As an author looking to sell the film rights to one of my novels to Hollywood, my journey has been very slow so far. Most filmmakers will not take "unsolicited" manuscripts. In Hollywood, it's not what you know but who you know!
So I figured if I kept trying, one day something big was going to happen. Lo and behold, who should land right on my doorstep but unconventional, open-minded, two-time director, Angelina Jolie!
Recently, she's made the news headlines again as she is in the process of directing her second film, and using locations within Australia. The film is called Unbroken, and it's based on a non-fiction book by author Laura Hillenbrand.
But all this is besides the point. I knew Ms Jolie was going to be filming a scene outside one of the hotels where I freelance in human resources (my bread and butter gig). This is what I do to pay the bills in between writing. Anyway, this incredible and talented lady (Ms Jolie) was going to be literally on my doorstep, with one of our hotels being in the background of one of the scenes in the film. So how was I going to get my novel to her? The set was heavily guarded, and anyone trying to approach the area where the filming was taking place was turned away by security. Lucky for me, I found a way. You know what they say--where there is a will, there is a way.
Before you get excited, the answer is "No", I didn't get to meet Ms Jolie. At the time I pulled my "covert" operation of trying to get my novel to her, she was filming behind closed doors. In any case, below is my account of how I did it:
"It was a real production (no pun intended) just trying to get the whole thing to happen. First, my boss told me he was going to pass on my novel to Ms Jolie (as he expected to meet her), or he would hand it to the locations manager, who is the guy he'd been dealing with regarding the changes to the façade of our hotel's entry way (our hotel was going to be made to look like a Japanese store of some kind).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, one day before the shoot, my boss told me he was going to be in and out of the office attending meetings. I was devastated. I had been counting on him being around to hand over the novel to Ms Jolie (after all, he'd read it and loved it). So when he told me he would be flat out that day (Friday, 22 November), I felt like giving up. I was angry, disappointed, and wanted to cry at the same time.
Then an idea came to me--I got the name of the locations manager from my boss, and I googled him (Yes, always, ALWAYS do your homework!). The guy has an incredible filmography--he's worked in all the major blockbusters made in Australia for the last 30 years including Wolverine and Gatsby. I tried to get a clear image on Google of this man so I would recognise him if I saw him, but I could only find a tiny photo of him, taken at a distance, and it was blurry at that. I wasn't sure how I was going to identify him on the set. My idea was to approach him directly.
On Friday morning, I made my way to the hotel, and it was bedlam. There were extras dressed as Japanese soldiers and 1940s-type civilians, and a whole bunch of vintage cars were parked along the road (the scene was meant to be a street in Tokyo). People were everywhere--security guards, crew members, etc. Scaffolding and filming lights, trucks, and loads of equipment occupied the street, which was soon to be blocked off to general traffic and the public.
I made it into the hotel, and my boss was busy. He said he'd introduce me to the locations guy, but then he got caught up with other things. Ms Jolie was already inside a building across the road from us, which is an art-deco style building, and she'd been there since early morning. I was told by someone from our hotel, who knew what was happening, that she was filming behind closed doors, and no one but crew could get in.
The entrance to the building was flanked by security officers and all manner of film crew individuals. I stood across the road with my package in hand (novel and letter addressed to Ms Jolie), watching, watching, watching, and waiting, waiting, waiting. Then, this guy comes out of the building. He looked vaguely familiar. My intuition told me it was him (the locations manager). He looked like the pic I saw on Google, but I couldn't be 100% sure. His name is Phillip Roope, by the way.
Suddenly, he was talking to some people, and standing like 2 feet away from me. I was going to wait till he finished talking and then attract his attention. But before I could do this, he walked off. I was really distressed and disappointed. He was my only chance, and he'd just walked away. Still, I waited and waited some more as Mr Roope went back into the building where the filming was taking place.
Then it started to pour with rain (we had thundery weather in Sydney on Friday), and I thought, Damn! What else can go wrong? And just as I thought this, Mr Roope came out of the building again and started to walk up the road. I said to myself, "It's now or never, Sylvia."
I ran across the road despite the heavy rain, almost getting run over by cars as the road hadn't yet been blocked off. Meanwhile, Mr Roope was going way up the road, away from me. I quickened my pace, but a security officer blocked my way, and said, "Excuse me, madam, are you crew?"
I went into official mode, gave her a stern look, and with my most authoritative tone, I replied, "I'm after Mr Roope." This seemed to work because, without further questions, she called out after him (by the way, I'm good at authority. You have to be if you're in human resources. Not a wasted career after all).
Mr Roope stopped, turned to me, and we took shelter under the awning of a building, as it was still raining heavily. And then, after apologising for taking up his time, I launched into my spiel (and believe me, you have to be ready for this because you never know when the opportunity to sell your novel/script/idea will come up). I told him who I was, gave him my official hotel business card, told him I had permission from my boss to approach him, and that I had a novel for Ms Jolie, and would he give it to her.
I further told him I knew she probably gets millions of these, but the Universe dictated that she be here today, and therefore, I had to take the chance. Fortunately, Mr Roope, an Aussie, was really nice and easy going (as most Aussies are), and he promised he would put it in her hands. I then thanked him, complimented him on his fantastic career, and finally went on my way.
Oh, but just before I left, I did say that I knew Ms Jolie might simply put the book in the trash, or never get to read it. But if she did read it, she would surely love it, and cry at the ending. Mr Roope smiled, a twinkle in his eye, and once again promised he'd give it to her. Wow! I was suddenly on top of the world. Talk about six degrees of separation. And this was only one degree of separation!"
When relating my story to a colleague, she commented on my determination. I replied that I would have stepped over bodies lying in the streets if it meant I could get my novel to Ms Jolie. I've never been shy of approaching people. I had something to sell, and I wanted an open-minded director for it. The Universe saw fit to bring Ms Jolie literally to my doorstep. The worst she or Mr Roope could have said was "No". So I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now it's all out of my hands. I do not expect to hear any time soon, if ever. Ms Jolie might put the whole package straight into the trash; after all, she undoubtedly gets hit with this kind of thing all the time. Or she might put it away for later and forget all about it. Or she might open it and put the book aside for another day and not read it for a year. Or she might read it and not like it. Or she might read it, like it, but decide it's not a good film project. Or... the best outcome of all, she might love it, cry at the end of the story, and get her people to contact me with a movie deal because she just has to make this novel into a movie!
My mother once said to me regarding lost opportunities: "We might miss several trains, but we always catch the last one." This thought was what kept me going against all odds to get my book to Ms Jolie. And since you can never depend on anybody else except yourself, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I simply did what I had to do and what was under my control--the rest, I handed over to the Universe.
And now, while I wait for that magic call (if it should ever come), I can finally go around saying my most favourite line of all time to people who never answer their phones: "You never know when Hollywood is going to call."
Wow! I am honoured and humbled that my novel "The Soul Bearers" has not only been getting some rave reviews, but has now made it to Editor's Choice on the Breakthrough Bookstore!
I worked long and hard on this novel, which started out by being a screenplay in 1997, and which I adapted into a novel in 2000. After counteless drafts and having worked on it for 13 years, it's fantastic to see that it's getting such wonderful reviews and the recognition it deserves!
Now I'm waiting for Robert Redford or George Clooney to come along and buy the film rights to it :-)
Author Sylvia Massara's: