Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Movies

Reading Alien part II

It was unique to me to see how both O’Bannon and Hill-Giler set up the tension (I think almost all of it was O’Bannon in the original script).
The Nostromo (originally the Snark) has only so much in terms of food, oxygen, and water. The reason is – it’s a sleeper ship. The supplies are enough for them to get the ship on course, go to sleep, do the mining, get it back on course, go to sleep, then wake up at home, very rich.
There’s a time element to the movie. What happens if they don’t get the alien on time? They die from lack of oxygen.
There’s also the element of the Alien. They can’t kill him – he has highly concentrated acid for blood.
And very quickly in the script, the Alien breaks into the food stores locker and eats their food. I kind of missed that part in the movie theater, but it’s in there.
Captain Dallas is killed, and only he has the code to unlock the computer. Supposedly.
In the shooting script, Ash is getting more and more secretive as it goes along, and now you’re getting tense, wondering what he’s up to.
Plus, they have to get the Alien before he kills all of them.
In both scripts, there’s an incident where the airlock is opened, and something blocks it open. In the first script, it’s the body of a crew member crushed by the door. In the shooting script, it’s an air cylinder.
Now they have much less oxygen – less than twelve hours. Times running out… and they’re running out of crew. It’s the “three little indians” scenario – they’ve got to get the monster, and as more people die, everyone begins counting on someone else to die so it buys them more time.
And Ash goes wild and tries to kill them, after Ripley uses the data key and figures out the code. THe computer tells her Ash is protecting the alien, so now they have to fight a robot.
Ripley hears the last of them killed, finds Dallas, but he’s about to release another alien. She kills him, and now has to hurry onto the lifeboat.
And the Alien is on it.
No wonder the movie was a hit.

Why did I stop to read a script that is 38 years old? Because Karl Iglesias recommended it in one of his books! Apparently, the narrative stacking method pioneered in that Script (or at least made famous by it) is now the preferred method by Script Readers. And whatever makes Script readers happy… gets you sold!

And out of your day job.

Reading Alien

Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon, and was truly an interesting script, To compare O’Bannon’s version with the later shooting script. I’d love to read the making of story of that script, to see what happened.
Most of us know the Alien, and what it looks like. In O’Bannon’s story, it had long tentacles and six legs. The Tentacles had almost no role in the story until the ending.
O’Bannon’s story was originally written as “Star Creature”, and had a crew of 5 men. Much of the movie was the same, including huge chunks of dialogue that remained the same. The interesting thing about it was the script had in the middle of it drawings to show certain things that apparently had a lot of interest to O’Bannon, such as the “data Stick”, a combination flashlight/video recorder. Interestingly, O’Bannon was trying to posit a degeneration of mankind in the midst of advancement – Mankind now has an interstellar empire, and is traveling at high speeds throughout the cosmos, but the word Earth has degenerated into Irth.
As a tribute to O’Bannon’s visions, the lifeboat used at the end of the movie is almost exactly the same as O’Bannon’s sketch in the script.
However, there were some changes made by the time of the time of shooting. They brought in another Script Writer to re-do the script, and many things changed. The crew now has seven people,two of them female, and one of whom is a robot (Later revealed to be a Cyberdyne A-7, the same company who made the Terminator, and a robot in the sequel, played by one of my favorite actors, Lance Henrickson makes the ironic comment that the A-7’s were a bit “twitchy”). Cat is renamed “Jones”, and has much more of a story than in O’Bannon’s script.
Stop for a minute, and imagine that negotiation. “We’d like the cat to have more of a movie role.” “Uhhhhh….” However, the studio was right, and Jones gets more of a role than the three scenes he has in the original.
The Strange Pyramid is gone in the shooting script, placing everything into the Alien Ship. The Hieroglyphics are now gone in the shooting script, and Computer (now called “Mother”) does not interpret the distress signal, it is Ripley who does it – against Ash’s instructions. She discovers it is a warning, but we’re never treated to the extent of the warning we get from O’Bannon – he goes so far as to translate three phrases.
In O’Bannon’s script, they take the head of the alien astronaut, and it is nicknamed “Yoric”. Bannon quotes from both Shakespeare in his script, and also from the classic poem “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.
In the shooting script, I can’t find any mention to the Data Stick, and it is somewhat more bulky and NASA looking in the movie.In many ways it is exactly the same movie, BUT…
Here’s the big parts…
The Alien does not eat the crew in the shooting script.
And in the Walter Hill-David Giler re-write, the script does something unusual. I don’t know if this is the first shooting script to use this technique, but it’s amazing.
Lines of narration.
Flowing in short chunks.
Forcing you to read faster.
To find out what’s happening.
Each line of five words or less a new scene
Fast edit
Fast action.

