Saturday, January 31, 2009

Trailer Trash XXXII: Necromancy, AKA The Witching (Orson Welles, 1972)

"Life to the dead... and death to the living!"

Every now and then, an actor just needs to take home a pay check. Even great actors, like Ben "Bloodrayne, Love Guru" Kingsley. Late in his career, even Orson Welles had to dial a few in.

Somewhere between Citizen Kane and his turn as a planet-eating planet in Transformers: The Movie (and when he wasn't drunkenly filming wine commercials), Mr. Welles took a part in Bert I. Gordon's b-horror flick Necromancy. From what I can tell, Bert Gordon was the era's equivalent of Joel Schumacher - his b-movies were popular if not necessarily good.

I hope Orson was payed well, at least.

Here's the plot synopsis taken from AllMovie:
A wicked necromancer controls an entire town, forcing its residents to make the special "toys" he needs to cast his evil spells. This horror outing follows what happens when the dastardly wizard, hoping to revivify his dead son by stealing the soul of another, sets his sights on the wife of his new employee.

Orson Welles plays the wicked necromancer, of course. Ze trailah:

At 0:04 - Campbells' Psychedelic-flavored Soup.
At 0:10 - Santa Clause? Jerry Garcia?? Orson Welles!
At 0:31 - That's the easiest-to-read Tarot I've ever seen.
At 0:34 - Was she falling at us?
At 0:57 - Gratuitous, unnecessary nudity for the win.
At 1:10 - "Excuse me while I set up Satan's hookah."
At 1:15 - WTF? Was that a squirrel?

Trivia: The film was originally released as "Necromancy" in a PG-rated cut. When the flick hit home video in the 1980s, they added more nude scenes and retitled it "The Witching". So, word to the young directors: If your movie turns out to be bad, adding naked people isn't going to make it any worse.

"Everyone... wants to be happy."

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: These movies got made... so can yours! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Medicine for Melancholy, Serbis, Taken, The Uninvited

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at

Opening this week...

MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, written and directed by Barry Jenkins

Premise: A love story of bikes and one-night stands told through two African-American twenty-somethings dealing with the conundrum of being a minority in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco.

Playing: IFC Center

This reportedly takes place over the course of 24 hours and rarely branches beyond the two main characters. I love small movies like this - deep, but focused. I'm in.

Cinematical has an exclusive clip.

SERBIS, written by Armando Lao and Boots Agbayani Pastor, dir. by Brillante Mendoza

Premise: A drama that follows the travails of the Pineda family in the Filipino city of Angeles. Bigamy, unwanted pregnancy, possible incest and bothersome skin irritations are all part of their daily challenges, but the real "star" of the show is an enormous, dilapidated movie theater that doubles as family business and living space. At one time a prestige establishment, the theater now runs porn double bills and serves as a meeting ground for hustlers of every conceivable persuasion.

Playing: Angelika

A lot of good buzz around this one, too. I'll check it out.

TAKEN, written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, dir. by Pierre Morel

Premise: A former spy relies on his old skills to save his daughter, who was kidnapped by slave traders during her vacation in Paris.

Playing: All over.

Luc Besson! Liam Neeson doing... badass things! This'll be a Netflixer.

THE UNINVITED, written and directed by the Guard Brothers

Premise: After her mother's death and her subsequent hospital stay, Anna Rydell returns home to be with her sister and her father, who has become engaged to Rachel, her mother's former nurse. During her first night back, Anna is visited by her mother's ghost, who reveals that the new woman in her father's life is not who she pretends to be, leading to a fateful confrontation between the women of the house.

Playing: All over.

Despite the lies you may have hear, this is actually a remake of the Korean film Tale of Two Sisters, and NOT an adaptation of the 1998 song by Alanis Morissette.

In any case, it's another Asian horror remake. Reviews are rather negative. It's a shame, because the original was scary if excruciatingly slow. When will these end?? Not since Verbinski took on The Ring (which I felt was better than the original, even after seeing Ringu first) have any of these been any good.

Have foreign horror producers figured out yet that if they churn out just about any horror slop they'll be able to sell the remake rights to Hollywood, no questions asked?

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Would you Write Your Favorite (Pre-Existing) Character?

This is something I've been thinking about recently, as part of my fantasizing about being a working screenwriter. In theory, a new writer's ideal (or most common) career path is to sell a spec, and then make a living writing on commission in the genre he/she first broke into. My specs are all big action right now, so, playing along with the theory, once I sell something, I would start pitching my take on projects that major studios want to develop.

Let's just play with the example of my favorite comic book hero - Batman. In this dream world (we all have one), I've sold something at high six or even seven figures, and I'm the "go to" new action writer on the block. Warner Bros. comes to me asking if I'd do a Batman adaptation. (Yeah, Zombie, we know. Not gonna happen. But play along, would ya?) I love Batman. They know this. My manager knows this. It looks like it should be a done deal, right?

I'm not sure I'd take it. I enjoy the character so much, rather, enjoy being a fan of his so much that I'm not sure I want to become anything more than that. It'd be awesome to work on a film like that, sure, but a lot of the fun for me comes in sitting down with a hundred other people in a dark theater and watching Bats do his thing, completely unaware of what's going to come next. The enjoyment I get from watching the entertainment might outweigh the satisfaction I get from creating it, in this instance. I'm not going to answer the question here, because I don't know the answer. It's just something I toy with late at night when I should be sleeping instead. Onyx, they want you to do Predator 2010. Do you?
So, how about it? Would you write your favorite pre-existing character if given the opportunity?

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 56 - Choosing Every Word

I fiddled with the outline. I talked Onyx's head off about my idea. Zombie thought there was no end in sight as I would ramble on and on about the script into the wee-hours of booze infused mornings. The League checked the outline, asked me questions, gave me suggestions (some I took, some that went in one ear and took the express train out the other). So this week, finally, it was time to start writing pages.

A bit about my writing process (as much as I have one). Once my outline is done, or even if I've decided to forgo an outline and just write from scratch, I tend to average about five pages an hour. I write an hour a day. I'm a firm believer in the 100-105 page script (though not saying there's anything wrong with a 120 pager), so I usually finish a draft in about three weeks, give or take. Yeah, it's kind of fast, and those first pages I write usually wind up getting re-written. But the foundation is typically laid in under a month.

