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In Conversation With Film & TV Writer, Producer and Author Reuben Leder
From:
Norm Goldman --  bookpleasures.com Norm Goldman -- bookpleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, QC
Tuesday, June 15, 2021

 

Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest film and TV writer, and producer, Reuben Leder.

Reubenbegan his long career in TV, beginning with The Incredible Hulk.He went onto write and produce the first 6 seasons of Magnum P.I.for which he received 2 Emmy nominations. One episode that hewrote and directed received an NAACP Image Award nomination for theguest star.

Followingwere several other TV pilots and show running of existing shows,including his own creation, Berlin Break, a post-Cold War spythriller shot in Berlin.

Reubenwas also recognized by the voters of the WGA for participating in thewriting of the 101 Best Written TV Series, Star Trek: The NextGeneration.

Reubenalso wrote and directed the feature film Baltic Storm, afact-based political thriller examining the tragic North Sea sinkingof the ferry 'Estonia'. It starred Greta Scacchi and DonaldSutherland.

Hehas recently published his first novel, You Might Feel a LittlePrick


Norm:Good day Reuben and thanks for taking part in our interview.

Reuben:You're quite welcome. Thanks for having me.

Norm:What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) sofar in your careers?


Reuben:A month ago, I'd have been wracking my brain for which movie, or TVseries, or individual episode I did, to answer that question.

Buttoday, my unequivocal answer—even though it's just come out and whoknows how much success in conventional terms it'll receive—is YouMight Feel a Little Prick.

Theshort reason is this is the one story that had its genesis in apersonal life experience that didn't have a squadron of studio ornetwork executives swooping in to give me the ubiquitous "notes"on how the "project" should be improved. I own every wordon every page.

Forbetter or worse, this is the story I wanted, and needed, to tell.

Norm:What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’veovercome in getting to where you’re at today?

Reuben:I would guess my greatest challenge was pretty much the samechallenge that most aspiring writers, artists, or musicians, havefaced—and that is getting someone on the "inside" to giveyou that first break.

Nowsomeone reading that sentence might say, "Hey, wait! What do youmean? Your father, Paul Leder, was a film director!" Yes, hewas. But he was completely out of the Hollywood eco-system. He had noindustry connections.

Hewould raise just enough money to make one of his ultra-low budgetfilms, then take out a second mortgage on our house to do the nextone.

Thebenefit to me was that as a kid, I—and my sisters as well—wouldwork on these films (mostly because he didn't have to pay us), andgain the experience that would serve us well when—and if—we madeit.

Ipainted houses, tarred roofs, played piano in bars, and all the whilekept on writing screenplays that I would do my damnedest to getsomeone inside the industry to read: cold calling, writing letters,remember those things?), and just blind submitting.

Iwould tape every rejection letter on my bathroom wall until aproduction company, Levy-Gardner-Laven, producers of TheBig Valley and other things that willdate me, optioned one of those scripts. Then, overnight, but reallyit was years, I was "in." It gave me great pleasure tofinally take down those scores of rejection letters off the bathroomwall and burn them.

Norm:What did you find most useful in learning to write and produce forTV? What was least useful or most destructive?

Reuben:The most useful relates back to the last question: the experience ofworking in every aspect of film production: sound, camera, the artdepartment, and eventually co-writing a few of them with my Dad, gaveme the wherewithal to learn how to write for production, which is arare talent for a newly-minted writer.

Thatability was recognized by the powers that be at my first mainstreamjob at Universal and I was promoted to producer. In other words, Iknew better than to write a piece of scene description such as, "TheMongols sacked the village," then leave it to the director andproducers the problem of how to shoot that one innocuous sentencewithin the constraints of budget and time.

Knowingwhat resources were available and how many days were scheduled toshoot the "sacking of the village" informed just how Iwould write the individual beats within that scene.

Idon't think anything was the least useful—outside of absurd notesfrom censors and executives—as every experience I've had, good orbad, was always something to learn from.

Norm:What's the most difficult thing for you about being a writer?

Reuben:Not to be glib, but right now I would have to say my back: years ofdaily hours on a keyboard and leaning into a screen has taken itstoll in the form of numerous surgeries, including three spinalfusions. So, what's difficult often times is writing through pain.

