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Sunday, June 20, 2010

And the winner is...

Sorry for posting this so much later than usual, but as might be expected, this turned out to be a chaotic, family-intensive, and yet surprisingly pleasant day. Turning now to the entries in the 6/11/10 Friday Challenge, "The Western Pitch," the judges, after considered debate, have produced the following assessments.

Avery, "The Gunsmith"

Kersley: I don't know if this would be commercially successful. I see it being more dramatic and thoughtful than a bang-em-up exploderama. (Which actually sounds like a form of skin cancer.) But it's my favorite. It's unique, it has the potential to go in any direction, and the hero's a maintainer, of sorts. My people will call your people. We'll do lunch.

Henry: I think you've got a great idea for a History Channel series on the old west, gunfighters, and their equipment. I'm not sure how it would work as a film, though you could use "He's the fastest gunsmith in the west" as a tag line. Very nice!

Bruce: I hate to be the party pooper here, but there's a big problem with this idea. Now, I first want to say that I really like the concept. It makes me think of Doc Brown in Back to the Future III or John Astin's recurring character in "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr." and really appeals to the history buff and the proto-steampunk geek in me. After all, I am the sort of guy who actually took the time and trouble to find out that nickel-plated Merwyn Hulbert .44's were the preferred concealed-carry revolvers of Secret Service and Pinkerton agents in the post-Civil War period.

The problem here is, "The Gunsmith" is the title of a long-running and commercially successful Western novel series by J. R. Roberts, which has run on for 350 novels so far. ("Roberts" seems to write one a month and may be a corporate pseudonym.) So that certainly would seem to constitute legally significant prior art, and unless you either licensed the property or were very, very lucky, this is the sort of accident that could buy a lot of Hollywood lawyers' wives some very nice jewelry. This is not an insurmountable problem. There's plenty of precedent for optioning the rights to something just to keep the title and throw out everything else, (case in point, The Blade Runner, by Alan Nourse). But it's a major problem nonetheless.

Tom, "untitled zombie apocalypse pitch"

Kersley: I know that in capable hands this could be made into a winner; I'm just not feelin' the love. Sounds a bit like Red Dawn (Wolverines!) but with people who don't know what to do with guns.

Henry: As I understand it, many movie executives have to have ideas proposed to them couched in terms of existing, recent movies. (Only a fool would expect today's movie execs to know anything about movies made prior to the 1970s.) Given that, your pitch is just right. You invoke a bunch of Spielberg's movies to invoke ideas from those movies. I think your pitch loses focus when you get busy invoking movies, but I'm not a movie executive, either. Neat pitch.

Bruce: ARGH! I can't believe that both Kersley and Henry missed that this is all just a setup for that terrible pun: "...should I have my people call your people or will your people phone Holmes?"

WaterBoy, "Cody Wyatt, Star Marshall"

Kersley: Sounds like Judge Dredd meets Firefly. I think this one would be the most commercially viable--and the most expensive to produce.

Henry: I would totally go see Cody Wyatt, Star Marshall in the theaters! This is a great Bat Durtson pitch, right down to the spaceship that looks like a horse. (Check with Fox, they probably have a few unused models of Serenity from Firefly laying around. Use it as a jumping off point.) I don't know that you'd succeed in selling it, but I'd have thought Cowboys and Aliens would have been a tough sell and that movie has some big names associated with it. Fun stuff.

Bruce: I would love to see this one, but Judge Dredd is probably a bad association to make. (Although to my surprise, it turns out there is a new Judge Dredd movie in the works.) Firefly also was considered a flop, and Serenity only made it up to "cult favorite" status, as it flopped in the theaters (to great reviews) and didn't earn out until it came out on DVD. "Lone Ranger meets Outland meets CSI" would probably be better received. But I don't know if I can forgive you for throwing in the line, "Here comes da Judge." Suddenly I'm having terrible Flip Wilson flashbacks.

Arvid Macenion, "The Elevator Pitch"

Kersley: Cute story. I know what this reminds me of! The Highlander meets the latest TMNT!

Henry: It's a wonderful bit of flash fiction featuring a cowboy superhero, plots to take over the world, and ancient Navajo magic. It's like you've rolled five or six genres into one story; a story I think could work assuming "immortal" doesn't end up meaning "can't be hurt." Let me know when the movie is in production because I'd go see it.

Bruce: Hmm. It doesn't exactly meet the terms of the challenge. It's a story about an elevator pitch, rather than the elevator pitch itself, not that straying off the original challenge has ever stopped us before. It is a wonderful little story, though.

M, "Amish Vampire Cowboys"

Kersley: This would actually work--along the lines of Bubba Ho-Tep (which I have yet to see). Not a Spielberg movie, of course, but right up Bruce Campbell's alley.

Henry: Okay, so you didn't really want this one included in the challenge, but it's a weird, fun idea. Of course, Hopalong Cassidy and Lash La Rue beat you to the "good guy wears a black hat" bit. This idea is full of potential internal conflict. How do the vampires feed if they are true to Amish beliefs of non-violence? How do the cowboys arm themselves and deliver black-hatted justice while staying non-violent? This could be the definitive, break-out Amish action movie the world has been waiting for!

Bruce: No offense, but I'm kind of overloaded on vampires right now. Ever watch Sundown, one of the fine films of the late Keith David Carradine?

Kersley, "Louis' Revenge"

Bruce: Bwa-ha-ha! Thought I'd missed this one, didn't you? Personally, I think of all of these, this is the one that most desperately needs to be made. But first we'd have to raise the ghost of Rod Serling, because this is more like a Twilight Zone or Night Gallery than a movie.

And the ruling is...

Kersley: Avery's would win the awards at the film festivals. WaterBoy's would make (and cost) the most money. M's would have a cult following for decades. I would claim that Avery's is my favorite, but I would watch M's over and over.

My vote is still for Avery's.

Henry: I think Avery has the best idea and Arvid wrote the best overall entry, but I'd go see any of these movies provided none of them featured a giant mechanical spider. As for my selection for this week, I'm going to punt and call it a toss up between Avery and Arvid.

Bruce: I'm torn. I liked Arvid's story. It really was quite enjoyable. Looking at the reader comments, I see that the only one who picked a winner was Arisia, and she picked Arvid. I also really liked WaterBoy's entry, up until the last few lines. I think Arvid's entry actually could be pitched to Spielberg: after all, he did make Indiana Jones and The Stupid Crystal Skull Thingie, or whatever it was called.

But in the final cut, I've got to go with Avery. The name would have to change. The studio would have to hire extra lawyers to make sure Mr. Roberts' copyright toes were not trod upon. But I think this is the sort of idea that you actually could get someone like a Tom Selleck on-board, and I think this could be the foundation for a nice series of modest-budget cable or direct-to-video movies.
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