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by Andrew Gifford


Well, its official. Somebody named "Steve" called from CBS today and told me my "Survivor: Baltimore" proposal had been rejected. I had to pull a number of strings with my uncle, who's currently dating a 19-year-old intern at CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves' office, just to get this far. I'm told that it's a phenomenal success even to have CBS call me up and reject me, but I find little comfort in such platitudes.

Being an untried producer, I had even gone as far as to develop a taped treatment of my idea. I assembled a cast of friends and included a 40-minute tape of sample shots in my proposal package. The hope was that such a ploy could illustrate the marketability of what was, in the opinion of many, a good idea.

"Survivor: Baltimore" was simple. Twelve Americans and one Frenchman would be split into two groups and forced to survive on the streets of Baltimore. The social dynamics of young urban people could be displayed in a typical East Coast city. With the Frenchman, we create an international flare that could easily sell the show to all of our little friends in Europe.

Group one, called the "Benicio del Italico" tribe, would operate out of a burnt-out warehouse in Fells Point. The second group, known as the "Gough Street Regulars", would operate out of a dumpster behind the Blockbuster in Canton.

Both "tribes" would be dropped off at their new homes with a limited amount of supplies. The contestants would then have to survive for 16 nights and 17 days. Special Baltimore-related competitions were to be set up for the tribes. I had included a detailed essay concerning the Platt Street Massacre, but I think my Office Girl neglected to put that in the proposal package.

My buddy Jeff gave me the sample tape idea. He said location shots and sample scenes on film help the big entertainment guys to get a grip on what the proposal is all about. Jeff told me that only 4% of untested proposals make it into the decision-maker's office and, of those 4%, only 1% of each page is read. I trust Jeff's opinion: he and I are old high-school buddies. When he and I met at the 10-year reunion, I was ecstatic to discover that he had pursued a career in Hollywood. After climbing the entertainment arena ladder, Jeff had finally landed himself a position as the co-assistant to Robert Zemeckis' assistant director. He had even met Zemeckis once!

The edge provided by the sample tape was undeniable. Jeff told me that television treatments are a harder market he said only 2% of TV treatments make it past the CBS dumpster and, of those, CBS will choose the treatment only if the author is deceased and his or her estate is poorly managed and nearly bankrupt. With a film sample, my chances increased from 2% to 4%%. Jeff said that someone invariably watches video treatments in the hope of finding porn or mis-delivered blackmail material. At least, that's what Zemeckis does.

I was particularly proud of my 40-minute tape which, incidentally, is not going to be sent back to me. I had organized five of my friends who were shoo-ins for the actual series, if it had been accepted. They were real troopers able to take anything Baltimore threw at them. I think it unfair if I dont mention them:

Jacob, 27, a systems analyst and webmaster of (an Andrew Gifford Global Corp subsidiary).

C.B., 30, holder of a C.D.L. driving license. Currently unemployed.

Gwen, 26, a paralegal from Philadelphia.

Marty, 23, a tour guide at the Lincoln Museum in Washington, DC. As per Jeff's suggestion, Marty was our "token black man." I planned to kill him off early on.

David, 25, an IT man for a major DC computer firm. I asked him to stand in as the Frenchman.

Jacob and C.B. took the Canton dumpster while Gwen, Marty and David opted for the burnt-out Fells Point warehouse. David immediately described the warehouse as "spooky" and hesitated when I kicked down the rotting boards covering the main entrance. From off camera, you can hear my voice encouraging them to go inside and avoid the middle of the floor. I know this is poor filmmaking, but I figured CBS would overlook these flaws.

Gwen, who pretended to be Wiccan as a prelude to her frequent episodes of hypochondria, said the building was haunted. She even went so far as to lay her hands against the moldering walls and close her eyes. She was a natural over-actor, perfect for my camera! After several moments, Gwen claimed that a witch had been locked in this building and burnt alive decades ago. This really set the mood for some choice "Blair Witch" shots. To keep Gwen in a paranoid and slightly hysterical mood, I spent most of the night throwing rocks into the Inner Harbor and calling out her name. I thought this effective, not to mention amusing, but David still asked me stop.

