Monday, September 26, 2005

The Devil Made Me Pitch It

It seems that one of the sub-genres of the screenwriter blog is the pitch post. From what I can tell, everybody's a fucking expert on pitching projects. Everyone's got a song, a dance, a corkboard, some Willy Loman trick. I love John Rogers's recent post on pitching television and I even found myself using the term "story lens" in a meeting. Of course I have no idea what "story lens" means and there's a pretty good chance I used the term incorrectly. But whatever. It's not like these people know what I'm talking about half the time anyway. In fact, if I make the classic mistake of asking for that second Diet Coke, there's a good chance I'll do at least one five minute caffeinated riff about whatever's within my reach on the coffee table.

The truth is, I pitch like a drunk sailor. In my twelve years of Monkeydom I cannot remember EVER selling an original feature idea in pitch form. I've had meetings that resulted in me getting hired for jobs, but I'm pretty sure that a) I already had the job going into the meeting and could only have lost it or b) my competition had been arrested for child endangerment earlier in the day.

The truth is, I've never been a fan of the hard sell. My feeling is, you know what I do. If you want me, hire me. If you don't, don't. I've got stuff on the Tivo. I used to have this attitude towards dating and frankly it did not serve me well. It led to episodes such as the one in high school where my senior year girlfriend agreed to go to prom with a skinny guy from the cross-country team WHILE WE WERE STILL DATING.

SENIOR YEAR GIRLFRIEND: "I dunno, Josh. I just didn't know if you were going to ask me. And he brought flowers."

Needless to say we broke up soon after and I spent prom passed out in a gulley by the side of a road with a friend of mine. I've never talked to senior year girlfriend again but in a strange meta-note, the father of my gulley-friend occasionally comments on this very blog. Thanks for your support Dan!

Now you'd think after events like this I would have learned a bit about what people want and how to give it to them before they leave you high and dry holding a plastic pitcher of 3.2 beer and a fake University of Colorado Student I.D. with the name John Fredschmidt on it.

But the reality is, not only can I not close the deal when I've been spotted a touchdown and the ball, but my aversion to competition of ANY SORT makes me about the worst salesman of all time.

This was me in college. I consider this my HARD SELL:

COLLEGE GIRL JOSH LIKES HIS FRESHMAN YEAR: Hey, Josh. Me, Unicycle Riding Guy, Deadhead Hackey Sack Expert Guy, Prep School Drug Connection Guy, and Guy Who Always Plays Rocky Raccoon on His Acoustic Guitar in the Lounge are going out to a bar so they can vie for my attention. Wanna come?
ME: Hmm...No...I'm just my roommate drape our room in white sheets. But, you know, when you come back...if you want a backrub...I'll leave the door unlocked.
COLLEGE GIRL: It'll probably be late.
ME: S'alright. I'll be up.
COLLEGE GIRL: Really late. I'm probably gonna hook up with Rocky Raccoon guy.
ME: Well, you know...if he finishes early...

Seriously. That's me.

And even though Hollywood will fuck you when no one else will there's no guarantee you're getting laid without doing a little legwork. It's just whose definition of legwork and how much of it's leg and how much of it's WORK. Unfortunately I still model meetings after dates. I'm good for some intelligent conversation, I'll make you laugh with my self-deprecating humor, I ask good questions and I'm a VERY ATTENTIVE LISTENER.

But if you're looking for dogs and ponies you've definitely got the wrong monkey. The thought of selling a project by helping the executive "see the movie" makes me feel flushed and queasy--sort of like seducing a woman by helping her "see the sex."

Which, by the way, would go like this:

ME: So...we're gonna have sex. It's gonna be...awkward. Not in a funny way. Just, you know, uncomfortable. Oh wait! I forgot the important part! I'm a premature ejaculator!

Hi. Did I mention how much I love my wife?

Anyway, if there's a pitch involved the job usually goes somewhere else. And before I get a lot of e-mails telling me how I'm pissing away all these wonderful opportunities let me correct that misperception.

I'm pissing away a lot of mediocre opportunities.

When it comes to assignments there are few great jobs to be gotten, few prize plums to be divided amongst a large crowd of deserving writers. (Some of whom are already booked until 2007 but, hey, you can never have too much money or too big a gaping maw of thirsty approval-need.)

Now most of these pitching how-to's don't concern themselves with getting assignments. After all, most people who want to know about pitching want to know how to pitch original ideas because they imagine that's how they'd spend their time if they were working screenwriters. For my money, if I'm gonna spend the time working out a pitch on an original idea IN THE TYPE OF DETAIL REQUIRED TO SELL IT...well I'm just gonna write it on spec.

Because while there are ideas that cannot be pitched and can only be written, there are few (if any) ideas that cannot be written and should only be pitched. Sure, there are REASONS to pitch as opposed to write, and most of those reasons have to do with your childhood traumas.

In short, writers whose parents ignored them so they became class clowns like to pitch first and write second. On the other hand, writers whose parents ignored them so they became awkward little geeks who stayed in their room and read Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators like to write first and pitch never.

Writers who were both class clowns and awkward little geeks like to create blogs.

There's only one pitch I've ever heard of that I wish I would have done.

My friends Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose. For those of you who don't know, the movie is based on a true case which occurred in Germany around 1970. While researching another project, Paul and Scott were given an audio tape by a NYC police detective who investigated the occult. When he gave it to them he said: "I don't even know if I should give this to you. I truly believe playing this tape is dangerous."


It was this tape that inspired them to write the movie. And it was this tape that helped them sell the project. Because what did they do? Well they did what you and I would hope we'd do if we were in their position. They'd take that scary-ass tape from studio to studio and play it for people.

The way I understood it went was like this: Scott and Paul would go into the room, do their pitch, and then pull out the tape recorder and some headphones. One of them would say: "There are those that believe just playing this tape invites darkness into our lives." Then the curious exec would put on the headphones, thus drowning out all other EARTHLY AND NORMAL noise.

Then they'd press play.

Now from what I understand the tape is ABSOLUTELY THE MOST TERRIFYING THING YOU'VE EVER HEARD and consists of a girl DYING while screaming in German at two priests attempting to pull SIX DEMONS from her body.

Then Scott and Paul would leave.

Now that's better than Rocky Raccoon anyday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

This is not a Post

Three or four of you have been asking for more posts. And while it's flattering, please remember one of the first items I revealed about myself is this: I am a fat lazy bastard. That hasn't changed. Besides, the new fall season is here and in the last few days I have relieved my tivo of Lost, Survivor, Invasion, Surface, Threshold, America's Next Top Model, Big Brother Finale, Rock Star: INXS Finale, My Name is Earl, Kitchen Confidential, and Love, Inc.

I will not be commenting specifically on any of these shows except to say this: I cannot believe Ivette actually thought she was going to win. What a fucking idiot.

I'm also working on a television pitch which currently must remain top secret but perhaps soon will be made public. I've written six television pilots previously, shot two of them, and never had one get on the air. I do believe I will have things to say about that spotless record in the future.

For those of you WGA members who watch NASCAR races just for the crashes, yours truly will be moderating a Q&A with the filmmakers of The Exorcism of Emily Rose after the 5pm showing on Sunday at the WGA Theater. Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman are fine fellows and served time with me at SuperMax. Why they have requested a moderator who hates scary movies and is congenitally unable to talk about anybody but himself is beyond me. Regardless, I will be there. I'll be drunk, but I'll be there.

Ok. I promised I wasn't going to say anything else about those shows but that squinchy look on Ivette's face when she realized she'd fucked her family out of half a million was one of those priceless moments that makes reality television the huge steamrolling screenwriter killer app it is. This from a guy whose first produced pilot happened to be for ABC the year they put ONE DRAMA ON THE AIR ALONG WITH SEVENTY-FOUR HOURS OF WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE.

Regis Philbin. Notre Dame fan. Nuff said.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Swimming with Shrimps

So where was I?

Oh yeah.

There's a lot of great screenwriting sites out there which do their best to help out the next generation of writers by sharing tips, wisdoms, answers to form and process questions, etc. These sites serve a valuable function and if they weren't concerned with screenwriting you'd almost call them noble.

This is not one of those sites.

And why? Well, first of all, it's important for everyone to understand that I spend most of my day eating two-day old fruit salad from large tupperware containers while trying to keep my fifteen-month old son from blinding the family dog with a very sharp American flag he fished out of somebody's trash. (My son loves American flags and I do not look forward to the day when we break it to him that his parents are lefty pinko Democrats who think waving the Stars and Stripes while you're discovering your penis in the bathtub is a tad inappropriate.)

Secondly, if I did have time in my day I certainly wouldn't spend it writing. Seriously. If you're a true working screenwriter, you don't write. Actual WRITING is so late 1990's it's not even funny. Who writes anymore? Look at J.J. Abrams. That dude was about the writingest motherfucker there was for a while. Then he started producing and directing and bam--next thing you know he's on Dinner for Five and actually being shown ON CAMERA sitting in his seat at Award shows. If you notice they almost NEVER show writers at awards shows. And you know why this is?

