Alaska's official state nickname is The Last Frontier, and with good reason.
Nearly half the state is uninhabited. At 663,000 square miles, it has enough land to engulf Texas twice over. With room to spare. You can traverse hundreds of miles of interstate and not pass a single car. As the country’s most sparsely populated state, with temperatures that can routinely bottom out at -65 degrees Fahrenheit, Alaska’s terrain isn’t to be taken lightly. Even casual outings must be meticulously planned.
“Every time you go on the road, you could die,” said screenwriter Anna Casadei.
Perhaps it’s that mixture of potentially hazardous travel and population scarcity that makes Alaska the last place you’d expect to meet a screenwriting partner, let alone a significant other. After all, one of the few official residential estimates for the unincorporated community of Clear, AK—where Anna was living when she heard about her future husband, Mark—currently stands at a lowly 24.
Talk about social distancing.
And yet, through their respective acquaintances, Anna and Mark found each other. Their friends knew how long the odds were that two people with such similar passions for filmmaking and screenwriting could end up here, of all places. Mark couldn’t understand it.
“I said, ‘We’re in the middle of a freakin’ frozen tundra, how the hell do you know someone who writes screenplays?’” he recalls, laughing.
It was one evening, in 2007, Mark and Anna met in a bar on-base at Clear Air Force Station.
They’d taken very different journeys across the country—and the world—to arrive in Clear. Mark had spent more than a decade in the Air Force, globetrotting from Germany to Japan to many places in-between working in the Space Program. For her part, Anna had traveled the U.S. helping establish and open restaurants in various states.
In the back of their minds, though, there was always a yearning for a life in the arts. They’d both experienced success in the field on their own. Anna had a literary manager and had already optioned a screenplay. Mark had done everything from serve as technical director for Broadway plays to performing in his country music band in front of millions of viewers on “Good Morning America.” Now here they were, having drinks and sparking a friendship that would one day culminate in a marriage, and the creation of a script that would attract A-list talent.
If all that seems like an uncommon story for a state with the nickname The Last Frontier, perhaps a more suitable summation of how Mark and Anna’s lives dovetailed can be discovered in Alaska’s motto, branded 40 years before they met:
North to the Future.
One of the biggest clichés in film is the long, dramatic slog through the rain.
At the other side of that soaking crucible awaits a crucial life choice. Reuniting with a significant other, confronting the past, repeatedly demanding to know just what exactly Rachel McAdams wants ... (hint—it’s what we all want: Ryan Gosling).
How 19-year-old Mark found himself trudging through the rain on foot, through the streets of Central, New York, was a far different story. He’d grown up in a small town that had a big love for sports, where all his friends either played football or baseball. Mark never fit in with the athletic crowd because, as he puts it, “In my heart, I was an artist.” He tried football and soccer, but they weren't for him. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved to play sports, but it was nowhere near my passion. I was the one who skipped classes to spend hours in the music room playing every instrument I could get my hands on!”
That meant finding meaning in other pursuits. When he was young, he was introduced to piano by his Jewish-Italian grandmother, who had an organ in her house. As Mark grew, he fell in love with music and became proficient with drums and the piano. Soon, he’d taught himself how to play several other instruments. By the time he hit high school, he was in the orchestra pit for Broadway musicals, playing percussion instruments and the piano with them for four years.
Once he graduated high school, his joy of music was superseded by something else: a desire to get out. He’d spent his entire life in a town with a population of around 30,000, and he wanted to travel the world. Like most aspiring adventurers, Mark was broke, and while he’d considered trying his hand at being a professional musician, he had no clue what the immediate future held for him.
Enter the military.
“I was discussing with a few fellow musician friends of mine about going to Chicago to play in a few bands to see how far we could make it. Then that reality of, well, do I really want to live out in a van down by the river doing it … eh, not so much. I needed a stronger foundation!”
“I was talking to a military recruiter one day, and he said, ‘Well, have you ever thought about the Army band?’ And I was like, yeah ... I don’t know if I want to go into the Army,” Mark said.
