Carl Reiner has died, and I offer my condolences. Not because I know the family or even ever met any of their talented tribe. I offer my sympathies because, without ever meeting him, Carl’s son Rob Reiner (he of directing and producing fame), saved my life.
Years ago, I was close to breaking through in Hollywood.
Or so I thought.
At the end of a screenwriting course, I was selected from among the thirty or so students to continue with five others. From that group, my screenplay was selected for “development with the course creator” a Hollywood producer who “had a project in the development with Schwarzenegger.” I can admit now that I was swept in by that with no further proof necessary. Turned out to be true, but, ultimately that was beside the point.
The real lesson was to come and it taught me that in some cases I was a slow learner.
This producer would meet with me every time he “flew in from Cali” so we could work on developing the script together. After each meeting, I would do a significant rewrite. On spec, having already paid him for the courses.
We met 15 times.
And it slowly dawned on me that his contributions were vague and progressively less useful, starting with his suggestion that we want to trim all the fat so the pacing really moves (loosely paraphrased – it has been years), to ramping up the lead, increasing the peril, and so on. And like any hungry writer, I would dive back in, trimming fat one rewrite, ramping up the next, increasing peril after that, until I had done twelve rewrites. At that point, even I was glimpsing the truth through the dream.
At meeting 13 I requested specific editorial comments to finish this project up, and he told me I had to make sure every line leapt off the page. I pushed him for specifics and he told me, “Well, I don’t want to write your script for you.” Concerned that I had insulted the only producer ever interested in working with me, I nodded, went home, and made sure those lines were a leaping.
Meeting 14 was more of the same, except he was quicker to cut off my questions with his “Well, I don’t want to write your script for you,” followed by news that Schwarzenegger was about to choose between the script he was producing and a possible Terminator sequel. The message was I was either onboard with this guy, working my ass off on spec rewrites, or I would miss being part of his glory.
Before meeting 15, I read an article about a screenwriter who was working with Rob Reiner and thought he had handed in a masterpiece until Reiner started asking detailed questions about every aspect of the script, from thematic ideas, to why a character would use specific phrasing on a certain page. The point of the article was Reiner forced a better script out of the writer by demanding a logic, a reason, and a reality for every word of that script. After reading that article, I knew the truth: Rob Reiner had just saved my life.
We met in this guy’s ridiculously modern hotel and he brought me up to the restaurant for breakfast. I only ordered an English muffin and tea. His order was elaborately detailed, and every additional demand just made me think “bullshit” a bit louder in my head. And then he heard the soft rock playing in the background, and told the waiter to turn it off.
“But, sir, our patrons enjoy the music in the morning,” the waiter explained.
“I am having an important meeting, and I want it off, so turn off the music.”
“Sir, I do not have the authority to do such a thing.”
“Either turn it off or bring over the manager and I will have him turn it off!”
I excused myself, left the tea, English muffin, and charlatan at the table, and walked out. Lesson learned.
These days, I am lucky enough to work with real editors who ask real questions and make me reconsider specific choices I have made, expose habits I need to address, and help improve the work. These talented people are blessings.
Nobody should want to write your tale for you, but professional editors make you craft your story better than you thought possible.
Avoid fakers, and embrace real editors, folks.
And thank you, Rob Reiner.