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Posts in Category: The Big-Shot Producer

Hooray for Hollywood: Calling in Favors Edition

Last week, I reread some old scripts I had written because, since I’m too lazy to research new ideas, I thought maybe I could adapt some preexisting material into a novel that somebody might actually want to read. And then something happened that has never happened before (and hopefully will never happen again): I started reading one script, and I got really into it, like I hadn’t written it, like I didn’t really know the story…and I really, really liked it.

When I finished—I read it in one sitting, which something I rarely do, especially with my own material, which I usually put down in disgust after five minutes and come back to it a few days later—I thought to myself, “This fucker’s a screenplay. I could turn it into a novel, but right now, as it stands, it is the best screenplay I’ve ever written, maybe it’ll make an above-average novel, but it’ll make a hell of a good movie.”

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Asshat

On Saturday morning, I checked my e-mail and found one from a friend of mine. Just a rambling, stream-of-consciousness “check-in” type of thing, since I haven’t talked to him in a week or so.

As I neared the end of the letter, a paragraph struck me: I don’t know if you’ve been in contact with Clint or not. His script is being optioned* by Big-Shot Producer. He deserves it. That was a really good script.

It’s true: Clint did deserve it, for many reasons other than his script being really good (it is). I imagine, being an unknown writer dealing with a small company, he didn’t get a huge amount of money, but he got something more important: a sizable chunk of his leg in the door previously held open by a few toes. Perhaps he’ll get an agent or a manager, or other production companies interested in reading his other scripts (he has one in particular that I think is the best script I’ve ever read, produced or not). It’s a good thing for him, which is why I sent two of my scripts to the same producer over a month ago.

But here’s why I’m a dickhead: in equal proportion to my happiness for him, I was both pissed off and obsessing over the details. I haven’t talked to Clint since a week or so before Christmas, so I knew nothing about this option, and, in fact, he hadn’t said word one about even dealing with Big-Shot Producer. I don’t know if he was holding out on me, or just not bringing it up because what business is it of mine, or if he hadn’t sent anything to Big-Shot Producer, just like I hadn’t, but when I got him to reply to my e-mail, I told Mark (the friend who told me about Clint’s script, who had asked about Big-Shot Producer), who possibly told Clint that the door was wide open.

So was this a process of Clint spending nearly a year—since we pitched to the guy back in May—or was this a rapid-fire process, where his script was so damn good they had to option it ASAP, but mine and Mark’s scripts suck ass and aren’t worth the hard drive space they’re stored on?

I felt like a total douchenozzle, because I just can’t flatly be happy for Clint. Adding insult to injury was that, since it’s been over a month since I sent my scripts to Big-Shot Producer, I dropped him a line on Thursday to remind him (a) I exist and (b) nobody’s mentioned anything about the scripts. Thursday and Friday passed with no word, so I was getting frustrated. I felt like he was giving me the brush-off. And then I started to get a little jealous. I felt like my scripts were both better than his. And maybe they both are, but that’s just the way Hollywood works: maybe this particular producer thinks he can work better with a gut-busting comedy about terrorists than a dramedy about a failed rock-star.

And all of these things just made me feel worse, because I can’t help thinking them, but I really am happy for Ryan’s luck. But I’m an angry, bitter hermit who expresses his happiness for other people through abuse and manipulation. Some find that charming; most find it disgusting. I even sent a subtly worded e-mail to Clint, not specifically mentioning that I’d sent him any scripts; even though he probably knew from Mark, the idea is that the scripts I sent weren’t important. What was important was, his script got optioned, and I was happy for him, and I wished him well.

How in God’s name could an e-mail like that be infused with negativity? Really, honestly, it’s not. It’s a very happy-go-lucky, congratulatory e-mail that he does, indeed, deserve. Untarnished. The problem came from the thoughts boiling in my head, phrasing it to prompt a response from him in some way or another, something along the lines of, “Yeah, it took months of dealing with him to get him to option it, but I’m so glad it paid off.” Something with a little more information than Mark’s sparse e-mail supplied.

So far, I’ve received nothing in response. I’m sure it’s because he’s busy having a life and family, and he’ll respond to me in a few days, but deep down, I don’t feel like I even deserve any kind of response, because even a nice e-mail came from such a twisted place.

A few minutes ago, I got an e-mail from Big-Shot Producer:

Stan,

Thanks for the note – I’ve been in a crunch with the release of our next film and starting another one so I’m sorry to say I’m a little behind in my reading.

I’ll do my best to get to them in the next week. Feel free to bug me in a couple of weeks if you’ve not heard from me or my assistant.

Best,

Big-Shot Producer

It’s about what I expected from him in the first place; I dreaded the quick brush-off, but this dude brushes people off for a living. If he’d even read my scripts and disliked them, he wouldn’t try to hide from me or leave me hanging. I’m nothing. He’d just say, “Sorry, not interested.” It’s as easy as that. So now I’m feeling a little more positive, a little less hated, a little less paranoid, but as usual, I’m a little disgusted with myself.

