What: “Gorgeous” Gordon Lippick was the hottest commodity on the bull riding rodeo circuit until he rode “Furious George,” the biggest meanest ugliest bull and crashed out of the money. Years later Gorgeous is an alcoholic foul-mouthed rodeo clown bent on revenging himself on the long missing Furious.
Who: Once the handsomest, sexiest, most talented bull rider in the world, Gorgeous Gordon Lippick is now no more than a joke; a foul-mouthed, foul smelling, dirt poor falling-down drunk rodeo clown. His rung on the ladder is so low it’s subterranean. Still haunted by nightmares of his humiliating downfall on Furious George, the bull with only one cloven hoof, when he crashed into a fence and slashed his leg, he dreams of nothing but finding the bull and killing it. Still all attempts at locating the bull have failed. Miserable sod that he is, Gordon thinks nothing of screwing everyone in sight in order to get the information he wants.
A kid comes up to him.
Kid: Hey mister! Mister Gorgeous!
Gorgeous: Fuck you want?
Kid: I got you what you asked for.
He hands him a six pack of Genessee.
Gorgeous: Oh. Good work. You find the other thing?
Gorgeous: Up front? You kidding?
The kid shakes his head, “no.” Gorgeous roots around in his pockets, comes out with a Band-aid, some Tums, a dollar and a mint. He hands it to the kid.
Kid: That’s it?
Gorgeous: Actually I need the Tums.
Kid: A dollar?
Gorgeous: What are you, buying a Lexus? You’ll get it. What do you got?
Kid: I saw it – a round hoof with no dent in it. My friend Joey showed me.
Gorgeous: Are you completely certain?
The kid nods and Gorgeous laboriously rises, favoring one leg. He takes a blue pill, swallows it with beer.
Kid: Why is you leg hurt? Did a bull stab you with its horn?
Gorgeous: No, it shot me with a crossbow, douchebag. Now c’mon, show me.
False trail, this time it was a horse, follows false trail, next time a droopy cow, all the while Gorgeous finds new ways to piss off everyone.
INT. THE RODEO RING –NIGHT
Gorgeous lurches forward wasted. As he gets to the center, a bull and rider erupt from the chute and charge toward him…The bull…charges for Gorgeous, who runs for his life. He barely escapes as the bull runs out. Gorgeous pants, feels something rising in his gut. He staggers to a barrel and PUKES into it in one great heave. He stands up, relieved, and then another clown stands – the one in the barrel.
Gorgeous does, however, have one fan – “Tupelo” Tom Cody, a young wannabe cowboy who, despite the abuse, believes that Gorgeous can help him get a spot on the circuit. Soon he has another one when he passes out in a corral.
He moves to get up and she grabs him by the arm to help.
Bobbie Joe: Easy. Just thought you might want a little help.
Gorgeous: Yeah well I don’t. I don’t need help from…
Bobbie Joe: Bobbie Joe Slayton.
Gorgeous: From you or any other lesbian, Bobbie Joe Slayton. In fact, I’m tired of people offering me things. Next person offers me something, I’m going to tear out their goddam liver, take a big bite, then wipe my ass with the rest of it, got it?
Bobbie Joe: I just thought you might want these.
He looks around, realizes he’s in the corral for the children’s pony rides – in just his skivvies. Around him is a ring of shocked parents and toddlers.
Bobbie Joe wants to break the barrier and become the first female bull rider and she needs Gorgeous’ help to do this. In return she will help him locate Furious. Progress is made.
No Meaner Place: “Bullsh*t” was Murray’s thesis script at the USC School of Cinema in the MFA writing program for which he received distinction from his thesis professor, Howard Rodman, a well respected screenwriter most recently nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for “Savage Grace.” Murray was one of my students in “The Entertainment Industry Seminar” in 2008. Following the end of the semester I was approached by several of the students to read their scripts and give them notes, which I did for everyone…everyone but Ben. I had no notes to give him. I loved this story from the first page to the last. Everytime it looked like this profane adventure was going to go in a conventional direction along came a twist and off it went in a different direction. Every time it seemed that redemption was around the corner, Murray stayed true to his character’s nature. Gorgeous is, for all practical purposes, unredeemable but not bad. Certainly he’s no “hooker with a heart of gold,” but neither is he The Devil, just a devil. Bad things have happened and been done to him.
Never has profanity been used more creatively and the situations are filled with pratfalls and slapstick although veering toward the violent but to hilarious effect yielding a true cinematic vision. He has created three dimensional, delightfully down and dirty characters that any actor would relish. Will Ferrell was born to play this derelict.
Amazingly, there has been very little interest in the screenplay. It has been optioned by a small production company, for which he is very grateful; but this is a large summer-scale movie and deserves studio backing, as well as interest from a first tier agency.
Life Lessons for Writers: Sometimes when you’re right you have to wait until they figure it out; and with features it’s all about the waiting.
Neely: As previously noted, Ben was one of my students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and like all of his classmates was required to write either a feature or a pilot as his Masters Thesis project. “Bullsh*t” was that thesis, receiving distinction from Howard Rodman. What everyone needs to know about Ben is that he’s actually quite mild mannered, extremely polite, and quite deferential (or at least that’s how he is to his professors…). He even warned me about the profanity before I read the script (so obviously he knows the real me as much as I know the real him). So, Ben… Where the hell did this come from?
Ben:Well, from two different places, I guess. I covered some rodeo for a tiny newspaper in Colorado. They wanted a different angle and I decided to write about the bulls and the breeders as a way into the cowboys. These are very small regional rodeos with cowboys hoping to move up to the bigger leagues. Three are maybe a dozen competitors with an audience that numbers in the hundreds. When it came to writing my script, I wanted to stick to something that would stand out in this crappy rodeo circuit. Originally it was going to be the story of a girl making it in rodeo but then because of my own profane tendencies the story of the clown came in and then took over. ‘What would be an obsession for the clown to have?’ and it developed into the idea of the clown assassinating a bull.
