Here is Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4.and Chapter 5.
Are you sick of this yet? Well if you weren't before, you're about to be. Buckle in.
Picking up where we left off, Usher signed on to do the movie I rewrote, and the title changed from "Dying for Dolly" to "In the Mix".
Obviously, I was excited. There was an MTV news story (remember when MTV did news?) with Usher and they asked him about the movie, and he said "they sent me the script and I loved it". I kept that on my TiVo for the next 6 months.
Thinking about it now, someone saying they loved the script for "In the Mix" is pretty hilarious. But anyway, what's the first thing a movie studio does with a script everyone loves?
They rewrite it.
First up, a rewrite for Usher and his "people". His people consisted of an older, sassy black lady. Is there any other kind?
From what I remember, she didn't have a lot of notes, just one major note: Usher does not, she repeated, does not, sag his pants.
I didn't even realize it, but in one line of description, I had written that Usher's character's jeans sagged. This is a 100 page script. That was 2 words. And that was her issue, and she was adamant about it. The movie could not move forward until that was rewritten.
Okay, not so bad. I took about 2 seconds and made that major change.
Second round of notes. This time, with some whiz kids at Lionsgate. I get on the phone with them. I found out later that one of them wasn't too pleased with how I got involved with this movie (a friend's dad) and had an axe to grind. I guess one of his friends had been up for the rewrite and got rejected. So this led to a 2 hour, completely demeaning phone call where he ripped the script and me to shreds. It got weird and personal. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about that call.
I didn't know who this guy was, but I knew I was nobody, so I felt like I was in no position to go back at him. But I made it through that process, and rewrote the best I could.
Quick note here: I was doing all of this for essentially no money. And writing on "The Soup" at the same time. I probably wrote more pages during that period than I have since...I started writing these long ass chapters.
Third round of notes. Lionsgate hired a director. It was looking like it was going to be Howard Deutch, who directed Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and other things John Hughes didn't feel like doing himself. But that fell through. Then it was going to be Ernest Dickerson, who directed a movie I love with 2pac called Juice, and who is black. That also fell through.
Finally, we "landed" Ron Underwood. The people at Lionsgate considered this a coup, and felt he would be able to take the small budget (it was $5 million) and make it look much bigger.
Mr. Underwood had made his name directing Tremors and City Slickers. But the reason he was having to slum it with In the Mix is because he was coming off an Eddie Murphy movie called Pluto Nash. In that film, he managed to take a giant budget ($100 million dollars) and make it look small (it grossed less than $10 million). It's one of the biggest disasters ever, unless you count the movies Eddie Murphy has done since.
I was summoned to meet with Ron and his line producer. Line producer is a fancy title, but in reality is just the money guy. They don't have any creative say in things, they're in charge of the budget and paying people and that's it.
They were very polite, and started going through their notes. And that's when I realized this movie was fucked.
Ron was a 55 year old white man. And he did not understand a single thing in the script. There was a scene with a Pimp My Ride reference, which was huge at the time and not yet hacky to make jokes about. He said he didn't get it, and made me change it. I tried to explain the show, to no avail.
There was a big scene involving black guys loving the movie Scarface, he didn't understand it and it was quickly eliminated. And on, and on.
I know I am a half Jewish white dude from the suburbs and probably not the authority on black things, but still. It was a generational issue as much as anything, and the cool/funny/relevant parts of the script were all cut out.
And then things got worse.
The Line Producer interrupted the proceedings to lecture me about "subtext". When I say lecture me, I mean talk to me like I was the biggest idiot in the world. Keep in mind, this was a dumb movie about a black DJ somehow going out with a mob boss's daughter, not the God Damn King's Speech. Subtext was the least of the problems.
I can't fully explain how bad it was, this isn't me just being a baby. He was acting like they were all just doing me a favor letting me try to rewrite this thing. I know for a fact that it would never have happened to a writer with any experience. He just knew he could get away with it and he could flex his muscles, so he used the opportunity to treat me like a piece of crap.
And this really is why the process was so brutal for me. Getting notes and doing tons of rewrites is always hard, but it's the job. My problem was that every step of the way, I wasn't treated like a real writer. I was just some friend of the Executive Producer. So every second I was being reminded that I was just lucky to be there.
What pisses me off even more is that Line Producer has gone on to huge success. He produced another script with tons of subtext, High School Musical.
