Why We Write

January 31, 2008

Why We Write – Number 34: Sera Gamble

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:44 am
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Number 34

Today’s piece is written by Sera Gamble, Writer-Producer of “Supernatural” and Co-Creator of the blog www.veryhotjews.com.

 

When I was in the seventh grade, I wrote a poem about Mozart.  It was for a class assignment.  Subject matter was dealer’s choice – most of my classmates wrote rhyming couplets about true love – and I’d just discovered classical music.  Also, I was already pretentious.  This poem of mine so impressed the teacher that she asked me to read it aloud for the class.  Maybe because everyone had applied themselves to the assignment with unexpected sincerity, I didn’t get slapped as hard as you might imagine with nerd backlash.  Most of the class even clapped.  I thought, Hey, I should become, like, a professional writer!  People will think I’m awesome and shower me with applause!

After class, this chick approached me at my locker.  “So, your poem,” she said.  “You’re good with words.”

“Thanks,” I said, with casual humility.

“Yeah, totally,” she continued. “But, you know, it didn’t move me.”

With that, she walked away (possibly in the general direction of a career as a studio exec).  I stood there for a long time, locker door in my clammy hand, feeling the blood prickle my neck.  I was crushed.  She was, I knew, spot-on.  Who gives a shit how well-constructed a piece of writing is, if it doesn’t make people feel anything?

Luckily, soon after this my family moved to Southern California.  I went kicking and screaming – I was leaving my hometown, all my friends, my first love who’d only just gotten the balls to kiss me.  In Redlands, I knew no one.  The kids were more worldly than back in Cincy; wore way less clothing; spoke in a sarcastic monotone I couldn’t properly reproduce; had no room in their entrenched clique structure for overeager newbies. 

Three important factors came together the week I moved to Redlands:

  1. I had no one to talk to.
  2. Angst suffused every cell of my body.
  3. Someone had given me a diary as a going-away present.

The page became my dearest confidante, my only friend.  I couldn’t afford to write well-constructed stuff; I was on fire with rage and loneliness.  (Future Studio Exec Chick woulda been thrilled.)  Soon enough, I discovered the local coffee shop.  With it came open mic night, heartbreaking love triangles and a constant stream of potent espresso drinks; amped on all three, I splayed on my bedroom floor at three in the morning, scrawling emotion-drenched blank verse until the pen callous on my middle finger developed a blood blister.

Things didn’t rock so hard for me in high school.  I was That Girl: I wore black; I fought daily, hourly with my parents; I dated crazy boys; I flirted with all the usual bad ideas.  I scared my teachers, my family, myself.  I could easily have ended up a cautionary tale.  Instead, I escaped adolescence relatively unscathed.  Because whatever epic tragedy was unfolding in my hormone-addled mind that day, I wrote about it.  And wrote.  And wrote.  I wrote until I’d accidentally exhausted myself and couldn’t rally the energy to enact any of my more ambitiously self-destructive plans.  I reread some of the stuff I wrote when I was sixteen before I wrote this essay.  Full disclosure: it is by and large embarrassingly histrionic, overwrought ass on a stick.  If I read it to you over a moist open mic, you would laugh, perhaps until you peed yourself.  Also, no fucking way am I showing it to you.  But I will never throw it away.  On the surface, it looks like hundreds of pages of whiny dramatics.  Underneath, though, it’s the road map of a deeply sad, anxious girl discovering that writing what she feels is going to save her.

So, I never stopped writing.  Because obviously that would be a stupid move.  Also, I get paid for it now.  I guess it’s not so strange that I eventually got good enough to warrant a paycheck, considering the obscene amount of practice I’ve put in over the last fifteen years.  But it also feels a little like icing, getting paid to do the one thing I’d do regardless.  I was among the most radioactively miserable kids in a high school of thousands, and now I’m one of the happiest writers I know.  The process of writing doesn’t cause me the agony it does many writers I’ve talked to – you know, the ones who wax rhapsodic about the torture of the blank page.  I sit down to a blank page and see my oldest friend.  Some days I write something decent.  Some days I suck.  Whatever.  It’s not like I won’t be back tomorrow.

 

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.  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.

January 30, 2008

Why We Write – Number 33: Gary Lennon

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:38 am
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Number 33

Today’s piece is written by Gary Lennon, a writer on “The Shield.” 

