I’m a Big Fan

The first evening after the first time I ever went on a series a Hollywood pitch meetings, I was walking on air. I was with my wife, and we’d sat down with producers at Paramount, Fox as well as a number of successful independent producers in Beverly Hills. Everyone loved the project, a love-story murder mystery, very very loosely based on one of my wife’s books. With each meeting, the level of enthusiasm seemed to rise. This is brilliant. This is exactly what we want. I have no questions about this. This is perfect for Gwyneth. That night in our hotel — the Chateau Marmont, of course — we were fantasizing about the auction that was certain to follow.

The phone never rang. No one even bothered to call back to pass on it.

Several months later I pitched it to Mike Medavoy. I sat on the couch in his office next to Reese Witherspoon, who had attached herself to the project. Medavoy sat through the entire pitch meeting looking like he’d rather be at the dentist. He was surrounded by assistants who picked apart my pitch and wondered who would ever watch such a film. Under a barrage of criticism I veered off course and stumbled inarticulately through the rest of the pitch. I phoned my wife after that meeting to tell her I'd totally blown it.

The next day Medavoy bought the project.

I did learn some lessons from that, but it took years. In the immortal words of Dorothy Parker, “Hollywood is the only place where you can die from encouragement.”

Hollywood, despite the fact that they’ve managed to commodify irony on the screen, (The Big Picture, Mistress, Day of the Locust, Swimming with Sharks, et al,), doesn’t seem to recognize it when it's in the room. They know they’re doing it, but can’t help themselves.  I used to be flattered whenever I was told that a particular executive, producer, director or whatever was a BIG FAN of my work.  Now, when I hear the phrase big fan, I know it's meant as a compliment but what it really means is this: I'm screwed.

Several years ago I wrote a screen adaptation of John Hockenberry’s incredible memoir, Moving Violations. Everybody loved the script. I had meetings with directors and stars. I was told that the script had gotten me a lot of fans. But as I would sit and listen to people telling me how brilliant it was, I would be overcome with a sick, sinking feeling. The more praise they heaped on my work, the more I understood that I was being handed a consolation prize.

There is one phrase worse than, “I’m a big fan,” however. The real kiss of death is: “You’ve really done a lot of work on this.” Translation: “You’ve wasted a lot of time.”

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4 Responses »

  1. Good lord. I don't know if I could ever figure out that kind of "logic." You are a brave, brave man!

  2. Loved this piece Michael...It was good to see you and Dani at the SV Writers Conference nearly 2 summers ago... I will pass your take on
    Hollywood on to my other friends who have shared your experience, in one
    form or another. Try Jen Westfeldt's route..write, star, direct and get Mike Nichols behind you...and still, it was hell. Best to you and Dani.
    (Read My Julia Child on Huff Post...written, of course, for no, um, dough.)

    Nancy

  3. Michael,
    I have to say, this made me smile and cringe all at the same time. I feel your pain and have been there too, only now I am hearing you need to work on the opening. It is not a no, and it is not a yes, it is merely a do better, I think.

    Thanks for sharing.

    All the Best,
    Deb

  4. Yes, indeedy,code-speak is quite the Los Angeles art form... but a magic tingle happens when -- AFTER THEY PASS on what you've just pitched -- they ask, "So, what else have you got?" :)

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