Sunday, February 22, 2009

The story behind the Emerson LaSalle screenplay PULP BOY

It was back in grad school at the University of Southern Mississippi that I co-wrote my first serious attempt at a screenplay with author and pal Anthony Neil Smith . It was called Crescent City Smackdown, a zealously violent and darkly humorous tale about wannabe criminals and corrupt New Orleans cops. We would split a six-pack of cheap beer, sitting side by side at Neil's computer, trying to iron out exactly what was funny and entertaining and what wasn't. We finished the screenplay, showed it to people. Many complimentary notes from a number of quarters, but nobody was coming close to optioning this thing or making it. It was hard to get it in front of the right people. We didn't have agents then or novels or anything at all and might as well have tossed the thing into the street as send it to producers. The script became just another random stack of papers in my desk drawer. So as you might imagine, it was a while before I decided another screenplay might be worth the time and effort.

Eventually, I approached Neil with the idea of Emerson LaSalle. Neil and I were living our after grad school lives now, so we couldn't collaborate as we had before, but we spent some time on the phone, getting a battle plan together, deciding on the tone of the screenplay, the characters etc. You see, we felt strongly we couldn't approach this like a standard bio pic. There was too much and it was too disorganized. Emerson had sent me boxes and boxes of false starts and ragged attempts at a memoir, some of it on floppy disks and much more on yellowing typed pages. He'd start off on his time in the Sudan and three pages later he was off on some story about some girl who'd given him a handjob at a sci-fi convention in 1971. There were long rants against people I'd never heard of, and just when I was about to give up and quit reading, Emerson would ease into an eloquent string of self reflections which were nearly poetic and always insightful. So it was a mess. Boxes and boxes of mess. But there was gold down in the mine if one were willing to dig for it.
So I decided, and Neil agreed, that we should approach it like a story and make Emerson LaSalle the protagonist. Treat it like any other tale.
Almost as if LaSalle were fictional.
So we updated everything, took events from LaSalle's life which transpired here and there over fifty years and compacted them into a plot. We combined characters. We played fast and loose with timelines. But what we accomplished, in my humble opinion, was a fair depiction of the man himself and the themes that cropped up again and again in his life. The result was a screenplay called Pulp Boy.
It has been said that Philip K. Dick is the poor man's Kurt Vonnegut. If so, then Emerson LaSalle is the poor man's Philp K. Dick. LaSalle always seemed one or two (or ten?) steps removed from the limelight he so richly deserved. I'm just glad that Jake Dickey and Exlposive Entertainment Motion Pictures is going to take a crack at this. Fingers crossed that it all comes together.


Neil said...

I remember the first day we started writing it, though. You were visiting here in Minnesota, and between rounds of golf we somehow managed to drag the laptop down to a local bar and start writing the thing between rounds of beer, appetizers, and Golden Tee. I think we pounded out the first ten or so pages that way. Good times.

I also remember when you told Emerson you were bringing me in on the project. We thought someone would get a hook in the eye, but instead, he beamed and said, "Good, good, that's less rememberin' I have to do now. But I still get a bigger share of the money."

Don said...

I am delighted to discover Mr. LaSalle, whose work I have honestly not read before. There are only a few such writers like that in my life, mostly in sci-fi but also one in mystery (James Loftus, the neglected noir master.) I was wondering if you knew whether Mr. LaSalle had ever had any interaction with that other sci-fi genius, Jeff Lint?