By A.J. Llewellyn
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.
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.