Saturday, April 9, 2011

Marketing a dog on Zoloft...

My version
The producer's version
Dear Reader,

This post has to do with voice, tone and dramatic intent.  Specifically how those things get absorbed into the fabric of a film, and, when those things are summarily removed, or even worse "adjusted" even in the smallest of ways, voice, tone and dramatic intent in a film (the "what I meant when I made it" part)  get lost at best, and altered to the point of being unrecognizable at worst.

Consider the two posters for a film I made in Iowa in 2009, SMITTY.  The original script was written by someone else, it was a god awful mess.   I rewrote it, made it sing and made it my own.  I intended a classic boy-and-his-dog type story centered around an unruly 13 year-old city-boy with no father sent to live with his old school grandfather on a farm in Iowa for the summer -- there to get his ducks arranged and his attitude adjusted.  And even under the profoundly difficult production constraints (SAG MLB budget, 11 days total pre-production, 18 days production, 15 locations, nights and splits, animals, child actors and the daily pumpkin factor) I was relatively satisfied that I achieved what I set out to make.

Even before the shoot, in fact during the writing of the script, I had in mind the exact image in the poster - above left.  An elegant, minimalist, clean picture of a boy and his dog looking out across a field considering whatever it is they're considering.  Life probably.  A crossroads certainly.  The point being that the image is evocative, it says something.  And more importantly it asks something and it draws a relationship.  The boy and his dog.  Together looking toward the far horizon, the boy with a simple pair of work gloves in his back pocket, meaning whatever the road ahead contains, whatever life he encounters is going to require hard work.  But that's okay, I think the image seems to convey, because I have my best friend, my dog, with me, and he'll always be there to help me through.  Once we were on location, my girlfriend (stills photographer Stacey McGillis) set it up and executed it beautifully.

This is what the film is about.  What the story has to say, in fact it's vocalized by the character of the grandfather when, in answer to the kid whining about doing chores, he says, "School of life, Ben, and class is in session."  Hence the tag line I put in my suggested poster, "The School of Life is in Session."

Make sense?  I think it does.  Here's the trailer:

Now lets consider the other poster.  I like the font in which the title SMITTY is written.  But what does this poster tell you?  Here's what it tells me: this movie is about a very sad dog (his face is down and lying between his paws - that's what dogs do when they're sad), he's thinking (I'm guessing here) because there's a cartoon bubble over his head which is filled with a cluttered collage of images.  Small images.  So what does this mean?  I have no idea.  It could be a couple of things, but the closet I can come is that since we're presumably supposed to be "seeing' inside the dogs head, and there's a bunch of people in the collage, certainly they're attempting to anthropomorphize the dog and one would suspect that this movie is going to have a talking dog in it.  Make sense?  It does to me when I look at this poster.

And the tag line, "Growing up, everyone needs a friendly paw."  If this is supposed to be a play on the saying "Growing up everyone needs a helping hand," it fails miserably.  And it reinforces what I guess they're trying to say, and that is that this is a movie about this dog.  But the movie is not about the dog.  It is not Benji.  Benji (all of the Benji movies) were about the dog.  Shiloh is a closer match for what we're talking about here, and that poster featured the dog and the title, granted, but it didn't try to sell the movie as something it wasn't.  Smitty is a movie about a boy and his dog.  And about the boy learning important life lessons.  Do you find even the remotest hint of that in this poster?  I don't.  And we know what that means... right off the bat they're lying to the audience.

And, the most egregious thing about the poster (besides that it reeks of amateur-hour photoshopping) is  that the dog is nameless through 99 percent of the movie, he's simply referred to derogatorily by the kid as "Dog."  Smitty is a nickname for an older friend of the grandfather's whom the kid works for during his summer in Iowa.  This character dies, teaching the kid the life lesson of loss and grief and moving on.  He eventually names the dog Smitty in memory of the friend he's lost.  Not that that is something necessary to get across in a movie poster, but that sort of dramtic intent is nowhere to be found in the poster.  This poster says that this is a family friendly goofy doggy movie (with a dog whose personality comes closer to A. A. Milne's depressed Eyeore than Schulz's happy Snoopy) with a sneaky little hint that the doggy will talk.  Or at least "think-talk" like the animals in Disney's "Incredible Journey."

