TV Talk: Shaler Area High School alumnus’ screenplay is the basis for the movie ‘Escape the Field’

Trib Total Media TV writer Rob Owen offers a viewing tip for the week ahead.

Often, we hear stories of young people in their twenties taking a break and landing leading roles in television and film just a few years out of college.

But often it takes longer to achieve Hollywood dreams, sometimes much longer.

For Joshua Dobkin, 43, the path from premiering the screenplay he wrote with college friend Sean Wathen has taken more than a decade. But now this movie, “Escape the Field”, has seen the light of day.

Distributed by Lionsgate, the 88-minute, R-rated “Escape the Field” is playing in theaters in select major cities (but not Pittsburgh) and streaming everywhere via on-demand cable (including Comcast) and streaming platforms. VOD (iTunes, Amazon, etc.).

Dobkin, a Wheeling, W.Va. native who attended Shaler Area High School, used his father’s camcorder to make “horrible VHS movies” in the North Hills when he was in middle school.

Wathen was doing backyard movies at the same time. They met a few years later while studying film at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.

Their idea for “Escape the Field” was born during a crowded drive from San Diego Comic-Con in 2008 to Los Angeles, where they had both moved.

“Sean had made movies in his backyard, and the property next door was all cornfields — and he always wanted to do something about a cornfield,” recalls Dobkin, who had a similar experience. while visiting a friend’s camp in Erie which was next to a cornfield. “If you walk a few feet in it and turn around, you’ll be lost. The parents always told stories: “Don’t go to that cornfield because someone did it 10 years ago and never came back. ”

The friends started riffing: what cornfield story could they tell? Who are the characters and how did they get to the cornfield?

A few days later, Wathen brought up the idea again, and the friends started putting ideas down on paper.

Hundreds of drafts, character name changes, a near-sale of the script in 2009, a real sale years later (to the company Steve Mnuchin ran before he became Treasury Secretary in the Trump administration ; his wife, Louise Linton, is credited as an executive producer on “Escape the Field”) and a pandemic later, the film they originally titled just “The Field” is now available nationwide.

Made on a shoestring budget – under $2 million – this thriller stars Shane West (“ER”), Theo Rossi (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Jordan Claire Robbins (“The Umbrella Academy”).

“Escape the Field” was filmed outside of Toronto amid the pandemic in 2020 and follows an assortment of characters waking up in a cornfield with no idea how they got there. They try to escape together and discover symbols and clues reminiscent of the Dharma Initiative in the TV show “Lost”.

Directed by Emerson Moore, who rewrote Dobkin and Wathen’s screenplay, “Escape the Field” offers tension and suspense, develops many of its characters, and introduces intriguing “Lost”-style mysteries (which it never solves).

“Sean and I were really into ‘Lost’ at that point (when we conceived the idea),” Dobkin said. “That was a big jumping off point. I would say the movie is a hybrid of ‘Lost’ meets [the 1997 Canadian sci-fi horror movie] ‘Cube.’ ”

In the 15 years it took to make “Escape the Field,” Dobkin worked in the art department of TV shows (“Scrubs,” “Our Flag Means Death”) and movies (the upcoming “Thor: Love and Thunder”).

It was not an easy path to a career in Hollywood. Dobkin’s interest in television and film production was piqued after seeing the 1998 independent film “Clay Pigeons” starring Vince Vaughn and directed by David Dobkin. He asked his dad if he was related to the director and his dad said, yes, the director is a distant relative.

“If there’s a Dobkin there, then there must be a chance for me to do this thing,” Joshua Dobkin recalled.

During his film studies, he contacted David Dobkin to ask him how to find a job in Hollywood. He only went as far as David Dobkin’s assistant, who kept in touch. The two eventually met after Joshua moved to Los Angeles. Although he eventually spoke by phone with David Dobkin to try to arrange a coffee meeting, the director declined the invitation after his hit 2005 film “Wedding Crashers.”

“He just said, ‘Everybody’s knocking on my door for something, so I have to be very careful who I let in, and I can’t help right now,'” Joshua Dobkin recalled “It was a big reality check. My inside information didn’t work out. But I would still like to meet him someday.”

He began sending his resume to every production he could find, eventually getting a break as a production assistant on the 2002-09 CBS drama “Without a Trace,” returning to California early after a visit from Christmas 2005 in Pittsburgh. After that, he landed in the “Scrubs” office and then moved to the “Scrubs” art department as a coordinator.

He took a hiatus from work in the art department to try to get more into the writers’ realm as a writers’ production assistant for two seasons on The CW’s 2012-16 drama “Beauty and the Beast. “, hoping it might lead to some writing work. But the salary was less, and he had a heavy mortgage and returned to work in the art department.

“(Working as a writer’s assistant) put such a big dent in our finances,” Dobkin said. “We were going to go broke if I didn’t go straight back to the art department.”

Dobkin is currently art director on the remake of the 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump.”

“I would love to do a movie in the ‘Burgh,” Dobkin says. “I’ve tried working on movies in Pittsburgh, and it never works.”

Although he doesn’t have any scripts in active development and is anticipating because of “Escape the Field,” he could be categorized as a thriller/horror writer like Hollywood is wont to do, Dobkin said. a passion project script in Pittsburgh titled “Streets of Grey.”

“The dream cast would be – even if it will never happen – Billy Gardell, Michael Keaton and Joe Manganiello,” Dobkin said. “It’s very, very good (in the vein of Ryan Gosling’s 2011 film) ‘Drive.’ If I could do a Yinzer version of “Drive,” this would be it.”

You can reach TV editor Rob Owen at [email protected] or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or facebook. Ask questions about TV via email or phone. Please include your first name and location.