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

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weekend Box Office #33

This weekend PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END sets another record, opening in 4362 theaters, on over 11,000 screens.

I'm not sure it'll break SPIDERMAN 3's recent 3-day-weekend box office record, because the last PIRATES movie was a bit underwhelming, and audiences might take a wait-and-see approach to this one. Plus it's a reported 2 hours and 47 minutes long, which means that the number of showings is going to be cut down each day.

Still, with 11,000 screens, you don't need a lot of showings.

I'm going to predict $138 million for the first three days, though it could do more, particularly with Sunday being the day before a holiday. The numbers will also be confused by the fact that they started showing the movie at 8 last night.

Figure it'll probably do $175-200 million through Monday, counting Thursday night and Monday.

The only other movie opening wide is BUG, which opens on 1661 screens. Look for it to do about $8 million for the four-day weekend.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Line Cutting

When I was a kid, cutting in line was something that was bad. You saw someone slip ahead of you in line, and you pointed. "Hey! No cutting!"

Now it has been institutionalized.

I applied to get my passport renewed this week. It costs $67, and they estimate it will take 3 1/2 months. But if you pay a $60 additional fee, you get "expedited service", and your passport back in three weeks.

Line cutting. Why does everyone else have to wait 3 1/2 months? Because the line cutters get addressed first.

At Universal Studios, if you want to park in the parking lot closest to the park, you pay extra. Every one needs to park a little further away.

Inside the park, you can pay an additional fee on top of your ticket, and literally cut the line. Don't want to wait on the Jurassic Park line? No worries. Flash your badge, and you move right to the front.

When did this become so common? And it's easy to see where it is going, too.

No longer will you have to slip the maitre d' money to get a good table at a restaurant. Soon it will be built into the price.

Movies, too. You've bought your ticket online, but you don't want to get to the theater and find that you still have to wait on a long line to get into the theater. So you'll pay an additional fee, to be a member of the small group that is allowed into the theater first, to get the best seats.

You know that's coming, someday, not too far away.

The sad thing is this: if places let people cut in line, the people being inconvenienced are the ones who don't cut in line. They are the ones who wait a little longer, walk a little further, sweat out their passport getting there a little more.

They are the ones who should benefit, in some way, from the fees the others are paying. They should be paying lower ticket prices, lower fees.

If someone is cutting in front of me in line, I want to be paid for it.

But nope. It's become everyday and accepted. If you don't want to pay more -- straight into the pockets of the place you are going -- you get to watch as others get in first, get better service, get quicker service.

Bribery is now the norm.

Any other examples you can think of?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TV or not TV

So I went to the TV writing seminar last weekend, and it was both incredibly encouraging and incredibly discouraging.

Encouraging because I'd really love to have a job on a TV series. The panelists were all friendly people, and the picture they drew of the writing-staff life just sounded better and better, long hours and all. It's something that I know I could do, and do well.

The discouraging part? I wish I were 15 years younger.

In the first panel, someone asked a question referencing their experienced TV writer friends in their 40s, who were having trouble getting work. One of the panelists responded that this wasn't true, that shows need experienced writers to blend with the young to work well.

Of course the implication is that if you are inexperienced and in your 40s, you don't really fit in that paradigm.

I actually wrote a version of this question on an index card to be addressed on a later panel: what are the odds of breaking into the business if you are in your 40s?

Unsurprisingly, it wasn't brought up. One suspects that its something that no one there really wanted to talk about.

(While I blew my own audience microphone question on wondering how long one should wait before following up with an agent who has your script. Yeah, that was me. The pathetic guy in the back of the room).

There were plenty of people in the audience who were my age, as well as a few who were older. But most had the bloom of youth.

I hate them.

Otherwise, I learned that most of the TV people there would rather read something original than another spec of "House" or "The Office" (a comment which elicited some soft, sad moans from the audience).

I learned that confidence and likability are key; if you get an interview with someone, they already know you can write, they want to know if they want to spend a lot of time in a room with you.

The four 90-minute panels were all riveting, particularly the dream team panel of creators/co-creators: Shawn Ryan (The Shield), Damon Lindelof (Lost), Peter Casey (Frasier), Ian Biederman (Shark) and Brannon Braga (Threshold/assorted recent Star Trek stuff).

So I'm going to bang some TV stuff into shape. I now know that I need to hammer my pilot down to an hour (because a two hour pilot for a newbie is death) while I have an out-of-the-box TV spec episode idea I'm working on (I debuted a raw first 25 pages at my writing group this past Monday, to largely-good effect).

