Remember the literary legend about the six-word short story contest that boasted this Ernest Hemingway entry…
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.
The title of this post would have made a decent run at the money, don’t you think? Imagine the outrage and confusion from every corner of the spiritual groupthink had it been published. The more conventionally religious would be shattered with conflict; wanting to celebrate the existence of an afterlife only to discover that it’s just another loathsome, all-powerful institution laden with hypocrisy. It also begs explanation in a way that Hemingway’s entry does not. The baby has been lost – precisely how, is of little consequence. In the case of my story, how a person so clearly misguided can be rewarded with eternal happiness burns us to our very core. There would be demands for the author’s head, or at the very least, a sequel to put things right. Because putting things right is what audience’s want, and regardless of our religious, social or political subscriptions, when it comes to movies, we all tend to agree on how that sort of thing should go. Interesting, don’t you think?
Well, I did. Which is why I wrote Welcome to Cydonia. It shares a lot in common with my six word short story, but it should really be nine words…
Man kills family, goes to heaven, finds justice waiting.
Something of an afterlife revenge story, isn’t it? The biggest twist is in the premise, and there are quite a few others woven into the guts of the narrative. It’s rich in paranoia, long on fantastical elements, and chock full of entertaining dread. What I like the most about it, though, is its tone. It’s full of sophisticated black humor. Think Rosemary’s Baby meets It’s a Wonderful Life. I produced a pitch video for it for a contest (another one that I didn’t win), and you can check it out here if you like.
So why am I writing about it now? Great question. One answer is that I recently did a polish on it and punched it up a bit. It’s tighter, funnier, more suspenseful, and the action, I believe, is more intensely felt thanks in part to a terser, more immediate descriptive style. Another reason is that it’s really good. I don’t often say that, as normally such a subjective statement should be rightfully ignored. But fuck all that, I’m saying it. It’s just about the best screenplay I’ve ever read, let alone written. The characters are large yet unique, the plot drives like a Bimmer at Nürburgring, and it would rather self-destruct in your hand than resort to cliche. It’s a fun, fresh thriller with horror elements that, if made well, could easily distinguish itself among critics and audiences alike. At least one Hollywood agent thought the same. The memories of those three or four phone conversations still swim around in my head like Sea Monkeys in a mason jar (had Sea Monkeys lived up to the promise of their package illustrations and not turned out to be the kind of shrimp you can’t even dunk into a dollop of cocktail sauce).
So why was my awesome script never dipped? I may never know. Which is positively haunting in the worst way because it’s the kind of haunting that can slowly transform a fledgling writer into a bitter old bore holding court at his local pub and tearing apart other people’s successes over his third glass of gin. Is Hollywood a risk averse cauldron of middling talent boiling over a festering pit of caustic nepotism? Of course it is, with bad plastic surgery to boot. But you have to find something they want now before you can give them something to try later. The thing is, I can’t. Every time I try and write something marketable and commercial, this is what comes out:
Genre: dark comedy, fantasy
Logline: A bitterly dysfunctional family suffers a car accident during their annual search for a Christmas tree. While in comas, they magically unite to decorate it, resolving their issues with darkly funny tales that reveal lots of misunderstood love.
Believe it or not, I envision this as funny and quirky, with a lingering human touch. Very European. Not as depressing as it might sound if written for Disney or the Lifetime Channel, which is probably how many agents/studios in this country would see it, but still a holiday story that surprisingly hits the heart. I like surprising audiences. I like making them feel ways about things they wouldn’t in a million years expect to feel.
But perhaps it’s too left-of-center for an unknown writer. Let’s go popular genre:
Title: Square One
Genre: science fiction
Logline: Set in the ultra-future, a society of proud cybernetic beings discover a capsule containing “human DNA” with instructions to reboot the “human race”. When the cyborgs learn they were designed by these doomed creatures several millennia prior solely for the purpose of their resurrection, an existential upheaval ensues that pits creator against creator.
Okay, maybe that’s a little deep. And maybe it raises a few questions about how they would be “pitted” against one another, while failing to define a clear main character. But I think the strength is in the larger idea and theme. Apparently, I’m alone.
Fair enough. How about, hilariously, this:
Title: Dicky Mouse
Logline: When a misdemeanoring man-child carelessly crosses a crossing guard, he’s sentenced to community service at an experimental theme park designed to reform some of the country’s most incorrigible children.
Think gritty, subversive Jack Black vehicle that isn’t afraid to break a few taboos. The parents are just as horrible as the kids, and the kids deserve drowning. To top it off, we only like our main character because he’s a lesser evil and isn’t afraid to “go there”. You know, just like your best drinking buddy. Okay, I hear what you’re saying: “Dude, you’re gonna get sued. Bring it back, tone it down, think what’s out there, deliver…”
Title: The Cheap Seats
Logline: When an out-of-favor Hollywood diva desperate to reignite her career is pressured into making a promise to a sick young girl on TMZ, she finds herself starring in the girl’s neighborhood play.
No one knows me from their last brunch waiter and I’m trying to sell a dramedy? What the hell is my problem? The slightly-less-than-despicable-but-funny main character is back, only this time he’s a she. The little girl is probably a slave-driving, close-talking brat who we can’t force ourselves to feel sorry for, too. But there’s thematic potential in a good-underneath-the-rot-when-you-let-yourself-show-it kind of way like the previous idea, isn’t there? Isn’t that enough to request a simple one-page treatment?
NO, DUMB ASS. JUST THINK ABOUT WHAT IS SELLING AND GIVE IT TO THEM.
Title: Gangster Lean
Logline: Gangsters old and new clash for love and power against the glamorous world of fashion when the son of a New Jersey don falls in love with a model mixed up in New York City thug-life. When a war begins over a powerful new opiate that eliminates the emotion of fear, love is a drug cut with danger.
Come on, right? You can even put in a couple knuckleheads from the Jersey Shore to be shot in the face, if you want. It’s got classic suited heavies versus the latest do-rag variety where honor is everything for one and a description of where someone is laying their bodies for the other. Do I have to spell out the Shakespearean themes beneath the center-of-the-catwalk pop culture exterior? It’s practically vomiting zeitgeist!
Sigh…the crazy part is, these are just a couple of the ideas sitting in my locker. But don’t worry, they’re all the same kind of thing. They all want to push and pull audiences at the same time, tickling that one bone in your body that craves discord. The ones that don’t want to do that want to dig deeper and thrill with big ideas. None want you to shut off your brain and watch things explode, unfortunately. I wish I could write those – I really do – but I can’t. They’re not the ideas that I would pay money to see because I don’t like superhero movies and I’m not big on broad comedy. Or movies about kids and pets. Or serial killers. Or dinosaurs. Or transforming robots. Or robots transforming into dinosaurs.
Or becoming a working writer, I guess.
HorrorCon resumes audio mixing this week and I’m skedding sessions for looping and shooting a few missing clips. Hollywood better hope this film is good enough to make an audible splash. Because if it doesn’t, boy are they getting a lot of drunken voice mails.