Have you ever been asked to do a take?
This is how you get to the table as a screenwriter.
You write. You write more. You write even more. You finally get someone to read what you write. You rewrite what you wrote. Then you rewrite that. Then an agent gets involved. And your script goes out. And now people want to meet you.
And after years of investment in getting better and finally getting somewhere –
You get to do a take.
A take is where a company likes you enough to have you come to their offices and tell you about a story they like. And they want you to pitch your “take” on it.
Let’s look at it another way:
Imagine you are a cook. You love food and you love to cook. You spend years in the kitchen with your mom – and you grow up and go to cooking school. There – you excel at cooking. Everyone tells you you’re a good cook. You might even get some restaurant work. You might even have your own restaurant.
But one day – the big restaurants call. They have a recipe they like. Like – they might say – Hey! I think we should have steak. Anybody know anything about steak? And they all gather together and they think about it – and they decide: You know what’s a great idea? Let’s have a bunch of cooks come in here and tell us how they’d make this steak.
So they call you. They want to see what your steak looks like.
They want you to come in to their place. And bring with you all the ingredients you would cook the steak with. They want you to lay out your ingredients – and talk through exactly how you’re gonna cook it. You spend time – thinking through every kind of steak you’ve ever had. You cook hundreds of steaks over the next couple weeks – trying to come up with a amazingly original steak. The best you could ever come up with.
Then – you go to their office and you talk up your steak. You explain why this is the best steak ever. Then – you leave the ingredients behind and they’ll decide if you’re the one they want to cook this steak or not.
Cause there are a lot of other cooks in the waiting room. All with their own ingredients. And the great thing is that – since its their steak – they can evaluate everyone’s ideas – and then pick the best of them – and hire a cook they’ve worked with before to combine the best of all the ingredients and ideas into a new recipe.
And it doesn’t cost them a thing.
And that, my friends, is a take. Free steak.
Now – I don’t want to say that anyone tried to screw me or take my ideas or combine them with anyone elses. Cause none of the things I came in on have ever made it to the screen.
As far as I know.
But after my script first made the rounds – I made the rounds. I met with lots of people over a two-week period. Two to three a day for two weeks. And we made nice talk. We shook hands. And then I was given a few pitches.
So here’s where it gets interesting:
The first three ideas I was given to do a “take” on all had a moment in them that predominantly featured anal rape.
So there is a part of me that can understand this. In advertising – a world I was partially a part of – you get pigeonholed immediately. They want the “car” guy to do the car commercials. They want the “TV” guy to do the “TV” spots. I lost a job once because I didn’t have meat on my reel. I had lots of things the client wanted to see – people in a store, people outside, kids playing – but no “meat.” And everyone knows – you can’t just walk up and shoot meat. It takes someone with the proper meat experience. Meat is an unruly mistress that will not open up for just any director. Only a proper meat director knows the secrets of the meat. And I was not that guy.
But apparently – I open the floodgates on anal rape.
My script was a suspense/thriller. It was dark. It had bad guys in it. But – and I wrote it and I should know – the one thing it did not have?
I’d like to think I’m as open minded as the next guy – but at the same time I found this odd. If one of the scripts had anal rape – that would be strange. Two – and I might chuckle. But three? It was as if the universe was trying to tell me something.
Look – we’re all trying to break in. Most of would do just about anything. Judd Apatow has the corner on the gross out comedy with a heart. J.J. Abrams gets to do the crazy action film with geek roots. James Cameron – the most expensive films ever.
Me? Apparently – I was the anal rape king of Hollywood.
Come on – everyone has a dream. I can’t say this is what I asked for when I saw the shooting star – but you stick with the horse you ride in on.
The one concept that had the most buzz around it didn’t just give a passing glance to anal rape. It was a short story – written by one of my favorite authors – and anal rape was featured as the climax of the story. Everything ebbed and flowed from this glorious moment. Building and lead up to it. I read the short. I read it again. I rubbed my eyes in shock – washed my brain out with soap and read it again.
Yup. No way around it. This is about anal rape.
So I did the best I could.
They paired me with a really great producer. An awesome guy who couldn’t be any more supportive – and since this happened – he has gone on to make bajillions for his studio – without me and – more importantly – without any … you know….
So I finally went in and met with the studio and did my pitch.
You know what they said?
Um… that part with the anal rape? We don’t like that. Can you get rid of that? That would sort of stop the whole movie and everyone would walk out.
But the entire story is about anal rape.
Well… yeah. But we thought you might come up with a take that takes place “in” that “world” but didn’t actually go that far.
Ah. My steak has a bit too much anal rape in it.
But how could I continue to hold on to the title of anal rape king of Hollywood if I was to give up all the anal rape? I told them they were sacrificing the integrity of the project – and if they wanted to take out the anal rape – they would have to take me out as well.
So – they took me out. Who knew?
I’m sorry. Did I say I had integrity? I think I did… but this was back when I was younger. The old me would nod and smile and make a joke like – of course this movie would be so much better if we remove the cornerstone of why the story was written in the first place. Lets go back to the drawing board.
Let’s make a different thing. I know you gave me a steak – but let’s make a vegetarian lasagna instead.
And in the process – I learned the art of the big sell out. The Oh silly me thinking that this is what you might want cause its so great – let me instead give you this thing over here that is so much worse.
I dishonored the title of anal rape king of Hollywood. And the title was stripped from me.
I did takes right and left. For Comedies. For medical thrillers. For Romantic Comedies about basketball. For books written in Chinese.
Doing takes. For free. Free work….
One nice thing about doing takes is you get to see a lot of stories that the studios have bought or optioned. Things that others have sold. And you can compare them to what you’re working on. It’s never apples to apples. And that is a great thing about this business… Your script is not up against mine – there are a million people not sure what they are looking for – all trying to catch lightning in a bottle – and they hope that yours is the one that strikes for them.
I read these scripts, ideas, stories – and I usually feel the same way. 40 pages in – I think – wow… What could I do with this. Its great. I can’t write like that. They are so smart – witty – funny – scary… Whatever…
And then – I finish.
And I have the same feeling most movie goers have. Wow. That didn’t pay off. What did that have to do with anything? Why wasn’t that set up better… And you see what you can bring to the table. And you start to break it down to see how you would go about putting it back together again… And in my case – you go out and watch all the movies that did it better and try to find a way to make this one different and appealing. And find how to take that magic from the first 40 and sustain it.
You bring yourself to the process. Your life – your experiences – your “take.” Cause there is only one you. No matter how you try to hide from it, you are all you’ve got….Dig down and try to find the way that you can make this thing uniquely yours….
And… If you are me…
You find somehow, somewhere to squeeze in a little anal rape…
Cause everybody needs a calling card.