Staffing season is pretty much over for this year, but there's always next year. I'll be another year older, but another year wiser as well.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to keep writing.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Weekend Box Office #32

This week, only one movie is opening in more than 27 theaters, and that's SHREK THE THIRD, which is opening in 4122 of them.

Three years ago, the movie opened on Wednesday this same week, and brought in $108 million for the weekend ($129 million for the first 5 days), in what was then a record 4163 theaters.

It went on to gross $441 million in North America, and a total of $920 million worldwide.

It's my belief that opening weekends for sequels generally are linked much more to the quality of the previous film than the current version. The fact that SHREK was a very good movie fed interest in SHREK 2.

The fact that SHREK 2 wasn't quite as good may dampen interest -- slightly -- in SHREK THE THIRD, which doesn't seem to be getting raves (to say the least -- it's currently at 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 77 reviews tallied. Shrek got 89% good reviews; Shrek 2, surprisingly, 88%).

Still, there's literally nothing else out there, and I think it'll clean up despite the reviews. Call it $117 million for the first three days. But I doubt it'll make much more than $300 million for its whole run -- not that that's small potatoes.


A reminder -- I'm going to be at the Writers Guild Foundation TV thing tomorrow (which is sold out), sitting in the audience, hopefully soaking up wisdom.

I'll be the guy with glasses and goatee (like 60% of the men there, and 4% of the women) and the no-longer-very-gray hair (Just For Men, thumbs up). I'll be standing in a corner looking shy, unless I get enough caffeine in me to actually introduce myself to people.

There are apparently name badges involved, so if you see me say hello.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Seraphim Falls

I caught up with this movie on DVD last night. If you haven't heard of it, it's a western that opened earlier this year in 52 theaters, where it didn't do well, then disappeared.

It's a pity, because it's actually a pretty good movie. The western genre is definitely in a lull with audiences; if a film like this can't do anything at the box office, then it's going to make producers a little more wary about trying to make other small westerns.

Not that this is all that small. It has two solid stars -- Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson -- who both do very good work here. The plot basically has Neeson and a small posse chasing Brosnan across a largely-isolated wilderness. It's an adventure, but it's much more serious/dramatic than fun, though it is a good ride.

The interesting thing about the story? It jumps right into the middle. So as we're watching the tale, we have no idea who we are supposed to be rooting for, for most of the film. It's an interesting idea: it makes one pay attention to every scrap of character info that we get, and it all pays off pretty well by the end.

If you like westerns, check it out. Though this one really could have used a better title; I have a feeling most people had no idea what the movie even was.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Spiderman 3

So I saw Spiderman 3 yesterday (I know they spell it with a hyphen, but it looks goofy to me that way), and I've been trying to sort out my thoughts about it ever since.

It's definitely a mess on many levels, but on the other hand I was generally entertained and into it, so I can't really give it a bad review, despite its flaws. Call it a B-.

*** Spoilers ***

John August, on his blog, points out all the coincidences/contrivances in the script, and he's right. Spiderman basically has three people he is in conflict with (romantically, at work, and vengefully), and all just happen to turn into supervillains along the way. Only Venom is because of Spiderman, and even that is contrived -- it would have been a lot more acceptable if Topher Grace's character had followed Peter Parker to the church, rather than just happening to be there.

The biggest problem is that by far the most interesting storyline -- Spiderman wrestling with his dark side, the symbiote that ultimately turns into Venom -- doesn't even get going until the second half of the script. Until then, aside from Sandman, all we really get are recaps of Spiderman's greatest hits -- Spidey clashes with his old buddy/New Goblin, Peter Parker is nervous about Mary Jane, Aunt May shows up for some dull bits, the editor rages.

And Sandman, though interesting visually, really has an underdone storyline. He is motivated by worry for his ill daughter, but we never get the sense of if/how the money he is stealing is going to save her, or if he is spending any of his non-psycho time with her. At the end, he's a brutal bad guy, and then suddenly, for no particular reason, he's apologetic, and sort of a good guy, and he heads off to his life.

I get what Sam Raimi was going for. Having three villains gives a lot of opportunity for eye-popping special effects sequences (as long as they are going to let you spend $250-300 million on a movie, you might as well put it on the screen) and on a visceral level this often works. The opening fight with New Goblin is good (and the whole storyline pays off well -- finally-- late) .

But all the Sandman stuff just bogs down the first half. There's a nice, tight movie here, in the story of Spiderman, the symbiote, his giving into his dark side, and in making Venom more of a character, instead of late FX throwaway; the stuff with the New Goblin could have been layered into this. Instead, they camp up Peter Parker's dark side bits (anyone really believe that his lame, finger-guns hepcat dude would really turn a girl's head, except in pity?), while the whole jazz club dancing scene he does is pretty eye-rolling.

