FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
THE DA VINCI OMEN
A couple of years ago I saw INFRERNO, which bombed... and for good reason. There may be a tip on why it failed in the near future, but until then let's look at DA VINCI CODE and that long forgotten OMEN remake...
A few summers ago, Hollywood seemed to have found religion. Not the serious PASSION OF
THE CHRIST religion, but that religion you find in silly fun summer films filled with secret societies
and weird Biblical passages they forgot to teach you in Sunday school and underground passages and codes
and ancient devices and weird cults and albino monks that whip themselves and romance and mystery and
suspense and thrills. Movies like THE DAVINCI CODE and the remake of THE OMEN - which have a great deal
in common.... both seem to be lacking the fun stuff, and are completely lacking in mystery and suspense.
Whatever happened to competently crafted screenplays? How could two films filled with so much potential
end up so lifeless and.... boring?
Since both were big summer tent pole films, the writers were probably just following orders... but who
is giving these orders? And when do we get to kick them out of Hollywood?
THE OMEN seems to have been remake *only* to cash in on its release date. Though I'm pretty sure the
studio hired a new writer to update the film, the amount of rewriting was so minimal that the credit on the
film went to the writer of the original movie, David Seltzer. Makes you wonder why they didn't just re-release
the original. But studios have this theory that today's audience doesn't want to watch their father's OMEN,
they'd rather see a film with a hip, young cast and cutting edge MTV direction. The lesson they fail to learn
from these remakes is what a miracle *any* good movie is - it takes the perfect mix of perfect script and
perfect director and perfect cast. Many films manage one or two of these things, but when everything comes
together you have classic.
Gus Van Sant proved how critical *casting* was in his shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO. Frail, weak Anthony
Perkins is sympathetic as Norman Bates, hulking brutish Vince Vaughn is threatening even when he's supposed to
be sympathetic. Though casting this new version of THE OMEN young didn't screw up the story as much as I'd
feared, is anyone in the world rushing out to see Liev Shreiber? He's not a movie star, doesn't have the
sincere fatherly vibe that Gregory Peck brought to the role just by showing up, and... he doesn't have much
of an onscreen personality. No charisma. Julia Styles is more of a star, but didn't really bring much to the
role. Hard to forget Lee Remick's chain-smoking lush of a mother in the original. Supporting roles were well
cast, with Mia Farrow as a *brilliant* bit of stunt casting. I only wish she had said, "I see he has his
father's eyes" when she first meets Damien. The direction in the remake is flat and bland and often
completely mis-steps. As screenwriters, we can't pick our directors and can't pick our casts...
But we can make sure the script *works* and make sure the mystery and suspense is on the page
(for the cast and director to ignore). So let's focus on the story aspects of THE OMEN (2006).
BEEN THERE BEFORE
The main issue with the remake is that it's really slow going. A major reason for that is that the
mystery has been removed from the screenplay *twice*. The first time the mystery was removed is because
this is a remake. When I saw the original, I had no idea what was wrong with their kid. I knew it was a
horror film, but didn't know the kid was Satan's son until the father discovered it. That was an "Oh my God!"
moment. Seeing the remake (or even the original again) the mystery is removed - and that means the story
needs some touch up work to take care of that...
But instead, they did the exact *opposite* of what they should have done. Instead of speeding up the
beginning so we could get to the fun part where the kid is Satan's son faster, they actually *slowed down*
the opening. They give us a lengthy "Damien grows up" montage. Why do we need the montage? We know that
kids grow up! Get right to the birthday party hanging!
The second thing was adding a lengthy, clip-filled Vatican scene where they *tell us* that Satan's son
is going to be born at the beginning of the film. There goes the mystery! This also adds to problem #1,
lengthening the amount of dull stuff we get before the fun stuff can happen.
