Interview with Mary Ruth Clarke. Creator of 'Meet the Parents' and Screenwriter's Workshop mentor.

In partnership with the Chicago Screenwriters Network, IFP Chicago hosted a morning workshop with creator of 'Meet the Parents' Mary Ruth Clarke. Mary is currently teaching screenwriting and playwriting all over Chicago, but we were able to sit down briefly to discuss her role in the Screenwriter's Workshop. 

IFP CHI: Mary Ruth, you're one of the most successful indie writers out of Chicago (with a mega blockbuster to your name), what is the key to your success?

DIY, as they say these days.  Back in the dark ages when Greg Glienna and I created the (Original) Meet The Parents, independent filmmaking barely existed.  A big part of why was the exorbitant cost of film stock -- by far the greatest chunk of the budget. That's a non-issue now.  Folks are shooting high quality movies on their Iphones!   

Concept came first.  Greg came to me: A guy visits his girlfriend's parents and everything that can go wrong goes wrong.  A universal idea, and who wouldn't get disaster comedy from that?  And we wrote an unrelenting "list" script, where disasters piled on, worse and worse, for the hapless Main. 

It was a great story, a good script and a brilliant little film.  Alas, art houses wouldn't touch a comedy and it was too low budget for a feature release. But its quality garnered buzz and it found its way into the right hands and the rest is history.  You have to have a universal concept and a good script.

 

IFP CHI: We've heard amazing feedback from our writers who worked with you at the Screenwriter's Workshop. What was that time like for you? 

So happy to hear this.  I like to customize workshops for the specific participants, and I usually start by emailing them, "Where is your pain?" This workshop had 2 short films, the beginnings of a feature length, a play to screenplay adaptation, and a potential TV/web series.  We were all in the room and I hope folks picked up tips and tricks from each analysis.   And they were all great contributors to the conversation.  

 

IFP CHI: You write both screenplays and plays. What was it like to help one of the Screenwriter's Workshop writers - Michael Higgins' "Horrible Weapons of the Future") work on adapting his work into a screenplay?

It's been my experience that playwrights often struggle more than new writers.  On the surface the mediums appear similar -- both are blueprints for a story told in about 2 hours, with actors playing characters trying to get stuff from each other, right?

But a play is about 80% dialog and 20% visual.  Screenplays are 80% visual and 20% dialog.  It's hard for playwrights to give up the yakking and find visual means of pushing the story forward.  They have to exercise their "visual muscle."  

Michael has the advantage that he's written a sci-fi, so there is rich visual opportunities.  And he's also a journalist, so he already has a lot of experience in ruthlessly cutting excess wordage, so he should do just fine.

 

IFP CHI: You teach screenwriting and you critique screenplays and plays. What do you find most writers don't know that they need to know?

I would say for 8 out of 10 writers, what they don't know that they need to know is how their story endsbefore they begin to write it.  Yes, Stephen King just lets his characters run wild and eventually they end up somewhere, but for most of us that is going to be an exercise in futility and we'll end up with a 400 page screenplay that goes no where or we'll give up on page 30 when we have no idea what happens next.  And worse, then we'll have those abandoned children dreams.  I hate those.  

 

IFP CHI: You are about to teach a Screenwriting 1.0 Class at Chicago Dramatists. What is the focus of it?

It's a 6 week class for beginners, but I often have experienced writers and playwrights in the class.  I call it a boot camp. There's an emphasis on thinking about marketing to a target audience, along with deep dives into structure, formatting, the visual, dialog.  It's 1/3 me yakking and 2/3s students bringing in their work for discussion.  I  believe there's a definite benefit to learning the craft of storytelling with a roomful of breathers as opposed to an online class. I also teach Screenwriting 2.0, a continuation which is set up the same way.

 

IFP CHI: Are there still spots available to join your class?

Yep! Here's the link:  http://www.chicagodramatists.org/event-2091121

 

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For more information about Mary Ruth Clarke's classes or the Screenwriter's Workshop, visit www.ifpchicago.org