The Talking Cat

140921_yY
eah, I knew that good feeling wouldn’t last.

Not a day had gone by after delivering my emphatic refute of one of Producer’s notes that Co-Manager returned their decision. Of over 99% of their (mostly unfortunate) suggestions, I open-heartedly declared I would make it work. It was just this one note, I explained, that would topple everything like a house of cards. One note – like removing the shark from Jaws – that would undo everything but the names of the cast of characters. An utterly bizarre note, founded it seemed, on nothing more than the whim of Producer’s new executive Producer Jr..

Their decision was that they couldn’t live without that note.

Nearly a year ago now, I met my lawyer. After reading my script he’d come on to negotiate the option-to-purchase agreement with Producer. One of the first questions Lawyer asked me was; do you and the Producer agree on the direction of the project?

I confessed that I hadn’t yet met Producer. My brand new manager (himself responsible for finding Producer) had recommended I put off meeting Producer until after the option had been signed. His reasoning seemed sound; this way, Producer couldn’t coax me into doing any unpaid rewrites before the option. If you’ve been following this blog, you know how that turned out.

So without having met the future owner of my script, I had only Manager’s word. And what I wanted to know was: What kind of notes are these guys going to give me about any future rewrites. Manager told me what they’d told him: That there were some character ideas, a little bit of backstory stuff but no surprises. As he put it: No talking cat.

With that, Lawyer and I negotiated the option agreement. And a whopping seven months later it was signed.

Here we are a couple months after that, this one note wedged between us like a… A wall of talking cats!

I don’t know where this note came from? There wasn’t even a hint of it in the notes Producer gave me for the unpaid rewrite. Despite how that rewrite turned out, Producer and I certainly seemed to be on the same page over all.

It’s crazy. And I’m not exactly sure what to do about it.

Our agreement states (and this is quite normal) that I am mandated to do one obligatory rewrite. A paid rewrite. A much lower paid rewrite than what I’d be getting if I were a Writers Guild of America member, but that was part of my negotiation strategy. Go after a better purchase price and take a hit on the rewrite fees. Because I can do rewrites in my sleep. And I’m in this for the long game.

Trouble is: This one Note (again, only a 1% share of all their notes as a whole) takes what they’re asking from a rewrite to a completely new script. Co-Manager agreed, it’s what’s called a page one rewrite.

I know how this might sound: Relatively novice writer scared by big rewrite. But I assure you, I’m nothing if not reasonable and pragmatic. Hard as it may be to believe, this Note really does destroy the motivation and story arc of every single character in the script. Not to mention the story’s “world”. It really and truly is, taking the shark out of Jaws. And not replacing it with anything else either. Just saying, we like the beachKeep the beach and just go from there. We don’t want to tell you what to write. You’re the writer and you’re great. Just lose the shark, keep the beach and go from there. You can do that, right? 

I shit you not.

A brand new script.

Flat out.

So I’ve decided we’re not going to call this a rewrite anymore. Page one or otherwise. We’re going to call it a new script. Co-Manager assured me that this happens all the time, that page one rewrites aren’t uncommon–

Bup-bup… New script. Not rewrite. New. Script.

We’re outside the WGA. There’re no union rules here. You can’t talk to me about how things go traditionally in this business. Until five years ago the movie industry relied on film. Now everything is digital. Don’t tell me about how things are and have always been done. Fuck that. This is an industry in flux. Upheaval.

You can’t pick and choose the old ways that fit your cause and ignore common sense. I mean, you can. But I’m not going to.

I’ve already been ambushed once with an unpaid rewrite. Now a new script over one Note? Can I knit you a fucking sweater in my free time as well?

How many outlines will I have to write to even come close to what Producer wants now? Impossible to know, because Producer himself doesn’t know what he wants. He thought knew when he optioned my script. But something changed. How many more changes will he go through during the process of writing a brand new concept, story, characters– All from scratch. There are no boundaries. Nothing to contain the madness.

For one of very few times in my life, I don’t know the next move here.

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2 Comments

Filed under The Journey

2 responses to “The Talking Cat

  1. Argh that sucks. I’ve been there and I think your instincts are right. When I was in a similar situation, I realised that the original concept was going to be so deeply changed that I could use it with a different execution. So I did the page one rewrite and though I wasn’t sure at first, I eventually fell in love with what was basically a new screenplay, then years later wrote the original idea as a new spec and that sold too! I don’t know if that will work with your situation, but if you can mentally take back your original concept/spark/whatever and write them what they want, that’s what I’d try to do. That said, it’s maybe worth trying to get a meeting with the producer to discuss all this and make sure it’s clear to them that it’s a page one – I’ve occasionally received notes like that where it turned out that the producer didn’t realise how fundamental a change they were asking for.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks Claire. Have definitely been wondering how much I could salvage of my original idea to write something new, but this is a tough case. I’m not terribly precious about ideas anyway. The greatest source of disappointment at the moment is realizing just who it seems I’ve optioned this material to. I’m losing confidence in Producer’s competence to turn it into a film at all.

      Congratulations on your successes however!

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