Monday, November 30, 2009

Reader questions: Day 2 - Percentage of good scripts

I've got two questions that are basically asking the same thing. First, Trevor asked:

With what percentage of scripts is the quality of formatting and screenwriting craft sufficient enough that you can just settle in and review the story on its own merits?

Hard to say in terms of percentage, but I'd say that maybe at least 75% of the scripts I read fall into this category. There are a lot with formatting errors, but usually by ten pages I've accepted the formatting flaws and managed to commit to reading the story without getting angered anew on each page.

Then Grant wrote:

Out of all the scripts you read, what percent are: Great? Good? Mediocre? Bad?Downright Awful?

As far as "Professional submissions" (i.e. from agents, managers, other industry pros) the numbers break down like this, more or less:

Great - less than 5%
Good - maybe 20%
Mediocre - 50%
Bad - 20%
Awful - 5%

If you add slush pile submissions to this, the bad/awful percentages increase at the expense of Good/Great.

Things That Can F Themselves asked:

what do you think of devoting energy to bypass the script reader entirely? is it worthwhile?

see, i don't trust script readers, b/c i was one. i worked alongside them discussing the mostly horrible scripts we were forced to read, and i just didn't trust the taste of these young kids doing the reading (FYI i am also a young buck). more than recognizing what was bad, they didn't know what was actually GOOD. this isn't to say that my material is awesome, b/c it isn't (one day!), but some of what these kids actually liked, i thought was utter crap. you would think i'd view having them read my mediocre script be a good thing, lower standards and all, but i don't see it that way.

i just don't think most readers are qualified to judge what is or isn't, mr. script reader, i ask you this: how do i avoid you? (not YOU you. you're cool) how do i get someone who's opinion is 'valid,' for lack of a better word, to read my stuff? should i stalk producers/writers/directors' assistants? bribe them with offers of free lunch and sexual favors? should i bother trying to avoid you?

If you have a way to submit directly to someone higher up than the reader, it's always valuable. Now, don't forget that unless you have a VERY close connection with that person, odds are that they will toss the script down the ladder to the reader so that they'll know it's worth their time to read it.

So in that case, I'd say that your most solid bet for doing an end run against a guy like me is to get a very personal connection with someone in power - someone indebted to you enough to take the time to read your submission personally. Those favors are hard to come by - people in power have many demands on their time, and many people clamoring for their attention.

My only real success with this has been by taking advantage of work connections. I've gotten development VPs for whom I have read to take the time to read my stuff, and I've gotten story editors who I came up with to look at my stuff. Agents tend to kick that stuff back down the ladder.

So is it worth your time? Well, it's always worth pursuing new contacts and new relationships. But, if you're sitting on a strong spec and it looks like you might have to wait a year or more for a particular executive to trust you enough to give your script a look-see, you might decide that it's worth the risk to submit your script to that company after about three months and then roll the dice that the reader likes it.

(My experience suggests that unless you're specifically invited otherwise, you should probably wait 4-6 months into the relationship before even THINKING about passing your script to someone at a company you work for.)

But as I said, if you see a chance to sneak one past a guy like me - take it. I'm not sure there's a clear strategy for doing so beyond just reading your contacts and knowing their sense of protocol.

Anyone have any success stories of getting past readers?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tips from Kevin Smith and Wil Wheaton

Next week I'll resume answering reader questions, but today I'll limit myself to pointing you towards other useful corners of the internet, starting with a really interesting Kevin Smith interview at Ain't It Cool News. Below I've reprinted a rather interesting excerpt that I'm sure will give you all plenty to chew over.

"Everyone thinks there’s a hard, fast rule on what it is, what film is. And, there’s not. It’s something to everybody. That’s why you’ll meet people who are, like, "My favorite movie is JUWANNA MANN," and you just wanna be, like, "What the fuck?" But, guess what, he’s right, or she’s right. It’s so subjective. It’s, like, everything that surrounded them…I mean, that’s the thing…The cineasts, the chilly, cold cineasts just want you to ‘judge the work,’ but, it’s, like, you can’t just judge the work. Nobody just judges the work, man, like, you know, you’re informed…The reason JUWANNA MANN is your favorite movie is not because it’s a great film, but it’s because the night you saw it, man, was when you found out, like, this girl that you really liked did like you back. Or, omigod, that was when we found out we were pregnant, when we saw JUWANNA MANN. Or, omigod, my dog died that day, and then I saw JUWANNA MANN. It took my mind off it. And, plus, it was funny, and the popcorn was so fuckin’ good that night. And, I’ve never had a better blend of soda. So many factors go into it, dude. It’s ridiculous for people to be, like, "I’m going to divorce myself from all of these outside other things, and I’m just going to concentrate on the art."