Neely: Like most of the MFA students you had a career before going back to school. Please describe your trajectory from college to grad school.
Ben: I majored in journalism at a school no one has heard of called St. Michaels in Vermont because I thought it was one way to satisfy my need to travel. Immediately after school I boarded a plane and got out in the town of Sitka, Alaska for a job that had already been set up for me. It was actually more of an internship than a job covering community news – city council, school boards, fishing competitions, and bear stalkings – reports of bears stalking people in the woods. Sitka was on an island of 10 miles of dead end roads that was over-populated with bears. After 6 months I flew to Boston to work for monster.com which was quite hip at the time. It drove me crazy for a year where I wrote articles about jobs and interviews. But then I read this piece about someone working in Antarctica and I had to go. I fought hard to get any kind of a job there and I ended up as a janitor at McMurto Station for 6 months. I tried to put some of those experiences in the pilot that you read; but I’ve tabled it for now. Then I came back and floated between Boston and Alaska before getting the job in Colorado. Eventually I ended up with a job in Europe, primarily England and Germany, where I covered the U.S. military. It was an amazing job, covering the military overseas which included a stint covering combat in Iraq for 7 weeks.
Neely: What was your impetus for going back to grad school?
Ben: I was stationed in Bavaria. It was very isolated, very German and very depressing and I decided that maybe I should go back to school. As I had flirted with film in college, applying to film school was the only thing I really wanted to try so I sent one application only (to USC) with the idea that if it hits, I’ll give it a ride.
Neely: You are at the beginning of your career, the first “breaking in” part, as Phoef Sutton might have described it. What have you been doing since graduation? How are you keeping a food on the table?
Ben: My day job is writing articles about social issues for the social-action website of Participant Media. They were producers on “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Syriana,” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s not scintillating work but it keeps a roof over my head.
Neely: What kind of meetings did you get out of “Bullsh*t? Anybody get offended?
Ben: Actually they’ve been few and far between, mainly with managers who liked the script and wanted a general meeting. I sent it out a lot. Some responded that “it was a bit strong for their taste,” but no one came out and said they were offended. I got a couple of follow-up meetings but so far no real nibbles for representation.
Neely: How were you able to get it out there?
Ben: The big hook was the USC script list. USC sends the list all over town and I got a lot of requests from that as well as requests from my meetings at “First Pitch.” Howard Rodman was a big supporter and handed it to Stuart Cornfeld at Red Hour Films, and that led to an informal meeting on the set of his latest pilot.
Neely: Well, even though it didn’t go anywhere with him, you never know. Everything in Hollywood has a long gestation period. I understand it’s been optioned by Andrew Lauren who produced the “Squid and the Whale.” Any idea where he plans on taking it?
Ben: They do smaller financing but they’d like to step up a bit with a bigger budget. They’d like to attach some actors before going out for more money. They want to put together an attractive package before going to the next phase.
Neely: What has the development process been like? What about the notes?
Ben: The option was predicated on their original notes which were some pretty good character notes. They wanted to flesh out the villain so he wasn’t just a “black hat” and develop Gorgeous’ side kick a bit more, give them more dimension. They also wanted more of a rooting interest for Gorgeous; to get the audience on his side quicker, which is tricky because you don’t want to make him really likable. Since then it’s been variations on those scenes. They wanted to eliminate the Gorgeous love story (note: this arc was not mentioned in the above synopsis) which, while psychologically difficult for me did end up opening up the room to further develop the other characters.
Neely: What about the development process when you were writing the script for class?
Ben: There was a scene that I absolutely loved that I had to drop. I still think about it, it was so vivid and I was desperate to make it work. This cowboy, one of the secondary villains, had a hormone condition that gave him absolutely perfect breasts and I had a sequence where Gorgeous was trying to deal with the cowboy while he was pumping his breasts. I loved the imagery but sadly it’s for a different film. It was way too over the top and I didn’t discover that until I did a cold read in class. It was clear it didn’t fit.
Neely: How much of you is in Gorgeous and would your friends agree?
Ben: The language is me, well at least among my friends where I use the F-bomb quite liberally. I can’t lay claim to a being a decade-long alcoholic at the bottom, but after a few beers I definitely sound like Gorgeous. I just chose to apply my most vulgar self to the fiction.
Neely: What else are you working on? How are you mining that diverse background of yours?
Ben: I’m part of a new program at the USC film school called “First Team.” They try to pair someone from each discipline – writer, director and producer – to come up with a script, a budget and a marketing plan. Then the film school sends it out to select agents and production companies. It was by application open to any alumni and they took 30 from each discipline. My feature is another R-rated comedy and it’s due in a couple of weeks; so we’ll see.
Neely: As one who is not from around these here parts, how are you adjusting? Do you get restless to go back into the wilderness?
Ben: Only just so well. It’s complicated. LA is a real challenge and I’d rather be out in the nowhere doing something interesting day-to-day. Covering the military was the highlight for me. Here I’m writing so much it’s an isolating experience. I was happier when I was adventuring in someway; it generated better stories. Like Antarctica: there I worked 10-hour shifts cleaning hallways and then, later, driving buses in 24-hour daylight to airports made out of floating sea ice. Awesome. Do I get restless to go back to the wilderness? I would leave for Antarctica tomorrow if someone offered it. Really. Or Siberia, maybe, or Afghanistan to cover the troops. L.A. - I just try to good naturedly hate it here.
Neely: I wish you well and hope that someone reading this will be in a position to help you get a good agent and push you in the direction you want to go.