NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Finding Your Voice – School Daze Part 1

After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca

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I was given one of two options for life after school by my parents: College or the military. As I mentioned last time, my parents got kind of the short end of the stick when it came to their education and their “careers.” So for me, they laid down the law pretty early.

For the longest time I wanted to join the Air Force and fly planes. No idea why, maybe I just watched Top Gun too many times. I don’t really remember. Then my eyesight went to shit, soooo… College it was!

NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Finding your Voice - School Daze Part 1 by Manny Fonseca | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

On paper, laying down the law early, seemed like a very responsible/parental thing to do. Unfortunately, neither of my parents really knew what going to college meant. They just knew I going to college would give me a better life than they had. There weren’t really too many “what do you want to be when you grow up?” conversations with my parents. Just go to college and I’ll be okay.

My parents had no idea what it took to get into college. My mom’s solution to help was to use her social butterfly abilities to implant herself in my education. As long as she was around, no teacher or counselor could ever do to me, what was done to her.

Me, my mom and my first grade teacher, Ms. Skibicki.

Me, my mom and my first grade teacher, Ms. Skibicki.

If there was an event at the school… she was there. PTA? She was there. When the school needed parents to volunteer in the lunch room. Yup, she was there. Field trip? Yup, you guessed it, there too. Hell, my mom even helped my first grade teacher, Ms. Skibicki, TEACH CLASS!

Her implantation meant that EVERYONE knew her. Teachers. Principals. Vice Principals. Counselors. The office secretaries. The lunch ladies. The janitorial staff. And, of course, my fellow students. While this afforded me a certain…luxury… around the school, (like a mob boss in prison who paid off the guards for a little more “yard time,”) it didn’t do much for my social status amongst my peers. I got picked on. A lot.

While I had friends, I often spent most of my time with my nose stuck in a book. During the Summers, I’d read books in the Nancy Drew series or the Hardy Boy series and be able to knock out, sometimes two or three books in a day.

It’s all I ever did. Keep in mind this was before the glorious days of cable or Nintendo. When my mom told me to go outside and play, I usually just sat on the bench on the porch and read a book. Or I’d lay on the couch reading while my mom watched her “stories.”

FYI ta all the single ladies… I know WAY too much about General Hospital, All My Children and One Life to Live. Erica Kane’s many husbands? When Bo and Nora sparked up a relationship while they searched for the driver that hit and killed Bo’s wife, Sarah? When Anna Scorpio thought her husband Robert was dead, so she got remarried to mob boss Duke Lavery… only to discover Robert wasn’t dead at all and that he had a secret wife who was carrying Luke’s love child?!

Ahem… What happened? I think I blacked out for a second. Where was I? Right. Summers.

The local library had a summer reading program where, for every book you read, you got “book bucks” that you could spend in their little makeshift gift store. I don’t wanna brag, but I was rollin’ with a FAT wad of book bucks in my pocket. Whaa whaaat!

Anyway, my first influence happened in that first grade class I mentioned above. While Ms. Skibicki taught first grade, her real passion was in art. In fact, she stopped teaching the first grade after my year and started teaching art, so I was lucky enough to have her for another two years as my art teacher. I didn’t know it then, but looking back, she would be the teacher that started me on the creative path.

After doing well on some standardized tests, I was put into the “Ignite” program. The idea was to take two or three kids from each school and put them together, one day a week, in a special class. Looking back on it now, Ignite was kind of fun. We were able to do things a lot of the other kids weren’t able to do, plus there was the bonus of being able to leave school, I got to get out of school once a week to go to the “fun class.”

Sadly, I was bored there too. The simple fact was, and this is still true today, I like what I like and if I don’t like something, I’m not going to put much thought into it. I mean, if you don’t like stamp collecting, then why would you waste a single moment on giving a shit about stamp collecting. I was capable to get buy understanding basic math, English and science, so I could get away being bored with it. Does that make sense? It had nothing to do with me being “smart” or even educated. It was more like: “Yeah yeah, 8 divided by 2 is 4. I get it. LOOKATTHATOVERTHERE!”

This attitude of mine frustrated the hell out of Mrs. Morris, who taught the the Ignite program. It didn’t matter what she threw at me, I just didn’t care enough to excel past the bare minimum or show any excitement in it. Then one day she brought in a box.

Me with Mrs. Morris at my high school graduation party.

Me with Mrs. Morris at my high school graduation party.

She had ordered something from a catalog and when it was delivered it was delivered in a box within a box. The inner box was rather large and had these styrofoam squares glued all over it.

“As soon as I saw this, I thought of you. See what you can do with it,” She said. That was it. I was in heaven. A project! Until that day, she had never seen me more engaged in something.

That night I begged my mom to take me to the craft store and I wandered the aisles looking for stuff to turn my box into what I really saw it as: a spaceship. I worked on it for days, laying out and building the entire inside of the ship right down to the captain’s chair. It was crewed by my G.I. Joe’s and I built a whole backstory as to what their mission was. When I presented it to Mrs. Morris, she stood proudly as I excitedly went over all of the finer details of what I put into it.

I have always been one to “go big or go home.” It didn’t start with that box. Early on in art class I remember we were assigned the task of building a popsicle stick bridge. Simple, right? While most people phoned in their bridge, I went about building an ELABORATE quasi-replica of the Detroit Ambassador Bridge. The inner frame was built with popsicle sticks then covered in carefully placed toothpicks to accent the outside. I built two huge wooden stanchions and then took strands of fake pearls to simulate lights going across. This was all built on a base covered in tin foil in order to simulate the shimmer that water gives off in the sun. I built that bridge in the 4th grade. It still exists in my Dad’s basement back in Dearborn. The teacher of that class? Ms. Skibicki.

This attitude still exists today. I can’t help it. Clearly I love to create.

After my run with Mrs. Morris I would arrive at my next two major influences in my life: Mrs. Hammelef and Mrs. Rooks. In 5th grade, Mrs. Hammelef stepped my reading game up to the next level. I had blown through the books that were assigned to 5th graders to read by the school district, so Mrs. Hammelef gave me C.S. Lewis’ famous Narnia books. While everyone else caught up, I was taking daily trips through the armoire to Narnia.

As it happened, Mrs. Hammelef’s BFF was a woman named Angie Rooks, who JUST so happened to teach the 6th grade at the same school. Mrs. Hammelef told my mom that I just had to have Mrs. Rooks as my 6th grade teacher. As it turned out, I was not assigned to Mrs. Rooks, I was assigned to Mrs. Winters. Oh, hell ta the no. My mom loved Mrs. Hammelef and she was not going to stand for THAT. She raised quite the ruckus until the administration was forced into moving me into Mrs. Rooks’ class.

At the time, I was pissed because my new best friend was going to be in Mrs. Winters’ class and I wanted to be with him. More on that little story later. BUT, looking back on it now, my year with Mrs. Rooks was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. You see, Mrs. Hammelef laid the foundation, but Mrs. Rooks built the house.

Hammelef and Rooks loved two things in life: Traveling and theatre. They spent their Summers in places like New York and Paris, always catching the latest plays. When one of Mrs. Rooks’ favorite musicals came to the FOX, she did everything in her power to get permission to take a select few to go see it. I was one of those few. The musical was Phantom of the Opera.

Me between Mrs. Hammelef (left) and Mrs. Rooks (right).

Me between Mrs. Hammelef (left) and Mrs. Rooks (right).

I loved it. After all, the Phantom is a loner unable to successfully win the affection of the woman he loves, right? The motif of my life.

I was so consumed with the story, that Mrs. Rooks bought me the original book. This was the first time that I was exposed to the idea that things were based on books. The book was even more exciting than the play. There were so many things left out and I loved discovering them.

It was obvious that a few of my elementary teachers saw something in me that others didn’t. They just couldn’t really figure out how far that “something” would go. While those teachers helped further the person I am today, they never really fostered the idea of “Hey! You know you can do this for work, right?!”

In their defense though, how many people are pushed towards a career in elementary school? I mean, yeah sure, ya got Dance Moms, but those people are trying to fulfill THEIR shit, not their child’s.

Writing wouldn’t really become a part of my life until high school. It would be there, that I would learn the power of words. Unfortunately, I would have to learn the hard way, causing a bit of a stir and getting into a shit ton of hot water in the process. But we’ll get to that in due time.

This might not seem like it’s all that important, but I’ve done a lot of reflection on my life and realize that the decisions I’ve made navigating Hollywood have come from not having a strong “you can do this” foundation. An overall lack of encouragement to pursue my passions which, as you’ll read, have set me slightly back in my career. On the other hand, it also gave me the ability to find my encouragement within myself. Yeah, I know…sorry, that’s a little “self-helpy” but it’s true. If you want to play in Hollywood you’re gonna have to find your own sources of encouragement.

‘Cause trust me…you’re gonna need it to survive in Hollywood.

 Breaking into Hollywood A.S.A.P.

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About Manny Fonseca

After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full time writer. His script Whittier, a horror script set in a small town in Alaska, is currently in development. His former podcast, Breakin' In! reached international infamy in the screenwriting community for its blunt honesty about how Hollywood works. It’s not all about scripts and Hollywood though, Manny also started a site chronicling life as a full-time caregiver. At the realmanny.com, he bluntly talks about what life is like caring for a loved one with a brain injury. His first book, BURST! What I learned When My Girlfriend's Aneurysm Popped* is currently being shopped around. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca

One thought on “NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Finding Your Voice – School Daze Part 1

  1. NealR

    Great stuff! And I can relate to so much of it — especially about the gift of having special teachers. (Though my mom was not involved in things like yours was. Though she did watch lots of soaps [but I didn’t stay in the room].)

    I didn’t get to see the musical “Phantom” until I was an adult, but during early high school I had a thrill that at the time (being a huge fan of the original Star Trek, the reruns of which were shown all the time on WGN and I watched religiously) I probably considered better: a field trip during school hours to downtown Chicago (about an hour bus riide away) to the Shubert Theatre (IIRC) to see a Wednesday afternoon matinee performance of “Sherlock Holmes” starring Leonard Nimoy!

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