Tuesday, October 25, 2005


I am thrilled. To say the least. Talked to my friend, Mark, and he said the signed contracts from the production company had come back and our first check came. I should get my copies and my share in the mail this week. Whoa! This is amazing. I co-wrote a script that is going to be made into a “real” movie. This has been a dream since I was a kid. Audiences will be able to watch a movie that I helped create. Okay, the whole thing could collapse and never happen. I know that. It could turn out to be a dud. One never knows. But, on the other hand, it could turn out to be a cool little science fiction-horror film. Hey, I just hit the lottery. Yep. I did.

I want to tell everyone I see. I do. Some people will be excited for me, some won’t care. The ones that make me nervous however are the ones who say: “I have an idea for a movie.” Then they want to tell you all about it. Unless I know the person well, I learned a long time ago that I don’t want to hear their idea. Over the years, I have read a lot and seen a great deal of movies. I have filed away bits and pieces from magazine and newspaper articles. I have noted certain phases and ways of speaking. After a while, I don’t remember where I saw or heard the information I’m using in my writing. The last thing I want is to be accused of stealing someone else’s idea. I don’t steal from anyone. I observe and put it into my own words. So, what do I do when someone says they have an idea for a novel or screenplay. As I said unless I know them well, I suggest they take a college class – like I did – or go to Barnes & Noble and buy a book on creative writing or screenwriting.
Meanwhile, Mark and I have spitballed another idea. Does it have legs? We’ll see. Some ideas work out, others don’t. The research begins.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Entertainment Weekly arrived in the mail this week with Charlize Theron on the cover.
She is a terrific actor and from interviews I've read or seen on television she is an intelligent and articulate person. Then again, I don't know her, she may be as I said a terrific actor.
But she is definitely a beautiful and lovely woman. Smitten is an old-fashioned word. It seems appropriate here however. I think I became a fan after I saw her in Cider House Rules.
Over the years I have found myself smitten by different female movie stars. On that list was Ursula Andress (Doctor No, The Southern Star), Jennifer Connelly (The Rocketeer), Grace Kelly (High Noon, Rear Window), Maureen O'Hara (The Quiet Man, Rio Grande), Deborah Shelton (Body Double), Raquel Welch (Bandolero!, The Three Musketeers), and Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro, Chicago).
I don't know why I felt compelled to share this information. I can say that the EW cover with Charlize Theron wrapped only in a towel got my attention.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Working on a new screenplay. In some ways it’s different than doing a short story or novel, in other ways it’s the same.

Create a compelling opening. Something that will hook the reader (or an audience later). Something that hasn’t been done a million times before. Be clean and intriguing.

Introduce the main characters. The biggest difference between prose and a screenplay is that you can’t tell scenes from a character’s POV. I mean you can sort of but not really. Okay, that was clear as mud. You can write a scene from one character’s POV but that’s not the same as getting into their head and writing the scene. That’s better. And a screenplay doesn’t have a voice like prose does. The closest example I can give of a novel and movie having a similar voice is To Kill a Mockingbird. Still (and TKAM is a great movie), it doesn’t have Harper Lee’s voice or way with words. On the other hand, when I reread the novel, Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch in my mind’s eye.

Back to creating. What is similar? Plot, characters and dialogue. Yes, both must have an engaging storyline, well-defined characters, and sharp dialogue.

In the new screenplay, I open with a short scene. None of the characters ever come in direct contact with the main and supporting characters. The scene sets up the world I’m taking the audience into.

Then I introduce the villain and lead secondary villain. Their nefarious plan is set into motion. What is happening is a direct and in-direct reaction to the opening scene. Direct reaction because if the opening had not occurred then the plan would not have been formed, in-direct because the people being involved in the plan have nothing to do with it except that the villain knows them all. This time it’s personal, as the old movie slogan goes. Hopefully also, I’ve established a good enough villain that the audience will ask two questions: 1) She’s capable of anything -- What will she do next? 2) How will the heroes ever escape from this evil person?

Okay. World set-up. Villain’s plan. Meet the heroes. For this screenplay, I decided I wanted non-professionals meaning no cops, FBI agents, former thieves or the like. Regular people. Subject to change of course, the lead female is a grade school teacher and the male a cross-country truck driver. Well, I cheated a little. The truck driver is a former Marine. This will be an action-horror-thriller after all.

