Following Hollywood’s White Rabbit Into Wonderland: Curtis Clark
Curtis Clark, one of my Wonderverse collaborators that helped write the Hatter Madigan graphic novels, reflected on the early days of his career in this thoughtful blog. His charming origin story shed light on the fact that unbeknownst to me, I played a bigger role in his journey than I ever knew. We both agreed it would be perfect to share his wonderful words as inspiration for other young writers forging down the same twisty path of breaking into Hollywood & making it big.
It certainly wasn’t Wonderland. It was a bowling alley. A friggin’ bowling alley.
I worked there. One of those just moved to Hollywood jobs. I needed money. Knew nobody. Most days I would bang away on my laptop while seated at the bowling shoe desk. I was the sentry of the stinking soles. I got used to writing through pins scattering, bowling balls clacking, and shoe spray coating my fingers.
One shift, I was red-penning a printed copy of a screenplay I had written. Which, was a very, very cliché Hollywood thing to be doing. I assure you, though, I was actually working on it, not just trying to look like I was working on it. I had somehow finagled getting that script into ICM for script coverage. I was confident it was going to give me my start in the industry as an aspiring author & writer. Which, spoiler, it did not.
A few hours into the grind, a customer walked in for his kid’s birthday party and saw me marking up my script. He took some small notice of me diligently writing, probably because I was less diligently setting up for his kid’s party. The name on the party sheet read: Frank Beddor.
I had no idea who Frank Beddor was. I didn’t know he had written the best-selling Looking Glass Wars trilogy or that he had produced There’s Something About Mary. Had I known those things, maybe I would have tried to drum up conversation. After all, that is why most people in Hollywood do cliché things like work on a script in public — for those mythological “chance” encounters. Me? I guess I was oblivious. I didn’t even google Frank’s name or anything.
So, not for one second did I imagine that the so-bad-I-can’t-go-back-and-read-it script I was working on would not be my start in the industry, but that this Frank Beddor, and his twist on Alice in Wonderland, actually would.
When Frank finished bowling, I was still editing away. He asked me what I was working on? During my early days, imposter syndrome dictated I try and sound like a legit writer to just about everybody. So, too-cool-for-school, I filled him in on my momentous, impending script coverage. Which, almost certainly made me sound green as grass.
Frank told me he was also a writer, but I had never heard of his books. Which wasn’t surprising because at that time I hadn’t even read Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (I have several times since). Our conversation seemed destined to peter out as pleasantry, until, serendipitously, Frank asked if I liked comic books, or had written any? What he had no way of knowing was that I had a collection of comics twice the size of the shoe wall I stood in front of.
And, at that time, I also just so happened to be writing a comic book for a guy I met playing basketball, because, you know, the Hollywood hustle sometimes works in weird ways. I showed Frank a few pages of art from that comic, and it was enough to earn his business card.
Back then, for me, a business card was a magical thing. You could feel it, put in your wallet, keep it in a drawer. They were tangible things, whereas most things in Hollywood seemed to evaporate the second you turned around. The industry can be so hard to navigate, especially early, that I took getting a business card as a sign I was at least doing something right.
Maybe, if I collected enough of them I would, I don’t know, level up? That would have probably made more sense than how the business actually works.
Frank told me to send him a copy of the comic I was working on when it was done. His office address was on the card. I had an address! On a business card! And a writer producer who wanted to read this comic! I would be done working at this bowling alley in no time! Spoiler again, that would not be the case.
A few weeks later, I hand delivered a copy of said comic book, hoping for another face-to-face chat to build off of. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, Frank’s office was closed that day. So, I slipped my comic under the door with a note, and assumed he’d get it. And then I heard nothing. For weeks.
Wait, did he get it? How would I even know? Talk about driving yourself mad.
I followed up via email a few times, and didn’t get a response. That familiar early-days sinking feeling was happening, where I got excited by an opportunity, only for it to slip away as nothing materialized. I was a young, nobody writer who handed this guy crusty shoes, and he was a busy writer producer with young kids and a burgeoning brand. Could I be angry at this guy, who I had met once, for not having time for a twenty something kid whose comic he may or may not have found slid under his office door?
Um, yes. I was 100% angry Frank wasn’t getting back to me in a manner that suited my unrealistic career timeline. That said, now-a-days, I understand why someone like me, back then, wasn’t exactly his priority number one.
After weeks of nothing, I decided to email him one last time. No BS, it was going to be my last follow up. I’m sure I rolled my eyes or jabbed the return key passive aggressively when I hit send on that email. I had run hard and fast into quite a few dead ends at that point.
However, after months of nothing, Frank got back to me within minutes. He sent a very brief email that read something to the effect of, “I read your comic. Come to my office. I might have a job for you.”
After all that time waiting, he fires a job tease email off to me in mere minutes? I had already emotionally moved on, probably deflecting Frank’s lack of interest with some self-doubt managing thought about it being his loss. I was spun.
The truth was, that email meant the world to me at that time. If I haven’t made it apparent enough by now, starting out in Hollywood can be a daunting, soul shattering endeavor, especially if you have no connections. And I didn’t know anyone in California when I moved here, let alone in the entertainment industry.
That email is why I’m writing this blog post on FrankBeddor.com. I honestly do not know if I would have made it to my current place in my career, where I have representation and shop projects with production companies, agencies and the studios, had it not been for me following up that one last time, and Frank actually getting back to me.
I’d like to think I would have earned my shot sooner or later, probably after some much needed seasoning, but I don’t know if or when another opportunity with a legit Hollywood entity would’ve come my way.
So, after reading that email, I quickly bought the first book of The Looking Glass Wars and ripped through it in a day. Nervous, I went to Frank’s office for our meeting. The walls were covered with Card Soldiers and Jabberwocky concept art, poster sized prints of Alyss, Hatter Madigan, and Redd, set photos from There’s Something About Mary. The shelves were stacked with various US and UK printings of Frank’s books, and a few beautiful copies of Alice in Wonderland. As a wide-eyed baby writer, it was cool as hell, but I tried to act like it was all normal to me.
I sat across from Frank in a comfy chair and we chatted. I said a bunch of young-dumb stuff about how I wanted to write all of his comic books. Honestly, I barely knew what I was talking about and was being super presumptuous. At least I was passionate, though, and had some ideas. Which, must have been enough to not turn Frank off because I left with a chance to write a short web comic for him.
There were very few guidelines to the assignment. It had to be Hatter, on Earth, during the years he was looking for Alyss. It was basically a sink or swim opportunity, where I was supposed to pitch Frank an idea, and if he liked it, he’d hire me to write it. Except, instead, in something like two days, I wrote a very weirdly formatted short story and sent it to Frank. He liked it, whatever it was, and wanted to make it, but what was he going with this weird, sort of prosey, sort of scripty thing I gave him? I was a comic nerd. Why didn’t I send him a comic script?
Frank didn’t know this then. Actually, he might even be reading it for the first time here. I had read a zillion comic books, and I had “written” exactly one, but I had never really scripted one in an industry correct way. That sample issue he looked at? I “wrote it” by sitting side-by-side with the artist and drawing out the comic panels together.
Now, I wasn’t some full-blown charlatan who had lied my way into a job. I had read a few comic scripts and written in screenplay format. Still, when Frank said yes, but make it a comic script, I literally had to buy the Idiot’s Guide to Creating a Graphic Novel, skip to the scripting section, and follow it step-by-step. I needed to transform what I gave Frank into something that his artist — who by the way was Finnish, living in Finland — could correctly follow.
Keeping score at home: I had met the guy at a bowling alley, wasn’t familiar with his work, hadn’t read the material that inspired it, was fishing for bigger work before I had even earned his trust, and more-or-less didn’t really know how to do the job I was lucky he hired me to do, a job I went ahead and sort of did without getting his go ahead for my idea. I never thought of myself as someone who did the “fake until you make it” stuff, but yeesh…
However! I did my research. I figured it out. And being passionate was the most important thing (and always will be). That script, once correctly formatted as a comic, ended up being the Baseball short in the Hatter M. Seeking Wonder graphic novel. And that fun, little job blossomed into working on and off with Frank for years. His Wonderverse was so broad, that I could pull from every corner of my vast nerdom.
Together, we expanded his world through two graphic novels, many other projects, and countless conversations. And I went off and built my own career, aided by the confidence those experiences gave me. Frank and I still check in regularly and talk shop. It’s been a friendship that’s lasted over a decade.
I wrote this post because it’s a fun little story, but also in hopes that if some young writer finds their way here, they can take heart in the extended meet-cute Frank and I had that helped start my career.
It’s not some impossibly uncommon Hollywood story. Countless young writers meet their Frank Beddors. The important parts are that he and I struck up that first conversation, found a mutual passion, that I didn’t quit on the opportunity, that he then took a chance on me, and then, despite not really knowing what I was doing, that I worked, and learned, for however long it took to deliver.
The experience taught me a valuable lesson early in my career, which was not to be afraid of getting in a little (or a lot) over your head. I was lucky that first job with Frank made me embrace the unexpected and the unfamiliar in pursuit of my dreams.
Which, how fitting is that, when you think about it? The unexpected and the unfamiliar? Aren’t those the things that cause us to wonder in the first place?
So, always follow the glow, Wonderlanders, even if you’re not quite sure where it will lead you.
About the Author:
Curtis Clark grew up the son of a farmer in Wacousta, Michigan. He spent his youth spun up in a tornado of comics, novels, film, television and games. Eventually it spit him out in Los Angeles, where he writes, directs and produces, while also wrangling his two young children, alongside his amazing wife.