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Before Star Trek Into Darkness, before Lost, JJ Abrams wrote a draft of Superman. This is that draft.

Genre: Superhero
Premise: A slightly reimagined Superman origin story which includes an enemy from his home planet coming to earth to take him down.
About: This is JJ Abrams Superman entry, written in 2002, back when JJ was just your average TV show producer, finishing up work on Felicity and starting up work on Alias. The show that would make him a household name, Lost, was still just a twinkle in his eye.
Writer: JJ Abrams
Details: First draft (July 26, 2002) – 138 pages

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Superman is still stinging from its horrible previous installment, which very well may have destroyed Bryan Singer’s reputation. The film was just so…forgettable. And badly written. Nothing made sense. Superman, who looked 25, had supposedly left earth for ten years? So he left when he was 15? Already I’m confused. Then nothing really happened. I couldn’t tell you what the story was about. There were no stand-out scenes. Superman was horribly miscast, as was Lois Lane.

I think the scene that epitomized the screw-up for me was the shuttle scene. It didn’t have anything to do with anything. What I mean by that is: it wasn’t woven into any sort of plot. It was just this standalone short movie of Superman saving a shuttle.

I said then that if they were ever going to reboot Superman and get today’s audiences interested, they were going to need to go darker like Batman. I know, I know. That’s “not Superman.” But it’s what audiences are digging, and Superman needed a makeover to appeal to today’s youth. I haven’t seen the movie, of course, but Zach Snyder’s version already looks a thousand times better than that previous abomination.

Which brings us to this draft, which I’ve heard at least partly inspired the most recent movie. But let’s face it. That’s not the reason I’m reviewing it. I’m reviewing it because it’s the JJ Abrams draft. I just had to know what he would’ve done with Superman. And the results are both encouraging and…not so encouraging with an ending so sacrilegious and “out-of-left-field” that I’m pretty sure it was born out of JJ’s first experience with peyote.

JJ’s Superman is basically an origin story with a few twists. It starts out with an awesome battle between Superman and an alien baddie named Ty-Zor from his home planet. They’re throwing each other through buildings, that sort of thing. And Superman is basically getting his ass handed to him.

Eventually we cut back to Krypton and get a detailed look at the civil war going on there, with 100 foot tall robot machines shredding up Kryptonians like a top chef. We get the familiar scene with Supes’s dad putting him in the spaceship, sending him to earth, where he lands at the Kents’ farm, where he grows up with them and yadda-yadda-yadda.

Where the script starts deviating from lore is that it makes Lex Luthor the head of the CIA. Lex is obsessed with UFO phenomena and is trying to convince his bureau to spend more time and resources on it, convinced that little green men are going to become a threat to earth at some point and they need to be ready for it. When a young new reporter, Lois Lane, writes an article about Luthor’s exploits, he has no choice but to tell the world that the U.S. has actually FOUND a UFO.

This freaks Superman (now Clark Kent) out, since he figures Luthor may be referring to him. And he doesn’t want any part in being exposed. Eventually, Luthor’s obsession with UFOs starts to piss the bureau off, and they fire him. Well, you don’t fire Lex Luthor and not expect consequences. Luthor eventually finds and teams up with Ty-Zor, who’s come to earth specifically to kill Superman. Superman may be super and all but (spoiler) he’s apparently no match for these two and is KILLED. Yes, Superman dies.

Or does he?

Eventually we learn that Superman isn’t dead at all, and comes back to take down Luthor, who’s since been awarded the planet by Ty-Zor. Finally the truth is revealed about Lex Luthor and the reason he’s so obsessed with aliens. Turns out Lex Luthor IS AN ALIEN. He’s from Superman’s home planet and has been hiding here. Which results in a final flying city-wide battle between Superman and… Lex Luthor? Holy origin-destroyer Batman. What the hell just happened??

Oh sheesh. Where to begin…

First of all, I’m convinced my man-crush JJ Abrams had nothing to do with this bizarre choice to make Lex Luthor an alien. Some producer came up with that idea. I know it. One thing good writers know is when they’ve gone too far. Or when a choice is too ridiculous or not believable. They just have an intricate feel for what works and what doesn’t. JJ had been working as a screenwriter for a decade at this point. I just don’t think he would’ve personally incorporated this bizarre choice into the story. Maybe I’m in denial. But I can’t accept it. And whoever DID come up with that idea needs to be escorted out of Hollywood permanently.

As for the rest of Superman, I think the challenge for this franchise has most recently been about making it current. It was designed in a different time. We don’t have the “aww shucks” newspaper photographer anymore. Heck, we don’t even have newspapers anymore! Combined with this need for comic book nerds to keep Superman “pure,” it’s just really hard to update it. JJ does his best, but the story still seems stuck in the past.

In particular, the gears of the screenplay seemed more focused on getting in all the necessary “lore” as opposed to just telling a story. Gotta get in the introduction of the suit and cape! Gotta get in that Lois Lane-Superman interview for the paper! Gotta get in the kryptonite intro! Instead of just a naturally flowing story, the screenplay seems designed around artificially incorporating these elements.

The truth is, when you’re telling an origin story, you’re dedicating 40-70 pages of your script to setup alone. And no matter how interesting that setup is, it’s still setup. The audience wants to see the plot get going. Singer tried to do this in the last Superman, by nixing the whole origin story in favor of sending Superman home then bringing him back again, but it was the wrong story element to use, as it was simply too confusing and clunky.

When JJ’s plot gets going, it sort of loses its way as well. Part of the problem is we have two villains here. Now I’m all for double the villain-ry. It’s fun to see a superhero have to take down two assholes instead of one. The problem is these villains never quite gelled together. It felt more like JJ was trying to decide which villain he liked best as he went along. And that may have been the case. Remember, this was a first draft. But I didn’t know where to focus my attention. Was Luthor the more important guy to take down? Or was Ty-Zor?

I think what Nolan did with Batman Begins was kind of genius. He didn’t introduce the best villain of the franchise in the movie. He waited until the second movie to do that. While it’s hard to imagine a Superman movie without Lex Luthor, Ty-Zor was a pretty damned worthy adversary. I mean this guy is throwing Superman through buildings ‘n shit. We just should have built a story around him and brought in Lex for the sequel.

