Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Print The Legend

From 2009...

You may have read that bio over there and wondered why the hell I would ever turn down writing ANGELS & DEMONS. Was I crazy?

In the movie I LOVE YOU MAN Jason Segel is giving Paul Rudd lessons on being a man and explains the difference between telling a lie and omitting the truth. He asks Rudd when was the last time he masturbated, and Rudd doesn’t want to answer a question like that... but eventually admits he masturbated to a picture of his fiancĂ© a couple of weekends ago when she was away. Segel asks if he told his finace when she returned. “Of course not!” Was that a lie? No... but there was really no reason to tell her.

You may read that I turned down ANGELS & DEMONS and imagine Ron Howard or Tom Hanks begging me to write the script... and I still said no.

I am going to allow you to believe that.

Sounds really cool, doesn’t it? Telling Ron Howard to go to hell, you aren’t going to write a script for him... Or telling Tom Hanks - a guy who was born in the same hospital as I was - that I’m just too damned busy to script your damned film.

None of that ever happened, but if you imagine it happened that’s okay with me. What really happened is kind of dull and uninteresting.


One of the problems with being a writer is that you automatically turn everything into a story. Some boring thing happens to you, and you find some way to make it funny or exciting when you retell it to somebody else. You embellish a little. You twist things a little or withhold some information to spice up the story. One of my problems when I tell a friend about a really bad movie I’ve seen is that I tend to make sense of it - I turn a bunch of unrelated incidents that add up to nothing, into something resembling a story. My friends think the film doesn’t sound so bad, but when they see it - well, it’s much worse than what I described. The problem with being a storyteller is that you can’t help but turn those crappy scenes from a crappy film into something that resembles a story when you talk about it. Your mind makes the connections that the person who made the film did not make. You smooth over all of those really rough edges. You take unrelated events and either leave them out when you retell the story or find some interesting way for them to relate. You tell a story.

And when I’m writing a blog entry or telling someone a story, I remove the chaff and retain the interesting parts, and often focus on what is exciting and leave out the dull stuff. And maybe that dog that just barked at me in real life, growled in the story version and wanted to take a bite out of me? A slight embellishment. Makes the story a little more exciting... and it’s not really a lie - the dog may have wanted to take a bite out of me, I don’t speak dog so I don’t know. When a storyteller tells the story, they tend to spice it up a little. The meat is still the meat, you’ve just added some garlic. You are still eating steak, it’s just seasoned steak.

Blog entries here often are written to be more amusing than the mundane and crappy truth - I look back on events and laugh. If I don’t, I’d go crazy. And when I tell some horror story about some film that has my name on it, I tell it from my point of view and try to make it amusing. I have no idea how long I *actually* talked to an actress on the set of one of my films while maintaining eye contact the whole time - which was difficult because she was dressed *only* in black lace panties, and was hired because she was beautiful *and* could act... but when I tell the story it was 45 minutes. I’m sure it was probably only five or ten minutes, it just seemed much longer. She was discussing her role with me... I was trying not to look at anything other than her face. I am a gentleman... and probably a fool.

But all of that actually happened. When I tell that story, I stretch it out so that you think I might look down... I spice it up a little. But it’s still true. Probably more true than any film that says BASED ON A TRUE STORY in the credits.


I have met any number of people who had business cards printed saying that they were producers. Hey - you can get 250 free cards from Vista Print that say you’re President Of Warner Bros Studios if you want. FREE. There are websites galore for guys who made a silly movie with their friends with a cheap video camera or their phone and now claim they are motion picture producers or even a studio! Hell. I have cards that say I’m a producer. I am kind of like those guys with the video cameras - I’ve produced and directed a bunch of short films, and even made an ill-advised feature on Super 8mm film - but I’ve made no 35mm films that have played at your local cinema. I’m a *wannabe* producer at this point. So, don’t send me your scripts or pitch me loglines.

I’m fairly sure that most of the people with websites and business cards would probably be completely honest if you asked them what they’ve produced... though there was a guy on Done Deal’s message boards recently who was a complete scam artist but would not admit it no matter how many people offered proof. This “producer” charged a $350 script reading fee! And had not produced a single film.

I’ve also had “producers” in real life who have told me stories about all of their various projects around town, but would not get specific. They became evasive when questioned. When I looked them up later - no projects around town that I could see. I could tell you stories about fake producers all day - but what I don’t understand is why *they* are telling these stories. It’s pretty easy to look up someone’s credits these days, and even look up what they have in development. And, what’s wrong with being a new producer? Everybody has to start somewhere, right?

When you aren’t just leaving out the negative stuff, but actually making up credits that never happened and *lying*, you are going to get in trouble. I may have mentioned a guy I knew who claimed he wrote one of the BATMAN movies and actually showed me a copy of the script from Warner Bros with his name on the title page... and it was the actual script of whichever BATMAN movie that was released that year. He managed to attract a hoard of toadies and sycophants from that showing around that script. Later I discovered that he was a *typist* at Warner Bros who made up a cover page with his name on it. That’s why he was still mostly broke and working at his day job even after writing that Warner Bros big tentpole film.

I also know an actor who claims he is related to a big movie star - and they have the same last name - but both the big movie star and this actor changed their last names when they went into the biz. So it’s a complete lie that he tells people to land roles, but so easy to disprove that I wonder why anyone believes it.


But you want to know the truth behind Bill Turning Down ANGELS & DEMONS, right?

Just as I had that year where all I did was write one treatment forever, I also had a year around the same time where - for some reason - everyone wanted me to read books and pitch my take on them. This is pretty common. Someone reads some spec script from you, likes it but doesn’t buy it (few spec scripts actually sell, most just get you assignments) and thinks you might match a project they are working on. Now, these projects can be anything from a rewrite on some other screenwriter's script (I usually turn those down) to magazine articles and books and board games and cartoons the production company has an option on that they need a screenwriter for. To get the adaptation gig you read the book or article and then come back and pitch your take on the story. “Your take” is how you would go about adapting the book or article or board game into a screenplay. Sometimes it’s focusing on a specific element as the spine of the story, sometimes it involves a little more imagination - I have never pitched my take on a *board game* but people do that.

During this period everyone was giving me a book to read. Somewhere around here I had a meeting with Cruise/Wagner at Paramount and *they* gave me a book to read. You read the book, figure out exactly how you would turn it into a movie (which usually requires that you "break the story" and write up an outline) and then come back and pitch them your take. And then they say "Not exactly what we were looking for, but thank you" - and you have just wasted a couple of weeks and not been paid a cent!

So after doing a bunch of these things I landed one - a New York Times best seller. An erotic thriller kind of thing that perfectly fit my skill set. The producer was packaging my script with stars and director and, well, things stalled out. That happens. A lot. He eventually sold the project to another production company... meanwhile I was meeting a whole bunch of other people who owned the rights to books and wanted me to pitch my take.

I read a stack of books. I pitched a lot of takes. "Not exactly what we were looking for, but thank you."

And one of the producers had an option on ANGELS & DEMONS.

At that time it wasn't high profile at all. This was pre DaVINCI CODE, and ANGELS & DEMONS was some odd-ball book published by the new age division of Simon & Schuster. It was probably a “worst seller” at the time. The publisher had basically dumped it. This producer who I had never worked with before had read some of my scripts and liked them, and had read the book and optioned it... probably for beer and pizza money I don’t know if anyone else was even interested in the film rights to ANGELS & DEMONS at the time, but I doubt it.

The producer was kind of a character - he had a bunch of actual credits (I don’t know whether I looked him up on IMDB or somewhere else) but was an indie guy who worked out of his pool house when he didn’t have a deal with a studio. We mostly met in restaurants between the lunch and dinner hours when they were mostly empty. He liked to eat. He also loved conspiracy theories... and that’s what attracted him to ANGELS & DEMONS. That, and he knew where he could get a Rome set somewhere like Bulgaria.

This, friends, is how movies actually get made. A producer knows where there is a set that looks like Rome and reads a book that takes place in Rome that he likes because he also believes that everything Art Bell says is gospel.

We had maybe 4 or 5 meetings, once in the poolhouse office and the rest at restaurants - but never Italian restaurants. Maybe he was concerned that Italian restaurants might have some connection to the Vatican or the Illuminati or whatever.

He gave me a very first edition copy of ANGELS AND DEMONS (which I gave back - stupid - probably could have sold it for a fortune on e-bay) and asked if I wanted to adapt it. I read the book, and didn't like it that much (Dan Brown is not a great writer IMHO) - but the big problem for me was that the book had two plots that met at the end. This is great for a book, but not so great for a movie. You only have 2 hours to tell a story, and that’s tough to do when you only have 1 plot. I thought we should either go with one or the other - and I think I suggested killing the Cardinals because the blowing up the Vatican thing seemed silly and maybe out of his budget range. The producer wanted to do the whole damned book. Could I come back with a version that covered everything in the book? I tried - made notes, tried to outline how I might turn the book into a single movie under 120 pages that stressed the conspiracy aspects and only showed the portions of Rome that existed in Bulgaria... and couldn’t make it work. So on our last meeting I gave him back the copy of the New Age Publisher version of the book and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I turned the job down.

