Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It's Story Time.... so far

CHAPTER 2: Okay, I know Chapter 2 was supposed to be London, and I apologize for the fake out, but I recall some stuff that means we stay in Melbourne for a bit longer. It pertains to my attempts to become a successful writer, which (despite having embarked on a long relationship with doing odd jobs, photocopying and filing after I left home to chase my dreams) was one of the two reasons I wanted a career in the film industry to begin with (the other being to direct). As a kid growing up in Australia, I never had any interest whatsoever in seeing any Australian films. To me, they were all just boring costume dramas with pretentious aspirations to greatness. I know the Aussie film industry has turned out some gems, but they still seem to make mostly crap with pretentious aspirations to greatness. It’s sad. Australia has great actors and directors who, once the opportunity arises, get their asses to Hollywood as fast as they can so they can become superstars. But the movie business in Australia (at least for making Australian films) has no real financing to speak of and so filmmakers have to rely on organizations such as Film Victoria, who from what I’ve read lately, spend more money wining and dining their friends and fat cat politicians than they give to any filmmakers. So it’s no wonder the Aussie film biz doesn’t turn out an original Australian superhero movie or real big action/adventure. So anyway, when Mad Max came out I naturally thought oh here’s another crap Aussie movie – and with a really dumb title no less. So I didn’t see it when it first came out. I also had no interest in seeing Mad Max 2 for the same reasons, but my sisters kept telling me “no, it’s nothing like what you expect from an Aussie movie” so I relented and went to see it. And I was blown away. It was amazing and at first I couldn’t quite believe it had been made by Aussies. In fact I was so blown away that I immediately sat down and wrote a 5 page synopsis for Mad Max 3 called “The Steel Prince”. Then I researched everything there was to know about the filmmakers and after reading an interview with the film’s producer, Byron Kennedy, in which he mentioned all the reasons why he and George Miller made an Aussie movie that was, well, essentially NOT an Aussie movie in the typical sense, I thought I have to get my synopsis to Byron Kennedy. I had no idea how to do that so I started with the basics, writing him a letter introducing myself and my synopsis and telling him how awesome I thought Mad Max 2 was (I left out that part about not seeing the first one) and how badly I wanted to join his production company and be a writer. I sent it to Kennedy/Miller Productions in Sydney and thought, well; maybe I’ll get a reply. A week or so later the phone rang one evening at our house and my dad answered. I was in the living room and not paying attention, but my dad walked in and said: “Rob, there’s a feller named Byron Kennedy on the phone for you.” I thought yeah sure, it’s just one of my friends (who all knew about my synopsis and the letter I’d sent to him) playing a joke. But when I picked up the phone and said hello and heard this really deep, really serious voice on the other end, I knew right away that it was Byron Kennedy on the frikkin line! I couldn’t believe it! He told me he was intrigued by my synopsis and wanted me to flesh it out into a 60 page treatment and send it off to him. I was like sure Byron no worries I can do that and I’ll get it to you in two weeks. I had no idea what a treatment was or how I was going to flesh out my 5 page synopsis (I’d only just found out what one of those was) to sixty pages. But I’d just talked to the creator/producer of the Mad Max films and told him I’d have a treatment to him in two weeks and by God I was going to keep my word. I read some books my mom and dad had given me on screenwriting and discovered that a treatment was just a story written in present tense that basically laid out the plot structure and beats of an idea in a form similar to what you might see in a book. That was a relief. It was just writing. And I knew I could do that. I sat down and pounded out a treatment on the typewriter my parents had bought me (God bless them they completely supported my crazy aspirations of being a writer and never doubted me). I don’t remember if I got exactly sixty pages but I know it was pretty long. I don’t even remember where all the ideas came from – they just sort of started flowing when I started typing. Never mind that it was mostly crap. There was some pretty awesome stuff in “Mad Max 3: The Steel Prince” by Robert Shaw. I sent it off and got a call a couple days later from Byron’s secretary telling me he’d received my treatment and would be getting in touch with me once he got back from a trip he was on. And I thought this is it, I’m on my way to success. So I waited. And then a few weeks later one of my friends (I think it was Phill Dimitroff or his brother Martin) told me Byron Kennedy was dead. He’d been killed in a helicopter crash while away on some trip. I didn’t believe him. But why would someone joke about something that awful. It was no joke of course and I was devastated. I mean, never mind the fact that it was bloody terrible that the guy had been killed – that really was an awful tragedy – but I’d be lying if I didn’t also think well frak, what about my story treatment? (Selfish right? I know. I was young and I apologize for it). I waited a while and then called Kennedy/Miller Productions and asked what was going to happen to my treatment. The girl I spoke to didn’t know what I was talking about and of course I couldn’t get in touch with Byron’s secretary – the one who’d called to say he’d received my treatment – I didn’t remember her name and when I asked to speak to his secretary they told me she wasn’t there anymore. A few months went by and I went to Sydney to try and shed some light on the subject but was not warmly received by anyone at Kennedy/Miller so that was the end of that. I refused to see Mad Max 3 when it came out but a few of my friends that had read my treatment swore it had scenes out of my treatment in it. I had Max captured by an enemy camp and forced to fight in a pit against a huge half-man/half-machine opponent named Sordak, who was clad in metal and a mask. The pit was surrounded by cheering/jeering enemy members of the camp; Thunder Dome had the fights in the Thunder Dome cage. I had Max discover a tribe of friendly people and kids in a sort of hidden oasis base; Thunder Dome had the kids in the desert oasis. Did they rip off some ideas from my treatment and adapt them for their own use? Maybe. But it was decades ago and I’d never be able to prove it. Anyway, I decided to write a script from my treatment and just take out all the Mad Max stuff – which was easy. I ended up with a script called The Steel Prince, which was a sort of Sword & Sorcery/ground based Star Wars hybrid that I thought (at the time) really rocked. Then I read about an Aussie director named Russell Mulcahy who had just made a movie called Razorback – which turned out to be a great Aussie film and the first of its kind in Australian cinema. I read that he was editing the movie up in Sydney at the offices of McElroy & McElroy, the company that produced the movie, so I called to ask if he’d be interested in reading my script. Man, in retrospect it seemed way easy to get in touch with movie producers and directors back then because when I got put through to the cutting room Mulcahy actually took my call. After a brief discussion he agreed to meet with me and read my script if I brought it up to Sydney. So I hopped on a plane. When I got there I called him and he said to swing by his condo the next morning around 10am. Luckily I went early because when I arrived I bumped into him as he was heading out to have breakfast. He’d forgotten all about me.  Anyway, I handed him the script and he said “Oh, is this it?” I guess it didn’t look too impressive. Anyway, he said he’d read it and would let me know. So I hopped a train back to Melbourne and followed up with another call about a month later. When I talked to him again he told me he wasn’t interested in doing Sword & Sorcery. I guess he was as impressed by the reading of my script as he had been by the receiving of it from me. Oh well, looking back I realize my script was crap anyway. Mulcahy’s next movie was Highlander so I guess he became interested in doing Sword & Sorcery after all. And Highlander was a way better script that mine!

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