Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Elitism & Experience

From the beginning of 2011...

A few weeks ago John August had a post on his blog that got a rise out of me.

John wondered if the blog had become too advanced for a beginning writer, so he decided to read through his mail to see if he was too “inside baseball”... and printed a note from a writer that asked all kinds of stupid questions and then made fun of the writer. Ridiculed the dude. I posted in the comments section that I thought that even though many of the guy's questions could have been answered by spending some time searching John's site – at least the guy was asking questions, right? Yes, he probably should have searched the site first. Yes, he probably should have done a better job of Googling. But John could have guided him instead of made fun of him.

And on Done Deal Pro I said basically the same thing: Lots of new writers don't know where to begin, they Google “How do I write a screenplay” and find a website and don't know the first thing about screenwriting so they don't know what to search for – they don't even know what a screenplay consists of. They don't know what to Google.




In one of my favorite films IN A LONELY PLACE, a screenwriter played by Humphrey Bogart says that people don't know screenwriters exist – they think actors just make up their lines... and when they become stars, they do. And that's where a lot of new writers are – what's on the page? Everything? If you just have a great idea – can you sell that? If you need an agent, can you tell me where to find one? On Done Deal Pro we regularly see new writers ask these questions and many more. And people on DDP ridicule them and make fun of how naive they are... but they also answer the questions and point them to places where they can read real screenplays and explain how the whole agent thing works. My theory is help them... then make fun of them.

Here's the thing – to me all of these questions sound silly. They sound like things people should just be able to figure out on their own, right? Things they could just find online, right? But when they land at someplace like John's site or DDP – they *have* looked online and ended up there asking questions. Things that we see as obvious. But that's because we forgot when we were them. Now that we know stuff, we think everyone else does!

Plus, there's that pecking order thing – I did a blog entry on that, and I think it's going to come up in this one, too. Nobody knows everything, and all of us are still learning and have things that we need to learn. Now, we can look at those who know less than us and make fun of them, or we can give them the information they need and send them in the right direction.

Or both.

The thing about writers is that many of us are smart asses and are just waiting for someone to say something that's a set up for our joke. I know I am. Yes, this makes me a partial asshole, but I also answer the questions so I figure I kind of earn my assholiness. But, if you just trash the person without helping them, you're building up some negative karma and eventually you will be the person who doesn't know something and someone will make fun of you. All of us are stupid about something.

AM I AN ELITIST?




One of the interesting things in life is how various different things happen at the same time... and all seem to add up to something larger. These random things are connected – which is just plain weird. Plate of shrimp. If I were crazy, I would imagine a giant conspiracy out to get me. But instead, it's just life.

Before the John August blog post, two other things happened back-to-back that connect to the concept of know-it-alls and know-nothings and screenwriting.

There's a message board I frequent that is filled with new writers – and many of them suffer from being overly artsie. This is a common thing. Many new writers think that Hollywood makes all of those remakes and sequels and comic books movies because there is a shortage of quality original screenplays... and *they* have the ability to write those brilliant screenplays!

In fact, when they compare the kind of crap Hollywood makes to what they are capable of, it's obvious that they are geniuses and the people who work in Hollywood now are all morons. Many of these folks believe that film is art, and Hollywood would make nothing but art movies if they had enough great artsie screenplays. Every film would be TREE OF LIFE, if they had a couple hundred similar (genius) (artistic) screenplays.

This is not true.

Hollywood makes movies that will attract a mass audience. That mass audience is more interested in being entertained than seeing some great piece of art... check out the grosses for this year's Oscar winner... and TREE OF LIFE while you're at it. There was a recent article on how the general public no longer goes to see the Best Picture Winner – they don't care about it and don't relate to it anymore. The “Oscar bounce” is gone! They've worked all week long and this film is their escape from all of the crap of real life – they may want to laugh so hard they pass out. What makes them laugh that hard may be the bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER.




That makes that bathroom scene from DUMB & DUMBER great screenwriting. I know that makes some of you think I'm crazy or a massive hack – but do you know how hard it is to find something that makes 60 million people around the world laugh? That is the art of screenwriting – making 60 million people around the world feel something. Some emotion. That may be fear from a horror movie or love from a romance or excitement from an action film – but finding that universal thing... and 110 minutes of those universal things – is so difficult that Hollywood pays great money if you can do that. They pay lots of money if you can entertain lots of people. The fewer people you entertain, the less money you get. Kind of trickle down.

Now, that doesn't mean that art films are bad, or TREE OF LIFE is bad, or PRECIOUS or A SERIOUS MAN or HURT LOCKER are bad... just that they may be really tough screenplays to get anyone to read, let alone buy and produce.

Well, on this message board full of artsie new writers a few people posted some stuff that was completely naive... and someone posted a well thought out reasoned response explaining why their theory of how Hollywood worked was incorrect and something an outsider might believe. Here's the amazing thing – this guy who posted has been nominated for awards, wrote a great critically acclaimed film which you have all seen, that got him a gig writing a couple of big Hollywood films you have also seen, and recently wrote critically acclaimed film that I really love and own on DVD. Dude is a great writer. He was lurking. He de-lurked to help this writer...

And got crapped on.
And argued with.

Nobody knew who he was. They thought he was just some other idiot hack like me who was defending Hollywood films. They trashed whatever he said. Now, I knew who he was from another board, but none of these jokers even tried to figure out who he was... or just respect what he said. The guy was using logic and reason and the people fighting him were defending their position without ever acutally *thinking*. They were too busy arguing with him.

For me, the amusing thing about this was that this guy *was* a legitimate artist as a screenwriter. And he was explaining that *in his experience* commerce was still a major issue and you will have to find the way to sell your screenplay. To businessmen. Who want to make money.




Okay, everyone on this board knows who I am – I do not lurk. I jump in to the discussion, with a different side than the famous writer. Based on my actual experience in the business – I used some real examples both from my stuff and some other well known and easy to Google examples. And my experiences lead me to very similar conclusions as the other writer. Because that's kind of the way things are. From the outside you might think "If only Hollywood had 200 TREE OF LIFE scripts they would make 200 films like TREE OF LIFE." From the inside, you know that a film like TREE OF LIFE is hell to get off the ground... and no one in Hollywood really wants a screenplay like that. In fact, TREE OF LIFE was not made by Hollywood!

If you were to take a hundred professional writers, we would all have similar experiences with slight differences. If you take 100 people who have gone to the DMV and taken a driving test, the main points will all be the same but there may be some individual differences due to that handful of variables there are. So I jump in and basically agree with the other writer – and so do the handful of other pros on the boards...

THEM AND US




And now we have an interesting dichotomy – those who earn a living writing screenplays vs. those who do not. Those with experience in the business and those who do not have experience in the business. The working writers are saying “this is the way it really works” and the new writers are saying “no – it doesn't work that way”. When I say, “Hey, I've been doing this for a while, that really is the way it works.” And the professionals are branded “elitists” for saying that “our way” is the one that works and “their way” doesn't work.

This confused me.

I thought elitists were all about having power over others and excluding them... when the reason we were there giving this advice was to *include* these folks – to show them the secret way into the business. To help them. “You know that wall? There's a doorway through it over here!” But it seems that knowing what you are talking about, having actual experience, is a big negative thing.

