LB: My Foray into Teaching College Screenwriting

Glad You Asked Department 5/06/13

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Last week I answered the not-so-musical question, “Should I go to grad school or to L.A.?”

And, yes, if you’re considering either of those two options in terms of a career in television writing I do think you should read that post.

My reply caused a lot of stir behind the scenes here, so I’m manning up and answering the most frequent follow-up question I’ve gotten.

In other words, man, did I piss a lot of people off.

From Bewildered College Teacher Who Really Wants to Know:

Good Morning, Larry,

Your article about studying television writing in grad school versus plunging into the showbiz maelstrom in L.A. really shocked me.

I thought you were all for education, but apparently I was way wrong. Just between us, Why do you hate television writing programs so much?

To which sweet, kindly LB replies:

Hi Bewildered College Teacher Who Really Wants to Know

Um, because the teachers seem so defensive of their turf and therefore inclined to be overly critical about working professionals in the field they teach and they (the teachers) also oversimplify what they (the me) have said?

Or, to put it another way:

I have nothing against television (and film) writing programs per se provided that their aims are clearly stated and understood by all concerned and their teachers are qualified to achieve those aims. Unfortunately, my personal experience so far is that only about 20% of the programs meet my criteria.

Five personal examples. (Because that’s all I’ve got.)

First, the good:

In 1991-1992, I retired from showbiz, fat, tired, and, yes, I admit it, rich, and moved to Santa Fe, NM. Loving the biz, especially TV, as much as I do, instead of staying totally retired I got a job teaching TV and Film writing and production classes at The College of Santa Fe.

The head of the Moving Image Arts program, Joseph Dispenza, was – and still is – a hell of a guy. Smart, wise even, experienced, funny, and, especially, brave.

Smart and wise because he knew the purpose of what he was teaching.

“Traditionally,” Joseph told me when we first met, “higher education has presented literature class after literature class to enable its students to become the most perceptive readers and critics they can be. If, along the way, they also pick up the urge and ability to create literature that’s been considered a wonderful bonus.

“The handwriting’s on the wall,” added my esteemed soon-to-be colleague, “books are dying. The moving image is the new book. Our job is this department is to give students a similar education in the ins and outs of communicating via film and TV. To enable them to become the most perceptive viewers they can be. And if this also enables them to create work of their own, then that becomes a bonus we can all be proud of.”

Brave because he took a chance on one of the most rebellious, anti-social individuals on the planet (that would be me), gave me some courses to teach and said, “Go.”

And go I did. I invited many of my friends to come in as guest speakers and, Santa Fe being a very hip and trendy spot – even more in those days than now – most of them were delighted to fly in and talk about what it was really like to be in the business as writers, directors, producers, even agents, and since one of the things being in showbiz teaches us is how to be entertaining and personable “in the room” my buddies charmed the crap out of the students, which means that one hell of a lot of information not only was given but actually assimilated. My students learned.

Of course, most of what they learned wasn’t general appreciation stuff but hardcore trade school material. I hadn’t started out intending to do that, but I’m a pro and I’m ambitious, and without even realizing it I took the most professional and ambitious route as a teacher.

Joseph caught onto this, but he didn’t stop me. “Instilling insight into how an art really works is the most valuable thing a teacher can do,” he said when I came in one day to apologize for my teaching style. “Don’t worry about it, Bro.”

I was in heaven. And so, I think, were at least a few of my students. A couple of them, sitcom writer-producer Joe Wiseman (1600 PENN, NEW GIRL) and producer Kent Kubena (PROJECT GREENLIGHT, AKEELA AND THE BEE), stand out in my memory. I wasn’t surprised when they both became world class pros.

As we all know, nothing lasts forever, not even (especially?) heaven on earth, and my College of Santa Fe Teaching Career came to a halt after a year for three reasons.

The first reason was that Joseph Dispenza left the program to become head of Greer Garson Studios, a pet project he’d been putting together for years with actress Greer Garson, who had retired to the Santa Fe area. Without Joseph and his fearless support (and good humor), teaching there just wasn’t the same.

The second reason was that I was learning the hard way that living in Santa Fe on a budget didn’t work very well. The cost of living there was at least as high as in L.A.

Combined with that was the third reason, which had been giving me a bigger and bigger itch to scratch. I was a writer, dammit. I loved to write. I needed to write. Why the hell wasn’t I writing?

So both my semi-retirement ended another way. I needed to go back to my real work.

Back to L.A.

Uh-oh, I’ve run out of space and time. (Does that ever happen to Inspector Spacetime? I wonder.) Why don’t we all catch our breaths and I’ll come back next week and finish this article?

LB

That’s it for this week.

I think it’s good to leave on the “good” side anyway. And now everyone’s got time to prepare themselves to face – OMG!!! – the upcoming Not-So-Good.

(Bet you thought I was gonna say “Bad.” Didn’t know I was such a positive guy, didja?)

My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. Please remember, I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!

About LB

Larry Brody has been profiled in such national magazines and websites as Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Starlog, People, Electronic Media, IndieSlate, TechTV, io9, and of course TV Guide. A legendary figure in the television writing and production world, with a career going back to the late ’60s, Brody has written and produced literally thousands of hours of network and syndicated television. Brody has also been active in the TV animation world, writing, creating, consulting, and/or supervising the cult favorite STAR TREK animated TV series, the SILVER SURFER, SPAWN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED animated series, and was showrunner of the French animated series, DIABOLIK, as well as part of the team that developed and wrote the live-action/cgi animation sci-fi series Ace Lightning for the BBC. Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys.

2 thoughts on “LB: My Foray into Teaching College Screenwriting

  1. Could we possibly agree on something L.B. — After all these years? I, too, taught SCRIPT WRITING (or whatever it was called) at UCLA, and it was a disaster. I had about 20 students, and they all asked the same question: “HOW DO THEY GET A STAFF JOB ON A TV COMEDY SERIES?” One young lady even added, “My girlfriend works on a COMEDY SERIES, and they all sit around and have lunch! It’s served to them at this big writing table! For free!”
    Needless to say it was Sanford’s Shortest Stint. Cancelled after 6 weeks.

    • LB says:

      Mean you couldn’t get them to understand that wanting a writing job is NOT the same as wanting to be a writer? Or that having such a job isn’t the same as being a writer?

      Obviously, this is a problem. But I don’t think it’s the students’ problem. I think it’s the schools’. Setting up false expectations and all that. More on this next week.

      LYMI,

      LB

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