Adam Pachter is a screenwriter who specializes in sci-fi features, historicals, thrillers, and TV dramas. He is also an Affiliated Faculty member at Emerson College and the Boston/Campus chapter head for Harvardwood. Adam studied American History at Harvard and is currently developing a TV series about America’s most unusual courthouse. You can reach Adam through LinkedIn or email at email@example.com.
Key points include:
92-25. Adam Pachter
Adam Pachter, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m here today with my friend from the Crimson. Adam Pachter Adam, welcome to the show.
Adam Pachter 00:17
Hey, well, it’s, it’s a pleasure to be here. But I need to say something right at the beginning, I consider that the timing of this podcast is a direct and deliberate attempt to make me feel inferior to Geoff rodkey, your prior guest, because Jeff is an old friend of mine, and everything I’ve tried to do, he has done better, including novels, screenplays, short stories, children’s books, the end of the world, etc. And so I believe that this timing is not at all coincidental. Well, and I hold you directly responsible for any comparisons that classmates make between us.
Will Bachman 00:54
That’s totally fair. It was actually intentional Adam, we were conspiring to belittle you and make you feel small. So I hope that it was now I’ve
got you on tape well, which is all I needed, so we can proceed.
Will Bachman 01:10
All right. And that was a great episode. So listen to the Jeff rock episode. So Adam, let us start with the question of tell us about your journey since graduation from Harvard.
Adam Pachter 01:23
Ah, long tumultuous, uncertain, involving many mosquitoes? No, I mean, there’s, you know, I once was at a dinner party. My dad is a career Smithsonian person. So although I’m from Massachusetts, I did a lot of my growing up in DC because he got the job and moved the family down in the mid 70s.
Will Bachman 01:50
And which Museum,
Adam Pachter 01:54
the National Portrait Gallery, although he also did some book ending stuff, and that he ran the National Museum of American History. You know, they would sort of call on him to run it for a year while they were searching for a new permanent director. So I think he’s the only person in history who not only ran multiple Smithsonian museums at once, but Aretha Franklin used his office in the castle as her dressing room, before she performed at the Smithsonian’s 100 and 50th anniversary celebration. And I happen to think that those two things running multiple museums or being is off as being Aretha Franklin’s dressing room, it was definitely a Reetha of which he was most proud.
Will Bachman 02:39
That is amazing. What a cool, what a cool pair dab. So
Adam Pachter 02:44
anyway, uh, one of my professors at Harvard will begin there. Who I once got into a debate with about whether George Washington was fat or not, was a celebrated historian named Bernard Balan.
Will Bachman 02:59
And what was your what was what was your take?
Adam Pachter 03:03
Notes I take was trying to figure out whether Gorby dolls take that Washington was fat. Like I was like, he probably couldn’t have been that fat like Barbie doll says and, you know, I think Balan allowed for a certain license with regard to George’s girth. But I haven’t actually I should be Googling this or classmates, you know, chime in with your thoughts in the chat as to whether George Washington was indeed fat. So you know, topic for chat, George Washington was the fat. But, you know, to not to digress too much. Basically what happened is Baylin had actually been the advisor for my dad when he was a history grad student at Harvard. And I was a history person at Harvard. And we met up during that time, I think, I think I took his class, like, it was like, first year, which was unusual, but I was a real history buff. And then I, you know, my dad invited me to a party in DC Baylin was there. I don’t think he necessarily remembered me. But you know, he, it was something to the effect of, oh, you’re a history major. What are you going to do after law school? Right. You know, the problem was, and you know, now that I tell the story might not have even been bail, and it might have been some other prominent historian with some contact but you know, everyone’s deceased so you can say what you want right? And you know, George Washington’s belt buckles or Renard Beyonce comments, but basically, what we’re getting at here is Wow, you got me. I was like, What am I gonna do? I’m gonna go to law school after getting history degree and it Both was an incredibly stupid move on my part and keyed up. Almost all of the non family related successes of my life you know, I’ll get to it but there are two Harvard people who are responsible one Harvard friend, not a not a classmate of ours, but class of 94 Rachel storage. Now, Rachel, Akron, gold is responsible for about 95% of the success in my personal life. And Catan G. Brown Jackson is responsible for about 95% of my success in the professional life. And neither of them did it intentionally. But as it so happened, Rachel, you the circumstances involving Rachel led to me meeting my wife, and the circumstances involving Katana, it led to me becoming a fiction writer and then a screenwriter. So it’s kind of interesting, but the road to both I mean, I never would have met Catan gee, if I hadn’t gone to law school. And though I was realizing, I think fairly recently on that, or recently after starting law school, that it wasn’t necessarily the best. Obviously, with that level of debt, one sort of sticks with it. And, you know, so I went to law school, University of Chicago, blah, blah, blah. I met, I was working on Dick Durbin Senate campaign, and I met a dude with a funny name named Barack Obama at a political fundraiser. And that was cool. And nothing he said at that fundraiser was particularly memorable except his name. I mean, you don’t tend to forget Barack Obama. I can also say, since we’re talking Supremes and classmates that Elena Kagan was teaching at law school at that time, and I was the one she was teaching civil procedure, and I was the one who took the other teacher civil procedure. So you know, I’ve had my missus with history, as well as my encounters with it, shall we say? And anyway, I was feeling during law school that maybe this really wasn’t the right thing for me. But, you know, you stick with it, especially with the debt load. And I got a clerkship with