Issue #4

Emma Thompson and John Lithgow Triumph in Late Night          by Bill Sokolic

 

In Late Night, Oscar Winner Emma Thompson plays an aging talk show host whose rigid ways threaten to end her reign as the queen of that realm. Thompson plays the part as you’d expect, with a British chip on her shoulder. Her character, Katherine Newbury, uses tyrannical tactics to make up for her treatment as the only woman in an all-boys club. Even the entire writing staff is male as Katherine refuses to deal with hiring a woman. She’s also aloof, never meeting directly with her writers until the top exec threatens her job.

 

 

 

  Emma Thompson                                                                                                                  John Lithgow                

(Photos courtesy of Emily Aragones and Amazon Studios)                                                    (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons) 

“She’s intellectually superior, a bit snobby and she really doesn’t understand why the ratings are slipping,” Thompson, 60, explains. “In some ways she doesn’t care. She’s come to take her audience for granted. But things start to happen that wake her up, and Mindy’s character becomes the catalyst for changes.”

 

Faced with criticism from above, Katherine orders her staff to hire a woman writer, who turns out to be Mindy Kaling’s Molly Patel, someone devoid of any experience as a TV writer.

“When I pictured Katherine, I always saw Emma playing her,” screenwriter Kaling says. “She has been such an enormous influence on me. I think of it almost as a love story between two women of different generations who have the same passions: comedy and television, two venues that have not been very kind to women, and both characters are a bit like me.”

John Lithgow, 73, in a co-starring role, is admirable as a husband whose medical issues have impacted both his professional life and his personal.

Lithgow plays Walter Laval, a retired manager of A-list comedians, who has been married to Katherine since before she landed the late night show. “It’s a wonderful portrait of a long, successful marriage,” says the actor. “Katherine is a piece of work and certainly a bit of a dictator, but when she’s with Walter, she’s a completely different person. My role in the film is to give her a relationship that reveals a different side of her character. That really drew me to the role.”

Issue #3

Three Geezers Join Forces To Save the Elephant in the (Circus)     by Bill Sokolic

 

 

After 26 years, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito reunited with their Batman Returns director Tim Burton in Disney’s latest spin-off version of their classic film, Dumbo. DeVito plays Max Medici, the owner of a rundown circus, and Keaton as the entrepreneur V.A. Vandervere, who takes an interest in the elephant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 All photos courtesy of Creative Commons                                                                                                                                          

 

Unlike Batman Returns, DeVito, 74, plays the good guy, and Keaton, 71, the bad guy, according to a piece in the March 21 edition of Entertainment Weekly, authored by Chancellor Agard. “It was really great,” DeVito says. “When [Burton] called and said he was going to do this, it’s a joyful thing. I know I’m going to be there. Oh man, it’s so good to be with your friends. It’s just cool to be on the set with them. Michael and I worked on Johnny Dangerously years ago together, and we’ve been friends since then. He is one of the sweetest guys on the planet.”

 

In an interview for the Dumbo production, Burton, 60, says he and Keaton pick up “right where we left off with Batman Returns and Beetlejuice. He’s a live wire, improvisational and exciting to work with. I really like that.”


For his part, Keaton relished working with Burton again. “I’m not looking to go to work. Making movies is hard. But I’ve yet to have a bad experience working with Tim,” he says in the interview.

 

DeVito and Rhea Perlman separated a second time two years ago. Perlman, 71, costars with Diane Keaton in Poms. The pair has three children, all in their 30s. The eldest, Lucy DeVito, has a small role in Dumbo. Lucy also has a part in Curmudgeons, a short comedy directed by and starring her father, about a pair of senior citizens who have a relationship that shocks both their families.

 

Dumbo, DeVito says in a March 22 "People Magazine" article written by Alexia Fernandez

and Kara Warner, “captures how people push away from something different. And then

also the idea of figuring out how to conquer the fears and insecurities that we have in life.”

 

In addition to his role as Frank Reynolds in the long running series, It's Always Sunny in

Philadelphia, DeVito has a handful of other films underway or in post-production.

