or agent, to making connections (at home and in Hollywood) and networking, to the different kinds of meetings you are will have at Studios, to the difference between a producer and a studio, to landing an assignment at that meeting and what is required of you when you are working under contract, to contracts and options and lawyers and... when to run from a deal! Information you can use *now* to move your career forward! It's all here in the Biggest Blue Book yet!

Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!


VINTAGE SERIES

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ADVICE FROM #2 SCREENWRITER!

*** VINTAGE #1: HOW TO WRITE PHOTOPLAYS *** - For Kindle!

***

Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

Only $2.99 - and no postage!



These links all lead to the USA store, if you are in some other country and want to write a review for your country, go to your Amazon website.

Thank you all again.

Bill

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Top Christmas Films



7 years ago, Rotten Tomatoes made a list of the top reviewed Christmas Films... and somehow, DIE HARD only made it as high as #6. We must correct this!

1)  IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

2)  HOLIDAY INN (1942)

3)  THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

4)  STALAG 17 (1953)

5)  MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)

6)  DIE HARD (1988)

7)  ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011)

8)  A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)

9)  TRADING PLACES (1983)

10)  RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

11)  LETHAL WEAPON (1987)

12)  A MIDNIGHT CLEAR (1992)

13)  A CHRISTMAS TALE (2008)

14) WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995)

15)  SCROOGE (A CHRISTMAS CAROL) (1951)

16)  ELF (2003)

17)  KISS KISS, BANG BANG (2005)

18)  GREMLINS (1984)

19)  THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994)

20)  THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947)

21)  BAD SANTA (2003)

22)  8 WOMEN (2002)

23)  BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

24)  WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)

25)  THE REF (1994)

It's cool that Keith Gordon's  MIDNIGHT CLEAR is so high on the list, that's a great movie that few have seen. BATMAN RETURNS? WTF?

And how is CHRISTMAS STORY #8? That film is what the holiday is all about!

- Bill

PS: Still time to buy SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING for your Screenwriter friends and have it delivered by that "whispernet" thing before the holiday!  -->

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet x 3

From a decade ago!

More from those crazy guys from The Media Lounge who make film collages that play in London night clubs. At Raindance one year they had a feature length program playing in the festival called BRING ME THE HEAD OF ROB LOWE, which had me laughing so hard I almost passed out. A bunch of great short pieces connected by DVD extra interviews with Robe Lowe where he said *the exact same thing* in a different location. Here are both the TV and movie versions of the classic Richard Matheson short story side by side... along with the song...



- Bill

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Push To Open

From 2008...

Part of writing is understanding characters - understanding human nature - and I am stumped.

I am confused by people who don’t get it. One of the Starbucks I regularly write is kind of shaped like a T - with the seating area on the top of the T and the register at the bottom of the T. The bathrooms and some other things are actually at the bottom of the T - so the area between the counter and the back wall is *also* a passage to get to the bathrooms, and for Starbucks employees to get to the counter entrance, and for customers to look at the pastries... also, of course, for customers who have just ordered their coffees at the counter to get to the seating area at the top of the T. So, it’s *obvious* that the line can not block the passage. The first time I walked into this Starbucks, I could figure that out. In fact, *most* people can figure it out.

But obviously some people can’t figure it out. Today I am standing at the “next” position in a short line at this Starbucks with a gap in front of me so that people can pass... and this guy walks in, ignores the line, ignores me standing there with money in my hand, and blocks the passage by standing behind the customer at the register. Someone else in line said, “Excuse me, buddy, there’s a line” (I wanted to - but I’m usually the person who just grumbles to myself and lets the guy take cutsies) and the guy looks at the line, shakes his head, and *doesn’t move*... but when the customer in front of me is finished ordering - he *must* move so that they customer can get to the drink pick up place and the tables... and that’s when I step up to the register and kind of force the guy to stand in line. He’s pissed off...

But it’s not just the line at this Starbucks - there are all kinds of situations where some people don’t seem to get what everybody else figures out instantly. Why is that?

Another Starbucks has doors with handles on both the inside and outside - and it clearly says “Push” on the inside next to the handle. Yet, when I sit in that Starbucks writing, there’s always one or two people who pull on the handles. And when one door doesn’t open by pulling, they try the other door - pulling on that one. And they keep pulling despite the sign that says “push” and never even *try* to push the door open. When I pull on a door and it doesn’t open, I try pushing. In fact, most of the people who go through those doors and may not have noticed the (obvious) sign will push if pulling doesn’t work. But there is this percentage that will not push no matter what. It takes them forever to figure it out. It’s like - if they keep pulling on the door, maybe it will open.

I have no idea how this applies to screenwriting (or characters) but I can’t figure out why these people can’t figure out those things that nobody else even has to think about. I don’t think they are stupid - the guy who took cuts in line was wearing a suit and a Rolex and looked like a successful business guy - probably not “mentally challenged”. I don't think he was being rude, he just didn't seem to be able to figure out simple things. Is there some form of intelligence that governs things like this? Can you be a brilliant businessman and not understand how a line works?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Plot Twists Are The Answer - and STAY vs. GET OUT!
Yesterday’s Dinner: One of those Starbucks Thanksgiving sandwiches - it was free.

MOVIES: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. Did Michelle Williams practice Katharine Hepburn's accent? Did Christopher Plummer study John Houston in CHINATOWN? Was that Kevin Spacey getting off the train in an early scene? The interesting thing about this film is that it's based on a true story about the richest guy in the world who refused to pay the ransom for his kidnapped grandson... and that's the premise. After that it's kind of a dry, just the facts story. The trailer makes it look like a suspense film, maybe with Michelle Williams kicking ass along with Marky Mark in order to get her son back. But much of it takes place in boardrooms where lawyers look over offers. One of the interesting things in adapting a true story is *how* you adapt it, what you decide is the important part of the story and what you leave out - and maybe what you create (was Marky Mark's character truth or fiction or composite?). I've done Script Tips on "casting a story" in a genre to take what might be a little dry and making it exciting... and here they didn't do that. This *could* have been a race against time thriller, with the decision by Getty not to pay the ransom as a big twist, and the machinations to get the grandson back as conflicts and twists with time running out. But they didn't take that path, here. They even downplay the emotions when it comes to the boy's mother - played by Williams. There is a scene near the middle of the film that could have been a big emotional twist - and seems to have maybe been written that way - but ends up filmed so "matter of fact" that it's just a scene.

