Thursday, September 28, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: The Last Of The Sommervilles


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

Season: 2, Episode: 7.
Airdate: Nov. 6, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: Ida Lupino & R.M.H. Lupino (her cousin).
Cast: Peter Walker, Phyllis Thaxter.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “And how does your garden grow? Sure as my name is Boris Karloff, this one will flourish. Of courser it’s only proper there be to mark the final resting place of someone so unceremoniously interred. But then, of course, Ursula Sommerville has very little respect for the dear departed... Particularly since it happens to be a member of the family. Our story tonight concerns her slowly dwindling clan, as well as her sinister determination to become the last of the Sommervilles, which by the way is the title of our play. Our leading players are: Phyliss Thaxter, Martita Hunt, Peter Walker, and this odd looking chap is Doctor Farnham. You know I have the strangest feeling that I’ve seen that face before somewhere. Well, come - be my guests won’t you, as we resume our little garden party.”

Synopsis: On a foggy night at the Sommerville Mansion, a cloaked figure drags a dead body across the grounds to a hole and buries it, shoveling dirt over the corpse, then arranging ivy and flowers over the grave. Afterwards the figure pulls off her hood, exposing that this fiend is a woman! Ursula Sommerville (Phyliss Thaxter)... who smiles when she’s finished.

The prodigal nephew Rutherford (Peter Walker) returns to the mansion on a dark and windy night, rings the bell. Ursula answers the door - they have never met, and he assumes that she’s a servant. She tells him that his aunt has been expecting him, and sends him upstairs.

Aunt Celia (Martita Hunt) is a giddy old biddy who loves her nephew, and wonders why he hasn’t visited in the past 15 years. She invested in his African gold mine and some other ventures, and now he’s got a business venture in Paris, but he has this little problem - he needs some money. Celia says they can talk about that later, because tonight is the big party and she needs to bath and change. By the way, Aunt Sophie will be attending. Celia asks “her maid” Ursula where Sophie has been hiding herself, and Ursula reminds her that she left for Europe.

While Aunt Celia bathes, Rutherford flirts with “the maid” Ursula... until he discovers that she’s his cousin, four times removed by marriage. But that just slows him down. She tells him where the liquor is kept, and he leaves.

Later Ursula sees Rutherford passed out in the livingroom, grabs the fire poker and... pokes the fire after a moment where she seems to contemplate braining him. When Rutherford wakes up they have a conversation about Aunt Celia’s health - and her little heart seizures. Both seem to be scheming. Ursula informs him that there is no party, except in Aunt Celia’s imagination. “Nothing wrong with her being a little eccentric as long as it doesn’t interfere with her writing checks.”

A week later, and Aunt Celia has still not loaned Rutherford the money he needs for Paris. Ursula keeps talking her out of it after he talks her into it. Rutherford is becoming desperate, and is ready to leave... when Ursula offers him a deal. She has managed to become the sole financial beneficiary of Aunt Celia’s will, all the remaining living family members - Aunt Sofie and Rutherford - get some baubles. But if Rutherford helps Aunt Celia die, Ursula will pay him a large chunk of money - twenty times what he’s asked Aunt Celia for. “Murderers are often hanged.” “So are stockings.” As sole beneficiary, Ursula needs an airtight alibi for the time of Aunt Celia’s death... but Rutherford won’t inherit a cent so he has no real motive. The police will not suspect him in Celia has an “accident”.

The night of the “accident” Aunt Celia has thrown a monkey wrench into the plan by inviting her doctor to dinner. But is he really coming to dinner or is this just another one of Aunt Celia’s fantasies? Ursula and Rutherford change the plan, so that Dr. Farnum (Boris Karloff) will be a witness. Of course, Dr. Farnum has an interest in marrying Aunt Celia so that *he* can inherit. Rutherford is supposedly in town playing cards and drinking with friends, and after dinner Ursula needs to go into town for a charity auction... and Dr. Farnum offers to take her in his carriage (becoming her alibi witness).

When Dr. Farnum and Ursula leave, and Aunt Celia goes upstairs to have her bath; Rutherford sneaks out of the basement.

The murder plan involves Aunt Celia taking her nightly bath, and a live electrical wire in her sponge. When she uses the sponge, she will be electrocuted, then Rutherford removes the live wire and cleans us and it appears as if she has died from one of those heart seizures. There’s some nice suspense in this scene when Aunt Celia keeps *almost* grabbing the sponge, then grabbing something else instead... there’s a tray of chocolates next to the sponge, some bath oils, etc. She finally grabs the sponge, screams, and...

The funeral at the Sommerville crypt. Afterwards Aunt Celia’s lawyer Mr. Parchester (Chet Stratton) asks if they can read the will a week from Friday. When the lawyer leaves, Rutherford is angry - he’ll have to wait almost two weeks before he can get his money.

Someone begins sending them anonymous notes accusing them of murder... Who could know? Ursula accuses Rutherford of getting drunk in town and letting something slip. Rutherford wonders if Dr, Farnham is behind the notes... and maybe Ursula let something slip. Hmm, maybe the doctor could become victim to an accident? When Rutherford worries about two murders, Ursula corrects him - Three - she killed Aunt Sophie and got away with it. Everyone thinks Sophie is in Europe.

