This first one is a repost of a writing horror story I used to have up on my old Blog.
TIMMY THE WHIPPING BOY AND THE WRESTLER FROM THE FUTURE!
Back in 1997, our film and television agent at the time hooked us up with a Toronto film production company called P.N.A. (Producer Network Associates). They were known primarily for making cheap science fiction and thriller films for under $2M. We met with them, checked out their body of work (rented some VHS copies of their films) and showed them some of our screenplays.
They ended up optioning three of our original film scripts: CHROME, KABUKI-MONO and SOLOMON which was very exciting at the time (although none of them got produced it was awesome getting three properties picked up at the same time). They also hired us to rewrite a medical thriller they had bought called THE ETHICS COMMITTEE. We happily signed a contract and got to work.
The script itself was a pile of crap, bad dialogue, ridiculous characters and scenes that were flat and lifeless. We tossed out everything except for the fact that the main character was a woman and that she was a lawyer looking into some questionable medical practices. We wrote the new script in eleven days from beginning to end (we didn’t sleep much when we were young!) and the company was thrilled with the final screenplay we delivered. One of the producers exclaimed very loudly, ‘Now, we have a movie!’ The buzz around us was hot and we felt that were on our way…but, as it turns out, not very far.
Ultimately, the film was never made due to the fact that they couldn’t get the financing for it in place and we spent the next eighteen months trying to collect the money owed to us on the writing contract. It was a flat $5000 on delivery of the script (which we had done) and an additional $15,000 at the start of principal photography (which at this point we knew was no longer on the table). Lots of phone calls and pressure from the agent yielded absolutely nothing.
I even traveled down to Toronto and camped out in their front offices for a couple of days to see if they couldn’t be persuaded to honor their agreement (they kept using the back door to sneak in and out of their offices). I eventually got ushered into one of the producer’s offices and he was shaking and sweating as he nervously wrote me out a check (which, of course, bounced like a proverbial rubber ball). We figured it was a lost cause; there was no getting blood from this stone, so we walked away without ever getting paid.
But, that’s not where this story is supposed to go (that was just a bit of saucy background) You wanted to hear about Timmy the Whipping Boy and the Wrestler from the Future. Read on!
Before we started working on The Ethics Committee we had the opportunity to visit a couple of P.N.A. film sets that actually were in production. The first was MEN OF MEANS starring Michael Pare (I’m a massive Streets of Fire fan so that was quite a thrill!) The second film was a Roger Corman (New Concorde) backed production called SHEPHERD (a.k.a. CYBERCITY to everyone outside of Canada).
Shepherd was a ‘Z’ grade science fiction film production destined for home video. The original budget had been cut down considerably and the set was located in a run-down warehouse in the industrial district and was literally made of painted cardboard held together with duct tape and prayers.
Despite the surroundings, we had a great time walking the set and meeting the crew. There are two things you can be sure of on pretty much every film set. It’s the most boring place on Earth most of the time and the crew is usually made up of the most amazing people you’ll ever meet. Every movie set I’ve ever been on I always end up spending most of my time talking with everyone from costume, to makeup, to set design. They’re there because they love the work (the pay and the hours are usually atrocious) and they’ve always got incredible stories about all the other actors they’ve worked with and all the films they’ve labored on. They’re like roadies to the rock stars (which is how we feel as writers most of the time).
And, speaking of actors – it wasn’t long before the stars of the show arrived. We were introduced to C. Thomas Howell (OUTSIDERS, RED DAWN) and his entourage. Next up, was superstar wrestler ‘Rowdy Roddy Piper (THEY LIVE) who had the biggest bodyguard I’ve ever seen in my life (and seriously, why does a professional wrestler need a bodyguard?) I was really excited to meet the late, great David Carradine (KUNG FU, DEATH RACE 2000, KILL BILL) and his girlfriend Heidi Von Palleske (who was playing the leading lady). I grew up on drive-in movies and late night television so Mr. Carradine was always a big deal in my books.
As the day’s shooting got underway, we spent an enjoyable afternoon shooting the shit with co-star Mackenzie Gray (from the Mark Wahlberg film SHOOTER and way too many television shows to mention)…oh, and Roddy’s giant bodyguard (we sort of bonded over the Espresso machine although it was hard to tell as he was so tall I spent most of the time talking to his belly-button).
Everything was interrupted by a production assistant who ran over to tell me that I was wanted on set. I hurried to the shooting area and was told that the producers had convinced Ray Serra (PRIZZI’S HONOR, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES) who was shooting on Men of Means to do a small scene in Shepherd (they figured they could up the ‘star’ count on the film by offering Ray a little more cash). The writer, Nelu Ghiran, had written a scene in ten minutes and they needed a bald guy with a goatee to play Ray’s assistant ‘Timmy the Whipping Boy’ (how ironic a name that would become later on in my pursuit of a payment from P.N.A.!)
A quick dry shave with a disposable razor in a production bathroom (almost as dirty as the one in Trainspotting) to smooth the head and then it was off to wardrobe where I stood around in my underwear while the wardrobe ladies found me an appropriate monk’s robe to wear for the part. Of course, I’m still in my underwear when Ray Serra comes by and introduces himself to me and insists on talking my ears off.
Then, it’s off to the cardboard set and after an hour of the crew moving lights around and the director talking everyone through the scene the cameras start to roll…
And, then stop…I’m blocking Ray’s light…not once, but twice! That’s why I’m usually behind the scenes and not in them! We shoot three takes of the scene and then it’s a wrap. My fifteen minutes of fame had come to an end. I was off to the Espresso machine to down a few more coffees and catch up with my favorite giant bodyguard.
A FEW INTERESTING ASIDES:
I swear our early writing career had some kind of weird connection between science fiction and wrestlers! More on that in a later post!
Turns out Mackenzie Gray starred in an episode of FOREVER KNIGHT. We’d written a couple of spec scripts for that show that got us into a very weird production meeting. Another post coming on that one! More recently Mackenzie Gray has starred as one of the villains (The Eye) in the television series LEGION.
Much to my amusement, I actually had an IMDB credit as an actor in Shepherd for about two years as Timmy the Whipping Boy but it was later removed as I wasn’t ‘officially’ credited in the film.
C. Thomas Howell starred in the original version of THE HITCHER written by Eric Red, one of my favorite screenwriters. Mr. Red also co-wrote one of the best vampire films ever made called NEAR DARK which was directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The first screenplay we wrote back in 1991 (we’d only written television scripts up until that point) was a sequel to Near Dark called Dusk. We didn’t own the rights and it was written as more of a calling card piece to show producers that we could actually write more than an hour long script. We sent it out anyways and got a wonderful letter back from Eric Red, an invite to submit it to Kathryn Bigelow’s company First Light and had a few conversations with Lance Henriksen’s publicist. Kind of cool!