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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Plot Plot Plot

So a couple of weeks ago, a guy who hired me to read his script told me that because it was a comedy, plot wasn't important; in fact, he felt that the minimal amount of plot he'd added was going beyond what was necessary.


Plot is everything in movies; you really can't make a funny movie without plot. All those Marx Brothers movies? Plot. Charlie Chaplin? Plot. The 40-Year-Old Virgin? The plot doesn't do a lot of real heavy lifting, but it is there.

Too many "comedies" make the mistake of having a dumb plot, that is barely there. This past weekend's "Kickin' It Old Skool" is an example. A guy wakes up after 20 years in a coma, and still wants to breakdance. That's not a plot, it's a premise, and a flimsy one at that.

The best comedies are built on a very solid structure, that does all the heavy lifting, so that the laughs don't have to.

This was brought home to me last night when I watched the Chevy Chase comedy "Fletch", a special edition DVD for my DVD-reviewing gig. (An aside -- for a special edition DVD, it has crappy bonus features. Don't bother).

Fletch is an amusing comedy, but what works about it is that it borrowed a surprisingly solid investigative storyline from the novel of the same name (which was much more darkly-comic, and very different in tone). It's a plot that easily could have carried a more serious movie -- reporter Fletch investigates drug dealing on the beach, as well as trying to figure out why a guy has hired Fletch to kill him -- and uses it to drive the script, while all the funny stuff can be worked in along the way.

And it works. And it's the kind of thing that was done a lot more in the 1980s -- the best examples of this meld of solid detective storyline and comedy are Beverly Hills Cop and the Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines movie Running Scared (which is a personal fave).

But recently, this kind of thing has fallen out of favor, the idea of letting a comedian have fun in the constraints of what could have been a dramatic investigative storyline. I guess the Rush Hour movies do it (but even then, that's going back a decade). There really isn't anything that comes to mind recently that has made use of this genre.

Maybe the blame goes to the Beverly Hills Cop and Fletch sequels, which pretty much blew the idea, though that may have been because the plots got dumber and less convincing in those films. You don't need a big bad guy or huge amusement park setpieces, all you need is a solid enough central plot that the main character can have fun around.

Laughs are important too. But having a good plot makes it all a lot easier.

Can anyone else think of examples of this kind of story, that works or didn't work, particularly recently? Any theories as to why this kind of film fell out of popularity?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #29

So this is the weekend before the deluge, before Spiderman 3 opens next weekend and wipes everything out.

There are four movies opening wide this weekend, and 2 of them (The Condemned and Kickin' It Old Skool) I've never even heard of. Time to do some research...

Not impressed.

NEXT (2725 theaters). This looks interesting enough to do some business, and it's the kind of movie that Hollywood wants to make -- it has a hook, and it has a star (Nic Cage, who never seems to stop working). But reviews really haven't been very good at all, so it won't do THAT well, just well enough to take the top slot -- for a week. $15.6 million opening weekend.

THE CONDEMNED (2310 theaters). So it turns out that Stone Cold Steve Austin is still appearing in movies that actually run in theaters. Who knew? Does he still have a fan base? I guess we'll find out. But I think it'll tank. $4.2 million.

THE INVISIBLE (2019 theaters). I have a soft spot for this movie, because I've done some work for director David Goyer, and he's a nice guy. I've also seen the original, and it's solid. Hopefully the lack of stars will be balanced out by the fact that they advertised it during American Idol. $10.3 million.

KICKIN' IT OLD SKOOL (1813 theaters). As to why they are still putting Jamie Kennedy in movies, I have no idea. He may have talent, but his movies are always awful. $3.3 million.


I'm determined to get out this weekend and actually see something (and maybe even two) -- I still have yet to see a single movie that has opened this year. Recommendations?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

TV Seminar

So finding myself more and more obsessed with the idea of TV writing, and still coming off the "I just turned my script into a TV pilot and boy does it feel good" high, I just dropped $150 on a ticket to an upcoming seminar.

It's called "Breaking Into The Box: Making Your Start in Television", and it's at the Writer's Guild of America in Los Angeles. Saturday, May 19, 9 AM until 8 PM.

Details here.

There are a bunch of panels, and a slew of name TV writers scheduled to be there, including Lost's Damon Lindelof, Chris Brancato (the X-Files) and Winnie Holtzman (creator of "My So-Called Life").

General admission $150; WGA members $125; full-time students $110. That includes continental breakfast, box lunch, and an evening wine-and-cheese reception.

Seating is limited to only 120 people. Hopefully the price will keep the dodos out. Probably not.

I'm not a big seminar guy. I went to Robert McKee's all-weekend seminar about 10 years ago, and though I was never bored, I'm not sure what I learned.

But this looks like it addresses something I'm pondering right now, so what the hey.

If anyone else winds up going, let me know. I have a vision of plotting some clever scheme to get my script into someone's hands, and can always use an Ethel to my Lucy.

Okay, not really -- I'm not one of those guys. But if I don't have someone to hang out with on breaks, I may just wind up standing in a corner facing the wall.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

13 Movies I Want To See This Summer

I originally called this "23 Movies I Want To See This Summer", but couldn't find that many automatics.

Keep in mind that in Hollywood, "summer" starts on May 4, when Spiderman 3 comes out. And there are more sequels not on this list than on it.

Films I want to see this summer, in order of release:

SPIDERMAN 3 (May 4). Because it's one of the few superhero series that have been doing it right every time out, and the storyline for this one looks inspired.

28 WEEKS LATER (May 11). Even though the cast and director are different, this still looks like it'll be good.

SHREK THE THIRD (May 18). Because they are always fun.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END (May 25). Because the first one is good enough to make me forget the flaws of the second, and have hope for the third.

KNOCKED UP (June 1). Because the trailer is funny as hell, because it was directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old-Virgin) and because I like Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (June 8). Because they've admitted that they blew the last one, and have learned their lesson. Plus Al Pacino is in it.

EVAN ALMIGHTY (June 22). Because that Jim Carrey guy is gone, and Steve Carell gets to be the star.

BLACK SHEEP (June 22). There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand, and they're pissed off. Plus the buzz is good.

SICKO (June). Because a Michael Moore documentary about the health-care industry is going to be interesting.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (July 13). I haven't read the books, but I love the movies.

1408 (July 13). Trippy, odd movie based on a Stephen King short story. I've read the script, and it's interesting, plus John Cusack stars.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (August 3). Because director Paul Greengrass is back, and he did a great job with the last one.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (July 27). Because.


Movies I probably won't see unless they get GREAT reviews:

Lucky You, Mr. Brooks, Live Free or Die Hard, Surf's Up, Transformers, Ratatouille, License to Wed, Rescue Dawn, Hairspray, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Rush Hour 3, Stardust, The Invasion, Mr. Bean's Holiday.


Movies I won't see unless Hell freezes over:

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer; Daddy Day Camp

Friday, April 20, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #28

Some decent-looking movies coming out this week. Hot Fuzz is getting some good buzz, Vacancy is supposed to be okay, and the specter of Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling dueling against each other is automatically interesting. And then there's In The Land of Women, which is getting some good reviews as well.

VACANCY (2551 theaters). What could have been a cheesy-looking horror-thriller gets some cachet with the presence of Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale in the leads; good actors stretching in a new genre is always interesting, and apparently this puts mood over gore, something that had started to fall out of fashion. $15.9 million.

FRACTURE (2443 theaters). The commercials are really playing up the idea that Hopkins is back in Silence of the Lambs territory again. I hear this is a little small and talky, but it could click. $13.7 million.

IN THE LAND OF WOMEN (2155 theaters). This is the real wild card; with Vacancy, Fracture and Disturbia fighting for the one-word thriller audience, this could sneak in there, if enough women decide to go to the movies this weekend. Plus it's nice to see that Meg Ryan is back in something worth seeing. $13.6 million.

HOT FUZZ (825 theaters). The screen count is too low to challenge for the lead, but I think word is getting out. $7.1 million.

So my top four is:

Vacancy $15.9 million
Disturbia $15.2 million
Fracture $13.7 million
In the Land of Women $13.6 million


Thursday, April 19, 2007


Almost three weeks ago, a producer who I respect read my screenplay, liked it, and passed it on to both a manager and to an agent that she respected.

I spoke with the manager, who said that he read the script, liked it a lot, but that he thought it would work better as a TV series. I told him that it was a pilot once (8 million plot changes ago, though I didn't say that), and that I'd be happy to make it one again. He thought it was a great idea.

So I turned the script into a pilot. It turned out very well too, even though it's a two-hour pilot, which I know is the kiss of death. Sue me. It doesn't work at one hour -- it needs both.

Anyhow, today I called the manager's office, and left a message that the pilot was ready and would he like a copy? He called me back later, and claimed that coincidentally he was right in the middle of reading the script, and was thinking that TV was the way to go.

Not rereading the script. Reading the script. For the first time.

I know everyone lies in Hollywood about actually reading stuff (well, everyone but me), but you'd think they'd juggle their lies a little better than that.

But you know I sent the pilot to him anyway.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I haven't had much to post about in the past few days, or much real time to post either.

I'm caught in a perfect storm of work. On one side is my TV pilot, which I just finished a solid "done for now" draft of, but which has been eating time out of every day for the past few weeks.

My regular clients have all been giving me a steady diet of stuff. I just got a gig from one company that acquired the rights to a long-gestating superhero project; now I get to read five drafts by five different writers, and tell them what's in them.

