Thursday, April 5, 2018

ZAZ from the Past

Sketch comedy from the team behind KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, AIRPLANE!, and POLICE SQUAD.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

At some point in the early '60s Billy Wilder decided to adapt the play L'ora della fantasia by Anna Bonacci (previously filmed in Italy in 1952 as Wife for A Night) for the Hollywood screen. He'd recently had a smash hit with Some Like It Hot, also an Americanized version of a Eurofarce.

Wilder's original casting choices were Frank Sinatra as the libidinous singer, Marilyn Monroe as the pretend-wife, and Jack Lemmon as the self-cuckolding husband.

Monroe tragically died, and Wilder then offered the role to Jayne Mansfield. The latter's underappreciated comic abilities made her probably the ideal choice. But Mansfield became pregnant (with the future actress Mariska Hargitay) and Wilder either could not or would not reschedule production around her condition. He eventually cast Kim Novak, who is adequate.

I don't know why Sinatra wasn't in it. At one point he was to have played the Curtis role in Some Like It Hot, but Wilder (his off screen friend) allegedly felt Sinatra ("Ole One-Take") might cause difficulties on the set. Perhaps that was Wilder's reasoning on the new project.

In any event Sinatra's absence meant that his Rat Pack buddy Dean Martin would inherit the greatest role of his career.

The most mysterious absence is Jack Lemmon. Wilder's favorite actor, he claimed that he had a conflicting commitment. Which seems odd, as Lemmon had only one film released in 1964 (The mediocre Good Neighbor Sam) and you'd think he'd drop everything to work with Wilder (equally curious, while Lemmon isn't in it, his real life wife Felicia Farr is).

At this point Wilder went outside his casting comfort zone -- all the way to England, He gave the role of the husband to Peter Sellers, former BBC radio comic and master mimic who in the last five years had become Britain's most successful film comedian. Sellers was currently riding high with the triumph of his life, Dr. Strangelove. He'd been offered Hollywood roles before, but held out for the best possible project. Kiss Me, Stupid (as Wilder had titled the new film) seemed to be what he had been waiting for.

Unfortunately Sellers and Wilder did not get along. Stanley Kubrick had allowed Sellers to improvise on Strangelove; indeed some of the film's most memorable moments were his on-set additions.

Wilder did not cotton to improvisation. He even stationed co-writer Iz Diamond on the set to make sure the actors included every last comma in their dialogue.

Peter Sellers worked on the film for about five weeks when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Wilder hated working with Sellers ("I  don't believe Peter Sellers had a heart attack -- because in order to have a heart attack, you have to have a heart") and jumped at the chance to replace him.

For a few days it was rumored in the trades that Tony Randall would replace Sellers. There were others in Hollywood at the time that might have been considered -- Tony Curtis, Dick Van Dyke (or my own half-serious suggestion: Jerry Lewis?!?) -- but Wilder unfortunately chose Ray Walston. He's too old, and he just isn't a lead. As co-star Cliff Osmond himself said regarding the Sellers footage, "Walston was okay, but Sellers was a genius".

It's too bad. Kiss Me, Stupid has two great performances by Dean Martin and Cliff Osmond (who else but Wilder would have cast this behemoth in a comedy?) and is very nearly a great film. Supposedly the Sellers footage no longer exists -- but who knows? Maybe someday we'll get to see it. Stranger things have happened.

Peter Sellers as Orville Spooner in Kiss Me, Stupid:

With Cliff Osmond:

Trying to talk things out with Billy Wilder:

With Felicia Farr as Mrs. Spooner:

Jack Lemmon visits wife Felicia Farr on the set as Peter Sellers looks on:

Sellers between shots with then-wife Britt Ekland:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 - A Busy Year!

Thank you to the recent visitors of my blog - a few of whom were concerned at the lack of recent posts.

First, new baby boy in our home (Matthew) requiring much attention.

Second, my first feature screenplay credit (TINKER) made the rounds at festivals this year and the producers are working on a distribution deal.   We've received great audience reactions to date at the screenings.

Third, I have FOUR scripts optioned right now.  HORROR COMIC, REAPER MADNESS, and FUNK YOU (a 'fish out of water' romantic comedy set in the world of funk music) to mention the three that aren't subject to confidentiality.  The producers are working to put the pieces to the puzzle together.  

What are the pieces?

To get a film made you need (1) money; (2) distribution; and (3) a star attachment.    But it's a Catch-22.   Well, a Double Catch-22 (Catch-44?).   The money people want to make sure you have distribution.  The star wants to make sure you are funded before they even read the script (unless you have a major track record).  The distributor wants to know who is attached before agreeing to distribute.  Otherwise, you're making a 1, 2, 10 million-dollar film 'on spec' hoping someone will pick it up.   Mighty big dice to be rolling.

Star attachments are also difficult because there's a limited number of actors that can garner deals at different money levels.   They may be booked 2-3 years in advance.  Some producers are required to put up money on deposit as a 'pay or play' deal - if the movie doesn't happen, the star still gets paid because he or she booked the slot.  

As a newly produced writer seeking credits, I have been working with new producers or those in other aspects of film production (legal, technical) looking to produce a feature.   That's been a challenge as well.

The positive is that people who read my screenplays want to get them made into films.   That's a good thing.   Film is the one industry where you can "fail up" - get more produced credits just because someone made your last film, seemingly regardless of quality.   Everyone (star, distributor, money people) want to be able to point to a track record.   The first break is the hardest to catch.

I have 21 books available on Amazon.   TINKER will be out in some fashion next year.   I'll provide a link to the Amazon stream/DVD when it does.

Thanks for checking out the blog and here's to a great 2018 for us all!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Children of DIE HARD

Here's a partial list of films that DIE HARD inspired.

Let's examine the DIE HARD template:

1.  Lone protagonist trapped in a confined space;

2.  Hopelessly outnumbered, protagonist is separated from a crowd of people who are then taken hostage;

3.  There's a personal relationship between the protagonist and one of the hostages (helps "Up the Stakes" later in the movie);

4.  Protagonist is now the 'fly in the ointment' and only one is a position to foil the plan of the villain and his team;

5.  Authorities eventually arrive, but can't get in the confined space.   So they are forced to rely on the protagonist.  

6.  Protagonist kills off one after another of the villains and eventually there's a confrontation with the lead bad guy.

7.  Villain finds out the personal relationship with a hostage and that hostage is with villain to the end.

8.  Protagonist wins.

Not all of those elements (the personal relationship hostage, for example) but they are usually all there.

Here are some movies using the formula.   (See if you can envision the 'pitch' the writers gave selling each project).

The "It's DIE HARD in a ____________" formula....











I once met Jeb Stuart (co-author of the DIE HARD screenplay) and asked him if he got a cut from all the films that used his template and he said, "Unfortunately, no."   Jeb said he'd read an early draft of the script (before de Souza became involved) and it has the most famous line the series:  "Yippee-ki-yay m-----f-----!"  

Writing about the novel yesterday, I neglected to mention the book the line is "Geronimo, m-----f-----!"

I also took a seminar with Chris Soth (writer of the movie FIRESTORM - "DIE HARD in a forest fire" - a script he sold for $750,000).   Chris said, "I knew my career was in trouble when I went into a production company to pitch and they said, 'We don't want to hear any DIE HARD in a blank' scripts."

They seem quite marketable once again.  

NOTE:  Chris' book MILLION DOLLAR SCREENWRITING is available now on Kindle.  It has a beat-by-beat breakdown of DIE HARD if you've found yet another location to set such a story.

The Novel That Inspired the Film DIE HARD

Many fans of DIE HARD may not realize that it was based on a novel and is actually a sequel.  NOTHING LASTS FOREVER was written by Roderick Thorp as a sequel for his novel THE DETECTIVE.   THE DETECTIVE was turned into a film and starred Frank Sinatra.   It was released in 1968.

This post will cover similarities to the novel and changes made during the adaptation process.  It will contain SPOILERS for both the novel and film.  

1.  Joseph ("Joe") Leland is the name of the protagonist of the novels.   John McClane, of course, is the DIE HARD hero.

2.  Both the film and novel are set during Christmas Eve/Christmas and in one primary location - a high rise office building.  Wikipedia mentions that Thorp was inspired by the success of THE TOWERING INFERNO.   Notes in the latest edition of the novel indicate Thorp's family felt he was inspired by a tall building on Wilshire Boulevard that he could look out his window and see.