Dr. Farnham stops by unexpectedly, and Rutherford tells him that Ursula is in town. Farnham mentions that a storm is coming, would be a shame if she was caught up in it. Farnham wonders if they’ve told Aunt Sophie, Celia’s sister, about her death? Rutherford says she’s traveling in Europe and they have no idea how to reach her. Farnham keeps hinting around that Sophie’s vacation seems unusual. Everything he says is perfectly innocent... but a veiled threat. He knows.

That foggy night, Ursula - in the hooded cloak - wakes Rutherford and tells him that someone is out on the edge of the estate watching the house. They look out the window and there *is* a figure in the fog. It must be Dr. Farnham. Ursula gives Rutherford a gun and says, “In case there’s a prowler on the grounds”.

Rutherford and Ursula sneak through the fog to attack the prowler... but she leads him into the bog, where he slowly sinks! He aims the gun at her and fires - empty! She watches him die, smiling. Then collects the coat on the branch that was the figure they saw from the window.

The reading of the will: Ursula gets the mansion and everything else (except the small things to the other (now dead) family members. But... to keep the family name alive, she will not be able to collect any of this until she marries her cousin four times removed, Rutherford, and bares a male child. If that is not possible, the entire fortune will be left to her lawyer Mr. Parchester who will be in charge of charitable donations...

Ursula is screwed! She inherits *nothing*!

Until the twist...

Ursula and Parchester were behind this from the very beginning! They’re a couple!

Years later, the mansion is for sale... because Ursula and Parchester died in a car accident.
(you can get away with murder in real life, but not on network TV - Standards & Practices forbids it!)

Review: This is probably the weakest of Ida Lupino’s episodes, but when you compare it to most of the other episodes it’s still probably in the top third as far as quality is concerned. Though all of these episodes were probably shot in a week, and many look as if they were thrown together at the last minute; most of Lupino’s episodes are filled with amazing imaginative shots and camera moves - using the same revolving bunch of cinematographers that the other episodes used. So it’s obvious that the difference between the blandly shot episodes and the amazingly shot episodes is the person calling the shots - director Lupino.

Even though here we get more standard shots that in her other episodes, we still get lots of creativity you don’t see in many of the episodes directed by others. At the beginning of the episode there’s a great point of view shot as Rutherford’s hand grabs the gate handle and pushes it open, then we dolly in maintaining the POV shot until Rutherford steps into frame and we continue with an over-the-shoulder top the front door.

And there’s a great moving camera shot as Rutherford checks himself in a mirror (no camera or crew reflection) and then enters his aunt’s room - all one shot.

Later there’s a nice German Expressionist shot as Rutherford’s *shadow* climbs the stairs - reflected on the wall - until Rutherford reaches the top of the stairs and steps into frame.

And several other nice mirror shots - enough great visual stuff to put this in that top third. The main thing that holds it back is the story itself, which is fairly pedestrian without much suspense or many plot twists. So Lupino does as much as she can with a story told in a fairly bland manner about people killing each other over an inheritance. Plot 53 B.

The only one to blame for the bland story blandly told is... Lupino and her cousin who wrote the script! She usually wrote with her husband Collier Young (even after they were divorced) so maybe he was her other half creatively as well, and her cousin was not. This isn't a bad episode, it's just not her best. Next week another new Season 2 entry... A mystery with not much in the way of thrills.

- Bill

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

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

The 100 Idea Theory:

I never tell anyone that I’m a screenwriter, because the first thing that will happen is they will say they have this great idea for a movie and then spend a couple of hours telling me that idea and then offer to let me write their idea for 50% of whatever the script sells for. Awesome deal! My friend John has gone so far as to have fake business cards printed up for parties & social events where this might happen that say he builds custom septic tanks to fit your unique personality - no one wants to tell him their ideas or make him that 50% deal. *Everyone* has an idea for a screenplay. How many billions of people are there on Earth right now? They all have an idea for a screenplay.

It isn’t enough just to have an idea, or even have a good idea, you need a *great* idea.

One of the things we look at in the IDEAS Blue Book is not just how to find an endless number of ideas, but how to find the good ones... and the great ones. The gold. Because finding movie ideas is a lot like panning for gold - it’s 99% dirt and mud and 1% gold. The problem often is, new writers come up with one idea... and that’s part of the 99% that’s mud. Not a problem, unless they take that idea to script - and then they have a script with a dirt idea. How do you pitch that? How do you make the logline in your equery to managers and agents and producers sound good when it’s dirt? You can’t. In Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN due to a clumsy mistake by Igor, they build the monster using an abnormal brain - so the monster is alive, but has a “bad brain”. You don’t want a screenplay with a “bad brain”.

Though ideas are a dime a dozen (because everyone on Earth has one) they are also gold. The key is to “pan for gold” and find the very best idea and then take it to script. Don’t end up with 110 pages of “mud”.

