When I was invited to share with the masses my first thought was the Pet Shop Boy's 'What Have I Done To Deserve This'? I am one of those proverbial aspiring creatives with an insatiable hunger, looking for a foot in the door. So far, only small work on projects that aren't even a blip on an intergalactic map. Then it hit me like a kick to Rhonda Rousey's head. I've always had a certain mindset. A manner of thinking that everyone and I mean EVERYONE who wants to succeed in a creative industry where obstacles are thrown at you faster than Donkey Kong can hurl them, needs to think.
I can sum it up in one word: dedication, perseverance, motivation, persistence and in some cases, crazy. Okay, maybe that's more than one word. Actually the word really is... 'determination'. Someone willing to buck the odds, to take chances and risks in order to do what they love in life. To do anything to prove others wrong, including doctors. Some of those risks even came at the expense of my own eyesight.
I've always had vision issues. Without glasses I am legally blind, extreme nearsightedness, I can only see items clearly a few inches away. I've had glasses since I was three. My glasses aren't Hubble Telescope size, but they are thick. My mother didn't want me to play football, she was too concerned. I could remember being bullied because of my glasses, which is another story.
Ever since I performed in my first talent show at sleep away camp when I was five, I've always wanted to entertain and create for others. I would do stand up comedy in talent shows for years while acting in summer plays at camp. Rodney Dangerfield's Young Comedian specials on HBO had a big influence on me. Even in a sixth grade talent show I wrote and performed a stand up comedy set.
As the performing bug bit me so did another passion, wrestling. I enjoy contact sports. I began when I was 10 on the local P.A.L. team. My mother reluctantly agreed, because it wasn't football. I was a huge WWF fan as a kid. I wanted to wrestle and wrestling became an enormous part of my life. I wore out a VHS copy of Vision Quest. I'd medal in tournaments. In eighth grade Middle School I went undefeated, winning regional tournaments. I even toyed with the idea of wrestling professionally one day. I took to wrestling like a chair to the head.
When I was 14 talent agents from NYC held open auditions at a day camp I attended. I called my eighth grade English teacher Abe Elias for advice. I needed a proper monologue. He suggested John Donne 'No Man Is An Island'. So I read that and more of John Donne. Abe was an influence in lighting my passion to write. He read some of my first writings and was adamant in telling me to keep going. It's amazing how you can identify in your life a key moment when a person inspired you on your creative journey and Abe was that for me.
It all paid off because I was invited into NYC for screen tests. They recorded me doing different PSA's off cue cards. This was the first time I can remember my vision becoming an obstacle in following a dream. They told my parents I had a lazy eye that was too obvious on camera and could be an issue in casting me. They told me this while at the same time saying I could be the next Scott Baio! I felt screen acting from that point on would be impossible. I guess they never heard of Tom 'Tiny' Lister. It didn't stop me from acting in the high school dramas. With a little focus, I can control it now.
I eventually made varsity on the wrestling team in the Sophomore year of High School. Freshman year I started to notice a vision change. I wasn't sure what was going on, but my ability to see distances had diminished. Instead of sitting in the back of the class I was now in the front. A local vision specialist noticed I was incurring central vision loss in both eyes. He brought up the name of a specialist who practices in NYC. An office I still visit every few months.
In the summer of 1991 I saw Dr. Lawrence Yannuzzi who, at the time, was one of the three leading specialists in the world on my condition. I underwent over three hours of various tests. From his diagnosis, I have subretnal neovascularization with pathological myopia. A form of wet macular degeneration. A condition that happens to adults in their 60s and 70s, at the age I was diagnosed, I was one out of three million. A winner in the unlucky lottery. Basically the blood vessels behind the eye leak into the eye and scar over when the leak stops. My vision issues could be much worse compared to many others. I am thankful every day for what I have and know it could get worse at some point.
Imagine a fountain pen on paper. You will notice the spot grow larger, perhaps leak on a tangent. If not stopped, that small spot might grow worse. Now imagine if that pen was pin sized held on your eye. That spot, no matter how small, is a large impairment. It comes on like a lightning strike, no warning. Then spreads like a brush fire if not contained. There's no crystal ball to tell if it will happen again or not. The leaks stopped long before I was diagnosed, but now I have these scars in my central vision that no surgery could and still can't get rid of. So picture having scars in your central vision.