I’m pretty sure that I was not the only writer this producer approached... and I think *everyone* turned it down or pitched a versions that wouldn't work. The producer allowed the option to expire... and then DaVINCI CODE came out and became a bestseller and I felt like an idiot. The producer probably did, too.

If I had just written *one* draft of ANGELS & DEMONS, I would have been first writer on and I’m pretty sure my name might be in the "story by" credits.

Or maybe not.

But I didn't turn down a best seller, I turned down a non-seller that I didn't think was well written and I didn't think would make a good movie... I guess we will all find out on Friday whether they cracked it or not. But if you want to imagine me telling Ron Howard that I simply refuse to write this script and he can go take a hike, that's okay by me.

- Bill

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Death By.... Encoragement!

(originally posted over a dozen years ago)

Many pre-pro writers send out their scripts to agents or managers or producers and (usually as a result of hammering away for a response) get a nice rejection note saying that their masterpiece is “Well written, but not right for us”, or they “Loved it, but we have something similar in development”, or some other exciting and positive thing about how much they loved your screenplay. They celebrate how close they came to selling their script and brag to all of their friends that they are almost over that big wall that surrounds Hollywood. Everyone loved their script! They are great writers!

When I was living in my home town dreaming of Hollywood I had a chance to give a copy of one of my scripts to my idol at the time, Paul Schrader. He wrote TAXI DRIVER and OBSESSION and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and THE YAKUZA and ROLLING THUNDER and OLD BOYFRIENDS and other films I loved... and he took a copy of my script and read it (or had someone read it) and sent me a great letter of encouragement. I sent the same script to my favorite director, Martin Scorsese, and he had someone read it, and they sent me this great letter of encouragement on Columbia Pictures stationery! My script was the greatest script on the world!

Of course, when I read that script today I cringe at how awful it is and am embarrassed that people I admired had to read it - or get their assistants to read it. That script just sucked.

Pauline Kael once said, “Hollywood’s the only town where you can die of encouragement.”

No one will ever tell you that your script sucks. The reason why is simple - they read your current script, which sucks, but what if you keep working hard at this screenwriting thing and improve and a few years later you write a great script. One of those scripts that everyone in Hollywood is fighting with each other over. There are bidding wars - and the winner not only gets to pay you a huge amount of money, they get that amazing script you have written. But if Joe’s Productions tells you that your earlier script sucks, they won’t be part of that bidding war. You will not take your script there. What Joe’s Productions wants is for you to be the *first* place you go with that great new script - so that they can maybe buy it before there is a bidding war... or at least be the friendly producer that you want to sell the script to. So, instead of saying “Your script sucks” they come up with a euphemism like “Loved it, but we have something similar in development.”

That really means your script sucks.

Here’s how to tell if they *really* loved it:

1) They buy it or option it (for real money).
2) They want to meet with you to discuss other projects.
3) They offer you a writing assignment.
4) They *request* your next script or ask to read other scripts you have written.

I have a script tip on this floating around on my website, but you should even beware of producers who want to option your script for $1 or no money. Basically, you get what they pay for. If they have a dollar invested, that is what your script is worth to them, and tells you how hard they will work to bring it to the screen. In that tip, I talk about a producer I know of who literally options every script he can get his hands on for $1 and never reads any of them. He is a “material pack rat” and his theory is that if he options 100 scripts for $1 (sight unseen) one of them has to either be good enough to set up somewhere or has some strange elements that some real producer may be looking for. This guy has you write down “keywords” about your script, then takes your script to a warehouse where it will be forgotten like the Lost Ark, and if any real producer is looking for a script with the keywords for your script - this guy tries to set up a deal. If you’ve read any of those strange script requirements in InkTip listings, you know how oddly specific some producer’s needs are. And this guy has a warehouse full of scripts he *owns*, and one may fit those strange needs. If not, he’s only out $1. The thing about options - if they pay you $1, that’s what they think your script is worth, and most likely it’s not a real option. Sure, sometimes there are underfunded legit producers looking to have control over a script when they take it into a studio... but usually the $1 option isn’t much different than no option at all. And how much can you celebrate when all you have is $1?

If they read your script and did have something just like it in development, but thought the writing was great, they will ask to read something else or want to meet with you. If they actively pursue you, you have something they want (writing). If they say nice things but don’t *do anything*, they don’t think the writing is strong enough to follow up on.

Just like in a screenplay, in real life - actions speak louder than words.

Producers will tell you all kinds of nice things, but what they *do* tells you want they really think. If they do nothing, well...

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean your script *completely sucks*, but it’s just not there yet. Keep working at it, and eventually they *will* do something. They won’t just say, “We loved it but it’s not for us”, they will want to meet with you to discuss anything you may have that *may be* for them. Because producers need screenplays and they need screenwriters. Can’t make a movie without a script.

No matter how many great things they say about your script, look at what they *do* - that will tell you what they really think. And if they don’t do anything, all is not lost! You just need to keep writing until you get that script where they actually do something... not just tell you how much they loved it.

- Bill

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Magic Time

From way back in April 2008. Another movie that never got made!

So, the assignment was turned in last week, and they’ve read it and like it. There’s always a certain amount of writer’s paranoia that has me worried they will drive over to my place, light the script on fire and leave it on my porch, hit the doorbell, then drive away. *I* like the script, but you never know if anyone else will. You hope they will.

Because I have a deadline, and must be able to plan out my writing so that I have a finished screenplay on time, I use an outline. I usually outline, but I’ve done a couple of experiments working without an outline... which usually serves to remind me why I need an outline. Some people think that an outline handcuffs you, but I think it frees me. I know where the story is going, I know what has to happen... but I don’t know exactly how it happens. And sometimes that means there’s some sort of magic that happens while you’re writing a scene, and the scene is exciting and entertaining to write.

Here’s an example: The script is a fun monster movie, similar to TREMORS. There’s a sequence I called the Tides Restaurant Scene (from THE BIRDS) where the monster chases a bunch of folks into a building, where they discuss where the monster came from and how the heck they’re gonna deal with it... while the monster tries to break in to eat them. Sort of a town meeting during an attack. That’s basically what I had in my outline - I knew key story points and all of the things that I was setting up for later... but I didn’t know the *how it happened*.

While writing the scene, I came up with all kinds of funny bits that entertained me as I wrote the sequence, and then I came to the halfway point, where the monster would break in and eat some people, which forces our folks to stop talking about where this monster may have come from and figure out how they’re gonna kill it. When the people run into the building to take cover from the monster, they reinforce the doors and windows, making them “monster proof”. But the monster breaks in, destroys the reinforcements, grabs a couple of people and goes outside to chow down. Our hero realizes they have nothing to reinforce the doors with - they will have to hold them closed themselves. He asks for volunteers, and one guy says he’s crazy, the monster is right out there, it’s going to break in again, and he doesn’t want to be anywhere near the doors when that happens. They hero makes the big speech (fun to write) and then...

Well, magic happened.

One of the townspeople got up, walked to the doors, and used their body to hold them closed... then another person got up, and another, and another, and another... until *everyone* was against the doors, holding them closed as a group, except the naysayer. Who didn’t want to be left out, so he joins all of the others.

Okay, this was a scene where they find something else to reinforce the doors to keep the monster out in the outline... and that’s what happens. But in the outline I was thinking it would probably be tables and chairs, right? Which is how outlines work - you just figure out the skeleton of the story and fill in the details when you write it. They barricade the doors. Once you get to the writing stage, you get creative. Hey, maybe they barricade the doors with a car or something, right? You try to come up with something that you haven't seen before in a movie. Knowing that you need to do something different *helps* you. Your subconscious knows this is coming up, and starts to work on the problem... and that leads to the magic happening. The scene idea that isn't off the top of your head, it;s been percolating in your subconscious all of this time. Well, I guess it has - hard to tell about that subconscious.

But I think this is going to be one of those “I am Spartacus” moments. One of those amazing big moments that make the audience emotional. And it just happened by magic - I created it as I was writing the script, because *something* needed to reinforce those doors. Oh, and it’s thematic, because the story is about how all species need each other to survive (the monster was created by fooling with mother nature). Look, this is a silly monster movie... no one is going to give it 4 stars, it won’t make critic’s lists... critics won’t even know it exists. It’s just a silly movie. But I still want it to be emotional, and funny, and scary and something that you watch and don’t thing was a total waste of your time (only a partial waste). So I need scenes like that. And even with an outline, even knowing what happens next and who gets eaten before the final credits, there’s still room for lightning to strike - still room for that magic to happen on the page. I live for scenes like that - the ones that come from nowhere and have me tearing up as I type them. I live for those funny lines that come right off the top of my head. I live for that one thing you invent in the fly that turns a bunch of words into a living, breathing *person*.

