Thursday, January 24, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Special Delivery

I've been watching a lot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes lately.  Like the Twilight Zone, the half hours are ideal for watching late at night just before sleeping.  And guessing the twist is actually an enjoyable as well as useful mental exercise.

Recently I watched the 1959 episode "Special  Delivery":

Bill and Cynthia, a Ward-and-June Cleaverish  suburban couple, get a special delivery package from  the mailman -- although it's actually for their preteen son Tommy. It's a packet of mushrooms from a company in the bayous of Louisiana, and soon Tommy is growing mushrooms in the family's basement --  indeed, it seems all the neighborhood kids are doing it.  Eventually it becomes clear that something very sinister is going on with these kids and their mushrooms, climaxing in a showdown between Bill and a no-longer-so Beaver Cleaverish Tommy.

Early on watching this episode, when neighbor Roger is telling Bill of his suspicions about the mushrooms, before I ever saw the credits, I began to get a deja vu feeling -- the overpoetic, unnatural dialogue was reminding me of The Martian Chronicles. Ray  Bradbury has a tendency toward that. Soon when the plot twist became clear I realized it was essentially a reworking of Bradbury's famous "Zero Hour", which had been dramatized several times on radio. You can hear one version here, from the classic series X Minus 1:  The ending of "Zero Hour" is one of old time radio's greatest moments, fully the equal of Sorry Wrong Number. "Special Delivery's" climax is very spooky -- "Zero Hour's" is blood-chillingly terrifying.

I watched the credits for "Special Delivery" and yes, Bradbury was there -- as the teleplay writer. There was no story credit. I wonder if the AHP brain trust of producer Norman Lloyd (who also directed) and executive producer Joan Harrison wanted to do "Zero  Hour" but couldn't get the rights, and had Bradbury provide this variation instead.

Viewers of Special Delivery will note the not- entirely-passing resemblance to Invasion Of The Body  Snatchers. As it happens Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers was published in 1955, while "Zero Hour" had appeared in Bradbury's collection The Illustrated  Man in 1951 (for those curious about John Wyndham's similarly-themed novel The Midwich Cuckoos -- filmed as Village Of The Damned -- it was published in 1957).

Portraying a child as villainous was not completely  unknown in films:  There was These Three (an  adaptation of Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour) in 1936, with a teenage girl maliciously spreading gossip, and the anti-Nazi propaganda piece Tomorrow The World in 1944, in which a German product of the Hitler Youth comes to live in prewar America and wreaks havoc on a nice upper- class household. But these were presented as freakish, isolated cases, a treatment also given to
the much later play and film of The Bad Seed in 1956. In "Zero Hour"/"Special Delivery" the villain is not simply a  child but CHILDREN themselves, as a group -- a fascinating twist in the era of Baby Booming, Dr. Spock, and 2.3 kids for every split-level ranch-style in the sparkling new suburban paradise.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Black List Pay Site: One Writer's Experience Part 2

Follow up questions with Lauri Donohue, award-winning screenwriter, on her experience with the Black List pay site:

1. What was your initial cost for posting on the the Black List pay site and what did it buy? What have you spent since then?

$75 per script -- one month hosting plus one review. So far I've paid for a second month for two scripts.

2. What an "impression" and who counts as a "download"? How many have you received of each?

Impression = someone (writer or pro) looks at the project page for your script. This is where you have the logline, reviews, genres, etc.

Download = a pro downloads your script. Doesn't necessarily means they read it. ;)

For Whiplash I've gotten 442 impressions and 21 downloads.

3. Do you know who the downloaders were?  Did they contact you or your rep?

No and no.

4. Are you able to read scripts other writers have posted? Their loglines? Their stats?

No on scripts, yes on loglines. Can see their reviews and ratings (if they make them public) but not the number of downloads.

5. How does the BL newsletter work?

There's one on Friday that only goes to a subset of the pro members and only includes "component" scores for things like premise, dialogue, etc. There seem to be only 5 scripts (which vary from member to member based on their preferences ) on Friday. The newsletter on Monday is for scripts that get an 8/+ overall.

Thus, you can be in Friday but not in Monday. And I think you can be in Monday but not go to everyone on Friday.

6. Tell me about the other script you have posted?

My script "Herod" has gotten 111 impressions and 8 downloads, presumably due to people checking out Whiplash and wanting to see what else I had.

7. Is it true only the paid reviews,"count" for your number score? Are all reviews public? True that one high paid review is enough to land you in the newsletter?

No. All ratings count for the number score. Reviews are only public if you make them that way. (I already answered that last time.) Same for ratings. Yes, one review will put you in the newsletter, but it takes two ratings to put you on the top 15.

8. There were more success stories this week of writers being signed from the BL. How active are actual producers on the site?

The only "success stories" I've heard about are people getting signed with managers, and there have only been a handful of these that I know about. I have no idea how active producers are, and the BL has not shared this info.

9. Is it possible to have a long distance screenwriting career?m. So much seems to depend on networking, contacts, and sweepstakes pitching?

Ask someone who has one. :) The general consensus is no. What I have is more like a paying hobby. I made more money from screenwriting than half the WGA membership this year -- but half the WGA membership earns zero from screenwriting in a given year.

10. At what point would you exit the Black List site?

If I wasn't getting downloads at a rate that I thought justified the $25/month, or for whatever other reason I didn't think it was worthwhile. Or if the scripts all sold, of course. :)

Thanks, Lauri, for answering more questions!

Lauri's website:

Friday, January 18, 2013


 Another Q&A today.    This time with Chuck Hustmyre.   Chuck’s retired law enforcement who then began working as a journalist.   From there he wrote several non-fiction true crime books… then a novel… then a screenplay (HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN) which was produced last year.   His current project, THE AXMAN OF NEW ORLEANS, has been completed both as a novel and an adapted screenplay.

1.  Where did you first come across the story of the Axman of New Orleans?  Have there been any appearances in fiction prior to your novel?

CH:  I don't remember when I first heard of the axman. It seems he was always lurking there in the back of my mind. He has made a few appearances in books before, but other than a graphic novel, I think my book is the first one exclusively about the axman murders.

 2.  What research did you do on the story and where did you go?

CH:  I did a ton of research. I spent two solid weeks at the state library poring over microfilm copies of century old newspapers from New Orleans. I also spent time at the state archives. That is how I confirmed that Joseph Monfre was real and that he served time at Angola for dynamiting a grocery store. Then to confirm the shooting in Los Angeles in 1921, I had to search the archives of the L.A. Times. I have a giant file on the axman killings.

 3.  The story began as a novel and you've adapted it to a screenplay.  What were the challenges facing you in doing the adaptation?

CH:  The biggest challenge was how to present a series of murders that spanned nearly a decade in a condensed timeline and have it all fit into 120 pages.

 4.  You began news and feature reporting.  Then true crime non-fiction.  Then fiction.  How did the journalistic approach affect your fiction style?

CH:  I think the best training I had for screenwriting was being a journalist. Writing news articles teaches you how to write fast and tight. The lead in an article has to grab the reader's attention, just like the first images or scene in a screenplay. I don't think it is a coincidence that many top novelists began their careers as reporters. As an aside, now that the newspaper business is dying and the book business is in such turmoil, I think you will see more former reporters try their hand at screenwriting.
5. Are any characters in Axman composite characters or did all these folks exist?

CH:  I created the two man characters, Detective Colin Fitzgerald and reporter Emile Denoux. Almost all of the other characters are historical figures. I did change the names of one or two to protect the sensibilities of their real descendants. But the more disreputable figures from history, I left intact since I could not possibly damage their reputations anymore than they had already done themselves.

 6.  Which is more difficult to write: Screenplay or novel?   And why?

CH:  A novel is more difficult to write, mainly because novels are so long. A screenplay is about 18,000 words, whereas a novel is about 100,000. It takes a year to write a novel. But that doesn't mean that screenplays are easy. To tell a complete tale in 18,000 words is often quite a challenge. Novels give the author the space to do some meandering. Screenplays don't. A good script has to be tighter than Dick's hatband. As lean as a triathlete. There is just no room for fluff. Anything extraneous has to be excised.

 7.  How committed we're you to track the historical events?  This the "based on" or the "inspired by" true events version?

CH:  I kept everything real that I could. All of the murders are real. I tinkered with the timeline some, and I changed a few of the circumstances, but the basic story of the murders is quite real. What I created was the ending, but even that is based on the true story. If I had to put a number to it, I would say that my version is about 75% true to the facts.

 8. Is it possible for a writer to get "lost in research"?   How much time was put In prior to writing?    Did you consider doing it as True Crime?

CH:  I originally intended to write AXMAN as a nonfiction book. The problem was that there was just not enough of a historical record to write a complete book. Added to that, whatever official records existed were probably destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, since I know from personal experience that in New Orleans the clerk of court's archives were in the basement of the courthouse, which flooded during the storm. Still, while working on the novel I did an enormous amount of research. The biggest difference between the Axman research and the research I did for my two true crime books was that with the Axman case, there was no one to interview. The case is a hundred years old and everyone with direct knowledge of it is dead. That is why I went the fiction route. I wanted to tell the entire story, but for dramatic effect I needed to fill in the gaps in the history. And yes, writers can get "lost in research" and never actually start writing. Research continues through the writing, but once I have enough to understand the story, I start writing.

 9.  How did your background in law enforcement come into play telling the Axman story?

CH:  My law enforcement experience helped me understand the real story and tell it in a way that is true to life. Most writers don't know a gun from a gumshoe, and their writing shows it. I can't tell you how many times I have seen ridiculous police situations on screen or read them in books. I try to create circumstances that could actually happen. My characters are real people in extraordinary situations. They're not supermen or superwomen. No one dodges bullets.

 10.  New Orleans as a setting.  The unique race and culture juxtapositions in the story remind the reader how unique the city is.  How did the setting enhance your story?

CH:  I think New Orleans is part of the story. The city is another character. The culture, the ethnicity, the rampant corruption -- all play a part in the story.

 11.  You've been successful in getting five books into print and one film produced from your novel.  What's the future for Axman?   Advice to the fiction writer on landing an agent or first deal.  

CH:  The AXMAN novel was briefly on the Amazon bestseller list, but without a marketing campaign behind it, it remains a rather obscure novel, just like the Axman case itself. The Axman is America's Jack the Ripper, yet most people in New Orleans -- even most cops I've asked -- have not heard of the case. I'm hoping that as the book slowly picks up sales and as my manager shops the screenplay, the story can finally reach a wide audience. As far as getting your first deal, that's on the writer. No L.A. agent is going to even consider a screenwriter without a production credit. When I was a cop, I used to be the ram guy, the one who battered down the door while we executed search warrants. I take that same approach to selling my writing. If I come across a locked door, I break it down.

 12.  Your favorite scene from the book?

CH:  From the book and the script, I like scene in which Colin and Emile are riding around in Emile's boss's Ford Model T looking for the Axman on the fog-shrouded streets and they find him.

 13.  Other projects you have in the works.  Do you have another untold New Orleans story?

CH:  I have several scripts under option, but the one I'm most excited to see come to the screen is my contemporary JFK conspiracy thriller, THE ASSASSIN. I was born the day JFK was shot, about two hours after the assassination, so I have always been fascinated with the case. And it also has ties to New Orleans.

