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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rest, Relaxation and Retrenching

So I'm taking a 5-day trip down to Guadalajara with the wife, who has family down there, most of whom she has never met. It'll be my first trip to the real Mexico (going down to Ensenada for a wedding really doesn't count), and it should be fun.

If I wind up in a Mexican prison, I expect everyone to put together a posse and come down to get me.

Otherwise, I'm trying to figure out where to focus the writing thing. For the first time in my life, I have a bevy of spec projects calling out to be written, and what I need to do is buckle down and just start pounding out drafts and getting stuff finished, whether it is my TV spec or my low-budget thriller or the high-concept comedy idea I have, all of which are languishing in drafts that were plotted out, begun, and then put to the side for something else, something I've never really been guilty of before.

So I'm sneaking along some writing with me. Don't tell the wife.

I'll be back on the 4th.

Weekend Boxoffice #38

Multiplexes should be very busy this weekend, with the well-reviewed RATATOUILLE and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD both opening wide, and SICKO expanding.

RATATOUILLE (3940 theaters). With July 4 falling on a Wednesday, it's an odd weekend. Still, the kids are out of school and looking for something to see, and this feels like one of those films that will lure adults as well. Call it $59.7 million in its first 3 days.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (3408 theaters). The exact kind of mindless hero action that people want to see. $40.4 million.

EVENING (977 theaters). Great cast, somewhat underwhelming reviews for a film that needed to be praised to the skies. Will do a little, but not much. $4.6 million.

SICKO (441 theaters). Getting great buzz, with many calling it Michael Moore's best. $8.1 million.

Predictions? What are y'all going to see this weekend?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ocean's Thirteen Question

So I saw Ocean's Thirteen tonight, and it's undemanding fun, an entertaining two hours in the company of some movie stars worth spending time with.

My only question is what the purpose was of the whole Bernie Mac/domino game subplot. What does getting his table in the casino accomplish?

There has to be a reason, but my brain is stuck. Anyone?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #37

Still busy, so another light-posting week. Someday I'll pick up the pace. Anyone want to bring up a topic of conversation, feel free.

As part of my DVD-reviewing gig, I also spent the last 10 days or so (late at night, unwinding around midnight) watching the first season of Picket Fences on DVD. It's on odd show, a weird mix of humor and serious drama, tackling an amazing amount of issues in 1992-1993 that are still very much in play today (including using fetal tissue to try and cure diseases like Parkinson's).

And Lauren Holly is/was very cute.

This week in theaters:

EVAN ALMIGHTY (3602 theaters) -- This is the most expensive comedy ever made, at a reported $175 million, and reviews haven't been very good. I think it'll do okay, because it's going to appeal to grownups and children, and it apparently has a light, amiable tone that will save it from bombing, but it's hard to see this ending up in the black. Call it $44.4 million opening weekend, and then dropping off heavily in week 2.

1408 (2678 theaters) -- Reviews have been generally solid for this, Cusack is always a pretty good reason to go see a movie, and I read several early drafts that were pretty solid. It's PG-13, so don't expect much gore, but sometimes that's a good thing. $23.2 million.

A MIGHTY HEART (1355 theaters) -- I don't know. The movie's getting decent reviews, but does anyone want to go through the Daniel Pearl story during a night out on the town? Call it $6.3 million.

Also keep a look out for BLACK SHEEP, which is opening in limited release.

Monday, June 18, 2007


So after a long day of reading other people's stories, when I crash in front of the TV with the wife at night (Okay, we play backgammon. A lot.) I like to have something on that's not going to be just another story.

So a lot of the time we watch reality shows. Recently, that means American Idol, and America's Got Talent, and the one with the inventions, and the one with people imitating famous people, and the one with the stand-up comics. Etc, etc etc.

All of these shows start out the same. Eight zillion people with nothing better to do line up for hours for a chance to make it onto this TV show. And so the first 4-5 episodes are just made up of these auditions.

There are those who are pretty good. Those who are almost good. And those who are god-awful.

And that's pretty much it. Because the networks know what people want to see -- they want to see the good, and the bad. They don't care about the mediocre.

But the problem is that that's what the bulk of the people are. There's this huge hidden world of mediocrity out there, that ironically is feeding itself -- people who watch American Idol, and only see terrible singers and fairly good singers, can lie to themselves and say "Well, since I'm not terrible, I must be good enough to go on this show."

No, you're just probably just mediocre. You won't make it past the producers who screen the acts before they even get to Simon and Paula. Stay home.

But I realize that generally I have the opposite problem. Because I'm reading for mid-range companies, I'm generally not seeing the great scripts (because they get snapped up by other, better companies before they get down to this level) and I'm not seeing the truly awful scripts, because most of the scripts are coming from producers or agents, who usually know better (which isn't to say that the occasional fly-encrusted script doesn't slip through).

I'm in a world of mediocrity.

So people ask me about the great scripts I've read, or how I must read a lot of crap, and I just sort of have to shrug, because I don't have a lot of good anecdotes about this. Mediocrity is boring, a fact that TV does its best to try and hide from you, because mediocrity is death on TV.
That's what's killing the current "On the Lot". If they showed you five short films each week, and three were great and two were train wrecks, more people would watch. Instead, we get a few highs and lows, but most of it is just... mediocre.

Mediocre has its variations, of course. I've read a lot of scripts recently that are fairly solid for what they are. But it's rare that I've read a script that really made me envious that I hadn't written it.

I guess the point of this for writers is not to lose sight of this. At the beginning of your career, it's about lifting yourself up out of the ranks of the clueless and into the traffic jam that is mediocrity. It's a journey that everyone makes.

But then mediocrity isn't nearly good enough -- you have to rise above. Something that so few scripts -- or writers -- ever do.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #36

FANTASTIC FOUR 2 comes out this weekend in 3957 theaters, and it's an interesting test of sequel-itis, because very few people really liked the original.

Still, by all accounts, it is better, it has a cool surfer dude (though the surfing penguins didn't do particularly well), and it doesn't have a lot of competition. It should make about 2-3 times what any other movie makes; look for it to do about $51.1 million.

The only other movie opening wide is NANCY DREW (2612 theaters), which seems to have a really limited audience of girls from maybe 8-13. Though the ad in the paper lists a lot of raves, look closely; there aren't a lot of major critics there. Figure $9.6 million.

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE opens in 505 theaters. I'm glad they explain in the title what the title means, because the logical assumption would be "Dead on Arrival".

In odd films news, I just read that David Mamet is going to write and direct a movie on the world of mixed martial arts fighting. Seriously. Two hours of cursing and kicking...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Swamped Again

Not much to report, other than the fact that I've been caught in a perfect storm of work. Suddenly most of my clients are dumping stuff on me, while I also had to pages ready for group last night. I rewrote the first half of my TV spec (though I've yet to write a word of the second); still, it's rounding into shape very well.

I caught Pirates 3 over the weekend, and I generally liked it. Critics who were confused by the plot just aren't paying enough attention. It's not a perfect movie, but it's definitely a thumbs up, and a visual feast.

Tonight I'm playing hooky, and going to see the Mets play the Dodgers. The Mets have been freefalling -- they've lost 7 of 8 -- but they are still in first, and hopefully they'll turn it around.

But if they are down by 10 at any point tonight, I'll be the guy streaking naked across the field. Because someone has to. Cover the kids' eyes.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #35

Starting from this past Monday, Knocked Up has been the #1 movie in the country, passing Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which is fading fast. Expect Knocked Up to beat it this weekend.

It won't be number 1, though, because there are several big movies opening as well:

SURF'S UP (3528 theaters). The reviews are good, and apparently people aren't tired of penguins yet (hard to believe). I don't think it'll do enough adults opening weekend to really hit huge numbers, but the kids will go see it. $48.7 million.

OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (3565 theaters). The word is that it's better than the last one but not as good as the first, but the presence of Al Pacino will help. This will fight Knocked Up and Pirates for second; look for all three to do between $20-$25 million.

