During the trailer for “Return of the King” tonight, I was overcome with horror – not for the usual reason (trailers suck and give away the ending), but for something much worse.

Y’see, before I wrote “The Pink House,” my second screenplay was called “Try to Remember,” and was the story of a woman returning to her home in New Orleans, falling in love with a ghost that may – or may not – be haunting her room, discovering a mode of time travel based in something really cool, then setting off on several time trips to save him and their family. She is able to assume her own body in her past ages, and is struggling with a dark secret from childhood. And it’s also sort of a comedy. ” Something like “Donnie Darko” combined with “Somewhere in Time.”

I have been working on this script for about five years, and I was planning on making it a priority assuming all goes well with “The Pink House.”

Sounds cool, right? Well, you’ll never see it. The trailer I saw tonight was for a movie called “The Butterfly Effect” starring Ashton Kutcher and Amy Smart, and the plot is exactly the same, just the gender roles are reversed. It’s so close that if I were an absolute paranoid fuck, I’d think someone had cribbed a copy of my 1998 screenplay. Of course, that’s not the way these things work.

I’ve harped on and on about cognitive resonance in here before, but put in perspective of the movie business it works like this: the second you have a great script idea, another person, unrelated to you in every way, will also have the exact same idea. From that moment, it’s a race.

This has happened before, most devastatingly with the movie “Sliding Doors.” I had already outlined and pitched a romantic comedy that follows a woman through two alternate paths of reality (even distinguishing the two by haircuts), and then I paused for a couple of years to write a novel about something else. The second I finished my book, I saw the ad for the Gwyneth Paltrow movie, and knew I had fucked myself into a cocked hat.

Tonight was especially hard, since I had poured so much of my heart and random thought processes into the New Orleans script. Five years. I even brought it up to the farm to finish over Christmas. But “The Pink House” has taken so long, and the mountains have been so steep, that some other guy has gone ahead and made the other movie. I don’t think it’s possible to express what a body blow to the gut this is, I suppose you’ll just have to trust me.

I have been beaten twice, badly, by cognitive resonance. I can fucking promise you there will not be a third.

0 thoughts on “beaten

  1. Piglet

    Ian, have you read the novel “Homebody” by Orson Scott Card? It sounds a lot like the plot you described for “Butterfly Effect”. I know nothing about that movie, or your screenplay, other than what you just blogged, but that cognitive resonance thing may be more widespread than you think….

  2. Sean

    I’ve read the screenplay (one you described as “unproducable” to me) and I saw the preview last night, and although there are similarities, it isn’t the same. When we found out that “Sextuple Indeminity”, a noir-comedy starring a female prvate detective with a small cast who play multiple roles, made it in to the Fringe Festival, we thought “I guess people really want to see a show like this.” And our show is still running, theirs got panned.
    The idea that you now *can’t* make this movie goes against every bit of logic. Everything in Hollywood that is being made is a re-tooling or a re-make. There are only about eight ideas for movies being made, and now the one you wrote is similar to one that’s coming out.
    Lastly, and maybe this is because as an actor everything I have ever done is lost to the ether, you can’t be mad about a screenplay you wrote seven years ago and did nothing with. Write another one. Everything you write is awesome.

  3. lwb

    I saw the trailer and thought the same thing. However, there is no role for Ashton Kutcher (I refuse to look up the spelling for that toolbag) in your screenplay so it

  4. Oliver

    Are we talking about the same industry? As an outside observer of Hollywood, I would think that there’s no screenplay more likely to sell and be produced than one that copies either an earlier hit or this year’s offering from a competing studio. “Ants” v. “A Bug’s Life”. “Ghost” v. “Truly Madly Deeply”. “Terminator 3” v. “Terminator 2”, etc, etc, etc. Not to say it doesn’t suck to be you at this moment. Just making an academic point.

  5. Piglet

    Yeah, but do you really want to have your brainchild marketed as “It’s the ‘Butterfly Effect’ of 2005!!”?
    Maybe if you went back in time and arranged to get the other scriptwriter stoned on a particular day…

  6. eric g.

    I feel your pain. While living in an unfurnished (save some very nice chaise lounges) apartment in Durham with Chip, I wrote a short story that was made into a very entertaining movie called “Tin Cup” years later. The only difference in the celluloid version was that the hero met his old nemesis in an actual tournament instead of at PGA Tour qualifying school, which is where my story ended. The sickening thing was that there was no way my story could have been stolen. I’m the only person who ever read it.


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