R. Lee Fleming Jr. [Interview]

We have a very cool interview for you fine Folks today here at Trainwreck’d Society. Today we are talking with a brilliant writer and producer of film and television, the wonderful R. Lee Fleming Jr.! There was a wonderful time in the late 90’s and early 00’s where the idea of turning Shakespeare and other pieces of classic literature into high school comedies and/or dramas. I absolutely loved this period. I loved it so much. From the John Leguizamo vehicle that was Romeo & Juliet (I know, that is not an appropriate way to describe the film, but I’m gonna do it!) to the Julia Stiles fronted O and 10 Things Hate About You (which was a Laris Oleynik vehicle, in my own opinion…fight me!), I loved them all. And today’s interview subject happened to be a man who brought us two of my favorite films of this era that were not previously mentioned, but were on par with, and possibly even better than, the films previously mentioned. Fleming gave us the absolutely incredible films we all know and love known as She’s All That and Get Over It. The first one being one of the most legendary films of this era, without question. The latter being an absolute perfect film in my opinion (and a wonderful Sisqo vehicle…yes, I will run with this bit FOREVER!).I was intrigued to learn a bit more about Lee and get his perspective on this time period, and what it was like to create a teenage based classic film. And in doing this I discovered that he not only worked on the legendary television series Friends right around the end of the series, but actually has a wonderful Hulu Original series coming very soon that I am so damn excited about called Light As A Feather, which will premiere on October 12th. I love this man’s body of work, and I am so excited to check out his new show that I am certain will be amazing.So Folks, please enjoy some wonderful words from the brilliant R. Lee Fleming Jr. right now! Enjoy!
When did you first discover that you had a talent for the world of storytelling? When did you decide that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling.  I think part of it is because my mom, a former elementary school teacher, read to me a ton when I was very little and encouraged me to be creative.  I still have cassette tapes of me at 5 or 6 putting on my own “radio” plays for which I’d written the scripts and played all the parts.  Then later, at St. John’s School in Houston, I had several really influential English teachers who were quite supportive of my creative writing pursuits.
So basically, I’ve had a lot of tremendous teachers in my life.  Also, I was completely mediocre in all my other subjects, so that contributed my love of storytelling, too, if only by default.

I didn’t decide that I might be able to make a career out of writing, though, until my senior year of college when everyone else was being accepted to med school or getting jobs on Wall Street and I took a playwriting class and thought, “Hmm… maybe this could be a thing I do for a living.”

What was the very first work in the world of film or television that you remember having released? Do you remember what you were doing when you learned that your work was coming to life? And do you remember how you felt at the time?
The first thing I had released… well, it wasn’t actually released, at least in the United States.  My first job out of the Warner Bros. Sitcom Writers Workshop was on a Friday night family sitcom called Meego starring Bronson Pinchot as an alien nanny.  We filmed 13 episodes.  I wrote episodes 11 and 13, but we were cancelled after episode 6.
The episodes still came out somewhere, though. I know I got a check from Bulgaria or someplace at come point.  And truthfully, it was so much fun seeing something I’d written being filmed in front of a studio audience that I didn’t really care that it was never released here.

I vividly remember the feeling of having actors — Bronson and Andrea Martin from SCTV were in the scene — delivering the very first joke I’d been paid to write.  It wasn’t a great joke, but it was definitely an exciting moment.  The punchline, as I recall, was “I left my shoes there.”  I’m not sure what the setup was.  Perhaps I’ve blocked it out.

The late 90’s and early 00’s were a definite heyday for the world of teen comedies, and you were right there in the center of it all with one of the most quintessential films of that era, with your work on the classic She’s All That. I’m curious to know how you managed to develop this story? Was anything in the film taken from personal experiences? Or was it a total outsider’s perspective?
I was hired to write She’s All That by a small company, Tapestry Films, who’d read the first screenplay I wrote (which I’d started writing in college) called Getting Over Allison (it later became the movie Get Over It). Clueless, which was based on Emma, had come out a couple of years earlier, and so lots of places were developing teen comedies based on classic literature. Tapestry had the idea of using Pygmalion, and so I just ran with that.

Yes, personal experiences always inform everything I do, and I’d imagine that’s usually the case with all writers.  I still find myself writing about my high school experiences today.

One thing that always fascinates me is the evolution of coming from the script to the page. And I always like to ask screenwriters about their thoughts of the final product that eventually makes it to screen. So with that, what were some things from your original story that may not have made it into She’s All That, but you wish had remained? And what were some things that were maybe added to the film that you believe aided your story?

It’s not always the case, but with She’s All That, the final product really closely resembled the movie I saw in my head as I was writing it.  I initially worked on the script for about a year, I think.  After that, M. Night Shyamalan came on and did a rewrite, which added a number of elements — including Zack’s hacky sack scene — that really added to the film.  After he did his pass, I got the script back and continued to rewrite all the way through production. I remember that Zack was originally a football player in the movie, which could have been interesting. But honestly, She’s All That, was one of those rare experiences when, at least in my opinion, all the best stuff actually stayed in.

Shortly after She’s All That was released, you began duties as a story editor on the wildly successful television series, Friends. The show had already been on for a while, and had become a staple in the world of television sitcoms. So, what was it like to walk into an already well established community of individuals, and joining them on their journey to create, and eventually wrap up, one of the most successful television series of all time? Was it a welcoming experience? And what exactly are the duties of a story editor, for those of us who are so uninformed?
A Story Editor is really just another fancy(ish) writing title, so there’s no actual editing done.  It’s a junior position, one level up from Staff Writer.

Coming to Friends Season 8 was a great experience, although it was also intimidating.  The writing staff was huge — 16 people, I think, and everyone was really, really good.  I’ve likened it in the past to getting called up by the Yankees.  Everything moved so fast!  Lots of incredibly funny people, which made it especially satisfying whenever I got a joke in.

When you look back on your career spanning over a couple of decades (with many more to come!), what are you the most proud of over all?
 I think I’m most proud of the fact that I’m still here doing it. I just feel incredibly grateful to still be making  a living as a writer.

We recently finished a new TV show for Hulu called Light As A Feather, and I’m as excited about that as I’ve been about anything so far in my career.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Oh, I guess I just mentioned it.  Light As A Feather — it’s fun, it’s soapy and it’s really, really scary!  Coming to Hulu this October!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Waking up this morning at 5 like I’ve been doing throughout production on LAAF, which just wrapped on Monday, and realizing I could sleep in for a change!

Check out the trailer for R. Lee Fleming’s new series, Light As A Feather, which premieres on Hulu on October 12th:

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

One Response to R. Lee Fleming Jr. [Interview]

  1. Peggy McCafferty Oxford says:

    You are a fabulously talented writer! The artistic world is so blessed to have you in it contributing!

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