Tag Archives: screenplays

TOP 9 FILMS THAT DESERVED A SEQUEL

There are many film franchises that seem to go on forever. Many of which we could well do without.  However, once in a while a movie comes along that deserves  a sequel but for one reason or other never had another instalment made. So without further ado, here is my top pick of the best movies that deserved a sequel but never got one…

 

Magnificent poster… sort of pretty good film.

DOC SAVAGE (1975)

Old was new again in the 1970s. If Star Wars channelled the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, then Doc Savage channelled, well, Doc Savage! The mightiest of pulp heroes was reborn with former TV Tarzan Ron Ely stepping into the jodphurs. Also known as The Man of Bronze (he likes bronze things) we catch up with Doc meditating in the Arctic beside his own private igloo-come-secret-headquarters before he gets a message that the world is in peril. Doc assembles his team of – ahem – experts, including national stereotypes from around the world (the Brit carries an umbrella, the Irishman has red hair and carries a pig etc etc) to stop an evil cult unleashing animated green snakes on the population while they search for El Dorado. Yes, it’s that kind of a plot.

What makes Doc Savage so good, however, is the hokey sense of humour. We see Doc pull a bullet out of a wall with such force that his bulging bicep tears his own shirt apart. And the finale which features Doc employing dozens of different kinds of martial art, each with its own subtitle, will make the kid in you chortle for more.

At the end of this rip-roaring adventure, we are told Doc Savage will return in Doc Savage and The Arch Enemy of the World. Unfortunately, the producers lied. There were indeed plans for a sequel, but despite being directed by the great George Pal (War of the Worlds) the film suffered from negative reviews and a sequel was abandoned.

Will it ever be made?

Probably not. Since 1975, several attempts to make a new Doc Savage film have failed. Notably, Frank Darabont and Sam Raimi have all tried to resurrect the project, but so far none have succeeded. At the age of 80, Ron Ely is probably not a contender to reprise his earlier role. However, we do already have a “Doc Savage remake” in the form of none other than Indiana Jones. The titular hero of several films is undoubtedly closely based on Doc Savage and other pulp heroes of the time!

 

FLASH GORDON (1980)

“Flash! Flash, I Love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!”

So says Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) in what is to date the best live action version of the iconic pulp fiction character Flash Gordon. The movie sees Flash (Sam J Jones) and his compatriots Dale and Zarkov (Topol) land on the Planet Mongo to try and stop the evil alien dictator Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). The film sees Flash go from hero to zero to hero as he is killed (!) then resurrected, only to unite the tribes of Mongo and overthrow Ming’s rule. But Ming is not quite dead. As the closing credits roll, we see Ming re-emerge offscreen from his “magic” ring and start to cackle with evil laughter. “The End?” asks the title card.

Sadly, yes it was. Although a terrific, fun movie with a legendary Queen soundtrack, Flash Gordon was not a huge success compared to its large budget. Added to this was a reported falling out between star Jones and the producers. Hence a sequel was never made. Since then we’ve had a lacklustre TV series and a superb animated version. But so far we have yet to learn what happened when Ming returned.

Will it ever be made?

Well, the hugely successful gross-out comedy Ted (2012) saw Jones once again donning the lightning-bolt in a dream sequence where he rides his skycycle with Mark Wahlberg on the back. Jones retuned again as himself in Ted 2 (2015). But with an ageing cast who have since become successful in their own right, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever get to hear Prince Vultan’s imperious voice belting out “Gordon’s alive?” again any time soon. We’re more likely to settle for a CGI-heavy reboot.

 

I literally cannot believe that I never mentioned Hawk the Slayer before.

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

The early 1980s were a strange time. Take this British fantasy film starring the mighty Jack Palance as the evil Zoltan (Hmm, that name seems familiar) who murders the beloved of straight-laced Hawk, who promptly puts his eye out with a torch. Zoltan, quite understandably peeved at this, raises an army to go around and pillage stuff in the service of an evil sorcerer/demon/ the Devil (?). Our hero Hawk responds by raising a rag-tag band of mercenaries (was there ever any other kind?) including the last elf, a giant (well, a very big man anyway), a dwarf, a one-armed bloke with some kind of wicked semi-automatic crossbow-thingy, and a witch who likes letting off party streamers. Cue Armageddon.

It sounds like I’m poking fun at this film, and I am. But I still love it dearly. The score is a fantastic mixture of electronic synth-pop craziness that is more than a little like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds, and the last elf in the world is a great character. There are also some terrific British character actors such as Patrick Magee and Roy Kinnear who ham it up to the max. And we get to see Palance at his scenery-chewing finest.

We end with Zoltan’s mentor/demon/whatever recovering his body and promising he will live again. But will he?

Will it ever happen?

Believe it or not, it almost has. As late as 2015 a sequel called Hawk the Hunter was rumoured to be in development with a budget of $5 million. However the Kickstarter campaign failed and so far attempts to make the sequel have gone quiet. But with Rebellion, the game company that owns British comic 200AD planning to release a game based on the property and a potential TV series in the works, anything is possible!

 

You may be cool, but you’ll never be Peter Strauss and Molly Ringwald on an alien desert planet cool.

SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE! (1983)

Ah, the Eighties. Among other things, it gave us two Hollywood icons: king of the TV movie Peter Strauss and princess of coming-of-age movies Molly Ringwald. So it was inevitable that at some point they would appear in the same sci-fi movie together!

The movie is an enjoyable-as-hell Mad Max clone set in outer space. Strauss plays an interstellar bounty-hunter (Wolff, with two “f”s ) who lands on an irradiated planet full of mutants and Road Warrior leftovers looking for three shipwrecked (or is that space-wrecked?) rich girls. Along the way he picks up Ringwald, who does her typical dishevelled-waif-who-later-turns-into-fanciable-princess thing. Add a rabid Michael Ironside into the mix as warlord Overdog (was there ever a better bad guy name?) and you have the awesomeness that is Spacehunter! Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it was filmed in 3D!!

Will it ever be made?

No.

I love this movie. It is cheesy, but the practical effects mean that it has dated pretty well. There are a lot of very derivative ideas, but so what? It’s a hugely entertaining movie that is basically wish fulfilment. It’s also the kind of film I wish they made more of nowadays. An adventure yarn and nothing more with no pretensions of grandeur. I would love the hell out of a sequel starring Mr. Strauss, but I doubt very much whether he would pick up that mantle again, especially as he is now a successful citrus-farmer and former horse ranch owner. Animated series, anybody?

 

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Okay, at this point if I have to tell you very much about Big Trouble in Little China, the John Carpenter movie with Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall and James Hong, we are in big trouble ourselves. Briefly, the plot is an insane mash-up of martial-arts movie, 1970s exploitation film, action film, comedy and supernatural horror featuring a truck driver (Russell) who goes up against centuries-old supernatural bad guy Lo Pan to recover the girlfriend of his Chinese-American friend (Dennis Dunn) and her reporter friend (Cattrall in her best film role), along with bus-driver and warlock Egg Shen. Got it? Good.

The film ends with Russell famously leaving Cattrall (what a dope!) and heading off in his trusty rig, the Pork Chop Express, driving into the night and issuing a salutary warning to other CB radio users that there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in anybody’s philosophy. Cue an oriental demon that crawls up the back of his truck, hungry for revenge!

Will it happen?

Very possibly!

Although there has been a graphic novel follow-up, Dwayne Johnson (yes, that one) was reportedly attached to develop a remake. Carpenter responded by saying he was “ambivalent” about the project.  Phew. However, as late as 2018 Seven Bucks Productions confirmed they are developing a sequel, no less, with Russell in the lead! Let’s hope it happens, as nobody can replace Russell as hard-boiled but inept actin hero Jack Burton.

 

The Goonies, making overweight kids everywhere feel terrible about their bodies.

THE GOONIES (1985)

Another film that should hopefully need no explanation, this movie about a bunch of high school losers following a treasure map was one of the best adventure films of the 1980s. With a memorable soundtrack and feel-good performances the film was a bone-fide sensation.

Will it happen?

There have been as many rumours about a Goonies sequel as there are clues to One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Director Richard Donner and the film’s stars have said yes and no several times. Why on earth no sequel was made nearer the time is a mystery. Several of the cast such as Josh Brolin and Sean Astin have gone on to bigger and bigger roles, making a reunion unlikely. But… you never know. As recently as 2017 former stars were saying a remake would happen, although original writer Chris Columbus played down such rumours. But with a slimmed down Chunk and Brolin currently playing Thanos… well, I’m not going to say one way or the other.

 

Spooky but fun: Loose Women – I mean, Hocus Pocus.

HOCUS POCUS (1993)

This massively enjoyable film has become a Halloween favourite. A live-action Disney picture like the ones they used to make, it stars the irreplaceable Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and rubber-faced Kathy Najimy as three witch sisters who get a second chance at life one Halloween, provided they sacrifice a sweet little girl. Her brother, however has other ideas, as does a reanimated cat. The witches cause mayhem in the modern American town, but it’s all good, clean spooky fun along with some killer songs from Midler and Parker. The film ends with the witches ending up as toast while the family gets a much-deserved happy ever after, even the cat.

Will it be made?

It seems everyone wants a sequel except the studio. Stars Midler and Parker have both said they would return to reprise their roles. The film suffered from negative reviews on release but has a strong fan base on home video that has made it a family favourite. There has even been a novelisation set 25 years later. As of 2017 screenwriter Mick Garris said he was working on a sequel, but this turned out later to be a remake, which has yet to materialize. But if it’s one thing we have learned, thanks to the success of Twin Peaks and Tron Legacy, it’s that long-delayed sequels can work. Let’s hope Disney sees sense and gives us another helping of the Sanderson sisters rather than a sloppy remake.

 

    Tron Legacy. Like Tron, only more so.

TRON LEGACY (2010)

For some reason, this film is often underrated or overlooked. Yet it stands as one of the most visually stunning sci-fi films of recent years and has a phenomenal soundtrack from Daft Punk that has become the background to many a car advert.

