In the Spotlight: Jeff Naparstek
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
Jeff is a natural storyteller and entertainer. Like the proclaimers of old, he will regale you with awe and spectacle as you engage in conversation that will become a cherished memory. It’s only natural that Jeff has found his way to screenwriting. Here he is able to put his strengths to work and is finding success as nominations and wins are stacking up for his screenplays. I am very pleased to introduce you to this chronicler of comedy.
This is Jeff Naparstek…
I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx which gives me dual citizenship. (I needed shots and a passport to cross the Kosciusko Bridge.) As far back as second grade, I became the class clown and have reveled in creating laughter ever since.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
That was a process. It began with wise-cracks and eventually graduated to sketch comedy, then, attempting existing half-hour sitcom and eventually, feature scripts. I never realized at the time when writing a spec script for a TV show that by the time it aired, it had probably been written six months or longer in advance. Characters grow and change or may be completely eliminated. It was then I focused on creating my own ideas and moved up to screenplays. (I'd also be free of being constrained by network protocols.)
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
I'd written a spec script for M*A*S*H a million years ago (when the Dead Sea wasn't even sick yet). A few weeks after I'd finished the script, Frank Burns was replaced by Winchester. He was a completely different character and there was a different dynamic between him, Hawkeye, BJ and Houlihan. It was the quintessential example of being out of the proverbial loop.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
That's a tough one. Initially, myself. I had to have enough confidence to put pen to paper and take it to completion. Sometimes, I'd let friends read my stuff. And sometimes they were critical, but always supportive and honest.
I got a big boost when a writing sample I'd submitted to SNL ended up on a show. It proved that I knew how to write comedy. For the past few decades, my wife has been my rock in that department.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
That occurred when I realized that writing for TV might not be the direction I wanted. With an original screenplay feature, I'd have a lot more freedom with characters and content.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I'm already successful. My wife helped me in that area. I have a great marriage, a wonderful kid (she's grown now) and we're comfortable. Not rich, but comfortable. And, as they pointed out in Barton Fink, I can always keep writing.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life
I'm usually up around 5 - 5:30 in the morning. I grab a cup of coffee, (Decaf. You don't want to see me on caffeine) sometimes two or three then do some writing.
If I hit a stumbling block, I'll empty the dishwasher or cut the lawn or do some errands and try to clear my head.
My wife and I have a multitude of food tastes. (She was a Food Stylist. I consider her caliber on a par with a great chef. I eat well! [And it looks great!]) At night, I sleep (or try to). If I get an idea, I bolt out of bed and write it down.
It even inspired a joke: A screenwriter would always figure out plot problems in his sleep but never remember them the next morning. He decides to keep a pencil and paper next to his bed in the event of future revelations. He wakes in the middle of the night, solving a big plot point and scrambles for the pencil and paper. He goes back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that his nocturnal mind has helped. In the morning, he scrambles for the pad to see his stroke of genius. It reads, "Don't forget to finish the screenplay."
Q: Define a successful day?
A successful day is when I wake up on the right side of the grass.
Q: What's the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Q: What's the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Coming up with a novel plot idea. So much has been done, but the permutations for combining elements to create something new still exists. I keep looking, but they have lots of great hiding places.
Q: What's been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Asking my (then to be) wife for her phone number when I first met her. And her giving it to me.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I've already been benefiting from some of their feedback and input. How to tell a better, more engaging story, hopefully, infused with a lot of comedy. But my "circle of peers" increased exponentially when I went to Script Summit . Prior to that, I'd taken about a fifteen-year hiatus to festivals. Script Summit offered seminars and networking events. And I caught a very good vibe from that. (I guess my writing had improved over the years as I'd had two scripts make it to the Finals.) I'm very glad I went. I've met a bunch of great people!