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Hard Promises.

I’ve written screenplays for all kinds of reasons. For love. For money. I’ve written them as favors. I’ve written them in order to get attention from the right people. Because I thought a particular script might get me to the next level. Because I had something to prove. I’ve written some screenplays because nobody else was available.

But this one was different. This was a deal I took just because I fancied the idea of it.

This project had the tentative title of Hard Promises. Great title, huh? Not that it was exactly mine. I’d cribbed it from a favorite Tom Petty record of the same name. It fit well with the story I wanted to pen, based loosely on some of the real life experiences of actor William Petersen. Back then, Billy was in his movie star phase. Hot off pictures like Manhunter and To Live and Die in L.A., Billy and his business partner-slash-manager, Cindy Chvatal, were looking to up their business game by producing some vehicles for the actor to star in. We’d batted around a few ideas, but nothing had clicked.

One frozen weekend in Billy’s hometown of Chicago, somewhere between a night at his Remains Theater Group and closing a few bars, Billy told me a story he had about a former football star turned wandering lothario who discovered that his first love—and now ex-wife—is about to remarry. The comedy and crying ensues when the local legend decides to return home to steal her back in a win-at-all-costs throw-down with the groom to be. I loved the idea. It was full of dirty tricks and family drama while maintaining a light touch. The character Billy described was so competitive that he was willing to use his own daughter as a foil.

Back in L.A., we worked up a presentable tale and took it out on the road. We flogged that pitch in and out of studio gates all over Lala Land. Despite what we thought was a marketable story, not to mention Billy’s charm in the room, we batted a fat .000, striking out everywhere.

One afternoon, while hanging out with Forest Gump producer Steve Tisch, he happened to ask me what I was working on. I told him about my project with Billy and Cindy.

“I love Billy Petersen,” said Steve. “And I think I’ve met Cindy. She seems really sharp. What’s the take?”

Batter up.

I pitched the story to Steve and he flipped. Flat-out loved it from beginning to end.

“Tisch wants in,” I said to Cindy over one of our regular lunches at Junior’s Deli. Cindy, a former actress, had kept her model looks despite the appetite of a normal human. That was one of the many character qualities I adored about her. She was pure Chi-town and couldn’t understand Hollywood’s female obsession with consuming a thimble full of greens when restaurants served hot, open-faced sandwiches with gravy and mash.

“Great,” said Cindy at the Tisch news. “But what’s he gonna bring to the party?”

“Money, connections,” I said. “Plus he’s much more established than us as producers. Might make buyers take a bit more notice.”

“Great. Let him have at it.”

Steve Tisch, a man made of equal parts good humor and full intentions, may or may not have nosed around for a deal. I don’t recall much happening with Hard Promises once he’d stepped aboard. At least not until the one day when I stopped by to visit him at his Warner Brothers office.

“Don’t stand around out there.  Come on in!” shouted Steve once he’d heard my voice in the reception area.

When I entered the very plain, utilitarian production suite, I discovered that Steve was in the middle of an interview with a writer from Premiere magazine. I was introduced.

“Sit. Hang out,” said Steve. As you might’ve already gathered, Steve’s style was relaxed and oh-so-very social.

“You’re in the middle of an interview,” I told him. “I’ll call you later.”

“Why call when you’re right here?” he said. “Maya doesn’t mind. Right?”

In the interest of truth, I don’t really remember the writer’s name. She was young and pretty and wore fashionable frames. So why not call her Maya?

“No,” said the writer. “I’m here to see how Steve works.”

“Does Steve work?” I joked.

Tisch laughed openly. He came from a big pile of family money and made zero apologies for it. Everybody in showbiz pretty much knew Steve sprang from the lucky sperm club. And though it didn’t matter a lick as long as he got the job done as producer, he was pretty accustomed to some friendly ribbing.

“Ever get tired of people asking why you even work?” I asked him.

“I can’t,” he said. “Not when I ask myself the same thing every day.”

“If you had a dime for every time you or somebody else asked you why you work…”

“I’d be even richer!” Steve laughed loudly before switching gears. “So Doug and I are working on a project together. It’s a sharp little comedy called Hard Promises.”

“Great title,” said Maya.

“I stole it from Tom Petty,” I admitted.

“Oh, I love that record,” she said.

“It’s based on a true story from Billy Petersen,” Steve added. “You know him. From To Live and Die in L.A.

“Love him,” said Maya. I was beginning to believe she “loved” a lot of things.

“But nobody wants to buy it,” I blurted.

“At least not yet,” said Steve. “We’re still figuring out how to sell it.”

