* STAR from script to film!
By Craig Kellem
Inside or outside of “Hollywood,” going from script to film is always a colossal feat. It’s not just a phony performance when some tearful, but ever-so-grateful soul comes on stage on an awards show and sincerely tells the audience what an epic, and fluke-filled journey it was to actually get there. I remember several years ago, when a film, I think it was Juno, won Best Picture, and a passionate comment was made about what it took to arrive at this point, including folks having to put up their houses in order to come up with the rest of the needed cash to complete the film.
After serving my tenure as a development executive at Universal, I spent one year on the lot as a producer. There was a writer in the same building I inhabited who had been in the writing game for about twenty years, without any of his scripts actually being produced. But one fine day a hot TV star, now ready for the big screen, found a script that he liked, completely by chance. It had been written ten years prior by my building mate and now - at long last – it was going into production. I remember my friend the writer telling me that he could finally go back home to the Midwest and see a movie he had written accompanied by his parents. This would finally convince them that he was who he claimed to be, since it had always been beyond them how anyone could be a writer without ever having product to show.
Of course the battle still wasn’t over. Turned out that his big screen debut was eclipsed by a Spielberg blockbuster that had opened at the very same time. You can guess which line most people were standing in.
Still, he had finally made it into theatres, which is no small task!
As script consultants, Judy and I want the best for those who come to us with stars in their eyes. We do our utmost to recognize and enhance the sparks of magic that so often exist in their material. Our job is to help writers make their scripts as stellar as they can be, and then point them in the right direction as they enter the mercurial arena of marketing their labors of love.
And we try to communicate to all writers that selling a script is a quirky, unpredictable and a very challenging process.
But writers do have a chance in this unpredictable process, because the fact is that the industry needs a constant stream of viable material. The writer’s key offense in this uncertain game is being armed with polished pages and the stamina to weather that very long marketing road, which awaits most of them.
Jim Janosky was a writer who possessed these key qualities for going the distance. He came to us several years ago with a project about a guy who was deeply depressed, down on his luck, who decided to drive from the East Coast to San Francisco so he could jump off the Golden Gate Bridge.
I loved the concept and it didn’t hurt that I also happen to really enjoy road shows. So we started our developmental and consulting trek, and did we ever have a grand time doing it! As we moved along, his hero got to experience some off-the-chart types of adventures, visiting super cool places, getting himself into scrapes, and forging a profound friendship with a mangy, one-of-a-kind dog, who was in about the same shape as Jim’s protagonist. He also made “final” visits to folks he had once known, all rendered with drama, depth and sometimes hilarity, including a visit to the girl he had wanted so badly at one time, who now might be available after all. How sad this encounter with her would turn out to be. What a terrific odyssey it all became.
It took real time to get this script, which he called Star to where it needed to be, but it was worth the labor because it was really, really good.
The moment finally arrived when Jim’s script was ready for the next step. In this regard it was jettisoned by firstly winning our contest, which can certainly help a writer get started on what’s most often a long and lonely marketing road. He got some feelers but as they say, no cigar, and Jim quickly began to realize how much effort he would need to put into this aspect of things. Indeed, the heavyweight bout had only just commenced.
Jim was not a glamorous, twenty or thirty-something N.Y.C./L.A. hipster, all ready to fit nicely into Hollywood circles. He was a steady, married with children type, living in Tennessee where he taught science. But he was tenacious and he was in possession of something powerful—A DARN GOOD SCRIPT!!
Jim decided to go beyond the call of duty and check out what was going on in L.A. He made the trip out there and used every possible means to get himself noticed. He had his first “power meeting” with my brother, a Hollywood literary agent, who liked the script a lot. Other meetings and readings and the like ensued, but he still didn’t have anything tangible to show for it except his airplane bill, and the thrill of temporarily living the life of a working writer, pounding on doors, script in hand.
He kept going back and forth between Tennessee and L.A., meticulously expanding his horizons, making what contacts he could. One thing was constant: people liked his script! Although that fact and fifty cents won’t get you a seat on the New York subway, this was SIGNIFICANT.
Jim contacted me from time to time reporting which celebrity he’d seen at the Polo Lounge, and what juicy, la-la-land –type situations he had just encountered. And then he finally had a sliver of good news when a couple of producers read his script and wanted to “run with the project.”
But nothing that would pay the rent or bring him some glory developed from this event.
At one point down the line, he actually managed to make a Hollywood-insider list that reflects the scripts some in the theatrical community feel should be made. It took Jim real time to reach this plateau, but it still wouldn’t pay for a bag of peanuts.
Nevertheless, it was another sign of life, AND SIGNS OF LIFE ARE SIGNIFICANT! They must be realized on this broad highway!!
Jim and I worked on several other projects over the next couple of years; and then, he stopped calling.
