The assignment started like this. A meeting at the studio with a vice president of development. I was pitched a character scenario. After a week of noodling, I met with the VP’s boss, Mr. Reserved, the studio’s president of production. As we traded ideas, he confided in me that the movie concept was based on the bitter divorce of a notorious woman he’d met socially. And though she was known for being something other than a filmmaker, she’d be serving as a producer on the project.
Let’s call this newbie producer Hotsy Moxie.
“Not to worry,” said Mr. Reserve. “She’s totally in the background on this. You won’t have to meet with her. In fact, I highly recommend you don’t.”
“But she’s a producer,” I argued. “There’s gonna be a point where she wants to be treated like one. And that means meeting with the writer.”
“I’m the president of the studio,” said Mr. Reserved. “This is my project. Let me handle the producer side of things.”
I relented. After all, he was the man writing the check. I was already gassed up to write the thing. That and the research I’d planned was to share liquor and meals with some of Tinseltown’s heaviest hitting divorce lawyers. I was about to get some seriously dirty details in the game of celebrity splitsville.
Soon, I was off to write. Commencement heaven. Just me, my imagination, and some unfettered composing.
Oh. There was one minor interruption. A had to go on a brief book tour for my newest novel. Texas and the North East. Toward the end the sortie, I found myself on the panel of a cable chat show. During which I was introduced to my producer. You know. Hotsy Moxie. There she was across a table from me. During a commercial break, she leaned over and whispered.
“You look so familiar,” she said.
“Don’t think we’ve met,” I answered.
“Still. Something about you…” she pondered.
“My name, maybe,” I confessed. “I’m writing your movie.” I went on to mention the studio, her friend Mr. Reserved. The pieces came together for her just as the commercial break came to a close and the floor director was counting down from ten.
“Can I take you to dinner while you’re in New York?” she later asked.
“You’re my producer,” I charmed. “That’s your job.”
So the night before I jetted back to the left coast, I met Hotsy Moxie for dinner in a swanky, upper-east side eatery. We hardly talked about the movie. But we talked about just about everything else. I found her delightful company. If I recall, we practically closed the bar.
About month or so later, I delivered my first draft to the studio. Mr. Reserved was very pleased with the results. When we sat for a notes meeting, I felt duty bound to inform him that, while in New York, I’d bumped into my “producer.” That the pair of us had been social and I’d found her to be pretty damn cool.
“She’s a really lovely person,” admonished Mr. Reserved. “Until she’s not.”
“I expect you’ve seen both sides?” I asked.
“Not directly,” he said. “But she has quite the reputation.”
“Beyond what I’ve read?”
“She’s charming. Sexy. A great mind. But once you get on her bad side – and from what I can gather every man eventually does – you become her sworn enemy.”
“And you wanted to make her movie?” I asked.
“What can I say?” said Mr. Reserved. “It’s a great idea. And you’ve turned it into a great movie which, I might add, turns out to have nothing to do with her story.”
“But she’s still the producer,” I reminded.
“And we’ll treat her with the respect she deserves,” he said. “But like I said. Let me handle how and when I give her the script.”
“And when she calls and asks me for it?”
“Put it all on me,” insisted Mr. Reserved. “I’m the studio. I’m the boss.”
Gladly, I figured, as I waited for the inevitable producer call. A call which, to my surprise, never, ever came. Not that I didn’t communicate with Hotsy Moxie. We traded amusing emails. And when she visited Los Angeles, we had more dinners. Yet we hardly talked about the movie at all. She appeared to be all-too-happy to leave the development process to the professionals – the writer, the studio VP, and her pal, the big boss.
As for the studio, the CEO wasn’t as keen on the script as Mr. Reserved. In fact, the studio at large wasn’t so keen on Mr. Reserved, who phoned to tell me his contract was not being renewed. The good news, he announced, was that he was keeping our movie as part of his exit package.
“So you get the turnaround?” I confirmed.
