Writing a 120 page screen play, spending months on it, then just dumping it in a box. That my friends is crazy!
Sadly I have done this a dozen times in my life.
These are the memories that began pulsing through my brain as I stumbled across just such a box in the attic, the other day.
I was looking for a suitcase, and I was moving stuff around and then I saw it. There in the back under an old printer and some Christmas decorations. To my eyes it sort of glowed an eerie green as if it was encasing plutonium. I stared at the box full of hope, the box of frustration, the box that simply said: Andy’s Screenplays.
“Wow,” I exclaimed to myself.
The memories started swirling in my cerebellum.
I pulled open the top and memories begin to cascade across my frontal lobe.
I slowly reached into the box, pushing some cob webs away with my fingers. I found a yellowing manuscript, stained with a smattering of mouse droppings, and pulled it out.
Like exhuming a body from a crypt, I heard a vacuous sound of air and time and energy escaping.
I half way expected the crazy lady from Poltergeist to pop out of the corner wearing a Jason mask and scream “Here’s Johnny”
The screenplay was held together with brass pins pushed through 120 pages of paper. The edges were tattered, but it was still together. I remember the painstaking effort of collating the pages and cramming the manuscript into a 3-hole-punch, 10-pages at a time. Freaking laborious, that’s what it was.
As I stared at the soiled copy of Deadline in my hands, I recalled all the story boarding I did on pieces of note book paper scotch taped together and hung on the wall above the monitor so I cold see the path of the story. I remembered mapping out the plot twists at page 28 and then again at page 90. I remember day dreaming about character arcs and protagonists and love interests.
I wrote some of these scripts on something called a type-writer. Maybe some of you were alive when that’s all we had to write on, beside papaya leafs. Hell, my kids don’t even know what the a type writer is. Ah the joy of white out and erasable ribbons?
As I began to open the screenplay, I felt the weight of the manuscript in my hands. It was solid, and represented much more than the few pounds it weighed. I began to think about the Herculean effort it takes to write 120 pages, especially back in the day when Microsoft was only a glimmer in Bill Gates’ mind. If you wrote 120 pages of anything back then, you really had something to say, or you were in between Star Wars conventions.
I smiled as I read the first page.
That was me. Always needing to express myself. Always wanting to write.
As I reached deeper into the box, pulling out screenplays with titles like Static Charge and Block Ten and White Boy, I thought about how much energy I put into this box. To me, seeing these old manuscripts was like falling into the gold mine of my mind.
As I stared into the treasure trove of words, I wondered whether it was crazy to dedicate so much creative ferocity to any single endeavor. Screen play after screen play piled in the box. So much hope in these pages, so many desires in these words. Not to mention thousands of hours of writing and re-writing stories that my wife and a few select co-workers might read, but then again, might not.
In the movie Misery, James Caan was a writer who finished his book and then celebrated with a cigar and special drink. It was a special moment that deserved a special celebratory gesture.
Honestly, when I finished writing my stories, I was always a little sad, because the project was now out of my control. For months I wrote. I wrote what I wanted, when I wanted. I let the characters take me farther down the page. Sometimes I didn’t even know what the characters were going to do or say. It was exciting, sort of like writing these words now.
Night after night I wrote until my eye lids closed. Morning after morning I wrote, waking up before the rooster crowed, sometimes writing when I should have been heading into work.
I was in control. I wrote and re-wrote. The world was a playground of imagination. As my brain thought the thoughts, my fingers banged out the rhythm of the story, beating the keys like a drum in an ancient tribal celebration honor the right of passage.
But when I typed “The End” it was only the beginning. The beginning of frustration and uncertainty and ultimately rejection.
The obvious question was always, could I get an agent to read it? Sometimes I had trouble getting my wife to read it. Asking someone to read 120 pages of anything is a lot to ask.
What had been joy, suddenly became work. What to do with it now? I can’t just throw it in a box, can I?
