Yes. You know this person. The doubter. That one, not-so-well meaning person in our lives who insists it’s their personal responsibility to themselves and society to inform the less-talented dreamers of the world that any notions of a career beyond the local lumberyard is nothing more than a wonton fantasy.

Mine was named Tana Moore. Well, to be more accurate, Ms. Tana Moore. She was my assigned counselor at the very small-town high school where I was imprisoned for four mind-numbing years. Del Oro High School. Home of the Golden Eagles. Known to rival secondary schools as Bonsai High, given our strong percentage of first generation Japanese-American students.

Ms. Moore and I weren’t exactly tight. I don’t recall a single class where she was my teacher.

Yet there I was, three weeks into my senior year, as pimple-faced as a stadium full of Cheap Trick fans. I was seated across from her in a Frigidaire-sized office, about to have the what-am-I-doing-after-high-school discussion.

“Do you have any plans for after graduation?” she began as if on remote. This was before re-scanning my first few years of secondary school marks. “That, of course, is assuming you graduate at all.”

“I understand my grades aren’t so good,” I confessed.

“No they’re not,” she said flatly. “A two-point-zero GPA isn’t exactly college material.”

Yes. That’s right. My high school grade point average was an unscholarly two-point-zero. A scarlet C average. Not that I’d actually scored a lot of that middling, letter grade. That was just the average of a lot of A’s and B’s in stuff like art and phys-ed, along with some decent scores in English. So to turn those A’s and B’s into a straight C average required a significant measure of D’s and F’s and incompletes. My mother tired of reading the same dry comment on my report cards—“Doug appears bright but refuses to apply himself to his school work.”

“Since we’re obviously not applying to a four-year college,” continued Ms. Moore, “What do you see yourself doing in the future?”

“You mean, for a career?” I clarified.

“Yes. Career? Job? What do you imagine you’re qualified to do?”

“Well, what I want to do…” I said, sitting up a bit straighter, stoked that I was going to get to talk about something other than my lame high school academics.

“Yes,” she prompted. “What you want to do?”

“I want to make movies.”

“Movies?” she quietly repeated, swallowing the two-syllable word like it was battery acid.

“Yes. I want to make movies.”

With that, Ms. Moore tilted her head down a comely twenty-degrees, her raven hair cascading across her creaseless forehead, brought a pair of knuckles to her lips as if they would hide the smirk on her lips, then quit holding her feelings in check and let out something best described as a soul-crushing laugh.

Yes. Ms. Tana Moore laughed at me.

“Seriously, Doug,” she tried to save.

“I’m completely serious,” I answered. “I want to make films.”

She turned her hands flat, palms down and facing my transcripts, and mimed in a Mr. Miyagi-like “wax-on, wax off” motion.

“This doesn’t exactly say filmmaker to me,” she rationed. “This says get out of school and get a job.”

And she was right. My grades didn’t at all speak to my high-school achievements. Not that she was completely unaware of my extra-curricular accomplishments. Hardly a teacher in the district hadn’t heard of my part in organizing the “Night They Raided Lazley’s”–the toilet paper assault to end all others. Over four hundred rolls of the white stuff were employed to paper a math teacher’s house on a dare from the math teacher himself. Not just that. I doubled-down and scored big by covering the prank with photos and an article in the local, weekly newspaper. The journalistic cred this earned me eventually led to an investigative piece I wrote on some financial and probable sexual shenanigans involving the advisor to our tiny high school’s newspaper and the girl he’d tapped to be the following year’s editor. My hard-hitting piece proved a little too hard, causing the advisor’s dismissal and the shutdown of the Del Oro Black and Gold.

Thusly, I brimmed with slacker confidence when I queried the following question to Ms. Moore.

“So what do you know about what it takes to make movies?” I argued.

Ask a stupid question.

Ms. Moore went on to explain her remarkable credentials on the subject. As it turns out, she was married into some kind of Sacramento Cinefilia Society. Along with her husband and her high-brow friends, they and their downtown crowd would weekly attend whatever art films had found their way into the local revival theater. They’d drink wine, discuss and debate the art and relevance of modern cinema, and come Monday, return to their real-world jobs.

