My “Hollywood pitch voice” was sort of my lawyer voice on speed.
Hollywood producers also have attention
deficit disorder, so I rarely used big words, repeated key points over and over
again and never talked for more than five minutes straight. I just talked much
faster and never mentioned anything remotely negative. Again, the ultimate goal was often getting to
an agreement, but this time I wanted it to be a “pay or play” as opposed to a
lawyer’s “pay or plea.”
This meeting was at a producer’s home on the west side. As I pulled into this meeting, I was happy enough to find parking on the street near the three story modern-looking apartment complex. Inside, the home was a collection of artsy artifacts and the Producer reminded me a bit of my own mother. She had a nice quality about her in the way that she offered me tea and cookies that would remind anybody of their mother, or perhaps the mother they never had. I swore I could smell last night’s apple pie in the air.
The home was immaculate, yet all the other doors were closed. If it had been my home, all the dirty laundry would have lurked behind one of those doors, but I figured that all the rooms were probably just as clean as the living room. She seemed that kind of a mom.
The pleasantries over, we started off on a good note. The producer informed me that her assistant had read my legal thriller script and she wanted to hear about all of my other potential projects.
I talked about my various experiences as a lawyer and how I wrote about “law and life.”
“So you really were a lawyer, then?” She asked. "So do you have any true crime stories?"
“I guess so.”
It was time to switch from a curve to a change-up. “As a matter of fact, I based most scripts on my real experiences. For instance when I used to represent juvenile delinquents on murder charges . . .”
She stopped me in mid-sentence. “Then you should talk to my son.” She paused for a moment. “Not about scripts, but about law.”
Before I could regain my balance, she hurried over to one of the closed doors and produced her son. Perhaps she did have dirty laundry after all. On first glance, he was hardly my vision of a juvenile delinquent, but was indeed on probation for various minor charges. Yet the charges were getting progressively worse, and his six months of probation kept getting extended until it now stretched for two years. Some of his friends had been busted on weapons charges, so his mother was justifiably alarmed.
He sat down and was surprisingly polite. He reminded of the nice kid that I represented on the trespassing at school charge, who had graduated to murder.
I told the boy my standard stories about staying out of trouble, yet I somehow managed to make them seem both “commercial and edgy.” It was weird, but I was seemed to be talking to the son, yet pitching to the mother.
After about twenty minutes of cautionary tales about the juvenile justice system, she stopped the meeting to take her son to therapy, and told me to meet her to continue the meeting. We played the second half of our double-header in a coffee shop as we waited for her son to “talk through his issues” and get his court-ordered urine test. The mother was tense, but she still seemed eager to hear my ideas -- both legal and literary. One moment we were talking about “setting something up at Showtime,” and then the next we were talking about “alternative sentencing” for her son.
After an hour or two, the boy came back from therapy and apparently had filled the specimen jar with no ill effects. As his mother got up to buy him a Carmel Frappuccino for his troubles, I talked with him some more. Now I was totally in lawyer mode, yet he seemed to want to hear the funny story I had about the criminal who . . .
I thought about Samuel Goldwyn's famous quote about “if you want to send a message, use Western Union.” The fact that the boy was even opening up to someone at all was a good first step. I then told him about the time I met a female killer with my zipper down. He laughed.
His mother returned. It was getting late, so we called the meeting on account of darkness and they went on their way and I went on mine. I felt confident that the boy would be all right, after perhaps a few more detours outside his mother's friendly confines.
I may not have sold a script, but perhaps I had saved a life.