Monday, November 17, 2008

Sitcom Room 3

SITCOM ROOM 3 was held this weekend at that shrine of comedy, the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. For two days twenty attendees experienced what it’s like to be on staff of a sitcom. And none left saying they’d rather sell appliances at Sears than ever do that shit again, so I considered it a big success!

Among the things they learned were:

The two “Reds” that all writers require are Red Vines and Red Bull.

There’s always a way to solve story structure. There is no way out of the parking structure.

Danielle Sanchez, Co-Exec of MY NAME IS EARL explained what they’re looking for in a spec.

Air conditioning is a good thing.

The pros and cons of gangbanging.

Servicing actors (not to be confused with gangbanging).

If you don’t have a white board to write down your story beats, you can always use full-length mirrors. Sure anyone who enters the room will think it’s Hannibal Lector’s shopping list but still it gets the job done.

Jokes are easy. Stories are hard.

Norm stories on CHEERS were particularly hard.

Lloyd Garber shared tales of working with the great Bob Newhart.

When you’re finished eating the take-out Chinese food throw everything out. Immediately!

What shows to write for your spec. What shows not to write for your spec. (hint: I hope you’re not too far along on that DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.)

Not all Hitler jokes work.

Runthrough etiquette.

The Volkswagen test.

The magazine trick.

Why a comedy writer should never wear a toupee or Hawaiian shirt (not that anyone should).

Ways to fix troubled scenes.

How to run a room.

How to get a laugh without a joke.

David Isaacs gave an inside look at how MAD MEN works.

Don’t trust a certain scumbag talent agency.

You don’t have to be the funniest person in the writing room to be the most valuable.

Phoef Sutton of CHEERS and BOSTON LEGAL explained how the worst idea ever can become the best idea.

Nothing goes better with Oreo Double-stuffs than beer.

The rule of threes.

The best book for learning how to be funny is Improv Comedy by Andy Goldberg.

… and finally -- 5-Hour Energy works!!! (Oh wait, it’s me who learned that.)

Thanks to Dan O’Day, David Isaacs, Phoef Sutton, Danielle Sanchez, Lloyd Garver, Andy Goldberg, Mark Chaet, Barbara Howard, Mehera Blum, the German guy from the hotel, and especially the attendees for making Sitcom Room 3 such a great experience.

A few of those attendees may comment. Not sure how many because of course I’ll delete the negative ones.

33 comments:

Rory L. Aronsky said...

The Sitcom Room was a set of fecal flakes, days of hell that seemed like they would never end, people going on and on about what they do in their careers, and who needs to hear that outside of Hollywood?

I can't believe Ken Levine actually runs this worthless, waste of.....oh wait, I wasn't actually there. I apologize. This rant against something I've never experienced was supposed to go on another blog and involve something entirely different. Excuse me.

*Bows as if there's applause*

Anonymous said...

In my group we didn't do the normal wannabe writer talk.

We went in a worked. If fact, when Ken came into check on us, we were all so on task that it was like, "Um, we're kinda busy right now, Ken, can you save that M.A.S.H. story 'til after we finish?"

Which in hindsight is a big f-up on my part. We should have been working him like he was one of the team, saying does this work? How would you fix this part. That would be the way to get out money's worth out of Ken, (I reccoment anyone who take the seminar do this). However, I didnt think about this until I was driving home.

But I guess the fact that we didn't do this was a sign that our group gelled together really well.
I felt like we didn't need his help.

More later

Eric Curtis said...

I've been looking for a new appetizer to go with my beer.

That sounds like an experience these people will remember for the rest of their lives. Like a mixture of their first kiss and first prostate exam.

Hint: Never go to an Urologist that went through college on a basketball scholarship.

viewer said...

Ken, please come to the UK and fix the apologies for sitcoms they keep sticking on our Samsungs.

charlotte said...

Whew. After reading Ken's description of the weekend wonderfulness I had to miss out on (wah!), sounds an awful lot like filmschool was at USC: guest speakers from the industry who are friends of the teacher, competitive group projects, etc. Not so jealous anymore.

(Okay, still a little jealous!)

More stories from people who were there!

KEN LEVINE said...

There was no competition. That was stressed. All four groups were very supportive of each other. And have even formed a Google chat group to all stay in touch.

