A Collection of Characters: Expanded Interviews
Pepperdine’s featured film and television writers have so much more to say about their craft. Pepperdine Magazine followed up with Sheryl Anderson, Andy Guerdat, Jeff Loveness, and Tom Provost to pick their brains about their passion for writing and working in Hollywood.
PEPPERDINE MAGAZINE: When did you start writing, for fun?
GUERDAT: I wrote my first novel (well, it was a lot of pages) in the 6th grade. It was a mystery called The Dogs of Avalanche Hill (I had just finished reading The Hound of the Baskervilles), and I’ve loved telling stories ever since. One of my great hopes is that no one ever finds a copy of that novel.
PROVOTST: Boy, you are sure going to make me sound like a nerd…! I always was writing and won my first award in 3rd grade for a horror/thriller I wrote and illustrated, ‘The Monster From Planet X’. It’s all been downhill from there.
ANDERSON: I would borrow my parents’ typewriter as a kid and pretend to write the great American novel. I’d write probably the first four pages and then my attention would wander!
LOVENESS: My brother and I made James Bond movies when we were kids... They mainly involved my 5 year old self battling our neighbors who played “Evil Russians.” I guess that might count as my first foray into writing.
When did you first start thinking that you would like to craft the stories that people watch at home or on the big screen?
ANDERSON: After college, I had to decide between grad school or starving for my art as a playwright in New York, before a friend in Los Angeles convinced me to try TV instead. The money is better and the weather is better!
LOVENESS: I started writing for Pepperdine's Sketch Comedy Program, 'The Randumb Show,' basically my first week of college. It gave me great opportunities to try things out and develop my style a bit deeper. I wasn’t sure if I'd be able to pursue a career in comedy, but I found it incredibly fun and freeing and therapeutic.
GUERDAT: Once I started seeing great movies regularly, I found I had a natural affinity for telling stories cinematically. Without ever having taken a screenwriting course or having read a screenplay, I imagined the opening sequence of a movie I eventually wrote called Fourth Story. That sequence never changed from that first conception though dozens of drafts for producers, directors and stars – all the way to the final production. I just see things visually.
What drew you to your “genre”?
PROVOST: I lean towards thrillers. I like to imagine myself a Howard Hawks, who was brilliant! Hawkes did classic films in literally every genre. We’ll see if I can pull that off. But I do know thrillers and ghost stories backwards and forwards which is why, so far, that is what I’ve done. I’ve always been a fan or thrillers, scary movies, and horror movies. You know, like ‘The Monster from Planet X.’
LOVENESS: I like comedy because, frankly, it benefits you the most. Laughing is better than crying. The Preston Sturges film 'Sullivan's Travels' puts it the best. It's better to make someone laugh than to make them grovel over the sour state of the world… Comedy can make you think just as effectively as a heavy-handed drama, but you enjoy yourself more in the process and often times, the impact seeps in a bit deeper.
GUERDAT: I’ve made most of my money over the years writing comedy, and I do love making people laugh—and being made to laugh—though I’ve also written my share of thrillers. I love good drama, too, and I recently had a dramatic stage play produced at the Berkshire Theater Festival, though drama is much harder to sell, and I have to make money with my writing. Essentially, anything that makes me go, “Oh, that was sooo cool!” is what I love to see. So that’s what I love to write.
Do you have a process you follow when beginning a new script?
LOVENESS: I'm still trying to develop a regiment myself, but I usually start somewhere in the middle, around a specific joke or scene I have in my head, and then build outwards from there. I try to write out what strikes me at first, and then fill the rest in around it. That usually helps the process move along.
GUERDAT: All audiences watch stories for one reason: to feel emotion. So the single most important step is to first identify why I’m so excited by this idea that I’m willing to spend the next few weeks, or more likely months, writing it.
PROVOST: You just have to write. Vomit anything down on the paper. Rewriting is where the genius usually happens, so don’t waste time. This is very hard for me personally—I like everything I write to be perfect, from the first draft. But this is stupid. I’ll spend two weeks perfecting a scene in the first draft that, by the end of the draft, I realize is a scene not needed in the movie. It’s a complete waste of time. Just write. Get something down. Then you can begin the real work.
What is your favorite part of the script-writing process?
PROVOST: ‘The End’… but, seriously, probably rewriting! Much more fun that the first draft, at least for me.
ANDERSON: Being done. It was Dorothy parker who said, “I don’t like writing, I like having written.” I used to think losing myself in the first draft was my favorite part, but I do enjoy now going back and editing and tightening and polishing. But my absolute favorite part is the moment when the characters take over and I try to type as fast as I can to keep up.
LOVENESS: Most of the time, I don't think I even like the writing process. It's sluggish, frustrating, and you end up destroying worlds you created on a whim. Production and editing are even worse. I often wonder why I'm even doing it... but then you see the final product and you remember why you put up with the torturous process in the first place. There's no better feeling in the world than knowing you made someone laugh. Well... maybe saving someone from a fire is better, but I haven't done that yet, so I can only talk to what I know.
What has been your favorite project to work on?
GUERDAT: In TV, I enjoyed writing the pilot of Herman’s Head, though not the production that followed. Individual episodes of Mork and Mindy, Archie Bunker’s Place, Empty Nest, and a little-seen show called Goode Behavior were rewarding because they were among the rare times when all the creative elements clicked. Well, most of them anyway. And I recently wrote a children’s cartoon called Sheriff Callie’s Wild West that is surprisingly smart and fun for a pre-school show. We’ll see when it airs in about a year… Ultimately, the most rewarding creative experience was watching a first-rate production of my play Red Remembers. Executed exactly as written. And it worked.
PROVOST: It might be a play I produced and starred in, 15 years ago, called Nebraska, by Keith Reddin. It was the first thing I produced, and it was very successful. I had a ball doing it. It was also strengthening… it was very tough and very stressful, so when it was over I thought, ‘If you can do that, you can do anything.”
ANDERSON: It’s hard because I’ve had fun everywhere I’ve been, fortunately. There have been moments where I’ve screamed and stomped my feet, of course. I try to make whatever I’m working on my current favorite… I just sold a procedural pilot to Cineflix that I am incredibly excited about. It’s gotten a response like nothing else I’ve ever done. (Pepperdine Magazine: Watch this space for updates on this project as it comes together!)
What would be your creative and professional advice to Pepperdine’s aspiring screenwriters?
GUERDAT: Write. Too many people want to be writers, but don’t want to write. Which means you need to read. And most importantly… think. If you don’t have anything to say, no one will want to read what you write. And you can’t have anything to say if you don’t think about, well… what you think about things.
ANDERSON: Be patient. Because it never happens as fast as you want it to, whether it’s finishing a script or getting your break. This is a hard path so you have to love it. And you have to believe that you can do it because you will meet way too many people who will tell you that you can’t.
PROVOST: Set aside one or two hours minimum, the same time every day, and sit and write. Even if you stare at the page, you have to be there in order for the genius to come. Just write. And know you have some brutal times ahead. But also some great joy.