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Interview with David Winning:
On July 20, 2000 Todd Trotter, writer of the Street Justice episode,"The Wall" was kind enough to answer some questions concerning script writing and his Street Justice script.
How did you become a script writer?
I studied film at Southern Methodist University, and like many film students, I wanted to direct -- until I moved to Los Angeles and began working in the business and started to realize how much emphasis is placed on the written word. There's an old saying that was first articulated to me by my writing mentor, David Peckinpah, the nephew of the late (and great) Sam Peckinpah. It goes something like this... "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage". And that really struck me. I had started working for David as his assistant around the time he and a terrific pilot director named Rod Holcomb had sold the series, "Wolf", to CBS. It was a great little show starring Jack Scalia and Joe Sirola and Nick Surovy and Mimi Kuzyk from "Hill Street Blues" and J.C. Brandy who, ironically, would later be cast in an episode of "Silk Stalkings" I wrote. Unfortunately, CBS kept moving the time slot and as a result lost any audience they might have had. Anyway, as David's assistant, one of my duties was to type his scripts because, at the time, he wrote long hand. And in doing so I got a heightened sense of how stories were laid out, how dialogue sounded and looked on the page. In sum, I learned to write scripts by typing David Peckinpah's scripts. And I'll tell you something, he's one of the best 1-hour dramatic writers in this town. And so I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to sit there and just type his words. Menial as it sounds it was really quite a visceral experience.
What are your current projects?
At any given time, I have several projects going at once, many of them on a spec or speculative basis. And in light of the fact that they are speculative in nature, I can't discuss them.
How long does it take you to complete a script?
My turn around time on a 1-hour script is wholly dependant upon the producers' time constraints. In a perfect world, I like to take two weeks to construct the story and one week to write the actual script. Then an additional week to write the final draft. So it's three weeks for a writers first draft and a total of four weeks for a "final". But we don't live in a perfect world
How did you get involved with the program Street Justice?
I got involved with "Street Justice" while I was at Stephen J. Cannell Productions writing "Silk Stalkings". The Street guys were just down the hall and Peckinpah said to me one day, "Hey, why don't you go down the hall and introduce yourself to Jonathan Glassner and David Levinson". So I did and they invited me to pitch stories. The rest is history.
What was your inspiration for The Wall?
I don't necessarily approach story in terms of "inspiration" - at least in the literal sense of the word. I first look at the show I'm pitching to and see what the general tone and structure is, and then I back into story ideas or areas. In the case of "Street Justice" my thought process is something along the lines of... "wouldn't it be interesting if Beaudreaux got a needle stick from a junkie?" I mean, that was literally it. But the backstory with the needle stick idea came from a real incident involving my brother who is a surgeon. He was stuck by an HIV-positive needle and spent the longest thirty days of his life wondering if he had contracted the virus. So, in a way, it was kind of an homage to my brother who, it turns out, didn't get ill.
What background information do you need? For example did you have to read old scripts of Street Justice?
As far as background information on a show, I'll read scripts if they're available. If not, I'll watch the show and study it. And literally take notes as I watch it. I'm looking at the general structure e.g. is there an A, B, and a C story or is it an A and B story. Things like that. I also study the act breaks -- are the hard or soft. Are they "hangers". And last but not least, I put my ear to the ground, so to speak, and listen to what the characters are saying, and in what inflection. I try to find the show's "lexicon", if you will -- a dictionary of words that are being used to tell the story through dialogue. "NYPD Blue" is a very good example of that. When David Milch was writing the show, there was a very specific lexicon being used. Like Sipowitz saying things like, "Let's give this skel some rhythm". Very, very specific stuff. And, as a freelance episodic writer, you don't reinvent the language that's already been reinvented for you. You go with the flow. Or you find another job.
Do you recall if the actors (Carl Weathers especially) have any input on The Wall?
I had no contact whatsoever with Carl Weathers or any of the other cast members for that matter. Freelance writers rarely interface with cast members. Their concerns are addressed by the show runners or producers. And, generally speaking, they do have concerns in light of the fact that the words on the page are flowing out of their mouths and not the writers'. Personally, I welcome script notes. I would have loved to have spoken with Carl about dialogue and story.
