THE TRAGIC STORY OF NOTHING

 

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

When I think of miracles I think of “Miracle on the Hudson,” which was not a movie or a television mini-series, but an actual real-life event, just a year and a half ago, when 155 people were saved after the captain of U.S. Airways flight 1549 crash-landed their plane into the Hudson River.

Not a life was lost. 

It was an amazing story.  Uplifting, hopeful.  I wondered why I hadn’t seen it emerge as a TV movie or a major motion picture.

And then I remembered my own history in the entertainment industry, and I imagined the pitch meeting that might have occurred after the incident…

 

INT. EXECUTIVE OFFICES/20th CENTURY FOX            DAY

LEW, a gray-haired senior executive, sits in a well-appointed office next to RICHARD, his Vice President of Development.  Posters of classic Hollywood movies adorn the walls.  Lew’s name dominates the credit lines on such films as “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake,” “The Towering Inferno,” and “Airport.”

JERRY and SANDY, two television producers in their fifties, sit in chairs opposite the execs.  They are well dressed and in full-pitch mode.

                                                        JERRY

            It came as an epiphany, Lew.  I mean, I called Sandy the second I

            saw the footage and I said, “Sandy…Miracle on the Hudson–”

 

                                                       SANDY

            And I said to Jerry, “Everyone survives!”

 

                                                       JERRY

            That’s what she said, Lew, that’s exactly what she said.  And I

            knew we had a hit on our hands. 

 

Lew shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

                                                       LEW

            Jer, how long we known each other?

 

                                                      JERRY

            Christ, Lew, thirty-five years?

 

                                                      LEW

            Remember the fun we had on “Earthquake?”

 

                                                     JERRY

            The best, Lew. 

 

                                                     LEW

            How many people did we kill in that script?

 

                                                    JERRY

            Gosh…dozens.

 

                                                    LEW

            Three hundred twenty-two.

 

                                                   JERRY

            That many, huh?  I think that’s how many bad reviews we got, too.

 

                                                   LEW

            Remember the box office?

 

                                                  JERRY

            We made a lot of money, Lew, we did.

 

                                                  LEW

            How many did we kill on the Poseidon?

 

                                                  JERRY

            Well, that was a finite number, since you can only have so many

            people on a boat to begin with.  It’s not like an earthquake—

 

                                                  LEW

            Six hundred forty, Jer. 

 

                                                  JERRY

            That many?

 

                                                   LEW

            This “Miracle on the Hudson,” …how many people die?

 

                                                   SANDY

            If you’ll allow me to interject here, Lew, I think I know where you’re

            going with this.  See, “Miracle” is the flipside of Poseidon.  Think of

            Jim Cameron’s “Titanic,” think about that kind of box office, right?

            “Miracle” is “Titanic,” except it’s exactly the opposite, see? 

            And “Titanic” made a billion dollars, Lew.  Think about that.

 

                                                     LEW

            So what you’re saying, Sandy, is I can expect to lose a billion

            dollars on “Miracle on the Hudson.”

 

Jerry moves forward in his seat, effectively “cock-blocking” Sandy’s dying pitch.

 

                                                      JERRY

            We’re talking apples and oranges, Lew.  This isn’t a feature film

            here, it’s a movie of the week.  Television has always been the

            place for stories of inspiration and hope.  Like “The Burning

            Bed” or “Raid on Entebbe.”

 

Richard finally speaks up.

 

                                                  RICHARD

            People died in both MOWs.  Entebbe was tragic, innocent civilians

            were shot and killed.

 

                                                  LEW

            That’s it, Jer.  Where’s the tragedy? 

 

                                                 JERRY

            The tragedy?

 

                                                 RICHARD

            The husband burns to death in “The Burning Bed.”  The woman

            kills her husband.  Those kids have to live without a father—

 

                                                 LEW

            What’s the one about that handsome serial killer, ends up eating

            his victims? 

 

                                                 RICHARD

            On the tip of my tongue, Lew.  I can IMDB it if you want.

 

                                                  LEW

            Point is, Jer, you can’t have hope without tragedy.  Where’s the

            tragedy in your “Miracle?”

