“William C. Martell! Once more you have arrived most early.”
My stalker is wearing a different hat, and by different I mean really unusual. Where does he get these hats? I have never seen a man wearing anything like it before - are they specially made for my stalker?
He shakes my hand, and again it is cold and damp... but this time he has not been drinking an ice tea. I am a nervous person and my hands sweat, but I am careful to wipe my palms on my trousers before shaking with anyone - I don’t want them to have to touch my sweat. I don’t like huggers because if I’m nervous it isn’t just my hands that sweat, and if I am greeting someone after riding my bike across town? Yech! Please - do not hug me. But may hands are usually warm - unless I’ve been in a meat locker or something. My stalker was at a different upstairs table at Jerry’s Deli in Westwood Village... but Laurence-with-a-Z was still our waitperson, hovering at his station waiting for me to sit down so that he could glide over and ask it I am ready to order, yet.
PART ONE - if you missed it.
PART TWO - if you missed it.
PART THREE - if you missed it.
PART FOUR - if you missed it.
“Nice to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine. I should probably wait until after we have been served, but I am aflutter with anticipation - my partial screenplay is precisely what Bradley Pitt will respond positively to, am I correct?”
“Well, we really should order first - that way we won’t be interrupted.”
And, on cue, Laurence-with-a-Z appears at the table. “Good afternoon, gentlemen, I’m Laurence with a Z, and I’ll be your waitperson today. Can I get you started with a beverage and some appetizers?”
“Yes, yes. I shall have an iced tea with a small slice of lemon on the side.”
“And I’ll have a Coca Cola.”
“Would you like that with cherry or lemon?”
“No. Just ice, please”
“Are you two gentlemen ready to order?”
I’m afraid the minute Laurence-with-a-Z leaves we will jump right into the brilliance of his script, and I will be on the spot... “Yeah, I think I know what I’m having.”
“I’m afraid I was not prepared for your prompt response, William C. Martell, I may require some additional time to make my decision.”
“Cool. I’ll have a half...”
And I ordered my half sandwich, realizing that if I ordered a table full of food like my stalker did last time, he would decide to itemize the bill to decide what I owed. But I instantly regretted even ordering the half sandwich. I wanted to dump the screenplay and run, and now I had stupidly just stuck myself with my stalker until the final bill came, the last trump...
Because my stalker can not make up his mind, it takes him a long time to decide which 6 different items he’s going to order and pick at... and having Laurence-with-a-Z hovering over the table with his little order book open and pencil poised seems to put extra pressure on my stalker... and I must admit to enjoying this a little. I know that I am going to end up on the hot spot in a few minutes, so a few moments of my stalker on the hot spot feels kind of good. Of course, he isn’t nearly as flustered as he could be, and eventually orders a bunch of seemingly random items and makes sure we get a pickle tray. He doesn’t even wait for the pickles before he begins...
“Now tell me how we shall blend our two creative selves to complete this splendid screenplay!”
Swell. How do I respond to that?
“When, exactly, does Brad Pitt expect this?”
“I believe he said posthaste.”
“Okay, that’s what you believe, but there wasn’t any exact date or anything?”
“I sense your desire to begin our work as soon as possible and this excites me.”
“Look, the script has some problems...”
“I am aware that I am a plebeian in the world of screenwriting, but certainly a man of your talents should have no difficulty correcting any of my minor writing imperfections.”
“Right. Well, my fear here is that the time it’s going to take to fix and finish the script is going to be longer than expected and Pitt may forget you even exist.”
“Then we must begin work immediately.”
“Even then, I’m not sure this script is going to be ready in time.”
“Of course it will be...”
Saved by Laurence-with-a-Z with our drinks. My stalker stops talking mid-sentence, face frozen in place, mouth half open, looking silly. I take this moment to snatch the last pickled green tomato from the plate. They are delicious. When Laurence-with-a-Z tells us that our food will be here shortly and leaves, my stalker’s face begins to thaw. I decide to strike before he can get back to his sentence...
“Look, I have a couple of completed scripts that are ready to go *now*. We can give Pitt one of those right now, just as a stalling tactic while you are working on this script.”
“While *we* are working on this script.”
“I really don’t think I’m going to have the time to help you with the, you know, actual writing on this. I’ve jotted some notes in the margins of the script that should help you along and –“
“But I require your assistance on this.”
“It’s your baby. I can’t write it for you. I’m offering you a way to keep Pitt on the hook until your script is ready. And if, for some reason, he likes one of the scripts I give you, set yourself up as a producer or let me pay you a manager fee or both. Make some money on the deal and become Pitt’s partner. That keeps the door open for your script, right?”
My stalker is not happy. I take a sip of my Coke.
“That plan of action is prone to failure, because Mr. Bradley Pitt requested *my* screenplay based upon the scenario that *I* related to him in that men’s lavatory.”
