By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist
The first time I pitched a movie idea in Hollywood, I didn't have a clue what I was doing.
I got the job.Sweet. I'd been in L.A. six months and I was two for two. I was still in the throes of development hell on my first gig when my William Morris agent called about an open assignment with Aurora Productions.
"But I'm stuck in rewrites," I told her.
"Always line up your next job before you finish your latest," she responded (something I'd also heard from Walter Hill, coming off "The Warriors").
She told me it was with a small independent called Aurora Productions. They had a script called "Library Cop." They liked the idea but hated the script. They wanted a page one rewrite. If I came up with the right scenario, they'd hire me.
"What's the idea?" I asked over the phone.
"A young man wants desperately to be a cop, but can't pass the test, so he becomes a library cop."
Wow. Is that the worst idea you ever heard for a movie or what?
But they were paying real dollars. 30 thousand real dollars as a matter of fact.
"Library Cop" -- God, what a great idea for a movie!
I spent a few days working up a scenario, that figure echoing in my brain -- 30 grand, 30k, 30 thousand buckaroos.
So, here's the (too long) log line I came up with -- Squeaky clean guy from the Midwest moves to L.A., fails the police academy exam, ends up in the downtown library where he falls for a kinky older librarian and uncovers an elaborate cold war spy ring which is using the library to pass along their secret documents.
Do you see now how money corrupts? I'm not talking values here, I'm talking brain cells.
Here's something that makes it easier: You come up with a crappy comedy idea -- first thing you say is, "Imagine Adam Sandler playin' a guy who always wanted to be a cop but..."See? It's called polishing a turd.
So I went into Aurora to pitch this thing to a woman VP and her gay French development guy. How did I know he was gay? He told me.
"You're so tall," the guy said. He turned to his boss. "Isn't he tall?"
"He's very tall," she answered.
Jesus, I thought to myself, I am a long way from New Jersey.
I sat down and started pitching the story. They were with me for the first five minutes. They especially liked the kinky older librarian angle.
Although the French guy said, (sounding suspiciously like Inspector Clouseau) "But of course she must be young too."
"You mean a young older librarian?" I asked.
"Exactly," he said.
"You mean younger in spirit, right, Jean?" his boss said.
"Is zat what I mean?" he asked, and they both laughed.
I sat there thinking, is this guy even French?
But I plowed on -- laying out, beat by beat, this overly-elaborate spy plot, how they used certain books on certain days of the week, and if a book had been turned upside down it meant one thing, and if it had&blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, who gives a rat's ass? Certainly not these two who started whispering about where they were going to lunch until finally, a good 30 minutes later, I was done.
"Okay, we like it," she said. "When can you start?"
"Tomorrow," I said. And I walked out thinking, oh, man, did I just ace that or what?
Little did I know that they were both about to be fired from Aurora Productions and this would be their last project, and that "Library Cop" had as much chance of getting made as "Howard the Duck."
Wait a minute, that did get made.
Well, then, as "Baseketball." Whoops, that got made too. So did "Ishtar" and "Waterworld" and "Gigli" and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash."The Aurora people probably called the William Morris Agency and said, "Send us your tallest writer."
But I went away thinking, I'm gonna make this script work.
I'm still thinking like that. You've got to.
Which brings me to my current dilemma. In this town, everything takes forever. It's March 16th, 2004, and here's where I'm at:
An e-mail arrives from Mike Tollin. I recently made mention of "Coach Carter," a Samuel Jackson hoops movie that's shooting right now. How they might need some help with the basketball scenes. Tollin's one of the producers (a guy I've played ball with). He writes that they're more than happy with their basketball coordinator, Mark Ellis. Whoops. My bad. So props to Mark Ellis for making it work.
But Mike digs the column, and I'm glad to have reignited a dialogue there. Tollin/Robbins are the producers of sports projects in Hollywood. And a director I'm chasing, Paul Johansson, is acting in one of their TV shows, "One Tree Hill."
I'm waiting to hear.
Johansson's movie for Showtime, "The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie," just received five daytime Emmy nominations. So I may be waiting for a while.
I had a good meeting with Alex Gartner over at MGM about my interracial romantic comedy, "Take Me To The River." Gartner is one of the producers on "Barbershop" and Barbershop 2."
I'm waiting to hear.
I've got my college hoops movie, "94 Feet" out to a few people.
I'm waiting to hear.
But in Hollywood, you can't sit still. It's swim or die. I meet up with Todd Ramasar down at Staples during the Pac 10 Tournament. Todd's a former UCLA baller who's turned himself into a sports agent. He represents NBA All-Star Baron Davis, which is not a bad place to start.
Ramasar wants to do it right. Keep it clean. Represent stand-up guys.
It's not easy. Guys still in high school and college with NBA potential will literally tell agents they need some cash up front. Not every guy. Some. Enough to turn the landscape into a minefield.
Years ago, I ran into an agent at the NBA Rookie Camp in Chicago. He'd gotten busted for slipping Marcus Camby some cash back at UMass. He was pissed because Camby only admitted to taking 2,000 dollars. "It was 20 times that!" the guy told me, as if that somehow exonerated him.
