Script brings you behind the scenes to get to know our family of contributors on a more personal level. Meet Paul Peditto, author of the column Script Gods Must Die.
Paul Peditto is the author of the book, The DIY Filmmaker: Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood and wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars. Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet’s Society). Recent credits include the micro-budget thriller Chat, distributed by Showcase Entertainment. He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College-Chicago, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. He is an adjunct professor of screenwriting at Columbia College and has been featured on National Public Radio and WGN radio, and reviewed in the Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times, and the New York Times.
What was the first movie you ever remember seeing or the one that made the most impact on you as a child?
All memory of Disney Fantasia-style movies shifted out of my brain when, at three years of age, I managed to toddle into a street and have a car run OVER me. The tires didn’t squish me. Some dude saw me being dragged underneath and amidst 6 o’clock news and YouTube viral clip screams, managed to lift the car single-handedly save me. Not exactly a fun memory, but a happy ending! Alas, no movie memory though.
My first memory of any sort is straddling a canyon in a National Park. But that’s not cinematic, and probably better left for my shrink, or another discussion.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Taxi Driver, of course.
What word or scenario do you never want to see in a screenplay again?
I can live without character descriptions that call someone a “typical” whatever. What’s that mean visually, exactly?
What profession did your parents want you to have?
My dad had connections in media and on Wall Street. He tried to hook me up, but I blew them off at 20 to live in London, crashing in the bathtubs of squatter flats, becoming the American ex-pat poet “tortured” by mortality, reading way too much Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. I have since rounded up and burned almost all the poems of my 20’s, thank Christ.
What profession, other than your current one, would you like to try if you could have a do-over?
I would have made a great lawyer. Got the gift of BS. Nothing wrong with making money, only in the lack of originality in how you spend it.
I also wanted to be a pro football scout back in the day. That, I suppose, came from my being a high-school jock. I wasn’t thinking clearly in high-school. I dropped a 16-pound shot put on my head once. Jeez, I’ve had lots of accidents, huh? The shot put, too, is a tale for another time.
What drew you to the entertainment industry and specifically, why did you want to help writers?
I quit my job on the casino boat in Aurora, Illinois to make my movie, JANE DOE, with Calista Flockhart. It was Christmas and while waiting to get the movie out there, I took a job on a Christmas tree lot. It was manly work, cutting and tying Christmas trees to cars, coming home to pick pine needles out of my chest. I had heard the cute cashier, Melody, was teaching screenwriting at Chicago Filmmakers. I approached her. “You know, Melody, I just finished shooting a movie. Perhaps you’d like to partake of an aperitif at the Bob Inn later and we can discuss it.” “I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate that, Paul,” she frowned. “But why don’t you come up and talk to my class about the experience.” So, I did.
Up at Chicago Filmmakers, I discovered that it was Melody’s last night. She was moving to L.A. to become a reader. I gave a little speech about JANE DOE and later, approached Brenda Webb, who has run Chicago Filmmakers for over 30 years. “So Brenda, who’s taking over for Melody teaching screenwriting?” “I don’t know,” she said. “Well, I can take a shot at it. My gig on the Christmas tree lot is probably not gonna last, it being Christmas next week ‘n all….” “You have any experience?” “None.” “Did you study film in school?” “Nope.” “So what makes you think you can teach screenwriting?” “Well, I can write. I like to help people. A + B might not equal C. Then again, it might.”
She gave me the job.
All things screenwriting emerged from this.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
Kill me, but I’m a Green Bay Packer fan to the bitter end.
Aries. Type A. Southern Italian. I don’t turn the other cheek well.
Rolling stone. I call Chicago home. I also call Ithaca, Atlantic City, London, and New York City home.
I’m one of the 7% who still doesn’t have a cell phone. Constant communication- highly overrated.
Haven’t driven a car in 20+ years.
What do you wish you knew about the industry before you jumped in?
Life lessons, in no particular order:
- Be careful who you get into bed with.
- Don’t go to L.A. until you’re invited.
- Get proactive. The phone isn’t going to ring. You’ve got to make it ring.
- Hire The Best Entertainment Lawyer You Can Possibly Afford. It will save you one hundred-fold on the back end.
- Sometimes it pays to take off the arty-farty, adolescent, paper Pirate hat and put on the hat of a Business Man, because the Man sitting across the desk will GUT you if you don’t.
- It’s better to be a Jack of four employable filmmaking trades than an Ace of one.
- Writers shouldn’t direct movies based on their own lives.
- Just because it happens to you, doesn’t make it interesting.
- Just because it happens to you, doesn’t make it a movie.
- Ain’t no do-overs. Just…ain’t.
The beauty about taking a beatdown from the “industry” or Life is that you can make a conscious decision to never let that happen again. Won’t guarantee that it doesn’t, but take it from an ex-craps dealer, the mathematical possibilities diminish. It’s better to have lived it, learned from it, and moved on.
Life Lesson 332: “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.”—William Faulkner
If you could impart only one piece of knowledge onto writers, what would it be?
If you really are a writer, you’re going to write no matter what they say.
If you believe them when they tell you you’re great, you’ve gotta believe them when they tell you you suck.
Ignore every piece of advice I, or anyone else gives you, and you’ll probably turn out fine.
Never let the bastards tell you no.
Oh wait, that’s 5….
If you could go back in time and talk to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give?
A poet? C’mon, man!
Go long Apple, Microsoft, AOL, Nasdaq & Dow Index funds. Weed penny stocks work in 2014, not 2015!
If you have any other fun tidbits you want to add, go for it!
Recall the Norwegian proverb: ‘The life of man is like the flight of a swallow through the lighted feasting hall. Out of the dark, a brief moment of noise, and back into the dark.’
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The DIY Filmmaker: Life Lessons for Surviving Outside Hollywood by Paul Peditto