Because writers are ugly.

But there's J.J. and God bless the guy he's still a writer as far as I'm concerned. (I'll always remember J.J. as the host of the first Hollywood Hills fancy party I went to--he had cases of Twinkies and Ding Dongs stacked to the sky. It made such an impression on little Joshie that a few years ago when I was throwing a housewarming party the first thing I did was drive straight to Smart N Final for a gross of Hostess goodness.)

BTW: When J.J. was on Dinner for Five he mentioned getting to know Tom Cruise during a meeting about War of the Worlds. It is my theory based on nothing but my own Monkey-sense that this occurred after I wrote my drafts but before Koepp was hired. I have no forensic evidence and we'll all just stay tuned to next week's CSI: Josh's Career and see if we can figure it out...

But back to our irregularly scheduled bullshit:

So writing's for amateurs and yet working screenwriters without Emmys still need to work. What do we do? Well, we go to meetings. I love meetings. I'd have meetings all day long. Pitch meetings, general meetings, the meet and greet...Meeting meeting meeting. If there's a room with some arty movie posters on the walls and a free Diet Coke on the table, you can bet your bottom bitch there's a caffeinated Infinite Monkey curled in the corner of the couch riffing about adapting some jackass idea into a tentpole for '07.

But my absolute favorite can't-get-enough-would-do-it-twice-a-day-meeting:


I love (FREE) lunch meetings. Love love love. (FREE) Lunch meetings remind me of being twelve years old and going out with my parents. Twelve's a great age because you're old enough to order for yourself and just aware of how cool it is that you're too young to pay for anything.

In my family there was always this fantastic tension whenever we'd go out to eat because my younger brother had this preternatural sense of how to drive my father insane. Even when he was a young child, younger than twelve certainly, my brother would go directly to the most expensive thing on any menu and order it. I cannot even count the number of times I saw my nine-year old brother eating surf and turf, stuffed crab, lobster claws, you name it. Even if we were at McDonald's he'd figure a way to sneak in an apple pie or a shake, or the large fries. And no matter where we went, you could always count on this from the little bugger: he was going to order a shrimp cocktail for an appetizer.

My brother could find a shrimp cocktail appetizer ANYWHERE. And he was ordering the motherfucker. For whatever reason my father never expected it. We'd go around the table and get to my brother and you'd hear: "I'll have the steak. With the side of gold-dipped crab...And the shrimp cocktail appetizer."

My father's head would slowly rise from the menu and face the biggest shit-eating grin you've ever seen on an eight year old. Then my dad would slowly glance down, check the price of the shrimp, shake his head and close the menu. The best part was always after it showed up and you'd watch my dad mentally counting the shrimp and amortizing the whole thing. At some point in the meal I'd always catch him mumbling to himself: "Two seventy-five per shrimp...Jeez..."

So I love me the (FREE) lunch meeting. Which isn't to say I won't take whatever free meal I can get. But I always start with lunch, downshift to breakfast and as a last resort will accept dinner. My breakfast/dinner ranking may seem odd to you given that dinner is the most expensive meal of the day. But I find dinner meetings a little dangerous.The Infinite Monkey's fond of his tequila but unfortunately he has the tolerance of a fourteen year old gymnast. This has led to a number of frank confessions to executives I've known for, oh, about an hour and a half. Dinner meetings remind me of dates I had in high school which would start out with drinks and some witty conversation but often ended with me missing a chance for sex because I was having an anxiety reaction and dry-heaving in the bathroom.

So I like lunch.

Now the reality is, most executives don't like to eat lunch with writers. Directors, sure. Directors are IMPORTANT and everyone else who sees you eating will recognize the director. But an anonymous writer? Might as well have lunch with someone not in the film business.

Whether I can swing a free lunch usually depends upon how much the person requesting the meeting wants to meet with me. It's usually a pretty accurate measure as to whether they're going out to other writers on the project or whether it's to me exclusively. And if they really covet my Monkey ass, I might even get the ultimate (FREE) lunch: sushi. Nothing says "rewrite our piece of crap we're already pay or play with a director" like a good piece of toro. Or six.

The other way to figure out how much they like me is how far they're willing to go to see me. I live on the East Side of L.A. and nothing pisses me off more than going west of Beverly Hills for a meeting. (Even going to Beverly Hills sucks hard but my agent's over there and I can always stop by after the meeting to pick up an all day parking validation for the Nike Store.)