Who knew?

The issue becomes facts vs. opinions – and that's crazy. But this seems to be something that isn't just on screenwriting messageboards, the whole country seems to think that a fact is the same as an opinion. That they are equal. If 99% of scientists think the world is round and 1% think it's flat – those 1% are “equal” to the 99%. Crazy! That 1% are the lunatic fringe. In science as in anything else there are always a couple of nutjobs... but the *majority* of people who know what they are talking about agree with each other... and 1% is *not* equal to 99%. Those are *not* two equally valid viewpoints – because at the end of the day the majority rules.

Except, when you are in that 1% you'd much rather believe that it's equally valid to believe the Earth is flat and the space program is a conspiracy and they put something in our milk as children to make us see that curve on the horizon...

And that's *science* - when you're discussing screenwriting and there's an art component and as many different definitions of “good movie” as there are people? More difficult to even agree on what is a “fact”!

But add to this – screenwriting is strange in that it is both art and commerce wrapped into one. Sure – there are arthouse indie films, but even those get some form of distribution because someone thinks they will make money. They are more of a niche thing – and aimed at being popular with that niche. If you plan on *selling* a screenplay then it is a commercial endeavor – not just for you but for who you sell the screenplay to... and for the screenplay itself. There are so many elements of the *craft* of writing that tie into the commercial aspects that you can't really talk art and craft without at least touching on the commercial part. And, on a messageboard filled with artsie types, bringing up the money part brands you a sell out.

On another board there is an intelligent, articulate, artsie screenwriter guy who makes great arguments in favor of seeing screenwriting as an art. I often argue with him, but I also encourage him to keep making his case - because he isn't one of those just fighting for his point - he also *thinks* and *considers the other side* and argues using facts rather than opinions. I like this guy. We need this guy in the business. The funny thing about my art vs. commerce arguments is that if you drop me in a room full of artists I argue on the commerce side... but if you drop me in a room full of mercanaries I fight for art. Screenwriting is both.




The problem is – two people can write screenplays of equal artistic quality, but if one is about a farm boy in Ohio who dreams of moving to New York and getting a job as a street poet, and the other is about a farm boy on Tatooine who dreams of being a Jedi Knight and starfighter pilot and rescuing a hot Princess from an evil Black Knight... well, you can guess which screenplay is going to have an easier chance of selling.

There are commercial considerations involved with every screenplay that is bought – and that becomes part of the conversation on the experienced screenwriter side. It's not elitism, it's another danged lesson that most of learned the hard way – and we're trying to help others. Though everyone learns at their own rate, the biggest problem with many of these debates is that some people DO NOT WANT TO LEARN. Not just the commercial stuff (I mean, who really wants to learn that? I fought it) but much of the story stuff that's important. The artsie folks don't want there to be any elements that they can be judged by – so the concept of one script being better *even artistically* than another is some form of elitism.

Huh?

The real problem with this whole “Elitist” thing is that it makes people with experience and actual knowledge, and brands them with a negative for *trying to help*. That does not make them want to stick around on some messageboard and continue helping when they really should be writing. It also demonizes education and intelligence and experience – which seems crazy to me. It guarantees that those folks on messageboards will stay exactly where they are – because the *do not want to learn*. Knowledge is a negative - ignorance is bliss - stupidity is art.

They often seem to think they know everything – which I don't think this famous writer or myself or any of the other working pros who these folks argued against believe about themselves. I believe there are tons of things that I don't know – and a large part of my life and my website and my blog are trying to figure out how things work and share that knowledge... but mostly trying to figure it out because there are things I don't know.

Do you think you know everything?

WINO THEORY




I think for most of us, the more we know the more we realize we don't know... and need to learn. Writing screenplays is incredibly complicated, and requires that you get a bunch of different ingredients in the proper mix.

The problem on some messageboards (and with some executives) is they think that one 110 pages of typing is the same as another 110 pages of typing. That writing the pages is the hard part. And there are plenty of screenplays that get so damaged in development that their 110 pages of writing *is* equal to just about any other 110 pages of typing. But those scripts die a quick death – and if they are made into films due to some mistake, the films die a quick death.

The key is to write something that people think about a decade later... because it will be good (art!) *and* because a decade later you'll want them to call you and hire you for some project. If they read your 110 pages of typing and instantly forget it, you have a problem. Though scripts can be developed into crap, you don't want them to start out that way. My belief (hope) is that even when a script gets mangled there's enough good stuff left to hint that there was a great version they bought. Though, I have no idea what that good stuff might be in the filmed version of CROOKED.

Of course, even if they screw up your screenplay on the way to the screen, your actual screenplay still exists as a sample - and I get all kinds of calls years later based on someone reading a screenplay before it got ruined. I have also used those screenplays as samples. In fact, I have some people interested in hiring me now based on a screenplay they read in the past... which they remembered.




You see - art is involved in screenwriting. Even in popular screenwriting. It's not just "write a 110 page action script", it's writing a 110 page action script that is better than the other hundreds of scripts they have read and will turn out an okay movie once it goes through the meatgrinder. If anything, a popular commercial film really needs to be *artistic* and great more than the art film - since if the art film ever gets made it is most likely to be written and directed and produced by the same person (no meatgrinder). The martial arts star lead isn't going to rewrite all of his lines... so that the actions end up being the thing that carries the story and theme and emotional conflict.

There are great commercial scripts and stinkers. Some screenplays are better than others. Some writers have learned more than others - and that is reflected in the quality of their writing. Doesn't mean those other writers can't learn as much and write scripts of equal quality eventually. Just means *at this point in time* the more experienced writer is, well, more experienced. They've done it many more times and learned more.

I think one of the issues with those who think all 110 pages are equal is what I call the WINO THEORY. I once dated a woman who worked in the wine biz, and know some people in the biz (one guy who gets paid to drink!) and a sommelier – and wrote a script called ROUGH FINISH that was James Bond as a wine taster.

Wine ends up being a lot like screenwriting.

The average person can drink two different glasses of wine and think one tastes good and the other does not – but that's about it. If you give that average person two different glasses of *good* wine, they may not be able to tell which is better. Both are equal to them.




But “educate their palates” and teach them a little about wine, and they can easily tell a cabernet from a merlot from a zinfandel from a pinot noir. They may prefer one over the other. They also know what a cabernet is supposed to taste like (basically) and whether it tastes strange or even has been cut with some other grape. At this stage they can also probably tell you whether the wine was fermented in oak or steel or even redwood or acacia or pine.

The next step might be to refine their palates so that they can tell which region the grapes were grown in – each soil leaves a mark. And maybe even make a good guess at the year due to the amount of tanic acid in the wine. Now they can take a dozen “good” glasses of wine and tell you more about each one – and maybe even taste minor defects in some wine that the average drinker never knew were there. They “have better taste”.

And with each increase in education, with each piece of knowledge, they can taste little details that the average drinker may not even know exist.

My character in ROUGH FINISH was a “private palate” who would break into a winery and taste the wine “before its time” to help investors and wine connoisseurs know which Bordeauxs to buy. He tastes something in the wine that only a handful of people in the world would even notice – and becomes the man who knows too much. Fun idea for a chase action script – but it's based on the (real) idea that an expert wine taster would be able to denote things no one else could... is that Elitism or Experience and Education?

