After the rejection from Warner Bros., the focus became entirely about finding an A-list writer. Finally, after another FOUR months, a writer was secured – thankfully, one I respected and admired. During the final meeting prior to the writer’s signing on, Isaac and I communicated with the writer via conference call. We made it clear to him that he would be getting all of the concept material we had produced to date and was given the go ahead to start developing a synopsis. Never mind that it should have been the responsibility of Patrick and me to develop the synopsis, as per our agreement with Hunt when we decided to step down as screenwriters.
The first synopsis submitted by the writer – and all subsequent synopses – did not fall in line with the canon of “Myst”, much less BoT. He was, however, generating plot ideas that were fantastic and could have easily been incorporated into the BoT storyline developed by MFG; the ideas just needed to be reigned in a bit. My excitement for what the writer was bringing to the table far outweighed any concerns I had for these initial synopses and I truly believed integrating his concepts into our story would make for a remarkable pitch. I gave notes with this goal in mind, as well as notes which addressed our concerns about the canonical issues in the synopses. Unfortunately, these notes were met with resistance and a consistent censoring by the junior execs. The writer was never really privy to my wishes. Not exactly being treated as a full producer on a project, is it?
The prior dragging of the junior execs’ collective feet now meant that the deadline on our option was fast approaching. We continued to work in haste with the writer, to develop a story suitable for pitching. Unfortunately, each iteration had issues which directly conflicted with our primary directive to protect the property. Again, my notes to that effect somehow seemed to get lost in the fray and were never communicated to the writer.
By this time, it was January, 2011. Isaac and I had relocated to California, in preparation for pitching to studios, but things were moving slowly and I was growing more and more concerned. The expiration of our option was coming up in March and we still had no pitch-worthy story. All we had for a story was a watered-down version of BoT – so watered-down, in fact, that it can hardly be called the same story. All of the characters were present and Anna went down to D’ni, but the similarities ended there.
As we entered into February, there were no significant story advances. It became clear that, with the looming expiration of the option, we were going to have to pitch with the story that we had. Our partners assured us that the story was strong enough to sell the property to a studio. I maintained significant doubts, but chose to trust in the 30+ years experience of our partners. I trusted that we would fight the story battles after we got the project set up with a studio. In light of all of this, our partners began scheduling pitches, with every major studio, for the month of March.
During this period, tensions arose between Isaac and me. He began acting unilaterally, engaging in discussions with the junior execs about strategy and story, all without my knowledge or input. I started hearing about discussions and decisions after the fact. This was tremendously upsetting to me and a clear disregard for my authority. Due to our company structure, I was unable to fire him for these infractions. Additionally, taking him off of the project proved to be an unviable option, as it would have generated a negative image of our company.
The real kicker came when I was informed by Isaac that he had, without my knowledge or consent, taken it upon himself to negotiate a month-to-month extension on the option with Cyan. These terms are something to which I never would have agreed but was now forced to accept. To do otherwise would have reflected poorly on our company in the eyes of Cyan. In essence, my acceptance of the new terms was merely damage control and the only reasonable choice that remained for me. I did, however, severely reprimand Isaac for undertaking negotiations without my authorization, while stressing the importance of respecting my position in the company and not making decisions he had no right make. He responded with assurances that he would attempt to respect the boundaries of his position. Predictably, these assurances turned out to be empty promises.
Despite my understandable misgivings at this juncture, I found myself in the position of having to press forward – with a story that I did not believe in (and would later find out that nobody believed in) and a producing partner whom I had no reason to trust. And then we started pitching. Even with the circumstances being what they were, my dedication to the franchise ensured that I delivered every pitch with the same enthusiasm I had when I began this project. I brought my A-game and I’m proud of the job I did.
The pitch was two-fold, with the writer presenting the story and me following up by presenting the viability of the franchise as a whole. We pitched to all but three of the major Hollywood studios before our partners decided to inform us of the feedback they had been receiving since the beginning of the process. Apparently, each studio had the same reaction: “Love the franchise. Hate the story!”
Why our partners chose to continue pitching a story that was obviously not working, why they made no attempt to remedy the failings of the pitch before we were all but three studios from the end of the line, will forever be a mystery to me. Essentially, we were walking in already setup to fail, thereby burning a bridge with every pitch we made.
Instead of retooling our pitch, our partners’ response to the studios was to assure them that we were willing to do whatever they wanted to do with the story. The tack became about convincing the studios to buy the property and figure out the details of a story later. Unfortunately, the studios simply weren’t interested in this scenario. For studios, the development of a story is an expensive process that they would rather avoid. They look to producers to shoulder that burden. As a result, one by one, the studios chose to pass on the project. It was only then that our partners came to the conclusion that we needed to alter our approach heading into our final three pitches.
At this point, I was livid. Not only had we been pitching a story that was clearly not working, but the story that MFG had spent years developing – a story that seemed to answer every one of the studios’ concerns, a story we had spent copious amounts of time refining – was continuing to be completely ignored. And I want to stress here that I strongly believed (and still do) that BoT was our best bet, but I was always willing to look at alternative story options, provided they were strong and did justice to the franchise. However, the simple fact is no other viable story options were ever presented or forthcoming.
My goal for the duration of my involvement with this project was to produce a film that was faithful to the canon and captured the essence of what we fans love about “Myst”. I could not, in good conscience, accept any storyline that did not meet these requirements. BoT was the story on which everyone’s energies had been focused from the beginning, precisely because it best encapsulated all that is great about Myst. The only alternatives that were ever offered were bastardized versions of BoT – the best of which was a proven failure! The only explanation I can offer for our partners’ paradoxical adherence and yet complete deviation from BoT is this: they were paying lip-service to BoT in order to placate me as the rights-bringing producer, while simultaneously doing everything they could to dismantle and mold BoT into something that represented their Hollywood-ized version of “Myst”. This is not what you, the fans, wanted and it is not what such an intelligent and sophisticated franchise deserves!
I’m sure you can imagine the frustration I felt during this time. I was, in every sense, looking at seven, long years of work, of life, being washed down the drain. During that time, MFG and I had endeavored to compromise with the wishes of our partners, making every attempt to respect their suggestions while staying true to the franchise. Compromise after compromise had been extended by our company, but in nearly every instance, we were met with a response that was all-or-nothing. Having no desire to waste our few remaining chances to garner major studio interest, I committed to making some bold choices. It was time to trust my own gut and have the courage of my convictions. Their approach had resulted in failure. We had tried it their way; it was time to try it ours. If we were going to fail moving forward, we were going to fail on our own terms.
A meeting was called with the junior execs, in which I expressed my feeling that it was time to reconsider the story that MFG had always believed in the most: our adaptation of BoT. At the time, everyone in MFG, including Isaac, was in agreement. We all had labored together to perfect MFG’s version of BoT and, to the last man, we regarded it as the best possible version. My argument to the juniors was that we clearly couldn’t do any worse than we already had. What was the harm?
To my surprise, the junior execs were actually open to considering our story again. They suggested we make a few tweaks, with an eye toward addressing the specific concerns of the studios. We did so and submitted the revised story via email.