Last Updated 8/22/97
"The Need" grabbed me at the last Darkover Convention just before my publishing company signed a contract with Jacqueline Lichtenberg to publish her six book series "The Biblical Tarot. (Hm, six books, six tentacles. Na, that is reaching a big on the coincidence level, isn't it?)
Actually, it had started a bit earlier than that. I had been working on getting more professional Sime~Gen material published and I had managed to get a publisher interested in a new work by her. However, the publisher wanted some assurance that there was a definite market out there. That's when the idea of "The Founding Four Hundred" was born. Four hundred people would promise to buy "The Farris Channel" in hard cover and the publisher would go to press. On the heals of that I had just made a contact in the gaming industry. So, I thought, maybe if we got a game produced with tentacled figures, then there would be more interest in the books, etc.
It was then that Jacqueline's hand grabbed me around my arm saying "You have to write 'Willing Victim' for the screen." Yes, right there in the corridor of the Ramada Inn in Towsen, Maryland at the Darkover Convention, that's when it happened. Jacqueline had been after me to write screenplays of her work before and I had resisted. My procrastination was only part of the reason.
Up until recently there was no readily available technology to bring nagers, selyn fields and most especially, tentacles to the screen. So what would have been the point? Besides, when something must be invented just for a picture then the invention or the resultant special effect gets noticed and billing over the story and neither of us wanted that. We had to wait until not only the technology was available but had been used repeatedly.
Well, I still resisted. I liked the story "Willing Victim," but there was something missing as far as a visual story goes. I read the story and started a treatment and the first paragraph of that treatment stayed in my computer for a whole six weeks. I'd look at it from time to time, look at the story, start a thought and then, no. I knew it just wouldn't work.
Then the screws turned again. Jacqueline called. "If you don't have a script sitting on a producers desk by February 15th then all the powers of Hell will eat your guts from the inside out and your soul will wander in darkness for all eternity because the destruction of the world is nye and it will be your fault." Well, maybe she didn't use those exact words.
It was the first week in January. I wrote the treatment in one week. I am a guilt actuated person. Meanwhile my agent was having conniptions. "You wrote the treatment and don't have an option? What are you nuts?" The next day a collaboration agreement, an option agreement and an agency contract were in my e-mail. So while Jacqueline was taking her sweet time looking over my treatment I was altering all these agreements to fit the special conditions of our verbal agreement.
I had barely gotten that done when the treatment landed on my desk again. I wanted to kill her. She loved the treatment and what I had done to "Willing Victim." But it wasn't "Willing Victim" anymore. It was a totally different story. You see, I had realized that what Jacqueline was thinking of as a screenplay would not have a chance of getting made because, believe it or not, it was too small. Knowing Jacqueline, that is hard to believe, but she is a print person, not a visual person. This movie had to be a "media event" for that to happen it had to be "BIG." Willing Victim was not big. But "Shybel's Need" which was my working title, is big, broad and intense.
Okay, my reasoning: Tentacles, nagers and selyn fields are special effects.
If this is written as a "nice little story" then there would be a "nice little budget" and before you know it the tentacles, nagers and selyn fields would be rewritten out of the whole thing to accommodate the budget. But if this is a "BIG" and a broad story with a great deal of "SCOPE" then there will be a big budget and there won't be stinting on the special effects.
(I use "Hollywoodese" terms at time and it is a language unto itself. Do not look for definitions in your Oxfords Unabridged English Dictionary. You won't find them."
Anyway, I had written, big, broad, intense and with scope. (There's a special key for all of these in my script format program.) I had skimmed over scenes that Jacqueline had detailed (why write them twice?) and lavished over scenes and characters that I created. I wrote dialog, I broke the story down by locations and sets and I also figured out a way to show nagers. And Jacqueline pounced.
She took things I hinted at and brought them to the forefront. This was not good. The script was filled with exposition and that is very bad script writing. There's a well known story about how a very famous and award winning screenwriter described an Academy Award winning scene in a high seas action adventure. He wrote "sea battle." Those two words of script space took about a month to create and ten full minutes on the screen and riveted everyone to their seats.
I felt that less is more. Jacqueline wanted the exposition. We clashed. My agent stepped in smiling like the cat that ate the canary. "Anne, she signed the option agreement. You can do whatever you want." Power, Wow! But then again, not so wow. True power, and the freedom that supposedly goes with it, is knowing that you have it and NOT using it. Once I realized that I could do what I want it freed up my imagination so that I came up with a means so that I would have my way and Jacqueline would have her way. Imagination to the rescue. And my nephew, but more about that in a moment.
