Archive for July 2008

The Long, Dark Diaper Change of the Soul

July 31, 2008

Somehow I’ve ended up on the night shift. It’s only fair; the Missus tends to the Peanut while I’m at work (at least until her maternity leave ends in a few weeks, no doubt prompting a Battle Royale on the home front), so she needs a break sometimes — a break that usually consists of her lapsing into a coma and not moving for a few hours.

Let me say this up front: we’re friggin’ lucky parents. 90 percent of the time, our baby is happy. She really doesn’t cry unless she’s hungry or has gas. She’s not particularly fussy, and so far we’ve discerned no signs of colic, knock wood. She eats so incessantly I occasionally refer to her as Audrey II, but that’s okay — I’m the same way, actually. Like father black hole, like daughter black hole.

Then the night falls, and WriterDad Manor turns into the set of EVIL DEAD, Valley Edition. The Peanut becomes possessed. She howls. She turns various shades of red. When I hold her, she grabs my shirt and pulls me close like we’re a couple of stuntmen and she’s about to fling me through the nearest wall. And I usually get to deal with her — which, like I said, is only fair. I think.

ANYWAY, picture this: it’s four in the morning, my wife is sleeping as peacefully as she can while I pace around with the Peanut, trying to calm her. I feed her. I replace the dirty diaper. I rock her. I occasionally attempt to sing “Stairway to Heaven” to her, though I can never remember the words and she doesn’t seem to appreciate my Robert Plant imitation anyway. Eventually she falls asleep, and a silence settles over our home that is so beautiful, I want to cry. Clearly my daughter feels the same way, because that’s about when she usually starts howling again.

It’s times like this, in the wolf hours, that my own demons start their nightly invasion.

Under normal circumstances, I am a champion sleeper. I can conk out anywhere, anytime, anyhow. The Missus marvels at this ability, except when she catches me snoozing with the baby in my arms. “At least you could sit down,” she says, sensibly enough. Because of this, I have never really been kept awake by the troubles in my life. Now I have the Peanut to do it for me.

It’s when I’m shuffling across our carpet in the middle of the night, semi-conscious and trying to avoid walking into walls while I grapple with the kid, that it hits me: You’re a loser. You’ve accomplished nothing of substance with your life. You have a resume that serves as testament to this fact — it was recently updated during a brief bout of unemployment, so you can’t even argue that it’s not accurate.

This isn’t actually true (or TOO true), of course — I have a loving wife, a beautiful baby, and the day job resume is thoroughly respectable, if a tad on the mediocre side. Hell, I’ve got that stupid script option, which you’re probably thoroughly sick of reading about. By most standards, I’m doing okay. Except that I’m not making a living writing, which tends to negate everything else during the night shift.

I know — it’s not exactly brain cancer. I have nothing to complain about, and I mostly don’t. But I’ve lived with this dream so long that sometimes, when I think about how long I’ve been chipping away at it, I wonder what I could have done to speed things up. At least until I realize that maybe things are going at the pace they’re supposed to go, and all the wishing in the world won’t make a difference. I just have to keep at it.

That was easier for me to tell myself when I was alone. But now I’ve got the family to think about and provide for. And, although it’s nothing to be ashamed of, I don’t want the kid to grow up believing that her old man is a career administrative assistant. One day, when my daughter’s teacher asks her what her father does for a living, I want the Peanut to get up in front of her class and say, proudly, “My daddy is a screenwriter.” Of course, given where we live, the next kid after her will probably say, “My daddy is a writer-director-producer with a four-picture first look deal at Warner Bros, an office on the lot and a parking space with his name on it. Suck it, bitches!” So I probably can’t win this one anyway. But still — it would be nice.

In the end, I guess I just want my kid to be as proud of me as I am of her. And she probably will be, no matter what I do for a living… at least until she turns eleven or twelve, anyway. Then all bets are off.

In the meantime, anybody want to come over tonight and hold a baby for a few hours while I sleep? She’s really cute. Honest.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll (Under the Nearest Desk)

July 30, 2008

I will never, ever, ever get used to earthquakes. 

