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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Soul selling

By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist

To succeed in Hollywood you have to be resourceful, relentless, reasonably intelligent and extremely lucky.

If you're emailing me for advice, at best you're two out of four.

You're asking me how it's done? I don't know. (Am I whining again?) You flail away. You try this, you try that. You write like a maniac and see what happens.

Jason Alexander
In this week's episode, Tony is fed up with his kids' wacky hijinks.
If you're too calculating when you start, your stuff's gonna be sterile.

Otherwise, become an agent. Become a producer. Legitimate, necessary roles to be filled, plus you get to eat a lot of lunch and get lied to on the phone all day.

Besides, who knows what'll stick? (Might as well be somebody else's sweat-drenched script.)

Look, this is a town where Jason Alexander's about to star in a sitcom based on the life of Tony Kornheiser.

Yeah, that Tony Kornheiser. ESPN? "Pardon the Interruption?"

Don't get me wrong, I respect the man -- he's a real pro.

But you know how with some people, you say to yourself, okay, I've already got TMI on this guy, I don't need to know any more?

Personally, I don't want to see Tony Kornheiser in his boxers fixing breakfast for his wacky kids.

(Actually, I'd prefer to see him in his boxers than Jason Alexander playing him in his boxers.)

But say they got Jessica Simpson to play his daughter, and we get to see her in his boxers, now we're getting somewhere.

Why am I so grumpy today?

I just wrote and cut this ugly rant about Dennis Miller, how the guy totally screws up Monday Night Football and gets rewarded with his own show on CNBC where he demonstrates zero respect for his guests and how his schtick would be better served on shock radio but how lost he'd be without his smirk, blah, blah, blah, but like I said, I cut it.

Dennis Miller
Dennis gives us a peek at his most cherished masterpiece of the 20th century.
I'm not like that.

Life's too short for that kind of negativity.

Dennis, I'm sorry, man. You know I love you, and I'm only illing you like this because I know your show's gonna be canceled before I get invited on.

By the way, there's a new half hour comedy, "Arrested Development," where you'll find some sharp writing and acting. Still finding its footing but well worth it. (Note to Ron Howard: less voiceover, the story tells itself.)

I actually dig the emails. I do, I swear. All of them. I try to answer each and every one. But the ideas ... I cannot handle the ideas.

Not that they're no good. Just that I can't handle them.

Except the one about Al Qaeda infiltrating the Harlem Globetrotters so then the FBI is forced to infiltrate the Washington Generals and they play the big game at the United Center and George Bush shows up because he's a longtime Globetrotters fan and all hell breaks loose.

Now that, that's an idea.

You gotta love all these writers out there, brimming over with creativity.

But here's the problem -- it's a numbers game. Entertainment has become nationalized. And in a nation of 290 million people, it's a pretty slim sliver at the top of the pyramid.

I had these two friends from Iceland. They'd become a big hit out there in the North Atlantic. Certified stars. National Treasures, these two.

But how big is Iceland? Let's see, about the size of Hackensack, New Jersey.

And how long did these two Icelandians last in Hollywood? Long enough to melt.

Regional theater, that's where it's at. Garage bands. Poetry readings. All those places where you'll find ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY.

Stanley Spadowski
Did you say Stanley Kowalski? Oh, we thought you meant Stanley Spadowski.
It's where the artists go.

These are the real American heroes.

They're doing. They're teaching. They're teaching gym. They're making art. They're playing Stanley Kowalski and high school volleyball and sax in the marching band.

They're not on television.

See, it's all about the dignity of the regular guy and the average gal, the ones out there plugging away, making this great country what it is today.

Firm in the belief that, working together, they can put meat on the table, find love between the sheets, and still write a screenplay on the side.

All I can say is, go for it. Development people have no clue where the next great screenplay is gonna come from.

So prey on their insecurities.

And please, go visit if you need more info. Or type "screenwriting" into Google and you'll find all sorts of advice from people way more knowledgeable than me.

But know this -- your first effort isn't going to be as good as you think it is.

(Yeah, you say, tell that to Matt and Ben, who rode "Good Will Hunting" all the way to the Oscars. Yeah, and I'll tell you that the studio execs threw away half their screenplay because it had Will going to work for the CIA and saving the world from some fakakta nuclear bomb threat or something.)

Here's another reality check which might work in your favor. These days, Hollywood's more likely to buy your idea if it exists in another form.

An illustrated book, a cartoon character, an article from "Rolling Stone."

Or "Boondocks" -- my favorite comic strip. I'm sure there's a TV deal happening there.

And don't forget Tony Kornheiser, sports show personality, as sitcom dad.

A novel, a play, a song.

A column. Aha. A column.

You know what? -- for me, it's actually working.

