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

Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Box Office #73

Not a whole lot that is exciting opening today.

SEMI-PRO (3121 theaters). A bit surprising that this is rated R. Maybe it'll be funny, though it looks like Will Ferrell is just going to the sports well again. $17.8 million.

PENELOPE (1196 theaters). Apparently this has been on the shelf for a couple of years, and Reese Witherspoon's role is barely a cameo. They are advertising it a lot, but it's hard to see it doing all that well. $3.3 million.

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (1166 theaters). I'd go see Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannsen read the phone book, but apparently this is rather slow and not that sexy. $4.2 million.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Curse of the Flexible Storyline

So my full read the other night went... okay.

The actors were great, particularly my two leads. Despite a lot of writers being out with the flu (and I'm still battling what has been diagnosed as a bronchial infection), enough people showed up to make the comments afterward (when the writers take turns tearing my script apart) valuable.

The problem with this script is that, though I never intended it to be more than something that could be shot very cheap, there are ideas in there that capture people's imaginations, so much that they want these ideas executed differently.

Without getting into specifics, let me talk about the script in this way: There's a supernatural premise involving the main character, there's a plot twist on this premise along the way, and then there's the big late reveal.

But there are a multitude of ways to execute this script, different takes on the material, and it seemed like there were writers advocating for all of them.

There was the core group who didn't like the big reveal; they'd rather have me stick with the supernatural premise and develop the plot twist in a different direction.

Others like the big reveal, but wish I'd gotten there in different fashion, despite the demands that the big reveal places on the story.

Some wanted me to jump into the story faster, to start off with the big basement scene that in this draft starts off on page 11. Others want me to take more time early on, and develop my main character, and make sure the script was focused on her.

And all the notes are valid, to a certain extent. And ultimately it's all about how I want to tell the story, and the best way to serve the story and characters with the elements I have.

It's also about how many versions I want to do of this script. Because the current version, though it can use some tweaking, works fairly well for what it is.

But now I'm considering doing an alternate version, taking out the big reveal and indeed just playing with the story twist, and how a different ending would really mean a different script, in ways that are probably good but also potentially problematic as well.

So that's what I'm wrestling with now. And I get the irony that this is what I do for a living, giving other people notes that they can chew over like this.

Maybe I'll just make all the characters penguins.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Script In Public

So as part of my screenplay group, on the last Monday of every month in the little Studio City theater that we rent, the actors read aloud one of the scripts that has been workshopped through the group.

Tomorrow night is my turn. My low-budget thriller "Seizure" is going to be done in its entirety, all 99 brisk pages of it.

If anyone has serious interest in coming and hearing it, there are (free) seats available. E-mail me for more info.

I can't promise not to be medicated, but I will try not to cough on you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar Predictions 2008

Feel free to use this for any Oscar pool. You can tip me if you win.

Best Picture: Though recent years have made this increasingly unpredictable, I think it's going to be No Country For Old Men, as flawed as it is.

Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, in a walk.

Best Actress: Though I didn't see La Vie en Rose or Away From Her (or The Savages or Elizabeth: The Golden Age), I'm going to have to guess that Julie Christie will edge Marion Cotilliard here.

Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem, no question.

Best Supporting Actress: This may be the hardest category to pick, particularly for me, since all I saw of these performances was Tilda Swinton's in Michael Clayton. But I'm going to guess it'll be Amy Ryan for Gone Baby Gone.

Best Director: Joel and Ethan Coen.

Best Foreign Language Film: I haven't seen any of these either. Let's say Katyn.

Best Adapted Screenplay: No Country For Old Men.

Best Original Screenplay: Juno.

Best Animated Feature Film: Ratatouille.

Best Cinematography. There Will Be Blood.

Best Documentary: No End in Sight.

Feel free to post your predictions --

Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Box Office #72

I'm still sick. I guess it's the flu. I'm been coughing all week, stuffy, achy, etc. I gave it to the wife, too. Not happy days around our place.

I think I'll spare the world and not go spreading my disease around a movie theater this weekend. For those of you who go, here are the new wide openers:

VANTAGE POINT (3149 theaters). This has been getting a lot of hype, but today's LA Times review is a bit underwhelmed. Call it $13.7 million for the weekend.

WITLESS PROTECTION (1333 theaters). Likely for George W. Bush fans only. $5.6 million.

