Monday, August 31, 2015


DEMON DAYS - Book One 
COMPLETE and on this Blog for FREE
But for a limited Time! 
This new version is creatively closer to the content quality of DEMON DAYS Books 2-4



“You need to call the police.”
The reaction on Julie Rose’s face to Sandy’s words was transparent – she felt betrayed.
“I’m really sorry to go back on my word, but what we discovered in your cellar is too disturbing to keep to ourselves.”
The assassin’s widow shut her eyes before turning her back on the two women.
Sandy waited, but when she didn’t get a response, she said, “It will look so much better if the phone call to the police comes from you. But, if you don’t make the call, Julie, I will.”
When Julie Rose turned back around, she had her mobile phone in her hand. “After I make the call, I’m sure you both will be on your way.”
“Not true. We need to stay and tell the police everything we’ve seen,” said Sandy.
“And we’ll be here after we talk to the police,” Helen chimed in. “For you and Bradley.”
“My son and I won’t be here, that’s for sure,” said Julie, before hitting some buttons on her mobile phone. “We’ll be gypsies, moving from one place to another… trying to avoid the cameras.” Before either Sandy or Helen could respond, there was an answer on the other end. “Yes, my name is Julie Rose. I'm the widow of the Tel Aviv assassin, Bernard Rose…”
 While Julie Rose spoke to the D.C. police, Sandy used the opportunity to call Bob Harris, the managing editor for 24/7 and brought him up to date about what they had found scrawled across the basement wall, and the decision to call the police. Harris asked a few questions, but made it a point of being supportive and praising Sandy for her judgement in handling the situation.
Just as they were about to hang up, Sandy asked, “Are you going to call Terry?”
“Only if you want me to,” said Harris. “I think this can wait until he wakes up. What do you think?”
“I agree,” said Sandy, quickly finishing their conversation when she saw Julie Rose end hers.
“The police are on their way.” Julie then angrily tossed her mobile phone onto a nearby couch. “I need to go upstairs to pack my son’s things so we’re ready to leave the moment the police are finished with all their questions.” She clearly had no interest in hearing anything either of the women had to say as she stormed past them to the townhouse stairway leading up to the second floor.
Helen waited until Julie was out of earshot, before saying, “By doing the right thing I feel like we just earned our ‘Front of the Line Ticket’ when we arrive at the pearly gates. How do you feel, Sands?”
“Yeah, I feel super, but after Good Morning America runs their exclusive interview with Julie Rose during the May Sweeps, I’m sure we’ll both feel differently.” Sandy started walking to the back of the townhouse to retrieve their handbags left in the rental car. “We’re going to need to show some identification when the police get here.”
Helen nodded before following Sandy. “How long do you think it will be before the police arrive?”
“Thirty minutes under normal circumstances, but because Julie identified herself as the wife of the assassin in Tel Aviv, the DC police should be here in less than ten.”
Helen waited a beat before asking her next question. “Is this a good time to ask about what happened earlier, when you rushed off to the bathroom?”
So much had transpired since Sandy sought refuge in the Roses’ bathroom, it took her a few moments to recall the details. “I was embarrassed to say anything before. However, after what we found in the basement, I’m not feeling like such an idiot telling you the truth. Remember when Julie Rose described her husband having a diving accident that ended up triggering a Near-Death Experience?”
“Yeah, I remember,” answered Helen.
“During his N.D.E., there was an angelic figure that spoke to him – ‘Your purpose amongst the living is not complete.’ Well, here’s the thing – those were the exact words Tom told me he heard from an angelic figure he saw during his Near-Death Experience.”
“Tom had an N.D.E. after the helicopter accident in Hawaii?”
“Yes. I haven’t told anyone, until now,” said Sandy. “It’s also the reason I wanted to check out the basement. I needed to know if whatever Bernard Rose went through before Tel Aviv is somehow connected to what happened to us in Hawaii.” She opened the door leading to the backyard waiting for Helen’s reaction.
 “I know it sounds crazy, but you believe me?”
“Of course I believe you,” said Helen, as she moved through the doorway into the backyard. 
Sandy couldn’t help but feel that Helen was hiding her skepticism behind her words. She noticed how Helen was moving so fast across the stone steps in the backyard it was as if she planned on escaping in the rental car rather than just retrieve their bags.
“Have I ever struck you as a conspiracy buff?”
“No. Never,” answered Helen, stopping a few from their rental car, and turned back to confront Sandy. “Is there more?”
“Yeah, there’s more,” said Sandy, as she withdrew from her pants pocket the key fop for the rental car and hit a button to unlock all the doors. “I've gone my entire life never encountering the phrase ‘the Restrainer.’ But now those words have crossed my radar twice in the last 48 hours.”
“Where else besides the cellar wall?"
“In my office, when I met with Alan Olsen.”
“The priest? I thought he was there to tell religious jokes and talk over old times?”
“I wish,” said Sandy. “No, Alan was there to talk about how his recent exorcism showed signs of an impending Apocalypse, as described in the Bible. He wanted to get my help in broadcasting his message.”
“And he used the phrase, ‘the Restrainer.”
“Yes, he did,” replied Sandy.
“Well, what did he say about it?”
“Honestly, I can’t remember. I probably tuned him out around that point because everything he was saying was so… off the rails. Seriously, can you blame me?”
“Yeah, at this very moment, I do blame you,” said Helen, in a tone that was half joking, and half serious. She walked over to the rental car and opened the door. Helen turned to Sandy to pick up their conversation, but stopped when she heard a nearby noise – something moving across the alleyway gravel. Before Helen could see anything, a Mastiff dog leaped from out of the surrounding shadows, knocking her backwards with such force that the rear side window shattered.

