Scripts By SM
Since the mid 90’s I’ve kept a document in a file on my computer that lists every script I’ve ever written. The document is called “SCRIPTS BY SM” and it’s migrated through maybe 7 different computers over the years. A friend of mine asked me the other day how many scripts I’ve written in my lifetime. I couldn’t remember so I looked up this document. It’s 45. I’ve written 45 scripts in 25 years. I’m not sure what it says about me or if you can see any kind of trajectory here but I thought it might be interesting to go through all of them and write a little blurb on each one. The dates are the years I wrote them, not the years they were produced or released. So here goes:
1. THE CONFIDENCE MAN (1995) – I had actually written a couple of scripts before this. I think 2 or 3. I can’t remember much about them except that they were terribly inept, half finished and bordering on unreadable. So I always considered this the first script I ever wrote. This script isn’t very good. I’m not sure what I was trying to say with it or if I even understood yet that you should be trying to say something when you write. I know I was enthralled by Tarantino at the time and kind of wanted to be him. But I wasn’t really myself yet when I wrote this. The worst part is that a friend of mine actually raised some money to make this script as a film. So it’s not only my first script but my first produced credit. It involves some cops and a con man and a stripper. I’m embarrassed of this script. About the only positive thing that came out of it that I got to make the film with Tripp Reed, a good friend, who directed it, and some good actors – Tommy Hicks, Jack Conley, Karl Wiedergott, Barbara Alyn Woods and David Groh.
2. NIGHT EYES 4 (1995) – The second script I ever wrote is my second produced credit. This script was actually made and appeared in video stores at the time and on late night Cable TV. It was an erotic thriller. It’s even worse than The Confidence Man. Tripp Reed, my friend mentioned above, was working for a company that made straight to video films. His boss, Andrew Stevens, read The Confidence Man and decided I would be a good choice to write the 4th installment in what had been a successful soft core franchise – Night Eyes. I had no idea what I was doing. I believe I was paid $2500 to write it. At the time it would have been a thrill to be paid $50 to write something. That’s about what this script was worth. I had nothing to do with the production of the film. I remember Paula Barbieri was in it and a few other actors whose names I can’t remember. I arranged to have myself credited on this as Henry Krinkle, a reference to the film, “Taxi Driver”. I was thinking I was going to be a great artist with a great career and didn’t want this erotic thriller I’d done for the money tarnishing my reputation.
3. INNOCENCE BETRAYED aka FRIEND OF THE FAMILY II (1995) – Third script I ever wrote. Third produced credit. I was also credited as Henry Krinkle on this one. I had nothing to do with the titles and don’t know how, when or why it was changed. When I wrote it the title was Innocence Betrayed but it later came out on video with the second title. I don’t totally remember what the film was about but it was an erotic thriller with a lot sex in it. I’m pretty sure I wrote it in a week and was paid $1500. I think I was charged with writing a rip off of “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle” which was a successful studio film at the time. I don’t know why Andrew hired me to write another film given how bad a job I’d done on Night Eyes 4. It was probably that I was cheap. And I think Andrew just liked working with the same people and not having to break in new ones.
4. THE TRUTH ABOUT JULIET (1995) – 4th script I ever wrote. 4th produced credit. This was the first film I ever directed. There’s something to this one. It’s still bad but it was made with some thought and sincerity. It’s also a film that I made for me and financed myself through friends, family and credit cards. I wanted this film to be great and tried my best with it. I wrote it in 1995 but didn’t make it until 1996. I got to work with Karl Wiedergott again. Spencer Garrett and Samantha Smith – great people and great actors starred in it also. Another actor, Michael Marich was also in it. Not long after we finished the film he died of a heroin overdose. He was the first person I’d ever known my age who died. He was a sweet guy and very good actor and the film was dedicated to him. It was a pretty thin story. A guy finds out that his best friend’s girlfriend is cheating on his best friend and has to figure out if he should tell him and how to tell him. I’d gone through something similar in college. Then along with this I added in a Hollywood subplot which was just bad. There was some flair and humor in the writing but I still hadn’t figured it out and I kept cutting the film shorter and shorter because everyone said it felt slow. I think it ended up being about 78 minutes and it was still 15-20 minutes too long. The film premiered at the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival where it was reviewed in the local paper and got 0 stars. That was a punch in the gut. I clipped that review and kept it for years, promising myself I’d whip it out some day when I made it big and do… Lord knows what. But after a while the anger faded and I just threw out the clipping. I think the film deserved at least one star. Maybe a star and a half.
5. SCORNED 2 (1995) – I’m back to writing for Andrew Stevens and the straight to video market. Another erotic thriller. 5th script I ever wrote. 5th produced credit. I think I made 3 grand to write this one. It’s possible this film was the one that was the rip off of “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle”. If so I have no memory of what Innocence Betrayed was about. Nonetheless, there was an original Scorned movie that had been something of a late night Cinemax success. This was the sequel. I churned it out pretty quickly, had nothing to do with the production and moved on. I can’t remember if I ever even saw this one. I was credited as Sean McGinly for the first time on one of these films. I think I just stopped caring if anyone knew and there was no IMDB at this time, at least to my knowledge, so I didn’t think anyone would ever find out I’d been writing these things.