Nope. And that always began the tedious and hated ritual of writing the perfect query letter designed to catch an agent’s eye. The query had to explain who I was, why I was different than all the other writers dreaming the same dream, and ultimately it had to tell them what the story was about.
Was it unique? Was the story line in Hollywood Vogue?
Predicting this part of the equation was like trying to figure out which way a humming bird was going to dart.
If I was lucky, I would get a letter inviting me to send the manuscript. That was usually reason to celebrate. But it also intensified the feelings of hope and desire and potential looming despair.
Then, a few weeks later, the infamous form letter arrived. It was thin, and average looking. No fancy graphics or trumpets blaring to signify success. Just a limp ass bulk mailed rejection letter that reeked of evil.
“Dear Andy, after reading Dead line, we regret to inform you….blah blah blah.”
The remaining two paragraphs are standardized dreck. Sort of like frozen fried egg rolls left in old grease at a frat house.
So what to do with 120 pages of rejection. Well you can’t just toss it. You spent way too much of your life on it. Maybe you ask another friend to read it. Probably not. So it starts out on the desk, taking up space. It stares at you, haunting you, questioning your manhood. After a few weeks of this, you move the screenplay to the side table. It is still in the room, but it can’t thumb its nose at you as easily from this location. A few more weeks pass and you don’t even know where the manuscript is. Then you look down and laugh because it is under your beer serving as little more than a thousand -hour -to -create beer coaster.
So eventually, the screenplay that brought you hope and dreams and ultimately kept water marks from staining your furniture, finds its way into a box, that ends up sealed like Al Capone’s vault in some subterranean basement.
Well here we are, a decade later, staring down into a box of memories and fears and hopes and dreams.
Waste of time? Not really. I feel pride in the fact that I had the guts, the fortitude to write them in the first place.
I thumbed through the slightly brittle pages.
“Damn! Someone should sample these,” I mumbled to myself.
That someone is you.
For the hell of it, I have copied and pasted the first few pages of Deadline.
This is the first screenplay I ever wrote. I composed it while I was living in Eastern North Carolina. I was only out of college a few years and I was one wild ass son of a gun back then.
The first ten pages of this screen play are taken from an actual news story I covered, where a bank robber shot and killed the Sheriff and then took hostages at a bank. I was the first newsman on the scene. I owned this bad boy, for at least a couple of hours till the Network dudes showed up.
For what it’s worth; I was once told that if an agent doesn’t get excited by a screenplay in the first ten pages then he is not going to get excited by it at all.
Perhaps that is why there are mouse droppings on this copy.
Hope you enjoy:
EXT. COUNTRY ROAD — DAY
SUPER: EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA 1990
A white station wagon is zipping in and out of traffic on a narrow, country highway.
The vehicle is covered with colorful news logos bearing the call letters: WITX TV 8: NORTH CAROLINA’S NEWS CONNECTION.
A multitude of antennas adorn the vehicle’s roof. It is passing slower vehicles at every opportunity. A police scanner can be heard over the frenzied roar of engines and wining tires.
INT. VEHICLE — DAY
VAN ALLEN is driving, fidgeting nervously and banging on the wheel.
Van is in his mid twenties. He’s rugged and handsome. He yells loudly at the slow moving traffic in front of him.
Red neck bastards! Get out the way!
EXT. COUNTRY ROAD — DAY
The news vehicle pulls into the oncoming lane of traffic and roars by slower cars. It pulls back into the lane just moments ahead of an oncoming farm machine. Sounds of car horns and screeching can be heard.
INT. VEHICLE — DAY
Van grips the wheel tightly with wide eyes. He mutters nervously to himself.
I gotta get me a desk job, man!
Just then, the news car’s two way radio blares over the confusion. A rough, deep voice is heard.
Base one news to unit eleven. Unit eleven come in.
Van sighs loudly reaching for the handset.
This is unit eleven.
Van, this is Harvey. How far are you from the location?
If these Carolina tobacco heads would learn to drive the speed limit, maybe I could make some time.
Listen son. This company will not tolerate speeding in station vehicles. You slow it down, understand?
Van rolls his head in disgust and throws the mic into the passenger seat next to him.
(shouts to himself)
EXT. COUNTRY ROAD — DAY
Van passes an older model pick up truck full of farmers. The dirty faces glare at him under soiled base ball hats. One of the occupants gives him the finger as he passes.Van laughs, looking up in the rear view mirror.
INT. NEWS VEHICLE — DAY
Just then, the two way radio crackles back to life.
Unit eleven! Van! Are you copying me, son?
Van picks up the mic.
I copy boss man, I copy. Unit eleven rockin and rollin. Clear!
EXT. EDGE OF TOWN — DAY
The news vehicle flies by a town marker that reads: WELCOME TO OAKMONT. CITY OF HISTORY. EST. 1789
EXT. TOWN — DAY
The road leading into town is lined with a row of small, yet well maintained homes.Van is still driving hard.
EXT. POLICE PERIMETER — DAY
Van encounters a group of police cars in the intersection. Officers are scattered about the street, hiding behind their vehicles and lying on their bellies in the dirt. Weapons of every size and caliber are drawn and aimed at the bank across from the square.The news vehicle screeches to a stop.
Van jumps out with his head low. He moves briskly around to the trunk, opens it, and begins setting up his tripod and antiquated news gear, consisting of a three tube Ikegami ENG camera and cumbersome record deck.
In a hurried tone, Van calls out to one of the sharp shooters nearest him.
What’s the latest troop?
A North Carolina State Trooper is on his stomach staring through a high powered rifle scope. His hair is cut short and his baseball hat on backward. He speaks in a thick, Southern accent.
It’s bad, boy. Sheriff’s all ready been shot and killed.
Now that crazy son-a-bitch’s got a hostage.
So much for the ribbon cutting, huh?
You ain’t lying, boy! Stay low.
CUT TO:P.O.V. CAMERA — DAY
Through Van’s black and white view finder we see various angles of the bank, the officers and their weapons.
EXT. POLICE PERIMETER — DAY
Suddenly a burst of gunfire from inside the bank rips through the silence. Shouts of anxiety from police officers echo off the centuries old brick buildings. Rifle shots ricochet all around. Lawmen return fire, breaking out numerous windows.Van grabs his gear, diving into the soft mud near the tire of his car. His equipment bangs loudly as he scrambles to resume videotaping the action. He smiles oddly.
(under his breath)
Van Allen. An engineer’s worst nightmare!
The gunfire ceases, for a moment. Lawmen reload their weapons and adjust their positions. Just then Van notices a large black SWAT truck entering the perimeter. Police units sealing off the outer perimeter roll back their squad cars allowing the SWAT vehicle access close to the bank. The truck stops, its doors burst open, and a squad of futuristically dressed SWAT members jump out. The group is wearing dark face shields and carrying commando style weapons.
The tactical unit quickly takes up strategic positions.Van pulls his face away from his view finder turning to the nearby trooper.
Who the hell invited the Darth Vader dance troop?
That’s the SBI’s new Incident Control Unit. Pretty boys if you ask me.
They’re so stylish, so sleek, Oh so, Eastern North Carolina.
The trooper stares a moment at Van and then shakes his head.
You’re a crazy Yankee, boy. Ain’t got all your faculties if you ask me.
The trooper spits out a long stream of dark chewing tobacco.
How many times do I gotta tell you? I’m from L.A. there’s no Yankees in L.A. We got Dodgers, we got Angels, we even have Raiders. No Yankees.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW HOW IT ENDS, I GUESS I HAD BETTER GET OFF MY BUTT AND SELL THIS THING.
Thinking about re-writing DEADLINE:
NOW THAT IS CRAZY!