How We Started Writing Together


Barbara’s brother, Tom, and James were students together at the UCLA Film School. When Tom and James made a film together, Tom asked Barbara to be art director. “Art director” on a student film involves more making sandwiches and janitorial work than fulfilling an artistic vision, but the film got finished and they all stayed friends.

Several years later, Barbara had quit her library job to write a (long-abandoned) novel, and James was writing for Saturday morning TV. James had a notion for a feature comedy film about a bad cat, and Barbara had so many funny ideas for it that they decided to write it as a spec script. (Spec means “on speculation,” which means you’ll probably never ever sell it.)

It took them about a year to finish the script, “Fluffy,” in their spare time. The logline was this: “A man finds his perfect woman, and her cat hates him and tries to kill him.” (For mainstream movies, the rule is that if you can’t describe the plot in one sentence, it’s too complicated.)

James was with a small agency that represented mainly animation writers. The head agents – who’d been in the business for years and were very successful at it – read the script. And didn’t like it much. The only one at the agency who thought “Fluffy” had potential was a brand-new agent, Milissa, who asked if she could try to sell it. James and Barbara had nothing to lose, so Milissa sent out the script. It was an exciting week as dozens of production companies heard about the script and wanted to read it. Five days later, it sold for a very nice price to Disney’s Hollywood Pictures. James and Barbara were thrilled – and were too green to realize what an amazing stroke of luck this was.

So James and Barbara partnered up full-time. When Barbara quit her job at Occidental College Library, her boss told her she wasn’t surprised, because she’d read about the sale in “Variety.” (Los Angeles is, indeed, a movie town.)

For the next year, James and Barbara rewrote “Fluffy.” And rewrote “Fluffy.” And rewrote “Fluffy.” And had endless meetings with studio executives talking about the motivations of this cat. What is Fluffy thinking? What are Fluffy’s goals? What is Fluffy’s backstory?

And, frankly, the script got a little worse with every rewrite. It never got produced, and, because the studio bought it outright, it now sits on a shelf unmade. Once in a while a producer reads the original script and likes it – and James and Barbara think maybe this time Fluffy will get to come out of the studio basement. It hasn’t happened yet, but writers have to dream.


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