6. THE PROPOSITION aka SEXUAL ROULETTE (1996) – 6th script I ever wrote. 6th produced credit. I’m going to stop doing that now. I’ll just say it if was produced or not. I remember this one a little better. It was a rip off of “Indecent Proposal” with the genders switched. Lots of sex in this one. When I wrote it the title was The Proposition. It came out as Sexual Roulette. If I recall correctly Andrew’s wife at the time, Robyn, was the producer of this one. I wrote it as a kind of dark piece. Then they wanted it rewritten with a happy ending. Then they decided they wanted an even darker ending then the one I’d originally delivered. I think this might have played on the Playboy Channel. I do remember seeing it in video stores. It was terrible but less terrible than the other erotic thrillers I’d done to this point.
7. TIME UNDER FIRE (1996) – Don’t remember much about the story in this one. It was another job for Andrew. I co-wrote it with Tripp Reed. He had been working as a production executive for Andrew but quit because he wanted to do more creative work. Tripp wasn’t willing to write erotic thrillers. This was an action or sci-fi piece that I think involved time travel and starred Jeff Fahey. Tripp basically got Andrew to assign him this job and then brought me on. I remember we made 7 grand, which we split. I never saw the finished product. I’m sure it was pretty bad. Tripp really cared about these films and wanted to make them good. I had always accepted that these films were crap and there was no way to make them good. I just wanted to get them done and get paid. So it took a little longer when I wrote with Tripp. He said to me once, “I don’t have the ‘don’t care’ gene”. He always cared no matter how stupid or exploitive the project was and this was kind of a sweet thing about him.
8. STRATEGIC COMMAND (1996) - Another Andrew job that I co-wrote with Tripp. This was a rip off of “Executive Decision”, which had been a small studio hit around this time. Michael Dudikoff was the star I’m pretty sure. There were a handful of guys back then like Michael Dudikoff and Don “The Dragon” Wilson who weren’t big stars in the US but who had worldwide audiences somehow. So they could star in and get films like this made. We really tried to make this film good. I don’t think it was. The script had to be written too quickly and the film had to be made too quickly. There was no money for good special effects or stunts. And Tripp and I weren’t great writers regardless. All that said, this was an action film that was a cut above the other straight to video films I’d written and co-written up to this time. An unknown Bryan Cranston has a small but funny part in this film.
9. EVASIVE ACTION (1997) – Another Andrew job that I co-wrote with Tripp. This was the most blatant of the rip offs. The film “Con Air” had been a studio hit. We took the exact same idea but set it on a train rather than a plane. And just to be clear about these rip offs – it’s not like Tripp and I were anxious to rip off studio films. Really none of the things I wrote by myself or with Tripp were our own ideas. Andrew or one of the guys who worked with him would come up with the idea to rip off a studio film and then assign Tripp and I to execute it. I actually saw a cut of this one and my God, was it awful. Roy Scheider was the star of this. I felt bad for him. He was actually a good actor and this was just so beneath him. But I think Andrew had a good formula for these films. The budget would be around 1-1.5 million. The star would get around 500K for 2 weeks work. Then the film would be made with what remained. I guess it was hard for guys like Roy Scheider, who was at the end of his career, to turn down that kind of money for such a small time commitment.
10. THE DOWNSIDE (1997) – The whole point of writing all these straight to video movies was to get enough money to pay the bills so I could then spend time working on scripts that I wanted to write. Things that were actually interesting and complex. This was one of those or at least an attempt at one. Tripp had an idea for a film about the urban myth of people who steal human organs (kidneys, livers) and sell them on the black market to wealthy people. I liked the idea and we agreed to write it together. We came up with an outline and then went to Palm Springs for 5 days and locked ourselves in a cheap motel room. We worked so hard. We wrote from 8am until 10 or 11pm every night only taking breaks for meals. At the end of the trip I think we had a pretty good, fun script. But then time went by. We showed the script to people and they had notes and ideas. Tripp always had a hard time with this. If someone read the script and liked it he was over the moon and the script was brilliant. The next day if someone didn’t like it the script was flawed and needed to be reimagined. This went on for years. Tripp had an issue with making choices and just living with them. He seemed to find the world of choices before you when you write a script to be maddening. He said this to me. At one point he wanted to rewrite the script with one of the main characters suffering from this very problem. A character paralyzed by the choices in a restaurant, at a grocery store, when you drive a car and can take several different routes. It began to occur to me that Tripp was having some sort of neurotic crisis and we never did anything with the script. This was a real shame. Tripp and I had worked together to make The Confidence Man and The Truth About Juliet. Neither had been very successful and I think this had shaken his confidence. But I believe we walked out of that motel room in Palm Springs after 5 days with a good, solid script. It wasn’t monumental and it wasn’t going to change the world but it was the best thing either one of us had written to that point. Once all the tinkering started the script fell apart. The plan was for Tripp to direct it and I wish we had just gone out and made it happen. We could have. Tripp was formidable when he put his mind to something. So was I. When we’d made those earlier films we’d both been on fire. Neither of us were geniuses or probably even artists yet but we had such energy and passion. It’s one of the regrets of my career that we didn’t make this film. Even if it hadn’t turned out great I think it would have been fun to do it and we would have learned a lot.
