Archive for the ‘Television Writing’ Category

So, Better Late Than Never, I Guess?

9/19/19

You know what? I’m gonna tell you an embarrassing anecdote about my writing career. (Just like I did last time. And the time before that. And the time before that…You get the idea.) But first, some announcements:

Recently, I wrote a book called The Despicable Me Little Golden Book. As you may have deduced from the title, this book is a Little Golden Books adaptation of the first Despicable Me movie. It’s illustrated by Elsa Chang, and it was published by Penguin Random House on September 3rd, 2019.

Also, I co-authored a book called The LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary (New Edition), which was published by DK on September 10th, 2019.

And I wrote 2 humor pieces for MAD Magazine #9, which is on sale now. They are:

  • “What If Batman Were Actually 80 Years Old,” illustrated by Pete Woods
  • “Signs She’s NOT Into You,” illustrated by A Person

BTW, you can read my “What If Batman…” humor piece in its entirety via this Nerdist article about the piece. 

This Sunday September 22nd at 7pm, I’ll be giving a lecture called “Flickering Shadows: Images of the Holocaust in Film & TV” at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

And remember just a few sentences ago when I mentioned that I co-authored the new edition of the LEGO Ninjago Visual Dictionary? Well, I’ll be signing copies of it at the New York Comic Con in a couple of weeks. All of the signings will take place at the DK booth, which is Booth #2205-J (Part of the Penguin Random House booth). Here’s my signing schedule:

  • Thursday, October 3rd from 3-4pm
  • Saturday, October 5th from 11am-12pm
  • Sunday, October 6th from 2:30-3:30pm

Last week, my friend Gabe Eltaeb interviewed me for an episode of his YouTube show Inside Comics with: Gabe Eltaeb. In the interview, we talked about my writing career, we talked about storytelling in general, and I answered viewer questions. You can check it out here.

That’s it for the announcements. Now, if I remember correctly, I owe you an embarrassing story about my writing career. Ask and ye shall receive:

There’s a pretty popular online animation studio out there called JibJab Bros Studios. These days, they’re known for animated e-cards and music videos. But back in the day, back when it was called JibJab Media, they produced quite a bit of original scripted content. Mainly, they produced animated webseries, like Geezers, about two little old men named Leo and Cicero who’d sit on a park bench and comment on the world around them. Writing scripts for Geezers was one of my first writing credits of any kind and my first-ever credit as an animation writer.

So imagine how thrilled I was when I showed my father the first produced episode of Geezers I wrote. Now, before I go on, I need to provide a little bit of context. See, unlike most people, my folks were supportive of the fact that I wanted to be a writer. All throughout my childhood, they were very encouraging.

That’s why, when my first episode of Geezers came out, I whipped out my laptop and told my dad that I wrote the script for the Geezers episode I was about to show him. He said, “Okay,” and I hit play. The episode is about five minutes long. My dad didn’t laugh once. He had this pained look on his face, like someone was making him watch their kid play a tooth in the school play. Shortly before the end of the episode, he shook his head sadly and groaned, “What IS this garbage? Who actually thought this was funny?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Dad,” I said, “What are you talking about? I wrote that.” He got this bewildered look on his face. “You did?” he bellowed. “Well yeah,” I explained. “Don’t you remember? I told you right before I hit play. Why did you think I was showing it to you?” “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I thought it was something you saw somewhere that you liked.” “Okay…,” I sighed, trying not to sound frustrated. My dad slapped his knees and looked up at me. “Play it again,” he suggested. “From the beginning.” “What?” I was very confused. “But you just saw it, dad. You REALLY didn’t like it. Why would you want to see it again?” “Just play it again, Arie,” he demanded. “Come on!”

“Sure,” I muttered, and I played it again. This time, he laughed at every damn line of dialogue. Oh, it was as though he’d never SEEN anything so funny. I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that he was laughing in that forced way people do when they’re showing you pity. But no. This was not that. On the contrary. On the most contrary of contraries. He was genuinely, falling-out-of-his-seat-wetting-himself laughing. IT. WAS. SO. WEIRD. I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. It’s like he was a robot, and between the first and second viewing of the episode they turned on his emotion chip. After the episode was over, he gave me a big hug and congratulated me on doing such a good job. With no hint of irony whatsoever. There was no, “Well, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t aware that my genius son wrote it, but now that I am, I can appreciate its brilliance.” Even though that was exactly what was going on.

Let me repeat: It was so weird.

And my takeaway from that experience is: Um, thanks, dad? I think?

 

 

 

 

I Can FEEL Your Anger! It Gives You Focus! Makes You Stronger!

5/23/19

You know what? As a writer, often I really try to get into the heads of my characters. And sometimes, I take it too far. For example…

Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s a couple of announcements (and THEN, as usual, I’ll tell you an embarrassing anecdote from my writing career).

  • MAD Magazine: I wrote a humor piece called “The Bad Roommate,” which was illustrated by David DeGrand. It appears in MAD #7, on sale now!
  • Last month my Avengers Little Golden Book The Threat of Thanos (illustrated by Shane Clester) appeared in a Barnes & Noble ad in celebration of the film Avengers: Endgame! (Click on the thumbnail to see the whole ad)
  • Hungry Shark: The Official Shark-Tastic Guide, written by yours truly, comes out on June 25th, 2019 from Scholastic. Barnes & Noble included the book on their list of “Guides & Novels for Your Gamer.” (Seriously, what’s with Barnes & Noble hyping all of my books lately? Not that I’m complaining…)
  • Star Wars Adventures: Recently I wrote a Tales from Wild Space comic book story called “Majordomo, Major Problems,” which was illustrated by Drew Moss. “Majordomo” is an 8-page backup tale in Star Wars Adventures #23, which comes out on June 26th, 2019 from IDW Publishing.

