Josh Sorokach On “Clean Slate”
Josh Sorokach is a writer living in New York City. In 2015, Josh teamed with Abominable Pictures to turn his New York Television Festival-winning script Semi-Charmed Life into a TV pilot starring Ryan Hansen and Noël Wells. In 2018, Josh’s TV pilot Clean Slate won the 2018 ISA Table Read My Screenplay competition. He has completed the advanced sketch writing program at the UCB Theatre, was hired to write a TV pilot for the production team behind Super Troopers, and has written numerous articles for Decider, Uproxx, Splitsider, Above Average, MTV, People’s Choice, and Barnes & Noble. He is also an ISA Top 25 screenwriter to watch. Here’s what he had to say to Creative Screenwriting Magazine:
Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted ISA interest?
I grew up in a small town — Pine Grove, Pennsylvania — and eventually moved to New York, possibly because I grew up idolizing SNL and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. I had a bit of early success, but it took me about five years and a dozen scripts to receive an opportunity to write a pilot for a production company. It was an incredible experience, but the show was never produced. After that, I wrote about five more scripts, one of them being Semi-Charmed Life, which, long story short I actually had the opportunity to make. The show didn’t get picked up, but, again, it was an invaluable learning experience.
When I read about the Table Read My Screenplay competition, I decided to submit three of my pilots. One of those scripts was Clean Slate, which ended up winning the 2018 Table Read My Screenplay Park City competition.
Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?
Two reasons. First, I’ve always been obsessed with television. I remember going through a breakup in college. I was interning at Conan O’Brien and I was in a new city, with a new job, and I was just emotionally obliterated. I lived in a YMCA at the time, because OF COURSE I DID, and I have this vivid memory of being so excited to watch The O.C. Like, no matter how bad things got, I could always lose myself in TV, if only for an hour. I’d love to be able to provide that same gift to someone else.
My second reason is more practical: I’m honest to God pretty lousy at almost everything else. That’s not faux modesty. It’s either writing, marry wealthy, or bust for me.
What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?
A borderline delusional tenacity? Writing truly needs to be in your bones because you’ll be presented with so many opportunities to quit. I also think it’s very beneficial to befriend as many writers as you can because it really helps to have a support system.
Personally, I can look at my career in one of two ways. The first: I’ve done pretty well. I had the opportunity to make my own show; I won Table Read My Screenplay. I feel very fortunate to have had those opportunities. The second: I’ve been doing this for over a decade and I still don’t have an agent. Maybe I should just quit and open up an inn or something? But I’m not going to do that. Primarily because I don’t know the first thing about running an inn. Would I have to buy a different type of insurance? How often do you have to shampoo the communal area rugs? I’d be lost.
What is your winning script and why did you choose to write it?
Clean Slate. The series is a hangout comedy about a group of friends who inadvertently inspire one of the most famous people in the world to leave his life of luxury and rent a shitty apartment in Brooklyn. I like the combination of “fish out of water” meets hangout comedy, and I think the plot and disparate characters generate a ton of organic conflict.
How many drafts did you write before being accepted into the ISA Top 25 list?
I have no idea. A lot. Although, my edits are rarely a dramatic top-to-bottom rewrite. I’m someone who creates extremely detailed outlines (a lesson I learned the hard way) because there’s nothing worse than spending weeks or months on a script only to realize your story doesn’t work. Also, I don’t usually write the scenes in order, so having an intricate outline allows me to bounce around and write different sections of the script based on how I’m feeling.
What did you learn with each draft?
Personally, I learn more about the characters with each draft. Usually, it’s a small quirk that informs the essence of that character. I always try to add an early intro line that helps crystallize the essence of the character. I always think about one of Britta’s first lines on Community: “Oh, whoa, whoa. The guy who’s playing Bejeweled on his iPhone in class has a study group? Um, can I sign up twice?”
You read that exchange and instantly understand her character.
What inspires your imagination?
I’m a kinetic thinker so long walks will usually jostle an idea or two out of me. I always seem to solve narrative problems while in the shower or doing the dishes. Having a dog might help? I don’t have a dog, so that’s purely speculative.
Also, if I’m in a creative rut, good joke writing will rattle me out of it. I remember being compelled to write after watching certain episodes of Playing House, New Girl, Community, Shrink, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Do you have a preferred genre you write in?
I love hangout comedies: New Girl, Happy Endings, etc. A lot of my scripts tend to center around a character who falls from grace and is forced to start over in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. I’m also a sucker for an “unflappable optimist who’s in way over their head” story.
How do you train to improve your writing craft?
I just keep writing new scripts. That’s a boring answer, but it’s the only way to improve.
Do you have any mentors, heroes/ heroines?
There a ton of TV writers I admire — Megan Amram, David Caspe, Julieanne Smolinski, Liz Meriwether, Michael Schur, Joe Mande, Megan Ganz — to name a few.
Honestly, the person who’s helped my career the most is my mom. I’m not just saying that because I assume any potential dates who google me will stumble upon this interview. I’ve had some success, but I’ve also faced over a decade of near-constant rejection. I persevered because I’m lucky enough to have an incredibly encouraging group of family and friends who unflinchingly support me, who always speak in terms of when and not if I’ll “make it.” My mom’s my biggest fan and that unconditional support is a huge motivator, especially when I don’t feel like writing.
Also, The Rock, obviously.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?
Here are a few tips that have helped me over the past few years:
1. FIRST DRAFTS ARE SUPPOSED TO SUCK.
The stuff you’re seeing on TV has been rewritten multiple times by multiple professionals. First drafts are meant to suck, but with every rewrite, it gets a little better.
2. It’s 100% normal to want to throw your script into the nearest junkyard.
I’ve wanted to quit every single script I’ve ever worked on. Writing is 98% frustration and 2%… slightly less frustration. The idea of starting something new is always more alluring than the reality of continuing a work in progress.
3. Write forward.
Stuck on a joke? Just type JOKE TBD and move the hell on. The most important thing is to write forward and finish your first draft. Don’t waste your time on something you’re going to end up changing 1,000 times.
4. Cut yourself some slack.
Just, you know, in general.
[woocommerce_products_carousel_all_in_one template="compact.css" all_items="88" show_only="id" products="" ordering="random" categories="115" tags="" show_title="false" show_description="false" allow_shortcodes="false" show_price="false" show_category="false" show_tags="false" show_add_to_cart_button="false" show_more_button="false" show_more_items_button="false" show_featured_image="true" image_source="thumbnail" image_height="100" image_width="100" items_to_show_mobiles="3" items_to_show_tablets="6" items_to_show="6" slide_by="1" margin="0" loop="true" stop_on_hover="true" auto_play="true" auto_play_timeout="1200" auto_play_speed="1600" nav="false" nav_speed="800" dots="false" dots_speed="800" lazy_load="false" mouse_drag="true" mouse_wheel="true" touch_drag="true" easing="linear" auto_height="true"]