Issue Thirty Nine
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KIND WORDS FROM OUR CURRENT CONTEST WINNER!!
Being a published novelist in the UK, when I decided to adapt my books into screenplays, I, as a layman in the art of scriptwriting, needed considerable help and advice, and LOTS and LOTS of guidance. I turned to three of my
screenwriting friends for a recommendation of which of the many screenwriting consultants listed on the web I should approach, and to a man they ALL recommended hollywoodscript.com.
I took their advice and am delighted that I did so. I worked on one adaptation with Craig, and the other with Judy and both have turned, with their infinite patience and editing suggestions, my first lumps of clay into screenplays which eventually won their prestigious screenplay competition.
Both screenplays are now attracting considerable interest from Producers, Directors and Agents, none of whom I would have got within a stone's throw of without Craig and Judy's sheer professionalism, and I not only thank them from the bottom of my heart, but will shortly be sending them my next two
adaptations in the certain knowledge that I will receive the same 110% help, advice and guidance from them that I received with my first two. I know I couldn't be in better hands.
Richard H Rees
March 11, 2008
***BIG CONGRATS TO OUR NEW CONTEST WINNER JACQUELINE STAHL FOR HER FINE SCRIPT “NEAR DEATH TANGO” WHICH WILL BE GOING UP ON THE SITE (AND BEING INTRO’D TO THE INDUSTRY) VERY SHORTLY.
“COMEDY AT THE EDGE”
PLEASE CHECK OUT RICHARD ZOGLIN’S (TIME MAGAZINE EDITOR/WRITER) NEW BOOK “COMEDY AT THE EDGE” (BLOOMSBURY USA/ DISTRIBUTED BY MACMILLIAN). IT’S ALL ABOUT “THE REINVENTING OF A VERY AMERICAN ART FORM”-STAND UP COMEDY. AND YOUR’S TRULY HAS A FEW NICE QUOTES IN THE BOOK (ABOUT MY ONE TIME CLIENT, GEORGE CARLIN AND OTHERS). FYI, IT MAY BE THE BEST BOOK EVER ON THIS SUBJECT!
Here’s a small excerpt involving Carlin’s appearance in a nightclub during his sometimes painful transition from the hippy dippy “AM” type comic-to the “FM” cutting edge icon—
“Kellem, Carlin’s agent blanched when he read the reports of the Lake Geneva debacle in Variety. ‘Usually a bad review says your client didn’t get any laughs. This one says my client was chased off the stage. That is not a good review.’”
TIPS FROM OUR ESTEEMED RELATIVE, HOLLYWOOD LIT/TALENT AGENT JIM KELLEM
1. There's a big market for "straight-to-dvd" movies. Films that can be made for $2 million or less and a script that is attractive enough that you can attach a star.
2. 3-camera taped, character-driven half-hour comedies are back in vogue at the networks.
3. The networks are developing one-hour dramas around quirky characters (a la Monk, House, etc.). The “right” quirky character can be the deciding factor in the sale.
4. There's a big market on black-themed plays that are well written to star someone like Boris Kodjoe or Terrence Howard.
5. All features (big or small budget) should be written with a star in mind.
6. Ensemble comedies or dramas are very hard to setup.
7. A good holiday movie (drama or comedy) is something the studios always look for but rarely get. Again, it must be a star vehicle to get made.
Here’s a link to Jim’s vast and impressive credits. http://www.hollywoodscript.com/jimkellem.pdf
Thanx Jim (;
By Craig Kellem
Was it a lifetime ago or just a couple of long months since I sent you all this little note?
“Hi Folks-just to let you know that we're giving up the nice country view here in New Hampshire and trading it in for a NYC skyline view, from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. We feel it's a good trade and we're happy to be going back to an area where we spent good years in the past.”
Well, I’m happy to report that we’ve made it to our new life. And so far, it’s pretty darn good even though folks did question why we would leave our idyllic country nook.
One writer put it this way, “New Jersey instead of New Hampshire. What’s next , Detroit!!”
He’s wrong but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about the ordeal of actually getting here. In fact, living here may be the easy part compared to the move itself.
Our regular readers know how much we emphasize conflict, jeopardy, obstacles and angst, as it pertains to effective screenwriting, and there was absolutely no shortage of these elements in this transition. So I couldn’t help but see this trek, and all that came with it, as a source of effective material!
And seeing it all through a screenwriting prism reminded me of years ago when I was hot to be a writer. Always seemed that I was overflowing with experiences I thought would work well in scripts. But I couldn’t collect them fast enough since I was often worried that, like trying to catch elusive butterflies in a net, they would be lost forever if I didn’t capture them immediately on paper and such. But it’s hard to constantly stop and record such things. How I struggled with doing it “right.”
