Films | Television | Books | Ghostwriting
Years ago, through a friend I met cinematographer Allen Daviau, A.S.C. (E.T The Extraterrestrial, Close Encounters, The Color Purple). A film buff, Allen told me about a film the Germans made as WWII went the wrong way for them. But it wasn't just any film, it was the film that executive producer Joseph Goebbels was convinced would win the war for them. A movie. Win the war. I know a lot of studio execs look for franchise potential, but that was nuts. This is the true story of how the Germans made Kolberg.
During the course of the what seemed like centuries long development process of this project, various heavyweights were either interested or attached, including Frank Oz, Stanley Kubrick, and Bryan Singer. Bryan seemed to come closest to making it happen (Kubrick died) but ultimately I think Jeff Robinov, Warner Bros. head of production at the time, just didn't want to make a film about the Nazis making a film and made an insulting offer to make us go way. Bryan eventually went on to make Valkyrie instead.
Early in the long gestation period of this project, German director Volker Schlondorf (head of UFA at the time) offered some substantial development cash but that was turned down to retain all of the rights.
In The Terminator Dick Miller's gun store owner tells Arnie the Cyborg, "It'll go pump or auto." This could go feature... or TV miniseries.
Here is the pitch for it and you can judge for yourself if it's worth making.
After selling my Bigfoot-on-a-rampage book to Simon & Schuster, my agent at the time, Nick Ellison, also shopped it as a film but got no takers. I eventually ended up making a deal myself with a production company and wrote the screenplay. Then the economy had a nervous breakdown and it sat for several years while everyone regrouped. Five years passed and I made yet another deal with the same production company.
Now, after signing the contract, the prodco has back-pedaled on producing the film at the budget I feel is appropriate. We're now pursuing parallel paths. They're looking for money and I'm looking for more money. I'm concerned their path will give us just another typical Bigfoot movie, while my direction will elevate this to a high quality production the likes of which, in terms of story and effects, no one has done. Yet. I truly believe that by spending a little more the result will be a far larger box office. We'll see who wins the race to the claim office. I'm finishing a pitch for financial people and expect to have that ready soon.
Here's some of it
Here are the first 18 pages of the script
In the mid-90s I met a former stuntman turned film producer who had a time travel idea he claimed Sylvester Stallone was interested in. It reminded me a little of A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court, a favorite Mark Twain novel from my childhood. The guy had a two page document he called a "treatment" but it was really just a barely coherent series of grammatical errors and badly crafted sentences. And certainly no story. It also had margin notes from someone saying, "If I show this to Stallone he'll never talk to me again!" The underscore was his, not mine (I still have this document). If that's interest, I'd hate to see what disdain is.
Anyway, I liked the idea of both time travel and fish out of water so I began writing a new, entirely different (real) treatment. Through this stuntman-turned-producer I met Richard Reiner, an attorney. Richard and his wife Susan gave me feedback as I developed the idea and wrote new versions of the story. Richard was working at that time to take advantage of the tax laws for films shot in New Zealand, where we expected to shoot this. New Zealand can double as Scotland, right?
Years passed and the story remained a treatment and Richard went on to be the money man behind both the Lord Of The Rings and Matrix trilogies. While Richard got out of the film biz and moved into high end property speculation, I kept looking at the treatment and it kept staring back. After moving to the mountains I decided that would be my first project and the treatment would grow up, leave home and start its own family. The result is the finished screenplay for Warriors of Fire. Here's the elevator pitch:
When a cruise ship rescue turns disastrous, a Delta Force major's connection to an 11th-century Scottish village and long-lost love, pulls him and his five team members through time. Now they face an impossible challenge: find a way back to save the ship from terrorists, but first battle a psychopathic king's army of Viking Berserkers over the future of mankind.
Imagine Gerard Butler as Angus/Mace. I liked him before, but after watching him obliterate people in Olympus Has Fallen (a pretty decent film) I knew he would be perfect for the dual roles of my ass kicking 11th Century Scot and contemporary American Delta Force major. It doesn't hurt he's really a Scot.
