Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Blog that was Taken Down -- the Saga of an Indie Scriptwriter - May 9, 2007

A blog I visited every day for a month (starting around April 5) as it chronicled the scriptwriter's perspective on an indie shoot of his script in Atlanta, has just been taken down. It was the most hilarious and heartwrenching saga I've ever read about a writer. Every day, his beautiful script just got bastardized more and more by a bizarre director with questionable talent and little aptitude for planning ahead. It was the most amazing insight into the horrors of Hollywood reality I've ever witnessed. And yesterday, he took the whole blog down, evidently because a lawyer dropped him a dime.

(If you're wondering why I have this posted with a March date, it's because I'm "hiding" this blog post in the past, ti sheild it from being discovered. The only people who can find this blog post now are people who get RSS feeds.)

Here's a rundown of all that I can recall from the blog:

1) Around April 9, An actress named Cerina V. was hired to play the female lead. The scriptwriter met ehr, liked her, got on the plane with her in LA, and when they arrived in Atlanta, she was replaced by someone else. And no reason was given.

2) The stunt director was a very hot-tempered man who was not interested in allowing the scriptwriter to play his own bit part (the role of a henchman) in the film. He shouted at the scriptwriter: "Do you WANT to die?"

3) After the first couple of days in Atlanta, while doing script meetings and other pre-shooting meetings, they told the scriptwriter that the role in the film they originally promised to him was now going to go to someone else and no explanation was given.

4) The scriptwriter had to fight for his role to be given back to him now because he accepted a role in the film in lieu of actual payment for a rewrite--so if they denied him this role, they'd essentially be getting a free rewrite out of him.

5) They came back the next day and told him what the real deal was about giving his role to someone else: the stunt director wanted a trained stuntman to play the henchman role just to be safe. So it was a safety issue. Okay. That's understandable. Meanwhile they had already promised the scriptwriter's role to this stuntman, and didn't wanna go back on their word to the stuntman. But the scriptwriter put his foot down and said this role was his rightful payment for the rewrite and they shouldn't go back on their word to him either.

6) To resolve the payment-for-a-rewrite, they had him do ANOTHER rewrite where he had to invent an entirely new and extra henchman character so that the stuntman would have his own role and so that the scriptwriter wasn't the one doing the dangerous stunts.

7) Part of the script involved the female lead running out onto an air field while a small plane was getting ready for take off (I think this was the big ending). Someone in the story had to shoot out the tires of one of the plane's props/wheels and cause the plane to crash. But the director said "Can't do it. Too expensive to crash a plane for real." Putting aside the obvous incredulity over the fact that the director initially signed on to do a film that involves a plane's prop getting shot out and is only NOW having problems with that scene, the scriptwriter explained "Here's how you can do it cheaply: you show the person on the airfield shooting the gun, then you show a close up of a tire getting shot out, then you show the guys inside the cockpit of the small plane and you jerk the camera so that it looks like the whoe plane just lurched sideways from the lost wheel." So essentially, the scriptwriter had to school the director on how to do some incredibly basic SFX.

8) Another part of the script involved a fight scene on the air field right before take off. The heroine is being attacked by a bad guy (I think it's the bad guy played by the scriptwriter) and the plane is sitting there, already revved up and ready to roll (so the propellers are spinning). The bad guy gets pushed backward into a spinning propeller and dies. But the director again said "Can't do it. Too expensive. We'd have to get a blood-filled dummy and those cost too much, and we'd have to get it right on the first take or else we gotta clean up all the blood and start again with another blood dumy." But the scriptwriter said "Didn't you see Raiders of the Lost Ark?" And so the scriptwriter explained you just show one shot of the bad guy standing inches from the propeller, then cut to another shot of something nearby getting pelted by a high-powered spray of blood droplets. So once again, the scriptwriter had to school the director on truly basic SFX techniques.

9) The whole set was very disorganized. People had bad attitudes and gave sub-par effort to their work. It was a huge silly mess. And then ... something magical happened one day. He described it as "the traveling angel" effect where a magical person (like Mary Poppins or Nanny McFee) shows up one day, and the previosuly messy, discordant lives and undertakings of all involved suddenly get tranformed into a harmoneous well-oiled machine of fun and goodwill. He said the magical person to showup was M.M. of Res Dogs fame. "M.M. shows up and suddenly we're making a movie!" The effect of having a bona fide STAR on the set was tangible. Everyone wanted to give their very best all because a REAL celebrity was there. Magic!

