Eastern Wayne graduate living his Hollywood dream
By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 3, 2010 1:50 AM
Onnie Terrell, right, stands with director Ron Howard, left, at the Austin Film Festival in October. Terrel was present at the festival to screen his first screeplay "SKILLZ."
Growing up in a military family, Onnie Terrell found himself moving so often that it was difficult to form lasting friendships. To help cope, he turned to writing.
"I began writing out of necessity to keep myself occupied," Terrell said in a telephone interview from his home in Killeen, Texas. "It snowballed from there. I had all of this stuff inside of me and I found out that I had a knack for writing.
"It just came natural and I kept a journal."
It was just a natural progression from writing for his personal fulfillment to working with and writing for Goldsboro's Center Stage Theater.
Now those writing skills, honed over the years, have opened the door for Terrell's venture into a career as a screenwriter.
Terrell, who graduated from Eastern Wayne Senior High in 1983, lived in Goldsboro for a great part of his life until his wife, Terryl, received transfer orders to Fort Hood, Texas.
Terrell has a sister, Cynthia Terrell, 48, a teacher in Coats, and a brother, Joe, who is stationed with the Air Force in Florida.
Terrell, 44, the son of Mattie Terrell of Goldsboro, credits his work with Center Stage Theater with helping prepare him for his career as a screenwriter.
Terrell said he knew he didn't want to act, but he did want to work behind the scenes.
"I am not an actor at all," he said. "I have stage fright. I love the reaction from the audience watching my work on stage that is when I really feel good. That starts my juices flowing."
He was a technical director for some of the Center Stage programs, including several musicals. Terrell said he enjoys the behind-the-scenes work, placing the lighting and watching the interactions between the actors and audience.
"I directed a few musicals/plays and I had the opportunity to have one of my own plays, 'Rare Breed,' produced by Center Stage and shown as a dinner theater at the Holiday Inn in June 1988," he said. "I won the Director's Award for 'The Music Man,' and wrote the Center Stage's 10th anniversary production in September 1988. I graduated from writing for the theater to writing for the big screen.
"I am proud to call Wayne County home and I am sure my father (the late Joe L. Terrell, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force) is up in heaven looking down on me and smiling because I am fulfilling my dreams as a screenwriter. My family was supportive. They enjoyed theater as well. They were so supportive. I could not have done it without the support of my family and community, they embraced my work, too."
And he credits Goldsboro and all the people who not only performed, but also attended, with helping teach him how to write.
"Center Stage allowed me to grow in terms of writing," he said. "It is a good feeling when the audience laughs when they are supposed to. It is not as good when they laugh at parts they aren't supposed to. That is not a good feeling."
He and his wife, who is retired from Army, have lived in Killeen, Texas, for the past 10 years. They have two sons, Cameron, 16, a high school student, and Giovanni, 19, who is ready to enter college and who just completed a stint with the Job Corps.
Terrell said he had set his career aside while his wife pursued her military career.
"Now I am doing what I want to do to fulfill my dreams of being a screenwriter," he said.
However, until screenwriting becomes a full-time job, Terrell said he will continue to work in construction.
"I have got to do something to make sure the bills get paid," he said.
His first screenplay, "SKILLZ," is set in New York and is about two brothers, the older of whom tries to protect his brother from drugs and gangs. Terrell wrote the screenplay following his graduation from the Hollywood Scriptwriting Institute.
"SKILLZ" was selected as a semi-finalist in drama/family category in the 2008 Screenplay Festival in Hollywood, Calif., Then it was selected as a finalist in the family category.
"This is great," he said. "The first time out to be a semi-finalist and a few months later it was a finalist. I will be sending my screenplay 'SKILLZ' to a famous actor's production company through his agent who I met at the 16th annual Austin Film Festival in October.
"There I met Ron Howard, who was being honored as an accomplished writer/director, I met Michael Keaton, the original 'Batman,' he was the emcee and presenter, and Jason Reitman, the writer and director of the new 'Up in the Air' movie starring George Clooney. Meeting celebrities has been over the top. They are some of the nicest people I have ever met."
"Unguardian Angel," his second screenplay, also involves two brothers, one of whom is killed when the two are involved in a traffic accident. The dead brother returns as a vengeful spirit who thinks that his brother failed to properly protect him. The spirit makes life miserable for the surviving brother, before finally realizing the brother was not at fault.
The screenplay was picked up by the movie studio duJour Films and Entertainment in October and it was selected as a semi-finalist in this year's Screenplay Festival in the thriller category.
"Unguardian Angel" is being considered by two major studios and Terrell said that he is hoping the film will be out next year.
Along with screenwriting, Terrell has tried his hand at documentaries, having written one on the life of the late Tony Thomas, lead singer for the group High Five.
"However my love is playwriting and I am writing another screenplay, 'A Father's Sacrifice,' that deals with the recession," he said.
While it does include some humor, it is about a father who is "working his tail off" to support his family, but at the same time has to look after his company and fire employees to keep his company going.
Other projects include a comedy and love story, and he hopes one day to write the script for a horror movie.