HOSTEL PART II (2350 theaters). Movies about pointless brutality never did it for me, yet sadly there is apparently an audience out there for this. $11.8 million.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Knocked Up and the Comedy of the Real

So I saw "Knocked Up" on opening night (with a full house that was a very mixed audience of young adults/middle aged/male/female), and I have to add my voice to those commending this film: it delivers.

Not that it was a hard sell for me. I've been a fan of Judd Apatow's back to the Freaks and Geeks/Undeclared days, and recently watched all the extras on the last 40-Year-Old Virgin DVD, which took about four hours.

What's interesting is how he blends the funny and the real, things that too many comedies have gotten away from.

40-Year-old Virgin and Knocked Up both have very loose plots, essentially rough frameworks of stories. In fact, both went into shooting with essentially unfinished scripts: the way Apatow works is to rely heavily -- very heavily -- on improvisation on the set, shooting endless feet of film, getting his actors to come up with funny bit after funny bit, and making sure that he covers it with enough cameras that it will all cut together when they find the movie in the editing room.

He shot a million feet of film on The 40-Year-Old-Virgin. When improv works, it works well.

But what really makes this work is that even though the structures are loose, he makes us like, and care about, the main characters, which really helps tie together all the humorous sequences he strings together. Katherine Heigl is very likable in this film, but its Seth Rogen who really ties it together, tiptoeing the fine line of being an immature loser and being someone who we root for to wind up with Heigl.

Interestingly, last night I also watched the new Special Edition of "Meatballs", a movie I have a certain real fondness for, since I was 16 when it came out.

"Meatballs" was essentially built the same way. Bill Murray (who wasn't even officially hired until the third day of shooting) came in, improv'd a lot of his bits, and inhabited a character who balanced joking immaturity with a real serious side. And it's the serious side that really makes the movie; though there are (barely) enough laughs to hold Meatballs together as a comedy, it is the scenes between Murray and young Chris Makepeace that wind up being the heart of the film, and the reason it works.

Amazingly, most of these scenes were done 3 months after filming wrapped, to beef up up the Murray-Makepeace stuff. The scene in the bus station and all the scenes in Murray's cabin (including the peanut blackjack scene) weren't in the original script, which focused more on the campers and CITs.

Comedies are tricky, and sometimes the best comedies come out of this certain on-the-fly feel, to let actors come up with stuff on set, to realize what is working and what isn't and steer things accordingly. Of course, in the wrong hands, that's also how comedies can completely fall apart as well; I'm sure Eddie Murphy improv'd a lot on "Norbit", and it didn't result in anything classic.

But "Norbit" is a good example of why some premises don't work. If filmmakers don't care about making their characters and situations particularly appealing, it's hard for audiences to care.

I'm losing my train of thought a bit, but it's just nice to see when a comedy really hits on all cylinders, and it'll be interesting to see if Hollywood tries to do more "Knocked Up" type comedies, and how many of them work, and how many don't figure out the characters + laughs formula.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Apologies.... and Weekend Box Office #34

This is the longest I've ever gone without posting, and I wish I could say that I was writing my ass off all week, but it isn't true.

I've just been swamped with work. And the holiday weekend. And I had a birthday in there somewhere.

But here I am. Apologies. I'll be back again soon.

Anyhow, there are three movies opening wide this weekend:

KNOCKED UP (2871 theaters). I've been looking forward to this; I like Judd Apatow's work a lot, from FREAKS AND GEEKS to UNDECLARED to THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, and his method of improvisation while the camera is rolling seems to work. Early buzz is very good (it's currently at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 85 positive reviews out of 92), and I'll see it this weekend. $33.8 million.

MR. BROOKS (2453 theaters). They are trying to sell this hard, but I'm not so sure people want to see Kevin Costner as a killer. Still, it'll do something. $13.6 million.

GRACIE (1164 theaters). I read this, and it feels like a Disney Channel movie. $2.0 million.

Look for PIRATES 3 to grab the top spot, with about $55 million or so; I haven't seen it yet, but I may squeeze it in this weekend.