NORTH HOLLYWOOD — It was a scene straight out of a movie, but much more violent than the ones Randy Shields likes to write.
There were no cameras rolling, no director giving instructions, no actors in a make-believe world. This was real-life drama, with loaded guns and two hardened criminals looking for an excuse to use them.
And Shields, 38, a screenwriter and former top-flight boxer who grew up and still lives in North Hollywood, could see the ending was not going to play well in Peoria. Or anywhere else.
It happened on a late summer night two years ago at a small restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard called Four 'N 20 Pie Shop. But for Shields, the images remain so vivid in his mind, it might as well have been yesterday.
"I was sitting right here," Shields said the other day, as he recounted the terrifying event. "I was writing a scene for a screenplay when they came in and fired four shots into the ceiling."
Two gunmen busted into the restaurant around midnight on Sept. 18, 1992, and demanded all the cash in the register. As they entered and blew out part of the ceiling with a shotgun blast, Shields dropped to the floor and crawled toward the back of the restaurant. One of the men saw Shields and fired a shot into the back of his left leg, but Shields escaped into a darkened back room.
When an employee, and then a customer, couldn't open the register as ordered, one of the gunmen threatened to kill someone. That's when Shields, who sometimes works as a bodyguard and has a license to carry a concealed weapon, realized he had to do something.
"I pulled my gun and went out," Shields said. "I started shooting at them and they ran out, but I hit both of them. I hit one guy in the chest and the back, and I hit the other guy in the back. They made it home and called 911 and said they had been involved in a drive-by (shooting), but their stories didn't fool the police. They also had pretty long rap sheets."
Both men, and the driver of the getaway car, are doing 18 years in prison. Shields, who possibly saved some lives that night, is still hanging out at his favorite eatery and churning out the stories he hopes to see on the big screen, usually from the table where not long ago he saw a Hollywood plot unfold before his eyes.
Unleashing his imagination into story lines that would hold an audience captive is what makes Shields tick nowadays.
Although none of his scripts has gone beyond the word processor, Shields spends hours--often late into the night--either at home or at the Four 'N 20 polishing his work. And he says he could be close to a breakthrough with one of his stories if the pieces fall into place in the next few weeks.
Shields says he has a financial backer who will put up around $13 million to produce his latest finished project, a movie titled "Bagdad" that deals with the plight of a homeless man who, by chance, encounters the two grown sons he abandoned years before.
The catch, however, is that Charlie Sheen must agree to play the role of one of the sons for the money to come through, Shields said. Martin Sheen, father of Charlie and actor Emilio Estevez, is interested in playing the role of the dad, Shields said.
"Charlie's publicist has the script and (Charlie) is considering it," Shields said. "The writers have a Catch-22. You need the actors to sell the work but the actors are afraid to put their names on something that won't sell because they don't want the stigma. Hopefully, this one will work out."
Almost all the scripts he has written, Shields said, have nothing to do with boxing. He wants to be recognized as someone who has more to offer than his connection to the sport.
"I have several boxing stories but whether I do anything with them, I don't know," Shields said. "It has a lot to do with me wanting to establish myself as a writer first, rather than people thinking of me as a dumb ex-boxer who can only write about boxing."
Still, Shields admits that boxing has helped him make contacts in the film industry.
"Luckily, I can break down a lot of doors because of boxing," Shields said. "But for (producers) to take me seriously as a writer is a tough sale."
Before trying his luck at writing films, Shields was a leading protagonist in a genre in which showmanship, sport and brutality blend to entertain the public.
As a youngster in the late 1960s and early '70s, Shields established himself as a promising fighter, one who could throw damaging blows and also take a punch.
"If you have a world-class talent, it shows even at 14 or 15 years old," said Joe Goossen, the veteran Valley-based trainer who has known Shields since each was a teen-ager. "Randy was definitely beating up pros in the gym when he was that age. He was one of the cleanest-living fighters I've ever been around. He didn't smoke or drink, and he never missed a training session."