Saturday, February 28, 2009

Trailer Trash XXXVI: The Doll Squad, AKA Seduce and Destroy (1973)

"America's newest and deadliest secret weapon!"

If I've learned anything from bad action movies (and I mean anything!), it's that one in ten strippers is secretly a CIA Super-Commando. (See Doll Squad or the even sweeter Hell Squad.)

This is one of those trailers that I just have to let speak for itself. It's got EVERYTHING - from bad kung fu to bad special effects to bad acting. Hell, two guys just straight up explode in this trailer. Have at you:

At 0:20 - Is that supposed to be fire?
At 0:35 - "Every class of society" in this movie pretty much means strippers and karate teachers only.
At 0:55 - "Brilliantly portrayed" may be a bit of a stretch.
At 1:18 - Lightning powers! Use that Force!

I just noticed how many people get capped in this movie. Damn. The Doll Squad is just shooting EVERYBODY.

At 2:28 - Are they getting shot, or slipping on banana peels?
At 3:03 - This narrator's not afraid of hyperbole.

Yeah, wow. Twenty-three people are shot and/or exploded on-camera in this trailer alone. That has to be SOME sort of record.

"They work - and kill - for Uncle Sam!"

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, February 27, 2009

Screenplay competition for New York writers

Hey, New York screenwriters - this press release came through our inbox and we wanted to give you all a heads-up:, Inc. proudly presents the "ScreenPlay Live!" Screenwriting Competition. Screenwriters living in New York State will compete for the rare opportunity to have professional actors perform their work in a live reading as part of the The Rochester High Falls International Film Festival, May 13th-18th, 2009

In addition, the winning screenwriter will be provided with travel and accommodations for the festival, and will be presented with an award at the reading.

Deadline: Entries must be received on or before March 14th, 2009. Five Finalists will be announced March 28th. The Winner will be announced April 4th, 2009.

$10 per screenplay. There is no limit to the number of screenplays you may submit. Submissions are accepted via electronic submission (to Mail check or money order only to, Inc., 315 Gregory St., Suite 300, Rochester, NY 14620.

The competition is open to New York State residents only. All ages are eligible.

For complete rules and regulations go to:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

WHY?!?! Unnecessary Remake Hell

Is there nothing new out there? I think this is a common question when it comes to the film industry. A very common question. With only maybe 80 some sales a year being spec sales, the majority of Hollywood’s slate is adaptations and remakes. I’m on board with adaptations – though, sometimes I wonder how “this” movie got made, while “that book” is so much better and kept off the screen. Remakes, though, are another question. Some things should just be left alone.

Today, during my daily scroll of DoneDealPro this morning, I noticed that three out of the first five sales listed were remakes. Three out of five. That’s 60% for all you non-math whizzes out there.

Remake number 1: ARTHUR, about a booze-hound playboy who stands to earn a lot of money if he marries a certain girl in a certain family, but falls for someone much “beneath” him. Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli starred in the 1981 Oscar Award winning original (Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Song), nominated for best screenplay. Russell Brand
, yep, the FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL guy, is attached to star in the remake. Can you spell Oscar Nomination? Neither can I in this instance.

Remake number 2: TOTAL RECALL. Aaaaahhhnnnold! A man buys a virtual vacation to Mars and winds up fighting as a special agent to overthrow a Martian depot in reality – or does he? OK, remaking Arnold? Hasn’t he enacted some legislation in California against that by now? Also, really? REALLY?

Remake number 3 (and the most upsetting): THE NEVERENDING STORY. Who grew up in the 80s or 90s and didn’t watch this a dozen times? I still wish I had a giant flying dog to take me everywhere and be my best friend. This is a classic; it’d be like remaking THE PRINCESS BRIDE (Onyx would come after that producer so fast, he wouldn't know what hit him). This is a great movie, and I can guarantee now, 100%, that whatever hits theaters a few years from now will be beyond disappointing in comparison.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Can’t well-enough just be left alone?

What, When, Where this Weekend - Birdsong, Crossing Over, Marco Ferreri, Cronenberg retrospective

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 IFC Center is running a screening series of "Cronenberg Classics" starting this weekend and running over the next couple months. I'm very eager to see Videodrome and The Fly on the big screen. The full lineup is available here.

- BAM is reviving the criminally overlooked Marco Ferreri film Dillinger is Dead for a limited time. Opens Friday.

Opening this week...

BIRDSONG, written and directed by Albert Serra

The film follows the three wise men as they journey to pay their respects and bring gifts to Jesus Christ.

Playing at: Anthology

Looks pretty thin on plot, but oh so, so pretty. (Check out a clip here.) Really want to see this in theaters - I'm afraid it'll be completely lost on a TV screen.

CROSSING OVER, written and directed by Wayne Kramer

A multi-character drama centered around the issue of illegal immigration in the United States.

Playing at: All over.