Sandy rushed forward to help, but was too far away when the dog bit into Helen’s neck, hitting a main artery, and causing blood to spray across the passenger side of the rental car.

The Dreams of someone who Dreams for a Living...

Friday, August 14, 2015

"Sneaky Pete" the rare example of a well executed TV pilot Script

One of my upcoming books about writing for “TV” has me 
hopefully thinking wisely about what a Professional 
Screenwriter must do to write a successful TV Pilot (or first episode in a TV series). 
“Successful” being defined as writing a script which  a network/production company decides to finance... And the shooting of the pilot ends up being broadcast...
And the show captures the interest of hundreds of thousands of viewers who commit to watching the series...
At least for the next episode. 

I recently watched the pilot on titled “Sneaky Pete.” 
Before I go into my enthusiastic response to the show, I need to declare my past connection to the star of the pilot show. 

I produced a movie, “According to Spencer,” that 
Giovani Ribbisi, the star of “Sneaky Pete,” also acted in. 
Ribbisi  was part of the production for a couple of days in a cameo part as a favor for one of the writers of the film. 

With my integrity no longer in question, I want to declare 
that “Sneaky Pete” is a TV Pilot I strongly recommend 
Professional Screenwriters writing a TV script might want to check out. I believe they will see what I saw -- a nearly flawless execution of a very difficult aspect of what we do as an art and craft -- writing TV pilots. 

No one in the industry is surprised by the top-quality work in “Sneaky Pete." The show was conceived and 
written by David Shore, the creator of the critically acclaimed show, “House M.D.” 

But even those who work in the industry could miss what is often overlooked, or just not appreciated by those who are non-writers. There are so many variables that go into the making of a great TV series, but much of the foundation of successful series begins with a Series Bible... and then a well written pilot episode. 

For the sake of comparison, I believe one of the most perfect TV pilots written and executed in the last ten years is Justified. Though the series wavered over the years in what creative direction to take -- a season-long story arc and/or 13 episodes of one-night-stand storylines - the TV pilot was so perfect it allowed for both options. 

There are many critical elements to writing a great TV 
pilot episode. So many that attempting to create a TV series and writing the first episode is the area where only angels and daredevils end up flying. 
And getting the wings to fly usually only comes with experience and knowledge. 
I leave you with one of the elements I will be writing about--

A TV pilot has some critical similarities to writing a screenplay for theatrical release. 
However, there are some huge differences. 
And understanding the differences is critical to being 
successful in writing for TV.  
Or at least writing a TV pilot.
This is why so many who have written for theatrical films have failed when they try to write for TV...  

Monday, August 3, 2015


We have the privilege every month of featuring an excerpt from Doug Pratt’s Newsletter
However, this month is special. 
I believe Mr. Pratt’s thoughts on a great movie, recently released on Home Video, is not only insightful and sublime but especially worth reading if you are a professional screenwriter/filmmaker. I’ll explain myself… but only after I mention three other movies reviewed by Mr. Pratt in his August Newsletter. 

The three movies are directed by two different filmmakers, each one working in the entertainment industry decades apart. One film is directed by a filmmaker who is currently on top of his art and craft. His latest movie shows all the signs of a thriving career. The other two reviews are works by a legendary director who had a dismal creative finish to his film career. 

Kingsman THE SECRET SERVICE is directed by Matthew Vaughn. He’s also the screenwriter along with Jane Goldman (Screenplay); Mark Millar (Comic Book "The Secret Service"); Dave Gibbons (Comic Book "The Secret Service." Vaughn was the co-writer and director of the films, X-Men-First Class; Kick Ass; and the director/producer of the crime drama Layer Cake. All of these titles were not only top notch entertaining efforts but were arguably groundbreaking in their respective genres. 

Once again, Vaughn demonstrates with his work in Kingsman THE SECRET SERVICE that he is a filmmaker clearly in touch with what is cool in cinema today (even if in this film, he’s taking “Classic” and showing how it can be retrofitted creatively to become… cool). I believe the movie showcases the promise of something even cooler down the line. 
And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the film franchise, but the filmmaker. 

