After the Dukakis episode, I would keep bumping into people who "could do things for me." Around 1995, there was one guy, Ralph Cooper, very slick producer-ish guy who fell in love with my Nick Flebber Christmas script. He was convinced it could be a TV show and had me re-write it up to pitch as such. He was really an advocate of my material. He was also trying to build up his stature in my eyes. I don't know why, but he really was trying to convince him he had the juice, that we were always just thisclose to making things happen. At the time he was hustling a script for a movie called "Hugo Pool."
I've been reading the updated version of "Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests." I read the first edition years ago, around the time of the 25th anniversary of the show. I've come to the conclusion that I really need to stop reading about the show, about how it works, about how the writers are picked, about the whole thing. I need to stop reading the stories of the zaniness of being backstage or the thrill of seeing your work broadcast live to the nation. I just need to stop. I used to read everything about SNL when I was younger. Because that was the dream I thought I could attain. Now I read it and know that the dream has withered away. But I tried...
(I've written about my brushes with SNL before, but since no one really reads blogs, I'm doing it again.)
Back in May of 2016, I came upon a Craig’s List want ad entitled “Seeking Comedy Writer for major studio venture.” It was anything but.
Dear Dan. I have a Comedy Writing Assignment for you, if would like to take. It is to write a remake of the 1984 Comedy Film "UP THE CREEK" for a all new Reboot endeavor. I have spoken with the Producer of this very film that is willing to read a reboot script for further determinations!! So Dan, for the all considering of process, I have provided below the original 1984 screenplay draft from the original writer, and along with a Veoh video link to where you can watch the original 1984 90 minute film in its entirety. The film if you may recall starred comic stars Tim Matheson and Stephen Furst (both of "Animal House"), and Dan Monahan (of "Porky's"), kindly overlook all, and upon after, let me know if you think you'd be all game to start, whether if today, or over the weekend, to initiate scripting a very fateful 90 page screenplay for a very promising Up The Creek reboot for an aimed 2017 theatrical release. This one might be well worth it too! Kindly reach out at any time. Thank you! All the Best. Christian Elias
Ok, so I answer this ad for a “major studio venture.” Turns out it’s some guy pitching a remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and asks for my take on it. In mid-pitch, he pulls that project and replaces it with his latest…
So, rewinding a bit, Elias was hot for a "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" remake. Then that gets pushed aside for a "Firelight" remake. Additionally, I'm supposed to ask my manager for an agent so he can submit a "Van Wilder" sequel to someone.
Then I get another email...
Hi Dan. New inquiry this evening, The Groove Tube Reboot. For Producers.
Ok, so I answer this ad for a “major studio venture.” Turns out it’s some guy pitching a remake of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and asks for my take on it. In mid-pitch, he pulls that project out and replaces it with his latest…
Christian Elias, our aspiring producer, sends me an email with big news: “Steven Spielberg’s Publicist Granted Me Permission Today to Remake ‘Firefly,’ Steven’s First Film.” And that’s just the Subject line!
Pasted into the email was some data about this home movie Spielberg made while in high school. It was a “science fiction type predecessor to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Elias then told me his plan, to remake the film based on the publicist’s promise to view the movie upon completion. This is a plan? Two hours later he emailed me again to explain the plan; make a movie on spec as “the chance of a lifetime to win Steven Spielberg’s camp over with new film creation, to [sic] of his very first film when he was still in high school at the age of 17 back in 1964.” Again, this is a plan?
So right out of the gate, I’m confused; the Wikipedia link he sent me lists the film as 135 minutes long, and he’s talking about it like it’s a short and wants 15 pages. So, I questioned him about the soundness of doing a “movie on spec.” His reply mansplained it all to me:
So, the movie, “The Hustle,” was released recently. It seems like it’s going to fade pretty fast. But it triggered a memory from a few years back, something I had not thought about in a long time. I’m sure I entered it into my writer journal, but I decided to look back at my emails instead, since that’s how the whole episode started...
From 1999 to 2004-ish, I was one of the contributing writers for Garrison Keillor's renowned radio show "A Prairie Companion." I learned a lot of things there, mostly how to spell 'prairie." It was a solid gig and I'm proud of my work there. But, like any other job, there were...things...
Another one I forgot. Boy, was reading this a trip. Some of this is lifted from one of my scripts, where my character goes undercover at this really horrible office job with really horrible people (spoiler alert; it was my job and co-workers). And after hearing the pie commercials, I realized it was about horrible things that are eventually made right by eating the pie. So I grafted my bits of office scenes into this. Didn't make the cut, however. And, unless I'm mistaken, it's the only time I tried to do a Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie commercial. But even when I was writing for the show, I see that I really wasn't. I had too many characters. the pacing was off. I was writing to amuse myself. Sometimes it worked, sometimes (mostly) it didn't. I'd like to think I'm better at adapting myself to the gig, but I also know the difference when my heart is in it and when it isn't. It's with these kind of sketches I was most disappointed in when they were rejected. I honestly thought that by writing up these mockeries and getting them produced it would break the spell of my tedious job. I tied a lot of faith and hope to these type of writing projects when I set them out, like I really needed them to be picked. I needed them to be produced. I needed them to validate the ill-feelings I had toward my job.