But how do you find the best idea? There are people who think that any idea that “sticks with you” is a good one. You forgot that other idea, but remembered this one... it has to be good! I’m not sure having a faulty memory is any indication of an idea being good or not. Other people have a variation on the faulty memory theory they like to call “I’m really passionate about this idea!” But anyone who has lived long enough to have their heart broken a couple of times knows that passion sometimes doesn’t last, and passion also doesn’t equal quality. I have been passionate about relationships only to look back on them a year later and wonder if I was crazy. In fact, there are probably a hundred songs that equate love and passion with insanity! You can probably name a couple of those songs off the top of your head, right? So maybe being passionate about an idea is not the best way to judge whether it is good or not? Sure, we want an idea that we are passionate about, but *only* being passionate about it is excluding all other criteria and may end up falling in love with the wrong person. There are a bunch of movies about people who fall in love with people who then try to kill them. Do you want to write 110 pages only to find out this was one of those crazy lovers? FATAL ATTRACTION in screenplay form? Probably not - that’s why you’ll want to expand your criteria beyond only passion.

Hemingway said you should write drunk and edit sober, and that’s the key to this whole writing thing. Create in one step, edit in another step. Coming up with raw ideas is creating, but finding the best idea is editing. Most people leave out the editing part. They often just come up with an idea and write it... and end up with 110 pages of blah. You want to use both sides of your brain - the creative side and the analytical side. No half brained ideas! Come up with a bunch of ideas (drunk) and then (sober) analyze each idea and select the best one using rational criteria. Panning for gold. Because you love the idea isn’t good enough - remember that hell relationship you had? You thought you loved them. So take emotions out of the equation when you are *selecting* ideas.

Though the Ideas Blue Book has detailed criteria for selecting ideas, here's a simple one that I used when I was doing pitch clinics for Sherwood Oaks College: Comparables. Find some recent financially successful films similar to your idea. Same genre and subgenre and same basic feel. In a real world setting it's common to have a producer ask you for comparables, so this is "practice". Find several recent films similar to the idea and then check the box office numbers for those films... And where those films landed in its year's Top Box Office chart. Top 20 is what you want. Top 30 is still probably okay. But if all of the movies similar to your idea were flops? That idea will be a tough sell. Another method that I used in those classes was to take the Los Angeles Times entertainment section and ask people to find movies like theirs. If your script is unlike any of the hundred plus movies playing in Los Angeles in any given week? You have a problem.

Hollywood wants stories that are the same but different. Actually so does the audience. So you need to find ideas that are both Unique and Universal. Something that the audience can relate to, but also something that they haven't seen before (or they will just watch that other movie instead of yours). So once you have those comparables - successful films like your idea - now it's time to look at the unique side. Is this idea different enough from any other movie that it's not going to seem like something that we have seen before?

You will probably need to exercise your imagination before you find those really great ideas, so don't worry if your first bunch of ideas aren't THE MATRIX or INCEPTION or 50 FIRST DATES. You are working your way up to that.

The 100 Idea Theory in the Film Courage clip is about using that insane, passionate creativity to find 100 ideas... then using the sober analytical side of your brain to select the best idea from that 100.

One problem new writers often have is that they only have one idea. Hey, this is a business of ideas! I often get called in to pitch 4 or 5 ideas to fit a producer’s specific needs... and if they don’t like any of those, pitch 4 or 5 more. A decade ago when the SyFy Channel probably still had “i”s in their name, I had meetings with 3 different producers who were making movies for them. At one company I pitched 10 actual science fiction stories, at another I pitched 10 disaster stories that had not been done yet, and the third I pitched 10 monster movies that had never been done. 30 ideas - not a single one ended up a paid gig (though two of those companies each liked an idea enough to bring me back the next year and talk about it). But you will need to come up with a stack of ideas. Your manager will have you pitch a bunch of ideas and they’ll select the one they think has the best chance. So you need a bunch of ideas - not just one. Get used to the idea that you will need a bunch of ideas!

In the IDEAS Blue Book we look at how to open your eyes to ideas - they are all around you, but you have to look for them! One of the examples in that book is an idea I had while walking to a class on ideas I was teaching for the Raindance Film Festival one year... and a bus almost ran over me! But the idea came from the bus destination sign. Ideas are *everywhere*! And here’s one of the secrets from that Blue Book - any idea that you come up with you have some personal connection to. If there are ideas all around you, the ones that *you* see are the ones that speak to you. The ones that I see are the ones that speak to me. The ones that you are passionate about, even though it may not be love at fights sight. Novelist John D. McDonald said that if you show ten writers the same event, each will come up with a different idea based on that event. Why? Because we see the ideas that are personal to us and miss the ones that have nothing to do with us. Which means those odd random ideas you come up with like that one I came up with while walking across London to my class at Raindance? Personal idea. Something I could be passionate about. I see the ideas that connect to me, you will see the ideas that connect to you.

Once you come up with a bunch of them, sober up and analyze those ideas to find the best one. I have a list of criteria you should consider in the Ideas Blue Book. Then script it. It’s much better to pick the great idea from the 100, the gold from the dirt, and script it... than to write 100 scripts and have 99 of them be “dirt ideas” and only one of them be gold. What do you do with the other 99 scripts? Train puppies? Line birdcages?

