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Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe

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The opening 10% of your screenplay must draw the reader, and the audience, into the initial setting of the story, must reveal the everyday life your hero has been living, and must establish identification with your hero by making her sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful.

May, 2008

"We are going to be so late," Joanna McCoy said, running out of her room, book bag in hand.

"We're fine," replied her father. "And we wouldn't be anything close to late if you hadn't tried to wear a belt as a skirt."

"Dad! It wasn't that short."

McCoy merely raised an eyebrow. "Got everything? Your history homework? Your lab report? Your story for the paper?"

Joanna checked her bag again. "Yep. You have caffeine? Protein?

He held up the travel mug and the wax paper-wrapped egg and veggie burrito she'd made for him earlier.

"Pants?" she asked.

"It was only that one time," he said, "and I was wearing swim trunks. Let's go."

"Can't we take the freeway today?" Joanna asked as they made their way through the streets of Venice and onto Ocean Avenue. "We're late as it is."

McCoy shook his head. "The freeway is only faster at three a.m., Jo."

Joanna huffed and slouched against the seat, crossing her arms with all the attitude that a fourteen-year-old girl could summon. Unfortunately for her, it was less than half of the attitude of a typical actress, so her father was unmoved. "Probably couldn't go fast anyway," she said. "This car is older than I am."

"It's a classic in perfect working condition," McCoy said of his '74 BMW, "and when you get your license you'll be begging me to let you drive it."

She rolled her eyes. "You're so old-fashioned."

"Excuse me, I have a goddamned iPhone with the internet and the blue ray."

"Blue tooth, Dad. Blu-ray are the next generation of video players. You should really know this; you're in the industry."

"See, look, Ocean is moving just fine," he said, following the traffic through Santa Monica. "We'll be in Brentwood in no time, and you'll be nothing like late."

"Whatever," Joanna said, reaching for the radio.

"Don't. you. dare," McCoy growled, because seriously, the kid was pushing every button this morning. He might have said more, but then the phone rang. The car was old but the aftermarket tech was not so he hit the handsfree button on the steering wheel. "McCoy."

"Hey, it's Christine Chapel."

"Never knew you to be up and at 'em so early," he said. Joanna looked at him, wondering, and he just shrugged.

"Can you come into the office this morning?" she asked. "I don't see anything on your schedule."

"Sure, after I drop Jo off. What's up?"

"I … I think I have an offer on your script."

"My script?" he asked. He couldn't think of what she meant—he hadn't pitched a sitcom after the last one never even made it to pilot, and that was five years ago. "What script?"

"Your movie script, McCoy. That Which Survives."

Joanna turned to him. "Dad? I didn't know you wrote a movie script."

"Long time ago," McCoy said. "You were just a baby." He'd forgotten all about that script, which he'd written while he was still show runner on Three to Tango. At least, he'd tried to forget it. "So who's biting?" he asked.

"James T. Kirk."

"Oh my god, Dad!" Joanna shouted, grabbing his arm and shaking it in her excitement.

McCoy went blank for a minute because that wasn't a name he was expecting to hear. Kirk directed a big-budget action movie franchise about a female spy named Bibi Besch, the fifth film of which was to open in a few weeks, over Memorial Day weekend. Joanna wasn't much for wallpapering her room with posters but she did have a pin-up of Kirk's star Carol Marcus on her bedroom door. Kirk's films were also some of the few Hollywood action movies he'd never been asked to punch up.

"McCoy?" Chapel asked.

"Oh, sorry," he replied. "Um, yeah, I mean, I'll stop by."

"Great! I know it's a surprise but I think this one is really going to happen," she said, and hung up.

"Oh my god!" Joanna said.

"You said that before, Jo."

"You're gonna take it, right?"

"Sweetheart, it's just a meeting."

"But you work on so many action movies. I know you wrote the best one ever."

McCoy smiled though in the back of his mind he wondered when he'd stop being his daughter's hero. "That's the thing, Jo. It's not an action movie. It's a little indie flick if anything."

"Oh," she said. "What's it about?"

