Thursday, December 31, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: THE STORM

NEW! SEASON 2: THE STORM

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 22, 1962.

Director: Hershell Daugherty Writer: William D. Gordon, based on a story by MacIntoch Malmar.
Cast: Nancy Kelly, David McLean, James Griffith, Jean Carroll.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “George Herbert, rector of Bemerton once wrote, ‘By all means tale some time to be alone. Salute thyself. See what thy soul doth wear.’ One wonders if it is possible ever to heed that advice. Does the condition of safe solitude exist? Here, for example, we have a wide still space about us, and a curtain of heavy weather descended to cut off the rest of the world. Yes, we have the illusion of solitude. But here too are some witnesses who will attest that the illusion is grotesquely false: Janet Wilson whose character is portrayed by Nancy Kelly, Ben Wilson to be played by David McLean, and Ed Brandes played by James Griffith. And... dear ,em I think I’ve forgotten someone - of course, it’s Baba. (He picks up the black cat.) Baba who perpetuates the name of the Egyptian philosopher of the 18th Dynasty, 1600 BC. It’s a pity, wouldn’t you say, that Baba was the only witness to a murder? And such a brutal one. The victim so young, so beautiful, so helpless. The killer safe - free to roam the stormy night, perhaps to kill again. And again. As for little Baba, I suspect that only he knows the secret of solitude without danger. But the others? Seclusion will become the cradle of panic. The storm, from which the story derives its title from, has many ingredients: wind, rain, wickedness, terror. But I needn’t tell you anymore - you’ll be there to see it explode in all its glory.”



Synopsis: A storm rages. Outside a large country home - miles away from the next house - a black cat watches as a Man chases a Woman. We see neither’s face. The man catches the woman near a fence and strikes her... killing her... and she falls to the ground. Her limp arm tangled in a fence. We see that she is wearing a distinctive diamond ring.

There is a killer on the loose in the storm.

Janet Willsom (Nancy Kelly) pulls up in front of that large country home in a taxi cab driven by creepy Ed Brandes (James Griffith - more quirky than creepy) who warns her that the storm will be getting worse, there will be flooding and road closures, so maybe he should take her to the hotel in town. She says that she has been away, and just wants to get home. He offers to carry her bags inside...



Once inside, the cat (Baba) greets her... and Brandes the taxi driver continues to come on to her like a super lonely guy. You feel sorry for him. He offers to take the suitcases to the bedroom, he asks if she has anything alcoholic to drink, he asks if she wants him to spend the night to keep her safe. Janet tells him that she is expecting her husband any minute, pays him and gets him to leave.

Now she is alone in the house during the storm. Just her and the cat.

Lightning. Thunder. Wind. Rain.

The house is cold, so she turns on the furnace... but it isn’t working. Cold, So she puts on a jacket. Bundled up. She starts a fire in the fireplace, and goes to the phone to call her husband. This is a rural area, and every call goes through an operator, who Janet talks to for a while. The gossip line. She gets some information on the storm - which is getting worse - as the operator tries to connect to her husband Ben (David McLean). No answer at the office, he must already be headed home. Driving in this weather. Janet was going to warn him that she came home a day early after tending to a sick sister.

She hangs up the phone and we get an exposition filled flashback of her and Ben’s relationship. Even though both are middle aged, they have only been married a couple of years. They found each other late in life, and Ben swept her off her feet. This is the first of a couple of exposition dump flashbacks, and one major thing that it does is put a face on the offscreen husband.

The flashback ends when the power flickers... then goes out. Suddenly there is a loud banging from outside and the cat shoots across the room.

Janet looks out the window and discovers the noise is the cellar door banging open and closed. She grabs her raincoat and goes outside to secure it. Weird that it wasn’t latched closed.

Back inside the house, the power goes out. Darkness.



She grabs her coat and a flashlight, goes back outside and opens the cellar door, descending into the darkness. The cellar is creepy (but the spider webs never come into contact with the actress). She goes to the fuse box and checks the fuses - all are good. This is a downed power line somewhere. She goes back into the house, securing the cellar doors behind her. Grabs candles and hopes that Ben comes home soon.

The fire has died down, and when she stokes it with newspapers from a bin, she finds a letter addressed to her husband, and we get another flashback - this time to explain that in the past her husband kept getting letters from some woman named Agnes that he claimed was his cousin. Ben doesn’t open the letters in front of Janet and refuses to talk about them. All of this seems suspicious as hell in a brief flashback, but for some reason Janet just accepts it. We aren’t even at the first commercial and I already know who the killer and the victim are in this story.



She puts the cat outside, and then notices that the cellar window is open. It’s as if the cellar is beckoning to her. She grabs the flashlight and raincoat and goes down to close and lock the cellar window... and discovers a dead woman in a trunk! And the dead woman is wearing that distinctive diamond ring!

She races back inside the house and tries to call the police, but the storm has fouled up the phone lines - she can hear the operator but the operator can’t hear her.

She hears someone outside! She runs out to the garage, goes to the hook on the wall where the keys to the old pick up truck should be... but they are gone! She gets into the pick up, and the keys are in the ignition. She starts it up and drives away from the house, but a tree branch blocks the road. When she tries to get around it, she gets stuck in the mud. She runs back to the house, closes and locks the door, then notices an icepick on the kitchen table (earlier she had told the taxi driver that neither she nor her husband drinks, so what the heck is the ice pick for?). She grabs the ice pick to use as a weapon, and searches the house... finding the cat inside and wet shoe prints on the floor. Someone else is in the house!



The front door rattles. She goes up to the door, ice pick ready, and unlocks the door... daring the killer to come in. This does not seem like a safe thing to do, nor a sensible thing to do.

A man enters and when she tries to stab him with the ice pick, he grabs her... it’s Ben, her husband. She tells him about the dead woman in the cellar and he doesn’t believe her. He takes her down into the cellar to show her that it’s all her imagination... and there is no dead woman in the trunk. She imagined it all.

Back inside the house, she still wants to phone the police, and he talks her out of it. She mentions the letter that she found, but it isn’t where she put it. Ben says that he noticed it when he came in and put it in his pocket. When he pulls it out, that distinctive diamond ring comes with it, and falls on the floor. Ben is the killer!

Janet runs, Ben chases. She runs to the pick up truck, and we get a “cavalcade of bodies” scene when she pulls a tarp from the back and there is the dead woman! She screams, then keeps running. Ben stops chasing her for some reason, the end. Kind of a weird ending - it’s as if they ran out of film or time, so Ben just stops chasing her.



Review: This episode predates the classic Hitchcock Hour AN UNLOCKED WINDOW by a couple of years, and shows how the same idea can be a great episode and a bland one. This is the bland one. The one that keeps making mis-steps at the script stage.

Right from the beginning we get odd choices in the story. If the Taxi Driver is supposed to be our potential killer, he certainly doesn’t act like it. Though casting was a huge mistake here, James Griiffith seems like the guy at the top of the list when you look up “Taxi Drivers” in the casting directory, when the role really needs someone seriously creepy and strange; the real problem is the dialogue isn’t creepy and strange enough. He seems like a lonely guy hitting on a woman alone, instead of a potential murderer. This is where you want “two way dialogue” that has both a conversational meaning and a deeply disturbing meaning. Things that can be taken two ways. But you also want just straight out crazy stuff. If the Taxi Driver had talked about the dangers of the storm and how he once saw a new litter of puppies drown in a house basement... his house’s basement when he was a child... and he just watched them from the stairway... that would have made this guy a potential killer. He needed to be a serious threat that she must get out of her house... and then we fear that he might be waiting in the cellar for her. But he’s a lonely guy with lonely guy talk... pathetic instead of a threat.



Once he’s gone, it’s just Janet and the cat for most of the story - and it seems as if they have padded out the story instead of tried to create actual suspense and dread. Various noises keep sending her into the cellar... but because we have no idea that there is the body of a dead woman down there, it really doesn’t matter. Unlike the Hitchcock episode where we know that there is an escaped lunatic killer on the loose in the storm, here we have no constant warning that something bad might happen. Once we have negated the Taxi Driver as a threat, we just have the storm and that opening teaser where a woman is killed. Now, if that teaser had shown the killer taking the body into the cellar, where he maybe is waiting out the storm, that might have made those pointless trips to the cellar to latch a window more suspenseful... but minus a threat in the cellar, it’s just a woman in the dark securing a window - no big deal. And a huge chunk of this episode is her securing windows and being afraid of owls. They must have thought the storm was enough to be afraid of - but a storm is just rain, and it washes off.



The other issue with the script are these dead flashbacks designed to give us information that the exposition dumps on the phone with the operator didn’t cover. I’m sure in the story that this was adapted from, she sees the letter addressed to her husband and remembers their conversations about the letters... but instead of finding a way to *adapt* this scene to a visual dramatic medium, the script just does what the story does. It comes off as boring *and* an obvious exposition plant for the Husband Is The Killer Twist (which kills the twist). Instead, I would have had her read the letter and discover that her husband has a crazy admirer who is threatening to come to the house - making this mystery woman another possible killer in the storm.



If they had also made the mystery woman a threat, they could have had all sorts of fun with wet or muddy footprints in the house... a woman’s shoes... and now she tries to match her shoes to the prints. It would have given her something active to do, and built up the suspense.

It’s as if every time there is a chance to make the episode work, the script does the opposite of what it should have done.

Instead of racheting up the suspense and dread with actual things that are potential threats - things that are legitimate fears - if comes up with a bunch of excuses that just pad out the story until we get to the twist ending. This is where “poking the tiger” is important in a screenplay or story - whatever the actual physical threat is, it needs to be regularly shown in the story in order to remind the audience that it is there. Once we have that unlocked window in the Hitchcock episode, things begin to happen in the house that remind us of the crazy killer... and tell us that the killer is IN THE HOUSE. Not a potential threat, but an actual threat. Here, that noise outside is just an owl.



One of the other things that doesn’t work is that cat - which seems to exist only for scenes where she put the cat outside and then somehow the cat is inside. I didn’t even nothing this until she mentions it outloud close to the end. Was I supposed to be keeping track of the cat this whole time?

The end is also a complete let down. It seems like they just ran out of time or film and ended it with the husband in the storm. He could still have chassed and killed her. A better ending would have been to have a police car roll up (the operator had them do a check) or even the creepy Taxi Driver return because he stole something personal from the house and decided to return it an apologize. Something to actually resolve the conflict of the killer husband. But nope.

Next week we go to Hollywood for the story of a washed up old sexpot who gets one last chance at stardom... with a little help from a witch.

- Bill

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market...
The Lobby Rats
(it's part 2)

From 2006...

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. At least, that’s the plan of the Lobby Rats.

THE LAYOUT

First, how about some geography? To get into the Loew’s Hotel, you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint where they will search your bag for bombs and handguns. You might think this is all about terrorism, but I suspect what it’s really about are those disreputable distributors upstairs who owe producers money. Every year there is at least one raid by the Sheriff’s Office due to some legal action taken against a distributor. It’s kind of exciting - a bunch of Deputies with guns storm into the market and march up to one of the suites... then serve papers and often close down the distrib for the rest of the market. I know a producer who sold his film for $5k and a high % of the back-end... except there wasn’t any back-end. After his contract was up, he pulled the film... but the distrib kept selling it! So checking for weapons is a good idea - more on this in part 3.



Once you get passed the guards, you go through the revolving door and are ambushed by people trying to give you Hollywood Reporter and Variety and the foreign Trades (Screen International, Film Business, etc). They practically assault you. I hate taking the magazines when I arrive, because that means I’ll have to carry them with me for the rest of the day - and they get heavy. Most of the people handing you magazines are actors picking up some spare change. Up until a few years ago, they were mostly hot actresses. Hollywood Reporter had this “uniform” of black shorts and tight white T shirts. They “cast” every really hot actress in town. I remember one, Alicia, who may have started out handing out Hollywood Reporter when AFM was in Beverly Hills... and eventually became the head of development for an AFM company.

Once you get past the trade-hawkers, to the left are the restrooms, where you may find yourself standing at a urinal next to the guy who played Billy Bear in 48 HOURS or maybe one of the more mutant Baldwin Brothers. To the right is a hallway leading to the 4th floors and the AFM Info desk and the wide circular staircase overlooking the pool which leads up to the restricted floors. Past the stairs is something they added a couple of years ago - a cart where you can buy coffee at prices that make Starbucks look cheap. If you look straight up, you can see the balcony-hallways of every floor, and all of those distribs and sales agents and buyers who can afford a badge looking down. Maybe even spitting. You won’t be able to see much of them, though, because couple of years ago they started plastering the balconies with banners. Huge ads for the movies upstairs. Last year and the year before there were ads for movies I wrote - but not this year. If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s Ed Azner doing these days?” All you have to do is look up at the banners and see a couple of new movies he’s in.

The lobby is cut in half by a bank of hanging TV monitors, showing trailers for the films upstairs. One thing you notice about AFM is that the movies are *concentrated*. There used to be this section in Blockbuster called “Super Action” - that’s where some of my movies ended up. All of the movies at AFM are “Super Action” or “Super Horror” or “Super T&A Comedy” or some other “Super”. Makes me laugh when I’ve watched a rotation of car explosion and chainsaw trailers... then there’s an epic drama trailer from Korea complete with sweeping vistas and a million costumes... oh, and swordfights.

On the other side of the monitor bank is the half of the lobby with the bar. Just past the bar are the doors leading out to the pool - where the really cool lobby rats hang out. I always hope to go out there and see Uma Thurman swimming laps in a bikini, but it’s usually some fat, hairy German guy in a speedo. Up until a few years ago, a group of folks from upstairs would come down to watch the sunset every night. It’s really beautiful, and a great way to get your priorities straight after a day of haggling over Lithuanian rights to BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. I haven’t seen those people for a couple of years - more proof that the business is changing.

Opposite the doors to the pool there is a restaurant that is sometimes used for meetings and used to be used for big parties. I remember a few years back South Korea had this big Godzilla-like monster movie, and they held party there... complete with a huge ice sculpture of the monster attacking a building. This year, there weren’t any parties there... and least, none that anyone told me about.

There are pillars with ferns or something every so many feet on the edges of the lobby, and tall tables are set up - this is where the lobby rats congregate. A handful of them at each table, or leaning against a pillar, or with a briefcase set up on a potted fern. They read the trades or talk business or pretend to talk on cell-phones. Or they just pose. The big days for the Lobby Rats are Saturday and Sunday (when they aren’t working at their day jobs) you’ll find a bunch of them down there every day during AFM. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the main categories are:

STARVING ACTORS

Though you won’t find Dennis Woodruff in the lobby, you’ll find almost every other out of work actor in town. Both wannabes and has-beens. Unknowns and the once famous crowd the little tables, hoping that someone from upstairs will walk past and hire them to be in BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS 2: FULL FRONTAL BLOOD FRENZY. Holding court at a center table is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson - star of one of my favorite films, THREE THE HARD WAY. Last year Fred was promoting both my awful 18th film and BLACK KISSINGER from the crazy guys who made JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER. This year, he’s just trolling for work - and signing autographs and posing for cell-phone pictures with lobby-rat fans. Fred is the King of the lobby - the most famous guy who just hangs out there every day. Though you may see someone like Andy Garcia breeze through, Fred hangs out there.

A table away from Fred are the Action Guys. You probably don’t know their names, but if you watch ROAD HOUSE, they play all of the other bouncers in that movie. They also pop up in all kinds of action films - if Ah-nuld has a team of commandos, these are the guys who aren’t Bill Duke or Carl Weathers or Jessie Ventura. You know, Commando #4 and #5. The first guys to die. They also pop up as bad guys. They’re big muscular guys, often with Martial Arts training. They buy each other beers and slap each other on the back and hope that someone will cast them inj the lead of a low budget film. That actually happens often enough to keep them coming back to the lobby every year. You ever heard of Sam J. Jones? I know some of these guys, and will nod to them. Last year I talked to Olivier Gruner about a project (STEEL CHAMELEONS) but missed him this year. He was down there while I was upstairs, but had left by the time I came down.

