Monday, October 23, 2017

Is 80's Style Action Dead?

From Feb 2013...

You may have noticed that Stallone’s new film BULLET TO THE HEAD was not #1 over the weekend (it came it at #6!)... and that An-nuld’s movie THE LAST STAND sunk like a stone last weekend (it opened at #10... and two weeks later was #27 behind the Oscar Nominated Short Films in limited release!). We have a new DIE HARD movie right around the corner, and there is lots of talk on various movie message boards that 80s style action movies are over. Maybe even action films are we know them are over. Do you think that’s true?

I hope it’s not true - since I have a book on how to write action movies (though it’s good for all genres).

Well, let’s take a look at 1980s action flicks. Both Ah-nuld and Stallone were the #1 stars of action films in that decade and they spilled over into the early 1990s.  These guys were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s! Hmm, maybe that wasn’t a good example...

After the 80s, Stallone continued acting, and his film career was kept alive mostly through ROCKY and RAMBO sequels, along with the recent 80s throwback EXPENDABLES films that are kind of like those 70s disaster movies that have a dozen has-been stars who combine to make one star.

After that 80s period, Ah-nuld quit films to become the Governator and ended up in EXPENDABLES 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO, which was a hit!  But LAST STAND was his big return to action movie stardom as the lead.

Other 80s action stars like Bruce Willis have stuck around, though aren’t as big as they used to be... and some like Jean Claude Van Damme and Seagal ended up working in B movies where they continued that thing they do, just at reduced budgets.

Are 80s action movies dead, or is it just the careers of those 80s stars (who are getting a little long in the tooth to be an action star)? Is it the stars or the genre?

ELEMENTS

One thing to consider is that a film is a popular film isn’t due to just one thing, but a combination of elements that include the star... plus dozens of other things. When they all come together you have a hit... but we can look at bot Stallone and Ah-nuld’s filmographies and find misses, even when they were as big as Burt Reynolds was in the 70s. People often like the cherry pick one particular element and say the film was successful because of that. Sure, Ah-nuld was a big star and people would often go see movies just because he was in them...  but some of those films sucked, or didn’t have the other elements that audiences expected in an Ah-nuld film. Or, like RAW DEAL, the film had Ah-nuld and action... but the story was kind of bland, so the audience wasn’t as excited by it as they were by PREDATOR.

Often a film becomes a hit because of elements that might seem silly alone - I love BULLITT, but I think without both McQueen and that car chase, it would be just a standard cop film. It would still be on my DVD shelf, but probably not on almost everybody’s DVD shelf. I think RONIN is similar - take out the car chases and would anyone want to see this film a second time? But the car chases plus RONIN’s cast of great character actor types and a really hard edged attitude makes it a hit.

Studios and producers often cherry pick some element and decide *that* is what made the film a hit, which is why when some new take on a fairy tale does well... there are a half dozen more new takes on fairy tales, and some are HENSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. It’s never one element - it’s a combination. So just making a movie starring Ah-nuld doesn’t guarantee a hit... but Ah-nuld in the right combination of elements might. You have to look at *all* of the elements.

But shouldn’t Ah-nuld in a bad-ass action flick equal box office? Those are the two important elements, right? It’s not like Ah-nuld in a rom-com or something.

Well, let’s take a look at Ah-nuld’s big action hits from that 80s/90s period, starting with his biggest hit...

TERMINATOR 2 - robot from the future goes back in time to *protect* the boy who will someday lead humans to defeat the robot-ruled world in the future.

TRUE LIES - meek geeky husband is really James Bond like spy and must save the world (and his family) from terrorists after they steal a couple of nukes.

TOTAL RECALL - regular guy takes a vacation to Mars, where it ends up he’s a double agent who has been brainwashed to forget his action-packed past... and now is in danger!

END OF DAYS - Bodyguard has to save woman from becoming Satan’s girlfriend and having his kid... which will signal the End Of Days when Satan rules the earth.

PREDATOR - military team goes into the jungle to save politicians in a plane crash and come up against an alien hunter who sees them as prey.

RUNNING MAN - prisoners engage in a fight to the death on a game show that is rigged for ratings... and has some wild-ass contestants.

Okay, I’ve left out the comedies like TWINS and JUNIOR and KINDERGARTEN COP to focus on the action films. But compare the *type of action story* from Ah-nuld’s 80s/90s  films to LAST STAND. Do you see any difference?

Okay, let’s look at Stallone’s action films (excluding the Rocky and Rambo films)...

CLIFF HANGER - Mountain rescue dude is sent to save a group of people after a plane crash... except it was a mid-air heist and now he’s battling mega-criminals on a mountainside!

DEMOLITION MAN - When the world’s top criminal is thawed out in a pacifist future, the authorities thaw out the world’s most violent cop to stop him from taking over the world.

JUDGE DREDD - I am the law! Cop in the future is framed, sentenced, and now must escape and prove his innocence... by finding another cop who shares elements of his DNA.

DAYLIGHT - Robbers with a truck full of explosives take out the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, and a rescue guy goes into the tunnel to help the survivors escape... and ends up tangling with the robbers.

TANGO & CASH - Two extreme cops (almost cartoonish)  who hate each other are framed and thrown into prison together, and now must survive life behind bars, then escape and bring down the drug kingpin who framed them.

COBRA - When a massive cult of killers called “The New Order” descends on city and begins killing *lots* of innocent people, a cop must protect the only witness who can help convict them - an ultra hot model.

Okay, once again I’ve left out the comedies and series films, but compare the *type of stories* in Stallone 80s/90s films to BULLET TO THE HEAD. Do you see any difference?

It seems to me that the problems *isn’t* 80s/90s style action films, because BULLET TO THE HEAD (despite being directed by the great Walter Hill) and LAST STAND are completely unlike 80s/90s style action films. Both films are small and low key compared to the wild high concepts that were the norm in 80s/90s action films. There is no science fiction component nor any disaster movie component. Both of these two new films have *dull ideas* compared to the films from the 80s/90s. They are kind of bland... missing *key elements* of the films that made these two guys into stars. A cartel leader escaped and tries to cross the border? A cop partners with a hitman to take down a common enemy? Neither of these story ideas are all that interesting, leaving the only draw a couple of old movie stars playing roles much blander than they did when they were the world’s biggest stars... in stories that are much blander. One element does not make a movie!

