In 1999 when Rex sat down to write the novel Sideways, he had absolutely no idea what was about to happen. He was dead broke and like his first person narrator Miles (Paul Giamatti in the Oscar-winning movie; him in real life), he was waiting on word on his first novel from the NY publishers. Rejection letters were near 100 and time was running out.
17 years later, the “Sideways effect” as it’s known, has not faded with time, only deepened as a phenomenon. Pinot Noir, a little known grape at the time – and the grape variety my character Miles rhapsodizes about in both novel and movie — is on every wine list and has nearly quadrupled in sales. Merlot, the wine that Miles reviles, tumbled into a severe recession that has not abated to this day. Sideways the movie has drawn millions of tourists to the Santa Ynez Valley where Rex’s book was set and where the movie was shot. Every location in the movie — from Hitching Post restaurant to Los Olivos Cafe to the Windmill Inn — has profited millions from tourists hungry to experience the authenticity of their beloved, now officially cult, movie.
Sideways the movie went on to win over 350 awards from critics and awards organizations. It sits sentinel on the prestigious Writers Guild of America’s list of 101 Greatest Screenplays of All Time, as well as their 101 Funniest Screenplays of All Time.
In this presentation, Rex shares how he made resilience his friend, maintained his passion and wrote his way into a piece of immortality.
Rex was living the typical starving artist lifestyle, trying to be a successful writer. Than at the age of 40, his semi-autobiographical tragi-comic novel of midlife crisis became an Oscar-winning film that changed the wine industry and became known worldwide.
Rex took control of Sideways, his intellectual property, and began to mine its gold. It’s now a hit play, with stagings in L.A., La Jolla Playhouse and London. Traveling the world, from Chile to Italy to the U.K., Rex continues to write and entertain, and be rewarded for his overnight success.
When Rex Pickett was 19 years old he took two gap quarters from the University of California at San Diego and read the entire Collected Works of the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. From this deep immersive reading of Jung he learned about myth, religion, the archetypes of the psyche and the collective unconscious. Without knowing it, he had unwittingly stumbled onto the secret of great storytelling.
It took two decades of toiling with the craft of independent filmmaking and writing screenplays and novels before Rex hit on what he calls his magic formula of combining the personal with the fictional. Thus, Sideways was born. Story is conflict, and conflict must needs resolution. In conflict there is both drama and humor, and sometimes, like a fine wine that needs both ripe fruit and bracing acidity, both.
Rex took the risk of going where many of his contemporaries were too afraid to go. He didn’t follow the path that others wanted for him, but rather chose to be guided by the compass of his instinct and imagination. Rex has never looked back. Today, his films and writings are enshrined in an archive in that same University of California at San Diego.
There used to be gatekeepers to the content riches: the old guard of media. Now the Internet is rapidly changing not only who controls content, but what that content is. Film, TV, and publishing find themselves in a new Wild West again. The rules are changing monthly, it seems. No one knows where the dust will settle, if it will. One thing is for certain: digital is giving everyone a chance to be a creative. But, what does that mean for people who want to try their hand at writing, or filmmaking, or …?
Rex has seemingly done it all. He’s written/directed two indie features in the tough analog days. He’s published with traditional publishers and self-published. He’s written screenplays on spec and written them for big studios for hire. He’s also written a successful play, and continues to stage it around the world. He’s a professional writer, in all mediums — film, TV, publishing, and theater — and not a day goes by that Rex doesn’t cogitate on where content is going and how it affects what he’s going to commit to next. Explore the changing landscape of content with Rex and discuss where success is most likely to be achieved.
Rex Pickett is the author of the novel Sideways, upon which the Oscar-winning Alexander Payne film of the same title was adapted. The film won over 350 critics and awards organizations prizes, including the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It not only was critically acclaimed but it transformed the wine industry and set in motion a tourist mecca to the Santa Ynez Valley — where the film is set — a mecca which continues unabated to this day. The screenplay for the film sits prestigiously on the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Greatest Screenplays of All Time and their 101 Funniest Screenplays of All Time, the only title in the new millennium to appear on both lists.
Rex’s writing career ranges from indie filmmaking to screen and TV to novels to, today, playwriting. Sideways (the play) was first performed at the Equity-waiver Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica, CA, where it ran for a record-shattering 6 months. It transferred to the 400-seat Potiker Theater at the La Jolla Playhouse where it broke all attendance records for a non-musical in their august 35-year history. It will now have its European world premiere at the St. James Theatre in London on May 31st, 2016, and from there travels to all of Europe.
Rex also wrote the Academy Award winning Best Live Action Short of 2000, My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York.
Rex is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of California at San Diego, and his papers and films are now archived in Special Collections at UCSD’s Geisel Library. He is currently working on a TV series he created, Addicted USA, as well as adapting his Sideways 3 Chile novel for the screen. In addition, with his newfound love for theater, he has begun writing a new work for the stage. He currently lives in Del Mar, CA.