Breaking into show business Two local writers head for the Coast for a shot at the big time

December 03, 1990|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

EUNETTA BOONE and Karen Raper came to the Baltimore building that houses the Maryland Film Commission last spring to pick up an application for the Warner Bros. Comedy Writing Workshop. In the elevator, they came up with the idea for the sitcom script they would submit as their application.

Both the 35-year-old Boone and the 37-year-old Raper had recently moved back in with their parents. So they wrote a comedy about a family whose older kids return to the nest.

It got them chosen as two of the 17 writers who participated in the one-week workshop held in May. And now that idea's going to let them leave home again.

Warner Bros. has chosen Boone and Raper for a 10-week comedy writing workshop that's held in Los Angeles every year. They will head west in mid-January with the production company picking up their costs while on the Coast.

And there is a distinct possibility that full-time employment could result. Warner Bros. conducts the 10-week workshop every year, and the majority of the participating writers find work on the company's sitcoms, which range from "Murphy Brown" to "Night Court," or on other shows around town.

The two Washington natives and former journalists -- Boone spent six years at The Evening Sun as a sportswriter, Raper was a newscaster for Howard University's WHUR -- have no doubts about moving back home any time soon.

"We're not coming back after 10 weeks," Raper said. "We'll bout there for the rest of '90 and all of '91 for sure, maybe '92."

And after that, she was talking about being so established that they could move somewhere else and continue to write scripts.

"We're just both confident people," Boone said. "I set out to be a reporter for a newspaper and I accomplished that. I set out to be an award-winning sports reporter and I accomplished that. I see no reason we can't accomplish this."

Though six months ago, the two bought a book on writing television scripts so they could make their submission to the workshop, both now talk as knowledgeable critics of shows on the air.

"We both watch a lot of television," Boone said. "We grew up on it.

"I'd much rather hear that one of our scripts needed punching up, needed some new gags, than hear it needed better characters or a stronger story," Raper said of the work they plan to do. "That's what's important to me."

"We're both products of the civil rights era," Boone said. "We didn't get this because we're black, this wasn't a minority search. We got it because we were educated, we were ready and we had the ability.

"But we know a lot of people shed a lot of blood and sweat so we could be in this position. So, while we can write about Jewish families or Italian families or whatever, we'll feel a special HTC responsibility if we ever get the chance to write about a black family. We would love to have an opportunity to show the wide smorgasbord of the black experience in this country."

"We hadn't planned to do this," Warner Bros. executive Gus Blackmon said of inviting participants in the Baltimore workshop -- the first held outside of Los Angeles -- to participate in the 10-week session.

"But higher-ups in the company decided that this would show we are serious about these workshops."

Blackmon said that Boone and Raper were the two chosen not just because of their writing ability and their dedication to that craft, but also because of the way they participated in the workshop.

"Writing comedy is a collaborative process and we liked the way they worked around the table, helping the other writers, coming up with ideas," he said. "You've got to show that you can take criticism and direction, to realize that it's not your show, it's the executive producer's show, and that if he wants something, you can deliver it."

He emphasized that Boone and Raper don't have guaranteed jobs at the end of the 10 weeks, but that the workshop is invaluable for making contacts.

"This means they're not knocking on the door, it puts them in the room," he said.

When Warner Bros. conducted the Baltimore workshop in May, it was considered an experiment. But it went so well -- more than 400 scripts were submitted in a very short time -- that another will be held early in the year in Boston. The company hopes to return to this area in the spring and move into the Midwest in 1992.

"We look at it as a farm system," Blackmon said, noting that several other writers from the Baltimore workshop secured agents and at least one has moved to Los Angeles.

"It costs some money, but if we find a writer who develops a hit comedy that goes into syndication you're talking about $500 million to $1 billion in gross revenue. So the potential payoff is enormous."

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