 

Both of my parents were dead before I was 11 years old.  That is why I write.  At least that was where the desire was born.  I had all of these feelings inside and I didn’t know what to do with them until I picked up a pen and put them down on paper.  My world was turned upside down at an early age and I needed to make sense of the chaos known as my life.  My problem was I picked up the bottle before I picked up the pen, so I had a late start.  But better late than never.

I grew up in Manhattan’s HELL’S KITCHEN before it was deemed CLINTON and before it was known as the dance belt capitol of the world…which it now is.  At the age of 11, I had no parents, two older criminal brothers and a grim prospect of a future, but I did have an Aunt named MOO, short for MURIEL, who was an usherette at the Broadway houses.  Luckily for me, one day my aunt MOO took me to work with her to stuff the understudy announcements into the play bills while she booked numbers for the other usherettes.  Nice.  The play MOO took me to was EQUUS and the lights went down and then came up and I was hooked.  I saw naked people on stage and I thought, I LIKE theater.  I can do this.  I found home.  I will surrender.  YES!  In short I found a hobby, a therapy, that became a vocation.  A carer.  I found a place to make sense of my chaos.

At first I saw many plays, but the plays I saw didn’t reflect my life experience.  The plays I saw were about rich people with country homes.  The plays were about people who had jobs and careers and shit like that.  I couldn’t identify.  I lived in a railroad flat with the bathroom in the hallway. I was waiting for something to speak to me.  Then BAM!  Magic.  I saw a Steppenwolf production of a play called BALM IN GILEAD, and the play was filled with pimps and whores and drug addicts and I thought ahhh….my family, these people I know.  These people I can relate to.  These people I can write about.  A BELL went off.  A green light.  A sense of permission washed over me and allowed me to tell my story, no matter how dark it was…and I picked up a pen and began to find the GOLD in my mud.  My life.  I began to write what I knew and I began to make money.

I first wrote a play called BLACKOUT, which became the film DRUNKS and I started working and very gratefully I haven’t stopped.  I’ve sold a bunch of features and I recently have been working on TV.  I feel blessed.  I just got to write on a show that I was a huge fan of.  I just did the last year of THE SHIELD and found that I liked collaborating.  I liked the writer’s room.  Sometimes I have to stop and take a breath because I know I am living my dream.  I can’t believe I get to work with the talented people that I do and this all happened to a kid from Hell’s Kitchen who didn’t graduate high school.  Who didn’t think he had a future and was ashamed of is past.  I didn’t realize that by owning my past, I’d find my voice and that would allow me to brighten my future.

I truly feel privileged to go to work everyday and dig into my tool box and use my tools that were given to me.  My DNA, my history, my life and put that down on paper and in doing so transcend my circumstances and make my journey authentic.  I write because I have to.  I write because I love it.  I write because there are stories to be told…and I love telling stories.  I’m Irish.

  

 

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.  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.

January 29, 2008

Why We Write – Number 32: David Dean Bottrell

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:42 am
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Number 32

Today’s piece is written by David Dean Bottrell, full-time Feature writer (“Kingdom Come”), part-time TV Actor (“Boston Legal”). 

 

Since I started walking the picket line back in early November, I’ve had a lot of time to think and a few things have occurred to me.  First off, speaking as a feature writer, I’m astounded at how many friends the TV writers have.  Seemingly, all these people have to do is turn around and they run into yet someone else they know.  It’s unnatural.  I’ve never been particularly popular which is why I became a writer in the first place.  It was my chance to punish the inner circle that never had anything to say to me.  Suddenly, it’s high school all over again (except in front of Warner Brothers).  Secondly, (thanks to the AMPTP), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the actual value of writing.  And I’ve thought a little about why I keep choosing to do this particular job.   

It certainly isn’t because of public demand.  Not only do those damn TV writers have too many friends, they also get to regularly experience seeing their work filmed and watched by millions of people.  I’m a screenwriter and a successful one to boot.  Successful in the sense that I write enough screenplays each year to pay my bills, contribute to my retirement account and take a modest vacation.  That’s about it.  Many of my scripts have “almost” gotten made.  One actually did.  It was co-written with another writer who to this day hates my guts, so I’ll decline to mention her name here.  The script was largely drawn from true stories about my family — which somehow through the process of “development” became a story about a black family.  The resulting film was basically still the story of my family – but played by black people.  During its release, I spent many happy evenings at the Magic Johnson Cinemas watching my movie over and over.  I loved hearing the black people laugh at my family and more than anything I just wanted the chance to do it all over again.  But the real truth is I rarely get to write for audiences.  I write for producers, development people, studio executives, talent agents and movie stars – most of whom seem to really enjoy my writing.  So much so that they often contribute ideas to make the script better.  Small things like changing the age, race, profession and gender of the leading character or perhaps altering the location, historical time period or galaxy in which the story takes place. 