But it's no different for executives. They're the ones with real jobs. And schedules. And bosses who may be sniffing through their desk drawers while they're gone...

They don't want to leave their office. Especially to meet with a writer.

I recently almost lost a job based on the location of the meeting. A friend of mine is a producer and he works for a big-time film finance type dude. They have an office in Santa Monica--a good forty-five minutes from the MonkeyHouse. So the Santa Monica meeting must ALWAYS be evaluated very carefully.

The day before the meeting I start thinking maybe the project in question isn't worth the drive across town. After all, I'm just meeting with MY FRIEND. He can certainly haul his ass out of the office and buy me lunch. Agent's Assistant calls Producer Friend's Assistant and says I want to convert Santa Monica meeting to a lunch. The assistant explains that this is not possible as Producer Friend's Fancy Boss wants to "pop his head in the meeting."

Uh...No. Monkey doesn't play that.

I explain to all those involved the problem here: if Fancy Boss wants to "pop in", and "pop in" means "stay for a half an hour and hear what this fucking monkey has to say..." Well I'm just not prepared for that meeting. This is just supposed to be a casual conversation and I won't be pitching to any Fancy Boss types.

Now if "pop in" really means "pop in" then that's also a non-starter. I'm not going to make a four hour trip out of something I can do in half the time with free food just so Fancy Boss can say hello.

I get a call from Producer Friend's Assistant:

PFA: (snippy) You need to come to Santa Monica.
ME: No. I don't think so. It's far.
PFA: You understand Fancy Boss is going to pop in?
ME: I do. Perhaps he'd like to join us for lunch?
PFA: He's not going to do that.
ME: Well I'm not going to Santa Monica. It's not that type of meeting.
PFA: I'll call you back.

Now understand something: many breaches of Hollywood etiquette have occurred here--some by me and some by the PFA. But I don't really give a fuck at this point. I call my agent's assistant.

ME: I just got some attitude from PFA because I won't go to Santa Monica.
AA: She called you? And gave you attitude?
ME: She did. She was very snippy.
AA: Whattya want to do?
ME: Pass.
AA: On the meeting?
ME: On the project.
AA: Sounds good to me. I'll tell Agent.
ME: Thank you!

Five minutes later Producer Friend calls me.

"You and me Josh. Lunch. Beverly Hills. Sushi."

And don't think I didn't figure out a way to order a fucking shrimp cocktail.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Joy of Specs

So it was my plan not to post while I was traveling but the Infinite Monkey's in-laws made the mistake of leaving their computer out in plain sight while taking my child for a walk in the park. Some of you may wonder what kind of father chooses to hunch over a keyboard instead of playing with his son in the park. To that I can only say this: the crappy kind.

I'm in Chicago and while I wish I was channelling my inner Mamet I'm unfortunately channelling myself from ten years ago when I sold the (set in Washington) script DEAD DROP which became the (set in Chicago) movie CHAIN REACTION. I spent a grand total of three hours on the Chain Reaction set--I happened to be in Chicago for a wedding---and was invited to the set by the producer. It was my first movie set and I can honestly say I saw things that blew my mind. Namely, when introduced to Keanu Reeves, I saw him unhinge his right hip from his pelvis so he could actually turn his back on me and walk away while the rest of him was still walking towards me to shake my hand.

But this is not that story. This is about spec scripts. Many of you (okay, two) asked about spec scripts. And why wouldn't you? The big spec script sale is the Moby Dick for all the Monkey-Ahabs sailing alone on their little one man schooners in the Sea of Coffee Shops Around America. It's a Holy Grail--mythologized in screenwriting books and blogs and seminars everywhere...But it's also A Big Metal Cup--a real world way to get noticed, get an agent, and get on with your career.

Notice I didn't say "Get paid." Because most of the time you write a spec script you're not going to get paid. Not anymore. The market isn't the way it was back when I was just an Infinite Monkey Baby and Joe Eszterhas was getting paid 3.5 million for an outline written on the back of a napkin at the Polo Lounge. Come to think of it, back then back when wasn't even back when.

But this isn't a career advice column and I've got no insight beyond what everybody knows. The spec market's a bitch and nobody should write a script expecting to sell it. Everybody should write a script expecting to sit alone in a dark room and wonder whether anybody will ever truly give a fuck about them and what they have to say.