Harrison Ford and Sean Penn - this is one of those rare films that will bring me in on star power alone. I have to say I'm getting bored with the "multi-character drama centered around the issue of (insert social crisis of choice)" genre already, though. I'll be waiting patiently for Don Cheadle to show up in a cameo somewhere.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Choke *cough* *hack* *urg* *vomit*

Cake Man and I desperately tried to suffer through Choke last night, but we just weren't able to do it. I'm not sure if it was because of the flat jokes, awful dialogue, jumbled mess of thin subplots, completely unsympathetic characters, the juvenile-feeling naughtiness for naughtiness' sake or a combination of all of the above that ruined this one for us. I watch plenty of bad movies, but this one really disappointed me. It FELT like it could have been really good - what went wrong?

I came into the movie expecting something along the lines of Fight Club (as I'm sure a lot of viewers did). I know not to expect David Fincher-like production values from a directorial debut by an actor turned writer/director, but there was just so much that was godawful in this movie that I had to wonder if some fault stems from the source material. Palahniuk is a writer who often pushes the line for shock value - but any attempts at edginess in the film version of Choke come off more childish than anything. I haven't read the book yet, but the movie makes me want to.

Ty Burr's review at the Boston Globe seems to point the finger at writer/director Clegg:
Great swatches of narration have been imported from book to screen, and while Rockwell delivers these with sardonic ease, the approach is still the opposite of cinema. Palahniuk fans will get what they came for and come away scratching their heads, because Gregg has mistaken the literal for the literary. He has fashioned an amiable Xerox that stubbornly refuses to shock like the real thing.
I guess this is my question: Are all of the Choke's faults present in the novel, or was the movie just a terrible adaptation? Can anyone who's read the book already shine a bit of light on the topic?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 60 - Cracking the Ending and Writing for A Sequel

I should have finished my first draft of the Roman-army spec this morning, but my sleep cycle was off. These past few weeks, I've been waking up at 7:30 (an hour before I used to) to get a writing session in before work. That way, if I find myself detoured by drinks after work, I don't have to worry about the day being a total loss (that happened more often than I'd like. Ask Zombie. Or Onyx). This morning, though, I woke up in the middle of the night and tossed and turned for two hours before falling asleep again at 7. Probably should have gotten up and started typing, but the brain just wasn't working.

Regardless, I'll wrap it tonight. Usually, I go into a script knowing how it will end. (John August recently had an interesting post about deciding which project to write. His advice: write the one with the best ending, as it's the one you've thought out the most.) There's something about knowing where you have to get in your spec that guides the writing process from the very beginning, even if you know little in between. I find it helps to know what that last image will be, even if I wind up changing it along the way.

This time, though, I had no idea. Well, OK, not "no" idea, but little. I knew what Act Three would be, and damn, was I stoked to write it. But I hit a wall - in outlining, in writing, in thinking about writing or outlining - when it came to the final scene(s). I just didn't know how it would all wrap itself up. There were a few loose ends I wanted to leave untied for interest's sake, basically a new beginning type of ending that leave the possibilities open for further exploration of the characters (read: I'm a shameless whore writing with sequels in mind; so sue me).

Finally, on Sunday, I cracked it. The ideas worked themselves together in an imperfect puzzle at first, like a Rubix cube that's all right but for two sides. Then, I let everything wiggle into place, and I just want to get home and finish the thing. I think it works. And, let me clarify here, I do not advocate writing purely for the sequel. It's a dangerous approach, especially for a new writer writing specs. I'm well aware of that. But I do believe that there is little harm in setting up a solid spec that has franchise potential for a sequel. That doesn't mean leaving everything ambiguous or unanswered. No, a script should be able to stand alone and leave the audience wanting more, while not keeping them so in the dark that they need another movie to figure it out. I answer what I need to; I just offer routes for more playtime with the characters and the world later if people want. I think it's reasonable if it can work.
First thing's first though: finish this draft.

And The Winner Is...

OK, I'm sure you've watched the Oscars or read a re-cap online or read this morning's paper to see who won or heard about it at the water cooler or... You get the idea. You've heard the winners. If, somehow, you've managed to avoid learning who took home statuettes at the 81st Academy Awards, here's the list of winners.

Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
Actress: Kate Winslet, "The Reader"
Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Foreign-Language Film: "Departures," Japan
Original Song: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Original Score: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Jerry Lewis
Film Editing: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Sound Mixing: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Sound Editing: "The Dark Knight"
Visual Effects: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Documentary, Short Subject: "Smile Pinki"
Documentary Feature: "Man on Wire"
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Short Film: "Spielzeugland"
Makeup: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Costume: "The Duchess"
Art Direction: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Animated Short Film: "La Maison en Petits Cubes"
Animated Feature: "WALL-E"
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, "Milk"
Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"

No real surprises... sort of. WALL-E was a given (though part of me felt it was wise to expect a Kung Fu Panda upset). Screenplay categories contained no real shocker or disappointments. Slumdog, as Zombie just pointed out, took a TON of awards, with Curious Case of Benjamin Button taking a very large share of the remaining ones. Heath Ledger got what everyone expected to be his award for his awesome work as the Joker.

Where I got pissed, though, was with the Best Actor category. Yes, Mickey Rourke might have played Mickey Rourke, and Sean Penn's win (along with Dustin Lance Black's) provided the industry with a platform for gay rights, which is fantastic. But I was pulling for Mickey despite both of those reasons. Even if he did play himself, you know what? That takes balls. He went into some of the darkest parts of his life and his screw ups, unearthing much of what has happened behind the camera to him in his life. It takes a lot of courage to accept and reveal your own faults the way he did, and I have to give anybody who can do that major props. Maybe he didn't transform himself into a completely different person the way that Penn did, but what he did was just as emotionally charged and brave, if not more so.
You had my vote, Mickey.

Slumdog Millionaire screenplay now available

Motion Picture
Adapted Screenplay
Sound Mixing
Original Score
Original Song
Film Editing
Congratulations to Slumdog Millionaire for cleaning house at the Oscars last night.

You can now download the screenplay for free by clicking here. (Thanks again to SimplyScripts.) Get it while you can!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Trailer Trash XXXV: The Screaming Skull (1958)

"The tortured ghost who claimed vengeance in the bride's bedroom!"

Quick summary: Ex-wife dies in freak accident. Man takes new wife to site of the accident on their honeymoon. (Worst. Honeymoon. Ever.) New wife is haunted by ghost of dead wife. Or is she? That's The Screaming Skull in a nutshell.

The title of this movie reminds me of one of Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts passages:
If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.
... which, in turn, makes me think of a much scarier version of this movie, where it's just shots of various skulls backed by a soundtrack of people screaming at the top of their lungs. That'd make me jump, at least the first few times.

You know, you could make any movie at least a bit scary with random quick cuts to skulls and screaming. (Something like this old YouTube video, actually.) This would even work for old movies. Take Casablanca:

Rick: If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your -


See what I mean? Terrifying, right??

On to the trailer silliness:

Did people usually die during scary movies in the 50s? I'm curious if anyone was ever able to cash in on that free burial. And I'm glad they specify that the death had to be from fright. I'd hate to think very old, stingy people would go see it to save a few dollars on funerals.

1950s Guy #1: "Have you heard of that movie Screaming Skull?"
1950s Guy #2: "Yeah, I think so. Isn't that movie where old people go to die?"

I wonder if that offer still stands? Is there an expiration date? I can't see anyone dying of fright during this movie in this day and age, but I wouldn't rule out Death by Boredom.

"See! The revisionization of a woman scorned! See! The vengeful violence of the undead!"

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, February 19, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Katyn, The Oscars!

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

A slow week for movie openings, with only Fired Up! and Madea Goes To Jail getting any sort of wide release (did I mention this weekend was slow?), but at least we can catch up with out Netflix queue and prep for this Sunday's Academy Awards.

Haven't seen all of the nominees? You can still read many of the screenplays for free. Check out the links here, here, here and here.

Opening this weekend...

KATYN, written by Andrzej Mularczyk and Przemyslaw Nowakowski, dir. by Andrzej Wajda

Premise: An examination of the Soviet slaughter of thousands of Polish officers and citizens in the Katyn forest in 1940.

Playing: Film Forum

Ashes and Diamonds and Kanal are absolute classics. Far from a feel-good movie, but I'm sold.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend? Doing anything special for the Oscars?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oscar Showdown: Kung Fu Panda versus WALL-E

Everyone has his or her favorite Oscar category, or at least one in which he/she invests the most interest. Usually, for me, that's either Best Picture or Best (Original) Screenplay. This year, though, while I am strongly rooting for certain nominees (Mickey Rourke for Best Actor, Slumdog Millionaire for Picture) come Sunday, I'll invest my most intense watching abilities in the Best Animated Feature category.

Ok, I'll come clean - I haven't seen Bolt. I don't really plan to. It just didn't capture my interest the way that the other two did. I have seen both WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda (WALL-E kept me up during past the 9th hour of and 18 hour flight I was on; I just watched KFP this past weekend).

It's hard to tell which of these will win. I say that, because though KFP is a really terrific animated movie, one which I laughed with throughout, WALL-E is (dare I say it?) ground-breaking in its accomplishments. I know that there was an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to nominate WALL-E for one of the five coveted Best Picture slots, so the industry clearly recognizes that it's an incredible film. Any writer should be able to appreciate the clear mastery of craft throughout it, with a particular focus on the wordless first act. It deserves to win, if you as this cake fan, but does that mean it will?

Unfortunately, we can all cite examples of the movie that should have won. A loss to Kung Fu Panda would not be the worst upset in Oscar history, but one that would piss me off a bit nonetheless. I was completely caught off-guard by WALL-E, which I believe I can take lessons from as a writer. I just want to see it get what it not only deserves, but has definitely earned.
What do you think - who will the Best Animated Feature Oscar go to?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 59 - The 60-70 Slump

You've done it. Act One is a tiny spec behind you. You've coasted through the first half of act two. You nailed the midpoint; the intensity is building and the end is starting to appear on the horizon. And then it happens. The 60 to 70 Slump.

