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Emmy-winning screenwriter opens latest IAS Film Series installment

By Rebecca Missel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 24, 2000
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Award-winning creator of "The Cosby Show" and writer for "The Partridge Family," "Taxi" and "War of the Roses" returned home to a small gathering of aspiring screenwriters Friday afternoon.

Before Danny DeVito's private jet even arrived in Tucson, Media Arts and Creative Writing students met with Michael Leeson in the Swede Johnson Building, 1111 N. Cherry St., where the writer discussed the finer points of his craft.

"I don't consider myself an artist, or even a writer," he said. "A screenwriter is like a carpenter, and I don't have many ideas of my own. I get hired to make other people's ideas."

As easy as he made it out to be, Leeson demonstrated the amount of work every time he writes for the screen.

"I sit there every day for five to six hours, no matter what. And whatever comes out, comes out. I don't wait for inspiration," he said. "Once you feel like you know what you're doing, then you're finished."

Leeson made his appearance both at Swede Johnson and later at the International Arts Society Film Series as a favor to his former professor , IAS Director Charles Scruggs.

He graduated from UA in 1969 with an English degree and later went to UCLA for more personal reasons.

"[I went] because I was in love with some girl," he said.

Needless to say, their romance did not work out.

But one day on the way to his Anglo-Saxon literature class, Leeson's life changed forever.

"Someone dropped a postcard into my backpack, advertising a contest - the winner got to be a copywriter for two months. I thought, 'What a great way to make a living,'" he said.

Success continued when he wrote an Emmy-award winning teleplay for "Taxi." He then met DeVito and "War of the Roses" producer James L. Brooks.

"I was pushed along by a current that I didn't plan on," he said. "But it never makes sense, so much of life out there is illusionary. No one can figure anything out."

Leeson also told students about the difficulties of breaking into the film industry.

"It's hard to get through if you don't have mainstream sensibilities. Now it's loosening up, especially with digital streaming and the Internet; everyone is going to become a filmmaker," he said. "There are going to be a lot more movies, and a lot are going to be bad, but the cream will rise to the top."

Leeson called "War of the Roses" his best working experience and his most rewarding because "the whole process was enlightening," and allowed him to look at the events occurring in his own life.

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