Lost writer soon to be found on campus
The word “Hollywood” may conjure images of glamour, parties, wine and cheese; one shot and you hit it big or lose it all. Behind the scenes, it’s a different situation. Javier Grillo-Marxuach, supervising producer of Lost and graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, is coming to tell potential Hollywooders the ins and outs of his career as part of the Alumni Reading Series on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Adamson Wing of Baker Hall.
“Javi,” as he likes to be called, began his life in Puerto Rico and moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., at the age of 10. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1991 with a B.A. in creative writing and literary and cultural studies and went to the University of Southern California for his master’s degree.
Grillo-Marxuach’s big break came when he was studying at USC and working at Kinko’s. NBC came around to recruit a junior executive, and Javi chose to take them up on their offer because, he claimed, “I wanted to buy a laserdisc player and Kinko’s wasn’t paying too well.” Though this job did not envelop Grillo-Marxuach in his true passion, writing, he used this opportunity to launch his career. No one should worry about getting an agent in order to make it, according to Grillo-Marxuach. Instead, “[You should worry about] whether you have chops as a writer.”
One of a writer’s biggest assets is his or her own confidence in his or her own writing. “I’ve always been a writer,” Grillo-Marxuach explained. As a playwright in high school, he said, “I knew from the start that I wanted to write for movies, films, and the stage.” He knew that he would work hard to achieve a name, so he always had faith in his work. “People will respond to great material and great material will open doors to you,” he said.
For Grillo-Marxuach, Carnegie Mellon opened these doors. He said that Carnegie Mellon was “the best of many worlds.” Grillo-Marxuach, having been blessed with an urge to write and create stories, focused on extracurriculars pertaining to his major. In his days here, he worked with Scotch ’n’ Soda Theatre and The Tartan. “I really just wanted to write,” he said. Grillo-Marxuach estimates that he had written approximately 26 plays through his high school and college years. “[Carnegie Mellon is a] very intellectually charged environment … encouraging for exploration,” he said.
Sharon Dilworth, a professor in the creative writing department, worked extensively with Grillo-Marxuach during his time here; she worked with him on his honors project. “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s writing for a show [such as Lost].... Otherworldiness is fitting of Javi’s work.” According to her, Grillo-Marxuach had an attraction to superheroes as his main characters. Dilworth also commented on Grillo-Marxuach’s writing style. When given something to edit, Dilworth said, “Javi doesn’t rewrite. He just writes again.... I think he had the right idea.”
Grillo-Marxuach’s approach to writing is unique. “What’s interesting is that there is no one method.... What’s important is the spark that interests you and [that] you can create something from it,” he said. To Grillo-Marxuach, the idea is most important to the writer. He explained that a common fallacy for writers is that they should sit and wait for a story, but the process is not the most important part.
Screenwriters also understand the importance of conveying the story. “Screenplays are really just the blueprints of the story,” Dilworth said. “TV is a collaborative medium,” Grillo-Marxuach commented, “not a combative environment. They [the directors] want it to be good. You want it to be good. You work together to make it great.” He said that the true task of a writer is “to communicate what’s on screen efficiently.”
Most people may find it difficult to understand how Grillo-Marxuach puts up with criticism. He said, “You have to have a real hide. Some people aren’t going to like your material.” However, Grillo-Marxuach takes this feedback constructively. On directors filming their take on the script, he said, “Sometimes it’s better.”
Despite the fame, Grillo-Marxuach feels pride in no single production. Rather, he said, “[It is enough to] continually improve as a writer … to turn promise and talent into something sustained.” He enjoys his solid career, which has allowed him to “continuously hone craft and continuously improve.” Lost is one such achievement. “What I am proudest of is that I have a body of work and not a little [success here and there],” he said.
Still, Grillo-Marxuach knows that “*Lost* is a once in a lifetime experience.” He began the job as a writer for Lost early on. ABC originally had plans for a show called Nowhere, which went nowhere in regards to turning the concept from a vague idea to an actual show. J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof originally came up with the idea of castaways on an island, and they hired four writers, Grillo-Marxuach being one of them, to become a “little think tank,” according to Grillo-Marxuach. Out of this came the Golden Globe Award-winning TV series Lost.
Grillo-Marxuach’s mind is currently tuned into his return to Carnegie Mellon. “It’s wonderful over there,” he said. He treasures this school as the true launching pad for his career. Grillo-Marxuach, it turns out, is not just a supervising producer of a hit TV show; he is a former Fairfax Apartments resident, lover of the ‘O,’ and former columnist of The Tartan, among many other things. He comes back with one main message in mind for the aspiring writers here at Carnegie Mellon: “Don’t ever stop writing. Everything follows from your craft.”