The Folly of Great Expectations: Two Hollywood Stories

July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

It's Not An Omen/Hope Anderson Productions

It’s Not An Omen/Hope Anderson Productions

Recently a friend of mine told me this story and said I could write about it, as long as I didn’t name names: A foreign writer-director with a single non-prize-winning festival feature under his belt flew in for a series of meetings about his two unproduced scripts, which he said could be made for $1 million and $10 million, respectively. The meetings were so positive that he assumed it was just a matter of deciding which to do first. Good luck with that, I thought. But what really got my attention was his assertion that the $1 million project would be ideal for an international movie star I’ll call Mr. S.

There are few certainties in life, but one of them is that Mr. S–who a few years ago was named the world’s most profitable actor by a professor of statistics, based on his film’s grosses minus his salary–is not going to make a $1 million film, let alone one by an obscure foreign director with no track record. Nevertheless, the director assumed Mr. S would jump at the chance. He was also looking forward to his next trip to town and another round of (no doubt) encouraging meetings.

My friend, an industry veteran and truth teller, said Listen, everyone will be very nice and nothing will happen. Because that’s the way it works here: they kill you with encouragement. TV depictions of Hollywood offices that feature insults, yelling and occasional violence (see “Entourage” and “Californication”) notwithstanding, the norm is polite enthusiasm. And why not? It doesn’t cost anything to be nice. Also, no one wants to be the idiot who passed on the Next Big Thing. But when the encouragement ends, as it inevitably does, it’s not with hard truths but silence. My friend predicts the foreign director will keep returning for meetings until he runs out of money.

My other story of great expectations concerns the same friend and myself. Twenty years ago, we tried to option a first novel by an obscure foreign writer. My friend had access to European funding, I wanted to write the script and we both loved the book, yet the novelist refused our money, turning it down without a counter offer. Why? Because she saw her novel as a major motion picture directed by a big-time Hollywood director whom she favored because he was her countryman. Never mind that her novel was a small, character-driven story with a female protagonist and a Soviet-bloc setting, or that the big-time director was at the end of his career. She was convinced it would be a blockbuster.

Unsurprisingly, the film never got developed, let alone made. I have no idea of what happened to the novelist, but from time to time my friend will say, “Why don’t we try to option it again?” “Forget it,” I always answer, since by now it would be a less relevant period piece, as well as much more expensive to make. Besides, she had her chance.

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