“It hit me what the life’s work of Hollywood people is: To avoid looking foolish. That’s it. That’s their job. Not making good movies or any movies or using investor’s money wisely or making a profit. None of that stuff. To avoid looking foolish.”
AW: “No one who wants to make a movie out of my book is smart enough to get it done.”
FD: Right, because, as you say, there’s no movie in the book.
AW: The book is a memoir, nonfiction, a reasonably accurate portrayal of my real life. Problem is that real life, almost by definition, is not dramatic. The drama, the turning points, in the book are internal, not translatable to the screen. No one involved in the deal, aside from me, noticed this. The studio head who okayed the deal didn’t notice it, for example, because he hadn’t read the book either. He no doubt based the deal on coverage of the coverage.
To sum up: Two of the main people who wanted to make a movie out of my book hadn’t read it, and, meanwhile, another important person, the one writing the screenplay, me, knew there was no movie in my book.
FD: Hooray for Hollywood. Was it normal for you to get the chance to write the screen version of your own book at that point?
FD: How were you going to write the screenplay if there’s no movie in the book? Weren’t you subject to the same catch-22 as everyone else?
AW: I was going to reinvent the story based on the premise. Chuck the book and have some fun fictionalizing. Which I did.
FD: So what happened next?
AW: It of course got more ridiculous from there. In getting talked into the option deal I had been told multiple times that “Sean gets involved early in the script stage,” right? So I work for two years trying to come up with a reinvention of my book that works for the screen. I finally do, and guess what? Aside from not reading the book, Sean doesn’t, won’t, read my screenplay either.
I’m so desperate to relate to someone who isn’t a complete dumb ass – which everyone else involved in the project is, via my catch-22 — that I all but beg Sean to read… sorry, look at… my draft. (Sean wasn’t subject to my catch-22 because he hadn’t read the book and so had no reason to know that there was no movie in it. On the other hand, Sean is a good example of several other H-wood catch-22s, too many to go into here.) In fact, in our last communication I asked Sean to look at just the first 30 pages, act one. I said if he doesn’t like those pages, toss it, no problem, I won’t bother him again. Keep in mind that Sean is the contractual, paid producer on the project. And I’m relegated to begging him to read… shit… look at the screenplay he’s producing.
Well, old Sean gets way uppity with me, writes this three page email explaining why he’s not going to read my 30 pages. In my reply I suggested that it would have taken less time to read the fucking first 30 pages than to concoct his ridiculous explanation of why he was not going to read it.
Thing was, with my reply, including with the above point, I fucked with Sean’s denial, which is a no-no, with anyone in H-wood, but especially a movie star.
FD: How had you fucked with his denial at this point? Weren’t you just asking a producer to read the script of his own project?
AW: Exactly my point. Listen, I had another epiphany during all this. It hit me what the life’s work of Hollywood people is: To avoid looking foolish. That’s it. That’s their job. Not making good movies or any movies or using investor’s money wisely or making a profit. None of that stuff. To avoid looking foolish.
This is a tough job.
The avoidance of looking foolish in H-wood being a tough job, the people out there usually fail at it, at which point their job becomes cultivating and maintaining the denial that they in fact do look foolish.
Sean got so outraged that I’d fucked with his denial that he issued a death threat, or at least a death wish, against me. (I reproduce our correspondences in the book and on the adjunct website, in case anyone doubts me, figures I must be making this shit up.)
FD: I suppose the next question would be How’s the Cosmic Banditos movie deal with John Cusack going?
AW: The good news is that Cusack actually read the book before he optioned it.
FD: Amazing. What’s the bad news?
AW: Everything else that happened, starting with my having to threaten Cusack, physically, to get money owed me. Actually, though, that wasn’t his doing. Long and bizarre story, it’s in the book, but suffice to say that a duplicitous Hollywood lawyer was involved. Sorry for the redundancy. Come to think of it, “duplicitous Hollywood lawyer” is a triple redundancy, if there is such a thing.
