Lorenzo Semple Jr.,

Lorenzo Semple Jr.,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Nov. 26 1997 3:30 AM

Lorenzo Semple Jr.,

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       Noon. Looked back on what I scribbled in this space yesterday, realize there may have been some indiscretions. (No, I will not disclose what those were.) Tant pis. I confess that I have never been discreet. I take my cue from that boss of the British MI-5 (or -6, or one of those spook agencies) who famously declared, "Any confidence is absolutely safe with me--as long as it has no entertainment value."
       A big day. That's to say, an overdue rewrite was picked up here at 8 a.m. by a gofer and conveyed to a producer. Normally that would call for some serious exhilaration, but not today. Because I know that the script is flawed. Flawed? Actually it's the kind of script about which the fabulous producer I mentioned yesterday was wont to exclaim in his brutally Russian accent, "Loranzo, my God, thees pages are catastrophically cancerous!"
       In situations like this, and I've been in plenty, there are two hypotheticals the movie writer must immediately consider: 1) Maybe he's lost his perspective and in fact this script is sensational. 2) This script is not in any way sensational but maybe it'll fool them. Alas, alack. In this instance, the answers to both are a thundering No Way! How in hell did this happen? Dear Diary: Despite the jaunty pose I've affected here, it dawns on me that I am actually deeply upset at my inability to lick this script, as the producer in question is the one above all others whom I long to please. Why? Because he's the world's greatest human being? Not necessarily. Probably because he's the one who led me into temptation long ago with tickets on the Concorde and virtually ruined my career, and lately resurfaced with this irresistible rewrite gig to complete the job. No one should be surprised. Perversity, thy name is Movie Writer!
       All manner of things are resurfacing now that I'm back in L.A. (at least for a while). My former agent dropped in an hour ago and left a brief story idea from the fertile brain of an old partner of mine in writecrime. It proposes a new flick based on H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, a version much advanced from the old ones I seem to recall, where some Ronald Colman type wandered around in a tasseled robe but with no head. In Larry's take there would be not one but millions of invisible men, a veritable army of the devilish critters. "The crux of our film is the invasion of the government by these invisible men. A 24-hour takeover of the military and executive branches. Imagine the United States of America under assault by invisible men." And don't think the idea is just some dry political satire. "The scene where [the villain] finally does corner her and she finds herself forced to make love to an invisible man is one of the most striking sequences ever depicted on a movie screen. A love scene with an invisible man." Hmmn. I make a note to call Larry tomorrow and kick this around a bit.
       Don't sneer too quick. Since our ill-starred joint venture, Larry has had the kind of career that the wannabes who hang around the Angelika and other art houses would kill for. He's made a ton of dough as a writer and low-budget auteur, learned dissertations have been written on his horror films, highbrow festivals have featured his work.
       It's 6 p.m. now, almost out of this day home free. No threatening phone calls. Have written a couple of pages. Successfully changed toner cartridge in a new laser printer I've already lost the manual to. Former agent coming around to eat chili and watch a bit of football on the tube. If the Broncos win by less than nine points my wife will come out even on the bets she phoned in yesterday to her Aspen bookie.
       Later. The Broncos won by 28 and I suddenly realize why I was unable to lick that script. The original I was given was hopelessly Hungarian. In the good old days, it's said, this tinseltown was alive with cafe wits from Buda and Pest who took the studios for a ride with terrific story beginnings that could never be satisfactorily resolved. It got so costly that in the end a sign was actually put up on the MGM Writers' Building: It's Not Enough To Be Hungarian--You Must Have a Second Act Too! Yes, Virginia, once upon a time writers did have buildings. Love scene with an invisible man. Hmmn. I wonder what percentage of that invisible army is gay? How does Don't Ask Don't Tell compute in this situation? Hey! Could this thing be a gazillion-$$$$ Men in Black-type comedy? Is it possible I've lost my perspective and the script is in fact sensational?

Lorenzo Semple Jr. is a screenwriter. He originated the TV version of Batman and since then has written, among other movies, Three Days of the Condor, Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong, and the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again.