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The Assumption

Dresden to go (cc)Via Popcorn Fiction, a superstar actor has big secrets in his past in this touch of noir from Ralph Pezzullo, co-author of HUNT THE WOLF: A Seal Team Six novel written with Don Mann.

He saw her face in his mind’s eye and there was no mistake. Pale and pleading. Desperate. A ghost with pale red hair floating to the surface of his consciousness.

More like an ache. An awful reminder.

Gil Naylor cranked up the stereo in his vintage Mercedes coupe as it climbed the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills.

Then he saw her again. This time, smiling. Teasing. Beckoning him further like a siren. “Help me, Gil. Please, help me.”

Entering through the elaborately carved Spanish door, the ruggedly handsome forty-nine-year-old actor crossed directly to the bottle of Asombroso Reserva Del Porto, poured a shot and downed it.

Beyond the patio and pool he watched the sun drop like a mustard-colored fizzy into the blue ink ocean. The tequila slammed down his throat like a fist.

And the image vanished.

Replaced by familiar sounds and faces as the house came to life like it always did when he entered. Jagged sparks of energy ricocheted off the terracotta tiles and yellow stucco walls, into the lavender tiled kitchen, and beyond.

Jenny, his live-in girlfriend, responded, hurrying in from the gym in a black tank top and shorts, abs taunt and glistening, nipples at attention. Tara, his personal assistant stuck her head out of the upstairs office and called from the balcony. Continue reading “The Assumption”

A Conversation with Mark Bomback

The writer of Die Hard 4 and Unstoppable, Mark Bomback is one of Hollywood’s leading action screenwriters with a long list of major projects in development or about to go into production. Below, Mark talks about his love of classic genre stories, working with the unstoppable Tony Scott and Denzel Washington and what really makes the Die Hard series tick.

Your story, “Still Life” feels very much like an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or The Twilight Zone.  Are there any particular “eerie” stories that provided an inspiration, on the screen or off?

I am most definitely a huge fan of both those shows, as well as The Outer Limits. I think The Twilight Zone in particular has informed my approach to genre fiction, both as a screenwriter and in my occasional stabs at prose writing.  Regarding the story “Still Life,” I wasn’t directly inspired by any film, TV episode, or short story in particular, however I’ve been a serious Stephen King fan since I was 11 years old, and his short fiction – particularly his collection Night Shift – hugely influences any genre writing I attempt. I also love Jonathan Carroll’s fiction, and particularly adore the stories in his collection The Panic Hand (the title story, as well as “Mr. Fiddlehead,” are especially great). In terms of the subject of immortality, I can still recall how moved and troubled I felt after reading Natalie Babbitt’s brilliant Tuck Everlasting when I was in 5th grade. It had an almost biblical impact on my opinion regarding any and all fountains of youth.

Your film Unstoppable is in theaters now, directed by Tony Scott.  In terms of the modern action film, Scott has few peers.  His relationship with Denzel Washington is one of the more notable Actor/ Director alliances in contemporary Hollywood. How did writing for the ongoing Scott/Washington juggernaut affect your process?

To be honest, from the moment I first conceived of the character of Frank Barnes, I had Denzel’s voice in mind – this was way before Tony came on to the project.   My big fear was that Tony would shoot down the possibility of Denzel simply because they’d just wrapped on The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, and in fact I do believe Tony would have preferred to avoid the inevitable knocks from critics regarding his going back to Denzel once again.  However neither of us could deny the fact that there truly was no other actor on the planet we’d rather see play that role.  Once Denzel came on board and we began script meetings in pre-production, it was truly fascinating to watch the two of them at work. They have a certain shorthand, of course, but what’s so unique is the level of trust each has in the other.  It allowed them to collaborate in a very truthful and focused way, without any of the nagging fears and insecurities that so often fuel those anxious conversations during prep.  What was even more gratifying was how quickly they came to extend that level of trust to me. I think it’s a testament not only to their confidence as artists, but also to the level of experience each of them brings to a film. I’ve personally never felt so secure in asserting my opinion as the writer, and I have never had that opinion so welcomed.

