What’s the next compelling sci-fi show? Well, I’m hope its title is Identicals by Kelley and Courtney Turk, who are, you guessed it, identical twins. In the world of their spec pilot, parents can opt for a super version of plastic surgery for their children… in the womb! The result? Athletic, near-genius, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, “perfect” clones. We follow the journey of twin sisters Claire and Jane Smith, one of whom had the surgery and one who didn’t due to complications. Instead, she’s just normal plain Jane, struggling like the rest of us. It’s an intriguing world to explore and an interesting metaphor for what it feels like to be a high school student
TV writers Kelley and Courtney got their start on 7th Heaven, and they recently sold a story to NCIS and wrote a tie-in young adult novel for The Secret Life of the American Teenager, entitled “The Secret Diary of Ashley Juergens,” which will hit bookstores in June. They were gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to share their “breaking in” story as well as info on their current projects.
C: I love TV. The thought of creating and telling stories always excited me. When I was in high school, I pretty much studied and did my homework during commercial breaks. I just always knew that’s what I wanted to do.
K: In college, I was a film major and hadn’t thought about working in TV until Courtney took a half-hour sitcom writing class and would show me what she was working on and ask me to fill in a joke, etc. The next semester I enrolled in the same class and I showed her what I was working on and then she helped me. We decided from then on to be writing partners and focus on television.
How did you get your first job?
C: I graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in television production and had done a couple of internships at Warner Bros. and Sony while I was in school. After I graduated, I faxed my resume to every production company listed in the Hollywood Creative Directory. I was hired as a receptionist on a TV pilot that didn’t go, but it led me to other jobs through people I had worked with there.
K: Courtney had heard through the grapevine about an opening for a Writer’s P.A. position for 7th Heaven. I submitted my resume and got the job. Then I was promoted to Writer’s Assistant, then to Script Coordinator. Courtney and I were eventually given a freelance episode and then were hired on staff the following season.
Do you think being identical twins helped you to get noticed as writers?
C: You know, not really. It’s definitely a good conversation starter when you have a meeting. I’m hoping it helps with our pilot because it has a twin angle, and we obviously have a strong connection to the subject matter. I think it helps people remember us, which is helpful – especially with the amount of writers studio and network execs meet with every day.
K: I can remember only one meeting where the person we were meeting with only wanted to talk about twin stuff. For the most part, it’s discussed briefly, and then we move on to other topics.
My husband and I are a writing team, so I am always curious about how other teams work. What’s your process?
C: We usually break a story and do an outline together. After that, it’s “see you later.” We’re nowhere near each other when we actually write. I’ve met writing teams who work with one person at the computer and the other sitting right behind them going over every word. I can’t write like that because I find it stifling. What I like about writing separately is a lot of times Kelley will have approached a scene or conversation in a completely different way from what I was thinking – and I like it better. From there, we blend everything together. Then it becomes a game of hot potato – we just keep passing it back and forth, editing and making changes until it’s done.
K: We definitely break story and outline together. There’s also a lot of discussion along the way, but for the most part writing together is a very separate process. I like exchanging drafts back and forth because sometimes that allows us to work on two things at once. Plus, when you get stuck, it’s nice to give it to someone else to fix.
Can you tell us a little bit about your pilot script Identicals? How did you come up with the idea?
C: We’re big fans of the Twilight Zone. One of my favorites is the episode, “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You.”
In that episode, people in a future society must undergo an operation at age 19 to become beautiful and conform to society. They have a catalogue of faces/bodies that are numbered for everyone to choose from, but one young woman desperately wants to hold on to her own identity and doesn’t want to get the operation.
K: I hadn’t seen this episode, but Courtney told me about it. I had been thinking about an idea for a story where you can get plastic surgery on your unborn baby and thought it would be interesting to have the operation on twins but one is unable to get the plastic surgery. Then we thought it would make a good high school dramedy because it takes place at a high school where everyone is “perfect” because they’ve all had plastic surgery except for the one twin who didn’t.
You recently wrote a tie-in novel for The Secret Life of the American Teenager entitled, “The Secret Diary of Ashley Juergens” that will come out in June. Can you tell us a little about the novel?
C: The novel is Ashley’s diary where she has documented her thoughts and feelings on the things that took place during the first season and part of the second season on The Secret Life of the American Teenager – which is finding out her older sister Amy is pregnant at 15 and dealing with her parents’ marriage being in trouble at the same time. As fans of SLAT already know, Ashley is very outspoken and even more so in the book. There’s also insights and background on the characters that weren’t onscreen that fans will find out that they didn’t know before.
K: The novel is Ashley’s perspective on all the chaos going on around her. It was a lot of fun to write to her sarcastic humor, and hopefully the fans will like all the behind-the-scenes stuff we added.