I didn’t realize at that time that the actual source of “material” was endless because, good or bad, I seemed to feel and notice everything. Even as a naïve youth, ideas were always abundant. Sure, there were things to record and remember, but after the realization that I’d never lose who I am, I could at last trust that my repository would always be full of (hopefully) rich veins if I needed them.
The move we recently made is a case in point re this creative stimulation and mounting source of material. There were so many situations, incidents, anecdotes, and emotional moments that we experienced that I thought one could almost create a legitimate basis for a film here.
So, in that spirit, here’s a list of a few of the incidents and situations that could be used in this type of creative effort. I’M DOING THIS TO SHARE THIS PROCESS WITH FOLKS.
Let’s start off with the very worst moment. After all pain almost aIways makes it to the final cut!
THE DISASTROUS BONFIRE. My wife hadn’t been filing our bills and personal papers etc for years, which was always a kind of never ending issue with us. They were stashed here and there…mostly…there. So, as we started to pull things out of closets, these files and boxes began to show their unwelcome selves en masse much to her absolute horror. I must admit that I was somewhat amused about this moment of truth, and couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of putting them ALL IN ONE HIDEOUS PILE, looking forward to a kind of Ralph Kramden moment, “Take a good look at it Alice!” etc etc.
She threatened to attack me while I was sleeping if I uttered another word on the subject!
Ok the devilish temptation passed but, the odious pile continued to grow and just wasn’t going away! What could we do with it all? I mean, in this age of identity theft, you’re not supposed to just throw stuff like this “as is” in a dumpster, so that option was out. Way too much stuff to rip up by hand and the clock was ticking loudly, we had heaps of other things to do. It would take weeks to dispose of all this via our pathetic little paper shredder. What an annoying dilemma.
So, in a moment of desperation, I had the bright idea to burn it all. What a comforting image this was. And did we ever have a fine spot in our field for our glorious “spring” bonfire…in..um… December. So going with this notion, seemed very tempting. What fun it would be to watch the unwanted mountain of crap explode into a mass of beautiful healing flames.
But was it going to be a problem that it was 15 degrees outside with a whole lot of snow on the ground? Hey, I surmised, I’ve seen plenty of folks around the area burn stuff in the winter. In fact it could even be considered a somewhat macho type activity that perhaps I was just about ready for.
Secretly still being a bit of a wuss though, I decided to hedge my bet by calling, Jed, a young guy who works at the local dump, and ask him if he could “help me.” Jed’s definitely a real man type, and if anyone could build a bonfire in the snow, he could. So, after out- negotiating me as usual, the big day arrived when we were finally going to rid ourselves of this unwanted litter.
How soothing it all felt.
Be careful what you wish for!
I got the first of many sinking feelings as I watched Jed prep the fire. Why wasn’t he boring a space to the bottom of the pre-existing pile of brush, clearing a good area and taking dry wood and starting a regular pyramid type fire that would eventually gain strength, and then spread, creating a massive cauldron of flames
Hey he was the expert. Just let it happen, I told myself.
But would his method of using a little kerosene and a bit of kindling really do the trick? The answer was to be a resounding no.
Moods darkened swiftly.
Long story short, the fire was pathetically … pathetic.
Did I mention that it was freezing outside, 15 above that seemed like 15 below and getting colder by the minute?
I still rationalized, that maybe something good would eventually happen. This hope was soon overtaken by my mounting and predicable irritation at my wife for creating this mess to begin with and this inflated resentment was exacerbated when noticing, as we tried to crumple the papers and throw them into the “hot part” of the fire, that we kept missing it (by a mile) and so the papers started blowing every which way for all to see in perpetuity. It didn’t help at this point that poor Jed couldn’t stop himself from occasionally glancing at these most personal papers. In fact, on further observation, he was reading them with the scrutiny of an accountant. It got me crazy!
What a disaster this was becoming.
It only got worse!
The moment soon arrived when the futility of the enterprise was painfully apparent. Jed wisely found reason to flee the premises and now it was just the two of us again…and our indestructible cache of…our now most hated records.
If you were a smoker, you could’ve hardly lit a cigarette with the remaining “flames.”
Oh, how bitter defeat tasted as we accepted the inevitable and ended up having to re-box what was left, which was most of what we had started with, schlepping the papers back into the house, but not before falling a couple of times in the snow.
Script junkie that I am however, I couldn’t help thinking that despite this hour of misery and defeat, it would make a good scene! And, awful as everything that followed was, I couldn’t help but think that the whole damn experience might just make a good concept!