That’s the magic. We take a bunch of words, and turn them into emotions.

That’s what I love about writing.

- Bill

Yesterday’s Dinner: Burrito at Tortas in Studio City.

Monday, August 03, 2020

My Films Come Back To Haunt Me...

My movies on TubiTV.

TubiTV is kind of the old folks home for movies. When a film has played every cable channel and every broadcast channel (including Spanish language) and been released on DVD and Blu-ray and done it's theatrical run in every country - even the ones that show movies on a bed sheet, and every single cent has been made... They go to TubiTV. It's free streaming with lots of commercials. But R rated films are uncut.

I had 7 movies there last month, only 6 this month. You missed IMPLICATED from MGM home video. Here are the 6...

Crash Dive! HBO World Premiere Movie CRASH DIVE, made for HBO as a "World Premiere". Played theatrical overseas and was Top 10 box office in some countries. Catherine Bell's first lead role and the reason why she was cast in JAG. We originally had Scott Glenn signed and he ditched us to make a Clint Eastwood movie. Our last minute replacement from the HBO approved list was American Ninja (the theatrical films from Cannon Pictures, not the TV show) Michael Dudikoff. Last minute script rewrite turning lead from brainiac to Kung Fu guy. Oh, Chris Titus also got his own TV show after this... though I don't think this film had anything to do with it.

Steel Sharks, HBO World Premiere Movie STEEL SHARKS, also HBO, also theatrical overseas. Starring Billy Dee Williams and Gary Busey fresh out of rehab and some guy who was on the HBO approved list and was starring on BAYWATCH. Billy Dee told me that he had 3 scripts to choose from and chose mine... but he may say that to all the screenwriters. Also a US Navy Co-Op movie. Reason why I hate the director - we had 3 days on a real aircraft carrier with Billy Dee... and it all looks like stock footage. This guy made everything look like crap. Our pyro guy did the largest fireball on screen - going for a record - and the director forced the DP to shoot the base of the explosion - you have no idea how big the fireball was.

Night Hunter, Cinemax World Premiere NIGHT HUNTER, was a Cinemax Original Movie, which is what happens when an HBO movie goes wrong. This began as a cool vampire movie, but they cut out all of the horror in (my) rewrites. Star didn't want to make a horror movie. Some of the practical FX stuff we had planned was amazing - a Samurai vampire who gets sliced in half... and keeps fighting! A cool hall of mirrors chase scene (vampires don't reflect). A rooftop chase scene - where the vampires flew! More cool stuff... cut from the script! The director did a great job - very atmospheric. Made 3 years before BLADE. Oh, first shaky-cam film. Sorry.

Virtual Combat, HBO World Premiere Movie VIRTUAL COMBAT (aka GRID RUNNERS). Also HBO World Premiere and theatrical overseas. We were on the cover of Sci-Fi Entertainment Magazine a year before VIRTUOSITY script was bought. Same star as NIGHT HUNTER, same issues with the special effects scenes... but many of the FX stuff was *built* but never used! On this we had FX stuff made - crawling half formed bodies from the cloning tank... never shot. We were the 2nd film to shoot on LA subway (after that Keanu movie). Act 3 was rewritten overnight when we lost our original location.

Cyberzone, Made For Showtime... the Roger Corman deal CYBERZONE (aka DROID GUNNER) - my Roger Corman robot hookers from outer space flick. Began as a female lead BLADE RUNNER ripoff about the underground railroad for androids... But Roger's Production guys asked if I could do a page one and make it about robot hookers from outer space. Sure. They had a deal with Showtime and just had a film rejected - could I write this in 9 days so the film would be finished in time to plug that hole in Showtime's schedule? Sure. Film was written to be shot in 9 days (a week plus a weekend of 35mm equipment rental). I actually like this movie despite all of its problems. I wrote it for the guys I used to work with in the warehouse. Oh, special effects by some guy named James Cameron.

Invisible Mom, direct to vide INVISIBLE MOM - direct to video. Dee Wallace from ET played the mom. Barry Livingston, Ernie from MY THREE SONS played the dad. Rusty Tamblin from TWIN PEAKS and WEST SIDE STORY played the boss. Written as a favor - the producer, 80s heart throb Andrew Stevens had started a new company and one of his deals was with Corman's new family film video label. We called them "babysitters" - mom plugs in the video and the kids are busy for 90 minutes. Spawned 4 sequels that I didn't write. I pitched a great idea, they wanted to go in a blander direction. My nieces liked this one more than I did.

My two favorites are not here, but those 6 are free on TubiTV - use their search box to find them. I apologize in advance.

- Bill

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Darth Vader & Storm Troopers On The NYC Subway

From A Decade Ago...

Okay, you're taking the subway to work in NYC when suddenly...

- Bill





Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics, oh my!

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph?

How do you take that brilliant visual told story and great characters and snappy dialogue and dramatic moments and spectacular conflict and distill it into 25 words? How is that even possible? And keep it so interesting that that bored development executive reads it and wants to buy your screenplay and turn it into a movie that will make people laugh and cry and kiss $12 goodbye? The most common way is by crafting an amazing logline – rocket fuel – that will make people in the industry want to read your screenplay. The first thing that anyone asks about your screenplay is “What's it about?” and a logline is the answer. They have been used in the film business for almost 100 years, and are the secret to breaking in.

In this just under 100,000 word book we will look at all forms of “distilled story” that you are likely to encounter as a screenwriter, and take you step-by-step through the creation. We will look at the most effective ways to pitch your screenplay, and how the pitch reveals problems with your screenplay. Just about every question that you might have is answered in this book! Including how to use Look Books as a creative tool as well as a sales tool, and why some commercial pitch platforms may be a waste of money. We look at the 4 types of pitches, how a one page synopsis is a “birth to death” element of your screenplay – you may use one to sell the screenplay, and the distributor may use that same one pager on the back of the Blu-ray box! The critical elements needed in any logline. And much more!

So, what's your logline?


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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Just Another Day At Work...

From ten years ago....

My friends Scott and Ronson found this on YouTube and have posted this on FaceBook, and I'm swiping it from them and posting it here...

Ever wonder what Customer Service is doing at the call center when you are on hold?

- Bill

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Jane Austen's FIGHT CLUB

Because wearing a corset is worse than working in a cubicle...

I love the shot where the blood sprays from the gal's mouth in slow-mo.

- Bill

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Bank Fears Cool Confidence

From 2008...

"Bank Fears Cool Confidence"

I saw that headline in the business section of the paper and it confused me. Why would anyone fear cool confidence? I mean, Steve McQueen is all about his cool confidence. That’s why he was a star - he had that strength that didn’t require any machismo. McQueen could just stroll into a room, and without saying a word, you knew he was in control... and you were in trouble. And maybe that’s what the banks fear? I mean, McQueen starred in a couple of movies where he played a bank robber...

But if you are going to fear anything, wouldn’t it be the gun or the threat of violence? Why would you fear the cool confidence? Of all the possible things to fear in a bank robber, his attitude seems like it would be close to the bottom of the list of fears. Why didn’t the headline read, “Bank Fears Psychos With Guns”?

You know, Hollywood isn’t really the town for cool confidence. An actor that can project that attitude is great, but this is pretty much a town of braggarts and bullshit. If you take two screenwriters, one who has that cool confidence because they *know* they are talented and *know* they’ve had some success, and the other one is some loud hyper dude telling every one what an amazing writer they are... the odds are the loud hyper dude is believed as successful and the cool guy isn’t even noticed. Producers and studio execs are more likely to believe the hype than look for the reality. Maybe it’s a take one to be fooled by one thing, I don’t know. I do know a few writers who have PR people... and everyone seems to believe the PR... even though their scripts suck. In fact, that’s funny - they usually still believe the PR after they’ve seen the reality.

This town was built on bullshit. Bullshit is *expected*. I think everyone automatically reduces everything you say by 75%, to account for the bullshit factor... and that’s a problem for those of us with cool confidence. We don’t say much, we don’t brag, and if we do mention our accomplishments, we tend to downplay them. So after they deduct the 75% they think is bullshit, we may be left with nothing.

Clint Eastwood has that cool confidence, too - and he’s played bank robbers before...

So, maybe the banks know something that Hollywood doesn’t. Maybe the banks know that the guy who brags isn’t as dangerous as the guy with cool confidence? Maybe that’s something Hollywood *needs* to learn? I mean, they give some dude $100 million to make a movie because he *says* he’s talented, but maybe they’d be better served by skipping the bullshit and looking at what the guy does - is he really talented? Or is it all PR?

So, after thinking about cool confidence, and wondering why banks fear it so much, I re-read the headline and figured out they meant to accent different syllables. It’s not that Banks Fear Cool Confidence, it’s that confidence has been cooled due to fears about banks. To quote Emily Litella: "Oh... Well, never mind."

- Bill

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tales From The Script

From Ten Years Ago...

If you believe that after you win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay you will suddenly be treated better by Hollywood and your writing will be respected and not messed with by the damned dirty apes of development... think again! You’ll have to deal with all of the same problems - you’ll just get paid more.

Two weeks ago I went to the Aero Cinema in Santa Monica to see the pre-DVD release screening of...

TALES FROM THE SCRIPT is a great documentary that all screenwriters both new and abused should see. Filmmakers Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman interviewed dozens of professional screenwriters about their work, the business, and how the role of the screenwriter has changed over the years. The film is broken down into chapters, with many screenwriters addressing the same issue in each chapter. Shane Black, Frank Darabont, William Goldman, David Hayter, Paul Schrader, Ron Shelton, David S. Ward, and just about any writer you can name is interviewed. You learn the truth about screenwriting - a truth you may not have wanted to know, but that will help you navigate the treacherous waters of the screenwriting business. Though the film is simple talking head interviews - these folks are all great storytellers, and when they tell a war story about the business it’s a heck of a good story! I was never bored - and usually too busy laughing or squirming with terror.

If you have seen the film on screen, the DVD has 3 big special features:
47 minutes of additional interviews.
12 minutes of William Goldman’s advice.
9 minutes of advice for new screenwriters from the pros.

There is also a companion book with *different interviews* and *different screenwriters*.

The DVD is available on Amazon and on Netflix - check it out.

After the screening there was a great panel of screenwriters doing Q&A, many of them I know. It was kind of cool. Steve DeSouza, Peter Hyams,. Stephen Susco, Bruce Joel Rubin, Adam Rifkin, and a couple of others. It was a great Q&A session - many things that probably will never see print or film or tape - because these guys want to continue to work in this town. Bruce told a horror story about a big name star who has no story sense at all - but is so big that whatever he wants in the script goes in the script... even if the resulting film sucks. The film is filled with stories like this!


And Thursday May 27th at 7:30pm at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Premiere of POPATOPOLIS - a film I saw at the Raindance International Film Festival in London last year. The movie is being released on DVD, and this screening is a celebration...

POPATOPOLIS is a film that answers the question - can you make a feature film in 3 days with a crew of only 2, starring women with freakishly large breasts who may be too top heavy to stand? B movie director Jim Wynorski can... and this doc chronicles every crazy minute.

Here is a link to my review from London - POPATOPOLIS.

If you are in Los Angeles and like sleazy low-end Z movies, come on down and see this documentary on how they are made!

- Bill

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fade Out Does Not Equal A Sale

From 2011...

Congratulations! You have finished your screenplay! It was a lot of hard work, and you deserve to be rewarded, so do something nice for yourself. You deserve something special!

“Swell, do you have Spielberg's address? I think he'd be he perfect director!”

Okay, now to the reality check: just because you have made the major accomplishment of finishing a screenplay does not mean that that screenplay is great. It just means it's finished.

“Okay, how about Uwe Boll's address?”

Now, I'm not saying your screenplay *isn't* great – I haven't read it. I'm just saying that because it is finished is no reason to believe that it is great. It may suck. At this point, you are just so happy that you finally got to type FADE OUT that you probably are not the best judge. Later, after you have rewarded yourself for your excellent hard work, and maybe had a few days or weeks to just bask in FADE OUT, you might take a closer look at the script to see if it needs one of those rewrites you keep hearing about.

“Wait a minute! You mean once I finish it, I still have to keep rewriting it? Even for Uwe Boll?”

Lots of new writers (and probably some old ones) figure that once they type FADE OUT they have a salable screenplay – something they can send out to agents or managers or producers or their best contact. But just finishing a screenplay is like just finishing a foot race – you can come in last place and you have still finished.

“You're not going to make me run, are you? I'm, uh, a little out of shape.”

The problem is, just like that race, you aren't the only one running. There are around 75,000 scripts (etc) registered with the WGA every year, plus the things registered with the copyright office, plus the things that are not registered at all. Here's the thing – assignments and scripts adapted from other materials are usually *not* copyrighted or registered, because they are based on previously copyrighted material. So, I guess there are at least 100k scripts (etc) written every year... and it's common for a screenplay to stay in circulation for a decade – you often read about scripts like THE UNFORGIVEN that were bouncing around Hollywood for 10 years before they were finally bought... and that gives us about a million screenplays in circulation at any one time. And how many of those million sell? Well, last year it was 53.

“What you talking about? 53 total? That's impossible!”

Thanks to the brilliant Scott Myers, here is the list.

“Wow, that's all? But... well... my script might be better than those. It has a better title than some of them. BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. See? That's gotta be close to winning, right?”

But what that means is that if you were running that foot race and came in #54, you would still have lost. And there would be 999,946 people behind you!


Wow, I probably just depressed the hell out of you. Sorry. The point is, just because you finish a screenplay does not mean what you have written is going to sell or get you an assignment or even get you noticed. Each of those things is a step. The first step is finishing your screenplay, then you keep climbing those steps getting better and better until you reach the point that you *are* one of those 53 winners. But that's probably not going to happen with your first screenplay. Might, but odds are kind of against it.

“Running, and now *steps*? This sounds like work to me.”

One of the things that frequently happens is people write their first script and become disappointed when it doesn't sell or get them work. They have unrealistic expectations.

“What is unrealistic about selling my first script to a studio for $1 million and having Spielberg direct it?”

Though Han Solo doesn't want anyone to tell him the odds, imagine how much confidence he would lose if he kept failing at something he thought was easy? When you golf, each hole is clearly marked with the level of difficulty *before* you tee off. A board gave gives you a guide for what age groups will be able to play it. So, telling you the odds is not to burst your bubble but to tell you that this isn't going to be easy, so if you try and fail a bunch of times – so did everyone else. All of your favorite screenwriters? Failed a lot. *A lot*. Part of the learning curve.

“Running, steps, now *golf*? That was bad enough, but now you are saying that I am going to *fail*? But I don't want to fail! I'm not a failure! I'm gonna be a huge success and win all of the Oscars!”

I wrote an article for Script Magazine in the 90s that took a bunch of famous Oscar Winning screenwriters and listed the number of unsold and unproduced scripts they'd written – my source was a big book called Film Writers Guide which no longer exists anymore. But once you saw how many great writers had screenplays that had “failed” - often after they were famous – you realized how tough this business is, and hopefully didn't feel so bad when your script did not sell.

“Well, I'm not feeling good about it. But if you have to fail to succeed, I guess I can do that.”

Once you write FADE OUT, you still have a lot of rewriting to do – and maybe page one rewrites where *everything* changes. Yes, everything - even that title of yours. And even then, they can't all be winners. It's a major accomplishment to finish a screenplay, but that doesn't mean it's going to be great... and doesn't mean it's going to sell. So, put off pricing the Ferraris for a while.

"Okay, but I just finished my first short film, how do I enter it in Sundance?"

- Bill

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Doldrums

From over 11 years ago...
THE DOLDRUMS seems topical these days...

Back in the days when everyone traveled by ship, and ships traveled by wind, doldrums were a serious problem. Doldrums were places on the charts where there was no wind to fill the sails. If your ship ended up in the doldrums, there was no way out. You had to wait for the winds to come... if they ever did. Maybe break out the oars and row... if the ship had oars. You were trapped.

For over a week I’ve been stuck in the doldrums. Every year I chart out the projects for that year and make up a plan. This year I had a day-by-day plan for January, to try to maximize my time and start the year off with a bang. I always do that. My theory is, if I get a lot dine at the beginning of the year, I can keep some momentum going for the rest of the year. There’s some confidence and energy from getting things done, and it makes me feel good to cross things off the list. As we reach the end of this month, very little is crossed off... and the list is growing.