Once you go through the 100 ideas and find that one great commercial one - the one that millions of people worldwide will pay to see - now your job is to figure out why it is personal to you. What about that idea spoke to you. Knowing why that idea is personal to you is the key to making it your passion project even if it’s some wildly commercial high concept genre story. You will need to know why that idea is personal to you, why you spotted that idea among the billions and billions out there; before going to screenplay. If you don’t know why your subconscious was passionate about this idea, it will be tough to write it with passion. And the next creative step here is to “write drunk” and be giddy with passion about this idea and the story that comes from it. Once you’ve found the gold amongst the dirt and mud, you need to turn that gold into a wedding band and marry it for 110 pages and every rewrite that comes after that. You want the idea that isn’t that love at first sight (which may just be hormones), but love that is going to last. Love that inspires you to mix metaphors like panning for gold and falling in love and whatever other crazy things I’ve said here to explain screenwriting.

Ideas are important because the first thing someone is going to ask you is "What's it about?" That's the question that the audience will ask, too. Before a production company or manager will request your Screenplay or a ticket buyer will buy a ticket for the movie - they have read a logline or seen the trailer... and both are all about the idea. The concept at the core of your story. So you need to pan for gold and find the great one!

It’s a business of ideas, but not just any ideas - you want to find the gold! Start digging!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!


Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!

Only $4.99 - and no postage!

Other Countries: UK folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: THE LAST DETAIL


There was a time when Jack Nicholson wasn’t a parody of himself and played a variety of diverse roles on film like the introverted writer in KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and the troubled oil rig worker in FIVE EASY PIECES. He usually played a rebel, but part of that had to do with the films being made in the 70s. Though he’d been in films and on TV since 1956, he got his big break when he replaced Rip Torn as the lawyer in EASY RIDER... which, of course, lead to the romantic interest in a Barbra Streisand musical. Seriously. Back in the late 70s the San Francisco Film Festival did a retrospective on Jack Nicholson, and being a stupid teenager I decided to sneak back stage after wards and talk to Jack, because he was a screenwriter as well as an actor. Did you know that? Yes, he’s written six produced scripts (and probably a stack of others) and directed 4 films. He’s not just a pretty face. Anyway, Nicholson could have had security remove me, but instead talked to me and called my business cards “pretty fancy”. Basically he encouraged me to stick with it, and told me it took him fifteen years to become an overnight success (everybody says that, but he *did* tell me that). So many of Nicholson’s films are kind of forgotten today, so I thought we’d look at one of my favorites.

Between KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and CHINATOWN, Nicholson made THE LAST DETAIL, which is another one of those “perfect storm” movies for me, where the writer is one of my favorites, the director is one of my favorites, and the star is one of my favorites. The script is based on a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who was one of my favorite writers at the time... and was a hot novelist at the time who wrote CINDERELLA LIBERTY which was made into a hit movie, and his novels TOM MIX DIED FOR YOUR SINS, THE RINGMASTER, and THE ACCOMPLICE were some of my favorite books at the time. The screenwriter is Robert Towne, who wrote CHINATOWN and a bunch of others and got his start writing movies for Roger Corman (probably some starring Nicholson). The director is Hal Ashby, who directed HAROLD & MAUDE, SHAMPOO, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME, BEING THERE and many others. Music by Johnny Mandel who wrote the theme to M*A*S*H which you probably know. And, of course Nicholson starred in the film. All of these people I love working on the same film!

Best Movie Ever Made

The story is about an impossibly young Randy Quaid playing a new Navy recruit named Meadows who has been convicted of stealing some change from the camp charity box and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The two Shore Patrol Officers who will take him to prison are Badass Buddusky (Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young), and they start out thinking this is just another transport job, but when they find out Meadows is a virgin who has never had a drink in his life... they decide to take a little detour and show him a good time before he spends the next 8 years behind bars. Carol Kane is the hooker who pops his cherry and Gilda Radner is a hippy chick and Nancy Allen is in there, too. It’s basically a road trip with these three guys going by train, car, and on foot sometimes from the Navy Base to the Naval Prison, with some side trips to New York City. At the core of the story, the two Shore Patrol guys have to follow rules that make no sense at all... and begin to question the authority of the government and maybe even society. The film is funny and rebellious and melancholy.

"I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer."

It’s weird that films like this, which were hits in their day and starred people who are still stars and working in Hollywood, seem to have been lost. People don’t know about them, and they aren’t on BluRay and the DVD is 15 years old. I remember when the film first came out, it was notorious for having lots of bad language (which doesn’t seem so bad these days), but it may not be for everyone. Check it out.


Friday, September 22, 2023

Fridays With Hitchcock: Picture Parade Interview from 1960

Here's an interview with Hitchcock from BBC's Picture Parade in 1960! From the vault.

All of the regular stories - being locked in a jail cell at 5 years old, etc. He discusses PSYCHO and *shock* and *Horror* instead of suspense. Actors are cattle, etc. I think if you are constantly being interviewed you come up with a handful of entertaining stories and just keep telling them.

