Thursday, February 15, 2018
Back in the 70's when young filmmakers made motorcycle, horror and T&A flicks I did the opposite and made a G rated goofy comedy, The Man From Clover Grove. As a first time film director, I was blessed with a great cast, Ron Masak, Rose Marie, Buddy Lester, Cheryl Miller, Richard Deacon, Paul Winchell, Stu Gilliam, Jed Allan, Spencer Milligan, Joe Higgins and Billy Hillman. The all union crew were fantastic. It was a union/guild challenge, (NABET, SAG, DGA and WGA) to make a film for less than $50,000 all in and delivered. As a testament to young filmmakers we brought the film in and delivered it for distribution for less than $45,000. So, as it turned out we made what has become a classic. It's corny fun the kids loved then and still love today. We even had a World Premiere in Houston Texas at the Tercar Theatre in the Mayor’s Limousine and a full police escort that led the entire cast to - at the time - one of the largest theaters in town. We shot in 35mm and after 1,500 plus theaters played the film in the U.S., it enjoyed a theatrical foreign run before finally being released on Beta and VHS. Now for the firs time, the film has been digitally re-mastered with a soundtrack in Dolby Stereo The Dove Foundation gave the film 5 Doves. As a young filmmaker I had no fear. The things I didn’t learn in school I discovered on the set. I made every mistake a young filmmaker can make and the cast and crew helped me reach the goal line. I wanted Children of all ages to enjoy a clean silly movie and as history proved we made a film that is ageless and has outlived all the biker, horror and T&A films made back then. From Leomark Studios and available on Amazon worldwide, you can get the official Dolby Digital re-mastered copy as: www.amazon.com/dp/B079MK9S2T
Thursday, June 16, 2016
Empty Theatre Seats
From the 2nd Floor #12
Filmmakers and screenwriters enjoy a visit to the big screen. When was the last time you took in a film and found the theatre more than half empty?
Ever ask why so few are coming to the theatre? Stand out front and listen. It’s amazing to watch a family of four or five walk to the ticket window, hesitate when reading the prices, and slowly shrink back and make a beeline to the parking lot.
I overheard one man say, “Fifty bucks plus the concession stand and then add the babysitter? Are you kidding? Let’s rent a movie and have a backyard picnic.”
I’m just like every filmmaker in the business. Most don’t have an “E” ticket into the studios or have an “A” agent pushing to get your project through the door. Without major help, the chances of a brilliant film or screenplay being read or getting a green light for production are in the same category as finding a diamond ring at the dump under twenty tons of miscellaneous trash.
I don’t want to sound negative, but sometimes a reality check floats to the surface and filmmakers must recognize truth and facts before the project can search for a lifeline.
Many years ago I attended a Theatre Owner’s convention. A friend of mine owned a small chain and invited me to keep him company. I had this crazy idea then and still have it. I discussed with a group of owners why more theatres didn’t use their “down time” or if you will “Empty Seat Time” to increase opportunities of making more money?
My friend and his colleagues laughed at my idea. Many of them are no longer in business. I’ll bet my conception of improving customer relations back then would work even better in today markets.
Stop laughing. Hotel chains have empty rooms, airline companies vacant seats, retailers overstocked with product find ways to unload un-purchased goods by wholesaling inventory off to smaller retailers, so why can’t theatres chains use empty seats to attract a new audience? Why not learn the art of bartering between theatre owner and filmmaker so everyone can make money? How many great Indy films have been made but can’t find distribution or theatres to show them?
It’s tough when a producer can’t bring his or her product to market and this festering situation creates a catastrophic death sentence for many brilliantly entertaining motion pictures? In most cases these films may find a release via DVD rental or a minor TV or cable sale, but miss hitting even a single at the ballpark.
Everyone who enjoys films has rented an unknown production with no stars or famous filmmakers and is truly entertained. Most wonder what happened and why did such a great film never surface? How did this brilliantly produced film get skipped over by all the studios, distributors and theatres? The answer is simple, no stars, no famous director or worse no best-selling novel to pre-build an audience. The production is “just another film.”
