An evening with Eric Overmyer

Report by Elizabeth Furey:

The students of Paula Morris’ Intro to Screenwriting class made sacrifices to make it to a dinner on Thursday, October 29th.  Rehearsals had to wait; club meetings were pushed aside.  Professor Morris lifted her boycott of Whole Foods for the occasion.  The reason: Eric Overmyer was kind enough to join the class for a question-and-answer session in Professor Morris’ living room.

The experienced television writer and producer talked openly to the class (as long as what they asked did not violate any terms of the confidentiality contract he has signed with HBO) about the business of writing for the camera as well as for the stage, and on the writing process in general.  Eric Overmyer mentioned the difficulty of joining the writing staff of an already established show.  He says his strategy is to stay quiet and get a feel of the writers’ room before pitching ideas and stories.  Mr. Overmyer talked about the necessity in writing to arrive at a point organically, and not to force something on to a story.  However, in television a certain point must come up in a scene, so it’s up to the writer to make that happen believably.  He also brought up the point that some background in acting could be helpful when writing for either the stage or the screen.

Eric Overmyer began writing because, he claims, he had “no other skills.” After majoring in theater and going to grad school “for five minutes” he began his life as a playwright in New York City, “barely squeaking by” for some time.  A friend who got into television was his point of entry to the business. He admits that, at the time, some part of him felt he was selling out – like Holden Caulfield’s brother, D.B.  But any fears that he had become a sell-out quickly vanished when he realized what hard work and creativity went into being a writer/producer for a television series.

Mr. Overmyer was asked about the day-to-day life of an executive producer, and he assured the students that there is little down time in his average day.  There’s location scouting, story meetings, casting, conversations with directors on changing the location of a scene and the cost implications of doing so, to name a few.

For both teaching and writing for television (and much else in life, one would imagine) “it depends on who’s in the room,” Mr. Overmyer said.  He has taught at Yale’s Drama School and NYU, and has experienced writers’ rooms on several shows, so he has had both positive and negative experiences. Mr. Overmyer is confident about the writing on his latest project, Treme. And is he excited about teaching at Tulane?  Of course.

Eric Overmyer co-created the upcoming HBO show (due sometime at the end of April, beginning of May) Treme with David Simon, creator of The Wire.  Although the show is named after Faubourg Treme, the historical African American neighborhood in New Orleans, it actually takes place all over the city a few months after Hurricane Katrina tore through – set from Thanksgiving 2005 through the first Mardi Gras after the storm.  Treme will be filming around the city for the next six months.  Mr. Overmyer said he would like to take his Advanced Screenwriting class to the set of Treme next semester for an invaluable and unique experience.

The classes Eric Overmyer will be teaching next semester (Spring 2010) are Advanced Screenwriting and Playwriting II.  Both promise to involve a great deal of writing, Mr. Overmyer said.  Placement in either class will be undoubtedly competitive.  (It should be noted that Professor Morris is the proud “gatekeeper” of the Advanced Screenwriting class. You can read course descriptions and requirements for this class here.)

Thanks to the Duren professorship for funding this event.

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