Tag Archives: Max Lance

Max Lance’s Life Journey: “Not As Stupid As I Thought”

“Life is a journey — not a destination.”

Every adult knows that cliche to be true. Every young person who hears it rolls their eyes.

The other day, Staples High School Class of 2002 graduate Max Lance looked back at his journey on Facebook. That’s normally not the place for long-form writing — but it’s fascinating, and worth passing along.

So this is for every parent who worries about a child’s life choices — and every teenager who wonders what the future may hold. Max writes:

Ten years ago, I was a caustic and combative 23-year-old kid who considered myself a complete failure and blamed everyone else for my mistakes. I dropped out of NYU 3 years earlier to pursue stand-up comedy for a living, because I was certain that was a sound life plan.

My career had gone nowhere, I had over $70,000 of student loans for a degree I never finished, I couldn’t hold down a relationship or a job. I watched a lot of my comedy friends get very successful, and it felt like everyone I went to high school with was working on Wall Street and had their own 2-bedroom apartments on 2nd Avenue in the 60s.

Realizing something had to change and maybe a college degree wouldn’t be a total waste, I applied to the USC School of Cinematic Arts for screenwriting. I figured that if I got in, I’d move to L.A. and finish my degree. I was admitted, but in my first week of orientation I learned I couldn’t just complete my last 2 years of college and get a bachelor’s. I had to attend 4 years of undergrad from the beginning.

Max Lance in 2012, at Fenway Park. He was working on a soccer project with the Liverpool team. They were in Boston to play Roma in an exhibition match.

I rebooted. I took on another $50,000 of debt and worked harder than I ever did in my life. I interned, I worked part-time jobs around my class schedule. And I wrote like crazy. Every single day, churning out features, pilots, and specs, all of them pretty terrible. I was especially proud of a script called “Eskimo a Go Go,” about a team of ragtag Alaskan strippers. The rights are still available.

I realized I lacked the natural talent for writing that a lot of my classmates had. If I wanted to make anything of my life and career, I would have to substitute extremely hard work, perseverance, and stubbornness. I would also have to get over my go-it-alone mentality and learn that maybe everyone else wasn’t a total idiot.

Max found a writer’s group on CraigsList. He continues:

I also volunteered with a non-profit called Young Storytellers, mentoring 5th graders to write a 5-page script that is then performed by professional actors in front of their whole school. Honestly, I only volunteered because I heard it was a good way to get a writer’s assistant job. I never really cared for kids that much.

While I never got the job, I did meet another volunteer. She was the happiest, most optimistic, funniest, most beautiful, and creative person I ever encountered. Three weeks later Jen Bailey and I had our first date, a picnic in the park because I was too poor (and cheap) to afford a real activity.

The small writers’ group met every Tuesday night for the past 8 years. Fellow members earned accolades and awards. Max did not.

After continuing to bang my head against the wall with comedies that went nowhere, I had an idea for a heartfelt dramedy with a female lead. I really wanted to write a great part for my actress fiancée, who had finally convinced me that marriage wasn’t the worst thing. As much as Jen supported my writing, and as much as she agreed that I was an expert on women, she thought she might be able to offer a bit of help when it came to writing the script’s female roles. We co-wrote our first movie together, “Best Funeral Ever,” and submitted it to Nicholl — the most prominent amateur screenwriting contest in the world — a few weeks before we got married in 2015.

Max Lance

That fall, after a failed career in stand-up and a decade in screenwriting that went nowhere, Jen and I reached the finals of the Nicholl with the first movie we wrote together. We got to the top 12 of the contest, but were not in the winning 5. There were a lot of silver linings — we got repped and the script went into development — but we didn’t win. And we weren’t making any money off writing.

Last winter, I came to terms that screenwriting would always be a fun and creative hobby on the side. I could write for an hour first thing every morning, but I had more of a gift for finance and accounting than storytelling. I got a part-time job doing finances for a book publisher, which I’ve really loved. But Jen decided we were having a baby and I needed to find a way to pay for the kid in her growing belly. I realized I would need to find a good salary, health insurance, and a 401(k). I put out a call for full-time accounting jobs.

Around that time we had an idea for a new script. We were huge fans of The People v OJ Simpson. We watched the show every Tuesday and drank a carton of orange juice. We thought it’d be fun to spec the O.J. show by writing the story of the “If I Did It,” book deal and TV interview between O.J. and publisher Judith Regan.

We wrote a badass, complicated and powerful female lead who carried the script. We took our writer’s group’s advice every step of the way. They suggested we tack an extra 40 pages to the TV script and submit the feature for the Nicholl.

In September Jen’s belly grew to the point where we both weighed the same. The job hunt had advanced to where I received multiple full-time accounting job offers. Meanwhile our script, “The Queen of Sleaze,” advanced in the contest, all the way to the top 10 finalists. It was only the 3rd time ever that anyone reached the finals twice with 2 different scripts.

On September 27, 2017, I got the best news of my life. Jen gave birth to our daughter, Bayley Makena Lance, at 3:07 p.m. She weighed 8 pounds, 13 ounces, looks exactly like her mother, sleeps for most of the night, and made me cry with joy more in the first 33 hours of her life than the first 33 years of mine. She is currently sleeping on my belly while I balance my computer on my lap and punch this out. It is the happiest and most content I have ever felt in my life.

Max, Jen and Bayley Lance.

Five days after giving birth, Jen and I were notified that we won the Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. It was the 10th time I entered the contest, with 8 different scripts. I turned down the full-time accounting jobs.

I wish I could feel like I’m amazing and really talented and lucky, but none of that mattered in the slightest. I stopped pretending that I knew everything. I put my faith and trust in other people, and surrounded myself with highly talented, smart and creative friends. I listened to what they had to say.

Rather than seeing someone new as competition or a contact, I started looking at other creative people as allies. I decided that quitting wasn’t an option, so I forced myself to wake up early every day, and write no matter what.

Best of all, when I met the most amazing woman in the world, I didn’t run away from the terrifying prospect of marriage and family. Granted, I wouldn’t say I sprinted towards it either. Jen dragged me toward family and stability like a lop-sided tug-of-war match. But when I fell into the mud, I dove head first.

I wouldn’t tell any of this to the pissed off 23-year-old version of myself who felt like his life was going nowhere. I wouldn’t ask for a do-over on any of the mistakes he made, or make any changes along the way. But with my baby girl on my stomach, some money in the bank, and the future looking brighter than ever, I am so unbelievably happy that he wasn’t as stupid as I thought.

(Hat tip: Jordan Schur)

Max Lance’s Liverpool

Despite growing up in the soccer hotbed of Westport, Max Lance never played the sport.

But he spent much of this summer hanging out with Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and the rest of the Liverpool team — one of the most famous in the world — at their training facility, and historic Anfield Stadium.

Sure, it was a job. Max is a production assistant on “Being: Liverpool,” Fox Soccer’s answer to HBO’s fly-on-the-wall sports offerings “Hard Knocks” and “24.”

Max Lance at Fenway Park, for the Liverpool-Roma match.

But Max is not one of those soccer-haters or “we-kick-a-touchdown” dilettantes who lucked into a gig others would kill for.Despite never playing, he’s as passionate about “the beautiful game” as any Staples Wrecker, or every ex-pat who follows his home club in Colombia or Croatia every weekend by satellite from his Westport couch.

Max is a soccer junkie who came late to the game.

At Staples — from which he graduated in 2002 — Max co-edited Inklings, the school newspaper. (He was almost fired for proposing a satirical issue.)

At the same time, he was moonlighting at New York comedy clubs.

He spent 2 years at NYU, then dropped out for 3. He worked at “boring, crappy jobs” in Queens. In his spare time, spent in New York bars, he got hooked on international soccer. The EPL, La Liga and other high-level competitions captivated him.

In 2007 Max enrolled in USC’s film school. After graduation he spent most of his time answering phones at temp jobs, so he could spend the rest of it writing scripts.

One of those jobs was at Fuel TV, an action (Ultimate Fighting, BMX, etc.) division of Fox Sports. With a TV at his desk, he watched Champions League and other top soccer matches all day.

