Mark Rosenthal knows movies, which is no surprise considering how many he has written. Rosenthal, a professor in the film and media arts department, is a screenplay writer who has worked on films including “Mighty Joe Young,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Mona Lisa Smile,” “Flicka” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Rosenthal shared secrets of the business and tales of his adventurous 25-year-long career as a professional writer with The Temple News.
The Temple News: How did you first get into the screenwriting business?
Mark Rosenthal: I didn’t want to work at a regular job for a living. I finished graduate school in Middle-English studies and decided it was time to take a chance and be courageous. So I drove to Los Angeles with no connections to the business at all – not even a name. I was lucky enough to sell my first screenplay, even though I had never even seen one before. The movie was the “Legend of Billy Jean,” and it was also the first movie I was fired off by the director, who ended up rewriting it.
TTN: What is something people may not know about the screenwriting business?
MR: A screenwriter is the most useless person on a movie set. Most of the time your contract doesn’t carry you all of the way through production. I like to say that if a screenwriter is still on the movie set during production, then it is in trouble. Also, screenwriters do not have copyright over their work. Once you sell it, the director can do whatever he wants to it, and it hardly ever turns out the way that you it wanted it to.
TTN: What was your favorite movie to work on?
MR: That’s a tough one, but I would say being in Morocco with Michael Douglas during the shooting of “The Jewel of the Nile.” Things were pretty crazy back then and a lot of fun. Movies aren’t as fun any more. There are too many MBAs involved.
TTN: What is the life of a professional screenwriter like?
MR: Well, it is not for the faint of heart. I always tell my students that if you need to know where your paycheck is coming from each week, then you can’t be an artist. You have to be willing to be self-employed. As a professional writer, you also have to be willing to write about topics that you aren’t necessarily interested in. If you show disdain for a topic, it will come through in your writing. You have to always show passion in your writing, even if it’s something that you don’t care about, [such as] women’s shoes.
TTN: What is your writing process?
MR: It’s a common myth that writers stay up all night long with a bottle full of scotch in order to get their work done. In reality, most professional writers have a strong routine and write about three-to-five pages per day. Eating chocolate helps me to get through my work. I would say more writers eat chocolate than drink scotch.
TTN: What are you working on now?
MR: I’m working on several things. I’m working on an adaption of a Korean film called “The Truck.” I am working on a film about Grace Kelly and her father Jack Kelly. I am working with Studio Canal on an adaption of a Yves Montand film called “The Savage,” and I’m doing one of those Greek god fantasy-action films. You have to work on a lot of projects at the same time because the ratio of scripts written to movies shot is infinitesimal.
TTN: What advice do you have for aspiring professional writers today?
MR: I always say that if people like your writing you could live in Sri Lanka and be successful, and if they don’t like your writing, then you could be sleeping with them, and it still wouldn’t matter. Too many people focus on how to get connections and not the quality of their work, so do good work. You can’t control anything but your work, so don’t sit at home and fret about whether or not the money will come.
Amy Stansbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.