Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Company You Keep




Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon, and Ryan Rowe (my husband) have known each other for many years. They met when they were undergraduates at UCLA and all went on to become screenwriters. Ed wrote Men in Black, and worked on the upcoming Hardy Men for Ben Stiller. Chris wrote Evil Alien Conquerors, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (with Ed.) Ryan wrote the first Charlie’s Angels movie (with Ed) and worked with Chris on the story for Evil Alien Conquerors.


They’ve all worked steadily as writers, separately and together, throughout their careers.


When they were in their twenties, they took annual road trips in Chris’s dad’s dirty camper. This interview was done earlier this year, right before they left on another road trip for Vegas. They are all pushing fifty now, took my minivan and had to stop three times on the way to pee.


The reason I wanted to interview them was to explore how you meet your writing mentors and friends, and how influential they can be on your life and career.


So, how did you guys meet?


Ryan: I met Ed in 1979 as a freshman at UCLA… uh, I mean in some undetermined year. (laughter) And we became friends from doing stand-up comedy on campus. Then I met Chris through a play that I auditioned to be in, that Chris wrote.


Ed: Chris and I and Shane Black met in a playwriting class at UCLA in Jan 1981.


Ryan: So you guys are very old.


Ed: It was weird because, Chris was there in ‘81 and I was there in ‘91, it was a strange kind of time warp.


Ryan: People told me about you guys when I was there in ’95.


Chris: So you must have graduated in ’99.

(laughter)


How have you worked together?


Ed: Everyone in this triangle has worked together numerous times, although not all three of us together.


Have you influenced each others’ careers?


Chris: That’s a big answer. Very much so.


Ed: I would say the prime influence is not just on my career, but what was under the career, the whole comedic point of view. Not just an influence of the two of you, but the whole point of view was essentially created by my interactions with you guys. You two are like the fusion of the sense of humor that the three of us shared, and it created what ever it was that launched my career. And then within that career, to both larger and smaller degrees, it’s been influential.


Ryan: You guys taught me how to laugh, what was funny, thinking about what was funny, and just going places comedically that I hadn’t gone to yet until the three of us went there. Sometimes on trips we took together, or just hanging out…. It seems like the work we did together sprang from the time we spent together socially.


Chris: When I was in my early twenties I hadn’t met anyone yet who had the same comedic bent, and the validation that came out of that was really powerful, and it gave me a lot more confidence. It was, well, “Shit, these guys are unbelievably funny, and we’re all laughing together. I think it maybe is actually funny. Maybe it’s just not me.”


Ed: One thing I would also mention. The only time in my life where, and it was the smartest thing I ever did at that early stage in my life, and if I could, I would have done a lot of things differently, was… One thing was when we said, “Let’s rent a theater for twenty bucks a night, once a week, go there with no audience, and work out for the sake of working out.” Remember that? We did improv at the Gardner Stage on Sunset Blvd. How long did we do it for?


Ryan: We did it for a long time. After that we got a room at UCLA, then we got another stage, we did it for a few years. And none of us had any intention of being improv performers, or trying to get on SNL or whatever.


Chris: One of us should have….Ryan.


Ed: One thing you implied Ryan, is that you appeared without a sense of humor. When I met you, you were the funniest person I’d ever met.


Ryan: Well, nice of you to say. That’s how I feel about you guys. I never turned an eye on myself to think about it that way, because that’s dangerous.


Chris: I sort of… there might have been a little part of me that thought I might be actually funny. But until you meet somebody, and you go, ok, I know they’re really funny because they make me laugh. They’re hilarious. And they think I’m funny. And it’s a validation of that.


Ryan: Finding people around you that are like-minded, is big.


Ed: What drew us together was not this ravenous desire for a career in Show Business. What drew us together was a much purer thing, which was that we loved to laugh, and we made each other laugh. Ryan and I met in the comedy club in UCLA, so I guess there’s a vague, slight career lean there, but our friendship was more important. The fact that we’re all screenwriters now, that was never the intention. It was a much purer thing.


What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in show business?


Ryan: Perseverance. The tenth time you’ve done something is maybe much more important than the first time you’ve done something. The tenth time you’ve tackled a scene, or the tenth screenplay you’ve written, or the tenth job you’ve gotten. It seems like it’s important to continue to try and get better. For me, that’s the most important thing, to keep trying to do better. There’s a Beckett quote I love, “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Unless it’s really not working, then quit. (laughter)


Chris: For better or worse, trust your instincts.


Ed: Never let two smart people go before you (guffaws.) I agree with both you guys. I guess for me then, there’s a profound difference between how you perceive yourself, and your own experience of your life, and how others perceive it. And that it applies on so many different levels. For example, there’s the act of creating something which is so wonderful…. (laughs) Pat, please erase that…


Ryan: No, keep going, I think you’re onto something…


Ed: What I mean is that what other people make of your work, and what you make of it, will be very different. You have no control over the results of your work and what other people think of it. And if you’re going at it for accolades, you’re going to have a less fulfilling time, than if you are just going at it for the experience of what you’re creating. However, you have to be careful of being too wrapped up in what you’re creating because then you lose sight of the fact that you’re communicating with other people. So please Pat, erase all that too. (laughter)


Ryan: I read something once, that it’s important to just continue to do the work. And the second part is difficult, but lands, “Without fear of failure or hope of success.” Just do it. Just do the work.


Ed: There was an interesting interview with Phillip Pullman who wrote The Golden Compass and a bunch of other novels. Someone asked him, “Do you write when you’re inspired? When do you write?” He said, “My job is to write good stuff whether I’m inspired or not. Just to do my job.”


If you could pick one movie to take to a desert island, what would it be?


Ed: Bananas?” “Manhattan?”


Chris: Manhattan Murder Mystery?” NoProbably a Lynch. “Blue Velvet” or “Eraserhead,” one of those two.


Ryan: I’ll be the sappy, doughy one. I’ll take, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Because ultimately, “It’s a wonderful life.”


Ed: “Freddy Got Fingered”


After the interview, they pile into the mini van and head out onto the road. They have a great time. They hike at Zion National Park, eat good food, play blackjack.


They lose money. But Ryan, the sappy, doughy one, still insists, “But we could have won!”

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