Thursday, March 16, 2017

Getting started in show biz

My podcast this week centers on how my writing partner, David Isaacs and I got started. Not a lot of glitz – it’s just me talking directly to you, sharing our story. You can hear it by clicking here or the big gold arrow above.  Like I say at one point, breaking-in stories are like snowflakes – no two are alike. It’s not like you go to law school, get hired by a firm, and work your way up, and then the president of the United States fires you. Breaking into show business takes luck, talent, timing, connections, education, and desire. There’s no question it’s difficult, but every person you see who gets a TV or movie credit found a way in somehow.

The point is it can be done. And why not by you, right?

The factor that I touched on last is perhaps the most important. Desire.

In a really competitive marketplace you’ve got to really want it. Advice I’ve heard given to actors is that if there’s ANYTHING else they would enjoy doing as a fallback, do that. Only pursue a career in acting if there is nothing else in the world that would give you satisfaction. That’s probably good advice. I’m not an actor (which makes me unique in this town).

But the upside of that need for desire is that it is very exciting to want something badly. I look back at my “hungry years” trying to break in as a great period of my life. Comedy was inspiring. Watching every sitcom, learning the names of those who wrote them, devouring books, hanging out at the Comedy Store, going to improv shows, taking night classes, catching every Woody Allen and Mel Brooks movie countless times, listening to comedy albums, marveling at funny disc jockeys – these were not chores, these were not “homework” – these were pleasures.

I used to live for hanging out with other writer wannabes. We could spend hours at an all-night coffee shop dissecting that week’s HAPPY DAYS episode.

David and I both had day jobs but would get together three or four times a week at nights and weekends to write our spec scripts. It was great fun.

We didn’t see the endgame as making a ton of money or even seeing our names on television. To us nothing seemed more heavenly than to get up in the morning and get to go to a studio, sit in a room with really funny people all day and get paid for writing comedy. We weren’t thinking of creating our own shows, or getting a development deal, or winning awards – we just wanted to be a part of it. We wanted drive-ons to Paramount.

My latest play is about this subject. Called OUR TIME, it’s very loosely autobiographical about breaking in in the mid ‘70s. Present are all the frustrations, setbacks, angst, competition, and despair that go along with excitement, drive, and dreams. But it’s a comedy about comedy so pain and neuroses have to be part of the bargain. Along with (hopefully) a lot of laughs. But it’s a time in my life I cherish. And for all the angst, I’m always kind of envious of those young people just starting out today. Enjoy as much of it as you can tolerate.

I hope in the telling of my breaking-in story that I convey some of that excitement and maybe inspire one or two of you to keep pressing on (towards whatever your goal is, not just show business) despite the odds.

Again, why not you???


VP81955 said...

As someone trying to make the transition from copy editor to feature screenwriter (and still believing it's not yet too late to succeed), I look forward to your play (and podcast, when I get the opportunity to hear it). As Stevie Wonder sang in my favorite record of his, the underrated "Never Had a Dream Come True," "Keep on dreamin'!"

John Hammes said...

There have been many fond remembrances of Stuart McLean these past few weeks. From interviews to commencement speeches, radio to television appearances, he would encourage all to follow career dreams and goals - by citing his own rather unorthodox story.

He joined the CBC in his twenties as a reporter. He joined Ryerson University (Toronto) as a journalism professor, also in his twenties. Steady work, a familiar presence, if not quite a household name. It was not until his mid forties that McLean began his "Vinyl Cafe" radio program, and even then only as a summer replacement series for a few years. "Vinyl Cafe", at that time a quiet, in-studio broadcast, the classic disc-jockey format with recorded music, McLean's written offerings, listener story exchanges. Gradually the show would expand to the year round weekly format, with live audience, live music, live story-telling.

It can take a while to reach that destination, that place where a person is really good at what they are doing, in love with what they are doing. Sometimes that place comes relatively later in life. A person can make it happen. Thank you for your example, Mr. McLean. Rest in peace, good sir.

Mike said...

