Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Flashback: My First Agent

A rerun from the first year of the blog...

Another one of those flashbacks that screenwriting gurus hate...

After my first screenwriting career writing Drive In Movies (NINJA BUSTERS) ended, I got a job working for Safeway in their liquor warehouse. Driving a fork lift and Big Joe stacker. I did that full time for almost ten years, writing scripts in my spare time and on my days off. I wrote just under 30 scripts in that decade... and got an agent on one of them.

Now I had a Hollywood agent! Cool! I had sent out about a bunch of query letters - targeting agents in Los Angeles. My thinking was - because I lived out of town I wanted an agent who lived in the same city as the producers. Why should both of us be out of town? I kept hammering the same list of agents with query letters until I got somewhere around 3 positive responses, sent scripts and signed with the first agent to say "yes".

This was a mistake.... but what was tragic at the time I now find pretty funny. I had somehow signed with the worst agent in the world - and every time I thought it couldn't get worse, it always did!

My agent had an LA address - in the San Fernando Valley. The letter he sent me was on cheap letter-head stationary and filled with blotches of white out. I was working on a Commodore 128 computer and my query letters were mistake-free, but this was the mid-1980s and the world was still switching over from typewriters to computers. Many offices still had their big IBM Selectrics and bottles of correction fluid. I figured the agent's secretary wasn't as worried about impressing me as I had been about impressing them. And they were probably using the old stationary for me, and saving the expensive stuff for people who mattered.

My agent (it was cool to say that) asked for 10 copies of the script I'd sent him. I made them up and sent them in 2 shipping boxes. He said he would begin sending them out right away. I went to work every day hoping to come home to that phone call that would change my life. When it didn't come for a few months, I decided to call my agent for a progress report. He answered the phone himself, said the script had gone out and he was still waiting for responses from producers. I told him I had a NEW script, and he asked for 10 copies. I made them up and sent them on my next day off. For a while I was sending ten copies of every new script... and my agent would send them out and we'd wait for the producers to get back. The producers always seemed to be looking for rom-coms or comedies or some other genre than what I'd written. Was he sending them to the wrong producers? He wouldn't tell me who he'd been sending the scripts to... so I decided to help by sending a list of suggestions for each of the scripts I'd already sent him.

After that he began sending me the rejection letters or telling me what the producers had said over the phone. I was getting photocopies of letters from The Thom Mount Company and Silver Pictures and other big companies praising the scripts, usually saying that they were developing a similar project or were looking for a script that could star a particular actor, and make sure that they get a chance to read any new scripts from this writer. Mount and Silver wanted to meet with me, but my agent told them I lived out of town. He took care of sending follow up scripts, and I often disagreed with his choices but at least my agent was actually calling me on a regular basis - cool!

I continued to send 10 copies of every new script, and a list of potential buyers. I read an ad in the back pages of Variety looking for a jungle adventure script... and sent a copy of that ad with my new script TREASURE HUNTER (which originally took place in the Amazon). I pressed him to send them the script, he finally did, and the company wanted to option it! My first Hollywood deal!

It was a German production company, and they weren't going to pay for my airfare or hotel. My agent said he'd do the whole deal himself, but I wanted to BE THERE. So I took the time off from work, bought an airplane ticket and made a hotel reservation, and flew to Los Angeles. I was about to get my big break! Despite the cruddy letterhead, my agent had landed me a deal! I had the greatest agent in the world!

I would find out just how great my agent was when I flew to Hollywood to make the deal. I landed at LAX and waited for my agent to pick me up. Whenever a Mercedes or BMW circled near the arrivals area, I expected it to pull to the curb. They just zoomed past. In Hollywood, presentation is very important - so I knew that he drove a fancy car... even if it leased. I was driving a fairly new blue Ford Taurus at the time (thanks to Safeway Credit Union). Maybe my agent drove a Rolls? Or was sending a Town Car? I kept smiling at drivers whenever a luxury car passed by...

Eventually this beat up old Datsun 4 door pulled to the curb, and my agent swiped all of the junk off the passenger seat so that I could sit down. I had to throw my single piece of luggage in the back seat - he told me his trunk was full (of what?). The passenger window was broken and a piece of plastic tarp had been duct taped over it - it was hot but you can't roll down a piece of plastic tarp. Okay... so my agent didn't drive a pretentious luxury car... or keep his old crappy car very clean.... he probably made up for it with his skills as a deal maker, right?

We went directly to the meeting in Beverly Hills. A small office that I think was on Beverly Blvd. The producer was there, as well as a director. These guys had made a couple of small films with casts from recently canceled TV shows and people like George Kennedy who usually played the sidekick. Their previous film starred George Lazenby - the only one film James Bond. This wasn't going to be a big blockbuster, but was going to be a big film for these guys. I was excited.

When they made their first (low) offer, my agent wanted to take it. I thought we should at least TRY to get more money. Because my agent was playing the good guy, I decided I'd better play the bad guy - I told them when they were ready to make a serious offer, they could contact my agent... and I left the office. My agent was shocked. I got about halfway down the block before the pudgy little producer caught up with me, explaining that was just a starting point in the negotiations.

We agreed on $40,000 with a $5,000 option for six months.

When we got back to my agent's pseudo-car, he chewed me out for making waves - I could have blown the deal! Why did I leave the office and make the producer chase me? Why did I ask for so much money? Why didn't I just let him handle the deal?

As we pulled away from the curb leaving a thick cloud of smoke that drifted over Beverly Blvd, I asked if we'd be going back to his office. "NO!" Instead he'd buy me a celebratory dinner. We'd closed a big deal ($40k is a big deal?) and now it was time to celebrate. Would he take me to Chasens (down the street) where Hitchcock dined? Or Spago? Or Mortons? Or one of those trendy LA places where the stars hung out? "Do you drink?" he asked me. A weird question - but maybe he was going to splurge on a bottle of champagne. Some restaurants had better wine cellars than others. If he was planning on order a bottle of Dom Perignon 1957 (like James Bond) you probably have to select a restaurant that has a bottle in their cellar. "Yeah. I've been known to have a beer or two." "A beer drinker! That's perfect!" Sure - a beer drinker would be more impressed with a bottle of 1957 Dom than a wine connoisseur would. We drove into the luxurious Hollywood Hills...

And over the hills into the Valley. We ended up at this crappy bar near the Van Nuys airport that had beer by the pitcher... and a free Happy Hour buffet. After buying the pitcher and handing me a glass, he pointed to the chicken wings and mini-tacos and said "Dinner!" Not exactly Chasens or Spago... or even Denny's. I ate as many chicken wings as I could, but still ended up hammered and hungry and half-deaf from the airplanes flying right over the bar's roof and landing a few feet away. After happy hour was over, he drove me back to my hotel. I ended up walking down the street to a Denny's and getting an actual meal as soon as he was gone.

The next morning I took a taxi to his office before my flight. It was an 8 by 8 room without any windows over a motorcycle repair shop in the slums of Reseda. No secretary - no room for a secretary. With the door closed, the place was like a cave... or maybe like a closet (except for the din of guys using power tools to repair motorcycles). His office might have been in Los Angeles, but it was about as far away from Hollywood as you can get. I found out that his other clients were mostly washed up rock bands from the 1960s - one hit wonders that you didn't know were still around. He was a nice guy, but not much of an agent. I flew back home that afternoon, got my $5,000 check a few weeks later, but the Germans never made the film and allowed the option to expire.

A couple of months later I went to the American Film Market in Los Angeles for the first time (and adventure I'll chronicle later) and I collected a stack of business cards from companies looking for scripts. One particular company had just co-produced their first feature with a Swedish company - a low budget horror movie - and planned on making a couple of films a year. They needed scripts! I'd pitched them one of the scripts that the Mount Company and Silver Pictures had liked, and it was EXACTLY what they were looking for. The VP of Production told me: "Have your agent messenger it to me on Monday." Cool! I had a potential deal with a brand new company with an upcoming theatrical release. I was in on the ground floor.

I drove by my agent's office on the way home and over the din of power tools told him to make sure he messengered a copy of that script to the company on Monday morning. I offered to stay over an extra night and take it myself, but my agent yelled that he'd take care of it. The entire 8 hour drive home I was excited - I probably wouldn't be working at the warehouse much longer! I worked all day Monday on adrenaline (no sleep) but still had trouble falling asleep that night. Every day when I came home from work I expected a message on my machine from my agent that they wanted to buy the script. By this point in time I knew the Southwest Airline schedules by heart and knew the best inexpensive motel in the Beverly Hills area to stay in (the Holloway). I was prepared to fly down as soon as I got the phone call from my agent. After a couple of weeks with no message, I called for a progress report. My agent didn't know anything. I kept calling every week - still no word from the production company. Did they hate the script? Nina Jacobson at Silver and Bess Semans at Mount had loved it. Maybe they were waiting for the release of their horror movie? I called my agent every week for a progress report... MONTHS later he admitted he still hadn't gotten around to sending my script! By that time the film had come out, become a huge hit, and the window of opportunity had closed. Every agent in Hollywood was sending them scripts. The horror film was NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the company was New Line Cinema. Since then they have TWICE paid $4 million for a screenplay... and recently produced the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.

I fired my agent soon afterwards. By then I had sold COURTING DEATH to a Paramount based company on my own and my second career in screenwriting was about to begin.

- Bill

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!

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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.

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"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, July 14, 2021

Scene Of The Week: JAWS (bloody beach)


Buy The DVD!

The amazing thing about JAWS is that it is so well made it stands up now... and is better than most current films. In fact, compare JAWS to JURASSIC PARK (same director) and JAWS still wins. Better characters and situations and more suspense. The novel JAWS is kind of a pulpy beach read - a big chunk of it focuses on the affair between Mrs. Brody and hunky young Matt Hooper. All of that was removed for the film, and some great scenes were added. In fact, what always impresses me about JAWS is how many great scenes and memorable scenes are in the film. Just for fun, why not write a list of the great or memorable scenes you can remember. Doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have seen the movie, in fact - the longer it has been the better! If you haven’t seen the film since 1975, those scenes you can remember now made an impression.

Got your list? Well, I know which two scenes are on the top, and we’ll be looking at one of those later in the series, but now let’s look at one that is probably further down your list...  A memorable scenes.

This scene happens about 13 minutes into the film... you read that right! The movie begins with the teens on the beach, skinny dipping, shark attacking the girl. Great way to start a film! The audience knows there is a shark out there. Next we have a scene that introduces Martin Brody and his wife and kids - he’s new on the job. He was an NYPD cop, who came to Amity... and is not thrilled by the water. He’s also over protective of his kids - he warns them the swing set isn’t safe.

Next scene we have our missing girl, and the guy she was with is showing Brody where she disappeared... and then they find what is left of her. Shocking! The town’s medical examiner confirms it as “Shark Attack”. Brody asks where they keep the “Beach Closed” signs... and finds out they don’t have any.

So Brody heads down to the store to buy sign making supplies. Now, here’s the great thing - the bike shop guy wants Brody to deal with the kids at the Kung Fu class, because they keep kung fuing his fence and even his bikes. The small town problems he *thought* he was going to deal with! He gets to the store, and more small town problems are discussed as he buys the paint and brushes and signs. He tells his deputy to take the stuff back to the police station and have the *secretary* make the signs, she has better penmanship. This becomes an issue!

Then Brody gets cornered by the Mayor and City Council Members on a ferry - and is pressured to change the cause of death to “boating accident” and pressured to keep the beaches open. The Mayor gives that great little speech about how when someone yells “Barracuda!” no one cares, but when someone yells “Shark!” it creates a panic. Brody *knows* this was a shark attack, but bends under the pressure. It’s him on that ferry against a handful of others - his bosses - who press him to do what he knows is the wrong thing.

Which brings us to this scene, about 13 minutes into the film. See how fast paced this film is? But it doesn’t seem that way - we get a good introduction to Brody and his family, a feel for small town life, introduce Body’s deputy and secretary, a look at small town politics... all while dealing with the shark attack. These aren’t a bunch of quick-cut MTV scenes, these scenes are concise and do many things at once. Packed with information, and emotion...

And then we have our day at the beach...




This scene is all about Brody *knowing* that he was pressured to do the wrong thing. He’s on edge - watching the people in the water.  We get to know some minor characters - the Kitner Boy and his Mom, the Boy and his Dog, the Woman on the raft... and Bad Hat Harry (Bryan Singer’s production company!). All of these people will be players in the scene.

This scene has two great Hitchcock techniques - the “Hitchcock Wipes” where a passing person bridges the cuts so that it all flows as if it is one piece of film. This technique was used in “Rope” and “Frenzy”.  In JAWS each wipe takes us closer and closer to Brody - focusing on how intently he is watching the people in the water... worried about a shark attack. The other technique is the “Dolly/Zoom” from “Vertigo”, where the camera dollys at the exact same rate as the lens zooms to that we get an expansion or compression of the background.

One of my favorite bits is when the guy *blocks Brody’s line of sight to the water* in order to talk about red curbs or whatever mundane thing. This creates suspense and frustration for Brody’s character - and that perfectly transfers to the audience. Conflict is the key to everything, and here we have another person with a small problem getting in Brody’s way when there is a much bigger problem. The great payoff with this is the screaming girl and her boyfriend. This heightens the tension. Even though it’s a fake out, we *know* that something is going to happen for real.

Now we “make it personal” with his kids getting into the water. He’s concerned, but hold back - tries to act cool. His kids swim way out there... towards the Kitner Boy.

Now it’s Bad Hat Harry who blocks his line of sight. The conflict has *escalated* because Brody’s kids are out there... in potential danger.

Escalating the tension and building dread is the Boy unable to find his Dog. That stick he was throwing is floating in the water... but no Dog fetching it. Something is wrong.

Buy The DVD!

Did you see that? One of the great things about the shark eating the Kitner Boy is that it happens *in the background* of the shot of Brody’s kids and their friends swimming. Instead of making it obvious, the shot puts it in the background so that we aren’t quite sure what we saw. That’s more ominous than if they made it obvious. The folks on the beach aren’t sure what they are seeing, as well. That’s when we get the great “Dolly/Zoom” and Brody - knowing this is all his fault for being spineless - runs to the edge of the water and yells for everyone to get out of the water.

Here’s where we get more wonderful conflict. The parents race *into the water* to grab their kids! Into danger! Now Brody is trying to get the parents back to the shore (unsuccessfully) as well as get the kids to swim to shore. Absolute panic! Once everyone is on shore and heading away from the water, one person is walking *toward* the water - Mrs. Kitner. The scene ends just over 18 minutes into the film... with the bloody raft brushing up against the shore.

That’s not even one of the top two scenes you wrote down, which were probably “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” and Quint relating his experience on the USS Indianapolis during WW2.

What does that look like on the page?



               EXT. AMITY BEACH - DAY

               A plump jelly-bowl of a woman plunges into the ocean. There's 
               enough there to satisfy the most gluttonous shark. Buoyant, 
               joyful, she splashes away in abandon. From her, we pan off 
               to reveal other cheerful bathers enjoying that last 
               uncluttered weekend before the season starts in earnest.

               ANGLE ON THE WATERLINE

               A Man and his dog are romping at the water's edge. The Man 
               is throwing a stick out into the surf, the dog, a happy 
               retriever, is bounding into the waves after it.

               TWO YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE BEACH

               A Girl and her Boyfriend leave their blanket and run for the 
               water, playing tag, chasing each other, having a wonderful 
               time.

               ANGLE ON BIRTHDAY PARTY ON THE SAND - MARTIN AND ELLEN BRODY

               He is sitting stiffly in a beach chair, scanning the beach 
               with careful, cautious looks, eyeballing everything that's 
               going on.

               Around their particular blanket and umbrella are a number of 
               adults and their kids, the youngsters gathered to celebrate 
               Michael's birthday. Ellen is dishing out ice cream and cake 
               from a cooler chest to the raucous 10-year-olds. Michael's 
               hand is still bandaged.

                                     MAX TAFT
                              (an adult)
                         Looks like another big season. Gets 
                         worse every year.

                                     MRS. TAFT
                         And none of them from the Island. 
                         Just a lot of bother.

               Brody (and we) hear a shrill scream from the water. He 
               stretches to look past the group, to see what's happening 
               out there.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW - THE WATER

               The young lady is disappearing under the water, pulled under 
               the waves by some force. She is shrieking. She pops right up 
               again riding the shoulders of her boyfriend, who pulled her 
               under. She's laughing hysterically. Brody is unamused.

               THE ADULTS

                                     BRODY
                              (to Taft)
                         What?

