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Moving Forward…Sort Of

As many of you might recall, I’ve been dealing with a BigShot Producer for over two years, a combination of him being busy and not caring about some nobody and me getting frustrated in the face of what I perceive as flat-out rudeness. However, since things with The Manager went south on account of him being useless and shady, I don’t have any other options since I’m 2000 miles away from a place where I can build useful contacts. So right now I have…a contact, and granted he’s more useful than some—if you can get him to e-mail you back.

A few months ago, frustrated by my unemployability and general lack of direction, I e-mailed the Big-Shot Producer again. As he did before, he wrote back the same day—to tell me he hasn’t read my scripts. This time, though, things were different.

Somebody read my scripts, at an unspecified time in the past. Apparently they thought enough of them to recommend (or at least “consider,” which is Hollywood-speak for “I don’t want to get canned if I pass on this and somebody else buys it and makes millions”), but of course nobody followed up because out of sight, out of mind. The Big-Shot Producer seemed mildly excited that I was e-mailing again, after checking his notes and finding—what? I don’t know, but he got back in touch with me to say yes, they had notes, but he couldn’t find the drafts so could I send them ASAP? Of course, this was great for me because it gave me the opportunity to make each script suck slightly less. In fact, since I had recently adapted one of them into a novel, I used that to help me mine the material for more jokes and subtle moments of character development. I sent them both to him, and…didn’t hear anything.

However, since I knew somebody had read them and was sorta rallying for me from the inside, I kept up with it, e-mailing him once a week, not getting discouraged when he never got back to me. By the time two months had passed and I had finally decided I’d start calling over there, I loaded up my e-mail and saw:

From: Subject:
Big-Shot Producer Read them over the weekend!

Oh, happy day! Joy! Rapture!

And then I opened the e-mail.

He wrote that I have a “unique” take on the world (sarcastic air-quotes his), and he wanted to discuss his questions and thoughts with me. I freaked the hell out until several of my film school friends reassured me that him not just blowing me off, and wanting to discuss these scripts, are good signs. But still, from my perspective, first of all the sarcastic air-quotes are kind of assholish, but I guess the fact that he’s a producer means that he can be an asshole and I can sit there and take it and feel privileged because at least he’s talking to me. I would like to insert a joke here about how much that reminds me of high school, but the sad truth is that it doesn’t. I used to be cool (sorta) in high school; I fell apart shortly thereafter. I think they call it “peaked in high school” syndrome. Or maybe I just call it that…

Anyway, I spent another week frustrated and concerned about what he’d have to say, what kind of irritating tone he’d take, and whether or not I’d be able to sit there and listen without hopping a flight to L.A. to punch him in the neck. I was pretty much dreading his call, but on the plus side he left me off the hook about actually calling him—he wrote that if he didn’t call me by such-and-such day, I should drop an e-mail letting him know the best times to call in the future. He didn’t call, so I sent the e-mail.

It took him another four days to write back, using the dreaded “stealth e-mail” technique that bugs the crap out of me. You know the one—they e-mail in the middle of the night, so you go to bed feeling all safe and secure and then, the next morning, when you check your e-mail—bam!

Although this wasn’t so much a “bam” as an “oh, that sorta makes sense but is still annoying.” He informed me of three things:

  1. He’d be traveling and therefore busy for a few weeks.
  2. I’m a good writer, but…
  3. The two scripts I sent him are too “over-the-top.”

He wanted to know if I had anything a bit more restrained, and the sad and somewhat embarrassing truth is: no, I don’t. I will not deny the over-the-top nature of these screenplays, but I would argue with anyone who felt they were over-the-top in a bad way. They’re not perfect, granted, but even though they get pretty out there, one thing I try to do (and usually succeed, according to people who have read them) is to ground them in something resembling reality, even if the only “real” thing about it is a character’s plight feeling relatable as the entire world around them goes insane.

I’m the last person to argue about what’s commercial and what’s not, but I’ve always had this impression that the sanitized, formula Hollywood comedy is not designed to please anyone but studio executives and maybe crazy religious people, and that if they gave dark comedies the same kind of marketing and star power, they could be hits. Hell, that’s actually starting to become a reality even though many of the dark comedies get ground up in the Hollywood machine and wind up shitty, but they get made and they make money. At any rate, the studios misunderestimate the comic sensibilities of the American public, and as a result we’re stuck with awful, unfunny comedies.

Initially, I got riled by the e-mail. I thought he was trying to insult me, even though the scripts are over-the-top and he said I was a good writer. But I thought what he was trying to say is that they’re over-the-top in a bad way, he either doesn’t find them funny or doesn’t think they’re in any way commercial, and that pissed me off. Especially since his last movie inciting incident revolved around one of the most disgusting scatological jokes I’ve ever seen. How dare he accuse me of being over the top when—

Okay, I let others help me reinterpret the e-mail as a positive thing. A few of them argue that this was probably a test—he likes the scripts I sent him but wants to make sure I’m not a one-trick pony. But, um, I kind of am. I have all these ideas for different genres, but I either get bored while writing them and make them insane or they simply don’t hold my interest long enough to actually write them, and I get distracted with another comedy idea. When the Big-Shot Producer asked if I had anything less over-the-top, I panicked because—at this point, I don’t.

Other than two dozen treatments for dramas and thrillers I’ve never written, the closest I came to having something different was what originally started as a conspiracy thriller but rapidly became a satire of mindless action movies. It had a good—dare I say, great—first act, but after that I just went wild for no reason other than boredom. My friend Mark, who usually reads my stuff, suggested I play up the comedy even more; I’m just glad I never took the time to do a rewrite based on his feedback. All the while, I had been contemplating several ideas to dial down the insane, over-the-top action sequences and make it more of a quiet, character-driven thriller along the lines of my two favorite conspiracy movies, Marathon Man and The Parallax View. With this kick in the ass from the Big-Shot Producer, I’d finally make that rewrite a reality.

I had it all figured out: I’d wait a day or two to stall, then e-mail him back and say I have this conspiracy script and ask if it interests him. I figured, since he said he’d be busy traveling for two weeks, that I could continue to use the tried-and-true (and never successful) “fake it ’til you make it” mantra to let him know I had this script and put the communication problems on him—he probably wouldn’t get back to me for two weeks, which gives me more than enough time to rewrite the hell out of this script.

I sent the e-mail and got a response less than an hour later. He said he’d love to read it while he’s on the road.

Oh fuck.


Luckily, this was on a Friday. I got out the ol’ coffee IV drip and hooked myself into it and worked my ass off. It wasn’t even a minor rewrite. With a few exceptions, everything past page 30 needed to go. I did reluctantly add back in a few of the less insane action sequences, because they take up page count and they did still work in the revamped plot. I couldn’t just send him what I had, though. In addition to being (a) a crappy first draft and (b) ridiculously over-the-top, the exact opposite of what he wanted, I pitched the revised idea. This wouldn’t have been a problem except it changes one of the main characters from girlfriend to sister (have fun, Freud!) so I’d have a really hard time being taken seriously if I pitch a conspiracy story about siblings on the run, then send him a script about lovers on the run.

In the end, I just had to drop a lot of stuff. It was a lot tighter, at around 95 pages (the original draft was 30 pages longer), with the overall conspiracy streamlined. I actually, as a result of running out of ideas, came up with a far superior ending that works much better with the new plot I created from the bones of the first act—but there was still a lot that I left out, and it still had its share of problems. It was a much better product to send to a producer, though: surprisingly good for being written in less than 64 hours, but with enough slight problems that he and his development people will feel like they’re doing their job and I won’t get pissed off about them destroying my “art.” If they’re acknowledging the same problems, or if I’m guiding their perspective to care about the problems I think need fixing, they’ll sincerely believe I’ve “raised the stakes” and am working synergistically with them—I’m a guy they want on their side.

Of course, it’s been almost three weeks and I haven’t heard back. I’ve sent a couple of e-mails, but once again I’m patiently playing the waiting game.

What do I expect to get out of this? Not much—a sale on any of the three scripts I’ve sent him is highly unlikely, even though I think they’re pretty good scripts. I just want him to be like some kind of Roger Corman figure—if he thinks I have any talent (“You’re a good writer!”) and offers me a menial Hollywood job so that he can keep me close and loyal and perhaps Godfather something out of me later, I’d be happy.

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