Work is extra hectic this week. But I also have been thinking about old stories again and how nothing is ever wasted when you are a writer. Every little piece that you sit down and put on the screen (or in a notebook or on a scrap piece of paper) can potentially help you with the next story. It can help you develop your voice. Or in the case of the script below, be one of the first things that you actually finished that wasn’t a short story.
That’s a major milestone for a writer because there are so many reasons not to complete something. There’s life stuff which will interfere, but just as readily there is the Fear of putting your stuff out there in the world. Once you do that, others can now actually see what you’re doing. And while you may think that what you’re writing is alright, you just never know for sure.
I feel lucky that so many years ago I fell into a group that wanted to help each other. They created a space that allowed me to take the lead on something and see if I had it in me to finish it.
At some point, the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.
I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).
Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.
Of course, the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off-limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.
That story was roughly as follows:
Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)
He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)
He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).
And in the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.
Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?
And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”
Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still, I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.
It was 29 pages.
Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.
And I had 29.
No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting, I took the notes and compiled that final version.
We sent it off to the sister.
And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.
And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone-style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter, and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).
Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends, it slipped completely from our consciousness.
Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.
For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.
This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.
Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…
And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script. This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:
“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”
Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.
I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).
This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.
But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.
I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.
John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!
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