Top 15 Television Showrunner Writing Podcasts

Behind every great television or streaming show, show lives a showrunner running the creative and business journey. Below are some of the top showrunners working in television. In these interviews, they discuss how they got their start, what they look for in a writer for their writer’s room, and how to navigate the politics of television and imposter syndrome. If you want to work as a writer in television, then these conversations are must listen to. Enjoy!

David Chase (Showrunner of The Sopranos)

The legacy of the crime drama television series, The Sopranos, remains a defining art of storytelling for mob TV shows. We have the genius behind this hit TV series, David Chase as our guest today.

As expected, Chase is a twenty-five-time Emmy Awards-winner, seven times Golden Globes winner, and highly acclaimed producer, writer, and director. His forty-year career in Hollywood has contributed immensely to the experience of quality TV.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Chase, let’s do a brief of the HBO 1999 hit show, The Sopranos: Produced by HBO, Chase Films, and Brad Grey Television, the story ran for six seasons, revolving around Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini, a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster, portraying the difficulties that he faces as he tries to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization.

Marta Kauffman (Showrunner of Friends, Gracie and Frankie)

Marta Kauffman is an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television writer, producer and showrunner behind the hit series Friends and Grace & Frankie. After graduating from Brandeis University, Kauffman got her big break alongside David Crane when their pilots Dream On (1990) and The Powers That Be (1992) were greenlit. The pair then launched Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions with Kevin Bright and became the trio that created the iconic sitcom Friends.

He next project, Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston premiered on Netflix in 2015 and is Netflix’s longest-running original ever. The series has received multiple Emmy and SAG nominations and is premiering the final episodes of its seventh and last season later this year. In 2018, the company produced the documentary Seeing Allred, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.

Danny Strong (Showrunner of Empire, Dopestick)

Danny started his career as an actor in numerous classic films and TV shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, then transitioned into screenwriting, exploding onto the scene with his 2007 script Recount which was #1 on the Hollywood Blacklist and became an award winning HBO Film.

Since then he has become a prolific film and TV writer, director and producer, garnering numerous awards for various projects, including two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two WGA awards, a PGA Award, and the Peabody Award.

Through out his career he has shown a wide range and versatility moving between mediums and genres with films like the political docudramas Recount and Game Change, the civil rights epic The Butler and the big budget action blockbusters Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part I and II).

He co-created the smash hit TV show Empire which won him the NAACP Image Award and he produced the civil rights drama The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. He has also written numerous theater projects having made his theatrical debut with a new book to the musical Chess that premiered at the Kennedy Center.

Steven Kane (Showrunner of The Last Ship, Halo)

Steven Kane got his start in the entertainment industry writing and directing independent film and theater. His first feature film, The Doghouse, won Best Director at the NY Indy Film Festival. His collection of One Act plays, Out of Your Mind, had a successful run in Los Angeles at the GuerriLA Theater.

His television credits as a writer and producer include The Closer (for which he received an Edgar Nomination), Major Crimes, Alias, NCIS, and Without a Trace, as well as comedies American Dad and Curb Your Enthusiasm. From 2012-2018, he served as Creator, Executive Producer, and show runner of TNT’s The Last Ship, a post-apocalyptic drama based on William Brinkley’s novel of the same name.

In 2019, it was announced that Steven would join the HALO series at Showtime as Showrunner, Head Writer, and Executive Producer.

Daniel Knauf (Showrunner of Carnivale, The Blacklist)

Daniel Knauf had a couple of small credits to his name—a TV movie here, a stint on Wolf Lake there—when he managed to sell the intricate Great Depression-era genre show Carnivale to HBO.

The series, an intricate blend of meticulously researched period detail and secret-history fantasy, purported to tell the tale of what happened when the last two “Avatars”—superpowered beings of light and darkness—met in the United States on the eve of World War II. The series attracted a cult audience that remains devoted to this day, but a mass audience wasn’t sure what to make of the program, and HBO canceled it after two seasons, saying the show’s story was finished, in spite of Knauf’s plan for a six-season run.

Edward Zwick (Showrunner of Thirtysomething)

We have been on a major roll lately on the podcast and this episode keep that going in a big way. Our guest on the show today is writer, producer, and director Edward Zwick. Edward made his big shift from his childhood passion of theater to filmmaking after working as a PA for Woody Allenin France on the set of Love and Death. He then moved to California in the summer of 1976 and has since forged a respected name for himself in Hollywood.

Edward Zwick is a multiple Academy AwardGolden Globes, and BAFTA award-winning director, writer, and producer.

Marshall Herskovitz (Showrunner of Nashville)

Our guest today is producer, director and screenwriter Marshall Herskovitz. Many of his production projects have been in partnership with his long-time filmmaking collaborator, Edward Zwick whose films, he’s produced and written half of. Their decades-long filmmaking partnership was launched as co-creators of the 1987 TV show, ThirtySomething.

Now, Marshall had already written for the TV show, Family, in 1976. So his understanding of TV was pivotal in the success of ThirtySomething.

Other projects he’s credited for executive producing or creating include Traffic (2000), The Last Samurai (2003), Nashville (TV show 2016), Blood Diamond, and Women Walks Ahead(2017), starring the incomparable, Jessica Chastain.

Steve DeKnight (Showrunner of Marvel’s Daredevil, Spartacus)

Showrunning is a mysterious art form to many so I wanted to bringing he someone who can shine a light on what it takes to be one. Today on the show we have powerhouse show runner, writer, director, producer, and all-around good guy Steven DeKnight. Best known for his work across the action, drama, and sci-fi genres on TV shows like SmallvilleSpartacusDaredevilBuffy the Vampire SlayerAngeland Jupiter’s Legacy.

Realizing his strengths early on in his career, Steven is a jack-of-all-trades who studied acting at the onset of film school transitioned through to writing, playwright, and screenwriting. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was his big break – starting off as writer and story editor on the show, DeKnight went on to produce 42 episodes of the Spin-off show, Angel.

Mick Garris (Showrunner of Masters of Horror, Fear Itself)

I am extremely excited to have on the show today a fellow podcaster, established producer, director, and writer, Mick Garris. Mick’s podcast, Post Mortem with Mick Garrisdives deep into the devious minds of the greatest filmmakers and creators of your worst nightmares to bring their distinctive visions to life in fascinating one-on-one conversations. 

He’s renowned for his classic screen adaptation of Stephen King’s books like Sleepwalkers (1992), The Shinning and The Stand. and creator of 2005, Masters of Horror series.

Edward Burns (Showrunner of Public Morals, Bridge and Tunnel)

Today’s guest is a writer, director, producer, actor, and indie filmmaking legend, Edward Burns. Many of you might have heard of the Sundance Film Festival-winning film called The Brothers McMullen, his iconic first film that tells the story of three Irish Catholic brothers from Long Island who struggle to deal with love, marriage, and infidelity. His Cinderella story of making the film, getting into Sundance, and launching his career is the stuff of legend.

Ed jumped into television with the Spielberg-produced TNT drama Public Morals, where he wrote, directed, and starred in every episode.

Set in the early 1960s in New York City’s Public Morals Division, where cops walk the line between morality and criminality as the temptations that come from dealing with all kinds of vice can get the better of them.

His latest project is EPIX’s Bridge and Tunnel is a dramedy series set in 1980 that revolves around a group of recent college grads setting out to pursue their dreams in Manhattan while still clinging to the familiarity of their working-class Long Island hometown. He also pulls writing, producing, and directing duties for all the episodes.

VJ Boyd (Showrunner Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector)

Today on the show we have television writer and showrunner VJ Boyd. VJ is a producer and writer, best known for his work on the critically acclaimed  Justified (2010), the CBS smash hit S.W.A.T. (2017) and creator of Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (2020).

Barry Sonnenfeld (Showrunner of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, or simply A Series of Unfortunate Events, sometimes also shortened to just ASOUE, is an American black comedy-drama streaming television series from Netflix, developed by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfeld, based on Lemony Snicket’s children’s novel series of the same name.

Michael Jamin (Showrunner of Glenn Martin DDS, Maron, and Rhett & Link’s Buddy System)

Today on the show we have writer and showrunner Michael Jamin. Michael has been writing for television since 1996.  His many credits include Just Shoot Me, King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Out of Practice, Rules of Engagement, Lopez and Tacoma FD.

He’s also served as Executive Producer/Showrunner on Glenn Martin DDS, Maron, and Rhett & Link’s Buddy System. Michael currently lives in Los Angeles where he’s working on a collection of personal essays to be released in 2020.

Erik Bork (Band of Brothers, From Earth to the Moon)

Today on the show we have screenwriter and producer Erik Bork. Erik Bork is a screenwriter best known for his work on the HBO miniseries Band of BrothersFrom the Earth to the Moon, for which he wrote multiple episodes, and won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as part of the producing team.

Erik has also sold series pitches (and written pilots) at NBC and FOX, worked on the writing staff for two primetime dramas, and written feature screenplays on assignment for companies like Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone. He teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension, National University, and The Writers Store, and offers one-on-one consulting to writers.

Screenwriting Books You Need To Read – Top Ten List

1) Screenplay by Syd Field

Hollywood’s script guru teaches you how to write a screenplay in “the ‘bible’ of screenwriting” (The New York Times)—now celebrating forty years of screenwriting success!

Syd Field’s books on the essential structure of emotionally satisfying screenplays have ignited lucrative careers in film and television since 1979. In this revised edition of his premiere guide, the underpinnings of successful onscreen narratives are revealed in clear and encouraging language that will remain wise and practical as long as audiences watch stories unfold visually—from hand-held devices to IMAX to virtual reality . . . and whatever comes next.

As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. From concept to character, from opening scene to finished script, here are fundamental guidelines to help all screenwriters—novices and Oscar-winners—hone their craft and sell their work.

In Screenplay, Syd Field can help you discover:

  • Why the first ten pages of every script are crucial to keeping professional readers’ interest
  • How to visually “grab” these influential readers from page one, word one
  • Why structure and character are the basic components of all narrative screenplays
  • How to adapt a novel, a play, or an article into a saleable script
  • Tips on protecting your work—three ways to establish legal ownership of screenplays
  • Vital insights on writing authentic dialogue, crafting memorable characters, building strong yet flexible storylines (form, not formula), overcoming writer’s block, and much more

Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry’s gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting.


2) Story: by Robert McKee

Robert McKee’s screenwriting workshops have earned him an international reputation for inspiring novices, refining works in progress and putting major screenwriting careers back on track. Quincy Jones, Diane Keaton, Gloria Steinem, Julia Roberts, John Cleese and David Bowie are just a few of his celebrity alumni. Writers, producers, development executives and agents all flock to his lecture series, praising it as a mesmerizing and intense learning experience.

In Story, McKee expands on the concepts he teaches in his $450 seminars (considered a must by industry insiders), providing readers with the most comprehensive, integrated explanation of the craft of writing for the screen. No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the “magic” of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.


3) The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting

Veteran script consultant Jill Chamberlain discovered in her work that an astounding 99 percent of first-time screenwriters don’t know how to tell a story. What the 99 percent do instead is present a situation. In order to explain the difference, Chamberlain created the Nutshell Technique, a method whereby writers identify eight dynamic, interconnected elements that are required to successfully tell a story.

Now, for the first time, Chamberlain presents her unique method in book form with The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting. Using easy-to-follow diagrams (“nutshells”), she thoroughly explains how the Nutshell Technique can make or break a film script. Chamberlain takes readers step-by-step through thirty classic and contemporary movies, showing how such dissimilar screenplays as Casablanca, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo all have the same system working behind the scenes, and she teaches readers exactly how to apply these principles to their own screenwriting. Learn the Nutshell Technique, and you’ll discover how to turn a mere situation into a truly compelling screenplay story.


4) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Originally an influential memo Vogler wrote for Walt Disney Animation executives regarding The Lion King, The Writer’s Journey details a twelve-stage, myth-inspired method that has galvanized Hollywood’s treatment of cinematic storytelling. A format that once seldom deviated beyond a traditional three-act blueprint, Vogler’s comprehensive theory of story structure and character development has met with universal acclaim, and is detailed herein using examples from myths, fairy tales, and classic movies. This book has changed the face of screenwriting worldwide over the last 25 years, and continues to do so. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

5) Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

Making a good script great is more than just a matter of putting a good idea on paper. It requires the working and reworking of that idea. This book takes you through the whole screenwriting process – from initial concept through final rewrite – providing specific methods that will help you craft tighter, stronger, and more saleable scripts.

While retaining the invaluable insights that placed its first two editions among the all – time most popular screenwriting books, this expanded, revised, and updated third edition adds rich and important new material on dialogue, cinematic images, and point of view, as well as an interview with screenwriter Paul Haggis.

If you are writing your first script, this book will help develop your skills for telling a compelling and dramatic story. If you are a veteran screenwriter, it will help you articulate the skills you know intuitively. And if you are currently stuck on a rewrite, this book will help you analysis and solve your script’s problems and get it back on track.

Also, check out Linda’s amazing podcast interview here: Making a Good Script Great with Linda Seger (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

6) Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Here’s what started the phenomenon: the best seller, for over 15 years, that’s been used by screenwriters around the world! Blake Snyder tells all in this fast, funny and candid look inside the movie business. “Save the Cat” is just one of many ironclad rules for making your ideas more marketable and your script more satisfying, including: The four elements of every winning logline The seven immutable laws of screenplay physics The 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by ― and why they’re important to your script.

Why your Hero must serve your Idea Mastering the 15 Beats Creating the “Perfect Beast” by using The Board to map 40 scenes with conflict and emotional change How to get back on track with proven rules for script repair

This ultimate insider’s guide reveals the secrets that none dare admit, told by a showbiz veteran who’s proven that you can sell your script if you can save the cat. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

7) How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flynn

How Not to Write a Screenplay is an invaluable addition to any aspiring screenwriter’s shelf–and you’d best make the shelf within arm’s reach of the computer. Author Dean Martin Flinn, an experienced script reader, details the common rookie mistakes that drive script readers crazy. Flinn makes no pretense of being able to teach anyone how to write the next Great American Film–or for that matter the next Stupid Summer Blockbuster. Instead he offers information that will help keep the novice screenwriter’s opus from being immediately tossed on the trash pile (arguably a more valuable service).

