a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Handicapping the December Releases

Because if I don't do it, who will? Feel free to come back in two months, and tell me how stupid I am (or do it now, if you're brave).

KING KONG. My one reservation about this movie is that it obviously clones every plot beat from the original, so while watching it there won't be any real surprises about where it is going. Still, the visuals look amazing (love Kong jump-swatting the plane), and people will go see it. Estimated gross: $280 million.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA - THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. This one could be huge, or could tank; they are trying to sell it as another Lord of the Rings experience, and if the movie isn't good, it'll disappear quickly. Even then, the main characters are so young that it comes across as something of a kids' movie. But it looks solid enough; let's call it $165 million, though it could do less, or a lot more.

THE PRODUCERS. Another remake, and though this a musical, it is going to be very review-dependent. I think it'll get okay reviews, and okay box office. $80 million.

THE NEW WORLD. Give Hollywood credit, they are trotting out a lot of movies where if they suck they won't make a dime. Early buzz on this is good, though it still has that historical-epic/history lesson feel that might not serve it all that well. $70 million.

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. See above. One of these movies will get a lot of nominations, and break out and make lots of money. I'm going to be conservative, and predict this one will only do about $57 million.

RUMOR HAS IT. On the upside, it's supposed to be funny. On the downside, the production was troubled (Rob Reiner was brought in at the last minute to take over for the fired writer/director), and the premise is a bit uncomfortable and weird (I'm not sure I want to see Jennifer Aniston involved with Kevin Costner, and the fact that he slept with her mother and grandmother...) . It'll do okay, but probably top out around $50 million.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. This could be the surprise hit. The movie is supposed to be very good, and they came out for The Crying Game. I think it'll have legs, and make $90 million.

AEON FLUX. It'll benefit a little from being the only movie opening this Friday, but the trailer doesn't excite me; this just doesn't look like the movie that will get the female-action-fantasy-hero genre out of its rut. Hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it. $29 million.

FUN WITH DICK AND JANE. Another remake, though since no one remembers the original, it'll do well, as long as it's funny. Then again, Bruce Almighty wasn't all that funny, and it made money anyway. I think this one may hit. $150 million.

MATCH POINT. Though they are selling it as a sexy thriller, I hear it's more of a sexy drama. And it's Woody Allen. Probably do better than most of his recent movies, but still top out around $22 million.

CASANOVA. I think gay Heath will do a lot better than costumed Heath. $24 million.

MUNICH. Another extremely review-dependent film, without a name cast. It'll probably be good, and get a lot of nominations. Call it $75 million.

HOODWINKED. Cartoons are hard to predict, and I haven't heard much of anything about this one, but the kids have to see something. $68 million.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2. This could be the big family film of Christmas, in the absence of much in the way of alternatives. $125 million.

THE RINGER. Johnny Knoxville, pretending to be retarded so he can compete in the Special OLympics. Would have been fresher if South Park hadn't done it first, but it's getting good buzz, and the Special Olympics are behind the damn thing. Hard to tell. Call it $32 million.

THE FAMILY STONE. Good cast, not much hook, might get lost in the wash. $23 million.

WOLF CREEK. Nothing like opening a horror movie on Christmas. But this one could click. $23 million.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Lessons of Last Weekend's Box Office

There are people who decry the obsession with movie grosses. But let's face it, studios make movies to make money, and they care what movies make -- it drives the business.

So let's look at Thanksgiving weekend. These are the estimated grosses for the 3 days/total grosses so far, in millions.

#1 HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (54.9/201.1 first ten days). No real surprise here, though this is a movie that Hollywood should take a real lesson from. If you make sequels that are better (and HP4 isn't a perfect movie, but it is a solid, entertaining one), you will make lots of money.

#2 WALK THE LINE (19.7/54.7). Another encouraging lesson; this is a movie that's doing fairly well because it is good. If the last few years have shown anything, it is that biopics are very review-driven, but if you make a good one, people will come.

