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The Source Material

I once wrote a screenplay. It was the first one I ever wrote.

I had to borrow a feature film script from my landlord in New York, Mr. Lee, because I didn’t even know the format of a screenplay.

I had to use the TAB key to indent a million times because I didn’t have screenwriting software.

I had to type it in my kitchen because the tiny apartment my wife and I lived it didn’t have room for a desk.

But I got it done. It was called SLIP & FALL. And it was glorious – at least to me – because I had actually finished it. It was 120 pages and the pages had words on them and the words told a story. I was proud of it.

I submitted it to the New York International Independent Film Festival. It won Best Screenplay.

David Chase – creator of The Sopranos read it. He liked it. He hired me.

Sony and CBS – makers of the series The Guardian read it. They hired me.

NBC Universal read it – makers of Law & Order read it. They hired me.

20th Century Fox and FBC read it – makers of Prison Break read it. They hired me too.

So I knew the script didn’t suck. But for some reason it couldn’t be sold as a feature film. It was a movie after all, how come it couldn’t get made?

“Because it’s a small story,” my agent told me.

“Huh?,” I asked. “It’s 120 pages. Same length as most other scripts. Even longer than some. How is it any smaller than any of those scripts?”

“No, it’s small because it has no aliens, no vampires, no personalities switching bodies, no post-apocalyptic zombie survival contests … it’s just about a guy who makes a mistake and a bad decision and gets in a lot of trouble as a result of it.”

“Ohhhhh,” I said, “You mean it’s just about human beings in difficult circumstances and how they deal with the ethical and moral conundrums and the often dangerous and deadly results that can result in these situations.”


“Kind of like To Kill A Mockingbird?”

“Yeah, well, um….”

“And Death of a Salesman?” I continued.

“Right, but my point is…” my agent stammered.

“– Twelve Angry Men…”

“Now you’re just being a wise-ass,” my agent barked. “It’s a different time. To Kill A Mockingbird doesn’t get made by a studio today if it’s a spec script. You need the source material. If this was a book first, you’d have a much better chance at seeing it made into a film. Sorry, them’s the breaks. Now, how’s that Vampire Zombie in Space comic I sent you? Think you can do something with it?

I left his office depressed. But not thirsty (they always give you tons of water at your agent’s for some reason.) On the walk back home I had an epiphany. If they wanted source material, I’d give the damn source material.

I took SLIP & FALL and I read it again. I thought even more about how I would tell the story if I had no constraints – no page count to worry about; no budgetary issues to concern myself with … I had nothing to consider but STORY. And then I began writing my novel. Two months later I walked into my agent’s office and dropped the novel SLIP & FALL on his desk.

“Here’s your source material,” I said. “Now let’s make the movie.”

Well, SLIP & FALL (the novel) was published. And it became a National Bestseller.

But SLIP & FALL (the movie) has still never been made. Not because there wasn’t interest. There was. After the book did so well, there were incoming calls to my agent about films rights but the truth was, at that point, I had become much more attached to the material. I had really gotten to know the characters so much better when I expanded their story from 120 script pages to over 300 literary pages.

I wasn’t comfortable handing them over to a studio or financier or director who knew nothing about the characters I created, the world they live in, the truth of what they were about and who they really were.

So I said I wasn’t interested in selling the film rights to my debut novel. One day I’ll make the movie if I can produce and direct it – either through a studio or independently.

But until then, I can sit back and be proud of a really good piece of source material.

NICK SANTORA was a lawyer before his first screenplay won Best Screenplay of the Competition at the 2001 New York International Independent Film Festival. A co-creator, executive producer, and writer for the hit A&E show Breakout Kings and former writer and co-executive producer of Prison Break, Nick Santora lives in Los Angeles, California.

Check out Nick Santora’s new novel FIFTEEN DIGITS, and the paperback edition of the nationally bestselling SLIP & FALL,  now available in bookstores everywhere.