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Saturday, September 29, 2012

LA Storytelling Shows and Inherited Trait Writing Prompt

By Marilyn Friedman

Wow, I blinked, and we are only two days away from October. How did that happen? Do I always say that?

I have been very busy loading up the fall schedule with fantastic classes on both East and West sides of LA, my dears. So I'm sorry that it's been a few weeks since I posted.

I have taken a few respites from work to attend fantastic storytelling shows like Sit n Spin where our instructor and Emmy-award winning writer Jeff Kahn performed a hilarious essay from his new memoir and Taboo Tales where Writing Padder Julie Evan Smith read a funny, very moving essay on her search for love. Other terrific storytelling shows that I like to go to in LA include Pinata at Bang, Tongue and Groove, and The Moth. They are inexpensive, entertaining, and a great place to showcase yourself as a writer if your essay gets accepted!

Speaking of showcasing yourself as a writer, you automatically get booked in two storytelling shows (optional) and get feedback on an essay if you take Moth Me Baby next Sunday with Pinata curator and Pushcart Prize nominee Christine Schoenwald. If screenwriting is more your bag, learn what it takes to move your pilot to the green light pile and how to get a staff writing job in Let Your Pilot Take Off with Cartoon Network' and 3 Arts Entertainment's Julie Whitesell this Monday. And we haven't forgotten about you fiction writers either! Multi-award-winning writer Maureen McHugh will help you whip a novel chapter or short story and get it published in her Fiction Bootcamp starting this Tuesday.

A full list of our classes is below. Click on the links to sign up before they are full, my darlings. I hope to see you soon. Note: classes with an asterix will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!

Classes Starting This Week/Next Week
Let Your Pilot Take Off: Crafting A Compelling TV Show (2 Day)*
Fiction Bootcamp: Mastering The Art of The Tale Tale*
So You Want To Be A Writer?
Finishing School
From Bedtime Stories To Tales Of Teenage Woe: Writing For Kids And YA*
Punch Up Your Prose: Extracting Comedic Gold
Moth Me Baby: A Performed Essay Workshop

This is one of the traits that I inherited from my mother. Scroll down for a writing prompt that capitalizes on inherited traits.

Book Publishing
Fiction and Memoir
You Wanna Get Theoretical?
Pitching For The Press: A Query Letter Clinic
You've Been Featured: Writing The Big Story
You In 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay (5 Wk)*
Personal Essay II: The Advanced Class*

Writing for Actors
Get Truthy: A One-Person Show Intensive
Do Re Mi, Baby: Humorous Songwriting Made Easy


Writing Prompt: Inherited Traits
Trapped in your house because you are afraid of Carmageddon 2? When LA traffic is too hellacious to fathom, it's the perfect time to write, my loves. Make a list of your 5 things that you have inherited from your mother (father, grandmother, etc.). For instance, you could write down the way you and your brother always leave the cabinets open, the big, pear shaped butt you got from your mother, or the eerily similar laugh that you and your father share. Pick one. Add a sensory detail to it (e.g. smell, taste, sound, touch). Now write for 10 minutes and post the results in the comments of this blog to be entered into the contest for a free class at Writing Pad!

I am going to write about either my pear shaped Friedman fanny or the intense bossiness I inherited from my mother. I try to hide my bossiness from most people, but in reality, I am so bossy that my husband has given me the nickname, Bossy Bear, which is an actual cartoon character with her own picture book.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with (feel free to email me if you want to remain anonymous but still enter the comment contest).

Write about those pesky, or not so pesky, inherited traits!  Post your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog, and you could win a free class!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You've been Kahned! Master Screenwriter Jeff Kahn Tells All

By Priscilla Leonard

Jeff Kahn's writing, which fluidly crosses genres as diverse as screenwriting to personal essay, elevates silliness to a high art. His distinct wit consistently transforms the painful absurdity of daily life into comedic gold.

Emmy award-winning writer, Jeff Kahn got his big break co-writing and co-starring in“The Ben Stiller Show” on MTV. Since then, he sold over a dozen television pilots both on his own and with his writing partner Aline Brosh McKenna of “The Devil Wears Prada” fame. He also sold three original screenplays and produced pilots at every major network including FX, MTV and Comedy Central. Jeff had overall writing deals at Sony and Castle Rock. In 2010, he co-authored "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up” with his wife, Annabelle Gurwitch, which received rave reviews from People Magazine, Publishers Weekly and the Washington Post.