Pratt tackles two films directed by legendary filmmaker Sam Peckinpah — CONVOY and The Osterman Weekend. Both movies were dismal failures at the box office, the last works by a famously cantankerous, and self-destructive creative artist who chose not to play along with the entertainment business. And now all we have is what Pratt clearly writes about – phoned in efforts by a Hollywood legend before his induction to the filmmaking hall of fame. 

the Black Stallion is a masterpiece, and Mr. Pratt is well aware of the movie’s secure place in the film pantheon. And he tackles his latest viewing of the classic by suggesting important thoughts that all filmmakers (working today/or starting out) should consider. 
I will mention only one here – how the three-act film structure inevitably is the foundation for any great story, but as Pratt points out, one may never know which of the three acts will end up becoming transcendent. And I have to admit the Black Stallion has long been in my mind as the rare example of the Second Act being the most memorable. 
I saw the movie in 1979 during its original theatrical release, and then three more times; the last occasion just s a few years ago with one of my daughters. And even now, as I write these words, what I almost exclusively think about is the boy and the horse and how they bonded on the island. My obsessive memories are not meant as a rebuke, but a validation of what Pratt writes about regarding the film in his newsletter. Indeed, his insight about the movie’s three acts raises one of the many essential thought points on this masterwork – 
Which act speaks to you as a movie lover? 
Which act speaks to you as a filmmaker? 
Which act do you believe would still resonate with a modern audience?   

This is truly a treat for non-subscribers to Doug Pratt's Newsletter. I'm excerpting the entire review written by Mr. Pratt about the Criterion Blu-Ray release which features five short films director Carroll Ballard created prior to his beautiful work on the Black Stallion. I call this a "treat" because Mr. Pratt reviews the five short films as well. Think about it -- who else is watching these DVD supplements/Films and then using their long experience, keen knowledge, and refined taste to write so throughtfully about Movies / TV shows / Media, and the shorter works of great filmmakers?

Great movies are not rare.
Several seem to show up every year, at least most years.
But once in a while there will be a movie that is exceptional even among the great films, and such a movie is Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion, which has been released as an equally exceptional Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection (UPC#715515151115, $40).
The 1979 feature has a very unusual structure, in that it has three separate and distinctive settings, so that while there is a straight narrative line through these settings, with the same two characters—a young boy and a horse—the movie really feels like three different films tacked together.  Each setting is increasingly longer in the 117minute feature, as well, but ironically, it is the first and briefest setting that you remember the most vividly, while the second setting is memorable but with less specificity, and the final and longest part of the film is often not remembered at all.  Until you’ve watched the movie a dozen times.  It does take a while to come to terms with that final segment, not because the film’s artistry is in any way compromised, but because it initially seems like the narrative has been shortchanged.  In the first segment, the boy (played with an outstanding and even unique offhandedness by Kelly Reno) is traveling on a steamship (in 1949) with his father, and the horse is on the ship, as well, being maltreated by its owner. There is a fire aboard the ship, which sinks, with only the boy and the horse surviving.  The segment is initially captivating in its sense of

adventure, and then thrilling in its excitement, the action of the sequence reinforcing the intensity of the intrigue leading up to it.  In the second segment, the boy and the horse bond on an otherwise unpopulated seashore.  Taking place over the course of what one assumes is several weeks, the sequence is transportingly idyllic, while at the same time exploring how little difference there really is between people and the smarter animals.  The final segment is set in America, the boy home safe and sound, with the horse, and the story there builds to a horserace at a big racetrack, in front of a sellout crowd, where the boy races his horse against the two fastest horses in the country.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  