Then the recruiter reminded Mark of the perks. Namely, the Army would pay for his music degree.
In typical screenwriting fashion, we cut to an exterior shot of Mark, several days later, walking three miles in the pouring rain for an appointment with an Army recruiter. Mark didn’t have a car, and his dad wasn’t available to take him, so this was his Green Day moment—walking a lonely road where only his shadow walked beside him. Or something.
By the time he arrived, Mark was the full embodiment of the Sad David Tenant GIF, not least of all because the recruiter had forgotten the appointment altogether. In lieu of the expected meeting, there was a rousing, celebratory birthday party in the recruiter’s office, while a soaking Mark looked on in disbelief.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams, indeed.
“Honestly, I was pissed! To me it was like the first sign of how the rest of this job is going to go,” Mark said, laughing. “So, here’s me, sort of yelling at the guy in the hallway, and this other recruiter peeks out his door and goes, ‘Mark. Come here. What’s going on?'”
After Mark relayed everything that had happened, the man simply responded: “That’s how the Army treats their people. Let me tell you about the Air Force.”
He signed with the Air Force that same day, prompting a humorous shouting match between the new recruiter and the one who’d forgotten about him. Shortly thereafter, Mark had his first assignment: at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
He was well on his way to seeing the world.
The artist's road to creation can be as lengthy as it is winding, complete with bruising roadblocks that lead to surprising discoveries.
Anna grew up an only child in an even smaller town than Mark in Amherst, Ohio, population ~10,000. Like him, she took to piano at a young age, with her early years spent trying out ballet and tap, which she loved.
She readily admits, though:
"Just because you love doing it doesn’t mean you’re good at it."
And she says she never quite improved on the coordination required for dance. Anna kept searching for creative outlets. She wasn’t great at drawing, she couldn’t make anything out of clay. Then, a life-altering medical condition nudged her in another direction.
When Anna was 12, she developed excruciating lower back pain, and was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a severe slippage of her lumbar vertebrae at a fifty-five degree angle–and the misaligned vertebrae was in danger of severing her spinal column. Without immediate surgery, she would have been paralyzed. The recovery period was extensive, grueling, and transformational. She was in a wheelchair for six months. While walking, she could only go up and down the stairs once a day. Her traditional schooling stopped as she switched over to being tutored at home, in a hospital bed. She lost all her friends.
Anna did what any 12-year-old would do in that situation.
She wrote her first book.
“I loved it. And it was garbage!” Anna said. “But that was kind of when it all started. I wanted to be the next Agatha Christie.”
After a while, Anna recovered. She went back to school and focused once again on music all the way through graduation, embracing her life as a self-described “band geek.” In marching band, jazz band, pep, band, orchestra, and plays and musicals, she’d mastered a variety of instruments, including bass drums and piano. She studied at the famed Oberlin Conservatory throughout her junior and senior years, convinced she’d attend college for piano.
Life had other plans. When Anna approached her family with an opportunity to attend college studying music, their reaction was immediate.
“‘Art is for other people. A creative life is for other people,’” Anna recalls.
“If I wanted my family to pay for my college, it wasn’t going to be for art. It was going to be something more practical.”
And so, the day she turned 18, Anna moved out—on to the next path to artistic discovery.
Creation comes in many forms.
Soon after setting out on her own, Anna found that out firsthand.
When she first left the confines of home, Anna spent a few years couch surfing. She’d worked in food service in a variety of functions since she was 15, ranging from hostess and dishwasher in restaurants to serving food at convenience store delis, so she continued working in that arena. She earned her associate’s degree, then struck a deal with her dad to study something “practical” (a bachelor’s in International Relations with emphasis in French and Russian) at Kent State.
All the while, she was working in culinary arts. One night, Anna was on her shift as a hostess when the sauté chef didn’t show up for work. The executive chef, who knew of Anna’s multifaceted skill set, asked if he could pull her off the floor to fill in for the night.