CONCEPT-A LIKEABLE FAMILY DECIDES TO TAKE A CHANCE IN THEIR LIVES AND, AGAINST ALL ADVICE, MIGRATES FROM NIRVANA, BACK TO THE CITY FROM WHENCE THEY CAME. BUT IT WON’T BE EASY. AS THEY SOON FIND OUT JUST THE ACT OF MOVING ITSELF CAN THREATEN TO RUIN THEIR LIVES.
Here’s how I’d start “sandboxing” it—ie: assembling scenes, ideas, character bits, building an inventory to see if this idea wants to fly (without yet connecting the dots).
Flashbacks to the selling period, when it was so strange to have to STAGE your house by, (among other things), removing the now seemingly hurt stares of your dear relatives (in photographs of course) which the broker said would make prospective buyers “uncomfortable.”
The odd moment when the realization hits you that the only thing worse than having too much stuff is when that “too much stuff,” is out of the closets and out of the drawers and totally in your face.
Rage montage of horrible inconveniences never anticipated such as the depressing tyranny of clutter and endless items in the attic that you still can’t find it your heart to toss out.
Too many trips to give away goods to charity. Now they see you coming and shades are pulled down; doors suddenly get locked. They’re sick of you!
The shocking revelation that “great” idea you had about MOVING YOURSELF was equivalent to doing your own dental work! Now you have to find somebody to move you and find him fast. How about a scene with the last minute mover who knows he has you by the short hairs.
THE USUAL THINGS THAT GO WITH SELLING YOUR HOUSE THAT YOU’LL HAVE TO WRITE IN A HOPEFULLY UNIQUE WAY.
Be careful what you wish for, you have an offer and you now have to decide for sure. House sells, time is set, things are falling apart exponentially. Things go from bad to worse in the marital relationship.
As each aspect of the logistics ensue, the dog becomes more clingy and obsessive. He even contracts a canine version of conjunctivitis and needs medication caused by…stress.
The ongoing tyranny of technology which, at every turn, from DSL setups, to opening doors electronically, confounds you. A desperate moment when, after waiting days for the Verizon guy (and feeling crazed as a result), you stalk an innocent Verizon repairman on the street (who is there for someone else). He instinctively seems to realize that his resistance to your forthcoming plea will not be as great as your ferocious demand for immediate help. (Would make a good payoff at the end of the scene when he doesn’t have a clue on how to fix it and now you’re both upset and frustrated).
Christmas is soon ignored. You become so stressed out that even the kiddies around you get stiffed. Showing up with zilch will definitely make an auspicious start to the new life and a darn good scene. Or shopping at the last minute and presenting “desperation gifts” could work nicely as well.
A corny moment when you make it over to Hoboken and sit in a diner where the house gimmick is five cent jukebox tunes and you can’t avoid the temptation to play Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” And you suddenly realize that you’re staring directly at the Hudson and the majestic New York skyline and feeling like such a schmuck for tearing up while stuffing your face with sausage links and potatoes.
Your wife stands in hoarding son’s room (he’s conveniently off on a LONG trip)! As she gazes at the mess she sadly and hopelessly utters “everything he’s ever owned is still in this room.” At that moment she spots a long forgotten ten dollar bill in his drawer. She seizes it savagely crumples it into a ball and plunges it into her pocket while uttering”AND I’M KEEPING THIS.”
And then of course there’s the unexpected Nor’ Easter that hits as the final whooping, after your careful negotiation with your wife to leave in December to avoid the snow!!!
I’m sure you get it by now. Whomever said “write what you know” was on to something.
CHECK OUT THIS FINE ARTICLE ABOUT THESE AMAZING FILMMAKERS!
Code of Coens: How to succeed in filmmaking
Six habits two highly effective filmmakers have employed in their career
By Christopher Bahn
From their audacious 1984 debut “Blood Simple” onward, filmmaker brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have built a remarkably consistent and unmistakably personal body of work.
Their latest, a hard-edged adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “No Country For Old Men,” is one of the frontrunners at this year’s Oscars, tied with “There Will Be Blood” with eight nominations, including best picture.
While it clearly ranks alongside “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski” as the brothers’ best work, “No Country” has an unusual place among their movies, in some ways perfectly typical of their style and in others an unexpected reinvention of it. Here’s a quick look at some of the characteristic hallmarks of the Coen brothers’ success.
Know what you excel at and don’t be afraid to specialize in it
The Coens make essentially two kinds of movies: Wacky dark comedies about well-meaning idiots with a penchant for larceny, and brooding crime thrillers inspired by the classic authors of the noir genre. They established that pattern early on: “Blood Simple” drew its noir themes of jealousy, murder and revenge from the stories of James M. Cain. Their follow-up, 1987’s baby-kidnapping comedy “Raising Arizona,” at the time seemed like a 180-degree turn into wacky and cheerfully ironic territory.
Looking back, it’s now clear that every film since then lives somewhere between the signposts defined by those two films. There is some crossover between the two modes — “Fargo” is a near-perfect synthesis of both — but generally they alternate between the two styles from film to film, and have not significantly stepped outside their self-defined boundaries. Some might call that a lack of range, but nobody complains that Van Gogh painted too many sunflowers.
Find good people to work with, and work to their strengths
The Coens often write their scripts with specific actors in mind. For instance, they had to wait to film the upcoming “Burn After Reading” until George Clooney, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand were all available at the same time. Their loose-knit stable of actors has been a hallmark of their films, with memorable repeat performances by John Goodman, John Turturro, Steve Buscemi and Stephen Root, and sometimes a bit of in-jokey humor: Holly Hunter moves from an infertility in “Raising Arizona” to a mother of seven in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”; Billy Bob Thornton plays the taciturn title role in “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” then an irrepressible motormouth in “Intolerable Cruelty.”
And on the other side of the camera, the same people tend to show up in the credits over and over — perhaps most significantly cinematographer Roger Deakins, who’s been with the duo on every film since 1991’s “Barton Fink,” and Carter Burwell, who’s scored every Coen movie.
Know your roots
Though their sense of humor is the product of the irony-heavy 1980s, the Coens’ favorite era of moviemaking is clearly a generation earlier, with the film noirs and screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, not to mention the classic crime novelists of that age. Dashiell Hammett’s “The Glass Key” and “Red Harvest” were sources for the Coens’ “Miller’s Crossing, “The Big Lebowski” lovingly parodizes Raymond Chandler, and Cain inspired not only “Blood Simple” but “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” (There’s even a minor character in “Miller’s Crossing” that’s a dead ringer for Hammett, a likely homage to Hammett’s own real-life roots as a detective in the underworld).
Less directly, you can find echoes of the darkly comic tales of Jim Thompson and Charles Willeford in the Coen comedies; they’d do wonders with something like Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me.” Not to say they always have a golden touch at reviving older styles: “The Hudsucker Proxy” and “Intolerable Cruelty” aimed to breathe new life into 1940s-style screwball romantic comedies and satires in the Preston Sturges mode, but flopped both critically and at the box office.
Establish a sense of place
The Coens have been called “regional filmmakers,” which isn’t strictly true since their settings have ranged from New York to the southwestern desert to Los Angeles and beyond. But it’s certainly true in the sense that no matter where their films take place, it would be hard to imagine them taking place anywhere else. In their hands, landscape almost becomes a character in itself. This is maybe most obvious in “Fargo,” where the comically exaggerated Minnesota accent and the stark cold white of a Minnesota winter are an essential part of the film’s flavor. And the harsh, scorchingly hot brushland we see at the beginning of “No Country For Old Men” paints an exacting picture of the movie’s title phrase.
Don’t be afraid to change your methods
“No Country For Old Men” fits neatly into the Coens’ serious crime stories, but it also takes a couple of significant steps away from their standard recipe. They’ve expertly used music to enhance their previous movies — especially in “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” where the lavish soundtrack of 1930s folk and blues was a catalyst for a huge popular revival of the styles. But “No Country” has very little music in it at all, with only 16 minutes of music in a film more than two hours long, and that includes the end titles.
Instead, it derives a lot of its power from long stretches of silence or ambient sound. The Coens also broke with tradition by bringing in a cast that had, for the most part, never worked with the Coens before. (The only returning actor was Stephen Root, who’d previously been in “The Ladykillers” and “O Brother”). It’s hard to argue with either decision, particularly the casting of Tommy Lee Jones as a small-town Texas sheriff and Javier Bardem as a monomaniacal killer with a cattle gun.
Get the final cut
“Runnin’ things… it ain’t all gravy!” grouses beleaguered mobster Johnny Caspar in “Miller’s Crossing” after he discovers just how hard it is to be top dog. It’s an especially ironic line for the Coens, who have directed, written and produced all their own movies since the beginning of their careers. The Coens are sticklers for their specific vision — while they give their actors room to improvise when it’s called for, they’ve also been known to insist that the dialogue in their scripts be followed to the comma.
With other directors that might be ego, but the Coens know what they excel in (see point No. 1), and their ear for language is remarkable. And under the pseudonym “Roderick Jaynes,” they’ve also had final say in the editing room — in some ways, that’s the most important role in moviemaking, because the editor controls how the previous elements are actually put together. Even when one of their movies misfires, like “Hudsucker,” at least it misfires in their particular style; and control of their stories is ultimately why the Coen brothers have had so many more successes than failures.
Christopher Bahn is a freelancer writer in Minneapolis.
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