No Pain, No Gain?
May 7, 2012
A Rock and a Hard Place, Part 1.
May 21, 2012
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A Rock and a Hard Place, Part 2.

“Found you,” said the movie star.

“How’d you get this number?” was the most witty thing I could summon.

On the other end of the telephone line was the actor I’d been ducking for three days. I’d retreated to the La Quinta Hotel Resort and Spa for some marathon privacy with little more than my laptop and golf clubs. For any more context than that, I suggest you click BACK and read Part 1.

“Why are you avoiding me?” asked the movie star.

Here’s when I fibbed, insisting I wasn’t in fact avoiding him. Just seeking privacy in order to meet the company’s five-week deadline. He argued that, as star and center of the known universe, I needed to listen and be available to hear his every thought and concern whenever they might pop in to his head.

“I did hear to you,” I argued. “I especially heard you when every time (the studio boss) had an idea – no matter how crazy or wrong or stupid – you said ‘awesome’ or ‘great’ or ‘that’s exactly what I was thinking.’”

“Dude. That was just for the room. All studio execs want to hear me say is that they’re geniuses.”

“They said it. But you rubber-stamped it. Now I got nothin’ but square pegs that they’re paying me to pound through round holes and make it read like a movie.”

“Where are you?”

“You called me. You should know where.”

“(My assistant) dialed the number and handed me the phone.”

“The number you got from the studio?” Of course, from the studio I thought. They’d read the number on the caller I.D. and passed the info along to one of the star’s salaried Oompa-Loompas.

“I’m in the desert.”

“Well, I happen to know the studio would be more comfortable if you were back in L.A. and everybody knew where to find you.”

“Can I please just finish this one pass at the script?” I urged. “I promise to attend to all your issues the moment I deliver –”

“They’re calling me to the set. Do me a favor and phone me when you get back L.A.”

With that, the movie star hung up.

I must’ve stewed for an hour without getting a single word written. Then I tried to reboot the work routine by playing my daily round of golf. But my focus had been crushed along with my initiative. So I cut bait, checked out of the hotel, angrily stuffed my bags in the trunk and pointed my car west. I burned up every minute of the drive with my cell phone, talking between my no-help agent and my way-too-understanding wife. I wanted to quit. Who cares if it was a bad career move? I wasn’t going to get bullied into writing an incomprehensible screenplay. After all, it was going to be MY name on the script, not the star’s nor the studio’s. But before that, I resolved to have one last conversation with the celestial being. I dialed him the moment I sunk into my office chair.

“I’m back in L.A.” I began tersely. “My mobile phone is turned on and I’m easily found by you and anyone else who needs me. Now here’s what I need from you. Patience. Help me make the studio notes work. Otherwise, you’re going to be starring in a really shitty movie.”

“You gonna fax me pages?”


“Then we have a problem.”

“I guess we do,” I said flatly. “I strongly recommend you fire me.”


“Seriously. Fire me. Please. Because I can’t get it done this way. I’m not doing you any good. I’m not doing the studio any good.”

I begged him. Implored him. Demanded that he fire me. A bullet to the back of my metaphoric head would’ve been sweet relief.

“What about the deadline?”

“What’s it matter? Won’t make it if I’m serving two masters with different agendas.”

For the first time since I’d begun working with the star, the phone fell silent.

“I’m not firing you,” he finally said. “And you’re not quitting the movie. Just do your best, okay?”

“All I’ve been doing.”

And that was it. Two weeks later I’d produced a draft that was as ready as five weeks would allow. I delivered. While the studio chewed on it, the screenplay was over-nighted to whatever Timbuck-locale the movie star was marooned on. I’m told he and his manager both read it while sitting in his deluxe, air-conditioned trailer.

I was pulling out of my driveway, on my way to pick up my kids from school when my cell phone trilled. The caller ID registered a far away country code.

“Hello?” I answered, pretty certain I’d find you-know-who on the other end. It turned out to be a conference call with the star and his manager, whom I hadn’t spoken with since I’d made the deal for the rewrite.

“It’s phenomenal,” said the manager. “You did an outstanding job.”

“Yeah,” agreed the star. “Exactly what I was hoping for. You totally rocked it.”

They continued the accolades. And I politely thanked them. Engaged in some meaningless chitchat. Then two minutes later, the pair was gone. Of course, there wasn’t a whisper of our previous conflict. Success has a funny way of bleaching the stains left behind from a pissing war.

As for the movie? The studio’s cutting edge idea of hiring a shooter straight out of “director jail” didn’t fit the star’s image of a worthy auteur. Eventually, the production window slammed shut. The proposed release date was left in limbo and the movie star picked up another picture to fill his multi-million dollar slot. A classic parting of the ways.

But when the trade press inquired as to why the studio and star couldn’t come to terms. It was the usual line of bull. Blame the writer. The script simply never worked. We went back to the drawing board.

