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…

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