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Marlett & Me: Cuff Links, Handcuffs, Swords & Sausages

Marlett & Me: Cuff Links, Handcuffs, Swords & Sausages

Articles - Moviemaking

As sure as passions blossom each spring, so do the passionate hopes of selling your film or getting an actor attachment. Such passionate hopes, longings, despairs and frustrations are felt in the private vestiges of every indie moviemaker. But our inflamed dreams for our projects are valued not so much on what we hope for, but how we conduct ourselves in their pursuit.

To illustrate: Let’s say you were to send me cuff links. Okay, great. A professional gesture. (I like silver and very unique.) But change it a little and bring me handcuffs? Well, you’d better be female, good lookin’ and holding the key in your teeth. This takes me to the subtle differences in the nature of the acts we go through to either finance our films or add a critical actor. On one side of an invisible line these acts can appear desperate and inappropriate; received as silly at best and call for a restraining order at worst. Yet with the slightest change in person or circumstance, similar gestures can be well-received and ultimately critical to our success.

So what’s the difference? Therein lies the thing for which you must develop an ear, no less than your ear for dialogue, staging or tone. If you’re like most indies, there will come a point where you find yourself interminably riding the funding-attachment-funding-attachment carousel of indie hell. (The centrifugal force is designed to throw you completely clear of Southern California.) And on that catch-22 roundabout, the temptation to reach for the desperate act is sometimes powerful. Beware, young Luke: It is easy to go too far.

I speak from experience. Several years ago I had finished my first novel, Fortunate Son, a sweeping adventure based on the true story of a young Irishman who, after escaping from servitude in America in 1743, brought about one of the most famous civil trials in British history. It screamed miniseries (and still does HBO, Showtime), but I had zero connections, a no-good agent and no idea of how to proceed. So I learned.

On my own I got it optioned into the catatonic state known as “development.” Not satisfied, I set out to get attachments and funding. Being a theater actor and director, I am comfortable with actors, but at that time I didn’t know how to get access to the bigger ones. So, as we all do, I made a list of my top choices. The top name for this indelibly Irish and American story? Aidan Quinn.

I knew throwing the unfunded manuscript over his agent’s transom would render it DOA, so how could I be sure it would actually get into Aidan’s hands? Hmmm… A gift. One that would be substantial enough to get delivered to him directly, not stuck in an inbox. And not through the agent. No, I’ll mail it to the set, wherever he is. Pretty good.

But what gift? Well, the story involves a good number of sword fights, so how about a replica sword from the period? Good. I ordered the sword, stuffed in the manuscript and shipped the long box to the set of Practical Magic. Luckily there was a kind PA who got it to Aidan. Even more luckily, Aidan didn’t take it as some bizarro gesture, but instead picked up the phone and called me. He then read the manuscript, professed to like it and a couple of days later invited me to meet with him. I flew to Friday Harbor and spent a few days on the set, watching orcas, shooting pool with Aidan and throwing back drinks with Sandra Bullock.

Though my encouragement is that you think “outside the box” and be creative, this is also a cautionary tale…

Not being sure the sword was enough, I also had Aidan’s favorite Irish sausages shipped to him in Washington from the Dublin supplier, a week-long journey, side-stepping customs. (Don’t ask.) Turned out they were raw and not well chilled. Aidan was the consummate gentleman, saying quietly that he had given them to the chef of the hotel’s restaurant. The subject changed. I sure hope they were tossed to the stray dogs of Friday Harbor. I could easily have shut down production on a $60 million film, all due to zealotry for my own project.

I look back on that experience with a bit of embarrassment, and yet also with a smile. Primarily it is a story of how generous some actors can be. But it’s also meant to encourage you to not sit on your hands and hope that one agent will read your script and recommend it to his or her star client. Get creative and find a way to show your desires and demonstrate why the target of your attention is specifically right for you and your film. But there is a very fine line between cuff links and handcuffs; between a passionate gesture which may be well-received and one which could permanently sour your reputation in the fields of love or moviemaking. MM

For more info, including the story of my recent ballsy gift to ICM, check out my weekly blog on MovieMaker.com. By the way, Fortunate Son was sidelined in favor of years of other projects. Now perhaps the time has come to actually do it. Aidan? How about some farm fresh Irish eggs?

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