 

                                                 JERRY

            What have we come to, Lew?  Does every story have to revolve

            around some tragic event?  Don’t we have the responsibility

            to…to—

 

Sandy leans forward, subtly pushing Jerry aside.

 

                                                  SANDY

            There’s huge tragedy in “Miracle on the Hudson.”  The pilot and

            the crewmembers suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for

            months after the crash.  The media swooped in and dissected

            the pilot’s life—they turned him into a hero against his will.

 

                                                  JERRY

            There was a woman on the plane with a baby in her arms, Lew.

            She had to crawl over the seats when the water came rushing in.

            Can you imagine that?  They just crashed into the river, it’s

            freezing in the water–”

 

                                                 SANDY

            Like “Titanic.”

 

                                                 JERRY

            Like “Titanic,” and this woman is screaming and trying to crawl

            over the seats as the water pours in, threatening to drown her little

            baby girl.

 

                                                 LEW

            What happened to that woman, Jer?  What happened to the baby?

 

Uncomfortable BEAT.

 

                                                 SANDY

            Again, I see where you’re going with this, Lew, but—

 

Richard has his iPad in his hands.

 

                                                 RICHARD

            Okay, I’ve got AOL news on line right now, and I’ll read you the

            top three headlines.  “Ten Year Old Kills Father and Stepmother

            with Shotgun he Received on Birthday.”  “Woman Fakes Cancer,

            Bilks Community Out of Two Hundred Thousand Dollars.” 

            “Family of Thirty Drowns on Wedding Cruise to Catalina Island.”

 

                                                   LEW

            I’d watch every one of them.  Although the second pitch is a bit

            weak, since the girl doesn’t really have cancer.

 

                                                  RICHARD

            Sure, but you spin it, have her get something else, Lupus or

            something.  Now she really needs the community she bilked—

 

                                                  LEW

            The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

 

                                                 RICHARD

            Exactly.

 

                                                 LEW

            Can you die from Lupus?

 

                                                RICHARD

            I’ll call Research, have an answer by morning.

 

                                                LEW

            Listen, Jer, it was great seeing you.  I got a four o’clock

            with Arnold and I think it’s going to go long.  He’s looking to

            do a sequel of “Twins.”

 

                                                RICHARD

            God, he’s desperate.

 

                                                LEW

            What else is he gonna do?  He needs work.

 

                                               JERRY

            Lew, I think we really got something here.  A new vision for

            the future.  A world where entertainment isn’t synonymous

            with violence and pain.

 

Lew stands, puts a hand on Jerry’s shoulder.

 

                                               LEW

            I got three words for you, Jer.  P-B-S.

 

Richard smiles, repeats Lew’s comment over and over again, laughing to himself.

 

                                              JERRY

            Lew…

 

                                              LEW

            Say hello to the little lady for me.  We’ll get together for Pesach

            next month.  I’ll have Ethel give her a call.

 

                                                        *    *    *

 

I think I can find PBS on my cable box.  Somewhere in the five hundred channels of chaos and destruction…

 

24 thoughts on “THE TRAGIC STORY OF NOTHING

  1. Chuck

    Freaking awesome! Thanks for the peek inside.

    At Thrillerfest, cannot remember what author said it…but it went something like, "Got writer's block? I have a cure. Sit down in your chair, and kill someone."

    🙂

  2. Gar Haywood

    Stephen:

    Needless to say, this is brilliant and spot-on.

    And I guarantee you, somewhere in Hollywood, the script for the sequel to TWINS is making the rounds:

    Arnold and Danny DeVito have lost all hope of surviving the fatal genetic disease they've been diagnosed with when they discover there is one blood donor in the world who could save them, a third, younger sibling they never before knew they had:

    Zack Efron.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the plot of TRIPLETS.

    Remember you heard it here first.

  3. Cornelia Read

    I loved the part in Raid on Entebbe where Helen Hayes's grandson asks her if she's upset about their plane being highjacked, and she assures him that it's fine because she's just taken her Valium. Oh wait, sorry… that was Victory at Entebbe.

