When You Can't Trust Who You Trust

Sherry McGuinn

On being raised up, then knocked off Cloud Nine by a loony-tune.

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Let me begin by saying, for any writers here considering screenwriting…think long and hard, because it’s a bitch of a profession and you’re going to encounter more than one basket-case.

How do I know? Because I’ve been at it for seventeen years of my life. That’s a hell of a long time devoted to chasing a dream. And I’m not merely a wannabe. I’ve been produced, repped, and repped again.

My “journey” has been a wild one. Sometimes exhilarating and at others, heartbreaking. I’m still at it, by the way. I haven’t quit. Yet.

There are so many bizarre stories and situations I could tell you about but that would take most of the day so, as I recall them, I’m going to break them down into several stories. Unless I get bored writing about myself.

So I was scrolling through my Gmail this morning and mentally kicking myself in the teeth for not cleaning out my inbox in like, forever when I came across some old emails from a former literary manager who took me on as a client.

I’m not a naif. I checked this guy out and although he wasn’t what one would call a “player,” he was smart, and more importantly, hungry. He was about twenty years younger than me which I was cool with. Not too young to be completely “green,” yet, assumedly, not jaded by the struggle to get stuff made.

Before he signed me, we had been discussing a comedy I wrote called “SAP.” He was on the fence about taking me on as he wanted to see certain changes made in the script, first. I was cool with that.

During one of our discussions, I told him about an idea I’d had about writing a screenplay documenting a period in my life when both my parents and myself were diagnosed with cancer. Stage four lung for them and early-onset breast cancer for me.

I told him that I wanted to call it, “The Month We Fell Apart.” Well, the guy nearly wet himself. Or maybe he did, who knows? He said, “forget SAP! THAT’S the script you need to write.”

And I did, and he loved it. He and his assistant presented me with a few minor notes, telling me that he’d never seen a first draft that was so clean…so ready to be “taken out.”

I incorporated the notes and we were off to the races. Aside from pitching producers directly, he posted the script on one of the top industry boards and the feedback was phenomenal. A sampling: “The A-listers are circling this one.”

But, as Jethro Tull noted, “Nothing Is Easy.” NOTHING. Still, we were making some traction and he was managing to get the script a ton of reads.

One morning, a few days before Christmas, he emailed me and said that Sam Raimi requested a read. Sam Fucking Raimi! The Spiderman dude!

Now, this was a bit weird as Raimi is known for horror and action flicks but what, was I going to say, “forget it?” No way.

Was I excited? What do you think?

As I recall this surreal experience, I never did find out what Raimi thought of the script as, during this time, my rep started to flake out.

And then the shit, as it will, hit the fan. Out of nowhere, my rep told me that he’d had a “religious epiphany.” Yes. You read that correctly. Not just an epiphany, but, at some fanatical “rally” that he attended, he fell to the ground and started speaking in tongues.

Let that sink in for a bit. This guy, who I trusted with my work and who was supposedly, one-hundred percent invested in helping launch my career turned into a nutjob overnight.

I had no words. And when he told me that he wanted to represent projects that were “faith-based” only, I nearly passed out.

That is not my jam, friends. I gravitate toward darker characters and situations. Especially featuring women who seemingly have it all together, but don’t, if you get my drift.

I think I went a little nuts. I couldn’t process this latest kick in the ass. So what did I do? I wrote a new script for this psycho! It wasn’t faith-based, but I eliminated cursing, sexual situations, etc., and I slapped on a happy ending. Called “Seeing Red,” it’s actually pretty damned good and I’m proud of it.

Here is the “elevator pitch:”

Part fantasy, part love story, Joe, a lonely man with a secret, is convinced his beloved, recently deceased pet cat is waiting for him on the “other side.”

I can’t tell you how I came up with that one but I banged it out and my psychotic, newly-hatched-bible-thumper of a rep, loved it.

About now you must be thinking I was as crazy as he was for putting up with his shit. And I think I was. I believe I wanted to hold onto him to such a degree that I abandoned “myself” and my very essence as a writer.

Truth be told, I was blindsided, having worked with him for months and so sure that “The Month We Fell Apart” was going to hit and hit big.

Kind of like thinking the next story I write is going to be the “big one.” The one that goes "viral."

After writing “Seeing Red,” I can’t recall how much time passed before the day I got the ass-kicking of all time. Psycho Rep told me that he was quitting the industry to join the ministry.

Damn. Just writing this, hurts. And no, you can’t make this shit up. (Hell. Maybe I should throw together a script about it.)

That’s what he told me, but there was more.

I should have ripped the guy a new one, but I didn’t because, even after all the crap that went down, I got two great feature screenplays written and ready to shop.

Not only did I not ream him, but I wished him well and suggested we keep in touch. After that, I did a little digging on one of the industry forums I subscribed to and unearthed the possibility that my rep was a fraud. That he wasn’t who he said he was. That in fact, he was another screenwriter pretending to be a rep so he could sell his own work!

We traded a few “Hi, how are ya?” emails back and forth and in one, I told him how disappointed I was with his actions. How I’d spilled my guts for “TMWFA” and how badly his abandonment affected me.

It took a few days to get a response and then, what I read nearly knocked me off my seat. Psycho Rep told me that aside from the “religious thing,” he’d started to develop feelings for me!

I had to read this about five times before it sunk in. He also said that he’d never gotten to know another writer in the way he “knew” me and that he’d started to fantasize about me sexually. About how I’d “feel” and what it would be like to be with me, ad nauseam, referring to me as “his smokey, dark-eyed brunette.”

WHOA, NELLY!

He said he felt bad because he knew I was married and that his feelings were inappropriate and that his obsession with me wasn’t the only reason he quit, but a big part of it.

Now, I have to pause here and wonder how the hell I attract these loonies? Can this be any crazier? When I forwarded the email to my sister, she, too, was struck dumb. I never told my hubby, by the way.

What could I do? Nothing much, other than to break all ties with this dude and amble on down the road.

The odd thing is, when I saw I still have his emails, for the hell of it, I checked on IMDB and saw that his page is still up. No mention of clients, though.

My message in all this is to tell you to be prepared for anything. Don’t be distrustful, but, if you come across anyone who wants to help you in your career and who seems committed to helping you grow as a writer, do your homework. There are some crazy-ass individuals out there who will take advantage of you if given half a chance.

Truly, I don’t think my former rep wanted to screw me, like that. He just wanted to screw me.

Talk about a ride. Oh, I should add: He gave me his Rolodex of contacts as a parting gift. What a guy.

© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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Chicago, IL
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