Saturday, March 07, 2009


I recently had to step away from the reinvention of the Bruce Lee classic, Awaken the Dragon. It comes down to a matter of timing. I've had to pass and handover other feature gigs before, but this one was especially painful as I truly loved this project and the people I was working with. It began over a year and half ago when I pitched my concept to the now defunct Warner Independent Pictures. I had two agendas in the feature world. I was looking for a small, character-driven action piece to write and direct. And being a huge Film Noir fan, I wanted to use those style and story devices to tell a modern tale. The one sheet breakdown on the Awaken the Dragon project stated that John Wells and Warner Independent were looking for a Noir reinvention of Enter the Dragon. It was like they were reading my diary. I worked for a month on the pitch, crafting a fairly dark story using all the noir devices -- femme fatale, voiceover, reversals, etc. Here was my expanded logline:

Awaken the Dragon is a reinvention of the Bruce Lee classic, Enter the Dragon, that brings the narrative into modern day, while paying homage to the original movie. Using the devices of Film Noir, the story follows a lone FBI agent who pursues a rogue Shaolin Monk into the bloody world of underground martial art fight clubs. There will be nothing stylized or choreographed. The look is Noir minimalist and the action is raw. It will expose the brutality of Shaolin Kung Fu, showing the fighting style in its most vicious and deadly form. It’s more Raging Bull, than Crouching Tiger.

The producers and the studio loved the pitch. I was hired. Then it all fell apart.

A writer works very hard in this town to establish “quotes” -- his rate of pay. I had written five other feature projects and my rate incrementally grew with each project. It’s crucial for agents to establish and hold true to these rates. WIP was an independent studio, not subject to the same parameters of its mother studio, Warner Bros. So there were many business affairs discussions to make this project fiscally feasible for me within the realities of a smaller studio. I had a directing deal in place at big Warners so that had to be factored in as well. Bottom-line, it was taking FOREVER to close the deal. I’ve learned from experience that until you see a document with a dollar sign, it’s best not to put pen to paper. So I boarded the story, beat it all out and waited. Finally, the deal closed. Everyone felt loved and appreciated, I was commenced and I began writing.

Fifteen pages in -- the WGA strike was authorized.

I remember talking to Shawn Ryan about “not writing” during the strike. I knew that people were going to be working on their own projects during the strike. I said to Shawn, “C’mon, it’s cool if I crank out this script, right?” Shawn was very clear, “We’re on strike, we don’t write. Not for ourselves and especially not for a studio.” My agents and managers echoed Shawn’s sentiment. I listened and put down the pen.

As I became more engaged in the strike I realized the importance of what Shawn was saying. It spoke to solidarity. It would be hard to show up on the picket line with my brothers and sisters demanding our fair share, knowing that I was going home to generate content for the very people we were striking against. I didn’t write another page.

Two things happened during the next 100 days. The first was good news; Sons of Anarchy was picked up to series. As the strike ended, we immediately went into production. Reshooting the pilot and shooting twelve episodes. They were going to premier the show with the final season of The Shield, so we were under extraordinary time pressure to finish the first season.

The second was bad news; Warner Independent Pictures went under. Their projects and some of their personnel were scattered amongst the Warner family. No one was sure where the Awaken the Dragon project would land or if it would survive at all.

A few months ago we found out that big Warners paid to renew the option and that Dragon would now fall under their jurisdiction. The executive on the project was Matt Reilly. I love Matt. He’s pretty much been involved with everything I’ve done at Warners. Really smart guy, good taste.

I reconnected with the producers, reminded everyone of the pitch, sat down with Matt, got him excited about it. Everyone was in love again. Then I began working on season two of SOA. And it hit me -- I’ve worked on TV and feature projects simultaneously before, but running a show is different than just writing a show. Once production begins, I’m working 70+ hours per week and the show has to be my only priority. Even though I desperately wanted to continue with Dragon, ultimately I realized that it was not something I could do part-time. My fear was that if I continued with the project, both Dragon and Sons would suffer. It was a King Solomon moment -- do I risk splitting the baby in two or do I hand it over to another mother. And so, another fucking mother, brother.

My experience so far in my career has been this -- when I show up with my truth, try to behave like a decent human being, I am ultimately led to the next right project. For now I have to believe that whomever John Wells and Warners hires to take over this project, they will be far better qualified than me.

The one upside is that all the Bruce Lee fanboys, appalled at the idea of this remake, can now stop sending me hate mail.


Unknown said...

Doing "the right thing" sometimes sucks but in the long run it's worth it (and sure as hell helps you sleep at night).

As a SOA fan, thanks for putting your 200% effort into making it the great show that it is :)

Brujah said...

Sorry to hear about it must have been a hard choice to make, On the other hand look at it this way the hate mail stops and you still recieve your fan mail for your great work:)

Leonard Chang said...

Appreciate the update, and the frank analysis...

Kaz_NEETS said...

What you did was mature, confident and loving: To yourself, to the AtD project and folks at Warners and to your craft.

Thanks for sharing, Kurt.

surrounded by carnivores said...

Interesting to get a glimpse of the evolution (and devolution) of a project. I hope that someday it can be revived. Imagining the snap and crackle of your writing when applied to this story makes me sad I won't see it realized on screen. Difficult for one to know when to let something go and difficult to know how. But the ordering of priorities makes these decisions sadly and unwillingly necessary.

Kurt Yaeger said...

I say cut the baby up and see where the shit sticks. Hmmm, ok, upon second thought I believe you did the correct thing. Damn biblical references.

Darkrider said...

How a canadian rider get into one of those episodes of sons of anarchy? We are lovin that series up here

Outsider said...

I saw some of that hate mail on the imdb message boards.....Hey I did wing chun for a year or so with a teacher who was a contemporary of bruce lee's who was taught by bruce's early teacher....And I don't think that guy or his students would've cared....I guess it's just the guys at home with the posters up on the wall and a shrine to Bruce that were pissed

Shawn Bernal said...

Is this true?

WI_Debi said...

Okey dokey...Guess that answers my previous question. Sorry it brought about bad memories, now I feel like a shit heel. :/

On a lighter note, in view of the hate mail reference I feel obliged to say that my "open your head I wanna see how it works" comment was meant figuratively NOT literally in an utmost unstalker-esque manner. :D

The hubby & I are celebrating my first day on the new job (seasonal but better than a poke in the eye after 2 years of unemployment)with honest to God meat on the grill and Sons.. YAY! and barring any totally abhorrent story lines in a gesture of apology for the aforementioned bad feelings, I promise not to call you names...I, definitely promising...okay, if I *do* call you names I won't post it ;)

As always, I appreciate you allowing us a glimpse into your world. Have a great Tuesday!