Calling Card

By Sean Jacques

Doe Run was supposed to be a movie. My movie. My meal ticket into Hollywood glamor and fame. You’ve heard the story: the long dark walk down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.


EXPOSTION: I grow up as a rowdy country kid in the Missouri Ozarks, flunk out of state college, migrate to Florida, enroll in different state college, impulsively change majors from Finance to Theatre, then travel across the country on the Kerouac road. At each stop along the way, I earn poor wages but gain a rich spirit–I watch flicks and live plays, I go to museums and concerts, I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, and all the while, I scrawl my thoughts inside notebooks about everything my brain is absorbing. 

Forms begin. Poems. Plays. Abstract ramblings. Even a stab at a full-length screenplay, a horrible one, ironically titled, Poet for Hire.

Eventually, I craft something “worthy” (at least in my mind): a screenplay about folks and happenings from my Missouri upbringing. I call it Doe Run. Then with a bellyful of gumption and a thousand bucks in my pocket, I head west toward Tinseltown to make myself known.

I soak in the lights, the dazzle. The California girls and sunshine. A year of this passes. No doors will open. No one will listen. No one will read Doe Run. Another year passes. I’m now nearly broke and spiritually busted. Then I hook a one-day temp job at Miramax Films, assigned as an assistant to a honcho in Business & Legal Affairs. By that afternoon, I’m offered a full-time gig to work his desk, and I accept on the premise that someone there will read my baby.

Two months fly by. I slide Doe Run to a Miramax creative executive, covertly using the pseudonym, RD Hawkins (my great-grandfather). She reads it. Others read it. The creative team puts it on their weekend read. I eavesdrop on their weekly conference call, overhear my babyreceiving higher praise than a script by Taxi Driver master, Paul Schrader. I damn near cry.

Their final verdict: not a script to buy, but a writer to keep an eye on. 

Fact Check: the vast majority of screenplays procured by film studios and producers never make it to the screen. Result: the final product from a screenwriter dies in a place called “developmental hell.”  

So, like I said: Doe Run was supposed to be a movie. My movie.

Instead, it became my calling card. 


FAST FORWARD (BLUR): My worthy script, Doe Run, spreads around Hollywood as a writing sample, I land an agent and take dozens of meetings with studios and producers, I pitch a crime-action pic, called Darkhorse, about high-speed car chases in LA (en vogue at the time), and when I finish the script…

Jackpot! It sells.

Another month passes and jackpot again! This time I’m hired to script a sequel to the iconic biker-druggie flick Easy Rider.

A short time later, I hit the trifecta! A pitch to TNT scores the task of writing a western bio-pic on the famous outlaw Jesse James (from Missouri, like me).

FREEZE FRAME: Me. Alone. Sitting at a desk in a small room at a low rent Hollywood apartment building called The Edgemont Arms. Pounding the keys.

I finish the scripts. I receive notes from producers. I take their money. I revise, revise, revise.  Then I wait to see what becomes of my babies. 

TRANSITION: I return to my roots. With no permission, no rights, I adapt Daniel Woodrell’s Give Us A Kiss. Rural crime set in Missouri, written by a “country noir” master (and a Missourian, like me.) It’s a fun form. Adaptation. Dreaming inside Woodrell’s dream. I finish. Another baby. Except this one’s adopted. No matter, I track down Woodrell at his hometown: West Plains, Missouri. My parents live there. My brother and his family are there. Woodrell agrees to meet me at The Red Apple restaurant on the town square. Kind, soft-spoken dude, more Doyle than Smoke Redmond. I promise to see his book come alive on-screen. 

PAN BACK TO HOLLYWOOD: I track down the producer who holds the film rights to Give Us A Kiss. Beg him to read my adaptation. He relents. He reads. We meet. He options my script.

Fact Check: the vast majority of screenplays procured by film studios and producers never make it to the screen. Result: the final product from a screenwriter dies in a place called “developmental hell.”  

Ok, so I know this already. But who gives a shit? I’m making bank. My name is in Variety. Hollywood Reporter. Moviemaker magazine. I’m living the dream.


I stay with the routines, turn out scripts. I add a western, co-written with a buddy. Another western, solo. A parody of Hemingway (optioned by “Kid in the Picture” Robert Evans). A Donald Westlake adaptation, an obscure sci-fi noir. A dozen treatments. Two dozen other ideas. A vault of babies.

Time passes. I earn crumbs of cash. A handful of promises. Mostly, broken promises. A lawsuit. A maze of dead ends. A change of agents. Back to old agent. Still nothing happens. I start to drown in Hollywood dysfunction and fear I’m becoming a screenwriter cliché.  

FREEZE FRAME: A wall. Not writer’s block. Something worse. Boredom.  

To break the monotony, I start a new form. Called coverage. Involves reading and analyzing scripts, books, short stories, and plays for producers and studios–then provide them a concise synopsis and deliver a verdict. Thumbs up, thumbs down. Basically, do the reading for those who are supposed to do the reading and provide them a reason to let the writers down.  

SERIES OF SHOTS: I devour scripts, books, plays by the dozens. The hundreds. Genres of every kind. Most suck. Some well written, but dull. A diamond in the rough here and there. I plow on. Learn to write snippets of someone else’s story. Feel godlike for judging each one.

With a rejuvenated outlook on Hollywood biz, I return to my Miramax roots, except it isn’t Miramax anymore. It’s Harvey and Bob’s new enterprise: The Weinstein Co. 

{ASIDE: Yes, that Harvey. Serial-rapist. Me-Too poster boy. I know, I know. But during my limited contact with him, I only peg him a narcissistic movie mogul with rage issues and odd behaviors like eating whole packs of gum and chugging a 6-pack of Diet Coke in one sitting. I never imagined that he’d be rotting in Rikers someday.}

REVISED SCENE: Back to where I began this Hollywood trip. I return to the desk of the same honcho in Business & Legal Affairs. Except now, we are good friends. Even co-writers on a western. My plan is to go covert again. Bide my time, flaunt my way with words, and maybe, just maybe, I climb.

Harvey catches wind of my existence. He beckons me for a mano-a-mano breakfast at a ritzy Beverly Hills hotel. (ASIDE: Looking back, I feel blessed to not have been a female under this scenario.) He greets me with a smile, charms me in his rakish Harvey ways, knights me as a creative executive on the spot, and I’m on my way to a new career.

MONTAGE: Read, read, read. Occasionally, a spark–McCarthy’s The Road; Slumdog Millionaire. But no one listens to my opinions. I meet writers, directors. I champion their talents. But no one listens. Movie premiers. An Oscars party. But no time to write my own new babies. No time to do anything of my own at all. 

Fact Check: the vast majority of screenplays procured by film studios and producers never make it to the screen. Result: the end product from a screenwriter dies in a place called “developmental hell.”  

Yes, I know this. I’ve always known this. But now, I give a shit.  

So, I kill my Hollywood dream. 


SECOND ACT: My attempt at what Fitzgerald claimed can’t happen.

MONTAGE: Marriage. Mortgage. Kids. Vacations. Friends. Deep dive into an ocean of literature, poetry. I (re)devour books, plays, poems by the dozens. Then I entertain Shaw’s advice: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

FAST FORWARD: I teach myself how to teach and then enter teaching. I narrate, interpret, guide, mentor. Feel godlike for molding young minds. I show them how to wordsmith. How to imagine. How to scrawl their thoughts inside notebooks. Most try, some don’t. I write graduation speeches and academic letters. Letters for high achievement. Letters of recommendation. Letters to administrators. Letters, letters, letters. 

But letters aren’t enough. Neither is teaching. I’m a storyteller. I must tell stories. I return to scrawling my thoughts inside notebooks. Short tales are born. A few flashes. An essay. Then I dare myself to dream big (again). And this how I find myself going back to my first worthy piece of writing: my calling card script, Doe Run.  

I pound the keys. Two years go by. A rising stack of the manuscript Doe Run, and a few short stories, mostly about childhood memories of Missouri. I’m jacked to be back writing, it’s enough for me now, until the day comes when I ask:

“Is it?”

Fact Check #2: the vast majority of books and stories submitted to publishers never make it to print. Result: the final product from a writer dies inside a closet, drawer, or data bits.    

Ok, so I know this. But who gives a shit? I shrug, submit a few stories. A rejection. Another. Big deal, I’m fine. I continue writing the book version of Doe Run. Continue submitting. Continued rejection, rejection, rejection…

Jackpot! I receive a publication acceptance for an essay–about bullfighting, an odd passion of mine. I’m ecstatic. Proud. Walking on air. Then jackpot! I receive a publication acceptance for a poem–about wolves, a favorite animal of mine. My heart is racing. My head is spinning. Someone is reading. Someone cares. Feels like my splash during my Hollywood time. I keep writing. Then comes more: published shorts, published flashes, a published play, and then…

A published novel. Called Doe Run.


So that’s the story of how my debut baby came alive. I won’t advise anyone who wishes to publish a book to follow in my footsteps, but I can say it’s been a hell of a ride. And now that I think about it, I can’t honestly call it my long dark walk down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It’s been more like my very own Hero’s Journey, where I took an adventurous trip across the country into Tinseltown and battled the gods before returning to my Missouri soul.  

FINAL CUT: In the end this all makes perfect sense. At least to me it does. And I’m relieved that Doe Run isn’t a movie, though no one can say I didn’t try. It never would have truly been my movie. Some wannabe-famous hack would have covered it, passed it on as a “thumbs up” to a slick-talking producer, who would have pushed it on to a second-rate studio, then the story would have been put through the meatgrinder by a dozen pesky know-it-alls, an overpaid script doctor would then be brought in for a ridiculous rewrite, and the hired-fired-hired-again director would have wound up shooting an entirely different vision from what I’d originally created.

But a book? Now this is my story. This is me.

And it is my calling card for anyone and everyone to read.

Sean Jacques

Sean Jacques was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, and currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and a bird dog named Rye. He is a literature teacher and author after previously working in various roles within the film industry and a handful of “character-building” jobs. His most recent short stories, plays, and poems can be found in a number of crime and grit lit publications. Doe Run is his debut novel. Find more