Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A gem in the $5 bin

This afternoon the Beefcake and I went to Best Buy and peeked into the $5 bin. Conspiracy Theory, Harry and the Hendersons, Bad Boys (the one with Sean Penn), Cast Away, Memento (Memento? In the $5 bin? What is the world coming to?), 15 World War II Movies, and one shiny copy of Ghostbusters.

I already have Memento, so we liberated the copy of Ghostbusters. And I thought momentarily, this movie comes on Comedy Central like once a week, so do we really need to buy it? But then I thought about how they always replace the best line in the film with "Yes it's true. This man is some kind of rodent, I'm not sure which" which I can never figure out how in the world that fits into the same verbal space as "It's true. This man has no dick." It's not even close to the same amount of syllables. No matter how many times I see that movie on TV I never understand how they fit that in Bill Murray's mouth.

Anyway, it's also just impossible to see one of the greatest comedies of all time in the $5 bin and not rescue it from the proximity of Harry and the Hendersons.

What have you grabbed from the $5 bin?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hold me closer, Tony Danza

A&E recently started airing promos for a new show called Teach: Tony Danza. Tony Danza taught for a year in the Philadelphia public school system.

This I have to see. I have often wondered why Reality TV had not yet infiltrated the classroom, and thank goodness A&E has fixed that problem. Now the whole country can see what hand-picked kids are like when edited, in front of a camera crew and taught by a former sitcom star/talk show host. It's about time.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lake Placid 4: Stubby's Revenge

This year my parents moved to a new house back East and brought with them this corgie you see before you. His name is Stubby on account of his short little legs. Yes, he is cute. He is also one dumb motherfucker.

In this little bitty town there is a swamp across the street from a big lake. In this swamp are alligators. My parents have told me many times that in the history of the lake, not once have the alligators crossed the street into the lake. I am skeptical, but trusting. Two days ago my mom and I drove by the swamp and saw four gators out sunning themselves. I thought is was so cool, I decided to ride her bike down the road to get pictures of them.

Stubby doesn't get out of his pen much, so as I began to ride Mom's bike down the driveway he began his adorable and pitiful barking.

He's dumb as a post, but Stubby's a very good dog and he has no problem trotting around off leash. Besides, this is the kind of town where everybody's dog wanders at will so nobody bats an eye if a cute little corgie wanders hither and yon on his own. My parents don't let him out much though, because their neighbor is a horrible bitch and she has it in for him.

So anyway, could you resist that dog? No. Nobody with a heart could. So I said to Stubby, look Stubby. You will run alongside this bike as I go to photograph the gators sunning themselves in the swamp.

Stubby hates swimming. HATES. Freaks completely out when he's walked anywhere near a swamp or a lake or a pool or an ocean. So I wasn't worried about him going anywhere near the swamp and the gators. I brought along an old short rusty chain link leash just in case he gave me trouble.

So I biked on down the road and he trotted along, occasionally stopping to sniff the foliage. He was happy as a pig in shit.

Along the way I saw this alligator:

Yes the swamp is currently a little overrun with algae.

Now that I've gotten my picture of an alligator I decided to double back and head home. Stubby's very furry and has very tiny legs, and at this point his tongue was practically dragging the ground, so I figured if he could talk he'd probably admit defeat and ask if we could go.

I turned around and started biking, stopping periodically and calling Stubby to me when a car went by. He'd sit there and wait, and then start jogging as soon as the car past.

So we went along like this for a while until one car came along and I called him to me, but he didn't come. He ran into some bushes and failed to reappear. I called again. Nothing. I thought I heard a splash, so naturally at this point I'm convinced that Stubby has been gobbled up by an alligator. Great. I killed my mom's dog.

I rushed over and didn't see the dog anywhere. But suddenly there was frantic splashing, and there he was, down in the water, scraping at the embankment with his mud filled paws.

Stubby decided that neon green water was a lovely drink and forgot that he had short-ass legs.

As I leaned over to grab his forelegs and wrestle him back on land, I thought to myself, this is how horror movies start. This is also how stories about rednecks who die saving their dogs start.