The film is a direct sequel to ground-breaking 1982 Disney film Tron about a computer programmer, Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who is zapped into his own machine and forced to play video games for his life. The sequel follows Flynn’s son (Garett Hedlund) who is similarly zapped while searching for his dad, who has been missing for over 20 years. Turns out dad was trapped in the video world after one of his creations (also played by Jeff Bridges but digitally de-aged) seized control of the computer domain.

The film is full of stunning SFX and set-pieces, such as the all-new light-cycles, while new discovery Olivia Wilde sets the screen alight as kick-ass pixie dream girl Quora. Shot in 3D, the films used some experimental FX which perhaps do not stand up well to repeated viewings, but as a sci-fi film with a real heart and soul, which takes the original further, it is a highly satisfying and entertaining ride.

Will it happen?

Who knows? There has already been an animated cartoon series. For several years Disney has been on and off about the project. Its stars and director joseph Kosinski have repeatedly said it is or is not happening. The latest status for the project is that it is in “cryogenic freeze”. But just like Tron himself, here’s hoping that you can’t keep a good program down forever.

 

Gremlins (1984). Cuter than their CGI cousins.

GREMLINS II (1990)

The original Gremlins (1984) was a breakout summer hit that was, sadly, classified as a 15 in the UK, meaning I didn’t get to watch it in the cinema. However, this loveable tale of homicidal mutant creatures on the rampage in a small town one Christmas has become a holiday favourite. It spawned a sequel in 1990 that was, shall we say, not up to par. Despite the presence of Christopher Lee, the second tale set in a biotechnology lab lacked the charm of the original, with its ho-hum premise and its constant riffing off other Hollywood films – notably the Rambo trilogy.  It seemed like we had heard the last of the friendly little Mogwai and his rather more disturbing alter-egos.

Will it be made?

Probably.

For the past few years, Gremlins 3 has been gaining more and more traction. Its star Zach Galligan has been actively campaigning for a practical effects-based sequel. Ideas such as Gremlins in Vegas and Gremlins in the White House (God, please no) have been mooted.  Writer Chris Columbus has suggested the story go into some very dark places indeed.  It seems we may get a Gremlins sequel, but not the one we imagined. That little Mogwai is always full of surprises…

So there ends my top 9 films that deserved a sequel. Do you agree with this list? Have I left anything out? Let me know, and I may just have to write a sequel!

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10 MARVEL SUPER-HEROES WHO DESERVE THEIR OWN MOVIES!

We’ve seen the X-Men, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, The FF, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Ant Man. On TV we have Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. But there are plenty of less well-known Marvel Super-Heroes who possibly deserve their own movies. Here’s a selection of some of the best candidates:

Image result for richard rider nova

Nova

Teenager Richard Ryder (because every superhero needs an alliterated name) gets blasted with a space ray and turned into a human rocket! Nova was never much more than a Spider-man clone. In the Psychedelic Seventies he fought such far-out cats as The Sphinx, Megaman (whose key attribute was having no face), and The Condor (a guy with wings) amongst others before becoming a member of the less-than-super New Warriors. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to the Nova Core of Xanthar, the alien race that gave Nova his powers. But surely anyone with a costume this cool deserves his own movie?

 

Image result for dazzler

Dazzler

Interesting fact: Dazzler was supposed to be a movie right from the start. The character was ushered into the pages of X-Men purely to plug an onscreen character who was to both sing and act! The movie and the songstress never materialized, but Alison Blaire, a disco queen who can shoot light out of her body, became a regular member of the X-Men. With the rocking ’70s soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy, and her discotastic costume, has the time finally come for the Dazzler to shine?

 

Image result for moon knight

Moon Knight

Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, few have undergone so many changes as Moon Knight. Appearing in Werewolf by Night #32 as a mercenary who was given a silver costume to hunt down the titular werewolf, Marc Spector morphed into a caped crusader to rival even Batman, before becoming endowed with supernatural powers courtesy of Egyptian god Konshu, dying, being resurrected, being briefly possessed by a demon, infected with lycanthropy, and even suffering multi-personality disorder from the pressure of adopting too many disguises a-la Mission Impossible!

Image result for captain britain

Captain Britain

The good captain was designed by Marvell UK in the 1970s to be Britain’s answer to Captain America. Unfortunately, he had a shaky start. Given a magic staff by Merlin (yes, the King Arthur one) Brian Braddock becomes a superhuman powerhouse who fought the Red Skull alongside Steve Rogers. The series hobbled along until scribe Alan Moore reinvented the character in the 1980’s as a strapping blonde mimbo who survived rather than won his battles against foes far cleverer than himself. Later stories had him joining comedy superhero team Excalibur alongside several former X-Men. But maybe it’s time Cap had his own movie. Heck, it worked for Ant-Man. Interesting factoid: his sister is Betsy Braddock, aka Psyclocke!

 

Image result for son of satan marvel

The Son of Satan

Yes, you heard right. It’s fair to say that Marvel in the 1970s was… experimental. One of the better inventions of that time was Daimon Hellstrom, the son of Satan himself! Debuting in the pages of Ghost Rider #1 Hellstrom is constantly at war both with his own infernal nature and his demonic dad. He eventually got his own series before it was cancelled due to a panel that was considered too blasphemous ever to be reproduced! Surely a character this dark deserves his own TV show!

