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

Friday, September 28, 2007

Weekend Box Office #51

I really need to see something this weekend. I haven't been in a theater in over a month.

This weekend's wide openers:

THE GAME PLAN (3103 theaters). This looks fairly horrifying. Is anyone over the age of 11 really interested in seeing this? Are fans of The Rock interested in seeing this? Still, there's a dearth of family movies around, and I'm sure it will do well. Figure $18.8 million for the weekend.

THE KINGDOM (2792 theaters). This has gotten a lot of solid reviews, though there also seems to be a backlash starting, of the "it's good but not THAT good" variety. Still, it's on my short list, and should beat The Rock. $21.8 million.

FEAST OF LOVE (1200 theaters). This will be an interesting test, to see if ensemble romantic tales like this (think LOVE ACTUALLY) can make money. The fact that it is only being released on 1200 screens isn't a particularly good sign though. Figure $5.3 million.

Among the smaller openings are TRADE (90 theaters), THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2 theaters) and LUST, CAUTION (1 theater).

INTO THE WILD is jumping from 4 to 33 theaters, though THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES is taking its time and holding in its 5 theaters for now.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH is taking what could be its last shot, expanding from 317 to 762 theaters. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE does a smaller expansion, from 276 to 339.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

No Country For Old Men

Badass indeed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Still Truckin'

So my determination to screenwrite for at least an hour a day is still going strong. Today makes 45 straight days.

The rules are pretty simple. Actual typing of screenplay counts. Reading over screenplay and scribbling all over it with a pen counts. Concentrated brainstorming and jotting down notes counts.

Doing arm curls with a stack of screenplays doesn't count. And no roll-over minutes. I write for two hours one day, I don't get to take the next day off.


In 45 days (of rarely writing more than 90 minutes a day, tops) I have:

-- Taken a TV spec (which I had written the first half of), wrote the second half, and polished it all up to a shine.

-- Taken a low-budget thriller spec (that I had 50 mediocre pages of and some general notes on the rest), totally reworked those 50 pages to work, and finished the second half as well. The current draft, which I'm putting the finishing touches on tomorrow, is clocking in at a satisfying 95 pages. And it all feels good.

-- Done some substantial brainstorming on a comedy, which I'm supposed to be writing with an online buddy (we came up with the basic idea a year or so ago), though it's time for him to step up to the plate.

-- Brainstormed some other notes I had made on other projects, and rewrote them in an official "ideas" log.

Not bad for six and a half weeks in which I never had enough time to actually grab half a day to do nothing but write.

But set aside an hour a day, and the pages pile up. Plus the stuff is fresh in my head, and I'm constantly suddenly coming up with a fix for a particular scene. (Off the clock, of course).

Feels good.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Art House Wars

So this is the time of year when the "good" movies come out, the ones that actually need strong reviews and to build word of mouth to really succeed.

The ones that open in a handful of theaters, usually in Los Angeles and New York. If they do well in those runs, they expand to more markets and theaters; if they don't, they quickly disappear, and show up three months later on DVD.

Sadly, one of the season's earliest casualities is John August's THE NINES, which despite some very good reviews just never found an audience. It won't be coming to a theater near you.

Currently, there are a lot of good and semi-good movies in art houses/prestige theaters, fighting to be the one to get its chance to jump to thousands of screens. This past weekend was a big test for many.

The biggest success was INTO THE WILD, which averaged over $51,000 per theater, in only 4 theaters.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES averaged a solid $28,800 per theater, in 5 theaters.

Everything else pretty much tanked. There are a lot of movie corpses littering the landscape today.

EASTERN PROMISES expanded to 1404 theaters, and did $5.7 million, an average of just over $4000 per theater. Not terrible, but not good.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH expanded to 317 theaters, and only did about $1.3 million. Its chances of expanding much farther are pretty grim.

Headed for oblivion is THE HUNTING PARTY, which jumped from 40 to 329 theaters, but only averaged about $1000 per screen. Gone.

KING OF CALIFORNIA jumped from 5 to 18 screens, but only averaged $2000 per screen. Gone.

FIERCE PEOPLE jumped from 5 to 25 screens, but only averaged $1000 a screen. Gone.

DEDICATION jumped from 2 to 8 theaters, but only averaged about $1200. Gone.

Moderately more successful was ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, which did over $2 million in only 276 theaters, an average of over $7000 a theater. Still, that movie has gotten enough bad reviews to make its future prospects a bit dubious.

The same goes for THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB, which opened in 25 theaters, but only averaged a little over $6000 per screen. Those aren't numbers that will get anyone excited.


Among the big openers, RESIDENT EVIL did a surprising $24 million. GOOD LUCK CHUCK did a solid $14 million. SYDNEY WHITE managed $5.3 million.

Look for all three to fall off big next weekend.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Weekend Box Office #50

The new wide releases aren't all that impressive, but some good movies are starting to expand, and others (like THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES and INTO THE WILD) are opening in a few theaters, in preparation for bigger runs in a few weeks.

This weekend's new films:

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (2828 theaters). Somehow, I have the feeling that even people who missed the first two won't have trouble figuring out what's going on. I'm sure this has its audience, but I won't be there. Estimate: $16.9 million for the weekend.

GOOD LUCK CHUCK (2612 theaters). The irony is that this script originally sold because it has a high-concept hook -- it's about a guy who gets the reputation of being the guy you are with before you meet Mr. Right, and women seek him out so they can dump him. The commercials pretty much ignore this, however, in favor of endless shots of Jessica Alba being cute and clumsy. I'm not sure that will be enough, but it'll do something. $11.1 million.

SYDNEY WHITE (2102 theaters). Amanda Bynes, in a riff on Snow White set on a college campus. Instead of the seven dwarfs, it's the seven dorks. Laughing yet? $4.8 million.

EASTERN PROMISES (expanding to 1404 theaters from 15). This is supposed to be good, but I'm not sure what the hook is to bring in audiences who haven't heard that. Call it $5.1 million.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Old Movies and Other Stuff

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the AFI is going to show 11 classic movies at the Arclight in Hollywood, on October 3, with each movie to be introduced by one of its stars or filmmakers.

The catch is that each movie starts at 7 PM, so you can only see one. Tickets are $25 (including popcorn and soda), with proceeds going to benefit AFI. Tickets on sale tomorrow.

The 11 movies, and their presenters:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Julie Andrews)
BONNIE AND CLYDE (Warren Beatty)
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY... (Billy Crystal & Rob Reiner)
SPARTACUS (Kirk Douglas)
UNFORGIVEN (Clint Eastwood)
THE BIRDS (Tippi Hedron)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Angela Lansbury)
ROCKY (Sylvester Stallone)

I'm not sure if I'll go, or what I'd see. I guess I'm leaning towards Cuckoo's Nest.

What will/would you check out?


I've been wrasslin' with my thriller. I thought I had it pinned a few weeks ago, but it threw me again, and for a while it was giving me head noogies.

Then, over the weekend, I made a major breakthrough on the character side, spinning a single relationship backstory, which suddenly made everything click.

36 straight days of screenwriting at least an hour a day, through yesterday.


Weekend postmortum:

The Brave One came in at $13.5 million, a little low. Mr. Woodcock made $8.8 million, better than I thought, but not all that solid.

Dragon Wars only made $5 million.

Superbad made another $5 million in its fifth weekend, and has made over $111 million so far. Which is good because it's a funny movie that deserves to make money, but it's bad because now every lame raunchy teen script will be dusted off and sent around again.

Monday, September 17, 2007


On my "I want to see this" list is Juno, which came out of the Toronto Film Festival with a lot of great buzz; it opens in December sometime.

Yeah, it looks like Michael Cera is playing the exact same character he played in Superbad. But Ellen Page (Hard Candy) is one of the best young actresses out there today.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cinematic Geography of Los Angeles

This is pretty cool, especially for those of us who live around here.

Weekend Box Office #49

Coming out this weekend:

THE BRAVE ONE (2755 theaters). Though Jodie Foster obviously ups the interest factor in this, it's still another DEATH WISH knockoff, and the similar DEATH SENTENCE just tanked. This isn't getting the reviews it'll probably need; look for an opening weekend of about $14.3 million, and then a big dropoff.

DRAGON WARS (2269 theaters). I'm not sure what to make of this one; it's from an obscure company, it has no stars in it, and they aren't screening it for critics. So what looks like it has the scope of a big Hollywood movie is liable not to get much interest. Call it $6.3 million for the weekend.

