Noel Baker (left) & Henry Sarwer-Foner are a talented screenwriting team, with plenty of writing (and directing) experience under their collective belts.
Noel and Henry recently won Season 5 of the Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay Awards with their witty comedic feature “Dick 2.0”. The viable script and talented pair have been making waves competition and agency-wise since their win, and they were kind enough to drop some insight on all of us (see below) :)
1) How long have you each been writing?
Noel: I’ve been at this for several years, working mainly in Toronto on Canadian film and television projects.
Henry: I’m mostly known as a director in Canada, but started writing seriously five or six years ago.
2) What screenwriting training have you received?
Henry: I went to film school at Concordia University in Montreal. I was also recently selected for the Whistler Film Festival Screenwriters Lab for a feature that’s currently in development.
Noel: I studied literature and took one college screenwriting course. Mostly just started writing and kept writing. I find working under contract with a gun to my head to be the best training money can buy.
3) How long have you been writing together as a team? Is this your only co-authored work?
Henry: Five or six years ago Noel was the story editor on my first screenplay. We hit it off and started collaborating on a couple of comedy TV series.
Noel: Dick 2.0 is our third collaboration and the first feature we’ve written together.
Henry: We’re working on another one now.
4) What directorial experience do you have? How does it effect your writing?
Henry: I’ve directed over 500 episodes of television and a dozen TV pilots. I love to get in at the conceptual level and help shape shows from the ground up – working with writers, actors and crews to achieve a specific tone and vision. Tone is everything. It’s what separates the really good shows from the mediocre. So, when I’m writing – especially comedy – I’m always hyper aware of policing the tone.
Noel: Henry uses his directing experience to browbeat me in all kinds of ways, mostly for the best in terms of tone, sharpening the gags and keeping the pace moving.
5) What writing habits work for each of you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions?
Henry: All of the above. To quote Dorothy Parker, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”
Noel: As a team, we try to work together in sessions that last two or three hours at a time. We’ll work separately on scenes then get back together and fire drill them into a shape we can both live with.
6) What genres do you lean towards? Are all of your works Comedy?
Noel: In our collaboration, we lean towards comedy. It would be too depressing if we chose to collaborate on what we find “serious” about the world as opposed to what we find funny. In solo projects, my default setting is darkly humorous drama.
Henry: I definitely lean towards comedy, but I also love dark drama, thrillers, and sci-fi. All good comedies incorporate elements of drama and vice versa.
7) Our judges loved "Dick 2.0", how would you describe the project to our readers?
Henry: Dick 2.0 is a comedy about a man who becomes his own worst enemy – literally. Facing a divorce that threatens to halve his fortune, a Wall Street billionaire replaces himself with a clone to save his marriage and net worth. But when he sees how much more his wife loves his duplicate, he must battle his better self to win back his better half.
Noel: Dick 2.0 is the serious drama about income inequality and greed we would have written if we didn’t find the antics of the obscenely wealthy to be hilarious.
Henry: You need serious stakes to be funny. It’s what provides the underlying pretext for the humor. With Dick 2.0, we set out to skewer the perils of greed and the dark side of the American Dream.
Noel: We’re also drawn to the comic potential of speculative/dystopian themes involving technology and how it’s changing ‘us’ as we give over ever more of our power to it.
8) "Dick 2.0" seems like a very viable project. Any 3rd party interest thus far? Where/how are you shopping it?
Henry: We’ve just started to shop it, so hopefully winning this award will help open some doors.
Noel: This is a project that requires the involvement of fairly major players in LA. We’re embarrassed to say, we don’t know any of them.
9) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
Henry: I have another feature and a couple of comedy series in development.
Noel: I’m currently writing for a couple of unscripted series and have a drama series under option. Planning to write a feature about Cary Grant’s dive into LSD therapy in the 1950s.
Henry: As a team, we’re just finishing a new comedy screenplay set in a remote data center.
10) Any advice for those about to write their first TV pilot or feature?
Henry: Don’t try to write for the market. Write something no one else but you can write.
Noel: Anyone still read the blogger/guru Seth Godin? His famous advice for writers was to finish fast and ship it. My advice is, don’t listen to Seth Godin. Take the time you need to rewrite, get feedback, rewrite some more, and get it to the level where it might just get you noticed.