Welcome my friends to the final and 5th installment of the John Cleese saga. I’m Wesly your host, and it is my privilege to give you a front row seat to the end of this part of the journey. It was something truly… well, see for yourself.
It was 4 days before our big trip to London and I get this email:
Very bad news. John is compelled to withdraw from this project.
We have nursed this along for some time. In the end the agents, attorneys and financial advisors have all come in late and advised John to withdraw.
John had thought this would be a simple affair. However, he cannot ignore his advisors albeit late.
Also, the advisors were uneasy about the standard short form contract and wanted a more comprehensive watertight contract. His very recent relocation from Monaco to London also raised considerations. I believe everyone acted in John’s best interest. It wasn’t for the want of trying to get the job done. Please pass on our sincere apologies to your team. In particular you deserve a medal for hanging in there.
Freaking Jim won. I bet I play the guitar better than him. My heart sunk. Jim, some lawyers, and John’s financial advisors unbuckled my seatbelt, pulled up the support bar, and kicked me right off the rollercoaster, head first falling straight onto the concrete – no fat lady buffer or anything. Then a giant sized John Cleese came booming over to my bloody remains, spit on them and smashed me into the the ground.
You can imagine how this news hit us. We shortened and simplified the agreement to try and make it more simple for John in order to speed things up. We can get a more detailed agreement over, we could talk about a bigger fee, and we could wait until a more convenient time for John – however at this point I can assume that it won’t make a difference.
Thank you for all your help, and for John even being willing to give some indie filmmakers a chance.
I would love to ask a favor if possible, is there anyway of getting a note just saying that John enjoyed the script. From a comedy legend that would mean a lot to us since we will not be able to work with him – and we’re forced to change the story and find another narrator.
You see that? I can hear that little insecure boy inside of me looking for validation. As if Billy coming back and saying “John Cleese really did love your script” would really make it all better. It wouldn’t. I was already fairly sure that John at least didn’t hate the script since he agreed very quickly to narrate it. We weren’t going to pay him a ton of money either, so he had to have been interested for more than the financial gain.
Even if he liked the script, which would be an honor because of who he is – his admiration of the writing however marginal it may be is nothing compared to working with him. Simon Pegg said a similar thing about working with a different Python, except reversed in that he actually got to work with him: “As someone whose love of comedy was hugely informed by Monty Python, the chance to work with Terry was a gift. Meeting your heroes is one thing – working with them is something else.”
For months and months I thought I was going to have my comedic hero, John Cleese, narrate moments from my life. Me! My life! My script! Wes Lapioli from Colorado Springs and Utah. Wes Lapioli, single child, raised in poverty with a sick mother. Wes Lapioli, Lord of Almoster Land with zero progress in my creative life.
After raising money, buying tons of gear, planning my work schedule around an international trip, scheduling all the details of the production, and after being so excited for almost 6 months that I was going to have the break of a lifetime – it was in fact not a break, it was the most epic letdown of my life. I called up little inner boy Wes and he came over for awhile. We sulked, ate some pizzas, drank some calorie-containing caffeinated carbonated concoctions, prank called Martha a couple times, and told Batman’s dad to shut his piehole.
Wes, what can I say. Your response is gentlemanly and very professional.
I will do my best have John write a note about the script. I will also try my best to have John go back to square one and reconsider.
Will get back to you.
Wes, John has asked me to let you know that he did enjoy the script and that was the reason he was interested in the project from the start. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy ultimately got in the way. It was a pleasure working with you and I will let you know if an opportunity presents itself in the future.
Best Regards, Billy
Thank you. It has been wonderful to get to know you a little these past months – and thank you for all of your efforts. Please send our kindest regards to John, and hopefully we can work on something together in the future.
oh and… D### the bureaucracy! 😉 (mom edit)
A couple days past by, and I could not get over it. How could we have gotten that far just to have it slip away? I decided to try one last attempt in talking with Billy to see if anything could be done.
Hope you are doing well! I hope you don’t mind humoring me for a second. I have spent the past several days trying to find another narrator. Honestly, after 6 months of thinking we had John on-board – anyone else does not cut it. Here is my last idea if John would ever reconsider –
(I then explain how we would basically pay double of what we initially agreed to – I don’t really want to divulge the figures for whatever reason.) We can guarantee not to use more than 1 hour of Johns time.
