Monthly Archives: April 2016

Jo, C’mon In

Timecode: 5:23 – 9:07

JO
In short, Captain, I’d like to suggest that… I be the one who that- That it be me who’s assigned to represent them… Myself.

Before Dana or Donna. Before C.J. Cregg or Sydney Ellen Wade. And long, long before MacKenzie McHale or Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend, there was Jo.

Simply put, Lt. Commander Joanne Galloway was the proto-Sorkin female. With every step she took and every word she spoke, she defined what it meant (and, as it turns out, what it would always mean) to be a Sorkinian leading lady (SLL). Why, just look at all the boxes she checks on Cosmo’s official¹ SLL quiz:

  • Are you brilliant…but bumbling? 
  • Is work your first, second and third priority?
  • Do you have trouble making friends*? (*Note: a co-worker is not a friend)
  • Are you capable, passionate, and opinionated when dealing with any and all work-related matters…? 
  • …but basically a klutzy, incompetent half-wit the moment you find yourself in the same room with a man you have feelings for?
  • And finally, at the end of the day, is your life’s mission to push the man you work for/under to be a better lawyer/president/newscaster/man?
  • BONUS QUESTION: Do you have (or have you ever had) unreasonably short hair?

sorkin women collage

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a clean sweep! She’s got it all! But…

There is one thing that sets Jo apart from basically every SLL that’s come since: the actress who played her was a stone-cold fox.

Demi Moore has always been a talented actress, but in the early 90’s she was the sexiest woman alive. Don’t believe me? The three roles she took post-AFGM were Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, and The Scarlet Letter. So, to recap, she played a married woman who Robert Redford offers a million dollars to have sex with him; a seductress/CEO who basically rapes Michael Douglas; and Hester Prynne, arguably English literature’s most irresistible temptress: bonnet & bodice division.

(Quick sidebar: if you’re reading this, and you’re yelling at your computer screen: “hey, what about Annette Benning or Felicity Huffman or Kate Winslet? They’re SLL’s and they’re fucking gorgeous!” Well, I’ve got news for you, friend: you’re a woman. Because no heterosexual man has ever turned to his buddy and said, “hey, you know who I’d give my left nut to sleep with? Annette Benning.” It’s the same reason no guy ever trusts a woman when she says her friend is “beautiful”; we see these things differently. But I digress…)

The point is Demi Moore was a bona fide sex symbol. And that’s one of the things that makes her performance as Galloway so incredible. She actually makes us believe that not only is she hopelessly single, but that she may never have been on a date in her life (but more on that later when we get to Kaffee and Galloway’s crab shack rendezvous).

So, how do you take the sexiest woman on the planet and transform her into a relatable every woman? Well, to start with, you chop off her hair and dress her like this:demi outfit

And then you let Sorkin’s self-deprecating dialogue and Moore’s eager-but-anxious performance take it from there: “’That it be I who am assigned?’ That’s good. That’s confidence inspiring.”

Galloway’s poor grammatical constructions aside, the most notable thing about this scene is that it drops a buttload of exposition into the audience’s lap, including the names of our defendants (Dawson & Downey, a.k.a. D+D Music Factory), our victim (Santiago), and the idea of a Code Red. It also introduces us to Captain West (who we’ll never see again) and his commanding officer, i.e. his mustache.What's that Jo

Amid the information download, we also get two Sorkin staples (courtesy of the aforementioned Captain Mustache West):

1) A character tries to be diplomatic, but when it doesn’t work, opts instead for (comedic) bluntness.

CAPTAIN WEST
Commander Galloway, why don’t you get yourself a cup of coffee?

JO
I’m fine, sir.

CAPTAIN WEST
Commander, I’d like you to leave the room so we can talk about you behind your back.

JO
Certainly, sir.

2) A character sarcastically answers their own rhetorical question with an archaic reference that’s likely to sail over 95% of the audience’s head (a.k.a. “The Dennis Miller”).

CAPTAIN WEST
Three cases in two years? Who was she handling, the Rosenbergs²?

