Thursday, October 29, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Airdate: 11/22/1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...

Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...



Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...

Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!

The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.

Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.



Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.

Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.



Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.

Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!

Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.



Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.

The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...

And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.

Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?



Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.

Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.

The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!



For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.

Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!

Bill



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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Myth Of Overnight Success

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015, around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Dispelling the myth of the Overnight Success:

No one ever tells you this: Prepare to start at the bottom and work your way up.

You aren't going to sell the first script you write.

So you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

You’ve read the stories about someone who sold their first script for a pile of money and kissed their day job goodbye - from nobody to the hottest writer in Hollywood! Well, 99% of the time, those stories are BS - created by a publicist somewhere to turn this script sale into a Cinderella story, instead of that gritty real story of struggle and hard work that got them to that point where they could sell a script for a pile of money. The article says it was their first script... but that just means it was their first script that *sold*. We know from that old WGA survey that the average screenwriter wrote (and rewrote) 9 screenplays before they made a cent, so even if this is the story of the 1% who actually was some sort of overnight success, that screws up the odds for everyone else - the average number of scripts that you will have to write goes *up* for everyone who isn’t that person.

One of the reasons for publicists to ignore the truth and give us the Cinderella stories is that they want everyone to ignore the past credits of that new million dollar screenwriter. Because no one starts at the top, that means those early credits are often at the bottom. And maybe a little embarrassing. When Jeff Maguire sold IN THE LINE OF FIRE back in 1993, there was all kinds of publicity about how this was his first script and how he turned down Tom Cruise’s offer, because Cruise was too young for the role... but this was not his first script sale. Not even close. His first produced credit was in 1975, and we’ll get back to that in a minute. He had written the successful family adventure film TOBY McTEAGUE in 1986, and wrote VICTORY starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine in 1981. Before that he had been writing low budget exploitation movies for a living, like RECKLESS (1979 version) and the actual first screenplay that he sold (not the first script that he wrote - remember that average) was VAMPIRE LUST back in 1975. So only 18 years to become an overnight success!

I met Jack Nicholson at the San Francisco Film Festival sometime between 1975 and 1979 - I had snuck backstage past security and found him in the green room before he was supposed to go on stage - and he told me that it only took him 25 years to become an overnight success. His first TV role was in 1955, his first movie role was in 1958, and his breakthrough role was FIVE EASY PIECES in 1970 - so it was really only 15 years, right? But those 15 years were spent working in low budget movies for Roger Corman, have you seen the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS?



Everyone starts at the bottom and works their way up.

Because there’s a new TERMINATOR movie out, the last successful TERMINATOR was RISE OF THE MACHINES in 2003 and that was written by the two guys who wrote THE GAME... and THE NET with Sandra Bullock, and that was their first script sale according to the publicists. But not in real life. Like Jack Nicholson, those guys began by working for Roger Corman - they wrote BLOODFIST 2 starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and around a dozen other movies before they sold THE NET. And here’s a bit of encouragement from all of that struggle that the publicists left out of the story - the reason why they were hired to write TERMINATOR 3 is because the director who was hired to make the film had worked with them in their low budget days and thought that they were great writers. So that time you are working your way up from the bottom you are making connections that can put you on top!

I often mention my ill-advised Super 8mm feature film, made in my home town when I was in my early 20s. I cast the movie out of the Diablo Valley College drama department, and my female lead was the most beautiful and talented actress there. I believe that she was super disappointed to discover that I was not some big Hollywood producer, just some guy in the Film Appreciation class who owned a Super 8 sound camera and some lights and was the entire crew for the movie. Just me. Well, she moved to Hollywood and was cast in a low budget T&A comedy called BEACH GIRLS as the lead - the girl who didn’t get naked until the end. That film was a drive in and grindhouse hit, which lead to her starring in some other films and a guest star gig on T.J. HOOKER. Many years later, when I had moved to Los Angeles and was an active member of Scriptwriters Network, our guest speaking is the writer of Mr. HOLLAND’S OPUS and COURAGE UNDER FIRE, Pat Duncan, and afterwards I talked with him... about his first produced credit - BEACH GIRLS, starring that actress in my Super 8 feature! Pat had spent years writing low budget films and Saturday morning cartoons before he became the serious writer whose scripts got actors Oscar nominations. He did rewrite work on my favorite Chuck Norris movie...

Speaking of Chuck Norris, Oscar winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST, THE IRISHMAN) got his start on a Chuck Norris movie. I’ll bet the publicists leave that off his resume!

The point of all of this is that a writer writes. The door that opens for you is probably not going to be a big studio film, it’s most likely going to be something at the bottom. Just like any other job, you don’t walk in after you have graduated high school and fill out a job application for CEO of the company. You start at the bottom and work your way up.

If you plan on writing TV, you don’t start by selling a pilot script. That pilot script is what may get you hired as a writer’s assistant on a low end TV show, or maybe get you work writing Saturday morning cartoons (check the credits of your favorite TV writers - a lot began in cartoons, that’s where they hire new writers). But writers write, so you will be learning on the job - writing against deadlines and working your way slowly up the ladder until you are hired on staff for a hit TV show and someone at the network pulls you aside and asks if you have any ideas for new TV shows... and you whip out that pilot that got you the job on that cartoon many years ago. Or, more likely, a new pilot that incorporates what you have learned over those many years. You aren’t going to start at the top.

You will grab hold of that first cartoon job or Roger Corman film (or whatever) job and give it your best shot, because you are a writer and love writing and want to do as much writing as possible. Paid to write? Heaven! You are getting paid for what you love! Up until this point you were working some possibly crappy job that you may have hated... and now you are writing for money!

Being a screenwriter is not a single screenplay, it is writing maybe 100 or more screenplays over your career. So you need to get used to writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. You’d better love that, or at least like having finished writing those screenplays - because that’s what being a screenwriter *is*. Writing a stack of screenplays. Writing screenplays for a living. Writing screenplays for others, based on an existing property (book, movie remakes, board games) or for specific requirements (we have Adam Sandler signed to a 5 picture deal! Or Chuck Norris wants to do a low budget horror movie where he kicks a monster’s butt!) because that’s what a professional screenwriter does. Spec screenplays are job applications for assignments like that. This is a job. You write for a living, on deadlines, with crazy bosses, and have to do great work no matter what the assignment - or you will be fired. More writers than jobs, maybe someone else can do what you can not? But if you love writing, you will look at any challenge as a chance to show your creative stuff. Embrace those entry level jobs, because you are WORKING. Getting paid for writing. Is there anything better?

