The Floyd Landis movie I almost wrote. A true story.
Tyler Hamilton has a book called The Secret Race coming out in September co-written by Armstrong’s War author Daniel Coyle. It promises to be a detailed, behind the curtain look at doping and what it takes to win in pro cycling. (Lance isn’t going to like the story but he’ll get advance copies for his legal team.)
That is going to be an exciting read but here at Twisted Spoke, I’m still waiting for the Floyd Landis movie — the one I had a shot at writing.
I say that because one odd, unexpected day we were offered that job. It was such a bizarre occurrence that looking back, I half wonder whether that really happened — like some old Twilight Zone episode in a parallel universe with an alternate me and a duplicate Floyd. But it did happen.
About 18 months or 2 years ago, I got an email from somebody — let’s just call him Bob. He had read our wise-ass post on Landis signing for Rashaan Bahati’s cycling team. It struck us as hilarious that the Kid Rock, disgraced Mennonite white boy had hooked up with the inner city LA black bad-ass Bahati. It was like an outlandish cartoon, ebony and ivory, the visionary hot-head and the fallen hero.
Anyway Bob’s email was vague and my first take was uh-oh, I’m in legal trouble for writing something inflammatory. But his follow-up message was something else entirely — it was intriguing. He wanted to know if I could talk on the phone and that the conversation should be considered confidential.
Now, keep the chronology in mind: Landis had just dropped the doping atomic bomb on his former pal and mentor Lance Armstrong. Shit was hitting fans from California to Texas to UCI headquarters in Switzerland.
At that time I’d been writing a number of what I thought were hilarious stories treating the Landis-Armstrong battle like it was the best dark comedy-thriller on national TV. Every few weeks, I’d collect all the source news and spin it into a wild fabrication, as two fascinating characters — Lance and Floyd — went mano-a-mano, in a doping death match. Even Bicycling Magazine’s Joe Lindsey was reading it and laughing.
So given all that craziness, there was only one thing to do about the possible call with Bob — no matter where it would lead — good or bad. I make the call.
The mysterious Bob started by saying that he owed the rights to Floyd Landis’ life story. This seemed odd to me that some guy I’d never heard of had the rights or that Landis had even sold them. But I took it at face value. Then he said he had been enjoying the funny Lance & Landis Show posts I was writing. According to him, I was one of the few people who understood the craziness — in fact, he said the wildest stuff I was imagining wasn’t far from the truth and that I was just scratching the surface.
Then he hit me with the shocker — would I be interested in writing a screenplay for a Floyd Landis movie? That came so far out of the blue that I must have paused for a moment, cell phone silent. Of course I was interested but my mind was spinning — I was about to go down a rabbit hole so deep so fast I was already suffering from vertigo.
Twisted Spoke started as a comedic take on pro cycling and suddenly it felt like I was about to become a player in the dark conspiracy, I was about to become a person with secret knowledge, maybe I’d even get a subpoena from some investigative body. I might even make Pat McQuaid’s shit list — a true honor and extra motivation.
On the phone with Bob, I was trying to sound professional, intelligent, like I get offers of this kind all the time and turn down most because they’re beneath my massive talents. I said yes, there was only one answer possible. I was so excited I was prepared to do the job for free just for the total access to Landis, knowing that no matter what happened, I’d get enough material for a fantastic story –something I could sell to Outside magazine. This was a golden opportunity whatever the unpredictable outcome.
He wanted rough numbers and a delivery date for a screenplay — how long would it take to knock out a first draft to show investors and secure the funds for development? That’s when the warning lights came on, my first sign that this was a long shot and probably a fool’s errand.
I’d taken a number of screenwriting classes online from UCLA. I’d actually written two or three screenplays — first drafts — and pitched a movie idea to a major studio. I knew I could pull this off — and the story material was so good, how could I mess it up? Still, this all seemed sketchy — I could see never getting the paychecks and I pictured the huge time suck that would wreck my work schedule as a freelance advertising writer. My wife was already irritated with my no-income blogging and now I was set to waste a colossal amount of time with the high probability it would all be for nothing.
But the hook was set deep — here was somebody handing me what I considered the most fascinating story in pro cycling — all the revelations, all the insanity, the destruction of the Armstrong myth, one-on-one interviews with a flawed and complex and hilarious wild man named Floyd Landis. Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity? I was on a fast track from inconsequential cycling blogger to influential player in the sprawling Armstrong doping case. An ESPN or Sports Illustrated writer for kill for that access.
