My name is Neeraj Katyal. I’m from Long Island and my parents are from India, which are two places that most people don’t want to be from. For what it’s worth, I’m quite proud of my roots.
I grew up in Smithtown, about 50 miles east of New York. (If you really want to get into it, I'm from St. James, which is part of Smithtown, but that's neither here nor there.) Currently, I split my days between various parts of the city, though I spend as much time as I can on Long Island.
In 2008, I sold a screenplay to Harvey Weinstein for $400,000. It never got made, as it faced a challenging landscape for independent films in the wake of the financial crisis. Given sustained interest in the project, I shouldn’t have sold it (to anyone), but hindsight, of course, is 20/20. At the time, I wasn’t keen on turning down our one offer, as it was worth a potential $800,000. Also, Mr. Weinstein was a king whose Midas touch turned a writer's pages into Academy Awards. He produced any number of Oscar-winning films, including one of my favorites in “Good Will Hunting.”
Okay, I’m no student of cinema, as I consider “Throw Momma from the Train” a masterpiece. My knowledge of drama stems from classic literature and team sports, as I root for the Mets, Jets, Nets, and Islanders. Collectively, they’ve done nothing but cause me heartache and pain. In light of the crimes concerning Mr. Weinstein, I also choose men who cause other people pain, only with horrifying, real-world consequences. It seems male privilege knows few, if any limits. In contrast to our female peers, men are socialized to pursue and realize our ambitions. Literally and figuratively, our safe passage to Hollywood is only matched by our safe passage through Hollywood. While I explore this in the “Notes” section, I’d be remiss if I didn’t first mention it here.
To this day, there are producers, directors, and actors who have expressed interest in bringing my script to life. I had long moved on from the project, but the caliber of talent pursuing it compels me to soldier on. It is not some casual or fleeting interest that has spurred me into action, but a persistent affection for the material. I owe it to myself to get this movie made, or to at least try.
In 2011, a producer told me that "Gene Kelly" was passionate about the writing. Later that year, a director sent me an e-mail.
Mr. Kelly had shared the script with him, and the two were thinking about making it together. Finally, in December of 2012, a formal representative wrote to me, as Kelly was now inclined toward starring and directing. If the project were to exist with all rights cleared and all money against it erased, Kelly would be interested in pursuing it. Unfortunately, while the rights reverted
to me back in 2010, money was owed to The Weinstein Company, and urbane romantic comedies were not the smartest of bets. Major studios and top producers had their eyes trained on the global box office, and slice-of-life films were hard to sell overseas. Still, I now had a third Gene Kelly data point.
Then, in the fall of 2016, I was informed that Kelly had name-dropped the project in an interview from two years prior. Now, normally, I wouldn’t go sharing an actor’s enthusiasm for a script. Some 20 years earlier in 1996, I interned for two semesters at “Saturday Night Live.” Even as a teenager, I knew how to comport myself around the entertainment class. Robert Downey, Jr. hosted during one of the toughest times in his life. Whitney Houston sang during one of the worst weeks of hers. As such, I know how to toe the line when it comes to exercising discretion. With that said, if an actor expresses interest in my work three times –
and then a fourth time on the Internet – I don't think it’s unbecoming of me to indicate that interest. Again, I had long moved on from the project, but every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. Though as one might imagine, I'm grateful for it.
It’s a strange thing to know that someone liked your script enough to save it on their computer. It’s a stranger thing to know that someone’s looking to translate “Written by Neeraj Katyal” into “a Gene Kelly film.” In 2011, when I’d tell friends and family that Kelly had expressed interest in the script, most of them didn’t know who he was. By 2016, when I’d tell financiers that he had considered directing the script, most of them didn’t believe me. Regardless, I’ve been moved by the man’s talent and tenacity as an actor, though perhaps more importantly, his gifts and righteousness as a person. While I hesitate to make assumptions, I have to think that he views the script as a vehicle for an awards-quality performance. That’s a bold claim, but the role is tailor-made for his skill set. And seeing that his last film grossed several times its budget, I believe this project has similar potential.
The script was called “The Amazing Adventures of the Monogamous Duck.” It was an awful title, a placeholder I never addressed. I should’ve called it “Books and Cocaine,” “White Christmas,” or “Book Smart.” (Heck, if I knew Gene Kelly was going to read it, I would’ve written a much better script.) Now, in order to earn additional income and raise the money to buy it back, I’m starting a notes service for writers. I believe I can offer real insight – the kind I sought out before (and after) I sold the script in question.
There are all types of charlatans in the notes-giving space. They charge exorbitant fees, yet have few qualifications. As a skilled writer, I want to change the game by throwing my hat in the ring. In fact, that’s the primary focus of this site. Sure, a long haul, moon shot attempt at reclaiming a script is a motivating factor, but I'd like to start a business as well. Reading scripts is a career move, one I’ve planned for years, as being a working writer was never a part of my endgame. There are fewer working writers than there are players in the NFL, and only the strong survive. I have immense talent, but talent is only one part of the equation.
