Archive for May, 2012
By Alysha Westlake
One of the most original voices in the New Media branch of the Guild is Michael Cyril Creighton of Jack in a Box fame. Michael is always working on a new writing project, and it is always something interesting. This year, Jack in a Box was nominated for a WGA New Media Award, an important award that recognizes the emerging talent now producing on the Web. You may also have caught a hilarious glimpse of Michael as the snarky shop assistant on 30 Rock, selling Liz Lemon some “organic jeans” in Brooklyn (where else?). It’s a pleasure interviewing Michael, and here he answers some questions about his writing experiences so far.
How did you get involved with the Writers Guild?
I got a random email from the remarkable Ursula Lawrence, saying she saw my Web series Jack in a Box (which was near the end of its first season), and wanted to talk to me about the WGA. I thought it was spam, so I almost didn’t reply. Eventually we met for breakfast at a diner. After I listened to her for a bit, I said, “Yeah. But I don’t consider myself a writer.” And she said, “Do you write all of your episodes?” I paused and said, “Yeah. They aren’t improvised or anything. I write them.” She smiled and said, “You’re a writer.” Up until that point I had always identified myself as more of an actor who just wrote stuff for others and myself. Having someone like Ursula just state it so simply—“You’re a writer”—made me rethink things. Duh! I am an actor and a writer. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
What has your experience been like working in new media?
Pretty fantastic. I’ve learned so much. Historically, the Internet has been very good to me. So, when I decided it was time for me to write a series and create a vehicle for myself, it seemed to be the right place to experiment and learn about the writing/creating process. It’s been a bit like grad school, but with no teachers. Over the past three years, I feel like I’ve learned an invaluable amount about writing, creating and working with others.
Getting nominated for a WGA New Media Award must be incredibly rewarding. How does the process work?
It was such an incredible honor and a really nice surprise. I procrastinated on applying and did so right in the nick of time. Then I let it go. So when I got the email saying I had been nominated, I was really surprised and excited. Of course, the email came through right as I was going underground on the subway, so I had a good 20 minutes to obsess about it on my own and practice telling people. I think it’s wonderful that the WGA is recognizing New Media, and it was an honor to be nominated along side so many people whose work I admire. The awards ceremony was fantastic. Jimmy Fallon presented the New Media Award and said, “If we are going by applause, Creighton’s got it.” Then [he] opened up the envelope and simply said, “Nope.” I thought that was a great way to lose. My mom got her picture taken with Seth Meyers. Plenty of booze. Tiny burgers. Heaven.
Do you think being a writer/performer helps inform your writing?
Absolutely. I often approach my writing from an actor’s point of view, trying to figure out what dialogue feels most comfortable. There’s a lot of talking to myself out loud that happens. I try to contain that to my apartment so I don’t look too crazy at Starbucks. Also, I often write for specific actors and try to tailor the writing to their specific gifts and talents.
In writing your series, are there things you would change? Or has the process been pretty fluid?
I wouldn’t change a thing. The process has been very fluid. The good and bad thing about doing this as an independent project is that the only person setting deadlines for me is myself. I’ve announced that the current (fourth) season is my final season on the Web. I joke, however, that at the slow rate I’m writing and releasing the last four episodes, this final season will stretch into 2015.
Do you have different new media ideas in the pipeline, new projects or plans?
I’m still working on the final four episodes of Jack in a Box. They should start launching July-ish. In addition to that, I just wrote an episode of a new Web series created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair called High Maintenance. The show is about a weed delivery guy and the customers he comes in contact with. I’ll also be in the episode. It was a really interesting challenge to write myself into someone else’s series, since I’m so used to writing Jack. It’s a really great project, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with them when they asked. The series is planning to launch at the end of the summer. Other than that, working on some pilot ideas and thinking of new Web things I could write. I have some other acting opportunities coming up, including a new play by The Debate Society in October, called Blood Play.
What has been the most rewarding part of writing for new media?