And again, like I've said doesn't even matter if anyone gives a fuck about you. It does matter if they give a fuck about what you have to say. But that assumes facts not in evidence. That assumes you have something to say. That you have a voice. That you have an original story to tell. That you have the talent to tell it well. Now of course once you become a working screenwriter you'll be asked to stop all that bullshit. But for now you better put on your Scrappy Cap and find yourself a motherfucking Wangdoodle.

But this is a story about one spec script.

And one actress.

Ten years ago I worked as a reader for New Line Cinema making fifty bucks a script doing coverage. I read ten scripts a week and in the year I did the job I read two scripts that later became movies. I passed on both. One was Red Rock West and who the hell knew John Dahl was that cool and the other was Rudy and I fucking HATE Notre Dame. I passed on Rudy knowing it was a movie and knowing someone was going to make it. But I think Lou Holtz was coaching the Irish back then and damned if I was gonna help that self-righteous old woman recruit one more linebacker. It's people like me who read your work.

So I'm reading forty scripts a month for a couple grand and not making much of a dent in my student loans to SuperMax. Do the math and that's almost five hundred scripts in a one year period and TWO became movies. I cannot remember recommending a script. Ever.

This was the boom time.

And into this mine of fool's gold I carried my own pick and helmet. A line producer I knew wanted me to take an old script he wrote with a stuntman friend of his and rewrite it. The script was eighty pages long with a forty page first act, a ten page second act, and (only by process of elimination) a thirty page final act. It was a mess and certainly called into question whether simply using the correct formatting gives you the right to call something a script.

Line Producer was a sweetheart and offered me a deal: if I'd rewrite the script for a month he'd pay me the same amount I would earn for a month of New Line pay. If we sold the script we'd share a story credit and split the sale price 75/25 with him attached to produce. Now as many of you know I had previously suffered from what we like to call inadequate legal counsel by relying on a lawyer friend of my father's whose only connection to the field of entertainment law was driving past CAA on his way to a dope deal.

(Libel note: This may not be true. It may have been William Morris.)

So this time I called a DIFFERENT friend of my father's who actually worked in the entertainment business. Granted, he was a performer in the blossoming world of cable variety shows.

ME: So whattya think Mr. Cable Variety Show Performer...Should I do the deal?
CABLE VARIETY SHOW PERFORMER: Sure. You'll never sell the script anyway so who cares.
ME: Thank you for your help sir!

Thus buoyed by this enthusiastic endorsement I agreed to the deal (only after exaggerating my New Line pay an extra five hundred bucks). Twenty-five hundred dollars. Half when I started. Half when I finished.

One year later I'd been paid $1250 dollars and written TWENTY-TWO DRAFTS. And although I was living off the $20,000 the Dumb Fucking Lesbian had gotten me for the serial killer rewrite, this new exercise in white slavery was starting to put a crimp in my ultimate plan to become richer than my parents.

Now maybe twenty-two drafts over a year for an average of about fifty bucks per draft seems a little perverse. After all, I was previously making the same amount reading a script as I was currently being paid to write one. But I was stuck in a classic if/then expectation loop and couldn't escape. And these weren't small little changes I was making. To wit:

Six months and a dozen drafts earlier (before the DFL), a writer friend of mine had arranged for his agent to slip the script to a Fox executive. Everyone got all hopped up smoking the spec crack and the executive took it home to read it over the weekend. I counted the hours. When I reached FIVE HUNDRED AND FOUR I called the producer. No answer. I called my friend's agent. No answer. Around FIVE HUNDRED THIRTEEN I bellied up to the bar and called the executive, herself.

ME: Uh, Hi. This is Josh Friedman. I wrote...that script you were reading.
EXECUTIVE: Oh yeah, Josh Friedman. That script.
ME: I was kinda wondering. What happened with that script?
EXECUTIVE: What happened?
ME: Yep.
EXECUTIVE: I passed.
ME: You did?
EXECUTIVE: Two weeks ago. No one told you?
ME: Well of course...Everyone told me. I just wanted to hear it from you personally because rejection makes me hard.

God it would've been so cool if I'd have said that. Actually I said:

ME: No.

And then she told me something that very few executives in the ten years since have told me: the truth.

EXECUTIVE: Honestly, Josh. You've taken one of the most commercial premises for a movie and rendered it in one of the most uncommercial ways I could imagine.

She then spent half an hour listing the various screenwriting sins she believed I'd committed. And she was kinda right.

The next day I called Line Producer and told him A) he was a serious dickhead for not calling me after Fox passed and B) I was cutting sixty pages out of the script and starting over.

