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Interview#22 David Silverman writer, producer

Interview#22 David Silverman writer, producer

I have been very fortunate to meet such talented writers in the social media writing communities, the presence of which acts as common sense guidance for amateur writers, like myself, seeking to find the secrets of how to write and sell their scripts.  Thankfully we have writers such as Bob Saenz and my next interviewee, David Silverman, steering us back to common sense when setting about our writing projects and debunking the awful amounts of tosh you hear on the mysterious ‘writing rules’.

As a writer for over 20 years David has created 5 TV shows and written for many more. He has completed feature re-writes for Steven Spielberg and sold dozens of TV pilots to Disney, Fox, Nickelodeon and to Warner Brothers, so knows his stuff to say the least!

His impressive writing credits include work for Robin Williams, ALF, Newhart, Tom Arnold, Roseanne, Drew Carey, Sarah Silverman, Pee Wee Herman and South Park.

Not only a busy writer, David offers a script reading service, Hollywood Scriptwriting, where he offers constructive criticism and advice to get the writer up to point before submitting their scripts out to production teams. I was also happy to see that David was a fellow Python fan, knew he was a pretty cool guy!

I’ll be submitting mine at the end of February to David – he is right, why spend a year writing something and not get it to the best it needs be!

10 Q’s

What are the main errors that you see from newbie writers?

David: A couple of issues, I think.  One, newbie writers tend to think their script will sell. One thing they need to realize is that their screenplay’s 98% won’t sell, but if it’s a good writing sample it will open doors.  A good sample will get you meetings. You may be invited to meet with a producer, who may want to hear your pitches, or assign you a script to write.  A good writing sample will get you an agent or a manager. More likely a manager. I would look for a manager first before an agent. Agents want to field offers, whereas managers will grow talent.

In the screenplays I read, I find a lot of newbie screenwriters don’t pay a lot of attention to the theme of the project. It’s good to have a theme – even if it’s something as simple as “isolation” like in Taxi Driver.  There’s more to it in Taxi Driver, of course. The isolation breeds contempt. He’s an outsider, who can’t adapt and lashes out. Maybe your theme is forgiveness, or making amends. When you structure your script, you want a lot of your scenes to touch on the theme.

The other big thing newbie writers don’t do enough is track their protagonist all the way through the story.  The protagonist should be pushing the story, not the other way around. The protagonist grows through conflict as well.

Do you feel a lot of the ‘rules’ given in writing scripts can often stifle creativity? Or are they the foundations you should take a steer from?

David: I like Syd Field’s “rules.”  I think the three-act structure is good to learn.  However, there really are no “rules” in Hollywood. A script like “Being John Malkovich” will break a lot of rules, and be great.  William Goldman once said, “nobody knows anything in Hollywood.”  Or something like that.  What he meant was every rule will get broken. Writers will still be successful. It doesn’t mean you go around breaking every rule.

Learn the rules first, then break them.  Look at the rules as “guidelines.” It’s generally a good idea to set the theme up, introduce your major characters and set up a problem for the protagonist to solve in act one.  Likewise, act two should show the hero fighting off obstacles, bigger each time, so the story builds. Then you want him to hit a brick wall at the end of act two, and collect himself and prevail in act three.

Can you tell us more about your work with Steven Spielberg?

David: I worked with Spielberg on The Flintstones Movie.  My partner and I got together with Brian Levant to rewrite some scripts that Amblin had commissioned from different writers.  Brian directed the film. We read the existing scripts and came up with new ideas about the story.  We re-broke the story and pitched it to Spielberg who gave us the green light. We wrote a screenplay.  Other writers were involved too. Most high budget films have several writers even though they’re not all credited.  

During production we went in for more notes, this time from Rick Moranis who was playing Barney.   We came up with new dialogue to make him happy.  We also worked for weeks on Flintstone-type names, like Bruce Spring Stone and Cavern on the Green.  We had hundreds. It was so much fun.

From your impressive list of writing credits, is there any one piece that you are particularly fond of?

David: I liked writing for Alf a lot.  Also – Dilbert.  Other shows I liked writing for include, Nine to Five, Newhart, Duckman, One Day at A Time, The Jackie Thomas Show, and the shows I co-created, like The Wild Thornberry’s, Cleghorne!, Secret Service Guy, and Spacecats.

Do you work alone, or with a writing partner? What are the benefits of both?

David: I sometimes work alone but spent most of my career writing with different partners.  I worked with Steve Sustarsic, Steve Pepoon, and Howard Bendetson. I wrote some tv episodes with my wife, Rogena Schuyler.  Working with a writer is more fun. It’s less isolating, and less depressing. It makes life easier. It helps with rejection.  When a script is rejected you can commiserate with your partner.

Who are your favourite writers and tv shows?

David: My favorite writer is Woody Allen.  He’s received 17 Oscar nominations, more than any other writer.  I like his sense of humor, it’s smart, visual and neurotic. My second favorite writers are the guys in Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Currently I like Vice, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt.  I loved 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I think Tina Fey is a genius.  Same with Larry David.  I like other kinds of shows, too like Westworld and Homeland.

With Netflix receiving 8 Oscar nominations, what impact does this have on traditional film-making? Positive and negative?

David: I think it’s great that Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the rest of them are around. There are more jobs for new writers. I’m an obsessive film watcher. So, without leaving the house, or paying for each film I get to see practically every film (or tv show) that interests me.  And I’m interested in every genre.

I am sending you a very British script to review, is it worth approaching US studios with non-US based scripts? Or is a good script a good script no matter where it is based?

David: Well, if it’s in English, I say send it.  I wouldn’t send a film written in a foreign language to the US studios.  Just have it translated. US studios might be looking for different content than English studios.  If I had to guess, I’d say more commercial.

Is there a genre you’d still like to write for – or have you covered the lot?

David: I haven’t really written many dramatic, or genre scripts, but I would like to.  When I have written thrillers and horror scripts, I still try to find the humour in them.  I think my strong point is writing funny dialogue.

Have you anything in the pipeline now you can share with us?

David: I’ve written a darkly comic horror film, and a few tv pilots  I’ll let you know what happens.

Thank you so much David for your time in answering my questions, may I wish you all the very best with your projects for 2019 and beyond! Speak to you in February.

Resources:

David Silverman IMDb
Hollywood Scriptwriting
Top screenplays by Woody Allen

 

 

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