Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How Small a World?

First off, all the links in the Screenwriting section, particularly John August, are worth reading today. His is mostly about getting an agent/your first script, but one thing I'd like to focus on there is his reminder that your first script will not sell.

This is heartbreaking considering how much work went into it. And there are, of course, exceptions. But that script's job is to get you an agent and get you work. Period. I'm fifteen-odd paid movie scripts in, and my spec still sits on the shelf. It got me my meetings, and my first "why-not-it's-a-good-take-and-he's-cheap" assignment. But if there's one massive bit of engram rewriting I could do in every young writer's brain -- this is the long game. It's baseball, and you want to be Yastremski, hitting every day in the cage until your knuckles bleed. Then, "suddenly" you wake up five years later and you're writing $100 million dollar movies.

If, in some insane bit of luck, your script gets some attention, I firmly believe you need to go into those meetings selling yourself as the assignment guy. Tell the agents you're talking to that looking for rewrites. Let them understand they have a person here who knows how the business works, and is prepared to make the effort they're going to put into selling you pay off.

Of course, there's an art to the rewrite pitch, and I may be able to help you there -- that one goes up next week, after I catch up on my pages lost to this filthy flu.

Some of you may have singular artistic visions you wish to pursue. Trust me, it's far easier to pursue them once you've established working relationships with other film-making humans. By, say, working.

Oh, and the title of the post comes from CHUD's review today of Season 1 & 2 of MOONLIGHTING. The show came on my first year at McGill, in Montreal. Only one guy on the floor had a TV, and we'd cram in there to watch hockey -- but one other guy and I would bribe the dude with beer and candy to be able to watch Moonlighting. We were hooked once we'd stumbled across the pilot.

Dan, the other fan, was in his last year at McGill. He was a screenwriting major -- in a college with no screenwriting major. He essentially created it out of whole cloth, and conned the English Department into letting him be the only graduate. We became friends, and he's one of the reasons I becamse a writer, because I saw how you could do it by, well, just goddam writing and not letting anyone stop you.

I had the pleasure of reading his full script he wrote for his major. The name eludes me, but the plot of it involved a small town male babysitter; the genius 11 year-old girl who seduced him so he could be blackmailed into her insane plot of killing Santa Claus; and her narcoleptic younger brother. Every time the brother passed out, he whispered a few random words -- which you realized halfway through the script formed a completely separate but parallel storyline. It remains one of the funniest and most insanely inspired things I've read in close to twenty years.

Not yet thinking I would be leaving Physics, I lost track of Dan as soon as he graduated. He came to Hollywood. Years later, when I arrived, I asked about him.

It was Dan Waters. Dan, of course, wroter HEATHERS, and most peculiarly, BATMAN RETURNS. Which introduced the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman. Which was so popular, they commissioned a spin-off movie. Dan Waters wrote the first draft of CATWOMAN back in 1993-ish.

And ten years later, I came on to rewrite it.

He'd left ten years earlier, claiming the movie was doomed. I should've called him ...


Alex Epstein said...

Well, if you talk to him, tell him we'd all like to read that script now that you've pitched it so well, God damn it.

Aric Blue said...

Damn, it is a small world! I know someone who's very good friends with Dan Waters.

AND I bought the season 1-2 of Moonlighting today. With Remington Steele season 1 coming out next month, all I need is Simon & Simon and my teenage television years are complete! (well okay, I could use Riptide too, but I'm sure that show's not as good as I remember it being...)

Marc Bernardin said...

Yeah, I've already picked out a very nice spot on the shelf for my spec, right next to my miniature Argonath statues. He'll be safe there.

Somebody should write a book, an anthology really, collecting excerpts of those great, unproduced first spec screenplays....

Wait, forget I typed that.

Nicolle said...

Re: Dan.

Creepy. And then there were polar bear attacks, right?

don fore said...

Dan was (and still is) a funny, twisted genius. I first met him in 7th grade. He was writing feature length works even then! Lunchtime was spent crowding around him as he read his stories to us. Great stuff even then.

Bartholomew said...

Weird: I love Heathers (one of my all time favorites) and I actually liked Demolition Man and Hudson Hawk too. I could never figure out why the latter was so panned. I would never have guessed that the same guy was responsible for all of them. Also, I have an edgey Heathers theory: the Christian Slater character is a figment of Winona Ryder's character's imagination. Notice that he rarely interacts with any of the other characters. I think he's the dark enabler of Winona's homicidal desires. Dan, if you read this, drop me an email. bmotes@gmail.com

Riyan Cilacap said...

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