From the L.A. Times: Scriptland

I read this in the Los Angeles Times this morning. I found it rather interesting and I thought I'd share with all of you. (Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters.)

By Jay A. Fernandez, Special to the Los Angeles Times (March 5, 2008)

Hollywood scribes often refer hyperbolically to the terror and torture of being "in the hole" when trying to write, while simultaneously admitting that forced isolation is the only way they'll get anything done. Well, the story of Darryl Francis -- who inadvertently literalized the circumstance -- may put things in perspective.

Too absurd not to be true, here's what actually happened:

Three years ago, talent manager Danny Sherman moved with his then-wife, Wendy, into a home in an un-gentrified Silver Lake neighborhood. While Sherman was at work, a vaguely threatening-looking guy with a teardrop tattoo under his eye would toss wolf whistles Wendy's way when she came outside. After ignoring him for a few weeks, Wendy finally struck up a conversation and learned he was a 15-year veteran of the neighborhood named Darryl Francis who had recently been released from prison."

They made nice," Sherman recalls. "But in the conversation she somehow told him that I represented screenwriters. And, of course, Darryl had a screenplay. And he wanted me to read it. That made me even more worried."

Apparently, Francis, incarcerated most recently at Wayside county jail (now called the North County Correctional Facility) on a 32-month stretch for receiving stolen property, had found himself in solitary confinement after a little misunderstanding with some Latino inmates. A previous tenant had left a contraband pencil, so Francis used the quiet time -- 43 days, all told -- in the hole to sketch out a comedy idea called "Tow Truck," chewing away at the pencil tip to sharpen it whenever it got too low. (He also worked on it during a stint at Avenal State Prison.)

What Francis handed Sherman after cornering him on the sidewalk one day with "Are you the manager man?" was 200 pages of handwritten material in different colors of ink and pencil, including 20 pages that a girlfriend had typed up before dumping him. Sherman nervously took the pages, thanked Francis and quietly hoped he'd never see the guy again.

Then, incredibly, he actually read them. And discovered that the characters and dialogue were hilarious. Francis was not exactly a comedy novice. To keep himself busy and (relatively) safe during the 11 years off and on that he spent in prison, Francis would write funny, fictitious, combative letters from his family members and read them to the other inmates as a kind of stand-up routine."

I was always the clown," says the 42-year-old Francis, who grew up in South L.A. "I always kept the humor no matter where I was at. Once you accept the fact that you in there, there's nothing else you can do about it. . . . I just tried to make it work for me."

Sherman passed Francis' material to an Emmy-nominated client, Dean Ward ("Talk Soup"), who fleshed out the story and incorporated characters from Francis' fake letters until they had developed it into the story of brothers who revive a towing business to save their old neighborhood from commercial development.

Ultimately, producers Broken Lizard Industries ("Beerfest," "Super Troopers") brought the script to Our Stories Films, which optioned the spec last summer. Ward, Francis and Sherman then sold an animated series called "Letters From Tha Slammer" to, TBS' online comedy outlet, based on Francis' epistolary high jinks (the show will be available on the site in a few months).

"I'm always teasing Darryl that he took the easy way out," jokes Ward, who's working on other projects with Francis. "I had 10 years of heartbreak writing spec after spec before I finally sold a script. And he goes to prison, writes one script and sells it. If I had it to do all over again, I'd skip film school and go straight to San Quentin."

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Steph said...

That story is hilarious! Kudos to Sherman for taking the time to actually read it. A lot of people wouldn't have done that!

Joseph said...

I read a wonderful lesbian story the other day on triggerstreet. It was the most horribly written and formatted script I've seen yet, but the story was so raw and unique. You can only hope the story makers can find their programmers or learn it themselves.