Eddie Murphy Connection, Part 3

The day after I posted my EM Connection, Part 2, I was watching TV with my wife around 8 PM here in Hawaii when the phone rang. On the television screen, I saw the Caller ID: WME with a 310 area code. It took a couple of more rings for it to register. William Morris Endeavor, L.A., one of the biggest agencies in the entertainment business. Yep, this was a result of my Eddie Murphy contact that I’ve been blogging about. And it was in regards to a mini-treatment I had sent to my contact a week earlier.

The next hour I spent on the phone pretty much sums up my experiences over the last 15 years of screenwriting — which you may find discouraging or give you reason for hope, depending where you’re at in your personal timeline of trying to break into the TV or movie biz (or any other kind of artistic pursuit, for that matter). So let me quickly recap what happened prior to that call.

Long ago, I did freelance copywriting for a guy I met in Hawaii named James Arceneaux, who got into the music business, moved to L.A. and then wrote TV series pitches for him that sparked some interest among the Pointer Sisters (he was living with Anita Pointer) but didn’t get any traction with his other entertainment contacts. One concept was called REHAB, based on my personal experiences with recovery — this was before reality TV shows like A&E’s Intervention or Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab on VH1. Another was set in a Vegas pawn shop, where the Pointer Sisters characters worked during the day while pursuing their dreams of musical success by singing in lounges and casinos at night — this was before CSI and other series came along that used Sin City as their backdrop, and long before the reality show Pawn Stars became a huge hit on the History Channel.

James and I also developed another TV series drama concept that was really good… and I won’t tell you what it is, because that one is back in play now through the WME agent I talked to on the phone. It just goes to show that perseverance is everything, especially in an industry with such a short term memory and faddish mentality. You have to be prepared to keep your head in the game for the long haul. It might be five, ten, fifteen years before you get the call or email that changes your life. So if waiting that long is going to deter you, might as well pack it in now.

Anyway, about three or four years ago, I got a call from James, telling me he was now Eddie Murphy’s personal assistant. I’m not exactly sure how that came about, but I recall that James used to golf with Arsenio Hall (a good friend of Eddie’s) and other celebs when James was one of singer Bobby Brown’s managers. Of course, I tried to get James to pitch some of my movie ideas to his new boss, but he seemed reluctant to broach the subject since he hadn’t been working for Eddie that long. However, he did tell me Eddie was looking for a heist script and he wanted to play a character who was “smart” in some ways, but also a fish out of water… you know, like in TRADING PLACES and BEVERLY HILLS COP.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any clever ideas for heist plots/characters at that time. So I forgot all about it, until this past year when I read that Eddie and Ben Stiller had teamed up to make the TOWER HEIST movie. I kicked myself for not listening to James and really working harder to come up with something he could show Eddie. Jump cut to a month ago, when I get another unexpected call from James with another concept for a movie… which I can’t divulge since we’re getting a little heat on it.

Basically, James laid out his idea in broad strokes, adding that he had been talking to producer Brian Grazer — Ron Howard’s partner at Imagine — and director Brett Ratner about movies, and even got some screenwriting tips from them on what they look for in a script. Interestingly, the first thing James said was NOT to write actor-specific parts for Eddie or anyone else if we were going to try and get Grazer to read it. I thought those heavy hitters were all about packaging, but Grazer told James they would prefer to read scripts that weren’t tailored to individual stars because it gave them more flexibility and options. That makes sense. It also freed me up to create characters without having to worry whether so-and-so would want to play that part or not.

There were problems with the concept James came up with though. Namely, it was kind of derivative — in a good way. His instincts were on the money, but the trick was spinning the premise and adding enough twists to make it feel fresh and different. So I contacted another writer I’ve collaborated with in the past to see if he was game for this spec project. No guarantees, no money upfront. Just a chance for us to get our writing in front of my buddy’s contacts — like Grazer, Ratner, possibly Eddie, or maybe Eddie’s people, such as his team at powerhouse WME.

Using Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet approach, we came up with a story outline. Then we wrote a six-page mini-treatment to send James to see if he felt we were on the right track before we attempted to write any script pages. Didn’t hear back anything for a week, so I hit him up with an email. James called and said we had nailed it — his ideas were in there, plus we had come up with some cool stuff that would differentiate our project from other similar movies that were being pitched around town. So he sent it to his agent friend at WME and was going to meet with an A-list actor, who is building a new house down the street from Eddie’s place.

Sheesh… I’m at a thousand words into this post, and still haven’t gotten to the phone call details! Well, looks like there will be a Part 4 coming up. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Today I’m feeling extremely grateful… although I still haven’t made that big script sale or gotten any of my stuff produced yet, I have reason to believe all my effort and work hasn’t been in vain. If just one person believes in your talent and has faith in you — whether it’s someone like James, a rep or your significant other — then you’ve accomplished something that’s worth being proud of. Thanks for reading my long, rambling missives. Now get back to writing!

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