Q&A Part 3:
Screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) was still doing studio feature work while continuing to live with his family in Denver when his manager opened doors for him to create (with Andrew Cosby) the TV show Haunted (which starred Matthew Fox) and the USA show Peacemakers with Larry Carroll.
The “meat grinder” writing demands on Haunted required Ramage to rent a home in the Hollywood Hills for a time, but the show was not picked up for a second season. Then Peacemakers went into pilot mode and soon went into production in Vancouver.
Scott W. Smith: In a five year period you had two features released, and co-created two different television programs that made it to air. That was a good run, why did you step back?
Rick Ramage: I was fairly burned-out. I was tired. So I came home to Denver and took a couple of years off. I was really drained.
SWS: Robert Redford once said something to the effect that you need to hit the reset button every ten years. What was your reset button?
RR:I wanted to go back to the classics for kids. So I came back home [to Denver] and was introduced to a guy who owns some banks and he said I have some money do you have any ideas? And I said, “yeah I do, I want to do this thing called Timeless Tales. The classics for kids. I want to do ten or 12 and they’d be a million dollars each. He said, “Well, let’s do one.”
So I went to a couple of friends who are songwriters and we adapted Ichabod, a play that I had produced years earlier into a film. We built Sleepy Hollow on a massive sound stage in Denver. And it was the most fun because as Bob Gunton [the warden in The Shawshank Redemption] said, it’s a hybrid between film and theater.
The premise was that Washington Irving tells the story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but he goes back in time to do it. Eventually you find out that Ichabod was Washington Irving. It was his experience in the Hollow. If you remember Ichabod disappeared into the hollow, so my take was he was actually Washington Irving telling the tale of redemption and forgiveness. There’s no violence in it. Ichabod! was the best experience of my life. I had fun directing it and it aired on PBS, then 2008 hit and the world went into turmoil.
SWS. Tell me about your most recent produced feature, Heaven Sent (2016).
RR: A guy I went to film school [Michael Landon Jr.] called me and said, “I’m looking at IMDB, it’s been a while.” And I said I’d taken some time off, and he said, “That’s great, now I can afford you. So let’s work together.” I was flattered because I liked Michael a lot. We were going to do a six-hour mini-series called the Nazarene. And it was supposedly funded, and realized the producer who shall remain nameless isn’t going to come through. Michael’s really an honorable guy and said, “Well, do you have anything else? We’ll set it up.” I said, yeah, I got a little Christmas story and I sent it to him and he loved it. We helped develop it and put it out for a weekend read. First script in a couple of years that I’d put out and it sold that weekend. And we had our green light by the end of that week. So it was another one of those magic carpet rides. And we set out to make it. It was a small budget like $3.6 million, but Michael and I produced it and it was a wonderful experience. We were in the final mix to finish it and we got a call that the company that financed it was going out of business. Though no fault of ours, our movie hadn’t even been seen yet. Then it went into receivership and it’s just now coming out later this year.
SWS: What are you working on now?
RR: I just finished a pilot with Michael so we’re about ready to go out with that. I’m working on a re-write which is a western, been approached to do a book adaptation, so life is good right now.
SWS: Your story from North Dakota and Denver, to AFI, to working on projects with Spielberg and Pollack, a #1 box office movie, to many spec scripts sales, along with work in TV and indie world, How do you sum up your career to this point?
RR: For me it comes down to one thing. if people like your work, if you continually turn in good scripts or good writing you’re going to stay employed. And the rest takes care of itself. Because Hollywood is a place where new talent, or talent they can rely on is always embraced. Like no other place on earth. In L.A. they’re looking for that guy or girl they can count on. And they’re also looking for that new talent. It’s pervasive. What I tell people all the time, especially new writers is read your third act as much as your first. Because we have a tendency to write fade out and think it’s done, but it’s not. That’s going to be your first calling card, and if you make it bullet proof—which doesn’t mean perfect (there’s no such thing). Bullet proof just means don’t let anybody sit there and shoot holes in it. Cause that’s what they’re looking to do. From the first reader, to the next reader, to the producer, to the executive, they’re all looking for reasons to say no. You know, when I’d put a spec out the company would say, “No, this isn’t for us, but you know we have something we’d like Rick to look at.” That’s a job. That keeps you employed. You’re doing a rewrite even if your spec didn’t sell. That’s the writing sample, not personality. I wasn’t part of the Hollywood scene at all. I flew in and did my business, and I flew out usually within two days. I had a life outside of L.A. and I think that kept L.A. fresh for me. Sometimes you forget you’re in the movie business in Denver, you’re just Rick Ramage to your friends, it’s no big deal. But then just walking through the gates a Paramount after a couple of months would really invigorate me. I was always in awe of the business. I felt bad for writers who got cynical over the years because it is a tough business and it can wear you down.
SWS: There’s been a lot of changes in the film business since you started your career. But indie films are still getting made, and many people are saying TV in its new modern golden era, and companies like Amazon and Netflix are creating content, what encouragement do you have for writers outside of L.A. who for whatever reason can’t uproot and go to L.A.? Can they they do it if they live in North Dakota or South Africa?
RR: I believe they can. From the bottom of my heart I believe they can, because it’s all about great stories. The one thing that’s worth a lot of money is a story. And if you have a good one, they’ll find you. Agents will find you because word will get out. I have this saying, “Don’t be afraid of rejection, be afraid of not being read.” At least if it’s a rejection you’ll know. That’s what scares me still. I still have a lot of phobias. When I write a script one of them is, “Will I be able to do it again?” and “How will it be received? Will it be read?” Those insecurities are indicative of our profession. We all go through it. It’s just part of the gig.