Dr. Yannuzzi said not to strain myself to any degree. I couldn't even lift heavy weight, he thought any strain to the blood vessels in my eyes would create more leaks. Right now you are sensing the obvious. He told me I could no longer wrestle.
I cried hard. I LOVED wrestling. A long shot dream was to wrestle for the University of Michigan. I just completed my first year at Varsity and had to give it up. The acting issue popped in my head. I couldn't really see distances anymore. No way I can read a teleprompter or cue cards. I thought every casting agent would DQ me. Any kind of reading was difficult. Professional wrestling, no way. So what did I do? I looked for other ways to follow my passions.
I had a TV Production class in my Freshman year and we filmed a bunch of projects. Movie concepts, music videos, parodies. I had so many ideas I didn't want class to end.. I was comfortable behind the camera. There was a VHS camcorder anyone could sign out. I took it every weekend and filmed anything I could. I would ask every teacher if I could make a short for extra credit. My favorite was a Zucker Brothers style comedy for English class to tell Homer's 'Odyssey'. I went above and beyond on that one.
I thought my creativity would best be suited for marketing since I placed in Regional Marketing competitions and advanced to State competitions two years in a row. I took that as a sign to move forward with marketing instead of thinking about all the small films and other aspirations I had in writing and creating content. But... my wrestling passion had a louder voice.
As it turned out there were a few professional wrestling schools in New Jersey. I attended one ran by WWE 'Superstar Iron' Mike Sharpe to become a referee and a manager. Things started out that way but wrestling was calling. Did I dare go against my doctors and do something that could cause me more damage or even worse, blind me?
Yeah. Do it!
So I wrestled. Maybe not on a National or International level, but I was doing it. I knew I'd never be on the WWE's radar but I was doing something I had a passion for. I hate when I'm told “no, you can't”. I always like to find a reason to say “yes, I can”. I never told my specialists, or my mother. I think I was more fearful of her. After a few years she found out. Her words were “I can't stop you so I may as well support you”. When I informed my NJ vision specialist I had been wrestling, he was more shocked than anyone. I incurred no new damage so he found no reason to tell me to stop.
I thrived in wrestling. I eventually moved behind the scenes as a talent scout and writer of story lines for a regional promotion run by who I thought was a great friend. He convinced me that this would turn full time but never did. I was eventually bumped out by others with a personal gain. I worked with many unprofessional people who would stab you in the back. I grew a thick skin over all the bullshit and rejection. That happens a lot in wrestling. Hell, all over the entertainment industry in all facets, so it set me up well for screenwriting. I had a great run and did what I always wanted to do, but I needed to find another creative outlet.
It came in 2008 when The New York Jets planned to fund their new stadium with PSL's (Personal Seat Licenses). My father had season tickets since they were the New York Titans of the AFL. I knew there was a story here, so I chose to make a documentary about it. I picked up 'The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide' written by author, and adjunct professor at NYC Tisch Anthony Artis. After contacting Anthony about a misprint in his book, it led to some great conversation and a consult. All it cost me was breakfast. And there came another key mentor in my life. Anthony has been a great friend and mentor. He and his colleague Black Card Director Pete Chatmon conducted an Indie Film Boot Camp and taught me the meaning of the word 'hustle'.
I started blogging about my mission and plight. The Jets fans caught the attention of a few websites who I started to contribute to. Those websites also had podcasts that I became a panelist on. I was enjoying myself to a degree. I attended the NFL Draft as a red carpet interviewer and I was responsible for video content on some football websites. I interviewed everyone from Jets tailgaters to Jets owner Woody Johnson, Hall of Famer Barry Sanders and many other NFL players. Once again, things were going well until there was internal drama. It was all disbanded. New people were in charge, there were new websites, and a lot more drama. I wasn't comfortable with this new regime. Even the cameraman I had on my documentary lost over half the footage. I learned lessons the hard way in trusting the wrong people since wrestling.
I started to learn Final Cut Pro and Photoshop to do things myself with the footage I had. I ran in a few Warrior Dash races as well. An adult obstacle course? Sign me up! I even went back to the gym and started lifting weights again.
