BOOK TO FILM: MY BACK-ASSWARDS JOURNEY

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/bethwareham

My last book, Hair Club Burning, was intended to be a movie script. There was only one problem: I didn’t know how to write one, even with the costly purchase of Final Draft software. (So what if it works for James Cameron and Amy Schumer: They’ve seen a camera.)  So, I wrote it as a book, the back-asswards way, but the only way I knew how to do it. No extra words, set pieces that could be broken into sequences, lots of dialogue.

 After all, wasn’t Lonesome Dove intended to be a script then turned into a book? This backasswards approach had been done before: I wasn’t THAT far off the mark in back-asswardness…or was I?  (Of course, a major factor here is that Larry McMurtry is the bomb and I am a mere firecracker….but we share the state of Texas and therefore a certain audacity.)

 Large publishing companies didn’t get what I was trying to do and didn’t like it. What’s more, the book was about interracial friendship and sexual love: Drop it like it’s hot! But the very subject that made it onerous to publishing (One comment from an editor: “I can’t understand WHO would buy this book….”) made it catnip to Hollywood, who was undergoing its own long night of the soul over race. (See 2016 Oscar coverage.)

 Enter the beautiful Susan, CEO of her own production company, who took this book and saw it, every scene, every nuance, every emotion behind the action. She optioned the book and soon my co-writer, Jason Davis, and I were signing big fat legal agreements and preparing for the infamous pitch meetings that are the first dance of the film deal.

 Jay and I began practicing the pitch over and over until we were ready to film a test run to submit for critiquing. After a month of revising, we came up with this. The final word came down that if I kept my hair out of my eyes and swore more, it was a great. (Hollywood likes swearing, apparently, and I’m a virtuoso.)

 From there, we went to the land of bottled water: A long happy pitch at The Weinstein Company. I wrote them a beat sheet and a three-act breakdown, all terms I had never heard before no less understood how to create. Frantic googling and calls to Hollywood mentors set me on course. Frantic writing and revising ensued. We made the deadline.

 And our point person was let go.

 Next stop? The CEO of one of the largest studios in Los Angeles. The beautiful Susan, my producer and leader, had dated him in college. He loved the pitch and wanted a script, which I still didn’t know how to write. (Union scriptwriters get fees of $70,000 plus for screenplays, produced or not.)  Nor was I qualified to speak the language of film.  There we were, back to the beginning. Passion and persistence, the name of the game in Hollywood, Susan assured me, were what was needed.

 Then, like anything related to Hollywood, magic happened. Susan slipped the book to a director far more famous than any of the actors we were discussing for casting. I was agape, agog, alarmed, elated, and humbled.  We waited for him to come off the road from promoting his latest film and preparing a version of an earlier film for Broadway.

 My words to Susan, “We do WHATEVER he tells us. We give him WHATEVER he wants and needs.”  She agreed, laughing.  All I could think about was the sweetness of having an internship under such accomplished people at the age of 56.  Better late than never.

 This famous director is now “attached” to the film, a word that conjures invasive vines or eels, but a powerful, all-important word in motion pictures.  He has asked us to get him a 5-page outline, in film language, of the book, a much easier task than a screenplay, believe-you-me.

 From that 5 pages, our “attached” film director icon will attach talent and take the attachments to the studio.  All the attachments form the package they buy –brilliantly assembled creative teams to make films.  Whoa. Nice business model.

 We move forward, slowly.  Each script consultant has added to the feel and pacing of the story. The characters are deepening and changing in my mind, the action growing faster. I am hugely grateful for what they are teaching me because it makes me a better writer, helps me to see.

 In short, Hollywood is doing what it does best, very very slowly.

To follow Beth Wareham on twitter @giantsweettart @shadowteams

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