Written by Rick Hellman, Editor
Friday, 31 July 2009 12:00
Even if he weren’t one of Hollywood’s top comic writers, David N. Weiss’ story would be compelling.
David N. Weiss
Weiss was born Jewish and had a Bar Mitzvah, but converted to Christianity after high school and worked in the world of Christian entertainment and youth ministry for almost 15 years before returning to Judaism, albeit a more observant form than what he grew up on.
Weiss, who had a hand in writing such films as “Shrek 2,” “The Rugrats Movie” and “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” will tell his story, “From Hollywood to Holywood,” Wednesday, Aug. 5, at the Jewish Community Campus. (See below for details)
“I was raised Reform,” Weiss told The Chronicle. “I had an all-American childhood, with the addition of the fact that we knew we were Jewish.”
In school, Weiss said, “I liked drama; I hated writing. I was terrible at it. … I think I had a little A.D.D. (Ed. note: Attention Deficit Disorder) going on. My sentences would hop from joke to joke without any real coherence.”
A high school teacher took him aside, Weiss said, “and taught me how to string some thoughts together; to use transitional phrases; to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and it turned my life around as far as my ability to communicate.”
“I never thought of myself as a writer, though, until ... I got to film school, and there you needed a script.”
That was after Weiss had earned a business degree, and after his conversion to Christianity.
‘I wanted to believe in something’
“My Jewish education tapered off after my Bar Mitzvah,” Weiss said. “All my friends were Christian, and I gravitated to that. A number of those families were always good to me.”
In fact, Weiss said, a family friend owned a Christian record company where he went to work after college. He was immersed in the Christian media world, producing videos for evangelists and the like.
Weiss said he never had a dramatic, “born-again” experience that led him to become a Christian. Rather, he said, “It was more gradual. I was talked into it logically. I wanted to believe in something. I was looking for something to make sense of this crazy universe. The Judaism I grew up with was not a particularly spiritual experience. It left me wanting.”
And yet something took a deep hold, Weiss said, because he eventually was lured back to Jewish tradition.
It started, he said, when met a modest, observant Jewish animator while living in Ireland for a couple of years and working on the animated feature film, “All Dogs Go to Heaven.”
Back to Judaism
“Prior to that time. I had no contact with observant Judaism.” Weiss said. “I was under the impression they were crazy fanatics. So we started a dialogue. He was leading a very quiet, impressive Jewish life in a town where there wasn’t a lot of Judaism. I was going to church a block away from the Dublin synagogue, and I didn’t even know it was there until a few months before I left.”
From serving as a youth minister at church in Dublin, Weiss said, “I began to slow down a little bit, but it took a while for me to fall away. I was solidly in the church for 12 years before I met this fellow, but by the time I left Dublin I was thinking ‘… he was fine without Jesus, which was troubling for me as a Christian. So I began soul-searching. When I left Dublin, I didn’t come back to same church on purpose. … I moved to the back of the room and sat more quietly, but I continued going to church a number of years.
“Then I met more Jews and began going to synagogue, and slowly the Judaism sort of rose up. I use analogy of one boat was sinking and one rising, and I stepped from one to another. It took five years to make the transition.”
As they became more Judaically observant, Weiss’ wife and their oldest child converted to Judaism. Weiss, too, had to convert back to Judaism, as it were.
“The beit din felt the need for me to go in the mikveh and renounce my former life,” he said. So when his wife and child dipped in the mikveh, he did, too.
Nowadays, he said, “I don’t love labels, but I love the term observant. I keep the mitzvot. From the outside looking in, you’d probably say we were modern Orthodox. My wife covers her hair. We keep kosher. We observe Shabbat and all the holidays.
“I do have a black hat, which I wear now and again in the winter, but I don’t have a long beard or payes. (Ed. note: sidecurls) I have nothing against them. My son had long payes until recently. We attend an Orthodox synagogue, Westwood Kehilla.”
Weiss said he also has an affinity for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, with which Torah Learning Center, which is sponsoring his talk, is affiliated.
“It’s like McDonalds, but in a good way, because they are everywhere,” Weiss quipped.
A vice president of the Writers Guild of America, Weiss is staying busy in Hollywood, even if he takes Friday nights and Saturdays off. Next up for him is “The Smurfs Movie,” expected to be in theaters” for Chanukah 2010,” Weiss said.
After that, he’s working on a film titled “Traded” for Paramount and another based on an unnamed comic-book character for Universal.