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



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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USA Readers click here for more info!


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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

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Thursday, September 21, 2023

THRILLER Thursday: Masquerade


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

Season: 2, Episode: 6.
Airdate: Oct. 30, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Donald S. Sanford, based on the story by Henry Kuttner. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Tom Poston, John Carradine, Jack Lambert, Dorothy Neumann. Music: Jerry Goldsmith channeling Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye.

Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Well, it would seem that Charlie is not only an imaginative writer, but has another most unusual talent as well: peopling his stories with flesh and blood characters... or was that old man flesh and blood? No, don’t answer too quickly, for this is the sort of night where all manner of unnatural creatures crawl through the dark corners of the earth. When the full moon cowers behind the storm, and the wolfsbane reaches out with its evil, hungry brush. Yes, my friends, on just such a night as this who knows what masquerade the living dead may choose? Masquerade. That’s the name of our story. And the Masqueradrers: May I present Mr. And Mrs. Charlie Denham, played by Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston; and John Carradine, Jack Lambert, and Dorothy Newman as the infamous Cartas. Now that you’ve been formally introduced I’ll make you a promise. Before this terrifying adventure has ended you’ll change some of your outdated ideas about vampires... as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Don’t be alarmed, I can assure you the old faithful weapons are not outdated. And those of you who happen to have some silver bullets or sharp pointed wooden sticks around the house have nothing whatever to fear. As for you others, perhaps you’ll be prepared next time... if there is a next time.”

Synopsis: Writer Charlie Denham (Tom Poston) and his wife Rosalind (Elizabeth Montgomery) are on their second honeymoon... trapped in a rainstorm in a convertible with a torn roof in the middle of nowhere and stop at the most run down, decrepit bed and breakfast in the Southern half of the United States (the PSYCHO house making another guest appearance on the show). Charlie jokes that places like this are where travelers end up on the menu... and explains step-by-step what will happen to them beginning with the old fashioned door knocker falling off the door due to dry rot and the crazy old patriarch of the family inviting them in and warning them about the vampires in these parts...

When they get to the door there *is* an old fashioned door knocker, and then the door is opened by the crazy old patriarch of the Carta clan Jed (John Carradine) carrying an old fashioned oil lamp who invites them in. Jed is dressed in dirty rags, looks like a hillbilly cannibal’s poorest cousin. When the door closes, the knocker falls off - dry rot.

Rosalind keeps joking with crazy old Jed - about him eating them, and he responds by saying that they don’t eat the visitors, they just kill them and steal their money. A joke? Rosalind wants to get back in the car and drive to their destination - no matter the weather. Charlie counters that *she* was the one who insisted they stop. The old man is just joking, right?

Old Jed is building up the fire in the livingroom to warm them up, and tells them to make themselves at home. Charlie asks if they can borrow some dry clothes (WTF?) because Rosalind’s clothes are soaked. Jed says he’ll get something... then tells them about the local legends of vampires, and the recent suspicious deaths. When he leaves, Rosalind admits that she’s terrified... then strips out of her wet dress and wraps a blanket from the sofa around her. They have a conversation about hillbilly vampires - Charlie thinks that might make a good story idea, but Rosalind thinks no one would believe it... people have a preconceived notion of what vampires look like.

That’s when Lem Carta (Jack Lambert, from Don Siegel’s version of THE KILLERS) steps into the room with clothes, startling them. He’s creepy. Says that Mother is coming down to say hello later. Charlie tells Lem to leave, and don’t peek through the keyhole... which is weird because they are in the livingroom and there is no door. I suspect the script was written for a different location and nobody fixed it when they shot this scene in the livingroom - one of many weird disconnects in this episode between what people say and what we see. Lem is also supposed to be Jed’s grandson - except they are both similar in age... so they didn’t fix the script after casting, either. Lem leaves - there is no door - and Rosalind takes off the blanket to put on the dirty old dress (WTF?) - which is much shorter than what she had on. Charlie puts on the dirty checked shirt and overalls...

When Charlie hears a woman laughing... and it’s not Rosalind!

Then a bat flies through the livingroom startling Rosalind!

Charlie smells food, so they decide to creep deeper into the cobwebbed old house to seek dinner.

In the kitchen: Jed is sharpening a knife while Lem pleads to allow him to kill and butcher this one... Jed killed the last few. But Jed says he’s experienced in slitting throats , so he’s gonna do it this time.

Charlie and Rosalind follow the cooking smells to the kitchen... where Jed has finished sharpening the knife. Jed tells Charlie that Lem’s mother has been dead for a decade - found dead on her bed, drained of blood... legend was from vampires. Jed says that he doesn’t believe in vampires - they’d need to change with the times or they’d be discovered. Rosalind says she’s not hungry anymore and runs to the front door... which is locked! Charlie says they are locked in... and then that woman’s laughter begins echoing from the walls again!

