Tuesday, November 23, 2010

STORY OF THE DAY: What Goldman Said To Sorkin

In Aaron Sorkin's own words:

"You're a very talented writer, but I don't think there's any way I can hire you."

Those words would have been disappointing coming from anyone.  Coming from William Goldman, they were heart stopping.  Castle Rock was developing an idea for a film called Malice and Goldman had been asked by the company to identify a young, new (read inexpensive) writer whom he could tutor on the screenplay. 

I was twenty-seven and I'd never written a screenplay before, in fact I'd never read a screenplay before, but my first stageplay, A Few Good Men, was about to go into rehearsal for Broadway, and the script fell into the hands of a Castle Rock executive who passed it on to Goldman.

And the phone rang. My agent.

"Would you be interested in having lunch tomorrow afternoon with William Goldman to discuss a possible movie project?"

I told him that since Goldman was a remarkable novelist and screenwriter, two-time Academy Award winner, and my personal hero, that, yeah, I could probably squeeze him in.

I showed up at the designated restaurant on the upper East side.  Goldman stood, extended his hand, and said it.

"You're a very talented writer, but I don't think there's any way I can hire you."  Didn't look like I'd be getting lunch that day.

"I loved reading your play, but you've never written a screenplay, not even a lousy television pilot, and I don't think you have the experience necessary for us to be able to work on this." No lunch. No nothin'.

I told him that while I couldn't convince him that I had more experience than I did, perhaps I could convince him that experience wasn't crucial.  I sat down.  (The waiter eventually came and there was food.)  We talked about the Mets and we talked about our mutual back problems, but mostly we talked about writing.  Two hours later, my hero extended his hand again and said, "I tell you what: We've got a deal."

In the eight years and three films that followed, William Goldman taught me most of what I know about screenwriting, and a small fraction of what he knows. I'm very grateful.

Thanks for lunch, Bill. Really.

From the book: "Screenwriters: America's Storytellers in Portrait", by Helena Lumme & Mika Manninen, 1999, p. 99.

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