Scattered around the other tables are the Babes. Hot wanna-be actresses in various stages of decomposition. All of them wearing as little as legally possible. For the past couple of years there has been the same hot 20 something gal who wears backless white sun dresses that you can see through. Yes, see through. Yes, see that she’s not wearing undergarments of any kind. She flutters through the lobby, going from table to table and positioning herself in front of the elevator banks to snag any producer who comes down. I actually saw her on the arm of a couple of guys this year. Often the hot actresses will align themselves with a journalist with an all-access badge so that they can get into parties and maybe even sneak upstairs for an afternoon late in the market. Smile at any of them and you’ll get a head shot. Some even have lingerie photos - if you have business cards that say you’re a producer. Many have websites where you can see even more of them... for a price. There are dozens of these young Babes fluttering around the hotel lobby looking for a big juicy part in your low budget horror flick...

And also some older ones. You know that great bit in KISS KISS BANG BANG where Michelle Monaghan rags on the other actress for being 35 - over the hill - when she’s still got a chance at 34? Nothing is more frightening than the over-the-hill starlets in the lobby. You get to see the whole deterioration process - like a museum display. There are those Babes in their 20s, then the ones fighting to hang on in their 30s. Now, I have nothing against 30 year old women... but there’s this thing that happens with these starlets as they grow older - they wear fewer clothes. You’d think this would be a good thing, but it’s really sad and a little frightening. I’ve been going to AFM for 20 years, now, and have seen some of those hot 20 something babes turn into 40 something women wearing almost no clothes at all - and enough make up to spackle a house. They are still trying for the 20 year old babe roles when they are probably someone’s grandmother.

And life has been hard on some of these women - one actress I know who wears almost no clothes these days, DeeDee, claims she’s in her early 30s... but anyone looking at her would guess mid-40s. She has a website and fan club and lingerie photos and with a credit card you can see photos of her on the website with no clothes at all. She’s been in a few really low budget horror movies - you know, the kind shot on a consumer camera in somebody’s back yard. She’s *starred* in those films. I don’t know if she lies about her age, or if she really looks haggard after beating her face against the big wall of Hollywood for so long. Doesn’t matter either way. If I were her, I’d say I was 50 and let everyone tell me how good I looked...

And there are 50 year olds there in clothes revealing every sag and wrinkle. Yikes! You just want to tell them to *act* their age. One actress in particular who I see every year. She tries to out-do the sundress girl, and it backfires. You have to turn away. It’s like seeing grandma working at a strip club.

Which is probably where some of these “starlets” work when they aren’t trolling for work in the lobby of Leows. The saddest part about many of the female lobby rats is that they are the “after” picture in those dreams about hopping a Greyhound bus for Hollywood to become a star.

Though there are probably some actors who don’t fit either the action guy category or the babe category, they are the minority. That always surprises me, because there really are producers who wander downstairs and an actor armed with headshots might be able to hand one to that producer who is trying to get one of the action guys for their next flick. Sure, it’s a long shot, but this is a tough business.

FLY-BY-NIGHT DISTRIBUTORS

Okay, it costs thousands of dollars for a suite at AFM, and some of the smaller distribs even share suites. So what happens if you are so small you can’t even afford to share a suite? You hang out in the lobby. Because it’s not just the distributors who must come down, it’s the buyers, too. Hundreds of buyers fly in from every country in the world to attend AFM, and when they wander down, you can be there with your portfolio of films and maybe make deal. There were so many fly-by-night distribs, that a year ago they made a rule that you could not have a portable DVD devices or show films on a computer in the lobby. That doesn’t mean no one does it, but now it’s kind of like a bad movie version of a drug deal - some guy asks if you’re interested in horror movies, and if you say “yes” they lead you to a corner where they whip out a 7" DVD player and show you some clips. One day while passing through the lobby I saw a security guard close down a guy’s DVD player and ask him to leave.

There used to be this Asian guy named Joe who had a portfolio of movie posters and would try to sell his movies to everyone who walked past him. Dozens of posters - all completed films for sale. He had a whole library of films! I must have a dozen of his business cards from past AFMs - but didn’t see him this year.

FLY-BY-NIGHT PRODUCERS

Some of those portfolios of posters are for “proposed films” - do you know anyone with money to invest? Would you like to invest money? You know, for a small investment, you can get an Executive Producer credit on a real feature film! There are two kinds of producers in the lobby at Loew’s: the wannabes and the has-beens. The wanna-bes are eager to thrust their mock up poster into your hands. They scatter them all over the tables, hoping that someone important will see them. They tend to hang out in the bar, often having meetings there. Often having *pretend* meetings there with people they know who pretend to be someone important. There’s one guy I know who made *one* film back in the 70s and has been trying to make his second film ever since. He hangs out in the bar with all of his schedules and budgets for whatever his new project is - always something that just sounds awful. Really bad horror or really bad T&A or really bad genre-of-the-month. Often he has some of the 20 something starlets hanging around - he’s promised them roles. This guy has one of those “true-artist-beards” that shows he’s a creative guy rather than a suit. And he dresses like a cowboy. But that beard (along with whatever hair he has left on his head) has gone gray... so he dyes it. Dark brown. It looks so fake, it’s difficult to look at him without laughing. He’s trying to look hip, but ends up looking just as ridiculous as those 40-50 something babes in see-through clothing.

One of the other “producers” is a guy I see once a year at AFM - and he’s always trying to put together a film. He’s been trying for at least a dozen years. One year he grabbed me and told me he had a completed film that he was unable to sell, would I take a look at him and tell him how he could do *1* day of reshoots and sell the sucker? Because I have a problem saying “no” I ended up taking a screener video home with me. The poorly shot movie was about a producer who was having problems on his low budget film - the actors were screwing up lines and wasting film and the director kept going over budget. The acting was awful. There was actually a top-pop scene (nudity) but nothing else that you could put in a trailer to play on that bank of monitors over the lobby. It was the worst kind of vanity film - all about the filmmaker. So I told him my advice was to scrap the film and find something more like that stuff playing on the monitors. He didn’t like that advice, and continued trying to find a buyer for a couple of years... now he’s trying to find some money to make another film. A dozen years, and he has no finished film to show for it!

The other kind of producer you find in the lobby are the disgraced. About fifteen years ago, my friend Jim and I were looking for money for our Russian Project, and Jim stumbled on this guy with an office on Sunset Blvd named David. He was a typical producer - that is, he had a business selling cell phones to movie stars and that gave him the contacts required to make some movies with either stars on their way up or stars on their way down. I think at the time he’d just made a film with Burt Reynolds that you’ve never heard of. Anyway, he was interested in the Russian Project until he read my RIPTIDES script - then he wanted us to put that together... with his fallen-star connections in the leads. Eventually the whole thing crashed an burned - when he had trouble finding the money. But anyone with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number can still make movies in this town... and eventually David had a production and distribution company at AFM making all kinds of crappy films. For a while he was after me to write some of his crappy films, but he couldn’t afford me. My quote at the time was at lest five times what he was offering. Then, one year, he was the guy being ransacked by Sheriff’s Department deputies. They closed him down for not paying any of the producers who distributed through him. For a couple of years after that, he had disappeared... but he shows up this year with a new company. Just not a company upstairs. He’s wandering around the lobby looking to sell films and acquire films. He invites me to his big party one night... but it’s miles away from AFM and I’m just not in the mood to drive out there for one free drink... and a chance to be raided by the Sheriff’s Department.

STARVING WRITERS & DIRECTORS

The KING of all lobby rats is this guy named Mel - he wears a hat. He dresses sharp. He claims to be a writer-director. He’s there every year at AFM, trolling the lobby. For me, the highlight of this year’s AFM was watching David Carradine trying to break free of Mel as he tried to cross the lobby to a meeting. Carradine was like the gazelle on the Discover Channel who gets attacked by the lion. It’s only a matter of time before that lion is going to wear him down and bring him to the ground. Mel was just all over him. Carradine tried every single Kung Fu move to pull himself out of Mel’s iron grip... but had yet to extract himself when he left the lobby.