11. FUGITIVE MIND (1997) – Co-wrote this one with Tripp for Andrew. No memory of what it was about. I think Jeff Fahey might have been in this one too. But I could be wrong about that and I don’t want to cheat and look it up on IMDB. Anyway, this was a money job. By now Tripp was starting to get worn down. We churned it out, got paid and moved on.
12. TWO DAYS (1998) – This was a huge script for me. I remember I was sitting in a Starbucks at the Barnes and Noble at the Westside Pavilion when the idea just hit me. It was like a gift. I went home and wrote it in about 4 days it changed my whole life. It’s hard to explain how exactly. This was a script I wrote for myself that was an expression of something. It was the first script I ever wrote where I felt like a real writer, where I felt like I was in command of the craft. It was a dark comedy about a guy who decides to make a documentary film about the last 2 days of his life before he kills himself. Whenever I showed this script to someone they liked it. It became a semifinalist in the Nicholl Fellowship. In 2002, I directed it with Paul Rudd in the lead role. This was before Paul Rudd had really become a big star. But just the fact that someone like Paul Rudd read this script and responded to it gave me such confidence. The film didn’t do much but it played a handful of good film festivals. I wrote differently after writing this script. I’m not saying the things I wrote were all great or even good but there was a voice and a craftmanship in most of my work after this one.
13. SONIC BLAST aka SONIC IMPACT (1998) – Tripp had a kind of falling out with Andrew. I don’t remember the details exactly but they weren’t speaking and Tripp wasn’t interested in working for him any longer. I still was so I wrote this one by myself. It was an action movie that was written around a piece of footage the producers had bought from another film. I don’t remember the exact plot. The director was Rodney McDonald and he, like Tripp, cared. So we went through a number of rewrites trying to make the thing good. It wasn’t very good. But Ice-T was in it and I saw the box on some video store shelves at the time.
14. THE SEMINAR (1998) – This one relates to Two Days. There were a couple of producers who optioned Two Days for $1,000. This meant a lot to me. I’d been paid for the straight to video films but this was the first time I’d been paid any amount of money for something of my own. Anyway, while these producers were trying to get Two Days set up they asked if I’d be interested in writing something for them on assignment. At the time, teenage and young adult horror films were big. Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and many more. They asked if I had any ideas for something in that vein. I had an idea about suicide clusters set among a group of medical school students. They liked it and paid me to write the script. It was formulaic but solid. They were happy with the script but weren’t able to get it made.
15. CUBA (1999) – This was a tough one and a good lesson. In 1996 and 1997 I’d traveled to Cuba 7 times to buy cigars, smuggle them into the US and then sell them at a big profit. This and writing the straight to video films is how I’d supported myself. Everyone that heard this story felt like there was a movie in this. One day I sat down and wrote it. I’d been hugely affected by the movie “Rushmore” so I wrote it with that kind of tone or an effort at that kind of tone. A manager I was working with convinced me the script needed bigger stakes and a more dramatic tone. So I rewrote it with that tone. It was OK but the script never quite felt right. I think my first draft was the closest to what it was supposed to be. Efforts to make the thing Midnight Express came off as silly because you were dealing with cigars, not heroin. I wish I’d just stuck with the first draft but I listened to too many other people and spent more than a year trying to crack this script and never was able to. I finally just put it aside.
16. THE WEEKEND (1999) – There’s a long essay about the film this script became here on my website called “The Film From Hell”. So I won’t say too much about it. It was an idea I’d had for a while about a man a woman who are flirty friends who decide to go away for a weekend together and pretend they’re in love. There’s something to the idea. The script wasn’t fully realized or developed. The film was a disaster. I later kind of used the idea as a small element of a different script (#44) so it didn’t totally go to waste.
17. A MAN INVISIBLE (2000) – This was kind of just an experiment and I considered not even including it on the list. I wanted to write a script that was totally voice over. So I did it. It’s kind of surreal. It doesn’t totally make sense. It’s hard to even describe. I wouldn’t write this script today. At the time I was desperate to write something and this was an idea I had so off I went. It’s a bunch of ideas, not a cogent story.
18. CRITICAL MASS (2000) – The whole thing with writing for Andrew was coming to an end. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was too depressing. At the same time, I had no career. I wasn’t making any money from cigars any longer. It was kind of scary. There was something in me that was just rejecting writing these straight to video movies. I felt like it was hurting me, eating away at my soul. Still, I muscled my way through this one. I can’t remember the plot. It was some sort of action movie. Treat Williams, who I really like as an actor, was in it. I never saw it. It kills me to think he got this script and it had my name on it. It was terrible and I’m sorry he had to do it, even if he was paid a lot of money for 12 days work.
19. VINELAND (2000) – This was a good script that I wrote for me. It never got made but it was a turning point or part of a turning point. The idea for this was suggested to me by a friend I’d gone to college with. A woman disappears. Her boyfriend is suspected of killing her. But he won’t talk to the police or answer any questions. Guilt is written all over his face but there’s just no evidence. So the family of the woman takes matters into their own hands and makes a terrible mess. I’m proud of this script and think with a little luck it could have been something. I gained a lot of confidence writing this and think it was worthwhile.
20. MULLIGAN (2000) – This was the script that made my career. It was another one that just hit me in a moment. I was watching football on a Sunday and a kicker for the Washington Redskins missed a field goal to win the game. I got the idea for a Rocky story about a washed up loser who had once been an excellent high school kicker. He decides to get in shape and chase an impossible dream. I wrote this script, showed it to every contact I had in the business. They all told me it wasn’t a strong enough piece of writing. Three years later I convinced a manager to take it out. It sold to Fox 2000. I took meetings every day for months afterwards. I got an agent at CAA. I got hired for several other good paying jobs just based on this script and its sale. The script never got made as a film, which is a real shame. But writing it was monumental for my career and changed my life. When I wrote it I was so broke. I was just a guy in a crappy apartment with an idea. I sat down day after day and wrote this script, no idea what it would become, if anything. And then nothing happened. The script sat on a shelf for years. And then a few years later I’m the same guy, walking into nice offices of reputable producers and studio executives who are telling me how talented I am. Life is crazy.
21. MORE MERCY (2001) – So this was the end of writing for the straight to video market. I’d had enough. I couldn’t do it anymore. There were other scripts besides this one that I wrote part of or rewrote around this time. But this was the last one I wrote completely. It involved a female detective who has to enter the underground world of porn. I remember I was required to go meet the 80’s porn star Ona Zee as research for this film. I didn’t understand why Andrew wanted me to do research for this film. He’d never asked me to research any of the other script I’d written for him. But anyway, I went to Ona Zee’s condo in Marina del Rey. She was nice and sent me home with a shopping bag of porn VHS copies to watch. I didn’t watch them. Then she called me at home a week later and asked if I’d watched them. I lied and said I did. Then she wanted to know specifically what scenes and moments I’d liked best. I started stuttering and came up with something. It was all very weird and uncomfortable. I never saw the finished product which I think might have also been called “Bad Bizness”. And that was that for writing erotic thrillers and low budget rip offs of studio films. However, the IMDB had become very popular so these films would be on my resume for the rest of my life whether I liked it or not.
22. THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD (2002) – In the early 90’s I’d briefly worked as the road manager for a magician called The Amazing Kreskin. My friend Pat loved hearing my stories about this time and insisted there was a movie there. One day he called me up and told me to come over. He wanted to help me figure it out. We talked for an hour or two. I went home and started writing. A year or so later when I sold Mulligan I got an agent and showed them this script. They liked it and the process began with trying to get it made. It took until 2007. The movie didn’t come out until 2009. John Malkovich played Buck Howard. Occasionally on a plane or at a party someone will ask me what I do. I’ll tell them I’m a screenwriter and filmmaker. They’ll ask if I’ve done anything they might have heard of. And I’ll mention this film. Maybe 1 out of 10 times they’ll have heard of it. It came out in theaters and got decent reviews but really didn’t make much of a splash.
23. NEW SCHOOL (2003) - Occasionally in here there will be gaps between scripts being written. This is usually because I was making a film which can take up huge amounts of time. I made Two Days in 2002 and immediately after made a documentary film. This took up more than a year. When I finished the documentary Mulligan sold and I was hired and paid well to write this script for CBS as a one hour television pilot. It was my first time writing for television. I had actually gone into CBS with a pitch for a medical drama that I really liked. They rejected that and instead offered to pay me to write an idea they had come up with. I probably shouldn’t have taken the job but at the time was so thrilled to be paid this kind of money that I was taking everything. It was about a guy who sets up a charter school in a poor neighborhood in LA and tries to change the lives of its underprivileged students. I actually visited a real charter school that it was loosely based on. But I just didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t have a good feel for this story. David Zucker, the head of the TV side of Ridley Scott’s production company was the producer and he tried to help me but what I came up with at the end was mediocre and CBS didn’t order it to series.
24. CAMP (2004) - This is another job I took in the wake of selling Mulligan. It was based on a book written by Seth Davis who is a commentator for CBS college basketball now. The book was about his time at camp as a kid. They wanted me to turn it into a Meatballs for the new millennium. Again, not the kind of thing I write but they seemed intent on hiring me so I was intent on taking the money. Didn’t go well. I sat with the producers and laid out exactly how the script was going to go. Then I turned in that script. They decided they wanted to start all over. I didn’t want to do that. We parted ways.