This go around, though, I find I'm working a bit differently. For one, though I usually listen to music while writing, half the time I find it distracting these days. Also, my pace has slowed to closer to three pages per session, maybe four. There's a very good reason for both of those things; I find I'm concentrating much harder on these pages than I ever have before. Truth be told, I'm not really sure why that's the case. The pages are fun to write, but they're much more effort than I've ever put into writing before. Where normally I'd breeze through five or six pages, I'm now laboring over each and every word, be it in dialogue or action. There's a certain mood I have to convey in this (as in all scripts) and key hints about different plot twists that I have to drop. The outline pretty much works, and the expectations from the League are so high for this that I suppose I feel if I get it done right the first time, I could knock this thing out of the park.

Yeah, I know, that's sort of the goal with all writing, isn't it? It's odd - the way I'm focusing on this, treating it much more of a job, a sort of one-time assignment that I have to get right - I can't quite judge where I am. Either I'm hitting the nail on the head, or I've completely missed my mark. As the retired LoKor recently said, "First drafts are what they are. You write them the way you need to." Guess I'll find out what mine is at our next League meeting (at least for my first act).

When you write, how much time to do you dedicate to "the little things," especially in your first draft?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trailer Trash XXXI: Voodoo Woman (1957)

"A woman by day... a monster by night!"

The tagline for this movie describes a lot of the dates Cake Man's brought back to League Headquarters. (Except "monster" would be a nicer word than he'd use for them.)

I'll forgo any long intro here. This is a monster movie from the 1950s that isn't titled Creature from the Black Lagoon, so you can be 99% sure it's a cheesy mess.

At 0:05 - The monster looks like the Crypt Keeper in a Dee Snider wig.
At 0:45 - Alright, kids, remember those names - there'll be a test on them later.
At 1:23 - Was that the narrator slipping into his 'scary voice'?
At 1:27 - OK, he threw the molotov, but look in his other hand. Is Touch Connors drinking a beer?

Voodoo Land? No fortune in gold or diamonds would get me to go to a place called Voodoo Land. I mean, just the name alone lets you know it's a terrible, dangerous place. It's like Stabbytown, or Murderopolis. Or Youngstown, Ohio. Why would you ever go to a place call Voodoo Land, gold or no?

"A blond captive in the darkness... of Voodoo Land!"

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: These movies got made... so can yours! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The First Big Pass

Yesterday, I found out that the production company my manager gave an exclusive early look at my script to passed. This company (which shall remain nameless) has a first look deal at one of the big studios (Warner, Fox, Universal, etc.). I don’t know whether it acted on their first look option – i.e. whether they took it to the studio. If they didn’t, then the pass came from this smaller company and not the big studio (which would be better for me). Either way, working with that production company – for the time being – is closed.

Some people would think that this pass would come as a crushing blow. Honestly, it didn’t. For one, I have to remind myself that I’ve managed to achieve something good in attaining a manager – that alone should keep my spirits up. (My buddies here at League HQ know that has been somewhat frustrating, since as someone whose patience levels could be a lot higher, I now wait second hand. Instead of finding out directly if someone passes, I wait while my manager waits, then wait for him to get back to me.) My manager’s enthusiasm about the script is another support. Sure, we got passed on by one company (and its A list actor), but I wasn’t sure that the actor we were targeting was best for the script anyway. I wouldn’t have said no to him, but if I could cast whoever I wanted, I don’t think he’d wind up at the top of the list.

In a business where money = king, getting rejected by the company that had an exclusive does another thing; it opens up the possibility of much more money. It’s like eBay – if only one person bids or there’s a buy now option, the seller only makes so much and doesn’t have the option to make more. If, however, the item (or script in this analogy) becomes hot, then you get yourself a bidding war, and might wind up making much more than you thought (or maybe deserve).

As much as I’d have liked to be able to put in my two weeks’ notice at my job today and have A-list talent attached to my first spec, I’m not bummed it didn’t happen. The future is wide with possibilities, and I have a call set for Monday with my manager to find out more. Have you gotten passed on by companies before? How’d you take it?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - California Dreamin', Donkey Punch, Inkheart

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at

- The Academy Award nominees were announced. What are your thoughts?

- A bunch of said nominees have released their screenplays as free downloads. You can get 'em while they're hot here, here, and here.

Opening this week...

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN', written by Cristian Nemescu and Catherine Linstrum, dir. by Cristian Nemescu

Premise: A railway chief delays a NATO train transporting military equipment during the war in Kosovo in 1999.

Playing at: IFC Center

The description is pretty bare, but this Romanian movie has been getting some rave reviews since it played at the 2007 Cannes Festival. Based on a true story - looks good. The director was killed in a car accident before the editing was finished at the tragic age of 27.

DONKEY PUNCH, written by Oliver Blackburn and David Bloom, dir. by Oliver Blackburn

Premise: A botched sex act turns a hedonistic Mediterranean cruise into a deadly fight for survival when two girl friends face off against the group of boys who invited them aboard their luxury yacht.

Playing at: Cinema Village

Okay, Leaguers, you can stop snickering about the title already. From what I've read, this sounds like it could be a cross between Shallow Grave and Knife in the Water. I dig both of those movies. Count me in.

I'll admit, though, I'm a bit curious what kind of traffic the keyword "Donkey Punch" will bring us from Google...

INKHEART, written by David Lindsay-Abaire, dir. by Iain Softley

Premise: A little girl rallies her friends -- both real and imaginary -- to rescue her father, a bookbinder who can bring characters to life by reading aloud, from the clutches of an evil-doer.

Playing at: All over.

Y'know, this looks fun to me. It's also one of those ideas that's so good and so simple I wish I'd had it first. The basis novel is pretty popular, so we'll see if this gets that audience and their parents in this weekend.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

2008 Academy Award nominations announced

The Academy Awards nominee list has been released. Without fussing around:
Performance by an actor in a leading role

* Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” (Overture Films)
* Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)
* Sean Penn in “Milk” (Focus Features)
* Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
* Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

* Josh Brolin in “Milk” (Focus Features)
* Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
* Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt” (Miramax)
* Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
* Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

* Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Angelina Jolie in “Changeling” (Universal)
* Melissa Leo in “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics)
* Meryl Streep in “Doubt” (Miramax)
* Kate Winslet in “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

* Amy Adams in “Doubt” (Miramax)
* Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (The Weinstein Company)
* Viola Davis in “Doubt” (Miramax)
* Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
* Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Best animated feature film of the year

* “Bolt” (Walt Disney), Chris Williams and Byron Howard
* “Kung Fu Panda” (DreamWorks Animation, Distributed by Paramount), John Stevenson and Mark Osborne
* “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Andrew Stanton