I was at work when it hit today — at first the tremors were very mild, but they kept going… and growing.  As the building began to really sway and I thought to myself, “Oh, shit,” my boss called out from his office, “Get under your desk,” which I promptly did, dignity be damned.  Then, as the shaking got worse, he said, “Okay, let’s go.”  We took off down the nearby stairwell, but by the time we hit the street (along with seemingly everyone else in Encino), the quake was over.  I pulled out my cell to call the Missus when she beat me to it, saying that our place shook and a few little things fell off some shelves (in particular, a couple of stormtrooper action figures, which I’d like to think did the Wilhelm as they plummeted to the floor), but she and the Peanut were okay.

I know that all the hoopla in the media today might seem a little ridiculous in the eyes of non-Californian individuals — after all, nobody got hurt, nothing got ruined aside from possibly several thousand pairs of underwear.  But thing is, you don’t actually know that when you’re in the middle of it, especially a strong one like this; for all you know, this is the Big One and the ceiling is within two seconds of falling and turning you into a king-sized serving of Hamburger Helper.

So — do you have to move to LA to break into the film business?  In my opinion and my experience, it certainly helps.  Just realize that out here, the only thing more volatile than your career (or any actors you end up befriending, rooming with or getting served by in any given restaurant, come to think of it) is the ground beneath your very feet.  When it comes to Hollywood — both the city and the industry — just when you think you’re standing tall, something’s almost always ready to knock you on your ass.

Baby Bjorn Again

July 29, 2008

I am writing this with a baby strapped to my chest like a time bomb, an apt simile in more ways than one.  This is our first night trying out the Baby Bjorn — a contraption that took me, my wife and a phone call to NASA to figure out how to strap me into it — and it’s my feverish hope that I can somehow roll baby time and writing time into one gloriously efficient chunk of my day.  The way the Peanut’s squirming and making guttural winding-up noises, however, does not bode well.  Not at all.

Two minutes later: The kid’s with her mom, who’s doing her best to console her, and I’m trying to get this post done before I have to take over.  The dream is dead and my ears are ringing. 

Two minutes after that: The kid is back with me as my wife goes off to make us dinner.  I’m typing with one hand.  This is par for the course around here now.  When I grouse about my writing conditions, the Missus replies, “I could just feed her, you know.”

One hour and a bottle of breast milk (for the baby, not me) later: I’m back with both hands free, for the moment.  There have been times when I look back wistfully on my single days, with my fridge full of nothing but beer and evenings full of nothing but writing and watching such bachelor staples as ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and ZOOLANDER.  Sure, it was kind of a pathetic excuse for a life, but it was MY pathetic excuse for a life.  I answered to no one.  If I wanted to hole up in my apartment and do my west coast poor man’s Travis Bickle routine, I could.  The only thing getting between me and my dreams was me, which, admittedly, became more and more of an obstacle as time went on: by the time I reached my existential crisis point, I was telling myself that I didn’t have to write that night; I could watch, say, SUSPIRIA for the zillionth time and the new script would wait till tomorrow, unless it got in the way of the SLEEPER/DEMOLITION MAN double feature I’d been planning all week.

That all changed when the Missus came into the picture.  Suddenly, it wasn’t my time; it was OUR time.  And our time didn’t always involve a STAR WARS saga marathon (not without some serious sweet-talking, anyway).  I had to learn the delicate dance of compromise necessary for any kind of cohabitation that doesn’t involve duct tape around the mouth and wrists tied to chair arms to last more than a few months.

Fortunately, the Missus was much more lenient when it came to my writing, giving me the space I needed.  In fact, she frequently believed in my dreams more than *I* did, prodding me on when it would have been so much easier for me to zone out and listen to Iron Maiden albums all night.  I soon realized that I had something to prove and, for the first time in a long, long time, someone to prove it to other than myself.  I got my ass in gear and re-dedicated myself to the craft, trying to take things to the next level. 

Now it’s me, the Missus and the Peanut, who doesn’t give either of us much space for ANYTHING.  She has become the center of our little universe, which is the way it should be, but the result of which is that our time has become HER time: It doesn’t matter if Daddy dreams about becoming an A-list screenwriter and is right on the edge of solving his Act II problem — the baby’s got to be fed NOW.  Screw the second act, and the first while we’re at it.

