by Lauren Valentine
This weekend I had the laughing-so-hard-I-squirted- coke-out-my-nose pleasure of attending Randy Pearlstein’s two-day screenwriting and TV writing intensive where the only rule was: "Be serious. And that means don’t be serious at all." The workshop was hosted by The Film Lab, a rockin’ new Toronto-based initiative providing quality online and in-person classes for both working and aspiring actors, writers and directors.
After our screenwriting workshop on Saturday, Randy took me out and treated me to a big ol’ box of fries at Toronto’s famous Hooker Harvey’s. There we got to shoot the shit about sandwich-wrapping, buffalos and beyond.
"Do you remember the Harvey’s Burger?" He asked me dreamily.
"Umm… You mean, like, the one you’re eating right now?"
"No, no, the BURRR-ger! It was ice cream between two chocolate pucks!"
Unfortunately I missed Harvey’s ice cream sandwich era but got the inside "scoop" (womp, womp) from Randy, as this Toronto native was once an official Harvey’s-Hamburger-Wrapper-Dude. Since his esteemed stint in fast food Randy has written screenplays, concocted brilliant stand-up, done many Comedy Central celebrity impression bits, and performed on all three seasons of the groundbreaking TV series, Chappelle’s Show. However as he demonstrated time and time again over the weekend, the last thing Randy’s success has done is gone to his head.
"I want the student to become the master and then they can hire me – karate style!" says Randy. He loves doing workshops with small groups so people can really soak in the information and have the potential for one-on-one time. As a student I also appreciated that the group never exceeded twelve, making it a much more comfortable forum in which to share thoughts and ideas.
Off the top of his classes Randy affirms there is no such thing as a bad idea. "When we’re kids it’s the one who has the biggest, craziest, wildest idea that’s the coolest; but at some point we turn into adults and then ‘playing it safe’ becomes cool." Randy encouraged us to let our inner kid loose, take risks and go big. Therefore during the workshops we took any suggestion that was voiced, the more outrageous the better, and ran with it.
Randy’s philosophy of treating people with respect and adding to their ideas instead of tearing them down also translates to his work as a comedy writer and actor.
"When you make fun of other people, the ‘you’re an idiot’ approach to comedy, you get a mean laugh. When you make fun of yourself, the ‘I’m an idiot’ approach, you get a warm laugh. But when you create solution based comedy, comedy where no one’s an idiot, where we’re all equals – that’s when you get the ultimate laugh."
This somehow led into a conversation about sexing up buffalo to help farmers, which somehow led into a conversation about creating a new version of the game "Operation". Anything goes!
When Randy and I had our fill of Hooker Harvey’s buffalo talk we decided to hit up the Red Lion Pub. At this point my boyfriend and his friend, who were also downtown, gave me a ring on my cell. "Bring them along!" invited Randy, displaying his usual inclusive disposition. Something similar happened the next day when Randy invited all his students to join him during lunch and then again for post-workshop drinks. His accessibility throughout the weekend was fantastic, and we were all able to reap the benefits of having a teacher who was genuinely interested in us as people and took care to make sure we got the instruction and information we wanted out of the class as students.
When I asked Randy if he would recommend film school to writers trying to break into the TV or screenwriting industry, he had something very interesting to say. A graduate of NYU’s prestigious film school himself, he voiced caution about simply enrolling yourself without doing some living on your own.
"Kids are growing up watching movies and TV constantly, but what’s more important is just to get out there and LIVE!" Then you can write about your own tangible experiences of joy, laughter, loss and heartbreak instead of learning about these feelings secondhand from The Hills cast.
Real life experiences are often used for sitcom and sketch material, as demonstrated when Randy regaled the class with his HMV adventure from that very morning. He asked the clerk where he could find the 1976 film "Bad News Bears" and was told, "It’s definitely in the TV section under C." WHHHHAT? Truth can be funnier then fiction.
In summary I would like to share a special Haiku I created in Randy’s honor:
His hair is shiny
His classes make me go WOOT!
Randy rocks my socks
Ok, so I know it doesn’t convey a great Japanese truth and I slipped in an extra syllable at the end, but I’m almost positive Randy would approve. After all, remember the only rule:
"Be serious. And that means don’t be serious at all."
**Visit The Film Lab at www.filmlab.ca to learn more about their kick-bum workshops and web-tastic online classes instructed by the absolute best in the biz! **