By the time we’re done, Galloway’s “all passion, no street smarts” reputation seals her fate, and she’s passed over for lead counsel. Instead, Captain Mustache West assures her, “division’ll assign the right man for the job.” But more about him next week…

-MPM

¹Not official
²Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were American citizens convicted of spying for the Soviet Union in 1951. What’s strange is that their trial, while well publicized, lasted less than a month – which makes the joke/reference about Jo’s less than swift legal practices an odd one.

Katherine the Great: Revisited

Last week I shared my harrowing Tale of Heigl and Woe, in which I spent more than three months (in late 2010) waiting for Katherine the Great (KtG) to read my script and decide whether or not she wanted it to be her next movie. The post not only called into question Ms. Heigl’s reading prowess, it also outlined her reputation around Hollywood as being something of a diva at the time.

As fate would have it, less than 12 hours after my story hit the Internet, KtG went on Howard Stern as part of an ongoing effort to rehabilitate her sullied reputation (and peddle her favorite brand of kitty litter):Heigl-Cat Litter

In the interview, KtG called herself “an immature dumbass” for criticizing the very movie (Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up) that made her a movie star; she also acknowledged that it was one of many times that she’s put her foot in her mouth over the years. And while we can certainly debate the authenticity¹ and motive² behind the mea culpa, one thing’s for sure: it takes a healthy dose of humility and self-awareness for anyone [let alone a once (and future?) Hollywood A-lister] to admit to their shortcomings.

You know what else it takes? Time.

Someone³ once said that “comedy is tragedy plus time”, but can’t the same be said of perspective? I don’t know about you, but when I think about my life, there are really only two things that have ever allowed me to better understand myself: weathering adversity and the passage of time. It’s why – at the time – Katie Heigl passing on my script felt like a deathblow, but now — years later — I can see it as the best thing that ever happened to me. And let me be clear about this: it’s not the “best thing that ever happened to me” because I avoided having to work with a “difficult” personality; it has nothing to do with KtG — her part of this story (at least as far as I know) is over.

To fully comprehend the perspective I have now, first you’ll need to understand the fallout that came next. As I mentioned last time, KtG was just the first of many talented actresses that my script was sent to. This led to another six or seven months of waiting — a purgatory punctured only by the occasional stinging arrow of another “pass” — until, eventually, updates from the project’s producers dried up altogether and I had a dead project on my hands.

To make matters worse, I’d spent that same six-to-seven month period writing multiple (free) drafts of a different script for another famed Hollywood producer, who for the purposes of this story we’ll call Harry Blowsephson. Mr. Blowsephson rewarded my very hard (and very unpaid) work by doing everything in his power to sell the project absolutely nothing, choosing instead to let the script rot like a forgotten banana.rotten banana

As if my growing sense of professional impotence wasn’t enough, my personal life had become decidedly boner-less as well. My girlfriend and I hadn’t had sex in months, which was particularly galling given that we lived together and were sleeping in the same bed every night. (Of course, I probably don’t have to tell you that our lack of physical connection was symptomatic of a much larger emotional disconnect.) And by the end of that summer, my relationship was yet another “project” that I’d devoted over a year of my life to that hadn’t worked out.

With the breakup still just minutes old (and tears streaming down my face), I packed a bag, got in my car, and started driving. There was no plan. No exit strategy. All I knew was that I needed to get as far away from our apartment and the vortex of Hollywood as I could.

Five hours later, I washed up at my cousin’s house back home in the Bay Area, ostensibly to spend a couple of days clearing my head before I returned to LA. But something strange happened when I woke up the next morning: instead of sadness or despair, I felt… Relief. And it wasn’t just because I found myself in familiar surroundings. Honestly, it felt like I’d just dodged a fucking bullet:

Sure, it had taken months of nonstop rejection, a heart-wrenching breakup, and 400 miles of cry-driving, but now that I’d hit bottom, I was finally starting to see the Southern California swimming pool for what it was: a mirage. The life I’d constructed over the last year – my relationship, my work, and most importantly, my sense of self — reflected a man I barely recognized. Which isn’t to say that I’d turned into some douche bag stereotype, or that my (now ex) girlfriend was a bad person, or that the scripts I’d written were vapid Hollywood trash – not at all. But what I had done – albeit unknowingly – was make choices that slowly but surely reinforced the life that I thought I was supposed to have rather than a life that honored who I actually am.