I braced one leg on a tree. I did not look for an alligator because I figured seeking out a green lizard in green water would require too much time, time I could be grabbing this goddamn dog. I pulled his forelegs up and used my right hand to push his butt the rest of the way, then I got the fuck out of there before all that splashing got us eaten.

Naturally, Stubby was filthy and now, so was I. I put that short rusty leash on his filthy neck and walked him and the bike back to the lake. I dragged him in to clean him off, at which point he panicked and splashed his way back to the dock. Once on the dock, he immediately rubbed his face in bird poop.

At this point I threw my hands up and he trotted his furry little ass back to the house, not a care in the world.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I packed my glasses already

 What picture did I choose? I can't see it.

Today I was going to tell the story of how my mom's corgi almost killed us both, but I took my contacts out then realized I already packed my glasses so I can't see what I am typing. Plus I have to be on a plane at 3am so I should go to bed soon. I will tell my story tomorrow.

I'll just say this so I can get this laptop off my chest: I spent most of today sitting by a lake reading a book by David West called Chasing Dragons. It's a journey through the history of the martial arts film broken down by country, then director, then film. Plus it's kind of funny in places. I've learned a lot of things about the history of the martial arts film, but most of all I've learned that Netflix does not carry a lot of old Japanese and Chinese stuff. How can you not carry a movie called How Wong Fei Hung Pitted a Lion Against a Dragon? I mean, seriously. I want to know how he did it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My anecdote file is growing

I'm spending the week in a very tiny town in the middle of nowhere in the South and it's beautiful and quiet and hilarious.

This is one of those towns where the only crime is lawn mower theft and the angry old lady next door comes out and stares at you if your corgie thinks about urinating somewhere near her grass.

So I am making a lot of notes in my file of interesting quotes and anecdotes to use at a later date when I am in need of some comedy.

Everyone should have a file of quotes an anecdotes. Every time I get to a scene and I need some kind of filler material, like a joke or a bizarre opening line, I go to my file and pick one out. There's some excellent and strange stuff in there that I can no longer remember where I got it.

That angry old lady is totally going in it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thanks Mom

After I read the script for My Mother's Curse I immediately sent it to my mother. She thought it was terrific and immediately got why I wanted her to read it. It's one of my favorite scripts of the year and I took a few notes from it because Salvage is about a mother/daughter relationship. One of the things My Mother's Curse does so well is pick up on the things all mothers do that drive us crazy; my favorite scene is when the protagonist's mother tells him over and over that he should put on his windshield wipers and he keeps telling her it won't work, then finally he does it and she's right.

That is the worst, when your naggy mom is completely right. Everybody can relate to that - I don't care who you are.

So as soon as I put that script down I started thinking about things my mom does that are so very MOMlike, and I started working them into the script. I found myself writing conversations we've had in the past and smiling. Yes, Mom, I am aware that I'm going five miles over the speed limit. No we will not crash and die.

After I finished Salvage I sent it to the Manager, then I sent it to my mom.

Now my mom is different from other moms in that she does not think everything I touch turns to gold. She thinks I'm awesome, but she also thinks my last screenplay had too much sex in it, and she never read my zombie script at all because she just doesn't see the appeal. Explosions really do it for me, but Mom thinks they're unnecessarily destructive.

A compliment in this house must be earned, and that's how you know it means something.

Which is why, when my mom said my comedy is good and that I wrote a cute story, I beamed. Yay! My mom thinks I'm funny.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Box Office thoughts

I'm on a plane today. Weeee. I'm not checking any luggage, so hopefully things will go well.


It's a good thing I'm not an executive because I super suck at predicting the Box Office. It was a weekend filled with new movies, yet nothing made any real money. I thought Piranha 3D and Nanny McPhee Returns were going to take the weekend and The Expendables was going to drop to number 3. I was pretty sure Vampires Suck was going to tank.

Instead Piranha and Nanny came in 6th and 7th respectively, with Piranha making just enough to stay afloat and Nanny pretty much a bomb. Are the kids all back in school? They aren't around here, but I'm guessing in many other states this was the first week of school, or that everybody spent their movie money on backpacks. Usually kids movies do well, and a sequel should do even better, but not this time, clearly.

