Thursday, July 15, 2010

People Will Talk IX - Billy Wilder: Guerilla Script Marketer

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:

EXT. MOON – SEA OF TRANQUILITY – 7/20/1969 - 02:51 ZULU

APOLLO 11 stands placidly in the stillness, EARTH floating in the background.

A HATCH opens and ASTRONAUT NEIL ARMSTRONG steps carefully out and onto the nine-rung LADDER. 

(STATIC, BEEP)

                  ARMSTRONG
             I’m on the ladder.

(STATIC, BEEP)

                  ARMSTRONG (CONT’D)
             I’m beginning my descent.


(STATIC, BEEP)

                  ARMSTRONG (CONT’D)
             Last rung... Stepping off...


(STATIC, BEEP)

                  ARMSTRONG (CONT’D)
             That’s one small step for a man... 
             One giant leap--Oh, Jesus...
             stepped right in it!


Somewhere in the night, a DOG BARKS.


Billy Wilder has related the story of when he lived in a room in Berlin in the 1920s. He was an aspiring screenwriter with no connections. In the room next door lived the housekeeper’s daughter. Every night she brought home a different man and Wilder had to try to fall asleep to the nightly “serenade” of their amorous behavior. Then one night the sounds stopped, and after a moment Wilder’s door opened. In crept a man in his underwear, holding his pants and shoes. In the next room, another man began to yell and threaten that he’d “kill the guy!”

Wilder realized that his visitor was the head of a studio, so he offered him a quid pro quo: he said for saving him, would the guy read one of his screenplays? At first the guy told him to bring it to the guy’s office. But Wilder said he’d be forgotten by then, so Wilder asked him to read it there, on the spot. The guy said he didn’t have his glasses. Wilder said he’d read it to him out loud. So, instead, the guy said he’d buy it for 500 marks. Wilder accepted, only to find when the guy had left that he didn’t take the script! 

– From Schmucks With Underwoods, by Max Wilk, Applause, 2004, pp. 147 -8. #

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

OPENING SLUG from an idea by Hal Erickson.

Quote of the Post:

"If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."
---Albert Einstein

This Ain’t no Slug o’ Who-Hit-John!

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


FADE IN:

It’s been nearly a year since this blog debuted. I have some things in the works that should be very interesting, including a possible celebrity interview and a guest post or two, so it is fitting that I make some improvements to “spruce” the site up.

Recently I got some feed-back concerning my format--not from anyone out there, but from my daughter, Erin--as to the choice of font and its poor readability with white on a black field. As screenwriter readers know, and you can see here, I use the standard script font of Courier 12 pt. Of course I use it to set a screenwriting style, so I don’t want to entirely abandon it.

After thinking about her comment, I’ve decided to switch to a sans serif font for the body of the posts, and use Courier only to set tone at the head of the post in a new feature, or for quoted script excerpts in the post itself, or at the end with the closing FADE OUT.

So--CUE the TRUMPET FANFARE--I hereby announce the debut of The Last Reveal’s OPENING SLUGS!!!

This will be a fun way to establish style and, when appropriate, tone. Each post, from now on, will open as usual with FADE IN:, and then it will be followed by an OPENING SLUG LINE and some appropriate screenplay narrative text from hypothetical screenplays (as I will demonstrate in my next post, immediately after this announcement). I will refer to this, hereafter as The Last Reveal’s OPENING SLUG.

These will be from nonexistent screenplays, as written by me and, I hope, contributors like you--email your contributions to Lee Matthias at LateralTao@gmail.com. They can run the gamut from humorous, to shocking, to straight drama, sometimes with points to make. Anything is fair game, as long as it stays within a minimum of two lines: the SLUG (EXT. HOUSE – DAY), and an opening action description or dialogue speech; two lines, or no more than one full page of formatted script. The only qualifiers are that it will have to strike me as entertaining or interesting, even thought-provoking, and it will be in reasonably--as deemed by me--good taste. It will be a kind of screenwriting equivalent of a magazine cartoon.

When I use a contributed OPENING SLUG, the contributor, by such contribution, will be assigning Lee Matthias and the publisher of “The Last Reveal” non-exclusive web-publication rights to use with credit to the contributor as Lee Matthias and/or the publisher of The Last Reveal so chooses, without other limitation. I will credit all contributors at the end of the post (unless requested not to, in which case I’ll use screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski’s famous pseudonym--disallowed by the WGA--“Eiben Scrood” unless he explicitly requests I use something else like “George (or) Georgette Spelvin” or “Alan Smithee”). I will also link to the contributor’s website (if one is available and appropriate). Non-English contributions will not be used unless I can also translate them.