After a few years of AFMs, Mel showed me one page of his amazing script. The script that was so great, it would win all the Oscars and break every Box Office record. This was screenwriting gold, and Mel is armed with NDCs so that no one can steal his ideas. I think no one with an NDC ever has a single idea worth stealing... and Mel’s script was just plain awful. The format was screwed up. I mean, they have computer programs that make sure your format is right... and this thing was all wrong. I tried to read an entire page, but I could feel the brain cells dying with every word. This was mind-killing bad. Everything about it was awful. I told Mel it could use a quick rewrite... and he snatched it from my hands and insisted it was fine. They’d change everything when they made it, anyway, right? So what did a few typos matter? And the dialogue was brilliant, no matter what I thought. Anyway - David Carradine probably had to sign the NDC and read a page or two this year. I’m sure it caused more brain damage than all of his past drug use combined.

Not all of the writers and directors in the lobby are losers. I was there... okay, maybe they are all losers. Anyway, some of the Thursday Night Gang showed up, and I spent some time talking to them. My friend Jeff was there for a meeting about a couple of horror movie sequels. He brought along my friend Duane, who was in PULP FICTION and FEAST. Even though Duane has been in one of the most well known indie films of all time, he’s constantly out of work. Why? Well, we’re in the lobby talking while Jeff’s at one of his meetings, and some people are recognizing him... but Duane has no headshots or cards to give them. He didn’t forget them, he just doesn’t want to look like a guy who is looking for work - didn’t want to be part of that whole lobby rat zoo. Okay, I understand that... sort of. But luck favors the prepared man. He should have had a stack of headshots for when people asked... and he should have figured out how to get upstairs and distribute headshots to every producer he could find. One good day at AFM and Duane could make a years worth of deals. People know who he is.

One of the people that knows who Duane is and stops by to say hello is the director of Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s latest film. I introduce myself, and he tells me how completely unlucky I am. You see, on my film Don pushed his weight around and ended up with a yes-man director (who this director said was “supremely untalented”) and Don didn’t want anyone more famous than he is in the film (so he turned down all of the actors I sent him - the very least known of which was Duane who was *starring* in FEAST at the time) and thought he had some better ideas for the story and dialogue and even the concept! Result is a movie that really sucks big time... and had some trouble selling. The director tells me that Don learned a lesson on my film, so was much easier to work with on his film. This new film has some real names in the cast, Don didn’t mess with the script, and Don followed directions on set. Don kept telling me that his fans didn’t care about that theme stuff or dialogue or character - they just wanted to see him kick ass. Well, on the new film he’s much more of a team player... and uses a gun more than his feet. I’ve seen footage from it... and it really pissed me off. It’s so much better than the piece of crap that SOFT TARGET turned into. And SOFT TARGET was one of those scripts that had almost been made a couple of times for much much bigger budgets (the month it was finished I optioned it to a studio producer who was attaching cast when his money fell through)... and a script that a couple of my pro writer friends (who make a lot more than I do) thought was really good. Don turned it into shit... and I can’t sell it again.

I also bump into a couple of other Thursday nighters in the lobby, Rolfe (horror director I’ve mentioned before... he seems to keep remaking the same awful kids-in-a-cabin-get-hacked-up movie over and over again... and it’s not getting any better) and Ron The International Man Of Mystery. Rolfe is walking on air - he’s just discovered that an old script of his is getting made... with Pamela Anderson in the lead. When DUMB & DUMBER came out, Rolfe had written a T&A version called BLONDE & BLONDER. Basically a cut&paste version of D&D with boobies. (REPLACE: He with She). Story is just about the same - road trip, bla-bla-bla. This thing had sat on some producer’s shelf for a decade... then someone had pulled it out and cast Anderson and the ex-Mrs. Charlie Sheen in the leads. Filming in Canada for pocket change... but this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Rolfe. He’s gonna use the buzz to put together financing on a couple more films.

Ron The International Man Of Mystery is... well, I’m not really sure what he is. I used to call him the center of the Hollywood universe, because everyone I asked knew him. Everyone. My guess is that if you asked Mel Gibson, he’d know him. If you asked Paul Newman, he’d know Ron. Everybody does. Ron is everywhere. When I talk to Ron, he tells me about some screenwriting deal he was involved in ten years ago. One Thursday night a musician friend was talking to Ron, and I overheard Ron talking about his band. Ron talks about his film editing career to editors, his directing career with directors, his acting career with actors. Ron is all things to all people. I can’t really figure him out - famous people know who he is, but he’s not famous. You look him up on IMDB and don’t get much. Ron is like that joke, where the punchline is “I don’t know who the guy in the backseat is, but he’s gotta be important because the Pope is his chauffeur!”

THE TOXIC AVENGER

I’m sure if you were to ask The Toxic Avenger, he’d know Ron. You may be wondering who The Toxic Avenger is, or where you might find him to ask such a question... but Toxie and the rest of the Troma Characters and other publicity stunt people can also be found in the lobby. Troma is Lloyd Kauffman’s company - they distribute schlock. Classic Oscar-bait like STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR and SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD and TROMEO & JULIET and DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS and his new classic POULTRYGEIST (about a KFC-like chain with zombie chicken problems). They are proud of how junky their films are. Every year, for the entire danged market, they hire actors to walk around in the costumes of their characters. Here’s the strange part: sometimes the actors in the costumes are the actors who were wearing that costume in the actual movie! Hey, it’s a paycheck. These characters come up and bother you, handing out fliers for the films. They also pose for photos.

Aside from the Troma characters, there are other publicity stunt folks wandering the lobby. Zombies, astronauts, lots of pretty girls in movie T shirts, and this year we had some dopey looking guys in hats and bomber jackets with their film’s logo. Sometimes they have a party for their film, and it might be worth going for free food and drinks. Last year I went to some horror movie party where the food was free and the drinks cost... and the movie was playing on the bar’s TV. It was poorly shot and the gore effects were laugh-out-loud bad. The free food wasn’t worth it, and I split. But mostly these publicity stunt people just hand you a one pager for the film and try to talk you into going upstairs to see a trailer (if you have a badge). If you don’t have a badge, they may leave you alone or they may just sing and dance around you and make a scene. That’s their job.

The Toxic Avenger will actually grab your arm and escort you upstairs to the Troma suite, if you let him. Though the lobby rats don’t have badges and are trapped downstairs for the entire market, next post we’ll sneak upstairs with Toxie and I’ll show you all of the treasures available at the American Film Market.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

Is this a New Years Eve movie? It's about death and rebirth... and revenege!

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry Thomas.
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein.
Directed by: Robert Fuest.
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)




This one which is certainly the strangest horror movie due to the musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. Sometimes with dancing. In a horror movie.

Okay, it may not be as weird as what you are imagining now, because these are not big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with corpses or slasher victims dancing in formation - it’s just Vincent Price’s serial killer dude dancing with his lovely assistant or just playing a song on his organ while his band of life size mechanical musicians play along. All kinds of good old tunes from the 1920s. Between the murders. Yes, that *is* still weird.

The great thing about those mechanical musicians is that it perfectly sets the stage for Phibes serial killings - which are often have a “automated” component and use contraptions and Rube Goldberg-like devices that kill people bby some form of remote control. Which makes this fun. And that’s the tone, here - fun murders. Fun scares. Just plain fun... and maybe the predecessor of the movie SEVEN.



1920s London: Dressed in a black hooded cape, Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) plays the organ in his own private concert hall, then grabs his baton and conducts his life size wind up band, The Clockwork Wizards, as they play. A door opens in the concert hall and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) steps out and dances with Phibes... then dances down to the garage beneath the concert hall. Phibes lowers a black shrouded bird cage through a portal in the floor, and Vulnavia straps the cage onto the back of a beautiful vintage automobile and climbs inside, where she is joined by Phibes and they drive away into the night.



In his bedroom Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham) turns off the light to sleep. The skylight of his bedroom opens and that black shrouded bird cage is lowered in to the room. The black shroud is removed with a string, then the cage is raised back out of the room: empty. The skylight closes.

