Sunday, May 24, 2009

By the time I get to Phoenix...

In the past few weeks, three long-dead projects of mine have strangely flickered back to life. And when I say “back to life,” I’m using that phrase in the show business sense of the word, meaning that somebody reasonably legitimate (somebody with an actual office) has expressed a bit of interest. Prior to getting these calls, I considered all three of these scripts to be ancient history. It’s been odd to even think about them again. I don’t know if other writers experience the same thing, but for me, old scripts are like potent, little time capsules; each containing a vivid emotional imprint of the time in my life when were written.

One of the scripts is an adaptation of a memoir I wrote about 2 ½ years ago. It was a troubling tale and a genre I’d never attempted before. When the project came to me, I’d just returned to L.A. after a year in Washington, DC. Having broken one of the cardinal rules of show business (moving to a non-show biz city), I wasn't sure if I’d ever be allowed back inside the palace gates. My best shot was to reinvent myself. I set out to create a viable script while also preserving what I admired most about the book - the author’s remarkable willingness to forgive the unforgivable. The script initially got a ton of attention, but then sort of fizzled out like a shooting star. That is, until a few weeks ago when a talented and gorgeous young movie actress stepped up and attached herself to star and co-produce. It’s exciting! The great thing about stars is that (unlike the rest of us) they can actually get their calls returned. So here’s hoping she’s as charming on the phone as she is in person.

The next project to claw its way out of the grave (after ten years) was an adaptation of yet another book; this one a novel. Written ten years ago, it was my first decent paycheck in L.A. I had just exited a lengthy and tumultuous relationship and my career wasn't exactly cooking. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was time to take my talentless ass back to New York, where (if I was lucky) I might be able to land a job doing Shakespeare in Buffalo. When the call came in (on my birthday, no less!) I took it as a good omen. Both tragic and hilarious, the novel centered on a couple desperately trying to rebuild their shattered dreams. The job was intimidating; especially because several more established writers had already fallen on their swords trying to adapt the book into a coherent movie. Again, there were cheers from the bleachers, but no one could ever quite get the ball over the goal line. Then this week, I heard that a mega agent now wants to show it to one of his hottest clients. Sounds good, right?

The third project is so old it would require carbon dating to determine its age. It was one of the first scripts I wrote after moving to L.A. My partner and I were, at the time, crammed into a very small apartment, but in an effort to feel like a professional, I decided to set up a small “office” in the bedroom. I found a tiny, narrow table in my neighbor's garbage that just fit between the chest of drawers and the wall. The space was so cramped I had to keep my elbows next to my sides just to fit into it. The lighting was terrible and my “view” was of a white, stucco wall about 24” from my face. Strange as it sounds, the miserable conditions sort of forced me into an almost trancelike state of creativity. Every night, I’d squeeze into my “office” and free-fall into the world of this freaky, comic caper I was writing. Much like the life I was living, the plot careened along like a rollercoaster threatening to jump the tracks at any second. Although the script was far from perfect, it remains one of the most imaginative things I’ve ever written and got me my first real agent in L.A. When a producer optioned it (again) last week, it felt almost surreal to sign my name to the agreement.

Until I moved to L.A. I didn’t know it was actually possible to “die of enthusiasm.” Having had my heart broken by all of these projects in the past, I’m leery about getting my hopes up. But then again, you never know! Show business is filled with stories of projects that took long, meandering journeys before finally getting to the screen. Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” (one of my favorite movies of all time) took ten years to get made. Hollywood is a mythical town. It’s one of the things we all secretly love about it. Let’s be honest. Every time one of those damn “twenty-somethings” bursts out of film school and scores a big sale, nobody cheers. We hate them. Fuck them. But when somebody who’s been standing in the queue forever, finally gets their shot (or a second shot), the whole town smiles and nods. For all of our purported cynicism, we’re actually a town of closet optimists. We love it when the Phoenix takes flight.

Glancing over these old scripts has definitely made me reflect a bit on my time in Hollywood. Despite a 50/50 mix of good and bad experiences, I’m still happy to be doing something I enjoy and believe in. I’m not saying there aren’t days when I feel like shooting myself in the head. There are quite a few of those actually. But writing, when it works, transcends the shitty parts of life - for both the author and the audience. According to that oracle of knowledge, Wikipedia, the mythical Phoenix could not only rise from the ashes, but was capable of “healing a person with a tear from its eyes” and making them, for a short while, “immune to death.” I love that! After all, isn’t entertainment supposed to lift us out of our seats a little and give us at least a short happy ride on the wings of our imagination? And who among us doesn’t need the occasional break from our mortality? I’m delighted these scripts are getting a second look! Who knows? Maybe a couple of those execs will demonstrate some excellent taste and rush them into production. In the meantime, let’s dust off the ashes, Hollywood. There’s work to be done. Spread your wings and see if maybe this week, you can catch a breeze.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


Sarah L. Knapp said...

A restrained congratulations David! My fingers are crossed, prayers have been lifted up, and excitement is waiting to be shared. Good scripts never die I've learned, they just have to wait their turn. Also, I just got Kingdom Come from Netflix:-)

Karen Hutson said...

I've just emerged from weeks of wrestling with Swine Flu (my own personal Ebola World) and pneumonia to read this. There were moments when I wondered if it was worth coming back to but, after reading this, I know what I fought my way through the mucous for. Wouldn't it be ironic if I actually did "die from enthusiasm" now? That line made me laugh so hard I feared for a relapse. I literally will be waiting for more news with 'bated breath.

Scott Ganyo said...

"Unforgiven" is one of my favorite movies of all time, too! Wait... what was this about?

Oh... right...

That's fantastic news that you're feeling those small tugs on your lines! Just remember to set your hook and reel them in carefully!

pauleyp said...

Love You!