Thursday, February 13, 2020

THE BIG GOODBYE:  CHINATOWN and the Last Years of Hollywood

"Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown."

That's one of the most memorable ending lines in Hollywood film history.

If you're a devotee of this classic movie CHINATOWN (Paramount Pictures, 1974), be sure to pick up this new book THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson.

The book has amazing details about Jack Nicholson, as private detective Jake Gittes, insights about 70s movies and insider stories about Hollywood's top directors, producers, and stars from that era of moviemaking.

I bought my copy already and had it signed by Sam Wasson at his recent talk at the Burbank Public Library in Burbank, CA.
Author Sam Wasson and AD/Producer Howard "Hawk" Koch, Jr.
The Big Goodbye focuses on the production and legend of the Los Angeles iconic film.  The screenplay for Chinatown was written by Robert Towne.  Wasson refers to it as the "the Tora of screenwriting".  He explained why this came to be.  When screenwriting guru Syd Field wrote his first book about the writing craft titled SCREENPLAY (1979) he chose Chinatown as the best example on how to professionally craft a script. The movie and the screenplay are still today referred to for its stellar storytelling on screen and on the page.

First assistant director on Chinatown, Howard "Hawk" Koch, Jr. joined Wasson to offer inside tales about Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, Roman Polanski, and others.  I met Koch at the book signing for his recent memoir "Magic Time: My Life in Hollywood."  Kock was the AD and producer of over sixty films.  He produced some of my favorite films of all-time including "The Way We Were", "This Property is Condemned" (script by Francis Ford Coppola), and "Barefoot in the Park".  He's worked with the best in the film industry and also served as former president of the Motion Picture Academy and the Producer's Guild.

In closing, I'll leave you with another well-known movie line from Chinatown spoked by the film's director Roman Polanski in his cameo as Man with a Knife:

"You're a nosy fella, kitty cat, huh?"

And then, Man with a Knife slices Jake Gittes' nose open with a knife. 

Koch said that famous scene took twelve takes, with Polanski pretending again and again to slice Nickolson's nose open.  Finally, after the twelfth take, Nicholson said: "That's enough." Koch noted the director used the first take in the movie. 

Hollywood power games.

Until next time. 


Monday, September 23, 2019

Any good screenwriting books?
The Larry Edmunds Bookshop is well-known and one of the oldest bookshops around.  It's been in business for over 70 years. When you enter the place, it looks like a used book store with shelves of old and new Hollywood-themed books, movie posters on the walls and other Hollywood artifacts.  They have a great collection of movie scripts, everything from The Godfather to Forest Gump selling for $15.  We can get most now online for free, but if you're into collecting film scripts in pristine condition, this is your place.

I, of course, had to find the screenwriting shelf and they had many of the well-known screenwriting paperbacks from Syd Field and other popular writing gurus.  The store is rather small and some of it looked used more for storage.  I expected it to have a more impressive screenwriting collection/display -- but it's still a cool place to visit when on Hollywood Blvd. in L.A.

Hopefully, this old-time bookshop will stick around in the digital world.   Stop in if you're in town and pick up a book --  support the locals.  You can browse and feel like you're stepping back in time in Hollywood.
Here is some info about the place and the link to its website is below.


6644 Hollywood Boulevard Los Angeles, CA, 90028
Phone: 323)463-3273
Mon : 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sat: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm

If you're looking for larger bookshops with a moe current stock and a more inviting place to hang out for hours, I'd suggest The Last Bookstore in DTLA or Book Soup on Sunset Blvd.
Either way, go buy a book and read.

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

by Janet J. Lawler 
July 23, 2019
Los Angeles, CA
Located on Santa Monica Blvd.
The newly remodeled and recently reopened Formosa Cafe is legendary in West Hollywood.  And for good reason.

In its heyday, the place served drinks to the best of old Hollywood -- Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, and John "The Duke" Wayne.