More interviews to come.   Thanks for reading.  /STH

CHUCK HUSTMYRE wrote the script for the 2011 Lionsgate movie "House of the Rising Sun," and the upcoming Lionsgate movie "End of the Gun." He is also the bestselling author of the books "Killer with a Badge," "A Killer Like Me," and "Unspeakable Violence." He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Black List Pay Site: One Writer's Experience

Franklin Leonard was a development exec who one afternoon had a brilliant idea: Let me poll the various development execs around town I know about the best unproduced screenplays they'd read that year and compile the information.   Using the name "Black List" as both an homage to those who suffered after the House on Un-American Activities acted fairly Un-American toward writers with leftist political views or associations and a commentary on 'black' as the default word carrying negative connotations (remember the scene in MALCOLM X with the diciontary?), the list went out to those who participated and that was that.   But it wasn't.

The Black List circulated all over town and became an annual event.   Writers wanted to make the list.  Agents and managers wanted their clients on it.   Production companies had their readers cover every script that made the list.   Trades began following the results and publishing the 'winners.'  Films were made.   Careers were born.   Several years went by.

Enter Black List 2.0.

What if ANY writer had a shot to make the Black List?   How?   Upload your script.   $25 a month and it's part of the database.   Pay $50 for one review (or $50 more per additional) and a pro coverage score will be attached to the project.   This will allow producers, agents, managers to find that undiscovered gem.  

Great idea?   Yes.  There are 6,000+ scripts already uploaded.

One participant in the BL 2.0 is Lauri Donohue.   Her screenplay WHIPLASH is posted on the site.  It received an initial score of 9.5/10 (amazing; top 1%) and has fluctuated a bit since then.   Each professional that reads and scores posts a number rating and the rating/ranking changes with the new scoring.   Nevertheless, she's hung near the top and gotten downloads. 

Lauri lives in Israel (one of her questions was recently featured on the great John August/Craig Mazin podcast) so she's not able to knock on doors and network in Los Angeles except online.   She was selected a year or so ago to do a rewrite for an Amazon Studios project (ZOMBIES VS. GLADIATORS).

Here's my Q&A with her about the Black List site.   Many potential customers likely have these or similar questions.   I welcome further discussion in the COMMENTS.

1. Did you pay for one, two, or three initial reviews?

Paid for one review for each script. I posted two scripts initially, then two more after I got the 9. All other ratings were free from "pro" members of the community. (These pro ratings don't come with reviews.)

2. Are the reviews posted with the script publicly?

The writer can decide whether or not to make reviews and ratings public. You can decide on a case-by-case basis for the paid reviews. For the ratings, you either make public the average or you don't. You can still get on the top 15 without making the average public.

3. What is the minimum number of months you must post your script?

One, or a fraction. You can take it down at any time. You need to pay for one month ($25) regardless.

4. Any way to ax the reviews if you don't like them?

You can chose not to make them public. If something is REALLY off (for example, the initial review of Herod described it as a comedy and complained it didn't have enough jokes) Franklin is responsive; in my case, he apologized, took the review down, and offered me both a free additional review and a free month of hosting.

5. Are reviews taken down once script removed?

I assume so, since they're linked to the script. I don't see any way they could keep them up.

6. You're getting reads. Do you know which prod co read the script?

No way to tell. And it's not just prodcos -- I think it's mostly reps and assistants. (This is not to diss assistants -- they're very important and can spot good scripts and get them to their bosses.)

7. If yes to 6, are you allowed to follow up off the site?


8. Have you gotten any "we can't make this but we like the writing / what else ya got?" requests?

No requests, contacts at all. But 2 of the other scripts have also gotten downloads. Don't know whether this is because the 9 for WL caused people to look at what else I had posted.

9. How much financially should a writer be prepared to invest in each BL posting? Looks like $75 is minimum. If you want multiple reviews and a couple a months, it's $200 per script.

Yes, $75 minimum. I don't see any point of just paying the $25 hosting fee without the review because the odds are the script won't get noticed. And if you don't get an 8 or up, I'm not sure it's worth keeping a script up there. (Unless you also have a higher-rated script up that could generate "referrals.")

10. Have you used the high rating to send out queries for your other scripts?

Not queries per se, but did send an email to several dozen industry contacts. Got a few nice emails back, once of which led to a call from a top-3 agency asking to read my newest thriller (not on the BL).

11. Are you allowed to post portions of the positive reviews to query other scripts, managers, agents, prod cos off site?

There's nothing to prohibit this and I don't see how they'd stop you. In fact, I'd assume they'd encourage it since it draws attention to the BL.

12. Have you done any rewriting based on the notes you received?

no. the notes aren't very detailed, and I'm pretty happy with the script as-is.

13. Big risk (obviously was worth it for you) in publicly posted a script and coverage on a site like Black List. Might be a shortcut for a prod co to rely on the coverage posted there than giving a unique review. The reviews may be there forever, even if you've updated the script. It may be the take of only one or two readers that determines the fate of your script. How did you weigh these risks prior to submission?

They aren't there forever, and you can decide whether or not to make them public. No risk at all.

14. It would seem scripts with no current play (older script; script that hasn't attracted commercial attention) but is a good writing sample would be the ideal submission. Thoughts?

It's too early to say what, if anything, the BL is good for. I wish Franklin would post success stories/stats so we had more than vague anecdotal evidence of what's happening. I've heard of one person getting some meetings, one person getting a manager, but that's about it.

One thing to make VERY clear -- some people on Done Deal were talking like that 9 meant that I was on the brink of a sale. Even the person I talked to from the agency thought I must be getting a lot of calls.

