The general rule for short films is that they’re 40 minutes in length or less. In a short film festival, like Aspen Shortsfest, they can be as brief as two minutes, and the films usually have a storyline, along with a beginning, middle and end.
That means it’s relatively natural for a screenwriter to understand and appreciate the short film process.
“We often look at episodes as movies, so it’s not foreign to us at all,” says Andrew Schneider. He and his wife, Diane Frolov, are award-winning screenwriters, known for their co-authoring work on television shows such as “AlienNation,” “Northern Exposure,” and “The Sopranos.”
And yes, they actually write side-by-side.
“We literally sit down and work out everything together,” says Schneider. “But we didn’t start out writing together. We were married for eight years, and then hired to write for the same show, which was ‘AlienNation.’”
That was 1988, and the couple has been a penning pair ever since. They won a Writers Guild and an Emmy award for producing HBO’s show “The Sopranos.” They co-created and produced Showtime’s “The Chris Isaak Show” and WB’s “Easy Money,” and most recently co-produced “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO.
“We allow two brains to work together,” says Schneider, as Frolov chimes in adding “and we really enjoy it.”
Both have backgrounds in theater but weren’t necessarily planning to go into screenwriting. Frolov received her MFA in playwriting from the University of California at Los Angeles, but also studied screenwriting. She graduated with a couple of scripts and a play, and the scripts landed her a role in TV.
Schneider was an actor with a literature background from the University of California at Berkeley. When that didn’t pan out, he wanted another creative outlet and found screenwriting as well.
Though it was unknown to them at the time, they both studied acting at HB Studios in New York City, but didn’t meet until years later.
“Because we both had acting training,” he says, “we knew how to develop a scene. We know how it arcs and how it progresses, and that’s a very important part of screenwriting.”
They will appear in a panel discussion that’s part of Aspen Film’s Shortfest called “Seriously: Writing Drama for Television.” Joining them are Dana Barrata, a writer for “Dawson’s Creek,” “Red Widow,” and the movie “Andre,” as well as Eric Overmyer, who won an Edgar and Writers Guild award for “The Wire,” and has also written for “Treme” and “Law and Order.”
Together, they’ve all contributed to major pop culture, and had to do it repeatedly, week after week. Like writing a short film, TV scripts beg the audience to return each week for more of the story and it’s these writers jobs to make sure they do.
“We have trouble writing an email or a birthday card,” says Frolov. And she may only partially be joking.
As writers develop, obvious talents appear. Clearly for these two, their gift lies in screenwriting.
“I wanted to be a novelist a long time ago,” adds Schneider. “I started writing a book, and realized I didn’t have that facility.”
Fortunately, the short-film genre and TV opened its doors.
“Writing Drama for Television” takes place Saturday, April 13, at 3:30 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House.
Seriously: Writing Drama for Television
Presented by Aspen Film and the Writers Guild Foundation
Saturday, April 13, 3:30 p.m.
Wheeler Opera House
$10, $8 for REEL members