NOTE – Visitor-linking to contributor websites is at the visitor’s risk. I do not endorse web-site links beyond initially testing them. I recommend users investigate and use their internet browser’s SmartScreen Filter (Internet Explorer), a browser add-on or extension such as Link Extend (Firefox & Chrome), WOT (Web of Trust - most browsers), or McAfee’s SiteAdvisor (Internet Explorer & Firefox), and to have good anti-malware/antivirus software up and running. In lieu of and/or in addition to those, I suggest users consider internet surfing with Google’s Chrome browser (with some or all of the extensions listed here) because it employs an insulating environment, a “sand-box,” that resists malicious website capabilities. When you close Chrome, the bad stuff that may have inadvertently been downloaded disappears with the browser instance, and the computer is never actually infected. Chrome was the only browser not to be hacked in the recent Pwn2Own competition. I take no responsibility for issues with links other than that I will try to verify them as good and safe before I add them. I will not re-check them other than to delete them if I discover they are problematic. I request users notify me via the email address listed above in such eventualities.

So, come back in a moment, or scroll up, for the debut of The Last Reveal’s Opening Slugs!

FADE OUT

Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

I hope you’re smart enough to know that [a slug of] ‘WHO-HIT-JOHN don’t go with guns.
---John Wayne in The Shootist, with our clarifier in brackets.

Monday, July 12, 2010

If a Screenplay is Written in the Forest...

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN:
So, anybody out there ever write a script, and then, after seeing the latest blockbuster, conclude that the script you wrote is so far off the mark, so unimpressive by comparison, that it can’t possibly interest anyone? I’m not talking about seeing your idea done better elsewhere. I’m talking about your idea never ever being done, anywhere! And if you did, and saw it coming, why'd you keep going?
I recently finished a black comedy I call Darkness Calls Me, set in Hollywood, primarily in the ‘90s during the spec script boom that saw Shane Black and Joe Esterhas trading record sales. There are no car chases, no explosions, no super-powers, and no morons getting “lucky.” Instead, there’s just a really cool scam. I can say “cool” because I didn’t come up with it, I found it in the newspaper, and the arresting FBI agent said it was the cleverest scam he’d seen in his two-decade career. So I took the scam, and, after setting it up in the first act, I pay it off later in acts two and three by adapting it to Hollywood. It might be described as The Player meets The Sting. But do they even make “mash-ups” like that anymore?
So, there it is. No spectacular Jason Bourne action set-pieces. No plots about world domination. No capes. And the sex is real-world rather than an adolescent male’s wet dream.
I spent, off and on, over a decade building Darkness Calls Me. It evolved from a straight caper story set in contemporary America to a fairly sophisticated period black comedy about the movies. I struggled with it for over eight years trying to find a way to make it resonate as much with an audience as the original idea had with me. I spent another couple years trying to find a way in that wasn’t the “same ‘ol same ‘ol.” I don’t know if I succeeded, but does it really matter?
Why? Because I look back on those ten lost years filled with Hollywood’s single-minded obsession with “over-the-top-ness” and I find my story-aesthetic left so far behind that I wonder if the script can ever find an audience. We are in an age, for God’s sake, when whole movie studios lay down dictums that ALL films in development must be in 3-D! (And I am not talking about Robert Towne’s apartment number, here.)
It became clear to me long before the script was completed that it was becoming out of touch with the industry to which it must sell. I rationalized my continuing effort with valid arguments, arguments like “movies about the movies” continue to appear: What Just Happened, Swimming With Sharks, The Muse, Bowfinger, Get Shorty, Barton Fink, The Player, The Big Picture, etc.; the Coen brothers seem to be able to find interest in quality genre-stories, so my story’s champion is out there; it entertains even without the spectacle; etc., etc. But am I just fooling myself?
If a screenplay is written in the forest, can it be read and sold? #
FADE OUT
Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:
When someone says, “They’d never make that movie now” -- that’s exactly the movie I immediately want to sit down and write.  Or try to.  Let the cards fall …
---Lem Dobbs