Spec Spotlight: 'Fantasy Camp' Writer Sid Karger
June 12, 2019
What do you do if you grow up in the John Hughes suburbia of Chicago and you want to make movies? If you’re Sid Karger, you follow his footsteps… into advertising.
“I didn’t know anyone in film, so I didn’t know how to get into it,” Karger said, adding that he thought, “Oh, John Hughes was a copywriter in advertising and then he got into film. So I’ll do that!”
Karger wrote screenplays in his spare time until he was able to move to New York and break into the business by reading for production companies and making short films.
His comedy Fantasy Camp might share some sensibilities with a Hughes film. Karger’s spec script has Jennifer Garner attached to play a failed junior high drama teacher who decides to pursue her dreams and attend a Broadway camp for adults.
The musical comedy will feature original music as well as a few samplings of classic Broadway tunes, like “a really bad performance of Into the Woods.” There’s a common misconception that only writers with extensive musical training can write a musical. Karger asserts, “I could never write music. That’s like math to me.” Instead, he did what many screenwriters do: He wrote the musical number scenes and included sample lyrics, title, and theme of the songs. The project’s team is currently in the process of meeting with composers.
Karger loves writing lyrics, though he says it’s not his forte. But “I was writing parody songs in high school, passing it back and forth with friends. Famous songs that we would change the lyrics to about our classmates. So it’s something I’ve been doing.”
Karger sold the spec a year ago, and, as is normal in the infamous development process, a few attachments have already cycled through. Writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein are doing a polish on Karger’s script and, with Garner attached, hoping to shoot by fall. Though Hollywood is notorious for kicking writers off projects, Karger has already done one rewrite with them and is consulting on songwriters and other possible team members.
“I definitely am raising my hand a lot,” Karger said.
He credits his good relationships with producer Greg Silverman and his manager Adam Kolbrenner — who is also producing — for his continued involvement.
“But at the end of the day, there are only so many cooks that can make a good meal, and you leave it to the producers and the studios to steer the ship.”
Karger has plenty of directing experience himself. Besides contributing to Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update for years, he worked at Comedy Central, writing and directing promos and digital content. It was at Comedy Central that he realized that “I was writing for lots of different voices, for different shows. I was imitating Will Ferrell movies in the scripts that I was writing. And I decided it wasn’t really working. And so I decided to throw that away. Who am I? What is my voice? And what do I want to say?”
That decision led to a more personal spec script, Paper Airplane, which in turn led to representation, a coveted spot on the Black List, and open writing assignments.
“I quit the day job at Comedy Central, which I had for a few years,” Karger said, pausing.
“When I think about it, that sounds super crazy. Screenwriting is such a freelance life. You never know what’s going to come your way.”
Raised on The Second City and trained by The Annoyance Theater and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, Karger has a solid comedy foundation.
“But I love stuff that has drama within the comedy, so in the scenes you have hilarity in one second and then you’re crying in the next second. That is the ultimate tone that I go for. Now with Fantasy Camp, that’s opened up a new world of music.”
Projects in development include an adaptation of a book for middle schoolers, a biopic on film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, another biopic on Wanda Jackson (considered the first female rock and roll musician), and a musical dramedy television pilot. While juggling these diverse projects — all in various stages of development — he and his partner also have a six-month-old puppy who’s “very needy. And great.”
Karger’s advice for directors is straightforward: “Now with YouTube and everything online, get out there and make your own stuff.” He and a colleague did just that, shooting just six episodes with one camera and two people in a friend’s apartment, and got enthusiastic responses.
“For directors, it’s so easy to just shoot something, even on your phone, and just put it out there.”
For writers: Read everything.
“For me, it’s a constant battle of when I should be writing and when I should be consuming. I’m constantly watching every movie, every TV show, good and bad.”
He emphasizes, “It’s that old adage of just sit down and start writing. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Doctors don’t have doctor’s block, and nurses don’t have nurses’ block. You just have to sit in the chair, turn the faucet on, and start writing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. Just let it pour out so that you can create something great.”
Karger adds something specific to the usual introverted nature of the writer personality.
“I forced myself into any situation. Someone’s like, ‘You want to go to this thing?’ “Sure!” Because I realized I can use that for material.”
Some people have crazy, unique backgrounds to fuel their writing, he noted, like parents who are detectives or spies.
“Well, I don’t have that. So I have to go out and create those experiences for myself and not rely on my weird upbringing,” he said.
“The more experiences, the better; people you meet, all the characters you meet in your daily life.”
It’s all fodder for the next project, according to Karger.
Written by: Asmara BhattacharyaAsmara Bhattacharya is a produced screenwriter/playwright, script reader, and festival screener, with multiple placements at Final Draft, Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, and other competitions. A trusted sounding board and consultant for industry professionals, dedicated fans also caught her in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and NBC’s “The Night Shift” – for one glorious half-second each. More can be found on her website: www.dickflicks.net or follow her on Twitter @hotpinkstreak