Achievement in art direction

* “Changeling” (Universal), Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt, Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Art Direction: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Peter Lando
* “The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Art Direction: Michael Carlin, Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
* “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Art Direction: Kristi Zea, Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Achievement in cinematography

* “Changeling” (Universal), Tom Stern
* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Claudio Miranda
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Wally Pfister
* “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Anthony Dod Mantle

Achievement in costume design

* “Australia” (20th Century Fox), Catherine Martin
* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Jacqueline West
* “The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films), Michael O’Connor
* “Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Glicker
* “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage), Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Fincher
* “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Ron Howard
* “Milk” (Focus Features), Gus Van Sant
* “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Stephen Daldry
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Danny Boyle

Best documentary feature

* “The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)” (Cinema Guild), A Pandinlao Films Production, Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
* “Encounters at the End of the World” (THINKFilm and Image Entertainment), A Creative Differences Production, Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
* “The Garden” A Black Valley Films Production, Scott Hamilton Kennedy
* “Man on Wire” (Magnolia Pictures), A Wall to Wall Production, James Marsh and Simon Chinn
* “Trouble the Water” (Zeitgeist Films), An Elsewhere Films Production, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Best documentary short subject

* “The Conscience of Nhem En” A Farallon Films Production, Steven Okazaki
* “The Final Inch” A Vermilion Films Production, Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
* “Smile Pinki” A Principe Production, Megan Mylan
* “The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306” A Rock Paper Scissors Production, Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Achievement in film editing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lee Smith
* “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
* “Milk” (Focus Features), Elliot Graham
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Chris Dickens

Best foreign language film of the year

* “The Baader Meinhof Complex” A Constantin Film Production, Germany
* “The Class” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Haut et Court Production, France
* “Departures” (Regent Releasing), A Departures Film Partners Production, Japan
* “Revanche” (Janus Films), A Prisma Film/Fernseh Production, Austria
* “Waltz with Bashir” (Sony Pictures Classics), A Bridgit Folman Film Gang Production, Israel

Achievement in makeup

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Greg Cannom
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O’Sullivan
* “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (Universal), Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.),Alexandre Desplat
* “Defiance” (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
* “Milk” (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
* “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Thomas Newman

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

* “Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
* “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
* “O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman andMaya Arulpragasam

Best motion picture of the year

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers
* “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production,Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers
* “Milk” (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers
* “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Nominees to be determined
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production,Christian Colson, Producer

Best animated short film

* “La Maison en Petits Cubes” A Robot Communications Production, Kunio Kato
* “Lavatory - Lovestory” A Melnitsa Animation Studio and CTB Film Company Production, Konstantin Bronzit
* “Oktapodi” (Talantis Films) A Gobelins, L’école de l’image Production, Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
* “Presto” (Walt Disney) A Pixar Animation Studios Production, Doug Sweetland
* “This Way Up”, A Nexus Production, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Best live action short film

* “Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” (Hamburg Shortfilmagency), An Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production, Reto Caffi
* “Manon on the Asphalt” (La Luna Productions), A La Luna Production, Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
* “New Boy” (Network Ireland Television), A Zanzibar Films Production, Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
* “The Pig” An M & M Production, Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
* “Spielzeugland (Toyland)” A Mephisto Film Production, Jochen Alexander Freydank

Achievement in sound editing

* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Richard King
* “Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Tom Sayers
* “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
* “Wanted” (Universal),Wylie Stateman

Achievement in sound mixing

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
* “WALL-E” (Walt Disney),Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
* “Wanted” (Universal), Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Achievement in visual effects

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
* “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.), Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
* “Iron Man” (Paramount and Marvel Entertainment), John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Adapted screenplay

* “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
* “Doubt” (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
* “Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
* “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
* “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Original screenplay

* “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
* “Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
* “In Bruges” (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
* “Milk” (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
* “WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

List courtesy of /Film.

Discuss away!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Creative Screenwriting Podcast

For those of you who haven’t discovered it yet, I’d like to take a minute to shine the League spotlight on the Creative Screenwriting Podcast, brought to you by the good people at Creative Screenwriting Magazine. Each podcast, and there are dozens of them, feature the writers, directors, and producers of some of the hottest movies over the past few years. The sessions are hosted by CSM senior editor Jeff Goldsmith and usually run from about 30-60 minutes. It’s fair to liken the podcast to Inside the Actor’s Studio, but for writers. When Jeff is at his best he’s getting the answers to the questions that all hungry writers on the outside want to know: How did you break in? What’s your writing process? How did your baby evolve from concept to movie?

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with the podcasts, but I’m in no rush. Each session has been an enjoyable listen and frequently informative on how screenwriters are doing their job. You’ll also appreciate the tidbits of information that you wouldn’t necessarily know about some of your favorite movies or writers. I loaded up the Gone Baby Gone podcast the other day and listened to Ben Affleck reflect on his writing experience on Good Will Hunting and how as young writers he and Matt Damon were resisting studio notes that tried to sway them from their approach of having Will be stalked by a National Security Agency operative. A few drafts and an academy award later, nobody’s complaining. Man, I'd love to argue over my own studio notes.

You can check out more about the Creative Screenwriting Podcast at the link below. You can also just hop onto iTunes and run a search for Creative Screenwriting Podcast. The best part is that it’s all free. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t done so already.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 55 - Taking Criticism

A week ago, I was gung-ho about my outline, sure that there weren't any major oversights or redundancies. Our last meeting (Wednesday) was a mild confirmation of that.

As a writer, it can be really tough to listen to someone criticize your work, especially when you think it works. It's easy to become defensive about the work and dismissive of the comments you get on it. As a result, the genius idea you had might wind up not being so genius, or it takes you two or three drafts to see the light of what your peers were telling you all along. I think we've all been there before, and once we come around, see why what others were saying was right, if not at least on the path to being correct.

I wouldn't exactly say that I had the above experience with the League on Wednesday. In fact, overall, the notes were pretty reassuring and required me to make few changes to my outline. There were, however, some very good ideas thrown my way, ideas that not only simplify some things and make the audience more comfortable with the overall plot, but make the protagonist much more active throughout act two. Basically, for a frame of reference, my protagonist - a general in the Roman army - has an idea for a battle, but requires someone else to help put everything in place. As a result, my guy just twiddles his thumbs for a good chunk of the latter half of Act Two, waiting for the pieces to fall into place. Yeah, he does other things, too, but very little of it drives the impending action forward. Dull.