#3 YOURS, MINE AND OURS (17.5/24.5 since Wednesday). Reviews were terrible, but it's a high-concept family movie during the holidays, with a couple of name actors to hook the parents. High concept kids movies are probably one of the most commercial genres out there, because the movies don't have to be great to make money.

#4 CHICKEN LITTLE (12.4/118.2). See above.

#5 RENT (10.7/18.1 since Wednesday). Reviews on this were very mixed, but they sold it pretty well, completely hiding the fact that AIDS plays a major, major part in the movie and that a lot of the characters are gay. Something tells me it's going to drop like a stone, though, and be hard to find in cinemas around Christmas.

#6 JUST FRIENDS (9.3/13.6 since Wednesday). Not bad for a movie with no big stars that got a lot of terrible reviews, though some oddly good ones as well -- Entertainment Weekly, which is getting more and more unreliable, gave Just Friends a better review than Harry Potter. It probably benefitted a lot from the fact that there were a lot of movies out there that skewed younger and older, and they have been advertising the hell out of this.

#7 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (7.0/15.9). Not bad for an artsy literary tale, and it's hard not to feel good about the fact that this is going to wind up making a lot more than "Domino". I think movies like this suffer from the fact that they just seem like the latest British classic in a long line of similar movies, but it shows that a little buzz can carry it along. Plus Kiera is adorable, and Jena Malone is in it too.

#8 DERAILED (4.7/29.4). Given the largely bad reviews it got, this didn't do terribly, which is proof that name actors and the promise of a thriller will get people to go see something. Still, if it had been good, it would have made a lot more money.

#9 IN THE MIX (4.5/6.2 since Wednesday). Bad reviews, but this is a largely review-proof genre, though one in which most releases tend to top off in the $15-$25 total gross level. They wisely changed the title of this one too; up until about a month ago, the name of the film was "Dying For Dolly", which would have been box office death.

#10 THE ICE HARVEST (3.7/5.1 since Wednesday). Disaster. The reviews weren't that bad at all, but they never figured out a way to sell this; the ads had no real story hook and not enough charming John Cusack. I read somewhere that they released this on the day before Thanksgiving hoping to cash in on some Billy Bob/"Bad Santa" magic, but "Bad Santa" and "The Ice Harvest" are clearly two very different kinds of movies, This one probably would have done a lot better had it been released in October or February, where it would have had a lot less good movies to compete with.

#11 ZATHURA (3.7/26.0). This got fairly good reviews, but in the battle of the kid-oriented fantasy films Harry Potter smushed it.

#12 JARHEAD (2.9/59.4). For a rather downbear war movie without any real combat, $59 million ain't bad. One of those movies that I liked, though I'm not sure I'll ever actually watch again.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

It occurs to me that in the pantheon of holiday-related slasher movies, there isn't one for Thanksgiving. The time might be ripe for a tale of giant steroid-ridden turkeys terrorizing the population of a small Midwestern town on the fourth Thursday of November.


Anyhow, here's hoping that everyone gets plenty of white meat today, and take time out to be thankful for the things we have. And don't inflict your screenplays on your families today; they have football games or day-long marathons of "Little House on the Prairie" to watch.

Holiday wishes to everyone out there in the scribosphere. And remember -- tomorrow is the busiest shopping day of the year. There is no better excuse to hide in your rooms and knock out 10 pages.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

One of My Rare Public Service Announcements

It seems like all the leisure reading I do is pretty much on the toilet, basically going through the stack of magazines that arrive at the apartment every month.

Anyhow, I was reading the latest Rolling Stone, and there is a really disturbing article about how iPods are likely going to lead to increasing deafness among the U.S. population.

A study showed that, with over-the-ear headphones with a player set at level six (out of ten), you can safely listen to music for only an hour a day. For most in-the-ear headphones, like the earbuds that come with most MP3 players, the acceptable time at that level is less -- around 30 minutes for some models before you've exceeded your safe daily dose.

