In the summer of 1997 I was getting ready for my first solo show and a heat wave hit. I had been in group shows and two person shows, but this was the first time I'd take over a whole gallery. The show was set for October and though I had finished the paintings I still needed to varnish them. The humidity was making things too sticky, so I couldn't work until the heat wave passed.
I paced around for two days, agitated, and then from nowhere - to this day I don't know why or what came over me - I decided to write a screenplay.
Though I had watched a lot of movies I had never seen a screenplay nor had ever tried to write anything. Two uncles were writers, one crazier than the other, and after seeing what writing did to them I wanted to flunk English and go straight to art. Writing wasn't just something I hadn't done; it was something I didn't want to ever do. But there I was, sitting at the kitchen table, opening a notebook. What would I write about? An image came to mind of the Paula Cooper gallery on Wooster Street. I wasn't interested in writing about her gallery or people I knew, but I saw I did want to write about a world I knew. That was enough. I started writing.
It was like I was possessed. Eight days later, barely eating or sleeping, I had a finished draft. It was a love story about failure, set in the art world, a blend of comedy and drama. Half way through it a title came to me, BIG WORLD. Painting had always gripped me, but the specificity of words was a whole new thing. Writing was as satisfying as painting.
I had guessed at screenplay format so I ran to B. Dalton Books. There was a book of screenplays by William Goldman that seemed good and since I had never seen a screenplay I didn't know that he was the only screenwriter ever to use his own format. When I got home I dragged out an old IBM Selectric and over the next two days transposed my notebooks to typed pages. I didn't know how to type and went through two boxes of correction ribbon, and when I was done stared pleased as pink at the first draft of my 185 page screenplay.
By this time the heat wave had lifted so I went back into the studio and finished the paintings. I also signed up for a class, Directing the Actor, since I was going to make the script myself. The 6-week class started in August and during the first half of the class I rewrote BIG WORLD. I also burned out the Selectric and bought a ProWriter, a typewriter that could remember about 40 words and had built in correction tape. Goodbye correction ribbon.
The new draft had a gaping hole I didn't know how to fill, so I put the script down since I had an idea for another. This new screenplay would be set in the mall I worked at in high school and would be a story where the bad guy gets away with it and the bad guy's a girl.
When my show opened a classmate of mine from the acting class came to the opening. He was producing an indie he co-wrote and I told him my new idea. Right then he optioned it. It meant I'd get paid to write it. While he went into production on the indie I wrote a draft and while he was in post production I showed him the finish. He loved it, I was happy with it, nothing could happen with it until the indie finished completely, so I went back into BIG WORLD.
Synchronicity is a wild thing. Right then I got called for jury duty and brought a copy of it with me since there'd be a lot of idle time. I read it while sitting in the jury pool area and noticed the guy next to me kept glancing at the script. We started talking, his name was Jim Denault, he was a D.P. (Director of Photography) and I told him I wanted to direct the screenplay. He suggested I crew to learn how a film set worked and gave me the name of a producer crewing up. I called her, she had nothing available, I asked her if she could suggest anyone else I might call and she gave me the name of a production designer, Sharon Lomofsky. I called a few times and found out Sharon was crewing up for a movie called BAD MANNERS. "I'm an artist and I can make anything out of string and duct tape," I begged and she brought me in as an intern, an on set prop assistant, unpaid.
Shortly after that film wrapped the indie producer's film hit the festival circuit and started winning audience awards. He got a big agent, moved to LA, and was going to remake the indie into a big budget movie. When the option on my script came up he didn't renew it and I started throwing it over the fences of production companies. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing it.
On the set of BAD MANNERS I noticed this girl, Jessica Lichtner, was always huddled close with the director and producers, was front row for watching the cast in action, took notes on every shot, remained on set when the set was cleared, etc. Her title was script supervisor and I started talking to her during meals, asking her about her job. This girl knew her shit and let me tail her one day so I could watch what she was doing. When filming ended she took me on a two day gig she was doing pro bono for an MFA student at Columbia University and after the first day she turned it over to me. That job led to other student films, then back to low budget features. Here and there I'd day play as a grip, a production manager, a location scout, set dresser, etc. but mostly script supervisor.
For three years I crewed and the most important thing I learned was someone had to have a clear vision for the project. If a director or producer didn't, the project always bombed. (The indie producer's big budget remake never happened, despite his having a very clear vision. I was also starting to learn all the ways a project can derail.)
Eight months after the option expired on my script I contacted a production co. with a first look deal at Sony. They agreed to read it, they liked it and I started rolling my rock of Sisyphus forward.