To: Jayson Blair, c/o David Vigliano Literary Agency, New York
From: Myndee Brady-Stahr, Director of Development, Trans-National Pictures, Culver City, Calif.
Hi. It was a delight to speak with you on the phone yesterday.
Everybody here at Trans-National is really excited that you decided to sell us your life story. And I couldn’t agree with you more: Despite the offer of $27 million, a jet, an Oscar and a date with Gwyneth, you made the right choice: At the end of the day, Harvey Weinstein would have probably sold you out for some positive reviews in The Times . Good call, Jayson.
I was also sorry that you couldn’t make it from the Beverly Hills Hotel to our offices in Culver City. But between the traffic, the car accident, the plane crash, losing your cell phone and not getting a wake-up call, I understand. We all have days like that.
Anyway, as I said on the phone, I don’t really “read” newspapers, so I haven’t really followed your story. But I know that if you’re going to make the transition from journalist to screenwriter, you’re going to have to dramatize things. In other words, make stuff up. But stay true to yourself.
(This isn’t to say you don’t have a great tale to tell. I just loved that story about the way the pilot had a heart attack and you had to land Air Force One. I had no idea journalism could be so exciting!)
In any case, before I get to the script you delivered this morning (how did you ever write it so quickly?), I just want to get something down here for the record:
After our conversation, I rented that movie you told me about, All the President’s Men . It came out the year I was born, so I kind of missed it the first time around. (God! Can you believe those sports coats?) Either way, I think you’ll agree that it’s a little slow and preachy for today’s audiences. So the key word here is “edgier.” With a lot more action.
What we’re talking about here, then, in terms of tone is Die Hard in a newsroom meets The Matrix meets Mississippi Burning meets Adaptation meets A Beautiful Mind … but with heart . And real characters.
That said, let’s move on to the script you turned in. Jayson, Jayson, Jayson: U rule, man. The script rocks. The dialogue is almost too good to be true. But let me get specific:
-The pre-title 1821 Africa sequence: Love the setting, the atmosphere and your great-great grandfather, the legendary tribal king, fighting the slave traders. But should I know who this Kunta Kinte character is? Not too sure about the chariot races, however.
-In New York, I loved the reveal that, in fact, you were a sleeper agent, working undercover for John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, sent inside to destroy The Times . Adored your training sequences at Quantico and the secret mission to Baghdad (while you were supposed to be in Kansas), where you watched Debbie Does Dallas with Uday Hussein. It must have been heart-breaking when the bunker buster hit and he got away.
-The final action sequence is amazing, when you steal the submarine and stop the Al Qaeda attack on Times Square just as the Raines character has climbed on the parapets moaning “Sanctuary!” and is about to pour cauldrons of molten lead onto the reporters below. Wow.
-And I, like, totally agree that Vin Diesel is perfect casting for your character. He’s a newsman who kicks ass-and takes names later. Or maybe never. Or maybe he just makes up the names. Whatever.
Having said all this, however, I do have some reservations:
-Who is the real villain here? Raines? The System? The Man? And so far as this “The Man” character goes, what Man? Too amorphous for us. I’ve already gotten like 56 phone calls from Albert Finney’s agent asking for the Raines role, but I’m thinking we should go younger-like maybe Marshall Mathers.
-If Raines is the villain, can we lose this fly-fishing thing? In movies, megalomaniacs always have insidious little hobbies. How about needlepoint?
-I liked the horse’s head in the bed, and the intercutting between Raines’ wedding and the murders of all those reporters he wanted to get rid of, but I feel like we’ve seen it before. It just doesn’t break any new ground for me.
-Who is this “grey lady” everybody keeps talking about? Is there some X-Files element I’m not aware of? Can we make her younger and, like, blond? Also, I’m afraid the name Sulzberger is a little too, well, ethnic. Can we change it to Smith?
-Lose the smoking.
-And what’s up with that moose? I don’t want to go too science-fiction-y here, but if we’re going for a younger audience, maybe we ought to consider changing him to a cyborg.
(Oh, and by the way, before I forget: I have a cousin who has a friend who has a masseuse who works for Bob Evans, but is thinking that working for a newspaper might be fun. Do you still have any pull at The Times ? Also, our P.R. guy wants to know if he should pitch you to the Arts and Leisure section to write an article about one of our upcoming films. Don’t worry about turning him down. Especially since he thinks you’re a “lying sociopath who preyed on the flawed though ultimately well-meaning intentions of your betters.” Can you believe it? I said: “So what? What about Hannibal Lecter? He didn’t exactly prevent those movies from grossing bazillions.”)
Anyway, Jayson, as you’re well aware, there’s a lot of interest in this project. We’ve heard from Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Marty Scorsese, Aaron Sorkin (he wants to do The Miracle on 43rd Street , with lots of really good-looking people talking really fast) and even Woody Allen. (The Woodman wants to use your story as a backdrop for a romantic comedy about a neurotic Book Review editor who’s irresistible to a rising young Times intern. He’s thinking Salma Hayek as the girl, and Cameron Diaz as his ex-wife in the Raines role. We’re intrigued.)
In any case, Jayson, all this is a roundabout way of saying that while I enjoyed your script, we’ve decided to go in a different direction.
In other words, you’re fired.
Still, I enjoyed working with you, and look forward to reading more of your work in the future. As you guys say at The Times , “That’s all the news that fits.”
Best wishes, Myndee Brady-Stahr.
PS: We just bought the movie rights to a book by another Times reporter named Rick Bragg. Did you ever run into him when you were out on the road reporting your stories?