My theory is that the new screenwriter might think the difficult part is getting to FADE OUT – and that *is* difficult. But a hundred thousand people a year get to FADE OUT... and the more you know, the more you can see what is just a bit off on one script and right on the money in another – and the more you know how to write that better screenplay.

You don't just give every character a unique voice and vocabulary and world view and attitude... you realize that all of those different elements are connected in some way to theme... and theme is connected to universal truths that connect to the audience. It just gets more and more complicated! And I don't think you ever reach some point where you know it all. There is always something to learn.

But if you think just writing 110 pages is all there is to it, you have failed.

If you think you don't need to learn anything more, you have failed.

If you think that the 1% who believe the Earth is flat are just as correct as the 99% who believe it is round, you aren't thinking and are not trying to learn and better yourself.

If you think someone who has learned more than you know at this point in time and is trying to help you is an elitist, you have failed.

And, if you know more than someone else – help them. Costs you nothing.

I've found that most established screenwriters want to help new writers – they empathize. They were that new writer at one time, and want to help you avoid all of the pitfalls they stumbled through. So, on a messageboard or in person or whatever – thank them for the help and don't fight them until they just give up on *everybody* and leave. I think it's all about learning - and continuing to learn. Any writer who is giving you advice - even if you don't like what they are saying - is trying to help you. they don't have to do that. They don't get paid to do that. They have many other things they can do that either pay more or are more enjoyable.

Experience and knowledge are not elitism.

If people are trying to *help you* - that's the opposite of elitism.

And DAYS OF HEAVEN is one of my favorite movies... along with AIRPLANE!

- Bill

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Scene Of The Week: DIABOLIQUE (1955)

SCENE OF THE WEEK: DIABOLIQUE

Directed by: Henri Georges Clouzot (WAGES OF FEAR)
Written by: Clouzot and Jérôme Géronimi based on the novel by Narcejac & Boileau (VERTIGO).
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, and Charles Vanel (TO CATCH A THIEF).

This scene is a lesson in creating suspense, that can be used in both Thriller and Horror genres. It used to be basic film direction, but it seems to have been lost these days - people no longer know the basics!

Okay - someone is walking through dark, spooky room... what is it we (audience) want to see? The person *walking* or what might be skittering in that shadow in front of them? It's all about POV - what is important isn't the person walking, it's *what they see* (or think they see). Only an idiot director would keep the camera on the girl with the flashlight and not show us what the girl *sees* with that flashlight! If you look at 1955s DIABOLIQUE's end - there's more screen time spent on what Vera Clouzot is looking at, than on hottie Vera Clouzot looking. The long hallway, the sliver of light coming from the door - jeeze - is her dead husband in there *typing*? The key to creating suspense is to put the audience in the protagonist's shoes – and we can't be in their shoes and be looking at the shoes. The most important shots are *not* the star, but what the star is looking at. The problem with so many bad thriller and horror films is that we **never** see what the character is seeing – we only see the character looking. No suspense or dread in that at all.

That DIABOLIQUE scene works – not because we see *the star*, but because we see *what the star sees* - and by alternating those shots we feel like we are in her shoes looking through the shadows. Wait... I can describe that scene from DIABOLIQUE, but why not just show it to you and talk about it afterwords?

OKAY: MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!!!
THIS IS THE **END** OF THE MOVIE!!!!!!




The story until now: Vera Clouzot is a shy (but hot) school teacher who has inherited this huge old private school. She has also inherited a heart condition, and could drop dead at any time. She's frail. Isn't supposed to get excited. And discovers that her slimy husband has found excitement outside of their marriage... with another teacher at the school played by the sultry Simone Signoret. Now usually these two would be fighting each other, but did I mention the husband is slimy? What happens is both women turn against the husband, and decide to kill him. Over a holiday break, Signoret lures him to her house where the two women drug his wine and drown him in the bathtub, and then take his corpse back to the school in a huge wicker basket and throw his corpse in the school's swimming pool that is closed for he season. A drowning accident. But the body is never discovered, and when they find an excuse to drain the pool... no corpse. WTF? The two women panic – what could have happened to his body? Did animals drag it away? If so, how can they prove that he's dead?

Which brings us to the scene....

(which appears to be missing!)




Okay, let's take a look at how it works.

1) She's sleeping and a sound wakes her up...

2) She looks out her window and there is a light on in her husband's office. Notice that she looks out the window, then we see out the window (and from her point of view – in Hitchcock/Truffaut they talk about the remake of THE 39 STEPS and how instead of using Hannay's POV looking at the two men watching on the street, they have a non-POV eye-level shot of the two men, which doesn't come from anywhere and takes us *out* of the protagonist's shoes, undercutting our identification – when people say “well, maybe the editor decided to do that”, the problem is that the editor can only work with the shots the director gives her... and if the director doesn't have a plan for the sequence and just shoots coverage, you end up with a bunch of junk shots that do not work). We see what Vera sees, then back to Vera looking, as she decides to investigate.

3) She opens the door and looks down the hallway... and WE see down the hallway from her POV. She walks down the hallway. She hears footsteps... and we see someone walking – this is a break in POV, and I think it doesn't work well. It splits us from knowing only what Vera knows and also having the additional knowledge that there is a man walking in the hallway. In the film there is a nosy cop – and I'm sure this was put here to suspect the nosy cop of setting her up... but *that* undercuts the scene. I think these shots are stumbles... but there are only a couple of them, and the rest of the scene just kicks ass.

4) She enters the next hallway. Looks down the long hallway... and WE see down the hallway from OVER HER SHOULDER at a faint light at the end of the hall. An Over The Shoulder Shot is a great combo of POV *and* Star – even though it's usually just the star's back. Sometimes there's enough of the side of their face that it's really the best of both shots.

5) The sound of the typewriter pounding away in the office. How is that possible? She walks down the long hallway, and this is the core of the scene. We cut back and forth between her cautiously walking to her husband's office and a POV shot of her getting closer to the office door... the light slicing from under it. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST we get shots of Cary Grant running and looking over his shoulder alternating with the zooming crop duster heading right at him. One of the great things in that sequence is the *pacing* - the length of the shots (in frames) becomes shorter with each shot – making the scene more and more frantic as it goes on. This was a common suspense editing technique in the days of Stienbeck Film Editors where actual physical frames of film were part of cutting. You counted frames and created a rhythm... or created an anti-rhythm to throw the audience off. Now, with editing on digital media I'm not sure editors even think in terms of frames anymore. The technique of shaving a frame or three with each shot to build tension may be lost.

6) When Vera gets halfway down the hall, the office door slowly opens sending a slice of light down the hall towards her. We cut between the light and her – as if it's searching for her... and finds her!

7) She cautiously enters the office – and again we get shots of her alternating with her POV of inside the office – this puts us in her shoes and builds suspense up the wazoo. She sees the typewriter on the desk with a piece of paper in it – and that is two shots. She moves to the typewriter (shots of her, POV shots of the dark spooky room), pulls out the paper, and reads it – and we get a POV shot of the paper so that *we* can also read it. Her husband's name over and over again.

8) Footsteps coming from the darkness in her husband's room. She runs like hell.

9) Shots of her running all the way back to her bedroom, cut with shots from her position of her husband's office.

