Thursday, September 30, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Pigeons From Hell

Pigeons From Hell

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



Season: 1, Episode: 36.
Airdate: June 6, 1961

Director: John Newland
Writer: John Kneubuhl based on a story by Robert E. Howard (Conan)
Cast: Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, Ken Renard, David Whorf, Guy Wilkerson, Ottola Nesmith.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The swamp is alive! Crawling with creatures of death. Creatures that lurk, camoflauged in the undergrowth waiting patiently for an unsuspecting victim. And our young friend was alarmed by a flight of pigeons. Harmless you say? Well you’ll see that he has good cause for alarm, for those were no ordinary pigeons. They were the pigeons from hell. That is both the title and the substance of our story. Spirits come back from the dead to guard their ancestral home against intruders. Spirits that in life fed on evil and now in death return to feed upon the living. Return each night, driven relentlessly by the spell of a terrible curse. In our story the living... I mean the players... are, Brandon DeWilde, Crahan Denton, and David Whorf. Join us now, as night is falling at the old house where the evil dwells and two brave young brothers dare to intrude.”



Synopsis: College kids Tim (Brandon DeWilde) and Johnny (David Whorf) are taking a road trip through the backwoods of Louisiana when their car gets stuck in the mud. Johnny goes to look for a piece of wood to shove under the wheels so they can get the car out... and discovers an ancient abandoned plantation, surrounded by pigeons. Maybe someone can help them out? But when he gets closer to the house, the pigeons attack him! He screams, and Tim runs over. By then the pigeons have flown away. They check out the old mansion... empty. Maybe a place to spend the night and get the car out in the morning?

The old plantation is vacant, cobwebs and dust... spooky. Tim tells Johnny to find some firewood while he goes to the car and gets their sleeping bags and stuff. When he leaves, Tim looks at the cobwebbed painting of a beautiful woman who used to live here... and maybe still does in some form. Johnny returns with the sleeping bags, rolls them out in front of the fire and they go to sleep. While they sleep the pigeons flock inside a room upstairs... cooing.

In the middle of the night, Johnny wakes up, hears a sound from upstairs: a woman humming? Goes up to check it out.



Johnny’s scream wakes Tim up, he heads upstairs... where Johnny waits with an hatchet! Covered in blood, walking in a trance. He advances toward Tim! Tim races down the stairs, away from Johnny, away from the house. Through the darkness, into the swamp... when he trips and hits his head. Unconscious.

Tim wakes up in a shack, where Sheriff Buckner (Crahan Denton) is searching his pockets while Howard and his wife look on. Buckner says Howard was hunting raccoons and found Tim passed out cold. Tim tells Buckner what happened... but says Johnny is dead. His head was smashed in, split open; but he was still walking with a hatchet in his hand. Dead, but still walking! Sheriff Buckner says that must be the old Blassenville Plantation and tells Howard to get his shotgun, they’re going back there. But Howard runs off. He’s not going in that spooky old place.



Buckner and Tim head back to the old house in his station wagon. It’s dark, but Buckner has a lantern. Tim doesn’t want to go back inside... but he does. There is a trail of blood on the stairs, leading to... the room with the sleeping bags where Johnny lays dead, hatchet still in hand. Buckner covers the corpse while Tim breaks down. “Why do you suppose he went upstairs?” Tim says from the moment they saw this house it was as if Johnny was listening... to something. And those pigeons surrounding the house. Buckner says he’s lived here his entire life and never seen any pigeons.

Buckner says he has to arrest Tim for Johnny’s murder. There were only two people in the house and one was killed with a hatchet and the other is still alive.

Buckner wants to go upstairs to investigate, and Tim tags along (not wanting to be left downstairs with his dead brother). Tim points out the cut in the wall where Johnny swung the hatchet at him. They find a huge puddle of blood where Johnny must have been struck by the hatchet... and a door in the darkness behind that point.



Buckner opens the door and enters the room, gun in hand. Tim behind him, scared. Suddenly the lamp goes out. Weird. They get the hell out of the room, go back down the stairs... and the lamp suddenly lights up again. Buckner says he doesn’t think Tim killed Johnny, but doesn’t really want to admit that the solution is supernatural. Everyone believes this plantation is haunted, but a Sheriff can’t really list that as a cause of death or the murderer on paperwork, right? Buckner decides to put Johnny’s body in his station wagon and then go back into the plantation house and poke around the crime scene.

Back inside the house, Tim asks Buckner who’s the woman in the paining? Elizabeth Blassenville, she was the last one who lived here. The house had fallen to ruins and the rest of the family had vanished... probably left for the city. The rumor is that Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and got married. Tim wonders if they were all scared away by whatever’s in the house now? Buckner doesn’t think so. The family lived here alone: no one would work for them because they had a mean streak. The plantation workers ran away except for one, Jacob Blount, who stayed on... and is still alive in an old shack. A young servant girl Eula Lee, she was physically beaten and ran away. Buckner and Tim get upstairs and this time the lantern remains lit.

They go into the room again... and there’s a piano covered with dust, except for the keyboard. A diary in a drawer: Elizabeth’s... an entry talks about the sounds of footsteps in the night. Ghosts. Or Eula Lee? The diary seems to suggest that instead of the rest of the family running away, they had been murdered horribly in the house.



As they leave the room, Buckner notices that a door in the hallway which was open is now closed. How is that possible? Buckner opens the door to investigate... the lantern goes out. Buckner decides instead of going in that room, maybe they’d better go see Jacob Blount in his shack.

Old Jacob Blount tells Sheriff Buckner and Tim that everyone in the house is dead... but they come back at night... as pigeons. Blount tells them that Eula Lee was not a servant, she was a half sister. Maybe Eula Lee still lives in the house? Blount says he’s afraid to say anything, because of a voodoo curse. A curse that can turn people into zombies who can not control their own actions. They live forever, time means nothing to them... they can command the dead: command the birds, command the snakes. Jacob says he can say no more, for fear she will come. Buckner wants to know if it’s Eula Lee... if she’s still alive.



And that’s when the snake attacks Jacob! Killing him.

Did Eula send the snake to kill him?

When they get to Buckner’s car, it is *covered* with pigeons!