When you bellied up to this bar, you always knew who was sitting next to you.  Movie stars. Famous singers.  They came here to hide out from the movie studio execs down the block.

Just stepping into The Formosa Cafe you feel the presence of movie history (celeb photos line the walls), the allure of fame (and its demons) tempt you as you listen to bartenders mixing and shaking drinks.  I had the popular Mai Tai that could knock your socks off... except people don't wear socks in L.A.

The 1933 Group did a great job in bringing The Formosa back to life.  They poured $2.5 million dollars into its renovation.  Thankfully they did, it's keeping the haunt going that first opened in the 1930s.

The bars (there are two) are huge, one in the front room and one in the back.  There are gorgeous, red booths where you can enjoy Asian eats.  David Kuo oversees the Chinese-American menu.  We enjoyed the pot stickers and the beef and broccoli.

You can sit in the dining room, bar area, or in the remodeled Pacific Trolley car.  It's an authentic trolley car now lined with celeb photos and newspaper clippings about the movie industry from days gone by.  Bogart and Bacall often came here.

During the recent July L.A. earthquakes, a waiter said customers eating inside the trolley got a little impromptu ride.  Fortunately, no damage or injuries, but it sure gave patrons a reason to order another drink.

I love The Formosa Cafe.  It's not a tourist trap but instead is a cool, hideaway vibe.  If you want to wow someone, meet them here for drinks and appetizers.

It's said that actor John Wayne once got so plastered at The Formosa that he passed out overnight in one of the red booths.  They found him in the morning cooking eggs in the kitchen with a hangover.  And, crooner Frank Sinatra is remembered as having a broken heart.  He'd down drinks at The Formosa while pining over Ava Garner.

Ah, Hollywood.

Speaking of, last night was the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Quentin Tarantino's ninth stand-alone film.  I hope to see it this week.

Until next time.

website link to The Formosa Cafe

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

by Janet J. Lawler
Los Angeles, CA
July 17, 2019
The other night I took in a very young Jane Fonda double-feature ("Cat Ballou" and "The Chase") at The New Beverly Cinema in L.A.  It's not like summertime at a classic Drive-In, but pretty close.

The New Bev is a wonderful, cozy movie haven located on Beverly Blvd.

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino owns this establishment and selects many of the films projected.  You can tell, his fingerprints are everywhere you look from European movie posters in the lobby to the great cinema selects each month.

All prints are shown in glorious 35mm (unless noted in 16mm), no digital projectors allowed.  The famous writer/director wants you to experience movies the way they were meant to be seen.  Many of these flicks are directly from Tarantino's private collection.  I love it.

From the moment you get in line, (best to order your tix online),  you know this experience is for movie geeks. No apologies made. If you come to The New Bev, you love cinema, pure and simple, all kinds of cinema.   But, you can enjoy the place even if you only see a movie once in a while.  But,  chances are you are obsessed with cinema just like me.  You can feed your celluloid addiction at The New Bev any day of the week, at all times of the day -- with kiddie matinees on weekends to midnight screenings.
Get your seat early at The New Bev
The theater itself was recently remodeled and is clean, with a great screen and sound system, comfy seats and cheap snacks (even vegan hot dogs).  Hey, it's L.A.  They could easily price gouge theatergoers here, but they don't.  Admission prices are reasonable as are the cheap snack prices (visit the theater's link for specifics
In the lobby, they sell T-shirts and you can see Tarantino's soon-to-be-released "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" movie poster on full display.  The staff is friendly, welcoming and efficient.  The place has a relaxed, cool vibe but expects reverence for all its showings (that means no texting or looking at your phone during the movie.)

Before each show, the film is introduced by a staff member offering inside tidbits about the making of the film.  The night I attended manager Charlie introduced the Jane Fonda double-feature.  (We also got to watch a grainy 70s trailer for Fonda's Academy Award-winning role in Klute).

Thanks, Quentin Tarantino, for making a personal investment in cinema, for putting your money where your mouth is.  I'm hooked and will be back.

