I've talked about what Emperor of Mars is, a story about a young boy, a disillusioned soldier and a voice that calls itself The Emperor of Mars.
In the last blog I said I had little success with my first agent, a one-person operation that was known for a few middle of the food chain writers and directors. He could call any studio or production entity in town; but that didn't mean they would return his call.
Later when I was at a big agency, Paradigm, my agent there got return calls quickly.
After 2 years of nothing, I left Agent 1 and went to another single agent operation. But this one was a hell of a worker. He began to call studios and sent them Emperor to read. The last agent never sent it out.
Within a month or two, the script began to circulate and got positive response from everyone. I had left to Vancouver to work on a series for 4 months and my agent called to see if I could come down for one day.
He had made 8 meetings for that single day.
I flew into LA, rented a car as mine was still in Vancouver and drove to Paramount for 4 meetings, then to Columbia (now Sony) and then to MGM which was across the street. These were all production companies with deals at the studio.
These meetings were basically a "meet and greet", they liked my script but wanted to see who I was and what else I had. A basic list of meetings with development executives that first year included the following production companies that belonged to producers and sometimes actors. Companies that belonged to people listed below;
And that was just in one year. You can check them out on IMDB. Steve Tisch, producer of Forrest Gump said it was one of his favorite scripts. The years that followed introduced me to even more producers. All because of Emperor.
Except there was one thing wrong.
Nobody wanted to buy it.
And nobody could tell me why.
One of the reasons thrown forward was that it had no role for a star. It's central character was a 12-year old boy. Another was that it was too soft. And the one question I got at all the meetings was this; "What else do you have?"
It took me a long time just to figure out what that meant. I don't mean that I didn't have other ideas, but what kind of ideas were the ones they wanted to hear. That's one of the secrets of Hollywood.
And it translates into screenwriter William Goldman's famous line; "Nobody knows anything."
I would add to it; "they want more of the same".
The same being the latest hit or latest critic's favorite. Once when I asked a development executive what he was looking for he gave me the best answer I'd heard till then;
"A $30 million opening".
What's a $30 million opening?
This is where it gets tricky, It could be a comedy, a drama, an action film, anything, as long as it makes at least $30 million over the first week-end. This was some years ago so you can adjust the figures.
That's what they want.
And Emperor of Mars wasn't that. But yet I could call them with ideas and while I thought this was just another way of saying "get lost", most of them did take my calls afterwards. There is some honor in the system, at least in the studio system. In fact I maintained good contacts with many of the execs throughout the years and still talk with some of them, the ones who didn't leave the business anyways.
But none of my ideas caught on with them. I was too fresh to realize what I just said above. I didn't have a $30 million opener in any of my ideas. I might never have.
Then someone said about Emperor; this could be the next Stand By Me, that huge hit about 4 boys looking for a dead body and a huge success. And no stars in it either.
That's when someone decided to option it.
(Wed: The development process)