Art Notes: Strafford native’s film is not coming to a screen near you
|Published: 05-24-2023 11:22 PM
The distance from Strafford to Hollywood is almost unthinkably vast, at least in social terms. People who go to the former often are fleeing everything the latter represents.
That was true of Austen Earl’s parents.
“Both of them were kind of hippies who dropped out of school,” Earl, who was born in 1978, said in a phone interview. Eventually, both went back to school and his mother, Jane, had a long career as a teacher, primarily in Lebanon. His dad, David, who died in 2005, was a carpenter.
As Austen described his upbringing, it was a mix of education and his father’s creativity that led him to Hollywood.
Earl, 45, has a movie coming out this week that relates to the gulf between his early years and his adult life. “About My Father,” which Earl co-wrote with comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, follows a theme from Earl’s life: how education can pull at a working class kid’s roots.
The film is drawn from Maniscalco’s life, which followed a similar arc to Earl’s: a working-class dad, a college education and a new life to try to reconcile with the old one.
Earl credited Newton School teacher Joey Hawkins with teaching him to write. His parents moved to Hanover so he could go to Hanover High School without having to commute from Strafford.
Even dropouts have to drop out from somewhere. Earl’s maternal grandfather was a banker and offered to pay his way to St. Paul’s School, the prestigious prep school in Concord. He had to repeat his sophomore year to catch up, but going there got him into Brown University, an Ivy League remove from the summer construction jobs he worked with his dad.
“St. Paul’s was, yeah, really shocking to me in a lot of ways,” Earl said. “I was constantly getting in trouble for wearing the wrong clothes.”
After one of the school’s regular formal dinners, presided over by faculty, a teacher pulled him aside and gave him a gift: a book on manners. “It was truly soul-crushing,” Earl said.
The trick, for a working-class guy who’s moved up, is not just to deal with the clash of cultures but to make a connection. Earl wanted to do something creative, like his dad, but to make a bit more money. He studied writing, spent some time working at the now-defunct Lehman Brothers after graduation, then migrated to Hollywood.
There are other ways of connecting past to future than by moving to a cultural hub. But places like Hollywood are where stories are written and filmed and where the deals are made so people can make a living from telling stories.
“It took me a long time to get jobs on the creative side,” Earl said. He worked in reality TV and kept working on scripts and watching movies and series to see how they work. Growing up in Strafford, they got only one channel, he said. There was some catching up to do.
His first staff writing job was on “Up All Night,” a comedy that aired for two seasons in 2011 an 2012. He’s worked on “The Millers” and other shows and co-created “Happy Together,” a comedy starring Damon Wayans Jr. that ran for a season in 2018 and 2019.
For someone who works in a visual medium, Earl has a small internet footprint. There’s a buzzy, inside baseball kind of interview with him from a few years ago in which he says he likes to have a lot of irons in the fire: “Yes, because I like to be busy, but more so the sting of possible defeat doesn’t hurt as badly because I know I have other things brewing.”
Among the projects he’s worked on was another that connected with his father. Earl and his dad used to watch “Home Improvement” together. Just before the start of the writers’ strike, Austen finished writing a pilot starring Tim Allen.
“I have an old Domus shirt of my dad’s,” Earl said, referring to the Etna-based construction company his dad once worked for. He wore the shirt under his clothes when he visited Allen, including a tour of the “Home Improvement” set.
It pains me to say that “About My Father” might not appear on any Upper Valley screens. It opens Friday and is not on the schedule at the multiplexes in Hanover, Lebanon or Claremont. Thank goodness we can see the latest “Fast and Furious” movie in all of three of those locations.
It’s as the famous screenwriter William Goldman said of the movie business: “Nobody knows anything.”
There’s something fitting about writing about a movie that people can’t see locally just before Memorial Day weekend, when everyone is going to be at plant sales anyway.
This is the traditional start to the summer, and it’s also when the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park in Cornish opens to visitors. The park is one of the greatest ongoing art exhibitions in the country, featuring the works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the founding father of American sculpture. At least one visit a summer seems essential. The park also presents contemporary art and hosts Sunday afternoon concerts.
For more information, go to nps.gov/saga.
Alex Hanson can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3207.