CHARLIE BARTLETT (1122 theaters). This has gotten the best reviews of these movies, but it's unclear what the hook is. $3.2 million.

BE KIND, REWIND (808 theaters). I had high hopes for this, but the LA Times also doesn't have particularly encouraging things to say about it either, while this really isn't a very wide opening. $4.3 million.

Look for holdovers like JUMPER, SPIDERWICK and STEP UP 2 to perform much better than most of these.

I'm crawling back into bed.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

American Idol and the Death of Knowing Criticism

One of my guilty pleasures is American Idol. At the end of a day of reading things with plot-plot-plot, it's nice to turn on the TV and be able to watch something without a story.

Not that the singers on the show don't have their ongoing drama. But you know what I mean. It's mindless television, and sometimes I like that.

This week, though, something strange has been happening.

Simon Cowell, who usually comes across as crabby but generally right, now just seems clueless.

Over the past few nights, the 12 male and 12 female contestants were singing songs from the 1960s. And we're not talking obscure songs -- we're talking hits.

Yet there were a surprising amount of songs that Cowell admitted being unfamiliar with, even as he blasted contestants for singing them.

He'd never heard "Spinning Wheel". Or "Baby Please Don't Go".

The problem is that when he reveals his ignorance of basic musical history, it just underscores his lack of qualifications in general. Unlike Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul, he has no hands-on industry experience. And where he used to at least represent sort of a snarky everyman's honesty about performance, now he seems fixated on what will be commercial today, what will sell, with no real sense that he actually knows what that is.

What's feeding this may be the fact that a lot of recent Idol winners and runners-up haven't exactly burned up the charts. Obviously the Idol people would like performers who are ultimately going to sell a lot of records.

But for a show in which it is the public voting on who goes ahead, Simon Cowell is just coming across as more and more irrelevant, no longer having anything to add that really seems to mean anything.

I make my living being critical of others' work, and at this point all I can do is shake my head. And root for the rock-nurse to keep coming back.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I'm Back, But Sick

Had a nice couple of relaxing days in Las Vegas. We were originally scheduled to stay at the Monte Carlo, but because of the fire they had there a few weeks ago, they hadn't reopened by Thursday (I think they did on Friday), so they bounced us over to the superior Mandalay Bay for the same price.

It was too cold to hit the pool (or the lazy river, sigh), but we gambled some, ate too much, and laid around a lot. Not bad.

But giving the lie to things staying in Vegas, I brought back some sort of cold/flu thing with me. I'm coughing like your grandma who smoked for 70 years, and I sound like her too.

Normally I'd just curl up and go to bed early, but I have to go to my screenwriting group tonight, because I have more pages up, and I'm also giving out scripts to actors for my full read of my low-budget thriller next week.

Hopefully I won't cough on anyone's face. Embarrassing.

As for the weekend, Jumper won handily, while people were less interested in The Spiderwick movie and more-interested in Step Up, which both did about $19 million from Friday through Sunday.

Excuse me. I have to go hack up a lung.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Weekend Box Office #71

Even though it's Thursday, all the new movies are opening today, to take advantage of Valentine's Day. Date night.

Be scornful if you will, but 9 years ago I met my wife on Valentine's. Eight years ago, I married her -- on Valentine's Day.

And it was my idea. Yeah, I'm a romantic sap sometimes. Sue me.

THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES (3847 theaters). I'm sure this will be pretty huge. Call it $39.5 million for the 4-day weekend.

JUMPER (3402 theaters). This should do well too. I remember reading the book, a decade or so ago, and wanting to adapt it then. They really appear to have taken a fairly small book and opened it up into a big budget action movie. $35.1 million.

STEP UP 2: THE STREETS (2470 theaters). Will probably do much better than HOW SHE MOVE, which tanked, though they seem like basically the same movie. $9.7 million.

DEFINITELY MAYBE (2203 theaters). It looks like it could be cute, and the female cast is attractive, but I don't think Ryan Reynolds is going to topline a big romcom hit yet. $6.9 million.

We're off to Vegas. Everyhone have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Screenwriting Group Needs A Few More Good Writers --

The amazing screenwriting group I belong to is looking for some new writers, so I figured I'd throw it out here.

There's a commitment involved. The group meets from 7-10 every Monday night in Studio City, and though you can miss a night every now and then, you should be showing up at least 80% of the time.