Next comes the secondary characters. Must be intriguing in their own right but must not over shadow the heroes. I’ve had that happen before. A secondary character became so fun to write that I kept creating more scenes with them. In those cases I’ve had to re-think my main characters. Intriguing but not stock or clichéd. And one of them, a solid well-defined character, must be the first to go. Because, after that death, the audience knows that no one is safe.

Then we have dialogue. Must seem natural. No info dumps. I personally detest the scene at the end of a thriller when the villain tells how he did everything. Heck, if they’d shut up and just shoot the hero, they’d win. Got it? Oh, yeah, just one more thing … while I hate it when the villain does it, I don’t mind a bit when Columbo tells the villain how he did it and where he slipped up. Where was I? Oh, yeah, dialogue must sound natural and individual. That’s much tougher than it sounds. And it has to be more than one character does not use contractions and another always drops the g’s from any word ending in ‘ing.’ I admire good dialogue. Watch Deadwood and listen how the characters speak. Even the cursing is an art form. Read any Elmore Leonard novel and just look at the dialogue. Always remember to that the dialogue can’t jerk you out of the novel or screenplay. The audience can’t be marveling about how wonderful the writer is. It must sound like that character would say those words at that time. Yeah, tougher than it looks.
Oh, well, back to writing creatively … I hope.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

See Blog Below for Details

I’m over my rant. Things change. Heroes pass and new heroes come. (Hopefully.) At some point Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, and Julia Roberts will be those old-time actors as will Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, and Katie Holmes. I remember Pong, Pac-Man and Doctor Mario. Someday Doom, Grand Theft Auto, and Sym City will be relics. All things have their time and are replaced. I’m sure younger people know who Marilyn and Bogie are (but I fear Bogie is fading, too). It is not the time in your life but the life in your time. If you catch my drift. Oh, well.

If you haven’t seen the movie, Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman, watch it. It’s worth the time. Oh, yeah, it’s in color not crusty old black-and-white.

In conclusion, I will paraphrase the saying: “Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Back to writing.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Feeling Old

I’m at work today and one of the college kids I work with made a comment—don’t remember what the comment was now—but I responded with a line from Cool Hand Luke. It was the classic line from Strother Martin: “What we have here is failure to communicate.” I even said it in my crummy Southern drawl--my crummy, not Strother's--because that’s how I hear it in my head. The kid gave me a blank look. I added that it was from a Paul Newman movie. He asked me if that was the singer who played in Las Vegas all the time. I felt so old at that moment.

I realize that I know a lot about movies. I’m not an expert by any means but I love the movies. I can hold a conversation on about any genre of motion pictures. I can recite favorite lines of dialogue or talk about the classics or about blockbusters or the B’s. Heck, I can even hold my own talking about silent films or foreign movies. I know the stars and characters actors. I write stories, novels, and screenplays. I need to know what has come before.

How could he not know Paul Newman? I could understand if I’d said James Cagney or Errol Flynn or Bette Davis or even James Dean. They had passed along before he was born. Newman was in his prime when I was in junior high. He’s still making films. He starred in The Hustler, Hud, The Verdict, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Harper, The Color of Money, Hombre, Road to Perdition, and others along with Cool Hand Luke. How?

I’m done with my rant. Does this matter in the long run? No, I guess not. It’s all relative. And it wasn't to him.

Now I’m taking my old, tired body to bed. Good night.
“Shaking it up here, boss.”

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Day Off … Sorta

My day off. Went like this. Slept in till 7AM. Because of my job, I’m usually up at 4AM so this was sleeping in late. Got up, showered, shaved, and dressed. Went to the grocery store. Put groceries away. Paid bills. Put fresh litter in Sabrina’s box. Cleaned toilet. Sorted laundry. Straightened up and vacuumed bedroom. Had lunch and watched Morgan Freeman interview on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Worked on new screenplay. Tightened opening. Wrote two new scenes that introduced the heroes. Played with names of supporting characters. Gave them occupations. Tried to find “good” reason the villain wants revenge against them. Screenplay will only have fifteen characters (perhaps two more if scene warrants). Is fifteen too many? Maybe. Two characters are all ready on the fence. Could go either way for them. Exist, don’t exist. Supporting character or spear carrier? Not sure at the moment.

Basic premise and setting have been established. Villain and top henchman introduced. Heroes and supporting henchmen introduced. Now comes the gathering of all the characters. Is fifteen too many? I’ll know soon.

So will they…

{Another photo from Duluth MN}

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rewriting and "Time"
Two days ago I received a letter from a very nice editor asking that I rewrite and tighten the opening of the story (a reprint) I submitted to his magazine. He likes the story but the opening feels fat. No disagreement.
The story was one of the first I wrote and sold a long time ago. I'm a different writer now than I was then. Hopefully a better one. I would have written it differently today. But ... I literally don't have the time right now. I'm in the middle of a new screenplay and my writing partner and I are waiting for the rewrite notes from the production company on The Nest. I also have a full-time restaurant management job (gotta pay those pesky bills that crop up every month). I had to tell him "no" for the time being. Hated doing that but I had to. Short stories, like screenplays and novels and poems, take time and concentration. At least for me it does. I can't whip things out anymore. I agonize over finding the right word then the right phrase. I polish dialogue and characterizations. I want every piece I do to be the best it can be. Shoot. Anyway, back to work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Favorite Genre: The Western
Part Two

I decided to limit my favorites to ten. Nice round number. Then I realized I was leaving several terrific movies off the list. But I’m going to stick to ten. Decision made. Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yep. I also decided to would be only movies. Deadwood (Season One and Two) and Lonesome Dove (mini-series) are not on the list for that reason. Both are great. If you haven’t seen them, treat yourself. Here we go, pilgrim:

(in alphabetical order)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This is just a flat-out fun movie. William Goldman’s script sings and there are numerous great moments and lines of dialogue. If you were an outlaw, you’d want to ride with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Katherine Ross has never looked lovelier. Plus Strother Martin has a wonderful character part.

Dances with Wolves
Kevin Costner as a Union officer who goes West and encounters the Sioux. Involving and breath taking. The Native Americans are the good guys and the US cavalry are the villains. An epic. Well told.

High Noon
Gary Cooper as the town marshal standing alone against four killers arriving in town for revenge. Watched this one countless times as a kid. Still enjoy it. Grace Kelly is Cooper’s bride and Katy Jurado is his former mistress (she’s also the former mistress of the head killer). Classic showdown.

The Magnificent Seven
Western remake of the Kurosawa film. This clicks. Seven gunfighters go to the aid of a Mexican village plagued by outlaws. Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz are the seven. Eli Wallach plays Calvera, one of my favorite villains of all time. Classic musical score, too.

The Searchers
John Ford and John Wayne. Renegade Comanches murder the family of Wayne’s brother and kidnap Wayne’s niece. He vows to find her. And kill her since the Comanches have defiled her. This is Wayne’s best, most complex role and he’s a bad guy. Filled with classic moments and Ford’s stock company. The ending is perfect.

A gunfighter attempts to hang up his guns and settle down with a farming family. But his past (and expertise) catch up with him. Alan Ladd is Shane and Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, and Brandon De Wilde are the family. Jack Palance is the hired gun of the villains. Palance’s taunting and killing of Elisha Cook is a classic moment in a classic film.

A rip-roaring adventure with Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover and Kevin Costner leading the good guys and Brian Dennehy heading up the bad guys. The West the way it should have been. Co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Great fun.

The story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in the Arizona boomtown. Solid retelling of the oft-filmed story. Kurt Russell is Wyatt and Val Kilmer has never been better as the consumptive Doc. Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton are Wyatt’s brothers. Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn are the head bad guys and they’re riveting.

Dark, unrelenting. Three gunfighters ride out to kill two cowboys who “murdered” a whore and claim the bounty on them. A classic directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Gene Hackman is the sheriff, Morgan Freeman is Eastwood’s partner, and Richard Harris is another gunfighter. All are terrific.

The Wild Bunch
Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece. Outlaws on their last job who find a nobility within themselves that they didn’t know they had. Great complex characters and dialogue. Bloody and leathered. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Edmund O’Brien, and Ben Johnson have never been better. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are fantastic in supporting roles as members of the railroad posse. The walk to get Angel is classic movie-making.

Left out so many. Including: Angel and the Badman, Bend of the River, The Big Country, Crossfire Trail, The Far Country, Fort Apache, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Gunfight at the OK Corral, Hidalgo, Lawman, The Man from Laramie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, My Darling Clementine, Open Range, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Posse, The Professionals, Red River, Ride the High Country, Rio Bravo, The Scalphunters, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Sons of Katie Elder, and 3:10 to Yuma.

Back to writing.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

My Favorite Genre: The Western
Part One

The western has been my favorite genre since I can remember. It has definitely fallen out of favor. I know this, I write horror stories and thrillers after all. But, in my heart, it is the adventure of the West (the Hollywood West to be more accurate) that I truly enjoy. In another time and place, I would’ve written Westerns (I did as a kid). I know the conventions and the clichés and the outright historical lies. On the other hand, as times get more confusing and complex, I find refuge in the old Western tale. That doesn’t mean that all Westerns are simple white hats vs. bad hats scenarios. They’re not. Just take one peek at the great Deadwood series on HBO. Still, for the most part, things seem more clear-cut and straightforward in the Western. That doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with every Western. You couldn’t force me to sit through a Roy Rogers or Gene Autry western or any Spaghetti Western that doesn’t have The Man with No Name in it.

Plus the actors who played in some of my favorite Western films seemed larger-than-life and more heroic (and Gods knows we need all the heroes today that we can find – at least I do). The villains were more menacing and colorful; the landscape more awesome.

Some favorite Western male actors (definitely not all and not in any particular order and they weren’t always the good guy): Gary Cooper, John Wayne, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Clint Eastwood, Randolph Scott, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Tom Selleck, Sam Elliot, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, and Clint Walker.

Favorite female actors: Maureen O’Hara, Grace Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, Katy Jurado, Shelley Winters, Jean Arthur, Vera Miles, Inger Stevens, and Katherine Ross.

Villains (when the good guys faced these guys you knew they were in trouble): Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine, Eli Wallach, Arthur Kennedy, Richard Widmark, Telly Savalas, Powers Boothe, and Bruce Dern.

Then there were the great character actors in the Western. Once upon a time, maybe their names weren’t known but their faces were: Walter Brennan, Warren Oates, Strother Martin, Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Edmund O’Brien, Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Robert Ryan, L.Q. Jones, Dennis Hopper, Lee Van Cleef, Elisha Cook, Edgar Buchanan, and John Carradine.

I’m sure I’ve left some wonderful actors out. Yep, I’m sure. In a few days, I’ll list my favorite Western films. The ones I can watch again and again.
I’ll conclude with the line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Saturday, October 08, 2005

First Drafts and Other Stuff

Just finished the first draft of the new horror screenplay Mark and I have been working on called Deadlyville.

Now the rewriting begins. Here’s the editing line that I see most often – “What the **** were you thinking?” Yeah. Uh-huh. What worked at first inspiration, may not when reviewing the entire story. Characterizations may not seem consistent, Dialogue that seemed cool, doesn’t any longer.

And of course, the ending. Endings are bears. Always have been, always will be. It must seem inevitable but not predictable. The viewer must leave satisfied. But how do you do that in a fresh way? It’s tough. How many times can the villain (or creature) get back up before it’s really dead? (Worked in The Terminator.) Should the creature be blown up? (Worked in Jaws and Predator.) Should he/she/it fall from a high place or die by their own weapon? (The first is clichéd symbolism and the second is clichéd irony – always choose symbolism over irony, by the way.) That doesn’t mean a clichéd or shopworn ending is bad. Some can be completely satisfying. Beware the trick ending. Odds are Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents all ready used it and did it better. What to do, what to do?

* * *

In my DVD library are several movies that I really enjoy but will probably never be on a Top Ten List. (Then again?) So I picked ten movies that were not blockbusters but are cool. My perimeters for this List were it had to have a s/f element and be in my collection.
Here we go … in alphabetical order … Ten S/F Movies that are really cool but you may have never heard of them:

The Changling (1980) – A deliberately paced story given gravity by the presence of George C. Scott as a man attempting to unravel the mystery behind a haunting. When an empty but moving wheelchair can have you on the edge of your seat the movie rocks.

The Deep Blue Sea (1999) – Researchers at an undersea lab alter the brains of sharks and the sharks get pissed. With Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J. Always remember to never climb into the oven when the kitchen is flooding and a shark is after you.

Deep Rising (1998) – Hijackers force a salvage crew to take them to a luxury liner they plan to rob but when they arrive the ship is empty. Or is it? Early work by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing.) With Treat Williams as the hero. Or is he?

Dog Soldiers (2002) – British soldiers on war maneuvers stumble onto a coven of werewolves. Terrific dialogue and suspense. Oh, yeah, plenty of blood, too. With Sean Pertwee.