Now, obviously this epiphany didn’t come to me fully-formed when I woke up that morning. But that unexpected sense of relief I felt was the catalyst — the itch that I’d spend the next few years scratching (through countless hours of soul-searching, therapy, and self-reflection), as I slowly came back into relationship with myself and began to figure out what I really wanted. The kind of writer I wanted to be. The kind of relationship I wanted to be in. The kind of life I wanted to lead.

Look, I’d be lying if I said that – even now – there isn’t a small part of me that still wonders what my life might look like if Katie Heigl had said “yes”. But if the perspective I’ve gained in the five years since she said “no” has taught me anything it’s this:

I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

-MPM

¹She admits that she still hasn’t apologized personally to Apatow or co-star Seth Rogen.
²She’s, at least partially, attempting to repair her reputation in an effort to revive her career.
³There’s some Internet debate as to whether this quote should be attributed to Mark Twain or Carol Burnett.
Official medical term
Thanks, Tish!

Semper Fidelis

Timecode: 2:00 – 5:23

SMASH CUT TO:

EXT. THE WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – DAY

…and the drum cadence we’ve been hearing has turned into Semper Fidelis and it’s coming from THE U.S. MARINE CORPS BAND, a sight to behold in their red & gold uniforms and polished silver & brass.

Semper fidelis, a Latin phrase that roughly translates to “always loyal”, doubles as both the motto of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and the underlying theme of A Few Good Men (AFGM). If there’s a central dramatic question explored in the film it’s this: is there a point at which loyalty becomes a vice rather than a virtue? And if so, where should we draw the line?

Before that question is ever put in the mouth of a character (unless, of course, you count the rag stuffed down Santiago’s throat), it’s expressed visually with the smash cut that kicks off our opening credit sequence. If you’re watching the movie for the first time, the obvious question on the heels of Santiago getting assaulted is, “why would those guys attack one of their own like that?” The answer, it seems is…A Rob Reiner film

…America (fuck yeah!) Well, not exactly. You’re gonna have to go deeper than that.

That proud and powerful fanfare you hear is the opening of John Philip Sousa¹’s “Semper Fidelis” — the official march of the USMC being played by the official USMC band. And if you think that band looks stately and self-possessed wait ‘til you get a load of these guys:Title card

The 24 men who comprise the Corps’ Silent Drill Platoon are meant to “exemplify the discipline and professionalism associated with the USMC.” Or put another way: these guys don’t fuck around, alright? I still remember seeing a performance of theirs at halftime of a Forty Niners’ game I went to as a kid. As artful as the platoon’s synchronized movements look on camera, they’re even more breath-taking in person (especially if you’re nine years old and the coolest thing you’ve ever seen during a halftime show up to that point is this).

If you piece it all together (the flag, the band, the flawless execution of the drill team), the answer to the question (“why would those guys attack one of their own like that?”) becomes obvious: “because there’s a hell of a lot more that goes into being a Marine than you could possibly realize, dummy².”

What’s refreshing about this symbolic approach is that the answer — and by proxy, the movie’s theme — is implicit within the imagery rather than spoon-fed to us in some bombastic, on-the-nose, opening monologue. I mention this, because if Aaron Sorkin has a weakness as a writer³, it’s that he’s susceptible to bombastic, on-the-nose monologues. Like, I don’t know, this one for example:

It’s why, as much as I’ve enjoyed Sorkin’s work in television over the years, I’ve always preferred his movies (whether it’s AFGM, The Social Network, Moneyball, et al.) Working in film forces him to collaborate with an equally gifted artist (i.e. the director), who can — among other things — help to make the story-telling more visual and nuanced. Rob Reiner certainly does just that in this opening sequence, and he’ll continue to throughout the film (even as Sorkin’s words begin to take center stage).

