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.
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 say… if 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.
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…”
“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.”
“Getting a bankable star will get us financing. It’s your first credit. Your brother can be part of your next picture…”
“Yeah, Mickey, I hear ya, but I’ve seen my brother make people weep in our theater in Chicago—“
“Paul, this isn’t your little theater in Chicago.”
“So you want me to sell out my brother?”
“This isn’t about selling out. It’s about selling a script.”
“Can’t we just take her, and not her boyfriend?”
“Lilly won’t come in without Michael.”
“Well…I won’t 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 I’ll 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
Get a call from Bill C., my agent at William Morris. “Might have something for you. It’s greenlit. They’re 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. It’s set in a famous New York landmark. The death toll rises, they’re thinking terrorists. They seal off the elevator—“
“Soooo, it’s black comedy, yes?”
“No no, it’s straight action-horror. Working title is The Shaft.”
Paul sighs. His phone hasn’t rung via William Morris in three months. When it does, it’s for The Shaft.
“And when you heard of this you thought of me?”
“I don’t know, Bill. It’s not exactly… I don’t know.”
“A company in the Netherlands put together financing. You’ll spend two weeks in Amsterdam. We’d need to set up a meeting next week.”
“Sounds like schlock, man.”
“You’re not interested?”
“Nah. Don’t think so.”
It’s 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 hadn’t been such an ignoramus, he might have realized a couple things.
#1: Writer’s 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. It’s 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?
#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.
- More articles by Paul Peditto
- Short Circuit: Writing Assignments – Let’s Make a Deal
- Balls of Steel: Dear New Screenwriter
Get more help from Paul Peditto in his online classes at Screenwriters University
Learn from the comfort of your own home!