Sunday, September 4, 2016

"Antibirth": Who Says It's Bad To Be Unique?

                                                                                          Before the screening of his film “Antibirth” writer-director Danny Perez told the nearly packed theater at International House a story about trying to make it in L.A. after moving from Philly. He recalls driving to an agent’s office for a meeting and, along the way, seeing all of the billboards for upcoming new movies and TV shows — a big screen adaptation of 80’s small screen hit “McGyver” some movie where Kevin Spacey plays a man trapped in the body of a cat.

“Danny, you’re unique” said the agent, who had already seen “Antibirth.” 
Somewhat perplexed by the agent’s somber delivery, Perez asked “That’s a good thing, right?”  
“No, Danny, that’s a bad thing.”

“Antibirth” might be called unique even though it so reverently pays homage to the cult classics of the 80’s that it feels oddly familiar even though Perez demonstrates enough vision to put a fresh, sometimes artsy spin on tradition. It is his own film, with its own vibe, its own rules, rebellious, anarchistic and Perez comes off as a filmmaker completely in control, determinedly confident in his vision.

The film is not for everyone. In fact, it is probably not for most people. Natasha Lyonne throws herself full force into her performance as an unabashed hardcore small town party girl — though, her character Lou, now well into being a thirtysomething, is long past party-girlhood and more into something resembling a sloppy skid-row drunk. After blacking out during an all night party in an abandoned warehouse, Lou starts feeling strange and comes to realize that she might be pregnant even though she has no recollection of hooking up with anyone. Needless to say, peeling skin, giant blisters full of fluid and a rapidly expanding mid-section soon indicate that pregnancy might be the least of her concerns. What follows is by turns hilarious and disgusting, all over the place narratively, frequently beautiful to look at and ultimately pretty compelling. Perez has things on his mind, it’s not just about empty spectacle, he comes off as an unpretentious funny, intelligent who sees things in the world —- “people filling themselves with toxicity” — and wants to say something about it.    

Watching it, I felt like I was witnessing the birth of a cult classic, maybe a post-modern neo cult classic but definitely a film that will find a small but passionate audience. That works for me. Maybe being “unique” is not such a bad thing. Sure, moving forward, finding representation, financing and distribution is still going to be hard but it seems like that is the way it is for anyone not making a $150,000,000 sequel to a tentpole blockbuster. I am both inspired to continue trying to do what I am trying to do and also really looking forward to Danny Perez’ next film. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Thinking At Least Twice about "Don't Think Twice"


There is one scene in comedian Mike Birbiglia’s new film Don’t Think Twice that really sums it up for me. The members of a struggling NYC improv comedy troupe gather to watch the long running comedy sketch show “Weekend Live” and stare at the screen with dead eyes and blank expressions either fueled or dulled by overwhelming sense of “that should be me on this show, I could do it so much better.”

Don't Think Twice, has some chuckles but it's really a bittersweet drama about an improv comedy troupe in NYC and what happens when one of the members gets a shot at a job on a show like "Saturday Night Live." It's about ambition but it has a dark undertone about jealousy, bitterness and resentment toward one time friends whose potential success might far eclipse your own. 

I know people who have been nominated for Oscars, worked with Quentin Tarantino and Bryan Singer, have $4,000,000 summer houses. I have seen where my best friend from film school lives — with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park. Sometimes I wish I could resent these people but I can’t because I know all of them paid their dues, did their time in the trenches and worked their way up to where they are now. But, to be completely honest, I don’t always feel so good about it. 

A few weeks ago, I saw that there was a movie in theatrical release that was directed by someone I was hired to replace as director after he was arrested and jailed. Now, I am all for rehabilitation and redemption and I guess it’s good to know that this guy caught a break, is hopefully doing well, got back to doing his thing and is having some success. Okay, at the risk of being totally self-serving, when do I get a break? Do I need to follow his lead, commit a heinous crime and hit bottom in order to bounce back? I know I cling to this illusion that nice guys can finish first but that those images are getting fuzzier in my mind.

A few months ago, a mystery novelist friend of mine brought up the idea of working on a screenplay together. We talked about it, he came up with the story and is patiently waiting for me to turn it into a screenplay. A couple weeks ago, a friend contacted me to say that he has a crew and equipment ready to make a feature in Tulsa but he needs a screenplay and wanted to know if I have anything sitting around. I pitched him a couple ideas, he liked both, we chose one and now I am scrambling to bust it out. Last night, a filmmaker contacted me on Instagram to say that he’d been hired to write and direct a film, that he has the story but is not good at writing dialogue so he asked if I was interested in doing it. 


So, for now, it’s back to the trenches and tightening my grasp on hope.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

False Climax meets Diarrhea-Man



Diarrhea-Man



About a month ago, a student came into class, plopped down and said to me, “I don’t know how you write screenplays for a living, it’s so hard.”

First, yes, it is hard to make a living as a screenwriter and, to be completely forthright, to whatever degree I am making a living, I am making it by teaching screenwriting right now. Sure, every now and then, I get a gig but, for the past few years, I have been focused on Stomping Ground and teaching. 

I had gotten to a point where I was looking for writing jobs less and less and work was coming to me more and more —- nothing fancy, nothing I was putting my kids through college on but I was, in fact, getting hired (and, usually, paid) to write screenplays.

Even though I have a couple projects due to some producer-friends, I am slowly getting back into the hunting for gigs routine. 

Yesterday, I saw an ad:

Screenwriter needed ASAP for Diarrhea-Man Feature (Hollywood)


I own the rights to the original 1970's Diarrhea-Man character and need help writing the screenplay. Finances have been secured to produce the film starting this October, however I need to have a finished/polished shooting script to be approved by investors weeks from today. Looking for an experienced screenwriter capable of turning out a 1st draft ASAP as in the next week and a half. If you are a screenwriter capable of producing strong action oriented structure while managing a strict deadline, I'd love to talk to you. Also, massive points if you are at all familiar with the Diarrhea-Man universe.

I will be the first to admit that “massive points” were not in the cards for me as I am not at all “familiar with the Diarrhea-Man universe.” 

So, maybe I should pass on this gig. 

“Finances have been secured…” should suggest that there is some money to pay the screenwriter for the first draft that needs to be delivered in a week and a half. “Should” suggest. In my experience, “finances” frequently refers to what someone plans to pay the DP, cast, crew and craft services once you deliver the screenplay for free, the film gets produced, distributed, maybe makes some money and then they decide to throw you a bone for your trouble, if they remember. 

A gig is a gig, right? I dipped into “the Diarrhea-Man universe” for a little while to check it out and decided, you know what, not for me, even if it does actually pay. However, I’m not exactly in the position to turn down a paying gig. I think I have done it once or twice. In one case, it was writing the sequel for the classic worst-film-ever-made candidate Birdemic, I backed off after being initially interested. 

So, I went back and forth on whether or not to even apply for the job. Ultimately, I thought “Who am I to not apply for a screenwriting job?”  I applied.

I’m pretty sure that these issues were not what my student was talking about when she said “Screenwriting is so hard.” If she only knew.


So is it? Maybe it is. I don’t know. Screenwriting is just what I do. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

False Climax meets Rough-Cut




This weekend, Stomping Ground screens at the exceptionally cool Rough-Cut Film Fest. Following the screening, I give a presentation on micro-budget filmmaking the relative pros and cons of shooting my film in 24 hours.

Here are the details:
http://www.roughcutfilmfest.com/workshops

FYI (FWIW?), here is the complete list of questions a columnist recently asked me and answers I gave:


What was it like working on the set of "Pet Sematary?"
I started work on "Pet Semetary" two days after finishing work on a low-budget independent film so the experience of going from a scrappy $1,000,000 production to a major studio production with a budget of $20,000,000 was pretty dramatic. 

I went out and bought much of the wood for this well-known set
Zelda's infamous bedroom. I've known a number of people who got nightmares from this scene.
They offered to let me keep the bed after wrapping but it was bigger than my bedroom at the time and, being a made up size, I don't know where I would have found a mattress and sheets for it. 
If it looks like there is a figuring creeping up behind me, it's because there is. All Stephen King sets are haunted, after awhile you just get used to it. 


I worked for no money on a small film where I worked in every department on the crew, did everything from washing the producer's car to being assistant cameraman, to being actor Vincent D'Onofrio's body double (even though he's about a foot taller than me) once spending 45 hours straight on set. 



