Senior Fellow Cirulnick '98 on road to screenwriting success

by Joe Manera | 11/25/97 6:00am

The past half year has been a wild ride for Matthew I. Cirulnick '98, a transfer student and Brooklyn native.

The 21-year-old aspiring screenwriter and Senior Fellow has spent much of the year devoting himself to internally visualizing and physically writing the script for the semi-autobiographical "Johnny Green," an intense story of an eight-year-old boy named Matt and his relationship with his mother's younger cousin Johnny Guarino.

Cirulnick's screenplay examines the complicated bond between Matt and Johnny, two souls who feel out of place in their neighborhood and eventually become best friends.

Johnny is a 22-year-old drug addict and graffiti artist, yet his charm renders him likable to just about everyone that meets him, and he becomes somewhat of a surrogate father to the impressionable Matt.

The relationship between Matt and Johnny is loosely based on Cirulnick's own relationship with his older cousin.

"He was very talented, but he was very much a victim of his own addictions to drugs. Still, what matters is not how the whole world perceives somebody but how they are to you," Cirulnick said.

The script was truly a labor of love for the young writer, whose organic, piece-by-piece writing process is very memory-, image- and music-oriented. He talks at length about writing short stories that may eventually fit into a larger work.

"When I write something like a short story, I try to understand my subject matter. It can be about a small scene ... it somehow, intangibly and steadily, works its way in in terms of mood, in terms of flavor. It could be one line," Cirulnick said.

To complete the script for "Johnny Green," some sacrifice was in order.

The script took about two or three months to write, but Cirulnick began writing during classes last spring. As a result, partying was very minimal and his grades took a nose-dive, but the risk has thus far paid off beautifully.

"Johnny Green" already has strong word of mouth and an impressive list of supporters.

Not the least among these supporters is Dartmouth drama professor Bill Phillips, who has become an influential contact person for Cirulnick.

Phillips describes the screenplay for "Johnny Green" as "the best student script I have ever read."

He helped Cirulnick copyright the screenplay and register it with the Screenwriter's Guild.

Phillips has such confidence in Cirulnick's vision that he has helped the young writer by giving him the names of a few people to whom he thought Cirulnick should send a copy of his script.

Cirulnick also has fans at October Films. He sent his script there, and while there has been no agreement yet on whether or not the company will actually see to it that the script is produced, the director of acquisitions and production wrote Cirulnick a letter stating that "we admire the script and think the project has great potential ... we are very interested in screening it."

Despite these supporters, Cirulnick is most excited about the interest Academy Award-winning producer Bernard Schwartz ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "St. Elmo's Fire") has expressed in the script. Schwartz, one of the friends Phillips advised Cirulnick to send his script to, says that he would be interested in actually producing the script himself.

Despite all of the hoopla surrounding "Johnny Green," Cirulnick is not resting on his laurels. He has already started forming ideas and writing portions of a new script, one which he describes as "more mainstream and less gritty" than "Johnny Green."

The new script concerns the adventures of a down-on-his-luck slob after he comes into a great deal of money.

Despite Cirulnick's assertion that the screenplay is more mainstream, it still sounds slightly unconventional and quirky. After the main character hits the jackpot, he deserts his family and begins robbing banks, the one activity that truly enthralls him. "Sleepless in Seattle" it is not.

Cirulnick hopes that the one-two punch of "Johnny Green" and his new script will convince studios that he is the real deal. Many young writers often exhaust all of their tricks the first time out, and Cirulnick is out to prove that he is the exception to the rule.

"Right now," Cirulnick said, "they want to see that I can physically write another screenplay."

Well, guess what folks -- he can and he will. Upon meeting Cirulnick, one thing becomes immediately evident. He knows exactly what he wants and will not stop until he gets it.

Cirulnick hopes that his success story will inspire other young people to commit themselves to their visions instead of ignoring their voices, thereby denying themselves the chance to succeed at what they love.

While he comes across as very confident, Cirulnick has a self-effacing nature and lack of self-importance that prevents him from falling into the "pretentious artist" category.

He talks repeatedly about "keeping things real" and modestly admits, "If I can do this, then there is no reason why anyone else can't. If you want something, you're going to get it. I've been that way about everything in my life."

Cirulnick talks about watching films that have inspired him, such as "The Laws of Gravity" and "Kids," and feeling that he could write scripts like that.

"I'd watch a movie like 'The Laws of Gravity' by Nick Gomez, and I said 'I could do this.' I've seen these visions in my head, and I said, 'I want to do this'."

Perhaps the most inspiring thing about Cirulnick is his inability to accept the possibility of failure. He knows that he has the goods, and he has never listened to anyone that doubted that he would be able to do what he loves. He notes that the function of the artist in society is often underrated and that it takes a lot of conviction to follow your dreams.

Cirulnick also has an important, practical message for aspiring young writers who are wary of pursuing a career in a creative field.

"You've just gotta write. When you say 'I want to be a writer' and people laugh, then you just have to prove them wrong. Once you actually have accomplished something rather than just talk about it, you would be surprised at how those laughs die down."

If anyone was ever laughing at Cirulnick before, they certainly are not now. With one script that is already considered hot property and another on the way, he wants to write screenplays for the long run.

With his talent and intense focus, there is little doubt he will make that happen.