The most rewarding part of this all has been getting to meet all the driven, talented and inspiring people in New York’s new media community, and getting to work with the people I’ve been able to work with during the run of Jack in a Box. Jim Turner, who shoots and edits the series, has been a real blessing. All the actors that have been part of the series blow my mind with their commitment and talent. They also happen to be some of the best people to be around, ever. Shooting episodes never feels like work. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most talented, funny people I know. So, for me, that’s very rewarding.
From its beginnings in the 1940s through present day, American television has been shaped by the words and stories of writers. In recognition of the role of writing in sustaining this extraordinary medium, the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) are launching 101 Best Written TV Series, the WGA’s list of outstanding television writing. Writers will be able to vote for their choices beginning on May 15, and results will be announced in the fall.
The “101 TV” list will celebrate the craft of television writing over seven decades and follows the WGA’s 101 Greatest Screenplays list announced in 2006. In casting their votes for “best written,” Guild members will have a broad and dynamic field to choose from – any series that aired from the early years of television through the present, on broadcast, basic or pay cable.
All genres of scripted series are eligible for consideration, including animation, children’s, comedy, daytime/serial, drama, scripted anthologies, miniseries with six hours or more of programming, and variety/talk series. (Individual episodes, specials, non-serialized or individual programs including telefilms/movies-of-the-week, and miniseries with less than six hours of programming, are not eligible.) The only other criteria: the series must have been written in English, have aired in the U.S., and featured onscreen writing credits.
“The best television shows are so much more than ‘popular’ entertainment. They’re touchstones that can both reflect and impact the culture,” said WGAW President Chris Keyser and WGAE President Michael Winship in a joint statement. “And they all have one thing in common – they begin with the words of the writers who have created them. It is the writer who sets the blueprint for what becomes a memorable TV show. With ‘101 TV’ we look to honor that.”
With the enormous success this past weekend of THE AVENGERS, written and directed by Joss Whedon of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER fame, I started thinking about my favorite screenplays. I enjoyed the witty quips of the superhero rag-tag Avengers crew, but is it this ah-mah-zing film everyone is making it out to be? With lines like, “Clench up, Legolas!” you can see why people loved the film. It’s witty and there is a huge directorial task to manage so many characters and story lines. But is THE AVENGERS an all time classic? I’m not so sure. The ultimate combination of witty dialogue, solid structure and memorable characters – seems to be the elusive triumvirate of filmmaking. Some of the scripts that articulate these qualities with their memorable writing are listed below – no offense to Thor or anything because after all he does sound like ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ (oh Robert Downey Jr., we do love you so).
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, dir. Darren Aronofsky
Right from the start, the opening pages of Black Swan suck you into an off kilter world of ballet and twisted familial relationships. Within those first few pages, the reader is filled with dread, expectation and intrigue. This is exactly what any screenwriting book – or any professional screenwriter or teacher will always tell you – “Grab your audience’s attention in the first ten pages.” The script for BLACK SWAN does this brilliantly – and is echoed onscreen by the visually disorientating cinematic style, creating a haunting and memorable film.
Except fromBLACK SWAN:
INT. SUBWAY TRAIN – DAY
Nina rides inside a crowded subway, staring absentmindedly at her faint reflection in the train’s window.
Suddenly, another train roars by on the opposite track, snapping her awake.
In the next train car, she sees the back of a BALLERINA standing in the midst of the crowd. Her head bops to music playing through iPod earphones.
Nina moves a strand of hair out of her eyes, and at that exact moment, the girl in the next car moves in the same way. Mirroring her.
Unnerved, Nina slowly lowers her arm. So does the other girl. Although Nina can’t quite see her face, the girl seems IDENTICAL from Nina’s vantage point.
