I pulled my car into the famous Melrose Gate of the Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood. The guard at the studio gate asked my name, scanned his clipboard and waved me through.
After parking beneath the Paramount water tower, I walked to my meeting looking up at facades constructed to look like New York City streets. I passed by men pushing large movie studio lights down the street, actors wearing Klingon makeup and Star Trek uniforms eating sandwiches on their lunch break, and Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer rehearsing with one another in a doorway.With each step, my mind began wandering backward in time. I thought how fortunate I was to have made my career in Hollywood for the past 30 years. And at the same time, how different Hollywood is from my days wandering across the Lawn.
After graduation in 1982, I packed everything I owned into a very small car, then stood underneath the maple tree in front of my childhood home and hugged my dad one last time. I explained that I had to follow my dream of working in Hollywood, even though I had no idea what journey what would lie ahead of me.
I’ll always remember what he said: “I love you. And I’m going to miss you. I won’t see you very often if you move so far away. But I understand what it means to you to follow your dream.” It was one of the last times I saw him before he died.
After driving across country in three days, I rented a temporary room in Los Angeles with bars on the windows and drunks breaking bottles on the streets outside my window at night. I longed for the day when I would break into the business and earn enough money to find a slightly better living arrangement.
I took my first real step in that direction after acceptance into one the most prestigious film schools in the country, what is now called the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
An executive at Universal Pictures, arranged my first big break: a job as a seating host at a restaurant on the Universal lot. Those were tough times, but within weeks I met a University of Southern California alum working at Universal Studios who saw one of my films at a USC screening. That connection led to me landing a job shooting animation on the Steven Spielberg film An American Tail. And working on that film led to me working on one feature film and television show after another.
As years passed, I wrote screenplays after work, and realized I needed to make relationships with agents and studio executives that would help me transition into screenwriting and producing. I eventually landed a job working as an assistant to literary and talent agents at two of the largest and most powerful agencies in Hollywood at the time—Agency for the Performing Arts and United Talent Agency. And at night after work I continued to write screenplays.
The restaurant job had also provided an opportunity to meet another screenwriter, Dan Loschack, also from Virginia, who was working as a waiter. Together we went on to write a screenplay. And because of the relationships I made working at the literary agency, we signed with our first agent, who optioned that first screenplay to Hollywood producers.
I left the agency in 1991 to start my own company and worked on hundreds of hours of programming for the networks, cable networks and feature films. I went on to write, produce or direct comedy television shows, feature film screenplays, television movies for networks such as Lifetime and television pilots that are now in development.
I am currently the creator and executive producer of a new music television series “Behind the Song,” which will feature world famous recording artists performing their greatest hits and talking about the inspiration for their songs.
I’ve also written and will direct in 2015 the feature film Hit the Gap, a sports drama based on a true-life story.
It’s not unusual to find me rewriting a screenplay, walking on movie studio back lots to meet with producers and executives or sitting in a director’s chair on location watching famous actors rehearsing. Although it feels a long way from Grounds, it’s not so far away from that maple tree and my dad standing beneath it.