It’s out there. From my screenplays and novels to my hundred and forty character Twitter sorties to this very blog. Whatever I say. Whatever I write, it’s mine. My name is on it. I own the content whether I regret having written it or not. I’ve tried to teach this to my children. Own your words. Own your actions.

Easier said than done because I didn’t always feel that way.

Let me rewind a few years. I was about two weeks away from the premiere of my movie Money Train. My expectations weren’t exactly high for the picture. I’d already suffered through a credit arbitration, I’d read a variety of the rewrites of my original screenplay, including the final shooting draft. The resulting picture would come bearing no great surprises.

I’d turned down a number of invites to screen the movie. My previous film for the very same studio, the surprise hit Bad Boys, had earned some serious box office coin. So when it came to this writer, Columbia was being extra courteous. Still, call it avoidance or instinct, I’d found plenty of excuses to miss the earliest unspoolings of Money Train. With but a few weeks left before it landed on America’s movie screens, it was time for me to cowboy up and see the damned movie.

I phoned Zachary Feuer to see if he wanted to join me. He’s the producer who was responsible for the film’s inception. It was in my office at Disney where he’d first told me about the actual armored train that secretly trolled the railways of the New York subway system. I was instantly on board and, in a matter of moments, had concocted a tale of two best friends caught up in a modern day homage to The Great Train Robbery. Zach had been beside me from the inception and involved in both the sale and development of the original screenplay. But because Zach was a paid development employee for TV producer Fred Pierce, he was relegated to an insulting Associate Producer position in the credit roll. Zach deserved better. But I digress.

The screening we chose was a morning event at a Westwood theater. The audience was primarily comprised of reps from the various exhibition chains around the country. The lights extinguished. The Columbia Pictures logo filled the screen. The rest is a blur. When the credits rolled, I felt like vomiting.

Zach and I retired to the sushi joint next door where we both tried to drown our disappointment in warm sake. How the hell could I have let my expectations elevate?  Especially after having been so acutely familiar with the final script?  Clearly, we’d both been victims of our own optimism. A pair of hopeful fools. Maybe it’s because the director, Joe Ruben, had shown an accomplished hand in his previous films. Or because the whispers around Hollywood were that Columbia had another hit on their hands with the genius re-teaming of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in their first foray since White Men Can’t Jump. 

What I’d watched was ham-fisted, over-the-top, and dull in the center. Frankly put, I felt embarrassed my name was on it.

While we wallowed in our post-screening misery, we could overhear the exhibitor reps at a nearby table lament about how they’d rather dedicate more of their precious screens to the upcoming James Bond picture.

Note: Money Train is not a bad movie. It has its fans and for that I’m appreciative. It continues to play on cable and I gladly cash the residual checks I receive every quarter. My reaction to the film then and now is purely visceral. I could best describe it as watching my lobotomized child stumbling around a house which I designed, but never furnished——only to witness it continually bruise itself as it bumped into tables and tripped over every exposed electrical cord.

Back to the story. And here comes the sticky part.

My wife, aka, the War Department, was seven months preggers with our first child. We were days away from the baby shower. We had family flying in for the happy day which, coincidentally, was scheduled the day before the Money Train premiere. The studio had promised a lavish event and party. As a writer in good stead with the studio, I’d been offered beaucoup invites. And what better way to entertain (and impress) your out-of-town guests but with a big Hollywood premiere? A red carpet flanked by paparazzi. Stars aplenty. All the glitz and glamour movie money could buy.

And all I wanted was out. I didn’t want to attend. Nor did I want to approve it or promote it. Sure. I might just be the writer. But I had my pride.

“I don’t want to go,” I told my wife. “I can’t support it.”

“But my family is flying in,” she reminded.

“Flying in for the shower,” I argued. “Not the premiere.”

“I invited them. They’re looking forward to it. You can’t cancel.”

“I can and I will. They cut the soul from my movie and it makes me sick. I don’t have to support it.”

“Just think about what you’re doing,” she advised. “It’s not just my family. There’s the studio. Your agents. What kind of message are you sending?”

“We have to cancel now,” I insisted.

Oh, the War Department. So wise in her actions and her words. This time, she chose to throw up her hands in mock-resignation.

I’d never been in such an emotional pickle. I’d been pleased enough with Die Hard 2. Ecstatic over how Bad Boys had turned out. This was my first encounter with utter disappointment in the final product.

I needed advice.

My wife suggested I use one of my life lines. In this case, producer, friend, and television legend, Leonard Goldberg. The old sage had produced both film and TV and run more than one movie studio. More importantly, he’d often imparted his special brand of wisdom at a few career points where I’d needed a guiding hand.

I described my quandary to Leonard.

