Thursday, October 8, 2009

Merrill Markoe's talking dog script/novel

Merrill Markoe is the author of three books of humorous essays and the novels It’s My F---ing Birthday, What the Dogs Have Taught Me, and Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and Nose Down, Eyes Up. She has also co-authored with Andy Prieboy the novel The Psycho Ex Game.

Here she shares a tale of (not) getting a movie adapted from her fiction featuring women and their talking dogs--and of the various actors and producers who sniffed around the various projects:
In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President, Paramount bought a screenplay from me about a girl who worked at a magazine, was about to turn thirty and her talking dog. It was called “Me and My Boy.” I had decided to write a talking dog movie because I was working on The Letterman Show, and noticed that the short movies that I shot from the point of view of a dog seemed to have wide appeal. Also I lived with four dogs and in 1986 the talking dog genre, which I’d always liked, was lying fallow.

Attached as producers were the team of Lynda Obst and Debra Hill.

So I wrote a few drafts that everyone liked. And the movie almost got made. Then it didn’t.

Instead it went in to “turn around.” For a while it was shepherded by Bernie Brillstein who was running a studio that year. I was attached as director. I even got a shooting schedule.

The chorus of this particular song is well known in Los Angeles but everyone adds their own verse. Almost got made, then it didn’t. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For a while it moved from place to place. I rewrote it over and over. At some point, I threw up my hands in despair. If this movie ever got a green light, I promised, I would rush in and tailor it to the cast. Never happened.

Over the next few years I heard rumors that Lynda and Debra had hired other writers. Some of them contacted me. Lather, rinse and repeat. George HW Bush became President, then Bill Clinton. By now it was hard to find a movie, sit com, animated show or commercial that didn’t contain at least one talking dog.

I lost track of my script.

In 1999, I met Nora Ephron. “Whatever became of that dog script?” she asked. So I jumped back on board and we exhumed the original. This time it got all the way to a table read with Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry. Unfortunately it took place moments before the tabloids reported that Matthew Perry went to rehab. Perhaps that’s why he couldn’t read a line of dialog without having to start over.

I never heard another word from any one.

A friend read that someone else rewrote it. I imagined it in the catacombs beneath the Hollywood sign, buried under dozens of proposals for sequels for Marley and Me.
In 2005, Debra Hill died an untimely death.

By then George W. Bush was President and I was writing novels and looking for an idea for my next one. I lived with four other dogs and still had a lot to say about the great funny relationships I’ve had with my dogs over the years. I had written dozens of short pieces about talking to dogs, and also made a lot of videos. But I had never gotten to the heart of my feelings in print. It was time.

So I wrote a book called Walking in Circles Before Lying Down about a woman in her forties ,who worked at a doggy day care center and her ability to talk to all the dogs she tended.

Because I don’t like to repeat myself I went to a lot of trouble to make sure that I had brand new characters, with new occupations and a whole different set of dogs. It was slated for publication in August of 2006 and had just gotten good reviews from the publishing trades when I got a call from the legal department at Fox where apparently my script was now interred. No, it was not in development. But someone heard I had written a book about a woman who talked to dogs and decided to try and stop publication. This time I went in to shock. I was being accused of plagiarizing myself? Even though I had written a whole new original story and it was a novel, not a screenplay or a movie? If Rupert Murdoch was so covetous of my unique voice why had people been hired to rewrite me? And why, in 20 years, had the movie never been made?

So I had to pay a lawyer a lot of money to explain that writing dog voices was something I’d been doing for decades. And incidentally, I wasn’t the only one who wrote talking dogs. And that William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth AND Richard III, but everyone agreed they were two different plays even though both were full of blood and talking kings..-

By 2008, to my surprise and delight, my book was selling well enough to get on the best seller list.

In 2009 Barack Obama became president. But don’t expect to see a talking dog movie by me during this or any future administration.
Reprinted with permission from Merrill Markoe's website.

Nose Down, Eyes Up is one of 7 books for dog lovers selected by Oprah and associates.

The Page 69 Test: Nose Down, Eyes Up.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Merrill Markoe & Jimmy, Ginger, Puppyboy, and Hedda.

--Marshal Zeringue