Then I went to a big Hollywood production where I had one job, working in the set construction department, did the same thing every day, had the same hours every day and made really good money. 

Ultimately, it was a really important experience because I got to compare the ridiculous excess of a big movie with the "every penny counts" philosophy of an indie film. I was really turned off by the amount of waste that I saw on the big film and I resolved to, if given the chance, only make fiscally responsible films, only use what I need and not waste anything. 

Do you still teach at Drexel and UArts?
I still teach at Drexel and University of the Arts -- usually a mix of Introduction To Screenwriting, Intermediate Screenwriting, Writing The Short Film and Screenplay Story Development.


Bonnie & Clyde: Lovers on the Run, documentary, 60 mins, 2015


Have you written any documentaries since "Journey Into The Holocaust?"
In 2011, I wrote "Bonnie & Clyde: Lovers On The Run," a documentary that I think had some kind of release in 2015. I really only helped out with rewriting some of the narration on the Holocaust film so my involvement was pretty minimal.

Are you finished with post-production of "Stomping Ground?"
I shot the film over Labor Day weekend in 2013 and finally post-production this past January.

Can you say what "Stomping Ground" is about?
"Stomping Ground" is a gritty, intense coming-of-age drama about four tough young buddies whose "day off" at their childhood hangout deep in Fairmount Park turns suddenly violent, leaving them not just on the run from the police and a vicious gang but also forced to confront a moral dilemma and, ultimately, a dark secret that threatens their friendship and their lives.  




Mike, Chris, Bobby & Joe at their old Stomping Ground

Will you be submitting it to film festivals?
"Stomping Ground" will premiere at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival on May 7. I have already submitted it to some pretty high profile festivals and will hear back over the but I have a list of some other reputable festivals I plan to submit to.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
I am helping a friend, another local filmmaker, produce his bio-pic of controversial Philly civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore. It's the best screenplay I've read in years and, if we can pull it off the way we want to, it will be a great film, not at all a typical biography.


Who are your favorite filmmakers and why?
I like Orson Welles because few filmmakers have had such a full understanding of the form of motion pictures, how to utilize all elements of it from framing and composition to sound and set design. I like Martin Scorsese for many of the same reasons, he understands that a film is like a piece of music, that it has to have highs and lows. There are too many to list. 

What are your favorite films of all time?
It's almost a cliche for filmmakers of my generation but I have to say that "Jaws" is one of the films that made me want to become a filmmaker. At first, of course, it was the sheer visceral power of the adventure and scares that appealed to me but, even just last week, I was thinking that it is really the camaraderie between the three main characters and that, dare I say, it is something of study in class -- a working class man of nature, a middle class civil servant and an upper class scientist who all have to put aside their differences and personal grudges to work together. 




The other film that made me want to become a filmmaker was Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" which I got to see on a big screen when I was 12 and loved it. 



Orson Welles "Touch Of Evil" sometimes makes me cry because it is so good and because, behind the scenes, he was so down and out, so broken -- a man who was on the cover of Time Magazine at age 21 now almost completely forgotten at age 42, just had to show up and make a simple little film but he couldn't do it, he had to turn it into art. 




What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?
Making "Stomping Ground" was pretty tough. Everyone tells you that it can be brutal to make a film, that it can push you to the limits of any number of things. I remember, one night over the summer, I was leaving the recording studio in the suburbs where we were doing the sound effects and music then driving downtown to work with the colorist and I was so stressed that I was saying to myself "Never again! I will never put myself through this and make another film!"

What is the best advice you ever received?
Don't go to bed with dishes in the sink and never leave the house with the bed unmade. 

Which talent that you do not have would you most like to have? Why?
I wish I could sing and play an instrument. I love music and it frustrates me that I cannot make music. That said, to me, film is music and, when I am writing a screenplay, I feel that I am composing music.

What is your most treasured possession?
I try to not treasure material possessions but, off the top of my head, I have Steve Martin's autograph and he is someone who has inspired me since I was young.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Somewhere that is not that far from both woods/mountains and a beach with a vibrant cultural scene in between. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I don't think I have any spare time. When teaching, I have up to 50 screenplays a week to grade. When I finish grading, I usually have a screenplay that I am supposed to be writing for someone else. If I have time, I like to watch movies.

