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“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 

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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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