Charlie decides they’re going to search for the laughing woman... and they run into more bats on the way to the kitchen where they discover a butchered pig in the pantry. They creep upstairs and discover Ruthie (Dorothy Neumann) in a locked room - a prisoner, chained to the wall. She says she’ll show them the way out of the house if Charlie releases her. But after he does, she runs away into the night... after locking them in the room.

They escape the room, get into a spat, have a make up kiss... and then try to find the way out of the house. They discover some muddy footprints that *begin* at a wall. Secret passage or vampires who can walk through walls? Secret passage - with steps going into the basement. So they go down the steps... to the basement, where Charlie finds some moonshine and the guest book - which contains names of people and what valuables they stole from them!

That’s when Jed and Lem discover them! Jed is angry that they let Ruthie go - she’s a vampire. Oh, and Lem has set up a bed for them. So they go into the bedroom, where they find a locked door with the clothes of the previous guests. There are rats and lightning and other scary things that require Rosalind to jump so that her short skirt flips up (I know that sounds pervy to mention, but I see no reason why these hillbillies would give her an Ellie-Mae outfit except to provide scenes like these).

Later that night: the storm ends and Rosalind wakes up... and walks out of the room as if in a trance! Charlie wakes up and searches for her - finding Lem dead on the floor, sucked dry of blood with a pair of fang marks in his neck! Jed is shocked, says the whole vampire thing was just a joke. Laughter from the basement - Charlie wants to investigate, Jed warns him not to go down there. Charlie discovers Ruthie with a knife!

Later, Charlie comes upstairs and finds Rosalind, explains to her that he had to deal with Ruthie - it was her or him. Rosalind has the front door key - she knocked out Jed to get it, and they two leave. Hop in their car, drive away.

Just before dawn: at the resort destination where they had previously been driving to, they are finally able to get some rest... in a king-sized coffin. They are the vampires!

Review: Novelist Don Westlake has this term for stories that don’t fit in any genre, or maybe fit in too many genres - The Tortile Tarradiddle. It comes from Lewis Carroll. This story tries to be all things to all people and ends up not working for anyone. Though we may look at something like this as “meta” now, I wonder at the time how following every single cliche in the genre played. As a short story, it probably worked - one of my favorite Richard Matheson stories, “Tis The Season”, is a clever comedy story that makes fun of post apocalyptic tropes. Because it’s cleverly written, we know that Matheson is making fun of these tropes. The problem with a TV adaptation is that we wouldn’t be able to read the writing and we’d just see all of the tropes, all of the cliches... and even with the comedy dialogue it still might not work. I don’t really think this episode works - but I’m fairly sure (without reading it) that the story it is based on probably does,

This points out a problem with adapted material - often a book or story is famous *for its writing* and none of that writing shows up on screen, only the physical things being written about. There are novels where the way a chair is described is laugh outloud funny, but on screen it is just a chair... or just a character... or just a simple action like a character sitting down. The humor (or whatever) of the novel is in *how* things are described rather than *what* is being described. And only the *what* ends up on screen. I’ve read screenplays that do this as well - a funny read, but nothing funny actually happening. The funny part is in how it’s described on the page.

So we have a story that’s a big bundle of cliches where they push the comedy to the point of it becoming obvious and less funny. Doesn’t really work. What’s kind of interesting is John Carradine’s character saying “She’s got spunk, I like a woman with spunk” years before Lou Grant would say that to Mary Tyler Moore. Also - is this the first time a married couple slept in the same bed on television? Elizabeth Montgomery and Tom Poston do a pretty good job of playing the Nick & Nora Charles of vampires - and maybe because they are undead they could share a bed on TV and the censors didn’t care? The cast is interesting because this was a pre-BEWITCHED Montgomery, and she’s cute and sexy and lights up the screen. But just as we know Montgomery as a sexy young woman, we mostly know Poston as a crotchety old man from that last Bob Newhart show. So it seems slightly weird to see them as a couple (of about the same age) in this episode. The other thing that’s interesting about this episode is that it uses the “car breaks down in cannibal country” trope long before TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE... long before it was a trope (at least in cinema). So we have an unsuccessful entry that wasn’t as much fun as they probably thought it was.

Next week, Ida Lupino returns behind the camera for an episode she wrote with her cousin.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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*?


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.


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?


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!


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.


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...


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...


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....


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 19, 2023

Trailer Tuesday: DRAG ME TO HELL!

Halloween is coming!

Directed by: Sam Raimi.
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi.
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Ruth Livier, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Octavia Spencer.
Director Of Photography: Peter Deming.
Music: Christopher Young.

One of the best reviewed films of 2009 was a horror flick from Sam Raimi (no kidding, 92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it was one of the best times I’ve had sitting in a cinema that year - a crazy funhouse ride at a disreputable carnival that has you laughing as much as screaming. Though I always stress the importance of having a unique idea, this film gives us horror plot #17 (the gypsy curse one, see THINNER and a few dozen other films) but shows us the importance of *execution*. A good script needs a great idea, well written. Here we just get some great writing and directing and it overcomes the tired concept. Oh, if you are wondering why SPIDER-MAN’s Sam Raimi directed  this film, the guy has a whole bunch of horror skeletons in his closet, including the EVIL DEAD movies. For more on the EVIL DEAD flicks, check out But The Third One Was Great blog, which features those films this week! 

