BAND OF BOYS
I am posting this video as my friend Darren Hudak asked me to. He actually asked me last week but I have been sort of busy getting ready to go away and Pad has been demanding and life has been like a runaway train– in fact, I write this from the Acela on my way to Boston.
But Darren, Darren is a member of my band of boys. Pad is not a member; this group goes back to my nine years of teaching screenwriting at the HB Studios.
People often asked me why I taught there and not somewhere more prestigious. Not that HB isn’t a well-known place and has its own unique cachet, much of it dating back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. But it’s the place where I studied acting when I first came to New York back in the eighties and I spent ten years under the tutelage of the late Herbert Berghof, from whom I learned about acting, structure, story, dialogue and all the things that, while they were under the guise of acting, are the foundations of my writing. One of Herbert’s many theories and one that he and his wife based the school on was that artists should not have to pay outrageous sums to be taught. He kept and they continue to keep the prices per class way below any one in the city. So one teaches there out of love for craft, the place and the concept of giving back. And with my paltry school record I can’t imagine getting a gig anywhere else. Plus, they let me do whatever I wanted. For me that is a big deal.
So in 2000 when my buddy Dick Mawe (head of the Board) suggested I come in and teach a screenwriting class, I said, “Why not?”
I say “why not” internally or externally to so many things I have never done, and at the onset I don’t have the slightest idea if I know how to do them.
Write a book? Why not? How? Oh, I’ll just figure it out.
Make a doc? How? Why not? Hopefully, I’ll figure it out.
Teach a class? How? I didn’t go to college? I’d better figure it out.
Plus at that time my friend the late Barnetta Carter was running the school, if I was there I could spend more time with her.
So over the summer of 2000 I taught my first class and it was sold out; something we did not expect. People want to know how to write movies. Almost everyone I have ever met feels that their life is one or they have one in them.
And much like writing, something I had no idea I knew how to do when I sat down and attacked my first play, about ten minutes into my first class I fell in love with it. And in some miraculous way I knew how to transmit information in a way people could digest and have fun at the same time. I had a room full of people holding onto my words. I love that – so sue me. It’s a high, ask anyone who has done it. One day you get bored but it has a fairly long shelf-life. I also felt I was providing a service, passing on the knowledge I had picked up over the twenty years I’d spent on the frontlines of that battlefield called Hollywood.
I kept this up for almost a decade when I decided this year that what I taught and what I knew was no longer what was really being used to make films. The times and templates had changed and I didn’t really know what to teach anymore. Plus I burned out and I lost all but one of my “band of boys.”
You see, during my tenure I picked up a band of boys. Of course I did. These were my die-hard students that turned up semester after semester; class after class and four of them became friends. Dante, Darren, Ed, and Robert. I had one girl I grew close to, the late Theresa Wang. Too many lates in this article. She died suddenly of cancer at the age of thirty-eight. She remains on my Facebook page.
But my boys. Dante was the first – he had a breezy, comedic style, he worked the bar at Il Cantinori a few nights a week, and that is one of our spots. I used to see so much more of him. Note to self – go to Il Cantinori this week, touch base with Dante. Dante would work in chunks, he was talented. He would hand me thirty pages at a time. He was the only person I let do this, well, Robert got to too. But I was adamant about not taking in more work than I could handle.
Which really wasn’t a problem, as most of the students did almost none. They’d turn it in the first few weeks and then stop when they realized they would get notes that were in the form of criticism. Isn’t that the point?
I was a homework Nazi – odd considering I did so little in my own life. But writers only get better by writing so if you’re going to show up every week and sit there in order to learn to write my suggestion -WRITE. Darren was great about this, Darren and Robert, they were my homework stars. Every week I could count on them to hand me pages and wouldn’t you know it they were the ones who improved. It’s hard to tell with some of the others as they were taking a writing class and many never wrote a word.
Ed, who was and remains the ultimate teacher’s pet, became a really good friend. And he started out being a real pain in the ass. He and his buddy Rick came to class, sat in the front row with total show me body language and facial expressions. And any time I would make a point, he would counter with “What about Tarantino?”
This is always a big thing when you try and teach any form of structure, people want to show you examples of those who have side-stepped them; Tarantino is the poster child for that in modern day filmmaking. But somehow time and humor and my threatening him that if he couldn’t come up with someone other than Tarantino he would be moved to the back of the class sparked a friendship that continues to this day.
Homework was not Ed’s strength, but loyalty, great emails, coffee and walks in the village after class were the best. Plus he watches every movie, and since I watch few I could always count on him to jar my memory or give me examples when I was searching for them.
He and his friend Rick even found a restaurant in Chelsea that played Bollywood movies on screens all over the room and took me one night. We got drunk and had a great time.
He shut up about Quentin and I gave him a life-long hall pass on the homework.
And bit by bit online we started to share parts of our life stories together. Of all my students Ed and I are the closest still. He is living in Arizona for the moment and Tay and I saw him when we were out there.
But Daren showed up week after week for years, always with his laptop and he would take copious notes or was hooked up to online porn, we didn’t know, I started teasing him about that. From the work he turned in, my guess is he was taking notes. So Darren would get a round of applause (I demanded it) “Give it up for Darren!” He was a real worker bee.
Robert is the only one who continued to come to class and is the most devoted to finding his way as a screenwriter. He was my key student until I stopped and we talk on the phone from time to time.
So each member of my band of boys had something special. And I am still there for any of them when they need it. So when Darren asked me to post this – it was as good as done. Plus it’s funny.
So a few laughs in honor of my band of boys.