It was standing room only for the SFIAAFF panel with Alex Tse, one of the screenwriters of the Hollywood blockbuster, Watchmen. The graphic novel fanboys and wannabe screenwriters all seemed fascinated with Tse‘s path to Hollywood and many of the audience questions were about what exactly Tse did to get there.

Interviewed by film maker (and former employer) Spencer Nakasako for the first part of the program, Nakasako said that his wife noted Tse came off as a prototypical good Chinese boy in the press and that media stories of Tse’s success were filled with Asian assiduousness. Nagasako’s wife may have something there. Two examples from the panel on Saturday:

  • A comic book fan and an avid reader at an early age, Tse’s teacher once asked him if he had plagiarized a short story because it was so good. (He could write about things like hansom cabs while in elementary school because he had read Sherlock Holmes.)
  • He was saved from a bad pitch phone call with the producers of the Watchmen because of the time he had invested in storyboarding his vision for the movie. The producers asked to see the document he was clearly reading from during the cell phone call. Tse credits the detailed 15-page document with getting him the job.

Tse also talked about how his childhood desire to be a stand-up comedian morphed into an interest in journalism, which then morphed into screenwriting. After writing for Spike Lee’s series “Sucker Free City,” Tse developed a reputation for being able to write “street.” A fan of the “Watchmen” graphic novel since he was a young boy, Tse said he had been following the story of its film development since the age of 11.

The best story Tse told revolved around his time as a studio intern/temp answering phones and fetching coffee. He remarked that everyone in the business panders to aspiring artists by telling them that they’ll help you, but no one ever does.

When one of his bosses made that claim to Tse, he replied, “Okay, but don’t do it because you think this will make me work harder for you, because I’ll work hard for you regardless, and if you say this to me and don’t do anything, I’ll have less respect for you.” This boss was instrumental in getting Tse his first manager.

I’m going to try that approach today too!

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