“Screenwriting saved my life.”
That was the simple and heartfelt statement delivered by Richard Price, the acclaimed novelist and screenwriter behind such notable works as “Clockers,” “Mad Dog and Glory,” “The Night Of” and “The Wire,” as he collected the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for career achievement from the WGA East on Saturday night during the East Coast ceremony at Manhattan’s Edison Ballroom.
Price told the crowd that moving into screenwriting helped broaden his horizons and make him a better overall writer. After writing his first novel at 24, he was burned out by 30 as he worked on book No. 4.
“I was so ripe with despair you could smell it on me,” he said. “Screenwriting saved my life — my mental life, my spiritual life, my financial life and actually my physical life.”
He moved into screenwriting and became a “coke head” at the same time, reasoning “well, if I’m a drug addict I might as well be a screenwriter.”
In the end, “kicking coke was easy. Screenwriting was hard to kick.”
When Price was sent out to study unusual subcultures like pool hustlers to pen the script for 1986’s “The Color of Money,” he realized how important it was to study unfamiliar people and cultures. Operating from the maxim “write what you know,” Price observed: “What I know has just gone from a teacup to an ocean.”
Moving between novels, movies and TV series including HBO’s “The Wire,” “The Night Of” and “The Deuce” has benefited his work in both mediums. “The things screenwriting gave me I could really go to town with in novel form,” he said. “What I learned in novels filled me with nuance when I wrote screenplays.”
Beyond improving his craft, Price emphasized that writing for the screen helped make him a better person.
Screenwriting “gifted me with a wider eye and a wider heart and an all-inclusive way to approach the world and writing,” he said.