Graham Gordy has taken the long way around to television success as a writer, especially considering his first passion was acting. He looks back to his early childhood to pinpoint his love of the craft.
“I was eight or nine when I did my first stage play and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s 150 people applauding for me. This is the best thing I have ever felt in my entire life,’” he says.
Gordy couldn’t shake that “immediate affirmation,” and decided to roll with it.
Thus, he found his home on the stage, and he followed the local opportunities for as long as he could.
“[T]here was this woman in Conway at the time who had this children’s theater and it was amazing. We went there during the summers and made visual art during the morning and worked on our plays in the afternoon. And then in my early teens I started doing stuff at the UCA theater,” he explains.
He also began working with the Arkansas Repertory Theatre as well, which had a lasting effect on him. He remembers, “When I was 19 we did Charles Portis’ only play that he ever wrote in a black box theater there, and Portis was there in the back of the room. At that time, I was like, ‘I don’t know who this grumpy old guy is.’”
He decided he needed more, and in order to get more acting under his belt he moved to Los Angeles to get involved with the Groundlings – a pretty well-known improvisation and sketch comedy theatre that has been entertaining LA audiences for over 40 years. That experience proved to mark his turning point.
“I realized the level of commitment that it required to be a really great actor [and] make a living at it, and my ambition was just not strong enough,” he says, “So, I got into sketch writing and when I came back to finish up school, I started writing plays.”
Gordy studied English and philosophy at UCA before heading to NYU to get an MFA in playwriting. When graduation came tailored with a $150,000 student debt price tag, he knew then that he had to do something.
Unlike some of his peers, Gordy didn’t have a nice affluent cushion to allow him to really hone his craft, he needed to find a way to pay the bills.
He managed to stay in New York for a time, working for a playwright and screenwriter, who was also a mentor to him. Unfortunately he was literally scraping by, so that when the chance came, Gordy jumped at the opportunity to work with Mike Myers in writing The Love Guru (2008).
“It was a really hard choice. It’s so hard to try to find a way to commodify [your art, and then you think, why would you want to?] I sat at that crossroads for a very long time. I could have gotten a regular job and tried to write plays at night and stayed in New York, or I could try to take this opportunity to make a go of it in screenwriting or TV.”
When he came back to Little Rock that same year, Gordy was absolutely ecstatic about the progression of the film scene. At the time the Little Rock Film Festival (LRFF) was going strong, and he saw a great potential for budding artists.
He says, “The first year I saw [the LRFF], I thought, ‘Hey, there’s some really good stuff here.’ And to see that the same people kept making films and new people kept getting involved and every year the competition was stronger and the films were better – it was just like, ‘This is all it takes.’”
The loss of the festival was a huge blow to Gordy – “It really is remarkable how much talent there is around here…. I am completely gutted that the LRFF is gone.”
And, along the same vein, Gordy is crushed that Quarry, the series he’s co-writing which has garnered a lot of attention, couldn’t call Arkansas home either.
This particular series has been a long time coming, not just the creation of it, but the fact that Gordy is finally doing what he wants to do and attempting to make a living do so – “[Quarry] is the first time after twenty years of trying to do this that I’ve ever made a living at it without going further into debt,” he explains.
While Arkansas has incentives for filmmakers to come create here, the problem for Quarry and other projects has been that it’s still not quite enough. Thus, the first season was filmed in Louisiana and Tennessee.
Nevertheless, Gordy has decided to keep at it in his home state.
He says, “[I]f we can’t bring the big stuff here, then let’s try to build this from the ground up. … And the plan is to really do films that matter to us, ideally, one a year, assuming that they continue to build and make profits. Now, that’s not going to get us sound stages but hopefully a lot of those people who would be moving to Los Angeles, Atlanta or New Orleans might stick around here more. Hopefully that will help build what’s already being established. If my job is hard, than making a living as a documentarian must be that much harder.”
Over the course of his life, Gordy has found that he keeps coming back to the South as a subject, and why not? Why shouldn’t the man stay and work in Arkansas, in the South he knows? If he knows anything, it’s that he’s not leaving anytime soon.