NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Major Influences – TV and Movies

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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NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Major Influences - TV and Movies by Manny Fonseca | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

The major components of finding your voice are the things that influenced you when you were younger. Besides the teachers that were influencing my life at a young age, there were a few outside influences going on that would ultimately help shape my voice, as well as, clog it. This week, we’ll chat about the basics, why we’re all here: TV and Movies.

Some of my earliest memories involve watching the likes of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. It should come to no surprise to any of you that, given my self-diagnosed, penchant for anti-social behavior, that my favorite Sesame Street character was… That’s right, Oscar the Grouch. Loved him.

Major influences Hawkeye Pierce and Klinger

One of my first influences, Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce.

At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I remember sitting on my mother’s lap and watching MASH. To be fair, it’s not like I understood anything that was going on in a show like MASH, but I knew one thing: I liked that Hawkeye Pierce guy. This might seem insignificant now, but looking back on things now, the smart-assness of Hawkeye Pierce might NOT have been the best to imprint on at an early age.

As I got older, other influences that shared a commonality started flooding in. My favorite Looney Tunes character? Daffy Duck. Favorite Disney character? Donald Duck. No, I didn’t have a thing for ducks. I was clearly drawn to the loud, misunderstood, sarcastic types. To be fair, Bugs wasn’t too far behind. After all, if you really think about it, isn’t he sort of the Hawkeye Pierce of the Looney Tunes world?

Going to the movies was a regular part of being a kid. I remember seeing all of the Disney films in the theater. Keep in mind, this is WAY before home video, so Disney’s “re-release” of a movie happened on the big screen. Films like Snow White, Cinderella and Bambi were all part of the mix. In fact, watching Bambi was my first memory of dealing with the subject of death.

FUN FACT ALERT: Fantasia is the first movie I ever walked out of because I was bored. What can I say? I wasn’t ready for classical music yet.

In 1983, we moved to Dearborn and something magical happened… We got cable! A service that wasn’t available in the ghetto’s of Detroit at the time. Once cable entered our lives, I was done. First movie I watched on HBO? Robert Altman’s Popeye.

When it came to daytime TV, I was a bit of a weird kid as I enjoyed the classics. I loved reruns of shows like I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, My Three Sons, Ozzie and Harriet, Dennis the Menace, The Munsters, Bewitched, Mr. Ed, I Dream of Jeannie and The Beverly Hillbillies.

Shows, that 99% of my peers, weren’t watching which only led to not being able to relate to people my age even more. To this day, I seemingly tend to date women older then me, simply due to my pop culture vocabulary.

My dad and the glorious VHS player.

My dad and the glorious VHS player.

A few years after cable came into my life, something else would be introduced into my world that would change it forever: The VCR. My dad, being a bit of a gear head and a Sony man, hedged all his bets on Beta rather than the more popular VHS, so for many years I was trapped being able to watch only what was on Beta–which, spoiler alert, wasn’t much. Many years later, and equally fed up with the choices, my mom would get the house a VHS player for Christmas.

The VCR would begin my obsession with collecting movies. You see, my parents would buy blank Beta tapes by the CASE. Then, they would record movies off of HBO and Showtime. The average Beta tape could hold 2-3 movies depending on the length and there’d be 12 tapes in a case. So, they would record EVERYTHING and I mean everything and never got rid of anything. Combine this with the beauty of the Columbia Home Video movie club and we had quite the collection.

There was a small bedroom that we never used in our house that was our tape library. I can’t tell you how many movies we had… Well, technically still have as they are now collecting dust in the Dearborn house basement where my dad still lives. The day my mom got her first label maker, she started the process of numbering all of the tapes and creating a database of every movie, including rating, length and the time they started on the tape.

FUN FACT ALERT: This obsessive behavior would continue in my own, personal life. By the time I stopped collecting DVDs, I think I finished with roughly 1400 DVDs. They’re boxed up in plastic cases in the same vicinity as those old Beta tapes. A database was attempted several times, but it could never stay current with my buying (and selling) habits.

To say my family’s taste was eclectic would be an understatement. My mom was a classical movie person. She loved films like Gone with the Wind and Sound of Music. At the same time she was a MASSIVE Chuck Norris fan (if you ever meet me, ask me about the time my mom face raped a nearly frozen Chuck Norris when she had the opportunity to meet him.) My dad was contemporary, leaning towards what was popular at the time, but also had a flare for the trippy movies of the 60’s and 70’s.

Because of this, I grew to LOVE movies… Obviously. And I mean ALL movies. I know some people that have never seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies because “they’re not really into those types of movies.” Not me. I watch it all. Sappy Rom Coms, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, Dramas, Indie Flicks, Foreign… Everything.

FUN FACT ALERT: I harbor some deep, guilty pleasure love for everything Freddie Prinze, Jr. Why? Who the hell knows. I was even a huge fan of his short lived TV show. Funnily enough, by pure coincidence, I Know What You Did Last Summer is playing in the background while I’m writing this.