Somehow I don't see that happening at USC.

Franklin said...

Hey Ken, funny list. I never heard of Sitcom Room before but that sounds like a neat comedy group together.

By the way, I work with Stacker 2 and we've got our own energy shot called 6 Hour Power... have you heard of it? I was wondering if you could help us out by taking this brief, anonymous survey about our drink: http://www.surveymonkey.com/6hrpowersurvey

That would be great if you let me know if you took the survey. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. Have a nice day.

Franklin Keane
Brand Ambassador
Franklin6hrpower@gmail.com

Dan O’Day said...

@ Charlotte: The industry guest speakers (all with major credits) were an unadvertised bonus. No film school in the world offers what you'll find at the Sitcom Room: the opportunity to work on a real script, in a real writing room, under tremendous pressure but with the guidance of one of the industry's most successful writer/producer/ directors...and then to see talented actors bring your scene to life just hours later.

jbryant said...

Damnit, Franklin -- I had JUST perfected my 5.5 Hour Boost beverage when I saw your post. Back to the drawing board.

Are you happy now, Ken? Clearly, your mention of that 5 hour energy drink came up in Franklin's Google search. Next you'll be inundated with spam posts from the proprietors of Mindy Cohn nude sites.

Max Clarke said...

Congratulations to everybody who did Sitcom Room, and to Ken's team for running it.

Can somebody explain why the Norm stories were hard to do? Those crazy Cheers writers made it look easy.

Anonymous said...

The 1500 hundred dollar question, for me, is this: Was it worth 1500 dollars?

Man, I go back and forth.

I don't even want to write for television so I guess it wasn't, if the goal was to get me into writng for television, but I had some extra money and I was actaully able to write it off to my buisness, so maybe it was.

All the while I was there I kept thinking about how many hookers and how much coke I could get in the right third world country.

If you got the cash and the thrill of whores and coke have long worn off, go for it.

If things are tight, you would be better using that money to allow you free time to write.

At the presentation Danielle the Girl Producer said, do your best work before you pitch it.

Great advice!

Advice a lot of people who want to get into the business don't heed but should.

The panel was useful but not for the reason one might first think.

Right away it was really obvious that these were some really bright people.

But after I thought this, I thought, Yeah, but you [me]are as smart as these people.

I think if you are aspiring to do something like this it's good
to have that exchange in your mind.

I'm sure the people who are successful have that thought.

So it's good to see real people are doing what you are doing.

And why cant you?

My favorite line during the panel was when david Issics was talking about being in the milatary reserve and how his fellow reserves would make fun of him: "Hey, the Jew is reading a book again."

I still laugh.

I dont think this was like Film School.

Also, everyone was wondering why comedy rooms get so raunchy.

It's called ritual reversal.

Every culture has it. It's used by people with great responsiblity to let off steam. It's a pressure release valve.

Dan and Ken in contrast were princes.

Posting anonamously is fun. I feel so free!

Sue Burton said...

I thought the Sitcom room was a fantastic experience. I began Saturday a bit skeptical (it's a Boston thing) and left beyond thrilled after the panel Sunday afternoon.
What made this different? Doing vs. listening for one thing. You can hear stories and experiences, but when you actually have to hammer out story beats and funny lines -- you "get it" in your bones. I loved having the actors perform the before & after scenes and seeing each group's different takes and the panel was informative, funny and content-filled.
My big "Ah-Has among the Ha-Has": 1) It's far more about situation than comedy - Get the characters and the story right & the funny will follow. My analogy is like a Christmas tree -- if you put on the ornaments before the lights, you are screwed. I'm sure there's a mennorah corrollary that fits too.
2) Don't get attached -- to your jokes, your characters or your plotlines ... since shit happens and you have to adjust.
3) Sitcom writing is about creative improvisational problem solving even more than writing - you have to adjust to changes, take feedback, diplomatically adjust to expectations and still deliver a funny/relevant scene.
3) There's more than one way to do a funny scene. Options are limitless and it's not about being "right" as much as its about staying true to the characters and motivations.
I had a blast even though we were seriously focused 90% of the time. I learned a lot which will help me with some current projects and, candidly, I would do it again. Worth every penny of the $1,500 and 3,000 miles for me personally.

Great experience, great folks. Like a good amusement park ride, I'd love to go again.