My pals in the League offered a very simple suggestion - maybe the protagonist should be responsible for lining everything up - which does not disturb the structure of my outline. What their idea does do, though, is it gives him a goal for that time span and eliminates the redundant "time to check on the progress of the battle plan" scenes that I had scattered throughout that part of the outline. So, I come away with not only a more active protagonist, a guy who is directly responsible for bringing about the events that will lead to Act Three, but also a second act that keeps moving - and moving toward something. Combine that with a way to build up the importance of one of the side characters, tie it into the "B Story" and play down his gratuitous mysteriousness, and I walked away from the meeting with a lot of really good stuff to think about. I've since made those changes to my outline.

Sometimes it takes a few days to see the strength in someone's suggestion. Sometimes longer. sometimes it's a few drafts down the road that we realize that change should have been made all along. Or, an experience that I've not had the pleasure of yet, sometimes that realization comes out after a movie's been made. Maybe if you're a big shot director, you can go back and get the studio to release a director's cut DVD later that fixes everything. But until we get to that point, it's important to listen to feedback. Hell, if I couldn't do that with the League, how would I ever expect to take more drastic notes from a producer?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trailer Trash XXX: Magic (Richard Attenborough, Anthony Hopkins - 1978)

"A terrifying love story."

I usually reserve this feature to look at trailers for bad, awful, terrible, or otherwise z-grade movies. The trailers are usually equally stupid - that's why it's fun. This week, though, I'm trying something different. I'm going to look at a good trailer.

Our subject this week is for the movie Magic. Yes, it's directed by Richard Attenborough. And yes, it stars Ann-Margaret and Anthony Hopkins. It's written by William Goldman, who also brought us Butch Cassidy and All the President's Men. It's certainly got Grade-A pedigree. The movie itself isn't bad at all, but holy shit, the trailer is scary as hell.

Ack. I don't even like TYPING about the trailer because it reminds me of how scary it is.


Well, we've all got to face our fears at some point:


Two deep breaths.

Alright, I think I'm okay.

Talking about playing towards mankind's natural fear of ventriloquist dummies. I mean, all it does is recite a bit of beat poetry and move its eyes and it's still terrifying. This particular trailer was actually pulled from television because parents claimed it was giving their children nightmares. (My guess is that it was actually giving the adults nightmares and they were using their children as a cover-up.)

The extended (and far more humane) trailer:

What is it about ventriloquist dummies that's so inherently squirm-inducing? There are so many evil dummies in pop culture... from Devil Doll and the Saw movies, to The Twilight Zone and The Simpsons. Heck, even Family Matters did not one but TWO evil dummy episodes:

Ah, Family Matters... how I love thee!

"Abracadabra, I sit on his knee.
Presto, change-o, and now he is me!
Hocus Pocus, we take her to bed,
Magic is fun...we're dead."

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: These movies got made... so can yours! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

DVD Junkie #5: Battlestar Galactica

You may have noticed in your school or workplace that any resident nerds have become increasingly distracted as this week has progressed. Has productivity in the IT department slowed to a crawl? Has that guy in HR that always says good morning to your chest showed less interest as of late? Well, there's only one explanation. Tonight, the last season of a little SciFi show called "Battlestar Galactica" is beginning, and the nerds, as they say, have their little star wars printed panties in a bunch over it.

Now, I know what you're thinking - A first-run TV show on the SciFi channel that airs on Friday nights? Something to do with robots and space ships and other subjects that tend to make you think of conventions and internet forums and people with more action figures than sexual partners? I thought that too. I resisted Battlestar Galactica for a long time, as more and more of my friends were converted. It reached a critical mass point, when I was being told to watch it by everyone I knew, practically, and my resistance only grew stronger. But finally, this winter, I had an excuse.

I get most of my TV seasons through Netflix, like any normal twentysomething, but every once in a while I like to pop down to my local blockbuster and peruse their DVD section. I've discovered some shows that never would have made it to my queue online otherwise, even though their selection is lacking as only a blockbuster can be. But at the beginning of the TV aisle, nestled between 24 and Desperate Housewives were three or so seasons of Battlestar Galactica. With their charcoal colored packaging and hey-haven't-I-seen-you-somewhere-like-maybe-on-a-law-and-order-or-something cast, I never felt the urge to pick up the first few discs, until I got my first nasty cold of the season, and decided to see what I thought.

Little known fact: Cylon skin is designed to secrete an adhesive,
so no double-stick tape is ever needed to keep her dresses up.

Anyone who's watched even an episode or two of BSG in passing will tell you that show is a serious commitment. When there's more Battlestar to be watched and you're not watching it you feel like you're wasting your life doing anything else. That sounds hyperbolic but when you're in the thick of getting caught up with the seasons it sure as hell feels true. You're glued there, to your TV, as every relationship you have in the real world slowly disentigrates. You stay in on saturday nights. Your work performance suffers, and whenever you're pulled away from the Galactica and its crew you get resentful. I've called other shows addictive in the past, but Battlestar is worst than anything I've ever had occasion to watch. It's worse than the second season of Dexter, worse than the first season of the Wire. Worse, even, and if you know me, you know this is saying something, than the Shield. It's cripplingly good, it's almost viciously awesome.

Battlestar Galactica tells the story of a battle spaceship that's about to be decommissioned but then gets attacked...
Or, it tells the story of a scientist who seems to be losing his mind with guilt...
Or really, it's about a minor cabinet member who is suddenly thrust into the presidency...
Oh, fuck it. I can't write a real logline for this show, without spoiling it for someone. it's too big, and much of the fun of BSG is the discovering of how the show evolves into its 40 or so plotlines. Basically here's the premise: Humans vs. Robots in a race across the galaxy, and the robots are really smart, and everyone's fallibile and cuts the corners off their books and wears their tanktops backwards. Oh and Lucy Lawless is there. and EVERYONE'S A FRAKING CYLON. ALL OF THEM. AAAH! not really. I hope. Maybe.

Kris Kross was apparently very popular back on good ol' Caprica

But really, what sets BSG apart from Sci Fi gems like, say, Aztec Rex, is three things: The casting, the effects, and - once agian, dear readers - the writing.

