Creative Spark: Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith

Creative Spark: Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith


McCullah: WE DO NOT LIKE
TO WEAR PANTS AT ALL. Smith: NOT EVER.
YEAH, MOSTLY JUST WITHOUT PANTS. McCullah:
WHEN YOU WORK FROM HOME, YOU CAN JUST WORK IN A T-SHIRT
AND UNDERWEAR OR A BATHING SUIT. Smith:
THAT’S WHY I THINK YOU CHOSE TO SHOOT US FROM THE WAIST UP,
RIGHT? ‘CAUSE WE’RE NOT WEARING PANTS
RIGHT NOW. CREATIVITY IS FUN. McCullah:
CREATIVITY IS A GIFT, ‘CAUSE ON DAYS
WHEN YOU’RE NOT FEELING IT, YOU REALIZE HOW WONDERFUL IT IS
ON THE DAYS YOU ARE. WE WRITE IN THE SAME PLAY. WE’RE NOT LIKE TEAMS WHERE,
“YOU TAKE 20 PAGES, I’LL TAKE 20 PAGES.” WE DID THAT IN THE BEGINNING, BUT THEN WE FOUND
WE WERE ARGUING TOO MUCH, ‘CAUSE WE HAD TO
REWRITE EACH OTHER. Smith: IT FELT LIKE
WE WERE ON OPPOSITE SIDES AS OPPOSED TO THE SAME TEAM. McCullah:
WE DIDN’T LIKE THAT. SO WE DECIDED TO JUST WRITE
THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER, BECAUSE THEN YOU BOTH
FEEL OWNERSHIP OVER IT AND YOU’RE NOT TAKING AWAY
SOMEONE ELSE’S FAVORITE JOKE. LIKE, HALF THE LINES IN
OUR MOVIES THAT PEOPLE ARE LIKE, “OH, THAT’S THE BEST LINE!
DID YOU WRITE THAT OR KIRSTEN?” I’M LIKE,
“I DON’T REALLY REMEMBER. I THINK WE CAME UP WITH IT
RIGHT AT THE SAME MOMENT.” Smith: HELLO. McCullah: THIS IS WHERE WE WORK
MOST OF THE TIME. -OUT AT MY POOL.
-Smith: THE CASA DE KAREN. WRITING HERE. OFTENTIMES, WE’RE OVER HERE
IN THIS SUNNY AREA. WE TRY TO MAKE WRITING
AS VACATION-LIKE AS POSSIBLE. McCullah:
WE HAVE MARGARITA FRIDAYS. [ CHUCKLES ]
NOT WHEN WE’RE PLOTTING, THOUGH. WE HAVE TO HAVE OUR OUTLINE
VERY WELL DONE BEFORE WE CAN HAVE
MARGARITA FRIDAYS. Smith:
ALTHOUGH SOMETIMES MARGARITA
FRIDAYS HELP WITH BRAINSTORMING. LIKE, YOU HAVE A BREAKTHROUGH. AND THEN ON SOBER SATURDAYS,
IT MIGHT NOT LOOK AS GOOD. McCullah: YEAH, WE JUST SIT
AND MAKE EACH OTHER CRACK UP AND WRITE IT DOWN. Smith: I GUESS IT’S LIKE US
SUCKING IN. YOU CAN’T WRITE A MOVIE
WITHOUT WATCHING TONS OF MOVIES AND DECONSTRUCT THEM AND
FIGURE OUT WHAT MAKES THEM TICK. I FIND IT HELPFUL
BECAUSE WHEN I WATCH A MOVIE THAT’S A GOOD ARCHETYPAL MOVIE
FOR A PROJECT WE’RE WORKING ON, I’LL WATCH IT, AND I’LL
MAKE NOTES OF EACH SINGLE SCENE AND PAUSE THE MOVIE
AND WRITE DOWN EACH BEAT AND USUALLY HAVE, LIKE,
A 10-PAGE DOCUMENT THAT’S, LIKE,
THE BEAT BY BEAT OF THE MOVIE, AND I FEEL LIKE THAT’S
JUST A REALLY GOOD WAY TO LEARN THE STRUCTURE,
BECAUSE THESE FILMS HAVE A PRETTY SYSTEMATIC
THREE-ACT STRUCTURE. SO SOMETIMES YOU’LL BE STUCK TRYING TO COME UP
WITH A MIDPOINT, AND SO WATCHING A FILM
MAKES YOU GO, “OH, I SEE! “THEY HAD THIS HAPPEN
IN THIS PARTICULAR SITUATION. I THINK WE CAN APPLY THAT
TO OURS.” SO I FIND
THAT IT’S INSPIRATIONAL. McCullah: SO, WHEN WE’RE IN
THE PLANNING STAGES OF THE PLOT, WE CARD IT OUT ON INDEX CARDS
AND PUT THEM ON MY FLOOR AND LOOK AT THEM
AND MOVE THEM AROUND. SO IT JUST HELPS YOU SEE
THE WHOLE THING ALL AT ONCE. Smith: SO, IT’LL BE, LIKE, THE
CHARACTER’S NAME, THE ACTION, MAYBE EVEN SOME SAMPLE LINES
OF DIALOGUE. SOMETIMES IT’S JUST A BEAT,
AND THEN WE SORT OF KNOW, “OKAY, WE’RE GONNA
HAVE TO FIGURE OUT