What is your most impressive characteristic?
I like to think that I am nice most of the time. Long ago, I decided that I wanted to make someone else laugh every day.

If you could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be?                                    I'd probably like to sit and talk about movies with some of my favorite filmmakers: Scorsese, Spielberg -- guys who grew up like me, movie geeks. They're still around. If I could fantasize, I would love to go back in time and meet my ancestors, see how they lived, what they were like etc.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

False Climax Returns







Sure, it’s been almost a year since I last posted a blog. I was busy. 

There was a point one night last summer when I was working with the composer/sound designer on Stomping Ground out in the Philly burbs then drove into Philly to work with the colorist. I found myself saying “Never again. I will never make another film. I will not put myself through this again.” Was I serious? Was I kidding myself? 

Stomping Ground is finished. In January, twelve years after writing it, eight years since it was optioned for the second time, two and a half years since I shot in 24 hours, the film was finished.

I got into The Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and had a nice crowd show up for the premiere. There was a mix of filmmaker types, some people who had been on the crew and what I like to call “civilians,” people who do not make films but like to watch movies. At times, during the screening, there were gasps from the crowd. I think people liked it.




Camera Op Marty Zinkel, DP Kevin Martin, W/D David J. Greenberg, EP Andrew Karasik


Next week the film screens at The Rough Cut Film Festival and I sit on a panel about micro-budget filmmaking. I discuss the pros and cons of shooting a feature film in 24 hours

Now what? The film has been submitted to about ten festivals, mostly domestic, some international, most in the fall with notifications coming in July, August and September. 

In a best case scenario, a distributor picks it up. What does that mean? Basically,  a distributor buys it from me and has the right to show it in theaters, TV, streaming etc. but, before they do that, I have to deliver not just a film but the film in various formats with promotional materials, maybe subtitles and closed captions etc. 

It’s not enough to make a film these days, anyone can make a film, that’s only half the battle —- not even half. Getting people to see your film is the trick. 

Back to the best case scenario: my film gets distributed, people see the film, people like the film, someone pays me to make another film.

Will any of the above scenario happen? I have no idea. Yes, a fairly well-established distributor took an interest in the film six months ago before it was even finished but what does that mean? Hopefully, they like the film, which raises the question “After all this time, do I even like the film?” Is it possible to be objective? Yes and no.

There are so many immaculately produced, state-of-the-art films out there that have unconvincing stories. What is the point of making a film if it does not have a compelling, believable story? The average cost of a major Hollywood film is somewhere around $80,000,000 and, of that number, the screenplay represents a tiny fraction, usually no more than a few million dollars but, to me, it is the essential ingredient.  I am not saying that screenwriters should be paid more, I am just saying that producers should not make a film until they have an extremely good screenplay. It’s not that hard, get a screenplay, ask the writer to do re-writes and, if you’re not happy with them, get another screenwriter to make revisions. Importantly, do not call the screenplay finished when you’re happy, call if finished when there is a consensus of sound opinions that feel it is a great screenplay. 

Stomping Ground is a reaction to people throwing buckets of money at bad screenplays and turning them into beautifully produced bad movies. Stomping Ground was not beautifully produced, it is a ragged, rough around the edges mess but I think it has a good story. 

In my last blog post, I talked about punk rock and my uneasy relationship with it — I liked a lot of the music and the aesthetic but never felt like dressing the part. I am not a punk. Stomping Ground, however, is what I call a “punk rock production,” because of the sincere emphasis on telling a story with something to say rather than dazzling with technical proficiency.  

A veteran screenwriter told me that he related to it on a deeply personal level. That’s the kind of film I want to make, films that make people say either “I remember when something like this happened to me” or “I can imagine what it would feel like if this happened to me.”


Next? A beautifully produced film with a rich, compelling story and, if not a beautifully produced film, then simply whatever I can make that has a rich, compelling story. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Explain All These Controls"














U2 at The Spectrum, April 1985





































There was a demographic study done a few years ago that came to the following conclusion: people, especially men, tend to come back to the music they listened to between the ages of 16 and 20.

As I approached 50, I knew that I should probably consider treating myself to something. Tonight, exactly six months after my birthday, I get my treat: I am going to see U2.

Now, I realize that, to some — even many — going to a concert, much less a U2 concert, might not look like a treat. To me, it is.

U2 released their first album when I was 15 and in the process of figuring out my own taste in music. I still remember a friend coming up to me in the hallway at school, telling me about these “Irish kids who started a band.”

My parents were teachers but both had been performers, an actress and a dancer, so I feel like I grew up with a fair bit of show tunes in the house. Of course, it was also the 60’s, my parents were beatniks-turned-hippies and I heard a lot of “that” kind of music.

By the time I was 15, I had gone through a heavy AM radio Top 40 phase (can you say “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack???) and I found myself listening to quite a bit of classic rock — even though it wasn’t going by that name back then.

Rock and roll is music for angsty teenagers. It seemed odd to me even at that point, to be listening to so much music rooted in the 60’s and ’70’s, music that people who were 15 five or ten years before me had listened to. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to have a deep and passionate love for Led Zeppelin, am in awe of “Born To Run”, still enjoy Motown and take pride in sharing my hometown with The Sound Of Philadelphia.

Still, the music always felt like it belonged to someone else, that it had always been there, waiting for me to discover it.  That’s the point, it was archival.

I guess that, even then, I was looking for the music I could grow up with, music that was new to the time, new to me, not something I was borrowing from a teenager who was now an adult.

So, how did my musical taste develop? Someone gave me an ELO album when I was 12 so I guess I liked ELO whether I did or not. I went to a KISS concert when I was 12 and, well, it was pretty hard to be a boy that age at that time and not get wrapped up in the spectacle, if nothing else. 12 to me equals KISS, Star Wars and Steve Martin. It was a pretty great year.


When I was 13, my father and three younger siblings took a six month cross-country trip. I was lonely much of the time (even though I did manage to experience my first real kiss — in northern California with a girl in her bedroom covered with posters of Star Wars, The Bee Gees and John Travolta) and found myself staring at the radio, trying to find a “good” station in whatever town we were in. “Just What I Needed” by The Cars popped out at me and struck me as especially contemporary. 1978: I saw “Grease” six times in the theater. I also saw “Halloween.”

Somewhere in there, either very late ’78 or very early ’79, I heard The Police for the first time.

At that point, I was already a bit of a media junkie, especially interested in following the exploits of the notorious Sex Pistols, eagerly awaiting The Ramones movie “Rock And Roll High School” but also acutely aware of the snowballing mainstream Disco culture — it seemed every movie or TV show had to have a disco sequence. The cheesy 1980 horror movie “Prom Night” deftly combined two dominant trends in late 70’s pop culture — slasher movies and disco.

Even though these things were happening around me, were contemporary, I knew I didn’t fit in. I’m not inclined towards discos, don’t dance well and, much as I liked the music, culture and aesthetic I am not a Punk.

If I am completely honest with myself, I was a pretty happy, well-adjusted kid with very little to be angry about or rebel against. I simply could not play dress-up and make believe. Many people around me managed to assume the persona quite well. Good for them.

Let’s be honest, the worst of punk was frequently as vapid and empty as the worst of disco, too much of it strained to give the impression of being meaningful — as if yelling and playing loud enough was somehow equal to saying anything. They were opposite sides of the same coin.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate punk, maybe even more today than I did back then. As a film professor, I frequently refer to Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1958 rude, crude and groundbreaking “Breathless” as “cinematic punk rock” because, long before punk shook up the music industry, it did the same thing to Hollywood —- stripped movies down the bones, cut away the excess, made them vibrant, spit in the face of the over-produced tame product that Hollywood was selling.

I think that almost every great movie or filmmaker since 1958 owes something to “Breathless.” Goddard took to the streets with a camera in his hands, no money, no script and managed to slap something special together with sheer will.


In the early 90’s, I took the same approach with “The True Meaning Of Cool” and I have taken to calling “Stomping Ground,” my feature film, a “punk rock production” because it is so lo-fi, was shot at such a breakneck pace, fueled by passion, DIY spirit and, in my own way, a desire to comment on what bothers me about too many movies.

So, back to 1980, I heard U2, I saw The Police and someone gave me “Remain In Light” by Talking Heads. To paraphrase a much later U2 song, I think I found what I was looking for. Always conscious, for better or worse, of the transient nature of music, I frequently found myself in record shops, trying to decide to part ways with my money, asking “am I really going to be listening to this album in ten years?”

