WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THE FLOW IN HOLLYWOODLAND


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My first real job was in a movie theater - the very cinema where I first saw 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY as a kid. I started as an usher and ticker taker, then became an assistant manager/projectionist. There was some loophole that allowed managers to run the projectors, so, while still in High School, I was running the projectors at the biggest screen in the Diablo Valley.

In those days, being a projectionist was an art. Film came in reels - usually about 17 minutes per reel - and usually between 6 and 8 reels per film. 4 reels to a can (but there were 2 reel cans, too). Up in the projection booth, there were *two* projectors. One projector would be showing the current reel, the other would be set up with the next reel threaded and ready. A couple of minutes before the end of the reel, a warning bell would sound and the projectionist would light the carbon arc on the second projector. They didn't have bulbs - they had arcs... like welding... and you couldn't look directly at the arc while it was burning - you'd go blind. You were constantly replacing the carbons between reels, too. After lighting the arc, the projectionist would stand at their window between both projectors and watch for the signal. The "change-over mark" - a circle - in the upper right side of the screen. When you saw that mark, you would simultaneously turn off one projector and turn on the other. The audience would never notice that you had switched projectors in the middle of the movie. 6 to 8 reels means 5 to 7 change- overs in the average film. Show an epic and there might be twice as many. But the trick is to make sure that when you changed from one projector to the other, it was *seamless* - the audience never knew. The movie flowed along, just as if it were one big reel rather than a bunch of little ones.

These days it's all digital, or one big reel, and the projectors have bulbs instead of fire... but that flow is still important. The *story* has to flow. One scene needs to flow logically to the next, so that it doesn't seem like someone in the projection booth got the reels out of order by mistake.

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Would it surprise you if I said that one of the best performances by a male actor in 2006 was Ben Affleck in HOLLYWOODLAND? Ben had become kind of a joke - he's Matt Damon's less talented best friend. Part of that is because they keep putting him in all of the wrong roles - he's a Richard Gere type: slick surface and possibly soul-less. Gere is great when he plays that type of role (PRIMAL FEAR), and Ben has been great in roles like that (BOUNCE). But when he has to play intelligent (Jack Ryan) or clever (DAREDEVIL) he just comes off like a smarmy frat-boy. Better to just let him play smarmy frat boys... and, even though George Reeves isn't a frat boy, he's the kind of role Ben can play.

HOLLYWOODLAND takes us behind the scenes in that other famous death in tinsel- town, the suicide or murder of SUPERMAN star George Reeves. There has always been speculation that Reeves was murdered by his mistress's husband - ruthless studio head Eddie Mannix. This film promises to tell us what really happened that night.

If you don't know who Reeves was, he's one of the suitors in GONE WITH THE WIND... a handsome bit part player in the MGM stable. When they needed a pretty boy for a couple of lines in a movie, he was the guy. But, just as there were busloads of new pretty girls showing up every week in Hollywood, there were busloads of pretty boys. Reeves career stalled... then TV came along and him the job of playing Superman. When I was a little kid, this show was still playing in re-runs... it was a massive hit.

Affleck plays Reeves as a man of limited talents who thinks he should be taken seriously as an actor - and I think he may have tapped into his own life to play this role. He gives a performance that's both brash and sad. Diane Lane, who has to be one of the hottest actresses around, gives an equally amazing performance as the *aging* trophy wife of Eddie Mannix. Together they play off each other's insecurities and limited power... and Affleck will probably never get a better role...

But the movie itself doesn't work at all. The reason: no flow!

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You see, the movie isn't about Reeves.... it's about this low rent cliche private eye played by Adrien Brody named Simo. The detective company he worked for has fired him and he's broke - working out of his apartment - so he approaches Reeves' mother and tells her he thinks her son was murdered and for $50 a day he'll investigate the murder. He really needs the money because he has an ex-wife and son who think he's a loser, a secretary who hasn't been paid, and a million other subplot reasons. Though the real story is Reeves' death (murder or suicide) the script focuses on Simo.... not just his investigation, but his whole *life*! Even in the kind of cliche private eye movie this film is trying to emulate, the story is about the *victim* not the detective. It's about the crime and the solution to the crime, not the guy investigating. HOLLYWOODLAND is more a character study of Simo than an investigation of Reeves' death.

So we have two stories: Reeves and Simo.

This creates even more need for a "flow". One of the most important things to remember with any strange structure or multiple story-line is to maintain the flow of the film. Most screenplays use chronology to create a flow - one event leads logically to the next event. But when we start playing around with those Three Unities or have multiple protagonists or time periods, we may lose our story flow - the connection between scenes that turns these two stories into *one* experience.

HOLLYWOODLAND has no flow at all, so it always seems like they got the reels out of order. We have a scene where Reeves auditions for director Fred Zinneman for a role in FROM HERE TO ETERNINY.... and then cut to a scene where Simo's secretary throws him a bottle of pills and tells him that Superman was on pain pills! Problem is, there is no story connection between the audition and the pain pills. And there is no visual link between the scenes or verbal link - nothing connects these two scenes.

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Had this been only one instance, you could just pass it off as an editing glitch... bit it happens again and again - one scene might have Simo questioning the coroner, and then we cut to Reeves in bed with Mrs. Mannix... with no story connection at all between the two scenes... and no visual or dialogue link. No transition. No common story ground. It's jarring and yanks you out of the story for a couple of minutes while you try to figure out where we are and what's happening and what this scene could possibly have to do with the last one...

It's also confusing. We have Reeves at a casting agent practically begging for a role, then see a car driving down the street. Obviously Reeves depressed after not getting the role. We follow the car for a while before there's a shot of the driver - Simo. What? By the time you recover from the confusion and realize that it was *Simo's car* driving down the road, you've missed part of the story.

If the story had gone from Reeves having back pains to the discovery of the pain pills there would be a certain amount of story flow. Had the Reeves scene ended with him grabbing a prescription bottle and the Simo scene beginning with the prescription bottle in Simo's secretary's hand, that would not only create a strong link between the two scenes, it would have drawn focus to the pain pills - what both scenes are about. Here's how I would have done it:

EXT. SUPERMAN SET   DAY

Reeves staggers off the set to the chair with his name on it, rifles through his coat
pocket until he finds a prescription bottle.

INT. SIMO'S APARTMENT   DAY

Simo's Secretary bursts into the room and tosses a prescription bottle to Simo, who
catches it on one hand and looks at the label.

                 SECRETARY
       Superman was on pain pills.

See how that creates a flow between scenes? How it makes the pain pills (the clue) into the focus of *both* scenes? No "did they get the reels out of order?" moments. No herky-jerky start-stop-start feeling and no confusion. Even if your story has only one protagonist and only one story-line, you still want to make sure your story flows. That one scene leads logically to the next. That one scene leads *smoothly* to the next.

Compare this to the investigation time-shift to flashback/crime in John Sayles' LONE STAR - which flow with grace and not a bit of confusion.

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Of course, one problem is often indicative of other problems, and even if HOLLYWOODLAND's story flowed smoothly, it would still be more about Simo's life and problems (boring) than about Reeves' life and death (fascinating) and still have a crappy ending. You see, Reeves might have committed suicide, he might have been murdered by Eddie Mannix's studio hitman, he might have been killed by his starlet girlfriend, he might have been killed by the gun accidentally going off. Instead of doing research and additional investigation in order to provide new information - this film offers us nothing new at all... and doesn't even decide which theory is most likely. Instead it gives us all if the theories but no conclusions at all. No conclusion?

So we have a story about fascinating characters and subject matter that *instead* focuses on a dull cliched character we don't care about... that has no story flow so ot seems like they got the reels out of order... and has no end. Without Ben Affleck's amazing performance there would be no reason at all to even *think* of watching this movie! This is a case where a great performance makes a poorly written film worth mentioning.


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