Rick Rapoza doesn’t have a set schedule when he rolls out of bed.
With the Southern California sun shining through his window, the world is truly his oyster as he shakes out the cobwebs and readies himself for another beautiful morning in Marina del Rey – an affluent section of Los Angeles County that is home to boat harbors, bars, high-rise condominiums and restaurants.
But it’s a pretty safe bet that Rapoza won’t be hitting the trendy eateries for afternoon drinks or soaking up the sun on somebody’s moored yacht. It’s not that he doesn’t want to enjoy the lifestyle that so many of his neighbors do. It’s just that it’s hard when he’s staring intensely into the screen of his laptop making sure that all of his entries and revisions to the screenplay he’s writing are matching up perfectly – the way that the producers, the on-site writers and anybody else who picks up a copy would expect them to.
It’s the life of a young screenwriter trying to make inroads into one of Hollywood’s most brutal and misunderstood occupations. And it’s something that he loves.
“I really wish I had a better answer to this, but I roll out of bed and stare at a laptop and then watch horrible television to make my brain stop hurting,” Rapoza said with a laugh. “It’s not very glamorous – being a young screenwriter. I try to read and watch some good television in there somewhere. I’ve got a roommate that’s a good friend and I try to go out with friends and blow off steam, but most of my time is spent churning things out.
“It’s the worst when you’re not on any kind of deadline. You’ve gotta be committed to writing something and turning it in whenever you can – even when you haven’t been paid for anything in particular. They’re just the things that you need to do in order to advance your career.”
The making of “Cactuses”
Shortly after graduating from East Union High School, Rapoza and good friend Matt Hannon were tapped by the late philanthropist and businessman Antone Raymus to head up a special project through Give Every Child a Chance.
With their interest in writing and filmmaking, the two were charged with creating a full-length feature film that would utilize a crew of at-risk teens. It provided them something positive to do while at the same time teaching them things about movie production and digital film editing.
The film, which starred Manteca High graduate and aspiring actor Cliff Chamberlain (who has since made inroads in his own career), made its premiere at the Delta Film Festival and drew a large crowd that wanted to see the finished project. Crew members, actors and producers filled the theater as the two directors watched months of their lives flash before them on the screen.
The entire process, Rapoza said, would be a crucial lesson in the both the screenwriting game and film production in general – getting the chance to work closely with a professional like Chamberlain and watch a film go from its conceptual stage to its finished state.
“It’s the most invaluable thing, career-wise, that I think I’ve ever done,” Rapoza said. “When we started the writing thing was so far over my head. I think I had one book about screenwriting and I learned so many lessons on the fly. Cliff (Chamberlain) would have these points of improvisation where he’d say, ‘Why don’t I just say this and this and this?’ and it would basically summarize five pages that I had written.
“I learned lessons the hard way, but it was going through that process that really helped me and prepared me for what I would see when I got down here for school. Being a part of that was great, and I’m glad that we were able to follow through with that.”
A NorCal boy goes South
After spending his first four years of college in Berkeley pursuing a degree in rhetoric, Rapoza was accepted to UCLA’s screenwriting program. He would have to make the trek to Southern California for graduate school.
The entire process would have been a culture shock for the budding writer, but he would quickly find that his experience at UCLA was similar to what it was like at Cal – spending time in his car as he commuted between home and school. Whatever time he had left was spent studying, becoming versed in the program, and writing.
And while his worth ethic and his focus didn’t allow him to take advantage of the programs on campus geared towards student recreation or give him any opportunities to enjoy the legendary nightlife at places like the Sunset Strip – located only a few miles away from campus – it did eventually pay off.
In his last year Rapoza sold a comedy script to Universal that centers around a twentysomething male that must choose between his friends for a variety of things in his life – and forces them to go through a series of tests to determine who is best for each one.
The process landed him his first agent, and it gave him a glimpse inside of the world that he so desperately wanted to be a part of.
“That’s really probably the thing that made everything happen right there,” he said. “They bought it, and I worked with them on it doing rewrites for over a year. It’s still in production right now. But that’s what got me an agent – everything seemed to come out of that one project right there.”
Now, with representation and an idea of what needs to be done in order to get another script sold, Rapoza started working with another writer named Max Wheeler on a full-length feature script about a man and a woman who break up and have a fight over who ends up getting the dog.
Even though it didn’t get the studio bites they were hoping for, they did manage to land “A” list talent for what they hope will be a massive project.
Eva Longoria – one of the stars of Desperate Housewives – signed on to the project as the lead actress and as a producer, working with well-known Hollywood producer Rick Schwartz (Black Swan, The Departed) to bring it to fruition.
Having that sort of a heavy-hitter wanting to be a part of a project that he wrote was something that Rapoza always wanted to have happen, but didn’t necessarily expect to happen so soon.
“I’m not at the point where I can write something with a particular actor in mind. Honestly I was thrilled that anybody was interested in this and wanted to make it happen, and when I found out that she was signing on as a producer as well I was blown away,” Rapoza said. “To have her come in and be such a great person. She’s been so grounded and down-to-earth and smart with her ideas on how to improve things. She wants to collaborate on changes, and she’s improved things significantly.
“I’ve never written anything thinking that it would actually come out. Projects can be easily derailed. But the possibility of ending up in 2,000 theaters? I’m just incredibly grateful to be where I am right now. I’m happy with what I’m doing, and that’s all you can ask for.”