GRUMPY OLD MEN

I think the 80s/90s style action film is fine - if anyone ever makes one again! Ah-nuld and Stallone might have some problems re-entering action movie stardom, but the easy answer there is to do what Eastwood did when he got a little long in the tooth - partnered with a younger ***star*** like Charlie Sheen. Johnny Knoxville is *not* a movie star (unless he’s sticking fireworks up his butt), he’s a comic relief sidekick at best. The problem is, Stallone and Ah-nuld need to be the comic relief sidekick now. They need to be re-introduced as the second billed actor... and maybe they will someday be back as the #1 star, maybe not. Hey, actors need to act their age. The odd thing about an action star is that they are beefcake to a female star’s cheesecake. You don’t see actresses Ah-nuld or Stallone’s age doing sexpot roles... they’re playing moms and grandmothers. That’s okay! And it’s okay for Ah-nuld and Stallone to play their age - and *not* be the star. One of the things about the new DIE HARD movie is that Willis is playing *dad* to a kid in the big action role. They get to play buddy action (an 80s staple - usually with a top comedy star partnered with an action star) and the story seems *big* and exciting (not a small story like Stallone and Ah-nuld got stuck with). A few years ago I got called in to pitch stories for a Vin Diesel buddy action film with Stallone (whose career wasn’t so hot at that point). Though I’m not sure Diesel is the star to bring back Stallone right now - I can easily see how putting them together might be good for both of them. Someone get on that!  Maybe The Rock and Ah-nuld can pair up? Or have Ah-nuld play Jake Gyllenhaal’s grandfather? (Both have difficult to spell last names.)

I also wonder if CGI stunts have created a focus on high concept stunts at the expense of high concept stories? If you look at the scenes in PREDATOR - they are great action scenes but *connected* to the high concept of the story itself. Now we have all of these wild CGI action scenes in stories that are kind of pedestrian - and because the action scenes are not connected to the concept, the concept may have to be more realistic to make up for the over-the-top action. They aren’t connected.

Another possible issue is *nostalgia* - why are we making 80s/90s style action flicks in the first place? Why aren’t we doing something new? Plus, these seem to be kind of the faulty memory version of what 80s/90s action flicks were like. Everyone complains about all of the remakes these days, and I usually jump in to point out that remakes have *always* been part of Hollywood movies. But the difference is - in the old days the remakes were *not* nostalgic - they were new spins on an old story. They would take a successful story and give it a modern twist. Now it seems they want to take an old story and make it seem like a film from the old days. Where’s the twist?  Instead of longing for those action films from the good old days, we should be making the amazing new films that people will be fondly remembering a couple of decades from now.

By the way, if you wonder whether the action film is dead... did you see the trailer for FAST 6 on last night’s Superbowl broadcast? I’d say action is alive and well.  Can’t wait to see it!



- Bill

Friday, October 20, 2017

HITCH 20: The Crystal Trench (s3e5)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the last episode of the third season on THE CRYSTAL TRENCH and the importance of locations in story.



CRYSTAL TRENCH extras...

In this episode we look at the relationship between story and location, and how a location can be a character in your story. In an old article in Script Magazine called HITCHCOCK’S CHOCOLATES we sweated the small stuff and looked at the relationship between characters, their tools, and their environment. Using location and props to help tell your story. How do you keep all of these elements organic, and even explore theme through location?

"One of the interesting aspects of "The Secret Agent" is that it takes place in Switzerland," Hitchcock says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (1967 Simon And Schuster). "I said to myself, What do they have in Switzerland? They have milk chocolate, they have the Alps, they have village dances, and they have lakes. All of these ingredients were woven into the story. Local topographical features can be used dramatically as well. We used lakes for drowning and the Alps to have our characters fall into crevasses."



IS THIS THE RIGHT PLACE?


Most of us give little thought to our locations, using them only as backgrounds for our stories. They end up little more than theatrical flats - a two dimensional painting of a street our characters act in front of. But location can influence story, and story elements can grow from a location.

A man walking down a dark alley.

A man walking in a park filled with children.

Both scenes show a man walking, but each 'background' will have a different effect on the audience, and on the character's mood and actions. The location changes effects the character and the character effects the direction of the story.

Orson Welles' brilliant THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (based on a novel by Sherwood King) takes place in San Francisco and uses the location to advance the story. The story of a yacht captain (Welles) who becomes involved with a beautiful woman (Rita Hayworth) and her evil husband (Everett Sloan) in a strange fake murder for life insurance scheme is like a check list of San Francisco landmarks. From Chinatown to Sausalito to Steinhart Aquarium to Playland At The Beach amusement park.

In LADY FROM SHANGHAI locations are not just background to the story, they help shape it. When the scheme goes wrong and Welles is hunted through the city by the police - no one to turn to - he hides in a Chinatown theater. Surrounded by people speaking a strange language, laughing at jokes he doesn't understand, the character is out-numbered and alone simultaneously. The choice of environment strengthens the emotions in the scene.

My DEAD RUN script is a fast paced thriller about a conspiracy to keep a murdered political candidate alive through CGI computer animation. The logical location for this story was someplace where the computer industry has deep roots. Silicon Valley was the obvious choice, but I went with the second city on my list: Seattle, Washington.

What do we find in Seattle? The Space Needle, the logging industry, gourmet coffee shops, grunge-rockers, the monorail, Puget Sound, trolley cars, and Ballard Locks Park all made my list.

Then I decided what scenes would gain the most from each of my locations. The sunny Ballard Locks Park seemed like a perfect place for a sniper attack, my end action scene would be on the Space Needle, and I could use the monorail in a chase scene. My candidate would be involved in logging and environmental issues. Everything on my location list helped to shape the final script. The plot helped me choose the city, but each individual setting influenced the way scenes played. I used the location not just as a background, but to help tell the story.

It's important to make sure your story matches the location, that the story grows naturally from the location and vice versa. You want to find the most effective setting for your story. If you are writing a script about a pair of doomed lovers, can you think of a better location than a sinking ship? The minute Jack and Rose meet each other on the Titanic, the clock is ticking. We know their relationship will be over as soon as that ship sinks. Doomed lovers, doomed location. The location is an organic part of the story.

In THE CRYSTAL TRENCH that glacier *is* a character in the story, as is the mountain the men are climbing. How could this story work in a desert? In a city? On a farm? The story is all about the glacier!

TWO TOOLS FOR SISTER SARAH





"In Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, James Stewart plays a doctor, and behaves like one throughout the whole picture," Francios Truffaut says in HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. "His line of work is deliberately blended into the action. For instance, before telling Doris Day that their child has been kidnapped, he makes her take a sedative." Stewart's character prepares the sedative calmly, professionally. He's using the tools and methods familiar to him to solve the immediate problem.