WHAT IS SAID IN THAT.” THIS IS ACTUALLY ONLY ACT 2. I THINK ACT 3 IS IN SOMEONE’S
PURSE OR SOMETHING. HERE’S WHERE WE MEET
OUR ANTAGONIST RIGHT AT THE TOP OF ACT 2. OH, HERE’S WHERE
ONE OF THEM MEETS MY FAVORITE SUPPORTING
CHARACTER — A NERDY GIRL. McCullah: KIRSTEN
ALWAYS WANTS THE NERDY GIRLS TO END UP WITH, LIKE,
A SUPER-HOT GUY AT THE END. AND SOMETIMES I HAVE TO TALK HER
OUT OF THAT AND JUST BE LIKE, “HEY, IT’S JUST A ‘C’ PLOT.” NOT ALL OF OUR CHARACTERS HAVE TO END UP WITH SOMEONE
AT THE END. THE COLORS MEAN NOTHING. HORIZONTAL MEANS
WE’RE BOTH IN AGREEMENT THAT THE SCENE
NEEDS TO BE THERE. VERTICAL MEANS EITHER WE’RE BOTH
UNSURE OR ONE OF US IS UNSURE. LIKE, I REALLY LIKE
THE MENTOR CHARACTER, AND THEN KIRSTEN DID THIS
WITH THE CARD, MEANING SHE DIDN’T THINK THE
SCENE NEEDED TO BE IN THE MOVIE AND THAT WE DIDN’T NEED
THE MENTOR CHARACTER. AND I KEPT INSISTING,
“NO, NO, NO. IT GOES THIS WAY.” BUT, UH, I FINALLY SOLD HER
ON THE FACT THAT WE NEEDED THE MENTOR
CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE. AND HERE HE IS. Smith: THIS IS THE GREAT THING
ABOUT CARDING, THOUGH, IS YOU CAN JUST THROW DOWN — IF WE HAVE AN IDEA
BUT WE’RE NOT TOTALLY SURE, WE’LL JUST WRITE IT ON A CARD, AND AT LEAST IT LIVES
SOMEWHERE IN THE PROCESS, AND WE CAN GRAB IT
IF WE NEED IT. SOMETIMES, WE’LL GET COMPLETELY
FRIED ON THE PROCESS OF CARDING, AND WE’RE LIKE, “OKAY, WELL,
WE KNOW THAT THIS SECTION WORKS, “SO WE’RE JUST GONNA PAUSE AND
WRITE LIKE FIVE SCENES IN A ROW, AND THEN WE’LL PICK BACK UP
ON OUR CARDING TOMORROW.” McCullah: ‘CAUSE THE WRITING
PART IS THE FUN PART. THE PLOTTING PART
IS THE HEAVY LIFTING. Smith: THAT’S WHERE IT’S GREAT
TO HAVE A PARTNER, ‘CAUSE IT’S A LOT MORE FUN TO PLOT WITH A PERSON
THAN ON YOUR OWN. McCullah: IF YOU’RE STARING AT
ALL THESE CARDS BY YOURSELF… Smith: YOU CAN GO CRAZY. -McCullah: CRAZY. YEAH.
-Smith: TOTALLY CRAZY. AND OUR WRITING PROCESS
IS VERY OLD-SCHOOL. LIKE, WE WRITE ON YELLOW PADS. ONE OF US IS WRITING BY HAND. IT’S USUALLY LIKE FOUR HOURS
PER DAY. McCullah: YEAH, WE FIND WE KIND
OF BURN OUT AFTER FOUR HOURS. Smith: AND THEN
WE GO THROUGH AT NIGHT AND TYPE IN EVERYTHING
THAT WE’VE WRITTEN THAT DAY. AND THEN,
DEPENDING ON THE DAY… McCullah: WE SWITCH OFF
WITH THE WRITING. Smith:
BUT ONE OF OUR UNSPOKEN RULES
IS THAT WHATEVER IS WRITTEN ON THE YELLOW PAD
IS TRANSCRIBED VERBATIM. McCullah: SO, AFTER WE GET
THE FIRST DRAFT DOWN AND ALL TYPED
AND AT THE COMPUTER… Smith: WE PRINT OUT THE SCRIPT,
AND THEN WE GO AWAY SEPARATELY. WE READ — WE SPEND LIKE
EIGHT HOURS READING THE SCRIPT AND GOING THROUGH
AND MAKING NOTES. AND THEN WE RECONVENE,
AND THEN BEGINS THE DISCUSSION ABOUT WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE FROM
BIG PICTURE TO LITTLE PICTURE. -WE CUT IT. IT’S GOOD.
-McCullah: THERE’S ONLY SO MANY GUYS WHO CAN SING IN A MOVIE
AND MAKE IT SEXY. Smith: AND THEN ONE OF US
HAS THE DRAFT THAT’S KIND OF LIKE
THE “MASTER” DRAFT AND WRITES THOSE DECISIONS
THAT WE’VE MADE TOGETHER INTO THE MARGINS OF THE SCRIPT. THEN WE GO AND TYPE THOSE
CHANGES BACK IN THAT NIGHT. I FIND, LIKE, WHEN PEOPLE ARE JUST READING A SCRIPT
ON THE COMPUTER THAT THERE’S JUST AN INSTINCT TO JUST START CHANGING
EVERY LITTLE THING, AND THEN YOU CAN’T REMEMBER