Look, I want you to go and see the movie.  I think you'll like it, and I know your kids will.  It has something good to say, and still-in-all, it's perhaps 70% of what I intended, just don't let the poster they're using put you off or lead you to expect something that the film is not.  The 30% I disavow is mainly the relentless softening of the kid's personality in the editorial process.  There was a whole lot of that "filmmaking by committee" stuff going on, which is always married to the specious logic of political correctness (if the kid's line-read is too harsh -- when delivering a harsh piece of dialogue -- it might offend someone.  I swear to God) -- and if you're wondering how that can be done, I give you three letters: A.D.R.  But then again, I don't have the difficult task of selling the film.  Although, I certainly wish I did.

I realize of course that my suggested poster certainly isn't perfect (for starters it's just a mock-up, the other version is the final version of theirs), but it does the two things a movie poster is supposed to do, it makes you want to look at it, and it evokes interest for the story.  In other words, in this case, it makes you ask yourself, "I wonder what they're looking at?"  But when I presented this to the producers, this, I swear, is what they said, "No, you can't have a poster that shows someone's back."  Oh, really?

And my personal favorite comparison:

Thanks for reading and check back soon...


Thursday, April 7, 2011

DME Day on The Final Season...

This is a photo of "David Mickey Evans Day" on location in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at Kernel Stadium.  My Line Producer friend, Kenny Burke gave the entire crew shaved-head caps, black rim glasses and temporary arm tattoos and they all secretly suited-up after lunch.  When we came back to the set EVERYONE was walking around with these things on and acting as if everything was perfectly freakin' normal!  Hysterical.  One of my best filmmaking memories.  If you've never seen the movie, here's the trailer:

I've also added some material in the DME SPEAKING tab on the menu bar.  Check it out and tell your friends.  In fact feel free to send a link to my Blog to everyone human being you know.

I'll have a new post up later this evening.

Thanks for reading and check back soon...


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What happened to Bobby?...

I have been asked a million times, "What happened to Bobby at the end of RADIO FLYER?"

A few years ago my friend, Stephen Greenfield interviewed me for an article and my answer to this question is as good a one as I think I have ever given. If after reading the Q&A you're still questioning the ending, sit-tight until I have my Blog figured out you'll be able to get a copy of the original screenplay and the original novella.

Here ya go:

