Q & A



“But wait, there’s more!” as the old Ginsu knife commercial goes. There’s also active citizen (I had hoped to disengage from politics, but then we had yet another election where the voters seemed to lose their minds). And hands-on Dad. Dedicated athlete (more recreational than competitive these days). And first and foremost, devoted husband. How can one fit it all in and do each justice?

Robert Heinlein

Photograph © 1976 by David Dyer-Bennet

There’s this great quote from Robert Heinlein
(whose novels I devoured in my teens) listing
all the abilities that a human being should possess,
like changing a diaper, captaining a ship, designing
a building, writing a sonnet – it goes on and on –
then he concludes by saying: “Specialization
is for insects.” That’s how I feel.
Lawyers are basically problem solvers. If civilization were perfect, we’d have no need for them, but that’s obviously not the case. I’m not a “real” lawyer, which is what I call the litigators who strap on the armor to go into court and argue cases, but I love helping smart, creative people bring beautiful and innovative things into the world and I seem to have a knack for it, or so my clients tell me. I focus on copyright-based transactions, and today that means pretty much all of technology and the arts. My particular skill is strategizing on how best to develop, protect and monetize projects by utilizing all the relevant aspects of intellectual property (copyright, trademark, patent, trade secrets, domain names) and business law (entity formation, funding models, contracts). As Malcolm Gladwell wrote, if you do something long enough – 10,000 hours in his estimation – you get pretty good at it.
I started working right out of law school at a large, prestigious San Francisco firm that wanted more of my time and my soul than I was willing to part with, but the truth is, I was already a creative writer before I entered law school, I just didn’t know it. I’m primarily a dramatic writer – stage and screenplays – but I wrote and published a novel and am working on a second. Oh, and I made a documentary film, but that was an aberration, almost certainly not to be repeated. As any writer knows, it’s a dreadful occupation: you spend endless hours alone, cooped up in front of a keyboard, with no reassurance that anyone will care about what you’re saying. You don’t choose to write, it’s the other way around. That law firm, by the way, gave me two wonderful things. One, it taught me a trade that paid the bills and supported my creative pursuits. And two, it’s where I met my eventual partner in crime (i.e. my wife). So definitely no regrets!
It was ostensibly about Nico Minardos, one of my two very colorful godfathers. Nico emigrated from Greece to America and became a Hollywood B movie star and TV actor. But really it was about finding a mentor.
No, not in the conventional sense – he was anything but a mentor. He was a flamboyant, larger-than life man who drank a lot and chased women and was indicted by Rudy Giuliani for conspiracy to ship arms to Iran! But in a way he was a mentor, in providing the inspiration for the movie and its exploration of the meaning of life.

Geoffrey Cowan

Tom Rickman

My real mentors were more straightforward.
I had a professor at UCLA, Geoffrey Cowan,
who was a genuine mentor on my journey to
law school. And Tom Rickman, who wrote
Coal Miner’s Daughter, was my screenwriting
mentor. In their respective fields each man is
a giant, but equally important they were both
very generous in giving back to students like me.
I played too many sports growing up, especially moving between England and California, to become really good at any of them. They didn’t play competitive beach volleyball in Cornwall in the 70s, nor was there much rugby played in Southern California. If I excelled at anything, it was squash, which isn’t well known because it’s difficult to televise or watch in person. It’s never become an Olympic sport for that reason. But the best squash players are the equals of any world-class athlete. Apart from the skill involved, the level of fitness required is remarkable.
There have been so many, in various sports – Bo Jackson springs to mind – but I’ll confine myself to what I know best. Other than squash, which, as I mentioned, isn’t on most people’s radar. I’ve seen a lot of basketball. I grew up with Chick Hearn broadcasting Lakers games from the Fabulous Forum and watching John Wooden’s teams with my father in Pauley Pavilion. I’ve watched tennis greats, from Rod Laver and Pancho Gonzalez in my childhood through the Big Four + One of today (yes, that’s you, Stan Wawrinka).

The Maestro

The Logo

In hoops, much as my son tries to convince me
that Michael Jordan was the greatest, if a game
were on the line with the clock running out, I’d
want the ball in the hands of Mr. Clutch – Jerry
West. Although in another five years we might
have unanimity for choosing Steph Curry. And
if he’d stayed healthy, I believe Bill Walton
would have given Kareem a run for greatest
big man ever.

In tennis, it’s no contest. Roger Federer must be mortal, but it’s difficult to comprehend how. The grace, the athleticism, the shot-making, the competitive joy – he’s got the whole package. If I could play like Roger for a day I’d… well, I guess I’d know what it’s like to be superhuman.
Come on – too easy. Mary Ann.

A little more difficult but I gotta go with the Stones. Actually, since we’re on the topic, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Kinks. It must have been tough being Ray Davies, when your principal bandmate is your emotionally challenged younger brother and you look around and see Lennon performing with McCartney and Mick together with Keith. So, a key lesson, in life as well as business: talent is great, but the partnership needs to be healthy to succeed.

Compared to when? Ancient Greece? Elizabethan England? It seems clear to me that humans have this innate, emotional need to share their stories, whether it’s gossip at the water cooler or a $200 million Hollywood epic with a cast of thousands. The only thing that changes is the means to tell it. Imagine what Sophocles would have done with an iPhone, Final Cut Pro and Vimeo. I know there are tons of great cable television shows being produced right now but I don’t have the time to watch a tiny fraction of them. Plus, much as my family argues with me, I prefer the old-fashioned narrative film model: three acts told in two hours or less. Done – The End. Unless you’re a genius – like maybe William Shakespeare – I get bored watching the same characters after a while. Entertain and move me in a 90-minute movie? Now we’re talking.
Technically better perhaps but not because of the stories. As I get older, my threshold for quality storytelling gets higher, but that might be because my viewing horizon is narrowing. I have no desire to waste precious minutes of my life on dreck. Yes, it’s unreasonable to expect a new La La Land every week. But it’s sure wonderful when one comes along.

I have this theory that because music and painting are inherently less complex than literature and drama, those forms of art are becoming less interesting. By that I mean there are only so many pleasing chords to play with and so many colors and shapes to manipulate on a two-dimensional surface. But I also believe that limits, either self-imposed or imposed externally, make artists reach deeper and can result in more creatively rewarding works. I read an article a while ago about the death of the novel. Gee, I hope not. Novelists have too much to say and we have too much to learn from them.
If you read the papers regularly there’s enough in one week’s news cycle to turn the most confirmed optimist into a raving pessimist. I believe, as Martin Luther King said, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. The only catch, before we can prove him right, is whether mankind will somehow manage to not blow the planet up or overheat it to the point of uselessness.

Living? It’s hard to do better than His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – aka Tenzin Gyatso. There are a lot of contenders in the deceased category, but my default choice is my late Border collie, Scout. She worked and played hard, passionately so, and loved with a steadfast loyalty.