Test screening The Movie

Last Monday was the first time I put The Movie in front of an audience: thirty friends and colleagues recruited to help figure out whether the film was appropriately funny, dramatic, and comprehensible. (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not So Much. We’re working on that last part.)

Screening a work-in-progress is just as nerve-wracking as it sounds. Going in, you know the film isn’t perfect. You’re projecting low-resolution video, with temp music, temp visual effects, and bad sound. But it’s a crucial step, because it’s impossible for filmmakers to see their movie with fresh eyes. You need an audience to laugh, gasp or murmur in confusion.

The thirty people who watched the cut were incredibly generous with their time and comments, not only staying afterwards to talk, but also filling out cards and emailing additional thoughts. They made the movie significantly better.

But as great as they were, the fact that they were friends and colleagues was a significant detriment. They had an emotional investment: they wanted to like it. They were also largely film-and-television people, hardly a representative cross-section of the movie-going public.

The obvious next step would be to put The Movie in front of a real recruited audience, i.e. strangers.

But I can’t.

The very same internet that makes this site possible makes a real test screening impossible. Or at the least, a very risky proposition.

Odds are, one or more of those recruited strangers would recognize my name, the producers, or the actors involved and decide it would be a really good idea to write in to Ain’t It Cool News or a site like it. Quite a scoop, after all, reviewing a movie where even the premise has been kept hush-hush.

Reviews of test screenings are frustrating for a big studio like Warner Bros., but they’re potentially ruinous for a little movie like ours. Keep in mind: We don’t have distribution yet. We’re hoping to sell the movie after a festival premiere. So if DrkLOrd79 trashes the movie, that sets a bad tone going in. Almost worse would be if DrkLOrd79 loved it and gushed on for pages. We’ve all experienced the disappointment that follows having our expectations set too high.

The friends and colleagues at last Monday’s screening were chosen for their insight and opinion. But more importantly, they were chosen for their discretion.

With one exception, every movie I’ve written has had a traditional recruited audience screening, with 200 or so demographically-mixed young filmgoers circling numbers with little golf pencils. After every screening, we learned important things which made the film better.

And after every screening, someone posted his thoughts on the Internet. It was annoying, but it was inevitable. For CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, I stayed up until 2 a.m. waiting for the first test screening review to show up. Sure enough, it came.

The one film which didn’t have a traditional test screening was CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE. It was fear of internet leaks that kept the studio from bringing in a recruited audience. And let me be clear about the cause and effect: Full Throttle was not untested because it was a bad movie.

Full Throttle was a bad movie because it was not tested.

The premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was the first time I saw Full Throttle with a full audience. As the lights went down, there was palpable enthusiasm, and some real residual love for the first movie. By the time the lights came back up, it was pretty clear we really should have done a test screening.

Part of me fears the same could happen with The Movie. Our fear of internet leaks may keep us from giving it the test it deserves. Lord knows, I don’t want the first time I see it with a real audience to be at Sundance or some other festival. So I’m trying to figure out some middle ground, an audience of trustworthy strangers.

As always, suggestions are welcome.

Turns out, he was busy reconsidering Tyra Banks

You know how you can go months without seeing someone, then suddenly, they’re everywhere? This morning as I was getting into my little Prius, screenwriter/neighbor/inconstant blogger Josh Friedman rolled up in the Death Star Escalade to discuss our respective children’s nap schedules in anticipation of a playdate.

Yeah, I said playdate. This is how we roll in the Southside.

Of Hancock Park.

I suspect Josh was taking his family to BLD (“Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner”), the new restaurant that took over where Red used to be, and is pretty much exactly like Red but white instead, and without those Mexican Cokes.

In typing that, I realize that I’ve now lived in L.A. long enough that I expect everyone to share my specific geo-cultural references. Or, more bluntly, I’ve now lived here long enough to stop caring when they don’t. It only takes a New Yorker six months to become this jaded. Los Angeles takes a decade.

Later today, I followed a link to the trailer for Josh’s upcoming movie, The Black Dahlia. I don’t know how he got his name in red in the credit block, but from now on I’m putting that in my contract. I want red and a little box around it.

Upon checking the feeds this evening, I see Josh has finally posted something new on the blog. And while I’d like to take credit for this rare occurrence, the more pressing matter is addressing some corrections/clarifications:

  • My assistant does not bring me breakfast, though he often brings lunch. (However, I do not blog about it.)

  • In daily life, my house is light-filled like a Richard Curtis movie. However, to achieve the look of this on film for The Movie required giant lights and hard gels velcro-ed to all the doors and windows.

As Tyra knows, beauty takes work.

That’s all.

Temp Music


This week’s work on the The Movie is largely about music. Our composer, Alex Wurman, has already composed one piece that plays on-camera, but most of the music at this point is temp — stuff grabbed from other soundtracks that roughly approximates what we’re going for.

There’s one piece of temp music that works really well — so well, that we might just want to license it for the movie. Unfortunately, we have no idea what it is. It’s an mp3 the editor had leftover from Oceans 12’s temp music. The track is labeled “Big Fuzz,” but that’s not brought me any luck through Google. So, I’m calling on the power of the hive mind to help me figure out what it is:

Click here to hear it.

Anyone out there recognize it?

Mixing in bits of other languages

questionmarkI’m writing a script at the moment which at various points throughout requires characters to speak in different languages other than English. I was just wondering if there is a strict code for writing small moments of French or Italian in an English speaking script?

For example, do I write the foreign language as a regular piece of dialogue underneath the character name in block capitals as normal and write the English in brackets underneath? Or do I write the dialogue in English and indicate in the stage directions it should be spoken in Italian or whatever?

— Garreth
London, England

There are no hard-and-fast rules. My best advice is that if the word or phrase is short, and easily understandable in context, use the foreign language. So, the Frenchman says, “Bonjour.”

If it’s serious dialogue you’re talking about, put it in English. Here’s a few snippets from the Ops pilot Jordan Mechner and I wrote, which shows a few ways of doing it.


A corrugated-metal shack. We don’t see much of it.

A terrified Dagny is flanked by TWO KIDNAPPERS.

Their leader (the Voice) passes the phone to Dagny.


Papa? Papa!

(fast stream of Norwegian)

Give them what they want, please get me out of here, I’m scared! Papa!


Hospital! Where is hospital?

The old man scurries inside.



As you can see, we didn’t always format things the same way. In this case, I think consistency is less important than clarity.

If a significant chunk of your dialogue is going to be in a specific non-English language — for instance, if an entire scene is two characters speaking in Farsi — save your readers some bother and drop the “(in Farsi, subtitled)” parentheticals. Just say it’s in Farsi in the scene description. It’s your choice whether to leave it in italics.

Crisis of Infinite Celebrities

Most screenwriting nerds can be divided along an axis of DC Comics fans and Marvel men. Largely because of the too-young-to-realize-it-was-bastardized Superfriends, I ended up in the DC camp. But one of the things that’s kept me there has been the franchise’s willingness to accept that every once in a while, you need a good housecleaning.

Thus, you have events like Crisis on Infinite Earths, which, while clumsily executed, had the laudable goal of simplifying the DC Universe. Through drastic and sometimes painful choices, the editors succeeded in getting rid of extraneous characters and plotlines, effectively rebooting the world.

I have come to believe the same thing must happen in the real world. The time has come to rethink, retool and retire many of our celebrities.

I urge the editors of People, US Weekly and Star, along with their brethren at Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, to consider my suggestions as merely the first part of a major and much-needed overhaul of the American celebrity system.

Tom, Katie and Suri
Can we just admit we have no idea where this storyline is going? It’s become embarrassing, the real-life equivalent of last season’s Alfre Woodard plotline on Desperate Housewives. Let’s just say they’re happy and fine. Is that true? I don’t know. I don’t care. Tom Cruise isn’t even shooting another movie yet, so it’ll be at least 18 months before he needs to resurface to do publicity. We can all take a break until then. Seriously.

Lindsay Lohan
Talented young actresses should be going to Princeton, not nightclubs. Rather than focussing on her weight, let’s examine how a 20-year old actress gets into bars every night. It’s not like she has a fake I.D. If I were the Chief of Police for New York or Los Angeles, I would gather all the press photos of Lohan with a cocktail in her hand and close every nightclub she’s photographed inside. Once her favorite watering holes are shuttered, Lohan can then get drunk at an Ivy League party like a normal young woman.

Britney Spears
I bet most young mothers would come off poorly if photographed 24/7. She’s made a string of bad choices, but she’s clearly not a bad person. Let’s recast her as an Erin Brockovich-style underdog hero and root for her comeback. But not now. Let’s put her in storage for few years.

Closeted stars who are obviously gay
Enough with the winking and blind items. One reason that even minor stars don’t come out is because the press is so childish and nasty even when they aren’t naming names. Let’s declare a one-year moratorium on tawdry innuendo and see if we can at least get the bit players on crime shows to come out.

The cast of Laguna Beach
One of them needs to die under mysterious circumstances. That’s the only way I could ever be interested in them.

Celebrities’ kids
Uncool to photograph them unless they’re at a public event like a movie premiere. The first magazine to adopt (and stick to) this policy will earn tremendous goodwill from celebrities and publicists.

David Hasselhoff
Killed in a blimp accident. Or moves to Germany, never to return. His choice.

Hot tennis players
Call me crazy, but I think we could use more of them. They’re wholesome; they’re goal-driven; they have a valid reason for fame, unlike Paris Hilton. I want them to date, break up, have drama, then happily marry and breed a new generation of athletes.

Obviously, this is only a rough draft of a much larger agreement that will need to be negotiated at the Celebrity Summit later this month. But, for the good of popular culture, I urge all of the editors and producers attending to take my suggestions — and your suggestions — to heart.

J.J. Abrams got a $55+ million deal

Actually, it’s two deals: one for TV at Warners, and another for film at Paramount. Though I’ve never met the guy, I’m very happy for him. It honestly couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Not only has he consistently created great material in the past, he clearly has great work ahead of him.

And yet…

I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Right now, he has three TV shows on the air: Lost, What About Brian, and Six Degrees. He’s prepping the next Star Trek movie, and is supposed to be producing other, smaller movies on top of that.

Meanwhile, I’m going to be spending this entire week working on a two-minute section of The Movie. Oh, and I have a lunch with my TV agent about a show I probably won’t do because I don’t have time. Because, you see, I operate on Mortal Time.

Godspeed, Mr. Abrams. I look forward to your work, and pray that your stretching the boundaries of the time-space continuum don’t have any grave repercussions. (But as mutual fans of science-fiction, we both know that’s unlikely.)

Fingers crossed.