But I haven't gotten any calls, emails, etc. after 12 days, 306 impressions, and 16 downloads. This could be because of the kind of people on the BL, it could be because of the script, or it could be because of "how the industry works" or something else. No way to tell.

Maybe something will happen for me with the BL and maybe it won't, but a good rating on the BL certainly isn't a guarantee of anything. It's just another lottery ticket -- not an EZ Pass. ;)

It's hard to sell stuff, period. The BL seems like a good idea and it might help. Or it might not. The jury is still out.

If you want to know about the  success stories, there's a thread here:

(Here is the review from BL for her screenplay WHIPLASH.    This is typical of the coverage for the Black List site but the score (a 9) is in the top 2%.   I post this not as a promo but so you get an idea of the coverage.   As you can see, it’s more brief summary notes rather than an in-depth analysis.   Those seeking full notes should vet their project elsewhere.)

This is for Whiplash:

Era: 1860's

Locations: New Hampshire; Boston, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; Kansas; Iowa; San Francisco, California

Budget: Blockbuster

Genre: Action & Adventure, Romantic Adventure, Western

Pages: 118

In the 1860’s, a teenage girl is orphaned when a heartless Northern General kills her brother during the Civil War. Given her talent with horses she masquerades as a boy and takes up stagecoach driving in order to track down the Northern General and avenge her brother’s death.

Charlie is an exciting heroine and watching her make her own success in such a difficult time is inspiring. Her developing relationship with Frank adds comedic sexual tension as she tries to appear tough despite her obvious interest in him. The historical aspects of this script are seamlessly incorporated and seem quite accurate. Additionally, the script is wonderfully paced with just the right combination of romance and adventure.

Charlie’s move from Boston to Iowa is kind of sudden and lacks a clear motivation. Directly prior to the move the stable hands teased her, but her earlier desire to move toward California is more likely the motivator. Connecting her decision to leave with her goal of reaching California could better signal the moment as the start of her journey.

“Whiplash” is an exhilarating romantic adventure with original characters and important historical significance. If produced this story could find success across all four quadrants but especially with women given such a strong female heroine as the lead character.

Thanks for the Q&A, Lauri.  Wish you the best of luck with the BL and your writing career!

Lauri’s Bio and Website:


v Eight feature scripts
v Two short scripts
v Three rewrite assignments
v Winner, More Magazine/Women in Film Screenplay Award
v Winner, Amazon Studios Script Spotlight Award
v Silver Prize, Page International Screenplay Competition
v Finalist, Harvardwood Screenplay Competition
v Semi-finalist (four times) and top-30 (twice), Nicholl Fellowship Competition
v Profiled in Script Magazine


v Winner, Dorothy Silver Playwriting Award
v Published by Baker’s Plays
v Work performed in the US, Canada, and Israel


v Studied writing, film, and theater at Harvard, UCLA, RADA, and the Vancouver Film School

Friday, January 11, 2013

Update on Comedy Writing eBook

Getting good reactions thus far.  Could use some more reviews for my eBook.

Kindle software is available free for ANY computer / iPad / etc.  

The book goes into depth on comedy (history, theory, joke construction, sketches, etc. etc.)  

Give it a look!

Robert Altman's TV Beginnings

After spending years producing industrial films in Kansas City, but before becoming an auteurist's darling, Robert Altman worked as an assembly line director in episodic TV. Most of this work was routine, but a few entries stand out from the pack.

COMBAT: "Survival" (1963)

TV greatest war drama (after Band of Brothers), created by war specialist Robert Pirosh (Battleground, Hell Is for Heroes -- curiously enough, he was a former writer for the Marx Brothers), and concerning a squad of GIs in France just after D-Day.  This episode shows the dogfaces captured by Germans and held captive in a barn -- but the barn catches fire, and the resulting confusion separates an injured Sgt. Saunders (Vic Morrow) from his unit. For the rest of footage attention is divided between the squad escaping and Saunders wandering around in a daze. The Morrow section has almost no dialogue, as well as some unorthodox camera angles for the period. Even today "Survival" is impressively out-of-the-ordinary TV.

KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE: "Once Upon A Savage Night" (1964)

A pilot for a cop show starring veteran tough guy Charles McGraw.  Notable not only for Altman's moody direction merging noir with verite, but also for actually shooting on Chicago locations -- a very, very rare occurrence in those days, as Mayor Daley hated The Untouchables and blamed it for damaging the city's image. Daley would take out his frustrations on Hollywood, refusing to cooperate with filmmakers who wanted to shoot there (how did residents feel about him costing the city money?). How Altman was able to finagle the location shoot, not only with the Chitown bigwigs but Universal and his producer (Perry Como!), I have no idea.

Note the score by John Williams.   Opening very much influenced by Bernard Hermann.

An offering from Altman's Kansas City oeuvre:

Altman himself has a cameo at 4:20 -- he's a lot more emotional here than he ever was in his TV interviews.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Emmy Foundation

The Emmy Foundation has created a website called the Archive of American Television.  The archive contains a great series of interviews with actors, writers, and producers from classic television.

One of my favorites from the site is an interview with James L. Brooks.  Below he discusses the creation of the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.

The rest of the interview can be found here:

Carl Reiner is interviewed here:

These are 8-12 part interviews.   They go into detail.   All must watches!

More information on the Archive:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Notice Humor

This approach to standup comedy involves the observation of daily life where the primary focus is directed outward.   A sample joke in this style is George Carlin's, "Why do we drive on a parkway but park on a driveway?"  

The comedian performing Notice Humor becomes an objective observer of the quirks of language and life's little foibles (the Little Foibles live down the street from the Mid-sizeD Eccentrics).  Examples of these comedians are Rich Hall, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and many others.  Examine their work and the laughs are from external observations.

