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Former gambler now in the chips

Allan Loeb knows a thing or two about Lady Luck. She's treating him much better lately.

September 27, 2006|Jay A. Fernandez | Special to The Times

Scriptland is a new weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters.

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There are few bets with longer odds than making a living as a screenwriter. And then there's Allan Loeb. A compulsive gambler since age 10, he's currently riding one of the hottest streaks in Hollywood -- screenwriting's equivalent of the "It Boy."

The 37-year-old Chicago native's original screenplays -- "Only Living Boy in New York" and "Things We Lost in the Fire" -- turned up on an anonymously compiled industry Black List of the best screenplays last year, voted there by dozens of talent agents, managers and development execs around town. Loeb basically hasn't stopped typing since March 2005.

"Things We Lost in the Fire," an intermittently mawkish melodrama about family, grief and redemption that took the Black List's top slot, drew the attention of just about every female movie star from Julia Roberts down. It's now a DreamWorks film currently shooting in Vancouver with Oscar winners Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro.

"A Little Game Without Consequence," which Loeb adapted from a frothy French play (and subsequent film), follows a happy couple that pretends to split up only to have their friends enthusiastically support the idea. It starts shooting next month in New York City with Cameron Diaz and Jim Carrey, who recently suffered his own painful breakup with longtime agency UTA only to immediately rebound with the older, sexier CAA.

Half a dozen other projects that Loeb has touched are actively working their way through development. He's even -- contrary to his own best instincts -- begun dating actresses.

Just two years ago, however, you might have spotted Loeb hunched at an L.A. bus stop contemplating the spectacular slow death of his dream. He had been a struggling screenwriter for 12 years and lost any money he made on the occasional script sale to the implosion of the tech bubble and a voracious gambling addiction that sometimes swallowed $30,000 in a weekend and left him with $150,000 in credit card debt.

In 2004, some found money in the form of an option extension on a thriller called "Protection" that he had sold to Fox years before allowed Loeb to move to New York for a few months to write his "Hail Mary" script, "Only Living Boy in New York." The day he typed "Fade In," his agent called and dropped him.

Upon returning to L.A. once again nearly broke, he was rewriting "New York," a homage to "The Graduate" about a young guy in the city seduced by his father's mistress, with producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa ("Little Miss Sunshine") when he finally joined Gamblers Anonymous.

"Literally the minute I quit gambling my writing changed," Loeb says. "It was magical. I had been giving so much emotional energy to gambling that only half of myself was out there writing. Gambling was a time suck, an energy suck, a creativity suck. I started going to GA meetings every Thursday night, and the writing flourished. It had so much more energy and passion."

CAA quickly signed him and sold "Only Living Boy" to Sony a month later. Loeb then worked his struggle to stay clean into the heroin-addicted character Jerry, played by Del Toro, in "Things We Lost in the Fire." Now the versatile writer is feeding his addiction to storytelling, as he develops "Baster," an adaptation of a New Yorker short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides; "21," the story of the infamous MIT student card counters that he rewrote; and an original romantic comedy pitch that he's rewriting now for Warner Bros. Loeb and his Scarlet Fire Entertainment producing partner Steven Pearl also just sold pitches for a pair of police procedurals to Fox and FX.

"After getting dropped by my agent, not knowing what to do with my life, feeling like a failure, being a gambling addict who had lost all of his money ... this was pure gravy," Loeb says. "I wasn't like, 'Well, what if I'm a flash in the pan? What if I'm the It Boy and then I cool?' Those are all elegant problems to have. I'm thankful for the struggle now, I think it makes me a better writer."

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Does the world still need Joe Eszterhas? In this dark time of diminishing ticket sales and studio slates, cowering development executives, cast-adrift producers and demoralized screenwriters, Joe Eszterhas believes that, yes ... yes it does.

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