a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Wonder Whatever Happened To My Pusher?

His name was Jeff, and he had good stuff.

I met him in the late 1980s, in Manhattan. The first time he saw me, he pulled me behind a corner, and showed me a sample of his wares.

He was a little scruffy, but for a few years he fed my addiction.

He sold screenplays.

Most importantly, he sold screenplays of movies that hadn't come out yet, and in late 1980s Manhattan, that was pretty rare.

I hadn't been trying to write screenplays for long, and I certainly never imagined reading them for a living. I was living in Manhattan, managing a movie theater, noodling with the screenplay format on the side.

One day, I was up at a shop, somewhere around Columbus Circle, that sold screenplays of movies that had already come out.

I didn't understand yet that they weren't allowed to sell scripts of movies that hadn't been released, so I asked the guy behind the counter if he had a copy of When Harry Met Sally which was about to open in a month or so. He explained the rule.

And then Jeff was there, behind me. Luring me into the shadows of the store.

It turns out that he had When Harry Met Sally, and he sold me a copy. I was hooked.

For a while, I bought stuff from him regularly. He had a list, a photocopied, stapled stack of sheets of every script he had squirreled away in his apartment somewhere. He must have had a deal with a local copy shop, because he certainly kept them in business.

After a while, he'd just call me, and give me huge discounts or whatever he had left over after a convention; sometimes I'd pay him $20 for 6 scripts. I was the guy he sold to to keep eating, because even in Manhattan 15 years ago, the script pusher business wasn't all that lucrative.

So I wound up with a lot of crap. What did I care? I was engorging myself on screenplays.

I've since purged a lot of the bad stuff from my collection, like Funny About Love, but I collected a lot of solid scripts along the way.

I have two different drafts of Heathers. One even had Daniel Waters' phone number on it; my roommate George called him on a dare, and chatted with him for a while.

I have Diner, Tin Men and Avalon, I have a draft of Big with some really dumb subplots about his co-workers that they wisely cut out (and in the days before DVD "deleted scenes", stuff like this was cool in and of itself).

I have two drafts of Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead that show that Scott Rosenberg must have gotten some amazing notes along the way, because whatever you think of the movie, the early drafts were a long, long way from it.

I have a copy of This Is Spinal Tap, that is indeed only 60 pages long, mostly just describing the scenes that they improvised during filming. I have a copy of Stranger Than Paradise that is only 55 pages long.

I have a copy of "Star Wars" in which Luke is named "Luke Starkiller".

But then I became a script reader (which reading all of these scripts was no little part of), and I largely stopped buying from Jeff, because now my addiction was being filled in another way.

I still saw Jeff occasionally, and he'd call me regularly. I might have bought something interesting from him here and there, but since moving out to L.A. in 1998 I've lost touch with him.

Of course, now, with the Internet, the bottom has probably completely dropped out of his business. Because if you want to read a screenplay, all you have to do is nose around the Internet long enough, and you can probably find a copy of it.

The other day, when I mentioned the script of "Stranger Than Fiction", I soon found one in my e-mail.

The problem is that, because of the Internet, security is tighter. Before, no one cared all that much about scripts; most were floating around Hollywood, most got out, but the passing-hand-to-hand distribution system of the Jeff's in the world never let it spread too much.

But now, the Internet is easy, and it's free. I can send a script to 100 people without worrying about copying fees.

So, for instance, there's not a copy of the new Charlie Kaufman script "Synecdoche, New York" to be found online anywhere, even in the shadows. And that makes sense; it's just too early for that script to be in the hands of the public.

Jeff probably doesn't even have a copy.

Of course, now that I do nothing but read screenplays all day long, I never have time to actually read anything from my collection. But I'm happy they are all there, a memory a time in which I was still getting to know the format, still learning what makes a good sequence.

In fact, when I first started reading "When Harry Met Sally", and was 5 pages in, I thought it was going to be a movie about this unlikely pair of people driving home from college. When that turned out not to be the movie, I took that premise and made it the basis of my second script.

My script sucked, but that's all part of the process too.

What's your favorite screenplay on your shelf (that you didn't write)? Where did you get it from?


At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Phillip Vargas said...

It think it's a toss up between American Beauty and The Crying Game.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

What's fun is eyeing early drafts of films that were eventually made elsewhere or ten years down the pike:

The Roger Corman FANTASTIC FOUR script.

The Ted Newsome SPIDER-MAN script which was to be made by Cannon Films.