Here are the first twenty-six pages of the screenplay
This one hour television drama came about not long after The Shadowkiller was published. I conceptualized a world pitting a Border Patrol Agent against the powerful crime cartel he has more ties to than he wishes. The pilot episode has been through different incarnations but is finally back on track with the help of new UK powerhouse production company, Bonfire Heart Productions. I'm working with their amazing brain trust to bring this to the small screen. With TV so hot—and the drama at the border as fiery as it is these days—the timing couldn't be better.
This is a book proposal and I hope to get it set up somewhere. Troy Roberts was a kid who experienced a crazy childhood, bouncing from one unstable home to the next, with an alcoholic mother and petty criminal father. Troy grew up in Baltimore, living with both Mafia wiseguys and bikers. He also suffers from bipolarism. Yet these handicaps didn't stop him from becoming a world-class chess Master and the brains behind the rise of high end designer fixture departments in big box retailers like Lowe's and The Home Depot. A crazy, poignant story that is, as they say "only believable because it's true."
After the economy crashed and The Shadowkiller film deal stalled, I needed to stimulate some business. I turned to ghostwriting. I found the market for independent ghosts (as opposed to those repped by agents—I had fired my previous agent over communication issues) to be wide open. Most of the people vying for ghostwriting jobs are either wannabes, green, or just not that talented. I booked several jobs over the course of a few years. I can discuss a few here (keeping details vague because I signed NDAs). A couple I cannot discuss under any circumstances.
I call it the rug dealer book because the book was centered around antique rugs. And not hairpieces. If I were any more specific it might be possible to find this book online, which I want to avoid. My concern about keeping it anonymous works on a couple levels. One, I signed an agreement to keep it quiet and I honor that. Also, my finished product was a whole lot better than the clients expected, so it's not because of quality.
Mainly it's because the people who hired me were a little shadowy and may have had some ties to organized crime in their home country. And here. They always paid in cash. The last two payments were handed over in a series of cloak and dagger Three Stooges scenes in a Mexican restaurant in Reseda and a hotel lobby in Sherman Oaks. My wife and three-year-old (at the time) sat out in her car and ran intel to me over the phone when the thugs arrived outside the hotel. I had considered taking a gun to the meeting. And the lobby was my idea or rather, Michael Corleone's idea: "A public place where I'll feel safe." I couldn't make this shit up.
The people hiring me on behalf of the guy who was the subject of the book told me I beat out more than 300 other writers for the job. This was a bizarre gig. The underlying book I worked off of was an English translation of a foreign language book that had been published. They asked me to "more or less" keep to the facts, but punch it up when I felt it was necessary. I felt it was necessary a lot. The result was the original "relatively" true story, coupled with my nearly over-the-top Robert Ludlum-ish international intrigue twist. Or twists.
The finished product was good enough to publish as commercial fiction. The only problem came at the end when the big finish I wrote (VERY cinematic) clashed with the "hero's" hazy understanding of his own religion. Religious zealots frequently misunderstand their own religions, but I happily changed the ending and watered down a totally kickass series of last scenes for no good reason. Sounds like working with studio development mavens, huh?
Soon after the rug dealer book another investor group hired me (also after beating out another 300-plus luckless yutzes) to write a book, this time for another writer. The writer was a helluva nice person (we're still friends) and it was about an untold chapter in Marilyn Monroe's life. I had a lot of underlying original material but had to do a huge amount of research to get this right. The book ended up on a list of the "Top Twenty Books About Marilyn Monroe." Take that, Norman Mailer! Fun project and I got to know the fragile, tough, complex Marilyn.
I'm writing a memoir for the creator of a famous high-end shoe line. The shoes are carried in places like Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales and are worn by cool guys like Ben Affleck. It's a great story and much more exciting than you'd think (SHOES? Really?) It details how this person started out working in China inspecting shoes for a huge US wholesaler, learned the biz and went on to create a zoot line of footware.
When I'm not working on a project-of-the-moment I keep busy coming up with new ideas that can either be used directly of incorporated into other concepts. I've developed more than 100 pitchable ideas for TV, film and/or books. These range from a few paragraphs defining the core idea, to fully realized multi-page treatments. They run the gamut from high concept action to comedy to drama to thrillers. All you writers out there? There's never NOT something to write. That's my pompous wisdom of the day. Smoke that.