So after a year and twenty-two drafts it's more hobby than spec script but I've stuck with it. There's a poker term called "pot committed" and it happens when there's already so much money in the pot that it makes mathematical sense for you to call a final bet even if you're an underdog. I'd like to think this is where I was at.

Of course there's also a poker term called "loser."

Now the other part of the story started a couple months earlier when I began dating a woman who will for the sake of this blog and this blog only be referred to as THE ACTRESS. She is no longer an actress and it can be debated whether she truly ever was one. Much like my line producer's script, her acting talents significantly called into question how broadly we want to define the term "ACTRESS." Unfortunately for those poor souls who run across actresses in their daily lives, there is no practical difference between working actress, out of work actress, wanna-be actress, bad actress, good actress, used-to-be-good-but-now-an-infomercial actress, or star. They're all crazy.

Here's the type I was dating: the My Father is a Huge Director Who Puts Me in his Movies and got Me an Agent and Pays for My Acting Classes ACTRESS. Her career consisted of five cameos in her father's movies with enough lines to get her SAG health insurance. She was very sweet and quite smart and had her father not been a big director I'm sure she would've been successful working out in the real world doing something productive that didn't involve short, strained conversations with her agent, making me run lines with her for a part as OLDER SISTER #2, and staring at her ass in a mirror.

In the days preceding the day of my big spec launch things had gotten a little dicey between ACTRESS and myself. She had a touch of Social Dyslexia and whenever we were in groups larger than two she became convinced I was an absolute stranger and spent the evening flirting with the male whose body language most resembled her father's withheld approval.

But I knew if I could isolate her in a male-deprivation tank she'd probably be on her best behavior. I invited her to sit by the phone with me while my spec made the rounds. I was not a very bright boy.

Now even though back then wasn't really back when back then, it was still a time in the spec market when you'd send your script out in the morning and by lunch you'd have a pretty good idea if you were gonna be invited to the screenwriter poker game at Dominick's next week.

So the Dumb Fucking Lesbian's amped and even though Line Producer's ICM agent is taking the lead it's a group effort and she's in serious capital letter mode.


ME: Actress is bringing over bagels and we're gonna read the New York Times together on the couch.
DFL: Really. I thought the two of you were done.
ME: I think things are gonna work.
DFL: Are you still subverting her by suggesting bad line readings when the two of you rehearse?
ME: I did that one time and she deserved it.
DFL: I never said she didn't.

But everyone's gotta be torched by lightning once before they'll stop walking rainy golf courses during thunderstorms wearing tap shoes and waving a three-iron over their head. Actress showed up and she'd even brought lox and it did cross my mind that maybe this was the woman for me and today was going to be the best day of my life. I couldn't even hear my tap shoes clicking as I walked.

Two hours later the first call came in. Junior studio executives had read it and the response was great. Bosses were reading it over lunch and I didn't need the DFL to tell me that if you can get an upper-level studio executive to read your script between 12:30 and 2:30 you're doing something right.

By the end of lunch the first offers starting coming in. I have to be honest and tell you I don't remember what the numbers started at or how quickly they went up but the DFL started calling me every half-hour with updates. I'd just hung up with the DFL for the seventh time and was wondering how the AMG class Mercedes compared with the new BMW M3 when suddenly the rain started falling. Hard.

ME: (humming a little tune) I'm gonna be rich rich rich, richer than Dad...
ACTRESS: Josh. We need to talk.
ME: Rich rich rich hm? What? Talk?
ACTRESS: I don't think I can do this anymore.
ME: Are we out of lox?
ACTRESS: You're a great guy. I like you a lot...It's just...I can' this. Us. Anymore.
ME: But...


ME: I'll call you right back.

ME AGAIN: Actress...Sit down. Think this through...Things are going great here...We can work it out...I'm gonna be rich and you can stop worrying I'm dating you for your dad's money...
ACTRESS: I know this is your big day but--


ME: Hold that horribly wounding thought...Hello? Where's it at now?

By the end of business two things were clear: a) I was going to sell my script for a lot of money and b) to commermorate the day this crazy bitch was dumping my ass.

The next morning Dead Drop sold to the same executive at Fox who had passed on it six months earlier. I don't like to talk actual dollars but because the numbers were public knowledge and because I think it's instructive I'll break the whole thing down for you.