30 minutes really doesn't seem like much.

And be wary of turning it up all the way. Though in Europe, the decibel level on iPods are capped at 100 db by law, in the U.S. the iPod can crank up to about 130 db.

Rock concerts are bad for your ears too, and not only for the audience. Pete Townsend and Neil Young are among musicians who have reported hearing loss.

By 2030, 78 million Americans are expected to have some degree of hearing loss. Apparently it's cumulative, and doesn't really hit a lot of people until their 40s.

To link it to movies, it isn't clear if sitting through a two-hour action film with a bombastic soundtrack will do any damage. But if hearing loss in the population becomes a huge problem, movies will have to be louder just so the afflicted will be able to hear them.

And in a few decades, large swaths of the older audience just might be too frustrated to sit through a talky movie where they can't pick up a lot of the dialogue.

So, before you curl up with your iPod to listen to music while exercising, or commuting, or just hanging out... just think about your ears.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Putting My $60 Notes Offer Back Out There

So having given a double-handful of people notes over the past few months, I've discovered something interesting.

I'm good at it. And it feels good to read scripts that need work, and actually be able to help the writer take it to the next level. And from the feedback I've gotten, everyone seems to be very very pleased with the experience.

Having read some friends' scripts, that were much closer to being done, I've also realized that I'm not that great a polish guy. I can spot story flaws and see moments that can be better, but, in carpentry terms, I'm better with a hammer than with the fine sandpaper.

So, in anticipation of work being slow over the next six weeks (as it always is in this business) -- and determined to juggle in my own writing as well -- I'm going to wave my arms, and yell that if you want to take me up on my offer, it had probably be before New Year's.

Because I have a feeling that, come January, I'm going to be swamped by all my clients again, and I'm probably going to have to shut it down or limit it considerably.

Again, the ground rules:

Script notes, 3-5 pages. Not a synopsis, not basic coverage, but actual script notes. You should get them back in less than a week. 10 days max, unless it gets crazy, and then I'll give you a heads-up.

I'll do them for $60. Paid in advance, Check, cash, money order. I'm even now set up for Paypal.

I don't want anyone sending me scripts in hopes that I think they are great, and will pass them on to someone else. I'm not going to do that. If they are great, enter them in a contest. Win. Become rich.

I want to read scripts in which the writer is stuck, or needs a push, or some direction. Where I can give you pages and pages of story/structure/character notes, and you'll happily launch into a rewrite. Where I will happily throw you batches of creative ideas, which you can dismiss with a shrug, or embrace as your own.

I will tear your baby apart. I'll tell you a few good things, and then most of the report will focus on what doesn't work. If you don't want your baby torn apart, don't hire me.

I won't teach you how to write. If you don't know how to properly format a script, then you'd be better off investing in screenwriting books.

If you think your script is great, and you want to get good coverage and a road to the studios, I'm not that guy.

If you think your script could be great, and it's driving you crazy that you can't get it there, I can help.

(And I promise, I won't make fun of your script on this blog. That's reserved for people with agents and/or careers, who still write sloppily).

If it's something you might want to explore, now or in the future, let me know. My e-mail address is in my profile...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Today's Bad Writing Excerpt

Amazingly enough, this comes from a script that was co-written by a semi-name writer with some major films to his credit.

Hard to count the number of things wrong with this passage.



Carter exits the Metro. A pock-marked face guy, 30ish, examines everything before Carter gets into the back seat of a big Jaguar. Slowly, Electra follows in her car.

He drives to a strip joint and leaves with a tall pretty girl. They go to a nondescript hotel in midtown.

After an hour, the girl comes out and flags a cab. Carter exits a few minutes later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Where Are They Now?

I got to wondering about some 1980s/1990s writer/directors and actors, and wondering why I hadn't heard about them for a while, So I decided to muse about them here.

