The Story of a Screenwriter: Script 0, Part 2
(Note: The thing I was looking for to post today is inexplicably missing from all my hard drives and a hard copy is nowhere to be found. So apparently all copies of that (in my possession) as well as the actual copies of the script I’m about to tell you about are just gone. Like nitrate prints from 1905.)
Last time – high school, it sucked, I was bored, fucked around, senior year, bullshit, Mr. Warren, English, Macbeth, boring, CSI, suggests I write Macbeth as a CSI episode. Ding.
Enter CSI: Macbeth.
Isn’t this where we came in?
It was actually a genius idea on Mr. Warren’s part that I write Macbeth as a CSI epsiode, because, if I hadn’t read the play before (which I’m sure my homeworks could probably confirm), I certainly was going to now. That weekend I went home and actually went back to read the play.
I repeat. I went back, while we, the class were doing homework for act III, and actually read acts I and II. Doesn’t sound like me at all, does it? Well, that’s exactly me when I have a reason to.
I went through, translated all the Shakespeare into English and figured out what every little word and detail meant. And, in doing so, essentially managed to cleverly transport the play into an episode of CSI. I had a lot of fun with it. My favorite scene is where what’s her name, Helgenberger – you know who I’m talking about – old chick – and Token Black Guy are dusting for fingerprints, and they use that spray that reveals them. And they actually get it on something in the castle it wasn’t supposed to get on. Or maybe it’s his jacket, actually, and he’s like, “Bitch, why the fuck did you finger spray my jacket?” And she’s like, “Oh, fuck you, you know that ain’t your baby.” Or something to that effect. It was a dark time in my life.
And as they’re talking (“Motherfucker, I told you to pull out!” “Bitch but the phone rang and it startled me!”), up behind them comes Lady Macbeth, wringing her hands, all stressed out. And they’re trying to get the stain off the jacket. And just as she walks by, she hears, “Oh, boy, that spot is never gonna come out.”
Cute and clever for a high school kid, right?
That’s what it was. A lot of that. And I added extra details of my own, because someone who is doing something they’re not used to doing, and getting approval for it, doesn’t know the meaning of restraint. So it has that overindulgence a teenager has that would make an older person (like say, me, age 20) look back and be like, “oh jesus.” That little extra that makes you embarrassed about it in the future. Everyone has that phase. We all have phases when we’re young. Just like water. I had a Power Rangers phase, a Goosebumps phase, a wrestling phase, a baseball card phase – and then once you’re a certain amount of years older, you go in the complete opposite direction, like, “That shit was so embarrassing, I don’t even want to think about it now. I don’t even want to mention the word because it’ll bring back memories.” Essentially, “Fuck fish.” And my parents would be like, “We have all these Power Ranger toys, what should we do with them?” And I’m like, “Sell it or burn it,” just wanting no part of it whatsoever. And then, you get past a point where you become okay with it again, even proud of it. This is how a hipster is born. Though in their case, irony is the afterbirth.
This entire series of posts is me having gotten over the fact that I wrote these scripts. I’m finally no longer embarrassed about them enough to not talk about them. Soon I’ll put my copy of CSI: Macbeth up on the shelf next to all my Goosebumps books. (Note: After recent investigation, that appears to be no longer possible. It seems only Mr. Warren, if he kept my stuff like he said he would, is in possession of a copy of CSI: Macbeth. Or perhaps a mislabeled box in my attic. The search rages on.) And the Clue books. Oh man, anyone else have the Clue books? Fuck, I loved those. I was so upset they only made 18 of them.
Anyway, I turned in my Macbeth the Monday after Thanksgiving break. I remember writing it during all the football games (having a full four days to work on it without all that other bullshit to occupy my time) and turned it in bright and early Monday (I write fast. Always have, continue to do so thus far), excited as all hell. Which is hysterical because this would affect my grade in no way whatsoever. Then, since Mr. Warren has shit to do (he’s a busy man), it took him until after Christmas break to read it and get back to me. But, when he did, he suggested I enter the Random House Creative Writing Contest.
Oh yeah, the Random House Contest.
Hold on now – a new element to our story. The bomb under the table. What contest this be? Well, as he told me – because I didn’t know what the fuck this was, contests were for those other idiots to enter. They’re all rigged and pick the worst winners anyway – it’s a contest for creative writing for high school students. He thought I should enter. I was proud of the work, so I was like, “Why not?”
Of course, the deadline to it was in like ten days and my entry violated almost every single rule they had. Seriously. Almost every rule. And I said, “I don’t think my entry fits,” and he was like, “Don’t worry about it. They don’t care. Just enter. You never know.” I think he was looking to boost the number of entries from the school. This contest was advertised in the school about as well as the Falklands War. If you weren’t looking for it, you had no idea it existed. I figured, why not, I already wrote it. It only cost like $20 to enter (bullshit entry fee. What was I paying for? The interns they made read all the shit?). But just to show you just how badly I broke the rules, here are the actual rules to the contest, straight from the Random House website:
Your original literary composition must be submitted in one of the following formats: poetry/spoken word, OR fiction/drama, OR personal essay/memoir OR graphic novel (a novel, usually in comics form, where the narrative is related through a combination of text and art, i.e. manga).
Mine was none of these.
All submissions must be typed, double-spaced, and no longer than ten pages with a minimum font size of 12 point. All pages must also be numbered. A four-page minimum is recommended in the fiction/drama category. There is no minimum for the other categories.
How do you double-space a play? Also, 10 pages …. Mine was 20. I got the font though. So that’s one. Pages numbered. I can do that. (After the fact. In pen.) So, one, and a hanging chad second one. I actually did handwrite the page numbers onto it, because I didn’t know how to do it by computer. Still don’t.
No handwritten entries.
Well fuck me all to hell.
No college essays, book reports, myth and legends.
Uhh… that doesn’t count for me, right? Oh fuck it, we know mine is basically a grey area here.
ALL ENTRIES MUST BE ORIGINAL WORKS. NO PLAGIARISM, NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.
Oooh… that one stings.
And really — what’s with the caps?
How, in any way, could my entry even be considered for anything related to this contest? It’s a fucking prose contest! Maybe if I wrote the play in metered verse … oh, right. (New idea: a Shakespearean tragedy about Popeye — Iamb What Iamb). Of course I entered. The rules violations were too good not to.
So I entered, forgot about it. I mean, how can anyone give that thing more than a passing glance before going, “Did this kid even read the fucking rules”? I didn’t give the contest a second thought, just like I thought they’d never give me a second thought.
Weeks pass, and finally they call me. This is like, March, when I entered by like January 15th or something. And they’re like, “So…you entered this thing. It doesn’t meet the guidelines.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know. But my teacher wanted me to submit it anyway.” And they’re like, “Yeah…but, you have to meet the guidelines in order to submit this story.” (Little did I know how much the words “guidelines” and “story” would come back to haunt me.) And I’m like, “I can’t meet the guidelines. This is what I wrote. You can’t double-space a play. It’s 20 pages because it’s in dialogue form. It physically can’t be done.”
I wish I could have shown him with a series of hand motions. Or just one, with my hand, and the use of a single finger. The kind that in charades would be used to reflect an ornithological issue.
And they’re like, “Yeah…but you have to meet the guidelines.”
So what I got out of this conversation was — they want me to meet their guidelines – page length, font specifications, etc. – just so they can turn around and tell me, “Yeah, you wrote a play, and there’s copyright infringement all over this, so, we had to disqualify you.” That’s seriously what it was. And I asked the guy point blank like, “Are you really gonna make me do this so you could disqualify me?” And he was like a fucking cop. “In order to be accepted, you need to follow the guidelines of the contest.” He made sure the wording he used was exactly the same, and would not imply one way or another in his words. So basically, if I chose wrong, it was my ass.
And at this point, I was already out the $20. I could either now lose the entry fee forever, without a fight, or, I could change it to fit their “guidelines.”
Let it not be said that Mike DiPrisco isn’t a cheap fuck. I wasn’t letting them take my money without a fair fight. I changed that bitch. I changed it so much I rammed it right down their fucking throats.
They spent four weeks exchanging emails with me, telling me what I needed to do. They outsourced it to some girl, probably an intern, so I was talking mainly to her. And while I’m doing this, you have to know, I’m fully aware that I’m in a situation where all I can get out of it is a good story. So my goal is to exasperate. Exasperate with extreme prejudice. They wanted ten pages. I had twenty. I did an edit, edited it down to 18 and was like, “This is good, right?” They’d say no. I’d do it again. 17.5. “Is this good?” I was being the dude who pushed every button in the elevator in a 110-story building.
I made sure I followed the guidelines on every single one of those stories.
So now I’m changing what I wrote to adhere to the guidelines of a contest that I don’t care about (not even a little bit), for no significant benefit to me, because all I’m getting out of it is a story that isn’t even going to be that good to begin with, because they’re going to disqualify me for writing dialogue instead of prose. So my story is, “Yeah, I entered it, and they disqualified me, but I pissed them off lots before they did it.” But the worst part about it was — they weren’t even telling me that they were making me change it just so they could reject it. So really the joke was on me. So even though I was wasting time, my work ethic remained steadfast. Really, you could not imagine the amount of a fuck I did not give in this situation. It was like the drunk guy walking into a room full of new friends. You know, “Oh, fuck it, drinks for everybody!” Just not caring, making decisions on a whim, no concern for end results whatsoever. But, when that happens, good things are bound to occur. Especially with me.
So I go through this thing, editing, with the care of someone who works the counter at the post office. I cut some dialogue, changed some stuff, actually ended up making the whole thing better. However, all that really amounted to was paring it down from 20 pages to 17 and change. So I send them the 17, like, “look, if I cut any more dialogue, nothing is going to make sense. Full scenes would need to be cut out. It would be like losing the entire reel of film that starts after “Over the Rainbow” and ends after “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, and then trying to make sense of the fucking movie.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but you’re almost there. Just keep fixing it up.” So I cut a little more. Trim some stuff, lose a few marginally important scenes from the play. Because, you know, that scene where Macbeth kills the king — fuck, it’s filler! Cut it out! And they were still like, “Yeah, now it’s only 17. You’re almost there. Really.”
It was like I was dealing with the fucking MPAA, trying to edit down an R into a PG-13. Creatively cutting around the shot of the girl’s bush during the sex scene. And they’re like, “You’re almost there, almost.” And I’m cutting around this one shot, because without this one shot of her bush, you won’t know her hair is not naturally blonde, and then the entire plot twist in the third act won’t make any sense whatsoever. So I cut out every single thing I’m willing to lose except that shot, and now the entire movie is a fucking kid’s movie except for that tiny ass shot of the bush, and the MPAA is like, “You’re almost there. Really,” and are basically saying without saying, “You’re getting an R unless you cut out that shot of the bush.” It’s so fucking dumb.
And I’m getting frustrated, because there’s only so much I’m willing to cut, and they could just make both of our lives easier by just disqualifying me and letting us move on with our lives. Meanwhile, I’m sending emails to this girl at like 10:30 in the morning, being like, “How about this? 16 and a half pages!” And she’s like, “You’re almost there. Keep up the good work. Also, shouldn’t you be in school right now?”
Finally, I reached the ultimate “Don’t Give a Fuck” point. You all know that point. It’s the one where you’ve accepted failure and just want to have fun with it. Everyone who knows me has seen me reach this point many a time. It’s when you tried playing by the rules, things didn’t work out, it just wasn’t fun, you didn’t get anywhere, and now you just don’t give a fuck. Everything that was taken off the table before now comes right back on. And you’re just picking indiscriminately like, “Yeah, put that motherfucker in. And put it next to this, too,” and are just doing whatever the fuck you want. And by this point they had said, “Okay, since yours is dialogue, we’ve decided that since it takes more space to write than prose, we’ll allow you to make it fifteen pages. We can reason that 15 pages of dialogue is about the same as ten pages of prose, and that it’s just a formatting technicality.
Whoever came up with that logic is paid way too much money to do their job.
So I’m like, “You want fifteen pages, motherfuckers? Here’s my motherfucking fifteen pages!” And I put back all the dialogue I wanted in and changed the margins on the paper to be .2 inches.
In case you didn’t know: .2 inches is the minimum allowable margin allowed for the text to actually be printed without running off the edge of the paper.
And not only that — because changing the margins to .2 inches (which literally is the equivalent of leaving about an underline’s worth on the top and bottom of the page) only put me back to the original 16 1/2 — I changed the side margins too.
Even the hardcore students are now looking at me like, “No you didn’t. Oh, no.”