He sighed. "It's about me and your granddad."

Joanna nodded. She hadn't known his father, and McCoy had never told her about how he died, but he supposed that if the movie got made he'd have to. But not now, in a car winding its way up San Vicente.

"Okay," McCoy said as they pulled up to the school. He checked his phone. "I'm seeing you at four, right here."

"Yep," she replied.

"Curry for dinner?"


Damn kid always trying to make him into some kind of vegetarian. "And chicken?"

She rolled her eyes. "Fine." She gathered up her things and kissed him on the cheek. "Good luck, Dad!"

He smiled. "Thanks. Have a good day now."

She got out of the car and ran over to one of her friends and they immediately started giggling. Strange how even living with a teenage girl didn't make them any less mysterious.

Christine Chapel, like most successful people in Hollywood, had certain affectations. One was her office at The Farragut Agency, which was decorated in the manner of an English gentlemen's club with dark brown leather furniture, a Victorian solid oak desk, and bookshelves with beautiful leather-bound copies of the scripts of her clients that had been produced. It was suitably library-like for a writers' agent.

"So tell me," he said once he'd settled into a club chair with a pineapple Jarritos, "how in hell did James T. Kirk come across a script I wrote over ten years ago?"

"You make it sound like you haven't been working on it since then," Chapel replied. "And that I haven't been sending it around."

McCoy shrugged. "So I've revised it here and there," he said. "Still doesn't explain anything."

Chapel curled into the opposite chair. "Jan and I were talking," she said, meaning Janice Rand, her girlfriend and Kirk's agent, "and when your name came up she said she'd never read the script, so I loaned it to her. And Kirk is like a toddler when you leave him alone in a room. He picked it up off her desk and now he wants to make it."

"But why?" McCoy asked. "It's not his sort of thing. Can he even get it produced?"

"Yes, within his deal at Fleet Pictures," Chapel said. "Jan was looking around for a small movie for him anyway; we just didn't think yours was a fit. But apparently Jim does."

"And what Jim Kirk wants … "

Chapel merely shrugged.

"Well," McCoy said, "I suppose a meeting wouldn't hurt anything."

"Great," she said. "Tomorrow?"


"He wants to move fast," she said. "This isn't widely known but the next Bibi Besch pic is being pushed back so he finds himself with a hole in his schedule this summer." She paused, looking at him. "Don't you growl at me, McCoy. You have to admit this would be a quick one to get into production."

McCoy let his eyes drift back over to the bookshelf, where he was represented only by the script for the Three to Tango movie Tango at the Wedding. Script doctoring might be lucrative and get you known and respected by the power players in Hollywood but it didn't exactly rack up the WGA credits. He found himself looking at those shelves with a little more envy.

"Fine," he said. "Breakfast, usual place."

Chapel shook her head. "Why do you like that restaurant so much?" she asked. "I didn't think all that healthy stuff was your kind of thing."

McCoy just raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

"Oh by the way," she said, walking over to her desk, "you should know that he's been reading your scripts."

McCoy cocked his head. "What scripts?"

Chapel looked up. "All of them."

"All the movie scripts you mean?" he asked. "They're not really mine, but—"

"Not just those," she replied. "The Three to Tango scripts, too."

"Are you trying to tell me," McCoy said, "that he has the 92 sitcom scripts I was credited for?"

"Actually he had the entire run," she said. "Jan sent him all seven seasons yesterday afternoon."

"Huh," McCoy said. "Well, I hope he's a fast reader."

"He is," she said. "He returned them this morning."

McCoy didn't go home after seeing Chapel; his thoughts were spinning too much to get any writing done. Instead he went down to the beach in Santa Monica and grabbed trunks and a towel out of his car for a swim, his preferred head-clearing method. Then he bought a couple of tacos and ate them sitting on the hood of his car staring out at the ocean. He'd been in Los Angeles for seventeen years now, and he still couldn't get over the sight of nothing but sails until the sky and the ocean met, or how you could almost hear the hiss as the sun set into the water.

