All posts by k_mcfarlane

The Final Days

I knew my area of interest for this class would be comedy writing from the start. I also knew my final project would be a pilot script. The trouble at the beginning was determining exactly what that script would be about.

With a focus in satire, I looked back at the early days of film and Hollywood’s golden age to draw inspriration from the comedy greats. I ultimately settled on Preston Sturges – one of the first writers to direct his own scripts, and the director of great films in the 40s like The Great McGinty, The Palm Beach Story, and Sullivan’s Travels.

I mainly focused on Sullivan’s Travels. Written and directed by Sturges and released in 1941, this film tells the hilarious story of a comedy director who yearns to make socially-conscious films. Though his executives insist his privileged lifestyle means he’ll never understand such deep concepts, he goes on a soul-searching mission to find trouble anyway in order to create the dramas he’d like to make. Without giving too much away (because everyone should watch it, especially comedy fans), the film is ultimately a hilarious and touching satire of Hollywood and its players.

Sullivan laughs at a movie.
Sullivan laughs at a movie.

Though I’m more interested in writing comedy for television, I was intrigued by the idea of Hollywood satirizing itself – something that, according to letters I found in the Academy library, was quite unheard of when the film was released in 1941. Executives and actors alike were worried about being portrayed as “incompetent” or “people to be laughed at,” a worry that thankfully gave way eventually to films like Sullivan’s Travels. As an aspiring TV writer, I decided to direct my efforts at something that gives both TV and comedy a direct competitor: Reality television.

With an idea in mind, the scriptwriting process was simple. I enjoy writing, and it’s also difficult to feel the typical stress of fourth week when you’re doing work poolside. Though I’m still in LA at the airport and I’m leaving with a good start on a script, I’ll miss this place. And if anyone’s wondering, 85 degrees and perpetually sunny is much more conducive to comedy writing than 16 and snowing.

Scoring Interviews

Since reading the syllabus on day one, I was dreading the interview project. Part of our class grade is dependent upon researching who’s involved in our favorite films or shows, and doing the work to get in contact with them and ask some questions pertinent to our individual areas of interest. Easy enough.

Not for me. I’ve long struggled with selling things, and cold-calling agents and managers and convincing them their busy client absolutely needs to speak with you is essentially selling yourself. Presenting yourself as important. As worthy of their  client’s time and energy. As someone who didn’t struggle even selling girl scout cookies door to door to her neighbors.

Needless to say, the facade of confidence I’d spent years developing was to be tested in a big way. After perusing IMDBPro and looking at comedy shows, it became apparent that a handful of writers were to thank (or to blame) for most of my favorites. A woman who worked on South Park, went on to be head writer for the Colbert Report, and is currently writing for Portlandia? I’ll take it.

I drafted my pleas quite carefully and tried to keep the desperation and fan-girling toned down. I decided to only write to female comedians, thinking that maybe the bonds of sisterhood would simply be too great to ignore. Days later, however, they apparently had not found my anatomical similarities as compelling as I’d hoped. On the bright side, no one told me to fuck off. I called it a draw.

After a few more hopeful days, I sent out another round. This time I did some super sleuthing, uncovering the writers’ personal websites and searching through old resumes until I finally found contact information that wasn’t for their agents or managers.  I sent out one I was particularly excited about – a writer of many of my favorite sketches and television shows who was located on the East Coast. Two days later, I finally received my first response. Hello, Kenyon. I’m able to do it and I’d be happy to.

To quote a notable shoe company, sometimes you have to just do it.* Accomplished people are just people, albeit with eight times as many credits to their name and busier schedules than me. I still only ended up with one response out of 20 attempts, but that proved to be all I needed and I was able to get over some of my fears of contacting strangers. Girl scout me would be so proud.



*blog post not sponsored by Nike.