Dr. Dunwoody hears a noise and awakens... sees something fluttering in his room. What could it be? A vampire bat! No, a dozen vampire bats! One lands on his bed and crawls up to his neck and...

Back home, Phibes enters the concert hall and sits at his organ, playing as the platform the organ is on descends to his bed chambers.

Dr. Dunwoody’s butler brings breakfast in the morning, “Good morning, sir.” But when he uncovers the breakfast a bat lands on the eggs and sausages. WTF? Where did that bat come from? He looks up and sees the dozen bats hanging upside down throughout the room... and Dunwoody’s bloody yet bloodless corpse on the bed.

In a room with nine wax statues, Phibes puts a gold chain with a symbol on its amulet around the neck of the one that looks like Dunwoody... then sets it afire.

Police at the scene of Dunwoody’s death. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Inspector Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) discuss the completely weird case, and a previous strange case where another surgeon died - he was stung to death by hundreds of bees in his library until his entire body was covered with boils. Could there be a connection?

In his bedroom, Phibes dresses, putting on his clothes, his ears, his nose, his hair... WTF? The great thing about this film is that there is no massive information dump at the beginning where you are told everything, instead *everything* is mysterious and you get one little clue at a time. So we don’t know what happened to Phibes or even what he looks like before he puts on his face... we just know that he does put on his face. And at this point of the story, he has not spoken a word. Phibes at his organ and plays... and it ascends into the concert hall.



At a Masquerade Party, Phibes wears a bird mask and one of those gold chains as Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott) chats with him. Hargreaves hasn’t brought a mask - he seems to have been given the only invitation to omit that detail, but Phibes has brought along a spare - a toad mask that fits over the entire head. As Phibes clamps it on, a ratchet operated by a hidden clockworks begins to slowly move on the mask. Hargreaves enjoys the party for a while, until the mask begins to tighten... and he falls to the floor surrounded by guests with blood spewing out the frog’s mouth and eye holes. They are shocked.

Phibes puts a gold chain around the wax figure that looks like Hargreaves and sets it ablaze.

In his office at Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout tells the Chief that they have a rash of doctor’s deaths - strange. The Chief wants him to keep this from the press: Bats, Bees, Frogs? The papers would run all kinds of wild stories. The Chief believes that the three doctor’s deaths are not connected - “There’s some very strange people practicing medicine these days.”



None stranger than Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas), who begins watching erotic videos of a woman dancing with a snakes as soon as his housekeeper Miss Frawley has left. His projector goes on the fritz, and when he looks up from fixing it... the beautiful Vulnavia (Dr. Phibes’ Assistant) is in the room. She sits him in a chairs and ties his arms to the arm rests with silken cords. Longstreet is no doubt thinking this will turn into 50 Shades Of Gray, when gray faced Phibes enters the room... and shoves a needle into his arm. A needle attached to a pint jar. Longstreet attempts to fight - clutching at the gold chain with the symbol medallion around Phibes’ neck and tearing it off... as his blood drains. And Vulnavia plays the violin. Soon 8 pint bottles are filled.

Inspector Tom has what might be a clue to this string of strange doctor deaths: at some point in time each of the doctors worked with a Dr. Visalius...



Inspector Trout arrives at Dr. Visalius’ (Joseph Cotton) house and finds him playing with an electric train while his teenaged son watches. “Do the names, Hargreaves, Thornton, and Dunwoody mean anything to you, sir?” Dr. Visalius knew all three, he had a conversation with Thornton only a few days ago. The phone rings, and it’s for Inspector Trout. After taking the call, Trout asks Visalius if he knew a Dr. Longstreet. “Knew?”

Yes, past tense.

At the crime scene - Inspector Trout interviews Longstreet’s housekeeper Miss Frawley, who heard violin playing in the street last night. It seemed strange at the time, but was beautiful music. She has never seen the necklace with the strange symbol on its amulet before, “It’s not mine and it’s certainly not his.”

Meanwhile, as Phibes prepares to use a blowtorch on Longstreet’s wax figure he realizes he has lost the necklace. His perfect crimes have accidentally left behind a clue. He hesitates for a moment... then torches the wax bust of Longstreet.

Trout interviews jeweler Goldsmith (John Laurie) who made the necklace with the strange amulet, who says it is one of a set of ten. Each had a different symbol. They were made for a lady. She paid in cash - now way to trace it, and she gave no name or address. A tall attractive young lady who didn’t speak much, but was fashionable. Goldsmith says he doesn’t know what the mark means, but he believes that it’s Hebrew.

Trout interviews a Rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who identifies the mark as the symbol for “Blood”... one of the Ten Curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus. The Rabbi gives Trout (and us) a brief lesson in these Ten Curses: Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death Of The First Born, and then Darkness. Hey, something to look forward to!

Dr. Phibes plugs an electrical cable into a jack on the side of his neck and the other end of the cable is plugged into an old Victrola on a wheeled stand. Then he looks at a photo of his dead wife and tells her he will get revenge for her death. 9 people killed her and 9 shall die! His voice comes out the Victrola speaker - tinny and strange. So, Phibes not only has to put on his face before he goes out for the night, the only way he can speak is through this speaker. What the hell happened to him?

Dr. Vesalius has compiled a list of all of his recent surgeries for Inspector Trout: 1,200! Out of those, there are 37 cases where he worked with any two of the 4 victims... out of those there are 12 where he worked with 3 of the 4 dead... but only 1 where he worked with all 4. Victoria Regina Phibes. They were too late and she died. They called her husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, and he raced back... but his car drove off a cliff and he died. Burned to death. Only his ashes were recovered at the crash site. So it must be some other madman who is doing this... but who? Trout says he will provide police protection for the final five.

Phibes old automobile pulls up next to a country lake and parks, Vulnavia steps out and pops the hood, looking distraught, just as Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson) drives by. He has his chauffeur pull over to see if the lady needs some help. The Chauffeur gets out, goes to the car and asks the attractive young lady if there is some problem with her car. That’s when Phibes kills the chauffeur, then carries a mechanical contraption to Dr. Hedgepath’s car. Vulnavia puts a music box with a dancer on the seat next to Dr. Hedgepath, who smiles at her, until she closes the door. Phibes puts his mechanical contraption between the front seats in the chauffeur’s section and...

Inspector Tom reports to Trout: Everyone of the remaining potential victims have police protection except one - Dr. Kitaj, who seems to be out of the country. He flies his own plane, so it is difficult to know where he is at any time. After Dr. Phibes’ death, his bank accounts were transferred from Switzerland to an account in London, then the account was liquidated and taken as cash by an attractive young woman. Very odd.



Crime scene - Trout and Tom at Dr. Hedgepath’s car parked near the lake... A police officer found the dead chauffeur, but the man he was driving is still in the car. The officer did not even open the door - to preserve evidence, of course. Trout goes to the car and the windows are completely frozen over. Um, it’s spring. It’s about as sunny as a day in the English countryside gets. How can the windows be *frozen*? He tries to open the door - it’s frozen shut! He finally gets it open and see Hedgepath *frozen solid* in the back seat! The curse of hail *inside the car*!

Dr. Vesalius follows up on his own clue he came across while talking to his teenaged son - Dr. Phibes was a famous organist, and the local sheet music salesman Mr. Darrow (John Laurie) knew him... and claims that he is *still* a customer, even after his death. What? How is that possible?

Trout and Vesalius go to Mr. & Mrs. Phibes crypt. Inside, two coffins. One has fresh roses on top. They open Anton Phibes’ coffin and inside find... a box with ashes. Trout says all that this proves is that *someone* was incinerated in that accident, but not necessarily Dr. Anton Phibes. Maybe his chauffeur? They open Mrs. Phibes coffin and... it’s empty!

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia drive to an airfield owned by the London Aeroplane Club, where Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore) hops in his airplane and goes through the steps involved in starting up a biplane. Meanwhile Inspector Tom races in his car to warn Dr. Kitaj that he is in danger. Kitaj get the plane going and taxis down the field... Tom chasing in his car. But Dr. Kitaj takes off...

On a hill near the airfield Phibes watches the plane take off through a telescope as Vulnavia plays the violin.