Despite the unending amount of setup here, JJ does manage to plug in a lot more action than Singer’s abysmal version. We have the Air Force One scene (which has since been ripped off numerous times), the Ty-Zor/Superman battle, the Superman mech-machine battle, and just some really imaginative cool scenes back on Superman’s home planet. Those things almost saved the script, but in the end, this messy first draft hadn’t figured itself out yet. Maybe JJ did it with the next one. But any script that has Lex Luthor with the same powers as Superman is going to be a fail in my book.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: I love reading scripts like this because they remind me of how influenced we are by the moment. Whenever we write a script, we write through the filter of “right now,” of what the world is talking about, of what movies everyone’s watching, of how the writers of these movies are approaching their stories. JJ’s Superman feels very much like someone writing a script in 2002. It’s an origin story (just like X-Men from 2000 and Spider-Man of 2002). Just like X-Men, Superman’s flaw is that he believes he’s a freak, which is the reason he doesn’t reveal himself. There’s not a lot of originality here. For this reason, I encourage you not to be too influenced by the moment. Don’t write what everyone else is writing, or be swayed by the current trends. Try to write something that’s wholly unique, that, if looked back at 10 years from now, would stick out as its own thing, as opposed to just another version of what everyone else was doing.

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This is your chance to discuss the week’s amateur scripts, offered originally in the Scriptshadow newsletter. The primary goal for this discussion is to find out which script(s) is the best candidate for a future Amateur Friday review. The secondary goal is to keep things positive in the comments with constructive criticism.

Below are the scripts up for review, along with the download links. Want to receive the scripts early? Head over to the Contact page, e-mail us, and “Opt In” to the newsletter.

Happy reading!

TITLE: My Asian Buddy
GENRE: Comedy
LOGLINE: A middle management loser befriends the new guy at work and changes his image.

TITLE: Observation Car
GENRE: Sci-Fi / Suspense-Thriller
LOGLINE: After witnessing UFOs and other strange phenomena, an insomniac on a cross country train trip suspects an alien invasion is underway, beginning with his fellow passengers, but when no one believes him, he must team with a fugitive stowaway to unravel the sinister agenda.

TITLE: The Express
GENRE: Thriller
LOGLINE: On the eve of World War Two, a reporter traveling aboard the Orient Express must solve a seemingly impossible crime, the kidnapping of a diplomat who has has somehow been made to magically vanish from the speeding train.

TITLE: In the West
GENRE: Horror/ Action Horror/ Period
LOGLINE: In 1704 a squad of English Rangers is sent on a mission to assassinate a French Officer, only to discover something evil in the uncharted wilderness of the New World.

TITLE: B & E
GENRE: Dark Comedy
LOGLINE:Two brothers in need of quick cash to pay off their mothers house, decide to pull a classic B & E on their rich, but arrogant, piece of shit step dad.

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So you’re the kind of writer who rolls their eyes whenever someone mentions the Black List. You hear about middle class men needing beaver sock puppets to overcome their bi-polar disorder and upchuck in the nearest fern pot. Charlie Kaufman and Aaron Sorkin would better serve themselves washing your car than writing any more of their garbage. You like your movies dripping with 3-D CGI, not 2-D Philip Seymour Hoffman. And that’s why you got into screenwriting. You want to write these movies. You want to write the next blockbuster.

Well before we can discuss how to do that, we must agree on what a blockbuster is. A “blockbuster” (in Scriptshadow terms) would be any ultra-high budget, high concept, action or adventure film which would likely be slated for a summer or Christmas release. These are the films that allow the studios to pay their bills, and are therefore a “no expenses spared” celebration of Hollywood moviemaking.

We’re going to stay away from nontraditional blockbusters like Avengers (multiple protagonists – built off of pre-established characters) and Titanic (period piece without any traditional set-pieces). We’re also going to avoid films that, even though they did huge business, did so despite their screenplay, not because of it. Films like The Phantom Menace, Transformers, Alice in Wonderland won’t be celebrated here. I’ll instead focus on movies that built their box office on strong ideas and sound execution, as I feel there’s a lot more to learn from them. Films like Raiders of The Lost Ark, Avatar, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Star Wars, Jaws, Inception, and The Matrix.

Okay, it’s time for Obvious Oliver here. But before you write your blockbuster, TEST YOUR CONCEPT! You have to have a big exciting original high-concept idea for your 200 million dollar movie or else none of the advice I’m about to write will matter. You can have the best set-pieces in the world, but if the concept is unmarketable or boring or derivative, nobody’s going to read it. Why would they? They already know they can’t sell it. Make sure you have a cool “Blockbuster worthy” idea before you start writing. This is essential!!!

As for how to approach your blockbuster story, it’s best to stay within the confines of the traditional 3-Act structure. When a studio is spending 200 million dollars, they’re not itching to experiment. They want to stick with what works. That means a first act that a) sets up your main character and b) a central problem that needs to be fixed, a second act where a) the main character tries to fix that problem (his goal) and b) encounters plenty of conflict along the way, and a third act where he takes on the story’s big evil force and defeats it.

If you look at the above movies I mentioned, most of them follow this model. Indy, Brody, Cobb and Jake Sulley are all going after clear goals. Star Wars and The Matrix change things up by giving the mentor characters (Obi-Wan and Morpheus) the goal for the first portion of the story, before handing the reins over to the main character for the rest of the film. Pirates has the wonkiest structure of the bunch, enacting a “see-saw” approach where the goal keeps shifting between three different parties (Will, Jack Sparrow, and Captain Barbossa).

It’s no coincidence, then, that Pirates got knocked around for its complex plot when it first came out. And with that in mind, I’d use that as a lesson when writing your own blockbuster. Make the goal clear. Make the story easy to follow. It doesn’t mean you can’t complicate matters within your story, but the overall plot should be easy to understand. We should always know where we’re going. For example, Inception is a fairly complicated plot, but we always know what the goal is because it was stated up front – they have to place the thought inside Robert Fischer’s head, then get out.

Once you’ve got your three acts all figured out, it’s important to remember why audiences come to these movies. They want a rush. They’re looking for the same sort of excitement one gets from riding on a roller coaster at Six Flags. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have characters with flaws or unresolved relationships. Just that thrills take a high priority in these kinds of movies. For that reason, you’re always looking to shock an audience. You want twists and turns and surprise reveals and double-crosses. That wife who’s been with your hero for ten years? Have her turn on him. That guy who needs the data plans you have in that R-2 unit? Have his planet blow up right before we get there. You gotta keep us on edge in a blockbuster. The audience has to be taken up and down and up and down, just like a roller coaster. The second they feel safe, they’re bored.

Speaking of thrills, you’re going to want a cool villain. Big blockbusters and cool villains go hand-in-hand. So if you don’t have a memorable one, pack it in. There are lots of ways to approach villains. For example, make your villain strong where your main character is weak. But I’m not going to lie, the villains in your blockbuster are going to live or die on their originality and their flash. They have to stick out in some way. They have to be bigger than life. They have to be the kind of person that audiences are going to leave the theater excited to talk about. I read too many average, unoriginal, uninspired villains in amateur specs. Don’t be one of those writers.