Wow.

Like this… actual scene…
Still puffing, he releases his purchase on the stone walls.
Begins to lower himself on power.
Now Kane is dangling free in darkness.
Spinning slowly on the wire as the chest unit unwinds.
Then his feet hit bottom.
Kane grunts in surprise, almost loses his balance.
He flashes his suit lights.
The beams reveal that he is in a large hold.
Row after row of extrusions stretch from floor to ceiling.

See how that forces you to read it? You don’t want to stop!
I kinda like that. See you all later, have to re-write my scripts

Good to Have a Good Producer

When you’ve got a good producer, things are great. I’ve never worked with a bad one, so don’t know what it’s like.
My producer will listen to any wide-eyed idea I get, and will politely say, “That’s interesting!” Kind of like.. this.
“We’ll have a herd of ninjas riding on Great White Sharks coming to the rescue! In a hailstorm!”
“That’s an interesting idea! Let’s put that one off for a while till we’re done with this project, and we’ll come back to it!”
And will promptly forget the dumb ones, so that by the time I realize it was dumb, he never brings it up again.
“remember the ninjas on great white sharks idea?”
“um… no!”
“Good!”
Mike also never says “No”. He just gently tries to steer me back onto the right path of how he wants the movie to go.
It must be TOUGH to work with a hyperactive script writer!
Off to get more coffee!

Filming your own indie pt. 2

This is kind of a part 2 on what I’ve written on it. For many people, this is kind of the only way you’ll see your script made into a movie. I’m somewhat interested in being part of this, because I’m sure that by getting OUT of the bubble that is my office and DEALING with actors, directors, etc, I’ll get an education on what in my script works, and what doesn’t.
So. The first step to doing an indie is lights, microphones, and cameras.
LIghting takes its own study, as I said last time. Direct lighting creates shadows. So you need another light to remove the shadows. To prevent the Spot phenomenon, you use flood fill lighting, created by something flat or curved (no kidding, you can use spray adhesive, aluminium foil and an umbrella – or even just some poster board with foil glued on it). Aim a light at the bounce, and now you get a glow. that fills. You need this, because dark = grainy.
Microphones – I talked a lot about that last time. Omnidirectional is the usual way to go. Now, I know what’s going to happen is that most of you are going to use ONE CAMERA as your central camera, connect the microphone to that. That’s a good plan for editing purposes. cueing video to audio can be a pain. If one camera is your main, then you’re good to go.
Cameras… no kidding, you can use an iPhone, I’ve been told. Apparently they have really good cameras in them. My cell phone is really cheap, so the camera is grainy and terrible. I guess I should pay more than $9 for a phone. But hey, Android 4.3 was good, so why move up? Don’t laugh at me.
Real stand alone cameras are expensive. You want a 1080i camera, because if you ever do get it played in a theater, it’s the minimum standard. something filmed on an iPhone looks great on Youtube, but if you try to submit it to Sundance, I’m assuming it’s going to look like you filmed it on an iPhone.
I was able to find a 1080i camera in 60 seconds of internet search for $699. Two of those is a lot of money (hey, ONE of those is a lot of money). So look into the AV department of colleges with film classes, and see if you can make some kind of deal with the AV class – borrow the students and the cameras, and yabba dabba doo, you’ve got film crew and equipment.
editing – here’s the part I love. I’ve done editing, and it’s terribly fun, and terribly boring. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve done it. It’s boring when you’ve got a LOT of source material. I used Ulead Video Studio once to edit something, and I was literally able to (on Win XP) make a seven minute video with it. VERY difficult, as the frame rate was professional quality, and the computer had insufficient processor and memory. I poked at the last 30 seconds over and over again, as the video/audio sync kept dropping and dropping.
Someone gave me Vegas later, except the serial number is good for one machine. If you emigrate it to another machine later… you had to call them and get another serial number, so that didn’t work. Sony Vegas remained to me, the best video editing program.
Currently, I’ve poked around with some. Lightworks is really good, but a steep learning curve. I prefer linear editing to non-linear, and all the best ones are non-linear. I found one editor that had a one day “It’s free, grab it” and I grabbed it. The price the next day was $799 for it! AAAUGH!
My producer likes the Adobe software, which is subscription. I think there’s a lot to be said for subscription software, except that you have this at $9.95 a month and that, and soon you’re paying $4,500 a month in subscription based software. I do have to say – his adobe software (not sure which one) does REALLY good work. The demo reels for our project were awe-inspiring.

Filming an Indie

Filming an indie film. Man, what a drag. I’ve never done it, but I’ve been part of the plans for it. Worst case scenario – one cheap camcorder, hand-held, no microphones, no lights.

I don’t care how you edit it, it’s going to be bad.

I’ve been told people film movies with iPhones and a selfie stick.

If you want an indie movie to be good, you need good cameras. If you can get good visuals out of an iPhone, go ahead!

But make sure the lighting is good. There’s all different kinds of ways to light a scene. If interested, do a study on it.

If you’re going to film something and haven’t studied lighting, stop now. If you want something that’s for your family and friends to laugh over, go ahead. Otherwise, study lighting.

The only way to get good sound is to use microphones. You need two booms, one mic stand. Position the microphone ABOVE and BETWEEN the actors. People towards the back of the room will have to go back and dub their voices if all you have is one mic and no mixer.

Microphone – omni-directional. You need to buy an omni-directional microphone, preferably with a wind screen. Otherwise, every time there’s a puff of wind, it’ll obscure the dialogue. How do you buy an omnidirectional microphone? simple. Go to a website and look at “omnidirectional microphones”. Be aware most of them are low impedance, meaning you’ll need a DI box to transform them from Low impedance (XLR connector) to high impedance (phone jack).

video editing. you need a good video editing program, like Lightworks. some people use Adobe now. The standard was Vegas for years… apparently, when Sony sold Vegas they took out features. Not very good.

Now for the hard part. The filming itself. There are blank templates for storyboarding. You need a call sheet listing shots and locations. And you need a film board, with each scene clearly labeled on it. Use the scene #’s from the script. “24A, Ryan shoots Philip. Take six.”

That labels the scene for the director and the editor

Plan, plan, plan. There’s a lot of expensive software available through the Writers’ Store to plan and execute movie filming.

The less work you put into it, the worse it will be. The more, the better. Unfortunately, the more it costs, the better it is. Yes, there has been indie movies made for very little money. But that takes a talented director and producer. Count on it costing you some money. If you don’t have it, you’ll have to crowdsource it or gofundme.

If you’re an Actor…

If you’re an actor, first, let’s work on your craft. Get acting lessons.

You need to watch a lot of old movies. Take notes. How did Charlton Heston portray anger? Jealousy? Sadness?

How did Cary Grant do it? How did John Wayne do it? Don’t laugh about the Duke… watching the Searchers with my father will show you the Duke was actually a better actor than we give him credit for.

Okay, next…

Go to the shooting range. Learn to shoot.

You’re going to shoot 100 rounds a week for a year. Until you learn not to BLINK.

Frustrating for me to see an actor portray a soldier and see that soldier BLINK while shooting.

Why’s that bad? Blink = miss.

As your eyes close, your arms involuntarily pull in slightly. Hold something in both arms, arms out, extended, elbows lock. As you blink, you’ll either begin to bring it to your chest, or you’ll slowly dip your hands down.

If I was the camera director of “We were soldiers”, I’d have called “CUT”, and re-filmed one scene. Mel Gibson loads his gun, fires, and blinks. The first two rounds would have missed, and yet we see the enemy soldier drop at his feet.

And last night I was watching “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and saw one scene were Eastwood blinks shooting.

Most war movies call Dale Dye and have him put everyone through a two week boot camp. really, not enough. They need a week shooting real guns at real targets. DO NOT BLINK.

The only way to fix the blink is TOT – Time on Trigger.

If you think you’ll EVER play a character that shoots a gun, you’ll need to go and spend a year shooting. And you better believe, that should be on your acting resume. “Can shoot a gun accurately without blinking.”

If that’s on your resume, you’ll sooner or later end up in a movie like Band of Brothers or We Were Soldiers. That’s a career making role.

Learn to act. Learn to shoot, men AND women – because odds are good you’re going to shoot a gun in a movie at least once. And for crying out loud, approach movie watching like you’re a Monday Morning quarterback. take NOTES on what’s good acting. Watch a LOT of good acting.

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