Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Creative Process - Part 2

Emperor of Mars is considered one of my best screenplays and has been on the desk of virtually every studio executive in Hollywood. It got me meetings with every company from Amblin Entertainment (Spielberg's company) to Zucker Brothers (who made the Airplane movies) and everyone in between.

Yet it was never made.

At least so far (he says cautiously).

So what happened?

One of the most common subjects that come up when I'm at a party or visiting regular folks (not show biz types) is this; They all have the greatest story anyone can imagine and are sure it would be a great movie.

It's their life story. 

And if I would write it they would be happy to share the money. And the awards.

We all want to write our story, and why not, everyone else is doing it. Look at that movie Sandra Bullock will win an oscar for, that's a real story. There isn't a week that goes by that there isn't some true-life story.

So why not yours. Or mine?

There's a saying that goes "Show me the boy at & and I'll show  you the man". In fact it was the basis for a remarkable series of documentaries in England that followed 15 boys and girls at 7 and revisited them every 7 years. I think they're now in their late 50's.

What it suggests is that the person you are at 7 is the person you'll be as an adult. And if you don't believe this is possible, you have to rent one of the above docs to believe it. The first one was called 7 UP, the second 14 UP, and so on. The last one I saw was 49 UP.

I grew up in a tiny town called Benito in a lush green valley of Manitoba up to the age of 12 and like other writers, always wanted to write a tale of my youth. But being an experienced writer I knew there had to be a better story than going to school and playing with my friends. That was not a movie.

I had the characters and the time frame but I had no story. Nothing really happened to me that was big or traumatic or even interesting.

Until I found the Emperor of Mars.

I was well into my late 30's when I discovered a newspaper story about a recording that was played on radio back in the 1950's from someone who called himself The Emperor of Mars. It was a real broadcast on radio stations from Los Angeles all the way to the Canadian prairies. The "Martian" was coming to Earth and would tell us all the secrets of the Universe as well as how corrupt our governments were.


What followed, and I have headlines in several newspapers, was a lot of UFO sightings. Remember this was in the 50's and we had no CNN or Twitter. And finally on the fateful day... the Emperor never showed up.

But in 1989 I had my story.

It would be about a 12 year old boy, based on me, and how he came to believe the Emperor was coming to his little town. To make it more interesting, I created a character named Nicodemus, who was a soldier who had returned from the war and lived a solitary life. Both of them would believe the Emperor was coming. And as the time comes near, we see how the town reacts, good and bad.

I applied for funding from a development source and got around $8000 to write it from a wondeful woman named Tara Twigg.  Her real name. In fact she suggested the title. I wrote the script in about 4 weeks and began showing it in Los Angeles.

The reaction was immediate. Everyone wanted to meet me, everyone loved the script. One time I had 8 meetings in one day, all at studios. And the first thing they asked was: 

So what else do you have? 

My first big lesson in Hollywood. They may love your writing but that doesn't mean they love your story.

Through the last 20 years, the script has been optioned at least 7 times, once with an Academy Award winning director, once with a major studio, and three times with independent production companies.

The last option ended two weeks ago.

Now that it's mine again, I'm going to try to get it made this year. Just like Travel Day. Except I would direct and my great friend John Holbrook, would film it.

So why wouldn't they make it?

Nobody really knows, except that one comment seems to center on the fact that there's no "movie star" role in it. It's about a bunch of kids. It needs a star.

Who was the star in Stand By Me? I bet most of you can't name the cast at all.

But that's being picky of me, someone once said.

Last year I wrote a novelization of the screenplay with the hopes of publishing a book. At present I have my friend Chris Sullivan, whose blog is in my favorites, doing an excellent narration track that you have to listen to. Once I figure out how to get it on my Facebook page.

As to how this ties into Travel Day is becoming interesting. I started the blog in August 09 strictly for Travel Day and the hopes that I could do a blog on how to make a movie. It continues to get a good response, and I realize now, it reveals to many the day-to-day workings of a guy trying to get a movie made.

You've shared the ups and downs, the excitement and the depression, and now you're seeing how a filmmaker survives in this business and in this town.

And how it can change from Travel Day to Chaser to Emperor of Mars, and yet they are all here and shuffling for position which changes day to day and month to month.

And it's not over yet.

(next: Rachel's back)