The Phil Klemmer Interview

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"Mr. And Mrs. Smith Meets The Office"

CB: So did you do any sort of creative writing in either high school or college?

PK: When I was in high school -- it's not that it wasn't academic, but it wasn't really a hothouse of a school -- it was just a normal high school. There was one creative writing class senior year, and I enjoyed it and did well in it and had a good teacher, but in college, I never did -- I just found it too intimidating. I mean, you know -- you went to Princeton with Joyce Carol Oates there.

CB: [laughs] Yeah, I stayed away from the English Department.

PK: Actually, one of the Veronica Mars editors was briefly a Princeton creative writer. But in college, that always sort of freaked me out, and, you know, the limited freshman English I had was fine, but I guess I was more a student of language.

CB: So how did you get into scriptwriting?

PK: Well, I was a reader at Propaganda, which is, um…

CB: You wrote coverage. ["Sort summaries of scripts with recommendations as to whether the film should be made." -- CB]

PK: Yeah! Which is a fantastic job, so I did that for a couple years, and then I worked for Michel Gondry for three years, and sort of just read a lot of scripts, and, you know, at some point just decided that it was a bad idea to continue reading ten or twenty scripts a week, just because you start getting hardened, because you start looking at them like slabs of meat. So I stopped doing that, quit working for Michel, and then I was just trying to ghost-write things -- commercial treatments and video treatments for directors, visual people who…well, many of them are functionally illiterate. So you start ghost-writing these things, and it's cool because you get to talk to directors who are neat guys, and sometimes it's interesting. Other times it's sort of sales work, which is kind of cheesy, but you can make a semi-decent living just writing somebody else's version of a Target commercial, or a video for Johnny Cash or something.

CB: So what's the raw material you would work with in that situation?

PK: A lot of times, you'll be sort of listening on the call, and like, praying that the moderator doesn't introduce you because you can't explain your presence as like, the guy that's going to be writing this document. Once you get in with the director, and you sort of get down with his shorthand, then you know, there are very cool guys -- like I worked for Kinka Usher, the guy who did Mystery Men, which didn't turn out to be a claim to fame, but a really cool guy who sort of talks about his visual approach, and there are guys like Michel, who have great director's gifts that they're unable to convey because they're, like, French and insane and brilliant. Other times, you're just churning out a sort of generic thing to prove to an advertising agency that a director cares enough about a job to write a three- to five-page document.

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