One wonders why people drop out of sight. Does there get to be a point where you just don't enjoy the business any more, and you have made enough money to walk away from it? Or have they just found something else they like to do more?

Some of my favorite missing artists:

WHIT STILLMAN. Wrote and directed three very good movies -- Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco -- and he even did an episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets. But The Last Days of Disco was 7 years ago, and even imdb has nothing listed for him since.

PAUL BRICKMAN. Brickman wrote and directed only two movies, but they were very solid -- Risky Business, and Men Don't Leave; he also wrote Handle With Care. But other than a couple of writing credits (including Clint Eastwood's True Crime) he hasn't done much of anything in 15 years.

MEREDITH SALENGER. There was a whole bunch of young actresses who came and went without making much of a lasting splash; off the top of my head, there was Mia Sara, and Ione Skye, and Moira Kelly, and Kerri Green, and a long long list of others. But Meredith Salenger seemed to have a spark; she was great as the lead in The Journey of Natty Gann, adorable in Dream A Little Dream and A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon. And then... she seems to have spiralled down, to B movies, then C movies, and a bunch of movies I never heard of. Come back, Meredith, Come back.

EMILIO ESTEVEZ. Okay, his writing and directing career was nothing much, but as an actor he was very likable, and he was certainly more talented than Charlie. But Charlie is now on TV's highest-rated sitcom, while Emilio has almost completely dropped out of sight, though a check of imdb shows that he has directed a couple of TV episodes. Apparently he's also working on a movie called "Bobby", which he wrote, directed and appears in, set around the assassination of Robert Kennedy; on the plus side, Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins and William H. Macy appear in it. But Nick Cannon and Lindsey Lohan do too. So maybe he's coming back.

DANIEL WATERS. He got on the map by writing the classic "Heathers". And then he wrote the not-so-classic "Ford Fairlane" and "Hudson Hawk". "Batman Returns" was good, "Demolition Man" was memorable, but that was over a dozen years ago. Since then, his only credit is writing and directing the 2001 movie "Happy Campers", which sunk without a trace (I read the script, and was disappointed). Hopefully he'll get his mojo back.

JOHN HUGHES. In hindsight, Home Alone ruined him, because it got him writing kiddie movies, which just got worse and worse. But Hughes' teen films still hold up extremely well, and feel so effortless. Teen movies today could use a good blast of John Hughes, though if (as rumored) he is going to do a sequel to "Sixteen Candles", he'd better take it somewhere interesting. He hasn't directed a movie since 1991's Curly Sue, and only directed 8 overall, though at least half of the 8 (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, Uncle Buck, and Curly Sue) are solid, very entertaining movies.

Anyone have some info on any of these people? And anyone you are wondering about?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Riding Bareback

So there has been a lot of talk about Brokeback Mountain, and whether or not it will make any money, and how crazy Hollywood is for making a gay cowboy movie that seems to have a limited built-in audience. Many people believe it's a movie that no straight men will be caught dead seeing.

I think that, if it's a good movie (which at this point there are plenty of signs that it is), it's going to do pretty well.

First off, there are a lot of women out there who want to see this movie. Just like men aren't bothered by the sight of two women locking lips, women don't seem to have any objection to a pair of young studly guys taking off their shirts and swapping saliva. Especially because, from what I've heard, it's a character piece that's more than just about gay cowboys -- for one thing, apparently these are married gay cowboys. So there's some angst right there.

The second thing is that I'm not sure how much of a role sexual orientation really needs to play in enjoying a movie. These are stories, about people who lead lives that I don't. Do I have to be a gangster to enjoy a good Mafia tale? I love ER, but I'm not a doctor. Why can't I enjoy a good prairie drama about cowboys, just because they are gay?

I mean, really -- does a movie only work for a straight man like me if one of the main characters in a romance is someone that I'd want to sleep with? Because I liked Moonstruck a lot, but Cher never did anything for me. At all.

