Greetings NY Times readers

If you’re coming to johnaugust.com after reading the story in this weekend’s Calendar Arts & Leisure section, welcome. Please feel free to poke around.

This site isn’t used to a crush of visitors, so if things load a little slowly, please be patient. And if everything grinds to a halt, please come back later today or tomorrow, when things should have calmed down a bit.


Official Charlie site updated

veruca ticketA helpful reader named Ethan pointed out that the official site for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been updated with new graphics and photos.

Unfortunately, a quick mousing-around reveals that way too much of it is still “coming soon.” But at least there are now placeholders for some crucial omissions, such as filmmaker bios (ahem) and the upcoming full trailer — which should be out by the end of the month.

The MPAA logo at the bottom of the main screen shows that Charlie has been rated PG, for “quirky situations, action and mild language.” The rating is news to me, since I didn’t think we’d even submitted for a rating yet. But PG is where we should be. The movie is goofy, but never terrifying. Any kid who can watch the Harry Potter movies can safely see Charlie.


An afternoon at E3

E3 logoYesterday, I went to the giant videogame confab E3 with my friend Jordan Mechner, who created Prince of Persia and is writing the movie version for Disney. We were there to see footage from the next Prince of Persia game — which looks damn good, what with the chariots and Babylonian rooftops and all. (And no, I’m not breaking any non-disclosure agreements. I saw exactly what anyone on the convention floor would have seen.)

For those who don’t know, E3 is huge. Huge. Everywhere you looked, you saw flashing screens and guys with laptops waiting in lines to buy overpriced sandwiches. As Jordan put it, “It’s like a giant airport, and every flight just got cancelled.”

You often read about how the videogame and movie industries are such close cousins, but the movie industry doesn’t have anything that really compares to this. Sure, there’s the Cannes Film Festival and other international film markets, but those are really geared towards distributors. The target audience here was the hard-core gamer, the super-consumer whose tends to be the opinion-leader. Unlike a film festival, they’re not just showing you a trailer for the game, they’re putting a controller in your hands. They want you hooked.

It’s like Crack Con 2005.


Recycled articles

One of the suggestions from the survey was to highlight previous articles from the archives. I agreed, because (a) the readership has grown quite a bit recently, and (b) the archives are kind of daunting right now.

So, every once in a while, I’ll be pulling old articles up to the front — generally entries that tie into the current discussion, and ones without a lot of comments attached to them. You’ll be able to spot these articles by the little green “recycled” logo on the right-hand side.


Does bad work spoil mine?

questionmarkI work for a small production company. While trying to break into the "next" (bigger) level as a screenwriter, I work here as a reader. Basically, I spend a lot of time writing coverages for awful scripts that never should have been written in the first place. I often wonder what is going through some of these people’s minds when they send this junk out.

I don’t really know when it happened, but at some point it seems that everyone in the world decided they wanted to be screenwriters. My question is this: does all that subpar work poison the water for the rest of us truly capable folks?

–Aaron Saylor

I hear you, brother.

I worked as a reader for about a year and a half, both at Tri-Star and at a little production company based at Paramount. During that time, I read the worst scripts of my life — horrible, horrible atrocities worse than a dozen cable movies.

In writing coverage, half the time my plot summary was much clearer than the script’s true narrative, and my comments section became an exercise in finding creative ways to express the same underlying truth: this script is not a movie, and this writer doesn’t know what he’s doing.

I got a taste of my own medicine later, when I slipped one of my scripts under a pseudonym to an intern whose opinion I respected. His coverage lambasted the screenplay and the untalented hack who created it. I actually got nauseous reading his critique.

Since then, I’ve learned to temper my disgust for poorly written scripts, and try to view them as the little lessons they are. Once you start looking for the common problems, you can avoid these pitfalls in your own writing:

  • Bad scripts introduce ten characters in the first four pages, without giving you any real information about them, or making clear which ones are important.
  • In bad scripts, characters talk about events you just saw happen, which makes seeing them redundant.
  • In bad scripts, characters are always walking through doors, as if it’s a play where they need to make entrances and exits.
  • In bad scripts, characters do exactly what you expect they’re going to do.

What’s interesting is that many of these lessons can only be learned by reading bad screenplays. In a good script, you’d never know what you were missing. So rather than blaming these bum writers for doing terrible work, rejoice in their suckiness, and remember that their low standards make your great script all the more unusual.


A movie by any other name

Arguably, the most important part of a film (besides it being good) is the title. Great titles have graced the silver screen, only to have the film bite all kinds of ass. But the title did its job, it got the suckers to watch the flick (i.e. The Phantom Menace). Conversely, a bad title can take the wind out of the sails of a very good film (I won’t watch Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood cause the title screams chick flick).

My question is, how do you come up with the titles to the films you write? What process do you go through to come up with a title that’d grab the audience by the Ya Yas?

– Americo
San Francisco, California

The majority of my movies have been adaptations, either of books or existing properties, such as Charlie’s Angels. Obviously, it’s not too hard to pick a title for those ones. (Trivia: the “Full Throttle” moniker for the sequel was picked by the marketing team; the working subtitle title was “Halo,” named for the McGuffin of the story.)

I have been through the name game on several movies.

Go started out as a short film script called ‘X,’ named for the ecstasy Ronna’s character is trying to deal. When I wrote the full version, my working title was ’24/7,’ but then I saw reviews for a British film called Twentyfourseven, so I nixed that.

About the same time I was writing this script, I’d made a holding deal with Imagine, for whom I’d just adapted the kids book How to Eat Fried Worms. As part of the deal, I had to pitch them five projects. One of my ideas was a Die Hard-y thriller about involving a bomber and a TV news crew, which I called “Go.” Imagine ultimately passed on all of my ideas, but I really liked the title “Go,” so I just took it for the script I was writing.

It was only after seeing the finished film about four times that I realized how often characters say “go” in the movie — and usually at crucial moments. It seems intentional, but trust me, it wasn’t.

One of my never-ending horrors is that an early Columbia press release listed the title as “Go!” rather than “Go”, so many reviews and articles about the movie include the exclamation point, thinking that’s really the title. It’s not.

I hate that exclamation point with an unmitigated fury. If it somehow became a sentient being, I would kill it without remorse.

Anyway.

Shortly after Go, I was hired to work on an animated movie for Fox called “Planet Ice.” That sounds like a sci-fi movie, and it was. The odd thing, I thought, was that there was no icy planet anywhere in the script. The title was a hold-over from many drafts ago. So along with the rewrite, I turned in a list of proposed titles for the movie, most of them centering around the long-lost spaceship at the center of the story.

Two years later, I went to a screening of the nearly-completed movie, which was now called Titan A.E.. “Titan” is the name of the missing ship, and the “A.E.” stands for “After Earth.” I guess. I never really got confirmation on that.

At any given point, I have a list of about 30 movies I’d like to write, and a good 50% of them have titles. Sometimes, that’s all they really have.

For example, that same thriller I pitched to Imagine is sitting on my to-write list as “Southland.” I think that’s a good title, but I doubt I’ll ever use it, since (a) I’ll probably never get around to writing the script, and (b) it’s too much like Richard Kelly’s upcoming Southland Tales.

I think some projects sell mostly on their title. A vampire thriller set in Alaska is an okay-not-great idea. But 30 Days of Night is a kick-ass title, which is why Sony bought it. On the flip side, my unsold zombie western has been through at least four titles: Deadfall, Devil’s Canyon, Prey, and Frontier. I don’t love any of them, and neither do readers.

But if you have a good title for it, by all means share.