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Yes, Good Reader, it’s that time again, Screenwriting Links, V.10! I have perused the internet’s Wide World of Sports to help you avoid the agony of defeat (Millennials, that’s a reference to the above image, ask your Grandpa to explain it) in your screenwriting careers.
You’ll find a bunch of posts in this batch about Hollywood’s 1%—those Power Players behind the gated communities, owners of kidney-shaped pools, impeccable hedge rows, million dollar mansions and Lamborghini excess. AKA, the Winners. You read about them while waiting on line at Target. Theirs is the Country Club of which you, Good Reader, are likely not a member. Gatekeepers have set up impenetrable motes and ramparts to stop you. How will you scale these walls? Maybe these links will help. Vamos!
Let’s start with this list from Hollywood Reporter of the 30 most powerful film producers in Hollywood. With the chances of your meeting anyone on this list equivalent to your needing a tux for next year’s Oscars, it can’t hurt to know their names in case you happen to be parking their cars or serving them their brilliantly-colored sashimi punctuated by mellow red snapper and buttery salmon belly. Meet the true 1% here.
“Will the billionaire class have a positive impact on the film business? A one-percenter I talked to said he was confident they would smartly fill the gap in midbudget films left open by the major studios’ obsession with tentpoles. “We’re going to end up owning two or three studios,” he predicted.
Variety brings us the view from the other side in this article about the proliferating new billionaires populating Hollywood. These folks have as much in common with me as I have with the ants that populate my two-month old Payless loafers(they go away in October, riiiiight?) Here’s a piece of their world:
“The list of billionaires globally has now soared past 1,000, according to the Wall Street Journal, and their impact on both politics and pop culture is fast expanding. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, there seemed to be more partying plutocrats than there were hungry sales agents.
“The new class of billionaires will change the landscape of Hollywood,” one billionaire-producer told me last week, typically asking not to be quoted. “I think that’s a good thing because, like the moguls of old, they truly care, and want to be involved.”
But do they know what they’re doing? some filmmakers would ask. The billionaire class in show business lately has been bolstered by the likes of Megan Ellison, Gigi Pritzker, Teddy Schwarzman and Jeff Skoll, whose slates are as expansive as their fortunes.”
“The heads of the major talent agencies speak publicly about possible IPOs, poaching and rumors of private-equity discord as THR reveals the industry’s hatred, secret depositions, shrink visits and the Matthew McConaughey rant that rattled CAA.”
Wonderful! CAA sues UTA, UTA fires back at the CAA defections lawsuit, betrayals, midnight raids at CAA…tell me this doesn’t beat reading US Weekly about the comebacks of bloated ex-stars on the check out line at Jewel! Check this article out for a mainline TMZ of Lifestyles of the Hollywood 1%. Here’s a tasty sample:
“Some (from rival agencies) note UTA has met with outside financiers and believe its real motive was to make noise to attract money and jump into the race to expand and diversify — a notion UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer, 57, disputes. “My goal is not to figure out, ‘Oh, they have 8,000 clients or 12,000 clients, so we need 8,000 or 12,000 clients; they have six offices, so we need six offices; they have sports, so we need sports,’ ” he says. “That has nothing to do with how we’re thinking about the world.” Instead, he says the focus is on growing organically, serving clients thoughtfully and maintaining a “super-collaborative” culture…
So what was the motive for the raid? UTA cannot address its strategy due to the litigation promptly filed by CAA against UTA and the defectors. (The morning of the defection, the new UTA agents were greeted in the lobby by attorneys to take their CAA phones and any other materials back in an effort to make sure they were totally buttoned up.) But a UTA source says the goal was simple: to bring in agents (in total, UTA has about 200) to add to its roster of stars who can be incorporated into projects packaged by the agency.
So much of this drama is driven by rivalries among the top agencies that are intensely personal and idiosyncratic. For years, Emanuel, now 54, left a daily message with Lovett’s office to ask him to return his call (Lovett never did) — just to get under his rival’s skin. And one top partner at another firm got so fed up by CAA’s endless poaching that he was driven to see a psychiatrist.”
Don’t know if the powers-that-be at Netflix have kidney-shaped pools but this article describes the big stakes gamble of their executives betting on original programming. Here’s a sample:
“That expanding range of original programming available on Netflix signals how Mr. Hastings wants to position the company as the entertainment world undergoes a digital revolution.
