Hope Begins to Die and Samuel Goldwyn Profits

My foray into screenwriting began twenty two years ago right after I saw the movie Dogfight, the tale of a young marine who has a contest with his friends to see who can invite the ugliest girl to a party. The girl played by Lily Taylor finds out about the contest and tells the Marine, played by River Phoenix , off. They proceed to spend the night walking around San Francisco. They fall in love and she looses her virginity to him. The movie pissed me off. I went home and wrote an angry short story about a girl who is invited to a dog fight and murders the boy who invited her. I stuck it in a drawer and thought no more about it; it was therapy.
Ten years later I saw the film Adaptation for the first time. The semi true story of an insecure writer who is commissioned to adapted the book “The Orchid Thief” for the screen. Much of the film dealt with the writer’s contempt for Hollywood clichés. I could relate. I had always preferred independent films myself. I hated movies where the guy and the girl, meet cute hate each other then realize they love each other. I couldn’t stand it when the characters grew up completely due to a single life changing incident. I also don’t believe anyone grows and when people do change, its not always for the better. I too hated all the ridiculous plot twists and think a simple human story is more interesting. I fell in love with Charlie a bit, although he had been fictionalized. I have to question how I would have felt if I had known that the real Kaufman is 5’2 and about a hundred pounds with a bad Jewfro and glasses, bearing no resemblance Nicolas Cage who plays him in the movie.
The very fact of the extremely appealing Mr. Cage playing Kaufman is another thing I hate about Hollywood; it glamorized everything. Prostitutes were beautiful grown women instead of pre teen run –a-ways, Women who had been alone forever were portrayed by stunningly beautiful actresses. We were asked to believe they were alone because they were married to their careers. In real life the women I’d known who had been alone for years, myself included, were all goofy looking, nominally employed chicks. In the movies men were often wrought with one moral conflict or another, they would have a crisis of conscience and end up doing the right thing. In real life I had witness greed beyond belief. I rarely if ever saw anyone so much as question their stock market investments, jobs or the moral beliefs of those close to them.
After seeing the movie four times in one week I got it into my head that I too could write a screenplay. I would change all those Hollywood clichés. I would be the voice of the ugly woman! I took the short story out of my desk drawer and over the coarse of the year, turned it into a screenplay about an ugly girl with a tennis playing trophy wife step mom and a sister who is a model. The girl is invited to a dogfight, kills the boy who invited her as well as his friend. She then makes it look as if the two boys are having an affair and frames a third boy for the murder. When the media picks up on the story the gay rights movement of the nineties is born. The girl uses the media attention on the case to advance herself. She profits from her crime and becomes a producer of reality television shows.
I timidly began to shop it around. Oh, I never showed it to anyone I knew. I entered it into a contest or two and never heard back. I discovered something called a Pitchfest. Which was an event held in Los Angeles where people from all over the country went to pitch their stories to Hollywood producers. Tickets to the event were $375 and it would cost at least $400 to fly to LA and spend the night in a hotel. I decided it was a ridiculous thing to do. The screenplay was for an underground film at best and I didn’t think it warranted any kind of investment.
About a week later I went gambling in the mountains with a friend of mine. I made a silent promise to myself that if I won big I would go to Pitchfest . I felt that there was absolutely no chance of this happening . I put a dollar in the machine and won $775.00 exactly. I was extremely freaked out. I bought my tickets the next day.
I arrived in LA a month later. I didn’t tell anyone I was going. I expected to fail miserably. I couldn’t sleep all night before the Pitchfest. The writers started arriving at 5:00 a.m. to sign up to pitch to the various production companies that would be attending the fest. Each production company would listen to fifty seven minute pitches. It was like speed dating . At the time I thought it was exciting. Now I realize it was part of the Hollywood Caste system. In spite of the exorbitant amount of money the writers had paid to attended the festival they still had to vi for a position in for the very chance at talking to some nothing little d boy schmuck from the production company. If we were lucky enough to get a spot we would get to pitch our story and hope the loser would agree to look at it.
I was so nervous during my first pitch session that I actually stuttered a bit. The man I pitched my screenplay to actually felt sorry for me and agreed to read my script. I pitched my script to a total of twenty five companies and received seven script request (more than anyone else). I was sure that I was in. One of the companies that requested a script was Samuel Goldwyn, I was thrilled, almost no one got a request from them.
I returned to Denver and sent out seven copies of my screenplay. I waited impatiently to hear back. I spent many a day fantasizing about what it would be like when my screenplay sold and I was a successful screenwriter. I never heard back from any of them.
A year later I sent my screenplay around to several agents. I got them all directly from the Writers Guild of America website so I knew they were “legit”. There was a woman named Jennnette who was starting a new agency. I thought I might have a chance with her. I got a call from her a month later saying she wanted to represent me. I was thrilled. I told everyone I knew. She sent me a contract and I was sure that I was in. I considered moving to Los Angeles right then .
I didn’t hear anything from her for three months. I emailed her at one point to check on the progress . She emailed back saying,
“we took a pass on this several months ago.”
I went out of my mind. I called her screaming that we had a signed contract with one another. She called me back and said she couldn’t find the contract. I faxed it to her and she apologized. I began to get regular newsletters from her. I talked to a couple of her other clients who said she had not managed to sell anything for them. A year later I got a letter from her saying she would not be renewing my contract. I was at about this time that Samuel Goldwyn released the film Pretty Persuasion about a Beverly Hills High school girl being raised by a tennis playing trophy mom who lies about a teacher molesting her and becomes famous in the process. I noticed a few similarities to my screenplay, but not really enough for a lawsuit.
That’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand about the theft process in Hollywood . They don’t steal your whole screenplay, they just lift certain elements out of various screenplays and put their own name on it.
The film was a flop. The girl, played by beautiful Evan Rachel Wood was completely unbelievable as a high-school reject. High school rejects don’t look like her, they look like me and the character I created for my screenplay.
In spite of all this I didn’t give up. I still wanted to see my characters come to life. What would happen next would be yet another lesson in who to trust and an example of blatant stupidity on the part of everyone involved.

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