Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Naked Chicken Has No Time to Dance

It's Week Five in a ten week quarter, and I'm deluged with work.

I'll see you guys in a week or so, when I can dig my way out from under.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Page 84 That Ate Cleveland

When, in the course of copious rewrites a single scene is lengthened during shooting, in order to preserve the integrity of the scene numbers and approximately where they fall (the budgeting, boarding and scheduling of a movie is based on the scene numbers of the shooting script), pages will be designated with a letter after the number. So if Page 18 is rewritten and goes a bit longer than before, and spills over onto the next page, the second page will be referred to as Page 18A.

Today, we got the 3rd yellow pages for the Rainbow Screenplay movie.

The notorious Page 84 now consists of 84 and 84A. It's getting bigger. The army will not be able to stop it. The scientists will be useless in the fight against it. It will unleash its terror on an unsuspecting world.

Hey, wait a minute... do I see... Is it.... breathing?



Monday, July 18, 2005

Further to "Rainbow of Disaster"

As a footnote to my previous blog about the ever-changing Hollywood screenplay (and, yes, still shooting as I type this), it might interest you to know that, because the revisions are coming in so fast and furiously, I fell a couple of days behind in replacing the revised pages. I came in this morning to three different colors of revision in my inbox (3rd blue, 3rd pink and 3rd green).

This morning, I actually replaced Page 84 three times.

I could just kill the guy who invented colored paper. I know he's at the bottom of this freakshow somehow.

I have to tell you a good story about movies, today, though. I finally saw a movie that I left the theatre feeling happy about. I'll tell you all about it later.

Meanwhile, I'm going to try to get to the bottom of the "Page 84 Scandal." What is it about Page 84, anyway? Why can't they seem to get it right? Is it them? Or is there just something inherently evil and unholy about Page 84? Perhaps Page 84 is some natural gateway to hell that we're only now beginning to decipher. I will not rest until this mystery is unraveled.

Stay tuned....


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Oh... That Explains It.

I was reading Daily Variety today, and they ran a special insert section on horror film directors, along with log lines (blurbs) on their current projects. This was the one for Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins) on his upcoming project, the working title of which is Homecoming:

"Terror and scandal grip the nation when the media discovers that the living dead have swayed the presidential election."

Election-tampering zombies... Hmph.

Is it my imagination, or is it getting harder and harder to tell fact from fiction these days?


Monday, July 11, 2005

A Rainbow of Disaster

In my continuing efforts to de-mystify the movie industry (in other words, to explain how things can and do go wrong so often), I present to you...

The Rainbow Script.

This script is a shooting script for a film the studio is doing in another country. In the interest of discretion, I will not mention the title of the film, nor any details. It's not really relevant, other than for the purposes of idle curiosity. The tale I'm about to tell applies to so many movies at so many studios, the details are really a footnote.

Please note right off the bat that the script sits in a three-holed, D-ring binder. Immediately, you should be aware that this facilitates the removal and addition of individual sheets of paper with little fuss or muss (What is "muss" anyway? Is it a word Madison Avenue invented to rhyme with "fuss?" But, I digress). Also note, if you will that the pages are colored. I will explain the rationale behind this in a moment. Also note (because this factors into said upcoming explanation) that it's not just one color, but several.

One day, a few weeks ago, we were in preproduction for this film. The "shooting script" arrived, on white paper. I've learned that the words "shooting script" are really never to be taken literally. See, you might think that the first thing one needs to shoot a film is, well, a script. You know... character, plot, some dialogue, a couple of cool "kablams," all laid out on 8 1/2" by 11" paper, to be used as guide as to what this film might actually be about. Oh, naive fools! You know nothing! Aren't you glad I'm here to divest you of that preposterous notion.

Meanwhile, the movie starts shooting with their clean, white script. Over the course of the next two weeks, as they're shooting, two writers have been hired to do rewrites -- as they're shooting. Every couple of days, new pages for the script began to arrive every day or so. Each set of revisions comes on a different color paper. The title sheet lists all the colored pages. So, each time you replace the changed pages with the new ones, you replace the title page with the new one. That way, everybody knows that everybody got all the revision. Little by little, the white screenplay began to be laced with other colors -- blue, pink, green, yellow, goldenrod, salmon. Now, there are only so many shades of colored paper in the world, and if the script changes keep on coming (did I mention that the movie was shooting? That's important, so I wanted to make sure that you guys got that), you run out of colors. Then you start getting "2nd blue," 2nd pink," etc.

Then one day, as if by a miracle. And entire new script arrives for this movie that's currently shooting. The pages are all green. It is called, appropriately enough, "2nd green draft" (it being a whole new draft, and green and all). So, now, there are no white pages. At all. It's all color, all the time. And the pages keep arriving. 2nd yellow. 2nd goldenrod. 2nd salmon. Salmon's pretty much the end of the line, colored paper-wise. So, now we're on 3rd blue.

It's a veritable smorgasbord of colored pages. And the movie is shooting. Right now. And the script keeps changing. Frank Darabont, who directed two of the best films I've ever seen, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile makes a big point in many of his interviews (including the Q&A he did in October, 2002, which I moderated) about not liking the colored pages. He has this wacky notion that, before you start shooting the movie, it would probably be a good idea to have a completed script. You know. Done. Like almost as if you knew what was going to happen in the movie before you started shooting it. That Frank. He was born in France, so he can be forgiven a wild hair. It's crazy talk. Way ahead of it's time. If it were to catch on, all hell could break loose.

So, what is our movie about? I really can't say. Not just because it's a confidentiality breach, but because, I really can't say. I have this general idea. But new pages are arriving every other day or so, so that could change. It doesn't matter, though. If you've been wondering (especially this summer) how it is that you keep paying $10.50 to see these movies that are so mediocre-to-bad, I urge you to look at the top photograph. Colored pages. There's your answer. A finished screenplay in Hollywood is a luxury, not a necessity when beginning to shoot a movie.

So you take a little blue, pink, some goldenrod, mix it with some yellow, throw in a dash of salmon, and what do you have? A recipe for box-office disaster.


Friday, July 08, 2005


Okay... it's tacky... I know it's tacky. But I can't help it. We laugh when others suffer. I believe it's human nature. 'Round about these parts, when something goes wrong... it goes spectacularly wrong! Seems that Fox Publicity and Advertising department took another blow over the New York premiere of our latest, The Fantastic Four, Wednesday night. A minor publicity stunt in L.A. didn't exactly go as planned either. The publicity campaign was such an all-over fiasco, the New York Daily Observer's online blog, The Daily Transom, felt the need to do three whole posts about it here. And here. And here, too. Oh, how they laughed....

Those of us who work in the "majors" (major movie studios) have a special relationship with our respective P&A departments. These are the people who believe -- deep in their heart of hearts -- that nobody will go to see a movie that isn't named after either a comic book or a bad '70s song -- even if the song has nothing to do with the picture. This explains the inane reasoning behind taking a movie based on Laura Zigman's wildly successful chick-lit novel, Animal Husbandry, and renaming it Someone Like You. Remember that horrible Rod Stewart song? No? Well, judging by the number of people who didn't see this movie, you're not alone. The reasoning of the Fox P&A department was that women would be offended by the title Animal Husbandry. Of course, they would. That explains the tremendous success (complete with multiple printings and formats) that Dial Press enjoyed, in hardcover, paperback and audio, of this book to... did I mention it was chick-lit? If I'm not very much mistaken, that's women, is it not? Yes. Well. Most studio in-house P&A departments are renowned for backing the wrong horse, right after renaming it and whipping up a totally misleading trailer for it. Their decisions are all based on the following tragic misperception: "We know what makes a movie sell."

I'll let you guys in on a little secret. No, they don't. Neither do I. Neither do you. Know why? Because it's magic. No. Seriously. Magic. Smoke and mirrors, coupled with planetary alignment and just the right wind velocity. No one knows what will make a movie a hit. There were people at Paramount -- highly placed people who make decisions about what's good and what's bad all day -- whispering fertively that Forrest Gump would tank. Obviously, they were wrong. But they might not have been. Think about it. It's a weird little movie. It could have all gone horribly wrong, even with Hanks in the lead, Zemeckis behind the camera and an accomplished screenwriter like Eric Roth providing the screenplay. The difference between a ground-breaking, innovative, exciting, blockbuster movie and a well-intentioned, gone-awry, ambitious, expensive failure is approximately the width of an ant's eyelash. And no one -- not the studio, or the director, or the star, or the screenwriter, or even the P&A department at the studio -- can be sure in advance which movie will hit and which will fail.

