Filmmaker TJ Lynch Never Gave Up

After Twenty Two Years, It’s Beginning to Pay Off

It's been more than two decades since TJ Lynch, who graduated from Montana State University in 1986, answered the siren's song and left Montana State University with a student Emmy and a coveted internship in Hollywood. He has been in Los Angeles for 22 years, where he found success with stories from his home state.

Lynch is a screenwriter whose script about an incident from his Billings childhood was made into A Plumm Summer. The feature film starring Henry Winkler of Happy Days debuted this spring to critical praise, if modest audiences.
Next summer, Lynch hopes to direct another of his Montana-based scripts, The Beginning of Wisdom. That script won Lynch two prestigious awards and a great deal of credibility in Hollywood. In 1999 he won the Nicholl Fellowship, one of indus-try's most prestigious awards for aspiring screenwriters, as well as the Carl Sautter Memorial Screenwriting Award in 1998.

Still, Lynch warns that sustained work in Hollywood is an exercise in perseverance.

"I encourage [students interested in a career in Hollywood] to take a very honest look at themselves and their abilities and their determination," Lynch said.

"Certainly, if you want to be a filmmaker it's a difficult road."  Lynch's road to Hollywood actually began as an aspiring director. In Billings,  he grew up in a family that operated a flying service and aircraft distributorship. Lynch said recently that his family never really did understand what he was trying to accomplish or why. And while he's sure they would have preferred he go into the family business, they always encouraged him to do what he wanted to do.

"That's a gift many people aren't given by their families," Lynch said.

After he arrived in Los Angeles, Lynch got work as a lighting design-er and gaffer in television and movies. It is work he continues to do on commercials and industrial films to support his screenwriting. He said he had already been in Hollywood for a few years when he began dabbling in screenwriting. He found he had both the aptitude and interest for writing and taught himself the craft by attending workshops and working in his off hours. He was so successful that he was one of five Nicholl Fellowship winners in 1999, a year when there were more than 4,600 entries for the fellowship awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to beginning screenwriters. He wrote A Plumm Summer after receiving a $30,000 cash stipend from the fellowship. Nearly a decade later, Lynch calls the award "A great stroke of luck."

Plumm attracted a great cast, as well as director Caroline Zelder, who also produced the film with Frank Antonelli. Former major league pitcher Scott Erickson served as Executive Producer, as did his wife Lisa Guerrero, who also starred as the character Roxie in the film. The film was shot in Montana two years ago and included Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer in a small role as the town sheriff. Lynch said the principals of the film expect that it will do well in DVD distri-bution. "[The film] should find its audience now," Lynch said, noting that family films have a hard time succeeding financially these days. "It's hard to get all the kids in a minivan and go see a movie when you can watch a DVD or film on your television."

Lynch said profitable movies today cater to the 16-24 year-old demographic that flocks to action and horror movies. Lynch admits that he is catering to that audience, having recently finished a script for a horror feature.

"It turned out quite well," Lynch said of his first horror script, joking that he's adapted the attitude if you can't beat them join them. "I enjoyed writing it immensely... The potential is there to make a good, innovative movie." He said he is also working on a second horror script with a writing partner, but he has no plans to abandon the Montana stories for which he is known.

"I'm finishing another small, intimate Montana story, although I expect that it will be another hard sell," Lynch said. "We'll see where that goes." Lynch also has a novel in the works. But he remains as devoted to filmmaking as he is to his native state.

"I've made a commitment to this career," Lynch said. "So, I have to follow it through."

MSU News Service








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