Max Yaney and Luke Goltz, Writers of “Smoke”

Mar 11, 2015 | Interviews

There are many different ways to meet a writing partner. It may be someone you went to school with, a work colleague at the office, or, in the case of Max Yaney and Luke Goltz, somehow who just turns up on your doorstep.

Luke Goltz was returning to his home in San Diego when he first met the man who was to become his future writing partner. Max Yaney, Luke’s next door neighbor, had just come back from surfing and had locked himself out of his own house.

“I came home one day and he’s standing in his wet suit shivering to death,” Luke says.  “I went in my house to give him a towel and then we started talking and found out that we both write screenplays.”

The pair exchanged scripts, gave each other feedback, but didn’t start writing together for another six years. By that time, Max had moved to Los Angeles with his then-girlfriend who had landed a job as director Cameron Crowe’s assistant. Max was working in production as an assistant and Luke was still based in San Diego when they decided to start writing together.

“We’re both fans of the action-thriller genre,” Luke says, before the two of them reel off a succession of favorite titles: American Gangster, Goodfellas, Scarface, and Blow.

“One of my oldest buddies is a guy named Joey Ippolito,” Max says. “I grew up and went to school with him. He gave us a lot of stories about his life and Luke and I were just like, these stories need to be told.” (Joey Ippolito has story-by credit on Smoke)

Joey Ippolito’s life story became spec script Smoke, which has recently landed at Relativity with Andrew Paney (Wedding Crashers, Hot Tub Time Machine 2) producing. The story is set in the Miami Vice 1980s era in South Beach, Florida, and tells the true story of how Joey Ippolito, one of the world’s top speedboat racers, was also running one of the biggest cocaine smuggling operations out of the U.S.

Max first met Joey Ippolito in Verona, New Jersey where he grew up. He moved out to California in his 20s with a buddy and landed in San Diego, where he took jobs in construction and the tech industry. “I’d worked in production in New York on shows like Third Watch and Sex and the City,” he says, “and when I got to San Diego I couldn’t find work in production, so I thought that’s that part of my life done with. But I never stopped writing. No matter the situation, all I needed was a computer and a copy of Final Draft and I was good to go.”

Luke hails from Placerville, CA, a small town near Lake Tahoe. He attended San Diego State and upon graduating travelled to Budapest to work as an English teacher. When he returned to the US he resumed work as a teacher to pay the bills but continued to write as he had at college, focusing primarily on poetry. He tried his hand at scripts and eventually landed a job rewriting a film for director Roland Joffe, a gig that required that he travel to Amsterdam to work with Joffe on the script.

As a writing team, Luke and Max wrote four to five different versions of Smoke before they landed on a draft they were happy with. With Max based in Los Angeles and Luke in San Diego, they exchanged ideas largely over the telephone, a routine that has served them well for other projects.

“We’ll get on the phone at night, do an outline, and work on a very specific 15 to 20 page beat sheet,” Luke says. “Once we get that done, then whoever has the time, that guy takes first pass at it. Then we start throwing it back and forth until we get something that we think is 99% there, and then we’ll get in a room together and go through every single page and kick and fight. You have to be able to take your gloves off with your writing partner. It’s a safe room in the sense that you can say anything. At the end of the day you’re hopefully writing more dynamic scenes because of the back and forth in the room.”

“It’s always a great energy but it’s intense,” Max adds. “We’ll get together and there’ll be no interruptions. We’ll get food, get in front of the computer, and get it done. Luke and I have that trust in each other where we know we both want the best thing that we can have on the page.”

For now, Max and Luke are hard at work on a number of other projects. “The pedal’s to the metal,” Luke says. What advice do they have for up-and-coming screenwriters?

“Don’t quit,” Luke says. “We weren’t overnight successes and that’s a tried-and-true cliché. Most people are a 10-year success. It takes a long time to learn how to write a good story and nail all the parts. You just really have to put your ass in the seat and do it every day. You get better and better at it, and then other people will start to see value in it.”

Max adds that competitions are a good way to get your script noticed. “I’ve entered Final Draft Big Break and others and had some success. The feedback you get from competitions can be really great.”  Max contends that the secret to breaking in is to never give up.

“Just keep going. I was still writing even when I was doing construction. So was Luke. You should also let people know what you do. People who I worked with in the film industry would ask me what I wanted to do with my career, and I’d never tell them. My friends started saying to me, ‘You’ve got to tell people,’ so I let people know, and my scripts started getting passed around.”

One thing is certain: Luke and Max are committed to each other’s success.  Luke notes: “Director Shane Black once said to us it’s so hard to get in anywhere, that when you get to be part of a group, once one of you makes it, you’ve gotta reach down and pull your buddy up too.” In whatever may come, these two writers have got each other’s backs.