Tales from the Peloton, December 8, 2005
FROM: The Fat Cyclist
TO: Mr. Lance Armstrong
SUBJECT: Minor Changes to Your Screenplay
First off, thanks for letting me be one of the first people to see the screenplay you've just completed for your autobiographical movie. I loved it, and am absolutely positive that every cyclist in America would love it too. Cyclists will flock to this film, just as it's written; they'll love this window into your world, as well as the drama and pageantry that swirl around the Tour de France. In short, I feel confident, Lance, in guaranteeing that every single cycling enthusiast in America will go see this movie when it comes out.
Which is my gentle way of saying, Lance, that as written, your movie would be a complete and total disaster.
There are only about 6,000 cyclists in America, Lance. And this statistic is no less alarming even when you take into consideration that I just made it up. My point is: if you want this movie to succeed, you need to punch it up. Make it Hollywood-friendly. Give it some heat.
Here, then, are my suggestions for a rewrite of your screenplay, if you'd rather it be a summer blockbuster than an anonymous direct-to-DVD bust.
Change the Name
Yes, Lance, I know that your book, It's Not About the Bike, was a huge success. But that book was for a different audience. Specifically, it was for an audience of people who know how to read. For a movie, you can't go telling people what it's not about. That would be like serving your head on a platter to the critics. I mean, can't you just hear Roger Ebert opening his review of your movie saying something like, "Lance Armstrong's movie tells us it's not about his bike. That's all well and good, but I wish he would have taken the time to decide what it is about." (Note to Roger Ebert: I have copyrighted the preceding sentence. Hands off.)
So, then, what should you call the movie? I have a few suggestions:
- Ride: People love one-word titles. They're easy to remember. Also, it's both an imperative verb and a noun, so it both describes what you do and what the film is. It sounds strong, confident. Manly. This is my number-one recommendation.
- The Cyclist: This title makes it sound like you are really the only cyclist in the world. Everyone else is just a pretender. There's also a decent chance that many people will mistake "Cyclist" for "Cyclone," and we'll get a fair number of tickets purchased by the disaster-film crowd. Hey, let's not be picky; let's get butts in seats any way we can.
- Lance Loves Sheryl: This one's risky. If you call it this, we'll need to make sure that the movie trailers emphasize the love story aspect of your movie. The only way we'll get a greater than .000001% of the female audience for this film is if we make them think it's a romantic comedy.
Pump Up the Plot
Your life makes an inspiring story, Lance. Born into a humble, one-parent home, you showed great initial promise as a professional cyclist. Then you got cancer, but suffered through the treatment to emerge a stronger, more disciplined rider. Once you started riding in the Tour de France, you caught fire and won seven times in a row - showing a drive and consistency that is perhaps unmatched in the history of sport.
This kind of storyline is what we in the biz call a "non-starter."
You know what they're going to do when we pitch this movie, Lance? They are going to tear us to shreds. Here are the easy questions they'll ask, and how I propose we revise your screenplay so we can be ready for them:
- Where's the villain? Of course, cancer is the real villain in your life, but that doesn't exactly work on film, does it? We need someone who is doing his level best to thwart you - not just in racing, but in your personal life. I suggest Jan Ullrich is the right character for this role. We'll have to tweak his personality a little bit since Ullrich is in fact one of the nicest guys in the whole world, but the motivation part's easy: with each loss to you, Ullrich becomes more and more bitter, until he (let's say in 2002) he snaps and vows he will stop at nothing - nothing!!! - to defeat you. He commences a campaign of underhanded tactics all geared toward securing the top spot on the Tour de France podium.
- You mean once he starts winning, he just keeps winning? There's never a serious doubt that he'll keep winning? I'm sorry, Lance, but the first act (early promise) of your screenplay is incredibly ordinary, and the second act (enduring cancer treatment) makes you seem more like of a movie prop than an exciting film protagonist. We can tell those parts of the story in about twenty minutes anyways. Then there's the third act: Tour de France champion. It goes like this: You win the Tour de France. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. Then you win again. It gets a little predictable, Lance. Think about this for a second: Rocky lost in the first movie, and that's the only one that was any good.