“I strongly suggest you re-evaluate your goals,” urged the counselor. “Stop dreaming and find something you can realistically accomplish.”

The meeting was over. I shuffled out of her office and tried not to show my obvious defeat. But not so insulted by her to change my educational tack. That’s my not-so-proud way of admitting that my two-point-zero GPA remained ingloriously intact through the finish of my senior year. I did though find a way to graduate and eventually put Ms. Tana Moore in my rear view mirror.

SMASH CUT TO: Twelve years later.

Die Hard 2, Die Harder was days from opening. Because this was my first produced feature, the good folks at Twentieth Century Fox offered to throw me my own private premiere of sorts at a hometown movie-house of my naming. I chose a theater in a Sacramento suburb nearest to that one-stoplight town where I’d finally grown up and out of. On the night picture’s opening, the studio had the theater rope off some prime rows of seating. I invited family and friends. My pops threw an after-party at a local pizza joint. It was quite the evening.

Now, this is the part in most stories where I’d cue Ms. Tana Moore to waltz into the pizzeria to pick up the Friday night pepperoni pie to accompany her and hubby’s VHS rental of the night. Sure, it would’ve been sweet to tell her the place was closed for a private premiere party. So sorry to disappoint you. She never showed.

But…

The big Sacramento Daily heard of my success and asked for a sit-down interview the next morning. I gamely obliged, sharing coffee, laughs, and stories of growing up in the outlying hinterlands with an appropriately geeky reporter. After which the War Department and I climbed into our car and drove back to Los Angeles to prepare for our trip to Cuba.

Upon our return, I opened an envelope sent to me by the reporter. Contained therein was the Sunday newspaper that followed my visit. On the front page of the Arts section was my photo, full panel and above the fold. And the attached article which began something like this:

“When Doug Richardson was a high school senior, his college counselor, Ms. Tana Moore, asked him what he wanted to do with his life after high school. When Doug told her he wanted to make movies, she laughed at him.”

“This weekend, Doug’s first produced feature, Die Hard 2, Die Harder, opened in theaters across the country. And tomorrow, Monday, it will be the number one movie in the nation.”

I can’t quite count the number of times I’ve imagined Ms. Moore and her perfectly lacquered nails opening up that Sunday paper to her favorite arts section. Seeing my animated mug. Maybe being so dismissive as to wonder if the young man in the picture appeared familiar to her. But then at last reading her own, unforgettable name printed in plain, black and white, Franklin Gothic font.

There were doubters before her. And so many ever since. I’ve discovered that naysayers never recede into background. And like the dawn, they remain queued up for a turn to knock me back to earth. My words to them are always the same. Bring it.

The blog goes on vacation next week. See you in December.

Enjoy the blog? Then help keep the pirate ship afloat by clicking on a link and buying one of my thrillers. And they’re cheap. Not tawdry. Just inexpensive. And you could buy two for less than your average cocktail!

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Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Waves of Gray

    Great article! I, like probably everybody else, have my own Ms. Tana Moore (and then some), and am very thankful for them. Those who doubt my passion and ability help me stay focused to accomplish what I believe I am meant to do.

    • Doug Richardson

      Agreed, WOG. That chip on your shoulder requires somebody to put it there.

  • Joshua James

    I love this so much.

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks, Joshua.

  • Bryan Walsh

    Great story; and a familiar one. Only I thought you would have invited Ms. Moore to the premiere. Whether she attended or not would have been irrelevant; her just getting the invite would have been enough of a “what do you think now, miss high school councelor???”

    • Doug Richardson

      Maybe, Bryan. But by inviting her I would’ve risked the chance of her giving me a lousy review over pizza.

      • wonder

        It may not have had enough subtitles for her little club.

  • Emily Blake

    Ugh. This irritates the hell out of me. I was a high school teacher for a long time, and no matter what a kid’s grades were like, unless he was a supreme asshole (I’ve taught about 4 of those in my life), my answer to whatever he or she wanted to be was the same: “Okay, let’s figure out what you have to do to get there.”* That’s the teacher’s job – to guide and educate, not to crush dreams. Yet you hear stories like this all the time. I’m glad you got the chance to let her know in the end.