a judge named Bruce Selia, who has been in the news relating to Itachi. And Selia was significant since I was woefully unqualified for this position. I mean, you know, classmates who were in the law and who went into appellate clerkships will know that, you know, you you, you interview all around the country. I mean, I was in Charleston, West Virginia, I went up to Minneapolis, I had a law school classmate who ended up clerking for a federal judge in North Dakota, I mean, you know, it ranged far and wide. But I’m a New England guy, from Milton, just south of Boston. And I wanted to be somewhere close to my Harvard friends and my Harvard experience, because if you recall, this was the mid 90s, after law school ended. And so, you know, it came up on our our fifth reunion happened when I was finishing up my appellate clerkship. So I I hear about this judge, Judge Scalia, who is renowned for his vocabulary, shall we say, like words that you got to look up to, you know, cognitive 70 and things like that words, you got to look up. But you know, we’ll use literature and his opinions will use metaphors and that most judges wouldn’t touch because judicial reading tends to be pretty dry. And I went, I flew out to Providence. And again, I’m doing this all because I want to be back in New England. I was, you know, out in Chicago for law school, and I miss New England very much. And I went in, and basically you interview with the law clerks first and then you move on to the judges themselves. And in so use case, they were on different floors of this rambling old federal courthouse, you know, by whose Cornerstone Abraham Lincoln had once spoken in the 1850s. And I went in there fully realizing that my scores weren’t the best. My grades weren’t the best. First, I certainly wasn’t the best looking of any of the applicants. So what was I going to do to get this job? And I decided that I would talk not at all about law, but entirely about language, which again, you know, for foreshadowing here is significant for the rest of my journey. So I went in there and you know, with the whole like, So Andrew, actually, it’s Adam. Oh, yes. Right, Adam. So why do you want this clerkship? I said, I wanted because judge sell your rights in a different way than any other federal justice. And I proceeded to cite not the stunning legal aspects of his opinion, but all the crazy words he used and the literary allusions and metaphors and the Shakespeare that was dropped it. I said, I love that and I mentioned all the fiction writing I had done and you know, arts editor of the crimson and I had acted and things like that. And the clerk’s really went to bat for me, because I had an actual answer to the rather boilerplate question of why you want to work for this judge. I mean, we all wanted appellate clerkships. Who wouldn’t, right, but I got the position. And I went to a funny story. Well, I show up in Providence, I take the Massachusetts bar, and I show up and for those classmates who are not, haven’t been involved in clerkships, basically, the way it worked is that you stagger when you appear, like one clerk will show up at a certain point in July, when show up a certain point in August, one certain point in September. And there are three clerkships three clerks on the federal appellate level, and you basically train your successor. So I think I was the August guy. So I came in, and was being trained by my predecessor, and I was talking to the judge, and this was like, the first. I want to say, like the first Friday in August, and we’re the footnote was the first Thursday in August, I think. And the judge said something like, See you Monday, even though the next day was a workday. And I was very confused by that. But as it turns out, I have this theory, which will, when we discuss my effort to travel to every US state and the blog, I wrote about some of those journeys. I have a theory that every United State has its own crazy holiday that none others celebrate. Ours is Patriots Day in Massachusetts, and only Maine because it used to be part of Patriots Day has that. And you know, it could be Cesar Chavez Day, it could be any number of other days. In the case of Rhode Island, you know, shout out to my Rhode Island classmates, it’s b j day, victory over Japan Day, which happened in August. Right? So I start this prestigious clerkship expecting to be worked within an inch of my life. And the first thing I hear is like, long weekend in August. But this ties into my my narrative. You know, as a screenwriter, I am a professional storyteller. They’re not as good at one as Jeff. But I discovered that I pretty much hit the jackpot when it came to bosses on the federal judiciary. There were other judges who worked their clerks, like their clerks would be in late night, every night. I had nine to five hours and like random state holidays. And I also had, as it turns out, no friends in Providence, Rhode Island, because yes, there were people, you know, still Harvard friends and others up in Boston. Yes, there was still the cave to go to on weekends. But you know, I didn’t have a car. And I really didn’t know anyone in Providence. So I did two things. I joined an ultimate frisbee League, which is not relevant for my future destiny. But the other thing I did is that, in my copious spare time, you know, I lived a block and a half away from the courthouse, I get home, I’d eat dinner, and then I would just sort of stare at the blankness of all the hours ahead of me. And in that time, I wrote my first novel. And what was exciting about that I had done short Word or literary fiction, but what’s exciting about that is working for a judge who valued the language, as I said, as much as law really primed the pump for me. So it became It was a wonderful year, it was a wonderful year, I hope you’ll get Catan G on the podcast at some point and, you know, hear her impressions of, because she did three levels of clerkship for trial court, Federal Court of Appeals, and of course, for the Supreme Court. For the person, Breyer, who she’s now, you know, succeeded on the court. But in my case, it became a very continuous cycle. Like, I found a very literary corner of the law. And then I sort of turned the literature up to 11 on the dial. When I was home in the evening, and I wrote this big, I was a American history buff, as I said, son of an American history buff, you know, who ran museums at the Smithsonian. And I wrote this novel, sort of in a