It was a great year for Irish film with The Room and Brooklyn receiving Oscar nominations. Kevin Flanagan talks to Hollywood producer and author Kenneth John Atchity, about the importance of story and why the Irish are good at telling them.
Kevin met Ken Atchity at the international writer’s symposium held recently in Dublin. There he was able to get the producer’s views on the magic of story from the man who is known internationally as a “Story Merchant.”
I love Hollywood.
In 2003 I spent a month in Los Angeles attempting to sell my script to a Hollywood agent. It was memorable queuing at the local Kinko’s store where they had a photocopying machine that only copied film scripts and the queue was long! People are friendly, once they heard I was from Ireland our individual projects were discussed and phone numbers were swapped. As they say, you have to be friendly in Tinseltown because you never know who you will need on the way up (and down).
The other thing I loved was sitting in my favourite coffee shop Urth Caffé on Melrose Avenue watching drop-dead gorgeous waitresses serve us coffee. They all looked, to my naive eye, like film stars. My cynical Irish friend burst my bubble. He had been working in Hollywood for years and said, between sips of his soya latte, ‘beautiful people are two-a-penny here!’.
As I continued to sit with my mouth wide-open my friend nudged me. A famed Hollywood producer had arrived outside the patio in an open-topped Bentley. Heads swivelled as he took a table, surrounded by a group of acolytes dancing attendance. Certainly the waitress perked up.
Everyone in Hollywood, I soon discovered, was climbing the greasy pole. Actresses, writers, directors, but at the top, wielding the real power, was the fabled Hollywood producer who can make (and break) anyone. You could smell their power and sense their arrogance.
My impression of Hollywood producers had not changed over the years till I meet Ken Atchity in Dublin this June past. Atchity has produced over 30 Hollywood movies and is known in the book world as the ‘Story Merchant’ because he also sells stories to publishers–and publishes them through Story Merchant Books. Soft spoken, educated, he is not at all like the usual hustler I saw on a daily basis in Hollywood. Ken Atchity is above all a reflective man who has built his life around the concept of “story.” He has been an academic, a writer, before he became a movie producer. He loves “story” and wants to share that love.
He certainly did that in Dublin when he spoke this summer to a group of writers, and what he said has stayed with me and helped inform my own work. According to Atchity, whatever the genre – movie, TV series, book or computer game – its core chances of success all come down to story. But story is not confined to the creative arts.
“Look at Brexit,” Atchity says as we sip a drink after his lecture in the bar of the famed Gresham Hotel, “the day after the referendum a lot of British people wanted to have another vote as they were led to believe Brexit was a story about the immigration crisis. But it was also about 200 other things as well: the value of pound and the stock market. But the story was moulded around immigration and national identity and people bought into it.”
Ken lowers his glass and smiles, “Lying is an old Catholic word for what we all do all day – another form of storytelling. If your wife walks down the steps after a long night out and asks “how am I looking?” do you tell the truth or a story to get by and not stir up a row?” He takes another sip. “Everybody is telling a story!”
Storytelling goes back to the dawn of man, Atchity insists, and Homer was the greatest storyteller of them all, probably as product of the oral tradition of storytelling having to be committed to memory. It becomes deeply ingrained.
“Stories are there to warn us what happens when people bring disaster on themselves and their people. To this day story still acts as an exhortation and a warning as what happens when someone brings destruction on all around him. Great stories are changing the world by changing the perception of people.”
Atchity believes storytelling impacts profoundly on both young and old.
“You hear parents saying disparaging remarks about groups of people – say Poles or black people – and you wake up one day as an adult and you believe fully in them.”
But despite this pessimistic view Atchity thinks things in the world are actually improving.
“Fewer people are dying in wars. People are giving up smoking. Communication is helping us. As the saying goes, living well is the best revenge and we are slowly learning to leave things behind. Optimism is the more logical of two options. I love the story of the optimist who was pushed off Empire State Building and half way down says, “Well, so far, so good!”’
Atchity has always believed in the power of “story” and I ask him why that is.
“I think it all goes back to my childhood growing up on front porches in my Cajun Louisiana (maternal) family. My uncles and cousins were storytellers – some accomplished, some not so good. I loved the feeling of community that happened when they began swapping stories and jokes. And though I studied analysis and logic in Jesuit classrooms my heart was with the storytellers. As an Italian friend of mine said one day, trying to explain his new wife’s erratic behavior, “Let me tell you a story instead–isn’t life, after all, just a story?” It’s the power of stories that change the world more than anything else.”
Among a vast oeuvre Atchity has produced his share of horror movies, including Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes. But horror is a genre in decline. Does Atchity have his views on why this is?
“Aristotle’s theory was about how audience needs catharsis. They see horror on stage, walk out of the theatre and give a sigh of relief that the “horror” does not affect their lives. But in today’s world all that has changed. Daily we hear and see horrific things – decapitations and mass murder at every turn. Horror is no longer escapism. Audiences now need to escape their daily dose of real live horror by going to the movie house. There they can watch heroes in blockbusters win and the bad guys lose.”
Despite the decline Atchity still continues to produce movies in the horror genre, “At the moment we are working on a very low budget horror spoof – Friday 31st – and that maybe is the way to go.” // We discuss our best loved horror movies. One of Atchity’s favorites was filmed on the campus he was attending at Georgetown University in Washington.
“Scenes from The Exorcist were shot at my alma mater. I remember reading the book in the early 70’s and being scared to death. Having been raised a Roman Catholic I believed it was all real! From a pure horror point of view it’s my favorite.”
The Exorcist was released in 1973 but not shown in Ireland till 1998. How things have changed! Now, according to Atchity, “horror movies are relegated to low-budget productions with an occasional excursion into brilliance. The market isn’t as robust as the general market is. It’s a selective audience, that doesn’t appear to be growing—because of the advent of alternate media such as online games, web series. Cheap ones are made because the loyal horror audience will see it and is enough by itself to make them profitable even if they don’t cross over to the larger audience.”
We move on to discussing another core shift in storytelling – the move from movies to TV mega stories, Game of Thrones being the prime example. Are these TV series successful because they allow “story” to be told in greater depth?
“A series or miniseries allows the storyteller to develop the characters more fully than the restricted time allowed for a film. The best writers and directors today are in television as well as film.”
Ken has enjoyed walking in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom while in Dublin, and I ask him for any words of wisdom for modern Irish writers.
“Tell a story with universal impact – something we all care about – and make sure it has three well-defined acts and each act is powerfully dramatic. It’s also important to make sure the main character is someone we can all relate to, even if he’s not likeable. Do all that and get someone in Hollywood to give you feedback on it.”
Irish writers get on the case – you know the right person in Hollywood to send it to!
Read more at District Magazine
It occurred to me a few years ago that I might just end up dead. As a writer I hated the prospect that someone else might write my obit, and decided it was my job to do it myself!
The story of me is rich and funny and full of surprising twists and turns. One of the richest parts of life for me has been the food I loved along the way so I decided I needed to share that as well—plus my son insisted (he is an excellent cook!).
From a sentimental viewpoint, it’s the recipe for my Lebanese grandmother’s beans, “Tata’s beans.” For sheer culinary delight, it’d be the recipe for kibbeh nayah, tartare mixed with wheat.
Aside from my father and mother, I’d have to say it was the Jesuits, starting with Edmund Ziegelmeyer who stopped by our house every day beginning when I was 10 to teach me Latin and to inspire me to learn many languages.
I would have liked a role in The Godfather!
Absolutely! Ambrose Bierce (Devil’s Dictionary) defined a family as, “a random group of characters who one would otherwise encounter only in a prison break or a train wreck.” So, to idealize the situation, it’s up to us to go out there and build a family in our own image and likeness—and that becomes your true family (though it may include a couple from the bloodline).
Yes indeed, in every way. That’s why it took so long to write it because it’s all about getting my story straight and recognizing that the happiest life is the one whose self-narration is the strongest and most heroic.
For sure, I would have liked to study music, play the piano, and learned to dance properly! I’m proud that I’ve composed a half dozen songs (lyrics) some of which appear in my movies and could have led a happy life just writing songs.
It’s only serious if you’re not an optimist with a sense of humor.
I started it fifteen years ago and have been fiddling with it ever since. It was stop-and-go because I had constantly to wrestle with point of view—from what perspective to tell my story? And, of course, what to include, what not. At one point the draft was 900 pages before I decided it MUST be cut into several books. I’m hoping to publish Vol. 2 by the end of 2022.
I hope they enjoy it, learn something, and laugh a lot. And I hope they learn to take charge of their own stories and realize that power is life’s greatest gift. If you want a happy ending, you have to shape it.Aside from producing movies and series, which is ongoing, I’m gearing up to write a novel about the new age we live in, a post-truth age in which heroism is being redefined and communication tested to the maximum.
DENNIS PALUMBO on “Writers' Block is GOOD News for a Writer” at the APA Caucus on Medical Humanities in Psychiatry - May 24th
APA Caucus on Medical Humanities in Psychiatry
Co-Founders and Co-Chairs: Vincenzo Di Nicola and Andrei Novac
APA Annual Meeting – New Orleans, LA, USA
Grand Ballroom B
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
9-11 am EDT
DENNIS PALUMBO, M.A., MFT is a writer and licensed psychotherapist in private
practice, specializing in creative issues. Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author. His mystery Fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime. His series of award-winning mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, Head Wounds, and the latest, Panic Attack) feature Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. Recently, Dennis was the technical consultant on the upcoming F/X TV series THE PATIENT, created by the writers of THE AMERICANS. For more info, visit www.dennispalumbo.com
The First Woman To Operate With the Navy SEALs
Author Daniel Moskowitz in the photo below holding his book Bronx Stagger in an unintentional shameless act of self-promotion.
Moskowitz volunteered to help his former colleagues organize assigned Family Court Attorney's rally for better pay. Sometimes good deeds do go rewarded. His novel takes place in Bronx Family Court, the busiest court in NYC.
How long can I wait?
Screenwriters ask me that all the time, becoming impatient and anxious that their script is taking so long to make it to the screen.
My answer surprises them:
Don’t wait at all.
Waiting is a massive waste of time and can lead to depression and/or existential despair, and who knows what else. Write something while you wait. Plant another seed, cultivate it, and train it to grow straight. And while it’s taking its sweet time to bud and then bloom, do something else. Start a new spec script!
Back in my own “waiting room” in the sixties, I reviewed a great book by Barry Stevens: Don’t Push the River, It Flows by Itself. I translated Stevens’ Zen advice to Hollywood where every project has its own clock and will happen when and only when that clock reaches the appointed hour. Other than keeping that project on track the best you can by responding when asked to or when appropriate, there’s nothing much you can do—other than financing it yourself (a serious option, by the way) to speed up that project’s clock. By the nature of things, the project clock is invisible, which means extra frustration for the creator—unless you refuse to wait.
Recently, I, and my dear producing partner Norman Stephens, produced a sweet little Christmas movie called Angels in the Snow. I had only been trying to get that movie produced for twenty years! I sold it to TNN once and came close to a deal at Hallmark another time. My client Steve Alten’s Meg is currently, after twenty-one years, shooting in New Zealand. What was I doing for the last twenty years? Writing twelve scripts and producing other films for television and cinema, managing hundreds of books, writing and publishing ten of my own, playing tennis, traveling, having a wonderful life. Not waiting.
Waiting makes writers neurotic. If I allowed myself to express my neurosis, as many writers have not yet learned not to do, I would drive those involved in making my or my clients’ stories into films crazy—and risk losing their support or return calls. The question I personally hate hearing the most, “What’s going on?” is one I have to force myself to refrain from asking. Your job, when it’s your turn to move your story forward, is to “get the ball out of your court” as efficiently, as well, and as soon as possible. Then, on that particular project, you have to wait for it to be returned to your court. Very few actual events requiring your help occur along the way, leaving a huge gap of dead time in between them, like super novae separated by vast time years of space. But it’s not dead time if you use it for something else creative.
If the glacial pace of the Hollywood creative business fills you with dread, you’re in the wrong business or you’re dealing with it the wrong way. Don’t wait. Do. As the great photographer Ansel Adams put it: “Start doing more. It’ll get rid of all those moods you’re having.”
"I’ve lived a lifetime of literary adventures by refusing to be relegated to a niche. In My Obit: Daddy Holding Me, my storytelling passion and family and professional anecdotes provide humor and insight into my hugely self-determined life."
Advanced Praise for My Obit: Daddy Holding Me:
“Powerful. Honest. Heartwarming. A courageous examination of the secret nooks in the soul that expose to the self who we truly are… and why. Atchity’s memoir is riveting, reflective, and revealing. A MUST read!” – Tracy Price-Thompson, bestselling novelist
“My Obit: Daddy Holding Me by Kenneth Atchity is a compelling autobiography worthy of the analogy of Sisyphus discovering the burdens and pleasures of each push of the rock up the hill of his extraordinary life.” – Norman Stephens, producer, former head of Warner Brothers television.
"Has more twists and turns than a mountain stream."
"This powerful story is artfully crafted and beautifully written."
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A Potter’s Tale Out Now: https://lnkd.in/g8gtJGq4
Ian Bull’s Third Installment in the Quintana Adventure Series, The Danger Game, Receives 5 Stars from The Book Commentary.
Read the rest of the review here.
The Danger Game Out Now on Amazon.
Check Out the Rest of the Quintana Adventure Series here.
Dr. Nicolas Bazan during the planning of the film "Of Mind and Music" with Dr. Ken Atchity who guided the publication of Dr. Bazan's first two novels.
From Being Bazan Spotlight Series: 'The Ally'
Featuring 'Women of Excellence in Science'
Spotlight featuring "Women on Excellence in Science" a group of selected woman scientists trained by Dr. Bazan.
- Story Structure
- Character Arc
- Dialogue Flow
- Marketability of Your Concept
Take Your First Steps Towards Reaching Your Writer’s Potential Today: https://lnkd.in/gUmYG2RY
Story Merchant Books is proud to announce the third installment in the acclaimed Elle Anderson Series, Shadow War, written by distinguished author A.M. Adair
SHADOW WAR, THE THIRD INSTALLMENT IN THE ELLE ANDERSON SERIES
FROM US NAVY AUTHOR A.M. ADAIR