From time to time, I get approached with questions from people wanting to get my take on what’s happening for them in the worlds of writing or performing. I reply here through my website in this feature called “Ask Rich.”
ASK RICH – LITTLE OLE UTAH
Hello! You probably don’t know me too well. But I’m from little ole Utah. I’m a improvisor and writer. You gave me an award a few years ago at Camp Improv Utopia!
I am finally making the big move to LA. I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into. Or where to start. I just wanted to maybe ask since you are a writer as well if you would have any advice from someone trying to get into writing? If not I totally understand. You are a busy person 🙂
Thanks for writing of course I remember you and the award! You played a an OLD WEST SALOON PIANO PLAYER better than anyone did that year : ) I’ll do my best to answer your questions… Congrats on the move and welcome to LA. Remember, the first ten years are the toughest.
What are some classes you recommend for writers to take?
The good news is there are so many comedy dojos in Los Angeles that a student has more choice now than ever. When I was touring the US with Second City in the 90s we went all over and found very few (if any) dedicated long-form theaters. Now, most major cities have at least ONE if not a few comedy/improv theaters. I would suggest that a prospective student call their local comedy theater and say “hey I want to maybe study there, can I sit in on a class to get the vibe?” Any theater worth their salt will let you sit in and get a sense of what they do. Ask them lots of questions and find out what they offer. Most of the big theaters here in LA offer writing classes.
I also suggest you go see some shows at whatever theater you are interested in, see shows at all of them and get a sense of where you might fit in best.
What are some dos and don’ts when pitching scripts?
Pitching is an art form. You have to try to get other people to see what you see in your head in a few sentences. The best pitches are the ones where once you throw out the first line, people’s minds start working. And, they can “see” what you see. Be brief, concise and hopefully funny. If you’re pitching a comedy sketch you will want to tell the people you are pitching to, the premise and a few jokes and possibly the out of the sketch, tho typically that’s the hardest thing to come up with, and not usually in the pitch.
What is a common mistake you see young writers make?
I do teach a lot of sketch writing classes, and the first thing that comes to mind is a lack of confidence. Most people come up with really cool and useful/valuable ideas but don’t even know it. They think “oh, that’s no good” or “no one would want to hear a sketch about that.” What makes you a unique writer is YOUR take on things. Trust what you think and know that your voice and opinion matter greatly. Don’t be shy.
When do you know a script is ready to pitch?
I typically tell my sketch students to keep a list (digitally) of the ideas they have. And, every time they return to the idea list, take a shot at adding a little something to the older ideas on the list. Once you feel the idea has a good start and a good few supporting jokes, you are probably ready to put it out there.
What advice do you have for working with multiple writers on a show?
Collaboration is a big part of writing sketch comedy and comedy. From Second City it was the ultimate collaborative experience. You needed your partners to help you and you needed to help them. It was the only way it worked. Some of the shows I’ve been on also foster this kind of atmosphere. If you have to / are lucky enough to collaborate with others, be a good sport, listen and try to offer help as much as you can. Learn the other writer’s strengths so when you find yourself in a pickle you will know who to approach.
What is the best way to find representation for writing?
Do great work. If you go to a rep when you first start, they will likely say “okay but what have you got that I can sell?” You won’t have much at that point. So, job one is to have a body of work that is of decent quality so when you do meet with and talk to agents you have lots to show them. I think you want agents and reps to find you. I think it’s a great opportunity to get involved in your local comedy theater. And, then crush that. You will use what you do/did there to talk to reps. Do a podcast/vine/youtube/comedy/whatever as best you can and crush that level. The next level finds you.
If you want you can go to the WGA (WRITERS GUILD AMERICA) website and find a list of all the writing agents in town and submit whenever you are ready.
What is the best way to make sure your content is copyright?
I’m no expert in this. I have heard that you can certify mail yourself a copy of it (don’t open it) and you will have a sealed dated proof of your work. You can also register any written work at the WGA. I found several pages online that tell you how to copyright work too, so maybe google it.
Is it worth to make a reel for writing?
When you have stuff worth sharing, it’s probably a decent idea to put those pieces somewhere where a potential rep or job provider can see them. Probably in the good idea category.
What do you think makes a good writer?
Having your stuff done on time and done well is huge. Just doing that you’ll likely be ahead of the game.
What are some tips you have for making characters stronger?
I really like Robert McKee’s book STORY and his chapter on Character. He can say it better than I can so check out STORY by Robert McKee and read what he has to say about writing characters. I’m (probably badly paraphrasing) but he says that CHARACTER = CHOICE. The harder the pressure, the harder the choice the more true the action to character.
What tips do you have for writers block?
My approach to writing is to try to take the pressure off. It’s ALL PRESSURE because you are always faced with a deadline. There’s always something you have to be cranking on. It’s a 24/7 job really because ideas come when you’re out at dinner/ relaxing / even sleeping.
So, if you feel stuck, just do something else. Work on a different idea. Watch a movie. Read something. Put down what is vexing you and come back with fresh eyes. I like the age old advice “if you don’t know what to do, you don’t have enough information.” So coming back with fresh eyes and a new take might un-block you.
When writing comedy, what are some important things to remember?
Be funny. Be concise. There was a great chess book years ago by Bruce Pandolfini called “Every Move Must Have Purpose” and he talks about how wasting moves in a chess game will lose you the game. I think that is true in writing. Every line must have purpose. You are always really doing one of two things, setting something up, or paying it off. Keep it clean, simple and don’t over-complicate ideas.
How do you receive inspiration?
I pay a guy.
It comes from all over, how could anyone not be inspired?? Del Close once told me “A Comedian’s job is to experience strange things and report back to the rest of the world.” Your comedy voice is what YOU think about the very wide and vast world we live in. It’s everywhere if you look. Just live your life and write about the things that annoy/irritate or interest you. Look at anything and ask yourself “what’s my take on that?”
How does a young writer start getting paid for writing?
Wait. We get paid? ?
It takes time. You can’t worry about money really. You have to just do the work on whatever level you can as best you can every day. And, eventually things happen. Money comes and goes. There’s an ebb and flow to this kind of work and you have to embrace it. Keep your focus on the work money will come (and go.)
What’s a great place for a writer to start to “break into” writing?
Start where you are.
Wherever you are going next, you are going to get there from where you are. And, the good news is, you have already started. Your ship has come in! You are not waiting for something to happen, even right now you are a writer. Now, write. Write on whatever level you can. Put up videos, work at local comedy clubs, just do the work as best you can on whatever level you can. Good farmers don’t harass the ground, so just be patient— work hard and have some fun too.
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