What’s scarier than ‘IT’? Kellyanne Conway, according to ‘SNL’

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Maybe you see it. The resemblance. Kellyanne Conway. Pennywise from IT. Kellywise the Dancing Clown.

The writers at Saturday Night Live sure did.

Tonight’s offering in the ongoing cinematic saga of Kellyanne vs. Anderson Cooper featured Alex Moffat’s Cooper (clad in a yellow raincoat, natch) finding a reason to peek down a storm drain — while everyone and their brother shouted at home, “DON’T GO NEAR THE STORM DRAIN, COOP! 

Hiding inside was the disturbingly clownish Conway, played expertly as always by Kate McKinnon. Read more…

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WB and New Line’s ‘It’ Propels September 2017 to Record Heights

September 2017 saw record returns with calendar grosses topping $ 695 million, falling just shy of becoming the first September to ever total $ 700 million at the domestic box office. Leading the way was Warner Bros. and New Line’s massive hit It, which delivered record numbers of its own and accounted for a massive 41.2% of the month’s total gross. September is also the first month since April to show an improvement over the same month in 2016, with September grosses finishing 18.3% higher t…
Box Office Mojo – Top Stories

‘Gerald’s Game’ and ‘1922’ (and ‘It’) Kickstart a Glorious Stephen King Movie Renaissance

gerald's game

It’s a hell of a year for Stephen King fans. We’ve seen not one, not two, but three supposedly unfilmable Stephen King movies released: The Dark Tower, It and Gerald’s Game. And, remarkably, only The Dark Tower has proven to have earned that unfilmable reputation.

The trick to nailing a Stephen King adaptation is to create multi-faceted, interesting characters. That is the horror author’s greatest strength. The scary stuff only works because you care about these fictional people. They feel real to you. When I read It at an admittedly way too young age, I viewed every member of The Losers Club as my friend. The recent film adaption takes many liberties, but man does it perfectly capture those characters.

And now, two new Stephen King adaptations, Gerald’s Game and 1922 (both of which were produced by Netflix) continue this trend. King, despite his reputation as a horror writer, is all about character. Welcome to the Stephen King Movie Renaissance – not even The Dark Tower can mute the success of these other adaptations.

It’s About Character, Damn It!

All the best King movies have iconic, fleshed out characters. Carrie, The Shining (yes, I’ll stand against King himself on the merits of that adaptation), The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist, Misery and Dolores Claiborne all jump to mind.

The Dark Tower failed on many levels, but the topmost reason it did not work as an adaptation is that couldn’t translate King’s richest, most well-developed characters to anything but broad caricatures on screen. Sure, the story was too weird for modern audiences, but the big secret is that even the most average movie-goer will roll with anything as long as they care about the characters up on the screen.

You can’t get any more convoluted and mythological than The Lord of the Rings, but when you give a crap about Frodo and his fellowship suddenly, you don’t blink an eye about a giant flame demon brandishing a fire whip.

gerald's game stephen king

Gerald’s Game, the Impossible Novel

Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan understood this and that’s why Gerald’s Game, a story that mostly takes place in a single location about a woman handcuffed to a bed with no one to talk to but herself, a wild dog and a creepy disfigured apparition that might or might not be a figment of her imagination, works so well.

It helps that Flanagan cast wonderful actors like Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood in the two biggest roles. Jessie Burlingame is a tough character. She has to be vulnerable, strong, helpless, determined, terrified and MacGuyver-smart all at the same time. Gugino expertly flips back and forth between panic attacks and a calm, realist approach to her rather unique and life-threatening situation in a way that feels so authentic that you instantly buy her as a real, complex character.

If you’re not familiar with the story, Jessie and her husband Gerald (Greenwood) go to a secluded lake house for a romantic excursion. Their relationship has grown stale and their love life is in jeopardy, so they decide to spice things up with a little minor bondage. Gerald takes things a little too far, then drops dead of a heart attack, leaving his poor wife handcuffed to the bed in a remote house with no possibility of rescue.

Flanagan and his co-writer Jeff Howard found a rather interesting way to keep a story that takes place largely inside the mind of a character that can’t really move visually interesting, which is no small feat in and of itself. Instead of the voices in Jessie’s mind being disembodied, Flanagan gives them human form. When she projects the insecurities she associates with her husband, it is Bruce Greenwood pacing around the room engaging her in conversation. When she’s having a weak moment, her strong inner voice is Jessie herself, free of the cuffs, healthy and filled with encouraged determination.

Combine that with a quick pace, a dynamic visual style and some career-best performances and suddenly this impossible-to-adapt story seems very possible. It just took a studio like Netflix to trust a smart, burgeoning genre filmmaker like Flanagan.

Gerald's Game trailer

With the characters on-point, the only thing Flanagan had to make sure worked 100% was the subtext of the movie. On the surface, Gerald’s Game mostly resembles Misery, with its protagonist stuck in bed the whole the time, but it’s much more of a companion piece to Dolores Claiborne thematically. There are obvious parallels (both stories feature eclipses and sexual assault), but on a deeper level, both stories are about how buried secrets never stay buried. These secrets and rot you from the inside and have ripple effects that change your life without you being aware of it.

