Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Sarah's Choice," Part One, "In The Blink Of An Eye"

In a sense, "Sarah's Choice" began with "In The Blink of an Eye," a film my partner Tim Ratajczak and I didn't end up writing.

This movie began with an email from actor/producer David A.R. White.  It was a short email with three possible story ideas, each expressed in a mere sentence or two.  More interesting were the physical parameters of the project.  It had to be shot in a small Mexican resort town with a luxury yacht serving as the main location.  Why?  Because they had an investor with access to those elements.  Many of you might be thinking that this is an insane way to make a movie.  That, perhaps, you should come up with a compelling idea first, then find locations to fit it.  That, of course, is the ideal way, but this happens more often than you would think.  Even in the glory days of Hollywood.  For instance, Laurel & Hardy's first feature "Pardon Us" came about because Hal Roach had access to a large prison set MGM had built for their movie "The Big House."  This is not unusual -- particularly in the world of low budget filmmaking.  When you have access to a location with production value, you use it!

Other parameters included the cast.  David, obviously, wanted to be in the film.  He wanted to play a disillusioned or burned out cop with a past.  He also wanted a romantic subplot and his love interest was to be played by his real life wife Andrea Logan White.  That way he could kiss her in the film without the more prudish members of the target audience complaining that he was committing real-life adultery.  Additionally, we were to write a strong, supporting "star" part for the DVD box name.  In this case, they were considering Eric Roberts or Gary Busey.  (They ended up with Eric Roberts.)  As usual, you had to write a character who could be seen periodically throughout the film, but whose work could be completed in one day.  Piece of cake.  That's all part of the job when you're a professional screenwriter.

So Tim and I got to work.  One of the three ideas was a "Groundhog's Day" rip off.  We avoided that concept.  Although most PureFlix films tend to be Christian versions of successful secular films, Tim and I both preferred to work on original concepts whenever possible, and sometimes it isn't!  We spent the weekend working on a two page treatment and sent it to David.  He loved it.  He sent it around to the other partners at PureFlix.  They all loved it too.  In fact, they wanted to get Tim and I on a conference call with all of the managing partners that upcoming Wednesday evening.

That was strange.  We had never had a conference call with all of the managing partners before.  In fact, neither Tim or I had spoken with Byron Jones, who seemed to be in charge of marketing, but we were well aware of his presence.  We used to joke about him being the in-house Pharisee.  Aside from marketing, his major function at the company seemed to be to make sure that we never wrote anything that could possibly offend anyone in their target audience.  He also took personal responsibility in wringing any subtleness out of the scripts.  In one script, he used the find and replace function to change every incidence of the word "Jesus" to "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  By the time he was finished, even our skeptical characters were saying it!  In the inevitable salvation scenes, Tim and I would try to express the characters thoughts in a few choice sentences.  By the time we saw the final films, those few sentences would be transformed in wordy paragraphs that dotted every theological "i" and crossed every spiritual "t."  Plus, someone had to be on guard against any possible Catholic references, but that's another story.

However, even stranger, the appointed director Chad Kapper was going to be on the conference call.

That was really strange.

In film school, the auteur theory, that the director is the author and guiding force on a film, is an accepted fact.  That, however, is not always the case in the real world.  They are usually the boss on the set during production itself, but not even that is an absolute.  I have seen many a directorial flourish vetoed on the set by the producer.  Especially on a PureFlix set.  PureFlix is a producer-driven production company.  The director is, essentially, an afterthought.  In our previous projects, the director wasn't brought into the mix until after the script was already written, revised and locked.  Therefore, it was quite unusual for us to have one involved at the treatment level.

I was not unduly concerned.  Chad had made an appearance during the post-production of "Holyman Undercover" and I thought he had made a valuable contribution to the film.  I welcomed his presence on this project.  That said, however, I don't remember who told us or how we were told, but we were informed that Chad wanted his young son to be the star in the film.  No one involved was comfortable with that.  I was just hoping Tim and I would not have to be the bad guys.

The conference call began, and, after the obligatory five minutes of patting each other on the back, we got down to business.  Chad didn't like the treatment.  Not at all.  He thought the concept would be improved if we shifted the emotional core of the film from a husband and wife relationship to a (drum roll, please) father and son relationship.  We, as expected, disagreed.  Things soon went from bad to worse.  How bad?  Tim can sometimes get sarcastic when he's unhappy.  Well, he went from sarcasm to dead silence.

The conference call ended without any resolution.  Tim called me back immediately afterwards and asked how we could get off this project.  I said we couldn't.  I wanted to get off the film as badly as him, but, if we quit, we would lose all our credibility as professional screenwriters.  Plus, of course, they were ultimately going to side with us over Chad.  We had done a number of pictures with these folks.  They loved us.

I recently read the book Writing Movies For Fun and Profit.  One point the authors make is that the writer is always the easiest person in the room to fire.  I discovered that truth the hard way before I read that book.  Despite our long and profitable relationship with the company, I got a call the next morning from the producer.  He told me that, perhaps, Tim and I weren't the best people for this project.

We were fired!


The only mistake we made was not asking to be paid for the work we did on the treatment.  Although I am a firm believer that writers should be paid for everything, I was afraid that, if we pressed them for money on this project, they might decide to keep us on it rather than pay us for nothing.  Sometimes it is better not to be paid.

So Tim and I were free of the film which, one day, would be called, "In The Blink of an Eye."

Or so I thought.

Blink was supposed to be PureFlix's next film, but it was hit by a number of delays.  "Sarah's Choice" arose during that process and fell under the lens first.  I was very excited by the project and mentioned it to a producer friend of mine named John Molli.  I thought he might like to get involved and he did.  He called Pure Flix and provided most of the financing.  While they were talking, they mentioned Blink.  John helped out with that movie too!  (Yes, they got someone I brought to them to finance a movie I got fired off.  Gotta love Hollywood!)

Then, suddenly, Chad left the project.  It was directed by a promising, young DGA member who used the name of Michael Sinclair.

Then, suddenly, I was back on the project:  as the film editor!  And I think I did a great job.

The final script, which managed to incorporate to one degree or another all of the ideas in the original email, was credited to Jon Macy, Byron Jones, David A.R. White and Russell Wolfe.  I once asked David how the final script came into being.  It was a long, complicated story which included the involvement of other writers as well.  It was an interesting tale best not repeated here.

That said, during the sound mix of "Sarah's Choice," Russell Wolfe asked Tim and I about a scene he had really liked.  We explained how we built it upon things people had told us about their own real-life experiences.  Afterwards, Russ said, "That's why you guys are real writers.  Whenever we try to write something, it ends up like "In The Blink of an Eye.""

Don't know what he meant by that.

Eric Roberts and yours truly

After Blink was released, Tim and I met Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts, an actor whose work I long admired, at a horror convention.  Tim asked him to sign his copy of Blink.  When he handed Eric the DVD, Eric studied it for a moment before asking, "Am I in this?"  Yes, we told him, and refreshed his memory.  He had never seen the film or the DVD artwork.

Looks like Tim, a writer fired from the project, has the only signed copy of the film!

Here's the trailer:

"Sarah's Choice," Part 2, The Writing

Read about the making of my other features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
The Encounter

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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