First, a Hollywood war story. Several moons ago, while I was still holding on by my fingernails trying to earn a living that would support my family through writing television and movie scripts, I wrote a spec script that opened quite a few doors for me. Unfortunately, none of the rooms to which those doors opened into had money in them.
A spec script is a script a writer writes that nobody asked him to write. The hope is that these 120-odd pages of brilliance will attract the kind of attention from people who will then ask the writer to write a script that will have a paycheck attached to it.
Though my spec script garnered some attention and got me meetings with some important people in town, nothing ever materialized, even though it was an honorable mention winner at a film festival in Colorado. I attended said film festival in Colorado expecting to be feted in the way I had grown accustomed. But I soon realized I was the writer and my script was just an honorable mention. No major movie studio mogul invited me to lunch to discuss the “project.”
So I returned home, a little disheartened, and continued to scratch out an existence pitching to episodic TV shows. Several weeks after my Rocky Mountains adventure, I did get a call. A couple of self-proclaimed producers had read my script they found via the film festival and they did want to talk about a possible project.
Now, these kinds of “out of the blue” calls are the stuff writers dream about…but these dreams almost always turn into nightmares. I had a similar encounter earlier with another spec script, not as good as this one, where my agent called me and said he had a very famous actor in his office who wanted to meet me and talk about making that script into a movie.
I rushed over and yes, this was a very famous television actor and yes, he did seem interested in making a movie out of my script… But it entailed a muddled and somewhat disturbing economic model involving South African business interests wanting to shelter money that was being restricted by the then anti-apartheid monetary policy.
I would like to say that I stood up, defended social justice, and refused to go one step further in discussions. I didn’t. I played the string out and it all unraveled when this television star got an offer for another television series which became a hit.
So I walked into this latest meeting about another spec script with both eyes open. I met these two guys not in a studio office, but in an apartment they were using for an office. There were scripts and books everywhere, and two computers. They were paying the bills through some first-run syndication writing jobs, but their real intent was to have their own movie company and make their own kinds of films and build their own kind of empire.
At first, I had no idea these guys had a faith-based foundation. Quickly learning that fact made me more at ease during the ensuing two-plus hours they regaled me with their plans for the future…and their plans were extensive, with a wide array of movie and television projects, many with a religious or spiritual impetus. Since my spec script had some of these elements, there was talk about me joining this crusade.
As any writer worth his salt, I hoped there was money involved. There wasn’t. These guys were operating on a shoestring budget and at the time, with more than a few mouths to feed, I couldn’t make that kind of commitment on the premise of what might be.
When I got home that night my wife asked me how it went. I told her I had just met two guys who were either stark raving mad, or they were going to take over the world someday. These two guys were Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman. You’ve seen their names if you’ve seen the movie “Unplanned.” They wrote and directed it — a perfect marriage between their artistic sensibilities and their passion for important subject matter.
The film did not come into being through the traditional movie industry way. How could it, being based on the monumental personal story of a woman who represents the antithesis of what “mainstream” Hollywood holds most dear?
So I was right after all. Cary and Chuck were crazy — you had to be to think you could fund and distribute a movie like “Unplanned” — and they also happen to be changing the world.
Robert Brennan is a weekly columnist for Angelus online and in print. He has written for many Catholic publications, including National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor. He spent 25 years as a television writer, and is currently the Director of Communications for the Salvation Army California South Division.
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