In Gerald’s Game, so much about Jessie’s determination to survive is rooted in her own healing. She has to face these secrets and if she does so, she’ll find the key to her salvation. Flanagan clearly knows this. He uses subtle visual imagery to signal this deeper meaning (keep an eye on the sky in the final shot) while not forgetting to make the movie a fun time.

The film isn’t perfect. The pacing is so quick that you don’t get the same sense of impending dread and doom for Jessie that you do in the book. That means the resolution seems a little unearned and anti-climactic and there’s a coda that so neatly wraps up everything up in such a dialogue-heavy way that it all comes across as lazy compared to what came before.

Despite that stumble at the end, I still found Gerald’s Game to be incredibly involving and squirm-inducing. There was one moment in particular that I am so glad I got to experience with an audience. That’s the one downside of Netflix making everything these days: you don’t get that communal experience of seeing something scary or funny or intense with an audience. Watching my entire row try to twist out of their seats during one particularly horrifying moment and hearing the wave of vocal reactions from the packed theater made this an experience far beyond what I could have gotten at home.

But Netflix has the money and the corporate will to finance things most studios will not, so they will continue to draw in interesting filmmakers wanting to make interesting projects. Quite frankly, it’s hard to imagine Gerald’s Game getting made anywhere else in 2017.

Continue Reading Welcome to the Stephen King Movie Renaissance >>

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‘It’ Remains #1 with $60M Second Weekend, Floating to September Record

After just eight days in release, WB and New Line’s It became the highest grossing September release of all-time, two days later it added another $ 40 million to that total for an impressive $ 60 million second weekend and nearly $ 220 million in just ten days. The horror film’s performance vastly overshadowed the weekend’s two new wide releases that saw Lionsgate and CBS Films’s American Assassin deliver respectable results in second place while Paramount’s release of Darren Aronofsky’s moth…
Box Office Mojo – Top Stories

‘It’ Devours Competition with Record-Breaking $117 Million Opening

With a monster, $ 117 million opening weekend Warner Bros. and New Line’s It has delivered a record-breaking opening, breathing a little life back into the slumping domestic box office. The film has claimed the largest September opening, largest Fall opening, the largest opening for an R-rated horror film, not to mention the largest opening weekend for a horror film of any MPAA rating, and tops Open Road’s new release Home Again in second place by nearly $ 110 million. Overall, the film acco…
Box Office Mojo – Top Stories

Adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ Targets Fall Opening Weekend Record

With the worst August in twenty years and worst summer in over ten years now behind us, this weekend will turn up the heat as Fall 2017 gets underway. Debuting in over 4,100 theaters, Warner Bros. and New Line’s adaptation of Stephen King’s It is looking to break more than just a few records while Open Road’s Home Again starring Reese Witherspoon will quietly target a much smaller audience as a counter-programming option. Before it even hits theaters, WB and New Line’s It has already br…
Box Office Mojo – Top Stories

Prep: From Concept to Outline: “It works!”

I’m only offering my story prep workshop one more time in 2017.

The next session of my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop begins Monday, July 17. I love teaching it because it’s exciting to dig into a new batch of stories and the process we use has a transformational effect on writers, a wonderful thing to behold. For example, here is an email sent to me from Dawn LeFever who worked with me in the Prep workshop in October-November 2014:

Hey Scott –

Hope you and your family are well. I know you are about to begin another prep course and I thought I’d give you a little insight you might want to share with your new students.

Since taking the course last year at this time, I not only wrote the script I prepped in class, but have written three more since then, having just completed the first draft of the third one yesterday. I LOVE this process and it feels really organic to me.

Every time I begin a new project, I pull out my notebook with the reading assignments and work through the process just as we did in class. I sort of begin the brainstorming list from day one and just add to it whenever anything comes to me while working through the process. I also use note cards before going to outline because it helps me with pacing.

Then, when I’m writing, I have both my script and my outline on my screen and just write away, checking back at the outline to stay on track. More than a few times, as I’m writing, I think about a line of dialog or an action and then look back at my outline and realize what I have in the outline is much better than what was occurring to me in the moment.

At other times, while writing, I will find ways to weave moments in the script that foreshadow what happens later, because I know what’s coming thanks to the thorough prep process.

In other words, as you say, I do truly break the story in prep, which makes the writing so much easier and (hopefully) deeper and richer. I easily knock out 10 pages a day with this process.

I know there are as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, but, for me, your process makes everything click and, even more, allows me to get really excited to finally sit down and write.

In the past year, I have had some encouraging responses — I was in the top 15% of the Nicholl Fellowship screenplays and was in the top 50 for the ISA Fast Track Fellowship. I made the quarter finals for the Screencrafting Comedy Competition with two scripts (One of them a rewritten version of Smoker’s Choice).