The people who run the group are looking for solid writers with a "creative spark". You will need to submit a script as a writing sample to be considered for membership.

Dues are $30 a month, to pay for the theater we meet in. The writer retains all rights to anything that is workshopped through the group.

The group is structured like this: every Monday night, 4 writers bring in up to 25 pages each. They cast the actors who show up there to read roles. And then you get to sit in the audience, and listen to your dialogue coming from the mouths of some pretty good actors.

And then you sit on the stage, and you quietly listen and jot down notes as the other writers constructively criticize what they have just heard. And they're good at it, so you have to be at the point where you can appreciate the feedback and not mind seeing your work get torn apart if it needs it.

You will be bringing in work roughly once a month. The last Monday of each month, one of the writers gets to bring in a full script to be read by the actors (one of mine is up in 13 days).

It's a good group, full of good people serious about what they do (which isn't to say that we don't have fun as well).

If anyone is seriously interested, e-mail me for more details.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

No Country For Old Men -- SPOILERS

So I finally saw NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN today, though I went in having heard that there was a lot of debate about the ending.

**** SPOILERS ****

I hated the ending. It turned what was a great movie into an only-pretty-good one.

It's not the ambiguity that bothers me. Ambiguity is fine, and I wasn't bothered by the fact that we don't learn the fate of the wife, or the bad guy goes unpunished.

What bothered me is that this is a movie about a guy who finds a pile of money, decides to try to run with it, is chased by some truly bad men, and not only has to stay alive, but realizes that the main guy after him is such a psychopath that this is unlikely.

And we're with Josh Brolin's character. The whole Mexico sequence has some great, tense stuff. We can't wait to see what will happen next, what step he can possible take, to slip out of the noose he has wrapped himself in. And if he can't get out of the noose (and that's ultimately the case), well then that works.

But then there's that jump, and suddenly Tommy Lee Jones is driving up to the aftermath of the shooting, and Josh Brolin is dead, and what-the-hell?

Yeah, it's definitely a different way to tell the story, and in the right spot in the right movie a sequence like this can work well, because we can fill in the blanks in most crime scenes; we've seen Javier Bardem's character, and we can make some pretty good guesses about how it went down.

But it's not satisfying. Because if Josh Brolin's character reaches the point where he now truly has to fight for his life, and makes a decision that dooms him (because there WAS a decision that dooms him, whether it was walking into an ambush, or otherwise being unprepared when Javier Bardem shows up), I want to see that decision. I want to see it played out.

And the way the Coen brothers handled it, I just felt ripped off.

(How does the book handle it, does anyone know? Is there something different in the screenplay version?)

The other big problem is that, at that point, suddenly the tale is effectively over. Josh Brolin is dead, and Javier Bardem apparently has the money... and yet the movie rattles along for another 15-20 minutes of Tommy Lee Jones musing, and Javier Bardem going to see the wife, and Javier Bardem's car accident.

And don't get me wrong: there's some good writing in these scenes, and they are well put together. But the movie's over, and indeed nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in these scenes to spin the movie in any new direction. All the air has gone out of the movie, and when it was over, you can feel the deflation in the audience.

And it's not a good deflation.

Still, it's a good movie, and it really had me most of the way. It's the kind of movie that, while I was watching it, made me want to sit in front of a computer, and write something wonderful.

Now I just want to write that missing sequence.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Good News -- Paris Hilton Isn't a Movie Star

Paris Hilton's latest shot at movie stardom, "The Hottie and the Nottie", opened yesterday in 111 theaters.

It made an estimated $9,000. Total.

How bad is that? That's $81 per theater. That means, at the average theater, 8-10 paying customers bothered to go see the movie. Opening night. Friday night. All shows combined.

And given that Paris probably got a few "friends" to see it in Los Angeles, that means in rural America the numbers were probably much lower than that.

So, you know, if you're looking for a quiet place to have sex with your girlfriend, this is the movie to go see.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Weekend Box Office #70

A couple of wide releases this weekend, which will likely finish 1-2, despite the fact that both got pretty bad reviews in today's LA Times.

FOOL'S GOLD (3125 theaters). Apparently it's a pale version of "Romancing the Stone", but the romance-adventure stuff will pull in guys and girls. $20.7 million.

WELCOME HOME ROSCOE JENKINS (2385 theaters). Unenthusiastic critical response so far, but since when has that mattered for a Martin Larence movie? $19.6 million.