Brenna (attendee) said...

What was I expecting from the Sitcom Room? To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. My scripts have been features, I’ve done them all on my own, and I’ve not attempted to write comedies. So this was a chance for me to have a bit of a taste of what it’s like to write for TV, collaborate with other writers, and see if I was at all funny.

Ken has created a weekend that is informative, fun, and a great opportunity to connect with other writers. If you’ve attended screenwriting classes before, this is unlike those. Just last month, I went to the one of the “big” screenwriting classes taught by a “guru” in NYC (3 days in a room for 12 hours with 200 other people, with 15 minutes to take a bathroom break). The two “classes” are so different it’s not fair to compare but I will say that between the prices of both and travel/hotel (I’m in DC area); they actually ended up being almost the same cost. With the NYC class, I really only got the chance to “connect” briefly with a few people who sat next to me – there was no time to network or even to have lunch together. Whereas Ken’s Sitcom Room gave lots of opportunity to really connect with the other attendees (since there were only 20 attendees on purpose). The other big difference, Ken takes just a few hours in the beginning to talk at you – the rest of the time is you with your team actually writing (and boy, is that the FUN part) and then watching your scenes come alive with real actors. All in all it was a great experience that I’m 100% glad I took the chance. My overall experience could be colored by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed my team (The A-Team) and thought we were hilarious and worked together extremely well. The only hiccup we had was team member Dan’s paranoia which had the rest of us convinced that Ken was going to pull a writer exchange program close to midnight (apparently we watch too much Survivor). Oh, and what did I found out? I always knew that I loved TV and now I know that I’d love to write for it and I really enjoyed collaborating. The jury is still out on the funny part.

charlotte said...

Aw, you guys are killing me! I sooo wanted to be there with you!!!

Next year....

(Tell me more about the awesomeness I missed! :)

Chris said...

I did not win the award for having traveled the farthest (the London guy had that one) but I believe I won for having come from the smallest town (Dodge City, KS). The only reason I tell you this is to point out you don't have to be a big city intellectual to attend and have a ball. I do consider myself a small town intellectual though.

Mr. Levine and Mr. O'Day work hard to make sure everyone has a good experience and they were successful in my case. From the "lecture" time from Ken to the plastic "ice grenade" kindly supplied by Dan every step was taken to make the attendees feel welcome and valued.

I was nervous. I know I can be funny. I feel pretty sure I can write, but this whole experience was going to be new. My team was smart and funny. We stayed focused on our scene and the process was great. Anyone who knows me knows I have always preferred working alone. The most hated phrase uttered by any teacher from kindergarten to grad school was always: "We're going to break into groups now..." In this case it was invaluable and fun.

It was worth the money and I had to borrow some of it from my mother which adds an embarrassment factor to the monetary one.

The information given by the panel of distinguished writers at the end of the weekend was more useful than any book, magazine, or web stuff I have read about how to get into the biz. It was not terribly encouraging, but more useful and real having come from their mouths.

Thank you to Mr. Levine and Mr. O'Day. It is obvious you cared about making the weekend of value to all of us and your work is appreciated by this participant.

david said...

Dave from Seattle here. First, the big question...yes, you can drink beer through a red vine. Way better buzz.

Second, the trip was worth the $1500 to me. While I enjoy the theory behind things I'm very big into application (I have a math degree, and I had to eventually find out what all that algebra was good for). Also, they do say that you don't learn swimming by staying out of the pool.

Practical application and experience is key to any sustained learning, and that's what we received at the sitcom room. The only competition I felt while attending was competition from myself. I didn't want to let my team down. (Plus I wanted to get my $1500 worth). Being under the tutelage of an Emmy winner, of someone with years of practical experience in the field, is invaluable.

I also enjoyed working with people who were not in complete synch with my particular comedy stylings. It provided the challenged of making sure your joke had the basis that could be understood outside of a select sub-group or sub-culture. (As a child of the internet, I can lol-cat jokes all day, but they don't always work).

I also found ways to work with big picture people, as compared to my "Get hung up on the details" style of writing.

Overall, it was great learning experience. For anyone who wants to write television, short films, features, and even internet sketches, this workshop can provide valuable knowledge and experience. While it is not the be-all-end-all of workshops (What is really?) it does provide a focused process for creativity. And it really helped explain miscommunications between various groups and types of people who work in the entertainment industry.