So what do I do?  What I have to do — steal minutes here and there, try to maximize the precious little time I have to work on my projects, focus in a way that I never did before because I never HAD to before.  Chasing the screenwriting dream was once so easy because I had stripped my life down to essentially nothing but that dream.  The irony is that I’d stripped it down so severely that I had nothing left to write about.  Today, my life is so full of distractions that sometimes writing almost feels like an afterthought.  And maybe that’s why the work itself feels so energized.  Go figure.

How To Option a Screenplay in Only Four Years

July 28, 2008

Yesterday I finally forwarded a rough seven-page outline to my producers, detailing the changes I want to make in the next draft of the script they optioned — a project which, for the time being, we’ll refer to as the Wedding Comedy. I’m feeling a little ashamed; it’s been a week since our notes meeting and it took me all this time to put together the outline. Back in the day, it would’ve taken me a weekend, tops, but then again I never had to contend with diaper changes and feedings and the occasional emergency trip to Target to pick up a new cache of Huggies.

I’m always a little leery of showing an outline to anyone other than my trusted circle of readers. On the one hand, the producers told me, “Whatever you want to run by us, we’re here for you.” On the other hand, what they’re really saying is, “Whatever you want to run by us, we’re here for you… unless it sucks, in which case we’d prefer that you keep it to yourself, thank you very much.” You want to bounce ideas off them, but you don’t want to risk killing their enthusiasm with too many dumb or half-baked ones. My outlines tend to be pretty vague, too — the stories seem to come to life in the details, not the plotting. But if you DON’T share your outline, you might go off on your merry way, spend a couple of months writing a draft and hand it in, only to have your reader tell you that it’s exactly, precisely NOT what they were hoping for. This has happened to me. It’s not fun.

So I sent them the outline and got to bask in the warm, fuzzy glow of A) actually accomplishing something on the writing front, and B) being able to slack off (or blog) for the rest of the day without feeling guilty. Hopefully they’ll come back to me with a minimum of suggestions and I’ll then begin cranking out the revised pages sometime this week. In the meantime, I’ll indulge in some mental R&R by rocking a few rounds of BIOSHOCK, catching up on some reading or — most likely — staring, glassy-eyed, at my daughter as she sleeps in her crib, waiting for her to start crying again.

So how did I get to this point, anyway? (Dealing with script rewrites, I mean. You can probably figure out how I ended up with the baby.) The story of the Wedding Comedy is a pretty good case study of what can happen to your average script…

In the fall of 2004, I proposed to my girlfriend. Astoundingly — at least from my perspective — she accepted. When the euphoria wore off, I realized, “Holy shit, now we have to figure out how to pay for this thing.” Her parents were dead, so the traditional route of matrimonial funding wasn’t an option; ultimately my own folks helped out in a huge way, but we didn’t know this at first. We needed money, and lots of it.

One night, while idly pondering our situation, I had a totally absurd thought about how I could theoretically pay for the wedding. I actually made myself laugh, and when I pitched it to the Missus (my then-fiancee) she laughed, and it dawned on me: this was a movie, and as far as I could recall, no one had ever made it. And that was that — the next six months of my life were spent writing the Wedding Comedy, workshopping it with my writing group, soliciting feedback from my trusted circle of readers and burning through about 15 drafts (though some were more radically reworked than others).

By August of 2005, I had a draft that impressed one of my readers, a friend we’ll call JT. I originally met JT a couple of years before when, as an assistant at a prominent production company, he’d heard about my superhero comedy through the grapevine and asked to read it; he flipped over the script and quickly became my champion, throwing it at various execs, to no avail. But we became buddies and he turned into — and still is — an excellent source for feedback. So JT read the latest incarnation of the Wedding Comedy and asked if he could show it to a few friends in the biz. Not being an idiot (or not much of one, anyway), I said of course. One of the friends to whom JT showed the script was a manager who loved it and signed me. Working with his producing partners, WriterDad Manager #2 made a plan to go wide with the Wedding Comedy, sending it out across town in an attempt to start a bidding war. They were excited. I was excited. One day that fall, they finally put the plan into motion.

Crickets.

Manager #2 forwarded me the feedback as it finally filtered in — the script was too soft, not raunchy enough, too much of a romantic comedy, not enough of a romantic comedy, yadda, yadda, yadda. It was like my NATIONAL GUARD experience all over again.

