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Hollywood: A Big Sea of Fish Just Waiting to Flip

March 25, 2001|JAMES RICCI

My Hollywood Project was sort of an accident.

When I came to Los Angeles 41/2 years ago, I harbored an innocent notion of writing a nonfiction book in my spare time. I discovered, alas, that I'd inadvertently thrown away a decade's worth of notes, documents, etc. relating to the subject.

I recounted this calamity to a colleague, who suggested I turn the idea into a fictionalized screenplay. I scoffed.

"You'll be rich," he told me.

I started writing.

Before long, I had part of a first draft of My Project to show a Friend Who's in the Movie Business. She pointed out that, whereas a typical finished screenplay is about 120 pages long, it had taken me 100 pages to get my main character dressed in the morning.

(I hope you understand, but I can't go into details about My Project because somebody might be tempted to steal my ideas. After all, I could make a bundle on this someday, and I've got to protect my interests. But I will confirm this much: The story definitely has a main character.)

I wrote another draft. This Producer whom I'd met socially agreed to read it. Afterward, he said that, clearly, the emotional crux of My Project was the relationship between the main character and the second leading man. (All right, the main character is a man.) This Producer's Assistant, meanwhile, emphasized that the paramount dramatic element was indisputably the relationship between the main character and the leading lady. My Friend Who's in the Business added that it was as plain as the nose on your face that what mattered above all else was the connection between the leading lady and the second leading man.

Keener for such guidance, I wrote two more drafts. Then This Producer announced that he wanted to make My Project into a television movie. He had a deal with a Big Cable Network and was confident the executives there would eat it up.

Well. This Hollywood stuff certainly seemed easy.

As My Project worked its way through the hierarchy of movie executives at the Big Cable Network, my Friend Who's in the Business reported that this executive, then that one had absolutely "flipped" over My Project.

The Head of Movies at the network took My Project home over the Christmas holidays. I settled in to wait, envisioning paying off my kids' graduate-school loans and increasing my guilt-money alimony payments, because, as I've said, I could make a bundle on this.

The Head of Movies, however, failed to flip. He (or she--this person was spoken of as more a force than a mere being of specific gender) rejected My Project. The reason, I was told, was that it resembled too closely a recently released feature film (which, obviously, I can't identify, because then you'll know too much, might try to steal my ideas, etc., etc.)

But the flipping wasn't over yet. An agent who'd read My Project signed me up, and she and My Friend Who's in the Business sent it out to all sorts of other executives, producers and actors. People were flipping for it all over town, I was informed. Hollywood had become a gigantic fish ladder, with gilled creatures rising from the water, and twisting and splashing back down when My Project floated past them.

My Agent set me up with a series of "meet-and-greet" sessions with various of these people. Some of them I mistook for work-study interns from local performing-arts high schools. The upshot of all the meetings was something like this:

"I absolutely flipped when I read your script. It was so powerful, so true to life. I read hundreds of scripts every month, and I can't remember the last time I was so affected by one. I was completely in tears in the final scene."

"So, you're going to make my movie, then?"

"Make this piece of dreck? Do you think I'm crazy?"

Or words to that effect.

In short, its flipability-quotient notwithstanding, nobody bought My Project. My Agent and My Friend Who's in the Business bade me not to lose heart. Sometimes years pass before a project clicks with someone in a position to make it happen, they said. The feature film that My Project was said to resemble (it didn't that much, really) soon would pass from people's minds, they said. Movie executives inevitably would be fired and replaced by fresh meat. The Zeitgeist would change. It happened all the time.

Now, more than a year later, My poor Project, its fraying little bag packed with my humble imaginings, is still out there, wandering from cable network to broadcast network to production company to actor's manager. No longer setting anyone to flipping, it is grateful these days for even a slight twinge. Every now and again, I hear sketchy news of its rovings.

I'm not about to go through all this again. True, despite my better judgment I've recently finished the first draft of a Second Project, but this time I'm clued-up and practically disappointment-proof.

I've really got a feeling about this baby, though.

I riffle its pages and close my eyes, and I'm on the nonstop to Fat City, the engines of luxury droning all around me.

Is that a new Lexus in my parking space behind the apartment?

Was that Spielberg on the answering machine again?

The poor guy. I hear he did a complete double salto, and still hasn't regained his feet.

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