Friday, September 30, 2016

The Silver Screen Comes Calling

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

by Paul D. Marks

Ha! Who would I choose to play my protagonists on the silver screen: anybody who comes-a-callin’. It would just be great to see one of my prose stories up there. But since I’m an “old movie” guy I often tend to think of classic movie stars for parts, and since some of them are dead (H. Bogart) it’s not ideal casting, though it would be perfect to me and the question doesn’t specify dead or alive. So in an ideal world…

There was a time when I saw many of my male leads as either Humphrey Bogart or Jack Nicholson. Harrison Ford. And for at least some of the female leads, Michelle Pfeiffer. Hey, when you’re dreaming dream big! And on occasion I came close to having that dream fulfilled. For example, I was working with a producer who had optioned a script of mine and he asked me who my ideal leads would be. I said Harrison Ford or Jack Nicholson for the male and Michelle Pfeiffer for the female. Now you might think that these were out of reach but not so because this producer had worked with them, knew them and could actually get them. Unfortunately that project went south, but it was exciting while it lasted. Oh, and how close other times. But close is no cigar or even a cigarillo. So, maybe what I’ll have to do is turn that script into a novel. Sell that novel to Hollywood. And then see about the casting. Though were it made today it would be a whole new ballgame of actors.

So onto casting for my prose, let’s see:

White Heat (Shamus-winning novel): A noir-thriller set during the Rodney King riots in L.A. Duke Rogers is a private eye who inadvertently leads a stalker to his prey. Then he and his sidekick Jack have to set things right and try to find the killer. Jack is rough around the edges to say the least, very unPC. The kind of guy who always says the wrong thing but does the right thing. How about Nick Nolte in his prime? And for Duke, Keanu Reeves. And for Rita, Duke’s love interest, Lupita Nyong'o.

Vortex (Noir Novella): Zach Tanner is just back from the war in Afghanistan. Tough, but wanting to get back to the real world, he’s had a change of heart about a get rich quick scheme he entered into with some of his army buddies. Unfortunately for him his friends haven’t. How about Ryan Gosling for Zach? And Mila Kunis for Jesse, his girlfriend. Yeah, I could live with that, even though both are probably a little too old for the parts as written.

Dead Man’s Curve (short story published in the Last Exit to Murder anthology): Ray Hood is a guy whose rock ‘n’ roll dreams have evaporated. I’ve always seen this as a movie and always with Jeff Bridges as Ray, though if any bankable A-List actor wants the part, more power to him. Ray’s a frustrated musician who has lost his ability to play and is aimless and foundering without it. He once played with Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys on the road—his claim to fame—and is trying for a comeback. He gets a chance to do a favor for an old friend by driving his classic car up the coast, playing music on the iPod, but things go wrong. Very wrong.  —And I’m talking Bridges today, gruff and grizzled, not the smooth young actor of yesteryear.

Howling at the Moon (Anthony and Macavity nominated short story, published in the 11/14 Ellery Queen): Darrell is a Native American ex-Marine, who comes back to visit the sacred lands of his grandfather and meets a treasure hunter. Johnny Depp would be good for box office, but maybe Adam Beach or Rick Mora would be good for the part. There’s only four people in this story and one of them is hardly a character. And Bud, the “yuppie,” could be played by a young Brad Pitt doing a character role instead of the leading man.

Ghosts of Bunker Hill (short story, coming soon to an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine near you in the December 2016 issue): Howard Hamm is a detective in a baffling case where his best friend is shot and killed on the doorstep of his lovingly-restored, former Bunker Hill Victorian house. As I was writing this story there was only person I thought of for the part: Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order fame. And on the good news front, I’ve sold a sequel to this one to Ellery Queen, but no publication date has been set yet.