"It doesn’t work like that. Moviegoing has never been that. And, all the staid critics in the world can’t turn it into that. It’s everything. It’s that fuckin' piece of shit that cut you off on the way in to the fuckin’ movie theater. It’s the fact that you had to park in the back row, and it was fuckin’ drizzling, and so you get in there wet, and you’re fat and you’re sweaty, like I do when you walk, ’cause you sweat when you fuckin’ breathe. And then you sit down. The fuckin’ trailers, you couldn’t even hear ‘em, looked like it was projected through a glass of milk, and you had to get up and tell the motherfuckers, "Would you fuckin’ project it right…or, the sounds not up." And, you sit down and finally watch the movie. And then, it washes over you. But, all this other stuff informs it as well.

"And, that’s the way it should be. Just judging the film itself, it’s like, why bother? Film is communication. It’s me talking to you. It’s the filmmaker talking to the audience."

And since I'm sure many of you are headed for some long car trips this weekend, may I suggest some fun podcasts? One of my favorite bloggers and all-around awesome guys, Wil Wheaton, recently wrote a book called Memories of the Future. The book humorously reviews the first thirteen episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, on which Wheaton appeared as Wesley Crusher.

To promote the book, Wheaton has spent the last three months recording weekly podcasts in which he performs excerpts from each entry. There are moments in these that are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly if you've ever seen any of the... shall we say... uneven episodes that formed the first season of TNG.

In addition to some ribbing of the show, Wheaton manages to sneak in a few writing tips. In the podcast for Lonely Among Us, he rails against overly expositional dialogue, humorously remarking that at times, the show fell into a pattern of just having characters enter a scene with no motivation beyond saying something for the audience's benefit... or as he puts it:

"Uh, I've got some exposition to drop off here. Could you sign for it? Where should I put it?"

There's also a great moment in the podcast for The Battle where he finally understands why his character was so hated for so long by many Trek fans.

I haven't actually read Memories of the Future yet (hint, hint for those looking for a stocking stuffer for me this holiday season) but in addition to the podcasts I have read Wheaton's TV Squad posts that essentially formed the first drafts of these entries. It's clear that the book itself is even more densely packed with jokes, and I'm sure it's well worth the read.

Happy Turkey Day, y'all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Two schmucks short" - Writing is a business

Let's be honest, folks. It's Thanksgiving week in Hollywood and anyone who lives here knows what that means - no one's working. Judging from the fewer hits and comments yesterday, fewer of you are reading blogs this week too. That being the case, I don't want to waste a good Tuesday Talkback on a lame duck week. Still I feel obligated to offer some amusing content. Having just come from a particularly hilarious meeting of my writer's group, I think I'll offer these words of wisdom from some very funny guys in their late 20s.

On this particular day, our lone female member brought a pitch to the group, then almost immediately apologized for it. She started to say that she knew it was lame and goofy, but it was right up the alley of a particular contact she'd made and she knew this was the kind of material that buyer went for. She thought this was stupid - but I disagreed and offered the following pearl of wisdom:

"Don't write from the heart, write for the wallet."

I admit, it's a bit crass and cynical and I'm sure that several readers who fancy themselves serious artists are ready to fire off an angry comment disagreeing with me. The fact remains that screenplays are written to be sold. I've said this before and it's true. Yes, it's possible to write a wonderful, meaningful script and get it produced with the right buyer but never forget the key word in that equation: "Buyer."

No one writes screenplays just to write screenplays. People write screenplays to make movies. To turn that particular caterpillar into a butterfly, you need money. That money doesn't appear out of the ether - it comes from people who see it as an investment, hoping for a return.

In other words, making an artistic statement with a screenplay is most feasible if you can make a few bucks on it. As another member of my group put it, "It's not 'selling out,' it's 'buying in.'"

I also offered the following thesis to the group: "All you need to sell a script is one schmuck to represent you and another schmuck to buy it."

Our unofficial chairman then made this statement: "Hell! I'm two schmucks short!"

Aren't we all?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reader questions: Day 1

I'll start off with these questions from Kevin and Kerri, because I get them so many times a week that I really should start an FAQ just to answer them:

Will you read my fucking screenplay?

Nope, sorry.

How much do you charge for coverage?

I don't. Sorry guys, but I don't offer coverage services at this time. Maybe I'll get around to it down the line, but right now I'm a little busy with my regular work and my own writing. There are a few hurdles I'll still have to clear, not limited to working out some kind of legal release form as well as working out some way to accept payment anonymously.

Jen writes in to ask:

Just wondering if you have any books you'd recommend for learning the ins and outs of script coverage? I'm an aspiring TV writer and think it would be helpful to learn more about how readers break down a script and what they tend to look for during the coverage process.

I hate to say this, but I learned more from coverage simply by getting my hands on some samples and diving in with both feet. I'm sure there are books out there with examples, but that's not how I picked it up. Anyone have any suggestions for Jen?

It helps to read a lot of movie reviews, particularly from reviewers who get you to really look beneath the surface of the movies you see. For me, it was reading a lot of Roger Ebert's reviews and columns that really helped. There were also a lot of TV review blogs I read regularly in college. All of that got my inner critic in the habit if breaking down a story.

But the basic format of coverage tends to be: one paragraph intro/overview, one paragraph on plot/concept/structure and one paragraph on characters and character arcs, followed by a conclusion. Four paragraphs, one page.

Purpletrex asked a trio of questions:

Do scripts longer than 120 pages automatically get thrown in the trash?

No... but in most cases they probably start out with one strike against them unless you're a "known" quantity.

Also, what is the "acceptable" number of pages in a spec these days.

Depends on the genre. Comedy definitely hovers somewhere around 100-105 pages. Action is more likely to be 105-115. Horror is usually anywhere from 95-105. Drama's probably somewhere around 105-110. As much as the screenwriting books say that 120 is the typical length, the "average" industry script probably falls between 105-115 pages. I'd say that 95% of the "pro" scripts I read fall in the 105-115 range.

Has any spec longer than 120 pages ever made been bumped up the ladder?

I'm sure it happens, but statistically speaking I'd bet the odds of making it up the ladder go down the longer the script gets. If you're over 120 pages, there had better not be a single scene that feels too long or self-indulgent. Believe me, there's always something you can cut.

More answers later this week, and if you've got a question, please send it in.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Free-for-All: Musical shows

My favorite new show this season is Glee, which is consistently entertaining despite the presence of two utterly, utterly stupid pregnancy plotlines. (I'm coming around on the Quinn/Finn pregnancy, but I still think it was a bad story to do so early in the run. There is NO redeeming value in the Terri pregnancy, or Terri as a character, though.)

Impressively, the show seems to be popular despite the fact that musical shows have rarely caught on. Either you get examples like the Jamie Waters drama The Heights, which managed to produce a Top 10 hit in "How Do You Talk to an Angel" but still tanked in the ratings. Remember it? Sure you do!

Gotta love how quickly that band jam session comes together. And could that long-haired guitar player BE more 90s? Man, everything about this screams "cheesy."

And who could forget Cop Rock? I couldn't decide which of these clips was more cringeworthy so I had to post both.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Call for Questions

Well readers, I've received a few emails this week with questions that will soon make upcoming blog entries, but other than that, email questions have been pretty sparse lately. Consider this an invitation for open forum questions, much like what Scott did over at Go into The Story last week.

So hit me up with your question(s) and topics you'd like to see addressed in the blog. Email me at, Twitter me at @BittrScrptReadr, or just comment below.

I've just hit 200 followers on Twitter so if everyone sent me just one question, I'd have enough to keep me busy for a year. There's no limit on questions, and feel free to be creative. Answering your questions is one of my favorite things to do on this blog.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing - Part Seven - Newscaster exposition

My writing group will find this ironic considering I used this very trope in a recent script, but I really don't like when writers resort to using the tried-and-true expositional approach of the TV newscaster. It often feels lazy, like the writer couldn't think of a better way to introduce his world.

But the real problem is that most of these newscasts seem to have been written by writers who apparently have never watched the news in their life. If you want to see an example of this expositional trick employed correctly, watch the beginning of Tropic Thunder. After the long battle sequence, the film transitions into an Access Hollywood segment that drops a truckload of backstory on the audience. Why does it work? Because the scene in question sounds exactly like an Access Hollywood story, down to the bad puns and weak transitions. The writers absolutely nailed the tone and the cadence of that show and how it incorporates clips.

Bad newscast scenes feature things like remote reporters doing long live interviews for segments that would likely have been pre-taped and edited into soundbites on a real newscast. You'll also see things like two local news anchors discussing the issues of the day in a back-and-forth conversation more akin to Meet the Press than the 6pm affiliate news in Jersey.

There's also usually a lot of "As you know, Bob" type narration in these reports. True, the local news might recap some events for views unfamiliar with what happened, but it's unlikely they'd go into deep detail reminding the audience of the very specific circumstance two weeks ago that led to the mayor being arrested on charges of solicitation and drunk driving. In all likelihood, that would have been such a big local story that everyone in town would be aware of it. Thus, only a brief recap would be necessary.

So the next time you have the urge to write a newscast scene, don't. And if you're determined to ignore me, please at least spend a full week watching your local news so you get a flavor for how the pros do it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday Talkback: They stole my idea!

