There are many urban legends about unproduced scripts told in hushed tones at Hollywood cocktail parties. You will often hear stories that start “the greatest script I ever read, was never produced.”
I’ve read such a script when I was working as an advertising writer at Warner Bros.
It was a Michael Crichton script about a doctor playing Frankenstein with DNA to bring a dead woman back to life. A fantastic script, never produced. It got me thinking, if the writer of "Jurassic Park" can’t get this great script produced, what hope is there for the rest of us?
There are more scripts floating around Hollywood that almost get made than ever get made. Some are snatched up by producers that hope to get to them someday and never do, and some just get passed from script reader to script reader like a hipster’s mix tape of unsigned bands.
My writing partner and I have such a script. It has been out there for over 12 years, occasionally being sighted a couple of times a month on the horizon like the Flying Dutchman.
The story is about as high-concept as a film can get, a group of thieves hatch a plan to rob Fort Knox.
It piqued the interest a couple of producers who worked on the "Sixth Sense movie." They had just started their own production company, and this was just what they were looking for to do as their company’s first film.
Everything was going great; they had meetings with Sony pictures, we did rewrites based on their notes, there was talk of Spielberg directing it, and we were on cloud nine.
Then 9/11 happened. A small subplot in the movie involved fake terrorist and the script was suddenly un-filmable.
We offered to rewrite and take out the part, but it seemed anything that made the military look foolish was also out. As you can imagine, it is hard to make robbing the Fort not make those guarding the vault look at least incompetent.
So those producers passed on the script, and we became busy with another project we optioned to another production company.
The Fort Knox script was put in a drawer and every year or so, we would return to it and do a rewrite to bring it up-to-date.
But, we forgot it was already loose in the world. Occasionally we would get a call from a studio or producer that somehow got their hands on it. It made it as far as a production company in London that was for sure going to produce it, but then they quickly went out of business.
We tend to get calls from producers who want us to rewrite the script so it can be done on a five million dollar budget, which would be hard given the subject matter.
But then the next big thing is sparkling vampires and they lose interest again.
The last appearance was particularly heartbreaking.
One night I get a call from a guy with a heavy Russian accent.
“Are you one who write Fort Knox script?”
“Um, yes that’s us.”
“I am producer. I work with Danny DeVito. It is true you can check my IMDB page.”
“I love script. I want to give to Danny to read.”
“That would be great!” I say.
“Okay, he is leaving for L.A. tonight. I will put this script in his hands so he can read it on the plane.”
He hangs up! He hangs up before I can even ask his name, or how to get in touch with him. It doesn’t matter, I think, I am sure he will call back.
All weekend I am ecstatic that Danny DeVito is reading the script. I think, doesn’t he know George Clooney? Clooney would be perfect for the lead!
So, Monday comes and all over the news there is this story where Danny DeVito went on the talk show “The View” drunk.
It seems he and George Clooney had bought a limoncello distribution company. George took Danny out and got him so hammered on limoncello he was still drunk Monday morning.
I had a sinking feeling that Danny had not read the script, or if he did, he wouldn’t remember it. In any event, Danny was too busy doing damage control to think about our script.
Was the Russian guy even working for him? I spent the next few weeks trying to contact Danny DeVito's production company to get in touch with the mysterious Russian, but to no avail.
(Thanks for script-blocking us, George Clooney!)
I writing the story as a novel now, and I am sure my first readers are going to say, “You know, this would make a great movie!”
Yeah, I’ll think about that.