A Screenwriter’s First Success by Gordy Hoffman

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

Film Courage: What was your first success as a screenwriter?

Gordy Hoffman, Founder/Judge of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition: Well, my first obvious success was LOVE, LIZA. Writing my second script (a drama) I wrote it in ’96 (the fall of ’96) and 6 years later at Sundance it won at Sundance the Waldo-Salt award and it was bought by Sony Classics and released by Sony. That was definitely the first sort of obvious success.

I had other things like options and things but that was sort of the conspicuous success and my little brother, I showed it to him Labor Day Weekend 1996. We were both back at my mom’s house and we both happened to be there and I said “Oh man you’ve got to read this.” And I had just written the first draft and I said “I think this is kind of good.” And I said “I don’t know? I think this is kind of cool.”

He read it and he was like “I want to do this!” And he had not shot BOOGIE NIGHTS yet. He was about ready to shoot BOOGIE NIGHTS that fall. So that fall he shot BOOGIE NIGHTS with Paul Thomas Anderson.

Paul Thomas Anderson read LOVE LIZA and actually gave it to Michelle Satter at Sundance and they considered it for the lab (the Sundance lab). So that was very exciting. I ended up moving out to LA in February of ’97 and then we started the process of trying to get the movie made. Eventually we shot in 2001. Kathy Bates was in it.

All that stuff felt successful. The idea that Sundance was interested and it was great because I just had a short film that I wrote and directed in 2015 and Michelle Satter is still there and she came up to me and we still know each other from when she called me on the phone and I was in Upstate New York in the fall of ’96 and she interviewed me about LOVE, LIZA and Paul had referred the project to them and she said “Hey, you should check this out.” And she responded to the script, it didn’t get in but they were always tracking it and then obviously it was accepted.

Paul’s movie HARD 8 was developed. It was originally called SYDNEY and his first feature was developed through the Sundance lab. So that was the relationship with the lab that Paul had.

So all that stuff was exciting but the most popular thing that people would say is “Oh Sundance, winning the award” Or whatever but there was many other things that populated my professional career that were like “Oh this is exciting!”

Film Courage: When you sat down to write LOVE, LIZA was that in your mind that it was going to have a trajectory like that?

Gordy: I sat down to write LOVE, LIZA and you know I had been driving a cab for three and half years in Chicago and I had just quit a month before because I had sideswiped a limousine and I was sort of having this mental breakdown or whatever and I was just like “I just want to write.” And my family gave me just a little bit of rent money. So that summer I just didn’t work and I was like I’ve got to do something and so I remember August 5th (it was very clear), I woke up and I had written 2 pages of it and I wrote in 18 days. I just sat there and wrote the whole thing.

And I always wrote it with the sense that I would play the guy…or not that I would play the guy, but I did write it with the sense of “What if I was going to play the guy?” And that really helped me as a writer. It was like it really got me. I’d never really done that much a lot since then but I should probably think about that sometimes because it was really effective like “What if I play this guy?” It was like this Orson Welles-ey sort of thing like “I’m going to do everything,” sort of when I was a kid.

So I wrote it like that. I didn’t write it for my brother. And I showed it to my brother because I was like “This is good man!” And I knew it was good. And I gave it to him at 10:30 at night and he read it and the next day he was like “I just read the whole thing.” And he totally responded to it “I want to do it.”

And I think historically when you look back and I guess it was like two brothers making this movie together. My brother ended up being Philip Seymour Hoffman and doing all of these other things so historically it looks like one thing, but he actually was just an actor who was like “I want to do this role.” Because it was a cool role, it was hard as sh*t. But he liked it.

And then we went on this journey together and so yeah…I’m not sure what the question was, but that’s what it was?

Film Courage: Did you expect this kind of journey and it sounds like no that wasn’t it?

Gordy: It was like no, you don’t expect that sorts of things and then I didn’t expect it would take so long to make it. There were so many things where you were like “Oh my gosh?” And you didn’t expect it to not do all sorts of things. But we’re very lucky because we made a film where there are plenty of people that it’s their favorite film.

And I always tell people that the greatest success is if you can write somebody’s favorite film. If you write something and that’s their favorite film it doesn’t get any better than that. You’re never going to get everybody to like your film. And the money is going to always disappear and I still have people coming up to me and are moved by the film, tear up when they talk about it and go “Oh my God, you wrote LOVE LIZA?” and it means something to them and I’m fortunate because that’s the kind of thing that has guided me because it’s like nothing else matters except giving your audience that experience and if you get that to people and some people will think it is crap or whatever and some people will think it’s a nepotism job or whatever or it’s like flimsy or whatever. It doesn’t matter because it’s a personal experience, films are personal. There are plenty of people that I love CITIZEN KANE. I think it genius and other people just hate it. And it’s like there you go.

Film Courage: Were you thinking about the characters while you were driving (before the limo accident)?

Gordy: I came up with the idea for LOVE LIZA because when I was driving a cab I came up with ideas all the time. And it was one of those ideas, I just saw a woman, she was homeless, she was by the gas pumps at a gas station (as a taxi driver you’re living at the gas station a lot, you’re always there). And I her saw her and it was like and it just put in my mind this idea of a yuppie (which is not an acronym that is used anymore)…it’s like a professional white guy in a suit suddenly starting to huff gas. I just started seeing this guy huffing gas. That was the germ of the idea and then I had to come up with a motive and then I came up with the motive and I started writing it from there. And then I started creating everything from there and I came up with sort of a MacGuffiney hook so-to-speak at around 10 minutes in the movie and it’s that hook that sort of drove and then like I said I just sort of splatted it out.

And honestly it probably could have been rewritten a bunch more times. But it did get rewritten and I did fix it a little bit as a baby writer then so…that’s where it came from.

Question For The Viewers: What was your first success as a screenwriter?

Watch the video interview on Youtube here





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