 

Keaton is also a busy performer with several projects in various stages including a director stint.

 

 

 

 

                   

                                                                    All photos courtesy of Creative Commons       

Issue #2

Orson's Last Gamble by Bill Sokolic 

It took 48 years and a ton of backroom wheeling and dealing, but the old sorcerer finally gets his last film up on the little screen.

Origin Story

Call it an old school hologram in which the deceased shine anew. Orson Welles’

latest film, The Other Side of the Wind, premiered in August, 2018 at the 75th

Venice International Film Festival almost 50 years after shooting began. Netflix

released the film November 2, capping a tortuous route to the screen, following

decades of reshoots, financial hurdles, legal battles and the death of the filmmaker

himself in 1985 at age 70.

 

According to Huffington Post's Nov. 2 article by Oliver Whitney, the story began in

1969 when Welles was in Mexico acting in Mike Nichols Catch-22. Peter

Bogdanovich,then working as a critic, arrived to interview Welles for the American

Film Institute. Bogdanovich mentioned that director John Ford was struggling to get

work. Upset by that prospect, Welles set out to do a movie about how difficult it is

for older filmmakers to carry on with their profession.

                                                                                                                                            Photo courtesy of Netflix

“I didn’t sleep last night thinking about what you told me about Ford,” Welles told Bogdanovich. “I’ve got this movie about an aging macho film director and a young filmmaker. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I’m gonna do it next.” This would be his grand return to Hollywood after a decade in Europe.

Lost money, The Shah of Iran, and Porn

Styled as an unorthodox mockumentary, The Other Side of the Wind, follows Jake Hannaford, an acclaimed director, played by John Huston. Hannaford scrambles to finance his next picture. Meanwhile, a younger director, played by Bogdanovich, comes along. The movie hops between Jake’s 70th birthday party — shown in a collage of footage shot by a crew of fake news reporters — and Jake’s movie-within-the-movie, Welles’ satire of ’70s art house cinema. But reality began mirroring Wind, the article said. Just as Jake encountered countless hitches in making his movie, Welles faced a series of complications. He repeatedly lost funding. An unexpected tax bill from the U.S. government and an alleged embezzlement scam on set derailed finances further. A spotty money arrangement with the brother-in-law of the Shah of Iran compounded the situation. As the shoot stretched on, Welles couldn’t pay the crew, so his cinematographer, Gary Graver, was forced to work on adult films to pay the bills. Welles even helped Graver by editing a lesbian sex scene in the 1975 porn film 3 A.M.

 

Ownership problems and 100 hours of footage

Production shut down so many times it took the crew six years to complete principal

photography. Throughout the mid-’70s and early ’80s, Welles wrestled over the rights

to the original negative in a complex ownership dispute. He continued to edit his work

print of the movie until 1983. When he died in 1985, messy legal disputes raged on.

The film’s three beneficiaries, including Welles’ daughter Beatrice Welles, failed to

reach an agreement over the copyright, and for the next three decades Bogdanovich,

original Wind producer Frank Marshall, and Polish producer Filip Jan Rymsza fought       Photo courtesy of Pixabay

to get their hands on the negative. Finally, in March 2017, Marshall and Rymsza acquired the original print totaling over 1,000 reels of film and 100 hours of footage, Whitney wrote. That’s when the daunting task of reconstructing a 40-year-old movie without its director began.

 

“It was like dredging up the Titanic,” post supervisor Ruth Hasty explains in the behind-the-scenes featurette Netflix created, A Final Cut for Orson.

 

The final story emerges

Welles had edited roughly 45 minutes of the footage before he died, so editor Bob Murawski, who helped restore the film, had a template for pace and style. “There was enough material Orson cut to give us a pretty good indication of what [he] had in mind for the whole picture,” Bogdanovich told Whitney. They also had his script, script notes and Bogdanovich and Marshall’s memories from being on set.

 

Marshall says the controversy worked to the producers’ advantage, giving them more time to make last-minute tweaks. “Maybe it was meant to be that it took this long,” he said.

