Jeff Arch screenwriter of SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE
March 11th, 2004
"Dont let anything stand in your way, be the first," advises Jeff Arch the Academy Award nominated writer of "Sleepless in Seattle." Really, few movies in recent times have evoked the sentimentality as this blockbuster hit did when it took the world by storm a few years ago starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Behind every good movie is the writer responsible for making the story come alive. It is the writer who dreams of, believes in and eventually makes a story happen. Jeff Arch is one such writer.
When I met Jeff Arch I was immediately impressed by his winning, positive personality. After spending the day with him I understood the reason for his success. Even after I managed to get us lost on Chicagos Lake Shore Drive while driving him to a television interview, his calm, polite demeanor remained intact. Fascinated by his stories, I felt impelled to share with others, the wisdom Jeff had shared with me.
Recently, I spoke with Jeff again about his current screenwriting projects (one script for Warner and another for Touchstone), living in Los Angeles and how martial arts has made a difference in his life and career.
Inspiration, as every writer knows, is the key to writing. So how does a writer like Jeff find the inspiration to write ('Sleepless in Seattle), write some more ('Ironwill') and keep on writing? "Inspiration is if it feels right," Jeff told me, " If that thing goes off inside your head that says I need to investigate. If a story doesnt let go of you it is your unconscious telling you to do it." But getting in touch with your inspiration can often be as difficult as sitting down to write the script. Jeff says he always keeps a backlog of two scripts in his inventory.
"Hollywoods current attitude is for a good action script, something say, Mel Gibson could act in," Jeff told me. But wait, before all you writers go write an action adventure, Jeff encourages every writer to first and foremost, "write what is in your heart and not in the trade papers." It does make sense since every writer has heard at least one time in their writing career that same old adage. "Give them what they need and they will take it from you," Jeff urges.
Jeffs writing career began when he was 22 years old. A cameraman named Conrad Hall (Jeffs hero, he points out) took him under his wing in Los Angeles. He encouraged Jeff to follow his heart. Jeff knew his heart and it wasnt really to operate a camera. Halls words were the final sign for Jeff , his heart told him he was a writer.
Years later when Jeff was 30 years old he wrote an Off-Broadway play in New York which turned out to be a great disappointment to him. "We were driven out of town," he remembers. As he sat in his car on a crowded street in New York City, his baby crying and cars pounding their horns around him, he knew he had reached his dark night of the soul. He stopped writing for three years before he wrote again. Luckily, he did write again to give us some of his best work. He says he "kept knocking on the door until it came down." It finally did come down with his hit "Sleepless in Seattle."
But Jeff took his time becoming the outstanding writer he is today. One lesson he learned along the way was his study and perfection of the martial arts. He owned a martial arts study prior to his recognized success as a screenwriter. He believes a persons attitude can determine their success or failure. His accomplishment at becoming a black belt changed the rest of his life as well giving him an entire new approach to his writing success. Receiving his black belt in the martial arts gave him the stamina, confidence and balance he needed to achieve a blackbelt status in his writing and his life.
"The odds are stacked against everyone," Jeff says, "Beat the odds and write a great script." That was one of the things martial arts taught him and he applies it to his life everyday. He believes all writers should be aware of their ability to succeed but the first step is always writing a great script. "It doesnt matter who you know if you have nothing to show them."
Finally, that question every writer thinks about at one time or another, do I need to live in Los Angeles? Not according to Jeff. Although its not a bad idea, you dont have to. Jeff sold "Sleepless in Seattle while living in Virginia. Although he lives two hours from Los Angeles now he said "For the first year there was really no need for me to be in LA." So all you writers out there take note, you dont have to pack up and move to Los Angeles unless your doing it for more than that reason.
Above everything else Jeffs message is clear, believe in your ability to succeed and write a great script. The rest, as Jeff can affirm, is history.
This interview may not be republished or linked without expressed written permission by Rita Cook.
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