NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Major Influences – My Friend, Shaun

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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It’s fair to say that most of the time, influences tend to flourish when they’re shared. In the Summer between fourth and fifth grade, I met my oldest and best friend. I used to spend my days at the local swimming pool. Every day I’d be there for at least a couple of hours in the afternoon. You go that often, and you’re bound to start seeing the same people over and over. One of those people was Shaun Joyce.

I’m not entirely sure why we started talking but I CAN tell you why we became friends: Beverly Hills Cop. Remember last time I told you that most questions in Hollywood start with “have you seen…” Well they do in real life too. Next time you’re at a dinner or a party, pay attention to how many times “have you seen…” pops up in every day conversation. You’d be amazed. Well, that’s how Shaun and I became fast friends. We had both seen Beverly Hills Cop and loved chatting about how funny Eddie Murphy was and how bad ass the movie was in general.

Over the weeks we met up at the pool and talked movies. I had learned that he, along with his brothers and mom, lived with his grandparents and would be starting at my school in the fall. We didn’t end up in class together though thanks to my mom pushing for me to be in Mrs. Rooks’ class. Shaun got stuck with Mrs. Winters who, trust me, was far from stellar. Yes, there are more than a few stories about Mrs. Winters. Luckily our classes were right next door, so we’d hang out after school.

Shaun’s basement was a virtual funland. He and his brothers had everything. Two Nintendos, a Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Super Nintendo, Turbografx 16, computer and a couple of Gameboys. We’d spend HOURS down there playing video games, watching movies and reading comic books.

NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Major Influences - My Friend, Shaun #scriptchat #screenwriting

Newspaper clipping from the Detroit Free Press after Shaun won the Nintendo World Championship.

FUN FACT: Shaun would go on to become the local Nintendo Champion. For winning, he won a trip to Los Angeles to compete for the National Title. If you’ve ever seen the Fred Savage classic, The Wizard, Shaun went to that. The real one, not the fictional version.

I’m not using “hours” to be hyperbolic. One weekend we spent 48 hours straight playing King’s Quest IV. Once we started fading, we’d switch off. I’d catch a couple of hours of sleep, then wake up, he’d fill me in on how far he got and then I’d take over while he caught a couple of hours of sleep. Back and forth we did this. Why? Who the hell knows. We were kids.

No matter what we were doing, movies would always be playing. We’d hit the video store and just grab stacks of videos. I remember one time we got on this ninja kick. If there was a ninja on the cover or the word ninja appeared in the title, we watched it; no matter how good or how bad. There was a time when Michael Dudikoff was our hero and he had strong opinions when they continued the American Ninja series without him… But I digress.

FUN FACT: One of us MAY have spent money on mail order ninja claws for climbing (wasn’t me) and one of us MAY have tried to use said claws to unsuccessfully climb the telephone in my backyard (totally was me).

We watched all of that crap. If you want to have a serious talk about influences… Van Damme, Segal, Jeff Speakman, Cynthia Rothrock, Stallone, Schwarzenegger etc. All of those movies still play an active role in my writing.

When I first started writing action movies, the biggest criticism that I would get was that my villains were “too cartoonish.” Hmmm…I wonder why? Wouldn’t have ANYTHING to do with Tommy Lee Jones’ performance in Under Seige, would it?

NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Major Influences - My Friend, Shaun by Manny Fonseca #scriptchat #screenwriting

Van Damme’s “Death Touch” from Bloodsport.

FUN FACT: Speaking of lasting influences, one of us MAY still use “Dim Mak” from Bloodsport as their Xbox gamer tag. Spoiler alert… it’s not me.

The funny thing is, as much as we loved movies, neither of us ever talked about making movies. We never acted anything out, never made little backyard flicks, never talked about film school, hell… even though both of us would go on to get degrees in film, neither of us even knew that was a thing we could do. Shaun would figure out his degree floundering around University of Michigan and I would figure mine out WAY later at Wayne State University then later at Ohio University.

As we got older, while we were still nerds at heart, our tastes would change. Shaun started spending more time playing basketball in the driveway while I stayed in the basement playing games. Eventually, he would take the whole Arnold idolization to the next level and start working out hard core. He gained muscle, I gained fat but we’re still close friends to this day. In fact, Shaun (and his brother Ryan) are a major reason why I even have a career in Hollywood, but I’ll get to that later.

Besides movies and video games, we were also comic book nerds. It should be no surprise that, continuing with the motif of these article that besides Batman, two of my favorite comic characters were Wolverine and The Punisher. Wolverine, who is a loner in love with a woman who loves another man and The Punisher, a loner who has no family due to their violent, untimely death.

Then there was stand-up comedy…

We were obsessed and, to be honest, I still am. As kids, when Shaun shifted to becoming the “athletic one,” I fell into the role of the “fat, funny friend.” The side kick. The jester. As Troy McClure would declare, it was “the role I was was born to play!” I knew early in life that I wasn’t leading man material. Mad props to Jack Black, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill for flipping the script on that one. They were just a little too late to change that concept in my brain.

Anyway, my parents got me hooked on stand up comedy early. I started with Bill Cosby because he was clean. My mom would tell me stories of how she started with Cosby too. The nuns used to play him on the P.A. at school because of his Noah routline and, again, he was clean. Oh, if they only knew.