The best scenes of the movie are when Williams and Plummer are on screen together, basically playing a high stakes chess game against each other with the boy's life in the balance. But that's just business. Which is maybe the issue here - there's a line Getty has about how emotions and even caring about *anything* is how you lose a business deal. You need to be cold. You need to be able to walk away. But the problem is - that ends up what the story is about. William's character doesn't get what is necessary to get her son back by *caring*, but by being cold and besting Getty at his own game. She becomes just as cold and calculating... and that may be intellectually interesting it's not very emotional. There *are* some exciting and emotional scenes - it's hard not to feel for the kid when the kidnappers, um, remove a body part as "proof of life", and the end sequence in the village which reminded me of that early scene in GODFATHER PART 2 builds some suspense (though not through techniques, more just because a kid is being hunted by killers) but the film often feels dry. A scene where Williams' character comes face to face with her ex-husband might have been about two strangers. In addition to the good scenes with Williams and Plummer, the scenes between the kid and the lead kidnapper character (who steals the show) work well. Plummer does a great job considering he's a last minute replacement in a pivotal role. It's a well made movie with good performances, but it's like reading a non fiction book that sticks to the facts... or one of Getty's pieces of "investment art".

Friday, August 16, 2019

Birthday With Hitchcock: Good Evening.

Happy Birthday, Sir Alfred Hitchcock!

Hitchcock's birthday was Tuesday (the 13th)! What movie did you watch to celebrate?

James Allardice wrote all of the intros for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour, plus wrote the Hitchcock lead trailers for his films up until 1966 when he died. The Hitchcock intros were witty and dark and their own little stories which usually started with "Good evening" and then continued through the commercial breaks until coming to some sort of fun (often twist) ending just before the final credits rolled. These intros turned Hitchcock into a *star*. Just like a Kardasian, his name was on everything!

I read the ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS books as a kid (which were the inspiration for GOONIES and EXPLORERS) and "graduated" to the Dell HITCHCOCK PRESENTS anthologies (in my old bedroom at my parent's house there is an ancient paperback titled STORIES THEY WOULDN'T LET ME DO ON TV which I reread over the holidays) and also ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE (which I still had a subscription to until recently). Hitch became the first director who was recognizable to the general public... all because of these sly and wry little intros for his TV show.

While looking for *one* of the intros a couple of days ago, I found *all* of them. So I figured I'd share them with you. Since there were 359 episodes between HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and HITCHCOCK HOUR and Hitch introduced all of them, this clip shows just the opening moments of the little story that each tells. Someone else will have to do a massive supercut of *all* the Hitchcock material!

But that clip has been removed by someone evil at YouTube and Universal. So here is an interview with Hitch from Dick Cavett...



Of course, I have my own book on a selection of Hitchcock's films that do wild experiments with story and cinema...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Only $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Chess Moves

From 2010, because DARK PASSAGE is now on BluRay...

One of the techniques used in suspense stories is something I call the Chess Moves or Chess Dialogue - even though you may find it closer to Poker because it involves bluffing. I wrote about it in the Fridays With Hitchcock about I CONFESS, and it recently popped up in the film DARK PASSAGE, so I thought it would be a good “blog filler” for the day. No actual chess is involved in this technique, so don’t worry if you only know how to play checkers.

The reason why I call it the Chess Move is that, like in chess, the player is several moves ahead of the game, and what may seem like a foolish move now is actually a brilliant move. You are watching a chess game, and one of the players moves his Queen into a very vulnerable position - and the other player takes the Queen. Now, that particular move may look stupid, but when the other player made their move to capture the Queen, they created an opening that two moves from now will result in their being checkmated. Now that stupid move where the Queen was moved onto a square where they were captured doesn’t look so stupid, does it? That player was thinking moves ahead of the other player, and without sacrificing that Queen could never have won the game.

In a story this technique is usually used either to create a trap or to look innocent when the character is, in fact, guilty.

Buy DP BR The trap version you’ve seen a hundred times and probably needs no explanation, but often a character will appear to be vulnerable in order to spring a trap. And sometimes a character will *actually* put themselves in a vulnerable position to spring a trap - they volunteer to be “bait” because it is the only way to make sure the adversary show themselves. Think of John McClane with that gun taped to his back raising his hands and giving up to Hans in DIE HARD. Or the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF and her female archers fire on the enemy army even though they are outnumbered... and are chased into the desert... where the Princess’ much larger army awaits. You may think at first that it’s stupid for McClane to give up to Hans, but how else will he get close enough to attack him? How will he get Hans to let down his guard, thinking that McClane has lost? Though McClane *is* vulnerable - what if Hans just shoots him? - it is a calculated move where McClane is playing several moves ahead of Hans (who has no idea about that gun taped to his back). And even if the Princess in John Woo’s RED CLIFF ends up being killed by the enemy soldiers before they fall into the trap, she will have died so that the trap could be sprung on the enemy soldiers - and the plan still succeeds. Just without the Princess. Sometimes when you’re “the bait” the fish eats you - but you still hook them.



The other version of the Chess Move is also one you’ve seen a hundred times - it’s when a character does something that will make them look innocent when they are guilty. There’s a bluff involved in this - and a “poker face”. There’s a great example in DARK PASSAGE... Humphrey Bogart escapes from San Quentin Prison, and there’s a huge manhunt for him. Lauren Bacall offers him a ride - knowing that he is an escaped prisoner. She has a reason for this, that we won’t know about for several more scenes. Bogart doesn’t know her, but there are a million cops looking for him and this woman has offered to help him escape. When they come to a roadblock, Bogart hides in the back seat which is full of paining supplies, including a tarp. He’s hidden under the tarp when Bacall pulls up to the roadblock. A Policeman tells her there is an escaped prisoner, and asks if she has seen anyone on the road. She says no. The Policeman notices the tarp covering... something... in the back seat, and asks what it is. Bacall says it’s painting supplies, and if he would like to search the car that’s okay with her. That line is the Chess Move. Bogart is hiding back there, and she *encourages* the Policeman to search! Is she crazy? Is she double crossing Bogart? Does she want him to get caught? Why would she ever *encourage* the Policeman to search the exact spot where Bogart is hiding?