I almost wanted to see Piranha 3D just for the sheer joy of watching what is essentially a Syfy movie with better effects on the big screen, but 1) I HATE 3D and 2)  I was busy getting ready for my trip. Plus I'd already decided that if I saw something this weekend it would be Scott Pilgrim. But I doubt that was everybody else's reason for avoiding this film. Since it made 10mil in opening weekend and had a budget of 24mil, I'm sure the studio will survive it. But I just thought it would do better. Maybe it lost its crowd to The Expendables.

The Lottery Ticket coming in at #4 I totally get. It's a great idea for a story, something everyone can relate to, and it's so rare that we get a film aimed at black audiences that when one comes along it generally cleans up.

But Vampires Suck? Did Twilight fans really go see this? I know that's what the actors in the film kept saying, but I thought it was pretty obvious this film was poking fun at them all. Are they that starved for vampire love stories that they'll even go for the spoofy kind?

All in all, it was an interesting weekend at the movies with so many opening so close to the end of summer. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I did nothing today. I mean I watched some TV, I read a book, and I did some script notes, but compared to my usual day I didn't do a whole hell of a lot.

I've got three ideas for my next project, but I think one is probably easier to write than the others, and more sellable, so I'm starting with that until the rep tells me otherwise.

But first, I'm relaxing. I think when you send away a script into the ether, you should take a day to chill out and do nothing.

Tomorrow I'm working on my Luc Besson article as soon as I get back from Target. I swear.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This happens every time

I finished the script today! Yay! Glass of wine and Top Chef to celebrate. The last thing I did was one final read through to check for errors and unnecessary words, and I realize that I have a character named Old Bored Security Guard and a character named Security Guard, and that Old Bored Security Guard ends up having so many lines that he really should have a name.

I wish I'd made this decision before I typed out Old Bored Security Guard a bunch of times.

Anyway, I draw a name out of a hat - Johan - and do the old name switch.

I have been through this before, so the next step is to go through all of his scenes making sure his name got switched in every instance. Check.

Everything looks good, it's funny, it's fun, it's clean. Wrote an email to my manager and sent that puppy right over.

Naturally, that's when I realized two things: 1) I now have a character named Johan and a character named Joe. I'm sure THAT'S not confusing at all.

And 2) I forgot to introduce Johan. When you have a character named Old Bored Security Guard, you don't have to bother with description because his name is his description. So where my script used to say "It's a typical lobby, complete with OLD BORED SECURITY GUARD," it now says "It's a typical lobby, complete with JOHAN."

What the fuck is a Johan?

After kicking myself, I changed his name to Reginald and sent the Manager a new version where I introduced the guy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The next lesson I have learned

Every time I write a script I learn something new that I need to do. Yesterday I got a new set of notes that gave me my lesson for this particular piece.

Obviously, with my first script I learned how to write a script. And do flashbacks and voice overs. Oh yeah, they were all there.

I wrote a script about brothers who were thieves which taught me to never write something I know nothing about.

I wrote a story about a former assassin in witness protection told me that  a good idea does not a good script make. You have to have a story too. One event has to lead to another in a logical method, and you can't just throw a bunch of action scenes together and hope somebody likes it.

A Supernatural script taught me that sometimes no matter how hard you try, a story just doesn't work. And that I'm not really a TV writer.

With Not Dead Yet I learned the value of editing your writing to the simplest, most straightforward language. I still write naturally, but the last thing I do before I ship the script off to the world is to do one pass where all I'm looking for is words to cut.

Burnside taught me that no matter how cool everybody thinks your story is, that doesn't mean anyone will buy it.

And now Salvage has taught me to remember that people like surprises. I only had one real reversal, and it's not all that surprising to the keen viewer. So today I sat down and changed it all around to incorporate a reversal, which necessitated moving events all over the place. It also meant that the setting of my final set piece moved all the way to the beginning of act 2, which meant I had to rewrite the final piece. I went from 108 pages to 89 pages with a keystroke.

That's daunting. But after I started reworking it I found some pretty funny stuff. And pacing. My pacing picked up big time because my characters weren't just waiting to get to the next scene, they were surprised and forced to rethink their assumptions.

