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Every Once In A While You Meet One Of The Good Guys

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

The emails kept coming. “I’m really sorry to do this to you, but I have to push our phone call back again. Check with me in about an hour.” Two, three, four of them showed up. Each time, my day was put on hold that much longer.

It couldn’t last all day, though. I had to go to work later in the afternoon. And like a kid waiting for Christmas to come, I didn’t want to put this off another day.

In May 2008, I finished grad school, packed everything I owned into my Chevy Cobalt and drove almost 5,000 miles to the other coast with my girlfriend, Kelsey. (Why 5,000 miles, you ask? Because we took our time and drove all over the place.) And though I had walked across a stage and worn a cap and gown and drank champagne, I hadn’t actually finished school; we all had to complete a 3 credit internship during the summer, and mine was going to be a writing “mentorship” with a Syracuse alumnus whose name I’m not going to mention… because he blew me off for a month and a half and then, upon finally meeting me for lunch at a vegan hole-in-the-wall (the first sign of the meeting going badly was when I asked for ranch dressing), promptly told me that he was too good to be working with me (or that I wasn’t good enough to work with him, I don’t remember…). But fortunately, I had a backup plan, and it worked out faaaaaaar better than it could have with the other guy. (At this point, at the risk of this becoming way longwinded, I should point out that I don’t really hold a grudge against the first guy; in fact, I totally see his point and don’t disagree with what he did. I just wish I hadn’t moved to California before it happened. But as I’m about to tell you, it all worked out anyways, so I’m ok with the fact that I moved out to California. All right, back to the story…)

Enter Adam Mazer.  I set up a new mentorship with him in about two phone calls, and a week later I was drinking a cup of  coffee with him at a sidewalk cafe not far from his office.  Within 30 seconds of pitching the project I wanted to work on, he had turned it on its head and improved the storyline in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Within 30 seconds of speaking with him, I was a better writer.

There was *nothing* on tv. There weren’t any new websites to checkout and nobody was posting anything on Facebook. The day was dragging, and there was nothing I could do to speed it up. I made lunch, but I didn’t want to be chewing when the phone call finally came through. I read through my script again and again. I kept checking my phone, making sure the battery was full, that it wasn’t on vibrate. Nothing happened.

Our meetings continued on a weekly basis for about two months, while I was shaping and expanding the treatment for my script, and we talked about plot points and character development and scene outlines, and I scrambled to write every word down when he was talking. And he did most of the talking.

The difference between film school and working with Adam was that they taught me what a story needs to have; he taught me how to find those qualities within the story. That instead of giving the protagonist a weakness or adding twists to build suspense, you can dig deeper into the story itself and find them. And those become the layers that you really try to bring to the front, those are the little moments that you’re looking to “create.” But they’re already there, if you look hard enough.

Already, you can see where I’m going with this. It was an out of this world experience. But even as I sat down and actually wrote the scenes out and played with dialogue and the time between our meetings stretched to three and four weeks, he was always available for an email or phone call, for a few words of advice or even to talk about being 3,000 miles from my family in a new city.

By mid-spring, I was well on my way with the first draft. And when it was done, I sent it over to Adam for his thoughts.

At this point, I should mention that in addition to being my mentor, Adam had his own career going on. His world clearly didn’t stop because I was in town and he had projects of his own that were actually, you know, good. So I knew he was up to something, but we didn’t focus much on it in our meetings.

With only hints to go on, I knew the subject of the film he was writing and that it was being produced through HBO. But I wasn’t privy to any of the other details. So I knew something was up when Adam put off our phone call to talk about my script. To begin with, it was unusual that we were talking on the phone and not meeting in person. In the weeks leading up, he had been out of the office more and more, taking meetings in Santa Monica, and we couldn’t actually meet face to face. When I finished the first draft of my script, he told me to give him two weeks and then we would set up a phone call.

And so, when our appointment came up, I was pacing around the living room, staring at my phone in anticipation. And when it didn’t ring when it was supposed to, and I waited almost half an hour before I decided to check my email, I was nervous for his critique, but excited. I hoped he would like it. I really hoped he would. All the late nights and hard work I had put into it, killing myself for the better part of a year, I didn’t know what I’d do if he simply said, “it’s good, but I’d start over.”

The email said that he was on a phone call and would get back to me an hour later than intended. The next email said roughly the same thing, and the email after that pushed it back almost two hours. I sat twiddling my thumbs.

At about 3:15, four hours after I had sat down to wait for the call, my phone rang.

“Hey Pete, it’s Adam. I’m really sorry about the wait, I’ve been on the phone for a while on this project I’m working on.”

The first time we met, I was under specific instructions from the department head of my program at Syracuse that our mentors were going out of their way to help us out, they weren’t being compensated, and that we should do our best to take as little of their time as possible. So after an hour of sitting in front of the coffee shop at Woodman and Ventura, about a block from a pet-grooming salon that walked dogs up and down the sidewalk, I closed my notepad and announced that our time was up.

“It’s been an hour, you’ve got places to be, so I don’t want to bother you any more today.” It was incredibly hard to say; the meeting had been going well and I was hanging on his words. Have you ever sat mesmerized by someone who knows everything you want to know?

His reply was curt. “Well, we’re here now, so why don’t we finish?” That first meeting lasted well over two and a half hours.

Back on the phone now, I wanted to disavow him of the notion that he needed to apologize to me. “It’s really all right, I assume that the more meetings you’re in, the better things are for you, and I don’t want to take anything away from that.” If the meetings had gone on longer than expected, though, was anything wrong, I asked.

“No, no. In fact, everything’s great. I just got off the phone with HBO and a few agents. Al Pacino has signed on to do the film. You’ll probably read about it in Variety tomorrow.”

My jaw dropped. My mouth went dry. I tried to speak.

“You just got Pacino?”

“Yeah, and John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. Barry Levinson is directing.”

“And you’re calling me? Shit, Adam, if I just found out Pacino wanted to be in my movie, I’d be running around the house naked.”

“Why don’t we talk about your script instead? Maybe I’ll do that later.”

And that’s what we did. For the next two and a half hours, we went page-by-page through my 130+ page script, fixing sequence issues, making plot adjustments, and even correcting a few embarrassing spelling errors. Again, Adam did most of the talking.

So I watched “You Don’t Know Jack” after it came out on HBO this past April, and for the first time I paid close attention to the Emmy nominations, where the movie was honored with six nods, including “Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special” for Adam and “Outstanding Lead Actor In A Miniseries Or Movie” for Pacino. Two nights ago, they both won their categories. I don’t know about Pacino, but I can say this: it couldn’t have happened to a better guy than Adam Mazer.

Congratulations, my friend.

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One Comment on “Every Once In A While You Meet One Of The Good Guys”

  1. 1 don said at 10:43 pm on August 31st, 2010:

    “You Don’t Know Jack” but you certainly seem to know Adam. This is a nice tip ‘o the hat to him. Congrats to Adam and what a great way for you to start your career. Cheers Pete.


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