When these requests come my way, I always feel suicidal.  I never think I can do it, but then somehow I do.  I had a shrink a few years ago who once said to me, “Gosh, it must be so wonderful to be funny.”  To which I responded, “No, actually it’s not.”  In the life of a writer, the blessing is also the curse.  We walk around looking at people, feeling like we know them in some way.  We envision their circumstances.  Invent their conversations.  Fill in the blanks.  And before long, we are filled with empathy toward these virtual strangers and want nothing more than to re-imagine the course of their lives somehow.  But carrying all those unwanted observations around gets heavy after a while.  It makes us a little sad and the only way to free ourselves from that melancholy is to put that imagined knowledge to use – by creating a funny, not-so-funny, meaningful, scary and totally unnecessary story out of it.  And hopefully if we do our job well, somebody will see some truth in our efforts and they will laugh or cry or be outraged or at the very least feel brave enough to get out of their bed tomorrow morning. 

So in a sense, when it comes to my profession, I never really had much choice in the matter.  Like my height, hair color and shoe size, nature seems to have chosen for me.  Writing is the most effective anti-depressant I have ever used.  I am never happier than when I’m writing.  I’m never sadder than when I turn something in.  I don’t know what the economic future of my profession will be, but I know that I will always find a way to write.  Will I ever get another film made?  I have no idea.  Does this job make any sense as a career choice?  I couldn’t tell ya.  All I know is I turned my fourth draft into the studio on October 31st and I now hear that everybody “loves it!”  This week, they love it.  So until next week arrives, I’m happy to be the writer of that script.  Oddly, no sooner did I hear this news than I suddenly had an idea for a new script that I think could be really funny.  Wow, do I love that feeling.  If all the TV writers in the world called me tonight and invited me to join them for a beer, I’d turn them down.  I’d rather stay home and work on my first act. 

    

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.  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.

January 28, 2008

Why We Write – Number 31: Michael Oates Palmer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 8:05 am
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Number 31

Today’s piece is written by Michael Oates Palmer, who’s written for The West Wing, Shark, Army Wives, and several shows with the word “Justice” in the title.

 

I write because when I was six years old, my grandfather would take me to his favorite hang-out, the Stop Inn, a dive bar on the corner of a row house street in Northeast Philadelphia.  He’d let me sit on a stool and drink a Roy Rogers, while he and his cronies told stories for hours.  Then we’d stop at 7-Eleven on the way home, and he’d buy me comic books.

Because writing gave my mother a ticket out of Northeast Philadelphia, and gave her a home out in the world.  Because my father used words to try to stop a war.  Because I grew up surrounded by political posters and buttons, and because I took the UFW slogan There’s Blood on Those Grapes literally.

Because when I was four years old, I turned to my mom at Mann’s Chinese, five minutes into Superman, and told her we had to get out, the planet was about to explode.  She waited with me in the lobby until Baby Kal-El was safely on his way to Earth.

Because when I was seven, my mother would bring home reams of carbon paper that she’d swiped from her job as an LA Times reporter, and when I rolled it into the Smith-Corona, I’d hunt-and-peck little three page scripts.   Because growing up off of Franklin Avenue and Bronson, the studio lots were the mansion on the hill.

Because while I watched a lot of Diff’rent Strokes and Happy Days, I also watched hours and hours of the Z Channel.  Because I was the Greatest American Hero for Halloween when I was seven.  Because I couldn’t understand why if I loved the show and watched it every week, NBC could go and cancel Misfits of Science.

Because when I was thirteen, I read every Kurt Vonnegut novel there was, and when I was eighteen, I read every Raymond Carver story there was, and when I was twenty-five, I read every Wallace Stegner novel there was.

Because I was shitty at sports, wasn’t cool enough for the theater kids, and speech and debate was lame.  Because when I was seventeen, I wrote an article for the school paper that almost got me expelled, and did get me punched in the face on the schoolyard.  While the Vice Principal watched.  Smiling.

Because in college, I learned that music journalists got to go backstage.  Because I loved rock and roll, but was a lousy guitarist, and realized at around 21 that all of the rock critics I worshipped were having a tough time paying their health insurance. 

