While working the front desk at Miramax, Dave Pullano created the fictional exec to field overly persistent screenwriters wanting to sell a pitch. Ironically enough, through a series of adventures, Pullano found himself in Hong Kong, sitting on an old mattress … and pitching his own script to Jackie Chan.
By Dave Pullano
It’s 2:00 a.m. and I’m sitting on an old mattress underneath a roller coaster overlooking Hong Kong. The setting is in an abandoned amusement park now being used as a film set. In a few minutes, I’ll be pitching a feature-film project to one of the world’s biggest action stars.
Having flown 16 hours from L.A., I haven’t slept in a day and a half. Oh, and I’m pretty drunk, having personally consumed about $4,000 worth of wine over the last five hours.
Finally, I see the man I’ve been waiting for … Jackie Chan. He walks over and joins my partner and me on the dirty mattress. As I look at Jackie and the city skyline below, a line from the song “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads runs though my mind: “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
I guess I should backtrack. Like thousands of other wannabees, I moved to Los Angeles in the late-90s in order to make it as a writer for films and TV. (I was both ambitious and a glutton for punishment.) I had two scripts in hand, one for the sitcom NewsRadio and an original spec comedy feature. I figured I’d have an agent within a month, a sale within two, and a house in the Hollywood Hills by the end of the year.
Six months later, I was broke and without an agent. The “check engine” light of my battered Subaru was permanently on and I had resorted to paying rent by taking cash advances on my Visa card. Literally weeks away from financial ruin, I soon found employment as a waiter for an event-staffing company. The hours were bad, but it was “all you can eat,” as long as you didn’t get caught. The bacon-wrapped scallops with garlic cream sauce were a personal favorite.
The job took me everywhere, from insurance-company parties in Encino to the Academy Awards®. At a star-studded charity ball, we ran out of designer water and I was ordered to hand-funnel sink water into Evian bottles which I later served to Dustin Hoffman, amongst others. (If it makes you feel any better, Mr. Hoffman, you are one of my favorite actors.) At the opening of L.A.’s Getty Center, I had the pleasure of eating Sidney Poitier’s rejected filet mignon. (He’s a vegetarian.) I split it with another waiter in a bathroom stall, washing it down with a fine Cabernet that we drank from a coffee cup.
It was at that very moment I realized that I had devolved into the kind of guy who eats a celebrity’s rejected food in a public toilet. I was also getting tired of the bacon-wrapped scallops … and pretending that dirty sink water was the expensive bottled kind. I came to Hollywood in order to work in the entertainment business, and it was time to somehow get my foot in the door.
Luckily, a fellow caterer worked at a temp employment agency and was able to land me a job at the front desk of Miramax Films. I couldn’t believe it … I’d be answering phones for the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry. Ironically, even though I occupied the lowest position at Miramax’s West Coast offices, I was the gatekeeper for the company.
If you wanted access to someone and weren’t connected, you had to go through me. Trouble was, because of the sheer volume of calls coming into the front desk of a studio, you don’t have time to guide everyone through the “Here’s how it works in Hollywood” process. It seemed like everyone in the country had an idea, script or complaint for Bob and Harvey (as well as the other execs in the company). But, here’s the problem with that. It’s known as rule #1 in the receptionist handbook: Studios don’t accept unsolicited scripts or pitches!
Why not? For one thing, script coverage can be pricey. There’s also a barrage of agency scripts coming in every day. Factor in the time and money to review all of the unsolicited ones, and the economics just don’t work. If you think most Hollywood scripts suck, you should see the ones that come from outside the system.
And then there’s rule #2: Be a problem-solver.
The tricky part of manning the front desk was getting rid of callers who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. My solution? Invent a fake executive who would take all calls and any unsolicited script. His name was Jay Flannick and I gave him his own phone extension, as well as a cheesy British accent. Within weeks, he was receiving a large amount of scripts, gifts and voicemails. He was the perfect scapegoat for any problem. A development executive took notice of my creativity and helped me get my first agent.
Are you following this? Because it leads to rule #3: The friends you make when you’re on the bottom of the ladder will be the ones you trust as you move up the rungs. For me it was the former assistants from Miramax Films. A few of them would play a part in my first sale, 10 years later. My occasional writing partner Steve had grown from a beleaguered assistant to a successful film producer. A former intern became a legal-affairs whiz, while another assistant became a major development executive.
Which leads me back to Jackie Chan.
One day, a few years back, Steve and I were hanging out when I pitched him an idea for a family comedy. It was Spy Kids meets The Karate Kid, but with Jackie Chan. Steve saw the potential and minutes later, he called a friend of ours—another former Miramax assistant who was now connected to Jackie’s business partner in the U.S.
Three weeks later, Steve and I were on a jet to Hong Kong in order to meet with Jackie and his people. If they liked the project, it would mean a much easier sale to a studio. After 18 hours of jets, trains and taxis, we finally made it to our hotel. An hour later, we were on our way to Jackie’s offices.
In Hong Kong, Jackie’s name is on everything, from clothing and energy drinks to toilet tissue. To say the man is loved in Asia is to say that Michael Bay kind of likes making big action films with flag montages and hyperkinetic editing. At the offices, we were met by a manager and a lawyer … but no Jackie. It was tough to hide my disappointment. I knew the first question that everyone back home would have was “So, what was Jackie like?” Hopefully, I wouldn’t have to make something up.
The pitch went well and we went back to the hotel to try to figure out plans for the night. An hour later, we received a call from Jackie’s people inviting us out for dinner that evening—always a good sign. Hopefully, Jackie would be there, too. Steve and I arrived at a nondescript Chinese restaurant in neighboring Kowloon and were once again greeted by Jackie’s people. Unfortunately, the man himself was not there. We’d passed the first test by having a successful pitch, but it seemed that Jackie’s team was still feeling us out before letting us meet with their client.
Business dinners in Hollywood are much different than those in China, which is unfortunate because they really go all out in Hong Kong. We sat in a private dining room surrounded by Jackie’s partners and a few other visitors who had business with them. Our small group was attended to by a whole staff of waiters. His people also brought with them a case of Château Margaux wine that must have gone for about $1,500 a bottle.
After the long day, I was looking forward to savoring each and every glass. Unfortunately, our gracious hosts kept toasting us with “Ganbei!” which roughly translates into “bottoms up” in Chinese. Now, I’ve never had wine that expensive, but holy shit it was good. And here we were being asked to guzzle it.
The thing is, in a situation like this you do not want to insult anyone, especially when a potential script sale is on the line. Plus, the other dinner guests included a Mormon couple who also had business dealings with Jackie. Our hosts were confused by their “We don’t drink for religious reasons” protest, so they kept sending their wine over to Steve and me.
And let’s be honest, it wasn’t like it was torture or anything. Steve and I politely obliged. There was also some national pride involved. It was like we were on our country’s Olympic drinking team and we couldn’t let our Chinese counterparts get the gold.
Needless to say, we passed this second test with flying colors. Maybe it was because we had not slept for a day and a half, or that we’d crossed the International Date Line, but Steve and I were impervious to the alcohol. We were still somehow going strong while others around us weren’t faring as well. Someone on the far side of the table was asleep. Another guest never returned from the restroom.
The important thing was that we had proved ourselves to our hosts. We could play ball, chug expensive wine, and provide humorous dinner conversation … all without throwing up or causing an international incident. But, still no Jackie Chan. As we were leaving the restaurant, the word was received. We could finally meet with Jackie! In a few minutes, we would be taken by limo to the set of his latest film.
Now Jackie may be one of the world’s biggest action stars, but you wouldn’t know it from meeting him on location. It was 2:00 a.m., and he was just wrapping his final scene. There were no special handlers, no diva attitude … the man even helped strike the set.
So, it was no surprise that our meeting took place on a torn, old mattress underneath the roller coaster where he’d just been filming a scene with a baby. I believe the mattress also doubled as his dressing room. The man was warm and gracious. We gave him the quick pitch and Jackie seemed game, although he may have just been relieved from the end of a 14-hour day of filming … or confused by the two crazy drunks on the mattress.
Back in L.A., we had countless meetings and were on the verge of finally selling the pitch to The Weinstein Company. We only needed to change a few words in the contract when the writers strike happened. The deal was dead. Or was it?
After the strike, the Weinsteins were still interested. About a year to the day after the pitch meeting in Hong Kong, the deal papers were finally drawn up and I had my first sale! I was ecstatic. Now, here’s where it gets complicated. Because of the delay, this project was put behind two other movies.
Our movie was titled Kung Fu Kids and was pitched as Spy Kids meets The Karate Kid. Unfortunately, Jackie loves to work. Not exclusive to us, he signed on for two movies ahead of ours: The Spy Next Door (a Spy Kids like movie) and the remake of The Karate Kid (no need to explain).
To make matters worse, The Karate Kid was being renamed in some markets to reflect Jackie’s style of martial arts. The new title: The Kung Fu Kid. In the end, our project was hit by the deadly trifecta of delays, bad timing, and similar-themed competition. And so, like the majority of scripts in Hollywood, ours was sold, but not produced. Lesson learned? Enjoy the journey. You may even get some good wine out of it.
Having spent my first 10 years trying to get a sale, hopefully the next 10 won’t involve trying to get it made. Which makes me wonder, what if we got another star to do it? Maybe Alec Baldwin would like to do a family action comedy.
Originally published in Script magazine March/ April 2010
Editor’s Note: At the time Dave Pullano wrote this piece in 2010, he had been a senior editor for National Lampoon Magazine and written, produced, and executive produced television shows for MTV, E!, VH1 and Fox. View his current full list of credits on IMDb.