Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Old material, new take

In my office are three statuettes representing the "Willies" award for best original play for 1984, 1985 and 1986 (for Christmas at the Juniper Tavern, Waitresses and Chateau de Mort, my first hyperdrama). They are handsome devils! (doesn't the middle one look like Nixon?), hand-crafted by an artist who worked at Will Vinton Studios. They don't make theater awards like that in this town any more.

At any rate, I bring this up because of my 1985 play Waitresses. This was my first play at Cubiculo Theatre to start a new residency, which abruptly ended a year later when the company went under. The play also was responsible for my becoming a screenwriter. A local theater director, herself wanting to make the transition to film, wanted to option the film rights. However, on the advice of other writers, I wouldn't sell unless I wrote the screenplay, even though I knew nothing about the craft at the time. The lady finally gave in -- and over the next year and many drafts, she literally taught me how to write a screenplay while paying me for the privilege. Not too shabby.

My first draft may have been the worst screenplay ever written. For starters, the play did not lend itself to literal translation: 3 characters, 1 set. Indeed, I had decided before writing the play to have a small cast with one set, which is easier to produce. However, the notion that a film needed to open up from such restrictions was a foreign concept to me at the time.

Jennifer O'Neill

To make a long story short, we finally got a screenplay, called Ruby's Tune, that worked for us both. For the next several years, renewing the option several times, the producer did everything in her power to make the film happen. Indeed, at one point she phoned me from Las Vegas saying it was a done deal, papers being signed in the morning. A backer got cold feet at the last minute and pulled out. So the film never happened, despite getting lots of interest along the way, including from actress Jennifer O'Neill, who wanted to use the film as a comeback vehicle. But it never happened.

Well, the screenplay I'm working on next is a reconsideration of this material, which I'm calling Like Mother Like Daughter. I'm starting from scratch. Some of the elements from Ruby's Tune will be included but I'm not going to have that screenplay, nor the original play, beside me as I write. I'm using the same basic concept, the same three main characters, but I'm trying to begin as if everything is new. We'll see how it goes. I'm using the same structure software I used on the last one, which resulted in a tight story earlier than I'm used to getting them.

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