"What's the Message?"
Article by Stephen Greenfield

Many years ago, friends warned me about seeing Radio Flyer. This 1992 film was the result of a very hot script auction (reputed to be $1 million). The production was the subject of additional controversy when the 27 year-old writer, David Mickey Evans, having negotiated a pay-and-play contract to direct the picture, was deliberately slowed down and caused to go over schedule, so that he could be thrown off the project after two weeks and replaced by Richard Donner. Donner is the esteemed director of the original Superman movie, the Lethal Weapon series, Conspiracy Theory, and more. That move escalated the budget of the small, deeply personal story from $18 million to $30 million.
Mixing warm, reminiscent fantasy with frighteningly real drama, Radio Flyer is about a young boy (Bobby), who endures the secret abuse of a sadistic stepfather (The King), and Bobby’s distressed older brother (Mike) who desperately tries to end that abuse. The concerned brother is inhibited from telling anyone, especially the mother, because knowledge of the abuse would destroy her happy relationship with the stepfather. So the kids can’t tell anyone: not the mother, not the concerned policeman who sees that something’s going on, not anyone. Nor do they attempt to run away to escape the abuse.
What these kids do, in fact, is build a pretend airplane out of a Radio Flyer wagon, and in the end, the seriously abused brother flies off into the night sky.
When I saw this, I thought, these kids seemed so concerned about mom’s feelings, don’t they think she’s going to be SHATTERED when she finds out her son has flown off, never to return?
To me, and to many other critics of the movie, the message seemed to be that although child abuse is a real problem, there is no solution short of suicide. Exactly what did the filmmakers think a child seeing this movie was going to think? That they, too, could build an impossible device and fly it away to solve their problems? I have kids, and I’m certain this wouldn’t be a message for any child I cared about.
But there are many stages between the idea and intent that forms in the writer’s mind, and what gets filmed, edited and ultimately interpreted by the audience. Over the intervening years, I had become acquainted with the writer, David Mickey Evans. Before revisiting my reaction 18 years ago to “Radio Flyer”, I realized I had a unique opportunity to go right to the source! David answered my questions with some very candid replies:
Stephen Greenfield: How did the story change from what you ultimately sold? Were there changes the studio compelled you to make, that you perhaps only did because you (at that time) didn't want to rock the boat directorially?
David Mickey Evans: It was softened, which I never liked, and in comparison to a recent film like "Precious," seems to have vindicated my point of view. Things that bothered me about the changes were that they kept coming from places that I didn't think had the right to make and/or suggest them. For example, the V.O. over the scene when The King comes back to the house after having been arrested, was written by the editor, Stuart Baird. Donner liked it. I did not. It was never a matter of me not wanting to rock the boat, it was simply that ALL decisions began and ended with Mr. Donner. The most glaring change was the end of the film, the original script ended with a reunion of sorts between Mike and Bobby, grown up, in the Smithsonian National Aerospace Museum where the Radio Flyer is on display next the The Wright Flyer -- with the exception that is has no visable means of support (no wires, nothing... just hovering in mid air proudly). I wrote it because I intended it to mean that the Radio Flyer had actually worked -- whatever the machinations of how Bobby survived notwithstanding. Mr. Donner's opinion was that the ending should be a "Rorschach Test" for the audience. I believe that is entirely wrong. Having said that, he was very kind to me, and included me at every stage of production and post-production.
SG: What changes were made to the story without your participation?
DME: The only thing I can recall as having been "sprung" upon me was the rewritten V.O. over the scene I mentioned above.
SG: Were aspects of abuse in the story either toned down or amped up after you were "replaced" as director?
DME: Yes. Toned down. I had in mind something more like "The 400 Blows." Mr. Donner had in mind, I think, something more like, "My Life As A Dog."
SG: Mike and Bobby never tell mom about The King's abuse, presumably because doing so would ruin her relationship with him. They also don't tell anyone, including the police. Is this for the same reason? And was this a key requirement of the plot for the ending to work?
DME: No, it wasn't specifically so that Mom's relationship with The King not be ruined, it was because, "Mom's happy now." There's a big difference there. Yes, they do not tell the police for the same reason. Yes, the ending, as I wrote it, but was not included in the film, had to have this element to make it work. Keep in mind the time the story is set in -- the early 70's, and there wasn't the sort've help and support for domestic abuse issues as there is today.