10) They had M.M. for just two days of shooting. He played the lead villain. The budget for the film was $250,000, and M.M.'s paycheck was... a substantial chunk of that.

11) Rumors around the set had it that M.M. had a divorce a few years back, and so he does indie stuff like this completely off the books to try and squirrel it away just for himself and keep it hidden from his ex.

12) The M.M.'s scenes mostly took place at night, so they scheduled shooting to start at 6 PM both nights and conclude at 6 AM each morning.

13) M.M.'s role was critical, and with just two days of his time (if they went over by even one minute of his time, they would owe him another thirty grand, and he unmistakable let them know he would NOT give them any freebie overtime if they didn't have it all in the can by 6 AM the second day) they decided to shoot every last one of his scenes back-to-back during that 2-day period.

14) Part of the trick of cramming all of M's scenes into just two days was to shoot him reciting his dialogue while in super-tight close-ups, and then they'd splice it all together later.

15) Another case of the director needing to get schooled in SFX ..... The central thurst of the whole plot involved the bad guys trying to torture information out of the heroine. They wanted from her the location of some huge stash of money (or jewels or something of incredible value, I forgot). So, lots of torture and rape scenes later, she gives in and tells them it's in a safe. They take her to the safe and demand the combination. She gives it to M.M. He opens the safe, and --known only to her (and maybe to the audience, but he never clarified in his blog entry if the audience knows or not)--the safe is booby-trapped. She is counting on M.M. to reach into the booby-trapped safe, spring the trap, and THEN she can hopefully get away. According to the script, a giant giullotine-type blade crashes down and chops off his hand. This is the critical turning point of the plot where she gets the better of the bad guys, grabs M.M.'s gun, and makes her escape. But the director suddenly says midway through production: "Nope. Can't do it. Too expensive to chop off a hand." So the scriptwriter explains, you can have the camera INSIDE the safe as his hand is reaching in, then swipe something downward in front of the lens--like a stick or a slab of cardboard--to mimmick the blade coming down. Then show a close-up of M.M.'s face wincing in pain, then do the bloody stump for the remainder of the film. But the director kept arguing and (according to the scrtpwriter) opted to just plain LIE and say "But M.M. doesn't wanna do it." So they had the scriptwriter do a rewrite where M.M. reaches in and gets electrocuted. The scriptwriter was plenty mad. The whole point of the script was the booby-trapped safe. That was what made this scipt unique. The booby-trap was EVERYTHING to the plot. And a chopped-off hand made more sense because a chopped-off hand is a PERMANENT injury, while an electrocution is just a momentary "ouch!" (M.M.'s character can't actually DIE yet, you see, he still has more bad guy stuff to do, so the electrocution can't KILL him, just temporarilly delay/stall him.) He also said the audience probably wouldn't understand that an electrocution was taking place, whereas with a blade chopping off his hand, they'd know in an instant what was happening. They assured him they'd clarify it for the audience later, they'd just CGI-in the etails of an electrocution. And then the scriptwriter lost his temper and said "CGI-in WHAT? His glowing skeleton??" he said he was watching them as they shot the scene with M.M. getting electrocuted, and M.M. did a pretty good job of shaking and vibrating under the force of the make-believe electrical current. And maybe with the right sound effects it could work. But he was still angry they ruined his one gimmick in the script that was (to him) the whole point of the story.

(At this point, I dropped a comment in the blog where I said I have always found the "scarred villain" very intriging. In many stories, the villain gets injured in some permanent way by the hero, and then the villain becomes obsessed with revenge for the injury. It's been done many times and always plays well. Darth Vader, Lex Luthor, and the Joker all did it, and it just made their characters more intriguing. A chopped off hand is indeed a revenge-worthy injury, but an electrocution -- unless it fried his hand off--isn't permanent and not as revenge-worthy. I would have enjoyed seeing M.M. chasing after the heroine with a bloody stump for the remainder of the film.