Because on first dates, people don’t go out for dinner and a hedge fund.  Because applause is a pat on the head.  Because Sullivan’s Travels was right.  Because aside from his father’s funeral, the only time I’ve seen my dad cry is at the movies.  Because I’ve always hoped that words would allow me to be my own best Cyrano. 

Because when the writing’s going well, there’s a high.  Because when it’s going poorly, you call another friend up, and then you can talk for fifteen minutes about how it’s going poorly, and then you talk about food.

Because it feels good to sell a script when everyone tells you it’s an impossible sale.  Because the writers’ room can either have the chemistry of a newsroom and the camaraderie of the varsity squad, or it can be as dysfunctional as Lord of the Flies.  Because while it hurts to get fired, it gives you something to prove.

Because it was one of only three things I was ever good at, I couldn’t figure out how to earn a living make mix tapes, and the third thing is illegal.

Because no matter how many times you see them, Duck Soup is still funny, The Manchurian Candidate is still jolting, Rosemary’s Baby is still scary, and, when you’ve had a lousy day, Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” bit in Singin’ in the Rain can still put you in a good mood.  Every time.

Because I started looking forward to seeing the folks I met at a random gate on Culver Blvd outside the Sony lot – Julie Bean, Matthew Carlson, Rick Groel, Sam Johnson, Chris Ord, Bill Robertson, Mike Schiff, Lew Schneider, and Wally Wolodarsky – every day at six in the morning.  Even if some mornings I didn’t get there until 6:30.  (Sorry about that.)

Because it’s therapy, and because it’s church.  Because it’s community, and because it’s solitary confinement.  Because it’s blood. 

And because, like the song goes, we did it for the stories we could tell.

 

 

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.  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.

January 27, 2008

Why We Write – Number 30: Reader Submitted Essay

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 12:16 pm
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Number 30

Today’s piece is written by Brian Ford Sullivan, Editor-In-Chief of “The Futon Critic.”  He still receives e-mails asking why he does not review actual futons.

 

When I was 20 years old I managed to save up enough money from my various jobs to take the summer off between my junior and senior years of college. The purpose – I was going to write my “Great American Novel.” Why? Life had taught me enough at that point that I knew if I didn’t, I never would.

This as you might guess took my family and friends by surprise – I might as well have told them I was taking the summer off to become a downhill slalom skier. And so, despite everyone’s protests, I did it – I spent every day that summer pounding the keys until I arrived at my inaugural tome three months later.

It’s a period of my life I will never forget – for the first time every day wasn’t about work/classes/money/girls/etc., it was just about the writing. More importantly, it made me feel that actually being a writer was possible. It made me get my first literary agent, it made me sell my first freelance work, it made me learn how to pitch my ideas, it made me start TheFutonCritic.com, it made me do all the things that led me to uproot my life to try and make a go at the television business here in Los Angeles.

So why do I do it?

The easy answer is I don’t want to do anything else. The real answer is I love what we do with stories – as both a writer and a viewer. As a writer, stories are about breaking up what’s going on inside you – your dreams, fears, hopes, loves, joys, hates, pains, lusts and regrets – and then reassembling it together on the page – as characters, dialogue, settings, action, drama and comedy. For a viewer, it’s about breaking up what’s happening on screen – characters, dialogue, settings, action, drama and comedy – and putting it inside of you – your dreams, fears, hopes, loves, joys, hates, pains, lusts and regrets. I can’t get enough of either process – they are the arteries and veins respectively of my mind.

And so as I chase the dream of admittance into the writers’ room – of spending my days breaking apart stories and reassembling them – all I can think of is that summer, when it was just me, my computer and the stories.

That’s why I write.

 

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.  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.

January 26, 2008

Why We Write – Number 29: Special Father and Son Day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 10:24 am
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 Number 29

Today’s first piece is written by Daniel Warren, Staff Writer of “Cory in the House.”  The second essay is written by Marc Warren, Creator and Executive Producer of “Cory in the House”… and Daniel Warren’s father.

 

Daniel Warren 

I’m in the family business.  When my family first moved out to California in 1980, I was four years old.  My Dad and his writing partner had taken a leap of faith, bringing their families out to LA to try and make it as sitcom writers.  At first, we had no money, and there wasn’t any work.   But they kept plugging away.   I vividly remember the two of them sitting at our dining room table, usually laughing hysterically, sometimes arguing furiously.  Even as a little kid, I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.  The only thing I didn’t understand was that weird smoky smell that accompanied their writing sessions.  Don’t judge.  It was the 80’s, and I managed to grow up sane.  Years later, at my first real party in high school, I smelled the smoke again, and thought to myself, “That is so weird that in the middle of this party, somebody’s writing a script.”   Something clicked in my brain, and it all made sense.