The interview carried on for I don’t recall how long. We joked around a lot. All while Maya furiously scribbled on her notepad. Somewhere, somehow the subject of Steve’s vintage 1966 Corvette bubbled to the surface.

“How’s it runnin’?” I asked.

“It hums,” he said. “But I probably should take better care of it.”

“What do you mean you don’t take care of it?” I asked with a slight note of incredulity.

Maybe you’re wondering why would I be so bloody concerned over one of Steve’s many cars? Keep reading.

“I should keep it parked in the garage. But I keep forgetting to put it in the garage.”

“You don’t deserve that car,” I said.

“What’s the big deal about the car?” asked Maya.

“Because I knew the car before Steve did,” I said possessively. “See, my attorney and pal, Alan Wertheimer – aka The Werth – is a closet grease monkey. Which means he restores muscle cars as a hobby. Specializes in old Corvettes. Fixes ‘em up, shows ‘em, wins lotsa ribbons, then sells ‘em.”

“So you know this car?” asked Maya.

“Pretty much watched him rebuild it,” I said. Then I continued, only slightly serious, “Sky blue metallic. Work of art. And it shouldn’t be left outside in the rain and crappy L.A. air.”

“If you knew it before I did,” said Steve, “Then you shoulda bought it.”

“I should’ve. And I regret it to this day.”

“I should sell it to you.”

“You don’t need the money. You should give it to me.”

“I’m not gonna give it to you.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “How’s this? I’ll write Hard Promises for it.”

“You’ll write the script?” asked Steve. “For my Corvette?”

“Why not?” I queried. “We’re not making a deal for it anywhere. And I wanna write it.”

Sure. I was in the moment. As well was Steve. And we were partly performing for the pretty young writer from Premiere magazine. But there was truth in the sword play. We’d been trying to sell Hard Promises as a pitch for months. I was deeply invested. And there comes a certain point when I just want to write the damned movie. So I might as well do it for an hot-ass antique muscle car.

“I’m seriously considering the offer,” said Steve.

“Say yes and it’s a deal,” I pressed.

“I’m saying yes.”


This is where Maya busted out with a huge case of the giggles.

“I can’t believe this just happened,” she said when she finally collected herself. “You’re really gonna write a script for Steve’s car?”

“Not just Steve’s car,” I said. “A 1966 Corvette Stingray.”

I was giddy. Not only had I finally pulled the trigger on a car I’d always wanted to own. But I was green-lit to write Fade In on a story I’d been jonesing to get on paper.

When I called my attorney, I thought he’d be thrilled. He was only half-so.

“The car’s not worth a quarter of your quote,” Werth told me.

“What’s a quote really?” I said. “I wanna write the damn picture.”

“Better clean out your garage, then,” warned Werth. “Not gonna let you park it in your driveway. Somebody’s sure to steal it in that shitty neighborhood.”

For the record, I don’t live in a lousy neighborhood. Werth just enjoyed tweaking me about the night his precious El Camino was once stolen by a couple of joyriding teens while parked in front of my house.

The news wasn’t so chipper when I informed my  agent of my agreement with Steve Tisch.

“How the hell am I gonna commission ten percent of a fuckin’ car?” he barked. “Gonna give me all the chrome?”

“We’ll figure it out,” I laughed.

Sadly, we never got that far. While Steve and I both charged fully and fearlessly into the deal, the fly in the ointment turned out to be my partners Billy and Cindy. They couldn’t seem to come to an agreeable arrangement on a producing partnership. Steve, who was more than happy to part with one of his cars in exchange for a finished screenplay, wasn’t going to relinquish half of his hard-earned producer’s fee to the star and his comely manager.


Over their inability to play ball, I parted ways with Billy and Cindy. They were eventually able to parlay Billy’s cache and a little Sissy Spacek star power into a movie. Not quite the picture I planned to pen. But one that was called Hard Promises. So good on them.

As for me? Let’s just say my garage remains empty.

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  1. Thomas B says:

    That is indeed a spectacular car! Also, nice to see you bringing back the barter system, old school. I’m sure most people reading your blog are screenwriters, so I am going to recommend everyone check out “Tales from the Script”, it is on Netflix right now. Had to watch it, it had my boy John Carpenter along with a slew of other writers.

  2. Bryan Walsh says:

    Good story, great car. Some of my best childhood memories are of a 1977 (I’m a few years younger than you) orange Corvette Stingray I used to drive around town in with my uncle, who at the time was a big time major league pitcher (Cy Young winner and World Series Champ). I’ve been in love with Corvettes ever since. Have yet to own one, but have driven ever model since. Definitely on my bucket list to buy one before I kick it.

