Moving Into Films: Part 1


Death of a Mercenary

During a stay in Washington DC, while taking part in the Minority Leadership Program (sponsored by the Washington Centre Internship Program and Cleveland State University), I had a lot of free time. Staying with about forty other guys from all over the nation in a dorm with over two hundred young women at a Catholic college a stone throw from Capital Hill was, well... distracting. These days were the early Clinton-Gore years and Washington was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Never mind that I was a registered Republican in his mid-thirties. I was in 'Rome,' and when in Rome... ah... (shades of Errol).

Most of the interns worked in offices all over 'the Hill' and the White House. We had some exciting times, did a lot of embassy parties, were schooled by prominent politicians, and got to see how this nation was run. Since I was "an artist" I managed to enjoy a more relaxed schedule (the details are somewhat discreet, naturally). But Washington began to bore me -which to be fair took a while, and I began to feel like unburdening my conscious of things I needed to resolve.

For years I wanted to write a play about the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León and the Spanish conquest of Puerto Rico in 1510. It had taken me years of exhausting research to master the subject and the historical period. The idyllic campus of Trinity College with its peaceful surroundings spurred the writer in me. And so, armed with all my notes I set out to write my first play in English. But what came out of my word processor was not the story I had intended, but the introduction to Death of a Mercenary.

Death of a Mercenary is about personal experiences and recollections during my visits to Central America during the turbulent final years of the 1970's to the early years of the 1980's. The story is based on real people whose influence left deep impressions in me (the play is included in this website so I will not go into details). It took a year to complete the manuscript and I was very pleased with the result. But, once printed and bound, I though, what should I do with it?

I never thought seriously about producing the play; that was not my intention. Death of a Mercenary was a therapeutic excise. Its length, technical montage, strong language and subject matter were not 'wholesome family entertainment.' Nevertheless, I was convinced that the play could open doors of opportunity for me -as a writer or a director, get me into certain circles of influence -and hopefully spice things a bit. My training in Washington had told me that networking is everything. And the best networking is done socially, as in entertainment events. All I had to do was put my theory to the test.

With a clearly set goal I searched for advice among the many "literati" floating about the Washington social scene. Soon I had collected enough data to put together a plan of action. As with many aspiring writers, I have the option of placing my work in circulation by entering the many playwright festivals happening around the nation or getting it to the attention of theatre artistic directors. In the first instance you pay entry fees for each submission in a competition, hence the increasing number of playwrights' festivals and competitions all around the country. My second option was to send letters of introduction to a selected group of theatres to gauge their interest.

Once back in Cleveland I set my plan into motion. All it took was doing a little research on the web, making a dozen copies of my script, and proceeding with the mailings. Then you forget about it and occupy yourself with other things. At this time I was approaching my forties and did not need any ego stroking to feel secure. What I needed was a good assessment of my writing from someone I could respect. If my work was thought to be as good as I thought it was, I would then write other plays of less controversial subjects and try to produce them myself and then get them published. If not, I did not have any time to waste on fruitless pursuits. That was the plan.

Query letters had gone to a dozen national theatres and I entered three national playwrights competitions and an international one --the International Student Playwrights Competition in London, England (this was my final semester at Cleveland State University). I have never withdrawn from a challenge when testing my artistic skills. If I was going to put things to the test, why not then start at the top? Half of the theatres on the list responded and I sent them copies of the manuscript. And in due course, they wrote back.

On the whole, they comments were fairly positive, but they explained that the play was beyond the resources of most (which is what I had expected). One letter that stood out was by Mr. David Zack from the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre of Chicago. He told me how much he personally enjoyed the play and how good it was; how he would love to see it done, but alas, the play was too big for the Bailiwick. And he urged me on.

This kind of activity was repeated for several more months until I received a letter from the University of Exeter, England. It was a handwritten letter from Emeritus Professor of Drama Peter W. Thomson, a very distinguish author and scholar on Shakespeare and Brecht, and one of the readers for the Playwright's Competition. He wrote to congratulate me for having being selected the eight finalists in the competition (quite an accomplishment considering that people from all over the world were competing). But he went on to say many good things about the play, its subject matter, and adviced me to send it to a Hollywood producer.

When I entered the competition I thought the exercise to be more of an act of faith and confidence in myself. I knew the competition would be stiff but I took comfort in thinking myself good enough to be among such distinguished company. My play was not your typical literary pick of the litter so I never even thought of it as a long shot. Making finalist did not ever enter my mind nor did it make any big impression on me when it did. What made my heart beat faster was Professor Thomson's Hollywood suggestion. This was the catalyst that transformed the years of vagabond desires into a solid commitment. Right there and then, I new what I wanted to do: I was going to make a movie.

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