Interms of difficulties inherent in the craft, not only in thebeginning of my career, but even today, it's maintaining thediscipline to be disciplined: to "kill your darlings" asthe cliché goes.

Iwas fortunate enough to have some wonderful mentors at the beginningof my career, and I listened to them. From writers (and readers) yourespect, the best criticism is the kind that forces you to examinewhere that critique is coming from, forget about ego, and figure outa way that's still true to your voice to put the solution on thepage. Even today, I still listen. And I still learn.

Norm:How did your experience in film inform the novel-writingprocess of You Might Feel a Little Prick?

Reuben:Very much so inasmuch as You Might Feel a Little Prick beganits life as a screenplay, and only became a novel after theexperience I'm about to relate.

AsI mentioned earlier, this story, my "love letter" to themedical and health insurance cartels, was very personal to me—andI'll elaborate on that in a bit.

WhenI wrote it, I was in the middle of a very fortunate run of sellingspec screenplays to various studios. Yes, I was paid very well butoftentimes would spend a year or more re-writing the script to servethe whims of executives, then different executives when the originalexecutives were fired, same with multiple directors and producers,until the story became so homogenized, whatever it was that sparkedthe sale in the first place had been written out of the script, whichwould often go on to die a slow, lonesome death in Development Hell.Then you'd write another one and hope for the best.

ButYou Might Feel a Little Prick was apparently going to be theexception. At first, the experience was great; a prominent directorwanted to film it and submitted it to their agency, one of thebiggest on the planet. The script then went to the agency's storydepartment for "Coverage," which is kind of like a bookreport.

Thedirector got their hands on that very precious Coverage and it was arave: the analyst gave it the highest possible rating: "StronglyRecommend." We thought, with the agency's power to package itwith their actors and sell it to a studio, we were on our way tohaving it filmed.

Untilthe director's agent called me that night from their car. The agentsaid that although it's a great script, "My brother is a doctorand he isn't like that."

Ipolitely, because you always have to be polite and "collaborative"with these guys, stated the obvious: that I wasn't writing about hisbrother, that I didn't even know he had a brother, that I was writingfrom a deeply personal experience which included some doctordialogue, while hyperbolic, was taken verbatim from theseexperiences.

Ialso added that there were characterizations of noble doctors aswell, and—

Butit didn't matter what I said or how I said it because the agentprobably had tossed the script after page ten and told me I wouldhave to "soften" it before they would shop it to thestudios.

WhenI politely, always politely, pushed back, that's when the agentpretended to be rear-ended by another car and hung up on me. Only inHollywood.

Theagent miraculously recovered from the phantom automobile accident andcalled the director and said that I was too difficult to work with,and offered the director a plum job on another movie.

Itdidn't matter, because as I digested what had just happened, I calledmy manager and asked him not to send the screenplay out tostudios/producers/movie stars—the entire Hollywood universe—becauseI decided to take the plunge I'd always dreamt of taking, and writethis story as a novel.

Norm:When did the idea for this book first emerge?

Reuben:I mentioned my back. That whole experience was twenty years of mylife and still counting: twenty years of tests, physical therapy,procedures, acupuncture, chiropractic intervention, and I'm sure I'mleaving plenty of stuff out—then at last the surgeries, which werealways according to the surgeons who made their money by preformingsurgeries, "a last resort."

Untilthose surgeries failed, and had to be "tweaked" whichmeant, of course, there was no last resort. It was a never-endinghamsters wheel.

Simultaneously,I would do battle with the insurance companies, because only veryrarely were the bills correct.

Forexample, somehow, the anesthesiologist the hospital procured for asurgery was always "Out of Network", which they didn'tinform me of because I was unconscious. But I was quite consciouswhen I received the denial of benefits letter because "I"used an "Out of Network" anesthesiologist. Therefore,virtually their entire fee was not covered.

However,I still had to, and wanted to keep writing, producing, and directing.And it was on the film Baltic Storm where I met the woman whoI married two years later.

Buttwo short years after that, she received a diagnosis of a virulentcancer and was given three months to live. It turned out to betwenty-six months. I stopped working and became her caregiver.

Mytravails with my orthopedic issues were nothing compared to thishorror. I'm sure anyone can imagine. But can one imagine a renownedoncologist at a world-famous cancer institution, not only bringinghis dog to work, not only making his RN's walk the dog, but lettingthe dog run free in the office and exam rooms, where it went into mywife's bag and ate her sandwich?

Wait,it gets worse. With fake chagrin, he lightly scolded the dog,then—without washing his hands of dog drool and bits of food—laidthem on his patient. My wife. From these horrors is where the ideafor the book emerged.

Norm:Could you share a little about the book with our readers?

Reuben:If I wrote this as a memoir, it would've been nothing but an angryscreed. Probably cathartic, but who in their right mind would want toread about this unrelenting misery? One with no Hallmark happyending?

Sowhen I decided to write the screenplay, and then as a novel asrelated in the previous answer, I decided to give all this grief tosome other characters, and write it as a dark, and gory, satire. Butbalance those difficult laughs with pathos. Kind of a highwire act,but I believe I pulled it off.

Norm:What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do youfeel you achieved them? 

Reuben:Naturally, I wanted to wreak revenge on various versions of the reallife miscreants. However, I did not want the story to be a revengefantasy; I did not want my characters to become killers.

Aboveall, they had to remain moral—and positive. They would stand up forthemselves, but the villains had to get their just desserts via theirown avarice, self-protection, or as the easy word goes: Karma. Thatwas definitely tricky to pull off.

Acouple of the advanced reviews wrote that the novel reminded them ofPaddy Chayefsky's Hospital, which is incredibly flattering, but Ialso had thematic elements of Catch 22 as well as an old VincentPrice movie called Theatre of Blood where Price played a hammyShakespearian actor who used scenes from Shakespeare to give hiscritics some very unfavorable reviews of his own.

However,above all, especially with the heroics we've seen from so manymembers of the medical profession in regards to fighting the scourgeof Covid-19, I wanted to have a character represent the nobility ofmedicine, and give my protagonists, if not a guaranteed, but stillhopeful future.

Norm:What was the most difficult part of writing thisbook and what did you enjoy most aboutwriting this book?  

Reuben:The difficult part was the medical research. I was pretty good onwhat I had personally experienced. Don't these surgeons know thatwhen you're flat on your back in on a gurney in Pre-Op and they'refive feet away washing their hands saying cynical stuff to oneanother about their patients that you can hear them?

Andremember? There's surgical sponges, then there's writers—who arethe best sponges of them all. The rest of the medical research was mewatching tons of operations on YouTube. When I gave thenext-to-last-draft of the book to a doctor friend of mine (whoconveniently was also a working writer), to read for medical errors,the biggest compliment was he told me, "I got the life."

WhatI enjoyed? Killing off disguised versions of the decades ofinsensitive torturers who got into medicine for all the wrongreasons. Yes, enjoyed that very much.

ButI also enjoyed the process of writing a novel. I wish I had startedthem years ago. As a screenwriter, yes, you put in a bit of your ownsensibilities and attitudes: how can you not?

Butthe most important thing is to only write what the camera can see andwhat the sound can hear. Just about everything else is eithersuperfluous or you're just showing off. If a character is angry orsad, you have to show it, via dialogue and/or action. You're notallowed to go inside a character's head and interpret their thoughtsand feelings.

Anovel is so much more liberating in that way. The danger, of course,is becoming too self-indulgent. But again, that's where thediscipline I learned in writing for the screen came in. I quicklylearned to step on the brakes when I was driving the book off thatmetaphorical cliff.

Norm:What projects are you working on at the present?  

Reuben:I've outlined the next novel. And can't wait to get to it. It's alsoa dark comedy with some thriller aspects. It's called Let YourPoor Heart Break a Little.

Thetheme is the indomitability of love. Even if the charactersthemselves don't quite get it.

However,the biggest project I'm working on is doing whatever it takes to makereaders aware of You Might Feel a Little Prick.

Norm:Where can our readers find out more about you and You Might Feela Little Prick?

Reuben:After years of resisting it, I'm finally on social media. You canfind me on Facebook, Twitter, and my, drumroll  WEBSITE

Norm:As this interview comes to an end, if you could go back ten yearsand give yourself one piece of advice what would that advice be?

Reuben:Take better care of my back? And more seriously, not ever takeanything for granted. Vin Scully, the famous Dodger announcer, usedto say, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."That advice works in the secular world just as well.

Norm:Thanks once again and good luck with all of your endeavors

Reuben:Thank you.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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Name: Norm Goldman
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
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