Friday, January 17, 2014

Thoughts on Comedy@SCA's Beyond Bridesmaids Panel

I spent a glorious afternoon listening to five amazing comedy writers talk about their lives--where they started, how they "made it" as writers, and their perspectives on breaking into the industry. Some experiences stories were specific to women, most were not. All of the thoughts shared were enlightening and empowering.

Thank you to USC's School of Cinematic Arts for offering this panel for free to the public. See the full panel details here.

My takeaways from the panel:


Don't See What You Like? Write It
Tracy Oliver, writer / producer / actor of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and more, another smartie who completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford, didn't see roles for the kind of black women she knew existed--so she wrote them. When Tracy wrote her own story, she added another dimension to the way we view awkward people, nerdy people, and yes, women and black people too.

Don't Know What to Write? Write What You Want to See
Katie Dippold, celebrated writer (in my books) of The Heat and Parks and Recreation, loved buddy cops growing up. (She aspired, at one point, to join the FBI.) She always imagined a buddy cop montage that--instead of featuring the odd couple on motor cycles, each with a beach babe (gal) behind them--featured herself and her gal cop counterpart on the motor cycles, each with a beach babe (guy) spooning them. So she wrote The Heat.

Finding Your Style
Although it's not for my lengthy circumlocution, Jen Statsky, also a writer on Parks and Recreation and on Hello Ladies, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and more, realized that Twitter was perfect for her style of humor: short jokes. So she wrote and wrote and wrote then one day A.D. Miles (Head Writer of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) DM-ed her and the rest is history in the making.


Stop Chasing That A+
Dana Fox
, creator of Ben and Kate and writer / producer of tons of great comedies, was a self-proclaimed approval seeker. Even as a smart, successful, accomplished Stanford undergrad and then USC's Stark Producing Program grad, Dana had to teach herself to stop "chasing that A+" in life. In other words, to stop chasing perfection and approval. (A mindset she suspects is more common in women.) Her advice? Stop chasing the approval. You are going to fail at some point. Stop fearing it. When it happens, learn from it and carry on.

Your Win is My Win
Bridesmaid's success was a success not just for all women, but for all comedy writers, movie makers, comedians. It's easy to view success as a block of cheese with a finite number of slices to go around, but the good news is, we are creators: we create our own cheese. (Dana kept coming back to this cheese metaphor. It stuck for me, but may be totally confusing for you.) Which leads me to my next takeaway...

Help Each Other
We know how hard it is to get started in this confusing, amorphous industry. When you can, reach out to people whose work you admire, even if their resumes are light, and take them under your wing. Conversely, if you've got no credits and little experience, keep creating, keep working, keep volunteering, and be prepared. (Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.)


Manage Your Money
You won't get paid for awhile, but when you do, save it, because you it might be three years until your next paycheck. Remember all the people who will take a cut of it before you go on a spending spree: agent, manager, Uncle Sam, rent, bills, just to name a few.

Women Must Be Likeable -- Nope!
Dana commented that viewers are often harder on women. For a female character to gain an audience on television, she must be likeable. She pointed out how women like Tina Fey have broken this rule, proving that a female character does not have to be likeable to be successful. I'd also like to point to Elaine of Seinfeld, Grace of Will and Grace.

It was a relief to realize to hear from established writers and producers. Hear about their journeys, each varied. Me? I'm into dramatic plays, political dramas, feel good comedies, stories that pass the Bechdel Test, and stories with women written as people. So if you need me, I'll be running towards THAT.

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