Characters will always use familiar tools, given the choice. Tools are an extension of occupation, and occupation is an extension of character and theme. A plumber with a slide rule or a nun with a machine gun seems strange. A character s choice of tools gives us insight into his or her personality and background. They are more than just props.

In Robert Benton's KRAMER VS. KRAMER Dustin Hoffman's wife runs off to find herself, leaving him to take care of his young son. The first morning without Mom, Hoffman has to prepare breakfast. Hoffman is used to grabbing a cup of coffee on the way out the door... that's the extent of his breakfast knowledge.

His son wants french toast. So Hoffman grabs the tools he is familiar with to make the french toast. Instead of using a bowl and a whisk, he uses a coffee cup and a spoon. Breaks the eggs into the cup, beats the eggs with the spoon, then tries to dip the bread in the egg batter. His attempt to make french toast is a complete failure. He will have to learn how to use new tools as a single dad.

In my NIGHT HUNTER film, Don "The Dragon" Wilson plays the last of the vampire hunters, drifting from town to town on the trail of blood suckers. I envisioned him as a man without friends, without family, without a home. Homeless.

In the script when all of his vampire killing tools are taken away from him by the police, he is forced to find new equipment. Would he go into a store and buy it? Not in character. He's homeless, he dumpster dives. He turns discarded items found in the trash into lethal killing tools. Tools that fit his character. One hundred percent organic.

In CRYSTAL TRENCH we not only have the mountain climbing tools, we have that great telescope focused on the side of the mountain that features in scene after scene. The great thing about that telescope is that it’s not only a tool, it’s what I call a “Twitch” in my “Secrets Of Action Screenwriting” book - it’s a physical device that symbolizes an emotional conflict. It’s focused on the dead men, right? So the telescope *becomes* the dead men - a way to have them in a scene when they are actually on the side of the mountain many miles away.

Make a list of your character's "familiar tools", those things they're most comfortable using. These will be the first thing they reach for when they're trying to solve a problem. Tools they know how to use. Tools they know how to use. Tools which help illuminate character through actions.

STOCK COMPANY


In previous episodes of HITCH 20 we’ve talked about Hitchcock’s “stock company” of actors, and I look at Hitch’s loyalty to cast and crew members in HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE. Though many of the HITCH 20 episodes feature John Williams (the actor, not the composer) these past two episodes have featured THE AVENGERS’ Patrick Macnee. In ARTHUR he was the town constable, and here he’s the glacier expert - two very different characters!

This brings the third season of HITCH 20 to a close...

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(links actually work now)

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



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.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, October 19, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook

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



Season: 1, Episode: 20. Airdate: February. 7, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty Writer: Alan Caillou Cast: Alan Caillou, Kenneth Haigh, Audrey Dalton, Alan Napier, J. Pat O’Malley Music: Jerry Goldsmith Cinematography: Benjamin Kline. Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Do you believe in witchcraft? Witches have plagued the human race since history first began. Although now a days, in America at least, they’ve become nothing more than an illusion with which to tease the childish imagination on Halloween. But no so in the old world. In Italy for example witchcraft is still called The Old Religion. And in England, even today, the legal definition of a witch stands on the statute books as a person who has conference with the Devil. And in a place like Dark Woods, deep in the mountains of the Welsh borders, where the village cowers in the shadows of the Druid stones, and ancient sacrifical circle put there, oh, who knows when. For these simple villagers, time does not move very fast. The old habits, the old fears, die hard. Our story tonight deals with the attempts to exercise a witch. Our leading players are Mr. Kenneth Haigh, Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alan Caillou, Mr. Alan Napier, and Miss Doris Lloyd. Join us now, won’t you, as we try to beat the Devil at his own game.”

Synopsis: In the small village of Dark Woods on the Welsh border, there are not only Stonehenge like Druid Stone Formations... there are those who still practice Witchcraft and those who capture witches and burn them at the base of the stones. After a Farmer is the victim of a ritual killing, London detective Harry Roberts (Kenneth Haigh) and his new bride Nesta (Audrey Dalton) have their honeymoon plans changed at the last minute as he is sent to the remote village to investigate the murder. Some honeymoon!

No sooner do they arrive at the spooky crime scene at the Druid Stones than a creepy old man with a pitchfork (hay fork) confronts them. He wonders why anyone would be at this God forsaken place, used by Witches & Warlocks to sacrifice victims. Roberts says he’s a police officer, and the old man with the pitchfork says that is impossible because *he* is the only police officer in this area... he is Constable Evans (Alan Napier, Alfred The Butler from the TV show BATMAN). Roberts shows his ID, introduces his wife, and Evans lowers the pitchfork. Evans believes more in Witches than in city police procedures, thinking the whole idea of sending a city detective to deal with a rural issue like Witchcraft makes no sense. Roberts wants to talk to the “mayor” of the village, Sir Wilfred, and they walk down to Roberts’ car and drive down the winding country roads.



On those winding country roads, new bride Nesta screams “Watch out!” and pulls the steering wheel, forcing the car off the road and into a ditch. She claims she saw a black dog in the road, but neither Roberts nor Evans saw it. Evans says he’ll have the car towed and repaired in the morning, and they are close enough to walk to Sir Wilfred’s estate (a huge mansion which exists in stock footage).

Sir Wilfred (Alan Caillou) is a worldly and wealthy man, who explains that country folk are much different than city folk... and still believe in witchcraft. He also mentions that it would have been impossible for Nesta to see a black dog in the road, as no one in the village owns a black dog... because black dogs are associated with witchcraft. Legend has it that a black dog once turned into a woman, a witch! So no one in the village would own such an animal. Nesta insists she saw a black dog, and Evans clearly thinks she may be crazy. Sir Wilfred’s maid interrupts, saying that someone has stolen the clothes hamper... and this is sinister rather than silly because witches are traditionally burned in wicker baskets, like the missing clothes hamper. This is when Nesta notices the flicker of flames through the window at the Druid Stones, and they all race out of the stock footage mansion.

A woman has been burned alive as a witch!

In the local pub/hotel, Evans tells the locals that Nesta has seen a black dog, and everyone is shocked. The town drunk (J. Pat O’Malley) gives some nice exposition about the village’s recurring problems with witches and witchcraft. The question seems to be: is Nesta a witch?

That’s when Roberts and Nesta and Sir Wilfred enter, and we get another block of exposition which is less entertaining when Roberts says that this isn’t witchcraft, it’s the work of a lunatic. Roberts wants to know if anyone in town has mental issues. Sir Wilfred admits that his own father was institutionalized for a while. Since everyone in the village believes in Witches, that’s not going to be a clue to anyone’s insanity.

When Roberts and Nesta go up to their room for their honeymoon night, he asks if she’ll help with the investigation by doing research at the county seat a few miles away. Then Nesta goes wacky when she sees a black dog... where there isn’t one. Is she crazy?



Next day, Roberts is at Evans’ house with Sir Wilfred examining evidence and notices that the victim’s pocket watch is missing. Here we meet Evan’s Old Mum (Doris Lloyd) who makes the finest tea in the village... if you know what I mean, and I think you do. (Heck, she’s *ancient*!)

We get some cross cutting between Nesta searching the county records while Roberts and Sir Wilfred and some military guys with metal detectors look for the missing watch at the crime scene. Nesta shows up just as the find the watch, and Roberts says they should easily be able to lift some fingerprints and find the killer. He’ll need to send the watch to Scotland Yard, and since the day’s mail has already left, will the watch be safe overnight at the post office? Sir Wilfred assures him that it will, and later we discover this is all Roberts’ scheme: he will stake out the post office that night and who ever breaks in is the killer. Another night without the honeymoon consummation! (Is Detective Roberts secretly Gay? Dude keeps finding new reasons not to sleep with his new bride!)

That night while Roberts is watching the post office, Evans and his Old Mum break into the hotel and kidnap Nesta, take her up to the Druid Stones, and prepare to burn her alive in a wicker basket. Sir Wilfred sees the fire and races up to the Druid Stones to battle it out with Evans, who is his bastard brother! They have the second least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television, and then Evans kills Sir Wilfred, shocking his Old Mum by killing is half brother! Evans prepares to burn Nesta... and that’s when Roberts sees the black dog at the post office and, like Lassie, the black dog gets Roberts to follow it up the hill to the Druid Stones where we get the *first* least convincing scythe vs. pitch fork battle in the history of television. After Roberts knocks Evans down, he rescues Nesta, and then all four of them just walk down the hill as if nothing had happened. WTF?



Review: This is one of those episodes that tries to do too much at once, and succeeds at doing nothing well. Biggest problem is that it’s essentially a mystery about Evan’s Old Mum being mother to both wealthy Sir Wilfred and yokel Evans, and Sir Wilfred’s father being insane, and that town drunks father being hanged for killing witches. Somehow all of those things are connected, and the story takes too much time trying to figure all of that stuff out. The spooky stuff and suspense take the back seat, which makes this thriller not much of a thriller. Caillou is a good actor (you’d know him if you saw him), but despite writing a pile of TV episodes I’m not sure he was much of a writer. Actors are often so focused on the character and drama elements that they miss the overall story part... and this story has so much going on in it that it ends up a mess. The pub scene lasts almost a quarter of the show, and gets stagey after a couple of minutes. The episode is filled with exposition at the expense of suspense and action.

Hershel Dougherty who directed 24 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and 3 episodes of the hour long Hitch show, brings nothing to this episode. Might be because it was shot on a tight schedule or that the script was more focused on the mystery elements, but even a “schlock shock” moment in the country records room where Nesta removes a book from the shelf to expose a man watching her on the other side is shot from an ineffective angle. The black dog looks *cute* instead of dangerous, and the Druid Stones just end up bland. The fight scenes were awful, and I wish someone would explain the ending where everyone just walks down the his as if nothing has happened. A real WTF? moment. Again, this may be because the script focuses more on the mystery than the suspense and spooky elements... but the director didn’t save the script.



Add to that, Kenneth Haigh’s performance as Detective Roberts, which seems like a roadshow version of Robert Morse... only prissy. He spends half of his screen time rolling his eyes. Part of that may have been dialogue that focused on the conflict between city and country, but he seemed to turn every line into a minor complaint... and this became irritating after a while.

Napier does as great job as a superstitious local, and manages to make his dialogue work (a line about trees having nothing better to do than grow ends up an insult to Roberts). A shame that he’s only remembered for BATMAN.

Best thing about the episode is Goldsmith's score, which adds suspense and thrills where there aren't any. One of his best scores for the series - he was working hard to make the episode work despite its problems.

Not a great episode, but next up is another Brahm episode based on a novel... by THE KILLING’s Lionel White.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Film Courage Plus: The 100 Idea Theory

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the third one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

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 of 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.

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. 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. 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.

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

bluebook

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

German folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

French folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Espania folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Canadian folks click here for YOUR IDEA MACHINE.

Other countries check your Amazon stores!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Optimistic Disappointment

An old blog entry re-run... from 2008.

Tuesday I ran the Romeo-to-Rambo Script Tip, which is always good for a few messages and some spirited debate. The responses are always: "Why are you so pessimistic?" "Why would anyone want to be a screenwriter if your stuff is just going to get screwed up?" "Why do they always screw stuff up?" "How can I make sure they don't change a single word of my script?" and "How often can Bill name drop in a single blog entry?"

First - no matter who you are, no matter how many Oscars you have on your mantle, no matter how many #1 hit movies you'd written... you will be rewritten. It's just the way the business works. Hollywood goes through screewriters the way screenwriters go through toner cartridges. They are constantly replacing them. Not for any logical reason - the excuse you hear is often "We think you've given it your best shot, but it's time to move on" or "We're thinking about taking it in a new direction, and need a new screenwriter to take it there" or "We've used all of your contracted rewrites." Love him or hate him, when Joe Eszterhas was the top screenwriter in Hollywood, they paid him $3 million for BASIC INSTINCT... then fired him the next day and brought in another writer. That was the most anyone had ever paid for a screenplay, so you'd think they must have liked it; but replacing writers is business as usual in Hollywood. One of the amusing things about this business is that sometimes - after a parade of writers has ruined your screenplay - sometimes they hire you back to rewrite whatever mess they ended up with. Of course, you aren't rewriting your *original* script, you're rewriting the crappy messed up rewritten by an army of damned dirty apes version.

And often you are the one who ruins your script. They own it, and if your contract includes 2 rewrites and a polish (as mine always do) they will order you to make all kinds of stupid changes. When you and I think of rewrites, we think of *improving* our screenplays, but producers think rewrites are to *change* your script. Change it completely. Change the genre, the protagonist, the arena, the locations... hey, can they be cowboys? As Joe Gillis says in SUNSET BLVD. "The last one I wrote was about Okies in the dust bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat." You know, a writer wrote that line.

