Will the Real Nick Schenk Please Stand Up?

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Nick Schenk, a struggling Minnesota screenwriter who’d sold the first script he’d ever written, GRAN TORINO, to Clint Eastwood, who shot it without changing a word. It was an unlikely, inspiring success story.

The script was so well crafted and understated (and the credits went by so fast) that after seeing the picture, I immediately called Bill Gerber, one of the film’s producers, to find out which one of the many A-list screenwriters who must always be knocking down Eastwood’s door had penned the story.

“Are you sitting down?” Gerber asked. He had quite a surprise. The writer, Nick Schenk, who lives in Minnesota, had never sold a feature script in his life. In fact, the only writing work Schenk had done was for “BoDog Fight,” a mixed martial arts TV show, a game show called “Let’s Bowl” and some comedy sketches collected in a DVD called “Factory Accident Sex.” (“That title doesn’t exactly help my career, does it?” Schenk jokes.)
Schenk says he wrote the script, using a pen and a pad of paper, sitting at night in a bar called Grumpy’s in northeast Minneapolis.

But in today’s Daily Variety, Schenk tells a very different story.

Nick Schenk sold the first script he ever wrote. “It went to Disney and, not to date myself, but Katzenberg greenlit that thing, and when he went to Dreamworks it died that day. They had a director and it was cast — the whole works.” TV gigs and spec scripts followed.

So what’s the real story?

16 thoughts on “Will the Real Nick Schenk Please Stand Up?”

  1. Shocking! False stories in Hollywood!
    At least this one isn’t as ridiculous as Charles Holland, former WGA President, claiming to have been a football player on scholarship for the U. of Illinois or, even better, a former Green Beret (like they don’t keep records).
    But it isn’t as much fun as 30-something writer Riley Weston who claimed to be 19 and got a great gig on “Felicity.”
    My favorite part of the Times’ story is that a feature got made without a single word being changed. Try to sell that tall tale around town!

  2. Whoops! I stand corrected. Thanks for the info, Lee. I didn’t know that was the case and I must have been blinded by envy for a moment when I responded!
    I’ll put a positive spin on the situation: even though it would be a rare treat for most writers to run into someone who used Clint Eastwood’s approach, if all producers and directors were that enthusiastic about first drafts, it would eliminate a lot of jobs re-writing other people’s scripts!

  3. Yeah, I remember reading an article about how the screenwriter for BIRD being really pissed off that Eastwood did that. J. Michael Stracynski, screenwriter of Changeling, told the crowd at WonderCon that Eastwood bought a first draft script and just shot it as is. He was stunned.
    I also remember rags to riches stories of “first screenplay sale EVAR” revolving around the guys that wrote Sudden Impact (the fourth Dirty Harry movie) and In the Line of Fire.
    Maybe it’s just a fabrication for Eastwood’s “I’m just an ordinary kind of guy” behind the scenes persona. Who knows.

  4. I’ve heard Paul Haggis say the same thing about Eastwood not wanting to change a thing. I just read the script to Grand Torino and coincidentally heard an audio excerpt from the movie on a podcast of Fresh Air. Clint rephrases his dialogue quite liberally while the other actor stayed very much word for word. For what it’s worth, Eastwood’s phrasing works better for me.

  5. Which part of the story are you attempting to cast doubt on? If you’re trying to claim that Schenk was somehow an established writer, or that he wasn’t ‘struggling’, that’s nonsense.

  6. I have a story or two that I’d like to turn into a screenplay, but I honestly have no idea of all that’s involved. Is there anyone out there who would collaborate and help turn either of them into a saleable screenplay (assuming of course they liked the story itself – or would just do it for a pre-determined fee)? Or is it unwise to just put it out there for God and everyone to see? I’m very green on this one.
    Thanks for any input………. Kman

  7. Charles Holland is STILL claiming to be a wounded Green Beret war veteran to this day! Despite the newspaper articles, the REAL special forces veterans coming forward saying he was never one of them, the recall petition at the WGA, etc.
    Hollywood — land of snakes.


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