It’s Sunday afternoon in the banquet room of a hotel in West Hollywood. I’m sitting across the table from a Hollywood producer pitching her on why my book, Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History, will make a great movie.
“It’s all true,” I tell her. “I’m not making a word of this up. It all happened.”
“Great,” she tells me. “I love true stories.”
“It’s about a group of people who basically start with nothing and create a $100 million forgery ring, the biggest in America.”
Suddenly the producer looks puzzled, like she ate something bad. “How? What are they forging?”
“Fake autographs. You know, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, superstars like that. And they’re forging these autographs on baseballs, jerseys, photos, posters—you name it. They produce hundreds of thousands of fakes and sell them on the home shopping channels, eBay, stores, all over the place. And they make millions in cash.”
“Okay,” she says, finally getting it. “What’s the story?”
So then I’m off and running, trying to squeeze a 300-page book that spans ten years and includes dozens of characters into a five-minute pitch. Although the time is tight, I can tell that the head of Dana Lustig Productions and her assistant are really into what I’m saying. They lean forward and wear serious expressions as I head into my dramatic climax—how the ring gets busted up, with more than 400 FBI agents seizing $10 million in counterfeit merchandise and 500 grand in cash in one day alone.
“Sorry,” she says when I’m done. “It isn’t the kind of thing we do. Great story, though. Let us know if there’s any development on it in the future.”
Oh well. Win some, lose some. Representatives from about 75 production companies—HBO, New Line Cinema, Paramount Pictures, to name a few—are present at this pitch conference, and so I quickly move over to speak to another movie producer potentially interested in my project.
How I came to be here is a story in itself. After Operation Bullpen came out lots of people commented on its movie potential. “You know,” said one typical email from a reader, “this would make a terrific movie.” The media have said the same thing. After appearing on ESPN I asked the host of the show how he thought the interview went. “As I was listening to you,” he said, “I was thinking to myself, ‘This sounds like a movie.’”
The reviews have mentioned the movies, too. “This is either the sports book of the year or the crime book of the year.” said the Oakland Tribune. “Either way, it’s a movie crying to be made.” Another reviewer said the book “reads like a John Grisham thriller with the good guys and bad guys playing a cat and mouse game in the world of big money autographs.” (True, Grisham writes novels, but most of his books are turned into movies.)
Interestingly, when I was interviewing “the good guys and the bad guys”—those involved in the conspiracy as well as the FBI and IRS agents that brought them down—people on both sides told me that while they were participating in the case, it felt to them sometimes like they were in a movie.
After hearing all these comments, I decided to come to this Sunset Boulevard hotel and sit across the table from two young women from Trillion Entertainment who, they told me, were looking for “female-driven material.”
“Well,” I say, “the main forger is a guy named Greg Marino, and he and his buddies go wild forging all this stuff. The thing gets so big that his mother Gloria gets involved. She becomes the financial kingpin and starts building her dream house with all the illegal cash they’re making. And the wives of the guys in the gang play a big role in it too.”
The women shake their head in near-perfect unison. I then step over to speak to another producer. Despite the misses, I’m getting some hits, too, some genuine interest. Hollywood people pride themselves on being cynical. They’ve heard it all, so many times before.
But if they’ve heard it all, why do they listen to pitches from writers such as myself? Because of the possibility that one of us will sit down across them and deliver a gold nugget of an idea.
And so it happens. Success! A producer I meet at the conference buys the rights to Operation Bullpen for development as a motion picture. Los Angeles screen agent Harlan Werner now represents the project in Hollywood.
This blog was adapted from an earlier article published by Sports Collectors Digest.