SCRIPT GODS MUST DIE: Conversations With Screenwriting Agents

Paul Peditto authored the book The DIY Filmmaker: Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood, wrote and directed the award-winning film, Jane Doe, starring Calista Flockhart and has optioned multiple scripts to major companies. He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College-Chicago, has professionally consulted on thousands of screenplays since 2002. Follow Paul at www.scriptgodsmustdie.com and on Twitter @scriptgods.

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Good Reader, quite often on these pages here at Script Mag, and on my own blog at Script Gods, you will be getting a variety of do-as-I-as-say-not-as-I-did-for-God-sake! life lessons. The goal is to instruct, and hopefully advance, your own journey by not making the same damn mistakes I have in my own convoluted journey to leave some sort of artistic legacy behind. Maybe these tortured screw ups will help, who can sayif I had all the answers, or any wits about me at all, these conversations with agents would almost certain never have happened.

CONVERSATION 1: SELLING OUT YOUR BROTHER

Some quick backstory: The script Jane Doe had gotten me in the door at Writers & Artists agency in the ‘90s. This was the true story account of my girlfriend’s journey through heroin addiction. It had been a play produced in Chicago and Los Angeles and the plan was to have my brother play the lead, as he had in the theater production.

SCRIPT GODS MUST DIE: Conversations With Screenwriting Agents by Paul Peditto | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

So Mickey Loveless, my agent at Writers And Artists called:

We got a bite. Lilly Taylor read the script, she loves it. She wants to play the lead with her boyfriend, Michael Imperiole. This is great news!

My response was not enthusiastic. Yeah, that’s great, but…”

But?

My brother is playing the lead.

On the other end of the phone, silence. A kinda… L.A. silence. Then: Maybe we should rethink our strategy, Paul.

How so?

Getting a bankable star will get us financing. Its your first credit. Your brother can be part of your next picture…”

Yeah, Mickey, I hear ya, but Ive seen my brother make people weep in our theater in Chicago

Paul, this isnt your little theater in Chicago.

So you want me to sell out my brother?

This isnt about selling out. Its about selling a script.

Cant we just take her, and not her boyfriend?

Lilly wont come in without Michael.

WellI wont do it.

Things were never the same with Mickey Loveless and I after this conversation. Less than a year later I was with William Morris. Eventually we sold this script, which became the movie Jane Doe starring Calista Flockhart. For many reasons Ill rehash some other time, my directing the movie and my brother acting in it was the worst choice we could have made.

The professional thing would have been to talk with my brother, relate the situation, and make the deal. If the movie had been a commercial success with theatrical release and reviews, there might have been a second or third project to come from it, a career launched.

Didn’t work out that way.

Should I have sold out my brother? At the time, it seemed like I made the right choice. That’s the thing about a life lesson: Ain’t no do-overs.

If you rise from the ocean depths to taste that dizzy Hollywood air, even in your amazement as you drink it in, I encourage you to do as Kipling suggested: Don’t lose your head. The decisions you are about to make will impact your life for keeps, and there’s no going back.

CONVERSATION 2: GETTING THE SHAFT

SCRIPT GODS MUST DIE: Conversations With Screenwriting Agents by Paul Peditto | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Get a call from Bill C., my agent at William Morris. Might have something for you. Its greenlit. Theyre looking for a dialogue pump up.

Cool. What is it?

Interesting project. An elevator animates and starts killing people—“

Wait an elevator comes alive?

Yes. Its set in a famous New York landmark. The death toll rises, theyre thinking terrorists. They seal off the elevator—“

Soooo, its black comedy, yes?

No no, its straight action-horror. Working title is The Shaft.

Paul sighs. His phone hasnt rung via William Morris in three months. When it does, its for The Shaft.

And when you heard of this you thought of me?

Whats wrong?

I dont know, Bill. Its not exactly I dont know.

A company in the Netherlands put together financing. Youll spend two weeks in Amsterdam. Wed need to set up a meeting next week.

Sounds like schlock, man.

Youre not interested?

Nah. Dont think so.

Its only in retrospect we can see our errors. Fortunately for you folks, you can see this CONTINUAL DRUMBEAT OF FUCKUPS by your humble narrator, and learn from these.

If the back-in-the-day Peditto hadnt been such an ignoramus, he might have realized a couple things.

#1: Writers Guild guidelines make it clear that invention of the character and world are critical to get a Written By credit. A dialogue pump up meant polishing what they already had in terms of story and characters. Its unlikely that I would have even qualified for writing credit.

#2: What the fuck were you thinking, back-in-the-day Pauly? The pretensions on this lad. Clearly we have the next Tennessee Williams here! Too much of an Art-ist to want to even look at a project that is so obviously beneath him. Can you imagine what my agent was thinking when this conversation ended?

SCRIPT GODS MUST DIE: Conversations With Screenwriting Agents by Paul Peditto | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

#3: Hey Genius, in the depths of your ignorance, perchance you don’t realize that assignment work is where most of a writer’s income happens. Not in a studio making your deeply felt, semi-autobiographical period-piece about your Dad’s Cleveland bowling alley circa 1958. If you’re going the L.A. route, understand that movies about elevators that come alive are exactly what they want out there. If this is beneath you, you might want to consider going back to poetry, or re-reading Proust.

#4: Turning down a two-week paid trip to Amsterdam? You’d think this kid had been puffing copious hash in the coffeehouses there already.

#5: Have you any idea how many screenwriters 1000X better than you have work anonymously-uncredited on crappy movies? Point being it isn’t that the movie is schlock. It’s just another demonstration how young Pauly was clueless on the business side.

Life Lesson 5438: Never turn down work. Ever.

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2 thoughts on “SCRIPT GODS MUST DIE: Conversations With Screenwriting Agents

  1. jeffguenther

    I love horror stories–not scary flicks, but ungreat things that have happened to other people. I love fooling myself into thinking: That could never happen to me, uh-uh; I would never screw up like that. And I’m probably right…NOW that I know what not to do! Thanks for sharing your sappy-ever-after stories.

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