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Hollywood dreams come true for former Sandy High School teacher

A new film starring Robin Williams begins production next month, and a former Sandy resident wrote the screenplay.

Doug Soesbe was only 25 in 1973 when he lived in an apartment in downtown Sandy and taught theater at the high school. He and his students made a movie called “Night of the Teenage Werewolf,” a parody of the 1950s classic “I was a Teenage Werewolf.” The film won a prize at the Portland Art Museum film festival in 1976, the same year Soesbe was finishing a master of fine arts degree at Portland State University. His graduate degree had an emphasis in playwriting.

Next, Soesbe decided to go to Hollywood and take a shot at breaking into the movie business.

And it worked.

“The teaching job was great, but I just knew that if I never gave it a shot that it would be something I would regret,” Soesbe said in a phone interview from his office at NBC Universal, where he works as a script analyst.

In fact, his first Hollywood gig was at the same studio. He says he walked in one day in 1976, took a typing test and got hired as a floating secretary in the script department.

“The funny thing is that in Hollywood, regardless of your degree, if you have a real skill you can get a job,” he said. “I could type very well, so that got me in. I was there when (Alfred) Hitchcock was there. It was really an exciting time.”

Soesbe later moved to TriStar Pictures but recently returned to NBC Universal, where he spends his time reading and evaluating scripts for potential movie production. As a provision of his contract, he can pitch his own screenplays to other studios, as long as NBC Universal gets to look at it first.

That’s what happened with his most recent script, called “Boulevard.” The independent production company Camellia Entertainment bought the script and is financing the production. The big news came when Robin Williams read the script and wanted in.

Soesbe has written and produced three other screenplays, but “Boulevard,” which he wrote seven years ago, is the first one with such a big name attached.

“The key to getting a low-budget film made is you have to find financing,” Soesbe said. “So when you go to a Robin Williams and say we have no money, you can’t really expect him to sign on.”

This “chicken and egg” paradigm, that you can’t get a Robin Williams without money and you can’t get money without a Robin Williams, is a major barrier to independent film making. For this reason, Soesbe is both excited and grateful for the backing. Nonetheless, Soesbe understands the nature of the movie making game.

“The thing that’s changed in Hollywood is you have to have these boffo box office movies,” he said. “Everything has to make a lot of money very quickly.”

The “Boulevard” production, Soesbe said, will not qualify as a “boffo box office” movie, and will be shot with a small budget. The script, about an aging man struggling to come to terms with self-honesty in a passionless marriage, lends itself to a simpler production model.

“It’s very interior,” he said. “It’s an interior drama, and it’s very much Robin Williams in his dramatic mode.”

In the meantime, beyond the excitement and success of his newest project, Soesbe said he feels fortunate to be where he is.

“First of all it’s a steady job, which is rare in Hollywood,” he said. “Nobody quite gets the career they want, but this is just the perfect job for me. It’s that constant exposure to dramatic structure that I really enjoy.”

“Boulevard” starts shooting in Nashville in May.