Not only on paper, but the first couple of times you see it, it does seem that the film negates its own good will by going Hollywood on you, which is why you tend, at first, to completely erase that segment from your mind. 
But the film, based upon a fanciful children’s novel, never really compromises itself.  Its quiet, limited dialog style is consistent, as is its attention to environmental detail.  The outlandishness of the race is muted by the period setting, and then negated altogether by its actual staging. In almost all other horserace movies, the race is about winning or losing, but even though here you are shown who wins the race, it is actually about Reno’s character overcoming his PTSD.  As soon as you realize this, that the cheering crowds are not hailing some magical sporting achievement, but are instead hailing the return of the boy’s emotional confidence and stability, then its fancifulness becomes entirely consistent with the fancifulness of the film’s other two sequences and, in fact, the farther away from the film’s period setting the movie becomes (i.e., the older the movie gets), the more quaint and alien the America segment will seem and, hence, the closer it will bond with what precedes it. Letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 1.85:1, the picture is beautiful from start to finish.  Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is deliberately soft, which in the past has created on home video an instability in some of the stronger colors and other minor flaws, but on the BD, everything is perfect, and transporting.  It is hard to believe the sound is monophonic, because it has such variety and power.  Carmine Coppola’s musical score— certainly one of his best if not the best work he ever did—is an incredible mix of instrumentation, sometimes shifting wildly from single instruments to a full orchestra, but always in perfect union with what is happening on the screen, and always ideally suited for the images it is accompanying.  There is a rich, deep bass, and precise background details.  There are optional English subtitles if you can figure out how to activate them.  Terri Garr plays the boy’s mother, and Mickey Rooney, giving a superb, low-key performance, is the horse trainer who helps him. Along with a trailer, there is an excellent 22-minute
interview with Deschanel, who goes ever each segment of the film and what challenges he faced.  Much of the film’s ‘America’ piece was shot with a standard film crew, but the other parts were shot on location with a smaller crew, or at an Italian film studio, where the crew was used to directors kind of making things up as they went along.  “There was a lot of choices that had to be made on the moment, because when you’re dealing with a horse and a boy, and it’s unpredictable, it’s not really well trained actors hitting their marks and ending up where you know what you’re going to get.  It’s like, ‘Oh, the horse is going over there, now, do I follow him or do I follow the boy?’  So you’re constantly making those choices and those choices are where the story is and that’s where the emotion is.”  He explains that his experience making documentaries had helped him, because he could spot the ‘tells’ that let him know when the actor or the horse was going to move or change.  A nice 7-minute montage of production photos is accompanied by a voiceover talk by the photographer, Mary Ellen Mark, who shares her memories about the shoot. Where did Ballard come from?  The feature film was astonishing not just because of its beauty and unusual structure, but because it had seemed to pop up from nowhere, but Ballard had been making short films for more than a decade (including several that deliberately integrate an animal’s point of view), and Criterion presents five of them on the disc.  The first is an 11minute color educational film from 1965 entitled Pigs!, which is about precisely that, a wordless look at pigs on a farm, relaxing and going about their business.  The editing groups visual ideas together, so that there are a series of ears, for example, followed by a series of noses, and a series of tails, and a series of them eating, or scratching themselves, or digging in the mud, or of the youngsters play fighting, and so on.  Both the pigs and the film are completely oblivious about the slaughterhouse, but it is a nice little movie that probably gave many elementary school teachers their own brief respite from the demanding piglets in their charge. A 1969 public service film from an ASPCA affiliate, The Perils of Priscilla is about a cat left on her own when her family goes on vacation, as she encounters a world full of hostility, from water sprinklers and dogs to automobiles and freight trains.  The film is notable for how well and exhaustively the cat is directed.  There are long shots and close ups, action scenes and breath catching pauses, and you not only see how the cat fits into the world, you also see the world through its eyes.  Running 17 minutes, the color movie has an auspicious ending, which upset a friend that was watching the film with us, but is ideally suited for Ballard’s client, since it drives home the message the client wishes to impart with a firm but gentle emotional power.  The magic of the Black Stallion remains, but it is less surprising after one sees what Ballard had done before. Ballard turns his focus at least partially toward humans in the 1969 color film, Rodeo, funded by Marlboro cigarettes (which a couple of riders are seen smoking in one shot).  Running 20 minutes, the film is primarily a depiction of the bull riding competition, as Ballard pays an equal amount of attention to the anticipation and then the frenzy of the ride itself, from the perspective of the riders as well as the bulls.  The film is not interested in who wins or loses the competition.  Some of the riders make their 8 seconds, and most do not.  But you get a good feel for the tension and the release, and how the individuals, both two legged and four legged, cope with it. As with Black Stallion, Ballard also makes extensive use of slow motion (basically at the same time that Sam Peckinpah started using it), which may be standard for televised rodeo competitions these days, but was still fairly innovative when Ballard employed it, and especially innovative in the way that he employed it, not so much to detail the minutia of the ride as to reveal the balletic beauty of the man and beast pas de deux.  The longest and most significant, and spellbinding, short is a 47minute black-and-white program from 1971 entitled Seems Like Only Yesterday, which is entirely about humans.  Ballard interviews elderly residents of Los Angeles, intercutting their oral histories with quick (and now, ironically, nostalgic) montages of Southern California life in the late Sixties, as well as rapid fire images from the media, including footage of an Apollo mission.  Most of those being interviewed were alive when Los Angeles was hardly even an orange grove—and powered flight had yet to be invented—so the parallel of how rapidly the city became a metropolis and how technology itself underwent its own form of urban sprawl during the same time frame is deliberate.  They also reminisce about everything from ostrich farms and shooting their own dinners, to life on the vaudeville circuit and the influx of Asian immigrants.  The film is a wonderful treasure of memories and characters, and its preservation on Blu-ray seems particularly appropriate. The final piece in the collection, Crystallization, from 1974, may look like an animated film, but it is actually a montage of microscopic photography that shows patterns of crystals expanding and travelling until their development is arrested by other crystals.  Set to a rhythmic musical score, the 11-minute color film is pretty, and encourages you to think about the hidden structures in the world around you, but it is fairly specific in its purpose and limited in its resonance. There are brief interviews with Ballard before each film, running a total of 11 minutes.  