After my Dad started to get his first taste of success, I would go visit him in the writer’s room, and it seemed like the coolest place on Earth.  They had every candy and soda known to man.  There were a zillion pencils stuck in the ceiling, there were pretty girls changing big Arrowhead bottles on the water cooler.  When Dad came home late from “work”, I somehow knew that he was having more fun than I was having at school.  There was never any doubt that this is what I wanted to do with my life. 

But now came the tough part.  I actually had to sit and produce something.  And it was really fucking hard.  You mean I couldn’t just go straight to the candy and the soda and the girls?  After a million false starts, I finally got something down on paper, and my Dad has been my rock since Day One.  He’s tells me when it’s funny, and more importantly, he tells me when it sucks.  The worst is when he tells me “it’s close”, because that means that I have to write even more.  I’m nervous about what he’ll think of this. 

And now my Dad is my showrunner.   My experience as a writer is that much more special to me because I get to be in the trenches with him.  Every day, I get to sit at the table, and eat all that candy (although he generally pushes for the healthier snacks).  I’ve learned how to “keep the train moving” when breaking a story, because even if it doesn’t make sense now, at least it’s something and it’ll get there eventually.  I’ve learned the art of fake laughing at runthru.  I’ve learned how to sneak dirty jokes onto what’s supposed to be a show for children.  And hopefully, some day far in the future when this strike is over, I can make dick jokes with my kid.

 

 Marc Warren

When my son Danny was five my wife Melinda and I shoe-horned him into the back seat of our Malibu Classic and moved from New York (okay, Brooklyn) to Hollywood (okay, Van Nuys).  “This is a family adventure”, I explained to him.  I figured that sounded more fun than “Daddy’s lost his fucking mind and thinks he can be a screenwriter.”  That this was even a remote possibility began a few years earlier with my friend Dennis Rinsler.  In the late seventies we’d started writing humor pieces for The National Lampoon and other fine periodicals like Hustler, Velvet and High Society, the pre-Britney home of celebrity skin.  One night, through a haze of tightly rolled inspiration, we decided to write some TVscripts.  We coughed out a couple of specs and sent them off to a friend’s wife’s college roommate’s husband who was an agent at someplace called CAA.  He of course passed them on to some guy fresh out of the mailroom.  But that was okay, because Mailroom Guy called us and said our stuff was pretty good.  He could get us a job as story editors on a sit-com for a couple of grand a week, but we’d have to move to California.  What?  Give up my high-paying, sky rocketing career as an inner city public school teacher?  Cut to tires burning rubber as our car peels out leaving the New York (okay Brooklyn) skyline behind.  Melinda actually went along with this.  She believed in the dream and believed in me and I’ll always love her for that.

Freshly landed in la-la land Dennis and I headed up to CAA to claim our prize.  I told Danny that pretty soon he was going to see one of his pop’s scripts on TV.  More than anything I wanted him to be proud of me.  But I also wanted to be to keep a roof over his head.  And rooflessness seemed like a real possibility when we finally met our agent.  He was walking through the lobby carrying what looked suspiciously like a moving box.  He told us the business was fucked and he was out of there.  Welcome to Hollywood.  No agent.  No job.  No two grand a week on Three’s Company or Flo.  He asked us if we needed any dope.  That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.  To our eternal thanks, another freshly minted agent, Rob Rothman, took pity on us.  Rob worked tirelessly and finally landed us our first gig.  It was on a show called Madame’s Place.  For those of you too young to remember, Madame was a sassy puppet, and alter ego of a sweet, funny guy named Waylon Flowers.  Dennis told the head writer Bob Sand he’d fuck Madam to get the job.  Bob said, “Get in line”.  But he hired us and I got to come home and tell Danny that Daddy was finally a working writer.  He was as proud as any kid could be of a dad who was working for a puppet with a face like a penis and balls.

