8.09.2005

Adaptation


I am writing a screenplay about a down-on-his-luck jazz musician whose parole officer forces him into running a dinner theater in a Central Florida senior's community. The biggest problem I'll have with my new masterpiece, mark my words, is its unapologetic Originality, which simply isn't done in this town. Unless of course you're Charlie Kauffman, Wes Anderson or The Cohen Brothers, in which case you get a passer because you scare people.

One little detail they'll probably leave out in film school is how nobody in Hollywood wants to make anything new, not no way, not no how. Oh, you can write your brilliant, quirky original spec script--as a matter of fact you must, and you best keep them coming, too, to even be considered for Scream 4. "We absolutely loved your spec," they'll coo when you come in for a sit-down. "Of course it's not for us." Or, my personal favorite, and I quote, "Well, it's the kind of film I'd like to see, but we'd never make it here. What we're looking for is a new Ashley Judd vehicle. Ideas?" You mean there's more than one?

This is one of the few instances where these folks will not be out and out bald-faced lying to you during these mysterious pow-wows, evidenced to the tune of several billion dollars by way of their own summer releases. The major studios put out only one summer movie--Wedding Crashers--that wasn't either a sequel, a remake, or based upon a comic book, a cancelled TV series or a sci-fi novel made into a famous radio play by Orson Welles. The War of The Worlds, it's worth noting, is also a re-make of a more recent box office smash called Independence Day; while Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a re-make of the film based upon the book, neither one exactly an antique.

What's particularly confusing is when they call you in to talk about what you'd do with That Sweet Little Foreign Film they've recently acquired. "I wouldn't do anything with it," you want to tell them. "I like it just how it is." But it's subtitled, they'd reply distastefully, as if smelling a bad cheese. Let's you and me crush it to a fine pulp and feed it to the drooling masses through a communal straw. That's basically how it went when somebody called me in to meet about a German film called Mostly Martha. It's a charming tale of an uptight Hamburg chef whose world explodes when her late sister's grieving daughter is foisted upon her. "She wouldn't have to have a daughter in the re-make," the producer tells me. "I don't get it," I say. "That's what it's about, besides, you know, making the perfect souffle."

I also got called in to give "my take," as they call it, on a best-selling book called Good Grief. It's about a young widow re-building her life after her husband's sudden death during his daily jog. Moonlight and Valentino! I shout, Jeopardy- style. The producer blanches. I tell her that's the exact plot of a fairly recent movie written by Neil Simon's daughter and starring Jon Bon Jovi as the love interest known only as "The Painter," as in kitchens and bathrooms. It tanked at the box office, I inform her. But, hey, Jon sure has a nice ass hanging from all that scaffolding.

"You are never, ever to bring up a flop during a meeting!" my Very Supportive Manager later chastises me. If I must, I can safely compare anything to Shakespeare in Love , Legally Blonde or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, even if none has a thing in common with the project at hand. "You'll just have to come up with something," she says. "That's what you're there for." I make a mental note of this, and also to fire her when I get more money and power. On a side note, Julia Roberts is eventually cast in this film, at which time I'm told I've been taken out of the running. I'm not sure the correlation here, but I guess now the script has to actually be good in order for her to quit yakking to Oprah about little Hazel and Phinneas's fascinating morning poops and get her ass back to work before she ages out of the whole deal.

I don't know what it is about pre-existing material, but it seems to make the suits more secure just having something with a pretty cover to display on their desk--even in the event it makes no sense and didn't sell well to begin with. I was once given this flimsy little paperback called I'm Fine, which allegedly offered a tip a day for "The First Hundred Days After A Break-Up," but was really just a hundred bizarre, non-sensical meanderings you'd expect from your most unbalanced friend. So what's your take on this?" the producer asked in the grave tone of someone inviting my thoughts on the hunger problem in Niger. "Are you interested in optioning an Internet blog?" I wanted to query. "Mine has words in it. Sentences, too, no extra charge."

Today, I've been reading this novel they're looking to adapt about a woman who wants to leave her husband, but not before finding him a new wife. It was sent to me by the producers of America's Funniest Home Videos. No, I am not kidding--maybe they're looking for something meatier for Bob Saget to do over there. There's not a whole lot to the story, but hey, Hollywood likes things thin. You could probably sell an option on something you've read on a matchbook, "Girls, Girls, Girls on Sunset Strip, We Never I.D." Bring in some Loser Film School Grad to flesh the thing out--and hey, how complicated could that be--and we're half-way to a new Showgirls franchise. Say something along the lines of Shakespeare in Love , Legally Blonde and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

3 comments:

  1. For my last project, virtually every big and small distributor looked at our movie and said something like, "I love the movie. It's not really like anything I've seen before. I don't know how we're going to make any money on it. I don't know how we'll sell this thing. Sorry." We've gone to self distribution.

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  2. Also, while I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of WEDDING CRASHERS (the final half hour was brutal) it really is nothiing more than a plugging in the greatest hits from other recent comedies and blending it together and serving it as something original.

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  3. They said the same thing to Mel Gibson regarding that little Jesus movie of his, who also went to self-distribution before it went and made more than "Titanic". I guess it helps to have The Lord on your side and all.

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