In September 2012 I again noticed a vision change. Between then and October 2013 I had two more leaks in my left eye, just off center. These days a shot to the eye can stop the leak in its tracks with a drug that was initially meant for cancer patients. Prediction of what may happen is uncertain for someone with this condition still. They put no restrictions on what I can do though.
This forced me to sit three inches from the computer screen. Actually, three inches from anything I needed to read. Using Final Cut became tedious. Even operating a camera was an issue, constantly removing my glasses to try and read the smallest print or to see an LCD screen clearly.
When I told my NYC specialists that for the past few years I wrestled they are astounded. Here I was, taking my vision into my hands every time I stepped through those ropes and thankfully, nothing happened. I've been quite the case study for this condition.
At the same time I started the documentary, a story overflowed in my head. The only way to contain it was to write every aspect of it down. I downloaded a copy of Final Draft because I read Tom Hanks used it. I saw the opening scene clearly, shot for shot. I was writing that scene even before I knew proper script format. I guess my true passion caught up to me. I knew it could make a great series for TV.
A few years ago I made the decision to go after that initial dream, of writing and creating content. Former showrunner and comedian Jim Mendrinos taught me the basics of script writing and I have not looked back since. Jim and others who have read my work see I have the talent to succeed. My drive is the same as it was in wrestling. I may have to 'kiss the screen', but I just won't ever utter the words "I quit”.
Recently, during a webinar with a manager, I proposed a the question of how someone who takes a little longer to write could be a staff writer on a TV series. He scoffed at the question then responded “if you can't write a script in less than one week, then TV may not be the place for you”. Another challenge I accepted.
Obstacle races appeal to me, because I've been facing them all my life. During the 2013 Warrior Dash, I slightly tore my rotator cuff. I still climbed, swam, and swung my way to the finish line.. I usually don't talk in detail about my vision issues but there are many who fight tougher battles every day, that have higher hills to climb to achieve their passions. Who am I to argue? I still have my eyesight. I want my talent and passion to speak for me so my vision issues don't have to.
Don't be afraid to take risks at anything in life. Face any obstacle head on. When you know in your heart there is a path you were meant for, take it. Be the one who lays down the tracks. Everyone says they want to be the next someone. A big name director, actor, writer, key grip, whoever. Just be you, it's more exciting, because being someone else is already taken. It's our individual voice and path that make others intrigued to work with you. If they wanted Quentin Tarantino, they would call him. If you can't get in through the door, try the ceiling.
You get the idea.
About David Levy
Ever since I was single digits I've always been one for writing and entertaining. At 14 I did some screen tests for a talent agency in NYC. They kept telling my parents I could be the next Scott Baio. But due to visual issues they passed, saying my lazy eye would keep me back because how it looked on camera.
In high school I took a TV production class my freshman year. I made shorts of a soldier in Vietnam to my own Zucker brothers inspired comedy project and so much in between. Instead of pursuing film making and screenwriting as a career I went down the marketing route after placing in state level competitions in high school. I pursued another dream, that of being a professional wrestler. Over 15 years experience in the sports entertainment (professional wrestling) industry as an in ring performer, producer, and writer of content. I excelled in creating fresh storylines and characters combined with knowledge of ring psychology and story development.
A former financial services professional with Series 7 and 63 license's, a Life and Health insurance agent, and a Certified Long Term Care specialist. I was a successful professional until the recession of 2008. When one door closes, another opens I took it as an opportunity to get back into writing and creating. It was at this time I began work on a documentary about the New York Jets and their fans titled GANG GREED. I spent 5 years directing/producing a documentary on the New York Jets PSL situation and their fans titled which is in post-production. I was the host/interviewer on the documentary speaking with everyone from season ticket holders to Jets owner Woody Johnson.
The doc lead me to be ac-host of football podcast's "Pro Football NYC", "Football Reporters Online", and "The Jets Zone". As I wrote articles pushing the work on my documentary the respective podcasts asked me to be a contributing writer to their websites. I was lead interviewer and producer for web content for "PFNYC" and "FRO". I attended the NFL Draft and Fantasy Football Fest to interview a slew of great current and former players.
In the past few years I decided to follow my true passions, writing and creating content. After learning TV writing from a former showrunner with thirty years experience in TV writing I've written several original one-hour TV pilots and still going. I am currently in the middle of my first sitcom "Business As Usual" and writing/developing a scripted sketch comedy web series "TMI - To Much Information".
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