And the thing that I didn't mention in the clip: All of those terrible writing jobs on cartoons or low level TV shows or non blockbuster films? Are JOBS! Writers are needed to write those - and you may end up writing cartoons for the rest of your life. Guess what? That's writing for a living. It's better than doing that horrible day job that you had to do before you broke in. Is there anything better than writing for a living?

Good luck and keep writing.

- Bill

PS: In the clip I also talk about keeping screenplay copies in the trunk of my car. These days, I would just ask for the person's e-mail and ask if I can send them a logline.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

It's that time of year...



THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook jr, Carolyn Craig.
Written by: Robb White
Directed by: William Castle
Produced by: William Castle


William Castle was the king of gimmicks, and this film featured “Emergo” - which was nothing more than a plastic skeleton on a wire that shot out at the audience at a point in the film near the end...



The movie opens with screams over a black screen, and then Pritchard (Elisha Cook jr) says, “The ghosts are moving tonight, restless... hungry. May I introduce myself? I'm Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I'll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I've owned the house. I only spent one night there and when they found me in the morning, I was almost dead.” Which sets the stage for the story without showing a single ghost or dead body. Haunted house movies often begin with the legend of the house, and both HELL HOUSE and THE HAUNTING have scenes where we hear about all of the terrible things that have happened in the house previously so that we fear for our new guests.

After Pritchard is finished, we get Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) introducing the situation in voice over as we see our guests approach, “I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the house on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party. She's so amusing. There'll be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You're all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each ten thousand dollars, or your next of kin in case you don't survive. Ah, but here come our other guests...” And we get an introduction and brief bio of each character. In a movie that isn’t even 75 minutes long, using voice over to introduce the characters and basic situation gets us right into the story without wasting valuable film stock on all of those introduction scenes.



This is an interesting haunted house, because despite Pritchard saying it’s 100 years old, it is ultra modern on the outside... a spooky cobwebbed set on the inside. The guests: brave test pilot Lance Schroeder (THE BIG VALLEY’s Richard Long), broke secretary Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who works for Loren’s company, gossip magazine columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), skeptical psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), and the house owner Pritchard... none have ever met each other or Loren, even though Nora works for his company. All are interested in getting paid $10k for 12 hours work... except Trent who is more interested in debunking the legend of the house.

Moments after they meet, a door slams shut (on its own) and the chandelier begins moving... then crashes down at Nora... but Lance saves her.

Upstairs the charming Loren is waiting for his fourth wife Annabelle (sexy Carol Ohmart) to get dressed for the party. He knows she’s cheating on him; but she counters by saying he can’t prove it, can he? Loren knows she’s a gold digger and suspects she is going to try to kill him and inherit. All of this in fairly witty dialogue between them, before Loren goes downstairs to meet his guests.

Pritchard pulls a giant knife from a secret compartment and shows it to the other guests, “This is what she used on my brother and her sister, hacked them to pieces. We found parts of their bodies all over the house, in places you wouldn't think. The funny thing is the heads have never been found, hands and feet and things like that, but no heads.” So there are two loose heads floating around somewhere in here?

Loren enters and mixes drinks for everyone - the caretakers will leave at midnight and the doors will be locked. No phones, bolted windows, no way out. Pritchard says that four men and three women have been murdered in this house, and Trent quips that there are four men and three women here now - that’s a ghost for each of them.



Pritchard leads them on a tour of the house - pointing out a huge blood stain on the ceiling, and when Ruth stands under it... fresh blood drips on her hand! “It’s too late - the house has marked you!” They go into the massive wine cellar, where a past resident filled a vat with acid and tossed his wife in. “There’s been a murder almost everyplace in this house.” When Nora almost falls into the vat, Lance saves her again. Pitchard tosses something into the vat to show that there is still acid in there.

When the tour moves on. Lance and Nora stay behind - our romance story (to counter the anti-romance of Loren and Annabelle). They poke around in the wine cellar until Lance finds a door that leads... somewhere. Once he gets through the door it slams shut and Nora can’t get it open! Then all of the lights go out and she sees the ghost of an Old Woman appear for a moment on the other side of the room, she races to get out of there! Nora gets help, says we’ll have to break down the door - it’s locked. Except it’s not locked... it’s open. Lance is on the other side, unconscious - hit in the head. Who could have done that? All of the others were together.



Lance and Nora go back to the wine cellar to search for secret passages and when Nora is alone, the Old Woman Ghost zooms past her - scare moment. She screams and Lance runs in... but there is no trace of the ghost.

When Nora races upstairs she bumps into Annabelle - who warns her not to go anywhere in the house alone... she is in danger. When Lance comes up stairs to look for Nora he bumps into Annabelle as well - and she makes the moves on him, and warns him that Loren is planning something... something sinister. The three wives before her died under mysterious circumstances.

About 33 minutes into the film, Loren knocks on all of the guest’s doors to announce that it is almost midnight - last chance to leave the house before the doors and windows are locked and bolted for 12 hours. Nora tells him that she will be staying, then goes back into her room and discovers one of those missing heads when she opens her suitcase. Nice shock moment. She runs out of the room, takes a wrong turn, ends up in a strange hallway... dark, spooky... she is lost in the strange house. Then a hand grabs her from the shadows! An Old Man says, “Come with us before he kills you!” She escapes from the Old Man and races downstairs to the living room... where everyone else is. Screaming that she doesn’t want to stay here.



A door blasts opens and the Old Woman Ghost and Old Man stand there!

Loren introduces them as the Caretaker and his Wife... who will be leaving at Midnight and locking the doors. Nora wants out - she doesn’t care about the $10k. Then a wind blows through the room, rattling everything. Weird! When they turn back to the Caretaker and his Wife - they are gone! They have left and locked the door behind them! Now Nora is trapped in the house for 12 more hours like everyone else.

At about 37:30 (the halfway point) they are locked in the house.

Loren provides them all with *guns* (in cute little coffin shaped boxes), and Pritchard exclaims: “These are no good against the dead... only the living.” Trent thinks the guns are a bad idea - fear is likely to have them shooting each other. Annabelle says she doesn’t need a gun, and it goes back in it’s box.

Nora drags them all upstairs to look at the severed head... but it is no longer there. Is she crazy?



Lance goes to Nora’s room to comfort her (if you know what I mean) and finds her door unlocked and Nora isn’t there... but the severed head is hanging in the closet! He grabs the head and races downstairs to the living room... where Pritchard tells him that it is too late - the house has her now. They will never see her again.

