It’s Coming…

The return of Cannon Corner.

But first, since I have nothing more interesting to talk about, here’s the unpolished first draft of the first chapter of Reader:

The address said “Citrus Avenue,” and it looked correct on the map — running a block west of Highland, one of Hollywood’s major north-south thoroughfare — but it looked wrong in person. It was a tree-lined, residential street with nothing resembling an office building. My car crept down the empty street as I scanned the houses for numbers, until I reached the alleged address. I stepped out of the eggplant-colored ‘93 Concorde, which still hissed and rattled in rebellion against the early summer heat, and crossed toward the house.

Sure enough, as I made my way up the driveway to the front porch — secluded from the street by a series of unattractive stucco columns — I saw a small, nondescript sign hanging in the front picture window: REBEL YELL FILMS. Despite the sign’s presence, I opened the screen door slowly to prevent it from squeaking and knocked on the front door tentatively.

Before I even finished knocking, the door had opened. A guy roughly my own age stared up at me from the rolling chair on which he sat, hand on the doorknob. He wore a telephone headset and the black-rimmed “geek” glasses that had become so popular among people who self-identify as nerds without actually being nerds.

“You must be Stan,” he said without much interest.

“Yep,” I said with about the same interest level.

In a dramatic flourish, the assistant yanked the door fully open as he rolled himself backward, to a large office desk angled against a corner of the living room. He removed the headset so it wouldn’t tether him to the desk and stood, sweeping a hand toward two couches positioned to face each other. Other than the assistant’s desk and the narrow coffee table wedged between the two couches, the large living room was bare. Its wood floors and barren walls made every word uttered reverberate eerily.

I sat on the couch, startled by its quicksand-like sagging.

“Can I get you some water?” the assistant asked.

“Sure,” I said, remembering sage advice I’d received a few months earlier from the writer of Dragonheart: If they offer you something to drink, take it, because chances are it’s all you’ll get.

The assistant disappeared, crouching behind his desk. It took me a moment to realize they’d put a dorm-room mini-fridge underneath it. When he stood again, he asked if I wanted to read any of the trades.

“I’d love to see today’s Variety,” I said with as much self-assurance as I could muster. I’d never touched an issue of Variety before, but if the assistant was going to treat me like I mattered enough to pay attention to the trades, I wouldn’t disappoint him.

Later on, I’d realize the whole internship thing is sort of a shell game. I’ve never received more responses to my meager résumé than when I tried to find work as a Hollywood intern. Having so many people practically begging me to intern for them made me feel like the king of, at the very least, a third-world nation, and the assistant treating me like I imagine he treated every other Hollywood tycoon made me feel important.

I thanked him for the water and the Variety — which, being a daily, was much thinner than I thought it would be — and started reading. Despite my ignorance, it did occur to me that if I wanted to make a real run at Hollywood success, I probably should start reading the trades now. Fortunately, my interviewer gave me ample time to read the thin paper cover to cover and start surreptitiously rereading it.

Finally, two men emerged from a bedroom that they’d converted into an office. I didn’t know who was who, so I waited for one of them — someone undoubtedly important in the industry but unrecognized by me — to drift out the front door in silence before extending a hand toward Jon, the man I’d spoken to on the phone. Short, well-built, and greasy-haired, he didn’t smile when he shook my hand and greeted me. He sat on the opposite couch, crossing his legs ladies-style, and said, “You might be wondering why we’re in a house.”

He sounded prematurely defensive, a natural consequence of bringing up the topic immediately after our greeting.

“I kind of was, yeah,” I said. “I thought I was in the wrong place.”

“Well,” he said with a philosophical gaze, “my business partner, Martin, and I realized a house is a better investment than leasing an office, so we figured we’d just buy one.”

“Makes sense,” I said. It kinda did, but mostly it seemed to me like they were paying for an eventual home using company funds.

Jon flashed a fake smile. “Tell me about yourself. What are your aspirations?”

“I’m a writer,” I said plainly. “It seemed to me like the best way to get into the screenwriting field was to get into development. So, here I am.”

He gave me a glassy-eyed stare of incomprehension, as if I’d just spoken to him in Esperanto. Eventually, he collected himself and said, “Well, you made the right choice. We’re a new company, but we’re growing fast, and you can get in on the ground floor. What do you write?”