First, the casting. Every person or cylon has been cast with pinpoint precision. The cast is a long list of newcomers or sci-fi TV show veterans (Xena, Warrior princess? Al from Quantum Leap? And even the Capt. Apollo from the orignal Battlestar Galactica in the 70's makes an appearance in the show [he's Tom Zarek for those of you playing at home]), and I'm hard-pressed to think of more than one or two actors who have been miscast or thrust into a role that's over their head. A perfect example of the spot on casting is Dr. Gaius Balthar, played to the hilt by James Callis. He's one of the most polarizing characters on the show, and could have been expressed in many different ways - from sleazy to angelic or self-pitying - but the way his character is acted walks a razors edge, getting just a little of each, and never too much of any of it. So much so, that I've noticed there are two factions of BSG fans - those that swoon at his feet, and those who want to put the guy out an airlock. We're all watching the same show, but the character is left human enough and open enough to interpretation - from the writer to the actor to the viewer - that everyone has formed disparate and conflicting opinions of him. And that's how you act a well-written character, kids. And almost everyone does it - from Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck to the most marginal of Red Shirt-esque characters. Everyon'e in their place, eveyone's talented as hell, and the show's real guts are in their performances.

Complete dick or nerdcore sexpot - YOU decide!

Secondly, the effects are extremely important, because even if the the acting and casting of each character is spot on it is still a show, you know, set on a space ship in space, so if that aspect isn't belieiveable then there's something seriously wrong. The effects in this show, to stretch a metaphor to the point of breaking, are not like the $400 a head valentines day tasting menu you get at major film studios, nor are they the five-star but slightly overhyped $200 dinner at the latest hot spot that you get with major cable shows like heroes. The effects on Battlestar Galactica are like that perfect niche restaurant that you only know about because you walk by it every day - like a Cuban restaurant under the manhattan bridge or the thai place where all you have to do is walk in and they bring you the usual - they're not anything special in the grand scheme of things, but damn if they don't get the job done well, and with as little fuss as possible, and at a higher quality than you would ever expect from some hole in the wall in alphabet city -or- the cable network that brought us Yeti.

And finally the writing - this is one of the best planned and executed television series I've ever seen. Plots flow seamlessly into each other, and the twists and turns would put most rollercoasters to shame. Now there are a few genuinely bad episodes. One of the few flaws of the series is that every once and a while it feels like their plots got stretched, so there will be one of those infamous "filler" episodes, where there's action going on in another part of the universe and you're stuck, say, watching someone make out in the woods or deal with their inadequacy through an addiction to food. This happens to the best of series, so I don't count this too heavily against them. These pepper the later seasons - but when BSG is on, it's on so well and in such a hardcore awesome way that this sort of thing is entirely forgivable.

Just make out already, guys, Jeez.

Before I was made into a believer, I heard Battlestar Galactica described as "The West Wing in space", and that was the way I looked at it before I ever watched the first episode (which is 4 or so hours long, it was actually tested as a miniseries before it was 100% greenlit as a show). I would say that that's a fair assessment of about 50% of the action. There's a lot of office politics and backbiting and the human element comes into it quite a bit. Through this scifi lens, the show is able to touch on just about every moral deliema you can put someone in, and then you're able to look at it from every angle, and see all the pros and cons on every side. But what makes this show more than just the West Wing in space is the action side of it, which usually slams through with little or no warning. and the fascinating part is that it does both ends of the spectrum equally well. the action is great, and the drama is excellent, and it's just about always equally matched. it's a wild, wild ride, and the writers should all have drinks bought for them on a regualr basis for their work on this show.

So, this review is going out a bit late, but just trust me. If you have a week or two to kill, settle down and introduce yourself to BSG before the show ends so you can start effectively hitting on cute nerd girls. If you have a life or a girlfriend or something and can't catch it on SciFi Friday nights, Hulu's totally got it, and you can get all the seasons on DVD or the iTunes store. Just watch it.

DVD Junkie is a weekly review of TV Series on DVD. Kosmic actually doesn't have anything better to do on a Friday night, thank you very much, and would have shoved Baltar out an airlock as soon as she got a chance and without a second thought. You can follow her on Twitter @kosmicblues

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Mock Up on Mu, Cherry Blossoms, My Bloody Valentine 3D, Notorious

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at

- The excellent Danish thriller Just Another Love Story is still playing at Cinema Village. Check out our review here.

Opening this week...

MOCK UP ON MU, written and directed by Craig Baldwin

Premise: A radical hybrid of spy, sci-fi, Western, and even horror genres, Craig Baldwin's Mock Up On Mu cobbles together a feature-length "collage-narrative" based on (mostly) true stories of California's post-War sub-cultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions, and Beat lifestyles. Pulp-serial snippets, industrial-film imagery, and B- (and Z-) fiction clips are intercut with newly shot live-action material, powering a playful, allegorical trajectory through the now-mythic occult matrix of Jack Parsons (Crowleyite founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab), L.Ron Hubbard (sci-fi author turned cult-leader), and Marjorie Cameron (bohemian artist and "mother of the New Age movement"). Their intertwined tales spin out into a speculative farce on the militarization of space, and the corporate take-over of spiritual fulfillment and leisure-time.

Playing at: Anthology Film Archives

Sound weird? Like, REALLY weird? I thought so, too. Check out the website here, which makes the movie look ever stranger.

Hey, I'm in, though. And I certainly don't get to Anthology nearly as much as I'd like.

CHERRY BLOSSOMS, written and directed by Doris Dorrie

Premise: When Trudi learns that her husband Rudi is dangerously ill, she suggests visiting their children in Berlin without telling him the truth. As Franzi and Karl don't care much about their parents, Trudi and Rudi go to the Baltic Sea, where Trudi suddenly dies. Rudi is thrown out of gear, even more when he learns that his wife wanted to live a totally different life in Japan.

Playing at: Landmark Sunshine

Caught the trailer for this before Synecdoche. Sounds pretty cool. I'm in here, too.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, written by Todd Farmer and Zane Smith, dir. by Patrick Lussier

Premise: Tom returns to his hometown on the tenth anniversary of the Valentine's night massacre that claimed the lives of 22 people. And when another horrific event occurs soon after Tom's appearance, he finds himself suspected of the deadly acts.

Playing at: All over.

Another remake of an 80s slasher flick - but this time in THREE DIMENSIONS! The action is COMING AT YOU! It's like YOU ARE IN THE MOVIE!


NOTORIOUS, written by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker, dir. by George Tillman Jr.

Premise: A chronicle of Christopher Wallace's rise from the streets of Brooklyn to become Notorious B.I.G., one of biggest and best rappers of the 1990s, under the tutelage of mentor/producer Sean Combs.

Playing at: All over.

