Friday, June 15, 2001

Dante's View

A few weeks ago, I flew to Connecticut to see my sister Susan's new house, catch up with Mom & Dad on their way up to Maine, see my niece before she returned to Vermont, hang out with the rest of the family, and drop in at my 20th Reunion at Wesleyan.

One thing that's pretty cool about Wes Reunions is that they have all these fascinating seminars hosted by various alumni on a wide range of topics like The Melting Polar Ice Cap, Galactic Cannibalism, and A Touch of Terpsichore. (I don't know what it is either.) But by far the most popular of all the seminars was the one that featured West Wing star and fellow classmate Brad Whitford.

Brad's seminar, which also included producer Paul Schiff and writer Kaylie Jones was about surviving Hollywood with your soul intact. The big question on most people's minds, however, was: Will President Bartlett seek a second term? Brad's answer -- "We all thought it was pretty obvious."

Another well attended seminar, which directly followed Brad's (an excellent time slot) was all about The Closest Presidential Election in History and starred publisher Alberto Ibarguen, lawyer Steven Meyer and political writer and fellow classmate Dan Haar. During the election, Dan had been in the thick of things down in Palm Beach and at the seminar he related his views on the fickle nature of national media attention and the even fickler nature of the American voter. (Fickler?) But the big question on everyone's mind was: Will President Bush seek a second term? Dan's answer -- "He thinks this is his second term." Just kidding.

Both Brad and Dan were impressive examples of successful men in the prime of their careers. It was interesting to see how they had both evolved over the past twenty years, having journeyed so far and yet retaining the sense of wonder and enthusiasm that set them on their paths so long ago. I couldn't help comparing myself to them. Not always a good idea.

Just after graduation, Dan went right to work as a photojournalist at the Hartford Courant. He had already worked for the Courant as a stringer during college and knew exactly where he was headed. Brad, meanwhile, attended the prestigious Julliard acting school where he refined the craft he'd studied both at Wesleyan and in high school. I moved to San Diego, California and got a job in a store selling soap.

In the mid-eighties, Brad worked in New York playing in everything from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard and also bagged a few TV appearances. Dan had become one of the top photographers at the Courant. I was living with my parents.

Brad's first film role was as the boyfriend in Adventures in Babysitting opposite Elisabeth Shue. He went on play many other roles, most of which he categorizes as "Yuppie Scum" alongside such greats as Robert DeNiro, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood and Albert Brooks.

Dan was involved in a tug of war between two departments, as someone in the editorial department had seen a sample of his writing and wanted to hire him on as a writer. The photo editor didn't want to let him go and wouldn't let him do both. Ultimately, Dan chose writing. Not many people have what it takes to make it as a professional news photographer, and professional journalism certainly isn't any less competitive. Dan had the skill and talent to succeed in either field and probably could have done both.

After trying my hand as a singer-songwriter playing for tips (or for no tips) in Washington D.C., I moved to Brooklyn where I soon added Unemployed Freelance Writer to my list of accomplishments. It was during this time that I read my first screenplay and decided that Unemployed Screenwriter would be my new calling.

While appearing in A Few Good Men on Broadway, Brad met writer Aaron Sorkin. Later, while developing West Wing, Sorkin created the role of Josh with Brad in mind. Finally, Brad has the opportunity to show the range of talent he has been developing throughout his career. He has paid his dues and now he is reaping the well-deserved rewards.

Dan has his own weekly column in the Courant which focuses on economic issues but he also seems to be doing double duty as a political writer. He recently won an Excellence in Journalism Award, although he dismisses its importance. He has been a journalist ever since the day I met him twenty-four years ago and he continues to strive for a personal excellence that far outshines any award or accolade.

Me, I moved to L.A. to try and make it in the movie biz. Met some people. Sent out some scripts. Went to some parties. Met some more people. Sent out some more scripts... But now I'm working on something new.

Instead of just writing movies, I have decided to make them. I recently completed a script for a short movie loosely based on Dante's Inferno, but set in modern-day Hollywood. The star is long-time pal and fellow classmate Jon Sperry. I just purchased a digital video camera which I am learning to use (because digital is the wave of the future.) I have scouted my locations, hooked up with an editor, gotten permission to use some music and even done some test shots. The idea is to enter the short in as many film festival competitions as possible and use it as a calling card to get myself better known. At some point I may also have it posted on so anyone can log on and see it online. It's kind of exciting.

Lately I realized that I've been making movies all my life. In fact, when I was in high-school I made several short films including a comedy version of Man For All Seasons and a kind of pre-MTV rock video version of Siddhartha. Mostly though, I just made movies that played in my head. All sorts of movies -- some short, some that went on for months. And everything I've done has been part of that process. And now that technology has finally caught up with me I'm able to make those movies a reality. But for starters, I'm going to stick to the short ones. The first one is called Dante's View. I should be finished with it by the end of the summer.

Hope everyone is doing well.

Happy Dad's Day to the Dads.

See Memento.

Love, HWD