(Someday I'll be the guy who gets to be one of the five writers on a project like this. Now I just analyze).

And then I'm getting a lot of notes requests by writers who are trying to get their scripts in shape for the Nicholl, which deadlines in just 13 days.

I'm not complaining, just busy. Actually, I do have something to complain about -- the power went out this morning, for the second time here in less than a week. And we lost cable yesterday for a few hours.

Depending on technolgy sucks.

Oh well, back to work.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Anyone Watching "Medium"?

I've never seen the show, but I was just wondering about the nature of the psychic abilities that the main character has. If anyone is familiar with the series, and wants to give me a briefing in the comments, please go for it.

Weekend Box Office #27

There are six movies opening today, and all look a bit crappy (oops, "quality-impaired") in one way or another. April is sort of the dumping ground for movies; though a few solid ones wash up (I keep hearing good things about "The Hoax"), mostly it's for films that are only going to play for 3 or 4 weeks until May's blockbusters chase them out of the multiplex.

DISTURBIA (2925 theaters). Basically "Rear Window" for the teen set, though that comparison doesn't seem to be favoring this at all. It's getting okay reviews, and the ads do a good job selling it, so this could challenge "Blades of Glory" for the top slot. $15.0 million.

PERFECT STRANGER (2661 theaters). This is not getting very good reviews at all, the ads are sort of vague, and both Bruce Willis and Halle Berry have a history of people not showing up to see them in subpar movies. Still, people will see it opening weekend, and then it'll drop 60% in weekend #2. $11.6 million.

PATHFINDER: LEGEND OF THE GHOST WARRIOR (1720 theaters). It's trying to cash in on the whole 300 violent historical epic thing, but it doesn't look a sliver as interesting, and reviews have been dire. $5.6 million.

REDLINE (1607 theaters). This looks like the C-level version of all the other car movies. $6.2 million.

SLOW BURN (1163 theaters). I have no idea what this is, other than Ray Liotta is in it and it wasn't screened for critics. I have no idea why people might choose this. $2.0 million.

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE (877 theaters). Doomed. $1.4 million.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Phlegm Monkey

I've been battling one of these head/chest/coughing-like-a-madman things for a few days now. I'm wrestling with the phlegm monkey, and he's winning.

As I cough, and rest, I did catch the Sci Fi miniseries "The Lost Room" on DVD. It's compulsively watchable, and the kind of thing that I'd love to spec if it was a TV series, though as the 6-episode thing it was, it works well.

I'm in no hurry to see Grindhouse, and I guess few other people are either. I think it's sort of caught up in one of the problems with Hollywood today: while a movie like 300 has a see-it-on-the-big-screen feel, if you are going to make an homage to '70s b-movies, which most people probably have only seen on TV or video anyway, you can't be surprised if they decide to wait for a few months until the DVD comes out. I am.

Now, if there was a drive-in around the corner showing it, that would be a different story.

It's also being reported that a LOT of people are leaving after the first movie, unaware that there are two of them, which certainly isn't helping word of mouth (since by most accounts the second movie, Tarantino's, is the stronger one). Look for the distributor to try to emphasize this in ads this weekend, though with a truckload of new movies opening, it'll still probably drop off a lot.

Apparently there are plans to release longer versions of both movies separately on DVD.

Otherwise, Let's Go Mets. And the more I hear about the parking/traffic hell that the Dodgers high-touted new parking plan has become, the more I miss New York, where you can take the subway to the game and not have to sweat any of it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #26

Four fairly-wide releases this weekend, all in between 2600 and 2900 theaters.

GRINDHOUSE (2624 theaters). This should be the big dog, but it's going to be hamstrung by its length -- each movie is about 85 minutes, plus fake trailers in between, and you're looking at 3 hours, which is really going to cut down the number of showings. Still, I think there's a wanna-see factor here, and I think it'll do around $22.4 million.

THE REAPING (2603 theaters). It's been a while since one of these Biblical horror-thrillers has been particularly good, but this one is supposed to be okay. Kind of strange to release it on Easter weekend, and it's going to lose a chunk of its audience to Grindhouse, but it should be good for $11.7 million.

ARE WE DONE YET? (2877 theaters). They keep trying to make Ice Cube cuddlier and cuddlier, but I'm not sure anyone is on the edge of their seat for this sequel. Still, $8.9 million.

FIREHOUSE DOG (2860 theaters). The little kids need to see something. $6.2 million.

So figure the weekend best will be:

Grindhouse $22.4
Blades of Glory $19.3
Meet the Robinsons $16.0
The Reaping $11.7
Are We Done Yet $8.9
300 $7.1
Firehouse Dog $6.2

Make your guess, tell me where I'm nuts, or both.

