Friday, September 17, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock:
Dick Cavett interviews Hitchcock

On June 8, 1972 Dick Cavett had Sir Alfred Hitchcock on his late night talk show for a one hour interview about his films, his life, and his techniques. Though some of the interview is a bit frustrating for Hitchcock buffs (Cavett wasn't as well prepared as I wished he had been), this covers a lot of ground and has some classic clips. Eight years later, Hitchcock would pass away.



Next week we should have another of the "lost" BBC interviews from 1997.

- Bill



Of course, I have a couple of books about Hitchcock, SPELLBOUND is in the one that is on sale today...

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!

369 pages packed with information!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



ON SALE!!! $2 OFF!

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.

SALE: $3.99 !!!!

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, September 16, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Dark Legacy

Dark Legacy



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



Season: 1, Episode: 35.
Airdate: May 30, 1961

Director: John Brahm.
Writer: John Tomerlin.
Cast: Harry Townes, Ilka Windish, Henry Silva, Ned Glass.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: John Warren.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A gloomy place, a library; filled with forgotten knowledge, undisturbed passion, suspended lives and deaths, sufferings and ecstacy. Many histories are written in all of these books, including an interesting record of the man who opened them. For what could we not discover ig we but knew what ones had amused, interested, or obsessed him? Suppose the owner of all these, a dying man, should choose just one book as his gift to the living? What sort of a book would it be? Well, that of course would depend upon the man himself. If he’s a very good man he might leave a very good book. A very evil man? Well his gift might be called a dark legacy. Our players tonight are: Harry Townes, Ilka Windish, Richard Hale, Doris Lloyd, and Henry Silva as Toby Wolfe. Each of these distinguished persons is fated to find out it isn’t the gift that counts... it’s the spirit behind it.”

Synopsis: The fog breaks and we see a massive country estate in the darkness. Inside, three people sit on opposite sides of the huge great room waiting... as an ancient Butler (Milton Parsons) comes down the stairway carrying a silver platter. He tells the three that the Master Of The House has asked them to write their names on the pieces of parchment on the platter to aid him in his decision for inheritance. Each signs the parchment with an ancient quill pen: monocled Cousin Lars Eisenhart (Richard Hale), elderly Cousin Edith Pringle (Doris Lloyd), and mid 30s Nephew Mario Asparos (Harry Townes) each sign and then return to their corners of the great room. They are distant relatives in competition for the inheritance. This is a family of Illusionists, and each of the three makes a living doing magic shows in night clubs around the world... and the inheritance is the old Master’s amazing magic act. How did he do those tricks? The Butler carries the silver platter upstairs and we follow him into the Master’s bedroom...



Which is filled with occult materials. The ancient Master, Radan Asparos (also Harry Townes completely unrecognizable) takes the three pieces of parchment and places them in a huge book, then casts a spell asking the Prince Of Darkness to choose his successor in cursed sorcery. Hey, the three relatives downstairs think they’re getting *money*! Or maybe the secrets of magic *tricks*! Smoke and flames and lightening and wind and two pieces of parchment burn while one flutters in the wind and returns to the huge book: Nephew Mario’s will inherit. Old Radan then climbs into his coffin, closes the lid, and dies!

In the city, at the crappy Nocturne Club, Mario Asparos is headlining as a Illusionist... and failing. The Club Owner Vince (Ned Glass) tells him he’s fired by the end of the week if he doesn’t come up with a new routine that fills the house. His assistant & wife Monika (Ilka Windish) is worried... the pay sucks here, but they can’t live without the money. In the dressing room is old friend Toby Wolfe (Henry Silva) an Illusionist turned “medical hypnotist” just back from Europe. Mario gets a phone call: they are reading Uncle Radan’s will tonight, he needs to get to the mansion. Toby offers to drive him.



At the mansion, Cousin Lars and Cousin Edith are waiting. Lars is a slight of hand Illusionist as well, and is doing coin tricks while he waits. Cousin Lars knows Toby... and wonders why the lawyer is late. Probably caught in the storm. The lawyer Pinchot (BATMAN’s Alan Napier) arrives and reads the will... boring money division stuff, and finally what they have all been waiting for: the secrets of his magic act. But that isn’t part of the will. The magic act seems to have died with the old man. His library has been willed to a university, except for one book... and the recipient will know who they are when they receive it. The phone rings on this dark and stormy night, call for Mario from his wife.

Monika is frightened. The storm has knocked out the lights in their house and the windows keep blowing open... and then this ancient book popped up on the desk. Maybe someone broke in and put it there? She wants Mario to return immediately.



Mario returns home and checks the doors and windows: all locked. No way someone could have broken in. The lights are back on, now, and it seems less frightening but Monika is still freaked. Where did the book come from? Hey, the old man was a Master Magician, this was just some kind of trick. Maybe there’s more about the trick in the book? Mario and Toby look at the book... and there are no magic tricks! Just some mumbo jumbo about spells and stuff. Toby heads home.

Monika thinks they may be able to sell the book and make a couple of bucks. They have an argument, Monika never liked Uncle Radan. He may have been the world’s greatest Illusionist, but he freaked her out... and the book freaks out their dog (who won’t come into the room when the book is there). Monika goes to bed and Mario continues to thumb through the old book... thinking it might be fun to try a spell. It’s all just nonsense, right?

Smoke comes out of the fireplace and washes over the dog... who falls over dead! Mario incants, “Princes of darkness, I welcome you!”

THREE WEEKS LATER: His magic act is held over at the Nocturne Club and *sold out*! The grand finale of the act: Monika stands on the other side of a pane of glass and Mario fires a gun through the glass and Monika catches the bullet in her teeth! Then he passes the bullet through the audience so they can see that it’s real.



After the performance Club Owner Vince (Ned Glass) wants to renew their contract but Mario refuses... they’re opening in Vegas next week. Mario has become full of himself and kind of a dick. Monika calls Toby, she’s worried. Toby stops by the club, and Mario becomes jealous (Monika used to be Toby’s assistant)... Toby thinks Mario’s new tricks are the result of finding a code that turned that silly spell book into the source of all of old Radan’s magic tricks. Toby is fascinated by the magic bullet trick, and wants to know what Radan’s secret trick was, because this is a *dangerous* trick and there are magicians who have gone through several assistants and still never pulled it off. The trick is done with mirrors and cotton batting and a bullet hidden in the assistant’s mouth, but even with a light load the bullet fired from the gun can accidentally kill the assistant. Mario tells Toby it isn’t a trick: Monika catches the real bullet in her teeth. “It isn’t a trick! Nothing I do anymore is a trick!” Mario didn’t find some code for the old book, he found the real secret of Radan’s powers... the mystery of the ages! Toby doesn’t believe in magic: it’s all tricks to him, and even this is a trick. Mario has tricked himself into believing that the book contains magical spells, but it’s just mumbo jumbo. Toby thinks Mario has been lucky so far, but someday he’s going to kill Monika. Mario says he can prove that it’s magic...



