Hi, everyone. As some of you know, I wrote an adaptation of “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company” for veteran Hollywood producer Stratton Leopold last year around this time.
For me, the opportunity to work on the project was a dream come true. It really is one of those projects that, if you’re lucky, comes along once in a lifetime. Essentially, the story of my involvement in the project began back in 2000. I had recently graduated from the American Film Institute (MFA, Screenwriting) and had started working as the Story Editor for Mace Neufeld Productions, which, at the time, was based on the Sony lot. As Story Editor, I was Mace’s “first line of defense,” so to speak. Basically, whenever a project was submitted for the company’s consideration, it was my job to review the material and decide whether or not it warranted being passed up the chain of command. As a result, I read a lot of novels, books, screenplays, etc. In fact, that’s all I did. All day. Everyday. Fortunately, I wasn’t required to take my work home on weekends, unless, of course, I was “in trouble.”
Once, I decided – at the last minute, I might add – that I wanted to attend a friend’s graduation from Law School in Dallas, TX. I went into the VP’s office, asked him if he was cool with me leaving town on such short notice, and, fortunately for me, he was. However, my freedom to leave wouldn’t come without a price. And the price was this – I had to read and cover a book submitted by Stratton Leopold over the weekend. That book was “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company” by Michael Peterson and David Perlmutt. Now, having worked at MNP for almost two years by that point, first as a development intern and then as a development executive, I was familiar with and quite fond of Stratton.
In fact, on my very first day as an intern, back when MNP was in production on “The General’s Daughter,” Stratton was the first person who ever said “hi” to me. I know that may sound like kind of a silly thing to remember, but it always – always – stuck with me. You have to understand that, when you’re just a lowly intern reading scrīpts all day, nobody talks to you. Not really. And, honestly, I can’t say that I blame them. After all, interns don’t usually last for very long. They appear in the office, make coffee and read scrīpts for a couple of weeks, and then they’re gone again. And we had some big names coming through the office that summer… John Travolta, James Woods, Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, and Peter Fonda, just to name a few.
But the one guy who came through the office, saw a new face, sat down on the edge of the desk, introduced himself, and went out of his way to make a lowly intern and complete stranger feel at home was… Stratton Leopold. At the time, Stratton was, I think, the Production Manager on "The General's Daughter" and was quickly working his way up to being a Producer in his own right. In fact, by the time the VP handed me “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company,” Stratton had already completed “Bless The Child” and was prepping “The Sum of All Fears.” I immediately flipped to the back of the book, as all experienced readers do, and saw that it wasn’t much over 200 pages. For a book, that’s nothing. My first instinct was to 30/10 it.
In the development world, “30/10ing” something means that you read the first 30 pages and the last 10 pages, and you skim everything in between. Since 99% of all submissions are terrible and because you’re being inundated with new submissions daily, one has to plow through the mountain of material somehow. Anyway, I was pretty sure that I could knock the book out in an hour or two during my flight back to L.A. In other words, even though the VP was giving me the book to read as “punishment,” it wasn’t much of one. Ha ha. I only had one or two nagging concerns.
One, I knew that it was for Stratton and, in my heart of hearts, I knew Stratton deserved more than a cursory examination of the material. He’d been good to me. However, if the book wasn’t very good, then I couldn’t be expected to read every letter. It would be a waste of time. And what would be the point of that?
Two, I knew that Stratton rarely submitted material to Mace. That wasn’t always the case with Mace’s friends and colleagues. Usually, they would submit material all the time. Stratton was different, though. In the back of my mind, I suspected that Stratton was really picking his shots.
Flashforward to: INT. TERMINAL - DFW – SUNDAY NIGHT.
It had been a long weekend of celebrating. And now, here I was, sitting in the terminal, waiting for my flight, and dreading the fact that I now had a 200-page book to read. Hoping to get it over with, I cracked the fucker open and began to read.
I’m not ashamed to say that I cried five times while sitting in that damn terminal. Five. Then, when I went into the office on Monday morning, everybody asked me how my trip was and all I wanted to do was tell them about the book that I’d read on the flight home. Naturally, they all asked me what it was about. So, I’d start to tell them and, like a damn woman, my voice would crack and I’d start getting weepy and shit all over again. It was ridiculous. Despite my glowing review, the company ultimately decided not to pursue the project. To be honest, it wasn’t the type of project that MNP was known for. But I was hooked.
It was the kind of story that had inspired me to want to make films in the first place. A few months later, while we were working on “The Sum of All Fears,” I ran into Stratton. I told him how much I loved the book and, as we started talking about the story, we both started getting tears in our eyes. I told him that, if there was ever any way that I could help him bring the project to life, then all he needed to do was ask. I would have done anything. Unfortunately, although I had graduated from AFI with a Master’s in Screenwriting and had been working in development for a couple of years by that point, I had zero credibility as a writer. Guys like me didn’t get to write movies like this. Guys like Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” etc.) got to write movies like this.
Flashforward to: INT. DAX’S CAR – MOVING - THREE YEARS LATER – DAY.
I was driving down the 405 Freeway one Friday afternoon, heading home after a meeting, when my cell phone rang. I answered. It was Dana Sulceski, a former colleague of mine from Mace Neufeld Productions. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of years. As we caught up, I told her that I'd left the development world, that I'd been working as a writer for a few years, that I had just gotten back from Hong Kong, and that I was writing a movie for Byron Mann.
And Dana told me that she was now working for Stratton Leopold who was in pre-production on “Mission: Impossible III.” She also told me that Stratton had heard that I was writing now and wanted to meet with me to discuss the possibility of having me adapt “Charlie Two Shoes.” I damn near had a heart attack. I asked Dana when Stratton was thinking of meeting. She said, “How about Monday morning.”
You have to understand that nothing happens that fast in Hollywood. Usually, it takes a couple of days to schedule a meeting. That meeting gets rescheduled several times. And, then, when you finally do meet with the person several months later, neither of you can remember what you’re supposed to be meeting about. I told Dana that it would be no problem to meet on Monday and that I was looking forward to it.
But, actually, it was a bit of a problem. I was under a deadline on my current assignment and had been planning to write like a madman all weekend, in order to finish on time. Now, I knew that I was going to have to drop everything and re-read “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company” until I knew it like the back of my hand. Needless to say, although I cried like a woman all weekend, by the time Monday morning rolled around, I was ready to give the pitch of my life. We met for breakfast at The Grove. I brought my dog-eared and thoroughly notated copy of the book. I made sure not to order anything for breakfast that would get on my clothes because I didn’t want anything to distract Stratton from the pitch I was about to deliver.
We caught up for a while. We talked about my recent trip to HK. We talked about “Mission: Impossible III.” We talked about this. We talked about that. The only thing we didn’t talk about was “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company.” Eventually, I steered the conversation in that direction. I began by telling Stratton how I re-read the book and felt just as strongly about it now as I did years earlier. And I’ll never forget what Stratton said. It was so simple. So direct. So genuine. He said, “Let’s make a movie.”
I was hired. It was the easiest gig that I’ve ever gotten. I never even got to pitch my entire “take” on the material. The scrīpt is finished now and Stratton is currently looking at directors. In order to spread the word about the project, Stratton hired Tex Fuller, a documentary filmmaker, to make a documentary about the real-life events that formed the basis for the film, which will be titled “Charlie Two Shoes.” A 10-minute teaser for that documentary can be viewed below. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
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