A Biggie biopic could be great. I'm afraid this one might not be.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Screen Alert - Just Another Love Story (written/directed by Ole Bornedal)

Jonas is out on a drive with his wife and family when his car breaks down in the middle of the road, sending the swerving car behind him into an oncoming traffic and its driver, Julia, into a coma. This is where the love story ('bizarre' doesn't even begin to describe it) begins in Just Another Love Story by Danish writer/director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch).

Just Another Love Story is anything but.

Feeling partly responsible for her accident, Jonas goes to visit her in the hospital. Forced to fib in order to see the girl, Julia's family mistakes him for the boyfriend she met abroad. Unable to find an easy out of this white lie, Jonas plays along and pretends to be the absent lover. The role-playing stops, however, when the now-blind Julia wakes up with amnesia and the two fall in love.

This is where the film absolutely excels - as an offbeat and disturbing love story. The relationship between Jonas and the handicapped Julia is oddly endearing, and you can't help but want to see the two of them come together - while at the same time you're disgusted by the way he's betraying his loving family. The characters are deep and feel very real.

The movie starts to stumble when it strays away from the titular love story; the film takes lots of twists and turns when Julia's checkered past bubbles to the surface, throwing everything from murder, diamond smuggling, and abusive boyfriends to a masked mystery man and the South Asian mafia into the mix. A lot of this (read: most of this) works well, and when it does the movie is a very cool, edgy thriller. By the end of the film, though, it starts to feel a little too twisty - the final scene in particular (hinted at in the somewhat misleading U.S. poster) feels unnecessary and tacked-on, but it's easily forgotten because everything preceding it was so solid.

While the mystery aspect didn't click with me as much as the incredibly engrossing though off-kilter romance, Just Another Love Story is a great movie that comes highly recommended.

**** out of *****.

Just Another Love Story is currently playing in Manhattan at Cinema Village.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Writing Resolutions for 2009

Because it's better late than never - I've decided to share my writing resolutions for 2009.

I can't make any resolutions along the lines of "I will write this many scripts this year..." or "Sell a script for this much money" because those can vary so much. So, I've decided to focus on improvements to my writing practices. I've got nasty habits that can be improved, so I'll start there.

- No more internet after 10 PM. This means e-mail, Google reader, checking our facebook fan page, or, ahem, blogging here. New /Film posts will still be there in the morning when I have my coffee. If Ken Levine had something funny to blog about, it'll still be funny tomorrow. "Checking my e-mail" usually turns into hours of useless Wikipedia/AllMusic scouring. From now on, I'll be reading or watching movies in bed and hopefully sleeping earlier.

My writing is least productive during the evening hours, which leads me to...

- Wake up earlier to write. Typically, I do my best writing in the 6:00 AM - 8:00 AM hours before I head to my day job. I'll usually write for a while in the evenings, but my word counts are never remotely close. I've always been a morning guy. This year I'll make sure to take better advantage of my mornings: wake up, have my coffee, and then it's writing time. Every morning.

With those morning hours used more productively, it should free up a bit of time in the evenings to...

- See more movies. I watch a good number of films already, but it's still probably not enough for an aspiring screenwriter. I double-majored in cinema studies in college while working as a projectionist in the department... during those three years I was watching seven to ten movies a week. It helped that my job and classes were centered around that, but the number I see now has tragically dwindled to two, maybe three, movies a week, on average. Now that Cake Man and I both have Netflix subscriptions, and I have access to hundreds of movies through their Instawatch program, there's really no excuse not to be seeing more.

Along those lines, I should also...

- Read more books. And no, musicians' biographies don't count. (Resolution: First mention of Gram Parsons, put the book down!) I would guess I read about 30 books last year (King Suckerman is ashamed of me now, I can tell) but the number of fiction books in there was less than five. I like fiction. Why haven't I been reading more of it?

Speaking of fiction...

- Try branching out into a new writing format. Because why not? I haven't really written prose in a few years. Maybe it won't show my strengths? But I don't know that yet. It's worth trying, for sure.

And there we go; I'm interested in seeing how these stick through the year. Bring it, 2009!

On a related note, FilmInFocus asked 22 filmmakers about their resolutions for 2009. Fun read, especially if you recognize a few of the interviewees.

What are your writing resolutions for 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 54 - Make Every Beat Count

This week was all about finishing my outline. It’s actually one of the tougher times I’ve had writing an outline, since, for the first time I can remember, I consciously tried to make every beat matter. Yeah, I know that sounds pretty obvious – make your scenes important. But it’s easier said than done.

Outlines, at least to me, used to be a means to an end, a rough road map between Point A (the inciting incident) and Point B (the final FADE OUT). Everything in between was a stepping stone along the path, but like many paths, often wound up being fairly flat. Scenes didn’t always build in my outlines, and, for whatever ridiculous reason, I didn’t force myself to make them do that. I was content to incorporate a fairly redundant scene, because I guess I just figured I would iron it out in a later draft. Or, worse, scenes were used as filler between two larger, more important beats, so I didn’t care if they really worked or mattered. It was pretty awful.

This go around, though, I really, really worked at making sure that every beat not only lead to the next, but made a difference in the script. I deleted scenes that were repetitive or – just as bad – offered nothing new. If I knew I had to fill the gap between two important scenes, I made sure to do it with dialogue that, though not necessarily Earth shattering, at least moved things forward. I think my hair turned a bit greyer as I fretted over every single beat, but in the end, I certainly feel it was worth it.

The League is meeting next on Wednesday, which is when I’ll get notes from the rest of the group on my 8 page outline. However, Onyx has already read it and given me some thoughts on it. Most of them are questions he has due to the vagueness of some of the beats as I’ve written them. Since the outline is mostly for my benefit, I didn’t include all the major bits of information for outsider readers as I would if, say, I were sending this to a producer. Nonetheless, Onyx did offer a few interesting things for me to think about, ideas that could strengthen the dreaded Act Two. (Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty pleased with Act Two. It doesn’t drag nearly as much as Act Two tends to in my outlines, and in fact, builds pretty well. The second half of Act Two – in particular, pages 60-70 – tends to be the hardest part of the script to get right, and I’m sure will be the part that most requires re-writes later.) I’m still not 100% sure how Act Three will end, but I’m getting close.

At any rate, this is the most excited I’ve ever been for one of my scripts based off the outline. A big part of that is due to the fact that I feel the outline is pretty tight right now, and that all 87 “beats” I’ve listed (some are more montage type scenes that I included for reference) all seem to belong. What’s more, I’m looking forward to the writing, despite the fact that the story will offer me no surprises as I churn out pages. It’s a great feeling, and one I don’t often get from an outline. Maybe this is what happens when you know your outline works? I guess I’ll find out from The League on Wednesday.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

66th Annual Golden Globe Winners Announced

This just in - the winners of the 66th Annual Golden Globes.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Winner: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008)

Best Television Series - Drama
Winner: "Mad Men" (2007)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Winner: Kate Winslet for Revolutionary Road (2008)

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Winner: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Winner: Colin Farrell for In Bruges (2008)

Best Director - Motion Picture
Winner: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Winner: Tina Fey for "30 Rock" (2006)

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - A.R. Rahman

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Winner: "30 Rock" (2006)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Winner: Paul Giamatti for "John Adams" (2008)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Winner: Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock" (2006)

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - Simon Beaufoy

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Winner: Laura Linney for "John Adams" (2008)

Best Foreign Language Film
Winner: Vals Im Bashir (2008)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Winner: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008)

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Winner: "John Adams" (2008)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Winner: Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Best Animated Film
Winner: WALL·E (2008)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Winner: Anna Paquin for "True Blood" (2007)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Winner: Gabriel Byrne for "In Treatment" (2008)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Winner: Laura Dern for Recount (2008) (TV)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Winner: Tom Wilkinson for "John Adams" (2008)

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
Winner: The Wrestler (2008)("The Wrestler")

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Winner: Kate Winslet for The Reader (2008)

I'm really happy for all of the awards that went to both THE WRESTLER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Zombie and I just saw Slumdog yesterday. Like Onyx and 'Backer, we both really, really, liked it. Much more than either of us thought we would. It was nothing like what we thought it might be, and we were both really pleased with the end result. The Wrestler still remains my favorite film of 2008 (despite my unconditional love for The Dark Knight).

Also of note, if you haven't seen it: WALL-E is great (and pushing actually for a Best Picture - not Best Animated - nod for the Oscars; The Dark Knight - Heath Ledger was The Joker; and Recount - for a movie where you go in knowing the ending, it's pretty damn good. I haven't seen John Adams yet, but I was hearing good things before this set of wins, so I'll have to check it out.

Now just to see what the Oscars bring.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trailer Trash XXVIII: Universal Soldier (1992)

"The ultimate weapons of the future have declared war... on each other!"

Hey, kids, it's Van Damme time again! [Ed. note: If you're looking for the 1967 album Universal Soldier by Donovan, look elsewhere.]

By 1992, Jean-Claude Van Damme was something of a international megastar. Movies such as Kickboxer and Bloodsport (as well as previous Trailer Trash subject Cyborg) had launched him into the spotlight, and his name was a modest box-office draw for the action crowd. The guy could churn out several action flicks a year and they all seemed to make money.

Sure, some people criticized him. They knocked his acting skills - called it stiff, called it lifeless. Sure, the guy could kick, but he wasn't going to win any Oscars. How would Hollywood make a movie that disguised Jean-Claude's faults? Some genius producer found the perfect solution to that problem: "Let's cast him as a zombie-robot!"

"You think Van Damme's acting is stiff? Well, robots are stiff! Are you calling him lifeless? Zombies are lifeless! And you know who are good kickboxers? Zombie-robots!"

Thus, Universal Soldier was born.

Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren play soldiers who manage to kill each other in Vietnam. Thirty years later the government re-animates them as semi-cyborgs and sends them on all kinds of dirty missions as part of the UniSol Program (which sounds more like the name of a cleaning product than anything). Most of the plot unfolds when the Universal Soldiers' old personalities start to emerge (Van Damme = cheeky do-gooder, Lundgren = dickweed) and the government loses control of them. Yes, that means LOTS of kickboxing.

At 0:14 - Sealed for freshness!
At 0:21 - Jerry Orbach in the role he'd always be remembered for.
At 0:23 - Avert your eyes. Avert your eyes!
At 0:54 - Van Damme emotes.
At 1:00 - They should keep some beer in that trunk.
At 1:18 - Damn, took long enough for him to start kicking stuff.
At 2:10 - BOOM!

"Are we having fun yet?"

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: These movies got made... so can yours! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Book Alert - The Real, Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting by Rima Greer

A little while back, I came upon an article - I think it was in a screenwriting magazine - about a little known, yet incredibly informative book that all aspiring writers should read. The Real, Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting by Rima Greer is a quick 176 page read all about selling a script from an agent's point of view. Despite the speed with which you can go through this book, Greer - an agent at Above the Line Agency - packs in a ton of information and I walked away from the book feeling much more knowledgeable about this mine field of an industry than I did before I started reading it. (Read: I knew so much more about what I hadn't even bothered to consider.)

As a writer who has recently signed with a manager, you can imagine that there are about 1,000 questions floating around my mind right now. Most of them are probably pointless, but they're still there. Greer's book answered many of them, reassured me of my worries, and raised a few more questions (and also instructs unrepresented writers on how to get their agent, hold an agent, or why they aren't attracting agents). The largest section of the book - and the one I was most interested in - deals with making a sale, how it happens, and what the deal and negotiation process is like. Anyone who thinks that their script can (or should) sell literally overnight should just erase that thought from their mind right now. As Greer points out, there are about six levels your script must pass through (from your agent liking it all the way up to the top development head at a major studio getting down with it) before it will be greenlit. At each of these steps, you can (and according to Greer, likely will) meet with rejection. Following that, if you are so fortunate as to sell something, there's so much negotiating for a writer's contract and perks on-set that I had never even thought to consider: travel, per diems, accommodation, cell phone, assistant, etc. The contract process alone can take a year.

Yes, the information can be unsettling, to say the least. But it's also invaluable. Greer shows just how difficult selling a script can be and how dedicated a writer (and his/her agent or manager) must be in a way that is funny, compelling, and encouraging. Despite the frequent mentions of it being "miraculous" when a spec script sells, I wasn't discouraged by the book. I found myself feeling strengthened by all the newly gained knowledge I had, knowledge that shed light on why my "masterpiece" might make it no further than the League if I don't fight for it with all my might. In addition, I came to see much more clearly the ins and outs of the industry, what I could expect as a first time writer, and what people in Hollywood mean when they say various things. (Greer's glossary at the end of the book and various translation charts scattered throughout the pages are both hilarious and revealing insider looks at Hollywood lingo.)

