SHORT CIRCUIT: Screenplay Ideas or Darn you, Tom Hanks!

Let me just go ahead and say this right at the very start of the column… Tom Hanks is NOT the wind beneath my wings.

There, now that THAT is out of the way…

ideasScreenplay ideas are what feed the movies – without them, there’s no script to write. And each one is (usually) a labor of love… But it’s happened to most of us at one time or another: we finish or send out a script that we’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into, only to learn that now a famous actor/director/producer is announcing that he/she is doing a project on the exact same story.

So, how do you handle it?             crying

Jason Wallis

Director Jason Wallis

i was brought on to do a page one rewrite of a screenplay adaptation of Dawn Over Kitty Hawk, the critically acclaimed book by New York Times bestselling author Col. Walter J. Boyne, the former director of the National Air & Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. This all came about when a friend of mine, who is a journalist, introduced me to Jason Wallis, who had optioned the book and was looking to get a great script ready.

I was thrilled. There’s yet to be a feature film made that captures the actual thrilling race that went on to build the first sustained-flight airplane. The book delved behind the scenes into the egos, deceit, and attempted betrayals surrounding the race to be “The first to fly.” Utilizing Col. Boyne’s unprecedented access and research into the machinations of former Smithsonian Director (1887-1906) Samuel Pierpont Langley, Dawn Over Kitty Hawk created a compelling “race for the gold” inspirational story along the lines of MIRACLE and SECRETARIAT.

Col. Boyne has written over fifty books, and his works have made both the fiction and the nonfiction bestseller lists of The New York Times. He is the founder of Air & Space Magazine. Boyne directed production of the highly successful series of Discovery Channel’s Wings television program. In film, Boyne negotiated an agreement with NASA to fly an IMAX camera on the Space Shuttle, and directly supervised the production of two of the most successful IMAX films, The Dream is Alive and On the Wing.

With this impressive pedigree for the project, we managed to get the script to CAA. They were chosen because… Well, they’re CAA. They make sales happen, they put together massive projects, they represent some of the best talent in the business. Including Tom Hanks. Now, anyone familiar with Tom Hanks knows about his tremendous fascination with flight, especially the space program. And I’ll admit the hope was that perhaps, this might find its way across his flight path. Because…

Tom_Hanks,_smiling1a

Tom Hanks, top of the list of America’s most admired celebrities

Well, he’s Tom Hanks. He’s won TWO Academy Awards and a ton of other awards. He’s possibly the most beloved actor in the world. Heck, I love his work and greatly admire the man. But…

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My view on Tom Hanks (only for this project)

Right now if I ran across him at the beach, I’d want to kick down his sandcastle and stomp on it…

Where was I???? Oh, yeah. Our script was at CAA. That’s all we knew. No word coming out. But we were confident. We had solid IP source material, a well-written script with fascinating characters and intrigue galore…

And did I mention in the last hundred years, there have been ZERO major films about the Wright Brothers? Yes, we were confident.

Then, a few months later, Tom Hanks (yep, repped by CAA) announces that HE is going to do a mini-series about the Wright Brothers, based on a Pulitzer Prize winner’s book . Let’s face it, when was the last time ANYBODY even wanted to do a movie on the Wright Brothers??? It was a bit devastating, to say the least. Of course, our first instinct was to yell, “Foul!”

But… “Universal consciousness events” do actually happen. David McCollough’s book,The Wright Brothers, was just being put out by the publisher. No flag, no foul. Coincidence. Lousy timing, horrible news, but coincidence, nonetheless.

How do you handle it?

After the initial shock wore off, we decided to do pros and cons.

The Cons first: Darn it. Tom Hanks is doing a mini-series on the exact same story!

The Pros: Tom Hanks is doing a mini-series on the exact same story!

Okay, it took us a little while to finally come around to this way of thinking… But it wasn’t long (okay, maybe we moped around the first week) before we came to the conclusion that it can actually end up working out for us. Look at what Band of Brothers did for interest in World War II movies… What From the Earth to the Moon did for space films…

How much better can it get when America’s favorite actor is practically giving you free advertising???

“Hey, did you see episode 1 of that Tom Hanks miniseries?”

“Yeah, did you know there’s a movie out about it, too?”

“Great! I hate sittting through six weeks to find out how it ends! Let’s go!”

In the end, you can only control what you write. Sometimes, someone else (more famous, better connected, better looking) will come out with a project which seems almost the exact same thing. You can get mad and depressed – or you can keep writing and pitching and look for the silver lining as you fly through the clouds.

Anyway, if you’ve been looking to do a film on the Wright Brothers, or if you happen to be the one person in the world who really would give anything to one-up The World’s Most Famous Film Celebrity, I might be able to put you in touch with someone… Oh, and Tom. Don’t count on a Christmas card from me this year.

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For invaluable advice on short film ideas, download the 1st chapter of Roberta Marie Monroe’s book How Not to Make a Short Film! and create inspiring short films today.


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