A wannabe filmmaker finds an unconventional way to get his horror script made. 3,216 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“You understand what I want you to do?”
“Yeah,” I said. It was easy to say it. Flowed off the tongue. I wasn’t even worried. What was that line from that Hannibal film, the one with the lambs? His pulse never got above a certain number, he was so relaxed? That’s how I felt. Relaxed.
“And you finance my film.”
“And I get gross participation, backend, off-the-top. The works.”
“The works,” he agreed.
I didn’t smile. But I should have. You don’t smile, though, when you make a Breaking Bad deal like that. I don’t mean a deal with AMC; I mean, a deal that will put you on the other side. For good. I was about to become a Walter White. And I was only in my early 20s.
Got to start sometime in Hollywood.
Too bad I had to go this route. I come from a wealthy family but, unfortunately, I can’t score the money I need. I want to make a fucking honest-to-goodness film, and I’m not doing that iPhone/Canon EOS baloney. I want real cameras, real cinematographers, real thespians. The works. I can’t finagle anything out of my trust fund. I don’t want to borrow. I would if I could, but I can’t. So this was the only way.
And it all had to do with a tech company’s dividend policy.
Remember how Steve Jobs never wanted to pay dividends, but now Apple pays dividends under Tim Cook? Jobs was a piece all right. What was that line in HBO’s Silicon Valley, the one about Jobs being a poseur because he couldn’t write code? He was a great style guy, sure, whatever, but he didn’t know assembly language. (I don’t know it either, so I don’t hold it against him.) C’mon though, after a certain point, Apple was becoming just another bank — except it was just another bank that didn’t do any of the normal value-generating things that banks do, so it wasn’t really a good bank. Not shareholder friendly, as they say.
Many people wanted dividends from Apple, but Jobs would never do it. Had to save up for that rainy-day acquisition, or that rainy-day lawsuit. What does it matter if there’s a hundred billion on the balance sheet earning a low rate of return? Keep it, just in case. Wall Street must have been happy when his body’s operating system finally crashed for good. Especially the income funds.
Another tech business currently taking a page from Jobs-run Apple with a no-dividend policy is led by CEO Ram Fox, a multibillionaire venture capitalist who has seen more unicorns in his life than any major character from some stupid fantasy book. (I can’t even come up with an example because, seriously, who reads that Harry Potter/Game Of Thrones overrated garbage?) And who, like Jobs, has successfully convinced the world that he knows everything about computers and programming and math, when in reality he only knows how to con people that he knows about that stuff to get what he wants, which is the best from the talented people around him, after which he will screw them like the members of Motley Crue screw their groupies.
It’s like when Ashton Kutcher and Seth Green and Justin Beiber suddenly feel they can evaluate tech investments just because they lucked out in an industry that is of limited value to the world. (C’mon, you’re not telling me that creating pop culture for the masses is more important than curing disease, correct?) When they aren’t intellectually capable of allocating capital in a manner that is both efficient and reflective of a discerning species of insight. Not at all.
Ram Fox, like any of the overpaid clowns out there, made one lucky bet years ago and now he simply can go on making bet after bet after bet until he strikes gold again. Guys like him do it all the time but people forget there’s nothing special about them.
What does matter is he owns a company – its name doesn’t matter — that has to do with big data and its applications for medical research, retail demand predictive services and, of course my favorite, Hollywood business plans as they relate to movies and other content. It’s publicly traded and he’s the major shareholder and its stock doesn’t have a yield — even though the company has about seven-and-a-half-billion on the balance sheet with zero debt and, like Apple, sees free cash grow and flow like lava from an erupting volcano the size of North America quarter after quarter after quarter. C’mon, share the spoils. Don’t be so OCD about it.
But Ram Fox doesn’t appear to be doing the honorable thing by coming down with a disease and dying, so I’ve been hired to do the next best thing: kill the fucker.
I suppose you’re wondering what makes someone like me want to commit murder, right? I come from a wealthy family, as I just mentioned, so why not just live in comfort and try to break into Hollywood in a legitimate fashion? Yeah, I should work hard, all of that. Here’s the thing: I want it now. My family is not connected to the industry. It’s old Maine textile mill money handed down, whatever, I have no idea. If my parents won’t give me what I need to make a movie – and I have a great idea for one, which I’ll tell you about shortly – then I have to get it any way I can.
I’ve written tons of specs, both movies and showcase teleplays of existing series. I’ve tried all the manager/agent/prodco addresses. I’ve proverbially banged on all the proverbial doors. I used the open-submission policy over at Amazon Studios. (Fuck Roy Price, he wouldn’t know a four-quadrant blockbuster if it was a slug-monster hiding in his pool that bit him in his junk the moment he hit the water after executing a snobbish perfect-10 dive from his elite gilded board situated at the indented side of the kidney.) I’ve entered the Nicholls and all the other rip-off contests. I’ve paid to pitch disinterested parties at umpteen stupid sites. I’ve made shorts and placed them on YouTube. And lastly I did that absolutely ridiculous thing called The Black List — host your script, get reviews, yadda – and guess what? I never scored higher than a 2. (And I’m sorry but my material is pretty good; not perfect, but pretty good, as in close to awesome.) No one ever contacted me, and as far as I can tell, the site is using the cash from the reviews and hosting fees to fund all those live table-reading events. Eventually, I imagine it’ll start to make its own movies and TV shows off the backs of suckers. Yes, suckers. Like me who’ve parted with so much cash for reviews and feedback. And don’t even get me started on UCLA film school and Emerson screenwriting courses and all of that. Well, no more. No more sucker am I.
So there’s your fucking answer.
Here’s the plan. Simple. Elegant.
My girlfriend Sam is hot. Seriously. She has a thin-as-hell body, a heart-shaped rear and a pair of breasts that should be reduced but she knows better. She isn’t that Ariel Winter girl from that very funny (I have to say) single-camera show on the Alphabet net. Sam’s breasts are actually bigger than what Winter used to have; we’re talking two enormous MOABs here, a couple of 2 = 5 Bountys – wait, did I say 2 = 5, more like 2 = 50! Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that her body – as well as her face, by the way – is hot. Way beyond Kate Upton, if that is even possible (which it is). Sam is going to be the bait.
She’s going to pick up this guy and get him to go to a secluded little Italian-villa mansion her family owns in the Hollywood Hills. (Yeah, her family wouldn’t give me any money, either. They hate me. Well, after reading this, you’ll probably find that understandable.)
We’ve done the research – his schedule, where he hangs out, how many people he travels with, everything. In fact, on that middle point, he usually goes alone to this one out-of-the-way club in Studio City to pick up girls. Young girls. Sam fits the bill, as she is a sophomore in college. He’s going to love her. He’s going to regret her not long after.
I won’t bore you with the details regarding this part but suffice it to say that she went to the club. Enthralled him. Brought him back to the lair. He was intoxicated with something she slipped in his drink; Bill Cosby couldn’t have done it better. Before you knew it, he was handcuffed and legcuffed to the bed. He thought she was going to start rubbing those flesh planets all over his quivering body, but that wasn’t in the cards.
That’s where I came in. To get some conversation out of the way.
“What the fuck is going on?” he whined.
“Ram, here’s the deal,” I said. “You’re going to die tonight.”
He looked over at the now-dressed Sam. He couldn’t believe it. It was wild. “No, no, no…” He yipped a thousand times over.
“Here’s the why. I need money. You’re too fucking stingy to pay some dividends on that company of yours, the Data-Schmata-whatever. Someone wants you out of the way so a nice fancy dividend policy can be established. People feel it should be so, dude.”
“Look, you don’t have to do this…”.
And there it was, the cliché of the desperate and kidnapped. You don’t have to do this. Hilarious, am I right? Anton Chigurh knows what I’m talking about.
“I want to make a movie. This is the only way, man. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, if it’s a movie you want, I can do it, I have connections. Where do you want to place it? Lionsgate? Warner Bros.?”
“Well, Lionsgate maybe. It’s a horror film. Low budget.”
“Hold on. If it’s low-budget horror you’re into, what about Blumhouse?”
Jason Blum. I gotta hand it to Ram Fox, he stopped me with the namedrop. Wouldn’t mind working with that guy. He has a pretty good business model over at his shingle. Five million dollar budgets, maybe less, then everyone gets paid afterward with participation. Blum has done some cool films. Unfriended. The Purge series. Dark Skies (hope you remember that one, it was too cool for what it did at the box office). The Paranormal Activity shit – I appreciated the ingenuity, but after a while… you know? The Lords Of Salem, the Insidious stuff. Yeah, Ram Fox stopped me with Blum.
But I just kept going.
“I’m sorry, dude. It’s not personal, as they say.”
“Listen, I can get you $250,000 against $2.5 in a heartbeat…”.
“$2.5 million, yes!”
I laughed. “The movie business just isn’t that easy, friend. Look, you fell for the siren, there’s nothing you can do about it now. You’re like a fly that landed in the spider’s web. Speaking of which…”.
Sam had been standing nearby, akimbo, so sexy as she took it all in. She walked away. Came back. Holding a rectangular plastic container.
The spider was in there.
Theraphosa blondi. The Goliath bird-eating spider. Absolutely frickin’ huge. I’m not sure its leg span would reach all the way around one of Sam’s bodacious areolae, but it would wrap around the average human face quite easily; at least, this particular specimen’s would.
Ram Fox – again, what a great name, I’m using that in my next screenplay; actually, that probably wouldn’t be such a good idea – went absolutely apoplectic. Crazy. I thought he would break free of the steel cuffs, but of course he didn’t. How could he, right? This guy was about to find out what real terror meant. He thought he already knew just looking at that thing – and if you don’t have in your mind exactly how much of a horror this spider is, feel free to Google/YouTube it and you’ll fall into a bonafide rabbit hole full of hideous images and seeds for nightmares.
And I should point out that Sam wasn’t exactly wet over handling this creature. Me? Well, this was all for my movie, so I was pretty much okay with it. Any subconscious damage I’d suffer later, hell, I’ll deal with it thanks to my Tinseltown therapist when I become a rich and famous Spielberg/Abrams/Scott/Bay type.
But, believe me, Ram Fox wouldn’t know what terror meant until I dropped the spider on him. Then he’d know. Without a doubt.
“Want to hear a pitch?”
Ram somehow said yes through hysterical streams of non-intelligent gibberish. Good for him!
“Put it down over there, Sam. Not too close to him yet. Let’s give him a breather.”
She was glad not to be holding that plastic container any longer. She was creeped-out. I pulled up a chair in the tony bedroom – Sam’s family had style – and sat next to the captive.
“Mygalomorph is the title. I wrote this as a 42-page short years ago. It’s about a femme fatale who gets revenge on her cheating boyfriend by exploiting his arachnophobia. She leads him to a secluded cabin and, pretending she wants to have some kinky sex, cuffs his arms and legs to the bedposts. She then shows him a video that proves his cheating ways, and then the footage abruptly cuts to a nature documentary about Goliath spiders, binomial name Theraphosa blondi. The T. blondi is placed in a shoebox and placed on a desk, with its lid half-on/half-off. Or is it? You see, the guy’s bitch of a mate injects some drug cocktail into him on the premise that it will heighten his fear. He starts to possibly have delusions. He sees all kinds of spiders. But he also sees a Goliath species crawling around the room. Is it real? Maybe she put more than one kind of spider in the bedroom with him. Who knows. What do you think of that?”
