What: Perini Sports Management Company is the largest sports agency in the world representing the most famous and most important sports figures of the last quarter century, but what really sets it apart is one player – Jay Marly, the company fixer.
Who: Jay Marly lives in the shadows reporting only to Alan Perini. When a represented athlete gets into trouble, Jay is there. Chad Willis, all pro NFL Quarterback, recent recipient of the Walter Payton Award as the league’s most charitable player, is a spokesperson for Christian Outreach, spreading the liturgy and love of Christ throughout Latin America, and his wife’s new charity “Blaze a glorious Path,” an “organization dedicated to helping girls and young women make good choices through the guidelines outlined for them in scripture.” Chad has other ways of helping young women with their choices, but it involves drugs, alcohol and sex and not the scripture. Jay, who sees most and anticipates all, finds Chad in a room at the Waldorf Astoria waking up on the king size bed, white powder bleeding from his nostrils and two porn stars comatose on the floor, one choking on her own vomit and the other without a pulse. Springing into action, Jay clears the airway of the one, injects the other with adrenaline and instructs Chad to clear out immediately while he removes all signs of his presence.
The public perception of Perini’s athletes must be maintained and Jay is there, behind the scenes, for damage control and crisis management. He maintains contacts with the great, near great and the humble by doing favors, providing product, or dispensing information because a favor given is a favor owed. So important is that give and take that when an up and coming online tabloid, ZZM.com, is given the scoop about the homosexual preferences of Devin May, star NY Nicks player, they quash it when Jay offers them up an even tastier tidbit. Jay, procurer for Devin’s “weakness,” having gone to Madame Ling’s Chinatown brothel for the services of “Wizard,” a young white junkie, had paid handsomely for his silence; now he knows that there will be more heard from Wizard unless he gets there first. And the tidbit?
Chad, short of memory and limited in the grateful department, has been meeting with a rival agency, Silver Wentz, hoping for a bigger push in the endorsement arena. Warned by Jay that there will be consequences if he jumps ship, Chad is convinced that he’s invincible and signs with the other agency, having been assured by them that Perini would never dare do anything because it would kill relations with their other clients. Silver Wentz was wrong and Chad was arrogant because Jay immediately took the steps he warned Chad about. He feeds ZZM.com the video tapes of Chad’s Waldorf encounter, and is behind the lawsuits filed against Chad by “Tigra Backdoor” and “Connie Cummer,” the professional names of the two porn stars, for reckless endangerment, furnishing narcotics and dozens of other claims. In short order, Chad is dropped by the new agency, loses all previous endorsements, and is well on his way to losing his wife Hilary and half of all his possessions.
INT. CHAD’S MANSION, MASTER BEDROOM – NIGHT
In the huge bedroom, Hilary, Chad’s wife is balling her eyes out and throwing any heavy object she can find at Chad’s head as he stands across the room, athletically dodging each projectile and looking very guilty.
Hilary: Porn stars?! Cocaine?!
Chad: Baby, it’s all lies!
Hilary: When it’s the same story, over and over, your whole life?! You’re never going to change!
Chad: You’ve changed me! Christ has changed me!
The mention of Christ causes Hilary’s face to boil up with fury. She looks around the room for something particularly lethal to throw at Chad’s head, finally settling on A HEISMAN TROPHY on the bureau, holding it high in the air.
Chad: Oh, no, baby. Not the Heisman.
Hilary: Is this what really matters to you, Chad?!
Chad: No, of course not. You matter to me. And the kids. Our family. Nothing else. (beat) But, don’t get me wrong, the Heisman’s a big deal.
Hilary throws the Heisman as hard as she can. Chad ducks and the trophy sails through the window behind him in a crash of broken glass. It lands in the back yard with the sound of a dog squealing painfully.
Chad rushes to the window and looks down with deep concern on his face.
Chad: Jesus, baby, you killed Crackers.
Hilary: Get out!!!
No Meaner Place: As I’ve said before, there’s just nothing like a really juicy soap and this one is truly sudsy. The world of sports is rarely entered outside the realm of telecast games and competitions; but given the sheer numbers of viewers, there doesn’t seem to be a lack of interest. And what about sports scandals? In so many ways they are so much more interesting and shocking than those of actors and celebutantes if only because the general public seems to hold them to a higher standard. Now why that is, I have no idea, especially since so many are a rather uneducated lot, despite the meaningless years in college, who often come from impoverished backgrounds and spend their new found riches like trailer trash hitting the lottery. Were we not shocked by Tiger’s fall from the pedestal and Kobe’s trial in Denver? How about Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and their gambling addictions? These men were clearly in need of a fixer like Jay.
Certainly I’m not surprised that this wasn’t picked up by ESPN, especially after their aborted foray into scripted drama with “Playmakers,” the football themed series that threatened their relationship with the NFL. The show was no great loss creatively, but the reasons for its cancellation show just how powerful the sports entities are. Still, with a slight tone down (and the graphic homosexual act between Devin and Wizard was the only truly censorable scene) this could have been a good 10:00 show on network. But then again, there is always the long arm of the NFL and the NBA to contend with. I wonder?
Life Lessons for Writers: Nothing is out of bounds, unless it’s off limits.
Neely: I have to say I just loved the pure evilness of this. It was so steeped in Old Hollywood and how they used to buy off the police and then swoop in whenever there was a mess to clean up. The William Desmond Taylor murder in the 1920s was a perfect example of this.
Tom: I felt like the idea of a “fixer” was so right for today. In the olden days you only had a few forces you had to control or pay off; but today it’s just infinite. Think of the number of media outlets and the countless on or off the record sources out there. Also law enforcement is much more sophisticated. In today’s world a “fixer” would have to be an octopus.
Neely: Was this always meant to be set in the environment of major sports?
Tom: I toyed with it being in Hollywood but that’s just too obvious. Professional sports are a better metaphor for what the series is about.
Neely: What is it about?
Tom: Branding. The branding of professional athletes as a metaphor for the branding we all do of ourselves. The distance between who we want to be and who we truly are. For the main character, Jay, that distance is constantly evolving and mutating depending on his circumstances and the childhood demons he's trying to reconcile. In the end, I think the show is trying to say that our basic morality depends on how much distance we can close between our brand and ourselves but just like a professional athlete trying to live up to a two dimensional ad agency created character to endorse sneakers or sports drinks or sports watches, the endeavor is doomed to fail.
Neely: Without trying to sound too naïve, do you think this actually goes on?
Tom: Of course. Don’t you?
Neely: The money that is involved is staggering. Besides the athlete, who stands to lose the most?
Tom: The athlete’s agency, for one, but especially the corporate sponsor. Ultimately, how much will Nike, by standing by Tiger Woods, lose? It’s a good template.
Neely: Who was this taken out to and what was the reaction?
Tom: It went out fairly wide, mostly to cable and the producers who sell to FX and AMC – those kinds of places.
Neely: Any constructive notes?
Tom: Well, the reaction was that it was too dark; too subversive; that the sports world is too rarified. I didn’t get any specific notes; the criticisms were general and to address them I would have had to change the whole thing.
Neely: The concern I voiced earlier was that the professional sports organizations have a way of acting in concert and although this is a delectable morsel for the TV viewing audience, the big organizations have every reason to want to quash this. It is unfortunate but true that a great many viewers believe that what they are seeing on television is true or based on fact. For both good and ill, people will view this as a “roman à clef.”
Tom: I was trying to write an authentic, compelling drama; in doing so you run the risk of drawing the audience in too close. It’s possible they (the buyers) were running scared. Given the amount of money the networks have invested in professional sports, it wouldn’t surprise me.
Neely: So how can you save the concept and go forward?
Tom: I could always go back to the Hollywood scene but that would make it run into a whole new slate of problems.
Neely: Yes, but in Hollywood there’s this tendency to enjoy the pain of others. Besides, no one ever sees themselves in the equation – the clueless belief that it’s always about someone else.
Tom: Yeah. It might be more suited to “Entourage” in tone. I hadn’t really thought about it. It’s a conversation I need to have with Jack.
Neely: Let’s talk a bit about you. I see you have had several features in development, but so far no produced credits. How did you get started?
Tom: I went to Gettysburg College, a small college in Pennsylvania, where I majored in Political Science with an eye toward going to law school. But I always wanted to write and when I had a near-death experience after college, I realized life was too short not to do what you love. After I got out I just started writing, and I wrote and wrote and wrote and then sent all my scripts out to everyone I knew in Hollywood – which consisted of about 3 people. Eventually that got me a manager. I was able to option a few things for very low money…and then I got my first sale to Escape Artists which allowed me to be a full time writer and quit my day job, so to speak (I was managing a telemarketing office). My first sale was a feature script called “Wedlocked” in 2001. Meg Ryan and Richard Gere were attached for a long time; but when after 5 years Meg dropped out, wanting to take her career in a different direction, the whole thing imploded, but it did get me an agent.
Neely: Which of your films is the closest to getting out of development hell?
Tom: “Hit List,” the script I wrote in 1995, and was the script that got me a manager, was just finished as a low budget. We’re still looking for a distributor. Minh Collins, a friend, scraped up the money to film it, and he directed it. The rough cut is due in a couple of weeks.
Neely: What’s it about?
Tom: It’s a dark romantic comedy about a woman who goes through life making a list of all the people she'd like to see dead, from the guy who took her virginity to the guy who took her parking spot and everyone in between. She ends up falling in love with a guy who unbeknownst to her, is a hit man. He finds her list and makes it come true.
Neely: Was this based on any personal experiences?
Tom: In the mid 90's I joined a cheap dating service because I was too broke to pay for any of the reputable ones. This led to some incredibly scary and incredibly entertaining dates with women who tried to recruit me into drug trafficking rings, steal my identity and use me to make their federal prison inmate husbands jealous. I'm really lucky to have lived through it.
Neely: You know, besides a movie, there’s a series there – one about the people who run a cheap online dating service and the situations that occur. But anyway, moving back to you. I know you don’t live in these here parts – where are you based?
Tom: Oregon. I lived in LA for over 15 years, but when my wife and I had kids, we wanted to give them a more rural upbringing and we couldn’t do that in LA. I commute to LA one week a month. I still own a house here and could relocate at any time if need be. I do a lot of driving. I’m still a working writer and I’m still living off the things I previously sold and optioned. The reason I’m trying to break into television is because I’m hoping to branch out.
Neely: I notice a recurring theme in several of your screenplays – that of someone trying to overcome his or her past and make amends. Is this theme personal and if it is, can you share some of the reasons?
Tom: The quest for redemption is as fundamental to our nature as human beings as the quest for love and far less attainable. It's an instinctive drive that really lends itself to drama because it's so perpetual and universal. I've done things in my life that make me wonder if I'm worthy of redemption and wondering this inevitably becomes an investigation into my own soul which inevitably becomes an investigation into the nature of the universe. There's really no right or wrong conclusion to these investigations which is what makes them so beguiling. And so much fun to watch. I hope.
Neely: Let’s talk a bit about development hell. What is missing from the equation of your films? Is it financing, although I notice that there are some fairly prominent financial backers on most of them, or distribution, or all of the above?
Tom: It's a number of factors. Luck is certainly one, and I've had quite a bit of bad luck. But the principle reason, if I had to pick one, is that I tend to write stories that are difficult to market and more and more financiers are only investing in stories that lend themselves to dynamic marketing campaigns.
Neely: I have the students in my class analyze the structure of Fox Searchlight because I want them to notice that the largest and probably most important department is Marketing and Publicity. They, like most other studios, won’t greenlight unless they can visualize the poster.
Tom: I need to write something that lends itself to marketing.
Neely: That’s not to say you can’t be part of the process. Looking back on your films, come up with your own poster. If you can’t, who’s going to go see it?
Neely: Any advice for the young writer/filmmaker?
Tom: If you feel it in your bones, never give up.
Neely: What’s in the hopper?
Tom: I have a bunch of things – several features. My only TV is “Game.” I’m giving serious thought to taking the concept into an unexpected arena.
Neely: You might also look at selling it to British television. They aren’t so afraid of ruffling feathers as we are. I definitely look forward to reading more of your material in the future. Thanks for spending the time with me. I have attached the link to the trailer for “Hit List.” It’s hilarious and I think everyone will enjoy it. Please keep me posted on the opening.