Once again, I took it and did the best I could with the rewrite, which I think is what a professional writer does. But it was a turning point, and I knew the movie was going to be bad. But really, I didn't know the half of it.
Because unbeknownst to me, I wasn't the only one doing rewrites. They had hired multiple black women to rewrite all of the black dialogue. And they hired an Italian woman to rewrite all of the dialogue between Italians. Well, there were only black people and Italians in the movie! So you can pretty much figure out what happened to "my" script. I assure you though, all of the half Jewish dialogue, that's totally me.
Meanwhile, Lionsgate thought they really had something here. And so did Fox. So they got together and made it a co-production and upped the budged to $10 million dollars. Shooting started at the end of 2004. The movie was set in New York, but it was shot in LA.
The dad was going to be played by James Caan, and then Dennis Hopper, and then Chazz Palminteri.
Usher read with with a few prospective female leads. Eliza Dushku was in the running. Maria Menounos really wanted to break into acting and do the role. But Emmanuel Chriqui came in and blew everyone away. She was curvy and hot, and she and Usher had chemistry.
I went to the set a few times, met Usher, and Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Chazz Palminteri. That was neat. Everyone was really nice, and trying really hard. Only one problem, since her audition, Emmanuelle had freaked out a little bit and dropped about 15 pounds. Suddenly, the curvy girl was rail thin. It wasn't a good look.
Okay, fast forward a few months. I was invited to the editing bay to watch a rough cut. This just happened to coincide with me starting up this very blog. And I wrote a very melodramatic post about that screening.
This is from April 20th, 2005:
I watched In The Mix in an edit bay with the director and the editor.
Okay, first the good news - it's not as horrible as expected. It looks and feels like a real movie. A lot of the truly hack shit they wrote and shot didn't make it in. It's possible that this thing could actually come out in theaters, and with the right trailer, it would make a shit load of money (ha!) just because of the music and Usher.
Now, the bad news. They ruined the fucking movie! After the first 20 minutes I was thinking: "You know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they knew what they were doing. I'm man enough to admit that I was wrong and they were right." And then the next 77 minutes happened.
They kept the basic structure of the movie and then took what was funny and good and made logical sense and made it not funny, less good, and nonsensical. Obviously, I'm not impartial. But I've been writing for long enough now that I know when stuff is better than mine. I've written things and then (my boss) or others have put their spin on it and I see that they are real writers and I am something adjacent to writer.
I have a huge respect for good shit. I think a lot of the stuff I do is crap. Trust me, this is not better. And the shame of it is, it's done for no reason. They even ignored a lot of their own notes. Actually, most of their own notes.
Second piece of bad news: the female lead doesn't look good. I think there was only one moment where I actually had a notion in my head that I wanted to fuck her. And that was in the middle of it. This is a problem. You don't understand why this dude would want to risk stuff for this girl. Especially when the black girl who wants him is the hottest girl I've ever seen. It doesn't add up, people!
Third piece of bad news: it's slow. It needs to be 10 minutes shorter. At least. I think that will be fixed. But it was slow even with the "temp" music that was in it. They had my boy Fiddy in there, the Game, Usher's songs, the best shit you can have and it was still slow. They are negotiating for a soundtrack right now and that is going to be key. If they don't have good music in there, it will be fucked. Pray for music.
Someone told me I'm sounding bitter. Damn fucking right. I worked my ass off on this thing when everyone had given it up for dead! There's probably nothing I could've done differently, but at a certain point I could've stood up to and said "you guys are wrong. do what you want to do, but I'm not involved anymore."
It was hard to know to do that, especially since it was my first time in this world. And now after seeing the cut of the film, what they've done, I see that had no clue what they were talking about. None. They wanted the comfort of having some piece of shit who sits in the writer's room at CSI (the Italian girl who did a rewrite wrote on CSI) to do their bidding. That makes them feel better than some guy from The Soup.
Sorry, I'm getting off my point. I'm embarrassed to tell people about this whole thing because they get the wrong idea. True, it is a great thing and I would never, ever trade it for anything in the world, but honestly, it's been one of the worst experiences of my life.
Wow, I was really a bitter whiny sad sack. Thanks, In the Mix! But I forgot to mention the worst part of all when I saw it the first time:
Usher's pants sagged!
On the next chapter, things go from bad to worse. A lot worse...