Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.
Franchise Characters Part 3.
It’s been a few years since that (gratefully) unfateful night we stumbled into an almost shootout at the New Wilmington Gardens in Compton. I thought I wanted to write a cop show. Or wanted to at least attempt mounting one, but came up woefully short in pitch faze. Like so many of my notions, I buried my notes in a drawer and filed the rest of what I’d learned in a memory vault.
Yet there was this one juicy nugget of LA Sheriffs’ history I couldn’t rightly stuff someplace. It sprang from some intel I’d gleaned from multiple police sources. Here’s what I discovered: Rewinding to the shoot ‘em up nineties when Rodney King was trying to outrun LAPD cops in a four-cylinder Hyundai, the riots put a match to my fair city, and almost every night the eleven o’clock news led with the drive-by murder of the night. A virus of malignant distrust was growing within the ranks of certain LA Sheriffs’ stations. Similar to certain jurisdictions today, some cop contingencies felt under siege on two basic fronts; one assault coming from the streets and the other from a Federal government in search of headline-grabbing scalps. One such byproduct was the formation of secret societies within the Sheriffs’ department. Clubs built around the ideal of ultimate trust in fellow members. Gangs of sorts, complete with induction ceremonies and tattoos indicating an oath in blood.
One such group was known as The Reapers.
For a year or two I carried this “Reaper” information like criminal pocket litter I couldn’t let go of. The notion of a former LA Sheriff marked with permanent ink who in the name of his brethren and some old fashioned street justice, bent more than his share of rules. A man with enemies both inside and outside the law. A police officer incapable of divorcing himself from the past, unapologetic, and with a cellular instinct for separating the good guys from the bad guys.
“Maybe it’s too soon,” I recall that TV producer pal saying to me back when the pitch was flopping on the deck like a dying grouper. “You’re trying to force it. Perhaps step back and let things marinate a while?”
Marinate. I love that word. It’s a favorite we’d both copped off a mutually adored line-producer who liked to wisely advise thinkers to slow down and let things stew and/or ferment into some kind of drinkable spirit.
As I marinated on my Reaper character, I couldn’t see him or her in a TV show that tried to wrap up a crime story line every week. Life, in my purview, was anything but a tidy ending wrapped up in forty-two minutes of narrative.
Yet when I was at last sat down to pen my fourth novel, I discovered my Reaper character had not just been marinating in my cerebellum, he’d grown into a full-bodied force who demanded some serious page time. In Blood Money, Lucky Dey was born as a former LA Sheriff’s Deputy who’d transferred up to rural Kern County to babysit his footstep-following younger brother, who sadly couldn’t cut it as a cop in the big bad city. Though Blood Money is an ensemble tale, Lucky quickly became my go-to character to anchor the story which, at its core, is a page-burning chase.
As I wrote the final words of Blood Money, I had no doubt Lucky Dey would not only return as my first franchise character, but reveal himself as a man I wanted to unleash on my world of LA crime noir while exploring the primal ways he connects with the ever-evolving City of Angels.
As most of us recognize, cops are in the news. From sea to shining sea the Brethren of Blue are, once again, feeling under the microscope with their reps and characters up for nightly analysis on a multitude of twenty-four-hour cable news channels. I recall a former cop pal once reciting what he surmised were the three primary human flaws leading men or women to seek careers as a police officer: the first is the oft, overly-simplified, insecure male with inadequacy issues; the second, the adrenaline junky; the third and last archetype being that the control freak, always seeking to Ronda Rousey the world into an unforgiving arm bar.
Now those descriptors may be accurate to a certain point. But they surely are over-simplified and don’t speak to the positive reasoning of a man hell-bent on risking his life for strangers. First responders. The kind of unlikely animals who, at the sound of someone shouting “fire,” instinctively run toward certain danger. Some might think these socially awkward types can be a French fry short of a Happy Meal, but few of us have zero compulsion dialing 911 for their assistance if we feel a nano-breath near any flavor of human peril.
Wrap all that up into a damaged package in search of his next pop of prescription Percocet and you might glimpse a window inside the afflicted soul of Lucky Dey.
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The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches