As we gear up for the Festival & Conference, we’ll be posting interviews with our incoming panelists here, on our blog. The questions come from our newsletter recipients, interns, volunteers, and facebook fans – so feel free to send your interview questions for an incoming speaker to Conference Director Maya Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scroll through our blog first to make sure we haven’t already posted an interview with that guest then be sure to type their name in the subject line.
This week’s interview is with Etan Cohen and the questions come from Conference Department intern Harrison Glaser.
Etan Cohen is one of the most sought after comedic minds in the business. Named “Comedy Writer of the Year” at the 2009 Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Cohen has proven himself one of the most prolific writers in recent years. His screenwriting credits include TROPIC THUNDER, MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA, Beavis and Butthead, It’s Like, You Know, King of the Hill, IDIOCRACY, and MEN IN BLACK III.
Interviewer: You’ve written scripts targeted at young children, specifically episodes of Recess and MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. How do you get yourself in the mindset to write something children would find funny?
Etan: I don’t think you can be in your head too much. You just have to write what’s funny to you and then get rid of the stuff that doesn’t fit in a family movie. Fortunately, me and my kids often find the same stuff funny.
Interviewer: It seems like most big budget sequels are written by a team of writers. How did you end up writing MEN IN BLACK III on your own without any connection to the other two films?
Etan: I wrote a comedic take on Sherlock Holmes for Sony (Sacha Baron Cohen as Sherlock, Will Ferrell as Watson) which hasn’t been made — yet! — but which I think showed them (along with TROPIC THUNDER) that I could handle mixing action and comedy.
Interviewer: Have there been any reactions to scenes or jokes you’ve written that surprised you, either because they fell flat or because they got a bigger laugh than you expected?
Etan: I think as a writer you can get too precious about words and forget about the power of physical comedy or just the presence of your stars. In TROPIC THUNDER, I was always amazed at how big the laugh was when the directer gets blown up. And on MEN IN BLACK III, when we were testing the movie, people just want Will Smith on the screen.
Interviewer: Do you normally write scripts that you would laugh at or do you target another type of audience?
Etan: Well… it’s hard to second-guess what other people will like. Easier to just write for yourself.
Thanks, Etan, and we’ll see you in October!