Annapolis man makes jump from high-tech to Hollywood

May 21, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Redge Mahaffey got his doctorate in physics at 26, and by 35, he was senior vice president of a research and development firm that grew tenfold during his tenure. Six years later he looked at all this and figured it was time for a change.

After all, the Annapolis man invested wisely in real estate, and money was no problem. So, what next?

Well, he schmoozed on the telephone with a Hollywood movie director in whose distribution company he had invested, and the director says, hey, you've done a little writing, anything kicking around the house there you might want to turn into a screenplay?

Mahaffey had an unpublished novel, not to be confused with the published novel, the novel that won an international prize in 1989. So he knocked out the script in about a week ("whipped it into a screenplay," he said) and sent it off to Jim Dodson in Hollywood.

After the two men worked together to cut the script from 180 to 110 pages, they began casting in Hollywood. The casting call notice got the attention of Greenwich Studios in Miami, which offered a studio, equipment and money.

And so, the art of the deal propelled Mahaffey out of the company of defense industry scientists into the world of such as Margot Hemingway and Richard Roundtree and Joe Bologna, all of whom appear in the movie. It cost less than $2 million to make, which by Screen Actor's Guild standards makes it a low-budget production, and it's showing at the Cannes Film Festival this year. For the money he contributed to the production, Mahaffey gets credit as executive producer; for the script, screenwriter.

Add these to the Ph.D. in physics and the senior vice presidency, all at 42 years old.

Just look at the man, sitting there in his living room with the cathedral ceiling and the wall full of windows all filled up with the Severn River. There's so much light streaming in off the river that it dims the picture on the giant television screen, where the credits for "Deadly Rivals" are superimposed over flashy helicopter's eye images of Miami. The screen says "Written by Redge Mahaffey" just as the men in the mysterious black car pull into the parking lot.

Imagine, a life in plasma physics, and now this: gangsters, hideous torture in a warehouse, sex in a taxi and enough plot for 2.5 more movies. And that's just the first 15 minutes. "Deadly Rivals" goes on for more than another hour of intrigue, violence, busty women, missing emeralds and purloined secrets of laser technology. The movie is not slated for American theaters, but could be coming soon to a cable channel or video store near you.

"When I was doing physics, that was a lot of fun," said Mahaffey, who is 42. "But there comes a stage in your life when it's time to do something else. When I turn 50, it'll be something else. I'll find something I really enjoy someday."

On this line, he laughed. And why not? He appears to have cut the angst out of mid-life career change, eased into a new gear smooth as you please. As he sees it, there is a link between the sort of thinking one does in physics and in screen writing.

"They're both creative," he said. In physics, "you're making jumps, but you're laying things out. You have to plan it out and lay it out logically."

And so it goes for screen writing: Write the script, then figure out how to raise the money to produce it. It was not so great a leap, he said, as he'd already run a business and had already been writing.

His first and so far only published novel, "A Higher Education," told of a youth coming of age at the University of Maryland campus at College Park, where Mahaffey earned his bachelor's degree and his Ph.D. in physics. The novel was selected among thousands for first prize in the 8th International Literary Awards in 1989.

He has already completed a second screenplay, which Greenwich Studios and "Deadly Rivals" director Jim Dodson plan to start shooting in Hollywood in July, on about the same budget as the first movie. This one, called "The Justice Club," tells a story of revenge on a serial killer.

He said his experience in physics enables him to write with more realism about science and characters who work in science. But asked about the possibility of switching back from tinsel to technology, Mahaffey answered quickly: "Probably not."

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