|Cameron Young attended Cal State Fullerton University, receiving a BA in Adv/Communications. His script “Saint Vincent” won him a 2001 Nicholl Fellowship. Saint Vincent’s 3rd option will expire this spring. In 2002, he was hired by Cinergi to write a movie based on the exploits of the US Olympic rugby team at the ’24 Olympics in Paris. He is currently represented by Marty Bowen, Jason Burns and Tobin Babst at UTA. He is managed by Danny Sherman at Blueprint.
Where are you from, etc.?
I was born in Southern California and raised in Mission Viejo, in the heart of Orange County. It’s funny. I believe that a few of the people I went to school with have also ended up in movies. Mark Vahradian is a honcho at Jerry Weintraub’s co. Plus I think two other people are in TV and movies. We were the OC before the “OC”.
When did you become interested in movies?
I was always making movies. We had an old movie camera that I goofed around with. I got a friend of mine, Chris Landen, to make a movie about a gunfight that ends with the guns turning into fruit. We took turns aiming the camera at each other. We ran out of film before the end. Chris got into music and is doing stuff for some classic music label up in LA now. Anyway, for Christmas one year, my parents got me a really nice Canon 814 Super 8 camera and I immediately started messing around with it. I made a movie for a 7th grade math project. It was about a mad scientist who turns people into fruit. Don’t ask me how I got away with that. I got a B.
Then in high school, I made a movie for Spanish class entitled “How the KGB Stole Christmas”. The KGB wants to destabilize the West. They hijack Santa. The CIA sends the Easter Bunny behind the Berlin Wall to bust him out. I put firecrackers on my friends’ costumes. We had Black Sabbath “Iron Man” and the Sex Pistols’ “The Berlin Wall” on the soundtrack. I synched it with a tape recorder. I had a red mark on the film to cue the tape. My friends watched the movie, said the dialogue in Spanish. It was awesome.
To back up a second, I was a film geek from the get go. First it was Sci-fi. I got all the magazines. Starlog. Cinefex. I was into make-up and stuff. Then I started to get into all the cool 70’s movies you’d see on HBO and Showtime. This is back in the early 80’s, when they needed to beef up content. I got up at 3 in the morning to watch "Clockwork Orange." Then I saw a movie which moved me deeply. “Bobby Deerfield”. I was maybe 14, but it blew me away. Al Pacino is a car racer. (My dad raced cars). So that got my attention, but the movie is beautiful, funny, cool, mysterious, sad, but ultimately uplifting. Then I saw “North Dallas Forty”. Again, a lotta intense stuff just below the surface of a raunchy buddy jock comedy. Then I saw the two movies, which would galvanize me: “The Godfather” and “A Man for All Seasons”. I was 16 and I woke up. I was not like the other kids. Movies were church for me.
Where did you go to college and when did you first start making films?
I went to Cal State Fullerton, where I started out as a film major, but ended up in advertising, which is still my day job. I met my wife through the student ad club. I took all the film classes I could, but since I switched to advertising, I couldn’t take any production classes. So I took TV and drama classes, where I made a few short shows on video, but into which I would stick in super 8 filmed sequences. I remember thinking I was so ahead of everyone with my film references, then this guy makes this surreal Black-and-white short that was a cross between Fellini and Bunuel. I never did get to take the 16mm class. But it was good because I still studied movies at the library. Every time I went to study, I pulled out film books and pored over them. Couldn’t get enough. I actually wrote a short script in one of my drama classes that was really interesting.
Tell us about writing your first script.
