Two big debuts

Charlie TicketThis past weekend, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened to strong reviews and a hefty $56.2 million at the box office. I’m happy, of course, but that good news was eclipsed by even better news: the birth of my daughter on Monday.

Her long-awaited arrival explains my lack of posting this past week, and the sporadic schedule for the next few weeks. As I start to figure out What I’ve Gotten Myself Into, I’m taking a month off from my real career (umm, screenwriting?) to focus on my new job, tackling life’s eternal questions:

  1. Was that a burp, or a grunt?
  2. How did poop get there?
  3. Whoosa good girl? Whoosa good girl?

I’ll still try to post as much as I can; babies do sleep, even if I don’t. But if the flow dwindles for the next little bit, please trust that I’ve not lost interest in the site. With a hungry mouth needing to be fed every three hours, the word count is bound to drop.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of stopping by: bring food.

Is that how the line was supposed to go?

GainesSomething that’s always bothered me about Go. When Ronna is in Todd’s apartment she says “Todd, I would never fuck you like that.” And he says, “How would -you- fuck -me-?”

Like, how would a nothing like you ever screw over a big drug dealer like me? But he just explained how she could fuck him: twenty hits is intent to distribute. Did you mean for the line to be read like “How -would- you fuck me?” As in, why should I trust you? And if so, how did the director fuck that up so badly?

– Rebecca
Los Angeles

Actually, the intent behind the line is completely different — and this is an example of how acting choices and editing room decisions can impact a scene. If you download the original script, you’ll see that the scene in question actually reads:

  • You come here out of the blue asking for twenty hits. Just so happens twenty is the magic number where intent to sell becomes trafficking.
  • Todd, I would never fuck you like that.
  • How would you fuck me? Would you strap it on?
  • He climbs over the sofa to a dresser. In a drawer, he digs down through a pile of socks to find a wide-mouthed bottle. And an empty Tylenol bottle. Blows out the dust.

The “Would you strap it on?” line makes it clear that he’s sort-of-joking, in a very sexual way. Unfortunately, on the night we shot this scene, the energy was all wrong.

The producers and I still talk about that bad night, because Timothy Olyphant, who completely nailed the role of Gaines otherwise, was not finding the right rhythms. That’s incredibly frustrating as a writer on the set, because you can hear in your head just how the line should sound, but nothing you do can get it to come out that way. And this isn’t a criticism of Tim or director Doug Liman. Everyone has bad nights; they’re usually not captured on film for posterity.

In fact, the next night we ended up re-shooting Gaines’ side of the later Claire scene, when Tim suddenly had a breakthrough and really figured out how to play the moments. Those are some of my favorites moments in the movie, and it’s all credit to Tim’s acting.

That still left us with some challenges cutting together the Ronna scene. Ultimately, the version that worked best dropped the “Would you strap it on?” line. But you’re right: the inflections in the previous line don’t really make sense. I cringe a little when I watch it.

The other reason I miss the strap-it-on reference is that it played into Ronna having balls. In an earlier scene, Ronna said she’d go straight to Todd, because buying through a middle man would cut her profit: “That’s like, a hundred dollars I’d be pissing out my dick.” I love that Ronna sees herself as hard-boiled, even when she’s terrified.

Writing characters you would hate in real life

How do you go about writing characters that you don’t identify with, or even find abhorrent, as good as the ones you like?

– Dan
Redditch, England

The same way many actors find playing villains liberating, I often enjoy writing characters who, in real life, I would actively avoid.

For instance, in Go, the four guys who go to Vegas in the middle chapter are sort of my bete noire. Simon is id-driven, wantonly impulsive, and only gets away with it because of his accent. Marcus is too righteous by half, the self-appointed leader who only got the title by picking the least-capable of travelling companions. Tiny is a faux-Black chihuahua, and Singh is sort of a perma-stoner. They’re all little lizard brains, and I kinda love them, though I wouldn’t want to be within 20 feet of any of them.

[For the record, the character in Go who I best relate to is Claire. Like her, I’m the one who’s always trying to be the voice of reason. But eventually I give up, and hook up with the hot, scary guy.]

In many ways, it can be easier to write characters with whom you don’t have a lot in common. Unlike a novel, where you’re digging inside a character’s head, screenwriting is about what you see and hear. Even the most rigorous self-examination probably won’t reveal the dialogue and behavior you would notice just watching actual people going about their lives. Sometimes, the most fascinating people are the most annoying, or the most abhorrent.

So don’t strive for likeability. It’s a fool’s errand. Rather, aim for believability. Make sure your characters are consistent, and real within the universe you’ve built for them. The audience will happily watch loathsome characters doing terrible things, as long as you keep them engaging.

New, longer Corpse Bride trailer up

emilyThere’s a new trailer up for Corpse Bride, which tells a lot more of the story than the teaser trailer did.

I have mixed feelings about the new trailer. Visually, it all looks great. This one shows a lot more of what makes the animation so distinctive. For instance, pay attention to Corpse Bride’s veil, how it flutters and flows. Then remember that this was all shot one frame at a time. Creating the illusion of continuous movement was incredibly difficult, and they did it incredibly well.

I’m not crazy about the voice-over. The rhyming doesn’t really work for me, and the announcer is the same guy who does all the stuff for the WB Network (“Tonight, on an all-new Gilmore Girls, Rory blah blah blah”). It feels too much like a featurette for my taste. I would have suggested stopping at the shorter, funnier teaser. But that’s just me.

See it here.

Corpse Bride trailer up

Ton of Charlie clips online

Reader Francois just pointed out a large selection of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory clips hosted at IESB. I’m sort of surprised Warner Bros. made so many available, but they all look authentic and authorized. (CUT TO: Me furiously deleting any reference to their existence after WB says they’re not allowed.)

Presumably, these clips are intended for broadcast stories and reviews, but video is video, even if it’s Windows Media Player. Have a look.

I don’t think any of these really show the movie at its best, so if you have any inclination to simply wait for the actual movie, well, trust your instincts. But I know you’re going to watch them anyway, so here are the standard disclaimers. Some of the clips are dry (that is, without the real music in the background), while others are somewhat weirdly edited for length or other reasons. (Such as the abbreviated “Parlor Trick” clip, which omits much of the Oompa-Loompa song.)

There are also filmmaker clips, including one from yours truly. The interview was conducted almost a year ago. I had completely forgotten about it until last week, when I had to sign off on the special features for the DVD. Bonus points to any reader who can figure out where the interview was conducted.

I didn’t get here on my looks

The summer issue of Written By magazine is out, and the cover story is about my involvement with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

First the good news. The story by Mark Olsen is terrific, everything I could have hoped for. Often with reporters, you hold back a bit, because you’re nervous about being misquoted or misrepresented. But I told Mark the truth, and he put it in context really well. I’m much obliged.

The bad news: Counting the cover, there’s four photos of me, only one of which doesn’t make me shudder. The photographer, Mark Hanauer, did his best. I can’t fault him. But I don’t know if any magazine story can withstand four photos of a screenwriter.

Part of the trouble was the “wacky” mandate. The magazine wanted big colors, with swirls of candy and chocolate. I was a good sport and ate the candy bar, even though in the back of my head, a voice was saying, this is not going to turn out well.

I’ll listen to that voice more in the future.

The other inescapable fact is that I’m not a model. As I’ve gotten older, my vanity has receded to the point where I really don’t mind having my picture taken. Not giving a shit makes the process much easier. It doesn’t, however, guarantee good results.

For the record, the one photo in the article I like is page 14-15, with me standing beside the lollipops. It perfectly illustrates what I’ve learned about having my picture taken: distance is my friend.