Amount of money paid to me by Line Producer three days before spec went out: $1250
Amount of money script sold for according to Variety: $1.2 million
Amount of money an executive told me I missed out on by not selling to his studio because they weren't willing to pay as much in "producer's fees": $50,000
Amount of money out of the $1.2 million that Line Producer's agent negotiated as "producer's fees": $600,000.
Amount of the remaining $600,000 also taken by Line Producer due to 75/25 split: $150,000
Amount taken by the DFL and Josh's brand new professional real lawyer: $67,500
Amount left for Josh before taxes: 382,500
Amount left for Josh after taxes: 200,000
Amount of Josh's SuperMax loans: $25,000
Amount of a BMW M3: $60,000
Amount I missed out on by not rewriting the script one year later: $750,000

And in case you're wondering, here's the Variety headline the day my sale made the trades:

It was a fucking boom time.

And as far as the Actress is concerned...well, there's a happy ending there. I got a phone call from her the day my sale was in the paper. This is exactly what happened:

ACTRESS: Hi, it's me. Actress.
ME: Hi.
ACTRESS: Look...I don't know how to say this but...did you shellack your Variety article to my apartment door?
ME: What?
ACTRESS: Just tell me. Did you or did you not polyurethene your Variety article to my apartment door?
ME: I did not.
ACTRESS: Well I'm a little freaked out. Do your friends know where I live? Did you tell them?
ME: I have nothing to do with it. I swear to God.
ACTRESS: All right. Gotta go...Oh yeah, by the way...I've got an audition coming up...I thought maybe you'd help me run lines...You know, just as friends.
ME: My pleasure. As friends.
ACTRESS: Great. I'll call ya...

Needless to say she didn't get that job. Perhaps it had something to do with her line readings...

But she did find out who pasted my Variety article on her apartment door:

Her father.

Now that's some parenting I can get behind.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

All Apologies

My apologies to those seven of you eagerly awaiting a new post. The Infinite Monkey has some Monkey-in-Law related business out of town this week and who knows if they'll let me out of the hokey-pokey circle to write. I'm hoping to post something soon about the spec script world, both past and present. Hopefully the post will
a) rock, despite being written in a permanent Ativan hangover
b) show how spoiled I am
c) teach all of us the most important lesson we can learn about the entertainment business. And that is:

Don't, under any circumstance, including pain of death, date an actress.

Thank you for your patience. The request line is now open.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The List Seduction

Despite what many of you may assume from reading my blog, I actually like working in Hollywood. In fact, I love Hollywood. I love its spectacularly dysfunctional obsession with its own hype; I love its idiosyncratic language and customs and I love its inability to get out of its own way and do what would ultimately be best for it before it careens wildly out of control. It's like being married to America.

(**Meta-blog note: I tried a lot of punchlines for that joke. Some were funnier--"France" and "Europe" for example, "Paris Hilton" was an obvious one, "my dog" almost won, as did "Gary Busey." Unfortunately "America" seemed the most appropriate.)

So it's Hollywood, love it or leave it, and like Chuck Heston they're gonna have to pry my key to the Infinite Monkey's Washroom from my cold dead intelligently designed opposable thumb.

(Meta-blog note 2: Twenty minutes elapse as Josh considers the various connections between right wing politics, Charlton Heston, the NRA, Darwin, the Infinite Monkey, the Crimson Simien and The Planet of the Apes...)

But enough about the Apocalypse. That'll come soon enough. And not, you know, in a good way.

So it's Hollywood, love it or leave it, and I hate to pack. I've been doing this for twelve years not including the thirty months I did at the SuperMax facility located at USC Film School before I bribed a guard with a carton of Winstons and went over the wall carrying nothing but two screenplays and a shank made from 1/2" brads. But that's a story for another day.

Now understand that despite my cynicism and occasional tales of inequity, I start from the premise that Hollywood is a meritocracy. Not for everyone, not all the time, and never for me, but more than most places. I've always believed that if you've written a feature screenplay and it's a money-making idea with money-making execution...eventually that script will find itself to the right place. If you live in Los Angeles. If you get out of your house once in a while. If you're not a complete and staggering asshole. (You can always become an asshole later. But if you want someone to take the time to read your script, play nice.)

Now what a money-making idea or script is...well unfortunately you'll never know while you're writing. That's up to the folks with the money. You can try to anticipate them or write for a targeted trend or whatever, but frankly I think that's hopeless. Write the script that's in you and the one you can write well. Because while a lot of shit movies get made from a lot of shit scripts, most of those shit scripts are from working writers like me. So remember--it's your job to write well and get your script sold. It's my job to turn it into shit.

This only applies to features, of course. If you want to write a spec script for television...don't.