He explains why he made each one (usually because he was desperate for cash) and how each one was staged.  On Crystallization:  “I always thought of it as a light show, but it’s somehow kind of interesting that inanimate matter sort of coalesces like that out of nothing into these shapes and these forms.”  His comments on Seems Like Only Yesterday, which included an interview with his own 102-year old grandfather, are both poignant and wide-eyed.  The nostalgia of Black Stallion seems grounded in this same impulse. Ballard, who uses his hands quite a bit when he speaks (you can’t just listen to him, you have to watch him) also talks about Black Stallion itself, in a 47-minute interview from 2015.  He describes his own background, and credits producer Francis Coppola with giving him the chance to direct the movie, when Coppola was swamped with his own projects and needed a quick score.  He goes into many of the details of the shoot, and how various memorable moments were achieved, and he talks about the terrific cast.  The only way the film could have been made was to keep it as far from Hollywood as possible, and while the crew was substantially larger than what he had been used to working with in his educational films, it was still small enough to eliminate the normal hierarchies and achieve the ‘guerrilla’ style mentality that can create classic movies.  “If you can get ten people who are all trying and really working to make something happen, and they have an idea of what that’s going to go, you can do fantastic things.” 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I've always been a huge fan of Kurt Russell, the Professional actor (and will be writing about my love of his professional work soon).
I worked with Oliver Hudson on a film I produced. During the production he and I talked about his childhood, and what an amazing Stepfather Kurt Russell was in raising he and his sister.
Growing up in a family with a step brother and step sister, I came to believe that one of the greatest challenges any Man may face in his lifetime is taking on the responsibility of being a Stepfather to children.  

The Men who take it on… and end up getting Love decades later from their stepchildren already know they are heroes.
I celebrate Kurt Russell today, Professional actor… but a Man who continues to demonstrate a commitment to his family.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Stringer Shoots what he Sees and We all Watch


The lead review in Doug Pratt's July Newsletter is on 42nd Street 

Pratt writes the classic Busby Berkeley musical is (recently released on Blu-Ray) “looking as smooth and clear as any recent production.” For those who enjoy having their classic movies with the most pristine transfer, this looks like the digital version of the film to add to your library.  

I still haven’t seen one of the recent releases Pratt reviews - FURY starring Brad Pitt (written and directed by David Ayer). I will admit the negative reviews upon its initial release discouraged me from seeking it out in the theatre. After reading the July newsletter, I feel like I missed a war movie I would have loved to see on the big screen. Pratt writes, “Essentially, the film is akin to a restoration. It takes a traditional subgenre format and brings in sophisticated special effects… the emotional paradoxes of soldiering, and a construction of tension and excitement that is built upon all of the moviemaking experiences that have preceded it. The film is as classic a WWII movie as you could hope to find, something that gets made less and less often as newer wars vie for the interests of audiences.”  

One of the most thoughtful reviews in the newsletter is about the indie film, Whiplash. I liked the movie a lot, but have to agree with Pratt’s overall assessment - “the film is great fun, and even thrilling in its finale, (but) is nevertheless, so flawed that somebody ought to be throwing cymbals at the filmmakers.” Whether you are a fan of the film or not, the details in his review are worth reading.  

The featured excerpt from the July Newsletter is NIGHTCRAWLER. When I originally saw the movie during its theatrical release, I couldn’t help reminiscing about my job prior to embarking on my career as a screenwriter and producer in Hollywood. I worked as a news videotape editor at different TV Stations in Los Angeles. I grew up always wanting to write screenplays and produce movies, but I wound up working in this field for over five years. 
Why so long? Because the TV news business is unbelievably intoxicating once you get involved. 
And this is what the filmmakers capture so well -- the almost hypnotic lure that what you shoot (or in my case, what I was editing) that day will appear only hours later on TV... and watched by hundreds of thousands of people. 
Halfway through watching NIGHTCRAWLER in the theatre, I turned to my date and said, “this was my life for years. Why didn’t I write this screenplay?” I’m still rolling around that question in my head, but now must admit after seeing the movie a second time, that whatever I came up with would have been half as good as the script written by Dan Gilroy.
Here's what Pratt had to say about the movie --

Where the News comes From

What goes on behind the fa├žade of the evening (or, more specifically, the morning) news on TV is the focus of the deviously witty and entertaining NIGHTCRAWLER, a Universal release (UPC#025192268571, $30). Jake Gyllenhaal portrays a creepy, quasi-psychopath (we knew a couple of those back in the days of laser discs), who finds success chasing ambulances as a freelance cameraman, selling his footage to a local TV station.  He doesn’t reach a point where he is actually causing havoc in order to film it, but he gets so close to doing it that you expect he may well go that way after the film is over.
Running 118 minutes, the film sets everything up in its first half, and then in its second half presents a specific crime that the hero stumbles upon, staying ahead of his competition as he sees (and manipulates) the case through to its conclusion. 

Gyllenhaal’s performance is so icky you wonder how the poor guy got any dates at all after the movie came out, but that is one of the film’s many perverse pleasures, especially as he comes onto a news producer played by Renee Russo.  It’s a shame their actual liaison got left on the cutting room floor, or never made it into the script to begin with, but that is one of the many careful choices that writer/director Dan Gilroy made for the 2014 production, to avoid repulsing a viewer so much that the pleasures the film has to offer would be lost in the distraction. 

