Dominic West and Julianne Moore
Dominic West and Julianne Moore in The Forgotten.
Photo: Revolution Studios

Have the guts and the confidence to reach deeper. I wrote a novel in 1995 that was a real reach for me. I had been writing psychological thrillers and this was a coming-of-age story about a young man turning 20 and living in Santa Monica as I had lived. It was what you might call a “literary” book, so it was a step away from having that crutch of a strong plot with the ticking bomb and all the things that make a thriller. I guess I finally had the guts and the confidence to reach deeper and farther. Out of that came a book called Cheevey, which was no best-seller, but it was a monumental thing for me—for my own heart and soul and confidence as a writer.

Get used to the fact that you don’t control your product. It sounds like whining, but it’s just a fact of the business that we don’t control the final product. So once you sell a script, you feel wonderful because people have validated you, and they’ve liked your story and bought your script. Then a whole other process takes hold and you really do face a committee. You face production company executives, studio executives, a director, a producer and sometimes a star. They all have opinions and you don’t have veto power.

Some of the skills you have to learn go beyond writing. You really have to learn to almost be a debate captain. You have to learn to explain and define and defend. Defend work you feel needs to be defended and at the same time, be open to good ideas that come across the table. It’s a complicated dance to learn. It can be hurtful when you feel that the material has been damaged and that the audience isn’t really getting the full amount of what you feel your skills could give them. And it can also be glorious when, because of an inspired director or actor or idea that someone had, the scene actually goes beyond your expectations. Both things can happen.

Get your work out there! I always say to beginning screenwriters, ‘Just write your best work and get it out there.’ That’s really what you have to do. Write your best work. Ideas are one thing. You can go talk ideas all day. If you write it all down and make it the best work you can, it will get out there and it will sell you even if it doesn’t get produced. It will sell you. That’s what happened to me.

Filmography for Gerald Di Pego

The Forgotten (2004)
Angel Eyes (2001)
Instinct (1999)
Message in a Bottle (1999)
Phenomenon (1996)