At the house, Mario is going to put on an exhibition for Monika and Toby. Mario has remodeled his study into a sorcery room (he’s obviously lost his mind) and puts on a wizard’s robes, preparing to call out the demon who grants him power. Once again, he accuses Toby and Monika of having an affair. They think he’s paranoid. He does his incantations and the smoke comes from the fire place and the demon Astroth appears! Toby yells from Mario to destroy the book, but Mario tells Astroth to take Toby and Monika. Toby grabs the book and throws it into the fireplace. The book bursts into flames. The demon comes after Mario...

When the smoke clears, Mario is dead on the floor...

Toby wonders if there was a demon in the first place? What if it was a form of hypnosis? What if Mario’s belief made Toby and Monika believe they saw the demon? It was never magic, just a trick?

Was it?



Review: Horror stories probably have their roots in Fairy Tales. I know that seems like a crazy statement, but Fairy Tales were usually magical stories with a point, often a cautionary tale... and that’s a subgenre of horror as well: The Cautionary Tale. This is one of them. All of these relatives wish they had the secret to the old man’s magic, but they should be careful what they wish for! The old man was an Illusionist who took a walk on the dark side and became a sorcerer... and the World’s Greatest Magician. Now his relatives want to know those secrets... or do they? Though this story is spooky and deals with demons, there are no real scares here... more a cautionary tale where a man trades his financial descent for a moral descent.

I think it’s interesting that the story focuses on the differences between “Illusions” and “Magic”... the difference between tricks and spells. From the audience’s point of view it may all seem the same, from the performers point of view one is a carefully practiced skill and the other is the work of demons or spirits or things from another world.



Harry Townes was one of those working actors you’ve seen on a million TV shows, usually playing doctors or lawyers or professors. When I looked him up on IMDB I expected him to be British or maybe Canadian ... but he was born and died in Alabama. Probably in that last generation of classically trained actors before Method came into vogue. And his work here is amazing, I did not know he played old Radan until the closing credits. He moves like an old man, and has that old person mouth thing going. All of his mannerisms are old, and his hands tremble convincingly. This is a journeyman actor, not a star, just the guy who usually plays that educated person role who may be in a scene or two... and he gives a brilliant performance both as the old man and as his young nephew. But his IMDB lists Westerns and Good Old Boys and just about every kind of character role imaginable. Somewhere, we lost most of the actors like this. Now instead of an actor who can play *any* character, we have actors who can only play *one* character, and when they need a guy to play the Good Old Boy they hire the guy who always plays that role. No actual acting required!



Henry Silva was probably a “get” for this episode, he’s done a bunch of Westerns and the original OCEAN’S ELEVEN just before this... and would really break through the next year in MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Because of his skull like face which probably landed him all of those villain roles, it’s easy to forget that he’s also a great *actor*, and here he’s often stuck with exposition and manages to make it feel like natural conversation.

The special effects are amazing for a TV episode. I’m still trying to figure out how they did the slip of paper going from the fireplace to zipping back to the spell book and sliding between the pages. I suspect this was shot in reverse and in slow motion with the slip of paper between the pages of the book and then blown by a directional fan out of the book towards the fireplace. Shooting in reverse is a great old school FX trick! My friend Paul Kyriazi has a scene in a film where a man falls into the street and a car hits the brakes, front wheel coming to a stop *as it touches the man’s head*! It was just shot in reverse, with the car backing away from the man’s head, then they added the sound effect of skidding tires.



There is a great rack focus shot here where we see the bullet hole in the glass and then change focus *through the glass* to Monika snapping her head up with the bullet in her teeth. It appears as if we have actually *seen* her catch the bullet in her teeth, but it's just another no budget special effect with the rack focus making us think we are seeing the bullet.

The appearance of Astroth is also pretty good considering the budget and schedule. The room is filled with smoke and then a pair of eyes are superimposed over the smoke so that it appears as if the smoke itself grows eyes. For a cheap effect, it’s pretty scary. I’m sure they put some effort into casting the eyes.



This story also links bad weather to the supernatural, with thunder and lightning coming on cue. When Mario gestures, thunder and lightning answers. Talk about a cheap effect! But it completely works! He is *summoning* thunder and lightning! These are the kinds of effects you can still do for $1.98 in a low budget film, but few seem to take advantage of them.

Last but totally not least: another amazing Jerry Goldsmith score! He was working on THRILLER and TWILIGHT ZONE simultaneously at this time, and the next year would be his film break out with LONELY ARE THE BRAVE. His score here sets a spooky tone and really adds to every single scene. I wish all of these TV scores were available, because these great composers were at the top of their games and cranking out a new score every week (or maybe twice a week if they were working on two shows). This was a golden age for TV music.

Next week, Stephen King’s favorite episode... and what he believes is one of the most frightening hours of television ever made!

Bill



Speaking of old libraries with rare books with potentially spooky pasts, Fangoria Magazine’s British correspondent Philip Nutman passed away a year and a half ago, and his extensive library of horror books, film books, autographed comic books, and many other curios has just been placed on sale (yesterday!). Since this week’s THRILLER episode was about the terrors which might be found in the library of a book collector who has passed away, I thought some of you might be interested in these rare books and collectables from Philip Nutman’s Estate, being sold through Burnt Biscuit Books:

* The Philip Nutman Collection On Ebay.

* The Philip Nutman Collection At Amazon.

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Film Courage Plus: Researching A Screenplay

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. And that's 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?

To Research Your Screenplay:

According to Rogers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA musical, “In my own little corner in my own little room I can be whatever I want to be.” And that pretty much describes me as a writer, and probably you as well. I first saw that musical on TV as a kid with Lesley Ann Warren playing Cinderella, and developed a massive crush on her which I still have to this day... I also developed a love for action and adventure and romance and suspense - as long as it was something I could experience by reading or writing in my own little corner in my own little room. The world outside of that room was scary, and didn’t seem to like me very much. I was happier in my fantasy worlds, whether they were created by others or myself. I suspect this may also be true for most of you reading this - we become writers to create better worlds for ourselves... and we hope that phrase works in two ways. We hope that not only do we get to escape in fantasyland while writing our stories, but that the fantasy is something others will want to experience and pay us for a ticket to the worlds and adventures that we have created.

But here’s the problem: Input = Output.

To write realistically about people and places and things that are exciting, we must venture out from that corner of our room and enter the (scary) real world. We can’t just stay locked in our rooms. We have to live a life to write about life - and that means broken hearts and probably even some broken bones. We need to go out there and face life in order to bring home those experiences and write about them. You may not have to run with the bulls like Hemingway, but you need to get out of the comfort of that little corner and *do things*. That can be scary. If we wanted to actually *live* adventures we wouldn’t have become writers in the first place, right?

If we isolate ourselves from the world, we may be safe... but we also cut off all of the raw materials we need to create stories. Though you don’t need to *be* someone like Dirty Harry to write a character like that, it helps to do some research so that your writing is authentic and the adventure has enough details to be realistic.

BOOKS & FIRST HAND

There are two basic kinds of research that a writer will do - reading about things and either experiencing them or talking with people who have experienced them. Many writers are comfortable with hitting the books, but avoid hitting the real world. But you have to do both. And it’s best to do them in the correct order.