“I said sure, we’ll try it out,” Anna remembers saying.
“If you’re that desperate to pull the hostess off the floor and throw her in the back-of-the-house in a trial-by-fire situation on a Friday night, then let’s go!”
The verdict once the trial was finished?
“I was a rock star! It was the first thing that I had loved, because it was creating and making. Even though it’s food, it was still a hands-on thing.”
That night proved to be consequential. In the months that followed, Anna was offered a sous chef position with a great salary. She dropped out of college (one semester short of finishing) and eventually became part of an “opening team” that travelled the country and established new locations for restaurants across America. It was a lengthy process that included training staff in how to make dishes, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of new hires, and performing cold opens to prepare everyone for the real thing.
Through all this, one of Anna’s responsibilities stood out more than any of the others.
She was a “hatchet woman.”
“I hated it,” she said. “I mean, who likes to fire people? Who likes to be the bad guy?”
In an effort to make the process more humane for everyone involved, Anna would sit down with people and actually talk with them. What was going on in their lives? How were their families? What did they want to do, other than work in a restaurant?
“It turned into a counseling session,” Anna said. “I was life-coaching these people.”
That part of her job left such an impression that it would eventually serve as the inspiration for her first solo screenplay, Pink Slipped, a few years down the road. In the meantime, Anna helped open almost half a dozen restaurants over a two-year span throughout the Midwest, including Des Moines, Iowa and Minnetonka, Minnesota. At some point, she took a step back from sous chef/opening team duties, opting for jobs as a barista and a line cook. That’s when she decided she simply wanted to pack up and move—there was nothing keeping her in Minnesota. She made a list of possible places, including Montana and Alaska, among others, and polished her resume, preparing for a move anywhere.
Then she saw it.
A giant advertisement in a newspaper that asked a question too pointed and too topical for her to ignore. It was only eight words long, but as far as Anna was concerned, the question sealed her fate:
Have you always wanted to live in Alaska?
Anna and Mark like to joke that Anna “volunteered” to go to Alaska (twice, actually ... more on that later).
But Mark? Well, he was sent there.
After joining the Air Force, Mark embarked on an adventurous career that saw him live in cities and countries around the world. He especially fell in love with Misawa, a city in northern Japan, and came to see Germany as “a central hub” that allowed him to visit the likes of Spain, France, Italy, and Denmark. Back in the states, he was stationed in the desert of New Mexico and, for his penultimate assignment, the tundra of Alaska.
One of the proudest moments of Mark’s military career, though, happened before Alaska. In one of his assignments, he was responsible for detecting and tracking objects in space (as he puts it, “It’s a complete garbage of a mess out there. Think over tens of thousands of satellites and debris all traveling at incredible speeds. It’s really a dance of destruction just waiting to happen.”
One night, at around 2 a.m., he and his crew were tracking NASA’s Space Shuttle and determining its orbit when they noticed an object was about 10 miles away. Not only that, but it was headed directly for the shuttle—at 17,500 miles per hour. The shuttle was arriving on orbit to start a mission of fixing the Hubble Space Telescope and initiate repairs, and if the object collided with them, everyone would die. Mark’s crew crunched some numbers, used the fabled “Red Phone” to contact United States Space Command, and relayed their calculations.
Soon after, Mark’s crew was given extraordinary news: theirs was the only crew who’d detected the object, and once NASA was given their calculations, it had effectively saved the lives of everyone aboard the Shuttle, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope.
“We didn’t really think too much of it at first, but the fact that everything lined up the way it did with the Shuttle, it made for kind of a scary moment. The issue was, you can only do so much. Then you just wait ... and wait to hear if it was successful or not. It’s human life you're running numbers against. There is a massive network that pours tons of radar data and calculations into space missions. You just hope everyone does their job … and well at that! Nothing was more of a relief than your commander showing up at 4 a.m. to tell you that the Space Command General wanted to personally give his thanks to our crew.” Mark said.
“It was definitely one of the coolest points of my military career."
