I LEARNED something last week, a new twist on an old story.
You can’t write screenplays for 30 years and not discover over and over, ad infinitum, that the movie business is an all-but-closed society. What I know now is that it’s a closed society for a reason—and a really good reason: Most people trying to break into movies are nuts.
It’s almost impossible to do if you have a great script in your hip pocket. So how crazy is it to think you can make it if you show up with your pockets turned inside out?
A friend of mine in the business, a producer of films you’ve surely seen, sent me a sampling of what appears in the company inbox every day. They were all variations on a theme: The claim to writerly cred, the swagger of having made it to the quarter-final of some ridiculous contest that never got anybody anywhere. Skip ahead to dreamy predictions of money raining down on everyone, then the preview of an absurd idea that would never be a movie on this or any other planet.
In some cases, they haven’t even written the screenplay! They’re just trying to network their way in so the magic can happen. As if some rainmaker of a producer will let them move into the guest room and wander the house in their shorts until the muse strikes.
Spelling errors by the score, mangled grammar, English is their first language, they just never picked it up. Or it may be their second or third, perfectly fine, but they didn’t think to have a friendly native speaker at their elbow when drafting a business proposal.
So one day last week, upon rolling out of bed, instead of making coffee first thing I sat down at the keyboard, pointed my browser at the production company website and dashed off a movie pitch. I gave it the same 90 seconds invested in the ones my friend had showed me.
I was hoping my email address wouldn’t give me away. I wanted to blend into the horde when my friend got to the office, there to rat-a-tat-tat her way through the zombie invasion, working the delete key as if it were a machine-gun trigger. What I had to propose certainly wouldn’t sound any crazier than the others.
I heard Roberto Benigni’s voice in my head as I wrote.
I made my subject line, “Trusting you with idea.”
I am being writing to you from Turkish prison, is against many regulations and inviting seventh maybe eighth circle of hell, so already you are knowing my committment.
I am being exclusive to you my concept for mother of all tentpoles, it is daycare center for offsprings of jihadi fighters, with purpose of showing jihadi fighters being regular parent with ordinary concern for early education opportunity and caring environment. We are showing jihadi fighter in drive-up to coffee window and dropping off children from car with IUD in trunk. We will discuss many comic elements after I am released from Turkish prison. We will write screenplay at your house, as I am seeing it in brief opportunity to Googling Earth from front office of Turkish prison.
Please do not respond to me at Turkish prison, many regulations prohibit this. This is very inconvenient to me as I am in need of advance from you in order to aid in survive Turkish prison.
Your friend and partner in crafting tentpole of organic construction with all turning plots and beats necessary to success,
Mahmood “William” Goldman
I guess you have to know who William Goldman is.
So I hit the send button, put the coffee on, go about my day. When the sun rises in Los Angeles, I get a response:
You are a brilliant man, and we want to make this story into a feature film immediately. Also, could you please star in this, direct it and produce it, as I can see you are a very capable person. And by the way, I know a million agents that would like to represent you. They won’t stop calling and begging for you. They will even come visit you in prison.
I go silent for a day, just to build investor excitement. Then I set the hook.
Is terrible day here in Turkish prison, maggots in gruel are floating, not even swimming. Cellblock representative stares at floor in languid manner, he is powerless to bring low-quality infestation to attention of front office of Turkish prison. After gruel I am scheduled for truncheon beating. After that, call to United Talent Agency. After that, feeling that Turkish prison was better at time of truncheon beating.
But enough about Turkish prison. I counter your offer of March 29. In addition to big star on trailer door and chair for director (“Director” in big letters) I wish to have personal assistant unwrapping colorful Starburst candies. And on meals catered to director’s trailer (door with star) I request maggots at all times to be swimming.
Anticipating your positive reply, I remain,
Mahmood “William” Goldman (In Turkish prison)
I have a feeling we’ll be riffing on this one forever. She’ll call in some markers and get the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to intervene on my behalf. As a gesture, I’ll sign over the rights to a two-picture deal on my life: There Is No “I” in Team, and the sure-fire, Oscar-worthy sequel, There is No TP in Turkish Prison.
Tony DePaul, April 3, 2017, Cranston, Rhode Island, USA