    *If the kid is a supreme asshole, my response was some version of “enjoy prison, you little shit.”

    • Doug Richardson

      In that case, Emily. I’d rather get laughed at then recommended for incarceration.

      • Emily Blake

        See? Maybe she wasn’t so bad.

        But I’m joking. I’d never actually say that to any kid. If he was truly horrible, I’d just direct him to someone else for advice.

    • Joshua James

      I agree, but I can also honestly say that at least four teachers in my high school were supreme assholes (and others were just incompetent and were fired) and years later, when I worked as a teacher’s aide in a larger public school, percentage-wise there were more asshole teachers than kids. I loved the great teachers, hated the asshole ones.

      Which is why I support paying public school teachers a LOT more money, with a LOT MORE training to get BETTER people doing those jobs for far longer…

  • Phyllis K Twombly

    When the kids in my hometown were about to enter the high school of a nearby city a few of their teachers came to taunt us–we wouldn’t do well because we were from the village. It’s true only about a third of my elementary class graduated but I’ve often wondered how many just gave up. I didn’t mention where I was from until it was too late. My diploma says ‘with honors.’

    • Doug Richardson

      An honor that you shared, Phyl. And it shows how short-sighted teachers can be.

  • GM52246

    I taught theatre undergrads at the U of Iowa as a playwriting grad student, and I made damn sure to treat each & every one of them with respect unless given ample reason to do otherwise (and those were rare–one clear-cut plagiarism case, another of rampant absenteeism). And I’ve taught elementary school kids. If I’d been your guidance counselor, Doug, I would’ve urged you to get a cheap camera and move to NY or LA. Glad you made it. –Greg

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks Greg. You’re clearly one of the stand-outs.

  • R-Elena

    For me I was crap in school because I wasn’t doing what I loved. The teachers would say I have to much potential but my family would always see my dream of being an actress and making my own films unrealistic. So I grew up not trying because I thought I wasn’t capable of achieving my goals. I would watch films, award ceremonies, tv shows etc and feel in my element but the moment I got back to reality of my life I would be depressed. I’ve jumped from one job to another with no joy. I’m 26 with friends that have good jobs and houses. I have a shitty job and it’s only now that I thought screw all you people I will make this happen. I will do what I love. So I’ve started writing my own screenplays and whenever I mention it to my family you know what they still say? It’s an illusion. They don’t take me seriously. That’s why it’s inspiring to read stories like this one because it keeps me going. It’s difficult to stay focused when you have your inky support telling you not to bother but hey I want to be happy and I’m not going to let anyone shatter my dreams anymore. So thanks for this!

    • R-Elena

      Lol not inky I meant only!

      • Doug Richardson

        You’re welcome, R-Elena. And let’s raise a glass to inky support. Keep pushing. Don’t let the doubters bring you down.

        • R-Elena

          Yay to inky support ha ha thanks

  • Jack Calvert

    Great article, Doug! Proof that living well really is the best revenge. Also, that for some of the brightest minds, high school can be a numbing exercise in psychological torture. I was lucky to graduate with a “C.” The only useful thing I learned was typing, and I still suck at that.

    I suspect Ms. Moore saw the article on the front page of the Arts section, and was sufficiently shamed by it. How could she not be?

    Then again, some pathological naysayers never have that epiphany. Worse still, the naysayer may even be a friend or family member–someone who, instead of encouraging us and helping us, tries mightily to suck the life out of our dreams with soul-crushing admonitions like, “so, when are you going to get a real job?” (Ugh. Face palm.)

    Cheers, Doug, for never giving up, and for your well-deserved success. Having conquered the worlds of screenwriting and novel-writing, do you have any plans to direct? Maybe a screen adaptation of one of your novels?

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks Jack. No plans to direct. At least while my kids are still at home. As for the naysayers being slammed or otherwise, I vote for otherwise. There’s a teflon to their narcissism that’s hard to crack.

