Installment Number Four
Chloe and Frances Pretend to Write a Screenplay
When I was around ten years old, after my parents split up and my mom and I moved out of our big four-bedroom house, I would go back to that house, which became “my dad’s”, every weekend. Before my stepmother came around and fucked everything up, the site of the bedroom that I used to share with my older sister became my office. It was an expansive room with two closets and shiny hardwoods and I had two desks up against one of the walls, one for me and one for a freelance friend. My mom would steal pens and pads and tape and shit from work and so my home office was stocked. Who knows what type of business I was running from that bedroom, but I do remember that I spent many hours in there toiling away and bossing around whatever friend/colleague in question crossed that threshold.
Why I bring this up is because around the time that we first met and started to become friends, we pretty much started playing office together. During that time, I was renting a small office in Northeast Portland for my psychotherapy practice and so there was no need to convert a bedroom, we had a turnkey operation, whatever the fuck that means.
I would sit in my therapist chair and you would sit across from me on the patient couch. We knew better than to play therapist/patient because that would have been sick in the head, but we did embark on a hysterical mock project. Like two little girls, we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing, but in so many ways we were pretending that we did.
Sometimes you brought in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One time we took a lunch break and went to a depressingly empty Mexican place up the street. I said, What would you do if I ordered a margarita? I dare you, you said. I drank water.
You had an exchange with a young LA woman one day at work that was the catalyst to our foray in screenwriting. What was that first exchange like?
One night, I went to work at Powell’s from 7-11pm to work behind the till, as I did four days a week. I remember Portland was having a heat wave, and I was hot and depressed. I was cashiering, ringing up books, and then some really attractive rich-looking girl came up to me, and said. I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I loved your book. No I really loved it. (I remember thinking, everywhere? Where? At Powell’s?) Powell’s is fucking huge as you know, so she went to the information desk and asked for me and they sent her to the orange room. She made it sound like she’d been all around Oregon searching for me. I’m not hard to find. My email is on my website.
We exchanged numbers. She asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with her. She wanted me to write a screenplay for LGLA. I loved the attention and the offer, but had no clue how I would do what she was asking. The girl cashiering next to me overheard everything, and when LA Actress left she was like, “Did that girl just ask you to write a screenplay?” That made me feel so legit. I was like, “Yup.”
And then I got a bunch of books out of Powell’s on screenwriting.
I remember you checking out all those books. After we talked about it, you got me a cheap copy of The Squid and The Whale, which I studied and also Story by Robert McKee, which is a bible-like tome on screenwriting structure.
When you first told me about this young LA Actress and the adaptation of your book into a screenplay, we were sitting in the back patio of a teashop near my house in Portland. It was dark outside and there was a rat running between the patio and the food carts that sit next to the teashop. So I remember feeling really excited about the prospect asking you if I could help you with the adaptation but also really disgusted by the rat. What do you remember about that evening? Did you think that I was being too forward about saying that I right away had a vision for the film?
That’s an interesting question. I was surprised at your enthusiasm. I didn’t know you well yet, so had no clue how into film you were and how manic you can be (ha). What I remember is going to yoga together, and the teacher said something at the end and I cried. I always cry! Anyway, yeah, we had tea or whatever outside. I don’t remember the rat as well as you.
But now that you opened the floodgates about this I’ve been thinking for the past few days. One is that maybe we wanted to hang out a bunch and didn’t know—like you said in an earlier installment–what our relationship was. Writing a screenplay was a great way to do this, because we basically just talked face to face for 4 hours a day, which is maybe why we’re so close. We didn’t use our phones or computers much. We just talked about our lives. We shared with each other anecdotes and comical things from our past. In some ways you were my therapist, but a friend first. We drank that black tea called morning thunder.
I was flattered you want to help me, and that you were taking me seriously, when I wasn’t even taking myself that seriously. I liked the enthusiasm and creativity you brought to it.
Right away, I could see the scenes from LGLA on film. I knew that it would be a challenging project, but at the same time I knew we could do it if we put our minds to it.
I also straightaway started getting into a producer-like mindset, thinking about where we would film it and what things might cost, who would shoot it and who would direct. My biggest fear was that the LA chick would want full control of this project.
You first had a coffee date alone with the young LA Actress to talk about the project. From what I recall, you didn’t feel super comfortable being around her, something about her clothes and the way that she looked. Where did you meet her and what was your first impression of her?
I’m always uncomfortable around a) really attractive people and b) rich people. She was both. I get too much in my head and I know that they know I am not really attractive or really rich. She was nice and sweet though, I just never clicked with her, or knew what she wanted from me, which is a feeling that’s come up a lot for me re: people who reach out to me about my books, particularly LGLA. She was wearing all white and cream and I was wearing all black. I was wearing H&M clothes and she was wearing Marc Jacobs or whatever. She did make an interesting comment about LGLA being ‘selfish’.