I'm sure this happens to a lot of writers - ever work for weeks or months on a great new story idea, only to go to the theatre and see a trailer for a film with that exact same premise? That's got to be one of the most frustrating things for a creative person because you know you didn't steal that idea, but now your innovative concept is going to look like a rip-off and probably will have a much harder time finding a buyer.

A few years ago, my roommate and I were spitballing ideas and eventually came up with a clever comedy premise that could have been either a movie or a comic book. As I recall, since the premise was mostly his idea, he was the one who got to run with it, and though it wasn't an active project, he often came up with new gags for the eventual script. Then, about a year or so later, I was reading the latest comic book news at Newsarama, only to run across a feature article on a miniseries with that EXACT SAME PREMISE. That would have been bad enough, but I went out and bought the comic, hoping to reassure myself that they were significantly different so as to not make our idea a ripoff.

As it turned out, the hook was the same, but the main plot was totally different. Unfortunately, the tone and the style of the writing was so similar to my roommate's that had I not been the one to discover the comic, he easily could have dropped it in my lap and made a convincing case that it was written by him under a pen name.

I've also had some of my ideas end up as episodes of Dollhouse, as well as a spec script that has been in development with a major director for a while. Since there's a chance that project will still fall through, I'll keep quiet about specifics. There was also the time I was at lunch with a friend, and tossed out a high concept logline for what could be an HBO series. My friend, an aspiring comedy writer, agreed it was funny and for a while it sounded like we might develop it.

A few weeks later he shot me an email, informing me that one of his friends who worked in comedy at NBC had been on a conference call and heard about a project that had been pitched using the exact same logline as ours. Knowing that if this thing went to series, our idea would be dead in the water, we decided to abandon it. However, it's been a few years and has failed to surface so maybe we'll revisit it soon.

Has this ever happened to you? Does anyone have any really funny horror stories of getting "ripped off" after pouring blood, sweat and tears into your work?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cliches I'm Tired of Seeing - Part Six - It was all a dream!

Take note, writers. There are few things you could do that convince me more of your hackitude than having a cop-out ending where everything is revealed as "just a dream." From where I sit, it completely guts the story on an emotional level because then nothing that happened in the movie "mattered." There were no rules for anything that happened. Plus, it's often a cheap out for a writer trying to surprise the audience.

Yes, The Wizard of Oz reveals that all of Dorothy's adventure in Oz was a dream. But that was 70 years ago, and done that way because the studio feared the audience wouldn't accept the fantasy any other way. If the movie was made today with that ending, it would be more critically derided than the endings of any M. Night movie post-Unbreakable.

And to tell you the truth, I'm not terribly fond of dream sequences within the film either. Slasher horrors tend to be the worst here (excluding the Nightmare on Elm Street series, where it has a context) because scary dreams are an easy way to get in some gore and perhaps even rough up or kill the main character without having to make it count or affect the plot. I've read many a horror film where the writer tried to compensate a dead Act Two by tossing in a few scary dreams in order to up the violence without actually advancing anything in the story.

Aside from violence, fantasy sex scenes also tend to be popular among writers for similar reasons. It's a good way to get a prudish female character gratuitously naked without compromising her character. Either that, or it's done to get your virginal male lead into a threesome without instantly resolving the main plot of him trying to get laid for the first time. In any event, the cheap trick is usually transparent from a mile off.

The worst use of a dream sequence that I ever read had to be a script I read for Big Deal Agency a few years back. I probably am legally bound from even giving the premise, but the whole story was built around a totally ludicrous conceit. It was ridiculous on the level of the world suddenly switching to a swatch-based economy. The most absurd thing was that the writer treated this premise with the utmost seriousness, as if the events in the film were even remotely plausible. Well, in my coverage I pointed out just how utterly unbelievable the premise was and how the way the writer chose to introduce that premise only enhanced its implausibility.

About a month later, the script was resubmitted and it again landed on my desk. Comparison coverage is always a great gig because usually all you have to do is read the script and if there aren't any major changes, just affirm your original notes. Most of the time, you'll only have to tweak your original synopsis and notes, getting the same pay for a fraction of the work.

By p. 30, I had yet to notice anything different, including the implausible premise and inciting incident. Ditto p. 60, and then p. 90. With only five pages left in the script, I noticed nothing different, and was perplexed that the writer had resubmitted the same draft with all the aforementioned weaknesses. And then, right at the very end a new scene emerged. The main character wakes up on a bus, right back at the point we last saw them on p. 12. Almost everything in the movie was a dream. That was their out for why things didn't make sense. You could almost hear them say, "See? Now it doesn't HAVE to make sense! It was all a dream!"

All this did was made me think the writer was even more of a hack than I had originally given them credit for. It's already difficult to get an audience to sympathize with a fictional character within the construct of a fictional story. Once the script adds another layer of fiction within that fiction, it takes the film to a whole new level of unreality. Often the audience says, "Well if none of this matters, why should I care?"

