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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Dynamic Duo Battles Showbiz

Dynamic Duo Battles Showbiz Valley Writers Break Through With Eye on Pop Culture By JEFF WEISS Contributing Reporter Screenwriter Brent Goldberg is lanky and dark haired. His writing partner David Wagner is approximately half a foot shorter with light hair. Goldberg’s epiphany that he didn’t want to continue doing standup comedy came after he bombed at a Santa Barbara comedy club after having had a twelve pack of Natural Light beer. Wagner’s first brush with fame came in 1984 when he won that year’s Best Male Vocalist award, on the long since canceled television show Star Search. While both are affable, quick witted and prone to bursts of sarcastic banter, Goldberg is more extroverted, while Wagner prefers to speak in clipped soundbites. Wagner specializes in organization and the proper way to structure a screenplay. Goldberg, the former standup, had no idea that movies required anything more than a plot line and some humor until his post-graduate screenwriting program at UCLA. One might wonder how this quintessential odd couple might have melded to have become one of Hollywood’s hottest young screenwriting duos, but perhaps their strength lies in each other’s ability to balance out each other’s weaknesses. They might not be household names yet but something is working for the Valley-raised pair and they appear headed toward achieving the success that many of the thousands of writers in Los Angeles only can dream about. Since the release of 2002’s “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder,” they have received steady work, penning “Girl Next Door” which was released last week, the soon to be released “Underclassman,” and are currently slated to write a college-themed screenplay for Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. seems uncertain. The Guild has had two presidents resign this year alone and negotiations began last week toward a new deal with the studios. Though talks aren’t expected to get as heated as the last time the guild negotiated in 2001, many expect to see pitched battles over health care, DVD sales rights, and the lack of residuals allotted to TV writers. Goldberg and Wagner agree that writers still must battle for greater respect in the industry. Although the idea for a film always begins on a blank page on a writer’s computer screen, most of the praise for a successful film is lavished upon the director. “Writers have gotten the least amount of respect out of all the people in the medium, which is unfortunate because obviously it all starts out with the blank page and without that there’s no movie. It is a director’s medium, the writer is constantly trying to gain power and gain control and it’s tough,” Wagner said. “It’s gotten a little better but it’s not near what it needs to be, as far as getting invited to the set, being involved in collaboration after you turn in the script, with studio execs and the directors. It’s a constant uphill battle for writers to get the respect that they deserve.” Valley residents Wagner lives in Woodland Hills and Goldberg lives in Sherman Oaks. “We go to write at The Coffee Bean all the time and there seems to be an endless amount of people there who we went to high school with who are screenwriters and everyone has really great ideas. It seems like a flourishing idea to be a screenwriter and everybody wants to be it,” Goldberg said. “But it seems like there aren’t a lot of jobs. The supply seems to be not as high as the demand. I feel we’re lucky and really blessed to have this kind of opportunity.” Both writers attended Woodland Hills’ El Camino High, the 31-year-old Wagner one year ahead of 30-year-old Goldberg. After high school Goldberg attended UC Santa Barbara while Wagner went to Cal State Northridge. Though both went to El Camino, it wasn’t until the pair had graduated from college when a mutual friend introduced the two aspiring writers. Quickly, they noticed that each other shared an admiration for the same films and both loved to write. “When I graduated high school, I went to Santa Barbara and whenever I’d come back I’d wait tables. I worked at Domino’s, Maria’s Kitchen, Star Caf & #233;, Mimi’s and several others. A total of seven restaurants and I got fired at every one,” Goldberg said. “I’d do that while I was writing. I’d work the day shift, go to David’s and write, work the night shift and come back and write. And in the meantime he’d come in and tip very poorly. That’s why he’s a rich man right now.” Like a couple of sarcastic brothers, the two mock squabble back and forth. “How would you like it if your buddy, your writing partner comes in, and you can’t even get a free drink?” Wagner attempted to defend himself. “It’s not my fault. He’d bring in girls and boss me around. He’d yell ‘I said extra sauce amateur!”‘ Goldberg asserted. Wagner’s final verdict on Goldberg’s hospitality: “Thank God you could write because you couldn’t wait tables.” Early trials Hollywood is notoriously tough to break into, as Wagner and Goldberg wrote several scripts that languished in the huge mountains of dead ideas that decorate the average agent’s office. Their breakthrough came in the satire, “Saving Ryan’s Privates,” a short film about a band of brothers searching for a fallen comrade’s genitals. While the Academy didn’t come calling, it became one of the most downloaded films ever on the Internet, generating significant amounts of buzz. But before finally landing an agent whom they trusted, the pair witnessed firsthand the lack of devotion some agents have to their clients. “When we started off, our lawyer hooked us up with an agent at ICM. What he did was called hip-pocketing. No papers were signed and it was only a verbal agreement, they try to sell you to the studio,” Goldberg said. “I remember walking in, wet behind the ears, and seeing scripts from floor to ceiling. I asked what that was, he said, ‘my weekend read.’ He probably doesn’t even read them all, his assistant reads them. That’s a lot of dead trees. That agent eventually stopped calling.” Tired of being unknowns in a town where even the busboy waiting on your table seems to have a screenplay lying around, the pair decided to forcibly shape their future. Though their agents and lawyers advised against it, the two wrote Van Wilder on spec, hoping that a studio would pick it up and target it for development. Years later the film was made, though the writer’s only pocketed a mere $7,500 between the two of them, not accounting for taxes, lawyer, and agent fees. “We were excited to get to write something. Even though we got paid like $5 each for the movie, we had a great time doing it,” Wagner said. “We weren’t even in the Writers Guild at the time. But we were huge fans of (actor) Ryan Reynolds. He always wanted us on the set to throw out one liners and give ideas. It was a great experience.” Goldberg and Wagner chalk up their good fortunes to a variety of converging circumstances. “It’s a lot of good luck, fortune and hard work coming together. It’s so tough to get a movie made. Even the worst movies in the world took some really talented people and hard work to make it a terrible flop,” Goldberg said. Van Wilder established the pair in the business, eventually leading to the purchase of their previously written script, “Girl Next Door.” Currently, they are finishing a script for Happy Madison Productions and another for an animated feature from Dreamworks called “Jive Turkeys,” starring Eddie Murphy and Chris Tucker. “They’re passionate and great listeners and pop culture geniuses. I really believe that they have a handle on what the next generation wants to see and what’s funny and that’s rare to be in their early 30’s and to know what drives the next generation,” Andrew Panay, a producer at Tapestry Films said. “They know how to set trends. Not to mention that they are gifted writers as well. They give the audience what they want, they aren’t afraid to embrace what the audience wants to see.” Perhaps Goldberg best summed up the amount of dedication it takes to succeed in a business where failure is the norm and success the anomaly. “I think you need to persevere. When my mom kicked me out of the house and told me to find a real job, I kind of made a decision that writing is what I want to do,” Goldberg said. “I told myself, I’m going to do whatever it takes to keep writing and to keep working. I think that everyone will find their talent and if they push forward they can be successful.”

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