Creating “the great American screenplay” has replaced the great American novel as the ambition of America’s budding writers, award-winning writer and TV producer David Black told a packed crowd in the Kirkland House Junior Common Room last night.
In a wide-ranging talk, Black discussed his work as a journalist, novelist, screenwriter and producer, and gave advice to aspiring writers in the audience.
Black described television shows as undergoing a revival, a change he said was due to their relatively low cost compared to movies.
“TV is a hungry mall,” he said. “TV needs writers—good reliable writers. If you are a good writer they will make you very rich, very successful, very fast.”
When asked what he thought was the best programming on television, Black was unhesitating in his response.
“The smartest two shows on TV today are ‘South Park’ and ‘The Simpsons,’” he said. “They’re smart, they’re funny and they keep surprising the audience. I’d love to write for them.”
According to Black, who has written and produced numerous television shows including “The Education of Max Bickford,” “Miami Vice,” and “Law & Order,” breaking into Hollywood as a writer is a matter of persistence.
“Find a show you feel passionate about,” he said. “Write to the executive producer and say ‘I’m willing to work for free for three months.’ When they say ‘no’ go out there and stalk them until they say ‘yes.’”
A prolific writer, Black has published nine books and over 150 articles in magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Rolling Stone. He has received an Emmy nomination and Golden Globe nomination for “Law & Order,” three Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. He has won numerous awards, including the Writers’ Guild of America award for his feature The Confession, as well as Playboy’s Best Article of the Year Award.
Aspiring writers should make a habit of writing every day for three hours, Black said.
“As long as you’re writing every day it doesn’t matter what else you are doing,” he said.
Students in the audience with an interest in writing said they found Black’s talk helpful and inspiring.
Julia A. Griffin ’03 seemed to take his advice to heart.
“As a senior thesis writer I’m particularly interested in hearing what people have to say about the writing process,” she said. “I’m not sure about the three hours a day thing, but I’d like to try.”
Other students were drawn to his talk by the presence of actor Richard Dreyfus, a friend of Black’s.
B.J. Averell ’02-’03 said he came because he “heard Richard Dreyfus was speaking.” In fact, Dreyfus attended the talk to give his friend moral support, he said.
When asked how he and Dreyfus became friends, Black joked, “We were arrested together.”
Black was the third speaker to appear in a series of media- and politics-focused talks hosted by the Kirkland Senior Common Room (SCR), following appearances by Gary Hart in late September and Jack Valenti yesterday afternoon.
Kirkland House Resident Scholar Peter V. Emerson, whom Co-Master Verena A. Conley said was “instrumental” in inviting speakers to the House, emphasized the conversational nature of the series.
“In these talks both students and speakers learn from each other,” he said. “That’s the purpose of these conversations.”
Emerson, a former senior advisor on media relations for inflation in the Carter White House, met many of the invited speakers though mutual friends while working in politics and marketing.
In early December, Glenn Close and Chris and Kathleen Matthews are scheduled to appear.