25. THE BABYSITTER (2004) – Another studio job. I was paid very well to write this. It was an enormous pain in the ass. The story was based on a magazine article about how NBA teams had started hiring people to hang out with their younger, more troubled stars and keep them out of trouble. The process went on forever. I pitched my take to a creative executive at the production company, then to the higher ups at the production company. Then to the higher ups and a junior creative exec at the studio. Then we went to the higher ups at the studio. They didn’t like our take. Back to the drawing board. The whole process repeated itself all over again. Finally, we all went to the studio a second time and they bought it. The idea I came up with was that a Will Smith sort of guy has made a business out of this. He’s the best at taking out of control sports superstars in hand and making sure they’re sober and ready to perform on game night. But then he meets his biggest challenge – a wild, drunken, skirt chasing country boy who’s a great NFL quarterback. He’s just led his team to a Super Bowl berth and needs to be kept in check for the 2 weeks leading up to the game. Hilarity ensues. I think this was a good concept and idea. I saw it was a Midnight Run sort of movie. But the producers and studio kept changing their minds and then changing back, over and over again. I did so many drafts of this script even though I was only being paid for two. The studio didn’t know what they wanted. The producers didn’t either. I got so turned around that I forgot what was good about the idea to begin with. The script became a muddled mess. Finally, I just quit, after months and months of working for free. The producers were insulted and outraged. But I couldn’t take it anymore.
26. A LITTLE LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (2005) – Because Mulligan had been a sports script a lot of other sports ideas were presented to me. In this case, Geena Davis had an idea for a sequel to a League of Their Own. I met with her and presented my ideas. Together, we went to Sony and pitched it to Amy Pascal. She bought it. Then Geena got really busy with a TV series she was working on. I turned in the script and heard nothing for a long time. Then an executive at Sony gave me notes. I handed in the new draft of the script with the notes and never heard another thing about it. It was a good chunk of money but a waste career wise.
27. KAROO (2006) – After doing these paid studio jobs I felt like it was important to do something more artistic and that I might actually be interested in making into a film. My manager had read this book and sent it to me. I liked it. My manager agreed to pay to option it if I agreed to write it for free. I later found out that this manager had gotten an investor to give him 50 grand. Ten of that was for the option and 40 of that was to pay me. But my manager never told me about this and just kept the 40 grand for himself. I didn’t find this out until years later though. The book, and script was about a drunken screenwriter who suddenly finds that no matter how much he drinks he can’t get drunk. Suddenly he can’t numb out his sad life and has to experience and deal with all his mistakes and personality problems. Steve Tesich, the screenwriter of Breaking Away, had written this book. I really enjoyed adapting it and tried to get it made for years. It was just too hard though. The material was too difficult and dark. And I wasn’t a big enough name to get the budget we needed to make this kind of material.
28. PRICE (2008) – A pretty big gap in here that represents making The Great Buck Howard. When that movie was made but before it came out I was suddenly in demand again for a while. I got a new TV agent at CAA who got me serious money to write this. It was an idea that CBS had for the pilot of a one hour dramatic series. The story was about a guy who had sold his sperm in his 20’s. Now, at near 40 he’s approached by his teenage son who has somehow tracked him down. This causes ripples in both of their lives and with both of their families. CBS was really happy with this when I turned it in and so was I. My agent had warned me it would never get ordered. He told me CBS bought a couple pilots like this every year but never took them to series. He was right.
29. THE HAPPY ONES (2008) – My friend Pat Gilfillan and I wrote this together. It was an idea we’d come up with for a small, independent film. It’s about love and regret and the strangeness of life. A guy breaks up with his girlfriend, is heartbroken over it. He goes to Las Vegas to see his sick, estranged father and makes friends with a zany, aspiring stripper on the plane. I liked this script a lot but it was too small and too weird. We couldn’t get it made.
30. COMPLICATIONS (2008) – When I’d first gone to CBS back in 2003 I’d pitched them the idea for a medical drama. They’d said no and instead hired me to write “New School”. One day I was pacing in my room thinking about how much I’d liked that idea and how much I’d wished CBS had bought it. Though I didn’t have the rights to the book by Atul Gawande that it had been based on I decided to not tell anyone and just sit down and write it on spec. It only took about 2 weeks because I had worked out the whole thing as a pitch years before. I showed it to my agent, who loved it. A few weeks later it sold to Fox Television for more money than I’d ever been paid to write a script. I really thought this was going to go to series. The note and development process was so smooth. I had the answer to every question. Everyone seemed to like it. I just felt poised. They told me that it was between my pilot and one other, which was about a schizophrenic surgeon. That one went to series. They passed on Complications.
31. A GOOD MAN (2009) – Around this point I started to get sick of the whole process of writing for studios. The money was good but there were so many terrible notes. Or the notes were good and then for reasons that were totally beyond me they just passed or the people involved moved onto other things and didn’t even bother with the work I had done. I remember saying a lot that if I had any balls I’d stop writing on assignment altogether and just write my own stuff and take it to market. If I was good, this would pay off. So this was a script I wrote on spec with that in mind. It was about a political campaign. The main character was a washed up, cynical political strategist who hates his life and gets the chance to work for a guy who’s running for Senate. He keeps waiting for the guy to reveal himself to be a scumbag, because they all are. But the guy surprises him and turns out to be honorable and the reason he got into this business. I think this was a really good script. At the time though the business was hobbled by the financial crisis. The studios weren’t making mid budget dramas anymore. Or at least that’s what I was told. My agent read the script and told me it was “top of the food chain” writing. Maybe he was just kissing my ass and the script just wasn’t that good. But I think it was a good piece of writing that just didn’t find a home. Nothing ever happened with it.
32. MALIBU GIRLS (2009) – My friend Heath Ryan had an idea for a stupid, fun comedy. I decided to write it with him. The story was 3 sisters, all very rich and spoiled and from Malibu see their lives turn upside down when their father is arrested ala Bernie Madoff. Suddenly they’re dead broke with no job experience or life skills. We had a great time writing this thing but it was all a little silly. At the end we sent it out and no one wanted it.
33. CRYSTAL CITY (2009) – This was a one hour TV pilot that I wrote on spec. At this point my agents were starting to get tired of me. I was turning down the opportunity to work on assignment. My TV agent was putting me in rooms with important people that wanted to work with me and I wasn’t taking advantage of this. I really just didn’t want to do another job where I was paid well and then the thing got lost in notes or just wasn’t made for whatever reason. The story here was about a cop who is part of a corrupt police department. Unbeknownst to all his fellow police officers, who are his friends, he has become an informant. Every day he’s doing corrupt things with his fellow cops and then telling the FBI about it every night as they build a case. It’s killing him that all these people are going to go to jail and have their lives ruined. I stole the idea from Prince of the City, the great Sidney Lumet film. It’s something my TV agent had suggested, that I think of a movie I liked and then try to find a way to adapt it for television without totally ripping it off. I really liked this idea. I took a few meetings with high up TV executives with it. They all said the same thing – good writing, what else do you have? This never got made or went anywhere.
34. INDECENT EXPOSURE (2010) – When The Great Buck Howard came out, even though it didn’t do well, there were people who really liked it. I turned down a number of offers to write and direct movies. I also turned down chances to meet with studios on some bigger projects because I didn’t like the scripts. My agent was starting to get annoyed with me. He had run so many different things by me and I didn’t like any of them. Then he suggested this, which was a book written in the 80’s about something that had happened in Columbia Pictures in the 1970’s. It was a business story that involved a lot of boardrooms and infighting. The main character was David Begelman, president of Columbia Pictures. He had been caught embezzling from the company which set off a whole chain of very interesting events. The producer, Ed Pressman, owned the rights so I had to charm him and convince him to let me take a crack at it. He paid me a tiny sum of money to write it compared to what I was making at the time. I think it was 5 or 6 grand. I just really liked the story and wanted to do it. So I wrote the script, thought I did a great job. Ed said it read like a term paper. I thought of it as more of a procedural. Anyway, we could never resolve this and went our separate ways.
35. ADELAIDE (2010) – This is a script for a small, independent film that I wrote with Heath Ryan. I don’t think we ever completely figured this one out. It was about Heath in some ways. I don’t remember the exact story. We had fun writing it but when it was done I think we both felt like it wasn’t really commercial and neither of us knew how to put it together. So we moved on.
36. THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2010) – Interesting story. When I sold Mulligan and was all over town trying to land writing jobs I’d taken a meeting for this. A production company owned the rights, which was based on a New Yorker article written by David Grann. Another writer was hired to write the screenplay. Nothing had happened with it and it sat in development hell. Every few years I’d ask my agents if there was any way for me to pick this back up or buy the rights myself. They told me this was impossible. I took a meeting at Mike Medavoy’s company one day and told an executive there about this article and story. He agreed to look into it for me. He called me back and said that an independent producer named Anthony Mastromauro had obtained the rights. I met with Anthony and convinced him to hire me to write the script. Again, I was paid a very small amount but the agreement was that I’d be considered to direct it and, if not, would be attached as a producer on the project. Anthony and I didn’t get along great. He had a lot of notes and then in future meetings would have new notes that contradicted his old ones. This was another project where I wrote so many drafts of this story despite only being contracted to write a draft and one rewrite. I liked the project and wanted to be a part of it. And Anthony acted like he had paid me a million dollars. He wanted me to spend months and months going down every road with him and trying to figure out the story. It was really frustrating. Mostly, because I felt like I had already figured out the story. This wasn’t something where I didn’t know what to do. I knew this story and had a take on it and felt like I’d executed the script quite well. I finally just gave up and told Anthony I was done. However, because of my original deal, I was still attached to the project. Basically the deal was that as long as Anthony was a producer on the project so was I and entitled to be paid like one. A few years later Anthony got the project going. David Lowry had rewritten it and attached Robert Redford to it. It was a go movie. What followed was a year of negotiations between me, Anthony and the company that had agreed to finance the movie. We went around in circles and at the end they paid me 100 grand to go away. I used that money to make a movie I’ll talk about shortly (#38).
