Random Flashback of the Day: The Blacklist

I was watching an episode of the NBC show The Blacklist recently for the first time. 

In the series credits, I saw that the creator of the TV show was a guy named Jon Bokenkamp, and it caused me to have a flashback —

Way back when, I used to work in the Hollywood movie business in the mid 1990s.  At some point in my brief career, I worked for all types of companies, from the major studios to the talent agencies.  More on all that later —

While I was working at ICM in the motion picture department, one of the side hustles of assistants was to find new talent amongst the vast pool of the undiscovered.  It’s far harder than it sounds.  Imagine looking at a pile of hundreds of spec screenplays from unknown writers and picking the “one” that has potential.  Right?!

One day, some kid named Jon Bokenkamp called me.  He was a struggling wannabe screenwriter.  I remember him pestering me to read his spec script entitled “Preston Tylk” – it was on a stack of unread (and unsolicited) scripts a mile high.  I didn’t know him.

I think he must have called me once a week for months.  I finally put his script on the top and read it one weekend, as nobody else would give him the time of day.  I felt sorry for him.

It was a well written thriller about a man wrongly accused of murdering his wife.  But it needed work – it was still a bit rough.  I could have forgotten all about it (it was just one of many scripts one finds in need of development) and Jon Bokenkamp likely wouldn’t have had any career ahead of him, less he fell into it somewhere else.  

But I made a choice and a month later, I met with him and spent another couple months with my creative notes making it stronger.

I made an oral deal with him that if I got him representation at ICM and it got produced, I wanted credit as producer. He agreed. It wasn’t even about money. I just wanted credit.

Well, I made it happen.  My boss read the script and loved it.  It got him signed for representation at ICM.  An Oscar winning filmmaker, William Friedkin, even wanted to direct it at one point. 

I told Jon Bokenkamp that he should let William Friedkin direct it.  “Like, dude, you’re working as a parking attendant for min wage and an Oscar winning filmmaker wants to direct your screenplay.  Uh, he won an Oscar for directing one of the greatest action thrillers of all time …”  You might want to rethink.

But Bokenkamp refused.  He wanted to direct.  I thought it was a mistake.  William Friedkin could make it into a bigger and more dynamic movie.  The end result, produced years later was not a very good movie, mainly due to Bokenkamp’s sophomoric direction, in my opinion.  He wasn’t ready to direct.  It got mostly mediocre reviews. 

Actor Luke Wilson starred alongside Dennis Farina and it was retitled “Bad Seed” (terrible title) by the distributor.  It went straight to DVD in 2001. 

As for me,  I got shafted.  No producing credit.  I only get a “Special Thanks” credit.  Same old story.  Everybody gets screwed at least once in Hollywood.  Whatever. I’m just glad it got made.  But it would have been a far better movie with William Friedkin at the helm.

Jon Bokenkamp has not directed a movie since.  He did write some other studio feature films Taking Lives (2004) and The Call (2013).  His biggest success to date was creating NBC’s The Blacklist.

For as long as it lasts, someone even has the full-length version of “Bad Seed” (aka “Preston Tylk”) posted up on YouTube.

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