Why We Write

December 31, 2007

Why We Write – Number 7: Steven Peterman

  Number 7

Today’s piece is written by Steven Peterman, Executive Producer of “Hannah Montana.”

 

I grew up in Milwaukee.  Nobody wrote for a living in Milwaukee.  You worked at Allis-Chalmers making farm equipment, or at one of the breweries making Pabst, or Old Milwaukee, or Schlitz. Or, like my dad, you owned a tavern, a bowling alley and eventually, the only Italian American restaurant in town operated by Jews.  Be a writer?  That was crazy.  I was going to be a rock and roll god. 

I remember songs since almost before I could talk.  Perry Como and Brenda Lee. Elvis singing “Jailhouse Rock.”  Roy Orbison singing “Cryin’” on Ed Sullivan at Grandma’s house, with Uncle Jerry laughing because Orbison looked so goofy with his bad toupee and his big black sunglasses and me wanting to hit Uncle Jerry with a folding chair from the dining room because maybe Orbison looked freaky but Jesus, his voice could break your heart. 

I wanted to affect people the way Orbison did, or Van Morrison, or the Beatles.  There was just one problem. I was short.  And I wore glasses.  And my fingers were too stubby to ever be able to duplicate Mark Knopfler’s brilliant live version of “Tunnel Of Love.”  And that high tenor that made old women weep at my Bar Mitzvah went away, leaving a shaky baritone which would never again hit the high notes Tom Petty can reach after rolling out of bed and lighting a cigarette.  Plus, when I grew my hair long I looked less like Jimmy Page and more like my Aunt Syl, who I loved and miss dearly but would still prefer not to resemble.

Okay, that’s clearly more than one problem.  So I tried to be sensible.  I graduated high school, went off to college, graduated, registered at law school, hyperventilated, ran away, lived on a kibbutz for six months, went back to law school, registered, went to three weeks of classes, hyperventilated and ran off to New York to be an actor, where, four months later, I was playing a law professor (!)…on Broadway (!)  In the film of this, that last run-on sentence will be a very amusing montage, assuming it isn’t cut to move the action up. 

After six years working and starving, I moved to LA where, amazingly, I worked more than I starved.  Theatre, movies, movies of the week, guest shots, pilots and series that almost made it.  It was fun, and exciting, and there were times when I lost myself in the character and it was almost as good as a guitar solo.  But that didn’t happen often enough, and the series never came and I started to get too hungry and desperate and started sucking at auditions and knew I had to do something.

That’s when friends who had given up their own dreams of acting to become working writers, encouraged me to try it.  I of course responded, “Why the hell would I want to do that?”  From what I could tell it was lonely, ridiculously hard and most of them looked miserable.  Especially the comedy writers.  They looked awful.  And it was no wonder.  Actors were treated like shit until they got the job.  Then it was great.  Writers were treated like shit until they got the job, and then they were treated worse.  

So I avoided it.  Until I ran into Gary Dontzig at the gym.  I met Gary doing a play at the Old Globe in San Diego.  I thought he was boring and he thought I was over the top.  Later, I realized he was much better than that, but had been stuck in a boring role.  He still thinks I was over the top.  I was, but I did it brilliantly, and the part demanded it.  Anyway, I ran into Gary and bitched about life and said I was thinking of writing.  And he said he was, too.  Years later he confessed that he hadn’t been, but actors are so competitive he felt compelled to lie.  He actually called me later and invited me over to throw ideas around.  To this day he doesn’t know why he did that.  I was so surprised I said…”uh, okay.”  I hung up and told my wonderful, increasingly impatient wife, Susan, who I’d been smart enough to meet in between working and starving in New York, that I was going to piss away an afternoon at Gary Dontzig’s.  Susan, the only one who was bringing in any income, reminded me that I wasn’t doing anything else the next day, since I’d already been to the gym that day and had to “rest my muscles.”  (She failed to understand that as an actor I had to keep my body in the phenomenal shape it was.  Fortunately, writing has no such requirement.) 

So I went to Dontzig’s.  And something clicked.  Because we were different.  Because we weren’t best friends.  Or even friends (this was before we became brothers).  We each brought something different to the party, but overlapped enough to meet somewhere in the middle.  More importantly, he believed in putting something, anything down, where I would have stayed on our first sentence from that day in 1984 until…now. 

We wrote a spec “Family Ties.”  It was 75 pages long.  Yet surprisingly easy to cut.  Much like this piece.  Our friends said it was good.  So we wrote another.  Just to make sure we could.  And we got an agent, and then, our first job.  And another.  And then Diane English and Korby Siamis read us and we got on the original staff of “Murphy Brown” and now it’s twenty years later and I’m a writer.

And it’s still ridiculously hard, and I frequently look miserable.  But I’ve grown to love it almost as much as I hate it.  I still love hearing something I’ve written get a laugh.  Or make people cry.  Or think.  I love that I can write characters I’d  never have gotten to play.  I love working with actors and directors to fix a scene.  I love editing.  I love walking onto a stage where 120 people are working on something that wasn’t there before writers put it on paper.  And I love being stuck in a room with people so wonderfully funny they can make me laugh at two in the morning when minutes before I hated every one of them and prayed for an earthquake that would send the building crashing down, killing all of us if it meant getting out of the fucking scene.

That’s why I write.  I’ve been unbelievably blessed.  I’ve worked on shows that were considered important and shows that weren’t.  Shows that were fun, and shows that weren’t.  And now I’m doing “Hannah.”  And a few months ago we were sitting in the writers room, staggering toward the thirtieth episode of the season, and someone at the table said, “You know, in twenty years people are going to come up to us and say, ‘I grew up watching your show.’”  

It’s not quite being a rock star.  But it’s close enough.  I wish us all a speedy and successful end to this miserable but necessary and noble effort.  Considering what Disney’s gonna make off “Hannah” I feel quite confident in saying we deserve every nickel. 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

December 29, 2007

Why We Write – Number 6: Reader Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 1:23 pm

  Number 6

Today’s piece is written by Marshal Gordon, Freelance screenwriter, creator of nothing you’ve seen yet.

 

I remember the first time I sat down and actually wrote something. I was all of 9 years old and decided I would write a short story.  A meaningful short story about life and love lost full of angst and pathos. Ok, at 9 what the hell did I know about life and love lost and angst and pathos.  At that age I probably couldn’t pronounce angst or pathos. But I was determined.

In the years that followed I wrote more, plays, short stories and poetry anything that came to mind, but I never told anyone.  I kept everything spirited away.  In my world young Black boys didn’t do stuff like that.  We played basketball, football, tough guy stuff.  But I knew somewhere in me that there was a writer.  I’d go to the movies and marvel at the worlds that were created and imagine myself writing and acting in them myself.

I never told anyone not even my family until….high school!  I took my first drama class and did my first play.  Now I have to admit that I had ulterior motives.  Naturally a girl.  I had my first taste of being on stage and getting laughs but more importantly I got to kiss the girl.  Now I have to give an important plot piece her because this was the first time I actually wrote something that was actually performed.  There was no kissing scene for my character in this play, but I really wanted to kiss this girl, did I mention she was really, really pretty?  So inspired, I convinced the drama teacher to let me put in a scene that would get laughs and at the same time advance the play.  The teacher bought it and the scene worked great, we got huge laughs!  And the girl was so impressed that the kiss got better and better over the three performances.  That experience convinced me that there might be something connected to the whole writing guy gets the girl thing.

So my secret was out and decided to go all out.  I started a politically themed poetry and dance group that and that’s where I found out what words could really do.  I found people listening to the words I wrote and being moved by them.  And again…it got the girls only this time older college aged girls.  Suddenly the pen was mightier than the basketball.  College was series of drugs, acting, more poetry except I had advanced from political to the kind of things that made women sigh and wish their boyfriends would be as sensitive.  Nothing like being the guy that stole the girl with a well turned sonnet.

Cutting to Act 2 …the reality of life for a young Black male considering writing as a career was not a prudent career choice. So I found myself in the corporate world slaving away for “THE MAN”, for myself, married, divorced, married, separated, together, divorced again, clinically depressed, cancer ridden and to top it off homeless.  All the while I continued to write convinced that it was somehow in me to do so.  The problem was how you get the girl when you’re homeless.

