Wednesday, January 24, 2018

"A Continuing Head-Scratcher"

Maybe.  Or maybe I’m just looking for an excuse.  (Just so you’ll know the quality of person you are dealing with.)

It was not the first thing I thought.  The first thing I thought was,

“I’ll write a movie.”

I had written dozens of TV scripts.  Screenplays?  They just require more time and more paper.

Or so I confidently believed.

(“Confidently” in the context of a person whose “Most Confident Day Ever” a real confident person would perceive as “a debilitating funk.”

I had previously written two “spec” screenplays, neither of which garnered a whisper of encouragement.  I decided to write a third spec screenplay.  I am not exactly sure why.  Though it may possibly be related to a lunch late in my career, at which my longtime agent sensitively observed,

“You’re finished in television.  Start thinking about features.”

That kind of thing can set a real fire under a person.

I do not recall the exact chronology anymore.   Wait, lemme check something.



The first Toby McGuire Spider-Man came out in 2002.  So it was a little after that that I got the idea.  Coincidentally, as often happens when the instigating seed has been planted, I came across a short paperback book entitled,

“Writing Successful Screenplays In Three Weeks.”

After reading it, being the impressionable person I am, I sat down and completed an entire screenplay in three weeks. 

I do not know how that worked, but it did.  During the eponymous “Three Week” period, I finished the First Draft of a 120-page screenplay.  I called it,

Super Mom.





I no longer recall which.  (Although if it had gone, I can envision endless meetings about that.)

What apparently – by which I mean unconsciously – happened was that my uniquely idiosyncratic brain scrambled the original Spider-Man concept and arrived at the following. 

(Writer’s Request:  Be as forgiving as you can about this.  It has only been fifteen years.  And I am still a little tender about the experience.)

Okay, here’s the premise:

“While volunteering at a local hospital, a Middle-American stay-at-home Mom  (imagine a vigorous Michelle Pfeiffer in her mid-thirties) is scratched by a dying superhero and subsequently assumes his residual, awesome powers and abilities.”

You can see what I made up and what I kind of… adopted for “Creative Purposes.”  The “Accidental Transfer”?  If it sounds familiar, so be it.

Anyway, I wrote it. 

And it was good.  I thought.

What exactly did I mean by “It was good”?

I meant that, from a professional writer’s perspective, SuperMom was a respectable, “in the ballpark”-appearing screenplay, offering an original – minus the “Accidental Transfer” component – idea, likable dialogue, and a narrative storyline – and this, to me, was the most rewarding aspect of my accomplishment – in the context of its whimsical concept, it made logical and believable sense.  (And how many movies do that?)

I also liked the thematic undertone:

“Ordinary person backs into extraordinary circumstances.”

Through my agent’s ministrations, my script made the traditional “rounds.”  And, as we say on “The Coast”,


Nobody wanted it. 

(I would repeat “Nobody” for emphasis but it would make my too sad.)

Because our kids went to the same school, I became acquainted with two-time Oscar -winning screenwriter, Alvin Sargent, who, coincidentally again – that’s two “coincidentally’s” is one story – through the auspices of his wife, Laura Ziskin, contributed significantly to the early (Ziskin-produced) Spider-Man oeuvre. 

After generously reading Super Mom, Alvin, responded with two comments.  “One”,

“That’s Spider-Man.”

And “Two”,

“The characters are ‘Two-Dimensional.’”


(And I am not talking about “One.”)

Okay, here comes my excuse.

I believed that as a screenwriter, I had delivered a workable blueprint for a film with visible commercial possibilities, and that, with the addition of enriching rewrites, if it were perceived to be necessary, the actors would then take over from there, their substantive presence and thespianic interpolations generating the debatably missing “Third Dimension.”   

My experience as a filmgoer tells me am not entirely nuts to believe that.

Just recently, for example, I mentioned Meryl Streep’s glistening performance, lifting the pedestrian The Post to an admirable elevated level.  I also described how the presence of numerous actors raised the tenuous Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to the point where people seriously believed it was a wonderful movie.

If gifted, well-cast actors could bolsteringly “flesh out” other movies,

Why couldn’t they do it with Super-Mom?

I truly believed that I had done my job.  But maybe, in truth, there was something more I needed to do but through deficient ability or know-how I had neglected to do it. 


It may have actually been my fault.

Wait!  Or…

Maybe you can’t write successful screenplays in three weeks.

Yeah.  That’s the ticket!

Turns out, it wasn’t my fault.

It was the book!

1 comment:

Lord Lillis said...

One other thought (not to pile on): the premise is very close to that of "Hancock" which, in 2002, had just been optioned to Artisan. Maybe you just need a little more practice? Keep writing screenplays and something will eventually stick.

But you're right - it was probably the book.