Film Development and Biscuit-Tossing as Social Intercourse
So there I was, sitting in Scarlett Johansson’s blind spot - about three yards away, diagonally to her rear, about 4.30pm to her noon. I’d blagged my way into First Class, and now I was in stalking distance. Actually, I was way too close for stalking. There was none of the comfortable distance that stalkers like to fill with seedy, delusional imaginings. This young woman was real, not a convenient object for saddo projections. I could have tossed my mini-packet of milk-chcoclate Hob Nobs - the ones I’d specially asked for and which had been procured, with expertly concealed bemusement, by the First-Cass cabin crew. All she had to do was ask, and they were hers. But she didn’t, of course. And so the social sciences were poorly served once more. A minor anthropological experiment - social intercourse as expressed through the medium of biscuit-tossing - never occurred. I settled back to the newspaper - they still get read on planes, even now - and reflected. After a little deliberation, I realised that this was part of the development process This was part of the process of turning Meltdown into a movie, and needed to be treated as such. Which affords an opportunity for digression. I will come back to Ms Johansson later, promise.
A commercially viable film proposal is a package - of which a well-crafted script is just one component.
But for now, I’d like to amplify what it means to develop a movie. Something I thought I knew about at the time. How wrong I was. Here’s an extract from the website of Derby Street Films, a film-development company. I think it describes what really goes on very well - but then, I would, wouldn’t I? After all, I wrote it…
Film-development companies do not make movies. Production companies and big Hollywood studios make movies. What we actually do is find stories and develop them into commercially viable film proposals, the blueprints for movies. This means creating a package - of which a well-crafted script is just one component. A script that tells a compelling, filmic tale needs good company. First, it has to be paired with a film producer who wants to make the script into a movie, although in practice, it’s usually the producer who approaches us with an idea or a story. The next step would normally be to ‘attach" a director and key actors to enhance the package’s appeal. But there are no hard-and-fast rules in film development. The process may all happen the other way round. It might be that a big movie star reads a book, loves it, and buys an option on the production rights. Then the process would run the other way: the actor finds a director, who finds a producer, who finds us, the development team. Either way, development is the first step in the process of making a film. The next is “greenlighting” - this is when the production finance is formally approved, enabling the project to move from development into pre-production, or “prep”. The actual making of the movie is known as principal photography.
OK, so how was I going to attach Ms Johannson? She’d have made an excellent Lauren, the raven-haired Marxist lawyer who drives a number of things in the first Spendlove book, Meltdown. What, exactly, does she drive? Well, in no particular order: Large parts of the plot, a vintage motorbike, and Samuel to distraction. Irritatingly, I didn’t have a copy with me. Authors really don’t carry their own books around with them. Why would they? In most cases, they’ve already read them.
I spent the first half hour wondering what to do. while raising and lowering my unread newspaper like a really, really crap secret-service operative. Actually, that bit about not reading the paper wasn’t quite true. Ms Johansson had just cut a CD showing off her skills as a blues-cum-torch singer, and there was a grudgingly positive review, which I read in between moments of sticking my head over the black-and-white parapet. Her boyfriend – or music producer (difficult to say which – he was an older guy with a rucksack shaped like a banjo) – came up from steerage or business and sat next to her. I contemplated him for a while. He was in a difficult position – being the Star’s Companion made him an object of anger and envy for about one third of the heterosexual men on the planet.
Development Producer’s Mantra: “Oi! Scarlett! Fancy a biscuit?”
He would be able to do no right in most men’s eyes. A little bit like Prince Charles’s missus for fans of the British royals (mind you, being Diana’s “replacement” – a different thing entirely - can’t help much). I sort of pitied him (yes, really) – and if I ever get married to a well-known woman, I’m sure I’ll find out for real… Like you care. So – here’s the gossip. Scarlet said she likes girls with big noses – which obviously makes sense. She ate and drank what was put in front of her – about half. No alcohol. And – she was really, really tempted to buy a pianola. Not just any pianola – a pianola that played Rachmaninov. Whoever was selling it wanted $40,000. Scarlet knew this was a lot, and was hesitating. Was this was because of her acute awareness of the starving millions in the world who could eat quite well on forty grand?