Part of the problem over the past week is that I haven’t felt very good. Not bad enough to be sick - though my stomach’s been kind of queasy and my head feels kind of fevered... except I’m not running a fever and I’m not throwing up or anything. It’s kind of like having a hangover... though I haven’t had anything to drink since New Year’s Eve. Great, I get an extended hangover without the fun of hanging out with friends and drinking! That’s just my luck. I also seem to get all of the side effects from the drugs they advertize on TV... but I don’t take any of those drugs. There’s one drug, I don’t remember what it is, where I have every single one of the side effects! Even the weird little ones. By the way, when a drug’s side effect is death - should they be allowed to advertize it on TV? I think there needs to be some laws about those drug ads. And I want them to have to explain *exactly* what the “sexual side effects” are - if it’s growing breasts or maybe a second sex organ, I want to know before I take the allergy pills. While we’re at it, I think they should only be able to show the version of the car at the price they advertize - car commercials always show the version with a zillion dollars worth of options, then tell you the lowest price of any version of the car with a really tiny fine print disclaimer on the bottom of the TV screen. For all we know, driving the *car* may cause “sexual side effects”. Anyway, I may actually have had some kind of low grade virus, but it didn’t do anything other than make me feel blah.

And the things on my to do list are still there.

This is the second Friday *without* the Hitchcock article that’s half written in my computer.

One thing that I *have* done is start the year with new script tips - I always run at least 2 weeks of new tips, or tips that haven’t run in at least 5 years that I’ve done a complete page one rewrite on. When I first began the Script Secrets site on my Compuserve free homepage, it was just to have a place to promote my screenwriting book. But I didn’t want the website to be all about the book, so I decided I would post some daily script tips. I had 3-4 screenwriting articles that I cut up into 20 Script Tips, each was 2 paragraphs. That gave me a month to write more tips. But after about 4 months of tips, some screenwriting job got in the way. I reran the old tips, adding an Idea Of The Day, then began adding a few script tips at a time... always starting the new year with new tips. But starting in 2001 I began retiring those 2 paragraph tips because the new tips were much longer.

Around 2003-2004 the Script Tips were basically *articles*, and now the average Script Tip is 8-10 pages long! So short ones and old ones have been retired or rewritten. There are now 365 script tips - which is like 12 BOOKS worth of information (by word count), and I’ve been plugging away at those 100 old tips - rewriting them to be full length articles or retiring the ones that ended up used elsewhere. I am also looking at different tips on the same subject and fine tuning them to that they focus on different aspects of that subject (and don’t duplicate information). The plan is to get to the magic number 500 - which gives me 2 years without a rerun... and 21 BOOKS worth of free articles on Screenwriting. So, the one thing that got crossed off the list was 2 weeks of new tips... and the third week was a mix of old and new. I want to have at least one rewritten tip every week until I turn all of these old ones into full length articles - and plan to add some new ones over the year.

But all of the other stuff I was going to do this month? Not done.

The spec I was trying to get finished... not done.

The work on the action book rewrite - hey, a good start... then nothing.

And I have a bunch of Script Tips waiting to be rewritten - I’ve done all of the work except the writing - not done.



I *did* have a meeting on the Top Secret Remake Project... and I was sure I was going to be fired. I had turned in the first draft before the holidays, and this was the first meeting on that draft. Instead if meeting at the office, the Producer asked me to pick a Starbucks. Not, “Hey, can we meet at the Starbucks near Paramount because we have a meeting there later” but some random Starbucks that I choose. You know, a public place. Hey, I’ve been dumped before, I know the drill. And the meeting will not include all of those assistants and office staff people - just the producer. Obviously, I’m fired.

So, we met... and there were notes. But I wasn’t fired. The strange part were the notes were concept and basic story oriented... and this is a remake. The two scenes I was sure would be cut - he loved them. But things that are so basic I never expected they *could* be notes were discussed. What *is* the story? Is it the big external conflict from the original film - the thing that ends up in the synopsis on the back of the DVD? Or is it a tiny personal problem of the protagonist - not even the character arc or a second major emotional conflict he is struggling with?

The thing is, if you show the same movie to 5 people they may see 5 different movies. Their favorite parts may be different than everybody else’s and they tend to focus on those aspects as what the story is about. Let’s look at TITANIC... It’s a famous story about a ship that hits an iceberg and sinks... and a love story between Jack and Rose... and a story about class - we have the people in the cabins and all of those poor people crammed together below decks... and there are other aspects of the story, as well.

But imagine seeing TITANIC and deciding it was all about a guy who likes to sketch. That is his dream, his goal - to be an artist. That *is* Jack's goal.

The producer really connected with the “guy who likes to sketch” part and thinks *that* is what TITANIC is all about - and that should be the focus of the script... and this whole ship hitting an iceberg thing is unimportant and getting in the way of the real story.

And when the Producer said that, I was... confused.

He wanted to cut out the ship hitting the iceberg part because it had nothing to do with the guys sketching. In fact, the ship hitting the iceberg part *distracts* from the guy sketching story.

And I was more confused.

So we discuss this, and I make my points, and he says... Those are damned good points, maybe you’re right! Maybe a movie called TITANIC *needs* the ship hitting the iceberg part. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.

Wow - he listened. I mean *really listened*, not just nodded his head and pretended. That *never* happens. Usually they pretend to listen, then tell you they’re Mommy and that means whatever they say goes. It doesn’t have to make sense, there doesn’t have to be a reason. But this guy actually *considered* that he might be wrong. Never happens in Hollywood.

Best Meeting Ever.


And on Sunday I biked to the opening of my friend Eric’s new video store. Eric is an actor who was a fan of my website before he moved to Los Angeles. He gets excited by everything - one of those people who is ecstatic about living in Los Angeles. He’s a big fan of B movies, and is probably the only actor I know who goes out of his way to be in low budget movies. He’d rather be in a cheapo biker movie than be in SPIDER-MAN 4. I kind of understand this - B movies are fun and silly and probably fun to make... SPIDER-MAN 4 might just be a job. Oh, I I have to mention that Eric looks like he’s 18 years old, and I’m pretty sure he’s north of 30. He still gets cast as college students and maybe even high school students.

Eric has been a collector of movies forever, and when he’s between acting gigs (and actors are always between gigs) he buys and sells collectable DVDs and rare VHS tapes on e-bay. He buys the inventories of video stores and searches the contents for gold... and has a warehouse of boxes filled with VHS tapes and some DVDs... and decided to open a store in Van Nuys.

Spudic's Movie Empire
5910 Van Nuys Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA 91401

On Sunday he did a Grand Opening signing with 3 top B movie makers, so I figured I’d show up and buy something to show support. His store is perfectly located in an area filled with Bail Bondsmen and Pawn Shops... and I think a vacuum cleaner repair shop is next door. The Van Nuys Criminal Courts is a block or two away. His store is cool - all kinds of old posters and shelves filled mostly with VHS tapes. He has a huge stack of boxes against the back wall filled with more VHS tapes. So I told him he should play up the VHS thing - you know, there are stores for people who collect vinyl records, why not focus on people who collect VHS tapes? There really is something about VHS that’s kind of fun, and the old tapes have all of these great trailers on them - trailers with an 80s vibe. So, if you’re a fan of VHS, stop by Eric’s store (or the online store). I bought a DVD - one of those movies I don’t own, but should.

Hey, and we have a new President. Two swearing in ceremonies and no swearing. What’s up with that? I think we should have someone from the other party, chosen by lottery, to swear at the President for one full minute after he’s sworn in - just to let those people blow off some steam and get the new Prez used to all of the crap he’s going to have to put up with over the next 4 years. Every time I see Obama and his family I get a Kennedy vibe - he’s got a fashionable wife and two young kids. He’s sure got a tough job ahead of him, I wish him luck... for all of our sakes.

We also have some Oscar Nominees - and I posted them just to let you know I hadn’t been kidnaped by aliens.

Feeling better today, so I hope the wind has pushed me out of these doldrums and getting back on course. Wrote this, and I’m trying to catch up on my Holiday Update - hope to have that for you on Monday....

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: High Concept - Medium Budget a rerun with some work done.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fuddrucker's burger.
Pages: Well, this blog entry plus some new tip material!
Movies: You know, I haven't seen a movie since New Year's Eve! Maybe my doldrums are caused by movie withdrawl?

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

John Sayles on Matewan

Screenwriter (and director) John Sayles talks about his movie MATEWAN in this clip...

Sayles is one of my favorite writers. I discovered him through PIRANHA and THE HOWLING and many other fine films that seem to be horror movies but are actually much more. I tracked down his short stories and first novel, PRIDE OF THE BIMBOS, and loved BIMBOS so much that I bought up a bunch of paperback copies decades ago and gave them to friends. The novel is about a boy with divorced parents who lives with his father for one summer and learns what it means to be a man - typical coming of age story... except the kid's father plays on an exhibition baseball team kind of like the Harlem Globetrotters (which is basketball, I know) who play in drag. So, this boy learns about being a man by hanging around men dressed as women.

Since then I've bought all of Sayles novels and short story collections and seen all of his movies. One of the things I like about him is that he comes from blue collar roots and his films and stories are full of working people. That ends up making him kind of a Leftie, because he's all for worker's rights and unions... which is what MATEWAN was all about.

