Writing screenplays, Part II: Big films


By 2005, I had placed four full-length screenplay scripts online, as well as several shorts.  I’ve discuss some of them here, to set up discussion of a major incident when I was substitute teaching toward the end of 2005. There is a link showing almost all of the screenplays that were available to the public in 2005, here.

My Arlington screenwriting class had emphasized that Hollywood follows a “third party rule”. That is, studios don’t accept screenplay manuscripts directly from writers, and will respond rudely (with automated legal disclaimers) to unsolicited material, even loglines.  The reason for this is to avoid risk of copyright infringement, but that sounds silly in the Internet age.  That means everything goes through an agent.  But any third party can become an agent, a moviebiz “Jerry Magure”, perhaps as a retirement “second career”.  I rather chukle at Ellen De Generes’s remark at the 2014 Oscars that showbiz is for people who don’t have families.


The “third party rule” could logically raise a question about the “purpose” of posting a screenplay online for free viewing by the public if one intends to present it to agents later.  But this angle has been little discussed.

Before diving in, let me mention a couple of references on screenwriting,   Here is the “three-act structure” by Syd Field, link.   Here’ an account my Nathan Marshall, “3 Acts and 5 Points”, link Michael Hauge has a piece on the 5 turning points here.

He analyzes “Gladiator” and “Erin Brokovich” according to this plan.

One of the four big feature scripts “Baltimore Is Missing”, was discussed here Jan. 29, 2014.

The feature sceenplays share some common elements:

(1)    Bill has written his “Do Ask, Do Tell” book and would like to get it filmed

(2)    Bill had the help of several friends in publicizing the book after publication, and these friends have their own ambitions, which might include Hollywood careers.

(3)    Bill’s self-broadcast on the Internet presents certain legal and practical risks to himself an others.

(4)    One of these risks is the possible attraction of hackers who might leverage his sites with steganographic messages for future attacks.

(5)    The workplace is changing in contradictory ways.

The first screenplay that I actually developed is called “Make the A-List”, and it is the longest.  I wrote it in the first part of 2002, on the iMac, in Screenwriter.  I did table-read parts of it with the screenwriting club in Minneapolis.  It runs 187 pages, too long – rudely so.  But it seemed like the most comprehensive way to lay out all my ideas at the time.

The screenplay starts by recreating a dinner meeting in Minneapolis between “me” (at 55) and a graduating college student, called Toby, who set up my televised speech. Soon we realize that the meeting is itself a recreation by the college student for a movie audition, where the perspective director was the roommate present at William and Mary when Bill got thrown out of school.  In the course of all this, it’s possible to reconstruct the sequence of the 1961 expulsion.

The film is divided into several parts, and one major section traces the career of Toby, who goes to law school anyway, while doing his auditions and male model gigs.  His girl friend gets into ambulance chasing Bill a couple years later when Bill outs someone in the military in his book and gets sued for invasion of privacy or some such tort.  Things get even more convoluted as Bill finds Toby’s film on P2P, but at about the same time his site is hacked and taken down by his ISP as a nuisance.  At the same tme, Bill is experiencing “conflict of interest” and difficulties over his double life in the workplace when a company walks in the door at work to conduct “career audtis.”   All of this sets up some courtroom legal battles.  A significant subplot concerns a gay male couple where the civilian works for the CIA and has to be out (post 1996), but where the military partner has to stay in the closet.  (This would have been possible from 1996 until the DADT repeal in 2011.)   Another battle concerns “trademark trolling”.

Eventually the former roommate (called Syd) enters the fray.  All of this leads to a “Bill of Rights 2” symposium in Williamsburg, and Toby eventually gets a big movie part and no longer needs to bottom-feed as a lawyer.

I can’t think of a Hollywood movie about making it as a star right now, at least with the subterfuge that Toby shows in this script.  I do recall “A Star Is Born” (1954), which I saw in Dallas at a special benefit in Fair Park in 1984.  The ABC show “Nashville” is rather about this.  I think of “20 Feet from Stardom” and even “Inside Llewyn Davis”.  Actually, the gay sci-fi about a filmmaker undergoing time travel, “Judas Kiss” is maybe a possible comparison.

American Epic” (also 2002) is a little shorter, 140 pages, and deals with some of the same issues, but focuses more on the terrorism, hacking and Patriot Act issues.  It starts with a lawyer Allison and lesbian partner Suzannah trying to adopt a foreign child.  Allison is also active with the issue of how to rebuild the WTC area in New York.   Bill and Toby are introduced, along with a teen computer hacker Erich (who had also played a similar but smaller role in “A-List” above).  Bill is experiencing some social issues in bars with his tendency to notice younger but adult men.  Erich invites Bill to his rural (parents’) home in Wisconsin and teaches Bill a little bit about hacking.  But eventually (as above) Bill’s own sites get hacked.  When there is a major but localized EMP attack near Las Vegas, the FBI traces steganographic instructions back to Bill’s site.

Bill is defended by Allison.  There is a sequence in the middle of the film where Allison visits Bill’s “Drogheda” in the DC area and a flashback recreates what the entire 9/11 day was like specifically in Arlington.   Eventually Bill is tried, and the government claims that Bill actually led Erich into hacking.  In the meantime, Erich winds up on the no-fly list, and gets off by hacking.  At Bill’s trial, a juror overhears what happened and hacks himself to find out the hidden story.  Bill winds up doing community service and being kicked off the web but staying out of jail.


The third screenplay is “69 Minutes to Titan” (early 2005).  This script is under two hours, and has gotten some attention in the way of emails and phone calls.  The title refers to a possible length of time it would take light to reach the largest moon of Saturn from Earth, in a more optimistic orbital situation.

The script opens with “Bill”, named Clem here,  about to get out of jail. He meets with his young adult friends, Toby and Erich.  Then the action shifts back six years.  I’m not sure that this is the best way to start now;  Hollywood often embeds many films as mostly back story (start with Dr. Zhivago) but it may be better to start a story at the beginning and let the audience wonder where you will go.

Clem has befriended Toby, who is a teacher in this story, and has converted to Mormonism, and will marry Shelia.  Erich is one of this students, and Erich can speak in tongues.  As in the other scripts, Clem’s domain has been hacked.  Clem meets Erich at volunteer event and is invited to visit Erich at home.  There is some mild intimacy.  Clem’s job comes under fire, and winds up in a “re-education” Academy in West Texas.  Back home for a weekend, Erich shows Bill how to hack into a computer system controlled by extraterrestrials, known only to the NSA.  Erich comes to an “initiation” ceremony for the academy and “goes up” (into space).  When Bill returns home again, he finds he has been evicted and is arrested.

The government has the option of prosecuting him for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in order to hide the UFO secrets he had hacked.  He winds up with several years to be followed by probation.   In prison, he is forced to undergo very intimate monitoring and then found to have heart disease, and gets coronary bypass surgery.

In the meantime, Erich journeys to Titan and finds that the largest moon of Saturn is being set up as a receiving post by angels for people from Earth from some great cataclysm expected to happen in the not too distant future.  There is a parent angel. Roger, who had given Erich his psychic gifts and enabled him to recover from an otherwise devastating medical problem himself earlier in life.

Erich “falls to Earth” (like “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, David Bowie) and returns, and Bill is prepared for early release with compassionate parole (returning to the beginning of the movie).  He will see Toby’s wedding and return to the straight and narrow.  On Titan, Roger shrivels up as Erich prepares to replace him as a master angel.  As the film ends, there are troubling warnings of a possible apocalypse.

The screenplay has a shorter version, that emphasizes the hacking aspect (compromising of classified UFO data, Snowden, Assange or Chelsea Manning inspired) and gets Bill put in prison for that, removing the charges of possible underage activity.  (It’s important that the film describes or shows no explicit sex, but suggests that some sort of preparatory intimacy could happen.)  The shorter version is online right now, and replaced the longer one after my 2005 debacle, to be explained soon.


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