 

The Other Side of the Wind is getting a limited theatrical run, but most audiences will experience Welles’ final film in the same place they binge shows like House of Cards. Netflix will be the primary purveyor of Welles’ extended legacy. It will preserve the 48-year-old movie, making it accessible to more people than Welles could have ever imagined, some of whom could care less what “Rosebud” means.

 

“People who don’t know pictures are going to say, ’What else did this guy make? He’s pretty good!’” Bogdanovich told the HuffPost.

                                                                   

                                                                                                                       

John Huston, Orson Welles, and                                                                           Photos courtesy of Netflix                Peter Bogdanovich enjoy a laugh after

shooting a scene from The Other Side of the Wind

Issue #1

Log for Redbone by Ned Eckhardt 

A writer's first script and the strange twists and turns that followed

 

Origin Story

The idea came to me in 2003 at the ripe old age of sixty-three. Up to that point I’d been

teaching TV and Film production courses at Rowan University in southern New Jersey.

That particular semester I was teaching a TV Pilot writing course that demanded the

students get an original idea for a Movie of the Week (MOW), then write a step outline,

treatment, and complete script for it. By that time I had probably read over three hundred

scripts in my lifetime and I was always amazed how every semester there would be two

or three really good ideas and scripts. So I finally said, what about me?!

 

So, I wrote along with the students and started to develop the conflicts, characters, and

actions for my first feature film. The students knew I was writing along with them and one

class they asked to read my 10-page Treatment. I made copies and they read it and responded with a lot of interesting, helpful feedback. I am eternally grateful for their honest opinions. And believe me a lot of it was negative. But they were enthusiastic and into it, and I used a lot of their ideas.Then for the next twelve years I thought about the story and would jot down notes. The story was evolving into a complex one, and pushing the large cast through their story arcs was challenging. The title of the story was Redbone.

Final prep

When I retired in 2015, we moved to a new state, and I told myself NOW is the time to write the feature film script for Redbone. I had my Step Outline, Treatment, and notes. It was definitely time to do the deed. I had never written a narrative script before, so buying the scriptwriting program, Final Draft,  was important. Final Draft is so intuitive that almost all of your script formatting is built into the program. Start up is a little bumpy, but it passes quickly and you can concentrate on telling your story.  https://store.finaldraft.com

Using my own life and experiences

The origins of many of my characters, conflicts, and actions were drawn from my personal experiences. That was probably the biggest thrill for me. To weave my own life into the strange, exciting world of Redbone was a blast. Here is the Longline for Redbone. It gives a bare bones overview of the story.

 

A charismatic, mixed-race singer-songwriter with a haunting voice and a terrible secret has been chosen to star in a music documentary series pilot. The lead camera on the documentary crew discovers she has a tragic link to his past and plots a deadly revenge. As the action takes the crew through rural performance venues and a triumphant concert something goes terribly wrong with her plan.

 

When I was in college I sang for four years in an a capella group called the Colgate 13. We sang a wide variety       of songs and travelled a lot. With a repertoire of over sixty songs we sang for a wide variety of audiences. I was a baritone and a blender. Very few solos. But I loved being part of a group that brought so much joy to people. So music became an essential element in Redbone. I love Americana Music and decided  that would be the genre of music in the film. Americana music is often the music of the lonely and lost. It's a mix of country, blues, soul, folk, and rockabilly. The male lead, Ben Nighthawk, sings in the Americana style as he tries to overcome the tragedies of his life.

Early in the writing I decided to take a shot at creating the lyrics to six songs that I envisioned Ben Nighthawk singing during the film. The lyrics followed the action and moods of the story, not unlike the songs in the film Crazy Heart. Writing lyrics in a poetic form was new for me, and my son-in-law, Worth Wagers, was nice enough to compose music to go with the lyrics. He recorded the songs with a simple guitar accompaniment and they captured beautifully the complicated, tragic lives of Ben Nighthawk and Francine Olsen.

 

I am also a documentary filmmaker. Over the years I’ve made fifteen docs, and I’ve always found it fascinating how documentary crews bond when they are on the road with their subjects. The isolation of being on a crew, working fourteen hours a day, living in motels, eating pick-up meals, and trying to stay fresh as the days pile up creates a unique environment. What if something went wrong? So, a documentary crew on the road was a good setting for a tragic drama. Three of my crew members are based on real production people I’ve worked with over the years.