3.  Leland is traveling in the novel to see his daughter who works for an oil company which owns the high rise.  He's presented as older (mid-40s) and his daughter mid-20s.

4.  There's both a cab driver and later limo driver Leland befriends in the novel.  They both disappear though, unlike the film, and don't play a role further in the novel.

5.  The POV for the novel is through Leland's eyes.   No parallel narratives or changes in the POV.  In this respect, the film is superior.   Seeing the villains' at work, McClane, the hostages, the police, and the media is more entertaining and increases the stakes.

6.  The Villains.  Anton Gruber is the name of the antagonist of the novel, but he has a henchman named Hans.  Anton is a young Communist fighter from Central America and the entire group of antagonists are leftists in their 20s, including three females.  

The film is superior again here with Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) one of the most compelling villains in film history.  Calculating, erudite, charming, and deadly, Hans has a brilliant plan and he's a great 'fun to hate' bad guy.

Hans takes hostages in the film and asks for political prisoners and terrorists to be released, but this was done to bring in the F.B.I.  They cut the power to the tower, which was part of Hans' plan.  Hans' team is actually after the bearer bonds worth hundreds of millions.

Leland kills several female villains in the novel.  Easy to see why film producers changed this.  Bad guys are a dime a dozen and we feel nothing when they are killed off.  Likely alienating to audiences to see young women killed, even if they are part of a terrorist group.

In the novel, the goal of the antagonists never changes.  It is to expose the oil company as selling arms under the guise of a bridge building construction deal to a central American dictatorship.  There's also six million in cash in the company safe along with evidence of the deal.  The group say they plan to return the money 'to the people.'

By making the goal a pure heist, the film removes any sympathy or notion of a 'noble goal gone wrong' from the mind of viewers.   Greed is the only motive for Hans Gruber.   The supporting group for Hans is more uniquely drawn and diverse.

7.  The Action.  NOTHING LASTS is a page-turning novel and much of the action in the film DIE HARD is already present in the book.   Detailed action beats are there already.   Examples are the use of the gun and strap to swing inside air vents; riding elevators from above and use of the shafts (and getting dirty from the grease and grime); protagonist leaving his shoes off as the assault starts and having his feet cut later because of it; using the elevator to deliver a C4 explosive "present" to the villains taking out a floor of the building; and the gun taped to his back in the final protag/antag confrontation.

Both the film and novel have the protagonist befriending a police officer and not liking that officer's superiors.  

8.  The Ending (SPOILERS).   Both have a confrontation with Gruber in the finish.  In the novel, Anton has Leland's daughter.  In the film, Gruber has McClane's wife.

The ending of the novel has Leland killing Anton Gruber after taping a pistol to his upper back prior to their confrontation.  However, in falling off the building Anton Gruber grabs Leland's daughter and drags her down with him forty stories to her death.   Perhaps Thorp believed readers would feel the daughter was 'in on it' with the oil company's fraudulent bridge deal, or she had been corrupted by the quest for wealth.  Honestly, it lost me as a reader and I felt Leland failed at his only real goal.

The novel adds an element not in the film.   A crowd gathers to watch the spectacle.  Leland places the six million cash at the top of the tower with wind blowing.  Authorities can't prove if he did it, or the kidnappers.  This allows the six million to be blown out into the crowd and surrounding area.  A nice touch.

The film, of course, ends with McClane saving his wife and that story arc (they had been separated) completing happily.  Hans Gruber is dispatched with a great final shot as he tumbles into the abyss.    

Overall, DIE HARD is the rare film superior to the novel on which it is based.   It became a template for an entire series of films.   I'll explore that in my next post.

NOTE:  Amazon Kindle has a version of NOTHING LASTS FOREVER which includes Thorp's outline for the book as well as a copy of his original handwritten notes.

NOTE 2:  "Bearer bonds" were such a great McGuffin, they were used in the film PANIC ROOM.  PANIC ROOM has a fun end where the bonds blow away in a TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE-style finish.