Film Courage: Your new book just came out, Now That’s Funny. I understand it contains 24 writers, you give them a premise, a situation about a mother and daughter, instead of asking them about their process (because that’s the fastest way to get fiction from an artist – ask them what their creative process is).
Peter Desberg, Author: You know when you interview somebody and you ask the about their process you have no idea what you’re getting. And a lot of people sort of romanticize the way they wish their process was. Some will tell you what they think they do. But the easiest way to get at it (the most direct way ) is to do it and we’ll watch. And these people were so nice about letting us do that. And one of the things that we thought was interesting was the people we had had major credits. I mean these were people were showrunners, a lot of them were show creators. All of them at one point or another said “We’re kind of nervous doing this. Because we have one shot at this and then we are going to be compared to really, really famous peers who will do a better job.”
Film Courage: How much time did you give them to work out this premise?
Peter: The average interview was anywhere to an hour to two hours or so. And that was it. They had their shot.
Jeffrey Davis, Author: That you’re reading in the book is liberally edited so the most important thing to us was the premise making because you get 24 different stories from one premise. But great questions come out of it too. But the most important thing that we were sure not to cut their best work and I think it comes across. And then the little stories that we tell, the sidebars.
Peter: I mean we tried to put some of our own insights into it and every once and a while we’d see something really unusual, we’d see trends like a surprising number of the writers had graduated degrees in math and science. And it’s like “Huh? That’s weird for comedy writers?” And one of the things that we found interesting is particularly for TV comedy writers (people in the room), they tend to be more story guys or joke guys and the science math guys are almost exclusively story guys (they were well organized) and they were really good at plotting. A lot of the people we interviewed also had stand-up backgrounds and they tended to be surprisingly the joke guys.
In fact there was one funny story that Lou Schneider that wrote for Everybody Loves Raymond told us a story that they were sitting around the table and one of the guys grabs him and pulls him under the table and he says “Pitch this joke for me.” And he says “Pitch it yourself.” And he says “No, you’ve done stand-up. I want to make sure this gets in. You’ll tell it better than me.”
Film Courage: So people knowing your skill set.
Film Courage: What if we were to give you a premise, our own premise? I’m curious how the two of you would work it out?
Peter: It would be brilliant, I’m pretty certain.
Jeffrey: It would take a couple hours. Peter…feel free to correct me…but my observation is (I’ve talked about this a lot with my students) is a good way to go out of a University (especially as an undergrad) is with a partner. They are much more likely to hire you with a partner when you’re young and help you develop your craft as a solo writer. I’m talking about comedy. I don’t know anything about how drama works. But I’m pretty sure that there is so much cross-pollination now that it’s the same. But the way Peter is…I got way away from the story…I don’t know…what am I on today, I have no idea?
I believe that it is really a bad thing for people to have the same skills as their partners. This goes toward answering the premise question you asked. If both people in the partnership have the same skills, I don’t see a reason for the partnership. Complementary skills…Peter has two things (one drives me crazy), he’s able to put anything down in a draft, he has no blocks. How he can even call himself a writer without blocks is shameful. But he’ll just put it down knowing it’s awful (it’s not ever as awful as he thinks it is) and then he’ll say to me “Can you work on this and develop it?” Whereas I would rather have dental surgery than do a first draft. It’s painful for me. But I love rewriting but Peter is capable of seeing structure in his head (I think that it comes from his science background), I’ll start anywhere in the story and just let it write itself. And both of those ways of working on developing a premise or anything else are valid.
You know, one thing we’ve learned from this book is there isn’t any one way to do it. I don’t know if I answered your question, but I like my answer better than your question. I mean I have a little blabbermouth going on. Did that sort of answer the question?
Peter: We haven’t gotten to it yet. But I will throw in one sort of interesting thing that we’ll get to. It will be foreplay for the question.
Film Courage: Oh, good.
Jeffrey: See he is trying to sell that book [Peter’s other book].
Peter: There was a really huge study done at Berkeley years ago. And it was just creative artists, it was architects, doctors, all cross every field. And the two major findings that they came out with were creative people have a better ability to tolerate ambiguity and really importantly they have the ability to suspend judgment. And one of the things you find particularly with young writers and they’ll write something and they’ll immediately get depressed saying it’s not good enough. And one of the things that we’ve learned and that for sure helps me is that I want to get something down. We again like the old Hemingway quote “Write drunk, edit sober.”
So once you get something down then you have something down then you have something to work on. And I’ve never had anything that looks like at the end like it started out at the beginning. And so I don’t feel constrained writing anything because I know it’s going to get reshaped, reworked.
Jeffrey: I don’t have that.
Like this video? Please subscribe to our Youtube channel. Or love this video and want more? You can show additional support via our Youtube sponsor tab (hit the JOIN button on the front page of our Youtube channel in the upper right hand corner or underneath any video if watching on Youtube) or through Patreon.
Advertisement – contains affiliate links:
Lights, Camera, Save! is a teen video contest that encourages teens to educate themselves and their peers about the value of saving and using money wisely. Each fall students enter the contest by submitting videos to local participating banks. These banks then choose a local winning video and submit it for judging at the national level. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited.
Film Music Mentor – A Youtube channel for filmmakers, television producers, content creators and media professionals of all kinds. Film Music Mentor will help you circumvent problems even the most seasoned professionals face.
Multiple award-winning composer/music producer Andrew Markus breaks down every challenge that motion picture creators face in the process of putting music in their projects. Why it works and why it fails.
How should a screenwriter approach a producer especially if they have little or no credits? What do producers look for in a script? What should the independent producer focus on when attempting to get a production off of the ground? What do financiers look for? How do I make the most of the small crew and budget that I have? Join us on Tuesday, November 13th from 7-9pm (the night includes a Q&A).