In the plane, Dr. Kitaj is attacked by a hundred hungry rats! They bite him all over... and he loses control of the plane. It crashes. Which allows Tom to finally catch up with it.

Phibes dances with Vulnavia in celebration. He drinks a glass of champagne... through a hole in the other side of his neck. What the hell is under Phibes’ face when he takes it off at night?

Inspectors Trout and Tom hustle Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann) off to a safehouse in the country where they can protect him 24/7. Whitcombe says he needs to return to London in a few days to tend to his patients. They assure him it will only take a few days to figure out who this killer is and capture him. As they prepare to leave Dr. Whitcombe’s building, a brass unicorn statue blasts through the doors and pierces him - screwing his body to the entry hall wall behind him. Trout and Tom must twist Whitcombe’s body around to unscrew it from the wall. The Curse Of Beasts.



Dr. Phibes puts the golden necklace with the amulet on the wax bust of Whitcome and sets it on fire. Then plays his organ and looks at photographs of his dead wife projected on the wall in a slide show. Within 24 hours his work will be finished.

Inspector Trout tells the chief that the brass unicorn was *fired from a catapult* into Dr. Whitcombe. Marvelous shot. Trout gets dressed down for not solving this case, and always showing up to prevent the next victim’s death moments after it has already occurred. His timing is terrible. Trout thinks he’s getting closer to preventing a murder, since they were actually with this last victim when he was killed.

Phibes has a wheelbarrow full of *brussell sprouts* and dumps them into a cauldron attached to what seems to be a still... and begins distilling green goop.

Inspector Trout has the hospital where soon-to-be-victim #8 Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) is working surrounded by police. Police cars. Policemen. Plain clothes officers. Undercover officers. There is no way in or out of the hospital, except maybe by balloon. Dr. Vesalius is also in the hospital, and he tries to calm down Nurse Allen who doesn’t want all of the police officers meddling in her life. The two get onto an elevator where an orderly with a cart stands in the corner... but we recognize him as Phibes. Vesalius explains to Nurse Allen that a man is trying to kill her and all of these police are just here for her protection.



Phibes rolls his cart into a room, unrolls a lifesize drawing of a naked woman on a bed onto the floor and positions it exactly where a bed would be if this room were furnished. Pulls out a drill and drills through the drawing’s head into the floor... through the ceiling of the room below where Nurse Allen sleeps. He carefully dribbles his brussell sprout syrup through the hole and onto her face as she sleeps... then unleashes a jar of *massive* locust through the hole. The locust go for the brussell sprout syrup on her face and...

Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius sit in the hospital - the two last potential victims are in the same place and under extreme police protection. Nothing to worry about. They discuss the remaining causes of death - locust, darkness, and death of the first born sons - and Dr. Vesalius says his older brother passed away years ago, so no chance of first born sons being his fate... and then Inspector Trout yells for police cars to speed to Dr. Vesalius’ house and make sure his teenage son is protected. They never thought of that! Vesalius goes with Inspector Tom to his house to make sure is son is okay.

Phibes puts the last of the locusts through the hole by hand, then looks through the hole at Nurse Allen...

When Inspector Tom and Dr. Vesalius get to his house, they discover the back door has been forced open and his son is gone. Inspector Tom races back to the hospital to tell Trout.



Inspector Trout tells Tom they’ve obviously been guarding the wrong potential victim, so they will give one final check on Nurse Allen and then go to Vesalius’ house and process it for clues. The police officer posted at the Nurse’s quarters is still there - no one has come in or out. They knock on the door, no answer. They open the door... and inside find Nurse Allen *covered in locusts* which have *eaten away her face*!

Phibes burns the wax bust of Nurse Allen.

Inspector Trout tells Dr. Vesalius they’re doing everything they can to find his son. The phone rings and when Vesalius picks it up - organ music. Then Phibes strange electronic voice says: “Nine killed her. Nine shall die. Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays until midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone.” Vesalius wants to go alone, Trout insists that he come along. Vesalius says he must make a phone call first, then knocks out Trout with the phone and leaves.



Dr. Vesalius pulls up at the large house and rings the bell. Vulnavia answers the door, and leads him to Phibes. “I have killed 9 times in my life, Vesalius, how many deaths can be attributed to you?” Hey, Surgeons don’t murder people, they just make mistakes. It’s different... unless the mistake killed someone you love. Vesalius demands to see his son, pleads to see his son. Phibes says he will see his son - in a way that may bring back memories. Through the glass floor of the ballroom Vesalius sees his son on an operating table below!

Trout wakes up, takes a drink to give him courage, and heads to Phibes’ house.

Phibes tells Vesalius that his son’s neck is locked onto the operating table, and the key has been inserted into his son’s body next to his heart. There is an X-Ray showing this. To free his son he must perform an operation and remove the key. One slip and he will kill his own son! Oh, and there’s a ticking clock - there is a Rube Goldberg device that will release acid onto his son’s head in exactly 6 minutes. Starting... Now! Dr. Vesalius puts on his gloves and gets to work!



Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy all of the evidence then turns to Dr. Vesalius and explains that Phibes’ wife lived only 6 minutes on the operating table, so his son has only six minutes. Phibes removes his *face* to show Dr. Vesalius what was left of him after he was burned in that car accident - basically just a skull! Yikes!

Trout and several policemen arrive at Phibes’ house.

With 30 seconds left, Dr. Veslaius removes the key from next to his son’s heart and quickly unlocks the padlock and moves his son out of the path of the acid drop as it drips down... onto Vulnavia!



Phibes is putting his face back on as Trout and the other police search the house for him. Then Trout spots the organ rising from the depths. They try to figure out how it can be lowered, as downstairs Phibes moves to his bed... where his dead (and embalmed) wife lays. He lays next to her, hooks up his arm to an IV that replaces his blood with embalming fluid and presses a button which brings the canopy down over the bed - darkness and the 10th death. By the time Trout and the police get there, no sign of Phibes. The end.

Or is it? The problem with killing your serial killer at the end is that if your film is a big hit like PHIBES was, they will want a sequel, right? So tomorrow we’ll look at that sequel which co-stars the great Robert Quarry (COUNT YORGA) who was also in one of my films as well as Peter Cushing... and which may be the predecessor of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!!!!

- Bill



Buy the pit



Wednesday, December 23, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market... All The Losers In Hollywood

From 2006...

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 every loser in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography. (or this blog)

Well, the annual convention of All The Losers In Hollywood took place in early November. Losers from all over Hollywood, and losers from the film biz in other countries all descend on the Leow’s Santa Monica Hotel for a week of fun and games otherwise known as the America Film Market. You’ve never seen so many losers under one roof! I always wonder why Springer doesn’t do a special show about AFM... he even had a movie here, once.

WHAT IS AMERICA FILM MARKET?



Movies are a global business. The same Tom Hanks movie you saw at the mall multiplex last week is going to play in every country in the world - and is *designed* to play in every country in the world. The average American film makes 60%-70% of it’s income outside the United States & Canada... in countries like Japan and Germany and Spain and South Korea. When they are making a movie, they don’t ask “Will it play in Peoria?” anymore, they ask: “Will it play in Pakistan? Paris? Phnom Pen?”

Now, chances are that Tom Hanks movie was made by a big studio like Universal or Paramount or Fox or Sony or Disney or Warner Bros. The big guys control their own distribution overseas (because that’s where the money is) - they either have distribution deals in place or distribute the film themselves in Phnom Pen. But an Indie film doesn’t have distribution in place... that’s because most indie films are made... independently. Outside the system. Someone in Nebraska says, “Hey! I’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show!” If you don’t get the Andy Hardy reference* (shame on you), basically Indie films are made with private resources - someone writes a script, finds some money and some actors and some locations and props and they make a movie outside the system. Indie films are do-it-yourselfers. Once this film is finished, they hunt for a distributor so that people will be able to see the movie (and so that they can repay their private investors - often themselves - many people finance movies with second mortgages).

At VSDA a few years ago, a panel of indie distribs said there are 27,000 indie films made every year... and only a little over 1% of those find any sort of distribution. ANY sort. That includes DVD and TV distribution. Most indie films are never seen. Never.