Back in the plantation house Buckner loads his gun wondering how Eula Lee could be behind this: she’d be ancient by now. Buckner doesn’t believe in voodoo.

Tim falls asleep, wakes up... alone. Buckner is gone. Hears the woman humming from upstairs and starts climbing the stairs. In a trance. The door to that room that had closed on its own is open, and ancient Eula Lee steps out with a butcher knife ready to cleave his head in two! Suddenly shots ring out: Buckner shoots old Elua Lee.

In the room, Buckner finds a secret doorway into a room where the skeletons of all of the family members are hidden! Eula Lee murdered them all.



Review: In DANSE MACABRE Stephen King calls this "one of the finest horror stories of our century"... probably not knowing he’s make it into this century as well. I think King must have seen this episode at an impressionable age, because it really didn’t do it for me. Even though Brandon DeWilde was probably a big “get” for the show (he was the kid in SHANE and the younger brother in HUD and an Oscar nominee), I’ve never been much a fan of his acting. He’s also in that notorious Hitchcock episode THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE which was way too violent for prime time (a magic act where a woman is sawed in half goes very very wrong), but he always seems like the character in that episode... who was what we now call “mentally challenged”. He’s kind of stiff and always comes off kind of stupid. And here’s what’s crazy about this episode: he’s a hundred times better than the guy who plays his brother! All of the acting sucks in this episode, and the writing and direction doesn’t make up for it.

Samoan screenwriter John Kneubuhl also adapted PAPA BENJAMIN for this series and did KNOCK THREE ONE TWO (with Warren Oates as the simpleton), and seems to stick the actors with exposition heavy dialogue and nonsensical story moments. They go upstairs and poke around, then decide to go downstairs for no reason, then go back upstairs. It’s as if they are moving around for no reason other than padding out the scene. I’m sure these things made sense in the short story, but none of that made it to screen. Much of the plantation and family backstory is so convoluted and confusing that I want to track down the short story to find out what really happened. My *guess* is that Eula was a bastardess half slave, but none of that is on screen (a quick Google search confirms this... though the character has a different name in the short story). Instead of *discovering* this information, it just gets dumped on us. Also, for two college kids stuck in a spooky rural area like the pair in AMERICAN WEREWOLF, neither of these kids has any real personality or any clever dialogue. So we have stiff actors and stiff dialogue in a boring situation...



And blandly directed. Where PARASITE MANSION milked it’s old house for creepy and spooky shots, here it’s just some abandoned place. That shot in PARASITE where she pulls back the wardrobe and the spiderwebs are so thick and creepy that you want to move away from the TV screen has no comparison in this episode. The camera is blandly placed and actors just act in front of it. No use of cinema at all! Also, not a single POV shot to put us in the shoes of the protagonists. So this guy doesn’t seem to be good with actors *and* doesn’t seem to know what to do with the camera.

The pigeons? Hey, pretty well trained! They flock at the right place, and when they attack the kid, it’s convincing.

I only wish the rubber snake that attacks Jacob was as convincing! But it doesn’t even move! He actually reaches down and grabs it, then has to shake it to make it look like it’s moving. It’s obviously a rubber snake.



Oh, and what’s with all of the B names? Nothing worse than a huge block of exposition and every name mentioned begins with the letter B! Confusing!

What a waste of a 6/6/1961 episode!

Though this isn’t the worst episode of THRILLER, it’s probably in the bottom third. Next week we get the last episode of the season (then we are taking a break for the summer) and thankfully the show went out on a strong note... with SHATNER!

Bill

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Film Courage:
How To Write Fast!

This new Film Courage segment (okay, 2015) is in response to a question about the fastest I have ever written a screenplay, and I decided to take it in a different direction and talk about *how* to write fast - because how you are going to make some insane deadline when it pops up might be worrying you a little. So let’s get to the clip...



I have written screenplays faster than 2 weeks, but who the hell cares? I know a couple of writers who did a FADE IN to FADE OUT race - all nighters. Hey, that's cool. Not sure when writing a screenplay in a weekend is ever really going to come up (might be good practice for TV, though). But congratulations if you managed to do that and end up with a great script - some people can. But *speed* and *accuracy* are two things professional writers need when crazy deadlines pop up... and they will. Nobody cares if you wrote a screenplay in a weekend if it stinks... and nobody cares if you spent 2 years writing your masterpiece and it was due 23 months ago. Both are problems. You need to be able to deliver quality work on a deadline, and sometimes an insane deadline. I know that I have mentioned before having to rewrite most of Act Three of an HBO World Premiere script *overnight* when we lost a location, because we were filming it the next morning... and because scenes are shot out of order, I needed *all* of Act Three rewritten by the morning call time.

In the interview I talk about a few times where I’ve had only 2 weeks to write a script (or less), that’s not how it normally works. Depending on the project, you are usually given a month to 12 weeks - sometimes more, in your contract. But just because they give you several months in your contract doesn’t mean they want you to wait until the last minute to turn in the script. I know a pair of writers who turn in their scripts at the very last minute... and I think their careers have suffered because of it. Just like anything else - you don’t want to wait until the last minute to do the work. Usually what will happen is the producer will call for a progress report, and though they sound happy and cheerful, what they really mean is “Where the hell is my script, slacker?” So even when you have a reasonable amount of time to write a screenplay, you don’t want to wait until the last minute...

And there may be times when you have an Unreasonable amount of time to write a screenplay, and it still has to be amazing. Because many of my assignments were for Made For TV or Made For Cable networks, we had an airdate *before* I started writing the screenplay. If that seems crazy to you - when are the next Marvel movies coming out? In this business they usually know when a film is coming out long before they have begun shooting it! A few of my projects were to fill a “hole” when another film dropped out at the last minute - and I had two weeks to write the script that went out to talent (who we were trying to get cheap - so the script needed to wow them). How do you do that? How do you write *good* and *fast*?

HAVE A PLAN

bluebook Prep time is your superpower - use it wisely!