THE ICE STORM written by James Schamus, dir. Ang Lee
This brilliant script (adapted from Rick Moody’s best-selling novel of the same name) about the ennui of life in the suburbs and a search for meaning in 1970s America is still relevant today. James Schamus does a convincing job of articulating characters that have a comfortable existence, but are incredibly uncomfortable in their day-to-day lives. Schamus’ characters are complex and flawed – in all the ways we know ourselves to be – but don’t readily like to admit. We may not be throwing our keys into the punch bowl to ‘swing,’ but we’ve all had our moments of foolish mistakes and searching for meaning in our relationships.
Excerpt from THE ICE STORM:
INT. WILLIAMS LIVING ROOM. NIGHT
The party progresses. Mikey and Sandy are lying on their
stomachs at the top of the stairs, out of sight.
And to think — they met at a key
party of all things.
A key party?
You know, it’s a California thing.
That scuzzy husband of hers dragged
her kicking and screaming to one
when they were out in L.A. you
know, the men put their car keys in
a bowl, and then at the end of the
evening the women line up and fish
them out and go home with whoever’s
keys they’ve got. Anyhow that’s how
she met this Rod person or whatever
his name is and he’s left his wife
and she’s packing for California.
Irwin is devastated. It’s so
ANNIE HALL written and directed by Woody Allen
This classic Woody Allen film, exploring the relationships of fraught New Yorkers, is written in his imitable neurotic style. His characters waning expectations regarding romance and life in general, mirror the equally vacillating environs of the place they call home, New York City. Woody Allen’s gift for memorable characters is only bested by his sharp, observational, often times biting description of people, places and philosophies. Diane Keaton set the world ablaze with her relaxed, Charlie Chaplin-esque fashion and Woody Allen inked himself on the minds of a million pretenders who wish they could articulate their life experience with the same kind of witty quips and asides. He broke down the forth wall, bringing the audience even closer to the character’s existential angst.
Excerpt from ANNIE HALL:
EXT. MANHATTAN STREET-DAY
…Alvy and his best friend, Rob, deep in conversation. They eventually move
past the camera and off screen. Traffic noise is heard in the background.
Let’s get the hell outta this crazy city.
Forget it, Max.
-we move to sunny L.A. All of show business
is out there, Max.
No, I cannot. You keep bringing it up, but
I don’t wanna live in a city where the only
cultural advantage is that you can make a
right turn on a red light.
There are of course, many more brilliant scripts out there, too many to list in a few short paragraphs. Film writing that resonates with audiences is usually filled with characters that speak to our flaws, hopes, insecurities and triumphs. Yes, we love watching Mark Ruffalo turn into the Hulk and kick some butt in THE AVENGERS, but sometimes it’s great to see characters less green in their quest to find what ever it is they’re looking for. Maybe we’ll find what we’re looking for too in the shared humanity of great screenplays and writing. If not, there’s always IRON MAN 3.
I don’t have much time to sum this one up, for the same reason that this report is late in coming—I’ve been fielding too many calls from the press, MLB recruiters, and a few admiring, disturbingly eager fans after our stunning win on Monday.
The remainder of my voicemailbox, interestingly, is filled up with angry calls from Justin Long (the “I’m a Mac” guy from those ads). Weirdly, he wasn’t all that angry about our brutal dismantling of Apple; rather, he was just wondering why people still only recognize him as “the ‘I’m a Mac’ guy from those ads.”
Here are the highlights (mostly not counting the first inning, which we’ll ignore):
- Their pitcher had some issues in the first and second; combined with our solid batting, this brought us to a quick 9-3 lead. (Note that we were not just standing there like chumps, as did a certain team last week; these balls were genuinely too far outside the box to hit.)
- Zayd somehow got on Ump Mike’s good side again, and pitched commandingly.
- Marni stopped a potentially dangerous ball with a body part that won’t be appearing in Brave, or any other Pixar movie, anytime soon.
- Tina, at catcher, caught that foul tip like it was no thang.
- Shannon couldn’t stop scoring. She came home a total of at least four times, two of them running for Jo, who was hobbling more than a horse on the set of Luck (too soon?).