I suppose the ultimate irony here is that in a movie best known for its stirring speeches and crackling dialogue, we’re almost five-and-a-half minutes into its run-time, and the first line still hasn’t been spoken. For that, you’ll just have to come back next week…

-MPM

¹a.k.a. The March King
²If you think that language was harsh, just wait until Colonel Jessep arrives on the scene; he’ll answer the question with a vocabulary of epithets more colorful than you could possibly fathom, you snotty little bastard.
³And let’s be clear, he’s a singular talent.

Rise and Shine, Willy!

Timecode: 0:00 – 2:00

FADE IN:

EXT. A SENTRY TOWER —

— in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.

If you’re gonna devote a year of your life to breaking down every millisecond of your favorite movie (and that is the objective here), it only makes sense to start at, well…the beginning. And because we’re dealing with a Rob Reiner joint film, the very first thing we see is the familiar Castle Rock Entertainment lighthouse logo. And with it comes the slow piano build of the Castle Rock theme.

What’s interesting about this is that both the image of the lighthouse and the haunting piano chords of the production company’s pre-movie credit are echoed in the film’s opening shot. Instead of a lighthouse, we see a sentry tower overlooking a fence-line (and the Atlantic Ocean), and with it, we get an eerily similar (and foreboding) piano build. Even as a 12-year-old, when I was seeing the movie for the first time, I noticed the similarities. But I (incorrectly) assumed that the Castle Rock logo/theme had been designed specifically for A Few Good Men.opening shot v castle rock comparison

Instead, the similitude can likely be attributed to two things: Rob Reiner’s light tower fetish¹ and the fact that the same man, Marc Shaiman, composed both the Castle Rock theme and the score for AFGM (not to mention a host of other Reiner projects).

When the camera finally stops panning, we land squarely on the fence-line² and an ominous chord summons a title card that pinpoints our location:

Opening Shot Title (Gitmo)

It’s crazy to think about: as much as I made fun of the trailer for its cheesy and incredibly dated sound effects, the part of the movie that holds up worst to the vagaries of time is its setting. Back when the movie opened in late 1992, most Americans didn’t know the difference between Guantanamo Bay and Cheddar Bay. But the events of the last 15 years have brought “Gitmo” into the national spotlight — and not in a good way. It’ll be interesting to see how writer Aaron Sorkin handles this when he adapts his play for NBC’s live production next spring.

What’s more interesting, at least for our purposes, are the first three faces we see on screen. In a movie that boasts arguably the best and most star-studded cast of its day, the trio of actors who are tasked with executing the film’s pivotal opening scene are a who’s who of “who the hell is he’s?”

First up, we have this guy:

Santiago waking up

If you’ve never heard the name Michael DeLorenzo before reading this sentence, you are not alone. DeLorenzo’s biggest claim to fame prior to playing PFC William T. Santiago was the three seasons he spent on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class as Spanish Harlem bad boy, Alex Torres. And his biggest splash post-AFGM was his turn as – I kid you not — Detective Eddie Torres on Dick Wolf’s off-brand cop show, New York Undercover. (Seriously, Hollywood? You couldn’t come up with one other Latino surname?)

Opposite Torres DeLorenzo we have this dynamic duo:

Dawson and Downey Wake up call

Believe it or not, Wolfgang Bodison (right) was an even more obscure choice than DeLorenzo. Prior to playing Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, Bodison wasn’t even an actor; he was a location scout for various filmmakers (including Reiner). James Marshall (left), on the other hand, had at least achieved “That Guy” status by the time AFGM was released. Most famous for playing Laura Palmer’s brooding, secret lover on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Marshall pulled off quite the trifecta in 1992. He not only appeared in the film version of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, he took on the titular role in Gladiator (the emo boxing movie not the Russell Crowe sword-and-sandal epic), and somehow still found time to play America’s sweetheart, PFC Louden Downey.

Perhaps my favorite detail of the boys’ surgical execution of the Code Red is that Downey’s brow is glistening with sweat before they grab Willy. This seems to suggest one of two things (or, quite possibly, both):

1) Cuba is hotter than a motherfucker — even at dawn.

