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A Novel Solution

November 27, 2011

It seemed like this was going to be the year.

In February, I had been signed by a manager, and was in negotiations to have my screenplay optioned.  During the week-long vacation from school, I holed away for a couple of days in a Catholic retreat center called Enders Island.  I was working on script revisions while my new manager negotiated the deal with the director who wanted my screenplay.  Unfortunately, that deal fell apart.  I was heartened by the fact that my new manager had saved me from a bad deal, and the fact that another producer stepped forward in March. He called and we had a nice conversation, and he expressed great enthusiasm for my script.  He also said he would be sending me an option agreement within the next few days.

He never did, and in spite of the fact that  over the next few months I would get phone calls and emails from him telling me he was “about ready to make an offer,” he never actually came through. I put up with his shenanigans probably far longer than I should have, because he seemed to have a real passion for the script, and frankly, I had no other suitors.  Finally, in July, I ran out of patience with him when he left me a message saying he was going to a couple of meetings with producers to discuss my script. I called him back and told him if he wanted to do that, that we would need an option agreement in place, and then he was free to do that as much as he wanted.  My next piece of communication from him said “there was just no interest in my screenplay” so he was going to move on.  Again, it was disappointing, but it’s also clear he’s a bit of a fly by night.  I never understood why he wanted to shop my script without an option agreement–the agreement puts him on the hook for one entire dollar, and gives him exclusive rights to shop it for six months.  At the end of the six months, he can drop the option, and owes me nothing more.  The only thing I can figure is he didn’t want to negotiate with my manager, who proved very clearly she didn’t come to represent Oscar winners by suffering fools gladly.

It was around that time that I finished second at Visionfest, and in spite of these set backs, still felt optimistic about my screenplay and other projects I was working on.  However, the entire experience with the Bridge contest and the fact that the revised version of my script failed to place in the Nicholl competition did begin to deflate me.  It seemed I was heading in the opposite direction I thought I would be in this year, and it was starting to grate.  I realized that the changes I had made to the script–following the notes of the director who never hired me–had taken the story away from where it should have been.  In short, I had made it worse.  So, I went back to where it was a year ago and rewrote it from that copy, and deleted everything else I had done since then.  As a result, I feel much better about it then I did this summer.  As if to affirm my new faith, I was soon contacted by a Boston-based director with a Kurdish wife who was very interested in the screenplay (if you don’t know, it takes place in Boston, and the protagonist is Kurdish refugee from an honor killing).   I’m not sure if I believe in signs or not, but this seemed like if this was a sign, it was one I shouldn’t ignore.  So, I sent him the script.

And I haven’t heard back from him.  Nor did he respond to my follow-up email last week.

So what now?  Well, this is when I started thinking about the words of the great Randy Pausch, he of the Last Lecture.  He has a theory about walls–walls let us know how badly we want things.  They also keep the people who don’t really want things out of your way.  So I started thinking that if this is a wall, how might I get around it?  So, I have made a decision.  If, by the time my contract expires with my manager in February, and there are no new deals on the horizon, I am going to take my screenplay and adapt it back into a novel.  Some of you may recall that it started life during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago.  Maybe what I am being told is that it needs to go back. I still believe in the story, and still think it needs to get out there, but maybe it’s not supposed to be a movie.  So that is my new plan.

Intimidating?  Yes, but I was heartened by the words of the brilliant Dave Eggers whom I saw at the Connecticut Forum a couple of weeks ago.  Eggers mentioned that there is a page from Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” on the wall in one of his tutoring centers. It’s designed to remind the students that even the people who are the very best at this craft have to work very hard at it to be successful.  And Ms. Tan is clearly not afraid of walls:

The page is from her 26th draft.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa permalink
    November 28, 2011 12:02 am

    Keep at it! We all have faith in you and your work. Perhaps written form is the way to go. It will let your readers make their own movies in their heads. Plus, just think of the number of movies based on novels. If it’s destined for the big screen, I have no doubt that it will get there. 🙂

    Oh and Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

    • November 28, 2011 11:21 pm

      Thanks for the encouraging words! If a producer wants to adapt the novel, I can produce the script adaptation in record time. 🙂

  2. David Lott permalink
    November 28, 2011 2:11 am

    It’s amazing to me how much screenwriting winds up being like book publishing. I’ve been so embarrassed this past year by the ways that the publisher I’ve worked for has jerked my authors around, and how I’ve tried to be the good soldier reassuring my authors, only to have to let them down. It’s maddening. Stick with it, Kevin. There ARE good people out there.

    • November 28, 2011 11:23 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement. I know there are good people–I just need to find one who is interested in my writing. I think posting the blog was liberating in another way–I just plotted out a TV pilot driving home this afternoon, so this change might be good for me in a number of unexpected ways.

  3. Susan James permalink
    December 1, 2011 3:12 pm

    Kevin, Having just finished a version of Nano, Valene suggested I read this blog entry. I finished the first draft of my novel during last years Nano (with a bit more added until Valentine’s Day 2011). I used November to do Nano-Edit (my own creation) to get to my second draft. I didn’t get as far as I had hoped and hit a wall while editing chapter 1. Valene sent me to you:)

    It was EXACTLY what I needed! When I read: “He has a theory about walls–walls let us know how badly we want things. They also keep the people who don’t really want things out of your way,” It was exactly what I needed to hear. I had never heard the Last Lecture, although I’ve heard of it many times. Your application of the Wall Theory (as it will forever be known to me from here on out) is spot on. And hey, when you get your novel published, just think–you’ll already have the screenplay written! Thanks for the words I needed at the time I needed them.

    • December 2, 2011 11:47 pm

      I’m very glad you found it useful–I use the Last Lecture in my philosophy class every year, and it never fails to move my students. I think there is so much wisdom there. You can find copies of the Lecture on DVD, in book form, and on you tube. Good luck with your novel!

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