At the start of the film, the creators are essentially entering into a contract with the audience. The first act sets the tone and establishes the boundaries of that particular film. Basically, it shows the audience what's in-bounds and makes an implicit promise not to cheat by stepping outside those bounds. "It was all a dream" breaks that contract with the audience. It's not clever - it's a cheat, it's lazy, and good writers don't have to resort to it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Free-for-All: Friday the 13th

This is probably one of the most obvious Friday Free-for-Alls I've ever done, but given today's date, it seemed appropriate to pay homage to one of the more prolific horror/slasher franchises, Friday the 13th. It's actually a little weird to be writing this tribute because I've seen very few of the Jason movies. My viewing is limited to Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, and the Michael Bay-produced remake that came out earlier this year.

Because of that, I have very little knowledge about any classic kills, or other major moments from earlier in the franchise. Plus, even if I could find many of them on YouTube, excessive gore seems a little violent for this blog, so today, I'll just stick to posting humor.

Here's Jason making an appearance on The Arsenio Hall show:

Jason busts a move:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Be aware of the rating

Just a quick tip today - when writing your screenplay, it might help to keep in mind the rating of the movie when working on your dialogue. Certain words will automatically get you a certain rating.

For instance: you can say "hell," "damn," "ass" and "shit," in a PG film, but "Son of a Bitch" will usually get you PG-13.

In PG-13, you can say every swear word but "fuck." You're allowed one instance of "fuck," usually, but as long as it's not in a sexual context. In other words, a character can say, "Fuck you!" in anger, but he can't leer at a girl and say, "I want to fuck you." I have to admit, I'm not sure what the rules are on "the C word," but that seems to earn a film an R as well.

Graphic sex will earn you an R faster than graphic violence, so be especially careful when writing scenes that make heavy use of anal and/or oral sex. I see these a lot in script that seem like they'd be aimed at a teen audience - which means that PG-13 would be the desired rating. Yes, occasionally there'll be a successful R-rated teen sex comedy, and the success of The Hangover earlier this year (to say nothing of Judd Apatow's oeuvre) means that R-rated comedies in general might be on their way back in - but for a long time, studios were aiming for that PG-13 sweet spot. If the primary audience for your film is teenagers, you should aim there too.

So don't over use "fuck," and a word to the wise - anal sex scenes are never as edgy and clever as most writers seem to think they are. There was one week where it seemed like every other script I read had a particularly gratuitous example of such a scene. Without them, the scripts would have been soft PG-13, easily. Because of that, not only did the scene feel like a writer's indulgence, but it stuck out like a sore thumb.

So know the audience you're writing for, and don't step over certain lines just for the sake of doing so. Yes, language can always be cut back, but if the word "fuck" appears more often in your script than the word "the," it might be time to do some trimming.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday Talkback: When your heroes let you down

I'm going to have a shorter preamble to this question because I want to see if anyone brings up my picks without me mentioning them first.

This week's question: Can you remember the first time one of your favorite directors/writers/actors really let you down with their then-newest release? What was the film (or films) and your reaction to it?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The worst query submission I ever had to read

Over the years, I've read thousands of scripts and I can tell you where most of them have ended up - in the circular file. However, every now and then I get a script so hilariously, unbelievably bad that I have to save it for posterity. There's one such script that I have held onto for well over five years at this point. To be honest, I'm not sure how it made its way into the company I was working for at the time. It has all the earmarks of a "slush pile" script, and yet, somehow it got to an assistant who didn't take this sort of thing.

My theory has always been that she requested the script so she could use it to torture me.

It's hard to know where to begin with this abomination, so I'll just describe it the way a professional reader would see it. The first thing you'd notice is that the script is significantly thicker than most other screenplays. A quick flip to the back page will confirm that it is just shy of 160 pages in length - about 40 pages and 33% longer than the accepted norm!

You would also notice that the first fifteen or so pages bound in the script are not actually part of the script. Beneath the cover page is a Table of Contents, that helpfully explains that there is an Introduction, an Overview, and a section on "marketing considerations." These marketing considerations include "observations" on the particular cultural subset depicted in the film, as well as the "Author's Commitment to Marketing."

I'll say this now - as the screenwriter, it's not your job to tell the producers and marketing department how to market their film. Yes, you need to give them something marketable, but then shut up and let them do their jobs.

Oh, and the writer also included several pages of reviews from their last book. (Self-published, of course.)

The page and a half cover letter helpfully informs the executive that the film was inspired by a true story, and then leads into a long uninteresting anecdote about a conversation the writer had which inspired the film. The second paragraph details how this screenplay was first written as a novel and then adapted by the author. The author suggests that "This is a perfect vehicle for Halle Berry, and we already know what she looks like in tight, black latex... though there are others who work as well." In case you don't know this, NEVER offer casting suggestions in a cover letter. Let the casting people do their job.

The next paragraph says that though the script is a little long, that's mostly because of the long descriptions of the settings and actions, and the writer estimates that the film will be more than two hours and fifteen minutes. This is also the point where the writer casually mentions that several scenes are a direct riff on an existing and well-known novel - to the point that several characters assume the identities of the other author's characters.

Oh, and as we get to page two of the cover letter, the author says that all her friends have responded well to the script and again she mentions the research on marketing that they themselves gathered.

But the author still hasn't shut up - there's yet another page! An addendum to the cover letter. It starts with "I forgot to mention how much research went into this script," and then spends three paragraphs singling out specific scenes and essentially saying little more than, "Someone told me this stuff in an interview."

So finally, after I've stopped laughing so hard that my throat is sore, I peel back the real cover page. I'm not greeted with "FADE IN" as I should be. No, I still have to get past a one-page list suggesting possible cast members for the eight lead roles.

Seriously, days like that don't just make me hate my job. They make me hate writers.

Now I'm going to tell you the first two words in the first two paragraphs of the script:


Never, ever, EVER, NEVER direct in the screenplay! At this point I pretty much know all I should need to know. It's utter amateur hour. Not only can I be assured that the writer has no clue what they're doing, I can already tell from the pitch that this is not something that my bosses would ever go for. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times when I had the luxury of simply going back to my bosses and telling them what I told you. It had been made clear to me that I had to read the whole thing.

This script was wretched. There was excessive voice-over narration throughout, insanely overly detailed description, including a healthy serving of "unfilmables." (For those not in the know, "unfilmables" are what we call information in the description that cannot possibly be shown visually. For instance, if the description tells us that Bobby has been emotionally crippled ever since his mom died in his arms when he was 8, that's bad writing. If we need to know that, it should come out through dialogue or action. Putting it in the description means that the only people who will know this are those reading the script.)

There were also a number of graphic sex scenes that, if filmed as described, would have earned the movie an NC-17 easily.

This thing is utter garbage. It's not the most offensive spec script I've ever read, but it's definitely in my Top 5 Worst, if not THE worst. I keep it as a reminder to never make the mistakes that writer did. Plus, every now and then it's good for a laugh.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Free-for-All: Stephen Hawking

Well, November sweeps are upon us in television and we all know what that means - gratuitous "Special Guest Stars" as every show tries to boost its ratings. Frankly, this practice disgusts me, especially when the same actors continue to whore themselves out by making cheap cameo appearances as themselves.

But there's one gratuitous guest star who is the very definition of "fame whore" - one Professor Stephen Hawking, a man apparently not smart enough to feel shame for all the gratuitous guest spots he's done over the years. You couldn't get a more apt example of producer pandering to a low brow audience than the series that have hosted Dr. Hawking over the years.

Here's Hawking appearing as himself on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

And here's a clip of Dr. Hawking discussing his work on The Simpsons. (Sorry, I couldn't find an unedited clip of his cameo.)

What's next? A shot on Entourage where he and Vince go after the same chick? Or perhaps he could get into a fight with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm after Larry parks in a handicapped spot.

Ever notice how this guy always plays himself? What an ego. He needs to get over himself fast.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Around the blogosphere & Nichols musings

I'll be honest, folks, I got a surge of work this week and at the moment, I'm lacking in the free time necessary to compose an interesting and insightful post. But, I've seen a lot of really great posts this week, so why not put in a few plugs?

First, Scott over at Go Into The Story is running an interesting series, posting excepts from a Wrap article on Up director Pete Doctor, entitled "Pixar Movies Are Lousy... A First." Check it out if you haven't already. It's a fascinating look inside the Pixar creative process.

Nichols fans should check out Scriptshadow this week, as he appears to be reviewing a few of this year's finalists. I confess, I spent the time I usually spend writing my blog on composing a post for Carson's review of Victoria Falls, which he calls "a competition script. Plain and simple. You could send this logline to a thousand agencies and you'd probably get 999 rejections."

This provoked me to write the following comment:

Carson, you hit the nail on the head when you called this sort of script a "competition script." I haven't read this one, or any of the other Nichols Finalists this year, but I have read Finalists and Semi-Finalists from previous years and - as is pointed out in other comments - they tend to be dramas. HEAVY dramas. Yet the amazing thing is that within the industry, the perception is "drama is dead."