I will remember that for next time. In my ever increasing toolbox, I can now add, Don't Forget Reversals.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Expendables crowd

Ever since I moved to the burbs, I've gone to a small movie theater where parking is plentiful, tickets are cheap, and you don't have to wait in a long line for anything. I love that theater.

Friday night I actually waited in a short line to hold our group's seats when the theater opened up for The Expendables, and I took a quick gander at the audience.

Behind me was a man in his 40s whose wife had given up. If you show up for the movies on a Friday night in a velour track suit with a scrunchie in your hair, you might as well start getting fat because that's the only place left to go. Anyway, the wife went to see Eat, Pray, Love, leaving her husband alone behind me in line. Down the stairs comes this exotic chick with a body that kills poured into a minidress and high heels. The guy behind me stared at her all the way down the stairs.

In front of me was a young Latino couple. The girl was bright eyed, excited, giving a speech about awesome movies she's seen and where The Condemned ranked among them. My girl.

Ahead in line, a family of four - a wife, husband, and two kids under 10. This movie is rated R. No time like the present to teach your kids about giant guns that shoot grenades into people's torsos.

Behind me down the stairs, your stereotypical group of guys. They were all smiles and popcorn.

At the front of the line, a 50 something couple. They were giddy.

Now I'm not trying to say that there were as many women as men, or that this film brought in the old crowd, but I think maybe the studios underestimate the appeal this film had for women.

If they had realized how many of us wanted to see this film, they would have had Jason Statham take his shirt off at least once. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Expendables Day!

I really want to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, but I want to see The Expendables more. Rotten Tomatoes means nothing to me today. I am turning off my brain and on my awesome meter.

Whenever I go to see films of this nature, I always check to see how many other girls there are in the theater, and how many I think are there because they want to be. We are out there, people. Hiding, lusting after Jason Statham and Jet Li and kind of wishing we could kick somebody in the face and get away with it.

So I will watch Scott Pilgrim next weekend. This weekend belongs to my boys.

What movie are you chomping at the bit to see?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I will not read your damn screenplay, newbie.

I got some more notes this morning from a couple of people. One set of notes was just pull-no-punches soul crushing stuff, enough that at first I honestly had no idea what to do with them because they were so negative it just made me ponder whether or not I should go kill myself.

But while I tried to pick through the notes to figure how to fix the fact that I suck, I took the time to thank the note giver for the notes and assure her that though they are tough to take, I appreciate the criticism. No matter how cruel they seem, this person still took time to read a script they didn't like very much and tell me why they didn't like it. They could have stopped reading at page two and told me to suck it in general. Instead they stopped at page 45, but along the way explained just what was pissing them off about my work, which is incredibly useful once you dig through it.

A few years ago I gave notes on a girl's first screenplay right before she planned to enter it into the Nicholl. I read the whole thing, gave lengthy notes about why the script did not work complete with suggestions for ways to improve it and compliments about the things that did work (I believe all notes should include not just the bad, but also the good, and most importantly, advice on how to make it better), and ended by telling the person to save her money and enter with a better script next year.

Her script seemed like it was written by a person who was trying to figure out how to write a script. Interesting scenes, but not much story. The protagonist had no motivation for anything - she just floated through a couple of possibly humorous scenarios behaving exactly as you would expect her to.

This was the response I got, in full: "I think the script is pretty good, so I'm going to enter it. I'll fix those apostrophe errors."

Some time later, I read a first screenplay which read like it was written by someone who was trying to figure out how to write a screenplay. The protagonist flitted from situation to situation without any real logic. I read the whole thing and gave pages of specific notes on what worked, what didn't, and how I thought the writer could fix it.

This was the response I got, in full: "Thanks."

So I guess I should at least be glad he mustered a sarcastic thank you.

A few months ago a guy was bragging about having the best script in the world, so I offered to give him a read. It was not the best script in the world. It was a mashup of genres that spent too much time on boring stuff and not enough time on interesting stuff. I gave him suggestions on how he could turn it into a great script, because unlike the other first time scripts, this had an idea to work with.

This was his response in full:

Last night I stayed up until 1 am to give notes to a first-time screenwriter. His script needed a tremendous amount of work. It has a plot but no originality. I gave him suggestions and compliments as usual, but also suggested that he put it aside and come back after he gets more practice.

