|reading the neighbors script
There is a downside to living in Los Angeles and this is
it: the certainty that sooner or later according to the
law of averages one of the vast horde of screenwriter
wannabe types out there will wind up living in the apt
adjacent to your own and suck
you into reading one of their miserable scripts.
The neighbor was Joe. Joe had a masters in theater
arts from UCLA and as a grad student briefly
interned for some studio hotshot and one day at the
hotshots house, with the hotshot in the can taking a
poop, Joe seized this opportunity to rifle the rolodex
and score a few names and numbers that he later
called and in this way he sold an option on a treatment
for $7,000. He was on his way—or so he thought.
Time passed. He wrote more scripts and treatments
and made a few bucks from time to time but nothing
that could be called making a living and he was forced,
poor man, to take a job-—teaching English to
He taught for LA Unified. The rate was $40/hr. If he
made $40/hr for all the time he devoted to banging out
these miserable scripts he'd be in good shape.
Time passed. More scripts, more script rejections. He
“fired” his agent. He was 43. He had written 18 scripts
in 15 years and made $43,000.
We bumped into each other from time to time on the
stairs where transpired these marathon film
discussions. It was Los Angeles. You talked about
movies. It was movies, movies, movies. If you cant
make a living in the movie biz you can at least talk
endlessly about it.
There is no accounting for taste in movies. Joe thought
Apocalypse Now was a great movie. I said no. I
thought Barry Lyndon was a great movie. Joe said no.
He gave me his all time top ten and I gave him my all
time top ten. We each had our favorite cult-type films
unheard of or seen by the other. He told me about
British a film called Life is Sweet directed by Mike Leigh.
I told him about a Hungarian movie called Colonel Redl
directed by Istvan Szabo.
There we stood between floors with one foot up and
one down on the stairs and in this way we could go on
for two hours.
Did you know the producer of Heavens Gate had a
boyfriend who was a musician and she had a budget of
$100,000 to spend on the score and she gave $10,000
of this to her boyfriend to write the score and kept the
other $90,000 for herself?
Did you know that on the lot over at Warner Bros, in
the writers building, Jack Warner regularly prowled the
halls, on tippy toes, to press at each door an ear,
listening for the sounds of typing from within?
Did you know that Louis Mayer, the Louis Mayer, who
ran MGM and had a vast stable of starlets on the
payroll, couldnt get laid?
Joe and I did.
One day Joe asked me to read a script. Why do writers
ask people to read something they have written?
Writing is written to be read by an agent—-not a
neighbor who would rather have his fingernails pulled
out one at a time.
But—-he was the neighbor. I said OK.
I read the script. I read it in bed and when I finished
I lay there staring at the ceiling in a paralyzed state.
My head was spinning. What was the word for this
thing? The word was unreadable. This wasn’t writing;
it was the literary version of Lou Gehrigs disease.
I forget the title. The title wasnt bad. He should have
stopped right there.
The story was this: a savvy dishwasher--a Gene
Hackman type—decides to blackmail a gorgeous
millionaire—a Fay Dunaway type.
The action occurs in Los Angles. One night the Faye
Dunaway type in her Mercedes greases a Mexican
cleaning lady in a hit and run that is witnessed by the
Gene Hackman character. The Gene Hackman
character has eating him a seething resentment
complex relating to rich people and he now seizes
upon this incident to devise a sinister extortion scheme.
But it isnt money he is after--its humiliation. It’s a
type situation. He decides the time has come for this
rich broad to get a taste of life as it is actually lived by
the masses--the un/rich—-such as the Mexican cleaning
lady she greased in her Mercedes. He wants to stick
her nose in it--the muck.
I wont bother with the details. The details are: a
phone call followed by a meeting and he reveals his
scheme: for her to move in with him at his fleabag
hotel in downtown LA and go to work as a
waitress at the pupuseria he has nailed down this
Thats the idea. She says: ok.
Its hilarious. First of all--you have to live in LA to fully
appreciate the idea of a white guy working as a
dishwasher in a Mexican restaurant in downtown Los
Angeles. Its hilarious.
Between shifts he keeps her locked up in the room
chained to the bed.
The movie continues. She falls in love with him--of
The movie continues.
At some point the Gene Hackman character is tracked
down by a business assoc. of FD and busted on a
kidnapping rap but the Faye Dunaway character
intercedes on his behalf and he is spared 25 years in
state prison and the movie ends on this tender note.
It was something like that.
I was in shock. It wasnt even the absurd narrative line
or the two turnipheads he devised to handle the action.
It was the sheer staggering dismal sappiness and
lifeless tone of the writing. There was no energy
--balls—-the exact thing the Gene Hackman character
was perceived to possess in abundance.
And now I had a thought. It was this: In what way did
this vile script of Joes differ from all these other scripts
that daily found their way onto the desks of agents and
producers and proceeded to be made into actual
movies with huge budgets featuring
the hottest stars that called for a massive marketing
campaign and saturation distribution and all the rest of
That was my thought. And the answer was : in no way.
These scripts were the norm. They were seriously read
and considered entirely makeable. We’ve all seen these
films. Now I knew who wrote them. They were written
by people like Joe.
I guarantee that right now, someone reading this story,
a producer or agent, maybe you, is saying the same
thing to his or herself: I like this script!
I returned the script to Joe who stood there waiting for
me to render a critique.
Writers don’t want the truth. They want praise. They
write because in this way they hope to receive the
adulation they cravethat has eluded them as ordinary
human beings, and if you cant provide it don’t bother.
I said: I like the script!