Ed Solomon is a confirmed panelist (schedule permiting) for this year’s Austin Film Festival and Conference. Ed has been responsible for many films including Men In Black, Levity, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, and currently Tokyo Suckerpunch ( staring Tobey Maguire) and Nowhereland (starring Eddie Murphy). While gearing up for the 2007 AFF Conference, I had a few minutes to ask Ed Solomon some questions about screenwriting.
Linnea: Your body of work crosses over several genres. What attracts you to a project as a screenwriter?
Ed Solomon: I like something that draws me in and makes me excited to go into its world. Usually that’s because it says something to me in an emotional way. It’s not usually a logical decision; ie, “what’s best for my career?” or “what should I do?” It’s more like “this feels like there’s an energy to it — a sense of movement.” I like to know that there’s a journey within it, that the characters can really move through the idea. I don’t care about genres. The question is: what’s the best milieu through which this story should travel? I wanna know it’s a world I understand (emotionally, not necessarily intellectually) and am interested in exploring. If it’s a comedy, can I make it funny? Is it original? Is it something I’ve done before?
Linnea: How did you transition from being a joke writer for comedians to writing scripts?
Ed Solomon: Most joke writers make lousy long-form writers. And I certainly struggled with my bad habits — like stretching truth to go for a joke, thinking outside the story as opposed to from within the story, or from within the characters. But my actual step by step transition was: In college I wrote with some comedians. One of them (Garry Shandling, who almost entirely wrote his own material) introduced me to a tv producer named Marc Sotkin, a really great, really funny guy who was going to be producing Laverne and Shirley. I was a senior at UCLA, and I invited him to come see a play I wrote being performed. Based on the play and on Garry’s recommendation, Marc hired me as a staff writer on the show. I was paired “on paper” with another guy, Nick LeRose — in other words we were ostensibly “partners” — but that was only so that they could hire two of us for the price of one. In hindsight they should have hired FOUR of us for the price of one: I wasn’t worth much more than that. I was too young to really know what I was doing. After that I wrote a spec screenplay or two while returning to jokewriting and doing (lame — seriously lame) stand-up comedy, then — thank God — set up the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure script (a spec which I cowrote with my college friend Chris Matheson, who is quite brilliant and still a great friend and sometimes collaborator) for $5000. That was the end of 1984 (I was 24), and that was pretty much the beginning of my movie writing career. (I did work with Garry from 86 to 88 on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”.)
Linnea: You have attended AFF several times since its inception in 1994. What keeps you coming back to talk with burgeoning screenwriters and filmmakers?
Ed Solomon: It helps me on a lot of levels. I learn stuff. I meet interesting people — those on the panels and those in attendance; we’re all doing the same thing. And I love the festival – the people running it, the people who come. It’s really great to meet people who aspire to do the thing you take for granted. It’s ennobling. And I love Austin. And I love free plane trips.
Linnea: What is the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring screenwriter or filmmaker?
Ed Solomon: Make your own rules.
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picture from the set of Levity, Ed Solomon and Holly Hunter.