WE HAVE STANDARDS
“I think she’s a witch,” Blake said referring to Thelma as we got out of the elevator on David Permut’s floor.
“We have a great pitch and we can do this. Forget about Thelma. If she were such a genius in film she would be running a studio and not playing Candy Land with two-year-olds for a living.”
“She probably cheats,” he added, unable to drop it.
David was all excited as he was convinced we were going to be the writers who would finally please picky Howard. I was rather impressed because he had the “workout suite.” We were all staying at The Lowell Hotel (my idea), which had all sorts of very cool theme suites, this one having a full gym off the living room. I could see Blake start to worry that I would ruin the next deal by demanding The Stairmaster Suite. Just as he was ushering me away from the Lifecycle, Howard entered.
I couldn’t believe we were not only meeting Howard but also pitching to him.
He was much nicer than one would think given his public persona. He was quiet and unassuming. He wasn’t carrying a giant blow up doll or toting a hooker. He had his henchman aka his agent with him and that was it.
There was no small talk at all. It was, “Hi, I’m Howard, what have you got for me?”
Those of you who are screenwriters know that pitching is really an art unto itself. How well you can pitch often times has little to do with how well you can write. There are people who are great pitchers but can’t get it down on the page. Then there are people who trip all over their words and tangle their ideas when having to verbalize them but write like angels. You really want to be able to pull off both successfully.
Blake and I are great pitchers. We were both performers, both hams and know how to work the room. We could do it separately and together we were like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire—or, if those references are too old, we were like Marie Osmond and Brain Boitano on DANCING WITH THE STARS. Blake would so hate being compared to Brian Boitano, but I must move on.
Suffice to say we knew how to do this. Nerves and creepy, intrusive babysitters be damned, we could pitch to anyone.
So we started to tell Howard our story. We were well rehearsed, each of us chiming in and taking over where they were supposed to. A little story, a slight pause, a subtle snicker at the right place, plus we had David Permut doing his producerly bit by sounding like a pre-recorded laugh track at every joke. And I would say for the first three to four minutes we had Howard with us; but there is often a point in a pitch when you lose them, it’s like in stand-up. And if you are a professional story pitcher you know exactly when that moment hits and you know you’re dead, you’re done, kiss the job good-bye. Blake and I knew instantly the moment we lost Howard Stern.
In these situations you have two choices: you can either ramp it up in desperation and try to save the sinking ship or you can race through to the end knowing there is now way to rescue the moment and your only goal is to get out of the room as quickly as possible. I am of the latter school. I race to the end, jump over words and jumble thoughts just to get as fast as I can to “that’s all folks.” And that is what we did.
But then you have the painful moments of small talk to fill the empty space. “Nice job…liked that bit about the alien….we’ll talk amongst ourselves and get back to you.” All the bullshit, that is doubly painful as you know and they know it’s bullshit.
But Howard didn’t do that. He looked at us and said, “I don’t like it.”
Duh! We may both be blonde but we were smart enough to get this far.
However it was refreshing in its own way; the instant honesty, no false maybes. Just “I hate it.”
Blake may have found it refreshing but he wanted out anyway. So he started to leave, motioning me to follow. I was just getting up when Howard looked at me, I don’t know why me, maybe because Blake was half way to the door or maybe because I have boobs but he addressed me and said, “Did you see me on the MTV awards the other night?”
I had in fact and told him so. It was his big TV debut of sorts and he came flying in in his Fartman suit with his big butt hanging out in the back and then I think he farted a bunch of times and flew around in a cloud of farts. It was a definite statement and, if nothing else, original.
“What did you think?” he asked me.
Now, how I had the courage in that moment to be honest I don’t know. My guess is I figured we were all ready out of the game and he had been honest with us so I told him I thought he was disgusting, gross and repulsive. I didn’t hold back. Blake and Permutt were both staring at me drop-jawed. I think Blake was thinking “You want to hang yourself fine, but don’t take me down with you.”
“Great,” Howard said, “that’s what I want this movie to do. I want people to be grossed out and disgusted. That’s what my audience wants, that’s what I want. Your movie is too nice.”
“OK,” Blake said trying to make his way to the door. “It was nice of you to hear our pitch, I love your show and good luck finding a writer and we really liked meeting you…” All the while jerking his head for me to get out of there too. So I said something equally kiss-ass and we left.
“It’s all Thelma’s fault,” he said racing to the elevator. “She put a hex on us our something.”
“She is annoying and a little creepy, but the truth is we told a rather tame story and Howard wants it to gross the world out.” It was a bitter blow, but certainly not the first and definitely not the last. But we couldn’t blame that on Thelma.
Before we entered my room he said, “Don’t dare tell Thelma we lost the job.” I nodded in agreement, we both plastered on a faux happy smile and we went in to see Taylor.
Thelma took one look at us and in an oh-so-pleased-with-herself tone said, “Told you he wouldn’t like it.”
Now I have seen Blake Snyder in many states over many years, I have personally never seen him in a state where I thought he would physically harm another human being. At that moment I truly thought he was going to pick up all four-foot-eight of smug Thelma and throw her onto Sixty First Street.
“I think we need lunch,” I said trying to turn down the temperature.
“Alone.” Blake snarled.
Thelma was a pain but she could take a hint. Back to the park went her and Taylor.
