The morning of L.A. meeting #2 started with someone else’s wake-up call. I was to meet Lee Zahavi-Jessup and a very successful producer at a popular L.A. cafe in twenty minutes and looking at the valet’s grim expression, I wasn’t going to make it on time. My stomach bubbled and I rested my head on the steering wheel for a moment. I couldn’t be late. I just couldn’t.
Successfully negotiating the rush hour traffic, I hunted for a parking space and emptied my pockets into the hungry meter. Inside the cafe, I quickly ordered breakfast and entered the crowded dining area. Lee and the highly successful producer were chatting and laughing over lovely pots of tea. I was late and I was drinking coffee. Swallow, step, smile, shake hands and sit.
I was so anxious to be in the presence of a producer known for shepherding authentic and unusual stories. She’s passionate about scripts that Hollywood should hate: period pieces, musicals, and dialogue-laden plays. Her first feature film began as a play on the east coast, but her determination transformed it into a film, starring Johnny Depp that was nominated for seven Oscars. Despite her success, she was so humble, lowering her voice to mumble names and titles, because in Hollywood someone is always listening. She was lovely in that easy California way and staring across the tiny table, I dug deep for a spectacular conversation opener. I asked, “Was it awesome working with Maggie Gyllenhaal?” Oh boy.
Swallow, smile. “So, tell me about YOUR script”, she said. I choked a bit on a melon ball, but recovered nicely with a smoothly delivered pitch. And then I ruined it by listing all the reasons my little indie probably wouldn’t get made. Of course, I was talking to the woman, who brought major stars to a Victorian-era story about the invention of the vibrator. Did I mention that it’s set in Britain? It’s like the woman has super powers of production.
She’d just spent over five years on a project, sustained by her passion for the story and its characters, despite difficult contract negotiations, draft rewrites and money meetings. She insisted on hearing about my new script “The Good Life” and I confessed to her that I can’t break the story. I’ve even written two outlines which rev their engines side-by-side on my laptop screen. The original story is powered by dramatic moments, where the protagonist risks everything to get his son back. The second version speeds through funny set-ups and pithy punchlines like a Frank Capra comedy. Lee and the producer debated various components of my story, while I struggled to keep my jaw from dropping open. I felt like the kid in the astronaut costume visiting NASA for the first time. In less than fifty sentences, they exposed the core of my story and suggested ways to honor the comedy, as well as the heart.
Listening to these two passionate and creative writers discuss my story, I felt very lucky, eager to follow their advice, and overwhelmed by the possibilities. When I got back to my hotel, I popped three Advil and passed out for two hours. Later, I pulled out my idea notebook and read each pitch aloud. Nothing happened. There were no tingles or galloping heartbeats. My script ideas were like old friends that make me smile when I run into them, but I definitely did not want to move any of them into my house for five years. Where is my passion? Where is the idea that turns me on?
And then, from across my crowded brain, I saw it…a romantic comedy that kept me typing all night. The next morning, I couldn’t wait to fall out of bed and crawl to my keyboard. One more L.A. meeting to go, and I now know…Life, real and on the page, requires passion, lots of passion.