My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today's guest is James Goertel, author of the short story collection Carry Each His Burden and the poetry collections With No Need for a Name and Each Year an Anthem. Born in North Dakota, Goertel spent twenty years working in television for ABC, NBC, and ESPN, among others. He currently teaches writing at Penn State Erie. His writing has appeared in Ascent Aspirations, LucidPlay, Manifold, and TNBBC. He also runs the All Lit Up blog for NEXTV. His website can be found here. Follow him on Twitter at @JamesGoertel.
My First Brush With Hollywood
I had bugged out: left the game for good and had gone to hide in the woods of northern, nowhere
My first screenplay came about from a dare. Emerging from a theater after sitting through yet another one of the many 80’s comedies, I remarked to a friend how unfunny it was. The cliché, If you think you can do better then why don’t you, tumbled from my friend’s mouth, words that over the next few years created a monster. When I wasn’t heading off to Florida in August to cover a pharmaceutical sales conference, hanging around the halls of 30 Rockefeller Center waiting for my next Dateline assignment, or getting on a plane to go shoot another is-this-what-my-career-has-come-to? installment of A Wedding Story for TLC, I was locked in the crazy arms of my Final Draft software dancing nights, days, and weekends away with my latest spec script (i.e. the ones nobody had seen or asked to look at, or that had any chance in hell of the latter happening).
And then someone did just that.
It happened while I was sitting around, about a year into my self-imposed exile, in my rural, aesthetically and technologically challenged
“Is this James Goertel?”
“What are you selling?”
“I think I read your script – uh, if this is James Goertel.”
Believe it or not I had been quite a good conversationalist on the phone in my day, but moving to the country had made me jittery, paranoid and defensive. It must have been from all those meth lab fumes trapped in the atmosphere and unable to escape a county stuck between the Appalachian and Endless mountain chains.
INT. INSULATION CHALLENGED FIXER-UPPER HOUSE– DAY
JAMES stands, mouth agape, as the BIG-SHOT PRODUCER FROM L.A. on the other end of the phone gushes on about his supernatural thriller spec script, about to become not a spec script, but a shooting script. James actually begins packing what he feels might be hip-looking black clothing into a musty suitcase pulled from a crawl space – even as he is still on the phone with BIG-SHOT PRODUCER FROM L.A.
BISTRO – A FEW DAYS LATER BEVERLY HILLS
JAMES sits with BIG-SHOT PRODUCER FROM L.A. drinking martinis, eating sushi, and answering absurd questions.
BIG-SHOT PRODUCER FROM
Who do you see playing Casey in your script?
JAMES (choking on wasabi)
Uh, well, hummmff – uh, I hadn’t thought about it.
BIG-SHOT PRODUCER FROM
I see Christopher Walken. Would that work for you?
JAMES (now asphyxiating on rice and spicy tuna)
Wal- (gulp, gag, cough) –ken
My ex-wife’s accountant is his best friend. I can get him the script. Besides, she owes me. I got her a part as an extra on One Tree Hill last year. Non-speaking part, of course.
It’s been a few years since that first