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Posts Tagged ‘The Rookie’

“When I was writing Finding Forrester, I was writing it as a hobby.”
Screenwriter Mike Rich

“I knew (Finding Forrester) was a special story. I had confidence that it was. I still couldn’t get anybody to look at it. So I entered it in a competition.”
Mike Rich

The phrase “hobby screenwriter” pops up from time to time often with a derogatory tone. Much like people talk about the guys down the street with their little garage band. But the truth is— you gotta start somewhere. Before screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester, Secretariat) was paid to write screenplays he started writing screenplays as a hobby.

Rich was born in 1959 so he was almost 40 when his script for Finding Forrester was awarded a Nicholl Fellowship in 1998. So the big question is—what was he doing before that? Rich was a news director and DJ in Spokane and Portland (sometimes working the night-shift).

“A radio anchor by trade, he started writing screenplays in his late 30s as a creative outlet. Every day after work and before his children returned from school, he would sneak in two hours in front of the computer. After a few practice scripts, Rich wrote Finding Forester, a story about the relationship between a fatherless teen and a reclusive author. The screenplay won the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship award and Rich’s career was launched. Soon after, he was hired to write The Rookie for Disney, which grossed $75 million and further advanced his career. He’s been busy ever since.”
Christianity Today article by Drew Dyck

But what about that gap between completing writing Finding Forrester and winning the Nicholl Fellowship? (A place where many writers find themselves.)

“Rich tried all means to get his script out into the world: contacts, query letters and contests. Studios and production companies passed, which left the contests as his only hope. Though he didn’t make the cut in the Austin Film Festival’s screenwriting competition, winning the Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowship more than made up for it.”
Yahoo! Movies

Any questions why Rich has found success writing inspirational underdog stories? Do you think there are perhaps a few parallels between Rich’s life and the character in The Rookie played by Dennis Quaid? (Rich’s second produced script about a late-blooming baseball pitcher in the major leagues.)

And now that he’s completed a decade long run throughout his 40s (in a business where 40 is considered old) his career doesn’t appear to be slowing down. A few years ago he was asked about his writing schedule.

“I get up in the morning at about 6:30 a.m. Read the newspaper and do the morning thing for an hour or so. And then I write for four hours or so. Take a lunch break. Go to the (fitness) club, maybe, just to get a break. Then I’ll write for another couple of hours. And then that’s usually it. Six hours is about my ceiling, because after six hours, you may think it’s good but … So, then you call it a day. And do it again the next day. I do it Monday through Friday and I take the weekends off.”
Mike Rich
Absolute Write interview by Jennifer Dirks

Writers are great at writing excuses. But let’s review all the excuses Rich had to not write and break in;
1) Full time job
2) Wife and kids
3) Lived outside L.A. (For the record, he still does)
4) Didn’t try hand at screenwriting until his 30s
5) Could only sneak in two hours a day writing
6) Wrote a few screenplays without success
7) Wrote Finding Forrester, but couldn’t get it optioned
8) Decided to go the contest route
9) Didn’t win contests
10) Sent script to the Nicholl Fellowship with several thousand other people

But there he is today with a screenwriting hobby turned career, and a nice stack of hit films in the last ten years. An example of the good ole’ patience, practice, perseverance school of screenwriting.

P.S. Mike Rich also did uncredited writing on the 2004 Disney film Miracle. Here’s a 2 1/2 minute video I made earlier this year surrounding the events of that team and movie.

Related  post: Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl from Ohio

Scott W. Smith

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If you’re looking for a poster child for a screenwriter outside of L.A. who has been able to have a Hollywood career — Mike Rich definitely qualifies. Born in Enterprise, Oregon, he graduated from Oregon State University, and he now lives in Portland, Oregon.

He was awarded a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting in 1998 for his script that in 2000 became a film starring Sean Connery, Finding Forrester. He followed that up with The Rookie, Radio,  The Nativity Story, and most recently Secretariat. (And uncredited work on both Miracle and Invincible.)

“A great story isn’t so much about the story as it is the character. What attracts me to a story is the characters involved. With Secretariat what makes the story work is the character. If you don’t have good characters, it doesn’t matter how strong your story is, it’ll sink. For me, it’s always been about finding that character that I could really sink my teeth into.”
Screenwriter Mike Rich
Tri-City Herald interview by Gary Wolcott

So if you want to launch a career from outside L.A.—being awarded a Nicholl Fellowship is a good start. All you have to do is write a script that is better than the other 5,ooo or 6,000 scripts that the Fellowship receives each year and then get someone like Sean Connery interested in the script.

Scott W. Smith

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Screenwriter/director John Lee Hancock earned an English degree at Baylor University and a law degree from Baylor Law School, both in Waco, Texas. His first credited film was in 1991 with a film called Hard Time Romance. In 1993 he wrote the script for A Perfect World which starred Kevin Costner and was directed by Clint Eastwood. He considers Eastwood his mentor and went on to write the script for the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which Eastwood also directed. Among other films Hancock worked on include The Rookie which he directed and My Dog Skip which he was a producer.

But almost 20 years after his first film credit he had his biggest success critically and at the box office with the 2009 film The Blind Side which he both wrote and directed. The movie which he wrote and directed is up for best picture and Sandra Bullock is highly favored to win her first Oscar as best actress for her role as the feisty Leigh Anne Tuohy.

The film which takes place in Memphis is what I would qualify as a regional film. Based on the book The Blind Side; Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis based on the true story of Michael Oher, who made the journey from an under educated homeless youth to playing football in the NFL with the help and guidance from a family in Memphis. If the story wasn’t based on a true story I think I might have walked out of the theater because the story is so unbelievable. Truth is stranger than fiction. And after seeing interviews of the real Tuohy family, I think the real story is even better than the movie as they really talk about how hard the work really was bringing Oher to the point where he could just graduate from high school and be prepared to attend college at Ole Miss.

“I didn’t see it as a sports movie at all, any more than you’d call ‘Jerry Maguire’ a sports film. It was two equally involving stories, one about Michael and the Tuohys, the other about the left tackle position, but they both turned around the same question — how did the stars align so brightly around this one kid from the projects?”
John Lee Hancock
The Blind Side, written by Patrick Goldstein, LA Times

Note: The Blind Side had a $29 million budget and to date has made $250 million domestic. Julie Roberts reportedly turned down the role for which Sandra Bullock received her Oscar nomination. Hancock is at least the third law school grad turned screenwriter that I’ve written about; Sheldon Turner (who is nominated for an Oscar for his part in writing Up in the Air) and John Grisham (though primarily a novelist whose books have been made into many fine movies, but he did write the screenplay for the 2004 Mickey). And from the odd connection category, Grisham graduated from Ole Miss law school, part of the University of Mississippi in Oxford where Michael Oher (the real Blind Side guy) played football.

Scott W. Smith

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