Controversial screenwriters talk to media students today

By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, November 4, 2005

A pair of Hollywood screenwriters will be speaking with media arts students today about comedy, television and their unsold screenplay for a sitcom about terrorists in the heart of America.

Mark Jordan Legan and Mark Wilding began work on the screenplay, "The Cell," about a year ago, after Wilding was writing for the UPN action show "Jake 2.0" and lamented that the only politically correct villains left were terrorists.

"I said let's write a comedy about terrorists," Legan said. "We decided that the way in was to write about a terrorist cell in the Midwest that fall in love with America."

The script follows a sleeper cell of four Middle Eastern terrorists in Chicago who fall in love with American culture while trying to find a target to blow up. The characters include Abu, whose anti-American escapades are derailed by his passion for bowling, and Ahmed, who falls in love with a Jewish florist.

Legan said he and Wilding were well-aware of the delicate nature of the show's subject matter, but ultimately the show is a celebration of American culture, and it is important to find humor in everything.

"The whole point is that they're looking at our culture with fresh eyes," Legan said. "We were aware of the sensitivity of the topic, but I think society's got to be able to laugh at everything."

Kevin Sandler, a media arts professor who organized the event, said he was attracted to the writers and their controversial script after reading about "The Cell" in a September New York Times article.

"I thought it was a fascinating story about these comedy writers and we needed

someone who works in the industry to speak to the students," Sandler said. "We were curious about their story."

Legan and Wilding were a perfect addition to the list of colloquium speakers, which in the past have included film screenwriter Ted Griffin ("Matchstick Men" and "Ocean's 11") and managing editor of Daily Variety Michael Speier, Sandler said.

In addition to "The Cell," Legan has written for shows including "Dave's World," "Grace Under Fire" and "Cosby," and has a syndicated program on National Public Radio.

Lecture Today

The two writers will be speaking today from 11 a.m. to noon in the Louise F. Marshall building, Room 212. The event is free and open to all students, but seating is limited and students interested are advised to arrive early.

Wilding is a co-executive producer and writer for ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," and has written for the sitcoms "Ellen," "Caroline in the City," and "Working."

"They'll be talking about how to break into the business, what skills are needed for a TV writer and about trends in the industry," Sandler said. "They'll also be talking about their experiences and careers, particularly their work on 'The Cell.'"

The panel discussion is great opportunity for students eager to make careers for themselves in the fast-paced world of television, Sandler said.

"I just want to give (the students) a realistic sense of what it takes to make a living in Hollywood but still stay true to the stories you want to tell," Wilding said. "Sometimes you find a story you just won't let go of."

"The Cell" would certainly appear to be one of those stories.

Legan said he and Wilding knew that no one would want to put the show on TV, but he felt it was important to try.

"We wrote it just to write it, not to get it made. It made us laugh, and we were interested in writing satire," Legan said. "We knew that this would open doors for us in the feature (film) world."

Since completion of the script more than a year ago, Wilding and Legan have met with more than 50 networks and executives, including HBO, Comedy Central and the BBC, as well as filmmakers like the Farrelly Brothers.

While reactions to the script have generally been positive, no network or studio has agreed to finance the project.

"Everyone we've talked to about it has been very enthusiastic about the concept, then they ask us who's making it,' Wilding said. "We say 'it could be you,' but nobody seems willing to take a chance on it."

Wilding said he understands why networks and studios are reluctant to put money behind the project.

"I don't blame people for not wanting to do it. This is a business," Wilding said. "I'd make it into a movie myself if I had a couple million dollars lying around."

Legan and Wilding have taken a number of projects since completing "The Cell," including a comedy about the worst hospital in the world for New Regency Studios and a feature film about children's entertainers who double as burglars for Universal.

The pair is also speaking at the fall 2005 Producer's Colloquium, which is funded by the department of media arts, the College of Fine Arts Small Grants Program and the Hanson Film Institute, who contributed $500 to bring the writers to campus.

The discussion starts at 11 a.m. in the Louise F. Marshall building, Room 212.