– Tripper Clancy, writer of Henry the Second (2010 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest Grand Prize Winner), and the upcoming Winter Break (QED International), The Ambassadors (20th Century Fox), and Shedd (Paramount). In 2014, Tripper was hired to write the Kevin James adventure/comedy Stranded for Sony Pictures.
You won the 2010 Screenwriting Competition with the comedy Henry the Second, and after industry circulation by Script Pipeline (with a very small handful of rejections), you secured representation relatively quickly. What has that process been like the last couple years?
I was lucky enough to land my first agent about a month after moving to LA. Sure, it was a tiny agent at a tiny agency (and I had to pay formy own copies when a spec went out!), but I thought, “Holy shit, this is easy!” Five years—and several specs—later, I hadn’t sold anything or even sniffed a paid writing job. After Henry, and after winning Script Pipeline, I connected with my current manager and my current agents and everything changed.
The mentality shifted from, “Wouldn’t it be cool to land a paid writing gig?” to, “Let’s get you the hell out of your day job.” That shift took place quickly, and within six months, I quit my day job and focused on writingfull time. More specifically, the meetings I took changed from theoretical talks about enjoying my script into more practical discussions about paid writing jobs.
What do you attribute most of your success thus far to? Is it just about being a great writer, or do the little things really add up being good in a pitch meeting, the ability to take and implement studio-level feedback, and so forth?
It’s some combination of hard work, talent, luck, persistence, manager/agents I can count on, persistence, an ability to not make a fool of myself in a room, meet deadlines, remain open minded in the development process, lots of strong coffee, persistence, and several other things I’m forgetting. For me, the trick is to constantly be working. I write seven days a week. When a draft goes into the studio or a spec goes out, you can’t wait to see what happens. For one thing, you could be waiting forever. But for me, once I hit send on the email, I switch gears to another project, or if I’m clear, I’ll brainstorm loglines or TV pitch ideas.
Often times, young writers will get a bit overwhelmed with the demands of the industry. Which is probably natural. What’s been some of the roadblocks? Was there a point where you said, “Whoa, can I handle writing X script for X studio?”
You work your ass off for so long to land any type of paid gig that when you’re hired to write X script for X studio, you jump for joy. It’s an exciting feeling. I think if you’re lucky enough to land two or three around the same time, that’s definitely an overwhelming feeling because each project needs to be a priority.
But that’s a champagne problem. Sometimes you find yourself pitching on an assignment that might not be right for you and deep down you’re not exactly sure how you’d even write the actual script if you got the job. Those situations have always worked themselves out—meaning, they didn’t hire me. Probably for the best.
Looking back, what were some of the key decisions you made, or even the guidance you received, to set yourself up for a career in screenwriting? Is there a specific moment that stands out?
I think there were several moments. Not to sound like a paid endorsement, but submitting to Script Pipeline was definitely a big one because it started a chain reaction that resulted in me quitting my day job. Also, after I graduated from college, I told my parents I was moving to LA to be a screenwriter because I had written one script and it was amazing (it sucked). My Dad talked me into going to film school, and that was definitely the right call. Spending two years in Austin at UT, learning how to write bad scripts—and eventually how to write decent ones—was invaluable. Austin also has some of the greatest outdoor drinking venues on the face of the planet, which has nothing to do with screenwriting, but it’s worth mentioning.
What struck us with your writing was your ability to pass up a cliché joke in favor of something smarter. As far as studio releases, do you think the comedy genre is evolving, in terms of the type of humor we’re getting? Maybe it’s more prevalent in television, but are comedy films in development clinging close to their roots, or are you seeing more “educated” (not pretentious—educated) humor?
Hard to say. Every time I think comedy is evolving, some atrocious sequel comes out and. . . crushes it at the box office. This will sound soulless, but the studios must service their parent companies, which, in turn, must answer to investors. So from a purely business standpoint, if an idiotic comedy makes money, that’s a lot better than a smart comedy that doesn’t. That’s just the reality of the situation. I think as a screenwriter, the trick is to try to elevate the comedy as best you can, even if you’re hired to write Grown Ups 6. The best way to do that is to write in your own voice, no matter what the situation.
You recently sold a pitch, The Ambassadors, to 20th Century Fox. You’re also working on Shedd for Paramount Animation. How did both projects come about?
The Ambassadors actually came out of my job working at the (now extinct) Fox Writers Studio. The studio exec and producer on board have been incredibly determined in pushing it forward, which is awesome when that happens. Shedd was an OWA and I was lucky enough to have a fan at Paramount Animation who invited me to come in and pitch on it. I’m not sure how many writers pitched, but with my zero experience in animation, I’m grateful they took a chance and hired me. But on a more basic level, both jobs only happened because my reps made sure the right people at the right places were reading me.
What else is on the horizon? That you can speak publicly about, anyway. . . .
I’m writing an R-rated comedy for QED International called Winter Break, which follows a few college seniors back home for their final winter break ever before entering the real world. I think of it as Superbad. . . in college. . . at Christmas. I also have a new spec going out soon, but I don’t want to say anything about it for fear of jinxing it. Other than that, there are a couple of scripts I’ve written in the last few years (including Henry) that have producers involved pushing them forward, so I never lose hope!
Best comedy. All-time. No wishy-washy “anything funny” answer—gotta pick one.
I think Big is one of the best movies ever made and it just happens to be really damn funny. I’ve seen other comedies more times (Lebowski) and have soft spots for others (Rushmore, Annie Hall, Ghostbusters, Planes/Trains, High Fidelity), but Big has everything you could ever ask for in a comedy.