MEMO TO: Laura Hart McKinney
FROM: Peter Bart
SUBJECT: Career Prospects
Since you’ve been much in the news this week, Laura, I decided to read your screenplay — the one that transformed Mark Fuhrman into a celebrity and cast a nuclear cloud over the O.J. Simpson trial. Having done so, I am reminded of the distinction once drawn by Truman Capote. “Some people write and others typewrite ,” Capote observed; alas, you fall into the latter category. The bottom line, Laura, is that you spent 10 years researching and writing a screenplay that understandably no one wants to finance. In the process, you also managed to accomplish the impossible: You made Mark Fuhrman look even dumber than he is.
I’ve watched you on television, Laura, with your tousled hair and “tortured poet” look, agonizing over the dilemma in which you’ve placed yourself. Your official bio identifies you as “an award-winning screenwriter” and a filmmaker-in-residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts. These are fascinating credentials, except that your so-called “award” means only that you, along with 11 other people, were admitted to a fellowship program 10 years ago run by the Writers Guild East Foundation to encourage writers of unproduced screenplays. After more than a decade of writing, you’ve still sold nary a script, though a producer named John P. Flynn took a $1,000 option on your Fuhrman script, “Men Against Women.” Ultimately Flynn dropped it, because he couldn’t elicit any network interest, nor could he persuade you to make substantive changes. Like adding a story.
Judging from your script, Laura, your principal talent lies not in writing but rather in getting into trouble. And for that, we are all paying a price. All across Los Angeles, people are angry, and you could have prevented this. When that detective hired by the defense team called you out of the blue about the Fuhrman tapes, you could have (a) not taken the call, or (b) told him you destroyed the tapes and then promptly done so. Instead, you waffled and, even though you deny it, attorneys and agents claiming they represent you were all over town asking hundreds of thousands of dollars for your material.
I’m sure the money would be a help in view of the fact that you declared personal bankruptcy two years ago. But, finances aside, why in God’s name would you want to preserve those tapes?
Do you get some kind of rush from hearing Fuhrman use the “n” word? All you basically did in your script was to transfer Fuhrman’s racial epithets to a different target — women. That is, of course, what your script is basically about — hence its subtle title, “Men Against Women.”
What you tried to do is to relate the ordeal of several women in the Los Angeles Police Dept. as they are hectored and harassed by some monumentally misogynistic male cops. The male cops, having formed a group called “Men Against Women,” disdain the “splittails” (the cop epithet for women) so fiercely that they refuse even to invite them to their festive “kill parties,” in which they celebrate their latest homicidal escapades.
The “kill parties,” one suspects, reflect the Fuhrman influence. In this screenplay, when the typical cop arrives on a crime scene, he simply shoots whoever happens to be loitering about. Their actions are duly applauded by their colleagues; not surprisingly, most of those killed happen to fit into the “n” word category.
During your testimony, Laura, you kept explaining that you always got into your “journalistic mode” when questioning Fuhrman — hence an absence of indignation or, indeed, any point of view on your part. Alas, you seemed unable to shed your “journalistic mode” even when writing your screenplay. Not only does the script lack a “voice,” but it also lacks a point of view. Scene after scene shifts back and fourth between the men’s and women’s locker rooms, with the women’s dialogue not providing any more insights than the men’s.
“You have to be fucking Daniel Boone today to bring a guy down with this shit ammunition we’ve got,” declares one articulate male cop.
“You need a good fuck,” one eloquent woman cop says to another woman cop, thus displaying great feminine sensitivity.
To no one’s surprise, one of the meanest male cops ultimately falls in love with the very woman he’s been harassing, and I’m not sure what that proves except that it’s always easier to invoke an obvious denouement than an unexpected one.
The basic problem with your script, Laura, involves not what’s there, but what’s not. On the “missing” list are a few identifiable characters, a sampling of cops who don’t talk like Fuhrman, plus some thoughts or deeds that elevate the material above the level of a B cop picture. The discovery that men in blue harbor a distrust for women is not exactly a bolt out of the blue, especially on a big-city police force.
And those women who cling to what one female cop describes as a “sentimental fantasy of cosmic sisterhood” are clearly in for a rude awakening, not only on the LAPD but in any other walk of life.
What’s my advice for you, Laura? Well, there are several thoughts I’d like to pass along. To begin with, it would be helpful to learn some basic rules on how to construct a narrative. Perhaps instead of teaching a course on screenwriting, you could actually take one.
Second, you have to learn not to “over-research” a topic. If you submerge yourself in a subculture like the LAPD, you run the danger of surrendering your own sensibility to that of your new environment.
You also end up spending too much time in the company of people like Fuhrman, and you now know what that can do to you. It can make you stupid.
Think about that for a while, Laura.