There are all kinds of weird and disturbing ways people try to get noticed in Hollywood. You hear the classic stories about actresses paying to ship themselves to casting director’s offices in enormous boxes, or purchasing billboards or industry paper ad space with their headshots on them at enormous expense. There are plenty of stories about directors or producers being slipped scripts by enterprising waiters or busboys or even customers at the next table when all they’re trying to do is eat a quiet dinner at an overpriced restaurant. You even hear the odd story of an unscrupulous filmmaker sticking their name on a script they didn’t write, or an idea that someone else pitched them, or alleging a prior questionable claim on a property to get a piece of the action. You get the idea. It’s a dog eat dog world out here!
But rarely do you ever hear about someone passing their own work off as someone else’s—apart from those depressing social experiments, often written about in magazines, where a female writer changes her first name to a male one or just an initial and all of a sudden her work in considered promising— in order to get traction. Yet that seems to be exactly what happened with The Kosher Nostra, a screenplay about a young aspiring screenwriter-turned-Uber driver who winds up driving getaway cars for the Jewish Mafia. Written by Seth Rogen. Or not.
Jonathan Witz and Jeremy Spektor, two aspiring screenwriters currently without representation, wrote the screenplay, and when it failed to garner any attention under their own names, chose to circulate it again—this time with a title page attributing authorship to the writing team behind Superbad and The Interview, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. (Naturally, they would be producing under their Point Grey banner and represented by UTA, their agency, which, full disclosure, I am also represented by; they are lovely people who always offer tiny bowls of grapes and potato chips at meetings.)
The script apparently made its way into hands as high up and varied as Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, Annapurna Films producer Megan Ellison (who, since she co-produced last summer’s hit Sausage Party with Rogen and Goldberg, only really had to send a couple of texts to find out what the hell was going on), and Will Ferrell, among others. Rogen and Goldberg found out about the existence of the script last week, and, well, I’m afraid it’s not such a Hollywood ending: Rogen and Goldberg immediately sent out a cease and desist letter, disavowing any involvement with the project for them and their company. Witz and Spektor may have garnered some attention, or “heat,” as the Hollywood types call it, but they probably won’t be meeting with UTA anytime soon.
Will this intrepid young screenwriting team survive the initial brush with fame, or rather, infamy? Hard to say. You can get through almost any setback in Hollywood if you’re talented enough. And while I haven’t read The Kosher Nostra, the kindest thing I can say from the log-line is that it seems…high-concept. I mean, first of all, what Jewish Mafia are we talking about here? Russian mobsters who operate out of fish stores in West Hollywood? The last wheezing and elderly vestiges of what used to be Murder, Inc., who have somehow made their way into retirement in Los Angeles, instead of Florida, where the retired Jewish criminal community would logically be waiting to greet them with open arms—or would, if they could let go of their walkers…
And then there’s the fact that Hollywood, for all its tales of chutzpah and verve and a young Steven Spielberg sneaking onto the Universal lot when the gatekeeper’s back was turned, is essentially a place of rules. You wait your turn. You don’t submit scripts unless you’ve got an agent to do it for you—and for good reason, since many an unsolicited submission has turned into a big old lawsuit. And you never lie if you think anyone can catch you. Witz and Spektor are still young, which means they probably haven’t quite learned that usually the second or third idea is going to be their best one. The getaway driver canard may be old and tired, and anyway, Edgar Wright has that movie Baby Driver coming out pretty soon with the kid from The Fault in Our Stars and Downton Abbey, which sounds like pretty much the same thing. But a screenplay about two nerdy young writers who pretend a movie star wrote their script to get it read, and manages to alienate an entire industry in the process? Now that’s an idea I can see someone getting behind. As the old rule says: Write what you know.