Sitting in the empty 50-seat theater with the tunes of Bach or Mozart filling the silent void, Tom Flynn ’77 finds his creative energies most focused. It is here, with only the light of his laptop flickering, where the screenplay writer says his characters speak to him best.
Flynn said he knows he has something special in that theater when stacked hours seem like mere minutes, and his “characters talk so fast, you have to tell them to slow down.” The whole process, he said “is kind of schizophrenic.”
But, his characters knew what they were talking about back in 2011, when a writing frenzy produced Gifted, a major Hollywood movie set to hit theaters nationwide April 12.
The story follows the difficulties of Frank Adler, played by Chris Evans, who tries to give his child prodigy niece (McKenna Grace) a chance for a normal life. Difficulties occur when Frank’s mother (Lindsay Duncan) wants to separate them. Other major actors and actresses set to appear in the film include Octavia Spencer and John Finn. The film was directed by Mark Webb.
For Flynn, this success is a testament to the frustrations of his early writing career. When he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, his scripts got picked up by some big Hollywood players: Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., the Weinstein Co., Twentieth Century Fox and The Walt Disney Co.
“I wrote nothing but comedies and romantic comedies while I lived in Los Angeles,” he said. “Comedies are fun because you try to make yourself laugh as much as possible, and you could sell them for a lot of money.”
That first script he wrote was sold to Paramount and, according to Flynn, had Eddie Murphy attached to it. More than 15 years later, Flynn was standing in front of the actor in a coffee shop and told the barista to add the tab for the guy standing behind him.
Murphy found Flynn and asked why he bought his coffee.
“Because you bought me my first house,” Flynn said to a very confused Murphy. “When I told him that he was attached to my first-bought script, he laughed and said, ‘You owe me a lot more coffee than that.’”
That script, along with so many others, stayed hidden from the silver screen.
“I’d have all these big sales that made me hot again [in the industry], but then they never got made,” Flynn recalled.
The long hours in isolation, bringing to life the characters and places his mind created, weeks away from his wife Andi Matheny — none of it seemed worth it.
“I was done with it,” Flynn said. “I was done writing and selling and then nothing happening.”
He left his paper and pen behind and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to rehab old houses. But he couldn’t let it go. For three years, he had stories and ideas but refused to be disappointed again.
Matheny, a voice-over artist, provided the final push to encourage her husband: Either write a drama or get a normal job. And as Flynn admitted, “Having a cartoon mouse yell at you like that is sobering.”
Five weeks later, he had written Gifted. The script caught the eye of Hollywood legend Meryl Streep in 2013, giving it a boost of street cred. The next year, Gifted was selected by The Black List, a filmmaker survey, as one of the best unproduced screenplays of 2014.
At 61, the English graduate seems to have some long years of scriptwriting ahead of him. He is currently rewriting the movie TOGO for Disney, as well as writing the script for a movie adaptation of the Peter Heller novel The Dog Stars.
“The good and bad thing about Hollywood is this: You write scripts and never get a movie made. But the good side is there are automatic elevators if you do get a movie made.”
It seems Flynn is on that elevator now and hopes the gift of Gifted lets him ride it for as long as he can.