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April 23, 2007
Writing for laughs and loot
By Rachel Glogowski
Mike Reiss, a writer for “The Simpsons,” is always scribbling things down.
Reiss, who carries around a notebook for his thoughts, is always writing.
“I love to write,” said Reiss, who said he always carries a notebook with him to capture ideas, characters and jokes that come to mind.
“Even if I (didn’t) love to write, it’s what I do – I can’t stop it. I think of things and want to express them.”
It’s paid off, Reiss told a small gathering of young writers last week, and urged them to do the same.
“Carry a pad with you all the time. Write things down,” said Reiss. “Writers should write.”
Even though Reiss is a successful writer, he’s had lots of rejections, he said.
Inspired by a “Beauty and the Beast” show, he wrote a short story about an 800-pound man confined to his bed who falls in love with his nurse, and is therefore compelled to lose the weight to “get the woman he loves,” said Reiss.
But at the end of the story, the man suddenly dies.
According to Reiss, 47 magazines rejected the story. He then spent a week turning it from a short story into a screenplay.
“I sent it out and it sold that week for $700,000” to Adam Sandler, said Reiss.
“I’ve learned from all this rejection that even if everybody says it’s bad, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad,” said Reiss, speaking with Connecticut teenagers. “You’ve just got to be persistent and believe in yourself, because nobody else is going to believe in you.”
Another time, Reiss said, he took a month to research and write a short story about cavemen solving a mystery.
“I learned everything there is to know about cavemen,” said Reiss. “And even so, the thing reads like ‘The Flintstones.’”
Magazines rejected this story also, said Reiss. But it won a national award: “Best New Mystery Story of the Year from the Mystery Writers of America.”
Reiss is one of 25 writers for “The Simpsons.” About 10 of them are involved in brainstorming the script for each episode.
“It’s like being in a mental institution – crazy people just sit around all day and laugh about made-up people,” he said.
“The Simpsons” focuses on a dysfunctional family and other citizens in the fictional town of Springfield.
Besides “The Simpsons,” Reiss worked for the show “Alf,” and wrote for both the “Ice Age” movie and its sequel, “Ice Age 2.”
Before the “The Simpsons,” he worked for various “live-action shows” (with actors), most of which were terrible, said Reiss, who said he prefers writing for cartoons.
Reiss said he never expected “The Simpsons” to be such a success.
|“You’ve just got to be persistent and believe in yourself, because nobody else is going to believe in you.” - Mike Reiss|
When he took the job on the then-new Fox network, Reiss said he “thought (he) hit rock bottom.”
“Every one who worked at ‘The Simpsons’ that first year thought, ‘This is going to last six weeks and get cancelled,’” said Reiss, but he added, “If you’re writing, any job is a good job.”
Reiss encouraged the young writers, “The world is really open for you.”
“The Simpsons” show has been running for 18 years now and the 400th episode will air soon, said Reiss.
“So far, there’s no end in sight for the show,” Reiss said.
Although Reiss is best known for his work on television, he also has written six children’s books and short stories.
When parents ask him how they can encourage their child to write for a living, Reiss joked that he tells them not to do it.
“It’s a really hard way to make a living,” said Reiss. “At least in TV, literally 1 percent of the people who go into it and pursue it for years” are successful.
“But there are just certain people like me where it’s just what you do – you like to write,” said Reiss.
Reiss recently wrote for The Simpsons Movie, which is scheduled for release in July. He is currently working with actor Jim Carrey on a remake of the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who.
"You can achieve your wildest dreams in life," said Reiss, "even if you are a kid from Bristol."
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