Instead, there are slick, glossy nighttime shots of Los Angeles, speedy plot turns, and a constant sense of energy (the hero never seems to need sleep) that whips you through the story before you have a chance to resist it. The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The video footage used with in the film is naturally inferior, but the actual cinematography is crisp and shiny, and the DVD replicates it with precision. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound has no exceptional moments, but is adequately delivered.  There are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles, and a passable 5-minute promotional featurette. 

Gilroy and his two brothers, Tony, who produced the film, and John, who edited it, provide a fairly good commentary track, describing the production as it progressed and what it was like working with the cast and crew.  The film was shot in Los Angeles right before Christmas, so they managed to attract a number of artists who wanted to spend the holidays at home before going on to their next assignment, and they go into detail on how they managed to squeeze quite a bit of production value out of a limited budget.  They also talked about the performances (Gyllenhaal starved himself during the shoot, and sort have had to be restrained during the one sequence where his character is eating some fast food) and about Gyllenhaal’s choice to put his longish hair in a bun for a few scenes, which caused widespread panic for a while. 
“The most important thing I can say on this commentary [is that] every single movie I’ve ever been on, as it’s just about to shoot, the most important thing on every film is not the script, it’s not the cast, it’s not the locations, it is hair. Hair dominates every single show at the last minute.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015


What's the Best Approach to Working out Your Story?

As a screenwriter, one of the top three goals when I begin a new project is what I will label - Originality/and /or Creative Invention within a Genre ("O/and/or/CIG"). 

More often than not, when writing a screenplay, I fail in attempting to maintain a high standard of O/and/or/CIG. It does not give me any comfort that I believe most other screenwriters also similarily fail. 

As a Film Producer, I admit when reading other writers' scripts, the creative standard listed above is high on the list when judging what I read. 

I believe O/and/or/CIG to be the most important creative factor for an unknown screenwriter to eventually become someone who's name and work the industry notices.   
For professional screenwriters this factor is what should be at the top of the list when writing a spec script. The originality of the project will give those who work on the development side something they can champion. The inventiveness of the writing could be the special something that a producer will carry with him (for years if need be), because it could be the project that defines their career. 
And no matter what, writing with an original slant increases the odds that years from now, the work will be judged in a positive way by critics and audiences... and by other filmmakers. 

Therefore, what I find unforgivable is for a writer, especially one trying to gain access to the industry, to begin a project waving the white flag from the outset. 
Keep in mind, that during the process of writing a screenplay and getting your work produced inevitably there will be plenty of obstacles along the way dooming initial efforts at originality and genre inventiveness. 
So why not start with this key goal in mind? 
Professional Screenwriters know the obvious answer -- Creating with the standard of  O/and/or/CIG is very challenging, especially at the first stage of the process when one is working out the basics of the story. 
Why is this true? 
I believe the most important factor (one of many) is biological -- 
The human brain is lazy. 
And most of the time,  the human Creative Brain is even Lazier

For a brief summary of how the brain works, I want to quote from the recent bestselling book, "Thinking Fast and Slow." The author of the book, Daniel Kahneman, describes two independent, but also very interactive/interlocked parts of the human brain as the foundation of how we think. He calls these two distinct parts of our brain "System 1" and "System 2." 

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. 

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. 

Like everyone else, creators use both the System 1 and System 2 parts of our brain, but because our brains are lazy (like everyone else) we end up primarily drawing from the System 1 part of our brains.
And this is why we often times end up with regurgitation rather than originality. 

Problems can occur even when one is very successful at tapping System 2. For instance, a writer can create a work generally acknowledged to be original and inventive.  But then a problem comes up -- Now what? 
Repeating a creative sucess can be difficult because when drawing repeatedly from System 2 using the same creative path one can often end up with diminished creative returns. This would explain why a creative artist with a huge success winds up being considered a "One Trick Pony."
Sounds complicated... only because it is complicated. 
But the bottom line is this - our brains want to default to what is comfortable... and then repeat it over and over again. 

This means the creative process in the brain should be treated with care and special handling at all times. 
As an evolving artist/writer/creator there is nothing wrong with being influenced by the art/craft that gives us joy/inspiration.  The problem arises when we allow what we love to dominate our creative thoughts. And not just dominate, but end up excluding any other original thoughts from getting into the picture when one is trying to conceptualize a creative project.  

This is a huge problem because of the easy access to a ton of artistic work. At a certain point the 24/7 barrage of media can cause a disruptive influence on the creative mind. Rather than having a collection of movies (or an artist's work) influence one's creativity, instead an overload of media intake could restrict the way our creative brain synapses work, resulting in many potentially talented artists regurgitating rather than creating. 

For the professional screenwriter, when tackling any new creative endeavor, the goal should be to access the System 2 part of the brain. This is where creative originality will be buried, waiting to be discovered. Of course, when one goes this route, it means traveling the road not often travelled on because it is usually unpaved and inevitably will lead to a dead end. 

But this is still the road to take if you want to discover the Creative Cliff, where those who are brave enough, take the dive hoping the size of their splash will be large enough to grab the attention of the people standing on the beach.  

Monday, June 15, 2015

I will use the recent MAD MAX movie... 