present day alternate history of what if the South had won the Civil War and slavery and dirt in the present day, there were two countries. And it’s on the eve of a big peace conference to try to, you know, end this sort of DMZ between the north and south on the Mason Dixon Line, and a prominent associate of the Northern president is murdered, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying it was a terribly great novel. But it was a high concept idea that tied into my theory of American history, which is that you can either spend all your efforts basically being like the 1619 project, talking about the Civil War, slavery, race, our original sin and all its ramifications before and backwards in time, or you can spend your efforts avoiding that. And I leaned heavily into the Civil War stuff, which again, is going to be very relevant for where I turned up in my turned out in my screenwriting journey. So my current thesis was on a very interesting aspect of what became known as Bleeding Kansas, where basically Kansas was opened up to competing factions from north and south and it was basically like, largest group there will decide whether it becomes slave or free. And I wrote about a group of New Englanders, led by AMS Lawrence, for whom Lawrence, Massachusetts and Lawrence, Kansas are named, who funded basically free soil, anti slavery, northerners to go out to Kansas. And if you ever go to Lawrence, Kansas, shout out to my Kansas classmates, you will discover that it looks like Concord, Massachusetts, with this whitewash steeple church in the center, and all the streets are the states of the Union in the order of their admission, with one exception, Massachusetts is the center drag for all of that, so it’s fascinating. I mean, basically, they really transplanted what they called those excellences of New England, down into the middle of the Kansas prairie. So that’s a long way of saying I was very much a civil war buff, you know, I was fortunate enough to be with study with David Herbert Donald and his last year before he retired and won his the inaugural history award named for him, which was a real point of pride. So this alternate history novel called Dixie was very much in the vein of what I was thinking and the things I liked, and I was very proud of it. Because I didn’t really know any better. I’m not saying it was actually a great novel, but it was it was a cool concept. combined my love of history and sci fi sort of and send it around to a lot of publishers, received a gotta got an agent, but had a lot of rejections and never got published. Apparently a Harvard, not a classmate, I guess a year behind us was in the room at one of these big publishers, Simon and Schuster, or something random house and my book was being discussed and like that final vote that all the senior editors take as to whether to publish or not, and I guess the vote was narrowly against me, so I didn’t become a best selling novelist. Instead, I went to DC and I joined Covington and Burling, a corporate law firm, excellent firm had other classmates there like Linda McCraw and I hated it. and even even though it was as decent and humane and wonderful as a corporate law firm can be, and it’s legendary for its pro bono work. And after only eight months there I was sent on a six month rotation at full Covington and Burling associate salary to neighborhood Legal Services Corporation, which does provides free legal services for the poor. In DC, and I spent six months being paid, you know, close to six figures or whatever it was back in the day, while fighting entirely for tenants and DCS massive landlord tenant eviction machine, which processes a number of cases equal to 10% of the city’s population every single year, which is a very sobering statistic, like there were 500,000 people in DC at the time, or 550, and 55,000 eviction cases processed every year. And you know, if we’re talking about The Road Not Taken, I always wished I’d written a nonfiction book about that experience, which we call LNT, landlord tenant court, John Grisham novel, The Street lawyer, describe some of that world fairly successfully. But I had sort of a specific experience in it. But basically, at once I finished that six months rotation, then I was back into corporate law. And you know, I did the best I could, but it wasn’t enough. I mean, I worked on a wonderful, wonderful, it was a heartbreaking case, about a, a young man named Barry Winchell, who was beaten to death in his barracks. In Kentucky, I believe, maybe Fort Campbell, I want to say I’m not sure about that, because one of his fellow soldiers thought he was gay. And we filed a claim on behalf of his mom, against the US Army and got a lot of notice, you know, I was interviewed for about that case. And those issues of, you know, what we would call gay rights, obviously, now, it’s been expanded to a lot more letters than that. But you know, there were there were bright lights.
Will Bachman 22:32
So what was it about working in a law firm that was different than you expected? I mean, you decided to go to law school. So you must have had some idea that law would be fun, or interesting or compelling. So what was different, the reality versus what you expected?
Adam Pachter 22:52
The reign of terror of billable hours, accounting for and I still can’t do it, like, I’m a very fast writer. So I can usually do things faster than Hollywood requires me. But in a law firm, you have to bill out like every 15 minutes of your time. And I just don’t like thinking of my life in 15 minute increments. And honestly, I was really not that good at it. Like my billable hours totals were among the lowest at the firm. And that was fine when I was spending half the year at neighborhood legal services. But it sure wasn’t fine when I was expected to be billed out to corporate clients. And so that was the main thing. I mean, you know, everybody says how hard it is on the long hours, but I’m used to working hard, and it really wasn’t so much the length of the hours as the need to account for any of them. I mean, you know, you feel like, you know, if I take too long to the in the bathroom, I’ve lost an opportunity to bill a quarter hour or something. I really didn’t like that aspect of it. Anyway, what I did,
Will Bachman 24:05
like, Was it like not, then the actual like work itself? Like you found it sort of interesting enough, and you know, wasn’t like soul crushing. It was just like the billing part.
Adam Pachter 24:18
Well, I mean, it’s a combo? Well, because because what happened is, I contrast built within my days, where I would spend 90% of the wealth, taking aside when I was asleep, which was not as much as it should have been, but I would spend 90% of my waking hours doing something that I really wasn’t loving. And then I would race home to work on the next novel. So there was this dichotomy between you know, the 10 hours or 12 hours a day at the law firm and the hours Were to I was able to write fiction before collapsing in bed. And in the summer of 1999, July 4 weekend, I was coming back to the cave for a vacation. And you know, if we want to get all Goodwill Hunting, shout out to classmate, Matt Damon. You know, I met a girl on a bus, and I decided that I had to go see about a girl. And I always believe I have no empirical basis for this other than my own life, that if you’re gonna make big changes, you might as well make them all at once. So, in conjunction with meeting the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I also decided that to move to be with her in Boston, I also needed to leave the law as well. So change everything at once I was going to become a full time creative person and novelist, and I was going to move from DC to Boston, and just just get it all over with all the transitions. And I did. I quit. Covington in early 2001, before September 11, I think it was February 2001. I celebrated by going to Vegas for the first time. And then I moved up to be with Debbie, who is 20th, we’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary on August 31st case any classmates want to send gifts or bottles of wine in isolation. I’m in the Red Book. So and I didn’t regret it. But it wasn’t just the billable hours. You know, de Tocqueville talks about the crisis of rising expectations, if all I did was miserable things, but it was all I knew. That’s one thing. But I had every single day a contrast between 90% of the time doing something that I really didn’t like and having to account for it in a way that I really hated. And 10% of the time, sort of dancing out there taunting me being like, you know, I was having a great time writing an hour to a day on the next novel. What if I could write 10 hours a day on the next novel, and not have to do any of the billable hour stuff? Now there’s an obvious problem with this scenario, which is making money. But one thing that I was smart about is I never acquired what they call in the law in other professions golden handcuffs. I you know, when you when you come out of a federal appellate clerkship, they give you a signing bonus when you started a big law firm like Covington and Burling, back in the day, it was $10,000. I’m sure it’s much bigger than that even now. And I was talking to a law school classmate who also started at Covington. And it was kind of like, well, what did you do between in the few months between the end of your clerkship and the start of your time at Covington, because I ended my celiac clerkship in August. And I didn’t start at Covington until November, as turns out both of us separately from each other. We didn’t know it at the time had gone to Europe. The difference was, my classmate had realized she could get an advance of the $10,000. And he had used it to basically stay at four star hotels, drink, eat, travel gloriously. I had stayed in youth hostels slept on the decks of fairies, and stuff, and I hadn’t spent a penny of that $10,000. So I knew that I wanted to get out the law. But the problem with the law or any other career of high salaries, perhaps separated from what you love, is that you ratchet up your lifestyle to meet your salary. And I never did that. I lived modestly, I saved enormously and so I was better prepared to make a jump from you know, six figure income like the only time in my life when you know, you make so much that you no longer you no longer pay Social Security on it, like all those extra taxes fall off. You know, once you get up in the six figures and beyond. I went from that to making nothing. But it was okay. Because I was doing what I loved with the person that I loved. We got married shortly after our 10th Harvard reunion. And I haven’t regretted my choice for more than 30 seconds ever since. And it’s now been you know, 20 years right? If I’m If I’m getting the math right,
Will Bachman 30:01
that is amazing. So, let’s get to screenwriting. So how did that what happened? So you started writing all the time you quit your last law degree. What young
Adam Pachter 30:13
reverts Joan Rivers. What happened? Well, Joan Rivers, my wife and I used to watch a show that in like a, like a talk show that she had, I forget what it was called. But it was on late at night in the spot that Chelsea Handler eventually filled. But we used to watch it. And you know, religiously is probably the wrong word to describe watching Joan Rivers. But anyway, we used to watch it. And then one night in August of oh gosh, 2011. I had been writing. I had been working on novels, I had been writing short stories. I had been doing freelance stuff. I hadn’t yet gotten the screenplay. So we’re going to fast forward a little bit through great happy periods because my wife has and continues to have the desk job with the all important health insurance at Boston University where she works in study abroad and where our oldest daughter, older daughter, Lucy, shout out to Lucy we’ll be starting in September. But I was the primary caregiver. I was taking care of my daughters. That was my first thing at home while writing. And something about being a writer you know, if you have to write only during naptime, you learn to be very disciplined and efficient, because you never know when the kids going to wake up so you better get that stuff down. And I did a series of edited a series of short stories called the Fenway fiction series, which you can look up three sets. It was the first all fiction anthology devoted to a sports team, in this case, the Boston Red Sox. And that was super fun. And I did a lot of readings for that because we had novelists and poets and playwrights and you know, a lot of great stuff came out of that. I was working on novels again, I was working on a lot of historical novels, again, being drawn to the history. And then one night Joan River in August of 2011. Now, Joan Rivers was not on unexpectedly on E TELEVISION. So instead of watching Joan Rivers, I went upstairs, I took a shower. And for the first time, during that shower, I had an idea, which I saw on screen rather than on the printed page. Every idea I’d ever had up to that point I thought belonged in a book format, but this one for some reason I saw visually on screen, and it was a very silly, stupid comedy, which Jeff rocky would have done a much better job at cold weather school. It’s kind of like Wedding Crashers in the meteorology world where these two young tards sorry, that’s high school language, it’s offensive Forgive me to young slackers. Basically, they see all these female weather casters meteorologist and one of the very strange and sexist things on television is that all the women, meteorologists have to be impossibly gorgeous, and the men can be balding and punchy and whatnot. If you’re doing sports, both men and women have to have a certain athleticism to them, even in journalism. And if you’re doing medicine, like shout out to our classmate, Dr. Mallika Marshall, you know, you got to know your stuff in medicine, but with whether apparently the defining feature was look, so I wrote this silly comedy about two young slackers who want to decide to go to weather school so they can meet these hurricanes of hotness before they’re fully formed. It’s really insipid and somewhat embarrassing to think of in retrospect, but I was young, so not so young, at the time, and my wife read it. And she looked at me and she said, shouldn’t this be funny? And I haven’t written comedy ever since. So basically, I was a dabbler. I was I was entranced by the screenwriting format. You know, one of the great things about screenwriting. It’s, it’s more like poetry than anything else. It’s like maximum visual impact and minimum words. And you know, I now teach it so I think a lot about not just my own scripts, but the process and structure of screenwriting and the theory behind it. But, you know, it’s a lot fewer words. It’s hard for me to even read novels anymore, though. I will make exceptions for Jeff and lights out in Lincoln wood is novel that about the end of the world that I really enjoyed Mmm. And any many novels or nonfiction books by classmates like Adam Goodhart, who’s nonfiction I love you know, I’ll make exceptions for that. But I can no longer I could no longer even think of writing a novel is like too many words. And it’s hard even sometimes to read novels. But anyway, I was hooked. But I was sort of wandering around and a friend who’s a screenwriting Career Coach once said that, when you’re picking what to write about, in screenwriting, you need to view it as if you were a wedding. You were planning your wedding and interviewing caterers. Like you want the person who does one thing magnificently. Not the person you know, who says, you know, I do Louisiana soul food that my grandma taught me on her, you know, when I was just knee high to her, and not somebody who comes in says, I do great soul food and great sushi and I can make a great Coney Island, hot dog or, you know, you want Nepalese cooking, you know, I’ll do that too. You know, you you need to be great at one thing before you can expand to other things. But I did exactly the opposite. I did a comedy, I did a contained horror thriller, I did a romantic drama. And then I told a joke to my then four year old five year old Maya, while speeding at 65 miles an hour down Route to towards Western Massachusetts. And that joke changed my life. Because we were talking about those classmates who have had kids, you know, who grew up on PBS. There’s a show called Wild crabs, which are these two Canadian brothers. They’re kind of the heirs to Jack Hanna. Their mission is to explain the animal kingdom to kids. And I was quizzing, you know, we were in, in that part of the drive. I mean, you have kids too well, so you know how it goes. You know, there’s a part of every long car ride where boredom starts creeping in, you know, the Are We There Yet moment in a car ride when you’ve got kids? And we had hit that moment, like an hour, an hour and a half into the journey. And so to amuse my children. I was sort of quizzing them on a recent Wild Kratts episode about animal hibernation. So it was like Lucy does a bad hibernate. Maya Does a bear hibernate and they were trying to remember the episode, answer my questions. And as a joke, I said, Do people hibernate? And my mind who was then four or five at the time was like silly dad. People can’t hibernate. And 10 seconds later, I thought, what if they could? And 10 seconds after that? I thought what if only rich people could. And 10 seconds after that. I said to my wife, pull out like backs of envelopes, oil, change receipts, whatever you have in our glove compartment. I have a really good idea. And that ended up becoming my first it wasn’t my first screenplay. It was my fourth and I’ve now written 46. But it was the one that changed everything. For me. It was a sci fi sort of like Snowpiercer meets the day after tomorrow about a world in the future where climate change has made winters impossibly hellish, and rich people hibernate and the Washington Monument under military guard while everyone else struggles to survive. And it was a sensation among those who read it. I submitted blindly to Amazon Studios during the time when they still accepted open submissions. And lo and behold, I got an email from the development execs over there saying, love to chat about Hiber it was called Hiber, short for hibernation. And it almost became $100 million Amazon Studios project. I mean, I literally was plucked from obscurity 30,000 or 300,000 submissions on a website. And they picked 30 of us total. And everything was amazing. And I was being interviewed by script magazine. This was in I, I got the idea in late 2012. reached out to Amazon and spring 2013. Everything was great. I mean, I was going to be that lottery ticket winner. And then they had a change of regime at the top and the new boss didn’t have any interest in you know, big budget genre from unknowns, so it got spiked. But at that point, I knew I wanted to be a sci fi writer. Remember, I didn’t want to be both sushi and soul food. I picked my lane as sci fi. And for the next few years I wrote sci fi and I got better and better at it. And then at a certain point, I realized that doing 100 million dollar sci fi pieces really limited who could buy your work in Hollywood. So I dialed it back and I wrote a low budget thriller called black bags that was inspired by an article in an airline magazine. And I maintain and you know, classmates, you can fight me on this, but I maintain that in flight magazines are one of the great untapped sources of screenplay ideas on the planet. Because unlike a golf magazine, where you open it up, and spoiler alert, there are articles on golf, or Vogue or, you know, business daily or whatever you want. You know, most magazines are are subject specific, but an airline magazine has to appeal to 200 different types of people sitting in 30 different rows, right. So, I flipped through and there was an article by interviewing a wonderful actress named Emmanuel shear qui I think, is how you pronounce her name, who was an actress on entourage she played Sloane is girlfriend for those of you who watch the show, and she was talking about how hard it was to pick out her suitcase her like Samsonite x 5000, or whatever her favorite suitcase was from all the identical black bags at the LAX carousel. And so she slapped a green smiley face sticker on her so she could pick it out easily. And I thought, very smart of you Emmanuelle. But what if you didn’t? And what if you grabbed a stranger’s black bag and they grabbed your identical black bag, but the one you grabbed the stranger’s had evidence of a horrible crime in it. And so then I was offered the races and I wrote my first script that got made and got made, you know, for under a million rather than $100 million, this low budget thriller, which ended up being shot in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in May of 2021. And will hopefully be out. It’s just finished post production. And I have the screener, the final screener, and it’ll hopefully, I mean, it’s out of my hands now, but the sales agent, the director, the stars, you know, it’ll hopefully be out either by the end of this year or early next year. So I did to go back to our wedding caterer metaphor, you know, I was good enough at one thing sci fi that I was able to switch to thrillers. And then, you know, we’re going to jump around a little because I know we have limited time to get me to the things that I’m doing now. I returned to the American history that you know, sort of birth to me in high school and at Harvard. And the way it came about is this. I teach at Emerson, I teach screenwriting, and in the spring of 2020, right before lockdown, I had resolved to try to get a TV staffing job. I was writing features from a distance when my kids were getting old enough and settled enough that I could make a play to be bicoastal. And I had three round trip plane tickets a week long each where I would be interviewing, I had already arranged to get a room with somebody, a fellow Massachusetts person near the beach in Santa Monica, you know, my manager was was excited about this, I could be on the ground in LA. And, you know, I flew back from LA on a red eye on the night of March 4 2020. Arriving, you know, on the morning of my younger daughter’s birthday. And a week after I arrived, her schools shut down. And a week after that my wife came home from BU. And you know, we were all home together for like the next year. But because of that, you know, I am a devout Christian. And this is an example of God, closing a door but opening a much larger window. Because and only because I was not in LA. I was home with nothing to do other than be terrified as the rest of us were. I saw an Emerson alumni magazine, which like Harvard, they send you, you know, a hard copy magazine, if that’s the right term. Unlike Harvard, there’s this fairly glossy and well produced because Emerson has a long pipeline, you know, into Hollywood. And once again like a joke told to a five year old Well, you know, writing down Route to, I saw something a single line that altered again the course of my screenwriting life and larger life. I learned that in the late 1940s There was a experimental prison south of Massachusetts. It’s called Norfolk, MCI, but it used to be called colony where the guards didn’t wear uniforms. The cells didn’t have bars they featured a orchestra, a baseball team and a debate squad that wiped the floor with Harvard West Point, Yale, Time Magazine covered their debate against Oxford University on the subject of national health care, which is extraordinary. But the sense that changed my life in this Emerson alumni article that I only read because it wasn’t in Hollywood because of COVID. Because otherwise my wife would have put it right in the recycle bin. Was it in the late 1940s, the Star debater on this team was a young man who would became known to the world as Malcolm X. And I, like many of our generation read the autobiography of Malcolm X in high school. I was, you know, I thought I knew his story I had done free in my pre screenwriting days, I had done freelance work for American experience, which is a well known program on PBS. Done by WGBH. Our classmates Sarah Colt has done held a number of amazing episodes for them. I had participated in the return of eyes on the prize to television, I was immersed in the civil rights movement. I grew up as part of the anti apartheid protest. I didn’t buy gasoline from Shell for 20 years because of you know, its involvement in South Africa. Like I thought I knew the movement. I mean, I went to high school with Jesse Jackson fun for crying out loud. But I had no idea that Malcolm was a debater, and that his conversion to debate was arguably as important as his conversion to Islam. In terms of the man he became. And at the same time, I came down one morning, and I discovered that my youngest Maya, who along with Catan, G, and my friend, Rachel, from Harvard, who is responsible for a lot of the success in my life, had done a pencil drawing of George Floyd, who was was murdered on Memorial Day 2020, pencil drawing of him with police tape thing I can’t breathe around his eyes, and his neck. And I think it belongs in a museum. I was so blown away. And I thought to myself, I was scared of COVID too scared to go to Mass marches, like I would have done in the past that I was like, What’s my contribution? What can I do to make a difference in this movement? And the answer was a script called debating x, which became a sensation around Hollywood. Hip Hop, mega star read, it is going to be a producer, a Tony Award winner is going to play Malcolm. I mean, it’s astonishing. But it launched me into and I know we’re getting short on time. So I’ve now returned full circle to the race 1619 Civil Rights informed area that I studied in Harvard history. But now it’s through a lens of a format screenplays, which I really love, but also has far fewer words, so I can crank those puppies out. I mean, I’ve written 46 scripts, you know, there’s probably hard for anyone to read 46 novels and nonfiction books in the time. So I love it. I am delighted every day with what I’m doing. I am working on a thematic trilogy of lesser known civil rights stories from Boston’s past because Malcolm stories in the 1940s and 50s I have another based on a true story drama from the 60s from the 70s. I’m moving forward and I also it’s a New England story. But I was talking to classmate Mary Dixie Carter at our reunion who stepped out how Holbrook played Mark Twain so beautifully when we were all growing up and Mark Twain tonight His stage play when he died in February of 2021. I learned about the great friendship that Mark Twain and Ulysses S Grant, the general who became president and was president during Reconstruction had and I wrote a sort of magical realism script about their friendship in which they’re both trying to come complete their masterpieces, Huck Finn and Twain’s case and Grant’s memoirs, which are one of the finest nonfiction books ever written. But, you know, nobody wants to read about two dead white dudes, you know, composing books. So this this script, which takes place in 1884, and 1885, is sort of Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Mark Twain, where, you know, Hawk is arguing with about who should be on the raft with him. And grant is haunted by the ghosts of the soldiers he sent to his death at Cold Harbor, and things like that. And so we’re just getting that one set up to and so basically, to wrap things up, well, I mean, I have, I have come full circle, and yet the circle has kept moving forward, and led me to screenplays, which I love. And after a decade in the business, I am finally achieving 1/100 of the success Jeff rocky already has. So you know, we’ll end up there except to say that the last thing that we were talking about earlier that I wanted to mention, and if classmates are not interested in reading my screenplays, or learning more about that side of things, I do have a fascinating I believe, travel blog, called the six corners, which was about my journeys, beginning when I got vaccinated against COVID in early 2021. To try and cover all the six geographic corners of the United States.
Will Bachman 51:36
What would what are the six geographic corners? I was not aware there were six.
Adam Pachter 51:42
Well, I’m including Alaska and Hawaii.
Will Bachman 51:46
Okay, so what are the six we got Maine, Florida got
Adam Pachter 51:49
main we got Washington State, we’ve got you know, Key West Florida, we’ve got south of Los Angeles, we’ve got Alaska and Hawaii. Okay, got six colors. I’ve made five of the six. But you’re gonna have to I’m not going to reveal which one you got to go read the blog. But that was an interesting way of sort of chronicling or journaling. what it felt like to go back out into America after 13 months of lockdown, where I didn’t even ride the t let alone be on a plane. But you know, I robbed
Will Bachman 52:22
that URL. So I think it’s the hyphen six hyphen corners.com. Do we get that right?
Adam Pachter 52:30
That is That is correct. And yeah, so that’s me, I am, I am very blessed and fortunate and thankful each day that you know, I feel well not to get too sentimental, but I am closer today than I’ve ever been to being the kind of person I always want it to be. And I am doing what I love, surrounded by the people that I love. And given everything that is happening in our country, in our world. And with COVID. That’s a pretty fortunate place to be.
Will Bachman 53:07
That is amazing. And congratulations to you. I mean, I’m reminded a little bit of Steven Pressfield book, The War of Art, how he kept cranking out screenplays for decades and 46 screenplays and it sounds like they are now beginning to get produced. So that is really sticking at it for a while.
Adam Pachter 53:30
Yeah, I mean, every overnight success in Hollywood is a decade in the making. I mean, you hear about the success, but you don’t hear about all the years that preceded that. Because people like this sort of came out of nowhere hopped off a bus at sunset and Vine and was discovered, particularly for writers, you know, we don’t have our looks to go off of. So, you know, words are hard. I mean, words are the way we make our way through the world, or at least I do, but they’re hard. And you got to keep going at it and it takes time. And I am so grateful that I had the time I’ve had the time to do it to the point where I’m finally have something you know, Rob key ask to talk about
Will Bachman 54:17
and of the 46 before black bags, had you sold any of these but they just didn’t get made or you know, tell us a little bit about
Adam Pachter 54:28
you know, I was I was I was tempted by too early success. Number four was hybrid, which Amazon came within an ace of making into $100 million movie that was changed my life. That was back in 2013.
Will Bachman 54:42
Did they bought one from you or
Adam Pachter 54:44
they optioned it. When you option the screenplay. You know, it’s like renting an apartment rather than buying it. And believe me, no complaints here. The great thing about cheques from Amazon is that they never bounced, but it never got made which was heartbreaking and it’s You know, that was because I wasn’t necessarily meant to be a sci fi person though. I, I love sci fi. I mean, my line is that I use is, you know, I’ll write about the future or the past, but the present is way too scary to contemplate.
Will Bachman 55:17
And so just give us a little bit more about the blog, so and your travels. So you know, don’t you don’t need to reveal the sixth corner that’s missing yet, but
Adam Pachter 55:28
I was the kind of guy in high school who my best friend and I borrowed his family’s minivan. We called it the ute. It was a Dodge Caravan. And we drove all the way from Washington, DC, where I grew up to North Dakota, because our eighth grade science teacher had told us that it didn’t exist. And none of us had ever been
Will Bachman 55:51
what, who told me that North Dakota like the state,
Adam Pachter 55:56
yeah, Terry Dyer off eighth grade earth science. He said, Listen. I mean, it was an exercise in critical thinking and retrospect. But at the time, we swallowed it hook line and unsanitary he said, listen, none of you have ever been to have any of you ever been to North Dakota? know if any of you ever met just remember is a prep school in Washington DC, if any of you ever met anyone from North Dakota? No. Have any you even seen a license plate from North Dakota? No. It doesn’t exist. And you can’t tell me otherwise. And so, in our ornery way, my best friend Andrew and I decided that we would drive to North Dakota, write about it for the school newspaper and have photographic factual evidence. And we did. And that was part of a larger Odyssey, where I wanted to visit all 50 states in my by my 50th year, and I just got Alaska was the last state, Oklahoma was the 49th, where you’ll remember my thriller black bags was made. And 50 was Alaska. And I so I hit the 50th. State, I had recently turned 51. But I still think it’s pretty impressive. And since DC should be a state, I’m going to say 51 and 51. How about that?
Will Bachman 57:21
Adam Pachter 57:24
So yeah, the blog was was part of the chronicling of those journeys. But you know, America is the United States is an extraordinary, vast, diverse and, in some cases fraying country, and after being locked in place for a year, it was very interesting for me to go from like kawaii to Key West and such and sort of see what, what was out there, what had changed what remained the same, and try to make some sense of it. And the blog is my attempt to do that.
Will Bachman 58:00
One question I gotta ask is, because this is a standard part of the show is okay. Were there any courses or professors you had at Harvard, that continued to resonate with you? And you mentioned,
Adam Pachter 58:15
David Herbert Donald, all right. 100% Oh, my one that won the award his class. He did a class on the Civil War and the last lecture of that class, which was the last lecture he delivered, I remember it very well, because a lot of his former students and grad students in particular were there. And he actually talked about reconstruction. I think it was grants, presents. And you know, now I’m writing about Grant, everything comes full circle, but grants presents at the centennial in 1876. And David Herbert Donald’s theory had always been that there wasn’t one United States of America, there were shadow nations within it, that ultimately couldn’t get along with each other. And when I see the current political climate and the fact that it’s not just a denial of such as politics, it’s a denial of facts. I mean, the idea of Alternate Facts should show anyone where you know, who is studied anything at anytime, and the denial of science and all the deaths that that has caused? You know, I almost you feel like the shadow nations are out again in force. And you wonder where that’s going to lead. But that that contention of David Herbert Donald’s, who I became friends with in the years after Harvard, has remained with me and resonates with me still.
Will Bachman 59:49
That’s very cool. And what did you win the award for? Was it for your thesis that you were telling us about or?
Adam Pachter 59:58
Oh, I It was no it was it was a prize for like best student in American history or something like that. I don’t know if it was specifically for the thesis. But yeah, you can look up my thesis at Houghton. Right? aren’t aren’t all the honors thesis kept there?
Will Bachman 1:00:15
Probably not head right over this minute, but it’s good to know that it’s there just in case.
Adam Pachter 1:00:20
Yeah, well, Jeff, Rocky’s thesis isn’t there because he didn’t get honors. I’m sorry, Jeff. He’s a good friend of mine. I have no idea whether he wrote an honors thesis, but you know, it’s the mutual the mutual poking and prodding and affection of thought. I love you, Jeff. I love your work.
Will Bachman 1:00:40
He’s a big fan. So Adam, other than perhaps going on IMDb and looking you up? Are there any other places that you would point people online if they wanted to either reach out or just check in and see what your
Adam Pachter 1:00:57
reach out? I mean, you know, I’m I’m I’m Adam Pachter, it was one firstname.lastname@example.org. I mean, I’m not precious about giving out my I was, I was holding forth on screenwriting in New York City this past weekend, and a young kid who was being trained to be a host of this, you know, establishment on the Upper East Side where I and a friend were, you know, was clearly listening in, on my theory about how the purge series is the perfect way to build a franchise, geographically and temporally. And also, actually each purge film ident closely tracks and even mirrors each separate wave of the COVID pandemic, which is interesting. But you know, that’s a theory for another day. Anyway, this skinny little kid came up to me after as I was walking out and said, Can I talk to you? And I said, Sure. Turns out he’d been accepted into Cal Arts and, you know, wanted to go into film and we had a wonderful chat, and he’s reading my debating ex screenplay, as we speak. And, you know, so anyone can hit me up on on my email or Twitter at final, Fenway Fichte. If I see T, which is that series of three baseball anthologies I did, which, although I’ve left that behind the Twitter handle, remains.
Will Bachman 1:02:27
That’s amazing. So Adam, thank you so much. This was a huge amount of fun hearing about your journey through the law, and through screenwriting, and through the six corners, or at least five of the six listeners, if you visit 92 report.com. That’s 90 report.com. You can sign up for the email. We’ll let you know about the next episode. Adam, this was a lot of fun. Thanks for joining.
Adam Pachter 1:02:50
Thanks, well, take care. Bye bye