Donald L. Vasicek (credits: Warriors of Virtue, The Crown, The Sand Creek Massacre, Born to Win, The Lost Heart, Born to Kill)
Olympus Films+, LLC
The first time I raised my game to a higher level in my screenwriting career it scared the shit out of me.
As part of my networking scheme a few years ago, I went to the Sundance Producer’s Conference in Sundance, Utah. Even though I live in Colorado and the majestic Rockies are always visible from my window, Sundance was equally as beautiful. Three days and three nights there was more than anyone could wish for even though it’s damn safer here than in the wilds of networking in the film industry. Osama Bin Laden, you never know who means what. It’s all subtextual, you know, like reading between the lines.
It was solid meetings, workshops, panels, screenings and parties. I met a multitude of people who work in independents and mainstream Hollywood folk. Many of them chaired workshops and led meetings. I learned a great deal about producing movies from some of the top people in the film industry.
Just like layering your scripts with subtextual material, the Sundance Producer’s Conference was also layered with subtextual material. Besides the business at hand, people showed an interest in meeting each other. And there were over 300 of them at the conference.
I focused my attention on mainstream Hollywood people. The reason for this is that I believed at the time and still do that in order to succeed in this business, I have to continue to move deeper into Hollywood even though my heart beats for the independents. We need each other if all of us are to succeed.
This movement, if it is that, is to meet and link up with as many people as possible. I want to get to know them and I want them to get to know me even though it causes me to sweat in the dead of winter and lose weight even though I stuffing myself with fat.
So, even though I am basically shy and quiet, I sucked it up and pushed myself into introducing myself to everyone. I knew this was it, I either did it, or I had to go back to sitting with dead bodies and writing (I still haven’t decided whether funeral homes or cemeteries are quieter. I do know both places are excellent places to write. Dead bodies don’t move, or make any noise or want anything. They just repose like logs in a forest. They recycle.)
I met several top Hollywood executives, but none from a major studio. I even helped one exec who presently is one of the power kings in Hollywood use the pickle fork at our buffet dinner (best way I know of to meet others since the suits and the peasants dine together with this arrangement). He was trying to stab these small sweet pickles with his dinner fork to put on his plate, and they keep hopping away, and a couple of times, jumped to the floor.
I said (my heart beating wildly), gawking at his name tag, “Here, Skeezix, use this pickle fork.” He looked up at me (he has eyebrows looked like Groucho Marx’s, you know, big, dark and bushy). He took the fork and successfully stabbed about a dozen and put them on his plate.
He said, “Thanks, my name is Skeezix.” He held out his hand to shake. His plate tipped and a couple of pickles rolled off his plate and plunked on the floor.
I said, “Yes, I know, I saw it on your name tag.” He glanced at mine. It was amazing how fast his eyes moved.
“No, Don Vasicek. Nice to meet you, Skeezix.”
“I don’t know why they make these damn pickles so small.”
“You don’t suppose whoever makes them is a small person?”
He looked at me; puzzled. I thought, oh, shit, he took me wrong, no sense of humor, and no writer’s imagination either. “I’ve always been impressed with your movies, Skeezix,” I said in an attempt to divert him.
“I don’t blame you, even if I have to say so for myself. What films have you produced?”
“Well, actually, I’m a writer/filmmaker. I just finished writing, directing and producing “Faces.”
The rest of the pickles tumbled to the floor like minature logs rolling down a hill. Both of us watched them fall. It was like slow motion. We scrambled and picked them up.
“I have some projects that just might fit you.” I handed him my business card.
He looked at the pickles in the palm of his hand, then at the card. “Wasn’t “Faces” a John Cassavettes film?”
I slipped the card in his shirt pocket (another daring move and my heart told me so as it leaped into my throat). “I’m sure he’d embrace my “Faces”, Skeezix. I’ll be in touch.” I took off like a comet.
Well, life went on after that in spite of the pickles and the fact that I had overlooked Mr. Cassavettes’ “Faces” when I titled my film in addition that my 100% white cotton banded collar shirt was stuck to me like a wet towel. However, I was relieved. I had interacted with a big boy and had gotten away with it.