And my take on the brilliant filmmaking (words originally written on another blog) as a seque to mention a positive review on "The Wind Raider" Book which mentioned The Mad Max Movies... 

I can remember the huge rumble when The Road Warrior (aka: Mad Max 2 Internationally ) opened here in the states way back then. At the time the indie import from Australia was a refreshing slap across the face for those who loved action movies. The Road Warrior ended up achieving deserved legendary status in the Great Action Films Hall of Fame. But I invoke the 1981 film only to give context to what I write now  -- 
Mad Max: Fury Road makes The Road Warrior look like a Sunday Walkabout-in-the-Outback with picnic baskets ! 

MM:FR is such an awesome creative achievement, not only because the director, George Miller (the same director on all the Mad Max Movies), was able to conceive and deliver (decades after the last sequel) a production that felt very much conjoined in spirit to the original films... he also executed an action film that showcases what modern action filmmaking is capable of achieving when the bottomline isn't about how good the cgi looks, but more about an expert director focusing on composition... movement... and editing. 

I could go on and on about other aspects about the film - how it was shot, produced, and written - but will ask for a raincheck, and in the future write about this film in an upcoming Professional Screenwriting book focused on writing action movies in the contemporary marketplace. 
For now, I will only mention the restrained use of 3D in the production of MM:FR. Miller chose to use the 3D process as a way of enlarging spatial clarity in the action scenes, and never resorted to doing cheesy 3D visual gimmicks. Only at the very end of the movie does Miller cut loose and show you what he could have done throughout, if he had creatively chosen to betray the DNA of the franchise. 

This is a great film! A movie people should see in the theatre. Before it's too late. Catch an Old SCHOOL filmmaker taking a NEW SCHOOL vehicle out for a long test drive. 

This reminded me quite a bit of "The Road Warrior"..........or at least those kind of stories. It is a fast paced story that I was able to read in 1 day. Very good at keeping me wanting more. Never a dull moment to be sure.


Monday, June 1, 2015

One Film Critic on Four Big Movies

We continue with our new regular Blog Feature –
An Excerpt from Film Critic Doug Pratt -- his thoughts on a film taken from his Monthly Newsletter of reviews on three dozen titles available on DVD/Blu-Ray/and Streaming. 

Mr. Pratt leads his June Newsletter with the Clint Eastwood directed movie, American Sniper.” Pratt believes the film “is superbly crafted entertainment,” and that the storytelling* allows Eastwood to stage the movie “with such clarity and straightforward simplicity that everything is there for the viewer to apprehend.”

* RSF: The screenplay for the film has a "Written by" credit for Jason Hall, which is unusual because the other three writers with writing credits are authors of books -- Chris Kyle (of course), Scott McEwen, and Jim DeFelice. Usually the WGA grants a “written by” credit only when the screenplay of the movie is an original script, not an adaptation. But the credit can be used under rare circumstances. To quote from the WGA manual --"biographical, newspaper and other factual sources may not necessarily deprive the writer of such credit." Which means that there was enough "original stuff" written by Jason Hall to get the "Written by" Credit. 

Pratt’s take on “The Imitation Game,” the period drama about the WWII code breaker and the inventor of the modern computer, Alan Turing, (played by Benedict Cumberpatch) is against the grain of many critics who were happy to see the film’s storyline include the fact the lead character was gay. Pratt was actually critical of the way the filmmakers handled the integration of the issue. He believed the creative opportunity for something more profound was squandered when the main character’s sexual orientation (and the necessity of keeping this hidden throughout his life) was introduced, featured at times, but ultimately never really integrated in a satisfying way within the main storyline. “Like so many aspects of Turing’s legacy, it fails to give its subject the complete level of respect that he deserves.”
Pratt was not the only critic to have problems with the film on this issue. In the New York Review of Books, writer Christian Caryl was very critical of the way the filmmakers handled the main character being gay and how this issue functioned in the storytelling. His take on the film can be read here.  

For those who love classic movies, Pratt’s review of the Blu-Ray release of “Touch of Evil,” (directed by Orson Welles) will give a true film connoisseur all the info he needs to decide whether to update their film collection. Pratt’s rundown on the home video release includes the disc’s specs; why this movie still matters; and Pratt’s verdict on the quality of the Blu-Ray – “Spellbinding.”

The Featured Excerpt from Pratt’s newsletter is on the film “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” I was looking forward to reading Mr. Pratt’s thoughts on this film, a reworking of the Classic Biblical story made famous by Cecil B. Demille’s “The Ten Commandments,” a perennial holiday favorite for Network TV (where I believe in an alternate universe it has been airing even before it was first theatrically released in 1956). 