- Bill

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part last)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

After writing a million treatments, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam have become tired of waiting for the script and are on their way out the door... I could pound out a script that could stop them, but the producer has instead decided to have me write a brand new treatment that takes place in South Africa. And after a stack of free treatments, this one will be for pay - hooray! Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

After reading a bunch of books on South Africa and watching some travel videos I did a version where he was a bodyguard in South Africa and the badguys were only stealing some diamonds instead of assassinating anybody. He was less involved in this story - still managing to run into the bad guys by accident over and over again.

This treatment was thrown away. Jean Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam signed to do another movie... they’d still be interested in reading the script, if ever there was one. But now they were off on some other project and my guess is that MGM will lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Could Jamie Lee Curtis play a bodyguard in South Africa, I asked... the producer did not answer.

Every project has a certain amount of *momentum* - as long as it’s moving forward quickly, everyone is excited and that excitement can actually turn a script into a film. People want to make movies, and if your project is hurtling towards the screen like a juju-bee hurled by a twelve year old, everyone wants to be part of it. But when things begin to slow down, people start jumping ship... and no one really wants to replace them. The end result of slowing down is *stopping* - and no one wants to be attached to a stalled film. That’s a dead film.

I suspect my Hawaii film is completely dead at this point. It slowed down due to a possible actor’s strike - and because that strike kept dragging on without ever happening, the Hawaii project slowed to a crawl. Now that the actors are probably going to sign a contract (a year later) the economy sucks so bad I can’t imagine this thing ever happening. Another script of mine on some producer’s shelf forever. You have to strike while the iron is hot. There is a perfect time for the project, and if you miss that time because you are waiting for some other time, you lose momentum and things start to fall apart. The Hawaii thing waited too long, trying to play it safe... and now it’s over.

But back to 2002....

Even though I had some fresh cash in the bank on the never-ending treatment project, I wouldn’t get the nice big check for writing the script until the producer approves one of the treatments. And that was never going to happen if he kept throwing them away and coming up with new ideas (He’s an IRS agent in Latvia! He’s an ex-CIA assassin in Afghanistan! He’s a body builder in Bulgaria!). I wrote a new South Africa treatment with all of his crazy story-killing notes and now the protagonist had nothing to do with the story at all, he was just in scenes where things happened to other people. It had turned to dog-doo. I hated the treatment, but by this point I was a typing monkey and the producer wasn’t listening to anything I said in our story meetings.

That’s one of the things I will never understand about this business - you are hired because they have read a bunch of your scripts and like them... then they want you to write something that goes against everything they liked about those sample scripts. If they’d just let you do your job and keep out of your way, they’d probably end up with a much better script. But instead, the new treatment is basically dictation - nothing of me in there - and it has a completely passive protagonist and a complete non-sense plot and things that happen for no reason and massive plot holes and crazy coincidences and no conflict and zero emotional conflict...

One of the running battles I’ve been having with this producer - he wants to do something like BOURNE, just without the character stuff that made BOURNE more than just a bunch of cool action scenes. He *wants* a completely 2D character - not a complicated guy who worries that the more he discovers who he really is, the more he may not like himself much. Every treatment I am fighting to make sure the lead character has some character - and those elements are the first things he wants to remove on the next treatment. I am so masochistic, I don’t give up the fight. I want this to eventually go to script, and I want it to be a *good* script. Not just a bag-o-action. But after all of these treatments and losing our lead and director, I’m just keeping my mouth shut and doing what I’m told. Duane Haller in WHITE LINE FEVER was right - you cause trouble and all you get is trouble. So I crank out the treatment and turn it in and wait for the next meeting where it will be thrown out and I will be given a new random country and a new random occupation for the lead and a new random action event.

It was November by then, and I had spent almost the whole year writing treatment after treatment and never getting any closer to script

When the next meeting actually began with a new location, I quit. I tried to control my temper, but I may have failed a little. I complained that we were no closer to script than when I began and that I was getting tired of writing things that would never end up on screen. Part of my problem may be that I am “spoiled” - I actively seek out the people who actually make movies instead of just make deals, so lots of stuff ends up on screen. Hey, it may turn out crap by the time it gets to screen - but so do lots of big budget studio films... and the other 90% of the scripts the studio bought that year just get rewritten into crap and never make it to screen. I had done more that a fair number of free rewrites, and it was time to move on.

Looking back on it all, I think the problem was the producer couldn’t deal with the pressure of having MGM’s future on his shoulders. I think he choked. We all want to do our best work, but there’s a clever way of not ever failing by not ever finishing your work. Plenty of screenwriters do this - they write and rewrite and change things and never manage to get to FADE OUT. Because once they finish the script, the script can be read and judged and it might suck. But a script they are still working on? Always brilliant! I think this producer, whose history was a bunch of MOWs that were here this week, gone the next... just a way to sell laundry soap; was afraid that his first big theatrical would come out and flop big time, maybe even pull down the studio, and it would all be his fault. He couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure, so he postponed his failure (or success) by never having a project that could go to screen. The silly part about this is that when we had that treatment that actually attracted the talent required to make the movie, he should have pulled the trigger, gone to script, then made the sucker. At that point, the cast would have resulted in *some* box office, and would have been successful on DVD even if the film sucked. And there would have been other people who could have shared he blame if the film was a total stinker - you can blame the director or the star or even blame me.

There comes a time when the rewards outweigh the risks - or are at least equal - and it makes sense to just do it. You can’t succeed without the possibility of failure - and failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just a step on the road to success. In this case, the producer might have made a film for a major studio that would have been one of their big releases for the year. How many big studio films flop every year? MGM was coming off a string of flops - expensive flops - so this may have just been another MGM flop. Hey, it would be used in the same sentence as films that cost $100 million! That elevates the producer! Strange as it probably seems - being the producer of a $100 million film that flopped is better than being the producer of a $1 million film that does well for its budget. Same goes for writers, too. I wrote a film that made *five times* its production cost in profits! But I’m a footnote, and the writers of some big budget flop are popular because someone gambled $200 million on their last script.

This producer could not have failed even if he had failed - because he would move up a few rungs on the ladder. He would be making $10 million studio films instead of $2 million network MOWs. Um, the producer’s fee is much larger - even if the film tanks.

Before writing this blog entry I decided to look up the producer and see what happened to him. I had done this once before, but thought I’d check again. Well, he has disappeared from the face of the earth. His last credit was an MOW made before my association with him. His website is gone. His company is no longer listed anywhere (and hasn’t been for years). He is out of the business. MOWs were dying at the time we were working together, so he had to find a different kind of film to produce. Move forward because he could not move back. In a way, our project was the best way to keep his career as a producer - and it seems that he has lost that. Every time I search for him, I find nothing... not even a trace of him since our project.

Here’s the good news and bad news of it all: Hey, I paid rent and expenses for a year of freakin’ slave labor! And since the producer is MIA and our deal was for a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a newlywed and one of the crappy treatments in Dubrovnik, I’m thinking the free treatments that I wrote are mine. I was not paid for them. How can anyone other than me own them? So the school teacher treatment is something I plan on developing - it was my idea and I think there may be a market for it. The great treatment I wrote that attracted the talent is also mine - written before the second treatment payment. The bad news on that - I was writing so many treatments on this project that somewhere along the line that one was saved over by another treatment. I *do* have a hard copy of that treatment... except for the last three pages of the 15! Somewhere along the line those pages fell off the original - damned Staples staples! - and I probably have the notes on how it ends somewhere.... Where did I put all of those 2002 notebooks? I only discovered the 3 missing pages over the holidays when I brought all of this stuff with me to clean it up and set it up as something I might write this year. Now, it looks like I’ll have to take some time to figure out what was on those last three pages - maybe I’ll script it next year.

I’m also looking at all of the other versions of the treatments for either scenes or storylines or characters that I can steal. The two college girls one I may completely re-treat and turn into a Hitchcock kind of thing in some country other than Portugal.

I call stuff like this my “Phantom Credits” - work you’ve done and were paid for that never ended up going to screen, so there’s nothing on IMDB about it. You look at 2002 and you think I did nothing that year - when the opposite is true. Many of those years without any IMDB credits were years where I worked my butt off and got paid for some project that never went to film. Maybe one out of ten of the scripts they pay for go to screen, which means for every credit you see on IMDB there are 9 more you do not see.

Because I write for production - I try not to write anything that will still take a number of steps before it can be made, or is impractical from a production point of view - I’ve managed to get a higher percentage of purchased projects on screen. But I still have a bunch of things on shelves all over town that will never get made. After five years, you can buy those scripts back at cost - what you were paid. I often wonder whether I should do that (I’ve bought back three scripts, and still own them). Usually I think the future scripts are better than the past scripts. The future scripts have *potential*.