 

Image result for power pack

Power Pack

Louise Simonson and June Brigman created this unique superhero team of children. The Power family find themselves in the middle of a secret war between the warlike alien Snarks (who look like walking crickets) and the peace-loving Kymellians (who look like sea-horses). When a Kymelian sacrifices himself to save the kids, they each gain one of his super-abilities. The series was ground-breaking for its realistic psychology, showing the kids scared, brave, petulant and spoiled, just like real kids. I have a soft spot for Power Pack. It’s my very favourite comic, and I’ll personally love to see it become a live action movie, if only as an antidote to all the dark and depressing fare that’s been served up recently.

 

Image result for machine man

Machine Man

Here’s a character who’s better than he looks. Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, is an unusual comic book superhero, because he’s a robot! X-51 is a sentient and rather sensitive android. When his creator is killed, he decides to go off and tackle crime, along with his Go-Go-Gadget arms and legs. Created by comics legend Jack Kirby in the back pages of “2001: A Space Odyssey” , X-51 was also memorably drawn by Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko. There’s something both moving and creepy about a character trying to pretend to be human, even down to wearing a latex face mask and dark glasses! One of Marvel’s more interesting characters.

 

Image result for howard the duck

Howard the Duck

I know what you’re thinking. But try and forget the sickeningly-sweet George Lucas aberration and think more along the lines of a rather adult ALF. Now you’re closer to Steve Gerber’s bizarre vision of a duck trapped in a world not of his own making. Hailing from another dimension, cigar-smoking, wise-cracking Howard finds himself in Cleveland and up to his feathers in trouble. The comic was a satirical take on superheroes that sometimes had to be read to be believed. Vegetarian supervillain, anyone?

Image result for doctor zero

 

Doctor Zero and Saint George

In the mid-1980s Marvel’s mature comics line, Epic, launched a series of titles outside the Marvel Universe. “The Shadowline Saga” involved a world where superheroes were non-existent, but where a second race lived alongside our own. Possessing awesome powers, some of these were sinister, others heroic, but none were what they seemed. Cue Doctor Zero, an immortal who pretends to be a superhero. Is he really a supervillain, or does he have a more Machiavellian scheme for the human race? Saint George, meanwhile, is a human priest who is given a suit of technologically advanced armour and sent on a crusade to rid the world of dangerous “shadows”. Each series, along with another about a super team called “Powerline” ran for a limited time before being wrapped up. But the series crated some memorable characters and had some interesting artwork by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz (of TV’s “Legion” fame), and just might be something fresh and different compared to the existing Cinematic Universe. Time for a change, anyone?

 

Image result for saint george shadowline epic comics

 

So there you have it. Plenty of weirder options for Marvel to explore. And I haven’t even mentioned Alpha Flight, Ka-Zar, The Human Fly, Killraven, The Living Mummy, Skull the Slayer, or Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner! Do you agree with my choices or have I left out anyone you’d like to see? Maybe you have a burning desire to see a West Coast Avengers movie or to witness the Avengers clash with the Squadron Supreme? Food for thought for the movie gods at Marvel Studios.

Focus on the short story: Ray Bradbury’s “The Emissary”

Today, I thought I would focus on a short story for a change.

What I really like about Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” is that he suggests that authors should only write when they feel a white-hot passion…. a burning idea that just has to be let out. For me, that has never been a problem. I have too many ideas and too little time. However, he also says that he started out writing by simply listing nouns…. writing down phrases like “The Skeleton” or “The Jar” and letting the story write itself. I was amazed to read this, as I did the same thing myself when I began writing in my teens. These days, however, I begin more often than not with an idea. But using this kind of word-association game can be a useful way to dodge writer’s block for those afflicted.

Which brings me to my favourite Ray Bradbury story, “The Emissary”.

 

 

Bradbury wrote tons of gold. You’ve probably heard of “The Martian Chronicles” or the film made from one of his short stories “The Beast from 20,000 fathoms”. He also wrote the screenplay for “Moby Dick”, a few “Twilight Zone” episodes, as well as the Rod Steiger classic “The Illustrated Man”, and the dark fantasy novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

But for me it’s his collection “The October Country” that is my fave. The preface states it is about:

“… that country where it is always turning late in the year… whose people are autumn people thinking only autumn thoughts.”

It still sends shivers up my back. Rumour has it one story, “The Homecoming” was the seed for “The Addams’ Family”, especially as Charles Addams himself illustrated the early editions of the book.

“The October Country” contains some great stories like “The Jar” and “The Scythe”. But for me “The Emissary” is the best of the lot.

 
It’s a story about a boy who is sick in bed and whose dog is his only link to the outside world. Dog is an explorer, and he always comes back carrying the scents of everything he comes into contact with. One night, Dog goes missing. Then he comes back. But he’s not exactly alone…

 

The Emissary – from the Ray Bradbury Theatre TV show!

 

Here’s a sample:

“Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer, acorn-husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoals shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh-grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it at all, this incredible beast was October!”

The story combines childlike innocence and beautiful prose with an eerie dread. It’s the kind of story you grasp instantly, but you still get more out of it on repeat readings. The exquisite prose reminds me of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It twists language to create new words out of old. But more, Bradbury captures the exuberance of sheer living. His exclamation mark at the end could be either the boy’s viewpoint or our own.

 

Martin makes sure anyone who finds his dog knows where to come looking for its owner…

 

For me, Bradbury evokes a kind of timeless, 1950’s era America of small towns that was about as foreign as you could get from inner-city Manchester where I grew up. His America is a place of wonder, mystery, nature and a million fabulous scents, smells and activities. A kind of Fourth of July of the mind. “The Emissary” conveys all this in one brisk paragraph. The rest of the story is even better. I encourage you to read it. And then to read everything else Bradbury ever wrote.

One of things writers sometimes forget about is that writing should be fun. It should move us, make us laugh or weep. We live out our fantasies and our nightmares in our writing. So be like Bradbury, who said : “You must stay drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”

Stay drunk!

Book Review 2016!

Happy New Year! Here is a fun little thing I thought I’d share at the start of 2017. It’s a list of the books I read during 2016. This is not a reading list, or even a recommendation, just a recap of the books I’ve read over the last 12 months… and maybe a few screenplay and graphic novels as well. I’ve marked with an asterisk (*) the ones I thought were particularly important. Enjoy!

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Treasure Island*, Kidnapped*, Robert Louis Stevenson

Occultation*, Xs for Eyes, Laird Barron

The Death House, Sarah Pinborough

Boy’s Life, Robert R McCammon

The Madness of Cthulhu, ST Joshi (ed)

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, Ramsey Campbell

The Haunted Grave, Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso

Tender Is The Night*, F Scott Fitzgerald

My Gun Is Quick, Mickey Spillane

Dark Terrors 5, Stephen Jones (ed)

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos*, HP Lovecraft and others

Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement

The Birds*, Daphne Du Maurier

The Haunting of Hill House*, Shirley Jackson

Revolutions, Graeme Shimmin, Craig Pay, Eric Steele (!) (eds)

The Chronicles of Amber series: Nine Princes of Amber, The Guns of Avalon, The Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, Roger Zelazny

The Art of War*, Sun Tzu

And in graphic novels…

Skizz, Alan Moore, Jim Baikie

The Tomb of Dracula Omnibus, Vol 3, Gerry Conway, Gene Colan etc

The Essential Werewolf by Night, Vol 1, Marv Wolfman, Mike Ploog etc

(And of course too many comics and screenplays to mention.)

So there you have it. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of these, maybe you won’t. I enjoyed them all. Have fun exploring them or making up your own list. Now for next year…!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 6! The Noughties! (2000s)

If the 1980s wore out horror conventions such as knife-wielding maniacs, wish-granting demons and comedic vampires, in the 1990s horror underwent another transformation. Clever films like The Sixth Sense had made money by generating atmosphere rather than gore. And the found footage phenomenon that (re)started with The Blair Witch Project showed Hollywood that horror was big money. In the 2000s alone there was: The Collingswood Story, Incident at Loch Ness, Welcome to the Jungle, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Paranormal Activity, REC, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, Home Movie, Quaratine, REC 2. All found footage.

Unfortunately, the growth of independent horror did not stop studios rushing to release a slew of remakes and sequels. Probably, the major studios perceived that here was a generation of moviegoers who had probably never seen the original version of many profitable 1970s horror movies. Like a helpless slasher victim, these films became easy prey for money men.

The 2000s also saw the birth of three giant movie franchises. “Final Destination”, “Resident Evil”, and “Underworld”. The first feels like a lacklustre retread of “The Omen”. The second is based on a computer game. And the third features Kate Beckinsdale in PVC. All of these made enormous amounts of money from exactly the audiences they aspired to, and spawned numerous sequels and even a reboot in one case. But for those who prefer their horror with more more… well, horror, here we go…

(On a side note, M Night Shayamalan, whose “Sixth Sense” was such a hit in the 90s, went on to write and direct the enjoyable superhero romp “Unbreakable” as well as the rather unbelievable sf/horror “Signs” and the totally insane “Lady In The Water” before returning to horror with “The Happening”, a half-serious tale of killer plants that I actually found to be entertaining. Sorry, M Night, but you just miss out on this list.)

Ginger Snaps 2000

Our first movie is an off-beat gem, typical of those that were getting more prominence as the film market became truly global.  In this very original Canadian werewolf movie, lycanthropy is portrayed as a metaphor for a young woman’s sexual awakening. The result is a highly entertaining and funny movie with some genuinely emotional scenes, as Ginger’s gradual transformation (no lunar change this, but a full on, irreversible devolution) is seen through the eyes of her younger sister. A worthy addition to the genre, and a sign of things to come. Foreign horror films would become increasingly important in this decade.

Pitch Black 2000

Another example is this Australian sci-fi/horror feature starring a then-unknown Vin Diesel. A female spaceship captain and her crew, including one very dangerous prisoner, are stranded on a desolate alien world. But once the planet’s three suns go down, its nocturnal critters come out to play. And nasty critters they are too. A great concept that is carried out with suspense and great special effects.  It spawned two sequels, but these were essentially just star vehicles for Diesel and never added to the original story.

Shadow of the Vampire 2000

Another off-kilter story, this time a “re-imagining” of FW Murnau”s filming of the silent film “Nosferatu”. Willem DeFoe is superb as Max Shreck aka Count Orlock aka Dracula, who has a very specific reason for allowing the filmmakers to shoot their film in his castle. A great black comedy horror with some excellent performances. Again, the film shows how great horror movies were flying under the radar.

Jeepers Creepers 2001

Yet another off-beat tale. This well-crafted horror comedy has a post-modern twist in that it is a brother and sister who stumble across a demon while on a road trip, rather than the usual suspects of teen movies with the obligatory love interest. Thus it subverts the genre and keeps it fresh. The demon itself, “The Creeper” is intriguing, indestructible, and capable of surprising the audience on a few occasions. Very enjoyable, it was a great success and had an inevitable sequel that wasn’t half bad, though less original.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

London + rush hour + zombies = not good.

28 Days Later 2002

Just when we thought the zombie movie had been done to death (pun intended) along came Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, with a gritty tale of sort-of-zombies set in England. London and Manchester, to be precise. Giving the genre a modern twist, the film opens with environmental terrorists releasing a monkey from a biological warfare lab. Things rapidly go downhill from there. In a terrific scene, Cilian Murphy wakes up in hospital to find a London devoid of people. When we do meet the zombies, they are not the shambling undead of the Romero films, but sprinting, slavering contagious madmen. A nightmarish thrill-ride from start to finish, the movie carries on the glorious English post-apocalyptic tradition begun in “The Day of the Triffids”. It also set the stage for the zombie invasion that was about to come…

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

Naomi Watts is a good screamer.

The Ring 2002

SPOILER ALERT!

Bringing Asian horror movies to the public consciousness (or “J-Horror” as it is sometimes imprecisely called), Gore Verbinski’s remake of a successful Japanese horror movie hit theatres in 2002. Naomi Watts is compelling enough as the ill-fated journalist who watches one VHS tape too many. But to audiences, it was the ghost who was the star, especially one sequence when the ghost appears on television, and then walks out of it. Others may find that the whole film is rather tame and relies upon creepy images which are actually not all that creepy. However, it was a huge success, and showed Hollywood that Japan was a rich, untapped well of source material (what is it with these puns?).

House of 1,000 corpses 2003

Performance artist and singer Rob Zombie’s first major feature. On the surface, a “Texas Chainsaw Masssacre” rip-off, it is actually much more than that. The film introduces a host of bizarre, demented and downright nasty characters who steal the show from the protagonists and would show up again in the even grittier sequel “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005). Zombie directs with assurance and a great deal of visual style. This movie boasts the most evil, seedy clown ever and what may be film’s most violent femme fatale!

Saw 2004

It is easy to see why audiences liked Saw upon its release. The film has a very slender plot – a madman compels people to outwit deathtraps to teach them life lessons. It also has many clever twists. However, the main (and supposedly the cleverest) twist is not so believable. More importantly, the film was cheap to make. The result was a rash of sequels and a ton of money. Hollywood was waking up again to horror.

Dawn of the Dead 2004

The logical conclusion based on the success of 28 Days Later was to remake George A Romero’s beloved classic from 1978, with modern special effects. Thankfully, somebody hired scribe James Gunn and director Zack Snyder to do the job. The result is an insanely entertaining film that is full of modern CGI tricks while staying respectful to the original. Some standout performances from Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Jake Weber help. A great addition to the canon that cemented the zombie in the popular consciousness and led to many, many more zombie movies.

Shaun of the Dead 2004

And with success, comes parody. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s hilarious horror comedy tackled what would happen if a zombie apocalypse invaded suburban England. Hardly anyone notices. A watchable but less funny version is 2009’s Zombieland, although it’s hard to follow such a great double act as harried store-worker Shaun and his anti-social layabout friend Ed setting about a zombie in a pub to the tune of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

This is exactly what the zombie invasion would look like.

 

Let the Right One In 2008

Amid the plethora of Hollywood remakes, sequels and reboots, this obscure Swedish horror movie somehow managed to become a success in America as well as Europe. A simple tale of a young boy who meets a young-looking vampire and becomes friends with him/her, the movie has a genuine emotional core. There is a fair bit of gore, too. Hollywood soon cottoned onto this and did an English-language remake, as it would with almost every successful foreign horror film in the ‘Noughties.

House of the Devil 2009

What this list doesn’t show is the quite shocking amount of remakes and sequels that abounded. While independent moviemakers were becoming more well-known, studios chose to give us more of the same rather than take creative chances. The result was some less-than-memorable movies.

In the 2000s alone we had remakes of: Dracula, 13 Ghosts, Carrie, Dawn of the Dead, Assault on Precinct 13, House of Wax, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, The Omen, The Hitcher, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Wicker Man.

Add to that English language remakes of: Let the Right One In, The Grudge, The Ring, Phone, Eye, Dark Water, Into the Mirror and Pulse, plus an enormous number of sequels.

And yet for all that, a few horror movies still shine through as being really good examples of the genre. Some come from surprising places like 2003’s “Into the Mirror” or 2006’s “The Host”, both from the expanding market of Korea.

It seems poignant, then, to end with a low-budget movie that is an homage to the classic 1970s independent cinema shockers of John Carpenter and Wes Craven.

House of the Devil was written and directed by Ti West, one of the genre’s most promising newcomers. From the opening scene, it feels like we have stepped back in time to 1978 and all will be well again. The shaky camera, the 70s clothes, music and even the “final girl” all make for a very believable 1970s “feel”. Yet the film still manages to wrongfoot us and shock us with clever plot twists as a young college girl is lured to a remote mansion by some very odd Satanists.

House of the Devil deserves far more praise than it has been given. West has gone on to be one of the leading lights of independent horror.

Horror cinema itself became divided in the ‘Noughties. On the one hand there were the big-budget, SFX-driven remakes and blockbusters, and on the other independent filmmakers such as Rob Zombie and Ti West, whose love for horror reminds one of those heady days in the 1970s, when independent filmmakers seized the night, and a new breed of low-budget horror was born.

Next time…

The 2010s! Can the found footage genre prevent itself from being buried? What will happen to independent filmmakers in the wake of the Hollywood behemoths? Horror is saved by the haunted house movie (sort of)! We meet some rather unbelievable monsters, and some very unusual cannibals. Yum!

 

 

The Best Horror Movies of the past 50 years Part 4! The Eighties!

Part 4 of our series on the most influential horror films of the last 50 years!

The end of the Seventies created the slasher movie. The mixture of low-budget filmmaking with its teenage cinema-going audience proved a winning combination. Special effects were also coming into their own, courtesy of groundbreaking science-fiction movies like “Star Wars”, and SFX and Special Make-up pioneers like Rick Baker and Savini. The Eighties would see an explosion (sometimes literally) in gore and transformation special effects. This in turn would spark off a  reactionary backlash… the “Video Nasty”.

Just keep telling yourself, "It's not Halloween! It's not Halloween!"

Just keep telling yourself, “It’s not Halloween! It’s not Halloween!”

Friday the 13th 1980

Starring a young Kevin Bacon, this textbook slasher is actually quite effective. Hot on the heels of John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, Jason is Michael Myers on steroids. The film is pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier movie, except for more gore, a scary summer camp setting, and did we say more gore? A huge success, the film spawned a vast quantity of sequels. These are unusual in that the main bogeyman, Jason, becomes not only superhuman, but a parody of himself, until at last we finally get “Jason in Space”. Even today, Jason refuses to die, getting a recent unnecessary “reboot” in 2009. Director Sean S Cunningham had  worked on Wes Craven’s notorious nasty shocker “Last House on the Left”, and like Wes Craven’s monsters, Jason would soon become a  postmodern joke. But the first instalment tries, for the most part, to pay it straight.

The Shining 1980

Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagining of Stephen King’s masterful haunted house story is a rare thing – a horror movie and a work of art. Jack Nicholson descends into madness with a little help from the ghosts of the deserted Overlook Hotel, turning on his wife Shelley Duvall ( I challenge you to find a better screamer)  and his psychic young son. The hotel becomes part of the horror, its patterned carpets and maze-like structure twisting  the mind out of true. Nicholson’s performance is Oscar-worthy.  Kubrick’s direction flawless. Even the opening scene with its alien viewpoint becomes unsettling. Copied countless times, this is a true classic.

American Werewolf in London 1981

John Landis, better known perhaps for  comedies such as “The Blues Brothers” and “Coming to America” left an indelible impression on the horror genre with this tale of an American boy who gets bitten by a werewolf on the Yorkshire Moors. From then on, things get truly hairy. Landis plays with horror and comedy. The result is a very unsettling picture. But the star of this film is the magnificent werewolf transformation scene designed by Rick Baker. Excruciating in its agony and detail, we really believe we are seeing a man transform into a creature of the night. The uneven tone caught many critics by surprise, but this one stands the test of time, and has been copied by virtually every werewolf movie since.

The Howling 1981

It would be remiss not to mention “The Howling” as well. There is some controversy over which movie was in the works first. Landis maintains he had the idea for “American Werewolf” before production started on “The Howling. Both are werewolf movies, both feature excellent transformation scenes. Both have comedic elements. But “The Howling” for the most part is a serious story, as evidenced by the opening scene in which reporter Dee Wallace (the mom in “E.T.”) finds her interviewee in a seedy sex video store, only to be driven half insane when she sees him transform before her eyes. The scene is one of the most intense I’ve ever watched. Great acting fro the likes of Patrick McNee and John Carradine flesh out the cast, but again the real star is the special effects. Baker again had a hand in these, before leaving the production to work on “American Werewolf”.

The Thing 1982

Baker’s successor on “The Howling” was Rob Bottin. Bottin came into his own as designer of the many gut-wrenching and terrifying effects used in this John Carpenter masterpiece. The story is a simple one – scientists in a remote Antarctic base discover an  unfriendly alien life form that assimilates and takes over all other life forms, including man. The great cast makes the whole thing believable, while Carpenter is on top form, dishing out the scares.  But by now the “Video Nasty” craze was in full swing, especially in the UK, where various consumer groups battled to get such films banned.  That, and negative comparison to the “feel good” alien blockbuster “E.T.” released that year, prevented “The Thing” from being a box office success. Thirty years later, it has cult status.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984

Another Wes Craven creation, scarred undead child-murderer Freddy Kruger would go on to become one of the most recognizable monsters in horror. “Nightmare” is a genuinely frightening picture, with some very effective scares. It spawned an army of sequels and reboots of varying quality. But it too would suffer from the postmodern disease of become a self-parody,until finally we get “Jason vs Freddy”, a film that doesn’t even try to suspend disbelief.

Be afraid.. of the fly!

Be afraid.. of the fly!

The Fly 1986

David Cronenberg had made several pictures after “Shivers”, notable the excellent “Scanners”. But he hit the big time with this remake of a Vincent Price shocker about a scientists who experiments with teleportation only to swap heads with a fly. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for success — a horribly disfigured Jeff Goldblum gradually transforming into a homicidal half-man/half-fly. But stalwart acting from Goldblum and Gena Davis, combined with a highly intelligent script, turned audiences on everywhere and the Fly became a bona fide hit. The tagline “Be Afraid. Be very afraid” has become a part of popular culture. One of the high points of horror in the 80s.

Evil Dead II 1987

Sam Raimi had burst onto movie screens with the 1981 classic “The Evil Dead”. Raimi’s penchant for weird camera angles and cartoony special effects was an underground hit, attracting the attention of the anti-Video Nasty brigade due to one very unpleasant scene. In “Evil Dead II” he took this one step further, creating his own unique blend of comedy and slapstick, and making a star out of straight man Bruce Campbell. As horror lightened in tone after the mid-Eighties, Raimi’s style fitted the mood of the times perfectly. The film is a basic remake of the first movie, but ends on a hysterically crazed note. The violence is cartoon, the plot insane. Fanbooys loved it, and have been lapping it up ever since.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!

The Lost Boys 1987

All this seems to be part of a pattern. The serious, horrifying movies of the Seventies were transforming, as studios targeted their prime audience, and began churning out products that college kids out on a date could enjoy. Cynical marketing? Probably. This was the Eighties, after all. Whatever the reason, two movies came out in 1987 that reinvented the vampire genre. One was “Near Dark”, the other was “The Lost Boys”. This is where vampire chic has its roots. Kiefer Sutherland heads a posse of Eighties vampires, compete with rock star looks and clad in the latest fashions. They are everything vampires are (attractive, immortal, evil etc.) but updated. The movie is a very slick production, with some favourite child actors, some great comedy scenes, and a top-notch Eighties soft-rock soundtrack. “Lost Boys” was an instant hit. Since then, almost every “cool” vampire movie or TV show owes a debt to this movie, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Twilight”.

Near Dark 1987

The other movie that redefined the vampire genre was the little-seen “Near Dark”. But whereas “The Lost Boys” drew in audiences, this film took 25 years to become a cult classic. A tour-de-force of filmmaking by Oscar–wining director Kathryn Bigelow, it includes  a dream cast, many of whom had appeared together in Bigelow’s then-husband James Cameron’s “Aliens”. “Near Dark” features grubby, streetwise vampires prowling the American MidWest. This is no Gothic romance, nor is it high fashion. Lane Henriksen’s performance is chilling and compelling, Bill Paxton is at his rebellious finest, and sadly underused actress Jenny Wright at her most beguiling. These vampires are down and dirty. In many ways this movie is the opposite of “The Lost Boys”.

Hellraiser 1987

At the end of the Eighties, a Liverpudlian horror author with a dodgy transatlantic accent came to prominence. He was also a film director. Clive Barker brought a new vision to horror. His was horror filled with spectacle, almost operatic. The plot revolves around a puzzle box that, when opened, summons a trio of leather-clad sado-masochistic demons. Like Cronenberg, Barker likes to explore the forbidden or taboo. In “Hellraiser” he gave the world the iconic and somewhat literally-named monster Pinhead. And lo, a franchise was born! The movie is  unsettling and takes itself very seriously. Barker would follow this up with a variety of cult classics, such as “Nightbreed” and “Lord of Illusions” – all of which were overlooked by mainstream audiences despite their originality and quality.

In conclusion…

The Eighties created some wonderful horror movies, and saw the rise of the horror-comedy as a way to reinvigorate the genre. The wild and wacky craze of the Video Nasties gave way to more mainstream hits. Horror became homogenized. Maverick directors like Cronenberg became accepted by the movie-going public, and by the end of the Eighties, horror movies were no longer a Video Nasty to be burned or kept on the top shelf of your local video store but instead became big business, and somewhat tamer as a result.  Sequels multiplied faster than zombies. It was the coming of a time of exploitation, not of stereotypes this time, but of wallets.

Next time…

Horror in the 1990s. In which the genre reaches a dead end (say it ain’t so!), we all see dead people, vampires get all mushy and camera angles become shakier! See you there!