Monday, February 17, 2014

AND EATING IT, TOO

Or, How Patrick Tobin Went From Struggling, Unrepresented Screenwriter to Hot Commodity With a Go Film Starring an A-List Actress

By Jim Cirile

Every now and again, we hear about a screenwriting overnight sensation, only to discover it took years of hard work to get there. Patrick Tobin is one such case. He’s been at it for over two decades, cranking out scripts, entering contests and honing his craft. In 2013, fortune smiled as he made the Zoetrope semi-finals as well as our own Writers on the Storm top ten, then got signed by WME and Industry Entertainment and made The Black List. As if that’s not enough, Jennifer Aniston will be starring in and producing the adaptation of his quirky drama CAKE for After Dark Films and Shenghua Entertainment.

Not a bad year.

We sat down with Patrick to get the skinny on this long journey and its amazing and well-earned pay-off.

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Jim Cirile (JC): You must feel pretty good right about now.

Patrick Tobin (PT): It’s been crazy this last year, things have gotten better and better since the end of the year. I’ve been getting lots of meetings, trying to get assignments, take the next step.

JC: Give us a quick overview of your screenwriting history.

Tobin bakes one hell of a CAKE.
PT: I graduated from USC film school in ’90 and wrote a script in ’95 that was produced by Marsha Lucas, George Lucas’s ex-wife, who put up a million, called NO EASY WAY that Khandi Alexander starred in. It didn’t get into Sundance, but did get into South by Southwest. However, without Sundance’s stamp of approval it didn’t get distribution, which was too bad because Khandi didn’t get the recognition she deserved. In the late ‘90s, my brother had a tragedy, and my now-husband and I moved to Montana to be with him. My life went in a different direction; my movie career didn’t happen.

JC: Wow, heck of a way to get derailed.

PT: I pulled back a bit from screenwriting at that point. I started writing fiction and short stories that I could have more control over and some of them got published. “Cake” was actually my most successful story and (was published in) an anthology in 2008. I hadn’t thought about making a screenplay out of it, but it had a really good character. At the time my best friend was dating a German commercial director who wanted to make features, and he loved my short story. He had a book he wanted me to adapt into a screenplay, and while that didn’t go anywhere, it sparked my screenplay writing again.

JC: So you adapted the short story into a screenplay?


PT: I was working a full-time job and I literally finished a draft in 5 weeks. I would write at night and weekends and it was fun and like a hobby. I was with a writing group that would have actors come in and read for them and the great actress Deborah Geffner (PASSIONS, MONK) read CAKE, used it as an audition piece. The audience was riveted. I thought it might be a good springboard. This and a lot of things led up to it. But the first draft was like a disaster because the short story was like a last act and the character was really super unlikeable. A friend read it and loved the short story but not the script. I’ve been reworking it for the last 4 years because in between I was trying to shop a nonfiction book for a couple of years about my crazy family. I entered it in contests and it started being a finalist and year before last I was semi-finalist for Zoetrope’s top 30-35 scripts. I entered it in Writers on the Storm and CineStory and got a director who optioned it (Daniel Barnz, WON’T BACK DOWN) and got an agent at William Morris through him and then got on The Black List.

JC: How did Barnz become involved?

PT: He was a past winner of CineStory and he heard from (contest) judges how good CAKE was; he called and wanted to meet. We hit it off and did a rewrite. His agent at (WME) signed me and started sending it out as a sample (while) Daniel was trying to get an actress attached. Agents were really excited about the project, which is how it got on The Black List. I had about 30 meetings between October and December. 


JC: For folks who may not know, The Black List is a compendium of the industry’s favorite unproduced scripts that comes out every December. It’s become quite the tastemaker.

PT: So now I’ve got many different things I’m pitching at meetings now, book adaptations and figuring out how to make (CAKE). So I’m meeting with people, trying to get something in the interim so I can quit my day job. It’s tricky because I work in Anaheim, live in Long Beach, and have to go to LA -- it’s been a little crazy. But I feel it’s the most amazing opportunity I’ve been given. I’m not young and need to take advantage of it, so I can’t complain. I try to schedule the meetings on a certain day, have gotten to know the libraries, work on my laptop between meetings and it’s been nuts, but it’s been fun. My agents and managers have been very supportive of me.

JC: A lot of folks think ageism is a real concern in the industry.

PT: If I’d been 25, I don’t think I’d have the same opportunity I have now. I was worried about my age, but everyone I’ve met with are smart and engaged and just enjoy good movies. If you go in thinking, “I’m an old person,” they pick up on it. But if you go, “I’m a writer and I love good writing,” it makes a difference.

JC: It was announced at Berlin that CAKE is a go, and a certain actress with the initials “Jennifer Aniston” is attached to star and produce.

PT: I am BIG TIME psyched! Yeah, it's amazing how fast things are moving on the project. They're already in preproduction. It's surreal! But so cool too! I (knew) CAKE will be a great role for a good actress, and I’m so excited. Moving forward, I’ve got another script that I’m revising and I’m adapting another one of my short stories which I think has possibilities. It’s sort of a sci-fi horror story, like TAKE SHELTER meets LOOPER, and is way different than CAKE. Daniel is developing it with me. So I’m really excited for the future.

JC: Thanks so much, Patrick. Anything you’d like to say to your screenwriting brethren?

PT: My “words of wisdom” are: Don’t even think about the age issue and just focus on your writing and enter lots of contests. I never would’ve gotten anywhere without them or had the access I have now. I just kept working up the ladder to semi-finalist and finalist, kept entering contests and plugging away. 

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