I’ve written about thirty screenplays in my career. Most of the first fifteen or so sucked, but they’re how I learned to write for the screen.
But I think some of my screenplays are pretty good, especially the later ones.
More than ten have been optioned — and five of these projects are still in development, one of which is very close to production. Some of my very best scripts are still available.
I’ve also won a lot of screenwriting awards.
But so far, only two of my screen projects have ended up as actual feature films, both for kids. Another two of my scripts ended up as short films, one of which you can watch below.
Geography Club (2013)
THE REAL STORY OF THIS MOVIE: This is a feature film based on my first novel, which came out in 2003 and was a pretty big hit — so much so that I had a bunch of offers from producers who wanted to try and turn it into a movie. One fairly well-known company optioned it, and in 2007, it was right on the verge of becoming a $15-million-budget film, which means it could have been a Love, Simon-like project ten years before gay teens finally hit the cinematic mainstream.
But at the last minute — right when it became clear how much I might’ve been paid! — it all fell through.
Once the project became available again, I received several more offers from producers, although smaller ones this time. I ended up going with one particular company because I liked their passion and, unlike the previous producers, they made vague promises to my agent about using the screenplay adaptation I’d written of my own novel. My script had already won a couple of awards, and I was proud of it.
I actually think the idea of novelists adapting their own work for the screen is generally a bad idea, as fiction and film are such completely different mediums. But, well, I literally was a screenwriter, albeit unproduced.
Anyway, once the deal was signed, my screenplay was instantly forgotten, and another writer was hired to adapt — although he was also unproduced, I might add. The budget was a lot less than $15 million, and the finished film left me perplexed. It was now 2013, a decade after the book was published, but they hadn’t updated the plot, which felt overwrought and dated to me.
To be clear, I had literally no creative involvement. Ironically, after I read the script, I did push for Russel and Kevin to get together in the end — that felt important in a movie, what film audiences would want — but the producers ignored me and stayed faithful to my book.
More than anything, I was disappointed by how generic the characters now seemed — “Russel” of the books was now “Russell” in the script, and I’m not sure anyone involved even noticed. I’m convinced my idiosyncratic humor and quirky characters were what had made my novel break out in the first place, but I didn’t see it anywhere in the movie.
That said, I do like certain elements and scenes, like the movie’s final sequence — the movie-in-the-movie they make about their egg baby. I wish the whole movie had that light energy.
I also loved the cast, which included Scott Bakula and Ana Gasteyer. And many of the younger actors went on to bigger and brighter things: Andrew Caldwell, who played Gunnar, had an important role in The Matrix Revolutions, and Ally Maki, who played Min, voiced Giggles McDimples in Toy Story 4. Meanwhile, Alex Newell, who was also on Glee, recently became the first non-binary person to ever win a Tony Award.
It wasn’t the huge payday that the earlier deal would have been, but it was a nice chunk of change, and everyone was very sweet when I visited the set. The movie wasn’t well-received critically or commercially, but it did get a ton of attention for the novel, which helped my book sales a lot. In fact, every few years, scenes from the film will pop up again on some social media platform — most recently on TikTok, where several fan videos have gone viral and gotten millions of views. The movie pops up on streaming services too, always selling more copies of my book.
Oh, and I also think the movie changed how a lot of people view me and my writing career: the mere fact it existed made me look more legitimate. By the time the movie was released, I’d been a professional writer of fiction for almost twenty years, but I swear even some of my closest friends were, like, “Hey, a movie, huh? You really are a writer, aren’t you?”
Project Pay Day (2021)
THE REAL STORY OF THIS MOVIE: Back in 2008, HarperCollins released a novel of mine called Project Sweet Life which I thought would make a great movie. But the book didn’t make much of a splash — you can read about that here — and they never make movies based on books that do just okay.
So I wrote a screenplay based on my novel, but I didn’t tell anyone that it was based on a book. The script won some awards, I pitched it around, and I finally interested a producer, who optioned it, and he went on to get the financing to make the movie.
Alas, I can’t recommend this finished film either. The producer, who also directed, is a great guy, and really talented, but I think he tried to do too much on too low a budget. And remember how I said that the producers of Geography Club barely glanced at my screenplay? I have the sole screenwriting credit on Project Pay Day, but what actually ended up on screen is pretty far from any words I actually wrote, and I’m not crazy about all the choices that were made.
P.S. They also changed the title, from Project Sweet Life to Project Pay Day. I like my title better, but in my self-published reprint edition, I changed the title of the book anyway, so it would be less confusing.
Still, once again, I loved the cast, which included David Corenswet, who starred in Ryan Murphy’s The Politician and Hollywood, and has been cast as the new Superman. And there’s a gay couple in the film, played by A.J. Cedeno and Austin Ku, who are based on me and my husband, Michael (“Uncle Brad” and “Uncle Mike”). These two actors are both really nice guys, and Michael and I are always amused when one of our alter-egos pops up on some new TV show. They were both on different seasons of Younger, for example.
“Look!” we always say. “It’s Uncle Brad!” or “Hey, it’s Uncle Mike!”
The end result here was also a disappointment, and unlike Geography Club, it was too low a budget for me to make any real money selling the rights. And the movie, which barely got a release, also wasn’t high-profile enough to sell any books.
But once again, the whole experience was fascinating, and I learned a lot.
