In Part 1, I describe how Siegel & Myers meet with Rodney Dangerfield’s ‘people’ and I come up with a high concept idea for a movie: Rodney Dangerfield: Mr. President.
In Part 2, I write about how we work up a pitch and a 1-page treatment, pitch the story to one studio [Warner Bros.], then get a phone call while we’re in a meeting informing us the studio has bought the pitch.
In Part 3, I cover how the sale of “Mr. President” leads to an overall deal with a studio that segues into an extended deal with another studio, an example of what good agents can do for a writer.
In this final post on the “Mr. President” saga, I transport us into the office of Lauren Shuler-Donner, a convivial meeting between writers and producer, both of whom have deals at Warner Bros. Amidst the schmoozing and chatter, Lauren asks, “So, what’s happening with ‘Mr. President'”?
We note how we are working on a second draft.
“Things are going pretty well, then,” she asks.
We chat a bit more about the project, Lauren asking this question and that. Eventually we depart and that’s that.
Well, as it turns out, there was a point to her probing. Shuler-Donner is a producer on a project called “Dave.” Yes, that “Dave”:
“To avoid a potentially explosive scandal when the U.S. President goes into a coma, an affable temp agency owner with an uncanny resemblance, is put in his place.”
Huh. Regular American becomes President. Sounds like… “Mr. President”. And what’s more: Both projects are at Warner Bros.
Three takeaways from this scenario:
* It is unusual, but not unheard of for a studio to develop multiple versions of one idea, the thinking being if the story concept is strong and timely, why not take two [or more] cracks at it with different writers to see which one clicks.
* Unless Warner Bros. is interested in producing two President movies — which clearly they are not — then if they move forward, it will be with one project.
In the end, the studio produces Dave, a terrific movie starring Kevin Kline. That project gets made. Ours does not. And that leads to the third takeaway:
* A majority of studio projects do not get made. Is it considered a strike against a writer if their project dies on the vine? Not necessarily. Everyone knows it’s damn hard to get a movie produced. That’s the baseline of assessment. If your draft creates some movement, say an attachment or two, or generates even a little heat, that can be come off as a plus, even if your project doesn’t get produced.
I’d say most screenwriters have way more projects that don’t get made. In fact, I know one writer who was worked pretty steadily in Hollywood as a screenwriter for over 15 years, setting up multiple pitches, selling specs, landing OWA’s, and has never gotten a single film writing credit. Yet he owns a $750K house, sends his kids to private school, and is by all rights a successful screenwriter… just one without a movie to his name.
So in the end, “Mr. President” is nothing more than a tiny blip in Hollywood history. But for me, it translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, a pair of overall studio deals, and the legacy of a pitch sale to a major studio.
Not bad for a project that never got produced.
The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.