Years ago, contemplating writing choices, I decided a visionary novel might inspire a large audience. After unsuccessfully trying to interest various talented writers in such a project, I realized that though I didn’t know novelistic narrative, I did know interviews. In a risky leap, I channeled imagined future interviews into a book titled RPS/2044, An Oral History of the Next American Revolution.
Even while writing, I felt the project was better suited to film and learned that both for vetting before they are even considered, and also for eventual effective use by directors and actors, screenplays have strict formatting, structure, and content guidelines. More, producers, directors, actors, and not screenwriters determine if movies are made, and, if so, flesh them out. Screenplays contain only so much.
With modest preparatory study and perhaps delusional ambition, I figured that even a technically flawed screenplay might induce sufficient interest from one or two established Hollywood progressive producers, directors, or actors for subsequent improvements to produce a film able to reach Bernie Sanders supporters, BLM, MeToo, workplace, peace, immigration, climate and ecological activists, and as many of Trump’s working class supporters as possible. I adapted RPS/2044 into a screenplay called Next American Revolution despite knowing it wouldn’t be easy to get informed reactions much less powerful support.
Next American Revolution is not a technical extravaganza, not a thriller, not a mystery, not an exploration of murder and mayhem, not a celebration of psychosis, not a requited or unrequited love story, not a cartoon, not a comedy – not a sequel or prequel. It isn’t horror, dystopian, or utopian. It isn’t about aliens, or outer space. It isn’t a coming of age or a dying off story. It has no super heroes, no pathological villains, no trial, no crime. Even worse for attracting film industry interest, it doesn’t revolve around a star overcoming personal trauma and deadly danger. It features winning a new society against systemic power and prejudiced habits from the past. The process is protagonist. The star is future history. Imagine giving best actor Oscar to future history.
Next American Revolution has plenty of dramatic exchange, it’s actors would fulfill serious, demanding roles, and its director would visually and emotive,y weave together a complex mosaic of events. On the other hand, Next American Revolution doesn’t have three acts that follow a personal arc of narrative development, which I am told every film simply must have. Next American Revolution would feel something like Selma or Reds but about the future and not resting on the shoulders of one or two stars’ personal struggles against personal demons, harsh occurrences, or violent opponents.
So the question arose, how many of Next American Revolution’s deviations from currently accepted practice could an excellent film maker abide due to personally desiring to do something this politically radical and operationally adventurous? How many of Next American Revolution’s deviations could an excellent Hollywood filmmaker abide and while retaining its purpose and attracting its intended audience?
I imagined two paths a suitably refined and augmented Next American Revolution might traverse to screen.
One would have a low budget, use neophyte participants, and enjoy little promotion. I figured if an Indyish Next American Revolution leaped all obstacles, just maybe it could spread beyond a small circle of friends. However, before trying that route, the big screen’s potential to reach out more widely drew my attention. Maybe I was pursuing fool’s gold, but I imagined progressive artists like Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Williams, Viola Davis, John Cusack, Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Viggo Mortensen, Olivia Wilde, Wallace Shawn, Matt Damon, or Sean Penn, among others – signing on to Next American Revolution. I figured some such artists might want to participate in progressive innovation for a percentage of the gate to keep the working budget manageable. Or maybe someone with cash beyond measure would decide to finance a film that pursues a new society rather than spending much more on a film that presents unending social decay.
As director, I imagined Ava DuVernay (remember “Selma”), Warren Beatty (remember “Reds” and “Bullworth”), or Matt Damon (remember how well “Good Will Hunting” addressed class) or, of course, Ken Loach, Spike Lee, Michael Moore, or Boots Riley (go see Sorry to Bother You).
Told by friends this was all delusional day-dreamed ambition, I replied that activists inevitably miss every shot we don’t take, and, regrettably, we rarely take ambitious shots. I argued that there is vastly more radical potential in Hollywood than current working situations display. If Selma and Sorry to Bother You, why not Next American Revolution?
Displaying similar optimism, I imagined Bruce Springsteen, Kendrick Lamar, or Patti Smith doing a soundtrack. I figured if Next American Revolution attracted even just one or two prominent artists of any type, it would make each additional participant easier to enlist than the one before. I knew Hollywood was a long shot, but to me it seemed less long than Bernie Sanders galvanizing millions with no media, no big donors, and while calling himself socialist. Sanders showed that one can talk revolution and be the most popular politician in town. Why couldn’t some Hollywood a-listers produce revolution as the most effective film in town?
How-to books say that to have a successful film you have to do this and do that, because nothing else can succeed. I am sure their authors passionately believe their advisories. And of course the familiar templates do earn profits. But I think another factor generating restrictive guidelines is that the dictates of past efforts seeking commercial success without upsetting apple carts have become ingrained habits. Why should conservative boardroom habits restrict Hollywood actors and directors who themselves have huge resources with ample personal means?
I was next able to find addresses for a couple of famous Hollywood progressive actors. I sought out the first for his wise political history and uncompromising activism. I sought out the second because he had done work centrally about class issues key to Next American Revolution.
The latter’s publicist replied within a day very supportively that she would forward along my letter as well as info on the book and thought he would reply as soon as he could. The former’s Director of Communications replied equally promptly and supportively that she would forward the materials and he would reply soon. I was elated that maybe getting a hearing was going to be as easier than I feared. This was almost exactly a year ago.