So, I graduate from college, start dating my future wife, I’m living with buddies in an apt in Fullerton and I’m barely scraping by with little crappy jobs in advertising. This is about 89, 90. But my girlfriend, now wife, Valerie, knows I wanna write movies, so she buys me scripts from the local bookstore. She buys me “Radio Flyer”, which is a great script. It was the first actual script I ever read. I see the structure. I see how it works. So I start a script called “Luna 6 doesn’t answer”. It was about a Russian moon launch that supposedly ended in disaster. The crew dies on re-entry. But they didn’t. They made contact with alien intelligence, went insane, and are being kept in an asylum in Vladivostok. Then the wall falls in ’89 and an American finds out. Interesting idea. Never finished it. Then I fell in with a theater group up in LA, Crossroads, who rented the 2nd Stage Theater at Wilcox and Santa Monica (?). Now Crossroads is in Fullerton on Lemon and Commonwealth, I think. Good theater company. Check ‘em out.
Anyway, I wrote a lot of late night comedy up there, plus some serious pieces. I taught me discipline. Flash forward to 94. I’m married, living in Fullerton with Valerie, working full-time, and I think, hey, I almost 30, and I haven’t written a script yet. I’m talking a good fight, but I ain’t producing shit. So I try again. This time, I go with the old, write what you know. So I draw on family history.
My grandfather is from Scotland. And apparently his father was Highland Fusilier who fought for the queen in the Crimea and Boer wars. He threw himself on a pineapple bomb, which was an early version of a grenade. He was awarded a medal of some sort. Which hung in my grandparent’s apt, till Grandma Young went nuts and gave it to the Salvation Army.
Anyway, I wrote about a Scottish grandfather who’s a veteran of WW 1 and watches his son go off and get killed in WW 2 and then watches his grandson go off to Korea. There’s a lot magical realism, as the grandfather tries to show the grandson that dying for your country is not always “dulce decorum est”. I wrote about 40 pages of that one, then ran out of steam.
Flash forward to '99; my son Roman was born in '97, we have a house, a life, responsibilities. I’m 33. I’ve quit drinking, which I decided to do after I drove home drunk one night. No DUI’s, no police reports. Just time to grow up. And time to try to write another script. In fact, I the spare room set up as my writing room. But just as I was starting to settle down to write, my brother in law decides to move in for awhile. In the spare bedroom.
So I bought two sawhorses from Home Depot, a big plank of plywood, which I laid across it, and then I started plunking away on the old iMac on what turn out to be my first finished script, Veto. I got the idea from watching a Frontline documentary about Reagan. The part about his assassination attempt is what got me. What if it was a set-up to get sympathy? He was slipping bad in the polls. He had the HUD scandal, the recession, lots of stuff. So I wrote Veto. An ex-intelligence agent gets tapped to be the “hero” of a fake assassination attempt – only the attempt turns out to be real, and he’s the fall guy.
I sent this script off to all the contests, plus I sent it out to agencies who would take queries. I got this info from your site I think. Plus I was buying books about how to submit scripts. “The script is finished, now what?” was a good one. I would look up literary agencies and leave messages at night. One lady called me back, from The Artists Agency, and I hustled her into reading “Veto”. I sent it, she read it, liked it, sent it a few places, then nothing. It placed in some contest called the “American Accolades”, but that did absolutely nothing.
So I wrote another script. This time, I went into my Mexican background. My mother is first generation. So I wrote about a guy from OC who could pass for white, but is actually a direct descendant of a Mexican revolutionary. It’s called “A Song for Señor Forsythe”. I sent that to her, she didn’t like it. I’m also sending it to every contest. I’m spending like $300 a year on contests. It doesn’t win anything. But I’m in screenplay mode, so as soon as I finish “Forsythe”, I start writing another script. And this time, I had an idea just drop into my head. A hitman who poses as a priest. So off I go.
I finish “Saint Vincent” in May 2001, mail it off to the contests and start another script. Meanwhile, I’m moonlighting for my former creative director, Luis Camano, who has started a new ad agency. I met one of his partners in the parking lot. Jordan Otterbein. He wants to get into movies. He has some friends in the industry. McG, for instance. They play golf. I tell him about my script. He asks to read it. I say sure.
