How do you go from being an aspiring writer to becoming a professional one? I get this question a lot, and I know everybody has a different story – I can only tell you mine. Although I have always wanted to write, I never really thought I would become a published book author. Or that I would be the creator and screenwriter of a top TV show at age 27. But, as John Lennon once sang, life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.
In a way, my life has always been about knowing what my next steps and goals are. The immediate, the near future and the far away ones. I am one of those people who have plans A, B, C and D laid down. I also prefer to be surprised than frustrated – so usually my plan D is the one I want the most, but I keep it in the back burner. Of course, all the planning is to distract me from what I really want to happen. So I learned that making plans is a great way to deal with my anxiety and have a firm mind about where to go. But that is all. I had no idea what was about to happen when I landed my first three big gigs. Let me tell you about them.
My First TV Show
I had written a pilot and a bible for a TV Show that I imagined the audience was thirsty for. Yes, I always talk to the audience, people in general, about what they would like to watch. I also watch a lot of TV to determine trends and loopholes that have not been covered. Anyways, back to my TV Show: I sent it out to many producers. I did some cold calling; I asked some actor friends to read and refer. Months and months later, I got a phone call from a director who loved it. Yay! I mean, that is the validation you need after spending months creating and shaping your show, right? His name was Del Rangel, and he was the artistic director of the second biggest Brazilian network at the time. He tried to get my show approved… he did not succeed.
I was so down, so sad, feeling so defeated. I cried for days, my boyfriend the only one allowed into my shattered soul. In my defense, I was just 24 years old and very naïve. Guess what? Del called me a month later: I have a project for you to create and write! Long story short, that TV show I was invited onboard changed the way the audience saw TV in Brazil, where it was screened. Mainly because we had 70% of the cast composed of people of color – a first in the history of television. We talked about the lives of people who were never portrait on TV. As a result, we scored 18 points – more than Friends did in the exact same year here in America. Yes, honey, I am extremely proud!
My First Book
My second big gig was becoming a book author. In my early 20s I had written something that resembled a play, maybe a screenplay. I wasn’t sure. And I would never have been if it wasn’t for one of my father’s friends, Jorge Felix, who one day, out of the blue, called me asking if I had a manuscript. He was starting a small publishing house and he thought that I may have it in me – to be a book author. I mean, it took a stranger to look at me and see something I had a hard time even thinking about becoming. Me, a book author? That would be almost arrogant. I was only 29 and had been focused on my 2 year old toddler and 3 months old baby! Nevertheless, Jorge saw, behind the showrunner of that hit TV show, the seeds of an author.
I handed him my manuscript, he came back days later saying they loved, the book would be published in two months! I was too young to have a heart attack, but I felt like the most special person in the whole universe! And that’s when I published my first novel! Little could I imagine that I would keep publishing and getting more and more readers!
My First Script in Hollywood
My third big gig happened only because I got confident, and somewhat perky. I was living in Los Angeles, back in 1997, and while riding a cab I heard an interview with author Kevin Baker about his new book, Dreamland. Huh, interesting title, it sounded very appropriated for Los Angeles, but it was set in New York, in the early 1900s. I bought the book (a 500 page-turner) and I spent the weekend reading it. Subsequently, without further ado, I decided to start a complex and long script based on it, that took me three months to finish.
When I was done, exhausted from all the mental and physical labor of researching and writing, night and day, for a 180-pages period drama script, I called one of the managers who was interested in my work. The first thing he asked, of course, was if I had the rights to the book. I have a copy of the book, I naively replied.
Laura, don’t tell me you spent three months writing a script based on a book you don’t have the rights to…
Silence. Crickets. I had no idea what he was talking about. I had been driven by my vibrant passion for that story, and how much I wanted to tell it should be enough to get any rights to the book, right?!
Leo DiCaprio Dream
Soon enough I found out that having a story without having the rights to it means not having a story. I managed to get in touch with the book author’s agent in New York. Disappointingly, they told me that Dreamland had been optioned to Leonardo DiCaprio’s company, who was considering shooting an epic period drama about New York. As we all know, he ended up producing and playing in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. But back then they were considering a bunch of books. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with DiCaprio’s agent and submit my script for their consideration.
I was on my way to Las Vegas when I got the call from his agent saying that they thought I had done a great job, but decided to go with a different book. He told me to keep in touch for upcoming scripts. It wasn’t the news I was hoping for, but I was in heaven just knowing that I had some visibility in this intricate web of power and stardom known as Hollywood!
That is how badly I treat a book that I love!
Again, my fellow friends, life is really what happens while you are busy making plans. Just have faith and keep moving.