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A high-concept pitch

Special to The Times

SCREENWRITERS do crazy things to get discovered. Legends abound of desperate scribes who’ve parachuted onto movie sets, posed as pizza delivery guys or interrupted an expensive lunch at the Ivy to get their script into the hands of high-powered producers and agents. But perhaps no one has made his pitch to Hollywood in such an outlandish, in-your-face way as Jay the Writer.

His business card is a billboard at the corner of Sunset and Highland. “Hey NBC!” it screams, “I wrote ‘Hawgs’ just for you!” Then comes a Web address that, if you’re curious enough, will take you to a page with log lines for three movie scripts and one sitcom and information on how to get copies of them -- if you’re in “the business,” of course.

At first glance it seems like some bizarre prank or the work of a young, naive writer risking bankruptcy to attract attention. But that’s not the case. The billboard is no joke, and this screenwriter isn’t young, naive or financially strapped.

Jay Taylor is a retired advertising exec from Tucson who’d rather spend his golden years grinding out screenplays on a laptop than playing 18 holes on a golf course.

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“I didn’t want to spend the next five years begging someone to read my screenplays,” says Taylor, 67, who’s renting four signs, each advertising a different script, located strategically around the city for one month. Taylor won’t say how much he’s paying, but an official with Viacom Outdoor said the billboard rentals are probably worth $75,000 to $100,000 for all four.

“I thought, ‘Hollywood does things big, so I’m going to do this big.’ And it doesn’t get any bigger than billboards. If it’s possible for me to learn in six months whether or not my scripts are commercially acceptable, instead of in five years, that’s worth a lot to me,” Taylor says.

Taylor has been writing screenplays for only about three years, but he isn’t a newbie to the showbiz world. In the 1960s, as half of the stand-up duo Kalil & Taylor, he performed in Hollywood nightclubs, appeared on “The Tonight Show” and “The Andy Williams Show,” and recorded a comedy album for Capitol. And as an ad man, Taylor says he wrote commercials for 30 years; his clients included the Arizona state lottery and Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Taylor is peddling four scripts. “Hawgs” is a TV sitcom pilot about a female lawyer who takes over a Harley-Davidson shop in Dallas; “Sam Bingo” is a dramatic screenplay that he describes as being in the “Forrest Gump” mode; “Whackers” is a farce film comedy about a family of hit men; and “17 Mile Drive” is a murder mystery with a female protagonist.

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For the typical screenwriter, landing an agent is an arduous task that frequently involves sending query letters to the “big five” -- William Morris, United Talent, Creative Artists, Endeavor, International Creative Management -- as well as the many “boutique” agencies in town, then biting your nails waiting for an encouraging response.

Admittedly, Taylor is trying to leapfrog his competitors, who don’t have the means to pull such an elaborate trick. And he thinks it might work, not just because he thinks his scripts are the real deal but because he’s keeping his sense of humor about the whole thing.

Each of Taylor’s billboards, which first appeared in mid-January, is a running gag. After the first week, the word “NBC” was crossed out and replaced with “ABC” in mock graffiti. On another sign, Kevin Costner’s last name was scribbled over with Spacey, and then a week later, Kline, and finally Bacon. On yet another one, J. Lo became Julia, and then Julianne.

“It’s a self-deprecating joke,” Taylor says. “It’s like I’m saying, ‘The first guy didn’t buy my script, so maybe somebody else will.’ I think people will see this as clever and funny, not the work of somebody who’s desperate.”

But is Hollywood laughing with him or at him?

“The idea that anyone would waste that kind of money doing something so retarded, that shows me they know so little about the business that I wouldn’t be interested in looking at their stuff,” says one A-list agent, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If that’s the best you can come up with, then you’re not very smart.”

Writers have tried just about everything to get the attention of agents, from stripper-grams to expensive champagne. ICM agent Nick Reed says one screenwriter, who had penned an “Indiana Jones"-style adventure yarn, carefully assembled the main character’s safari outfit and sent it, along with the script, to Reed’s office.

“If an inventive package hits my desk, I will normally respond by looking at it, because it shows me a level of commitment and imagination that is worthy of some time,” Reed says.

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As for Taylor and his billboards, Reed adds: “This business can be snobby sometimes. There may be some curiosity in meeting him, but if he doesn’t have the goods, the trick will actually work against him.”

Several agents contacted for this article said Taylor’s billboards didn’t impress them any more than an ad in the Variety classifieds. Defamer, a Hollywood insider gossip blog, was equally skeptical, quipping that Taylor’s billboards are “metaphysically situated at the intersection of writerly desperation and too much money lying around.”

Sure, Taylor’s modus operandi is more high-profile and extravagant than that of his peers, but his do-anything-to-get-noticed spirit isn’t new. Other writers have done it before, each in their own way, and some of them eventually found success.

“I would pose as a delivery guy, get onto a studio lot with about a dozen of my scripts in manila envelopes, find out where all the producers had offices and then systematically drop off copies,” remembers Tab Murphy, writer of Disney’s “Atlantis” and an Oscar nominee for “Gorillas in the Mist.”

“I did get a meeting with a producer who read my script,” Murphy says. “She advised me to get an agent to make my submissions for me.”

Some overzealous writers cross the line, behaving in stalker-like fashion. “Northfork” writer-director Michael Polish remembers one would-be screenwriter who posed as a journalist at a press junket. “He locked himself in our room and proceeded to pitch his film and deliver an elaborate package including his screenplay.”

“Shrek” writer Terry Rossio says he once received a fax with the words “look outside” in scrawled letters. “I went out to the patio, which is secured by a gated driveway, and there in the middle was a bag with a T-shirt, bottle of wine and a screenplay. Someone must have climbed over the gate to put it there. I was very weirded out.”

Taylor’s billboards aren’t going to “weird out” anyone in town, but the jury’s out as to whether they’ll lead to his big break or relegate him to that unique L.A. entourage of self-promoting celebrity wannabes, like Angelyne. Still, the billboard man is not without supporters.

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“I admire what he’s doing, for the mere fact that you really have to step out of the box in order to get noticed,” says Angela Cranon-Charles, publisher of Hollywood Scriptwriter magazine. “With the history and mind-set of Hollywood, I think if the right agent or manager were to see [the billboards], they might be curious and contact him. On the other hand, he might never get noticed. In a town this size, four billboards is not really a lot.”

Taylor knows his gambit might never pay off, and if so, he’ll stay in Arizona. But for now, he’s enjoying his 15 minutes of fame -- he was on “The Tonight Show” recently -- and he claims that an A-list star has requested one of his scripts.

“I think at the end of the day it’s not the billboards or how old I am that matters,” Taylor says. “It’s the quality of the writing that will decide whether I make it or not. And I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe I had it.”


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