Thursday, April 15, 2004

Seeking Wisdom

Sometimes it's important for a writer to get out of the house. If you spend too much time in isolation, cooped up with your own thoughts, it can make you a little loopy. I was starting to get a little stir crazy, having spent the past five or six weekends working my latest screenplay, and so I decided attend a screenwriter's seminar on how to write a screenplay that actually sells. I chose this particular seminar because it was being given by I woman I met once at the home of my good friends Jon & Ivana. At the time that I met her, I had no idea who she was or what she did for a living. But I did think she was really cool, very nice looking and had one of the best names of anyone I ever met: Victoria Wisdom.

As it turns out, Ms. Wisdom is not just another pretty face, she is in fact one of the most successful literary agents in town. She is the agent responsible for bringing the screenplay "The Usual Suspects" to Hollywood's attention when many others had overlooked it. Her client Chris McQuarrie got an Oscar for that one, by the way. Most recently her projects have included "The Red Violin" and "Love and Death on Long Island." She knows her stuff and for some bizarre reason is more than willing to share her knowledge with rooms filled with aspiring screenwriters.

Now it wasn't completely by accident that I found out about Ms. Wisdom's seminar this weekend. The thing is I'm putting the finishing touches on my new script and I've been making a list of people that I'd like to try and send it to. Victoria Wisdom is at the top of that list. I have been particularly focused on getting the word out this week because this is the weekend that "Kill Bill Vol. 2" opens. Some of you may remember an earlier newsletter where I ranted about the travesty of filmmaking known as "Kill Bill Vol. 1" and recounted the story of how I saw Quentin Tarantino in a diner one morning maniacally writing something in a spiral notebook. And how he left the notebook sitting on the table when he went to the men's room and I was tempted to take a look at it and even entertained the idea of stealing it, but decided instead to respect his privacy. And how that decision came back to haunt me when I realized that the script he was writing was "Kill Bill" and how I could have saved the world from being subjected to that horrendous crapfest by stealing the notebook and burning it.

But what many of you don't know is that in response to that newsletter I received an email from the incredibly astute David Hamburger who said, in effect: Dude! That should be your next movie. The story of the guy who DOES steal a screenplay from Quentin Tarantino. And that is exactly what I've been working on for the past several months, my new screenplay, "Stealing Tarantino."

I figured what better time to try and sell a screenplay that completely rips off the style of a Tarantino movie in order to tell the story of a guy who literally rips off a Tarantino movie than the week before the opening of the latest Tarantino movie. I mean, you can't walk two feet without hearing the guy's name. He was even on American Idol! So I called Victoria Wisdom's office all ready to pitch her my brilliant concept, but instead had to leave her a message. Then I thought I would write her a standard query letter and between the phone message and the letter she would become curious and call me back. But then I saw that she was giving this seminar this weekend and I realized that clearly it was my destiny to speak to her one way or another, so I signed up.

As it turned out the seminar itself was amazing. And best of all, she confirmed a lot of things I have come to believe about the movie biz in general and screenwriting in particular. For example she talked about the fact that execution, while critical, is still not enough -- you have to have the idea that's going to sell as well. Also, having a concept that has a built in audience or "brand" recognition is a huge help. Hello, Tarantino parody -- ka-ching! But the thing that really killed me was when she talked about how you have to be able to cast your movie with the right actors, because it is the actor who greenlights the movie these days. I have a running joke in my script about how every movie that gets pitched is "perfect" for Ashton Kutcher, and of course, one of the main characters in my movie was written with Ashton Kutcher in mind. So when Ms. Wisdom started naming names of actors we should be writing for and the first name out of her mouth was Ashton Kutcher I just about fell out of my chair.

After she was done talking I went up to the front table and introduced myself, reminding her that we had met once at Ivana's birthday party. She remembered seeing my name on her call list, which amazed me. Then she asked about Ivana and Jon and how they were doing. I told her I thought her talk was fascinating and shook her hand. She smiled a lovely smile said she'd talk to me soon. Yes! Now all I have to do is deliver the goods. So it looks like I'll doing another script polish tonight and tomorrow, just in case. But it sure felt good to actually get out and make a connection. In fact I enjoyed her talk so much, I've already signed up for another one of her seminars. The topic of that one is "Finding the Right Agent."

Ciao, babies

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