How did this happen?
We wrote ourselves into that room.
I'm not a political person. At least in my writing. I seem to be more interested in personal issues such as survival, loyalty, redemption, half-realized dreams and whatever else they wrote in that profile of mine a few years ago.
That changed with the Iraq war, or police action or occupation. It took a while as I admit I was in that camp of I've read The Hot Zone or Cobra Event and I know Saddam's got the WMD. But now like everyone else, I know it was grade-A bullshit. This is what happens when you're just smart enough to be a danger to yourself and those around you.
So I decided to say something. I'd write a screenplay. And so I did: AWOL Blues.
But see that's-- now that I'm really thinkin about it the way it happened, that's not the spark point for the idea. Actually, I was contacted to pitch a small character drama for a director here in town. He mentioned he had a visual of sailors in Chicago and suddenly they're getting into a jam, those kooky sailors.
Well, I grew up with an ex-Marine father and didn't know squat about sailors, so I pitched the idea incorporating Marines and two locales the director had lived in, making it a small State-side version of Going After Cacchiato, a book I reference but only have read the book jacket thus far. It was a moment of inspiration where the whole thing fell into place. I typed up the outline, registered it online with the WGA and I pitched it with enthusiasm as if it was the only possible movie the universe would accept now and at the end of the pitch I pointed at the director and said, "and that's your fucking movie."
He smiled, said "wow."
At the end of the night, he said: I think we can make this happen." But it didn't. He balked at my quote and really wanted it to be about sailors.
Cut to: a year later, and I'm on the indie (ie B) film festival circuit with Hard Scrambled and am hearing nothing but BS about the war. My Hard Scrambled producer and I start talking about doing a political movie. I pitch him my idea. He liked the story, but sees students, not Marines, or kooky sailors. But I have a clear vision with the piece, so we agree to go our separate ways on the project and I go off and in a rare moment of "this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life," hole up in my hotel room between screenings and start writing the script.
Nine months later, my producer asks hows it going? (seems his Iraq movie script has stalled). I send him a rough draft. He says we have to do this. This is important and we have to do it. By hook or crook. Now.
But "now" as we all know in movie speaks, means "after a lengthy script development process, also known as Development Hell (actual term)." A year and half of frustrating rewrites and finally we get the script to a pretty solid point. It's a bit loose, but it's a road trip movie. I like it.
And then the Nov 06 elections change everything. People started resigning, and now my fresh script seemes very dated. So I cut more and more of the political outrage and make it more and more about the characters and add a personal dilemma as a result of the war. The process is painful and scream-worthy frustrating. My producer and I have a different sensibilities regarding a number of things, though he sends me book and documentaries and keeps the grist for the mill going.
I don’t remember the impetus (maybe I've blocked it), but after one particualr set of notes, I call my buddy Mark Glinski and cry, bitch, moan and groan and say I need fresh eyes and writing and we have to get this script turned around so we can shoot it now.
So I do that thing I've never really done. A Page One rewrite.
Mark and I take the essence of the script, the main character and cut the rest. The original structure had a marine going AWOL and his other marine buddies coming after him. We cut the posse and made it more about spiritual conflict, patriotism, and family. And add a chick. It could have been set in Vietnam, Korea, WWII. Once we have the spine in place we divided up scenes and write. Mark proves his worth as always and comes up with some great suggestions and some truly heart-breaking scene work. Even our producer with renewed enthusiasm add a few notes and suggestions I would call brilliant.
It was, I think a breakthrough as a writer for me, this script. And I think Mark would agree. We finalized our deal with the producer. Exciting. Did I mention I'm directing? Fuck yeah. Everyone who's read the script loves it. It's very, very solid. We're shooting ASAP, we're hiring a casting director, and once we get actors attached (I have some already interested in the supporting cast pool) the rest will fall into place. And we will quit our day jobs to do Something Important. Two weeks before we're to go wide with the script to land a casting agent, the producer drops the script.
Drops. As in don't quit your day job.
To be continued...