In one week I had a completed draft and showed it to Jacqueline. She twiddled and twitched a bit, suggested a change here and there but on the whole, loved it. This was high praise. I mean, this was her story. Now it was my story. Except for one thing. One of the twiddles and twitches was about one of the characters. Jacqueline suggested that I base the character on one of my nephews. It worked. In fact it worked so well that almost everybody loves that character more than the ones Jacqueline created :)
Then I showed this script to my agent. My agent read through the script and said those famous words to me. "Put a slaughter at the beginning, kill some one on page 60 and put a funny line, um, right there." Thus started the discussions on the most efficient ways to kill some one versus the ways to cause more pain for the enjoyment of the junct, what would cause the most blood flow, what would cause the least blood flow, and how much would it hurt. Oh, the pleasant ways to pass an afternoon!
As it happens, one of my various acquaintances is the mother of a soldier in special services. She was telling me about how she had spent the first nineteen years of her son's life teaching him not to hit girls, don't throw stones at people, and to solve problems with any other means besides fighting. Then he entered the Army. She read his field manual and was riveted by the sections describing the most efficient use of a field knife.
After we both lost our lunches I wrote it up. That ended the discussions on how a junct kills.
I e-mailed the script to Jacqueline and to Jean and as I pressed the send button I remembered that we had discussed the idea of Jean doing the novelization of the movie. There was one problem, I had no waterfall scene.
(For those of you unfamiliar with Jean Lorrah's work, I don't think she's written a single story where there isn't a waterfall scene.)
All of this took a week. The script was done. From treatment to final submission draft took a total of three weeks thanks to e-mail and computers.
Also, the title was again changed to "The Need."
Then my agent went to work. While I am not at liberty to be specific about the who, what, where, when and why of things I can give you some numbers and events. A total of 33 producers and studios have been approached. While many agents don't feel it's necessary to actually speak to the person the script/synopsis is addressed to, my agent feels that it is very necessary to make that connection. Otherwise it's like sending unwanted junk mail over the fax machine. Of these 33, my agent has made actual phone contact with 25 producers. These are all producers with a great many credits and a few awards each to their names. The producers were also chosen for the types of movies they seem to favor. My agent put a great deal of thought into the list. Also, we have not completed the first round yet. We are still dealing with the cream of the crop so to speak and we still have quite a few more to go before we go to what we can actually call the second round.
While 14 places only asked for the synopsis, 11 places requested the script.
In each case the script and synopsis got completely through the equivalent of the "slush pile" (what is called "coverage") and went on to the actual production staff. For those of you unfamiliar with the process, scripts, like books, are first screened (is this in correct format, does this look like a script, can the writer produce a simple declarative sentence, and as Jacqueline says, does it weigh the right amount? etc.) Then the script is sent out to readers, at least three, sometimes more. Then the script is checked again with attached notes. Sometimes just the notes are sent on to a producer(s) and sometimes the script is sent on with the notes.
First the bad news. The synopsis has been rejected by seven places. No reason except "it's not right for us at this time" was given. The other places have not yet made a decision. The actual script has been rejected by seven places for varying and sometimes contradictory reasons. One place felt that the script is not in proper format (I used the Warren Script Writing computer Program and the Writer's Guild guide on format) and he couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys. (Does one side killing another side give you any clue? This was my rather sarcastic remark at hearing this.) I had discussed the format remark with a well known screenwriter. His comment concerning this was "He had to turn the page and he has people to do that.
The page turning person must have been out that day."
Several feel that it is too expensive to produce. (This is not a surprise and I expected as much but it was worth a shot anyway.) Sometimes a script is submitted to places that are not likely to buy it just to get a better feel of where it would best be suited. A few like it but feel that it is not right for them, one feels that their company would not like to take a chance on something so futuristic. Another thinks it's not "strong" enough (and you will have to refer to Jacqueline for the lecture on "strong vs. big" to find out what that means.) Another felt it was too wordy and another felt that it was too esoteric after reading the book reviews for the series.
However, two of the places that rejected the script have asked to see other work by me. One asked to keep the script because they might want to do it in the future. Also, they said they would like to keep this script as a sample of my writing to propose me to help develop a television show they are pitching to cable. Another asked to keep the script and asked to see another one that I had written. They are considering having me write the screen adaptations of some books they have optioned.
For those of you planning to write professionally, this is also a common practice. That is why it is always a good idea to have several scripts ready that you have written for different types of productions. In this particular case, while they had rejected "The Need" they asked for any episodic television shows that I might have on hand. Among my writing samples I happen to have three scripts for different shows, plus a treatment for another. As it happens I sent them a very funny script I had written for a very popular show. This is a sharp contrast to the general tone of "The Need." I did this purposely so that they could see my "range" as a writer. This script had also gotten through all the screens but was not accepted because the star of the show didn't like it. (Last time I dream about him rescuing or doing other more interesting things with me, humph!) Actually, the reason he rejected it is that I had not written enough lines for him and that is my fault. While I had analyzed everything about that show I had not done my homework on line count. No, I'm not being facetious. One of the things you have to take into account when writing scripts is the contracts of the stars.
Okay, back to "The Need." One very big producer asked for a rewrite. This was done and sent out. The script is being sent on to the final stage.