C: Surprisingly, it wasn’t that different. We didn’t need to do an outline because each episode from the show was our outline. We watched the episodes together and then talked briefly about ideas we each had and what we thought Ashley would have to say about whatever the storyline was. Then we separated and exchanged our chapters.
I do have to say that I really enjoyed writing the book. For television scripts, whether it’s an hour or half-hour, you have to move the story along and get certain things done by Act One, Act Two, etc. A lot of times that means editing and sacrificing things that you would love to stay in there. For a book, you’re allowed to take your time if you want to and delve deeper into things without the clock ticking away at you.
K: Our process was pretty much the same as when we are writing a script together, but a novel is another beast in terms of structure. Scripts are very bare bones so it was nice to flesh things out and go off on different tangents or asides if we liked.
Can you share any Hollywood horror stories or funny anecdotes about breaking in?
C: I have lots of those! I was a PA on a television show, and we were shooting an episode with a director who had never directed the show before. He was really falling behind on his day, and pretty soon it was the middle of the night and we still weren’t done. The actors decided they had had enough and just left. I was in the production office, and they called me outside where they were shooting and asked me to stand-in for the actor in the scene. Suddenly, I’m standing there in wardrobe listening to how best to run over to the dead body lying nearby with a steady-cam following me. It was awkward to say the least.
A lot of times being a PA means helping out with things that have nothing to do with production. An actress on a show I was working on one time called the production office very upset because her car had been impounded. Her boyfriend had been pulled over while driving it with an expired out-of-state drivers license. She was on-set filming and couldn’t leave to take care of the situation. I was just about to go home after working a long day when they told me that instead I was now going with a transpo driver to the Hollywood police station to get her car back. I ended up being there for four hours while phone calls were exchanged between myself, the transpo driver, the production office, the police, and the actress. Finally, I was given the OK that I could drive the actress’s car back to her house. The transpo driver then drove me to the impound lot where I drove the actress’s car back to her house with the transpo driver following me so he could drive me back to the stages so I could then get my car and go home after I dropped the actress’s car off. To make matters worse, it was nighttime at this point and the actress lived off of Mulholland. I had been to her house before to drop off scripts, but never this late and usually coming from the other direction. I was very nervous to be driving on Mulholland in the dark in a very nice car that I wasn’t familiar with. I eventually made it, and by the time the transpo driver and I got back to the production office, they had wrapped. I got in my car and drove home, which of course was on the other side of town, only to return to work not too long after that.
Other things that you’re bound to see at some point in this business – people getting fired on and off set, fights in the writers room, actors refusing to say things written in the script – I’ve seen that too.
K: Our first agent left the business without telling us. He was in the middle of switching agencies, and one day we called to follow up on a meeting we just had and couldn’t get him on the phone. Eventually someone told us he had left the entertainment business.
Have you had the opportunity to work with a writer, actor, producer, or other artist that you particularly admired or were a fan of from afar? Can you share your “fangirl” experience with us?
C: I’ve lucked out and gotten to work with some really great people so far, but I’d have to say that during the writer’s strike I got to be around some incredible writers, especially during one rally where all the showrunners came to show their support. Everywhere you turned you were surrounded by amazingly talented people. You didn’t really know who to freak out on first!
A big fangirl moment happened at the first rally of the strike at Fox. Kelley and I were walking from our car over to the studio, and there was a man ahead of us with twin boys. He saw us and pointed us out to his sons and said, “Look guys, there’s twins like you.” Kelley and I eventually walked passed them and realized the man was Cameron Crowe.
K: My biggest fangirl moment was when I was interning at DreamWorks in college. One day I was making copies in the copy room and Steven Spielberg came in to get a band aid out of the first aid kit that was hanging on the wall. E.T. was the first movie our parents took Courtney and I to see in the theater, so that was really exciting. I didn’t say anything to him though because rule #1-10 there was, “Don’t talk to Steven.” That sounds really harsh, but they had some problems at the time with interns trying to pitch ideas to him, so I understood.
What projects are you currently working on?
C: We have a romantic comedy feature and a western feature – both of which we just always seem to be tinkering with. We’ve started another pilot about a woman who has lived a very lonely life and now due to her age must live in a retirement home and make friends for the first time in her life. We also have an idea for a web series about a mom who just tells it like it is. She’s never heard of the word sugar-coating when explaining things to her kids.
K: We are also going to start a novel based on an old pilot of ours about our Catholic School experiences, sort of along the same lines as Saved! And we’ve been talking about starting another novel of short stories based on funny experiences that have happened to us. Writing “The Secret Diary…” was a lot of fun and required a writing muscle we’ve never used before, which definitely got us interested in writing more books!
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is an aspiring TV writer in Los Angeles. She has been writing in web-based media for 10 years, including writing web videos for an Emmy-nominated reality series and ghostwriting a blog for Yahoo. To learn more about the process of applying to write for TV, visit her website WeissRoessler.com to read her spec scripts or visit her blog Boring Future Generations.