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On June 16th, the Many Shades blog will be closed.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Coloring Outside the Lines

By A.J. Llewellyn

Hi everyone,
I have a day job that for a writer sounds like a dream come true. I get paid to read. All day long, I read, read, read other people's screenplays. My job is to crush other writers' dreams. But occasionally, just occasionally I find a gem I cannot in good conscience, send to the gallows.
As a Coverage Writer, my job is to do that. I'm supposed to be the passionless executioner.
But what happens when you read something that colors outside the lines so well, you have to risk putting your own neck on the chopping block?
For the first time in two years that happened to me this week. I read a screenplay that I am surprised even made it to my desk since it came in scary packaging and wasn't even formatted to industry standard.
Then there was the content. It is everything Hollywood hates.
Historical. Big no no.
No action or violence. What, are you kidding me?
The lead character is a woman. You're smoking crack. Right, AJ?
I opened this screenplay and from page one, I was hooked. It was about Mary Wollstonecraft, the world's first feminist writer and I was captivated by her passion and her huevos (yeah, women can have those).
Then there was the writer's period detail such as Mary W's refusal to wear a powdered wig to the opera.
I have read sci fi screenplays that have stupid things like people racing cars on the sun – how? – but this screenplay intrigued me with fantastic dialogue, famous poets, drunken writers. Man, she even describes the smell of London streets three hundred years ago...I'm thinking, Hello, Oscar.
How could I type: PASS on my cover sheet?
Since I had to go into battle for the writer - and my reputation at the studio - I assembled my arguments like chess pieces.
I came up with a list of top ten starlets who could play Mary W. Good thinking, AJ!
There's a sexy sub plot of a love story - Wollestonecraft's daughter Mary and her scandalous marriage with that roue Percy Bysshe Shelley. Another list for these characters. Ha! You got 'em now, AJ!
There was nudity! YEESSSS!
And wait! Mary W. covered the French revolution! King Louis's head actually tumbled onto her shoes. We love blood!
I championed this screenplay mightily just by typing CONSIDER in the appropriate box. I wrestled with my conscience over that one and felt I had to go one step further.
My best friend in the office, Charlie, begged me not to do it.
"Career suicide," he kept muttering. "You won't even get a job in the mail room after this."
But I did it. I put my ass on the chopping block and typed: RECOMMEND.
I sat and waited for the first bomb to drop.
I fretted for a day and kept plotting my insanity defense. I wanted to use the screenplay's attention to authenticity as my trump card. It didn’t take me long to find a Yahoo group with the niche interest of Wollstonecraft and a general post to the group sent back 50 responses in a mind-boggling avalanche of information.
Yep, the story was true and our gal defied tradition, going bare-headed to the opera. The scandal! The drama!
As predicted, my boss wasn't happy. I'm not supposed to interrupt his golf game with an actual, workable screenplay. I came back from a meeting with another writer and found a Post It on my desk lamp.
See Me.
Yeah, I knew I was about to get ripped a new one, a couple of them actually, so I assembled my arsenal of arguments, grabbed a donut out of somebody else's mouth and went to the front lines.
The result was this. My writer did not sell us her screenplay. But her gorgeous writing got her noticed and I will fight to the death to get her a pitch meeting.
I am not allowed to contact her and coach her but I hope one day she knows that a man sitting in his office in Hollywood read her baby and loved it.
I hope she never loses her passion. I hope no writer does, because it's a fucking hard business being a writer and it's awfully hard to keep hearing, NO.
I guess what I want to say is this.
I fully believe love finds a way and this screenplay was a love letter to a literary goddess. If there is a God, and there is really a heaven, the guardian angels of writers everywhere will help this screenplay find its Green Light.
And I will just reassemble my arguments, keep tilting at windmills and go back to the trenches for it.

Aloha oe,



Bryl R. Tyne said...

Nice strategy AJ, talk about huevos!

I applaud your conscientiousness. Those willing to risk something important for the sake of another, a rare jewel in this cesspool we call life.

A real shame, with society's dog eat dog business ethics, the writer, never stood a chance.

If more people focused on the wonders of true beauty instead of the almighty $$$...Oh, well. I'll keep dreaming, but I'll never give up hope!

Way to go, AJ. Stay true to your passion.

Roberta said...

Way to go AJ! It's nice to know there's someone out there willing to go to bat for the "underdog".

Tess said...

So sad it didn't sell. I can tell you felt great passion for this work. Keep it up, A J. Find us something worthwhile.

AJ Llewellyn said...

Well, well, well, my three favorite gals showed up and left me wonderful, inspiring comments. Thank you. Life can be beautiful, with this kind of support, even for us writers...


Deb said...

AJ, wow very nice blog, I must say.
It is sad that there is not more open minds. Coloring outside the lines can be just s rewarding in things we do.

Keep at it AJ.


Dee Dawning said...

Hi AJ,

Kudos for your blog and your principled stand.

Truthfully, it sounded like a very interesting story.

To bad your boss didn't agree with you.

Kissa Starling said...

You and I are a lot alike. I really think it's the bull-headedness! Us Taurus birthdays gotta stick together. Kudos to you for standing up for something.


Alyce said...

There are very few people in the world who would have done what you did. It is far too easy in this industry to follow someone else's lead. I am not surprised at what you did and extremely proud that you were willing to put yourself in such a tenable position professionally for a story that you felt had merit. It is a rare individual indeed who can see a diamond in the ruff. Too bad your boss is a rock merchant and not a jeweler or he would have recognized the screenplay for it's possibilites.
Kudos AJ. Just one more reason I think so highly of you.

DJ Manly said...

Mary W was one of my favorite feminist writers from that period. She really said some phenomenal things in a time when it was downright dangerous to think like that.

Great job sweetie.

AP Miller said...

Blew me away AJ...It's very difficult to be the right hand of God in the world of writing. I have been in your shoes for many years. The pit in your stomach says it all when you have to send the bad news of rejection. I have been in this field twenty-six years and counting. It took a lot of courage for me to find an agent, then a director and finally somone interested in our story enough to bring it into the world of television. No easy feat. I was sweating bullets.

That screen play should have made it to the top. You stepped up to the challenge, a challenge not one sane person would do for the sake of remaining on the ban wagon and staying part of the team...too bad your boss refuses to think outside the box. More's the pity.

Society has recently and increasingly become sick and tired of the reality boomers such as myself want to see those old wholesome family shows coming back to life again. What ever happened to Dr. Quinn medicine Woman? The television and movie producers have come out of that stage believing reality shows are what the public wants to see, but not focusing on mainstream society of the older generation. I want to know, since when did Hollywood decide to hire these young bimbos fresh out of college to make a decision on what we get to view? Seems to me that the 50 somethings were replaced by the 20 somethings and they are setting the stage for what THEY want to see and not looking at the BIG picture.

I myself enjoy a great story, furthermore would love to see it on a movie screen. The majority of shows and movies these days are virtually, all garbage except a select few such as like Transformers, and Ironman...and of course the scif channel...but the majority of stories that SHOULD be considered are thrown back in a box or the trash, only to collect dust. I would like to hear from John and Jane Q public on what their views would be for the future of television and movies...

Huge kudos to you baby and stand your know I love you...

AP Miller

Jambrea said...

What a wonderful blog as always. It is nice to know that someone cares. It can be scary submitting something and it is great that you are willing to go to bat for something you believe in. I hope she gets a chance to pitch. Thanks for being there and I hope one day she knows how awesome you are. :)

AJ Llewellyn said...

Thanks to everyone for the wonderful comments. DJ, Jambrea, Alyce, Deb, Dee, Kissa,...Wow, you are just the most awesome people! AP Miller, you rock! I have that conversation every single day with other coverage people. You are right about kids in effect, choosing our programming. Well said. It's time we adults were allowed a few moments at the wheel.

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