In the absence of direct, crushing, oppositional fact, the idea of Scarlett Johannson trawling the Net in search of me became a kind of comforting fantasy.
Or maybe she simply suspected there was a special movie-star price structure in the Rachmaninov-playing pianola market. It’s difficult to tell. Anyway, the boyfriend/producer was telling her not to feel bad if she wanted to treat herself. Yes, good advice is the advice people want to hear – or at least it is if you’re a lawyer (a profession I escaped from long ago), or the companion of a mega-star. It was obviously quite a day for fits of moral rectitude, as I had my second one in the space of a couple of hours. I cleared up the drool from my chest, got out a book, put some earphones on, and left them to it. You may never grow up – I certainly won’t – but there are times when you just have to method-act being an adult, and hope that after a while it will come naturally. It seemed to work – but only up to a point. As the pilot announced that New York was just a few minutes away, the boyfriend/producer had to return to his seat. Now was my chance…
“Scarlett, sorry to intrude. But I have a copy of this, my first extended work of fiction – and I wondered…”
Yes, you’re thinking, not as effective as the Runaway Bride line. Cringe-making, in fact. Fortunately, as I intimated above, I didn’t have a copy in the cabin, so I didn’t have to work on improving it. I just opted for method-acted indifference. I said nothing, acted cool. Until we were getting off, and she almost bumped into me (definitely not the other way round). And (with apologies to Barbara Cartland) our eyes met once more. It was time to go. Now or never – and, thanks to the absence of any copies of Meltdown, no chance of my turning into a snake-oil salesman.
“So,” I said, for real this time. “Do you really want to know what it was I did?” That look. Again.
“OK. So what did you do?”
“I wrote a best-selling novel.”
And with that, I buggered off. Didn’t volunteer my name, nor that of the book. Just left, without looking back. In my fervid imagination she’s left, open-jawed, surprised but quietly pleased – yes pleased, even – that her siren charms couldn’t even elicit the name of a fellow passenger – and not just that, a writer, the lowest of the low. Oh yessss. Small punches of the air as I headed into the terminal. Doubtless, I would occupy some small corner of her mind, and on sleepless nights she would occasionally trawl the Net, wondering, pondering what might have been… Now we all know this is bollocks - total, complete, and perfectly wrapped up in a pink, hairy, wrinkled bag. But it was, I now realize, the perfect introduction to The Land Of Yes. Without even being there, just by heading for the place and bumping into a big player in Loy-Loy Land, I’d already become one of its inhabitants. The imaginings are ridiculous, patently untrue – her people would have found me in a day if she’d been curious. But, in the absence of direct, crushing, oppositional fact, the idea became a kind of comforting fantasy – the special moment, the connection, the intuitive recognition of my special talent. Thus the fantasy becomes the truth. And the truth? The truth is an ugly distortion of the inner reality - the happy, special place where the sun always shines, where things are always really good, where “no” is a forbidden, bad word – because everything’s good and positive in the Land Of Yes. And I hadn’t even got to New York yet. Boy, was I ever heading for some trouble.
Right now, Version Thirteen is with a Hollywood producer. We’re trying to get a “package” together of course. No horses have been de-capitated in the writing of this blog, nor in the making of the package.
The novel still needs that final tweak, a bit of back story. And I still haven’t done it.
This mural is on the outside of Spire - An interesting startup that has a satellite system that circles the globe sending valuable information to ships on the high seas. The mural is reflective of their mission.
This collaborative installation, by the College of the Arts Printmaking Students in the School of Art + Design, is an investigation of light, place and art. Lanterns, household objects, and fine art prints will redefine this unique store front window space for the first time opening of Garage Projects. At the core of the collaborative activity lies the questioning of how light, time, and place, play a role in transforming a public space into a private environment.
Featuring the work of Eleanor H Erskine, Jamey M. Branum, Dylan Brookshire, Kerri Buckley, John Evans, Abigail Jelsema, Haley Kelley, Marcus Piotchi, Joshua Sherburne, Cari Spendlove, Austin Whitaker, Haley White, Alexis Xochihua
Garage Projects is located at 720 NW Lovejoy Court.