But let’s get serious. When you’re talking about blockbusters, you’re talking about action.  And that means great SET PIECES. These are the giant action scenes in your movie. After your concept and your main character, it can be argued that great set-pieces are the third most important thing in a blockbuster. That’s because THESE ARE THE SCENES THE STUDIO WILL USE TO MARKET THE MOVIE. If they don’t see anything new or unique in your set-pieces? If you’re not trying to push the envelope in some way? Then don’t bother writing a blockbuster, cause it will never sell.

I saw a script two years ago sell due to a SINGLE SET PIECE. Some of you may remember it. The opening scene had the core of the earth ripped off by a mega-nuclear bomb and our heroes flung into space. I couldn’t tell you a single thing that happened after that opening because the rest of the script sucked. But I’d NEVER read anything like that set piece before, and neither did the studio who bought it. Which is why they bought it.

In the typical blockbuster, you’ll have 3 or 4 “true” set-pieces. And the first thing you’re going to want to do is make sure they’re ORIGINAL. If they’re a rehash or a copy of something you’ve already seen, delete and start over. It HAS to be different. That’s imperative. Because that’s what studio executives are looking for. They’re looking for that thrill that nobody has seen before. Look at Terminator 2. James Cameron set his car chase set-piece in the Los Angeles viaduct. Ever seen that before? Nope. But he went one step further. This wasn’t one car chasing another. It was a SEMI rig chasing a DIRT BIKE! How fun is that??? Add on two indestructible robots and you had one of the most exciting original never-before-seen set-pieces in movie history. If you can pull this off 4 times in your script, chances are you’re going to get a reader’s attention.

Now where do you put these set-pieces? Well, you probably want one every 30 pages. That means 3 or 4 set pieces total. Where you place these is up to you and is typically dictated by the story itself. The Bond films, for example, like to put a set-piece right up front in the opener. The Empire Strikes Back, however, saves its first major set-piece, the Hoth battle, for 40 minutes in. In general, you’ll have one big set piece in your first act to get everybody all jazzed up. You’re obviously going to have one for your climax. That leaves two set pieces for your second act, whose placement, again, should be dictated by the story.

Another thing you have to remember about blockbusters is that they’re almost always rated PG or PG-13. The studios want to lure in the largest audience possible, so besides a few exceptions (i.e. The Matrix) they’ll stay away from R rated material. This also means the films will typically be light-hearted. Blockbusters (unless they’re directed by Christopher Nolan) should put people in a good mood. They should be fun and exciting (like a roller coaster!). For this reason, you’re going to want humor. And the best place to find that humor is in a “comedic sidekick.”

Now the “comedic sidekick” has gotten a bad rap over the years. That’s because it used to mean a side character who was actually funny. Then someone decided to turn it into a “thing” (the COMEDIC SIDEKICK!) and everyone started taking it literally. The result was a bunch of empty characters whose only job was to spew out cheesy one-liners. Avoid that “comedic sidekick” if possible. Instead, remember that there are different kinds of funny, that you don’t have to follow the traditional definition of a comedic character. Jack Sparrow is funny for being clueless. Han Solo is funny for being an asshole. The comedic sidekick in the The Dark Knight was the villain, The Joker, who definitely has his own sense of funny. Regardless, it’s a good idea to have funny in your blockbuster. Studios want people to laugh during their blockbuster trailers. They want them to feel good. People who feel good go see those movies.

Some final things you want to keep in mind. Don’t go TOO thin on the story. Despite the emphasis on things like thrills and villains, you still gotta keep us invested. I see too many blockbuster writers depending on their action scenes, essentially writing a bunch of fluff in between them. Ask yourself if your story is interesting without the action. There’s gotta be SOMETHING dramatically going on to keep us interested for 2 hours. So even though story isn’t AS important in the blockbuster genre, the better yours is, the more likely it is your script will sell.

Also, make sure your blockbuster BUILDS. In general, you want the feeling like we’re climbing stairs during your story. With each step, we get higher, and the further up we get, the further we can fall. This means fights get bigger, stakes get bigger, battles get bigger, chase scenes get bigger. During each stage of the script, make sure what’s happening is bigger than what happened before. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course. The Hoth Battle in Empire is the biggest set-piece in the film. But in a traditional blockbuster, we should feel the story building , with the final climax being the biggest moment of all, where everything for everyone is on the line.

Blockbusters are made to entertain, which means many of the superficial elements I typically rail against on the site become important in this world. I’ve struggled with this notion because the idealist in me has always believed that the better the story, the better a chance your script has at selling. But there’s no doubt that in the blockbuster world, if you come up with a kick ass concept, a memorable main character, and three amazing set pieces, you can sell your script to the right buyer. So make sure those elements are in place. Still, keep in mind that readers want to be taken away by a story. So if you can add a great story to all this, your chances of selling your blockbuster spec go up exponentially. There just aren’t that many writers who are good at both of these things. So if you’re one of the few who are, you can go a long way in this business.

Is one of the most hated movies of the year really in my Top 10??

I have to admit I was a little disappointed by this year’s crop of films. There was nothing that truly wowed me, that I HAD to recommend to my friends. There should be 2 or 3 movies a year where as soon as they’re over, you call your friends and say, “You have to see this now!”  That’s not to say it hasn’t been an interesting year in film.  We had a lot of stories, starting with the trilogy-closing Dark Knight Rises.  I think Nolan’s penchant for extending his stories out past traditional run-times really hurt him on this one.  The film clearly felt 45 minutes too long.  Skyfall was adequate, but hardly recommend-worthy. The Hobbit is more a talking-piece than a film (it’s impossible to see that film in 48fps and not want to discuss the technology afterwards). I wish I liked Family Guy more as “Ted” appeared to be the breakout shocker of the year. “Safe House” was also pretty good for what was a safe (no pun intended) script. It also became the second-highest grossing movie of the year that came from a (true) spec script, at 126 million (Snow White And the Huntsman was number 1 at 155 million). No spec script films made it into the top 10. :)  Let’s try and change that in 2013, guys.

