Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Won't you be my neighbor?

In 1986, my writing partner, David Isaacs and I took a rewrite assignment for 20th Century Fox. We did a polish on a movie that never ultimately got made. (What a unique story that is in Hollywood.) But we were given an office and writers assistant on the 20th lot.

At one time at that studio we were in a gorgeous Swiss Chalet. Now we were here:
Gives you some idea of where our career was at the time. From a chalet to the Bates Motel.

We had two tiny offices – one for the assistant and one for us. A couch barely fit into ours. Cloak rooms were larger.

And behind us was the editing bay for a new series premiering that fall called LA LAW. For weeks they were assembling the opening titles so we heard five-second snippets of their opening theme 30,000 times. To this day I can’t hear that opening theme without getting PTSD.

But we enjoyed the assignment, it’s always fun to be on a lot, and we liked our no-tell/motel neighbors. They were a young writing team fresh out of USC named Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. They were working on a broad comedy called PROBLEM CHILD. The four of us hung out, went to lunch a few times.

Everyone moves on in Hollywood so off we went (or they went – I forget which) and wished each other well.

They DID well. Among their screenwriting credits are THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, MAN ON THE MOON, BIG EYES, ED WOOD, and the current DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. And this being Tinsel Town, where everyone has lesser credits: PROBLEM CHILD 2, and THAT DARN CAT (which starred the cat we used on ALMOST PERFECT – I hate when actors jump from TV to features).

They also dabbled in television doing the award-winning O.J. SIMPSON TRIAL for FX.

So obviously they’re terrific writers, but the best thing is – they’re the same unassuming nice guys they were back in the Dust Bowl motel. I hope to get them on the podcast later this year.

Every studio has offices set aside for transient writers who come and go with individual projects. It’s an oddball mix of scribes and genres. Some writers are on the way up, others on the way down. In this case it was two writers on the way up and two writers in a holding pattern (which is still better than on the way down).

Go see DOLEMITE. It’s on Netflix.


UnWoke said...

Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski are great writers. When I saw the magnificent Ed Wood, I could scarcely believe it was by the same guys who wrote the painfully bad Problem Child (I never watched Problem Child 2). That said, Problem Child does have the distinction of being the movie Robert DeNiro's character Max Cady laughs maniacally at in Cape Fear. I bet no one who worked on PB could have imagined it would be immortalized in a Scorsese film.

Re. the LA LAW theme, you must hate it every time you hear a car's trunk door slam shut.

Brian Phillips said...

I tried to get into Dolemite. Lines were too long. That shows you where I rank in my house.

VP81955 said...

Friday question:

Are some characters in an ensemble simply more difficult to write stories for, regardless of the quality of the actor? For example, one of the many "Mom" Facebook fan sites recently has had a lengthy discussion on the lack of stories regarding Wendy (the nurse in the AA group, played by veteran actress Beth Hall). This has especially come up in the wake of many episodes this season featuring newer cast member Kristen Johnston's Tammy, including an upcoming one "reuniting" her with "3rd Rock From The Sun" cohort French Stewart (Chef Rudy). In contrast, Wendy fades into the woodwork, never getting an "A" storyline that would involve Christy (Anna Faris) or Bonnie (Allison Janney) and rarely is featured in a "B" story, either.

We know some things about Wendy: She's highly emotional (nicknamed "weeping Wendy" once her character joined the cast in season 2); is a member of MENSA(!); has briefly exhibited superhuman strength when charged (the basis for an episode of "The Lucy Show" in the '60s); and while usually mousy, can be a tyrant at work (as Christy discovered when she was hospitalized under her care). Beyond that, we know next to nothing; we've never seen Wendy in a romantic relationship, for example.

Have you had characters whom you simply couldn't figure out what to do with, and if so, how did you confront such a problem?

Anne in Rockwall, TX said...

I agree about Dolemite!

Friday question. How is AB5 affecting the television and movie writers? Are they freelance?

Brian Phillips said...

FRIDAY QUESTION: While watching Cheers, the name "Kathy Ann Stumpe" shows up. She has subsequent credits, according to iMDB, but Cheers (according to... y'know) seems to be her first professional credit. Were you and Mr. Isaacs in part responsible for getting her on staff?

If she was not, who are some of the writers who you have helped along the way?

Glenn said...

Is that the Family Truckster parked outside?

gottacook said...

Glenn - In the photo I see four or five Ford LTD station wagons, the boxy style that began with the 1979 model year. Yes, one of that style was turned into the Family Truckster (which has discontinuous "wood paneling" and other obvious cosmetic differences from the factory product). Re-creations of the Truckster turn up every so often in collector car magazines and auctions.

Sevyn Waters said...

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Submit your work now to the upcoming CWA screenwriting contest. Use the promo code: mediadisc10 to get $10 off. The deadline is February 12th, 2020.

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in the subject line of my query letter, and
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benson said...

Just coincidence, but I just retweeted, yesterday afternoon, Larry Karaszewski's tribute to the late Jack Burns. Seems to appreciate comedy history. Look forward to him on the podcast.

blinky said...

I finally saw Dolomite and found it quite good. I had no idea going in that it was a semi-documentary. I had never heard of Dolomite, which I assumed was a mineral not the first rapper. Maybe Netflix could have done a better job of promoting it. From the splash screen it looked like something I would not be interested in. I still am not sure why he called himself that.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Of the titles mentioned above the only one I've seen is "Ed Wood." I thought it was alright, but I didn't see what all the hoopla was all about. It certainly wasn't one of those movies that I had to run out and buy the DVD. (Or perhaps back then, the VHS tape.) So, I'll withhold judgement. Although, "terrific" is subjective and relative.

l said...

@Mike Bloodworth

Pull de strinks! Pull de strinks!

YEKIMI said...

Hey! I had one of those station wagons a few years back only an 84 model. Thing was so huge it's front end was in a different zip code then the back end. 11 miles to the gallon and gas was well over three bucks a gallon at the time. Had a choice of filling it up or paying my mortgage, buying food, or paying my gas bill, water, trash or purchasing food. Needless to say, I didn't keep it long.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

VP81955: I'm one of the people who has longed for a Wendy story on MOM because Beth Hall is so staggeringly brilliant (compare her on MOM to Caroline, Roger Sterling's secretary on MAD MEN). I've come to accept, though, that there's advantages in the uncertainty and mystery of her character: she is a reliable source of surprise. And given that the others all have such defined and rather noisy personalities, I suppose it makes sense that someone in the cast has to be a listener and shock absorber.

We get hints, sometimes, of her other life, such as the recent episode where she shows up in dreds, and appears to have gotten them on some sort of eventful weekend in Vegas. Wendy is only partially seen, as Mrs Wolowitz was only heard, and Maris's outline was drawn only by snippets of description.


Jahn Ghalt said...

I love Ed Wood. One of my all time favorite scenes is when Landau (as Bela Lugosi) is approached by a fan who says (something like)

"I just loved you in Frankenstein, Mr. Karloff"

Followed by "Karloff's" explosion.

Be Persisent - don't let those writers get away - buy 'em lunch at Musso's.