Ask most screenwriters, and they'll probably tell you that those ten pages, coming right off the high of the midpoint, are some of the most difficult to write. Act One is often a breeze. For me, it's typically the part of my script that requires the least rewriting after the first draft. The first half of Act Two is usually an OK write, though can require more attention later. But there's something about working through pages 60-70 that just makes me want to pull my hair out. I think a large part of that is the degree to which the stakes have been raised and the action is building, a huge climax has just been hit, and everything is moving quickly. Both the writer and the audience need a short breather before Act Three, which will be intense. Those ten pages in the middle of the script have to keep the pace, come down off the midpoint, and give the audience time to both recover and brace themselves for what's next.

You can probably tell that I just dealt with these ten pages. As I write this, my cursor blinks somewhere toward the middle of page 71. I know that I'm going to do some major reworking of the pages before that. Yet, I have to remind myself that this is a first draft I'm working on. First drafts are a foundation. Granted, it's nice to write a great first draft, and I don't try to write anything unreadable, but sometimes it's important to just get the skeleton of the story out and build the rest of the body later. It just sucks that pages 60-70 are a part of that body.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday the 13th - Not Dull, Not Sharp

American horror’s favorite son is back yet again. In Friday the 13th, fans of the franchise will quickly recognize the grisly craft of Jason Voorhees as he uses many a sharp object to dispatch the meddling youths who wander onto the abandoned property of Camp Crystal Lake. Pretty faces meet the wrong end of an arrow, an axe, deer antlers, a screwdriver, and the signature machete. It’s a decent arsenal, and horror fans young and old will be filling the seats to see how Jason uses it, and more importantly, they’ll want to get a good scare. Unfortunately Friday the 13th is everything you would expect and doesn’t deliver enough on both counts. You can see the lazily thought out scares coming a mile away, and there won’t be any memorable kills to write home about, assuming you write home about memorable kills.

Director Marcus Nispel opens his film with what you might as well call a fun twenty minute horror short. A group of attractive young adults enter an abandoned camp ground in search of the bounty of marijuana that is rumored to grow there. I know, it took me a minute to adjust to weed featuring so heavily in a Friday the 13th movie. Stoners beware, because if you read into it the wrong way it might seem like the Office of National Drug Control Policy is pushing Jason as a consequence of marijuana use, which would be terrifying. But that’s not the case. By the end of the twenty minute intro you’ll have a fine sense of Jason’s work and understand that he’s really motivated by the commands of his crazy slain mother. Flash forward six weeks to another batch of Abercrombie & Fitch models who arrive at Crystal Lake. Jared Padalecki plays Clay Miller, a young rogue in search of his sister Whitney (Amanda Righetti), who went missing with the previous group of Crystal Lake wanderers. Clay eventually unites with a group of weekend partygoers and the rest is murderous mayhem.

If you’re a big slasher horror fan, the scares won’t do much for you. The movie has all of the standard thrills. You’ll see characters pull back curtains to find nothing there, but wait, the killer suddenly appears behind them. You’ll see someone kneel down to pick something up and rise to find the fright waiting for them. There’s nothing new here, and once I accepted that, I was hoping the characters would shine in some way, maybe even just twinkle for a moment, but this movie is not an appropriate study of character. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. If I had a nickel for every Friday th 13th movie I’d have sixty scents, but if I had a nickel for every poor decision a character has made in this franchise, I’d be rich.

It’s hard to feel bad when movie characters die because of a stupid decision they made. During the brisk 95 minute run time you’ll see characters try to escape by knowingly running to Jason’s home. You’ll see a character abandon the relative safety of the middle of the lake for the shallow water beneath a pier, after she’s seen a machete wielding Jason waiting for her on the shore. Safety in numbers seems to be common knowledge, except in horror movies. The characters run off on their own when they know there’s a killer on the move. One of the characters finds a gun, a perfect find when you have a killer after you, except he spends all of his ammunition shooting at creaks in the wall. Stupid, stupid, stupid, but it got me wondering. Could writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift truly believe their characters would act this way, or are they consciously providing us with the sort of character choices that make audiences cringe in their seats as they wait for the sure kill?

Friday the 13th is not a good movie, but there’s something effective about it. Every time I saw one of those stupid decisions being made, the audience collectively cringed and lowered in their seats, but with a smile on their faces. They were being primed for the kill situation, which I’ve determined involves 1 - The poor decision. 2 - The moment of false peril. 3 - The moment of true peril. And 4 - The kill. The whole experience felt amazingly similar to a roller coaster. On the ride, you see the big drop coming, you brace yourself as best as you can, and then the thrill hits you. Immediately after the a big drop, there’s a period of relative relaxation as you prepare for the next drop. The rhythm of Friday the 13th, and perhaps most horror movies, is similar. I think that’s why the movie will make bank and doesn’t need to be great. People are addicted to that rhythm and the formula for these movies. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t leave with a smile on my face, as did everyone else. And like a roller coaster, we passed the smiling faces of everyone waiting in line to get on the ride. You know what you’re getting into with this one. If you want the cheap thrills, a few laughs, and a good helping of nudity, Friday the 13th is for you. If you want the next great horror movie, proceed at your own risk.