SG: Why is it Mike and Bobby can't run away? That's usually the first thing that kids think of. Was the reason for not being able to run away ever addressed in the script?
DME: Sure it was addressed, and that small piece of explanatory dialogue was edited out. Sure they could've both run away, but Mike wasn't getting abused, Bobby was, and the logic the kids use is that "someone has to stay home and take care of mom." Simple. Honest.
SG: The kids seem so concerned about Mom's feelings — but don't they think she is going to be SHATTERED when she finds out her son has flown off, never to return?
DME: That's hardly something that would've occurred to them in their state of fear. Their thought process goes like this, "Bobby's getting hurt. Can't tell Mom because she's happy now. Gotta get Bobby away and safe. I, Mike, will stay and take care of her. That's a good plan." Anything after that is asking too much of the 10 and 8 year-old minds to consider. There's also a metaphorical sense in which it is meant, and that is simply, "the radio flyer having worked" = "that Mike and Bobby finally got help" however that may have actually happened. I did not intend it that way, but I acknowledge it's potential.
SG: In the beautifully set up montage, "seven things all kids under 12 believe" (one of my favorite bits of writing!) you set up that “monsters exist”, “animals can talk” and most importantly, “kids can fly”. But at virtually every point in this film, where the kids have an opportunity to come face to face with the seven things, they ultimately see the truth: monsters don’t exist, animals can’t talk, and a favorite blanket can’t protect you like a force field from the neighborhood bully. So why do these kids have any faith that the Radio Flyer can deliver?
DME: Really good question! Because in the original script, they're real: monster do exist, animals do talk (in fact all the material with Mike and Shane [the dog] communicating was removed), a blanket is an impenetrable force field; e.g. (in the original script) when Bobby hops off the roof with the umbrella, he floats gently to the ground. That was the point of the entire section, to depict that within their world, all that stuff is vitally real, actual, it "is"... it's their reality, childhood magic to be sure, but real.
SG: Does the ending of the film essentially amount to suicide for Bobby? Is the message of the ending, and thus the film, that even though child abuse is a very real problem (and portrayed as such), there is no real world solution short of suicide? Because the argument that a kid can build an impossible but magical device to whisk himself away from abuse seems contradicted by the setup of the "seven things". And you make a compelling case for why these characters cannot tell anyone else.
DME: No f***ing way! I've been asked that a thousand times. I understand how an audience could come away with that impression considering the way the story was altered, but I NEVER intended that. Ever. The argument I was making was entirely the opposite, in effect, "Never give up no matter what!" And really, i was blurring the metaphorical line as it were in the original script, the Radio Flyer is a metaphor, it worked in the vastness of childhood imagination, and because of the 100% belief the kids had in it, it worked in reality-reality as well. If that seems contradictory, read the paragraph again, and remember, that the original ending of the film is not in the film -- Mike and Bobby as adults, Bobby in an Air Force Officer's uniform, in the Smithsonian Aerospace museum (the hallowed hall of the preeminent artifacts of flight) reconnecting after a long absence in front of the Wright Flyer and the Radio Flyer both on display beside one another. There was also V.O. there that tied the entire story up on a cathartic and understandable bow.
SG: And ultimately, how do you frame the message you were trying to send? Was it aimed at a purely adult audience? Was it a mistake for the film to be marketed as a PG-rated "family" movie?
DME: I never aim any story at any audience when I write it. The story was the story. Who was "The 400 Blows" aimed at? Who, for that matter, really, was "Precious" (to use a much more recent example) aimed at? I really couldn't care less. And was it a mistake to market it as a PG-rated family film? Of course it was. Look at the disaster it was at the box office. I'm proud of the story, the script, but handling what should've been an intimate, tense, dramatic, lower budget sort've story in a HUGE holly-woody way (budget, marketing etc...) was clearly a mistake.
So there you have it.
Personally, I believe the project was intended as an exploration of a real issue, with the cinematic and entertaining device of a kid flying off in a impossibly non-aerodynamic contraption.
David told me that the head of Columbia really identified with the story, quoting “Hey, kid, you wrote my life…” David’s desire to blend the serious aspects of abuse in the framework of entertainment was probably the key decision that launched “Radio Flyer”.
Unfortunately, the film’s intent was mangled in the delivery. The result was a movie with a confused and disturbing message, targeted at parents and kids.
For a more detailed historical article on the genesis of “Radio Flyer”, see Entertainment Weekly article:,,309669,00.html.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Magnificent History...

I recently finished reading two magnificent pieces of historical writing, one a "history" by a scholarly Historian, the other a first person account by a remarkable Explorer.

William H. Prescott's lengthily titled "History of The Conquest of Mexico, with a preliminary view of The Ancient Mexican Civilization and the life of The Conqueror Hernando Cortes," weighs in at 652 pages with another hundred or so pages in appendixes, and was published in 1843.

Captain James Cook's "Voyages," or more precisely the compiled accounts of all three of his expeditions from 1768 - 1779 "Captain Cook's Voyages," runs about 516 pages (with another 50 or so in appendixes and an Afterword), and were published variously in 1773, 1777 and 1780ish. Cook never actually wrote the published accounts of his voyage; his journals were turned over to Dr. John Hawkesworth (who wrote the account of the first Voyage), and later Dr. John Douglas (who wrote the accounts of the second and third Voyages), adding the journals of ship's surgeon William Anderson and James King to the body of the account of the third Voyage. The version I read is my personal copy of The Folio Society of London's 1997 edition Selected and Introduced by Glyndwr Williams (the "selected" accounting for the distilled 516 pages out of what amounted to thousands of pages in the original books. Wish I had those!).

To compare the two works is to compare apples and doorknobs. Both histories, yes, but they could not be more different in style and more importantly intent. So I starting thinking about ways in which they were similar, and it occurred to me, and this holds true for every history I've ever read (assuming they were well written), that all things being equal (scholarship, facts, an adequate distance between the writer, his opinion of the material and the material itself) both of these works had me turning pages and asking, "What next?"

With Cook the What next? is like shielding your eyes from the sun while looking toward the horizon in wonder and imagining what might be there.

With Prescott the What next? is more like having been traumatized by witnessing a murder and then being present at a human sacrifice. A matter of degree.

Other things I've been thinking about is finishing the current script my writing partner, Paul Jaconi-Biery and myself are working on entitled The Long Walk Home. We're writing this with the blessing of Peter Fonda whom I hope will like it enough to agree to play the lead role. I think he will.

In my next post I'll answer some FAQ's concerning what happened to Bobby at the end of Radio Flyer. I've been asked that countless times and have answered it before, but I thought I'd answer here so that once and for all the question is put to bed.

Thanks for reading and check back soon.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

What I am reading...

I just finished A Farewell to Arms and For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. Both vintage classic Hemingway to be sure, but the leap forward he makes in character forming from the first, published in 1929 to the next, published in 1940, is remarkable. The people in Arms are real enough but walk his pages tending toward two dimensional cut-outs against the larger background of World War I (really the main character of the story). The people in Tolls are superbly authentic, emotional, living, breathing, identifiable human beings living more in the four days of war that the story spans than ten people live in ten lifetimes. Turning the last page the book had the effect on me that tells me every time, never lies to me, that this is a simply great work (perhaps one of the all time best), and that is that I did not want it to end. Call it the "expertness of art."

And Robert Jordan's backstory as it concerns Hemingway's own life, and the way it ended (or rather how he ended it) is a haunting and startling prescience. So I started thinking, what could account for the big leap forward, the attaining of such a higher height of writing/story-telling mastery that separates the two novels... and setting aside the fact that Hemingway was a monstrously disciplined writer, it seems to me that it is simply this -- he lived a life.

In the today world of the same-ing (as it were) of the sexes, Hemingway gets a lot of revisionist guff that is undeserved and frankly, idiotic. If there is another writer that has ever written dialogue as "alive with rhythms and idioms... I do not know where to find (him)." Conrad Aiken's assessment not my own, but he's right on the money.

I also recently finished a whole array of historical reading on Joseph of Arimathea and what happened to the original Apostles and the Disciples of Christ. Sometime this year hopefully I will be re-writing a screenplay about GLASTONBURY based on all of this and I need to know it upside down and backward. And all of it is fascinating.

I'm working on the Blog site everyday and readying "Robert Radio Flyer, The King of Pacoima," the first of my books I am going to offer here for download to Kindle etc. and as a paperback through Amazon.Com. I'll upload a non-illustrated version first with a illustrated version to follow soon thereafter (check my first post for more on that).

Thanks for reading and check back soon...