So, today I want to talk about Zombie Projects. No... not projects about zombies like my super-cool zom-com JUST BEFORE DAWN about a guy afraid to commit to his girlfriend and then a weird outbreak of “space herpes” makes everyone ultra-horny... after it kills them... and now our relationship-phobic hero is forced to live with his girlfriend forever or deal with the horny dead.
I mean those dead projects that unexpectedly come back to life.
Last week I had two long dead projects suddenly come back to life. One was a script I wrote a few years ago that was shelved... I thought forever... then the producer called to set up a meeting. Seems he bumped into a distrib looking for a specific type of genre film - and danged if my old script doesn’t more or less fit what they are looking for. I suspect at the meeting he will want to see if I will make it more like what they want, and I did a quick re-read of the script, and I think a couple of cosmetic changes will do the trick. I had completely written this one off as dead back when they shelved it.
The other project is something I’ve been pushing. Three years ago I had a meeting with a producer on a studio sequel project. I worked out a detailed pitch - which basically means I did an outline for the script and figured out characters and scenes and all kinds of stuff. I put a great deal of work into it behind the scenes... and then the whole project crashed and burned. Well, a producer who has never bought anything from me but has read a couple of my scripts just landed at that studio after leaving Fox, so I thought I’d e-mail them and pitch this 3 year old project to them. They liked it, and are taking it to the studio. If the studio likes it, maybe they’ll hire me to write it. It’s a sequel to a hit movie that spawned a TV show - but couldn’t star the original star (unless he became a zombie). So it’s kind of a sequel/reboot kind of thing. Two projects I thought were dead have come back to life.
Now, both may be dead by the end of this week - or the end of May. There are a bunch of people who can say “no” - and that’s even their job: to make sure the studio doesn’t waste money. But if they always said no there would be no movies playing in the multiplex, so they have to say “yes” sometimes. Usually when Will Smith or some other movie star is attached. I don’t have any movie stars attached to either project.
But the lesson in all of this - even if both are dead again by the end of May - is that nothing is ever dead for sure in Hollywood. Though Quentin Tarantino is famous for resurrecting stars with dead careers in his movies, there are plenty of stars whose careers came back even without being in a QT movie. One of my favorite directors, John Frankenheimer, had his career dry up by the mid 60s after making a bunch of great films. Cannon Pictures, makers of those AMERICAN NINJA movies and Chuck Norris movies hired him to direct 52 PICKUP, based on an Elmore Leonard novel that Cannon had already made once with Rock Hudson in the lead. This time around, they put Roy Schieder in the lead... and Frankenheimer hit it out of the park. Though the film wasn’t a big financial hit, critics loved it and people began hiring Frankenheimer again. His second life. That was when he made this little film called RONIN which you may have seen. Writers also drop off the face of the earth and then return - my friend John Hill who wrote QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER and is one of a handful of pro writers I know who do consulting, says that every once in a while a writer needs to reinvent themselves. In a way, we have it the easiest of everyone in Hollywood - an actor has to be cast, a director has to be hired, but we can just write ourselves a job. If our careers die for some reason, we can write a bunch of new spec scripts and go from “What ever happened to that guy?” to “Have you read the new script by that guy? It rocks!”
And our old scripts - sitting on their shelves or sitting on ours - always have a chance at coming back from the dead. If you have an old script that doesn’t work, you can always rewrite it so that it does work. I’m always looking for the solutions to scripts that didn’t work, and when I figure out some way to make them work - they get a rewrite. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, sometimes it’s a complete overhaul where everything changes. But no script is completely dead - you become a better writer as time goes on, and even those first couple of stinky scripts can be rewritten to remove the smell. In that out of print book of mine I tell the story of DIE HARD... which began as the shelved sequel to a film from 1968. Back in 1968 the star didn’t want to make the sequel... and Fox shelved the project. Over a dozen years later, Joel Silver was looking for a property the studio already owned to make into a film... and found DIE HARD (called NOTHING LASTS FOREVER at the time). A dead script is resurrected!
So, you don’t just have one chance - you have millions of them. That script that may not work today may be the perfect script for 5 years from now. Sometimes timing is the problem. Sometimes finding the right star is the problem. Sometimes that script that nobody likes in 2010 is just ahead of its time and needs the world to catch up with it. And sometimes we can’t figure out how to make the story work until a couple of years after we’ve finished it. But no script is even really dead.
Recently someone on a message board was celebrating being read and rejected by a big producer at Warner Bros - and that is totally the right attitude. Because we do not have crystal balls and can not read minds, so we have no idea whether that script will be the one that the development executive can’t get out of his head... and a couple of years later he’s working for some other company and tries to get them interested in that script. Things like that happen all of the time.
Just as these two projects of mine have seem to come back to life, your dead projects may come back, too. So here’s to your zombie projects! Hope they come back!
TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: They Gave It Away! - they are going to show all of the good parts of your script in the trailer... so you need even more good parts!
Dinner: Some storefront Teriyaki place - Salmon and brown rice.
Bicycle: Did a bike/bus combo on Thursday to Westwood to have lunch with a fellow writer and complain about the biz, did a medium ride on Friday, Saturday took the subway to the Convention Center for Showbiz Expo - more on that later.
Movies: THE LOSERS... okay, but either the direction or the script was downright unemotional. I suspect the direction, because there were some okay twists in the script that seemed like they might have been designed to make us feel something - yet the direction distanced everything in a shaky cam / Michael Bay "people are products and this is a commercial" camera placement. When shots should have been some form of POV or over the shoulder to put us in the character's shoes we get these quick cut externals that are outside of the action instead of inside the action. Jason Patric plays a psycho ultra-evil villain from some 1980s movie who kills people for making simple mistakes - but doesn't seem to be smart enough to realize that now no one is doing that task. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a freakin' movie star - the American Jason Statham - he kicks ass and *is* tough without having to act it. Zoe Saldana is hot and kicks ass - there's a cool shot in the film where she is on a rooftop with a rocket launcher that is ultra sexy. Chris Evans plays a geek... who can run faster than anyone else in the film - great semi-parkour scenes. Columbus Short is the soul and heart of the team - he worries that he will miss the birth of his first child. Oscar Jaenada is the cool, quiet, sniper who never says anything... unless you touch his hat. Idris Elba is the effing badass of the group - when he's not beating the crap out of bad guys, he's beating the crap out of team members. The characters are well defined, which is why I suspect the direction was the problem. Lots of big action scenes, some good humor... but it just feels flat. The plot is kind of stupid. This ends up being the studio version of a B movie - grab a six pack go in with low expectations and enjoy it on DVD.