There are three video feeds on my blog, one of which is a TV show called “We Need Girlfriends.” This is one of the most unique shows not on TV … huh? WNG is an Internet produced show about three guys new to the city, freshly dumped by their long-term girlfriends, all getting advice from Three’s Company. It’s funny, it’s unique, and it’s a labour of love by those involved.
The creators offered their fans a chance to interview someone from the show, and I thought it would be fun (and maybe make me look like a serious blogger for a moment) to interview Steven Tsapelas who writes the show. He mentions a few things that I try to pass on as advice to my students. Writers have day jobs, writers make sacrifices with their time (family and friends must understand that they come second), and writing is something you do for the love of it or you’ll quit long before success finds you. Read the interview, and then check out the show. You won’t be sorry.
1 What do you love most about your job?
During the actual writing part, nothing makes me quite as happy as rewriting. It’s really when the script starts to take shape and become tighter and legitimately funny. During the production part, I really love it when an actor or director comes in and makes something even funnier than it was on the page.
This could be anything from adding a look or delivering the line in a different way than I had anticipated.
2 How hard was it to get your TV show produced?
It’s still a constant struggle. “We Need Girlfriends” is produced independently (by myself, Brian Amyot and Angel Acevedo) in our spare time, with our money. The biggest issue is really finding the time. We all work full time jobs, so we are all losing sleep trying to make deadlines. But it’s been completely worth it.
3 When did you realize that screen writing could turn into a career for you?
I hope it can turn into a career! We’re working on a way to make WNG more legitimate, and by that I mean working at it full time and having other people pay for it. But I’ve always had an interest in film and television production, from a very young age. When I entered college, Hofstra University, I, along with most of my freshman class, had grand dreams of being the next great director. But along the way you start to focus on what you’re really good at in the filmmaking process. When I met “We Need Girlfriends” co-producers Brian and Angel in college, I fell into place as the “writer” of the group. So as we went through school, they got better at their directing, editing and shooting, while I got better at writing.
4 Has your writing changed since you started?
I didn’t used to rewrite as much as I do now. This mostly came from having a short span of time wanting to make the material as fast paced and funny as possible. I also find myself writing for other people more and trying to find a delicate balance between what I respond to as a writer and what Brian and Angel respond to as directors/producers. More than anything though, I’ve stopped looking at writing as art or self-expression and really have tried to take a sort of workman’s approach to it. With each episode, I try to figure out what will work and what won’t work and keep revising and revising.
5 What do you do to try to get out of a writer’s block?
Usually I just leave my apartment. You sometimes feel trapped pacing around your apartment, so it’s good to walk around and clear your head. I’ve found one of the more helpful things is going to the movies. Because if you see a good movie, it kind of motivates you and reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing and if you see a bad movie you think, “Hell, I can do better than that.”
6 Do you write every day?
I try to. I’m currently working on a few different projects, including “We Need Girlfriends” Season 2, and two new projects that are still early in the developmental stages. If I’m not writing, I’m usually doing something else for the show, like checking out a new cut, helping run auditions for a new role or keeping in contact with our MySpace and YouTube fans.
7 What courses should an aspiring screenwriter take?
I took a lot of writing courses in college, everything from screenwriting to prose to comedy writing to playwriting. Every class helps you develop your style and, most importantly, helps you figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You just have to be open to constructive criticism.
8 What impacts does your career have on family life?
I haven’t had much free time since I started working on WNG. I don’t see my friends or my girlfriend as much as I’d like to. Luckily they’re all very understanding. But if you really want to succeed with this kind of career, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.
9 Is there anything you dislike about your job or would like to change about it?
Obviously the biggest change would be to do the show for a living. Right now, I’d say most of my frustrations come from my inability to work on writing full time. Other than that, I’m having a lot of fun.
10 How do you react to negative comments about something you’ve written?
I’m okay with them. Filmmaking is a very collaborative medium, so it helps to get a lot of opinions on your scripts. Obviously you don’t agree with every comment, but you can’t be too stubborn about changes because A) You’re trying to appease many different people with different voices and B) If enough people say something doesn’t work, then it probably doesn’t work. I think it’s fine if an actor wants to change a line so it feels more natural. We all encourage that. And usually I’m the first person on set to say, “That line is terrible, let’s try to come up with something better.”
Luckily I don’t find myself doing that too much though.
11 Would you say that being a writer is more about having fun while writing and enjoying the ability to create your own stories, than it is about the money?
Right now it’s completely, one hundred percent about the enjoyment, because we are receiving no money from “We Need Girlfriends.” And to have it where we’re all trying to produce quality material on a regular basis, it takes a great deal of dedication. And luckily we have a dedicated group of creators, actors and crewmembers that are enjoying themselves on set and, more importantly, really enjoy the show we make. The fact that they’ve all stuck with it for almost a year now is evidence of that. The people you meet along the way who are only interested in the money or becoming “the next Spielberg” are the ones that give up pretty quickly.