Mysterious Island ( 1961) – A favorite since I was a kid. Union soldiers escape from a Confederate prison in a balloon and crash on a supposedly deserted island in the Pacific. Based on a novel by Jules Verne and special effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. With Herbert Lom and Michael Callan (Who? Look them up.)

The Night Stalker (1972) – This was the highest rated TV movie ever in its day. Still pretty good. A vampire hunts his prey in 1970’s Las Vegas. Dig those clothes and hair styles! Darren McGavin is great as reporter Carl Kolchak.

The Relic (1996) – A vicious creature wrecks havoc in Chicago’s Natural History Museum. Creature designed by Stan Winston. With Penelope Ann Miller, Linda Hunt, and James Whitmore. (See comment at end of Mysterious Island.)

The Rocketeer ( 1991) – Set in the 1940’s. A barnstorming pilot finds a jetpack that the Nazis want. Really fun. Don’t let the Walt Disney Pictures label scare you away. With Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin and Timothy Dalton (as the bad guy modeled after actor Errol Flynn).

Soldier (1998) – A man is raised by the government to be a merciless, obedient soldier until he’s replaced (and literally thrown away) by a new breed of DNA-enhanced soldiers. With Kurt Russell and Gary Busey.

Tremors (1989) – Scary and funny, edge-of-your-seat suspense and good characters. Giant underground worms attack a small desolate town. Where did the worms come from? Who cares. But remember having survivalist nuts as neighbors might not be such a bad thing. With Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. And, of course, Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as the neighbors.
All are worth checking out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Movies in my Life

I’m celebrating with a glass of Mountain Dew while our cat, Sabrina, moves between her salmon food and the backyard window. My friend, Mark, and I have had two screenplays optioned and the contracts have been signed. If nothing else happens, if the projects crash-and-burn tomorrow, this moment is worth it. Too cool.

I’ve always enjoyed the movies and, at different times, they’ve become touchstones in my life. If I let myself drift during a television broadcast of Rio Bravo or The Alamo, I can picture myself in my pajamas in the backseat of our family car watching these films at the drive-in theater. I saw Bambi for the first time at the long-gone now West Coast Theater in downtown Santa Ana with my mother and younger brother. Mom had worked at this theater when she was a teenager (she met my father there). After the movie, we got a tour of the projection booth.

In those days, we only had seven television stations and, as Jeff Foxworthy notes, if the President was giving a speech we were devastated because he was on every channel. I remember that Channel 9 would have the Million Dollar Movie and they would broadcast the same film all week long. I saw The Magnificent Seven and High Noon until I could recite the dialogue along with the characters.

In junior high, we moved from Orange County, CA, to Richardson, TX, a suburb of Dallas. There was a movie theater a few blocks away and my brother and I went there every Saturday afternoon. There we saw Cool Hand Luke, The Dirty Dozen, Planet of the Apes, and Wait Until Dark. I literally held my brother in his seat during the climax of To Kill a Mockingbird (do you remember when the studios used to re-release films before they went to television?). At that theater I saw my first James Bond movie. Actually it was a double bill of From Russia with Love and Thunderball. For a seventh-grade boy, this was cool beyond belief.

My father stopped going to the movies for some reason but one Father’s Day, my brother and I dragged him to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He loved it. I can still hear him laughing when I see the film today. It is a special memory. We didn’t know it at the time but he would not be with us for much longer after that.

My brother, Tim, and I fought during most of high school. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything. After I moved out of the house, and especially after the birth of his son, Brian, we become best friends again. Every time a western was released (and there weren’t many any longer), we’d get together and go see it. We saw Silverado and Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Shortly after seeing Pale Rider, a drunk driver killed my brother. I miss him terribly. He would’ve gotten a big kick out of me selling a screenplay.

In 1997, I met Annie and her daughter, Katie. Fortune smiled on me. The first movie we saw together was Disney’s Hercules. I remember Annie crying through the entire movie of When Dreams May Come (the main characters in the film were Annie and Chris). I gave her my handkerchief because she’d used up all her Kleenex. Later she gave me tissue when I choked up at the end of Saving Private Ryan. Good memories. Recently, Katie and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in IMAX. Enjoyed the movie but I’m not sure I want to see a film that big again.

Movies. They’re entertainment, a diversion for a short time. But…
...hopefully, someone will have a fond memory of the movies that Mark and I have written. That would be cool.

{Note: The picture is a waterfall in Duluth, MN, where my heart is.}