So, there you have it. Of course, we don’t want people to only see these actors in a part. It’s up to your imagination too. So feel free to cast whoever you want in my stories, you’re the casting director. I’m just the lowly writer…and in Hollywood, believe me, there’s pretty much no one lower than the lowly writer. And like I said, if you’re going to dream, dream big!


Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Same But Different

Catriona writes: I'm not here (again!) but that's  very good thing because instead of me, you get a real treat in the form of UK ex-cop, seasoned thriller writer and all-round good egg Matt Hilton.

The Same But Different

Oxymorons aside, I’ve come to realise after writing eleven books in my on-going Joe Hunter thriller series, that there’s a certain expectation from readers that each book should be the same…but different. By that I don’t mean conducting an exercise in cutting and pasting, changing a few names and locations here and there, but in that there should be familiar characters, themes and a similar level of explosive action they’ve come to expect from Hunter’s exploits. It stands to reason, I guess. Readers probably picked up the series because they enjoy the kind of characters, themes and explosive action promised by a Joe Hunter book, and stick with the subsequent books expecting more of the same. And being the scribe of Hunter’s adventures it’s my responsibility to ensure that my readers’ expectations are met. To which I try my hardest.

But the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is true.

Joe Hunter is a British ex-counterterrorist soldier, who now works with his old military buddy, Jared “Rink” Rington’s PI outfit in the US. By his own admission, Hunter isn’t much of a detective, so usually takes on the role of bodyguard, fixer and even sometimes vigilante where necessary. By virtue his exploits tend to be hard and fast-paced, and often of an uncompromising variety. 

Over time I’ve taken to heart some of the negative criticism levied on Hunter (and me) and tried to redress the complaints sometimes aimed our way. To me it’s kind of obvious to what market the Hunter thrillers are aimed, and yet I still attract negative criticism from reviewers who perhaps are seeking tales a little more staid or cerebral. The books are action thrillers, and so they contain action – usually with a capital “A” – and quite often a high body count, and my writing is often accused of being over the top in this respect. So, being objective and sensitive to this feedback, in the last few books I’ve toned down the action somewhat, and even in the latest Hunter thriller (book 11) – No Safe Place – ensured that Hunter manages to get to the end of the book without killing anyone (although there’s still plenty of action). But here’s the rub. I’ve now attracted negative comments that Hunter isn’t the indomitable action man he once was. To new readers it doesn’t matter, they’ve enjoyed the book, but to some of my long time readers they’ve bemoaned what they perceive as a softening of the character.

Over the course of the eleven books (and various short stories) I’ve tried to give readers what they want from Hunter, and have thrown him into various situations wherein I can challenge him, and also allow him to grow as a character in readers’ affections. He has faced a serial killer, an international assassin, domestic terrorists and a drug cartel, but equally he has also been involved in “smaller scale” cases confronting small town corruption, a family of demented rapists, and even a black widow murderer. I’ve been conscious of tempering the series when I’ve felt it has grown overblown by inserting a smaller tale to bring it back down to earth again. We are all familiar with box office movie franchises that follow the pattern of trying to be bigger and brighter with each outing only to fall into the realms of the ludicrous, and it has been my aim not to allow that to happen to Hunter. In doing so though it does open up the series to criticism from those who want more and more bang for their bucks.

With this in mind, I’ve sat back and taken the criticism onboard, and come to a simple conclusion after asking myself a question: do I write for my faithful readers or my critics (who might very well never read another of my books any way)? There’s surely only one answer. Faithful readers all the way.

Except, therein lies the conundrum.

Obviously I want to engage new readers. If they have been attracted to the series by the tamer books, will some of them be dissatisfied by ones of a larger scale? I guess so. But then an equally large number of new readers might love reading something the same…but different.

So, if I can ask a question of my fellow authors and readers (I’m both after all), do you follow a series with a sense of expectation, where you feel confident that you’ll get your usual fix, or do you prefer to be surprised along the way by something slightly different from the norm?

The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter 10) is available now in the USA from Down and Out Books, with No Safe Place (Joe Hunter 11) to be published in the USA November 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dreaming of casting my Cathy Ace

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

Pile on the pounds, Catherine!

Well, all of them would be just fabulous mega-hits on any size of screen, of course, dahlings! And when each of them is cast I will bank the money and not quibble (too much) about who is selected to play whom. In this alternative universe I’m envisaging - where I’m running around the place with bags of cash - I might even be given carte blanche to provide casting notes, so I’m going to pretend that’s what's happened, and go for it!

Cait Morgan: she’s 5’3” (5’4” on a tall day), 180lbs, and in her late forties…so a Hollywood actress the right shape and age doesn’t exist. She’s also Welsh-Canadian….so, if she were prepared to put on quite a few pounds and let her Swansea accent come out, Catherine Zeta Jones could go for her second Oscar by playing a “real-sized woman”. 
Canadian actor, Paul Gross, does not live down to his name

Bud Anderson: Bud’s Canadian, of Swedish heritage and birth, in his mid-fifties with snowy hair, rugged features and piercing blue eyes. I’m nominating Canadian actor Paul Gross to play Bud; almost as painfully handsome as he was painfully polite in Due South, to say that he’s “aged well” would be an understatement!

For the WISE Women:

Dowager Duchess of Chellingworth, Althea Twyst: just about to turn 80, Althea is still blessed with a wicked sense of humor – fueled by her love of all things Monty Python – and cannot help but get herself into trouble! For her, I think the naughty dimples of Pauline Collins would do the trick…though the actress would have to have fuss-free short hair and be happy to work with a rambunctious Jack Russell!
Pauline Collins still has those dimples!
Mavis MacDonald: in her sixties, and a no-nonsense retired army matron, I see Mavis being played by the wonderful Annette Crosbie (though she’s 82 now, so would have to play a bit younger) or Stella Gonet (playing older). Mind you, if Lulu fancied doing a turn as a non-glamorous grannie, she’d have just the right Scottish accent!


Annie Parker: she's tall, thin (with an annoyingly big bum) and sweating her way through her fifties. She's got a broad Cockney accent, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder...not due to the dark skin she inherited from her St. Lucian immigrant parents, but because she misses London so terribly now that she lives in the Welsh countryside. I’d like to see either Noma Dumezweni (currently in The Cursed Child) or Freema Agyeman (of Doctor Who & Torchwood) play the role….though Freema would have to play a good deal older than her tender age of less-than-forty.

Noma Dumezweni
Christine Wilson-Smythe: the daughter of an impoverished Irish viscount, Christine is beautiful, in her late twenties, headstrong, and apt to fall for the wrong man! Eve Hewson, the stunning daughter of U2’s Bono, would look the part, and certainly has the acting chops! 

Eve Hewson
And then, of course, there's lovely Carol Hill: bubbly, gentle, kind, happily married, happily pregnant, Welsh to the core, and a whizz with a computer. For her? Joanna Page, who's also Welsh through and through, and made me laugh so much in Gavin and Stacey...just the right smile for warm-hearted Carol.
Joanna Page

There you go - any movie or TV company executives/showrunners or production companies reading this...the hard part is done for you :-)

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available in November in the US/Canada), and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS will be published in paperback in October in Canada, November in the USA). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Callout for Actors

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

For the first part of the question, here's the answer every writer will give: "All my protagonists would make good movie characters." Because if your characters are not fit for the screen, what are they fit for -- 2D flatness?  

The second part of the question, who would you choose to play them, I won't answer right now. The actors who inspired the looks of my characters are no longer the right age, and I don't watch a lot of movies lately (no time!) so don't have a good list of new talent to choose from. More so, though, at least right now I'd rather leave it to the reader to fill in their own visuals, if that's what they wish. Here's why I think it might be a mistake to suggest my own actors:

In a novel I once read, the protagonist was described as looking like a certain popular actor. Up to that point in the narrative I had visualized him looking a certain way, but bang, as soon as the author plugged in the actor's name, the whole book was spoiled for me, because though this actor was a sex symbol for many, for me he just wasn't, and for the rest of the story the main character had the face of this particular actor... I couldn't shake it.