Well, let’s look at the alternatives...

A) She could jam on the gas, crash through the roadblock, and speed away! Okay, if that’s her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, now everyone will be chasing for her car and searching for her car and eventually she *and* Bogart will be caught.

B) She could *refuse* to let the Policeman search her back seat, tell him he needs a warrant or a court order or something. Okay, if that is her chess move, what does the other player do? Well, the Policeman will *know* she has something to hide and detain her and get that search warrant and find Bogart and then they both end up in jail.

If you can come up with a C that would fit a 1947 movie, post it in the comments section and we’ll look over what the other player would do in response. Stripping as a diversion isn’t going to work for many reasons, so skip that. I can’t think of any other good alternative that doesn’t make her look like she’s trying to hide something.

And that’s the reason why she has to make the Chess Move - she needs to look innocent, even though she’s guilty as hell of hiding an escaped convict in the back seat. She must do exactly what an innocent person would do, so that the Policeman doesn’t become suspicious, even though that puts her in potential peril. If the Policeman *did* search the backseat and find Bogart, she is in no more trouble than the other alternatives. But because she acts innocent and encourages him to search the backseat, the Policeman figures there must not be anything under that tarp. Why would she *want* him to search if there was someone hiding there? Guilty people have something to hide, innocent people do not - she isn’t trying to hide anything, therefor she must be innocent and not hiding anything. By *encouraging him* she is actually causing him to not search. Hey, still an element of chance, but this is a calculated risk.

Buy DP BR For me, this sort of Chess Move often results in a note from a Development Executive asking me why the character would be so stupid as to invite the Policeman to look in the back seat. Is she stupid? Heard that dozens of times, and I wonder if they actually think through their notes? Here we have a character - a fictional person - who is more intelligent than the Development Executive. The character is several moves ahead, the Devo is several moves behind. And if they looked at the alternatives, they would see that there are not any. The only way scenes like this can play is if the character makes that Chess Move. Because everything in a screenplay (and in life) is cause and effect, you need to be able to see all the way down the line - several moves ahead - and understand that the *best* possible move at this point might be one that seems stupid on the surface - sacrificing that Queen - but is clever when you see a few moves ahead.

There’s a great scene in THE GRIFTERS where the master con man played by the late great J. T. Walsh *insists* that a reluctant investor follow him to the back room to look at all of the expensive computer equipment... which does not exist! The back room is empty. But Walsh must make it clear that he has nothing to hide and that the computer equipment does exist - and no one would ever *insist* that someone look at it unless it were actually there, right? Again, calculated risk - what if the guy went back there to look? - but the worst case scenario remains the same no matter what Walsh does... but only by making the Chess Move does he have a chance at success. Often, the only smart move a character has is something that may seem like a dumb move at the time it is made... but the character is a few Chess Moves ahead and this is really a clever move.

When Devos are unable to see that it is a clever move is when those Devos should be replaced. Unfortunately in my experience, instead it is when the clever move is removed and the script gets dumber.

Pisser.

- Bill

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Patients

From way back in August 2010...

I am not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV, but I have seen many movies with serious problems and read many screenplays with fatal problems. I'm not even a script doctor, so my job is not to cure these patients - just the blather on and on about them in my blog. Complaining is free, I might as well get in as much as I can, right?

A couple of months ago I went to a BBQ at Bamboo Killer Emily’s new house and everyone was talking about screenwriting and movies and the upcoming UFC fight (which is different than a KFC fight - me wanting more fried chicken and knowing I shouldn’t have any). One of the subjects was that insane writing you do the last day of Nicholl submissions - “Sure, I can knock out an entire Act 3 by 11:59!” and then the horror of finding all of the typos and screw ups *after* you have submitted you script to the contest. I always say, if you want to find all of the mistakes in your screenplay, send it to someone really important and then reread it. Suddenly you can see all of the typos you’ve missed!

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It’s like that episode of HOUSE where he is sure the patient is fine and discharges him from the hospital, only to have the patient bounce back an hour later ten times worse... and maybe even *blue*... like some extra from AVATAR.

Our job is to make sure the patient is in perfect health before we discharge them from the hospital, and that takes patience.

Writing is rewriting. A script you finished at 11:59 on the last day for Nicholl’s submissions hasn’t been rewritten at all. Probably hasn’t even been proof read. Probably has all kinds of weird and confusing stuff in it - remember when you changed the female lead’s name when you were writing the script? How many places does she have the old name? Remember that scene on page 57 where the villain captures the hero and takes his gun... how does the hero get it back for the big shoot out at the end? Remember that scene where the guy buys the gal dinner in the cute little restaurant? How about three scenes before when he lost his wallet?

And those are the big obvious problems! What about consistent dialogue? Do all of your characters have a unique vocabulary and a different way of speaking? Or do they all sound just like you? Once you get the story down, there are hundreds of *details* in the way that story is told that must be consistent - character details, dialogue details, action details, etc - things that you will probably not get right on first pass... or even second pass! Things that you may not even notice if you do a quick read through before hitting the “send” button that sends your PDF to a contest or producer.

Being a freelance writer is tough - you have to be your own boss and impose your own deadlines. Having a deadline like the Nicholl or some other contest is a great way to get us off of our lazy butts and in front of that keyboard turning out pages. I understand the need for outside motivation tools... but eventually you will reach a point where there are no contests deadlines to spur you along and you have to finish screenplays on your own. This is not easy, but a skill you need to develop. You don’t want to be the writer who never gets anything finished... or gets an assignment and waits until the last minute and turns in a crappy draft. And because we are all human and those contest deadlines *are* great motivators, how about this: give yourself three weeks to rewrite your script before the deadline... which makes your first draft deadline three weeks *before* the Nicholl deadline. Then hold to that. Use the deadline to get you off your butt, and also leave enough time to polish your script before you turn it in.

This works on assignments, too. Mentioned this in a tip rewrite recently - I always give myself at least 2 days to do a quick rewrite before handing in an assignment... even if my deadline only gives me 2 weeks to write the script. On this recent assignment, the character of the detective changed completely in that little rewrite. The Detective character had been a last minute addition to the treatment before I turned it in: I had several people die, and policemen at each crime scene, and realized I could consolidate all of those policemen into one Detective so that instead of having a bunch of one day SAG cops, it could be one actor for all of those days... and we could find some recognizable character actor to play the role. So the Detective character got shoved into the story at the last minute, and when I went to script he was under developed. When I did a read-through on the script, his character didn’t pop. No character actor would want to play this role - it was boring. So I came up with a more interesting character for the detective and did a pass through the script changing and improving his dialogue, actions, etc - to reflect this new character. Another last minute pass turned a one line joke into something more subtle (and I think more funny) where the set up is 20 pages before the punchline. Now, this is *still* a first draft, and will go through many more rewrites, but I want to hand in something that makes me look good so that I don’t get fired...

I *have* turned in the rushed script before - and it was a big mistake. You always want the script to be *better* than they expect it to be. If your first draft reads like a first draft, there is no reason *not* to replace you later on with some other writer whose first drafts read like first drafts.

WHY 98% OF INDIE FILMS SUCK


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It gets even worse if you are making the film yourself. The Los Angeles Times had an article a few years back that said 98% of indie films find no distributor at all - not even DVD. They just end up in people’s garages. And one of the reasons why these films are no good is that the screenplays have obvious story flaws that should have been fixed in rewrites... only I suspect there were no rewrites. They were impatient and shot the first draft.

Which is less expensive: rewriting the screenplay or refilming the movie?

A couple of years ago I was invited to a cast & crew screening of a movie made by a friend... and the story was impossible to follow and made no sense at all. It was supposed to be a thriller, but it was muddled and characters were constantly doing stupid things to help the plot and the dialogue was awful, and just about everything was inconsistent in the story - as if this were a collection of completely unrelated scenes about unrelated characters that were put in the same file folder and lead characters were all given the same name and romantic interests given the same name, etc. So the lead character who hated guns on page 6 had a gun collection on page 23 and then didn’t know how to shoot on page 42 and then kills seven bad guys with six bullets in the big end shoot out. Okay - now imagine that with *every* trait the lead has, and then imagine all of the other characters being just as inconsistent. And the story being just as thrown together, too. This film was impossible to watch - even though the acting was okay and the cinematography was really good. The story was a mess. I just looked it up on IMDB - still looking for a distrib. Lots of shoot outs, there’s nudity, there are some minor names in the cast... but the story is so screwed up no one is taking it.

Don’t film a first draft! Rewrite the hell out of it so that it’s amazing, *then* film it!

Sometimes the problem may be that the writer thinks the script is ready to film, when it is far from it. This is why it’s good to get a second opinion from some outside source before you film it. Get some coverage on it or get some people to read it. Then, when you get notes - listen!

There are several blog entries about people I know who ask my advice on their projects... then completely ignore it. I always wonder why they asked in the first place, and it pisses me off to read a script for a friend and give notes on *real problems* and then have my time wasted when they don’t fix the problems. Maybe there’s the feeling that indie films are art from the heart of the creator without any meddling from the outside world - but a major story problem is a major story problem - fix it! And, all of these films that friends ask me for advice on are genre films (thrillers, action, horror) and not some artistic self expression piece that will play at art houses. If you want to see messed up low end horror films, check out Brain Damage.... then realize that these are the films that were in that 2% that were good enough to get distribution!

DETAILS MATTER

There’s a great scene in GET SHORTY (screenplay by Scott Frank, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard) where Delroy Lindo explains screenwriting to John Travolta...



Chili flips through the script a moment . . .

CHILI
You know how to write one of these?

BO CATLETT
There's nothin' to know. You have an idea, you write down what you wanna say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren't positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words . . . although I've seen scripts where I know words weren't spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it at all. So I don't think it's too important. Anyway, you come to the last page you write in 'Fade out' and that's the end, you're done.

CHILI
That's all there is to it, huh?

BO CATLETT
That's all.


And some folks think it’s just that easy... but the “tricky words and commas” is really the hard part. Once you’ve got the basics of the story, the way it is told and the details are what make that story live or die... and the first draft is a first draft. Filled with little problems you may not have noticed while writing it. You need to go back and fix it... Writing is rewriting.

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The first draft of your script is raw materials that must be refined into something valuable. You want to catch and correct the problems *before* someone else sees them. You don’t want them to judge your script on that raw first draft, because everything can change in the next draft or the draft after that - even in a two day quick read-through and rewrite your script can change. They might reject your script based on the first draft, not knowing that by the third draft all of the obvious problems will be gone and the script will be amazing...

The UFC fight at Bamboo Killer Emily’s party was #114, and somewhere in one of the undercards leading up to the main event, favored-to-win Todd Duffee fought pudgy Mike Russow. When they stepped into the ring, we all thought it was a waste of time - Russow was downright fat and Duffee was rock hard. For the first two rounds Duffee pummeled Russow - just kept hitting the fat guy in the face and body *hard*. This fight was over. You wanted the ref to move in and stop it before Russow really got hurt. But somewhere in round two I noticed that Russow had taken a bunch of direct hits to the face... and was still standing. Russow wasn’t doing much hitting back, he was just getting hit - and it didn’t seem to be slowing him down. Everyone was sure that Duffee was the easy winner - he was landing punch after punch. But in round three, the fat Russow SLAMMED Duffee in the face and knocked him out.

Your script may win by a knock out, but not if you get impatient and hand in that first round first draft that’s fat and slow and looks like a complete loser. Be patient. Take the time to rewrite your screenplay before you give it to someone else to read. Make sure it is the very best you can make it before you send it out into the world. And whatever you do - make sure it is *great* before you film it. Once it is on film, it is too late to do anything about it.

Don't discharge the patient before they are ready to leave the hospital.

- Bill

WARNING: UK's M4M channel: 8/11 - 14:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: 3 Acts = Conflict - It's all about conflict!
Dinner: Togos Hummus sandwich.
Bicycle: Medium.
Pages: Had planned to do all kinds of work last week... and only did a little bit.
Movies: THE OTHER GUYS - This is the movie PINEAPPLE EXPRESS should have been. A cop comedy that has a basic cop structure to hold all of the gags together. The Tuna vs. Lion speech is worth the ticket price, and even though the first half is funnier than the last half, it has great running gags and call backs that keep it going. The story is wild Will Ferrell comedy, but is grounded with heart... you care about these two losers. Michael Keaton is great as the Chief who is the *opposite* of all of those action flick yelling Chiefs: he has a part time job at Bed Bath & Beyond to help pay the bills. Eva Mendez is hot - and that's part of the joke. Sam Jackson and The Rock had me laughing non-stop in their scenes. This probably isn't one of those films we'll be talking about ten years from now, but you can laugh at it now. Stay for the lesson in white collar crime in the closing credits.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Zombie Projects!

From exactly nine years ago...

So, today I want to talk about Zombie Projects. No... not projects about zombies like my super-cool zom-com JUST BEFORE DAWN about a guy afraid to commit to his girlfriend and then a weird outbreak of “space herpes” makes everyone ultra-horny... after it kills them... and now our relationship-phobic hero is forced to live with his girlfriend forever or deal with the horny dead.

I mean those dead projects that unexpectedly come back to life.

Last week I had two long dead projects suddenly come back to life. One was a script I wrote a few years ago that was shelved... I thought forever... then the producer called to set up a meeting. Seems he bumped into a distrib looking for a specific type of genre film - and danged if my old script doesn’t more or less fit what they are looking for. I suspect at the meeting he will want to see if I will make it more like what they want, and I did a quick re-read of the script, and I think a couple of cosmetic changes will do the trick. I had completely written this one off as dead back when they shelved it.

The other project is something I’ve been pushing. Three years ago I had a meeting with a producer on a studio sequel project. I worked out a detailed pitch - which basically means I did an outline for the script and figured out characters and scenes and all kinds of stuff. I put a great deal of work into it behind the scenes... and then the whole project crashed and burned. Well, a producer who has never bought anything from me but has read a couple of my scripts just landed at that studio after leaving Fox, so I thought I’d e-mail them and pitch this 3 year old project to them. They liked it, and are taking it to the studio. If the studio likes it, maybe they’ll hire me to write it. It’s a sequel to a hit movie that spawned a TV show - but couldn’t star the original star (unless he became a zombie). So it’s kind of a sequel/reboot kind of thing. Two projects I thought were dead have come back to life.

Now, both may be dead by the end of this week - or the end of May. There are a bunch of people who can say “no” - and that’s even their job: to make sure the studio doesn’t waste money. But if they always said no there would be no movies playing in the multiplex, so they have to say “yes” sometimes. Usually when Will Smith or some other movie star is attached. I don’t have any movie stars attached to either project.

But the lesson in all of this - even if both are dead again by the end of May - is that nothing is ever dead for sure in Hollywood. Though Quentin Tarantino is famous for resurrecting stars with dead careers in his movies, there are plenty of stars whose careers came back even without being in a QT movie. One of my favorite directors, John Frankenheimer, had his career dry up by the mid 60s after making a bunch of great films. Cannon Pictures, makers of those AMERICAN NINJA movies and Chuck Norris movies hired him to direct 52 PICKUP, based on an Elmore Leonard novel that Cannon had already made once with Rock Hudson in the lead. This time around, they put Roy Schieder in the lead... and Frankenheimer hit it out of the park. Though the film wasn’t a big financial hit, critics loved it and people began hiring Frankenheimer again. His second life. That was when he made this little film called RONIN which you may have seen. Writers also drop off the face of the earth and then return - my friend John Hill who wrote QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER and is one of a handful of pro writers I know who do consulting, says that every once in a while a writer needs to reinvent themselves. In a way, we have it the easiest of everyone in Hollywood - an actor has to be cast, a director has to be hired, but we can just write ourselves a job. If our careers die for some reason, we can write a bunch of new spec scripts and go from “What ever happened to that guy?” to “Have you read the new script by that guy? It rocks!”

And our old scripts - sitting on their shelves or sitting on ours - always have a chance at coming back from the dead. If you have an old script that doesn’t work, you can always rewrite it so that it does work. I’m always looking for the solutions to scripts that didn’t work, and when I figure out some way to make them work - they get a rewrite. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, sometimes it’s a complete overhaul where everything changes. But no script is completely dead - you become a better writer as time goes on, and even those first couple of stinky scripts can be rewritten to remove the smell. In that out of print book of mine I tell the story of DIE HARD... which began as the shelved sequel to a film from 1968. Back in 1968 the star didn’t want to make the sequel... and Fox shelved the project. Over a dozen years later, Joel Silver was looking for a property the studio already owned to make into a film... and found DIE HARD (called NOTHING LASTS FOREVER at the time). A dead script is resurrected!

So, you don’t just have one chance - you have millions of them. That script that may not work today may be the perfect script for 5 years from now. Sometimes timing is the problem. Sometimes finding the right star is the problem. Sometimes that script that nobody likes in 2010 is just ahead of its time and needs the world to catch up with it. And sometimes we can’t figure out how to make the story work until a couple of years after we’ve finished it. But no script is even really dead.

Recently someone on a message board was celebrating being read and rejected by a big producer at Warner Bros - and that is totally the right attitude. Because we do not have crystal balls and can not read minds, so we have no idea whether that script will be the one that the development executive can’t get out of his head... and a couple of years later he’s working for some other company and tries to get them interested in that script. Things like that happen all of the time.

Just as these two projects of mine have seem to come back to life, your dead projects may come back, too. So here’s to your zombie projects! Hope they come back!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: They Gave It Away! - they are going to show all of the good parts of your script in the trailer... so you need even more good parts!
Dinner: Some storefront Teriyaki place - Salmon and brown rice.
Bicycle: Did a bike/bus combo on Thursday to Westwood to have lunch with a fellow writer and complain about the biz, did a medium ride on Friday, Saturday took the subway to the Convention Center for Showbiz Expo - more on that later.

