Brilliant Meeting

9 Mar

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The young producer who read Basement in excerpt was Sean Furst, who was working with River One Films, a company with offices in New York City’s Brill Building.

They invited me up for a preliminary meeting. Walking in, I immediately felt I’d stumbled into the middle of a casting call for male models, or maybe a pilot for a new TV show: The Young Producers. All were in their mid-twenties: buff and clean-jawed, with that enviable bilateral symmetry to their facial structure. I sensed a certain bemusement on their part, seeing me walk in. I brought no status to the meeting, except for my perceived talent.

Sean told me my dialogue in Basement read like a screenplay. I handed over the complete novel and Sean promised to read it within the week – which he did.

Our second meeting was a lunch date in midtown, with Sean and Mike Gagni, the Number Two guy at River One. (Sean was in some kind of temporary position – he definitely had connections – maybe through his family. Furst has gone on to start his own company Furst Films; Matador with Pierce Brosnan is one of his.)

Before the meeting, my imagination had conjured up a restaurant that was dimly lit, with white tablecloths and subdued conversations. The actual setting was a noisy retro-Fifties diner with Formica tables.

First Mistake: I came to lunch in a suit and tie. I innocently thought this showed respect for all involved. Later I’d learn that this was not the garb for a writer. As writers we’re expected to exist outside the system, several removes from producers and many removes from business affairs. Sean and Mike were dressed in jeans and T-shirts.

Before the meeting I’d done some research and came across this advice: Never accept a free option. The buyer will not respect you, and the chances of the project taking off are actually jeopardized, because production companies financially invested in a project will fight harder to see it pass through to completion.

I told them I wanted a $10,000 option. They quickly countered that their boss would never go for that.

“What will he go for?”

“He’s hoping for a free option.”

“I don’t know about that.”

They made the argument that they had expenses to meet while they developed the script. They also knew I had no power. After all, Basement had come to them through Street News.

Mike said, “Maybe I can get a thousand. I’ll try.”

Then I had an idea that seemed presumptuous, but valid. “How about having me write the screenplay?”

They looked at each other and nodded, with Sean saying, “Yeah, why not? We’ll outline the story together and you write the script.”

If they had been more experienced producers they never would have agreed. Basement is a sprawling novel with a situational story line and loads of characters. It should never have been given to me to adapt. I lacked the necessary ruthlessness to carve it into a lean 120-page script with a satisfying throughline.

Maybe writers should never adapt their own novels, unless they’re adapting a genre novel with a straightforward story.

I never got the thousand. They had me in a full-Nelson. A free option was the best I could do.

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