Feb 11, 2010
I Interview Playwrights Part 119: Jamie Pachino
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Current Town: Los Angeles
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A television movie, a pass on a feature spec that's about to go out, and (pending rights issues): a new musical. I'll also be teaching playwrighting at University of California, Irvine again in March.
Q: If I moved to LA tomorrow, what theaters or shows would you suggest I check out?
A: This is a tricky question for me, as I moved to LA when I was 6 months pregnant and had another child a few years later, so I haven't seen as much theatre out here as I would like. (I'm much better versed in Chicago theatre, where I lived for 14 years). For me it tends to be individual productions that have captured my attention in LA, rather than specific companies (which tend to be somewhat fluid out here, given the industry) so my allegiance hasn't really settled anywhere.
Q: What are the difficulties and rewards inherent in writing for TV, film as opposed to theater?
A: I think all of the mediums right now are experiencing similar challenges, given the current economic climate. People tend to be looking for a "sure thing" and skittish about material that takes chances. Theatre-wise, there are fewer and fewer slots made available for new work, and less interest in giving those slots to writers without a "name". In addition, development opportunities are slipping away, so it's hard to form the relationships that lead an unproven writer to getting those chances in the first place. All this is especially frustrating because I think many of the plays that have come in the last 5-10 years have been astonishingly good.
On the plus side, for me theatre still offers the two best parts of writing: true collaboration, and the ability to take great flights of imagination. I honestly love nothing more than sitting in a dusty rehearsal room with actors and a director I trust, trying to get the best draft possible out of my script-- along with the opportunity to break the rules, be theatrical, and play with language in a way that simply doesn't translate to film or TV.
Film and TV wise, obviously the pay is a lot better (if you're going to live in LA with two kids, this is a big plus!). It also offers more exposure for your work, and a completely different set of skills to operate around. (Coming from a theatre background, learning the language of film and how to use it wisely has been a great learning experience, and really gratifying when I've gotten it right). I've also had a chance to dissect different genres as I've been fortunate enough to write for animation, drama, thriller, historical romance, true-to-life stories, and more-- all of which keeps me on my toes.
Q: Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.
A: I love the stories on your blog, but I don't have any aha moment or strange/delightful background story to share on this. I will tell you that while I studied to be an actress in college, both my father and my acting teacher kept telling me I was going to be a writer. Took me a few years to see the light, but they were right.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Nearly all of it excites me, but the material I'm most drawn to is bold.--Not meaning the set/stage is large-- but bold in language, theatricality, and ideas. I'm completely drawn to theatre that demands something back, that engages and enthralls, that has a big heart, and something to say, and can be entertaining and surprising along the way. (Not too much to ask, right?)
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Keep writing. Don't just finish one masterpiece and be done. A theatre may love your work-- but not have a slot for it-- and when they ask "what else have you got?" you want 3 more scripts ready to hand over. Plus, the only way you get better and find the core of your voice, is to keep writing.
In addition, relationships are incredibly important. I've been represented by two of the biggest agencies in the world, but EVERY SINGLE PRODUCTION I've ever gotten was because of a connection I had already made. Directors are the ones that walk your scripts into theatres; lit managers read everything, and if they fall in love with something but can't use it at their space, they'll send it to their lit manager friends (they also constantly move to new theatres); actors work all over and talk about scripts they're dying to do-- everybody talks. As a corollary to this: be pleasant to work with, all the time. It's hard enough to get your work up and it's a verrrrry small community. If you're a pain to work with, people will know.
Q: Plugs, please:
A: My plays WAVING GOODBYE and THE RETURN TO MORALITY can be found at Playscripts, Inc. (www.playscripts.com).
My play SPLITTING INFINITY was just named the winner of the Francesca Primus Prize.
For more: www.jamiepachino.com