Thursday, September 26, 2013

jackDawe, September 26, 2013

I Oughta Be in Pictures
What was it like to see something of mine made into a movie? Fucking cool.
by TJ Dawe

More than a decade ago, Mike Rinaldi and I co-wrote a two-hander called Toothpaste and Cigars. It just debuted as a movie. Daniel Radcliffe in the male lead. Zoe Kazan in the female lead. Mike Dowse directing. Script by Elan Mastai. Title: The F Word. It got great buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival, and scored a distribution deal with CBS. I’m not sure when the theatrical release date is, but Valentine’s Day 2014 is what I’ve heard. 

What was it like to see something of mine made into a movie? Fucking cool. Not only because it was good in and of itself, but because of what a surprise it was. You see, Mike and I had very little to do with it. 

Ten years ago producer Marc Stephenson wanted to buy the option on the play. It would be cast with experienced film actors. It would be rewritten by an experienced screenwriter. If it got made. The vast majority of optioned properties don’t. Maybe one in twenty do. Maybe. 

Everyone loves a Cinderella story.

Mike played the male lead in the Canadian tour, and truly owned the role. We’d written a number of plays together, but had never written for the screen - though we’re both huge movie fans. We could have insisted Mike play the lead. We could have insisted on writing the script. But that wasn’t the deal Marc was offering. 

Everyone loves a Cinderella story. Sylvester Stallone was a nobody when he sold the script for Rocky, and stipulated he had to play the lead. He did, the movie won Best Picture, and almost forty years later Stallone’s still a star. Once came out of nowhere, won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and catapulted Glenn Hansard into a major music career. 

But how many tales are there of the opposite happening? A movie cast with unknowns, written by unknowns, with all the passion and dedication in the world... goes nowhere. If there were some way of gathering a statistic on that, it’d be absolutely heart-breaking. 

But Rocky did happen. Once happened. Any number of other indie darlings rose from the sea and sprouted legs and were able to walk and launched careers (Pi, In a World, El Mariachi, Napoleon Dynamite, The Brothers McMullen) . More will. But are you the exception or the rule? What’s more likely? 

We signed away the option. We got source credit. Elan Mastai rewrote the script and rewrote it again and again. Through a series of machinations I don’t actually have the full story on, ten years later it’s done. And on Sept 7, 2013, Mike and I sat in the 1200 seat Ryerson auditorium for the premiere, not even having seen so much as a trailer, much less a rough cut. 

It’s a story of unrequited love. A guy meets a girl at a party. They talk. They connect. He walks her home. They exchange contact info. Then it comes out that she has a boyfriend. They stay friends anyway (the F word...). And the more they hang out, the more it seems like there’s something there. 

The movie expanded the play. Elan gave the characters jobs, friends, relatives. Situated it very specifically in Toronto. Certain conversations from the play were there, but the phrasing was different (Mike and I visited the set, and saw the actors improvise on different takes). But the overall arc was the same. The dilemma was the same. And the core being the leads’ conversation rapport was the same. 

The play was based on actual relationships Mike and I had been in. And being a play, it was a level or two abstracted from reality. The movie was abstracted even further. Watching Daniel Radcliffe on the screen didn’t give me the sensation of seeing my life story on a giant canvas. But I recognized my ideas. I recognized the spirit Mike and I had created in the play. There it was, reinterpreted by a group of other artists. And there was never any guarantee that this would be the case, but they did a damn good job of it. 

In the meantime, we’re not getting a cut of the distribution deal, or the film grosses, or the TV rights. 

I saw the movie four times, over four days of the festival. Full theatre every time. Great response every time. I searched for reviews and tweets incessantly. All glowing. 

And then Mike and I met with producers to pitch some other ideas we’ve been working on. Will any work come from this? Who knows. But our gamble worked. The movie was good. It turned some heads. It’ll be seen by far more people than otherwise because of the cast and the script. Certain doors have creaked open an inch. And we were there and ready when they did. 

In the meantime, we’re not getting a cut of the distribution deal, or the film grosses, or the TV rights. We didn’t get flown to TIFF, or put up at the Hyatt. We didn’t walk the red carpet or hobnob with movie stars. I’ve got a monologue I’m working up for next year’s fringe tour, and I’m doing a one-off of my show Medicine in Nelson, BC in early October, and then again at a conference on psychedelic medicine at UBC toward the end of the month. Mike’s looking for acting and sound design work in Toronto and Hamilton (where he recently moved) and is flying to Vancouver on his own dime in mid-October so we can keep writing, with the hope someone will want to buy what we come up with. Life chugs along. The hard work continues. As it should. 

See the followup to this piece on Sunday.


  1. Congrats, TJ!
    Can't wait to see the film.

  2. Totally congrats! It's terribly difficult to get anything "low" budget made in this climate - that in and of itself is amazing!! Ride the wave ... it might just be a smaller one right now, but body surfing is still fun.

  3. Thanks so much. It has been one hell of a ride. Can't wait for the next wave, when the movie gets a general release...

  4. Major congrats!!! How exciting! I'll be looking for it. Keep up the good work!

  5. Thanks Elizabeth. I'll certainly have something posted here when the movie gets released.

  6. Can't wait to see the movie, TJ! And I'm over the moon that you're working on a new Fringe show--we've missed you so much in Winnipeg, and I guarantee we're not the only ones! :-D

  7. Jody, just you wait for this new show. Oh man. It's practically blasting out of my skin right now.

  8. Congratulations, I'm very happy for you. I know a talent when I see one. I truly enjoyed your Fringe production 2 summers ago in Winnipeg. I will be looking forward to seeing your movie.

  9. fabulous, tj. and congratulations and YES!! looking forward to seeing the movie and your upcoming show for next year's fringe in Vancouver. hugs and blessings. althea

  10. Thank you both. I really couldn't have asked for a better training ground than the fringe circuit to allow me to consistently get my stuff out there, to one audience after another. Not in a classroom, not in a workshop, not to my friends and peers alone, but to actual people, to strangers, time and time again. And the tour is in my bloodstream now. And it's calling me back the way the ocean calls a seagull.


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