“Script’s coming with me,” he assured. “I’ve already got interest from (another studio).”
Mr. Reserved went on to explain his strategy for mounting the movie, budget, etc. I liked what he was thinking, gave him my blessing, and passed the info along to my agent. Things were looking up. Then a week or so later, at a rather late hour, my home phone rang. On the other end was none other than Hotsy Moxie. And she was fuming.
“Did you know that (Mr. Reserved) is producing my movie?” she barked.
“Our movie,” I calmly corrected. “We’re all in this together.”
“Are you with him?” she asked with a ring of suspicion.
“I’m not with anybody,” I replied. “I’m the writer. The script is in turnaround. And (Mr. Reserve) is setting it up at (the other studio.)”
“As the movie’s producer!”
“As a producer,” I said. “Movies usually have more than one.”
“But how does he get to be a producer?” she harangued.
“He used to run the studio that developed it. He bought it. I’m sure he made producing it part of his exit deal… Listen. This is not a bad thing.”
“How do you think?”
“It’s flattering,” I explained. “He developed God knows how many projects when he was head of production. And this was one of the two movies he felt strong enough to leave with.”
“But it’s my movie. It’s about me.”
“Well, not really,” I cautioned. “It might’ve been originally inspired by stuff you went through but now? It’s pretty far removed.”
“I need to talk to my lawyer,” she said.
“Good idea,” I agreed. “I’m sure he can explain all the ins and outs of ‘turnaround.’”
“What’s ‘turnaround’ again?”
I carefully explained that “turnaround” is when a movie studio chooses not to move forward on a project, allowing the producer to shop the movie to other studios or financiers with the promise to repay with interest whatever development costs have already been incurred.
“And what if I don’t have turnaround?” she eventually asked.
“I’m sure you do,” I said. “It’s pretty standard.”
“Hang on,” she said. “That’s my lawyer finally calling me back.”
My ear was already sore from cradling the phone for the hour or so I’d already spent trying to talk the women out of her paranoia tree. I was reminded of Mr. Reserve’s cautionary warning. That men are her friends until they are not. Was I about to land on the enemies list?
“I don’t have turnaround,” Hotsy Moxie said as she clicked back in.
“I find that hard to believe –“
“I just asked him,” she yelled. “He says I don’t have the fucking turnaround.”
“Is he a decent lawyer?” I asked.
“The best,” she said, dropping the name of a heavyweight Hollywood biz attorney.
“And he says you don’t have turnaround?”
“I don’t have turnaround.”
“Oh…” is all I could think to say.
I was sincerely and suddenly gobsmacked. I wanted to tell Hotsy Moxie that her lawyer had poorly repped her, probably having had some underling punch out some basic, boilerplate deal with her name on it. One which didn’t include her right to produce the film if it ever went into turnaround.
What followed were volleys of emails. My end was me trying to inject some calm into what was fast becoming a cauldron of hell-hath-no-fury like Hotsy Moxie denied.
In the end, that “interested studio” found it impossible to make a deal, claiming too many unforeseen costs in the turnaround.
“What unforeseen costs?” I complained to Mr. Reserve. “There’s my fee. Whatever rights fee you paid (Hotsy Moxie). Plus interest.”
“All smoke,” he surmised. “She didn’t get turnaround so I’m sure she’s found a way to kick up dust.” She was, after all, connected to a great deal of movers and shakers, including one who owned the parent company of the interested studio.
“So give her turnaround,” I suggested.
“At this point?” he groused. “I doubt very much there’s a deal of any kind to be made. But I’ll keep trying,” he thinly promised.
As for where I fell on Hotsy Moxie’s list of betraying men, I wasn’t sure. I did receive a congratulatory phone call from her on the birth of my second child. My daughter. She sounded drunk and was quite inappropriate in her happy tidings. I said thanks and hung up.
Haven’t heard from the Hotsy Moxie since. Which I believe answers the question as to which of her two columns I’d landed in.
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