                                     TAFT
                         Present company excepted, but off-
                         islanders are a pain in the butt. 
                         Pardon my French.

               Ellen captures Sean, and holds him playfully, an example.

                                     ELLEN
                         What about this kid? What if he were 
                         born here. That make him an islander?

                                     TAFT
                         Just 'cause a cat has kittens in an 
                         oven, it don't make them muffins.

                                     SEAN
                         I'm not a muffin! I'm a boy!

               Brody rumples his hair and sets him off to play.

               ANGLE ON ANOTHER SMALL BOY, PLAYING ALONE

               It's Alex Kintner, and his mother, nearby, reading a novel.

               Alex is towing a funny rubber raft, and headed for the water.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex Kintner! Where do you 
                         think you're going?

                                     ALEX
                         Water. Just once more, please?

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Let me see your fingers --

               He holds out his hands.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         They're beginning to prune. 10 minutes 
                         more.

               Alex starts for the ocean. Behind him, Michael and his gang 
               are also heading for the inviting waves. Brody is watching 
               them go, his spine rigid with tension.

               MAN AND HIS DOG

               As Alex and the boys hit the water, we see the man throwing 
               his stick into the waves, his dog swimming strongly after 
               it.

               BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               Out beyond the kids and the dog, the Fat Lady is bobbing 
               around, out way too far, isolated from the other swimmers.

               UNDERWATER VIEW - EXT. - DAY

               A fish's-eye view of the bathers: lots of little kicking 
               legs, rafts with tasty arms dangling in the blue, slowing 
               circling, favoring one raft (little Alex's). The Kintner 
               boy's legs and arms are kicking and paddling, producing 
               bizarre underwater vibrations of more than passing interest.  
               Dog goes by, dog-paddling along.

               ON THE BEACH

               Brody is half-rising, looking out over the water. The Fat 
               Lady is not where he remembered her. He scans the water 
               anxiously.

                                     ELLEN
                         Do you want the boys to come in? 
                         Honey, if you're worried...

               A Black Object swims across the water. It's the dog, breasting 
               against the surf.

               ANGLE ON THE WATER - BRODY'S POINT OF VIEW

               It's the Fat Lady, floating, relaxing. A black object swims 
               up to her. It's not the dog. It rears up out of the water.

               It's a man in a black bathing cap. They exchange distant 
               pleasantries, he strokes away.

               ANOTHER ANGLE - WATER

               Alex Kintner, paddling around, making boat sounds, tooting, 
               going "vroom, vroom."

               ANGLE ON THE BOY AND GIRL

               They kiss, embrace, kiss again. Strong stuff. They sink 
               beneath the waves, knotted in an embrace.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL BRODY AND HIS FRIENDS

               He's trying to salvage a soggy piece of birthday cake, holding 
               it above the water, paddling with his other hand. The bandage 
               has come part way loose, and his cut is trailing in the water.

               BRODY AND ELLEN ON THE BEACH

               Ellen is rubbing suntan oil on his back, and he is allowing 
               himself to relax part way. His eyes still nervously scan the 
               beach in a constant surveillance. Mr. Keisel is coming out 
               of the water, toweling off vigorously, exclaiming to himself.

                                     BRODY
                              (to Keisel)
                         How's the water?

                                     KEISEL
                         Too cold. I'm going in again Labor 
                         Day. Hope we get this weather next 
                         weekend.

                                     ELLEN
                         You're very tight, y'know?
                              (digs in)
                         Right there.

                                     BRODY
                         Ow.
                              (he sees something)
                         He's gotta be more careful in the 
                         water...

               ANGLE ON THE GANG PLAYING IN THE WATER

               Michael has just been drenched. He splashes back. A big 
               waterfight ensues, the boys splashing and chopping at the 
               water, shouting battle cries and karate whoops. Alex is 
               paddling around near them, but not involved with them.

               ALONG THE WATERLINE ON THE BEACH

               The Man with the Dog is whistling into the ocean, looking 
               for his dog.

                                     DOG MAN
                         Buster! Hey, Buster! Here boy!
                              (whistles)
                         He continues to ad lib calling his 
                         dog, but there's no answer, no dog 
                         in the water.