The Bourne Legacy lost its mojo with the exit of Matt Damon. Argo was decent, but carried with it a strange seriousness that was always at odds with its outlandish true story. I’m still not sure why Judd Apatow made a movie based around the two most annoying characters from Knocked Up.  But I was surprised to find that I actually liked the comedy crop of 2012.  The Campaign, That’s My Boy, and The Dictator were all funny. None of the three were good enough to make my top 10, but they all made me laugh pretty consistently. It’s another reminder that you never know with comedies. I didn’t like the scripts for The Campaign or That’s My Boy, but the comedic mastery of those actors totally saved the projects (Will Ferrell is hilarious in The Campaign).

A few movies that I didn’t get to see but wanted to were Wreck-It Ralph, Cloud Atlas, and End Of Watch. I haaaated the End Of Watch script but everyone who sees it tells me it’s great. I hope it is. I’m always fascinated by bad scripts that become good movies. So I’ll be seeing that one soon. Oh, and there was one other movie I forgot to put on my Worst Of 2012 List yesterday: “The Watch!” What the heck was up with that movie??? Four guys sit around for 90 minutes.  That’s the movie! That was one of the strangest viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Literally NOTHING happens. Anyway, enough of the trashing. It’s time to celebrate cinema. Here are my Top 10 films of 2012.

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10) The Avengers/The Hunger Games – As much as I love good writing, I also enjoy seeing what happens when Hollywood goes all in on a movie. I love to see where they put their money. I love to see the latest advancement in special effects. I love to be taken somewhere I’ve never been before. Plopping down in that seat and turning off my brain off for two hours is a welcome relief from all the analyzing I have to do. Does that mean these movies were great? Hell no. If any of you said, “Yeah, but Carson, Plot Point A from Avengers is terrible and Decision C from Hunger Games is stupid,” I probably wouldn’t argue with you. But that doesn’t matter as much when you have Hulk smashing. Or Iron Man and Thor fighting (despite the fact that there’s no reason for them to!). And you know, I LIKED the setup for Hunger Games. Do I wish it would’ve been rated R so that we REALLY saw what happens when kids fight each other to the death?  Sure, but of course that movie will never be made. For a PG-13 treatment of the idea, however, I thought they did a pretty good job. These movies were vaporware. I’ll never see them again. But for the 2 hours I sat there and watched them in the theater? They were fun!

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9) Prometheus – I almost didn’t include this one just because of how much shit I’d get in the comments section for it.  But then I put my big boy pants on and buckled up because I LIKED this movie.  And no one’s going to convince me that I didn’t!  I still believe a lot of the blowback has to do with franchise expectations and a killer trailer that promised a classic. I went into this with no expectations and didn’t see that trailer. So I wasn’t burdened by these things. And what I got was a compelling interplanetary mystery. A group of scientists head to a remote planet to inspect what could be the origins of mankind.  Shit goes wrong.  Sounds cool to me! The thing is, it’s hard to present a contained story like this where monsters/baddies aren’t chasing our characters around.  Without them, the story can feel a little slow.  You could make the argument that not much “happened” in Prometheus (if you weren’t into the mystery) until the third act.  But I was into the mystery.  I  wanted to find out who these big bald white dudes were.  So I was down til the final frame. I loved the production design. I loved the way the film was shot. I thought the acting was top notch. I loved the surprises in the plot. This movie was fun, and not even close to how bad you guys think it is.  You wanna see what TRUE bad looks like?  Watch this video.  You’ll have a new found appreciation for Prometheus.

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8) Jiro Dreams Of Sushi – It may appear as if I’m trying to gain some geek street cred after celebrating one of movie geeks’ most hated films of the year. I mean, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the most film snob of choices: A foreign documentary with subtitles! But I loved this movie and let me tell you why. It’s about the best Sushi Chef in the world. His restaurant received the elusive 3-star Michelin award. For those who don’t know what that means, it means that food critics believe the restaurant is good enough JUST TO FLY INTO THE COUNTRY FOR. But what I really like about this movie was that you could just as easily apply the lessons learned to screenwriting. Just like screenwriting, creating sushi is a craft. It looks simple. Just add rice and a piece of raw fish (just words on a page). But it takes thousands of hours to perfect that craft (sound familiar?). Jiro is so meticulous that when he’s serving a party, he actually makes the sushi pieces for the women a little smaller than the ones for the men, so that they all finish at the same time. You will never look at sushi (and maybe screenwriting) the same way again after watching this film, which you can find on Netflix streaming.

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7) Chronicle – I love when writers take ideas and evolve them. The found footage thing was reaching its breaking point in the horror genre. So to move it over to high school kids discovering a mysterious glowing object and developing super powers was kind of genius. The movie’s not perfect (no film on this list is, unfortunately) and they probably overplay the amount of abuse its main character had to go through (the scenes with daddy beating hero were ridiculously over-the-top), but you also have to commend the film for wrapping its story around an anti-hero, something you don’t see in many mainstream movies not named “Pirates Of The Caribbean” these days. And I don’t know, seeing it all go down via hand-held video gave it a realistic feel the movie never would’ve accomplished had it been shot traditionally. The effects were good too!  Chronicle was a nice surprise.

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6) The Grey – It’s impossible for me to disassociate this viewing experience from my original reading experience. For those who don’t know, I went gaga over this script when I first read it. And I was constantly getting updated on the movie as it went through various stages of development/production. To see it come to screen felt a little bit surreal. The big difference, I felt, between the film and the script, was that the film felt a little more hopeless, a little more depressing. I don’t know why, but I felt hopeful while reading the screenplay. Maybe in the way Ottway challenged those wolves. How he always knew what to do. And, of course, when he finally takes the Alpha on in the end (which wasn’t shown in the movie). I wish the movie would’ve embodied more of that hope. Despite that, the script nailed everything else that made the script great. You felt for Ottway. Neeson delivered those amazing voice overs perfectly (and his performance overall was awesome). The plane crash was great. The conflict between the characters was great. The conflict between the humans and wolves was great. There were a few slow spots, but overall, I really liked this one.  Still think he should’ve fought that wolf though!

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5) Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson is back! He found his mojo! Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were okay, but they felt like he was treading water. Moonrise proves that Anderson is best when he’s dealing with the awkwardness of youth. This is the way a love story should be told, dipped in messiness and rolled in weirdness. I LOVED the performances of the two leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. I loved that Anderson wasn’t afraid to push the envelope with their love, going places you’re not going to see in any Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants sequels. I do wish Anderson would continue to evolve the look of his films. It’d be nice to see an occasional frame without everybody centered in it and staring at the camera, but hey, that’s his voice. And it worked nicely for Moonrise.