Another group of producers are meeting deciding on their projects for next year and "The Need" is being considered by them. My agent's contact at this company, who was a "developmental" person is leaving to a position as producer at another company. She told my agent to send her "The Need" if the first company turns it down. A third company has specifically asked for "The Need" to follow up on a project they just completed. A forth and fifth companies are what I call movie factories. Everybody sends them a copy of everything. It's almost pro forma. Because of this it takes a very long time to get reports from them.
In the midst of this process Donna Halper had suggested to us that we send a Sime teddy bear to the producers to peek their interests. I liked the idea of sending something but somehow a Sime teddy didn't do it for me. I came up with a slogan, "Has 'The Need' Grabbed You?" and suggested that whatever we come up with have a tentacled hand "grabbing" the looker. That's when Kass Baichtal came through for us with the hand that is now so prominently displayed on the Tecton Central web-site and on Jacqueline's home page.
We had business cards made up for ourselves with the hand and this caused a bit of a stir. We got a great many responses, even a phone call at 10:30 PM on a Friday night from a Hollywood producer. Now that raised my eyebrows up to my hairline. From the comments we are getting we know that the script, as a piece of marketable goods, "has got it." And this is very important information. We've been told that the dialog is terrific, the ideas are outstanding, it is sooo imaginative, etc. and so forth. We've also heard the script being lauded for all the literary allusions in it. It is capturing the imagination of the money people. The rejections have, on the whole, been for money reasons, not artistic ones.
As Jacqueline has explained, getting this much interest this early is totally unheard of. A great deal of the initial interest has been because of the web site, the list serve, the fanzines and all the interest that has been demonstrated by all of these groups. I know this for a fact because my agent's pitch includes a great deal concerning the internet interest in the Sime~Gen series. When (I will not say if) this movie gets made it will be in large part because of all of the people who have lent their vociferous, industrious and silent support, not to mention their prayers, to this series.
Because of you it is considered a "hot property."
We have all attempted to explain Sime~Gen to people who are not science fiction fans. We've all seen those blank stares, those smirks and heard the comment "tentacles! Tentacles?" Well, imagine when you only have five seconds to get someone's interest and you have to get them really interested in tentacles. That's why my agent starts off talking about the internet interest. That's what sparks the interest so that tentacles, nagers and selyn can be more fully explained. You are what interests the producers and that's what gets them to ask for the script.
However, when they read the script, just like with the books, they either love it or they hate it. I also want to point out that the "better" producers are the ones who have shown the greatest interest in this script.
And when they start to talk about it they ask the same types of questions that I read on the list serve. In my opinion, it will come down to a matter of money. Once a producer is willing to commit totally to this project with a large budget we will have it made. I also think, as does my agent, that this will happen sooner rather than later.
By the way, yes, I am a good writer and yes, this all started with a story by Jacqueline and she is a good writer and there are ideas that I stole from Jean who is also a good writer. But being a good writer does not garner an automatic audience. I have to give a great deal of credit to my agent. I am very, very blessed to be represented by this person.
Writing a script is one thing. Getting someone to read it is something else.
I have learned so much from my agent over these past few years. What really thrills me is that my agent, while starting out in a totally different field, has been having some really big successes of her own lately. She was the one who put together the deal behind "The Truth About The UFO Crash At Roswell."
It started out as a paperback, went to a Showtime movie (the biggest budget they ever allocated for a movie), is doing super well overseas and then was turned into both a hardcover and paperback edition again. My agent has also just completed on option deal on "Blood On The Moon," a script by Sharmon DiVono. This is a super blockbuster and a deal with a very big producer is being closed on it as we speak. One of her client's who is a Hugo winner, is in the middle of a bidding war and a forth client has two properties being developed by top companies. What's really of interest in this is that all of these projects were being handled previously by a well known Hollywood agent who dropped them as not worth the time or effort. My agent picked them up and has completed better deals for the writers than the Hollywood guy had negotiated. So when the time comes to start negotiating, I know that we will be getting the very best deal possible.
However, when all is said and done and I'm sitting in the movie theater watching Sime~Gen on the screen I know that I will be thanking G-d. I'll also be thanking all of you.
August 22, 1997
You've seen the announcement about the T-Shirts and may be wondering why we didn't do this before.
The reason is timing. The ATCHA hand is being used on communications with places where the script is in submission - and is becoming recognized in some circles.
And last week another development developed that led the Agent to suggest it's time to be more visible in public.
This may still all just evaporate into smoke and mirrors, but at this writing we have the following official announcement:
"There are now two production companies that are seriously discussing a joint venture to produce "The Need." No more can be said at this time."
It's not time to get excited yet - but it is time to pray hard that the right people connect to make this happen.
To me the most encouraging thing is that the people at these two companies might - just might - make a movie I wouldn't need valium to sit through. (and you must understand I've never taken a tranquilizer voluntarily in my whole life -- once or twice in the hospital before Patients Rights, they slipped me a mickey and it made me more sick than I was rather than helping the situation.) There are precious few companies and individuals like this in Hollywood. Hope hard.
Live Long and Prosper,