Read this book if you're thinking about trying to make it as a writer or want to sell a script. While you might not get all the answers on every question you have, you'll come away with a much deeper understanding of how script sales work. (Since the book is on agenting specifically, Greer stays away from delving too deeply into what pitching means or other how-to topics that so many other books cover.) I'm sure Greer herself would advise that any writer learn as much as possible about the "biz" before trying to launch their careers. In fact, she wrote a book so they would. Drop the $15 and sit down with this next weekend. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

DVD Junkie #4: Nip/Tuck

Now I just want to say, despite what may transpire in the paragraphs to follow, this show is very close to my heart in many ways. Nip/Tuck is known for great music editing, beautiful design, and some of the best special effects makeup guys in the business. But what really sets this show apart from its peers is the writing. Honestly, i don't know what to think about the writers. either they have more fun than anyone else in the business, or they've gone completely shit-eatingly bonkers. And I mean bonkers - Tom Cruise without a publicist bonkers. Gary Busey off his meds bonkers. Amy Winehouse with a Chinese finger trap bonkers.

The first positive thing that floats to mind for me with Nip/Tuck is that the promos are great. This will be the first time (of probably hundreds) that I'll laud the skills of those talented people who think up and execute promos for FX - the slickness, the richness, and above all, the specificity that goes into thos promos is fantastic. This season they've been teasing us since August with Follies style dancers in low-cut tops dancing with over-sized medical instruments, and there's even some Kanye to back it up.

What's great is that the slick promos are actually backed up by real substance - FX is the most consistent cable network on TV for excellent original programming. With their dramas, they've had very few out and out bad shows. They're like the less-extreme cousin to HBO and Showtime - and I have a theory that the conservative limits placed on them by being "just" a cable network has forced them to spend a lot more time and effort on producing a high quality product than a good number of their premium cable rivals. This is mirrored in the kind of talent they attract - their shows have garnered long-running starring and guest starring roles by Oscar winning and high-octane actors (and don't try to feed me any Timothy Hutton crap. I'm talking Glenn Close, Peter Dinklage, Forest Whitaker, and Danny DeVito here, among others. Timothy Hutton won for Ordinary People, and I had to imdb him to even know that, and now he's in a show on TNT so i think we can all agree that shit don't count). I'll be tackling many of these FX shows one at a time, but all you need to know now is that FX usually ain't nothing to fuck wit' when it comes to original programming. Nip/Tuck on the other hand, definitely is.

Nip/Tuck tells the story of two Miami plastic surgeons who are best friends and have a joint practice - one's a poon-hound playboy type, the other's a family man. As they help people with their increasingly ridiculous plastic surgery needs, the slight semblance of reality that helped the audience make it through the first season is stripped away, to expose the viewer to the true madness that lies at the heart of any writer who goes into a project without a beat sheet or a series bible.

Firstly, Nip/Tuck is trashy - it's like if the cast members of Dynasty all got medical degrees and tans, then opened shop in General Hospital - but it's trashy with such reckless abandon, with such wanton lack of regard for everyone involved - viewer and character alike - that you can't help but be at least fascinated. And the fact is, the first season sets up the characters so succinctly and beautifully that you actually care about what happens to these awful, awful people. The writers' flair for the overblown is so predictable you can see plot twists brewing from three episodes off, but you still watch, because it's that fucking fun.

ZOMGLESBIANS!!! We cast Portia De Rossi as a LESBIAN!

As the show has moved from one season to the next, the plot has been stretched thinner than an aging socialite's skin. The first two seasons were the only ones with any real plot to them, and honestly if you're looking for an engaging story, that's where you should stop. Because of the way the second season ends, you may be tempted to continue to the third - but trust me, it's not worth it. That way, madness lies, as it is slowly revealed that no one had any idea where they were going with any of this. After the half-hearted attempt at plot that the third season presents, the show transforms into some dadaist exquisite corpse, disjointed and without any real glue to hold the whole thing together. Seriously, it's like they have four people on the writing staff, and one of them knows current events, and the next has a medial dictionary, and the next has a wish list from the effects department, and the last one took a screenwriting workshop at the learning annex and left halfway through because they wanted to make him watch foreign films and he "doesn't go to the movies to read".

You think I'm joking, but it's true.

I realized that the writing of Nip/Tuck had been turned over to the Harry Potter slash writers that got banned from livejournal during the episode that one of the major, longtime characters has their kidney stolen, and not one person on the show bats an eye. This was during season four, so I hung on far longer than anyone really should, but still. Season Four is unusual in several ways, most notably for the fact that this is the season when things truly start flying off the handle in earnest. One of the only grounding forces in this shit-storm of crazy is an excellent cameo by Peter Dinklage, who brings a tiny modicum of respectability to the show that is quickly countered by an even more prominent cameo by Rosie O'Donnell.

And guess what? One of these two guys fucks Rosie O'Donnell

After season four, everyone finally realized the show was going to die a slow, painful death if they didn't enact a major paradigm shift, which they did by moving the show's location from Miami to Los Angeles. This gave them a chance to change things fundamentally. They could have struck off into another bold direction, marking new territory and reclaiming the emotional connection they once had with their viewers. And what do they do instead? The delve into meth, build-a-bear, and have a cameo from everyone's favorite questionably famous hoodrat New York.

Despite the writing, one of the reasons I originally became interested in Nip/Tuck, and one of the truly unimpeachable parts of the show's concept and design, is their special effects make-up. Throughout their seasons, Nip/Tuck's make-up is impeccable in a way that special effects makeup usually isn't - in most shows and movies, usually once you know what to look for in effects you can spot places where the artists have slacked off - a seam here, some overzealous stippling there - but Nip/Tuck's makeup has a craftsmanship to it that is uncanny. In my five years of watching this show I can't think of any time the effects have been obviously lacking or lazy. it's pretty gruesome, honestly - there's a lot of gore in the surgeries, and little is left to the imagination, but the ridiculousness of the plot is complemented nicely by the pseudo-realistic brutality of what is actually done to bodies and faces during even the most mundane procedures. Interestingly enough, it's that realistic feel that helps take this show over the top.

I must admit, though, for all of the bullshit and ridiculousness this show has put me through, I'm still watching. Season six started this week, and once again I'm hopeful that these writers can turn it around. I mean, they've got everything going for them. The acting is excellent at it's best and only flat at its worst. The design is fantastic, and as the show has grown more unreal and stylized, the costumes and sets have reflected that. Everyone else is working together seamlessly, it's just the writing that needs to get in line and stop letting everyone down. Seriously. What the hell, people?

DVD Junkie is a weekly review of TV Series on DVD. Kosmic takes her cable dramas seriously, and actually enjoys this show a lot, because of the horrible writing.