I knew I had to get out of my situation.  And that’s when I BECAME A WRITER!  Well, actually first I became a fake perfume salesman. “Big Bottle last long time.”  It also put enough money in my pocket to earn a enough to hire people to help me sale and get me into an office suite, that I lived in.  My trick was a poem for every bottle purchased.  I would show women my writing and they would believe that they were being bohemian.

All this lead me to finally making the leap of faith onto an Amtrak ride to Los Angeles where I could do the sofa circuit and tell people that I had gone to live out my dream to finally be a WRITER!  Well, actually first I became a business consultant, telemarketer, tour manager for a B level R&B singer, but I kept writing and when people asked me what I did during my daily basketball games…my reply was always…writer/ consultant/ telemarketer/ tour manager.  Isn’t everyone in Los Angeles a hyphenate?  But at least the Writer part feels real and true now.

The reason that no matter what I have done in life that writing has always been a constant is that there is power in words for everyone.  Be it making us laugh, reflect, angry or just making us think.  And for me there is nothing more exhilarating or rewarding as seeing someone’s eyes light up as they read my words or I imagine them being played out.  Ok well, maybe getting the girl is still the most exhilarating thing, but then this is an article about “Why We Write”.  Oh wait, that is why I write.  But I have to wonder if this strike goes much longer will the women still be impressed as if I utter the words …. “I’m a writer”… right after I say… “Welcome to Wal-Mart”?

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

December 28, 2007

Why We Write – Number 5: Greg Berlanti

  Number 5

Today’s piece is written by Greg Berlanti, Executive Producer of “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Brothers and Sisters.”

 

I’ve never considered myself much of a writer.  I’m not particularly great at it.  On my best day I don’t have half the talent of many people I’ve been lucky enough to hire and to work with.  And this is not false humility.  Ask any writer who works with me, they’ll tell you how much I rely on their abilities, how often I struggle to craft the simplest of scenes.  I know a lot of other writers feel like they suck too, but that doesn’t make it easier (I know this because a large part of my day is convincing other writers they don’t suck.  Once finished, I go back into my office and convince myself I do suck all over again).  The problem is, regardless of my limited writing talent, I love telling stories.   Creating a character, a world, a whole universe out of nothing.  That part I can’t get enough of.  I think about myself and storytelling the way Bill Clinton described himself and the Presidency, and I’m paraphrasing here, “There are guys who have done it better, but there’s no one who’s enjoyed it more.”

As a kid, the first storyteller I wanted to be was Jim Henson.  I designed and built puppets and had a business performing for birthday parties.  If you’re curious what the rock bottom of the middle school caste system is, it’s The Kids Who Play With Puppets.  Seriously, The Kids Who Played With Magic used to beat the crap out of me.  Anyway, a day or so before the birthday party (even then I needed a deadline), I would sit and design a story based on the little facts of the birthday boy or girl’s life.  Each time I sat down to do this, staring at the blank page in my Trapper Keeper, I would grumble to myself, “I hate this… stupid birthday… I’m never gonna think of anything.  I’m the WORST BIRTHDAY PARTY PUPPET GUY EVER!”  And then inevitably, I’d get some small idea that would lead to the next idea, and to the one after that, and in a few hours I had a story.  At which point I would think to myself, “I love this!  I’m a genius!  I’m the best BIRTHDAY PARTY PUPPET GUY EVER!”  Eventually,  because I liked the idea of having sex in this lifetime, I dropped the puppets.  But the internal monologue and its cycle from self loathing to self fellating is still pretty much the same. 

