LIKE A GREAT MANY PEOPLE in this town, Danny Cort would like to take a meeting with producer Joe Roth.
Cort is writing a script that he thinks would be perfect for the former head of 20th Century Fox, who’s now running his own company, Disney-based Caravan Pictures.
According to Cort, the script’s got everything — laughs, drama, action, even a love story. In short, it’s everything a commercial movie should be. Just the thing that Roth — and probably most every other producer in town — would like to get his hands on.
But Cort says there’s one more important element about his project that he thinks will interest Roth: The script he’s working on is a ’90s update of the Preston Sturges classic comedy “Sullivan’s Travels,” reported to be at the top of Roth’s list of all-time favorite films.
The 1941 “Sullivan’s Travels” is the story of a successful director, played by Joel McCrea, who grows tired of making fluff and decides to make a serious film.
He dresses up like a hobo in order to find out what it’s like to be poor and homeless. For obvious reasons, the film seems to get more pertinent each year.
But unlike the fictional director in “Sullivan’s Travels,” Cort doesn’t have to pretend that he’s poor and homeless.
He really is poor and homeless. And that’s why he thinks he’s just the one to rewrite “Sullivan’s Travels.”
A former machinist for an aerospace company, Cort was riding high until the budget cutbacks and end of the Cold War in the ’90s forced him to look for other sources of employment. With a few bad breaks, he found himself out on the street.
Cort now lives in his 1974 station wagon in an alley off of Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. His only other possession is a vintage manual typewriter and a screenwriting book he picked up in a used bookstore.
When he’s not panhandling for money, he can usually be found in his car, working on the script. He figures he’ll have it finished in a few months, ready to show Roth. That is, if he can ever get a meeting with him.
“I once read somewhere that ‘Sullivan’s Travels’ is Joe Roth’s favorite film, ” Cort said, in between asking passers-by for spare change. He wasn’t doing well this particular day. “And I think he’s gonna like mine just as well. Mine’s gonna really show what it’s like to be homeless. It’s a story that should be told.”
WHILE CORT MAY BE LACKING material comforts, he obviously still has his self-esteem intact if he can compare himself to Sturges.
“I am having a problem with the character arc in the third act, though,” he admitted. “For some reason, Sturges had the problem licked, but I just can’t seem to figure it out.”
As Cort stood on the street corner, trying to figure out his third act, he spotted a well-dressed couple heading for one of the trendy restaurants that line Colorado Boulevard. As he had been doing for the better part of the afternoon, he went into his routine.
“Can you spare a dollar?” Cort asked them. “I’m writing a screenplay.”
“You and several million other people,” the man said nastily. “Join the club.”
Luckily for Cort, the man he approached was working in the mailroom of one of Hollywood’s most powerful talent agencies, in his quest to achieve the Holy Grail — becoming a real agent.
“What’s it about?” the man’s girlfriend asked.
“It’s about the homeless,” Cort said, pulling a dog-eared script out of his backpack and handing it to them. “It’s an updated version of ‘Sullivan’s Travels.’ ”
“I love Jonathan Swift,” the agent-in-training said, confusing Gulliver with Sullivan.
“No, this isn’t Jonathan Swift,” Cort explained. “This is Preston Sturges.”
“Never heard of him,” the future agent said. “Is he any good?”
“He was great,” Cort answered. “I’ve updated his story. I’m telling it from my point of view. It’s a story whose time has come.”
“Who do you see in the lead?” the trainee asked.
“A lot of different people. Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks. Eddie Murphy would be great,” Cort said. “He’s never done a role like this.”
“I like the sound of that,” the man said. “Tell you what, when you get it finished, send it to me and I’ll see what I can do.”
NEVER KNOWING WHERE the next great screenplay might come from, the agent-in-training handed Cort a business card.
“Can you get me in to see Joe Roth?” Cort asked as the couple walked away. There were traces of desperation in his voice. “I want to get it to him.”
As Cort watched the couple walk into the restaurant, he was beginning to realize that he’s got about as much chance of meeting Joe Roth as he does Queen Elizabeth.
So Joe, the next time you’re in Pasadena, keep your eye out for Danny Cort. He’ll be the one in the 1974 station wagon, typing away, looking for his next break.
And a character arc for his third act.