Randy Quaid
Making sure your future brother-in-law isn't Cousin Eddie? Due diligence.
I recently mentioned a producer (I'll call him J.C.) who contacted me weeks ago (cold email). He's the real deal, he's not too big, but he's solid. He's been a studio executive, he's got projects set up, great representation at CAA.

He feels like the partner I should've had in my early years in Hollywood.

We're working together on a college football pitch, but still in that due diligence stage regarding other projects.

What's due diligence you ask (again)? -- well you know how before you marry the woman of your dreams, you make sure she doesn't have some psychotic ex-husband peeing around the perimeter?

Or some stoned-out brother who's gonna camp out in the back yard like Randy Quaid until she breaks down and fixes him up a room in the basement?

Or that she's not actually a man?

That's due diligence.

When people are young, they sleep together before getting married to find out how good the sex is gonna be.

Second time around, it's to find out how bad's the snoring.

Due diligence.

Think Jerry Falwell's seen that new study showing that teenagers who pledge themselves to abstinence before marriage are nonetheless getting STDs at the same rate as all the immoral American teenagers?

Ah, America. And the Bill Clinton definition of sex.

These days, it's not the act that counts, it's the pledge.

You get to feel so righteous, and you still get to go out and hump like bunnies, just like Jessica and Nick (only they're actually married).

Damn the hypocrisy, full speed ahead.

(For those of you under 12, STDs are a lot like WMDs only you can find a whole bunch more of both in America than Iraq.)

But suddenly for me, right now, it's working. People are paying attention.

I get an email from Rat Entertainment. It's John Cheng, head of development. He digs my rants.

Brett Ratner
Brett Ratner gives direction on the set of "Hollywood Jock"? Wake up, Rob! Your alarm is going off!
I'm thrilled. Because Rat Entertainment is owned by Brett Ratner who directed both "Rush Hours" which my kids and I enjoy to no end, plus he's done a zillion of the hottest rock videos and he's tight with Russell Simmons and he's tight with Shaq and the guys, and he's filled with exuberance and moxie, really in love with the movie-making process, and I want to do business with him.

I call Rat Entertainment, hoping for a quick meeting. John Cheng calls me back. He's on location, Edmonton, Canada, won't be back for weeks. April 15th, soonest we can meet.

Okay, that's cool. That's Hollywood. Everything takes forever.

At least I'm making some headway here.

Plus there's the book: "Hollywood Jock." My book agent, Matthew Guma, submitted the first eleven columns to Hyperion Books a few weeks ago. (They're owned by Disney, just like ESPN -- they get first look.)

Waiting to hear. (Oh, Gretchen, we're waiting.)

I want Guma to put some heat on Hyperion but I'm afraid to call him because he's a Carolina Tarheel and he probably committed hari-kari over the weekend.

But it's obvious we're gonna sell a lot of copies here. Look, you're mixing Hollywood and sports, that's a huge audience.

But Guma cautions me, "You gotta remember, guys don't read. Guys don't buy books."

"Then look," I reply. "Here's how we sell it. I'll go on Oprah, 'Ladies, do you wish your man would crack open a book once in a while instead of watching Tom Arnold play one-on-one with Gary Coleman on "The Best Damn Sports Show Question Mark?'"

"It's a natural. Buy him 'Hollywood Jock' -- the book for guys who don't read books."

Plus I'm obviously willing to shamelessly self-promote and whore myself (absolute requisites in this cluttered market).

Plus, plus, it's following right on the heels of mad screenwriter Joe Eszterhas's "Hollywood Animal" and that hit the bestseller lists bigtime.

Only he's got scenes of naked women wearing mink coats, while I've got scenes of my wife calling me during a casting session on "Eddie" to get my ass home immediately. See our four-year-old's got diarrhea again, plus the thingy says she's ovulating and if we're gonna have that second kid ...

Actually, that's not bad -- get say Jennifer Lopez to play my wife and next thing you know, our hero's dashing home for a quick, sweaty roll in the hay, and suddenly ...

It's a column and a book and a movie!

Actually, the movie idea's been in the works for years. (It's called separation of rights; we don't want anyone getting sticky fingers here.)

I'll leave that to Joe Eszterhas.

Hey, Brett, you directing this thing or what?

Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller on location of "Hollywood Jock: The Princeton Years."
All right, time to take a deep breath.

I'm sitting in a booth at Art's Deli, talking through the project with my new producer pal, J.C., who also thinks Ratner's a great choice to direct.

"And you know who'd be perfect to play your character?" he says.

"Who?" I ask (thinking to myself, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro...)

"Ben Stiller," he says.

"Ben Stiller?"

"Ben Stiller."

And I say to myself, hey, why not just make it Jason Alexander and call it a day?


Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and works as a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at