               THE WATERFRONT

               A huge splash explodes in the water near the gang, an eruption 
               of foam and spray that stops everyone cold for a moment.  
               They stop to see who was responsible.

                                     A KID (MATHEW)
                         Hey, no fair splashing in the eyes!

               Before anyone can answer, another kid (P.J.) renews the 
               battle, whooping a karate cry, and slashing at the water 
               with his hand like a little kung-fu warrior, advancing through 
               the waves.

               CLOSE ON MATHEW, SPLASHING BACK

               He hits the water, which sprays up suspiciously pink. He 
               stares at it, surprised.

               CLOSE ON P.J.

               His hands are dripping deep pink, the red matting his hair, 
               running into his eyes. He looks down. The boys are surrounded 
               with a deep pink slick, their little bodies ringed by a 
               spreading stain of blood.

               ANGLE ON SHORE, A TOURIST AND HIS WIFE

               He's pointing frantically out to sea.

                                     TOURIST
                         Something in the water. Right there! 
                         Didn't anyone see it?

                                     WOMAN
                         There's blood in the water.

               ANGLE ON BRODY

               He leaps to his feet, nearly knocking Ellen over, and starts 
               for the water.

                                     ELLEN
                         What is it...?

               Brody is pelting towards the water. He kicks sand over an 
               annoyed Mrs. Kintner, who looks up, just in time to hear 
               Brody's bellow.

                                     BRODY
                         Michael! Sean! Out of the water. 
                         Everybody out of the water! Michael! 
                         Get out!

               His urgency communicates itself to the others. Ellen snatches 
               Sean up from where he's been playing in the sand. Other 
               parents are calling their kids, hysteria mounting. People 
               rush into the water, dragging their children and families 
               bodily out of the ocean. The first kids coming out of the 
               surf are frantically trying to wash the sticky blood off 
               their bodies. The sight of the red sends the beach into a 
               full panic.

               CLOSE ON BRODY

               He rushes into the water, up to his ankles, and suddenly 
               stops, unable to move into deeper water. He is urging Michael 
               out, holding his hands out to his son, who is slogging through 
               the surf towards his dad. He stands there immobilized by the 
               water, nervously helping people out of it onto the beach.

               ANGLE ON MICHAEL

               As he emerges from the water, Alex Kintner's raft washes in 
               behind him, ripped in half, the water pink, the foam spreading 
               the stain onto the sand as the wave breaks.

               ANGLE ON MRS. KINTNER

               Her voice rising into panic and hysteria with each unanswered 
               cry.

                                     MRS. KINTNER
                         Alex! Alex? Alex...!


- Bill

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

ATLiH: Rubber Gloves Of Death!

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD: RUBBER GLOVES OF DEATH!

As usual, the names and details have been changed to protect the very very guilty!

One of the things about low budget movies that bothers me these days is that so many of them just suck. Now, I fully understand films made on low budgets have little or no money to do things, but often it seems as if no one on the film is trying to make up for that with creativity, imagination, and passion. It often seems like they just don’t care. I know that good films, even great films, can be made for no money. I see films in festivals made on a shoestring like FAVOR and DOWN AND DANGEROUS and FOREV and JOE SHERMANN SONG and dozens of others (sorry if I didn’t mention your film) that just kick ass. They are often *better* than anything Hollywood could do on a Hollywood budget. I also see some films that don’t quite work, but you can see the filmmakers really trying to make something excellent, they just didn’t have the cash or some small thing sunk them. But often I see low budget films where it seems like nobody gave a damn...

And that’s a problem.

Recently I rented a low budget film that a guy I know was involved in. A sci fi action flick. Now, I can get behind a cheap sci fi action flick. I interviewed the guys who made SIX STRING SAMURAI before the film came out, and *that’s* a wild ride! But this film just sucked... because the people involved obviously didn’t care. They were just making a product - and not even a very good one.

The way to become a loser in Hollywood is not to care. Even if you are making a cheapo genre film, make it the best it can possibly be. Not the best you can make it, because you always want to stretch and grow - so make it the best it can be (which is better than you can do... you have to stretch). In this case, the writer-director just didn’t care and made 90 minutes of pure torture.





