The Power of One More Time
I was a freshman at Rollins College in Florida intending to become a golf professional. We had a free elective our winter term and one of my dorm buddies said, “Hey, what do you think if we take “Theatre Workshop?” I said, “You mean build sets, paint scenery?” He said, “Yeah.” I thought about it, and then said, “Sounds like a great idea!” That decision changed my life forever. After a week in the theatre, I was hooked! I then started to eat, drink and sleep theatre, just the way I had been with golf. I went on to act in several plays and in my senior year won the school’s Theatre Award for my one man show portraying Mark Twain.
Fast forward… I moved to Greece (how I got there, that’s another story) and started writing. My first script “Song of Electra” attracted the attention of Oliver Reed, but then I was advised by a distributor that though he was a great actor, his personal issues could cause havoc with the budget, so they turned it down.
By chance I visited the Greek island of Tinos on August 15, the Day of the Assumption. I was amazed. I saw thousands of pilgrims crawling up a steep hill from the wharf to the church. The miraculous icon of the Annunciation painted by St. Luke was brought out on a ritual bed. It was carried over the people. They were praying and believing the icon would cure a sick child or a friend of theirs like it had done in the past for others. I had never seen anything like this. At a kiosk, I bought a pamphlet about how the icon was discovered centuries ago. I thought I would try writing once more and so I wrote a docu-drama, “The Bells Toll for Thee.”
When I finished the script, I was introduced by a friend to a ship owner. The ship owner said that for an American to write a sacred story like this, it would be like a Greek writing “George Washington Slept Here.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the truth. Without a second thought he decided, “We’ll do it.” And thus I opened a film company and directed my first film. Many small miracles happened while we were producing that film. I went on to direct and act in 4 more films with the ship owner: wonderful stories from the lives of saints and the Bible.
And so, I became the American filmmaker in Greece for 20 years making biblical films, lives of saints, commercials, and documentaries. I was then searching for an international story that would incorporate my music background, along with my Greek and American experience. Suddenly it struck me. Maria Callas! The famous opera singer. Greek American. Several documentaries have been made about Maria Callas, but never telling the incredible journey of how she became a great artist and her road to find self-esteem.
I read every book published about Maria Callas, befriended singers at the Athens Lyric Opera Company, met singers and musicians that had performed with Callas, travelled across Europe researching my story and took post graduate film producing classes in Madrid. After I completed the screenplay, I came very close to having it produced, but unfortunately TF1 from France pulled out thinking it was too expensive. Then other distributors followed. I was devastated.
I returned to New York way over my head with expenses and had to get a job fast. I knew about raising money from my film work and went into sales, finance and insurance; putting my film work and Callas Project on hold.
Fast forward… I acted and directed in community theatres and got a job with a boutique financial firm in Westport, CT. Suddenly there I was back in my old town where I had grown up. My parents had passed on and I no longer knew anyone there. I had missed the high school reunions, too. For some reason I remembered my high school girlfriend, Diane. I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, but I wondered if she still lived in Westport? Google. I found her. I called a telephone number and left a message. Never heard back. 3 weeks later I was straightening papers at my desk. I found a scratch piece of paper with “Diane” written on it. “No, nothing’s ever going to happen with that,” I said to myself. “Wait, let me try googling her one more time.” This time, her mother’s name came up and one of her three brothers. “They all live in the same house?” “Well, it looks like a different telephone number.” I called. Another answering machine. I left a message. 3 days later I got a call back. “Of course, I remember you. I was your high school sweetheart.” I just about fell out of my chair. I always had a thing for her. We went out for coffee and a year later got married.
When Di and I were putting our house together, she looked at my bookshelf one day and said, “What’s that?” “Oh, that was my CALLAS script. That was my dream,” I replied. She said, “Maria Callas? Wasn’t she married to Onassis?” “Well, not exactly,” I said. That’s what many people wrongly think. He married Jackie Kennedy. Maria Callas’ story is much greater than just the affair with Aristotle Onassis.” She said, I’ve never read a screenplay, how about if you read it to me?” “Ok,” I said. So, I read it to her every night acting out all the characters. When I finished, she said, “You’ve got to do this! This is great!” So thankfully, Di encouraged me to go back to my passion of writing and filmmaking. And I started rewriting CALLAS – a 6-part limited series biopic, based on the turbulent life and career of opera legend, Maria Callas.
That summer while our house was being painted, I mentioned to one of the painters that I was a writer. It turned out he was, too. He said, “Do you have a pitch deck of your story?” “What’s that? “ I said. He told me to check out a few websites like Stage 32 to get myself back in the film business.
So, I joined the Writers' Room on Stage 32. I practiced pitching my CALLAS story in the pitching class with coaching from Brooklyn Fields, John Mezes and Jason Mirch. I made several close writing friends who were very supportive and believed in my story, and I believed in theirs. We shared each other’s struggles and successes, encouraging each other all the time.
I sent my Pilot script to be critiqued by producers on Stage 32. I received positive feedback, but “no one brought the fish into the boat.” Then I tried pitching the project to producers whom I thought would be interested in my kind of story. One day, I received very positive feedback and a contract from a producer in LA. She wanted to work together with me to help realize CALLAS, and within a few months a Greek/English producer has joined us. So now, we are beginning to package CALLAS while seeking an Executive Producer/Streamer to present the project to distributors.
So that’s where I am on this quixotic journey. Stage 32 was instrumental in helping me get back in the business I truly love. I’m also deeply grateful for the like-minded friends I have connected with along the way.
I encourage other writers to write about something they truly love so they will be able to stay inspired when some of the valleys in the road come… And so you won’t be tempted to take a detour. Just make one more phone call. Make one more re-write of your script. One more submission. One more pitch. One more connection on Stage 32. Make one more time of everything. It could quite possibly be the one more time that was meant to be.