WEDNESDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
THE FLOW IN HOLLYWOODLAND
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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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I WRITE PICTURES!
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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
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FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
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