Sunday, May 18, 2008

A smart worker, not a hard worker

Award-Winning Writer Gloria Calderón Kellett Discusses Sitcom Writing, Screenplays and the Changing Landscape of Television

Mindjet: Between the award-winning screenplays, theater, comedy and books— how do you manage to be so productive with so much of your life dedicated to your work?

Gloria Calderón Kellett: I am super anal-retentive and organized. I think I’m a smart worker, not a hard worker– I was the person who’d always write the papers the night before, and get an “A.” If I have a deadline I’ll meet it, so oftentimes I give myself a self-imposed deadline. For example, I’ll book a theater before I’ve written the play. Or, I’ll invite six actors to come to my house on a Sunday to read something I haven’t written yet so that I’ll be forced to write something for them to read. I like writing— I have a lot of ideas— but I don’t love re-writing. But, I’m getting comfortable with re-writing because I know it’s an essential part of writing. Also, my husband is super prolific; he works harder and smarter than I do, so anything I do comparatively is not that much work. And we have a lot of artistic friends, who are doing all kinds of things— we’re surrounded by it— so what I do doesn’t seem like work. Most days at work are really fun.

MJ: What do you think of how revenue is being re-distributed with the changing landscape of television (consumers, ads, Internet, production)? How did the writers’ strike* affect you?

GCK: I think it’s very exciting actually. Personally, as a lover of television for many years I feel that TV’s very stale. A lot of the shows that are new every season are just versions of shows I’ve already seen on the air. There’s not a lot of creativity anymore. When we were growing up, 35 million people would watch the Cosby Show or Family Ties, and those were okay numbers for them. Now, if we get 11 million viewers for How I Met Your Mother we’re excited because there are just so many options [with new media like Internet and streaming content]. The networks are nervous, they’re forced to make milquetoast decisions as to what the programming is, and don’t take a lot of risks. Which is what makes cable and Internet so interesting, because they don’t have to rely on pleasing such a wide array of people. I looked into a Web series, and I sold two during the strike but can’t do them now since I’m back on my contract. There’s no money in them, but you get creative freedom to do whatever you want, throw something out there. And digital’s fairly easy to produce— with the Internet, production value isn’t super important; they just want funny or interesting material.

The strike itself was difficult because I wasn’t working and I missed everybody. I love my job and I wanted to be there, but this fight is for future generations that will need payment for the Internet. It was a very theoretical fight. I was walking on the picket line with writers from I Love Lucy who don’t make one penny on residuals and their pension plans are nil. How often is that show played on the air? How often has it played over the years? These people should be safe in their retirement, and are not. I felt it was my duty to strike for future generations that will be going through the same thing. There won’t be any impact on my living wage for quite some time, but it could be that in the next 10 years everything will be streamed. The landscape of entertainment is going to change significantly. It’ll all be on demand eventually. [Your favorite show] will still be on every Monday at 8 pm, but that’s the earliest you can watch it. And they’d promote new shows, like, “hey if you like How I Met Your Mother, then you might like Buds, and you can get five free episodes of Buds and if you like it, then you can pay 50 cents an episode, and add that to your subscription.” I think heading in that direction is exciting; it’ll open up worlds for more writers, and for more interesting television. So it’s not something I feel threatened by at all; I think it was a worthy fight and I’m glad we made some headway on it.

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