The Journey of The Graveyard Gang – Part Two: The Written Word

I didn’t grow up wanting to become a screenwriter. I wish I could tell you I admired guys like George Lucas or Steven Spielberg from a very young age. I didn’t. Granted, I loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones and was introduced to them in my youth, but the whole “behind the scenes” type thing and producing movies, didn’t even register as an actual thought or a potential career. In fact, it was the opposite side of the camera I was infatuated with. I grew up admiring guys like Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Adam Sandler. I wanted to act. I wanted to be funny. I wanted to be the guy who was responsible for some audience member absolutely pissing themselves from laughter. I have vivid memories of that particular mindset coming into play as a child. I would stand in front of the mirror for hours, playing with my facial expressions, trying to match Jim Carrey’s mannerisms from some of his most notable movies at that time – The Mask, Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, etc. Those were the artists that caught my attention. Those were the guys I wanted to emulate and even become. But being the guy who actually stood BEHIND the camera, giving direction, and producing the material an audience member actually saw on screen? Psh. Perish the thought.

Fast forward to my teenage years. I’m entering high school and my biggest obsession was professional wrestling. Not amateur wrestling — not the real stuff you see in the Olympics. I’m talking about the staged stuff you see on TV — WWE. Tables, ladders, chairs, gorgeous women, the lights, the sounds, the stylized and elaborate entrances with theme songs, the pyrotechnics, but most importantly, above all – the gimmicks! I was enamored by the spectacle of it all. It was the gimmicks and the storylines and quite frankly, the campy factor, which I ultimately gravitated to. I was so obsessed, my friends and I ended up creating our own federation. Yes, we became “backyard wrestlers”. And we weren’t shy about it either. We built our own makeshift ring, an entrance ramp, and even used lights and sometimes fireworks (when we could get away with it). We would put on shows every Saturday night and advertise them at school all week, hoping anyone would come watch us. It caught on pretty quick. We drew crowds. We put on entertaining shows. We all had gimmicks. We all had our own entrance themes and our own characters. We had created our own universe with villains and heroes and champions. But to do all this, it required a bit of pre-meditation. This wasn’t something you could just do on a whim. It required creative meetings, beforehand, where we would discuss how the show (for that particular week) would play out. It required collaboration and teamwork. It required doing things “behind the scenes”. I was sixteen/seventeen years old and the thought had finally registered for the first time. A spark had been lit. A light bulb turned on. I could see it as clear as day now. I was a part of an actual production. I was playing the role of a “behind the scenes” type guy while simultaneously acting in front of the camera as well. Granted, it took me years later to figure out that being in front of the camera, ultimately was not my calling, but the seeds for a potential future as a guy who “produces the program” had been planted. I just didn’t know it yet.

Let’s fast forward again – a few years this time. I’m graduated from high school, attending my community college and studying Broadcasting and Electronic Media. I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating high school, so I figured my community college, “The Mount” would be an excellent place to get my feet wet with something. I was twenty, twenty-oneish and still obsessed with professional wrestling. Although, I had now graduated from the backyard to the minor leagues (if you will), or more commonly referred to as the independents (indies) of pro wrestling. Those are shows put on by real, trained wrestlers — guys who are trying to make it to TV (think double or triple A baseball). I was ring announcing all over New England on the weekends. Yupp, good ol’ me, MCing events somewhere in the backwoods of New Hampshire in a Knights of Columbus hall, or on the main street of a small Massachusetts town at a VFW, or at a large fair ground in Rhode Island in the middle of some large field, surrounded by carnies. But while I was doing all this crazy weekend warrior stuff, I was simultaneously continuing to learn about all this “behind the scenes” type stuff at school. My community college, The Mount, was such a hidden gem, and still is to this day. It has better audio and film equipment than most four year institutions or universities in New England. I was learning switch boards, I was in-studio, broadcasting live shows on local access television, I was learning how to use high-end, expensive cameras, and I was editing video and audio on industry standard software like Avid Premiere and Pro Tools. I was surrounded by a world of opportunity. The whole experience was so above me, I almost didn’t know where I was and how much I truly had at my disposal. I almost felt like I was taking it for granted, considering I had absent-mindedly signed up for Broadcasting and Electronic Media because I thought it sort of pertained to my interests (the whole ring announcing gig I was doing). I seriously contemplated switching my major a few times. What the hell was I going to do? I felt overwhelmed.