I solve all of the basic story problems in the outline stage, including things like character purpose. Supporting Characters always serve the story. In the outline stage I make sure that the story is the very best that it can be - so I *work* my outline. It’s not just a jotted down list of things that happen, I go over and over it and make sure that everything happens in the best order. I want to find any story problems at this stage. Some of you don’t work from an outline because you think that it stifles creativity - but nothing is further from the truth. The outline is a *creative step*. For me the fun is writing for reader reaction within a scene. To lead the reader to believe A when B is true. Create emotions and twists and turns *within the scene* - so the outline is one creative step and the writing itself becomes another creative step. I focus on the story itself in the outline stage, and I focus on *telling the story* in the writing stage. That way I can perfect the way the story works, and I don’t have to worry about that aspect while writing it. If I have the story the best it can be in Treatment, I can focus on HOW I tell it within scene while writing. How to create impact, emotions. How to deepen character moments. I have more time for those things in in 2 weeks of writing because I have already figured out the very best way that the story can work in the outline stage, which is required for me to turn in a Treatment.

Treatment?

When you are working on an assignment, usually it works in steps... and that means you won’t have to do everything at once. The first step is a treatment, and on a normal project you may have a full month to write the treatment... on many of the crazy projects I’ve done, I’ve had a week or less to turn in a treatment. A couple were 3 days. That’s not much time to get the story aspect as close to perfect as possible, but there’s a loophole in “Reading Periods” which we will look at a bit later.

Much of your prep work will take place in that week (or 3 days). If you can figure out the basic story and characters and then do a beat sheet that you can turn into a treatment in a week, you’ll be okay. Most of the time they wanted about a 15 page treatment, and I could write that in a day from a beat sheet, so even if I only had 3 days, that was two days of “breaking the story” and figuring out the characters. Yeah, sometimes very long days, I can sleep later! Though you may need to compress some of your prep work to get that treatment done if you only have 3 days, and you may end up skipping some steps that you would normally do, and putting in some long hours. I think one of the things that helps me is having a working method to “break” the story, that I call the Thematic Method, and is in the Outline Blue Book.

After they read the treatment they’ll send you off to write the screenplay. Your contract will have a writing period for the first draft and a reading period for them to read it... or read the coverage... or have their assistant give them a 2 minute briefing on the way to the meeting. On a normal production there’s plenty of time... But my 2 week situations have all been about meeting an airdate or production start date or a window for a star or a funding source - and they need the script ASAP, so you need to get the rear in gear and write it. If there isn’t a hard deadline, and you’re just going by your contract - the producer will want it sooner rather than later - even though they may sit on it without reading it for weeks. Once they’ve commissioned the script, they want to see it as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean do a half assed job writing it - turning in crap on time is still turning in crap - but it does mean getting the work done as soon as possible.

So you have 2 weeks to write a feature length screenplay that is going out to stars... so it has to be great. How do you do that?

FOLDERS OF CHEATS

bluebook In addition to getting the outline the very best that it can be, I also work on characters in this week or two days or whatever. Again, the Thematic Method is a big help - I don’t write character bios as much as know the secrets and fears and goals and needs of my characters, plus have “dialogue patterns” - I make sure that every character has a different way of saying yes and no, hello and goodbye, I come up with their pet words and phrases and speech patterns and any mannerisms or physical actions that will help define them. One page per character. It’s easier to just write this stuff down, than to keep flipping back through the pages to find the last time the character said “Hello” and make sure that it’s consistent. All of these elements are *character related* - and are ways of showing the characters. I posted some lines of dialogue from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN on FaceBook a few days ago, and all of Jack Sparrow’s dialogue is filled with sentences with lots of commas where he changes course in the middle of a sentence as he’s trying to figure out the best lie... or avoid actually saying anything. He’s a great bullshitter - and his *speech patterns* are a part of that. So finding the way that a character speaks that *shows* the character is a great way to write that character quickly.

The other way is having Folders Full Of Cheats.

Prep time is your superpower... Whenever I come up with a great line of dialogue or dialogue exchange, I have a folder on my laptop to put it in. It used to be a big spiral notebook that was divided up into sections for dialogue, actions, character moments, interesting scene ideas, plot twists, suspense scenes, car chases, shoot outs, fight scenes, and a generic section. I also jot down ideas on note cards and have a card file just filled with unorganized cards with ideas on them... which we will talk about in a moment. But the files on my laptop and the old spiral notebook are my Folders Full Of Cheats.

When I am on deadline, those files are gold. On DROID GUNNER (9 day deadline), I robbed the dialogue file constantly. Almost every funny exchange was from the folder, something that I had thought of years ago and written down. We all have those ideas - we come up with some funny line at work or in the shower, and if you don’t write it down... you may forget it. If you have written it down and are writing against the clock and look through the folder before you write the scene - there it is! That amazing line that you came up with 7 years ago! Or you need a plot twist while outlining the script, that cool twist that you came up with 2 years ago! You always want these things to fit the story you are writing, but if you have enough of them, something in there will either work or spark a line that does work. I saw DROID GUNNER at a screening with an audience, and lots of lines got laughs - some people told the director afterwards that they thought it was his best film. One of the lines that got a good laugh was one that I had come up with almost a decade earlier while watching ALIENS and Lt. Gorman modifies the number of combat drops he’s done with the word “Simulations”. I came up with a variation, where a character says they’ve had over 200 hours of martial arts training... on the simulator. Response: Fine, if we run into any simulated killers, you can fight them. I took that raw line from the file and put it in the character’s voices and... it gets a laugh! When you only have 9 days to write a screenplay, all of the work in those files was a life saver! There were a bunch of one liners and asides and funny dialogue exchanges... and one of the things that I had on my character sheets is one of the characters just wants to get paid... but something always gets in the way. That became a running gag in the story - the big chase scene at the end had him constantly running past a sign pointing out where the payroll office was. That scene was cut, but it was a great read even if the audience didn’t get to see it.

So you can be prepared just by writing stuff down over the years. Even if you don't use it in this screenplay against the clock, it’s a great safety net... and gives you some confidence when you have an insane deadline. If you are stuck, you have that treasure trove of stuff to rob from - all of those folders of cheats!

Another thing I’ve learned about writing scripts on a deadline - you find some specific skill you have that is “coasting” - something that you are really good at, and make sure the script uses that skill. Oddly, I learned from NINJA BUSTERS and DROID GUNNER that I am pretty good at buddy banter off the top of my head - so if I have to write a script fast, I want it to be a buddy action script so that I can use that odd skill to turn out some pages that everybody likes quickly. Not everything has to come from the Folders Of Cheats!

