Danny asked me if I had ever read a screenplay, I wasn't even
certain what a screenplay was.
"Say, Jarvis," said Danny, hitting
on my wall. "Did you hear my question, bro?"
"About screenplays?" I said. "Yeah,
I heard you ... you asked if I'd ever read a screenplay, right?"
"Yeah, 'cause I got one or two,"
he said, "that I want you to check out and"
"That's alright, Danny," I said.
"I'm cool, totally fine with reading my books. I like them better
than screenplays ..."
"Well, how do you know, if you've
never read one?"
"Who said I haven't," I shot back,
picturing Danny, barely 5 foot tall, bird-seed thin, and looking
nowhere close to his old-man age. "I didn't say I never read a
"Okay, then," said Danny. "Let's
try this again. Have you ever read a screen"
"No! No! Danny, no!" I interrupted.
"I have never read a screenplay ... Is that what you wanna hear?"
"Yeah ... yeah, pretty much," he
said. I could almost hear his mind sorting out what to use to
get me to read one of his screenplays.
"Say, Danny," I said, coming to
the front of my cell. "Man, I'm not reading no screenplays. That's
your thing, not mine." Danny had been trying his hand at writing
movie scripts for some time.
"Well, I didn't say that when you
asked me to read that Buddhist book that day, did I? I stopped
everything I was doin' that day to read it. And now, man, you're
sayin' I can't get the same from you. I mean, it ain't gon' to
take too long to read, Jarvis."
"How many pages is it?"
"It's only a hundred and twenty
pages. But, trip, each page is like one full minute if you were
watching the actual movie on a screen, not reading it."
"Is that right?"
"Yeah. Each page represents a minute."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"Man, this is my field," he said.
He continued, "I have more books over here about screenplays,
man, in my cell right now, than you on Buddhism over there."
"Is that right?" I said. "So, what
screenplay, if I read one, do you want me to read?"
"Are you really goin' to read it?"
"I guess I could."
"Jarvis, don't say you are and don't.
'Cause man, I will know if you did or didn't."
"Man, Danny," I said. "Didn't I
say I'd read it ... didn't I?"
"But I'm just tellin' you I'll know
if you didn'tI'm going to quiz you on things like fade in,
fade out, what is POV, voice over, off screen, and things like
"Damn, Danny!" I said, shouting
over his voice. "Man, I will read it. I'm goin' to read it, okay?"
"Well, I'm' just lettin' you know,
Jarvis. Because things like ... like what I jus' saidfade
in, fade out, POV, voice over, off screen, and"
"WHOA! WHOA! Man, Jeez," I shouted.
"I just knew, I'd have to stand here like this, gettin' the third
degree from you, Danny! Hey, didn't you hear me say I'll read
"Well, I hear you," he said. "But
that's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"
"The point is every screenplay has
things like 'plot points,' you know? And in order for you to follow
ityou have to recognize 'em, as well as fade in, fade out,
what is POV, close-up . . ." He talked like this
for twenty more minutes.
I stood at my cell door, wondering
when he'd stop. Danny and I had been friends for ten years, though
not always neighbors. We had been in cells on different tiers,
and even housed in different parts of the prison. This distance
had given our friendship precious space. We were like two friends
who lived better across town, I realized, as Danny rambled on.
Danny had always loved movies, always
watched movie reviews on T.V., and he kept every movie article
he could get his hands on. No reviewer that could say anything
about a movie without Danny writing a letter of protest if he
had an opposite view.
Listening to my friend ramble on
and on was irritative to my ego. Does he think I'm stupid? I thought,
as he repeated himself several times, insisting on making points
I had heard over and over for the past 30 minutes.
"Say, Danny ... Danny!" I finally
got in between his words. "Man, I perfectly, oh so perfectly,
and now clearly, understand your point, you know? I definitely
do, Danny ... and"
"So what's my point then?" he asked.
Did he want me to repeat the last
thirty minutes? "Your point ... your point isssss this," I finally
said. "That whenever I run across something I don't understand,
or something like POV that I have no idea about, or whatever,
I am to stop right then and there, to ask you to explain it to
me; that you don't have any problems, man, absolutely none, in
taking the time to explain them! Man, ha! That's your point, Danny."
