Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Tales From The Script

From Ten Years Ago...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

- Bill

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fade Out Does Not Equal A Sale

From 2011...

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

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

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

“Okay, how about Uwe Boll's address?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Doldrums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I was more confused.

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

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

Best Meeting Ever.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill


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

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

John Sayles on Matewan

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

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

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

- Bill
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