Flash forward to summer. I get my first letter from the Nicholls. I open it. I made it to semis. Yesss! Then I get the next letter from the Nicholls. I can’t bear to open it. My wife opens it. I made it to the semi’s. Holy #*^~ing shit! Then, I get a call from Jordan. His friend Michael Peyser wants to meet. Michael used to be with Hollywood Pictures, now he’s an independent producer. I go to meet with him at his home office. He likes the script. He has some notes. I’m all ears. So now I’m doing notes for a real Hollywood producer. But he tells me not to get my hopes up for the Nicholls. He’s a reader. And hitman scripts never win.
So how did you get an agent?
Well, now I get the call that I’m one of the 10 finalists. I can’t remember if it was a call or a letter. Meanwhile, I’m doing notes for Michael. He’s a real nice guy. Oh, and once the 10 finalists are announced, the calls start coming. From big agencies. Big producers. Every day I come home, there’s more calls. It is unbelievable. And here is where I got some good advice. Jordan introduces me to Todd Rubinstein, an entertainment lawyer, and former assistant DA for Inglewood, btw. Todd says don’t send the script to anyone till you get an agent.
Then he takes the script and sends it to the big 5. UTA, CAA, William Morris, Endeavor, and Writers & Artists. I take a few meetings. Then I meet with UTA, meet Marty Bowen and Jason Burns and Toby Babst, and I like what they have to say. They don’t promise a million dollar sale. They don’t even know if they call sell it. But they say I have talent and that they can help me have a career. I bring my wife on these meetings. She likes Marty. So I go with them. And they start sending me out on meetings. Lots of meetings. Lots of diet coke. People say they read the script, they liked it, they’re not gonna buy it, what else do I have? I talk about "Veto" and "Senor Forsythe." “Too political” “Too ethnic”. These people want studio movies. So that was a learning curve.
So what happens with “Saint Vincent”?
Michael calls Marc Platt, of Legally Blonde fame, and we have a meeting. This is Jan of 2002. Marc Platt says he loves the script. Great. He wants to team up and get it made. Awesome. I wait for someone to say they want to buy it, or at least option it. Silence. But we leave with a good feeling. Hey, we’re in business with Marc Platt. Big studio guy. Fast forward to spring. Michael introduces me to Jon Hutman, one of the top production designers in town. He’s directed some TV, "West Wing," "Crossing Gideon." He wants to direct "Saint Vincent." Now my agents are pushing for an option. They tell me that Stallone’s manager is interested. And basically, they use this interest to leverage an option out of Platt and Peyser. Now Peyser starts hustling. We send it out to some A-list actors. And they pass. We get a lot of “we like the writing, but it’s not for us”.
Were you writing other things during this?
Yes. To get your Nicholl money, which is $30,000, you gotta turn in pages. So I start my Nicholl script, “The friends of Jimmy Doyle”. When you win a Nicholls, you get $6,000 at the big dinner at the Beverly Wilshire. Then you gotta keep writing to get the next 4 payments. They still owe me $5,000. If you’re reading, Sean and Greg, I’ve got pages.
Anyway, I’m banging away at “Doyle”, which is a father/son/heist/redemption/Sting movie. And Marty Bowen calls. He has some treatments for me to read. A western. No thanks. He also has a magazine clipping about the 1924 US Olympic rugby team. I played rugby in college. I jump at this. And so begins the story of “Men of Iron”.
Was this your first paid assignment?
Yes. It started with a nice guy named Michael Hackett at Cinergi. I banged out a 20 page treatment for him, then we got “in the room” with Andy. Andy Vanya. Of “Terminator”, “Rambo” fame. So I pitch my little heart out, hitting the story beats, emphasizing the action. And he’s smoking the longest cigar I’ve ever seen. With his shirt unbuttoned down below his sternum. I’m pitching. Sweating. His cigar goes out. He relights it. This goes on for a while. Finally, I’m done. He has one comment. “Make it more like the 'Dirty Dozen.'” Michael nods and we get out. I write a very long first draft. 210 pages. Hey, Michael says he wanted a fat draft. I go back and cut it down to 136 pgs.