“Let me ask you something,” said Leonard. “Had you’d seen and even liked the picture, would you feel any different about your circumstance?”

“Of course I would,” I said.

“So you’re only proud of your work in success?”

“Not exactly.”

“Is your name on the movie?”

“Yes.”

“Did they spell it correctly?”

“Of course they did.”

“Then you gotta own it,” said the sage. “Not just that, you need to support the movie in both success and failure.”

“Even if I hate it?”

“Especially if you hate it. The movie might yet be a hit and, if it is, you’ll reap all kinds of benefits from it. Correct?”

“Correct,” I repeated.

“If you’re prepared to accept a success you must be equally prepared to accept a failure.”

Oh, the hard hammer of truth. It hurts like hell when it first makes contact with your skull, but clears the fog like no other remedy.

“So I’m going to the premiere,” I said aloud, confirming to myself.

“You’re going and supporting your film because it has your name on it.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re right,” I said, wondering why such simple and perfect logic had escaped me. I’d clearly been blinded by my egotistical emotions. And there ended the lesson.

Then came last week.

Super-hyphenate Jeanne Veilette Bowerman along with her good folks at Scriptmag.com, have been posting some of my earlier pieces on their site. Following a post I’d written called Live Free or Die of Pneumonia was an unusually spicy trail of commentary, mostly by a fellow who employed a rather silly screen name. His extremely articulate comments notwithstanding, I was bothered by the choice to conceal his or her identity behind the skirt of a pseudonym. He argued that whether he used his real name or not, his words should carry the same weight. Well, unless you’re a Watergate source or a government-slash-corporate whistleblower, I strongly disagree.

I’m very grateful to Leonard Goldberg. And like most great teachings, his is one I continue to learn, relearn, and try to live by on a daily basis. Own your actions. Own your work. Own your words.

Read my new thriller, THE SAFETY EXPERT. Available in trade paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

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.
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  • Great post… that’s all I have to say! 😉

  • Amy H. Jones

    Could be worse, Doug. On “Relic”, I wrote the first draft and got the green light instantly. Kathy Kennedy told me she couldn’t put my script down, that I’d “launched the movie like a cruise missile”, then left to do “Twister” and handed to project to a partner, who handed it to his crap director friend without going out to anyone else. The crap director rewrote the film, along with a team who had just written a movie for Paramount that opened at a thousand per screen. This was only a few years after I wrote Indecent Proposal for Paramount and it made them a fortune. Long story short, Relic screenplay ruined. Movie sucks. No one ever spoke to me again. And I know, beyond a doubt, Kennedy and Paramount loved the original script. Once they screw you, even if you don’t protest, guilt makes them unwilling to look at you. I was not even invited to the cast and crew screening, much less the premiere.

    • Wow Ames. That makes the moment at the Money Train premiere when the executive shook my hand and said “I wish I’d had the balls to shoot your script” seem like I won the lottery. So when I run out of my own blog stories, can I tell yours?

    • Long-time reader/first-time poster. I really enjoy these posts, both for the business and craft info.

      Amy, could I ask if you left the Agent Pendergast character out of your version of RELIC? He’s not in the movie, and I can see why he might be considered a distraction in an action-focused film. But he’s the focus of the novel series, so in a way it’s strange that he was left out.

      • amy holden jones

        I found the entire rewrite of my draft inexplicable. It was also massive. I don’t know why they dropped Pendergast as I was never in the loop again after that first draft, as if often the case. I remember the original book, Relic, however, was a difficult adaptation for screen. Most books have loose or primitive structure compared to feature films, which generally operate on a tight three or four act frame. It’s an earlier book by Preston and Child, who have gotten better over the years. Their concept, however, was quite brilliant and it’s a shame it wasn’t better served.

  • Bullseye, Doug.

  • Eva

    Some wise words you have there, Doug.

  • Paul

    Great thoughts again, Doug. Thanks!

  • Michelle

    Always, always awesome!! Also, listen to The War Dept. she knows what she’s talking about 😉

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  • Love this. Owning our failures is a great lesson in life. It’s one of the most valuable lessons martial arts has taught me. I’ve learned a hell of a lot more by getting my ass kicked than I ever did by kicking someone else’s ass. Owning not only our words but also our actions is how we live with honor.

    • Thanks Jean-Jeanne. I’d like to think that through all my hard lessons, I’ve become a black belt in getting my ass kicked.

  • First things first: I like Money Train. It is what it is and I accept it for exactly what it is. I gladly watch it each time it’s on TV or cable. Second: I agree wholeheartedly. As a self-taught filmmaker and a writer I often look back at my previous work and groan as if punched in the nuts by three-year old son with superfast hands. But it’s MINE. Regardless of the outcome I know what I strived to accomplish and I know how committed I was to the project. I own it. Props, sir!!