- Bill

Monday, April 27, 2020


It appears that I have a new book for 2020!





Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics, oh my!

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph?

How do you take that brilliant visual told story and great characters and snappy dialogue and dramatic moments and spectacular conflict and distill it into 25 words? How is that even possible? And keep it so interesting that that bored development executive reads it and wants to buy your screenplay and turn it into a movie that will make people laugh and cry and kiss $12 goodbye? The most common way is by crafting an amazing logline – rocket fuel – that will make people in the industry want to read your screenplay. The first thing that anyone asks about your screenplay is “What's it about?” and a logline is the answer. They have been used in the film business for almost 100 years, and are the secret to breaking in.

In this just under 100,000 word book we will look at all forms of “distilled story” that you are likely to encounter as a screenwriter, and take you step-by-step through the creation. We will look at the most effective ways to pitch your screenplay, and how the pitch reveals problems with your screenplay. Just about every question that you might have is answered in this book! Including how to use Look Books as a creative tool as well as a sales tool, and why some commercial pitch platforms may be a waste of money. We look at the 4 types of pitches, how a one page synopsis is a “birth to death” element of your screenplay – you may use one to sell the screenplay, and the distributor may use that same one pager on the back of the Blu-ray box! The critical elements needed in any logline. And much more!

So, what's your logline?


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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

India Folks Click Here.

Austrailian Folks Click Here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part three)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

Our story so far...

A producer with a deal at MGM wanted me to write a script for him, so I began (as usual) by pitching 5 story ideas... for Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead, which could be shot as a piggy-back on another project he had going in New Zealand. He liked an idea about newlyweds on vacation, the husband is kidnapped and the wife has to get him back. I wrote a 15 page treatment, which he loved... but then he changed his mind and wanted to shoot in Mexico, so the treatment became about a mother and son whose yacht comes to port in Mexico, and the son is kidnapped and the mom has to go Rambo to get him back. He loved that treatment, too, but wanted to change the lead to a girl in her mid-20s, and shoot in Portugal. So I came up with 5 ideas, pitched them, and he picked one and we wrote up a treatment... and several treatments later we were doing a male lead martial arts film in Dubrovnik.

So far, I had only been paid to write the original treatment and the others were “free rewrites” - just with completely different stories and locations and lead characters. After doing a few more treatments I decided I’d had enough of this, and I was going to write a *great* treatment that would cause the producer to pull the trigger and go to script (where I would get another check) and maybe we’d be making a movie. This new treatment was better than BOURNE - it had all kinds of great action scene ideas you’ve never seen before and a cool story idea about an attempt to assassinate Kofi Annan. We need to get to scripts soon, because we’re shooting in September... But then we lost our star... when he didn’t become a star, after playing a pivotal role in both MATRIX sequels.

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And someplace around here it became a bigger project - after reading the new treatment they wanted to spend the full $10 million on this film! It would be a big MGM theatrical release starring... Jean Claude Van Damme with action director Ringo Lam. Cool! My first big theatrical release! Ringo Lam is a Hong Kong action director, and I’m a big fan of his work. The female lead looked like it was going to be that French girl from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and some other name actors were up for supporting roles.

I tell the producer I’m tired of writing treatments and would like to go to script. Maybe verbally pitch the next version, and if he likes it I’ll script it instead of treatment it. He’s not sure about that idea - what if something happens after we go to script and we need to do a page one? I tell him we need to make up our minds because September is right around the corner. We need a script. The producer writes me a check... for another treatment. Not the script check. I am happy, sort of. This is paying the bills but not even coming close to paying for the work.

The amazing thing is that I have now been paid twice for the "same treatment" - even though it has really been dozens of treatments. Often producers don't want to pay you for the treatment at all, and often (subtext: usually) I'm okay with that. A treatment is the path to a script, and if doing a week's work gets me a script gig, that's a nice incentive. But I am also used to producers who are in the business of making movies. One of the reasons why I liked this producer is because he came from the world of MOWS (movies of the week) where you often get hired knowing that the movie will air at 9pm on September 17th on ABC, and everything is a race to get the script done so that they can start production. MOW producers don't endlessly develop like this... they make movies.

Many producers seem to be in the business of developing scripts, not making movies. I have no idea how they stay in business and keep their offices on the studio lots, but they almost never actually make a film. A few years back Sean Connery sued a producer because he didn't make movies - including a couple with Connery attached. These producers will have you read a stack of books to pitch your take on them... but never actually turn any of those books into scripts. Or they buy scripts and cycle through a half dozen writers doing rewrites on a script that will never be a movie. I don't understand these producers - who aspires to be the gelding at a stud farm?

For a writer, you can easily get trapped doing a year of reading books and giving your take, or reading scripts they've bought and pitching your rewrite, or just doing endless meetings where nothing ever comes of it. All of the money you've banked from the last script deal for that rainy day? Well, this is a rainy *year* - where you work your butt off on projects for some producer who doesn't actually make movies... they just develop scripts.

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Only I've been paid *twice* for this treatment - a miracle!

Of course, the producer threw out the treatment that everybody loved - because he had a better idea. By now, the “better ideas” were all much worse than what had come before. In the next version the hero was just a bodyguard who wasn't really trying to stop the assassination - he just kind of stumbled around and eventually ended up stopping the assassination by accident... with many many many other weird changes. It was total crap, and I was afraid I’d be stuck writing the script version... we were running out of time.

The producer had MGM and Ringo Lam and Jean Claude Van Damme all waiting for the script... which I hadn't started because he kept throwing out treatments. Every couple of weeks I’d write a new 15 page treatment and then he’d throw it out and come up with a different idea and a different location and a different co-star and a different job for the hero and a different everything else! And September was right around the corner! Everybody wants to know where the script is - and I tell the producer we need to decide on a story so that I can start writing the script. Though I’m a fast writer, it’s still going to take a month. The producer postponed the film until October... and that was kind of the last possible month to start shooting before Dubrovnik became neck-deep in snow.

MGM was wondering where the script was. Jean Claude Van Damme was wondering where the script was. Ringo Lam was wondering where the script was. We needed to take a treatment to script if we were going to beat the snow.

I went to the next meeting with a copy of the best version of the Kofi Annan assassination treatment. Because we had to go to script RIGHT NOW to avoid the snow, I wanted to make sure we took the best story to script. I was prepared to fight for that version.

The producer said he didn’t like the Kofi Annan version, and he had some new ideas to “improve” the stumbling bodyguard version. I said we didn’t have time to do a new version and still film in Dubrovnik before it was neck-deep in snow. I thought the weather would end up being the thing that made the producer make up his mind so that we could go to script... no such luck! The producer said - we’ll move the story to South Africa, where weather isn’t a problem.

I wanted to jump across the desk and strangle him. It was time to get off the pot and go to script. I had a great treatment - the one that got us a cast and director onboard - and instead we keep throwing away treatments and changing them into crap and not getting any closer to script. Instead of strangling him, I lost my temper. Now, even when I lose my temper I’m still fairly calm and reasonable. I’m still interested in explaining why I am right and they are wrong. And I don’t make it all about my emotions - I make it about the *evidence*, the *reasons* why I believe one method is better than another. But one thing I have learned in my travels in Hollywood - most people don’t give a damn if you can prove they are completely wrong, because they’re “mommy” and that makes them always right - even if they are wrong. This big ego thing gets in the way of making rational decisions. The more you can show them that their method won’t work, the more they fight for it. So, I leave the meeting with a new meeting in a week where I am supposed to deliver a treatment that takes place in South Africa... and has to do with diamond smuggling.

So, we have no Jean-Claude Van Damme, no Ringo Lam... and my guess is that MGM might lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

Well, you can find out in the last part next Wednesday...

- Bill

Because the comments on this blog entry contain references to these elements from when I first ran it in 2009...

Yesterday’s Dinner: Gilled Cheese sandwiches at the Standard downtown with a couple of attractive women, which are not nearly as good as the ones in the Library. A whole weekend of drinking and eating to excess at the Fango horror movie convention.

Movies on TV...
Saturday, April 25th, M4M2 (UK) 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part two)

A rerun from *exactly* 11 years ago today, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

Monday night I had drinks with some fellow screenwriters, and one of the things we talked about was free writing. We all know that it’s a bad thing... but we all end up doing it. Some producer who actually gets films made wants you to write up a treatment to help get the financing for the film... or maybe wants you to write the whole script. What do you do? Because the producer actually gets films made, there’s this big carrot - a movie! A paycheck for the script! And probably that production bonus because this producer actually makes movies!

