Saturday, October 15, 2011

Green Light

A long and fruitful meeting yesterday with the producer of the indy film I've written. One final swooping, balls-to-the-walls attack on the script and then we're off and running. He wants to 'get this thing moving.' Couldn't agree more. I discovered the budget was considerably more than I first anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise; a pleasant, intimidating surprise.

This entire project to date has been an extraordinary process for me in that I have only once before been commmissioned to write something not my original idea. That occurred in Kentucky long ago and involved American Indians singing showtunes so it's best to not think about it. Nonetheless, I was payed handsomely for it so all was not a total nightmare.

But this has been different. I got an opening shot, a vague idea of the relationships, a pervading theme...and that was it --- go. Quite an experience. The script, which is far from finalyzed, has undergone somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 drafts.

Once we nail down the shooting script (about two weeks, I'm guessing) we'll start searching for the perfect director and bring him on board for pre-pre-production meetings. And then I relinquish control of the writing and start concentrating on the acting (naturally I wrote myself into it). All tremendously exciting and new for me. This is Hollywood at it's most guerrilla.

Writing someone else's vision has, for me, not only been fascinating, it's also been an academic puzzle for me to solve. That is to say, anyone can say - and they often do - that they are a 'writer,' or a 'playwright,' or 'I write screenplays. And frankly, they're right - they (we) DO write these things. But to take another idea altogether, a vision not passionately owned and nurtured from genesis to splashy omega, well, that's a horse of a different color. I've had to actually, well, write. Not just try and make my fingers keep up with my brain, but actually write the damned thing. I have, over the past six months of living with this project, at times felt overwhelmed, underwhelmed, patronizing, fearful, superior, inadequate, and finally, just stubborn, sort of like a math jockey repeatedly assailing a singularly complicated formula on a chalk board and wiping it clean every now and then only to start over. The unexpected part of it was after the initial slight indifference (because it wasn't my idea to begin with) I actually became, against my will really, absorbed by it all. And because these were not my characters (some of them, anyway) I felt justified in making them not only ignoble but also felt no remorse in killing them off whenever I damn well felt like it.

When I first became a fan of John Irving, the novelist, in the early eighties, one of the things about his writing that struck me was the fact that he had no problem killing off his protagonists. No one was ever safe in his books. Just when the reader began to feel comfortable with a character, to understand to a certain degree the character's flaws and foibles and paradoxes, Irving would just up and kill him or her. He's a perpetually unpredictable writer and after my initial irritation with his distant and omnipotent approach, I grew to love and admire his work. Still do. I'd go so far to say that, in my opinion, he is our greatest living American writer, although I'm sure there a many who would disagree. But I honestly think so. He is our Dickens. The twists and turns of his plot manipulations boggle the mind. No scenario is too taboo for him. If the human heart can experience it, he can write about it. And often does. But not in an uncaring way; he is every bit as gentle and perceptive and detailed about, say, brutal, wire-hanger abortion as he is with confused, perplexing adolescent love. I adore his writing. And, like many of the writers I admire, he now and then writes a paragraph so perfect and beautiful as to take my breath away.

But I digress...

I'm off to Michigan for a week to shoot this new indy so I won't be able to work on the script for a bit. That's fine. The producer wants to do a line-by-line analysis and then give it back to me and take a last run at it. So he's got a week.

This is one of three writing projects being juggled at the moment for me. The other two are projects of the heart. And both are still in a positon to explode under the right circumstances. But unlike this one, they are a far cry from being 'green lighted.'

And the roosters are crowing in our little green acre of Los Angeles. It's dark out still but the edges of the morning are back lit by the sun and another day is taking unsuspected shape. I'm off to see a gaggle of six-year-olds play organized flag football this morning. Something tells me this is going to put me in a very good mood.

See you tomorrow.

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