The Early Years
I’ve always loved telling stories. When I was a kid growing up in Ohio, I told stories through complex marionette shows for my friends and family. I submerged our clothing iron in a tray of water to simulate smoke for a scene with a warehouse fire. Used peanut M&Ms represented food of the future for a trio of puppets whose house was taken over by a computer. Fixed a hose to the exhaust side of our vacuum to create a powerful (and surprising!) tornado effect. Made the daughter and mom characters rarely appear on stage at the same time since I only had one female marionette.
My storytelling continued to blossom as I wrote my first movie script inside a journal when I was nine, inspired by seeing the original Star Wars. I still keep that book to this day, with the goal of donating it to the Smithsonian whenever they make the request. No phone calls yet.
Move Over Spielberg
When I was a teenager, my Uncle gave me a Super 8 movie camera and helped launch my love for making movies.
For my first film, I animated Lego figures for an outer space adventure (Way ahead of you, Lego Movie!). For one of the scenes, I created mountains of snow for an ice planet using a hundred pounds of flour. My mother would’ve appreciated my cleverness if it hadn’t drifted into our ventilation system and spread a film of flour across everything in the house. Creativity has its costs.
My movies ballooned in size and scope until I filmed a feature length film and premiered it my senior year of high school. The local newspaper announced, “Move Over Spielberg, Here Comes Allen!” No pressure there.
Biting the Big Apple
I moved to New York City to study filmmaking at New York University and learn the definition of “culture shock.” People talked much faster, drank a lot of coffee, discussed lofty ideas, and ate at all hours of the night. I loved it.
While studying at NYU, I landed an internship with Tribeca Productions. I got a jolt of excitement whenever I saw glimpses of Robert DeNiro wandering around his office. “Don’t talk to him,” his assistant warned. Fine. But at an after party for one of their films, I cornered his mom to bombard her with questions. Sorry, Virginia.
When I started an internship with Nancy Tenenbaum (producer of the Meet the Parents movies), I showed up at her office and she thought I was Steven Soderbergh. “What are you doing here?” she asked before realizing I was just a lowly intern. She had produced Steven’s first movie; I was still figuring out the subways. I’ve filled out since then and now Steven and I barely resemble each other. I later met him in LA, told him the story, and asked him to mentor me. He thought it was mildly funny and said he was too busy. So I asked James L. Brooks, Sydney Pollack, Jerry Zucker, and Steven Spielberg to mentor me. They were similarly engaged.
My last internship at NYU was with Sony Pictures Classics where I learned the ins and outs of film distribution. While I worked there, my NYU senior thesis film became a finalist for the Student Academy Awards. I was thrilled and ready to conquer Hollywood.
Hooray for Hollywood!
I shipped everything I owned to Los Angeles through UPS because a friend told me they would hold onto it until I found a place to live. They did, but that was before 9/11.
I settled into an apartment in Santa Monica determined to make it. I worked in various jobs in entertainment and marketing while writing screenplays and cutting my hair with a Flobee (nicknamed the suck-and-cut) to save money.
As I grew artistically, I began to meet all kinds of interesting people. One highlight was meeting Ben Affleck at a fundraiser. I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to just walk up to stars and shake their hands so I did. Ben shifted his weight from one leg to the other and didn’t look me in my eyes. I later met Gwyneth Paltrow and couldn’t stop thinking how hilarious it was that I was talking to her with my suck-and-cut hair. She asked me a slew of engaging questions and I wondered if we would one day marry.
A good friend of mine met the woman who would eventually be his wife and I created a game to help them get to know each other better. I printed out question cards and fashioned a dice shaker out of an empty baby food bottle. They got a kick out of “You’re Pulling My Leg!” and my friends thought I should turn it into a real game. So I did. Then I kept going. I created five games that won 38 awards and were played by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
Thankfully, Gwyneth and I didn’t get hitched because I eventually met a wonderful woman through EHarmony who happens to be Persian, which is why I tell people we met on “PHarmony.”
Lights, Camera, Action!
The year we started dating was the year my first real movie, In My Sleep, finally made it to the screen. I spent years writing and producing the film. It was a thrill to direct this psychological thriller with a fantastic team of talented people.
In My Sleep first screened at the market of the Cannes Film Festival in France where The Hollywood Reporter gave it a rave review. “I’ve made it!” I thought to myself as people congratulated me when they recognized me along the Croisette.
The film premiered at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood and we became the number one new independent movie on opening weekend.
In My Sleep played in fifteen cities around the country and won Best Picture or the Audience Award at a slew of festivals. We sold to over 70 countries and the film went to Netflix, premiered on Showtime and eventually the Lifetime Movie Network. You can see it on iTunes or Amazon. Or if you’re in China, you can buy an authentic pirated copy.
With In My Sleep behind me, I searched for my next project which turned out to be the romantic comedy Hooked. I got the idea for Hooked while returning from Germany where my wife and I had led a media conference in Berlin.
The Happiest Place on Earth
I wrote the screenplay for Hooked while taking weekly trips to Disneyland. I’ve always found Disneyland inspiring since all the rides are created around stories (and because I’ve always secretly wanted to build my own amusement park someday).
My favorite writing spots were Flo’s V8 Diner in Carsland, the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country, and the street in front of the castle though sometimes I’d get mean glares from tourists. I think they assumed I was on vacation but forgot to leave my workaholism at home. A six year old even wandered up to me while I was writing a crucial scene, stomped his foot and said, “You shouldn’t be working!” before running back to his parents.
The screenplay for Hooked won accolades in several screenplay competitions but I wanted to bring it to an even bigger audience while I worked to bring it to the screen. So I turned Hooked into a novel. After it published, I got my first glowing review from Kirkus Reviews. At the time I didn’t realize how important (and rare!) it was to get a positive review from Kirkus. Since then, Hooked has won several awards and has been warmly embraced by critics and readers alike.
The Creative Adventure
My newest project–which I hope to announce soon!–brings to life my passion for creating new worlds, lovable characters and exciting fiction to a classic story beloved by generations.
As I continue on this creative adventure, my wife and I are raising our daughter and son who both seem to have burgeoning imaginations and a great sense of humor (do all parents think that?). I’ve learned how to tell stories in six second intervals by creating several Vine videos with my daughter. Watch a few and let me know what you think!
I’m hard at work writing more stories, working on future movies, trying to be the best husband, dad, and friend I can be. I’m thankful to God for giving me many opportunities to express my creativity. Thank you for being interested in this journey!