Even if you fund the film yourself (so that you’re the boss) things will get changed by the time they hit the screen. As directors will tell you, film is a director’s medium... so whatever weird idea the director comes up with goes in the film. And you can’t sell a film without a star - which gives the star all kinds of power over the film. On one of my movies the actor (who was being paid a cool million) decided that his character should recite some poetry in the film, to show his sensitive side. And he *must* wear his lucky leather jacket - even though it didn’t fit the character he was playing at all. You know what the answer to that was? Change the character! Plus, there were some things he wanted in the story that made no sense - but without this guy there was no movie. So I did the rewrites... hating every minute of it. I’ve had directors who had me change *researched facts* to be what the director thought was true. And this blog’s name comes from a really silly note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE - they wanted a sex scene in a film that takes place on a submarine manned by 110 *men*. No women allowed. “A *gay* sex scene?” I asked. “No! No! With a woman!” (Today they’d *want* the gay sex scene.) “How do I get a woman on the submarine?” “You’re the writer - be creative!” Next thing you know, there’s some hot woman having wild monkey sex on a submarine for no apparent reason.

Even if you were the director, star, producer, writer, prop guy and everything else; you need to bend the script to fit the locations and shooting schedule - and that often means major changes. Things go wrong on every movie... and that means you’ll need to make changes on the fly to get things back on track. It rains, so that big outdoor scene now takes place in the warehouse where you store your equipment. When you make a film there are hundreds of people involved and hundreds of things that can go wrong. Everything seems to be conspiring against you. You never really get your vision up in screen. You have to compromise with real life and hope what ends up on screen is close to what you wrote.

I was at Frank Darabont's house once, and across from his desk he had a bookcase filled with his own scripts. I thought that was kind of odd (and maybe a little vain), so I asked him about it. He told me those were *his* screenplays the way *he wrote them*. I liked that idea so much, I now have a bookcase in my office with *my* scripts the way I wrote them. You know, I wonder what Frank's Indiana Jones was like? (Actually, I think I have the PDF in my “to read” pile along with INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (hey - spellcheck flagged that!)

The only thing we control is our scripts... so we have to be happy with what's on the page, not what ended up on the screen. If it's all about what ended up on the screen, it's a lifetime of heartbreak...

Which is why a screenwriter needs to be optimistic. You must have hope that some day you will end up with the right combination of director and actors and producers who all want to make the script you've written. Usually everyone wants to make a different story, and the whole thing goes to hell.

I’ve had a couple of films that got close to what I wanted. HARD EVIDENCE is probably closest to what I wrote (although the rewrites for location had the horrors of spending your life in a Canadian prison *instead of* a Mexican prison and much more sex than the spec script had), and it’s also my most financially successful films. You’d think that would be a compelling reason not to completely screw up my scripts - but Hollywood is all about changing a silk purse into a sow’s ear. On CYBERZONE the director and I were on the same page - but it was not a page that lead to Oscar nominations. The producer wanted a film about robot hookers from outer space... so that’s what we made. The director and I were both making the same movie - a comedy - but the distrib wanted a *serious* movie about robot hookers from outer space. So the jokes were cut out as well as some of the character stuff and we ended up with a silly movie instead of a funny one... but most of what I wrote is still there on screen, though. It’s a miracle.

And on every film (except CROOKED) something I wrote ends uo on screen. Usually a handful of scenes in each film remain more or less intact - and I can be happy about them. I used to *hate* BLACK THUNDER and CRASH DIVE, but both films have grown on me. The parts that I wrote now overshadow the parts that got messed up on the way to the screen. And I’m always hoping that the next script makes it to the screen the way I wrote it... or maybe even *better* - I would really love to work with a director with a vision and a cast with real talent who make *positive* contributions to the film. I don’t mind changes that improve the script - I *welcome them*. I have had some *good* notes on scripts in the past - and would love to get more of those! It’s the silly ones that change the script into crap I could live without. Every new script sale is another chance to have a great movie made!

I was on a panel once with Robert Roy Pool who wrote the spec script that became ARMAGEDDON a couple of years ago. His original script was about a guy in the government whose job was to write reports about reports. He'd read dozens of reports and condense them into a paragraph each for the Presidential briefing. He came across a bunch of different things in different reports that seemed to be connected - the most amusing one was an Indian tribe that wanted to move their reservation because their shaman had forseen a giant asteroid hitting Earth where their reservation was now. He discovers that there really is a giant asteroid heading toward Earth, but the government covers it up. So he goes about grabbing his estranged wife and everyone he loves and finding a safe place for them - some caverns he knows about from reading reports. They find safety... and the asteroid strikes. Okay, about a dozen writers were hired - one after another - to change that into ARMAGEDDON. One of the things that *every* writer hated was the scene where the Mir space station blows up for no reason. Now, some of these writers were being paid huge amounts of money to do these rewrites - there were Oscar winners - and every single one of them *lost* the argument and had to have the Mir space station blow up for no reason. The film is *nothing* like Robert's original script, and I don't think any of those dozen rewriters liked it much.

But Robert and none of those writers quit the business because the script was ruined by bad notes... instead, they went on to write other things. Because every script is a chance to have it all come together (by some miracle) or maybe just get pretty close. Good films *do* get made. Great films *do* get made. Sometimes it all comes together. You just have to have faith that it will happen sometime... and until then, you still have that bookshelf of scripts the way you wrote them.

You have to be optimistic in this business. You have to believe that the next script will end up on screen even better than the way you wrote it - that the producer and director and cast will come up with some amazing ideas that you never thought of and turn a great script into a completely fantastic amazing script. And even if that deal doesn’t work out and results in another disappointment... there’s the deal after that!

Somewhere down there, there’s a pony!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Character Conservation and ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Subway Black Forest Ham.
Bicycle: Sunday they closed off some major streets in downtown LA so that cyclists could ride from downtown to the sea... but I'm on the other side of the hill, so I just rode west.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: ARTHUR (s3e4)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the fourth episode of the third season, which looks at point of view and breaking the fourth wall in Hitchcock's work and in ARTHUR...

Not the great Dudley Moore movie nor the terrible remake, but an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS directed by Hitchcock and starring that fellow who was the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE...



Once again I am in front of Universal Studios where this episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS was shot... and yes, they brought hundreds of live chickens and some chicken wranglers onto the lot and into the soundstage (this episode was shot indoors with some awesome background paintings making it look as if were out on a farm in the middle of the UK somewhere). Check out the shot where the police are searching - that’s an indoor set!

The episode focuses on breaking the fourth wall, but underneath that is something pretty common in film - the use of Voice Over Narration to get us into the head of a potentially unsympathetic character. If a character may be difficult to identify with, one of the techniques often used is to allow us to see the world through their eyes by giving them a running commentary - usually funny and amusing and entertaining. Adding an extra layer of story. So in a movie like DOUBLE INDEMNITY where our protagonist is a murderer, it helps to know their motivations and understand them... and it also helps that Walter Neff is amusing so that the narration is entertaining. The example I often use is another film from the same director, SUNSET BLVD, where protagonist and narration Joe Gillis is not just a screenwriter, his narration is filled with amazingly witty lines. You could remove the narration and the film still works perfectly, but it is so much better with that added layer of entertainment... plus it turns Gillis and Neff (and Arthur) into our friends and confidants. They are telling us their secret thoughts.



As I said in the episode, having Arthur talk directly into the camera also turns this into an odd satire on cooking shows, which were popular at the time. We watch Arthur prepare some meals, his presentation is beautiful, and he’s charismatic. Because cooking shows were inexpensive to produce in studios (still are) there were a bunch of them at the time, and the narration is just part of that.

But the narration doesn’t let the writer off the hook for telling the story visually - we see the dishes in the sink, the disk as the ashtray, the broken cup... and the audience wants to kill her, too. She has disrupted his orderly life. The narration might get us closer to Arthur, but all of those images, plus Helen herself, make us fully understand the chaos she has brought to Arthur’s life.

The actress who plays Helen, Hazel Court, may look familiar to you because she was a regular in all of those Corman Poe horror flicks we looked at last year during Halloween. THE RAVEN, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and PREMATURE BURIAL among others. This episode even feels a bit like a Poe story. A UK actress who came to Hollywood and played all kinds of roles in lower budget movies and TV. I love her in this role - she manages to be irritating when doing minor things.



One of the fun things is the noise the chicken makes in the opening scene of the film is the same noise that Helen makes when Arthur strangles her. You can decide whether it’s the chicken or Helen’s strangulation sounds.

Which brings up strangulation - interesting, because that was the murder method in Hitchcock’s ROPE as well, and in both we side with the killers who then play a game of cat & mouse with an authority figure who is also a very close friend. In ROPE it’s their professor played by Jimmy Stewart, and here it’s the local constable played by Patrick MacNee who is his best friend. This is one of two episodes directed by Hitchcock that MacNee was in, what is that? 10% of the 20 episodes Hitchcock directed? The other episode is next up on HITCH 20, I think (this episode is Season 5 Episode 1 and that episode is Season 5 Episode 2). But the relationship between Arthur and the Constable is interesting because they are both close friends and on opposite sides of the law. There’s a great conversation about being alone, and therefor in control of your life. This gets to the core of what the story is about, aside from running your wife through an industrial strength grinder.

Hitchcock often experimented with giving the audience a walk on the wild side by telling the story from the “villain”s point of view. ROPE and PSYCHO and this episode put us in the shoes of the badguys and show us the world through their eyes, and make us worry that they will be caught be the authorities. And just for the trivia side of things, the female lead in PSYCHO, Janet Leigh, was the female lead in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE which starred Lawrence Harvey... the star of this episode ARTHUR. Everything is connected!

- Bill

Now on to the NEW book!
This is the "pre-launch" date, there will be an official Launch Party soon, with party hats and noise makers and clowns and balloons and... Okay, maybe none of those things (unless you buy them yourself). But from now until the end of the month the book is $2 off!

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Accidentally still at the May Price of $3.99

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.



- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



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.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Thriller Thursday: Girl With A Secret

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



Season: 1, Episode: 9.
Airdate: 11/15/1960


Director: Mitchell Leisen.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on a novel by Charlotte Armstrong.
Cast: Faye Bainter, Paul Hartman, Myrna Fahey, Victor Buono, Cloris Leachman.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “An attache case. A classic ingredient in tales of cloak and dagger. Was the young lady correct? Was it switched on purpose? As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, the contents of that case will soon trap these two young people in a web of terror. Alice, the bewildered bride, doesn’t yet know that her husband’s life will depend upon her silence. She’ll become a girl with a secret. That’s the name of our story. Our principle players are Miss Faye Bainter, Mr. Paul Hartman, Miss Myrna Fahey, Mr. Rhodes Reason, Miss Cloris Leachman, and Mr. Harry Ellerbe. I assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: After a couple of great episodes in a row, we go back to...



At an airport, newlyweds Anthony (Rhodes Reason) and Alice (Myrna Fahey from Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER) wait for their baggage and she talks about the pressure of meeting her (wealthy) inlaws for the first time. When Anthony sets down his attache case for a moment to grab his suitcase, a Stranger sets down his *identical* attache case to do the same and grabs Anthony’s attache case by accident when he leaves. Or was it an accident? Alice seems to think the Stranger did it on purpose. She points out the Stranger to Anthony and says to stop him before he drives away... but Anthony tells her it’s no big deal, he’ll just open the Stranger’s attache case, find his ID, and call him and swap cases later. They’ve had a long flight and Anthony just wants to get home to Pasadena and relax.

When they leave the airport, an evil looking Henchman (Rex Holman) is following them...

On a narrow, twisting road in the hills (probably where the 134 Freeway would end up) the Henchman tries to pass them on a particularly dangerous curve and “accidentally” hits their car, almost forcing them over a cliff! Alice is scared and confused, did that guy *try* to kill them or was it an accident? Seems like weird stuff is happening around her new husband! Why?



The family estate in Pasadena looks oddly like the Munster’s house from the outside (same backlot house), but the inside is a luxurious mansion where the entire family seems to hang out night and day, with Cousin Beatrice (Cloris Leachman) playing the piano for the entertainment of her boyfriend Walter (Harry Ellerbe) plus Uncle Gregory (Paul Hartman) and Aunt Hortense (Anne Seymour) and matriarch Geraldine (Faye Bainter) who is Anthony’s grandmother. The whole family meets the new daughter in law, and give her the normal third degree you would give a new wife... which kind of adds to Alice’s paranoia. Anthony excuses himself for a moment to get the luggage out of the car... but instead goes to the car to open the Stranger’s attache case... which is empty except for a cryptic note... which Anthony decodes!

He starts up the car and goes to the Stranger in a public library... where we discover that Anthony is some sort of spy and the Stranger is a fellow spy, who warns him that the bad guys are onto him. Anthony tells the Stranger that he knows: an attempt was made on his life earlier.