Cybele said...

$1500 is a lot of money. To afford the Sitcom Room I had to give up a lot of things: A certain parking permit that would have made my life a lot easier. Meat. Shoes. Tampons. It was worth it!

I went to The Sitcom Room to experience what it's like to be a sitcom writer, and I got exactly what I wanted. The day after our writing session, Ken talked to us about how we had worked and what we had felt while working. The more we talked, the more I realized that we had all naturally done what sitcom writers do: We struggled together over every line. We pitched jokes to each other that fell flat. We wrote jokes together. We got punchy and vulgar. When we were done writing, we had no idea if what we had written was good or bad.

I won't lie: There were times when I was nervous, despondent, insecure, and terrified. See how well The Sitcom Room delivered? Only a real writing experience puts you through that many negative feelings. On the plus side, there was also megalomania, the thrill of a worthy challenge, some justifiable pride, and the euphoria that comes on the heels of inspiration.

Ken and Dan were both fantastic. They clearly had worked hard and worked hard all weekend to give us a valuable learning experience.

All the participants were funny and literate. Everyone I talked to (although I didn't have a chance to talk to everyone) had written fiction or screenplays or specs, and everyone loved television. Getting to know like-minded strangers in this weekend hotel crucible was a really special, as they say.

Thanks to everyone at The Sitcom Room 2008!

Dave D (participant) said...

So, I showed up half an hour early on Saturday morning to meet the rest of the sitcom room participants and I quickly realized that if budding sitcom writers were to join a fraternity, they would likely have no choice but to go with Lambda Lambda Lambda.

I won’t suggest that the females would have been best suited for Omega Mu... that would just be wrong.

But even given our collective nerdiness (Dan and Ken didn’t exactly help bring up the curve either) it actually turned out to be a very “cool” experience.

It was also a lot of work! We started promptly at 9am on Saturday morning and Ken gave us a good introductory lecture. After the lunch break, four actors performed a scene from a fictitious sitcom and the scene was intentionally very bad. We were then broken into 4 groups (5 people in each) and sent to our respective writing rooms. We were told we had 12 hours to fix the scene.

Somewhat surprisingly, it took our group 11 hours to fix it. This was particularly surprising as it was only a nine-page scene. We finished around 2am and then we were back to it at 9am the next day. This is when the actors came back and acted out each of the groups’ scenes.

We finished up by getting notes and suggestions from Ken (which were very helpful) and then had a great panel discussion.

All in all it was a very good experience and I’m happy I did it. It also gave me some great ideas about how to approach my own writing and how to proceed with next steps if I ever decide to try and take this more seriously.

The other important thing I learned was that Danielle Sanchez is really hot... and a bit naive. She seems to think that Ken helped her early in her career because of their “shared love of baseball”... yeah, right! Did I mention she’s young... and hot?

Nice work, Ken. Niiiice work.

Dan O’Day said...

@ Dave Didn't bring up the curve?? Maybe Ken didn't. But we're purposely cast so that Ken's intellectual nerdiness contrasts with my rugged good looks and obviously athletic physicality.

ElizPresto said...

Leaving aside dave d's obvious misanthropy, I'd like to add that the weekend was worth it.

I wanted to get an experience working with people I didn't know and who wouldn't necessarily share a common sense of humor. And it was fairly invaluable to see actors work through your script.

The Sitcom Room also serves as a good barometer of whether the industry is right for you. Does the idea of compulsory insomnia apppeal to you? Discussions that innevitably devolve into a vulgar dissection of your digestive system? Consuming massive amounts of junk food and bad take-out?

At the end of the weekend you'll be well-equipped to make your own decisions about that.

No matter what, you are guarenteed to laugh even if it's only because you're so damned punchy an IRS audit seems mostly hilarious.

Baylink said...

The more I read this set of comments, Ken, the more I wish you'd delete the *good* ones, the *nice* ones, the *complimentary* ones, since they're just sort of there to rub my nose in the fact that I couldn't go.

Since my SO has thrown me under the bus (and damn; don't they *ever* clean under these things?) I will now be able to save up for this, instead of spending all the discretionary (hah!) income on her, and you'd better *have* a Next One so I can go to it.

Is there a mailing list I can join, to get tips on what to bring, or how to prep? Or are you expanding the page at the site with more tips and comments from recent participants?

(Got the Baseball Book, BTW; my sister fell off a few pitches back, but I'm loving it. :-)

Dan O’Day said...

@ baylink The mailing list to be alerted to any future Sitcom Room is at http://www.sitcomroom.com .

Bob H. said...

Hey Dave, as a fellow participant, I loved reading your input but, I gotta say, you were out of line making that crack about the women in our group (re: Omega Mu).

I know Ken told us that, to work in a writers' room, you have to have a thick skin (for instance, telling me I have a small you-know-what). But, this isn't a writers room...this is a forum that anyone can read. And I don't think you should have written that.

So, let's focus on my small you-know-what (if we can find it) and not take any more cheap shots at the talented women in the group.

Just my two cents.

James Aylett said...

Hell, no one told me there was an award for coming all the way from London! I'd have started turning up in California long ago if there was a shiny cup at the end of it. (Or even a nice piece of paper with my name on it.)

Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. I'm not sure I can explain why in any sensible number of words (although I've tried on my blog), but coming out at the end of the weekend, and on the flight back, and getting over the jetlag, and sitting here typing this now, I haven't had any regrets. (And yes, the credit card bill has already arrived.)

Certainly if you want to write TV sitcoms (and not just in the US), I'd say this it's well worth doing. It's hands-on, scary, and exhilarating, and if that's not the sort of thing you want to spend your money on, I probably don't want to know you ;-)

KEN LEVINE said...

I have to strongly agree with Bob H. Dave's comment (although I'm sure not meant to be) was kind of a cheap shot. And not at all correct, by the way.

Tom Quigley said...

Ken and Dan,

Apologies that it's taken me so long to become the latest "poster" child for The Sitcom Room (sorry, fellow participants, I know -- puns work better when read and not spoken -- what was that, Rule number 18c-amended on Ken's comedy writing list?). Just got back home to Rochester yesterday and to a week's worth of work waiting for me at my desk.

First, having met Ken before and having gotten to know him over the past couple of years, I felt positive (well, fairly sure at least -- well, actually maybe a little iffy) that he wasn't going to be (a) a tyrant; (b) boring, and (c)totally aloof, blow us all off and completely disappear after we headed to our separate rooms.

Having spent good money -- some of it even my own -- on a number of workshops, classes and seminars over the years, I left some of them feeling they were a complete waste, or feeling that maybe I missed something that others seemed to get, or not feeling that I knew any more about developing my own skills and whatever talent I may have had than when I walked in.

This is the first workshop I ever took part in where you not only had the opportunity to do an actual tangible re-write of a script (and could see the results of your efforts performed in front of you by professional actors) -- but had to discover how (and if you could) do it in concert with a group of strangers under deadline in an environment that may not always be comfortable, which was essentially the focus of the weekend; but I also I think that the fact that one of the most pointed questions Ken asked after our marathon sessions on Saturday night was "What did you find harder -- writing the story or the jokes?" -- and our affirmative answer to the former told us all that it was an excellent exercise in learning how to develop story beats, write to character, AND make it believable, funny and entertaining.

Was it worth the 1500 smackers? Well, I don't know what the going rate is these days for other workshops or seminars so I don't know how competitively priced The Sitcom Room is; but my feeling is that anytime you're going to spend money on something like this (maybe even some of it your own) you have to consider it as more of an investment in one's career, one's talent, or one's desire to be just a better writer, rather than just an outlay of cash. I think the various elements we all had to deal with and the creative tools we learned to employ would work well with a wide variety of different writing genres, whether it's a script, stage play or prose fiction -- and not necessarily comedy. I don't know where else you could be exposed to all those elements and work with them so intensively in a single scenario like we were this past weekend.

For myself, I re-discovered some of my creative tools that had gotten a little rusty (and I was still thinking about other changes and revisions that maybe we could have made if we had had the time even as I was flying home yesterday).

The writers' panel on Sunday afternoon was certainly a bonus for anyone who wanted more information on what it's like to be a working writer and how to get started in the business. For someone who seriously has his or her sights set on pursuing a TV writing/producing career, a lot of solid points were brought up during the discussion.