As a reader, I don't need to know what the hero in a novel looks like so specifically. General age, build, and colour is good. I'd rather not be told they look like so-and-so.

But what if my book actually got optioned (is that the word?) and went to the screen? Wow, that would be so fantastic! Or would it? Would I get to choose the cast? Probably not. What if the end product is a cheesy low-budget piece of money-laundering trash? What if the cast and direction is awful and the film tanks? Will it take my book down with it? Will the lead actor's completely wrong face and diction permanently taint the hero I am trying to portray?

Well, not a concern. And most books that become film/TV productions seem to be done really well these days. I wonder what Ann Cleeves thinks about the casting of Jimmy Perez in the TV series Shetland (am watching and loving), based on her books. Or what would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle think of the many and various actors who played Sherlock Holmes, from Basil Rathbone to Benedict Cumberbatch...?

Speaking of which, another example of how actors can take over the story, for better or for worse: thanks to some of the older Holmes movies I watched when young, before reading the original stories, I had the great detective pegged as something like 68 years old, rather than the mid-forties that I think Conan Doyle intended. And poor Watson! Chubby, grey-haired, and bumbling.

I suppose in the end the reader will disabuse their mind of what they've seen on TV. When I next read a Kathy Reichs novel (haven't for a while but will sooner or later), I think I will continue to see "Bones" in my own way, as I had before the TV series came along, and not so much as the more lovely Emily Deschanel.

All that said, this summer I sat down in a pub with a fellow who had read Cold Girl, and he said he saw my protagonist as a younger ----, the very actor in my mind's eye when I started the series. That made my day!


Monday, September 26, 2016

Lights, Camera....

Q: Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

-from Susan

While I play this game completely in the abstract, a few of my fellow writers are getting to live at least this stage of the dream for real. Rhys Bowen has been deep into the details of a possible project featuring the protagonist of her immensely popular Royal Spyness series, Georgie. Like legions of her fans, I weighed in (my pick: Lily James, a member of the “Downton Abbey” cast) with conviction. I don’t know who has gotten the part, if they’re that far along yet. We all know about the stop-you-in-your-tracks casting of Tom Cruise as Lee Childs’ Reacher, and of the entirely miscast Katherine Heigl chosen for Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s “One for the Money” film.

The protagonist in my new series is an attractive middle-aged American artist living in rural France, with sketchy self-esteem, an eccentric wardrobe, curiosity about other people’s business, and a tendency to flutter. That one’s hard for me because the inspiration for Katherine Goff is a real person. (I posted about her, with a photo, months ago.) In my mind, Katherine is part Austen, part Miss Marple, part the harried house owner in “A Year in Provence.” I think Emma Thompson, the marvelous actor who starred in one of my favorite films, “Sense and Sensibility,” would be a good fit and I will be delighted to share my thoughts when Hollywood comes calling.

Dani O’Rourke, the center of my first mystery series and still fresh in the market, is a mid-thirty-ish SF divorcee with wobbly personal self-confidence but a sure knowledge of fine art and how to motivate really rich people to give it to the museum she works for. That mixture of assurance and self-doubt, the ability to schmooze with the rich and powerful without being a toady, and an occasional reckless courage requires an actor who can move from one kind of posture to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Independent, attractive enough to make a multi-millionaire playboy fall in love with her, and vulnerable enough to hide and eat nothing but M&Ms for a few weeks when he has a much-publicized fling…Who else but Sandra Bullock, who plays comedy nicely, can play falling apart and picking yourself up really well, and who held her head high when, in real life, the piece of dirt she was married to cheated on her while she was sending him a love letter from the stage at the Oscars? So what that she’s older than Dani – she looks like a million dollars. I wonder if she’s ever eaten one M&M, but, what the heck, she’s an actor, she can fake that part.

