H o l l y w o o d   D r e a m s
by Beverley Wood
I'd venture that at one time or another, many of you have had Hollywood Dreams -- the parties, the seven-figure income, the hot tubs. These are the things dreams are made of -- sitting around your pool on the cell phone making marvelous deals, vodka tonic in your hand...while the rest of your friends shovel snow back home.
My personal version has me standing in the pool, shades on, drinking a Heineken...and the maid is holding my calls. That's the image that keeps me going every time another fresh-faced MBA from Harvard with a studio job says: "Your script is great, but it's not for us. The story just doesn't have enough....je ne sais quoi ..." Translation:" I don't know"...because that, my friend, is the first rule in Hollywood: Nobody knows anything*.
I've been actively (and pretty much exclusively) promoting one script, DogStar (which I co-wrote with my husband), for nigh on two years now and its been a (ahem) learning experience to say the least. And I can't deny that I occasionally get discouraged...but so far, I have been able to beat that demon into submission (mostly with Heineken).
In retrospect, the project is moving along. What started as a screenplay treatment* two years ago is now a complete script (121 pages), a published fiction novel (253 pages) and has been optioned* twice. We have a respected (albeit Canadian) movie agent. The book itself has made some very prestigious lists, was one of three finalists in the Dog Writerís Association of America fiction competition for 1998 and is short-listed for several awards to be announced later this spring. In addition, we turned down one offer to option early in the game and are (hopefully) on the verge of signing our third option. Turning the treatment into a book was the best thing we ever could have done -- it provided instant credibility.
DogStar started with an idea so compelling that it kept us awake nights. We always saw it as a movie, right from the get-go. The idea of a book didnít even enter our heads. Once we had developed the story line and written a treatment, I got to work on the internet to find potential buyers. I wrote a short, succinct (and quite snappy if I do say so myself) query letter and sent it out to ProdCoís (Production Companies) -- email where appropriate but in many cases, snail mail.
Within weeks, I began to get some very nice rejection letters and two producers who wanted to talk. One was in Toronto, one was in Vancouver. I wanted Hollywood to call, but I was excited nonetheless. I sent them, at their request, copies of the treatment. And then I waited (it's one of the rules).
But there is truly no rest for the wicked. We noticed a local publisherís imprint, Sirrius Books, at the library and a bell went off in our heads. Sirrius books was established specifically to publish dog stories (Sirrius is the formal name for the Dog Star) and their logo was a bull terrier (the breed featured in our book). There was too much synchronicity to ignore. We sent the publisher a book proposal as well as the screenplay treatment (by courier).
They called us within 48 hours and offered us a publishing contract.
We lucked out, big time. They believed in the story and they had room for an immediate project. We delivered the book manuscript and now a very important thing had happened to DogStar. It was real. It was already a book. And that fact gave the screenplay treatment credibility before the reader even got past the title page.
And it has also been something to hang on to when the moon is void and my Hollywood Dreams seem so far away and the Heinies just arenít working. In just over a year, DogStar, the book, is about to go into its third printing, having long surpassed the minor figures one needs to be considered a bestseller in Canada (for all you devout Canadians out there, Iím sorry, but I have my sights set on bigger fish). And no matter what happens, it will always be a book. And until the fat lady sings, I believe it will be a movie. Especially in the winter.
NEXT >: Both producers want an option...what on earth do I do now?
*The First Rule in Hollywood, Nobody Knows Anything, is a term first put forth by screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid; All the President's Men; The General's Daughter)*Option: Itís the way most of Hollywood works today. For a small sum of money (usually between $1.00 - $5,000.00 unless your name is Steven King or Michael Crichton), a producer or studio retains the rights to your story/script for a specified period of time (6 months - 18 months) to try and raise the necessary funds to proceed to the "development" stage.)
* Treatment: An outline of the story told in narrative fashion, usually 10 - 20 pages long.