Wednesday, September 30, 2015

POKER PALS


I cannot let the month slip away without mentioning that the last two covers of the Official WGA Magazine  Written By feature three extremely talented writers. All deserve the accolades they are receiving, not only for their most-recent work, but for their career work as well. 

And as it so happens, I know all three Professional Screenwriters as... my "Poker Pals."  
Back in the day, there was a monthly poker game, typically hosted by Director-Producer-Screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr. which many nights had enough players to fill two tables. Most of the regular players were Professional Screenwriters, but there were also guest players, including studio executives (Ricardo Mestres, Jay Stern); actors (Tom Hanks, Sean Astin) and even a certain playwright that will be remembered forever even though he played for just one night.*

The first time I played in the game I went away realizing I had a lot to learn.
Not about poker. I actually went home my first night a winner (and pretty much did well over the years I played).
What I had a lot to learn was about the entertainment industry. All around me, sitting at both tables were players holding cards who all seemed to know everything about the entertainment Industry — the producers, the studio executives, the projects that were dead, and the ones that were moving forward.
My attendance that first poker night ended up being a turning point in my career as a professional screenwriter. I dedicated myself to learn everything I could know about the inside workings of the Hollywood industry so it would help my writing career.

The three scribes featured in the WGA Magazines were there that night… and for years later. All three were always 
open and candid about their experiences in the industry. In fact, the failings I've had over my career sting more when I look back and see the career lessons that had been made available to me, but somehow I neglected to make holy. 


John McNamara was smart and witty, every night coming up with brilliant one liners that would have the whole room laughing. The soul of his droll remarks often had self-deprecation as its foundation, which ran counter to the confident, put-together appearance he always exuded. I believe this is one of the key themes running through all of
his best writing -- the huge differences between what often lies in front and behind the mask we all wear in public. This was on display in his creatively influential TV series, Profit, and includes his work on Lois and Clark




David Greenwald was a down-to-Earth guy,
one of the most approachable artists one could ever hope to meet. My specific respect for him as a screenwriter lies on his career trajectory -- he made the transition from a theatrical writing career to TV before anyone else. Whether it was from choice or necessity, what matters is that the transition led to his most distinguished work as a writer — as the main staff writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, followed by co-creating the spinoff ANGEL.

History is in David’s corner as TV has ended up being the place to be for many Professional Screenwriters who want to tell their best stories.


I worked with Jim Kouf when I sold a theatrical movie
pitch to Touchstone pictures (Disney). It was a pitch I set up at the studio largely due to Jim's enthusiasm and support for the project. 
After selling the pitch, we (my writing partner at the time was James Bonny) went to work writing the script with Jim every day on the studio lot, in his offices for weeks. 
Though the movie never got made, the experience of working with Jim has had a lasting and meaningful impact on my career. I could cite several things I learned from Jim. Actually, I have already, and will be doing so again.

But I close with this thought -- During the time I worked with Jim Kouf, he wasn’t my mentor. He was there to write and produce a theatrical film project we had set up at the studio.
Whatever I learned from him (or David / John), I learned on the fly. None of these men were mentors... teachers... or life coaches. Jim Kouf, David Greenwald, and John McNamara are on the covers of the WGA magazine because they are still actually writing scripts... Fighting the good fight to tell their stories as Professional Screenwriters.   

* The initials of the playwright are Aa S. His first and last appearance at the monthly poker game occurred during a visit to L.A. for a series of meetings with all the studios following the success of his recent Broadway hit. As he played cards he openly contemplated whether it was beneath him to pursue one of the many offers being thrown at him by Hollywood. I write this footnote as a huge fan of Aa S.’s work, but on that particular night, there was a mass migration of players from his table to the other table because no one could tolerate for very long his complete lack of appreciation for what was happening in his writing career, something that even professional screenwriters rarely have an opportunity to enjoy.