The story really needed to be done in a darker, BATMAN BEGINS style. But of course, that doesn't bring in the kiddies.

Still, you know, there are things here that work, and I was generally entertained. I just wish it was better.

Also, as mentioned on one of the comments below, I also saw "28 Weeks Later" over the weekend. Thumbs up on that movie; despite some real eye-rolling contrivances in that storyline too (suddenly logic doesn't seem to be at a premium), it's still a good ride.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Weekend Box Office #31

So expect Spider-Man 3 to romp again; though it'll drop a lot, I don't see any reason why it won't make another $70-$80 million this weekend.

Other movies opening wide:

28 WEEKS LATER (2303 theaters). Should do well; the first one was very solid. $18.4 million.

GEORGIA RULE (2523 theaters). You don't get more "women's movie" than this. Will men cave, and go see this with their dates, or talk their dates into seeing "28 Weeks Later"? Probably more of the latter. $10.1 million.

DELTA FARCE (1931 theaters). Starring Larry the Cable Guy. Not to stereotype, but I'm betting that 94% of the audience in any show voted for George Bush. $7.7 million.

THE EX (1009 theaters). Zack Braff is in it, and it looks darkly funny, but it may be the kind of thing that needs to build word of mouth, and the summer may devour it. $3.3 million.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

This past Monday, I went to get a haircut. I generally keep my hair short, but not that short, but this time I told him to take out the razor and set it at half an inch.

The result is the shortest my hair has been in at least 30 years. It's a buzz cut, I guess. I never knew a half-inch was that short.

I think I've had a phobia about really short hair since I was a kid, when crew cuts were de rigeur. My dad started turning grey in his early 20s -- and started going bald shortly afterward -- and I guess he figured that if he couldn't have hair, we shouldn't either.

Or maybe he was just a child of the conservative '50s.

Anyhow, by the time I was old enough to be able to decide how long my hair should be, the answer was "not short". In high school, it was sort of semi-long and messyish, not that I cared much; I really didn't spend much time on my appearance at all (which may be one of the reasons why I had no real social life, other than going to the roller rink on Friday night with the guys and wistfully eyeing girls from afar. Yeah, we had a roller rink).

I parted my hair in the middle for the longest time, until my mid-20s, when a friend of a friend gave me a haircut in Manhattan. I told him to cut the hair with the part in the middle, and he looked at me and said "no".

So I shrugged, defered to his expertise, and let him shift the part to the side, where it has remained ever since.

But I like the new short-short look, and I thought everyone would be shocked, but no one really noticed except one guy in my writing group, who'd independently had pretty much the same thing done to his hair, as had a third guy in the group.

(A few days later, most of the New York Mets -- my favorite team -- got buzz cuts as a team bonding thing. There's definitely something in the air.)

Now my problem is the gray. I've been going gray for years (though not as quickly as dad did), and the sides of my head (what little there is left there) and my goatee is the worst. In fact, you can hardly see the goatee, it's so gray.

Argh. I'm not that old, I don't feel old, I don't want to look old.

I've been considering dying it, but I'm not sure I want to be that guy.

Though if no one notices the buzz cut, maybe they won't notice a subtle dye job either.

If I do do it, I expect everyone here to keep my secret.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bad Behavior

So there's a movie out there, and the plot is this:

A young man, who regularly participates in a violent, boxing-like sport, starts seeing a girl.

They hit it off, and they start spending a lot of time together.

He's a bit obsessive about it: he doesn't have a job, and really just wants to spend all his time with her.

All his time. He even tells her this.

Eventually she calls it off, but he won't take no for an answer.

He goes to her house at night. He looks at her window.

And then he starts playing loud music -- their song -- so that she'll hear it.

The movie, of course, is Say Anything, and on a private board I lurk around, one of the posters there posted this:

"What's weird is the way stalkers are lionized in films. A teenage John Cusack holding the boom box over his head with his spindly little arms was apparently a romantic moment, but damn if that film, and Frankie and Johnny, and countless others depend on the idea that She Will Grow To Love You If You Simply Refuse To Take No For An Answer. Now I call Bullshit on that old yawner. I hope I never see that crap in a movie again".

Now, the knee-jerk reaction to this is to say he is wrong. That clearly John Cusack in Say Anything isn't really a stalker, because he has real feelings for Ione Skye, because we think they should be together, and because he would never do anything to hurt her. And because playing music outside her house is clearly a lot more innocuous than anything that Mark Wahlberg does to Reese Witherspoon and her family in Fear.