Cinema is about great directors, writers, actors, cinemaphotographers and music scores... but it's also about the theater experience itself.  When that's done right, it's pure magic.

You can also listen to The New Bev's podcast The Pure Cinema.  It has an interview with Tarantino all about his ninth film and programming for summertime at the movie house.  It's a hoot!

Until next time.

#TheNewBev   #QuentinTarantino #OnceUponATimeinHollywood
The New Beverly website:
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Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Stay true to your voice and don't be afraid to share it with the world. 

We need to hear your story and learn about your unique worldview.

Never stop picking up the pen or pounding the keyboard.  Just keep writing!

Happy National Writing Day to all you writers out there!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019


My feature drama screenplay ABSOLUTION made the Top 25 Semifinalist in its first ever Top 25 Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge.   So grateful!

Placing in the Save the Cat! Challenge holds special meaning for me.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Save the Cat! creator Blake Snyder in New York City many years ago.  He was teaching a writing workshop in Manhattan.  I was quick to sign up. It was a great one-day workshop focusing on various movie genres, themes and dialogue. 

Blake Snyder was a super kind, insightful and inspirational screenwriting instructor and consultant.  A class act.  I was deeply saddened when he passed away in 2009.  

But his instruction and brand continues at the Save the Cat! website , along with videos on YouTube and other media outlets.
Blake Snyder
Blake, thanks for all you taught me through your Save the Cat! series and your workshop.

My script ABSOLUTION falls into the genre of Rites of Passage and is a redemption story.  Here's to getting it into the right hands and produced for the big (or little screen).  And hey,  I'm just putting this out into the universe, but this script would be ideal for actor Chris Pine
Actor Chris Pine
Congratulations to ALL the writers who entered the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge... and especially to the Finalists!  

See the complete list below.  

Until next time.

Here is the complete list of Finalists and Semifinalist.

Blake Snyder's Bio

Thursday, May 09, 2019

The Margaret Herrick Library dedicated to Motion Pictures
The Margaret Herrick Library is an amazing library and non-circulating resource center for movie lovers and scholars located in Beverly Hills, CA.

Today was my first visit to the library.

Who was Margaret Florence Herrick?  She was the Executive Director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The academy's library in 1971 was named the Margaret Herrick Library in her honor.

The outside building looks more like a church than a library.  Step inside and you're greeted by security (bring your ID).  You are then required to sign in and present a picture ID, which they will hold until you leave the library.
I browsed the lobby which has photos of famous movie actors on the walls, everyone from Al Pacino to Douglas Fairbanks to Cher.

After signing in, you can proceed upstairs to the reading room and collections/resource area.  Keep in mind that this isn't your usual public library -- here, you don't check out books or media materials to take home.  It's simply for research on their site.

While there, I read two movie scripts (The Godfather II and This Property is Condemned), both scripts written by Francis Ford Coppola.

The staff is polite and very helpful. Follow all the rules (they are posted as you enter the building and upstairs in the collection area).  Laptops are allowed (without covers), a pencil and paper are permitted (no pens) and you will be asked to store your purse, bags, etc. in a token locker.

The atmosphere is lovely. 

That rare quiet place these days to read.

No cell phones are allowed inside the library area.  That, too, goes in the locker.  But in all honesty, it was a delight to be detached from my phone for a few hours. 

There is parking nearby and metered parking on the street.

You can read books on every topic from directing to editing to screenwriting.  The shelves are stacked with autobiographies and biographies,  how-to guides about filmmaking and resource books. 

I spent hours perusing their materials.

This elegant, generously-supported facility is devoted to the history and development of the motion picture as an art form and an industry. Established in 1928 and now located in Beverly Hills, the library is open to the public and used year-round by students, scholars, historians and industry professionals.

I plan to return often.  This library is a must-visit if you're a movie lover.  It's a treasure especially for screenwriters.

Here is the library's website for more info: