First in a series of interviews with hard working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick
Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.
Rob Edwards’ career is a fine example of how persistence and dedication can lead to great opportunities. From stand up to television to film, Rob’s credits includes writing for A Different World, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as screenplays for Disney’s Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog.
ON GETTING STARTED AND DEVELOPING A WRITING CAREER:
The way I always looked at it was nobody knew me out here and so the worst I could do was everybody would hate me, they’d say terrible things, whatever. I’d go back home and nobody would be the wiser. I wasn’t gonna lose. If I failed, I wasn’t going to live here anyways. So why not? It didn’t make any sense to not let everyone in Los Angeles say no to me. If there was one person who would say maybe then there was still a shot.
I look at Hollywood as it’s like you’re the batter and the pitcher is gonna throw an infinite number of strikes right across the plate. All you have to do is connect with one at some time in the 30 years that you’re out here. You just need to connect once every once in a while. On an average year, even now I’ve been writing for 30 years, I will pitch about 20 projects a year. I’ll sell one or two and that one or two, that’s my year. And then the next year I’ll go out and I’ll pitch 20 more.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?
I wound up at Mary Tyler Moore’s company and they had a great program. They called it One Year Up Or Out. It was like you would interview, but you wouldn’t interview as a production assistant, you would interview as a writer. They would say, “Are you serious about writing? Do you have samples? How many samples do you have?” I think they would go as far as to read your writing.
This was MTM and at the time they had Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, The Newhart Show and Mary Tyler Moore had a new show and they had this reputation for winning the most Emmys every year because they just had these fantastic writers.
And so they gave me this hot box, this building on the lot that had a storehouse of cases of soda, my job was to when the various production offices would ask for soda, I would deliver the soda. With most of my free time I would just write and then deliver sodas the rest of my time. Eventually I had a spec and the Xerox guy turned his back for a little while and I copied a hundred copies of my script and I put big yellow covers on them. As I would deliver the sodas I would deliver the scripts and I would say, “Here’s the soda and here’s my script, both are equally refreshing.”
Fortunately a lot of people started reading my script and some gave me notes. Everybody was very generous about it. Two guys called me in the soda shed and said, “Do you have an agent?” And I said, “Well, no I don’t.” They said, “Well now you do. I’m going to have my agent call you. You’re really good, you should be represented.” And so before I even had anything going, I had 5 agents call me.
THEN HOW DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?
It was while I was working on the Mary Show, while I was a production assistant and my script was all over the place. I got this call, I actually hate to admit it, from the new Love American Style and they just needed a lot of comedy scripts. So they read my thing and called me up and said, “Would you like to write one?”
I took a break over lunch, went down and we pitched out what episode I was gonna do. I wrote it in whatever air between stuff and I watched it while I was working. I actually asked them if I could have a little time off during dinner so I could go and watch the show. And so I watched it while it was on TV and then went right back to work getting lunches.
I continued revising, copying and sending my stuff to all the other writers and two of the writers wound up having a conversation about me over lunch. They’d gotten shows picked up and they were talking about it over lunch and they said, “You know what, I’m thinking about hiring Rob as one of my writers.” And the other guy said, “Oh wait, I was gonna do that.” And so all of a sudden, boom, I’m in play.
WHO INSPIRES YOU NOW, AS YOUR CAREER HAS MATURED?
I like everything that Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio do. Simply because I get exactly what they’re doing, how they write, where their background is from, what they’re trying to do with their movies. And they make me smile with the stuff they do. It’s always tight. I like Joss Whedon. He’s just got some great stuff. I’ve always liked Shane Black. And he’s fun. His scripts are fun to read.
ARE THERE SCRIPTS YOU’D RECOMMEND PEOPLE READ?
For me it’s kind of like as the year progresses I’ll look at Box Office Mojo and see what has really done well and I always read those, the top 5-10 screenplays of the year. Anything that gets nominated I’ll read. I do try to read everything simply because screenwriting evolves so rapidly and people are doing things on the page that are really, really cool, really wonderful.
AS A WRITER, YOU NEVER STOP WORKING:
And that’s why I’m like, I’m not sure how different people will do it, but for me it was just don’t sleep until it’s done. Either it’s important to you or it’s not. And then once you’re done, you’re not really done. Your entire career is sales. And there’s no way around it. You’re never going to get to a point where you’re just sitting on the sidelines and you got 20 scripts to write.
Coming next week, more insights from Rob Edwards on the craft of writing.