One day during President Clinton's trip to Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1994, Drew Yanno lay on one of the island's beaches hatching a diabolical scheme: What if terrorists were to cut off the island and kidnap the First Family?
Yanno, a part-time member of the Carroll School of Management's Business Law Department, was not plotting an overthrow of the government, but indulging in what has become his second profession: writing screenplays. Later, Yanno and his collaborator began developing the idea, and in August they sold the screenplay to Universal Studios for a six-figure sum.
Yanno has been nurturing his cinematic vocation, to the point where he even left his law practice last fall to devote more time to script writing. While he knows there are plenty of promises and few guarantees in Hollywood, Yanno is enjoying his foray into the movie business.
"I went into this expecting to succeed," he said, "and the whole thing was pretty much what I expected. It has been exciting, interesting, educational and fun."
Yanno co-wrote the screenplay, titled "No Safe Haven," with Anthony Borghi, a real estate broker Yanno met while searching for office space several years ago. The two became friends and have now collaborated on three screenplays. The first, a romantic comedy titled "Banca's Raviolis," was a finalist in the Massachusetts Film Office's 1994 Screen Writing Competition. That recognition helped the duo land an agent, who in turn asked them to try their hand at an action movie.
"We thought of comedy as our forte," said Yanno, "but our agent told us action movies sell, so we put down a comedy we were working on and started 'No Safe Haven.'"
The basic plot of the movie follows Yanno's original idea: A militia-like terrorist group kidnaps the first lady and her daughter, but the president escapes to a golf course and teams up with a vacationing former Marine to save his family. The stage is set for the classic adventure-rescue tale, but with a peculiar twist, Yanno said.
"The president is portrayed as an action sidekick, which hasn't been done before," said Yanno. "Our agent loved it and said we'd either be laughed out of Hollywood or he'd make us rich."
While some movie executives laughed at the tension-relieving comic moments in the script, Yanno said, they did not laugh at the idea. The screenplay had been on the market for less than 24 hours when Universal Studios offered $300,000 immediately, plus a matching sum should it be made into a movie. Yanno and Borghi thought about the offer for less than 15 minutes.
"I guess we were considered hot property for a day," Yanno said.
In September, they flew out to Hollywood for a week of meetings with the creative team and producers assigned to the project, where they kicked around the idea of Sylvester Stallone playing the Marine. Since their return, Yanno and Borghi have been rewriting the script, incorporating suggestions gathered during those meetings. Yanno expects the rewrites to be completed in January, but is not sure what will happen next.
"Some screenplays are turned around quickly, while others sit for years before they are made into a movie," Yanno said, "so we just don't know."
Yanno has long had the writing bug, which he has appeased with a few novels, so far unpublished. But he prefers working with a partner on screenplays, because "it is more like a conversation and not as lonely and time-consuming."
Yanno admits he sometimes regrets not using the legal or business world as a setting for his screenplays, given the success that John Grisham has had in bringing his novels to the big screen. But he does feel comfortable with the style he and Borghi have developed and is not about to change it.
He hasn't said a word about his Hollywood success to his students, although he thinks the word has gotten around. "I love to teach and I love to write, but the two are separate things for me."
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