Okay, so now let’s fast forward to 1996.  It was about a year after I moved to Los Angeles and I was paying my bills working as a phone operator at the prestigious Sherman Oaks Galleria Business Center.  The girl that trained me was leaving for junior college to study “hotels and stuff” and because she knew I wanted to be a writer she promised to introduce me to her high school friend, Ricky Schroeder, as soon as she got back.  At night I would drive home to the studio apartment I rented in Beachwood Canyon, beneath the Hollywood Sign, and think to myself, “I’ve never been further from Hollywood in my whole life.”  But the worst part about this time?  I had stopped writing.   And I had never stopped writing before.  From middle school to college, puppets had let to plays, which lead to screenplays.  But after having my first few masterpieces resoundingly rejected by every studio and agency in town  (I was one of those dudes who thought a color script cover would make a difference) I had let my discouragement consume me.  A good friend of mine from college named Julie Plec (now a writer herself on the show Kyle XY) took me out for lunch where she read me the riot act for giving up on my dream before I even had a chance to fail at it.  I tried to offer up some lame excuses, “I’m tinkering with a new idea, I’ve got a meeting with Ricky Schroeder, etc.”  But she knew it was all bullshit.  I finally opened up about how Hollywood had confirmed my own instincts about my lack of talent.  Julie reminded me that there was a time in my life when I never cared about how successful I was at writing, just how much I loved it.  I went home that day and began work on my fourth script, which was… also resoundingly rejected.  As were my fifth thru ninth scripts.  But my tenth script, my tenth script I wrote in Los Angeles got me a lawyer, an agent, and my first job as a paid writer.

What’s the rest of the story?  How did I get here from there?  Writing.   See, that’s why I write.  Not because I’m great at it.  As I mentioned above, most days I feel barely passable.  I write because I love telling stories.  And as I share my stories with the world, my own story gets better and better.   Writing has been responsible for almost every amazing thing that has ever happened to me.  I’ve met thousands of people, made hundreds of friends, had my scripts shot all around the country, worked with stars I grew up admiring,  and seen other actors go from oblivion to household names.  I’ve had crew on shows I’ve created meet,  get married and have children all because I had an idea one day while I was driving and had the fortitude to see that vision through.  When I think about my life now, all thanks to writing,  I think about that classic exchange from “Broadcast News” between William Hurt and Albert Brooks, courtesy of everyone’s writing hero Mr. James Brooks, 

“What do you do when your life exceeds your dreams?”  

“Keep it to yourself.”

I guess that’s the other reason I write.  One day, if I’m lucky enough, I hope to write a line half that good. 

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

Reader submissions are coming!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 2:16 am
Tags: , ,

When we first conceived of this campaign it was as a three-week-and-out blog, something to get our tired and frustrated Guild members through the non-picketing “holiday” weeks.  In the back of our minds we told ourselves that if anyone actually LIKED the blog we’d keep it up longer, but we weren’t really thinking along those lines.

We are now.  The response to WHY WE WRITE has been extremely enthusiastic – even better, it’s been almost uniformly positive – so we’ve decided we should keep the blog going as long as we can.  And that’s where you come in.

Starting this Saturday – and on every subsequent Friday in non-holiday weeks – WHY WE WRITE will feature a reader-generated essay. We’ve received a lot of them from you so far, and we ask that you keep on submitting.  Of course, there’s no guarantee your essay will get posted – we reserve the right to like or not like them, to find them appropriate or not, and to edit them for length if we DO like them (aim for two pages) – but, hey, it’s a shot.  As we said in our first post, we’d love to hear what you’re thinking, what has led you to write.  We are, after all, members of the same community, regardless of whether we make a living from our words or just want to.

So: on Saturday, the first essay from YOU.  In subsequent weeks, your words will appear on Fridays so that we can take the weekend off (hey, don’t forget, we have to picket)!  We’re very excited by this new chapter of WHY WE WRITE.  We hope you are, too.

December 27, 2007

Why We Write – Number 4: Carol Mendelsohn

 

Number 4

 

 Today’s piece is written by Carol Mendelsohn, Member of the Negotiating Committee, Showrunner and Executive Producer of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and co-creator and Executive Producer of CSI: Miami and CSI: New York

  

Once, a long time ago in Upstate New York, far above Cayuga’s waters, on a cold winter’s night in a rundown cockroach infested dump that passed for a house in Collegetown, one of my roommates drew a picture of me.  She did this because it was Saturday night and she wanted me to go out and I wanted to stay in and watch TV.  (Footnote: back in the seventies, Saturday night was the best night of television.  ALL IN THE FAMILY.  MASH.  MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. CAROL BURNETT SHOW.  LOVE BOAT.  Imagine that).