Luckily, my parents felt I was ready to take on some of the more  “adult themed” movies… With conditions attached. Those conditions? I had to close my eyes during certain parts. Namely extreme violence or nudity. I could watch certain movies with my parents up to a certain scene, then was told to cover my eyes until said scene was over, then was free to continue watching. Which meant I heard a lot, but never got to see a lot.

FUN FACT ALERT: The murder the kid witnesses in Witness? Yeah, it would be YEARS, and many viewings, before I actually got to see the murder that the kid was a witness to in Witness. It also be YEARS before I actually got to see the strip club scene in Beverly Hills Cop.

There were only two films that, admittedingly, I wasn’t ready for.

One night, as a treat, we went to the Ford-Tel drive-in to catch a double feature. The first film was Predator and the second was Beverly Hills Cop II. Obviously I was more excited for the second flick, than I was the first. (This was before my Arnold/action movie obsession).

Early in the flick, (spoiler alert) they come upon a team of soldiers that were skinned alive and hung. As Richard Chaves’ character, Poncho, climbs up to inspect there’s this creepy music. What’s he gonna find? Yeah, I never made it to the reveal. My mom turned around and said that maybe I should go to sleep and that they’d wake me up for Beverly Hills Cop II. I agreed.

The second movie was The Exorcist. I got as far as the part where Father Merrin is in that shop with all of the clocks and they all stop at the same time. Yeah, I chickened out. I got up, stretched and told my parents that I was falling asleep and should go to bed.

There was one disadvantage to having parents that were a little “lax” in their movie upbringing… Not all parents did the same thing for THEIR kids. Which leads me to a quick story of…

John Whalburg

Me, John Whalburg and, I think, his brother.

Why I hate Field of Dreams: One of my closest friends in elementary was a kid named John Whalburg. John’s parents were straight up intellectuals. His dad either wrote or edited encyclopedias and his mom, I think, was a teacher of some sorts. John was WAY more of a smart kid than I ever was. I mean, he had a coin collection people.

Anyway, we were hanging out one day and the decision to go to the movies was made. There were two choices that were technically “age appropriate,” Tim Burton’s Batman and Field of Dreams. Needless to say, I was ALL about seeing Batman. Unfortunately, John’s mom thought that it would be “too adult” for us and it was stated that if  we wanted her to drive us to the movies, we’d have to see Field of Dreams.

Yeah, I went… But like the spoiled only child that I was, I didn’t like it. What made it worse was, if you listened closely, you could hear the explosions in Batman in the theater next to us. For the record, I’ve since re-watched Field of Dreams and, while I get it, that movie still puts a bad taste in my mouth. I never got to see Batman in the theater,

Batman 89Funny epilogue… About a year and a half later, John was hanging out at my house after school. He stayed for dinner and then went home. After he left, my parents surprised me with a Beta copy of Batman. SO watched it that night and loved it. And yes, back in those days it took that long for a movie to come out on video tape…even longer if you were a Beta owner.

FUN FACT ALERT: Batman was the first DVD I ever bought.

Me and David Ciccone in our movie going days.

Me and David Ciccone in our movie going days.

Once I reached the age of being able to go to the movies by myself, I practically lived at the movie theater. My friend, David Ciccone, and I used to plan “movie days.” We’d get the paper and figure out how many movies we could see in a day before the matinee price changed at 6 p.m. It usually worked out to three. One of our parents would drop us off with enough money for movies and popcorn. We saw real “cinematic classics” like: The Naked Gun movies, both Hot Shots movies, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and whatever else we could see that wasn’t rated R.

Developing such a vast taste in TV shows and Movies has been a blessing and a curse. Hollywood and the people within it, like to rely on the past to dictate the future. There have been plenty of times where “Have you seen…” starts a conversation in this town and you’d be surprised how often the answer is “no.” It’s shocking how many people who want to MAKE movies, never WATCH movies.

On the other hand, being an encyclopedia of TV and Movie influences often clogs your voice. Hollywood isn’t a big fan of genre bending ideas. Recently, I got script coverage back from a company that I sent my action script to. One of the more confusing comments was “it tonally felt like a comedy and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be an action script or a comedy script.”

Sure. That’s worthy of a forehead slap. There are such things as “action-comedies,” but the reader was right. My “jokes” were tonally wrong for the heavily, action packed movie I set out to write. I forgot to keep my wit subtle. I needed less Daffy Duck and more Hawkeye Pierce.

This isn’t the first time that my extensive influences have caused a lack of focus in my writing.

At the end of the day though, I’ve found that having seen a movie (or TV show) has been way more beneficial to my career. After all, you can always reign in your writing, you just have to be aware that’s something that you might do in a script and make adjustments accordingly.

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