The screenplay I bled over was eventually reworked by the original scribe. As it turned out he still owed the studio a draft. So it was either pay the man for twiddling his thumbs or let him do his contracted duty.

Four or five writers after that, the film finally got made.

I’ve said it before, hindsight is a gift. Without it, how in heaven would we learn much of anything? Given the chance to do it again, I’m not entirely certain I’d handle myself the same way. It’s never a good idea to let feelings or a lack of patience screw up a chance at a go movie. On the other hand, based on the circumstance itself, I’m not certain the result would’ve been any different.

Whatever. If there’s a life we learn with and another we live with, I still often find myself residing in the former.

Read my new thriller, THE SAFETY EXPERT. Available in trade paperback and ebook at and Barnes and Noble.


  1. Jenna Avery says:

    Another great story as usual. This one has been on my mind all week, curious to see how it turned out. Something about being a fugitive writer on the lam to get his pages done caught my interest. 🙂

    Thanks, Doug, for the inside look. I love it.

  2. This was worth waiting for! A sad ending, but I loved the way you handled the situation when you got back to LA. A civil but firm reply to such arrogance.You should be sainted or knighted (Oops! Wait, that didn’t work so well for Conrad Black – never mind) for having to put up with the way people treat each other in your line of work. Is it the money or the power and adulation that gives such people an over-inflated sense of their self-importance?
    Keep up the great posts. I look forward to reading the next one!

    • Dianne. The answer is all three. Money, power, adulation is corrupting. That and this is (sadly) a business that only rewards success at the ATM machine despite the deplorable behavior.

  3. Guineapiggypiggy says:

    I’ve been on tenterhooks waiting for this second instalment and it’s a blast.

    How you didn’t pack a bag and simply head to the moon to write I’ll never know. At least there, you could have got in a pretty good game of golf…

    I love the fact that you had to crack out the big gun of reverse psychology to get that movie star monkey off your back. “Fire me. I don’t care”. When you bluff that way, people rarely call your bluff.

    Anyway, another fantastic post. I look forward to the next horror story from Hollywood with anticipation…

    • I have my moments. But if the moon were available for a writer’s escape, the movie star would’ve jumped on a SpaceX rocket and ridden it all the way there bronco style in order to roust me from my seclusion.

  4. Jorge Reyes says:

    great, great story. I completely identify. But your ambivalence about whether or not you’d do it again is troubling. I understand the benefits of a “go” film, but I feel all too often, we as writers (especially in the feature world) accept such treatment because its de-riguer (sp?).

    Which is probably why I work mostly in television and independent film. lol

    • I’m not ambivalent, Jorge. Just circumspect. When I talk about handling something differently, I’m not speaking of relenting as much as devising other ways to achieve me end goal. As a writer our job is to see our work produced. And when it comes to a major feature, that involves some compromise and more importantly, detente. Movie stars quite often a wrangling issue. Given the circumstance, I might’ve found a better solution to serving my two masters.

  5. Eva says:

    All for that for such a terrible ending! I guess that’s the way Hollywood roles. But as long as you keep on crakin’ that’s all that matter. I’m very pleased that you finally made the “A” actor understand. If he would’ve been in your shoes, I wonder what he would’ve done.

  6. Some people will meet you half way and then change direction, preferably when you’re least expecting it. But it creates a reputation, whether they’re aware of it or not. Being hard (or impossible) to work with doesn’t generally make for success or profit.

    I have to believe in the people of Hollywood…at least in enough of them to make movies with. 😉

  7. Kiki Weingarten says:

    I’m in the minority here, I guess. Horrible situation but I think you handled it perfectly, given the circumstances. I think it was the smartest solution. Shame you didn’t get to play more golf though. 🙂

  8. Cortez Law III says:

    Oh, man. I agree with some of the other posts. What a disappointing ending and the blame game ended with you? I heard and read it’s a dog-eat-dog industry, but man oh, man. You’ve gotta have a mega ton of courage to crack that industry. I wonder what percentage of a screenwriter’s projects actually get produced and what kind rough time frame is involved? Jaw dropping story, Doug.

    • Thousands upon thousands of screenplays are registered by the WGA every year. But only a few hundred (on a good year) get made. So I’ll let you calculate the odds. On the other hand, breaking through and getting pictures made is highly rewarding. Magical even. And between those events, I write books.

  9. James says:

    Knowing how many movies get made, and how many of them are actually from good scripts, it’s kinda hard not to see that any passion evoked by writing a good script needs to be locked away only to be realized by what was done, and not if it gets made, or not.

    Still great read.

  10. Tim O'Connell says:

    Such a Hollywood thing to do – ” Come back to LA and call me.

    I think you handled it well. You told him honestly what you thought of the situation and lo and behold – he left you alone and you produced something he loved.

    I have to admit I would love to know who the A list star is…..:)

  11. Pertinax says:

    Goes back to the old, painful to do, but true adage. Let your no be no, and yes be yes. Otherwise, good luck!