A scream from upstairs! Lance runs to the staircase where he sees... a woman dangling from a noose! Has Nora killed herself? Trent comes down the hallway, sees the hanging woman, and they take her down... and *without showing us her face* take the dead woman into a room and place her on the bed. Trent checks her pulse - pronounces her dead. Loren runs in, asks if Nora is alright, and Trent says, “She’s dead... your wife is dead” and we see the dead woman’s face for the first time: Annabelle!

Lance leaves the room, notices curtains blowing at the other end of the hallway... an open window? A secret passage? Just as he gets to the curtains Nora pops up behind him and pleads, “Hide me!” Lance takes her to his room, where Nora claims that Loren tried to strangle her and then left her for dead. It was dark, but she’s sure it was Loren. Lance tells her that Annabelle is dead - and he thinks someone killed her.

Pounding at the door. Lance opens it carefully - Trent on the other side of the threshold says he doesn’t believe Annabelle hung herself and he wants to meet with everyone (except Loren) downstairs.

Loren is looking down at his dead wife, not exactly mourning, when there’s a noise behind him - Pritchard. “Your wife isn't there anymore. She's already joined them!” Loren says he’s drunk and throws him out of the room.



In the living room (where most of this film takes place) Trent takes charge - and we are in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE territory as he explains that there are no ghosts, but one of them is a murderer. There was nothing Annabelle could have stood on before hanging herself. Loren says he believes she was murdered... by one of you. Lance chimes in that to want to murder someone, you must know them... but we were all strangers to Annabelle except Loren. He is the only logical suspect. The problem now is that one of them is a killer and now they are trapped with each other for 6 more hours. The plan: since all have guns, they will all stay in their rooms alone for the next 6 hours, and if anyone comes into their rooms - shoot them!

At 56 minutes they are all locked safely in their rooms...

Trent sees his doorknob moving, but when he opens the door - no one in the hallway.

Blood drips on Ruth’s hand - the blood pool has appeared on her bedroom ceiling.

Lance goes into Nora’s room (hormones) to make sure she’s safe... then goes exploring in that mystery hallway where the curtains were blowing before. Finds a secret passage in the wall and enters.

The lights go out due to the convenient storm, and Nora thinks she sees a rope crawling through her window like a snake and coil itself around her legs! Floating outside the window - Annabelle’s ghost! When Nora grabs the gun, Annabelle floats away taking the rope with her. Nora freaks out, runs down the hallway with the gun... right into Annabelle’s hanging body near the stairs! She backs against a door... and a dead hand reaches around the door to grab her! She runs downstairs... where a dusty old organ begins to play a funeral dirge by itself! She screams and runs away.

Upstairs - Trent knocks on Loren’s door and they aim their guns at each other. Trent heard a scream and running, thinks they should search the house: Loren downstairs and he will search upstairs. When Loren is gone, Trent goes into the room where Dead Annabelle lays on the bed, says to her corpse: “It’s almost over, darling. Every detail was perfect.” Then Annabelle’s eyes pop open, and she begins to rise! “Get me out of this hanging harness.” And at 65:20 minutes we get the scheme - Trent and Annabelle are driving Nora crazy, making her believe that Loren has murdered his wife and is now trying to kill her; and just waiting for Nora to find Loren and shoot him dead... so that Annabelle inherits everything and can run off with her lover Trent. “When you hear the shot, come down to the cellar”, Trent tells her before he goes.

In the cellar: Nora and her gun search the darkness... as Loren enters from the shadows behind her. She lifts her gun and shoots him!

Trent enters from a secret passage, opens up the vat of acid, drags Loren’s body to it as the lights flicker out again. In the darkness: A man’s death scream!



Annabelle goes into the cellar looking for Trent, can’t find him. But the doors slowly creak closed one by one trapping her in the cellar. Trapping her in the darkness! Shadows everywhere! She creeps up to the vat of acid... bubbling... and a skeleton emerges from the depths... and *keeps* emerging! It comes out of the vat, and starts moving across the room towards her! (Emergo - and zips at the audience!) “At last you have it all, everything I have. Even my life, But you’re not going to live to enjoy it. Come with me murderess, come with me!” says Loren’s voice from the skeleton! She tries to open the door - locked! The skeleton grabs her - freaking her out. Then the skeleton slowly walks towards her, backing her into... the vat of acid! She falls in... and her body is dissolved.

From the shadows Loren emerges - with a marionette rig - the skeleton was just a puppet. He tosses the rig and skeleton into the acid and all of the evidence is gone. When the others finally make it into the cellar, they find Loren standing over the bubbling acid. He tells them that Annabelle and Trent plotted to kill him - using Nora as an unknowing assassin - but he discovered their plan and filled her gun with blanks. When Trent tried to throw him into the acid, Loren struggled and Trent fell in. When Annabelle came down, she stumbled and fell into the acid. Loren is more than willing to turn himself over to the authorities and see that justice is done.

The doors pop open and everyone is free to go.

Pritchard looks at the bubbling acid - bones and skulls bobbing - and says, “Now there are nine. There’ll be more, many more. They’re coming for me, now... and then they’ll come for you!”

Tomorrow we'll look at one of the great Corman adaptations of Poe starring Vincent Price.

- Bill

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Friday, October 23, 2020

HITCH 20: WET SATURDAY (s1e5)

This documentary video series focuses on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 of the first season... and I hope soon to have the new (and last) season of HITCH 20 up on Fridays (I'm told is on its way!)



Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

Bill

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

UK Folks Click Here.

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Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Might have the third and last Hitchcock book done this year, too!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Devil's Ticket

THRILLER: Devil’s Ticket

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



Season: 1, Episode: 29.
Airdate: April 18, 1961

Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts... Robert Bloch!
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Joan Tetzel, John Emery.
Music: Big lush Morton Stevens score... heard it somewhere before.
Cinematography: John Russell.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The name of our story is The Devil’s Ticket. It has to do with an artist, and they tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words. You will see Macdonald Carey, Joan Tetzel, Patricia Medina, and John Emery. Now there’s a rogue’s gallery if I ever saw one! And I can assure you they’re up to no good, as you’ll find out for yourself if you have the courage to stay with us.”

Synopsis: A Pawn Shop as the sun sets. Pawn Shop owner Spengler (Robert Cornthwaite) is nervous as he closes up, makes sure all of the doors and windows are locked as if he’s expecting an invasion... that’s when the bell over the door begins ringing like crazy. He carefully opens the front door... what could be on the other side? A creature? Sees his cat jumping up and grabbing the bell cord. Brings in the cat, relocks and bolts the front door, and goes to the counter where there’s a HUGE pile of money. He starts counting it when the back door BLASTS open, and fog enters the Pawn Shop. A voice startles him: it’s Satan, saying they had a deal... and now it’s time for him to pay. The cat freaks out...



