Who: Comedian; director-producer of comedic docs Nerdcore Rising (2008) and The Muslims Are Coming! (2013), and narrative 3rd Street Blackout (2016); author of recently published How to Make White People Laugh
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
I started more broadly doing stage work, writing sketches and plays. I moved into doing standup (which is still my bread and butter). I landed some TV writing jobs, mostly monologue joke writing and a few cartoon scripts, where I got really good and writing sound effect jokes for 8-year-olds.
My first foray into making features was in the doc world: I made a film called Nerdcore Rising about nerds who rap. I had literally never turned on a camera before and I got a friend to spend the afternoon with me and show me the basics. That film premiered at SXSW and got distribution so I figured, “I can do this.” Another couple of doc features in, I decided to do a narrative feature which was 3rd Street Blackout. I never had any formal training—because I went to grad school for public policy and turns out, policy professors don’t give a shit how a screenplay is structured—but a lot of it came intuitively and by being an informal student of movies and just doing the work.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
I’ve learned that when you’re making a comedy, it takes longer. Comedy has special needs: It needs more footage, more coverage, more takes. The comedy comes alive in the edit, and whatever happened on set might not actually be funny in the edit. So you need more, always more. I shot 300 hours of footage for my first comedy doc, and as it turned out, I needed each of those miserable hours. Now, I’m a little better at knowing what I need, but even still, I’d easily shoot 200 hours to get an 85-minute movie.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write?
I think its hard to write sincere declarations of emotion. Us comedians are kind of dead inside, so writing those moments where a character uses words like “love” and “feelings” just make us vomit a little. The good news is, there’s not much cheese in my work. The bad news is, the characters still have to say some real shit sometimes so I can’t avoid it. It makes me squirm but I do it.
What was a major turning point in your career?
The thing with this industry, especially if you’re a woman, is that you have to prove yourself several times over before you’re actually considered a member of the industry. At this point, I have another movie being released and my first book coming out, and it seems like maybe the “powers” have accepted that I’m here, and not going anywhere. It’s a persistence game. MM
1. Annie Silverstein 2. Jared Frieder 3. Mike Covino and Sam Kretchmar 4.Troy Anthony Miller 5. Kieran Fitzgerald 6. Ya’ke Smith 7. Brian Klugman 8. Nina Ljeti 9. Kevin Hamedani 10. Eric Haywood 11. Andrew Lanham 12. Julie Howe 13. Tess Morris 14. Matt Cook 15. Monica Zanetti 16. VJ Boyd 17. Edward Ricourt 18. David Broyles 19. Sasha Gordon 20. Eric Hueber 21. Faraday Okoro 22. Arturo Ruiz Serrano 23. Maya Perez 24. Max Taxe 25. Negin Farsad
Every year, AFF (October 13-20, 2016) brings together writers and storytellers for eight days of programming and networking. At this year’s Screenwriters Conference, AFF and MovieMaker will present a “Screenwriters to Watch” panel featuring writers from this list. More information at austinfilmfestival.com.
MovieMaker reader Austin Film Festival discount: Take $25 off your purchase of a Producers Badge or Conference Badge by using the code MOVIEMAKER25 during checkout.
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