Anyway, upon seeing the drawing, my other roommates heartily nodded their approval, for Ilene Greenberg had captured the true essence of me with her number two pencil and a sheet of plain white paper.   (INSERT CSI SHOT HERE). 

Okay, I’ll give you a clue, which is what I mostly do when I’m not walking the picket line for a fair deal in new media.   My head was square.  And protruding from the top of my pancake flat skull were two rabbit ears.  Not the plushy, furry kind.  Ilene had drawn a human television set.  (Second Footnote: This was the Dark Ages, before plasmas, DirecTV, Electronic Sell Through and Streaming).

I was one of the first viewers to loyally embrace television.  I was only three when my family’s first black and white TV set was plugged into the living room wall.  It was more cabinet than TV, but I loved it with a passion that has consumed my entire life. 

I quickly became a walking encyclopedia of TV facts and trivia.  I watched everything, which in Chicago was only three network stations and the great WGN, Channel 9, which played Hollywood movies, all day and all night, when the Cubs weren’t in season.

My childhood, except for school and going to movies on State Street, revolved around that TV.  It was years later that I found out people actually feared television was going to destroy the movie business.  If they’d only asked me, I could’ve told them TV wasn’t going to cannibalize theatricals.  TV was additive.  Love one, love both. 

In high school, one of my teachers took an informal poll.  She asked our class, “How many hours of TV do you watch a week?”  I watched 49 hours.  From the moment I got up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep.  TV was my best friend.

In study hall, while others were studying, I was conjuring up episodes of the Big Valley and The Virginian in my head.  I could hear the voices of my favorite characters.  And when a line I made up didn’t sound right, I’d rewrite it.  Some things never change.

I never told anyone about these ‘voices’.  I didn’t want to be labeled as a crazy.  It wasn’t until I got my first staff job that I confessed my eccentricity.  And that’s when I discovered that someone else heard voices, too.

Writers hear voices.  Which is why I never think of writing as writing.  To me, it’s more like dictation.  Which raises a fundamental question.  If I’m not doing the writing, who is? 

Due to the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and solidarity I now feel toward all writers on the picket lines, at Friday rallies and membership meetings, I can be honest here.  I believe that when certain WGA members pass on, they go to a Writers Room in the sky.  And when you are stuck on a scene or a story isn’t working, if you just ‘knock on the door of the universe’ before you go to sleep and ask for help, those Writers in the Sky will pull an all-nighter and have a fix for you in the morning.  (Third Footnote: This in no way should be construed as a template for a Streaming or Electronic Sell Through deal, as no payment is involved).

A writer is born, but never dies.  His or her work lives on.  Even in the head of some kid from Chicago. 

So why do I write?   I write because I hear the voices of those Writers in the Sky.   And I believe there’s a deal to be made that will put us all back to work, but that it has to be negotiated by people on both sides of the table who know the value of those voices.

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

December 26, 2007

Why We Write – Number 3: Howard Gordon

  Number 3

Today’s piece is written by Howard Gordon, Executive Producer of “24”.

 

I remember being in a writers’ room a few years ago, and someone – a brilliant and famous writer whose name I’ll keep to myself for now – rhapsodized about the exquisite ecstasy of the writing process.  “Don’t you love it when you get lost inside the story, and the characters start speaking for themselves, and you look up and realize eight hours have passed?”  I nodded dumbly, and smiled.  Because I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.

I’ve never had that experience.   Never.  Me, I’m a grinder.  And a second-guesser.  Since I can remember, I have suffered from some undiagnosed combination of OCD and ADD which causes me to spend hours on a preposition.  Which is a long-winded way to describe this simple truth:  I hate writing.  I really do.  Even writing this short essay is excruciating.   Every word weighs on me like a millstone.  Every.  Single.  Word.

What makes the process even more excruciating is that I am my own worst critic.  No one has more contempt for my work than me.  So studio and network notes are usually a cakewalk.  Whatever they dish out, chances are I’ve already dished out for myself and come back for seconds.   

