After years toiling away as a Portland playwright, including a four-year gig as Stark Raving's playwright in residence, Joseph Fisher was one of four people selected last year (out of 3,000!) to participate in Disney's Screenwriting Fellowship program. The prize brought him back to his hometown of LA, where he now toils away on film scripts, pitching them to a team of bloodthirsty executives. You might know him from such acclaimed local productions as the scathingly funny Faust. Us., the moody, mysterious Tundra, and now playing, Artist Repertory's witty, profound production of Chekhov's The Seagull. But soon you'll also be seeing his name on the big screen...
Is the Hollywood world as cutthroat as they say it is?
I wouldn't say it's cutthroat. It's just a business. [Film] scripts are regarded as commodities and are traded back and forth, and decisions are made by a group; there's not the individual stamp of the writer. You sit down with executives and they chime in. It's kind of fun.
Was it fun translating Chekhov?
I've actually done a lot of adaptations in Portland—but this one was the most strict; I sort of stuck with the original structure of the play, and that was really maddening because you're so locked in—it's like the car's on rails. At the same time I got to really dive into the minutiae of the text Chekhov wrote—it's like communing with the dead.
How do you feel you grew as a writer while employed at Stark Raving Theatre?
What was great about Stark was that [artistic director] Matt [Zrebski] would just say, "this is the slot in the season; write something." The freedom behind that was great. And I hadn't realized how rare the experience of writing in rehearsal and writing for actors and stuff is. I went out to New York and people were envious that I had four productions in four years.
Is it hard to sit down and write every day?
I don't really write every day. When I have a deadline, I'll usually kind of binge-write. One of the hardest parts about writing for a living is that there's a lot of downtime. You have to learn to deal with the really still moments. There's not the hustle and bustle of an office; there's a lot of time with the cats. It's really important to get out of your head and out of your apartment. You can start to go a little crazy and feel like a guy in his basement building a bomb.