Hi there. My name is Alex Harakis and this is my story.
Let There Be Light…
My passion for movies began early, way before the invention of Netflix, Amazon, DVDs, and even VHS. Yes, I’m that old! As a little kid, I remember sitting outside on warm summer nights in the suburbs of west London while my father projected cartoons and Laurel & Hardy shorts on the garden wall.
Somewhere in my mid-teens, I briefly lost my way. Like most adolescent boys, I believed two things: that I was going to live forever and that I was destined to become a billionaire. It was after watching Michael Douglas in Wall Street that I casually decided to become a corporate raider. In my naivety, I figured the best way to achieve this was to study accountancy as a degree subject. This led to me going to Exeter University. Fortunately, I had zero talent for accountancy and was kicked off the course within the first year.
I now went to the other extreme and somehow blagged my way into Trinity College, Cambridge to read English Literature. It soon became apparent that I was almost as bad at literary criticism as I was at accountancy. The one upside was that I rediscovered my passion for movies. I spent more time in the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse than I did in any lecture theatre. In fact, the only syllabus I completed was a film studies course that had absolutely nothing to do with my actual degree.
Once again, my dreams got the better of me and I decided I would become the next Orson Welles. To this end, I tried my hand at making a short student film – only to discover I couldn’t act to save my life and wasn’t too hot at the directing either. But the one thing I could do was write. That was my gift.
Eventually, I scraped through my exams and earned a mediocre degree at one of the best universities in the world.
After graduation, I spent a few years writing scripts, both shorts and features, for various dodgy guerrilla film-makers. At best, I earned cigarette money – and this was back in the days when cigarettes were still cheap!
Next Stop, Hollywood!
By my late twenties, the situation began to improve. I teamed up with an old school-friend and we wrote a supernatural horror screenplay, The Old Enemy, which was set in the trenches of World War One. The script wasn’t perfect, but it had its moments. It did very well over at Script Shark, who in turn passed it to Magnet Management (Zide/Perry Entertainment back then), one of the most dedicated literary management agencies in Los Angeles. They didn’t sign us up immediately, but we’d clearly gotten their attention.
Our next script was Devil’s Crew, a historical adventure about the Royal Navy’s hunt for Blackbeard the pirate. This was the one that got us repped at Magnet. The William Morris Agency also signed us up. Unfortunately, the imminent release of Master And Commander hurt the script’s sales prospects. In the end, we had to make do with a $60,000 option from MGM, which after paying commissions to our reps, converting what was left into British currency, splitting it half and half, and then paying taxes… Well, let’s just say there wasn’t much left. Still, it was better than a poke in the eye.
Off the back of that, MGM hired us to adapt a book, To Catch A Star, based on the real-life Millennium Dome heist that occurred in November 2000. For a moment, it felt like I was living the fairy-tale. But feelings can be deceptive. Behind the scenes, my writing partner and I were at war. Over the next year, two decades of friendship went down the drain, along with our ability to work together. By the time we eventually finished the job, MGM no longer existed – Sony had bought it!
The writing partnership ended soon after and I struck out on my own. My first standalone script, the medieval actioner Enemy Of God, made it onto the 2005 Black List. Any chance of a sale, however, was killed off when Ridley Scott’s similarly themed Kingdom Of Heaven flopped at the US box-office.
After that, I eked out an on-again-off-again living by writing the occasional script for smaller indie producers. The quality of work was good, but none of the projects ever quite made it into production. In between, I took non-writing jobs just to pay the bills.
It wasn’t all bad. Ironically, as my writing career stagnated, my personal life was doing just great. Around the time of The Old Enemy, I had just met a lovely Kenyan girl living in London. We fell in love and eventually married. At the time, we had so little money that we could barely pay the registry office fees… I still owe her a proper wedding.
Two wonderful sons came along in the years that followed. In addition, I had another son from an earlier relationship. Being there for him always took priority over my career, which is probably one of the many reasons why William Monahan is a millionaire and I’m not!
The Big-Shot… Almost
Finally, I caught a break. In 2011, Warner Brothers hired me to adapt a big-budget version of Treasure Island, with Guy Ritchie attached to direct. It was a great opportunity and one that I seized with both hands. The final script was a strong piece of writing – one that I remain proud of to this day. In the end, however, Guy decided to run with The Man From Uncle and then King Arthur, both of which he had co-written. But hey-ho, that’s Hollywood!
Still, at least I managed to win a few more assignments off the back of Treasure Island. I particularly enjoyed working on an adaptation of The Witcher, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of cult fantasy stories. Another upside to working on a big studio project was that I was accepted as a member of the Writers Guild of America (and have been black-balled on and off ever since for failing to keep up with my membership fees!).
There were also spec scripts. Capital, based on the true-life events leading up to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, had gained a lot of fans both before and after the Treasure Island gig. Ralph Fiennes was briefly attached to direct, but as so often happens, ‘politics’ got in the way and the project fell to the wayside.
The Knight, a medieval adventure, was (and may still be) the best thing I’ve ever written. Had it come out ten years earlier, it probably would have sold for a million. But by 2014, the industry had moved on. Original scripts were fast being replaced by mega-franchises and brands with inbuilt market awareness.
So that’s me. Have I lost hope? I wish. Writing is in my blood and I’ll keep banging out the scripts until the day I die. I’m still with the great folks over at Magnet. As for the agents, I left William Morris some time back. I’m now repped by United Talent Agency in Los Angeles and United Agents in London.
Still, priorities change. I used to define myself as a writer. Now I define myself as a husband and father who spends some of his time writing.
Hollywood has also experienced a transformation. When I began my career, film people still ran the studios. Now they’ve been mostly replaced by talented young corporate guys. This may be great for business, but perhaps not so good for art (personally, I believe the best films are a marriage between the two).
Why Real Deal Screenwriting ?
So you want to be a screenwriter…
Ideally, you’ll be needing three attributes: talent, determination, and luck.
Of the three, talent is the least useful. It may get you noticed, and if you ever get your foot in the door, it can potentially win you recurring work. In my experience, however, talking a good script is more important than actually being able to write one. That’s why there are so many wealthy hacks out there. Eventually, most get found out, but by then they’ve made a whole lot of money. In the meantime, there are too many talented writers who end up on the scrapheap.
Determination is of greater importance. It will keep you writing even when you’re down and out. And by the law of averages, the longer you stay in the game, the more likely your chances of catching a break.
Which brings us to luck. Of the three, luck is by far the most significant. I’d say it’s 90% of the equation – being the right person (or having the right script) in the right place and at the right time. Over the best part of twenty years, I’ve never come across a successful writer, irrespective of ability, who hasn’t enjoyed a big fat slice of luck at some point in their career.
Unfortunately, luck either shows up or it doesn’t. As a result, it’s best to put it to one side and instead focus on the remaining 10% of the equation – talent and determination.
That’s where this site comes in…
Over the years, I’ve developed and written many feature scripts. I’ve had my successes and my failures. I’ve worked with all sorts of different people. And along the way, I’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t.
What I want to do is share some of that experience with you. Not all of it will be focused on the specific art/craft of writing a script. Some of it will deal with how to handle yourself in the industry, which is every bit as important. I’ll also be reviewing some of the most useful (and not so useful) screenwriting tools out there, from software to books.
If I can help you to avoid making my mistakes and achieving your true potential, then that’s great. If I can help you to get your foot through the door, then that’s even better. If I can help you ‘make your own luck’ until the real thing shows up, then that’s the best of all.
Now, shall we begin?
Founder of Real Deal Screenwriting