    Obviously you’ve been writing professionally for 20+ years and have the scratch. What are you waiting for? 😉

  3. Susette says:

    In high school, thanks to a hard working boyfriend, I got to ride and occasionally drive a 1968 white Corvette. Gawd I loved that car!

  4. DCR says:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you my question anyway — but is this a bad time to say I owned that car too?

    OK, not “that” car, but I had a 1966 427 Corvette convertible (same color as yours!), with a 4:10 rear gear, the macho factory side pipes, two tops and lots and lots of I-will-kick-your-ass-on-the-street. I won’t tell you the price of Super Shell then, but it took forever for the clay tablets to register numbers on the pump, and I’d burn three tanks a night cruising. I gave it to my brother when I went into the Army, and he later sold it, coincidentally, to another Solider who reportedly flew my car off the side of a mountain.

    Really flew, like in a movie. Neither he nor the car are taking any calls.

    So, my question: We all love your True Stories of Hollywood, but most of them involve heartbreak, greed, back-stabbing and other bad news. Just statistically, there has to be another side of that coin.

    Tell us a good news story. Tell us about a deal you made that radiated rainbows and a chorus angels sang when you opened the check, and the movie was made and everyone went to bed a better person and a fulfilled professional. Of course you have such a story, right?


    • Aside from the “bad” in much of my stories, I hope they’re amusing and entertain. Thinks have worked out well for me in showbiz. And those times they worked are pretty boring stories. When was the last time you sat around and tilted drinks telling success tales? And those that do can sound pretty boorish. That said, I don’t look at a story like Hard Promises as something of a heartbreak other than I didn’t write a script for the car. Was glad to have been there to make the deal, though.

      • DCR says:

        You completely entertain — I hope I didn’t leave the wring impression. In fact, even your “worst” tales typically end with your overcoming obstacles and emerging triumphant. I’m eager to read every post that comes out.

        And yes, the Hard Promises piece wasn’t about heartbreak (other than the unrequited car luv), but that was the post where I finally asked my unrelated question.

  5. Cara says:

    Sometimes, naming stories after song titles is a decent idea… just saying.

    Glad to hear the full story. I’m more of a Shelby person myself- but mainly just because I work here and take photos of them all day.

    But a ’66 Stingray would have been killer payment for a script… good to see the barter system is alive and well haha.

  6. Krista says:

    Blood Money is the first book I bought on my new Kindle. I’m about 75% through it and it’s great! Makes me sad to put it down for real life.

  7. Glenn McGee says:

    Intrigued by your story and as most of us do when captivated, I was imagining the outcome. I envisioned something along the lines that your script was the one used for Hard Promises with a scene where you go to your garage only to see in horror that the bumpers of your Stingray were missing.

    I recently found out the my 14 year old Infiniti is beyond repair. Right about now I’d write a script for a used Camry.

  8. paul says:

    I totally get it. Not as much about vette’s…, my thing was willy’s jeeps. Had one that could basically drive up the side of a building. Got like five miles to a gallon. Took so much oomph to shift the thing you’d bust your knuckles on the dashboard. But hell yeah, I totally get it.

  9. MontanaGillis says:

    Doug, Go Buy That Car! Every time I walk into my garage and my old 65 vette roadster isn’t there, I sprint up to my office (above that garage) and work on my current script, knowing in my heart that this one will be the one! The one that sells! So I can get my next sports car. Of course, this has been going on for a number of scripts which explains why I’ll be going to bed early… The commute to the day job starts at 6:00am and it’s in a 05 Ford truck, sigh.

  10. The article! Whatever happened to the article from the interview?

    I was waiting for a headline like: screenwriter accepts ‘vette as payment.

  11. Fred Bluhm says:

    Doug: Thomas is right on about “Tales.” Both the DVD and book are excellent; some of the comments and stories by your fellow successful screenwriters parallel the adventures you share with us in your blog. William Goldman’s comments are especially interesting. I would recommend the DVD.

  12. Guy Bolling says:

    Having been paid a few thousand as a screenwriter a few times for very independent, indy companies, I am always telling those who ask about my “sales”, that I got enough to repair my old car, not enough for a new one.
    Very funny to see a deal made with an auto as payment.

    I do wonder if that story about John Milius getting a shotgun as partial payment are true?

  13. Colin Holmes says:

    Life’s too short to not own a Corvette. I hope to sell my next screenplay before the new 2014 Stingray hits the streets.

  14. Cindy Chvatal says:

    Hello Doug!
    Maybe there is another screenplay to be written by you and produced by Billy and I 🙂 Loved remembering while reading…
    Hope all is well!