Jennifer Aniston and the perfect ending
by Patrick Tobin
I was always thinking up stories as a kid – fantastical tales in which I was the protagonist, and that were usually based on big plot devices like time travel. I didn’t write any of these stories down until I was in 6th grade. Instead, I simply told them to myself as way of making life in 1970s Montana a little more bearable for an anxious, chubby know-it-all, who was incredibly bad at sports.
I came to realize two important truths after I started writing down my stories:
1.) Nothing beats the high of a well-crafted sentence.
2.) Writing can sometimes be a real pain in the ass. I also discovered that the first truth mostly balances out the second, and I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
I went to film school at USC. I also took a short story class with T.C. Boyle, one of my favorite novelists. Both experiences confirmed my passion for telling stories that made a reader feel something. After college, I tried my hand at screenwriting but I was never very enthusiastic about any of those first scripts. Instead, I told stories that I thought would be commercial, instead of stories I really wanted to tell.
Eventually a family tragedy in the late 90s took me and my then boyfriend (now husband) out of California. I mostly gave up on being a screenwriter and started writing short stories and essays. I had to write pieces that meant something to me. Otherwise, what was the point?
Over time my stories and essays started getting published, including one called “Cake”. In 2009 I was invited to participate in a reading program at the Beverly Hills Public Library, where professional actors read some of my stories. The audience’s powerful response to “Cake” convinced me to adapt it into a screenplay.
It wasn’t an overnight process. Once again, my passion for storytelling had to be enough to motivate me to carve out precious writing time from a life full of work and family commitments (I’ve been very fortunate because my husband and family have always been incredibly supportive).
The first drafts weren’t very good, but I kept revising and entering the script in contests until it won the CineStory competition last year. CineStory is a terrific contest. I won $5,000 (this year the cash prize has been increased to $10,000), I was able to attend a 4-day retreat in Idyllwild, all-expenses paid. At the retreat, I was paired with three industry mentors: a professional screenwriter, an award-winning producer, and an agent from UTA, who offered me feedback on my script and advice on my career. The greatest prize was that Daniel Barnz (a past winner of CineStory) was a judge and after reading Cake, he and his husband/producing partner Ben Barnz optioned the project.
This was in September of last year. Over the course of the next few months I was signed by WME, I spent a month writing in Nantucket (part of my prize for winning the Nantucket Film Festival screenwriting competition), and Cake made it on The Black List. And it was announced that Jennifer Aniston is starring in the movie.
This fairy tale ending was beyond my wildest expectations, but I also know that if none of it had happened, the simple act of creating characters that I cared about was worth the time and effort. Even without “overnight” success, I’d still be telling myself stories the way I did when I was a kid.Tags: Ben Barnz, Beverly Hills Public Library reading program, Cake, CineStory, Daniel Barnz, Follow your Hollywood dreams, Jennifer Aniston, Nantucket Film Festival, Patrick Tobin, Screenwriter, Storytelling, T.C. Boyle, The Black List, United Talent Agency (UTA), USC film school, William Morris Endeavor (WME)