Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Writing and Breaking In...

Had a great time last night at the Paley Television museum discussing Falling Skies along friends from DreamWorks and the members of the cast. After the session, a couple of folks pulled me aside and asked for advice on breaking into the writing business. I'm always happy to offer suggestions and encouragement, but everyone breaks in their own unique way.

That said, here's my short/sweet "breaking in" story.

I knew that I wanted to write stories since I was five years old, and I've always loved science fiction and comics. With that goal in mind, I tried to find venues for my writing work. I was editor of my high school newspaper, created an comics-related apa (amateur press alliance) when I was 14, took every film class I could in college and was always writing scripts. During that time I also made friends with other folks (in my home of Oregon and elsewhere) who were just as determined to make a living in this nutty racket as moi.

I moved to L.A. years ago determined to write and sell screenplays. Instead I spent five years selling classified ads at the Los Angeles Times, but during that time I managed to network my way into writing several feature scripts for very minimal money (like $500), one of which was actually produced. (I was rewritten and the movie sucks -- welcome to Hollywood.)

Some of those friends I made when I was younger continued their own efforts to break in, and two of them formed Dark Horse Comics. They asked me if I would write a book for them and I said yes, and that was my first published comic book (The American, buy the trade reprint!).

Side note: you might think that any writer eager to work in comics would take advantage of an offer like that, but Dark Horse was just an idea back then and a lot of small comics companies came and went without a whimper. I know several writers and artists who refused to work with Dark Horse in the early days, which was great, because it opened the door for new mugs like me.

ANYHOW, the relative success of The American led to other comics work, including spinoffs of the Aliens and Predator movies. My Predator comics led to a fateful meeting with Joel Silver, who intended to use my Predator story as the basis for a Predator 2 movie. During that meeting I was asked if I had anything else and I mentioned The American. Silver and Warner Bros. optioned the book, offering more for the option if I would back off and let someone else write it. I refused (which was high stakes gambling at the time, I was broke!), but fortunately those $500 screenplays I'd written were enough to convince them I could put i before e, and I was hired (for scale) to write the movie.

Then came a very critical moment. I learned later, from someone who has since become a good friend, that Silver's company already had another writer lined up to take my place when I inevitably tanked the script. But when I turned in the first 40 pages or so, they were surprised to discover it was actually pretty good. Getting that first job is one thing, executing is another.

The American never got made, or the next two feature projects I wrote for Silver's company, but the momentum led to selling Timecop and getting the rewrite job on The Mask... and I had officially broken in.

Anyone who cares to emulate that path, be my guest!


Blogger Heath Fodor said...

I really dug Timecop! It contains my favorite moment of any time travel movie. This was the scene when the villain meets himself. Very cool

5:40 AM  

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