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Star Wars 30th Anniversary and Turning 40

John on May 28, 2007 at 11:04 am

It was Star Wars 30th Anniversary a few days ago. Not a big deal for everyone, but it’s a movie that changed my life. My dad took me opening weekend when I was 10. I still have the program he bought me. I remember looking through it before the film started and having no idea what I was looking at.

Jump forward 20 years and I’ve graduated college and decided to move to California and apply to UCLAs MFA screenwriting program. I took my GREs. I even exchanged e-mails with Lew Hunter, the head of the program. Somehow I was convinced it was all going to work out.

Obviously I did make it to California, but I quickly discovered that I couldn’t afford to attend UCLA since I needed to work to afford to live in Southern California. I kept writing though. Within a year I had a manager in Hollywood and had some success pitching stories to various producers.

One of my scripts, an adventure story, was almost picked up by Village Roadshow. I say almost because after calling me to set up a meeting to discuss money, things changed when a similar film entered the market a month later. Suddenly, the script I’d spent nearly two years on wasn’t fresh. It had been done. Move on.

That script continued to open doors for me (and my writing partner Henry who is still in Virginia). We wrote another script, a comedy this time. It took another year to complete but it met with a lot of success. It was looked at by a bunch of folks in town, most significantly Imagine films. I wasn’t there but I was told they had a full staff meeting where it was decided they would buy my script if one of the distributors would sign off on it. It went to Universal first. Eventually it went up the chain at Disney all the way to the desk of Nina Jacobsen, head of Disney’s live action production.

This is where the movie’s supposed to end happily with a big check and a welcoming into the Hollywood fold for a new talent. Only it didn’t. Nina passed “without comment.” She just said no. No explanation. No nothing. We had gone as far up as you could go. It was time to start over.

We fiddled around with various ideas for scripts. Here are a couple we came up with. My manager loved this one:

Microverse – An computer animated action/comedy in which a white blood cell takes on a vicious invading microbe intent on destroying the world. The world in this case is the body of an 11 year old girl.

Sound familiar? You may be recalling Osmosis Jones, an animated action/comedy about a white blood cell trying to stop an invading infection. We wrote a 12 page treatment for our story before we’d ever heard of Osmosis Jones. Apart from having a much better title than our version, the stories were essentially identical.

After that disappointment we decided to work on another high concept script that seemed like a sure bet. This one was a little bit harder sell to our manager since it involved a bit of our Christian faith, but she said if we were motivated we should go for it. Here’s the story we created:

Being Supreme – A guy loses his job and his girlfriend in one day and rants at God. Suprisingly, God shows up and hands over his power to the angry main character. He soon discovers it’s not so easy being supreme.

This was not long after The Mask was a hit and we thought Jim Carrey would be the perfect choice for the main character. About two months later, the trades carried a story about Jim Carrey. Apparently, the film he’d been on fell apart and he quickly jumped onto a new project called Bruce Almighty. You may have seen that one. It was a huge international hit. There’s a seqel coming out this summer. In this case, I think our title was as good as theirs. Anyway, that was the end of Being Supreme.

We also pitched a story to a producer at Disney about an amazing new museum where computers and animatronics bring history to life. A group of students get trapped in the museum and have to shut down the central computer to escape. It was adventure not comedy, but still, when I saw Night at the Museum, I wondered if someone had read my mind. The miniature Roman soldiers with bad attitudes were in my pitch.

After several debacles like this in a row, we spent a bunch of time working on a script which was sort of a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” remake. The darn thing never worked. We spent days and weeks on it and it never ever worked at all. Then Rat Race came out and we thought, “Hey, that’s the movie we were trying to write.” We didn’t come close on that one, but it still stung.

By this time our manager wasn’t calling us as often. It had been over a year with no new script. We finally started work on a new romantic comedy. I flew to Texas twice to finish the first draft. I wrote two more drafts on my own. Eventually I got stalled. A call from our manager months later helped me push through. I sent it off. She called once more to say she wanted to talk…

And that was the last I ever heard from her.

All of which is pretty depressing. I moved out here when I was about 30 to become a screenwriter. About 10 days ago I turned 40. No films in blockbuster. No story credits. No nothing. I moved on to working on book ideas. I got a great job working for my church. I moved on.

Then last week a friend who had read that last script early on contacted me. He’s putting together financing for films now. He remembers my script and wants to see if he can put something together. I don’t know what to think. I’ve been here before so many times I don’t even get excited anymore. Really. It’s too painful to do that to yourself. You learn not to care.

But I’ve been polishing the draft this week and it gets all the old gears turning again. Today is the day I send it off. I don’t expect anything. But there’s always that niggling little hope that never really left. Maybe this time…

Anyway, one thing I know for sure is that Star Wars played a big part in the course of my life. So happy anniversary, George! You wrote a great film. And God knows that isn’t easy.

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