Diverging

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As many of you probably know, I am a big fan of movies. I mean, a REALLY big fan of movies. In fact, there was a time when I dabbled in the gilded profession, creating extremely low-budget trailers for unfilmed epics with titles such as Dumb Guy Forever and John Woo Style (the latter refers not to director John Woo’s famous love of slow-motion gunplay and overwrought sentimentality, but rather, the courtship techniques of one John Woodward, a childhood acquaintance who made his way through the cheerleaders of Rockland High School like Brad Pitt at a Mary Kay convention).

Pooling our resources of a video camera, $29.55, a ski jacket and a pair of Wal-Mart sunglasses, my friends and I filmed flashy trailers based on the scripts I wrote. There was only one film I actually tried to make in its entirety: a little thriller called Two Roads Diverged. The script expanded on themes I began exploring in Dumb White Guy (DWG) and Dumb Guy Forever, but instead of relying on goofy satire and a distinct lack of plot, Roads was a true thriller. The plot centered around a covert black-ops agent, Ed Winters (while I prefer to stick to the Hollywood maxim that all action heroes are named John or Jack I couldn’t help but namedrop well, me – ya see, I’m a full-blown narcissist and can’t help myself – hey with a balding, doughy physique like mine, can ya’ blame me). Anyway Jack, err Ed, is assigned to assassinate a former government employee turned whistleblower. He refuses and, in a slam-bang action sequence, escapes the FBI headquarters in Quantico and sets out to prevent the FBI from killing their target. Who do they choose to take Jack’s place and kill the whistleblower? His childhood friend and fellow agent Ryan Coulton, who has no qualms about “neutralizing” a threat to the stability of his government.

Really, the plot was an excuse for my friends and I to brandish toy guns (painted black to hide the government-mandated bright orange barrels) and run around a lot. I enlisted my cousin Jason, then an undergraduate at Harvard, to play the son of the whistleblower, which allowed us to shoot in historic Harvard Yard, though I later learned that was very illegal and, had we shown the film to anyone outside of our friends and family, Harvard thugs in Italian loafers and tweed jackets would have smothered us in our sleep with blue books.

I did, however, get one thrill out of the whole thing: I got to put John Lithgow in my movie. Lithgow was being honored for some Harvard award or other—they give out awards and honorary degrees like Grammys up there in Cambridge—and so he was marching in a parade. Since the Hollywood Action Film Director’s Guide states that all action films must include a scene where the hero vanishes into a passing parade, I was able to get a shot of myself walking alongside Mr. Lithgow, shoulders hunched as if to make myself less visible. Okay, that’s not entirely true; I got a shot of me standing next to a car, looking around furtively, as Lithgow marched past, smiling and waving, and completely oblivious to the fact he was at that moment starring in a thriller (rumor has it the same thing happened to Keanu Reeves during the filming of Speed)

Looking back, I suppose I was a little too ambitious. Writing and directing a movie? Sure, we all dream about it, but the odds of doing both are about 1,000,000 to one, whereas the odds of doing one or the other are better, at 999,999 to one. In any event, we never finished Two Roads Diverged, though years later I considered going back and using the old footage as “flashbacks” for a rewrite of the movie. Like most of my plans, that never materialized (I also never built a Viking longship in my garage, a regret I nurse to this day).

Fast forward five years. I’m a happily married man, with one great kid running around and another on the way. I’ve got a beautiful loving wife, two happy if excitable dogs, a job I enjoy, and all the console game systems I could ever want. But something was still missing. At a family gathering (who knows which, but it no doubt involved mention of my having once bathed in my underwear, followed by accusations of incest), I discovered that my aforementioned cousin Jason was taking a screenplay class at Emerson College, and that his instructor was a well-connected screenwriter in Hollywood. It occurred to me that this might be my big chance to give Two Roads Diverged its due—and perhaps get a little feedback at the same time.

Once I had my ambition back, the rest came easy. I started rewriting the script, eking out time to work on it in the wee hours of the morning before my family awoke, during lunch breaks, or under the table at particularly dull meetings (that’s a joke, boss! We all know what’s supposed to go on under that table.). About six months ago, I had a finished script.

Once the script was done I gave it to Jason, who passed it on to his instructor. His instructor read it and loved the hell out of it (as he put it). The man put me in touch with his agent, and before long, Two Roads Diverged was being shopped around to the major studios. Every week it seemed I got another call from my agent, telling me a studio had passed on the script. My spirits sank, but hey, who sells their first script, right?

Lo and behold, two days ago I get a call from said agent. “Guess what?” he says. “What?” I say, ready to hear something to the effect of, “Joe Johnston passed on your script! Yeah, he passed on it, but at least he looked at it! Joe Johnston!” But no, that’s not what I heard. What I heard was, “[Major studio] has agreed to buy your script for [undisclosed amount]!” I can’t reveal either the studio nor the amount until the deal is finalized, but let’s just say, it looks like very good times may be ahead for the Humphries household. What I can say is that trip to Iowa a couple weeks back – that was a bit of a smokescreen. I was out in La-La-Land for a couple of days – taking a few meetings and punching this thing up. Will Roads every make it to screen? That’s a long shot. The beauty is Hollywood has cash to burn, the upside in their hush-hush deal to keep the existence of Grand Thetan Xenu under wraps. So, they open their wallet and buy properties left and right, simply to build a catalog of potential projects. Rumor has it, Johnny Sniper is on turnaround at Touchstone. I mean, really, who goes to Iowa?

So that’s all she wrote—or he, in this case. I can’t express how grateful I am to all my friends and family (especially my good cuz Jason) for all their support over the last few months (though few of them knew about this). I’ll be sure to buy everyone a nice dinner—even that weird guy at Dunkin’ Donuts. You know who you are.