Crappy apartment: Hector Vane (Macdonald Carey) and his wife Marie (Joan Tetzel) sit at the dinner table eating the last of their food. They are flat broke. He’s a painter who does amazing portraits which capture the souls of his subjects... but everyone wants abstracts these days. He hasn’t sold a painting in ages. He looks for something to take to pawn for a few bucks so that they can eat... realizes they have nothing left except his ratty old coat, and his paintings. He swore he’d never pawn a painting, but...

Pawn Shop: Hector goes to pawn one of his paintings, but Spengler isn’t there. A strange man lets him in... he doesn’t introduce himself, but he goes by many names (Satan played wickedly by John Emery). Satan loves the painting, but tells Hector that he’d rather loan him money on another commodity. In a sly and subtle scene, Satan introduces himself without names, explains that he will pawn Hector’s soul for 90 days in exchange for Hector’s dreams of success as a painter... but at the end of those 90 days Hector must return and give Satan the pawn ticket *and* a painting of someone else... a painting that captures their very soul. Hector’s soul will be returned, but the subject of his painting will lose theirs.

Hector puts the pawn ticket in the pocket of his ratty coat and heads home...



Where Marie tells him a gallery just called, they want to do a one man show of his work. Not just any gallery, but a big uptown gallery where rich people go to buy paintings! Any skepticism about whether the new pawnshop owner was Satan or not disappears.

The Gallery: *All* of Hector’s paintings sell for top dollar, and there are art collectors eagerly awaiting whatever he paints next! They are *rich*!

Luxurious apartment: Hector and Marie sit at a massive dinner table eating a feast. The same scene as before, just with a whole lot more money.



Hector goes to the Pawn Shop with a painting... a landscape. Satan tells him that’s not the way it works: it must be the painting of someone you know... and it must capture their soul. Their soul for yours.... and he has 26 days left to paint and deliver the picture.

Hector tells Marie he’s going to their old apartment, now his studio, to paint. She doesn’t understand why he kept that place... why not find a nice studio? They can afford it. Hector says he likes to be reminded of where he came from...

But really, he uses the studio to meet his mistress Nadja (Patricia Medina) a model he never got around to painting... but bedding? That’s what he does now instead of paint. Nadja wants him to ditch his wife and go to the Mexican Riviera with her. Problem is, the day she leaves is the day he needs to deliver his painting.



Hector sees a psychiatrist Dr. Frank (Hayden Rorke, Dr. Bellows from I DREAM OF JEANNIE) and explains the whole Satan thing. Dr. Frank doesn’t believe in Satan, thinks this new Pawnshop Owner is just some dude playing with Hector’s mind. He only has Hector’s soul if that’s what Hector believes. Hector asks if the dude isn’t Satan, how come Hector became instantly successful after making the deal? Dr. Frank agrees to go to the pawn shop and talk to this guy who may or may not be Satan.

At a fancy restaurant, Hector has dinner with Nadja... and tells her he *will* go away with her.

When he goes to see Dr. Frank the next day, the doctor is gone and Satan is behind his desk. Satan warns him not to do anything like that again. Don’t go to the police, don’t call a lawyer (“In my time, I’ve had dealings with many lawyers”), just deliver the painting... in 13 days.

Hector thinks he has a solution: he will paint Marie... who he no longer loves. But as he paints his wife, he falls in love with her all over again. This creates a problem: he finished the painting with just over 2 days until his pawn ticket and the painting are due... but now he’s fallen back in love with is wife.


When the wife is out, he brings his mistress over to see the painting... and she reacts like a madwoman! She can see that Hector is still in love with his wife just by looking at it, so she SLASHES the painting to ribbons! Then she runs off, saying their relationship is over. To make things worse, the phone rings and it’s Satan reminding him he has 48 hours to deliver the painting.

Hector locks himself in his room and paints nonstop for 48 hours... falls asleep. Marie knocks on the door, he says come in... that the painting is finished. As soon as he delivers it to the customer, they can run off together... a second honeymoon. Marie leaves for a moment, then returns... tells Hector he has a visitor. It’s Satan.

“You know why I’m here. Give me my painting!”



Hector invites Satan in, tells him he will really like the painting he’s done, it really captures the subject’s soul. He unveils the painting, and it’s... Satan! Hector explains that Satan kept asking for *his* painting, so this is a painting of *him*, as per contract. Satan is shocked, he has actually been bested by a mortal. This has never happened before! Satan tells Hector to give him the pawn ticket and Hector’s soul will be returned, and he gets to keep all of the fame and fortune he’s built for the past 90 days plus any he makes for himself in the future. Hector asks Marie to get him his old coat...

She returns with a brand new one. “Surprise!” She got him a new coat for their second honeymoon! Hector asks what she did with his old coat? Marie says it was so old and ratty that she burned it...

Satan smiles at Hector, “Now it’s your turn to burn!”



Review: Bloch adapts Bloch this week in a clever little weird tale probably from Weird Tales Magazine originally. There have been some Bloch short stories adapted on Thriller before, but this is the first time he did it himself. Though best known for PSYCHO, Bloch is one of the great horror writers of the 1950s and one of my favorites. I probably discovered him through Norman Bates, but stayed for Weird Tailors and all of his wonderful short stories and novels. He is the master of the clever writing with lines like “He cut off her scream, and her head” and “He'd captured her heart, and put it in a glass jar”. In this episode there’s all kinds of clever lines, like Satan’s line about knowing a bunch of lawyers.

Even though this episode has a built in ticking clock, with the 90 day pawn ticket and the days ticking down throughout; this is more a twist end story than a tale of suspense like YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER (which also has a twist end, but manages to build some real suspense and dread whenever one of the women goes walking after dark). No suspense situations in this episode, it ends up being more of a drama about the toll of success. Part of the problem might be the direction, which is typical TV so some of the things which might be milked for suspense end up being used for surprise. But the*type* of story is less suspense and more twisted tale.



Macdonald Carey is a really odd choice for the lead, who is supposed to be a young struggling artists and is even called “young man” by a couple of characters... Carey was not young when this was made. The other characters were adjusted upwards as well, with Nadja his mistress looking late 30s... compare her to the hot young artist’s model from YOURS TRULY! Even though Carey seems to old, that age adds a layer of desperation which may not have been there with a younger actor. This old man has been struggling all of these years and *still* hasn’t made it?