"Yeah, Jarvis," said Danny, laughing.
"That's my point. That's my point exactly, man! I couldn't have
explained it better. Yeah, man, you're goin' to like this screenplay
I'm sending you."
"What are you going to send?"
"Hmmm, how about Lethal Weapon.
Have you ever seen that movie?"
"Man," Danny said. "You mean to
tell me you've never watched Lethal Weapon? With Danny Glover?"
"Not that I know of," I said. "Is
it 'posed to be good or something?"
"Well, I liked it. But knowing youwell,
it may be too much violence. 'Cause man, they straight blowin'
shit up in this movie, you know?"
"Man, Danny. Just send it over to
"I got it all ready," he said. "Come
on, throw your fish line out." I got my fish line out and slid
it under my cell door, out onto the tier, where Danny's own fish
line caught hold, bringing it into his cell. In minutes, Danny
had tied the screenplay, in its manila envelope onto my fish line.
"Okay, pull it," he said.
"Okay, I got it, Danny."
"Just take your time, Jarvis. There's
an abbreviation index inside. So whenever you run across somethin'
you don't know, the index will explain it, okay?"
"Okay. Right on!" I said, opening
the envelope and seeing the index on top of the screenplay. I
found a comfortable seat on my floor on top of two folded blankets
and began reading Lethal Weapon.
An hour passed, then two, and I
was in the middle of Lethal Weapon. I liked it. I memorized all
the script abbreviations in the first slow hour and now, pleased
with myself at coming this far without any questions for Danny,
was starting to think I could one day write my own screenplay.
I sped through the last half without
any bumps and curves. I couldn't stop reading it. I really liked
it. I felt as if I'd watched a movie, not read it, and I had begun
re-reading it when Danny called over to me.
"Say, Jarvis, you still reading
"Yeah! I just started re-reading
"Man, is that right?" he said, laughing.
"So you like it, huh?"
"Not only do I like it," I said,
"I think I can write one, I mean, my own screenplay."
"Hey, is that your way of asking
me to teach you?"
"Well, hell, yeah! You can say that,"
I said, with my eye still glued to the page. Man, we ain't ever
too old to learn, right?"
"Okay," he said sternly. "Come tomorrow
morning, at eight o'clock sharp, I want you to be ready ... you'll
be learning from me."
"I like how it's written ... it's
like seeing a movie being shot from a writer's pen-lens, instead
of the movie camera."
"Yeah, that's it. But come tomorrow,
at eight o'clock, you'll be in my classroom!"
These last words made me look up
and stretch my forehead. What exactly did he mean, that I'd be
in his classroom? A subtle shift of dismay blew across my curiosity.
But what the hell, I'd find out tomorrow, at eight o'clock sharp.
The next day I woke up early, did
all my routinesmeditation, stretching, exercising, and then
washed up again, as if any minute now I would be picked up by
Danny and taken to school.
Danny called me as he said he would,
at eight o'clock sharp. I was standing ready at the front of my
cell, with only the wall between us.
"Okay, Jarvis, the first thing we
need to establish is that I'm the teacher, you're the student.
And man, it ain't goin' to be no 'buts' about this!"
"I don't have a problem with this,"
I said. "I just want to learn, and"
"Well, you need to listen," he cut
me off. "Cause yesterday I had to repeat myself way too many times."
"What do you mean way too many times?
Man, I heard you, but you kept talking and talking, Danny."
"You see, you ain't listenin'! And
this ... this stops now!"
"Oh, shit, man," I blurted, then
thought: How did I ever end up with this crazy dude teaching me
anything? Instantly, Danny reminded me of what I'd told him, that
all those many years ago when I was in public school, hating it,
I was always hanging out with my friends in the restroom, to smoke
cigarettes and pot, or cutting school altogether, to roam the
streets. He reminded me that now, following the rules was the
price I had to pay if I really wanted to learn about screenplays.
"So are you listenin' now?" Danny
"Yes! Of course I'm listening,"
"Say it again, 'cause I didn't hear
A long second passed. In my mind,
I called Danny those same old names that had gotten me kicked
out of school many times. But here was my one chance, after all
these years, to see what happened if I didn't react by quitting
and just exercised patience, patience, and patience.
"Okay, Danny," I said finally. "You
have the floor, the whole microphone! I won't say a word unless
I'm spoken to."
"That's right, that's right," he
said. "I knew you'd see it my way. Now, what we're going to do
is this: I am going to send you a page I copied from a book I
have over here called A Guide to Writing Your Own Screenplay.
And your lesson is to correct all the mistakes that it purposely
has in it, okay?"
"Okay, Danny. But why not just send
me the whole book? 'Cause that sounds"
"Because I'm not!" he barked. "We
goin' to do things my way. Listen, bro! There's a right way, a
wrong way, and there is my way! So get your fish line, slide it
out and come pick this one page up. And when you get it, you have
30 minutes to correct it."
"But Danny," I said. "I don't understand
... why can't you just let me check out the whole book?"
"See there, you not listenin' again!"
"Okay, but before I throw my line
over there, let me jus' say this. With all due respect, man, you's
one hard dude, I mean, you's a straight-up tyrant! Hey, Danny,"
I said as he was trying to retrieve my fish line. "Do you know
what a tyrant is?"
"It's a word," Danny said. "Some
ol' word that I 'posed to be mad at, right?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that," I said
with a smile comin' across my face. This was the Danny I had known
so many years. To know him was easy. To accept these facets of
his charactera grumpy old man who could not be shaken from
whatever his mind was set onwas difficult, even sometimes
funny like now.
But when I pulled in my first screenplay
lesson from Danny's fish line, he said I had 20 minutes to complete
"What do you mean?" I said. "You
jus' said I had 30 minutes."
"If I did, I lied. The truth is,
you now have 19 minutes. You wanna waste more time?"
I quickly began reading the opening
page from a screenplay. The obvious mistakes I corrected in just
a few minutes. But I was certain there were others and I knew
Danny would have shortened my time even more if there hadn't been,
so I studied it more, making a mess with my pencil and eraser
until my time was up.
I returned the sheet of paper to
him and stood at my cell bars, waiting in silence for the results.
"Say, Jarvis," he said.. "You didn't
get shit right! This is terrible."
"What do you mean terrible?"
"You forgot to put a comma here,
and right here, this 'posed to be a period. You also misspelled
Missouri. And "
"Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute, Danny.
Is this about screenplays, man? Or is it that I'm only losin'
favor 'cause of the grammar? Hey, dude, what about the screenplay,
the screenplay, Danny. Did I correct the structure or not?"
"Well, you got all that right, but
that don't mean anything, zilch, nada, if all these other things
"Well, hell, man," I said, then
stopped myself from saying 'I quit!' "Say, Danny," I said nicely.
"Just send the damn paper back and I'll fix the grammar, okay?
Is that what you want?"
"That's exactly what I want," Danny
said. "But you still flunked! And the next time I don't want to
see these mistakes, okay? And also, so you'll know, we ain't havin'
no cursing. So, are we clear on this?"
I though: why in the world am I
even doing this? I knew the name of the bookA Guide to Writing
Screenplaysand I could easily get it and learn by myself.
Was it because I still regretted always quitting school at the
drop of a dime, because I never had the patience to learn? So,
what, what in the hell was I doing? Yeah, okay, I thought, the
man showed me several letters where he was offered thousands of
dollars for his very first screenplay. (He turned them down, demanding
more money.) Yes, he really, really knew how to write screenplays.
No doubt about it! So I wasn't going to quit, even though that
was what the crazy dude wanted just about now. And I wasn't going
to do it!
"Okay, Danny," I said calmly. "I
will fix the grammar."
"And the cursing," he said. "What
about the cursing?"
"Okay, that too!" I said, wanting
to kick this Napoleon right off his high horse.
For almost three months Danny and
I went on. The squabbling never ceased. We argued, fussed and
fought like literary gladiators. I got used to taking the brunt
of all the beatings. Nothing I ever did was right. Every piece
of paper, exam and test sheet I returned to him, I got back filled
with graffiti, almost unrecognizable with all his criticisms.
Every day the tip of his big red marker boldly wrote: WRONG WRONG
WRONG. He was good at nit-picking all my efforts. Under my breath,
I called Danny every bad word I could think of. I began doubting
myself even as a practicing Buddhist and a published author. I
even questioned our friendship. But I vowed to hang in there,
to pay these dues.
I felt better when I saw how Danny
had used his red marker to edit internationally-acclaimed, award-winning
screenplays from his collection of scripts, some that had even
won Oscars for best screenplay of the year. This lessened the
wound of my ego and made me more committed, as I desperately wanted
to pass the grade with him.
Much as I cursed him under my breath,
I had wholeheartedly accepted Danny as my screenplay teacher.
He was teaching me tolerance and patience as well as the importance
One morning I heard him returning
to his cell from taking a shower.
"Man, Jarvis," he called over to
"What's up?" I said, looking at
the clock on my television screen. There was still an hour before
we began our screenplay studies. "We still have another hour,
"Shit, man!" Danny said. "I'm not
callin' you for that. I jus' got off the telephone and"
"Is that right?" I said. "I thought
you were in the shower."
"No, I just got off the phone. And
man," he said in a low whisper, "Jarvis, they just killed, murdered
my son. The cops in L.A. killed my son. Shot him sixteen times"
"Say what?" I said, in total disbelief.
I rushed to the front of my cell. "Say that again Danny. 'Cause
I didn't hear you."
"I just got the news," Danny's voice
shook. "That was an emergency phone call I just got. My son's
mother called the prison chaplain, and he got her call through
to me. And she cried tellin' me now, last night they killed our
son. The cops in L.A. shot and murdered my boy, you know?
"Little Danny?" I asked. "Man, not
little Danny, your grandbaby's daddy?"
"Yeah, they shot him down in cold
blood, like a dog," Danny's voice cracked, then became silent.
I could almost feel his crushing pain. I, too, had lost relatives
to violence since being in prison. But not a son, not like this,
and for all the life of me, I prayed for the right words to say.
An hour passed before Danny called
to me. "Say, Jarvis, man, what are you doing right now?" he asked.
"You know, just thinking about you,"
"So, you ain't doin' anything, huh?"
he asked again.
"No, only thinking about you, bro,"
I said, and what you told me."
"Well, Jarvis," Danny's voice was
a very low whisper. "You want know the worst part about all this?"
"Jeez, Danny," I said. "Man, it's
all bad ... sad, you know?"
"Yeah, Jarvis, but the worst part
is this, trip." He then whispered even lower. "She told me that
the people who witnessed them cops shooting little Danny heard
the cops saying that they had killed me, not my son, you know?"
I realized what was flashing through
Danny's mind. His son was killed because of him. I knew there
were only a few fibers of sanity that still held him together.
"Say, Danny, what you need to do,"
I said, needing to say something, "is to not accept no versions
to what happened last night, with your boy, until you hear the
last one. I know you, Danny. And Danny, what I know is what you've
been teaching me all this time. About the importance in the details,
am I right? And right now, Danny, man, you don't have all the
details yet. And that's the truth."
"Well, what do you think happen?"
"Man, Danny. Danny! I don't know
all the details either, so how could I? But what I do know is,
is, if you could blow up that whole L.A. police station right
about now, I know you would. Hey, I do know that much!"
"You're right, you're damn' fuckin'
right!" Danny's voice became strong. "I'll blow it straight to
hell! To smithereens. Right into oblivion with every motherfuckin'
body in it!" he shouted, giving air to what I thought might explode
For several hours, Danny and I stood
at our cell bars talking about the death of his son. We never
listened to each other more than we did that day. Every question
that Danny asked of me, every piece of advice he sought, everything
he needed to speak about, his desire to be with someone instead
of alone in the deep loss and memories of his son, made me realize
how important we had always been to one another. This was one
of the greatest honors to my human worth, the best grade I could
have earned from my friend Danny.
From that day to this, Danny hasn't
picked up a single screenplay. The same dedication he once had
for them he has now applied to a wrongful death lawsuit against
the Los Angeles police department.