Rather than develop a comic personality (like, say, Jack Benny or Woody Allen) these are jokes anyone can repeat.   Difficult to prevent joke theft as the comedy isn't tailored to a specific performer.

A huge moment in the history of Notice Humor was David Brenner's first time on the Tonight Show:

This was the most successful debut for a comic I ever saw.  He must get interrupted for applause 10 times at least.  Today it can't seem as out-of-the-ordinary as it once did, since comedians are still using the same jokes (note he does a variation on NY vs LA -- the most overused topic in comedy history).  Significantly, at one point he even says "Didja ever notice?"

Notice comics were the descendants of the cracker barrel storytellers of the Will Rogers school (as the nightclub "schleppers" were the children of the fast-talking, urban vaudevillians). But where
the cracker barrelists emphasized characters -- Herb Shriner tells about his childhood friend: SEE BELOW -- the noticers threw all the character and atmosphere out, going straight for the
observation. This was perhaps due to the increasingly speeded up nature of American life, and the ever-shrinking attention spans of the TV generation.

Notice humor reflected the integration of Jews into the greater American culture.   The 'otherness' of Jewish humor (outsider) was replaced by "I'm one of you looking at these odd things" (insider) approach.   Rather than reflect inward on character faults, the notice comedian is "in on it" with the audience.

Truly unique comic characterizations are rare today.   Most stand-ups are interchangeable and their material forgettable.   A certain amount of courage is required to expose your own faults (or a comic exaggeration thereof).  Lot of laughs missed out on because comedians don't develop these personalities.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


MEN OF CRISIS: THE HARVEY WALLINGER STORY.   The film was made in 1971 for PBS.  Mockumentary style (likely inspired by the Paulsen for President made in 1968), the show satirizes the Nixon Administration with Allen appearing as a Henry Kissinger-style advisor.

PBS officials feared losing government support and pulled the plug on the show prior to airing.   The Paley Center for Media (a great place for TV fans; think Library of Congress for television).

The show opens with a news-style title sequence.   “The best minds of the Republican party meet in Miami Beach.”   Shot of Republicans in a room sleeping in chairs, sacked out on a couch.

“After much consideration they choose a man of force and magnitude.  That man refuses the nomination and they settle for Richard Nixon.”

Newsreel clips (gaffes so common now with youtube to get constant play) make up a good percentage of the show.

Mixed into the clips are fake interviews and clips.   Wallinger (Allen) first appears being sworn in, .”….will faithfully “Can you repeat the question?   I didn’t hear that.  Can you say that again?”

Shot of Wallinger in action on the phone: “I want you to get an injunction against the Times.  Yes, it’s a New York Jewish communist left wing homosexual newspaper.  And that’s just the sports section.”

This is vintage Woody Allen in his prime and equal to the quality of his funniest films.

After a clip of Nixon it’s back to Wallinger:  “What Mr. Nixon means is that it’s important to win the war and also win the peace or at the very least lose the war and lose the peace or  win at least part of the peace or win two pieces perhaps.  Or lose a few pieces but win a piece of the war.  The other alternative is to win a piece of the war but lose a piece of Mr. Nixon.”

Interview with Wallinger.   “We decided to bomb Laos because a very strategic reason: We were not happy with the way it was spelled.”

Shots of Agnew with pompous talk over voice setting up more of Wallinger.  “Mr. Agnew has been especially upset with television since they dropped Gilligan’s Island.”

Louise Lasser appears as an ex-girlfriend of Wallinger.   “We used to double date a lot with the Nixons.  Pat and Dick.   He would dance with Dick.  I thought that was very sweet.”  “I really wanted to get married.   But he didn’t.   He used his influence in Washington to get me drafted.”

Pompous voice over from Reed Hadley: “Born to parents of German-Jewish extraction, Harvey Wallinger is named for Rabbi Harvey Weinstien who will later be wanted by police for passing counterfeit matza.   His father, J. Herbert Wallinger a grocer, dies in childbirth.   His mother the former Anna Cheswick is a newspaper woman who has an affair with Mussolini until she discovers he is Italian.”

Difficult not to transcribe the entire show as there are many classic jokes.   (Btw, the posting here is under ‘fair use’ and no claim to copyright is intended, implied, wanted, and please don't sue me, Mr. Allen.)

Wallinger (shot in black and white) leads a House Unamerican Activities-style questioning.   “Then you’re not familiar with an organization called the Boy Scouts of America.”  “No sir, I was not.”  “Did you attend meetings?”  “From time to time.”   “Did you attend ten, five, a hundred?   Why can’t you remember?”  “Do you recall any other people that attended these Boy Scout meetings?“  “I wasn’t a regular member.  I was 8 years old.  You had to be 10 years old to become a member of the Boy Scouts.”   “To the best of your knowledge, did you ever save anyone from drowning?   Did you ever drown yourself?   At no time?   Well I have information here that you drown?  You don’t remember being submerged under water for an inordinate matter of time?  Ah, I see.”  

This teams Wallinger up with Richard Nixon.   “Their political views coincide.  They both love Richard Nixon.”

1956.  Wallinger gets married to Diane Keaton (who performs her role cross-eyed).   Shot of the two at the wedding with Nixon droning on.    Keaton present day, “He was romantic.  He couldn’t stop from crossing his legs.  He always tries to cross his legs even when we are making love so we’ve had problems in that area.”

In 1960 on Kennedy, “George Washington was Catholic.  Ask J. Edgar Hoover.   He said he was protestant to get votes.   He was a closet Catholic.   Abraham Lincoln was a Jew.  He went to Hebrew school.  His real name was Abe Tropeman.’