But my point here is this: if you don't know anyone, don't worry about it. Just write. Don't read the trades, don't read the magazines, don't read this fucking blog. Write and write and write. If you have a script worth having, it'll be had. Your script is your face and your name. No one gives a crap about you. And why should they? You're not what they buy. Not yet.

Now once you're working...well, the whole thing just flips tail over teakettle.

Now you're on THE LIST.

Everyone knows about THE LIST. In case you don't...THE LIST is a roster of screenwriters put together by an executive when they're trying to fill a particular writing assignment. There are actor LISTS and director LISTS, too. But I don't care about those people. Those aren't the LISTS the studio executive casually covers up with a script every time I walk into a room for a meeting.

Don't think we don't see you do that.

I never understand why that was, exactly. The hiding. If we're on THE LIST, cool. If we're not, well, maybe the project's not right for us. After all, we're having the meeting. I have to assume you like me. So what's the big deal? Show me the stupid list.

So it wasn't until recently that I finally understood why that was a bad idea...

I was at a meeting the other day with a producer who wanted me to adapt a book for him. The book isn't owned by a studio and is extremely difficult to adapt--two big negatives for yours truly. On the other hand, I like the producer, I like the book, and he was buying me lunch. But he knows it's a toughie to get me to sign on and so he half-kiddingly says to me: "Okay, if you're not gonna do it, who should we get to do it?"

I say: "Show me THE LIST and I'll tell you." Not believing he actually has THE LIST on him. Who brings THE LIST to lunch with a writer?

So he shows me THE LIST.

And holy shit is it a list.

There's forty names on it, and I've heard of thirty-five of them. (And I apologize to the other five because I'm sure if I were cooler I'd know who they were, too.) And the list isn't even a kitchen sink list, it's a very specific and distinct list of writers who would all be good to adapt this SPECIFIC BOOK. It must have taken some time to put together this list. And despite the fact that they always tell you how much they hate the lists, and how much of a necessary evil they are...there's a lot of freaking lists. Lists for every project in town... And if each list is as thorough and as targeted as this list seems to be...Well, let's just say someone out there works for a living.

With the insight and wit I'm known for I say:

ME: Pretty great list.
PRODUCER: I hate them. They're a necessary evil...You know how it goes.
ME: Of course. I make lists at home.
PRODUCER: Seriously. Who would you choose?
ME: Seriously?
PRODUCER: Serious as your impending heart attack.

And he gives me a pen. Big mistake, giving a writer a pen. Because now suddenly I've got...whattya call 'em...opinions.

ME: Well, if I had to pick...I guess that guy there's not bad...And that one there, I kinda liked his last movie...But that one there...a little soft for my taste...and that one...maybe a little action-y...

In about five minutes I'd had forty down to twelve and if he'd put a gun to my head I coulda got it down to three. I discuss the names with the producer and even add a name or two just to "think outside the box."

It was easy. Too easy, actually. Almost...mindless. And suddenly I see how easy it happens and how WHAT YOU WRITE can quickly evolve into WHAT KIND OF WRITER YOU ARE...

(Meta-blog note 3: And when I use the word "evolve" here I do so while acknowledging that the gradual transition from WHAT YOU WRITE to WHAT KIND OF WRITER YOU ARE can easily be explained through other theories.)

(Meta-blog note 4: And when I use the word "theory" here I do so while acknowledging that I am not using any true definition of the word "theory" but instead am substituting in a meaning more accurately described as "baseless superstition.")

So I am unnerved by my ten minutes drunk-driving the List Bus because WHAT YOU WRITE and WHAT KIND OF WRITER YOU ARE are NOT the same thing. The first one is always accurate and up-to-date while the other is dangerously simplistic and may in NO WAY reflect what you actually WRITE. The first one is the only option available to the new writer and the second can easily become the only option available to the working writer.

It's terrifying, actually. Because in Hollywood changing a perception is much harder than changing a reality. Just contemplating the arbritrary ways one can be either circled or crossed off sends me running blindly through a Dungeon of my own Mastering without good graph paper.


"Jesus Christ would you look at all these guys. Well, I'd certainly hire THAT GUY instead of me. And I'd also hire HER, and God, HIM, I love HIM! How could they not want HIM? I mean, seriously, THAT GUY there rocks! And how could it be me instead of HER? Surely SHE'D know how to fix that one part in the middle of the book...God my penis feels small today...I was feeling pretty good about my penis this morning but now it definitely feels small...Why is that woman standing near me? She's definitely laughing at me. Is that free bread?"

But that might just be me.