The thing with Mark, though, is he was never just engaged in his military career. In the years leading up to his tenure in Alaska, Mark could be caught serving as a part-time Sheriff’s Deputy (in two states), a DJ for an 80s Power Hour radio show, or technical directing the broadcast of "Miss America." He even became part of a country music band that eventually played in front of millions of viewers during a broadcast in Albuquerque.
“I love the arts so much that I always made sure I found time for them, no matter what,” Mark said. “That's the thing about the arts—it can bring you so much joy that all you want to do is share it in the best, creative way possible.”
By the time Mark got to Alaska, Anna had come and gone—and returned once more. After stumbling across that life-changing newspaper ad, she’d lived in the state one summer, working as an assistant dining room manager in Denali National Park. She moved to Tahoe, CA soon after for another culinary job, only to develop a host of life-threatening food allergies. A recommendation was made to her: move somewhere rural.
Her mind went back to her previous pitstop. “What’s more rural than Alaska?”
This time, Anna stayed for more than a decade, and it was during her second stay that she took to screenwriting. A friend from college approached her about helping with a film, and Anna, who admits she didn’t know how to write screenplays, started scouring for resources. She found books on the craft, poured over prominent screenwriter John August’s blog. It was a welcome respite from the cold, which Anna found to be a nuisance at best—and stifling at worst.
“I didn’t want to go outside, because I hate, hate the cold weather,” Anna said.
“And I thought, this gives me something to do. Writing gives me something to do when it’s 60 below outside. Writing kept me sane.”
Doing her first pass on her friend’s script proved to be an “aha” moment: she realized this is what she wanted to do. She researched taking classes through UCLA online, where she found out she’d have to finish her bachelor’s degree to apply (the same degree she’d stopped one semester short of completing). So, she signed up for two courses at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A library class, and an elective, Introduction to Film, which she calls “one of the best classes I’ve ever taken.”
After that, she applied and was accepted into UCLA online, where she completed two scripts, one of which was the aforementioned Pink Slipped, based on her experience firing employees.
Around this time, Mark was getting his own real-world Alaskan education in filmmaking. He helped a friend with a short film, then began shooting internet commercials. You know, those 30-second videos that grace the front-pages of websites, which most people scroll past to find what they’re really looking for? Mark’s responsible.
“When I was doing that, this guy says, ‘I got a friend of mine who’s a screenwriter,’ and I was like, ‘In Alaska?!'” Mark said.
Anna had heard something similar from one of her acquaintances too—apparently there was a guy nearby who was interested in writing and filmmaking.
Turns out, Anna and Mark lived in the same small town. They were shocked. Alaska was already expansive and sparsely populated, and the community of Clear was even more so (it ranks as one of the least populated communities in one of the least populated states in the country).
“We called it Clear in the middle of nowhere,” Mark said. “And it really is!”
*To get some geographic perspective: Clear, Alaska, is almost as far away from Japan (3,400 miles) as it is from Los Angeles (3,300 miles).
Whether kismet, serendipity or something in between, the two were introduced, and met in a bar, based on completely platonic intentions, and realized they shared a mutual love for cinema. At this point, Anna had far more experience than Mark when it came to writing. She’d already gotten representation. One of her scripts had been optioned. Mark had his experience with shorts and commercials. That first meetup led to weekly, Wednesday night sessions, where Anna and Mark would talk film, writing, and pitch ideas to each other, all in a bar in Alaska. They wrote their first joint screenplay, Rapture, a sci-fi narrative based on their experiences in the state, and it included some well-known Alaskan iconography, like the Northern Lights.
“We hit it off really well and became really good friends, honestly, once I saw the red hair, it was all over.” Mark said.
“But it was short-lived.”
About six months after they met, the military came knocking. The New York Air National Guard had a job opening supporting the National Reconnaissance Office (aka, spy satellites), and thought Mark would be perfect for it. However, it would mean a cross-country move back to the East Coast. Mark broke the news to Anna, and they agreed to keep in touch and try their hand at long-distance screenwriting.