10) In her bathroom, she splashes water on her face... sees something and clutches her heart – this is a great tease shot, because we have not yet seen what she sees... THEN we get her POV shot of her dead husband's corpse in the bathtub. How did he get there? Who put him there? The nosy cop?

11) She backs up, looks... Her POV of her husband rising up!

And that's how you create a suspense scene on film. It's not just shots of the protagonist in the haunted house holding a flashlight walking from room to room – it's WHAT SHE SEES. That flashlight's pale beam searching the shadows and things skittering in the darkness. That’s what builds suspense... and that’s what is often missing from modern films. It’s as if current horror directors have never actually seen a horror movie! They probably think the audience wants to see the $20 million star, when what the audience really wants to see is what the character is seeing - the darkness, the place where the terror may be lurking!

- Bill

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Can't Judge A Zombie By His Poster

Another ancient blog entry (from 2007) that I'm reprinting instead of writing anything new, because I'm lazy.

A whole bunch of posts and half a year ago, I wrote that my friend Rod and I were stuck in bumper-to bumper traffic on the 405, trying to get to a movie playing in Santa Monica. That movie is now out on DVD, so I thought maybe I’d talk about it. The movie was....

FIDO



Imagine that perfect 1950s suburbia from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER... combined with the bright, well manicured 1950s soap operas of Douglas Sirk (like ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS)... and throw in that wholesome all American 1950s classic TIMMY AND LASSIE...

But Lassie isn't a dog, it's a domesticated zombie.

That's FIDO.

This is not some scary zombie attack movie, no friends, after we won the zombie war (which seems a lot like WW2 in the newsreel footage that opens the film) zombies have been domesticated and are a servant class. Every suburban family hopes to one day have a zombie of their very own - to take out the trash serve meals, mow the lawn, wash the car, and any other task that sophisticated people may find distasteful.

You end up with a send up of 1950s TV & films, zombie movies, suburbia, the class system, government, Douglas Sirk films, and all kinds of other stuff. I actually laughed so hard at one point that I almost lost consciousness. My stomach hurt. This was the best film I've seen in a long time.

Carrie-Ann Moss is mom, Dylan Baker is very repressed dad, Tim Blake Nelson is the next door neighbor and Henry Czerny (the asshole political aid who double crosses Harrison Ford in one of those Tom Clancy movies) as the pipe smoking perfect dad down the street... and Billy Connelly as the zombie Fido (an amazing performance, since all he does is grunt and growl).

The film is supposed to be the most expensive Canadian film ever made (cast, probably) but only played on a couple of screens in the USA and the showing we went to wasn’t crowded at all. The plan was to expand to more screens if the film is successful...

But it never came to a cinema near you. Instead it vanished, only to appear a couple of weeks ago on DVD.

And, just like HOSTEL 2, I think the problem was in the marketing. (That’s *twice* I’ve blamed marketing - really unusual). Here’s the thing - you need to get the people into the cinema on a movie like this, so that they will laugh and then tell their friends that have to see it. That’s where marketing comes in.

The first problem with this film is the title: FIDO. When I read a list of new films opening over that weekend, I saw FIDO and skipped right past it. G rated family film about a dog. Not even a good title for a G rated family film - tells us *nothing* about the story. LASSIE COME HOME - hey, Lassie is lost and has to find his way home! So FIDO not only makes you think it’s a family film when it’s really a horror comedy, it also doesn’t tell us anything about the film. Your title is like a mini logline - it needs to tell us what the story is about. Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, it’s about a zombie named Fido!” But we only know that *after* we have seen the movie. We want the title to tell us what the movie is about *before* we see it.

The target audience for FIDO would never see a film with that title.

Then we come to the poster...

What the hell is up with that? The poster is supposed to sum up the story in an image... Can you tell from the poster that this movie takes place in the 1950s? Or that it’s about a boy and his zombie? That it is a comedy? Or that Billy Connelly is even a zombie? He looks kind of weird in the poster, and has that punk collar thing, but that poster tells us *nothing* about the movie. The artwork that was on the NuArt Theater’s flyer was much better - it had silhouettes of the 1950s family (iconic images) and the boy holding a leash... with a zombie on the other end. That sums it up... but it’s not the poster.

The poster is in collage style - and I hate that. I was in a book store a while back and bought a Greg MacDonald book about Inspector Flynn. MacDonald created Fletch - the clever investigative journalist who always gets involved in some murder mystery - you may know the character from the Chevy Chase movie. If you haven’t read the books - check them out. Great writing and fantastically witty dialogue. The paperback versions in the 70s used to have a dialogue passage on the *cover* instead of art work. That was the selling point - really clever writing. Inspector Flynn pops up in the 3rd Fletch book, accusing Fletch of murder and chasing him throughout the book. He spun off into his own series, and this was a recent book I didn’t know existed...

Even when I saw it, I didn’t know it existed. Because the book cover was some sort of collage with the title written with every letter in a different font. It looked like someone dumped a bunch of stuff on a table, glued it in place, and that was the cover. Huh? I probably looked at this book a hundred times before realizing that it was a Flynn book. And the cover gives me *nothing* about the story - actually, under the crap there’s a sketch of a guy with a nail in his ear. That’s part of the story. But the sketch doesn’t look like a crime novel picture, it looks like something you’d find on the cover of a Gay romance. Cover doesn’t match the contents at all. Though there is a boy with a nail in his ear, the main story is something entirely different and much more exciting: someone is sending death threats to a Harvard professor and breaking into his house. Flynn has only a few days to stop the killer from striking. The nail in the ear thing is a minor subplot... but the cover of the book. Was that because they could find a sketch of a boy and add it to the collage?

When you look at old movie posters, they are amazing. They tell the story, set the mood, and usually feature the star’s face, The lower the budget of the movie, they less they could depend on the star and the more they had to find an *image* the sums up the story. I just did an article for Script about creating the poster image for your screenplay - because I think it’s important to know how they are going to be able to market your work down the line. When some producer says, “I love the script, but kid, I have no idea how the hell we’re going to market it”, you can pull out your poster. If you can’t figure out what the poster for your movie looks like, how the heck do you expect some non-creative guy in a suit to figure it out?

The thing about collage posters and collage book covers is that it’s just gluing together existing elements. It’s not creating the one iconic image that sums up the book or film, it’s using someone else’s stuff. The movie posters of the past were amazing, but somewhere along the line, movie posters have become all about star faces. Instead of finding that image that tells us what the story is about, we get George Clooney’s face. “I have no idea what the movie is about, but George Clooney is in it, so I’ll see it!” Hey, that’s great for Clooney fans, but what about everyone else? What about people who want to know what the movie is about before they plunk down their $11.50 (what I paid last night at the AMC in Burbank). What happened to those folks who created the amazing images that summed up the story?

Did collages - the concept of using pieces of *someone else’s* creation - squeeze them out? Have we been breeding humans to think “collage” instead of “creativity”?

I read scripts (and even see movies) that are just collages. Take existing elements from popular films and glue them together. Quentin Tarantino is the king of Collage Movies. Take a Ringo Lam Hong Kong cop film about a jewelry store heist gone wrong and the band of bandits in a warehouse aiming guns at each other and wondering which one of them is an undercover cop and add the color name thing from PELHAM 1-2-3 and the... well, eventually you have a bunch of scenes from other people’s films processed into a new movie. Check out Mike White’s WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING and YOU’RE STILL NOT FOOLING ANYBODY (about PULP FICTION).

