A lot of people (working professionals, mostly) will tell you that it's a waste of time to work on a script that will never sell in this marketplace. Don't fall for it. That's a trick to keep the rising screenwriters from staying true to their unique voices and supplanting those already in power, who got there solely by kissing ass and knowing the right people. Or to put it a different way...
A real writer thinks for himself, at least until he's hired to write Iron Man 3D. Plus a script that can't be sold can still be useful in getting you work. Think of it as a calling card. In fact, one of my first specs was titled CALLING CARD.
This was around the time of Kill Bill and when the Tarantino rip-off trend was heading into its death throes. Tarantino had gotten attention by mixing ultra-violence with comedy and years later, every wannabe was still convinced that was their ticket to standing out from the crowd. Here's what you've got to understand about Tarantino - he looked at what hadn't been done (by known American filmmakers) and did it. He didn't copy something that was already hot (in America).
Pulp Fiction worked because there's so much in there no one saw coming. I'd never laughed so hard as I did at the joke where Travolta accidentally fires his gun and blows off Marvin's head in the backseat of the car. And then the whole clean-up is a blast for just how funny it is for being so wrong. In 1992, if you'd described that joke to someone, they'd have thought you were a sick racist bastard, but by having the guts to put it on screen, Quentin became a comedy god.
You can go back further to The Producers. Back then nobody played Hitler and the Nazis for laughs (Hogan's Heroes doesn't count. It wasn't funny.) Mel Brooks thumbed his nose at "good taste" and crafted an entire musical number called "Springtime for Hitler," complete with goose-stepping chorus girls. It was so groundbreaking that it opened the door for all manner of holocaust jokes. Finally, someone made genocide funny!
South Park has built an empire by pushing the envelope similarly. You might even be able to lump the Farrelly Brothers in there somewhere. If someone told you in 1997 that a mainstream movie would get one of its biggest laughs from semen in the lead actress's hair, you'd have thought they were nuts. If the directors said, "And we're gonna start the movie with the lead character getting his nut and his dick stuck in a zipper, and the money shot of that is going to be the biggest laugh of the film," you'd have pegged these guys as tasteless psychos.
And yet, we laugh.
A taboo is just a joke that nobody's had the guts to tell yet.
So in writing CALLING CARD, I didn't want to regurgitate what had already been done. I wanted to take something that no one else would have the balls to touch and make it mainstream. I sat down, made a list of everything that might be considered "in bad taste" and set to work on making those things funny. The more offensive, the better, because that meant no one else would beat me to the punch.
I'd never written a script so fast. The first sixty pages poured out of me in a week. The basic thrust of the story is that a disgraced cop named MacKenzie goes rogue and tries to get his revenge on a drug cartel that murdered his family. This cartel is lead by a sexy, deadly woman named Eve, a woman who's inherited leadership from her senile father and now is making bold moves into other gang's territory.
Eve's a twisted sister, alright. In the opening scene, we see her coolly execute Mac's family as revenge. Mac sent her father up the river years ago and her mother took her own life, unable to live with the shame. This pretty much put Eve on the path to being a remorseless, psychotic bitch. For the first half of the story, she's pretty much in charge. Her father's cartel has to do what she says, and no one wants to chance staging a coup while her father is still alive. She knows nothing about running the cartel, but when she says "Jump" they have to ask "How high?"
She aims to move in on other territories, and not only executes rival gangs, but takes things further, getting extra brutal. She cuts off the dick of a high-placed man in a rival operation after he tries to get fresh with her. She deals with a Japanese gang by not just killing some of them, but shaming the lieutenants. Once she has them at her mercy, she strips them naked, then dopes them with LSD and mushrooms so they'll make fools of themselves. Knowing how highly the Japanese value pride and dignity, she videotapes this humiliating display and makes it available all over the internet.
Now you're probably saying, "Eh, that doesn't sound so edgy. And not taboo in the least." I'm getting there.
I sent the first sixty pages to my agent and he loved it. He also thought that Eve was a breakout part and he had actually just heard from a particular actress's rep. It seems this actress was a fan of an earlier script of mine and was looking to see if I had anything new.
I told my agent to send her the first 60 pages. Two days later, we heard back. She loved it and couldn't wait to do the part, so long as the rest of the script was as awesome as the first half.
I cackled to myself... knowing that she was in for a shock when she got the rest of the script.
But that's a story for tomorrow.
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