MR. WOODCOCK (2231 theaters). This has been sitting on the shelf for a while, reviews are unenthusiastic, and it's hard to imagine all that many people will really seek it out, though it does have a dumb fun factor going for it. Maybe $6.2 million for the weekend.

There are some interesting films coming out in limited release, including EASTERN PROMISES, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH and KING OF CALIFORNIA. Might be time to see if the AC in the art houses is working.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

In the guilty pleasure department comes this show, on FX. Not for all tastes, but often funny. New episodes start tomorrow night; worth a sampling, to see if it clicks with you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


A friend of mine sent me this photo a few days ago. It's of the college newspaper staff of Statesman, at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, in the spring of 1985.

That's me, top center, in the blue shirt. I was the editor of the arts section, naturally. Already writing movie and play reviews and trying to get other people to submit copy too (a pain, since there was no pay or course credit for working on this paper).

This photo has sunk me into a swamp of nostalgia. Thoughts going through my head in the last few days include the following:

-- I have no idea where that hair came from. Though it looks feathered, I assure you that I took no time and effort with my hair, other than washing it and parting it in the middle.

-- Though I look like a happy-go-lucky guy in this photo, I really wasn't. Well, sometimes I was, maybe. Mostly I was insecure, shy and very lonely. I had a huge self-esteem problem and an enormous lack of confidence in myself -- particularly with women -- that haunted me for a long, long time. I was smart as hell, but I had bad study habits and I was immature in many, many aspects of my life.

-- I had a mad crush on the girl in the grey shirt, two rows down from me. We were sort of friends, and I used to leave Score bars in her mailbox at the newspaper all the time, so I guess she knew I liked her. Not that I could ever do anything about it. We did go out to dinner once. She married a writer.

-- If the me now could go back and live these years again, they would have been very different. The story of everyone's life, I guess.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Big Trees and a Million Little Tims

So the wife and I impulsively decided to head north over the weekend. She booked a room in Fresno, which is about 212 miles up, though we blew through Fresno at about 1 PM and kept going up to Yosemite Park, which is about 90 miles further.

Very cool place, if you've never been. It's a long drive, on a lot of winding roads, but the drive is a lot of the point; there's nothing like immersing yourself in nature to help get your head on straight.

Saturday night we stayed at the Radisson in Fresno (nice rooms, terrible food) and then Sunday morning we headed east, to Sequoia Natural Forest. Home of the big big trees.

Giant redwoods. Too cool for words. Has to be experienced.

Nature rocks.


Like a good boy, I kept up my minimum- hour-a-day screenwriting mission even though we were on the road. Saturday (while me wife was driving up a particularly boring stretch of highway) I went through a chunk of act two of my low budget thriller, which I'm rewriting, splitting one character into two.

The character used to be named Tim. The new characters are Randy and Bull.

The problem is that even though most of the "Tim"s are now "Randy's", I can't do a find-and-replace, because it'll change all the words in which the letters t-i-m appear consecutively. Like "time", or "intimate" or "stimulation" or "Timber!".

Not that anyone ever says "Timber!" in this particular script. But you get the idea.

Stupid Final Draft.

Stupid me, for naming him Tim in the first place. I should have given him some long name that wasn't going to randomly occur elsewhere.

So this morning I sat at the laptop, making all the changes, and getting rid of every last little Tim. And then going back, and looking, and finding Tims that I missed. They're like cockroaches.

It is making me process every single line again, though. Not necessarily a bad thing.

29 straight days of at least an hour of screenwriting, through today.


So 3:10 to Yuma made about $14 million over the weekend. Solid, though I thought it would have done more. I think it'll hold up well though.

Maybe some people thought the title sounded too much like it was going to be about senior citizens on a bus.

Shoot 'Em Up didn't do well, only making about $5 million.

The Brothers Solomon tanked completely, making only about half a million, about $700 per screen. That's an average of 80-90 people per theater for the weekend, which divides out to an average of about 5 or 6 people in each showing. Yuck.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Weekend Box Office #48

A couple of interesting films coming out wide this weekend, and one dumb-looking one.

3:10 TO YUMA (2652 theaters). I know a couple of guys who have seen this already, one more than once, and they both rave about it. It probably won't open huge, but it should hold well. Call it $18.7 million opening weekend.