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4) Zero Dark 30 – It’s dark. It’s serious. It’s a lot of un-botoxed people in rooms having important conversations. But it’s also good! I have to give it to Boal and Bigelow. They gave us a tension-filled thriller with an amazing climax. Do I wish the thing were shorter? Of course. Do I wish Jessica Chastain would’ve smiled once during the movie? Sure. I think if that character would’ve been more charismatic, more interesting – if we had known more about her, this film could’ve been a classic. The wall they put between us and her really hurt the film because she’s our connection to this story.  We needed to get inside of her (that sounded wrong).  But outside of that, this really did feel like how it would be behind the scenes in the hunt for Bin Laden. And it’s also another endorsement for the Goal-oriented screenplay. Make the goal big enough, and you’ll have us wrapped around your finger til the very end!

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3) Silver Linings Playbook – Again, it’s the same advice I just gave you with Moonrise. If you’re going to write a love story, give us something different. We’ve seen the normal stuff a billion times over. You’re going to bore us to pieces if you do it again. Playbook has a main character who just got out of the nuthouse, a romantic interest who just lost her husband, fucked every guy at her work, and who is ALSO crazy, and the two enter a dance competition together, of all things. It’s just so bizarre. But it also works! — Was interesting to see that the big change from the draft I read was the betting stuff with the dad. That wasn’t in the script. My guess is that with Robert De Niro playing the father, they needed to beef up his role. Hence the change. It’s a great screenwriting lesson actually. Write every character as if you’re trying to snag a big actor. You’ll find yourself looking for unique interesting things to do with the character you never would’ve thought of had you been writing somebody “normal.” This is easily the best date movie of the year.

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2) Django Unchained – It’s funny walking into a film and knowing you’re going to love it.  I mean this script was PHE-NOM-E-NAL.  But then how is Django Unchained only number 2 on my list?  Wasn’t this a Gangbusters shoe-in for number 1?  Well, here’s the thing.  I’m not a huge Jaime Foxx fan, and I’m kinda surprised Quentin cast him. I thought he was going to pull a Pulp Fiction or Inglorious Basterds and pluck somebody out of obscurity we’d never heard of, or at least someone we hadn’t heard of for a long time. Foxx was the safest casting choice Tarantino’s made in a major role in his entire career. I was hoping I’d be wrong and Foxx would nail it, but I’m not sure he did.  He was good, just not great.  But outside of that, I thought DiCaprio was awesome. I love Waltz in anything, and he was great here. I loved Sam Jackson, who was a perfect villain. And all the scenes played out just as amazingly as they did on the page. Oh, and let’s not forget the only part of Tarantino’s scripts you don’t get in the script – the soundtrack! Once again, Tarantino proves he’s a master in this area. This is one of the only films I saw this year that I’ll be seeing again. Awesome stuff!

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1) Life Of Pi – They say the movies that leave the biggest impression on you are the ones that burrow deep down inside your soul and challenge you to face things you’re either afraid of or never considered before. I’m not the most religious person in the world, but faith and religion do fascinate me. (spoiler) Life Of Pi finishes with an amazing question: “Which story do you believe?” I don’t want to spoil it by going any deeper than that, because the twist ending is what sets this film apart, but it’s a cool challenge the movie sets forth.  The main character says he has a story that’ll make you believe in God. And Ang Lee did a pitch-perfect job of bringing that story to life.  I thought this book was un-adaptable. And he found a way to make it even better! This is the only movie I’ve seen since Avatar that I’d recommend seeing in 3-D. There are these amazing shots both under and above water that have you double-checking your glasses to see if you’re really in the theater. The sinking ship with our main character treading water while watching hopelessly in the foreground has to be the best shot I saw in 2012. The acting from Old Pi is phenomenal. You want to talk about deserving an Oscar – Irrfan Khan puts everybody this year to shame.  Even the kid who played Pi, who I was the most worried about, did great. This is a visual masterpiece with a heartwrenching friendship between a boy and a tiger with an ending that’ll make you question everything you know.  The best film of 2012 for me!

Get down with the requisite Prometheus bashing, then tell me what your  favorite movies of the year were!  And stay tuned for Friday as I unleash my top 10 favorite amateur scripts of the year! 

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My favorite writer is back!  John Jarrell.  You may remember him from the awesome interview I did with him a few months ago.  The guy has a ton of screenwriting knowledge and unlike us hack bloggers, the man’s actually been in the thick of it for 20 years, fighting the good screenwriting fight, landing those six figure jobs we all dream of.  Which is why I’m more than happy to promote his new screenwriting classTweak Class — starting this January. Who better to learn from than the guy who’s seen it all?  Goddamit, he’s even taken his pants off for a publicity shot (that’s really him above!).  This man is dedicated.  And today, he’s going to share with us a couple screenwriting stories from Hollywood Hell.  I enjoyed this piece so much I told John he needs to write a whole book of this stuff.  Let him know if you feel the same in the comments!

Will You Please Buy My Script Now, Please?” — One Writer’s Journey Into the Troubling Bowels of Development.

By John Jarrell

Back in 1995, I wrote a Horror spec called The Willies.  It was essentially Carrie with Evil Twins.  People are constantly abusing and shitting on these orphans, until at last, after making a pact with the devil, they take their bloody revenge.

My agent went out with it and immediately got a sadistically low-ball pre-emptive bid from a smaller studio in town.  By that point in my life, my dream of becoming a legitimate screenwriter was nearing extinction.  I’d been struggling in L.A. for four years, was stone-cold broke, about to lose my apartment, and my girlfriend and I were subsisting solely on the 49-cent value menu at Taco Bell.  Facing even more of that ugliness, I did what struggling young writers have to do sometimes — I sucked it up and took the shit money, simply glad to survive and hopeful I would live to fight another day.

First day working, I go into a story meeting with the company’s “Creative” VP and Head of Development.  We dug in and spent several hours doing notes starting Page One — discussing what they thought worked, what didn’t, and what I’d need to address in my rewrite.

At one point, the VP looks up at me and says, “Wow, John.  This description on page fifty-two is really good writing.  Would you mind reading it out loud?”

Flattery will get you everywhere with a screenwriter, and I’m sure I flushed with pride as I found the page and paused to clear my throat.

The set up was simple — a grieving daughter (our protagonist) looking through her deceased Mother’s belongings, which have been boxed up and stored in the attic.  The beat offered a brief respite from all the genre action, gave us a further glimpse into our lead’s character, and prompted her discovery of an important clue at the end.

This was the description I wrote, verbatim —

“She rifles several of the boxes, finding little more than old letters and checkbook stubs, key chains and their forgotten keys.  The meaningless remnants of our too brief lives.”

