The ghostwriter counts Warner Bros., Marvel Studios and Disney franchises among his clients.
by Rachel Stowe Master
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Topics: how i got here, Schieffer College of Communication
by Rachel Stowe Master
David Alan Hall ’87 always has been comfortable on either side of the camera.
David Alan Hall was the 1971 Texas Easter Seals poster child. Courtesy of David Alan Hall
“I was the 1971 Texas Easter Seals poster child. That was huge. It meant I could go to public school, which helped me become well-adjusted around others,” said Hall, who has cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus. “I traveled, I met celebrities and I’ve been interviewed my whole life.”
For more than 30 years, Hall has been a Hollywood writer, filmmaker and “fixer.”
Hall wrote his first “novel” in a little Mead notebook when he was 9. He used a tape recorder and a reel of sound effects from RadioShack to create audio dramas. When his family bought a video camera a few years later, Hall expanded into moviemaking.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in fine arts (radio-TV-film), the Fort Worth native packed up the Honda Accord his mom gave him for graduation and drove to Hollywood.
“If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have done it,” he said. “That’s why I’m a fan of naiveté. Once I realized how hard it was, the trick was to turn that naiveté into persistence.”
Hall’s first gig in Hollywood was all about practicality. “I got a job as a clerk at B. Dalton [Bookseller] for minimum wage because I didn’t have to take the job home. I could leave at the end of the day and go home and write.”
David Alan Hall was a story analyst, screenwriter and ghostwriter. Now he’s a fixer for several studios. Photo by Christina Gandolfo
Soon the affable Hall made friends, including a Paramount Pictures employee. Hall asked if she could get him a job. She asked how fast he could type.
Hall has difficulty walking and used his handicapped parking placard to talk the studio guard into letting him park on the main lot.
“I parked and realized, ‘I’m in the studio,’ so I blew off the typing interview,” Hall said.
Script in hand — he always carried one with him — Hall found his way to the story department.
“I never got that script sold but I got hired as a story analyst, which was basically a glorified script reader,” he said. “Back in those days Paramount received, like, 10,000 scripts a week. My responsibility was looking for the diamond in the rough. I would recommend one script for about every 100-200 that I read.”
Hall got so good at finding the rough diamonds that A-list movie stars paid him to read scripts for them. “The trick is finding the right script for the right actor.”
But Hall also was trying to get his own scripts read. He submitted his second script to the American Film Institute and earned an invitation to participate in its TV Writers Workshop. The script got optioned.
A studio paid him 10 percent against the purchase price of the script (which was about $25,000 at the time) and had six months to buy it or pass. The studio passed, which meant Hall got his script back and also kept the option money.
“I learned it’s possible to make a very good living as a Hollywood screenwriter without ever having a script produced,” he said.
Hall’s third script — about UFOs — seemed poised to take off.
“If you get an A-list actor or director attached to your screenplay, you have a chance of getting it made. And this is where I was with my UFO script and it all looked good. Then one fine day, the studio head changed and he brought in his own projects — and mine was out the window, just like that,” Hall said. “That can be devastating, but that’s the Hollywood life.”
Hall spent another year — between substitute teaching gigs — pitching story ideas for movies and TV shows.
“I learned it’s possible to make a very good living as a Hollywood screenwriter without ever having a script produced.”David Alan Hall, Hollywood fixer
“I just wasn’t any good at pitching. It wasn’t about being a good writer but about coming up with fantastic gimmicks. Not only was I failing, but I was failing at the wrong thing. That’s when I realized I wanted to write books.”
Hall moved 70 miles up the coast and spent the next decade living on a Christmas tree farm in Ojai, California, teaching himself to write. His 13 self-published books include best-selling Kindle autobiography Raw Talent: Nurturing the Creative Seed Within (2009). “Or as I call it, How to Write a Bestseller About Every Failure You’ve Ever Had. That’s what the book is about. It’s about how I became successful through all my failures.” (A sequel is in the works.)
His Letters to Lost Loved Ones (2014) features two Frogs: Libby Proffer, a former dean of students, and Evelyn Roberts ’79 Med, a former professor of nutrition.
Some of the biggest Hollywood names Hall has worked with he can’t disclose.
“Fixers who can’t keep their mouths shut don’t work for long. I’m a fixer. I’ve had a long career fixing books, scripts, TV shows and movies. The thing about good fixers: You never know their names.”
Courtesy of David Alan Hall
In 2011, Hall fixed the musical score for The Fugitive: The Most Wanted Edition, a classic TV series distributed by CBS/Paramount — checking every note of music in 120 episodes. He made a video about the project.