Okay, there’s self distribution. The ultimate Hollywood loser is this guy named Dennis Woodruff - you’ve seen his car in that Tommy Lee Jones Volcano-In-LA movie. Dennis is this *old* wanna-be actor who cruises around town in this beat up old car hand painted with advertisements for his amazing acting skills. Oh, and he sells VHS tapes of his new movie... co-starring Jack Nicholson! So, Dennis will pull into a Denny’s parking lot and then go from table to table inside trying to sell his VHS tapes. If you spend the $20 to buy the tape, you’ll see an amazing scene where Dennis ambushes Jack Nicholson outside a restaurant somewhere and starts a rambling and half-crazy conversation with him... and that’s the star power in Woodruff’s film. He’s become so famous, that they put his *car* in movies, now. (They still don’t seem to be hiring brilliant master thespian Dennis to be in movies, so it’s good that his car earns a living). So, that’s self-distribution, if you’re interested.

Unless you’re Dennis Woodruff, you probably want a distrib from your indie film, and the two places to find distribs are Film Festivals and Film markets. Both venues revolve around the idea of competition to assign value. So, you’ve got this little indie film that you’ve made yourself, and you enter it into a bunch of festivals where distribs hang out in hopes that one of the distribs will want to buy it. Actually, you hope that a few distribs will want to buy it and you end up with a bidding war - raising the price. This year at the Toronto Film Festival, there were films like VENUS and COPYING BEETHOVEN and TEN ITEMS OR LESS in competition, but the big bidding war was over a horror movie playing at one of the midnight shows, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE. The Weinsteins won the bidding war, paying $3.5 million to distribute the film. They also paid top dollar to pick up the other horror movie playing midnight shows, BLACK SHEEP. Okay, I have to admit that I know the guys who made both of those movies.

You may be wondering what happened to all of those serious dramas playing in competition... well, most of them probably didn’t get picked up at all! I guess that means horror movies are still hot (and dramas are still a hard sell - even to art house distribs like the Weinsteins).

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with AFM... well, the next step is for these distribs to sell the films to all of those other countries. So they show up at Loew’s Hotel and take a suite (the rooms are all converted into offices for the event) and then engage in the second part of the bidding war - getting distribs within a country (or territory) to fight over the rights to show a film in their country... thereby raising the price. If Poland has 4 major distribs, you want them to all be fighting over your movie so that they pay the best price. Add up all the territories and you can make a lot of money on the right film...

But you can make some pretty good money on the right film that never played in any festival and wasn’t part of some huge bidding war. A distrib or foreign sales company might pick up some indie film like BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS and use the competition between Poland’s distribs to raise the price. Sometimes these films get theatrical in Poland, but in the case of BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS it will probably be direct to DVD... hey, Poland needs schlock, too! Right now, there are drunk Polish frat boys longing to see a movie where a hot blonde girl takes off her top and is then killed by the maniac. The goal at AFM is to sell to all of the countries for a reasonable price and make a profit. Often the deals with distribs and foreign sales agents are set up so that you split the money after expenses - and they have all kinds of expenses to tack on! Sometimes your film can make the distrib or foreign sales agent wealthy while you see almost nothing. Welcome to Hollywood, baby! There’s a reason why they lump in Motion Picture Distribution with Global Terrorism in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. These guys are crooks! So if you are negotiating a film deal with them on *your* film, bring a lawyer! Their "standard contract" includes all of those expenses including the yacht, the champagne, and the hookers when they take your film to Cannes! You need a lawyer to get a good deal for your film! But the low budget distributors aren’t the *losers* in Hollywood... you’ll find them below the dealing floors in the lobby.

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. In the next blog entry, we’ll wander downstairs and I’ll introduce you to All The Losers In Hollywood....

- Bill

* Actually, not an ANDY HARDY movie! It's from BABES IN ARMS, starring almost the enire cast of all of those Andy Hardy movies.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

ATLiH: DINNER WITH A DIRECTOR

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

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, 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.

DINNER WITH A DIRECTOR


There are a bunch of people in the business that I have dinner with once or twice a year. A business dinner, but also a “What have you been up to?” dinner. In every single business they say “This is a business of relationships” and in screenwriting that means maintaining relationships with people you don’t really know, but have dinner or lunch or maybe drinks with once or twice a year. Instead of dressing in your screenwriter uniform of black dress shirt and jeans, you put on slacks and whatever else the restaurant’s dress code requires and get a free meal. What you are hoping for is: they say they are looking for a screenplay about dancing donkeys... and you have just finished a screenplay about dancing donkeys. Score!

But that never happens, and instead you have dinner with someone you hardly know and are afraid to ask about their spouse or their kid for fear they’re in the middle of a painful divorce or their kid is in rehab or jail. One good thing if you are a screenwriter, due to some weird pecking order thing that puts screenwriters below the people who bring the donuts to set, usually they pick up the check. Be warned: if you order big, they will want to split the tab; if you order small, they will pick up the check. It’s the same rule as if you go to a movie premiere where they will have food and drinks afterwards. If you don’t eat first, there will be one plate of hors d’oeuvres for 300 people, if you *do* eat first, there will be a five course meal.

So when this director (who I’ll call Robert, even though his real name is...) set up our semi annual dinner - which he always pays for - I went to meet him. This director has a colorful backstory - right out of film school he accidentally got hired to direct a commercial. He was last choice and they called him instead of the other guys by mistake - the list was upside down. That lead to other commercials, and then the stuff between the commercials - TV shows. He directed a bunch of kids shows with kid actors that you may have heard of but probably didn’t watch. After that, Robert did some hour long syndicated work - but never more than one episode on any show. I have no idea why they never brought him back. But he learned how to shoot fast - some hour long syndicated shows do an hour in a week, and that means you can shoot a feature film in two weeks... and that means you get hired to make low budget films. So even though he moved up from syndicated shows to network shows (again only doing one episode on a show before moving on) he eventually ran out of shows to direct and did some low budget movies. Two week wonders.

After making several movies for other producers, Robert began producing his own films. He made deals with distributors and they would fund his two week wonder genre flicks, mostly horror, but he made some action flicks and erotic thrillers and a monster movie or two.



Over the years, even though he had dinner with me a couple of times a year, he never once bought a script from me or hired me to write something for him. He seemed to favor first time screenwriters, and at first I thought it was because he could pay them less than he would have to pay me... but later I began to believe it was a control issue. I talked to one of the writers after a concrete carpet premiere and Robert could have afforded me for what he paid the new writer. His budgets were high enough to afford mid range stars and a full union shoot for two weeks. He didn’t need to hire first time screenwriters.

Oh, and these new writer’s scripts weren’t very good. Not just my opinion, the reviews for the films tended to mention the poor screenplays - filled with awful dialogue and contrived stories and sometimes laugh outloud horror scenes. One film had a woman Epilady herself to death and another character tear their foot open and bleed to death using one of those foot callous sanders. If there was a late night infomercial about it, it was used as a murder weapon in one of his films! As the bad reviews kept coming in, I kept wondering why he paid for my dinner a couple of times a year but never asked me to write a screenplay.

So, here we are having dinner in one of those trendy restaurants that I’m too cheap to eat in unless someone else is paying, and it’s been a while between gigs for me and I wish he would hire me for the next two week wonder - my script would be much better than his first time writers screenplays - so I’m casually mentioning a couple of horror scripts I have sitting around, and...

A TV Star came up to the table. This guy was one of the stand outs in a hit ensemble show that ran for six or seven years, on the cover of TV Guide and a household name... and then just sort of vanished. He had done a bunch of pilots (as the star) and none of them got picked up and then people just stopped calling him, I guess. But this guy was a star, you would know his name. “Excuse me for interrupting, Robert, my wife and I were having dinner (he gestures to the other side of the restaurant) and I saw you over here and I thought I would stop by and say hello.”

