I cried this morning watching a movie trailer. Real tears.
Of absolute joy.
I have a friend. His name is Howard Scott Warshaw. We met when I was teaching a screenwriting seminar in San Jose California at least ten years ago. It was at a time when I shouldn’t have been teaching screenwriting as I really knew nothing. But I had just optioned the first script I ever wrote to Tina Sinatra & Norman Lear and a studio (Polygram) and it was on its way to… ok… not getting made. (But that’s another story.)
I thought I was hot shit. So I wanted to teach what I thought I knew to strangers and take money for the privilege.
Had a bunch of people sign up, too. More than a dozen, including Howard.
I do regret my hubris at thinking I was in any position to teach something I’m still learning now, even with the last three years of success and what’s on the drawing board for the future. But the one thing that makes me grateful about that whole experience is that I found what has become a close genuine life-long friendship with Howard, a man who is beyond cool. A man who, since his days as an Atari Wunderkid (where I didn’t know him, but is why I cried), was trying to find himself and what his next steps would be in life. I caught him when he was in his filmmaking stage. He’d already made one documentary about his Atari experience, Once Upon Atari, and had found some success. It’s a wonderful documentary and still available on Amazon. (I’m pimping for him without his knowledge right now). And he produced some wonderful videos for the State of California on a pre-school education project and made another Documentary called, “Vice & Consent” a kind of a clinical look at the S&M subculture that’s now being used as a teaching tool in some college courses around the country.
He also wrote books about how to get into college that sold pretty well. Ok… so… he’s kind of a Renaissance Man. But he was still searching for himself and for a place he could land and feel his real worth.
That has come in two steps… one is Sherri. His amazing wife. They met on a dating website. They fell in love. She got very very sick and they thought they were going to have a very short time together, but married anyway. And damn, if true love doesn’t conquer all. She beat a sure death sentence. Beat it with him at her side, unwavering. And they remain one of the happiest, in love, couples I have ever known. You look up “Happily Married” in the dictionary and their picture is next to it.
The second was his life changing decision to, at NOT a young age, go back to college and become a Psychotherapist. And like everything else he’s tackled in his life, this last year he accomplished that too, opening his practice in Los Altos, Ca.
He is my great and glorious friend and I love him like a brother. He’s also been my cheerleader as I tried to break into the film business as a writer, living the ups and mostly downs with me. And has celebrated my recent successes as much as anyone. Something I will always be grateful for.
And he’s been to more BSides Concerts than anyone except my other great friend Andre, who has been to them all.
Ok. Backstory complete.
Time to talk about why someone like Zak Penn would make a film about my friend Howard.
Howard has a lot going for him, true. But he has an infamous claim to fame that makes him an icon. Those of you old enough to remember the Atari 2600, know Howard’s work. As a game designer he designed one of the most innovative games of all time. “Yar’s Revenge”. It owns a place at the MOMA in New York it’s so iconic. But alas… the film is not about that. No.
Howard designed the game credited with taking down an entire industry at the time. E.T. Yes, he is the man who singlehandedly designed what is considered the worst video game in gaming history. Most anticipated at the time and a colossal failure. So much of a failure that is birthed an Urban Legend of Epic Proportions. Legend had it that Atari had so many copies of ET sitting on its shelves, millions of copies, that it put them in dump trucks and buried them in a dump site in Alamogordo, New Mexico. For years and years this urban legend grew. Everywhere Howard went he was asked if he thought they were there. His answer was always, even when I asked, “No.”
Enter Zak Penn. Zak has made a documentary about just that. About Howard. About Atari. About the ET game. And he dug up the dump site in Alamogordo looking for the cartridges.
Howard called me from Comic Con this morning. He was on a panel with Zac Penn and Nolan Bushnell (the founder of Atari) yesterday and they showed the documentary last night to a packed crowd. He laughed. He cried. And I was happy to just share a piece of it over the phone. Howard’s story and the story of the ET game and its impact on an industry and the debunking or affirming of one of the all time urban legends is truly worth a film.
Zac Penn and Micrsoft thought so, too. So I say… thank you Zak. I don’t know you though we work in the same industry, but that’s ok, I don’t know a whole of lot of people. But you couldn’t have picked a more worthy and more wonderful person to spotlight.
Here’s the trailer that made me cry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnyoyWpqKJI