Project Write Now’s Screenwriting Academy is excited to present a virtual table read of Stand Up and Die, an original comedy by Michael Etra. Etra is a graduate of PWN’s inaugural yearlong screenwriting incubator. We “sat down” virtually with Etra to find out what inspired his screenplay and what his writing process has been like.
We invite you to join us on Sunday, February 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. ET, to hear his screenplay read by professional actors.
PWN: What inspired this story (why are you telling this story)?
Michael: The original name of the screenplay was called Roasters. In the 1990s, I wrote and emceed parties, weddings, and events for friends and family. In researching the “roastees,” I would look at their lives, seeking any funny, interesting, or embarrassing moments to work into the “roast.” At my sister’s wedding, I did a lengthy roast of the newly married couple and our family friend Susie Essman (my sister’s best friend) told me “I killed.” In comedy, that means you had a great set. It got me thinking. Then after attending a funeral where no one properly eulogized other than the officiant, I thought why not write a few nice words about the deceased?
PWN: How did you decide to write screenplays and why comedy?
Michael: I have always been interested in film. Rather than work the concept into a novel, I could just see the characters coming to life on screen. And why comedy? It comes naturally. Friends were always asking me to be the emcee and introduce other speakers. And I like absurd situations. And I really love making myself and my wife laugh. And she in turn makes me laugh. It goes back and forth.
PWN: Can you share the process of writing this screenplay?
Michael: When I first wrote the script in 2001, it was a different world. No internet, texting, or social media.This script had actually sold to Danny Aiello’s production company, who wanted to produce this script. I was so lucky that it all happened so quickly. I thought it was going to be my new career. But it didn’t end up getting made. When I started to rewrite it last year, I thought I would just have to add in technology to get it current. But, and this is a big but, I found that the mechanics and structure of writing screenplays had changed.
PWN: How has PWN’s Screenwriting Incubator helped?
Michael: It was a revelation. With instructor Lizzie Finn’s guidance, I learned in the incubator that you need more than a good idea and some funny dialogue. Books like Save the Cat demonstrate good story structure and explain how important that structure is to the Hollywood community and movie audiences. Finding the beats, moving the story along, and enriching the characters. Also, having classmates and being able to bounce ideas off of other accomplished writers was incredibly valuable.
PWN: What are you hoping to get out of the table read?
Michael: After this past year of rewrites and classes, I will finally get to hear what real actors can do with it. Twenty years ago, the table read was in a black box theater, but it was such a different script back then. I am looking forward to hearing the actors’ perspectives: Did they understand and feel the character? What was their gut reaction? What was missing, etc.? And I hope the actors and audience members will ask questions, as well.