WHICH DRAFT YOU WERE ON, WHAT THINGS WERE BEING CHANGED,
SO IT’S JUST A CLEAR WAY TO BE ABLE TO LOOK
AT THE WHOLE SCRIPT. McCullah:
ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE WRITING
A JOKE, YOU’LL WRITE A JOKE, AND THEN YOU’RE LIKE,
“NO, THAT’S NOT GOOD.” AND THEN YOU’LL, LIKE, WRITE
FIVE MORE, AND THEN YOU’RE LIKE, “WELL, ACTUALLY I LIKED
THE FIRST ONE BETTER.” Smith: “OH, NO.
NOW I CAN’T FIND IT.” McCullah:
YEAH, IF YOU’RE WRITING ON
A COMPUTER, YOU’VE DELETED IT. WHERE WE HAVE IT
ON OUR YELLOW PAPER. WE JUST CROSSED IT OUT. -Smith: CHEERS, BY THE WAY.
-McCullah: CHEERS. Smith: WE KNOW A LOT OF WRITING
PARTNERS WHO HAVE BROKEN UP. McCullah:
LIKE, AFTER THEIR FIRST MOVIE. Smith: YEAH, ‘CAUSE I THINK
THERE’S, LIKE, A LOT OF PRESSURE TO THEN BE DEFINED
BY THIS OTHER PERSON WHO YOU’VE COLLABORATED WITH. AND SO WE’VE —
WE HAVE DIFFERENT INTERESTS. AND SO WHEN WE COME TOGETHER
ON A PROJECT, WE KNOW THAT IT’S, LIKE,
A THING THAT WE BOTH LOVE AND WANT TO DO TOGETHER. AND THEN
WHEN WE WRITE SEPARATELY, I THINK WE REALLY
APPRECIATE EACH OTHER, ‘CAUSE IT’S SO NICE TO COME BACK
TO MARGARITA FRIDAYS TOGETHER. McCullah: AND IT’S NICE
TO HAVE SOMEONE ELSE TO BOUNCE SOMETHING OFF OF. ‘CAUSE SOMETIMES I CAN SIT AND STARE AT A SCRIPT PROBLEM
FOR LIKE TWO HOURS, BUT THEN AS SOON AS SHE’S
IN THE ROOM, ALL OF A SUDDEN, WE’LL BE TALKING
ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE, AND I’M LIKE, “WAIT!
WHAT IF WE DO THIS?” AND SHE’LL SAY,
“WELL, WHAT IF WE DO THAT?” AND THEN WE JUST
FEED OFF OF EACH OTHER. Smith: WE’RE GONNA HAVE
OUR 20th ANNIVERSARY COMING UP. -WE SHOULD HAVE A PARTY.
-McCullah: OKAY. Both: UM… [ BOTH LAUGH ]

8 thoughts on “Creative Spark: Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith

  1. for the next episode, acadamy, can you try and interview Quentin Tarentino please.

  2. I love watch the work that goes on before the cameras even turn on. Probably because I have less understanding on how this side of the process works. Thanks for these.  

  3. Hello, Karen and Ms. Smith (haven't met you yet, Kirsten!).  Karen, a friend sent this to me who also enjoys your works (good to have friends). I like your style, always have.  The yellow (or white) pads are perfect, along with the "carding."  As you say:  The old-school process!  🙂  Karen, I/we watched your personal film of last year, "Crazy Kind of Love." I like the plot twists. Would enjoy talking with you again…soon!  😉 –Rick Kartis, Colorado Sprs.

  4. What a fun environment..this is the kind of culture/work environment I aspire to work in 😛

  5. this series is so awesome and inspiring!!

  6. I would love to work with you guys!!! You are awesome!! I am serious.

  7. They're cool! It must be fun to have such a long working relationship with a friend.

  8. This serie was going for a perfect score… But seriously, why did you have to give this time to the girls who wrote Legally Blonde and The House Bunny (without naming all the other shitty pinky romance/comedy formatted movies they wrote). Why not giving this time to unknown and talented writters who are risking something new and fresh.

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