Archive for June, 2010

7. The Last Airbender – $7.7M

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010
The story follows the adventures of Aang, a young successor to a long line of Avatars, who must put his childhood ways aside and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.

‘Border Incident’ and beyond

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Border Incident 1949.jpgIt's Anthony Mann day on TCM, eight movies in 14 hours. It started at 6 a.m., with "Two O'Clock Courage" (pretty great title, huh?), and ends with the conclusion of "Cimarron," at 8 p.m. No other director in the decade and a half after World War II left such a stamp on multiple genres: noirs, westerns, epics ("El Cid"), even biopics ("The Glenn Miller Story"). James Stewart stars as Miller, one of eight films he made with Mann (who's pictured below right). The Mann-Stewart collaborations are practically their own genre. They have a special place in film history, having done more to deepen, broaden, and complicate Stewart's persona than anything else in his five-decade-long career. Who knows, no "Naked Spur" or "Man from Laramie" -- and no "Vertigo"?

Should a screenwriter pay for notes?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

questionmarkWhat weight do you give professional reading services? You know, the dudes that read your script, mark it up, make suggestions, tweak it, and send it back? Do you recommend anyone or company in particular?

– Chance

Other than my assistants, I’ve never paid anyone to read my scripts. All the notes I’ve gotten have come from friends and colleagues, many of them producers or screenwriters.

Reciprocity is a big part of relationship-building. When I was starting out, I would give hours of notes to friends, working through several drafts with them. In turn, they would read my scripts. I got my first agent through one such screenwriter friend who was interning for a producer at Columbia.

I was fortunate in that essentially all of my LA friends were from film school, and many of them were really smart. But you actually only need one or two smart people. One set of brilliant notes is more helpful than a dozen mediocre ones.

If you can’t find that one great note-giver amid your circle, it’s possible that you’d benefit from paying someone. I don’t have any names to recommend, but if I were in your place, I’d look for a few things:

  1. A sample set of notes. I wouldn’t pay anyone who didn’t write clearly and logically.

  2. A face-to-face meeting. Good feedback ends up being a conversation. In addition to written notes, I’d want an hour to talk through the issues and options.

  3. No producers/managers. I want insightful feedback, not connections. Some producers and managers can give great notes, but I shouldn’t be paying them upfront to do it.

  4. Someone who can say ‘not for me.’ Every person has genres that simply don’t click. Before taking my money, a reader should ask what my script is about, and respectfully decline if it’s outside of her domain.

I’m certain there are good paid readers out there. A few will probably leave comments. So let me stress, I’m not recommending or endorsing any of them. Caveat scriptor.

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4. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – $13.4M

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
Bella finds herself surrounded by danger as Seattle is ravaged by a string of killings. She is forced to choose between Edward and Jacob, knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite a struggle between vampire and werewolf.

Why must we have board-game movies?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

questionmarkSo, I understand the merits of re-making movies from the past, or making old TV shows into features. I also get it from a studios perspective inasmuch as it’s a known property that has a fanbase, or has made a profit in the past.

But when I see studios making adaptations of toys like “Magic 8 Ball” or “Battleship” or “Stretch Armstrong” it really bums out the aspiring writer in me. It makes me think Hollywood doesn’t want my original idea. Can you talk me down from the ledge?

– Logan
Los Angeles

Logan, I’m right there on the ledge with you. But when you look down past your shoelaces, you realize that it’s not rocks and crashing waves below. The ledge we’re standing on is about eight feet high. At the bottom is concrete.

Jump wrong, and it’s going to be painful. Jump carefully, and you’ll be fine.

Yes, I rolled my eyes when the “Battleship” movie was announced. But I’ll happily see a modern naval war movie, and if it has to be named after a Milton Bradley property, so be it. A hidden upside to writing a movie based on just a title is that the screenwriter has huge latitude, unlike a book or TV adaptation.

Pendulums swing. It was dumb to make a movie out of a theme park ride before Pirates of the Caribbean. This trend towards making movies out of properties with no inherent narrative will eventually end. (A big success from an original like Inception might help.) In the meantime, let’s root for the best versions of these projects.

Good movies are a blessing, regardless of the source.

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Happy Birthday, Gary Busey!