  4. Judy Wirzberger

    You have a wonderful mind that maneuvers the twists and turns of life.
    Put that in your fortune cookie and toss it over your shoulder for luck.
    Brilliant post.
    On second thought
    You have a wonderful mind that manufactures the twists and turns sof life.
    You must be a writer.

  5. Debbie

    Thanks for the morning laugh. The more time I spend with Murderati the more I want to read everyone''s everything…but then, I guess that's part of the point eh?

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Zoe – methinks you probably kill enough people to satisfy the studio.

    JD, Spence, Louise – glad you got a laugh. And it's all too true.

    Chuck – I think I heard that, too. Do you remember which panel that came from?

    Gar, you crack me up. Thanks for stopping by. And I know there's been talk about a sequel to twins for about a decade. You found a good way to make it relevant – new star power.

    Cornelia – we should get together one night and watch the Entebbe Trilogy.

    Judy – thanks for the wonderful compliment. Words like yours make it all worthwhile.

    Debbie – I'm with you. Everytime I read a Murderati post I want to go through every single link attached, and I want to read every blog in everyone's archive. Something to do after I retire, I suppose.

  7. toni mcgee causey

    Brilliant, Stephen. I was sort of waiting for Lew to say, "but if we give the pilot a heart attack and the person who *really* landed the plane was the five-year-old Nelly in first class, and her dad, Ray (played by Timothy Olyphant in a bad mood), and wait… they have to kill the hostage taker…"

    "Lew, there weren't any hostage takers."

    "Work with me, here, kid. It'll be big."

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Toni – pack your bags, we're moving you onto the lot today.

    Pari – thanks! Kinda fun to play everything out in dialogue, too.

  9. Mike Dennis

    Great, Stephen. A good ending to the meeting might've been:

    JERRY: Okay, Lew. You're right. It won't work. So how about if we call it TRAGEDY ON THE HUDSON?

    LEW: Tragedy?

    JERRY: Right. See, we'll just change it up a little and have a hundred or so people get killed. You know, drown, or whatever.

    LEW: Even though that didn't really happen?

    JERRY: Right. But who's gonna know?

    LEW (pensive): Hmmmm.

    JERRY (getting worked up now): And then we can show how the tragedy affected the aftermath. Like showing the weeping families. Or like the guy and girl who meet during the flight, and survive, can have totally different reactions to the crash, disrupting their inevitable hooking up.

    LEW: But they meet cute, right?

    JERRY: Of course, Lew. Of course. They can bump into each other while putting their carryons into the overhead bin.

    LEW (smiling for the first time): Jerry, I think you've got yourself a Movie of the Week.

  10. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Mike – and that's how Hollywood rewrites history.
    Congratulations, you're hired!

  11. Debbie

    "…and I want to read everyone's blog in everyone's archive…" I've actually read all of Alex's blog I think. I can tell you the colour of her couches, whether or not she has pets, what kind and how many, what her mother calls her…. Yeah, it sounds a bit obsessive but I was actually looking for something specific that I'd read in the past. Hmm, makes me realize how much really slips out in our posts and admittedly, she's my hero and a household name here!
    BTW – Just sent links to your posts to my son and you may have created a new Beatnik!

  12. Tom

    Sounds like the guys who used to work at Hearst when they were still doing Movie Of The Week biz.

    "Yes, but are we cynical ENOUGH?"

  13. Allison Davis

    Oh god, I loved this. Can we send to the New Yorker? It's just too funny. Or, too real?

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Didn't find this funny at all. After four years wounds are still too fresh, I guess!

    Funny how people who deal with books actually think about what will be best for the story. It was weirdly hard to get used to.

    (Oh and cock blocking – a fine old Hollywood tradition I do not for one second miss. I see it once in a while in publishing. But it lasts a couple of days instead of a campaign to the death.)

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Tom – if you haven't seen or read Mamet's "Speed the Plough," it's worth a look.

    Allison – too funny and too real. The same way I felt about "The Player" – it wasn't a satire, it was a documentary.

    Mike – I'll give you all the net points you want.

    Alex – I was the "Richard" in enough of those meetings myself. I've been both Richard and Jerry. It's like living in a Fellini movie.

Comments are closed.