Ed and Jane are scriptwriters for a big Hollywood studio, who've been told they've got to work together. She likes to write dramas and he likes to write thrillers.
What neither of them can write are romantic comedies. Or can they?
Music by JuliusH, Pixabay.
This story first appeared in Business Spotlight in 2020.
THE lights dim and the audience goes quiet. As the curtains draw and the music starts for the premiere, I look at Ed from the corner of my eye to see how he’s doing. Not well. Popcorn is going from bucket to mouth on autopilot. He’s nervous.
“Jane,” he whispers. “This film could destroy our careers as writers in Hollywood!”
“So what?” I answer. “I’m only writing scripts until I can break into waitressing. All those restaurants out there - one of them has got a job with my name on it!”
He laughs a little and then his eyes go back to the screen and his hand to the popcorn. Maybe he’s right, I think. Maybe this will be the last screenplay either of us ever write. I sit back and mentally fasten my seat belt. This could be a bumpy night.
Ed and I have known of each other for a while. He does mostly spy thrillers with plots so complicated you have to see the film twice to understand it. I write three-generation family sagas with lots of period costumes, refugees, Nazis and people losing the love of their lives only to find them again in the last ten minutes of the film, just before one of them dies. Anyway, when a studio suggest we try writing together, it sounds interesting.
“But not a rom-com,” I tell him. “I don’t do banter. It must be something serious.”
Ed nods. “I agree. All that gender-war jokey dialogue between the romantic characters is awful.”
So, the studio rents us a house near the beach for two weeks, fills it with food and drink and we set up laptops opposite each other.
We sit there on the first morning, waiting.
“I have an idea for…” we say at the same time, then both stop.
“You first,” I say.
“Okay,” he agrees, which annoys me. Whatever happened to ‘ladies first’? “I have this idea for a sci-fi detective story. Very Bogart, very film-noir, but set in another galaxy: ‘A murder in a high-security prison colony brings Special Agent Logan Fist to the planet Krickin …’”
“Krickin lickin’ good!” I interrupt. “Sounds like a fast-food chicken restaurant run by Jedi knights.”
He looks hurt. “I thought it would be fun to try something new. What’s your idea then?”
“Okay: famous classical pianist Anton Dropski hears a beautiful young woman playing a piano at a train station and falls in love with …”
I stop. Ed’s head is on his keyboard and he’s fake snoring.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he says. “I must have dropped-offski. Let me guess; they lose each other and then he finds her again in the last ten minutes of the film taking part in an international piano competition where he’s one of the judges. Am I right?”
I feel hurt. “Well, yes. But he’s also got a brain tumour and is dying. You didn’t get that, genius!”
We glare at each other over our screens. This might be difficult.
“I’ll work on the verandah,” I say with dignity. “Have fun with Special Agent Fist.”
Over the next ten days, we make no progress on a joint script, despite using different techniques to get past our creative block. One morning, we try mixing our stories together. But all I manage to write is:
“Keys to the Heart: Special Agent Fist travels to the planet Krickin, only to find that his long-lost love, Vera Steptanz has been imprisoned by the brutal Commander Dropski. Only by winning a pan-galactic piano competition can he hope to save her from execution.”
While Ed produces:
“The Lockdown: Anton Dropski, evil spy-master for the Krickin Empire forces the beautiful pianist Vera Steptanz to steal the plans for a time machine from Special Agent Fist. Can Fist rescue the plans and Vera before the universe is destroyed?”
That evening we drink too much and start writing imaginary film reviews:
“However many films you see in 2021, make sure NONE of them are Keys to the Heart,” suggests Ed.
“The Lockdown does for love stories what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean,” I propose.
But then, probably thanks to the alcohol, something happens that night. The block is gone and in only two days (after recovering from a huge hangover), we manage to produce a script to send to the studio.
To be honest, it’s not our usual style at all, so we’re surprised when the bosses love it and production starts. But the real test for a film is always the audience and the first night reviews. And so, completely terrified, we sit through the film premiere of Lockdown your Heart, starring Amanda Lark and Rupert Hunt.
Next morning, I wake up early. The audience enjoyed themselves last night, but what do the reviews say? I pull out my cell phone and am about to read Harrison Whittle, film critic for The Washington Times, when it rings.
“Read the reviews for me,” Ed begs. “I can’t do it myself. Start with Whittle. He’s the best.”
I skim read the article and I can’t resist teasing Ed a little.
“Hmmh,” I say, slowly. “On the plus side, he loves Amanda and Rupert: ‘Amanda Hart convinces as concert pianist Vera Steptanz, while Rupert Hunt is every inch the heroic space pilot, Logan Fist.’ They remind him of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.”
“Well, that’s good. What’s on the negative side?”
“Let’s see: ‘However, the performance of Boris Tupov as Anton Dropski, is … ‘” I sneeze. “Hold on a second I have to get a tissue.”
I get one and blow my nose loudly for about two minutes. “Where was I?”
“’The performance of Boris Tupov is …’ WHAT?” screams Ed.
“Ah yes ….’…is extraordinary.’”
“How does he mean that?” asks Ed in a voice so pathetic I take pity and read him the whole article. Whittle loves the film, loves the stars and most of all, loves the writing. It’s brought the classic rom-com formula into the 21st century, he says. How could two writers best known for schlocky thrillers and period melodramas, write something so sophisticated and witty, he wonders?
You just need enough wine and some of your own rom-com - I think to myself. Ed is now dancing around the kitchen and singing.
“That’s enough,” I shout. “Bring me some tea and we can look at the rest in bed.”
Oh yes, you read that right. Ed was dancing around my kitchen.
“And then … maybe a little bit of rom-com?” he asks.
“I suppose so,” I answer. “But none of your banter, all right?”