Because changing the top margins is one thing. Fudging a 1 inch margin into a .95 or a .9 is okay in some instances when you want to incorporate just a little more without having that half a paragraph hanging on the extra page. Sure, .2 is a bit much, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But even the people willing to give up some morals and change the top margins would never, ever — and I mean ever — change the side margins.
Yeah, I did that.
And I took pictures.
So what I ended up with was the most deformed, twisted, ugly-ass looking play this side of Rocky Dennis. It was horrific. But — it was 15 pages.
They were Fat Guy in a Little Coat pages.
They were pre-pregnancy clothes, post-pregnancy, pages.
They were when that really fat guy insists he can fit into the seat on the roller coaster pages.
They were jaws of life pages.
One stiff breeze was it it would take to spill those 15 pages onto 17 pages.
I had to write my name, by hand, up top with one of those pens they use to brush up tiny ass little cracks in famous works of art.
But god damnit, they got their motherfucking 15 pages. They looked like Frankenstein’s monster, but they were 15 motherfucking pages. I adhered to their goddamn guidelines just far enough so they could disqualify me like they were gonna do all along.
No way would something so clearly over the page limit, margins all fucked up, written as a play instead of prose like the contest dictates, copyright infringement all over it, possibly eve merit more than a, “Yeah, why was this even entered?” disgusted stare and momentary reflection of how something like this could even have come into being (like we all do when watching reality TV) before being tossed aside and attempted to be forgotten about, lest it make them lose sleep at night. Because after I spent all that time working with the intern who worked for the dude that handled the entries, I know that what was going to happen was, she was gonna get her fifteen pages, give it to the dude she was
blowing working for, he was gonna be like, “Great, my job is complete. Every entry conforms to the guidelines,” then hand it off to the next higher person in command, who reads them before whittling them down to a smaller size for the next higher person on the totem, who starts voting on which ones win, and he was gonna take one look at it and be like, “What the fuck is this?” and toss it aside. It was like putting in all that extra training to get to the boss level and using all your energy to kill the guards standing outside the fortress, only to walk inside and be killed by the boss’s weakest henchman. So really what the fuck was the point of them making me even change it in the first place?
I ended up winning $1,000.
It’s fucked up, right?
How can someone who’d done so little (correctly) get so far?
I have no idea, and I’m not complaining.
The reason they got all up in my ass was because they knew I was going to win and wanted me to at least appear like I followed the rules so they could justify giving me all that money.
To top it off, I was able to use it as part of my college applications, and it was almost certainly the reason I got into Wesleyan (the letter of recommendation for myself, written by myself, certainly wasn’t), and, as another cherry on the top, I got a phone call three weeks out from the director of the ceremony they were having to give the winners their “prizes” (something I most certainly was not planning on attending), telling me, “At this ceremony, we normally perform some of the pieces. The students who win the prizes stand up and read their entries. Yours seems to be one of the more, appropriate, ones to do this with…”
First off, did he just say something I did was appropriate? Really? This is coming from someone who was making 9/11 jokes on 9/12.
Also, the fact that they gave three students $10,000 prizes, another three or more $5,000, and about 12-15 of us $1,000 (because there was no way I was winning the bigger prizes, my entry all fucked up like that. Which I’m cool with. Less money, more freedom), they must have had some really boring fucking entries to want to have mine read. (Mike’s real feelings: Of course they read mine. Mine was awesome. It was clearly better than everything else entered in that contest.)
Also, who going to be reading this? Not me. Fuck that.
“…so we’d like to hire actors and do a reading of it on stage at the ceremony.”
Ha ha, ha.
I just went from almost being disqualified to winning $1,000 and having real live actors read some stupid thing I wrote on stage in front of a room full of people. The hits just keep on coming.
The guy literally had me send him updated pages, making notes, specify what kind of actors they were looking for, all of that. My mother kept joking that I was the only kid in my high school with a producing credit before the age of 18.
So now the ceremony comes – they had five or six actors up on stage, reading something I wrote. Which was awesome, despite, even at the time, me being like, “Oh, man, this is so embarrassing.” Because, I knew – this is a nice start, but let’s not call this good writing. It’s like the one cute, bad piece of writing they let you get away with just to get your foot in the door. Then they’re like, “okay, produce.” And you need to put out better shit from then on like a gerbil on a wheel that never stops. Otherwise they’re like, “This motherfucker hasn’t grown as an artist.” I’m exaggerating, but, when you know you only meant it to be cute, and trained professionals are reading it as though it were a real fucking play – that’s embarrassing. (Mike note: And awesome!)
Imagine if someone took an email you wrote to that guy or girl you dated for three weeks back in middle school – you know, when you were all in “love,” and put hearts and shit on each other’s binders, and wrote all excitedly in your AOL profile that you were in love with that person (“My heart belongs to Jill” heart, heart heart), going so far as to put the date of your anniversary on it, which was only 28 days prior – imagine if someone took that email, gush and all, and read it on a street corner in front of random strangers and some of your family. It just feels weird. On one level. I mean, had you gotten paid for that to happen, then it would probably be cool. But on an artistic level, it was embarrassing.
Also, let’s not forget the fact that, in this ceremony – which was like two and a half hours. Really, it was fucking long. Think of going to the Oscars when you’re not really all that interested in going. And you were part of the sound design team on a film, and you’re waiting for your award to come, which is typically in the middle of the show, and having to sit through all the bullshit beforehand. People getting up, talking about stupid shit, other people going up. Then finally you go, and that’s it. Then, because this isn’t the Oscars, when it was over, they presented actual awards or something.
After my piece was performed, I had to then sit through the second half, without even the anticipation of knowing my stuff was coming up. It was hell. The point I’m making here was, listening to the other performances – there were three categories, prose, nonfiction and poetry – one is about immigrating to the country with a grandmother who died en route (Mike Note: Not Amistad.), one is a slam poem about being raped as a child and trying to find a voice as a sassy black teenager in a white-dominated society (Mike Note: Based on the novel “Push by Sapphire), and one is about taking care of a bird that the person injured and felt bad about and how they learned about shit from taking care of it (Mike Note: Juwanna Man).
And they read them. All. And it’s long, it’s boring, and there’s the polite applause and shit. But then, smack dab in the center – literally, this is the very middle of the program before they took a break before the second half – is a reading of some asshole who wrote a play about if Macbeth were a CSI episode. Sure, it’s much preferred to all that other boring shit, but it’s not exactly – you know, “One of these things is not like the other.”
But, we got laughs. People did chuckle at my script. I mean, other people were dead silent because either they were like, “Yeah, this is cute,” or they were like, “What the fuck is this?” because either they didn’t get the humor or didn’t get the idea itself (or they were actual immigrants who didn’t speak English and knew their little Chin-Lun won an award and were going to show her off. I can say this because, this was a girl in my class. The name was changed to protect the innocent). But, we got laughs.
My father even said, “People are laughing.” Plus the dude reading Macbeth’s part was hysterical. He was so perfectly over the top, while some of the other actors were going all method and shit. He knew what it was supposed to be. We have it on DVD too. Come by some time. Watch my embarrassing childhood.
My favorite part about all of this was afterward. There was a mini-reception or whatever, and everyone was mingling. You know, that shit boring people do. While the rest of us are getting the serious drinking done. And some of the actors were still there. I guess waiting to get paid or looking to see if someone would come up and offer them work. And I went up to them and was like, “Great job, reading.” And they were like, “Thanks,” and kept going. And I realized – these motherfuckers have no idea who I am. Their job was only the words. They could give less than a fuck. Which is great, because I could remain totally anonymous without fielding questions like,” How could you possibly think up something like that?” Like it’s the weirdest fucking thing in the world. And I’m like, “How could someone have not thought this up earlier?” All the shit I come up with makes perfect sense to me. But I realized, I could have the best of both worlds. I could be anonymous but still receive heaps of praise for the shit I do. So, I’m left alone, and I get validation that other people like it and it’s not some fool’s errand that I undertake.
Cool story, right? I still haven’t worked up the courage to watch that reading again. Maybe one day when I’m with other people. And drinking. Not yet, though. That’s the kind of thing that’ll only happen when other people are like, “Yes, that.” And I’m like,” only if we drink.” And then everybody wins.
But, that epiphany was all I needed to keep going. Which, I guess I’ll talk about tomorrow, since, fuck, I wrote a lot.
Told you I would.
But after that, I said, “I need to follow this one up with something real good.” And this was before the contest, even. I figured I needed a nice follow up to it because otherwise, what was the point?
But that’s a story for another day.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow is that day. Don’t worry.