What I Learned on the Way to 'Graduation' All Things Considered staffer Cory Turner went to film school, paid his dues and finally sold a screenplay. So why — with his movie ready for release — wasn't he happy?
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What I Learned on the Way to 'Graduation'

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What I Learned on the Way to 'Graduation'

What I Learned on the Way to 'Graduation'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, what costs millions of dollars, nine years, and almost one marriage? A little movie called "Graduation." It opens today in five cities around the country.

(Soundbite of movie "Graduation")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) Nobody is going to suspect us.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) I have spent four summers behind that counter. I know how it works. With my dad at graduation, the place is going to be running on a skeleton crew. We can be in and out in 10 minutes.

SIEGEL: This heist movie has almost as many twists as the story behind its making. "Graduation" was written and lived by one of our colleagues here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Cory Turner.

CORY TURNER: Two weeks before graduation, a high-school senior discovers that her father, who runs the local bank, is having an affair. To get back at him, she convinces her three best friends to help her rob his bank. It's a heist, sure, but like all the best movie heists, it's about love, not the money.

Screenwriting is kind of like pulling a heist. Instead of cracking a safe, you're trying to convince a Hollywood studio to finance a movie you probably hatched in the shower.

My heist began in 1998 when I graduated from college and got into film school. I'd always dreamed of living in L.A. and writing movies. Rachel, my girlfriend, wanted us to go to D.C., where she'd always dreamed of working for a relief agency and seeing the world.

My dream won. I wrote "Graduation" in film school and graduated with 40 grand in fresh green debt. That was in 2000. Soon I landed the perfect day job, reading gas meters, which freed up my afternoons to revise the script with my friend, Mike Mayer, who'd later direct the movie.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First came my marriage, in 2001, followed by tens of thousands of gas meters and almost as many rejections from agents and managers who'd read early drafts of the script. Come on, one agent wrote, you've got to have sex by page 70.

Finally, in 2003 we finished the script the way we wanted it and landed an agent who believed in it. She sent it all over town on a Wednesday. And that night Rachel and I waited for the phone to ring, and waited, and waited. After a few hours I turned on the TV and discovered that that night the Iraq war had officially begun. Suddenly people had far more important things to do than read my little heist.

Soon my agent stopped calling. By the winter of 2004, Rachel decided that she'd put off her on dream long enough. She found that relief job and made plans to start traveling. But she wanted me to go with her, which meant abandoning my failed script. I just couldn't do it.

Then, believe it or not, the phone finally rang. A producer of one of that year's Best Picture Oscar nominees wanted to option "Graduation." I met my lawyer at his favorite restaurant, A Little Taste of Hoboken, and he slid the check across the table. I called Citibank just to hear them say, yes, Mr. Turner enough already. Your student loan has been paid in full.

By August of 2005 I was in Pittsburg for the start of the "Graduation" shoot. Rachel was in Kenya. Since then, we've both had our adventures, though mostly apart.

Last year we screened the finished movie for the cast and crew in L.A. Rachel had been in Sudan for months, and our marriage, honestly, was one awkward phone call away from disaster.

That's when it hit me. After nine years I'd actually got my movie made. But I wasn't happy. I'd become that idiot in every romantic comedy I hate who lands the girl of his dreams and then he lets her get away.

This past October I finally said goodbye to L.A. Rachel and I moved to Washington. And tonight we'll be sitting in a darkened theater in Minneapolis, the closest city where we're opening, and together we're going to watch our movie. Now, I'm no Hollywood big shot, and I'm no richer than I was when I started. But like all the best movie heists, it's about love, not the money.

SIEGEL: Cory Turner is an editor at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. He lives with his wife Rachel in Washington, D.C. "Graduation" opens tonight in five cities around the country. And you can see clips from the movie and find reviews of other new films at npr.org/movies.

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