by Lew Ritter
The title above is a slightly altered borrowing from a tune called TRUCKIN, sung by a band popular in the 70’s called the GRATEFUL DEAD. I chose it because the best way I can think of describing my current screenwriting Odyssey is that it indeed has been long and strange.
Why have I continued to write after all these years? Years ago, I went to see the then brand new Melanie Griffith movie WORKING GIRL. My friends laughed when I told them that someday, I would write a movie script that everyone would want to see at the movies. They scoffed at the idea, but as the saying goes” revenge is a dish best served cold”.
From my earliest childhood, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote fanciful stories based on my favorite shows such as the 1960’s British spy show The Avengers or the Prisoner. In the late 70’s, I tried my hand at writing mystery short stories and joined Mystery Writers of America in New York. I even met Fred Dannay, the surviving half of the famed duo creators of the popular ELLERY QUEEN mystery novels.
In college, I sent a letter to CBS protesting the pending cancellation of M.A.S.H. In it’s first year, It was doing poorly in the ratings. It took off during the second year and went on to become a legendary television show. Somehow, my letter wound up in the hands of LARRY GELBART, producer of the show. He was kind enough to respond to my passionate letter. He sent me several actual scripts from the show. I actually got a chance to pitch several ideas for potential episodes. He rejected the ideas, but I was the beginning. I was hooked on this thing called screenwriting.
In the early 80’s, I watched Tom Selleck’s detective show Magnum P.I. I enjoyed the characters and wrote forgettable episodes for the show. In 1985, I ran across Ron Peterson’s Screenwriting One class at the NYC Learning Annex. I felt that I would take his classes in one month and learn all of his secrets. The first night, after listening to Ron, I was surprised. Here was the first guy who actually walked the walk and talked the talk. He sounded like he knew the secrets I took his workshop for Screenwriting Two.
I tried writing television shows, but the shows were being cancelled faster than I could learn the characters and story line. I wrote a spec treatment for a long forgotten show called MANCUSO FBI. I made a contact with a writer’s assistant. They liked the treatment, but the show was cancelled after only one season.
I tried writing feature films and wrote mostly underdeveloped scripts about vampires, cyberwar and JOHN BROWN, the ABOLITIONIST. The scripts were unsuccessful and stood no chance of ever getting serious attention. I spen over ten years writing different versions of the John Brown story. I even received permission from one of the author’s book about John Brown as a basis for the Brown script. The script never captured the essence of the story, and I finally I gave up.
My career turn a surprise turn in 2011, after entering my old MAGNUM P.I. script in the WILDSOUND FILM FESTIVAL. A revised version won second place in their monthly contest My friend was looking for someone to help him develop a script based on a sci-fi concept. The original co-writer had dropped out. The script was finished and my name was on it as co-writer and co-creator. I had found the area of script writing that I was good at. TV.
While mulling over ideas for new shows, I rediscovered my past as a student at Rutgers in the 1970’s. The era of protest seemed to be an untapped market for a show. I called it TURBULENCE. After working on several versions of a pilot, I redeveloped it into a continuing drama and wrote three additional episodes.
Writing the TV episodes re-energized my writing. I wrote a feature film script called WHISTLEBLOWER. It won a finalist spot in the “Breaking down the Walls” Thriller Screenwriting Competition and later became a Second Rounder script at the AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL.
The moral of the story is that some people have gifts. They might be great athletes, skilled doctors or CPA’s. As strange as it might sound, I feel like my gift is creativity. Something inside me says I was born to do write television.
Come to think of it, a song by another band, that little ’60s group that called itself The Beatles, also applies to my situation: “The Long and Winding Road.”
I love this road because I have no idea where its twists and turns will take me. Today, I write as a hobby, but after all these years, I have a glimmer of hope that someday, my name will appear as a credit on the screen.