Traditionally, television networks needed to stand for something to carve out an audience, he said, whereas the Internet allows brands to mean different things to different people because the service can be personalized for individual viewers.
That means that for a conservative Christian family, Netflix should stand for wholesome entertainment, and, for a 20-year-old New York college student, it should be much more on the edge, he said.
“We want the original content to be as broad as human experience,” he said.
The emphasis on original content is an extension of Netflix’s long-term view that the Internet is replacing television, that apps are replacing channels and that screens are proliferating, Mr. Hastings said.”
Those who read this blog know the story about Jane Doe, which was a movie adaptation of a 1985 play I wrote about my heroin-addicted girlfriend, Claire G. It was a story centering on the devastating effects of addiction from the POV of those living with the addict. After three runs in Chicago and Los Angeles I wrote a movie script, my first ever. We raised $250,000 fairly fast, and signed on a young actress, Calista Flockhart, who would go on to become Ally McBeal. I was chosen to direct.
No try to get your arms around this one: The movie directing thing was new to me. I had never directed a movie before. I had never been on a movie set.
In my life.
Life Lesson 4747: When hiring a director, choose one who has previously set foot on a movie set.
How exactly do you hire a director with zero experience? Ask the brain trust—my brother Chris, Producer, and my father, the Executive Producer. The thinking might have gone like this: Paul wrote it. Hell, Paul lived it! Nobody knows the world like him. Nobody knows Atlantic City or the meat market district of New York (where we were shooting) like him. Nobody could be more passionate. Give him a shot…
All true. I had total dedication to the memory of my girlfriend. This movie would come as close as possible to how we actually lived it, and the tragedy of how it actually ended.
Noble sentiments… guaranteed to doom your project. As it did with Jane Doe.
Life Lesson 4748: Writers should not direct movies based on their life.
“Ah, Paul, this isn’t a documentary, it’s a feature-film.” If only someone had whispered those words in my ear. Passion is fine, but when it comes time to making a damn movie, to be fully in control of the movie-making mechanism, to be a leader to the cast and crew, to have the long view, the overview, the objectivity you need… I’m here to tell you, DISpassion is more important.
Life Lesson 4749: Just because it happens to you, doesn’t make it interesting!
Life Lesson 4750: Just because it happens to you, doesn’t make it a movie!
Sure, you want to draw on real life as a writer. Write what you know, all those cobwebbed cliches.You’ve gotta find the personal truth that resonates with people. But that doesn’t mean it should be an A-to-Z, step by step re-creation of what actually happened.
Nobody cares! Nobody cares if you actually worked at the German buffet where a three-month old slice of strudel caused Mr. Moustache to have a heart attack. Nobody cares if the seagull actually shit on your head while you were talking to Grandmama. Nobody cares if your girlfriend actually died of a drug overdose.
It’s not a documentary, it’s a movie. All people care about, all you owe the audience, is a good story.
Avoid crazy shit: Like choosing locations not because they were the best choice, but because of personal history. The audience will never know that you and your girlfriend argued outside that bar, or that you actually ate at that Mexican restaurant.
I was guilty of doing crazy shit, oh yes I was. Like the night before our first day of production, sleeping in the former roominghouse where I lived with Claire, to get “into the spirit of it”. And when my AD said, “Ah, Paul, you don’t have a cell phone, how do I contact you?” I replied: “You don’t.”
Doomed from the start.
Life Lesson 4751: Never hire a director who doesn’t own a cell phone.
I remember being questioned by Calista at one point, the script called for her to stash drugs in a hidden pull-out ceiling panel. She said it didn’t seem likely, that she’d never do that, and that an audience might not buy it. I said: “But that’s how Claire did it. It happened.”
WRONG! Nobody cares if it happened, dummy! This is a movie, a fiction. The only question should be Calista’s: Will an audience buy it?
This is something a Columbia College freshman could fathom, but at the time, I, and others, could not. The detachment required of a director will not be found in the guy who wrote the thing.
Here’s a message to you, Rudy… infuse your words with passion and originality. Put the audience into the heads of your characters. Trap them in there with all the good and bad decisions, all the darkness and light. Then step off, step back.
Let someone else direct the movie of your life.
Not so long ago I did a post on action sequences highlighting Tarantino. If we’re doing rule breakers there’s no way I’m leaving out Shane Black. If you’re a Shane Black fan, stick around. If you think he’s THE most arrogant and over-rated motherfucker in the history of the written screenplay word…pass onward, Good Horseman!
For me, it’s kinda the same deal as Tarantino. His screenplays > his movies. Check out his IMDB profile and you can see he’s doing just fine these days, the Iron Man tentpole is part of the Marvel Universe. He’s writing and directing Doc Savage and Predator.
What am I supposed to say about Lethal Weapon? It’s just OK. It’s not sniffing my own Top 100 any time soon(and I’m sure Shane gives a &^% about that.) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? C’mon. Don’t think I ever saw The Last Boy Scout but if I did I don’t remember it. So what makes this guy so essential?
Nobody writes like him. It’s a style…and it’s been so copied, it’s now a cliche. So don’t try to steal it because it’s owned and you’ll get called out. So why study him? To try to figure out the alchemy of it–what makes him so good writing an action sequence?
Hey William R. Pace, you beat me to the study of this. This script was sold for four million dollars. That was another era entirely. You can look over William’s breakdown of page 1 of this four million dollar script. I’m more interested in pure voice, and how it infiltrates action lines.
The goal here, Good Reader, is for you not to infuse your own action lines and sequences with Shane Black’s voice, but with your own. It can be something small, like this…
INT. MOTEL ROOM – AKRON, OHIO – NIGHT
A NUDE COUPLE on the bed. They look up, startled — as three
men burst through the door. The LEADER: a haggard-looking
man sporting a soup-stain on his tie, whoops, that’s the
design, sorry. MITCH HENESSEY, private investigator and con
man extraordinaire. He flashes a phony badge…
“whoops, that’s the design, sorry…” He just broke the 4th wall, talking to the reader in a direct aside. That is the Shane Black style. Sounds like no big deal but you have to be really good to get away with it. If you’re not, it blows up in your face, too cute for school, your script discarded in five pages or less. Because it’s fucking annoying! Black also viscerally drives right into the character’s head with pitch black humor, like here:
UNDER THE WATER – HELL – SAME
Here we are again, in the world of silence and blinding PAIN.
Despair and madness but now there’s something else — Now
It takes losing most of the FLESH from her right wrist…
But she frees the hand. WRENCHES it loose. The water turns
soupy red around it. GROPES, blindly. Fingers NUMB, so fucking
cold — Breath, running out. No air. NO TIME.
She darts her right hand forward. Toward the obscenely bobbing
CORPSE of Nathan. Does something grotesque, jams her hand
DOWN THE CORPSE’S PANTS —
Hideaway gun, it’s right where he said, right beside Mr.
Wally. PSP-25. Semi-auto, steel jackets. She waits. Rage
inside her. Death in her hands.
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE SURFACE
The wheel CREAKS. Groans. The terrorist in the western boots
watches her emerge, face first — She comes up firing.
The first slug takes him in the knee. Blows it to scraps. He
collapses, howling. She shifts aim. THE RED BUTTON. No
hesitation. BLAM-! Hits it DEAD ON. Stops the wheel.
Doesn’t blink. Unties her captive hand. BLOWS TO SPLINTERS
the wood surrounding her feet. Leaps to solid ground, as
Daedalus looks up from his prone position. In agony. A vision
from Hell approaches: A fiendish blue-skinned woman in a
sodden nightgown. Blood leaking from one wrist. She has risen,
REBORN, from the icy waters.
She shoots him in the other knee. He HOWLS. Gun, empty. She
tosses it aside. In a nearby crate: ASSAULT RIFLES. Snatches
up a Kalashnikov and clip. Kneels and says:
You see in the movies, badguy says,
“Talk to me and I’ll let you live.”
We’re gonna run a variation, it goes
like this: Talk to me…? I’ll let
She fires again.
His stuff grabs you and doesn’t let you go. It ain’t Shakespeare, sure. But it’s effective genre writing. More than effective because here I am on another 10 degree February day writing about the guy. If there is a God and justice, Lethal Weapon won’t have the shelf life that Hamlet does, but look at this passage and tell me there isn’t screenwriting poetry in it:
CITY OF ANGELS
lies spread out beneath us in all its splendor, like a
bargain basement Promised Land.
