WATERLOO -- Forry Smith has been a lot of things, including a cop, a professional football player, a soldier and an English teacher.
And only half of those have been characters he played on screen.
Now, Smith is adding professional screenwriter to his resume.
A 1971 graduate of West High, Smith headed to Hollywood in 1985 and has forged a successful acting career, appearing on television shows like "JAG" and "Murder She Wrote," and in films including "We Were Soldiers" and "Beverly Hills Cop III."
Now, after 20 years in Hollywood, Smith has heavyweight Mel Gibson on his side. The mega-star is producing the movie product of Smith's first screenplay, titled "Paparazzi," set for release Sept. 3. Gibson's Icon Productions, which released "The Passion of the Christ," and 20th Century Fox are distributing the film.
Smith says he remembers sitting at his desk at Hoover Middle School, wondering where his life was going to lead. Now, he looks back on his teaching career at Hoover and West High aware of what it's done for his Hollywood career.
"When sitting at the computer writing screenplays, I often think back to those times teaching," says Smith. "And in my writing, I've been told out here my screenplays are as clean as they get."
Smith's journey to "Paparazzi" and Gibson began in 1989, when Smith was testing for a television show. There, he met Randall Wallace, who would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for "Braveheart," which Gibson starred in. Wallace and Smith became best friends, and director/screenwriter Wallace cast both Smith and Gibson in "We Were Soldiers."
Upon Wallace's recommendation, Smith brought a screenplay with him to Georgia, where some of the filming took place. After reading through 27 pages of it, Gibson commissioned Smith to write a screenplay for him about paparazzi. The two men had the same take on the plot -- a frustrated actor gets revenge on an overly zealous photographer.
"It was meant to be more of a dark comedy, but once it became a studio movie, they're always looking at it from a marketing standpoint," says Smith. "We decided to make it more of a mainstream thriller, and test audiences are loving it."
The title of the film alone was enough to make half of Hollywood eager to jump on board after only a phone call from Gibson. Stars making cameos as themselves include Vince Vaughn, Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins, who told Gibson he would do the movie "for coffee money."
"I said to Chris Rock, 'Hey, I'm just a white guy from Iowa,'" says Smith, explaining he expected improvised changes from the funny man. "He said, 'I love your dialogue. I'm going to read every word.' That's the best validation I've ever had as a screenwriter."
Smith is by no means at a standstill now that his first movie has been stamped with a release date. He has three additional screenplays he's currently shopping to studios, all with very different themes. One is sports-oriented and has Kevin Costner looking at the lead role, one is a political thriller and another is a teen comedy.
"I wanted to write different things and I didn't want to be pigeonholed," says Smith. "Going back to what I've done in the past, I have 1200 former students with memorable stories. I have a lot of things to draw from."
Smith said he would enjoy coming back to the Cedar Valley for a screening of his film. His mother and three sisters still live here, and he encounters an Iowan trying to break into Hollywood every once in awhile.
"Anyone from Iowa who comes to Hollywood, they somehow get my name and I get a phone call. I like to meet with those people," says Smith. "'Follow your dreams' is such a cliché, but there's a reason for it. People who have become successful believe that. And hey, if I can somehow meet Mel Gibson and get him to hire me, then anybody can."