I even mixed with Samuel Goldwyn, Paramount, New Line Cinema, Miramax, October Films, Good Machine, Killer Films, 20th Century Fox, Polygram, Universal, and banking and investmenet people at a party the next night. I approached others always trying to find them alone so I could give them my best shot, and the most successful way I did that was to talk with them about their interests before I plugged my interests in. I learned that these people were people, just like I was a person.
A couple of weeks after the conference, I sent Skeezix a letter and pitched him several scripts of mine. I never heard back from him.
Time passed. I kept him updated with holiday greetings and blurbs on what I had accomplished in each past year. He moved on from the company he was with to a major studio and become a co-president of a newly created division. I sent him a congratulatory letter and a jar of Cosmic dill pickles.
The next holiday season I sent him my usual holiday greeting with the usual blurb on what I had accomplished during the past year. A couple of weeks later, his assistant, Archie, called me and asked to see a script I had mentioned in the holiday greeting. This was the first time I had heard back from him even though it was indirectly.
Bear in mind this was right in the middle of the holiday season. And nobody, particularly studio executives, do any business from November until the third week in January. I think they ride ballons over the Serengeti or something like that even though I know for a fact some of them go to the Hamptons. I told Archie that I was right in the middle of a rewrite on it and would get it to them as soon as I finished it. Archie asked me how long that would be, that he had to give Skeezix a timeline.
I swallowed. My throat was very dry and my water bottle was in another part of the house, about a thousand miles away. “About a month,” I said dryly (literally). I was damned if I was going to send Skeezix or Archie or anyone else any other copy of the script. What in the hell was I rewriting it for?
Archie said matter-of-factly that would be fine. I bet to myself at the time he was snacking on Palmetto caramels and washing them down with cola.
I hustled after that, but not really. You know, it was like, okay, so Skeezix wants to see my script. He had Archie call me. So, I thought, let them wait. Why in the hell should I cancel my vacation plans?
My wife and I travelled to Ecuador and rode in a truck. The Chevrolet logo was on the odometer, but the steering wheel had the Ford logo, (go figure) over a mountain pass returning from the Cloud Forest with Hector. I taught Hector how to say cow in English. He taught me how to say tree in Spanish although I already knew that and I’ll bet he already knew how to say cow in English.
I gave him some Cliff bars for a tip since he was thin. He laughed and told me about how he and his brothers get drunk every Saturday night as he rounded a precipitous and precarious curve on a dirt road about 10,000 feet up. He pounded and pounded on the horn. As we rounded the curve, a bus made in the 1950’s full of people, chickens, pigs and dogs and that included on top, the sides and the hood of the bus as well as inside of the bus, stopped. It backed up until it found a small place off the road so that we could get by. When we drove by, several people spit at us.
I did finish the script even though no one told me to wear long pants in the Cloud Forest. I counted 43 mosquito bites on my legs and had to scratch and write and write and scratch. And it didn’t help any when I went to bed at night. We had a wool blanket, compliments of the cool nights.
I got the script off to Veronica, Skeezix’s story editor. About eight days later, Archie called me.
He told me that Veronica thought the story was a good story and it was a fine read. He said it wasn’t quite right for them, that they’re passing on it. I asked him why. He said they had trouble with a couple of the subplots. I asked him what it would take to bring the script back to them. He said, “attachments, strong attachments.” I said okay, give my best to Skeezix and Veronica, and I’ll be back.
So, I had my agent call Skeezix. He pushed her off onto Archie. Archie told her to bring back strong attachments and they’ll talk. So, we’re still working on that even though I had gotten rid of the mosquito bites by then. And the more I expose the script to others, the more I hear about how much they like it and they aren’t giving me any shit about my wanting to direct the movie.
Well, suffice to say, I did write a couple of dozen more scripts. I worked on another major studio picture as a writer/consultant and sold another screenplay which was produced. And I still send Skeezix updates on what I am doing along with Archie and Veronica. And I just heard that Skeezix was made president of one of the major studios. My, my and I taught him how to use a pickle fork.
The fine point of all this is that raising your game to a higher level gets you places even if it scares the shit out of you, but you’re the one who has to do it. See, Michael Jordan.