On the bright side, all those co-workers are gone now...
Bebop-A-Reebop Rhubarb Pie
Okay, so here's the thing; last night I attended an event hosted by ComedyWire, it was an open mic night for the stand-up comics and writers on the site. They were offering 15 slots of 3 minutes each. And people could just come in an hang, as well. I thought it would be a good way to network and meet important people from the company. It was not.
First, when I got to the club they were holding the event in, there was a long line to get in. After I reached the front, I was asked my name by a guy with a list. I mean, there were a lot of people, but the site is pretty popular. “Good thing I RSVP-ed,” I thought to myself as the guy looked up my name on the list. It wasn’t there.
“Is this the ComedyWire event?” I asked. It was not. I had to go downstairs. Oh. OK.
Downstairs, there were far fewer people, arranged as so: One person at each table, each looking at their cell phone. “Oh, my,” I mused, “Are there 15 people here?” I considered the possibility that if there weren’t, they might grab people out of the audience to do a set (This is foreshadowing).
Once I entered the room, the person in charge said something like “Make sure you sign in!” Every workshop and group I’ve gone to always has an attendance sheet. So I signed it.
Drinks were on the company, so I was sitting with another writer/performer who was set to go up and I mentioned that I was there to be the audience, after all, somebody had to do it.
So, I’m drinking my beer and enjoying the show. It was an interesting mix. Some came prepared. Others had notes. Some had good jokes, but no delivery. Others had stage presence but not good material. As they pulled names out of the hat for the 3rd batch of performers, my name was called. “No!” I blurted out. No one heard, except Aaron who I was seated with. “Do it,” he said. Meanwhile, my nerd brain decides to note that this is just like “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
My brain was slipping gears as I desperately attempted to figure out how to play this. I supposed I could have just run over to the woman calling out the names that my name was in there in error. That would have been the sensible thing to do. Instead, when my name got called, I took the stage.
“There’s been a horrible mistake,” I announced. “I thought I had signed an attendance sheet. I shouldn’t be up here, I’m a writer guy. A writer guy!”
I looked out at the audience and couldn’t see a thing. The spot light was right on me. I’m pretty sure I shielded my eyes at first. After that, it gets fuzzy.
I wish I could state that I rose to the occasion. I did not. I pulled out my “I’m from New York City. Downtown NY. Very downtown—I live in Staten Island, okay?” intro that's on all my bios that i submit. I did a butchered version of my ferry concept, “I ride a boat into the city everyday like our explorers did…” I think I meant “forefathers” or “ancestors.” These are things I remembered from the time I was in a "Funniest Staten Islander" contest back in the 90s. I then announced it was my birthday “tomorrow” and got a round of applause but didn’t joke about it as a way to eat up time. I announced my age. Stated I’m a grandfather and said basically I’m writing stuff for my grandkids now, like “Why was the chick standing on the curb? Because it wasn’t allowed to cross the road without an adult.” Anyway, that’s how the joke is supposed to go. I’m not sure what I blurted out exactly. I blanked bad. All the jokes I’ve written, all the time’s I’ve imagined getting up on stage and I just babbled on. The woman running the night then called out “You don’t have to use all the time” and I quickly concurred. I didn’t say anything witty like “I hereby yield my time to--” I just apologized again and said, “let’s get a real comic up here! Thanks!” Or words to that effect. Then I slunk off the stage.
Aaron said I did a solid minute and a half. Seemed longer.
Naturally, as a writer, I’ve totally re-written the scene in my head. I’m remembering the fantasy set I’ve thought about time and time again if I ever did stand-up again. I thought of old jokes and new jokes. I remembered the knock-knock joke I thought for my grandson. All of which reminds me of what I discovered last time I preformed stand-up. I’m more comfortable behind the keyboard than the mic. I’m not quick enough on my feet to man a stage. There I was, the first time on stage since that karaoke night on the cruise ship (which would have been a good set-up with me just adding “I killed.”). I was goofily panicked but not nervous. I noticed one guy’s hand shaking as he kept pulling out his list. It didn’t feel like that. It felt safe. Like you were among colleagues and not a hostile audience. I wish I had done better. I wish I had thought to take a selfie of me on stage. I wish it could have been a fantasy-come-true moment for me. But, then, hey, I’m a writer; it will be.
Still moping about my rejection notice from NBC's Late Night Writers Workshop. I pulled out the one essay question earlier, since it dovetailed so nicely with the SNL video they posted on-line. So, what the heck, while I'm at it, I'm just going to post all my various essay answers over the years. Maybe this'll force me to write brand new ones to the 4 or 5 questions they seem to rotate through each cycle. Maybe read them and avoid my pitfalls, whatever they may be...
Galaxy Rangers Reviewed: Series 6 Podcast,
Freelance writer, still hacking away.