It seems like there's a serious disconnect between the scripts that get purchased and the scripts that win contests. Any theories on why that is, especially since so many contests boast judges that work within the industry? Do you think these contests feel obligated to reward scripts that might otherwise be tossed into the PASS pile practically on principle? Are they out to give an edge to overlooked scripts rather than single out one that is likely to be "discovered" anyway?

I just find it interesting that the conventional wisdom is that the Nichols is one of the ONLY competitions that anyone in the biz takes seriously... and yet it's winners are consistently of the unmarketable "competition script" variety. Makes one wonder if winning these is little more than a Pyrrhic victory.

Anyone here have any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesday Talkback: Oscar pics

Now that we're into November, we're pretty much closing in on that time of year when all the Oscar bait movies are released. Most studios employ the strategy of holding their prestige pics until just before the end of the year so that they're still fresh in voters minds when it comes time for the nominations. I'd venture that in any given year, 3 out of 5 or maybe even 4 out of the 5 Best Picture nominees are released in November or December.

Now, this year there are going to be ten nominees for Best Picture, which means that perhaps there'll be a higher percentage of movies nominated from the films that were released earlier in the year. With that in mind, today's Tuesday Talkback question is: If you had to pick the Best Picture winner right now, what would it be?

Two rules:
1) If it hasn't been released yet, you can't nominate it.

2) If you haven't actually seen it, you can't nominate it. This isn't a "who do you think will win" poll. This is a "Who would YOU give the trophy to" Poll.

3) No tangents about "Worst Films of the Year." I promise we'll get to those in due time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

AFI Fest - Best Worst Movie and The Loved Ones

Saturday I decided I was more or less Halloween-d out and decided to take advantage of the fact that AFI Fest was offering free tickets to all of their screenings. Having heard good buzz about the documentary Best Worst Movie, I went in with high hopes. The documentary was made by Michael Paul Stevenson, who 20 years ago was a child actor in Troll 2, a film once considered "the Worst Movie Ever Made." In the ensuing years, it's achieved a sort of cult status among the sorts of fans who enjoy bad movies and midnight screenings of said bad movies.

Despite my affection for those sorts of bad movies, I'd never managed to see Troll 2, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment of the documentary. However if you are interested in seeing it, it's available for free on Hulu.

The central figure of doc is actor/dentist George Hardy, who never appeared in another film after Troll 2, and who is so likable that even his ex-wife can't think of a bad thing to say about it. At one point he hilariously recounts his reactions while seeing the film for the first time. Suffice to say, he harbored no delusions that he had appeared in anything remotely resembling a good film. Its cult status comes as something of a shock to him until he attends a packed midnight showing in New York with a theatre full of fans who treat him like William Shatner at a Star Trek convention. There's genuine joy in seeing George's bemusement and enjoyment of his adoring fans.

But he's not the only cast member the film tracks down. Stevenson tracks down all his former cast members, and they're an eclectic bunch. There's a man who admits he was having serious mental problems during shooting and smoked a lot of pot to stay sane; a younger actress who talks about how Troll 2 was such a blemish on her resume that she knew she'd never win a part if it came up at an audition; and an actress who has become something of a shut-in while caring for her aging mother.

But the real fun comes from seeing Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso take in the spectacle of the fan gatherings with his own eyes. Unlike most of the cast, Claudio, his wife (who wrote the script,) and his editor, all labor under the delusion that Troll 2 is actually a profound "parable" (yes, he actually uses that word) about the forces that threaten families and try to tear them apart. After watching the film with a group of fans, he seems genuinely shocked (and a wee bit offended) that "they laugh at the parts where they are supposed to laugh, and then they laugh at the parts where they are not meant to laugh." One Q&A with the cast turns tense when the actors predictably slam the film and Claudio proceeds to berate them for being terrible actors.

It's a great documentary, and it's interesting to hear about some of the origins of the documentary via this Suicide Girls interview. I know I recently poked a little fun at Lionsgate, saying that they put out so much garbage that their motto should be "We'll release anything." Now, the quotes below have made me reverse my position on that and realize that isn't quite true, so I want to publicly apologize to Lionsgate for implying such things. I'll let Michael Paul Stephenson take it from here.

I got an e-mail, out of the blue again...from a producer in LA. He said, "I just wanted to let you know I'm a huge Troll 2 fan...and I've done some movies with Lionsgate, and if you ever had any projects, I'd love to have you come in and pitch it."I go in and I meet with him and another gentleman...[This second producer] was, to me, a typical Hollywood dirtbag. He was like, "Have you ever had girls who wanted to sleep with you because of your Troll 2 fame?" I was just thinking, what the hell is this? I was just kind of turned off by it. It felt weird coming out of there. They said, "OK, you can be the star and be the center [of the documentary]!" All of the creative notes that I was getting from them didn't feel right....

