How many horror films have we seen where the teens think there may be a crazed killer hiding in a dark house... so they go to investigate? How many times have those same teens not locked the door or not grabed a weapon or not phoned the police... things that anyone with an IQ over 50 would have done in a heartbeat? Do you respect any of these characters? Do you care about them? Or are they so dumb you figure they're getting what they deserve? I find it hard to care about really stupid characters. I'm not talking about Forest Gump or Chance The Gardner, they follow their hearts and do really smart things that I wish I had the guts to do, I'm talking about characters who do dumb things... usually to help the plot. Those characters insult the audience.

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After THE LONE RANGER flopped, I thought it'd be perfect timing to look at the last Weird Western to hit movie screens that did not involve aliens, Ron Howard's THE MISSING - a strange mix of horror and western genres. I don't think we've seen a horror-western since BILLY THE KID VS DRACULA back in 1966. I was hoping THE MISSING would be a hit because *I* have a horror-western called DESERT OF BLOOD about the ghost of massacred Indians who get their revenge, but despite a great cast and a really spooky first act, THE MISSING was a mis-fire...

Why didn't it connect with the audience in the theaters? I suspect because the characters did really stupid things, and we lost respect for them.

THE MISSING is about a widow (Cate Blanchett) raising her two daughters in the rugged west. When her oldest daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) is kidnaped by an evil Indian witch (Eric Schweig), she turns to her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) for help. Jones skipped out on the family years ago and has lived among the Indians, working as a tracker and game hunter. He instantly discovers that the Evil Indian (probably the ugliest guy you've ever seen on screen) is a white slaver who kidnaps young women and takes them across the border to sell them (because everybody knows Mexicans want to rape white women). Even if you didn't find that plot offensive, you'll probably have trouble with what happens next...

Jones, Blanchett and youngest daughter (Jenna Boyd - the best thing in the movie) ride to the rescue, and stumble across the Cavalry, lead by Val Kilmer. When they tell Kilmer exactly where the Evil Indian is going and ask for help, Kilmer tells them that although his mission is to capture the Evil Indian, his orders are to look in the exact opposite direction so he'll be unable to help them. Is Kilmer stupid? He could fulfil his mission and be a hero if he ignored these silly orders. And Kilmer's character is shown to be a stickler for orders - his men are looting the house of a massacred family as he tells Jones and Blanchett this. What we have here is a character who does a stupid thing in order to help the plot. If Kilmer and the Cavalry decided to help Blanchett and Jones they could easily capture the Evil Indian and save Evan Rachel Wood... and the movie would be over.


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One question I kept asking myself throughout the movie was: Why rescue Evan Rachel Wood in the first place? She's introduced as a vain, stupid character who is obsessed with fashion... even though she lives on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. When she and hunky ranch hand (Aaron Eckhart) go out to brand cattle, she dresses as if she's going to a party. She's a difficult character to care about, and when you find out the circumstances surrounding her kidnap by the Evil Indian they're a lot like those dopey teens who wander into the house because they heard there was a crazed killer living there.

Once captured she manages to do one ill-advised thing after another. If I were ever captured by an Evil Indian I wouldn't complain so much that he begins to consider killing you and finding another young white woman to kidnap in your place. It's one thing for Holly McClain to moth off to Hans Gruber - she is the leader of the hostages and if Hans wants to keep the hostages under control he must deal with her... But when you complain in excess of your value you are pushing your luck. Evan Rachel Wood keeps pushing her luck with the Evil Indian, and you begin to wonder why he doesn't just kill her... and why she never realizes that he could easily kill her.


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Which brings us to the Evil Indian - the dumbest character in the movie. Hitchcock said the better the villain the better the movie, and I think that also means the dumber the villain the dumber the movie. In this case, we've got a pretty dumb movie.

For reasons never explained the Evil Indian kidnaps a photographer and forces him to document the entire white slavery / killing and looting spree. There's photographic evidence of all of the bad things the Evil Indian and his band of Other Evil Dudes have done! Now, anyone who watches The Tonight Show on Monday nights has laughed at the Headlines stories about stupid criminals who videotape their crimes and leave the tape where the police can find it. Smart criminals don't videotape their crimes.

So we already think the Evil Indian is a moron because he's had this photographer document his crime spree... then the Evil Indian wigs out and kills the photographer for no apparent reason, and leaves behind all of the photos.

Of course, Jones and Blanchett find the dead photographer and all of the photos and this helps them find the Evil Indian.

But wait, you say, the Evil Indian is days ahead of them! How can an old dude, a woman and a kid who constantly has to stop and rest possibly catch up with him?

Did I mention this villain was stupid?

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After the kidnaped daughter does something incredibly stupid that results in the death of one of the other kidnaped girls (Elizabeth Moss, who plays the lead on HANDMAID'S TALE), the Evil Indian decides to hang around and kidnap a replacement. Why? Because he wants to sell *exactly* seven women. The excuse given for this arbitrary number is that the Evil Indian is superstitious, but it sure makes it easier for Jones and Blanchett to catch up with them.

Later in the film the Evil Indian casts a spell on Blanchett which leaves her fevered and unable to ride. Jones, Blanchett and Boyd make camp for several days until the fever breaks. Do you think the Evil Indian uses this to his advantage and takes his kidnaped girls across the border to Mexico to sell them? Nope. We're told early on that if he gets Evan Rachel Wood across the border, they will never be able to find her. This has been the driving force that has kept them riding, the reason why they had to go instead of waiting for the cavalry to get new orders. So now our heroes are forced to stop while Blanchett recovers, and the Evil Indian is less than a day's ride from the border...

And the Evil Indian decides to change his plans and NOT go across the border, but ride across the border with is best men to get the Mexican buyers and bring them back to his camp. At this point in the story the Evil Indian KNOWS he's being pursued by Jones and Blanchett (that's why he cast the spell on her)... but he changes his plan to make it easier for them to catch him! Why would he do that? No reason is ever given - it's just something dumb the villain does that makes it easier for the heroes to catch up with him. How stupid can you get?


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Oh, I should mention that spell on Cate Blanchett. How did the Evil Indian cast a spell on her? Well, after being told that they can't let the Evil Indian find a single strand of their hair, because he can use that to cast a spell on them, they leave a hairbrush behind. When this happens, you want to yell at the screen. After being warned of this very thing, they do it anyway? How stupid are these people?

While the Evil Indian and his best men are away from camp to get the buyers from Mexico, Jones decides to rescue the daughter with some help from an Indian friend.

So here's the scenario: The daughter is bound and gagged in a cave with the other kidnaped girls. She is not comfortable and has not been treated well. A stranger sneaks into the cave, puts his finger to his lips - the bad guys are outside, cuts the ropes binding her, removes the gag from her mouth, gestures for her to quietly follow him. She is free! If you were the daughter, what would you do?

The daughter screams at the top of her lungs. Alerting the other bad guys who come in and kill her rescuer, rebind and gag the daughter.

I can't figure out why she would do that, except to create a situation where Blanchett is left without any help and must go in and rescue her daughter alone. Even if the person rescuing you is a complete stranger, you don't scream at the top of your lungs - that's just stupid!


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Instead of making the characters CLEVER enough to figure out solutions to the problems, the writer made the characters so stupid that any moron could solve the problems. It's easier to have characters make stupid mistakes to make plotting easier than it is to think through the back-and-forth of plot. The protagonist isn't the one who creates problems for the antagonist, the antagonist isn't the one creating problems for the protagonist -so each ends up doing something stupid to create their own problems.

Instead of USING Tommy Lee Jones' tracking skills to find the Evil Indian, the Evil Indian leaves behind a dead photographer and a ton of evidence. Instead of having the Evil Indian be smart enough to create a trap for anyone who tries to rescue the women, the daughter screams when she's rescued which alerts the bad guys. Instead of a scene where the Evil Indian grabs Cate Blanchett and she fights him and escapes... leaving him with only a handful of her hair (which he uses to cast his spell), they leave behind a hairbrush after being warned of the dangers.

Make sure that the protagonist and antagonist are on a collision course, and each character's set backs are a result of cause and effect in the struggle between them. Always do the work and show the work - have your characters use their skills to solve the problems. Don't paint yourself into a corner - instead of looking for impossible situations to escape from, look for the SOLUTIONS to problems that seem impossible. That way you have both the tough situation and the way out. Make your characters resolve conflicts because they are clever and hard working - admirable traits - instead of having the problem solved because the person they're tangling with makes a dumb mistake.

Film is a fantasy. We want to wish we were the characters up there on screen. Audiences love clever characters... not stupid characters. Who wishes they were stupid? Who fantasizes about being so dumb they keep getting into trouble? If I hear a strange noise from downstairs and I think it may be a crazed killer, I find something to use as a weapon and lock my door!

If you have to make your protagonist *or* antagonist do something stupid to make your plot work, you're better off fixing your plot.






Your story is like a road trip... but where are you going? What's the best route to get there? What are the best sights to see along the way? Just as you plan a vacation instead of just jump in the car and start driving, it's a good idea to plan your story. An artist does sketches before breaking out the oils, so why shouldn't a writer do the same? This Blue Book looks at various outlining methods used by professional screenwriters like Wesley Strick, Paul Schrader, John August, and others... as well as a guest chapter on novel outlines. Plus a whole section on the Thematic Method of generating scenes and characters and other elements that will be part of your outline. The three stages of writing are: Pre-writing, Writing, and Rewriting... this book looks at that first stage and how to use it to improve your screenplays and novels.

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Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?

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Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the *Master Of Suspense*; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

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*** HOOK 'EM IN TEN *** - For Kindle!

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NEW FROM 1920?



Screenwriting books have been around as long as films have. This series reprints vintage screenwriting books with a new introduction and history, plus new articles which look at how these lessons from almost 100 years ago apply to today’s screenplays. Anita Loos book is filled with information which still applies. In addition to the full text of the original book, you get the full screenplay to Miss Loos' hit THE LOVE EXPERT, plus several new articles on the time period and women in Hollywood.

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copyright 2018 by William C. Martell

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bluebook 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.

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Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.

Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.


Naked Class NEW! 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.
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My nineteen produced films, interviews with me in magazines, several sample scripts, my available scripts list... And MORE!
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