- At the end of the movie he just RETIRES?! I'm sorry to use bold, italics, all-caps and excessive punctuation, Lance, but that's the way they're going to say it. I can't think of a more anticlimactic end to a movie than retirement. I suggest that in the movie, after your final tour you vow to fight crime, or you discover a cure to cancer while celebrating in a hotel, or something. Remember this Hollywood axiom, Lance: Any scene featuring a retirement must be followed with a scene wherein the newly-retired person is gunned down by his enemy. See any cop movie that has ever been made for an example of this.
I'm sure you don't have trouble telling Floyd Landis from Roberto Heras from Tyler Hamilton from Jan Ullrich from Ivan Basso, even when they've got their helmets on. You probably can also identify every team immediately, with just a quick glance at what they're doing.
I promise you, though, Lance: The movie-going audience, will be completely baffled by all these different people and uniforms. They will wonder, "How come there are so many people in this race? Didn't some get eliminated in semi-finals?" And you know what? They'll never figure out that there are several teams, with domestiques (Mr. Midwest: "Domestique? What's a 'domestique?'") riding in support of captains.
So here's what we do. First, we get rid of all but about seven racers, and five of them will be anonymous - their job will be to wipe out, drop off the back, acknowledge your superiority, and whatnot. We'll consolidate Floyd, Roberto, Tyler and Ivan into one all-purpose competitor, who we will call "Henry." Henry will not have a last name, and will communicate mostly through the medium of sweat.
Tactics Made Easy
As part of the general simplification of cycling for the moviegoing masses, we'll simplify tactics. We won't show you drafting along behind your team for 99.8% of a given stage, for example, because John. Q. Movieviewer would say, "How come Lance can't beat that guy?" Instead, we'll show you just shooting off the front at the beginning of the stage, and then staying off the front.
People will get that.
When you think about it, Lance, the whole idea of "stages" is fairly problematic. I mean, say you've never watched pro cycling before, and you come to this movie. It shows a guy coming in 20th or so, day after day. Maybe he wins one or two stages. Then, at the end, they say he won the whole thing. "No he didn't," Mr. Nascar Dad will reply. "I saw him lose over and over." So we're going to tweak the results a bit. We won't go and actually say you won every stage in the movie, but we'll only show the stages that you do win. That ought to do the trick.
There are a few other little things we'll need to change, Lance. Nothing big:
- Costumes: I think you'll agree that cycling uniforms look, well, silly. I'm in consultation with one of the hottest costume designers in Hollywood - she did both Daredevil and Pirates of the Carribean. She's going to start from the ground up. I promise, you are going to be blown away by her designs. Think high-gloss leather with a chamois.
- Location: Americans are very patriotic right now, Lance. Being a Texan yourself, you know that. What if the "Tour de France" became the "Tour de Freedom" and went from Alaska to Hawaii? That would rock.
- Podium Ceremony: Girls in knee-length dresses, giving you a peck on the cheek and a stuffed lion? I don't think so, Lance. I'm thinking full on rock-concert-level celebration, with Vegas showgirls doing the honors.
I've sent a copy of your script - along with these suggestions - to a top-notch team of Hollywood script-doctors, Lance. They asked me to give them some latitude as they wrote, and I figured you'd have no problem with that. I'm excited to see what they come up with.
Like I said, Lance, with a few tweaks here and there, we're going to have a great film that stays true to your story and the sport.
The Fat Cyclist
Elden Nelson blogs as the Fat Cyclist, where he dispenses strange notions, petty arguments, useless techniques, and wrongheaded opinions on a daily basis.
Note: This is satire. The Fat Cyclist has not really seen a script for a Lance Armstrong movie, and doesn't even know if one exists. Seriously.
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