I was no reader and certainly not a writer, but if you had seen some of my drawings from my earlier years, you might say I was born to draw, you might have seen signs of a young Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci. My mother, the romantic, saw me as an imagineer for Walt Disney, but my father, practicalist, saw me as an architect.
But somehow neither direction was good enough for me.
That said, they say that everyone has a moment in life that defines who they are. I had two.
The first moment came in grades school just after I “thought” I had finished first grade: My parents were talking with Sister Eleonore in the hall just outside the classroom, and they agreed that it would be best if they held me back in first grade one year.
I was placed in remedial reading and math classes, which, you might have guessed, I “did not” enjoy. I longed to be in the class across the hall with the smart kids who were taking pre-Algebra. I wanted so badly to be like the smart kids, even if it meant I had to get everyone to think that I was smart.
This “smart” act went on for years.
Directly after high school, my father drafted me into college where I did not study art or architectural engineering. I picked physics, and it was no mystery. I struggled and before I could sport a long white lab coat, I flunked out.
The second moment came a couple years later when I entered college the second time. I still hadn’t dropped the smart act. I still wanted to study physics even though I failed both the math and English portions of the college placement test.
Because I had done so badly on the English portion the college placement test—we won’t mention the math portion—I was placed in Prep English, which I came to learn wouldn’t even register as a real credit, but despite how much I didn’t want to be in that class, it changed my life for the best.
Suddenly I got English. Suddenly I could write well. I found myself falling in love with it. It wasn’t much longer after that that I gladly traded in my scientific calculator for a manual typewriter.
Although I never analyzed the structure or a story or the beginning, the middle and end, in what some might think of the unfinished attic of my parents’ home as solitary confinement, I thought of as paradise, focusing on writing the Great American Novel.
Although I fell well short of the Great American Novel with only short stories to show for it, I began getting story structure.
After eight long years of hard time at Butler County Community College and what some might add as only an associate degree in arts to show for it, what I eventually wrote was the Great American “Short” Novel with “Jamaican Moon”.
I wrote two more short novels—“Bad Blood” and “Condo Joe”. I put them with “Jamaican Moon” in a collection called “Three by the Sea”, which I published through a POD publisher. Not exactly what I wanted in a publisher, but they did claim to reject manuscripts.
Rita, a very good friend of mine from Trinidad, had read “Three by the Sea” and wrote an Amazon review that any budding authors could only hope for:
“I couldn’t wait any longer, so I bought the book off the Internet—cost me a big $18, shipping, etc., but it was worth every penny. A good book, kept my interest to the end.”
I just had to see Rita who literally lived just around the corner from my parents’ place to thank her for the amazing Amazon review, and she thought I ought to be writing for television for shows like CSI.
You would have thought a compliment like that had shot me to the moon, but it didn’t. I was still dead set on writing that Great American Novel. It was the Great American Novel or nothing!
I don’t know where it came from but next I wrote “Finny the Friendly Shark”—a children’s book about a shark who did not have the heart to bite. I then applied to the Institute of Children’s Literature in Connecticut not because I wanted to broaden my book-writing horizons; I thought it might be an angle into big time authorship Big Apple-style. I studied under the children’s author Stephen Roos. I graduated with a certificate, but it didn’t help me break in.
I spent the next couple of years as you might have guessed chasing the Great American Novel until one morning, I tried writing something completely different, something I had not tried before—a script—not for television or even a short script. No, it had to be a script for a feature film.
I had discovered screenwriting. I mean don’t get me wrong. I had a lot to learn about screenwriting—I was a screenwriting virgin—but it seemed to be the perfect fit for me!
Without the aid of any screenwriting software like the ever popular Final Draft or any familiarity with the Three-act Structure, I completed the script “Forbidden” then I completed the second script “This Ain’t No Vacation, Sweetheart” and this would be the script I would get acquainted with the Three-act Structure.
Who knows? Maybe my friend from Trinidad, who just might have been in my fleet of guardian angels, had finally gotten through to me. It didn’t take a calling. It took a shouting!
I wanted to jump in my car and race to New York Film Academy in New York City and study screenwriting, but financially film school was just not in the picture, so I went another route courtesy of the “St. Elmo’s Fire” screenwriter Karl Kurlander.
It may not work for you, but what I’ve come to call “poor man’s film school” certainly worked for me. After briefly meeting and talking with Mr. Kurlander during an English Festival at Westminster College he suggested that I send a script in to his friend who performed script coverage then just before we parted he said point blank, “It [the script] better be great.”
I was not familiar with script coverage but did what I was told. I sent the script in with a check to Kurlander’s friend, and in a few days he returned the script read. I had earned a Pass, but somewhere in the pages of a bad first draft that would have resembled a particle map if it had been edited with a red pen there was not only a story but a story worth telling.
Call it a labor of love. After I had bought the text book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” by Syd Field and yes, Final Draft, I dove right into the rewrites from the bitter-sweet notes of the coverage report then went with a coverage company easier on the wallet—Screenplay Readers.
I finished the next draft. I sent the script to Screenplay Readers. Just as they had promised, they read it and returned it within a week. A Pass with more notes but he script was getting better. It was taking shape.
Three to four drafts and about $250 later, “This Ain’t No Vacation, Sweetheart” got the rating “Consider” from Screenplay Readers! That Consider might as well have been an Oscar for best script to me.
I had learned screenwriting, well, the basics.
The next script I would write would be an adaptation of “Finny the Friendly Shark” and after several drafts “Finny” also got a Consider from Screenplay Readers.
Since 2008, I have written 24 feature spec scripts. 24! I have not abandoned the idea of the Great American Novel or Great America “Short” Novel; I have taken some of my earlier ones and have adapted them into feature scripts.
Although I’d like to believe that I have put enough of the hard work to be in almost auto-pilot with structure, each story, each script presents its own set of challenges and is different from the next. What I thought would be a career in writing feature romantic comedies and dramas shifts from time to time to action and adventure features. The genre seems to choose me.
When I am not writing feature scripts, I enjoy playing organized bocce and making amateur woodworking videos for YouTube.
Visit my blog https://thegreathollywoodscript.blogspot.com/
Name: Matt Janacone
Lives in: New Castle, Pennsylvania
Unique traits: Very creative. Very patient.
Youngstown State University (Youngstown, OH)
Butler County Community College (Butler, PA)
Institute of Children's Literature