I split my film crew into two groups each one armed with a stolen microphone from my weekend job and a VHS camcorder on loan from Gwen's parents. The group in Canton consisted of two long-time buddies and amateur filmmakers while my group in Fells Point consisted of myself and my trusty Office Girl.

We decided that the 40-minute montage could be put together in just one night, all CBS needed was an idea of what "Survivor: Baltimore" could deliver.

The Italico tribe in Fells Point had a rough night, which was perfect for my purposes.

I had asked them to kill and eat a rat to demonstrate the tensions that hunger could bring to a "tribe." Gwen and Marty spent much of the evening in the flooded cellar of the warehouse while David kept an eye on the street for cops and psychopaths. I wish I could have cut to David to illustrate the dangers of Baltimore at night, but the rat adventure was too vital for my proposal to abandon.

For 30 minutes, Gwen insisted that her "Here, rat-rat-rat" call would bring the vermin out from hiding. Finally, both Marty and myself had to tell her to shut up. She replied that, as a paralegal, she knew a lot more than I did. Another unprofessional moment was brewing until my Office Girl told all of us to shut up.

By an odd coincidence, Gwen was the first to stumble across a rat. She had originally mistook it for a cat and had foolishly approached it with a hand out, but when Marty put a light on the animal we were all horrified to find ourselves cornered by the largest rat in the universe. I cut the scenes that had us running through the cellar with the rat in hot pursuit, but friends have since suggested that I reinstate this footage and sell it to Miramax.

As in the original "Survivor" series, I provided a "confessional" for my contestants. The idea was to allow them to speak freely to the camera about their observations on life, the game and their teammates.

In the confessional, David admitted tearfully that he'd be a lot more comfortable in life if he had a carapace and a prehensile tale.

Marty spoke briefly about the rat incident, which he found amusing. He pointed off camera and said I ran like a girl. I accused him of squirting his pants and that shut him up.

Gwen mentioned a concern which we had all heard before about her cat. Every morning at 6am, her cat walks up onto her chest and meows loudly. She doesn't know why. From off camera, I mentioned feline psychosis and she nearly burst into tears. Then I told her that scientists in Germany had recently found out that cats really do steal people's breath at night.

Using the business cell phone, I called my crewman Jason over in Canton. He told me that he had filmed approximately 5 minutes of Jacob and C.B. feeding trash to a stray dog and then they had all retired to some yuppie bar. My Office Girl had turned the camera on me as Jason told me that they'd been on single malts all night. I asked him how he was paying for the scotch, already knowing the answer. Jason told me he was using the credit card and I started screaming at him. When we all watched the film the next evening, everyone but me found this scene hilarious.

I ended the film with a brief monologue, intercut with street scenes of Baltimore, about how survivors in the middle of the city could face danger and adventure with every moment. This was the "Real World" meets "Lonely Planet" meets some scared straight special on BET. Even though I would design it so that the token black man would be voted off in the first week, I still felt that the Negro population of Baltimore would be fairly represented.

The last thing you hear is my Office Girl telling me that the word "Negro" is inappropriate.

After wrapping up, I took my cast and crew to Max's for cigars and English beer. This was my usual breakfast, but lightweights like Gwen and my Office Girl ordered orange juice and salads. We all felt that CBS would snap up our idea, there was a wonderful air of confidence and success that is quite powerful to a sensitive person such as myself.

It's hard to be turned down, and I'll definitely need some time to recover. Jeff says I shouldn't give up, though. He thinks I should develop my "Around the World With A Carmelite Nun" idea.

Andrew Gifford is the author of The Most Holy Boble, located on 3 A.M. ENTERTAINMENT's SATIRE page.




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