Then Blake and I sat glumly and did all the Elizabeth Kubler Ross stages of losing a job. “They’re stupid, we’re geniuses, that’s why movies suck, they’ll be sorry,” to “Do you think if we’d used someone other than Barry Manilow? Maybe he hates cheese?” Blake always going back to the idea Thelma had hexed us. Finally you end up in the place where you just wallow in your misery from anywhere to a few moments to a few decades.
Our misery wallow was cut short by a phone call from David Permut. I put him on speaker.
He was a real producer in every sense of the word, which meant he had a bit of the circus barker in him.
He sounded relatively upbeat considering he had just blown ten grand of the studio’s money flying us to New York to fail.
“Listen guys, Howard hated it.” We heard that the first time, thank you. “But he loves you. For some reason he thinks you can deliver what he wants. So you have two days to come up with a completely new take.” We couldn’t believe it.
“What kind of take?” Blake asked.
“Who cares? Just make it different and make it what he wants.”
So Hollywood, definitive directions to nowhere.
I won’t bore you with how we got rid of Thelma without Blake ending up on death row but we did and we got Taylor to bed and we got to work.
We had a challenge – make Howard happy, make it gross and make it snappy.
I have to pause and talk about drinking here as my guess is there are people reading this for whom drinking is or was a part of their lives.
At this stage in his life Blake was drinking, how much I don’t know, he sort of kept it from me, the reason being is I’m not much of a drinker. I don’t say this proudly; I have plenty of issues and my own addictions. What I don’t consume in alcohol I consume in stores. It’s not an accident I got to write CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. After he got sober Blake used to look at me in amazement; we’d be at dinner – chances are La Scala and I would leave part of my wine, not always, but sometimes, one or two glasses and I’m done, that’s just me. He would say, “How do you not finish it? I’d be on my fourth bottle by now and moving on to Stingers.” I’d say, “How do you not go to Brooks Brothers and buy a new blazer after nine years?”
I only add this anecdote as that night, the night we came up with Howard’s new movie I did something I rarely do. I got really, really drunk.
Once we put Taylor to bed we decided we would stay up all night and we would crack this movie and to help us do it we would work our way through both our mini-bars.
Blake started making martinis while pacing– not an easy task for the average man, but as we all know Blake was not average.
“OK, so Howard wants gross, he thinks Fartman is gross, we’ll show him,” Blake was adding olives to the drinks.
We sipped our drinks. Blake made more.
Grosser than Fartman…Grosser than Fartman.
“Diarrhea Man?” One of us said, I don’t really remember whom.
We looked at each other, an idea was taking form.
“Not crazy about Diarrhea Man, sounds like a commercial, but I think we’re on to something,” he said.
“That is it! He thinks Fartman is a gross super hero? We will give him the grossest super heroes of all time!”
And we were off and running or off and pacing and drinking and yelling and jumping and drinking and throwing pillows at each other and ordering burgers and drinking – a night I will truly never forget.
“He thinks Fartman is gross, how about Loogey Lad?” Blake yelped thrilled with his creativity.
“And his best friend Booger Boy!” We high-fived.
“That’s good, that’s good. But I’m thinking we need a family.” Blake was taking the whole thing seriously now and he always loved a good family film.
“So, we give Diarrhea to the dad and make him Diarrhea Dad.” I added, while beginning to take notes.
“Diarrhea Dad is married to Menstrual Mom,” Blake declared.
“All moms are menstrual…” Suddenly I was being practical. “How about Menstrual Blood Mom?”
“That’s good. That’s gross. That’s really grossing me out.” We were out of gin and onto vodka. “Menstrual blood is totally gross right?” Now that we had this Blake wasn’t going to make a false step.
“It’s gross to guys I guess, I’m sort of used to it. Are we showing it?”
“Not sure if we show it,” he said, pondering the possibilities of what we would do with Menstrual Blood Mom. “But maybe in her outfit, a stain perhaps?”
“How about her super hero suit is made out of bloody Kotex?”
At this point my guess is I was slurring my words.
“We’re geniuses, Tracers. He thinks Fartman is gross; we have Menstrual Blood Mom in a bloody Kotex suite, zoot, suit, outfit.” The booze was getting to him too. “I’m loving this movie, Tracers, I’m loooooooving it!”
Blake had come a long way from his “we have standards” stance.
We were now in New York drunk as skunks having Talmudic debates about whether Lugey Boy should cough up lugeys every time he talked and if Booger Boy should be covered in booger like warts or boogers would be constantly falling out of his nose.
And we went on all night like this, by the time we had worked our way though the Baileys, we had Dingleberry Dude, dating Cystitis Sister who was at war with Blake’s all time favorite super hero, Vaginal Discharge Girl (by four am alliteration was way beyond our skill set).
Somehow Vaginal Discharge Girl ended up being the heroine of the piece and the prize Fartman would win in the end, a girl in tight one-piece suit with a V on her chest and a giant stain between her legs. Blake got that stain in.
I kid you not my friends, this was the film Blake and I came up with for Howard Stern.
Howard wanted gross. We were giving him grosser than gross.
We were giving him the grossest story every told.
We had a story where Fartman was the least gross character in the group.
In STC terms it was a nerd empowerment movie.
And we were beyond thrilled with ourselves.
Blake was so happy he even got his sense of humor back in regards to the babysitter, when we finished up at daybreak he said.
“You think we should run all this by Thelma?”
TO BE CONTINUED….