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Saturday, March 07, 2009

EXIT THE DRAGON

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.