Over the next few weeks I put together the rough cost for a first draft of a screenplay and an even rougher guess at how much time I’d need with Landis. If they wanted Twisted Spoke, then I’d give them Twisted Spoke. In my head I pictured a Hunter Thompson-esque cycling version of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas with a little Sid & Nancy and Mad Max thrown in — a drug addled, fast moving, black comedy with Floyd holding court in the middle, an anti-hero, the mad Mennonite, the Legend killer, pointy red beard, shot of Jack Daniels, academy award.
The whole thing was crazy and it was making me crazy and I hadn’t even started yet. I tried to find out if this was real — I needed to talk with Floyd on the phone or in person. Yeah, sure, said Bob, we can set that up, no problem.
In the end, the phone call or meeting or even a late night drunken rant from his cabin in Idyllwild never happened. When the first few tentative plans fell through, it wasn’t unexpected. That was just Floyd, unpredictable, on the move, in hiding, dodging Armstrong lawyers, then suddenly appearing in the bright sun, firing off a few inflammatory statements before disappearing back into the jungle.
He was gonna be up in the Bay Area and maybe we could meet, I was gonna fly down to LA or San Diego but his schedule changed. Bob kept giving me the “yeah, yeah, yeah, no, this is gonna happen” routine. He’d tell me they had serious investors and we’d talk in broad terms about how you could tell any story without the Armstrong Army shutting down production before you’d shot a single frame.
I could feel this thing slipping away but it was still a powerful drug; it was too good to be true and I was unwilling to deal with the obvious reality. Even a phone call to Landis pal Neil Browne failed to dissuade me. Browne laughed and cast doubt on the whole operation. But I figured that even if the movie never happened, the ride would be so insanely fascinating that saying no wasn’t an option. I’d have stories for years, I’d be in the center of the biggest doping story in sports, I’d be hanging with Floyd, his confident and confessor.
Bob let it be known he’d contacted the famous Daniel Coyle, the writer who penned Armstrong’s War –and now the upcoming Hamilton book. Coyle had shown interest in writing the screenplay but didn’t for whatever reason — intelligence, wisdom? Shit, I thought –I’m the back-up to Coyle, I’m a pro, I’m a investigative journalist and screenwriter. Heady stuff and intoxicating fantasy.
I’d argued with Bob that a screenplay — 90 to 110 pages — would be a huge and stupid waste of time and money at this point. After all the screenwriting courses, I knew the first step was a treatment and that was the critical work. The treatment maps out the story beats in 15-20 pages and based on that, you can bring in any screenwriter, good or bad, and they can write the screenplay in four weeks. The treatment is everything, the screenplay almost writes itself after that.
Bob buys that argument and the story takes another turn. I still don’t have a meeting with Landis but now I get emails from some guy at a production company in LA. He wants me to get started on the treatment — investors are waiting — and he needs it fast.
I’m wondering how Landis hooked up with this company. I check their website and it’s mostly video promos for some minor African-American awards shows and some truly awful TV commercials. Production quality is low, their ideas borderline suck, they’re hacks in every sense. I see they’ve also done work with Bahati getting his team off the ground media-wise and that explains the connection.
Now I’m depressed because I get a sense of the half-ass, low budget approach. It gets worse when I call the guy at the production company. He’s nice enough but it’s clear his idea of a treatment and mine have nothing in common. He could knock this out in a day or two, you know, just to get it going. That’s what it’s about — writing some crap to get to the next meeting with people who don’t really have the money and have no intention of funding a suicidal movie project about a toxic guy named Floyd Landis who has 100 Armstrong lawyers breathing down his neck.
I’m looking at the operation and comparing that to how Armstrong would approach his movie. The contrast is so stark and revealing. Lance would hire the best director in Hollywood, get the best actor in Hollywood to portray him, he’d have an Academy Award winner doing the soundtrack, editing, production design, even catering. It would be first class all the way from the first scene to the film premiere. On comparison, Landis is a home movie shot on a borrowed super 8 videocamera and edited by a crackhead who usually cuts low budget porn movies. That’s part of the anti-hero charm of Floyd — he just doesn’t give a shit no more.
I never write the treatment, I never meet Landis and from that point on the project dies a silent death. Time passes and I cover my first Tour de France for Cycle Sport magazine. I never hear from Bob again. Armstrong beats the Federal government’s attempt to persecute him for misuse of US Postal government funds to bankroll a doping program. Landis pops in and out of the news but there’s no movie talk.
I look back and still wonder if things could somehow have worked out. What a ride it would have been. The only story I got was one that never started.