2) Downey is prone to flop sweats when he’s nervous (which is entirely plausible given his performance on the witness stand during the trial).

You also have to love a cold open that ends with a panicked, guttural “ARRRRGGGGGHH!” that’s screamed (at top volume) through a duct-taped rag. One thing’s for goddamn sure: Torres DeLorenzo earned his paycheck³ that day. #ripwilly

-MPM

¹In an interview, Reiner said that the lighthouse was an allegory for Castle Rock’s mission to give creative talents “safe harbor” to make their projects with more freedom than the major Hollywood studios would allow.
²A big wall separating the good guys from the bad guys.
³Which I’m assuming was for SAG scale.

These Are the Facts of the Case (And They Are Undisputed)

If a great movie is a gourmet meal, then its trailer is the amuse-bouche that puts the palate on notice about the deliciousness to come. In two-and-a-half minutes, the filmmakers get their chance to sell you the sizzle in the hopes that, eventually, you’ll head to the theater and buy the whole steak. This, of course, is much easier said than done, particularly in a marketplace overrun with alternatives. But every so often, the stars align and a studio has a cut of Grade-A Kobe beef dropped right in its lap; all they have to do is put it on the menu and let the mouth-watering begin. And make no mistake, A Few Good Men was a fucking prime dry-aged bone-in filet¹.

few-banner-11-7

This isn’t revisionist history or a case of hindsight being 20-20. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed. Consider that when the film’s trailer was first released in the fall of 1992:

  • Tom Cruise was coming off of (in order): Top Gun ($179 million in box office²), The Color of Money (four Oscar nominations), Cocktail ($78 million), Rain Man ($172 million and eight Oscar noms), Born on the Fourth of July ($70 million and seven Oscar noms), and Days of Thunder ($82 million and Nicole Kidman).
  • Jack Nicholson was just a few years removed from playing The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman ($251 million), and oh right, a two-time Oscar winner (to say nothing of his seven other nominations) and the unofficial King of Hollywood.
  • Demi Moore was just two years removed from Ghost ($217 million) and half of Hollywood’s second most famous couple (behind Tom and Nicole, of course).
  • And director Rob Reiner’s previous four films were (presented without comment): Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally…, and Misery.

These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed. (Thanks, Kev!)

So, to pound the steak analogy into the ground (and a delicious paillard), when you have a USDA Prime pedigree, all you really need to do is rub a little olive oil on the thing with a dash of salt and pepper and get it on the grill. And that’s exactly what Columbia Pictures did with the AFGM trailer. Please, to enjoy:

So many tasty morsels to digest here, but let’s start with the big picture: that’s a pretty fucking good trailer! And this despite the fact that it’s almost 25 years old, which helps explain the outdated and incredibly cheesy gold-plated bursts of text that aid with the exposition. Speaking of which, let’s take a moment to assess the validity of these declarative gems:

  • He Didn’t Want the Case: technically true, although not until he realized that neither Dawson nor Galloway would let him accept a plea bargain, thereby putting his set of steak knives in (grave³) danger.
  • He Didn’t Know the Facts: true, though in Kaffee’s defense, he did have a big game against Bethesda Medical coming up.
  • He Didn’t Have a Chance: tough to argue – more interesting is that Jack’s line reading of the famous “I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me” speech is different than the one in the final film. Have to imagine this was for time’s sake, as in the final version, he really milks the pauses between “flash a badge” and “make me nervous”.

Setting aside a few archaic touches, what the trailer does so well is establish the movie’s tone; and that’s no easy feat given the delicate balance the film strikes between witty repartee and intense melodrama (a.k.a. The Full Sorkin). It’s also incredible how many of the movie’s most indelible moments (including that whole truth-handling bit) find their way into just 150 seconds of screen time.

I mean, if that doesn’t tickle your taste buds, I don’t know what would.

-MPM

¹Who’s hungry?
²All cited figures per Box Office Mojo.
³Is there another kind?

The Monster in the Closet

So, I wrote a book. It took two years of dreaming and procrastinating and writing and re-writing (in that order), but I did it. I have 60,000 words that are dedicated to telling a single story — possibly even a meaningful story. And it feels good, I’m not going to lie. It’s feels Really. Fucking. Good.

But beneath that sense of accomplishment (and we’re talking, like, less than a millimeter beneath) there is another feeling; one that is far more profound. I’ll give you a hint: it’s a four-letter “F-word” that you’ll never hear spoken aloud in mixed company under any circumstances. That’s right: fear.

I am scared shitless.

The question is “why?” What is it that I’m so afraid of?

The impulse, of course, is to be as melodramatic as possible and answer, “everything!” But herein lies the problem.

We all get scared. It’s human nature. But it’s also human nature to paint our fears with a brush so broad that we never bring into focus what we’re actually scared of. And rather than drill down any deeper to figure it out, we let our fears go unexamined, allowing them to morph and mutate until there’s a monster living in the closet.

closetmonster2

Now, unless you’re a small child¹, you know that monsters are always man-made, whether it’s Victor Frankenstein’s science project or that fear-mongering orange troll running for president right now. But the “monster in the closet” is unique (and often times even more insidious) because it’s of our own making. We not only build the closet with our bare hands, we willingly lease out the space to its terrifying tenant.

Which brings us back to our original question: what’s actually in there? Obviously, I can’t answer that question for you, but my guess is, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been too scared to open up the door and find out. Even now – at the very moment I’m typing this – there’s a (large) part of me that wants to take the easy way out, quote FDR’s whole bit about fearing fear, and call it a day. But not only would that be a huge cop-out, it’d also make for a really shitty blog post. After all, the whole reason I decided to launch this site in the first place was to have an outlet to share my story – insecurities and all.

FDR quote

So, enough fucking tap dancing: why am I scared?

Well, it starts with this: this book I’ve written is the most personal story I’ve ever put to paper/PDF. Sure, the plot’s almost entirely fiction, but the emotional story? It’s mine. And any attempt to suggest otherwise would just be me trying to protect myself from feeling even more vulnerable than I already do.

Up to this point, everything I’ve written (professionally) has been comedic. And while (I’d like to think that) those screenplays and TV pilots contained their share of truth and emotional resonance, at the end of the day, they were written to make people laugh. For better or worse.

This book marks the first time that I’ve ever written something where the primary goal is to connect with the reader emotionally. Sure, it has its fair share of humor woven in. But if you don’t cry (or at least tear up) at the end, I haven’t done my job.

In other words, there’s nowhere for me to hide. I’ve abandoned the sarcasm and the silliness that I’ve used as armor for the entirety of my career life. And when you strip away that protective layer, all that’s left is me – the real me. The sensitive little boy who spent most of his childhood alone, creating imaginary worlds and sporting events to keep himself company.

And there it is: what’s really in the closet. It’s not a monster. It’s a little boy cowering in the corner, because he just spent two years of his life creating this intricate imaginary world, and he’s terrified that no one will want to come and play with him.

He’s scared shitless — just like I am. But you know what? At least we’re in this together.

-MPM

¹Shout-out to my readers under 10!

A Tale of Heigl and Woe

Katherine Heigl has been called a lot of things over the years: difficult, entitled, and quite possibly, an asshole (and that’s just in The Hollywood Reporter – imagine how “colorful” the descriptions must get off the record). I bring this up not to drag her name (back) through the mud, but simply to say that I’m sure she’s developed a thick enough skin to handle the shade I’m about to throw at her.

Alright, I’m just gonna come right out and say it…

Katherine Heigl is the slowest fucking reader on the planet.

Katherine Heigl word collage (mpm)

Okay, truth be told, I’ve never actually watched her read anything, so I can’t back this up with, like, you know, empirical evidence. But what I do know is that it took her nearly three months to read a 107 page script (which works out to about a page a day for those scoring at home). I know this, because it was my script that she was reading.

It was October 2010 and my life was on a significant upswing. Not only was Miss Heigl giving serious consideration to starring in a movie I’d written, I’d also recently moved in with my beautiful girlfriend, and my beloved San Francisco Giants were marching towards their first World Series title ever. Everything — yes, everything — was coming up Maloney.