I’ve also learned that my subconscious comes up with some great things when I don’t have time to think - and I’m sure yours will, too. And you will also discover that you will be able to come up with some great ideas on the fly - I never thought I could come up with anything off the top of my head (except hair pulled from the approaching deadline) but I come up with some amazing things when I’m in the middle of a scene - one trick of mine is to come up with *details* that may later pay off (“soft plants”), and if they don’t - they are still good details. One of the great things about writing fast is that you have to remove all of the filters and often get more honest writing. You don’t have time for the bullshit that comes from thinking about it - there isn’t time to think!

DO THE MATH

WriteItFilmIt Once you get the deadline, be it three weeks or two weeks or 9 days, it’s all about the math. If you have 9 days to write a 90 page screenplay, that’s ten pages a day. Simple! Okay, not simple to write 10 pages a day, but simple to figure out how many pages you need to write every day. I have a bunch of friends who keep saying that I write fast, but really I write consistently. Slow and steady wins the race. Though 10 pages a day may not sound like slow to you (and it’s not), the *steady* part is what’s important. If you are wildly erratic and write 20 pages one day and then 2 pages for each of the next two days, you will never be able to make your deadlines. I know writers who write a bunch of pages and then burn out and struggle for the next few days - and that’s the Hare who loses the race, not the Tortoise who wins it. You are better off writing a reasonable number of pages every single day.

So once you have your deadline, just do the math. A feature script in 3 weeks is 5 a day for 6 days. Gets you to 90. I usually end up with 100+ pages due to good days. On a 2 week schedule, I do 7.5-8 pages a day to get between 90-100 finished pages after 12 days of writing. If possible, I try to save a couple of days at the end of the schedule for emergencies - and we’ll talk about that in a moment. But figure out how many pages you need to write every day to make your deadline... then write them!

This is another benefit of working with an outline - you know exactly what tomorrow’s scenes are going to be, and think about them a little at the end of the day. Let your subconscious do a little work while you are sleeping. If you know what the next day’s scenes are, you can prepare yourself to write them. BLIND TRUST was a thriller for USA Network that I had to write in 2 weeks, and all of the research came from books on my shelves already - but the night before writing tomorrow’s scenes, I would read the section of the specific type of poison that my character needed to know about, or whatever - and be prepared when I woke up the next morning. Knowing what you need to write tomorrow at the end of the day helps you make the crazy deadlines.

GOTTA KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS



An important part of being able to make a deadline is that consistent writing. Writing against a deadline is like running a race. If you wake up one morning and think it would be fun to run a marathon, you probably aren’t going to even get close to finishing. You need to *train* for the marathon. So I “train” for those insane deadlines by using self imposed deadlines on spec screenplays. I have a daily page quota that I write every day. My page quota is 5 pages a day. If I can write 5 pages a day for 6 days in a row without completely screwing up, and I am *used to that*, I can run a little faster to make my two week deadline. I know that I can do that. It’s just 2-3 more pages a day. I don’t expect that to be easy, but I know that it is *possible*. I know what I am capable of...

And I also know my limitations. If I were struggling to write 2 pages a day, I probably couldn’t write a screenplay in 3 weeks - I wouldn’t be in shape to run that fast. It might be possible, but I would always be afraid of screwing up, and those thoughts might cripple my writing. You don’t want to be the person who gets winded walking down the block who signs up for a marathon race. Hey, miracles can happen... but you don’t want to bet your career on them. So work to build up your daily page count - it’s about consistency. You can predict whether you can do something based on consistency, not based on that one time, in band camp... Writing every day turns it into a habit. If you can do 5 pages a day, you can do 7.5 pages a day. Of course, we all have bad days...

I’M STUCK!

bluebook The worst part of writing on a deadline is when you get stuck. No matter how well you have outlined your story, how well you know your characters, how well prepared you are to go from 0 to 60 on a screenplay and have the thing done on time and amazing by the deadline, you are going to have one of those days... or maybe two. It’s normal. None of us wants it to be normal, but it’s going to happen. What do you do?

Keep moving forward. Writing on a deadline is like a shark - you don’t want to stop and get hung up on a problem. If I get stuck on a scene, I make a list of everything that the scene needs to do to move the story forward: the things that need to happen, the emotions that I want the audience to feel, the things that the characters need to feel, the big decision in the scene that changes the direction of the story, and everything else that needs to be in this scene in order to get us to the next scene and to the end of the screenplay. Most of the time, while making this list, I figure out how to write the scene and write it. Sometimes I just type up the list where the scene is supposed to go, so that I know what I need to do when I come back to it later... and go on to the next scene.

I mentioned the card files of random ideas that I have, and this is another resource for when I get stuck. These ideas are completely unsorted - there may be title ideas and dialogue ideas and car chase ideas and ideas on how to find a manager. Random ideas. I read through a bunch of cards. Hey, there may be something on a card that sparks an idea for the scene? Or it may just completely take my mind off the scene so that my subconscious can do some work behind the scenes and figure out the scene. But I find that random ideas can help me when I’m stuck.

Obviously I look at the Folders Of Cheats, too.

But if none of this works, I need to just leave that list of things that the scene needs to do and move on to the next. I don’t want to be stuck for days trying to write a scene when there are other scenes that I could be writing.

My first drafts have “Insert Funny Line XX” sprinkled throughout. I know that I need a funny line there, but at the time I was writing that scene had no idea what the line might be. Later I will think of it, search for “XX” and insert the line. But I want to move forward! My subconscious will be working on the “Funny Line” or “Clever Comeback” or whatever while I am moving forward on the story.

There are times when I put in a temporary line with an XX behind it so that I can find it later... and sometimes the deadline is coming and I haven’t thought of anything better, and the temporary line is what gets into that first draft. I try to come up with the replacement during the reading period...

