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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Evil Anagrams

In screenwriting trends that we can do without, I've read not one but two scripts this week that hinge on characters realizing that something is going on because someone's name is an anagram of another name.

In one, the villain turns out to be a grown kid from the main characters' childhood, the letters in his name rearranged. In another, the main character realizes that he is in some version of Hell because the names of everyone there are anagrams of his name.

The problem with this? It isn't really that clever, or plausible, and it doesn't really work on screen, where the audience (unlike someone reading the script) doesn't constantly have the names in front of them.

It's also pointless. In both scripts, the bad guy doesn't want the main character to learn the truth, so having this clue lying around doesn't make any sense. Neither script has the sense that the villain is using this to somehow taunt the main character.

(It does amuse me to think of the Devil sitting around, figuring out two dozen anagrams of the main characters' name for no reason, as if he has nothing better to do. Maybe he uses Scrabble tiles.)

So if you have something like this in your script, you've been warned. It's out there already, in ways that are dumb.

I think the Simpson's did it best in an episode, when Lisa goes to the house of a smarter girl and their intellectual family, who like doing name anagrams for fun. They give Lisa "Jeremy Irons", and she gives them a vague look, and says "Jeremy's Iron"?

I like word puzzles, but I think she should have beat them all with a tire iron. Jeremy's tire iron.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Patience, Grasshopper

Last week, an old friend of mine sent me his script to read.

He's been writing scripts off and on for a while, and most of them haven't been very good at all. Ironically, once he even wrote a play, that was never performed anywhere. But a friend turned it into a movie, with a couple of name actors in it, which I come across every once and a while on cable.

So sometimes things happen.

Anyhow, he sent me this new screenplay to get some notes on it from me, while also stating that he'd already contacted Sandra Bullock's production company about it, and they want to see a copy, which he wants to get to them, you know, yesterday.

So I read his script, which he wrote with a younger writer, and it's actually not bad. It has an interesting hook, it has some laughs, it has some potential.

It has a long way to go, though, to transition from "not bad" to "nailing the story". I gave him a lot of notes.

I have the feeling the script will probably be going to Sandra Bullock's company without any major changes.

I've probably made this rant in various forms before, but I'll make it again here:

You have to learn patience in this business.

You have to realize that your script is unlikely to get any attention at all unless it is really, really good. Or unless it is generally good, with a drop-dead killer commercial premise.

You need to get your script in the best shape possible, before sending it out to agents or production companies.

I get scripts all the time from people hiring me for $60 notes, who say in their e-mails "I already sent this out to such-and-such contest, but I know it needs work, so I want to get your notes."

If you know it needs work -- even $60 worth of work -- it's not ready for a contest.

Timing is everything in this business. Go out too early, and you can blow opportunities. A script that's not there yet, that circulates around town even a little bit, will soon get the taint of something that no one wants.

Send something that's only partway there to an agent, and he'll probably be less inclined to read the next draft, much less the next thing you send him.

You want people to think you're a great writer? Everything you send out, to agents or managers or producers or contests, should be great writing.

If you are an unknown writer, trying to get Sandra Bullock to star in your movie? That's such a longshot, that your script better be drop-dead amazing.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Weekend Box Office #42

The big question this weekend, of course, is how much will The Simpsons Movie make? Is it going to be huge, or will it just do okay?

It'll probably be fairly huge.

I haven't seen any reviews yet, but the hypemeter is turned to 11. The one thing that could undo it is the fact that in theory there's nothing special about the movie -- it's basically just a long episode, that isn't in 3D or a series-ender or trying to answer any big questions.

Still, it's the Simpsons, it'll probably be very funny, and that'll be enough.

My predictions for the weekend:

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (3922 theaters). That's a lot of theaters. $62.3 million.

NO RESERVATIONS (2455 theaters). This is based on a pretty good foreign film called Mostly Martha, but I think it would have done better if they had cast someone a little more interesting than Catherine Zeta Jones, while the trailers make it look duller than it probably is. $9.4 million.

I KNOW WHO KILLED ME (1320 theaters). If this Lindsey Lohan movie were any good, Sony would undoubtedly be releasing it in more theaters. And I think people are getting tired of Lindsey. $4.7 million.

WHO'S YOUR CADDY (1019 theaters). Wow, does this look bad. $3.1 million.

Make your guesses on the weekend's gross for The Simpsons Movie. Winner gets bragging rights.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rilo Kiley - The Moneymaker

Now contrast the innocent Frug video below with Rilo Kiley's new single (complete with porn star interviews), which seems destined to soon be popping up in strip clubs everywhere. Killer guitar riff though.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rilo Kiley - The Frug - Desert Blue

Though my married-man crush Jenny Lewis went solo for a while, she's back with her regular band Rilo Kiley, and they are finally releasing a new album next month. Here's one of their earliest songs, from an obscure 1998 Christina Ricci movie called Desert Blue. Enjoy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Belated Weekend Boxoffice #41

I usually put up the weekend boxoffice posts before the weekend, just to try to predict how much movies will make, but this week I was distracted by my dying DVD player and a lack of enthusiasm over what was opening.

Ultimately, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry wound up making almost $35 million over the weekend, while Hairspray made a rather solid $27.8 million. Given the reviews that the films got (Hairspray is currently at a robust 94% on Rotten Tomatoes; Chuck and Larry is at 14%) expect Hairspray to pull an upset, and ultimately wind up making much more money in its theatrical run than the fake-gay firefighters do.

Which has to make John Waters smile.

Otherwise, Harry Potter dropped off 58% from last weekend, though don't feel too sorry for it, because it has made $208 million in less than two weeks.

Transformers brought in another $20 million, and it's at $262 million; it has a solid shot at being the top-grossing film of the summer.

Knocked Up is cruising along well, and has made $142 million so far. Evan Almighty has only made $93 million -- which isn't bad, until you remember that it cost $175 million, about $145 million more than Knocked Up did.

See, you don't need stars, you just need to be funny.

I didn't make it to the theaters this weekend, though I did make it out to the Dodgers game against the Mets (as a Mets fan) on Saturday. Of course, it was the only game the Mets lost out of the four (my karma is bad), while we wound up in seats in the blazing sunlight. Put it this way -- it was the first time in my life I ever sat somewhere where if a ball hit me on the head, it would have been a homerun.

The seat was right next to the bullpen, so I did get to see a bored Derek Lowe looking around for groupies. The groupies were apparently elsewhere, where it was shadier.

It was one of those days where, even though I put on sunscreen, you can now see every single spot that I missed.

The last movie I saw in theaters was Sicko, which I neglected to post about, but which I liked a lot. Whether you like Michael Moore or not, the film does a very good job making the point that the fundamental flaw with our health care system is that the insurance companies benefit from you not actually getting treatment.

My wife now wants to move to France. I think I've talked her out of it though.

Friday, July 20, 2007

DVD Players

So my aging DVD player finally called it quits last night; it was probably about 5 years old, and had played a lot of disks over the course of its life.

Though it would have been nice to bury it intact in a solemn ceremony, I had to perform a brutal autopsy on it, taking it completely apart to get out the DVD that was trapped inside. It took about an hour and the removal of about two dozen screws, and even then I had to squeeze the DVD out, and I hopefully didn't scratch it.

Anyhow, today I'm going to pop out and look for a new DVD player. I'm not really a techno-geek, and have no real interest in spending a lot of money on a DVD player with a lot of bells and whistles. At the same time, I don't want to buy some bargain-basement brand that isn't going to stand up to a lot of use. I also have no real interest in Blu-Ray or any new technology.

Anyone have any recommendations? Brands you like, brands you don't, good buys for the price? Best Buy, Target, Fry's or Circuit City?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


When I first started reading scripts for pay, for New Line Pictures in Manhattan way back in November 1991 (a gig that didn't last long, but which paved the way for others), it occurred to me to log every script and book I got into a little notebook, just so I'd have a record of it.

I'm not particularly hyper-organized -- at all -- but in this respect I was.

And it's a handy thing. It helps with billing, and with being able to track when I might have read something in the past, both if I get a rewrite of the same script from the same company, or the same script itself from a different company.

It also, by it's very nature, leads to quantifying my reading. X number of titles on a page, X number of pages in a notebook, Right now, I'm on notebook number five.

So though I am usually content to round to the nearest thousand when asked how many paid coverages for scripts and book that I have written, I have the easy ability to figure out that number. Today, I sat down and figured it.



(And that's just paid reads. That doesn't count the several hundred plays I read for Circle in the Square in exchange for theater tickets. Or the scripts I've read for friends for free, or the pro scripts I read just for the hell of it, or any number of books I read in the days when I actually had time to do things like read for fun).

Nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty-three.

That's a lot of plots. A lot of stories, good, bad and mediocre. A lot of cliches, that pop up again and again. The same old typos and misunderstood words, over and over (note to all: It's Times Square, not Time Square. And your character is "fazed", not "phased").

That also means the big 10,000 is coming, probably around the end of August. I once promised myself that I'd sell a script before that happened, and manage to avoid that magic number. It doesn't look like it's going to happen now.

Actually, I guess it is going to be a race now, between me and that large-headed Barry Bonds guy, to see who is going to hit their milestone first. The way that Bonds has been struggling lately, the 5 homers he needs could stretch well into next month.

I'm going to beat you, Barry.

Seventy-seven more scripts to ten thousand. Doesn't sound like much. And again I love my job. Most of the time.

But by the time I stop professionally reading (which could be next year, or at age 80 or 90, who knows), I hate to think about what that total might be up to.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Whew... and Ewww

Recently I've been working on a TV spec idea involving time travel, an idea that seems suited to being an hourlong TV episode rather than a film.

So it was with some concern that I learned that the idea I had might be a little too similar to the Ashton Kutcher film THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, which I had never seen.

With some trepidation, I picked up a copy the other day, and popped it into the DVD player. The movie hooked me early; it's an interesting idea, and with relief I realized that it really wasn't all that similar to my movie at all.

I continued watching the movie, however, to see what plot machinations that it had that I might want to avoid in my script.


THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT has a changing-the-past premise that probably would have been more effective as a gentler, smarter film; think FREQUENCY. Instead, this tale just gets darker, darker, and darker, all rather off-puttingly:

-- Children are molested by Eric Stoltz.

-- A woman and her baby get blown up.

-- Ashton Kutcher is raped in prison, and then offers up oral sex to some of the prisoners.

-- A young woman's face is slashed by her brother, and she turns to prostitution.

-- A dog is burned alive in a bag.

-- Ashton Kutcher's arms are blown off.

-- An unborn baby commits suicide by strangling itself in the womb.

All of which I don't mind leaving out of my script. So it's all good.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Everybody She Shot Is Dead

So congrats to my friend Deb, a former rock 'n' roll photographer who has just finished her latest book, Everybody I Shot Is Dead.

It's a collection of over 400 never-before-published photographs of -- and her personal stories about -- 48 musicians that she shot photos of from 1974 through 1979, who have since passed away.

As one of the few people who have read the book/seen the photos, I can say that it is good stuff, and it made me wish I had seen a lot of concerts that she writes about.

Anyone interested in learning more about the book -- or pre-ordering a copy at a discount -- can check it out here on her blog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Weekend Box Office #40

So HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX opened on Wednesday, to huge ($44.2 million in its first day) numbers. It's sort of an odd film, in that, as the 5th entry in a 7-movie series, it is much more of a sequel than it is a stand-alone film. Still, in 4285 theaters (and on over 9000 screens) it should do another $85 million or so this weekend.

Otherwise, the only other movie opening wide is CAPTIVITY, in only 1050 theaters. Hopefully torture porn is on its way out; I don't think it'll make over $3 million.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


So I watched Showgirls again last night, as part of my DVD reviewing gig. And... wow.

It's just as bad as I remembered it. Worse.

It sort of transcends moviegoing, succeeding as entertainment on a level it was never intended to be -- call it train wreck filmmaking.

Hundreds of talented professionals, all working in the service of something that barely makes minimal sense, even on its own level.

Among the major transgressions here --

-- Since the main character is supposed to be a dancer, you would have thought they would cast a dancer who who act a little, or an actress who can dance a little. Instead, they cast Elizabeth Berkley, who can do neither.

-- Inexplicably, everyone who sees Elizabeth Berkley's character Nomi immediately falls in love with her, as well as believing that she is a great dancer, despite the fact that none of this comes across on the screen.

-- Though there is copious nudity, little of it is even mildly titillating. The sex scenes are laughable (particularly the one in the pool). And Elizabeth Berkley has a very unattractive ass, and they keep showing it.

-- Nomi's greatest dream seems to be appearing in the cheesiest topless Las Vegas revue ever, where everyone seems obsessed with the idea that the dance moves must be perfect, even though clearly no one in the audience cares.

-- It is 131 minutes long.

The fact that everyone involved (particularly director Paul Verhoeven) took the material so seriously just helps up the camp value. Thank goodness for Gina Gershon, who is the only one who seems to get the joke.

And apparently Joe Eszterhas got paid $2 million for the script...

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Inexplicable

So last night, I was powering down by sitting on the couch watching Jackass 2 when my wife walked in.

She watched as a guy threw up in the glass helmet he was wearing, then she did a quick 180 and exitted upstairs, where she asked how a smart man like myself could be entertained by stuff like that.

I thought about an answer, and then realized that I really didn't have one.

It's funny, because I make my living analyzing what works and what doesn't work in screenplays, and a lot of it is logical -- it's easy to spot when stories don't come together, when characters wander around without much going on, when dialogue just sort of sits there.

But why I enjoy watching a guy get his testicles frozen to a block of ice is beyond me.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Michael Bay: "I'm Not a Whore"

So this past week, Michael Bay came out and said that he wasn't a whore, just because GM was allowed to pay $3 million so that the Transformers would transform into GM vehicles.

(I tried to remember where I saw this, so I could dig up the exact quote, but I couldn't find the article. Then I googled "Michael Bay whore" and got 659,000 hits. Which says something.)

Bay's spin seemed to be that the $3 million allowed him to expand the budget and make the film even better, though when your budget is over $150 million it's hard to see how this might matter all that much.

The obvious problem though is this: are we getting closer to the point in which corporate advertising is going to increasingly impact creative decisions in films?

Of course we are. It's already happening.

If someone wants to pay a film company to position their product favorability in a movie, in most instances, cash will change hands, and the script will be reworked. Will the script be better? Ummm... probably not. And product placement will continue to infect films.

It's already running rampant on TV, where all the networks are afraid of Tivo making people skip commercials, as if people hadn't been skipping commercials for years by simply flipping over to another channel for 3 minutes. It isn't Tivo that killed the commercial, it was the remote control.

The Apprentice has become the biggest joke of all, with every episode essentially a commercial for some product. It's gotten to the point where an advertising skillset is what one really needs to win that show.

I guarantee that, as soon as someone figures out to mnake the goal seem cool, we're going to see a show in which players compete to be the next great ad exec.

Every week on American Idol, the contestants appear in a music video pimping Fords, while the judges drink out of huge Coke cups, logo spun toward the camera. Survivor has challenges that reward contestants with food, toiletries or cars, their brands prominently mentioned.

Some shows are trying to be a little more subtle. The first film challenge in "On The Lot" had the filmmakers making short films, and the same cell phone popped up in a lot of them with no explanation, though the result was ineffective (not that anyone was watching anyway).

But it's movies that are really coming under fire. When I was a theater manager in the late 80s is when commercials were first shown in front of movies in the theater.

There was real concern that the consumer would be pissed about this, so to ease the consumer in, the theater companies made sure that the initial commercials were all visual, high-quality ones, as well as commercials that one hadn't already seen on TV.

The consumer bought it; though people used to boo when commercials came on before a movie, they don't any more.

And now some theaters show about 15-minutes of pre-show commercials (some masked as mini-documentaries about upcoming TV shows or movies) before the film even starts.

Transformers is the current ultimately example of this: it's a movie about a toy, designed to sell toys, and tickets, and videogames, and ultimately the DVD, and GM cars. All studio movies are commercial entities, though few are quite as blatant as this.

There has been product placement forever, and there probably always will be, so it's hard to know what to do about it. But in an age where corporations are blasting their names on everything (stadiums, college football bowl games, halftime shows) it's not the status quo that worries me.

The line is moving, and who knows where it might eventually reach.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #39

So it's officially a big dumb popcorn summer now, with Transformers dominating the box office. It already set the record for a Tuesday(when it opened), which is a weird distinction because most movies have already been out 4-6 days before the Tuesday rolls around.

Might be a good weekend to spend a whole day in a theater, enjoying the AC (it has been triple-digits around here) and sneaking into as many movies as possible. Did I say sneaking? I meant enjoying. Without paying. Except for the first one, and always pick one that deserves it.

TRANSFORMERS (4011 screens). This has already made $60-70 million in its first three days, but it'll still have a pretty big weekend. I think the release pattern will stop it from being huge huge, but I'll take a wild guess and estimate $85.5 million for Friday-Sunday.

LICENSE TO WED (2604 screens). Sadly, it has now become clear that Robin Williams will star in just about anything if you pay him enough. I like John Krasinski, but not enough to see this, and the early numbers (it also opened on Wednesday) agree. Look for it to do about $7.4 million over the weekend.

Otherwise, Ratatouie should make over $30 million, Die Hard 4 over $20 million, and Sicko expands to 704 screens (though the review in The New Yorker magazine really shreds it).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Damn You, Montezuma

So I'm back from Mexico. Call off the posse, bring the horses back to the leasing office.

As the title might indicate, I did get sick. No, I didn't drink the water. Well, I did, but it was bottled water. But something got me very sick, in that uniquely Mexican way.

Still, I managed to wrestle it into submission for long stretches (thanks to a lot of medication, though I'm still fighting it, even back in L.A.) and managed to enjoy most of the trip. It wasn't a resort vacation; we were visiting relatives of my wife, and so the places we saw were more off the beaten track. More ordinary Mexico.

The highlight was probably a small town in the mountains called Tapalpa, where my wife's cousin grew up. A tad touristy here and there (though there was some good local art, there was also refrigerator magnets with the town's name on them), but overall very old and very cool, with the kind of restaurants I wished existed in Woodland Hills, where I could just spend a lazy day reading and looking out over the plaza.

Movie titles translate interestingly in Mexico. The title of Ocean's Thirteen is "Now There Are Thirteen". Live Free or Die Hard is "Hard To Kill 4.0". And a saw a DVD for Planes, Trains and Automobiles in which the Spanish title translates as "Better Alone Than With Accompaniment". Which makes sense.

On the flight on the way back, they showed "Blades of Glory", but then stopped it with 30 minutes to go because the plane was landing. Bastards.

Back to work. Sigh.


So for reasons I'm still not sure of, I submitted a script to the Bluecat competition a few months ago. Last Friday I got an e-mail asking for a .pdf copy of my script. I figured I must have made the first cut.

Two days later, they announce the top 10%. My script was nowhere to be found. I still haven't figured that one out.

Oh well. I need to be writing some new stuff anyway. I did do a little brainstorming during the trip, and hopefully I'll start turning out some pages and finishing some of the things that I'm halfway done with (which is both the blessing and the curse of my screenwriting group).