I understand where John’s advisors are coming from. We are not a huge Hollywood organization. I have to ask however – what are the risks to John? If there is concern about us using his name in marketing, we will not use his name. There will be very little marketing anyway as this is a short film, not made for profit. The only real risk I see is if the movie is terrible and Johns name is attached to it. We can guarantee a well made film, based on the script. If there is concern – we will send you copies before we do anything with the film. Which, by the way the only plan with the film is to submit it to Sundance and a couple other festivals.
Given that I don’t see much risk here, I would kindly ask John to reconsider.
One other thought – I know John’s time is worth more than we could ever pay. If he would be willing to look at this as an investment in the indie film community – and if a close friend or relative asked him to narrate something he liked if he would do it regardless of the bureaucracy. I know we are neither close, nor relatives – I just can’t submit to the fact that this is not going to happen because of advisors who see some kind of risk that I don’t think exists.
At the time I was proud of myself for that letter. I think I even said out-loud at one point “that is the best letter I have ever written.” If I really had thought it out, my initial reaction was the correct one – there was nothing I could really do or say to save this opportunity –
Wes, yes of course a fee increase will help but the truth is that the circumstances just didn’t allow John to proceed.
Let’s put this on the back burner.
Back burner? Right. Do you know what it means to put something on the back burner? It is the same thing when I tell my son “maybe.” It actually has no direct meaning to the statement at all, it means there is no intention of ever proceeding. It is a polite lie. Food on the back burner is easily forgotten about and it stinks up your house for a week before you get around to throwing it away.
Clark brought up the point asking why I am always trying to chase down some celebrity. First Bill Murray, and now John Cleese. “Why not just make something good and let it stand on its own? We don’t need a famous person to validate our work,” he said. Whatever Clark, you don’t know me. He makes an almost good point, but he is no professional almoster like me. I disregarded Clark and his Clarky ways, and kept on going to the 2nd person on my list – Dave Thomas. My admiration for Dave stems from a deep love of the film Strange Brew. It’s so stinking silly, and perfect.
I got through to him fairly quickly. He read DCMW, and also agreed to proceed – for about 5 days. He also backed out. What in Gay Love For Johnny Depp is going on? This time around, Dave’s agent was a nice guy. I asked him why Dave would read the script – like the story, and then back out. Apparently a lot of the bigger names don’t do work outside of the union. Once and awhile they will consider it, but very rarely does it work out. This agents demeanor was refreshing, and I really appreciated his honesty and time. But, joining a union sounds all professional and not very almoster-y. I can’t go do something like that.
I also of course tried Rick Moranis. Maybe my short film would bring him back to acting?! Haha, of course not. He didn’t even do the the newest unreleased Ghostbuster that they got Bill Murray to agree to. But, get a load of this. He did a commercial this year with Ryan Reynolds! Rick’s manager, or whoever he was, quickly turned down my project. But again, he was far more civil and kind than John Cleese’s vicious jerk pile of agent.
So what did I learn from all this John Cleese-ing? Seems like a good therapeutic question to ask. Well – hold up Susie, let’s save the big crazy discussion for after we take a look at a few more idiotic moments from my life. For now, let’s just say, it’s clear the Wes of the past was holding on tightly to the label of “Almoster”.
He was unable to see all the awesome things he learned because of this incredible journey. I would still love to work with John Cleese someday. But, I don’t require Lord Cleese or any other celebrity to live the live I envision. One good thing about past Wes, and the current more emotionally fit, I Will Thrive Wes, is he never quits.
Even before the I Will Thrive motto came my way, I at least never gave up on my dreams. I’ve kept pushing and working, and now I have everything I need. I’ll keep failing, but I am beyond positive that eventually I will get exactly where I want to go. I’m excited and grateful for the journey, and to be sharing it with you. Hopefully you can learn from the insanity along the way.
And hey, at least I can see my old friend Don’t Call Me Walter whenever I want – there it sits on the backburner, smelling like a moldy pork chop deglazed in foul nasty tripe and goat innards cheese sauce dreaming of its glory days of almost being a legit short film, almost narrated by John Cleese.
The Wesly and John Cleese Saga:
VIDEO version of this episode HERE
PODCAST version of this episode HERE