37. THE PRODUCER (2011) – This was a 30 minute TV pilot that I wrote on spec. It was based on Gary Goetzman, who was the head of Tom Hanks’ production company, Playtone, who had produced The Great Buck Howard. I found Gary to be a really interesting guy and I thought the relationship between him and Tom Hanks was fascinating. The main character, based on Gary, is named Glenn Segal. He’s a miserable guy with a lot of power who’s driven nuts by his job and basically running around all day in terror of losing everything. I really loved writing this. When I was done I showed it to my friend, Heath Ryan. He felt like we should just go make it so a couple years later, we did, on a very small budget. Billy Zane played a version of Tom Hanks. Spencer Garrett played a version of Gary Goetzman. I never told Gary that I had done this and I was pretty sure if he found out he’d be upset. He was paranoid and a total control freak. I knew if I showed it to him he’d find a way to kill it. But it’s not like I roasted him in it. He was the hero and the smartest guy in the room and always won in the end, even though he didn’t enjoy it. The whole thing was pretty mild and good natured. Anway, I shot this pilot, put it together and thought it was fantastic. I showed it to my agents. They didn’t respond to say whether they liked it, hated it or were indifferent about it. A week later they just called and said it was time for us to go our separate ways. Maybe it was because they were sick and tired of me not taking any jobs and doing this stuff by myself. CAA is a big place. They need to spend their time on clients that bring a return. But part of me wondered if it wasn’t that they were scared this pilot I’d made was going to upset Gary and Tom, which would have been understandable. I never found out. I think this is the best thing I’ve ever done. We tried to sell it but this was before there were a million streaming options available. It wasn’t quite right for anybody. Some people didn’t like that it took place in Hollywood, which made sense. At one point a small cable company called Ovation said they were going to buy it and order 6 episodes but then they went out of business. I never found a home for it.
38. BROOKLYN aka SILVER LAKE (2011) – This is the most autobiographical thing I’d ever written. I’d been dating a woman who had small children. It was the first time I’d ever dated a woman with children. We broke up and I was really upset. The relationship was difficult because she was more conventional and was frustrated that I wasn’t and that all my friends were like me or worse. We loved each other but kept butting up against our different values and how we wanted different things in life. This is what the script’s about. I had always wanted to make a film in Brooklyn so I set it there. Heath Ryan had raised the money to make it but our cast fell apart and then the movie fell apart. Years later, I got that 100 grand from The Old Man and the Gun. I decided to set it in LA and retitle it Silver Lake. It was a really touching experience to make the movie. I didn’t set the world on fire as I’d hoped it would but it won a few film festivals and I love the film and script.
39. HEARTBROKEN aka *67 (2014) – A big gap in here because I directed a movie that I didn’t write the script for during this time. A lot of time was also lost to making and trying to sell The Producer. And nearly a year was spent trying to get Brooklyn made before it finally fell apart. This script was a tough one. I get sad when I think about it because I wrote it during a really hard time. My drinking had gotten out of control while I was writing this script and I had to get sober in the middle of writing it. Maybe that’s part of the reason why it didn’t work. While I still had an agent I decided that I wanted to write a commercial, comedy spec in the vein of the Judd Apatow movies that were popular at the time. Everyone had known (or has been) the guy who’s heartbroken over a girl and just can’t, or refuses to, get over it. He calls her, he follows her, he won’t shut up wanting to go over the ins and out of it with his friends. That was the concept here. It was originally called Heartbroken. I later entitled it *67 because at the time (and perhaps even still now) if you dialed those numbers before calling someone it blocked your number. The main character in the script did this a lot with his ex girlfriend. I spent a long time on this script and could never quite crack it. It may just be that I don’t have the knack for writing commercial comedies. Nonetheless, I tried. And tried. I knew I was in trouble because I kept changing and rewriting it and doubting everything about it. There are some really funny scenes and moments in this script but it just doesn’t work as a whole. It was a long, difficult failure that I enjoyed parts of.
40. BEVERLY GLEN (2015) – When I was a kid I imagined what it would be like to be a ladies man. How wonderful it would be to be juggling 3 or 4 women like Sam Malone on Cheers. I never had the stomach for this kind of lifestyle but I had a few friends who did. It surprised me how miserable and lonely they were. My friend Alan calls it the lothario myth. So this story is about a desperate guy who’s something of a love and sex addict. He’s always in motion, constantly trying to keep his head above water, lying to women every second and running his business with as much guile as he runs his personal life. I really like this script and plan to make it some day if I can.
41. BAXTER MD (2015) – I decided to give commercial writing one last shot. I had an idea for a middle of the road, one hour medical drama. It’s about a control freak doctor who is beginning to realize he might have Parkinson’s. He’s also realizing that he’s going to have to make peace with his son in law, who’s getting divorced from his daughter and who works at his practice for him. I think it’s a good piece of writing that has potential and could have been a good series. I lost my TV agent not long before finishing this. I showed it around to a few contacts in the business and no one bit. I moved on.
42. MATCH (2016) – In 2010 I’d broken up with a girlfriend and for the first time in a long time found myself online dating. I met a woman and we texted and emailed back for a while. Things seemed promising but when we met I wasn’t interested. She asked if we could be friends, which I agreed to. Then asked if we could be friends with benefits, which I agreed to. When I cut this off she became obsessive and for the next year basically stalked me sending thousands of texts and emails. At first I’d write back angrily telling her to leave me alone. After a while I just ignored her. She wrote emails to my parents, my friends, showed up at my house and sat outside for hours. I had to change my phone numbers. She was remarkably resilient, convinced we were meant to be together and that I would eventually realize this. My friend Pat suggested I might have a play here. His concept was along the lines of the play, “Love Letters” except it would be all emails and texts. I took him up on it and wrote the thing, changing the dynamics of the relationship so that the man and the woman were more even and equally at fault. I really enjoyed writing this and thought it was good. But I had no contacts in the theater world and knew nothing about staging a play. In 2020 in the midst of Covid I decided to make it as a film on green screen. We’ll see how it comes out.
43. HOW SOON IS NEVER (2016) – This is an adaptation of a book by Marc Spitz. It’s about a drunken, washed up rock journalist who comes up with the hair brained scheme of trying to get the Smiths back together and nearly does. My friend Mark Phinney has been a fan of this book since the early 2000’s. He somehow made friends with Marc Spitz, the author, got the rights to the book and wrote a draft of the script. Then he asked me to rewrite it, which I agreed to do. So we shared credit on it. It’s tough one though. It’s not the kind of thing you can do really cheaply. You need a couple million dollars, at least, to pull this off. We tried to get this made for a couple years and then Marc Spitz died way too young. His family let Mark Phinney keep the rights to the book for a while but then finally just gave up on us. I’d like to do this some day but it would require raising the money and getting the rights to the book back so I think me or Mark would have to get to a better place in our career before we could make this happen.
44. ARTIST IN RESIDENCE (2017) – I have a handful of ideas for scripts that roll around in my head, for years sometimes. This was one of them. I’d had the idea since some time in 2014 and one day it just came together and I sat down and wrote it. It’s about a struggling filmmaker who makes these indie films that play at underground film festivals. He’s respected within his world and he’s an artist but he has no real success or money. The one thing he does have is a happy marriage. He and his wife have what their friends describe as the perfect marriage. The wife is a writer too but an unambitious and tentative one. In their marriage she’s the supportive presence. She has a real job that pays the bills while the main character chases his creative dreams. One day the wife finally finishes a play she’s been dicking around with for years. Turns out it’s really good and suddenly their roles change which threatens the marriage. I was 4 days away from starting this movie in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. I really hope to return to it. One other interesting thing. The play that the wife writes – I had to figure out what that play was actually about. I didn’t have to fully write it but I had to have a sense of it so they could refer to different story points. I used the story from The Weekend (#16). This felt good. That had been such a difficult film and experience that had amounted to nothing. I was happy to be able to repurpose it and put it to use.
45. DIAMOND RING (2019) – Another gap in here because I was making and then trying to finish and sell Silver Lake. And there’s going to be another gap because so much of 2020 was spent almost making Artist in Residence and then making Match. Anyway, this story is about 3 women. One of them is in a long term relationship with a very wealthy man. When he breaks up with her she finds herself in a difficult position. She’d assumed this relationship was going to last forever and hadn’t prepared herself for its demise. She’s a single mother. She has no marketable skills. In a way this relationship had kind of saved her. Now that it’s gone she feels lost and in a way entitled to the life that was promised to her. This brings up issues for two of her friends, both of whom are married. One is in a similar relationship with an older, very successful man. She wonders if she didn’t put too much emphasis on security over passion. The third woman is married to a sweet but unsuccessful musician and waiter. She loves him but longs for a different kind of man, someone who takes charge and makes her feel safe. The script is about relationships and the choices people make and how nothing is really perfect. I feel like this story and some of the other ones I’ve written more recently are the kinds of things I should be doing and maybe the kinds of things I should have always been doing. So I hope I’ve found my voice and the kinds of stories I want to tell. But it took a long time and I had to work through a lot to get to this place. And it’s not like it’s easy now. It’s so hard to find money for these films and even when you do it’s never enough and you have to convince people to work very cheaply and make compromises. But I’m glad I’ve done this with my life. It’s been rewarding and fun. And even though I’m more cynical now there’s still a part of me that hasn’t changed in 25 years. With every script, with every movie there’s a moment where I get wrapped up in the whole thing and think – just maybe, this is the one. And I hope I stay like that forever, even if it’s a little delusional.