2010: An oil rig blows up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven and beginning what will turn out to be the largest oil spill in American history. Thousands of miles of coastline will be covered with oil, shutting down fisheries, killing untold numbers of marine animals and stealing the livelihood of thousands of fisherman. Americans are mystified that something like this could happen less than twenty years after the Exxon Valdez spill demolished the Prince William Sound. But there is a true human story of corruption lurking behind the headlines and, you know what? It would make an awesome film.
Film is vital to us because of it's ability to take the crush and rush of life and turn it into a meaningful narrative. A great film gives form to events which occur in our own private small world and hopefully, in the really great movies, showing how our humanity intersects with epic public events.
So, just now I've been daydreaming about how I would take this awful oil spill and turn it into what could be a pretty cool film, maybe even art. Though I am, in fact, a Hollywood writer who has been on countless meetings on studio lots, I know it would take weeks to arrange meetings with (possibly) interested film companies. In the meantime, Aaron Sorkin will sell a version of the story to Spielberg during a cell-phone call and all of my effort will be for naught. So, I decided to write a little story about pitching the idea instead.
Here it goes:
3:30 on a hot Tuesday afternoon. Everyone's back from lunch. I drive onto the lot and park in one of the unshaded spaces they give to visiting writers. I trudge across the backlot at the studio to a bungalow where I'm greeted by an assistant who sits me down while he gets the execs off the phone or wakes them from their post-lunch nap. In a few minutes, the execs come out and bring me into an office where I'm given a Diet Coke for my troubles.
Of course, I'm looking the part of a hot-shit writer, wearing Frye rocker boots, jeans, a t-shirt and a cut beard. A knowing gleam in my eyes, I take the Diet Coke and my seat on the couch while the executives sit across from me on loungers. We bullshit for a while about politics or American Idol and then get down to business.
"So okay, what's the movie?" they ask.
I lean back, sigh, cross one leg over the other, making sure the execs gets a look at my boots. They are so bad-ass!
I paint the picture for them of the explosion and fire and oil gushing up into the Gulf of Mexico, killing everything that it touches.
"It's awful, right? But it's also a great chance to tell a mostly-true morality tale about the events leading up to the disaster. It's a story of greed, of the slippery slope leading down to heights of American decadence to the fiasco that happened, not just on the fiasco on Wall Street, but on Main Street, as well. While it's hard to write a movie that makes derivatives and collateralized debt obligations visually compelling, oil spills and burning oceans are inherently cinematic. And this story involves drugs, sex and mineral rights."
"The theme of this film is the quote from Edmund Burke: "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing."
The executives wonder how much America really likes Edmund Burke. Who is he, anyway? They drift off briefly...how American Idol will fare without Simon Cowell? Now that's a story. Why can't you pitch a story about Simon Cowell? They realize that I've stopped talking to gauge their reaction.
"You said drugs and sex?" they ask hopefully. I start up again.
"Do you remember the scandal two years ago at the Mineral Management Service?" Blank looks. "The MMS is part of the Department of the Interior and they're responsible for, among other things, making the deals to award offshore drilling rights to oil companies and then enforcing the safety regulations. Anyway, there was a huge scandal there. There was a culture of permissiveness."
Glazed eyes stare back at me, silently intoning: So what, who cares?
"Some of the employees there were taking kick-backs and bribes from oil execs in return for good deals on drilling contracts," I add.
So what, who cares?
Some of the government employees were having one night stands with the oil men. There were cocaine parties and orgies.
The execs lean in, finally interested. "That could be interesting," they say. Maybe I've got them. Time to get to the details.
"It's a story of how average people.... people a lot like us... can make a series of small moral mistakes... and before they know it they have slid all the way down the slippery slope... snorting blow, fucking the oil executives and writing slack contracts with (kick-back) consulting gigs for themselves built into the deal. Business, Texas style."
Hmm. Could be a nice country rock soundtrack... Jeff Bridges was sooo good in Crazy Heart.
"It's a movie about how, in the last decade, we all were compromised a bit by greed. The times were rolling... money was everywhere... we bought homes with money we didn't have...we lied a little bit on our resume to get that job."