This was his response in full:

And that is why, from this day forth, if you are a first-time screenwriter, don't you dare ask me to read your fucking script. I'll be hanging out with Josh Olson from now on.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Humbling Notes

I love rewrite time. Yesterday I got some notes that were all "Hey your script sucks balls and you should shoot yourself."

Not really, but, you know, sometimes it feels like that.

At first I was despondent. What do you do with that? Someone hates your material straight up, no hope for your script, nothing to do but write a new one. I couldn't sleep.

Then The Beefcake said something cool. "You hated Annie Hall, right?"

Why yes. Yes I did.

"And that's considered by many people to be the best movie ever made. Think about that."

I did. And that helped.

And I started thinking about my opening scene. The note giver did not say he hated my opening scene, but I know. It sucks. It's two people talking for three pages and nobody wants to watch that. Sure, I made all kinds of excuses while I was writing about why it had to be this way. Salt doesn't open with an action scene, you know. My inciting incident is on page 7, so that's good, right?

Bullshit. I knew it sucked, and when that note giver said my script was hooey, it became obvious that the problem was those first ten pages.

Usually when I start a script I have that first scene nailed down in my head, and no amount of convincing can get me to change it, but normally that scene is a big fight with lots of energy, not two people in a janitor's closet dumping dialogue all over the place.

So last night I thought about those notes. I rolled around and pondered, and at just past midnight I got back up and cranked up the old laptop and got to typing.

Just because I saw it in my head does not mean it's the best opening of my story. I can easily see something else in my head, and I did. Let's face it - nobody wants to spend the first three minutes of an action film watching two people talk in a janitor's closet. I don't want to watch that, but for some reason I was attached to it until I told myself to knock it off and consider other possibilities.

I don't know if the note giver would like what I've come up with, but it doesn't matter. I like to give my script to a different person each time so I get a different perspective, so he'll never see it again. What I got from that guy is that I needed to change something. I knew what was wrong, I just needed someone to tell me that I am not the damn golden child so I could put my ego in check long enough to make the necessary change.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I just don't buy indistructable heels

I've got a question for you.

Okay so I'm watching Surrogates because.... I don't know why, really. I knew it would be terrible, and it was. Maybe I watched it because I thought I'd fall asleep and I didn't want to miss something I cared about. I didn't fall asleep, though. I watched the whole thing. It was really really bad.

Periodically during the movie the Beefcake and I began naming other movies Bruce Willis was in that were better than this one. "Hi, I'm Bruce Willis. I was in Hudson Hawk." Like that.

Anyway, that's not my question.

So I'm watching this movie and although I don't like the stuff that's happening, I'm following. I buy the world of people using robots to conduct their day-to-day activities, I buy the science of it, I buy a gun that blasts through robots and fries the eyes of the people behind them. Here's what I don't buy. At one point a cop who is a robot jumps over a couple of cars and lands right on her high heel encased feet.

She jumps super high and lands on a tiny little heel and it doesn't break. And at that moment I threw up my hands. That is just ridiculous. I don't care if they're Clarks or Manolos, there is not a heel on Earth that can take that kind of punishment. Maybe if it's made of adamantium.

So here's my question. Why do you think that is? How is it that I, and no doubt many others, can accept the most ludicrous plot points only to get hung up on petty details? We do it all the time. Why?

Monday, August 09, 2010

One day rewrite

Well it took me five hours, but I did a complete rewrite of my script in one day. I decided this morning that I was going to do the whole revision in one day, come hell or high water.

Fortunately as I get better as a writer, I have to change fewer major plot elements and more general character bits. I had to make one major change, but most of the work was dialogue that sounded the same or unrealistic and whatnot.

So it wasn't the most difficult rewrite I ever had to do, but still. Five hours straight of writing is exhausting. I feel like I should have vacuumed or made dinner or something, because saying you sat in front of a computer all day and didn't leave your office sounds like the laziest thing in the world, but I am tired.

But dammit I got it done.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Interview with Alex Litvak, part three

The thing about writing blogs is, nobody reminds you that you forgot to post something some days.

