Monday, August 27, 2007

Our first script

A question I was asked when I spoke to the Dallas Screenwriters Association last week and one I'm ofter asked is how did David Isaacs and I write our first script?

It was 1973. It was also the first script for either of us. Going in, we knew…NOTHING. And came out knowing...not much more.

We decided to write a pilot about college life. We were told write about what you know and that was the only thing either of us knew. Two guys who couldn’t get dates living in a dorm. We wrote about what we knew TOO WELL.

I had never even seen a television script. I went to a bookstore in Hollywood that had old TV scripts on a remainder table. I bought an OLD ODD COUPLE episode for two dollars. So now we knew the format. We were ready to go! I mean, what else is there?

At the time, the way we wrote was that David took it down in longhand in a college binder then I would type up the script. One Sunday afternoon we wrote Fade In and just started writing. Did we prepare an outline first? Outline? What’s that?? We were more of the “toilet paper school” – just put a roll in the typewriter and write till you run out of paper.

We wrote and wrote and wrote until finally one day I leafed through the ODD COUPLE script and said to my partner, “What page do you think we’re on now?” David thumbed through the binder and said, “I dunno. About 34.” I said, “Really? You know, they start wrapping it up pretty quick here.” We stopped, took five minutes to come up with a big ending (which involved the university’s entire computer system going kablooey, spewing out thousands of IBM cards.), wrote it in about fifteen more minutes, and that was it. We were done. Off to El Torito for margaritas. Forget that it would have cost $24,000,000 to produce in 1973 and had no story, we were now writers!!

Needless to say, we did not sell it. But we enjoyed the process, had fun working together, and there were some funny moments buried in there somewhere. We were encouraged enough by the experience to want to really go forward and do it right. From there came crash courses in writing, more spec scripts, total dedication, and thanks to a little luck, ultimate success.

Your first script will probably be terrible (not as bad as ours but still). Your second will be better. But you can’t write your second until you write your first. And your third will be better still. So if you’re thinking of becoming a writer, take the plunge. Maybe learn a principle or two BEFORE writing Fade In (unlike us), an outline might be nice, but go for it. And no matter how bad it is, you’re still entitled to that margarita at El Torito.


Anonymous said...

Fade In? Great title!

howie said...

The heading on this post says "Wednesday August 29". How is Ken able to post from the future?

Jim Endecott said...

Thanks Ken! I enjoy your Mariner broadcasts. Wish they would have pulled out the win.

Catch you next time.


M. Robert Turnage said...

I just wanted to say thank you for your talk at the Dallas Screenwriter's Association. I really enjoyed it.


Anonymous said...

Good to hear you on the radio. Too bad the M's did not win.

Stan from Tacoma

Steve Davis said...

I enjoyed your blog comments just as much as I did when you delivered them to the Dallas Screenwriters last Friday night. You were a great speaker. Thank you so much for visiting.

Unknown said...

You seem like a very sweet guy, a real mensch.
I imagine that many people think writing a TV script is easy. Writing a shitty one is easy, writing a good one is not.
Just watch 5 minutes of According to Jim, How I Met Your Mother, or Two and a Half Men.

Max Clarke said...

One of my favorite all-time scripts is Body Heat. Think it was the first movie Lawrence Kasdan directed. He'd written a bunch of scripts before that gem, so he kept learning and improving.

I still hope for the day I can buy a Ken Levine book about comedy writing. In the meantime, the blog is a great education.

Anonymous said...

The heading on this post says "Wednesday August 29". How is Ken able to post from the future?

He traveled by DeLorean.

Anonymous said...

This is a very appropriate post, seeing how I just wrote my first script, which I sent to Slamdance's teleplay contest.

Everything you described is true. Everyone thinks they know how to write a sitcom, but there's lots to be learned from actually sitting down and doing it. Your reward on that first script is feeling like an actual writer instead of just some guy who's all talk.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from experience, your first script will suck. Mine was horrificly bad. Embarrassing. I won't even put it on my hard drive -- I keep it on a flash drive so that no one using my computer will "accidentally" open it. And the only people using that computer (besides myself) are my wife and kids.

But the second is indeed better. And so on. Maybe someday I'll write one good enough to sell.