- Dave K. slipped and slid around on a field that was harder to get a grip on than Romney’s viewpoint on [insert any issue here].
- Zayd had a “hand of god” moment, inadvertently (depending on whom you ask) helping Apple’s runner get hit by his own teammate’s ball en route to second base.
- Jo snagged possibly every out from third base in the sixth inning.
- At one point, we got 8 unanswered runs in a row.
- Dave placed it perfectly in left on a monster hit.
- There was solid fielding by Jake, Stu, Julie, Zach, and Sam
- Zayd almost ran over Shannon on his way home, which made us wonder whether it’s legal to carry the person running in front of you to the base.
- There were huge numbers of RBIs from Jo, Marni, Dave, Parney, me, and probably also others I’ve forgotten, so sue me, the ink got smudged from the rain.
- It ended up being 13-6, narrowly missing the mercy rule, which is applied when one team is leading by 14.666 (or something; who knows what the number is this year?).
Our next game is against ABC. It’s hard to know what the aforementioned press is wondering more: Will we beat ABC like we did the first time we played them? OR: Will our shirts finally arrive? Only time, and Ump Mike’s mood, and the U.S. Postal Service, will tell.
This past weekend, Comedy Central presented its second annual comedy awards. It begs the question, do we need another awards show? Probably not. Do we need more comedy in our lives? Heck yeah!
The awards show itself is definitely in a teething period. From the start, it was obvious who the winners were – as best ‘Club Comic,’ Hannibal Burress pointed out – ‘no one else is here from my category’. However, there were less glaring moments of obviousness during the show. Many of the comedians wrote their own intros, some with greater success than others. Will Arnett had the most charming and self-effacing spiel – my favorite introduction of the evening – with his send up of yet another celebrity gift bag. He reached into a Comedy Awards bag and pulled out a carton of KOOL cigarettes (they still make those?), a coupon for ‘Eastern Airlines,’ and an actual live turtle – ‘seems like a lot of responsibility’. Indeed. And so, would I argue for Comedy Central putting on its awards show? It could be great, but it ain’t there yet. Looking on the website for details of writers on the nominated shows for example – none to be found. In this digital age, where people have access to information at their fingertips, points like these are important for all the creatives being nominated, on any show.
The spotlight seemed to shine brightest for the ‘writer/performer’ nominees. There was the ubiquitous Tina Fey, with her team of writers, winning the award for best ‘Comedy Writing – TV’ for the sharply observant and intelligent 30 ROCK. Her elevation of comedy to its most absurd and profoundly funny moments on television, can never be overestimated. Jack Donaghy has to be one of the best characters ever – his proud Republican heart and razor sharp quips, skewered in the more liberal world of the entertainment industry, is priceless.
Louis C.K. took home so many awards all given to him by yet ‘another black man’ (his words, not mine) for Comedy Director, Comedy Special of the Year and Stand-Up Tour. He too writes and performs his own material.
Finally, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo won for their comedy screenplay, BRIDESMAIDS. Accepting their award, they fell to the ground and literally wrestled each other – fancy outfits and all – for sole ownership of the award. The ladies are not afraid to get dirty for comedy.
A delicious extra was a live installment of ‘Angry Obama’ by writer/performers, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele of ‘Key and Peele’ fame. Their honest portrayal of the imagined (or some might say, accurate) portrayal of presidential frustrations, is eminently watchable. Jordan Peele does a spot on calm, cool and collected President Obama, while Keegan-Michael Key uses his boundless energy for ‘Angry Luther’ to amply vocalize the insanity of American politics. Interviewing them afterwards, they mentioned doing more ‘Angry Obama’ webisodes for the upcoming election. I’m certain they will have plenty of material.
For these moments alone, it’s worth watching The Comedy Awards on Comedy Central, Sunday May 6 at 9pm EST. Let’s hope next year, more up and coming talent is recognized, and more live animals are given out in the gift bags. Because I could totally see Will Arnett taking home a furry pet tamarin.