I’ve written a couple of US Navy Cooperation movies for HBO, and they gave me a submarine and aircraft carrier tour and allowed me to question some crew members. They do these tours in groups, so I was with a couple of other project’s writers & directors... and was amazed at the stupid questions they asked. When you have real people you don’t want to ask them questions you could easily find the answers to in books. You are just wasting their time and yours. Read the books first, so that you can ask questions about things not covered in the books. Technical stuff - the facts and the “hard information” can be found in books, but the “soft details” - the “people stuff” is what you want to ask the people about. Sure, those people know the technical stuff... but books are the better place to find that information. While you are talking to people, ask people questions. While the others were asking (really dumb) technical questions to the submarine crew, I was asking them about how they dealt with the living conditions in cramped quarters for four months. They “hot bunk” on submarines - which means they sleep in shifts and share a bed with some crew member on another shift. They have no private space. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with smells after 4 months? How do you deal with personal problems with other crew members - there’s no place you can go to get away from them. I wanted to know about the *people* on the submarine - I’d read a couple of books to learn about the submarine (and the physical tour helped fill in the gaps).

So start your research by hitting the books. Magazines and internet are included in that. Find several different sources of information, because one source may miss something that another includes. When I was doing these Navy Cooperation movies and BLACK THUNDER (stealth fighter planes) and THE BASE (Marines), I read stacks of books. I wanted to know as much as I could before I wrote the screenplay, and *find* all of the cool things that would make that script more fun. That’s one of the great side-effects of research: you discover all kinds of cool details that spark story ideas. On BLACK THUNDER one of the first things I learned is that stealth technology is a “passive system” - it absorbs radar beams so that it doesn’t bounce back to the source... and that triggered my imagination and the “rule of the logical opposite” to come up with *active* stealth - a system that *creates* invisibility... a “cloaking device”. That turned a standard military action flick into something cool and high concept. Wouldn’t have come up with that without hitting the books. Research triggers story ideas.

After all of the tech stuff, I needed to talk to a human with air combat experience... and my friend Bill Jones had been a Navy Top Gun pilot and did a couple of tours in Viet Nam... so I bought him lunch and asked him about the people stuff. Because Bill had never flown a stealth fighter, I also read an autobiography by a stealth fighter pilot which filled in other details I was unable to get from a human being (on my deadline - had this been a spec I may have tried to find a pilot to interview). The great thing about talking to real humans is that you get details that turn your characters into flesh and blood people. In some Script Tip I mentioned buying pitchers of beer for auto workers when I researched my RECALL script, and the guy who told me that he was afraid to touch his wife because his hands were so rough from work. Wow! Things like that can’t help but improve your script!




IT'S ONLY A MOVIE

Film is a dramatic medium. I've said many times that films are shared dreams - we all sit in the dark and a dream unspools before us. Just like in a dream, a character can be at one location and then (in a cut) be at a different location. We don't have to watch the screen for 24 hours until we get to the next day - a film compresses time and with a cut, it's tomorrow or a year from now. Film is not reality...

And that extends to everything that we learn in research.

Once we have learned all of the facts about how things are actually done and what actually happens, we still need to tell a dramatic and exciting story. So if in real life something takes 48 hours, in reel life it might only take a minute. The audience isn't going to watch people wait around for results in 48 hours, so we are going to compress the time. We don't want our research to shackle us, we want it to inform us. We want to use the research to make the scenes more realistic, but we don't want to make them boring. Or confusing. If there are ten steps to do something, we may only cover three of them in the screenplay to compress time and avoid boring the audience. That's a decision that a screenwriter needs to make - what are the exciting and interesting things we discovered in our research? And what would slow down the story or require too much explanation?

Even though we want to be as accurate as possible in a dramatic form to add realism, we don't want to get bogged down in all of the details or even important things that are just not dramatic or exciting. Sometimes we are going to "adapt" facts to fit the dramatic medium of film. Or leave something out that will just slow down the story or cause the audience to get sidetracked. I have left out things because I was afraid that it would pull the audience out of the story. At the end of the day, after we do all of the research, we are still trying to write the most exciting film possibe. We still need to make the screenplay into a page turner.

My theory is that if I get most of the facts right and bend a few things here and there, anyone who is an expert in that field will cut me some slack. They will understand that we couldn't just have the characters standing around for 48 hours awaiting results... we had to keep the story moving forward! We had to keep it exciting!

People who hate research often make the excuse that "Only a doctor would know if this was right or wrong" - but if you get something easy completely wrong (and it isn't something that will kill the drama) those doctors will be danged vocal about how you blew it when they are watching the movie. Also, you might be underestimating the sophistciation of the audience - we have watched a million medical shows and sitting in our livingrooms watching CHICAGO MED or whatever we might be yelling at the TV "Intubate him!" I hate watching cop shows where they seem to completely ignore procedure - stuff that we know from watching the news and better researched cop shows. You don't want to pull the audience out of the story with research, but you don't want to pull them out of the story with NO research. Our job is to make these decisions.

So make sure that you get enough right for the audience to forgive what you may heve changed for dramatic effect or to keep things exciting. We are writing exciting, dramatic screenplays... but we still want the audience to believe them. If you fudge everything, you will lose the audience! Don't be a slave to research, but use it whenever you can.


BOLO!

BOLO is Police Code for Be On The Look Out, and the best part about getting out into the real world is that you see and experience all kinds of wonderful things that can end up in a screenplay or novel. There’s a Script Tip in rotation on my website called Listen & Observe about paying attention to the world around you. Though I’m assuming that we are all avid readers and curious people who are always on the look out for an interesting story or strange fact... or just some odd ting in the world; I’ve known a few people who want to be writers who seem to go through the world with blinders on. They don’t seem to notice the world around them at all. I find that strange, and more than a little frightening. They have no idea all of the things they are missing - from story ideas to cool little details about real life. All of those things that make our stories better. More vivid. More interesting. More realistic. More fantastic.

An odd part of our job is often to synchronize our stories to what is happening in the world, and we can’t do that if we are not actively participating in the world. We need to get out of our comfortable homes and home offices and all of those places that keep the world hidden from us and experience things - look for things- that are new to us. Don’t take the same route twice - you’ll become blind to the scenery. Don’t be afraid to try new things. And keep your eyes open for things that might add a cool moment of detail to your screenplay... or might even add production value.

I’ve seen cool things that no one else seemed to notice and written screenplays around them. CRASH DIVE and STEEL SHARKS both came about because I had read in Variety about the Navy’s Cooperation program that can get you aircraft carriers and jet planes and submarines and helicopters for *free*. I once found out about a 727 owned by San Jose State College as part of their airplane maintenance courses... which they rented out for TV commercials. I’ve noticed all kinds of things that would be great on film but didn’t cost much (or was free). Those things can help turn a producer’s interest into a sale. “How the hell are we going to shoot that?” “Here’s how – “

Another important part of living in the real world is having interests *other than* screenwriting. Hobbies. Skills. Part of screenwriting is “self branding” - figuring out who you are in the business so that they can put some label on you to remember you later. Look, everyone a development executive meets is a screenwriter, so what makes *you* different and special? “Oh, he’s the guy who can tell you the B side of every hit single record from the 1950s to the 1980s.” (I actually know that guy). This not only helps them remember you, guys who they are going to call if they are doing a movie about the record industry or hiring a new writer on VINYL? Hobbies and other interests are part of having a life... part of living your life... part of being a member of the world and not just someone who spends their entire life in their own little corner in their own little room.

- Bill

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: Gun Crazy (1950)

Gun Crazy (1950)

Directed by: Joseph H. Lewis.
Written by: MacKinley Kantor and Dalton Trumbo (Millard Kaufman as Trumbo's "front").
Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Rusty Tamblyn
.



I probably first saw this film at the UC Theater in Berkeley a couple of decades ago, and was blown away by it. First, like most noir, it’s an adult story. Not Hollywood fluff. It’s dark. It’s sexy. Probably the thing that impressed me the most when I first saw it were Peggy Cummins’ *very* tight black trousers. Women in 1940s movies always wore skirts and dresses. If they did wear pants they were non-sexual - often mannish. But here we have pants so tight it’s almost as if she’s naked.

SPOILERS!
The three boys look at the bobcat
The story is about a boy (eventually played by John Dall) who has a gun fetish. In the opening scene he steals a gun from a shop window, admires it while the alarm blares, then takes off running... tripping on the wet street. The gun goes sliding across the wet street until it hits a man’s boot... tilt up... a *Police*man’s boot. Next scene - the boy in court explaining to the judge how much he just loves guns. He doesn’t feel whole unless he has a gun in his hands. We’ll leave that up to Uncle Sigmund... but that’s what drives the film - this guy needs a gun to feel like a man. At the trial we meet his two best friends - one is the policeman’s son, the other wears glasses so you know he’ll grow up to be a writer - and they tell the judge that our hero isn’t a killer, on a camping trip he couldn’t shoot a wildcat that was hanging around their campsite (great flashback). He couldn’t bring himself to shoot at it. Wow, same problem as Jon Voight in DELIVERANCE! Boy is sentenced to reform school, from there he goes into the army, then he comes home.

Now we have adult John Dall and his two pals - one is now a cop and the other is a writer for the town newspaper. The carnival is in town, so that’s where they go.
Peggy Cummins - trousers so tight there's a visible panty line
The great thing about this film are the set pieces. In case you missed that Script Tip, a set pieces is a big scene. In the old studio days, it was a scene so juicy the studio would pay for a new set to be built. You don’t need a new set for a set piece, you just need a big juicy scene... and even though GUN CRAZY was a low budget film, probably shot on leftover sets that had been used a million times before and real loactions that could be got cheap - and in the case of one set piece, probably shot without any set at all - the film is full of amazing set pieces.

sure - shoot at my head
The Carnival - maybe the same one from THE RING (1927) - has a sharp shooter as it’s main attraction. Sexy Peggy Cummins in those skin-tight pants. She shoots balloons from around her assistant, shoots a cigarette out of her mouth, and all of the other carny tricks you usually see with a knife thrower. The Barker, an aging pretty boy, announces that for a mere $50 you can test your shooting skills against the master... and possibly win $500. Kind of the same deal as THE RING, just with guns instead of fists. John Dall’s buddies put up the money, and we get a great set piece as Dall and Cummins try to out shoot each other... and fall in lust in the process. Because Dall is an amazing shot, the Barker keeps upping the ante in order to win the bet. Eventually it comes down to this insane trick where a crown that holds a half dozen matches is put on Dall’s head and Cummins *lights the matches* with her bullets. All but one. Then it’s her turn to wear the crown. Dall lights them all. Look, I don’t want even the best sharp shooter in the world to be aiming a gun at my *head* from across the room, let alone firing at me six times. That’s just crazy! Dall ends up with a job at the carnival...
sex and violence - the film was made in the 40s, how old are your grandparents - could this be them after doing it?
Now we have a great scene - not a set piece, but a juicy *dramatic* scene that deals with the romantic triangle between the Barker and Cummins and Dall. One of the interesting things is how they used a metaphor to tell us who was sleeping with who. When Dall first joins the carnival, the Barker asks if he has a car... he says no. Cummins wants him to ride with them, the Barker says there isn’t room in their car... Dall can ride with the clown. If you watch who rides with who in the carnival scenes, you can see Cummins and Dall getting together and the Barker riding alone. Which brings us to the big juicy scene where all of this blows up. Real good. The Barker has a claim on Cummins and tells Dall he’s out of here if he doesn’t honor it. The result of the big blow up is *Cummins and Dall* leaving together (in the same car), which leads us to some relationship stuff where they realize they are broke, and then Cummins’ plan to make money...

By armed robbery.
John Dall exits the bank as Peggy tries to sweet talk the cop - all from the back seat of the getaway carNow we get one of the greatest set pieces in low budget history - the “backseat bank robbery”. It’s a single continuous shot - several minutes - taken from the back seat of their car as they drive down the street of a town, find the bank, hope that there is a parking spot, Cummins pulls into a spot near the front of the bank and Dall gets out. After Dall goes into the bank, a cop walks down the sidewalk, stops near the front of the bank! Cummins pulls the car up, gets out, flirts with the cop, and tries to steer him away from the bank. Not happening. This builds suspense. She keeps trying to get the cop out of the way, but he won’t budge. Then the alarm goes off. She hits the cop, just as Dall bolts out of the bank doors with the money.back seat cameraThey get in the car, Dall driving, and now we get a shoot out and car chase from the back seat of the car. All one shot. The great thing about this is that it was probably dirt cheap - we don’t need the bank interior and extras and setting up lights in the location. It’s *one* camera set up. But it gives you the feeling that you are right there - in the getaway car with them. When the cop fires at the car, he’s firing at *you*. And it’s all one cool shot.
John Dall with a bag full of guns and steaks
The big set piece is the armed robbery that will make them rich. Dall thinks this means they can retire to some exotic location and just be together for the rest of their lives. Cummins thinks only about how much money they will end up with. The target for the armed robbery - the Armour meat packing plant payroll. Well before anyone thought of product placement, we get a *real* company name and a *real* meat packing plant. Again, this was probably due to the low budget. They found a practical location and probably couldn’t afford to change all of the signs.

This is one of those split second timed robberies where all kinds of things can go wrong... and do. It’s a tense scene, then it blows up and becomes a big action scene. The great part about it are the pieces of the set piece...

All of the details make the scene real... and build suspense!



everyone tells him hes in the wrong area including this armed guard

Dall drives up in a truck filled with beef on hooks. He gets some steaks from a butcher and puts them in his bag, then walks to the offices and has to get past a half dozen people who tell him he’s in the wrong area. Dall tells them he has the steaks for the boss’s barbeque. Everyone tells him there’s no refrigeration here - he should take the steaks back to the plant. The deeper he gets into the office, the more he and the steaks are out of place. Eventually he gets to the boss’s floor... where Cummins is working as a secretary, Here it’s Cummins who tells him he’s in the wrong place - as she leads him right into the boss’s office, where they kidnap him and have him fill the steak bag with payroll money. And here’s where we see the beginning of the end - Cummins gets trigger happy and shoots a whole lotta people on the way out. It’s a great big run and gun scene - lots of action to break the tension that has come before.

After that set piece they are on the run, and we get a great sequence where they have their last night out as a couple. They go to the Santa Monica Pier and go on carnival rides - bringing us back to the beginning of their relationship. Then they go to a dance hall, and have a nice, tender, relationship scene... not knowing that the police have traced them to California and are waiting outside. They manage to escape with nothing - they even lose some of the clothes on their backs. Only one place to go...