“I could not convince him to take a shave for those debates.   I said, ‘Dick your’e going to be on television take a shave.’  ‘Well, it’s $1.50 for a shave plus a tip.’  … I was against those debates to begin with because in a debate you have to deal with issues.  I kept him from making that same mistake in 1968.”

The “You won’t have Nixon to kick around” clip.   Wallinger goes back to the law firm and gets divorced from Keaton for cheating on her with a Democrat.   Wallinger: “Sex is a very capricious thing.  Sometimes I feel like making love to a Democrat.  Sometimes I feel like making love to a Republican.  Generally I try to wait to see what the Russians do first.”

1968.   Nixon is running again.   Wallinger gives advice to makeup man preparing Nixon.   “Is there any possibility of doing black face?”  “The eyebrows are negative.  They make a statement.  They say ‘don’t vote for me.’”  “Maybe if we covered the entire face over with a flag.”  Makeup man: “For what country.”

Clip of Nixon campaign speech and taking power.   Wallinger, “Preventive detention.  I think it’s important to put the criminal in jail before he commits the crime.  That’s the feeling of the administration.

The style of the film will remind fans of ZELIG, produced a decade later.   The early Wallinger interviews are the highlight of the film.   It does lose a bit of steam at times with political clips of figures few of us now remember.   For the era was quite innovative.   This was decades before DAILY SHOW and political satire on television was a rarity.

Easy to see why the Nixon Administration didn’t want the show aired as it was critical of them but what Woody Allen fans were voting for Nixon in the first place?  
Hopefully one day the film will be added as a special feature to one of the early feature films.  


While most movie trailers are unimaginative and even irritating, a few stand as interesting achievements of their own:

This trailer is actually far more inventive than the rather routine service comedy it's advertising. Like the best of Kovacs' work, it's visually imaginative with touches of surrealism.

This Python trailer rivals the Kovacs as my all time favorite. Fortunately, in this case the movie was as good as the trailer.   (Commercial to skip prior to trailer appearing.)

Notable for containing a scene cut from the film.

Much closer in mood to one of the wraparounds on his TV show than the film he's promoting. I love the Leave It To Beaverish music.  (Another ad to skip.)

Welles just couldn't resist toying with the form.

Note George C. Scott is not among those sworn in -- Scott rebelling against authority again, or some sort of punishment from Preminger?

Again we see the influence of Hitchcock's TV intros.

OK I'm cheating here, since these are TV commercials not trailers.  But they're the work of the brilliant Stan Freberg, and at least as funny.
as the movie.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


A few years back I managed to track down a number of rare Woody Allen TV appearances and specials.  Many of the standup appearances now are posted on  YouTube but a few of these shows have remained difficult to find.

THE LAUGHMAKERS (1962, but not aired until 1968) was an unsold pilot written by Allen for ABC.  The setting is an improvisational comedy club (this is less then three years after the founding of Second City) in Greenwich Village.  Alan Alda and Louise Lasser appear very briefly as members of an improv group.  The leading roles are played Louise Sorel  (an ingenue of the period who later did a Star Trek guest shot, a few short-lived sitcoms and spent years on a TV soap opera) as Joyce and Paul Hampton (otherwise unknown to me) as Ted.

I’ve never been a big fan of improv -- it always reminds me of the old Howie Mandel standup bit,  where he asks the audience: “Okay, give me a  location. Now give me an occupation.  Now give me a  bunch of funny things to say.”

The show opens at the club (The Freudian Slip), giving the viewer a  sample of improv, with the audience shouting out  ideas (too bad Allen doesn't have them yell out jokes as  well -- would have an intriguing Mandel harbinger).  Beatnik-types fill the club and improv is explained as well as the forming of the troupe.  “We were all performers in an avant-garde drama. The lead actor was a veal cutlet.”  One of the Beatniks  is notably played by Michael J. Pollard (later to become briefly famous as C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde): “C’mon Joyce, I need to get home and listen to my Marcel Marceau record.”

The crusty but lovable (remember the pilots scene in  Network?) club owner is played by crusty but lovable  Broadway vet David Burns, giving Allen a mouthpiece  for his Jewish humor: “It’s not enough that I like you.   I’ve got no taste.”  And, “If you want me I’ll be next door at the day old bakery.   My children should grow up without ever knowing the thrill of fresh rolls?”

A new girl fails to show up for her audition, and Joyce (an homage to James?) is drafted to take her place (“Sorry I’m late -- my Zen lesson ran long), which she does with rather incongruous competence.  The improv for the try out later appears in TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Ted plays the robber trying to stick up a person who turns out to be an old friend (played by  Joyce), a standard Second City exercise.   Casual chat.    “May I have your watch?   Thank you.” “Keep your  hands up or I’ll have to shoot you.”  Payoff of the  sketch is she’s a cop and arrests him.

Then it’s back to Joyce’s apartment (the series was  apparently intended to split time between the club and  domestic scenes, a la the  workplace/home paradigm  most famously associated with the previous year's DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, but actually going back through Andy Griffith to Make Room For Daddy -- all three being Danny
Thomas-Sheldon Leonard productions). Joyce: “I have a marvelous recipe for pre-Columbian  coffee.”  Allen mixes in jokes (many from his standup  routines) during the chat but the dialogue doesn’t flow.  “When I gave that up and began acting off Broadway in an elevator shaft my mother tried to take an overdose of mah jong tiles.”  Act One ends with the two kissing and a complex coffee machine going off. 

Act Two.  News from the club owner that a scout for Ed Sullivan will visit the club but Joyce quits the team.  The two debate in a series of exterior shots.  Joyce wants to be a poet, and reads her latest work to Paul: “That poem has an othernerness you’ll never have.” Paul:  “I don’t want an otherness.  I’m happy with my thisness.” In an attempt to show her up, Paul  prepares a poem, which he tries out on his friends  (Friend 1:  “That’s pure Shelly.”  Friend 2: “Shelly Winters.”) 

