A few years ago, two producers greeted me when I stepped off the plane at LAX in Los Angeles. I’d barely made the flight. Seems the driver from my hotel in San Francisco miscalculated the traffic on the way to the airport. I had to race through security and virtually jumped on the plane to make the flight.
I was in LA at the producers’ request to discuss 2 scripts of mine. The glitz, the glamour, the pain, the agony; it was all present. Sony, CBS, and through Universal Pictures, this energy appeared to be stalking, or perhaps, following me.
It was Hollywood, but all the same, we discussed my scripts. One producer had her assistant retrieve a file. When he brought it, I swear he was carrying a baby elephant, the file was so big.
“Notes,” the producer said. Notes on my scripts. “Here’s what needs to be done, to change it, to make it high concept, you know, how that it is?”
I nodded, spied the glass of water in my hand.
“You know,” she said, “Getting your scripts produced is like winning the lottery.”
Perhaps you have to live in the fast lane, whatever that means, to be successful in the film business. There is one thing for certain, as the producers hammered my head, particularly, now on the way to a meeting with my agent, “If you don’t write for the sheer joy of writing, you are not going to succeed in Hollywood,” the female producer said.
They went on to tell me they thought my scripts were on the edge of being great. We know good scripts have to be great scripts to have a chance. “But,” the male producer said, I was going to have to go back into each script and identify the journeys my protagonists are taking so that I can write the stories more simply and with more authority.
By now, we were waiting for a stretch limo (limos are cliché in Hollywood, but people still use them), to take us to pick up an investor of theirs so that we could go to a dinner at a high-end club and listen to soft jazz over some Russian wine. They wanted her to meet me. I asked them, “How do you know that?”
The female producer explained, (she came from a successful Hollywood family, and was a produced writer/producer), “Your protagonists’ voices, in both scripts, are not quite clear enough. You’re going to have reach down deeper. You’ll know when you have them right.”
Then, perhaps, surprisingly, (we were in the limo slicing through South-Central Los Angeles where stores with bars on
the windows and doors appeared like the 1970’s Dirty Harry sets), the female producer asked me, “What do you want to achieve as a writer?” I blinked.
My agent was on my mind. She was late to the meeting, hugged me, kissed me on the lips and apologized for being late, said her assistant had gotten her schedule mixed up. I swore there was white smudge right under a nostril, but the club where we met had black walls. So was the ceiling, so it was difficult to clearly see details. And she was so hyper.
“Well, uh, I…” I looked through a tinted window of the limo at an elderly woman in a wheelchair, slumped, with a scrawled sign, “Hungry.” And my back was turned toward the limo driver. Have you ever ridden sitting backwards in a car? It’s surreal if you want to look at it that way.
“I have things I want to share with people,” I said. “I want to see my stories on the screen.”
The female producer studied me with the eyes of a statue. “Then, you aren’t going to make it,” she said.
“Make it?” I asked.
She jabbed at her head. “Here,” she said, her voice cracking, “here is where you write from and here is where you make it.”
The dinner and the show were enjoyable. Some guy cracking some funny jokes. I laughed out loud as I checked out the investor. She was knockout, told me she was engaged to the comedian on stage. He did have some great guns.
Inside, though, I couldn’t wait to get back to San Francisco. Raindrops on the window in my plane appeared like tears on my face as I contemplated the rewrites on my scripts. I had written them from the heart, with my mind, but then, the female producer, simply, to write from the head, only. Hmm.
I purchased some oranges, apples, and bananas. Walked on Market Street. Handed out the fruit to homeless people until it was all gone. And then, remarkable as it might sound, I noticed the elderly lady in the wheelchair with the hungry sign from LA. I took her to dinner. I wondered how she had gotten to San Francisco, but then, I also wondered why in the hell the producers had invited me to LA in the first place, and perhaps this lady lived in San Francisco and I was seeing double. And I wasn’t going to ask her. She would’ve thought I was crazy. And who’s to say I wasn’t?
I was certain of one thing. I had written the scripts from my heart and from my head. If I were to rewrite them with my head, as the female producer suggested, then, there would be no heart in them. And, my, friends, how many movies have you seen without any heart in them? Those that don’t last in the theaters about as long as it takes to rain in Seattle.
The fine point of this story is that everyone has their own idea of what it takes to make a great script. It’s the same as going to a movie with a friend, then discussing it, and discovering that each of you have differently perceived the movie. You might like it. Your friend might hate it.
Another fine point, write from your heart and write from your mind, and learn from others how to make that count. The learning should be that you learn, but still make up your own mind about how good your script is. Be objective when learning, but keep in mind that what one thinks is right with respect to writing a screenplay, another may think it is wrong. It all depends upon the elements you are putting into your screenplay. The mix of characterization and story, how to mix it, how to make it fine. It all comes from the heart and the mind.