Baltimore's Little Italy
Did you ever have a project where everything went wrong? I did. And I call it "The Italian Restaurant Tragedy."
I have decided to pull the original text of this blog because word reached me through the grapevine that one of the producers on this project, a romantic comedy about the founding of one of the most famous restaurants in Little Italy, who I had no desire to offend was very displeased by it. My apologies.
And, sadly, I don't know if the people I wanted to offend had even bothered to read it.
Prior to publishing the original blog, I sent it to director Lee Bonner, who, aside from co-writing the script, was slated to direct the ill-fated project. He strongly advised me against publishing it. I also sent it Matt Richards, who, had the stars aligned properly, would have produced the film. He said he laughed out loud reading it. That was all I needed to hear. But it was a mistake. The blog was simply too bitter and mean-spirited even by my standards.
I included the story because my blog had been taking on a rather rosy tone, as if everything I touched turned to gold. I was hoping this tale, about a film that had three excellent chances of being made, would act as a counter balance. I also wanted to use it as a cautionary tale for my fellow screenwriters. I made a number of mistakes while I was working on this project. I have learned from them. I was hoping others would as well.
Here are a few of them:
1). Don't get involved on a project on spec unless you will own your script outright when you walk away. I was screwed in this case because the script was based on a self-published book and a true life story. I could, of course, change the names and some of the details but why bother?
2). Don't get involved with a true story unless the real people have signed away their life rights. Run, don't walk, to the nearest exit if one of real people insists on maintaining script approval. I have talked to other writers who have gotten into the same mess. It never ends well. You soon discover that, frankly, most of these real people will ultimately be unable to surrender their lives. They will keep endlessly revising, and, in this case, turning down deals, until things are perfect. And they never will be. In the end, most of them would rather talk about making a movie than actually make one.
3). Make sure everyone is in the small ballpark expectation wise. I think one of the reasons this film failed was because the real person saw herself as the heroine of a $60,000,000 Paramount picture. The director had a more realistic attitude. He saw it as a smallish indy film that would have to kill at the film festivals in order to have a shot. I, the eternal optimist, hoped for the best but I knew ultimately its best shot was on cable.
4). Don't stake your professional reputation on the actions of amateurs. If you want to make movies for a living, work with people who make movies for a living. I have no doubt in my mind that this film would have been made if Lee and I, or Matt, were allowed I to call the shots. I have subsequently made a number of films. I have found funding for a number of films. I could have found a home for this film too.
5). Finally, and most importantly: Don't ever work for a producer for free -- no matter how "real" the project seems to be. If it were a real project, they could afford to pay you. Remember, if a producer pays nothing for a script, it is worth nothing. Period. End of story. If you don't believe me, listen to the famous sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison: