Work hours at play
Who says you have to suffer for your art? The unofficial Karen Lutz/Kirsten Smith manual states that nothing makes writing fun faster than a partner, a pool and a couple “bottles of Woo!”
Lutz and Smith (“10 Things I Hate About You,” “Legally Blonde,” “Ella Enchanted”) are one of the most successful female writing teams in movies today. And they attribute this success, at least partly, to working hard to make work seem like a vacation.
So on a recent weekday afternoon -- at the 2 p.m. start of the day’s five-hour shift -- Lutz efficiently popped a bottle of Leclerc Briant on the poolside deck of her expansive home. Immediately from around the corner came Smith’s hearty “Woo!” as Lutz filled opaque red flutes. Before long, Smith’s legal pad was in hand as she paced, jotted notes and acted out potential dialogue, while Lutz laid serenely still on a raft midpool as she worked out the movie in her head.
“Our male writer friends, they need that office to go to, where they’re putting in their 9-to-5 and it’s this manly grind,” says Smith (known as “Kiwi”). “And with us, it’s more like, ‘We’re having a little fiesta together!’ ”
A trip to Lutz’s Puerto Vallarta time share early in their partnership in the mid-'90s seasoned the habit. “We outlined ’10 Things’ with a bucket of Corona between our legs on the beach,” says Lutz. “So we decided . . . to go with that.”
Right now, two of their rewrite jobs, “Bride Wars” and “The Ugly Truth,” are filming, and their original comedy, “The House Bunny,” will be released in August. Lutz also has a solo drama script called “Long Time Gone” shooting this summer, and Smith is producing “Whip It!,” written by Shauna Cross, for director Drew Barrymore this year.
Meanwhile, they both publish fiction -- Smith writes young adult novels and Lutz “raunchy chick lit” -- and they’re putting together a female buddy comedy pitch for “Bunny” star Anna Faris.
“She’s the sexy, horny one, and I’m the stunted adolescent,” jokes Smith of a partnership that has even endured a stint in couples therapy (no, they’re not actually a couple). “We’re like a walking female buddy comedy!”
Lutz chuckles and unleashes the cork on a bottle of Moet, its golden contents cascading over the rim.
“Woo!” go the ladies.
Witty pitch puts ‘Duck’ on table
This is the impulsive response UTA talent agent Billy Lazarus BlackBerried from his Maldives vacation in December after scanning an e-mail from someone named Neeraj Katyal, who was pitching a script. These are the types of ubiquitous e-mails that agents typically delete without remorse, but this one was accompanied by a witty query letter and an eye-grabbing title: “The Amazing Adventures of the Monogamous Duck.”
Once back home, Lazarus read it, loved it and passed it to his equally impressed colleague, Barbara Dreyfus, a literary agent, and within a week they had signed the New York writer and brought producer Nina Jacobson onboard to shepherd the script. “Duck” follows a drug addict and once-promising novelist who, after leaving a long-term treatment facility, travels to California to reconnect with the surrogate family that had taken him in years earlier as a troubled teen.
“I’ve had my own troubles with that sort of thing,” says Katyal, 30, who owns up to some of the elements he worked into the story over the last five years.
“I was moved by the fallibility of the hero,” says Jacobson, former president of the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, “and the fact that he managed to be heroic and yet deeply flawed at the same time.”
Since this was during the strike, everyone was desperate to read a highly regarded original script not attached to a union writer. So despite UTA and Jacobson’s efforts to keep it quiet until they had the script’s ending where they wanted it, “Duck” inevitably flew out around town and prompted a flood of calls from producers and studio executives wanting to meet Katyal.
Harvey Weinstein finally aggressively persuaded Katyal’s reps to sell the Weinstein Co. the script for mid six figures against high six figures with a relatively short timeline committed to making the film. So Katyal is back in New York finishing a draft.
“I’ve sort of messed everything up my entire life,” says Katyal. “And this is something now that there’s more a sense of obligation to these people than there has been, unfortunately, to my family even, or myself. When you get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if you don’t run with it, you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself.”
MacFarlane keeps some control
Well, after 29 months of grueling, stop-and-start negotiations, Fox TV and “Family Guy” life force Seth MacFarlane finally came to an agreement on a new contract. The deal, worth tens of millions of dollars, essentially binds MacFarlane to Fox for the next five years as he expands his animated TV comedy empire.
But there’s one thing Fox didn’t get: ownership of a feature pitch that MacFarlane sold last year to independent outfit Media Rights Capital (he also signed a deal with MRC to create Web shorts). MacFarlane has since penned the screenplay for the feature with “Family Guy” writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.
MacFarlane, who was offered Universal’s big-budget “Land of the Lost” to direct, has said he’d like to make features. But Fox TV doesn’t want anything to distract MacFarlane from the profitable “Family Guy” brand, one of the most popular series on college campuses nationwide. According to someone close to the negotiations, the studio would prefer he not even do a “Family Guy” movie (which it would own) for a while, let alone a film for another company or distributor.
This seems odd since “Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story” was the bestselling straight-to-DVD movie of 2005, grossing $78 million. But given MacFarlane’s wide-ranging commitments -- and the clauses of the contract, which require that he have two rock-solid executive producers on each of his shows and that he continue doing his multi-character voice work on all of them before he can make a film -- he’ll be able to make a movie only if he can somehow animate a tear in the fabric of time.
Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to email@example.com.