Crossroads

I wrote previously about my casino thieves movie Crossroaders.Through the years it’s come close to being made, made some nice money through multiple options, got semis at Nicholl, but in the end it never happened. Today it sits up on a shelf in my Chicago home, aging reasonably well, but unmade, alas!

In a nutshell, here’s what happened…

1995. I’m on a casino boat in Aurora, Illinois. Home of Wayne and Garth, Aurora is also home of some scary creatures—blue-haired old ladies who feed on fatty buffet corned beef, then degenerate into zombies with a blood lust for slot machine action. Picture the Hollywood casino-boat gangplank coming down at 2 a.m., and these creatures emerging in bathrobes and curlers, zombie-stepping right toward your table.

Crossroaders somehow didn’t turn into a black comedy. I jam in some inside knowledge only a five-year casino craps dealer would know. The movie is about dice switching—how a “crew”would bust dice in for a short time, bet heavy, in and out, and switch the dice back without the box or floorman knowing.

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1996. The script gets me an agent at William Morris, which gets me an option at Haft Entertainment. Optioning isn’t buying the condo, it’s renting. They have a year to find other people’s money to make my project. They send it all over L.A. and find interest at Live Entertainment(PI, Dead Men Can’t Dance). They quickly find a “name” director—whose name I’ll leave out (coming up with a similar sounding rhymer is just dumb). They start work on a preliminary budget, running some numbers on just how many name actors they’d need for advance-sales. Through Morris it won’t be hard to get it to, say, Matt Damon. Once you have him, or some equivalent box office draw, done deal baby!

1997. Like Tom Petty says: “The waiting is the hardest part.” Everyone is still upbeat, but the money isn’t in the bank. You don’t want to be that guy as a client, so you don’t call your agent excessively to find out the latest. The days going by turned into weeks. And the weeks into months.

Then some news: Matt Damon turned us down. He’s doing another gambling movie, ramping up in pre-production right now, backed by Miramax, called Rounders.

The fact that Rounders isn’t about dice thieves is small comfort. This news kinda…blows.

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1998. Three years in and Live Entertainment lowballs us on the new option. We bail. Then I bail on William Morris. Or they bail on me, not much difference…Crossroaders goes up on my shelf, and stays there for six years.

2004. Crossroaders resembles more door stop than hot property. Not sure why, but I send it in to Nicholl Fellowship. Zero expectations. If you’ve never stepped foot in a craps pit, there’s an expression: “Don’t bet scared money.” It means don’t bet the rent money. Don’t need something so badly that you’ll do anything to make it happen. Because scared money always loses. So, of course, with zero expectations, Crossroaders moves to the semi-final round at Nicholl. That means going from about 8,000 screenplays to about 150. And 25 emails in my Inbox from people who never heard of me, but who monitor the contest—agents, managers, production companies. Hey, Crossroaders is in play again!

I research the queries (and if you get this far, you must, do not send your script to anyone who calls themselves a producer or manager). I sign releases and send the script to a bunch of companies including Jerry Bruckheimer’s people (Oceans 11 producers, maybe looking for a follow-up casino story?) and Benderspink. I send the script off and wait.

2005. And wait.

2006. And wait. Interestingly, I resubmit the same script to Nicholl, unchanged. It doesn’t get past the first round! This proves WHO is reading your script is just as much a factor as the script itself. Crossroaders goes back on the shelf, or occasionally becomes useful as a door stop. Then nine years go by.

2015. Something interesting happens. D.I.Y. movie-making is upon us–the Church of Micro-Budget, and all 4K digital miracles therein. Crossroaders has been vetted. The world has confirmed the script is worthy, on multiple occasions. In 1998 I needed five million dollars to make this movie. But in 2015? Maybe it can be done micro-budget…

Here’s the part you want to take note of, Good Reader. Consider re-purposing that Indie-budgeted script gathering dust on your shelf. What would it take to knock a zero off the budget? How do we make a five million dollar film for $200,000?

For Crossroaders, it would mean a swap out of Vegas for Chicago, the early flashbacks would go. So would Atlantic City. Instead of the landscape being the early days of casino gambling in New Jersey, how about an underground club in West Chicago? Dump the period-piece details, keep the focus on the dice thieves, on the con itself. The emotional heart of the story is of a son’s vindication after his father’s death, taking down the man who killed him, who also happens to run the casino. Revenge is timeless. It could be done micro. It might be worth a couple months and one more script pass. If it doesn’t work, the script can always go back into door stop mode.

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This is what micro-budget is about. In ’98, I needed five million to make this thing. I’d urge you to do the same. Check out what you’ve already written, see if there’s a micro-budget possibility.

The minute you need other people’s money, you lose control. With some screenwriting sleight of hand, maybe you can shoot it for a five-figure budget. And while raising $50,000 isn’t a walk in the park, it’s got the Odyssey of  finding five million beat every day.

Pulling a project out from the realm of the almost-made back into the realm of making it happen?

Three cheers for repurposing.

 Casino

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