After writing a spec crime thriller that garnered unexpected excitement from my manager, I quickly tried to pull the script from a self-marketing site before anybody could see it and potentially throw a wrench into the suit’s plans. I wasn’t fast enough. (Read more in Part One)
I looked from the name on the caller ID to the name listed on the website of the person who’d viewed all the material — logline, synopsis, and script. They matched. Apparently I’d made an impression, because he’d only just read it that morning.
I answered the phone.
He was a young guy, full of energy, and very excited about Accessory. He was also an agent-in-training at one of the top Hollywood agencies, and was eager to pass the script along to his boss, but he wanted to check that it was still available, first.
“It’s all yours,” I said, trying to play it cool, but by that point I was speaking mostly in vowels, wandering around my office in dazed little circles. Was this actually happening?
It wasn’t until well after I’d hung up the phone that I remembered my entire reason for pulling the script off that site was to avoid blindsiding my manager and producer with something exactly like this. Yes, it had ended up a good thing, but it also meant I’d been out with the script on my own, which I didn’t think they’d like as much.
I called them up to come clean.
Turned out they’d already gotten the script to the head of the foreign sales department of another agency, and were in the process of working a couple of financier angles. They had so many irons in the fire they barely heard my story of the eager young trainee.
“Cool, fine. Just forward anybody who contacts you from here out to me so I can vet them,” was Suit 1.0’s response. “And take the script off that site.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Seemed I hadn’t torpedoed the entire project after all.
A few days after the calendar rolled over to 2011, I got an email from the young trainee. Notes on the script. Most were his own, a few had come down from the Big Shot Agent himself, who was intrigued, but wanted to see me handle the notes first.
I read them over. They weren’t bad. They made sense. Since I’d written this entire script off the cuff over the course of a few months, there were some logic holes and character inconsistencies. It happens, and wouldn’t take more than a couple days at most to address.
“Great, thanks!” I said. “I’ll tackle these right away!” I forwarded the email to Suit 1.0 to keep him apprised of what I was doing.
This is where things started to go a little sideways.
“I don’t want you talking to this guy,” said 1.0, of the trainee. “I don’t know what value he adds to the project. What does he want, to be a producer on it?”
“No, no. He just found the script online, liked me and my writing, and ran with it. I don’t think he wants anything.”
“There aren’t many good Samaritans in this business. He wants something.”
“I think this is just part of his training, finding and breaking in new writers. But he’s genuine. He’s not just giving me lip service, he likes this project. And he did get it to Big Shot Agent–”
“I know that agent too. We have lunch sometimes. I’ll talk to him myself. And ignore those notes.”
A screenwriter will get notes from literally everybody. You can’t address them all, and shouldn’t, but in this case, I agreed with the things the trainee had suggested. I felt they made a stronger script. On top of that, I liked him. It felt wrong to just cut him out of the game entirely. And I wanted to show Big Shot Agent what I could do, not send in my manager to talk for me.
So I revised the script, sent the trainee the new draft, and a week later I had an agent.
Regardless of what value Suit 1.0 thought the trainee brought to the project, I’d just signed with a major literary agency in the first year of my writing career, and I couldn’t thank him enough.
“Congrats, man, you deserve it,” he said. “Now get back to work. You’re big time now.” Yeah, I’d made the right decision.
Big Shot’s first order of business was to get Accessory optioned, put money in my pocket. By March, he’d hooked a former studio head who’d ventured out on his own and expressed interest in making Accessory one of his first independent films. I couldn’t believe how fast things were moving. And here I’d been worried that my meddling would somehow derail the project.
Then I heard from Suit 1.0. “We’ve tried to set up calls with him, but he blew us off both times. Not the sort of person we want attached!”
I still see that ex-studio guy’s name in the news from time to time. He puts out a hit movie about once a year, won an Oscar for one of them. I try not to think too hard about it.
Meanwhile, the producer got a fledgling production and international distribution company on board.
“They’re very excited,” he said. “They have some notes, but we’ll wait to worry about that until a director comes on and we start pushing forward.” He was pretty optimistic that we’d be going into production by the end of the year.
This was when the hunt for a director truly began, and the first name dropped belonged to the director of one of my all-time favorite horror films. Unfortunately, he was knee-deep in several other projects at the time and couldn’t commit, and subsequently vanished from the scene before he’d ever really arrived.
That’s okay, I reassured myself. This happens. It’s all part of the process. Just need to learn to temper my expectations.
Soon, Accessory was in the hands of fifteen directors. From up-and-comers to household names and award winners. Each new name lifted me to the stratosphere, each subsequent pass brought me crashing back down. I stopped even mentioning new developments to family and friends.
This roller coaster continued until August. That’s when Big Shot found a shiny new director and his producing partners who wanted to option the script for a significant sum — at least, significant as far as options go.
But it wasn’t Big Shot who brought me this news. It was the producer who’d been on the project from the start. I sensed something was wrong the moment I answered the phone.
“Listen,” he said. “It’s a strong offer. Big Shot wants you to take it. Of course he does, it’s money in your pocket — and his.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing,” I said. In a business where anybody can call themselves a producer and new writers are often offered one dollar and a kick in the shin for exclusive rights to their work, it was pretty tantalizing indeed.
“Of course not. Like I said, it’s a good offer. But the director’s only made one other feature. They screened it for me. It was awful. I mean, just bad.”
I already knew where this was going. My stomach was in my shoes.
He went on. “I’m not saying that he wouldn’t do a good job. But. Do you want to risk it? On top of that, the option period is a year. We could maybe talk them down to six months, but still, that’s half a year we could be on the market, looking for better attachments, make a great film. I absolutely love this thing, and I just want what’s best for it, and I don’t think this guy is. That’s my position. But it’s ultimately up to you.”
Easy choice, right? I’d have to be insane to turn down money, piss off my agent, walk right past an opportunity to become a produced writer, all on the hope that something better might be waiting further down the path.
But… what if?
“Alright,” I said to the producer, as I curled up into the fetal position on my kitchen floor. “Tell them it’s a pass.”
Sometimes I wonder if everything that’s happened since is just karma. But I try not to think too hard about that, either.
Fifteen minutes after turning down the offer, that young trainee’s name appeared on my caller ID again.
This time, I let it ring.