Tarantino is a genius - he can take the pieces of other people’s work and turn them into something uniquely his own...

The funniest thing are the collage scripts that use bits from Tarantino movies - for a while it seemed like every other script was someone pretending to be Tarantino.

None of the other “collage scripts” I read seem able to do what QT does (make it work). All they have done is lifted scenes from better films. No creation involved, just some cut & paste. These scripts have no soul, no point of view, no theme... but they often have all kinds of scenes that would look good in a trailer. I think that’s why they sometimes get bought and made.

Now, I’m not talking about those homage scenes, or those scripts that have been influenced by some other writer (FIDO is influenced by Sirk and Lassie and George Romero - three things that don't seem like they'd work in the same movie)... I’m talking about the ones that are just collages. Nothing original about them. They were made on some assembly line somewhere. Nothing was created, it was just glued together.

I think fan fiction is the ultimate in collage writing. They take someone else’s character, someone else’s world, someone else’s basic situation... and they put together some sort of story *based on those existing elements*.

For me, movies and stories are *about* characters. The most important thing is to create your own, personal, characters.

One of the message boards where I regularly answer screenwriting questions has a large number of fan fiction people, all writing INDIANA JONES and STAR WARS and LORD OF THE RINGS and PIRATES movies. *Not* creating their own characters. Whenever I feel like tilting windmills and mention this, I get the “Every writer started off writing fan fiction” from a half dozen people. Well, I have no idea if that is true today... but it was not true when I began writing. The idea then was to create your own characters and stories and situations. Sure, you may have read a lot of Raymond Chandler (like me) and your early work is about a private eye and seems influenced by Chandler (mine was) but my stories were about a private eye in my home town area who had completely different character issues to deal with than Philip Marlowe and what was cool for me was to *create* his methods, his office, his weapons, his *world* and make it completely my own - based on things I loved and problems I was going through and the world I knew. My first stories were about a Private Eye named Nick Carrico who had an alcohol abuse problem after accidentally shooting his partner when he was a police detective. Now, none of that is Philip Marlowe. The idea of writing something back then - when dinosaurs ruled the earth - was to *create* something. To *create* your own characters and situations and worlds and dialogue and scenes. Not to write about the time Captain Jack Sparrow and Will went on a pirate adventure in Cuba... and fell in love.

How we went from that to fan fiction is beyond me. At what point in time did people say, “I’d rather not go through all of the trouble to create my own characters... I’ll just use somebody else’s work”? When did *not creating* become the norm? When did people begin thinking that someone else’s creation was better than theirs? That their original work wasn’t good enough, so they should use someone else’s? That collage is art?

Collage is not better than creation.

YOUR individual creation is YOURS.

George Lucas can send of C&D letters from his lawyers closing down fan fiction sites - because *he* owns those characters... but no one can take away original characters that you created. Original situations and worlds you created. Those are *yours*. The thing about fan fiction is that it diminishes the writer.

The collage poster for FIDO was used on the DVD box... what a mistake! Was this because no one in the marketing department is capable of creative thought? That evolution has created a generation of people who can cut & paste, but not create? Or was it just some lazy guy in marketing who thought the collage was good enough for the poster (that managed to kill a great film) so why not use it on the DVD?

Whatever the case - create your own material... and check out FIDO on DVD. It's really good on a bunch of different levels.

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Goals, The Hulk and Hulk 2 (with Ed Norton)... but not Hulk Hogan.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Fish Tacos at Islands in Burbank.

Movies: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. Okay... Marisa Tomei is nekkid in about a quarter of the movie. That may be a selling point for some of you - I read an interview where she said she didn't wanther parents to see the film because she's nekkid all the time. That is damned good PR work for a film with a story that is very low key, and looks like they dug it out of a 1974 time capsule.

My friend joked that it looked like they ran out of money and couldn't color time it.

Good dramatic thriller that escalates as one thing after another goes about as wrong as it could. Story does this thing where it backtracks and takes another primary character's POV for a bit - but there's no connective tissue between the segments, so there's no flow. It needed visual linking (like Sayles used in LONE STAR - that stuff has to be in the script). And sometimes it pulls you out of the story - or, at least, pulls you out of a character just when things are getting juicy.

You can also see a bunch of stuff coming from *way* down the pike - which is kind of lame plotting (in one instance) - setting up something that solves a problem later in the story, but actually creates a logic problem.

But I forgive all of the problems because what you end up with is some really tense material - basically a family drama with firearms. It's relentless.

DVDs: PULP... not PULP FICTION, but the film with Michael Caine playing a writer. One funny thing of note were the sight gags - all kinds of them. Many having to do with taxi cabs. The *same* taxi cabs heep coming back throughout the story - more and more banged up. Film is one of those comedies where you smile, but don't bust a gut. Mystery-based, with clues you can follow.

Pages: Nothing lately...

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Surreal July

My Life 15 Years Ago...

I’m in Las Vegas on "vacation" for two weeks. When you’re a self employed screenwriter who is behind deadline on a script, "vacation" means you wake up in some hotel room, find a place to write your pages for the day, and if you manage to finish your day’s work... you’re in Vegas, baby!

The whole Vegas thing began years ago with the Las Vegas Screenwriting Conference. The guy who ran the Cripple Creek Film Festival realized he could do a similar event in Las Vegas and get a lot more people to come. So he asked myself and a bunch of others if we’d like to be on panels in Vegas... and we all said yes. They were buying my airplane ticket and putting me up at a hotel on the strip (usually Treasure Island) and paying me to sit on a panel with Shane Black and a bunch of other name screenwriters. But the guy always seemed to screw it up - he’d buy the plane ticket at the last minute and have to FedEx them to us. You can fly LA to Vegas for next to nothing on Southwest if you buy your ticket 21 days ahead of time. When you buy the tickets 2 days ahead of time, you pay a bundle. But I would have him give me an extra week in Vegas before my return flight, and just stick around and have a vacation. The Video Software Dealers convention takes place in mid-July, and I’d usually hang around for that.

By the time the Las Vegas Conference crashed and burned last year (he always lost money because he’d make deals at the last minute and forget to publicize the event), doing a couple of weeks in Vegas in July was kind of a tradition. I had friends who came for VSDA, and we’d hang out and have dinner... then I’d stick around for a while and write in a different city. Also, my friend John Hill lives here - he wrote QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER and some other movies and ran LA LAW and QUANTUM LEAP TV shows. Always good to see John.

Yesterday I’m walking back to my hotel from a local Starbucks after finishing my 5 pages and notice a bunch of grip trucks and cables in front of my hotel. When I get to the entrance, there is Curtis Hanson talking to Drew Barrymore. I kind of nod to Curtis (we talked for about 30 seconds at a screening of his first produced script when American Cinematique was at Raleigh Studios), and walk in, wondering if it’s some sort of heat related vision... but it’s not. They’re filming a movie outside my hotel. Even in Vegas, I’m having a surreal Hollywood experience.

