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American Mythic is the first in my Screenplay Series. I wrote spec screenplays on and off for thirty years, optioning and re-optioning the better ones, selling some and seeing them produced, and using them to get jobs doing rewrites of existing scripts, or to secure the assignment to adapt a book here and there.

I wrote Mythic in response to what I saw in Vietnam. I wanted the Left and Right to see the best in each other while at the same time making a statement about racism, classism, and imperialism. Mythic is the only screenplay of mine, or of anyone I know, that has received apologetic fan mail from readers who had to pass on it because westerns have been anathema in Hollywood since the 1960s.

Mythic is also an homage to the John Ford/John Wayne/James Warner Bellah cavalry westerns of the late 1940s, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, and Rio Grande.

The book also contains a primer on how to read a screenplay for fun. It’s easy.

Read the Introduction below

American Mythic


Between the summers of 1980 and 1981, starting at about midnight each night and lasting quite often until five in the morning, I sat at the Main Gate of the Samuel Goldwyn Studios and scratched the words that became this screenplay onto yellow tablet paper with a Rolling Writer pen. It took me a year because I would write and rewrite each scene until it was so taut you could bounce a quarter off of it (or so I told myself). Of course, I later discovered new standards for tautness, but that’s another story.

I came to work for the Goldwyn Studio by fate. I’d accidentally sold a screenplay to a producer who headquartered on the lot, and came to know the studio’s young and obviously misguided Chief of Security who offered me a job when my script money trickled out. I thought I would be a star writer, and who knew, maybe a star director, too. What I became was a man who spent much of his time alone, often in the dark, day-dreaming of places that never were and of people who never existed. I became, in short, a fiction writer.

Over the next quarter century I reluctantly accepted the reality — I was not, and never would be a Hollywood star writer/director — and accepted promotion. Warner Bros. bought the Goldwyn Studios in 1980, and sold it in 2000, when I left. At the end I was Chief of Security, Safety and Fire Prevention and responsible for even more. Even so, I never stopped writing. For the fourteen years I was studio management, I would drive home each night, take a nap for an hour, and then write for an hour or two. Over the years I sold short stories and screenplays, one of which was nominated for a CableACE Best Picture Award. Finally, faced with my Hollywood studio career ending, I returned to my first ambition, which was to write novels. My first novel, THE HAUNTING OF CAMBRIA, was published by St. Martin’s Press/TOR in 2007.

Of the thirty-three screenplays I’ve written over the years, most of them spec scripts, American Mythic has received the most attention. I received fan letters from studio readers who had to ‘pass’ on the script because Hollywood doesn’t make these kinds of movies anymore (they said). Even so, they wanted to let me know that the story touched them, or ignited their imaginations. One story development exec said she cried at the end when one of the characters die (I won’t say who — read Mythic and find out).

On the other hand, one producer called me only to shout, “How dare you send me this script! I can’t make this story — it’s got horses in it!” (This was during the period when anything but contemporary action tales was considered unproduceable.) American Mythic also placed highly in a Writer’s Digest screenwriting contest one year.

Samuel Goldwyn Jr., for whom I worked early on as the keeper of his studio gate, read my first screenplay and each subsequent screenplay I wrote for a number of years and gave me sage advice. I ignored it. Hollywood is one great sales opportunity. Everything is based on ‘the pitch’. I have done my share of pitching over the years, but I hated the process. I have sold projects that way, although the ratio between pitches and sales roughly parallels the time elapsed between the rise of Cro-Magnon Man and the advent of the average Starbucks patron. In Hollywood talk is cheap, and plentiful.

At some point in my writing career, with one or another of my multitudinous agents, I said, “I don’t pitch, I don’t sing, I don’t dance.” What I did was write spec scripts. I invested my time and skills in writing tales not created by a committee, thus opening myself up to a number of thefts (of course, as finished screenplays are often stolen in Hollywood) and a path through the Hollywood landscape not noted on any of the town maps. It was a decision destined for failure (or, at least, not success), but I really didn’t want to sing, or dance, or pitch. I wanted to write. Poor Sam Goldwyn Jr. sat me down the last time I saw him and patiently, painstakingly told me how the system works and how I should go about being successful in it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was, what? Stupid? Stubborn? A writer who didn’t sing, and didn’t dance?

Mea culpa to all that. But thanks for trying, Sam.

Now, as I leave screenwriting behind — Chief Joseph might have said, “I will write no more (spec scripts), forever!” — I am publishing my better scripts in book form. I am putting them out there, to be read, admired (or not), and probably stolen, as part of the ether that is human knowledge. I toss it into the cloud of consciousness with the hope that human consciousness endures, as mine certainly will not.

I began thinking of the story American Mythic would become when I was little more than a toddler. I used to have my toy soldiers, toy Greeks and toy Romans, and toy indians fight one another. Much later I went to Vietnam a starry-eyed patriot who came to see war, that war in particular, for what war really is. I tried to redeem fiery patriotism with conscience, redeem John Wayne, if you will, even though John’s public persona was ethnocentric and racially bigoted. I love John Wayne, let me say that even now. This story is about America learning about itself and making Big John become introspective and self-questioning, if only for a moment.

I also love John Ford’s cavalry pictures, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, and Rio Grande (pronounced without an ‘e’ on the end, by the way). In truth, those tales aren’t John Ford’s at all, or even James Warner Bellah’s from whose short stories, published in the Saturday Evening Post, they were derived. Frederic Remington, probably America’s best known artist, traveled with the U.S. Cavalry, painted and sketched them, and wrote about them. He inspired Bellah, Bellah inspired Ford, and Ford created John Wayne as we know him. I saw the trilogy on TV in the late 1950s and I was forever changed. Now this was story telling!

When I came back from Vietnam to a country hotly divided and angry, American Mythic was my attempt to allow the Right and the Left to see one another. The tale washed into and out of my mind like a tide for many years before I finally wrote it.

I recall one incident about writing Mythic that makes me smile even now. I’d worked forward in the script sequentially and arrived at a pivotal scene. Wingate, my flawed hero, sneaks into the enemy’s camp and bumps up against an absolutely huge opponent whose handling of his scimitar suggests pride and prowess. He tosses the huge sword from hand to hand as if it were a toy, twirling and catching it with practiced style. No way Wingate is going to compete against this guy with his cavalry saber. Instead, he shrugs, pulls his service revolver and shoots him. The following night I went to the studio’s weekly screening of new films. The movie that week was Raiders of the Lost Ark. In it, Indiana Jones meets up with an opponent very similar to Wingate’s, and like Wingate, instead of fighting a losing battle, merely pulls his revolver and shoots the huge swordsman. Later that night I x’d out my scene.

Several friends have have urged me to convert Mythic into a novel, but it is not a novel. American Mythic is more about Hollywood than history. It’s more about the games I played as a child when Greek toy soldiers would call out, “Circle the wagons!” as indians were about to attack. I’ve said what I had to say.

There are several homages (well, more than several) to Ford’s cavalry trilogy in Mythic. When Wingate offers a chaw of tobacco to a shavetail lieutenant, it might have happened (but didn’t, not quite in the same way) in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Mythic begins with Wingate’s final patrol, much like the last act of Ribbon and Brittles’ final mission. The final scene is an homage to another western by a different, but equally memorable director, Howard Hawks — Red River.

You will never see this film on screen. Sit back, then, toss a couple popcorn kernels into your mouth, and watch American Mythic in the theater of your mind, where production values are always first rate.

   — Richard Taylor

   Cambria, California

   March 1, 2008

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