– Tom Krajewski, writer of Supernormal (2014 Script Pipeline TV Writing Competition Winner)
Your winning script Supernormal is a single-cam comedy with a surprisingly fresh spin on the superhero premise. Ultimately, it was both the concept and the writing that caught the attention of Script Pipeline judges. But did you think it was risky writing what many execs might unfairly label “another superhero script”? Or did you feel the writing alone would at least give it a chance?
Thanks for the compliment–and I’m very honored to have won! I guess I didn’t think it was that risky (I guess I’m ignorant?). To me, the fresh spin–which is very clear in the logline–just sounds unique enough to get an exec’s interest (maybe I’m more arrogant than ignorant?). Anyway, I was also hoping that, once the reader got to the big twist at the end of act one, they’d get hooked after seeing that this is NOT a typical superhero show. In fact, it’s technically not even a superhero show (there’s not a spandexed vigilante in sight). And to be honest, I also think that my writing alone is good enough to keep someone from tossing the script out. In fact, writing is the only thing I believe I do very well (yup, more arrogant than ignorant). That and washing the dishes. Those are the only two things that, once completed, give me a stupid amount of satisfaction (arrogant AND lame).
When it comes to writing comedy, what do you think is more important: the humor of the situation or the dialogue? Or are both equally crucial?
They’re both just as important, because sometimes a scene will need to depend on one or the other in order to get laughs. In my pilot script, there’s a scene where the father is mad at his son for staying out all night past curfew. That’s not a humorous situation at all. It’s not meant to be. But it’s a sitcom, so the scene should make you laugh. So I make the characters’ dialogue witty to carry it. Then there’s a scene where invincible toddlers laugh as they get trampled during the running of the bulls. And their invincible mothers are laughing from the sidelines, while our main character, a mortal mother, just stares in horror. It’s funny because it’s absurd. There’s no witty dialogue because the situation speaks for itself. So yes, both are equally crucial. And when they can be combined, it’s even better.
The pilot touches upon some universal themes. Was this something you were consciously aware of when developing the premise and writing the pilot, or did it arise organically based on the overall setup? How important is to ingrain these grounded ideas into what would otherwise be a very light comedy?
The main theme, technically, was there first. I think a successful family sitcom is one where it has relatable themes every family can identify with. Stuff about your typical everyday issues, like the themes in my pilot. They revolve around “keeping up with the Joneses” and “the grass is always greener.” What family hasn’t experienced those? What family hasn’t felt like they’re less than their seemingly-perfect neighbors? What family hasn’t felt like they’re missing out on something? But is it really necessary to feel superior than, or equal to, your neighbors? Why? What’s the point? Will it make you happier? I probably would have put these themes in any family sitcom I came up with, because I love an underdog story where the “losers” (my sitcom’s main characters) constantly fight to get what the others have, but eventually realize that they don’t need those things at all. And thus, the “losers” are happier for NOT matching their neighbors in social or economic status.
I guess one of the show’s themes is self-acceptance. Stuff like “Quit whining! You have a great life! Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses! Things could be much worse, so stop and take a moment to be grateful and appreciative! You’ll be happier when you stop competing! Life is too short to care!” Those are things I often tell myself when I complain about stupid, insignificant things. And in my sitcom, I hope to get that message across to the audience and maybe inspire them (Wait, what?! Yeah, Tom, your sitcom is going to “inspire” people to be happier. . . . Idiot. . .).
What draws you to writing comedy instead of other genres? What are some of your biggest film and TV influences?
I like comedy because it’s positive by nature. I love being goofy, I love laughing, I hate taking anything seriously, and I love drinking. I just want to have fun. And drink. I’m really just a big kid. Who drinks. And though I gravitate toward writing comedy, I actually have a massive file of film and TV ideas of every kind of genre–drama, horror, sci-fi, etc. I love all kinds of movies and so many of them inspire me. But comedy grabs me because it’s just plain fun.
My biggest influences in TV comedy are MTV’s The State, The Simpsons (the 90’s eps only), The Goldbergs, and The Middle. The latter two are BRILLIANT and were very influential in Supernormal, as you can probably see by their similar comedy style and themes.
As for film influences, I tend to write screenplays that are dumb comedies, like recent greats Step Brothers and Beerfest. Yes, Beerfest. It’s hilarious and revolves around drinking. But my favorite smarter comedies are The Big Lebowski and Sideways and other smart stuff like that. I wish I could write that well. But dumb comedy is easier. Because I’m lazy. And I drink too much.
Every writer knows the industry is tough to crack. What are some tips you could give aspiring writers, especially those writing for TV and looking to get an original project off the ground?
I guess a lot of factors are involved. When I wrote Supernormal, I knew it had to have a great hook to get noticed. So I came up with the logline: In a world where everyone has superpowers, one powerless family struggles to keep up. There. Easy. A complete twist on the superhero genre. Never been done (uh, I don’t think). But that hook is what has grabbed the attention of so many. Whatever show you create, try to give it a hook. Make it stand out. But then again, sometimes an exec is actually looking for something simple that’s tried and true: like an office comedy, a blue-collar comedy, or a murder mystery. You may not require a hook, but your writing should really stand out to make your simple story pop. Practice your craft and read produced scripts–and learn how to copy their styles.
Other super helpful things to do include making connections in the business, anywhere you can (it helps if you live in LA). You never know who can help–from the intern, to the mail room guys, to the PA, to the gaffer. And enter contests! It was the best advice I got when I was at the end of my rope last year. My friend, who’s a successful screenwriter, TOLD me to do it. I thought it sounded like a stupid long shot, but he said that’s how he and a lot of his writer friends got noticed, thus beginning mega-successful careers. He specifically suggested Script Pipeline, and now that I’ve won, I’ve gotten a lot of attention. It’s amazing. Plus, now my friends who DO have big connections to managers and agents and producers have no problem handing my script off to them. A contest win or placement is a big credit to your work. Without Script Pipeline, I wouldn’t be as busy as I am today.