on writing for film & tv
interview by Douglas Eby
"I think you write from deep sensory experiences, as well as physical and emotional experiences that you've had," April Smith declares. "Those are the ones that stay with you when you're very young. You have those roots, although you may transform the kind of primal material into something a little more universal. But I find childhood impressions, longings and frustrations very useful; it's good material."
Smith attended a Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, and advises people interested in writing to "find a community of writng and teaching, get support and learn the craft. There are masters degree programs, extension classes, a whole bunch of ways to get close to a good teacher, and get feedback from other students."
Prior experience writing advertising copy has been helpful. "My boss at the time said it will teach you the way the world works," she recalls. "And it does; it's buying and selling, and pleasing a client, learning how to function in the business world. In advertising you learn to write to sell, meet deadlines, and to be very practical in your writing. And that was certainly useful in television."
Smith has been a producer on "Cagney and Lacey" and "Chicago Hope" and a writer/producer of a number of television movies and a miniseries.
Getting to write for a series is difficult, she notes. "You're not going to break in with an idea per se; what you need to do is write a full episode of the show you're interested in, and send it to the producers. You have to demonstrate your ability to write dialogue, and that you understand the show."
Speaking of working on television projects as a producer, Smith says, "Some writers say they want to be producers to, quote, have control over their work. And it certainly gives you more input into the final product, but it's an illusion to think you will control the outcome, because television and film is a collaborative affair, and even if you are a producer, you are only one of many voices.
"You kind of get to sit with your 'baby' a longer period of time, but it can also be frustrating. You have to understand that, if you have written it, it is now transforming into another medium.
"I wouldn't call producing a creative process for me," she continues, "although editing is a creative process, and working with actors is too. But it's more in the area of getting out of the room, being with people, exercising different muscles from the creative muscles: being a leader, using your social skills.
"Which kind of atrophy when you're writing alone in a room," she adds, laughing. "So I'm very lucky to be able to do it on occasion, and I enjoy it." Currently, she is concentrating more on writing novels: a recent title is "Be the One."
While the Anna Quindlen novel "Black and Blue" was being developed as a TV movie, one of the producers invited Smith to participate as a writer and producer. "It's a very internally told story," she notes, "and it needed to be translated into film, into linear form, and I was able to do that with Anna Quindlen's blessing.
"I turned it into a police thriller, in which the tension was much stronger, because I told it from the point of view of the cop, and I added the procedural of how he tracked down another character. It was wonderful material, the characters are all formed, it was a question of imagining the other [the cop's] side of it, and she was completely supportive."
Returning to the topic of nourishing your writing, Smith notes she is on the executive board of the writers organization PEN. "I find it's a way of giving back to the literary community in Los Angeles," she says. "Screenwriters, novelists - if you have published anything professionally, you are eligible. That is a way that I maintain friendships, contacts and a feeling of belonging."
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photo of April Smith from her website
~ ~ ~related page: play / screen writing
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related Talent Development Resources pages:
more interviews | resumé of Douglas Eby
Creativity and Women..columns / interviews
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