I grew up in San Francisco in the 60’s, living only blocks from The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin – and spending almost every night and weekend immersed in the culture of that amazing time – all music and politics. I attended U.C. Berkeley during the maelstrom of the late 60’s and early 70’s.
I’d developed a rather romantic notion about criminal defense. It echoed the reformist ethic of my upbringing. It felt consistent with the ‘values’ of my colorful Haight-Ashbury past. So I made a choice. Off to law school I went.
So I began my career in law, only to quickly discover my temperament and being a criminal defense attorney were a very bad match. Oil and water. So I fled.
I realized the one other thing I often fantasized about was the world of writers and writing. So I ran away to the circus – Los Angeles in the 80s appeared rather like a circus to my naïve eye – hoping to become the Maxwell Perkins of the screenwriting trade.
Maxwell E. Perkins was the single most influential book editor of the 20th century. He single-handedly discovered many of the most prominent American writers of the first half of the last century. During his tenure at Charles Scribner’s Sons, Perkins discovered and nurtured the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Ring Lardner, Ezra Pound and James Jones. “Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins” is a brilliant book, filled withg correspondence between Maxwell Perkins and his many authors.
I too wanted to discover great writing talent. I could envision myself nurturing their creativity, championing them to the world and building their careers. I imagined helping many excellent films to get produced along the way. I had a picture in my head, imagined being inspired by a tantalizing collection of creative minds, enjoying a seat at a latter day ‘Algonquin Round Table’.
I was sorely surprised to find it would not be so easy, not nearly so romantic an undertaking.
When I arrived, I knew virtually nothing of “the business” [the entertainment industry] and proceeded to interview with quite a few places, primarily studios. I couldn’t come close to getting a job. I knew no one and knew nothing about the business. They looked at me as if I was a stranger in a strange land. And it felt strange and foreign.
So I naively thought “oh well, I’ll just start my own company.” ‘Management’ was a relatively new and unregulated area, so I immediately started a literary management company. I focused on writers and writer-directors, because writing and story were my first loves. The first few years were lean, to say the least.
I’d long been enamored of both contemporary and classic films. I knew it was the calibre of the writing that separated out those that made a lasting impression on me.
Though impossible to list all that top my list of ‘great’ films, Graham Greene’s “The Third Man” would be near the top of the list. The creative prowess underpinning the unfolding mystery and relationship between Joseph Cotton’s ‘Holly Martins’ and Orson Welles ‘Harry Lime’ remains to this day a perfect fascination. This is the sort of magic that inspired me to want to discover and champion young film writers.
As much as I admired the work and contributions of directors, actors, producers and others, it is the writer who inhabits the cradle of creation. The process of writing is arduous, mysterious, challenging and inspiring to me.
I managed writers for better than ten years, the first six years just managing, and the last four or more years producing on the side. My initial foray into producing included some fun, if not well-known, small-budget independent films (Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, Pizza Man, a CBS movie-of-the-week Victim of Love starring Pierce Brosnan, among others). My experience with writers, and my desire to collaborate ever more closely, led me to choose producing as a full-time pursuit.
My admiration for writers and the years spent fighting battles on their behalf, giving story notes, making deals and learning how to be their best advocate afforded me the single greatest preparation to be an effective producer… and to develop career strategies that deliver consistent and measurable results.
I’m excited to continue collaborating with writers, developing more exciting films together. The surprise of discovering another brilliant story, another inspired writer, is its own reward.
I’ll be eternally grateful to the many creative and talented writers who’ve entrusted me – as their manager or as their producer – with their work and their careers. I’m certain they’ve taught me far more than I taught them.