GREGORY ALLEN HOWARD
Award Winning Playwright, Screenwriter, Author
I began my career in 1988. My first writing assignments in the business were for True Colors on Fox, The Royal Family and Teach on CBS. My first staff job was as a story editor on the ABC series Where I live. My very first paycheck was for a story on 21 Jump Street.
I wrote the original screenplay for Remember The Titans, staring Denzel Washington, released by Disney, which surpassed the $117 million dollar mark and received an NAACP Image Award for Best Picture. I was also honored with a Christopher Award, given to those whose work "celebrates the humanity of people in a positive way”.
Remember The Titans went on to become the highest grossing drama scripted by an African-American writer in film history. Titans also had the distinction to be the first African-American scripted drama ever to gross over 100 million dollars. Further, the Titans DVD, at 10 million units sold, has become the biggest selling DVD by an African-American writer ever. I was also the original screenwriter for the Columbia Pictures film Ali, staring Will Smith and directed by Michael Mann.
My current projects include Drummer Boy, a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the American Civil War for Disney, and We Are A Chain, an inspirational sports story about a black basketball coach who coached a group of Amish-Mennonite kids to an Ohio basketball championship (based on a Sports Illustrated article).
The most recent project that I have set up is another historical drama: Baptism In Fire, the true story of the only black tank battalion to serve in Europe in World War II. The project is set up at DreamWorks with studio head Walter Parkes and actor Morgan Freeman producing.
Recently, I was one of 20 authors, columnists, and novelists (but the only screenwriter) selected to write essays for German Publisher Bernard Taschen’s Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.), a coffee table photographic history of the life and times of Muhammad Ali. Each copy of the 600 page, limited edition book, which will be auctioned by Sothebys, will be autographed by Ali.
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 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.
A graduate of Princeton with a degree in American History, I fell in love with writing while completing my 100 page thesis: 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.
My first job was a story assignment on 21 Jump Street. This landed me a small agent and several freelance assignments. My TV writing career culminated with me being made a story editor on the Michael Jacobs produced ABC series, Where I live.
As a diversion to my “day job” and to create something that was my own, I began writing my first play, Tinseltown Trilogy, three interconnected one act plays that focus on three men on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles.
The high quality of the provocative and moving drama earned me acceptance into the prestigious Playwrights’ Unit at the Los Angeles Theater Center. The play was produced at the Tamarind Theater in Hollywood in 1991 and was directed by TV star Ted Lange. Tinseltown Trilogy won four L.A. Weekly Theater nominations including Best Playwright for me and the NAACP Theater Award. I was also a semi finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Competition in 1990. The play landed me a major agent, David Wirtschafter, then of ICM now President of William Morris. I then began a round of meetings with the studios and major productions companies.
By 1995, I had proven myself adept at what would become my specialty-- historical drama. With my reputation for quality period writing, producer Jon Peters and then Sony Chairman Mark Canton nabbed me to write the original screenplay on the life of Muhammad Ali. After turning in his first draft, and receiving assurances that the movie would go into production in a matter of months, I felt confident enough to move back east and “back home” to Virginia. Unfortunately, with Mark Canton leaving the studio, the Ali project fell into limbo.
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, by December in 1996 I found the former coaches and key players. I acquired their life rights, and 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. And that too is unusual. Jerry has supported my vision of this film throughout the process and has been my biggest champion. He likes to tell everyone this all happened because of me. I say it all happened because of him.
Since then the writing offers have come quickly, but I refuse to accept numerous assignments because I don’t mass produce. I’m very selective because true stories require time and focus. When I take something, I plan on seeing it through to the end.
I live in South Florida, and am an avid collector of African American art and I enjoy reading and photography.
Member of the Kennedy Center Circles
Founder/Creator of the Howard Lonsdale Scholarship
Alvin Ailey Partner
Guest Lecturer Howard University
Board Member of Center for Creative Voices