Were there any last minute changes made to The Wall? Was the end product what you expected it to be?
There are always last minute changes to any and every script. In the case of "The Wall", the producers took their pass at it long before it ever got into Carl's hands. Every producer of every television show rewrites every script written by freelancers. It's commonplace. Like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. And, in closing, a thought for all aspiring television writers: If you don't like being rewritten you've got a tough road ahoe. You will ALWAYS be rewritten.
Thank you Todd for your thorough and thoughtful answeres.
If you would like to send a comment to Todd, you can do so by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org . All kind comments will be forwarded to him.
Interview with Ken Tremblett
Ken Tremblatt played Detective Paul Schuham in Street Justice's first season
You have a very extensive and informative website. What made you create your own website especially in an age where people value their privacy?
A friend of mine suggested the idea of a website to me almost a year before I did it. I have family and friends in just about every province in Canada, (I moved a lot), as well as friends in various countries around the world. I felt this was a good way to keep them up to date with what was happening in my life. Plus, it’s a common and powerful advertising tool these days.
Which of your characters has made the biggest impression on you professionally? And personally?
I’d have to say that the ‘Jim Lowe’ character that I’m doing now, there’s a lot of my own parents in him. I’m learning about raising children and the steady work has provided me with an incredible in-depth education of the film industry.
Most of your body of work is filmed in Canada. What made you choose Vancouver and not Hollywood?
I went to Vancouver at a time when the industry was still in it’s infancy, but learning to walk. It simply seemed like an better place to get my start. Over the years work has grown steadily, I think making the eventual move to Los Angeles that much easier.
Where do you get your motivation when you are doing a part?
I try to consider what the writer has intended, the story surrounding the character and how I, personally, would react to the scene’s given situation.
Do you feel your training or hands on experience has made you more confident as an actor?
Definitely the hands-on experiences have given me confidence. However I do feel training has always been an integral part of the job. It has come in many forms and has allowed me the freedom to make ‘mistakes’ and take risks that I normally would not take.
Many actors have something to fall back on in case work does not come their way. Other than being a successful actor what jobs did you do?
Ha! I’ve been a dishwasher, waiter, doorman, assistant produce manager, demolition laborer, government office worker, table saw operator and massage therapist. As far as having ‘something to fall back on’… I once read that "if an artist has something to fall on, invariably they will". I never wanted that, and it’s made life (and financial security) precarious at times.
What are you currently working on?
I’m on Nickelodeon’s "Caitlin’s Way" as ‘Jim Lowe’, father, sheriff and all around good guy! We’ll complete our second season shooting schedule by the end of November, 2000 in Alberta, Canada. The series also stars Lindsay Felton, Cynthia Belliveau and Jeremy Foley.
Is there some book that you would love to see come to screen and which part would you want?
One of my favorite books is coming to the big screen! "Catch Me if You Can", the Frank Abignale Jr. story. I read it in high school and always thought it would be great. I’m also partial to Hunter S. Thompson’s "The Curse of Lono" and Charles Bukowski’s "Ham on Rye". Great reads.
Street Justice happened early in your career do you remember how you got the part of Paul Schuham?
Not really. It was just another audition at the time. I remember thinking that I had really "made it" after I got the job, though.
Were you surprised that your Street Justice character was killed off?
Completely. I only found out while reading the script with another actor on set. I was never told why but I guess the show needed a change and I was it.
What was your sense about the set, cast and crew of Street Justice? Where you able to gain any insight regarding your craft?
As I remember the crew seemed pretty close, pretty happy. I don’t think I was in a learning place in my life at that time, unfortunately. That came later when I left the business for 18 months to go to massage therapy school. The only person I got to know very well from the cast was Janne Mortil who played ‘Trisha Kelsey’. Friends ONLY. :o)
Have you worked with anyone since your time on Street Justice?
I haven’t worked with any of the cast members, but have worked with directors David Winning, Brad Turner, Rene Bonniere and Brenton Spencer, executive producer Jonathon Glassner and sound mixer Bill (‘Biff’) Skinner.
Ken Tremblett www.kjack.com