Since 2004, I’ve spent the best days of my life – weekends, holidays, and birthdays – staring at a computer screen. For me, the dedication needed to write at a high level leaves little time for socializing. Other writers are able to compartmentalize, churn out pages, and generally excel. What they write in one year often takes me three. As such, it’s time to supplement my freelance efforts – screenwriting, ghostwriting, and everything inbetween. The truth is, for most writers, writing is both a privilege and a joy, but it’s grueling and consuming, too. Unlike focused writers, though, I can’t write by the pool, and I can’t write at the beach. I can,
however, read at the beach, and I'd love to do that for the rest of my life. Plus, writing x hours a day instead of ten hours a day would afford me the time in my off-hours to pursue long-held goals. I want to write jokes for comedians, offer free SAT lessons, and affect the college admissions process. There’s not enough money in freelance writing for me, yet there’s too much money in consulting. Granted, the savings from a notes service may not bring my script back, but I know I can help people with theirs.
And if I can’t get it back, there's honor in failure. As writers, rejection and failure is our normal. At least I’ll know that I tried, and the worst that can happen is I’ll have made some new friends. Also, given this platform, there’s an avenue toward raising money for one of my newer scripts. With respect to "Duck," the logical question is a simple one: Why don't you just write another script? Well, I have. It’s ironic that “Duck” continues to draw suitors, as my more recent efforts have greater potential for global success.
One story (“Uppercut”) is about an Indian-American boxer, which is still a tough film to make. Though the original project fell apart, major agents at a major agency said it could be “an indie darling.” Another story (“Murder in London”) is about M.F.A. graduates competing in fashion design, which might be a tougher film to make. It’s hard to raise money for movies about women, though there was a moment last year when it was going to be produced by A-list talent. A new script I’ve been outlining is called “Irish Never Quit.” It’s about a minor league baseball player who wants to give up his dream, and his friendship with a Sikh boy who wants to give up his turban. That script could be made cheaply. If I fall short with "Duck," I could roll the money into "Irish."
Of the four scripts, though, “Murder in London” is my favorite. In a parallel universe, it could've done “Black Swan” business. That film took home $329 million on a $13 million budget, yet despite Darren Aronofsky’s success with “The Wrestler” – and Natalie Portman’s attachment – raising the money was a battle. As mentioned, so many investors turn away from stories about women, though the tide is turning in that regard. Here in New York, it’s possible that if I made it my life’s mission, I could find people to champion “Murder.” Sure, Paul Thomas Anderson made an acclaimed fashion film set in London, but his was a period piece about a man. There’s a demand – a hunger, really – for movies about women, and “Murder” is truly special. The fact is, writing a tour de force script about two women is more challenging for me than rallying the people who might finance the script. My target audience is women, gay men, and police officers, and since the story is a murder-mystery – an accessible page-turner – I believe there’s a huge market for it in today’s socioeconomic climate. Of course, award-winning directors can't get their original scripts made, so unless I publish it as a successful novel, my best script will never be considered. A decidedly English film called "Murder in London" won't get financing if it’s from an unproduced writer. Unless, of course, I raise some of the financing myself.
Unless, of course, I make "Duck" first.
I care so much more about "Murder" than I do about "Duck." I've met with four well-known actors about "Duck," however, and
no well-known actors about "Murder." At some point, you have to give the people what they want. So over the next several years, I'll try to raise that "Duck" money. As stated above, it's a long-haul, moon shot attempt, but I'm excited to be aiming at a target.
Screenwriters are always asking for permission, so I’ve long admired the many filmmakers who simply go out and do something. My dream was never to be a talented writer, it was just to be a writer. Today, my dreams have evolved some. My dream is to see "Murder in London" sell 100,000 copies of a graphic novel, then get translated into 40 languages as a regular novel. This would clear the path for an Oscar-nominated film, and then a well-staged musical on Broadway. Now, if the only way to get "Murder" off the ground is to supplement my income and buy "Duck" back myself, that's what I plan to do. It's a script I started writing in 2004, it's one an actor said he "loved" in 2014, and it's something a financier recently asked about. I want to buy my script back.
This was a shorter explanation that details what I’m trying to accomplish. If you're curious about the path I took to get here, the "My Story" section features a personal account for you to wade through. Or not, because it’s quite long. I wrote it for myself, but also for the aspiring writer. When I was young and dreaming of becoming a writer, I read every origin story I could find, hoping
for some morsel of truth that would clear a path to the big leagues. Twenty years later, I hope what I've written will be of similar interest. Maybe it'll strike a chord or inspire people along their path. I also want to show that this isn’t some fly-by-night operation. I care, and I’d like to help myself by helping others. Ultimately, I want to discover some writers. So many people have helped me in achieving my dream, and I’d love to bestow the same gift upon someone else.
In any event, thank you for reading this, and with a little bit of luck, I’ll see you on the other side.
A few producers are trying to acquire "Duck." The company which now owns the rights wants $618,000 for it.
What a time to be alive!