Just as beatniks were part of the time period so they pop up in YOURS TRULY, having an analyst or psychiatrist was also an element of the times... and shows up in this story, When Hector goes to see Dr. Frank, that would make more sense at the time than going to the police... people went to their shrinks. Their shrink would solve the problem. One of the elements of a thriller story like NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that the authorities have to be taken out of the equation... so Roger Thornhill is accused of a murder and can’t go to the police for help. Here, Hector goes to his shrink for help... and we must remove the authorities from the equation... so Dr. Frank’s power must be nullified. That kind of tells us something about the power of psychoanalysis at the time period: it’s equal to calling the police!

How do you show Hector worrying about his pawned soul? You can’t *show* someone’s soul, right? So you need to find a symbol of their soul... and that’s the pawn ticket. I call this a “twitch”, it’s a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s emotional conflict. He’s worried about his soul, so he pulls the pawn ticket out of the pocket of his ratty old coat and looks at it, and we understand that he’s worried that he might lose his soul. You find a symbol, and this one comes directly from the story. It’s a great device to show us what is going on inside a character’s head. Every time Hector takes the ticket out and looks at it, we understand what he’s thinking.



Speaking of that ratty old coat, because it’s the big end twist, in order to “play fair” we have to establish that the wife wants to get rid of that coat and make sure that’s understood by the audience but also forgotten by the audience (to make it a twist). Here’s where *the story* makes this work: Hector has a secret reason for keeping the ratty old coat that his wife doesn’t know: the pawn picket in the pocket. So even though it makes sense for him to throw away the old coat, we know why he wants to keep it. Several times, when the wife is wearing new clothes and Hector puts on his ratty old coat it makes sense for her to comment on it... and the audience doesn’t notice that they are being set up for that twist at the end. We’re so busy worrying that the wife will discover the pawn ticket that we don’t realize we’re being set up for her *not* discovering the pawn ticket. That’s some good writing!

Probably because I’m more into the suspense based episodes, this one is in the good category but not in my great category. It is very entertaining, and John Emery kills it as Satan... he milks every one of Bloch’s clever lines!

Next week we look at an episode that may have inspired Stephen King’s CARRIE.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Take This Job And Shove It!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015, around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Take This Job And Shove It:

What’s interesting to me about this clip is that the first question is about when you should quit your day job, but evolved into a story about my early career... and the troubled path TREACHEROUS took to get to the screen. What do they have in common? I had no idea at the time of the interview, but looking back on it I’ve realized that the TREACHEROUS story is a perfect example of how being a professional screenwriter is often not a dependable source of income. That’s one of the problems with any creative occupation - no regular paychecks.

Screenwriting is freelance - which means that you are the boss. Which means that you pay yourself. Which means that you need to find the jobs so that you can pay yourself. You will be an independent businessperson. Though you may fantasize about an Agent or Manager handling the business side, that is only a fantasy. Most of the deals you get will come from your hard work... and they will get their 10%. You are the only one who cares about your career, so you will need to get out there and find jobs.

One of the questions that new writers frequently ask is: when should I move to Los Angeles?

I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t have to move to Los Angeles at all. My first script deal, back when I was 21 years old, was writing a comedy martial arts film NINJA BUSTERS for a guy from my hometown community college and it was made in Oakland, CA - the nearest big city to where I grew up - and even starred the World Champion Oakland Raiders. Cool! I believed that I could have a career in my hometown, and NINJA BUSTERS was the first in a three script deal with the guy who produced and directed it, Paul Kyriazi. Paul had made a few successful kung fu movies for the drive in circuit and set up a company that would make more drive in films. After writing NINJA BUSTERS I wrote the next two scripts... and then NINJA BUSTERS hit some financial snags and there would not be two more films. The weird part was that there was enough publicity surrounding the film that I found a couple more local jobs - one of the producers on NINJA BUSTERS had an idea for a movie, and a real estate guy my girlfriend at the time knew had a bunch of vacant properties he thought we could use as film locations. So even after NINJA BUSTERS hit a snag, there were two more deals to be had in the Oakland area. And then there was nothing. I was the big fish in the small pond and had eaten up all of the fish food. I spent ten years working in a warehouse...

And during that time I optioned a script to a company in Beverly Hills and eventually sold another script to a company at Paramount... and that is when I moved.

Looking back on it: I wish I had moved right after NINJA BUSTERS hit the snag, because I could have forklift jousted in Los Angeles as easily as I did in my home town. I was working for Safeway Grocery, and they had stores and warehouses in Los Angeles. Could have easily moved here much earlier instead of driving down once a year for American Film Market. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you bump into people in line at the grocery store and can easily go to a bunch of meetings. I had an agent for a while still living in my home town and had no idea how terrible he was until I optioned that script to the producer in Beverly Hills and saw his 8x8 windowless office above a motorcycle repair shop in the slums. I would have been a lot more proactive had I known that he was doing nothing for me. I was probably the oldest dude to sell a script to Roger Corman - and had I moved to Los Angeles earlier I probably would have written a stack of scripts for him in my 20s!

WHEN TO MOVE?

One of the questions people often ask is when they should move to Los Angeles - before they make their first sale or after? That’s a very good question and everything depends on what you have established where you live now. I moved after my first sale and once I got here wished I had moved earlier - all of those Corman scripts I could have written. All of those connections I could have made. And I probably never would have signed with that terrible agent!

But it is likely that you will move here at some point.

Los Angeles is where the business is located. All of the studios are here, all of the production companies are here, all of those meetings you will need to go to are here. Though there are other places in the USA where films are frequently produced and you can make connections there, those films are made by companies in Los Angeles. New York doesn’t seem to be doing much these days - Miramax is closed and most of the New York City companies dried up when the indie film business evolved into guys and gals in their backyards with digital cameras a decade ago.

I have friends who live out of town and come here a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks to do wall-to-wall meetings so that they can maintain their career out of town. The rest they do by phone or Skype. That is a possibility, especially if you have a family and a house and a life set up elsewhere.

If you are single? Why not be single here? Yeah, it’s so expensive you’ll probably be living in some terrible apartment with room mates, but when you are single and young it’s an adventure! And there are places you can live within driving distance of Los Angeles that are affordable if you are looking for a house and no roommates.

If you have a good job in your hometown, that can be an issue... but do they have a branch office or store or whatever in Los Angeles? Can you transfer? Keep the good job, just do it in Los Angeles? If not, then you might want to keep the good job. One of the problems with trying to re-establish yourself in a new city is that all of the “ground work” takes time. I got my job at Safeway Grocery because I bumped into a store manager at a business we both frequented, and his son knew my brother. That sort of thing is a lot more difficult when your brother lives in your hometown and that store manager’s son lives in Los Angeles. So if you have a good job, you may want to move after the sale... or not at all.

You don’t want to get into a position where you are stressed about money and can’t write. That defeats the purpose!

WHEN I QUIT MY JOB

After selling COURTING DEATH - a series of flights to Los Angeles - I put in my 2 weeks notice, and I think I ended up working even longer. I was a good employee. And that’s a factor that some people miss - if you are a crappy employee at your day job, how do you think you’ll do when you are the boss of your own one person company and have to make deadlines and show up to meetings on time and all of the other things you may have hated about the day job? I was always a hard working employee, always the guy who would take an extra shift if need be, always the guy that the other employees got along with. Always on time. All of the things that make you a good employee at your day job are the same factors that will make you successful as a screenwriter. If you are not the very best employee at your day job, the person they can trust to show up on time and get the work done without mistakes, you will never be ready to quit your day job and write full time... because how will you (as boss) get you (as employee) to do better? You have already proven yourself a terrible employee - why would you hire yourself? I was the great employee then, and a pretty good employee now. So when I quit my day job, they threw a big party for me.

I moved to Los Angeles to begin this adventure in screenwriting... which is still going! I haven't had to fire myself yet!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Thursday, October 15, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Fatal Impulse

The Fatal Impulse

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



Season: 1, Episode: 11.
Airdate: 11/29/1960
Director: Gerald Mayer
Writer: Philip MacDonald based on a story by John D MacDonald.
Cast: Robert Lansing, Witney Blake, Elisha Cook, Steve Brodie, Conrad Nagle and Mary Tyler Moore.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin H. Kline.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A phone call in the night. A threat to kill. And then a public announcement that the killing will take place. Is this man just a publicity seeker? Or will he be driven to kill? Will he succumb to the impulse? That’s the name of our story, “The Fatal Impulse”. Our principal players are Mr. Robert Lansing, Miss Witney Blake, Mr. Lance Fuller, Mr. Elisha Cook, Mr. Steve Brodie, and Mr. Conrad Nagle. Before very long, one of these girls unwittingly will be carrying a deadly bomb through the crowded city. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, one man’s impulse will paralyze a great metropolis for six terrifying hours. I do hope you’re not addicted to biting your nails, because this, I’m quite sure you will agree, is a thriller!”



Synopsis: The episode opens with a campaign poster for Walker Wylie for Mayor next to a pay phone, then has a limping Harry Elser (Elisha Cook jr from THE MALTESE FALCON and just about every Film Noir ever made) dragging his leg to the pay phone, dialing a number, then putting a handkerchief over the phone to disguise his voice as he threatens to kill... Mayoral candidate Walker Wylie (Conrad Neagle, who manages to make everything he says sound like a lie, even his character’s *name*) who was sound asleep in his bed moments before. Wylie hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Elser puts some more coins in the phone and calls every newspaper, TV and radio outlet telling them that he will kill Walker Wylie, get those headlines ready!

Detective Rome (Robert Lansing who always reminded me of an alien) and his partner Sgt Hannigan go to Wylie’s office to question him... and his secretary just lets them through without even showing their badges! Rome chews out Wylie, who obviously doesn’t take the threat seriously. Wylie tells Rome he doesn’t have a single enemy in the world (but he’s so insincere that you know there must be millions of them)... Rome doesn’t believe it, says until they find out whether there is or is not a real threat, Wylie will have a policeman with him 24/7. Wylie argues that he’s running for *Mayor* and can’t have a bunch of stupid detectives interfering with his life. Plus, he’s the main guest on a late night talk show tonight! The interview will be shot here in his office at 11pm, can’t have a cop sitting next to him for that! Rome insists, leaves Hannigan behind for protection...



Elser in his garage carefully makes a bomb. It’s a small bomb with a mercury switch, about the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. Gently places it in another box packed with cotton balls to keep it from being shaken, and...

At Wylie’s Office they are prepping for the TV filming. Crew guys are going in and out of the office... and Elser in a maintenance jumpsuit manages to sneak in with some, right past Hannigan, saying he’s there to change the light bulbs. . When the real crew guys leave, he sits in Wylie’s chair, opens a desk drawer, carefully takes the bomb out of the box and prepares to put in the drawer... when Wylie’s secretary steps into the office and yells for Hannigan! Elser slides the bomb into his pocket, tries to escape... But Hannigan rushes into the office and they fight. Elser tips one of the big TV lights onto Hannigan’s head, glass shattering and leaving Hannigan with raw hamburger for a face and completely blind. Elser makes his escape...



But the alarm has been rung. Rome and some detectives search the building for Elser (a limping man), who is hiding in a janitor’s closet. Elser changes out of the jump suit into a business suit and when the clock strikes 5 he leaves the janitor’s closet and joins the crowd of businessmen and secretaries leaving work for the day. He manages to squeeze into a packed elevator full of women and floor by floor suspense builds as people get on and off the elevator. We know he has the bomb in his pocket, and if it goes off? All of these innocent people will die.

When the elevator reaches the ground floor, everyone exits... and Rome and his men spot Elser and give chase! Elser races across a busy street with Rome and the cops right behind him... and then gets hit by a truck. Rome searches him for the bomb, can’t find it... and Elser’s last words are “girl in the elevator”. The figure the bomb was set to got off around 11pm when Wylie would be at his desk on the TV talk show... and there were around a dozen women on that elevator with him. But who are these women? One of them has a bomb in her purse that will blow up at 11pm tonight, unless she shakes it enough to blow up earlier. “There’s some girl walking around this city with a bomb” and she doesn’t know it.

Rome has his men track down the names of every woman on Wylie’s floor who left work at 5pm, plus any woman who had an appointment with a business on that floor who left at 5pm. Make a list on the squad room chalkboard. Find those women. Interview them. Search their purses for the bomb. Cross them off the list if they didn’t have the bomb. He knows that a couple of women got on the elevator at different floors, but has to start somewhere.



Meanwhile, Rome and his new partner Detective Dumont (Steve Brodie, who was Mitchum’s treacherous partner in OUT OF THE PAST and the father of the director of my movie TREACHEROUS) go to Elser’s house to search for clues. In the car on the way Dumont and Rome discuss Rome’s lack of love life after losing his wife, so we know these two guys have been friends or a long time. They discover that Elser was one of Wylie’s employees who was fired and denied his pension and holds a grudge (kind of like Dennis Hopper in SPEED). When Dumont goes to search the garage... booby trap! The whole garage blows up, killing Dumont right before Rome’s eyes. He’s lost two partners and the episode isn’t even half over!

8:15...

At the Squad Room, they are crossing names off the list on the chalkboard... it’s down to four *known* women who they have not been able to contact. Rome and another detective split the final four and try to find them. Rome tracks down an artist who had an appointment on that floor named Jane Kimball (Whitney Blake) who he finds in a night club with her boyfriend Robert (Lance Fuller). Robert is kind of combative to Rome, he’s on a date here and this cop is screwing it up. Rome explains about the bomb... and Jane and Robert become a lot more cooperative. Rome *carefully* takes the purse out of the crowded nightclub to the lawn in back and *cautiously* takes each item out looking for the bomb. Nothing. No bomb. When he gives Jane back her purse, Robert is mad as hell for ruining their evening... and then it gets *worse* when Jane says that she had been in the building applying for an artist job with her portfolio... and can *draw* all of the people in the elevator. Robert sits on the sidelines pissed off as Jane draws all of the faces.



The last girl on Rome’s list is a wife with a *very* jealous husband. They are fighting when Rome rings the doorbell, and the problem is... the wife was visiting her lover in the office building and lies to Rome about being in the building. But when Rome explains about the bomb, the wife must admit to cheating in front of her husband... and her husband grabs her purse looking for evidence! Now Rome must wrestle the bag away from the husband, and there may be a bomb inside! After the careful search of the purse... Rome finds nothing.

9:20...

At the Squad Room, *all* of the names are crossed off the list on the chalkboard. Rome is stumped. The only possibility is some woman *not* on their list. How can they find her?

In the night club, Jane remembers the woman in glasses who came into the elevator on a lower floor... and calls Rome.

Rome tracks down the woman in the glasses and goes to her apartment. The woman is played by a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore, who tells Rome she checked both her purse and her portfolio and no bomb in either one...

Rome realizes that Jane had her art portfolio with her in the elevator, and it was never searched. He tries to call her at the club, she’s left! He races to her home...

Almost 11:00!



Jane and Robert come home from the nightclub (to her house) and once the door is closed Robert’s hands are all over her... oh, and the bomb is there, too! It has fallen out of her portfolio onto the sofa... and is behind a cushion where it can not be seen. As Robert guides Jane to the sofa and makes all kinds of moves on her, the bomb is *underneath her head* behind that cushion. Jane is trying to get him to behave, when there’s a knock at the door. Detective Rome. He asks where her portfolio is, she tells him it’s in the bedroom, he carefully searches it... no bomb.

Tick tick tick... a minute before 11:00!

Rome has no idea where the bomb is... was there another woman on the elevator? Someone they missed? Robert wants him the hell out of there. Rome asks where she put the portfolio when she came home that afternoon, and Jane says on the desk.

Rome starts looking around the desk when Jane remembers it wasn’t the desk, it was the sofa. Rome carefully searches the sofa... finding the bomb! Tells Robert and Jane to get the heck out of the house and run like hell. Then carefully removes the bomb and as the clock strikes 11:00, tries opening the window and it’s *stuck*... breaks the window and throws it outside and explodes on the lawn!

A moment later Jane returns without Robert, and it kinda looks like she’s gonna hook up with Rome. The end.



Review: This was a good, tense, episode... really reminiscent of SPEED in many ways. The “shell game” of having one of 12 or 13 women be carrying around the bomb and not knowing it is a great device, and I’m guessing the John D. MacDonald story gets deeper into who these different women are (we only get 3 of them in the episode). They do a great job of showing us the clock every once in a while, and I wish they had done more of that... but there probably wasn’t time. You do get that ticking clock feel. And when we finally get to Jane’s house, that bomb becomes a great “focus object” ticking away under that sofa cushion as Jane’s boyfriend tries making out with her. The only hiccups in the episode are things that have to do with a limited TV budget: the night club that Jane and her boyfriend are in seems to be a set with one booth and no extras... so we really don’t get a scene where Rome has to carefully carry that bomb outside. And explosions are off camera. Also, some time restraints turn conversations like the one about Rome’s dating life into obvious expositional moments. But these are minor quibbles for an episode that keeps ramping up the tension and really has you worried at the end that they will not find that bomb that has fallen between the sofa cushions in time. This was a really good episode and shows the promise of what the show can do with purse suspense.

The show has finally found its footing, and for a while we’ll alternate between suspense and weird tales... though next week is more crime story, with a twist.

Bill





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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Film Courage Plus: How To Be Productive

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?



HOW TO BE PRODUCTIVE
Writers write.

Sounds simple, right?

The problem is that it’s not about writing that one great screenplay that changes everything, it’s about writing for a living. Writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. Being a professional writer means writing every day (like any other job), writing on a deadline, writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. If you are looking for a Manager or Agent, they represent *writers* not screenplays. Once they send your screenplay out into the world and nobody buys it, it is a “busted spec” - a dead script. And that means you need to have another script to send out into the world, then another, then another, then another... until you sell a screenplay or land an assignment. Heck, to get that Agent or Manager you need to keep sending out query after query (each for a new screenplay) to Managers and Agents on your target list until they read one that makes them sign you. This probably sounds like a lot of work... and it is.

So, how do you do that? How do you keep writing screenplays until you land an Agent or Manager and then keep writing screenplays for them until you land a paying gig, and then keep landing paying gigs for the rest of your life?

That’s a very good question.

Complicated by, you know, life. You have a mortgage or rent to pay. You have a family. You have a job that eats up a minimum of 40 hours or your week (add in commute time and those extra hours you worked and all of the other parts of real life). How do you find any time at all to write all of those screenplays, and how do you find the will to stick with it? You barely have time to relax after work, let alone crank out screenplays. Well, here’s a ten point plan to help you get something done...

1) Don't depend on inspiration - it's a trap! At the end of the day, it's always going to be you and the blank page. So you have to figure out how to get yourself motivated. It's always going to be from the inside instead of the outside. You can’t depend on anyone else - motivation is *your* job. This is a business where, when they love your work and buy your work, the first thing they do is tell you everything they hate about it and want changed right away... instead of how much they like what you've written. So looking for or depending on external motivations aren't going to help you in the long run - you have to figure out how to keep writing through the crap that life hands out.

2) Set aside a specific time every day to write - can be as little as 15 minutes, but that is the time that anyone who bothers you gets punched in the face as hard as you can. There are plenty of success stories about people who wrote on their lunch hours or wrote on their commute to work (though most of those involve people who take a train or subway - if you drive to work, probably best not to have the laptop open). Find a half hour or an hour every day that is just for writing - and make sure everyone who might bother you understands that it’s your writing time and you *will* punch them in the face as hard as you can if they bother you.

3) If all you do in that 15 minutes (or half hour or hour) is just stare at the blank screen, it's a win...

4) But you'd rather write, right?

5) So be prepared to write! Outline your screenplay. A step outline is easiest - just bullet point scene-by-scene. The great part about an outline is that you can play around with it and solve all your story problems while it's just a page or two of outline... instead of 110 pages of screenplay. Less writing for the garbage can.

I think of screenwriting as “creative steps”, because that’s how things are done professionally. When you land an assignment, they don’t just cut you a check and send you off to write the screenplay, there are “steps”. In fact, it’s called a “Step Deal”. You do one step at a time, and are paid for each step. There are “reading periods” where the producer (or their intern) reads each step and then gives you notes and tells you what they want you to do in the next step. One of those steps is always a *Treatment* - a scene-by-scene version of the screenplay. Since you are going to have to work that way as a professional screenwriter anyway, might as well train yourself now. Work in creative steps. My first creative step is to get the overall story under control. I write an outline, and then rework the outline until the story part of the script works. That gives me a roadmap that gets me from the beginning to the end by the very best possible route. Now to the next creative step which is writing each of those scenes in my bullet point outline - and I know that Mary and John break up... but *how* do they break up? The outline may give me the basics of what happens, but not *how* it happens or any of the hundreds of possible details about how that scene plays out. That’s the fun part of the next creative step - once you have the outline, you still have all kinds of fun things to figure out during the “writing step”.

6) The other great thing about an outline is that it breaks your story down into bite sized pieces which are easier to write. You don't have to write a whole screenplay, just this one scene. A scene is about 2 pages, so you can knock that out in a day or two... but if it takes you a week, you are still making progress. Some scenes are easy, some are more difficult. What matters is that you make a little progress every day.

And that is the key to getting things done. You can become overwhelmed at having to write a 110 page screenplay (or a 100,000 word novel), and that may lead to you “choking” and writing nothing at all. But a scene? A couple of pages? Heck, even if you only write half of that scene - *one* page a day - you can handle that, right? And all of those pages add up. Slow and steady wins the race, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and any other cliches you can come up with - all true.

7) If you end up with only 15 minutes a day, it may make sense to outline the scene itself. This also works if you ever get stuck (and you will). Just start by writing down all of the things the scene needs to do for the story. Then figure out the most interesting ways those things can happen. Then figure out the most interesting order for those things to happen. Now you have a scene that is broken down int bite-sized pieces. If you only have 15 minutes, you can write one of those little pieces, right? Or at least part of one of those pieces. The key is to make progress every day, even if it's just a little progress. In the Film Courage clip I talk about how I wrote 3 screenplays a year while working a full time job by just writing one page a day. Hey, there are days when I was on a roll and wrote more than one page a day, but my goal was to write one page on *bad days* (and you will have plenty of those, every writer does).

8) "Nothing succeeds like success!" That may not make much sense, but if you write half a page, a quarter of a page, a sentence - you are making progress, and that will make you feel good and keep you "self-inspired" to write the next day. Momentum is everything, and if you write a page every day it becomes easier to write that page (or half a page or quarter of a page or sentence) as time goes on. You build up momentum. Today’s writing leads to tomorrow’s writing.

But sooner or later something will happen and you will miss a couple of days and all of that momentum will be lost. It will be hard as heck to get it rolling again - but that is what you have to do. If you fall off the horse, the best thing to do is get back on and ride again, and all of those cliches - which are also true. The next thing on our little list will help you to get back on the horse or dust yourself off or whatever cliche you have selected that best illustrates this...

9) Most important thing: Your Doorway Into The Story. Make sure your screenplay is personal. A piece of you. That way you won't want to abandon it. It would be like abandoning your arm or leg or head. "What right does my head have to call itself me?" I write action and thrillers and horror - and even if it is an assignment, my first step is to find that piece of me in the story. Most of my screenplays are just cheap therapy - and I either begin with the personal emotional conflict I want to work though in fiction form or I search for it and find it within whatever story idea I've come up with (or assignment I have accepted). We look at this in the Ideas Blue Book.

There are times when I've been offered paid writing jobs and turned them down because I couldn't find my story within their story. Better to wait until something comes along that I can find a "doorway" into than write something that I don't give a crap about. Here's one of my script tips about finding that doorway on a script of mine that got filmed *twice*: Writing BLACK THUNDER - Sibling rivalry is something I completely understand. I am not the favorite son. I'm the guy who has to work harder just to get noticed, and that's an issue I'm still working through... so I pitched a story dealing with that subject and ended up getting paid to write the screenplay.

Everything I've written has a "personal core" that keeps me from abandoning it, because it may be about fighter pilots and explosions - but it is still really about me. There will come a time when writing your screenplay that you want to abandon it. You hate it. You want to write something else instead. Don’t give in to this! There are people who have a dozen half written screenplays and not a single one that’s *finished*. You can’t do anything with a half written screenplay (okay, you can train puppies and line birdcages). So you want to get all the way to FADE OUT with your script! The best way to do that is have a personal connection to the story so that it’s difficult to let go of. Find your “doorway” into the story - that thing that makes it *part of you*. That not only makes it more difficult to abandon when the going gets rough, it also makes it a better story.

10) Now just write a little bit every day, and the pages add up. I used to write 1 hour a day before work, but really all I required myself to write was one page a day. That's it. One page. And 1 page times 365 days is 3 rough draft screenplays a year. Look, if you write a third of a page a day in 15 minutes, that a screenplay a year - and that puts you ahead of most people who would rather talk about writing than actually write every day and get progressively better and eventually sell something or land an assignment and have a handful of credits on IMDB that represents about a tenth of what they've been paid to do (only about 10% of stuff you sell or are hired to write ever makes it to the screen). (Which is another reason why you have to keep turning out new screenplays - when one project gets shelved you need a new screenplay to keep your *career momentum* going!)

When you are being productive, it helps keep you productive. Momentum. When you lose momentum, you need to push yourself to start moving again. It's not easy at first, but when you start rolling at 5mph it's much easier to roll to 10mph and keep increasing speed than it is from a cold start. Starting's a bitch!

And this may be what you are facing now - so just push yourself a little at first (even force yourself) and it gets easier. Forced writing can be rewritten, smoothed out, improved. But you can’t rewrite what isn’t written. So write! One Writers Block Breaker is to just write nonsense that doesn't matter to get started. That gets things rolling. Then just keep it rolling. Not easy... but possible. All of this is building good habits of regular writing, which comes in handy when you have a career and deadlines and need to write a certain number of pages a day to turn in your assignment on time.

Good luck, and keep writing!

- Bill



NEXT WEEK: THRILLER Thursday Season 2 - an episode directed by the awesome Ida Lupino!

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