CAMERA SOARS, DIPS, WINDS its way SLOWLY DOWN, DOWN,
bringing us IN OVER the city as we:
SUPER MAIN TITLES.
TITLES END, as we —
SPIRAL DOWN TOWARD a lush, high-rise apartment complex.
The moon reflected in glass.
CAMERA CONTINUES TO MOVE IN THROUGH billowing curtains,
INTO the inner sanctum of a penthouse apartment, and
here, boys and girls, is where we lose our breath,
spread-eagled on a sumptuous designer sofa lies the
single most beautiful GIRL in the city.
Blonde hair. A satin nightgown that positively glows.
Sam Cooke MUSIC, crooning from five hundred dollar
PASTEL colors. Window walls. New wave furniture tor-
tured into weird shapes. It looks like robots live here.
On the table next to the sleeping Venus lies an open
bottle of pills … next to that, a mirror dusted with
She rouses herself to smear some powder on her gums.
As she does, we see from her eyes that she is thoroughly,
completely whacked out of her mind…
She stands, stumbles across the room, pausing to glance
at a photograph on the wall:
Two men. Soldiers. Young, rough-hewn, arms around each
The Girl throws open the glass doors … steps out onto a
balcony, and there, beneath her, lies all of nighttime
L.A. Panoramic splendor. Her hair flies, her expression.
rapt, as she stands against this sea of technology. She
On the balcony railing beside her stand three potted
The Girl sees them, picks one up. Looks over the balcony
railing … It is ten stories down to the parking lot.
she squints, holds the plant over the edge.
Drops the plant. Down it goes, spiralling end over end
— until, finally … BAM — ! SHATTERS. Dirt flies. A
red Chevy is now minus a WINDSHIELD. The Girl takes
She drops it. Green Dodge. Ten stories below, BAM
Impact city. Scratch one paint job. Grabs the final
plant and holds it out, saying:
POW. GLASS SHATTERS. Dirt sprays. A blue BMW this
time. The Girl loves this game … her expression is
slightly crazed. She reaches for another plant —
There aren’t any. Her smile fades — And for a moment,
just a moment, the dullness leaves her eyes and she is
suddenly, incredibly sober. And tears fill her eyes as
she looks over the edge —
And jumps the railing. Plummets, head over heels like a
rag doll. Hits the yellow car spot on. She lies, dead,
like an extinguished dream. Still beautiful.
You tease. You titillate. You present a mystery. You beckon the reader the turn the page. Then you do the same thing on page 2. Force the eye down the page with savage and beautiful description. Don’t over-think it. Screenplays are mostly the writing of dialogue and action lines. If it’s a genre piece you’ll need to know how to write an action sequence that feels like it’s happening now, right before our eyes, what to include or exclude, use of action verbs, spacing words on the page. It’s an art indeed and Shane Black is a rule-breaking Master. Check out Last Action Hero or Last Boy Scout lately?
Maybe you should.
Always wanted to teach a class on Bond Girls…
You’ll call BS, but it wouldn’t be for the procession of gorgeous gorgeousity. Believe it or not, I’d love to study the progression of the archetype. The degeneration of the cliche. Sure, plots change… but the Bond girl remains. Name me a single Bond film where she doesn’t…
From Ursula Andress as Honey Rider in Dr. No to Pussy Galore in Goldfinger on up to the bumbling Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever on up to Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies, who actually portrays a graceful Chinese agent well practiced in martial arts. Where did this change happen? And why has it taken so long to get women out of the damsel in distress mode?
Anyone who saw Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t need a news flash to know that women’s roles in action movies have changed. We can look at an accumulated list of women in action to see just how far they’ve come, baby. That’s a Virgina Slims cigarette commercial from the 70’s, for you folks born in the Flock Of Seagulls era.
