Friday, March 3, 2017

Act On Your Ideas Viciously

I'm constantly searching for new subjects, characters, or stories that I can eventually write into a screenplay.  Most of them I just sit on, but occasionally one really speaks to me.  The first time this happened, I spent a good year researching 1950's Greenwich Village for one of my first feature screenplays.  I had finished my first draft maybe a year before "Inside Llewyn Davis" was released.  (I had even read Dave Van Ronk's biography that the movie was based off of as part of my own research, well before they announced the production.)  While I've got that screenplay filed away, I always felt like "hey if the Coen brothers are interested in the same subject matter, you must be doing something right... but just didn't act fast enough."  And also... I realize that my talent doesn't hold a candle to what the Coen brothers could do for a story like that... so I let that one go with relative ease.

Fast forward a few years, and I stumble across this biography of this kind of peripheral guy who played this tiny roll in a huge part of music history.  The character is so faceted, the history is great, and the metaphors the film could explore are even greater.  I had the perfect structure in mind and a way to explore the material in a deeper way than the "reality" had provided.  I had an ideal cast in mind... I just needed to pen the project.  I shared it with one of my collaborators who loved the idea so much, he was ready to pitch in his own money to buy the option with me, and suggested I wait on writing the project until it belonged to us (which is sound advice, mind you).  We even went so far as to line up an executive producer on the project, and started talks with the author of the biography and his agent to discuss buying the rights... but our day-to-day kind of got in the way of obtaining that project and we just kept saying "when things calm down, we should revisit this idea."

Well, a week or so ago, I saw the announcement... the property has been purchased by a pretty reputable filmmaker and it's at least theirs for another couple years.

Since finding that out, it's been nagging me.  A lot of "woulda shoulda coulda's".  I should have just jumped into drafting the screenplay.  If I would have bought the option when I found the project, those filmmakers would have at the very least approached me about it.  I could have told such a great story.  I realize I'm too young of a screenwriter to actually be hired by a production to write a draft cold turkey.  BUT if I had it ready to go, I would have been in a bargaining situation and could have been involved in that creative process.  It's nothing but toxic thoughts. 

This is the very reason why ideas are not able to be copyrighted.  Only the expression of those ideas.  You have to act on it in your own interpretation.  The problem here is that the base material was curated and carefully presented by this author who technically owns that interpretation of the story.

I'm trying to see the silver lining here, but it's difficult.  Finding the property isn't enough.
While I'm happy the story will be told, and that it was a gem I had found and started to pursue before these guys had ever found it, I didn't go after it viciously enough.  They beat me to the top of the hill and had the capital to move quicker than me.  If I was really going to go after it, I should have gone after it.  Plain and simple.

It sounds more foolish than ever, but as a writing exercise for myself and maybe an insurance policy IF the property sits parked until the rights are expired... I feel like I should still write it.  I could at least learn from the process and have the product ready if the "other guys" run into misfortunes in launching it.