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First Draft: What’s It Like to See Your Script Produced By Hollywood? Here’s How This Screenwriter Made It Happen

First Draft: What’s It Like to See Your Script Produced By Hollywood? Here’s How This Screenwriter Made It Happen

First Draft

The Debut

“All it takes is a glitch in the system of our lives to expose our deepest fears. What happens then? The answer comes in shock waves when an unprecedented conspiracy pitches the West Coast into total darkness. After being charged with hacking into the Pentagon security system, computer-whiz Josh Martin is kidnapped during house arrest and delivered to a shadowy criminal known as Charles Keller. Requested to hack into the state’s highly advanced electrical system and shut it down, it’s clear what Keller wants—total chaos. When California goes dark, he gets what he wants. And tonight, no one will be prepared for what’s about to happen.

Agent Strickland of Homeland Security’s Cyber Terrorism Division fears the worst. So does Beth, a news director sticking dangerously close to the largest disaster the country has ever faced. City by city, the West Coast is blacking out as looting escalates and the worst impulses of man are unleashed. As bedlam reigns, an expert squadron must determine the conspiratorial source of the blackout while civilization fights to survive the night.

Featuring an ensemble cast that includes Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Eriq La Salle (ER), Emmy winner Anne Heche (Men in Trees), Emmy and Golden Globe winner James Brolin (Category 7), Billy Zane (Titanic), Sean Patrick Flanery (The Boondock Saints), Bruce Boxleitner (Tron:Legacy) and Haylie Duff (Napoleon Dynamite), Blackout is not just a miniseries event that strikes at our deepest and darkest fears—it’s a cautionary thriller for a paranoid age.”

That was the official synopsis and “one-sheet” that was sent to me as the miniseries started to hit the international markets. It never debuted in the United States on television. I would do various Google searches to check the foreign markets and discovered that it was a Top 20 show in many countries.

My producer finally managed to send me a DVD copy. I brought it back to my hometown with my wife and sons. Once the kids were asleep, we sat down to watch it with my parents, eagerly waiting to see my name in the opening credits and secretly fearing that it somehow would never appear.

But sure enough, there was my name, accompanied by the two additional writers—both of whom I have never met to this day. The first writer was the one who came up with the original story and wrote the initial draft, which was discarded after I made my own pitch for what I could do with the concept. The second writer was brought in for the production rewrite, creating a rewritten story line that was originally conceived as an inner city grandfather (James Earl Jones) and pawn shop owner standing up to and later evading vengeful looters during the blackouts in the Los Angeles area. The rewritten version had a white bar owner (James Brolin) with his white newscaster daughter and her cameraman witness a murder, and as a result were chased throughout the dark streets of Downtown Los Angeles—a revamped storyline that I had nothing to do with.

We watched the television in anticipation as the miniseries began. I couldn’t hold back my smile as a frog crept up my throat once I saw that onscreen credit.

It was no longer a fantasy. It was no longer just outside of my grasp. There was my dream come true.

It was interesting to see the different choices made, most of which were budget and production related.

Action scenes I had written were cut in half.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8GMzdkBG6c

One storyline was not mine at all. Certain dramatic moments were either discarded, cut out, or changed—with a few new characters and the absence of some. Exposition scenes were added to explain away some plot points of the story.

There were shining moments throughout the miniseries. Moments I had conjured. Some I had not. The many scenes that were mine still create that surreal feeling of finally seeing what was in my mind come to life before my eyes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nc21wwve1Fo

There were many moments of:

“Why did they change that?”

“Why did they add this storyline?”

“Why did they cut that storyline?”

“Why did they cast that guy?”

“Why is that character talking like that?”

Such is the life of a screenwriter. It’s amazing to see that script I worked so hard on come to life. It’s equally amazing to have been on set, meeting the cast and crew, and now seeing all of their hard work come to life.

The Reviews

While the miniseries didn’t debut on television as planned in the United States—it was supposed to show on the Sy-Fy Channel—it did manage to get distribution on iTunes and other streaming channels.

When it was first released, I felt the adrenaline rush of watching it rise up through the ranks in the iTunes TV Series Top 10 list. It quickly rose to the Number 2 position, beating out the likes of the first season of True Detective and Game of Thrones.

Having seen the miniseries, I didn’t understand the draw until it occurred to me that the power of a name cast, compelling logline, and cool poster image is more than enough to attract the masses.

I was on Cloud Nine for a couple of days—until I began to read the reviews.

They were harsh. Sure, there was the random four star rating, but overall it was pummeled. The miniseries then quickly disappeared from the Top 10 list.

What was more interesting was the fact that I agreed with most of what those reviewers were writing. While 80% of what I had written was in there, that additional 20% made a drastic difference in tone, atmosphere, pacing, and many other elements. It was familiar. It was the story and most of the characters that I had in mind. But it was different at the same time.

But as a screenwriter, you just have to own it and know that you’re blessed to have had anything produced in the first place. It’s a legacy that I am very proud of and thankful for, regardless of any reservations I have—or anyone else has—about the final product.

It’s my dream. It came true. Not many people can lay claim to such a blessing. I managed to accomplish what most screenwriters never will—seeing my screenplay produced by Hollywood with a name cast. And for that, I’m thankful. Onward to the next.

Note: Blackout finally made it’s North American DVD and Blu-Ray debut in 2017 as one part of the Doomsday: Three Catastrophic Mini-Series Collection. I purchased it on Amazon for $6—double the amount of residuals the Writers Guild secured for me in 2016, four years after the miniseries was released. Welcome to the life of a blue collar screenwriter.

 MM

This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraftScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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