Hollywood Sign

My Very Brief Career As A Hollywood Screenwriter

Posted March 24, 2023
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The story of my first almost motion picture with a major studio:

In 1990, I was working on my first TV station in the United States, Time/Warner’s NY1.

Instead of using conventional crews, the whole 24-hour local news channel would instead use VJs, (or MMJs as they are now called) – reporters who shot, scripted, edited and produced all their own stories, on their own – no camera crews, no editors and no field producers.  It was, at that time, a very radical idea, but much credit to Paul Sagan, who was running NY1, who went with the concept all in.

Instead of dragging around what was then giant professional TV news cameras – betacams, the VJs worked with small, hand held Hi-8 video cameras. Today, we pretty much only use iPhones, but Hi-8 were the smallest cameras I could find. Again, it was a very radical idea.

SONY was so interested in the project that they flew me to Japan for a series of meetings with Mr. Idei, who was then Chairman and CEO of SONY, as well as a string of lectures around the country.

The trip was great.

A few weeks after I got back, I got a call from a guy named Jeff Sagansky.  He was, at that time, running SONY Tristar, SONY’s movie studio.

“I just met with Idei,” Sagansky told me.  “We don’t do non-fiction, but if you ever have an idea for fiction, call me.”

That evening, I told my then (and now mercifully ex) wife about the call.

“Funny,” I said.

“What are you, an idiot?” she asked me.  “The head of a Hollywood studio calls you up and asks if you have any ideas for movies?  Do you think that happens every day? Make something up!”

And so I did.

The next day, I fired off three ideas for movies to Jeff Sagansky.  Each idea was little more than a paragraph. Quite frankly, I never expected much would come out of it, but I wanted to be responsive to his kind offer… and I wanted to get you-know-who off my back.

Much to my surprise, Sagansky called me.

“I like the second one,” he said.  “Can you expand on it a bit.”

And so I did.

This started a dialogue with Sagansky that went on for weeks.  A paragraph became a page which became 5 pages and so.  It grew. Finally, the treatment was  50 pages. It was, I thought, a pretty good story.

It was called Prime Directive, and it was about an organization of time travelers in the future who go back throughout time and recruit people to join them. The organization then inserts people into a specific time and makes small changes that improve the human condition – stop wars, prevent plagues, stuff like that.  There was a hero, a love interest, and the climax of the story at Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963, when JFK is assassinated.  I won’t go into details, but… well, it rocked.

“I love this,” Sagansky said.  “Let’s hire a writer.”

At this point, I should have said, “great idea.” But instead, I said, “I can write the screenplay.”

“Have you ever written a screenplay before?” Sagansky asked me.

“No, but how hard can it be?”

This is what in yiddish we call chutzpah… or stupidity.

In any event, Sagansky agreed to work with me on the screenplay, and over the course of the next year, we went back and forth, meeting in NY and LA several times to revise, rewrite and refine the script.

Finally, I sent off what must have been the 100th revision.  A few days later, Sagansky called me up.

“I’m gonna green light Prime Directive,” he said.

I went home to you know who and said, “We’re going to make a movie!”

A few days later, she called me at the office.

“You better take a look at the NY Post – page 6,” she said.

I got the paper.

Sagansky fired, the article said.

That’s show biz.

So Prime Directive was orphaned, as they say in Hollywood.

Without Sagansky, no one wanted it.  The new head of SONY Tristar had his own ideas.

So the script for Prime Directive sits on my shelf along with my several novels that also no one wants to publish. But I did get a great education both in how to write a screenplay and also in the ways of the movie world.


You can read about this, and lots of other exciting stories in my new book THE RISE OF THE MEDIAVERSE.


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