Writer To Writer: Bill Lawrence

Bill Lawrence is known for being the the creator of popular shows such as Spin City, Scrubs, Clone High, and Cougar Town. I’m just going to put it out there and say that Bill Lawrence is the reason I write today. Lawrence’s uniquely quirky and honest storytelling through the series Scrubs literally made me want to be a writer so one day I could tell great genre crossing stories like he does. I honestly am just grateful to talk to the man as many don’t get a chance to speak to their idols. This interview is a little longer than usual, but there’s a lot of great and surprising info here for anyone who interested in reading. Enjoy.

Nick: One of my most hated aspects of screenwriting is proofreading. Not so much for the grammar aspect, but more so for the formatting. There are so many little rules, some with concrete explanations and some not so much, that studios expect writers to follow. Are there any specific screenwriting formatting rules you hate?

Bill: Proof reading/formatting. Look, when talking to young writers I bring up two things relevant to this issue. 1.) If you get a chance to have a writer/agent/anyone in the industry read your script it must be perfect. No typos, no misspellings, nada. 2.) If you write a spec script for a tv show, make sure it looks EXACTLY like actual scripts from the show itself (format-wise). Otherwise you shall be pre-judged as sloppy and lazy.

Nick: I know you give a lot of interviews and teach a few classes on the industry. There are a lot of creative setbacks and operational differences that go into writing in the industry that a lot of young writers in the past have traditionally not known until they experienced these things first hand. With the very public writer’s strike of the past and a very resource heavy Writer’s Guild web page, do you personally see a difference in the awareness new writers in television have as far as business savvy and understanding what the industry expects of them?

Bill: The biggest disconnects I still see for young writers in regards to “knowing the business”  is that American Idol has kept alive the idea of “overnight success.” I am often asked about being an overnight success as I created Spin City when I was 26. I was lucky, AND, I had already worked on the staff of 4 different sit-coms in 5 years. There is no “selling your pilot” right away. You have to work your way up. Also, young writers and producers don’t seem to understand show budgets and costs. These are the biggest things (besides creative quality) that keep shows alive.

Nick: I have to ask how did it feel to go from simply dreaming to working on your own project with the legitimate intent to put your material on television?

Bill: Getting paid anything to write jokes is intensely surreal. That being said, creating a tv show in which a personal icon from my childhood (Michael J. Fox) was the star and was saying my words – best moment ever. Probably won’t ever recapture that high.

Nick: Every writer has a dream project. Every writer also has a bat-shit crazy project that has no possible way of getting made unless they reach James Cameron’s level of undying studio allegiance and funding. What’s your bat-shit crazy project?”

Bill: Clone High was pretty bat-shit crazy. I’d love to get a chance (with Chris Miller and Phil Lord) to get that going again. Someday.

Nick: Your favorite script?

Bill: I liked the Scrubs series finale (before the spin-off year). I wrote a big speech that was actually about “what it means to be a tv writer” at the end…

Nick: Least favorite script?

Bill: Too many. Still filled with self-doubt.

Nick: Do you have any quirks when you write?

Bill: I write scripts with a mechanical pencil on yellow legal pads, then someone else types them up.

Nick: In your perfect world though, what actor would

you have cast in a role you’ve already filled and put on television? You

don’t have to mention the specific role.

Bill: John Cusack. Loved him when he/I was younger. I feel like I could redefine his career.

Nick: How many original scripts have you written?

Bill: I’m a writer, I’ve written many many originals. Plus, anything you work on psychologically becomes “yours.”

Nick: What’s the longest you’ve constantly sat somewhere and written?

Bill: If I’m on a roll I don’t stop. Can’t do all-nighters anymore, though. I’m too old. When I was a kid, two straight days was common.

Nick: What hobbies do you have outside of writing? Do these hobbies ever influence your writing?

Bill: I’m all about playing sports and being a dad. The key is doing things that get you “out of your head.” Must leave whatever you are working on behind every once in a while.

Nick: What do you want your lasting impact in entertainment to be?

Bill: Legacy? Legacy-Shmegacy. I’m forever grateful that I get to do this for a living. Hopefully a few people chuckled.

Much thanks to Bill for the opportunity to pick his brain a bit. For those wanting to hear more from Bill Lawrence, make sure to follow him on his twitter. Also, don’t forget to check out the new and old episodes of Cougar Town on TBS.


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