*I’m sure I’ve explained this before, but for those who don’t know or don’t remember, the easiest way to explain an “option” is like this: it’s basically a “rental” of your script by a production company or studio. They pay you a flat fee to “rent” the script for a certain amount of time, with an exorbitant bonus (the equivalent of somebody renting a house you own for a year and then buying it from you) if they either produce it themselves or sell it to a studio that will produce it. If they can’t do anything, and it sits languishing in a pile of other optioned scripts, when the agreed-upon time elapses, the original owner retains his rights to the script. [Back]

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The Press Release

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine optioned a very funny screenplay to a producer with whom I’ve also been dealing for months. Over this past weekend, he forwarded me a press release the producer’s company wrote about the deal.

It’s flattering overall and, like most Hollywood press releases, overhypes the deal by referring to “selling” and “buying” even though what’s actually happening is “leasing” and “renting.” There are a few nice quotes from Clint, one of which includes a veiled reference to me. That creeped me out, but it also made me feel good in a stupid way. According to him, I was the impetus for him pursuing the producer, which led to the option. If my scripts go nowhere, at least I can hang my hat on that much.

However, I took issue with one quote, this from the producer, in which he totally condescends to Clint and his abilities. Maybe I should chalk this up to a producer touting his ability to recognize an unmolded talent within the doughy, shapeless body of a screenwriter, but first he mentions that Clint “didn’t think he was a comedy writer.” This is patently untrue, considering—among other things—he spent several years in classes and workshops at the Second City and even, at one point, made it into the cast…for about three months, at which point half the cast ended up on Saturday Night Live and the other half was fired.

It was at this time that he originally conceived the script, with an unfunny comedian who went on to become unfunny on national television, to be a vehicle for said unfunny comedian and his even less funny friend. But when they both got the call from SNL, they jetted off to New York and left Clint in the dust, with nothing but an idea and a half-finished script. He kept on it, freed by his ability to not write a star vehicle for two others, and the version I read—probably three years after his first draft—was pretty damn funny. Because Clint is pretty damn funny.

But here’s why the producer doesn’t think Clint knew he was a comedy writer: “He [originally] pitched me some giant-epic-action-biblical-save the universe from a flood type thing (or something like that).” I’m not sure if it’s the parenthetical that makes it seem extremely condescending, or the fact that he’s essentially thumbing his nose at a very vague (and inaccurate) description of a script he wouldn’t even bother to read. Maybe it’s because I read it in one sitting, jaw on the floor, stunned at how fucking good it is. Baffled by the fact that this guy, whose other scripts were mostly comedies, had written the best action-adventure script I’ve ever read, professional or otherwise. And then he goes and pitches it to a guy who tells him to fuck off and, nearly a year later, mocks him for his efforts.

That really incensed me, but what incensed me even more is: I’m a giant whore. We all have known this for a very long time, but I’m sitting there getting pissed off at this man’s lack of any kind of integrity, artistic or otherwise, belittling a “first-time scribe” nobody whom he’s not even paying (not yet, anyway…), but rather than saying something, I’m hanging back. Because I don’t want to blow a potential deal for my scripts.

This makes me the worst kind of whore. Because some whores have some kind of values. Say there are two of them, standing over there on Cicero, and a guy pulls up and wants both of them. So they go back to his moldy, potential-serial-killer dwelling, and he says, “One at a time. I like it when one of you watches.” For the sake of this metaphor, the one watching is me, the one doing is Clint, and the producer is the john. And he proceeds to do all manner of vile things to the poor girl, most of them involving defecation, urination, maybe even a little finger-down-the-throat forced-vomiting, while the other girl leans up against the peeling wallpaper, aghast.

And now she has a choice: refuse and run the fuck away, or allow the john to do these same horrible things to her. My choice is: bring on your bodily waste…

…and speaking of bodily waste. To add insult to injury, a little more than a week ago I hauled my fat ass over to Lincoln Park to see the very last showing of this producer’s brand spanking new film. Opening and closing in two weeks, it played at 17 theatres during its peak. I went to see it because I thought I could kiss some ass. I read a lot of middling reviews, most indicating it was pretty mediocre but had a few redeeming moments. I thought, based on my previous Hollywood experience mining terrible material for little nuggets of gold that could be fostered into large hunks of gold (the gold in this instance is magic leprechaun gold that can grow like a vegetable), that I could find its redeeming qualities and acknowlege the good points while ignoring the bad.

The problem, I discovered as I left the theatre, was that it had no good points. Okay, two good points: I laughed at one very small joke, and I really enjoyed a “dramatic” scene near the end. Here’s a note to comedy writers out there: if the best scene in your comedy is the dramatic scene, you’re in trouble.

I ended up writing an incredibly vague but complimentary note to the producer. It did elicit a rapid response (and an implication that things will actually get moving on my scripts, which may seem nice but is probably more accurately described as “bullshit”), but I didn’t even have to go and see the movie to write what I did. I suppose it might be nice in case he ever attempts to cross-examine me on the film’s strengths and weaknesses. I have seen it, I won’t go in blind, but hell, what I wouldn’t give to get back the $20 and five hours I spent on that movie (yes, I’m including commute time and transit fare).

