It was some time in 2012 when I had one of the most important conversations with one of my fellow classmates. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t discover the substantial impact of this conversation until two years after it happened. I was walking through the halls of the Conlon Fine Arts building at Fitchburg State University, on my way to one of my film classes, when I bumped into Yayo Vang. Yayo and I had attended Mount Wachusett Community College together, or more commonly referred to as “The Mount”, before we decided to further our film escapades at Fitchburg State. Yayo was actually preparing to graduate at this time, while I was just beginning my time at Fitchburg. While we chatted, he asked me what my plans were for after I graduated. I may have given him a shoulder shrug or a half joking response of possibly heading out to LA, or something of that nature. Because the harsh reality was, I had no plans. I was just kind of doing what I normally do – winging it and seeing what happens. But then the conversation evolved into something more meaningful. He asked me, “well, don’t you like to write scripts? Isn’t that your thing?” Shit. That was my thing! I was finishing up my second feature script. At that time, I was just writing screenplays for fun, with absolutely no intention of making them myself. Just writing, submitting to screenplay contests, and stuffing them in my sock drawer for a rainy day, I suppose. Yayo told me that I should look into this place called Walden Media – a place that essentially catered to the one thing that I had become so infatuated with – screenplays. I remember quickly jotting the name of the company down in my notebook and thanking him for his suggestion.
Fast forward two years. I’m a senior. I had reached my last requirement to graduate – the internship. I remember meeting with my professors and my advisors, discussing my plans for where I wanted to intern. “I wanna be a screenwriter!” I said emphatically to them in all of the meetings. I proudly showed off a few of my scripts that I had written. Let’s be honest, I felt like a badass. A well-prepared badass, mind you. All of my professors beamed to life, genuinely supportive of my one and only goal. But to my dismay, they all gave me the same response – “you need to go out to LA.” I lifted my eyebrows. I asked myself, “Do I though? Do I really need to travel 3,000 miles away from home, spend over 10 grand to live out on the west coast for an entire semester, and then return home and be up to my knees in even more debt than I already will be after I graduate?
In that moment, my mind traveled back to the conversation I had with Yayo. But for some odd reason, I drew a blank. “What was the name of that god damn company he told me about?” I went home, I dug through all of my old notebooks that I had kept (thank god) and unveiled the very one that I had held that day in the hallway when I had one of the most important conversations of my life. I opened it up, rifled through the pages with purpose until I landed on that beautifully scribbled note that read, “Walden Media – screenplay place. Internship?” I took the information back to my professors and advisors and I spit out the name as the place I wanted to intern at. Not any old place. THE place. My main advisor, the big guy, the one who was responsible for helping me set up a potential internship said, “Oh yeah, Walden Media is a wonderful place for what you’re looking for.” Still to this day, that response remains one of the biggest, unsolved mysteries. Why they wouldn’t encourage me to go there or even bring it up as a potential place to intern, was and is beyond me. Every single last one of them had this notion in their brains that if a student had ambitions to become a screenwriter, they HAD to go to LA. It was imperative. There was no other route. Pack your bags, kid. You’re going to the big city! No thanks. I’ll just stay in my own backyard; do the same thing I would have done out in LA and save ten grand in the process. Anyway, I made the suggestion; my advisor hooked me up with a phone number and said, “Good luck. There’s no guarantees you’ll get in.” I called, I set up an interview, I went in for said interview, and I miraculously landed the internship. It was quite possibly the greatest stroke of luck I had ever experienced in my life. And I was psyched.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Walden Media. Who would have thought — a movie producing company, right there, one hour away from my home, in Burlington, MA. I remember walking into the office for the first time and gazing at all the beautifully framed movie posters of the movies they had produced – The Chronicles of Narnia, Journey to the Center of the Earth, even Tooth Fairy with The Rock, which I had found amusing considering I’m a diehard wrestling fan. I got the opportunity to read screenplays of movies that they would eventually produce – The Giver and Everest, to name two of the biggest. I would watch film dailies of The Giver as the film was being made (raw, uncut footage from production THAT DAY). The interns and I even got to watch a rough cut of the entire film of The Giver before it hit theaters that summer. It was mind blowing. It was surreal. I was completely in my element and I couldn’t have been happier. But that’s also when something really clicked with me. This internship gave me freedom. I walked into that office every day, lounged around in their comfy chairs in the lobby, flipped through the pages of screenplays, wrote coverage on them, and watched movies. I was literally dancing around inside the intracranial theater of my imagination for seven hours a day. This is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be free. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to collaborate with other creative people. I wanted to surround myself with like-minded individuals. I wanted to assemble a team of people who weren’t afraid of wearing their heart on their sleeve. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to sit down and actually write a screenplay that I could go out and film myself, on my own dollar. I wasn’t a cubicle guy. I was a let’s get outside and create some magic kind of guy.
We had a lunch routine — specifically Mike Goldenthal and I, another intern from Northeastern University who was heavily into music. We would find ourselves heading out to Chipotle a few days a week, which was literally a five minute walk from the office. I remember one day, he posed the same exact question that Yayo had asked me that day, in the hallway at school two years prior, “what do you plan on doing after interning here at Walden and graduating from college?” Unlike two years prior, when a shoulder shrug was the easiest form of a response, this time I had an actual answer to give to Mike. “I’m going to direct and produce my first feature length flick,” I responded with the utmost confidence. Mike was both curious and interested. “What’s it about? Do you have a script? Are you writing it? Where are you filming it?” At that time, I was in the midst of writing my third feature length script and the one I had every intention of filming myself. This one wasn’t going to be thrown in the sock drawer for a rainy day. This one was going to be brought to fruition.
I was working part time at a newspaper facility called Media News Printing while simultaneously interning at Walden. Media News was a job I had had for years. Management was very lenient and allowed me to work a few days a week because I was going to school at the time, so continuing to work there while I was interning was really no different. Over the years, and even after I graduated college, I spent a lot of my time inside the walls of that newspaper factory. It was a place I did a lot of my thinking, due to the fact the job was essentially mindless work. I stood in front of a machine and fed inserts into it, which are the advertisements and coupons you see in the middle of the newspaper when you crack it open. Many people think that process is done by hand. At one time I’m sure it was, but it’s actually done by machine. That was my job. I was an inserter. While many would consider this the type of job that could potentially kill brain cells, due to the lack of thinking and stimulation one should be doing and receiving throughout a normal day, I always thought of it as the contrary. This was my time to think. This was my time to play inside of my head. This was my time to create vast worlds with intriguing characters. This is the place I did a lot of my writing. I don’t mean physically writing either. I mean writing inside of my head. I believe writers do their best writing when they’re not actually writing. Some writers like to write while they’re in the shower. Some like to write while they’re driving to and from work. I liked to write while I was working. As I fed the inserts into the machine, I would gaze around and observe the building. I would study the details, the empty spaces, the machines, the sounds, the colors, and the types of people who inhabited this eccentric and busy place. I began to envision a group of guys in their mid-to-late twenties, working the night shift at this place. This was going to be a tightly-knit group of friends, not just co-workers or acquaintances. Some of these guys were going to have motivation and ambition. Some of them weren’t going to have a clue. Some of them were going to be serious, while others were going to be funny. I would later come to realize, these moments of studying and visualizing were the seeds being planted for something much bigger. These were the seeds for my third feature length script. The idea and the core location for my own movie had revealed itself. The idea for The Graveyard Gang was born.