VINCE VAUGHN'S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW (962 theaters). This is supposed to be a solid documentary/stand-up film, but with four unknown comics, it's hard to imagine it doing all that much. $2.9 million.

Opening in only 28 screens is IN BRUGES, which is supposed to be amusing.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Will Give Notes For Food

So rumors of a possible WGA deal couldn't come at a better time for me, because things have been slow, slow, slow.

I'm luckier than a lot of people on the fringes of the movie industry; I've been getting some work. But in the last week or so it has been particularly dead.

It's a good excuse to do some writing, and I have been. I curled up with my low-budget thriller and a pen, and went through it page-by-page, tightening and punching it up in preparation for a full read that it is getting from the actors later this month at my script group.

I'm also continuing to work on the other thing, the one that I mentioned in my last post. I think I finally cracked something on it yesterday morning.

Currently I've written for at least an hour a day, for 9 straight days. Keeping it going.

Still, if anyone out there had an inclination to hire me for my famous $60 Notes Offer, now would be the time. Because I have the time now, but when this strike ends, I'm liable to get swamped. Finally.

Though let's be clear -- I still don't think they should call off the strike into the offer is fair, and right.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Setting Up My Character

So last night was my turn again to bring in 25 pages to my writing group.

I brought in the first act of the comedy/fantasy/romance I've been trying to wrestle into shape. I originally wrote it about 5-6 years ago, but though there's a lot of stuff in it I liked a lot, it never really worked. Because I never quite got a handle on the main character.

I did a new opening for group two months ago, and the other writers justifiably tore it apart. So I reworked it substantially, and brought it in again last night for the actors to read.

It went much better in general; I beefed up the humor, and that all worked really well (which is good, because I'm usually not that funny).

But the main character is still a problem.

The issue is this, in broad, non-specific strokes: He's a guy who thinks he's on top of the world, who thinks that he has life figured out, and that it's going to be great.

But then SOMETHING HAPPENS, the hook of the tale, that makes him realize that his life is a lie, and that he needs to change things now.

In the current draft, this SOMETHING happens around page 17. But the problem is that, since until this point the main character is unaware that he has a problem, it makes him a bit passive and uninteresting as a character. At least to the writers last night.

The comments I got basically boiled down to this: either I need to have the SOMETHING happen at page 10, or the character has to be more actively flawed to sustain the action until page 17.

So that's what I'm wrestling with now. The latter might work better, just because it gives more time for setting up everything that needs to get paid off later. But it's a tough juggling act, because I basically need the audience to be aware that this is a guy who needs a wake-up call, but I really don't want him to be aware of it yet.

I'll figure it out. But if you see me looking scattered, it's probably because part of my brain is chewing on it.

Best moment last night came when I was casting. There's an elderly female character in my script who uses a penis euphemism, and I told the stately, elderly actress who I wanted to do it if having a dicey line was going to be a problem; I didn't want to give her dialogue that was going to make her uncomfortable.

She looked me right in the eye and said "Ah, what the fuck".

Friday, February 01, 2008

Weekend Box Office #69

So it's Super Bowl weekend, when the studios feel like they need to program for all the Super Bowl widows, and this weekend there are a bunch of female-oriented movies. I'm not sure of the logic of this -- the Super Bowl isn't until Sunday afternoon, and there's a lot of movie time before.

Plus, with 27 Dresses and Juno still performing very well, these new releases have their work cut out for them.

THE EYE (2436 theaters). Obviously, since this is toplined by Jessica Alba, it is trying to draw the boys too. Still, this looks a bit generic; I feel like I've seen it already. $10.9 million.

OVER HER DEAD BODY (1977 theaters). This just looks dumb, and I just don't see Eva Longoria as a big movie star. $6.6 million.

STRANGE WILDERNESS (1208 theaters). I've seen an awful lot of TV commercials for this, given that isn't getting a hugely-wide release. It looks like a dopey comedy, but in a way that the young male audience it's going for may like. Though they'll probably go see "The Eye" instead. $5.5 million.

HANNAH MONTANA/MILEY CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT TOUR (683 theaters). It's in 3D, and only playing for a week, and they are charging higher ticket prices, all of which may conspire to give this a solid weekend. But pretty much only for girls between 8 and 13. $12.2 million.

There Will Be Blood expands from 885 theaters to 1507; it'll probably do about $7 million.