    • Glad you like it. Maybe one day I will. I’ve only just gotten over passing it by when it shows up on cable. As for the three year old with superfast hands? I think I know that kid.

  • Mike Lang

    Another great Blog. Have to ask, is your original Money Train script available anywhere online or in print?

    • I might one day put it up for a read. Though I’ve long lost a digital copy. It’s paper and would require a bit of work to post it.

  • Cortez Law III

    Another insightful post, Doug. I love the fly-on-the-wall accounts. I always wondered what went on behind the scenes. Look forward to other war stories. P.S. Do me a favor? Don’t run out of ’em, like ever.

    • As long as I’m working I doubt I’ll run out. They happen every day around these parts.

  • You are and always will be my hero.

  • Good friends with perspective and good advice should be highly treasured. Perhaps that’s why they’re sometimes easier to listen to.

    I always look forward to your blog. Thanks, Doug.

  • Kent Bruce

    I often wonder if your blog shouldn’t be titled Life Lessons. Thanks, Doug.

    • … Or my life’s mistakes turned into your life lessons.

  • James

    Such simple words that convey so much. Own it. Within it all the crap we deal with and then have to dish something back. Regardless of how we feel. We own it. I wish I had a friend or mentor like Leonard. Wow. Hard words were never so simply spoken.

    Thank you again for another great read. This deserves a double shot.

  • Nim Chimpsky

    Thanks for the shout-out, Doug. It’s been educational. And real. Really. OK, so I think your ownership metaphor frays on my anonymity shtick – I assure you the most useful thing to be gleaned from the revelation of my God-given name is an opportunity to buy something from my online wedding registry. But I hear you. Words matter. Let’s call it even, eh?

    • On that note, congrats on the your upcoming big day. And my best to Missus Chimpsky.

  • B. Rich Adams

    Me thinks “Confessions of a Hollywood Screenwriter” more apt.
    I learn so much from your blog. Thank you Doug.

  • Fake Chicken

    Doug,

    I thought I should try out this cyber commenting under a pseudonym.
    Let me count the ways I hate you and everything you write. LOL. Just kidding. If you know who I am, you know I’m your biggest fan.

    I love this post. But not only because you’re sharing Leonard Goldberg’s great wisdom. This story explains exactly why you are truly my favorite person in Hollywood. Since the day I met you (mind you, we couldn’t have met under worse “movie” circumstances and been amongst dodgier people), I always admired that you are never afraid to ask advise, never too proud to admit someone else might be wiser,smarter or more talented and that integrity has always been more important to you than money or success.

    You’re one cool dude Doug Richardson and the only person I can think of that’s even cooler than you is The War Department.

    Fake Chicken

    • Dearest Fake Chicken. I love your pseudonym. I think it would make a great rock band name. I’m tempted to edit your question because I can’t imagine anyone reading it without imagining that I’d paid you post it. I’m flattered. Adore you. And especially respect fake chickens with the super chicken ability to kick me in the head at 90 mph.

  • Fake Chicken

    LOL. Yes, because anybody who says anything good about you must be paid.
    PS: My writing quote has just gone up, please adjust checks accordingly.

  • Another awesome lesson. Thanks, Doug! I always look forward to learning from you. You’re a true pro.

    • I’ll take that compliment. Even though the same “true pro” could accurately describe most hookers.

      • Jenna Avery

        Ha!! Not at all what I meant. But I know you know that. 🙂

  • Tim O’Connell

    Great article Doug thank you for sharing. I’m an amateur screenwriter with just a handful of screenplays written but I still cringe when I think of my first effort. It must have been very rewarding to hear the director’s red carpet confession.

    I’ve been on your site just a baker’s dozen of days and I’m really enjoying myself. I look forward to reading more.

    -Tim

    sidenote – I also watched Billy Jack recently on Netflix and had the same exact experience you did. I remember watching it at a drive-in when i was kid and loving it. I had completely repressed all the hippie free love babble and horrible dialogue and remembered only the kung fu ass-kickery. Something tells me I’m not going to find time for the Billy Jack sequels.

    • Keep reading, Tim. And writing. Hoping you turn that amateur status into professional and a hit movie and a fat producing deal so you can hire me.

  • Tim O’Connell

    Sounds like a plan Doug. 🙂

    Thanks for the encouragement. I actually have an idea for an 80’s mid-quel for a 20th Century Fox property. I haven’t written the screenplay yet but I’ve got it sketched out in a seven page synopsis. Any tips on approaching them with something like this?

    Would love to hear your thoughts…

    -Tim

    • Only approach is through an agent or manager or a producer they want to be in business with.

  • Tim O’Connell

    gotcha Doug – pretty what I figured thanks.

    -Tim