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Tales from the Peloton, December 8, 2005
Suggestions for the Lance Armstrong Movie
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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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