UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is the January 2016 winning TV Spec. Watch the table reading performed by professional actors.
TV SPEC: UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
by Jen Turriff
Get to know writer Jen Turriff:
1. What is your screenplay on the Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” about?
Believe it or not, the idea of the spec of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” that I wrote, came from my experience with addiction to Peanut Butter M&Ms. It was a brief, but intense time in my life that caused me much anguish and inevitable weight gain. I always like to write from real life, after all, it’s what I know. So that’s why I chose to write about that particular experience; it was an innocent enough premise on the surface for Kimmy, with the ability to go much deeper.
The next step was figuring out how to translate my story into Kimmy’s. It took awhile, but I eventually found a way to make it work for a 30-something with the mindset of a preteen. In “Kimmy Gets Addicted!” Buckley shows Kimmy a gaming app on his iPad and she quickly becomes addicted. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize she’s spending loads of money on in-app purchases – worse, it’s linked to Jacqueline’s account. Kimmy has to figure out a way to make the money and pay her back. That’s where Titus comes in, who is in the meantime on a quest to purchase the fur coat of his dreams at a consignment shop. The duo have to work together to achieve their goals.
2. Why does this screenplay fit into the context of the show?
I think I found that the key to writing for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is finding that balance between Kimmy as a naive, sort of unaware of how the world works, and Kimmy as the brave, independent woman that would take on a city like New York. There are two sides to her, I think you have to kind of balance the story in the same way. I like to think that I did that with the surface story of Kimmy becoming addicted to an iPad app and racking up a big bill of those in-app purchases, but beyond that, if you look a little deeper, there’s a bigger story about addiction and how easy it is for someone to fall into a bad habit. Again, there’s that balance.
Also, I wrote it to fit into the first half of the first season sort of generically. It’s sort of got an ambiguous timeline, and at the same time uses all of the main characters in the show at that time.
3. How would you describe this script in two words?
(TWO WORDS? That’s impossible! It’s not going to be good…)
4. What TV show(s) do you keep watching over and over again?
Seinfeld; never gets old.
5. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
This particular script took about two months to plan, write, rewrite, etc. It’s been a few months since I’ve “finished” it (i.e. the version you’re seeing read aloud), and I’m looking forward to feedback.
6. How many stories have you written?
Initially when I started writing comedy, I only wanted to be a late night show writer. I’ve written countless late night packets. It wasn’t until a fairly recent (within the year) chat with a manager in LA, that spurred me to try a spec script. That’s when this “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” came along. Since then I’ve also written a pilot.
7. What motivated you to write this screenplay?
It was definitely a discussion I had with a manager in LA. I had initially just wanted to write for late night, but she encouraged me to try writing a spec, and then a pilot, to sort of round out my writing portfolio. I’m really glad she did. I enjoyed the spec script process so much.
8. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
I actually pitched this idea first, then withdrew it, pitched two others, and chose one of those. I pursued that one for a good couple of weeks and just really… struggled. I think when you’re struggling you have to ask yourself if it’s because you’re not inspired by the story. I knew wholeheartedly that it was the first pitch that I really wanted to do, so I went back. It took me a few steps backwards in the process, but I caught up. It was worth it, obviously. It was way more personal, it clearly resonated with others, and it fit within the scope of the show well. Sometimes you have to go with your initial instinct.
9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
Lots of things! Family – my brother and future sister-in-law just asked me to officiate their wedding; I’m now ordained. You can call me Reverend. I have a tiny dog who’s almost eight-years-old. He’s like my son. He can also be a little jerk. Speaking of animals, fun fact: I live in an artists’ community and paint pet portraits as a side business.
10. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
I was looking for a festival or competition that accepted spec scripts and this is one of the few that does. My feedback was great. It was specific and totally understandable. I actually used to write feedback for a company called Bluecat Screenplay Competition. Very similar.
11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
I would only suggest that if you’re having trouble starting or aren’t sure how to go about writing a spec script or a pilot, what’s always ALWAYS helped me is making two outlines. First, a page-by-page outline. Just start with page one, #1, and write just one sentence describing what happens. Next #2, one sentence description, etc. It’s kinda tough to limit it to just one sentence, but try to keep it simple. Second, a classic outline. This is more descriptive. You can add in your scene headings, then a paragraph describing what takes place.
Hopefully that makes sense! Seriously from there it’s SO easy to write, write, write!
Director/Producer: Matthew Toffolo
Editor: John Johnson
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
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