Ever since I was a ten-year-old troublemaking punk growing up in the North Cambridge projects, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Not for fame and fortune. I didn’t even know or care about that back then. All I knew is that I wanted to get into people’s heads and mess them up the same way Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Harlan Ellison got into mine. Better yet, scare the bejesus out of them like Joseph Stefano’s masterful Outer Limits series had me and millions of other kids hiding behind our sofas in terror. That’s all.
In 1985, I had my first writing success in the Northwest Pacific Writers’ Conference Ferry Tales contest. They wanted a story as relates to ferries, the major source of transportation between Seattle and ports all over the San Juan de Fuca Straits, so I gave them one: “The Midnight Shuttle,” the story of a man who gets wicked heartburn and decides to get some fresh air on the last ferry ride out of Bremerton, Washington, only to discover he had died and was on Acheron, the mythic ferry to Hell. I was neck-deep in dark stuff at the time, and I wanted to share the dread. Writers and Christopher Nolan will understand.
That story took second place, and Heloise was slated to hand me my award at a dinner in Tacoma. That is, until I committed my one and only DUI in celebration of my victory and spent the weekend in county jail instead. Such are the ups and downs of life as a writer. In 1998 I decided to pursue a career in screenwriting. In 2004 my first script, Ludwig the Great, a Pythonesque twist on the life of King Ludwig II, garnered a number of prestigious award noms and an invite to a red carpet awards gala at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills. I met stars like Andy Garcia, comedic genius Barry W. Blaustein (a personal hero and inspiration of mine), and did I say there was an open bar? What more could an aspiring alcoholic hack scribe ask for?
I must say I traveled to the event with both great excitement and great trepidation. I was concerned that politics would come up. Not being one to hold my tongue, and possessed of a very low bullshit threshold, would I say something that would sink my career before it even started? To my great relief, politics never came up once. To all the professional and aspiring writers, actors, directors and producers attending the event, it was all about The Dream and the Next Great Project. This was the real blue collar Hollywood, I told myself. I assumed from that point on that since both the MSM and some major stars were left-wing, that the squeaky left wheels got all the press grease and to forget about it.
So I did. And as always, I kept my politics separate from my work. All I wanted to do was tell great stories. In that respect, I am still that same ten-year-old punk kid looking for trouble, only on the page instead of the streets. In October 2008 I began work on what I thought would be my best and most marketable project yet: “One Night at the Oscars,” a Marx Brothers-like screwball romantic comedy that introduces comedic chaos and anarchy into the most structured and controlled event on earth. In the end, I meant Oscars to be a loving tribute to Hollywood and the Academy Awards. Or at least the golden ideal, of which you speak a whisper and it’s gone.
In all that time I blew off Hollywood politics. To quote comedy god Mel Brooks, “Without Jews, fags and gypsies there is no theater!” They tend not to be conservative in thought or deed. Nature of the beast. So what? I grew up a stone’s throw from Harvard U. What do you think I haven’t seen? I hold no animosity toward any person until I’m given reason to. Then, in late February 2009 I was given nuclear-level reason with the Team Oscar trip to Iran, and not five days after the four-hour infomercial Oscars opposing Prop 8. The backstory. I had always opposed the fascist Islamist extremist regime in Iran since it was first spawned from Hell in 1979, but began blogging on Iran in 2008 after some atrocious human rights horror stories made the news.
I became online friends at that time with activist Arsham Parsi of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a Toronto-based NGO that helps LGBTs flee Iran or keep them from being deported back to certain death in Iran. I helped him with documents in English for his many refugee cases, and in every way I could. Why Team Oscar patronized a regime that conducts the most barbaric anti-gay pogrom in the world does not matter now. I could not be silent. I spoke my mind and my conscience is clear. If I never sell a script in Hollywood because of my many rants against such idiocy, so be it. I can live with never eating lunch in that town again. Hell, I have a Miss Canada and Miss Europe among my Iranian Facebook friends through my HR and anti-regime campaigning. I can live with that.
But IF I write a great script that is worthy of being made into a successful film which tells a great story millions will love and will make boffo box office, and I am denied work because of my strong opinions, who loses out in the end? Like I said, I care only for my co-writer and all the other creative film artists in Hollywood who do great work but stand to be shut out because of our political beliefs. What was McCarthyism again? And why is it okay for lefties and liberals to do it when Tailgunner Joe and Citizen Cohn are still reviled in Tinseltown for doing the same? I don’t ask for special treatment for my work. All I ask is the same shot every other screenwriter in town gets on the merits of their writing.
Hate me? Fine. Despise me to Hell? Great! See you there. Want to see me die screaming of rectal cancer? Come watch me in the oncology ward! Want to piss on my grave? I’ll buy the Colt 45 you can load up on, because that’s the kind of guy I am. But separate my work from my person. If I or anyone else writes a screenplay worthy of option, sale, production and release, does it really matter who writes it? Apply Mel Brooks’ famous axiom: “Great script! Thanks a lot, kid! Now get the fuck off the set!” I am not the judge of how worthy my scripts are. That is for industry professionals to decide.
But this is America, not Soviet Russia. The merits and talent of writers and other creative film artists should decide what work sells and what doesn’t, not petty tyrant political commissar gatekeepers who decide which writers work or don’t based not on the quality of their writing but their politics. Should Picasso’s Guernica never hang in a museum because he had bad things to say about the curators? Should Dylan Thomas’s poetry never be read because he may have slammed the poets of his day as morons? Should Hollywood iconoclast Harlan Ellison’s work never see the celluloid light of day because he tore the film industry new ones in his Glass Teat books? If all that happened, who would lose?
The simple answer is, all of us. I and my co-writer believe “One Night at the Oscars,” which we have just wrapped and registered with the WGA after three years and over a hundred hair-pulling rewrites, is a fresh, original, and crazy high concept, low budget, four quadrant kitchen sink screwball romantic comedy that uplifts even Academy members I have slammed in the past. Not to suck up or kiss ass to garner favor but because that’s how the story was always meant to be, and long before I went nuclear over Team Oscar’s Iran trip. See, I don’t ever let politics infect my work. Food for thought.
Should I find that that my work will never sell in Hollywood ever because of my blogging here and elsewhere, and no matter how good the storytelling and writing, so be it. I will retire to short story and novel writing, under a pen name if necessary if the publishing industry is as bad. But if any of those short story or novels achieve great success and film industry attention in the future, I’ll be damned if I ever sell the film rights to Hollywood while I live and breathe! That may sound bitter and petty, and would rob fans of being able to see a story they love on film, but what is it we were talking about here again?
Break a leg, all!