Movies: THE LOSERS... okay, but either the direction or the script was downright unemotional. I suspect the direction, because there were some okay twists in the script that seemed like they might have been designed to make us feel something - yet the direction distanced everything in a shaky cam / Michael Bay "people are products and this is a commercial" camera placement. When shots should have been some form of POV or over the shoulder to put us in the character's shoes we get these quick cut externals that are outside of the action instead of inside the action. Jason Patric plays a psycho ultra-evil villain from some 1980s movie who kills people for making simple mistakes - but doesn't seem to be smart enough to realize that now no one is doing that task. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a freakin' movie star - the American Jason Statham - he kicks ass and *is* tough without having to act it. Zoe Saldana is hot and kicks ass - there's a cool shot in the film where she is on a rooftop with a rocket launcher that is ultra sexy. Chris Evans plays a geek... who can run faster than anyone else in the film - great semi-parkour scenes. Columbus Short is the soul and heart of the team - he worries that he will miss the birth of his first child. Oscar Jaenada is the cool, quiet, sniper who never says anything... unless you touch his hat. Idris Elba is the effing badass of the group - when he's not beating the crap out of bad guys, he's beating the crap out of team members. The characters are well defined, which is why I suspect the direction was the problem. Lots of big action scenes, some good humor... but it just feels flat. The plot is kind of stupid. This ends up being the studio version of a B movie - grab a six pack go in with low expectations and enjoy it on DVD.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Still Standing

From almost exactly this time of year in 2010...

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I didn’t get much writing done because I ran into some old friends at my local Starbucks and we just hung out all night. The very first question everyone asked me was, “Where’s Craig?” And I ended up telling each person as they arrived and asked me that question, “He moved back home”, which was an amazing conversation killer. Moments of silence as people processed this, and wondered if they would move home someday.

The group consists of people from the neighborhood who shop at the local Ralph’s Grocery and often eat at City Wok or Tortas across the street and grab a coffee on their way to work at Starbucks and a beer after work at Residuals Bar. Some of the folks have known each other longer than others - three of them all lived at the Oakwood Apartments (where Jay Leno knocks on doors sometimes as part of a gag) at the same time. The lynchpin that holds it all together is one guy who was one of the Oakwood guys - who would come home from work and go straight to Starbucks, sitting outside by the front doors whether it was summer or winter. We called him the Mayor of Starbucks. He’d say hello to you when you passed him - said hello to everybody. Knew most people by name. And when I hit a snag on a script and needed to step away from the laptop before I smashed it to pieces, I would take a break and sit outside with him for a while. And that’s how I became part of this loose group. We all knew this one guy, and we all started to hang out together.




Two or three times a week - no schedule and no set dates and no real organization - a bunch of us would be at Starbucks at the same time and go to dinner together at City Wok and then go back to Starbucks and sit around and BS. There were directors and stunt men and writers and cinematographers and FX people and a puppeteer. You read that right - a guy who puts on puppet shows. Oh, and actors. For a few years, this loose group would meet and have dinner and BS - sometimes our table at City Wok would be for 4 people, and sometimes they’d have to put a whole bunch of tables together. I often work in that Starbucks, as did a couple of others, so we would always be part of the group. Others came or went or whatever.

Sometimes people would move to the other side of Los Angeles, and we might not see them for months... and then they’d drop in one night out of the blue. Sometimes they moved and just never made it back. And sometimes they would go home in defeat.

Mostly guys, but one ultra hot gal who lived in my building landed a big deal - a TV show - and moved into a luxury pad by the beach on the other side of town and... then it all fell apart. She ended up going home. It was tragic.

One of the guys had the hots for this cute Barista gal, but was kind of scared to ask her out. Every time he was there he would flirt with her and she would flirt with him. She was single. She was dating. She was dating men. But this guy just couldn’t work up the nerve to ask her out. Every time he was there for dinner we would encourage him to just do it - what’s the worst that could happen? She says no. One night, he decides he’s going to do it. We’re all there - over a dozen of us - I think the puppeteer was even there - when he flirts with her for a while and she flirts with him and then he asks her out... and she BRUTALLY shoots him down. You could hear us gasp all the way in Long Beach. It was like a body blow to all of us. He grabbed his tea and sat back down with us and pretended like nothing happened. He was joking about something a few minutes later.




A couple of years ago the group began to dissolve. One of the guys got married (his wife is now expecting), some of the guys moved, and the lynchpin guy who kind of held the group together had some personal problems and doesn’t go out of his house much anymore. I seldom go to that Starbucks, because it became very crowded (difficult to get a table) and too many people know my name (so it’s hard to get anything done). Some days I check to see if there’s a table, some days I just get on the bike and go somewhere else without even checking. But a couple of weeks ago I showed up for the evening shift, the place was almost empty, and I grabbed a table and started working...

When one of the guys came in and said he’d gotten a call that some of others were going to show up later... and we ended up with around 8-10 people. All of whom asked me: “Where’s Craig?” And I had to answer that he’s moved back home.

Craig was one of those other guys in Starbucks with a laptop open writing something. To hear him talk, he had it all figured out. He had quit a high paying job back home and moved to Hollywood to make it big. Make millions. He drove a sports car - leased. He was one of those guys who could talk their way into just about anything - super confident, aggressive about business, a real hustler, cocky but also funny. That was really his biggest gift, because he could make you feel at ease - like you were an insider in his world, joking at the losers on the outside. He had cajones. He would just go up and talk to some movie star or producer and often get them to take his scripts. He landed a deal, that worked out well for him... and it seemed like this was the first step to bigger things. He was walking on air - king of the world - sure that he would just be climbing that Hollywood ladder rung after rung until he got to the top. But after that initial success, he stumbled a bit before he landed his next deal. The stumbling part he shook off, telling us that those deals weren’t met to be and not getting them was a good thing because it cleared the way for the big one. Then he landed his second deal, which looked like the big one... and that did not go as planned at all.

I read one of his scripts once, and it was wild and energetic and had no act 2 and kinda didn’t really come together at the end. But filled with cool stuff. I tried to give him some feedback on it, but he thought it was fine... good enough to get him though the doors. And it was. You know, it’s not easy to get through those doors. But once they tried to make a movie out of it all of the problems became apparent and it crashed and burned horribly and something happened to him - maybe he realized he could get through the door, but when it came time to make the movie he didn’t have those skills. Or maybe he had this dream that making it big would be easy and it wasn’t. Or maybe it was something else.

Anyway, after that second one crashed, he tried to set something else up and nothing happened at all, and then, while I was out of town for the holidays, he called me and said he was going home, I thought just for the holidays.... but he never returned.

The first or second year I was at the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference, William Kelley who wrote WITNESS said that you don’t know anything until you’ve had a script produced. You *think* you know something, but actually having that script turned into a film changes everything. I think that’s true. I think when it’s a screenplay, it’s all still kind of make believe and the decision to change something isn’t going to cost a pile of money or put production behind by a few days or make the ending impossible. You may have a script that’s an amazing read, but when it is time to put that script on screen most of the cool stuff stays on the page and the film doesn’t work. Or maybe can’t even be filmed. Once your dream becomes something that is going to be scheduled and budgeted and rewritten for budget and schedule and available talent and all of the other physical issues that come along with production (not even bringing in the artistic stuff), it often turns into something so real it is not enjoyable. That scene where he teaches her how to surf while they are on vacation in Hawaii and they fall in love? Well, we are shooting this film in New Mexico because of the tax incentives - Can he teach her how to ride a horse instead? Stuff like that destroys some people. And having to make something that only works on the page due to some fancy word-dancing, work on the screen where there is no dancing allowed, may be outside of some writer’s skill set. They may discover that they are not good enough for that next step.

There are 5 steps to screenwriting, and each is a chance for all kinds of failure.
1) Learning to write the screenplay.
2) Learning to write the screenplay that someone wants to buy.
3) Learning to write the screenplay that gets made into a film.
4) Going through the hell of production.
5) Remaining a screenwriter over a period of time.




I have seen a lot of “big talkers” come and then go. Maybe they are embarrassed because they told everyone how great they were and how great their work was and how easy it was for them to get their first thing set up someplace... and then it didn’t turn out easy after all. Maybe all of that talk is what *made them* go back home or make some low budget film that can’t find a distrib and drop out of sight so that they don’t have to answer questions about it. Maybe they have told everyone they are going to be Kings, and when they end up just pawns, they can’t deal with that.

But here’s the thing - you can get depressed or frustrated or heart broken and go back home, or you can stick it out and figure out what isn’t working and fix that. If you don’t brag about what hasn’t happened yet, no reason to be embarrassed when it doesn’t happen or takes much longer than expected.

At the TALES FROM THE SCRIPT panel, one of the writers said that screenwriting is a job where you get punched in the face again and again and again. And that is the truth. If you haven’t been punched in the face yet, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen... it means when it does happen you’ll be hit twice as hard. Maybe five times as hard. It will happen.

Best thing to do: Feel the pain, then get up and prepare to be hit again.

The best line in the last ROCKY film: “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”

Same is true in Hollywood, as I’m sure Stallone can tell you. You want to go the full ten rounds and take a bunch of hits and still be standing at the end of the fight. A setback is just a setback - shake it off, stay in the ring.

"Hello, I'm a screenwriter.... I want you to hit me in the face as hard as you can."

- Bill

I'm sorry, one of my movies is invading the UK again...
Movies For Men Channel: 4/27 - 16:20 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

(oddly wrong synopsis - it's a germ warfare scientist who is kidnaped by Iran, and a rescue attempt by Navy SEALS that goes wrong, etc.)

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Terror Of Act 2 - How to keep act 2 exciting... even if the conflict is with unseen forces.
Dinner: Arroz con pollo.
Bicycle: Medium-long ride deep into the valley.
Pages: Yesterday? Nothing but this blog entry.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

You Can't Handle The Truth!

From nine years ago...

So I’m cycling from one coffee shop to another and this car *runs a red light* and almost hits me. The driver hits their horn and screams something at me. I’m kind of shook up, and just kind of pause for a moment to reflect on my life up until this point... when it almost ended. Then I get back in motion... and due to traffic, end up at the next stop light right next to the driver. Now there have been times when my common sense got misplaced somewhere and I yelled at someone in two tons of steel that can travel at 120 miles per hour - kind of like arguing with a guy pointing a gun at you - but this was not one of those times. Instead, the guy started screaming at *me* for getting in the way of him running the red light... though he didn’t phrase it that way. Actually, he spoke in a code made up of profanity. I just let him scream, and when the light changed, I flipped him off (okay, maybe I misplaced some of my common sense) then zoomed away. Again, thanks to traffic, I was far ahead of him and did not see him for the rest of my ride. He was probably on his way to his anger management session.

But this is one of those strange things about human beings that we need to work on: when we are wrong, instead of admitting it, we attack the person who is right! I’m sure it’s all a basic survival thing left over from when we were cavemen cutting each other off on the jungle trail - when our vulnerability is exposed, we attack to protect that vulnerability. And we are vulnerable when we are obviously wrong. In fact, the more wrong we are, the more vulnerable we are, the stronger our attack seems to be. We just *react* when we should probably think and then react.

Probably because I am slowly becoming an old fogey (kids get off my lawn!) it seems to me that there is more of this reaction-when-wrong thing than ever before. People seem to be more self centered and more combative and less polite. They also seem to have lost those mental checks and balances that have us think before we speak. Hey, maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been this way but my tolerance has eroded over the years. Whatever, people who are wrong seem determined to fight everyone else to the death... especially the people who are right.

The problem with this is that it just escalates the conflict, and in the end - the person who was wrong is *still wrong*... only now they are even *more* wrong and look *much* worse because they have fought so damned hard *against* what is right.

But people continue to fight when they are wrong and do all that they can to cover it up and blame the other guy, and even try to convince us that right-is-wrong and wrong-is-right. Instead of just deflating the whole problem with the truth and a *sincere* admission of being wrong, they escalate the problem by covering it up and insisting they are in the right.

