Neither is easy. Winning the Nichol or Austin will get you noticed by both, I suspect. The Black List gets you noticed by both as well. Unfortunately, the list of people who accept blind queries gets you people who are willing to accept blind queries… and that’s not a great list. Bit of a catch-22.
What are your work habits like? Are you working on multiple assignments at the same time, and if so how do you balance them?
I’m going through this right now. I’m attached to three projects, and none is a comedy. How do you get there? By proving yourself. Increments. Pitching passionately and convincingly. Willing to bet on yourself. But it takes time. Lots and lots and lots of time. The tricky thing about comedy is that there are many fewer screenwriters who can reliably write comedies that audiences agree to see. We’re left-handed pitchers. As such, the studios really don’t have much vested in us becoming right-handers. But we must follow our hearts and grow… or NOT. There’s nothing wrong with finding a genre you love and never straying from it. Oddly, directing and producing are easier to get into than different genres of writing. I get asked about directing and producing comedy all the time. That’s an easier buy-in for them.
What are some of your favourite comedy movies of the last ten years?
Off the top of my head… I think MacGruber is unheralded genius. Team America is properly heralded genius. I was blown away by The Hangover (which I had nothing to do with), and I really liked Due Date as well. Loved Bridesmaids. Loved Zombieland. Laughed a lot at Ted. Loved 40 Year Old Virgin. Role Models is very good. Wedding Crashers is outstanding. And Borat is one of the funniest movies ever put on screen.
Probably a combination of innate characteristics, for which I cannot take credit, and the way I was raised, for which I also cannot take credit. Nor would I particularly recommend. There are people more motivated and applied than I, and there are people who are less so. I’m finally old enough and unstupid enough to realize that barring a few simple tactics available to us, we are who we are, and we must accept that. Those tactics?
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol to inspire work; they usually inspire the opposite.
- Make friends with people who are better at your craft than you, not worse. You will be encouraged by the prospect of growing.
- Find peace in failure. Every draft but the final draft is something that will be improved. And that final draft will be far from perfect And the movie will be far from perfect. The process must be its own reward.
Can you please walk us through your outlining process?
Do you edit as you go, or do you pump out a first draft and then edit? Other than formatting, what’s the easiest way for your script to NOT get read? Is having “a voice” as important as it’s made out to be? Is this voice manifested through the dialogue, the overall narrative, or the prose?
- I edit as I go. Just my speed. Others don’t.
- Big blocks of text right off the bat, and the first few lines of dialogue are clunkers. That script moves to the bottom of the pile pretty quickly.
- Yes. It’s everything. No one needs you to copy someone else. This down is drowning in mimics. They both despise and worship the new and different, but I think presenting your unique quality is the best guarantee that your voice will be heard.
How much prep do you do before starting a script? Do you go far enough to do character bios, or just basic outline/treatment stuff?
A lot. I think about everything… theme, character, narrative, structure, scenes, transitions… everything. I don’t do bios per se, but rather I try and understand what I want the audience to know about the characters in the beginning, and what I want to reveal to them over the course of the film (and how and when), and where I want the characters to be at the end.
The biggest struggle I have when it comes to writing, besides video games, is self-doubt. It’s crippling at times. I was just curious if you could offer any advice in terms of killing the doubt, hiding the body and getting away without it?
For me, Sandy is a guy who thinks his value to his family is connected to what he earns and materially provides. It’s not. His value is his presence. His value is his decency. They don’t need a big house. They don’t need an alpha male. It’s okay if he’s beta. It’s okay if he’s a doormat at work. They love him because he loves them. That’s the victory. He needs to understand that his identity is immutable and worthy.
If you had to give one DO and one DON’T for new writers trying to network, what would they be?
With these emerging hybrid TV series that are longer in length (ex: BBC’s Sherlock), released in one shot (ex: Netflix original series), have higher production value (ex: HBO series), and/or just in general seem more like a movie, do you think this will have a big impact on the movie industry as the TV industry continues to develop this way? Will the line blur between movie and TV (especially if viewer taste develops to prefer these movie-ish television shows)?
I love what’s happening in TV, but I don’t think it’s going to ruin movies. There are some stories that are best told in one to two hours, on a big screen, shared with a community of viewers. I’m glad Her is a movie and not a series. That would have been dreadful. I needed to experience it as one moving piece.
I’m taking a short film I wrote and produced to my first film festival this May (a little known one in the south of France)… do you have any advice for surviving the festival experience?
Drink water, get sleep, breathe, enjoy, don’t attach expectations. Just go and enjoy.
Be proud. Remember, people at festivals are often there to buy shit and meet famous people. We will never be the glamorous ones. We don’t need to be. We are the ones who create the world for the glamorous ones. You tell them you’re the writer, and you be proud. Their disinterest doesn’t mean you’re uninteresting. It means THEY are.
How involved were you in the production of, say, Hangover III or Identity Thief? i.e. once the script was ready to shoot, what was your role moving forward? Were you on set for any or most or all of it? And if so, what specifically did you do? Did you help make any production decisions – casting/locations/edit/rewriting bits/etc?
I’m just trying to grasp a sense of what the writer’s role can be after the script is done, and if this varies widely from production to production.
Very. In the case of H3, I was on set every day, and I was in the editing room with Todd every day… well every day once he took the time to get his first cut put together… then he called me in and we went through the reels together. I couldn’t be on set for ID because I was writing H3 at the time, but I was in the editing room a lot with Seth. I tend to be very involved in the productions of the movies I write, from soup to nuts. I think the fact that I’ve done it a lot without pissing directors off makes it easier for new directors to welcome me into the process.
I try and talk about why I want to write the project. In order to know why I want to write it, I obviously have to have some specific kind of story to tell. I don’t need to walk it through beat by beat. I need to talk about my point of view. What do I think the movie is really about? What inspires me to write it?
The problem for a lot of writers on these meetings is simple: their goal is “get a job.” Not “I have to write this, and here’s why.”
Everyone can sniff out “I want a job, and what do I have to say to get it?”
When you’re starting out, picking a general area isn’t such a bad idea. Comedy, horror, thriller, drama, family. Even if that’s not something that help us as writers, the town will do it to you, so you might as well have some say in it.
Once you’re working, it becomes easier to make moves… but here’s the best move… you can make ANY move by writing a great original. That’s something unique to us. Actors, directors, producers… all at the mercy of the scripts they’re sent.
Not us. We can write our way in and out of all sorts of trouble.
How much of your comedy writing is informed (or regimented) by the Field-McKee-Truby form? Does comedy get to bend dramatic form more than other genres?
None. I read one of Field’s books back in 1992. Don’t remember any of it. Never read McKee or Truby. Literally know nothing of what they say. As for comedy… no, I think it’s probably more formalized in structure than other genres. Part of that is inherent to how comedy works. The absurdity often works best when contrasted with structural non-absurdity.
Do you get a lot of friends asking you to read their scripts? How do you tell them their script isn’t any good without hurting the friendship or their feelings?
I don’t say “your script isn’t any good.” I talk about how it can be better. Everyone who writes a script is already soaking in self-judgment. The only verdict they want is “It’s PERFECT!”, which is impossible, so I avoid verdicts.
I just say “I liked this. This could be better if this.” Etc. Occasionally I read something that is so obviously inept, my advice is to stop and do some remedial work first.Join us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and sign up to our emails on the right hand side for articles straight to your inbox. Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below! Have a great week!