I, Screenwriter

I, Screenwriter

A while back a graduate of the same UCLA film school that turned out people like Steven Spielberg asked me to write an original screenplay for a movie about vampires.

I was thrilled. At last I was going to be able to buy that chateau in the South of France.

It was going to be a low-budget independent film – the definition of “low budget” being any movie that costs less than $2 million to make. The plan was to write the script and use it as the basis for rounding up actors and raising the money to produce the project. My screenplay was to be the golden egg from which even more gold would hatch. What could be better than that?

After agreeing to write the script, I went back to doing what I had been doing. I was busy finishing up a book and dealing with the sturm und drang of daily life: taking my shirts to the laundry, shopping for a bottle of wine to have with supper, hanging out at Border’s, playing my violin. All pressing, time-sensitive issues that dominated my every waking hour and haunted my dreams at night.

The director/producer called after a month or so to ask how the script was going. “Pretty well,” I said. That’s what I told him every time he called: “Pretty well.” Of course, I hadn’t even started. And I’m sure he knew it. Writers … what can anybody do with us? We’re as willful as children.

Eventually guilt trumps all. Guilt is a wonderful motivator. Just ask the Catholic church. When I’d pushed it just about as far as I could – to about the point where I cringed whenever the telephone rang – I sat down and I pounded out a draft over the weekend.

It was an interesting experience.

Screenplays are a different than novels in a lot of important ways. First, if you write more than 100 pages they shoot you, not the movie. In a book, you’re just getting started when you hit the century mark. In a screenplay, you’re finished.

Another difference is that a script is almost all dialog. You don’t waste time setting mood. That’s the director’s job. And you don’t waste time telling the actors how to act. Marlon Brando doesn’t need the script to tell him he “reacts with horror” when he notices a severed finger hanging from the end of his meatloaf sandwich. He, like, knows. That’s how he got to be Marlon Brando.

Scripts are subject to elaborate formalities that govern things like type size (big) and margins (wide). The upshot of all of that is that you fill your meager 100 pages even quicker than you would otherwise.

I did a rewrite, gave the script to the producer/director. He rearranged it slightly, bringing the first kill scene up to the front, an astute editing change. He talked to people like Linda Blair before getting P.J. Soles (“Halloween,” “Stripes,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School”) interested, along with an actor from the cult TV vampire series, “Dark Shadows.”

I was pumped!

Alas, there was the money. In the movie business, it’s always the money. Especially for the writer. When you get to the point where you have to worry about critics and moviegoers, the savvy screenwriter already has his money safely in the bank and is chilling at his chateau in France.

Our impresario fell a mere $200,000 short in his fundraising efforts. “Vampire Dreams” was never made, joining an ever-growing catalog of get-rich-quick schemes (aka “movies”) doomed to go through all eternity unmade. But you can read the script if you download the PDF here. Kindly note the length. Written exactly to Hollywood’s exacting standards, it is precisely 100 pages long.
— Michael Romkey