So why do I write?   Because as much as I hate writing, I love having written.  All the pain suddenly falls away when the dialogue turns from a bunch of words under a character name into the living voices of real people, and the plot becomes more than just a series of events, but a story worth telling.   However we get there, if we’re lucky, eventually we get there.  Word by word.  Line by line. 

I write because it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.  Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate what a privilege it is to be a member of this profession.  I suppose in some way, being a writer is the buy-in that allows me to enjoy the company and respect of my fellow writers.  To count so many professional writers as friends and colleagues is one of my proudest accomplishments.   I may not enjoy the creative process as much as my unnamed colleague, but I’d wager my WGA pension that I get every bit as much pleasure from my final draft – which only makes me want to belly up to the laptop and do it all over again.  

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

 

December 25, 2007

Oh, and by the way, check this out: WE’RE NUMBER TWO!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 11:02 am
 
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Merry Christmas from WHY WE WRITE

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:07 am

No post today.  Number 3, from Howard Gordon, will be posted tomorrow, December 26th.  We want to thank you for visiting this site, and for leaving comments.  As our community grows, so does our resolve.  Try and enjoy the holiday, and keep a bit of hope alive that this strike will end sooner rather than later.

December 24, 2007

Why We Write – Number 2: Steve Levitan

 Number 2

 

 Today’s piece is written by Steve Levitan, creator of “Just Shoot Me” and co-creator of “Back To You”

I swear to God this is true.  A couple of years ago I had lunch with a network president who asked me the following question:

“If I offered you a billion dollars, but you could never write again, would you take it?”

I tried to keep a straight face and act snooty because I knew he assumed my answer would be “no” and was paying me a compliment, but, let’s face it, he had me at “billi…”   Hell, he didn’t even make it hard.  I mean, if he had added, “But you have to cut off your fingers,” well, then now we’re talking a much tougher decision.   I play golf.  I play guitar.  I have an iPhone.  What the hell am I going to do all day now that I have a billion dollars and no fingers? 

The truth is the strike has given me the chance to experience life without a creative outlet like writing.  Here’s something amusing I’ve started doing the past six weeks: I have two teenaged daughters who have just gotten to that age when they’re ashamed of me. So, whenever I drop them off outside a party and there are other kids standing around, I scream out desperately from the car, “MAKE GOOD CHOICES!!!”  They’re just mortified. Now that’s good fun.

Maybe I don’t need this job to be happy.  I have skills to fall back on.  During my senior year of college at (the) Harvard (of America’s Dairyland UW-Madison), and for two years afterwards, I was a television news reporter and anchor for the local ABC affiliate.  I covered big fires, killer tornados, grizzly murders and, worst of all, holiday parades.

Like most newsrooms at the time, ours had three televisions on the wall so we could see what the other stations were doing.  However, I found myself more interested in what came on before the ten o’clock news than during: Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, Wonder Years, Cheers.  I began to wonder if I could ever write something like that.  So, one day, without any plan or guidance, I started firing off my first script — a spec Moonlighting.  It was one of the hardest things I had ever done and I had absolutely no clue what to do with it, but I finished.  I had an incredible sense of accomplishment, even though, to those around me, I was like one of those crazy guys who builds a rocket in his backyard.

I then moved back to my hometown Chicago to take a job creating ad campaigns for Miller Beer, McDonalds and that little bastard the Pillsbury Doughboy (total prima donna).  And I kept writing.  A Cheers.  Then a Wonder Years.   My roommates would just shake their heads and wonder why the hell was I writing fake television shows instead of going out to the bars with them.  a) I just couldn’t stop.  b) It was fourteen below outside.

Long story short, I finally moved to L.A. to write and produce trailers and TV commercials for Disney Studios and, a year and a half later, got my first chance to meet on a television series: Wings.  I went in, pitched a story and, what do you know, they bought it.  I then wrote the freelance script and, when I went to the showrunners’ offices to turn it in, they invited me to come watch the filming of the season premiere later that week.  

I had never been on a sitcom set in my life and it was everything I hoped it would be.  I would have loved every minute of it, but I knew they invited me before they read my script and, throughout the filming, I became increasingly convinced they hated my script and consequently the talentless hack who “wrote” it.  Finally the show ended and David Angell (who left us too soon) asked me to come down from the bleachers onto the set.  Here it comes, I thought, the speech where he tells me I should go back to Chicago and write more cuddly copy for the doughboy (who, btw, has an eating disorder). 

“Steve,” he said in a “let’s just be friends” tone.  “We really liked your script and, if you want to join us, we’d love to have you on staff.” 

I’m not sure I can adequately convey the glory of that moment, but cue the fireworks.  There I was, on an actual sitcom set, in actual Hollywood-adjacent, being asked to join a network show by the guy who wrote some of my favorite episodes of television ever.  Kiss my ass, Doughboy, I’m on staff!

Now, some sixteen years and three or four hundred episodes later, I have to admit to being, at times, a bit jaded.  The hours can be long, cancelled shows break your heart, and I have, on occasion, walked onto a soundstage with more dread than delight. 

But most days, I pinch myself because I’m one of the lucky few who’s living out his Rob Petrie-inspired dream.  And every day I walk that picket line, I know I’m doing it so that, in the future, others will get to experience my good fortune.  After all, my job is to sit in a room with genuinely funny people and tell stories.  I get to see my work performed by some of the best actors ever on television.  And, on a good night, I get to make millions of people laugh. 

That’s something I never want to give up.  Not even for a billio…I’m sorry, I can’t even say it with a straight face.

 

WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.

December 22, 2007

Why We Write – A Series of Essays

A message to all writers from Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, Executive Producers of the Sci-Fi Network’s EUREKA

 

 

Believe it or not, we’ve both been WGA members for more than twenty years.  Each.  That’s like four lifetimes in real job years.  Between us we’ve run, what, eight TV shows?  We’ve been busy, let’s just say that.  Busy enough that we’ve never really sat down and had a conversation on what would seem like a pretty obvious topic:

 

“Why do we write?” 

 

What led us to this rewarding and often soul-crushing line of work?  The kind of job that from the outside seems easy and fun, but from the inside has proven to be… hard and fun.  How did we get here?

 

Over the last six weeks we’ve finally found the time to pose this question to each other and to a lot of other writers.  The answers we’ve received have been humorous, heartfelt, complete bullshit, you name it… but in their own way each answer has been inspirational.  People we’ve known for years and people we’ve just met, Assistants and Staff Writers and Executive Producers, have shared with us the countless stories and divergent paths that somehow led each and every one of us to this same place in life: in our case, picketing in front of the Jimmy Stewart Gate at Universal.

 

So we had an idea.  Then several ideas later, we had what we thought was a good idea: maybe all writers would be inspired by what we’ve been hearing.  We’re facing a few long, cold holiday weeks without even the camaraderie of eating Luna Bars or the anticipation of who’s bringing their dogs to the picket lines to keep our minds occupied.  As communication with each other winds down until the new year, we thought we could do our fellow writers a service by sharing with them what we’ve heard, and what we’ve learned, from asking our simple question: why do we write?

 

For the next three weeks we’ll be sending you one “essay” a day, written by someone you might know, or whose TV show or movie you might have heard of.  Nikki Finke has also kindly agreed to post them for us on her site Deadline Hollywood.  It is our hope that the stories we pass on will provide you with a little lifeline to other writers over the break.  Maybe help you remember that you’re not alone.  Hell, maybe they’ll even prompt you to send us a few words on why you write: if lightning strikes, please send us your thoughts at whywewrite@gmail.com.  We will gladly keep posting these essays, even after the break, as long as you want to keep reading and writing them.  And with our thousands of talented Guild members, we should never run out of quality material. 

 

Tomorrow you’ll read the words of Greg Garcia, EP and creator of MY NAME IS EARL.  In subsequent days you’ll see our question answered by Steve Levitan (BACK TO YOU), Steven Peterman (HANNAH MONTANA), Carol Mendelsohn (CSI), Greg Berlanti (BROTHERS AND SISTERS), and James Duff (THE CLOSER), among many others.  We’re reaching out to the feature community as well.  Please take a moment each day to check this blog or Nikki’s website to see what your contemporaries have to say.  And, if the spirit moves you, let us know, let your fellow writers know: 

 

Why We Write.

 

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