Still, the guy has a point -- it's a very, very, very fine line that movies like this tread.

The idea that because two people belong together, and so anything goes in making that happen, is okay (to a certain extent) if it is mutual -- in Say Anything, I think we are to believe that it isn't a case of her growing to love him -- she already loves him, and he just wants her to realize how important that is.

But clearly if you are obsessed enough, and you believe that you are destined to be with someone, this idea can also feed any amount of bad behavior.

I mean, ultimately it doesn't matter how nice a guy John Cusack's character in Say Anything is. It really depends on Ione Skye's character. Because we sense that, deep inside, she is receptive to his radio-raising attentions, they are romantic. If she was afraid of this guy who won't leave her alone, if she's calling the police because he's out there playing music late at night, he's a stalker.

Exact same behavior by him both times.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. The idea that John Cusack's character might be seen by anyone as a stalker frankly never occurred to me until now, and I think the movie finesses it well enough that, to most people, clearly what he is doing is romantic.

If anything it goes to the importance of writers bringing the right context to things. If we believe our hero's motivations are pure, there is a lot that he can get away with, that would be bad behavior by a lesser character.

When Dustin Hoffman is bursting into the church at the end of The Graduate, we're rooting for him, even though this is another rather stalker-ish moment.

It's just interesting to chew over.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #30

Spiderman 3 is opening in a record 4252 theaters; aside from Lucky You, everything else has gotten out of the way.

I was going to do a complete summer prediction for everything, but I decided it was futile: a lot of movies are going to make a lot of money, and ultimately the one that will make the most (out of Spiderman, Pirates, Harry Potter and Shrek 3) is the one that turns out to be the most entertaining.

I have no idea which that'll be -- yet -- so I'm going to stick to week-by-week.

SPIDERMAN 3 (4252 theaters). I don't think it'll set a weekend record, since most people are at school/work today, and the buzz isn't that great. Still, the movie is supposed to be okay, and there will be lines. Call it $102 million for the first 3 days.

LUCKY YOU (2525 theaters). Maybe people who can't get into Spiderman 3 will go see it. Or maybe they'll just buy tickets to it, then sneak into Spiderman 3. Or maybe they'll just go to see The Invisible. $10.3 million.

Anyhow, let's have guesses. How much money will Spiderman 3 make in its first 3 days? Deadline is midnight tonight. Winner wins bragging rights.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Last night, I had an incredibly vivid dream, in which I had partial writing credit on two movies coming out this summer.

One was something awful called "Winter Passing", an action film set on a ferry starring Halle Berry. Not only had I apparently not been on the set of this film (much less met Halle), but in the dream I couldn't even remember being paid.

I did check the credits; I was one of four writers to get story by credit. I explained to someone in the dream that my original script was a romance, with only a single scene on a ferry. I was determined to call producer Joel Silver, and get myself a check.

(Note: in the real world, this script doesn't exist. Neither does the movie).

The second movie was something I was so vague on that when I tried to google it -- in my dream -- all I could remember was that it started with a G.

I'd also apparently sold another script. Title? "Chimp To Champ".

And then I woke up, and realized that none of it was true. Was I jubilant?

No. I was sad. I was actually disappointed that even this minor, minor, minor success wasn't true.

What's wrong with me? Shouldn't my film dreams involve piles of money, a box office/critical smash, and a hot tub with Scarlett Johannsen?

Or even nightmares involving Andy Dick being cast as my female lead?

Instead, I get this weirdness. I don't even like Halle Berry that much (okay, she's cute, but her film choices, ack).

Maybe I'm tapping into some parallel dimension, a land where I'm a sad working hack writer, instead of a happy-enough amateur one.

But "Chimp to Champ"? Yikes.

Even in my dreams, I need a better career plan.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

What Are The Minimums To Hype Without Lying?

I was watching TV yesterday, and a Spiderman 3 commercial came on.

The voiceover happily intoned "Critics around the world agree that Spiderman 3 is easily the best of the trilogy."

So it made me wonder exactly what has to happen for a company to be able to make that statement in a way that even has a modicum of truth to it.

How many critics do you really need, to have "critics around the world"? Are we talking a guy in Des Moines, someone in India, a critic in France and maybe one in Japan? Do they even need four?

Can't I legitimately use this to hype my own work? If I know some people in a few other countries, and they like my script, can't I say that "readers around the world agree that Scott Mullen's HIDE is not only the best unproduced screenplay they have ever read, but the best thriller of the past 20 years?"

Stuff like this could work sexually, too. "Women around the U.S. agree that when it comes to love-making, Irwin Jones is certainly above-average, and he'll even buy you dinner".