I think sometimes when people read personal nonfiction, hyper-personal like mine was – they get confused about the writer. They project themselves onto the writer.
We had coffee on the couch at The Ace Hotel. I remember she told me to sit close to her. She was like, “Get cozy.” Maybe she just wanted to be my friend, but she also related to the book on some level. But why didn’t she just ask me to go get a drink? is my question.
I guess I got a vibe that something was up with this chick from the start, an ulterior motive. But I also thought it would be interesting to play it out.
The next thing I know, it is a Saturday morning and I am biking to meet you at The Ace Hotel in downtown Portland. We met in the lobby, both wearing blazers, professional. You were running late and had parked (I think you had Cheryl’s car) in the Vitamin Shoppe parking lot, saying that you can park there for an hour if you buy something. I think you bought some Emergen-C packets. That made me anxious for you for some reason, worrying about that car sitting in that lot. We got coffees from Stumptown and chatted nervously about meeting the young LA Actress for breakfast to talk about the screenplay. All I remember from that breakfast is that I ordered granola and fruit some breakfast tea and the young LA Actress ordered the same thing but didn’t eat it. Do you remember what you ordered? I also remember that our conversation didn’t have a lot of substance but the young LA Actress paid cash for our breakfasts and didn’t even take her uneaten food home. What a waste, I thought. What were you feeling and thinking during this meeting? Did you really think this woman was really interested in making your book into a film? Do you think that she just trying to be your friend under the guise of this pretend project?
I ordered a side of scrambled eggs and black tea. I remember because later you said, “You ordered those weird eggs.”
It seemed too good to be true. While I’m thinking about it now, maybe, since i was living at Cheryl’s and saw that behind the scenes stuff about Wild being made into a film, maybe I thought it was possible. I’d already been lucky, publishing a book. My dad always says I lead a charmed life, so part of me was like: I’m so lucky! and the other part of me was like, This is stupid and unrealistic. After that lunch I went on a hike and thought all about it. I called my parents at one point and told them about the situation.
At one point, she sent us a few shorts she’d done. You came over to watch them, and we couldn’t get through them they were so cheesy. That was really depressing….
I’m so glad that you remembered those short films because they were so terrible, laughable. She was really proud of them and I could see that the production quality was actually quite good and there was one good actor, but the content was a disaster. I think more than anything we were intrigued by her, a pretty zoo animal in boutique clothes.
About a week or so after the breakfast meeting with the young LA Actress, we were in my kitchen with a kind of friend of yours, someone you knew from the Portland writing community. Because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing and because I knew that you knew actual writers, we pulled in your friend as a consultant of sorts. The three of us had pie together before we met at my house and he seemed interested in helping us sort out this project.
Your writer friend had brought over a loaf of sliced bakery bread and asked if I had any cheese. He wanted to make grilled cheese at my house. I had made a pot of miso soup and brown rice and vegetables and boiled egg. I gave him a small chunk of cheddar and some mozzarella cheese and butter and a cast iron skillet and he made grilled cheeses.
I pulled out a typed page of notes that I had created around finance and budgeting; I had been brainstorming for days about how we should be compensated for the time that we were to spend engaging with the young LA Actress’s project. I had worked in advertising as a project manager for ten years and know a thing or two about budgeting. I talked to my good friend who is an actual producer; she gave me some tips on what our time would be worth. I emailed a friend of a friend in LA who was a real screenwriter and she also gave me tips on phases of development, usual compensation, things like that.
Your writer friend was more concerned about the grilled cheeses than he was about the budgeting. You and I started talking somewhat jokingly somewhat seriously about the idea of maybe the young LA Actress renting you a loft in Portland’s tony Pearl district so you could comfortably work on the screenplay. I said, She should buy you a Vitamix.
I said, She should make sure you are outfitted with good artisanal coffee and a yoga pass. I even thought about how I should add those line items to my budget chart. I threw out the amount of ten grand to do this project, which I thought was a good number to start with. With that, your writer friend became despondent, clearly upset. It seemed as if something about the money talk freaked him out.
After we wrapped up the meeting, I walked the two of you out the front door. I stood on the front porch and when he got into the driver’s side, you looked back at me and had a really sad look on your face. He was driving you to therapy. I knew your therapist. At this point, did you know that our little foray into screenwriting would be over? What did you think was going on with your friend?
That was an upsetting lunch. I didn’t know it would be over, but I was having a hard time deciphering fantasy and reality. And I was generally depressed at the time. Yesterday I was taking a hike and thinking about how awful it is when you’re walking in the woods and you walk into a cobweb. When you walk into a cobweb, you can’t stop talking about it, and thinking about it, and you’re afraid to move forward because it might happen again. That’s how this time period was for me.