In the end, I guess I could sum up the weekend by saying more than anything else, it was fun; fun meeting and working with the other 19 people in the group, fun giving my own creative abilities a needed workout, and fun being in LA when it was 27 degrees back here in Rochester, NY.

Thanks for a great weekend, everyone!

CKL said...

I had a great time at Sitcom Room 3! Totally worth the time and money I spent to do it.

For more details, see the complete write-up on my blog.

I'm proud to have been part of Team C, which got called out above for our use of mirrors as marker boards and lengthy discussions about Hitler jokes.

Dave D (participant) said...

If you read the comment carefully, you'll see that I actually wrote "I won’t suggest that the females would have been best suited for Omega Mu... "

C'mon!!!

Brenna and Elizabeth can vouch for me - though now they're probably scared to.

Brenna (attendee) said...

Sorry I didn't see the Dave D. comment and the confusion about it before. For those who were at the Sitcom Room, you might remember I was the "woman" who gave Ken & Dan a hard time about the "female scribes"!

When I read Dave's comment (and after having spent time in the trenches with him), I did not take it as any sort of dig. I think it was one of those written things that could be taken a few ways.

I appreciate Bob H. and Ken being concerned and I'll go ahead and vouch for Dave.

charlotte said...

Thanks for the link to your blog about the weekend, CKL! And thanks to all the other attendees who've posted their own recaps here.

More? [/greedy] ;D

Bob H. said...

First of all, can I just say that—five days later—I have such a good idea for that scene now? It hit me in the shower today.

Anyway, as for the seminar: the Sitcom Room is a whirlwind…an exhilarating, blurry whirlwind. It went by way too fast. The actual time you spend at the event is 26 hours, over two days. That’s 1,560 minutes. So the $1,500 fee breaks down to about 96-cents-a-minute, which is a bargain in this case (not so much if you’re selling long distance phone service).

When I got there, I was scared the other 19 attendees would be extremely talented—but it turns out they were only extraordinarily talented. So, imagine my relief! Seriously, there were some quick-witted folks who were naturally able to turn a phrase.

Ken’s lectures are funny and fast-paced, chock-full of interesting anecdotes and first-hand tips. Being a somewhat obsessive fan of sitcom writers, I wanted to bug Ken with a bunch of questions about specific episodes of my favorite shows, but I just didn’t feel comfortable approaching him about it. He seemed to have his hands full, running the seminar with his dependable sidekick, Dan O’Day.

At any rate, once we got split into our writing groups, my team and I got right down to the business of discussing the serious story considerations, like…“Which are better: Red Vines or Twizzlers?” and “How can we turn two stools and a pillow into a makeshift sofa?” and “Can Yoo Hoo technically be referred to as ‘chocolate milk’?” (Now you know why it took us until 2:45 am to finish our script.) We also wondered if we should just give it up and jump out our 16th floor window.

A major thing I did learn, during the writing process, is that you should always be adding funny stuff even as you are constructing the story arc. And you should write down every joke that is tossed out early in the session because you will wish you had those “jokes” at 2:00am. You see, at 5:00 in the afternoon, it is much easier to say, “Let’s get the story down and then we’ll add funny stuff later” and it is much easier to pass on a lame-but-promising joke early in the session by saying, “That’s not good enough. We’ll come up with something better later.” The result of that sort of thinking is “Mr. George’s Dance Emporium and Bait Shop” (I personally put that comedy albatross around my group’s neck).

I’ll probably never see the four other people in my writing group ever again but, by the time we were done writing together, I felt connected to them, and I wanted them to appreciate the good parts of what we accomplished. I wish them all well.

The seminar’s bonus was the afternoon session with some of my all-time favorite sitcom writers. When Ken introduced Phoef Sutton, I thought ”Wow, I’m sitting across from the guy who wrote the ‘Dinner at Eight-ish’ episode of Cheers” and then later Sutton named that episode as one he was really proud of. It was cool.

And, to top the whole thing off, during a noon-time break in the conference, I watched a couple have sex outside in the hotel pool. They were a really hot couple too. It would have been good for me and them, but some young kids showed up to swim and ruined it for all of us. Needless to say, I hate those children.

Erica said...

