A TASTE OF STARDUST: Screenwriter
Mark L. Smith
Mark L. Smith has long been a fan of the "Hollywood ending." And though his new career as a screenwriter is far from ending, hes got the first part of the equation already to his credit.
Smiths movie script "The
Devils Kiss" was recently optioned by Mel
Gibsons Icon production company. Though the setting
is in the western genre, it contains elements of
Shakespearean plays and touches on modern themes.
towns changing, so hes going to leave. As
hes waiting for his replacement, the day the guy
arrives, there are a couple of grisly murders. The young
replacement isnt prepared to solve them. The
sheriff stays on until, with a lot of twists and turns,
"I hear the dialogue in my head as Im going, and I get lost," he says. "I can sit down at eight oclock in the morning, and the next think I know, my wifes saying, Its two oclock, arent you going to eat lunch? I can look back and see lines of dialogue that I almost dont realize I wrote."
Smith initially envisioned Bruce Willis in the role of the sheriff, and Willis actually had the first opportunity to pitch it to a studio. Since so many factors are involved in getting momentum on a script, the deal fell through, but wound up with Gibson at Icon.
"It was very surreal," he says. "I was sitting in the offices of C.A.A. (Creative Artists Agency), and they were trying to get me not to go to other meetings (with competing agencies.) They told me, If you sign with us, in a few weeks youll be meeting Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Brad Pitt, because those are our clients and we want you to write for them.
"I was trying not to laugh, because I was sitting there trying to look calm and pinching my leg. Theyre very serious, and theyre throwing these names at me that are unbelievable. A lot of its the salesmanship, but it was the place Ive always wanted to be. I was almost giddy when I walked out. It was a lot of fun."
Smith had thought about writing, but never took the opportunity until he began making up stories for his oldest daughter. Smiths wife sent one off to New York without his knowledge, and a magazine accepted the story. Though the magazine folded before the story ever saw print, Smith gained confidence that his writing could have an audience.
Since he already loved movies, he took a three-month course from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He learned the proper formatting and story techniques for screenplays, and "just started writing."
His first script was a semi-finalist in a major competition, and was optioned by Disney. That led to more industry contacts, and though the film was never shot, Smith kept writing scripts and knew hed found something that he loved doing.
When his script for "The Devils Kiss" was discovered on a website, the deal-making became fast and furious. Currently, Brad Pitt is reading one of his scripts because Paramount Studios is interested in buying it. Hes also adapted a novel for Simon & Schuster which is getting a lot of attention, and he just finished a psychological horror script involving ghosts. He also has six others that no studio has yet seen, as well as four more that he says "are so bad that nobody will ever see them."
Though Smith earned a six-figure paycheck for the script purchase for "The Devils Kiss," theres still a long development road to go, and probably at least two years, before the movie makes the screen. The producers are already suggesting changes to the script, and Smith realizes that the script will become a little farther out of his control as the process continues.
He classifies himself as an "old school" movie fan, with Paul Newman and Robert Redford among his favorite actors. William Goldman, who wrote "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid," "Magic," "The Princess Bride," and other classics in addition to novels, is one of Smiths favorite writers, and Frank Darabont of "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile" is his favorite director. Anything from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are also must-sees for Smith.
"In twelve of my scripts, somebody dies," he says. "Its not just murder, its loss. I think family and loss and how people handle that are a major theme in what I write. The one that Brad Pitt has is about a man who loses his family in a car accident, and he has to try to get over.
"I wrote it because I have four children and a wife, and it was my worst nightmare. I just wanted to see what would happen, almost living through that. I have a tough time reading it. Its very sad."
From telling bedtime stories to the children to gracing the pages of Entertainment Weekly, Smith has kept his new success in perspective. He simply loves telling stories, and has plenty more that he wants to tell.
"I love to write," he says. "Im shocked that people actually want to give me money to do it."
-- copyright 2001 by Scott Nicholson
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Scott Nicholson copyright 2001ŠAll rights reserved