Where do you live (City, State, or Country)?
I grew up and currently live in the suburbs outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Which is why I talk funny… at least to West Coast folks.
Your script stood out among hundreds of others. What was the inspiration for your story and why did you write a script instead of a short story or a novel?
My wife made me do it! Seriously.
Down at the Val was inspired by my life experiences which included a thirteen year run as a bartender at a blue collar golf course. The course attracted a wide variety of people and I was always fascinated by how the older generation interacted with the younger one. Each generation always had something to teach the other and it was often funny and sometimes poignant.
The owner of the course was never on site (I met him once in thirteen years), One hot summer day, after several years of losing money, he simply closed the doors on us without warning. That led to the thing that gets all writers going… the “what if” question. What if the place was owned by three generations, a grandfather, his son and his grandson? What if the middle generation died and the grandson had left to strike out on his own? What would bring him back and what would he do if the place was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy when he returned?
I wrote it as a screenplay because that’s what I have the most experience writing. I’m a graphic designer these days and I think in visuals which translates faster to scripts. It’s also the type of movie I tend to watch and re-watch when I’m not watching superhero movies or Star Wars content. Although some would disagree, I think my little love letter to the golf course has a lot of the raw heart of The Bad News Bears (1976) and Jerry Maguire with a few sprinkles of Good Will Hunting.
How long did it take you to write your script...and what is your writing process? Do you outline...use index cards...white board...or just start with FADE IN?
With Down at the Val, it took me a little over a month to write the first draft. I do use index cards but only after I work up the courage to try and organize my notes on napkins, receipts and emails that I’ve written to myself. My process is simple. I determine what the beginning, middle and end of my story is going to be and create a rough outline. Then I use the index cards to beef up the outline. First drafts are the easy part. The real work is in the re-writes, which began on Down at the Val almost immediately. Using feedback from contests, I’ve done more drafts than I can count in the past two years. Not all contests are created equal, but after a year of experimenting, I’ve found a handful who are honest and knowledgeable.
What is your ultimate ambition as a writer?
I should probably get wistful and say that I’d like to see my name up on the big screen just one time, but I’d actually like to see it up there dozens or even a hundred times. And not just the silver screen, the streaming platforms, the television and whatever else gets invented over the next few decades.
Was your entry at The Wiki Screenplay Contest a full script or “the first ten pages”? Why did you make that choice?
The first submission was just the first ten pages, I liked the idea of it because it’s not just challenging, it’s true: if the first ten are no good, the next ninety won’t matter even if they are. I was invited to resubmit the full script for analysis after that.
What’s your all-time favorite movie or television show...and why?
Arthur (1981) is my all-time favorite, by far. Steve Gordon’s story is so primal that I think it will resonate forever. It’s the one that immediately comes to mind if someone asks, “If you were on a desert island and could only bring one movie…” It’s hero, a drunken millionaire who hasn’t worked a day in is life, shouldn’t work but it does. The love interest, a poor waitress who aspires to be an actress shouldn’t work either but it does. I’ve never had a butler but if I ever get one I hope he’s just like Hobson, including the smacks on the head when I’m being stupid. And the villain still terrifies me to this day. I’ve never shown Arthur to someone who didn’t fall in love with it almost as much as I have.
What advice do you have for writers hoping to win a contest or place as a finalist as you have?
Develop a thick skin. Then thicken it up some more. Always try to learn something new. Read everything you can on the subject. I recommend anything by Michael Hauge, Robert McCullough’s Stop Screwing Around And… (the whole series) and all the Save The Cat books even the ones that aren’t by the great Blake Snyder.
Remember that writing is subjective. Re-write and edit without mercy. Never fall into the trap of “I can’t kill my darlings.” They aren’t darlings. They are just words on the page and when they need to be cut or changed, do so like the Terminator: “Without pity, remorse, or fear.” Feedback is subjective, too. Absorb the good advice and reject the useless. If someone is telling you in plain English what you don’t want to hear, chances are it’s good advice. If a reader is overusing buzzwords, is not specific or contradicts themselves, ignore the nonsense and move on.
For feedback, find the good screenplay contests. I recommend the Wiki, but there are Lots of other good, honest contests out there. There’s also an abundance of scams. If you can’t afford to include feedback with your submission, try waiting until you can. Good, solid feedback has changed my life.
It’s a cliché - and I know writers aren’t supposed to use them - but remember to always get up one more time than they knock you down.
What else are you working on that the world needs to know about?
In 2001, I lost my sister Lynn when she was killed on United Airlines Flight 175 on 9/11. She was the person who encouraged me to write. Lynn was also my biggest fan and fiercest critic. In 2005, I wrote a book called A Day In The Life September 11, 2001: A Brother’s Account. The book was a tiny success and is long out of print now. However, it led to the opportunity of a lifetime, to write the screenplay version of it and have it made into a Hollywood movie. It should have been awesome. It should have been my dreams coming true before my eyes. Instead, the experience soured me. It was so heartbreaking that I walked away from all writing after that for about twelve years.
But it turns out, I was actually just dormant.
My next project is the screenplay based on that book and my life experiences since then. The world didn’t stop, so why should I? I spent the years studying and honing my craft and I’ve been practicing every single day. The next time I get the opportunity, I won’t screw it up. To quote the Terminator again but probably not for the last time…
“I’ll be back.”