But all was not lost — turned out that a development person at a prodco on the Universal lot liked the script. A lot. Not enough to buy it, of course, but still — she liked it a lot. I was called in for a meeting and we discussed the script, which she didn’t think was ready to show to her bosses. But if I made the changes that she was suggesting, maybe we’d have a shot with them.

Encouraged by this little ray of light, I went off and rewrote the script (on spec) based on her notes. The new draft was done by the spring of 2006, and when I handed in the script… crickets again. Eventually Manager #2 found out that she’d just lost interest in the project. We were dead in the water.

At that point I had moved on to my next project, so I wasn’t too broken up over this turn of events. At least I now had an admittedly tighter draft of the Wedding Comedy, which, because it had been turned down across town, was finished as a spec but still served as an excellent writing sample when the occasion arose.

Flash forward a year later, to the spring of 2007. In the meantime I’d had a true close call with my next script (a near-sale that was ultimately derailed by Dane Cook — something for a later blog post). Manager #2 was still using the Wedding Comedy as a sample, and submitted it to a production company to put me in the running for an open assignment. The producers read my script and promptly fell in love with it — what’s more, they had an idea of a reality star who could play the lead. The producers forwarded the script to the guy’s manager, who loved it and passed it on to the guy himself, who also loved it. Meetings were had, vague plans were made. But weirdly enough, nobody was offering to option my script yet — though they were proceeding as if they had. I rolled with it, figuring that it wasn’t like anything else was happening with the script. What the hell.

In August of 2007, the producers and Manager #2 went wide with the Wedding Comedy again, this time with the reality star attached and sporting a new title so readers couldn’t find in their databases that they’d already passed on the original spec draft. Not that it mattered: everybody passed again this time anyway. Given that the producers were pushing it as a raunchy comedy, execs thought the script was too soft, not raunchy enough. Bastards. They were right, of course, but they were still bastards.

Then the WGA strike in late 2007 killed our momentum. The various writer-directors the producers were trying to woo couldn’t touch the project. Everybody started to drift their separate ways. When the strike ended and the smoke cleared, Manager #2 informed me that the script was dead. Yet again.

By April of 2008, I was at loose ends. The Missus was pregnant, we had moved from West LA to the Valley, I had been laid off from my day job and I had parted ways with Manager #2, finding myself unrepresented and unemployed for the first time in years. Not a great period in my life. And then, out of the blue, the phone rang — the producers wanted to revive the Wedding Comedy. And they were bringing in another company to co-produce, a company with private equity behind them. The Wedding Comedy would be made as a dirt-cheap, non-WGA indie. And they wanted to finally option the script.

Various legal hurdles — most of them having nothing to do with me — had to be overcome over the next couple of months, but on July 3rd, a messenger delivered copies of the option-purchase agreement at my house for me to sign. I received my option check — the first (relatively) substantial amount of money I’d ever earned from my writing — a week later, the day after the Missus and I brought our daughter home from the hospital. The project is being fast-tracked for production this fall.

Of course, the whole thing could — and most likely will — go kaflooey at any point between now and then for any number of reasons, not the least of which being that I fail to deliver what the producers expect of me (i.e., turning the script into the raunchfest-with-a-heart that everybody had been saying it should’ve been all along). If they do exercise their option and make the movie, the screenplay purchase price won’t be enough for me to quit my day job (though, admittedly, it should be enough to zero the counter financially for us, which certainly counts as an amazing success in my book), and because it’s a non-union production the sale won’t get me into the Guild. BUT — I would have a movie made. And isn’t that why I set out to do this with my life in the first place?

So what have we learned, Charlie Brown? I suppose the main lesson is that sometimes a script is like a Romero zombie — you think the damned thing is finally dead but it just keeps going no matter how much you beat it with a shovel. Things may not turn out the way you hoped, but that doesn’t mean they won’t turn around in the future. This whole experience illustrates the main principle that I’ve learned in my time in Hollywood: there’s no such thing as the one Big Break. There’s ALWAYS going to be another — just as long as you hang in there and don’t let yourself get dragged out of the game by your own disappointment. As Richard Walter says, “Writers don’t fail. They quit.”

I refuse to quit. And damn it, so should you!

