Moving Into Films: Part 4


Bad Blood

Bad Blood is a supernatural action thriller. This is the story: renaissance Roman prince (Roberto Orsini) and the son of a pope (Cesare Borgia) settle their five hundred year old vendetta in the city of Rock-n-Roll (Cleveland, Ohio). Bad Blood has exotic characters, supernatural creatures that feed on human flesh, spectacular swordfights, gay biker bars, fanatical priests, a police thriller, black comedy, a comeback diva at city’s hottest nightclub, Rock-n-Roll, an orgy scene at the Vatican (a 15 century historical recreation), and twists at every turn.

The germ of the story began with the nightmare I told you about. My marketing research told me that supernatural themes were very popular with a large segment of the ticket buying market. Television programs and movies like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files attested to the powerful demands of this younger segment of the market. Action is also hugely popular with a large segment of the public and extremely well received in foreign countries. When you learn that around 60% of total movie revenues come from foreign sales you begin to rethink your strategy.

Demographics in America also showed that a large segment of the population was entering their ‘silver years.’ This mature and discriminating market segment enjoys movies that engage them in themes with a little more substance, such as thrillers, romances and intellectual themes. There is also a market of ‘family theme’ movies, ‘children’s themes,’ ‘chick films’ and other population segments that enjoy ‘art and foreign’ films. Few movies satisfy all themes but all want to satisfy most viewers. The more viewers the larger the market, hence, the more potential for profits on the box-office.

From the start I new I wanted to do a marketable film and combine several themes to attract a large market segment made up of both young adults and mature viewers. This did not mean it had to be a film that I would personally like to go see. I prefer historical and foreign films and I never go to see horror films. It meant that I was going to produce a film that satisfies what a large percentage of the ticket-buying audience was paying to see. Later on I could do films more to my liking when I could take a financial risk. For now, my first film was going to be what it needed to be to help build a small independent studio.

I wrote the story of Bad Blood in one month. My writing routine is very simple. After writing the scene number at the top of the page, I proceed to write a short narrative of what is happening in that particular scene. Then I move on to the next scene in chronological order. Next I start writing the screenplay by going back over every scene in the story and adding dialogue.

The one hundred and thirty page rough of the screenplay was completed four months after that. It was all very clear in my mind since I had prepared well. Everyday I wrote about one scene of dialogue for a total of 131 scenes. I also included a historical angle that has always fascinated me. Finally, once the work was completed, I send two-dozen copies to ‘test readers’ and waited for their feedback.

Test readers should represent a cross section of the market segment you want to reach –your target audience. I also included in my test group members of professional groups that my characters were representing, such as doctors and police officers. They become your ‘technical advisors’ and take great interest and care to make sure you remain true to life as they live it. Their input is paramount in making sure that professional procedures, slang, equipment and habits are accurately depicted. Also, one should never overlook the patrons at your local bar or hair styling saloon. Ask them to read your screenplay. These average consumers are the people who fill movie theatres -your true audience; I rely more on their judgment than that of the critics.

The criticism I received from my test readers was better than I had hope for, and, there were some unexpected bonuses. For example, when I decided to stick to one particular theme I new that Bad Blood was not going to be for everyone. The story has strong language, violence, and partial nudity, sexual situations --not to mention a setting in the Vatican that can be potentially offensive to the religious. In addition, I feared that the male leads would put off women. I was wrong. Women felt the story and characters exotic (half of the cast is foreign) and even romantically appealing. Men, as I had intended, loved the action, the black humour and the way the story unfolded. Other readers enjoy the thriller aspect of the story and the historical recreations.

After some adjustments prompted by the test reader’s feedback, I proceeded with my next step: showing it to Mary Doria Russell. While I was researching and writing Bad Blood, Mary had been writing the screenplay of the The Sparrow. After three rejected screenplays by other writers, the Hollywood studio asked her to also write the screenplay. And so, with the help and guidance of her good friend Karen Hall, an old pro who had been a writer in such classic shows as M.A.S.H, Hill Street Blues, Northern Exposure, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire (right now she's doing Judging Amy), Mary managed to complete a very good screenplay. But there was a problem with the second act so it was returned for rewrites and further editing.

It was at this point that she sent me a copy to read and to return with some feedback. I read it in one sitting and then I re-read it several times more. I was amazed and delighted with the first act. It was really, really good. Perfect. Nothing needed to be touched. The same was true of the third act. If there was some editing to be done it had to be on the second act. Ultimately, I felt the problem had to do with giving away a storyline resolution between some of the characters too early instead of saving this for last to build up anticipation and suspense. My advice was simply to reshuffle the scenes; there was very little fat to cut.

After the rewrite Mary’s screenplay was accepted and she was very grateful for my suggestions. So I further suggested that she read my screenplay and repeat the process in reverse. When we got together again to go over her notes I discovered that Mary is also a very sick lady –she actually enjoyed some of the dark scenes! What’s more, she suggested some really good one-liners, which ended up in the final manuscript. The scenes and the story remained untouched. What we did was trim down the dialogue and Mary’s suggestions were gold.

There was one final thing I was not sure of: the title. My original title was Poisoned Blood, a reference to the creatures’ ability to infect others with their blood and as a reference to dark side of the characters. Mary’s suggestion was to change it to Bad Blood. Her idea was to focus on the larger context of the story, namely, the vendetta between the 'familia' Orsini and the Borgia family. Knowing myself to be an individual of cloud-touching IQ, I knew she was right. So I changed the title and made a few adjustments in the dialogue to accentuate this interpretation.

All in all, I was very satisfied with the screenplay. Bad Blood was all that I set out to do, yet still it was much more than that, I felt it was also artistic. Now all I had to do was to make the movie, but to do this I needed to hire a film production studio. Production studios are the guys who do the actual filming. While production deals vary depending on the type of project, in my case, I was to be the producer in charge of the project and its general administration, and the selection of most of the talent. The production studio would handle the film crew and postproduction work.

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