As Flinn says in his introduction, if you follow the advice in this book, “you may not write a particularly good screenplay, but you won’t write a bad one.” Flinn offers practical advice on formatting, such as the proper form for a slugline and where to set your margins, and more general rules of thumb on giving the actors room to interpret their roles and avoiding dictating camera angles to the director (who will ignore them anyway). The second half of the book deals with content, also in a remarkably pragmatic way–structure, pacing, plot resolution, and dialogue that really stink are all handily dealt with.

Flinn illustrates almost all his points with excerpts from screenplays both good and bad (names have been changed to protect the guilty), giving the reader concrete examples of the difference between poorly and well-structured scenes. Not sucking is an unusual goal for a screenwriting manual, but any script reader will agree it is a noble one. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

8) The Complete Guide to Standard Script Formats by Cole Haag

This book was a required textbook back when I was at film school. Some of the formatting suggestions may be a little outdated, especially if you have Final Draft or Movie Magic screenwriting software, but there’s still a ton of knowledge to be gained about proper formatting. The quickest way to spot a novice writer is by how unprofessional their script is formatted — this book shines a light on the Hollywood standard. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

9) The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier

The 20th anniversary edition of one of the most popular, authoritative, and useful books on screenwriting. A standard by which other screenwriting books are measured, it has sold over 200,000 copies in its twenty-year life. Always up-to-date and reliable, it contains everything that both the budding and working screenwriter need under one cover five books in one!

A Screenwriting Primer that provides a concise course in screenwriting basics;
A Screenwriting Workbook that walks you through the complete writing process, from nascent ideas through final revisions;
A Formatting Guide that thoroughly covers today s correct formats for screenplays and TV scripts;
A Spec Writing Guide that demonstrates today s spec style through sample scenes and analysis, with an emphasis on grabbing the reader s interest in the first ten pages;

A Sales and Marketing Guide that presents proven strategies to help you create a laser-sharp marketing plan.

Among this book s wealth of practical information are sample query letters, useful worksheets and checklists, hundreds of examples, sample scenes, and straightforward explanations of screenwriting fundamentals. The sixth edition is chock-full of new examples, the latest practices, and new material on non-traditional screenplay outlets. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

10) The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

Learn the basic techniques every successful playwright knows Among the many “how-to” playwriting books that have appeared over the years, there have been few that attempt to analyze the mysteries of play construction. Lajos Egri’s classic, The Art of Dramatic Writing, does just that, with instruction that can be applied equally well to a short story, novel, or screenplay. Examining a play from the inside out, Egri starts with the heart of any drama: its characters.

All good dramatic writing hinges on people and their relationships, which serve to move the story forward and give it life, as well as an understanding of human motives — why people act the way that they do. Using examples from everything from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Egri shows how it is essential for the author to have a basic premise — a thesis, demonstrated in terms of human behavior — and to develop the dramatic conflict on the basis of that behavior.

Using Egri’s ABCs of premise, character, and conflict, The Art of Dramatic Writing is a direct, jargon-free approach to the problem of achieving truth in writing. (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE)

11) The 101 Habits Of Successful Screenwriters by Karl Iglesias

You can struggle for years to get a foot in the door with Hollywood producers–or you can take a page from the book that offers proven advice from twenty-one of the industry’s best and brightest!

In this tenth anniversary edition, The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters, 2nd Edition peers into the lives and workspaces of screenwriting greats–including Terry Rossio (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory), Bill Marsilii (Deja Vu), Derek Haas and Michael Brandt (Wanted), and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne franchise).

You will learn best practices to fire up your writing process and your career, such as:

  • Be Comfortable with Solitude
  • Commit to a Career, Not Just One Screenplay
  • Be Aware of Your Muse’s Favorite Activities
  • Write Terrible First Drafts
  • Don’t Work for Free
  • Write No Matter What

This indispensable handbook will help you hone your craft by living, breathing, and scripting the life you want!

BONUS: Pulp Fiction – The Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino

With his vibrant imagination and dedication to richly layered storytelling QUENTIN TARANTINO is one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his generation. He made his directorial debut in 1992 with RESERVOIR DOGS, and then co-wrote, directed and starred in one of his most beloved films, PULP FICTION, which won his first Oscar® for Best Screenplay.

Followed by the highly acclaimed films JACKIE BROWN, KILL BILL VOL. 1 and VOL. 2, and DEATH PROOF, Tarantino then released his World War II epic, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, DJANGO UNCHAINED (which won his second Oscar® for Best Screenplay), and the HATEFUL EIGHT. Tarantino’s most recent film, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD, was nominated for five Golden Globes, ten BAFTAS, and ten Academy Award nominations.

A must-read for any screenwriter. Tarantino…nuff said! These are our Top Ten Screenwriting Books You Need to Read. We hope they help you on your journey as a screenwriter. Remember just keep writing!

BPS 192: Writing & Showrunning Friends, Grace & Frankie with Marta Kauffman

Marta Kauffman is an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television writer, producer and showrunner behind the hit series Friends and Grace & Frankie. After graduating from Brandeis University, Kauffman got her big break alongside David Crane when their pilots Dream On (1990) and The Powers That Be (1992) were greenlit. The pair then launched Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions with Kevin Bright and became the trio that created the iconic sitcom Friends.

Marta’s expansive and successful career includes creator, director, EP and showrunner credits on a number of television series, films, digital series and projects. In 2015, Kauffman started her production company, Okay Goodnight, with industry veteran Robbie Tollin and Hannah KS Canter.

Their first series, Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston premiered on Netflix in 2015 and is Netflix’s longest-running original ever. The series has received multiple Emmy and SAG nominations and is premiering the final episodes of its seventh and last season later this year. In 2018, the company produced the documentary Seeing Allred, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.

Kauffman has received a number of honors and awards including the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for lifetime achievement in television writing from the Writers Guild of America, the 2016 Outstanding Television Writer award at the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival & Screenwriters Conference, The Kieser Award at the 44th Annual Humanitas Awards, and Variety’s TV Producers Impact Report for consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. Okay Goodnight and Kauffman currently have numerous projects in various stages of development at multiple networks

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Marta Kauffman. How you doin' Marta?

Marta Kauffman 0:14
I'm good. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Oh, my God, thank you so much for coming on the show. You know, I'm slightly geeking out because obviously I am of the generation of when Friends came about. So I was in I was there, I think I was their age when Friends was. So I'm about I'm a little, like, only few years younger than the cast. So I was really feeling it. And I always wondered, how can someone afford that apartment in New York, but we could get to that later. But, um, and I wanted to kind of go down the road of how you started, how did you get started in the business?

Marta Kauffman 0:53
Um, honestly, I started as an actor, and discovered when when there was nothing in college for undergraduates to act in David Crane, and I said, Well, let's write something that that we can act in. And very quickly realized that the writing was a lot more fun than the academic. Yes. And we wrote a musical. The following year, we wrote another musical that ended up off Broadway. And when that show happened, our theater agent at the time brought a woman named Nancy Josephson who said, Why aren't you two doing television? And we went, Oh. And she is to this day, still my television agent.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
That's amazing. That's amazing. So you, so Was there something that started you on the path of trying to even be in this ridiculous business that we call show business? What was the thing that kind of lit your fire?

Marta Kauffman 1:58
You know, I've always loved telling stories. I didn't growing up know exactly what that meant. But and it wasn't until I started studying theatre and writing myself that I sort of said, I There are stories I want to tell, there are things I want to say and things I want to do. And you know, my mother was a dancer. My father could play any instrument you put in front of them. So I grew up in a very creative household. So it as much as they didn't want me to go into the business. She told people for a long time that I was going to grow up and teach mentally handicapped people, and we told them forever, until I finally had to move to LA and said, You know, I'm really doing this and she was furious. But once we while we were still living in New York, we were going back and forth between LA and New York, and I had a baby at that time. David Crane was like the other parent. We do one rule, I couldn't nurse during a pitch. That was a decent rule. And we were writing stuff and nothing was happening, and nothing was happening. And then we got a meeting about dream on interest. And, you know, they were looking for writers to do something with these millions of, you know, tapes that they had of old TV shows, and they were scraping the bottom of the barrel talking to to, you know, musical theater writers. But we were able to come up with something and get it made.

Alex Ferrari 3:50
Right. Like it, it seemed like from your from your proof from your, your filmography that, I mean, it seemed pretty quickly you got something, you know, you got a pilot produced, like, which was Dream on. And, you know, and it seemed very, it seemed quick, but I always wanted to know, like, how did you get Dream on? Like, how, because there's not a lot of time between when you first got your first writing gig to being a showrunner like you jumped pretty quickly. And that generally doesn't happen in the business.

Marta Kauffman 4:25
You know, again, I have to thank Nancy Josephson for this, um, when when dreamin right before Drumond happened. We met with the agents, and she was there and they said, What do you want to do? And we said, we want to write our own show. And they said, no, no, you can't do that. Was miss you. You've got to work on somebody else's show. And my feeling was, I had a baby. If I'm going to be spending time away from my baby, I'm going to have it be my thing. And then dream on happened. We wrote a pilot, we shot the pilot. And we were trusted to run the show. But I, it's a miracle. I don't know who convinced who,

Alex Ferrari 5:22
Like, how does that happen? Like in? I mean, I don't want this everyone listening, you have to understand that this is not the normal route of things. You don't know young writers are not given shows to run. And that was an HBO show at the time, right? I think it might have had a little something to do with. Yeah, might have had some to do with H because it was HBO and HBO was in the wild, wild west at that time period. Is that a fair statement?

Marta Kauffman 5:44
Yes, it really was. We were one of their first shows. And I think they were more willing to take big swings, then then other places might have been a network would never have let us do this.

Alex Ferrari 5:57
No way. That's what Yes, that makes that makes a lot more sense. Now, you

Marta Kauffman 6:02
Also simultaneously, we got a job. And this is what brought us out to LA what we've just here working for Norman Lear's company developing TV. So that was also happening at the same time. Um, it was we did a suspend and extend thing, which means we suspended the contract for a little while. So we could do dream on an extended at that length of time. And then we had to do both a show for them. While we were doing Dream on. And David, nice to say we used to pass the baton on the freeway as we pass each other going to the other room.

Alex Ferrari 6:44
That's amazing. Now, your first writing gig was everything's relative. And that was the first as your first official writing gig as a writer in a room

Marta Kauffman 6:53
As a TV writer. Yeah. Well, I would say my first writing gig was we wrote questions for a game show.

Alex Ferrari 7:00
Okay. That's amazing.

Marta Kauffman 7:04
But we'll put that to the side. Fair enough. Yes, that was the first that was the first TV experience we have. So then as what was terrible,

Alex Ferrari 7:15
Which okay, so I wanted to get into that, was there a major lesson you picked up from being on that show as a young writer that you brought into the rest of your career?

Marta Kauffman 7:26
Um, well, one of the things we learned was, we want to do our own show, right? We were not in the room for the rewrite. And the rewrite was massive. And, you know, we didn't have the experience to understand exactly how this works, and that they're going to take it and put it in their own vernacular, you know, the way that their characters speak, which, you know, we watched the TV show was barely on the air for a minute before we did this. And it was a, an experience where there was very little communication, very little inclusion. So yeah, that was our first experience. Thanks for bringing it up.

Alex Ferrari 8:14
Anytime I'm trying to bring up the worst and the best of your past. Learning, I'm trying to I'm trying to pick up some learning tips along the way, some lessons that we could give to everybody. Now, what is with you and you and David, what is your writing process? Like? How do you start? You know, a show idea or have any kind of storytelling? What how do you start like literally your process? Do you wake up in the morning, every day? Go to the to the desk at eight o'clock, I'm there. How's it work?

Marta Kauffman 8:42
So that's a very interesting question. And my process has changed. Since you could no no longer writing together, I had to learn a whole new process, I used to say that I wrote out loud, because David was always at the keyboard. Got it, he won't be at the keyboard. And I had to learn that I wasn't going to be able to speak things out loud. So I started acting in my head. And what I discovered about the way I write is that I write in waves. I'll sit down, study a scene, do my vomit draft is what I call the first draft. Do that scene. And then I have to walk away for a little bit until the next wave comes and I know what the next scene is about. And I sort of let the first scene settle. And then let the second scene start to bubble up. And as soon as things start to turn, in my head, I jump back in and ride the next wave. Now sometimes it's more than one scene. But generally it's it's it's about riding waves as opposed to I'm picking these hours and these hours and these I leave my day open.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
So it just anytime that during the day you're Just like okay, Muse, I am here. Yep. Anytime you want to show up, it could be at eight in the morning, eight at night midnight whenever.

Marta Kauffman 10:08
Well, it's a little more disciplined than that, in that I, if I know today is a writing day? Sure, I'll sit down. And the reason I call it the vomit draft is I know that to get started, I just have to get words on paper,

Alex Ferrari 10:21

Marta Kauffman 10:23
However terrible they are. The words have to go on the paper. And once that starts, once you get past the blank page, then the waves start to come start coming. And it's it's not really I mean, yes, I do like to call my museum, but it's not a matter of I'm in the shower, for idea happens. You know, and I jump out and go sit right.

Alex Ferrari 10:50
I gotcha. I gotcha. Well, I always love asking this question to creators, you know, even when I write, there's that moment that, you know,

Marta Kauffman 10:59
Excuse me one second, I realized I didn't really answer your question.

Alex Ferrari 11:02
Okay. So go ahead. Oh, yeah. to process the process.

Marta Kauffman 11:05
Yeah, there's a little more about the process in terms of creating a new show, okay. There are a couple things. Sometimes there's IP, a book, an article or something. And those can be incredibly inspiring. We have a couple projects based on books, and they're very exciting. And and I hate to say this, but part of why they're so exciting is you don't have to start from scratch. You have a basic idea of characters, and perhaps the shape of a story. And yes, it has to change. And it's I'm not saying it's easy. But it's a different process than when you're doing a show from scratch. And you know, here's the logline ID and then you have to discover who each one of these characters is. And you have to discover what the story is. And it is a painstaking process. It's a painstaking process. But it's one that I mean, generally. It's one that I don't write down immediately. Okay, I percolate on it for a while.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
You let it simmer? You let it Yeah, you let it kind of, you know, satay in your head, if you will?

