Flavor of the Month

Several years ago I was in LA to pitch a project with a young, hot director.  He was fresh off a big indie success; i.e, lots of festival praise and award nominations. The first night we were in town, his agency threw a reception for him at the flavor-of-the month restaurant on Melrose.  It seemed like half of Hollywood showed up.  We arrived at the party together, and I soon found myself deep in conversation with some managers from one of the big management agencies. I should have known something was wrong from the beginning when they were so warm and solicitous toward me.  When the conversation evolved into “are you free for lunch?” I dutifully informed them that I was not the director, just the screenwriter that he was working with.

Normal human beings might have been embarrassed at that moment, but the reaction I got from them was profound irritation.  They had wasted 10 minutes of their precious time and energy being polite to a nobody. They both turned and walked away from me as fast as they could without even a ‘nice talking with you.’

I suppose I would have felt worse about that if it hadn’t been so comically absurd. I spent the rest of the evening watching people surround the director. Lawyers were there to try and poach him, managers were trying to sign him. Everyone was trying to make an impression. I was a little envious — who wouldn’t want to be the recipient of such a full-on ass-kissing? — but at least I was drinking for free.
Over the next few days we had meetings in some very impressive rooms. His presence assured that the top development execs at the studios heard our pitch. We had lunch with Jim Carey. Two studios ‘bought’ the pitch in the room. Life was good. For a very short time. (You knew this wasn’t going to end well.)

A few weeks later the director informed me that he would only do the project if he could write the script himself. I was at first puzzled, and then angry. It was my project. I’d held the option on it for few years and had worked hard to keep it all afloat. Granted, it was the heat under his career that had garnered all the attention the project was getting at the moment. He must have felt that he was holding all the cards.  But I passed. I was going to keep control of my own project, my own script. That was then end of that.

The director already had another project in the works; an adaptation that he had done himself.  Of course, I followed his career and went to see the film when it was released. The film was, by any objective standards, awful. Despite an incredible cast, every scene fell flat. Admittedly I was not in the mood to give his movie any benefits of any doubt, but there was no getting away from how embarrassingly bad was. (Okay, I’ll stop.)

I’m not the only one who hated the movie,  because he hasn’t been heard from since. I’m sure that his agency isn’t throwing him any big parties, and the managers who were looking to sign him probably don’t recall who he is anymore. I’m lucky to have unhitched my wagon from his horse when I did.

Whatever people were whispering in his ear over that time, he must have believed it. It's hard not to.  Who doesn't want to be told he's a genius?  That's not to say you shouldn't enjoy the attention and the spotlight.  Take it while you can, but don't make the mistake of believing it.  Ultimately for  writers, directors — for any artist — it's about the work. We can't take our cues about who we are from what others tell us about that work, good or bad.

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