Back to Dall’s home town. Now we get a great scene with the criminals and Dall’s sister’s family.... trying to act normal when people come over. Dealing with kids playing in the yard when you are harboring a pair of fugitives. And eventually a great scene with Dall and his two childhood friends - the cop and the reporter. A low budget film needs big scenes like this one - juicy drama where childhood friends are on opposite sides of the law... and Dall is kind of in the middle. Cummins is all for just killing them- in fact, she’d kill anyone if it allowed them to escape. She’d kill the kids (and that is in the film). In fact, there’s a great unseen scene where Cummins does *something* to Dall’s sister and her entire family - maybe she just locks them up, maybe she kills them all. We never find out which it is, because we come to the other big amazing set piece...

The one that probably has no set!
smoke and tuleDall and Cummins end up chased by every cop in the state, and blood hounds, and posses and probably villagers with pitchforks... but since they are chased through a foggy swamp, we just *hear* all of these things. I’m not sure if we see a single dog - though there may be a stock shot of dogs chasing - but we *hear* packs of blood hounds chasing them. We hear hundreds of cops searching the foggy swamp for them.

The swamp is... well, it’s 99% fog and 1% a couple of thatches of tule grass.
can you hear all of those cops and dogs?
The big scene where they hide and the cops and dogs search - is just them behind a thatch of tules surrounded by fog. And it works! It’s an amazing scene. Probably shot in some warehouse with a smoke machine. Just goes to show you, *imagination* and *inventiveness* can create production value if you don’t have any cash.

GUN CRAZY still holds up, mostly due to the amazing set pieces and great sequences and fairly obvious sexual overtones... oh, and Cummin’s skin tight trousers.

- Bill

Nothing sexual about this...

Nothing sexual about this Gun Crazy - the DVD

Friday, September 10, 2021

Hitchcock: Content vs. Technique

Here's another bit of advice from Hitchcock while I get some writing done...



- Bill






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

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

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers 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 52 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.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: THE HUNGRY GLASS

The Hungry Glass

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



Season: 1, Episode: 16.
Airdate: January 3, 1961


Director: Douglas Heyes
Writer: Douglas Heyes based on the story by Robert Bloch.
Cast: William Shatner, Russell Johnson, Donna Dixon, Joanna Heyes, Elizabeth Allen.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Lionel Linden.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A beautiful young face in the mirror, a pitiful old face at the door. Could they have been one and the same? Some people say that mirrors never lie. Others say that they do: they lie, they cheat, they kill. Some say that every time you look in one you see death at work. But most of us see only what we want to see. And perhaps it’s better not to see too deeply into the darkness behind our mirrors? For there live things beyond our imagination, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. But if you’re skeptical, stay with me and watch “The Hungry Glass” with those others who doubted. William Shatner, Joanna Heyes, Russell Johnson, and Elizabeth Allen. Oh, you’ll be perfectly safe, that is, if you turn your own mirrors to the wall... and make sure that your television screen casts no reflection.”

Synopsis: Have you ever looked into a mirror and thought you saw someone or something behind you, but when you turned there was nothing there?

This is one of those episodes from THRILLER that people often remember, and I like it better than Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL. Oh, but the story...



It opens a hundred years ago with a beautiful young woman, Laura Bellman (Donna Dixon from BEVERLY HILLBILLIES), looking at herself in one ornate wall mirror after another... dozens of them! Every inch of the wall is covered with a mirror! There is an insistent knock at the door, and she goes to answer it; but the person who opens the door is a shriveled up old woman dressed exactly as that beautiful young woman. On the other side of the threshold are Laura’s sailor nephew who has a hook for a hand and a doctor... Laura hasn’t left the house and her mirrors in months. She says: “Go away! Leave me alone, can’t you? Leave me alone, with my mirrors.”

Present day: Gil Thraser (Shatner!) is a photographer who has finally gotten his Korean War post traumatic stress disorder under control, married a model who is probably close to her pull date Marcia (Joanna Heyes) and bought the Bellman House in Maine. A rambling old fixer upper on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Atlantic about 2 miles from town. They are escaping the city, and hope to turn this place into their dream house. Their belongings have been sent ahead to the house by a moving company and they are waiting in the town’s little general store for the real estate agent to arrive with the keys. A storm is raging outside... and a group of old farts are sitting by the store’s old wood burning stove, staying warm and playing checkers. When Gil tells the Store Owner that they just bought the Bellman House, the old farts joke about how the house comes with unwanted guests, and lots of people who lived there died there as well, and there isn’t a single mirror in the whole place because of, you know...



That’s when real estate agent Adam Talmadge (Russell Johnson, The Professor!) arrives and tells them his wife Liz (Elizabeth Allen) is waiting in the station wagon and he’ll drive them out to the house. But first they need to buy some light bulbs... none in the house. The Store Owner says bulbs won’t matter, there’s no power. Adam says he had the power company turn it on... the Store Owner says the storm turned it back off again. They buy bulbs anyway, and make sure they have candles and batteries for the flash lights as well.

In the car, Gil asks Adam if there are vampires in the house or something? Because of the lack of mirrors? Adam explains that you take an old house where there have been a couple of accidental deaths and the locals come up with all kinds of spooky legends. Ghosts and such. None of it is real, it just gives the people in the small town something to talk about.

When they get to the house, all of there stuff is packing crates in the entry area... to be unpacked later. Adam and Liz come in with them, because they have a little house warming gift... a chilled bottle of champagne and 4 glasses. Adam has got a fire going in the fireplace, too. The living room has an *amazing* view of the ocean. Adam pours the champagne while Marcia looks out the window, and when she turns her back to the window to say something... Liz SCREAMS! Adam drops the champagne bottle, breaking it and slicing open his palm. Liz says there was a man standing outside the window, reaching for Marcia! A man with a hook for a hand! Gil runs to the window and looks out: sheer cliff all the way down to the ocean, no place for a man to stand. Must have just been some freak reflection from the fireplace, right? Adam picks the glass out of his hand... a freak accident... like the glass shards were trying to attack him. As Adam and Liz leave, Gil closes the door and sees the reflection of an old woman in the stairway window... beckoning him.

The next morning, Marcia is putting on make up using her travel mirror when she sees a man’s reflection! It’s Gil, who cut himself shaving when she snuck up on him and he saw her reflection in *his* travel mirror. So they’re even, right? Except Marcia says she hasn’t left this room. They have a great discussion/argument about whether the old house was a good investment or a bad one. They decide either way, they’re kind of stuck with it so might as well make the best of it. That’s when the power comes back on, and all of the new light bulbs turn the spooky old house into... well, less spooky. Gil says he’s going to take a bunch of pictures of the house as it is now to give them something to compare with after they fix it up.