Marta Kauffman 12:37
Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I find that sometimes that the walking away, is when my brain is most productive.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
Agreed, agreed, 100%, it's sometimes you just gotta go for a walk, go take a shower, go into Drive, whatever that thing is for you. I always found it. And this was a question I was gonna ask you, with, with creators, especially writers, I've always found the moment that you're able to tap into the flow, huge that the wave, which is the first time I've ever heard it referred to as a wave that you kind of ride a wave of inspiration, or that the thing is coming through you. I always found it that we're almost conduits from something else. I don't know where it comes from whatever you want to call it. But writers generally, and I think most writers I've spoken to have agreed with me on this is that there's that moment in time where you, you're just writing and then you stop and you read it. Like who wrote that? Right? Do you find Do you find that happening to you? Like you kind of like in that flow? It's not all the time. Sometimes it's much harder than that normally. But you get those moments.

Marta Kauffman 13:40
I'm the pilot of friends was one of those moments.

Alex Ferrari 13:43
I imagine it is. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 13:45
That I mean, and mainly because we always say it wrote itself. Right? We didn't do anything. We just put the words on the paper it just wrote itself.

Alex Ferrari 13:56
It's just something some from some other place it just kind of like you guys were chosen, like you two are going to do it and it just all of us. And I've heard that from from from creators who've created these amazing properties and television shows and movies that when it's when it's so well received around the world, it's generally like something that just kind of like, like Rocky and Stallone like when he wrote Rocky, he's like I wrote in three days. The rough, the first draft, right? It was just there. It just it was it's like who wrote that? And that's

Marta Kauffman 14:28
Like, it's a little bit like one of my favorite pieces of sculpture is I think it's called the slave. Okay. Um, and it's a big square piece of marble. And coming out of the marble is a figure. The bottom half of this figure is in that big block of marble Sure. It exists in there. You just have to click All right, rest of that sculpture is in there. So it you know, it sort of makes me wonder if what we're doing is knocking away removing all the stuff that gets in the way from the piece of work that you're trying to create.

Alex Ferrari 15:21
That's yeah, that's what it is. Is it? Is it the VINCI or Michelangelo? Who said that? I think one of the Michelangelo? Yeah. He said, That is like I just there was, I just took the David all the pieces that weren't the David. Which sounds so simple. It doesn't, yeah, just just write, it should be fine.

Marta Kauffman 15:41
No, and the other thing, I think that gets in the way for a lot of writers and we've spoken to writers about this, but I think many of us feel like fakes.

Alex Ferrari 15:54
Oh, imposter syndromes. Absolutely. Imposter syndrome. Oh, big time.

Marta Kauffman 15:58
It's a big thing. It's a big thing, which is what makes it so hard to face the blank page. So hard to look at your vomit draft. And I always said, I'm a Rewriter.

Alex Ferrari 16:15
But the match. But let me ask you a question to why. Why do you believe that is? Because you're absolutely right. By the way, me speaking to, I mean, Oscar winners and Emmy winners and everybody. They all you know, they all seem to have that even after they've won Oscars after they've won Emmys. They're super successful. And yet, every time they get onto the page, there's like, I feel like someone I've heard this, like, I feel someone's gonna come into the door and go, What are you doing security? Get him or her out of here? Like it's but it's a weird thing is that thing is just inherent in writers weren't artists in general, because it's not only writers directors feel the same way? Actors feel the same way. Why do you think that is?

Marta Kauffman 16:56
I think if you identify yourself as a writer, then your failures are more painful than you think like I failed as writer as opposed to well, I'm not really writer. So that's why that didn't work. Right? I think that's a little piece of it. Sure. I, another piece of it, is that, as artists, we strive for perfection, which we never achieve. We just want to make it better and better and better. And we, I think, come face to face with our limitations on every script. I mean, I watched friends, mainly, what I see are the things I wish we changed.

Alex Ferrari 17:49
But that's an artist. That's always the way it is.

Marta Kauffman 17:52
Right. Right. I think that's part of it. And I think, I mean, in my case, I actually had a teacher write on a paper, once that I was the least in my AP English. I was the least perceptive student she'd ever had. And like, never be a writer.

Alex Ferrari 18:10
Those are the best stories ever. I love those stories. But that but that that kind of fed the fire a bit I'm I'm imagining?

Marta Kauffman 18:17
Well, what I realized is, I can't write an essay. Right? I can't write an essay. I can write dialogue. But I cannot write it. I couldn't write a novel for I just couldn't do it. I write you know, dialogue. That's what I do. I act it out in my head. I play all the characters and, and I it's, you know, in shorter sentences, you know, I don't have to be descriptive. I have to be clever in how I do exposition, and stuff like that. So I think that's, that's certainly another piece of it for me. I haven't yet met a writer who doesn't feel the imposter syndrome.

Alex Ferrari 19:14
I really haven't either. Yeah, it's just it's not again, it's not just the writers I think directors to to. I mean, I mean, maybe James Cameron not but but even in the quiet moments of James's Mo, you know, I'm sure there was a moment of like, No, I don't think so. I think I think he's good. But most, but most mortals, most mortals do feel that especially as artists are concerned. Is there anything you wish you would have been? You wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career? And like Man, why didn't someone tell me this?

Marta Kauffman 19:56
There are a few things I wish someone had told me I wish someone had told me that there was going to be misogyny that I could do very little about.

Alex Ferrari 20:10
I can imagine.

Marta Kauffman 20:12
I wish someone had told me that. And and I faced it a lot. I'll tell you one story, we writing a movie. And I had a had to have a minor, benign tumor removed from my breast. And it was happening on the day that we were supposed to meet with the producer for whom we were writing this movie. And David sat down with this producer. And he said, I love the script. I wish it had more TNA. They said, By the way, where's Marta, and David Flint, she's having her tea operated on.

Alex Ferrari 20:54
I can imagine in the, you know, the 90s 80s and 90s, that, you know, there was no me to movement, there was no awareness, there was no real way there was nowhere for, for females and people of color to, there was no, there was nothing, you just had to deal with it and move forward.

Marta Kauffman 21:12
Didn't really have role models. I mean, mine was Rosemarie from the Van Dyke Show.

Alex Ferrari 21:17
Minds was Robert Rodriguez from El Mariachi is the first time I ever saw a Latino filmmaker. I mean, they had been before but Robert was the first guy I saw was like, Oh, my God, I can I can be a filmmaker, I can go out and do what I want to do it with, you know, I'm sure Spike Lee was for other people and it of a certain generation, you know, Melvin van Peebles, and the list goes on and on. But you didn't see a lot. Now. It's, I mean, so much more, there's so much more to be done. But there's so much more representation out there. There's so many more different stories from different perspectives, which are so important.

Marta Kauffman 21:56
I think there's finally an awareness that we need to do that, that all people need to tell their stories. Right. Right. Exactly. And that there's an audience for that.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Oh, yes. Exactly. It because at the end of the day, it generally always, you know, I, I had a, I had when I came up in a video store, you know, in the 80s. In the 90s, I worked in a video store. And there was one moment where I, there was a, I had some had a racist situation happened with a customer. And they called up my Oh, my boss, and he was like, I can't believe this Latino kids telling me I'm late charges or something like this. And I was first time I'd ever really been, you know, in front of fronted with that. And he said, I'm going to tell you one lesson, he was a Jewish man. And he said, the only color that people care about is green. If you can make the money, it all goes out the window and a lot of ways. And I found that that's generally the way it works. In Hollywood specifically. Do you agree with that? Like they just like if you're making a lot of money for the company, or for the movie or for things? doors, the doors, but just I don't know, it's I don't know. I would just love to hear your opinion on that.

Marta Kauffman 23:12
Yes or no? Yes. And no, I mean, after, during friends, you know, David, and I would go to a meeting and there were certain men who would not look at me, in the meeting, walk straight to David. And I'd be sitting right there talking. They'd look at me when I talk, but then they would talk to David. Um,

Alex Ferrari 23:39
And you had the biggest show, you had the biggest show on television.

Marta Kauffman 23:43
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's it. It's gotten better. I have seen a real change since I started in this business in the 80s. Short Course. It's, it's been massive. And I still think we have a very long way to go. But I feel like finally people are paying attention. And I won't get things like we were pitching a movie where there were two women at the center of the movie. And the executive said to us, if it isn't Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, you're not getting the movie made? Nobody wants to see a movie about two women unless it's those two.

Alex Ferrari 24:27
Even now, or

Marta Kauffman 24:28
This was maybe six or seven years ago?

Alex Ferrari 24:34
Still close enough. And that's, that's another thing I want people listening to understand. I mean, you've obviously had a lot of success in your career. It doesn't mean that you get to do whatever you want and that a lot of a lot of writers think that like oh, well you wrote friends and and Grace and Frankie you do what you basically all you do is make a phone call. You get something financed and you get something produced. I've talked to everybody I've talked to. I've talked to all these It's not the case, they all have to hustle, do it even even well into their 70s I've had people that like, yeah, I, I still lose jobs. I yeah, I still get rewritten.

Marta Kauffman 25:11
It's actually one of the pieces of advice I was going to say, young writers is you can never rest on your laurels ever, ever. Um, you know, because the next minute you're out there developing, and for whatever reason, just because you're an Oscar winner doesn't mean they're gonna buy the movie.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
Correct! Correct.

Marta Kauffman 25:34
I mean, we went through a year of Developer Summit this year, that was sheer hell, not the development part of it. But the part where, you know, the, just the pluses. Yes, that's what we want. And we write in the go, we don't want that anymore. The lion. We had quite a few of those kinds of experiences. We actually were writing something we pitched something about a pandemic. But it's not really about the pandemic. It's it. Anyway, it's based on a book. Sure. We pitched it right after the news from Wuhan came out. Oh, yeah, exactly. They bought it. We wrote it. And then we're like, yeah, yeah, we're not.

Alex Ferrari 26:27
There's nobody wants to watch a pandemic show. Nobody know.

Marta Kauffman 26:32
We're moving. That's another thing that happens is you get caught life life, the world where you have a great idea and you go pitch it and they go, Oh, we have an idea about brothers, even if they're completely different.

Alex Ferrari 26:45
Right! No, yeah, exactly. I'm assuming there were a lot of terrorist scripts were shelved after 911. Like,

Marta Kauffman 26:54
I That's true.

Alex Ferrari 26:55
I it's just it's, you know, it happens things happen in the world. And, and then also, sometimes the opposite happens. There's a script about something that all of a sudden you have Mandalorian. And like, Oh, we're looking for that. And it just happened to be the timing for it. So timing works.

Marta Kauffman 27:08
And there's also there's also a tendency to oh, that worked. Let's do more of that.

Alex Ferrari 27:18
Of course, that's Hollywood's bread and butter.

Marta Kauffman 27:22
Rather than let's find something new and fresh and exciting. Let's just do what's good. It's no, it's got to be Ted lasso.

Alex Ferrari 27:32
Oh, God. How many Ted lasses by the way, Ted last was absolutely phenomenal. I just finished binging it for the first time. Oh, it's wonderful. But now I'm sure how many Ted lasso rip offs are going to come up. I mean, I always I always go back to Pulp Fiction, how many Pulp Fiction rip offs were there, once Pulp Fiction came out, and there was like five or 10 movies that came out, they're all trying to be Pulp Fiction, because that's just the way Hollywood works. So I have to ask, so I have the question I've been wanting to ask you is how did you come up with friends? How did friends come to be? How did it get produced? How did someone say? Sure, six kids living in New York? I think you'll be okay. How, what's the story behind? I'm sure you've answered this question a couple times.

Marta Kauffman 28:15
Um, so basically, we had just finished doing Dream on, which was a show with a single lead, who had to be in every scene which was extremely difficult on him. Every scene he was in. So, David, and I said, the next thing we do is going to be an ensemble. Okay, we didn't want to do that. And we started developing some stuff. We did a couple of pilots that obviously didn't work out. And then we were doing this was our second year of development. And we started thinking about where we came from. We lived in New York, we were part of a group of six people who did everything together. In that case, four of them turned out to be gay, which was a shock honestly, at the time, who like really but we were extremely close. And then I was here in LA driving down the street and I saw a sign for insomnia cafe. And I thought, that's, that's where to go. You know, the place you go get coffee is the place to go talk and to be together and to you know, it just felt like besides the apartments, which you always see this is, this is the meeting place. This is the gathering place. We actually sold it to two places, ended up at NBC, obviously. And there was a period of time right after we did the pilot, where they said, you know, we're worried about doing a show about six young people, that's not going to get the audience except for young people. Can you bring in an older character? Maybe the guy who owns the coffee shop, the coffee house,

Alex Ferrari 30:35
Your Schneider?

Marta Kauffman 30:36
Yeah. We used to call him a cop. And we said, No, you don't need that. They are everything for each other. They are their community. They don't need to go to some old guy for advice, or women. They don't need to go to someone for advice, because they have each other. And they let us do it.

Alex Ferrari 31:09
In how so what point, you know, in the casting process that you go, Oh, we have something special here was it after the first pilot. I mean, that because that magic that that cast has, and I'm not I'm not saying anything revolutionary here. But the magic of the friends cast is so palpable, you could just say, you can sense it. When these six people got together, it just worked in a way that is unexplainable. Like you couldn't write your letter, write that as a story. It's, it's,

Marta Kauffman 31:41
You know, it was, it was not easy to cast with 140,000 people. I mean, it was it was not an issue. But at our first rehearsal, the first time all six of them are on stage together. I got to chill up my spine. And sort of when Holy shit,

Alex Ferrari 32:09
Really that early. You felt it

Marta Kauffman 32:11
It was the first time they were all on stage together.

Alex Ferrari 32:14
So you guys didn't do chemistry reads or anything like that. You just You just cast them individually, and then threw them together and what happened happened, essentially,

Marta Kauffman 32:24
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Alchemy happened. That's gold. Yeah, little gold. And this is one of those cases the stars were aligned. Things would have been different. The stars were aligned.