There was a long pause after I finished.  The VP and Head of Development were nodding their heads in synchronized approval.  Then the VP says —

“Yeah, it’s really great.  Great stuff.”

(HARD BEAT)

“Lose the poetry, John, cut it all out.  It’s slowing down the script.”

I’d never been quite so close to crapping my pants.  Did he just say LOSE… THE… POETRY?  a.k.a. LOSE THE GOOD WRITING?  Wantonly kill off two short sentences — two sentences he actually likes — which perfectly sell the moment?  And replace them with what, Mr. Hemingway?  “She opens her dead mom’s shit and finds a mysterious clue!”

Like every other indignant scribe in Hollywood history, I sat hooded in a queasy half-smile, cerebral cortex locking up.  Surely “development” couldn’t be like this everywhere?  Surely this exec must be a nutter, a lone gunman of sorts, some soulless script assassin who didn’t value lightweight artistry over the groan-inducing stock lines which had been stupefying readers for decades?

But I was wrong.  He wasn’t the slightest bit insane.  In fact, Mr. Company VP was the Gold Standard — an Industry veteran and Number Two guy at the whole company!  And if I didn’t “lose the poetry” voluntarily, believe me, he would have no qualms hiring another low-ball writer to lose it for me.

Way back at NYU, an older studio vet had once shared a bit of sage wisdom with me — “It’s better for you to fuck up your script the way they want then have ‘em hire somebody else to fuck it up for you.”

As baffling and counterintuitive as his advice had seemed, now I grabbed onto it like a life vest.   I labored at “losing the poetry”, beat after tight beat, good scene after good scene.  For nine agonizing months, they “developed” the script this way.  Any nugget of goodness was ruthlessly ferreted out, any clever turn of phrase or interesting character tick was quickly sandblasted into beige.  My reward, such as it was, was being kept onboard on as sole writer.

Finally, they were ready to go out with it.  And they did.  And in a matter of three short weeks, the company blew a sure-thing co-financing deal, flatlined similar offers via absurd distribution demands, then shelved the project out of self-loathing and/or shame, never to see daylight again.  Their epic fail also left The Big Question still looming — Had sacrificing all my poetry to the Commercial Film Gods made my script better… or worse?  Now, tragically, there was no way I’d know for sure.

Instead of my project — and I’m totally NOT kidding here — the company produced the urban side-splitter “Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” in its place.  It survived three demoralizing weekends before being euthanized and laid to rest in the VHS market.

During what I thought a poignant last ditch appeal, before all the lights had been turned out, I’d made the case to the company that horror was an American genre mainstay, essentially a license to print money when well-executed.  This is what that same VP told me —

“Horror’s dead, John.  Nobody wants horror anymore.  It’s all about the urban audience.”

Scream opened that same December and made $173,046,663 worldwide.  In its wake, an uninterrupted avalanche of extremely profitable low-budget horror pics overran the coming decade.

And me?  Exactly one year after the sale, my girlfriend and I found ourselves back at Taco Bell.

* * * * *

Those first professional cuts for any young writer are excruciating.  Everything about your script — every flat character, every lousy throwaway line, every unnecessary parenthetical — feels personal and inviolate, gifted from the heavens and written in stone, like some multimedia take on Moses’ holy tablets.

“Change something?  Why?  It was plenty good enough for you to buy it in the first place, wasn’t it, douchebag?”

Some version of this is what the working writer yearns to bark in his benefactors’ (read: torturers’) faces.  If you loved it enough to put real money behind it, why in the fuck do you want to change every last thing about it now?  Why date a tall, skinny brunette if you really wanted a short, squat redhead?  Where’s the logic in that?

This mentality is, of course, completely understandable.  The script is quite literally your baby, your winning Powerball ticket, the lone vehicle by which you hope and pray to escape the nagging self-doubt and just-getting-by poverty of a middle class kid with a mountain of student loans.   This is your shot — perhaps the one and only shot you’re gonna get — and if it’s mishandled somehow, if somebody shits the bed and drops the ball, you and you alone will pay the ultimate price for that.

On the other hand… there’s a couple big problems with sticking by your guns every damned time.  One, without question, you’ll be replaced as soon as your steps are up, and most likely won’t work for that company or any of those people again.  Producers hate writers as it is, see them as largely unnecessary evils.  Certainly nobody wants to work with a “difficult” one sitting in meetings with his or her fingers jammed in their ears.

Two, and this can be a tough one for us writers to swallow, what if all these developmental numbskulls are actually right???  What if a few of those “shitty notes” you keep bad-mouthing to friends turn out to be gems, pure gold, BIG IDEAS that help take your script to that hallowed “next level”?   Some writers are so busy being defensive that they’re throwing away the very ideas which can dramatically increase their odds of success… and survival.

So John, you ask, how in the hell do I know when to do what?   How do I discern between the gold and the gravel, the shit and the pony?  How can I insure I do the right thing creatively while traversing such treacherous industry tundra?

And that, my friends, is the eternal question every writer faces, every time they book a gig.  Because there aren’t any right answers one-hundred percent of the time.  The whole endeavor is entirely subjective, a complete crapshoot, with the looming possibility of some ravenous tiger waiting to bite your head off behind every corner.

Your creative action — or inaction — affects not only this project, but the possibility of the many unseen projects yet to come.  Of prominent producers and execs putting in a good word, greasing the skids for a full-freight first draft at 100% of your quote… or not.  Of you being able to pay off those loans, buy your hard-working parents a house of their own, live the creative lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of and suffered so damned much trying to actualize…

Best advice I’ve heard?  “You’ve got to choose your hills to die on.”

But hey, no pressure, right?  Best of luck on those pages.

* * * * *

Spring of 1999, I was coming off saving a film for a big studio.  My stock was high and I was starting to make my first legitimate splash.

After years of obscure, unpaid laboring, I was really feeling it, finally discovering my groove.  All that “woodshedding” had vastly improved my writing.  It was becoming much better crafted and far more intuitive.  Better still, proof of this breakthrough was now coming across on the page, for anyone and everyone to see.

A hungry young agency saw it and took me on, and they had enough juice to start getting me into the right rooms.  As every artisan in Hollywood knows, if you can’t get into the room, you sure as hell can’t get the job.  My new agents totally had my back in that department and very quickly it became plug and play — they’d send me out, after that, everything else was on me.  As you might imagine, this was a really good time for a young writer.

So… as a last ditch effort, the big studio had hired me, and against all rational odds, I’d saved their movie.  Not only that, but to everybody’s further surprise, it became a big hit.

In this town, you always strike while the iron’s hot.  My agents quickly set me up with a very famous director, one of the old school legends, in fact.  There was a new company in town spending real money, and he’d set up a project there.  All they needed now was a writer.

