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Posts Tagged ‘Clare Sera’

“I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.”
Tennessee Williams

As a preface to part three of my interview with screenwriter, Clare Sera part of what I referenced was Orlando in the ’90s had a lot going on in the arts. Here’s a quick overview:

Movies— Parenthood, Passenger 57, Waterboy
TV—Nickelodeon, From Earth to the Moon, The Mickey Mouse Club
Theater —SAK Comedy Lab, Mad Cow Theatre, Central Florida Civic Theatre
Music— Matchbox Twenty, Creed, Justin Timberlake

Scott: When you were involved in improv in Orlando in the ’90s did you cross paths with Paula Pell, Aaron Shure, and/or Bob DeRosa. 

Clare: I know them all well. Yes, I love them all.

[Note: Paula Pell went to New York and ended up writing hundreds of comedy sketches for Saturday Night Live and the screenplay Sisters, Aaron Shure won an Emmy producing and writing on Everyone Loves Raymond, and Bob DeRosa is in LA where he wrote the screenplay for Killers.]

Scott: What do you think was going on in Orlando at that at that time?

Clare: Orlando was just kind of waking up at that time so it was kind of cool. And all of them were with SAK.

Scott: I didn’t know they all had a connection.

Clare: They all did. I remember making Paula improvise which she was just terrified. She was a little more comfortable with sketches and writing sketches which has worked out quite well for her. Bob DeRosa came to SAK and started his own improv team. And Aaron, of course, was an improvisor at SAK also. So yeah, there’s a big Orlando contingent out here [in LA]. A big one.

Scott: I think a lot of people believe “If I have a movie made…,” “If someone buys my screenplay….” that it will cure all. Do you have any last words on having a life beyond the movie world?

Clare: I know it is a little bit cliché, but it’s really only cliché because it’s that same truth that said over and over, but those wishes that come true or those goals or dreams [realized]—they are so fleeting. And it absolutely is fun. [The release of Blended] absolutely was joyful blip my life but it really was a blip. And it is my relationships that are my actual life, that is what my life is. For me it’s God in each one of us, that’s what I’m spending my life doing—just being in a relationship with people. And it is the most important thing so when a blip happens whether it’s a great blip like a life dream comes true and Adam Sandler makes a movie— that’s a blip. That’s great. If it’s a terrible blip like a dear friend suddenly dies, it’s your relationships that are there before and after, and you cannot sacrifice them when those blips occur. Especially the good ones.

Scott: I hope you get a couple more blips.

[Note: I did this interview in the gap between the release of Blended and Smallfoot. So she did have another blip.]

The original idea for Smallfoot began with writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, was developed by Warner Bros. by several others writers before Clare and James Kirkpatrick ended up with co-screenwriting credits.

In a Creative Screenwriting interview with Brock Swanson,  Kirkpatrick says Smallfoot is about “the truth as we make it up to be.” In a flip of the ole bigfoot legend, Smallfoot challenges the village belief that “There is no such thing as a smallfoot.” (A human.)

Kirkpatrick said the BBC radio show The Tyranny of Story helped shape the direction of the story as they explored the concept of the power of story on a community, and ultimately the question What is truth? became a part of the film’s theme. (A question that, as I write this post today, is quite popular in the village known as America.)

I love the humanity of writing. Especially if it’s screened in an actual movie theater. We all go into a dark room and watch the flickering images and then we all laugh at the same things, cry at the same moments, and we all come out talking about this character or that theme. It’s such a shared humanity.”
Clare Sera
Creative Screenwriting

And that concludes the non-mythical journey we’ve looked at the last three days of how Clare Sera was born in Scotland, raised in Canada, cut her comedy chops in Florida, all on her way living in LA and having a hand in writing a Hollywood film that was number one at the box office on Sunday.

P.S. Since 2001, Clare has also been volunteering lead and plan workshops with WriteGirl (@writegirlLA)  Their website states, “WriteGirl is a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills to empower teen girls.”