“Comedies, mostly,” I said.

“Oh, great,” he said with a tone suggested it was not great. “We’re developing a project with Steve Martin right now.”

“Wow, that’s awesome!”

“Who are your comedy influences?”

“Well, obviously, Steve Martin, but I’m also a really big Woody Allen fan.”

“Oh, yeah. He’s good. Did you see Match Point?”

“It…hasn’t come out yet.”

“Oh, you weren’t at Cannes?”

It took all my strength not to scowl at the stupidity of this question. “No,” I said curtly.

“Pitch me your best comedy script.”

I lit up. I didn’t have a huge amount of confidence in anything I did, but I’d written a romantic comedy beloved by all who read it. A very traditional premise gets twisted into a complex dramedy with many unexpected, convention-defying moments. Because of that, it made the script easy to pitch to people who asked questions. I enjoyed it when they tried to guess the direction of the story, their faces lighting with delight when I told them the story’s actual direction. That can backfire, though. I pitched it to a literary manager who got so angry that he couldn’t guess what happened next, he accused me of not knowing my story well enough. I’d conceived the pitch in a very specific way so that it unfolds in the exact same surprising way the way the script does, which most people loved.

I went into it, starting with the logline and working my way back. “I have a romantic comedy about a washed-up heavy-metal star who returns to his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to stop the wedding of his high school sweetheart. When — “

Behind me, the front door flew open with a suddenness and force that startled us both. I turned toward the sudden influx of sunlight to see a disheveled-looking middle-aged man stagger into the house, followed by a slow-moving golden retriever wearing a cone collar.

“Hey, Jon,” the whiskey-voiced man grumbled as he shuffled across the vast expanse of the living toward what was presumably the kitchen.

Jon nodded at him, then looked back at me. “That’s Martin, my business partner.”

“Right,” I said.

“Anyway, go on.”

I went on, but I couldn’t help noticing Jon paying more attention to Martin that to me. Several times during the pitch, he started talking to Martin about things that had happened earlier in the day. I politely stopped talking, until Jon gave me a look like he wondered why I’d stopped. I’d been told on a number of occasions that Hollywood types did this a lot — they’d act like they weren’t listening at all, then bombard you with intelligent, sophisticated questions to show they were more dicks than ADD cases. I plowed through the remainder of the pitch, but Jon’s interruptions didn’t make it easy, nor did the dog sidling up beside us. As the old saying goes, never work with children or animals, because they automatically take the spotlight.

Finally, I finished. It took Jon, who was simultaneously talking to Martin and cuddling with the dog, awhile to respond.

“Well…” he said, pausing as if in deep thought. “It sounds like a Woody Allen script to me.”

I don’t know if he intended that as an insult or a compliment. It’s not that he was wrong — the fact that it’s focused on a handful of fractured relationships and involves a lot of cheating does bear a number of similarities to Allen’s typical subject matter. Plus, my love for Allen’s films has had a great impact on my sense of humor and my writing, especially in the romantic comedy genre. So I wanted to feel like he’d paid me a compliment, but it sure didn’t sound like one.

“I guess it does,” I said without expression.

He stood up suddenly, extending his hand to shake mine. I shook it, also standing (I can take a hint). Jon said, “I like you, Stan. You can start tomorrow.”

“Well,” I said, “I need to find out how many hours I need to work to get internship credit.” This was a lie. I had other interviews lined up all week and wanted to play the field a bit.

Again with the blank stare. “That’s fine. Just send me an e-mail when you know.”

Despite all this, Rebel Yell was a frontrunner, not so much because of Jon’s charming personality or what I perceived as shady dealings involved in the house purchase. From what I’d read, they seemed like a legitimate up-and-comer, and I’d rather work with a couple of assholes and get somewhere than work for the world’s nicest people and get nowhere.

A week later, after the other interviews, I sent an e-mail to Jon telling him the number of hours I’d need to work. He wrote back, “We should meet first. When can you come in?” I’m sure there are multiple ways of interpreting that, but based on how little he seemed to pay attention during the interview, I assumed he forgot he’d already met with me once.

I didn’t write him back.

Posted by D. B. Bates on June 27, 2011 8:19 AM