We met on his studio lot, the Director and I immediately hitting it off.  This guy was a blast, regaling me with wild tales of ’70’s Hollywood, each more x-rated hilarious than the last.  These were the classic movies I’d grown up with and deeply loved, back to front I knew them all.  Now here I was talking to the guy who’d actually made some of them!  For a good hour we jawed warp-speed, then spent maybe ten minutes talking broad strokes about his project.  It was to be a modern-day Robin Hood — the big twist was casting a famous Brazilian MMA fighter as the lead and setting it in the violent ghettos of inner city L.A.

Now remember, this is ’99, way before the whole MMA/UFC thing fully turned the corner.  But within two years, Dana White and Co. would radically reinvent the marketing of that world and find themselves sitting on a multi-billion dollar business.

So in a way — even though it wasn’t on purpose — the Director’s idea of casting an MMA superstar with international appeal in a kick-ass action film was perfectly timed.  By the time it was ready to roll out, the U.S. would be beginning its new love affair with the UFC.  And we’d be standing there waiting with lightning in a bottle, boffo box office certain to ensue.

I drove back home.  Two hours later (just two hours!) my agent calls.   Business affairs from this new company had called and made an offer — $100K against $275, or 100/275 in film biz parlance.  The Director was crazy about me and knew immediately I was the perfect guy for the job.  Just like that it became a spontaneous four-way love fest; Company, Famous Director, Agents, Me.  My cup runneth over with this highly-addictive first burst of adulation.

It was pretty hard to wrap my head around.  A guaranteed ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS for drinking a free bottle of Evian and listening to one of Hollywood’s most successful filmmakers tell epic war stories?   For just being (GASP!) me???

Abruptly, the lightbulb went on.  So THIS is what everybody was chasing.  Everyone knew there were heaps of money to be made — Monopoly money, from where I was standing.  But what about having all the heavyweight ego-stroking a film-addled shut-in like myself could desire?  Wasn’t that shit awesome, too?

Next came a company meet-and-greet to discuss our collective vision for the project.  My honeymoon continued unabated.  We were all on the same page! We all agreed EXACTLY what this film should aspire to!  From the top down, everybody on-board was euphoric with developmental glee!

Our homage to Robin Hood would be set in the impoverished jungles of East L.A. Our Lead, forced to flee Brazil because of his heroic actions against homicidal police, would join his Uncle in L.A. to start building a new life for himself.  But after witnessing dehumanizing oppression in the sweatshops, and running afoul of local gangsters who violently extorted and terrorized the good-hearted (but powerless) immigrants who had befriended him, our Lead is compelled to take the law into his own hands, seeing justice done, whatever the cost.  I was urged to think of the story as gritty, raw and realistic — “Robin Hood ’99” if you will, with someone like Jay-Z playing Friar Tuck.

Robin Hood is one of the oldest legends in all of Western Civilization, and for good reason.  The timeless themes of rich vs. poor, the corrupt haves vs. the honest have-nots, still speak as loudly to audiences today as they did in Medieval times.  So our ripped-from-the-headlines take involving sweatshops and immigrant labor, oppression and cultural inequality, would fit perfectly alongside the honorable intent of the original.

After a few frenzied white-guy high-fives (“I love this guy!” from one goofy exec), and another complementary bottle of Evian, I was sent off to knock out a treatment so we could quickly proceed to first draft.

* * * * *

Ensconced back in my bungalow, I set about creating my masterpiece.  Like I said, I was totally in my wheelhouse at this point, doing the very best writing of my young career.  I buckled down and poured my heart and soul into the idea.  I skipped concerts, cancelled dates, ate nothing but bad Chinese and Mexican delivery.  Day and night, I labored to make the story not just a kick-ass MMA thrill ride — the essential dynamic of the entire project in the first place — but a film which would actually have something to say as well.

I saw it as a classic have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too opportunity — killer action and ultra-cool, franchisable genre characters, with a timely message to the contemporary audience nestled behind all the head-butting and hard talk.

Listen, end of the day, if all you wanted was to see somebody’s trachea stomped into tomato soup, or some asshole’s nutsack blown off, yeah, you would get that in spades.  I mean, this was a MOVIE afterall, mass escapist entertainment.  But for the more discerning genre lover (like myself) there would also be a legitimate subtext they could hang their hats on.  A little something… more.

One month later I submitted my twelve-page, single-spaced treatment.  I was anxious, but extremely confident.  Never had I felt better about the work and what I was trying to accomplish.  I believed it awesome that Hollywood execs were willing to push for a meaningful story, even within the confines of a tiny little genre pic like this.  Maybe the self-serving, head-up-ass development stereotypes I’d been brutalized by before would be proven wrong this time around.

A week passed.  Then a second.  Neither my agent nor myself heard so much as a whisper.

Believe me, if there’s anything a writer learns in Hollywood, it’s this — the silence is deafening.

Silence is never good.  Silence says disinterest, displeasure or — scariest of all — disappointment.  When you put finished pages someone paid for in their impatient little palms and they don’t get back to you a.s.a.p. something is terribly and irrevocably wrong.  In my experience, there are no exceptions to this rule.

Sure enough, start of week three we finally got word.  It wasn’t good.  Let’s just say nobody loved it.  The company didn’t hate it initially, per se, but the Director’s people did.  They loathed it with a passion.  Which meant the company had to start hating it as well.

Judgment Day came in the company’s flagship conference room.  Picture a Hudsucker Proxy-sized oak conference table, all five of my company inquisitors massed at the far end, and me — best of intentions, isolated, confused — docked in a half-mast Aeron chair at the other.

The Head of Development led the prosecution.  He was a real trip, an IMAX D-Guy Cartoon, 3D cells brightly penciled in by Pixar.  We’re talking Aliens level development exec here, with him playing the egg-laying Queen, not one of the day-player xenomorphs.   For the safety of all involved, let’s call him Producer X.

“This treatment is too preachy, too grim, too goddamn G-L-O-O-M-Y,” his first salvo whistled across my bow. “Where’s the fun in this world, John?  The Lethal Weapon III of it all?  The wink-wink, the hijinx, the Wow Factor?”

Where’s the fun in… illegal immigration?  In the callous rich taking advantage of the struggling poor?   Is that what he was asking?

“Look, John, trust me — it’s not THAT BAD down there.  There are plenty of happy stories to tell.  Happy stories which give those people plenty of hope.”

Whoops.  My Spidey Sense began an ugly twitch.  “Down there.” “Those people.” This couldn’t be going anywhere good.

