Sometimes they come easy. Sometimes not so much. While I can't remember this project being titled anything but Straight Razor Jazz and maybe Denmark, I found an old email where I listed some possibilities pre-SRJ:
A DECENT DEAD MAN HOTEL SHADOW DENMARK (Humphery Denmark, friends call him Den. Now in the script as Abraham Denmark) SHADOW MAN NIGHTFALL HOTEL MURDERING A DECENT MAN MURDER AT THE NIGHTSHADE HOTEL GENERIC LOCAL LOCATION NAME
Kind of old school, but snoozers, right?
This is a quote from an email to SS from me.
"I don't see doing a ton of drafts on this. I think it'll be important to write fast and keep a certain energy in the script, think Jazz and not math."
How appropos. Sometimes they're right in front of you.
We debated about keeping the word "Jazz" in the title. You know, cuz, people might think it's a style of music and this would lead to vertigo or some shit. But SS came up with a winner in how to incorporate "jazz" into a whole new meaning in the script. F'in brilliant. And now when people ask AM our savvy producer about what it means, he's got a nice zinger.
Scott Storm (director) and Anthony Miller (producer) are the worst movie industry people in the world to work with.
First: they paid me. Second: they treated me with respect. They treated the work with respect. Third: they made me a full partner. Fourth: they're doing everything they said they would do to get the project going. And thus far are doing it according to schedule.
WTF? I'm a writer.
I'm supposed to hike my skirt up in gratitude. It's a Brave New World, kids... and about fuckin time. This time last year I was enjoying a self imposed hiatus from writing. It's been a shitty long winter and AWOL Blues had just been dropped two weeks before the hiring of a casting director (yet another blog). So I spent my spring and summer learning the bass guitar. Joined a band. Gardened. Started making my own BBQ sauce (Smokey Bee and RedEye Jack). You know, living life like a regular person.
Until I got an email from SS. SS is a kick-ass filmmaker out of LA whom I met on the festival circuit in 2006. We'd kept in contact as we dug each other's work. (The year before SS asked me to do a "polish" on a script he'd optioned. Well, that turned into a half page one rewrite and a massive rewrite. All for free, cuz, well, I dig him and the project.
Unfortunately he was unable to renew the option.) I remember it being a very simple process, getting started on this gig. Well, the process is always more involved than you remember it, but the simplified version is SS had a kernel for a thriller, but already had a writer down in Texas. He said he had some doubts about the project there and I told him to keep me in the loop. And, of course SS is a smart man. I'd get a few crumbs here and there. Just enough line and bait to keep me coming back. I pitched some ideas for fun.
They liked them. Hell, I liked them.
Finally, it came back that that writer was not going to work out. They came back and said I was the guy. I was on hiatus and said make me an offer. They did. Full partner. And before I received my first payment they sent me a little bonus check.
This is not how this is supposed to happen. You're not supposed to be treated with respect and paid for your time like this. And serendipitously my buddy Joe Reno called and said get your ass out here, I'm house sitting in Venice. A brief conversation with E and my boss and I bought a plane ticket for a week of sunny beach side writing. One week. A full outline and the first thirty pages. Living the dream. And my producers paid for my airfare and the dinner check. And trust me there were a lot of Cadillac Margaritas on there.
And because of this attitude, I delivered the best script of my life.
Let's talk about another script. We'll call it The Hanging Man.
THM is a script that was pitched to me post wrap of my first feature. I was hired to write a treatment for a treasure of the sierra madre/killer in the woods type mash-up. The treatment was originally called Equinox. I liked it well enough, but I've never been good at writing or interested writing that gang of stupid college kids. But as my good buddy DC says, everything is an experiment. Give it a shot.
The treatment was received well enough, but a killer in the woods and treasure story are a little harder to balance than you think. Nothing moved forward.
Flash forward a couple of years. Said producer emailed and wanted to make a movie dammit. Three characters in the woods, shoestring budget, damn the torpedos. Cool. It's time for Action! I brought in my buddy Don Grail who excels in the action genre and we set out to outline a cool little movie.
After a few drafts of the outline and many cell phone minutes and back and forths we were given the greenlight to write the thing. We did and I was very pleased with the first draft, knowing it needed a bit of work but finding some really cool gruesome scenes. Something I think the genre fans would be very pleased with. And there was some great MOVIE dialogue. Cool, gritty one-liners. I knew our producer would love it.
So we submitted the script. (and I think our own rewrite notes).
Finally, Don called and got into an awkward conversation with the producer. He hated it. Was completely disappointed.
There wasn't anything in there that wasn't in the outline.
Nine months later we get the call/email that the script is back on and is looking for a rewrite. There was a deadline too. Over the holidays. Now we had long since passed our obilgation to do a rewrite, but this is a business of relationships. I can't remember what happened next, but eventually we gave our blessing for the producer to find someone else to do the rewrite based on our notes and then we'd do a quick dialogue polish-- that's where I'm money (actor bait=actors=financing).
I think that was two years ago. Maybe a year and a half ago. No longer is this a shoestring. No longer am I being considered to direct. We've given notes a few times on the new drafts. Not sure any of mine were ever incorporated. Which makes the demand for a quick turnaround on notes a little irritating. Also, one of the more unique scenes was removed. Sadly. No faith.
Finally, having read the last draft I again offered my services to do a polish. It's my name on the piece and I'll be damned if it's not going to have something left of mine. Besides the rewrite guy is good. The action reads like a dream, but again with Character and Dialogue I'm money (actor bait=actors=financing). A lot of the awkward emotional beats and transitions can be fixed with dialogue beats. You can also 3D the characters up. Make them capable of surprises.
The offer for said polish was accepted. With a loose understanding that it would only take a few days.
Well, that was a few weeks ago. I received a draft to start polishing and was then told to HOLD. Said producer is expecting coverage from two coverage giving places and he suspects another rewrite. Not sure why the rush to go to coverage with a script in obvious need of a polish.
There's such a thing as a script being over developed and that's what I fear has happened here. Too many notes, tweaky things back and forth. And I'm still not sure the spine of the thing works. The two genres as written seem a little incongruent for a 90 minute movie. Some of the sequences rock, but overall I'm not convinced it holds water.
Sadly, this little genre project has been around for 3 1/2 years without ever leaving the starting block. Except for "coverage" which I can tell you what they're going to say.
It hasn't been as bad as AWOL BLUES which due to the nature of the story and current events had to evolve into its current form. And in the end, the script has been a small blessing (this will be another blog).
I take that back. AWOL was hell. A personal writing hell.
But I guess the attention and meetings it's gotten me and my co-writer Mark Glinski (brought in to help with a page one rewrite after many drafts) some very cool meetings and open doors (Joel Schumacher, Jeremy Garelick) and was probably the script that got me the next gig... (and another one SELMA). Guess we got out of that hell. Thanks, Smelly.
But all this THM nonsense is balanced out by the ease and dream experience of working on
A lot of you have been asking for this (there's my first lie right there).
I'll be updating as frequently as I can regarding the growing number of projects that seem to be heating up. I wish I'd done this for AWOL Blues, as that script just keeps coming back up like bad Mexican. Actually, that one is more bittersweet. Hangman... now that's a script that won't go away.
Updates soon on the following:
Selma Straight Razor Jazz Hangman Adam Prophet The Fountain AWOL Blues xoxo DSH