Alumnus Balances Law, Writing Careers
When Ben Franklin famously said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” he probably had someone like screenwriter, lawyer, and family man Hanz Wasserburger ’97 in mind. For years, Wasserburger, who lives with his family in Austin, Texas, has juggled and excelled in two wildly different, but equally demanding, careers.
By day, Wasserburger works as an assistant attorney general in the office of the Texas Attorney General, where he specializes in fraud cases against large pharmaceutical companies, involving Medicaid money. By night, he pens screenplays for romantic comedies, crime dramas, and even a feature-length independent film, Second Impression, that recently wrapped and has been submitted to a host of film festivals.
His secret? “It’s learning to live on a little bit less sleep, and to be more efficient when you’re working,” he said. “I have a separate office at home just for writing. I go home, have dinner with my family, and spend more time with my sons (ages 9 and 13) and wife (Nina Person Wasserburger ’98), but it’s not unusual for it to be 1 a.m. and I’m still full-go on the writing stuff, whether it’s a for-hire project or a feature film script.”
Most people are lucky if they have, and are able to follow, one passion in life. For Wasserburger, his passion for law came first.
“I had real tunnel vision for law school from a very young age. I never struggled at any time in my education with the question of, ‘Should I study law or creative writing?’ I wanted to be a big-time lawyer from the time I was a little kid arguing with my family, and I had that litigation mindset from a young age.”
Wasserburger grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1994, and then decided to attend law school at Ohio State in a manner that could be lifted straight out of a romantic comedy screenplay.
“It’s going to sound sort of weird and cliché but I had a dream one night,” he said, with a laugh. “It was the spring of my senior year of college and I had a dream about being in Columbus, like, 5-10 years down the road. In the dream, I was in the middle of my law career in Columbus. Maybe it was just the bloom of youth, but I saw that as a sign to seriously consider Ohio State, and I’m really glad I did.
He fell in love with the city and legal profession – and with his future wife, Nina – while in law school. And serendipitously, he discovered a hidden passion for screenwriting after stumbling upon a book sale at the Ohio Union during his 2L year. There, he purchased the script of one of his favorite films, Dazed and Confused, by Richard Linklater, and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to him.
“I had done some creative writing and a little bit of acting before law school, and I always loved movies, but it all coalesced when I bought the Dazed and Confused script,” he said. “I read it, cover-to-cover, a couple of times, and was totally fascinated with the story and the process of writing. Later in my second year, I resolved to write a screenplay myself. I briefly outlined it and once I graduated and had a 9-5 job, where my nights were free, I just sat down with The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field and that Dazed and Confused script (for formatting purposes) and started writing the script for Second Impression, the independent movie we completed here in Texas almost 20 years later.”
Many years in the making after sitting on Wasserburger’s proverbial shelf for over a decade, Second Impression is a romantic comedy about what would happen if you had only 30 days to win back the love of your life, or lose them forever. The catch: they haven’t actually met you yet.
In addition, Wasserburger has served as a screenwriter on nearly a dozen for-hire projects, including Her Fatal Flaw (2006), Dear Secret Santa (2013), and Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story, which aired on Lifetime in 2015 and was based on true events.
“With the Hannah Anderson project, I was specifically picked by the production team in part because of my law degree,” he said. “There was a substantial research component to that script and they thought it was ideally suited for someone with a legal background.”
Despite missing the occasional party, happy hour, or even vacation due to writing deadlines, Wasserburger said he would not have it any other way.
“Most people I work with and most friends outside of the office have been really supportive of my writing,” he explained. “They wonder, ‘why isn’t he at this party or happy hour?’ And they go, ‘oh yeah, he’s probably writing.’ So there’s a lot of understanding along those lines. We often have screenings and parties at our house when the films are released. It’s good to know that people are behind me as I do this.”
He added: “It’s tricky. Sometimes I feel very tired in the morning and as I am going through my day, but I think I’ve adjusted physically and psychologically to allow me to get it done that way. I just can’t imagine giving up either career and I don’t intend to. I feel like it’s a good balance right now.”