“It was by far the hardest thing I had to do. Saying goodbye to someone you connect with so much on a deep level that it’s literally tearing you apart just standing there in front of them,” said Mark.
Just like that, what seemed like a fateful one-in-a-million chance encounter was undone, and Mark headed back to his hometown in New York, the place he’d left years ago to explore the world.
In a twist of fate, Anna and Mark ended up back where they’d grown up—after a concerted effort to leave it all behind.
Three years after Mark departed for upstate New York, Anna returned to her own home state of Ohio. Before leaving Alaska, though, she’d made some strides. She’d reached out to Blake “Save the Cat!” Snyder over social media, seeking him out for advice, which led to a great mentorship. When she optioned her script Pink Slipped, Anna reached back out to Snyder, who connected her with his own manager. The next thing Anna knew, her film had been greenlit with a $20-million budget and stars attached. It happened fast, and it felt like a fairytale.
“And then,” Anna said, “Up in the Air was announced.”
Academy-award nominated writer/director Jason Reitman was helming, and George Clooney was already attached. “Even though the scripts were different genres, both movies had a similar premise. They were about guys who fire people.” Soon after, Anna said, the decision came from on high: “They shut us down.”
A few years later, Anna was back in Ohio, setting up shop in her father’s basement. She and Mark hadn’t followed through on the initial intention to stay in touch after he relocated back to New York. All told, they lost touch for about three years, save for the sporadic Facebook message or comment.
In true romantic fashion, it took an Applebee’s in the middle of nowhere to rekindle the connection. Mark had to attend a meeting at the Naval Research Center, which, as luck would have it, was in Dayton, Ohio. Anna was four hours away in Amherst.
Mark couldn’t let this pass without reaching out.
“I got on Facebook and I asked, ‘Hey, did I hear you right? Are you actually back in Ohio?’” Mark said. “I had a meeting at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. How could I pass that up if I got a chance to see her.”
They agreed to each drive two hours and meet in the middle. It turns out their midpoint was so sparsely populated, there was only one restaurant within miles in each direction.
It was time to eat good in the neighborhood.
“Sparks flew at the Applebee’s!” Mark says, laughing.
Over a 90-minute dinner, the two caught up, talked about screenwriting, and Mark even dropped a confession bomb—he had a crush on Anna.
“Thank God she didn’t laugh at me or slap me,” he said. “I was relieved she felt the same way!”
They went their separate ways, but spent the next year and a half in a long-distance relationship, seeing each other a few times when Mark volunteered for more assignments in Ohio. Eventually, Mark decided to take the plunge, and asked Anna if she wanted to get married and move in with him in New York.
Shortly after that, Mark retired out of the military, and they both began the next leg of their improbable, winding journey together:
Tackling the film industry as husband and wife.
Anna and Mark plan everything, so it would stand to reason that they’d map out their very first steps as a married writing team.
“I sat down and said, all right, what do we want to do with our lives from here? What’s our mission and what is the goal?” Mark said.
“We finally got to a point where we met someone who had the same hopes, the same dreams, the same passion in the arts. Let’s make it happen.”
They ironed out a five-year plan. Picked out companies from IMDb Pro that would fit their stories. Identified competitions and fellowships.
The couple decided to participate in their first pitchfest, though there was a slight complication ahead of the pitch.
Namely, the script wasn’t finished.
No big deal, Mark thought. He and Anna had written 3/4 of it, and had outlined the rest. Pitching their high-concept buddy comedy script to Tapestry Films, which had recently found huge success with Wedding Crashers, seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up. The whole thing would be done virtually—though this was years before COVID-19, many pitchfests were already being done over Skype and Zoom. They agreed to do it, but because they were visiting Anna’s dad that same weekend, Anna told Mark he would have to handle it on his own.
“So, I launch into the pitch, and the executive literally looks at the camera, and he’s says, ‘Stop, Mark, just stop,’” Mark said.
“And I thought, ‘Oh crap, what hell did I do?’”
