From Script to Screen
“When I got out of college and got to Boston, in all honesty, I was super depressed. I was going to a job that I really hated every day. It was a perfectly good job, and I had a great relationship with my boss. I remember sitting with him one day and I said, ‘Paul, is this all there is in life? You just go to a job you hate until you die?’ He looked at me and responded, ‘Yeah, Kate, that’s what you do. That’s what adults do.’ I was so bummed out, and ended up realizing, there must be more.”
And for comedian Kate Duffy ’87, there was more. After countless prank calls to Saturday Night Live, asking how to get on the show, Duffy left her corporate job to follow her dreams. With very little belongings in tow, she moved to Chicago and started taking classes at Second City the day her plane landed. Since 1959, Second City is the world’s premier comedy club, comedy theater, and school of improvisation, producing legendary comics like Gilda Radner, Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray, Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler—just to name a few.
Duffy emphasizes, “All my favorites had gone through Second City, and I knew I had to get myself to Chicago so I could start studying there. I fell in love, I met my people, I knew immediately I was supposed to be doing this.”
Duffy began working for the Second City Network, the famed comedy institution’s satirical website, and was responsible for writing and performing her own projects. Duffy’s writing is inspired by human behavior, and she often tries to incorporate elements of people she knows into the characters she creates.
She says, “I always fall in love with my characters a bit. I love creating these worlds and these people, and figuring out how they move and what they learn. That to me is so fun.”
Character development is something Duffy first learned in English class at Tabor.
“I had some really great English teachers at Tabor. Mr. Manning was somebody who loved to talk about meaning, characters, and themes. When I think back on that, it really helped me think about characters deeply, and the levels and layers of people’s behaviors,” she reflects.
Duffy continued to strengthen her writing skills and scriptwriting knowledge while working alongside talented friends and writing partners at Second City. She created web series and TV pilots, in addition to the sketches she wrote for stage. After several years in Chicago, she was approached by a woman looking to start a comedy network in Los Angeles. Once again, Duffy headed west. This time, however, she was traveling with years of experience and original scripts in her portfolio.
Unfortunately, the woman’s comedy network never came to fruition, but that did not stop Duffy from pursuing a career in the entertainment industry.
“While I was in LA for ten years, I started writing more and more comedy half hours and movies, and got a couple of them sold. We sold one to NBCUniversal. My husband and I wrote another that won Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest; we sold that to ABC Studios,” says Duffy.
While staffed at Netflix on the show Project Mc², Duffy sent her script, “Faculty Lounging,” to friend Brian Gallivan, who created the sitcom The McCarthy’s. Though she did not get the job with Gallivan, Duffy was reinspired by her script and found a different home for it. Using her connections in the industry, she learned of a group inspired by a tax incentive to create a film and television industry in Oklahoma. It was time for Duffy to board a plane once again—this time to an old middle school-turned-studio in Oklahoma.
Duffy explains, “My friend sent them my script, they picked it to shoot, and we came out to work on this pilot a couple years ago. They asked to make more stuff with us, so we moved to Oklahoma in 2021 to do just that. That’s the thing with writers, you’re always hustling for your next job.”
Her next job in the industry would be a different role than actor or writer, however. In Oklahoma, Duffy met another group of people from Los Angeles, and they created a production company called, “3 Card Build.”
Today, Duffy is producing a space comedy that her husband wrote. They are filming in a special effects studio in Oklahoma that uses technology featured in shows like The Mandalorian to create realistic worlds. According to Duffy, her experience producing has been very different from writing and performing. For example, there are a lot of project management tasks that come with making a movie—budgets, deadlines, leading, and maintaining a fine-tuned team. While her new role requires Duffy to wear many hats, she has found several benefits to producing, like being part of an ensemble. “Unless you have a writing partner, writing can be incredibly isolating. I love the creative process, but it’s nice to work as part of a team,” she continues, “Producing is new to me. It’s nice to be working with people who know more than me; I am learning a ton just from being around them.”
For Duffy, the most rewarding part of her production experience has been seeing her words come to life. She recognizes that even the most talented and successful writers often do not see their projects made.
“I am really excited for the movie I am working on to take shape and find its way into living rooms and theaters. I find myself in the ‘fingers-crossed phase’ a lot in the entertainment industry, so I’m hopeful I will have announcements soon,” says Duffy.