Granted, a Forrest Gump or an Independence Day has certainly got a much better chance of succeeding than a Dude, Where's My Car or a Freddie Got Fingered. But a good script, good direction and brilliant performances can be thwarted by an ignorant P&A department. The perfect example is a little film released two scant months after Gump. The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorite films. Badly conceived trailers and a lackluster advertising campaign nearly put it in the toilet -- until it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a "best screenplay adaptation" nomination for writer/director Frank Darabont. Darabont has said that, though Shawshank won no Oscars that night, the constant mention of the movie's name during the ceremony piqued people's interest, and when the film was released on video a couple of months later, it promptly shot to the top of the "most rented" video list. It remains one of the most rented videos/DVDs of all time. Yet it's total theater box office tally in its original release was shy of $29 million (as compared to Gump's $329 million).

All because some dumbass executive in the P&A department said, "The Shawshank Redemption? Forget about it. It's Nowheresville." And thanks to that arrogant dumbass executive, it nearly was.

This is why, when things go so horribly, terribly, monumentally and publicly wrong for a studio publicity department, those of us who love film have to smile to ourselves. We like to think it must be kharma. We like to think to ourselves that, though there isn't always evidence of it, the world is a just place. A good place. A place where the scales all balance out in the end. For every decent movie that was brought to its box-office knees by P&A neglect, there will be one grandly touted premiere that will turn into an utter and complete disaster, complete with vomiting actresses, backward fireworks and skywriting, and a relentless downpour. The misery and humiliation of others occasionally fills our hearts with unabashed joy.

Is that so wrong?


The History of the Naked Voodoo Chicken (and It's Dance), Part I

I lied. I'm a liar. There is no history. I made it up. I read the phrase in a forum on digital art (no doubt by one of my geeky digital art buddies), and it made me laugh. So, I copped it for my very own. Since a couple of you asked me, I figured I'd just fill you in and be done with it.

And that, my friends, is the History of the Naked Voodoo Chicken (and It's Dance), Part I.*


*P.S. The good news? There is no Part II.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

War of the Worlds; or Oh, Shut Up and Die Already!


Are they gone? Can we talk? Good. Okay. Let me just say that I really usually like Steven Speilberg. Really. And I so wanted to like this movie. I love the original story by Wells, I even loved the quasi-campy 50's movie. So, this weekend, I saw it. I was deeply, deeply disappointed. There were a couple of interesting moments when you really thought something fascinating was going to happen. And then, they just.... didn't.

Nothing fascinating happens in this movie. Well, no, I take that back. Some really fascinating stuff seemed to be going on... off camera.There is so much wrong with this movie, it's just hard to know where to start. The biggest problem is with the script. The credited writers are Josh Friedman and David Koepp. That big, fat and is there for a reason. It signifies that Friedman and Koepp were most likely never in the same room at the same time. If they had been writing as a team, there would have been a big, fat & between their names instead. No, my guess is, Josh wrote the earliest accepted draft, and they brought Koepp in to doctor it per Spielberg's specifications. I am not sure why Spielberg is so in love with Koepp. I find most of the movies he works on to be full of formulaic, antiquated cinema clich├ęs that grate on my nerves. A graduate of UCLA Film School, he's learned all the tricks of the trade, and he uses them at every turn. I'd love to read one of his screenplays. I'm sure it reads like a textbook on "how to write a screenplay that sells."

