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I’ve written over thirty screenplays, and of them all, Steel Eyes has gone through the most permutations, as you will see if you read the Introduction to the book, below.


Steel Eyes is also my biggest money-maker of the unproduced scripts, having been optioned more times than I can count over a twenty-five year period (under different names, of course, and usually having been extensively revised).


Steel Eyes is an action mystery-thriller that takes place as the human race has begun to die out and is being replaced by ‘faxes’ — human facsimiles. Someone is ‘murdering’ them live, on Talk-TV. Only a very human, very flawed cop, Joe Caine, can close the case... with the help of Chevy, the beautiful fax detective Joe soon learns is even more human than she looks.


Steel Eyes


Introduction



This screenplay is the result of several great ideas. I mean ideas that just popped into my mind fully blown, exciting ideas that I thought would help me sell the story. Of all my screenplays, this one has been optioned most — five times in thirty years, money in my pocket (as they say) even though Steel Eyes was never produced. It just came out of its final option late last year.


The first great idea had to do with Dirty Harry. In the summer of 1978, when I first sat down to write it, the question was, would Clint Eastwood ever make another Dirty Harry? (He later made two more.) I considered writing a spec Dirty Harry script, but of course if I did and Clint didn’t want to do it, all of my efforts would be for nought. Clint Eastwood (and Warner Bros.) owned the character. Here was my BIG IDEA. I would write a Dirty Harry script, but instead of Harry Callahan as its star my character would be named Joe Cross. He would work out of L.A. He would be different, kind of. Then if Eastwood didn’t want to do it, I would still own my story, and my character.


Between the summers of 1978 and 1979, starting at about midnight each night and lasting quite often until five in the morning, I sat at the Main Gate of the Samuel Goldwyn Studios where I worked as a security guard and scratched the words that became this screenplay onto yellow tablet paper with a Rolling Writer pen. Its name was The Symbiote. Catchy, yes? The theme was, you see, the dynamic dualism of black and white, good and bad, cop and killer. It didn’t occur to me someone would have to look up the title in a dictionary to ‘get it’. (Okay, it did occur to me, and I liked the idea. I was [and perhaps still am, a little] pretentious as hell.)


I came to work for the Goldwyn Studio by fate. I’d accidentally sold a screenplay to a producer who headquartered on the lot, and came to know the studio’s young and obviously misguided Chief of Security who offered me a job when my script money trickled out. I thought I would be a star writer, and who knew, maybe a star director, too. What I became was a man who spent much of his time alone, often in the dark, day-dreaming of places that never were and of people who never existed. I became, in short, a fiction writer.


The Symbiote was, well, less than successful. My agent couldn’t get Clint Eastwood’s company to even look at it. Everyone else read the title and said, “Jeez, what a pretentious bastard this Taylor guy must be!” Or, if they looked past that and read the manuscript, they said, “Jeez, this Taylor guy must really be into sado-masochism! This has got to be the most violent script ever written!” I was an artiste, you see. None of that phony TV violence for me. I didn’t cut away from the blood and gore. In your face, baby! Because, you know, I was, like, an artiste.


After one reader told me I was a sick, sick man, I began to reevaluate things. For one, I changed the title of the script to Predator, then Prey, then Predator and Prey. In the meantime I took a hard look at it. It was a very, very violent script (“I am an artiste!”), but worse, it was violence directed principally against women. This was an issue just then coming to the fore and I was standing there holding up my violent, violent script shouting, “Look at me!” My then-new agent was able to get it submitted to Eastwood’s company and Clint (I’m told) said, “No way is this a Dirty Harry story — it’s too violent.”


If Clint thought it was too violent (cue the choir), then it had to be too violent. I rewrote the script trying to remove as much of the violence, particularly the gender-based violence, as I could. See, the problem was, the story hinged on gender violence. Being the troglodyte that I was, I’d never considered that issue when I wrote it (except to say, violence bad, my hero good). Predator was optioned for a year, and after I renamed it Prey, it was optioned again by someone else. Between options I polished it, and rewrote it, and sanitized it, and each time I thought I’d solved the problem. Women, however, didn’t think so.


Men loved the script, however, because it was a damsel-in-distress story with a hard-bitten, no compromise cop who made Dirty Harry look like a refugee from an Irish Spring soap commercial. After I changed its name, this time to Death Angel, it was optioned yet again. That producer told me he got angry phone calls from female production execs after submitting Death Angel. Even though he personally loved the script, he was going to put it on the shelf and allow the option period to run out without submitting it anywhere else.


That was the final straw. When the option period expired and the rights were returned to me, I too put Death Angel on the shelf and left it there. Fifteen years passed. Then one day I was in the shower luxuriating beneath all of those spraying negative ions and it popped into my head, the second BIG idea — I could save Death Angel and rewrite it with minimal effort. All I had to do was move it into the future, change the gender violence to ‘facsimile’ violence (read the script and you’ll get it), and add a theme about intolerance and what it really means to be human. I rewrote the script in under a week and hit upon a title that suggested the theme of the story — Steel Eyes. A month later, Symbiote/Predator/Prey/Death Angel/Steel Eyes was optioned again. This time men and women seemed to like it (although, more men than women). Several serious nibbles followed, but ultimately no one paid the full purchase price and the rights reverted back to me.


Then I sold a spec script to the Sci Fi Channel, EnCrypt, and the producer asked to submit Steel Eyes to them (not an option as no money changed hands). I said yes. A week later the producer told me it was about to be green lit. Everyone at Sci Fi loved it. As a formality, they had to get the okay of network’s top exec. Of course the mere formality proved no formality at all. The top exec nixed Death Angel because, he said, Sci Fi didn’t want to do cop stories. (You must have a reason to say no, even when there is no reason.)


Steel Eyes went back onto the shelf until two years ago when yet another producer optioned it. He wanted a new name for the story and I hit upon Triple Helix, which was meant as a kind of joke, but also to suggest a species different from humans and other living things on earth, whose DNA have only double helixes. Again, nibbles, no bites.


Somewhere along the line Joe Cross became Joe Caine, because of a movie whose hero was named Joe Cross, and because of an actor with that name, as I recall.


For me, now, screenwriting is diminishing in the rearview mirror. I will never write another spec script. Over the years I’ve sold a number of screenplays, one that was nominated for a CableACE Best Picture Award. I’ve optioned so many scripts I would have to use a spreadsheet to list them all. I’ve written over thirty. Even so, I was never really successful in a meaningful way and, after I ended my ‘real’ career with Warner Bros. as the Chief of Security, Safety and Fire Prevention of Warner Hollywood Studios at the end of 1999, I returned to my first love, writing prose. My first novel, THE HAUNTING OF CAMBRIA, was published by St. Martin’s Press/TOR in 2007.


I am publishing my better scripts now to throw them into the cloud of human consciousness, and to place a record of their existence in the Library of Congress.


If you’ve come this far, you’re probably going to read Steel Eyes. I think you’ll find it entertaining, not particularly violent by today’s standards, and a good two hours in the dark, even if the dark isn’t the inside of a movie house, but in the cool, shadowy theater of your mind. Good reading!



   — Richard Taylor

   Cambria, California

   March 30, 2008

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