It’s beatnik poetry night at a neighboring business, The CafĂ© Decadence.  Joyce reads her poem.  Audience gives mild “finger snaps” approval.  A special guest is there: a famous beat poet.  Terrified of humiliating himself, Ted tries to make  tracks -- his emergency excuse: “I’m late for a surprise autopsy" -- but his fellow improv troupers restrain him from leaving.  Unable to escape, Ted walks  onstage and performs “Ode to a Drivers License.”

The poem consists of him reading, in beatnik style, his  drivers license in full -- perhaps the greatest comic poetry reading scene ever (even with the dull Hampton), although one gets the feeling it would be  even funnier with Allen himself doing it.

The audience erupts in applause:  “Yeah, go.”  “Crazy.”  King Beat offers his judgment: “That was  beautiful” -- giving David Burns a nice moment of irascible incredulity as the  club owner: “What’s beautiful?  He read his drivers license.”

Joyce decides to stay part of the troupe.  We see them perform another improv.  Will the young couple stay  together? Will they make the Ed Sullivan Show? Or even Joe Franklin?  Will our lovebirds become the new Nichols and May?

Allen must've felt constrained by the sitcom format, as the ending breaks the fourth wall.  Ted looks to the  camera: “Say goodnight, Gracie.”  Joyce looks to the camera: “Goodnight, Gracie.”

Not only a little Brechtianism, but also a reference to the comic favorites of Allen's youth.


The musical score is Dixieland jazz (some may find this  predictable Woody, but revival Dixieland was closely  linked at the time to Greenwich Village, at least in the  mass audience's mind).  The show was shot one  camera, and has a surprising amount of movement for  a sitcom.  The final scene is the couple riding through  Manhattan on a motorcycle. This is a decade after the  three-camera approach had been perfected by I LOVE LUCY.

THE LAUGHMAKERS, for all its brilliant one-liners, has  several serious flaws.  The most obvious is the casting of blandly whitebread Paul Hampton as the male lead.  Hard to believe he could get the role with Alda around  (especially since AA had already played a notable guest shot in an episode of Sgt Bilko), but perhaps the  network insisted on a WASP-type for the series lead.

Another problem is the setting of an improv club.  Expecting viewers to laugh at stage antics is a tricky  business that can often fail disastrously (see the  allegedly hilarious slapstick bit in Chaplin's A KING IN NEW YORK).  Note that THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW never  showed Alan Brady performing  sketches -- it was always the  writers preparing the routines for him. Mixing in the  improv bits may have seemed like a hip idea, but it  actually draws the viewer outside the stories and characters.

But the biggest problem is the pilot's very structure.  Allen attempts to use the standard "introduce a new  person to the group" plot, but he didn't think it through  enough. Joyce is the outsider welcomed to the group  by Ted, but she -- the attractive upper class intellectual so omnipresent in Allen's oeuvre (if I can use that  word in mixed company) -- seems more at home in this milieu (sorry, I've seen a lot of French films lately) than Ted does. A faulty pilot does not necessarily guarantee a bad series (Taxi's pilot inexplicably had TWO outsiders introduced to the group, and that series became a classic).  But it may be one reason ABC didn't pick it up.

A better -- more workable for a series, that is -- plot  might have been a nebbishy writer type (I wonder who  could have played that part?) falling in with Village bohemians, including Joyce, and hanging around the (non-improv) club. Perhaps even inheriting the club -- sort of a Beatnik-era CHEERS.

Next up for this series is the unaired PBS Special MEN IN CRISIS: HARVEY WALLINGER, a spoof of Henry Kissinger that was deep sixed by the Nixon administration.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Brando Look

Followup to the post regarding Brando's refusal / inability (?) to memorize lines.  The cue card practice was not unique to THE GODFATHER:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Good News for Film Investors

Section 181 (federal tax incentives) has been extended through 2013.

Article on the extension:

The PDFs at the bottom explain the benefits to investors.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Harpo Marx - in Color!

Marx Brothers fans are familiar with the blond wig worn by Harpo.  However, when the Brothers began their careers on stage Harpo actually wore a red wig.  The red appeared black in black and white film and was, therefore, changed.

Here's footage of Harpo in color from a rare 1957 film (his and Chico's last screen appearance) in color with the original red wig:

And here is Harpo's voice in a few rare recordings:

Rare Monty Python and the Holy Grail Trailer

Funny (sadly a pop up ad may pop up before it plays but worth the wait):


I recently reread The Godfather for the first time since I was about 14.  Mario Puzo is no prose stylist -- the book reads like a very long magazine article rather than a novel, and the sections on Lucy Mancini (the girl who Sonny bangs at the wedding -- she is actually a major character in the book) and her gynecologist (not in the film at all, thankfully) are totally pointless and should have been cut. But the book does give a lot of detail that simply couldn't fit into the film, and gives some insight into the motivations and especially the strategies of the characters.

Aside from Lucy Mancini and her abortionist, the film also de-emphasizes Johnny Fontane. People may not realize it today, but a key factor in the novel's success was that readers actually got to see
longstanding rumors about Sinatra in print, albeit concerning one "Johnny Fontane". Keeping the Fontane story would have made the movie at least 4 hours long -- and one Francis Albert from Hoboken might very well have hired various consiglieri to block the production. So the Fontane plot was mostly discarded

They did keep the horse's head scene though. That entire section and the Fontane character could be cut from the film with minimal damage to the plot -- but the horse's head had been the most talked about scene in the book, so TPTB decided to retain it.

The important difference between the book and the film -- aside from Coppola being a stylish director and Puzo being a less than stylish writer -- is the young Michael. In the book he's already fairly
hardened and cynical from the outset.