Trailer Trash XXXIV: Dragonball Evolution (2009)

"The legend comes to life!"

At severe risk of losing all of my awesome cred, I'm going to go out and admit that I'm a mild anime fan. I've seen all of the Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon films. I've probably seen Akira a dozen times since I was 12. Patlabor, Excel Saga, Ghost in the Shell. I've watched all of Neon Genesis Evangelion three times. But that's about it.

(Okay, I probably deserve my wedgie, but hear me out.)

That's a lot of anime. But that's just the low end of the spectrum; if you ever had a passing interest in Japanese animation, most of those are the movies you probably would have seen first. More eager anime fans have usually seen a lot more (as there's a LOT of it out there) and would scoff at the list I made above. And hardcore anime fans? I won't even go there.

In case you haven't seen one, this is what a hardcore anime fan looks like:

Why did I feel the need to distinguish? Because the guy pictured above is probably the most excited about this week's Trailer Trash subject: Dragonball Evolution.

This movie hasn't come out yet, so you're all getting an extra-special glimpse at what Shit will look like in the future. (For more Future Shit, check out our examination of Fast & Furious.)

Dragonball Evolution is a live-action adaptation of a long-running and very popular anime series about a guy traveling around collecting magic balls. This is what ball-collecting looks like with live actors:

Chow Yun-Fat: WHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY??? (Are you in this??) Are you that hard up for a paycheck? YOU ARE ONE OF THE WORLD'S ULTIMATE BADASSES, SO ACT LIKE IT ALREADY! Gah.

Is it just me, or does every location in that trailer look like the backdrop for a Mortal Kombat level?

"With this glow-in-the-dark bowling ball, I take my vengeance upon the Earth."

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, February 13, 2009

The Writing Wire for 2/13:

Cleaning out the old linkbox...

- Writer/director Henry Selick talks with FirstShowing about collaborating with Neil Gaiman on the Coraline screenplay.

- The loss of Kim's Video isn't the only sad closing to hit NYC; it looks like the Sound Fix Lounge will also be shutting its doors soon. They're a wonderful little bar/music venue/reading space that's the basis of the opening scene of a spec script I just started. I'm sad to see them go.

- Thanks to Go Into the Story for bringing this funny comparison between Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button (both written by Eric Roth) to our attention. In case you haven't read it: Cake Man's got his official review over here.

- Complications Ensue advises how to keep the budget of your spec pilot script low. (Who'd have thought cats were so expensive?)

- The Onion AV Club asks the important question: What if Celebrity Nudity picked 2009's Oscar winners?

- Cinematical's got the casting scoop on the upcoming (sure to be EXTREMELY bizarre) David Lynch / Werner Herzog film.

- There are a hell of a lot of zombie movies coming soon.

- Screenwriter Denis McGrath gives his take on the Facebook 25 Random Things meme that's been going around. (I've yet to succumb to this one...)

- Speaking of Facebook? You can now be our fan!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Gomorra, The International, Two Lovers, Friday the 13th

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 weekend...

GOMORRA, written Maurizio Braucci, dir. by Matteo Garrone

Premise: A drama of five interconnected stories, each of them illustrating the levels of organized crime in modern-day Naples.

Playing: Lincoln Plaza, IFC Center

There's been a lot of buzz around this one - I can't wait to see it. Been a while since we've seen a different take on the mafia genre.

THE INTERNATIONAL, written by Eric Singer, dir. by Tom Tykwer

Premise: Interpol Agent Louis Salinger and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman pool their resources in an attempt to break up an international arms dealing ring financed by a high-profile bank.

Playing: All over.

Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Princess and the Warrior) is one of those amazing directors I always forget about because there are such long breaks between his films. I'm in for this already - Clive Owen and Naomi Watts are also a bonus.

TWO LOVERS, written by James Gray and Ric Menello, dir. by James Gray

Premise: Leonard returns to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where he soon falls for two very different women: the family friend his parents wish he would marry and his beautiful but volatile new neighbor.

Playing: All over.

No matter how good or bad this movie is, I'm afraid all of the attention is going to go to Joaquin's newfound rap career or bizarre Letterman interview. (While we're on the subject - WTF?)

The trailer made this movie look extremely dumb (at least to me), but word on the street is that it's pretty decent. Check out a couple rave reviews here and here.

FRIDAY THE 13th, written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, dir. by Marcus Nispel

Premise: A group of young adults discover a boarded up Camp Crystal Lake, where they soon encounter Jason Voorhees and his deadly intentions.

Playing: Everywhere.

Iiiiiiit's a remake, just like every other horror movie these days. It's a classic - shame on you if you haven't seen the original. (Add it to your Netflix queue and you can consider yourself forgiven!)