So… forging ahead and having a blast!

Thanks again for everything and tell the folks IT WORKS!!!

All the best,
Dawn

When Tom Benedek and I launched Screenwriting Master Class 7 years ago, the very first course I created was Prep: From Concept to Outline. Why? Because no one else was teaching story prep for screenwriting. That struck me as crazy because most professional screenwriters I know and all TV writers break their story in prep.

Since 2010, I have led over 30 online sessions of Prep and worked privately with dozens of writers. The response has been almost universally like the sentiments expressed by Dawn above.

In fact, Christian Contreras whose script “LAbyrinth” made the 2015 Black List is a Screenwriting Master Class alumnus, having taken this same Prep class with me back in 2014. Verity Colquhoun, an Australian writer who did a private one-on-one version of my Prep class in 2011, let me know the script she wrote (“Wonderful Unknown”) landed a director and is slated to go into production. And David Broyles, who participated in the very first Prep workshop I led back in 2010, was named as one of 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2016 by the Austin Film Festival. When I emailed David to congratulate him, he sent back a note with this comment about Prep: From Concept to Outline: “I loved that workshop!”

I literally tell writers at the beginning of every Prep workshop: “If you do the work… it works.”

It’s not magic. It’s just a proven, professional approach to develop your story, stage by stage, from concept all the way to outline, beat sheet, or treatment, whichever you prefer.

Consider joining my next session of Prep. But whether you take a class with me or not, it’s imperative you learn some sort of approach to story prep.

Can you imagine routinely writing 10 pages per day? Can you imagine being able to write 3 full-length screenplays in a year? Can you imagine actually enjoying the page-writing process?

As Dawn suggests, all of that can happen if you wrangle your story before you type FADE IN.

I AM ONLY TEACHING THIS PREP WORKSHOP ONE MORE TIME IN 2017!

The final session begins July 17.

To check out the Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop, go here.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you!


Prep: From Concept to Outline: “It works!” was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Examining Five Key Moments in the ‘It’ Trailer

It trailer, Stephen King's It

I literally just finished reading Stephen King’s 1986 horror classic It for the first time last night, and I think it’s very close to a perfect piece of storytelling. Earlier today, Warner Bros. unleashed the first trailer for the new film adaptation of the movie, and while it remains to be seen if Mama director Andres Muschietti is going to be able to fully translate the brilliance of the book to the screen, some of the visuals in the trailer indicate that he’s definitely on the right track. Follow me down into the sewers as I run through a few things worth pointing out about the new It trailer.

So let’s run through a few things, shall we?

It trailer, Stephen King's It

RIP, George Denbrough

The boy in the yellow raincoat is little Georgie Denbrough (Jackson Robert Scott), the younger brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher). Bill serves as the de facto leader of a group of young misfits known as The Losers Club. In the book, George becomes the first victim in a new cycle of killings perpetrated by “It”, the shapeshifting evil entity who often takes the form of a horrifying clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Bill feels responsible for George’s death, so he recruits the rest of the Losers into helping him get revenge against It and stop it from murdering more children.

It trailer, Stephen King's It

29 Neibolt Street

This creepy house is located at 29 Neibolt Street and serves as a base of operations for It when he takes clown form. In the book, it’s in an abandoned section of Derry, Maine, out by the old railroad tracks, and in a climactic moment seen briefly in the trailer, it’s the place where the Losers Club confront It for the first time as a group. The production design team really nailed the decrepit, eerie feel of this location.

It trailer, Stephen King's It

The Projector

In the book, Bill mourns his younger brother by flipping through George’s old photo album – but he notices that one of the photos comes to life, and Pennywise taunts him from inside it. He eventually shows the Losers, and the event serves to strengthen their resolve to destroy It once and for all. Since the setting has been updated from the 1950s to the 1980s, this scene has received an upgrade in the form of a slide projector. This looks like it could be one of the film’s scariest moments, and it’s a great example of retaining the essence of what’s in the book while putting a little modern spin on it.

It trailer, Stephen King's It

Don’t Wash Your Face With That, Bev

That’s not some kind of black goo exploding from Losers Club member Beverly Marsh’s (Sophia Lillis) sink: it’s blood. In the book, only kids can see certain elements of Pennywise’s psychological attacks – adults don’t see anything at all. This is one of the most traumatizing moments for Bev in the story, and it looks like Muschietti went all-out to make sure it remains a memorable one for the audience, too.

it-trailer-5

You’ll Float, Too

The trailer ends with It creating a manifestation of George and luring Bill into the basement, with George telling Bill “you’ll float, too.” A variation on that line is one of the most repeated phrases in the book – so much so that it serves as this film’s official tagline on the poster – and it’s a refrain Pennywise often uses to lure kids down into the sewers underneath Derry. I don’t think this scene happens in the book (at least not like this), but again, it looks like a nice way of preserving the terrifying atmosphere and adding a bit of style to the mix at the same time. Man, that clown looks scary.

It hits theaters on September 8, 2017.

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