Friday, August 19, 2011

From Page to Script to Screen: The Long Way Around

 By Chuck Hustmyre

Last month I saw something really unique: the premier of my movie on the big screen in Los Angeles. Granted, it wasn’t at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and it was only in Los Angeles to the extent that the premier was in Los Angeles County. At the Regency Academy 6 Theater on East Colorado Street in Pasadena to be exact, as part of the Action on Film International Festival.

But still... It was pretty cool.

How the movie and I got there was an adventure in itself.

I used to be a cop. A federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (now the agency has added “Explosives” to its already too-long name). But I’ve been a tinkerer writer since junior high when I started my first novel.

In 2004, I “sold” my new novel, House of the Rising Sun, to a tiny POD publisher in Oregon. No advance, just royalties. According to the publisher, the book sold just 100 copies and was his worst seller. Fortunately for me, an aspiring local movie producer bought one of those hundred copies. He called me and asked if I would write a script based on the book–for free, of course.

I had some experience with writing screenplays, so I said yes. That began a six-year odyssey of ups and downs. The producer brought on board a two-time Academy Award winner to direct, but even having two Oscars on the mantle didn’t help us overcome the number one obstacle to getting a movie made–finding the money to make it.

In 2010, with the local production group’s options long expired, I decided to strike out on my own. (Lest you think I spent all that time working on just this one project, I didn’t. In the intervening half-a-dozen years, I wrote two nonfiction books for Penguin, about 800 magazine and newspaper articles, and a crime novel for Dorchester.)

I sent out dozens of queries to producers, agents and managers, the vast majority of which were not answered. I even used a query service that blasted my pitch to thousands more industry people.

One producer–that’s all it ever takes–got back to me, but it wasn’t to buy my script. He had a question about the book business. I put the question to my book agent, who answered it, which in turn led the producer to pass my query on to a friend of his who was looking for a gritty crime thriller, something akin to House of the Rising Sun.

That producer optioned my script–again for free–and shopped it around to other producers who had production money.

The script went through a few hands, but it ended up at Berkshire Axis Media, a Toronto-based production company. Producer Mark Sanders bought the script from me, and even though the budget was only $1.5 million, he managed to land a notable cast: Danny Trejo of Machete fame, Amy Smart (Crash and The Butterfly Effect), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break), and WWE wrestling superstar Dave Bautista.

Meanwhile, my book agent shopped the novel around (the rights had reverted to me) and eventually sold it to Dorchester. Then Dorchester seemed to implode, and I was taking steps to cancel the sale, but the Dorchester ship seems to have righted itself. I got paid and the book came out last month in trade paperback and various eBook formats. I even talked the movie distributor, LIONSGATE, into letting me use the movie poster and DVD cover art for the cover of the novel.

So back to Grauman’s in Hollywood–I mean the Regency Academy 6 in Pasadena–where we were all set for the premier: me, my wife, producer Mark Sanders, some friends, even my mom was there, and then... nothing.

The Blu-ray copy the theater had didn’t work. The projectionist called Mark out of the auditorium. They disappeared for a while. About 20 minutes later, Mark showed back up, sweaty and short of breath.

He had run to Blockbuster to rent a copy of the movie, but the nearest Blockbuster was closed down. Then he went to Best Buy but he couldn’t find the movie. Finally, he discovered another Blockbuster that was still open, and he found the movie on the shelf.

Then I got to see my movie, on the big screen, in Los Angeles (County). And it was pretty cool.

CHUCK HUSTMYRE is a retired federal agent and the author of the novels House of the Rising Sun and A Killer Like Me and the Penguin true crime books Killer with a Badge and An Act of Kindness (now Unspeakable Violence). 

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Cathy Scott said...

Fascinating journey, Chuck. Thanks so much for sharing it. Really enjoyed it.

Sandy said...

Not the straight roads of the South to get to the end, but good information for those of us who are still trying to get books or scripts noticed. Thanks for your story!

cheryl said...

Wow, I've been watching the struggle from afar on Facebook over the last couple of years, but seeing it all together in one blog entry is really something. Best of luck to you Chuck. God bless.