Take “ROOM” for example. This is a great film, fabulous acting and a simple story. This film could have easily slipped through the cracks and disappeared. Instead it got lucky, found a home, found an entity willing to take a chance on a film with no known stars, no named director, hell the film wasn’t even made in America – and yet became a huge hit.
There are many films like this and it’s a shame. It’s hard enough for independent filmmakers to raise money and produce a film. Every investor wants a distributor, gold up front and profit before making the final cut because financiers know the odds are against making money without all the pieces being in the right place before the start of production. Very few independent films can get a guarantee, a distributor’s cash advance, a negative pickup, or even an agreement showing a guarantee of distribution. The Indy distributors need help too.
Wait a minute. What if, ah, don’t you love those three little words? What if you find a small distributor willing to run with your film and maybe a group of theatres are willing to screen the film without all the guarantees of advertising and TV commercials?
Impossible? No way. Let’s not forget social media. We have creative minds making films and raising money so there must be a way to ask the theatre chains why not use downtime, that curse of “empty seat syndrome” for better use? Start showing the lesser known films at particular times of the day – maybe even offer a price break at the ticket box – and see if any of the new products on the block can grow legs?
What if the filmmakers help the theatres with social media? Using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms or even create their own infomercials to create a buzz about their film? I believe that would do the trick. Amazing how fast social media responds to something good. If a filmmaker can made a good commercial film he or she can build a social media platforms and infomercials.
Every major and minor theatre owner has empty seat syndrome. Why they haven’t figured out a way to cure this by now is the mystery. What are they waiting for – to go out of business? Ticket prices are too high but they too have to meet the studio minimum or they don’t get the big films. They suffer if the big film is a turkey and then end up with … empty seats. Forget overhead or lack of snack bar sales, if the big films take a dump so does the revenue stream.
If theatres learned to bring in new blood, or I guess I should say new films from the Indy world, the audiences would come out of curiosity. Everyone likes to go to the theatre and see a film on the “BIG” screen. What everyone doesn’t like to do is pay $25 up to $50 dollars per couple to see a film or a $100 for a family of four. If a bad film is watched they may not come back to the theatre for months.
What if theatres found a way to bring in a constant flow of new product in this digital world we live in, and offer unhappy customers a reduction or a discount ticket to see another great film with lesser stars or an unknown filmmaker?
What if theatres could deal with a smaller less greedy or over-taxed distributor without guarantees or advances and still get quality first run films? They could make simple deals and split the box office with a number that would make both sides happy?
Gee, maybe, just maybe small films might start making money for the investors, the red box and Netflix would have more product, more films would then have a theatrical run so foreign sales would increase in size and … AND the theatres would start making extra revenue from all those empty seats that are … well empty.
Keep in mind this could work. Every single move made by corporate America begins with an idea. This particular one has been floating around for a long time. Who knows? Maybe the major theatre owners and studios will get together and agree on something new?
So, when I’m not running around trying to raise money to make another independent film as I perennially endure 24/7, I take time to put words together for another novel or screenplay, aid my fellow filmmakers and writers any way I can, and do my best to stir up the kettle. Drop me a line, I have an opinion on everything.
William Byron Hillman © 2016
Visit my revised web site www.williamhillman.com
Now offering Script Consultation
Recently Completed Screenplays
The Legend of El Doblo
Recently Published Novels
Over A Cup of Caramelized Chocolate
Within an Inch of the Moon
Let’s Sue ‘Em
Quigley’s Christmas Adventure
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
From the 2nd Floor #11
We write words. We hope that pile of nonsense can be organized into an order others will enjoy reading and watching.
Writers have goals, albeit a novel, short story or screenplay. I’ll leave theatre plays and other media out of the conversation for the time being.
We finish the work. It’s re-read, polished, examined by friends and agreed upon to be the final draft. It’s done.
But is all that work really done? Is it commercial? Did you create a backstory? Is there one character that will be loved, hated or admired? In other words, is it complete?
Let’s assume the ultimate goal is to write a screenplay designed for studio production and of course make money for everyone and win an Academy Award.
