I soon received a message left on my answer machine. It was from a development exec at Cruise/Wagner, inquiring about another action screenplay I had written and upon hearing of my connection to the Die Hard series, they were curious to read what else I had in my desk drawer. Once the folk at C/W had read my script and after several discussions with me and my Venice-CA-based agent, I was asked if I could place Tom Cruise's character from the Mission: Impossible films into this action script of mine. Of course I could! The original script was entitled 'Breakneck' and had a CIA Operative chasing down an ex-girlfriend, who was also a former spy, who was blowing up wonders of the world, trying to gain his attention, but causing extreme tension between China and Russia instead. The ex-girlfriend was more than a little scorned. It was mentioned in the UK film magazine Total Film that John Cusack was circling the project. I'm dubious about that, but who knows. I re-worked 'Breakneck' to fit Tom's Ethan Hunt and the IMF Team. I'm such an admirer of Emilio Estevez that I set the story as a prequel to the first film, bringing back Emilio's character. I received message from Emilio a month or so ago. Apart from what veggies he's recently harvested, he said he thought he was much more believable than Ving Rhames as a computer hacker MIT nerd and that Tom was bummed 'they' killed him off! I wanted to bring him back.
When 9/11 occurred, action movies were pretty put on hold, with people questioning what entertainment was. I mean, whatever your thoughts are, conspiracy or alternative theories or emotional heartache overload, you can't disagree that the events of that day played out like a Hollywood disaster movie. In fact, in one of my M:I:3 drafts, I had a light aircraft crash into the Statue of Liberty! It was a very exciting time. I recall my script and the movie was being discussed with Ang Lee, who left to do The Hulk. I heard Darren Fincher was going to helm the movie, then Oliver Stone! Amazing talents. It eventually went to Joe Carnahan, with Scarlet Johansson and Kenneth Branagh on board, too. After another stab at the screenplay, this time whacking in human organ trafficking, Ethan Hunt getting married, speedboat chasing down the Zambezi River and seeing my name with the awesome Frank Darabont's on IMDB, the project and indeed myself, were placed on hold. Embargoes and NDAs aside, I was told the agent I had wasn't powerful enough. I was also told my agent had ruined certain aspects of a potential deal for me. I was in London. Everyone else in California.
Every few months or so, my agent would ask me to send out a few Dollars to cover faxes, post and stamps, etc. Was this normal practice? I had no idea. I'd oblige and pop a fifty in the post. This was before the days of emailing a script. There was no 'convert to PDF' option for me. There was no fancy Final Draft software for me. It'd write a script in MS Word, tabbing five times for a character's name and then tabbing 3 times to type their dialogue, printing it all out on special US sized paper, three hole punching them, getting the beige card for a cover and binding them with three brass fasteners. I then FedEx'd the beautiful looking screenplay across the pond and it cost a fortune each and every time!
I honed my craft by reading other people's screenplays, watching more, reading forums, despite being instructed not to read certain ones. The feeling I had when I first called up Fox eighteen months or so earlier started to creep back inside me. My agent would never once get me work, arrange any meetings, discuss me with any producers or studios. He'd simply send out a script to those who I got in touch with beforehand, with a cover note saying 'per your recent correspondence with my client, please find enclosed the screenplay 'x'. The racing heart pumping frustration kicked in and I instructed my agent to send scripts to certain talents who had their own production companies, saying I had written 'x' Screenplay especially for them. Jennifer Love Hewitt at Love Spell, Drew Barrymore at Flower Films, the list would go on. Somebody had to bite. I would email 'x' who would then agree to read 'x' if my agent sent 'x' to them. Fed Ex sent scripts to my robotic agent who would then send them on to whomever. After several of these, I decided to part company. I was doing all the work! I wondered if a manager would be any different. I thought I'd find out and so, after an extremely bizarre experience consisting of much exhausting, excitement and confusion aplenty regarding the Die Hard 4 sequel (I had penned drafts to two very different Die Hard 4 stories. One had John McClane with his daughter in the Caribbean, battling it out on an island with violent wreck looters on the hunt for Nazi Gold. The other had the famed character back in the Nakatomi Corporation, but this time in Japan, where his son was working. McClane visits his son and discovers his boss and the company are Yakuza. The former, for some reason, gained the most press attention. My own father was in that line of work and had some very McClane-esque experiences of his own, so I base a lot of my work on his policing and intelligence service working life.
I acquired a manager, who I think contacted me first. I went to LA to sign with him and stayed a while, making some great friends, but once again, he never got me work or any meetings or bigged up any of my scripts. I was doing all the correspondences myself. Agents of actors liked my screenplays, but they weren't selling! I didn't understand. I'd set up meetings myself and wondered what I was doing with this characters, who seemed better suited in an episode of Arrested Development than anywhere else. I'd gain my own writing jobs, uncredited, without advice, but carrying out work doing 'quick-fix-sign this NDA' rewrites. 'Untitled Teen Comedy Sequel', 'Untitled Extreme Sports Action Thriller', I even managed to get a Western to Robert De Niro at Tribeca, which I had written for him and Hugh Grant. I pitched it as 'Lethal Weapon meets Unforgiven' and apparently De Niro thought it to be quite funny. It wasn't intended to be funny at all, but if Robert De Niro thinks so, then quickly so did I! I thought acquiring an Entertainment Attorney would supersede the agent and manager I had previously, but he, too, would turn out much the same. Was I destined to have poor representation? To this day, I still don't have any. Each one actually told me to stay away from the main agencies like WMA, ICM, CAA and UTA. Maybe they had a gripe with them when they worked for them and thus set up on their own, I don't know. As I was writing for certain talents, actors and even directors and getting scripts directly to their reps and gaining their interest in such a way that some wanted to attach themselves to certain projects of mine, I asked myself this: What was I? A writer / producer? Oh dear.
Stay tuned for part 3 – More Stories from the Trenches and What's Next...