February 23, 2020

Screenwriter Ed Solomon’s Excellent Adventure

By the time Ed Solomon was 21, while he was still a student at UCLA, he was a staff writer on the ABC sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” — and at the time, the youngest member of the Writers Guild. He went on to become a staff writer and producer on Showtime’s “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” an early cable hit that was often experimental and groundbreaking in its approach to television comedy.

With writing partner Chris Matheson, Solomon developed the characters Bill and Ted, first as an improv sketch and then in the film “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” The film put them on the map as studio feature screenwriters. As a solo screenwriter, Solomon entered the A-List with the script for “Men in Black,” setting his signature style of visually innovative, intelligent, character-based comedy.

In 2016, Solomon turned to drama, teaming with director Steven Soderbergh and HBO for the original interactive long-form branching narrative “Mosaic,” starring Sharon Stone, which was released first as an app in November, and then as a limited-run series on HBO in January.

Solomon, 57, currently is writing a second project in the branching narrative format for producers Soderbergh and Casey Silver.

Jewish Journal: How did you find the transition from TV sit-com writing to feature film writing?

Ed Solomon: The same thing Garry Shandling taught me when I wrote on his sitcom also applies to feature films — always make sure you’re writing from truth — that you’re clear about the internal truth of whatever the project is and that you are faithful to that truth. What is this story about at its deepest level? What is its organic DNA?

JJ: How do you feel your Judaism has influenced your work and/or your life?

ES: I think the combination of our Jewish shared history of sadness and loss, displacement, cultural identification no matter where you are geographically, and sense of humor has deeply informed my work, life and sense of empathy, along with a willingness to find joy in life, joy in pain.

I remember [actor] Tommy Lee Jones being very unhappy with me, saying, “It’s either comedy or science fiction; make up your mind.” — Ed Solomon

JJ: What stands out about your “Men in Black” experience?

ES: Initially, it was a comic book. I struggled for a while trying to find an angle on it until I came up with this idea — what if the tabloids were actually all correct and that’s how the aliens communicated with each other? Suddenly, I had the key and the tone for the piece. And at that point, that world started to open up and become very fun. And yet, I remember [actor] Tommy Lee Jones being very unhappy with me, saying, “It’s either comedy or science fiction; make up your mind.”

JJ: How did you come to be involved with Steven Soderbergh and “Mosaic”?

ES: Four years ago, Steven approached, wanting to experiment with this branching form. We’d been friends and he knew that I’m always interested in trying to do new things. We share the belief that one of the ways to have a vital and long career is to keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. We decided a small-town murder mystery might be a good first start.

JJ: Any fond memories as a writer?

ES: One was staying up till 2 a.m. in my dorm to watch Jimmie Walker perform one of my jokes on “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.” The other was Barack Obama using a line I wrote during the 2008 campaign.

JJ: Any hobbies or interests outside of show biz?

ES: I’m a parent of two children whose lives are endlessly fascinating. I do volunteer work on weekends. I love music, reading, meditation, playing sports when I can and travel. I’m interested in every moment of my life. But, honestly, I’m so fascinated by the writing process that I don’t feel I need another hobby to make my life feel fun.

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written for a number of sitcoms.