The film should have opened with the birth, then cut to the birthday party. We could have filled in any
character stuff we needed at the birthday party. Then I would have skipped the zoo and all of the minor
strange things about the kid and gone straight to that crazy priest (Pete Postlewaite). Let's face it,
we know the kid's evil! All of the time where the parents can't figure it out just makes them look stupid.
Another way to solve this problem would be to use *audience superiority* to create suspense. Get that
crazy priest in there right away, but make him *really crazy*. An obvious lunatic. He tells Thorn that his
son is Satan's spawn, but he's so crazy acting that Thorn doesn't believe him. Now *we* know that the crazy
priest is telling the truth, but Thorn and his wife completely disbelieve anything that lunatic says.
Now *we* see all of the clues to Damien being evil, but the parents just think he's "acting out" or maybe
has ADD or something. This would require that Damien be played *less evil*. That way we'd wonder a little
if the crazy priest really was crazy. The audience would know Damien was evil, but understand why the
parents wouldn't believe what the priest was saying. That gives us information the characters *don't*
have (audience superiority) and would create suspense. When the kid did little evil things, we'd freak out
while the parents accepted it. In some theaters, people would be yelling at the screen "That kid's evil!"
the way they yell "Don't go back in that house, the killer's there!" in dumb slasher movies.
We need to find some way to counter the audience's knowledge of the previous film.
NOT ENOUGH JUICE
The other reason why the remake is slow is because there's just less suspense. This is the same
problem that sinks DA VINCI CODE. When you make a thriller, you need to make sure it has thrills.
The biggest difference between the original OMEN and the remake is the complete lack of suspense.
The *best* scene in the remake is the slightly mishandled Razor Scooter On The Balcony scene. The cross-cutting
builds suspense, even though the choice of shots is clumsy at best. But at least they tried...
The rest of the movie seems to avoid suspense. It's easy for writers to think that the director
will come along and add all of that visual stuff, but if it ain't on the page it ain't on the stage.
We need to make sure the suspense scenes are in the script, and *work* to create suspense on the page.
I haven't read the remake version of the script, so for all I know the suspense is right there... and
the director ignored it. That happens. But we're responsible for what is on the page, so the suspense
needs to be there.
The new version spends more time on long leisurely overhead shots of cars driving on snowy country
roads than it does on suspense scenes!
In the original version of the Priest's death, the storm comes from nowhere and *chases him* - as if
the storm is out to get him. The storm isn't anywhere else except chasing him. The storm is the antagonist.
Having the storm chase him creates suspense - he can get away if he runs fast enough... if he can get to
*shelter* from the storm, he will survive. In an odd way, the storm is the *focus object* in the scene -
like the fraying piece of rope in those Indiana-Jones-must-cross-the-rope-bridge-before-it-collapses scenes.
Because the storm is *finite* he can outrun it... and that creates suspense.
In the remake, the storm is *everywhere* and not chasing him at all. Hence, no suspense at all.
Just a dude running in the rain.
The remake spends more time showing them getting to the graveyard than on the dog attack at the graveyard.
Sure they get caught on the fence trying to escape, but they really should have milked that and turned this
into a major set-piece (as it was in the original). As writers, it's our job to figure out how we're going
to make that scene exciting for a full five minutes (or whatever). If there's only one minute of suspense
on the page, there's only going to be one minute of suspense on screen.
Suspense is *stretching time* to the breaking point. You want the audience to be holding their breath until
it's over... and not be able to! We want the suspense to be unbearable... not something that's over in the
blink of an eye.
Sure - there were a couple of shock moments that acually made me jump, but as Hitchcock pointed out,
you can give the audinece a ten minute suspense scene but a shock is over in 10 seconds. So we have about
half a *minute* of entertaining stuff in a very long movie.
Creating a fantastic suspense sequence is *our job*.
The car chase at the end was dull - you could never tell if the cars were gaining, if the hero was escaping,
or what was happening. A large part of this is just poor direction - many shots showed the pursuing cars zooming
down the road with no reference to the car they are chasing. Hard to tell if they are getting closer if they're
the only cars we see. Though this may have been the fault of the director, if the *script* says "The police cars
are only twenty feet behind him" you'd have to shoot it in a way that we could see it was only twenty feet.