My advice to new writers. Get the structure down, get it make sense. Nail the broad strokes. The nuances are for later. My deal was a draft and a set. Which is fancy talk for first draft and second draft. Plus the option for an additional polish, if they want one. How much did I get for this first assignment? Let’s just say thank god for guild minimum. So I turn in my official first draft, Michael likes it, he turns it in as the official first draft. And I wait. Two months later, Michael calls. He’s leaving the company. What about my second draft? They don’t want one. Oh shit. Ah, thank god for agents. Jason goes to work. I get the second draft payments without writing a word. And just this week I read on your site that Cinergi is having my script re-written. We’ll see where that goes.
At this point you’ve had a script optioned and have written a script on assignment. What happened next?
Well, I submit my “Senor Forsythe” script to the IFP screenwriters lab, and I get picked for the lab. I’m stoked. It’s 10 writers who meet with Lee Zlotoff once a week. He invented “MacGyver” and wrote and directed “The Spitfire Grill”. Awesome guy. Great teacher. We also get to meet independent filmmakers each week. People who have films in the theaters. And the lab coordinator, Josh Welsh is a great guy, too. I encourage everyone to apply. Also, join the IFP. I think it’s www.ifpwest.org. It’s a great place to meet committed filmmakers. People who aren’t chasing deals. We’re talking real hands-on people who are doing whatever they have to get their vision up on the screen.
What’s happening now?
Well, we’re on the third option for "Saint Vincent." That expires in the spring. I’m writing a script on spec for two cool guys on the Sony lot, Sean Perrone and Aaron Kaplan. It’s a teenage drug smuggling script based on true events in San Diego. I’m on the second draft.
Do you have a manager?
Yes. I never really thought about it, until recently. Peyser and a guy named Sebastian Twardosz both sent Saint Vincent to a guy named Danny Sherman at Blueprint. Danny liked it, we met, we have similar tastes, so we’re gonna team up. He’s a really nice guy with good energy and enthusiasm. And he’ll be someone to talk to. I like my agents, but without a spec, there’s not a lot they can do. "Saint Vincent" hasn’t sold yet. They didn’t want to go out with “Jimmy Doyle”. So they’re waiting to see what happens with the drug smuggling script. Danny, on the other hand, can be more proactive. I can bounce ideas off of him. He can function more as a partner. So that’s nice. We’re talking about a horror film treatment I’ve done. I spoke to him on my way up to LA the other day. He read the treatment, had some solid notes, and I’m fired up to dive back into it.
Any advice for fellow writers?
Yes. Don’t chase the deal. Hook up with people who want to make movies. It’s great to entertain other people’s ideas, or consider rewrite work, but you can spend a lot of time chasing that, when you could be writing your own stuff. I think the best thing to do is join industry organizations, like the IFP, and meet people and exchange ideas. I’m lucky to have the Nicholls. I’ve met some really cool people, people for whom I’m willing to drive up and do PA work on their stuff. Like my friend Kurt Kuenne. He’s a 2002 Nicholl winner. And he asked me to be in one of short films, “Rent-a-person”, which won a bunch of awards on the festival circuit. He’s such a talented guy, and he inspires me.
Keep writing. Always keep writing. Keep entering contests. Nicholls. Chesterfield. Disney fellowship. Go to events where filmmakers are. Don’t give up. Writers write. Finish a spec? Send it off and start another one. Then go back and polish your old scripts. Okay, I’m gonna put myself on the line here. Here’s my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a day job. I have three kids. But I will try to answer any questions I can. And if I can steer you toward an opportunity, I will.
And I’m not kidding. Keep writing. And read all the scripts you can get your hands on. Go to script-o-rama.com. Patience. Persistence. Passion. With all three, you cannot be denied.
Okay, I’m done.