Project update

After a month of baby duty, it’s back to work. This seems the perfect time to take stock of all the projects I have out there, and figure out exactly what their status is.


Prince of Persia
Jordan Mechner, who created the videogame, wrote the movie adaptation, which he and I are executive producing with Jerry Bruckheimer Films at Disney. The script is great. Next step is to get a director. That discussion is just beginning.

I get more comments and suggestions about this project than any other. So let me clarify what I know, and what I don’t know. First, the movie is much more like The Sands of Time than Warrior Within. Second, we have no idea who will star in it, nor where we will shoot it. Third, that’s all I know. Or at least, all I can say.

This is the Fox TV show that Jordan and I set up last year about two guys who work as private military contractors. For various reasons, we didn’t end up shooting the pilot during the usual production schedule. Instead, Jordan and I ended up writing an almost entirely new pilot script which we (and Fox) are a lot happier with. Now there’s talk about shooting the pilot outside of the normal schedule, which would be fine with us. Or it could go away completely. That’s show business.

The Eye
I did a few weeks’ of work on this thriller at Paramount, an American remake of the Pang brothers movie. I’m happy with the work I did, but it’s not my movie in any creative-ownership sense.

Father Knows Less
I rewrote Father Knows Less1, set to star Dustin Hoffman as a second-time dad, for New Line. Director Shawn Levy left the project, so I suspect they’re looking for a replacement. (Actually, I know they are, because I’ve talked to two friends who were sent it.)

Untitled Broadway Musical
I’m writing the book for a Broadway musical currently in very, very early stages of development. It’s been interesting adapting to the challenges of storytelling on the stage. No, I can’t say what the project is, or whether it will ever happen. Based on the very busy schedules of everyone involved, it could take years.

How to Eat Fried Worms
This project, an adaptation of Thomas Rockwell’s book, was the very first script I was ever hired to write, way back in 1995. Originally, the project was set up at Imagine, then it migrated to Nickelodeon. I assumed the project was dead and gone, when suddenly I read that it was filming in Austin.

Bob Dolman, who was brought in to rewrite the script after me, is directing. Producer Mark Johnson called to tell me filming was going well. I haven’t read the shooting script — or any script at all — so I don’t know how much resemblance it bears to the movie I wrote so many years ago.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The movie is now out in almost every market, and looks to be closing in on $200 million domestic box office. I’ve seen the special features for the DVD, which are quite cool, although I don’t know the exact release date for the disc. But something tells me it would be a great stocking stuffer. Hint.

When I did Q&A’s for the film, many people asked if we were going to make a sequel, such as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. As far as I know, no. That was never in the plans. Tim and I have never talked about it.

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
The film is now finished, and ready for its debut at the Toronto Film Festival. I’m really happy with how the film turned out. I didn’t originate the project — I came on board after they had started filming — but I enjoyed working with the team to figure out how to get it in its best shape. In addition to shared screenwriting credit (along with Caroline Thompson and Pamela Pettler), I share lyric credit on several of the songs.

Charlie’s Angels
I keep getting questions about whether there will be a third one. I doubt it. I love the characters, and I love the people involved, but we’re all off doing other things now. I don’t foresee getting back together to make another one.


My modern-day, pan-African adaptation of Tarzan is in a (permanent?) holding pattern at Warner Bros. Last year, we started to go out to directors, but now it’s not clear what the next step is. There’s disagreement about many things, including my basic take on the entire movie.

It’s frustrating, because Tarzan is one of the best things I’ve ever written. It’s certainly one of the most difficult. You have a hero who grows from an infant to a man, and doesn’t learn how to speak until page 40. A lot of it plays like a silent movie, yet it has big Joseph Campbell-y hero themes that I generally avoid, but which work great for a film like this.

I really wanted this to be a trilogy. Now, I’d settle for a mono-gy.

Untitled Zombie Western
Largely due to readers’ terrific suggestions for a new title, I’m seriously considering dusting off this long-buried spec. Not that I think anybody’s itching to make a zombie movie after the disappointing returns for Land of the Dead. But I’ll at least add it to the Library section once I get it cleaned up.

There’s been some discussion about turning this unsold spec — the most violent thing I’ve ever written — into a graphic novel or a videogame. Both ideas make sense; the story is sort of a cross between Grand Theft Auto and The Terminator. But there are other projects that require my immediate attention, so I may just let this back-burner for a while.


This adaptation((May 3, 2011 Update: IMDb listing now inactive)) of American McGee‘s videogame was looking pretty dead, when it suddenly sprang back to life with the announcement that Marcus Nispel would be directing, with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the title role. The Hollywood Reporter article lists Erich and Jon Hoeber as the screenwriters.

Back in 2000, the project was set up at Dimension, with Wes Craven attached to direct. I wrote a long treatment — not a full script, as the Hollywood Reporter article states — and left the project under less-than-felicitous circumstances. But I’ve kept up with American McGee, who’s a friggin’ rock star.

I have no idea whether the movie will incorporate any of the material from my treatment, or if the current incarnation even has the applicable rights. If you’re interested in tracking the progress on the project, American’s site is your best bet.

Oh, sweet Barbarella. This adaptation of the French comic book series about a sexually-liberated space explorer was set to star Drew Barrymore, but a tangle of rights issues got in the way. It was tremendous fun to write. Of all my unproduced projects, it’s probably my favorite.

There were rumors recently that Lindsay Lohan was going to play the part. I think that was just fanboy fantasy. Although, honestly, last-year’s Lindsay (the nice girl who was in Mean Girls) would have been great.

My agent got a call a few months ago from a producer who claimed to have the rights to Barbarella. I doubt he had all the right he thought he had, and he certainly didn’t have the right to my script, which is co-owned by Fox and Warner Bros. So I don’t see this getting made any time soon. (Although I would have said the same about How to Eat Fried Worms.)