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Encouraging Stats, So Keep Writing

I got an email today from Creative Screenwriting magazine with some figures they quoted from For anyone out there who is worried that the economy - which is causing problems for the theatre and non-profit arts industries in particular here in NYC - is going to spell trouble for Hollywood, these numbers might put your mind at ease.

Year versus Box Office Sales
2009: $1.228 billion
2008: $1.041 billion
2007: $ 856 million
2006: $ 917 million
2005: $ 895 million
Here at the League, we've been having a lot of talks recently about whether Hollywood is going to start pinching pennies anywhere it can. This would mean that studios would not only reduce their slates, but buy up fewer scripts. Well, according to CS, that just isn't the case.

As sales rise, Hollywood will be picking up more and more projects, trying to meet the demand for movies as people flock to the cinema. I'm not sure whether the numbers take into account inflation or anything (or how much that would affect a five year spread), but the projection for 2009 is encouraging, to say the least.

Bottom line: don't worry yourself that Hollywood is going to put a freeze on buying material until this whole recession thing gets sorted out. People are still watching movies - in fact, they might need the escapism more now than ever. So keep writing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Secondary Headings and Other Advice

While scrolling around the internet on various movie sites and screenwriting blogs today on my "lunch break," I stopped by the read the Unknown Screenwriter's newest post. Worth reading, especially if you're gearing up to begin sending your script out to producers and agents, the post is a short guide to ensuring that you don't screw yourself over with avoidable red flags in your spec.

One of the things that Unk talks a lot about is Secondary Headings (as in, use them). (If you don't know what these are, Mystery Man on Film did a great summary of the ins and outs of Secondary Headings just over a year ago). I'll admit, I didn't know these by name, so I had to do a quick search to see just what he was talking about. I was pleased to see that this is one of the screenwriting tools I developed a while ago, so I didn't freak out about something I should have been doing differently. However, since I now know them by name and from experience, I can tell you that they make a HUGE difference.

If you have particularly long scenes - or chase scenes, especially chase scenes - you'll find that these babies do an excellent job of breaking up the page and helping you highlight the key action and dialogue, without burying it with other text. As a quick example, say you have a chase scene through a supermarket. While it'd be easy to just begin with INT. SUPERMARKET - DAY and write a two or three page scene of people running after one another, that much uninterrupted action will bog down your script and the reader. Try it this way instead:


Bill spies Dale in the checkout line. Dale catches sight of Bill and takes after him. Bill flees down the


Arming himself with ketchup and mustard bottles as he goes. He chucks them backward as Dale takes off after him. Bill turns the corner. Dale follows.


The men sprint past fresh bread and an endless shelf of cakes. Dale grabs a PIE off of a rack and hurls it at Bill.

The pie nails him in the back of the head. Bill trips and falls headfirst into the


He grabs a 5 pound bag of ice and waits for Dale to round the corner.

In this (ridiculous) example, CONDIMENT AISLE, BAKERY DEPARTMENT, and FROZEN FOOD SECTION are the secondary headings. See how they break things up and keep the fast pace necessary for action scenes?

Do you use Secondary Headings?

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 58 - Writing An Epic?

Normally, I am a huge supporter of the 100-105 page script. Especially for an action spec, 105 is an ideal length. Anything done in that amount of pages (or fewer) that has a strong plot and characters is nearly untouchable, if you ask me. Nowadays, the industry seems to be looking for shorter and shorter scripts, too. In a time when money is on everyone's mind, productions slates are being cut by close to 20% sometimes, and everyone is looking on how/where to save in a budget, the 105 page trumps the 120 almost any day of the week. (OK, before you run off trying to find Variety articles on this, I'll clarify that it's my own opinion. But at least humor me and think about it.)

The past two things I've done, my comic book spec and the post-Apocalyptic one, rang in at 100 and 105 pages, respectively. Despite the shorter page counts, I still follow the conventional, 120-page, three act structure pretty closely. I don't know why, really, but I'm hard pressed to write a first act that doesn't end right around 30. The midpoint of two is negotiable, coming in somewhere between 55 and 60. Act three is where I tend to shave most of the time off, often bringing it in under 20 pages. I know it might seem a bit rudimentary to talk so much about page numbers and act structure, especially since the sequencing method has recently taken the writing industry by storm (from what I read). Nonetheless, act structure and adherence to page count "guidelines" is a big part of how I write, so it'd be foolish not to include it here. It is a safe way for me to write, a method that I understand and feel I can work pretty comfortably in.

However, something happened this week. My Roman army spec (which I'm more excited to be writing than I have ever been when writing from an outline) is coming out a bit longer than I had anticipated. At first, I was worried that my first act was going to be too short, and that my targeted 105 page count would be a stretch, at best. That's not looking like the case. I'm coming up on that beautiful, yet terrifying midpoint right now - terrifying because I find that pages 60-70 are THE WORST PAGES EVER to have to write - and I'm still not quite ready to deliver that big, midpoint jolt yet. I'm dealing with a lot in this script, so I'm not worried, but it begs the question: am I writing an epic?