SHOOT 'EM UP (2108 theaters). Nice descriptive title, good cast. Probably split the audience a bit with Yuma, but it should do around $13.5 million for the weekend.

THE BROTHERS SOLOMON (700 screens). The reviews aren't good, and it's hard to believe Will Arnett has enough diehard fans to make this a hit. $1.7 million.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Friday Night Lights

I've been watching the Season One DVD of this show, as part of my DVD-reviewing gig, one of the only DVDs I actually requested. Because I'd kept hearing that the show was good, but I hadn't seen a single episode.

It's great.

It's great in ways that are both easy and hard to quantify. One of the amazing things about this show is that, boiled down to a summary, there really isn't a whole lot going on: it's about a Texas town where high school football is the be-all, end-all of everything, and the 22-episode arc covers the whole football season.

At the same time, it's not really about football. It's about the characters in this town, whose lives might revolve around football, but they have other aspects as well. The coach, his family. The high school quarterback who is badly hurt in the first episode, his attempts to deal with his injury, the rippling effect that this has on so many people in the town.

Tonally, the episodes are dead-on. The detail of this world, of this town, the camera capturing the reality of it all, scenes that don't have to be filled with on-the-nose dialogue to bring across emotion.

The most refreshing thing about this show is that there are no good characters or bad characters; instead, everyone is real. No one is evil, no one is perfect, they are just human beings dealing with their lives, coping with the things that happen, making mistakes and dealing with the fallout.

This is where TV is a great medium. In film, you don't have the time to really develop and linger with characters like this, just being immersed in their lives. Film is plot, plot, plot.

This show has drama, but it can let the drama sprawl. It's not really a series of stand-alone episodes; randomly tune into an episode, and you won't appreciate the myriad of small character moments in previous episodes that are finally paying off in this one.

And that's probably what is going to doom this show. Because it is the kind of show that's hard to jump in on if you've missed it so far, and people who miss a few episodes might decide they've lost the emotional thread.

Hopefully not. And hopefully the DVD will help get people to jump on the bandwagon.

Worth seeking out, if you have the time and inclination.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

112 - 112 - 111

Those are the temperatures for the last three days here in Woodland Hills.



So I wound up writing more on my script to get to the climax than I expected; I realized that I had so much good tension going that I could milk it for much longer.

I spent over an hour each on Friday and Saturday knocking out the pages, and finally hit my first rough draft, at an honest 91 pages.

I was prepared to toss it to the side to get some distance from it. In fact, on Sunday, while my wife was driving my sister-in-law and I up the coast to cooler climes, I curled up in the back with a notebook and did some extensive brainstorming on another project, that I friend and I once made some notes on, which we're getting ready to revisit.

I've never written with anyone, but this script has a great hook, and needs to be written.

Then, Sunday night, a friend from my writing group called, and begged me to take his Monday night slot the next evening. Never one to pass up a free slot, I said sure.

I picked up the script again. Polished pages 48-71 for the read, trimmed some dialogue here and there, added some conversations there and there. 92 pages now.

Brought in last night, where the actors read it, and they did a great job; I sat in the audience with my eyes closed, and listened to the dialogue flow, and it seemed to flow well. The guy reading the narration also gave it some great urgency.

But then my fellow writers tore it apart a bit, and most of their comments were spot-on. The story (in which I'm trying to do a lot, and need to do it better) needs more finessing, more twists, more surprises. It needs to take more advantage of the hook.

They also wanted one of the characters dead. "Kill Tim" was the mantra of the night. Never mind that he's one of the nice guys. It's a bloodthirsty group.

I need Tim for the climax, but it occurred to me that I might effectively turn him into two characters, one who gets killed along the way. This also might give me more to play with in terms of character dynamics as the script plays out.

So I'll be in a Woodland Hills Starbucks this morning, figuring out ways to reblock the storyline.

And to kill Tim.

22 straight days of writing at least one hour, through yesterday.


A guy I semi-know (Reed Schusterman) is looking to do a short film and is looking for a script. Under 10 minutes, in close to finished form, producible on a low budget (a few hundred dollars). He is looking for scripts with elements of action, thriller, sci-fi or fantasy; he's not looking to do a pure comedy or pure drama.

If you have anything like this lying around, send it to him at by Friday. Pay is a copy of the film and seeing your work onscreen.