WriterDad: The Origin Story (Part 2)

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.

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2 Comments on “WriterDad: The Origin Story (Part 2)”

  1. William Says:

    The downside to blogging?

    Wait until you get into modifying the blog with plugins, altering the CSS etc.

    It’s over buddy, it’s over. 🙂

  2. writerdad303 Says:

    I’m already starting to feel that itch, unfortunately…:)

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