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The revelations of ‘Parents Weekend’

Special to The Times

Time to stash the bong and the bottle of Sauza.

Screenwriter Barry Schwartz has sold his original script “Parents Weekend” to Arnold Kopelson, Oscar-winning producer of “Platoon,” “The Fugitive” and “Se7en,” for low-six figures against mid-six figures. Schwartz describes his R-rated comedy as “a life-event milestone movie, like ‘Meet the Parents’ or ‘Knocked Up,’ ” that takes place during the 48 hours when “the kids and the parents get to see each other as independent people for the first time ever.”

Ben, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Pennsylvania (Schwartz’s alma mater), nervously hosts his parents while trying to hide the fact that he’s already dropped out of their legacy school and enrolled at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the sudden empty nesters have their own secret -- they basically split up the moment he left for college. Stirring the mix is Ben’s freshman crush, a Choate-Exeter prep school type who’s on the fence about whether she likes guys or girls.

“There’s really nothing more nakedly revealing when you’re 18 than being seen in the presence of your parents,” the 28-year-old Schwartz says. “Everything that you have tried to change about yourself in those [first] two or three months of school gets blasted into relief. You have the same dorky laugh that your dad does. You make the same nervous joke that your mom does. And everyone can see that -- it’s on display.”

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Schwartz is repped by Jeff Gorin and Aaron Hart at William Morris and manager Rich Demato at Fuse Entertainment, who went out with the spec last Monday and sold it 24 hours later. Schwartz developed the story idea first with writing partner Raza Syed, an associate producer on the project, and based it on his own concerns for his parents’ marriage when his younger brother left for college.

Last year, Schwartz and Syed wrote a script for Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Picture Co. and DreamWorks called “Bromance,” a “heterosexual romantic comedy” about “the like that dare not speak its name,” jokes Schwartz. They are also writing a feature script for DreamWorks Animation.

A Long Island native, Schwartz traveled in China and Tibet post-graduation, then wrote “really pretentious experimental fiction” in Austin for a while. It wasn’t until he was working in the Miramax acquisitions department in New York City that he determined he could write screenplays “at least as mediocre as the scripts that we were getting in there.”

Hey, Jack: Pull out that script

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In the March-April 2008 issue of AARP magazine, journalist Nancy Griffin asks Jack Nicholson, “Would you like to fall in love again?”

“Who would not want to?” responded the 70-year-old actor. “One of the things I get from my contemporaries, in an intimate talk, is that almost all of them say, ‘I just want that one last big romance.’ I don’t do a lot of original screenwriting anymore, but if I were, I’d find a way to make this the dramatic narrative of a movie because it’s one of those silent yearnings of my own age group.”

An intriguing prospect in its own right, this brought to mind a story that Scriptland reader Michael Ludmer, who was Universal’s story editor for 20 years in the ‘60s and ‘70s, shared with me a while back. In 1962, when MCA took over Universal Pictures, MCA’s founder, Jules Stein, announced a program called New Horizons that invited unknown filmmakers to submit screenplays directly to the studio. According to Ludmer, who had not been informed, his desk was suddenly “buried in hundreds of unsolicited, un-agented scripts from mostly novice screenwriters.”

One script, “To Hold a Mirror” (a.k.a. “Epitaph”), was submitted by production executive Julian Ludwig on behalf of a young actor who wanted to direct and star in his story of a day in the Hollywood life of a struggling film actor trying to raise money for his girlfriend’s abortion. The script was “a story editor’s dream come true,” recalled Ludmer, “riveting, thoughtful and, above all, entertaining.” But, as he explained to Ludwig and the disgusted writer-actor in a tense meeting, the studio would never make what would surely be an X-rated feature.

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The writer was Nicholson, who at the time was appearing in Roger Corman B-movies like “The Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Terror.” Director Monte Hellman (“Two-Lane Blacktop”) nearly filmed the script a few years later, but producer Corman decided against it.

Nicholson did go on to have screenplays produced, starting with “Thunder Island” in 1963 and including other ‘60s films “Flight to Fury,” “Ride in the Whirlwind” and “The Trip.” (He even co-wrote a Monkees movie called “Head” in 1968.) “Drive, He Said,” co-written with Jeremy Larner in 1971, was Nicholson’s last produced script, which he also directed.

“Why am I telling you this?” asked Ludmer. “I hold the strong belief that ‘To Hold a Mirror’ will make a fine movie even today.”

Unfortunately, Ludmer did not make a copy, Ludwig passed away last year and Nicholson’s longtime agent, Sandy Bresler, had no recollection of the script when I asked him. It’s been decades since the three-time Oscar winner has been out of work, but perhaps Nicholson can find time to look through some old file boxes. I’d sure like to get a look.

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An equal footing is the focus here

On Friday, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University in Orange is holding its eighth annual Women in Focus conference. The afternoon events are open to the public, and anyone interested in hearing about the female writer’s experience in Hollywood may want to attend since the organizers have assembled a formidable list of guest speakers.

“To Die For” and “Spider-Man” producer Laura Ziskin will moderate a pair of panels that feature Karen McCullah Lutz (“Legally Blonde”), Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”), TV writer Cynthia Whitcomb (“I Know My First Name Is Steven”), Leslie Dixon (“Hairspray”) and Oscar-nominated writer-director Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”).

These TV and film writers will discuss their produced work, their creative processes and their routes to success in a male-dominated industry. Afterward, one-on-one time may be possible during an informal mixer.

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Go online for details: ftv.chapman.edu/news/women_in_focus.cfm.

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Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.


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