Whenever I think about Hollywood I can't help but be reminded of that old Looneytoon cartoon where the desperate construction worker discovers a singing frog locked inside a "Pandora's box" buried in the rubble of a demo'd building. After he opens the box, the frog appears. It dons a top hat, cane, and starts belting out a version of "Mammy" that would bring tears to your eyes. The construction worker literally sees dollar signs floating around his brain. He quits his job and takes the frog to every agent and producer in town. Problem is, the frog just won't sing for anyone but the construction worker. In the end, the guy gets drunk, and ditches the frog. So much for the dream of getting rich and famous in Tinseltown. But hey, that's showbiz folks.
Like my guest blogger today, bestselling indie author and all around super-talented young man, CJ West, I too have had my share of Hollywood close shaves. The first came when my novel As Catch Can (now THE INNOCENT) was first published by Delacorte Press back in 1999. It got reads from Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, DeNiro, and other top tier actors. The most promising reads however were coming from DreamWorks who read the original script, then the galley and finally the finished book. My agent at the time told me to "keep you phone on you all weekend, bro, cause we're gonna get a deal." I did keep the phone on. It didn't ring. DreamWorks never made an offer. Life went on.
Some months later in NYC, said agent tossed a copy of Variety or some sort of Hollywood rag in my face. "Hey bro," he says, "Oh ah, I've been sort of writing my own script on the side and jeeze, wouldn't you know it, I scored big. And ah, hope you don't mind, but I used one of your titles!" My own agent sold his own freakin' script for 600K to Kevin Spacey when I was paying him to sell mine, and the SOB had the coyones to lift one of my titles. I almost decked him right there in his Broadway office. Oh well, later on the deal fell through and the option ran out and so did said agent. Word up is he's on the run from the FBI for extortion. Hey, you can't make this stuff up if you were writing a grade B script for...well...you know the town...
But that's show biz folks.
Here's how CJ West is about to make his mark on the movie scene, and it's got nothing to do with slick agents and false promises. It's got everything to do with his talent:
My Hollywood Rollercoaster Ride
In October 2008 I received a Myspace message that made me stand up, pace around my office, and consider that my writing life had changed forever. I Googled “Marla Cukor” and discovered she was an award-winning journalist who worked for In Touch Weekly and wrote short films that starred actors whose names I knew.
You might think I’m easily excited and you might be right, but this was big news.
By the time Marla optioned my book Sin & Vengeance for film, I had been writing every day for nine years. I wrote because I was addicted to the sheer joy of writing. Bestsellerdom was beyond my wildest expectations, but suddenly the idea of writing success was thrust upon me. What if the movie was made?
Marla’s offer to write a script that could bring my book to the big screen ratcheted me up the first hill on my rollercoaster ride one clink at a time, but the drop came quickly. Once the paperwork was signed, we talked about how the book would be adapted to the screen. The uninitiated might think the screenwriter simply takes the book and reformats it for the actors. (If you are curious about the process, I plan to blog about my experience sometime soon.) I wasn’t that naive, but I had no idea what Marla had planned until she started asking questions like, “What happens if we get rid of the money?” The money in Sin & Vengeance is a major subplot that ties much of the book together. I felt queasy after our first consultation. I owned the book, but Marla owned the screenplay. There were going to be changes. Big changes.
Luckily Marla wanted the screenplay to be true to the book and went to great lengths to capture the relationship between Randy Black and Charlie Marston. She dialed in while I visited two book groups so she could ask what elements of the book the women wanted to see on the screen. One of the book club members came up with an idea for a scene that is still in the script.
When Marla was done with her second draft, we brought together a focus group of readers who loved the book and were curious about the movie. They read the screenplay and came to my home with pages of notes. Marla listened to their ideas and the screenplay reached a new high.
The next hill came when we “went out” in Hollywood and got immediate interest. We waited and waited but the phone didn’t ring. Finally after a few months Marla told me about the owner of a small production company who previewed an early version of the script and loved it. I met with their director and approved an option to send the film into development. They weren’t a big Hollywood studio that could bring high impact special effects to my story, but they truly loved the script. A few months later they called to tell me they’d upped their budget from $1 million to $3.5 million. That meant better special effects, better actors, a better film. I was jazzed. All we needed was an investor with $3.5 million and I could watch a film based on my book.
Over the next two years we had a few close calls. Marla and I were asked to prepare material for interested investors. Respected directors expressed interest. Actors wanted to play Randy Black. With the film on the edge of being made, each piece of good news got my blood pumping, but in the end the pieces never came together and the option expired. Even though my ride had come to an end, the experience transformed the way I think about my writing. So many people invested their time and money in this project that I can’t help but be proud of what I created in Sin & Vengeance and hopeful that one of my future books may make the leap to the screen or even better, the bestseller lists.
A few weeks ago I got a call to let me know an “important” Hollywood producer was reading the script. It seems once you get on this ride you can’t get off, you’ve just got to learn to enjoy the breeze.For all things CJ WEST visit his official website!