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FROM: The Fat Cyclist
TO: Mr. Lance Armstrong
SUBJECT: Re: First Draft of My Screenplay!!!
First off, thanks for letting me be one of the first people to see the screenplay you’ve just completed for your autobiographical movie. I loved it, and am absolutely positive that every cyclist in America would love it too. Cyclists will flock to this film, just as it’s written; they’ll love this window into your world, as well as the drama and pageantry that swirl around the Tour de France. In short, I feel confident, Lance, in guaranteeing that every single cycling enthusiast in America will go see this movie when it comes out.
Which is my gentle way of saying, Lance, that as written, your movie would be a complete and total disaster.
There are only about 6,000 cyclists in America, Lance. And this statistic is no less alarming even when you take into consideration that I just made it up. My point is: if you want this movie to succeed, you need to punch it up. Make it Hollywood-friendly. Give it some heat.
Here, then, are my suggestions for a rewrite of your screenplay, if you’d rather it be a summer blockbuster than an anonymous direct-to-DVD bust.
Change the Name
Yes, Lance, I know that your book, It’s Not About the Bike, was a huge success. But that book was for a different audience. Specifically, it was for an audience of people who know how to read. For a movie, you can’t go telling people what it’s not about. That would be like serving your head on a platter to the critics. I mean, can’t you just hear Roger Ebert opening his review of your movie saying something like, “Lance Armstrong’s movie tells us it’s not about his bike. That’s all well and good, but I wish he would have taken the time to decide what it is about.” (Note to Roger Ebert: I have copyrighted the preceding sentence. Hands off.)
So, then, what should you call the movie? I have a few suggestions:
- Ride: People love one-word titles. They’re easy to remember. Also, it’s both an imperative verb and a noun, so it both describes what you do and what the film is. It sounds strong, confident. Manly. This is my number-one recommendation.
- The Cyclist: This title makes it sound like you are really the only cyclist in the world. Everyone else is just a pretender. There’s also a decent chance that many people will mistake “Cyclist” for “Cyclone,” and we’ll get a fair number of tickets purchased by the disaster-film crowd. Hey, let’s not be picky; let’s get butts in seats any way we can.
- Lance Loves Sheryl: This one’s risky. If you call it this, we’ll need to make sure that the movie trailers emphasize the love story aspect of your movie. The only way we’ll get a greater than .000001% female audience for this film is if we make them think it’s a romantic comedy.
Pump Up the Plot
Your life makes an inspiring story, Lance. Born into a humble, one-parent home, you showed great initial promise as a professional cyclist. Then you got cancer, but suffered through the treatment to emerge a stronger, more disciplined rider. Once you started riding in the Tour de France, you caught fire and won seven times in a row — showing a drive and consistency that is perhaps unmatched in the history of sport.
This kind of storyline is what we in the biz like to call a “non-starter.”
You know what they’re going to do when we pitch this movie, Lance? They are going to tear us to shreds. Here are the easy questions they’ll ask, and how I propose we revise your screenplay so we can be ready for them:
- Where’s the villain? Of course, cancer is the real villain in your life, but that doesn’t exactly work on film, does it? We need someone who is doing his level best to thwart you — not just in racing, but in your personal life. I suggest Jan Ullrich is the right character for this role. We’ll have to tweak his personality a little bit since Ullrich is in fact one of the nicest guys in the whole world, but the motivation part’s easy: with each loss to you, Ullrich becomes more and more bitter, until he (let’s say in 2002) he snaps and vows he will stop at nothing — nothing!!! — to defeat you. He commences a campaign of underhanded tactics all geared toward securing the top spot on the Tour de France podium.
- You mean once he starts winning, he just keeps winning? There’s never a serious doubt that he’ll stop winning? I’m sorry, Lance, but the first act (early promise) of your screenplay is incredibly ordinary, and the second act (enduring cancer treatment) makes you seem more like of a movie prop than an exciting film protagonist. We can tell those parts of the story in about twenty minutes anyways. Then there’s the third act: Tour de France champion. It goes like this: You win the Tour de France. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. It gets a little predictable, Lance. Think about this for a second: Rocky lost in the first movie, and that’s the only one that was any good.
- At the end of the movie he just RETIRES?! I’m sorry to use bold, italics, all-caps and excessive punctuation, Lance, but that’s the way they’re going to say it. I can’t think of a more anticlimactic end to a movie than retirement. I suggest that in the movie, after your final tour you vow to fight crime, or discover a cure to cancer, or something. Remember this Hollywood axiom, Lance: Any scene featuring a retirement must be followed with a scene wherein the newly-retired person is gunned down by his enemy. See any cop movie that has ever been made for an example of this.
PS: This is the first part of a new piece I’m writing; next I’ll tell Lance about parts of the screenplay I think he should shorten or remove, characters that need to be created, changed, and deleted, and what to do about that pesky "first wife problem." I’ll link to the full story as soon as it’s published. Presuming, of course, that I finish it (I haven’t), and that someone accepts it.
PPS: This has nothing to do with cycling, but I spent most of the weekend sitting beside my 12-year-old son, building a video game with him. Mostly I just sat and gave suggestions and ideas; he did the programming and artwork (ie, he did everything and I was a backseat driver). What a pleasure it is to watch your own kid be not just better, but lots better at something than you are.
We finished it yesterday evening; he’s now posted the game — called "Meteor Frenzy" — on his website, minigamemania.com. Click the screenshot below to go to his site and try it out (requires Flash). Be sure to record your high score (I’m pleased to say that I currently hold the number 1 ranking, but I’m sure that will change.).
Oh, and to all the old coots who play this and then come back with suggested corrections on spelling and grammar for the game: that was all intentional. Evidently, using English that feels like poorly-translated Japanese is all the rage with teenage programmers these days.