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Lights in the night sky.

Mutilated cattle in a Montana meadow.

Iconic rancher Dodd Quigley, missing and presumed dead.

Allison, Dodd’s daughter, dismissed and friendless.

Discredited reporter Tom McQuay, following the leads.

Back to a giant corporation and a vast conspiracy conceived in the final moments of the Third Reich.

To the cause of Unknown Causes.


Yes, this script was stolen from me. For more on that incident I refer you to the introduction to 3 Screenplays in Search of a Lens. I move on to save my spleen.

The worst thing that can happen to a writer happened to me. I sold my first screenplay, and easily, King’s Man Check, and thought that it would always be this lubricated. It wasn’t. My second effort was an expression of my naivete and affection for Jim Rockford, Stephen J. Cannell’s creation. Loved that Rockford Files and loved that Stephen J. Cannell, who I thought was the best living writer for television (still think so). Consequently, I decided to write a television pilot for a series. The result was McQuay (later retitled Unknown Causes).

Amos McQuay was a private detective on days ending in y. He also scammed a living by renting out the east L.A. estate that had once belonged to his grandfather, one of the true founders of the modern city, for use as a junkyard. He was a contester, too, entering sweepstakes to win such diverse things as a year’s worth of toilet paper and dish soap, which he subsequently sold at swap meets. Good old Amos had to do these things to survive because he had nearly brought down a huge corporation, Barnes Int’l Security Systems, Inc., and as a result they’d assassinated his character, an early and effective form of identity theft, stealing in plain sight, so to speak. No one reputable would hire him. To add to the joke, Barnes forgot that they lied about him and believed their own propaganda, falling repeatedly into the trap of underestimating Amos McQuay just enough for him to embarrass them again and again.

Now I wasn’t entirely a naive waif. I knew that outsiders did not sell television pilots. McQuay was to be used to get me work writing other people’s characters, episodic television, and who knew, maybe someday Amos McQuay himself. And the script did get me through a few doors — Barnaby Jones, for one, and later Matt Houston, but no assignments. Breaking through the iron membrane that surrounds most television writing staffs is wizard work of the first order. I learned that there is a rarely spoken phrase that dominates all thinking, and it’s this: Continuity of income. Story editors buy from people who may be story editors tomorrow, and who may be expected to buy from them when the time comes. More, the WGAw rules for freelancers were a joke. Series producers were required to assign only one freelance episode per full season, leaving all the other episode assignments to the pack of wolves on staff who double-dipped, drawing a weekly salary and pay for writing original material as well. Mind you, I had no arguments with this system — I just wanted in myself.

After several years of taking meetings with TV producers I moved on to feature films and never looked back. In an attempt to make McQuay more palatable as a feature I changed him from a private dick to a reporter, altered his TV character-y name from Amos to Tom, and tried to update the tale somewhat. I also changed the title to Unknown Causes. Still, you will note that Unknown Causes is dialogue-intensive, and scenes are longer, and locations fewer, than is often found in film scripts. Nature of the beast. Oh, wait, that was another title I used for this script. Yes, you get the idea. It’s been around.

-- Richard Taylor

Cambria, California

August 2010


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