Many agree that screenwriting instructor Andy Guerdat is outstanding. Just read his students’ comments:
“Andy is a true expert with insight and life experience that he brings to the classroom.”
“He’s just the greatest!!!! If you follow everything he says it works!! I optioned my script today and I can honestly say that everything Andy says is absolute and right!”
Or look at his credits: screenplays sold to 20th Century Fox, MGM, Walt Disney Studios, Village Roadshow Productions/Warner Bros; producer/writer of the hit TV show Head of the Class, creator of the show Herman’s Head…
Other words have been used to describe him: patient, funny, articulate, knowledgeable, generous. But the Writers’ Program likes “outstanding” the best and made it official by naming him Outstanding Instructor of the Year in Screenwriting for 2007.
How does a writer earn such high acclaim? Here Andy talks about his passion for story-telling, teaching, and the writing process.
Writers’ Program: Did you always know you wanted to be a screenwriter? What was your first writing job? How did you break in?
Andy Guerdat: I always wanted to be a writer, or more accurately, a storyteller. My first love was prose fiction, but since my second love was not eating out of dumpsters, I decided to come to L.A. and try my hand at screen and TV writing. I broke in by dutifully following what passes for a system in show biz: taking classes (at the now-defunct Sherwood Oaks Experimental College), writing specs, sending them out en masse to any and all agents who would read them or pretend to, and then taking the better of the two agencies who responded positively. That took about a year. After another six months, I got my first paid assignment, an episode of “The Jeffersons.” I’ve been a working writer ever since, and I’m proud to say I had absolutely no connections when I moved out here from the Siberia of entertainment, Birmingham, Alabama. Although I highly recommend nepotism, coattail-riding and sucking up as alternate methods of breaking in.
WP: What are you most hopeful about or what is most important to you about writing screenplays/TV now?
Guerdat: I think we’re on the verge of a major sea change in the entertainment industry, as the major studios and networks have remained major for decades by controlling the capital and means of distribution necessary to mount typical big-budget productions. But with the costs of basic productions within monetary reach of anyone with a good video camera and Final Cut Pro, and international distribution as close as your mouse, all that may be about to change. The internet allows for bottom-up development in lieu of the top-down approach dominant in Hollywood since the first suit told Chaplin to lose the cane — physical disabilities are depressing. If this evolutionary change comes to pass, talent may more naturally rise to the top in an ad hoc manner… to then be corrupted by money, glamour and unchecked ego.
WP: What drew you to teaching? (Was it your involvement as writer/producer on the show “Head of the Class”?)
Guerdat: I began teaching because, as a television producer I found myself teaching writing to staff writers getting paid a lot of money to learn it on the job. I simply took the techniques I employ as a professional writer/producer and apply them in class. I teach the way real writers write — from the seminal creative spark through the shaping of the story to the rewrite process — not the way many writing teachers teach — beginning with a pre-determined template and filling in interchangeable story points. Ironically, I have written for many high school themed movies and TV shows, which has only served to make me instinctively swallow my gum and forge fake hall passes every time the bell on the set rang.
WP: In your Writers’ Program Instructor Statement, you talk about the passion needed to create a good screenplay. How do you convey that need to your students?
Guerdat: I show them moments in films in which the filmmakers’ passion for the story is so palpable it leaps off the screen. From the first time Raymond Burr looks into camera in “Rear Window” to the opening scene of “Manhattan” and many others, these moments have the power to still send a tingle up your spine years later. Sometimes I even pitch them a bit of my own screenplays to communicate the excitement I feel at telling my stories. That Jacob’s Ladder of original excitement is what they’ll need to complete their screenplays while everyone else is at the beach or ski slopes — and what they’ll ultimately need to communicate to their potential audience.
WP: What is the single most important thing a teacher can impart to his or her students?
Guerdat: A passion for good stories. One need look no further than their channel guide to see what results when the people who tell our stories have no interest in life beyond their own French tips.
WP: What does winning the 2007 UCLA Extension Outstanding Instructor Award in Screenwriting mean to you?
Guerdat: It reminds me of the hundreds — thousands? — of students who have taken my classes, and who have, I hope, been enriched by the experience. I’ve had several students go on to success in the entertainment industry, but just as important to me is knowing that most of my students leave my course having learned about the joy that comes from telling or seeing a well-told story . Also, it meant a very nice sweatshirt.
WP: How has the strike affected you this year? What are you working on now?
Guerdat: It meant the Twilight Zone-ish experience of seeing many Ghosts of Career Past walk by me on the picket line. Again and again, until we remembered why we stopped calling each other. I had the time to complete several spec screenplays and pilots, and even act in, co-direct, and edit a pilot shot with several other friends. I also have written a stage play “Red Remembers” — a one-man show about the pioneer sportscaster Red Barber — currently under option to Tony-nominated actor David Garrison (he played the Wizard of Oz in “Wicked”) .
Andy Guerdat will teach Introduction to Screenwriting I: 12 Weeks this spring on the UCLA campus. Enrollment is underway.