And ... another comment I only just thought of today is that an electricution has a comical look/feel to it, somthighe himself pointed ot in his blog by making allusions to Wle E. Coyote. But there's nothing comical at all about an amputation. So I think they're risking an unintended laugh at what is supposed to be a critical moment of shock and horror for the movie--kinda like Nicolas Cage running through a forest in a bear suit.)


16) Another side note about M.M. is he brought his assitant along with him and it turns out M.M. doesn't memorize the script. Instead the assitant reads it aloud to him and M.M. rehearses with him right before each scene, and so M.M. only has bits and pieces of the actual plot in his head and commits almost nothing to memory.

17) Then he made a blog entry about "the friggin' secret" where he explained that the director is personally into a pseudo-spritual philosophical outlook called "the law of attraction" which he claims is the secret of all things. This director is "totally into the secret." He's all "secreted out." And via this film, the director wants to try and put forth his philosophical views of "the secret." He even had the scriptwriter do a rewrite several months back where an old man does a voice-over (either at the very beginning or the very end, I don't recall which) where he says: "You wanna know the secret? It's the law of attraction." The director insists that "the secret" will be the key to getting the movie into all the festivals and will be the selling point for it with distributors. The law of attraction is an idea about negative energy and positive engery, and how if you give off positive energy, you will get positive back again (and if you give negative energy, etc). So he's trying to sell the idea that M.M.'s character is a victim of his own negative energy, and the heroine will figure out the law of attraction by film's end (so the director is trying to make this into her character arc) and so, in the big showdown scene at the end, she will resolve to hand the gun back to M.M. again, because it really is his gun afterall, and so it's the right thing to do, and she'll be rewarded with positivity. Now last year, when the director first pitched this rewrite to the scriptwriter, he was aghast at that notion and protested "She'll just get rewarded with a positive bullet in her head if she does that!" But the director assured the scriptwriter it's the right way to go. So, back in late 2006 when all this "friggin' secret" stuff was being discussed is when the writer agreed to do the HUGE rewrite that involved his getting paid via a role in the film. Anyway, M.M. is talking to the director and the writer, and the writer watches as the director explains to M.M. that she gives the gun back to him. M.M. asks "What the hell does she do THAT for?" And the director answers: "Because of the secret." M.M. is still dumbfounded: "What secret?" And the director replies: "The law of attraction." And the scriptwriter just buries his face in his hands at that point. And M.M. is rendered speechless.

18) During the last half hour of their preciously short 2-day contract with M.M., the scriptwriter realized the director was leaving out a critical detail. So the writer had to RACE onto the set and rescue this last scene. M.M. was going to punch out on the time clock as 6 AM sharp, and if this scene wasn't done right, then three months from now a editor would be sitting in an editing suite utterly unable to reconcile his footage with the script. The critical detail was: M.M. needs to shoot this scene with the gun in his hands because she is supposed to give the gun back to him. Otherwise, the heroine ends the film by kiling an unarmed man (and we all know heroines can't do THAT!) He literally races onto the set to flag down the director and remind him that he needs to get this shot with M.M. holding the gun. And they did. And then the clock struck 6 AM and M.M. was gone. And the scriptwriter essentially saved the film. He and the director had a grumble-session where the director said "You need to TELL me these things!" To which the scriptwriter replied "I DID! I wrote you a NOTE! It's called the SCRIPT!"

(I posted a comment that it's not the writer's job to remind the director of which props belong where and in which scenes. It's the job of the script surpervisor and/or the continuity director.)






And then ... the next bog entry (yesterday) entitled "Busted" said that word had gotten out all over the internet on this scriptwriter's blog. That his now "somewhat famous" blog was being discussed over coffee back in LA by enough people in enough positions that it eventually leaked its way back to the set in Atlanta. So now all the cast and crew were looking at the blabbermouth scriptwriter with the infamous blog chronicalling the misadventurs of their little movie.

And then the NEXT blog entry he made (late yesterday afternoon, May 8, 2007)) he said that he had to take it all down. The whole chronical of the shoot needed to be kept cofidential. But he promised he didn't delete it, just made it invisible to the public.

I left a friendly comment. He sent me an equally friendly personal e-mail last night in response to my coment. And I can't wait to see what this guy does next.



And THAT is what I recall from the blog that is now gone.

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