Arc of the Poet, Part 6: Serious Dreams
Coming into 1992, I was living a dream: working in development for Ivan Tors Entertainment at the Disney-MGM Studios, and hopeful that the screenplay I was writing for their lead feature project would launch my career as a screenwriter. But on May 5, the day I turned 26, I was laid off and asked to clean out my office in Bungalow 3 and turn in my backlot pass. Though it was a serious setback, I landed in decent shape, mainly because Beth was in my life. Later that month, together with legions of family members and friends, we experienced a glorious wedding amid the cornfields and Spring-time Illinois countryside, surrounded by love.
That era is one I look back on with a lot of pride… and disappointment; I really had high hopes of landing a major role in the movie business, and by that February, the path to success appeared right before my eyes. I thought I was well on my way.
Through my boss at Tors, I quickly came into contact with leaders at every major talent agency, countless successful independent and studio filmmakers, the best actors and craftspeople, and even Roy Disney, Dick Cook and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Along with writing a first pass on the “Flipper: The Movie” screenplay (where the story was not at all of my choosing) that was photocopied and sent off everywhere so fast it made my head spin, I also wrote and produced a marketing presentation that was screened and applauded by the aforementioned Disney royalty.
Meanwhile, over the course of eight months on the studio backlot, my colleagues and I were constantly on display to the streaming tourists who beheld us from trams, and through giant panel windows looking into soundstages, production offices, and post-production facilities. In the snapshots and home movies of too many tourists to count, we were the stars living the dream life, there among the Mickey Mouse topiaries, props and set pieces. That kingdom was proclaimed to be Hollywood East, and being inside was empowering.
That February, I was invited out to UCF to talk to a group of film students, and I gave them an earful, mixing encouragement with the type of canned pessimism you just can’t escape in “the industry.” Among many wise words, I shared these from industry author and luminary Raul da Silva:
“Filmmaking is one of the most difficult industries in the world to break into. It may offer great rewards, both spiritually and financially, but the Hollywood story aside, the real business (and the one that offers the most openings) is film as communication, not entertainment…. At last count, over one thousand schools, colleges, and universities offered some kind of film, video or audiovisual curriculum. Unfortunately, when it comes job time, most candidates lack the two most essential qualifications for communications filmmaking: the ability to write a script and a solid business and marketing background.”
I also have a letter I wrote to my brother at that time, where I spilled out my excitement over the fact that renowned director, producer, cinematographer and screenwriter Peter Hyams was at that time reviewing my draft of the Flipper screenplay, along with my detailed research notes. Sadly, over the following weeks, deals failed to materialize… and as new investors gained control of the project’s rights, my clear path vanished. In 1996, “Flipper” got made, starring Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood, and credited to many others.
Cut loose that May, Beth and I sailed into planning our wedding, and almost 19 years later, it is still a vivid and cherished memory for us and our loved ones. After our week-long honeymoon in a cabin in North Georgia, we came back home, picked up the pieces, and set out again. While scoring paychecks through staff and freelance jobs in the industry over the next year, I remained very serious about my literary aspirations. Some of the marketing experience I gained at Ivan Tors and through freelance writing gigs gave me a new angle. I wrote a story that appeared in Videography magazine, and soon began pursuing assignments with other industry trades. Encouraged by my success with nonfiction writing submissions, I renewed efforts to submit various poetry collections into contests, while also writing short and feature-length dramatic screenplays, and even more commercials, PSAs and scripts for marketing videos. Also, I continued to correspond with different literary agents, trying to gain representation, and getting some positive feedback along the way.
In the previous entry for this series, I mentioned receiving a letter from Charles Bukowski. My friend Hardy Edwards had asked me to write a screenplay treating certain Bukowski poems, and then, to try to get it cleared for promotional use. My early diplomatic efforts generated the briefest of missives: “Let this serve as notice that you are not within your rights,” signed by Bukowski himself. We did eventually get his permission to submit Hardy’s finished short film into a local festival, but earning the scorn of an artist I so admired was yet another humbling experience from 1992.
Through it all and into 1993, my life at home with Beth continued to be wonderfully rewarding. With her by my side, I kept dreaming big. While I wasn’t yet able to give her the security she deserved, I worked hard, and expressed my devotion using all the energy and artistry I could muster. In May of 1993, that involved some writing combined with my amateur filmmaking skills, using original photographs, a Super 8 movie shot back in 1990, a borrowed 8mm camcorder, and an audio cassette deck. The result appears at the top, touched up to make it a bit more presentable. It’s quite personal, but we’re all friends here. I hope you enjoy the video above for “Play.” Here are the words.
Words can’t make the stillness…
the windswept rooftop where our love
Our nap on that day, long ago,
gave me so much,
it took my words
There’s nothing to say,
it’s all inside.
Everyone knows without me telling:
I love you.
Arc of the Poet
Part 1: Life Poetry
Part 2: Tour de Force
Part 3: True Love
Part 4: Spinning Out
Part 5: Wake-Up Call
Part 6: Serious Dreams
Part 7: Home Stretch
Part 8: Feedback
Part 9: Dear Departures
Part 10: Good Poetry
Part 11: Rewrites
Part 12: Resistance
Part 13: Fame and Fortune
Part 14: Ramblings
Part 15: Being