I was in a meeting with a Dreamworks executive. Somehow we got sidetracked into the always entertaining subject of “the strangest place a writer tried to slip you a screenplay.”
“On my wedding day,” Deb began. “In the temple, wearing my wedding dress, waiting for my father to walk me down the aisle. The rabbi walks in. I think he’s there to check if I’m nervous. Small talk. Asks me where we we’re gonna honeymoon and if I’m gonna have time to read. This is where he hands me an envelope with a script in it. Can you believe it?”
Yes. I did. Pretty much everybody in the business with half a profile can relate.
It’s been widely rumored that everybody in L.A. has a screenplay in their desk drawer, under the spare in the trunk of their car, even under their rabbinical robes.
But let’s rewind a second for a brief reality check. Step One as a screenwriter is that you must get your screenplay read by someone who matters. Family members, car wash attendants, and pediatricians don’t generally count unless they’re related to or neighbors of an insider who’s a household name above the picture’s title. So Step One can be flat out hard. Step Two, getting repped, is even harder. Harder still is Step Three, getting paid to write. Of course, that’s followed by the most difficult of all, Steps Four and Five, getting your screenplay produced then getting produced again so you can make those mortgage payments on that pre-war junior-ranchero you just moved in to in Santa Monica.
But still. None of that happens unless you first complete Step One. If you don’t get someone that matters to commit their eyeballs to those hundred-plus pages you’ve bled over, nothing good will happen. The question is, how the hell do I get read? And sometimes, the answer to that question requires more creativity than your best writer’s moment, not to mention a load of stones, gall, or plain inspiration.
I followed up Debbie’s rabbi story with my own fave.
It was a sunny Wednesday in February. I’m in my Jeep, top down, driving west on the 118 Freeway in the North Valley. I’m on my way to a director pal’s movie set. He’d set me up for a casual lunch with a particularly sexy young English actress he was currently working with. Thus, the perma-grin etched on my bachelor’s face. I was just pulling off at the Tampa exit when I came upon a poor fat sod in loud sports jacket and his broken-down Cadillac. Radiator steam was fizzing out from the open hood. The man had no cell phone so he was waving me down. I slowed and kindly agreed to deliver the hapless sap to the nearest gas station. He climbed in, buckled, and clung tightly to his briefcase.
Southbound on Tampa the fellow asks, “What’s a young lad like yourself doing out in the middle of the day? You have a job?”
I was so ginned up over my upcoming lunch date, I forgot to tell the usual fib (see my Blog Post titled: The Bulletproof Lie), and instead told him the truth.
“You’re a screenwriter?” he said. “A working screenwriter?”
I answered in the affirmative. That’s when, in his moment of excitement, my passenger flicked the locks on his briefcase and lifted the lid. Inside was the man’s typewritten screenplay, loose leaf. His one and only copy.
Let me now explain the aerodynamic properties of a Jeep convertible driving at fifty-five miles per hour. The vehicle was never designed for a quiet cockpit. In fact, it’s pretty perverse. I’d often pick up dinner dates who were wearing sundresses, hit the gas, only to have their lightweight frock rise up skyward to both embarrassment and giggles. At worst, it was a conversation starter.
Back to my over-excited passenger with his original and unbound screenplay that lay in the briefcase that he’d just so unthinkingly thrown open. It was as if all one hundred pages of his hard work had been volcanically shot straight up in the air out of a canon.
“My screeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnpppppplllllllaaaaaayyyy!” he yelled.
I instantly braked. But I could already see the writer’s nightmare unfolding in my rear view mirror. My passenger’s one and only copy of his typewritten screenplay was now decorating Tampa Boulevard like confetti.
My lunch with the hot-off-the-boat Brit was suddenly on pause as I found myself dodging cars, assisting my passenger in the page by page retrieval his opus, one precious slice of paper at a time.
The script was scattered over more than an eighth of a mile of four-lane blacktop. Some pages were relatively unscathed. Others newly stamped with tread marks. It took something like thirty minutes but I believe we were able to vacuum up most of the script. It was when I was trudging back to the Jeep doing my utmost to help collate my pile of paper when I couldn’t help but read a few lines of my idiot passenger’s not-so-clever dialogue.
I can’t print any of it here. Let’s just say it was adult in nature and in keeping with the rest of the porn opus I’d just helped rescue from becoming road kill.
“Porn movie, huh?” I said to my passenger.
“You read some of it?” he asked.
“Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
“Do you think…”
“Not for me,” I said.
As I dropped the man off at closest service station, he both apologized and thanked me. I said goodbye and shoved off.
My lunch with the British hottie was less than lukewarm. No sparks. I should’ve known it wasn’t meant to be when she barely cracked a laugh when I told her about my good Samaritan adventure.
When I returned to my Jeep, I discovered a lone page of the script stuck under a rear floor mat. Without a clue how to return it to its owner, I ended up tacking it to the bulletin board of my Warner Brothers office. From time to time, bored visitors would glance over and read it. I’d watch their jaws drop.
I’ve had screenplays left in my mailbox and slipped into my son’s gear bag by Little League coaches. I’ve seen golf starters hand producers manila envelopes on the first tee and heard stories of valets leaving anonymous gifts in the backseats of a mogul’s Mercedes. Numerous execs and directors have had scripts slid under the doors of bathroom stalls while they were indisposed on the porcelain throne.
Mind you. I’m not suggesting any of these tactics. They come off as desperate acts of a person who might easily have written their movie epic in crayon and finger paints. On the other hand, remember Debra in her wedding dress? When I asked her what happened to the script the rabbi had presented only moments before she walked up the aisle? She said, “Oh. I found it a year later underneath a day bed. Still in the envelope. Of course, the script was total crap.”
“But you read it,” I confirmed.
Yes. She read it.