ANY writer knows that one of the hardest things to accomplish these days is selling a book. Another, perhaps even more daunting task, is getting an actual movie made.
Arnie Grossman, a Denver author and screenwriter, has now done both. He is also directing the movie he wrote, “The Boat Builder,” which will star Academy Award nominee Bruce Dern.
When asked how he has now managed to accomplish what he has only dreamed of doing, he says, “I have to admit there was some kind of alignment of forces, plus some fortuitous timing. Bashert, maybe?”
Grossman, a native of New Jersey, has spent most of his adult life in Denver and is a graduate of DU, where he studied creative writing and theater. “I suppose I picked two fields of study that offered the worst chances of finding gainful employment,” he acknowledges.
“‘Why couldn’t you pursue a real job?’ my parents asked. I guess that would have been too logical. Besides I would have made a terrible accountant. I still have a problem balancing a check book.”
Fresh out of college he went back home to the New York area and worked in theater at a summer playhouse. “It wasn’t exactly a glamorous job,” he recalls. “I was the company publicist, sitting on a broken folding chair in the darkened balcony grinding out press releases.
“The only problem was, I never got the weekly paychecks I was promised because of poor box office results. So much for a career in theater.”
From there he was hired by Redbook magazine, where he did in fact receive paychecks, and later at Good Housekeeping. “My job was writing self-help articles about raising children, something I knew absolutely nothing about, being childless at the time, but I spent my lunch hours in the New York Public Library trying to learn things like how long a mother should breast feed.”
FROM there, Grossman followed a career path with one prerequisite: that it involve writing.
Moving to Denver, where he and his wife eventually had three children, Alex, Rachel and Daniel, he co-founded the Denver advertising agency, Grossman and Bartholomew, and later left to be a political media consultant, writing and producing television campaigns.
Finally, it was time for Grossman to get serious about writing. “The real thing, writing books, is what I wanted to do,” he says. “Film, also, but longer than 30 second TV commercials.”
His first published novel, 1988, was co-authored with Dick Lamm. It was the story of an idealistic governor and his media consultant who get trapped in a conspiracy by a foreign power to seize control of the White House. The book landed the two authors an appearance on The Today Show and it later led to a stage play produced in Denver.
Along the way, Grossman spent several years in Los Angeles, where he produced a CBS movie, wrote for “The Love Boat” and directed reality television programming, while continuing to write screenplays.
He also published three more books, including One Nation Under Guns, inspired by his work in behalf of gun safety regulations as co-founder of SAFE Colorado. He also produced and directed a theatrical documentary on nuclear disarmament featuring John Denver, Judy Collins and Jimmy Buffet.
IN November, 2011, “after what seemed like hundreds of doors slammed, and as many phone calls and letters unanswered, Hollywood opened one door, answered one message.”
He had recently formed a new production company in Denver, Reunion Films. His goal was to produce independent films that would call on the gifts of professionals like Bruce Dern who have long histories of success, and create intelligent films for them in which their careers can continue to flourish.
It was Dern’s acclaimed role in “Nebraska,” which received six Oscar nominations, including best actor, that convinced Grossman to take a chance on one more unsolicited submission of “The Boat Builder.”
It is a human interest story of two people at opposite ends of life — a 10-year-old orphaned boy and a lonely old man, both of whom bitterly view themselves as societal discards and form an unlikely bond to deal with the lives they now face.
“This is the hardest part to believe,” says Grossman. “On Nov. 11, I left a 35-second rehearsed phone message for Bruce’s manager. It was a voice mail I didn’t expect to be returned. But it was worth the try. Ten minutes later the phone rang. It was the manager who asked to see the screenplay as soon as possible.
“That evening, I sent him the script via e-mail. The next day, he asked for a hard copy to give to Bruce, who wanted to read it on a flight to New York. One week after that, I received a deal memorandum. From the first phone message to a signed contract, a total of four weeks elapsed.
“To this day, I still wonder how and why it all happened. I can’t spend too much time on the wondering, though. There’s work to be done, revisions to be written, casting to be performed and, in less than two months, filming to begin. In nine months — that’s an interesting time frame — a movie arrives.”
Asked whether he has any advice to offer writers with dreams and hopes of finding an open door in these competitive times, he said, “Don’t ever give up, no matter how many turn-downs you get. If an old dreamer like me can get through the maze and find an open door, anyone with a good story to tell certainly can.
“And to those who are willing to keep trying, I wish you luck, success and yes, bashert.”