A Dentist Goes to Hollywood

Eric Weinstock is a “root canal guy” who knows his way around a screenplay, with two movies set for release this year. Cue the burping pig.
Eric Weinstock in a movie theater eating popcorn
Eric Weinstock has found success writing for the silver screen, but don’t expect him to say goodbye to dentistry. “The running joke has always been, ‘Don’t quit your day job,’ ” he says. Photo: John Soares
September 6, 2016

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Hey kid, want to break into the glamorous world of screenwriting? Here’s a proven method: Get your degree in psychology, finish law school, become an endodontist, get married, raise three kids and establish a thriving dental practice in Canton, Massachusetts. Follow this simple path, and you, too, will see your stories come to life on the silver screen.

OK, so maybe Eric Weinstock’s circuitous route isn’t for everyone, but for him, it’s worked pretty well. Since this movie buff first started dabbling in scriptwriting nine years ago, he has completed screenplays for eight feature films and five shorts, many of which have been optioned by filmmakers. Two of them, a family comedy and an action flick, recently finished filming and are scheduled for release this year.

This dentist-goes-to-Hollywood story began when Weinstock, D00, DG02, a devoted movie fan (ask him to recite the complete dialogue from Rocky sometime), sat through a spate of bad new releases and wondered if he could do better. He sent his first attempt, an intricate thriller, to a professional screenwriter to critique. It was then that he found he had something all successful screenwriters need: a thick skin. The reviewer trashed his character arcs, the setting, the length of scenes and the superfluous dialogue.

“I deserved the flogging I got,” Weinstock says. “I didn’t appreciate the science of screenwriting.”

Show, Don’t Tell

Despite the mistakes, the bones of the story were very good, the reviewer said, so Weinstock kept at it. He worked on fulfilling the screenwriting maxim of “show, don’t tell.” For example, you could have a character talk about how poor her family is, Weinstock explains, “or the mom can take the unfinished orange juice from the breakfast table and pour it back into the orange juice container. That says much more than what you can say with words.”

Nothing in a film, he says, should happen without a reason. “Every single thing is choreographed. There isn’t a chopstick on the table that isn’t meant to be there. Every comment, every wink of the eye, every nod of the head means something,” he says. “I love the idea of creating that.”

Weinstock’s next script, a drama called Bad Blood, caught the attention of a producer, who paid to “option” it—giving him the exclusive rights for a certain period of time to make it into a movie. That option ran out. The next, a dramedy, won a screenplay contest and was optioned twice, but hasn’t moved to the next step.

Eventually, he was approached by a producer who wanted to do a kids’ movie. Would Weinstock like to write it?

From Pigs to Fight Clubs

Weinstock, whose cinematic tastes run more toward a gritty Brian De Palma flick or the dark comedy of the Coen brothers, was reluctant at first to write a film for children. “I usually don’t like them—too saccharine sweet with a bow on top,” he says. But he considered it a challenge.

The result, Arlo: The Burping Pig, was filmed in Los Angeles in January and sold to a distributor, and is scheduled for release on Nov. 15. (Watch the trailer.)  A different producer commissioned him to write his next film, about an underground fight club. House Rules, which stars Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), Kevin Nash (John Wick) and Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos), began filming in Connecticut in February.

Weinstock has learned a lot about fundraising, casting, and why some films are quicker to get the green light than others (e.g., an adorable little girl and a talking farm animal, as in the burping pig flick, is a golden formula).

But while he’s fascinated by the movie-making business, Weinstock is in no hurry to run off to Hollywood. “The running joke has always been ‘Don’t quit your day job’—usually that joke is said with a little bit of bite from my father-in-law,” he says. “And I get that, now that I have kids.” Plus, he says, “if this were my full-time job, I think I would like it a lot less.”

Weinstock stills loves dentistry, a profession he chose very deliberately. After graduating from Brandeis with that degree in psychology, he was undecided about what to do. He liked the idea of caring for people, but was scared off by the science requirements needed for medical school. So following the old wisdom, “you can do anything with a law degree,” he went to law school at the University of Virginia.

He spent summers working in law firms. But the long hours and taking the office worries home? Not for him. Dentistry, on the other hand, looked like it would let him help people as well as give him time for other pursuits. This time, while still in law school, he shadowed some dentists and weighed the pros and cons (including more student loans) before committing. He graduated from law school on a Sunday, and on Monday was sitting in his first pre-dental chemistry class.

He doesn’t regret the law degree, which he draws on as the course director for the ethics and professionalism in dentistry and law class, which he has taught at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine since 2002.

Dentistry shows up in some of his scripts, including Arlo, which features a dentist as the dad (Joey Lawrence), and one of his favorites, Perfect Smile, a screwball comedy about a womanizing dentist on the run (a fictional account, he claims). Being a root canal guy—an introduction that makes some people take a step back—Weinstock thought he could capitalize on the inherent, uncomfortable humor that surrounds his job.

“I’m sorry, there’s just something very funny about dentistry,” he says. “I can say that. Everyone can relate to it in one way or another. Almost everyone has been to the dentist; everyone has their own dentist stories. So I thought it would just be kind of funny to have that woven into the story.”

Besides, a womanizing lawyer on the run? Not nearly as fun.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Tufts Dental Medicine magazine.

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