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Chardonnay's letter from Joe Keenan!

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Chardonnay's letter from Joe Keenan!

Postby Mr Blue Sky » Mon Dec 25, 2006 4:39 pm

Chardonnay kindly posted a letter he received from Joe Keenan on another thread a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was such a great letter it deserved it's own thread! You'll also find this thread linked in the Forum postings by Frasier staff members thread which is stickied to the top of this forum.

Apparently Chardonnay received this response two years ago, at the same time as Meg received her e-mails from the great man...

Dear George,

Reading between the lines of your letter, you already seem to be doing the main thing someone your age should be doing if he hopes someday to be a writer for the stage, film or TV — you’re writing and performing in your own plays. I did this from the age of seven straight through college and always found the experience to be far more instructive (and fun) than any number of writing courses. I assume that, like most aspiring writers, you read a great deal. If you don’t, you should. I learned much of what I know about comedy from reading writers like P.G. Wodehouse, E. F. Benson, Oscar Wilde, Saki, Alan Aykbourn, Noel Coward, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, Tom Stoppard, Simon Gray and Evelyn Waugh.

I always advise fledgling writers (people say, from your age through their early twenties) to write constantly and to focus more on mastering their craft than on launching their careers. This may seem thuddingly obvious advice, but you’d be surprised how many young writers clamor loudly for professional attention to their efforts before they’ve mastered the basics of plotting, structure and script formatting (not to mention spelling and grammar). I know whereof I speak, having, at the age of 19, importuned Stephen Sondheim to listen to my songs. I thought them quite good at the time, but a few years later I shuddered at the thought of what I’d proudly trotted out for his inspection.

That’s not to say that a young writer cannot, once he’s finished his education, start paving the way for a career even as he serves his apprenticeship. I don’t know where you live (though I suspect you got my e-mail address off a U.K. Frasier board) but in America young writers frequently study film and TV in college then move to LA and seek work at a studio or production company as a P.A. (for production assistant). The work is fairly odious, offering low pay, long hours and, as often as not, insufferably demanding and self-important bosses, but it does allow the would-be writer to observe first hand how shows and films actually get made. People typically labor at these jobs for a few years, working their way up the pecking order, writing spec scripts in their own time, acquiring contacts and agents and positioning themselves for an entry level job as a staff writer for a show.

There are, of course, other ways to get one’s foot in the door. Often people who have succeeded in other artistic fields, such as the theatre, find that Hollywood comes calling on them, offering deals and assignments. This happened to my friend Roger Hedden who, in his early twenties had a one-act play favorably reviewed by the New York Times and spent the next five years happily pocketing fat fees to write unproduced Molly Ringwald vehicles. My own TV career was launched when the creators of Cheers read my first novel and asked me to write a half hour pilot for them. The pilot was produced and, though it didn’t go to series, did lead to an offer to join the staff of Frasier in its second season. I should stress though that while waiting for Hollywood to make the first move may pan out for a fortunate few, it is not, on the whole, the shrewdest strategy a young hopeful could adopt.

For now just keep writing, finish school, seek out teachers to guide and encourage you and seize every chance you can to see your work performed by and for your peers.

In closing, forgive me if I cite a few small quibbles with your letter. Though it may seem the height of churlishness to “correct” a flattering letter as though it were a homework assignment, when the letter‘s from a young man seeking advice on how to become a writer, the pedant in me cannot refrain from pointing out that all really good writers both love and respect words and take great care to use them correctly. When you say “I would not be so fleeting” what precisely do you imagine “fleeting” to mean? Last time I checked it meant ephemeral or no sooner here than gone (like my last series). One’s play gets applause, not “an applause” unless you meant to convey that only one person in the house was clapping. I’ll assume that the sentence, “I am just saying this because I feel what I have just say” was a typo. Please take no offense. I assure you that when I was your age my own prose was equally shot through with errors, errors I only learned to avoid when they were pointed out to me. I’ve been writing for forty years and still keep a dictionary on my desk and consult it regularly to make sure that any unusual word I decide to employ means what I think it does. In the years to come you’ll write more such letters to people you haven’t met. Take care with these letters; they are your surrogates and all that those to whom you write will know of you.

Good luck to you, George.

Best wishes,

Joe Keenan


So quite an interesting letter, giving pretty much the same advice he gave to Meg; concentrate on getting good rather than getting known. I love his clear irritation with a few grammatical errors many of us would overlook. Obviously these things hit a professional writer in the face like a wet fish!

I think his final sentence is particularly well-phrased also:

"Take care with these letters; they are your surrogates and all that those to whom you write will know of you."

Lovely stuff! :D
"You don't turn the other cheek, you slice it."
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Postby Stratman » Mon Dec 25, 2006 5:49 pm

Thanks, BN.
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Postby Bee Gees Fan » Mon Dec 25, 2006 5:57 pm

It's an excellent letter.

And as I said in the other thread, I think Chardonnay has a lovely name. :)
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Postby Wezzo » Mon Dec 25, 2006 8:15 pm

Really interesting letter! It's great to get into the mind of the likes of JK.
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