The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know (2014)
THE REAL STORY OF THIS SHORT FILM: In 2013, with all the attention from the release of the movie version of Geography Club, I decided to launch another series of books starring Russel Middlebrook and his quirky friends, who were now in their early 20s. The first book in this new series was called The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know.
To promote the new book and series, I asked a very talented musician friend, Brett Every, if he would write a song based on the book. In exchange, I promised to produce a music video, which would also be used to sell his song.
I loved the song Brett wrote and sang, and I immediately set out to write and produce what was essentially a short film.
It was so much harder than I thought it would be.
I eventually teamed up with a wonderful filmmaker, Jeremy Ward, and together we put together this little movie/music video — on my budget of $1100.
So many things went wrong! But it didn’t matter, because the show had to go on. It really did give me a newfound appreciation for how hard it is to produce any art, good or bad.
But out of all my films so far, this one I can recommend. I have infinite respect for the talent and endless patience of our two main actors, Hans Iverson and Randall Brammer. But more than anything, I’m proud that I went so far outside my comfort zone and did all these “producing” things I had no idea I could do. Watching the video, it makes me smile, remembering how hard it was — but also how satisfying.
If you watch closely, you’ll see I have a cameo as the waiter. My cameo was originally intended to be three different parts — me working three different jobs fondly observing the main characters. But during editing, we realized it looked like I was some crazy person stalking the characters — not at all the fun image I intended! — so we ended up cutting the other two shots.
Lately, watching this video also makes me sad. Working on this project, I became good friends with Jeremy, the director, and we even went on to do two more film projects together. But despite only being in his late thirties, Jeremy recently died. I wrote about how his death hit me.
My Other Screenplays
Here are some of my other screenplays — at least some of which will hopefully also be feature films one day:
BARONESS (Horror-Comedy): When a baroness is invited to the estate of her widowed boyfriend to meet his seven children, she becomes convinced that his plucky new governess is hiding a dark secret, and that the hills surrounding his lavish estate are alive with more than just the sound of music.
Nutshell: Cruella meets Freaky. A satirical retelling of The Sound of Music that was a Launch Pad Top Ten. I think this is my most commercial screenplay. AVAILABLE
THE STARFISH SCREAM (Mystery/Drama): When 18-year-old Allan’s best friend Eric commits suicide, Allan searches his memories of their last year together for an explanation that makes it make sense.
Nutshell: This script, which has been under option for an incredible fifteen years, looks like it might finally be getting made! OPTIONED
CLOUDKILL (Action/Sci-Fi/Horror): Ben and Gillian are debuting the world's first "space elevator," an ingenious device that lifts the rich and famous up to a fabulous space hotel. Unfortunately, the elevator lies in the pathway of an undiscovered angel-like species living in the clouds — that also happens to be a vicious predator.
Nutshell: Aliens meets Arrival. A Blacklist "Featured" script, and a Final Draft Big Break Top Ten. Franchise potential. AVAILABLE
GRAND & HUMBLE (Mystery/Puzzle Box Thriller): Cocky Harlan and dorky Manny — the most popular kid in high school and the least popular — struggle to understand the shocking secret that links that both together.
Nutshell: My own adaptation of my YA thriller, Grand & Humble. OPTIONED
BLACKBURN CASTLE (Heist/Crime/Comedy): In the Dark Ages, a ragtag band of thieves, including a blacksmith with a tragic past and the brilliant yet unappreciated daughter of an architect, plot to steal the treasure from the castle of a greedy tyrant.
Nutshell: Ocean's 11 meets Army of the Dead. A heist movie set in the Dark Ages with franchise potential. AVAILABLE
Watch a trailer for this project here. Password is: bbc
DECKED (Family/Fantasy/Animation): In the four kingdoms of Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds, where people are ranked by numbers, a group of lowly "twos" tries desperately to stop the Queen of Spades from overthrowing the other kingdoms.
Nutshell: Coco meets Frozen. The “true story” behind a deck of playing cards that won first place in the StoryPros and Script Studio screenwriting contests. Franchise potential. AVAILABLE
ONE NIGHT IN DECEMBER (Comedy/RomCom/Christmas): When a gay couple announces a week before Christmas they’re getting a divorce, it forces their two best friends — a lesbian couple — to question everything about themselves and their relationship too.
Nutshell: Love, Simon meets When Harry Met Sally. Winner of a Writer’s Network Fellowship. This is my personal favorite of all my scripts.
DEAD ENDERS (RomCom/Dark Comedy): After a loser and a misanthrope have near-death experiences, they team up to find a way back into heaven. But they can’t kill themselves without being sent to hell. Worse, they might also be falling in love.
Nutshell: A first place winner in four contests, including Fresh Voices and the L.A. Comedy Festival, and a third place winner at the PAGE Awards. OPTIONED
BAD LISTING (Thriller/Horror): When two strangers share an Airbnb unit, they each worry the other has a dark secret. But what if a supernatural presence is toying with them both? A small-cast, minimal-location script.
Nutshell: Barbarian meets Oculus (with a touch of The Silence of the Lambs), and a winner in both the StoryPros and WriteMovies screenwriting contests. AVAILABLE
WANDER+LUST (Romantic Comedy): Seeking adventure, Ellie impulsively becomes a "digital nomad," working remotely while traveling the world. But her new lifestyle is more difficult than expected, especially since she keeps running into Neel, a handsome fellow nomad.
Nutshell: Eat, Pray, Love meets Four Weddings and a Funeral, with strong roles for a woman, a transgender man, and a man of color. OPTIONED