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Chat & Chow: Jeff Greenstein

Welcome to CHAT & CHOW: a Q&A series.

In honor of the Season Two Premiere of HUSBANDS… Today’s guest: writer/producer/director: Jeff Greenstein.

Check out his IMDB page.

While ideally we would’ve caught up at a foodtruck or for some boba, when Jeff suggested we get together at his wife’s bakery, Big Sugar Bakeshop, my first thought was, “Your wife owns a bakery?!” then, “Yes, for the love of all things sweet and delicious, yes.”

Bliss. Pure, sugary, delectable bliss.

So the two of us met at Big Sugar Bakeshop back in June, right before Jeff was about to starting shooting season two of the successful web series, HUSBANDS - as of now, the only online series to earn acknowledgment and praise from The New Yorker. HUSBANDS was created by Jane Espenson and Brad Bell; Jeff is the director as well as one of the executive producers.

To see what all the excitement’s about, and why TV Line called it “one of the 5 top webseries worth watching," check out HUSBANDS here.

THE Q & A

1. When do you like to write?

I don’t like to write.

2. When do you actually get to write?

Between 2-10 pm.

I wrote with a partner for the first half of my career, so there was always someone to motivate me. When I started writing by myself, I would sit down to work at 9 am and then loathe myself for five hours. Finally around 2 pm I’d write something decent.

At some juncture in my career, I readjusted, and decided to try starting work at 2. That limited the self-loathing to 5-10 minutes.

Mornings are now set aside for what Wallace Shawn called “the errands of our trade” - phone calls, bill-paying and so forth. After lunch I close the door, turn off my Wi-Fi connection and write. I have to work in a sensory deprivation chamber. No, really - it’s the smallest, most squalid room in the house. It’s like a closet.

3. Not including the show/project you’re working on now, name a series you would love to write for:

M*A*S*H

4. What skills as a writer were you surprised came in handy as a director?

More than anything else, allowing myself to play. When I write, I always have two windows open on my screen. One is a miscellaneous window and one is the script. In the first window, I’m free to experiment without worrying too much. Then, when stuff is polished, I paste it into the second window.

So: not to self-censor, to feel free to experiment, that was the most important lesson I took to directing.

5. Every person has a unique breaking in story. Can you single out a sliding doors moment you feel would’ve taken your career in a different direction had it happened the other way?

After two years on Dream On, my partner and I were offered an upper level job on Empty Nest, which at the time was a Top 5 comedy with a lot more visibilty and money. We turned it down to stay on Dream On. We would’ve had an entirely differeent career.

We made the decision to stay because we loved David (Crane) and Marta (Kauffman). Two years later, we were running Dream On and when David and Marta created Friends, we were brought on board.

6. When reading someone’s script, what’s the main thing that turns you off or keeps you from finishing it?

If the first line is voiceover. I’ll give anything a chance, but when I see that, my heart sinks.

7. What’s the biggest DON’T you would tell a new writer working in a room?

Never say “no.” You always have to say “yes, and—” Don’t be the no-bird. You have to be respectful, because everyone is taking a risk when they pitch something. You never want to make someone feel bad. I believe the writers’ room should be a safe place to play.

8. Your advice to writers in 3 words.

You must write.

9. Multiple Choice Question: Sneakers, loafers or sandals?

Sneakers.

Jeff is 6’7”. But all I can see is that cake.

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @blue439

Why Blue439? Bonus points to those who tell me why in the comments section. No Googling!

Filed under Big Sugar Bakeshop Dream On Husbands Jeff Greenstein desperate housewives friends successful web series q and a

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CHAT & CHOW: writer Sheila Lawrence

Welcome to CHAT & CHOW: a Q&A series highlighting a different writer each week. My one request for a writer who agrees to participate — the person has to either a) meet me at a food truck or b) have boba with me.

Today’s guest, Sheila Lawrence.

Check out her IMDB page here.

Sheila and I first met working as writers’ assistants on a very successful television show. We bonded over sushi lunches, working late nights and the unfairness of having mothers skinnier than us (is there a size smaller than zero?).

Then one day — over lunch, naturally — Sheila mentioned that after years of being an assistant, she was determined to get staffed writing on a show. Within a week, she quit her job. Within two months, she was writing on a prime time network comedy.

She’s been working ever since.

In fact, Sheila recently finished the final season of Desperate Housewives and is now on the ABC Family series, “Bunheads,” premiering Monday, June 11th.

.

THE Q & A

1. When do you like to write?
Pre-kids: 9 pm – 1 am

2. When do you actually get to write?
Post-kids: Mostly just at work (must… change… that… soon).

3. Not including the show/project you’re on now, name a series you would love to write/have written for:

Mary Tyler Moore (just met Treva Silverman so it’s on the brain), Northern Exposure, My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, Sex and the City, Modern Family, Parenthood, Episodes… wait, was I just supposed to name one?

4. Having worked in sitcoms, then dramas, what did you not expect the first time you worked on an hour-long show?

I was shocked that we actually got off at 7:00 on a consistent basis. There was, of course, always more work we could have done, but the showrunner would simply say, “We’ll pick up tomorrow.” After years of all-night rewrites, it took me two full seasons before I could finally trust the hours enough to make dinner plans!

5. Every person has a unique breaking in story. Can you single out a sliding doors moment you feel would’ve taken your career in a different direction had it happened the other way?

I was working as a writers’ assistant on a Nickelodeon sketch show called “Roundhouse,” and one Sunday during the season, I found out I got a scholarship to do graduate study in Scotland. The next day at work, I finally summoned the courage to pitch a sketch to the showrunner. He liked it and told me to write it up; he put it in the script that night. For weeks after that, whenever I talked to anyone, the story I’d excitedly relate to them was that I got a sketch in the show; the afterthought was the scholarship. A month before I was supposed to leave for Glasgow, I was offered a staff writer position. I still haven’t been to Scotland – nor do I have an advanced degree – but the career thing seems to be working out okay so far.

6. When reading someone’s script, what’s the main thing that’s turns you off or keeps you from finishing it?

Bad dialogue is a major turn-off for me (in writing and in life!). If you’re on a show, you’re most likely going to have help with story and structure, but the dialogue is largely up to you, so you’d better be able to write it well. If the characters’ voices feel inauthentic, I have a hard time staying interested in the story.

7. What’s the biggest DON’T you would tell a new writer working in a room?

Don’t feel that you need to talk all the time to be seen as smart. In most rooms, there are a lot of people competing for airspace. As a new writer, I think you’re better off choosing your spots wisely and making sure you have something good to contribute, rather than just speaking up because you haven’t heard your voice in a while.

8. Your advice to writers in 3 words.
Live your life

9. Multiple Choice Question: Peanuts, Dr. Seuss, or Scooby Doo?
Peanuts.

Who needs sushi when you have boba?

Filed under Desperate Housewives Bunheads Gilmore Girls Ugly Betty Mad About You Q and A writing

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When NOT to ask someone to read your material

When I first meet someone and tell him/her that I’m a TV writer, I pretty much hear two responses.

1) “I don’t watch television.”
2) “What shows do you write for?” (go here if you were curious)

Followed by a, “Cool,” or the more common “Oh.”

Every so often, however, I’ll get asked by the stranger/person I’ve just met, “Can you read my ________ ” Go ahead. Fill in that blank. If it can be written, I’ve probably read it: screenplays, bios, spec scripts, essays, etc.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing. In fact, I owe a great deal to all the generous friends and mentors who’ve read and given feedback on my works-in-progress. One of my girlfriends flat-out told me the one-woman-show I was attempting to write was atrocious and that I needed to turn my stories into personal essays. I did, and those essays led to two pilot script deals (ps - THANK YOU).

It’s more the apprehension I have about being asked by a complete stranger to read his or her work. Then again, I’m not going to knock anyone for being daring and bold. Life’s not about playing it safe, right? (no, really, I’m asking…)

I can say, however, there’s at least one instance where you should NEVER ask someone (friend or not) to read your material.

A couple of years ago, a woman I’d just met asked, “So what do you do?” (see above). After I answered, she beamed and said, “I’m a writer, too!” She proceeded to tell me how she’s a songwriter and had a catalog of songs that are perfect for X or Y country artist. She then asked if I’d be willing to look at them.

All I could think was:

a) I know nothing about song writing

b) HOLY F’N *&%, I have a kid!

See, less than 24 hours prior to that, I had given birth. Un. Medicated.

The hubs and I were still staring at/in awe of this new alien being in my arms when the nurse sprang this question on me. Through my fog (and certainty that I’d somehow scarred the kid for life because I hadn’t figured out how to do a %&@* proper latch) I politely told the woman my lack of songwriting knowledge and wished her luck. Undeterred, she said she’d bring me her notebook the next time she came by.

Fortunately for me, she’d left that notebook at home.

So in case you were ever thinking, hey, that writer in that hospital bed is not going anywhere for another day or so, now would be the perfect time for me to give them my stuff.

No. No, it would not.

Why, yes, even though my bottom half is on FIRE and I can’t use the facilities unassisted, I would LOVE to read your latest masterpiece.

Filed under writing mamahood moi the kid