Here's one trick he missed in WotW, though. Act II. A movie lives or dies on it's Second Act. In the First Act, we learn who we're dealing with and why we should care -- a guy who is so self-centered that he's totally detached from his children and their lives. He doesn't know his daughter is a claustrophobe. He can't talk to his son without provoking him. Blah, blah, blah. You've seen it a hundred times. Which wouldn't be so bad, since a lot of real-life dads are like that, and I'm sure every one of them handles it in a different way. But Friedman and Koepp don't handle it in a different way. They handle it in the same way. Tired, worn out scenes of father facing off with angry, beligerent teenage son. Tired, worn out scenes of ex-spouses facing off against each other -- she's remarried to Mr. Wealthy Nice Guy and pregnant now, and presumably has the life that our (anti) hero could never give her. Blah, blah and more blah. But Act II is supposed to set us up for the Big Climax. You know, that moment when our heroes are in "the box" -- the inescapable, insurmountable, unsolvable dilemma that must be escaped, surmounted and solved by Act III. In WotW, there is no dilemma. There's just Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Disgruntled Teen Boy Actor. Running. And running. Then driving. And driving. Then doing a little swimming. Then running some more. Which begs the question....

So the fuck what?

At no time, ever, do you really learn about these aliens. Clearly, the spaceships were buried, as the Narrator (Morgan Freeman) tells us, "before there were even people here." Why? If people weren't here yet, why bury the damn ships? Why not just take the damn planet then? Did the aliens stop and ask themselves, "Ya know... it's been a bad milennium, we're kind of cranky. This planet's empty. We could just take it over, but where's the sport in that? Why don't we wait until these little nute-like creatures sprout legs, learn to walk upright, and then we'll come back, shoot down to our buries tripods and beat the living crap out of them before we drain their blood to spray all over the countryside. Just for fun. Cuz we aliens, we're wacky and capricious like that?"

An audience shouldn't have to work so hard to fill in the blanks, to make excuses for lame-ass scripts full of holes and white space.I mean, maybe there is a story here. But you'd never know it. Because we don't get a whole lot of story. We get some GORGEOUS special effects.  But then, Minority Report was a movie full of gorgeous effects without any storytelling glue to hold it together, too. Which begs the other question... Will Speilberg and Cruise top making movies now? Please? Because, really, it's not a mutually beneficial partnership. And I say that from a place of love... if not for Cruise, then certainly for Spielberg.

Anyway, I felt it was generally a waste of $10.50. It will make money because, as I discovered on Monday, the 4th, while searching for a movie to take the bitter WotW aftertaste away that it isn't up against anything. Bewitched (don't even get me started on that piece of drek), Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, Cinderella Man.... ugh! Please. Is it any wonder that moviegoers are staying way from the multiplex in droves? So this movie will make money for Paramount and Dreamworks.

And there is one bright spot in an otherwise dismal fare -- Dakota Fanning. She's a phenomenal little actress, and one that constantly surprises. She's your Jodie Foster. She'll grow up to be a first-class movie star. If you want to see Dakota Fanning, rent I Am Sam, Hide and Seek, or Man on Fire. Not that the latter two are too much better than WotW, but you don't have to pay $10.50 for the privilege.

Rant over... I'll wait for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Please don't be a disappointment... please don't be a disappointment... please don't be a disappointme... ) Good grief, are you guys still here? Get out of here. In the immortal words of Tracey Ullman...

"Go home!"


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

George Clooney ROCKS!

Is it because he's a mega-movie star with a strong jaw and a winning smile? No, although he does. Is it because he could, with a wave of his hand, wipe away my student loan debt and not even miss it from his bank account? Well, admittedly that helps, but it's not the reason he rocks.

The reason George Clooney rocks is because he's the only person I can think of who could actually get Pat Robertson.... PAT ROBERTSON... of the 700 CLUB... to admit on national television that there are occasions when condom usage might be appropriate. Pat Robertson is the guy who's been spouting off on television that condoms don't work, even for contraception, let alone for safe sex, and so should be abandoned altogether. And George Clooney, star of the silver screen, actually got him to admit that, yes, sometimes, a condom can be a good thing, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 36.1 million people are HIV/AIDS infected.

Okay. I admit it. It's not much. But by God, it's more than anyone else has been able to do in the face of neo-conservative ostrich-ass-in-the-air-head-in-the-sand ignorance. Forget Brooke Shields. I'm taking George Clooney to lunch. (Sorry, Brookie.)

If he plays his cards right, I might just spring for dessert, too.


Oh, get your minds out of the gutter. I was talking about a little cheesecake. Sheesh!