Fallout: How a Movie Lover Went From Counter-Terrorism to Storytelling

Mark Chandley
PHOTO: COURTESY MARK CHANDLEY

By Mark Chandley

As an adopted Filipino growing up in St. Louis, Mo., I didn’t have a lot of evidence that people who looked like me worked in the business. I loved film and television as much as the next guy, but my true love was, and still is, video games. I fell in love with storytelling through games, which I believe is somewhat unique to my generation because I grew up with the medium as it matured narratively. If I wasn’t out watching Cardinals baseball or camping and hiking with the Boy Scouts, I was plopped in front of a TV, hypnotized by expansive interactive universes like those in “Mass Effect,” “Fallout,” and “Red Dead Redemption.”

From a young age, I wanted to work in criminal justice. It started as a desire to be a detective, then a lawyer, then a forensic psychologist. By high school, I was hyper-aware of terrorism on the global stage. The Boston Marathon bombings were forever seared into my mind, and ISIS was on the rise. This sparked my patriotism, so I went to Penn State to study counter-terrorism and intelligence analysis.

My college capstone course was a creative analysis of the potential threats and benefits that quantum computing and the singularity poses for society. I chose to write in narrative form and fell in love with writing, which hatched my dream of becoming a screenwriter.

As college concluded, I interviewed at many of the spooky three-letter government agencies and got far with the National Security Agency. That said, the security clearance process (polygraphs, background checks) can take up to a year to complete. I didn’t want to put my life on hold any longer and realized my interest in counter-terrorism was partly because it looked cool on TV. Sure, I wanted to serve my country, but once confronted with what I wanted to do with my life, I took a leap of faith. I decided to pursue writing.

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Luckily, I went viral for a joke GoFundMe campaign I created, which would supposedly free an entitled “Bachelor” contestant’s nanny in 2017 (it’s a whole other story), and I was able to use that to get my first job as a social-media assistant for a new unscripted/lifestyle production company.

I wore a lot of hats in this role. My job evolved into an office/set PA to associate producer. I had an itch for storytelling that wasn’t being scratched by writing pieces to camera or voice-overs for B-roll. When I left unscripted, I took a day job in private investigations for insurance fraud to pay the bills. But to keep my foot in the industry, I also took an internship at Eclectic Pictures and learned the art of script-reading and coverage (the document that provides a summary, analysis and recommendation of literary material submitted to studios).

Script analysis came naturally to me due to my intelligence analysis background. Even though I wasn’t analyzing terrorist attacks, motivations, or methodology, I used the skill set to break down plot, structure, and character. And loved doing it!

I took my samples and carved out a niche career in the world of freelance story analysis. I was fortunate to include the likes of HBO, Anonymous Content, and United Talent Agency as clients. I freelanced for many companies at once and read boatloads of material quickly, all to make a living. But generally, the freelance world is a dog-eat-dog world with criminally low rates. Suffice it to say, the burnout is real.

In 2018, I met my now friend and mentor Holly Sklar, the member-at-large who represents story analysts on the Local 700 Board, and learned there was a union that represented story analysts. This completely blew my mind. Since I was already interested in building a community of colleagues in the freelance story analyst world (there was none at the time), I teamed up with Holly to build what would become United Story Analysts — a safe space where analysts of all stripes, freelance and union, can discuss how to elevate working conditions of our craft.

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After cutting my teeth in the freelance world, as well as a stint in the mailroom at United Talent Agency, I got an incredible, life-changing opportunity to work as an MPEG story analyst at Warner Bros. Pictures where I worked on the development of a handful of feature film projects from iconic and beloved franchises to some cool genre pieces — I’m just waiting for the day that any of them see the light of day! Other jobs followed, including time served as a development exec, and in 2021, I returned to story analysis, this time at Sony Pictures. I count myself lucky every single day to be surrounded by stories and people who love movies. I can’t emphasize enough what being in Local 700 has done for me. As a 20-something kid, a living wage, healthcare, and pension give me a stable life in this town. For this, I’m forever grateful.


Mark Chandley is a story analyst working at Sony Pictures. When he’s not knee-deep in scripts, he’s hiking around beautiful California or binge-playing the latest video game. Mark lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at mchandley2@gmail.com

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