When a young Mark Bomback of New Rochelle decided he wanted to be a screenwriter midway through his junior year at Wesleyan, he did what countless others before him have done: He graduated from school and moved to LA. And like the lucky few who rise to the top of the big-screen dream pool, he got a couple of decent writing gigs and even landed an agent.
However, just as he was starting to create a name for himself in the world’s epicenter of TV and moviemaking, he returned home, to Westchester. He bought a house in Chappaqua, and it was from there — or at a desk at the Mount Pleasant Public Library — that he would write the scripts and screenplays for such blockbusters as Live Free or Die Hard, Unstoppable, and the three-film reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise. It’s also where he formulated the script for Defending Jacob, the Apple TV+ miniseries starring Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery that began airing at the end of April.
Bomback is among Hollywood’s most sought-after screenwriters, and even though he does some writing on location when necessary, most of his genius happens just minutes from where he grew up. “I told my parents I’d quit if I didn’t make it in film by the time I was 28,” recalls Bomback, who turns 49 this summer. It was a promise he made when he left home to take a bottom-rung job in the mailroom of a new production company in LA.
When he saw the volume of scripts that came into the mailroom every day, Bomback offered to read a few and provide summaries of the plots — gratis. “I did this for two reasons,” he says, “to see what a script should look like and to show off my writing skills.”
This also allowed him an opportunity to get friendly with the VP of production, who agreed to take a look at a little something he’d penned called Fix. “It was a psychological thriller about an architect who had a wife and kid but drank himself into homelessness before being recruited to test a drug that would make him want to be successful.” Like most first efforts, it never saw the light of day. “And, it never will,” says Bomback, noting how “it’s almost identical to Limitless,” a 2011 film starring Bradley Cooper.
Although his superior told him Fix wouldn’t sell, she did think it might be good enough to get him in front of an agent. She made an introduction, and Bomback joined forces with an agent who remains at his side to this day, as his manager.
Bomback again put pen to paper, coming up with new attempts at horror, sci-fi, or a psychological thriller, while his agent kept peddling his work. Finally, three years after arriving in LA, Bomback sold a screenplay to Warner Bros. It was never made into a movie, but it was enough to confirm that he was following the right star and on the road to keeping his promise to his parents. He was 25.
Bomback started taking any writing job he was offered, mostly rewriting other people’s work, or “script doctoring,” as it’s known in the industry. He also continued to write “anything I thought I could sell” whenever he had a moment to spare. “The first things you write are pretty awful, and there’s a reason some things don’t get made,” he says.
Bomback was 27 when The Night Caller, a thriller he wrote with a couple of other writers, hit theaters to mixed reviews in the summer of 1998 — around the same time he began seeing more of his work produced. It was becoming clear that it was time to leave the mailroom, to focus not only on his craft but also on that girl from Chicago he’d met in the mailroom and married, as well as on the young family they had started to grow.
He wrote the screenplay for the horror film Godsend, starring Robert DeNiro, and shortly after it was panned by critics in 2004, Bomback packed up his wife and two young kids and headed east, settling into the first house they looked at in Chappaqua. “The idea of being close to family became very important to us,” he says. “Aside from my parents, who are still in New Rochelle, I have three brothers in the area, and I want my kids to know their aunts, uncles, and cousins.”
He continued spinning his creative wheels for clients 3,000 miles away, but the tipping point in his career occurred when he was rewriting a script for a Bruce Willis movie. Willis didn’t wind up going forward with it, but the movie star and the writer got to know each other, and when Willis was about to film the fourth installment of the Die Hard franchise, the former Bedford Corners resident suggested Bomback as the screenwriter. “I wrote really hard for this,” he recalls. Live Free or Die Hard (2007) had the best opening-day take of all the films in the series, and Bomback has created a blockbuster every year since.
But it’s his most recent project, Defending Jacob (on which he is also an executive producer), about a 14-year-old accused of murder, that resonates the most with this now father of four. “I have a sense of kinship with the protagonist, who doesn’t feel he belongs in this world. I try hard to be a part of Chappaqua because what I do is so different from everyone else.”
Bomback hopes he makes inroads with his neighbors when he surprises them with home-baked multigrain breads or when he plays their requested songs on the piano at Crabtree’s Kittle House. A generous supporter of the Pleasantville Cottage School for emotionally troubled kids, he volunteers there, with his entire family, when they’re not hiking the trails of nearby Gedney Park with their two dogs.
If he had all the time and money in the world, Bomback says he’d love to devote his energy to one of the book ideas floating around in his head. “That would entertain me, and maybe one of them is just commercial enough to sell.”
And while Bomback’s track record suggests he would likely slip gracefully into the role of novelist, it is just as likely that his story will have been born somewhere in Westchester.