Good Lord! Talk about a major case of Tempus Fugit!
I sit here, back in Al’s pad in Manhattan. Debi and I are tapping away on his and her laptops. Yes, she is FINALLY here, finally ready to dive in, and tomorrow we will head up to Catskill. Aaron and Robin and the rest of the cast, and Al and David and all the crew are pretty much all up there. Just add Minnesotans.
But…before all that, I promised a story. Didn’t I?
For that, I must set the “Way Back Machine” for about two-and-a-half weeks ago. You may not have noticed, but we lived in a much different world then. At least, I did.
If you remember, around that time, I had just gotten back from Grand Marais. While I was there, I spent not an insignificant amount of time trying to wrap up a pretty extensive re-write of the RUNAWAY BOYS script, from notes I had received from my July trip to NYC (which now seems like a hundred years ago). About four days later than I wanted, and about 24 hours later than Tim and Bob (our line producer) needed it, I e-mailed the completed draft to the RUNAWAY BOYS posse.
…And I didn’t need to wait too long for a response.
Now, for the sake of keeping days straight, I will break everything down day by day.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 3
I was exhausted from the excruciating and frustrating work of getting the re-write done. Yesterday, when after I sent it off, Lynn asked me how I felt about the changes I had made.
“I think they’re corny and trite,” I replied, quite honestly. “I also think that I gave them what they asked for.”
Which is true. Without giving specific plot points away, the biggest concern Al and company had about the script was that they felt Michael’s (the main character) back story needed to be fleshed out more—wait…that’s not the right word…DEFINED. They wanted it more defined.
In the script as it originally stood, I had kept whatever drove Michael to do what ever he did (how’s that for vague) rather…well…vague. I wanted to leave it a little to the audience’s imagination. The prevailing East Coast wisdom, however, was that people wouldn’t accept that and that they would want some sort of explanation regarding the character’s intentions. They thought it would make the character more sympathetic. And…they had a specific suggestion regarding how to accomplish that.
The problem was, of course, that the suggested back-story was itself a pretty big and complicated animal. Yeah, while I was in NYC, everyone kept on saying, “We’re not looking for any major re-write. Just take a look at the current back story scenes and work it in there.” I nodded my head, but I knew that this was much easier said than done.
In the end, I was unsuccessful. I didn’t have a great feel for the new story, and I didn’t have a lot of pages (five, maybe six) to develop it. In the end, the draft I wrote definitely got the point across, but it sounded stilted and forced and ham-fisted.
All this added up to a very frustrated me. I was already tired, and my one yearly opportunity to recharge my batteries—the annual Grand Marais trip—was already half over before I was ready to actually begin vacationing. While the rest of the family was off taking a boat tour around Lake Superior, I was running around this day trying to get a last minute copyright registration rushed through because the production couldn’t become a SAG signatory or whatnot without it.
Oh…one positive note about the rewrite. I DID think that overall the story flowed better. I didn’t just surgically redo scenes and then cut and paste. This approach wouldn’t have worked, anyway, because the old back-story (and thus, the new one) had tendrils that pervaded the majority of scenes in the script. That, and I knew from recent reads that there were sections of the script that clunked along, scenes that needed re-sequencing, etc. Bearing this in mind, I took the opportunity to do a little house cleaning.
The result was a cleaner and better-arranged screen story that hummed along like something akin to a quartz clock. This was some comfort that the work I had done was not entirely in vain.
My family came home from the boat ride, and I greeted them with a lighter heart. The trip, which had begun very rocky for me, was about to get a lot smoother. The churning sea that was my mind grew quiet, and I was now prepared to allow it to be so.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 4
After a very refreshing day of backbreaking labor—I volunteered to help Lynn’s brother clear some dead birch out of a two-acre plot they bought about 20 minutes south of Grand Marais—I felt on top of the world. It was a sunny day, and my muscles’ bitching was mostly just for show. They loved the attention, and the pain brought on by hoisting logs for five hours was glorious in comparison to the torture of ever-tightening tendons and muscles in atrophy—the hallmark of my (at least physically) sedentary life of sitting in front of a computer screen day in and day out.
Lynn swung by the property and picked me up. Then we headed back to our cabin, where I took a long and glorious shower and prepared to head into town for a few drinks at our waterhole of choice, The Gunflint Tavern.
But first, I knew I needed to call and talk to the Filbert boys.
So…I did, and the conversation was quite diplomatic. What I mean by that is that Al was going out of his way to get the point across to me that, although people had concerns with the back story scenes I had written (which I already knew would be the case, being that I had problems with them), everyone realized that this was all the result of my trying to manifest the notes that they had given me in New York—that I was simply trying to write the script they asked for, and when they read it they realized it wasn’t what they wanted, after all.
It was all very Minnesotan sounding, and I believe that I told Al at least once in the conversation that he was sounding more and more like me with the passing of each new day.
Fast forward to an hour later. We all agreed on two points. First, Al and David came to the conclusion that what they were really looking for was some sort of conglomeration between the version I had just written and the original version of the script that they had bought (and everyone involved in the production, by the way, had signed on as a result of reading). That was just fine in my book.
And the…a clearing of the throat from Al.
“And…we were talking about it here in the office, and we were…ah…thinking that- Tim was saying that maybe it’s time… He would, you know-“
“Quit talking like a goddamned Minnesotan.”
“He would like to take a stab at doing a director’s polish of the script this weekend. You know, do what we said—marry the two drafts. We’re wondering what you think of that.”
I think I surprised them.
“I fell great about that.”
Then Al asked: “Is it that you’re burnt out on it?”