I liked The Shawshank Redemption, and Saving Private Ryan, and you can't tell me that there wasn't some secret man-love going on there between scenes.

I'm secure enough in my manhood that I'd go to see Brokeback Mountain in a second.

And if you are a straight guy who needs to get caught up in a movie to enjoy it, well...

Michelle Williams plays the wife of one of the guys, and Anne Hathaway plays the wife of the other. You can always imagine that you are consoling them, in some sort of hot threeway action.

Or you can at least claim to your girlfriend that that's why you have an erection during the movie ;-)

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Learn Format, Then Move On

Okay, I'm back. No more whining.

The other day there was an eye-rolling post in the forums of The Artful Writer, from someone who pretends to know what they are talking about, but who nevertheless was surprised that scripts by known writers might still actually have to go through readers. Or as he put it --

"The idea of something like "Kill Bill" going through a reader for approval to get filmed is quite a surprise to me. For that matter the idea that Black would wriite a million dollar script for somebody but have to worry having it shredded by some reader because it didn't have enough white space... blows my mind. "

So here, for not the first, and probably not the last time, let me post this here:


Now don't take this as a blanket permission to go crazy with your screenplay. There are general rules about format that you should follow, and most make a lot of sense. Obviously page after page of 10-line blocks of dense text not being broken up by anything is hard to read. I'm a firm believer in the fact that you should avoid camera directions unless it is absolutely necessary (and if there is any doubt, it probably isn't). CUT TOs are pretty passe, as are CONTINUEDS. You should put the proper spaces between each aspect of your script.

But you know what? This is SCREENWRITING 101 stuff. You learn it, and then you move on to the hard stuff. Like character, and story, and pace, and dialogue.

99% of the scripts I read have the right format, in terms of nothing jumping out when you flip through it. Once you get past "newbie", everyone knows how to format. And as long as you don't do something obviously amateur, no one cares.

But I have never "shredded" a script because it didn't have enough white space, or because it had CUT TOs, or a few ANGLE ONs, or a "We see BOB as he comes out of his house". It doesn't really matter if you like to capitilize sounds, or important words, or you don't.

It's all about telling your story in the best way you can.

Some people like to believe that format is really important, because it's something concrete that they can hold in their hands. They figure if they master how to write, the nuts and bolts of "page design", then that is half the battle right there, and they need to believe that somehow it is a big part of their grade.

Baloney. Learn format, figure out what works best for you, understand why certain things are good or not, and then move on and write. Don't get caught up in debates with people who think that it actually matters whether or not you drop in a cool SMASH CUT or two.

I have no idea what percentage of the things I read contain this or that. Because when I'm reading the script, I'm focused on the characters and the story. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Feeling a Bit Overwhelmed; Come Back Soon

Unlike certain blogs, I get antsy if I haven't posted in a few days; not only that, I hate going to people's blogs only to see the same old posting at the top.

Still, I feel a bit too overwhelmed with life right now to really post. I don't really want to talk about it here, but suffice it to say that family problems are eating up time, and the workload is piling up and screaming for attention as well. Too much to do, too few hours in the day. I've broken out the shovel, and I'm trying to move things around as best as I can.

So as much as I'd like to ramble on about something, anything... this is about it.

Don't worry. There is blue sky there in the distance; I can see it. It's there. And soon I'll be posting again, very regularly.

But if this post sits on the top for a while, don't give up on this site.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

One More Reason To Hang Out At Wordplay (as if you needed one)

Wordplay forum regulars MichaelZ (flying solo) and Ronaldinho (with his writing partner) were both named Nicholl Fellowship winners today.

So along with the pros who hang there, it has been confirmed that a lot of the pre-pros lurking around those boards are pretty smart, too.

Congratulations, guys.

And to everyone else, only 179 days to get your script in shape for next year's competition...