Your goal is aggressive, but can it be reached? Of course it can. In the motion picture industry everything is possible. Even the impossible can be flipped into the positive.
Can you learn to write from a book? Yes and no. Yes, you can learn sentence structure and the proper way to organize written work. Will the book teach you how to create story in depth? Some will argue, but in my opinion the answer is a resounding no. The written word comes from the heart not a book. If you tell a great story you can write one.
As a studio reader, you receive hundreds of submissions. How many can you read in a day or week? How do you grab the attention of the reader? You hook them and you do it in the first 5 to 10 pages. If you wait too long, the chances of your project getting covered are reduced to ashes.
So, the catch is to create this great story. How do you write it for submission? What does a great story need? The entire story must be one that can be told to others in two minutes. A story that is so entertaining you can reduce it to a one-page, compelling synopsis. A manuscript or screenplay, so ridiculously written the reader wants to flip the page. That’s your magic bullet.
Writing an agent or publisher a query letter for your manuscript is no different than verbally pitching a story or TV series idea. To hook the reader, you get anywhere from seconds to hours to secure interest from your audience. Decisions come quickly and sometimes they’re not always fair. Time is truly a commodity with limited boundaries. If your story is great, time is taken, reading schedules set aside and time becomes your pal. If the story is slow out the starting gate and you lose the attention of your audience, it can mean a certain death to the project. People want to turn pages. They want to know what’s happening with the story, the characters and those briefly mentioned in your backstory. The audience is demanding, short on temper and patience. They need to be entertained albeit that comes in many different formations. The audience is powerful and can’t be fooled or sweet-talked with nonsense.
It all comes down to the story and the backstory that accompanies your work. Take a look at all the fabulous screenplays considered for the Writers Guild of America and the Academy Awards this year. Boil it down to the finalist list and then pick the best original and the best adaptation. Spotlight had all the right elements and started with a bare-bones concept of what the Catholic Church had done. Spotlight was written as a story built by brilliant kids playing building blocks. They had backstory, story and history all going in the same direction. The story had a group of wonderful characters that knew how to interplay, mystery was created, and boredom eliminated.
Writing Spotlight took time and hard work. It paid off for Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy at the Writers Guild – now we wait to see if they win the Academy Award.
When you examine the other top 4 films, Bridge of Spies, Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; Sicario, Written by Taylor Sheridan; Straight Out of Compton Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berlott; and Trainwreck, Written by Amy Schumer – you realize each had a great backstory, entertaining characters from all walks of life, unique story content, and perfectly developed beginnings, middles and endings.
Examining the best Adapted Screenplay crawls into a different bag of tricks. Here they have the story, backstory and a list of characters a mile long. The locations are set, and who and where everyone came from has all ready been exposed. So what’s the big deal? Ah, an adaptation is the gift of learning how to take a 500-page book and transpose the breathtaking manuscript into a 125-page screenplay. It sounds easy until you check the works, read the books or biography and realize there is so much wonderful stuff in each novel - your script can’t live without including all of it. On the second or third read you find ways to trim. The writer’s bag of tricks includes ways to remove words, restructure the intent, and still keep the authenticity and integrity of the original work.
Out of all the wonderful material available, the list dwindled down to the 5 best. The peers of those who write the words create the list – so the audience is not only picky but also demanding. They don’t want to make mistakes and usually don’t. They read, watch films and vote.
The narrowed list for best adaptation screenplays at the Writers Guild of America included: The Big Short, Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay; Based on the Book by Michael Lewis; Carol, Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy; Based on the Novel “The Price of Salt” by Patricia Highsmith; The Martian, Screenplay by Drew Goddard; Based on the Novel by Andy Weir; Steve Jobs, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin; Based on the Book by Walter Isaacson; and Trumbo, Written by John McNamara; Based on the Biography by Bruce Cook.
After many hours of watching films and reading screenplays, my writer colleagues and I voted again. The list was exciting and all those words hung in the balance. We’re a picky bunch. It took time to get the list to 5 – and then reduced to what we all thought was the best. The Big Short was chosen. The script started with a bang, the dialogue flew against the walls, the characters roared, laughed and behaved as expected, and the story dazzled. The writers made it look easy. They had the material. All they had to do was create magic and that’s what they did.
