Just a little on Eli’s background: After serving as chief speechwriter for Al Gore from 1997 until Gore’s concession of the 2000 election (and previous stints with President Bill Clinton and Congressman Dick Gephardt), Eli was burned out and ready to change careers. A wild turn of events landed Eli as a writer on the show - and eventually a Supervising Producer. A few snapshots from the interview are enclosed below and can help us all value the role of organization in pushing ideas to fruition.
Many creatives struggle to stay organized and manage their time carefully. What is your approach?
ATTIE: “The pressure of a script deadline is a great organizing principle; it’s amazing how much you can achieve when you simply have no alternative. But the thing about most creative endeavors is that ideas — and certainly, in a screenwriting sense, things like character and motivation and even the best bits of dialogue — need time to percolate. Sometimes, while you’re playing guitar or going for a long drive, ideas deepen and start to take on a life of their own. So the best advice I can give is probably to allow yourself time to breathe and time to have fun within your creative process.”
When starting a new script, what are the greatest frustrations and challenges you face?
ATTIE: “Just staring at a blank page, and knowing that at some point, it has to be full of words. It’s hard to say what idea will spark a storyline, or at least give you something to shape your thoughts around. Sometimes you spend days feeling like you’ve got nothing at all. But once you get that first burst of inspiration, that’s when you can apply a bit of craft and build something out of it.”
How do you stay focused and accountable to your goals in getting new ideas/projects off the ground? How do you make sure great ideas don’t bite the dust?
ATTIE: “For me, it’s always been deadlines. Of course, I’ve mostly worked in TV, which is all about deadlines. But even in movies and freelance writing of different kinds, I think it helps to have someone — a producer or collaborator — set some kind of timeline and be at least semi-serious about holding you to it.”
Are there any pieces of conventional wisdom in your field that you have defied along the way?
ATTIE: “I don’t know enough of the conventional wisdom to defy it, I’m afraid. I’m not especially proud of this, but I’ve never taken a screenwriting course, and while I did read a couple of books about screenwriting — Syd Field and the usual things — it was before I’d written a line of dialogue in my life and I had no idea what most of them meant. The best way to learn and to improve is to do it, and then watch lots of movies and plays and better TV shows and analyze them for yourself.”
What is the hardest part of your craft?
ATTIE: “The hardest thing for a writer, in my experience, is managing that time when you’re not actually writing, which is when you’re most prone to doubt your own ideas, to think that what you committed to paper earlier that day was silly and pointless. It’s hard to tell people to simply have more confidence in their ideas, but if you can’t do that, establish a period of the day in which you write, and then do anything possible to take your mind off of it after that.”