Here is an excerpt from the novel, Michael's big speech on whether to kill Solozzo and McCluskey:

“You shouldn’t let that broken jaw influence you,” Hagen said.
“McCluskey is a stupid man and it was business, not personal.”

For the second time he saw Michael Corleone’s face freeze into a mask
that resembled uncannily the Don’s.  “Tom, don’t let anybody kid you.
It’s all personal, every bit of business.  Every piece of shit every
man has to eat every day of his life is personal.  They call it
business.  OK. But it’s personal as hell.  You know where I learned
that from?  The Don. My old man.  The Godfather.  If a bolt of
lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal.  He
took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great.
The Great Don.  He takes everything personal.  Like God. He knows
every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the
hell it goes.  Right?  And you know something?  Accidents don’t happen
to people who take accidents as a personal insult.  So I came late,
OK, but I’m coming all the way. Damn right, I take that broken jaw
personal; damn right, I take Solozzo trying to kill my father

This is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Michael's attitude in the film ("It's not personal Sonny -- it's strictly business").  Presumably Coppola made the change -- and it's a change for the better.

The film softened the character of Michael, which made his story arc more interesting.  Indeed the film softened most of the characters.  Luca Brasi in the movie is almost a comic figure, clumsily practicing his speech. The novel's Luca is a monster -- you won't soon forget
what happens to his Irish girlfriend.

Here's a page from the book marked up by Coppola:

From the set (note Brando's practice of using cue cards - reminders or part of his method?):

Potential casting list from Coppola.  Robert Evans was opposed to Pacino and there was a huge battle over the casting of that role.   The studio wanted... Robert Redford (?) or another name actor.   Difficult to imagine anyone other than perhaps DeNiro in that role:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


A while back I couldn't sleep, and after some channel-surfing I came across this micro-budget oddity on TV. Seeing the tacky color sets and the all-around cheesiness, I figgered it'd be good for a few laughs and decided to watch a couple of minutes.

Instead I stayed with it to the end, fascinated. The plot deals with humans who have invented androids that are so perfect -- and lifelike -- that they threaten mankind's power and very existence. So paranoid humans set up a resistance.

Sound familiar?  This is 1962 remember, a full 6 years before Philip K. Dick would publish his novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and two decades before that book would be filmed as Blade Runner.  COTH even shares that film's plot twist, in which the robot-hating protagonist discovers the truth about himself.

Philip K. Dick was a he a fan of cheap scifi movies? Perhaps COTH's premise was old-hat in SF literary circles of the 1950s. That doesn't alter the fact that it still predates Dick.

The film also bears a strong resemblance to the 1st season Star Trek episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"  But whereas Star Trek regarded the idea of humans being transferred to "perfect" robot bodies for virtual immortality as a horrifying and inhuman disaster which Kirk must stop at all costs, in COTH it is fascinatingly treated as a happy ending.

COTH should be seen by all Blade Runner fans, and by any movie buff intrigued by poverty row.


The late 1940s radio show The Adventures Of Philip Marlowe can be downloaded here:

This series is probably the closest any dramatic medium ever came to the Marlowe of the novels. Even Raymond Chandler himself didn't completely hate it.

There were a few tentative episodes produced in 1947 with Van Heflin as Marlowe. Gerald Mohr took over the role in 1949.

It's instructive to compare the first version of "Red Wind" (with Heflin) to the later version with Mohr. Both versions open with narration-- the famous description of L.A. nighttime taken directly
from Chandler's story:

"There was a rough desert wind blowing into Los Angeles that evening.  It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anna winds that comes down out of the mountain passes... On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight, and meek little housewives finger the edge of a carving knife
and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen when the Santa Anna blows in from the desert."

But Heflin -- a much bigger movie star and a more interesting screen presence -- is IMHO completely wrong for Marlowe. He is much too vulnerable-sounding and emotional. The scene at the police station where he talks to his contact on the force -- he even ends up pleading with him -- seems particularly misjudged.

Gerald Mohr always struck me in movies and TV as a superficial actor.  I was not surprised to learn he had been successful in radio as he came across as reading lines rather than playing a character.

So I was really shocked to discover just how good he is as Marlowe.  He hits exactly the right balance between aloof cool and tough-guy avenger of injustice. And in some episodes he even plays for a fascinating pre-Rockford comedy (immediately after talking an accused killer into
giving up, he starts complaining about having to climb 5 stories on a fire escape).  I wonder if Rockford creator Steven Cannell listened to the show as a kid.

But the highlights of the show -- in particular the early episodes -- are absolutely the opening and closing narrations. Some of them are classics.

The show even some Brechtian moments.  The episode "The Birds On The Wing" (aired 11-26-49) is especially notable for its beginning and ending, both breaking the fourth wall.  It opens with Marlowe saying he is currently reading "Chandler's latest 'The Little Sister'" -- thus a fictional character mentions his creator, and claims to be reading an actual real-life book in which HE HIMSELF is the main character.  Even more surreal is the ending, in which Marlowe returns to his apartment
to find waiting for him none other than Gracie Allen -- who asks Marlowe to find her husband George Burns a radio show on which he can sing! (Presumably this cameo was part of some CBS Radio
cross-promotional campaign.)

The plots are generally not so hot -- they invariably hinge on Marlowe spotting something which the audience cant see (obviously) and only explaining how he figured it out in the tag. But with only 30 minutes of show they clearly had to decide between Christie plotting and Chandler
ambiance.  Fortunately they chose the latter.

This series is definitely a buried noir treasure. Maybe someday it will be rediscovered.

An amusing and rare illustrated 'review' of "The Big Sleep" from 1940: