Monday, May 11, 2015

How I got a job and lost it.

I think I mentioned that I got a writer's job which began in January and ended last week. I didn't want to do too much blogging on it because I wasn't really crazy about it and I didn't like the producer.

But last week they fired me. In Hollywood the actual words are "We're going to try this with a new writer."

And I wasn't all that upset about it. For one thing, this was the first time in 35 years that I was let go. Really. Actually I even took over a few jobs from writers who were let go. 

So I'm not all that upset.

But I could have used the money. I did get some and it could be that I might get more as there are Writer's Guild of Canada issues. But I'll let you know what happens with that. WGC doesn't like it's writers to get pushed around, WGA will send out hit men.

So I'm not all that upset. At all.

So here's the sordid story.

In January an agent friend put me up for the job based on my screenplay, The President's Heart. It was a big, wide story sort of like The Bourne Identity. My story was about an alcoholic doctor in Paris has to go with a woman marine in a helicopter to rush a living heart to the President, who is a woman. 

The Black List regards it as this:

“The premise of a presidential heart transplant is strong and commercial. It takes a personal need with a ticking clock, and transforms into a global crisis with a journey at its center. It's a smart base for an affordable political thriller which still has worldwide stakes. Making the protagonist a doctor was an intelligent decision, and introduces a fish out of water element that always plays well in a thriller. The setting - a chase from Paris to Luxembourg - is perfectly commercial.”

Cool, eh?

So what did these guys want?

A family in the woods chased by two bad guys. Nobody else.

First thing is, there is no comparison between the two stories. Secondly the producer was a guy I dislike, in fact a lot of people disliked him. He always likes to get writers for free. In fact, once I caught him talking to someone on the phone that "we have a Canadian who will write the script for free." His name is Joe. That "Canadian" was me. And I didn't work for free.

I hadn't seen him for years but now he was with a new network called UPTV. And if you've never heard of this network it because it was originally a gospel network. 

So they wanted to make a story about killers chasing a family. 

My first reaction was "Is this okay with the gospel people?"

He said it "has to be UP-lifting? Get it? UPTV means UP-lifting stories".

Oh, and the family had to pray at dinnertime. Honest.

And the story about a family being chased by bad guys was familiar. It should be, Joe wanted this story years ago and I was that guy who was going to write it for nothing. Funny how things come around.

Joe was re-inventing the same old story.

So here I was, years later, with a guy I didn't like and a story I couldn't really figure out. The only real note Joe gave me was this; "It has to be uplifiting."

There were no other things to work with.

This was the beginning of what writers call "A writer-killer." 

I've had a few, they are usually people who have no real talent in anything, sort of middle-management types. And Joe was certainly that.

I wrote a couple of ideas. Nope, didn't like it. I wrote more ideas. Nope. 

I had one experience which I speak of often in this blog. It was in Luxembourg in 1998 where I was story editing a screenplay that someone else wrote. An exec-producer showed up and began telling me what to write. Most of it made no sense.

And I'm not being arrogant. In fact the VP at Paramount had asked me to go to Europe because I can fix scripts fast and good. 

So the exec-producer (it's a title for someone who doesn't really do anything on a movie) decided to cut 8 pages of dialog in which the female lead and I worked on for a week. I refused to make his changes that would leave her 2 pages.

You don't want to see an actor who has pull on the set learn that her chance to really act in 8 pages go down to 2 pages? No way!! She came on set and simply said "we're shooting Jim's pages."

And it was over.

But here I was, on a new project with a guy who likes to get writers to write for free. 

Continued on Friday May 16.

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