Epics are interesting to me. I haven't studied them nearly enough as I should have, perhaps because I never planned on writing one. Even epic action movies (Dark Knight, Batman Begins, and pretty much anything else that came in over 2hours and 15 minutes in my opinion) are a category unto themselves. Movies like Gladiator, Braveheart, and even Last Samurai (that one was for you, Onyx) fly by because they're done so well. And they fit a certain structure. But what exactly is it? Are acts one and three still only half an hour, while act two fills up the bulk of the screen time? Or is everything proportionate to the higher page count? Guess I'll have to do a lot of script-reading and movie-watching to find out. In the meantime, does anyone think they know?

IMDB Lists the 25 All-Time Box Office Winners

Here's an interesting read, in case you haven't seen it yet. Imdb released today the 25 highest-grossing box office movies ever, adjusted for inflation, ticket price, etc.

Interesting to see where certain movies fall. While it's no surprise that The Dark Knight is on there, its ranking might catch you off guard. Of course, the #1 box office success should not be a surprise, but you might be interested to see that 8 of the top earners are Disney animated features (with a 9th being non-animated Disney). That Disney did so well with so many of its features is actually really understandable. Kind of interested that no animated/children's' movies past 1967 are on the list (with the exception of E.T. in '82).

Hopefully this list will have to be altered to reflect your movie someday.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Kim's Video: 1987 - 2009

New Yorkers and cinema fans, grab your tissue box. New York Times writer Sophia Hollander's account of the end of the legendary Kim's Video on St. Mark's Place will certainly bring out a tear or two. Businesses come and go, but this is the first one that's truly made me sad - Kim's was always the ultimate source for obscure, foreign and independent cinema during my first years in NYC.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Trailer Trash XXXIII: Ator the Invincible (1982)

"In an age of innocence, before the dawn of fear, two special people found each other."

The above quote says more about the movie Ator than I ever could. The word "special" is only ever used to describe two kinds of people: children and those with the, um, minds of children. In the trailer you're about to watch it's used to describe two Conan-style barbarians. Is that a flub? Nah. These two barbarians ARE special.

Caution: This trailer moves quick. Blink and you might miss the tarantula, several swordfights, a bathing beauty, deer, a bear, multiple explosions, a man in gold eyeshadow, or a dude who just straight-up explodes.

At 0:01 - Deer!
At 0:03 - Bear!
At 0:08 - Ator had his hair done by Motley Crue's stylist.
At 0:18 - Boom!

The movie itself even more ridiculous, managing to work all kinds of wacky flourishes (from incest, to witches, to zombies!) into one 98-minute PG-rated film. For an exhaustive, in-depth plot analysis, check out Cool Cinema Trash's rundown. (It's better than actually seeing the movie!)

Cool Cinema Trash was even kind (or do I mean cruel?) enough to include an MP3 of the movie's awful, awful theme song. Hate music? You'll love this.

"The birth of a new legend, a new hero, a true heroine: AAAAAAAAATOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRR!"

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, February 05, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Coraline, Fanboys, He's Just Not That Into You

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

- New York Comic Con hits the Javits Center this weekend. Check out all of the film, TV and comic programming at their website.

- The IFC Center is showing a marathon of 2009's Oscar-Nominated short films.

Opening this weekend...

CORALINE, written by Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman, dir. by Henry Selick

Premise: A secret door in her family's new house offers a passage way to an unusual parallel world for young Coraline.

Playing at: Clearview Ziegfeld, Union Square Stadium 14 (in 3D)

Almost every poster, trailer or commercial I've seen for this movie boldly advertises two things: 1) it's made by the director of Nightmare Before Christmas, and 2) it's based on a book by Neil Gaiman. And that's really all it took to sell me. I haven't read this particular book, but the premise (involving sewing buttons into your eyes in order to fit into a new world) is bizarre enough to draw me in.

Plus, it's in 3D!

FANBOYS, written by Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg, dir. by Kyle Newman

Premise: Four guys and their galpal plan a cross-country trip in order to steal a print of Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace from Skywalker Ranch so their dying friend can see it before its world premiere.

Playing at: All over.

I have a hunch I need be a bigger fan of Star Wars to really get behind this.

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, dir. by Ken Kwapis

Premise: Romantic woes affect an interconnected group of Baltimore singles and marrieds.

Playing at: Everywhere.

Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore - this cast is an Angelina Jolie away from a wet dream for the Us Weekly crowd. This really isn't my type of movie, but the reviews I've seen so far seem to point at it being pretty decent. I'll trust Onyx's opinion once he sees it.

Dear Ms. Connelly - Has it really been almost 25 years since Creepers? You wear it well.