Still eagerly awaiting Cap'n Bob's Tales from The 'Nam.
With Cap'n Bob. Accept no imitations.

Gary said...

Like so many young baby boomers in the 1960's, I'd have given anything to grow up to be Rob Petrie, writing jokes with Buddy and Sally for a big TV show. Alas, I had to settle for being the funny guy at the office, making wisecracks at marketing meetings to hear a few bored coworkers crack up. Luckily I can still live vicariously through your blog, Ken!

VincentS said...

Friday Question: When a producer, writer, or cast member of a show directs an episode do they get paid extra?

Wally said...

Short answer: yes
Longer answer: different job, different guild
Longer-er / better answer: Ken's

Barry Traylor said...

Is it just me but your writing partner looks like Yogi Berra to me. But that's ok as Yogi had a real good sense of humor also.

Cap'n Bob said...

Mike: My Nam stories would probably bore you.

Pat Reeder said...

As Gary noted, I wonder how many of us grew up wanting to be Rob Petrie? Watching daily reruns of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" inspired both me and my wife/comedy writing partner, Laura. It made her want to become a singer/comedy writer like Sally and marry a tall, goofy comedy writer as Laura did, and it made me want to be a comedy writer like Rob and marry a hot chick named Laura. And we both accomplished those goals! Also, during a brief time when we were working in the Northeast, I rented a mailbox in New Rochelle, just so I could have that return address. Sadly, I couldn't get one on Bonny Meadow Road. Guess not all dreams come true. But at least, I'm not a robot.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

That was extremely entertaining.

You said that "DESIRE" is the goal.
To get started, yes.

I think 1 and/or 2 things make someone successful in whatever field they are into:

Not necessarily in that order.

Anonymous said...

Funny - I always wanted to be Buddy Sorrell


404 said...

Another play on the horizon? That's great to hear! As an east coaster, I've never been able to see any of your plays in person, but I thoroughly enjoy your updates on the progress and process of the plays you've written since I started following this blog so many years ago. I look forward to similar tales with OUR TIME.

ChipO said...

"Breaking into show business takes luck, talent, timing, connections, education, and desire."
I know all of three people in entertainment. Luck, pre-existing connections, and timing had very little with their success. Talent, education, and desire most definitely helped them to be in the right spot at the right time. All three started at the very bottom, and had a college degree complementary to their entertainment industry desire.
They are all friggin disgustingly rich now - all from the business. They were not born into it - they wanted it and they worked it and they were good at it and they succeeded.
So, in a way, "you (do) go to (entertainment U.) law school, get hired by a firm, and work your way up," Sure, there are some snowflakes who just got lucky (that's a bad pun with current terminology), but most bios of successful people show a lot of "little" jobs along the way, but each one another step up.
And ... same in any industry. Unless you're the boss' progeny, you're going to have to work at getting there, and if you want it, and if you are capable, then you quite likely will outlast everyone else.
The inspirational post will end here.

ChipO said...

Our Time - When's the first reading? Looking forward to hearing about the progress.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

ChipO... Don't discount 'Luck'.
Some people call it 'Timing'

Being at the right place at the right time.
Being in the right time relevantly to other others.

Yogi Berra was one of the great catchers of all time. If he was born today, he wouldn't even make a big college team. At least, not as a catcher.

Or an Ozzie Smith, may never get a chance to play SS, because team's are no longer using a "all glove, no bat" person.

In entertainment, let's face it...Steve Buscemi is never going to get the same money or roles as a George Clooney, no matter how much of a better actor he is.

In music, don't we always say... IF so-and-so were better looking, or sexier or 'whatever' they would be better known than so-and-so no-talent artist.

just sayin' :)

Ralph C. said...

Why not me? I'm not funny and talented. lol

Brad Apling said...

In the beginning days, when you and Isaacs would get together at night or weekends to write your spec scripts, were you working on separate ones or together on just one? As a follow-up, what kept either of you cemented to finishing a spec script (being as they're not exactly 'flash fiction' in length) and not jumping off to another idea either of you had?