Over the next twenty odd years I stumbled my way up the ladder, eventually running shows and even creating a couple and getting them on the air.  I’ve spent more time in the writers’ room than anywhere else (although the bathroom is starting to run a close second).  It was a crazy ride filled with crazy people and I cherished every minute of it.  I wasn’t surprised when Danny told me he wanted to be a writer.  Danny always loved movies and television.  From the time he learned to read he preferred Variety (before their current strike coverage) to Dr. Seuss.  Now if I were in a normal family business, like dry cleaning or owning a media conglomerate, this would have been a moment of great jubilation.  But I knew the challenges that lay before him.  The endless specs, the broken promises, the despair of seeing your hopes ground into a fine powder and snorted up the nostrils of the dream killers.  Yeah, good times.  But he knew all that going in.  He’d grown up with it.  And he went for it anyway.  Over the next couple of years, the kid learned his craft and paid his dues.  When a spot opened up on my staff, I knew he was ready and deserving. So here we are, dad and lad, sitting at the table together, breaking stories, pitching jokes, praying for interruptions.  When I look across at Danny, I still see that little boy poring through the trades for the latest grosses.  I think about how far we’ve come together, how proud I am of him.  I didn’t know it when I started.  But this is why I write.   

 

  

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.  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.

January 25, 2008

Why We Write – Number 28: Jaime Paglia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 9:42 am
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Number 28

Today’s piece is written by Jaime Paglia, Executive Producer and Co-Creator of “Eureka.” 

 

I’d like to say that I write because it’s been a life-long dream.  I’d love to recall with a wistful smile how I still remember the feel of my first Ticonderoga #2 scratching across a yellow legal pad, or the clack of the keys on my grandfather’s classic Underwood.

But I can’t.  And I don’t. 

The truth is, I never had a clue what I wanted to do with myself, and in many ways, I still don’t.  I’ve spent a lifetime tormented by too many options, perpetual self-doubt, and chronic indecision.  I think the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to do something memorable.  Like playing pro football.  But at 150 pounds, THAT wasn’t in the cards, so I went off to college with lofty goals and no direction, and to fulfill a general requirement, took a course in playwriting.  Our first assignment was to write a scene about a misunderstanding between two characters.  Being a wholesome, small-town kid, I conceived of a meeting between a businessman and a guy he thinks is an auto broker…but turns out to be a pimp.  The two men talk about what “type” the businessman is looking for and the double-entendres start flying.  Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but trite as it sounds, when we had the table-read, people laughed.  A lot.  Which was, quite simply, intoxicating.  More exercises led to writing plays and eventually, screenplays, which got more laughs, until a realization began to slowly dawn on me: if I could actually make a living doing this, I’d never have to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up.  There was a limitless cast of potential characters I could create and try on.  I could be the hero, the villain, the sidekick.  The drifter, the lawyer, the spy.  The love interest or the love-lost.  Winner or loser.  Damaged or healed.  I could be as confident, charismatic or as witty as I rarely felt in real life.  (How many times had I thought of the thing I wished I’d said half an hour after the moment had passed?  No more.)  I would always have the perfect one-liner, the most romantic proposal, the most devastating comeback.  Well, maybe not PERFECT, but a damn sight closer than in real life.  Best of all, I could experience all of this from the comfort of my own house.  Plus, let’s be honest, it’s just a damn cool job.  And fun.  Okay, fun as in painful.  Often, like getting root canal.  Like writing this essay, which given that I’m on strike, is all I’ve written in over two months, and I’m convinced is pure crap.  Honestly, I hate every word and will regret having written it the moment I send it out for public viewing.  But that is the life I’ve chosen.  I’m one of the few, incredibly fortunate, deeply pathological people who actually gets to make stuff up for a living.  And once we get a fair deal and everyone goes back to work, maybe I’ll create a character whose brilliant observations and impeccable comedic timing change the world.  Then I’ll get to inhabit that guy’s skin for a little while.  Which isn’t all bad.

And if I’m lucky – on a good day – people will laugh.

  

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.  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.

January 24, 2008

Don’t worry – we read all of your submissions!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 5:41 pm

I’ve gotten some emails lately wondering (mostly politely) why we haven’t posted someone’s submitted essay.  The answer is pretty simple: we receive a LOT of them.  I read them in batches, and process the ones I think are appropriate in the rough order they’ve come in.  We intend to publish the ones we like, but you have to have patience.  Our blog has been more popular than expected, and we thank you for that, and we thank you for your understanding.

 

Why We Write – Number 27: Becky Hartman Edwards

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:21 am
Tags: ,

 Number 27

Today’s piece is written by Becky Hartman Edwards, Co-Executive producer of “October Road.”

