A Guest Blog Post by Austin writer Sean Patrick Bridges
So when is it finished? I’ve been writing for years and I still can’t accurately answer that question. The best version I ever heard was from the Coen Brothers, and they said, “When you can’t stand it anymore. Then it’s done.”
I can look at my portfolio and each project, each script or book or treatment or short, they have all had a different journey. True, some of them are no farther than a straight line, right from my desk to my shelf. I’m still happy with the results; no parent has an ugly kid. But there are other ideas that have had a bit more of a wild ride.
The audio book for one of my novels, ‘Roll of the Die’ was just released. It’s a Suspense/Thriller that revolves around a twisted version of Russian Roulette in the desert outside of Las Vegas. I’m proud of it and I hope people give it a chance and check it out. I hope it generates some interest. But it’s been a rather long road to get to this point.
I’ve always been fascinated with gambling. Growing up, my grandmother worked in Atlantic City. So trips to visit Grandma’s house usually involved some time spent along the Boardwalk and inside the sprawling casino cathedrals.
One memory that never fades, I was sitting just off the main floor, because I wasn’t old enough to be anywhere near the gaming tables or rows of slot machines. And I sat there by myself with my parents and grandmother in eyesight, and all of the sudden I saw a growing group of men and women turn the corner and fill the empty hallway right in front of me.
A parade of pristine olive skin, dressed in flashy designer suits and some of the women draped in layers of exotic furs and jewelry. And the crowd continued to grow until a lone figure appeared in the center of the throng.He wore a blinding and flowing white garment, topped with an ornate head dress. The crowd ignored me but the man in white took the time to smile and nod down at me. And I watched him leave, as the entourage kept moving off down the hall.
I sat there and knew enough to know that I had just seen an Arab Sheik. Outside of a storybook, it was the first time I had ever seen one in real life. And for the life of me, I just couldn’t understand what the hell he was doing in New Jersey.
As an adult, I worked for years on the corporate tradeshow circuit and plenty of those trips ended up in Las Vegas.
Funny thing, the flight going into Vegas is always electric and exciting, it’s just a vibrant party heading right smack into party central. But the flight leaving the city, it comes across hushed and still. It’s got the feeling of a penitent wake. You get a handful of people spouting off about their winnings or convincing themselves that they just broke even. But the majority of the passengers, they tend to stay quiet and contemplative.
If you have the money, you can get anything you want. And I mean, anything, in every loose sense of the word. But if you really want to see the true essence of the city, strip away the bells and whistles and all the lights and extravagance. Just boil Vegas down to its bare bones then you really need to be on the casino floor at 4:00-4:30 in the morning.
That central air just tastes so stale and there’s a heavy cloud over the few tables still alive in the heart of the empty cavernous floor. And nobody is at those tables because they want to be. It’s a desperation that extends from the haggard cocktail waitresses delivering a steady series of watered-down drinks, to the slumped and erratic players who would jump through the roof if you tapped one of them on the shoulder.
It’s a serious game that’s being played, and a despair that’s rather haunting and engaging from a distance. It’s something I always seek out on every trip.
So gambling and the cathedrals we build to it, has always been a fascinating subject for me. And ‘Roll of the Die’ was my first real writing nod to that world.
I wrote the screenplay on a whim. When nobody cares what you’re doing, you can do whatever you want. And the idea just wouldn’t leave me alone, so I sat down and wrote it.
The script succeeded in connecting me with my first ever serious representation. My first series of festival hits through screenwriting awards. It also landed me my first-ever check as a Writer, for a one-year option deal on the material.
I began work with the Producers on various re-writes, the first thing they wanted to do was strip out Atlantic City and change that First Act to a Chicago locale, their Production Company was based out of that city and that’s where they intended to film it, so I was more than happy to make those initial changes. And rewrites turned into even more rewrites, with notes as specific as, “Could you make this darker?” and when I did, specific notes of, “No, wait, that’s too dark.” would come back.
But I was willing to make it work. I felt that if I didn’t, I was sure someone else would, so I wanted to stick with it as long as I could and take the material across the finish line.
As the months went by, the company decided to make a change to their overall business model and they re-branded themselves as a production house that would champion G and PG rated films that would play to a family-friendly audience.
And I knew then that no matter how many re-writes I tackled, I was never gonna strip down my dark Russian Roulette thriller into a family-friendly warm and fuzzy. So when the option deal expired, I wasn’t expecting any renewal. And I went to an Entertainment Attorney and made sure all the ‘i’s and t’s were crossed and dotted, and the rights to my script reverted back to me, and I went on my way.
And the script went back on the shelf.
A few years later, another script I wrote hit the Nicholl Fellowship, one of the biggest screenwriting festivals there is, and that hit managed to slightly crack the gates of Hollywood open for me.
My first impression of Hollywood was, that iconic sign is a lot smaller than I thought it would be. And I was surprised to find a tacky tourist tee-shirt shop right there next to Mann’s Chinese Theatre. And at the corner of Hollywood & Vine, I found a Taco Bell. So the factory aspects of the town tended to outweigh the dream, but I felt very lucky to be there at all, and was extremely fortunate that my work was getting seen at that level.
I was hip-pocketed by a major Agency and ‘Roll of the Die’ was one of the scripts that went out under their umbrella. And based on that response, I got a series of meetings.
The meetings were all very positive, but I could never close the deal on the script. The closest I got, usually found me sitting across the table from a younger executive, who would tell me how much the company loved the script and they were sure it would be made. When I hedged my bet and asked if that was their intention, they would say, no, we’re not going to make it but they were sure someone else would.
So it continued to be a skeleton key and always seemed to open doors, but ‘Roll’ eventually found its way back to my shelf.
And a few years later, I thought, I wonder if I could write a book? At the time I had a solid portfolio of screenplays but I never attempted to write a novel, and I wondered if I could pull it off. So I gave it a shot.
And I looked at the various scripts on my shelf as a potential treatment to a larger story, and made my decision. ‘Roll’ came back down to my desk. I stripped it for parts, and began to expand on the world that I had created, and found my way to a 70,000 word manuscript.
The self-publishing gold rush was beginning in earnest, so I did the necessary research and self published my first novel as an e-book. I managed to get a slate of reviews that were pretty positive, and I was happy that I was able to get the work out to a wider audience who seemed to enjoy it.
And then Hollywood came calling again. This time, it was two Producers who had read an earlier draft of the screenplay and wanted to do something with the story.
So I began working with the two Producers and a Director out of Canada, to re-imagine my original script. The first thing they wanted to do was strip away the domestic locations. And lose the color schemes of the contestants, and wanted to make the whole thing a much more international scope.
The idea was, we would create a 20 minute teaser script that would be filmed in Vancouver, and the short film and revised screenplay would be a good one-two punch in acquiring the necessary funding for production.
So I went through draft after draft until I finally created something that we could all coalesce around, and I was ready for the next step.
Which didn’t come, and the script went back on the shelf.
After I finished my next novel, I managed to take that beyond the e-book stage, and turn it into an actual paperback, and I wanted to do something similar with ‘Roll of the Die, so I took all the manuscripts and drafts that I had accumulated, and crafted an 80,000 word version that I combed over extensively, and proofed and page-set and eventually sent off to a publishing house in South Carolina.
And I had a completed paperback by the summer of 2013. And it was around that time that I started to seriously think about audio books.
I was always a fan of the format and I eventually connected with a company that would bring together professional Voice Actors who were looking to take completed work from the page and bring it to life through an audio format. And I used the ‘Roll’ manuscript as a test-case.
I went through a detailed audition process but wasn’t very happy with the various results, until I found a Voice Actor who had just the right tone I was looking for, a film noir gravel to his voice, and pitched him the project. But he turned me down.
And that kinda took the wind out of my sails, and I put the book back on the shelf and went on to a new script I was hammering out, until the Voice Actor just happened to reach out to me.
He had something fall through, and wanted to know if ‘Roll of the Die’ was still available as a potential project. So I pulled it back off the shelf, and we went to work transforming the manuscript into a proper audio book.
Five months later, and 8 hours and 40 minutes of recording time, we were finished. And the audio book was released right at the beginning of the year.
I’m very proud of the results. I’ve had script readings before, but this was something different. It was the first time I ever really heard one of my stories transformed like this, and with my headphones on, it lifted me away from the page and put me right there in the middle of this world that I had created. It was everything I wanted it to be.
But the question still exists. Is it finished?
If I have to answer that? Yeah. Look, the story I wanted to tell exists as a paperback on my shelf and now as a professional audio book. As far as I’m concerned, it’s done. I’m already crafting the sequel.
‘Roll of the Die’ in its present form, is finished.
But I’ve learned to never say never. And if down the road, a Producer or Production Company reaches out to me and tells me how much they like the story but did I ever think about setting it in a parking lot in Poughkeepsie?
Well. Sure. What the hell. Why not?
Let’s do it.
Sean Patrick Bridges was educated at Schiller International University in Heidelberg, Germany. He was a finalist and semi-finalist for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship. He’s had a project invited to the Sundance Institute. Produced and Directed two documentary short-subjects in the Caribbean and is the author of two Suspense/Thriller novels. His latest project is the audiobook for his novel, Roll of the Die, available through Audible, iTunes and Amazon worldwide.