The most common advice given to screenwriters is “write what you know,” which is just what Nick Nicotera and Dossett Marchese did. Nick is a die-hard video game enthusiast who was once a game tester for Activision and has attended the E3 video game conference every year since he was 15. Dossett is a casual gamer whose first job was working for a video store in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.
Together they combined their life experiences and love of video games to collaborate on Press Start to Continue, the latest comedy series to be optioned by Amazon Studios.
Nick describes Press Start to Continue as a workplace sitcom about six employees at a video store. “The lead character inherits the store unwillingly when the owner dies abruptly.” Dossett adds: “It’s a struggle between wanting to keep the store for his friends, and wanting to keep it open while the economy is bad … and following these characters throughout that and always struggling to keep it open.”
We spoke to Nick and Dossett about their characters and show and the challenges of writing comedy.
Where did the idea for this series come from?
NICK: This started as an independent film and wanted to make it Clerks meets Empire Records. So he and I were at some Mom and Pop video game shop in the [San Fernando] Valley. We walked in and had conversations with people and were browsing through all the retro games and then looked at each other and said “this is the location we should be doing.” We were growing and growing with it, rehashing stuff and tearing it apart and cutting characters and thought that this might work better as a series. The story can be continuous instead of being one overlying conflict and have it done with and what if this was revisited weekly.
We tried to do a very non-linear story arc where you can pick up in any episode kind of like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Workaholics and it’s more character based where the store is a character itself.
You don’t seem to pull any punches with your humor. When you’re writing, do you consider anything off limits?
NICK: We go full throttle. We very rarely censor ourselves.
Tell us about your characters.
DOSSETT: Our lead character Nick is definitely a focal point. He’s struggling to become a leader and to make sure things are always right for his friends and for the store, and sometimes things may get clouded and take him off that path. He’s like, late 20s/early 30s just trying to figure out what he’s going to do with his life.
NICK: He definitely grows as a character as he can’t just be one of the employees anymore that can just spit out jokes and walk away from a situation with no repercussions because it’s his responsibility. He definitely struggles with growth through the first season as he tries to become a leader which he miserably fails at in the beginning because the other employees don’t respect him at all.
DOSSETT: Andy is Nick’s best friend. They grew up together and always have this hidden struggle with one another because Andy always feels that he could run the store better but they are best friends so they make good teammates.
NICK: Dossett – who is named after him – is the bartender and he’s like the jock and we call him a typical 1980s antagonist. He’s like Johnny from The Karate Kid. He’s kind of in-your-face all the time and has a big mouth on him. He’s always cornering his cousin with business ventures that don’t seem like they would pan out too well.
What’s the biggest challenge in writing comedy?
NICK: For me personally it’s not forcing a callback. The rule is that jokes come in threes and we’ll always try to bring the callback in but we don’t want it to be generic and forced upon the audience. We want it to have a good flow and want it to come out of nowhere. We don’t want to see it coming – the anticipation of the audience is probably the hardest part about writing comedy especially because people have grown up watching numerous sitcoms and even an audience member that’s not knowledgeable about writing can adapt and feel the formula even if it’s subconscious
DOSSETT: Also reassuring ourselves that we are still being funny because we could be sitting here laughing our asses off and little do we know that someone could look at it and think “that’s not funny”
How does your writing partnership work?
NICK: We give each other homework and we’ll say brainstorm this for our next session together or brainstorm a couple of ideas for this circumstance. Basically what we do is we switch off from the keyboard and one of us paces around the room talking with the other one chiming in and then we switch out and we may have a cigarette, then we come back in and have like 3 diet Mountain Dews. When we’re joke writing we like to run the dialogue with each other so we’ll go back and forth and run the dialogue and be like that’s pretty weak right there we can do better so let’s punch up this joke so we might sit for like a half an hour and completely flesh out the joke.
DOSSETT: And being really close friends and knowing each other for a long time definitely helps because we know each other’s humor and we also know he might say something and we know it’s almost there we never feel embarrassed to go to each other “it’s not there” or “that’s not funny” and then we play with it and then it’s like “that’s it…we got it.”
- Sean Wicks