So long story short, I come back from New York and met with these producers. I said, "I want to focus on George. He's going to be the vehicle for this thing because he's a small town Alabama guy, and he's a movie star at these screenings, and I like that angle. I think there's [something] very human about it too that would relate to a larger audience than just [Troll 2] fans." They just basically just said, "No. The age range for this kind of movie is your age, you should be the center of it." They offered me a fourth of what I said I needed to do it, and they said, "Can you have it done in four to six weeks?"

I just kind of rolled my eyes and said, "You've got to be kidding me. There's no way I feel comfortable with that." And they just kind of said, "well, there's the door!"

Clueless. Just utterly clueless. If it wasn't for Tyler Perry's oeuvre, it's clear that Lionsgate would have gone under years ago. I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Lionsgate for saying their standards are so low that they'll release anything, because it's clear from conversations like this that they wouldn't know a good movie if it came into their office and physically helped Lionsgate extract it's proverbial cranium from its alimentary canal.

(I figure I'm safe from Lionsgate retribution unless they happen to own a thesaurus.)

Anyway, if you're a fan of bad movies, or enjoy documentaries that explore these cult phenomenons, then Best Worst Movie is the film for you. You can find their website at

I'm going to tread lightly with spoilers for the second film I saw, The Loved Ones, an Australian thriller that recently premiered in the U.S. at the Toronto Film Festival. The set-up is that a teenager dealing with the death of his father turns down the school wallflower when she invites him to an end-of-the-year dance, explaining to her that he's going with his girlfriend. Hurt, the girl has her father abduct the boy and the deranged father/daughter team holds him prisoner in a scenario that recalls Misery and the dinner scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

It's a tense film and first-time director Sean Byrne is skillful at playing on the audience's nerves and pushing them to the limits of their tolerance. He allows the tension to really percolate and build to an unbearable level before it's released in painful and disturbing ways. I was left with mixed feelings on this movie, in part because I read a lot of scripts with similar premises. I'll give Byrne credit for not delving too far into the torture-porn that has dominated horror for far too long, but at the same time, this is the sort of film I'd only feel comfortable endorsing to a select few friends. I also can't imagine being motivated to rewatch it anytime in the foreseeable future. Byrne knows how to get a reaction from the audience, though.

As I said in my review of P2, I'm a sucker for two-hander movies like Misery, and this film more or less falls into that genre. However, it fell apart for me for a very major reason - I didn't care at all about the lead character, Brent. It didn't feel like the movie did enough to establish him pre-capture. We see him dealing with the loss of his father and then having sex with his girlfriend. Beyond that, there isn't much depth to him.

Where the film really suffers in comparison to Misery is in the inability to develop a real relationship between Brent and his captor. A lot of the best scenes in Misery come out of the interactions between Kathy Bates and James Caan. There's a give-and-take throughout before it becomes clear just how crazy Kathy Bates is. Now, in The Loved Ones, the girl's derangement is revealed early on, but that's not a problem. The problem is that Brent barely has ANY dialogue after being captured. He's basically restrained to a chair and forced to endure all manner of torture and insanity heaped on him by his captors.

Despite a few escape attempts, he feels somewhat passive throughout the second act. Since he's the guy the audience is supposed to identify with, it feels like the script should do more to make us empathize with him. Instead, it feels like Byrne decided that the real star of the film was the crazy girl and that Brent was just a device he could use to explore her. For me, that made for a less interesting movie. She's a great antagonist, but she needed a more compelling protagonist to play off of.

Without saying too much about the ending, I do feel that it its final moments, Bryne might have veered too far into black comedy. There's a sequence near the end that provoked outright laughter from the audience, likely due to the tonal change.

However, I don't know if it's fair to hold that last one against Byrne so much because the crowd I saw it with was full of "those people." I think you know the kind I'm talking about - the inconsiderate assholes who find it necessary to talk back to the screen during horror films with such great insights as "Damn... bitch be crazy!" and "You betta run, boy!" Let's be clear about this - when I watch a movie in the theatre, I will only tolerate heckling if it's coming from two robots and their human companion.

Beyond that, I feel that talking during a film is grounds for justifiable homicide. It utterly ruined the experience for me, much in the same way a screening of The Exorcist re-release was ruined for me many years ago. The usher's did their best to quell the disturbance. At one point they kicked out 12 people at once and removed another 5 or 6 at another occasion, but a few hecklers remained until the bitter end.

There's a special corner of hell reserved for those sorts of people. May their hell be a theatre that shows nothing but the works of Uwe Boll, an endless loop of Hostel and that one Elisha Cuthbert movie where she's made to eat the blended innards of a murder victim.

Anyway, to bring this to some kind of a conclusion, I invite all L.A. area readers to check out AFI Fest this week. Tickets are free and it looks like there are some great screenings there.