“Pirates of the Caribbean II – Dead Man’s Chest” is about to be released later this week on 7/7/06. While I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie on the big screen I can’t help but think of the potential fall out that may come in its wake. Controversy? - No, not at all; well at least not on a grand scale. What I mean is something a little more personal. You see, gentle reader, successful films breed other films in the same structure or vein. Why mention this? Well, back in October of 2003 I happened to write a treatment for a pirate story entitled, “Bonny, Read & Rackham”. It is a dramatization of the lives of three pirates who really existed – two of them happened to be women. I scripted it and currently am in the process of novelizing their story. I’ve got it all set before me, the beginning the middle and the end. History has already been written so all I do is let them whisper in my ear to connect the dots, so to speak, in fleshing out their story. It does not take much to get those ghosts talking. They have a story to be told. The crux of the matter is that their story is just too good to not be told.
Writing is a form of voyeurism. You listen to voices, see things that they see and record their deeds. You bare witness. Weird huh?
So what’s the big deal? Good question, my friend – let me get to the meat of the matter. I cannot tell you how many times that I have had ideas and projects that I have told to others or entered into contests or pitched to film studios that have been taken and developed without yours truly attached. Now I realize that the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 1:9 are true, “…there is nothing new under the sun,” but good grief…
I told my wife about something I was working on called the “Prometheus Foundation”. The premise was that Frankenstein’s Monster was alive and well in today’s world – the mysterious head of a major corporation working in research and development. I gave her the basics one winter while we were shoveling snow out of our driveway. Simplistic? Yeah. It wasn’t two days later that I heard about a project from a couple of guys that worked with the Wachowski brothers on ‘The Matrix’ trilogy called, “Doc Frankenstein”. It was a story where Frankenstein’s Monster was alive and well in today’s world; instead of being an enigmatic head of a shadowy corporation the Monster was some sort of super solider. Different yet closed enough for me to stop working on the project.
In the year 2000, my writing partner, who happens to be quite a talented fellow, and I got wind of ‘Project Greenlight.’ It was being produced by HBO, Matt Damon & Ben Afleck. At the show’s heart is to give new writers and directors a chance to do something in the film business. The concept is simple enough write a script or film a piece, be judged by your peers and the most voted for wins – one winning script and one winning director. Pretty neat, no? Yeah, we thought so too. We wrote a comedy entitled, “The Life of Robbie.” It was a funny first effort. It was gorilla comedy – we took now prisoners. It was about a former child actor who had fallen on hard times. Our protagonist turns to a life of crime in order to regain his lost notoriety and rekindle his career. We crafted what we thought would be an entertaining movie, converted it over to a PDF file and uploaded it to the Project Greenlight sight for judgment. Yes, we registered it with the WGA (Writer’s Guild of America), but we uploaded it nonetheless.
We didn’t win and justifiably so. It was our first effort and we didn’t yet have our technique down or any real idea what the standard was for a movie script. Still and all our reviews were pretty good by those who got it; those that didn’t thought it was a lowbrow, lowest common denominator comedy – ironically the very thing that we were shooting for. Ah success!
Time passed and a movie gets released from a major studio entitled, “Dickie Roberts, Former Child Star.” Hey, what do you know, it happened to be about a guy trying to regain his lost notoriety who happens to be a former child star. The film was more for a family audience than our script so instead of a life of crime the protagonist tries to buy his way into a family.
Great minds think alike, no?
We got word about a screenwriter conference in Los Angeles, packed our bags and flew out to California to pitch our ideas to the big studios. We regrouped and wrote a new story entitled, “Chick Flick.” We ratcheted up the rapid-fire comedy spoof and shish kabobed the Hollywood machine that spews out so many chick flicks onto a wholly unsuspecting public. Yep, there’s some pretty funny stuff in there and our technique improved to. Much of this was due to our reading up on the craft in books and magazines and the fact the my writing partner procured a copy of a program called, ‘Screenwriter 2000.’
Well, the long story short was we got some nibbles for ‘Chick Flick’ but ‘The Life of Robbie,’ was too close to ‘Dickie Roberts – Former Child Star’ to be considered for production. Hmm. We pitched ‘Chick Flick’ together, my partner pitched some of his personal projects and I pitched, ‘Bonny, Read & Rackham.’ I handed my treatment to a pair of spec producers who worked for a European firm and a talent agency.
We flew back to New Jersey and found out that Project Greenlight was going to go into production once more. Of course we entered again. Uploaded our WGA covered script to the Project Greenlight website for the world to see, read and judge. Once more those that got it loved it and those that didn’t didn’t. We didn’t win but our style had improved.
At least we had that going for us.
Time passed and another movie came out to local multiplexes across the country. Ours was called “Chick Flick” and this one was called, “Date Movie.” What do you know, it was an over the top satire that spoofed romantic comedies. I even think we pitched our idea to the company that made "Date Movie" while we were in L.A.
Isn’t “Simulations Development” a kick! Yeah, good times – good times.
I’m not saying that our ideas were necessarily stolen. I know that there is such a thing as “simultaneous development” – I know that there is nothing new under the sun. Fortunately, my writing partner has been doing well. He has been a finalist and a semifinalist for his most current project (which is some of his best work to date, by the way). Will we ever join up again for Project Greenlight? I doubt it. For all of its best intentions the contest is most certainly prejudiced aginst comedy and ideas can be exploited all too easily – or rather, “simultaneously developed.”
Sour grapes? Maybe yes - mabey no.
I believe that the best thing one can continue to do is continue. I haven’t stopped writing and someday it would be a hoot to participate in making a film although I have more faith in independent film than I do in ‘Hollywood’. What of “Bonny, Read & Rackham”? Mark my words – it is only a matter of time before this is brought to the big screen or somebody writes a best selling book. My friends, I hope that this time, yours truly will be involved.
Now that would be a refreshing change of pace.