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Future of Story Interview Series: D.B. Gilles

By Ann Baldwin and D.B. Gilles

D.B. Gilles has taught comedy writing in The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for nearly 20 years. He also taught comedy in The Dramatic Writing Department at NYU, the Graduate Film Department at Columbia, and The Comedy Institute in New York City. He’s a screenwriter, playwright, script consultant, and writing coach. He is also the author of You’re Funny: Turn your SENSE OF HUMOR into a lucrative new career, The Screenwriter Within: New Strategies to Finish Your Screenplay & Get A Deal, 2nd Edition, and The Portable Film School. He has a popular blog titled Screenwriters Rehab: For Writers Who Can’t Get Their Acts Together.

Ann: In You’re Funny, you examine the various types and forms of comedy; tell us what some of those are to give the writers an idea of the vast array of writing opportunities out there.

D.B.: Fledgling comedy writers need to pinpoint the genre they wish to pursue. Television? Is it as a sitcom writer, sketch writer ala SNL, or joke writer for Late Night talk shows? Or maybe it’s as a screenwriter writing comedies, but which kind of comedies? Serio/comic, witty, or sophomoric? Then there’s the world of stand up. Some stand ups branch out into TV and/or film. A new comedy writer needs to pick a direction then go for it.

Ann: Why is comedy so popular, especially now?

D.B.: In tough times people not only want to laugh, but need to laugh. At the end of a tough day or week, it's good to unwind by watching sitcoms or Late Night Talk shows on TV or going out to a movie or comedy club. Nothing soothes the soul like a good laugh. In the current state of the world with the threat of terrorists, global warming, inflation, and all the other stuff that can bring people down, it's nice to know that there are places and people to turn to for entertainment.

Ann: Tell us about blogging and what your recommendations are.

D.B.: A blog gives new comedy writers the opportunity to write. They don’t have to wait to be hired by someone else. They can write about anything they want whenever they want. A blog can give a new comedy writer discipline. By writing two, three or even one post every week writers will come to understand the importance of trial and error. Some posts will be amazing, others pretty bad, others still will be somewhere in the middle. The more one writes the better one gets at learning what works and what doesn’t. If a person is comfortable writing humorous blog entries they can then move on to something bigger and more profitable like television or movies.

Ann: What is the most valued source the best comics and writers draw from and what techniques or exercises do you have to help writers tap into it?

D.B.: The best place to find material is by keeping current in what’s going on in the world. Read newspapers, TV news, Internet news, become a news junkie. Late Night hosts begin their shows with monologues usually filled with events of the day. A stand-up comic can read or hear about some news event, write a joke in the morning and perform it in front of an audience that night. It’s the same with the writers for the sketch shows and Late Night. Current events, be they political or just plain weird, are where to find material. Another way it to just look into one’s own life: family, marriage, friends, work, and your own neurosis.

Ann: What is “The Punctuation Theory of Screenwriting” from The Screenwriter Within?

D.B.: The end of Act One ends with a Question Mark (The Major Dramatic Question/what the protagonist wants has been established). The end of Act Two ends with an Exclamation Point (some unexpected or surprising piece of new information that launches the story into Act 3) and the end of Act Three ends with a period (resolution: The Major Dramatic Question has been answered)

Ann: In your book, The Screenwriter Within, you discuss Character Motivation and how “conflict is the soul of dialogue”, can you tell about this and what exercise do you recommend for writers?

D.B.: In real life we try to avoid conflict. We want to have pleasant, friendly conversations with friends and strangers alike. In a screenplay watching nice people have nice conversations is boring. Conflict makes an audience’s ears perk up. It’s like in real life when we overhear a couple having an argument. It’s more interesting to listen to than how much they enjoyed their vacation to Bermuda. A screenwriter can’t just have her characters “talking,” They have to be talking about something that’s at stake in a scene whether a couple is arguing about where to have dinner or a hostage negotiator is pleading for a child’s life. The best exercises to practice writing conflict are to put two characters in a situation where one person wants something and the other doesn’t want to give it to him. Try writing a 5 or 10-page 2 character script with only these two characters. Another good one is to have two people who hate each other get stuck in an elevator.

Ann: What is your favorite room in your home and outside environment? Can you describe them and tell us why you like them?

D.B.: My favorite room is my office. It’s where I feel most creative. I’m surrounded by books, photographs, pictures, my computer, and “things” I’ve accumulated over the years that are a comfort to me. I like to feel I’m in a safe place when I write.

Ann: Do you have any special quotes or sayings that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire, motivate, and encourage you?

D.B.: I have two favorites:

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better”
Samuel Becket

"Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

Ann: What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?

D.B.: Currently working on a screenplay and a new political parody.

Ann: Can you tell us about The Future of Story conference coming up in Los Angeles and what your role is?

D.B.: The Future of Story conference is to screenwriting what Wrestlemania is to professional wrestling. A bunch of authors of popular books on the business will be gathered in one place. I’ll be participating in one of the panels.

Ann: What are the benefits for writers attending this conference?

D.B.: Being able to meet and talk to authors of books they have read or heard about is important because it puts a human presence to the words. I’ve gone to events like this in the past as a young writer and met and talked with authors I read and admired. I still recall talking with Harlan Ellison and Dean R. Koontz.

Ann: Tell us the unique opportunities writers have for networking at this upcoming conference.

D.B.: Besides meeting and talking with authors, events like this bring kindred spirits and like minds together. Screenwriters from all over the country will be there. Friendships form and even new collaborations too.

Ann: Thank you, D.B., for taking the time to share your knowledge and insights with us.

D.B.: I've had some great teachers and mentors when I was starting out. It's very gratifying to share what I learned from them, as well as what I've experienced along the way.

To learn more about how you can meet DB Gilles and over 30 other MWP authors of some of the best-selling books on screenwriting and filmmaking in the industry, sign-up today to attend The Future of Story Conference in Los Angeles.

Meet the Author: Ann Baldwin

Ann Baldwin is a screenwriter (The Power of Dreams, Scent of a Trail, Dream Catcher) with several spec scripts in development. She reviews books on screenwriting and filmmaking, writes articles and poetry, and has several books (fiction & non-fiction) in-progress. Prior to launching her writing career, she was a special event coordinator and manager in the hospitality and entertainment industries for over 25 years. 

The San Francisco Bay Area is her home, where she was born and raised. You can visit her website http://www.annbaldwin.net and her blog page http://ahigherfrequency.blogspot.com

Meet the Author: D.B. Gilles

D.B. Gilles teaches screenwriting and comedy writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is the author of The Screenwriter Within and The Portable Film School. He is co-author of the George Bush parody W. The First Hundred Days. A White House Journal. He also wrote the play, Sparkling Object

D.B. is a script consultant and writing coach. Many of his students have gotten deals, sold scripts, had their work published and their TV scripts, sketches and screenplays produced. 

He writes the popular blog, Screenwriters Rehab: For Screenwriters Who Can’t Get Their Acts Toget...