I am a working screenwriter, not a famous one... and not even a well paid one. I earn a living writing screenplays - quit the day job working in a warehouse about 17 years ago and haven't punched a time clock since. But I still kind of think of myself as a guy who does shipping and receiving and drives forklift. I hate valet parking. I’d rather eat at Sizzler than some overpriced place where you need a microscope to see the portions. I street park. I go to a barber shop and pay $10 for a haircut. I know a little about wine, but mostly drink beer. I buy my shoes on sale at Big 5. The shirt I’m wearing came from Sears. I am a normal guy. If you’ve met me, you know that I’m down to Earth. I’m the guy who helps you move.

On July 1st I went to my friend Darin’s 4th Of July Barbeque. That time I saw Curtis Hanson at Cinemateque? Darin was sitting behind me. He’s great guy who is part of he Thursday night gang - a bunch of genre writers, directors, actors, stunt guys, make up guys, FX guys who usually go to Residuals Bar. Most of these guys I met at Fangoria Conventions and American Film Markets. Someday I’ll do an entry on them, but this is about July. This very month. And all of these folks who usually drink at Residuals on Thursday were drinking in Darin’s back yard on Saturday... and eating a pile of food that Darin provided. Oh, yeah, and we were congratulating Darin.

Darin’s film, WAIST DEEP, was #5 over the weekend.

One of my friends has a film in the TOP FIVE in JULY (big summer movies including CLICK and SUPERMAN RETURNS). Weird!

Despite having film in the top 5, Darin is a regular guy - down to Earth, making the rounds at his barbeque to thank everyone for coming and eating his free food and drinking his free drinks... and making sure that everyone has a drink. He’s a great host, and a guy you can talk to.

Seven days later on July 8th, the Saturday before flying to Vegas, I’m in a Cocos restaurant in Newport Beach having a meal that’s half dinner, half lunch (linner? dunch?) With some friends from the Wordplay website - all of the old timers who have been on the boards since it was over at AOL as part of Follywood. After dinner we’re going to go see a movie at the cinema across the street... PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, which was written by my friends Terry & Ted (see my interview with them in the new issue of Scr(i)pt Magazine).

After dunch, Terry reads a bunch of excerpts from bad reviews that focus on how inept the script for the films was (while always saying the cast saves the film with sparkling characterization). The reviews were funny because one would say "too simple" and the next would say "too confusing". One would say "too much action" and the next would say "bogs down in talk". All of the bad reviews contradicted each other! Everyone is laughing at the reviews, and having a good time. Both Ted and Terry have been making sure that they have a real conversation with everyone. These are their friends. Oh, and they pick up the check. (Thanks!)

Then we went to the cinema - where we sat in a completely sold out house filled with kids & parents (many dressed as pirates - the kids, too) and laughed and cheered and just has a great time. We stayed for the post-credits plot twist (concerning the dog) then went to a bar next door and talked about the movie. Always great to find out the behind the scenes stuff - and Ted & I had an interesting conversation about the anti-establishment elements of the film. It’s about pirates who break laws! There’s a great line in the film when Elizabeth (Keira) tells her father that any fair trial that Will Turner receives will end in a hanging - he’s guilty of the changes. He broke the law, as did she. Edgy suff for a major studio release. Another couple of normal guys who just happened to have written a huge string of hit movies like ALADIN, MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, and the PIRATES movies.

Ted & Terry’s film, DEAD MAN’S CHEST, was #1 over the weekend. It broke all kinds of records, too. And the exit polls from Cinemascore have 97% of the audience giving it a positive review.

And WAIST DEEP was still #8 - two of the films in the top 10 were written by friends of mine. Isn’t that just weird?

And this past weekend, DEAD MAN’S CHEST stayed at #1 despite a bunch of new summer movies opening.

Today, the grip trucks are gone, along with Curtis Hanson and Drew Barrymore.

I’ve seen both WAIST DEEP and PIRATES for a second time since I’ve been in Vegas, and it’s just weird that I know the writers of both. I can’t imagine how surreal it must be to have written a movie in the top 5... but I would like to experience that sometime.

- Bill

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1!

Today, July 20, is my birthday. So I am giving YOU a gift! All three of the STORY IN ACTION books are 99 cents each today... and they are on Kindle Countdown Deals - so the price goes up a buck every couple of days over a week until it they get back to $3.99. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, TERMINATOR, BOURNE. All 99 cents today! (USA Only, Sorry!) Tell your friends, your family, your enemies, the person sitting next to you on the bus, because....

I want to make the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE book #1 Wednesday! Or either of the other 2 books!

ALL STORY IN ACTION BOOKS ON SALE!

bluebook

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES

All Six Movies analyzed! All of the mission tapes, all of the “that’s impossible!” set pieces and stunts, the cons and capers - and how these scenes work, the twists and double crosses, the tension and suspense (and how to generate it), the concept of each film as a stand alone with a different director calling the shots (broken in the sixth film), the gadgets, the masks, the stories, the co-stars and team members (one team member has been in every film), the stunts Tom Cruise actually did (and the ones he didn’t), and so much more! Over 120,000 words of fun info!

THE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOVIES - Only 99 cents!


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



UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

India Folks Click Here.

Austrailian Folks Click Here.

STORY IN ACTION BOOKS



bluebook
Over 240 pages!
*** THE TERMINATOR MOVIES *** - For Kindle!

He's back! The release of "Terminator: Genisys" (now on BluRay) is set to begin a new trilogy in the Terminator story... 31 years after the first film was released. What draws us to these films about a cybernetic organism from the future sent back in time? Why is there a new proposed trilogy every few years? This book looks at all five Terminator movies from a story standpoint - what makes them work (or not)? What are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? How about those secret story details you may not have noticed? Containing a detailed analysis of each of the five films so far, this book delves into the way these stories work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

Only 99 cents!


bourne

They Should Have Left Him Alone!

*** THE BOURNE MOVIES

All five "Bourne" movies (including "Legacy" and it's potential sequels) - what are the techniques used to keep the characters and scenes exciting and involving? Reinventing the thriller genre... or following the "formula"? Five films - each with an interesting experiment! A detailed analysis of each of the films, the way these thrillers work... as well as a complete list of box office and critical statistics for each film. This book is great for writers, directors, and just fans of the series.

SALE: 99 cents - and no postage!



UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer "The Mask Of Zorro", "Shrek" and "Pirates Of The Caribbean".

"William C. Martell knows the action genre inside out. Read and learn from an expert!" - Mark Verheiden, screenwriter, "Time Cop" and "The Mask", head writer on "Smallville" and "Constantine".

"This book is dangerous. I feel threatened by it." -Roger Avary, Oscar winning screenwriter, "Pulp Fiction" and "Killing Zoe".

"Bill Martell is one of Hollywood's best action-adventure writers, with 19 produced films to his credit. His "Blue Books" on the art of screenplay writing are legendary and "Secrets of Action Screenwriting" is the best." - Best selling novelist Dale Brown.

"My only complaint with SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is that it wasn't around when I was starting out. The damned thing would have saved me years of trial and error!" - Ken Wheat, screenwriter, "Pitch Black" and "The Fly 2".

"There's an art to writing for guys like Chuck Norris -- thanks to Bill Martell's book, I was prepared." - Genia Shipman, screenwriter, "Walker: Sons of Thunder".

"Finally a screenwriting book written by a working professional screenwriter. Bill Martell really knows his stuff, showing you how to write a tight, fast screenplay." - John Hill, screenwriter, "Quigley Down Under" and "Closed Encounters Of The 3rd Kind".


These links all lead to the USA store, if you are in some other country and want to write a review for your country, go to your Amazon website.

Thank you all again.

- Bill

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Special Guest: Harry Connolly on Studying Screenwritng

From 2015...

My friend Harry Connolly has been writing guest blogs to promote his new (awesome) GREAT WAY Trilogy, and knocking it out of the park with each one. All kinds of amazing insight and information on writing that applies to novels, short stories, and screenplays. He should write a book! So my blog is privileged to host this guest blog...

2019: Harry has a new book, the first in a series - and it just came out! ONE MAN: CITY OF THE FALLEN GODS. I just bought my copy and will dive into it soon! The great thing about Harry's novels is that he creates a vivid world that you can disappear into for a couple of hours before bed (that's when I read). A whole world that is not like our own. Check out his new book or his old ones.

INT. BOOKSTORE - DAY: How Studying Screenwriting Made Me a Better Novelist (Mostly)

Way back in the misty dawn of the 1990s, I was a noob author on the internet, looking for advice.

Boy, did I find it.

One of the earliest places I went searching was from pro novelists. Nice people, but none of the advice they gave me seemed all that helpful. I wanted to know how to put together a really great book, and the responses were, essentially: "Try not to be boring."

Now, this is the ultimate advice. Really, there is no better advice than this. "Be interesting" is the only rule of writing. Everything a writer learns about their craft brings them toward this goal.

But I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to talk dialog. I wanted tips on creating characters and conflict. I wanted concrete rules. That's when I found screenwriting.

Now, this was back in the days of Syd Field, who specified actual page numbers where people should put act breaks. It was very, very rigid. Too much so, honestly.

Not that I knew about Field at first. I was just this guy writing terrible fiction. Some actor friends told me to write a script so they could be in it, and gave it a try. Had I ever seen an actual film script before? Nope. Lots of plays (I studied Modernist Drama in college, mainly because plays are so short) but no screenplays. You can imagine how good they weren't.

Then, while bumping around from one message board to another, I discovered Wordplay.

I think just about every person who goes online is searching for a peer group, even if they don't realize it. They seek out a circle of friendly voices who share their interests, enthusiasms, and ambitions. Someone to cheer them on or buck them up. Someone willing to tell them they're full of shit.

Just as important are contrasts. The horror writer has a lot to learn from the kitchen sink drama writer, and vice versa. The woman who wants her name on big budget summer tentpole movies has a lot to learn from the woman writing arch indies. They define themselves and their work by their differences. And they can argue.

God, how we argued. Antagonists, flashbacks, outlining: it was an endless competition of ideas, and while I argued passionately, I was wrong as often as I was right.

But what did I learn in all that back and forthing that I'm still using today?

1) The elegant flourish. There's an early scene in Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run where a movie producer complains about an Ivy League playwright he's hired. The script he turned in had a 20 page scene where a husband and wife argued, bickered, and fought, and the playwright insisted every line of dialog was necessary to establish the man's contempt and the dismal state of their marriage. The producer brought on another writer, a guy with barely a high school education. New guy throws out the argument entirely and writes a new scene: The husband and wife are on an elevator. A pretty young woman gets on, and the man takes off his hat.

That was it, a single moment that encapsulated the situation perfectly. Short, simple, telling. I've been searching for ways to do that in my own writing ever since.

2) Hurry up! One of the first things screenwriters at the time were told was that any dialog over three lines was too long. (And script formatting is really narrow for dialog.) Get to the point without being on the nose, then get out.

The same was true for scenes. Start late and end early. Get to the conflict, then the next, then the next. Anything that didn't move the story forward had to be cut.

Novels can be a digressive form, with characters telling little stories about their lives, or doing the dishes, or stopping for coffee with an old friend. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly don't mind reading digressive books. I don't like writing them, though. I try to keep the story moving, and I inevitably get editorial notes asking me to slow things up and take a little more down time.

3) Be the expert. This was a hard one, because it doesn't mean what a novelist would assume it means. It's not an injunction to study sword-fighting before writing a duel, or to interview a bunch of cops before writing a procedural. That advice ought to be so obvious that nobody should need it. This means to be an expert in your own storyΓÇöto know it inside and out.

In fact, this came from the Wordplay column called You're The Expert; the reason screenwriters are supposed to be experts is to effectively respond to studio notes. That's not an issue for my type of writing, but when I'm stuck on a scene, or unsure what direction the plot should go, I ask myself what a really great would do. How would [extraordinary author] write this scene?

It's a surprisingly effective way to break through a block, and research has confirmed that people are more creative when they imagine themselves to be someone else. Research requires actual expertise, but creatively it helps to have the pretend kind.

What about that "Mostly?" There's one aspect of novel writing that studying scripts didn't prepare me for, and it wasn't what I expected. If you watch the opening of The Godfather, you see an amazing outdoor wedding partyΓÇöthe people, the decorations, the food, all of it. In a script, that's covered by the words EXT. WEDDING PARTY - DAY or whatever. A novelist has to do the work of the art department, the wardrobe department, casting, and all the rest.

But I expected that. What I didn't expect was the profound difference in the way prose text operated. In a script, the text doesn't have a lot of flow because so much of it is instruction. Scene headers, dialog names and parentheticals, "legends", all of them break the flow of the narrative and dialog.

Prose has none of that. Not only is the text very linear, it comes in a flow that's largely unbroken (with the exception of chapter headers or asterisks scene breaks). That task of stringing words together into sentences, then tying sentences together into paragraphs, then arranging paragraphs properly, it a lot like beadwork, and it was the biggest hurdle I faced. While revising first drafts, I found sentences in the wrong order, paragraphs that repeated exposition, unnecessary prepositional phrases, and worse.

Learning to control the flow of text and the transitions between sentences over page after page of prose, instead of in small bursts of narration, was the skill that elevated my game to earn a publishing contract and a career.

Obviously, it isn't absolutely necessary for novelists to study screenwriting; plenty of pros have done well without it. One of the strengths of the novel format is the extraordinary variety of styles and subject matters. Nothing really matters except that one rule I mentioned at the top.

But I'll always be wedded to the stripped-down, full-speed-ahead aesthetic of the script, and I'll always be grateful to the screenwriters (including my host here) who taught me what I needed to know to become a pro novelist.

Now watch me gently segue into a note about my latest, blurbed "Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller" by Greywalker author Kat Richardson.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

Have I mentioned that it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Bill wrote a review of the entire trilogy. You can also find out more about that first book on my website.

If you want to see the fast-paced style I've been talking about, you can read the sample chapters I've posted on my blog.

Thanks for reading.

BIO: Harry Connolly's debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it's the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

In case you missed any of Harry's other guest blogs...

My Favorite Bit.

Why Talent Is Evil.

My Superpower As A Writer.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone.

Failing On Your Own Terms.

The Most Difficult Part To Write.

Experts Vs. Bumpkins.

Always Blame Yourself!

And the books:

Click covers for more info!

Chaos Magic Darkness











PS: Lancelot Links will be on *Tuesday* this week!

