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Screen & Stage
January, 2008


A Sheep In Wolf's Clothing
A sure thing amid Hollywood’s licentious A-listers
By  J.R. Kambak

A producer's short A-list of rejection is like a wolf in lamb's clothing - deadly.
t’s been wolf-ridden year.

Yes, one can easily take issue with my eccentricity as a screenplay writer, but don’t hold it against me. I haven’t made Hollywood’s A-list… yet. 

In the long run, I have the sincere pipe dream to reach prestigious legitimacy equal to that of the mechanical technology used to slice and toast bagels automatically.

You see, there are two kinds of people in this world -- those who would buy a bagel-slicing toaster, and those who would buy my screenplay adaptation of an international bestseller. At least that’s the thought that comes to mind while staring at this script, initiated and completed by yours truly, here on my desk. 

This particular writing project began a year ago when I discovered Donna Gillespie’s bestseller, The Light Bearer -- a sic vita est narrative of the conflict between Rome and the Germanic Barbarians that centers on the coming-of-age daughter of a Chattian chieftain who is fated to lead her tribe against Rome. 

From the opening sentence, “It was a wolf ridden night,” I was white-hot with enthusiasm as I read Gillespie’s accounts of “tribal warfare,” “Roman tyrants” and  “gladiatorial spectacles, blood vengeance, imperial intrigues and mythic love” that visually exploded inside my brain as a blockbuster feature film. 

With straight-faced chutzpah I approached Gillespie to obtain permission to write a script adaptation of her five-star novel on speculation. Cordially, she advised me that there had already been an option on the novel. A cold gust shoved me off-balance. I steadied myself and chuckled, “Why doubt my muses?  Maybe things won’t be so bad?” They weren’t. The option had expired. I got the green light with a quid pro quo agreement.

I diligently followed Gillespie’s storyline while whittling down a 788-page tome into a 153-page script without massacring the entire plot into a cutting orgy of scene omissions. 

When I delivered my first draft to Gillespie for edits and notes, she delightfully responded that the script was remarkable in capturing the entire perspective of her story. She had only minor changes. I suddenly felt the floor rushing toward my fragile heart, had I soiled my pants from jubilation? Our fortuitous collaboration almost seemed fated by the ancients.

Yes, maybe tomorrow was worth living! I whizzed toward what I thought would be a sure thing to sell amid Hollywood’s licentious backstage midnight scandals and champagne and confetti gala award ceremonies.  

But nothing deflates the euphoria better than the gritty exigent A-list producer’s short list rejection. It can thrust an aspiring writer’s ego into a bagel-slicing toaster and then be spit out into a “…wolf ridden night.”

I evince my for-box-office-profit pitch: bestseller high adventure book with script attached; established international audience; storyline in vein with Ridley Scott’s ancient history blockbusters; HBO’s Rome relevance; strong female and male lead with sequel potential; contemporary psychological and political influences; impassioned love story, and technically constructed script that meets industry standards. Should I be quibbling?

Perhaps not, but as far as I’m concerned there is as much credible propriety that goes into the sincere endeavor of bringing a best-selling novel to script even before it’s respectfully adopted by Hollywood A-list insiders. 

Some writers might feel that it’s a particular messy stretch of a scriptwriter’s true grit to fall back on book adaptations. But, for me, it’s more proof of my script writing mettle. 

The thing is, at the end of a year, Gillespie is pleased and that’s (to quote actor/writer Larry David on U.S. cable TV hit comedy program Curb Your Enthusiasm) “pretty, pretty, pretty good.”IN Icon

J.R. Kambak is a award nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. E-mail:

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Screen & Stage
IN This Issue
Novel To Screenplay: Adaptation 101
Learning The Lingo
Elevator Exposure
Who Profits?
On The (Back) Lot
Lingua Scriptus
Part II: The Script's Key Plot Points
Part I: The Script's Key Plot Points
Origin Of The Screenplay
Scriptspeak: Writing Dialogue

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