The script, a romantic comedy about a woman who attempts to play matchmaker to her boyfriend’s three older (and hard-partying) brothers, had been a labor of love. A year earlier, when it had gone out as a spec¹, it had come within one phone call of selling to a major studio. And another six months of re-writing (with the powerful Mark Gordon attached to produce) had transformed the story into the most polished and professional I’d ever written. All it needed was a star to say yes, and we’d be off to the races.

It’s easy to forget now, but at the time, Heigl was on a considerable roll (Grey’s Anatomy, Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, and even The Ugly Truth were all massive hits). So, it only made sense to give her an exclusive first look at the script. Her agent read it, loved it, and promised to “put it at the top of Katie’s pile”. The stars were starting to align…

…and then it happened. A week after “Katie” was sent the script, I was at brunch with my girlfriend, and I was grabbing us a to-go container for our leftovers. As I turned the corner, I nearly walked face-first into the woman herself. My white whale² was standing directly in front of me.

Of all the brunch places in all of LA, Katie Heigl had gone and walked into mine. Like something out of a… Well, a romantic comedy. I mean, it was too meta, too fucking kismet not to mean something. And by something, of course, I mean that not only was she going to say “yes”, but my movie was going to get made and go on to be a huge, career-altering success for the both of us. Obviously!

I floated out of the restaurant that morning convinced that I’d come face-to-face with my destiny. All I had to do now was sit back and wait for the phone call that would change my life forever.

As it turned out, I was only right about the waiting part. There would be a whole… lot… of waiting. One week turned into three, three turned into six, and before you knew it, Thanksgiving weekend had rolled around.

“Don’t worry,” her agent told the producers [who told my managers (who told me)], “she’s read the first 10 or 15 pages so far and really likes it. I’m sure she’ll finish it over the long weekend.”

She didn’t. Instead, over the weeks that followed, I had to settle for increasingly absurd fourth-hand updates. “She’s finished the first 30 pages or so…” “She’s halfway done, and she’s really enjoying it…” “I’m sure she’ll finish it over Christmas break, and we’ll have an update for you in the New Year.”ari on the phone

But (the longest) Christmas (of my life) came and went, and the New Year brought with it the same old news: “she’s almost done – another week at the most.” My managers preached patience (”stars are notorious for taking forever to read scripts,” they told me), but I was over it. So, so over it.

I didn’t even like Katherine Heigl (at least, not as much as some of the other actresses who were supposedly next in line for consideration: Anna Faris, Anne Hathaway, et al.) And by that point, I’d heard all the rumors about what a diva she could be to work with. So, even if she did say yes, I’d probably get eaten alive. Why couldn’t she just do us all a favor and say “no” already?

Finally, having reached my wit’s end, I took a friend’s suggestion and did a visualization exercise (hey, I was desperate!) I sat down with a printed copy of the script, and I read it again, trying my best to picture Heigl in each scene, as I projected the movie in my mind’s eye.

The very next morning, I got a call from my manager. The verdict was in: Katie Heigl had passed. As much as she’d liked the script, she was ready to try something different – something that showed off “a different side of her”. In other words, she didn’t want to do another romantic comedy.

My manager explained that it was just a momentary stumble; in fact, they’d already reached out to the agents for Natalie Portman and Rachel McAdams. “We’ll find our girl eventually,” he said.

But I knew better. I could feel it in my gut: this wasn’t just a pass, it was the first domino falling.

I was right. In the months that followed, there was (a lot more) waiting and (a lot more) passes. The string of rejections (along with many, many other factors) put a strain on my relationship with my girlfriend. And by September of 2011 (just a year after we’d first sent Katherine Heigl the script), both the project and my relationship were dead in the water. Life as I knew it – or at least imagined it — was over.

The part I didn’t know — that I couldn’t know (at the time) — was that it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. But more on that later

-MPM

¹For the uninitiated, a spec (short for speculative) is when you try to sell a screenplay that isn’t based on any pre-existing intellectual property. In other words, the story was your idea.
²A gorgeous, impossibly tall white whale, for the record.