“To some, you know, this might sound controversial.  But I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, ’cause frankly I’m not a P.C. person and I don’t give a damn,” Producer X leaned forward now, Sunday smile, as if confiding in me.  “You know what?  I have a maid, and she’s an illegal.  That’s right.  An illegal.  And guess what, John?   She LOVES working for me.  Loves it!  She couldn’t be happier!”

“Me too.” The famous director’s D-Girl piped up. “My husband and I have an illegal nanny.  Always smiling, that woman.  Very Zen.”

“In fact,” Producer X blazed on, “Recently I had a bit of a funny conundrum.  My maid’s daughter was having her quinceañera, and she told me they didn’t have enough decorations for it.  So guess what I did?  This is great — I let her go around the house and gather up all the old flowers that had been there a few days and take those to the party!  Isn’t that terrific?  She was soooooo happy.”

There was one exec in the room I’d met before, a good guy, coming from the right place.  I watched the same horrified shockwave blitzkrieg across his face that I already wore on mine.  So they weren’t all Replicants, I thought.  Thank Christ.

Oversharing kills.  No doubt, I’m every inch as white boy as the next white motherfucker out there.  But there was one huge problem.

I wasn’t that kind of white.

Both my mother and father had Ph.D.’s from Teachers College at Columbia.  Their specialties?  Education for Gifted Minority Students.  My girlfriend was Hispanic, a social worker born literally — true shit — in a dirt-floored shack in Pacoima. So yeah, this probably wasn’t going to work out too well.

All this time, Scriptshadow Reader, I’d been racking my brain, trying to figure out why they hated my treatment so much, why everyone was acting like I’d totally butt-fucked the pooch on this one.  Now it hit me full-force — my pages were too, well, Robin Hood.  I’d done exactly what we’d agreed upon, gotten it pitch perfect… which was criminally out of tune for these folks.

Class struggle?  Rich vs. Poor?  What was I thinking?  They envisioned our heroic Brazilian as a grubby street urchin, crashing Beverly Hills parties, stuffing his shirt with hors d’oeuvre and stealing thick wads of cash from mink coat pockets.  Which is precisely the take they pitched me.

Everything quickly became a vague blur, Charlie Brown’s teacher shot-gunning syllabic nonsense.  The only part I remember was Producer X’s take on our protagonist — “It’s like Ché Guevara.  He was sexy, he was hot, did a couple of cool killings.  Cinematic stuff, right?”

Talk about mind-fucks.  Their collective brainstorm now was to take the Robin Hood out of Robin Hood.   Regrettably, it was kind of, well, getting in the way.

Meeting over, we shook hands with the nauseous smiles of strangers who’d eaten the same rotten shellfish.  I grabbed my ’66 Bug — the same car I’d driven out to L.A. eight years earlier — and puttered straight up Wilshire to my agent Marty’s office.

When I walked in, I just unloaded.  Play by play, line by line, vomiting up details of the nuclear winter I’d just lived through.  From Marty’s expression, I could see he was having trouble making sense of it all.  He knew my background, knew the guy I was, but still.  After I’d slaked my desperate need to rant, I punctuated things with this cute little gem —

“They can keep the money,” I said.  “I don’t want it.”

In Marty’s entire life, I don’t think a single client had ever told him that.   And why would they?  Idealism and moral outrage are the privilege of a rarified few in this Biz.  At the grunt level, the level I was at, those concepts played worse than kiddie porn.  Besides, who the fuck was I?  Claude Rains in Casablanca?  “I’m shocked, shocked to find that half-baked racism is going on here!”  It’s not like I’d signed up for the Peace Corps or anything.

Still, I had my principles, and I was willing to put all that Monopoly money where my naive pie-hole was.  Marty’s advice was to go home, cool my tool and let him do some reconnaissance.  Once he’d sussed things out, he’d get back to me.

Two things bailed me out.  First, the exec I knew called Marty and totally vouched for my eyewitness testimony (told you he was a good guy).  Second, Producer X himself knew how badly he’d fucked up and called trying to smooth things over.  “Listen, Marty,” he told my agent, “This is a big misunderstanding.  Nobody over here wants to make an… irresponsible movie.”

They scheduled a second meeting trying to salvage things, but in many ways it was worse than the first.  My time was spent daydreaming about putting Producer X in a chokehold and pulling a Sharky’s Machine — pile-driving us through the plate glass and then plummeting 200 feet straight down to the pavement below.

So that’s it.  The deal died.  They paid for the treatment, and I — insisting on principle — left the other $65,000 sitting on the table.   SIXTY-FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.  Just walked away from it.  And yeah, it kinda stings to write this, even now.

You may have wondered — what about the Famous Director, the one guy who surely would’ve had your back?  Predictably, after that first, glorious filmic dry-humping, I neither saw nor heard from him again.  No phone call.  No nothing.  To this day, I don’t know if he actually hated it, or his D-Girl with the illegal nanny had cut my throat without giving him the real scoop on any of what went down.

And Producer X?   Was there any Bad Karma due a producer like that?   Would the bold heavens take a stand and angrily smite down what the film industry itself would not?

You’re fuckin’ kidding, right?  This is the Film Biz.

A few years later, I was over at some friends’ place watching the Oscars on auto-pilot.  About ten hours in, after two dozen absurd dance numbers, they finally got around to Best Picture.

And who should win but Producer X.

This go ’round I did crap my pants.  Openly and without restraint.   But this wasn’t even rock bottom.  Because up next was his acceptance speech —

“I’m soooooo happy you’ve taken my movie into your hearts, this wonderful little film about compassion, racial harmony, the end of prejudice of all kinds, and, of course, hope.  Always hope, for all those people less fortunate than ourselves.”

Producer X had just won an Oscar.  That’s right.  A fucking Academy Award.  By playing the “Can’t we all just get along?” card.

Before he even left the stage, I was stumbling into the backyard, begging the hostess for a frenzied bong hit.  A writer can only take so much, you see, and my mind was dangerously close to snapping.  My only real hope of retaining any sanity now lay in a bright, protective sheen of cannabis.

As I slipped into oblivion, a single thought ran roughshod through my mind —

“I wonder if Producer X’s illegal maid is back at his house watching this, too.”

Carson again.  Naturally, I’m asking the same question you are.  Who the hell was the producer??  John refuses to name names, but I will find out.  Mark my words!  In the meantime, head over to John’s Tweak Class Page and sign up for his screenwriting class that starts this January.  It truly is a unique opportunity to study with a produced, working writer.  You won’t be disappointed!