Anyway, here is part three, the final piece of my interview with Alex Litvak.

Part one

Part two

“The days of people buying screenplays as a favor are over,” Alex Litvak said during our interview. These days, if you want to sell a spec script, “You have to write. It’s hard but you have to do it.”

He said that if you write something good, eventually you will be read. Litvak navigated his way through the studio system by developing other people’s projects, so he had plenty of opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. “Be aware of who your audience is and what the marketplace is,” he said. “And don’t listen to all that bullshit about ‘write what you know.’”

So what does work? Wall-E. Toy Story 3. Litvak was blown away by Toy Story 3, and a part of him wishes he could have written it. And Inception. The film has flaws, he said, but the beauty of what is on that screen is undeniable. Litvak’s eyes lit up as he described how even in the middle of noticing the details that didn’t quite work, he couldn’t help but feel a little awed by the film itself.

But these aren’t your typical action pictures Litvak has made a name for himself writing. He loves action, and Predator, but has desires to write in other genres too, like romantic comedies.

"Don't let someone tell you you have to be an action writer," he said. He was talking about me at the time, but the truth is, Alex Litvak does not like being told what he can and cannot do in any situation.

“Movies are no great artistry,” he said. “There’s just great moments that come from the heart.”

In the end, here’s what you need to know about Alex Litvak: He’s sarcastic, funny, realistic and not an asshole, but he will not bullshit you, and he will not agree with you to be polite. He also does not like Salt, which made this writer a little sad.

Also, he got where he is by working, listening, and not being afraid to ask questions. His biggest advice to me was to be confident in my abilities and fight through the fear of being a nobody in a land of somebodies.

After all, a year ago, he was just another executive guy. Today Milla Jovovich is reading his words on camera. It’s not such a bad place to be.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Interview with Alex Litvak, Part Two

The spec sale of Medieval landed Alex Litvak more than just an opportunity to write Predators. He’s also finishing up rewrites on Grayskull and a reimagined version of The Three Musketeers. So a lot of you guys probably want to hear about Grayskull, but I didn’t watch that much He-Man as a kid and She-Rah annoys me, so the novel was a priority. I love this novel. I am cautiously optimistic about the outcome of this film.

[EDITED TO ADD: Dear He-Man fans, I had two hours to ask Litvak whatever I could before he went off to a meeting, and that two hours flew by. I had a long list of questions I didn't even get to ask. I am a HUGE fan of the Three Musketeers so that was early on the agenda. If you had been the one interviewing him, you would have asked about He-Man, and then I would have been disappointed because I would have wanted to read about The Three Musketeers. Perspective is your friend. Thanks for reading!]

Anyway, Litvak was supposed to take a few weeks to punch up the existing script for Musketeers, but once he took the project home he just couldn’t stop changing things. What began as a quick little project grew into a full rewrite and another screen credit. He wrote a page-one rewrite in 16 days because that’s how long the studio had given him for the original job.
Like his previous work, this version of Dumas’ classic is balls out action. Litvak took the characters and the spirit of the story and ran away with it, playing on the opportunity the story provides for lots of sword fights. “It’s true to the spirit of Dumas,” he said.
In the original novel, a young Musketeer is tasked with saving the queen’s reputation when her husband’s advisor, Cardinal Richelieu, sees an opportunity to remove her influence from the crown. This is based on a true event from French history, and the Disney version crapped all over it. Litvak used this moment as a springboard for a sort of heist story filled with intrigue and swordfights and scuba gear. It's a little like what 2001's The Musketeer tried to but with more of an effort to stay on the source material.
In the film, M’lady De Winter, played by Milla Jovovich, is a strong-willed woman. Like Isabel in Predators and Amelia in Medieval, M’lady has her own independent goals and weaknesses. She is not merely a love interest to follow around the protagonist, a common characteristic of female characters in most action films. Litvak said he tries to write women well, and uses as influence the women he has encountered in his life.
On the other hand, he does see action films as a chance to revel in masculinity. “On one level, it’s conflict personified,” he said. “On another level, a fantasy of guys. The epitome of cool. Testosterone in its purest form.”  After all, women amounted to essentially zero percent of the market share for Predators.
As his most recent work finishes up production, another writer has taken over duties on Medieval. At this point, the story is someone else’s job now, and Litvak no longer has control over what happens next.
“It’s a bit like sending your kid off to college,” he said. “Bye. I just don’t want to see you on Youtube.”

