So, here’s what happened.

In mid-February of 2004 I flew back to NY with Scarlett Johansson’s commitment to do the film and several of her ideas about developing K’harma’s character. Two things were now happening at once; I was in the process of incorporating her ideas into the script and I was utilizing her involvement to spur financing for the film.

RULE # 14: Life is what happens when all you want to do is close your door and write a scene.

This is particularly true for the film business. Everything is in such a state of flux. An actor falls out. Another one falls in. You rewrite. You lose the money. You get the money. It snows in June. You rewrite. You adapt. This adapting is an inseparable part of screenwriting.

The writing was easy and enjoyable. I wrote a scene where K’harma and Toby end up drunk in a jacuzzi and she reveals the truth about how much her boyfriend’s rejection hurt her. It was exciting to glimpse some hidden truth behind her pop diva facade.

INT. K'HARMA'S HOTEL ROOM, JACUZZI -- NIGHT
Toby gently mimes taking K'harma's picture.
 
TOBY
I wish I had a camera right now.
 
K'HARMA
Don't.  I hate people taking my picture.
 
TOBY
Sorry.
 
K'HARMA
It's OK.  You probably don't understand, being homeless.
The worst are the paparazzi.  They just don't leave you alone;
even when you're going through something really, really painful.
(crying) He broke my heart.
 
TOBY
Jace?
 
K'HARMA
He said my eyes were too far apart.
 
TOBY
That's stupid. They're not. Everybody's different;
that's what makes people beautiful.
 
K'HARMA
Do you think I'm beautiful?
 
TOBY
You're kidding, right?  You're only the most
beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life.
 
K'harma gazes at Toby for a long moment.  His honesty deeply moves her.
She leans forward and kisses him gently on the lips.
 

I incorporated most of Scarlett’s suggestions; not to placate her but because I truly believed they helped illuminate K’harma in a way I hadn’t seen before. The proof of this, to give away the surprise ending of this tale, is that all of her notes remained in the script even after she fell out and Alison Lohman replaced her.

The tale, like most in this business, is tired and tedious. I hooked up with a British company that committed to raise 5 million dollars to make the film based on my cast of Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, and Scarlett Johansson. Two years later they still hadn’t raised the money and it was clear they never would. My option with them was 8 months expired so I thanked them for their efforts and made plans to move on. And like all respectable film companies they immediately sued me.

It took several months to detangle myself from this mess. I ultimately did so with the help of Gestation, the company that ended up financing the film. What made Gestation step forward however was a gigantic decision I made about the script. At this point I’d spent over 4 years trying to raise the money and all I ended up doing was going around in circles. It became very clear to me that I was never going to make this movie for 5 million dollars. If it was ever going to be made I needed to cut the budget by at least 2 million. And the only way to cut that much out of a low-budget film is to cut the script.

Every day of shooting costs money. To reduce shooting days you need to cut pages out of the script. I wasn’t happy about this. In fact, I fought it for months. I loved the script just the way it was. I was tremendously excited about having 5 million dollars to help visually embellish the film; especially to help dramatize the difference between Les’ grimy underworld and K’harma’s glittering world of celebrity. I had never wanted Delirious to look tiny, cheap and cramped.

But I also didn’t want to spend another 5 years trying to raise the money. So, one day I took a deep breath and plunged in. The hardest part was letting go of the anger. Once I did it was thrilling. In 3 weeks I cut a 117-page script down to 95 pages. And as a result I ended up with the sharpest and clearest draft of the script I’d written. The need for economical definition instantly identified anything that was vague or purposeless and shocked the script into its most concentrated form.

RULE # 15: The idiotic Kill Your Babies line.

You’ve all heard this before. It means getting rid of all your precious “best thing you’ve ever written” scenes. I’ve never liked this analogy though. It should be reserved for the horrific, pathetic psychopaths like the woman who actually did drown 4 of her kids in the bathtub.

What this really means (without the threat of infanticide) is cutting and excising anything that doesn’t serve to bring the script to life. It goes back to what I said about beginning the 2nd Draft. Identify the essence of your script and actively shape everything towards it.

This is the way I approached this final draft. If a scene didn’t propel the film forward I took it out. If it meant rewriting whole passages I did. I rewrote the entire beginning of the film, which prompted a delicious discovery; an Opening Montage that showed Toby drifting through NYC, sleeping on the subway, begging for change in Times Square-all the details of his homelessness. This montage became a mini movie, 3 ½ minutes long, with its own beginning, middle and end.

Once I was done the script was re-budgeted. It came in at just over 3 million dollars based upon a 25 day shooting schedule. In August of 2005 Gestation made the decision to finance the entire film. At this stage the script was locked. It had taken me over 3 years and at least 6 drafts but I was now confident the script was done. I was ready to make the film.

And it was right then that we lost Scarlett Johansson. In those 3 years she had gone from a young, gifted actress to a super Star and now we could no longer afford her.  As disappointed as I was I’d learned early on there is only one word of consolation in times like this; NEXT.

I suggest you memorize it.

I had been hugely impressed with Alison Lohman in Matchstick Men. I convinced Gestation to make her on offer. Alison said yes. I flew out to LA to meet her. She was utterly charming and bracingly clear in her thoughts about K’harma. One vital suggestion she had was to have K’harma in the middle of a lawsuit from her own parents.

Once again I flew home with an actress committed and with exciting ideas to work into the script. The big difference this time though was that I had the money. Three months later, in November of 2005, Delirious started shooting in New York City.

Oh, by the way, did I tell you about my friend Jimmy?

Posted by:Tom

4 thoughts on “ 34. Writer’s Blogck 4; End Of Story ”

  1. What odyssey! Tom, but I don’t understand what happened exactly with Scarlett Johansson. She couldn’t wait for you or what? She was under an obligation to someone? I don’t understand her. If I had a movie project with Tom DiCillo I would hope until the end.
    Well, luck that Alison Lohman is brilliant. In Matchstick Men she was great. And always she looks younger, ok, is young because she is 28 years old but anyway I would say that she is about 22 years old

  2. Hello Victor,
    This is the closest I know what happened with Scarlett. She originally really wanted to do the film. But in the 3 years it took me to get the money she became a Star. Now what this means is that this affects the way she is seen throughout the film business. It is a step “forward” that everyone around her (her mother, her agents, her manager, her publicist, her nutritionist) had all been praying for. Once an actor makes that move “forward” it is absolutely forbidden to move “backward”. In English we use the word “status”. The entertainment business is almost solely about status. It is about the fight to get it, and more importantly the fight to keep it.

    Scarlett’s people determined that with her new status, doing Delirious with me was a step backwards. And therefore, a step to be avoided at all costs.

    Alison came in and plunged headfirst into the part. She did all her own singing and dancing. She loved the part and the film. This kind of enthusiasm from an actor is ultimately (to me) much more valuable.

    And Victor, if it is odyssey you are interested in–just you wait.

    very best,
    Tom

  3. It’s been a week or two since I said this, Tom, but I’m enjoying these blog posts immensely. And your screenwriting advice (which is about so much more than just the script) is priceless. I hope that these writings, or some version of them, find their way into a book that also includes the DELIRIOUS screenplay. It would be a fine follow-up to your LIVING IN OBLIVION and BOX OF MOONLIGHT books.

  4. Hey Kevin,
    Always a pleasure to hear from you. I am sincerely glad these musings are of interest to you. Man, they are sure helping me right now.

    I think I will leave the screenplay now and commence where the last blog left off and start the march through the jungle of pre-production and shooting.

    I’ll sniff around and see if I know any publishers.
    best,
    Tom

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