 

Having read a number of these essays, I’m amazed that while everybody’s story is unique some themes seem to run throughout… People write because of a childhood spent watching television and/or films, a hatred of the writing process but a love of having written, enjoying the company of other writers, a two-day, three-night, ill-fated affair with a married ad exec during a company retreat in 1986.  Well, maybe that last one’s just me…

I was interning in New York at what was then Telepictures and in the process of becoming Lorimar-Telepictures before it was swallowed up by Warner Bros., which was in the process of becoming part of the Time-Life “family” which later merged with/was taken over by AOL.  To “celebrate” the Lorimar-Telepictures merger a company retreat was planned in La Costa (a resort outside of San Diego); the word synergy was bandied about and the heads of various departments and subsidiaries were all invited.  My job was to help put together a facebook of the attendees, basically, a whose resume is bigger kind of thing.  And then I was flown out to La Costa to help make sure everybody’s massages were properly scheduled and the conference rooms were stocked with snacks.  I’m pretty sure Les Moonves was there, but as he had no complaints about either his snacks or spa treatments I can’t be sure.  Barbara Brogliatti, who was the initial AMPTP spokesperson, was definitely there because she had lots of notes on my Marv Adelson facebook blurb.  Anyway, despite the blurb fiasco, the job left me just enough time to get into trouble with the above mentioned married ad exec.

When the conference was over and I returned to New York, I rediscovered my conscience and he discovered the intern who sat at the desk next to mine.  And then I went into a tailspin.  I became a cliché.  I cried for days, ate bad Chinese food, and listened to so much Suzanne Vega that my cassette literally broke and then it hit me…  There was no way this affair deserved this amount of mourning.  There was something missing from my life– something besides the sleazy ad exec, something besides a decent moral code.  Writing.  For the first time in my life, with the exception of the facebook blurbs, I wasn’t writing …

In elementary school, I wrote.  And it was always clear why.  I wrote satirical, political short stories culminating in the “The Elves Go On Strike” because my leftist sixth grade teacher gave us extra credit for them.  In high school I wrote borderline factual news stories for the school paper (I was often my own unnamed source) and a humor column called “Straight From the Hart.”  In college I covered sports and had a column called “HartBeat.”  (For better or worse, Hartman lends itself to a lot of bad column title puns.)  My roommate and I wrote and directed a makeshift soap opera parody featuring cameos by Jeff Zucker as a rock ‘n roll janitor (Okay, now I’m done name-dropping members of the AMPTP.)   It’s not hard to see why I never thought I could actually make a living doing this.  So after graduation, I took an internship with Telepictures in their finance and public relations departments.  In addition to helping put together the La Costa retreat, I worked on spreadsheets, scheduled meetings, organized the company Christmas party and even got to go on a cruise as a liason to the stars of “It’s A Living.”  (The fact that nobody knows who the stars of “It’s A Living” are is exactly why they needed a liason.)  I was doing all kinds of things, some of them even pretty cool, but what I wasn’t doing was writing. 

So I left Lorimar-Telepictures to pursue whatever writing I could find… The “Coming Nexts” over the credits at A&E. – “Next after Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair,’ Rommel marches through Africa in the ‘Desert Fox.”  Entertainment News segments for VH1—“Cher fans were exclaiming ‘I got you babe,” today as they snapped up bottles of her new perfume,” an episode of “ThunderCats”—“Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats… HO!”  It may not sound like much, but I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to write.  And it kept me from consuming four tubs of hot and sour soup a day and from drunk dialing the ad exec.  Okay, maybe once.  But that was after a birthday party when at least seven or eight tequila shots were downed. 

Anyway, my random writing gigs became a career thanks to Danny Ableson, a freelance writer who took me under his wing, Mark O’Donnell, an incredibly gifted writer and teacher who taught a class on monologues, dialogues, and sketches, and Keenan Ivory Wayans, who enjoyed reading sketches centered around dick jokes as much as I enjoyed writing them.  Over the past 17 years, I’ve somehow been lucky enough to keep writing, moving from sketches to sitcoms to dramas.  Clearly, I’ve gotten a lot less funny and a lot more verbose.

So I write because I never want to have to listen to “Marlene on the Wall” again.  Well, actually, I still kind of like that song… I write because when I don’t, I do things that really depress me like sleeping with married ad execs or walking around in a circle, holding a sign, chanting outside of ABC .

  

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.  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.

