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03/12/2001
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THE (WISE) OLD MAN IN THE PARK...OR...SELLING ?THAT DARN SCRIPT.' PART TWO

Paul Buscemi's Column for Monday March 12th, 2001. Buscemiarts@hotmail.com

Sometimes, when I'm writing, to mix things up, I work out of a park, not far from The Motion Picture Home. There's this old man who is always there. One day, a long time ago, as I was pounding the keys on my Vaio, he said, "Hello." It wasn't long before he sat down beside me and we shared a wonderful conversation about a lot of things, none of them, writing. As he was about to leave, he said he wanted to meet me because I had reminded him of a time when he lived in New York and would take his portable typewriter to Central Park and write his short stories. We have crossed paths many, many times at that park, and had many, many wonderful conversations. Our chats are never about writing - directly. Instead, "writing" is the subtext of every conversation. This remarkable old man showed me that you don't write about the world around you - the world around offers you a story to tell.

If you've read this column from the beginning, you know I have specific (some may say ambitious) goals for myself in 2001. When things aren't going my way or take longer to complete than I first imagined - I try to remember the lessons on writing I never learned from that incredible writer in the park. Rarely, did the subject of writing come up in our conversations - yet he taught me so much, and I'm not even sure how. Last week, I talked about the joy of the chase. The pursuit of a buyer. The sale of a script. Shopping our wares is as enjoyable to me as creating them. The old man taught me that.

We began last week with an adventure in selling. The story of Jeff Probst, the
Writer-Director and his movie, "Finder's Fee." As you recall, we left Jeff with; 1) his script somewhere between the 3rd and 19th draft, 2) a Teamster driver turned producer who wanted to make it and, 3) Stephen Baldwin, who wanted to star in it. All this comes before the first plot point in the story of this movie's making!

"I met with Baldwin and he gave me some notes (on the script) and he actually had some interesting notes," Probst explains. Baldwin did not stay attached to the project, however. "And one thing led to another, and we had three or four companies that really wanted (to make the movie) and one company we signed with," he adds. Ultimately the two parties could not agree on who would be in the cast and Probst took his script in search of new pastures in which to plant it. "The whole deal was, I would direct, and I never wavered," Probst said.

Probst had always intended this project as his directorial debut. He first wrote the script as a $60,000.00 film he would shoot in his apartment in New York. By this point the scope of the production had grown considerably but he remained firm with his insistence, as director. "From the beginning, everyone tried to talk me out of directing it," states Probst. "This is great and you should get a great director involved and launch your writing career," people would tell him. "Every step we went people would try to talk me out of it (directing)," explains Probst. But he persisted. "Funny enough, people would eventually say, ?okay, you're the director.' "

Several companies made offers to produce the movie but ultimately no deal could be reached. By now James Earl Jones was attached to the script. One company Probst had been involved with for nine months could not agree with him on casting. "Oddly enough, with no resume to back this up my thought was, I'm not going to come this far and do all this work (to compromise)," tells Probst. He had good reasons for this: "when you are a first time director, one of the things people look at is tone and cast. Do you get ?tone' and how do you cast," states Probst. So he waited until a loophole in his contract presented itself and Probst parted with that group. He eventually found a production company in Canada, not only interested in making the movie, but happy to let him cast who ever he wanted. In addition to Jones, the cast would include: Robert Forster, Erik Palladino, Matthew Lillard, Dash Mihok, Ryan Reynolds and Carly Pope.

So everything is in place and Probst makes his movie, and the rest is history? Naaaa. The second plot point unfolds when Probst was about to begin shooting in Vancouver. Seven days before the first day of production a fire breaks out in the studio. The set for his movie, as well as the studio were destroyed by that fire. To this point the destroyed set had taken 2 ? weeks to build and it wasn't even finished. "I knew that was it, there was no way we could rebuild this set in seven days," Probst explains. "I went to bed that night thinking: the dream has ended," he adds.

However, the Vancouver crew was well familiar with the term: "the show must go on." They found another location and construction crews worked around the clock on three shifts until it was done. The production only lost one day, due to the rebuilding. "And it was a better set," declares Probst.

The response to the completed film has been tremendous and it all began with one little script (re-written 19 times.) Perhaps Probst's greatest advice to any writer, struggling through multiple drafts of their script, is this:

"A couple of writer friends told me: ?this script is done, quit writing it. At a certain point, you just stop.' I would always say: I'll stop when I'm finished. There is a huge twist in this movie that wasn't discovered until the 18th draft. HUGE twist. Maybe the biggest twist in the movie. I think we (writers) quit too early thinking ?I just can't do another draft.' Maybe that means, set it aside and come back to it later. When you give it to actors - you've got one chance. They're not gonna read it again in six weeks. Resist the temptation to rush and give it to somebody - if it's not ready. I'm so glad now that I did draft after draft so that when we did give it to (the actors) the script was right."

Whether you are pushing through on draft 19 or making that 90th pitch, enjoy it. Accept it as the way things are done here and don't bother questioning it. The old man in the park once gave me this advice on selling: "Your attention needs to be on the story, the characters, the theme. Just get that right and the other things will all work themselves out... more or less."

WEEK NINE STEPS: Keep going! You may trudge along slower than you care to. You may be thrown a curve ball or 20. Accept it as part of the process and march on!

c.2001pdb

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