Recently, his wife Annette contacted me and told me that Jim had unexpectedly passed away. He was way too young. I was very sad to hear this. I was very fond of him.
She also wanted me to know that Star, now called Dark Around the Stars, has actually been made and was being shown to distributors. The movie has an impressive cast and was directed by Derrick Borte (The Joneses, Code Duello and London Town). She sent me a trailer for the film (EBOOK here INCLUDED), which reflects Jim’s creative vision in spades.
Thank God Jim knew of this success before he died!
I know that there’s an ironic sadness to this, but it also proves that getting a film made can be done. It’s always a rocky, mercurial tale of close calls, false starts, near misses, years of hard work and patience. But it can happen.
When you’re out there, feeling alone with your script, this task can seem impossible. The love of creating something and of expressing oneself must be the fuel for all those long hours at the desk, as well as the wait for interest from the marketplace. But finally being read, recognized, and all that comes with it like getting paid, is definitely a very nice cherry on top.
And so, if it seems like nobody outside of the Hollywood “insider” universe ever gets those ultimate rewards, remember the Jim Janoskys of the world. He wasn’t an isolated anomaly.
Over the past years of working as consultants, many of our clients have found the recognition they so deserve – whether it’s via finding an agent, getting optioned, being vigorously submitted, winning a contest, winding up with a fine script that someone buys or finding a way to make the film themselves. But, as said, success is often via a fluke-ish set of circumstances, which, in this business, is the norm for everyone involved – writers and consultants alike!
When we first started Hollywoodscript.com I got to work with a writer by the name of Brad Kayya on the script for the movie O. How easy it seemed when it finally popped up on the screen and gave us something early in the game to brag about. In time I began to realize how fluke-ish it was to have gotten so lucky at just the right time.
We were recently involved with a producer who came to us with a project that wasn’t yet working. He was already hooked up with folks who were prepared to make a film, subject to finding the right material. The script he brought to us was quite workable, but needed a lot of revision. The client worried it would take too much time to make all the changes, so I asked him if he’d be interested in looking at other projects that Judy and I had worked on, which were already ripe and ready. He said OK. We sent him a few pieces of coverage from past clients and eureka, one of our favorite young writers, Tom Shipley, sold his script to this producer and his backers! Tom’s film is now being shown at film festivals and recently won for “Best Romantic Comedy” at the Manhattan Film Festival and has also just won (in April 2016) The Gold Remi at the 49th WorldFest Houston International Film Festival. Previous recipients of the Remi Award include George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers and Ang Lee.
Last Will (2011, starring Tatum O’Neal, Tom Berenger, James Brolin and Armand Assante) was a project on which Judy and I worked very hard creatively, but in the long run, it ended up getting made more as a result of our having helped to introduce the right players to each other, than anything else.
So too, last year when a veteran with quite a story called me, and told me about harrowing experiences he had while in the service I could tell it was a doozy. Thinking it very worthy, we directed him toward the right Hollywood reps for a project of this kind. We’re happy to say that the book version was published by Simon and Schuster in 2015 and is now in bookstores. It's called Murder at Camp Delta, written by Joe Hickman. Eventually, we hope to see it on the screen as well.
Sometimes a client is able to live the dream of writing a script and seeing it soar quickly. Our client Joanne Wannan worked tirelessly with us on her script Obituary, then sold it well within a year to the Lifetime network. It was broadcast all over the world – a true fairytale type experience for all concerned.
Others have had to wait a bit longer, but the dream has come to fruition nevertheless. Leonardo De Leon’s, Why Do Men Cheat (Directed by Joe Menendez) recently received international exposure via its openings in Mexico and all of Central America in 2015. Start to finish he was able to develop, write, polish and get his script produced within a couple of years.
Indie type films can often confront high walls in Hollywood. But The Amati Girls by multi-talented, actor/writer/director Anne De Salvo got made despite the obstacles and went on to win several Best Screenplay and Best Film awards at festivals. Anne’s can-do spunk and determination was inspiring and I wasn’t at all surprised that on top of everything else, she now has a position as a Professor teaching at the distinguished U.S.C. Film School.
Two Minute Heist, Crazy Like a Fox and several others we’ve watched go from page to screen all share in this unpredictable road to recognition that has no set timeline. But no matter what the details are in how these writers broke through obstacles, setbacks, industry gatekeepers, and how long it took, there are always multiple forces at work including tenacity, patience and wildly good luck, all underwritten by strong material!
We’re very proud of Jim Janosky and all the others we’ve seen go this intensely challenging distance from having an idea to seeing it play out in a tangible and profitable way. Keep believing that it’s possible, keep working hard to get your material as good as it can be; but know that getting your script made is almost always a very capricious process.
Indeed, screenwriting, like life, is a true game of human will and the tides of fate ever converging.