READING PERIODS

bluebook Once you turn in your first draft or your treatment, there is a “reading period” - usually a week, or sometimes as long as the time you were allotted to write the treatment. That’s right - it takes them as long to read it as it took you to write it. Some of them probably move their lips while reading and have to look up “hard words” in the dictionary. But what this means to you - you have another week of prep for the script, or another week or more to get a head start on the second draft, if there’s time for that. While they are reading, you aren’t working on your tan in Mazatlan, you are doing all of the prep work that you couldn’t accomplish in that one week or less when you had to write the treatment. So you may turn in your treatment with a limited understanding of your characters and work that out while they are reading, or that place in the story you couldn’t quite figure out - so you faked your way through it in the treatment, you now have a week to figure out how to make it work.

None of this is leisurely. Whatever writer said that their spouse didn’t understand that when they were looking out the window for an entire afternoon - they *were* working... well, that writer isn’t going to be spending as much time looking out the window if they have to turn in a script in two weeks. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to inspire yourself. You have to work your butt off. The good thing about writing on a tight deadline - even though you may be pulling a lot of all-nighters and might become a stranger to friends and family, it’ll be over before you know it!

One of the issues you will run into when using the “reading period” to work on your screenplay prep or coming up with all of those great lines of dialogue to replace the temporary lines in the first draft, is that it might be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Though the WGA MBA says that a producer can’t reject a treatment, nothing says that the can’t give you notes that end up changing everything about the story at the end of that reading period, right before you go to script. There *will* be notes on the treatment, that’s the purpose for the reading period, but usually the notes will be changes that are easy to incorporate into whatever you are figuring out during the reading period. But sometimes they have some crazy note that changes everything... and it’s scary if there’s a deadline. But I have found it’s better to be prepared - if you have an outline that you can change, you are ahead of the writer who has to rethink everything in their head... and accidentally forgets the changes for a big chunk of the screenplay. When something like this happens on a tight deadline, I take a day of my writing schedule to figure it out and rewrite the outline and treatment.

By the way, that treatment can be imported into your screenwriting program, (if it isn’t already a part of it) and insert the sluglines and you have a scene by scene outline that can be expanded. I have snippets of dialogue in my treatments that end up being the temporary dialogue... unless they are great lines. This will help you get the screenplay done on those 2 week deadlines. You may have to redo the math to figure out how many pages you have to write per day, now - 5 pages might be 6 pages, 7.5 pages may be 8 pages, but it’s not going to be a crazy increase in pages per day that you need to write. As I mentioned earlier, while I’m doing the math I always like to leave a couple of days at the end of the schedule, just in case....

TWO EXTRA DAYS

bluebook It’s always good to know that you have a day or two extra on the schedule, just in case something goes wrong... because it will. There’s a temptation to look at 2 weeks and schedule your writing so that you finish at midnight before you have to turn the script in... but that’s a great way to screw up. On a 2 week writing schedule, I write 6 days, take a day off, then write 6 days... with one day left before I need to turn in the screenplay. On 3 weeks I give myself 2 extra days. The extra days can help if I end up behind, but I still try not to get behind. I try to make up for a bad day on the next day - and usually I can. I want to end the first week on a 2 week schedule with the screenplay half finished (or more), and take a day off and relax. This works better for me than writing straight through. I need the “pit stop” in the middle of the race to recharge my batteries. And I might need that day off at the end of the schedule to either finish the screenplay or to do a quick rewrite.

The "two extra days for rewrites" thing is one of my tips in the SELLING: BREAKING IN Blue Book, because the last thing you want is a really rough first draft leaking, or even being delivered to your producer. I *have* delivered rough first drafts before, and regretted it. You want them to think you are a creative genius, not someone who writes the same level of first drafts as everyone else. On a 2 week screenplay, that extra day at the end of the schedule is required - because some of the writing might be a little rough, and having one (maybe really long) day to go over the screenplay before you turn it in can smooth over the rough spots and add ideas that you have come up with along the way.

On BLIND TRUST once I finished, I realized that I needed a lullaby that a man would remember his mother singing to him as a child, and a handful of other details that would really make the screenplay great. So that final day I came up with a creepy lullaby and several other details and really worked on replacing every “temporary line” with the very best line possible - and turned in a first draft after 2 weeks that impressed everyone. Which is why that film never got made. They thought they had a chance to sign an Oscar nominated actress to their Made For TV movie based on the screenplay (certainly not the money) and they did! And then they thought they could skip the whole TV movie thing and make it a theatrical or sell it to HBO, and they began looking for a male lead of equal stature as the Oscar nominated female lead... and the project eventually fell apart. Screenplays aren’t the only things that are like sharks and need to keep moving forward!

The main thing to do is not worry. Okay, worry a little. The first time you have to make some tight deadline, you may think it’s impossible - and you may go crazy getting the work done and panic every other day... but once you’ve handed in the draft on time, you realize you *can* do it. It’s like sky diving or bunjee jumping - the first time you are sure you will die. Once you survive, you have the confidence to do it again. You figure out how to adapt to whatever the situation is.

Most of the time you will be given a reasonable amount of time to write your first draft. The producer does want the script as soon as possible, but they also want a good script. This *is* a business. There are deadlines. You need to be able to write on a schedule and get work done on time. You’ll get the hang of it.

Even if you don’t have a deadline to write a screenplay now, it’s a good idea to train yourself to write consistently, so that you know your limitations... and what you are capable of doing. Though most contracts are going to give you 12 weeks or even 6 to 8 months to write a screenplay, in the low budget and cable world where it’s more like television than big studio features you will have to write on a deadline that is often 3 weeks for the first draft... and on some occasions only 2 weeks, and once for me was 9 days! I had 2 weeks to write the treatment *and* the screenplay that was filmed! And I did it. And it’s now playing on TubiTV, embarrassing me.

You can write fast. You just have to be prepared, and have a consistent page count.

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Trailer Tuesday: RIVER'S EDGE



RIVER’S EDGE (1986) written by Neal Jimenez, directed by Tim Hunter.

