Three winning pitches, thousands of entries, a heap of hopefuls: we present, at last, our final cut

By EW Staff
Updated October 25, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Granted, screenwriting isn’t the most glamorous Hollywood profession (how many scribes have you seen cavorting with supermodels at premiere parties and awards shows?). But that didn’t stop the wannabe wordsmiths who entered the ”Win Your Hollywood Dream!” competition, sponsored by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY and Contestants were given a maximum of 500 words to describe their fab feature. And, apparently, our readers enjoy spending time in front of the keyboard as much as we do: Nearly 3,000 entries were received, the first 1,000 of which were judged by a team of EW editors, writers, and critics, who placed a premium on creativity, presentation, and marketability — and then narrowed the intimidating pile of submissions to just three winners. ”The treatments that we chose are fun and lively, and show a level of inventiveness that is really hard to find,” says assistant managing editor Mark Harris, one of the five final judges. ”But the next time somebody says to me, ‘I’m sure there are a million good screenplay ideas out there,’ I’m going to tell them they should’ve seen an awful lot of the entries that didn’t make the cut.” Here are the winners (not to mention our own casting choices for all the main roles), along with some background on the authors who proved that they had the write stuff.

WINNER NO. 1: I Second That Emotion

Whether it’s business or basketball, L.A. advertising executive Cole Hart always remains cool, calm, and collected. And he stays equally detached in the game of love. In fact, Cole believes love is a myth concocted by slick admen like himself. This doesn’t stop Cole from seducing women galore. But payback can be a bitch… and so can Janice, Cole’s latest ”pump and dump.” On the Internet, Janice finds a fiendishly fitting way to exact revenge on Mr. Hart-less: An Empathy Curse, placed on Cole’s lucky necklace, not only causes him to adopt the emotions of everyone he touches, but magnifies those emotions as well. From fear to lust to joy, Cole will experience everything at its extreme — and at the worst moment.

Right before a presentation to his agency’s biggest client (the fashion designer Vivaldo), a hug from a melancholy copywriter, Christopher, leaves Cole sobbing and attempting suicide with a glue stick. An argument follows between Cole and agency owner Big Jake, ending with a whimper when B.J. blows a brain fuse and collapses. Things only get worse when Cole pays a visit to the hospital. Gripped by animal lust — supplied by Vivaldo’s Viagra-chomping pet monkey — Cole tries to seduce a nun praying at B.J.’s bedside. Cole is fired and urged to consider rehab.

Meanwhile, amid the chaos, an unexpected romance blossoms between Cole and Eliana. She’s a former Cuban boat girl and current agency client who runs a shelter for refugees. As Cole feels Eliana’s growing affection for him, he gradually discovers that true love is no myth. At Big Jake’s funeral, Cole makes a last attempt to save his career. But a chance encounter with a lotto jackpot winner turns Cole’s eulogy into a wildly inappropriate dance of joy. With Cole’s professional life at rock bottom, Janice takes aim at the only positive thing left him: Eliana. After hours of pornographic preparation, a lustful Janice shows up on Cole’s doorstep and leaps into his arms. The curse prevents him from pushing her away. When Eliana arrives, just as Janice planned, she sees the libidinous duo and storms out. When Janice explains the curse to Cole, he rips off the necklace and comes to realize that despite the curse, his feelings for Eliana are real. Determined to prove his love, he sets out to finish the public service spots for Eliana’s shelter on his own.

During filming, Cole shares a tender moment with a boat boy and slays some of his own emotional demons. Christopher later sends the footage to Eliana, who melts at the sight of Cole’s true colors and forgives him. When the public service spots are lauded, Cole decides to open his own agency specializing in non-profit causes — a place where he can put his newfound passion to good use. And as for Eliana, she seconds that emotion.

AUTHORS Perry Grundman, 35; Chili Alvarez, 36
HOMETOWN Both live in L.A.
DAY JOB Both write promo copy for Fox video releases.
INSPIRATION ”I fell in love,” says Alvarez. ”I’m not the most emotional guy, but suddenly I was crying at things at the drop of a hat.”
GOAL A more fully developed treatment. ”I enjoy what I do,” says Grundman. ”But it’d be nice if my body of work was more than metaphors like ‘Stallone is pure adrenaline!”’

CASTING CALLED: Cole Hart/Ben Affleck, Janice/Sarah Michelle Gellar, Vivaldo/Nathan Lane, Big Jake/James Gandolfini, Eliana/Penelope Cruz, Christopher/Steve Zahn

WINNER NO. 2: Best New Artist

The Grammy Awards seem to carry a curse: the Best New Artist Award. Consider some of the ”winners”: Milli Vanilli, Starland Vocal Band, A Taste of Honey, Men at Work. It wasn’t too long after their victories that some of these bands were never heard from again. Mike and his pals are a bunch of rowdy college dropouts. Their band, Cop Car 69, is merely a vehicle for meeting girls and partying. Mike’s brother Vince (a longhair who loves the merging of classical and pop music) also fronts a band, the serious Top Ten Liszt. When a record rep comes to see Vince’s Top Ten Liszt, he sees dollar signs instead in Mike’s Cop Car 69. Their signature song, ”On a Mission to Uranus,” sounds like the second coming of Limp Bizkit.

