I felt pretty confident when I sent Disappear to the Big-Shot Producer. Not just because I thought I finally had a solid draft and, because he confessed to never “getting around” to reading what I sent him in June, I dodged the bullet of ruining my chances with that imperfect draft (which I knew had major flaws when I sent it to him; I just didn’t have the time to fix them, hoping instead that he’d saw the raw potential). That was part of the reason, but the main reason was: with semi-frequent harassment, it takes him about six months to read something. From me, anyway. He’s busy with other projects, and at the end of the day I’m nobody. I knew I could send it to him and have a huge window to continue work on new projects, so when I got the inevitable “What else you got?” question, I’d…actually have something.
That’s not to say I don’t have anything, but he’s read two of the six screenplays I have in “ready for reading” condition; he has a third in his possession as we speak. The first two he said, without elaborating, that he felt were too “bleak” and “over-the-top.” That’s pretty much my sense of humor. I don’t want to get too high and mighty, but I was just arguing with a friend in L.A. about my sense of humor, which some consider uncommercial. They sit there, they laugh their balls off, and they say, “There’s no way anyone will pay money to see that.” Because there’s this perception that in order to appeal to “flyover” states, comedy has to be sanitized and formulaic. (Evidence to the contrary: the Apatow machine, which has found success in features it never did on television, in part because TV network publicity people are morons.) They’re kinda missing the part where I was born and raised in the heart of “flyover” country. I understand the humor of the Midwest, and around here, the more depraved you are, the harder people laugh. Maybe it won’t play in Denver or Mobile, but the Midwest is pretty big, and everybody here is fucked up, possibly because everybody calls us “flyover” states like we don’t actually matter.
That rant out of the way, it became clear that maybe I’d be safe sending him another comedy; I’m not sure if he asked for something different because he was genuinely put off by jokes about the lighter side of meth abuse and gang rapes, or if he wanted to see if I have anything close to range as a writer. I’m not sure if this would be the case or not, since most producers and agents I’ve encountered love to pigeonhole you. If you send them a comedy, you’re a comedy writer, so if they ask for something else and you pitch them a humorless thriller, it will confuse them. That’s stupid, but it’s the way things are. I don’t know if the Big-Shot is progressive in his awareness that some writers aren’t so easy to define, or if he really just doesn’t think I’m funny.
Either way, I sent him the thriller, but I have nothing else except more comedies. I have some non-comedy projects in planning stages, but nothing I could send him…unless you take into account that six-month window between me sending it and him reading it. (And if I need to stall for more time, I can easily just stop harassing him for a month or two.)
Unfortunately, things are different this time. When I wrote to him about this new draft, he told me this was pretty good timing on my part—he just made a partnership with some people looking to make a thriller. Kind of odd, considering he doesn’t specialize in anything close to thrillers, but hey, that could go back to that whole “progressive” thing. And besides—why should I care? He’s saying, “Yes, good timing. Send it!” So I’ll send it…
…and he tells me because of these partners, the turnaround won’t be the usual slowdown. These guys will have an answer in two weeks.
The clock started ticking the second I sent the script, and while I don’t fully believe the two-week promise, I at least feel safe assuming it won’t take six months or more. So if they start beating down my door for something new—especially if it’s a thriller—I have nothing.
Nothing but pitches, and to use yet another awful pun, pitches ain’t shit. There was a miracle time in the mid-’90s when “bought on a pitch” became a mantra—people were selling great concepts for $1 million during the course of a single elevator ride, then delivering shitty scripts and laughing all the way to the bank. Somehow, it occurred to Hollywood executives that this business model didn’t work. It gave writers—gasp!—shitloads of money for very little work. That’s a job reserved for executive producers, dammit!
So while I have the option of pitching these concepts out of desperation and hoping it’ll buy enough goodwill and time for me to finish something…the clock is ticking. Once I’ve done the preliminary work—figuring out the characters, beating out the story, etc.—I could probably crank out a serviceable draft in a week. But the preliminary stuff, for me, takes anywhere between one month and six, depending on how much trouble I have figuring out the actual story. Besides which, only one of my first drafts has been really good and solid right out of the gate—it’s a rare thing, but it came from an idea that had been germinating for two years before I sat down and crapped it out on paper.
At times like these, I think of scripts like that zombie script, with a story and characters that are all right there, and I say to myself, “Just run with it.” If you want to know the circumstances for plagiarizing fiction, they’re all right here.
I won’t do that, though. I have better, marketable ideas—I just don’t have them on paper.
Which leaves me with one last, awful idea: the Nigeria script. Enough potential for goofy comedy to keep me interested, but if I play it straight enough—fully deadpan satire that’s only over-the-top in its action—I could just beat this thing. It’s the kind of script where the characters are already fleshed out. They’re all archetypes (or stereotypes, depending on how cynical you are) of the genre, the story’s all laid out, and it technically qualifies as a thriller.
This just might work…