“That 10-minute video is the only evidence of my career as a fixer that you will find in the public domain,” he said. “I don’t exist unless there’s a problem and then I miraculously appear and fix it — quickly and accurately — and receive no credit. I just take the money and disappear.”
The Fugitive is the only fixer project Hall can talk about on the record. It led to work with franchises at Warner Bros., Marvel Studios, Disney and others.
In addition to working as a story doctor and ghostwriter, Hall said he consulted on sound effects, color palettes and dubbed languages. He remasters and ensures classic TV series, transferred to disc or streamed, are congruent with the original-broadcast version.
“In some cases, without my intervention, certain films simply wouldn’t be available to the public or would be presented incomplete or unfaithfully,” Hall said. “I’m proud of putting my mark on Hollywood in a lasting way.”
Work was slow in 2006, so Hall plunged into digital filmmaking. “When it became clear Hollywood wasn’t going to let me direct movies using their money, I started using my own money.”
Early projects like Evelyn Roberts: The Gourmet (2009) about the beloved TCU professor were well-received by family, friends and strangers who saw it on YouTube.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I don’t need Hollywood to be a filmmaker,’ ” Hall said. “I endeavored to make 100 short movies expressing gratitude to everyone who had helped me throughout my life.”
David Alan Hall documented a cross-country trip with his wife, Jo Anna Grant. Photo by Christina Gandolfo
Hall has written and directed more than 400 personal films and three independent documentary features. Reunion premiered at TCU in 2014 and highlighted the Paschal High School Class of 1983 reunion. Discovering D (2016) is about his late father. Road Trip (2015), promoted by the American Association of People with Disabilities, documented a cross-country trip with wife Jo Anna Grant ’88 (MS ’90).
“I don’t like to travel because it’s really hard, but I have a wife who loves to travel and she had a big birthday coming up. So I said, ‘Let’s rent a car and drive across the United States and Canada and have no time limits and let’s see whoever we want and do whatever we want for as long as we want.’ ”
The 62-day trip turned into a movie project — and changed his life.
Before the road trip, Hall tried to avoid photos with his walker or scooter. “I believed letting myself appear vulnerable was a weakness that would get me rejected personally and professionally. Yet I couldn’t reconcile it,” he said. “On the one hand, when I thought about letting myself appear vulnerable, I saw it as weakness. On the other hand, when I witnessed someone else willing to be vulnerable, I thought it incredibly courageous.”
Once Hall released Road Trip, he said he received messages from disabled people who were inspired by the film.
“I had been wrong about how I saw myself,” Hall said. “Making this movie really changed my life for the better.”
The trip also inspired his latest multimedia project: a photo essay book. Hall said the function of the coffee-table volume is to inspire disabled people to travel by showcasing breathtaking views visible from a vehicle or on accessible paths.
David Alan Hall said that once he embraced the talents he has, instead of those he wished for, he found success. Photo by Christina Gandolfo
Hall said he doesn’t dwell on his disability, but he’s candid about his experiences.
“In the U.S., when it comes to making buildings and parking places accessible, I’m treated like royalty. When it comes to hiring, I still feel like a second-class citizen,” he said. “I will never enter a room and be looked at the same as others. Yet I’ve never let that stop me from doing what I want to do. Sometimes I have to find a back door in, literally and figuratively.
“The internet has been a terrific equalizer in terms of getting me work. When I display my abilities online and get hired sight unseen, my disability isn’t an issue.”
Between his book and fixer projects, Hall finds time to pay it forward. He teaches a master class on Hollywood story development. The one-on-one sessions are tailored to the goals of each student, ranging in age from 13 to 59.
And his classes are free.
“I have all this knowledge and experience and it’s a shame to not share it. I wasted so many years of my career struggling down fruitless paths,” he said. “I’d been in Hollywood 23 years before anyone helped me in a meaningful way. I want to help young people get a good running start at it that I never had.”
After 30 years in Hollywood, Hall said he is content with the career he built. “I’ve lived a creative life. I never sold out, which I paid for dearly, but if I could go back, I’d change very little,” he said. “I’d like to win an Oscar, but I’ve made a decent living without one and have a loving wife and a few true friends. I’m grateful for my hard-earned life.”
Your comments are welcome
You are one of the most wonderful, incredible, inspirational, wonderful, creative, smart giving person I have ever been lucky enough to have in my life. I am so fortunate that our paths have crossed. You have brought so much to so many lives including mine I will be forever grateful.
I was born into this business. I had all kinds of advantages. One of the things I respect about you is moving from Texas to Hollywood without knowing a single soul in this town – and surviving here thirty years. Despite all your disadvantages, you succeeded. And you’re still a nice person.
You do not know me, but I saw your film, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS. I must say that it was so touching and absolutely such a beautiful thing you have done. I was really taken back, in a good way. It’s nice to see someone such as yourself, present such a gracious, humble, awesome thing. Thank you for sharing your talent with others.
David has told me more than once that one of the highlights of his career was working with you, especially at Marvel. We’ll always be grateful.
Jo Anna Grant ’88 (MS ’90)
I read your memoir today. I couldn’t put it down. I badly needed to be reminded of the intrinsic creativity we all have. Somewhere along the way, the idea I could be creative got beaten out of me. I admire your persistence. I admire your willingness to open yourself to possibilities for rejection. What a lesson. I especially appreciated the wisdom you shared. I’m only in my thirties, and I haven’t had to give a lot of thought to my mortality, but I’m getting there. Thanks for writing RAW TALENT with such honesty. I’m grateful to you for reminding me to consider what kind of life I want to have lived when I reach my end.
Wow! “Road Trip” was a big bright shining beacon of light and hope. Without even realizing it, I desperately needed something to uplift me, and your feature film was filled with so much positive energy and love that it’s rejuvenated me. I enjoyed the way you weaved familiar movie and TV clips to tell your own story. I marveled at the sheer number of obstacles you managed to overcome. The idea that even having been married for years, that you and your wife are still finding new ways to get closer to each other really jazzes me. I loved seeing a marriage as a portrait of two people learning and growing together, even after lots of time together. As someone who recently got married, that’s the most incredible and hopeful and exciting thing.
You are a terrific filmmaker, Mr. Hall. Hollywood should be throwing money at you.
David, I didn’t even go to the same high school as you and let me tell you. I got sucked in and watched your entire Reunion movie. It was really cool to see how much heart you put into your work. I wish someone from my class had your talent and generosity. I hope your own class appreciates the magnificent gift you gave them. Thank you, sir.
i had tears in my eyes watching your movie, fixing the fugitive. u are my hero. thank u very much for your dedication 2 this project. the fugitive is my favorite show. i can’t imagine it without rugolo’s music. u have done a great service 2 the fans. your essential contribution 2 saving this classic collection is now part of our cultural history – u saved these films for future generations who would not know any better 2 enjoy. u should be very proud of your accomplishment. Glad 2 read this article and learn that u have done the same for other tv shows and movies. Keep up the good work. b. kane
I just watched Discovering D, the movie about your father. It is a truly beautiful film. Though we have never met, I grew up in roughly the same time and place you did. At points during your movie I thought I was watching my own memories: from television commercials to places and people in the public eye in the Metroplex. I found myself remembering things from my childhood that I hadn’t thought of in years. What a treat! I hummed along with the “4 Country Reporter” theme, and even sang out loud with “Hee Haw.”
I can see why you made a feature-length movie about your father. He was a truly amazing man. He left you a wonderful legacy of love. I can’t imagine he would be anything but tremendously proud of you. Both my parents are gone now, but in your journey to get to know your father better you’ve made me feel closer to my own parents.
Thank you, Mr. Hall, for sharing that precious gift with me.
Thirty years ago you aspired to work in Hollywood. Twenty years ago you finally got a glimpse of our inner circle and told Jen you dreamed of being one of us, “of creating beautiful things for people who craved beauty.” Hollywood treated you less than fair. Year after year you got kicked, knocked down and ridiculed. And every time, you got up stronger. Every time, your unwavering kindness lit your path.
Eight years ago, at your lowest, you still showed so much heart that you finally found yourselves in our inner circle. You told Katie that you knew you’d never be one of us, that you simply wanted a chance to work on the big stage. And work you did. You were content to do the hard labor behind the scenes. You were the first to cheer when we shined. Since then, you’ve helped each of us when we weren’t shining—and never asked anything in return.
Today, look. Read the comments above this one. Appreciate what you achieved. You created more than beauty. You created love and generosity in ways that will inspire others long after the sound and fury from our circle is forgotten.
You said you wanted to be one of us. David, not only are you one of us, you’re the best of us.
Signed, Robert, Steve, Jen, Chris, Katie, Jane (and Margie)
Your movies, your books, your lectures, they don’t have boundaries. YOU make me want to keep reaching and dreaming and striving to be the best me I can be. It’s not possible to convey in words how great of a gift that is. Thank you, Mr. Hall!
— Carrie Shippen
Your life and work help others endure by lifting up their hearts. Thanks for lifting up mine.
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