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

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Today, June 29th, is the inimitable thespian Gary Busey's birthday. He is 66 years old today. If you're not sure who this guy is, all I can say is you need to rewatch Point Break again, my friend and pay closer attention to those meatball subs. To celebrate, here are some of the man's more memorable quotes. Try and guess if he's said them in character or not without looking these quotes up:

"Drinking your own blood is the paradigm of recycling."

"My daddy always said, 'When you want to hammer a nail into a piece of wood, don't do anything fancy. Just get a hammer and pound the son of a bitch.'"

"Hold your tongue, wench."

"I am a sadistic master homosexual and I will tease your sensibilities."

"You know what 'Doubt' stands for? It stands for 'Debate on understanding bewildersome thoughts."

"Save room for dessert because I'm coming after you."

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Gary Busey!

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Weekend box office: ‘Knight’s out

Monday, June 28th, 2010

knight.jpgWave buh-bye. I guess it's official: Tom Cruise is no longer a box office guarantee. While "Knight and Day" is arguably the exact sort of vehicle audiences want to see the actor in -- lots of bang-bang and cocky grins -- the action-comedy quickly tanked, taking in a mere $28 million since its release last Wednesday and $20 million over the weekend proper. That puts it under not only the still poppin'-fresh "Toy Story 3," the weekend leader with $59 million (and a total two-week US gross of $227 million) but under an Adam Sandler moron-comedy, for pity's sakes. That's right, "Grown Ups" made $41 million on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, twice as much as "Knight" did in the same time period.

The per-theater averages are even more striking. "Toy Story 3" is still pulling in audiences to the tune of $14,000 per theater in its second week, while "Grown Ups" also cracked the 10K barrier with an $11,600 PTA. "Knight and Day"? $6,617 per theater, shockingly low for a movie with this much star megawattage. What went wrong? Box Office Mojo blames the movie's marketing campaign for not making it clear that this was funny-haha Tom, not funny-weird Tom. Perhaps. Maybe comedy is not this star's strong suit? Tell that to the audiences who roared at "Tropic Thunder." I think we're finally seeing a fundamental shift in Cruise's once-omnipotent drawing power. "Knight" has only two things to sell: genre and stars. Of those stars, Cruise has always been the gold standard and now, it seems, no one's interested buying as much.

Ah, well, it was a good run while it lasted -- 24 years from 1986's "Top Gun" to this. And it's possible that Cruise's choices may get really interesting as he absorbs his new position as Adam Sandler's whipping boy.

If we're playing the PTA game, then Jonah Hill psycho-momma's-boy comedy "Cyrus" was the weekend's winner, expanding to 17 theaters from 4 and pulling in a nice $17K per. Also performing strongly in art-house land was the Afghanistan platoon documentary "Restrepo," which opens in Boston this Friday on a raft of great reviews: $30,000 at two theaters in NYC and LA. Actually, the Oliver Stone doc "South of the Border" played one theater (in New York) and made $21K, highest of the week, but the screenings benefitted from a personal appearance by Stone and other parties involved with the film, so it's not really apples and apples. I'd be curious to know if and how they responded to the Times' expected assault on the movie and its way with facts. Here's a rebuttal to the rebuttal; I haven't seen "South of the Border" yet so can't weigh in, but I do hope it's a lot less moony-eyed than "Comandante," Stone's 2003 sit-down with Fidel Castro.

More box office numbers from Box Office Mojo and Movie City News.

Why TCM should be carrying the World Cup

Friday, June 25th, 2010
Thumbnail image for donovan.jpgThe French critic Andre Bazin famously wrote that what did so much to define the Studio Era of Hollywood filmmaking was "the genius of the sytem." One element of that system -- so absolutely fundamental that no one ever noticed it as special then or thinks to remark upon it now -- was the centrality of narrative continuity and development. The photographed stories that came to be called feature films play out over time, usually somewhere between ninety minutes and two hours (though a behemoth like "Gone with the Wind" runs just under four hours, and that nasty little 1945 noir "Detour" lasts all of 67 minutes). The point is audiences not only expected to sit through some considerable amount of story before that story reached its climax, they relished doing so.

6. Grown Ups – $9.9M

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Five friends learn that age and maturity do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.

On protagonists

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about protagonists and heroes at length. Yesterday Michael Goldenberg offered a a new description that I love:

The protagonist is the character that suffers the most.

In one sentence, both definition and practical advice. Perfect.

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