  • wonder

    Success is the best revenge.

  • paul

    Doug,

    I just pictured Ms. Moore scrambling to figure out who this Doug Richardson kid was….which one of 8,532 kids she treated that way. What you didn’t know was that she had Sara Bkalely right after you….. Her to Sara: “LOL, so you want to start a company of women’s support? You’re a moron. Get out of my office.”

    I was mesmerized by the fact that your studio threw you a private screening? Didn’t know writers got that…. what kind of a theater was it? did they have security like one of those celebrity screenings?

    I think this actually segues to the even more interesting part of what happened in those 12 years from the counselor’s office to the premiere… I know there are snippets on this blog, but not the whole story.

    • Doug Richardson

      Yes, Paul. It was a generous moment by a generous distribution department. Nothing fancy. Your basic theater with my guest’s seats reserved and roped off from the general public. No security because there were no celebs. I did sign a number of autographs and posters and one of the signees ended up briefly stalking me. Aside from that…

      • Paul

        Generous indeed…I’ve only heard that done for a select few screenwriters.

        Would you ever consider doing a “Twelve years” series? I find it pretty inspirational that you went from a 2.0 HS teen being dumped on by his guidance counselor to having a private screening of a film made by the world’s most famous mega-producer. What happened in those 12 years????!!!!!!!

        • Doug Richardson

          Hmmmmm. Sounds like a few blogs in there.

  • Lisa Kothari

    Good for you, Doug! I love these moments in life! I had a former boss once who told me I needed to go back to English 101 to learn how to write – it was wonderful when I published a book and gave her a copy of it. Keep going and moving through the naysayers! You’re right – Bring It!

    • Doug Richardson

      Indeed, Lisa. I have a few more of those. Naysayers are part of the circle of a creative’s life.

  • Hey Doug! I’ve been reading you all this time and I had no idea that you grew up somewhere around Loomis. I was a tiger from Rocklin and have been living in Folsom the last 10 years. I’ve managed to stay out of the prison. Our schools always had a great rivalry.

    I just wrapped shooting a feature in the Tahoe forest just past Sly Park. I was told I couldn’t do it with my budget in the number of days I scheduled. The naysayers lost this round. Good on ya!

    • Doug Richardson

      Good on you, Senor Brimm. And good luck with your feature.

  • Lloyd Vance

    I agree with Emily, a teacher should be a guide, not a crusher. Ironically, I think this teacher probably helped you on your journey. I went to Woodland High (the other side of Sac from Del Oro) and most of the teachers couldn’t be bothered to learn kids names it seemed, with some notable exceptions who made it bearable. I don’t remember anyone asking me what I’d do after graduation…

    • Doug Richardson

      That’s because, Lloyd, you were probably well adjusted and on a college trajectory.

      • Lloyd Vance

        College bound, yes. Well adjusted, definitely not. Had some issues to work through.

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  • Milo

    Very inspiring post. Here’s why. When school psychologist asked me
    during one session what I’d like to do in future, I answered: “To be a
    writer”. She looked me surprised and wanted to know why, I said: “Well,
    one of the reasons is that I never got an A at writting exam”. “Then why
    you think that you can write?”, she uttered. My tongue was in idle
    position and her comment filled me with bitterness. It has been couple
    of years since then and I am still warm about my desire.

    • Doug Richardson

      Heat it up, Milo. Out of high school I tested into the most basic of English course. I remember after I turned in an essay, the professor asked me why I’d been stuck in the remedial course. I told him that I didn’t think the ability to diagram a sentence was an an auto-qualifier for deciding if someone could write or not. He agreed.

  • Eric

    That is just too funny – what a small world – I graduated from DO in 1988!!! LOL!!! I guess I “lucked out” with my English Teacher, Mr. Steinback (or however you spell his last name…), or maybe I didn’t since he didn’t instill a deep-rooted sense of fury and revenge. Well, I’m happy you got to “stick it” to Ms. Moore 😉

    • Doug Richardson

      Go Golden Eagles, Eric.