Robert didn’t introduce me, I’m a writer - you don’t earn any points for having dinner with a writer. So I just watched the conversation unfold while using the time to eat instead of talk (the worst part about these business dinner things is that you don’t want to accidentally spit food at someone or talk with food between your teeth... so you tend not to eat very much. I have had business lunches where I went to get lunch afterwards). After the pleasantries, the TV Star gave one of his million dollar smiles and told Robert that everybody loved his latest pilot but he had a couple of months before it would go to series if the network picked it up and he was looking for something to kill time, like one of Robert’s movies.

Robert matched the TV Star’s smile, “Amazing! Another pilot? I guess I missed reading about it in the trades. What network?”

“One of the new cable channels. Hasn’t launched, yet. But I have a couple of months, and I loved working with you when you directed that episode of our show...”

“Are you starring in this show, or is it an ensemble?”

“The thing is, I only have these two months that are free. Every time my wife and I go into Blockbuster, there’s another one of your movies on the shelves...”

“What are you doing in Blockbuster? You don't have an assistant? An intern to do that stuff for you?” Robert was just needling him, and the TV Star was beginning to squirm.

“If you are making another one of your films in the next couple of months...”

“As a matter of fact, we’re about to go into pre-production on the next one. A werewolf movie set in an abandoned desert gas station. I found the gas station while driving around with the wife and kids and a werewolf just fit the location. Found this new kid to write the script, and it’s amazing. The kid had only written one script before - he came here to be an actor - and I found him in an acting workshop I was guest lecturing at. But this kid, second script and he just knocked it out of the park. There’s a scene where they spray the werewolf with that Nair depilatory stuff that is out of this world. Never seen anything like that in a werewolf movie before! Sure, it was my idea. I mean, the kid's green, couldn't come up with an idea like that if he tried. I'm guiding him on this. But this kid is an amazing writer. ”

“I have never played a werewolf before, that sounds interesting.”

“We’ve already cast the lead, Sorry.”

“Well, are there any interesting supporting roles? I could do a cameo, be one of the names on the box, helps the film’s sales...”

“You’d take a minor role like that? With this big pilot that may go to series?”

“Well, I need something in the next two months. If the role is something interesting...”

“Sounds like it has to be in these two months between pilot and series. And we are shooting in three months. So I don’t think it’s going to work out with your schedule.”

“Well, the pilot may not get picked up...”

“Like all of the others? It sounds like you really need a gig?”

“Well....”

“You aren’t here with your wife having dinner. I’ve been watching you go from table to table for the past half hour. What happens in two months? You lose your medical insurance? You miss a mortgage payment? The orthodontist repossess your kid’s braces? ”

The TV Star took a deep breath to calm himself, “I need the job, Robert. I still have some marque value. My show is playing in syndication all over the country. A hundred percent of the major markets. This can help both of us. Just give me four days. Enough to keep my SAG health & welfare benefits. I need the job.”

“Sorry, got nothing for you. But amazing to see you again.” Robert focused on his food as if the TV Star was no longer standing at the table.

The TV Star gave me that million dollar smile and said, “Sorry for interrupting your meal,” before walking away... he had exhausted every connection he had in Mantilini’s, Robert was his last chance. I felt terrible for him. I was between gigs and one of the reasons I was here was to maybe sell Robert a script for his next crappy horror film. And of course he was picking up the tab for the meal that I had actually gotten a chance to eat this time. This is a brutal business and you never know where your next job is coming from, and there are times when you think there may not be a next job. That it was all some sort of fluke and Hollywood (collectively) has realize that your career was a mistake and now it is over. I wasn’t even near that point, I had a film made the year before and did a couple of assignments that will probable never get made, but I had gotten paid. But this TV Star seemed on the edge of panic that his career was over and the next time we would see him he would be our waiter at Mantilini’s. You may think that sounds crazy, but one of the entertainment magazines used to have a blind item section filled with stars from previous decades who had been spotted waiting tables and working in upscale retail stores on Rodeo Drive because their careers abruptly ended. That sort of thing was a career ender for a star.

Robert looked up from his meal to watch him leave the restaurant, and smiled, “What a loser. You can smell it on him. Loser. Puts on his best clothes and comes here begging for work. Table to table and no one will hire him. No one. Why? Do you know how many pilots he did? All of them crap.”

“He’s still well known and a good actor, why not give him a role in the werewolf film?”

“Why would I want that guy in my movie? He’s a loser. In that downward spiral of all losers. You could smell it, right?”

“Only his cologne.”

“How much was he wearing? Amazing! If I gave him a role, even a small role, in one of my films he would bring down the rest of the cast. His negative energy would spread. That’s what happens, you put one loser in your film and everyone becomes losers. I can’t afford that to happen. That guy’s career is over, and he’s just starting to realize it. Before he was on that TV show, he was doing telemarketing... and that’s where he will be in two months. On the phone begging you to switch to this cable company instead of the one you have. That’s a commission job, so you have to beg if you want to pay the bills. I don’t need some beggar bringing down one of my films.”

“But four days? Why not give him some small role? Leave him off the video box if you think that’s a problem? You have to cast somebody, right?”

“Not a loser. Not a beggar. Not that guy.” Robert tossed his napkin onto his plate, which was at least half full of food. “You know who that guy reminds me of? Barbara Payton. You know that story?”

“She was in ‘Trapped’ with Lloyd Bridges and ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ with Cagney.”

“One of those amazing great Hollywood stories. Fame and misfortune. You should write that story!”

“I leave the biopics to Karaszewski & Alexander. I just write genre stuff: action and thrillers and horror.”



“Payton was one of the hottest starlets in town. She was up for the Marilyn Monroe part in ‘Asphalt Jungle’. After ‘Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye’ Cagney got her signed at Warner Brothers for five thousand a week. A week. Amazing! Bam, she got the female lead opposite Gary Cooper in ‘Dallas’ and the female lead opposite Gregory Peck in ‘Only The Valiant’. This was all in the same year! 1950. Same year she got engaged to pretty boy movie star Franchot Tone, and began an affair with movie star Tom Neal. She was amazing. Everybody wanted her on screen and between the sheets. Tom Neal was a drinker and a bit of a hothead, and punched out Franchot, leaving the guy in a coma for a day. Really messing up the pretty boy. Neal and Payton both ended up with that loser smell and people stopped hiring both of them. Within a couple of years this beauty queen who was the hottest actress in Hollywood was a toothless hooker on Sunset Boulevard, being arrested again and again for prostitution. She had movies still playing in theaters while she was on her knees blowing guys!”

“And she was dead before she hit forty. Now, mostly forgotten... except as a cautionary example.”

Robert gave me his most serious look. “You see that guy as a TV Star who needs a break, and want to help him. I see that guy as a loser who is on his way down and may drag my werewolf movie with him. I can’t afford that. Screw him. Screw him.”

“He’s just trying to keep it going, like all of us.”

“People like him will drag you down. My advice, Bill, avoid the losers. This town is full of them. Full of them.”

We finished our dinner and walked out to the valet stand, waiting for our cars, and shook hands and... I decided never to have dinner with Robert again. I made that decision before I read that story about what happened to the TV Star in the papers a couple of weeks later. It was a big story, and kind of shocking. I always wonder what Robert thought when he read it. If he had any regrets about the way he had treated the TV Star that night in the restaurant.

Turns out I didn’t need to sell a script for Robert to make into a terrible horror film like that werewolf movie he made. I sold a script soon after that night and it actually got made. Not well made, but it was shot on 35mm film and had a couple of names in the cast bigger than the names in Robert’s werewolf at a gas station movie. But the TV Star, you ask, what happened to him? Did he end up blowing guys on Sunset Boulevard? No. Something even more shocking. You probably know what happened. It was in the trades.

That pilot that the TV Star was the lead in didn’t make it at the new cable network, in fact, the new cable network didn’t make it, either. But the pilot got shopped around and ended up getting picked up by a big broadcast network. Between that show and the one that followed, that TV Star has been the star of a hit TV show for the past dozen years. Just got signed to a production deal at NBC/Universal where he gets to make his own shows. And Robert? Still making crappy little horror movies with ever shrinking budgets and probably complaining about the smell of losers all around him...

And in Hollywood, no one can hear you scream.

Guess who the loser was in this story?

- Bill
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