Fox had just won the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Fox Soccer — in Max’s same Los Angeles building — was moving into original programming, and needed some soccer shows.

There was just one problem: Hardly anyone in charge of original programming knew anything about the game.

Someone heard that Max was a huge fan. They invited him to make a presentation to top executives.

For 2 hours Max used maps, worksheets and his own stand-up skills to describe the rivalries, intrigues and passions of world soccer.

“I tore through it,” he says proudly.

Fox Sports hooked Max up with Scott Boggins. The “Being: Liverpool” executive producer needed someone to conduct research, watch clips and provide help at every stage of production.

In a matter of days Max convinced his girlfriend to go with him to New York. Starting in May, he began building the story line.

Liverpool came to the US for a summer tour. A major stop was Boston (the Red Sox owners also own the soccer club). Working out of the Fenway Park dugout, Max was the “media master”: in charge of backing up all the tape.

“It’s a high-stress, multi-million dollar cut-and-paste job,” he says.

In August, Max headed to the UK for a 3-week shoot. It was a fantastic experience, from both a production and soccer perspective.

The crew worked hard. They got great footage. And, Max notes, “You just sort of nod back when Steven Gerrard acknowledges you.”

Max’s 1st live EPL match “completely lived up to its promise.” The crowd of 45,000 “sounded like 100,000,” Max says. “They were singing, screaming, on their feet, blowing the roof off the stadium for 90 minutes.”

There was a friendly at Anfield, a Europa match there, a Europa qualifier in Edinburgh, and the 1st league game against West Bromwich in Birmingham.

West Brom crushed Liverpool, 3-0. The production crew took it hard. “We’d gotten to know those guys pretty well,” Max says.

Back at Liverpool, they tied Manchester City.

Just a typical day at Anfield.

Then it was back to the States, and post-production. Max watched footage, and helped crank out the show’s 6 episodes. Reviews — and ratings — have been good.

“It’s not just a day job,” he notes. “This consumes every minute of my life.”

It’s a single-mindedness he loves. He’s immersed in international soccer; he’s gotten to see some of the top names up close and personal, on and off the field — and he’s taken a big step in his professional life.

So is Liverpool his favorite club?

“Maybe,” he says. “Arsenal was, before. Now I know the guys, so I want Liverpool to win.

“But the US men’s national team is the one I really care about.”

Spoken like — despite Liverpool’s Red Sox owners — a true Yank.

“Hamlet” Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

Calypso makes Odysseus build “the US Airways of rafts.”

After 10 years — or the time it takes to read this story — Odysseus returns to his homeland of Ithaca.

Odysseus’ crew makes the Titanic staff look like NASA.

That’s The Odyssey in a nutshell. Say goodbye, Cliff Notes. Adios, Spark Notes.

Say hello, HighSchoolSummary.com!

Max Lance

The website — offering 4-minute summaries of high school English class standbys like The Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth in clever web-video cartoon form — is the brainchild of Max Lance.

Before graduating from Staples in 2002 — and going on to NYU, USC film school and a career as a stand-up comic, screenwriter and author of the best-selling Amazon Kindle Single Crazy Girls — Max read his share of those English class, um, staples.

Now he’s turned them into an internet sensation.

“Hamlet” is about an emo teenager who is bad with confrontation.

Spoiler: Everyone dies.

Max — who lives in Los Angeles — works with his brother Dan (Staples ’05), a New York-based cinematographer, video producer and part-time editor for Fox News.

The first step, Max says, is to actually re-read each book. “When I was in high school, I could care less,” he says. “Now I think they’re pretty neat.”

He writes a one-page plot summary — straight up, no jokes — and then adds humor. There are sly asides, pop culture references, and plenty of sexual innuendoes.

After 4 or 5 drafts, Max tapes his shtick. He emails the sound file to Dan, who animates the summary to sync with the audio.

The site has caught on. Within 2 days of the Great Gatsby posting, it had 10,000 hits.

Max markets the videos through Reddit, BuzzFeed, CollegeHumor, his own blog, and  tweets and Facebook posts. But many students find it just by — desperately — searching for the books they were supposed to have already finished reading for an essay due tomorrow.