In 1982, I saw The Police for the third time (followed by fourth and fifth times in ’83 and ’84), saw The Clash twice, Talking Heads, The Specials and so on.

I was doing a play in 1983 when U2 played the Tower Theater so I couldn’t go. It was a great play and I was good in it but a big part of me still wishes I could have gone to that concert.

Thirty years ago, in 1985, I finally saw U2. Back then, it was just four guys on a stage — no special lighting, no video screens, no costumes. I was 20, they were 24 and 25. It was amazing.

Approaching their 40th anniversary as a band, it is sometimes easy to forget that U2 is a band and not a mouthpiece for superstar singer/activist provocateur Bono. As a longtime fan, it can be hard to experience their often painful very public growing pains. Sometimes, you just wish they’d shut up and play some music.

Prone to grandiosity (onstage and off) even early in their career — “The Unforgettable Fire” might be one of their more forgettable efforts even if the title song is one of my personal favorites — the frequent attempts at “reinvention” or, from another perspective, admirable attempts at artistic growth and “not standing still” have been awkward at times.

From the somber, strained Americana-esque “Rattle and Hum” to the wildly revisionist but wholly successful “Achtung" Baby and “Zooropa” era to the overblown and almost embarrassing “Pop” (Hey, I like “If God Will Send His Angels”) phase and back to staggering new highs with “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” I have stayed with the band, sort of growing up together.

“Moment Of Surrender” from 2009’s politely received “No Line On The Horizon” is, to me, absolutely one of the best pieces they have ever produced.

Now, eight or nine months after the infamous “Apple drop” where they “released” the new “Songs Of Innocence” collection to every iTunes subscriber regardless of popular demand, some of those new tunes have gone into heavy rotation on my internal playlist.


Evolution is tough. If I look back over the past 40 years of my life I see more than a few missteps, awkward moments and stuff I’d rather forget.  However, like the band, I also have an interest in not standing still. Part of me wants to defy that demographic study and, to that end, I have discovered plenty of new music since I turned 20. Of course, I am acutely aware of not being 15 in 2015 and I have little interest in pretending to be.

I know U2 is struggling to remain relevant. They are one of the few bands out there that has lasted this long with their original line-up intact. As I transition into the second half of my life, I still wonder what I mean to anyone. It’s way too late to be the hot, new youngster on the scene so I can only hope to become the wise old man who still has some gas in the tank.

People who went to see a teenage Sinatra also went to see an 80-year-old Sinatra.

Relevance is relative. U2 is relevant to me. Tonight is my treat.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ben Stiller Does Not Remember Me



Ben Stiller, circa 1976


Ben Stiller’s mother, actress and comedian Anne Meara died on Saturday, the day after the 25th anniversary the death of Anne Greenberg, my mother.

Anyone who knows me reasonably well knows that Ben Stiller is the biggest name I can drop, having been cabin mates at a Maine summer camp in 1976. He was a bit of a ball of energy. I remember him laying in his bunk, belting out “Bohemian Rhapsody” but, more than anything that summer, I remember when his mother came to visit.

At 11, I was already well into what would become a pretty long geek phase — yes, my glasses did break that summer and yes, I did bind them back together with a thick wad of masking tape. But I was also deeply in love with movies and just beginning to recognize my calling as a writer.

I wrote movie reviews for the camp newspaper. On parent’s weekend, Ben Stiller pulled his mother over to me and said “Mom, mom, this is the guy who wrote the movie reviews!” She smiled at me and said “You’re good.” That’s it, two words but, when you’re young and impressionable, two words can make a difference. It wasn’t because she was a celebrity, it was more that she was an adult, a stranger and unmistakably genuine.

Obviously, I remember the moment, nearly 40 years later and not merely because it involved famous people. I remember the moment in 4th grade that two teachers told me that I should be be in the advanced creative writing workshop that was reserved exclusively for 5th and 6th graders.

My mother was my English and Drama teacher in high school. I remember when she really liked a story that I had put a lot of hard work into. I remember the writers she introduced me to — Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Eugene Ionesco, Tom Stoppard  — they are my biggest influences.

Ben Stiller doesn’t remember me. Why should he? But today, I am thinking of him, remembering his mother and mine.