It’s Come to This

I’ve been a working screenwriter for more than ten years. (I was a journalist before that - see the other pages on this website.) I sold the first three or four scripts I ever wrote and thought “this is easy.”  I used to get hired to write movies that I pitched to studios. And sometimes I got hired to write films that they needed a screenwriter for.  I wrote a spec script based on John Hockenberry’s memoir, Moving Violations. Everyone loved the script, but no one wanted to make a movie about a guy in a wheelchair. (Can’t you hear the studio execs: “I love it, but can you lose the wheelchair?) That script got me work, but it never got made.

William Holden as the screenwriter Joe Gillis in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

I worked on some indie projects (most notably the cursed Janis Joplin biopic) and other things that collapsed or disappeared for reasons largely beyond my control. I say ‘largely’ because I’ve made some mistakes in judgement. I’ve sat and  waited for the phone to ring when I should have been banging on doors and selling myself and my ideas. And I’ve wasted too much time pursuing projects that weren’t good ideas to begin with.

I had an epiphany a few years ago when I was pitching a film over at Fox Searchlight. The exec said to me and the producer I was partnered with, “This is great.  Bring me a script, some talent and a director and we’ll seriously consider it.” And I thought, if I have a script, some talent and a director, what the fuck do I need you for?

I probably should have embarked on an immediate career course correction at that point, but I didn’t.  It was some combination of fear and inertia that kept me pitching ideas to producers, rather than producing my own ideas.  For example, several years ago, because people liked Moving Violations as a biopic, I was asked to pitch my take on the life of J. Edgar Hoover to Brian Grazer's company. (One of many biopics that came my way.)  I spent a month reading everything I could on Hoover, prepared a pitch and then presented it to some development people at his company.  I never heard from them again.  They ended up hiring Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for Milk.  I don't blame them; I blame myself for trying to get a piece of someone else's dream project instead of chasing after my own dream project.

It took the writers strike, the collapse of the economy, and a boatload of frustration before I developed the resolve to follow my instincts and arrive at this: The only way to move forward is to write, produce and direct a film myself. That was last December.

As 2011 dawned I set out to write a film that could be shot on a micro-budget. I was thinking somewhere in the vicinity of a million dollars, or less. A film that didn’t require car crashes or explosions.   A self-contained story that would utilize interiors. A story that mattered to me.

It took me about six weeks to complete the script.

And here we are.  I’m hell bent on producing and directing this film now.  I've decided that I’m going to live-blog (so to speak) the process of making a film from scratch.  It’s risky, because:

a) I’ve never done anything like this before.
b) I’m most likely going to fail and embarrass myself.
c) I could be committing myself to 10 years of blogging this project.

I’m going write about things as they happen. (Some things have already happened, but I’ll get into that in the next post.)  I’m not going to name names...at least for now.  I don’t want to write about the people I’m talking to unless they give me permission to do it.

I've already gone to a number of friends and and asked for favors, for notes on the script and for introductions to people they know who might be able to help me.  That all sounds perfectly simple, I know. But I've never been good at asking people for favors. Or, another way to put it is that I've never been particularly entrepreneurial precisely because I saw it as asking for favors.  I'm being proactive, even aggressive, even though it's not my style. I don't have to be comfortable doing it. I just have to do it.

The first draft of the script was entitled: A Short History of Decay.  I took the title from a book of philosophy by E. M. Cioran that I love. I thought it sounded intellectual and indie-smart. The book’s subject is indeed apropos of the underlying theme of the film. (It’s a comedy, though a darkish one.) I also thought it was a signal from the start that this wasn’t going to be light summer fare.

A director friend in LA told me to change the title. No one is ever going to want to even read a script with that title.  My wife told me she thought it sounded pretentious.

The title of the script is now:  Sarasota.

Go to Part 2.

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