Entertainment professionals Rachel Ramras, Larry Dorf and Hugh Davidson, known for comedy shows such as “Robot Chicken,” “Mike Tyson Mysteries” and “Nobodies,” recently gave some La Cañada High School students real-life advice on navigating the industry.
The latest program of the Young Filmmakers Association featured the three professionals discussing their various shows to a group of about 15 students.
Davidson told the youths that while writing for “Robot Chicken,” he realized that writing was more satisfying than being an actor.
“In acting, you have to wait for a lot of people to say yes,” Davidson said. “It’s a powerless position. Even for the most famous ones, they still have to wait for someone to call them. With writing, you can just do it. You’re in the young filmmakers club; you’re already on your way. You can make stuff on your own.”
Davidson, who worked at Warner Bros. animation, wrote for the animated sitcom “The Looney Tunes Show” with Ramras and Dorf that ran from 2011-14.
“We thought we would write sketches and stuff for these characters, but they had all these rules that the characters can’t hit each other … they had all these crazy rules that ruined it for us,” Davidson said.
Ramras said the show ended up becoming “our version of ‘Seinfeld’ with these Looney Tunes characters. If you guys liked it, you’re probably sophisticated, because I think we were writing it for older kids. But older kids don’t watch.”
Added Dorf: “We were writing what made us laugh.”
The experience helped the trio learn how to write for a sitcom, Davidson said, and they created “Mike Tyson Mysteries” for Adult Swim, and the show continues to run today.
The group also created the single-camera comedy series “Nobodies” which was on TV Land from 2017-18 and featured guest stars such as Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell and Maya Rudolph.
“Nobody watched it,” each member of the group said. The trio is currently working on an animated show for Fox, and Dorf described the process to the students.
“So we go in, we have the idea, and then we went in and we pitched it,” Dorf said. “They buy a script and we write the pilot script. And then they give us notes and you go back and forth. You address the notes and you do a few drafts of that. And if they like that, then they maybe want to shoot a pilot — sort of the second hurdle. If they still like it, they will pick it up to a series.”
Ramras said the details are important in writing dialogue. “We’ll spend 10 minutes on whether something should have a period or an exclamation mark,” she said. “It is those details that separate those things a million times and make it something more unique.”
A writer friend explained to Ramras that in a lot of writing, the characters overuse the word “besides.” “You’ll realize you’ve never said ‘besides,’” Ramras said. “No one talks like that. You should instead say, ‘Would a person say this?’ ‘Would I say this?’ ‘Is this how I would talk?’”
Hernandez, who acts professionally, said he began the club with the idea for LCHS students in grades 9-12 to learn and meet professional directors, writers and actors. The group had its first meeting in November.
“Maybe some of these people here don’t have much exposure to professionals,” Hernandez said. “What if I could bring them here and these kids could get to know what it’s like to be in the film industry?”
Hernandez said he now knows to put yourself out there and meet people to help you in your journey.
“It’s also another reason why I wanted to start this club … to get in touch with some other people,” Hernandez said. “There are so many other students around here whom I don’t know who I could make connections with.”
Club adviser Dan Yoder, who teaches American history and psychology at LCHS, said he had no interest in working in the industry, but he has enjoyed learning about the various topics. Yoder said actor Michael Gross, an LCF resident who starred in the NBC comedy “Family Ties” in the 1980s and the “Tremors” movies in the ’90s through the present, had spoken at the November and December meetings.
“I grew up with ‘Family Ties,’” Yoder said. “It was a trip for me to sit in here with Steven Keaton. I’m not from here … every now and then I get that I live in L.A.”
Yoder added he learned a lot from DreamWorks director and animator Tim Johnson, the father of Young Filmmakers Association treasurer Gage Johnson, at the group’s first event. The director discussed his process writing scripts and how to eliminate what isn’t needed.
“When I’m teaching, it’s the same kind of thing,” Yoder said. “You have to pick and choose. I’ve stolen some of his technique on that concept. I’ll go through my calendar and say, ‘Does this lesson really advance what I’m doing or is it something I just think is cool?’ If I think it’s just cool, maybe it’s time to dump it and move on.”
Sean Natarajan, 17, a junior at LCHS who attended the meeting, said, “They gave insights on what being in the entertainment field is actually like.” In particular, Natarajan said he enjoyed what the day-to-day experience was like for writers and how they generate their comedic ideas.
The group, which has about 25 people, has a YouTube channel (at youtube.com/channel/UC04abXxpLnSxHmPPIJW55tw) and there are plans to continue it next year, Hernandez said.
The next meeting, which is open to all students, will be held on Friday, April 12. Actor and director Brian Stepanek, known for Nickelodeon’s “Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn,” CBS’ “Young Sheldon” and the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life of Zach & Cody,” is scheduled to speak.