But I was mostly excited about reading Pratt’s take because the director of "Exodus" is Ridley Scott, coming up on an anniversary -- almost forty years directing movies since his theatrical film debut in 1977 (which Pratt mentions below in his review).  
With over thirty credited films to his credit (including the classics, “Alien,” and “Blade Runner,”), Scott would be one of the few examples of a god-head director who still walks amongst the entertainment industry with his status as a bankable filmmaker largely intact. Scott’s choice to direct a period piece (or SF production) is often times the only way a big budgeted, non-Marvel/DC production gets made today. All of his directing efforts have included traditional theatrical artistry and spectacle sprawl, even his most recent productions which were in the midst of the Neo-Golden age of Television, where the look of many TV productions now showcase theatrical artistry and spectacle sprawl. 
Despite the changing times of the movie landscape, Ridley Scott (to paraphrase a line from "Sunset Blvd.) is still big, its only the pictures that almost everyone else is directing that have become smaller.  

Scott Epic

After years of making commercials, which require cutting information down to the absolutely essential bits only, Ridley Scott made his first movie, The Duellists, and one of its finer attributes was its narrative momentum. As soon as it had established enough information about the characters that the viewer understood what was happening, it would leap forward in time to the next point where the characters were impacted by their decisions.  There were no tedious redundancies in getting the characters from one point to the next.  Once you knew that they couldn’t stop dueling when they met, the next cut is smack dab into the middle of the next duel. 
Scott’s newest movie is his 2015 production of Exodus Gods and Kings released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (UPC#02454393-7432, $30), essentially an updated rendition of the story best known to moviegoers as The Ten Commandments, about the life of Moses as it is told in the Old Testament.  Pretty much.  If there is a God, then John Turturro will survive the short memories of the Motion Picture Academy members and earn a Supporting Actor nomination for his outstanding, Hollywood-to-perfection rendition of the elder Egyptian leader, who is the biological father of the film’s villain, played by Joel Edgerton, and the adoptive father of the hero, played by Christian Bale, whose leadership skills he favors. 
Everybody knows the basic story and Scott knows that they know.  He and co-screenwriter Jeffrey Caine toy with the knowledge, offering up vaguely realistic alternative explanations to most of the famous ‘miracles,’ and even suggesting, at least as a tease, that the hero’s conversations with God’s messenger are a mental disturbance and nothing more.  Furthermore, no miracle at all occurs in the film until after the hero has a serious accident on the side of a mountain, so that everything after that could just as easily be a death dream.  But giving the filmmakers and the characters the benefit of the doubt, the film can also be taken literally as it tells the centerpiece of one of the world’s first great narratives.  Bale is fine as the hero and carries the film on his shoulders well enough, although the process by which his character begins to understand his true heritage is not well played.  His interactions with the Hebrew slaves never grip the viewer, perhaps because Caine and Scott chose not utilize the device of having his immediate relations be among those slaves. 
The greatest disappointment in the movie, however, is Edgerton, who does what is required of him, but is so bland that neither his villainy nor the human reflexes beneath the villainy are as distinctive as the movie requires them to be.  And then at the end, Scott starts overdoing his assumptions.  The film already runs 150 minutes, but after the bit about parting the Red Sea is over, Scott faces the sense that the movie is too, so he rushes through the remaining plot, showing Moses writing the Commandments, for example, but never actually identifying them and certainly never reading them off.  Scott’s command of momentum fails him, and the movie, which is generally a mixed bag, seems to fail as well.  On the whole, the film is not the disaster that the disappointing Noah turned out to be, but it is not the inherent success that the material has proved to be in the past.  Many of the special effects are terrific, and enough homework was done to give the viewer a decent sense of what life in Ancient Egypt was like, with or without plagues and burning bushes, but except for Turturro, the characters are often overwhelmed by the effects, unable to seize command of the screen and lead the viewers to the promised entertainment.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  The color schemes are fairly dark, even in the desert sun, but the effects are smooth and well crafted.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is reasonably strong, but distinctive separation effects are modest.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“Nighttime.  Viewed from beneath the river, frogs swim to the fish-laden surface.  On the banks, a palace servant reaches his hand out to one of the frogs.  It strikes him with its tongue.  The servant holds a torch over the steps, scanning the horde of frogs.  In the city, frogs fill the streets.”), French and Spanish audio tracks in standard stereo, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and 9 minutes of deleted scenes, all of which would have been welcome within the movie and would have explained the story a little more clearly, although it seems that Scott simply could not separate himself enough from what Cecil B. DeMille had staged for the final act, and so he chose to trim it to the bone instead.  Speaking separately, Scott and Caine also provide an informative commentary track.  Although once in a while Scott delves a little too much into giving a story byplay, he is his usual encyclopedic self, explaining why various shots were chosen, how the actors approached their scenes, what motivates the different characters, how the special effects were blended with the live footage, and the specific challenges he confronted along the way.  “Getting the hats, and the cloth hats, right, this was quite tricky, because when you see them as sculpture, it’s one thing, but when you put a tablecloth on somebody’s head, it doesn’t look right.  So I tried to work it out. I think the cloth was clearly a neck, keep the sun off because the sun would be very hot, and maybe underneath the cloth itself, may have been a helmet? They keep the helmet cool, and also protect you.  So you tend to make things up when you look at things historically and say, ‘Why is that?’ Usually, what spells out is something practical.”