Archive for April 2011

New Life for Old Scripts?

April 23, 2011

Before the rambling, disjointed conclusion of my four part series about how FOOL-PROOF was optioned by Hollywood producers, then turned into a completely different project, I wanted to share some thoughts on “trunk scripts” and why I entered a couple of mine in the Amazon Studios contest.

Sometimes, with age and experience, a writer can improve an old screenplay that wasn’t quite there in the original draft. In fact, my Amish horror spec — SNALLYGASTER — which I dusted off, fixed up a little and posted on Amazon last month was one of the Top 50 semifinalists for April. According to one blog that has been tracking and mocking the AS contest, only nine of the 50 April picks were “virgin” scripts (Snally being one of those). The rest had made the semifinals or finals in the previous monthly contests, going back to December. To date, over 4,000 scripts have been posted on the AS site.

Anyhow, one reason I’ve been recounting the story behind my FOOL-PROOF option is to show how long it can take to just get your script to “workable material” stage even after you’ve done well in contests and gotten interest from managers or producers. They’ll tell you they LOVED your script — it just needs a little work. A few tweaks. And, oh, maybe the plot should be changed a bit. It can take months of rewriting before an agent or manager is ready to shop it around.

So you have to keep working on new stuff simultaneously, because chances are your rewrite isn’t going to sell either. That’s the reality of the spec game. While I was rewriting FOOL-PROOF under the guidance of the ROBOCOP co-writer who optioned it, I was also banging out a satirical comedy called THE GODPARENTS. It’s about a cynical “child-free” L.A. couple who get stuck taking care of the kids of their New Age friends who live in Sedona, after the mother disappears. It turns out she’s on a mission to kill the self-help guru who bilked his followers of their live savings. Think AS GOOD AS IT GETS meets FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. (Another aside: James Brooks, who directed AS GOOD AS IT GETS, starring Jack Nicholson, was sitting at the table next to me at the Austin Film Festival the year I was one of the finalists in that contest for a supernatural thriller I wrote. He actually applauded me when my name was announced, which was pretty cool.)

GODPARENTS was a finalist in three smaller contests, but didn’t do anything in the majors. However, I did get a call from Village Roadshow, which was just starting to ramp up in the U.S. at that time, and they took a look at it. To be honest, I wasn’t that excited since I had no idea just how huge Village Roadshow was going to be. The VR development exec liked my writing, but said they were passing because it wasn’t quite what they were looking for… these were the guys who would go on to make the MATRIX movies and a bunch of other high concept comedies. Had I been better prepared, I could have used that opportunity to pitch something along those lines.

Instead, I literally put THE GODPARENTS script away in a box inside my office closet, where I kept all my original hard copy drafts. By the time FOOL-PROOF became I GOTTA BE ME a year later, I was already finishing up two other new scripts, and starting two more simultaneously. For awhile, I found that working on two scripts in different genres at the same time kept me going, because I could pick the project that fit my mood on a daily basis. If I felt crappy, I’d work on the comedy to cheer myself up. On darker days, I’d switch to the horror spec. Needless to say, during those years, I didn’t have a real job. My wife was the breadwinner and supported me one hundred percent. Yet I felt guilty about not making any money, and I started to doubt whether I’d ever make it as a writer. A lot of that angst is there in the pages and dialogue of THE GODPARENTS.

I forgot how funny — and honest — it was until I opened the old Final Draft file copy of it on my computer. The only reason I did it was because SNALLYGASTER had made the Top 50 of the Amazon Studios contest, and I figured it was worth taking another look at some of my other old scripts that I was proud of. They aren’t high concept enough to generate interest from most agents or managers. But they’re entertaining stories, and if people at Amazon Studios are willing to read them, great. I just want people to read and enjoy my stuff. The rest is in the hands of the Big Guy or Fate.

Odd coincidence: there are two other Amish-themed scripts I know of in the AS contest! One is a comedy, RUMSPRINGA BREAK, and the other is about an Amish assassin. I presume that’s a comedy too.

Here’s the Amazon Studios links to my SNALLYGASTER and GODPARENTS scripts, which can be dowloaded as PDF files. If you have feedback or suggestions, feel free to post honest, critical reviews on the AS site!

Addendum: Forgot to mention, SNALLYGASTER is set around Easter because it ties into pagan customs and Old World religious beliefs… plus, have you ever heard of any Easter horror movies? It’s kind of like PUMPKINHEAD with elements of THE VILLAGE and BLAIR WITCH, but some readers have been comparing it to JEEPERS CREEPERS.