“What is a woman? One of nature’s more agreeable blunders…”
I’ve got one that goes back even further. The Perils of Pauline series…Dick Dastardly, mustache, railroad tracks…the whole bit. One wonders how Mila Jovovich would have gotten out of it…
I like this breakdown by Super Forty on helpless females through movie history. Here’s a piece:
“Ever see the character Ripley in “Alien”? That sure threw the audience for a loop: a woman grabbing a man at the collar and ramming him up against a wall. And she wasn’t even bionic! Gasp! I thought this scene would be the start of a whole new trend for Hollywood writers. But sadly, it had no effect, and Hollywood has since continued to portray women as weak, whimpering, retreating and crying.
Classic weak-woman scenes in the movies and TV:
Man grabs woman by upper arm. Woman exclaims, “You’re hurting me!” (Err, isn’t that the idea?)
Man suddenly appears from around corner. Woman gasps and exclaims, “You scared me!”
Man and woman are arguing. Man’s voice raises and he steps towards her. Woman backs up. Man continues slowly moving towards her (no weapons, by the way, not even a raised fist) and woman continues backing away.
Man and woman are running away from gunmen in a forest. Man’s hand is always grabbed onto woman’s wrist and she slows man down. (A woman cannot run beyond her natural speed if a man has her wrist; if anything, she’ll run slower due to the disrupted gait! A woman’s, or man’s, fastest sprint can only be accomplished with BOTH arms pumping freely! Wake up, Hollywood! These scenes look so ridiculous!)
Woman is running from man in woods. Woman trips and falls, and man catches up.
Woman is hit by man’s backhand and falls to floor. Whimpering, she then slithers across floor away from man.”
Why not also throw in there a woman who can fight back? That would be far more realistic than any of the scenes I just described.
Men are portrayed as superhuman, leaping off the top of trains and running away; busting through glass windows, rolling out of it and hopping right back up and then taking out half a dozen bad guys; taking a gunshot to the shoulder, yet somehow beating up a string of bad guys and then driving a car throughout a 20-minute pursuit scene; yet women can’t even grab a man and slam him to a wall.
This goes far beyond men being bigger than women, because in a man-to-man fight, someone always loses, and you NEVER, NEVER, NEVER see the man who loses whimpering, crying, slithering in retreat to the corner of a room, or anything else like that — unless, of course, the male character has mental retardation. Or … the character endures horrific abuse, such as Ned Beatty in “Deliverance.”
But I’m talking about fight scenes. Every time a woman is approached in a bar by some creepo man, she acts helpless, and then it requires another man to scare off the creep.
I want to see a woman deck a guy for once, a woman who’s not bionic, not part Hulk, not part alien, not a hardened prison inmate, and not strung out on drugs — but an average woman. We’ve had enough of Hollywood always painting women as weeping, teary-eyed, feeble-voiced children when confronted by bad guys.”
Well, the times…they done changed…here…
Yeah yeah, I know the internet is full of writer-movie lists. But this is Peditto’s writer movie list, which means I’m not going to hit the classics. Shall we knock those off now?
The best writer movies do something by alchemy that’s nearly impossible. They visualize a NON-VISUAL action–the act of writing itself. As any screenwriter knows, sitting at the typer/computer is is an isolated/isolating enterprise. It’s mental, in the head stuff. Left in the hands of Columbia College freshmen, it’s often times painful to watch a poor attempt at recreating the writing process. I mean– how exactly do you visualize it?
The best of the genre drive the narrative with the writer’s process. Barton Fink has writer’s block for 2/3rds of that movie, that is the central conflict. The Coen Brothers literally go into the wallpaper to objectively show an inherently subjective process. In The Shining, Shelley Duvall approaches her husband’s magnum opus only to discover, in a single image, that he’s lost his mind…
Here are 5 writer movies you might not have seen. Each instructs in its own way…
Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay? I’m in. There’s a scene in a zoo that alone makes the movie worthwhile. Also a scene in a hairdresser’s shop, just savage Pinter dialogue. Below is the stodgy trailer, don’t let it put you off. Check it out. Here’s a synopsis via IMDB:
“The study of a marriage. Jo has five children and husband number two when she meets writer Jake Armitage. She leaves this husband to marry Jake, and his career takes off. A few years and at least one child later, Jo is deeply depressed, breaking down in the middle of Harrods. After psychiatric care and the prospect of a new house in the country, she gets better; then, she is pregnant again, and this time Jake objects. Jo consents to an abortion and sterilization in the belief it will make her marriage happy again, but afterwards she learns ugly truths about Jake. She confronts him. “Why did you marry me?” and “What should we do?” become nearly unanswerable questions.”
This movie kicked my ass. One of the greatest Point-Of-View films you’ll ever see. From the eyes of a man who has had a stroke, we don’t see him until well into the movie. We see through him. I bemoan voice over scripts but here, there’s no movie without it. When he decides to write about the experience, it’s a profile in courage. This film won at Cannes and the Golden Globes so it’s not exactly unknown. Check it out.
This makes my list not because of the super sexy Ludivine Sagnier, but because of the crazy plot…
“Swimming Pool is a 2003 French-British erotic thriller film directed by François Ozon and starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier. The plot focuses on a British crime novelist, Sarah Morton, who travels to her publisher’s upmarket summer house in Southern France to seek solitude in order to work on her next book. However, the arrival of Julie, the publisher’s daughter, induces complications and a subsequent crime.
While the film’s protagonist is British and both of the lead characters are bilingual, the majority of the story takes place in France – thus, the dialogue throughout the film is a mixture of French and English, which is appropriately subtitled.
Swimming Pool premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 18 May 2003, and was released in France a few days later, with a U cinema rating, meaning it was deemed suitable for all ages. It was given a limited release in the United States that July, and was edited in order to avoid an NC-17 rating due to its sexual content and nudity. It was subsequently released in North America on DVD in an unrated cut.”–IMDB.
It too is free on YouTube. There’s nudity and sex….now that is how to dramatize the writer’s dilemma!
“A potentially violent screenwriter is a murder suspect until his lovely neighbor clears him. But she begins to have doubts…”– IMDB
Nicholas Ray directing Humphrey Bogart? That pedigree make this one of the top Film Noirs, and one of Humphrey Bogart’s best. Bogey as Dixon “Dix” Steele, a “a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter who has not had a hit since before the war.” Creeping paranoia oozes. The possibility of screenwriter as murderer anticipates movies like The Player and Basic Instinct. Love this cheesy trailer–“suspense grows with every word!”
From Google: “The life and tragic death of British playwright Joe Orton (Gary Oldman) is chronicled in this biographical film. When the young, attractive Orton meets the older, more introverted Kenneth Halliwell (Alfred Molina) at drama school, he befriends the kindred spirit and they start an affair. As Orton becomes more comfortable with his sexuality and starts to find success with his writing, Halliwell becomes increasingly alienated and jealous, ultimately tapping into a dangerous rage.”
This was a gruesome murder, documented by John Lahr in his biography. “On 9 August 1967, Kenneth Halliwell bludgeoned 34-year-old Orton to death at their home in Noel Road, Islington, London, with nine hammer blows to the head, and then committed suicide with an overdose of 22 Nembutal tablets washed down with the juice from canned grapefruit. Investigators determined that Halliwell had died first, because Orton’s sheets were still warm.
The 22 November 1970 edition of The Sunday Times reported that on 5 August 1967, four days before the murder, Orton went to the Chelsea Potter pub in the King’s Road. He met friend Peter Nolan, who later gave evidence at the inquest that Orton told him that he had another boyfriend and wanted to end his relationship with Halliwell, but did not know how to go about it.
The last person to speak to Halliwell was his doctor, who arranged for a psychiatrist to see him the following morning. He spoke to Halliwell three times on the telephone. The last call was at 10 o’clock. Halliwell took the psychiatrist’s address, and said: “Don’t worry, I’m feeling better now. I’ll go and see the doctor tomorrow morning.”
Halliwell had felt increasingly threatened and isolated by Orton’s success, and had come to rely on anti-depressants and barbiturates. The bodies were discovered the following morning when a chauffeur arrived to take Orton to a meeting with director Richard Lester to discuss filming options on Up Against It. Halliwell left a suicide note, informing police that all would be explained if they read Orton’s diaries, “especially the latter part”. The diaries have since been published.”–WIKI.
The movie shows the dynamic changing between Orton and Halliwell, Orton from young Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art student, Halliwell’s protegee, to his fame leaving Halliwell, now enraged lover, behind. Gary Oldham is a chameleon par excellance, one of his best roles, and maybe one you missed.