"For nothing is more fascinating than fame. For nothing is equal to the terror of dreams come true."
My path to Hollywood success represents the culmination of a very unique journey. I was born in Norfolk, Virginia. My stepfather, a career Navy man, moved the family around constantly from base to base. If you saw the Great Santini, that was my life, right down to the station wagon driving across country at 4 a.m. From the age of 5 to 15, we moved ten times.
Finally, my family found a home in the small Northern California town of Vallejo where my stepfather retired. I really had planned on going to college and possibly becoming a professor, as almost all the Howards are academics-- teachers, professors and administrators. One uncle, the late Dr. William Howard, was the first black Fulbright Scholar, garnering his Ph.D. in political economics from the University of Amsterdam in the mid-fifties. I thought that would be my road.
However, at Princeton I fell in love with history, American history. I didn’t know what my path would be, but it had to involve reading and writing history. I knew my destiny when I was 18. I wasn’t sure of the career, but it would, I hoped and prayed, be something where I could spend my time doing my newly found passion.
The first serious writing I did was my thesis at Princeton (a requirement for graduation), Rebellion—The Newark Riot of 1967. The research discipline that I developed in college would serve me well later in my film writing career.
Following a very brief stint on Wall Street at Merrill Lynch, I moved to Los Angeles in the mid 80s to pursue a writing career. Having no contacts, I started the impossible job of trying to find an agent. After several years of fits and starts, I broke in. When I felt established enough, I returned to the East, Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
Once in Alexandria, I found a city so totally integrated that it seemed “unusual” and unique. In investigating and questioning the locals, I was told that “a high school football team, the TC Williams Titans, integrated this city in 1971." After doing further investigation, I found the former coaches and key players. I acquired their life rights fully confident that this amazing story would spark interest in Hollywood.
I went out with a pitch in early 1997. Unfortunately, the pitch tanked. It was passed on by every buying entity in town including cable and pay TV. At that point, with almost 5 months invested, I was ready to give up, but finally decided to write a full-length script. I did in-depth interviews with every team member I could find (more than 20 people), acquired more life rights, hunkered down and wrote the screenplay.
In the fall of 1997, after six months of hard work, Remember The Titans was sent out as a “spec script.” Everyone passed again! Fortunately, Chad Oman, production president of Jerry Bruckheimer Films, called about the script. He read it, loved it, and passed it on to Jerry who also loved it so much he bought it out of his discretionary fund the following Monday. 17 months later in October 1999, the film went into production with Denzel staring in the pivotal role of Coach Herman Boone. There was really no development per se. I just did some polishing, but the script didn’t change 10% from the first draft to the finished film.
Titans branded me as a true story writer, inspiration and sports my specialty. I’ve happily continued to write in these areas. I've written a lot of scripts, but the sad truth is it’s almost impossible to get movies made. It’s a miracle that I’ve been involved in two, Ali and Titans.
I feel the most recent projects are the most exciting, but I have not turned my back on my past work. I continue to pull those oldies but goodies off the shelf and try to get them made. One of those is Freedom Fire, the Harriet Tubman story which I am doing with producer Debra Martin Chase. We hope to be shooting in 2015. And recently, I rebranded myself as an action writer, selling the spec, Hunt, Capture, Kill, also slated to shoot in ’15.
But my goal is to return to theater, which I will do in 2016. The final chapter of my writing career will be as a playwright. Nothing, to date, has equaled standing in the back of a theater and seeing a live performance of my play. Nothing. The play is the thing, baby.