Cut to our evil badguy played by Victor Buono (King Tut from BATMAN), as the Henchman enters his evil lair to report that his attempt on Anthony’s life *failed*. Buono needs to know how much Anthony knows about his evil operation, and keep him from stopping whatever the heck that evil operation is. It’s kinda vague.



Anthony gets back to the Munster House, and nobody seems to notice he was missing. He and Alice are unpacking in their room... when she discovers an airplane ticket in his coat pocket. To Mexico City. She confronts her new husband... is he cheating on her? Anthony quiets her, opens the bedroom door... and there’s the Maid (Esther Dale) listening in on the conversation. He tells the Maid to please keep this little domestic dispute to herself, then closes the door and whispers to Alice... that he’s a spy! He has a secret mission to Mexico City to do things that will help foil Victor Buono’s evil operation... and while he’s gone she must keep his secret. No one can know that he has gone to Mexico City, *no one*. Not even family members. Alice will keep the secret while Anthony is away.

Anthony tells his family that he’s been called back to New York on business for a while, and to please take care of his new wife. Cousin Beatrice is already planning ways to mess with Alice in order to make matriarch Geraldine hate the new bride. And that, folks, is the set up!

And the halfway point.

After Anthony leaves on his secret mission, Alice is “alone” in the house with all of these strangers... and the Maid, who asks for some hush money or she’ll tell everyone that Anthony has gone to Mexico City. Alice gives her ear rings (which are expensive as heck) to the Maid to keep her quiet... but when Cousin Beatrice notices the Maid wearing Alice’s ear rings she accuses the Maid of stealing them, and this brings in matriarch Geraldine who insists the Maid return the ear rings... and creates a larger problem as the Maid now wants $300 to keep her mouth shut.

Alice brings the money to the Maid... and there is a knock at the Maid’s door! The evil Henchman! Alice hides in the murphy bed folded up against the wall and listens as the Henchman questions the Maid, doesn’t get any answers... so he kills her and then searches the room for some clue as to where Anthony may have flown to... almost finding Alice hiding in the folded up bed! The Henchman leaves, heading back to...



Victor Buono’s evil lair, where Buono is talking to... Walter! Cousin Beatrice’s boyfriend! They have blackmailed Walter into being part of the evil operation and spying on Anthony. It was Walter who gave the information that sent the Henchman to the Maid’s apartment. Twist!

Back at the Munster House, Alice returns and is freaked out... afraid she’ll be accused of the Maid’s murder and won’t be able to tell anyone that it’s all because her husband is really a spy. Walter hammers away at Alice about the murder of the Maid... did she do it? Why did she give the Maid those ear rings? Alice walks out... leaving the rest of the family to scheme. Walter and Uncle Gregory think Alice needs to get some rest and suggest giving her some tranquilizers... Walter wants to give her a whole bunch! Then take her to a friend of his who will give her some sodium penathol so she will tell the truth about the Maid’s murder and the family will know how to handle it. They don’t want to be harboring a murderer, do they? Think of the scandal!



A few weeks later Anthony gets back from Mexico City with all of the info to stop Victor Buono’s evil operation... and asks Grandmother Geraldine where Alice is. Geraldine says...

Alice never gave up your secret. They were going to drug her and make her talk, but Geraldine smuggled her out of the house and to a friend’s place in Los Angeles. She’s safe... and Geraldine thinks she’s a danged good wife.

Anthony gets to the address where Alice is hiding out... and it’s a drug store where she is working behind the counter. Just as they embrace, turncoat Walter and the evil Henchman come in with guns... but the Drug Store Owner shoots them both in the most boring action scene ever on television. Meanwhile Victor Buono is being arrested. Anthony and Alice live happily ever after.



Review: Actually, the problem here is the difference between what works as a thriller on that page versus what works on the screen. I can easily imagine this as a nail biter on the page, but it’s all internal... most of the suspense concerns what the character is *feeling*, and we can’t see that. In a way we have a story like REBECCA, about a shy new bride dealing with her new husband’s secret... and you’d think the hubby being a spy instead of a dreamy rich dude with a dead first wife would, but it doesn’t. Hubby is off screen doing spy stuff in Mexico City... and the only thing close to Mrs. Danvers is Leachman’s character, who is just a stuck up rich girl (instead of a foreboding frozen faced Maid who has the real power in the house). The Maid in this story is old and frail... not much of a physical threat. Also not much of any kind of threat because she knows the secret but really can’t do anything with it. And for a story that’s mostly confined to the family house, there isn’t even the sort of suspense and intrigue from REBECCA or NOTORIOUS. The family is mostly just sitting around doing nothing. None are really threats, no real suspense... Alice is just an outsider when it comes to the family rather than a target.

I suspect the story also loses something from whatever scope the novel may have had versus the confines of a TV budget and shooting schedule. This gets into my Dog Juice Theory: when the story gets smaller you need to increase the “juice” to keep it exciting, and in this case the juice would be suspense. Add to this the stiff acting and massive overacting of the villains (they’re on screen for so little time they only have time to be evil without any time for actual characterization).



So the whole episode comes off as kind of bland and boring, and that car chase scene can’t really make up for it. The suspense set piece with Alice hiding in the Murphy bed is also kinda dull... though there is a moment where she is almost discovered. And the reveal that Walter is working with the badguys is nonexistent! He’s just in a scene with Buono. No *twist* to it. Part of this is the writing isn’t finding ways to amp up the suspense and part is the director, Mitchell Leisen (who’s contract requires his *signature* as his credit), who was a famous director of big glossy studio films in the 1930s to1950s and doesn’t seem to be at home in the thriller genre... even though he directed Cornell Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN in 1950 (which ended up more soap opera than thriller). Leisen directed episode 3 and this one... and then was off to some other TV show and get that nifty signature title card.

After two good episodes in a row we go off track again with this one... but next week? Karloff takes a role in a weird tales type story!

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Film Courage Plus: Creating Suspense

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the second one. I'm still not sure whether the article should come before or after the clip, so this time around it's *before* the clip - you can tell me which way you think would work best in the comments section.

Creating suspense on screen:

Keeping the audience on the edge of their seat is the function of SUSPENSE. Suspense is not the same as action, nor is it the same as surprise, nor is it the same as mystery. Suspense is the *anticipation* of an action. The longer you draw out the anticipation, the greater the suspense. Hitchcock explained; "Two men are having an innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath the table between them. Nothing happens, then all of the sudden, BOOM! There is an explosion. The audience is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has been an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now let us take a SUSPENSE situation. The bomb is underneath the table, but the audience knows it... Probably because they have seen the villain place it there. The audience is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one O'clock, and there is a clock in the decor. It is a quarter to one. In this situation, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating, because the audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'There's a bomb beneath you, and it's about to explode!' In the first case, we have given the audience fifteen seconds of SURPRISE at the moment of the explosion. In the second case, we have provided them with fifteen MINUTES of SUSPENSE."

It’s no secret that I love thriller films and Hitchcock movies - my upcoming book is HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE which uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to illustrate different principles of suspense. But suspense isn’t confined to the thriller genre, it’s used in *every* genre to create tension. That romantic comedy where we know that one of the pair has that secret that will ruin the budding relationship if discovered... suspense is built around the anticipation of that discovery. In a movie of survival, be it THE MARTIAN or THE REVENANT suspense is built around situations where we anticipate the worst possible thing happening... and then the scene builds around that anticipation until it is resolved by the action. In REVENANT we know that bigoted fur trapper Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) plans on harming Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio)’s son - and that scene builds tension until we get the action. Instead of the action being over in a flash, the audience has been given the information that it will happen and that makes us squirm in our seats as we see Fitzgerald’s plan unfolding. Instead of a couple of seconds of surprise we have a whole scene of tension and suspense. In dramas we often have suspense built around a secret that our protagonist doesn’t want discovered. Every genre uses suspense to build emotions before the action.

There are Four basic kinds of suspense: the "ticking clock" (or time lock) and "cross cutting" and “secrets” and “focus objects”. The Hitchcock example above is a ticking clock. We are given an event which will occur at a certain time, and our suspense builds as we get closer and closer to the time of the event. Cross Cutting takes two things we don’t want to see in the same place and gets them progressively closer to each other - like two trains hurtling towards each other on the same track. The closer they get to each other, the more suspense. A good example of this method is in Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW where our protagonist Jeffries sends his fiancĂ© Lisa to search the apartment of suspected murdered Lars Thorwald. Jeffries has gotten Thorwald out of the apartment on the pretext of meeting him at a restaurant down the street, but when he doesn’t show Thorwald becomes impatient and returns home. Jeffries watches through the rear window of his apartment as Lisa searches the apartment as Thorwald returns - entering the building, climbing the stairs, walking down the hallway to his front door, unlocking the door, and...

Secrets are another form of suspense which is often used in dramas and comedies and romances. A character has a secret which they do not want to have discovered, and another character gets closer and closer to discovering it. In YOU’VE GOT MAIL we know the secret of Tom Hanks’ character - he’s the big corporate bookstore owner who is putting the small independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan out of business... but the two meet and fall in love, and now he must keep that true identity secret from her because it will kill the relationship. The audience knows that secret exists, so we are in suspense that it will be discovered. Another type of secret suspense can be found in Hitchcock’s ROPE (an experimental film which we look at in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book) - two men have murdered a friend and placed his body in a giant trunk in their livingroom... moments before having a party in that same livingroom in honor of the now dead friend. Everyone wonders where David is... but we know that he’s inside the trunk they are serving a buffet dinner from. Suspense builds as things happen which get some of the party guests looking closer at the trunk than the killers would like. Will their secret be discovered or will they get away with murder?

FOCUS OBJECTS


That trunk is what I call a “focus object”, and in the Film Courage clip I mention the middle ages sword and sex flick FLESH + BLOOD, where Princess Jennifer Jason Leigh has been kidnaped by Mercenary Rurger Hauer, and eventually becomes his mistress. Hauer is leader of a band of Mercenary soldiers - knights in rusted armor - who are raping and pillaging their way across Europe. They were double crossed by the evil Prince who Jennifer was engaged to, and now they are doing everything possible to make that Prince's life hell on earth. Eventually they capture the Prince, and chain him up near a well. Princess Jennifer, Hauer's mistress and the Prince's finace, is about to have a meal with all of the other mercenaries celebrating the capture of the Prince.

Before the other mercenaries reach the table, the Prince grabs a piece of plague infested meat from the trash and drops it in the well, poisoning the drinking water.

Jennifer sees this, and the question is - will she tell anyone? As the water is brought from the well to the table, tension builds. The water in the jug becomes the "focus object". Water is poured into glasses of several mercenaries who were not kind to her when she was kidnaped. She wants revenge against them, so she says nothing.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to tell them that the water is poisoned. She sees the shackled Prince watching her, and she watches the mean mercenaries drink the poisoned water one-by-one.

That jug of poisoned water goes from mean mercenaries... to women and children. The poisoned water is poured into their glasses and they start to drink it... will Jennifer tell them it is poisoned? Suspense builds.

The Prince watches her, waiting for her to stop them from drinking. But both of them watch as the women and children drink the poisoned water.

Then the jug of poisoned water is passed to Rutger Hauer, her lover. He pours a glass of water. Will she let him drink it? She is torn between the man she was engaged to and the man she sleeps with every night. What will she do? Hauer is having a conversation with some of the others, and every time he grabs the glass to drink, someone says something and he responds instead of drinks. Suspense builds.

The Prince, shackled by the well smiles at her. What will she do?

As Hauer lifts the glass to his lips, she...

See how focus objects work? They create suspense by giving the protagonist and the audience the same secret information that is tied to an object... and then places that object where the secret can be discovered by characters who can not know that secret.

All of these techniques rely on *dramatic irony* - giving information to the audience that one or more characters do not have. The key is letting the audience know that the water is poisoned or that the body is in the trunk or that Tom Hanks is also that bastard with the big chain bookstore that is putting Meg Ryan out of business. If the audience is not given this information, there can be no suspense or tension... and the story is flat and dull. Our job as writers is to *lead the audience* - to use information to control what they think and feel. Hitchcock called it playing the audience like an instrument. By giving them specific story information at the perfect time we bring them inside the story - they know the secret that some other character does not and now they have a stake in the story. The audience wants that secret to remain a secret. The audience wants to warn the characters that there is a bomb under the table. The audience participates in the story and feels what the characters feel. Our job as writers is not just to tell the story, but to use techniques like suspense in order to tell that story well. To involve the reader and viewer so that it becomes their story as well.

Always be leading the audience. Always be in control of your story and when the information is given to the audience. What do you want them to know and when do you want them to know it? And *why* do you want them to know this information at this specific time in your tale?

- Bill






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



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.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

- Bill

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