Ram Fox was barely able to croak the word cool. The perspiration poured off his forehead and pooled around his lips; just saying that one brief syllable sent a fine spray of salty excretions into the air around his frantically flushed face.
“I think it’s cool, too,” I said agreeably. “In fact, I even wrote a full screenplay based on the premise. Had to add more plot elements to stretch it out to feature length, which was a pain in the ass, let me tell you. I really like the shorter version; it’s more taut, and the concept seems to work best that way. But you need a certain amount of pages to be considered for an option, let alone a greenlight. So I was able to expand the page count to 94, believe it or not. A previous attempt was a little shorter, I think, by about two pages. That one I submitted to Amazon, but nothing came of it. The 45-day free – free! – option came and went. I think the company doesn’t lock you in on an option anymore, but I’m not sure. Anyway, I placed the script on The Black List, hoping I’d get 10s across the board from the paid reviews and then be featured in their email. My script received terrible scores. But you know what?”
Ram just stared at me. Hey, what else could he do, right?
“I’m going to film this. I’m not going to show your face – we’ll put a bag over your head – and I don’t care if you scream your name. We can take it out, obviously. No one will know it’s a snuff piece. I’ll use this as a demo to get the film made. Maybe I can even tantalize people into donating money to make the project myself. Crowdfunding. What a fucking ugly word, but everyone’s doing it nowadays, so…”
Crowdfunding my way to glory. Why didn’t I think of that till just now? See, this whole operation is sparking all sorts of creative ideas. I swear, it’s helping me storyboard the movie in my fucking head.
Well, now, Ram seems to have found his voice. It’s hoarse, high-pitched, pretty damn scared, but still found. “I was thinking of getting into the movie business myself. Seriously. I’ll pay you more than whoever is paying you now. You don’t have to do this –“
“—I have access to tons of private equity capital, enough to make Thomas Tull green with envy. I’ll give you whatever deal you want. What is this guy paying you?”
I was friggin’ intrigued at this point, enough to spite myself.
“Again,” I began, “my film is getting the funding it needs, and I’m getting the works in terms of the deal structure.”
“I bet I can get it on Netflix. Fuck Amazon Prime!”
I laughed at that. I give him credit: that was a good one.
“I’m serious! And I’ll do a Smith-Landis deal with you like Netflix did – all the risk can go over to my side of the ledger. I’ll pay you upfront for what you would have gotten down the line. No waiting for check.”
“Why should I even start a new dividend policy for that asshole associate of yours? I can use that to pay you and make your movie!”
I looked at Sam. She looked at me. Should I?
Here’s the denouement.
I actually ended up letting that guy live. Crazy, right? But we had talked a bit, and I became convinced he was on the level. Not long after, we began development of the movie, and then the actual start date came and financing came through on his end, thanks to a continuation of the no-dividend policy.
Seriously, Mygalomorph is a kick-ass film. Not the type to spawn a franchise, but I have ideas for one in the vein of The Conjuring. Yeah, I love that low-budget horror shit. And when the next one does come out – Ram has gotten me in front of a lot of juiced-up studio suits, so there’s a lot of buzz equity out there for the project – it’ll be a theatrical release for sure. Mygalomorph eventually went the streaming route, landing at Hulu. Not bad, but I would’ve loved a hybrid VOD release at the very least. Hey, gotta start somewhere. Can’t have The Works all at once.
You know who did get The Works? That guy at the beginning, the one who hired me to get rid of Ram Fox via spider. Ram knew who the guy was – a dick activist shareholder type, although not in the league of Icahn – and wanted to do a little payback on him. So, yeah, we did. Sam did her thing again, and, well, here he is, in the bed, cuffed at the wrists and ankles. He thought he was going to get some sex with a very buxom beauty. But ,instead, he’ll be hanging out with an eight-legged bitch – yeah, it’s female – until he can’t take it anymore.
What do you have to say, man? Oh, come on, no need to scream so loud. You’re going to blow my ears out.