Alex Ferrari 32:38
Yeah. Wasn't there like wasn't is it Jennifer that was on another show? Or was on another show? Yeah. And she had to get she had to get out. And I think I think I think it was in the reunion. I just saw that. She said, Yeah, yeah, go to that show. He'll get canceled after a year. Something like,

Marta Kauffman 32:55
That shows not gonna make you a star.

Alex Ferrari 32:57
That's the quote. That's the quote. Yeah, that's the story. That's like gonna make your star.

Marta Kauffman 33:00

Alex Ferrari 33:02
And, and that was the thing too, with that show with the characters that were also beautifully balanced. You know, you had the flighty one, you add the you know, the series, you know, the not as bright one, the two bright, like, you balanced the characters, I mean, just a balance that you and David were able to put together of the characters just on a character development standpoint. How did you develop each of those characters? Or did this cast bring in some flavors that you later added and developed more with him? Or did were they pretty fleshed out originally on paper?

Marta Kauffman 33:36
The answer is a little bit of both. Look, a character you write is one thing in your head. And then when an actor breathes life into it, they bring something to it. And it elevates it, especially with this past, they elevated everything. One example is we didn't originally write Joey as stupid. But he played it so well. That it just became part of who he was. And that was not in our initial description of him.

Alex Ferrari 34:13
So he wasn't originally the dim one. Correct! Yeah, but he was the actor. He was an actor.

Marta Kauffman 34:19
He was an actor.

Alex Ferrari 34:20
So brilliant. Dr. Jake Romano. I mean, oh, God did all those lines. I mean, there's so many. I mean, the list of quotable lines from that show. Were any of them ad libbed? Or were they all broken in a room with with the writers do they you can remember like, Yo, how you doing and all these kind of things like that.

Marta Kauffman 34:44
Well, we may have written how you doing but but the way he did it, right is what made it incredibly special. How you doing as a line is like whatever.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
How many people have said I mean, we say that, uh, how you doing? Yeah, yeah, but it's performing made it

Marta Kauffman 35:01
His performance made it.

Alex Ferrari 35:02
Yeah. And anytime you refer to that you never hear someone guide that line how you doing as how you do it like everyone does. Everyone does that. Right? And, and to find six characters, six actors who melded so beautifully together and stayed best friends really to this day. such good friends is almost unheard of in a series environment for 10 years without somebody wanting to kill somebody look as look like his family, we all get families or families we all have, you know, fights and things like that. But generally speaking, they all stayed together for the entire show. Ah, it's remarkable it is it is I don't remember another series that had this kind of ensemble. And the other thing that I found so fascinating about the show, is there really wasn't a breakout star. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because they all were breakout stars. And that's unheard of, you know, it's your experience as well.

Marta Kauffman 36:03
Yeah, in my experience as well. And you know, it was also when we cast it, we didn't want to cast a star, right? We didn't want someone who was going to pull all the attention towards themselves. You know, by an audience, we wanted six people who worked as a unit, who made the characters come to life. And who could, you know, hopefully meld? And you just won't know, you don't know until you do it. But but you know, it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 36:41
Yeah. Wow. And Courtney was the only to my knowledge was the only kind of known person at that time, because she had been, she had been, you know, into movies, and obviously the perspex thing, music video, and she'd been around for a little bit at that point, but she wasn't a star per se. She was a known actress. Right? What is it? Like? Can you discuss the process of breaking an episode in the friends writers room? Like how do you do from season one to like season eight? Like, what are the main differences from breaking that first season, as opposed to breaking the eighth or ninth or 10th season?

Marta Kauffman 37:19
Well, the biggest difference is in the first season, you're making the arcs, you're creating the relationships between people. By the time you get to the eighth season a you really know who they are, and be there are things in the works. So what starts to happen is, the show begins to tell you what the stories are. Interesting, you know that the show tells you which direction to go in, for example, our idea with Monica and Chandler was they have a one night stand, and then it gets really, really awkward. But the audience reaction when we shot it was so huge had to go. Wait a minute. What are they telling us? Yeah, and we had just switched courses. But we had to, you know, you have to be incredibly flexible along the way. That's number one. In terms of breaking a story. You know, it's a bunch of funny people sitting in the room going, either. You know, what might be funny. And then it's spitballing and spitballing and spitballing. And sometimes it's I gotta tell you what happened last weekend.

Alex Ferrari 38:42
Right! And they bring

Marta Kauffman 38:45
As an example, the Taylor's story. Joey and the Taylor.

Alex Ferrari 38:53
Oh, god, that was amazing. I remember. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 38:56
True story.

Alex Ferrari 38:57
That's a true story? He went he went a little too far. And he's like, up in the ball. And you guys will it has to be Joey has this up first.

Marta Kauffman 39:09
Ofcourse he does.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
Yeah, so Yeah, cuz I remember when, I mean, look, I've seen the show. I've probably watched it a ton of times over the years from the first viewing and when it hit Netflix, I want to hit HBO Max and I just, you know, watch it. Now my kids watched it. My kids are I think when they start watching it, they shouldn't be watching because it's inappropriate, because they were eight. But we'd fast forward they couldn't get a lot of the references. But they would now even to this day, they'll see Jennifer Aniston somewhere like oh, there's Rachel or there's Joey or there's Chandler and they that's that's how they refer to the actors because they just that's all they know. it's generational. Now. It's like one of those things that will be brought along to other to generate and that doesn't happen very often in television.

Marta Kauffman 39:56
You know, I have a My youngest daughter is two 23 now but when she was 16 and the show went to Netflix, a friend of hers said, Have you heard about that new show called friends? They thought it was a period piece.

Alex Ferrari 40:16
Yeah, they thought like this is a great new show. And remember when I hit Netflix the millennials were just like, this is fantastic this this period piece show. They're talking about CDs and stuff is amazing. The phones were this big and they used to go someplace and sit down. It's amazing. It's I heard about that couldn't stop laughing when I heard that. It's, it's remarkable. I have do you have a favorite episode? I know. That's hard to say without the hundreds of episodes. Is there something is there one that you just like, that's the one that really did it for me.

Marta Kauffman 40:50
No, it's a little bit like saying Do you have a favorite child? But yes, I do. The episode with the game and Oh, yes. embryos, the empty embryos. When the other part is Phoebe is getting her eggs fertilized Wright Brothers. Of course. That's the other piece of the story that's in there.

Alex Ferrari 41:25
But it was the game it was you mean the game when they lost the apartment? Why? Oh, it's it's that's an amazing episode one of many. But that

Marta Kauffman 41:33
I love that episode. So much. I love it so much.

Alex Ferrari 41:36
It's It's It's perfection. I want to ask you.

Marta Kauffman 41:40
I love to. Um, but but that to me is that's just my favorite.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
Now, is there something that you look for specifically in a potential writer for one of your rooms?

Marta Kauffman 41:51

Alex Ferrari 41:53
What is it?

Marta Kauffman 41:56
That I can be in a room with that person for 12 hours a day. No matter how good the writing is, if the person is obnoxious or too shy, or too shy, it's true, are afraid to talk. I won't hire that person. Look, you read a script, you respond to it or you don't? Correct. Part of what happens is as you start to put together a writer's room, you go alright, this person is really strong on story. This person's really good at jokes. So the script I read of that person may have been hilariously funny with not a great story, but that's okay. In a writers room.

Alex Ferrari 42:47
Right! You're taking the best pieces, you're taking the best pieces,

Marta Kauffman 42:51
Right! You want to balance you want to balance but I also feel that when people stay with the show, they start to you know, gain depth as writers of course, you know, and and learn and learn to strengthen their weaknesses and show their strengths.

Alex Ferrari 43:11
I mean, the best advice I've ever gotten for being in this business is don't be a dick. Best advice I've ever gotten, and it's and people are like, Oh, you've got to be super talented like, that helps. Don't be a dick. I promise you. You could be the best writer you could be the second coming of William Goldman. And if you are an ass and you can't work with them at any in any any field in our business grip. Gaffer DP director, writer. If you're hard to work with, in maybe you get in, I've always seen this too. Maybe your talent gets you in and then you become the dick. The moment you stumble, the second you stumble, you're gone. And yeah,

Marta Kauffman 44:01
We we and I feel that you're right. It's about the whole business. I mean, as a showrunner, one of my priorities is a happy set. Absolutely. A safe and happy set. And anybody who can't participate in that can't stay on the show. There's nobody else there's no yelling, period. End of story. You don't yell. Right. You know, there's an end there are ways it's being show runners sometimes it's like being a camp counselor. I'm not always but sometimes that is what it feels like when you're sort of supportive, supporting uplifting cheering on your cast and crew. To make them feel good about coming to work every day.

Alex Ferrari 44:58
It's not easy. A lot of people think I mean, look at Hollywood and being in the in the show business and, and television. It's fun. Don't get me wrong. And I know you know that as well. It's fun. But it's hard work you work 1218 hour days sometimes. Yeah, everyone's well compensated at all, that's all great and dandy, but at a certain point, it doesn't matter how many, how many dollars come into your checking account, it's still 18 hours, and you're still busting your your butt and you and I can't even imagine the prep the financial pressure of being a producer, on a show like that, you know, and because at a certain point was one of the most expensive shows on NBC, his roster at a certain point, you know, that we're making a lot of money with it as well. But that pressure as long as well as trying to be creative, as well as trying to keep a happy set. People don't think about things like that. But it is an immense amount of pressure. I can't even understand this point.

Marta Kauffman 45:45
It's true. It's a lot of pressure. It's enormous stress. But and I would say this to a young writer. We work too hard not to find joy in what we do. Great as a writer, if whatever you're working on doesn't speak to you. It's not going to come out well, and you're not going to be happy doing it. Absolutely. It's got to be something that you feel in your soul in your gut that this is something I have to write.

Alex Ferrari 46:24
Well, I have to tell you, my new obsession is Grayson, Frankie, and I, my wife and I watching it and I saw the trailer for it when it came out originally. And I jumped on. I think I jumped on Season One. I was an early adopter. And I was just sitting there going, how in God's green earth that this get made? I can't I'm so happy it did. On paper. It doesn't play well. But you know, you mean like, you know what I'm saying? Like, you know, it's it's something that you never see you never see people of that age. On on a show. Obviously, you I think you had the same luck that you had with Dream on. HBO was the Wild Wild West, I think Netflix was very much the wild, wild west. To a certain extent. It's still it's the wild west over there. And you pitch them the show. I'm so happy that it exists in the world. And we're obsessed with it, by the way. So thank you for making it. How did you how did Grace and Frankie come to be? How did that idea come to be? Because some of the ideas in that show are just wonderful

Marta Kauffman 47:30
Umm, well, it was kind of a fluke how it started. I had lunch with a woman named Marcy Ross, who was head of the television department at Sky dance. We'd known each other previously. And she said the Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do TV. I thought she meant together. I called my agent and I said, Is it true? The Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do a show together? She said, I don't know. I'll call you back. And 20 minutes later, she calls me back. And she says they do now.

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Because you were asking.

Marta Kauffman 48:19
Yeah. Well, and also because they hadn't thought about doing it together, you know, and it was like, their friends course, they were very excited about it. And then, you know, we knew certain things we knew we wanted it to be about what it is to be that age, sex and sexuality and friendship. And we have a few pads to it. And I was sitting in the car with my daughter who is now a VP of my company because she's so freaking good. And she's the one who said what if they are women who don't like each other? Their husbands work together in a law firm and the men fall in love and want to get married.

Alex Ferrari 49:08
She's the one that came up with that. What? Oh my god. What? That's amazing. And and the ketamine Martin and Sam it just

Marta Kauffman 49:21
And then it tell you Alex, there were days when you could do table reads. Look across the table, right. Am Waterston Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, and I would go what is this real?

Alex Ferrari 49:46
It's remarkable and the topics Yeah, I mean, I've never seen a show like that because it's just something you never see characters of that age on on television as the main star, just just it doesn't happen. There's usually a side character But there's that then the topics they cover like you're talking sexuality, that's taboo. You don't talk about things like that. And then that they open up a vibrator company is just the most brilliant thing I've ever seen. And then the toilet thing and oh my god, it's just, every season keeps getting better.

Marta Kauffman 50:18
It was all for us about life starts at any age, right? Um, and also was a little bit about no one talks about Dr. vaginas but they're a real thing. Right about them and you know, on Netflix, you can talk about it.

Alex Ferrari 50:36
Right! This is not gonna happen on on on a network show. Guys, and fairly even not happened on any of the major networks. That's just not gonna happen. But, you know, by the way, did you I'm sure you've seen it at this point, the SNL wrap.

Marta Kauffman 50:52
Oh, my God. Oh my god. So it made us so happy. We watched it in the writers room, and we were just so happy.

Alex Ferrari 50:59
Oh, my God, Pete Davidson. It's just the it was the bet if anyone's not I'll put a link to it in the show notes. It is when I saw cuz I'm a fan of Saturday Night Live. So I was watching it. I'm like, are they? Are they doing a rap about Grayson, Frankie? This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. And that Jane and Lily showed up at the end

Marta Kauffman 51:16
I know it made us so happy. Made it.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Yeah, it's not crossed over. Because that's the thing. It's because on paper. It's not a great pitch. Don't get me wrong. It's not a great pitch on paper. Because you're like, well, it's only going to it's earned this is what the studios would say it's only a certain demographics gonna watch us only an older generation. Is that kind of the generation that we're going after. But their biggest fan base is young millennials. Yeah. You know, and Gen X like myself and like and everyone in between because good story writing is good story. Good acting is good acting.

Marta Kauffman 51:51
Well, it's no similar to friends when they said, you know, you can't do a show about six young people right out we've always said and this was the case with Grayson, Frankie too. If the stories are identifiable, if you can connect with the characters and the stories or something you can empathize with, then it'll work. No matter how old they are.

