Monthly Archives: March 2014

Breaking Away…

BreakingAwayPosterMarch 31, 2014 – Breaking Away was a film that came out during my junior year in college at the University of Georgia in Athens where I was cobbling together a “cinema major” by taking television and film production and writing classes in the school of journalism while minoring in theater so I could study playwriting, acting, and theater/film history. The first time I saw Breaking Away in a theater, I found myself on my feet, applauding and cheering along with the rest of the audience (a first, and, as it turns out, a last). I was so captivated that I dragged my friends to see it again and again. Breaking Away made me laugh in that euphoric way that actually feels really, really good. It also brought tears to my eyes in more than one moment. As an aspiring writer, I felt I had discovered the perfect screenplay. Steve Tesich‘s script is virtually flawless, with only one teeny sour note that grates me every time I watch the film (which I still do, every now and then, especially when I need to be reminded how to write), but one I quickly forget as the story unfolds. In the wake of the film’s success, including a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy and an Academy Award for best original screenplay (as well as other Oscar nominations including best picture), ABC snatched up the rights and announced that they were developing a TV pilot for the coming fall season―and that Athens, Georgia had been selected as the location to stand in for the film’s setting of Bloomington, Indiana. The minute the first location scout landed in town, I became a master stalker, ultimately making the right introductions (or just bumbling through and getting lucky) until I secured two full days of work as an extra on the film. It was my first exposure to the professional filmmaking process, and solidified my determination to work in the industry. On my first day, I ended up having lunch with Vince Gardenia, who had replaced the irreplaceable Paul Dooley in the role of the quintessential curmudgeonly dad. On my second, I got up the nerve to ask Steve Tesich (who also wrote the TV pilot) himself if I could join him at his table. As starstruck as I was, I managed to hold my end of the conversation, and Mr. Tesich was truly kind and very patient to tolerate my intrusive questions. When I asked him the cliche of cliches, “Any advice you could share? I really, truly want to write for movies and TV.” He looked at me and shrugged, “So write.” Probably the shortest and best advice anyone ever gave me. Years later, I was saddened to read of his sudden, unexpected death at an age younger than I am now, and felt that I had lost a friend and mentor even though our entire relationship took place in the catering tent over one meal. Those two days cemented my passion, and would ultimately change my life forever. Of course, I never mentioned that single tiny flaw, but speculation is welcome in the comments. Stay tuned…

A movie-crazy kid…

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 3.00.19 PMBob Thomas and Judy Garland in 1946 © The Los Angeles Times

March 15, 2014 – The Los Angeles Times is reporting the death of Hollywood “beat reporter” and celebrity biographer Bob Thomas, whose career as an entertainment journalist spanned over six decades, including reporting on a record sixty-six Academy Award ceremonies. His subjects included a who’s who of the Golden Age of Tinseltown: Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Betty Grable, and Joan Crawford to name a mere handful. He was also on hand the night Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. We’ve lost yet another eye witness to history. Stay tuned…

Hollywood at Home

sid-avery-hollywood-portraits-elizabeth-taylor.sw.10.sid-avery-photographs-vf-ss06                                                                                                                  © SID AVERY/MPTVIMAGES.COM March 11, 2014 – I love Vanity Fair magazine primarily for its Hollywood features, both Golden Age and contemporary. I especially love when they introduce me to a new artist, in this case, the amazing photographer Sid Avery who seemed to have a knack for capturing the stars in moments of everyday life. Of course, when your subjects are the likes of Paul Newman, Marlon Brandon, and Audrey Hepburn (to name just a few), it’s funny how even the most mundane tasks―like Anthony Perkins waxing his T-bird (which surely must be a euphemism for something)―take on a glamor all their own. To read the article and see more of Sid’s terrific work, click the image above. And stay tuned…

My connection to 20th Century Fox Studios…

20thLogoMarch 2, 2014 – When I moved to Los Angeles in 1986, you’d have been hard pressed to find a bigger, more starstruck rube in all of Southern California. As a kid growing up in Tucker, Georgia, I had fallen in love with all things Hollywood thanks mostly to NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, where I first saw films like To Kill a Mockingbird, Titanic (1953), The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (hey, I was a child), The Last Voyage, and many, many more. So when I arrived in the actual Dream Factory of my own dreams, I was wide-eyed and pathologically idiotic. Hell, I was even impressed whenever I’d drive by the 20th Century Fox Studios Lot on Pico (or any lot, for that matter) and see cars idling in the turn lane, signal lights pulsing, waiting to actually drive through the gate. I wondered (and fantasized) about who might be in those cars, what their place in Tinseltown might be, and whether or not I’d ever get to pull into that turn lane. My chance came pretty early on when I was sent to fill a temp assignment in the Legal Department there, working for a lawyer named Clifford Werber, who would be the project attorney on such films as The Abyss, Die Hard, and Alien Nation. That first day, I was practically shaking as I waited for the light to change so I could turn onto the lot, show my ID to the guard, and then set foot on the same ground once trod by Billy Wilder, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant, to name just a few. Sure, I had been to Universal as a tourist in 1978, but here I was, an actual employee with legitimate reason to be there. I’m embarrassed (and a bit charmed) to admit I asked one of my co-workers if I would be permitted to eat in the commissary. Walking there, I passed many sound stages, some with their massive doors yawning open, and I couldn’t resist peeking inside to see the real behind-the-scenes. I’m pretty sure it was that day when I saw Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft lunching in the sit-down executive dining room next to the more casual take-out side. Honestly, I wanted that day to last forever. I had loved the 20th Century Fox logo even as a child―that magnificent deco masterpiece with its sweeping spotlights and thundering fanfare, trumpeting the start of something magical. Working on  that lot cemented my love for that studio, and certainly influenced its selection for inclusion in my debut novel. And even though I was just there to answer phones, distribute legal documents, and type, I actually felt a part of that world. My one week job became permanent, and I remained there for three-and-a-half years, ultimately landing the plum position of legal clearance reader―meaning I got to read episodes of LA LawThe Tracey Ullman Show, Mr. Belvedere, and several others, flagging any potential legal issues and firing off  memos asking the producers to correct them, just like Darryl F. Zanuck or so I told myself. This upward move also meant I got my own windowless, walk-in closet sized office―in the still under construction Fox Plaza building, perhaps more infamously known as Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. That film was being shot when we moved into our new offices there, and throughout the day we’d hear machine gun fire echoing through the elevator shafts. One night, as I was walking out to go home, I was amazed to discover the entire exterior plaza had been “demolished” for the final cataclysmic scene. I was grinning like a dead pig in the sunshine as I walked toward the parking structure. One of the best parts of that gig, though, was that my office came complete with a computer and, even more importantly, a door. In between writing memos, I had plenty of time to work on my own material―most notably, a spec for The Wonder Years that would ultimately start my career. I didn’t know it at the time, but in another four years or so, I’d be returning to the Fox lot. This time as a bona fide writer-producer on the Emmy-winning series Picket Fences. Stay tuned…