The most common place the free writing thing pops up is in rewrites. I’ve done a bunch of free rewrites because I would rather write for free and try to keep the script on course (oh, and the production bonus) than refuse to do the rewrites and have them hire someone else who will just screw everything up... and get half credit. And producers have a great way of pitching those free rewrites: Hey, I think with just a couple of minor changes, the studio will green light this. First, can the lead character be a cowboy? Second, can it take place in the moon... not *on* the moon, but inside it? And after hearing 10 notes like this you have to make that decision - keep going on this project or quit? And more often than not, you keep going... that carrot of production sure looks tasty!

In 2002 I wrote a treatment for actual pay for a producer at MGM... and then did “rewrites” on it for the rest of the year. I mean the whole year! This was a real producer, who had another project at MGM that was supposed to shoot in New Zealand. An MOW producer who had a huge lucky break when MGM decided his experience bringing in network MOWs on time and on budget was exactly what they needed after they took a big hit after releasing a string of expensive flops. If this producer could make them a string of $10 million genre films with second tier stars...

And I was the guy writing the movie! Well, writing a series of treatments that would become that movie. After writing a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a school teacher whose son gets kidnapped in Mexico by bandits while they are on vacation... and she has to go all Rambo and get him back, the producer had some notes...

Could I make the lead character a 15-25 year old female, and instead of taking place in Mexico - the producer had found this great studio deal in Portugal of all places. Could I come back in a week with 5 script ideas for 15-25 year old female leads that takes place in Portugal? Um, sure.

I came up with some ideas, the best of which was the one they liked - sort of a female version of GOTCHA about two college girls on vacation in Portugal, and one gets mixed up with a terrorist and ends up in trouble and on the run. One of the other ideas was a riff on THE PASSENGER about a woman with a ton of problems who trades identity with the woman in the room next door after she dies in a car accident... and inherits the other woman’s problems which are much worse than hers. No... the producer liked the GOTCHA one. So I wrote a 15 page single spaced treatment and turned it in - driving down to Santa Monica again - 101 to 405 to 10 to surface streets. Between driving there and back, it pretty much eats up the whole day.

We have a meeting after he read it (or his reader did - I’m not sure anyone in town actually reads anything other than coverage, and even that may be read to them). And he loves the treatment, but has a new idea. You see, he’d just had a meeting with this guy who was playing a villain in the next two MATRIX movies. A martial arts guy who was “the new Van Damme” named Daniel Bernhardt. This guy was sure to become a big star, but right now he was cheap. Hey, I knew who that was from the BLOODSPORT movies! He took over for Van Damme! Could I come up with some male lead ideas? Action stuff? With martial arts? Hell yes!

A week later I pitched him five male lead action ideas - he picked one and asked if I could work out the details by next week. We’d be shooting in Portugal.

Behind the scenes, here, I’m doing a bunch of research every time we switch locations and stories and leads. I didn’t even know where the Friendly Islands were on the first treatment - the reason why the story took place there is that he had another movie that as supposed to shoot in New Zealand and wanted to piggy back the production. Shoot two films back to back and save money on transportation and basic set up costs. When we changed to Mexico I had to find out what was available near his studio with the deal, plus learn how a school teacher might battle a bunch of kidnappers using her knowledge of high school science. I bought a bunch of books of experiments for school teachers and read them, looking for cool MacGyver possibilities. When we went to Portugal, I had to find out what was there (near the studio where he had his deal) and what we could do within our budget. And as this tale continues to unwind, every single change meant a pile of research on my part.

I came up with *Ten* new martial arts stories with a male lead that took place in Portugal, because I wanted him to have a good selection so that we could get this show on the road and go to script so that I could be paid again. Though at any time I could have just said “No more”, that would have stopped things from proceeding to script. Script is where the money is.

My ten ideas included one that I had pitched as a sequel to THE FUGITIVE called PICK UP TEAM about a Federal Agent who goes to pick up a fugitive being extradited from Portugal who loses the fugitive and must recapture him before he can assassinate the President who is coming to Portugal for a meeting... and since the Portuguese government isn’t going to help him, he must assemble a team of thieves and criminals with special talents to help him grab the guy. Another was an existing script of mine about a CIA courier who loses a briefcase full of... well, it ends up being germ warfare stuff... and must retrieve it before it’s unleashed on the world. A bunch of other good action story ideas - that I still have - but the winner was...

A story about a CIA agent who gets set up by his own agency in Portugal and must find out why they want him dead. Sort of like BOURNE IDENTITY - except he knows who he is but doesn’t know why everyone wants him dead. Why? instead of Who? We went over the idea at a meeting, then I wrote up a 15 page treatment.

BOURNE IDENTITY had just come out and I loved it, so did the producer. And that became our model - we were going to do the $10 million BOURNE knock off, shot in Portugal, and filled with as much action as we could. My treatment was cool, and I really liked the idea of a substituting *why* for *who* as the question driving the story. Instead of Bourne’s search for who he is and discovering the sins of his past, I would have my guy searching for why his own people were trying to kill him and uncover the sins of his past. I’d still have a great, conflicted lead character who gets to kick a whole lot of ass before Fade Out.

Oh, and when I was in London I had seen a commercial for Nike shoes that featured these strange guys who did this thing called “parkour” - they ran through urban areas and didn’t let anything get in their way, jumping and twisting and sliding over all sorts of obstacles. Never seen anything like that before. I thought this was really cool, and included it in a scene of the story. These guys were from France, and Portugal is just next door. This would be a cool way to get production value from something no one had ever seen before in our film.

But that treatment was thrown out, because the producer found a much better deal in Dubrovnik. I almost punch out the producer at the meeting. But I control my temper and mention that I thought we’d be shooting the damned film by now and hint that some more money would help me focus on the treatment. He sent me off to write the new 15 page treatment, could I have it done in a week?

So, I did some research into Dubrovnik, and discovered that it was the home to the United Nations Environmental Conferences. I read a stack of books and looked at maps and... well, took my time writing the treatment. I spent a month writing it. Just to piss him off.

Writing these treatments was sometimes difficult because I had speaking engagements. I taught that 2 day screenwriting seminar in Tahoe in April, went back to London in June, and did a 3 day Screenwriting Conference in Las Vegas in July. Oh, and I did a bunch of Barnes & Noble book signings - for a while I was at a different LA store every week signing my book. So even my spare time was filled by activities! Some of these “Can you deliver the treatment in a week?” actually ended up being two weeks with a week in London in between, but only a week to write the danged treatment. I’d come back from an event and have to crank out a stack of pages on whatever synopsis I was working on. I had little time for sleeping, and couldn’t wait for the producer to make up his mind about the story so that I could write the script and then take a vacation. I was working myself into the ground.

Anyway, I wrote a pretty good treatment about the head of UNESCO security who is framed for murder in Dubrovnik and must find out why... discovers a plan to assassinate a top global warming scientist and blame it on environmentalists. The story had a bunch of clever plot twists and some great character stuff and some really inventive action scenes. I really liked this treatment and wanted to see it go to script. I was tired of writing free treatments. I had written a stack of them by now. We needed to go to script and make a movie!

After another meeting with MGM, the producer’s New Zealand project was dumped and MY script was this producer’s big project for 2002. He set a start date in September in Dubrovnik. My contract paid for airfare, hotel, and expenses while they filmed in Dubrovnik - I was going to have a 2 month all expenses paid vacation while they filmed my movie! Cool! This also meant we would soon be going to script... and I would get more money.

The producer didn’t like the environmental thing - even though it was something that really happened in Dubrovnik. He didn’t think that was important enough. Could I come up with a different idea?

Meanwhile, the first of the two new MATRIX movies came out and no one remembered Daniel who was supposed to be the next big thing. Bummer. I liked him. (Note: he would continue to play secondary roles like "Key Face" in ATOMIC BLONDE.) We would probably have to find a new star even if this was just going to be one of those junky weekend #1 action movies. For that we might need a script. I’m seeing a script fee on the horizon!

But instead I write a brand new version of the treatment where the target was Kofi Annan, and many other details were different. I decide to really give this one my absolute best shot and make it fantastic. This is my favorite of the treatments - all of the great twists from before *plus* some new ones, and even though the producer gives me an incredible stupid element he wants shoe-horned into the script, I manage to make that work. I come up with some even better action scenes, and a really cool twist ending that I think will have people talking when they leave the cinema. It had a different parkour scene in it - where the hero escapes from a top floor hotel room by bouncing between balconies until he reaches the street - then runs across the tops of moving cars on the street. Also, I had talked to the producer about a car chase, and the guys who did the RONIN chase worked out of France, and he had a connection to them - so I wrote a car chase that would *rival* the BOURNE IDENTITY and RONIN chases. This was one amazing chase! This treatment *rocks*! I am sure that after reading this we will go to script, directly to script! I believe this story is *better* than BOURNE. I know that this is the one that will get the producer to pull the trigger. After all of these treatments, I was in need of that script fee...

But this is only part two...

Part Three next Wednesday!

- Bill
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