I have called Keanu Reeves “The Luckiest Actor In Hollywood” because he has been in so many hit movies. But maybe it *isn’t* luck? Maybe Keanu actually selects roles that he finds interesting or scripts that he thinks are mind blowing page turners? Keanu has not only been in a bunch of big box office hits, he has also been in a bunch of art house favorites like MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO and PERMANENT RECORD. Oh, and the now forgotten film RIVER’S EDGE which not only launched the career of screenwriter Neal Jimenez, it also brought back Dennis Hopper and probably paved the way for the films of David Lynch. The film is based on a true story, a murder that happened in the Sacramento area; and my friend Tom’s uncle was one of the investigating officers on the case. The story made the news because it was one of those “shocking how immoral our children have become” outrages, since all of the kids in the high school not only knew about the murder, they had visited the body for fun. Kind of like a field trip. Cool! A dead girl! Dare you to touch her!



My other odd connection to this film is the actor who plays the teen killer Samson, Danny Roebuck, is a friend of a friend of mine and I’ve met him a couple of times. Danny is one of those actors who is in *everything*, from being the cop on Matlock to the dad in the Cody Banks movies. He’s a great guy, a real fan of horror movies, and when I was trying to “earn” my producer credit on CROOKED I got my friend Duane (the pawnshop owner from PULP FICTION) to talk to him about playing suspects... except the producers decided not to hire them and to hire complete unknowns (who were their friends) instead. So, instead of a group of suspects that you recognized so that you didn’t know who the guilty party was because *all* of the suspects were recognizable actors... there were a bunch of unknowns and Gary Busey. Who do you think the killer is? I didn’t know Danny when I first saw the film, didn’t know Tom’s uncle investigated the case, and had never heard of screenwriter Jimenez. I just thought the film was great.

The movie is all about how this younger generation is desensitized and unemotional, and that carries through the film in several story threads in addition to the main story. High school kid Samson (Danny Roebuck) murders a girl in his class Jamie (Danyi Deats) after having sex with her at the edge of the (Sacramento) river, then stops to have a cigarette as if nothing has happened. Ten year old problem kid Tim (Joshua Miller) watches this happen from a bridge... but doesn’t go to the police. Later Tim tells a group of high school kids, including his older brother Matt (Keanu) and perpetually stoned Layne (Crispen Glover) plus a couple of Jamie’s friends including Clarissa (Ione Skye) about the dead body... and they take a field trip. All of the kids look at the dead girl, kick her to make sure she’s dead, etc... and even though they all knew her, none of them seems to care. It’s just kinda cool. They go back to school and their every day lives as if nothing had happened.

Except both Matt and Clarissa separately realize they feel terrible, Jamie was their friend... and even though Layne wants everyone to rally around Samson, can they really support the friend who killed over the friend who was murdered?

Matt’s home life is hell, his mother is a nurse with an unemployed boyfriend... his bother Tim makes that kid from THE OMEN seem well mannered (Tim takes baby sister Kim’s doll and chops it up) and steals cars, smokes pot, robs houses and eventually steals a gun with the intention of killing someone. This is a *ten year old*. The little sister’s “dead doll” runs an amazing parallel to the dead girl at the river’s edge, and the doll’s grave eventually triggers Matt to call the police anonymously about dead Jamie and Samson. And narking on Samson is what leads to Kid Brother Tim gunning for Matt.

The police question all of the kids, and ask Matt how he feels about Jamie’s death, and he answers: “I don’t know.” Even though he was disturbed enough to anonymously call the police, he is still desensitized to emotions. The policeman says he’s tired of hearing “I don’t know how I feel” from all of the kids he interviews. They all say the same thing: none of them feel.





Samson is hiding out at drug dealer Feck’s house (Dennis Hopper in a signature weird role), where Feck lives with his blow up doll Ellie. Yes, he has a long term romantic relationship with an inflatable girl. Feck is another parallel story: he once contributed to the death of the woman he loved and still feels guilt over it. At first Feck thinks Samson has much in common with him, but then he realizes Samson feels nothing and no longer wants to hide the killer.

Matt confesses to Clarissa that he called the police, and they realize they may be the only two people in their school who are disturbed by Jamie’s death. Both have been plagued by nightmares and guilt. This leads to romance: both care, and care about each other. While they are making love they hear gunshots...

Feck has taken Samson to the river’s edge and killed him. In the process, Feck’s inflatable doll Ellie blows into the river, later prompting one of my favorite lines in the movie when the kids spot the blow up doll in the water: “That's Ellie. Feck's girlfriend. I wonder what she's doing here?”

Talked to Danny last night, and he sent me this awesome shot from the set!



The chilling thing about this film is how what was true about the younger generation in the 80s being desensitized and not caring seems even more true today. There’s a TV commercial for mobile phones that talks about the joy of being alone... and isn’t the least bit ironic. We live in a world where people don’t interact with other people, we interact with *screens*. Think about how crazy that is for a moment. There are people today who text each other when they are sitting across from each other. Talk about desensitized! THE RIVER’S EDGE held a mirror up to the 1980s... and had no idea things would only get worse. Keanu gives a great performance, as does Danny Roebuck and Dennis Hopper and everyone else in the cast. Let me mention one of the greatest acting jobs in the film: Danyi Deats as the dead Jamie. Imagine having to play dead for an entire film! Deats is a TV and Music Video producer now (some of Sting’s videos). This is one of those lost movies where everyone gave an amazing performance, and screenwriter Jimenez would go on to adapt Tony Hillerman’s Native American cop mystery THE DARK WIND and write and direct the amazing film WATERDANCE after he became paralyzed. He was one of the team of poker playing screenwriters who contributed to the fun film SLEEP WITH ME (famous for the Tarantino speech about TOP GUN as a Gay love story). If you like gritty, edgy flicks, check out RIVER’S EDGE.

Bill

PS: That set shot has a digital watermark, so steal it and I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you!

Friday, September 24, 2021

Fridays With Hitchcock:
THE BIRDS: Storyboards

THE BIRDS...



Alfred Hitchcock believed you didn’t want to be figuring out what the heck you were going to shoot and how you were going to shoot it with the entire cast and crew waiting around on the clock... The place to figure out your movie was before you had hundreds of people standing around waiting. So Hitchcock (and many other directors of the time) storyboarded their films. Sometimes just the tricky scenes, sometimes the whole film. You could shot list the easy stuff, but actions scenes or scenes that required trained birds or special effects of some sort? Better to have those boarded so that you could show each department what was required for them in each shot. So here are some of the storyboards for THE BIRDS.