Truth be told, the supportive opening response from the associates of the two actors I solicited was a bit of a miracle, though I didn’t know it at the time. Five months later, worn out waiting, I got addresses for associates of nineteen other Hollywood progressives and mailed to them a print letter and bound copy of the screenplay. Some packages to agents’ addresses were returned unopened because Hollywood, to avoid possible lawsuits, has rules against looking at anything not submitted by a licensed agent. Some packages I had sent to a few personal addresses I had found came back address unknown, and I suspect others were dismissed without being read by the intended Hollywood progressive, though I have no way to know that for sure. At any rate, there were no significant replies.
The class conscious actor’s publicist kept cordially answering my recurring email updates of new drafts and kept forwarding materials along, including PDFs of screenplay drafts. This went on for about six months. I don’t know if the actor ever noticed much less read any of it. After the six months, along with the others I wrote, I found a home address for him and sent the package there, but, like in the Beatles song, again there was no reply. Then his publicist sent me an email address for a reader at the artist’s production company saying he was the right person to write. But, again, I got no reply. I like to think that the actor never saw any communication at all. I know it may be that he did read Next American Revolution and was put off by minor formatting problems, or too many actors in it, or too little personality for each actor, or no immensely challenging role for him, or too much dialogue, or too many ideas, or whatever – though in that case, why not say so? I prefer to think he never saw it. Perhaps he will see this article.
After the six months, and the 20 packages that went to Hollywood progressives, which is to say about six months ago, I remembered someone I had known for a long time who had some actual Hollywood experience. So I wrote that old acquaintance seeking advice/help. My old acquaintance told me that for every sensible entreaty actor’s are sent, they are sent literally thousands of ridiculous proposals. Everyone in Hollywood has to automatically ignore everything that doesn’t come from a reputable licensed agent. And even materials that do come through that means have to get vetted along an obstacle path of amazing complexity. Even getting a hearing, much less support, I started to realize, required luck, and often some kind of personal access.
The situation with the activist actor was different. His communications person also kept generously forwarding him materials, but he certainly got some. Back and forth, I got a lesson in just how busy famous actors can be. I first wrote him in November, 2017. He was traveling and, indeed, over a period of a few months, was on the road in Latin America, South America, Africa, Europe, and north, south, east, and west in the U.S., attending events, giving talks, getting awards, visiting projects and even governments, supporting activism, all while simultaneously handling film responsibilities sent to him by partners and experienced film folks as well as shooting scenes in some films. And yet, he set up appointments to talk on the phone with me despite my having zero film history. Finally, on a scheduled call that didn’t have to be cancelled due to an emergency trip, we spoke. This was on the miraculous side of the Hollywood access ledger.
We were on the phone for over an hour. He relayed that he very much liked the writing and the idea, and was on my side. This would surely lead, I thought, to ideas about how I might propose the project to others, hopefully with this actor’s blessing, or perhaps would even lead to him proposing changes and getting on board. It still could. I am waiting to hear.
While waiting, and hoping, I followed family advice to join LinkedIn, which was my first foray into hated social media. I did it hoping I could “link to” some film people from whom I could get advice, reaction to the screenplay, and perhaps help improving it. By that route I have heard some of what is noted above about the screenplay, and received some good wishes. An American screenwriter living in Japan, a supporter of the participatory economic vision I advocate, became interested. He read the screenplay and helped me remove formatting errors to get it into proper shape, an essential step I had hugely underestimated before he helped. Next, a Scottish filmmaker who knew me from helping me get around on a past speaking trip to the UK also got in touch. He planned to shoot a preproduction trailer to entice interest. And he got another friend, a British voice coach with numerous industry ties, involved. So, it took six months, but Next American Revolution had become a properly formatted and better implemented screenplay, with a promised video pre-production trailer to hopefully begin sending to film industry talent, and with some advocates who knew and could reach such talent for a hearing.
Time marches on. On the upside, that a year that feels like forever has passed is, I know, par for the course. Screenplays often take years to reach critical eyes, much less to become films. So the question now is, will someone with film experience and means take up this screenplay, adding their talents to make it into something viewable?
With Hollywood on my mind, I continue to seek a good outcome. I figure it won’t be Marvel, but maybe a new franchise can emerge focused on films seeking fundamental societal change. And now I figure, in addition to sending it to people in the industry, I might as well make it public, too. So, you can click here to see the screenplay: Next American Revolution. And here is a short video of me talking about the project: Video Intro.
If you get past the inconvenience and difficulty of reading a screenplay and have ideas or comments, by all means send them along. More, if you happen to know someone who knows someone who knows a progressive Film industry actor, director, producer, or whoever else – please pass on the screenplay and a good word. That is, after all, ultimately and quite often the crucial step in how films leap from page to screen.
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Thank you maryellen…I didn’t know that about Paul. I will write him.
Michael I’m so impressed by this effort. You’ve undoubtedly contacted Paul Jay who seemscto have connections to the industry and has produced films. Additionally, I know someone at the AFSC who just finished a Chomsky video that was I believe produced with the help of that organization. I should post it on a blog here. Anyhow although he is far, far removed from Hollywood contacts I will see him in a couple of days and broach this topic. It’s long past time for us to start working towards this goal.