Wednesday, October 12, 2022

ATLiH: Trilogy Of Terror: Part 2... I Was An Overpriced Zombie


One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.



This painting in our gallery of gore starts with a director who was a friend of a friend and directed some syndicated TV shows - but seldom more than a couple of episodes. You remember all of those shows in the 90s that played on some non-network channel? Stuff like RISING SUN and COBRA and VIP? Well, they don’t make those shows anymore, so this director is out of work. But, like everyone else, he decided to make a horror movie because horror movies are hot right now. He assembles some private financing and a distribution deal – his budget is around a million bucks. I hint around that I would be willing to write a script for below my quote... and I even have a couple of horror scripts sitting around that could be made on that budget. He wants to develop his own project, and is going to work with a non-WGA writer (who he won’t pay until the film is completed) to save development money. Okay.

I suspect this is really a control issue. One of the strange things I’ve noticed in my career is that the more established you become, the fewer insecure people want to work with you. It’s the opposite of how it should be. If I have a script that went wide and got me 48 studio meetings, some people will refuse to read that script because they can’t easily dismiss it. A strange thing happens when directors or producers think your script may actually be good - it puts pressure on them not to screw it up. They can make a bad script better, but all they can do with a good script is screw it up... so they may be more interested in a flawed script than one that is ready to go. An actor in one of my films has a policy to *only* work with actors worse than he is, so that he always looks better. What makes no sense about this is - you should always be looking for the best elements. A good script, a good cast. If that actor surrounded himself with *better* actors, he wouldn’t look bad... he’d look like the star of a film with bigger names in supporting roles. Makes him look bigger than the other names! And with great supporting actors, the film becomes a better film. And when the supporting cast raises the bar, you’re more likely to step up and do better work... Unless you’re afraid that this will expose you as completely talentless. Then you want to work with people of lesser talent, and you end up with crappy films. That’s one of the reason B movies often suck. Even if they begin with a great script, they *need* to screw it up so that they retain their power. There's an old joke in screenwriting circles about the director who can take a script that sold for $350,000 and turn it into a movie that looks like it was made for $350,000 (or less).

So this director hires a writer with no credits... basically a typing monkey who will write whatever he says to write. He ends up with a script that he tells me is great (but will not show me) and starts pre-production. But in the small world of Hollywood, an actor friend of mine (not Jim from the previous story) gets a copy of the script and passes it on to me after reading it. Why? Because this is a horror film completely without horror. It has a lot of action, some big fight scenes, a car chase, and several explosions... but no horror. It’s not scary... it's an episode of VIP or RISING SUN! I think this director isn’t confident that he can make a scene scary, but he knows he can wrangle a car chase.

So he makes the film and his distrib releases it on DVD... and the horror fan magazines (like Fangoria) all mention the lack of actual thrills. One of the weird problems with this film is casting - he’s cast a female lead who has done a horror film before, but everyone else is mostly unknown. All of my friends who have seen the film wonder where the budget went - not to the cast... but maybe the stunts were expensive. We later find out he paid himself his quote - the top $ he’s ever made - even though this made him the most expensive single element in the film. Money in his pocket, but not on screen.

The film ships okay, but it’s mostly a rental - few people buy it. The horror fans are not fans of this film, and the casting and story make it unappealing to the action fans. Not a flop, but not a hit. And everyone agrees that it stinks. The script is just awful. Obviously, this makes me angry for personal reasons - I could have done a much better job than this typing monkey did... Except I wouldn’t have been a typing monkey. The job was for a typing monkey, not a screenwriter.

And just to screw up any moral to this story... he’s just put together private financing of over a million dollar for another horror movie (even though he can’t find a distrib willing to take it before he’s made it). And this new project, with a different typing monkey (being a masochist - I hinted again that I had some horror scripts laying around and would take less than my quote - again he’s using a new, unsold writer), also seems light on horror and heavy on stunts. I wish I had a million bucks to make a horror movie!

Which brings me to that writer from blog entries past - the guy with the PR firm telling everybody how brilliant he is. Well, he’s managed to burn a bunch of bridges with late scripts that aren’t very good, and he’s finding it difficult to get hired for assignments. No one wants to buy his specs (the same old ones) and all of those stars who are attached in his mind aren’t attached in reality... making the projects not so hot. But, you know, what he’s always wanted to do is direct... and horror films are hot right now.