Shaun and I in the 6th grade.

Shaun and I in the 6th grade.

As for Shaun and I, once we made it past the standard, kids “Weird” Al phase, we dove head first into the comedy boom of the 80’s. If there was a comedy album, we listened to it. Robin Williams, Steven Wright, Robert Klein, Gary Shandling, Howie Mandel, Sam Kinison, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and, yes, even Gallagher. What can I say? It was the 80’s and we loved seeing shit get smashed with a big hammer.

Once my body (and lack of desire to play basketball) decided that I wasn’t going to be an action hero, my dream became to be a stand up comic. Unfortunately, I have built it up so big in my mind, that it’s probably going to remain a dream. The stage fright at this point is overwhelming… but that’s a whole different conversation.

FUN FACT: I have performed stand up comedy ONCE. Mrs. Meyers, who taught 7th grade music, had scheduled a talent show. I wasn’t there when it was announced, I found out on the day it was happening. I leaned over and told Mrs. Meyers that I wanted in and that I was going to do stand up. I bombed. Hard. Although, I will say I sort of redeemed myself in the end when I pulled out my grade A material. What was my big closer you ask? I did and SNL level imitation of the Oscar Meyer Bologna commercial. You know, the whole “my bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R…” commercial? Except, and here’s the real genius, I pronounced bologna with a hard G so it was pronounced “ba-guo-ney.”

Real deep shit.

Speaking of finding your voice, part of the reason I’ve never pursued the comedy thing was because, being such a fan of comedy, I could never figure out what sort of comedian I’d be.

Would I have the calmness of Steven Wright? The mouth of Jim Jefferies? That disdain of Anthony Jeselnik or Daniel Tosh? The energy of Kevin Hart? The insight of Louis C.K.? The observation of Jerry Seinfeld? The aggression of Bill Burr?

I wanted to be a rock star too, so maybe I take the Sam Kinison route. No way I could ever be as clean at Jim Gaffigan or as douchie as Dane Cook. Could I muster the passion of Chris Rock?

Hell, as nerdy as I am, I could never be as nerdy on stage as Patton Oswalt or Chris Hardwick. I can’t really do insult comedy like Don Rickles or Lisa Lampanelli.

Funny thing is, the closest “voice” that I has ever come close to who I am as a person, gossipy voice of Kathy Griffin. Only thing is, I’m not even close to having cool stories about cool people like she does.

Now, there is ONE voice I’ve failed to mention that ties everything up in a nice little bow. As much as we loved all of those above comedians, there is one in particular that captured our imagination and, to this day, remains our favorite comedian of all time.

George Carlin.

Shaun and I watched every one of his specials hundreds of times. There was a brief period in time where we’d greet each other with “Have a crappy day!” and the other would respond with “And to you and your family as well!” Or if one of our teachers asked us how we were doing, we’d answer “We’re not unwell.”

We were lucky enough to see Carlin perform a couple of times. BUT, both of those experiences will never beat:

The time we met George Carlin…

My beloved souvenir from the first time we saw Carlin perform.

My beloved souvenir from the first time we saw Carlin perform.

One random day, we found out that Carlin was going to do a book signing at a Border’s Book Store about 45 minutes from where we lived. We found out late and only had about 2 hours to get to it if we were going to make it. We hauled ass and ended up being the second and third in line.

Carlin was promoting the paperback release of his first book, Brain Droppings. I was the only one in line with the hardcover version because I had ordered it the day it was released.

George Carlin showed up in sweat pants, a baseball cap and a t-shirt. He announced that he would only sign the book and that he wasn’t going to personalize anything, as he’d rather say hello in person rather than on the page.

I stepped up to him, he saw my hardcover and smiled, “Oh wow. Look at you. Hardcover. You must be a die hard!” I smiled and nodded like a total moron. Unable to say anything to my hero. I never shook his hand. Never said hello. Never managed to utter anything more than an exasperated mouth sound.

He signed the book and moved on. When I was clear, I turned around and saw Shaun behind me, shaking his hand. I literally slapped myself on the forehead, “I should have shaken his hand!”

And that was that. We drove back home, geeked about how awesome George Carlin was in person even though we barely managed a handshake and an awkward mouth noise.

Once we graduated high school, Shaun and I went our separate ways. He was in Ann Arbor and I was all over the place. We still saw each other occasionally, but obviously not as often. Eventually, I went to film school and he moved out here to California.

Shaun's first bodybuilding competition.

Shaun’s first bodybuilding competition.

FUN FACT: Shaun took the Arnold thing seriously. He has competed in professional bodybuilding events, ensuring that no matter how “in shape” I get, I will always be the “fat, funny friend.”

In 2010, I called him out of the blue and asked him if I could crash on his couch for a couple of months because I had the opportunity to do an internship in Hollywood. When I called I hadn’t seen or talked to him in over a year and a half. He never even hesitated, the couch was mine.

Had he (and his brother Ryan who was living with him) not done that, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story or any of the other stories that will follow. That’s a true friend.

Thanks, Bro.

 

Get Doug Richardson’s volume of Hollywood war stories in his book
The Smoking Gun: True Tales from Hollywood’s Screenwriting Trenches
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