I think it was 2001. I lived in Los Angeles. I’d had my “big break” and one of my screenplays had gotten me “discovered”, which led to lots of meetings.
As I soon learned, getting a meeting in Hollywood didn’t exactly mean anything was going to happen. Of course, being the naive kid from Brooklyn who just wanted to write, I looked at every one of these meeting as the day my life was going to change forever.
Interest in the script that had opened doors allowed me to get meetings to talk about “What else have you got?”. The thing about Hollywood is once someone gives you money, says you can write, and they publish a story about it in The Hollywood Reporter, everyone suddenly agrees that you can write, too, so now that want to meet you and figure out why they haven’t given you any of their money yet.
My favorite of all my screenplays is a black comedy about a bank robbery gone incredibly wrong called “.33 Reverse Gunther”. One fateful day, I agreed to option it to an up and coming producer, who had just started her own production company. In fact, she had been the assistant to the producer who had optioned the aforementioned “Austin got discovered script”. I had asked her to read it and she liked it so much that she let me in on a little secret: she was leaving to start her own company and wanted Gunther to be her first option. I was all for it.
I didn’t expect much, but I knew she would work her ass off to get the script out there since it was the only project on her plate.
It was maybe three days later when she told me that Dr. Dre had read the script and wanted to meet me. THE Dr. Dre? The scary gangsta rapper? He wants to read my strange little script about a very bloody bank robbery?
The meeting was at Skybar. Ever been there? Very ritzy. Very posh. Not a place I had ever been since moving to California. I was so nervous before the meeting that I asked the producer how I would recognize Dre. Yes, my brain was that scrambled.
This was all happening at the height of the East/West Rap Wars. Dre slid into the chair across from me and a bevy of bodyguards took up residence at the table behind us. I have to admit that the presence of all those bodyguards kind of scared me.
Dre was joined by Philip Atwell, his production partner, who was famous for directing Dre’s, Snoop Dogg’s, and Eminem’s videos that were playing non-stop on MTV at the time. Philip would direct, Dre would produce and play one of the supporting characters, they wanted Mark Wahlberg as the lead, and they asked me if I could rewrite the lead’s best friend so that Snoop Dogg could take that role.
One of the first things that Dre said to me was “You are one sick mother#$%^&*”. I still consider that to be one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received about my writing. He confessed that when he was reading the script, he had assumed I was African American because the character he wanted to play was written so well.
Something that always stuck with me from that meeting was the way Dre needled Philip when he said he wanted me to consider rewriting a key car chase. Dre looked over at his partner and flat out accused him of being too scared to shoot the scene as written because it included the getaway car jumping through an empty boxcar on a train.
I left that meeting with rewrite ideas dancing in my head, and a certainty that Gunther was going to get made. I was so pumped, and couldn’t wait to tell my wife and all my friends the news. By far, the best meeting I’ve ever had during my writing career.
Dre’s company never bought the script, but it wasn’t because they didn’t want to. The green producer to whom I’d optioned it demanded a $500,000 finders fee/producer’s credit as part of the deal. Greed killed the deal and crushed my Hollywood dream.
Now I’m sitting on the porch of my house in Maine telling you the story of what might have been. Last night, I had a quick email exchange with the Director of “The Retirement Party”. He wants to make Gunther and is currently in LA to see what kind of interest he can drum up for it.
When people tell you that Hollywood is a place where dreams are made, they sometimes forget to include the last few words. You see, it’s been my experience that Hollywood is a place where dreams are made to be crushed.
Of course, I shouldn’t complain. I’ve had two screenplays produced, but it’s hard not to think about how different my life would be right now if this deal had been made.
Dre and I would meet again, but that’s a story for another day…