Watch the TV PILOT Reading of WASHED UP:
NARRATOR – Matthew Lawrence
LENA – Reetu Bambrah
BARRIE/AMIR – Julian Ford
ADAM – Vince Jerad
CONSTANCE/NADIA – Victoria Murdoch
Get to know writer Leila Ben Abdallah:
1. What is your TV PILOT screenplay about?
Washed-Up is about an Arab-American actress, Lena Hadid, who finds fame as a sexy, three-breasted alien queen on a hit sci-fi show with a devoted cult following. When she leaves the show, she finds herself too typecast to ever work again. Out of money and options, Lena moves home to the suburbs of Washington D.C. to share a condo with her metrosexual Arab father, and her hip-hop producer younger brother. In between running a successful bar, chasing women and picking out a tie, Amir supports Lena as she rebuilds her confidence, while Adam’s success as the most popular hip-hop producer in Washington D.C. inspires her to reinvent her career and her life.
2. Why should this screenplay be made into a TV Show?
My favorite sitcoms are the ones centered around characters who are very different and prone to disagree, but are forced to exist together under some circumstance outside of their control. I like watching funny characters struggle to get along and get by with other characters who are diametrically opposed to them in lifestyle, beliefs, opinions, age, politics…The storyline possibilities feel endless among the Hadid family, and there is another wealth of humor to be mined from the setting of the suburbs. The thing that really ties everything together is how much the Hadid’s love each other despite their differences, and I think this is a story with a lot of heart and a lot of potential for longevity.
3. This Pilot has a lot going for it. It’s part inside the business, part comedy, part family, part social commentary, part family, part romance. How would you describe this story in one sentence?
Lena Hadid, a washed-up actress, loses her job starring as a sexy, three-breasted Alien queen on Spaceship: Neutrino, a popular sci-fi show and is forced to move home to the suburbs to share a bachelor pad-style condo with her metrosexual Arab father and rapper younger brother.
4. What is your all-time favorite TV show?
Arrested Development. It’s just so smart and the jokes are so complex, and the series as a whole is so intricately constructed, that whenever I re-watch the series, I catch jokes that had been set-up several episodes earlier that I never noticed before. And this was before the current trend of binge-watching, so that was risky. It also really epitomizes what I love about sitcoms, that idea of very opposing characters struggling to get along under circumstances outside of their control.
5. This is a very tight, emotionally engaging and fun screenplay. How long have you been working on this TV PILOT?
I have been sitting on the idea for years, but actually writing for about 6 months, and put up a private table reading and later a public reading here in NYC at The People’s Improv Theater.
6. How many stories have you written?
This is my second T.V. pilot, I’m currently working on a third, and I have written and performed two solo-shows, one of those solo-shows I performed in the NY International Fringe Festival last summer, and my first pilot, Eight-Sixed, is available for viewing on my website, http://www.leilaben-abdallah.com.
7. What motivated you to write this screenplay?
The brother and father characters in Washed-Up are loosely based on my own brother and father who actually do share a bachelor-pad style apartment in the suburbs of D.C. Those two are the funniest people I know, plus their relationship is so indicative of the times. It’s taking longer and longer for people of my generation to pass those benchmarks of adulthood that were set by previous generations (financial stability, marriage, kids) so it’s not unusual for fully functioning adults to live with their parents. My brother works, has a car, is a generally responsible adult; his roommate just happens to be his father. On top of that, interpersonally, they really epitomize what I love about sitcoms; they are two very different people, who are stuck together and working to get along. I have known for years that I wanted to write a sitcom about their living situation, but I also knew I wanted to insert a strong female protagonist, and after years of collecting ideas and getting inspired by my own dad and brother, I got the idea for the character of Lena, whose story is entirely fiction, but whose personality is a heightened version of mine (I think Lena is a little more self-important and pretentious than I am…but only a little!) and that is when I sat down and drew out the structure and wrote the dialogue.
8. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
The biggest obstacle I faced was how to take this amazing wealth of material I had to draw from (my dad and brother) and make it my own in a piece of fiction. This became easier when I came up with the character of Lena as the center of the story, as everything about her story is fiction. The characters of Amir and Adam are inspired by real people, but it was important to me that they not be verbatim presentations of my real family. In the end, the only thing I directly stole (with their blessing) is their ongoing game of hiding that gigantic teddy bear from each other around their apartment to try to scare the other. Credit where credit is due!
9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
Improv, teaching, Middle Eastern/North African politics.
I practice and perform improv weekly on a house team (The Duke, Wednesdays at 9pm!) at The People’s Improv Theater here in New York City, and I occasionally teach and coach other improv teams whenever they let me. I recently fell completely in love with teaching, and it totally changed the way I look at improv.
I’m proudly half-Tunisian, and this has a way of creeping into everything I write. My dad always says you can’t understand politics until you understand history and geography, and once I started learning about those things, it opened my eyes to why exactly the region has suffered so much, and it also gives me hope that we will see some progress in my life time. I wish more people would take the time to look beyond what CNN chooses to broadcast, because there are pockets of progress (notably in Tunisia) and a lot of people who are fighting like hell for things like civil rights, freedom and democracy. History and geography has shown me that the ME/NA just has more to overcome in the pursuit of those goals, and I wish we here in the West were exposed more to the successes that have happened than just the same exhausting cycle of beheading, bombing, hijacking, kidnapping, beheading, bombing, hijacking…
If you weren’t sure whether I am passionate about Middle Eastern/North African politics or not, it’s worth mentioning that my original answer to this question was about three paragraphs long!
10. What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
I was searching on FilmFreeway for screenwriting festivals and contests, and WILDsound was suggested to me. I love that this festival focuses on feedback, and celebrates the process. I seldom ever consider a piece done, and submitting to contests and festivals can sometimes feel like a big declaration of “FINISHED!” but it’s also important to me as a writer to share my work with the world, so this was a perfect balance between letting it loose, and allowing it to be a work in progress. When I first got word that my script would be included in WILDsound, my initial instinct was to send an email saying, “make sure you do it like this! Make sure you do it like that!”, not out of mistrust of the producers, just out of my own writerly self-doubt that the piece would not be able to speak for itself. In the end, the healthiest thing I could do would be to just let the piece go and trust the story to speak for itself and trust that WILDsound would honor the piece. So few festivals, maybe no other festival, serves writers on so many levels!
I was blown away by the thoughtful and detailed feedback. I really felt that I could incorporate the notes because I got the sense that they really got what I was trying to say. He even referenced Frasier in his notes, which I particularly appreciated as Frasier was one I turned to a lot when I was preparing the structure of Washed-Up as it is also a story of adult children co-habitating with a parent. They even took time to give a few tips on formatting, which I really appreciated.
11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
If you are writing for the screen, produce your own work. If it’s a piece that is meant to be interpreted by actors, you won’t really know it’s potential or quality until it’s read by actors. I have not yet produced Washed-Up for the screen, but I adapted it and produced it onstage at The People’s Improv Theater, with the flashback sequences filmed in advance and projected between scenes. In the process of doing this, I was able to do a lot of editing, and got really in touch with areas where the story was not coming through clearly enough in the dialogue. I produced my first pilot, Eighty-Sixed, for the screen and it very much affected the way I wrote Washed-Up and helped me learn a lot very quickly about structure, since in production you have to break a script down to a really small level, and build it back up again in post. You will also really get in touch with what you are able to accomplish, and you will be constantly surprised by it. There is a film in Sundance this year that was shot on an iPhone. Everyone seems to have a DSLR these days. You can edit in iMovie, which comes on a Mac and YouTube tutorials will get you out of almost any problem. It’s not impossible; you have more resources at your disposal than you think.
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