Dec 13 2005

Previously, on “Who Are You People?” – Part I

Published by at 11:00 am under Who is this person?

“Backstory” is a term used to describe everything that has happened to characters before the movie begins. When Indiana Jones walks into Marion Ravenwood’s bar, she slugs him because he broke her heart years before. We don’t know the details of that heartbreak, because we never got to see it. It’s part of Indy’s backstory. And this is mine:
In 1977, my parents dragged me to see a film called Star Wars, and movies became my religion.
But it wasn’t until the next year, when I dragged them to see Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation of Lord of the Rings, that I had my epiphany. As Gandalf tumbled into the abyss with the Balrog, a thought popped into my 9-year-old brain:
“These movies don’t just appear out of nowhere. People make them… Maybe I could be one of those people.”
From that moment on, my future was decided. The rest of my childhood was spent making super 8 movies and waiting to grow up so I could go to film school. Had anyone told me how hard it would be to break into the film business, I would’ve become an architect, like my dad.
Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. Everybody told me how hard it would be, but I didn’t believe them. And, anyway, they had no fucking idea how hard it would be. They were off by several orders of magnitude.
In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t listen to them.
I got a film degree from Emerson College and entertained fantasies of becoming the next Spielberg. I hadn’t taken into account the roughly 7 million other kids out there for whom Star Wars had become a religion, who made super 8 films, who dreamed of going to film school and becoming the next Speilberg.
I spent several years bouncing from one dead-end job to the next, doing my best to find film-related work on the east coast. I was a production assistant on a couple of features. I wrote some infomercials. Served as production manager on a low-budget film. Then I taught myself how to use the new digital editing systems that were just coming out and went to work cutting cable TV documentaries.
But all the while, I was writing screenplays. I’d get up at 5 AM so I could put in a couple hours of writing before I went to my day job and my brain turned to Cool Whip. I wrote half a dozen screenplays this way. They were unfilmable, but had occasional moments of inspiration.
One of them made it to the quarterfinals of the Nicholl Fellowships. That earned me a phone call from a well known Hollywood agent. He asked to read the script. I sent it to him. He thought it showed promise, but wasn’t impressed enough to sign me. However, he encouraged me to send him any new scripts that I wrote.
This is just the kind of nibble that can keep a young screenwriter going for, literally, years.
I kept writing scripts. I kept sending them to the agent, and to other agents and producers. And I kept every rejection letter. But nothing was happening. I started to suspect that nothing would happen with the screenwriting unless I moved to Hollywood.
My editing career was going well. I was living in beautiful Vermont, earning a respectable salary and, for the first time in my life, I had health insurance. But I wasn’t dreaming of 401k’s, watching Gandalf tumble into that abyss.
So, I quit the job, climbed into my third-hand Cherokee with my neurotic Dalmation and drove 3000 miles to Los Angeles…

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