Tess Sweet & Dan Gambelin
screenwriter to watch
Tess Sweet: Tess Sweet is a writer, director, lover of dark comedy, and recovering drug addict. She hates writing bios, prefers Jazzercise, and often fantasizes about the security of a 9-5 job. She received her MFA in directing from UCLA and currently lives in Santa Cruz, where she enjoys working with At-Risk youth in recovery and directing meaningful stories.
Daniel Gambelin: Wading knee deep in real-life drama and trauma for 25 years as a paramedic firefighter has made Dan’s mind an interesting place. Most people he meets are having a really bad day. His knack for dark comedy comes from a natural ability to find humor in things that aren’t funny at all. Requires frequent breaks from the computer to bend, cut and weld. Lives in Santa Cruz with his super star partner Tess Sweet.
How did you break in?
Tess: Oh, did we break in? Yay! It all started back in 2001 when I got out of rehab and pressed restart. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I got into video production, started my own cable access show, and went on to get my MFA in directing from UCLA. For me, it’s all about inviting my skeletons out of the closet and onto the page. Dan and I laugh a lot when we’re writing. I get really upset when he doesn’t like something, but later on, I usually agree with him.
Dan: Tess and I are each other’s biggest fans and harshest critics. Our collaboration stems from one of us thinking the other isn’t doing it right. I wanted to help.
Creative super duo, Tess Sweet (Creator/Director/Writer Cleaner Daze) and Daniel Gambelin (Writer/Producer Cleaner Daze) AFF Jury and Audience Award winners for best original scripted series 2017
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
Tess: Harnessing your own checkered past into honest writing is the most powerful vehicle for both personal transformation and connecting with your audience in a meaningful way. People identify with the pains of life. I have found that humor is the best way to bring everybody together and remind us all that we’re not alone. Also, my new favorite motto is: The key to life is to do whatever stupid-ass shit you want and call it art.
Dan: Life is fucked up. But it’s also really funny. You cross paths with interesting and unique characters everyday. Pay attention and take notes. Also, getting a “yes” is the best. Getting a “no” sucks, but at least I can stop sending you follow up emails.
What has been your hardest scene to write?
Writing about the realities of addiction in an authentic yet entertaining way is an ongoing challenge. We’re writing about a world we know, but we don’t ever want it to be preachy or to feel like a PSA. We want it to go down smooth and sweet with a thoughtful provocative aftertaste. Humour is usually the answer – but If we get stuck, we consult our spies in the trenches.
What do you feel was your turning point?
Everything changed when studios starting contacting us – actually seeking us out – rather than us repeatedly knocking on closed doors. At AFF this year, some jurors sought us out for meetings and that was a first. It was so rockstar! And participating in the IFP Screen Forward Lab has been a tremendous help. We learned everything we know about successful strategy for digital series through their ongoing support.
What are you working on right now?
We’re currently developing our award-winning web series Cleaner Daze into long format episodic. It’s super challenging but a necessary step. We love what we already have (season one drops April 2018) so it’s going to be a tough act to follow! Shameless plug – watch it now! @cleanerdazeseries / www.cleanerdaze.com
What are your favorite movies?
Tess: Harold and Maude. The best love story of all time, the best dark comedy of all time, the best soundtrack of all time. And did I mention it’s the best movie of all time?
Dan: Raising Arizona, Shakes the Clown, and Apocalypse Now. All for the same reasons.
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
TS: Jill Soloway. Jenji Kohan, Miranda July, Charlie Kaufman, The Duplass Brothers
DG: Cohen Brothers, Martin McDonagh
What is your most Memorable AFF Moment?
Winning the badass solid bronze juried award for Best Original Series 2017 was the best ever. It made us forget all of our failures for a little while and came with an amazing trophy! We make everyone who comes to our house hold it to see how heavy it is.
Also, when Robert Townsend presented Keenan Ivory Wayans with the lifetime achievement award, it was so beyond moving. We appreciated how open and vulnerable they were about how tough it was back in the early days – and the drive they had that saved them. My favorite line was “We’re just two kids from the projects, we can do anything!”