Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Last Vegas

Opening this Friday, November 1...

Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, and Kevin Kline star in LAST VEGAS


Logline: Four senior citizens who have been friends since childhood reunite in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

Writers: Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love; Guilt Trip; Tangled; Cars; Cars 2; Fred Claus; Bolt) with uncredited revisions by Adam Brooks (Definitely, Maybe; Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason; The Invisible Circus; Practical Magic; Beloved; French Kiss).

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure; National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets; The Sorcerer's Apprentice; Disney's The Kid).

The October 5, 2010 draft, reviewed by ScriptShadow on Jan 17, 2011, which may be significantly different from the finished film, opens with a prologue establishing the four main characters' friendship as teenagers hanging out on the neighborhood streets in 1961. The scene contains the slightest whiff of a love triangle, but for the most part, is built primarily around the gang sending off one of the four to go fight in Vietnam. The rest of the movie takes place in present day and the veteran's adventures in Vietnam play no role in the story whatsoever.

Compare this with the similar prologue in Clint Eastwood's MYSTIC RIVER:
The three main characters of MYSTIC RIVER as young boys experience an inciting incident.
Here we also meet the main characters as young boys playing in the street. Not unlike the young man going off to war in Last Vegas, this opening scene is all about one of the boys getting into a car with a stranger and being taken away. What happens to him as a result of getting in the car affects everything that happens to all three of the characters for the rest of their lives, including the tragic events of the present-day plot. The entire story hinges on what happens in the prologue. It's absolutely necessary. Without it, the rest of the movie wouldn't make sense.

By contrast, you can come in late from the popcorn line, completely missing the opening goodbye scene in Last Vegas with the boy going off to war, and it will not affect the way you experience any other scene in the movie. Reading a disconnected opening scene like this in a screenplay makes you feel you are not in the hands of a good storyteller.

ScripTipps TIP: Write a prologue in a screenplay only if the events of the scene really matter to the story.

ScripTipps TIP: Start a screenplay with the event which, if it did not occur, the rest of the story would not happen.

In Last Vegas, BILLY (Michael Douglas) is wealthy, has a girlfriend half his age, and has never been married. PADDY (Robert De Niro) is grieving the recent death of his childhood sweetheart and wife of fifty years, Sophie. The central conflict in the story is that Paddy is mad at Billy for not attending Sophie's funeral.

ARCHIE (Morgan Freeman) lives with his son's family. They won't let him have any fun because he's old and might forget to take his pills. SAM (Kevin Kline) is unhappily married, retired, and bored in Boca Raton. Recognizing his unhappiness, his wife gives him a condom, a Viagra, and permission to cheat to thank him for putting up with an old hag like her for all these years.

The four men get to Vegas, bicker, take their meds, get up in the middle of the night to pee, judge a wet T-shirt contest, fight, make up, and resolve all their problems. FADE OUT.

Compare this to THE HANGOVER:
Zack Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms star in THE HANGOVER
Three best friends and an unwanted tag-along black out at a wild Las Vegas bachelor party and lose the groom. They have mere hours to piece together the parts of the night they can't remember so they can find their friend and get him to the church on time.

The differences are more than just the 140 years of the combined ages of the two casts.

Comedy, like drama, comes from conflict. In The Hangover, Phil wants to let loose while Stu worries about jeopardizing his relationship with his girlfriend. Conflict. And Alan is just strange, a wild card thrown into the mix. Phil and Stu are stuck with him the way Oscar is with Felix, or De Niro is with Charles Grodin in Midnight Run (directed by Martin Brest, who also made the geezer bank robbery comedy Going in Style).

In Last Vegas, each of the characters has his own arc, but they don't oppose each other, except for Paddy, who gripes about not wanting to be there at all, which isn't as intrinsically funny as others not wanting him there. They've all been friends for 50 years. There's very little conflict, with the small exception of this minor spat between Billy and Paddy that can probably be patched up with a simple conversation and a hug. There are no stakes.

ScripTipps TIP: Characters who get along with each other are boring. Inject conflict into your screenplay by sticking your hero with a new, unwanted "frenemy."

Both movies have a wedding looming in the third act, but The Hangover has a mystery to solve as the clock ticks or the wedding won't happen. Both movies have comic set pieces, but the ones in The Hangover are in service of a plot, while the ones in Last Vegas are in service of humorously juxtaposing old men in a Las Vegas setting to get enough laughs to fill a trailer. There is no no nightmarish outcome that will befall them if they don't accomplish a goal.

ScripTipps TIP: Get your hero to the hook, then have something happen to him there.

ScripTipps TIP: The more unpredictable a story is, the more fun it is to follow.

The Hangover made overnight stars of its relatively unknown cast. Last Vegas depends on stars to draw an audience who wants to see nothing more than four great actors of advanced age in a premise.

For a more in-depth analysis of the Las Vegas bachelor party screenplay that became an unexpected $277 million smash and spawned two sequels, read ScripTipps: The Hangover, loaded with useful and insightful tips to make your screenplay shine!
ScripTipps Insightful Screenwriting Tips from THE HANGOVER Screenplay Study Guide by Dan Margules

Last Vegas, from CBS Films, opens wide November 1, 2013.

Related article: The Hangover ScripTipps

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wanna See Something Really Scary? 5 Overlooked Scary Movies for Halloween

If you're tired of all the usual suspects (HalloweenPsycho, The Shining, The Exorcist, Freddy, Jason, Hannibal, and Chucky), here are five chillers you might have missed...

Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon in BUG, written by TRACY LETTS
BUG - Contrary to the title, there are no monstrous insects in this creeper from The Exorcist director William Friedkin. Based on a play by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), this intense meditation on paranoia stars Michael Shannon (Man of Steel's General Zod) just two years before his first Oscar nomination (for Revolutionary Road) and Ashley Judd in mind-blowing performances as two lost souls who really know how to bug each other.

Vincent D'Onofrio in THE CELL, written by MARK PROTOSEVICH
THE CELL - Vincent D'Onofrio is a serial killer every bit as demented as Hannibal Lecter and sadistic as Buffalo Bill. He's been caught, but his latest victim is still trapped in a cell somewhere with just hours to live. Only the killer knows the location, and he's in a coma. Jennifer Lopez is a pre-Inception dream-walker. It's up to her to navigate the chamber of horrors inside the killer's mind to find out where the missing girl is in time for Vince Vaughn to save her. From a spec script by first-time screenwriter Mark Protosevich (Thor, I Am Legend, next month's Oldboy remake).

Anthony Hopkins in MAGIC, written by WILLIAM GOLDMAN
MAGIC - Thirteen years before dining on a census taker with fava beans and a nice Chianti, Anthony Hopkins played a homicidal ventriloquist in this 1978 thriller whose trailer was pulled from TV because it gave children nightmares. Written by William Goldman (of "Nobody knows anything" fame), the most suspenseful moment in the film has no blood, no killing, no chases, and no chilling music. It occurs when Burgess Meredith challenges the disturbed Hopkins to last five minutes without speaking through his dummy. Can he do it? And what will happen if he can't?

Delphine Chaneac as a genetically engineered hybrid in SPLICE
SPLICE - Oscar winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Oscar nominee Sarah Polley (Away from Her) are genetic engineers thinking about having a baby -- so they design one in the lab with DNA spliced together from various animals. Needless to say, their life-creation experiment goes about as well as is it did for Dr. Frankenstein. But the scientist couple loves their little babything -- maybe a little too much. Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali (Cube), the script goes down paths most twisted screenwriters would avoid.

Stephen Rea in STUCK, directed by STUART GORDON
STUCK - It could happen to you. You're driving home on ecstasy. You hit a homeless guy. You panic. You flee... with the homeless guy still stuck in your windshield. The scariest thing about this movie is it's based on a true story. Ripped from the headlines by Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon, this gruesome thriller puts Mena Suvari (American Beauty) in the driver's seat with Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) as the bum who's having a really bad day.

ScripTipps Carrie, screenplay analysis by Dan Margules
Ready to write your own scary movie? Then peruse ScripTipps: Carrie first. The scene-by-scene dissection in this ebook culls hundreds of screenwriting tips from #46 movie on AFI's list of the 100 most thrilling American movies of the 20th century.

(FREE until midnight, October 25, 2013)

Related article: 5 Remakes That Matter
Related article: In Theatre Today: Grave 2

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What are ScripTipps?

ScripTipps are a brand new series of ebooks designed to help aspiring screenwriters absorb hundreds of professional screenwriting tips through a focused, in-depth, scene-by-scene analysis of one screenplay per book, selected for its excellence in story structure, character development, and scene construction.

Most screenwriting books teach "rules," usually derived from the theories of Aristotle and Joseph Campbell. Some might put a cute spin on these age-old storytelling guidelines and call them unique when they're really nothing more than a variation on the same old basic dramatic principles dressed up as rescued kittens.
To convince you to buy their must-have diet book, each guru insists his technique is the one and only correct way to make your screenplay "work." They'll use Star Wars and Die Hard as examples to prove all movies fit their one-size-fits-all formula, then tell you Pulp Fiction and Memento don't count because those are "art" films and you want to write "blockbusters."

That said, those types of books do have value. ScripTipps aims to build on them by delving deeper into a single screenplay, like a CliffsNotes for screenwriters.
(Not affiliated with CliffsNotes)
We won't tell you you must do what we say or you'll never sell a screenplay. We won't tell you your script will write itself in thirty days and you'll definitely sell it for a million dollars if you follow our rules. We won't use examples from a lot of different movies you haven't seen, since you'll presumably only read the ScripTipps screenplay study guides for the movies you're already familiar with.

Instead, we'll examine how the general rules of screenwriting were applied to one outstanding script. Not just the parts that corroborate certain beats of a formula, but the whole script, from FADE IN to FADE OUT.

Each tip presented in the pages of ScripTipps serves to illustrate how one screenwriting concept or trick was used effectively for that script and may or may not apply to the screenplay you are writing. As a rule, our tips should never be thought of as "rules." You get to decide what works best for you.

Five diverse titles have been released so far, at incredibly low introductory prices. Seriously. Each is over fifty pages and contains well over a hundred useful tips, but costs just a fraction of the cover price of a single issue of the (now defunct) Creative Screenwriting magazine.
(Not affiliated with Creative Screenwriting)
Still not convinced? Try one for free. From Tuesday, October 22nd, through Friday, October 25, the Kindle version of ScripTipps: Carrie is absolutely free at Amazon!
FREE (thru 10/25/13)
The best way to learn screenwriting is by watching movies. Watching and re-watching. Study them, dissect them, turn them inside out. ScripTipps is the tool that will help you do that.

Don't have a Kindle? Get a free Kindle app for your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, or BlackBerry.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

5 Remakes That Matter

Ever since Gus Van Sant's misguided 1998 experiment in redoing Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho shot for shot, REMAKES have gotten a bad rap. Fans cry, "Hollywood has run out of ideas!" and "They're going to ruin a classic!"

Still, every year, the Academy manages to find five films to nominate in the Original Screenplay category, and to date, there has never been an instance of a classic film's negative, prints, and home video copies all being destroyed by its remakers.

Some remakes suck, but here are five reimaginings that brought something new to the table:

5. DISTURBIA wasn't officially a remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window, just like Fatal Attraction wasn't officially a remake of Clint Eastwood's Play Misty For Me. Nonetheless, James Stewart's mid-40s photographer sidelined with a broken leg was updated to Shia LaBeouf's juvenile delinquent under house arrest, the plaster cast upgraded to an electronic ankle monitor, and the murderer across the way bumped up to serial killer status, making this hip 2007 retelling a hit with the millennials.

4. Shakespeare's four-hundred-year-old tragic romance has been retooled countless times, as a ballet, a number of operas, a zombie rom-com earlier this year, and best of all, as a stage and screen musical with the Capulets and Montegues transformed into the Sharks and the Jets, rival street gangs of 1950s Manhattan. Baz Luhrmann's 1996 MTV-style reimagining kept the Bard's original text but modernized everything else, bringing a singularly unique vision to ROMEO + JULIET. The Julian Fellowes remake that opened last weekend added nothing new, tanking with just half a million dollars on 461 screens.

3. A franchise reboot. An origin story prequel. A quasi sequel with a subplot bridging the original cast and universe to the new. J.J. Abrams' 2009 STAR TREK managed to be all that and more. A new incarnation of the familiar Trek characters in a more modernized future world with faster pacing and more intricate storytelling. The masterful techniques of screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are explored more fully in ScripTipps: Star Trek, an in-depth screenplay analysis.

2. Another reboot that doubles as a prequel/origin story, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is also a remake-of-sorts of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth movie in the original series, whose three final installments were all prequels to the 1968 original. However you slice it, the 2008 do-over beats the pants off the 2001 Tim Burton remake. Rise gives the franchise a genetic explanation for the talking-ape mutation, the result of a touching, human drama involving a scientist racing to find a cure for his father's Alzheimer's. After the midpoint separates Caesar from his foster dad, the screenplay flips the entire franchise on its head by making us sympathize with the simians.

1. Now this is how to remake a classic: make it your own. In THE FLY, a scientist invents teleportation. His reintegration on a trial run is complicated by the unexpected presence of a fly. In the 1958 version, the man and fly swap heads and one arm. In the 1986 remake by David Cronenberg, they're fused at the genetic level; Jeff Goldblum experiences a much more gradual and grotesque transformation into a creature that makes the 1958 version look comical. The remake was written with intelligence, humor, and pathos, while also educating moviegoers on the fly's disgusting digestive process. Both films created memorable catchphrases: "Help me," says the fly with the human head in the original, while the oft-quoted line, "Be afraid, be very afraid," originated with the remake.

This Friday, Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce dares to reinterpret Stephen King's debut novel, CARRIE, first filmed by Brian De Palma in 1976. Will she bring something new to the table? Revisit the original with ScripTipps: Carrie, an in-depth screenplay analysis that explores the changes screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen made from the book and highlights aspects of the source material that are ripe for a fresh, contemporary perspective.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE REMAKES? Leave a comment below.

Related article: Two New Screenwriting Tools Just Released (ScripTipps: Carrie, ScripTipps: The Descendants)

Related article: In Theatre Today: Grave 2 (screenwriting tips from I Spit On Your Grave remake)

Related article: Wanna See Something Really Scary? 5 Overlooked Scary Movies for Halloween

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Two New Screenwriting Tools Just Released

Learn screenwriting by reexamining the movies you love! It’s fun and, with ScripTipps screenplay study guides, it’s easy!

ScripTipps help aspiring screenwriters learn the craft of screenwriting through in-depth analyses of select screenplays that exhibit excellence in story structure, character development, and scene construction. Each ScripTipps screenplay study guide analyzes one movie and its story and screenplay in full, scene by scene, from beginning to middle to end, gleaning useful and practical screenwriting tips along the way.

This week, two outstanding titles join the ScripTipps family.
Ready for the remake of CARRIE opening next week? Why not revisit the original first? Watch the Brian De Palma film online for free with Amazon Prime. Download the Stephen King novel to your Kindle. Then read the brand new detailed ScripTipps analysis of Lawrence D. Cohen's screenplay adaptation.
The 1976 screenplay for Carrie features a two-act structure, a passive protagonist, a weak primary antagonist, and a secondary antagonist who drives the plot. ScripTipps takes a detailed look at how these non-standard elements worked, uncovering dozens and dozens of practical screenwriting tips you can apply to original scripts or adaptations in any genre.

Remember what movie won the Academy Award last year for Best Adapted screenplay?
ScripTipps examines the choices made by 2012 Oscar winners writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways) and co-writers Nat Faxon (Ben and Kate) & Jim Rash (Community, The Writers' Room) in adapting the novel THE DESCENDANTS by Kaui Hart Hemmings, as well as the universally applicable screenwriting techniques they used to take their suffering protagonist (played by George Clooney) on an emotional journey of self-discovery, closure, and healing.
Both ScripTipps ebooks are available now in Kindle format for an insanely low introductory price at Amazon.com, along with ScripTipps for The Hangover, Star Trek (2009), and Superman & Superman II.