January 23, 2008

Why We Write – Number 26: Cindy Chupack

Filed under: Uncategorized — Charlie Craig @ 7:44 am
Tags: ,

Number 26

Today’s piece is written by Cindy Chupack, Executive Producer and Writer of “Sex and the City.”

 

This might sound hokey, but I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since my third grade teacher declared, based on some poetry assignments I turned in, that I was a writer. 

There were a lot of things you could be called in the third grade.   “You’re a fag!” one boy wrote in my autograph book, before we had yearbooks, before either of us knew what a “fag” was.  We were ten, so this was not so much politically incorrect as it was factually incorrect, but the point is, of all the things I’d been called and would be called growing up in Oklahoma, writer was definitely my favorite.

Thus (that’s the other thing that appealed to me: writers got to use words like thus!) from a very young age, I didn’t think I wanted to be a writer.  I thought I was a writer.

I wrote all the time, even on family vacations.  My sister would come home with a tan, and I’d come home with a poem.  I’m not saying anything I wrote was great.  It wasn’t even good.  I thought it was good, though, and my parents thought it was good, but with parents, you have to remember these are the same people who once praised you for pooping.  It’s their job to be encouraging.  Some parents retire from that job, some tell you everything you do is crap (ironically), but mine never did.

Anyhow, in the fifth grade, after two long years of honing my craft, I got my big break.  One of my poems won a contest and earned a place in a book called “The World of Poetry.”  My parents had to pay something like $50 for our copy of the book, and when it arrived, based on the number of pages (maybe 3000?) and the microscopic print (is there such a thing as .5?), and the fact that you could pay extra to have your picture included (to their credit, my parents did not pony up for a picture), it became clear that I had not been discovered, I had been scammed.

In fact, as I browsed through the 8 million other “winning” poems, I realized I wasn’t a great writer.  I was one of 8 million people who wanted to write, and that was just the people in this edition.  I hadn’t “won” anything, and I probably wasn’t going to win that “Draw Tony the Tiger” contest either.  The world – The World of Poetry – was suddenly a much darker place, run by people who took art, or at least someone’s dream of being an artist, and turned it into a business.

The fact that I’ve been completely blindsided by the lack of caring on the other side of the negotiating table during this strike shows just how little I’ve learned since the fifth grade. 

But for me, writing was never a business.  I once said to my agent when we were discussing my next career move, “Let’s take the money out of it,” and he looked at me as if I’d said, “Let’s take gravity out of it.”  (I’m no longer with that agent.)  I once left a hit network show that I loved to work for less money with a lesser title on an intriguing new cable show that spoke to me (and to millions of other women around the world, apparently).  I’ve said no to high-paying development deals in exchange for no-paying, no-strings-attached opportunities to write what I wanted rather than what someone wanted from me.  I quit a secure advertising job when I first moved to LA so I could read a pile of spec scripts for Disney TV animation.  It was there I learned that Hollywood, for all its flaws, is a meritocracy when it comes to writing.  A great script takes on a life of its own.  A great script (like a great book), you can’t wait to pass around.  A great script gets the writer work, even if the writer is a naive kid from Oklahoma.

I understand, by the way, what a luxury it is to be able to turn jobs down.  It’s a luxury our residuals – combined with our ability to live on Ramen noodles – buy us.  It’s a luxury that’s a necessity, because sometimes as a writer, what you want/need to write is not going to make you rich, but it’s going to make you happy.  And it’s going to reach people in a way that other writing won’t because it’s from the heart.  It’s something only you could write.  It’s what you’re supposed to be writing.

I once heard Joe Mantegna tell a roomful of aspiring writers and actors that if you don’t love doing a community theater play that pays nothing, you won’t love the job any more when you’re making a million dollars.  His point was that acting is acting.  Writing is writing.  Ideally, you do it because you love it.  You do it when it barely pays the rent, because you can’t imagine doing anything else.  

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t get compensated fairly for what we do, because what we do, as I sensed in the third grade, is special.  What we create creates hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for the corporations who claim they can’t pay us pennies more.  We face the blank page daily and infuse it with life, which infuses this industry with life. 

This strike has been a frustrating reminder that TV and film, in the eyes of the corporations, is just business, but it will never be just business for writers.  It will always be something we feel lucky to do.  Writers are some of the funniest, smartest, most creative, darkest, best people I know.  Writers’ rooms have given me amazing, hilarious memories and amazing, hilarious friends.  That’s why I’m proud, all of these years and scripts and reality checks later, to continue learning, and earning the title: Writer.

 

 

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.  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.

 

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