You wrote Die Hard 4, Live Free or Die Hard. To a certain extent, the Die Hard series goes all the way back to the 70’s, to the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe, which was the basis for Die Hard 1. What is the ongoing appeal (both from an audience and creator perspective) of the contained threat scenario?

Actually, I’m not entirely certain that the “contained threat” is really the secret of the franchise’s longevity. Certainly the first film created this whole sub-genre of action movie – the “Die Hard on a fill-in-the-blank” movie, and that is directly attributable to the narrative ingenuity of that first film – but what I think accounts for the success of the subsequent Die Hard films, including the one I wrote, is simply the character of John McClane. The same might be said of the Indiana Jones films – like Die Hard, the unique conceit of Raiders is undeniably something audiences responded to, but I think the reason both films did more than just spawn imitators resides in the power of thier protagonists.  I know that when I wrote my first draft of Live Free or Die Hard, it wasn’t so much the spirit of the action I was trying to nail (although that was a major, major concern) but really the voice of McClane that I knew would ultimately make it read like a Die Hard script.

Your forthcoming film Protection has an amazing pitch, a reversal of normal action film protocol that appears to cast The Witness Protection Program as the bad guys. What was the genesis of the project?

This is a project I was hired by 20th Century Fox, producer John Davis, and director Gary Fleder to rewrite.  The original draft was written a few years ago by Allan Loeb, a very talented writer, and was then subsequently rewritten by Miles Chapman, who incorporated some clever revisions.  Gary has his own specific ideas as to the kind of film he thinks this could be – something in the vein of Marathon Man, especially in terms of the psychological journey the protagonist takes over the course of the story.  Gary and I had been trying for years to find something to work on together in just this arena, so I was very excited by the opportunity to get involved. I hesitate to divulge much more, as it’s still in development, but I think it could wind up being a really fun film.

Another upcoming project, Jack the Giant Killer, as it is billed, seems like it will present an amazing opportunity to reinvent a classic story. How does one go about updating a narrative that is such an intrinsic part of our collective experience?

Again, this isn’t my original script, but another project I was hired to rewrite.  The original was written by Darren Lemke, who made some really interesting choices as to how to interpret and expand on the familiar fairy tale. I wrote on it for a little over a year, and worked with the director, Bryan Singer, to really try to mine every bit of visual and narrative fun that the tale offers. I had an opportunity to see some of the pre-production materials, and it’s definitely going to be a pretty massive spectacle.

The concept of eternal life is obviously one that many people think about. Still Life presents quite a dark view of what the reality could really equate. Did writing the story make you think twice about what you might do if the option came your way?

I confess, I’d pretty much weighed in against it before I sat down to the computer.  That said, I don’t believe anyone really knows how they’d respond to such an offer until presented with it.  Hopefully I’d have the foresight to turn it down.  Or at least remind myself to quickly re-read Tuck Everlasting.

Mark Bomback is a screenwriter whose credits include Live Free or Die Hard and Race to Witch Mountain. His new film, Unstoppable, directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine is now in theaters. Mark lives in New York with his wife and four children.

Derek Haas and Rian Johnson on Popcorn Fiction

We’re thrilled to announce that PopcornFiction.com, the brilliant genre fiction short story showcase created by screenwrtiter Derek Haas, has joined forces with Mulholland Books. In the weeks and months to come, we look forward to shining a light on Popcorn Fiction, and running select Popcorn Fiction stories on MulhollandBooks.com. Follow the PopcornFiction.com link today to read a short story by Alvaro Rodriguez, writer of MACHETE. And much, much more…

To learn more about the origins of PF, check out the below conversation between Derek Haas (WANTED, 3:10 to Yuma) and writer/director Rian Johnson (BRICK, THE BROTHERS BLOOM).

Rian Johnson: Derek Haas, you and your writing partner, Michael Brandt, virtually poop little nuggets of box-office gold. At this point in your career, you could, without exaggeration, afford to just fill a claw-foot bathtub up with gold Rolexes and luxuriate nakedly for the rest of your days without lifting another finger. Why, then, I put to you, start Popcorn Fiction? Why start a site dedicated to the … I don’t want to call it the lost art, but something that definitely had its heyday back in the fifties, this kind of pulpy short-form fiction. What was the thing that kind of spurred you to start the site up?

Derek Haas: First of all, it’s an honor to get to be interviewed by one my contemporary heroes of the modern cinema whose award-winning and well-loved films …

RJ: [Laughs]

DH: Never mind. I can’t do that with a straight face. OK, now, Popcorn Fiction, the idea originated when I was just thinking that I love old genre fiction, and it seems like screenwriters every week were setting up some story, a Philip K. Dick story, to be adapted into a movie, or an Isaac Asimov story. Michael and I had adapted an Elmore Leonard short story from the fifties into the movie 3:10 to Yuma. I was just thinking to myself where has all this great genre fiction gone? I’m sure there are magazines dedicated to it, but if there are, no one in Hollywood is reading them. I just thought so many screenwriters who I know love genre movies, love the L.A. Confidentials of the world, The Bourne Identitys, but no one seems to be writing that stuff in short form anymore and in prose. I just, literally, went to ten or so of my screenwriting friends and said, “Would you guys be interested in doing this? Maybe I’ll start a magazine.” Then I realized quickly I had zero idea on how to start a magazine. So I turned to the Internet and set up the site Popcorn Fiction. I got a great response from my screenwriter friends and commissioned them to write 2,000- to 8,000-word stories and really went for genre stories, not the kind of thing that would appear in The New Yorker. Let me qualify that by saying that, obviously, The New Yorker publishes the top, top short-fiction writing in the world. Not to take anything away from The New Yorker, but it’s not the kind of thing that is usually turned into films. Anyway, so that was my goal—get screenwriters writing short fiction, get executives in Hollywood reading short fiction, and maybe we would have a new door into getting original films made because it just seems like everything these days is based on a sequel or a comic book or a graphic novel or an old TV show. I just thought, “Well, maybe here’s a new way to generate some ideas.”

RJ: That’s interesting, from the very inception, the idea of this being geared toward the transition from print into movies was something that was on your mind from the very start.

DH: Yes, I had a publicist when this first started who was going to help me get it out there. And I told her, I really don’t care about the rest of the world reading this, I’d be delighted if this reached outside of Hollywood, and we found readers and fans around the world. But my primary target is Hollywood executives, and within the first six months of publishing, really the first ten to fifteen stories I published—I have a little subscriber button on the site and the subscriber button is basically asking people to just give me their e-mails and I won’t use that e-mail for anything else, and I will notify you when the new story is up—and within the first six months, I probably had five hundred subscribers and I would bet half of those were Hollywood executives.

RJ: Oh, wow. I know a lot of the writers who have contributed to Popcorn Fiction have been screenwriters and you have some, some titans of the screenwriting initiative, you have you know, John August and Scott Frank, but then you also have lesser-known poetasters like myself, and Craig Mazin. (Kidding, Craig, kidding.) What percentage of the contributors do you think are actually screenwriters, as opposed to people who are novelists or write short stories for living?

DH: It’s got to be 80 percent. Because I have written a couple of novels, I’ve met a few more novelists but because I live in Hollywood, I know more screenwriters, and I didn’t open up the site to outside general submissions at first. It was really just who my contacts were, who I could call and say, “Do you want to do this?” and so I just don’t know as many novelists.  The ones I do meet, I immediately hit up and say “Are you interested?” and I published a Sam Reaves short story.  A few weeks ago, I ran a woman named Alicia Gifford’s short story, she’s a novelist.  So, there are a few but they would be an exception.

Continue reading “Derek Haas and Rian Johnson on Popcorn Fiction”