“Letting morality get in the way of making money. I might as well go and be a teacher.”
TV Executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock
Donald Trump inspires me. Not politically, but creatively.
There I was less than two months ago deciding to write my first spec TV pilot with an idea rooted in an aborted screenplay I wrote a few years ago. The idea popped back on my radar at the end of last year because I realized it was a TV idea and not a film idea. (Next Monday I’ll start a string of posts looking at those differences.)
It only took a day to take my 36-page screenplay and morph the movie idea into a TV idea. Then a week to flesh it out, and by the end of the month to have a first draft done.
So where does Donald Trump fit into this creative process? When you’re writing everything goes into your creative blender. There I was developing my story idea and at the same time watching presidential debates and news reports.
Somewhere in that process I realized Trump was a trope.
“Merriam-Webster gives a definition of ‘trope’ as a ‘figure of speech.’ In storytelling, a trope is just that — a conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly. Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… you know it when you see it.”
Trump is Archie Bunker in All in the Family, Lou Grant in Mary Tyler Moore, Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character, Danny DeVito in Taxi, Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son, and that reality show star on The Apprentice who loved saying, “You’re Fired!”
This trope speaks his mind. Doesn’t care about political correctness. And while we’re sometimes stunned by what they say—audiences tune in like they did on this exchange from the Norman Lear created All in the Family (the most watched Tv show from 1971-1976).
Gloria: You know, pizza’s actually not from Italy. I read that Marco Polo discovered it in China and then brought it back to Italy.
Archie Bunker: Leave it to a dago to go halfway around the world to get a take-home meal.
Trump may not have won in Iowa, but he won the ratings game. And there’s a part of me that expects to see Trump show up one night on a late night interview basically saying he was pulling a Joaquin Phoenix-like (retired actor turned hip-hop artist) hoax. Time will tell.
But Trump inspired me to trump-up a character I’d written. One who speaks his mind and doesn’t care what anybody else thinks—and that’s a fun character to write. And as I’ve been working on re-writes the actor who I’d most love to hear say these lines is Patrick Warburton (Puddy on Seinfeld) whose persona has built-in smarmy/arrogance. He’s been featured during this election cycle on National Car Rental commercials, so I’m sure that’s an added reason he ended up in my creative blender.
But let’s not just keep the spotlight on Trump. Here’s a glimpse at four other candidates:
Bernie Sanders. He’s kind of the flip side of the coin character of Trump. He speaks his mind and has his share of radical ideas. With both Sanders and Trump I find myself both agreeing with some of the things they say—but with other things they say wondering if they have a screw loose. (But the best life changing ideas always sound a little crazy at the start. It’s too bad with radical ideas we can’t get a small working sample from a small town somewhere to see how those ideas play out.) A tie in Iowa was a win for Sanders.
Ted Cruz. With Cruz beating Trump in Iowa, I bet screenwriter Craig Mazin woke up this morning with a hangover. (Mazin has been outspoken against Cruz.) The last thing Mazin wants is to be known to the world not for his writing but as Ted Cruz’s college roommate. Mazin once told Brian Koppelman, “I’ve always felt that if you put me in front of 10 feet of concrete and said, ‘walk through it—I’d get through it. I believe it, I really do…I’ve never felt like anything could stop me if I really tried.” Cruz appears to have that same DNA. (Maybe they have a class on persistence at Princeton.) To walk away with a victory in Iowa took a lot of systematic and methodical work.
Hillary Clinton. Clinton is the Madonna of this political crowd. Loved by some, hated by others, but resilient to the core. One way or another, she’ll still be around in four years, and in eight years. Not 100% sure you can say that about any other candidates.
Mario Rubio. I tuned into Rubio speaking last night and thought he’d won in Iowa instead of coming in third. He was upbeat about being only a percentage point behind Trump as well as picking up the same amount of delegates (7) as Trump. When the dust settles, Rubio and Sanders may have been the real winners last night.
The odds are looking good that the United States will elect its first woman, or first Hispanic, to become the next President.
P.S. One of my most interesting life experiences was being in Iowa during the 2007 Iowa Caucus. I saw 12 presidential candidates on both sides in many different venues including the classic Iowa State Fair. I was also hired as a cameraman to tape one event in Waterloo, Iowa in which six presidential candidates were speaking. While the press camera crews were places at the back of the convention center, because I was hired to tape the talks for the sponsoring group I was allowed to set-up in the front row.
I was the closest person in the room to the candidates which included the eventual President of the United States Barack Obama. Here’s photo I took between shooting footage. (POTUS looked a little younger back in ’07.)
P.P.S. Why not end on one more little nugget from Jack on 30 Rock:
“Diversity is the engine that drives this country. We are an immigrant nation! The first generation works their fingers to the bone making things, the next generation goes to college and innovates new ideas, the third generation snowboards and takes improv classes.”