The fall semester of 2009 came, and I was still going strong in Broadcasting. I still had no idea what I was going to do with this degree when and if I actually got it. And then a former classmate from high school contacted me and sent me one of the most important messages that hooked me right back in, gave me confidence, and ultimately saved me from going in an entirely new direction in life. That former classmate’s name is Dave Schweitzer. Dave was currently out in LA. He had graduated from college and was living it up on the west coast (at least that’s how I viewed it and probably not even close to how he viewed it). Dave was a fellow Tromboner from band class in high school. He was a junior, when I was just entering my freshman year. I remember sitting beside him in class and establishing some common ground fairly quickly. That common ground was an unadulterated love for movies. I guess that was something Dave always remembered, which I am thankful for, because he contacted me about helping him make his first ever feature length movie. I was immediately intrigued by the message. A feature length movie? Not just some short video, you see on Youtube? This kid was talking about making a MOVIE. I thought it was one of the most ambitious and coolest things I had ever heard someone that I knew personally, actually say to me. The message even said something to the degree of, “Whatta yah think about helping a fellow tromboner out on making a movie?” It was both funny and serious. I really had no doubts or hesitations about helping Dave make his big project come to life. I was genuinely interested and saw it as a potential opportunity for something bigger. Dave was planning on moving back home, to the east coast, to pursue this independent venture of his. How could I say no? I’m a fairly goal-oriented guy, and I get bored really quickly. I was doing the ring announcing thing for a bit and I needed something else to occupy my time. I needed a new goal. Making a feature length movie became the next bullet point on that list.

Dave sent me the script to his movie and I dived right it. From the first few pages of dialogue, I was hooked. This was legit; the coolest thing ever to me at the time because I started to envision these scenes come to life inside of my head. I could see this actually happening and playing out as a real movie as I thoughtfully peeled back the pages of this script. It was feasible. It was also the very first screenplay I had ever read. And once I was finished, I had discovered an entirely newfound love in life – screenwriting. After reading Dave’s script, that was the first time I ever said, with confidence mind you, “shit, this is something I can actually see myself doing.”

Writing in general, was always something I was fairly decent at. But more importantly, it was something I enjoyed doing. Writing, especially in school, was never a drag.  My teachers in high school and even some college professors gave me heavy praise and really boosted my confidence when it came to my writing ability. I think I took numerous stabs at trying to write a book or a novel but it never really worked out for me. It’s just something I never had the ability to do, and I recognized that pretty early on. So in substitution for that, I chose to write movie reviews for my school newspaper, The Mount Observer. I was writing on a regular basis and I was even getting published. No complaints! But reading Dave’s script, introduced me to a whole new world of writing. This was technical writing while simultaneously giving you the ability to be creative. The format was much simpler than that of a novel or a book. You didn’t have to spend any time describing what a character felt internally. You didn’t have to describe in-depth how things, places, or how people looked. A screenplay is so much different in that regard. When writing a screenplay, it is the screenwriter’s job to only write exactly what an audience member is going to be physically seeing on screen. Therefore, all the internal monologue you read in novels (the part I was horrible at when it came to writing), was thrown out the window. Perfect! In a screenplay, all those intricate details come later. It’s the director and the actors job to fill in the blanks on set when filming the movie. Overtime, after reading countless screenplays and taking courses and studying it in college and even doing a fair amount of screenwriting myself, I learned a screenplay is a foundation — nothing more, nothing less. When you hand the screenplay to an actor, that’s when the construction of a potential cathedral begins. The screenwriter is the architect. The screenwriter makes the blueprint. The actors are the builders. The actors are the ones responsible for fueling your story with emotion and feeling. As the screenwriter, all I had to do was create a roadmap, hand it to the actors and say, have fun on your journey. It’s up to them and ultimately the director of the movie to decide whether they want to stay on course and follow that roadmap, direction for direction, or veer off course and take the scenic route and create their own magic through their ideas and improvisation. And that’s also when the screenwriter has to completely let go, remove himself/herself from the situation, sit back, and trust them to make the best possible movie from the foundation that you gave them to start with.

If it wasn’t for Dave contacting me and asking me to help out on his movie, I don’t know if I would be in the same exact position I am right now. I probably wouldn’t have my first feature length movie under my belt. I probably wouldn’t have written a single screenplay. Hell, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog. So I want to thank Dave Schweitzer for reaching out to me and giving me that opportunity to help him on his movie. I want to thank him for his leadership and his confidence to push through to get the job done, even in the shittiest situations – because god knows we hit an exorbitant amount of bumps when it came to making his movie – but it was imperative to hit those bumps. We did things the wrong way — numerous times. We had to. Because doing things the wrong way, showed us how to do it the right way the second or third or even the fourth time around. A lot of lessons were learned on the making of Dave’s movie and in a certain sense, he really prepared me more than anyone else for making my movie. It wasn’t some book from college, it wasn’t some class I took in school, it was the act of getting out there and doing it that actually taught me everything I needed to know to go out and try and make my own movie. And for that, I am grateful.

So then, after ALL of that, I sat down, I faced the blank white pages of Final Draft (screenwriting software), and I began hammering away at the movie that I had every intention of going out to make. I began to concoct that roadmap. I began to construct that blueprint. I began writing my third feature length script — The Graveyard Gang.

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