Let’s see. How to sum up this deal in the fewest possible words?…
As with Zero, I agreed to the option deal because of the involvement of a star I admire for his choices of material.
FD: Such as?
AW: Being John Malkovich comes to mind, not that I thought it was a great movie, but it was so out there that I figured Cusack’d relate to a story about a bunch of lunatics (plus a dog) on the hunt for The Meaning of Life. In fact, when Cusack originally contacted me about the project in 1992, he told me that Cosmic Banditos was the funniest book he’s ever read. Good sign.
Add the fantasy of Penn and Cusack both up on the silver screen playing me, plus of course the money. So the deal goes down. As with Penn and Zero, Cusack is the contractual producer of the project; he blabs to Variety and other showbiz mags about the book he’s making a movie from, even goes on one of those entertainment shows talking about it, all that.
So after some ridiculous other shit, including Cusack hiring a writing team to do an adaptation that turned out to be The Worst Screenplay in the History of the World (I shit you not), I get a crack at it.
FD: Worst Screenplay in the History of the World – that you have to elaborate on.
AW: How about this for starters: This writing team decides to make José, the Cosmic Bandito of the title…. a babe. A babe who is still named José, by the way. Figure that one out.
If you happened to have read the book, and if you happened to be dead right now, you’d be spinning in your grave, plus concocting catch-22s about dumb people and movies not getting made.
FD: Is that just an example of someone having a narrow conception of what a screenplay should look like? Like, they had to squeeze in a female lead/love interest because all movies have to have one?
AW: That’s another example of how dumb making José a woman is: there was no love interest. In fact, they make this… Cosmic Banditrix… a complete fox, Selma Hayek, say, then nothing happens between her and our hero. How fucking dumb is that? They just made José a woman (still named José) and then there was no pay off. Hey, they could have changed the story to a musical set in Harlem in the ‘20s and that would not have been as dumb.
But okay. My turn. I kick ass with the adaptation. I know I kicked ass because I gave it to some other writers whose judgment I trust, and who I know will not stroke me. They all say the same thing: I kicked ass.
And guess what? Cusack will not read the screenplay. Déjà-fuckin A-vu! Why won’t he read the screenplay? Because his development executive will not give it to him.
When I asked her why the producer of the movie is not going to get a copy of the screenplay he’s producing, she told me she understands my confusion about this, and of course the producer should read the script, but… “that’s not the way it works.” That was her explanation, exact words. By the way, as far as I know the exec never read the screenplay either.
I turned in my draft last April. I’ve been waiting for over half a year for “notes,” so I can do the contractual revisions. The only positive is that so far the checks they’ve sent me haven’t bounced.
William Goldman, in his memoir, Adventures in the Screen Trade, claims that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” Absolutely true, and one reason nobody knows anything is that nobody reads anything. I know this for a fact. I’ve done the research.
FD: Can’t you get the script directly to Cusack? Email, fax, carrier pigeon – is it really that hard to get a script directly to a guy who bought it from you?
AW: Lacking his home number or email, no, I can’t do that. Any communication through his company would be intercepted by the same executive who won’t give the script to him. Besides, remember what happened when I tried to get the Zero Script to Sean Penn directly?
Here’s a thought, though. How about you post the script here, and anyone who knows Cusack and likes the script could send it to him? Although this didn’t work with Penn, who knows? An added plus is if this happens, and Cusack likes it, his development exec will look foolish for not giving it to him in the first place, and for not reading it either. I love outing Hollywoodites in their foolishness. An aspect of my life’s work.
On the other hand, I’d probably get subjected to a multi-page treatise from Cusack on why he’s too busy to read the script, and which took more time to compose than reading the script he’s too busy to read.
FD: No problem – here it is. Get on it, FilmDrunkards. Someone has to know someone who knows Cusack’s email address, right?