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Glory! Fame! Heartbreak!

Straight out of film school, young screenwriter Malina Sarah Saval got an agent, a contract and a big promise. But money? You must be kidding.

July 26, 1998|Malina Sarah Saval | Malina Sarah Saval lives in Santa Monica

I am a 25-year-old hot new Hollywood screenwriter. Yet after signing a six-figure "blind script" deal with a certain Major Motion Picture Studio* in December 1997, I have been writing and rewriting and rewriting rewrites of a script outline that needs to be approved before I can even type the words "Fade In."

It all began back in February 1997. I was 24, in my final semester of film school at USC and ready to tackle the screenwriting world. One gutsy night, I cleverly crashed a university-sponsored "meet and greet" gathering meant exclusively for students in a TV sitcom class. I wasn't registered in the class, had no desire to write for TV, had never written a TV sample script. Armed with a rough draft of my thesis screenplay and a surplus of log-lines on the tip of my sassy tongue, I finagled my way into the room. And that's when I met Lorianne Hall, agent extraordinaire.

Five months later I walked into Kinko's with the $300 my father (God bless him) had lent me and walked out with a hundred-pound box of 45 screenplays. Lorianne was speccing out my first feature script to the studios.

"Almost," a dramatic comedy about the 1986 World Series, caught like wildfire. Calls from executives poured in. Brilliant but small, they all said (translation: not enough guns, guts and gore). Still, they all wanted to work with me. Buck Moneymaker, guardian angel producer at our major motion picture studio, phoned Lorianne from a plane bound for Europe: Let's get this girl a deal!

Lorianne called to tell me the good news. Immediately, I let out a scream heard in Katmandu. I quit my paltry-paying internship at the New Yorker. I phoned my parents, who phoned my grandmother, who phoned all her friends in the Revere, Mass., chapter of Hadassah. Faster than you can dial the operator, the entire Eastern seaboard knew about my deal.

Overnight, I became a screenwriting sensation. Development gurus were touting me as Hollywood's latest prodigy. The next Cameron Crowe! I was the envy of all my friends, the shining star of my film school class. You're going to be the next Steven Spielberg! everyone squealed.

For a short while, I even felt like Steven Spielberg. Moneymaker and his assistants treated me like the grand duchess of development. You're sooooo talented, they all cooed. Sweeter still, Moneymaker's production offices were in the former digs of Pacific Pictures*, where I once was a studio slave (also known as an intern). I used to be the girl who brewed the coffee. Now I was the girl who drank the coffee. What a perk!

And then, Lorianne called again. Turns out, somebody (cough, cough) hadn't checked with the head of the studio before promising me a deal. I contemplated suicide. Lorianne took up chain-smoking. There were days when I had to talk her down off a ledge. After a few sleepless nights (and dozens of frantic phone calls to my shrink), everything worked out fine. Mister Head of the Studio scribbled his signature on the dotted line. Signed, sealed, delivered, my deal was mine. Again.

Swanky parties, fancy lunches and holiday gift baskets ensued. Visions of vacations to Paris, shopping sprees at Saks Fifth Avenue and trendy dinners at Spago danced in my head. I could stop dodging my student loan officer! I could pay off my Visa bill! I could buy a couch for my unfurnished apartment! I was going to be rich!

But before I could book that ticket on Air France or purchase those Gucci mules, I had to invent (as stipulated in my contract) an idea for a script. I plugged away indefatigably to come up with a concept (brilliant but big, I hoped) to satisfy the attached producers. A story about a group of rich kids in a Beverly Hills mental hospital, that's what I wanted to do. Buck Moneymaker loved it!

Night after night I burned the midnight oil, typing away diligently on my computer. I drove all the way from my apartment in Santa Monica (up to a two-hour trek in the height of L.A. traffic) over the river and through the woods across three different freeways (stop me if sound like a kvetching grandparent--I walked five miles every day through the snow . . .) to the studio for story meetings. I'd sit in a room with four different people shouting 12 different things. At the end of the meeting they'd turn to me and command, Go write! And write I did. For two solid months.

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