Now, what I wanted to tell him is that people will often say anything to get away from weirdos who want to have a conversation with them at the urinal. My guess is that Brad Pitt isn’t really waiting for any script, and if this guy slips him one of my scripts it will probably be covered and ignored. But one of my scripts has a better chance than his unfinished script, so why not give it a shot? This is a biz where you throw stuff against the walls and hope that something eventually sticks. You never know what might be the thing that sticks. If this guy who may still drug me and kidnap me and cook me up and serve me with some Chianti and some fava beans can set up one of my scripts with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions, he’s worth 10% from me *and* a producer fee from Pitt.
“I understand that - he wants your script. But I think this script is going to take some time to get to a level that’s ready for submission. Instead of having Pitt forget who you are, you can use one of my scripts to kind of keep that door propped open.”
Yes. I have a diabolical side. Usually I would feel bad doing something like this. But I had to read his script, and this is my revenge.
“I can not understand why completion of this screenplay should take so long. You are a most prolific writer and I have already written 53 and a quarter pages. The most difficult material, the framework for the remainder of the screenplay, has been previously created. You need only to finish this work, and we shall both prosper.”
Laurence-with-a-Z arrives with our food, and my stalker stops talking - with his mouth fully closed, thank God. I look at the half sandwich I’ve ordered and wonder just how fast I can eat it and get out of here. This conversation can only get worse. I don’t want to make him angry - who knows what the hell he’ll do? I slide my glass of Coke over to my end of the table - far away from any knock out drops he may have in that bag of his. I’m hoping that picking at the food on all of those plates will prevent him from talking and allow me to wolf down my half sandwich, leave enough money to cover *my food* on the table, and run. But life doesn’t work out like that. I screwed up big time by saying...
“Look, once you see some of the things in your half of the script that need some work, you’ll realize it’s not just some two week quickie, this is going to take a little time.”
“Allow me to decide that for myself. Have you notes on the existing portion of the screenplay?”
“Nothing typed up. I just jotted down some stuff in the margins. You can take it home, read it over, see what I’m talking about, and then get back to me about using one of my scripts as a doorstop at Plan B.”
“I would much rather read these notes now, in your presence, in the event I have any questions you are present to provide answers and assistance.”
Swell. After shoving half of my sandwich in my face, I’m going to be stuck here while he reads all 53 pages of notes on his script. And the worst part? This thing is like a ticking bomb, because somewhere around page 40 I went crazy and let loose on the page with kind of a rant scribbled in the margins. I hope Laurence-with-a-Z has the police on his speed dial.
My stalker picks at his food and reads... and argues or explains every note. Folks, here’s the thing - when someone gives you notes it is not war. It is not an act of aggression. It is someone trying to help you by pointing out things that are confusing or don’t work or some other type of problem. You can decide later if you want to make changes. If several different people give you the same note, they are right and you are wrong... even if you are right! Here’s what I mean: let’s say everyone who reads your script says you needed a scene where a piece of information is related to the audience, and you flip through the script and point to a page where that very information is right there in black and white typed on the page. So everyone is wrong, right? No. Because if everyone misses this, it’s not clear or buried or needs to be stressed more or whatever. We are all missing it. When a studio reader reads your script, they will probably miss it, too. That’s all we’re saying. Hey, we missed this - chances are, the people who matter will also miss it - so make sure they don’t miss it! No one who gives you notes is trying to destroy you - they want to help... and if you strongly disagree with a note - IGNORE IT. No reason to argue or explain why you wrote it that way. Neither of those things is going to make me say, “Hey, you are right, I completely misunderstood this scene and now that you explained it, it all makes sense!” Because, unless you plan on arguing and explaining with every single person who reads your script, it doesn’t matter. You are not going to convince some studio reader to change their minds - they type up the coverage and turn it in and that’s that.
Now, are there times where readers are idiots? Sure! And I have had scripts “wrongly rejected” a bunch of times. But at the end of the day, arguing with anyone isn’t going to change anything - that script will still be rejected. Better to save your energy for stuff you can control. My stalker wanted to argue every single note. All of them. Even the typos. He wasn’t looking for me to clarify anything - he wanted to convince me that the 53 pages were brilliant.
I was mostly calm and constructive and patient... until he came to the first ripped off action scene (the one from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT) and my notes on the page were a little outraged... and he argued.
“Are you insinuating plagiarism, here?”
“It’s the motel scene from LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. The one where Sam Jackson gets blown out the window.”
“I believe you are mistaken - this scene takes place in a hallway of the Presidential residence section of the White House, not a motel.”
“Yeah, but the same exact things happen. You mostly just changed the sluglines.”
“No. No. You are completely misunderstanding my intentions. This passage is obviously intended as an homage. Certainly an artist is allowed to tip their hats to those whom they admire, are they not?”
And that made me think of his weird hats... and wonder what was underneath them. This is the second time I’ve seen him, both times with weird hats... what if the hats are weird on purpose? What if they are distracting attention from his head? What if he’s bald under the hat? Or has a pointed head? Or has antenna? Though I continued the conversation, I also continued thinking about what might be under his hat.
“Well, the problem is that this goes beyond homage - you use the same sentences.”
“No. No. These are two entirely different scenes.”
“I have the script at home, I compared the scenes - you used search and replace or something. It’s not an homage, it’s a rip off.”
“I do not like the tenor of these comments.”
“You can’t have someone else’s scene in your screenplay. And that’s not the only one. All of the action scenes in here came from somewhere else. It’s like a greatest hits album or something.”
“Allow me a question - who, besides yourself, would ever notice?”
And he maybe had me there. Who else would recognize some disguised scene from a Shane Black script? Would any reader ever recognize it?
“Look, that’s not the point. You are selling Brad Pitt an original script, and this part and a couple of others aren’t original. If he finds out, he’s not going to buy it.”
“I still do not comprehend how any of this could matter, does the director not create these sequences? The stunt men? Surely a writer is not expected to create material that will be ignored during production?”
Well, the answer is “yes” but I wasn’t gonna give him that. Hey, he bought my damned book, didn’t he read it? It has all kinds of stuff on writing action scenes! And all kinds of basic screenwriting stuff he seems to have missed. That’s one of those things I don’t understand - with all of this information out there, how come people make all kinds of stupid rookie mistakes still? When I started screenwriting, there weren’t any books - Syd Field’s book was still a few years away. You really had to dig to find anything about screenwriting, now there are hundreds of books, plus stuff online.
“Look, you want to know how some reader might know that it’s a scene from LONG KISS? Because it’s in the movie. Shane writes great action scenes, those scenes tend to be much better than anything some director or stunt guy could come up with, so they film the stuff he wrote. That film plays on Cinemax once a week, and I’m sure every reader in town has seen it. Even with the location change, so much is the same you’re gonna get caught. You need to write *original* action scenes, and action scenes that are story and character related.”
“That is a great deal of effort for –“
“It’s writing the script. That’s what this is all about. Writing the script.”
He almost tore the page turning it to the next scene and the next note. What if he had a third eye under his hat? Wasn’t there a TWILIGHT ZONE episode about a guy with a third eye?
“Perhaps the best solution would be for you to complete the screenplay...”
“Look, I have my own scripts to complete.”
“I do not understand this comment: 'I’ve heard this one before.' What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, it’s one of the Dixie Riddle Cup jokes you keep using in the script.”
“I still do not understand.”
“You have all of these old jokes in the script.”
“There is humor, yes. I was under the impression that humor was a requirement in action screenplays such as these, is that not correct?”
“To fulfill this requirement I purchased a volume of One Thousand and One Jokes for All Occasions, and utilized the jokes which fit the occasions in the screenplay.”
“Look, you have to come up with your own jokes, you can’t just steal jokes from someplace. By the time a joke gets put in a book everyone’s already heard it.”
“One can’t be expected to create all of the jokes in a script –“
“Yes, one can - it’s writing the script.”
A point. I’m sure under the hat his head is pointed. Time is running out - he’s around page 38 and on page 40 my rant begins. It may include insults. I lost control. He turns to page 39...
“It appears as if there are several notes on every page.”
“Yes. There are. All the way to the end.”
Crap! He flips to the next page, with the tirade!
Then flips to the page after that, and keeps flipping until he gets to the end.
“Look, we could keep going over this note by note, but you can see there’s all kinds of stuff that needs work, it’s not just writing the last half of the script and sending it off to Brad Pitt. This is major work, here. And I don’t have the time to work on anyone else’s scripts but my own. I’ve given you notes that I think will help guide you through - things to thing about, places where the script needs work –“
“Several notes on every page.”
And he closes the script without reading the rant on page 40 and smiles at me. I don’t know whether it’s a happy smile or an I can’t wait to see you simmering on my stove in a pot smile.
“You are a very kind man for taking the time to help me. I wish you to know I appreciate that.”
“Perhaps this plan of yours to delay Mr. Bradley Pitt with one of your screenplays has merit. Allow me some time to consider it. I will telephone you after I have made my decision.”
I drop more than enough money to cover my half sandwich and Coke on the table and start to get up.
“If you please, William C. Martell, one small gesture before we part.”
I ain’t kissing him.
“Would you sign my book?”
He pulls out his copy of my book, the one he spent more than three hundred bucks for on e-bay, and sets it on the table in front of me. I uncap my pen, sign the book to him, and hand it back to him. He tips his hat to me... and has a beautiful head of hair underneath - almost Fabioish - and he looks a little sad behind the smile. Then I give Laurence-with-a-Z a wave and head downstairs and around back to the parking lot and my car. I would never hear from my stalker again. No call for a script to prop open the door at Brad Pitt’s company, nothing. But somewhere, in some popular night club, he’s standing at a urinal pitching a script to some movie star... and for all I know, closing a couple of deals.
TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Dramatizing Emotions - and a film directed by Roman Polanski.
Dinner: A *free* Jack In The Box grilled turkey, bacon, cheddar sandwich. Had to buy a drink to get it, and I ordered a large one... and also some onion rings. So my free sandwich set me back $5... but it was okay. Some tomato/basil stuff in there gave it some zing.
Bicycle: An accidental longer bike ride than planned. After Jack, instead of turning back as planned I continued forward to a far away Starbucks. Then had a long ride home.