BIRDS Storyboards and a swell article from BFI.

To read the Fridays With Hitchcock on THE BIRDS, click back there.

bluebook

- 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.

Only $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

Thursday, September 23, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: Trio For Terror

Trio For Terror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 25.
Airdate: March 14, 1961


Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Barré Lyndon (?) based on stories by August Derleth (Extra Passenger), Wilkie Collins (Strange Bed) and Nelson Bond (Medusa).
Cast: Reginald Owens, Robin Hughes, John Abbott, Michael Pate, Richard Lupino.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “This is an English pub. Just the place for a little something to warm the cockles of your heart... while I chill your blood. They give you a mulled claret here, guarenteed to fortify you against, well, against anything. If the people’s clothes seem strange, well it’s because we’re back in 1905. When a dollar was still a dollar and the British pound was a beautiful gold coin. We are going to see three forces of evil. Three stories, each a masterpiece of strangeness and terror.”

(First Story)

“In this room is a young man who is on his way to commit murder. She wants money, he wants her. Well, to satisfy both of these desirous young people someone will have to die. Drink your claret, you’re going to need it. You are about to meet the extra passenger in one of the eeriest tales ever told.”

(Second Story)

“You’ll take another glass of this claret, of course. It will brace you for a different force of evil. All of the night birds show up in a pub like this sooner or later. Musicians between shows, detectives looking for someone, peers of the realm, reporters, actors, men about town, floatsom of a great city. People in trouble, or looking for trouble.”

(Third Story)

“I sometimes think, perhaps you do too, how outrageous it would have seemed to anyone a hundred years ago if they had been told that someday men would be doing exactly what you’re doing now. Listening to a voice, watching a picture plucked as it were out of the air. We’ve learned a lot in the last 100 years. But how much do you suppose had been forgotten in the last five thousand? You know how scientists scoff at folklore and ancient beliefs? But every now and then they amaze themselves with a discovery that our remote ancestors were right afterall. Our third take of terror contains the echo of an ancient fable which may not be a fable at all. It begins with a manhunt, a search for a murderer, a strangler if you will.”



Synopsis: A turn of the century PULP FICTION episode, with a pub as the hub instead of that bar where Butch and Vincent Vega hang out.

THE EXTRA PASSENGER


Our first story begins in our turn of the century British pub where Simon (Richard Lupino) and Katie (Iris Bristol) plot murder. Simon’s crazy rich uncle spends all of his time studying the occult. When he dies, Simon becomes very wealthy... but Katie suggests that the old guy might need a little prodding into the grave and Simon has a perfect plan. An alibi that the police could never break. He buys out a private compartment on a train, the Conductor punches his ticket. When the train comes to the stop near his uncle’s house he sneaks off the train, races to his Uncle’s house. His Uncle (Terence de Marney) has a rooster chained to a Ouiji Board kinda thing, and is so focused on his experiment to bring a flower back to life temporarily that he doesn’t hear Simon sneak in... until it’s too late. Simon beats his Uncle to death with a pestle, wipes the blood from his hands, and leaves the house.



Outside he has a car stashed. He gets in the car and speeds to the next train station. According to his time tables, he can just make the train because the road takes a more direct route than the train. He parks the car, has to run to make the train, sneaks back into his compartment *seconds* before the Conductor checks into the compartment. Simon pretends he had dozed off, now he has the perfect alibi. He never left the train. He has gotten away with murder!

But when the Conductor leaves he notices he’s not alone in the car... there is a strange man in black sitting quietly in the corner. Simon tells him this is a private compartment, the Man In Black says his Uncle was a warlock and had the ability to send a *walking corpse* to do his bidding. When the Man In Black looks up... it’s Simon’s Dead Uncle! He attacks Simon...



The Detective examines Simon’s dead body on the train and says he was killed by a rooster’s talons.

A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED


Our second story begins at the bar of that pub, where Collins (Robin Hughes) and Ashton (Francis Bethencourt) are discussing how terribly bored they are. They’ve seen all of the plays on the West End, what is left for entertainment? An older woman (Jacqueline Squire) sitting alone at a table pipes up and suggests they go to Hussar House, which has gambling in the back room. The two men mention the establishment’s reputation: in the past dead bodies have been found in the vicinity with rumors that they were gamblers robbed of their winnings. The old woman says those are just rumors. Though Ashton pleads exhaustion, Collins decides to try his luck.



The back room at Hussar House is filled with gamblers, and Collins finds himself winning most of their money over the course of the night. He has a massive stack of chips! The Hussar himself (Reginald Owen), a war hero in full uniform, takes Collins under his wing and makes sure he is treated well. His drinks are on the house, and the Husser makes sure Collins’ glass is always full. Collins feels so lucky, he decides to bet everything on one spin of the roulette wheel... and wins! The Husser shows him how to wrap his money in an old cloth so that he won’t be robbed on the street... the cloth weighs as much as a cannon ball! But Collins has had so much to drink he’s wobbly. The Hussar comps him into a room for the night: the turn of the century version of a VIP room complete with a huge canopied bed. Collins puts his winnings under his pillow and goes to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Collins hears a noise and awakens... the canopy is lowering, about to crush him! He rolls out of the bed at the last moment and the canopy crushes the pillows... which would have been his head!



After he catches his breath, the canopy begins to rise again... and a secret door begins to open in the wall! Collins grabs his winnings and pops out the window onto the ledge, hiding. He grabs a drain pipe and starts to climb down... but the pipe breaks and he almost falls! It was never meant to hold a man. Lots of suspense generated. He finally gets to the alley, races away with his winnings wrapped in the old bit of cloth.

He gets to Ashton’s flat, tells his friend about winning all of the money and almost being killed. Then opens the old cloth to expose... one of the cannon balls that had decorated the military themed casino. And his winnings?

A yacht with the Hussar and the Old Woman from the pub sails for tropical climes.

THE MASK OF MEDUSA




A scream in the night! The Leighton Stranger has struck again! Another woman killed! But this time, the police have a clue: the killer left behind a black leather glove. The police have quadroned off the section of London where the woman was killed and are doing a house to house search for a man wearing only one glove (Michael Jackson?).

