TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORIES
One False Move
At 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon, my life changed. The phone rang. It was Mary Cross, mine and Billy Bob’s agent. Billy happened to be at my grungy apartment, and as I listened to Mary, I looked suddenly at Billy and gave him a thumb’s-up. She had great news! We had sold our first script!
Billy and I, naturally, were euphoric. I lived in east Hollywood in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood on New Hampshire Avenue, and Billy and I walked around the corner to a Korean grocery and liquor store on Vermont. We bought a bottle of cheap scotch. We passed the scotch back and forth, drinking straight from the bottle till it was empty. I woke up the next morning with the happiest hangover I’ve ever had.
It was February, 1987, nearly six years after Billy and I had come out from Arkansas to make it in Hollywood. The script we’d sold, Hands of Another, was a thriller about a homicide detective and an actor. We wrote it with the help of a real homicide detective who was working for the L.A.P.D. We got $25,000 for an option and a rewrite. The most I’d ever earned in a year before that was $8000, so this seemed like a fortune. I quit my parttime temp job--I’d been catching a bus downtown (since my car’s radiator was shot and I couldn’t drive it for more than 10 minutes without its overheating) for the last 14 months to work in the Population Research Section of the Regional Planning Department of the County of Los Angeles (yes, it was as tedious as it sounds)--and I moved to a new apartment, in Hollywood, north of Franklin, on the prettily named Primrose Avenue.
Hands of Another, alas, never got made. A Michael J. Fox movie with a similar plotline came along and blew us out of the water. But besides providing Billy and me with our first success, Hands of Another also led directly to our next project. Since we’d sold one cop script, we decided it would be smart to write another cop script, and, with the help of our homicide detective friend, we immediately did so.
We called it Color Me Bad. It was about a naïve small-town chief of police in Arkansas who has a showdown with some vicious killers from L.A. Our agent Mary loved it, and within days of her sending it out, Billy and I got another electrifying phone call: Tri-Star had flipped for Color Me Bad and wanted to buy it!
Well, Billy and I were in high cotton now. We’d sold two spec scripts in a row. We were finally beginning to tear Hollywood apart, just like we’d planned it. I flew back to Arkansas in triumph. It was only the second time I’d been home since Billy and I had left years ago. It was the middle of the summer, and I had a pleasant time playing tennis and working on my tan. The day before I was to go back to L.A., my mother convened a kind of family reunion to celebrate my success. She was one of nine children, so there were lots of people there. Cousins congratulated me, aunts kissed me, uncles slapped me on the back. And then the phone rang.
It was Billy, calling from California. His voice sounded terrible and I asked him what was wrong. He said Mary Cross had just called. It seemed that our script had come to the attention of the president of Tri-Star; he’d read it, hadn’t liked it, and had called the deal off.
I took my mother aside and told her what had happened. She was as shocked as I was. She asked me not to tell anyone because if I did it would ruin the reunion. So I and all my cousins and aunts and uncles continued to celebrate my non-existent success.
The bad news cast a pall over the short remainder of my visit. It turned out that was the last time I was ever to see my mother. She dropped dead while taking a walk a few months later.
The initial flurry of excitement over Color Me Bad quickly died away, and now it was just another script floating around Hollywood looking for a home. One major producer said he’d take it on if, in the role of the white police chief, we agreed to cast Danny Glover. When we gently pointed out that Danny Glover was black, he said what difference did that make? Well, since a central part of the story was the police chief having to confront his own racism, it made a difference to us, so we moved on. Then a major independent company said they’d make Hurricane (as we were now calling it) if we agreed to partner up with a certain hot young director. When we met with the director he was such a flaming asshole that the whole project fell apart within an hour. And so it went, for the next three years, till we met a producer named Ben Myron. We optioned the script to Ben for a dollar at a Hank Williams Jr. concert, then Ben and his partner, Jesse Beaton, took it to RCA Columbia, a video company that at the time was funding a lot of low-budget indie movies (including Sex, Lies, and Videotape). Larry Estes, head of the company, liked the script. It was shot in the fall of 1990 in L.A. and Arkansas under yet another title, One False Move.
Unfortunately, once the movie was finished, we couldn’t find a distributor for it. We were hoping to get it into the Sundance Film Festival and attract some attention there, but Sundance rejected it. It seemed doomed to straight-to-video oblivion, and Billy and I seemed destined to continue indefinitely our hardscrabble Hollywood lives. But then… something wonderful happened! Since I’ve told this tale elsewhere in this website in “The Tom Epperson Story,” I’ll refer you there.