Okay, end of daydreaming and back to writing. But this was fun.

 (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Original Film to Book Sequel?

By Art Taylor

After giving my fellow Criminal Minds grief on Facebook and Twitter for dodging the question at hand this week, I'm finally here to... dodge it myself.

Here was the question: "Have you ever seen an original film that made you wish you could write a book sequel?"

And like Meredith, RJ, Tracy, and Alan before me, I don't think I have a good answer—beyond "no"—because I've never really thought in that direction or those terms before.

This is not to say that my own writing hasn't been inspired by or influenced by films in some way, though even then I might be hard-pressed to point to specific moments of specific films and connect them to specific passages or plot twists in my own writing. Instead, it's more of the way that storytelling on film—the structure of scenes, the arrangement of scenes, the use of dialogue, the shifts in tone, etc.—has certainly informed my sense of storytelling, as much as if not potentially more than the books and stories I've read. All too often, in the fiction workshops I teach at George Mason University, I call up some film or television show as an example of some point I'm trying to make. Part of this is because of the wider cultural references and connections; I'm more likely to find that a group of students have all seen the same film rather than having all read the same book (Harry Potter is the exception there). But it's also because films and scenes have imprinted themselves in my own memory more strongly in many cases; it's easier for me to call those references up quickly.

All this is abstract, of course, without pointing to specific films—which then circles back to my comment at the start of the previous paragraph, about it being hard to point to this specific scene in a film and connect it to some move of mine in my own fiction.

And yet... one film did pop to mind immediately as I was pursuing this other line of thinking away from the question at hand: Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (2002) with Leonardo DiCaprio as con man (and forger and bank robber) Frank Abagnale Jr. and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent determined to bring him in.

It's been a while since I've watched the film, but I remember the shifts in tone and mood throughout, sometimes leaping large chunks of time and not in chronological order: the opening on the set of To Tell the Truth, the quick shift to the French prison, the flashback (more than a flashback) to Abagnale's childhood, etc. The structure is complex but doesn't appear so; it's clear, it's confident.

And while the film is hardly a short one (141 minutes according to Wikipedia), I'm struck by the economy of the storytelling. One scene that stands out has Tom Hanks in a car with two other FBI agents—and we come into it in the middle of one of them telling a story. In less than two minutes—less than a minute and a half, in fact—we get a sharp introduction to each man, a sense of their respective characters, and a clear understanding of their dynamic. Here's the scene itself.

Again, I don't know that I could find anything like this specific clip in any story of my own, but I appreciate the shape and structure of the scene, the storytelling prowess here, and I'd hope to aspire to writing so sharply myself.


In other news: One week ago today, I was honored to accept the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection for Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, which I edited last year. Just wanted to take another opportunity here to say thanks to everyone who read it (and voted for it!), to the folks at Bouchercon who supported the project, and to the publisher, Down & Out Books—and then a quick congratulations to all the contributors, who deserve all acclaim: J.L. Abramo, J.D. Allen, Lori Armstrong, Rob Brunet, P.A. De Voe, Sean Doolittle, Tom Franklin, Toni Goodyear, Kristin Kisska, Robert Lopresti, Robert Mangeot, Margaret Maron, Kathleen Mix, Britni Patterson, Karen Pullen, Ron Rash, Karen E. Salyer, Sarah Shaber, Zoë Sharp, B.K. Stevens, and Graham Wynd.

And finally, a quick preview of the week ahead, when I'll be taking part in the annual Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University and at locations throughout Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland. I'm grateful for the opportunity to moderate two panels next week—one featuring members of three Virginia chapters of Sisters in Crime and another featuring members of the local Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Information on the specific panels are below—and if anyone reading this is in the area, I hope to see you there!

