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Know the Players Before the Game Begins

February 04, 2007|Anna Waterhouse | Anna Waterhouse has two scripts that begin shooting this month.

Some time back, I attended one of those parties that featured new and old Hollywood in abundance. I overheard Sid Luft (onetime husband of Judy Garland, father of Lorna) say to a buxom blond, "Talent, shmalent. If you wanna play, you gotta know the players."

I wish someone had told me that.

Within months of hanging out my shingle as a writer, none other than legendary screenwriter Robert Towne hired me to fulfill his longtime vision: a lovely animated feature about a little lost whale.

When he had first mentioned working together, I imagined "Chinatown," "Personal Best," "The Last Detail." I had no idea that this grizzled Hollywood warrior had a squishy center, and that his love of the sea is nearly as well established as he is. I had no idea because I never bothered to check it out.

Although I'm fond enough of the sea from the shoreline, my notion of what floats beneath those waves is hazy at best. And I never watched cartoons, not even as a child. I could no sooner imagine what a whale might say to a shrimp than I could speak Farsi.

The expression on Robert's face as he thumbed through my first draft confirmed my worst fears.

"It's crap, right?" I said. "Oh, honey, not at all," he said. "It would have to rise several levels for that."

A second draft, then a third sank without a trace.

Incipient disaster beckoned again in the form of a tale about five animatronic kangaroos that were to represent the five elements of Buddhism. My then-partner and I slaved over draft after draft while ignoring a few pertinent details: Our bosses were newbie producer brothers with conflicting ideas, a large budget to manage and their first writer still on the payroll. We watched them bicker about action versus Zen quotient and finally dump us for their original writer. By the time the film was released, the kangaroos barely spouted yes and no, much less ancient wisdom.

My lack of savvy came into play once more during a meeting with uber-agent Ari Emanuel. His office called me in after one of my spec TV scripts landed on his desk. I did no advance work on him or his agency, Endeavor. After all, he liked my script. What could I possibly need to know beyond that?

When I arrived, I was escorted into an impressive glass-enclosed suite. Emanuel sat at the head of a large conference table, with six young sub-agents on either side of him and all of Los Angeles glimmering at his back. I barely noticed the sub-agents because my attention was riveted by The Man himself. He was great looking, with perfectly slicked hair, a million-dollar Italian suit and a bazillion-dollar watch. (I believe I wore Gap jeans and a T-shirt.) I could feel myself sweat as I sat down. The six sub-agents opened leather notebooks (in unison, I'm pretty sure) and the interview began.

Compliments on my script led to "So do you have any other TV pilots we might want to look at?" which led to my saying, "Well no, that's it," then adding with a small, girlish laugh: "I'm really not interested in television."

Smart thing to say. To Ari (a.k.a. "Mr. Television") Emanuel.

Six leather notebooks snapped shut in unison. (That I remember.) Seconds later, I was escorted out, never to darken the Endeavor doorway again.

Sid Luft gave that young lady some good advice. I hope she was listening.

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