We caught up with Jeff in Atwater Village to hear his insights about the screenwriting life.

Jeff Kahn Expresses His Affection For Wine
1. When did you start your screenwriting career and how did you break in?

I wrote a TV pilot (hand written, not typed) for MTV called "Patio Party". It never got produced, but it was good enough to land me a job on MTV’s hit show "Remote Control".  From there, Ben Stiller and I (we were doing stand up together at that time) created our own MTV pilot, "The Ben Stiller Show". We did 13 shows for MTV, got a pilot deal at Fox from that, and two years and three pilots later did 12 episodes for Fox. The year after the Stiller Show won an Emmy, I sold a feature script I had been working on for years to Universal called "Spies and Innkeepers". It was a comedy set in the American Revolution.

2. You have sold an impressive number of pilots and screenplays and have written for every major TV network. What is the secret to your success?

Please, I have no secrets, and as far as success, it comes and goes. I guess the best thing you can say about me is that I’m spunky and refuse to go away.

3. What advice do you have for aspiring screenwriters? A) For folks who want to become working TV writers? B) For anyone who has an original screenplay or TV show that they want to sell?

Never let the dream crushers (the gatekeepers whose job it is to say “NO!”) get you down.  Persevere, keep writing, and never give up. You do something that they can’t do. You can write. Create. Make something out of nothing. They can’t have a TV show or a film without a writer. So write. And after you’re done, rewrite. Rewriting is the key to writing.

4. You’ve collaborated with a number of well-known writers, including Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, Aline Brosh McKenna, and even your wife, Annabelle Gurwitch. Do you recommend having a writing partner? How do you select your writing partners?

I highly recommend having a partner. It’s good to bounce stuff off each other, make each other work harder and become better writers. I’ve loved all my partners. Partnerships can be particularly helpful when writing comedy. You know something is funny if you can make them laugh. 

All of my writing partners have come about by luck. I met Ben through mutual friends, and he wanted to do stand up so I said, “Okay, let’s do it together.” So we started performing a stand up act. I had no idea that someday he’d be a major international movie star and I’d be still me. Little known writer at the time, Judd Apatow, Ben and I wrote the pilot for the Fox Ben Stiller Show. 

Aline is a different story. We were set up on a “writer’s date” by a mutual friend who was an executive at Newline at that time. She had an idea for a TV show that she thought needed both a male and female POV.  Aline and I hit it off right away and although we didn’t end up selling that pilot we did have five very successful and fun filled years together. As far as Annabelle is concerned, well, we’re married and writing with your wife should be against the law. 

5. You have been able to pursue a career as a screenwriter, memoirist, and playwright, in addition to having a family. What advice do you have for people trying to find the time for a regular writing practice?

Having a family opens your heart and head to so much, inspires your imagination, answers a lot of interesting questions about life, asks even more interesting questions as well as sucking you dry.  Having a baby is like taking care of a helpless vampire who you love more than anything but is also draining you of your life force. Being a parent of a teen now, just doing his laundry takes hours away from writing time. So, you have to write when you can, anywhere you can. For me, it’s in my car, when parked of course, multiple Starbucks, at his baseball games and bass lessons, during lunch at restaurants, at night in bars, and even on the toilet.

6. How did you learn your screenwriting craft?  How much of it did you teach yourself (and how did you teach yourself) and how much did you learn from people you worked with?

When I first started writing in 1888, I mean 1988, most of my formal training stemmed from Improv comedy that operates without a script. But even those sketches demand something of an outline, character attributes and some light plot devices. Ben helped me immensely.  He was and is a perfectionist and he scrutinized every word I wrote. He was a dictatorial taskmaster of epic proportion, but I needed it. I didn’t have formal training... 

During this time, I read screenplays that Ben had lying around and copied the structure I learned from reading them when I wrote my first screenplay, "Spies and Innkeepers".  David Kissinger who was an exec at Disney along with his partner at the time, Jordon Levin, schooled Aline and me on pilot writing after they bought our first pitch. The legendary Larry Charles of Seinfeld writing and Borat-directing fame was my boss on my first animated show "Dilbert". Recently, the brilliant TV producer, Nina Wass acted as a college professor for Annabelle and me as we turned our book into an hour-long dramatic pilot for Lifetime.    

7. You have a very distinctive, humorous voice as a writer. How did you cultivate your comic style?
My voice has changed over the years. I think it’s still evolving. I have more, for lack of a better word, command over my voice now than when I was younger. Basically, I started out as a Woody Allen wanna be.  Later, performing in an Improv group in Madison, Wisconsin during college helped me to channel what I was studying – political science, history, literature – into short satirical sketches and parodies. For a few years that sketch writing was my voice. 

With Ben, this sketch writing became streamlined to focus exclusively on his comic vision skewering cultural and media content. That was my voice for at least five years. Then I started to write sit-coms with Aline, and I found a new, more irreverent comedic voice bouncing stuff off of her.   I found that voice to be closer to who I really was…

I began writing personal essays/stories about my life, my past, my marriage and performing them at literary salons around LA.  Eventually some of these stories became the roots of the book "You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up", I co-authored with my wife.  That voice, the voice I found writing with her, is the nearest I’ve gotten at writing something truly genuine and authentic.

8. What do you think makes a good TV show?

Many of the great TV writers are very good at distilling writing to its most accessible essence.  Some call this mediocre or formulaic, and that may be true to a certain extent, but if everyone could do it and do it that well, there would be a lot more show-runners and show creators than we currently have.

9. You have penned so many TV shows, plays, movies, and books. What inspires you to keep coming up with new ideas? Do you ever get writer’s block?

Money.  (Or the lack there of.) Also, I’m still very hungry for success because many of my friends are super successful, famous and rich and I’m insecure and in need of validation. (Hey, at least I’m honest.)  Also, I use writing as a cathartic tool so it serves the psychological function of cleaning out my head...  Luckily, my life is complicated, problematic, funny and entertaining, so I never run out of ideas. 

Writing Pad is pleased to host two classes with Jeff Kahn, Work The Room: Mastering the Power of the Pitch starting September 19 and Writing A Pilot That Can Fly starting on October 22. Click the links above to sign up before they are full! You are also invited to join the Writing Pad crew at Sit 'N' Spin this coming Thurs. September 6 to hear Jeff read a hysterical story from his new erotic memoir, "Lust and Found".

Welcome To Fall and Writing Prompt: Memorable Hotels

By Marilyn Friedman

I don't know what you did over the past few days, but Mr. Writing Pad and I had a busy Labor Day weekend that included some of my favorite summer activities: grilling steak and corn with friends, long writing sessions inside with the air conditioning going full blast, and dips in the pool near our home to cool off.

Let Writing Pad help you take the sting out of summer being over. We have a ton of wonderful new classes planned for you in September and October to make your fall as special as your summer. This weekend, we are honored to have Kenneth Johnson, the creator of "V", "The Six Million Dollar Man," "The Bionic Woman", and "The Incredible Hulk" teaching a class on how to write a TV series that has legs (producing infinite story ideas) and appeals to both men and women. Don't miss Nice Legs! Creating The Series That Keeps On Giving this Sunday afternoon!  

To sign up for this and any other one of our terrific classes before they are sold out, click on the links below or email *Classes with an asterix will be held at our Westside location in Culver City! 

Classes Starting This Week
Short And Sweet: The Art Of The Short Story*
Fantasies, Flashbacks, and Fictions: The Inner Life of Your Characters
Nice Legs! Creating The Series That Keeps On Giving

Classes Starting Next Week
Short And Sweet: The Art Of The Short Story*
Pitching For The Press: A Query Letter Clinic
From Cheng Du to Timbuktu: Writing The Road Less Traveled
Page One: Writing The Feature Article
You In 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay (5 Wk)*
Personal Essay II: The Advanced Class*

Writing for Actors
Get Truthy: A One-Person Show Intensive

Writing A Pilot That Can Fly

Writing Prompt: Memorable Hotels
I'm assuming that a lot of you had travel plans this weekend so perhaps you have a new story idea to contribute to this writing prompt.

Make a list of 5 memorable or crazy hotel stays for you (or a fictional character). For instance, you could write about the time that you got locked out of your room, got an amazing upgrade and saw a Cindy Crawford in the elevator, stole all of the towels and got caught by housekeeping, etc. Pick one of the memorable hotel stays. Add a sensory detail to this scene (smell, taste, sound, touch, sight). Now write for 10 minutes about your memorable hotel stay, including the sensory detail and post the results in the comments of this blog!

This prompt reminds me of the time that my husband and I went to Guilin, China, and the glass shower doors in our hotel bathroom fell off of their hinges and broke into a million pieces at 3 a.m. The hotel blamed us for this mishap even though we were in bed the whole time!

Write about a memorable hotel stay! If you post your 10 minute write in the comments of this blog, you could win a free class!