Hiding in an alley, Shanner (Michael Pate) runs his glove along the wall... the other hand is bare. As the police search, he tries to find somewhere to hide... an unlocked door. But this is the middle of the night, every door is locked... except this one! A strange shop with a sign announcing that it features statues of 12 Famous Killers. Shanner takes off his single glove and puts it in his pocket, then sneaks into the dark shop...

A group of people are *starring at him* in the darkness! Shanner freaks out! Then he realizes these are the statues. He puts his hands around the neck of a female statue... and someone *touches him* in the darkness.



The shop owner Mr. Milo (John Abbott) turns on the light and asks if Shanner would like Milo to give him a tour. Shanner acts like a customer, and Milo goes from statue to statue telling the history of this killer, his methods, his victims, and other interesting information. It’s creepy. The statues are very detailed, very lifelike... but made of stone. Milo finally comes to the notorious killer Dr. Hartwell, and Shanner is confused: how could Milo have made a statue of the man, there were no known photographs of him and his victims couldn’t very well describe him. Plus, he was never captured! In fact, the police have never captured any of these killers on display! Shanner is suspicious and asks how he came to sculpt such lifelike figures. Milo says he has methods of his own. Shanner asks if this is a model of Dr. Hartwell... or the doctor himself? “Yes. That was Dr. Hartwell.” Shanner is shocked: “You killed them and petrified them! You’re a worse murderer than any of them!” Mr. Milo says he did not kill them. It was the Gorgon’s head. He is from Greece, and was digging around and found the head of Medusa carefully kept in a case...

Shanner wants to call him crazy... but there is a knock at the door. The Police doing their house to house search! Milo opens the door... and there are now 13 statues in the collection. Shanner stands very still as a pair of detectives (Richard Peel and Noel Drayton) enter the shop. There’s some great suspense as the two detectives poke around in the shop as they tell Mr. Milo they are chasing Leighton Strangler, and for the first time they have a real clue: the black glove. One of the detectives looks at the statues, examining them closely, commenting on how detailed they are but also mentioning that if they were statues of convicted and executed killers Milo might have a bigger crowd. One of the detective comes right up to Shanner, but moments before he discovers that Shanner is *not* a statue, the other detective says they need to be getting on to find the strangler.



Once they are gone, Shanner suggests that Milo help him sneak past the police. He says he’s had some problems with the police in the past, and if Milo could put him in a crate and then hire a wagon to take him past the police, he would gladly pay. When Shanner reaches into his pocket top pull out some money, he also pulls out the single black leather glove... and it drops on the floor between the two men. Milo looks at the glove and states that Shanner is the Strangler, the killer the police are searching for!

Shanner says that Milo is by far worse, having killed all of these other killers. Milo says they were turned to stone by the Medusa, and Shanner doesn’t believe him. Milo opens an ornate case, standing behind it, and exposes the head of Medusa... and Shanner turns to stone!

The last shot has Milo changing the sign on the door from 12 statues to 13.





Review: When I think of the THRILLER TV show, I think of Ida Lupino. When I watched these as a kid when they were rerun on some non network channel, my favorite episodes were GUILLOTINE and LATE DATE (coming up) and both were based on short stories by Cornell Woolrich, one of the three fathers of Noir fiction (oddly, there are no mothers). Sometime later I tracked down Woolrich’s novels and short stories (which had just been republished) and read them all. One of my first trips to Los Angeles included a trip to the UCLA Special Collections Library which housed a bunch of ancient pulp magazines, and I spent a few days reading stories in Dime Detective and others by Woolrich and Norbert Davis and many others. But also in those closing credits of GUILLOTINE was the name of the director, Ida Lupino. Wait, that’s can’t be the actress from that Bogart film HIGH SIERRA and that awesome Noir flick ON DANGEROUS GROUND, can it? Turns out it was. Turns out Lupino reached a point in her movie star career where she realized she would someday be too old to star and decided to start working on the other side of the camera. She wrote and directed all kinds of crime films from thrillers to noir to just plain old action. And she was *great*! Probably one of the main reasons why she caught my attention was that her career intersected with that on Don Siegel, who is one of my favorite directors. He directed a little film called DIRTY HARRY you may have heard of. Lupino cowrote PRIVATE HELL 36 which Siegel directed. Lupino cowrote that film with one husband () and costarred in it with another husband (Howard Duff), probably making for a tense set. But she went from actress to screenwriter to director, and was excellent at all of them. On Trailer Tuesday a while back I featured her film THE HITCHHIKER, which is edge of the seat suspense.



Lupino treats this episode like a movie, using camera angles and movement to build suspense and create visual reveals and reversals. I mentioned that last week’s episode had a pedestrian sequence of a character climbing a spiral staircase to their possible doom, but in this episode Lupino makes scenes like climbing down the drainpipe outside of the Hussar House incredibly suspenseful. But the most amazing bit of direction in the episode is an amazing single shot in MEDUSA where we go from Shanner looking at the Medusa head and pan and dolly to the Medusa head with Milo behind it, and then after Milo closes the case we follow him back to Shanner... who is now a statue. All in one shot. No cuts. I call these “sells it shots” because without a cut Shanner the human has becomes the statue of Shanner, and that sells that it really happened and isn’t some movie trick. That guy really turned to stone! Of course, behind the scenes there was probably a great deal of careful and quiet moving of the actor off his mark and the statue onto the mark. But tricky and inventive shots like this are something unexpected on a TV show’s tight shooting schedule... and this particular episode has *three* stories with *three* different casts, which would have been difficult for anyone to pull off. But all three segments use a level of visual storytelling that most of the previous episodes never got close to.

Next up is an episode based on a Woolrich story followed by *another* episode based on a Woolrich story followed by an episode based on Robert Bloch’s second most famous piece of writing.

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Elitism & Experience

From the beginning of 2011...

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

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

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




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

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

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

Or both.

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

AM I AN ELITIST?




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

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

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

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

This is not true.

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




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

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

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

And got crapped on.
And argued with.

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

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




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

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

THEM AND US




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

This confused me.

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

Who knew?

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

Huh?

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

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

Do you think you know everything?

WINO THEORY




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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Wine ends up being a lot like screenwriting.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience and knowledge are not elitism.

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

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

- Bill

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