'Man on a Ledge' Screenwriter Takes a Long, Winding Road to Success
The opening of Man on a Ledge today marks the end of an odd 10-year journey for the movie's writer Pablo Fenjves.
Most edgy thrillers are written by hotshot 20- or 30-somethings, but Fenjves is just starting to hit his stride in Hollywood as a spry 58-year old scribe. His previous claim to fame was being known for his involvement as a key witness in the OJ Simpson murder trial.
"In a weird way, I'm peaking," Fenjves said at the movie's premiere afterparty Monday night, as a security guard kept guests from getting too close to star Sam Worthington and photographers took shots of Elizabeth Banks and rising actress Genesis Rodriguez.
Worthington stars as an ex-cop-turned-escaped convict threatening to jump off a building while a police psychologist (Banks) tries to talk him down, not knowing the threatened suicide is part of an elaborate diamond heist.
Fenjves sold Man on a Ledge almost 10 years ago to MGM, which tried in vain to find a director for the film. Such directors as D.J. Caruso and Paul McGuigan flirted with the project, but executive turnover and a string of box office disappointments plagued MGM.
What saved Ledge was a WGA-required provision in Fenjves' contract that allows the author of a script to reacquire the rights to unproduced original material at the five-year mark; it's not a provision used very often, since most writers don't have the funding to take back their projects, and the time period for reclaiming the material is short.
Fortunately for Fenjves, he had three producers -- Mark Canton, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and Neal Moritz -- ready to help him buy the script back. Fenjves chose to throw in his lot with Di Bonaventura, who extracted it from MGM and set it up at Paramount Vantage.
The project eventually made its way to Summit, but not before going through the legal wringer several times. It was the subject of lawsuit involving Bob Yari Productions when John Travolta was attached to star, as well as one involving Gavin Polone, who repped Fenjves in his original deal and later sued Summit claiming his production company was elbowed out.
"I jokingly say that this [movie] is a metaphor for the life of a Hollywood writer," said Fenjves. "You sell something that everybody is excited about, but the next thing you know they have notes, and they are basically slowly pushing you out onto a ledge. And then they hire other people. And then things happen to the script that you are not to happy about."
Even at Summit, the project stalled out a time or two. Chris Gorak was attached to direct it with Worthington to star, but the movie was weeks from taking off when Gorak left to direct the sci-fi invasion movie The Darkest Hour.
The script then went through the development machine. It initially had more of a play-like feel to it, as it centered on two people on a ledge and contained flashbacks; the action-packed third act was a more recent addition. And several other writers worked on it. Despite it all, Fenjves retained sole writing credit.
Fenjves wrote a slew of made-for-TV movies in the 1990s with titles such as When the Dark Man Calls, Bitter Vengeance and The Devil's Child but found himself in the spotlight as a witness for the prosecution in the Simpson murder trial; Fenjves, who lived in Brentwood in the early 90s, was the person who heard a dog wailing at the time of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.
Even odder, Fenjves found himself years later ghost-writing Simpson's If I Did It pseudo-memoir. (Fenjves has ghost-written several best-selling memoirs, including those of Janice Dickinson and David Foster.)
But it's on the strength of Ledge that Fenjves is enjoying a third act in a town where most are lucky to get one. Fenjves sold a project named Undertow to Relativity, with Michael De Luca attached to produce, he has Halle Berry attached to a script called Mother, and is working with Win Win and The Visitor producer Mary Jane Skalski on an indie titled The Good Brother.
"I'm 58 years old," he says, "and I don't mind having a movie made now because most guys are still talking about the movie they had made when they were 38."
For him, the secret to success is to simply keep writing.
"There's an old saying that says in Hollywood things come to those who wait. It's wrong. It's good things come to those who write."
by Ashley Cullins