Mike and his bandmates can’t believe their luck and are soon on the path to superstardom. They decide to trash a hotel room — ’cause that’s what rock bands do — but then argue about how to do it so that they still have a place to sleep (and then realize it wasn’t even their room). They bumble their way through an appearance at the MTV Beach House, barely controlling their hormones amid jiggling female fans. But then disaster strikes: Cop Car 69 are nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy. Sounds like good news to the other band members, but Mike thinks the award would doom the first job he’s ever taken seriously. Taking Vince’s advice, Mike plans to sabotage whatever chance Cop Car 69 have of winning the award.

All plans backfire, and the band becomes even more successful. The crowning moment comes when they play their hit hardcore song backed by the San Francisco Symphony. The critics love it. Also, they tape a music video that’s so conceptual it would humble Yoko Ono. But somehow the tape gets lost just before the Grammys. Finally, on award night, they try to pound the last nail in the coffin: They recruit Boyz II Men to join them in an a cappella version of ”Yellow Submarine.” While everything points to them winning anyway, suddenly the award goes to Abba Dabba Doo, a Swedish group that combines retro elements of ABBA and the Flintstones. Elated and relieved, the band joins the parties — but then remembers its weird conceptual video that’s just been found and is now over at MTV. A frenetic chase begins, charging through the Grammy after-parties and ending at MTV headquarters — to no avail. The video airs, and the band is instantly ruined.

As the end credits roll, Mike has happily joined Vince’s band and is taking the music seriously, even if Top Ten Liszt are playing a rocking version of Beethoven’s Fifth overlaid with dark, Johnny Cash-style lyrics.

AUTHOR John Murphy, 31
HOMETOWN Conshohocken, Pa.
DAY JOB An editor of Review of Optometry magazine
INSPIRATION The Milli Vanilli episode of Behind the Music. ”It was just an idea I had kicking around,” says Murphy. ”I figured, well, I’ll throw it out there and see what happens.”
GOAL To go from treatment to script — when he finds the time: ”You write all day [at work], and when you get home, you don’t want to write anymore.” Besides, says Murphy, ”I’m not desperate to join the Hollywood game.”

CASTING CALLED: Mike/Adam Sandler, Vince/Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cameo/MTV’S Carson Daly

WINNER NO. 3: The Fire

The scale and romance of Titanic meet the action and pyrotechnics of Backdraft in the action-romance The Fire. Set against the backdrop of the great Chicago Fire of 1871, The Fire integrates fictional and real-life characters as it tells the story of Patrick and Molly.

Patrick is a rookie fireman, haunted by the death of his parents. Under the tutelage of his uncle Thomas, Patrick learns the ropes of 19th-century fire fighting as he searches for redemption. Molly is a dance-hall beauty who works in the ”social club” of a local gangster, Frank Shaunessey. Molly hates the work, but it’s the only way to pay off her father’s debt. Shaunessey is a vicious thug who longs to be accepted into Chicago society. When Patrick sees Molly, it’s love at first sight, though when he pursues her, she tells him her time isn’t free. Shaunessey doesn’t like the idea of anyone touching his property without paying first. Patrick takes every opportunity to see Molly.

Fighting a blaze at an apartment building, Patrick recklessly runs into the inferno to save a child. Thomas follows his nephew into the blaze, but doesn’t make it out. Molly comes to the funeral to comfort Patrick. Shaunessey’s henchmen follow them, beat Patrick, and take Molly back to Shaunessey. Shaunessey, tired of Molly’s rejections, decides to take what he feels is his. Patrick returns to the brothel for Molly and takes her away with him.

Mrs. O’Leary’s infamous cow kicks over a kerosene lamp. The flames fan from the O’Leary barn, across Conley’s Patch to the giant steeple of St. Paul’s Church and toward the budding metropolis of downtown Chicago. Shaunessey’s henchmen find Molly and Patrick, but the lovers escape when the burning church steeple crashes to the ground. Patrick takes Molly to her father’s house, but there is nothing left but burning embers. They come across a lost child, Karrie, and take her on their journey.

We see the horrors, the heroism, and the human drama caused by the fire. When they come across a burning home with children inside, Patrick goes to help. When he returns, Molly and Karrie are gone. Patrick traverses the burning and overcrowded Randolph Street Bridge to get across the river to Molly. Patrick finds Molly and Karrie at the Waterworks, but Shaunessey is waiting for him. Patrick defeats Shaunessey in a bloody battle atop a blazing catwalk, but not before Molly is injured in the blaze. Patrick takes Molly and Karrie to Lincoln Park, along with a caravan of tens of thousands of Chicago’s newly homeless citizens. Molly dies as the rains come and quench the burning city. Patrick says goodbye to his love and takes hold of Karrie’s hand as they look out at the devastated landscape that was Chicago.

AUTHOR Steve Atkin, 38
HOMETOWN West Jordan, Utah
DAY JOB Project manager, American Express
INSPIRATION Mrs. O’Leary’s infamous cow. ”Everybody seems to know that old story, and so I wanted to find out if that really happened.”
GOAL ”I’m not looking to act or direct, but I do want to make a living writing screenplays.”

CASTING CALLED: Patrick/Tobey Macguire, Molly/Kate Hudson, Thomas/Bruce Willis