Sunday, November 10, 2013

On the Hustle in Filmland


Vertigo Films, a British production and distribution company based in London, were interested in our ultra-violent but funny cop thriller and wanted to pick up the script.  There was one itty-bitty problem: we didn't have one to show them.  


The only thing we (Saint and I) had was a seven page synopsis.



And my learned "business partner," Ian St. John, had some history with Vertigo Films.



"They passed on my last feature which was a big success for Lionsgate and they are still licking their wounds. I am always bumping into Lotte Lenya the Head of Development in LA... she keeps saying she wants to work with me."



Via Curtis Brown, Saint's agent in London, we sent Vertigo Films a truncated, 2 page outline with quite a few gory and subversive details missing from the narrative. 


"We got to take out the reference to the Fourth Estate," said Saint,  "they are too thick to know what that is, best play it safe and change it to the Press..."




Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, Greavsie's career was on the up. "Charlie Sierra" his TV series ("Sons of Anarchy meets Fast and the Furious") had been commissioned by a major studio, and I was tasked to edit the scripts of the first three episodes.


"Let me know if there is anything that they have ripped off or anything that seems familiar to you..."


The Times obit for Leslie Halliwell (1989)


Greavsie saw me as the genetically modified cyborg hybrid of Wikipedia and the late Leslie Hallilwell.  


I can't wait to kick the shit out of Greavsie in LA

"I caution you to tone down your responses. I know your style, son. Do NOT forget, your opinion does not matter...your writing does, so get on with it!"


In the past I had taken my Master of Celluloid's beloved scriptwriters to task for their English prep school world view, latent homosexuality and casual misogyny (most evident in love scenes and female characterization).


"As you wish, my Lord."


Barbarians at the Gate: Greavsie's back in with the studio


"The writers are on fire. I would appreciate you not showing them (the X3 scripts) to anyone, it would be very embarrassing for me and not good for the studio."


"Roger wilco."


He got back to me the following day.


"So, what are your first thoughts?"


This was not thing to be called "Charlie Sierra".


"Reminds me of a film called Charlie Sierra, it came out in 2007, you can buy it on iTunes for $3.99."


"You see," (oh boy, i know that tone, I'm in trouble with the Headmaster, again,) "right now you want into the film world and you are already butting heads with me!"


I cut to the chase and told him that "Charlie Sierra" was "mindless, enormous and cliched" but the vital 17-32 male demographic of gamers, porn addicts and violence junkies would lap it up

"I can tell that the two guys who wrote this are posh lads, in one of the prison scenes they describe the Day Room as a "common room type area".


"Well, they are a bit wanky, I got to go and talk to them now. I don't think they do transitions well between scenes. One of them, a hairy, beardo-weardo who looks a bit like Alan Moore, snapped at me the other day, 'What about dubbing on a Seinfeld type slap bass to link all the scenes then?' The cheeky little fucker, I told him that his opinion was not important, I say that to all of my screenwriters..." 


The knave did not know his place in the Court of King Greavsie!


"...I mean what is it with all of these screenwriters?  They are all functioning alcoholics and fuck ups..."


"It was my first inkling that he was a writer. And while I like writers—because if you ask a writer anything you usually get an answer—still it belittled him in my eyes. Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backward trying—only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers.”


I wanted Greavsie to sound like Munroe Stahr, the tragic protagonist of The Last Tycoon, but then I remembered who he was.


"... fucking writers, fucking bullshit artists, if he had said that to me on set, I would have had him thrown off!  What about your thriller, any word on that from Vertigo?"


They make Golan-Globus look like United Artists circa 1919


"We just sent an outline, waiting to hear back."


"Don't forget, you need connections, it does not matter how good your writing is, it is who you walk in the door with."



"That is why I never leave home without Jimmy Greaves!"   


So this was our Axis of Evil.  Greavsie was Hitler, Saint was Stalin and I was Mussolini, the half cocked ex journalist.  If we were going to do any biz with production and distribution companies like Vertigo we would need Greavsie on our team in the boardroom. 


One business week later, Saint forwarded an email from Vertigo. It was a knock-back. The production slate for 2014 was full and, after careful consideration, they had to decline.


"They were hassling and hassling me to see it for weeks, I don't understand it, unless..."


"Unless," I interrupted, "they wanted to know what you were up to."     


"Exactly.  Now I am worried that they might rip off or recycle the concept and try and do something in-house."



Not an unknown procedure in the "creative" world. I pointed that the rejection was a blessing in disguise.  Our project was too big, ballsy and brassy for the low life likes of Vertigo.  And, with the exception of Bronson and Monsters (an ultra low budget film made by a good friend of a good friend), most of the films they produced were run of the mill.



I reassured Saint. If Vertigo did try to rip off our "intellectual property" there was a record of correspondence between Curtis Brown and Vertigo to back us up. In the meantime, I agreed to write the rest of the script, on spec,  in 10-20 page blocks and send them to Saint to edit and format to Final Draft. 


"Once we have a completed script, it is ours, and we own it," he said.

A few days later a phone call roused me out of bed (I had been up late cadging ideas from old episodes of The Sweeney and The Professionals). It was Saint in LA. 



"I just heard from my mate at Scott Free, they want some stories for their 2014 production slate, quick, get your thinking cap on!"


To be continued...