Alex Ferrari 52:17
You're absolutely right. And in the you have the record now of the longest running show on Netflix. There is no other show. No other show that's ever done it and that was the thing in the wrap to I love that. It was like in the log is flicks. Again if on on on paper, you would have told me Oh, yeah, this is also going to be the longest running show on Netflix as Netflix is infamous for more than two seasons, you're out. Right to three seasons, you're out if you can make it the four or five my god you're at this point your Orange is the New Black or House of Cards. You know, but this little show and it's that little bit this little show about you know, older people talk about Dr. vaginas and vibrate. That's now longest running show on Netflix. I mean, do you do you believe? I mean, I think you said it already is like it identifies and crosses the generations. And that's why I think people connect with it so much. And I mean, obviously it's the performances as well and Jane and Lillian Martin and Sam are just their magic as well. You've you've hit you've hit the lottery twice. I did it.

Marta Kauffman 53:27
I'm very grateful and very lucky.

Alex Ferrari 53:33
So I have to ask you I heard the rumors. is Dolly showing up? Dolly is it is official out there.

Marta Kauffman 53:42

Alex Ferrari 53:44
Because on Season Three I'm like when it's Dolly gonna show up as a cameo. Jesus, somebody bring Dolly back, please. When I see the three of them again, because I'm of a generation that remembers nine to five I love nine to five I watched it. Oh god so many times. It just was one of those movies at that time. That movie was a monster hit. Wow. She was it was in the zeitgeist at that moment in time. And the three of them are so magical together. I cannot wait to see that. I'm just dying to see what you guys do with them. And when our winners show up with the final episodes because I already binged the second you teased out a few episodes

Marta Kauffman 54:26
I don't have an official date yet. Okay. I don't have an official date yet hopefully in the next I think it's gonna be in the next few months.

Alex Ferrari 54:37
Next few months so yeah, as this we're recording this in January so hopefully in April sometime last what I'm hoping for Yeah, hopefully around April sometime it'll come out and how many episodes are left? Oh 12 total?

Marta Kauffman 54:52
12. Left. We were six. It was 16 episodes.

Alex Ferrari 54:57
Oh, that amazing you got extra because there's normally what was The normal episode run

Marta Kauffman 55:01

Alex Ferrari 55:02
So you got three. So good. I'm so excited. I cannot wait to watch Grayson Frankie again, see where this where this this start? I'm no seriously it's like there's very few shows that I get obsessed about Grayson Frankie. I'm also obsessed about Cobra Kai because it's a Cobrar Kai. So, but is is, I don't get obsessed by shows. Oh, Yellowstone too. I don't know if you've seen Yellowstone?

Marta Kauffman 55:28
I haven't yet but I am. I'm having my knee replaced. I'm saving it for that.

Alex Ferrari 55:31
Oh, it's off. Taylor is off. It's amazing, amazing writing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I ask all my my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Marta Kauffman 55:44
Well, a couple things. One is, before you take scripts out there, get some friends together, read it out loud. So that you know that you have a product that is acceptable. And then I would say and I know, there's a lot of controversy about this. Um, I think agents can be extremely useful. I happen to have had a very good experience with mine. Other people have had good experiences. Some have not I understand that. But I think getting an agent is really important. And that's, by the way, one of the ways you do that is knowing other writers who can say hey, I met this person who has a great script and to do that. I really think getting into a writers room being a writer's assistant starters, a writers pa if you have to be a writer's assistant, we had every writer's assistant we had except for one ended up being a writer on the show.

Alex Ferrari 57:04
On what show Grace and Frankie are friends are both Chris and Frank.

Marta Kauffman 57:08
Quite a few on friends as well. But on Grayson, Frankie everyone, really? That's awesome. A woman who started as a writers pa ended up as a producer in our last season.

Alex Ferrari 57:20
How does and I have to ask how do you go from writers PA to producer in the scope of the series? Like why so people listening can understand what she did that.

Marta Kauffman 57:32
Well, in my room, I run a very democratic room. Okay. And if a writer's assistant has a joke to pitch, I want to hear it. Okay. Um, I, you know, I want to hear what they have to say for writers assistant has an idea. The room may not necessarily be the right place to do it, but then pull me aside and say, you know, I was thinking, what about this? And then we can go back in the room and I can say, Brooke just had this amazing idea.

Alex Ferrari 58:02
Because there is that there is a politics of the room that that that's not spoken about a lot is like how to, you know, especially there's a showrunner side of the of the room. But then there's the writer side and how to politically do it without stepping on toes and egos and things like that?

Marta Kauffman 58:17
Well, it depends on the showrunner. Exactly. It depends on the showrunner if you have a showrunner with an ego i It's tough, but you still would learn a lot in a writers room. And, and start to get to know writers. I mean, I a lot of my writers were working with the writers assistants reading their scripts, giving them advice.

Alex Ferrari 58:39
That's great mentoring them almost.

Marta Kauffman 58:42
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 58:44
That's amazing. That's great. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Marta Kauffman 58:52
Wow, that's a really interesting question. And I could go in a bunch of directions. I'm not going to go to the dark place. You know, bringing it full circle. I think I learned that I'm a writer.

Alex Ferrari 59:15
Took you a while to figure that out?

Marta Kauffman 59:17
Yeah. Took me a long time.

Alex Ferrari 59:20

Marta Kauffman 59:21

Alex Ferrari 59:23
I want everyone listening to hear this. That someone is as accomplished as you had a long time to figure out that they were really a writer that that imposter syndrome was was bad. Do you still deal with it? You have to not deal with it as much. Did you still deal with it? Really? But you but you figured out like that's just a voice in my head? I'm a writer.

Marta Kauffman 59:48
Yeah. Yeah, I figured out all right, I've done before I can do it again. And just get words on paper. Just get words on paper. And then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:02
Are there three pilots that everyone should read in their specific genre that you would recommend?

Marta Kauffman 1:00:11
Um, you know, my so called Life was an amazing pilot was I remember it was an amazing pilot. I learned a lot from watching that pilot. So that's one squid game had a pretty good pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
She says, What the hell with that Jesus Christ that show? What a thing like how well like I don't even I have to do it. I have to get that show runner on the show. I've just if he speaks English, I want to speak.

Marta Kauffman 1:00:46
You know, I It's funny that I mentioned those because I don't watch a lot of comedies. Okay. I mainly watch dramas because watching comedies work for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
Right! You're analyzing it, you're picking it apart. You're like, oh, that didn't hit right. That didn't hit right. Why did that get through?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:04
Or how did they get to that? How's that the story? Why is that doesn't make any sense or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:10
So you know, alright, so So mostly drama. So squid games, my so called life and what was the third one? You think?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:17
I'm debating between a couple.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:19
Okay, you could toss them both out.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:22
Sopranos had an amazing pilot. David was I mean, Jesus. Genius, genius. But I have to say I recently watched a show that I've long since forgotten about. The pilot for lost is really good

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
The pilot was amazing. Amazing. Oh, remarkable. I mean, they kind of, you know, it took them. They went off. They went off the rails a little bit.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:53
They didn't know where they were going.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:54
They were just like, in a smoke monster shows up. Like, but that first season was yeah, some of the best television. Yeah, in a long time. I always throw in Breaking Bad because I think it's one of the Oh, that's a really good. I mean, you add another 15 minutes to it. It's the it's the best independent film of that year. It's true. It's remarkable. And just for fun three of your favorite films of all time. She's wiggling in her chair. She's wiggling in her chairs.

Marta Kauffman 1:02:29
I am, um, I loved there's so many. And some of these may be a little controversial. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fantastic film is an amazing film my favorite film made from a book, Now this one's a little strange. The original West Side Story. Okay. I grew up on I will sometimes just watch the dances.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:08
Oh, they're so beautiful. Amazing. Did you see the new one by the way? Did you see Steven? Yeah, I hear I haven't had a chance to see it yet. But I hear it's phenomenal.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:19
Watch it and then we can have a conversation.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:22
Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, and what was that and what's another one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:30
Um, what was the first one he said the favorite

Alex Ferrari 1:03:34
To mark To Kill a Mockingbird?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:36
Oh, the favorite.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Oh, the favorite. Oh. Which one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:42
The one with Olivia Coleman.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:45
Oh, god. Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:48
I loved that.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:50
I haven't seen that movie forever. But yeah, I remember that movie.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:54
Oh, it's just Oh, and I also love arrival. I do love science fiction. I watch a lot of science fiction. Really? Sad arrival. Great

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
See that you never think that Marta coffins like a big sci fi fan?

Marta Kauffman 1:04:06
Huge a huge sci fi fan.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:08
Did you see that? Have you seen Mandalorian Do you watch any of that stuff? Or? No? I do. Did you enjoy it? Yeah, I enjoyed it. This fun? Yeah. It's popcorn. It's popcorn.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:17
Exactly. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:19
It's popcorn. It's fun. It's you know, it's not changing dinner. Right? It's not a it's not going to change the world. But man, is it fun? And I just started watching the book of boba and just like, it's fun as hell man. If I saw I saw this meme of. It's like kids playing with Star Wars toys. And it's like Jon Favreau, David Fillion, and then making the Mandalorian and they're just literally having the fun playing with there. Isn't someone's filming it? Um, Martha, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and it has been.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:55
Thank you Alex. I appreciate your thoughtful questions.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:58
It was wonderful talking to you and continued success thank you again for bringing for Friends into the world and also a Grace and Frankie and I cannot wait to see what you're up to next. So thank you again so much.

Marta Kauffman 1:05:08
Thanks so much. Bye

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Taylor Sheridan Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

One of the best screenwriters working today is Taylor Sheridan. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Hell or High Water (2016), which was nominated for four Oscars®, including Best Picture. Credited with redefining the modern Western, Sheridan also wrote and directed the 2017 crime film Wind River and wrote Sicario’s 2018 sequel.

He’s also responsible for creating the epic modern day western Yellowstone.

When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guests like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone and more.

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Sicario (2015)

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Read the screenplay!

Hell or High Water (2016)

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Read the screenplay!

Yellowstone (2016)

Teleplays by Taylor Sheridan

Wind River (2017)

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Read the screenplay!

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Read the screenplay!

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

Screenplay by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt, and Taylor Sheridan – Read the transcript!

Mayor of Kingstown (2021)

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan – Read the pilot!

Tulsa King (2022)

Script by Taylor Sheridan – Read the pilot!


Top 10 Best Unproduced Screenplays of All-Time

best unproduced screenplays, best unproduced scripts

There are things that happen in Hollywood that are insane. Things that make no sense. Well the below list of screenplays fall under the why hasn’t this been made into a movie category.

We have compile ten of the best screenplays that have yet to be produced. These screenplays are remarkable and amazing reads. From writers like Joe Carnahan, Stanley Kubrick, David Koepp, The Coen Brothers and Guillermo del Toro just to name a few. Enjoy.

When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guests like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone and more.

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Gladiator 2

This screenplay is one of the most insane we have ever read. I don’t  know if it works as a sequel to Gladiator but it definitely works as a stand alone.

As a Roman god in the afterlife, Crowe’s Maximus meddles with Roman gods, is reincarnated, defends early Christians, and ultimately lives forever, leading tanks in the second world war and mucking around in the modern world. 

Screenplay by Nick Cave – Read the screenplay!

Mr. Hughes or An Honest to God American Sh*t

According to David Koepp’s website here is what he had to say about this script.

“Oh, how I love this Howard Hughes / Clifford Irving story DePalma and I came up with. Inches away from making this with Nic Cage, but then Snake Eyes came out and wasn’t a hit, and we were dead. It be’s like that sometimes.”

Screenplay by David Koepp and Brian De Palma – Read the screenplay!

White Jazz

This mythical screenplay is based on the novel “White Jazz: by James Ellroy. White Jazz is a 1992 crime fiction novel by James Ellroy. It is the fourth in his L.A. Quartet, preceded by The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, and L.A. Confidential.

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan & Joe Carnahan – Read the screenplay!


Stanley Kubrick’s legendary script for Napoleon is a thing of myth. He spends years developing the story. He literally knew what Napoleon did everyday of his life and had it cataloged. If you saw the Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA you had a chance to see it. Apparently, this script is being developed into a min series so lets see what happens but until then get ready for one hell of a read,

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick – Read the screenplay!

Vivien Hasn’t Been Herself Lately

Vivien tracks a married couple struggling to survive against a supernatural entity.

Screenplay by Brian Duffield – Read the screenplay!


This was a personal project that obsessed Sylvester Stallone about the infamous poet and writer EDGAR ALLEN POE since the time he wrote the original ROCKY screenplay. He toiled for years to get the funding for this project but it never came to fruition. An extremely interesting read. You can watch a live reading of the script or purchase it below.

Screenplay by Sylvester Stallone – Read the screenplay!

To The White Sea

Joel and Ethan Coen adapted the novel over a decade ago. Considered one of the best screenplays never producer. Why it hasn’t been produced yet is anyone’s guess.

An American gunner for a B-29 bomber squad crash lands in Tokyo during World 2 and must find a way to escape alive.

Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen – Read the screenplay!

At the Mountains of Madness

The story details the events of a disastrous expedition to Antarctica in September 1930, and what is found there by a group of explorers led by the narrator, Dr. William Dyer of Miskatonic University.

Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s masterwork of the same name. Guillermo del Toro has been trying to get this script produced for years. He’s been close a bunch of time but no bites yet.

Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins – Read the screenplay!


Written by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Reversal of Fortune Nicholas Kazan, Cortes paints a a searing portrait of the 16th-century conquistador who vanquished Eden-like Mexico and its exotic inhabitants.

The historical catastrophe of Spain’s clash with American Indian civilizations is played out with comedy, tragedy, valor and barbarism on both sides.

Screenplay by Nicholas Kazan – Read the screenplay!

Edward Ford

One of the best Hollywood-satires ever written. It makes The Player look optimistic.

Moving to LA to pursue his film obsession, an oddball film fan bounces around the dregs of Hollywood trying to get work as an actor. His best friend is a young man whose interest in Edward Ford is a way to seek understanding of his own past.

Screenplay by Lem Dobbs – Read the screenplay!

BPS 148: How to Write for Television, Netflix & Hollywood

Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit

Today on the show we have the showrunning writing duo of Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit. They are responsible for bring iconic character Pikachu to the big screen. The film starred Ryan Reynolds.

Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim, to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry’s former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery.

Easily one of my favorite projects they worked on is the Netflix show One Day at a Time. On that project they got to work with the television living legend Norman Lear.

This comedy-drama is inspired by Norman Lear’s 1975 series of the same name. This time around, the series follows the life of Penelope, a newly single Army veteran, and her Cuban-American family, as they navigate the ups and downs of life. Now a nurse, Penelope is raising two strong-willed children.

When faced with challenges, Penelope turns to her “old-school” mother, and her building manager, who has become an invaluable confidant. The series offers a contemporary take on what life looks like in both good and bad times, and how loved ones can help make it all worthwhile.

On television, Hernandez and Samit have written for, The Tick, Super Fun Night and 1600 Penn. They were named in Paste Magazine’s list of the top 28 comedy writers of 2018. In 2019, Samit and Hernandez signed a long-term deal with 20th Century Fox Television to develop, write and produce animated and live-action series

We discussed how they got their big break, how they approach the craft, the world of the writer’s room and much more. Enjoy my conversation with Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit.

Right-click here to download the MP3


  • Dan Hernandez – IMDB
  • Benji Samit – IMDB


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  2. AudibleGet a Free Screenwriting Audiobook

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome the show Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit How're you guys doing?

Benji Samit 0:15
We're great

Dan Hernandez 0:16
Doin alright! Doin alright!

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show, guys. I I I'm so glad that we were just talking beforehand. That Dan, you're you're the other Cuban. I know, in the business. People always shocked to hear like, I'm Cuban. And they're like, you're Cuban. It's always fascinating. When I'm on set, I'll just start busting out some Spanish and people were like,what is going on?

Dan Hernandez 0:42
Well, yeah, it's it's sometimes it takes people by surprise. Or you know, I think that you know, there's more there's, there's quite there's more of us than I think people realize given. Phil Lord is Cuban.

Alex Ferrari 0:57
Oh, yeah. There's a bunch. Yeah,

Dan Hernandez 0:58
There's you know we're kind of will infiltrate slowly.

Alex Ferrari 1:02
Listen. Yeah, no matter no matter where you are in the world. There's always we're everywhere. Like, in Germany, like a friend of mine was in Germany. Like they just walked by like is that salsa music and that there was a full blown salsa club right in the middle of Berlin or something like that. So we are we are everywhere in elephant infant trading. I like that word, infiltrating the business little by little. So guys, first foremost, how did you two meet? And how did you guys get started in the business? Because you've been pretty much working together. Almost the entire time. Right?

Benji Samit 1:32
Y'all? Yeah, we, you know, we, we went to college together. We met in college. We went to Brown in Rhode Island. And, you know, we started we we started working on like, plays and stuff and theater together. And and yeah, I mean, it's we've been together ever since of you know, it's been we graduated over 15 years ago now. And yeah, just keep riding together.

Dan Hernandez 2:00
Yeah, I can't seem to shake each other.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
I've tried to get rid of it. But I just can't.

Dan Hernandez 2:05
Yeah, I've tried many times. I actually didn't mean to wear this shirt. today. I just dropped my daughter off at preschool. And I just grabbed the first one. But it wasn't premeditated. But yeah, we did made it brown. And we yeah, we just really quickly realized that we had a shared taste, I guess for the things that we liked and the things that we didn't like. And I think so often having that taste is the first step towards a successful partnership. And so once we had that sort of foundation, it just, we started working on some theater things together, we started working on some writing projects together, and we just never stopped. We just kept going and go. So really, since 2006 Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 2:54
So what was that thing that Spark Spark did for each of you to be in this ridiculous business?

Benji Samit 3:01
I mean, to be in this business, I grew up in LA so I've always been sort of surrounded by and tangentially touching it and you know, like, my mom has written some things. My dad worked in entertainment in various ways. And so there was always a part of my life and you know, I love movies. I love TV. And you know, I think I think I always knew I wanted to do something with you know, like a lot of people that grew up in LA so many of them are just like I want nothing to do with like so many of my friends that I grew up with do not live in LA anymore. But I've just like I love it here. I want to be here. I want to keep doing this. So yeah, it was it was an easy decision for me.

Dan Hernandez 3:49
My path was a little more circuitous because I'm from Fort Lauderdale, Florida originally

Alex Ferrari 3:54
Stop, stop stop it. I'm from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I was raised in my in the Fort Lauderdale area and I we could I mean I went I was originally it was in Sunrise, but then I was born in plantation my parents my parents are still I just I literally just got back from Fort Lauderdale so I'm sorry guys everyone listening I apologize it's rare enough to see a Cuban it's rare enough to meet another Cuban in the business let alone another one from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Benji Samit 4:27
I mean the odds are when you meet a Cuban they're from South Florida.

Alex Ferrari 4:30
I know it's very rare to even meet a Cuban from South Florida right.

Dan Hernandez 4:35
I grew up in actually I grew up across springs in Margate.

Alex Ferrari 4:38
Okay. Sure.

Dan Hernandez 4:39
Like are you I say Fort Lauderdale because because the deep Yeah, you know, like depending on who you're talking to. It's like I'm from Miami.

Alex Ferrari 4:47
I always say Miami I just say my I'm from Miami because it's like Fort Lauderdale. Isn't that where the spring break movies were shot like an 85.

Dan Hernandez 4:54
Probably you had a cruise that left there once Yeah. But right the Venice of America,

Alex Ferrari 5:02
It's the Venice of America. Wow, I've never heard that.

Dan Hernandez 5:06
That is true. That is their nickname. If you look on like the, you know, like the city staff.

Alex Ferrari 5:13
Dan's just shaking his head. He's like, can we just move it along?

Dan Hernandez 5:16
Before filming from the Venice of America, I never could have imagined myself in the movie because I thought I would be on a, I don't know, like a glass bottom tour boat, or something. But I always loved writing and I always loved performing and acting and so Brown I did a ton of theater, you know, a lot of performance, a lot of writing. And I always was interested in TV writing and rewriting, but it felt like something amorphous that, yeah, it didn't feel like an actual career. It felt like some sort of intellectually, I thought, well, I guess that's something that people do. But how do you even begin to pursue that? Who are the people that pursue that? And then when I read Benji, I realized anybody could do it honestly, it was actually meeting Benji and becoming friends with him that changes exactly your my life. Because for Benji, who was much more familiar with

Benji Samit 6:22
LA, because it's my hometown, like, Sure, the big scary place that it is for so many people. I could sort of break down for Dan and be like, no, just come to LA. Like, we'll go, we can crash at my mom's house. And we did and we should.

Dan Hernandez 6:39
Meeting Benji, who had a more practical knowledge of like, how do you even begin to pursue a profession of TV and movie writer that really made me feel comfortable to give it a shot and and that was the beginning of that journey?

Alex Ferrari 6:55
Now, you guys were involved with a project that's very dear to my heart, which is one day at a time, which it is it was sad to see it go. I was a huge fan of it. And again, going back to the whole Cuban vibe that they that they made him Cuban, and they put them in Oka where's that Echo Park? In which is like, it's like the Venice of LA, but

Dan Hernandez 7:20

Alex Ferrari 7:22
Exactly. That go echo parks the Echo Park of LA. But it was it was such a such a fun show. How did you guys get involved with that show?

Benji Samit 7:31
Yeah. So I mean, the the show runner event show, co showrunner was Mike Royce, who great talented writer, Vick from, you know, for years and years and years. And we our first job as staff writers was on another show that he ran 1600 pen. And so we hit it off with him. We had a great time working with him. It was really, it was an amazing show to work on all the writers like it was just such a great writers room for a first show. And then, you know, fast forward a few years later, Mike got paired up with with Gloria Calderon kellett who we didn't know but they were working on this yet Cuban American show together. And Mike Luke, when they started staffing the show, Mike was like, I know a great human that we can have on the show and it's a guy

Dan Hernandez 8:31
Yes, Benji is an honorary Cuban. Yes. But yeah, I think that because we'd had a good experience with Mike on 600. When he asked us if we would be interested in coming in on one day at a time. I was particularly interested because it felt right that on some level for me that I should be on the ground floor of a big Cuban show, maybe the only Cuban show that, you know, I had seen in a while. And I was really you know, Gloria, and I ended up being the only Cubans on the staff. There were other Latino people, but we were the Cubans on the staff for the first two seasons. And then the third season, Jeanine Brito join us who's amazing, half Cuban half Icelandic. Just just

Alex Ferrari 9:19
How does that how does that happen?

Dan Hernandez 9:22
Pretty good. But but for the first two seasons, it was just for me and I felt like part of what my contribution was was trying to bring vers similitude and authenticity to the stories that we were telling and and we did realize that and you probably know this better than anyone is, you know a Cuban growing up in Los Angeles or San Diego has a very different experience or McKeown going up in Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Obviously, we all started, you know the same spot in the Caribbean But you know, that just diaspora has it just leave, you have different experiences. And so I think that I was sort of the East Coast representative of what that experience was. And I tried to and, you know, my, it so happens that my family, like the family, one at a time is extremely liberal, which is sort of a typical. So I did feel like there was, but not all of them, but my direct family. So I felt very close to the Alvarez family in that sense, which I did think it was, it was, it was really interesting to write a Cuban family that was progressive, and that was working on issues and really trying to, like, work out where they landed on a bunch of topics that were tough. And, and, and not always obvious to talk about. So I'm really proud of the work that we did on that show. And I was really happy. And of course, the opportunity to work with Norman Lear. Yeah, was a huge, I mean, I mean, what, what a gift that was.

Alex Ferrari 11:04
So I mean, so there was something I saw every episode. And I remember watching it, I'm like, my god, this is very much like a throwback to the 80s and 90s, when they would do the deep episode, the episode that tackles something deep, like you wouldn't see that with a lot of the current day, even things in the last decade, you wouldn't see those kind of like, tackling like racism and tackling, like really tough things that shouldn't really be in a 30 Minute Comedy, but you guys did. How was it like doing? Like, how was it like, trying to was that like, in the beginning? Like you guys, like, no, no, we're gonna do this old school, we're gonna we're gonna tackle things that aren't being tackled.

Benji Samit 11:45
You know, I think partially, it was, you know, when you have the show that's coming, originally from the mind of Norman Lear. And, you know, he's still there for this new version. And like, that was, I mean, for decades and decades and decades, like that was such an important part of his work on TV like he had, he was responsible for so many amazing sitcoms that were more than just silly jokes and gags and things like, extremely funny, but, you know, actually using the medium to, you know, try and, yeah, give a lesson and something you try to do some good with, with what we're doing. And so that was sort of a guiding principle and ethos, it was important for Mike and Gloria as well. And all the writers to to try and carry that legacy forward and, and sort of do a classic, you know, multi cam sitcom with a live audience that really, you know, it's it was like putting on a play every week, honestly. And yeah, it was just a great experience

Dan Hernandez 12:55
Using the template that Norman had established over the course of his illustrious career. It really trying to not shy away from that and not being worried that it would come off as old fashioned or something. That was, that was important to all of us to try to capture up to, and to try to live up to what is the modern interpretation of that? And, and because it was this cubic family to say, well, there's a bunch of stories within this mode of sort of storytelling that we haven't seen before. Yeah, because it's it's just different culture. It's culturally specific now in a way that we just haven't seen a lot of these stories told through that Norman Lear lens. And that was that was what we really tried to do and and I feel we were pretty successful most of the time.

Alex Ferrari 13:52
What was the I mean, you working with obviously a living legend? What was it? What was the biggest lesson you took away from work with Norman?

Dan Hernandez 14:00
Hmm, it's a great question. Norman was, I mean, Norman is a big believer in if you get the right person for the the role, that there's a lot of trust that needs to happen between the writers and the actors. And that's why he's pretty rigorous about his his audition process. And he's pretty rigorous about if he doesn't think that the actor has the spark of what he really is looking for, even if it's a good performer or a famous performer. He doesn't he's not interested in that he can't. He doesn't. He doesn't engage with that. He really is thinking about what is the part what am I trying to accomplish? What is that spark that I see in this performer

Benji Samit 14:47
Well, it's yeah, it's finding the actor that can that can transform that what's on the page to the next level where like, you know, you could have the best script ever but at the actor doesn't click with like, it's, it's just not.

Dan Hernandez 15:02
And that may sound facile on some level, like you should get a good actor for a party. I guess what I'm trying to say is it's beyond. It's beyond town. It's like an almost indescribable,

Benji Samit 15:16
Like, a spiritual connection to the part.

Dan Hernandez 15:19
He really, I think that's why in the, in his, you know, the for I was gonna say the old days but, you know, to ancient but it is in the past, Norman often went to Broadway to look for performers who could carry a dramatic load as well as a comedic load. And Justina Machado was a Broadway performer. She's an amazing, I mean, she's an amazing actress. I mean, Rishi is rearrange our living legend, he got, you know, all of that. So, and then you have someone like Stephen Tobolowsky, who is just just such a professional and such a craftsman and such a technician and so thoughtful in the way he does everything. And the whole cast and, you know, the, I mean, is the fella, Marcel, like, you know, Isabel has now gone on to start her own show. So there clearly was something there. And of course, togher now stepping into the role of Schneider, you know, that was that was. And so in order to kind of get the alchemy, right, Norman really put an emphasis on chemistry, and that sort of it factor that that, you know, over the course of decades, he can recognize, I think, in a way that other people, you know, we'd all be so lucky to work long enough to be able to discern that in someone based on an audition, because sometimes these audition tapes the best, you know, not every not all the best actors shine on a video. Right. You know, and so sometimes it's going beyond the audition tape itself, or the performance on the addition, and seeing some quality or some move or some physicality that feels right. And Norman is amazing at identifying those things. It's it's really something we we really tried to take away from working with him.

Alex Ferrari 17:13
Yeah. And not and Norman still at it, man. I mean, he just, yeah, he's got projects left and right. Still, he's still getting things developed. He's still getting things produced. How old is it?