Also, anyone who sees Grindhouse this weekend, post your general impressions in the comments. No spoilers -- just whether or not it's worth seeing, whether it delivers what it wants to.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bob Clark 1941-2007

Director Bob Clark died in a car accident out here in California early yesterday morning.

Clark wasn't the best director in the world, and in fact his resume is really quite appalling. He directed "Porky's", which aside from having some gratutious boobage really isn't all that well-directed. He also directed "Porky's II".

He directed such forgettable 1980s movies as the Judd Nelson film "From the Hip", and the Sylvester Stallone/Dolly Parton dud "Rhinestone", and "Turk 182!", which didn't do much for Tim Hutton's career. He also directed the worst Gene Hackman movie ever, "Loose Cannons".

In the last ten years, he directed "Baby Geniuses" and its dire sequel. He also directed something called "The Karate Dog".

But Bob Clark had his one great, shining moment. He directed "A Christmas Story".

I love "A Christmas Story". There's something about it that it just perfect, that strikes the right tone throughout, while it's just packed with great, funny scenes, and memorable little nuggets of humor. It's a holiday piece, a kid tale, and it even has some nice family moments. And it has probably saved generations of children from putting their tongues on frozen poles.

"A Christmas Story" is based on stories by Jean Shepherd, who if you haven't read you should; he's a wry and witty writer. So he gets some of the credit. But still, this stuff isn't easy to pull off.

Witness the sequel to "A Christmas Story", which was called "It Runs In The Family" (or sometimes "A Summer Story"). It's also based on stories by Jean Shepherd, it's also directed by Bob Clark, it features the same characters, and though the roles were recast (because it was made 11 years later), the replacement cast -- Charles Grodin, Mary Steenbergen, Kieren Culkin -- certainly have chops.

But "It Runs In The Family" is just awful. Whatever worked in "A Christmas Story" just doesn't work in this film. The humor feels forced, the characters have lost something, and it all lies flat on film.

There's a magic to filmmaking, and though Bob Clark made a lot of movies, he really only captured it once. But when he did, he nailed it. And it's nice that, in most of the reports I've seen of his death, it's the movie on his resume they mention; all other sins are forgotten.

Hopefully we all have at least one "Christmas Story" success in all of us.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pharaohs or Horses

I got an e-mail from an assistant at a Glendale production company, who says that her bosses are looking for a good Pharaoh script, set in Egypt.

They are also looking for a horse movie where part of it could take place in Dubai.

Apparently they have money. I have absolutely nothing that remotely fits either of these criteria, but I figured I'd throw it out there, and try to play matchmaker.

Anyone who thinks they might have the goods, e-mail me and I'll send you the contact info.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Take Me To The Pilot

So things have been happening. My Nicholl Semi script finally has a little bit of heat, though it's heat being applied in an unexpected direction; the industry people who have sparked to it think it would work much better as a TV series.

And they are probably right. It's the kind of thing that does more often turn up on TV, while the fact that it is so character-driven -- and that the world of the tale is so rife with possibilities -- that the feature version always seemed rushed and limited. It actually briefly existed as a TV pilot early in its incarnation, but has changed a lot -- a lot -- since then.

So I'm immersed (as immersed as anyone can be who still has way too much other stuff to read and cover) in doing a TV pilot version of the screenplay, and doing it quickly enough so that a) the heat won't have cooled, and b) they'll say, "hey, he can write pretty quickly". Which I can, if I have the time.

Of course, it's not as simple as putting in act breaks. The main storyline of my screenplay, which built to a fairly major resolution of the characters' storyline, needs to be completely reinvented. Third act plotlines now need to be saved for the mythical season 2, 3 or 4. The whole feel needs to be reshaped; less visual, more dialogue-driven.

It also needs to be a 2-hour pilot. It has to be; there's just too much core story that needs to be in the pilot. Though it makes it less effective as a TV writing sample (should it ultimately be relegated to that route); apparently one-hour is the way to go for unproduced writers.

The good news is that chunks of my script can translate whole. The core storyline is solid; it just needs to be snipped and changed and tucked and rearranged. Sort of like a sex-change operation. It's even getting a new name.

I took the first 27 pages to my writing group last night, and though they hated-hated-hated my teaser (which has since been wrapped in chains and dropped in Lake Casitas) otherwise they were largely captured by the story and the characters. So it's back under the knife today.

Aside from Alex Epstein's "Crafty TV Writing" (which someone is supposed to be lending me -- sorry Alex), are there any other books or resources that anyone wants to recommend? Advice? Tales of the Frankenstein monsters that emerged when you tried this with your own scripts?

Also, if anyone has a line on scripts from the TV series "Criminal Minds" (particularly the pilot), which I understand has the sort of structural template that my series should aim for, give me a heads-up.