Sisters in Crime: Mystery Writers Panel  
Sunday, Sept. 25, 4 p.m., Sherwood Center, 3740 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA
Three regional chapters of Sisters in Crime join forces to discuss—and celebrate!—their recent anthologies of mystery fiction: Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (from the Chesapeake Chapter) and Virginia is for Mysteries, Volume 2 (from the Central and Southeastern Virginia Chapters). Editors and contributors include Donna Andrews, Diane Davidson (half of the writing duo Maddi Davidson), Maria Hudgins, and Heather Weidner.

Mystery Writers of America, Mid-Atlantic Chapter Mystery Writers Panel
Thursday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m., Merten Hall, Room 1203, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
Maya Corrigan’s Five-Ingredient Mystery series is a blend of rich flavor and suspense. She is a winner of the 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Unpublished Mystery / Suspense. Her newest book is Final Fondue. Shawn Reilly Simmons is the author of the Red Carpet Catering mystery series, which “delivers a buffet of appealing characters, irresistible movie-industry details, and tantalizing plot twists.” The third book in the series is Murder on a Designer Diet. David Swinson’s recent novel The Second Girl is one of Booklist’s Best Crime Novels of the Year, called a “gritty knockout debut that screams for a series.” Dan Fesperman is the author of the new atmospheric literary thriller, The Letter Writer, set in Manhattan in 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Get Me Rewrite!

by Alan

Have you ever seen an original film that made you wish you could write a book sequel?

I thought long and hard about this question (it’s a good question!). And then I thought some more. But I honestly couldn’t think of a movie where I’d like to write the book sequel. I suppose I’d only want to write one if the movie was good, and if the movie didn’t really wrap things up satisfactorily (for me, anyhow), then I wouldn’t classify it as good. And then I wouldn’t want to write the sequel. Circular logic? Maybe, but I still couldn’t come up with a good answer to this week’s question.

So I decided to re-write the question:

Have you ever written a novel that you’d like to see made into a movie? And if you had, did you go ahead and write the screenplay?

Yes. And yes.

The Taste_cover for websiteI believe many writers think their novels would make great (not just good, but AWESOMELY GREAT, THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD) movies. (I also think many writers are delusional, but I guess that’s a topic for another blog post.). I’m no exception. Some books seem more suited for the big screen than others, and while I was writing my horror novel, THE TASTE, it was as if the movie was already playing in my head. So naturally, I decided to adapt it into a screenplay. (Note: if there are any movie producers who wish to take a look at this screenplay, please let me know!)

This wasn’t my first attempt to turn one of my books into a movie (or at least a screenplay). I’d had an earlier, golden opportunity to work with a real screenwriter to adapt my first novel, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. (Note: if there are any movie producers who wish to take a look at this screenplay, please let me know!)

If you’ve never done it, it’s quite an interesting process!

It can be difficult to take an 80,000 word novel and condense it into a 110-page screenplay, but after you get the hang of it, it’s pretty cool. You can strip out a lot of the superfluous description and boil everything in the novel down to its essence. Keep the description tight and the dialogue snappy. Above all, make sure the STORY is locked-down and streamlined, because you can’t hide it behind sterling prose or underneath a generous dollop of intriguing backstory (easy to say, hard to do). I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not too difficult (comparatively speaking, of course) to write a screenplay, but it’s VERY hard to write a GOOD screenplay.

Writers, if you haven’t tried writing one, I recommend giving it a shot, for no other reason than it just might give you a new perspective when it comes time to write your next project (be it a novel, a story, or whatever!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

I Wish I’d Said That

By Tracy Kiely

As someone who watches an excessive amount of movies (according to various authority figures I’ve encountered in my life), I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie and thought – I want to write the sequel to this! Instead, I’ve found myself thinking, “Damn, I wish I’d written this!” Quite a lot, actually.

I think the first movie I watched that promoted this envy was The Double McGuffin. It was a mystery with a bunch of kids in it (oh, and Ernest Borgnine, but I had no idea who he was then). One of the kids was very cute. Very cute. I had the rather brilliant idea that I would write my own mystery, get it turned into a movie, and then demand that this boy star in it. He would, of course, meet me, think I was really cool, come visit me, and ask me to couple skate at the roller rink, but – best of all – he would know how to skate backwards!   And he wouldn’t ask my nemesis Nikki Baxter to skate at all! HA!
            Spoiler Alert: Didn’t happen.
Ohh, and Elke Sommer before her Love Boat days!
Then I think it was either Charade or Dial M for Murder. I mean, I wish I’d written both; I just can’t remember which one I saw first. If I had to guess it would be Dial M because I remember getting it when someone referred to Charade as “the best Hitchcock movie he never made.” I loved them so much that I bought the screenplays for both just to see how it looked on page. I don’t think I’d ever read a script before of a movie that I practically knew by heart, and I don’t think I ever underestimated the skill an actor brings to a role. Good writing only gets you so far, I realized. It’s the actors who make their role really come alive.
Here’s a bit from the script of Charade:

A strange, grotesque knitted mask that completely covers
the face except for eyes, nose and mouth.  The eyes inside
this particular mask stare down at REGGIE.

     Does this belong to you?

CAMERA PANS down to include JEAN-LOUIS, his hand held
firmly by the man in the mask.

too terrified to answer.  Realizing this, the man, PETER
JOSHUA, takes off the snow-mask to reveal a handsome,
tanned face.

     Oh, forgive me. (indicating JEAN-LOUIS)
     Is this yours?

               REGGIE (indicating SYLVIE)
     It's hers.  Where'd you find him, robbing
     a bank?

     He was throwing snowballs at Baron
     Rothschild.  (a pause)  We don't know
     each other, do we?

     Why, do you think we're going to?

     I don't know -- how would I know?
     I'm afraid I already know a great many
     people.  Until one of them dies I couldn't
     possibly meet anyone else.

               PETER (smiling)
     Yes, of course.  But you will let me know
     if anyone goes on the critical list
     (he starts off).


               PETER (turning)
     How's that?

     You give up awfully easy, don't you?

Eyeing one, then the other, SYLVIE sizes up the situation
and rises.

     Viens, Jean-Louis, let us make a walk.
     I have never seen a Rothschild before.

SYLVIE and JEAN-LOUIS start off, but not before the boy
squirts PETER with his pistol.

               PETER (drying)
     Clever fellow -- almost missed me.

     I'm afraid you're blocking my view.

               PETER (moving)
     Sorry.  Which view would you like?

     The one you're blocking.  This is the last
     chance I have -- I'm flying back to Paris
     this afternoon.  What's your name?
     Peter Joshua.

     I'm Regina Lampert.

     Is there a Mr. Lampert?


     Good for you.
     No, it isn't.  I'm getting a divorce.
     Please, not on my account.
     No, you see, I don't really love him.
     Well, you're honest, anyway.

Now the clip:

I could probably go on for several more pages here, so I won’t bore you with my “Oh…I wish I wrote that!” list. I will just tell you the last movie I watched in which I really remember saying – that’s it. That’s the kind of movie I want to write. It was 2007’s Death at a Funeral.
From the brilliantly funny opening credits in which we watch via animation as a hearse winds its way along highways and then back roads, gets lost, turns around before finally arriving at its destination, the tone is set.  Once the casket is delivered, the British farce is off and running. I loved all of it; from the dialog, the crazy relatives, the absurd events. The fact that it all takes places over one afternoon during a funeral makes it all the funnier. It’s like trying not to laugh in church
            So, did I answer the question? Well, no. But, I think you'll feel loads better about that if you watch one of the movies I referenced. (Well, probably not The Double McGuffin; I suspect that one doesn't hold up to the test of time.)