Hey Everybody,

I already spent $1500, so I think I can afford to put another of my 2cents in.... sorry it took so long.
The cost was somewhat of an initial deterrent for me, but really, what is $1500 in the larger scheme of things? Sitcom Room fee vs. my mortgage payment? Well, luckily, I have supportive husband and only two more missed payments and I'm eligible to "modify" my silly loan anyway, right? At least that's what I heard on NPR...so it must be true.
Enough back story, the Sitcom Room was well worth the time, the money and possible demise of my marriage. A weekend spent with like minds and an opportunity to rack our brains, test our wills, wit and stamina with complete strangers, in the hopes of successfully writing a sitcom scene worthy of a critique by a sitcom-writing great, priceless.
Not having any background in writing for TV, well in writing for any reason at all since college, I was a little intimidated but still intrigued.
I was thinking I would either feel excruciatingly out of place or find that I was not alone, strangely I felt both. There were people who had been writing for some time and others who had not but, when we were put together in the same room, it was magic, or more like witch craft. Each group had to have cast some spells to make the script we got work! But, we did. (No offense Ken, you were successful at giving us a script in need).
Something happens when you’re put in a group and made to transform material that you may not be familiar with or even feel in any way connected to, make it flow and oh yeah, and make it funny. I was wondering if this would really have the feel of what actual sitcom writers experience and though I didn’t know what that was, now I do. It had all the elements of what Ken had described, good and bad, and that was why I was willing to pay $1500. What better way to find out if you could do and enjoy something than to actually do it, or at least the simulated version of it. Loved it!
I’m not the type to search out “kumbaya” moments and I am happy to say, I did not have any. Not to sound too callous but I was about business, I did not want a camp-like feel to this weekend. Really, I do get enough support from my family so, I was delighted to have worked with the four consummate professionals that I did, and being the only girl was not bad at all. Overall, we had little in common, and in lieu of pep talks, hand holding or a possible drum circle, as soon as we got the script we were in sitcom-room mode. It all came together…and it was great fun.
Ideas were thrown out and the tone and process Ken had set and explained; set us on a course for adventure and our minds on a somewhat new story line, without the romance, though who knows what happened when we went our separate ways…we were the first group to finish and the night was still young.
I learned that the process was clearly grounded in a strong, coherent and plausible storyline. Jokes are hard to create and not intended to “just stick in where needed.” They evolve, and hard decisions about whether a great joke really fits – yes, the Hitler joke was good and was from our group – is even harder. But truly, I think it’s getting more laughs from us not incorporating it into the script, go figure.
You learn what the word collaborate really means and in doing so, I found myself less attached to what I suggested and got more satisfaction from the fact that my suggestions either led to an idea that did stay in , regardless of whether or not it was mine (but, I was happy when my ideas did stay in – just icing). When I did find my pitches working, it was a great feeling to know that I was able to contribute something that others could build upon. Yeah, kinda sappy, but I didn’t say I don’t accept “kumbaya” moments if they come looking for me.
Most of all, I learned that I could and would want to do this for a living. Ken was great to have around but, I gotta admit, he set us up nicely and by the time we got the scripts we were ready to go. Sure, I could have taken the opportunity to ask him questions about the “real” keys to good story structure, joke timing, and asked him if Ted Danson ever totally lost it on the set and threw off his toupee or just, could I have a job? But I was so engrossed in what we were doing, it just did not occur to me to ask. To be honest, Ken and Dan’s visits were a bit of a reality check. They put us in check with some critical updates that “impacted” our work but truly, it was a reminder that this great experience would soon be over.
My group was fun; we went back and forth on things, some more than others and laughed a hell of a lot. And when it was actually all said and done, I would really have paid much more. Hell, I would have even skipped paying the water bill too. Ken did discuss during his talk on Sitcom Room etiquette , a common characteristic among writers is a stronger commitment to writing than to bathing on a regular basis (needless to say, this was part of the “what not to do list”). But even if I chose to go astray, and not bath for the sake of this pursuit, as uncomfortable as body odor can be, for everybody, I learned that the real professionals in this business, have to be able to dish it out, take it and keep on going, no matter the conditions or circumstances – it’s for the greater good of the work – and that’s why it’s so much fun and everybody wants to do it. My take, is to do this sitcom writing thing, you gotta love it, all of it. I myself, I think I’m in love! Thanks Ken and Dan!

Baylink said...

Ok, I'm coming next time.

The rest of the comments sealed the deal.