Thief of Always
An adaption of Clive Barker’s novel. The first project I was ever fired off of.

Untitled John August Thriller
This Sony project was intended to be a big summer event movie, but a competing project suddenly roared to life. I never ended up writing the script. In many ways, that’s good, because I don’t think our movie would have gotten made anyway.

This Paramount thriller is about two prep school girls who have to save Manhattan from the Apocalypse. Sort of a cross between Clueless and Aliens, which is why it will never get made.

Fantasy Island
A big-budget feature adaptation of the classic TV show. My version was a lot like Lost, except that Lost is a lot better than my movie would have been.

Fenwick’s Suit
Based on the book by David Small, a family comedy about a guy whose suit develops a life of its own. The studio gave up on it, but I think it could have worked.

Bad Hospital
An HBO dramedy about a terrible hospital. Not haunted, not evil, just really crappy. It was created by Julie Siege; I was executive-producing. Ultimately, we never made it out of development, but Julie landed a spot on Invasion.

  1. May 3, 2011 Update: IMDb listing now inactive

New server on the way

newsGood news for those readers frustrated by the all-too-frequent outages at this site: we’re moving to a new server, which will hopefully not flake out as often. If it does, I’ll change service providers. Again. Sigh.

There may be a little turbulence this week as the new server settles in. Caveat browser.

Don’t panic as you hit the panic button

elevator sign This sign in the Beverly Center parking garage is, I think, an example of found poetry.

I find the decision to switch from subjunctive to indicative mood in the second line bold and foward-thinking; the elevator will become inoperative, in the same way that all men will grow old and feeble.

In lines three and four, I appreciate the writer’s ironic instruction to remain calm while inciting alarm in others.

“If furnished.” Those quotation marks are the author’s wink to an audience jaded by systematic disappointment. We know there will never be a telephone.

And how could one read those last two lines as anything other than a call to inaction? Yes, there are steps you could take. You could attempt to be a hero, as you’ve seen countless times in movies and on TV, but you’re certain to fail. Better to give up now, and learn helplessness.

Ding. Sigh.

How to Rewrite

Over the weekend, my friend Rawson came to visit the bambina, and we talked about the script he’s writing. He said he was about to start his next draft, which was mostly character tweaks. He was unsure how to go about it.

I said, “Decide out what you want to accomplish, then figure out which scenes would need to change.”

He seemed to think that was pretty good advice. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.

The biggest problem with most rewrites is that you start at page one, which is already probably the best-written page in the script. You tweak as you go, page after page, moving commas and enjoying your cleverness — all the while forgetting why you’re rewriting the script.

Instead, you need to stop thinking of words and pages, and focus on goals. Are you trying to increase the rivalry between Helen and Chip? Then look through the script — actual printed script, not the one on screen — and find the scenes with Helen and Chip. Figure out what could be changed in those scenes to meet your objectives. Then look for other scenes that help support the idea. Scribble on the paper. Scratch out lines. Write new ones.

Then move on to your next goal. And your next one.

At first, this “checklist” approach to rewriting probably won’t feel organic. It doesn’t have the same flow as writing the first draft. But fixing your script isn’t that different than fixing your car. If the stereo was busted, you wouldn’t start at the tailpipe and work your way forward until you got to the dashboard. You’d rip out the stereo, figure out what was wrong, and replace it if you couldn’t get it working. Then you’d do the same for the headlights, the shocks, and the windshield wipers. A car is a car, and a script is a script. But they’re both made of lots of little pieces, and you can only fix one piece at a time.

And scripts are much better than cars. If you don’t know what you’re doing when you try to fix your car, you might be stuck taking the bus. With a screenplay, you always have the old version saved on disk. So roll up your sleeves and get to it. Don’t let the fear of screwing up keep you from starting.

Welcome to the O.C., bitch

questionmarkWhen you have a character talking on the phone who is not in the scene that the audience is watching (e.g. Bill is in a phone booth talking to Jim who we only hear but never see) — do you use (O.S.) or (O.C.) or something else?

Los Angeles

I would use O.S., which means “off screen.” I think the distinction is supposed to be that O.C. (“off camera”) applies when the speaker is physically in the same space as the person he’s talking to, but just not on camera, while O.S. is when speaker and listener are in different places.

Your case is definitely the latter. It would look like this:

Bill holds up a one-sec finger while he answers the payphone.


Ni hao.

JIM (O.S.)

Where the hell are you? He’s waking up, and I’m out of demerol.

I don’t think the distinction between the two terms is all that useful. In fact, I never use O.C., even in situations where it would probably apply — I just use O.S., and no one is ever confused.

I can’t say for certain what my aversion to O.C. is. It may be that on a subconscious level, I know that the “C.” stands for “camera,” and I try to never refer to the camera itself. I think it takes the reader out of the story, reminding them that what they’re reading is just a script.

However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with O.C. — most readers will know what it means. So if it floats your boat, by all means use it in appropriate situations. Which does not include this one.

Big Fish’s Karl the Giant has died

McGroryMatthew McGrory, who played Karl the Giant in Big Fish, died Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 32.

While his character in the film was about eleven feet tall, in real life, Matthew was “only” a bit over seven feet. While he was big, you didn’t really sense he was a giant until you shook his hand. Then you felt like a child trying to greet an adult.

I got to know Matthew a bit while we were filming in Alabama. He was quiet but funny, muttering asides in that incredibly deep voice that sounded computer-generated. He travelled everywhere with his own chair — he was too big to fit in regular ones — but in every other way was a normal member of a sizable cast.

Meeting Matthew, you definitely got the sense that being his size was a strain on his health, and in fact, his death is listed as natural causes. My condolences to his family and many friends.