 

The New York City suits who try to run things from afar, but only end up creating problems are based on people I met while I was in my twenties and living in New York and struggling to be a TV writer. It’s a harsh world and very insular. A complete opposite of the freewheeling documentary crew's world. The conflict of the two cultures plays a big role in the story.

Sex gone wrong

There are also sexual predators in Redbone. In the US we have been going through terrible times as more and more examples of sexual abuse and harassment are discovered almost every day. In 2013 I received a large grant to have students make short documentaries that addressed sexual assaults on college campuses. This was a two year project and the research the students did resulted in an alarming truth: there is an epidemic of sexual assaults in the age group of 17 - 24. The project was called Pact5, and the website  pact5.org  explains the project in great detail. I wanted Redbone to show how a sexual predator operates and how he can be punished by his victims.

Native American tragedy

My daughter attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis during the years 1995 - 2000. We visited her often and when we would be hiking the trails around Lake Superior I became aware of the Ojibwe Indian Reservation outside of Duluth. In 1978 I had visited a Papago Indian Reservation south of Tucson while we were visiting friends. The wife worked on the Reservation as the Librarian, and she took us to work and showed us the school. It was a bleak and sad experience. Alcohol, drugs, and hopelessness had gutted so many lives. Twenty-two years later, the Ojibwes were still not much better off. I wanted the male lead to be a mixed-race Native American who was trying to use music to pull out of a downward spiral.

Revenge is never easy

The lead female character, Francine Olsen, has to struggle with avenging the death

of her older sister. In the 1980s I worked as a Producer at WCAU-TV, Channel 10,

the CBS TV Station in Philadelphia with a camera operator named Francine. She

became a hero when she risked her life to get footage of the tragic Move bombing

and shootout in 1985. She was a brave and singular woman.

 

So those are the origin stories of the characters and worlds of Redbone. 

Life lessons. Use them!

A great advantage older writers have is their wealth of experiences. There is no way I could have written Redbone in my twenties, thirties, or forties. Being able to weave my passions into the story allowed me to write with authority about life. It takes some distance and understanding to write a story that appeals to a wide audience. The cast in Redbone is layered. The ages range from eight to sixty-five.

Influences

Finally, Redbone is a loose retelling of Hamlet. Francine is the Hamlet character, and she struggles to kill the man who killed her sister. Instead of soliloquies, Francine records her thoughts on her cell phone as she draws closer and closer to the final resolution. There are also elements of the revenge novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The films Crazy Heart, Walk the Line, and I Saw the Light: The Hank Williams Story also impacted my storytelling.

Timeline

It took me three months to write the first draft. I finished in the spring of 2016. It was 140 pages. My plan was to enter it into film festivals, pay for coverage feedback for rewrites, then sell it. I created a website that explains the story, characters, tone, and aesthetic.  The songs and lyrics are also there.  redbonescript.com

On a whim I entered the script in the Woodshole Film Festival in the Drama category. And by some gift of the gods Redbone won Best Drama Script. Unbelievable. Next I entered the Canadian Diversity Film Festival and won best Script there. I was on cloud Nine and thinking I really had something. Then I was rejected by fifteen straight film festivals and I realized I had a lot more work to do. 

 

I did six revisions using feedback from the Festivals and the coverage companies.

I got another win during the winter of 2017 at the London International Filmmakers

Festival. By then I had done nine revisions and thought Redbone was about as good

as I could get it at 117 pages. I joined InkTip, a website and community for writers and

posted my scrips there. As of this writing (Summer 2018) Redbone has had thirteen

revisions and still no sale or development deal.

 

But I have faith and time. It is a weird irony: as a geezer I have plenty of time, while 

most folks who work in the Film-TV industries never have enough time. My next move

is to get an agent who can access companies I can’t. And my fingers are optimistically

crossed. It has been such a blast, and being retired I’ve got the time to plan my strategies

and write my next screenplay!