In other news, I might or might not have a nice little crap (but paying!) job in Los Angeles coming up. If I get it, and here’s hoping I do, I’ll have to hustle my fat ass across the country (again) posthaste, and it’ll last through August.

And I’ve been reading obsessively because, frankly, I have nothing else to do. Here are this month’s recommendations: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

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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.

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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The Co-Op

Things have officially gotten weird with the Big-Shot Producer. I fired off the fourth draft of my confusing conspiracy thiller, Disappear on Monday. I expected the usual month (or two…or three…) of silence, followed by an unenthusiastic “What else you got?” followed by me scrambling to turn one of my demented scripts into something reasonably mainstream. Instead, I received a lengthy response urging me to join some sort of bizarre co-op.

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Nothing Ever Happens

So the second script I read had one unfortunate side effect: very little in the way of plot. It gave me an early Richard Linklater vibe because of the setting and the writer’s penchant for meandering scenes of characters just hanging out. Although he defies many conventions, Linklater’s a master of subtext and conflict. For instance, Dazed and Confused has a very loose plot—seniors want to beat up next year’s freshman class—that sets up the characters and their minor goals over the course of the night (e.g., “beat up a freshman”/”don’t get beaten up”). It has the traditional obstacles and changing goals, but it’s mostly a movie about hanging out. Yet, from the conversations these characters share, everything they say tells us a little something about them. Their attitudes on superficial things like music, acid-induced dreams, fashion—what a person discusses and the way others react to it all tell us things about who they are.

The script I was given had the loose plot and the deliberate (some might say “plodding”) pace of a Linklater film, but it didn’t have much else in common. When the characters talked about buying a keg, all they were talking about…was buying a keg. That’s a problem. Similarly, the characters desires and goals are shielded until, quite literally, just before each goal is altered. (In one case, we don’t know a character wants a scholarship until page 100, and he gets the scholarship on page 102—ooh, the suspense. In another, the character reveals he’s unwilling to take the scholarship because he knocked up his girlfriend and needs to take care of her. Beyond logic problems I won’t go into, this is another conflict that’s brought up way too late and then resolved almost immediately. In literally the same scene that he mentions it to the love interest, she’s hit by a drunk driver and killed, leaving him to take the scholarship.)

I don’t want to go on and on ranting about this particular script, but I do want to bring up some fundamental tools of drama that this script should have employed but didn’t.

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Perfect Plot

I had trouble sleeping last night for a really dumb reason. It’s been a week since I sent Disappear to the Big-Shot Producer, and somehow reading through other peoples’ work made me realize something:

Disappear had a serious plot hole, and now it was out of my hands, ready to be scrutinized by people who may notice it and not care, notice it and toss it aside, or (if I’m really lucky) not notice it at all. The hole is a basic logic flaw that affects many thrillers and action movies: why do villains go to such elaborate ruses when it’s way easier just to shoot somebody?

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Blown Wad

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.

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Screwed

Remember the co-op? Remember how I described it as part-sales-pitch, part-new-age-feel-goodery? I had an uneasy feeling about it from, let’s say, day three. Basically, after Big-Shot Producer’s initial pitch—which made it sound pretty good—he began ladling on the creepy gravy until I felt very uncomfortable about the whole prospect. I wanted to know what happened to the mild but very much existent promises that some crazy group of foreign investors would read Disappear and have a response in three weeks or less. I wanted to know what happened to the co-op concept of getting 20-30 (maybe even up to 50) individual pieces of feedback on my script.

Instead, what little information I did receive—which reached a standstill by mid-April—consisted of nothing but impersonal marketing-speak. Gone was the producer who encouraged me despite his reservations about my pitch-black sense of humor. In his place stood a pod person. I didn’t like where this was headed.

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Mythological Action-Adven… Zzzzz

Nothing bores the shit out of me faster than the genre I will lazily identify as “mythological action-adventures.” This genre also encompasses the general, non-mythological “historical” action movies because, frankly, they might as well be mythological for all the historical accuracy they preserve. Now, I don’t really care much about accuracy if they tell a good story, but nine times out of ten, they tell a story that bores the shit out of me. Gladiator? Troy? Alexander? 300? Christ, how could 300 bore me? It’s specifically designed for the ADD generation. I am convinced there’s not a scene in that movie longer than 30 seconds or an individual shot longer than 0.25 seconds. And don’t get me started on anything older than Gladiator—the older you go, the slower the pacing, which means they get progressively more tedious. Spartacus? Ben-Hur? Never made it through them, and this is from a guy who thinks 1941-1952 and 1968-1981 are the golden and silver ages of cinema. I have a very high tolerance for movies not directed by Michael Bay, but this particular genre is just the height of tedium for me.

The weird thing is, I like history and I like mythology. What are these movies doing wrong? Maybe, because of my familiarity with history and mythology have led me to a point where these movies don’t show me anything I don’t already know. Actually, once in awhile they do, but it’s usually wrong. Not to say I’m some sort of genius historian/theologian/anthropologist or anything—it’s more like, “These movies are so goddamn braindead, even an idiot like me has culled more knowledge from History Channel documentaries than the jackasses who wrote the script.”

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