When Gil is developing those photos, he sees a strange image reflected in one of the windows: a little girl. Is it a double exposure? Meanwhile, Marcia pokes around the attic and finds that it’s full of old furniture and things... a gold mine in antiques! She spots a door hidden behind some things with a huge padlock on it. What could be inside? Using a rusty knife from the attic junk she unscrews the hasp and has to put some muscle into getting the door open. On the other side, a storage room filled with dozens of antique mirrors! For a moment she’s blinded by her flashlight reflection... Meanwhile, Gil decides *not* to show the photo of the little girl’s reflection to Marcia (in a great piece of visual storytelling). Then goes looking for her, finds her in the attic. Marcia shows him a couple of antiques that might pay for the whole danged house... it was a great decision the buy this place. Gil asks if she might have used his camera to take a picture of a little girl, she says no. Then she shows him to weird room full of locked away mirrors and asks him to bring one down so that she can get ready for the dinner they’re going to host for the Adam & Liz. When Marcia leaves, Gil looks into one of mirrors and sees an old woman beckoning him... screams and faints!

Gil is afraid that his post traumatic stress has returned, and next he’ll be seeing all of dead people from Korea again. Marcia tells him to just calm down, it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. They have company coming for dinner and they both need to get ready. But Gil worries that he’s losing his mind. Again.



After they have finished dinner with Liz and Adam, Marcia offers to give Liz a house tour and Gil and Adam stay behind... so that Gil can ask about the reason the townspeople might think this place is haunted. Adam doesn’t want to spread silly rumors, but Gil pushes it... and Adam relates the Legend Of Bellman House.

And what a legend! Basically, everyone who has ever lived in the house has been killed by accidents involving mirrors or windows. As Adam explains death by death, including a sailor with a hook for a hand that was Mrs. Bellman’s nephew, we realize that no one has ever gotten out of this place alive. That’s when Gil tells him about the strange double exposure, and they go down to his basement darkroom. Gil shows Adam the photo... and Adam identifies the little girl as a kid who fell off the cliff to her death when the sun’s reflection in the house’s window blinded her. So, not a double exposure... a ghost reflected in the window. Now *Adam* believes the house may actually be haunted, and Gil knows he’s not crazy.

That’s when Liz interrupts them (lots of good jumps in this episode in addition to all of the creepy suspense), to bum some cigarettes. When Gil asks where Marcia is, she says Marcia was showing her the odd storeroom full of mirrors. Then they hear Marcia SCREAMING! Both men bolt up the stairs, Adam stopping to tell Liz *not* to follow them up to the attic. When Gil gets to the mirror room, he sees all of the dead people from the legend PULLING Marcia into a mirror. She screams for Gil to help her. Gil grabs an old fire poker from the attic and hits the mirror again and again until it shatters. When Adam comes in, Gil says they have taken Marcia into the mirror... but Adam points to the floor, where Marcia lies dead... beaten to death by the fire poker!



Adam and Liz try to calm and console Gil... who keeps trying to convince both of them that he saw dead people in the mirror grabbing Marcia and pulling her inside the glass. That he’s not losing his mind, it’s the mirrors! The windows! Any glass that reflects! The police will never believe him, even though it’s true!

Then Gil sees Marcia reflected in the huge living room window, and runs to embrace her... crashing through the window and falling all the way down that rocky cliff to splat on the rocks below, as the waves crash over him. Liz faints, and Adam carries her out of the house, seeing the reflection of Marcia and Gil beckoning to him from the staircase window!



Review: Wow! This episode really delivers. It’s spooky, has some great scares, is wall to wall dread (a great job of building with small spooky stuff), and is *witty* and filled with great dialogue. In fact, if you took away everything else but the dialogue, this would still be a great episode. People don’t just say things, they say it in the most amusing way possible. After Adam drops the champagne bottle and slices open his palm, he says “At least I christened the carpet”. This crackling dialogue makes the episode fun, and adds to the dread... we’re having such a great time when something scary happens it ends up twice as scary! I haven’t read the short story in a couple of decades, but Bloch is an incredibly witty writer who loves to make you smile just before he makes you scream. All of this great dialogue may have been his, or maybe the writer/director used Bloch’s tone as a guide and went with it. I don’t think there’s a bad line in the entire episode.

Director Heyes was responsible for the previous best episode, THE PURPLE ROOM, and here he makes sure every inch of that attic makes you want to get the hell out of there. When Marcia is poking around the antiques, you are waiting for something to jump out and grab her! The basement dark room is also spooky. This is a *great* haunted house story. It’s also *packed* with story... there isn’t a dull *second* in this episode, when they aren’t being scared by the windows and mirrors they are having relationship issues caused by the house or Gil is having a breakdown caused by the house. It’s almost like a feature film squeezed into an hour of TV. Never a dull moment, and the great thing about mirrors and windows and reflections is that they’re *everywhere*! When they walk past a window, you worry!



The cast is *great*, with Shatner gearing up for his TWILIGHT ZONE episode 2 years after this. He does a great job in the quiet moments, as well as going full Shatner in some of the more dramatic scenes. Russell Johnson is a charming real estate guy, completely making you forget that he was the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. He not only gets laughs delivering the quips, he give you chills telling the legend. Joanna Heyes is the director’s hottie wife, and does a great job holding her own opposite scene stealer Shatner. Elizabeth Allen probably has the least interesting role in the episode, but screams like a pro and does a great job playing “the wife”. Donna Dixon who was Ellie May on BEVERLY HILLBILLIES is eye candy in her brief role as the reflection of Mrs. Bellman in the mirror.

Aside from the witty dialogue and great pacing, this script has some great visual storytelling (like when Gil wordlessly decides not to show the picture to Marcia) and some awesome exposition hiding... we know the house is 2 miles from the nearest neighbor because of a line about having to walk down to warn them if Liz plans on screaming again. The big chunk of exposition that comes with the Legend Of Bellman House, is a great little ghost story with twists and thrills... so you don’t notice it’s exposition... it’s a campfire story. Great writing, acting, direction...

The creepy thing about this episode is that after watching it, you start seeing things in *your* mirrors... or maybe it’s just my imagination?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Film Courage Plus: Remake Mistakes!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me, around 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?



Hollywood loves remakes and reboots and sequels and adaptations. As a screenwriter, you probably hate this because you have written a bunch of great original screenplays and just want to see *your* stories on screen. You poured your heart and soul into these original screenplays, but Hollywood is remaking some Adam Sandler movie starring some new kid from Saturday Night Live, or is making FAST & FURIOUS 12 or adapting a trashy novel written by a book agent under a pseudonym or remaking a Stephen King novel for the third time or has decided it’s time to reboot IRON MAN or make THE MASK 3 with both Jim Carrey and Eric Stoltz (or to reboot that joke so that people in their 30s understand it). They only buy around 100 original screenplays a year, and only make a fraction of those! How is a screenwriter supposed to make a living if they keep making all of these remakes and sequels and adaptations?

Well, somebody still has to write those.

And that somebody might be you.

Most of a screenwriter’s income comes from assignments - those remakes and adaptations and reboots and sequels. It’s not uncommon to hire new writers to do the “grunt work” of writing the first drafts for remakes and reboots and adaptations, then hire a big name writer to do the rewrite and give it that “Barton Fink feeling”. I know a bunch of writers whose first jobs were working on some remake or adaptation, and doing several different drafts until they had found the very best way to tell the story... and then it was handed off to a big name writer. The new writer doing several drafts to “break the story” was much cheaper than the rewrite from the name writer. So it often makes sense to hire new talent to work on those remakes and reboots, etc. They have done this with sequels, too - a big hit series at Warner Bros once hired three different new writers to come up with a sequel, and then picked the best one. That’s frowned upon, because the real money is when the film gets made (production bonus) but even the writers who “lost” had a screenplay for a big hit franchise on their resume.

I have written a remake, adapted a New York Times Best Selling novel, been in the running for a bunch of sequels, and had a bunch of assignments where I wrote a screenplay to fit a production company’s specific needs (from my pitch, or sometimes from their idea). Early in my career I was in the running to adapt a big best selling novel (some other new writer got the job). So instead of seeing these endless remakes and sequels and reboots and adaptations as bad things, look at them as possible jobs in your future!

BUT WHY?


You may wonder why Hollywood is obsessed with remakes and sequels and reboots and adaptations, but it’s just basic business. Last time they released the numbers (probably a decade ago) the *average* film cost $107 million by the time it hit the screen, and these days people only buy tickets to see blockbusters - which often cost $250 million. That’s a lot of money to gamble on a single film, so they tend to look for “sure things”... like movies that have previously been hits or novels that have been huge best sellers. If they liked it before, they will probably like it again! And for the most part that theory works.

When people complain about remakes, I usually point out that the version of THE WIZARD OF OZ that they love is a remake of a remake of a remake of a remake. Hollywood has ALWAYS made remakes... the famous Humphrey Bogart version of THE MALTESE FALCON was the third version made in ten years! Some movies in the 1930s and 1940s were remakes of a film made the year before! One of my favorite private eye movies MURDER MY SWEET was the remake of a movie in the FALCON series made the year before (to be fair, both were adaptations of the same novel that the production company bought the rights to). Back then, there was no TV or video - the only place you could see a movie was in the cinema, so once a movie played in cinemas... it often went onto a shelf in a warehouse somewhere. Making it again a year or two later was a way to have a NEW movie with a story that had been popular before... and that’s still the plan and the plan usually works. Which is why they keep doing it.

And “franchises” have also always been part of Hollywood - there were 12 films in THE FALCON series, and I lost count when trying to count up the CHARLIE CHAN movies. In the 1930s and 1940s there were franchises and spin offs and reboots (with a different cast - Charlie Chan did that) and all of the things that people complain about today. If one film is a big hit, they make a sequel... if the sequel is a big hit, they think of it as a franchise. As I write this there’s a SAW reboot in cinemas starring Chris Rock. Sequels and franchises and reboots are good business decisions...

And this is a business.

And that means that these are jobs that you might be hired for.

So if you get hired for AMERICAN PIE 27: SENIOR CENTER what are the things to think about as a writer? How do you write that?



HOW DO I GET THAT JOB?


By now some of you are excited because you have a great idea for the next SILVER SURFER movie or MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie or maybe you have read a novel that you think would make a fantastic film or you have an amazing idea for SLINKY: THE MOTION PICTURE! (The exclamation point is part of the title) or you want to reboot some old TV show that was your favorite when you were a kid, and now want to know what to do after you have written the screenplay?

Well, that’s not how it works.

All of those reboots and remakes and novel adaptations and sequels like AMERICAN PIE 27: SENIOR CENTER are *assignments*. You don’t call them, they call you. Some production company or studio *owns the rights* to those movies that you might have a reboot or remake or sequel idea for - and they hire writers to write those screenplays. They don’t buy spec scripts for those. They own the characters and worlds and all of the rest of the stuff from the original film, so you can not legally write a spec sequel or remake or reboot or re-imagining or whatever. They own the Intellectual Property.

Think of that property like a car - they own the car. You might think that it would look great if it were painted bright orange and have a spoiler on the back and not just have white wall tires but 100% white rubber tires. But taking the car that belongs to them is probably not a good idea. Painting it orange and adding the spoiler and the all white tires? Really not a good idea. Trying to sell the car that already belongs to them back to them after you have painted it some color that they might hate and welded a spoiler to the back and added those all white tires that they think look silly and then trying to sell it back to them? That probably is going to land you in prison.

How it works: Someone at the studio thinks that it’s time for a new SILVER SURFER movie. They make a list of writers who they think would do a great job writing a new SILVER SURFER movie, call their agents or managers and bring the writers in to “pitch their take” - explain how they would write a new SILVER SURFER movie. They listen to all of the pitches and then pick one (or sometimes more) and hire the writer to write a treatment or screenplay... but often they want the writer's "take" plus the production company's ideas, and sometimes it’s just the production company's ideas (they don't want your ideas, just your writing skills). Often they have a plan for the SILVER SURFER that isn’t anything like what the writer pitched them - you see, they eventually want to do a SILVER SURFER/VENOM team up film, and have come up with a path for the SILVER SURFER to take to reach that eventual film. So they hire the writer to write the screenplay that THEY WANT. It isn’t orange and doesn’t have a spoiler or solid white tires!

They call you.

How do you get on that list?

I’ve been on some of those lists. You write a bunch of great ORIGINAL screenplays that use YOUR characters and YOUR worlds and YOUR everything else. Great ones. And they read one or two or three of those ORIGINAL screenplays and think that you are the person who should write the new SILVER SURFER movie. On a remake job that I had, the producer was looking for a writer and the head of production had read one of my scripts while working for another producer and suggested me. So they requested a more recent screenplay by me in that genre, and I sent it to them. They liked it! So they ask to read ANOTHER screenplay in that genre, just to make sure that the first one (well, second one) wasn’t a fluke. They liked that screenplay, too! They had me come in for a meeting to pitch my take on the remake (the original was made before cell phones and the prevalence of computers - how could I make the story work in today’s world?). Now, I have no idea how many other writers they called in to pitch their take. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one. But whatever I said or did, I was the one who they hired...

And even though they loved my take on the remake... they had their own ideas, and I was hired to write their idea of what the remake should be. Not my idea.

Because they own the Intellectual Property.

Adapting a book or anything that you do not own the rights to is a complete waste of time. You can never show it to anyone (it’s like trying to sell that stolen car you have painted orange) and in the case of a book - there’s a very good chance that a studio or production company owns the rights to that book and has already hired writers to adapt it. Usually, any book worth buying the film rights to has already sold those rights when the book was in “galleys” - before it was published. Basically a studio or producer is buying the AUDIENCE for the book - the millions of readers when it becomes a Best Seller. If a publisher is doing a huge print run and spending a ton on advertizing on the book, then it’s likely to be a best seller even before it’s published. A book that wasn’t a best seller? Well, why would Hollywood want to buy a small audience? So adapting a book that you haven’t bought the rights to is a waste of time. Again - they call you. I have adapted a NYT Best Seller and a couple of other books, and turned some jobs down and just didn’t get other book adaptation jobs. Someone else had a better take. They called me because they had read multiple ORIGINAL screenplays by me that they liked. They want to be able to judge MY WRITING, not my adaptation of someone else’s writing. So they want to read my original screenplays... and they’ll want to read your original screenplays before hiring you.

Hint: When you have an original screenplay go wide and end up on the “water bottle tour” doing a bunch of meetings on studio lots? Find out what movies owned by that studio you might want to remake or reboot or whatever and in your meetings mention that THE GLASS BOTTOMED BOAT is one of your favorite movies and you have an awesome idea of how to remake it for 2021! They might ask you for more - and you pitch your take. Maybe you get on the list of writers when they are calling people in to remake that film!

But what if they say “Yes!”? What if you end up writing a remake of THE GLASS BOTTOMED BOAT or writing AMERICAN PIE 27: SENIOR CENTER?

DONE BEFORE


Which gets into the question in the clip... why do so many sequels and remakes and reboots and adaptations and all of that other stuff *fail*? If you are the writer who wins the competition and gets hired to write a sequel or remake, how can you avoid failing?

I’m so glad you asked.

I think the most important thing is to remember that Hollywood is looking for “The Same But Different” - and the reason why so many sequels fail is that they forget one of those two things. They are either nothing like the original hit film, or too much like the original hit film. Finding that sweet spot between the two is often difficult... but that’s the job!

I think the perfect example of doing it right is ALIEN and ALIENS. The first film was basically a horror movie on a space ship, with a creature relentlessly hunting an attacking the crew - and no way to escape the space ship. When crew members are poking around in the dark space ship where the creature might be hiding, it builds dread and terror... just like a haunted house movie. The sequel is a military action story - the same but different. Our group of tough space marines are going on a rescue mission, with Ripley along as a reluctant expert. The focus is more on action - though we still have all of those dark recesses of the “shake and bake” colony where a *bunch* of aliens might be hiding. But instead of running from the aliens, they are going to exterminate them! Until things go very wrong. “Game over, man!” By taking the basic elements of the story and presenting them in a different genre, we can get that great mix of The Same and Different that delivers the same excitement in a different way.

Because I am writing this soon after the death of Ed Asner, he starred in two TV shows that are another great example of this. On THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW he played Lou Grant, the news editor who was very prickly on the outside but had a big heart hidden deep inside. He was a great character for a situation comedy. Always growling about journalistic integrity in a business that was ratings driven. Their news anchor was an idiot... that the viewers loved and trusted. But LOU GRANT was a drama about a newspaper and a group of investigative reporters overseen by a prickly editor with a big heart hidden deep inside of him. The same character that we love - in a show with a different genre. The same, but different.

The big complaints about HANGOVER 2 was that it was a search and replace sequel. They seemed to just change the locations. To the point that Doug, the misplaced groom from the first film, wasn't part of the search for the misplaced brother in the second film... even though there was no reason for him not to be part of the search party! Too much "the same" and not enough "different". It would be like the Alien in ALIEN just attacking some other ship with some other crew... that Ripley just happened to be part of (you always bring back the star). The thing that made HANGOVER fun was the creative way that the story was told... so what they should have done is find a *different* way to tell the story in the sequel, which was also creative and fun. You can't just leave out the creative way the story is told, then there would be a "hole" in the story. It would be *less* than the original. You need to find a different *creative* way to tell the story. That way, what made the first film special (and made it a hit) would be replaced by something that will make the sequel special... rather than just the same as the first film. You want ALIEN and ALIENS.

REMAKE MISTAKE!


The big problem with remakes is often that they charge something that made the original a success, which makes the film different in all the wrong ways. In trying to make the sequel a unique experience, instead of just a carbon copy of the original, they screw it up! This is where you need to be aware of *why* the original was a success.

TOTAL RECALL is a good example of this - the co-writer of the original, Ronny Shusett, was on a panel with me once and talked about the struggle they had coming up with a big ending... And then figuring out giving oxygen to Mars which was saving the world in an unusual way. That big ending - and the idea that this might all still be a planted memory rather than reality - is what made the original work... So the remake removed them. And didn't add anything to take their place. Leaving two big holes in the story! Which is why the remake doesn't work.

If you remove something from a story for the remake, you need to replace it with something even better!

The great 40s thriller THE BIG CLOCK was about a magazine reporter falsely accused of murder and trapped in the publishing company's NYC skyscraper. He must find the real killer and the evidence before the police catch him. Sort of THE FUGITIVE in a building. Great film! The 80s remake is just as great - the same but different - instead of a magazine reporter it's a Navy officer, and instead of a NYC skyscraper it's the Pentagon. And in addition to murder - there's possible espionage! A Russian mole deep inside the USA government! The story is still an innocent man trapped in a building trying to find the real killer and avoid being caught and arrested, still has all of the twists and turns of the original. But changing it from magazine publishing to the Pentagon (and the world of government and spies) was that "something even better" replacement. NO WAY OUT and BIG CLOCK can be watched back to back and both films hold up! Both are great!

The problem with "something even better" is that finding that idea isn't easy! It's like finding a second high concept that connects to the original concept in my sequel assignment (which I will talk about in a minute). You really need to take the time to find something great... and studio remakes don't always do that. So if you are "pitching your take" on a remake - find that amazing "different" element that doesn't screw up the "same" part that everyone loved in the original!

One of the fun things about MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT is that in the past all of the films in the series had a different director who used their own unique style... and this time around they had the same director, Christopher McQuarry, who said that he has to *become a different director* to make the second film. ROGUE is a stylish Hitchcock- influenced thriller, FALLOUT is more gritty and driven by a series of horrible choices that the protagonist must make. They *feel* like they were made by completely different people. The stories unfold differently - ROGUE being a traditional spy thriller and FALLOUT being completely unpredictable due to the choices offered. The stories work differently on a basic level. But both feature Tom Cruise doing his own insane stunts and the same cast playing their endearing (or endangering) characters. Different, but the same!

YOUR SEQUEL?


Over a decade ago, I was hired by a production company who had a deal to make DVD sequels to films in the vault at Sony / Columbia. My job was to find movies that were not on the list for theatrical sequels and come up with amazing and exciting pitches for DVD sequels. I ended up with 80 of them. My theory was to take a back-catalogue movie like SECRET WINDOW or BODY DOUBLE or THE ONE or HARDCORE and find a way to turn it into a franchise (so there could be multiple sequels) and then find a new high concept to marry to the original idea. The new high concept was the different part, and for a movie like SECRET WINDOW (based on a Stephen King story about a vengeful entity in a funny hat who came after artists who have stolen the work of others) I had a Phil Specter-like music producer who may have killed a songwriter or two in the past and stolen their music, who is visited by vengeful John Shooter and his unusual hat. For BODY DOUBLE I took the B movie actor who goes under cover as a porno producer to find a killer in the original movie, and have the FBI use his amazing make-up and acting skills to send him undercover as a terrorist accidentally killed during “enhanced interrogation” at Guantanamo Bay (oops!) when Amnesty International wants to check on him. But instead of being Amnesty International, it’s his old terrorist cell rescuing him - and now our actor is playing the role of a lifetime... if he screws up, it will be the end of his life! My idea was to drop the character from the original film into a story that would work if it wasn’t a sequel. The “different” part being what would attract the audience, the “same” part being kind of a “known brand” that will comfort the audience.

And if none of these 80 sequel ideas worked for this producer? I had all of these cool story ideas that I could use for screenplays that had nothing to do with those back-catalogue Sony / Columbia films! The ideas were interesting on their own.

So think about adding a new cool idea if you end up landing a sequel job!

You always want the story to be the same but different.

- Bill

PS: They never made any of my 80 remake ideas! Welcome to Hollywood!
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