The key to most great written works is the backstory. This is where you mold the characters and give them a personality. If you scrimp on this through development your story will suffer.
An idea for an original story is your seedling. You plant it in your computer and water it by giving it a name. It percolates like a whispering coffeemaker. A few characters are added. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Do you have a family, husband, wife, kids, parents or other relatives? What about a dog, cat or bird? The story is in California, but is that where the characters were born? What about traveling the world or beginning life out of the country? What about friends or drinking partners? Are they sexually active? Do they have a dark past? This all falls into the backstory category. Without it, there is no body for the work to build from.
Have you written an idea and now it sits there as a lost child in need of direction? It happens to all writers and it’s not exactly writers block – it’s a story that jumped tracks and is going in a different direction than first started. Frustration stops you and kills the story. It goes into the filing cabinet or story folder on an external drive. You may visit it from time to time or forget it was ever written. You move on.
Wait a minute! What if that simple idea is a great one? What if the underbelly of the story not only grows muscular legs – it can run the mile faster than anyone else? If you don’t go back for a second or tenth look, you’ll never know.
If I’m not goofing around in front or behind the camera or writing another work, I spend time helping others locate the ground beneath their dancing fingers. If I can help you, let me know.
William Byron Hillman © 2016
Visit my revised web site www.williamhillman.com
Now offering Script Consultation
Recently Completed Screenplays
Quigley’s Christmas Adventure
The Legend of El Doblo
His Name is Joey
Recently Published Novels
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
From the Second Floor #10
I’ve discussed writing dumb many times. It’s a serious conversation. When you can provoke an audience with stupid, your stories and the readers following them will race to the last page.
What is writing dumb?
It’s an art. It’s knowing how to pull the audience into the work, yank their strings, entertain them even with the unexpected, and know how to twist a scene or chapter into the impossible and still explain them in a way that an audience accepts.
Take for example:
It’s stormy. Rain is pounding the house and the power cut off. Your heroine hears a noise. She believes it originated in the basement. She finds a flashlight, but the batteries are dying. What does she do?
If you write the story in a normal voice, she runs for the door to get help.
Why would you do that when you take the chance of losing your audience? No, she doesn’t run. When you write this scene, you need a moment of writing dumb. The flashlight dims and when she reaches mid-way with the bottom of the stairs only a few feet away, she continues. She goes for it, and that’s when the flashlight dies. Now she’s in the dark. Will your heroine scramble up the stairs? No, of course not. She enters the basement looking for a candle and walks over warped creaking floorboards in slow, methodical steps. Wind from a broken window causes the candle to flicker and go out. Will she retreat? No! She’ll look for a match.
Writing dumb is an art. Everything your brain conceives in character development – you turn around and write an opposing nonconventional simulation.
Let’s take a soap opera for a moment. People standing a few feet away don’t hear a “must hear” clue. Later, in that same restaurant or hallway, standing right where they were earlier, two characters offer a clue or blab critical storyline gossip – and guess what? Your characters hear the whole conversation. Now he or she can blackmail others with the overheard information.
A perfectly timed cell phone call interrupts conversations. People do careless sex until the time is right for a pregnancy. They use the ‘who’s baby is it’ and this forces the audience to guess – and suddenly they’re involved.
Will important people get caught even though they are doing the obvious? No, of course not. What fun would that be?
In a soap, you can have a characters carve out a kidney from a stranger to save a life. Does it have to be a perfect match? Not on your life. No time for testing.
What about surgery on a kitchen table without instruments? Works for the audience if the man is being saved is their hero. They don’t care about rusty knives. They want the guy to live.
Dumb writing gets better. People jump out of a plane, the parachute doesn’t open. They land in trees. Cut to the hospital. Both survived. How? Who cares?
Think about the opposite of every exchange and then create it in a doable way. Are details important? No, not if a life is in danger or their hero is about to die.
On a soap opera, do the characters think about safe sex? Takes too much time. The audience wants the characters to dive in and get on with the action. What about that afternoon drink? In the soap opera world the characters can drink all day every day. Does it hurt their health? Who cares? The audience doesn’t. They never think about their beloved characters getting sick. Actors don’t get sick. What fun is that?
Will dumb writing work in a novel? Sure, as long as you justify the creation in a way that makes sense. Romance novels do it all the time. Grant you, in real life people do stupid things, so enhancing them works if you’re good at the descriptions. Remember, you drive your characters. You can make them work, kill them off, or give them a disease.
In an action packed story, you have limited time to develop romance, personal feelings, children growing up, household issues or marriage problems. You want the audience to flip those pages and race to the end. Did their hero live? Did he get the crooks or killers? If you satisfy the reader or viewer, most of these issues can be part of the reading satisfaction. Drop a hint here and there, a phone call or text message. It saves dealing with unnecessary dialogue or descriptive locations not important to the story. The reader or viewer wants action and more of the same.
Writing dumb is an art. It’s not for every book or screenplay. It doesn’t work at all in most stories, but the market is huge for a great story full of pie ingredients when the crust is unnecessary and used for filler material.
Writing dumb can be lucrative when you master the art of doing the opposite of what the audience expects.
How do you learn writing dumb? Many can’t or will never get a handle on the words just like most can’t sing, dance or fly a plane. You can tell by the stories you share with others. Can you easily pull the wool over their eyes? Is it possible to fool the unexpected? Will you learn to tease and hold back the truth no matter what? Like I said, it’s a gift to gab. That translates into words that dazzle.
There must be a reason for everything you write about. Take a simple scenario and make it complicated. Have characters do things they’d never do in the real world.
What excites you can only be expanded into the outrageous and then take it one or two more steps over the edge.
When you set goals to write fast, your time is limited for detail. That means you need problems not easily solved, but your characters are witty, stupid-dumb and managed the impossible. Going over insane levels to get the point across works if dumb writing makes it justifiable.
As long as your audience accepts the insanity of each development and doesn’t stop to question your decisions you’re home free. Only when the audience stops and wonders about the canvas you painted will you find yourself in trouble.
You can’t fool your audience, but you can entertain them. There is a huge spread in-between the two. Don’t assume your audience is dumb because they’re not. They bought your book, watched your TV show or paid to see a good movie. They demand entertainment and when you try to fool them the whole thing falls apart.
I’ve written screenplays, directed films and created novels that all have snippets it writing dumb added. A few readers will never get it. Critics may bash you, but when the audience loves the work the critics become irrelevant. I’ve said before, every review helps a writer or filmmaker and I meant every word. Anyone taking the time to read or view my work is appreciated. I welcome reviews, good and bad. They all help. Not everyone will like your work. There are those who may even hate what you do or how you did it, but if your core audience likes it and accepts the path chosen – you’ve done your job well.
There’s a lot more on this topic and we’ll talk more about it another time. Writing dumb can be very rewarding. As I’ve said before, I know writers making six and seven figures yearly writing very silly stuff that sells and entertains.
Keep the faith and continue writing no matter what you do. Find time and get to the last page with a smile.
William Byron Hillman © 2015
NEW RELEASES – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
LET’S SUE ‘EM - a romantic/suspense/ contemporary fiction novel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790
QUIGLEY’S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE – a family tale with romance/emotion/classic message/wonderful characters/a book children will love to read over and over: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
My new IAN page is: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/william-byron-hillman.html
Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/author/williamhillman
Twitter Page http://www.twitter.com/@authorwhillman
Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE
Bad Rap: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DNIHCYI
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting
Doug Hamilton Mysteries
Let's Sue ‘Em http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)
Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
Veronique and Murray: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0071F05MU
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon
In development Noah’s Journey
Dream Searcher http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EC19DJW
Motion Picture Stories
Zebra's Rock and Me http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PL08LM
Quigley's Christmas Adventure http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
(Available in audio book soon)
My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure(Sequel to the hit film Quigley)