NOBODY THOUGHT OF THAT
The oddest thing about the OMEN remake is that they don't *explore* the characters. Aside from Julia Styles
counseling, no one seems to wonder if it's okay to kill a 5 year old kid? Or what to do about a kid who is
just plain evil? This would have been a great entry point to the story - we live in a world where kids *aren't*
cute anymore. There are spoiled brats. There are kids with anger disorders. There are kids with ADD. Half the
kids on the playground are on some sort of medication! This film could have explored that. And had the parents
questioning if they are responsible for the kid's evil. Whether it's genetic or environment, that evil stuff came
from somewhere. If you *are* responsible for your evil kid, is it fair to the kid to drive those seven daggers
into him? I mean, isn't it your fault as much as his? What is the movie *about*? What is the theme it is exploring?
Seems to be exploring nothing - which makes it disposable... and the audience sensed that and disposed of it! Movies
are about *people* and *tough moral or ethical decisions* and *exploring larger issues* which stick with the audience long
after the house lights have come up. When is it right to kill a kid? That seems to be ignored by the film!
The same lack of thought seemed to go into THE DA VINCI CODE. Though the film pretends to be about the idea
that Jesus got married and popped a kid or two, the script never really explores the idea of how that would change
the world. We know that the Vatican wants it kept secret, but the other side doesn't seem to want the information
to get out, too. This makes for a muddled and boring story because both sides seem to agree - so there's no
conflict (except one that's manufactured). Again we have a thriller without thrills and a mystery without
mystery... and a complete lack of suspense and character and theme. No story except the surface - nothing going on
I have to admit to being the only one on Earth who didn't read the book. I had read Brown's ANGELS & DEMONS
because I was up for that adaptation job a few years ago, and had no desire to ever read anything else by Brown.
But I suspect the script is faithful to every letter of the novel - I mean, why else would you write such a
NO PULSE - HE'S DEAD, JIM!
Pacing is the heartbeat of your screenplay. That heartbeat is the *regular* occurance of "juicy scenes" -
Those exciting scenes that we paid our $10 to see. In a comedy we want to laugh, so you need a big comedy scene
about every ten pages or so. In a horror movie you want to be scared, so you need a horror scene about every
ten pages or so - a regular heartbeat. The suspense scenes are the juice that keeps a thriller interesting and
exciting, and it's our job to create those scenes, but DA VINCI CODE seems to go out of its way to *avoid* suspense!
It seems like *hours* between suspense scenes - there are only a handful in the entire film. And the ones
we get are DULL! Between these scenes we get lots of really boring exposition and some historical flashbacks
that are just s entertaining as my high school history class... snooze! All the characters do is stand around
and explain things that we don't even understand after the explainations. This stuff just kills the story...
Once we get over the impossibility of a dying man running all over the Louvre writing complicated coded
messages in his own blood, we have our heroes Tom Hanks and Audrey Toutou trapped in the museum with the police
trying to find them. How do they escape? I don't know, they never showed it. Were there any close calls where the
police almost caught them? I don't know, they didn't show it. Instead, they showed the police searching a
garbage truck... while Hanks and Toutou escaped off screen.
In fact, almost all of the suspense in this film is off screen. I haven't been this angered by a script
since... okay, it was only a few weeks before that the big impossible mission in M:i:III happened completely
off screen. Without the suspense scenes on screen, this script is dead on arrival. No heart beat! If you wonder
why some films are slow and others are over before you know it (leaving you wanting more) it's all about
the pacing - the frequency of those juuicy genre scenes.
DA VINCI CODE claims to have a mystery, but it's all pretty obvious from the get-go and whenever we get one
of the puzzles we are not allowed to solve it. The information isn't shared with the audience at all, so we are
unable to *participate* in the solution. We just watch, bored, as Hanks solves it (or someone solves it for
him - he tends to be the most passive protagonist and possible the dumbest character ever put on screen).
Another suspense-avoidance scene is when the police are chasing the plane into the hanger. The plane barely gets
into the hanger before the police cars show up... and when the police search the plane both Hanks and Toutou
have *vanished*! After the police have left we get this novelistic flashback to show how they escaped. Problem
is - by then the *threat* of the police is over, so there is no suspense or excitement in showing that scene then.
The suspense and excitement comes in the actual escape - which was off camera (again).
Just for fun, compare DA VINCI CODE to some old people on the run film like NORTH BY NORTHWEST or THE 39 STEPS.
Count the suspense set pieces in NORTH BY NORTHWEST and see how they *milk* the suspense in the Cornfield Scene -
even before the crop duster attack! Notice how Lehman creates suspense situations, like when Grant is hiding in
the CLOSED upper berth while the police question Eva Marie Saint. Will those cops *ever* leave? There's a cool
bit of "situational suspense" in 39 STEPS where Robert Donat (wanted by the police) is handcuffed to his pretty
prisoner (a politician's daughter) and he has to check into a hotel for the night.... without the desk clerk
noticing the handcuffs, without his prisoner ratting him out, without the desk clerk thinking that he might be
the man who is wanted by the police. Those handcuffs make a great "focus object" - will the desk clerk see them?
This is a film filled with chases and scenes where the protagonist has to hide while dozens of policemen search
for him... And even a scene where they check into a hotel is filled with suspense! Compare that to the
never-ending suspense-avoiding running time of DA VINCI CODE. Where are the thrills? They didn't get
this stuff right in ANGELS & DEMONS... nor did they get it right in INFERNO! INFERNO has a scene where a woman with severe
fear of heights must walk on a narrow roof beam three or four storeys up... and they manage to make it *dull*!
Our job is to create the suspense - to make the our scripts have a "regular heartbeat" of big juicy suspense
scenes. Our job is to create the mystery and invent those cool plot twists that pull the viewer into the story
and keep surprising them... amking the film unpredicatable and fresh. Our job is to make sure our scripts are
JUICY. Somehow, both DA VINCI CODE and THE OMEN remake have forgotten how to do that. Don't *you* forget!
Make sure your thriller is overflowing with genuine thrills.
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*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!
*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
PRO DIALOGUE TECHNIQUES!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
Only $4.99 - and no postage!
Use your creative energy to focus on the content; let Final Draft take care of the style. Final Draft is the number-one selling application specifically designed for writing movie scripts, television episodics and stage plays. Its ease-of-use and time-saving features have attracted writers for almost two decades positioning Final Draft as the Professional Screenwriters Choice. Final Draft power users include Academy, Emmy and BAFTA award winning writers like Oliver Stone, Tom Hanks, Alan Ball, J.J. Abrams, James Cameron and more.
* * * Buy It!
E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING CDs
The NAKED SCREENWRITING CLASS ON CD!
The 2001 London Class on 8 CDs! Recorded *live* the morning after the Raindance Film Festival
wrapped. The two day class on 8CDs, plus a workbook, plus a bonus CD with PDFs.
The 2 Day Class on CD!
Every screenwriting book in the world!
In Association With Amazon.com
From the latest screenwriting book to
guides for finding agents and producers... all with at the
BOOKLETS & PRODUCTS
FIRST STRIKE BLUE BOOKS
Each Blue Book is 48
pages and focuses on a different aspect of screenwriting. Dialogue. Visual Storytelling. Your First Ten Pages. Act 2 Booster. Protagonists. Great Endings.
Seventeen Blue Books now available!
THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING The Best Nuts & Bolts Screenwriting Book On The
nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines,
several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
CLASSES ON CD
CLASSES ON CD! Take a class on CD! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 CDs). Full length classes on CD. Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on CD!