This was one of those “Mockbusters” - a cheapo film designed to have enough similarities to a big studio blockbuster to maybe fool someone into thinking it’s a prequel or sequel or maybe that studio blockbuster available in a RedBox kiosk or on the shelves at Walmart at the same time it’s in the cinemas. These films basically use the TV adverts and trailers of the big studio blockbuster to help sell their cheapo version. Before striking gold with the SHARKNADO movies, producer The Asylum made a ton of these - even being sued by studios because they copied the posters and other elements of movies like BATTLESHIP (AMERICAN BATTLESHIP) and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED) and THOR (ALMIGHTY THOR) and TRANSFORMERS (TRANSMORPHERS) and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (18 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I AM LEGEND (I AM OMEGA). But this wasn’t an Asylum movie - it was made by other folks with the same scheme. Can I tell you the biggest problem with a “Mockbuster”? You can easily compare it to the actual big budget blockbuster... and these films don’t compare well.

The story opened on a space ship... which was the worst CGI exterior I have ever seen (why not use a model if you can’t afford good CGI? This looked like a really bad cartoon of a spaceship. Heck, you could build your own unique model of the space ship - all that takes is time *before production begins* when you don’t have a cast and crew waiting.) And when we cut to the interior? It was some office with a drop ceiling and a visible drinking fountain in the background (how would that work in zero gravity?) and there was a gameboy console or something on a desk. Nothing was done to dress the office to make it look like a spaceship. The space ship had drop ceilings and florescent lights and a drinking fountain and square windows with vertical blinds. WTF?





I worked on a friend’s sci fi movie where he took cardboard and curved it to look like a space ship wall and painted it gray and made some oval windows with black cardboard sheets that had little LED lights punched into them as stars. Cost him a couple bucks total. He also built a pretty nice control console and put a couple of $29 desk chairs behind it (the actor’s bodies covered the chairs, but they could turn like STAR TREK chairs). The console had knobs and buttons and blinking lights and screens with green gel and lights behind them. Basically, he took a couple of weeks before he made the film to build the space ship set in his garage. It looked amazing on film. This film made by this looser that I paid real money to rent? No time spent on anything!

The story had a spaceship filled with hot female prisoners crashing on an alien planet, and (of course) the aliens want to capture the women and mate with them... because if a spaceship filled with *alien* females crash landed on Earth, the first thing you’d think was: can we have sex with them? Sure, they’re green and look like lizards or something, but can we have sex with them? That’s the whole danged plot! Except the escaped female prisoners are attractive human women.

Now here’s the thing about cheapo films like this - they are exploitation flicks. My friend Fred Olen Ray says that “nudity is the cheapest special effect”, and many a bad film I rented back in the VHS days and watched with buddies from work while drinking beer and eating pizza were saved by nudity and inventive action and some funny lines. Here are two things about nudity (female or male or aliens wearing rubber gloves for some reason) - and these not only appeared in ever version of my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING book, they go all the way back to the xeroxed “generic script notes” that spawned that book: 1) A rape scene is **not** a sex scene (it’s a violence scene, and if you write it or film it to be “sexy” that’s just plain disturbing and wrong), and 2) All nudity must make sense! If a character just gets naked for no reason, that’s stupid! They have to get naked for a logical reason! Fred has a movie (don’t remember which one) where a character gets completely spattered with blood when one of their friends is killed by a monster, and what would *you* do if you were covered in blood? Wash it off! So the character takes a shower - and now we get a suspense scene where we know the monster is out there and this character is *vulnerable* because they are naked. Hey, it’s the danged “Psycho” shower scene, but with a monster instead of Mrs. Bates. I’m not saying this is art, but you understand why the character takes off her clothes. She’s not just disrobing for the pervs in the audience - there’s a logical reason. Nudity has to make sense! Even a crappy film where nudity might be the only thing that saves the movie from being torture needs to have *motivated* nudity. Or else it just seems cheap (which it is, but we don’t want the audience to be thinking that). Even with the six pack and the pizza, you want the story to make some sort of sense.