A draft called WOLVERINE & THE X-MEN

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous pd boy said...


At 12:38 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

That reminds me -- I have a draft of Alien III written by William Gibson, that would have been the movie if Sigourney hadn't come back. The main characters were Hicks and Newt.

It was worlds better than the Alien 3 that was eventually made.

Oddly (and rather inexplicably) I also have copies of Roger Rabbit 2 and Lost Boys 2.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Steve Axelrod said...

I have an early draft of Chinatown that I got from the film's production designer (Noah Cross really did get shot in that version, and his daughter got away) -- as well as a copy of Towne's Tarzan picture, from the same source. That was the most sought after script in Hollywood, twenty-eight years ago. For good reason -- it's a masterpiece, without a spoken line of dialog in the first fifty pages.
Still, my personal favorite is a copy of One Trick Pony, the Paul Simon film from 1980. The script is so much better than the film that you sort of crumple, reading it. You assume that the note mogering studio executives and development people would have to draw a line somewhere. But no. Even musical legends and geniuses are fair game.Clearly Simon got the same kind of awful comments that any neophyte has to deal with, and plodded through the same soul-crushing rewrites. The movie may have been improved to death, but I cherish the original, un-fixed version. Too bad I'll never get to see the movie.

At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Shrader said...

I have a copy of DON QUIXOTE written by Waldo Salt which is absolutely brilliant.
Also, a friend from film school wrote a script called KATHY PETRO. He adapted some out-of-print book without the author's permission, then sent it to him and he hated the script so he wouldn't let go of the rights. It was flawed but something about it resonated wtih me, so I kept it.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Unknown Screenwriter said...


Got it at yard sale for a quarter. John Wayne even signed it.

I have it on a shelf with dozens of others but once you read through TRUE GRIT, you know you have a ways to go.


At 2:18 PM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

I'm a fan of the scripts for Out of Sight and Sex, Lies & Videotape - both from the internet.
And I have an oldie version of Butch Cassidy.
I think Swingers is a good read, too.
I've read early Breakfast Club drafts, and that's fun, seeing what Hughes wrote and then took out in creating his high school masterpiece. Although it's pithy, it's true that sometimes what you leave out is more important than what you leave in.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

I don't have a shelf. OK, OK, I do have a shelf. But there are no screenplays on it. By the time I became interested in all this screenwriting business (about four or five years ago)...

I'm rambling again.

Anyways, my hard drive is filled to the brim with screenplays now. My personal favourite being a tie between:

David Lynch's Ronnie Rocket - all the Lynch's weirdness and brilliance, to the power of ten. Awesome stuff.

Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio's adaptation of The Sandman - what can I say, the boys are great as ever. And, of course, it won't get made.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Ah. I have a copy of Ronnie Rocket too. It's the only autographed screenplay in my whole collection.

It's not autographed by David Lynch, but by Michael Anderson, the "little person" (Twin Peaks, Carnivale) who was supposed to play the title role.

I didn't meet him, but I heard he was coming to my apartment to meet with my roommate (who made costumes and such), so I gave my roommate the script, and asked him to snag me an inscription. He did.

It says "To Scott, Let's Rock! Little Mike. NYC '92".

I'm trying to rock, Mike. I'm trying.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Adaptation, which I read 5 months before it hit theaters. I was blown away and still re-read it for inspiration. 2nd favorite - Go, the John August movie. I have both an early draft and a more final one. It was the first pro script I read and still love it.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Corey Bond said...

This is a great comment thread -- it's provided me with a number of titles to Google.

I used to pick up screenplays at comics conventions back in the late '80s and early '90s for, as you put it, their "deleted scenes" quality (Like Terminator 2 with the superior ending, or Sam Hamm's early draft of Tim Burton's Batman, which still had Robin in it) or screenplays of movies that never got made, like Lost Boys 2, Sam Hamm's Watchmen script, etc. Not to mention Lucas' early Star Wars treatments.

If there's any conclusion I've come to, it's that I much prefer reading screenplays after they've been published in book form... much easier on the eyes. The T2 script in particular was printed out on an ancient dot-matrix printer.

Of these, my favorite is probably the Bubba Ho-Tep hardcover, which includes Don Coscarelli's screenplay, Joe R Lansdale's original short story, and introductions by both of them.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

I remember my dad somehow managed to snag a copy of the Sam Hamm Batman script (the one with Robin) and that was the first screenplay I ever read. I wish I still had it, though.

As for favorites, I have a Men In Black that was really good, but was only partially used. It was a lot darker and had a few more grosser moments. And an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with the beginning in the future, where I think it's the Kirsten Dunst character is publishing a book about the whole Joel/Clementine saga. I think, it's been awhile.

And yes, my Out of Sight, Swingers, Rushmore, and Dazed and Confused are well read.

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

I have a copy of IN & OUT with hand written notes by Klein saying things like "I would never say that."

My favorite though is SYDNEY (later to be renamed HARD EIGHT) PT Anderson's first film. He was 25 years old when the draft I have was sent out and it's fantastic.

On a side note: I have a bootleg of his short film: CIGARETTES AND COFFEE. Even at 23 you can tell he was gonna be really good.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger [The Briefcase] said...

i started adapting a novella by william saroyan. i got about 20 pages in and was excited. the next day i realized that it basically feliating the book and copying it word for word. so i added anything that came to mind at the time. basically, i have a 70 page script with no ending and a pissed of me.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Blair Shedd said...

Back during my first year of art school ('bout '96), a friend said he bought a stack of Kevin Smith scripts at the mall, and he was bored with them, so he gave them to me. Included in that stack was Chasing Amy and Dogma (which hadn't been released yet). I wasn't interested in screenplays yet (writing or reading), but I did find it interesting to read them, then go and see them, and find what had made it to the screen and what got cut.

I don't know where they went. And I don't know where in "the mall" he got them. Probably from your pusher (my art school was a half hour outside of Manhattan in NJ). ;)

As for my favorite script in my collection -- it's a toss-up between BIG FISH and RACING NEW ORLEANS (written by the friend who sucked me into this madness!).


At 9:44 PM, Blogger Chris said...

At this point, the first and only hard-copy script on my shelf is The Shawshank Redemption. When I decided to become a screenwriter, I figured if I could ever write anything that approaced it, I would be doing okay. So that's the one I bought to serve as a sort of a model for how to write scene descriptions, but also to get Darabont's included notes.

At 3:38 AM, Anonymous Lucy said...

I have that copy of Alien 3 Scott! The Alien was a virus and it was Vietnam in space, the socialist space station versus the free Americans. Only problem for me was, how would they have shown the virus? Like green smoke through the vents?? Loved the scene though where the guy in charge kinda splits in half tho when he's infected.

I got my script from a script pusher too by the way - some guy who wouldn hang around the back of my uni. It's got notes all over it, that's why I bought it. I like to think they're the writer's notes - but it's probably just an even bigger geek than me!

At 7:49 AM, Blogger wcdixon said...

great post...

Mine would be 'Tango & Cash' and 'Doc Hollywood' that I ordered from some place in LA (Script City?)

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Spanish Prisoner said...

my favourite must be I Am Legend by John Logan (1997 draft). I read Protesovich's version before and somehow Logan's version felt better. And the end isn't too overlty melodramatic as it is in Protesovich's version.

At 1:16 PM, Blogger Paul Campbell said...

I had (don't know where it's gone now) a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark with a whole extra act set in Japan.

I remember he was in some museum and being shot at, so he hacked a giant gong from its stand and ran along behind it as it rolled along the floor and out the door with the bullets ringing off the gong.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I have a copy of The Shawshank Redemption when it was titled Semon Demons. Nevermind, that was a porno title I remember back from my Tower Records days. One of the best porn titles ever, 2nd to Gang Bang Face Bath.

I recently read a copy of Quebec which was good. I did enjoy reading the Shawshank screenplay, too. I'd also say Fargo was a good read.

At 8:10 PM, Anonymous Rob Richard said...

This is one of the things that gives me some mixed feelings about the internet. On the one hand, I have access to a colossal library of scripts whenever I want them, free. On the other hand, it almost entirely removes the thrill and satisfaction of finding something after a long, hard search.

About the only hard copy of a script that I have on my shelves is a hardcover edition of Neil Gaiman's Mirrormask script, which is especially tasty for the inclusion of Dave McKean's storyboards...

At 12:16 AM, Blogger A. M. said...

My fave is the one I found and bought just last week (in a bookstore!) --- the Farrelly bros. Shallow Hal.

Bill Martell cited it in one of his superb tips and I really really wanted to read it b/c of that. Love that script. Which brings me to my question:

What's your secret to finding scripts that aren't on simplyscripts, drew's, [insert any of the usual suspects]?

There are a number of scripts I just can't find online.... ??