“No,” I replied, quite TRUE-thfully. “In fact, I’ve really been digging on the story again, which is something that I never thought I would be able to say again in my life. Thanks for giving me a reason to get re-acquainted with it again. I’ve really enjoyed doing that.”
Then I went on to explain what was the most important thing: if Tim was going to own it, I needed to give it up. It was my script, but it IS his movie. Every freaking script ever written—whether movie or live theatre—goes through a whole other stage of evolution when people start visualizing the thing and actors start vocalizing the lines. I knew this time was coming.
Not to say that it wasn’t difficult. Yes, it was sure as hell cutting my heart out with a butter knife. I personally felt like shit. This thing was my baby…my baby for (going back to the time when I wrote the original short story) going on six years. Six!
But my baby was all grown up. Graduation was over. Everything was said and done, and the only thing left was picking up all the paper plates and half-full punch cups after the open house. My baby was all packed up and moving out. No…it had already moved out. This was the call that said it was all tucked into its college dorm room and glad to be starting classes. …And it was doing just fine without me.
I didn’t say any of that to Al and David, of course. That was simply what was going through my head. I knew I had to give it up. It was time. It wasn’t going to be easy or “feel good” (is about the best I could muster over the phone), but I knew it had to happen. Further, I demanded it, I told them.
The weight hanging on the phone line dropped off immediately. Everything was suddenly light as a feather, as I am certain that Al and David were utterly relieved that I had taken what was very difficult news and handled it so well. Then again, like I’ve said…what else was I going to do? It wasn’t about me anymore—as if it ever was, anyway. Not to sound cliché, but it was “about the work”. About what was going to make the best movie, not massage my ego or salve my breaking heart. That shit’s for egotists and amateurs—posers whose work is only going to be seen by their grandmothers.
That’s not why I was called to do this.
“You have two minutes left on you calling card,” an automated voice broke in.
This whole conversation had taken place on a pay phone in a Holiday gas station, on total public display. How fitting, huh? I thought it was great. Me yelling in the phone (the phone sucked) like some Thespian in a Greek drama.
Oh, yeah…and then there was two pieces of very interesting news DID salve my achy-breaky heart. Sarah Michelle Gellar was reading the script—freaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Her manager, who had been the one who ASKED if she could bring it to her, was recommending that she do the movie. I wasn’t sure exactly whether Buffy/Daphne was the best fit for the material, but as Tim McCann had quite pragmatically observed less than a week earlier, if she was in the movie, it would pretty much guarantee distribution—probably wide distribution…and lots of publicity, and great video sales. It would, quite probably, launch all of our careers.
They other piece of information was that they weren’t waiting for Buffy. Being that the manager brought the idea of Sarah Michelle to the producers, they were still free (and pretty much obligated) to court other actresses. One actress that was very interested, as a matter of fact, was a girl named Bethany Joie Lenz, who stars on the WB’s ONE TREE HILL. We all thought she rocked in BRING IT ON AGAIN, and Tim and Aaron were meeting with her that Saturday when she flew in for the day to do some TV Guide interview. If they liked her, they were considering making her an offer for Carly.
But..! That wasn’t really the news. The REAL news what that Rachael Leigh Cook was somehow also interested in the part. Suddenly, after lamenting that we couldn’t find anyone for the damned part, there were three great possibilities for Carly. All was right, at least in the casting world.
So…I hung up the phone and headed over to The Gunflint Tavern. I beat back a couple of tears as I walked over to the place, but that was about it. And a couple Schell’s Deer Brands later, I was feeling just fine about the whole thing.
“Now you can actually enjoy the rest of your vacation,” Al said through our good-byes. In this, he was absolutely correct. Everything else aside, the weight was off my shoulders. Finally, I could stop worrying about the movie and simply focus on having fun with my family.
I raised a glass to toast. Lynn and Corky and smiled politely. They weren’t sure what they were toasting exactly, but I think they were relieved, too. Relieved that I was finally joining the vacation.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 5
Courtesy of wi-fi in the town of Grand Marais. My vacations will never be the same.
I didn’t sleep well the night before because once the beer (and later martini) buzz wore off, I started worrying. I wanted to make absolutely certain that Al and co. knew I was fine with the whole Tim taking a stab at the re-write thing.
About six in the morning, I drove into town and parked next to the public library (the hub from which all wi-fi mojo emanates). I opened up my iBook and tapped out the following:
From: Bill True
Sent: Thursday, August 05, 2004 10:52 AM
To: Alan Klingenstein
Just have a sec. Wanted you to know that after sleeping on it, I am feeling even BETTER about Tim doing a polish. As I said yesterday, he needs to do it in order to own it. Also…there comes a time when two heads are better than one. And, of course, I trust ya.
Anyway, got kind of cut off yesterday, so I just wanted to reiterate my thanks. Thanks for believing in this script and in me. Thanks for making this movie a reality. And thanks for presenting this “director’s polish” concept with the care, professionalism, and tact that is Al Klingenstein. I really appreciated that.
Talk to you Tues.
To which he responded later that day:
Thx Bill. Like I said, a lot of what you did really worked, and pretty much everything that I thought didn’t work was the obvious result of you struggling nobly to work out modifications in response to our notes. I hope and expect that Tim will repay both our trust, but yes, we gotta give him his shot. I really think we’re both gonna be pleased with what we see on
Thx for being the partner that you are. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate you always being part of the solution for us all.
Have a relaxing rest of the wk and feel free to call whenever you want. Talk to you soon, Al
‘Nuff said, right? Besides, it was my pleasure. ‘Cause as the saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution…” That night, I slept like a baby. The same goes with every night in Grand Marais after that.
COMING SOON! PART THREE: THE SCRIPT STRIKES BACK