“That’s not why we did the site,” Max says. “We just thought we’d put up funny summaries for people who know the books. But if that’s part of our audience, fine.”

“1984” is a really inaccurate portrayal of the year 1984.

Dan Lance

Of course, the brothers hear from folks who accuse them of butchering their favorite books. As a stand-up comic, he’s used to people who don’t think humor is funny.

Next up: Huck Finn. The website also offers a list of future suggestions, for users to vote. It includes classics like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies and Grapes of Wrath.

But already, Max and Dan have branched out beyond high school literature. “Art History” includes these observations:

The Phoenicians [illustrated with a map of Phoenix, Arizona] and Greeks perfected the technique of boring pieces of chipped pottery, which we ignore in museums.

Four Renaissance artists — Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello — are better known asNinja Turtles.

Chiaroscuro is an SAT word!

(To see all the HighSchoolSummary videos, click here.)

Max Lance’s Crazy Girls

Max Lance lost his virginity to a girl he later learned was using him to cheat on her boyfriend.

After many drinks, she passed out.  Max spent his first post-coital moments checking her pulse to see if she was alive.

Most people would keep that story to themselves.

Max wrote a book about it.

Crazy Girls was published last Friday.

Two days later, it was #1 on the Amazon Kindle Singles best-seller list.

Max Lance

War and Peace it’s not.  A quick read — “less than an hour,” promises Max, a 2002 Staples graduate — it’s 5 short stories with a common theme.

Which is:  the 5 worst dates Max ever went on.

Did you hear the one about the girl who took Max to a surprise spot — her bible study group — and spent all night trying to convert him?

“She didn’t know I was Jewish,” he says.  “That was shocking.  I mean, it’s all I’ve got.”

How about the Italian model who described — sobbing, and in horrific detail — her date rape story?

“Everyone in the restaurant was looking at me,” Max recalls.  “Then she opened her locket, pulled out 2 anti-depressants, and drank them.  With wine.”

It helps that Max is a standup comedian.  He’s honed that skill since he was 13.  While at Staples, he moonlighted at New York comedy clubs.

He also co-edited Inklings, the school newspaper.  He was almost fired for proposing a satirical issue.

Then it was on to NYU — for 2 years.  He left, and spent 3 years doing “boring, crappy jobs” in Queens.

His social life was less boring.  That’s where the material for all 5 Crazy Girls stories came from.

In 2007 Max entered USC’s film school.  He graduated 3 months ago — just in time to hear that Amazon Kindle Singles was looking for young writers with distinctive voices.

A month later, his book was done.

“Singles” are “compelling ideas expressed at their natural length.”  They can be long magazine articles, essays or books.  Crazy Girls sells for 99 cents.

Many writers draw on personal tragedies.  The worst thing that had happened to Max were his awful dates.  He wrote about what he knew.  And did it well.

Max calls his book “not fiction, but not non-fiction.  It’s ‘based on’ real stories.  I mean, there’s dialogue, but it’s obviously not verbatim.”

He pauses.  “It’s in the James Frey genre.”

The response has been great.  “A lot of people like that I didn’t lose my virginity until college,” he says.  “I was waiting for a nice girl.”

Be careful what you wish for…

Many readers “relate to the terror of putting yourself out on a date,” he says.  Max did more than that, of course:  He put his dating terrors out there for the entire world to see (at least, that portion of it with Kindles).

Fortunately, Max’s openness (and cleverness — one reviewer calls him “naively funny and wickedly insightful”) is paying off.  He’s not allowed to release sales figures, but thanks to strong marketing efforts by both Max and Amazon, it’s been both the #1-selling Kindle Single, and #11 on all Kindle charts.

Because it’s self-published, Max retains all film and TV rights.  Not bad for someone who studied screenwriting in college.

And who is not afraid to share his most intimate thoughts after losing his virginity.

First, he remembers thinking:  “Why did I wait this long?”

And then:  “That was quick.”

(Click here to download Crazy Girls, or learn more about it.)