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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Smallfoot satisfyingly operates on multiple levels and is much deeper than it appears to be.”
Adam Graham, The Detroit News 

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 9.20.25 AM.png

Smallfoot opens in theater today and so today as well I’m going to start Part 1 of an interview I did with Clare Sera who wrote the screenplay along with the movies’ co-director Karey Kirkpatrick. Of the course of this interview (which will be 3 or 4 parts), you’ll see the unlikely journey of Clare took on her way to writing a movie that has an eclectic mix of talent including Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common, Lebron James, and Danny DeVito.

I met Clare back in the ’90s shortly before she moved to LA. If the movie she worked on does beat Night School in the box office this weekend it will be her first view from the top of the mountain. Just keep in mind, she arrived in LA 20 years ago. While everyone loves a good Diablo Cody story—FIRST TIME SCREENWRITER WINS OSCAR!—Clare’s story is much more typical of working screenwriters in Hollywood.

Scott: So the title of this blog is Screenwriting from Iowa . . . and Other Unlikely Places and I think Scotland qualifies as an unlikely place for a Hollywood screenwriter to be from. Where were you born?

Clare: I was born in Glasgow but my parents immigrated to British Columbia—to Canada–when I was 4. My mom was pretty homesick so we would go back there at least every other summer which was great. So I did know my cousins growing up.

Scott: When did you first get involved in acting and writing?

Clare: Well definitely from childhood that was absolutely my thing. All the school plays and everything like that. After high school I went off to Europe backpacking — I didn’t go to college right away. But when I got back I just ended up doing odd jobs, but doing theater all the time, so I finally sucked it up and said I want to do theater. So I went to college in Vancouver for theater and actually the same year that I finally made that decision SAK Theatre came to my town which is Vancouver B.C. SAK Theatre came there to perform for the summer and I got hired to be one of the performers and then I ended up meeting Will [Sera] and getting married and moving to Orlando and staying with Will and SAK Theatre as a performer and then started writing plays for SAK. And when we moved out to Los Angeles my friend who had been at SAK Theatre was now in Los Angeles—Karey Kirkpatrick— and working full time as a screenwriter. He had just finished Chicken Run and he was like, “Oh, you know you’re a good writer you should you should try screenwriting.” He just made it look so easy, ’cause he’d done James and the Giant Peach and Chicken Run and he was getting ready to do his next whatever it was, and I was like, “Oh wow, screenwriting, that seems cool. If Karey can do it…”[laughs] so I started. I’ve still never caught up to him. But he really mentored me, and I took the Act One writing program at the same time, which was at that time it was like a month-long intensive, to kind of learn the basics of the craft and Karey took me under his wing and got me my start really.

Scott: Our paths crossed in your SAK Theatre era back in the mid-’90s. It’s interesting because Scotland has the huge fringe festival now but you weren’t a part of that. And Vancouver, British Columbia is now popular for movies and TV but that probably wasn’t happening when you were out there. Then you were in Orlando in the ‘90s when it had a minor Hollywood East film movement and you missed that, too. But you were in Orlando as Wayne Brady as he was coming up as a teenager. Did you mentor him?

Clare: He very sweetly gave Will and I props for his improv career. But I met Wayne actually doing an industrial in Orlando and we just hit it off immediately. He was maybe 17 at the time. And I said you have to come to SAK and do improv. And he didn’t know improv. So I guess I did introduce him to it. I mean I think he probably did three workshops and I said come play. His talent was all there but yes, SAK was the first place that he that he first improvised.

Scott: So that’s so that’s kind of like the movie Don’t Think Twice where you have this tight group of performers that are all struggling and trying to make it and somebody breaks out. Was Wayne that guy?

Clare: It was exactly that story, because we all we knew each other in Orlando and then we all moved out to L.A. at the same time to improvise together. The main group that was at SAK which was Joel McCrary, Danno Sullivan, Dave Russell and Matt Young. And Wayne was here and so Wayne hooked up with us again. So we started improvising out here in Los Angeles. We called ourselves Houseful of Honkeys. And it was exactly like Don’t Think Twice out of our whole group the producers from Whose Line Is It Anyway? came to see a show and then Wayne and I were invited to come and do Whose Line? And I mean it’s so— except that Wayne and I were not together romantically— like Don’t Think Twice. But it was it was the black guy and the girl that both got invited to Whose Line? And then after the rehearsal process which is kind of bad process, and I did not do well in that atmosphere. And Wayne actually didn’t do great. Actually, nobody did, but he’s such a killer song improviser they decided to take a chance on him with one taping and, of course, once he was in front of an audience he was just fantastic. And that was the at the end of Wayne being able to be a part of our company and it was tense. It was just like in Don’t Think Twice. [Where the core group breaks up.] I mean it’s hard.

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A 1999 LA Times article on Houseful of Honkeys

Scott: Was there the discussion where people in the group were like “Why did he get chosen? He’s the new guy?” Was there any of that talk?

Clare: No, there was never that because Wayne’s talent is amazing. So there was never like I don’t know why they picked Wayne. It’s quite obvious why they picked Wayne.

Scott: At the same time there’s a line in  “Don’t Think Twice” where they kind of say you can’t do improv forever and they kind of realize that. Did you have that moment where you realized you needed to maybe go in a different direction creatively?

Clare:  Yeah I did. Definitely. I mean it’s not true you can’t do improv forever because all the Whose Line? guys— that’s what they do. But I had actually felt that before we had the full kind of breakup of our group, because I realized that I didn’t really want to pursue an acting career. I loved improvising with those guys but I wasn’t interested in pursuing acting. But I really loved writing at SAK, so [screenwriting] seemed like the next obvious step for me.

Scott:  So then you had your Wayne Brady breakout moment where you got writing assignments to work on Curious George and Blended. Can you summarize the baby steps you took in your writing career?

Clare: Yeah, I basically became Karey’s writing assistant for a couple of years, which was really wonderful because I got to go to studio meetings with him and I got introduced to the world. I watched him get notes and saw kind of how brutal [the business could be]. So it made it much easier for me to transition into it. And from that I became a writing partner with him for a while, and then he got me the interview for Curious George, but we came in separately as writers and then he left the project quite early to go and do something else and I stayed on Curious George and that was the start sort of my career separate from Karey. I met on that project another fellow named Ivan [Menchell] that I ended up writing Blended with. [That film starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.] But I kind of continued to do both writing solo projects and writing with Ivan and now I feel like I’ve been writing more again on my own. And it is a bit of a tough time. Mike [Birbiglia] was talking about this on [the podcast] Scriptnotes, All of my work has been for studios which has been amazing. I have ended up writing either myself or with Iven features for every studio in town. I think I’ve written a script for every studio in Hollywood which has been a wonderful experience and pays well but they don’t always make them. They want to make family films, but when it comes time to pull the trigger they choose their project that’s got a bigger IP. It’s got a bestselling book attachment. Or it’s got a superhero.

Note: This interview was done before Clare got the writing assignment on Smallfoot.  And every once in a while a family film gets made. Go see Smallfoot this weekend  (and when it opens in Scotland) and help Clare have one of those rare feats for any screenwriter of having a movie be both well received by critics (65/72/92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and at the top of the box office.

In Parts 2 and 3 of this interview, we’ll learn what Clare discovered working with legendary director Garry Marshall, and her words of encouragement to up and coming writers and filmmakers.

Related Post:
‘Smallfoot’ and the Legend of Screenwriter Clare Sera and Her Unlikely Journey from Scotland to Hollywood (Part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Someone told me some critics are not enthused about Blended. What?!! Unbelievable! … I know I could be upset, but I’m kind of enjoying the madness… Anyway, don’t worry about me, I’m lovin every minute and every aspect. It’s all a crazy wonderful ride!!”
Clare Sera (Co-screenwriter of Blended)
Facebook post 5/23/14

Imagine you’re from some unlikely place connected to Hollywood (say, Glasgow, Scotland) and dream of being a screenwriter in the United States. You dream of being paid to have name actors say lines you wrote. You dream of driving all around Los Angeles and seeing posters of your movie everywhere–with your name on it. You dream of walking the red carpet. You dream of watching your movie with total strangers in a theater. Can you imagine that?

That’s the short version of Clare Sera’s life. Yesterday the film Blended that she co-wrote with Ivan Menchell opened across the country starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. I’ve been tracking Clare’s Facebook posts the last couple of weeks and she’s been enjoying the ride.

I met her close to 20 years ago in Orlando when she was with the SAK Comedy Lab. I’m guessing she moved to L.A. about 15 years ago and among other things picked up acting roles (including The Princess Diaries directed by Garry Marshall), was part of the creative team that produced the Doritos commercial Sling Baby that was the top ad of the 2012 Super Bowl, and she wrote and directed an award-winning short film called Pie’n Burger. She’s worked on several produced scripts over the years, but I believe Blended is the first feature credit she’s received.

Clare is funny and talented and chipped away to have this moment the way a lot of writers do–through perseverance, patience and years and years— heck, decades and decades— of writing. Clare is also a giving person and as been a long-time mentor with WriteGirl which is a group that “promotes creativity, critical thinking, leadership skills to empower teen girls.”

She’s also taken the time to read a couple of my screenplays and I’ve always appreciated her direct and honest feedback.

Congrats Clare. It’s a long way from Glasgow to Hollywood—enjoy the madness.

And while Blended may not beat X-Men or Godzilla at the box office this weekend, or find much love from the top movie critics, those that have seen the film are giving favorable responses. And this is what the LA Times had to say about the Blended;

Though the film, directed by Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer”) and written by Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, contains a somewhat protracted, will-they-or-won’t-they third act (two guesses — no, make that one — how Jim and Lauren end up), the story ultimately earns its feel-good stripes.”
Gary Goldstein review of Blended in the LA Times

Related post: Writing Killer Screenplays On screenwriter Bob DeRosa—another writer with Orlando roots and about Ashton Kutcher and Kathrine Heigl starring in a film he wrote, Killers.

May 29, 2014 update: While Blended in fact did not beat X-Men:Days of Future Past or Godzilla at the box office over the Memorial Day weekend it did beat everyone else coming in third. Blended also received an A- from audiences according to CinemaScore.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“What if your script doesn’t sell?  Most of them don’t.  Doesn’t mean you should give up.  Writing involves a long learning curve.  Most scripts or early novels suck.  Usually, it takes three or four tries before some kind of talent and structure begins to emerge.  It’s frustrating to think that your initial efforts might be just that — early, learning efforts.  But the truth is, most of the time, that’s what they will turn out to be.  That said, scripts can have a long shelf life.  I’ve had at least three scripts sell years and years after I initially wrote them.  In one case, I sold a script a decade after I wrote it.  Sometimes, it’s just a question of timing — the area you’ve chosen to write about isn’t in vogue, but becomes so at a later date.  Or sometimes, your particular stock goes up and a producer will ask if you have anything else in the drawer.  The other thing about scripts is that they can be wonderful calling cards — even if they don’t sell or don’t get made.  It took 4 years from the time I wrote Blade until the day the cameras rolled.  During that time, that un-produced script probably netted me a half-dozen jobs because it worked as a writing sample.”
Screenwriter David S. Goyer (Man of Steel)
On Screenwriting

P.S. As an example of scripts having “a long shelf life”— A writer friend of mine Clare Sera recently sold a script that was completed six years ago with her writing partner Ivan Menchell. Their script Blended is currently being filmed in South Africa with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the lead roles.

Related Posts:
Don’t Waste Your Life
 (“I spent 18 years doing stand up comedy. Ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success.”—Steve Martin)
What it’s Like Being a Struggling Writer in L.A.?
Bob DeRosa’s “Shortcuts”(“There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work.—Bob DeRosa)
Commitment in the Face if Failure (“I wrote five scripts, then I wrote Little Miss Sunshine and then I wrote four more before I finally sold Little Miss Sunshine. It’s an endurance race.” —Michael Arndt)

If your script doesn’t sell…you can always make it yourself:
“It’s a good time to be a filmmaker” (“The field has been completely leveled. You can go and make your movies. There’s tons of ways to get your movies out there now.”—Edward Burns)

Scott W. Smith

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It’s mash-up Monday here at Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the past four weeks have been the highest weeks of views I’ve ever had on this blog. And most of the posts in the past four weeks have been insights from producer/writer/director Garry Marshall. So I’ll continue that trend for a few more days so we can have —A Month of Marshall. Something I’ve never done for any single person since starting this blog almost five years ago. (Though part of the spike in views is also due to the popularity of the post Screenwriting the Pixar Way-Part 2.)

Today we’ll look at Gary Marshall the actor and make some odd connections. Hence, the mash-up.

On Friday, my former intern Josh McCabe & I spoke at the Fast Forward Conference at the University of Northern Iowa. Our talk was called “Going from Student to Working Professional” and they actually didn’t have room in their large studio for all the students who wanted to attend. Back on January 31, 2011 I wrote a post called How to Get Started Working in Production, and talked about Josh’s working for me before moving to LA.

Since then he’s worked for a variety of clients and brands including TBWA/Chiat/Day, Smashbox, Discovery, Gatorade, Lexus, and Estee Lauder. He’s keeping busy mostly editing these days. In the odd connection category he told me that he actually was in a film with Garry Marshall. The short film was produced and directed by Melissa Joan Hart. You can watch the film Mute on this link.

So forget that six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. I’m only one degree from Garry Marshall. And I even have much older friendship with writer/actress Clare Sera who had roles in both The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2 which Garry Marshall directed.

Back in the 80s Garry also had an office on Riverside Drive in Burbank. Back in the 80s I lived on Riverside Drive in Burbank. If I recall correctly my apartment was at 1200 Riverside Dr. at a place called the Equestrian Inn. It’s a swankier place now, but back when I was in college it was very un-L.A. in that there were horse stables next to the apartment’s parking lot and I frequently woke up to the distinct sound of the mating call of a peacock. (And the peacock had nothing to do with the nearby NBC studios where Johnny Carson taped The Tonight Show.)

I met the woman who would become my wife at those apartments. We still laugh about that peacock noise. And I can do a pretty good imitation on request.  No, it’s not what attracted her to me. But that peacock sound  is an objective correlative in our relationship. We met in an elevator in Burbank—can you get any more romantic than that?

We’ll get back to more Garry Marshall’s insights tomorrow, but allow me to reminisce a bit. Over the weekend I went to see Argo and loved the film, which also takes places in the 80s and takes places partly in Burbank—in fact, just off Riverside Dr. at The Burbank Studios. (But as far as I know, neither Garry Marshall—nor Johnny Carson— had anything to do with Argo.) We’ll talk more about Ben Affleck’s five-year journey to bring Chris Terrio’s script to movie theaters next week.

Next week we’ll also talk about filming in Turkey. The last two films I’ve seen (Argo & Taken 2) both were partly filmed in Istanbul, Turkey. My wife—the one I met in the elevator in Burbank—was actually in Istanbul, Turkey last week and brought me some literature from the area about how they are actively seeking to make more movies in Turkey. Next month is the release of the new James Bond film Skyfall which was shot in Istanbul.

I’d say Istanbul has recently done a super job of attracting some major films. It doesn’t take much from a place to go from an unlikely place to make a film, to a highly popular place to make a film. (And a shout-out to Orkide Unsur, a filmmaker in Istanbul who reads this blog.)

No news if Garry Marshall has any plans to shoot a film in Istanbul. And as far as I know he’s never acted in a James Bond film.  But how about this for a wrap-up…the first James Bond film was Dr. No released in 1962, Garry Marshall’s first IMDB credit as an actor was in The Phoney America—released in 1961. I think that’s why these posts about Garry are so popular. He’s a producer, director, writer, actor who has had not only his share of hit films (Pretty Woman)  and TV shows (Happy Days)—but he’s able to drawn on insights from doing this for six decades.

Update 10/23: Marshall plays an uncredited hoodlum in Goldfinger. So there is a connection Marshall and Bond afterall.

P.S. How successful was Garry Marshall’s TV career at its peak? Well back in 1979—when the Iranian hostage crisis (depicted in Argo) started—according to The Museum of Broadcast Communications, “four of the five highest-rated shows of the year were Marshall’s.”

P.P.S. That speaking gig Friday was a blast, and while not something I’ve actively pursued, I enjoy those opportunities. If any colleges or groups would like to bring me in to speak—with or without Josh—shoot me an email at info@scottwsmith.com.

Scott W. Smith

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