How I became “The untitled shit in a bag” guy
by Jason Benoit, Esq.
Everyone in Hollywood has his or her own story. How they ‘broke’ into this crazy business. How they shoved their foot through the proverbial door. So, what’s my story? Well, mine involves a fictitious brown lunch sack of human excrement.
I know, I know, it’s not exactly like being discovered working at a movie theatre, slinging butter-soaked popcorn, and being super hot like Julia Roberts – but hey, a beginning is a beginning, right?
I’m a writer. I say that because I once interned for a producer who when she asked what I was, I replied: “Well, I want to be a writer.” She promptly scolded me and course corrected my answer to be, “I am a writer…because no one ever became something they didn’t actually believe in themselves to be.”
You can have that first nugget free of charge.
So, yes, in the most winded way possible, I’m a writer…who also moonlights as an assistant to a film producer to supplement his bills so that he doesn’t have to hook it behind the Donut Time on Santa Monica Boulevard.
I had no background in the entertainment business. No family connections. No ties to the industry. Instead, I was just a kid born to relative nobodies who happened to fall in love with movies. I actually started out in broadcast journalism. I thought I was going to be the next Peter Jennings. And then I interned at a news station in Dallas my senior year of high school and wanted to jam one of those miniature coffee straws through my eye out of sheer boredom.
I went to film school instead.
I started writing, the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college. I was in film school but the idea that people actually WROTE movies for a living, for some reason, never really computed. It wasn’t until I was laid up on a puke green couch for six months on medical leave nursing a busted ACL that I finally decided it was time to buy some books, purchase Final Draft, and start my own education process of possibly becoming a writer.
Yes, I wrote a screenplay. And it was the most self-masturbatory piece of material you could ever imagine. But I did it. As I would be told years later by a screenwriting professor, “If you actually sit down and start writing, you’re 50% closer than everyone else. And if you actually finish that script, then you’re another 50% closer. And if you actually go back and rewrite that script so it doesn’t suck ass, then…” You can probably fill in the rest for yourselves.
Truth is, I fell in love with writing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the fucking hardest things I’ve ever done, short of delivering a human child with my bare hands (I never actually did this) but if everything worth doing in life was easy then wouldn’t we all have six-packs, sleep on giant piles of money, and bang rich beautiful models?
I’ve worked internships. Yes, plural. I worked in the mailroom at a talent agency. I floated as an assistant for a boss who liked to fart in his office all day long. I was the assistant to a studio president. I worked for a producer. I can say, with some fair level of confidence, that I’ve sort of covered the entire grunt level of Hollywood.
I was 18 when I started writing. I sold my first script (a television pitch actually) at the age of 27. But like most stories of breaking in, it takes that first piece of material that people are willing to stand up and take notice of. For better or worse, mine was a script about a bag of shit.
I had been living in Los Angeles for a little under two years when a friend of mine from college called. She told me, “You’re not going to believe what happened to my friend Jackie.” She proceeds to tell me about how ‘Jackie’ has been seeing this guy for about three weeks. How she’s TOTALLY into him and thinks he might be “the one”. So, one night, after a date, they go back to his place and start hooking up. He tells her he has to work early the next morning but to sleep in. Just make sure she locks up when she leaves.
The next morning, sure enough, dream guy has already gone off to work. ‘Jackie’ wakes up, but her stomach isn’t feeling all that hot. She goes to use the restroom but when she finishes…the toilet won’t flush.
‘Jackie’ starts flipping out. “Oh my god, what am I gonna do? I’m totally into this guy. I can’t just leave it.” So, she gets the bright idea that she’s going to ‘extract’ the crap from the toilet, put it in a brown paper bag, and throw it away once she leaves.
‘Jackie’ gathers her stuff, stops to write a quick note on the kitchen counter. “Hey, I had a great time last night. Can’t wait to see you on Friday.” Then, heads out the door, consciously clicking the lock behind her. ‘Jackie’ gets halfway home before suddenly realizing, “Oh God, I left the bag of my shit on his kitchen counter.”
………(I’m pausing here for the benefit of added drama)
Naturally, I was equal parts astonished and rolling on the floor wiping away my laughter-induced tears. For the next few weeks I couldn’t shake this story. I told it to everyone. Friends. Family. Even to my own mother, who to her credit, was dying with laughter as well. That was when I knew I had something here. So, I crafted an entire screenplay around this mythical bag of shit. About a girl who pleads with her three best guy friends to help her break into this house and steal the bag back before her dream guy returns home thinking he’s found a soggy sack of shit brownies. Blah, blah, blah, chaos ensues. Best friend secretly loves girl. Other dude hits on an underage chick. It’s a whole ‘thing’.
I had never really written a comedy like this before. I had done super broad slapstick stuff. In fact, I had written nearly ten features at this point, as well as a handful of horrible dramatic short films. But nothing had ever really gotten me any attention of substantial notice. At the time I had signed with a management company, but that was based on a sci-fi action feature I had written. I mean, this whole shit thing wasn’t even remotely in the same ballpark.
I finished the shit in a bag script. I pitched it to my boss at the time, a film producer. He liked it. Called it the ‘retarded Ocean’s 11’. He wanted to produce it. Together with my manager, they took it out to a few select agents. I signed with one of them. They decided to take the script out to the town under the title: THE UNTITLED SHIT IN A BAG MOVIE…because as they would say, love it or hate it, the title is going to grab people’s attention.
If you’re still reading this story, then I’ll assume their professional advice was spot on.
The script didn’t sell, but that piece of material has put me in more rooms than I can even possibly remember. It is still, to this day, putting me in those rooms. I sold a TV show largely because of that script. I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that the story I would one day tell about how I ‘broke into the business’ would be about a bag of shit script.
Then again, they say everyone’s story is unique and different, right?
The other day I had a fellow writer reach out and ask to grab a beer in hopes that I could possibly offer some advice on how I landed my representation. I am fairly confident that my advice will consist mainly of telling him to go write a movie about a girl who leaves behind bags of her crap at dreamy guys’ houses.
I am certain this strategy will work for everyone and anyone. Except when it doesn’t.Tags: Film and TV business, Hollywood, Screenwriter, Writing