Now that that’s out of the way, I believe you’re owed a humiliating anecdote about my writing career. And you shall have it:

As a writer, often I really try to get into the heads of my characters. For example, when I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest, I found that in order to write jokes for Gilbert Gottfried (who was one of the cast members), you had to yell the jokes out loud AS Gilbert Gottfried. In other words, you had to do an impression of Gilbert Gottfried, to figure out how he would say a particular joke.

And that’s something I’ve done quite a few times in my career. When I was writing the scripts for the House M.D. video game, I did an impression of Hugh Laurie, in his “Gregory House” voice. As “Hugh Laurie,” I acted out each scene, talking into a digital recorder. Then I played it back in order to see if it sounded like something the character would actually say.

When I used to write Bart Simpson comic book stories for Bongo Comics, whenever Krusty the Clown was in a story, I found that it was really helpful to brainstorm one-liners for Krusty by doing a terrible Krusty impression and ad-lib some jokes while talking into the digital recorder. More recently, when I wrote my LEGO Star Wars books for Scholastic, I liked to put a few Emperor Palpatine jokes in each book. And sometimes the jokes were written IN Palpatine’s voice, especially if Palpatine was narrating a section of the book. That meant doing a really terrible, over-the-top Ian McDiarmid impression, and it really helped make the Palpatine jokes and Palpatine narration even funnier.

But what I’m really getting at is that – as I type this – there’s a digital recorder right next to my laptop. On that digital recorder’s files there’s hours and hours of audio of me doing the absolute WORST Hugh Laurie, Krusty the Clown, and Ian McDiarmid impressions. And when I was writing the House scripts, I was also doing impressions of the OTHER House cast members. So there’s audio of me doing awful Omar Epps impressions, awful Lisa Edelstein impressions, awful Robert Sean Leonard impressions. Oh, you have no idea. And you WILL CONTINUE TO have no idea. Because nobody will ever hear those audio files. I guess this isn’t really a humiliating anecdote as much as it’s a POTENTIALLY humiliating anecdote.

But if you ever need something to blackmail me with, just steal the digital recorder, okay?

 

That One Time I Played A Bed (Well, PART OF A Bed) On National Television

12/31/16

Some time ago, I was a staff writer on the television series TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest. For those of you that don’t know, World’s Dumbest was a “clips show,” and that means that people would send us clips of themselves and their friends doing stupid things. And we (the writing staff) would write comedy sketches and jokes making fun of the clips.

Someone had sent us a clip of this moronic woman playing a prank on her boyfriend. She had bought a plastic mannequin’s head, got under the covers in bed and pretended to make out with it (no I’m not making this up). Her idea was that her boyfriend would come home and he’d be all like, “Oh no, my girlfriend’s cheating on me!”

I wrote a comedy sketch making fun of this clip, which featured cast member Amanda Landry. In the sketch, Amanda is in bed with the plastic head, and she’s ACTUALLY cheating on her boyfriend with it. So she keeps saying tender, sentimental things to the head. We keep cutting to the mannequin head who says nothing, then back to her, reacting as though the mannequin head has said something profound or romantic. It went like this:

AMANDA [moans happily]: That was A-MAZ-ING! [to mannequin head] Was it good for you?
CLOSE UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: We almost got caught last time. We have to be  more careful.
CLOSE-UP ON: mannequin head, completely still and silent.
AMANDA [to mannequin head]: You always know just what to say.

You get the idea. Anyway, when we actually went to shoot this comedic masterpiece, we got a prop bed for Amanda and the mannequin head to lay down in. BUT…

When the bed arrived on set, it was missing two of its legs. The legs that go below the headboard. Someone had to CROUCH DOWN BEHIND THE HEADBOARD and hold up that end of the bed and play the part of the missing legs. Since I wrote the sketch, and all the Production Assistants were busy, I got drafted.

This is the way it went down: they would shoot a take, then they’d yell cut, I’d stretch my (real) legs, then I’d crouch back down behind the headboard and hold up my end of the bed by the time they yelled “Action” again. This went on for HOURS. They even tweeted a few photos of me popping my head up from behind the headboard between takes.

Over the years, I’ve taught screenwriting and comedy writing courses at quite a few different schools. And I often tell this story to my students. The moral of the story is that the entertainment industry is WEIRD. If you are lucky enough to make a living in show business, at some point someone’s going to ask you to pretend to be the two missing legs of a bed in a nationally televised comedy sketch. Or they’re going to dress you up in a turkey costume, like Paul Simon in that “Still Crazy After All These Years” bit on SNL. Or they’ll ask you to hold a sandwich between your legs while Kenneth Branagh shoots a scene in a Woody Allen movie (that happened to a friend of mine once).

And you’ll do it, because that’s show business, and there’s a line a mile long of other people who would kill to have your job, even if that job involves being the missing legs of a bed. So there’s no room for divas, and you’ve kinda got to get used to all the weirdness inherent in the entertainment industry or you won’t last very long.

Like Lee Strasberg says in The Godfather: Part II, “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

Boy is it ever.

 

Please contact me if you want to use this for any reason. arie@ariekaplan.com