At 5:00 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Although I've put myself on moratorium from buying anymore bound scripts or screenwriting books (shelf overload) and have boxed most of my past purchases, Shawshank is the one script I left on the shelf.

I remember that pile of screenplays you had back at one of your Manhattan apartments, Scott (and I remember that roommate, he used me as a mannequin one day for a robot cop costume). I remember you had that Lost Boys 2, and I borrowed the Rospo Pallenberg version of The Stand and (*gasp*) an action-comedy I thought had potential from the page...Hudson Hawk.

At 5:33 AM, Blogger Lee said...

I have a near complete collection of Buffy scripts, and quite a few Angels, from the days of, which I read regularly.

Also a couple of unproduced Crusade scripts, which give an excellent indication of where the series would have gone, had it survived.

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

I have just a small collection of scripts, mostly in book form.

I like rummaging thru local thrift stores & i occassionly find a Newmarket script. I've gotten People vs Larry Flynt, Am. Beauty, Billy Elliot, Sideways & others for just fifty cents each. My most recent score is Shawshank. :-)

I like going to Drew's site & reading 10 or 20 pages of diff scripts, of diff genres. Just to see how writers handle certain story situations, & expose myself to diff writing styles.

I have to admit, i've always found reading other peoples' scripts difficult. Have a hard time getting thru them no matter how good they are.

At 4:30 AM, Anonymous Burbanked said...

A bunch of years ago, I got an unproduced script called "Slade" by "Dances With Wolves" writer Michael Blake. I haven't read it in years, but I remember it being a great read and a terrific western.

"Seven"'s on my shelf - the one screenplay I wish I hadn't read before seeing the movie.

One of "Harry Potter" screenwriter Steve Kloves' early drafts of "Flesh and Bone" - a much, much better script than the movie turned out to be.

At 11:35 AM, Anonymous jb said...

"A Model Daughter" by Daniel Waters. It was never made, and back in 1994-ish when I read it I couldn't understand how a great, known writer with a great script wouldn't automatically get produced. Big lesson to learn early.

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have a stack of scripts, but by far the most elegant and well written script I've ever read is "The Talented Mr Ripley" by Anthony Minghella. I found a softback copy in a second hand bookstore in Australia.

The writing is so sparse, yet so beautifully evocative, it leaves me awestruck.

Something to aspire to...:)


At 3:20 AM, Blogger Piers said...

The Alias pilot's a masterpiece - sets up the premise and characters for the series beautifully and in a storming action-adventure style.

I've got an early draft of Spooks episode 3 from the first series which is - well let's say it's not as good as what ended up on television. And then a shooting script for the same episode. And looking at the differences between them is an excellent exercise, and reminds me that every draft can be made to work eventually.

Then there's The Thing, which has become my go-to screenplay for when I want to see how to do horror action.

And The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances shooting scripts by Steven Moffat from Doctor Who. Damn, but that man's a good writer.

They're from an LA script store, my old job, The Internet, and the hardback book o' shooting scripts respectively.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger Dave said...

I enjoyed working in the same building as the VA Film Office. Back in the late 80's early 90's, the script "market" was so dead, that some kid who wanted to copy and read scripts was a novelty. I had free reign. I'd go into a back storage room with hundreds of scripts.

I'd pick out a few, copy them and haul 'em off. I read a bunch.

What About Bob? I read it when Charles Grodin was being sought instead of Dreyfuss (which ruined it for me when I saw it, because I had already "seen" it with Grodin). Crazy People, which changed from script to screen.

I got Wolf, Dead Drop (which became Chain Reaction and, strangely an entirely different movie - nothing remained the same). The Brave - which I will never watch after reading the script. Couldn't think of a more depressing subject/plot. Although, wonderfully written.

Our writing group also did an auction. We sent out begging letters to writers, actors, etc. to see if they would donate anything. I got a copy of Lethal Weapon 3 autographed by Jeffrey Boam along with a really nice postcard with good wishes. Richard Price sent an autographed script of Sea Of Love. We had Tombstone autographed by the cast.

A couple of my favorite scripts are Unforgiven, The American President and A Few Good Men. I love the effortless pace at which they move. You can read 20 pages without realizing it.

I really enjoyed reading a script before the movie came out. If there's anything I miss, it would be that experience.

If anybody knows any "pushers", I'd love an introduction.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger Dave said...

Oh, I'd add The Fallen as another through my "pusher" as well as some other favs, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon & Midnight Run.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Corey Bond said...

More thoughts on collecting screenplays: Screnplay Collecting for Comics Geeks


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