Yeah—you told me you were gonna drink a little wine and smoke a little weed and email her the budget!
I think my friend couldn’t take our dynamic (mine and yours) cause we had chemistry and got each other on a deep level. I remember making eye contact a bunch during that lunch–we were both like……WTF is going on? But that lunch you made was delicious, I want to have it again.
At one point, the LA actress said, “Money doesn’t scare me.” You and I latched onto that and were like, “Well she SAID money doesn’t scare her!” You really psyched me up about the Vitamix and the unlimited yoga, I was fantasizing about this new comfortable life I was going to have, living in the Pearl District. I become very desperate when I think that $ is dangling in front of me, it sucks.
We did end up presenting our costs to the young LA Actress. Pretty soon after she saw those numbers, she told us that she had to pass on the project, that something else had come up for her, an acting job. It made me realize that she was never really serious about the project.
That didn’t stop us from playing office. We continued to sit together in my office, in coffee shops around Portland, toying with dialogue and ideas. Nothing solid ever came to fruition other than a great friendship and some funny shit to remember and to talk about.
We took is seriously without taking it seriously at all. We met a few days a week from like 9 to 1pm until you had to get ready to get your kid at school and I had to go to Powell’s. I had a notebook I was trying to brainstorm in (gotta find that) and books about screenwriting and yes, peanut butter sandwiches. We drank that tea in your office called Black Thunder and honestly we had lots of fun. We both left to pee all the time. I think we both got something out of it we needed: entertainment, friendship, inspiration, intimacy, laughter. Maybe we both needed something–I for one needed motivation and a friend. In some way, (and this is totally dramatizing it) we reminded me of the characters in that movie Afternoon Delight. You helped me better my life (you hired me as a nanny and gave me a gift certificate to a soak & sauna place) and we got all meddled in each other’s lives. It was fun and interesting.
One morning it was cloudy and nothing was going on in my life aside from hanging with you, and cashiering at Powell’s, you told me to move back to NY, and were were like—-But what about the screenplay? You said, “I don’t mind coming there a few times a year, and we can Skype.
I just love that we were like, but what about the screenplay, (that we’re not really writing?)
I just looked back into my email, this is from LA actress:
I’m thrilled at your enthusiasm.
I’d like to proceed in this way.
Please send me a scene to read
from the script you are diving into.
Then I will evaluate the
freelance fee. Because $1000 is simple
But what if we need $1000 a month
for three months?
And then she told us she had a big call for a job in LA and she really wanted the part. And then her next email said, I’m going to have to stop working with you ladies for the time being. I know I’ll see your beautiful selves in the near future.
Money doesn’t scare me. That is a brilliant fucking line. What a character study. You are right — we both needed this at the time. Writing can be super isolating and I think we needed each other. I can only wonder what would have happened if the young LA Actress were actually serious?
Date: August 29th 2013
To: The Young LA Actress
From: Chloe Caldwell and Frances Badalamenti
Phase One: Story Synopsis
Timeline – Two weeks
Synopsis due two weeks after kickoff meeting/approval to proceed.
Writers to provide basic character sketches, scene ideas, possible themes and a loose plot summary.
Creative Fees –
There are no fees for this phase of development, as it is an exploratory time for the writers.
Phase Two: Film treatment / Initial Research and Development
Timeline – Six Weeks
Full film treatment due no longer than six weeks after approval of story synopsis and okay to proceed.
Deliverables – Full sketches of key characters, locations / exposition, detailed scenes, complete plot summary.
Creative Fees –
This fee includes up to three rounds of comments and revisions. If revisions go beyond three rounds, writers and producers to re-negotiate terms. Full payment to be made at completion of phase two.
Timeline – Three to Six Months
A complete first draft due three to six months after approval of film treatment.
Deliverables – Execution of complete screenplay.
Creative Fees –
Includes first draft, second draft and final draft. If revisions go beyond three rounds, writers and producers to re-negotiate terms. Payment to be made in installments at the completion of each draft.
Notes on creative fees:
Creative fees do not include travel expenses for meetings outside of Portland, travel-related research or other research-related materials. Expenses related to meetings or research and development to be negotiated between producers and writers on a case-by-case basis for approval.
Creative fees are solely based on development of a completed full-length script. Should the script be “green-lighted” for production of a film, writers and producers to negotiate buyout rights and possible percentage of profits.
Each stage of development will commence with a kick-off meeting (either in person or via Skype) to ensure that all parties involved are on in agreement with timeline, deliverables and creative fees.
Side notes regarding our intentions:
Writers would like to continue to obtain some level of creative input / art direction should the film go into production, terms to be negotiated before the onset of production. We request to be included in the conversations of choosing a possible director, cinematographer, actors and film score.