So he decides to make a horror film about two years ago. His theory is that the horror movies are easy to make, you just need some horror stuff in a script and all of those stupid horror fans will pay to see the movie. I mean, look at some of the crap that’s made money! So he throws together a script... and tells me the story one day. I don’t think it sounds like a horror story at all - even though it deals with zombies. It’s a zombie movie with only *one* zombie. And that zombie is part of government experiments - so it’s controlled. It’s a zombie in a lab. It never attacks anyone. It can't attack anyone. But some guys in the government lab poke it with sticks. Actually, the story sounds dull... in DAY OF THE DEAD the zombies in the lab escape sometimes, and the zombies outside the lab often attack, and the whole story is about human lab animals (an allegory - it's Romero). This is one zombie that never escapes or attacks - so it's all talk. And boring talk. I mention that it sounds kind of short on conflict, he dismisses this. He uses his press clippings to find financing. (Yes, the world is not fair.) He uses his agency to help him with cast - a good mix of fading stars and up and comers. I’m actually impressed by the names he has *actually* attached. Part of his funding deal involves shooting out of state in New Mexico (tax incentives). He finishes the film and shows it to distribs... and they all turn it down. All of them. No horror. Part of the reason why they turn it down is because his asking price is so high - he wants to make a bunch of money from this movie. He wants a *guaranteed* theatrical deal. He wants the deal that matches the PR firm’s image of himself.

No one wants to give him that deal. The film is slow paced and not scary at all. Even with his cast, it’s a tough sell. Who wants to watch a not-scary horror film?

Last time I saw the guy, he told me that his film is great, and he’s going to have his PR firm take a stab at marketing it. This may mean it will be coming soon to a theater near you. Like I said, the world is not fair. You may soon be paying $10 to see a boring zombie flick with a pretty good cast - and that in itself is pretty scary stuff!

Episode number three is about a guy I know who makes political films about being a minority who decided to make a horror film... because horror is a hot genre right now. Some of you may not want to stay tuned, because you already know how this one’s going to come out.

- Bill


Anonymous said...

It's like a train wreck though, I can't turn away!

wcdixon said... what is the lesson? I there one? I suppose on this kind of playing field - any kind of pseudo name attachment trumps script/story, eh?

odocoileus said...

**Even if they begin with a great script, they *need* to screw it up so that they retain their power.**

Great stories.

Of course, Niccolo Machiavelli explained all of this in The Prince, about 500 years ago. Still a good read and quite relevant.

Robert Greene does a modern update, The 48 Laws of Power. I'm told it's a favorite of rappers and other up and comers in the entertainment industry.

Lou said...

Funny how things never change. I've been away from the business for about four years now (writing novels instead) but the stories you tell are the same ones I heard for a dozen years before I decided to run, don't walk, to the nearest exit. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

you know, once you gat to Part 107 I am going to get a little discouraged, but for now I am loving the recollections

Anonymous said...

WHAM BAM, thank you Wil! Nothing like knowing the signs of a bad situation, so one can actually step off the tracks before the crapola train comes rolling by!

aggiebrett said...

This is all very interesting, as I intend to parley my experience as a part-time JC Penney kiddy photographer into making a horror movie (because horror is a hot genre right now).


For some reason when you tell these stories I have the odd mental image of you feigning an asthma attack in order to escape from a meeting with Harry Zimm's offfice in GET SHORTY. You've taken the meeting as a courtesy to someone you've labeled a "friend," and then, 34.6 seconds into the meeting you've suddenly realized "wait-- I was wrong. This is no friend! This is a no-talent hack!" and you're left looking for some Macguyver-esque way out of the situation.

Speaking of no-talent, I saw Uwe Boll bat the crap out of four film critics in a Vancouver boxing exhibition. Amazingly enough, that 4 or 5 minutes on youtube is the finest Uwe Boll film experience any of us seem likely to have.

Sorry to bogart the comment box.

Passing it off to anyone else...

wcmartell said...

Only three parts... so it will be up to other entries to discourage you.

- Bill

Cunningham said...

[begin rant]

If you are going to ID your film by a certain genre then BY GOD YOU BETTER DELIVER ON THAT!

I hear these pitches (or should I say bitches?) all the time:

It's a thinking man's horror film.

Which when translated means:

We're too pretentious to make a horror film, but we want to make money, so...

It takes a unique sensibility to write a genre movie. You HAVE to love it. You HAVE to understand it. You HAVE to work at it.

If you don't have any of the above then you HAVE to get out of the way of those who do...

[end rant]

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