Despite a few sentences without mentioning sex or drugs, they're still interested. They ask about the "star candy" -- meaning is the leading role juicy enough to attract a star.
"I see the movie as centering on a girl in her 20s named Dianne who comes from a simple, working class family in the deep South probably Louisiana. She's a very normal girl... by no means hot."
WTF did you just say? I can feel the anger flashing in their eyes and quickly explain myself.
"She's not hot in the beginning of the movie but she gets hot. At the start she's sort of plain Jane, a good student. An engineer at LSU, she has glasses and a pretty good sense of right and wrong. When the movie opens, she's just about to start her new job at MMS...an innocent lamb about to be served up to the lions for slaughter. A little while on the job at MMS and she learns that she can get so much further in life if she spices up her looks and bends the rules a little. By the mid-point in the movie she's ditching her glasses and her morals and doing everything else she can to impress the young handsome cowboy exec from the big evil oil company. She doesn't mind all the rides on the private jets. Airport security sucks!"
Yes, yes, yes. The film execs are interested. I can see it in their eyes.
"Part of us hates to watch her fall from grace...but the ride down is pretty damn fun and sexy...very sexy in fact. Mid-night trysts, drugs, ski trips...very sexy stuff, indeed. Certainly more fun that Marcello Mastroianni's fall from grace in La Dolce Vita. She's kind of a cross between Carrie Bradshaw from "Sex in the City" and Bud Fox from "Wall Street". In all the fun, she loses her identity and the parts about her personality that made her good."
I've got them now. I can see it playing out in their minds. This could stand for something and be sexy too!
"We start off the film with a little scene of Dianne driving to work in her humble Ford Escort. She stops at an intersection where she spots a beautiful rose bush at the edge of one of the roadside houses. She can't resist the beauty of the flowers and thus commits her first, tiny sin. 'So many roses on that bush and they're not being appreciated.' She parks the car and runs over with her clipping shears - stealing a single beautiful bud that she places on her desk.
"In the course of the Act 2, Dianne (while falling in love) helps facilitate the approval of a deep water ocean drilling contract off the coast of Louisiana for British Petroleum...something involving 'Deepwater Horizon." This happens in the hot tub in Breckenridge, Colorado on a ski trip sponsored by her boyfriend's oil company. It's no big deal at the moment...but we know that this will come back to haunt her.
One thing we do know at this point is that she's looking absolutely fabulous in and out of her bikini! Though I want to stress, she can't help feeling a little modest and that something is, perhaps, wrong with this situation. But she has to keep going on this situation...getting off the ride is for suckers. As the 2nd Act careens to the close, she gets betrayed by her boss (a cocaine snorting, sex addict) and jilted by her oil company cowboy.
"In the third act the office erupts in a scandal. Someone was too greedy or someone didn't get the promotion they deserved and somebody blows the whistle, signaling the end of the good times and sealing Dianne's fate. She is forced to resign from the company in disgrace, along with a handful of other employees. She returns home in shame.
"But get this, here's the poetic justice coda to it all. We end the movie with Dianne at home with her family who are, get this, shrimpers who live off the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. She's done with all the make-up and the fancy clothes and seems to have found some dignity in her life...and some peace.
"That's right about the time the Deep Horizon/BP oil rig blows up. The waters become polluted, the fish die and her father's business is shut down. Dianne realizes that she is partly responsible, as all of us are, for this tragedy. She makes her way to an emergency command post located near the water. The orange oil on the water blends with the sinking sun, giving the effect of no horizon.
"How can I help?" she asks. "I want to help." Ah yes, sweet redemption. And we slowly pull out of the scene. Cut to black."
4 pm. The meetings over and I head back to my car which has been baking in the sun. The execs seems sort of interested but they are always so polite that it's hard to say. My agent will follow up the meeting with a call to see if they're interest in buying the idea and in an hour or so we'll know if this might be destined for the big screen.
For the real life recap of this story go to: http://climateprogress.org/2010/05/04/mms-scandal-minerals-management-service-sex-for-oil/