WriterDad: The Origin Story (Part 2)

July 27, 2008

Okay, so I’ve already discovered at least one downside to blogging — the Missus read yesterday’s post and said, “Oh, so you were working on your blog instead of your script?!”  It’s one thing for it to be an unspoken — or, more accurately, an occasionally spoken — fact between my wife and I that I can be the King of Procrastination; it’s quite another for me to literally spell it out on the Internet.  But clearly, sacrifices must be made in the name of… whatever it is that I’m trying to achieve here.

(Incidentally, I must be the luckiest guy in the world to have a wife who not only tolerates my knuckleheaded ambitions but actively encourages them — to the point that she occasionally takes me to task for allowing myself to get distracted by, oh, I don’t know, the web.  Or the Xbox.  Or that book that I’ve had on the shelf for the past three years that I suddenly, absolutely have to read now, right this second.  But more on this later…)

SO… where was I?  Late summer of 1997, driving to LA, bound for fortune and glory.  My buddy and I crossed the country, stopping at such sites as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Riverside, Iowa, which was advertised as the future birthplace of James T Kirk. (I would encourage everybody to make the pilgrimage themselves to see the cheesy Enterprise float that they’ve got sitting in a park in the middle of town… but you’d probably end up as disappointed as we were, so I won’t.)  Another friend met up with us in Vegas, and after a night of watching my buddies gamble, I set off alone for the final leg of my journey — across the desert into La-La Land, a city I had never seen in person before.

I was going to give my Hollywood experience at least a year, if I could last that long.  I ended up renting a tiny room in a crappy former frat house-turned-boarding house in Westwood for a couple hundred bucks a month.  I found a part-time job working for a TV station down in Torrance (the night shift again), temped when I could get the work and spent a horrible two week stretch telemarketing, attempting to sell recycled toner cartridges over the phone (the only period of my life in which I would wake up in the morning disappointed that I hadn’t died in my sleep the night before).  I learned to buy a loaf of bread, seven packets of Ramen, a jug of water and some canned fruit and call that my food supply for the week.

Two nights a week I went to UCLA for the Professional Program in Screenwriting, an experience that profoundly changed the way I approached screenwriting and movies in general.  One night is a general lecture given by writer Hal Ackerman, and the other night is your small group workshop, which is headed by whichever screenwriter-teacher to whom you’ve been randomly assigned.  My first quarter instructor was Tim Albaugh, a great writer and generally awesome guy who ended up becoming my mentor to this day.  I can credit Tim for everything good that has happened to me professionally over the years as he gave me the advice, criticism and encouragement that every newbie needs to hear along the way, helping me turn my terrible first drafts into not-quite-so-terrible specs.

Under Tim’s tutelage I wrote a dark thriller/drama that I submitted to the Professional Program’s yearly competition, and I was one of the winners that spring.  I got my name in Variety for the first time and production companies called me, asking to read my script; out of those inquiries I landed a handful of meetings, including a meet-and-greet with a development exec at Disney — my first studio ride-on pass!  I also became one of the first clients of a manager who is now a successful producer.  WriterDad Manager #1 pitched me the idea for an action movie and I bit, spending the next six months writing what, in retrospect, was a pretty horrible script.  (I can’t get myself to reveal the logline, but I’ll give you the title: NATIONAL GUARD.  Nothing good can possibly come of a script with a title like that.)  Not that either of us seemed to realize it at the time; the night before he sent it out, he said to me, “You know you could become a very rich man very soon, right?”  Of course I did.  I was ready for a Brinks truck to drop off that fortune in spec sale money — preferably in small, unmarked bills.  I would also accept gold coins.

Except that the spec tanked.  TANKED.  I got nothing out of it, not even a single meeting.  Manager #1 subsequently toyed with me like a bored cat with a half-eaten mouse, half-heartedly offering me feedback on my ideas for new specs until he finally stopped answering my calls and e-mails.  At the same time, my drama/thriller that got me the UCLA award didn’t even place in that year’s Nicholl Fellowships, and none of my meetings came to anything.  My Big Break was a bust.

… But I didn’t pack it up and move back in with my parents again.  By this point, I landed a day job that I would stay in for the next ten years, working as an assistant at a small educational media company; my paycheck (barely) paid my rent and expenses, allowing me to gradually begin to live like a human being again, and my boss essentially became my surrogate west coast father, serving as my other primary mentor and creative cheerleader.

And so this how I spent the rest of my twenties: working the day job and writing at night.  I didn’t have a girlfriend at this point and didn’t particularly want one — everything was about THE WORK.  I had few friends out here, no real social life.  Going to movies and concerts were just about the only things I would leave the apartment for that didn’t involve a paycheck.  I would periodically take classes with Tim down at UC Irvine, where he also taught.  I became a member of a writing group organized by Tim that has introduced me to many talented writers, including my buddy (and current writing partner) Dave.  After that initial burst of activity in my first year and a half in LA, I was content to slow down, woodshed and let things happen when they’d happen: my attitude was, when my scripts were good enough, people would come to me.  I had all the time in the world.

… Except that I didn’t.  When I was about to turn 30 I realized that I had wasted prime years running in circles.  Sure, I’d made some progress — one script in particular (a superhero comedy written well before they were in style) placed in the Nicholls and got me a bit of attention — but much of what I wrote just didn’t work.  I spent a year and a half on one project, a rock & roll thriller that I pitched as “CHINATOWN starring Axl Rose” that, like 90% of my writing during this period, never came together.  It soon dawned on me that it wasn’t just that my writing didn’t work anymore — my LIFE wasn’t working, and the writing suffered as a consequence.  My cozy little hermetically sealed universe was finally suffocating me.  I needed to open it up, let in some fresh air. 

In short, I needed a woman. 

Enter Match.com.  You can figure out how the story goes from here, rom-com style — after many awkward experiences (imagine it as a montage, with something obvious like Queen’s “Somebody to Love” playing on the soundtrack in case you don’t get the subtext), I find the woman of my dreams who turns me around and unleashes a torrent of creativity in me and we get married and ride into the sunset and fade to black.  And, astoundingly, that’s pretty much how it’s played out.  God knows it’s not easy all the time and we’re still banking on the happy ending that’s never a sure thing, but there’s no question that the years I’ve spent with the Missus have left me reborn as a person and as a writer.  In fact, our early relationship directly inspired the script that prompted WriterDad Manager #2 to sign me, which (years after I wrote the first draft) led that script being optioned earlier this month — the details of which will be the subject of my next, shorter post!

SO — that’s where I’m coming from.  Hopefully that gives a little context for the various anecdotes, tidbits, rants or whatever else I decide to write about in the future.  It’s probably too MUCH context, in which case, thanks for indulging me if you’ve read this far.  I’ll try to reel it in next time.

WriterDad: The Origin Story (Part 1)

July 25, 2008

So my worst fear has already been realized — all is currently silent in WriterDad Manor, and while my wife and baby snooze, I’m working on the blog instead of my script. Oh, well. Just this one time. From here on out, no blogging until the day’s quota of pages has been churned out.

Right.

ANYWAY… how did I get here, living in a rented townhouse in a remote corner of the San Fernando Valley with a spouse and child and credit card debt and two aging cars and furniture for our little patio (paid for with said credit card) and more or less everything else that’s supposed to come with suburban life? Wasn’t I supposed to be a Hollywood legend by now or something?

If you could hop into the Wayback Machine and ask this question of teenage WriterDad… the answer would be yes.

In this respect, my story is probably almost exactly the same as that of anybody else trying to break into the film business: an awkward, vaguely socially maladjusted geek obsessed with STAR WARS, Stephen King, vintage sci-fi novels and horror flicks catches the movie bug while watching HALLOWEEN for the first time in eighth grade, then proceeds to permanently hijack the family camcorder in order to pursue his dream of becoming the next John Carpenter. High school is largely spent churning out would-be classics such as TERROR PHONE and NIGHT OF THE OUIJA BOARD, and along the way Dad buys him a copy of Syd Field’s SCREENPLAY because it’s increasingly obvious that our hero knows as much about crafting a story as he does piloting a 747 with engine trouble. Lack of talent aside, dreams of becoming a writer-director fill his head; our hero lives, eats, sleeps and breathes movies and moviemaking, with the occasional break to pursue his other dream — to master the bass guitar and become the next Geddy Lee, only taller and with a slightly smaller nose.

He gets accepted into NYU film school but can’t afford to go. The media study department at the University at Buffalo offers him a scholarship and he takes it. What famous filmmaker has graduated from UB? Who cares? They’re offering money! (Later I found out that Brad Gray, Alan Zweibel — and, scoring an 11 out of 10 on the coolness factor, pharmacy major/future Black Sabbath front man Ronnie James Dio — attended my alma mater, making me feel better about my mercenary choice.)

Our hero becomes obsessed with Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Paul Schrader and Quentin Tarantino — he’s ready to make Art. Instead he makes a bunch of crappy little films on Super 8 and, later, 16mm. He has access to a Steenbeck and a Bolex and he’s not afraid to use them — at least until his senior project comes back from the lab and he realizes that he’s just spent hundreds of dollars on blank film. His screams of horror echo across the icy vastness of Buffalo in the dead of winter. He starts to think that maybe he should concentrate on the “writer” half of the writer-director equation instead — if nothing else, paper is cheap and you don’t have to thread it through a temperamental film gate.

Our hero applies to NYU for grad school. Doesn’t get in. He graduates from UB, moves back in with his parents and wonders what the hell he’s going to do with his life. He spends a lost post-college year at home, working the night shift at the local TV station, drinking beer, feeling vaguely sorry for himself and channeling his Gen X-style angst into a novel called THE SHADOWS OF TWILIGHT, the best thing about which is the awesomely pretentious title. The experience of writing the book cures him of any lingering desire he had to be a prose novelist, and he resolves to focus on screenplays exclusively.

He applies to USC and UCLA and doesn’t get into those grad schools those, either… but he gets a flyer for UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting, a yearlong course that costs a fraction of the grad program. He hits up his grandmother for the tuition money, signs up for the program, gets a second job loading newspaper vending machines at the crack of dawn and saves up as much cash as he can for his big move out west at the end of the summer.

Just before Labor Day, 1997, accompanied by a buddy who’s volunteered to keep him company on the journey (and, presumably, to keep him from chickening out along the way and returning to his parents’ home), our hero packs his Honda Civic and pulls out of upstate New York, bound for Los Angeles and cinematic greatness. Or so he hopes.

Next Post: I dispense with the tiresome third person and tell you what happened when I moved to LA.

Another Writer, Another Writing Blog…

July 25, 2008

Who the hell do I think I am?  Excellent question.

On July 3, 2008, I landed my first screenplay option after nearly eleven years of trying to break into Hollywood.  On July 6, 2008, my beautiful wife gave birth to our first child, an equally beautiful little girl.  The next draft of my script is due in mid-August.  My daughter doesn’t seem to understand the words, “Daddy’s got to write.”  I am a thirtysomething nearly professional writer who feels like he is in way over his head as he tries to deal with both producer notes and dirty diapers — I’m taking shit from both sides.  I am exhausted, exhilarated, terrified, stressed, overwhelmed and still weirdly delighted with the mess my life has suddenly become.  I need more hours in the day and a running tab at the local Starbucks.

What better time than this to start a blog?

I should just warn you beforehand: I am not John August.  I am not Jane Espenson.  I’m not even the guy who wrote one of those direct-to-DVD AMERICAN PIE sequels (though, frankly, I wouldn’t mind if I was).  I have been mistaken for David Cross, though that’s a different story.  I’m just some amiable dope from New Jersey who came out to Los Angeles with the dream of writing movies, but ended up getting a life along the way.  I can’t tell you how to write that million dollar spec in ten easy steps, but I maybe by sharing how I deal with the disappointments, setbacks and flat-out failures that every aspiring screenwriter periodically faces out here on the left coast, you’ll feel a little better as you try to keep your own dreams alive while life gets in the way.  And hopefully you’ll find my war stories and nuggets of hard-earned quasi-wisdom entertaining and maybe even a little enlightening.

At least you should find the pictures of my kid cute.

Anyway, welcome to my blog; thanks for reading.  Prepare yourself for hopefully semi-regular posts about writing, fatherhood, marriage, surviving the day job and the occasional geek-out about other stuff I love — movies, music, books, comic books.  Please bear with me as I attempt to master this wordpress thingie and work out my issues (both technical and psychological) in the cold, hard light of cyberspace.

Next up: the origin story of WriterDad!