In DRAG ME TO HELL, Alison Lohman plays a nice girl destined to always finish last. She used to be fat, has a white-trash Southern accent she’s desperately trying to lose, and is doing her damndest to move up a couple of rungs on the social ladder. She works as a loan officer at a bank, and covets the empty Vice President desk across from her - the name plate is empty as if to visually announce Your Name Here. Her boss is played by David Paymer, kind of the older male version of her... and to keep his job, the person he needs to promote to VP has to be someone strong and aggressive. That’s not Alison, but it is the new guy Reggie Lee who seems to have seen WALL STREET a few too many times and actually believes that Greed Is Good. Alison and Reggie quietly battle it out at the bank every day, each hoping to slide their name into that empty VP name plate.

When a really gross phlegm spewing one eyed old gypsy woman comes in, home in foreclosure, and begs for Alison to give her a third extension; she puts the promotion over compassion. The old woman begs... and Alison calls security on her and has her removed from the bank. This puts her at the top of the promotion list, and the top of the gypsy woman’s shit list.

On her lunch hour, Alison visits her boyfriend Justin Long at the University where he’s a first year professor, and I kept waiting for the “I’m A PC” guy to pop up behind him. Justin is arranging a meet-the-tight-assed-upper-class parents dinner, and Alison is afraid to go - she’s fat white trash. As she leaves his office, she overhears his half of a phone conversation with his mother... and knows his parents will hate her and maybe worries that Justin might be charity-dating her. One of the great things about this film is that it’s all about the characters... and still a horror film. There are so many little background thing on Alison’s character peppered through the film that we really get to know and care about her. Hey, she was in the 4H (or, that reasonable facsimile of the 4H the lawyers and E&O insurance folks signed off on). And the film is really about her character arc, from meek bank employee to bad ass demon fighter who will do things you and I wouldn’t dream of doing.

At the end of the work day she goes to the empty underground garage to grab her subcompact crapo car... and notices the old gypsie woman’s ancient rusted out 70s lemon in the garage. Now, you may not know this, but that car has probably been in more movies that David Paymer.  It was Uncle Ben’s car in SPIDER-MAN... and has been featured in every film Sam Raimi has directed. It falls from the sky in ARMY OF DARKNESS... It was Raimi’s personal car for years, and when he could afford better, he kept it and uses it in every film. Here it works wonderfully as the barely running gypsy’s car.

One of the great things about this funhouse ride of a film is that there are no shortage of jump moments. And great jump moments - not some silly cat (though, there are a couple of those) but real scares from unexpected sources. Be prepared to spend half of the movie about a foot above your seat. One great series of jump moments is in the spooky garage, when the gypsie shows up and puts her curse on Alison. This film manages to get us to jump over a handkerchief... and it’s the skill of Raimi that the handkerchief also manages to be creeps and suspenseful and build dread in other scenes. You are scared of a piece of cloth!

Once the curse is on Alison she will die within 3 days and be dragged to hell. But those three days will be hell on earth. And all kinds of sick fun.

One of my favorite scenes has Alison go to the gypsy’s daughter’s house to beg that the curse be removed. The daughter doesn’t live in some magical castle with dark windows - this is Los Angeles, she lives in a typical house in the city with no yard and an ally running down the back where the garbage dumpsters are. It’s plain. She goes there, wants to see the gypsy woman, the daughter says she has caused enough trouble - getting the woman kicked out of her house... but Alison barges in... and she’s in some stranger’s house. And this is uncomfortable. And Raimi finds ways to ramp up the feelings of discomfort, including having the entire gypsy family there for dinner. She’s completely out numbered, and all of these people hate her. This could be a scene from a drama... and it *is* a big dramatic scene... but this is also a horror film. Drama *and* horror. And after the drama scene, we get some horror. Sick, disgusting, and funny horror.

Raimi does a great job of building dread with some very simple things. When Alison comes home one night, she is alone in a dark, spooky... but completely normal house. There is these terrible noise - link fingers on a chalk board - that ends up being the wind blowing open a rusted metal gate. So many everyday things are turned into terror by Raimi that you worry about going home after the film. By creating terror and building dread with normal things you’d find in almost every house, he gets us where we live. This isn’t some alien world - this is a house just like the one you live in. Raimi did this in the EVIL DEAD movies with tree branches in the wind... which become something else entirely. He can make the raisins in a cake creepy and threatening.

By the way - one of the cool things about the film is how ex-fatty Alison seems to constantly be attacked by *food*.  It’s like the curse knows her weakness, knows what scares her on a more emotional level (that she’s going to gain the weight back, or maybe people still think of her as the fat girl) and finds ways to attack her using the things she *emotionally* fears most. Food becomes scary in this film... in that wacky funhouse way.

Oh, and there’s some between the lines social message in this film. Alison is white trash who is social climbing and hopes to marry wealthy Justin. To do that, she must foreclose on the home of someone one rung beneath her in society... turn against someone similar to her, the same way she is turning against her accent and her 4H past and everything that made her who she used to be. Trash the poor so that she can become rich. Again - this is a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more going on in it... in fact, there should always be more than just the surface story.

DRAG ME TO HELL Is rated PG-13, and many horror fans have discounted it before even seeing it. How can you make a good horror movie that isn’t R rated? Well, Raimi knows how to do that. He substitutes gross for gore - and keeps the gross coming! If you’ve seen the trailer, you know there’s a scene where the gypsy woman vomits all kinds of bugs and worms and icky stuff on Alison Lohman’s face. In her eyes, in her mouth, up her nose, in her ears. This is worse that seeing a half gallon of blood spraying from someone’s neck. Your brain knows the blood geyser is fake, but these insects and worms in her mouth and nose? Um, they probably really did that. Yech! You won’t see severed limbs in this film, but you will see things that are worse. This film doesn’t wimp out at all - it just has a different kind of horror. It’s gross (in a fun way).

Which I think brings us to another thing those pimple faced horror fans have complained about on several of the message boards I frequent - that somehow this subgenre of horror is less valid than SAW and FRIDAY THE 13th. That funhouse horror movies are lesser films because they make you laugh. Hey! BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Plus a million other flicks, some starring Vincent Price, some starring the late great Bob Quarry (in one of my films, lived in my neighborhood, just passed away, miss that guy!), and of course the Raimi EVIL DEAD movies. If anything, the funhouse style horror films are *more* legit than torture porn and slasher films - they’ve been around longer. These films are crazy scary rides with all kinds of sick laughs.

And DRAG ME TO HELL is full of sick humor. “Here, kitty kitty...”

One of the cool things about this film is the Multicultural Curse. The film opens in the 1940s when a child has been cursed by a gypsy and the immigrant parents take him to a female Hispanic medium who tries to lift the curse... and fails. The boy is dragged to hell by all kinds of demons. That’s what Alison is in for. After she is cursed, she goes to an Indian store front psychic played by Dileep Rao. Dileep plays the role as if he always has one eyebrow raised quizzically. As if *he* doesn’t believe what is happening. He manages to be both the psychic *and* the skeptic at the same time. He also manages to be funny with the non-funny straight man lines. And he manages to play his store front psychic in such a way that we do not know if he’s for real or just a scam artist. This is like the Whoopi Goldberg role in GHOST - does this mean Dileep will be nominated for an Oscar?  Oh, wait, this is both a horror film *and* a comedy. When Dileep is overwhelmed by the curse, he knows right where to take Alison - to the female Hispanic woman from the opening scene, who is now an old woman.

And this is where we get the real star of the movie... a goat. It’s always funny when there is an animal in a long scene filled with special effects and crazy horror stuff, because the animal has no idea what is going on. There is a long seance scene with the goat tethered to the table, and it was funny to watch the goat’s reactions (when I was supposed to be watching Alison or Dileep). The goat was completely confused at all times.

Okay, now I don’t want to spoil the film if you haven't seen it (almost 10 years old!), but I want to talk about one of the great things in this film - the Twist On A Twist.  This is one of those great techniques that Raimi uses which elevates this film from your standard horror film to one hell of a great ride that you probably want to take again. There is a twist in the film that you see coming from a mile away. It is set up, it is confirmed, and you suddenly know exactly what is gong to happen. You figure out the twist... and want to yell at Alison that she is making a big mistake, because there’s this twist thing she hasn’t figured out but you have. Here’s the thing - Raimi *wants* you to figure out the twist. That creates audience superiority and creates suspense. You know what’s going to happen! You know the very very bad thing that Alison hasn’t figured out yet! But what you haven’t figured out is the twist on the twist - because what you think is going to happen is *half* right. But if you were really paying close attention, you would realize that the twist you think is going to happen isn’t going to happen... something even stranger is. And that’s the part you don’t see coming at all. The twist on the twist. So, Raimi sets it up so that you know *part* of what will happen, but still be shocked and surprised by the other part. Great technique!

One of the strange things about DRAG ME TO HELL is that it was one of the best reviewed films of 2009... but didn't do great box office. Broke even, but didn't break box office records. You would think a fun film with great reviews would have opened at #1 and done great business. So why didn't it tear up the box office? My guess is that the sophisticated audience member who would see any other film with this many great reviews is staying away because it’s a horror movie... The average audience member is also staying away because it’s a horror movie - those films are crap made for hard core horror fans. And the hard core horror fans stayed away... because it’s one of the best reviewed films of the year! Hey, that stamp of society’s approval means this can’t be a dark, edgy, nasty horror film... it’s probably some watered down safe movie!  The critics *great* reviews may have doomed this film! If you look at horror films the critics have loved in the past - SLITHER, BLACK SHEEP, etc - all of those films died at the box office. Good reviews scare away the horror audience. Yet films with *awful* reviews like FRIDAY THE 13th and BLOODY VALENTINE did great business in 2009... maybe even because of the bad reviews. If the critics hate this film, it’s gotta be good!

So DRAG ME TO HELL slipped between the cracks... only remembered by Trailer Tuesday and a bunch of fans.

- Bill
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