When I pitched my BLADE RUNNER type script STEEL CHAMELEONS about the underground railroad for androids that wanted to pass as human... and ended up getting paid to write a movie about robot hookers from outer space, I decided to write the exact kind of movie that my buddies from work would want to see. A six pack and pizza movie. Funny, lots of action, some inventive elements, maybe a little parody of some popular film snuck in there (EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in that case) and some *motivated* female nudity (and even some shirtless dudes in case someone watched it with their girlfriend). Fred directed that, by the way. So you might have watched that film and thought it was stupid, but it would at least be *fun* and include all of the elements the target audience wanted to see. “Hey, I saw this movie, and it was terrible... but funny and had a cool spaceship battle and beautiful women.” (Or hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoyed). But there’s a *criteria* for films like this... do you think this film delivered on any of the required elements?

The aliens chasing our escaped women? Well, they obviously bought some cheap alien masks the day after Halloween, and then had the actors playing the aliens dress in jeans and long sleeve shirts (so they didn’t need to do full body make up). Oh, and tennis shoes. But what about the *hands*? The alien hands that would be grabbing for these escaped women? Well, instead of doing any sort of make up, they just gave them yellow rubber gloves. Worst looking aliens *ever*! I did better stuff when I was making super 8mm films in High School!





Then the rest of that film was filled with “we don’t care” costumes and “we don’t care” acting and “we don’t care” sets and “we don’t care” props and a “we don’t care” script and, worst of all, no action! Most of the film was two or more characters standing somewhere talking about action that had happened earlier. No action scenes at all!!!!

You know what’s almost as cheap as nudity? A foot chase or a fight scene. Or even a shoot out - when I was doing those stupid super 8mm films in High School I had toy guys from Toys R Us painted to look real, and created cool muzzle flares by wrapping match heads in aluminum foil and heating the end (this was built into the toy gun - a disposable cigarette lighter to do the heating). The match heads exploded out of the barrel, which looked really cool at night. I also used flash bulbs built into those Toys R Us plastic guns with a battery that connected when the trigger was pulled. And blood squibs - a bent piece of aluminum tubing hidden in the victim’s shirt, plastic aquarium hose going down the body connecting the tubing to a lens cleaner bellows taped onto the bottom of their shoe, filled with Kayro Syrup blood. The victim stomps on the bellows and the blood sprays from their chest! You could shoot them in a long shot! People always wanted to know how I did that - because there was no visible special effects rig and the victim could show their empty hands on camera (no trigger in their hands). As long as the foot was angled right or off screen. So if I could do a cool shoot out when I was an idiot High School student, someone making a film that I could rent from a legit rental source could probably do the same... if they cared.





Now, here was the funny part: this was obviously shot in the woods somewhere. Once they were off the flying rental office, they landed on some wooded planet where the female prisoners escaped and those aliens in Playtex gloves chased them. Except they didn’t. There was no chasing in the film at all. When the hero woman escaped, she instantly twisted her ankle and was recaptured within seconds.

She got maybe two steps, max.

Then it was back to evil alien in bad Halloween mask making a never ending speech gesturing with his rubber gloved hands as if he had been interrupted while scrubbing the toilet as attractive female hero just sits there listening and waiting her turn to make *her* never ending speech. If I had the woods, I would sure as hell use them for a great foot chase. I would have characters hide and almost be discovered, generating suspense. I would have spent the time to write a great script, because the one thing a low budget film has as an advantage is pre-production time. The more time you spend in prep, the more you can solve problems long before they pop up on set. The more you can craft something exciting that won’t cost a lot of money to make. I would have taken the time to write the greatest script ever. I would do a big action chase thing like MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but with aliens! MOST DANGEROUS GAME was a low budget film when it was made...

But here? No chases, no danger, no nothing... just people sitting and talking.

Wearing rubber gloves and Halloween masks.

For 90 very very long minutes.

With absolutely no nudity, motivated or not.

And no hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoy.





And nothing they said was clever or amusing - it was dead serious, as if they expected the audience to take all of this stuff as if were Shakespeare or something. Hey, wait, Shakespeare is damned funny! All of that clever word play and those dirty jokes for the groundlings!

But nobody involved cared enough to make this even slightly amusing, or have any chases or suspense or action or anything else that people might want to see. That’s what makes the writer-director of this mess a loser. They didn’t care. They were just trying to fill 90 minutes of film so they could collect their check and go home.

You have to care. You have to do the best that can be done with what you have. You have to give it your all... even if the movie is about robot hookers from outer space when you wanted to make something like BLADE RUNNER. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

- Bill

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