Anyway, the Hornets are coming into L.A. in a couple weeks, and I've been promised a meeting with Baron (who's turning himself into a real movie producer).In the meantime, Spike Lee's developing a project with LeBron James. That's cool. You don't write a script overnight, so they've gotta be a year away. I'll reach out to Spike with "94 Feet." Hey, this one's ready to go. Wanna take a look?
Unlike a lot of people who take an inordinate delight in dissing Spike, I think he's made some excellent (and important) movies.
(And just how brown is my nose right now?)
Plus I'm working a couple little entrepreneurial projects on the side.
Last week, I mentioned that if 100,000 readers each sent me 20 bucks, I'd have TWO MILLION DOLLARS! Enough to make "94 Feet."
So far I've got promissory notes from eleven takers! That's the promise of 220 dollars. Only $1,999,780 to go!
Remember, in real life, this type of solicitation is highly illegal, but if we actually attain this goal, maybe we can ask John Ashcroft for a special exemption.
On a more lawful note, did you catch the uproar caused by Maryland fans showing up against Duke wearing F--- DUKE t-shirts?
The whole country was shocked. Shocked! So, for all you anti-Duke fans out there, for only $14.99 you can buy your very own FUKE DUCK t-shirt, thereby enabling you to stay warmly ensconced in the righteousness of family-value propriety and not get kicked out of school.
Or we can make it DUCK FUKE if you'd prefer.
T-shirts aside, for the moment I'm gonna concentrate on these two pitches:
One's a college football story based on a very funny (and timely) novel. The producer's pledged me to secrecy, so that's all I can say.
The other is the story of a Hollywood sports advisor. Actually, two Hollywood sports advisors, based loosely on my friend Kevin (K.B.) Benton and me.
You know, do that black/white bickering-buddy thing.
You see, K.B. and I have worked together on several movies. "White Men," "Blue Chips," "Celtic Pride," "The Sixth Man." We've been through some wars.
K.B.'s an actor. That's his first love. Me, I wanna write and direct.
That's the premise of the movie. These guys land what to most sports fanatics would be a dream job -- Hollywood sports advisor. But is that enough for these two knuckleheads? No way.
Above the line, that's where they belong. That's the hallowed ground where stars, directors and producers reside. Everyone else is below the line.
(Except for writers. They are the line. The thin line between boffo and stinko.)
For this movie, I've got a hundred stories in the bank. Crazed directors. Egomaniacal stars. Sexy cheerleaders. Obsessed fans. Wayward players. More than I can count.So here's a little trip down memory lane. My reactions to events from a few of the many movies I've worked on:
Here are a few from my movie travels:
The player was a white guy by the way.
Then there's the marijuana. Ah, yes. Even though alcohol's the drug that accounts for 40 percent of all violent crime in this country, it's pot they'll bust you for.
"Gentlemen, please don't get arrested for smoking marijuana. Don't smoke it on the set, don't smoke it in the locker room, don't smoke it in your car. Marijuana reeks. It sticks to your clothes. It reddens your eyes and fries your brain. It is illegal. It will land you in jail."
On "The Sixth Man" up in Vancouver, Canada. Another speech. "We're all gonna be driving down to Seattle for six days of shooting at U Dub. Do not try to bring drugs across the border. Repeat, do not have drugs on your person as we cross the border. If you're black, chances are you will get searched."
There was a nasty-ass production manager on that movie. Didn't even try to make nice with us. She hung out with J.G., the line producer, and there was no love lost between them and the basketball people.
The next morning we're driving south in our rental. K.B., me and our trusty African-Canadian assistant, Phil.
Caravanning towards the border, the line-producer's car in the lead. Phil says, "Did you guys notice those players around J.G.'s Town Car, eh? And the duct tape?"
"What duct tape?"
"I don't know. I thought I saw one of them under J.G.'s car?"
"You're kidding me."
"You don't think ..."
"They wouldn't ..."
We were about six miles from the border. The producers' car was about nine cars ahead of us. I floored the rental as K.B. grabbed the cell phone.So what happened? Sorry, you're gonna have to wait and pay your eight bucks like everybody else.
But that, when you're prepping a pitch, that's where you start. Good material. Rich stuff. Stuff like "Mash," "48 Hours," "Jerry Maguire," "Get Shorty."
That's why I had such a hard time writing "Library Cop." 'Cause there was nothing there. Nothing. Nada. Or "Rien" as the development guy would've said.
That job ended as absurdly as it began. By the time I had a draft to turn in, both the woman VP and the French guy weren't even showing up at the office.
We had our final meeting at her house above the Sunset Strip. The French guy was in the dumps. The VP was even worse off. Besides getting fired, her husband had left her, plus she was recovering from surgery.
She looked at me with pained eyes as I handed her the script. Putting on a brave face.
"In the last six weeks, I lost my job, my husband and my uterus," she said.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked stupidly.
(Like what, you moron, look under the couch for her uterus?)
"Just go away," she said.
So I did.
NEXT -- "HOLLYWOOD ANIMAL" vs. "HOLLYWOOD JOCK"
Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and is a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at email@example.com.