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How Hollywood changed (and changed) my life

by Wesley Strick

It was just about this time of year – the promise of late spring ripening into summer – when my agent called to tell me she’d sold my spec to Warners. But everything else was different: the year was 1983, I was sharing a cramped one-bedroom with my girlfriend, working as a word processor at a life insurance company, still living in Manhattan – the borough where I was born, and had rarely left. As my agent spoke I kept pinching myself while trying to breathe, barely comprehending the talk about “optional polishes” and “backend,” knowing only that my life just changed, forever.

Yesterday my agent called (another agent, first agent retired) to discuss a script deal one of “the majors” is offering. I took the call in the Hollywood Hills home I share with my former girlfriend, now my wife of many years. (Our two sons are grown and have moved out.) I was absently gazing at my pool (which I’ve been heating for weeks but haven’t dipped even a toe into) as my agent and lawyer walked me through the steps, the money, etc. After hearing the terms, I said (quietly, firmly) “Let’s take the f***ing deal.” My reps agreed, and we hung up. Simple, easy, done.

Yet I woke in the wee hours last night and immediately knew I’d be up for awhile. My mind wasn’t racing, exactly, but it was busy doing the math: I’d stumbled into the movie business 31 years ago, had many ups and downs in the intervening 3-plus decades, had somehow gotten my name on 16 movies (I just checked IMDb for that number) and now find myself still standing – and, simultaneously, still stumbling.

In 1991 Premiere (magazine) dubbed me, in two consecutive issues, screenwriter of the moment and screenwriter du jour. I remember chuckling at this, calculating that in the space of just one month I’d inexplicably been promoted from a “moment” to a full day of career heat. And so far I’ve outlasted Premiere by seven years.

How did all this happen? A combination of factors: good luck, excellent timing, just enough talent, and a reserve of stubborn resolve. When I consider the unlikely but inarguable fact that I’m in the early stages of my fourth decade as a Hollywood screenwriter and occasional director, lyrics from the Frank Sinatra hit “That’s Life” – a song I always loathed – keep clogging my brain: “Ridin’ high in April, shot down in May” … “I’ve been up and down and over and out” and … well, you get the point: I’ve been at this long enough to have internalized the sentiments of a corny inspirational ditty from the Sixties.

Yet, weirdly, I continue to feel like a kid trying to break into the biz, struggling to crack the ever-changing code of what makes this town tick.

How do you keep going, years after your career has turned from nebula to red giant to white dwarf? My personal formula is a variation of that notorious line (penned by Mamet, bloviated by Baldwin) from the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross: “ABC. Always Be Closing.” My version goes like this: “ABC. Always Be Creating.”

What does that mean? It means that every morning I boot up my laptop and resume futzing with a new spec, or new idea … and remind myself that in my early-90’s heyday, my screenwriter du jour day(s), I was on Prozac. Whereas today I get by on a sense of gratitude for all I have, and pleasant disbelief that the words are still coming … and once in awhile, the phone still rings.

Alright, enough – back to work!

Wesley Strick

About Wesley Strick

Wesley Strick is a screenwriter, novelist and longtime Sundance Lab advisor. “Watching, Waiting,” a short film he wrote and directed, is currently on the festival circuit. His latest feature, “The Loft,” will be released by Universal this August.

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