Bill

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Book Report: Circle Of Enemies

Because Harry is currently writing the next book in this series, I thought I would rerun this. Plus, it's a great beach read!

CIRCLE OF ENEMIES by Harry Connolly.

Though I just finished reading a new short story collection by Lawrence Block, I’ll get to that next Tuesday... because I still haven’t reported on my friend Harry’s latest book CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, which I finished reading a week ago. Took me long enough! But I did a quick rewrite on a script and read some other friend’s scripts and have been working on the Action Book rewrite. I’ve been busy!

“I’m Raymond Lilly, and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed.”




This is the third book in the 20 Palaces series - and the best so far. The first book, CHILD OF FIRE, opens with car thief Raymond Lilly getting out of jail... Ray was waiting for trial, had a crappy public defender, was guilty as hell and figured he was going to do time. But when he goes to trial, his public defender is gone and a high priced uber-slick lawyer is in his place, and the lawyer makes him a deal: If Ray never tells anyone what he saw, the lawyer will work his magic and Ray will walk. Oh, and Ray has to take a job with the organization so that they can keep tabs on him at all times. Ray agrees, and moments later he is walking out of the courtroom a free man. Sounds like the Mafia, doesn’t it? But the twist is - the high priced lawyer works for the 20 Palace Society - a group of sorcerers. What Ray saw was some sort of magic thing... and his new job is the driver for Annalise - a sorceress assassin who tracks and kills anyone who uses magic who is not a member of the society. There’s maybe a good reason for doing this - using magic often opens the door to a dark world where predators live. If those predators escape, they can kill a bunch of people and possibly destroy the world. So only members of the Society are allowed to use magic... Annalise or one of the other assassins kills anyone else, and destroys the predators. Oh, Ray has another job other than driving her around - he’s her “wooden man” - her decoy, her bait. If there is a predator on the loose looking for a human to consume, Ray’s job is to lure it into Annalise’s trap. Um, his life expectancy isn’t very long. Kind of a miracle that he made it to book #3.




Book #3, CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, opens with Ray between assassin gigs working in landscaping in the Pacific Northwest. He comes home, takes a shower... and Melly, an ex-girlfriend (it’s more complicated than that - read the book for the relationship details), appears in his apartment. She’s from his past life as a car thief in Los Angeles... how did she know where he lives? How did she get in? While Ray is wondering all of this, Melly tells him that he killed her, and killed all of his other pals in Los Angeles. That their deaths are *his* fault... and then she just vanishes. A dream?

(Melly’s real name is Carmella - Harry does a great job of giving people realistic nicknames and even creating some confusion when different people have different nicknames for the same person.)

Ray grabs his stuff and drives to Los Angeles to look up his old car thief gang... and discovers that they have been cursed with magic - and have superpowers thanks to predators living inside them... eating them from the inside out. And now Ray is faced with an impossible choice: kill them or call Annalise to come in and kill them. These people are/were his friends! The other part of this is that Ray believes he is responsible for this... and so do some of this ex-pals. Ray tries his best to find some way to solve the problem without killing his old friends, and that requires him to figures out where the magic came from and then find the sorcerer who did this and see if it can be reversed... before his friends die one-by-one when the predators are finished with them.




The reason why I like this series is that it’s a weird combination of a Dash Hammett hard boiled detective novel and H.P. Lovecraft. Violent as hell. I don’t read stuff in this genre (Urban Fantasy) but I get the feeling from looking at some of the other stuff that pops up on Amazon when I search for his books looks more whimsical and “fun” and Harry is dark and violent and hard as nails. In Book #2 GAME OF CAGES Ray is forced to kill a whole bunch of people who have been possessed - and the end of that book is relentlessly violent. Though this book is probably less violent, it is more personal - and people you like die. No punches are pulled. I get the feeling the other popular Urban Fantasy novels are BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and this is THE WILD BUNCH. And, um, I like THE WILD BUNCH more than BUTCH CASSIDY (which may send me to Screenwriter Hell for admitting). These three books are serious stuff.

THE GOOD STUFF

Kindle version:



Since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it, let me be vague about some of the stuff I liked about it - but still explain why I liked those things.

I really liked that this is Ray dealing with people from his past - that made this more than just an entertaining story. It deals with lost loves and ex-friends and guilt and remorse and every messy friendship situation you’ve ever had. I think that’s what earned this that great review in Publisher’s Weekly.

I think it’s a cool idea to give superpowers to low life small time criminals - because they don’t want to rule the world, they just want to make a few hundred more dollars. They are men (and women) of limited ambition and limited dreams - and they use these new powers in ways that totally fit who they are. Because it’s small time crime, it’s gritty and real and not some crazy Lex Luthor or James Bond villain plan.

The story takes place in Los Angeles, but is centered in the Studio City area where I live - and it’s kind of cool. Harry and I once had coffee in my neighborhood Starbucks in Studio City, and it’s kind of fun to try and figure out what real business gets a fake name for the book.

There’s a totally frightening suspense scene where Ray has to save a kid from being sucked into the world of predators that had me on the edge of my seat.

One of the great things is that Harry creates easy to understand “rules” for his magical elements, and because Ray is just a guy - Ray (narrator) often comes up with a description of these things that uses stuff we can relate to. “Drapes” is a good example.

Harry has *great* chapter ends, designed so that you can not put down the book. This makes it a great read, but also means you will be trapped reading the damned book and not get anything done. One chapter ends with Ray discovering a note threatening to murder a child... hard to just put the bookmark in and set the book down after that.




You’ll have to read the book to understand this - but the most frightening scene to me was when Ray is given some superpowers that have a side effect of maybe removing some of his soul and turning him into more monster than man. This scene works because you *care* about Ray and even though he works for an assassin and sometimes has to kill people himself - he doesn’t take any of that lightly. He does not like killing people - even if they have been possessed by predators within. He’s a thief but not a killer. And now that this has happened, I’m worried about him. Yeah, he’s fiction, but in the world of this series he seems very real.

There’s a great comparison of actual toughness and bravery when Ray works with an ex-soldier Talbot who is the “wooden man” for another sorceress-assassin. The ex-soldier is Mr. Macho and has a pile of guns (Ray doesn’t carry) and the way each reacts to the same situation tells us volumes about both of them. It’s a great way to show character - and expose how a reluctant man of action like Ray is the real hero. The same sort of comparison is used between Annalise and Csilla (Talbot’s boss) to show how Annalise - who seems to care little about collateral damage - really does have a heart. She may be a brutal killer, and she may kill people who get in her way... but she *tries* not to kill anyone who is not a target. Csilla? Um, if the whole human race got in her way, she’d just kill us all. And these are the *good guys*!




CIRCLE OF ENEMIES is just in time to expose the evil behind Google Plus “circles”... and is a fast, action packed read. Because it’s Ray dealing with the people from his past... and the “sins” of his past... the story ends up having strong emotions below the surface. Ray is a man who doesn’t let his emotions show - and he’s damned busy fighting people and *things* from the “Empty Spaces”, but the situations are filled with tough decisions and the regrets and guilt and messy relationships we all have in our pasts. Can Ray save his ex-friends... who are now his enemies?

Makes a great gift for people who like twisted violent stuff!

- Bill

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