You see this stuff in politics all the time - and it never ends well. Someone who is head of a group that is strongly anti-Gay, gets caught hiring a male prostitute from a place called “RentBoy.com” to be his companion on a business trip. Now, after being caught red handed (difficult to avoid puns with a subject like this) instead of just saying, “Okay, I’m Gay. Sorry for all of the previous Gay-hatred, but I was actually hating myself and lashing out at others who reflected the part of me I most hated”, the guy escalates the conflict by saying he’s completely not-Gay and had only hired the male prostitute to carry his luggage... and when people don’t buy that, he claims that he did not know that a website called “RentBoy” was an escort service... and when people don’t buy that, he changes his story to say he was trying to show the poor male prostitute the error of his ways while they shared a hotel room on a business trip... and when people didn’t buy that... and on and on it goes, staying in the news cycle instead of being forgotten because they guy just won’t admit that he’s Gay.

Big deal - he’s Gay. A week ago there were millions of Gay people marching in parades all across the country - he’d have just been one in those millions. But instead of being lost in a crowd, he kept himself in the news by denying what just about everyone else in the world figured was the truth... And the end result is always the same: that male prostitute talks to a major metropolitan newspaper and says they had all kinds of sex. Um, if someone rents a male prostitute for a couple of weeks I *hope* they have lots of sex and get their money’s worth. That’s probably not cheap. Wait... did he charge it off on his expense account, too?

By the way - I try to keep politics off the blog, and used this as an illustration of my point because it was recently in the news and went on for a long time due to the guy just continuing to try and cover it all up. Please, no political rants in the comments section. If you want to imagine some President who said “I did not have sexual intercourse with that woman” when that was not entirely true, be my guest. Politics is *full* of examples on every side of extending the conflict by covering it up and denying it instead of just admitting the truth. There’s a great scene in one of the Tom Clancy movies where Jack Ryan advises the President that distancing himself from some friends who did the wrong thing would be a mistake - the press would easily connect the President to them and that would extend the scandal. Instead, say they were not just friends but good friends. Defuse the scandal by admitting the truth. Once you have said the truth, the news story is over. Nothing to dig up.

HOLLYWOOD, LOOK IN THE MIRROR!

(No, you do not look “Mahvelous!”... look closer)

M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has been getting a lot of press lately... all the wrong kind. THE LAST AIRBENDER is running at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences also seem not to like it much - only a C from the CinemaScore poll. When he was asked about the critics disliking his film he said something along the lines of, If the critics hate it I must be on the right track. Of course, this from a guy who made a film critic the villain in LADY IN THE WATER. Not all film critics make sense and some probably are villains, but film reviews are a lot like script notes: they may not all be right, but sometimes they point out real problems that can be addresses to improve your work. And if many people give you the same script note, that’s a real problem that needs to be looked into. Some notes you might look at and see the point being made, but you disagree with it... so you ignore it. You are the one writing the script or making the movies at the end of the day.

But when Night looks at the problems the critics are pointing out and decides that he is right and all of them are wrong... well, that’s a bit arrogant and a bit self destructive. Also, it’s self delusional - he refuses to see that his career seems to be hurtling in a downward direction. Quickly. Every film seems worse than the one before - and often kind of dopey. And his roles seem to be getting bigger in every film. THE SIXTH SENSE was a really good film (his third as director) and I did not like UNBREAKABLE when it first came out, but it was *interesting* and in retrospective it was much better than LADY IN THE WATER and THE VILLAGE and THE HAPPENING. Though SIGNS was well directed, it had a laughable screenplay that seemed to get sillier as it went on. But instead of Night looking in the mirror, seeing his faults, and trying to correct them and make better films; he *rejects* that he even has faults!

It’s *our* fault for not loving his movies.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

But Night is not the only one in Hollywood who thinks this way (duh). When a film flops, studios are quick to blame it on poor marketing or a change in audience tastes or a trend that ended or a star who has faded or something other than THE FILM STINKS! We see the film, and it’s just awful... and the CinemaScore audience poll gives it a bad grade, and critics hate it, but with better marketing people would have liked it. That makes no sense at all to anyone but Hollywood suits. If this were any other product and an entire product line failed, they would be all over that line trying to figure out what went wrong so that they won’t make that expensive mistake again. But movies are *creative* and *subjective*, so you can’t really know why a film fails... except for all of the critics pointing out the awful dialogue and dreadful acting. How many times have we seen films with friends and everyone has the exact same complaints? That’s not subjective, that’s a problem!

But Hollywood doesn’t think it’s *their* problem... or at least, refuses to admit that it is their problem. It’s marketing department or that fickle audience who loved the last movie with a donkey in it, so why didn’t they love *this* movie with a donkey in it?

Those danged suits!

But what about *us*? You know, screenwriters... we get notes on our scripts and react. “They don’t know what they are talking about! They are wrong! They just didn’t get it!” We can easily blame “them” and close our eyes to the screenplay’s problems. We all do it. I do it. Your first reaction is that they are wrong. Hey, sometimes they are wrong... and sometimes we are wrong. When you get that note, and you want to *fight it* and fight it to the death, just take a deep breath and step back and calm down. Let that reaction pass before you say or do anything. Then, when you are in a calmer state of mind, look at the note objectively. At least, as objectively as you can. Do they have a point? Really be open to the possibility that you might be wrong, that your script may be flawed. The thing about a note is that you still get to decide what to do. But part of that decision involves being able to think clearly and not be so caught up in defending your script that you end up defending a guilty party. The reason why we ask for notes, and the reason why getting some feedback is important, is to improve your screenplay.

Now, you may hear all of the notes, give them serious consideration, and change nothing. I have a script that always gets the exact same note: people don’t like the point of the story. It makes them uncomfortable. Well, that was my *intent*, so I am not going to change it. The script was always a hard sell, and making it an easier sell by removing its soul and purpose isn’t going to make it better... just worse in a different way. But other notes on that script were considered and used to improve the script... after I calmed down.

If I were to fight every note because my script is right and everyone else is wrong, I would be expending a lot of energy defending a bad script. And one of the reasons why I would fight so hard to defend it is that I would *know* that it is bad. You defend your weaknesses, not your strengths. But defending your weaknesses does not make them stronger - it may even weaken them more. Instead of defending your weaknesses, acknowledge them and work to improve them. Once they are no longer weaknesses, they no longer need to be defended.

Oh, and your screenplay gets better!

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

- Bill
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