Dear Ms. Johansson - I really liked Vicky Cristina, but I still can't forgive you for the Tom Waits cover album. Never. Never, ever, ever.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Screen Alert - Donkey Punch (written by Oliver Blackburn & David Bloom)

Donkey Punch is a smart movie with an even smarter title. The moniker is outlandish enough that it sticks with you; I don't remember where I first read about the movie, but its name and premise stuck with me long enough that I was excited to see it opening here in NYC.

The title, of course, refers to a raunchy, ridiculous and ultimately fake sexual maneuver. (If you don't know what it is, ask a seventh grader to describe it to you.) The title is perfectly naughty and straight forward - you're not going to forget it.

The plot itself is simple. Three girls are on holiday when they meet three guys that are looking to party. Long story short: the guys get the girls onto the yacht they crew, get 'em out to sea, load up on drugs, and then one receives a fatal donkey punch. THIS is where the plot thickens.

The sexy-kids-end-up-with-a-dead-body is becoming a common subgenre in the horror section, but Donkey Punch manages to handle it differently. The kids react BELIEVABLY to the accidental death ("What do we do??" "Our whole lives are ahead of us!") and the tension perfectly builds through their interactions when their methods of resolving the situation are at-odds. None of the characters know each other that well, and everyone must look out for their own best interests. This was where the film excelled - in its relatively slow build to further bloodshed. When the film inevitably takes its horror turn in the later half, it's at least handled creatively. Filmseekers looking for a good thriller/suspense flick have a lot to be happy about here. Horror fans should stick around for the end - you won't be disappointed.

Blackburn's past as a music video director absolutely shines through in Donkey Punch; one of the most outstanding aspects of the film is its use of sound and music. The soundtrack is great, properly setting the tone of the scene with each piece of music. Particular standouts are the drug scenes at the beginning of the film - they're properly otherworldly and disorienting. The music pulses coldly and electronically. The soundtrack reminds me of Trainspotting's, but Donkey Punch is able to convey that messed-up feeling without resorting to New Order and ceiling-crawling babies.

I've seen a lot of critics draw comparisons between this film and Polanski's Knife In the Water - which I think is apt, and not just because they both take place on boats. They're both claustrophobic little thrillers well worth the price of admission.

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

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 57 – Retaining Rights and the Solicitation List, Questions for a Manager

Right now, I’m the only one in the League who has secured representation - but the others are not far behind. Because of that, this whole querying through signing (and then the selling and everything beyond) is new to us. I’m sort of like the League’s guinea pig when it comes to dealing with people responsible for our careers. As a young, “emerging” writer, I can tell you that this has been both an exciting and, at times, stressful month and a half.

For Christmas, (as you’ll recall, I mentioned before) I got a copy of The Real, Low Down, Dirty Truth About Hollywood Agenting. (Read it if you haven’t.) That book, along with other things I’ve heard and read, gave me a fairly strong sense of what I could expect if my career begins to take off. But I still had questions on what if anything I could be doing now to help my career later, as well as other things I wanted to know about in terms of projects I’m working on.

Last week I was happy to have a brief but very helpful chat with my manager. I had a sort of laundry list of things to ask him. Hopefully, this will be useful to some of you, especially if you’re an action writer like I seem to be at the moment.

-My current project, the Roman-army spec, could really be a comic book series, if not a film. Since my manager works in comics also, I figured I’d get his take on it. His answer: there’s no point in sitting on an amazing script that’s written in order to make it a comic first. If people don’t bite for the screenplay, I can always go the comic route and come back to the screenplay when there’s source material on it. (Granted, if I really wanted to do the comic first, I could. But I’ll go with my manager’s inclination on this one.)

-What about my other projects? I have another complete spec and wanted to know if he wanted to handle one project at a time, or take a look at that one now. He said to send anything over once I think it’s ready. So, he now has two of my babies.

-Industry contacts: when I was an intern at one of the major companies here in NYC four years ago, I developed a pretty good relationship with my supervisor. I asked my manager if he thought it was worth sending to her, since her current company has a first-look with one of the big studios. I was particularly concerned about maintaining credit as a first-time writer and thought that working with her might safeguard me a bit. He said that would be a fine route to go, that honoring relationships like that is always a good thing to do in this biz.

-Finally, one of the things I asked was about retaining rights. I’m no legal expert, but I know that it can be hard if not impossible to secure the rights to characters and franchise elements that you’ve created (I’m talking rights to royalties for toys, posters, video games, etc. based on your material). Both projects I’ve give him have big franchise potential, and I want – reasonably, I think – to have access to part of any spinoff, especially things like comics or TV shows based on the film. (Yeah, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, but I think this kind of thing is important for writers to be aware of, at least. I have zero negotiating power at the moment, but it helps to know what I can fight for, especially if other people are seeing dollar signs.)

My manager said that the best way to secure those rights is to find your script in the middle of a bidding war, which is why I’m a bit relieved that the company we gave an exclusive to passed. At the end of the week, my manager emailed me the Solicitation List for companies we’re going to target next. He covered basically every major studio in the nine spot-on selections he made. Now, the waiting begins again. I hope it’s worth it.