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Interview with Alex Litvak, Part One

Alex Litvak has blown up this year. He and partner Michael Finch sold their spec script Medieval for $800,000 against $1.6 million, and followed it up by writing this summer’s big budget action sequel Predators. These projects have launched Litvak from unassuming studio executive to Hollywood big shot in no time flat, but fortunately for me he’s still willing to sit down for coffee at The Bourgeois Pig in Hollywood with little old me.
In person, Litvak’s Russian accent is slight but present, and he says he’s often mistaken for a New Yorker. He has a confident demeanor and refused to let me interrupt him to ask more questions until he was done talking, as if he would not allow anything to derail his point until he finished making it. He's also completely adorable and intimidating at the same time, if that's possible.
Litvak started out life in Moscow during the Cold War, but he still managed to find enough burned copies of great American films like the original Predator and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to inspire a love of movies from an early age. “I love John Hughes,” he said. “I didn’t go to an American high school, but everybody can relate to problems with your parents.”
By the time he was ready for college he had no question that movies were the thing, so he packed up and headed to LA.
After the usual classes and interning, Litvak found himself almost accidentally moving up the ladder as an executive. But after years of paying attention to someone else’s stories, Litvak realized that he had neglected his own true love of writing.
Enter Medieval. Medieval is an action script in the purest sense of the word. A Dirty Dozen of sorts, where each member of the group brings a different badass skill, and set during, well, medieval times. Yep. A period action piece that bends historical accuracy in favor of coolness, not much different a concept from the new Sherlock Holmes or Brotherhood of the Wolf, or a handful of scripts coming down the pike in its wake. The script made the Blacklist and sold to Regency on the quick, and is currently in production with McG pulling the strings.
Medieval has taken some heat from reviewers because of its wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am style, but that may just be the reason the script sold for so much money. The pace of the script, and of every other script Litvak writes, is blisteringly fast.
“I don’t want anyone to be bored,” he said. He credits Shane Black and William Goldman with inspiring his flippant, fun style because they never shy away from personality on the page. “Why not put personality there? You should.” Sometimes he admits he goes a little overboard, but that's just because he's having so much fun.
That personality and hard work is what eventually landed him and Finch the dream project of writing Predators. Back during his tenure as an executive, Litvak attempted to get a Predator sequel going. He had an idea of Predators fighting against each other in a battle royal on a global scale. Nobody was interested in his ideas at the time, but after the sale of Medieval he suddenly found himself with enough clout to pursue the project already being bandied about with Robert Rodriguez. Due to budget constraints, the planet-spanning battle royal was out and the version released starring Adrian Brody was in, but Litvak and Finch still managed to find a way to make their Predator on Predator fight happen.
As of this writing, Box Office Mojo lists Predators’ current worldwide take as $103,491,249, a definite success in a season where similar films have flopped left and right, and a fair bet for another sequel.
“Your name is forever in the pantheon of action icons,” he said with a smile.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Stay Tuned

There need to be more hours in the day because there just aren't enough right now. I've been busy as hell the past four days. I haven't written a damn word in Movie Magic, and I keep trying to start writing up my article and get distracted. Plus I keep meaning to do this article on Luc Besson for the Story Department and I'm only halfway through watching the necessary films.

But tomorrow I swear I'm only doing two things: Finishing my first draft of Salvage and writing up my interview with Big Shot Hollywood Screenwriter.

Oh crap I forgot I have a doctor's appointment.

Okay three things. I'm doing three things tomorrow: Finishing my first draft of Salvage, writing up my interview with Big Shot Hollywood Screenwriter, and going to the hand doctor to hear his plans to chop open my hand and move tissue around.

Just who is Big Shot Hollywood Screenwriter? Why, none other than Alex Litvak, half of the team that wrote Predators and Medieval and all around good dude. So tune in Tuesday evening to find out how he feels about Inception, The Three Musketeers and what it's like to be rewritten. Plus some other stuff.

I'm serious this time.