Mark had only pitched scripts a few times before, and he was worried maybe he still didn’t have the art of it down, yet. The executive looked down, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes.
“Then he just goes, ‘Send it to me. I want to read this Monday morning. It sounds freakin’ hilarious!’”
That was amazing to hear, except for the part where it wasn’t finished yet. A weekend that was supposed to be dedicated to spending time with Anna’s dad instead shifted over to cranking out the final act of their screenplay. Come Monday, they sent the script off to the executive, having finished it in a dead sprint. Two weeks later, they received a phone call telling them the exec loved the script, and that he wanted to take it to the development team.
Anna and Mark spent the next three months in development, honing the script and making improvements. And then, in classic Hollywood fashion, they received the dreaded, “It’s not you … ” phone call from the exec.
“The exec called and said, ‘You know, look guys. I’m sorry. It was a wonderful project, but it’s just not going to happen.’” Mark said.
“It really bummed us out, because it was our first, big potential break. Come to find out, the guy left the company and our project died when he left.”
But, he adds, “We knew those heartbreaks are always going to happen, so we pressed on. Onward and upward.”
They spent the next few years writing a whole host of things, ranging from features to pilots. Though Anna had already written multiple scripts, they were with another writing partner. Now that she was married to Mark, the two wanted to focus on building a portfolio together.
“We realized we liked comedy, we liked sci-fi, and we liked horror,” Anna said.
“So, we started writing one of each, just to see.”
Some placed in competitions. Others scored highly in, or won, film festivals. During this time, they’d also tried to save up some money. They were writing just fine in New York, but in terms of networking, they decided it might be time to pay a visit to the West Coast. They went through social media, began curating relationships, and reached out to people they’d had previous interactions with. If writing their own scripts felt like a business, Mark thought, why not treat their scripts like a product?
“It’s business 101 once you type 'The End,'” Mark said.
“Now, you must focus on marketing your product, making those connections to get reads and figure out who would fit your product. That’s where a lot of writers stop, which works against them.”
In 2016, Mark and Anna made it official: it was time to trade in the windy, bitter, New York weather for the warm, hospitable, California sun rays of Los Angeles.
“Anyone who says you have to live in L.A. to break into feature films is full of it.”
When asked about permanent relocation to the West Coast to further one’s feature screenwriting career, Mark doesn’t mince words.
“Sorry, was that out loud? It’s funny how controversial that statement is alone but that’s because you have a generation of people who did it the old way. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of areas you have to live in L.A. for this business. Television being one of them. But breaking into writing for feature films can be done from anywhere. Sure, your networking opportunities may be a little harder but honestly in this day and age of technology, it is a lot easier. The goal is creating great relationships that last. Be true to your goals, self and other people! Kindness wins above all."
For screenwriters, the prospect of whether or not to move to Los Angeles is one of the most asked questions in the industry, up there with “Why are my residuals 13 cents?” and “How many em-dashes are too many em-dashes?” (answer: you can—never—have—enough).
In terms of moving, there was no such internal debate for Mark and Anna. They liked New York, and didn’t feel it was necessary. Instead, they enacted an approach akin to a precision strike. Network with people online, set up meetings with their manager in advance, pick a one-week period to stay in the City of Angels, and get their names out there as much as possible before heading back to the East Coast.
“We would start with one trip a year,” Anna said. “Then we went to two trips a year, and before COVID, we were up to three trips.”
They had it down almost like a science. They’d take generals, have a lunch meeting with an exec, more generals, a dinner with another exec, then coffee the following morning with yet someone else. One such meeting, with an MPCA exec, turned into a years-long relationship that led to annual and bi-annual meetups whenever the couple showed up back in town. Anna and Mark would come to L.A., the exec would ask to see one-sheets of what they were working on, and they’d go their separate ways. She agreed to read their specs, if and when they had some ready, an offer they took her up on for a Hallmark-type romantic comedy they wrote.
“When I look back at it now, I think that was kind of her way of saying, ‘Are these guys dedicated to it?’” Mark said.
“Are they really going to be somebody we can work with in the future? Are they really going to put 100 percent into it?”
That was a question that would soon be answered. About a year after sending the romantic comedy to the exec, she called to tell them MPCA had picked it up, and they were attached.
And thus, in 2018, Mark and Anna had their first official contracted paid development deal. (A few years later, during the pandemic, they landed their second film deal with the same exec and the same company.)
All of this without living in L.A.
“The bottom-line is, with how we’re connected to the world today, being a film writer means you can live anywhere,” Mark said.
“But you have to put in the work to network. If you’re not networking, it doesn’t matter where you live. You can live in L.A., but if you never network, you’ll never make it as a screenwriter.”
"When do you know you've made it?"
It’s a question artists of all stripes are asked. For screenwriters, the answers can vary widely. Is it when you find representation? When you sign your first contract? When your first industry paycheck arrives in the mail?
That feeling of belonging can take a while to attain, and it can be even harder to define. After Mark and Anna found success with their romantic comedies, they also started diving into horror features. It’s something that might seem wildly divergent from their rom-com work, but in fact, it’s part of the branding they use to set themselves apart.
“That’s our brand: Hallmark to horror,” Mark said.
“That’s how we started pitching ourselves. I’m a goofball by heart, but I love the horror world and the sci-fi world, and Anna does, too. But we had to have the horror films to back it up.”
They proceeded to write a horror feature, Murder Hill, with the intention of possibly filming it themselves. Raising capital proved difficult, but they saw a tweet from someone named Matthew, requesting horror scripts with budgets ranging from $1-$5 million. They submitted it, and a few months later, when they were gearing up for their next L.A. trip, Matthew reached out and set up a meeting.
They met, and in typical industry fashion, Matthew said he loved the writing, and wanted to know what else they had. And, in typical Mark and Anna fashion, they had something else to give him.
“We gave them The Benefactor, another horror script we’d written, and we also gave them a comedy pilot, and a couple of other things, just to see if anything sticks,” Anna said.
They set a final meeting later in the week, which went better than they ever could have expected. Not only did Matthew love The Benefactor enough to select it for production, he’d already found a director, who then walked in the door: David Carson, a career TV director, as well as the director of Star Trek: Generations.
“David Carson sits down and, in his lovely British accent, tells us he loved our story, and that out of 200-plus submissions, we’re selecting yours,” Mark said.
“And he goes, ‘We’re gonna contact your rep, we’re going to get an agreement in place, and we would love to move forward on this project.’”
A little while later, they received even more unexpected good news. A lead actor was attached, and it was none other than legendary performer Malcolm McDowell. David Carson had brought him the project, and McDowell fell in love with it.
Anna and Mark were beside themselves.
“People have asked us, when do you feel like you’ve made it? Everyone has their different story of when it feels like that. But this, for us? Right here was validation. Maybe we are good enough to do this,” Mark said.
“Then the Deadline article came out, and everything kind of exploded from there.”
Two days after, Anna and Mark got a call from their manager, who’d just gotten off the phone with Die Hard with a Vengeance producer, Robert Lawrence. He’d read the Deadline article about The Benefactor and wanted to see if Anna and Mark might want to tackle a project for him.
“That really blew our minds,” Mark said.
“Someone called our manager—requesting us.”
Anna and Mark pitched their take on the idea, and Lawrence not only loved it, he decided the idea should be a three-part franchise.
“So, really, that small, little Deadline article, which was only four or five sentences, turned into a wonderful opportunity with a well-known producer,” Mark said.
When Anna and Mark look back on their own separate journeys from their hometowns, across the country, to Alaska, and then back again, they focus in on a few, key pieces of advice for up-and-coming writers.
“We always tell people to be authentic. That’s one of the biggest things that helped us connect with people,” Mark said.
“Be persistent. Success is different for everybody,” she said. “We paid our bills last year with option money. If that’s not the start of success, I don’t know what is.”
*Feature Photo: Mark and Anna Casadei