IT’S an unfortunate occupational hazard that a pitch meeting can sometimes take on the strained air of a prison visit. So you have to wonder whether it was surprised delight or embarrassed horror that Disney executive Kristin Burr experienced when a pair of white Mormon guys pitching their take on a rewrite of a comedy script suddenly broke into a spirited rendition of Frankie Smith’s 1981 funk classic “Double Dutch Bus,” complete with the rap bridge between Frankie and the girls: Shillzu-gillzar! Willzeye-nilzot, bilzzaby? Willze illzare plizzayin’ dizzouble Dizzutch!
(Translation: Sugar! Why not, baby? We are playin’ double Dutch!)
You’ve gotta admit, that’s one heck of a high-risk move for the writers, even at the sing-songy Mouse House. But, amazingly, it wizzorked. Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio landed the gig rewriting “College Road Trip” (which opened Friday). I guess you could say they brought perfect pitch (rim shot, please).
That meeting was not the first time Paul and Daurio had brought some toe-tapping harmonies to a studio conference room. They estimate that 90% of their pitch work over the last nine years has involved some kind of a cappella performance. (The two met at a church musical in 1997, then toured the Valley mall circuit as part of a six-piece cover band.) “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!,” opening Friday, is one of the few assignments the two acquired without a song. But Paul (on piano) and star Jim Carrey did break into a “Once"-style ballad one day in the studio that nearly made the film’s soundtrack (check the DVD extras for that B-side).
The writers’ motivation is to find a way to illuminate character in a comedic way, so while the entire pitch is not performed Broadway-style, a crucial scene becomes better illustrated and provides a feel for the soundtrack and tone. Given the too-often stale pitch format, Paul and Daurio say it’s good for the execs too.
“It sort of acts as the scene would act in the movie, where it wakes you up and gets you into it,” Daurio says.
Such an eccentric move -- especially in a milieu that subsists on formula -- has its pitfalls. “We’ve crashed and burned in many rooms,” says Daurio. Paul remembers one meeting in which the glassy-eyed executive sat unresponsive as they did their spiel, complete with a performance of Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” before saying finally, “Well . . . that was loud.”
Some other highlights from their career set list:
* Acting out the climactic wedding scene in their “Bubble Boy” pitch to Disney in 1999 with a soulful interpretation of the “Land of the Lost” theme song, their first use of the song-pitch format.
* Pitching Warner Bros. on Martin Lawrence singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” to Steve Martin in an unproduced comedy called “Car Wars.”
* Presenting Tony Award-winner Jason Alexander with “Musical Man,” about a musical-hating theater critic who gets hit on the head and wakes up inside one, with all original songs. They did not make that sale. “Way too much music in that one,” sighs Daurio.
* Selling New Line on their original script “When Dads Were Men,” with a “Back to the Future"-like parallel reality plot that takes a Bruce Springsteen fan back to a South Jersey prom-night performance of “Blinded by the Light,” when the Boss was still just the 20-year-old singer for Steel Mill.
“Pitches from you guys are like dinner theater,” Paul remembers a Disney exec once commenting. “We took that as a compliment,” Paul says.
‘Stuck’ on a grim, gory reality
“This hasn’t been a good day for me, you know?”
So says the beaten-down, homeless, jobless Tom to an indifferent employment office drone early on in “Stuck,” a wicked little film that’s been careening around the festival circuit over the last year. Poor Tom. He has no idea how much of an agonizing understatement this will turn out to be.
Written by John Strysik (“Tales From the Darkside”) and directed by “Re-Animator” mad scientist Stuart Gordon, “Stuck” first screened in Cannes in May, then turned up in the Midnight Madness section in Toronto and now just took the Jury Prize for best narrative at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.
Based on a real event, “Stuck” hangs its grim, and grimly funny, B-movie plot on a simple premise. A young woman (Mena Suvari) driving home after a night of partying and drugs plows into down-on-his-fortunes Tom (Stephen Rea), who lands broken and impaled in her windshield. In a panic, she stashes the car, with bloody, groaning human hood ornament, in her garage, hoping that he will just expire.
Unlike the ill-fated real guy, who tragically died two days later, Tom does not, and the movie consists of his grueling efforts to dislodge himself as she goes to increasingly selfish lengths to protect herself. (The real woman, with whom Strysik had no contact, is serving a 50-year prison sentence; Strysik drew the broad strokes from the police report, which you can cringe through at www.thesmokinggun.com /archive/mallard1.html.)
“Initially, I was hesitant because I really didn’t want to exploit this guy -- it was such an awful thing,” says Strysik. “But then I thought, ‘We’re not exploiting the guy. We’re doing what should have been done -- [telling a story] where he wins.’ ”
Strysik mixed ink-black humor, gore and suspense from Tom’s gruesome crucible, so it’s the type of film that stirs viewers to shout at the characters and their decisions (one viewer yelled, “Kill the [expletive]!,” during a climactic scene). “Watching this with an audience is like watching ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ ” says Strysik. “People are just screaming at the screen.”
Noting the response to the film last fall (and surely seeing a cult hit in the making), ThinkFilm has come on to give “Stuck” a theatrical release May 30. If you want to see it before then, you’ll have to head down to AFI Dallas in April, where it should stir up some bonus brouhaha since the incident happened next door in Fort Worth.
A word of caution, however, if you do: Take a cab to the theater. Don’t walk.
Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.