Chapel had given him a tote full of Kirk-directed DVDs and a portable player, so he watched What Are Little Girls Made Of, the first Bibi Besch film Kirk directed back in 2000 when he was 25. It was a mid-range film, to be sure—Kirk wasn't that much of a genius to have started with a big budget—but he could see why they'd given him the money after that. All the elements of his later films were there, if in embryonic form: his quirky visual sense with more angles than a bad student film that still somehow worked, his ability to sketch a character in thirty seconds of film, his instinctive and ruthlessly efficient sense of story. His student film wasn't bad either, something about a confidence man named Mudd that showed he certainly could handle a smaller and more direct story, but still didn't give McCoy that much confidence that Kirk would be the right director for a project as emotional and actor-centered as That Which Survives. Anyway, it was just a meeting.

He flung his t-shirt back on before going to pick up Joanna, who'd had a newspaper meeting after school. She asked about Kirk, and he let her know about his meeting the next day.

"We have to plan what you're going to wear," she said.

"Why not what I always wear to meetings?" he replied. It had taken McCoy quite a while to adjust to the casual dress of LA after four years of Ole Miss formals and tea parties. His Hollywood meeting uniform consisted of a relatively hip t-shirt, a light jacket, jeans without too many holes, and a pair of Vans; it said "I'm a creative" without implying "who's holding onto his youth in a somewhat pathetic manner."

"James Kirk is so GQ," she said. "His producer Spock wears all these amazing scarves."

"I'm not wearing a scarf to a breakfast meeting in May."

"Of course not," she said. "Your neck is too short."

McCoy rolled his eyes. "This isn't a date, Jo."

"You never know," she said. "I hear he dates guys, too."

McCoy sighed. Ever since her mother remarried Joanna had been looking for someone for her father. When she came to live with him three years ago, McCoy had explained that sometimes he dated men and sometimes women, and Joanna had come down decidedly on the side of his settling down with a man. McCoy wasn't sure what that was about, perhaps some kind of wish to be the only woman in his life, but he generally just let it slide. "I'm not dating my director."

"Well anyway you still want to impress him," she said.

"I'd say he wants to impress me," McCoy said. "He's the one who wants to make the movie so badly."

Joanna raised an eyebrow at him. Genes were funny things; Joanna got her big brown eyes from her maternal grandmother and her dark hair from his own mother, but her expressions were pure unadulterated McCoy.

"Don't you have homework?" he asked, which they both knew was his go-to last ditch attempt to get Joanna off the given topic.

She shrugged. "I handed in my story and the editor didn't have anything to say about it, so I did most of it while I waited for you. Thanks for reading the story for me."

"Any time," he said. "I'm always glad to look over your writing." He had a sudden flashback of his father saying the same thing to him years ago, about his math homework. Maybe becoming your father was just part of parenthood; he'd certainly seen Jocelyn become his former mother-in-law over the years.

"So we have plenty of time to find you something to wear," Joanna said firmly. "This is Hollywood, Dad. Appearance is important."

"Fine," McCoy replied, because another part of parenthood was knowing when you were beat.

And so after they salted eggplant and browned chicken and dumped in the green thai curry base from Trader Joe's and got the whole thing simmering away in the dutch oven while the rice cooker did its thing, they marched into McCoy's room and Joanna surveyed the offerings. About thirty minutes later, which was less time than McCoy had feared, they had an outfit Joanna approved of and McCoy could actually see himself wearing—some well-worn-in jeans that Joanna liked the fit of but weren't "snug," a vintage Pylon t-shirt (that he'd purchased at a show in Athens in 1983, thank you very much, and not on eBay) and a brown denim jacket. Joanna also insisted on "doing" McCoy's hair the next morning "because you always make your bangs too heavy, Dad; product is your friend." But the stubble he could keep, because it made his eyes "pop."

"So who's the band on the t-shirt?" she asked, once they'd sat down to dinner.

"It's Pylon," he said. "I've told you about them."

"One of those bands," she said, waving her hand vaguely.

"You are not going to college without some goddamned taste in music," he said, scowling.

"I'm scared now," she said, sounding anything but. "Which band?"

"Pylon were a crucial band in the Athens scene of the early 80s," he began.

"Cliffs notes please, not the entire wiki entry."

"Where's your attention span?" he asked.

"I'm saving it for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," she replied.

McCoy made a face. "Your mother hates that book," he said.

"I can see why," she said. "So, Pylon? Athens G-A?"

"Yes, Georgia, not Greece. They heavily influenced R.E.M., and then they broke up and got back together and toured with R.E.M., and then they broke up again. They were the first band I ever saw play live in a club, when I was fourteen. There, that's your short version."


"And in return I'm putting some on your ipod."

"Will there be a quiz later?" she asked.

"Don't be a smart ass," he replied.

Catch was the restaurant at the Casa Del Mar hotel in Santa Monica. McCoy liked having breakfast meetings there because he knew the staff, the menu was extensive while still accommodating the egg white omelet crowd, and he got a perverse pleasure out of forcing the suits to come west of the 405 that early in the morning.

His routine for these meetings was to get there early—easy when he was dropping Joanna off at school anyway—and hide out in the hotel lounge. Being first at the table was a kind of advantage, in that you could size up the others as they walked in. McCoy let them think they had that advantage, while he'd been watching them since they got out of their cars; they rarely knew what he looked like since he was a lowly writer.

It was sunny, but not too warm, so after checking with the maitre d', he settled into one of the chairs in the lobby that gave him a view of the door and sipped a red grapefruit juice. Kirk was predictably early—by about fifteen minutes—and sauntered in from the valet smiling at all the staff. McCoy was actually glad that Joanna had made such a fuss, as Kirk certainly was well put together in expensive-looking jeans, a crisp white button-down, and a brown cardigan, with a grey newsboy cap atop his head. He didn't notice McCoy as he walked in, but standing at the maitre d' station he turned and—damn it, was the kid actually checking him out? He flashed McCoy a smile just before walking into the dining room.

McCoy stood up, not bothering to wait—either the jig was up or it wasn't. He walked right up to the table where Kirk sat checking his blackberry, the New York Times sitting on the table in front of him. "Nice trick, waiting in the lobby," he said, and then stood. "James T. Kirk," he said, extending his hand, and this time he was definitely checking McCoy out. His voice was deeper than McCoy had expected, with just a touch of midwestern twang around the edges.

"Leonard McCoy," he said, and they sat. "How did you know?"

Kirk removed his cap, putting it and the paper on the chair next to him, and ran a hand through his hair. "There are pictures of you all over the internet, like everyone else. You did win a few Emmys, after all."

McCoy shrugged. "Most people don't bother to look," he said.

"I'm not most people," Kirk replied. The waiter came over and McCoy pointed to Kirk. "Coffee, and what are the market vegetables?"

"Zucchini and tomato, sir."

"Tofu scramble and hash browns, no toast, please."

"The usual, sir?" the waiter asked McCoy, who nodded. Tofu, really?

Kirk smiled again, and his eyes were almost distractingly blue. McCoy hoped his own eyes were "popping" or whatever Joanna had said.

"So," McCoy said.

"Look, I've heard you're a straightforward guy so I'm not gonna blow a bunch of smoke up your ass," Kirk said. "It's a fantastic script, the bones are solid." He paused as the coffee arrived. "Thanks. It just needs a little help—not a lot, a little. But you know, collaborative process, blah blah blah."

"Sure, sure," McCoy said, feeling just a little off balance in the absence of the usual fifteen minute intro of bullshit. "What kind of help are you thinking?"

"Well," Kirk said, "I read the sitcom scripts, and man have you got a distinctive voice. I went through those movie scripts and knew exactly what lines you added."

"You're actually not supposed to be able to tell," McCoy said, "if I'm doing my job right."

"Well, like I said, I'm not most people," he said, shrugging. "And I kinda know my way around an action script."

"True," McCoy replied. And how—he and Joanna had watched Kirk's other movies after dinner, and all of them were tight as a drum. "So the script isn't in my voice, is what you're saying?"

"No, it is. But to be honest, you're funny as hell, and this script? Not so much."

"It ain't a comedy, kid," McCoy said.

Kirk gave him a little smile, raising his eyebrows. "I know, but you were trying so damned hard to be serious that no one even cracks a smile. The story is compelling and the characters fantastic but there's no life to it."

"Huh," McCoy said, because he honestly couldn't think of a good reply to that.

"Thing is," Kirk went on, "you're just the person to fix it. I bet that if you looked at this script not as your baby, but like a script doctor, you'd know exactly what to do."

McCoy cocked his head and thought, mostly just to slow the kid down because he'd been talking a mile a minute. "See, that's great and all," he said, drawling just a little more than usual. "Useful notes, but that only shows me you should be producing, not directing."

"Oh, right," he said, smiling again. "I really get this character on a personal level. I know what it's like to lose your father, to have a complicated relationship with a parent. And the father, you can see that he wants to protect his son, but needs him at the same time, and how tough it is on him. And the nurse! She's not just one of those wise caregivers, not by a long shot." His eyes were wide and glowing now, his mouth firm. "The narrative is so elegant and spare. It lets everyone breathe. The actors would be able to take their time with this one. And we'd absolutely have to shoot it on location. It's all about finding the right house and then just holing up in it until we get it right."

McCoy nodded, amazed that Kirk could seamlessly blend sincerity and actual insight with industry bullshit like "getting the character." "And you think you can do it this summer?" he asked.

"With the glut of stuff that was shot before the strike," he said, "there's a lot of good people free right now. We just have to move fast. And my crew is available, of course."


He waved a hand. "Leave that up to me," he said. "Shouldn't be a problem."

The waiter came then with the tofu scramble and McCoy's asparagus and cheddar omelet. Kirk reached into the pocket of his bag and pulled out a slim plastic case. "Here, this might help you," he said.

"And this is?" McCoy asked.

"It's one of my first student films," he said. "The first one Spock and I worked on together anyway. Not the final project; I know Jan hands that one out. This is an earlier one. Might make you feel more confident about me."

"Okay," McCoy said. "I mean, I'll have to—"

"Think about it, of course," Kirk said, nodding. "I think we could do great things with this script. I think it could be amazing. But you should go with what your gut is telling you."

He was smiling again, that infamous megawatt grin, and McCoy could almost feel the heat it generated on his skin. And he had to hand it to the kid—he certainly had a feel for the script. His advice, however, left something to be desired; McCoy's gut had certainly steered him wrong in the past. "I'll do that," he said.

"Great," Kirk replied. "So, Pylon," he said, gesturing at McCoy's shirt. "R.E.M. did a lot of covers of them, didn't they?"

McCoy raised an eyebrow. Maybe the kid was all right, after all.

McCoy looked down at the family schedule in his phone. Easy to go see his buddy M'Benga as his gym was just down the street, but McCoy doubted the workout his friend would give him would be wise immediately after eating an omelet. Besides, he felt restless and itchy; he didn't want easy. He turned down Santa Monica and headed for Silver Lake; maybe the drive would ease the worst of it before he got to the dance studio.

The former Jocelyn McCoy, mother of Joanna and pain-in-the-ass ex-wife of Leonard, was rehearsing with a male dance partner to some kind of pop song. Or scratch that—she was creating, choreographing; the dance was clearly unfinished, as she was repeating a few patterns in slightly different ways. How a nice girl from Georgia had gone from being head cheerleader at Ole Miss to showing pop starlets how to move their asses in their videos to best effect McCoy wasn't sure, and he'd been there as it happened.

Neither the staff nor Jocelyn took much notice of McCoy as he slipped into the room, though her eyes met his briefly in the mirror. He'd always liked watching her dance, and so wasn't an unknown presence at the studio. Jocelyn had a fantastic body and knew how to move it, how to change it up from sexy to classy and back again. She and the male dancer were weaving in and out of each other's space with some damned complicated footwork; her client would have to be pretty well trained to follow that.

"All right," Jocelyn said, glancing up at the clock. "We'll take this up again tomorrow." She gave the other dancer a hug. "Good luck!" she said as he left.

"Audition?" McCoy asked her.

"Yeah, some soda ad," she said, wiping off her face with a towel. "So if you wanna stay and yammer at me you'll have to be my partner."

"Hey," he said, eyes widening, "I ain't doin' that shit you were just—"

"Calm down, Len. I just need you to lift me."

"Oh," McCoy said. He rubbed the back of his head. "Well, that's fine then."

She shook her head as she walked over to the stereo and changed the music from the pop track to a slower piano song. "So how was the meeting?" she asked.

"How'd you find out about that?" he asked, taking off his jacket.

Jocelyn cocked her head. "I can see your schedule and you know it. Stop being coy."

"I'm not being coy," he said—he honestly did keep forgetting that Jocelyn bothered to look at his schedule.

She stood next to him. "Lean," she said, and when she hopped up he easily grabbed her with one arm as she lifted both legs into the air, leaning her side into his. "So is Kirk as hot in person?" she asked.

"If you like that sort of thing," McCoy replied, standing up as he set her back down.

"Which you do," she said, rolling her eyes. "You've always been a sucker for blue-eyed blonds."

McCoy harrumphed. "He's not as hot as he thinks he is, at least," he said, trying to maintain some pride.

She turned them at a side angle to the mirror and stood back to him, putting his hands on her hips, then hopped up, locking her legs backwards around his waist. "Did he impress you?" she asked.

He watched her do a head roll. "He's passionate about the script, and he seems to have a good understanding of its strengths." He didn't say, "and weaknesses," though that was also true.

"That's good."

"Yeah," he replied.

"So why are you unsure?" she asked. "Follow my hand," she added, moving her arm in a graceful arc.

"Fuck, I don't know, Joss," he replied.

"Don't sag your shoulders," she said. "God, you've got the most graceful hands, Len."


Jocelyn sighed, and leaned back into his chest. "You still can't take a compliment, can you?"


"Never mind. Here, shift me this way, and make a quarter turn," she said, and moved so he was holding her by her waist and one outstretched leg. They now faced the mirror. "I'm just saying, you're always surprised that people are paying attention to you."

"I'm not the talent," he said.

"Hmm," she replied, standing again. "Did you come by so I would talk you into this?"

He followed her lead and lifted her onto his shoulder. "Never made a big decision without you, Joss," he replied.

"Leonard McCoy, that isn't even true. You bought that house in Venice."

McCoy closed his eyes for a moment. "You said once that I don't know how to take advantage of opportunities."

Jocelyn slid down onto the floor. "I was angry then," she said.

"Doesn't mean you were wrong," he replied. "Anyway, you were there when I wrote the damn thing."

"What does Christine think?" she asked, leaning them sideways again.

"Christine's an agent. She wants to make a deal."

"Give the woman some credit," Jocelyn said. "She takes good care of you."

"Yeah," he replied.

"Look, does it feel right?" she asked.

He watched in the mirror as she lifted her leg, extending it straight to her perfectly pointed toe. "Yeah," he said, not realizing it until that moment. "Yeah, it does."

"Then do it," she said. "What have you got to lose?"

"Dunno what the shooting schedule is yet; he said he wanted me on set for it—"

"We'll figure it out," she said. "You've certainly worked around my shit any number of times."

"Yeah, well," McCoy said, setting her down.

She turned to him and lay her hands on his chest. "All right, get out of here and call Christine."

He put his hands over hers. "Thanks, Joss."

When McCoy got home he realized there was one more thing he wanted to do, and slipped Kirk's student film into the DVD player. Unlike his final project about con men, Tomorrow is Yesterday was an emotional short film about a teen who chooses not to retaliate against another boy who'd bullied him years before. McCoy could see why Kirk had given him the film, as it showed a sensitivity mostly absent from his other work. Not that his action pictures really called for much of it, but it was still good to know it was there.

He picked up the phone before he could think about it anymore. "Christine, it's McCoy. Let's do it."

He tossed the phone on the couch and headed out to the beach for a swim.