If you’re just joining the party, read Part I and Part II.
As a screenwriter – or any kind of writer, I imagine – having your work in the hands of people who can do something about it and then suddenly being out of the loop is one of the most frightening prospects to experience. Think, for a moment, of what it would be like to have an amazing story idea and then create memorable characters to bring that idea to life. Think about how time consuming that process would be – a writer essentially gives birth to full-grown people and must immediately create their histories and know how those experiences have shaped their personalities. The writer has to live with these people (usually in his or her own head) to really understand them. I know my characters as well as I know most real life people. Now imagine giving all of that hard work over to someone and having them steal your idea. Yes, you can register your screenplay with the Writers Guild of America. Yes, you can copyright your screenplay. But ideas are free to all, which is why you can have Armageddon and Deep Impact open in the same year. (If there’s some kind of insider story between those two movies I’d love to hear it.) All someone has to do is add enough changes to the script to make it different in the eyes of the law. Now someone else benefits from your hard work. And let’s say you decided to sue. When it comes down to an industry studio or production company and you, who do you think will have a team of high priced attorneys and who do you think will go bankrupt paying legal fees first? For a nobody like me, Hollywood is definitely a leap of faith.
As it stood, someone with connections to Joel Silver had my script, but now our liaison had gone silent. My texts and emails to Mr. Actor went unanswered. When I called I’d get his voicemail unnaturally soon, which meant he hit the ignore button. Memories of dealing with bello magazine floated to the forefront of my brain. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed that he was just busy. After a week, however, I figured I had been as polite as was fair and decided to bypass the middleman. Luckily for me, the last thing Mr. Actor told me was the name of his manager and representation. I looked them up online and made the call.
The first day, Ms. Manager was out to lunch, but I got through to her the next day. In short, it was a great conversation and all of my fears were allayed – not in any kind of verifiable way or with any certitude, but in the way that hearing a human voice brings peace of mind, because you know you’re dealing with something rational. In this case, I just like her. Ms. Manager is one of those people who’s easy to be friends with. My more cynical readers will probably tell me that her ability to schmooze is part of her job, in the way that conmen are disarming and they basically tell you what you want to hear. I can’t refute that point. Regardless, I felt I was in a better position for having spoken to her.
Ms. Manager said that she would give the script to a new literary agent her firm had acquired. The agent apparently had a contact at Silver Pictures and would reach out to them if the script was worth the effort. Interestingly, Ms. Manager didn’t want anything for her trouble – she just wanted to see the film get made. I offered to take her out to dinner at a restaurant of her choice “since everyone was working off favors.”
“I get to choose the restaurant?” she asked. “I know a place in Italy….”
I laughed, but inside I knew I’d fly her anywhere if Joel Silver picked up my screenplay. After we hung up all I could do was wait again until the lit. agent finished reading. I was confident, of course, since it’s almost impossible not to like my screenplay. So it came to pass that the lit. agent was impressed and told Ms. Manager who to call and how to position the script. Ms. Manager emailed me, explaining that she would make the call the following day.
I want to say that I was extremely excited about the situation. My screenplay was one step away from falling under the eyes of Joel Silver’s people! The truth is that I was only excited intellectually. I didn’t feel that Christmas-morning excitement, kneeling in front of a pile of boxes wrapped in paper and bows, wishing my parents would get up already. Chalk it up to either a lifetime of coping with one disappointment after another that’s made me wary of getting my hopes up or to my strong imagination where success is the normal I’m trying to reach as opposed to the disappointing life I lead, which is the anomaly. Though my excitement was blunted – for whatever reason – it didn’t stop me from fantasizing about a high six- or low seven-figure deal. I’d quit my job immediately, but return whatever salary they’d paid me thus far. The work I had done for them would be on the house since I’d feel bad for leaving the company and my department in a lurch.
After the phone call was made Ms. Manager emailed me.
So I spoke to Silver Pictures – bad news
They are moving forward right now with a current D&D script. They are about to start casting – so they are not interested in looking at anything new.
Timing is everything
I would suggest (though I know this sucks) that you table it for a year or two – see what happens with the one they’re working on and then see if you can revisit….
For a split second I was completely obliterated – in the way that a person standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast is disintegrated, leaving only their shadows of their former selves x-rayed along the ground as the only evidence they had ever existed. Fortunately, I was used to disappointment and I recovered quickly. Frustration was the atomic glue that put me back together almost instantly. Timing truly was everything. How long had Mr. Actor had my script? How much sooner could all of this have taken place?
Out of curiosity, I jumped on Joel Silver’s IMDB page to see what this Dungeons & Dragons movie was about. I couldn’t find anything that looked like it would be the film. Perhaps Silver Pictures hasn’t announced it yet. If so, I have a bad feeling that the film is going straight to video, which is doubly infuriating, because they could be spending their money on my script which would have been their next Matrix. Instead, they’re most likely simply getting the third installment of their D&D films – the first of which was terrible (I own it. It sits next to Battlefield Earth on my ‘terrible movies’ shelf.) and the second of which was only serviceable as a Direct to Video offering.
I had been struggling for so long to make this happen. Every moment I sit in traffic to and from LA has been made bearable by the thought that one day all of my effort writing fair reviews, giving personable interviews and attending midnight events would pay off with a golden connection to Joel Silver. After years of networking and toiling away, I finally get this opportunity and it fizzles through no fault of my own. I should have been upset. I should have railed against the gods. But I didn’t. The worst I did was smoke a couple of cigarettes and take a few moments for quiet reflection. To be honest I didn’t even really need the cigarettes. I just smoked them because it seemed like the thing to do. Kind of like the way straight writers write gay men in movies. Gay men are always outing themselves by sexually assaulting straight men they think are gay – or at least would be receptive to such advances. It’s the idea of human behavior these writers are trying to capture just as I was trying to emulate that same idea. At the end of the day, however, those writers and I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.
On a side note, thinking about sitting in traffic makes me recall a time when I was teenager, trying to have a long-distance relationship with a girl who lived 30 miles away. I wanted nothing more than to make it work since I had been in love with this girl since forever, but I also wanted to be practical. She was crestfallen, but agreed that we should talk it over in person. We made plans. A couple of days before our date, I surprised her at her school and cracked an inside joke about her pants that we had bought together on a previous date – they had some vague tropical pattern. I don’t think she remembered the joke because she didn’t laugh. I couldn’t stay long, because high schools don’t appreciate non-students roaming their halls so I confirmed our date with the girl before leaving.
The evening of I prepared a dinner picnic complete with sparkling cider, champagne glasses and a full moon. I fought the traffic of the damned and managed a splitting headache, but I arrived at her home just the same – maybe a little late. When I got to the door her older brother answered and explained that the girl had already left with another guy. That moment is the first time I can recall feeling that reality was something that could not be controlled. It was whatever it wanted to be.
Experiences like that coupled with an exceptional memory have made me almost emotionless. When I was going through a depression that same year in high school, my counselor recommended Prozac. My older friend, Jim – he’s dead now – told me that Prozac didn’t make you happy; instead, it took away the extremes of emotion. I don’t know if that’s a true assessment. I’ve never taken Prozac and I don’t know anyone who has. I only bring it up now because I feel like I no longer have the extremes of emotion. The only thing that really makes me feel anymore is comedy. I love to laugh.
Well, I suppose I’m being just a little disingenuous. There is a particular vocalist that’s thrown me for a loop, but I’ll save that tale for another sad story in the future.
So where does that leave me? Pretty much where I started. I’m not one to wait around so I’m going to strip out all of the Dungeons & Dragons material from my script and make it a brand-less fantasy action-adventure. My hope is that I’ll be able to shop it around to another big time producer – Jerry Bruckheimer? – and we can capitalize on whatever buzz Joel Silver’s project generates. Anyway, here’s to hoping.
You know, I always thought that this D&D script was going to be the film that minted me as a bona fide screenwriter. As it turns out, the film I script doctored for Danny Safady years ago is being shot in Missouri right now and I’m getting a co-screenwriter credit.
Reality is whatever it wants to be.