Dan Hernandez 17:23
He's almost 100. I mean, he's 98. And he's a nine, but he's an actual genius. I mean, that thing, that you meet a lot of smart people in your life, and you meet many talented people, but the amount of actual genius level people that you encounter is pretty small, I would say in this life. And so when you do encounter it, it's like, Oh, right. This is an actual person. This is a person that is exceptional. There's no one that knows more about a TV comedy that probably will ever live, I would go so I would venture to say,

Benji Samit 18:05
Well, yeah, no, I mean, he's been through it all. We were talking to him. And yeah, he was talking about how like, he, when he went to, to college, like he was like, studying radio, and they heard rumors of this thing called TV that was gonna come out. And I'm like, so then he started doing that. And he's still doing that. And, yeah, like, it's just talking to him is unlike anyone else. We've ever Yeah, it's not. There's no comparable person, because he's seen it all. Truly, He was there. He's been

Alex Ferrari 18:41
He's the oracle he's the Oracle.

Dan Hernandez 18:44
But he also knew every single person, you know, you can say, hey, Norman, tell us about you ever meet Orson Welles? And he's like, yes. And in fact, I did meet Orson Welles. My you know, like that, here's my Orson Welles story. I mean, and you could say

Benji Samit 19:00
He is still so sharp and remembers all of these things. And like, yeah, he goes to work every day. And he just he lives for this stuff. And like that's, it's really

Alex Ferrari 19:10
I just started watching. Yeah, just started watching the Rita Moreno documentary on Netflix the other day, and she was just talking about oh my god, that the guy can Marlon Brando. Thank you, Marlon Brando. And like, she's like, oh, yeah, this and that. And this and you're just in there. Like, what?

Benji Samit 19:31
You know, how many slides means that one day at a time, it's just heard regaling us with stories of all that.

Dan Hernandez 19:37
And Rita is also a genius. I mean, that's, that's, I mean, we've encountered a few performers in our time that I think are the transcendent talent is so remarkable that it's actually kind of breathtaking to see it. Express and Rita is one of them. We were fortunate enough to work with Robin Williams, briefly. And that even in the you know, week or however many days it was that we work with Robin, it was like, oh, that's why Robin Williams as Robin was because what he's capable of doing is so beyond anything that we've ever seen even even on a show that wasn't ultimately a hit, but that didn't change the the watching his craftsmanship watching the way he approached a scene watching away he even approached to take in between Tet, you know, yeah. So what Benji and I have tried to do throughout our careers is try to take those lessons from these really, really talented people, genius, loving people and take, you know, 15% of that as a lesson for ourselves. Going forward, and in our own work as best we can.

Alex Ferrari 20:48
Now I wanted to go back real quick. What was the what was that breakthrough? What was that thing because I'm assuming you guys didn't just say, Hey, we're gonna start writing and then the money just started boatloads of money started coming in and opportunities start flying in. That's the way it works in Hollywood. You say you're a writer, and then opportunities just show up. Right? That's the way it works.

Benji Samit 21:04
Mm hmm. Yeah, no, no. Yeah, no, it was just a whole lot of the hustle. You know, we, we were out here in LA. And we were sort of focusing on at first, just like writing features. And, you know, we got, you know, a small agent to finally read one of our things, and he sent it to a few places. And we, you know, pretty soon after graduate, like, in the first couple years, like we, we optioned a feature. And we're like, oh, this is the thing, if suddenly it's gonna get made. But now that all fell apart. Mm. Like, there was another like, we got hired to, to write, like, the straight to DVD movie that never got me. And so like, this was when we're, you know, 25. And any, any gig sounds like a great gig. And then, you know, so yeah, we sort of thought like, oh, everything's happening, but then no, nothing was happening. And so then we were like, well, let's keep doing movies. But let's also try doing TV because there's this whole other side of the industry that we love that's here. So we started writing, some pilots and, and those started going around, and eventually we started getting some attention there. But again, like it wasn't overnight, okay. Like, even once we started getting to the point of like, having showrunner meetings like we weren't getting the jobs yet. Like, just like, we were suddenly at a place where like, oh, yeah, we're doing showrunner meetings now. And, you know, that went on for a while, like we met on dozens of shows, or like a dozen shows, probably, before we got our first staff job on on 1600. Pen.

Dan Hernandez 23:01
Yeah, I think that, you know, I think there were a couple of things going on. I think that we were fortunate to get a small agent when we first started out. But you also do realize why these big agencies are the big agencies and and you know that there is an access issue. So that is a bit of an uphill struggle. But on the other hand, our first agent did an amazing job of getting us read places, we probably would not have been read just through hustle and through tenaciousness. And and I think it helped that because I'm Cuban, we qualify for a lot of these diversity positions on these shows. And so we were ended up getting read by a lot of places that I think probably wouldn't have read writers at our level. Otherwise, which was really great for us because I people did start to see there was something there. Even if we weren't quite ready to get some of these jobs, there was enough promise that people did take the meeting with us and we did get in rooms with really high level people that we probably at a pretty young age. It still took a long time to some luck to get that first gig. But I think it was all now and looking back on it. And I occasionally meet people who are sort of in similar situations now looking back on it when you have 12 showrunner meetings that is a sign that something is right in what you're doing even if those meetings don't ultimately ended a job you can sort of say okay, this is seems to be pointing the way towards eventually hopefully someone is gonna say yes, but in the moment it felt more like why is anyone saying yes we keep having these near

Alex Ferrari 24:46
I'm pretty I'm pretty enough Why doesn't anybody want to date me?

Dan Hernandez 24:50
Yeah. You know, I chose that we're, you know, like waiting me is the next year I was like, we could have wanted to have a So it was disappointing at the time. And but it forced us to continue to refine what we were doing, it could force us to, you know, work harder on our material, because we did feel like we were knocking on the door. And because we had made the rounds, and all these people were lucky to part is I went to high school with Josh Gad, the actor, and he is a friend. And he was very close. My also, my wife went to the same high school, and she actually was closer with him. He was a senior, we were freshmen. So she was great friends with him. One of my best friends was great friends with him. And when we moved out here, we were able to connect, and we became friendly. And Josh said this before anything, Josh said, Well, you know, if I ever get a TV show, I want you guys to work on it. And we said, okay, yeah, sure, sure. Yeah, that'd be great. Sure. And then he went to New York, and he did a show called Book of Mormon. And then he got outed for Tony, which he should have won, in my opinion. And then he came back, and he had a show. And he was like, Hey, guys, I want you to read for my ship. So that was it. But even that was,

Benji Samit 26:13
That alone wouldn't have been enough. But like all of the other meetings that we had had on other shows, it got us on the, you know, radar on the radar of the NBC executives that were in charge of 60 minutes. They knew who we were they it was it was sort of like all the stars aligning, right.

Dan Hernandez 26:31
So it was it was preparation, it was luck. It was hard work. It was it was timing, all of those things. And and that's why I often say to younger writers or artists, no one's journey can really be replicated. It's not, it's not possible can because if you ask any writers or Hey, how did you get your big break? You're going to hear a crazy roundabout shaggy dog tale of Yeah, well, I knew a guy who did a thing and that, oh, I met a guy or I was an assistant. And then I did that, you know, it's just it's not. Everyone's so different. Right? Right. That's how our story came about, and how we got that first gig.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
Yeah, and for everyone listening just because it you knew Josh, that's no guarantee you would have gotten if you guys were just working at in and out and just like, hey, I want you guys to be a writer that probably wouldn't have worked out, you guys

Benji Samit 27:22
Because we knew Josh, there was actually some hesitancy, right. Other like from the showrunner and the creator, like, they didn't want necessarily to have like the actors, buddies, like, in the writers room, dictating what the actor should and shouldn't do. Like, here, I sort of had, it was kind of an uphill battle. And

Dan Hernandez 27:47
Well, you know, we learned a lesson important Hollywood lesson, which is our agent at the time said, you're taking this meeting with the other creators of the show. It's just a formality. And what we learned is that anytime anyone tells you something, it's just a formality, it means it is not a formality. teetering on the edge of disaster. Barry, I have a spidey sense for that phrase. Now, anytime someone tells me it's a formality or it's a layup. I'm like, Oh, okay. That means

Benji Samit 28:18
That I also think, you know, like some of the some of the failed showrunner meetings from when we were younger, gave us the tools to know how to then handle that meeting, that formality meeting where like, some of the questions thrown at us, we actually were prepared for in a way that we weren't when we were 25. And so it's sort of like, yeah, looking back at it, it's like every moment of our journey, like, helped, there was a reason that happened. And it it's yeah, it's

Dan Hernandez 28:51
Well sometimes it is making a decision to learn something, you know, so we would occasionally be in at the beginning of the show in meetings where they would ask you a question like, What would you change about the show? Or what's the worst part of the show? And I think the natural inclination, especially when you're young is to equivocate? And be like, No, it's fine. You know? No.

Benji Samit 29:11
You feel like us, like a baby writer? Like what? What how are you going to tell a showrunner how to like, fix their, their show, or you know what the issues are? But like, they don't want to hire a baby writer that just tells them that they're right. They want to hire someone who is going to give ideas to make the show better. Yeah.

Dan Hernandez 29:32
So after that happened a few times, we together made a decision that it was like if anyone ever asks us a question, like what is the worst part of the show? Or what would you change about the show? We're going to be completely honest. The next time that this comes up, and it so happens that that question was one of the sort of major questions in the 1600 pen interview and we just were honest, and ultimately approved to be the thing that got us the job. So sometimes the agents sort of discerning. Okay, what is there a lesson to be taken here? What did we do wrong? You know, but when Greg Daniels in my sure asked you like, hey, what's the worst part of Parks and Rec? And you're like it when you're 25? It's hard to be like, well, let me tell you, Greg Daniels. Yes, we just weren't there emotionally. I think that if, if, you know, going through that experience really prepared us for the future. And yeah, and help set the setting.

Alex Ferrari 30:31
Now, one thing I'm always fascinated about is because I've never been in a writers room, because I've never done television in that way. How do you break an episode? Like, what is the process in the writers room to breaking an episode?

Benji Samit 30:45
I mean, it varies between show to show show runner to show runner. But I would say the the sort of most common way that it's done is, you know, we have big discussions, those first few weeks of a writers room is really just talking like, getting to know each other and our personal stories, personal stories that may relate to what the show is about getting to know just talking about who our characters are this or that. And slowly, through those discussions, Episode, ideas start to come up. We're like, oh, yeah, it'd be funny if there was an episode where this happens, you know, like one day at a time. The first episode we wrote is the one where, where she was on hold for the entire episode. Contract the VA, and it's like, oh, on hold, and let's like, just a moment of like, oh, it'd be funny to do an episode where she's on hold the whole time. And everyone's like, yeah, that sounds funny, putting on the board. And so you sort of have like, a list of ideas of episodes. And it's up to the showrunner then, to be like, alright, alright, now, let's actually talk about that episode. And then it becomes more of a discussion of like, okay, well, what's going to happen in that episode, start to arc it out in loose terms. And, you know, just with the group, slowly filling it out to the point where it's like, you sort of have an idea of pretty much seen by seeing what the episode is what the ACT breaks are. And at that point, the the writer who's been assigned to do that episode actually goes off to start writing an outline. But much of the, you know, of the of the breaking of the story just happens in a sort of natural way with the whole group.

Dan Hernandez 32:28
Yeah, and I think sometimes you may think that you've got a great idea for an episode course of conversation, you find it evolves into something slightly tangential, or just an element of your initial idea sort of survives, or becomes the, the springboard toward what the episode is really about. So you have to have a little bit of openness to changing things and not being prescriptive about

Benji Samit 32:56
You can't be too attached to anything, when you're going into these discussions, like it really is just like, let the discussion take us where it has to go. And, and a good showrunner can sort of, you know, find that line of, you know, to freewheeling a discussion versus like keeping some sort of shape of like, where we're going, not losing sight of the episode and sort of a whole freewheeling thing.

Dan Hernandez 33:26
And now that we're showrunners, you know, you also have to be judicious and saying, This is really funny, but it doesn't sell on our characters, right? This is a really cool idea. But where do you go from there

Benji Samit 33:42
Right are there enough actual storytelling beats for it to sustain an entire episode? Or is this really just like a guy? So yeah, is this a gag

Dan Hernandez 33:51
Or kit does it link up thematically with the other stories that you're telling? Because normally in an episode, you usually have an a story and a B story? Sometimes?

Benji Samit 34:02
Or if it's like, you know, this idea is good. It's not a whole episode. Oh, what about that other episode idea that was on the board, maybe we can combine them together into one episode together. So like, it's yeah, you sort of just have to stay aware of like, everything that's been said in the room. And, you know, be willing to steer it in certain direction.

Dan Hernandez 34:25
If things could be quite technical. Really, I think that the baby is something that people don't it's hard to understand how technical it can be, unless you're actually sitting in a room and seeing how, how the episodes are put together, because there are certain things that you need, you know, the inciting incident the the ACT breaks, really strong and all of the you know, that there is a formula, and you can mess with the formula, but basically the formula is the formula and understanding sort of What is the bedrock of an episode of television that allows you to go off in different directions or to or to do something different in order to subvert that expectation in a way that's, that's unexpected, but the core of it really isn't that different than what Norman was doing, or what they were doing in, you know, avocado or something like it really is. It's it's, yeah, especially

Benji Samit 35:29
Yeah, comedy, is comedy, the things the things that make people laugh have always been the same. And like you can you update it, you modernize it, but at the court, the same stuff,

Alex Ferrari 35:39
Right! That you look at, you look at, you know, the Three Stooges, I still crack up. I mean, anytime someone gets smacked in the head with a with a wrench, and there's no actual bodily harm, right? It's funny, the banana is slipping on a banana peel. Funny, farts, farts funny.

Dan Hernandez 35:59
I think there's just something innate in the human character that certain things amuse us. And I think also one thing that I find helpful, and maybe this is just the way that my brain works is I, I couldn't tell you like the quadratic equation, I couldn't tell you the chemical bonds of sodium, but I can tell you what happened in a random episode of The Three Stooges, you know, some bit that they did, or I can tell you some random line from an obscure movie that and so a lot of times, they'll say, we need a bit like this, we need a moment, like Groucho singing, hello, I must be going, you know, we need something that captures the spirit of those things. So it's almost there's a shorthand that I think of which is okay, we need something that plays the role of this comedic moment, or this emotional moment, or, you know, an emotional moment within the craziness that that really lands I think, often referenced this before. But, you know, when Wayne and Garth in Waynesboro, they're lying on the top of God's car looking at the stars, and Garth is missing the Star Trek tune. It's actually a really beautiful quiet moment within the within the the craziness of of that story, but it's actually one of the most important moments of the movie because you see their hopes and dreams of these guys. And it's not I mean, yeah, there are jokes in it, but they're actually really speaking their truth in that moment. And so sometimes you say, Okay, we need like a Wayne and Garth moment that's specific to our show. But it captures the feeling and the spirit of oh, this person is speaking their truth. They're struggling, they're struggling sorts, something that they probably aren't going to achieve. And we really want them to achieve it, even though it's unlikely. And so that those are almost like the component parts that you then try to build it that I don't know if everybody does it that way. But that's on my

Alex Ferrari 37:55
Yeah. Which is, which is really interesting, because I found that a lot of bad comedy doesn't understand that there has to be a human story underneath. Like you watch coming to America. He really is looking for love. I mean, there's a lot of craziness that happens along the way. That's super funny. But there's that thing that's driving the story where it's not just gag after gag after that, then then you're basically doing Saturday Night Live, you're just doing you know, skits gets gets gets get where a lot of is that fair?

Benji Samit 38:24
Yeah. 100% you need to, you know, have that core emotion that you can connect to as an audience member, or else yeah, you're just watching silly stuff, which can sometimes be funny. But to sustain you for a long period of time, especially like when you're going to a movie like oh, you can't last hours without having some something to connect to emotionally.

Dan Hernandez 38:50
And I think it's it's it's something that I do you think you refine over time. I think that the tendency for young comedy writers is to just focus on funny and gags,

Benji Samit 39:02
Being as outrageous as possible.

Dan Hernandez 39:05
And there is value in that. But now having done a lot of things and written a lot of things, it's much more clear that the things that sometimes it's seeing things that don't work and seeing things that do work really are illuminating. So the things that I feel that I've been the most successful that we've written all I have a core emotion that's very pointed or very moving or aspirational or whatever, that there's some real emotional stakes. That is the bet is that just supports it. It allows you to be as crazy as you want to be because we you care. If you don't care, then everything is just a wash. It's all at the same sort of bomb.

Alex Ferrari 39:53
Right! It's like you look at something like boar at and, you know, that was obviously very, like outrageous and went over, in my opinion might have gone over the top a little bit too much in some of those scenes, but there's still that emotional thing. There's the thing that's driving more like you feel for Borat when he's trying to to kidnap Pamela Anderson.

Benji Samit 40:17
There's so much emotion and depth to to Sasha's performance. Oh, were they like, amazing. It was if it was an actor that was not doing that, like, oh, yeah, people would turn it off in five minutes. Like, this is disgusting. This is terrible. This is stupid. But like, you can't help but care about this guy. Because everything he's so he's so coming from an earnest place. Yes. And so hard. And there's a real emotional thing where you're just like, oh, like, I get what he wants, I agree with him, I want him to get that he's just going about it. And he's not just like, doing this stuff, just to provoke reaction,

Dan Hernandez 41:02
Forgives a lot of bad behavior. And that's, I think, been true of comedy from, you know, time immemorial. But I mean, even something like there's another version of it, which is like Kenny powers on he's found him down where he's doing really bad things. He's saying really bad things. But because Danny McBride as a performer, he's so he's just like an open wound. He's just so it's so obvious that he is emotionally fragile and broken, that you see the the, the genesis of all of the pain and all of the behaviors that are that are generating out of this person that is doing all this stuff, but you on some level, you're like, oh, but he is he's not a bad person, really. He's just so insecure, and so traumatized by whatever it is, in his past that he is now expressing it in this way. That is, of course inappropriate and very funny. But there, you know, not every performer has that thing. And writing can help with that sometimes, if but there are certain special performers who you're kind of just on their side, even when they're doing bad stuff. And so often, it's because they give you a glimpse into a different they give you a glimpse into it interiority,

Alex Ferrari 42:29
Humanity. Yeah, humanity

Dan Hernandez 42:31
Is there even if they couldn't express it as a character themselves, you see it, you recognize it for what it is, which is vulnerability, which is pain, which is humiliation, which is whatever, and those are really powerful emotions. There was really visceral emotion

Benji Samit 42:46
If you were if you were to read a lot of the Yeah, like, like Danny McBride, Kenny power like that those lines on paper, if you're just reading the script, you're like, I don't know about this character, like, right, okay. But then you see a performer who can translate it to the next level. And it's so it is an interesting thing. You know, when we talk to writers that are still trying to, to, you know, find success, it's like, you can't, you can always write even, you can always write that character, like, you know, it's sometimes it takes an actor to make that happen. And so like, even if you see in your head, or you feel like, you know, like, I know, in my head that when an actor does it this way, if you'll see the emotion behind these lines, but like, these are the lines, but if it's like a spec script, that is just like going out to the test, like people cannot read it the way with the delivery that's necessarily in your head. And so, you know, it is a complicated thing, where like, sometimes people are like, well, how come I can't write like that in my script, and then like, this one went on to be successful. You know, but you know, there's all these rules of what I can write, it's like, you just sort of have to, like, yeah, there are different rules for different stages of writing. And they when you're first starting out, like, you need to write something that the a wide audience is able to read it and and see what you're trying to do.

Dan Hernandez 44:23
That doesn't necessarily mean you have to pander, it just means that it has to be written, clearly, right? I suspect that if you read the script of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless line, you would be like, This is amazing. It's brilliant, even though it's really weird, but I think the reason you might feel that way on the page is because it's very clear What's Happening. Happening is super articulated. It's super explained. You get it is illustrated, and the emotion that it's dealing with is universal to every I almost every single person has experienced that exact emotion. And so it's not just So that's an example of it. It is super specific. And obviously, it's in his brilliant voice, Charlie Kaufman. But what he's actually writing about was actually expressing is something that anybody could understand. I wish I could just forget about this person, right? It's so visceral, and it's so human, that it's, it does so much work for you, because you don't have to go far afield to imagine what that feels like. And so it sells so much of the, the idiosyncratic things about that movie, and then you obviously see it performed at it's even better. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 45:38
Right. And that movie so crazy that if it didn't have that, so that that connection, that emotional thread that we could all connect to quickly, you'd be lost. Because it's hard movie to it is a hard movie to follow. But it isn't a hard movie to follow at the same time. But if you didn't have that, you would you would literally be you'd be lost.

Dan Hernandez 45:57
Would I think and I think that that's where some of stroke off, it's like synecdoche. Er, you know, I think is a much I liked that movie. And I thought it was really cool. But it is a more heady and sort of right intellectual experience that is a little bit harder to digest. I think for someone that's not really focused on it and write a decision to digest it because you're kind of going with this writer whereas even something like adaptation, it's very Oh, yeah, but but again, that the heavy emotionality of that movie is actually pretty accessible, loving, and it's really well articulated. And so so that's what I think Benji means, which is like, if you are going to write something really weird, you let people in, find the way that that people are letting by that piece of material really shy? Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 46:55
So which which brings me to Pokemon Detective Pikachu. Brilliant title.

Dan Hernandez 47:04
Yes, of course,

Benji Samit 47:05
I'll take it.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
And then let's bring it back to Pikachu. No. So when I first like, I think,

Benji Samit 47:16
To eternal Sunshine that has Pokemon in it would be

Dan Hernandez 47:19
That's true.

Alex Ferrari 47:20
It is true. It is. It? Is it is it is the it is the Eternal Sunshine of the Pokemon universe. There's no question. There's absolutely no question.

Benji Samit 47:31
It's our guiding principle.

Alex Ferrari 47:34
So did you guys it was out an original spec? Would you guys brought in on that? How did you guys get involved with that project?

Benji Samit 47:39
So you know, that's one where we had we'd actually worked with the producers on a different movie, like a year or so prior. And it's one of those things where like, it's the movie we were doing before was a great movie. We're really excited about it. One of my favorite scripts that we've written, it seemed like, Oh, this is gonna get produced. It was gearing up. We were talking casting. And then, you know, we get a call one day like, oh, actually, the producers are leaving for another studio. So the whole, all their projects are dying. This one. And so it was like another one. It was the biggest disappointment of our career. And it felt like a huge failure. But when we look back now, it's like, oh, no, that was a key turning point for us. Because we wrote the script with these producers. They loved working with with us, it was a great process. And then, you know, yeah, they, they took a job for another studio, like okay, every you know, there's a good opportunity for them. Like you can't blame them for that. And it's unfortunate that the project died, but they liked us and they wanted to work with us again. So a year later, when suddenly they're developing this hack to Pikachu. We're now on the list of writers that they want to bring in, you know, they're sort of like, who are the who are the biggest nerds we know. And that was that so like the the actual concept of Detective Pikachu it was based off. It was actually a video game. It was at the time we wrote the movie. The Detective Pikachu game was only available in Japan on the Nintendo DS. So like it wasn't even in English. We had like a rough translation of the game script. Yeah, but yeah, like they brought us in because we're nerds who knew about Pokemon? Yeah, you know?

Dan Hernandez 49:45
Yeah, I think that what was helpful for us is we were maybe a little bit too old to be in the the full craze of the first generation of poker, but we were in high school right now. When it first came, we were also young enough to be totally familiar with it, and to play the games and to have opinions about the world to have Pokemon that we'd like to be pretty familiar with at least the first few generations of Pokemon. Now there's multiple generations, you know, 1000, you know, like 1000 Pokemon. So you. And you know, if you meet a little kid, they can rattle off every single one. You know that that took a little bit of training up for us? Sure, but at least for the original few generations, we knew them pretty well. And we're familiar with them. And so I think that one advantage that we had going into that project is, we had opinions we had you said, you know, no, we should use this book about because he's funny, or this Pokemon has more of a cinematic personality, as opposed to one that maybe is cooler in design, or in principle, but doesn't really have a defined voice that is going to translate to a movie.

Alex Ferrari 51:03
What's the what's the what's the meme guy? Original Pokemon? The Mime? Is that an original?

Dan Hernandez 51:09
So he Yeah, Mr. Mime was a Pokemon. Not a very popular poker. Shocking, because he's weird and creepy, and sort of a typical of the other Pokemon. But the things that made him kind of weird and unpopular, actually, were exactly the things that we needed for the movie because Mr. Mime had a way of expressing himself that some of the other poker but didn't you could actually have a human conversation with Mr. Mime, as opposed to

Benji Samit 51:40
Yet also it was, you know, there was an element of like, choosing which Pokemon were the most cinematic, like one thing we could build movies, right, right. When we're telling a noir detective story, hey, you know, you're gonna want to have an interrogation scene. I think it was the director, Rob, who was like, Wouldn't it be funny to do an interrogation scene with the mind of the mind? Talk? And we're like, Yeah, and so then, of course, when we were writing that scene, you know, this was us being like, alright, well, how are we going to get answers from a from a mine Pokemon? Oh, can we mind torturing him? So that's, like, of every crazy idea that we had when we were writing that movie. That was definitely one of the craziest ones. And that was when we were like, for sure they're cutting this like, there's no way Oh, no. My torture in the movie. And, you know, not only did it stay in it was like the trailer home.

Alex Ferrari 52:49
It was it was

Dan Hernandez 52:51
We were pretty surprised.

Benji Samit 52:53
We were like, wow, that made it all the way through every every draft.

Dan Hernandez 52:59
So I think that was an example of just having some familiarity having having an approach into this world that is, you know, obviously very popular, but for people that are didn't grow up with it, or who are kids, it's how do you let those people in on this world as well? And how do you make it equally satisfying for hardcore fans? But also,

Alex Ferrari 53:24
Right I

Benji Samit 53:27
The other. I mean, the other challenge was that like, Yeah, we had to make it satisfying for for random people in the general public, who didn't know anything about Pokemon, but making it satisfying for Pokemon fans was also nerve racking because this was a different kind of Pokemon. So like, you know, when we set out to write it, like The Pokemon Company was, you know, pretty clear, like, you know, in this world of Brian's city, like, there's no trainers, there's no battles, there's no Pokeballs sort of, like, all of the defining characteristics of what makes a Pokemon story. You know, so like, when they were like, okay, yeah, so do Pokemon, but with no pokey balls. And it's just like, it's almost like robots doing Star Wars with no force. No, no, lightsabers, lightsabers, none of that. No Jedi.

Dan Hernandez 54:19
Just like so. You're kind of going, huh? And so, what do we do here?

Benji Samit 54:24
You know, so it was it was a little scary when we first Yeah, sat down, we're like, do do the fans actually want this? You know, what they like? So many of them probably just want to see the classic Pokemon story of ash, like told in a movie like, right, what is this different kind of movie that we can tell but it actually, you know, as we were writing it, it became kind of freeing that we didn't have to, you know, rely on decade's worth of backstory and you know, worry about like, well, if this character this way, it'll make people angry here, you know, like the the normal problems of adaptation didn't really apply. Apply because yeah, it was like, it was its own side universe where, you know, yes, it's part of the world and like it's all of the Pokemon creatures that people love, but able to see a different spin on

Dan Hernandez 55:22
It was freeing, ultimately, which is not something that we expected to begin with. And it was a good lesson that sometimes maybe it is better to sort of explore a pocket of the world that hasn't been explored before, rather than go and tell a story that has been told over and over and over and over again, that everyone has their own emotional connection to and their own expectation of what how that story should be told. And what's important to highlight in a story like that. So right, that was a good lesson for us and something that we are going to try to take for.

Alex Ferrari 55:59
Yeah, it's kind of like, you know, seeing the origin story of Spider Man, I'm like, Guys, we all know how Spider Man was created. We all know how Batman was created. We don't we don't need this anymore. Let's move it a lot.

Dan Hernandez 56:08
Which I think is one of the reasons why spider verse was such a revelation. Right, let's get here. Let's explore let's you know, hey,

Alex Ferrari 56:16
Let's get spider ham in there.

Dan Hernandez 56:18
You know. So I think that that's what fell. So I mean, in addition to the visuals, which are stunning, but just from a story point of view, it was it was, didn't feel the need to tell that story. Again, it really was able to range far afield from where any other Spider Man story had had gone before. And I think that that's what made it feel so fresh. That's what made it feel so funny. To have serious spider man next to Spider him. It seems like it shouldn't work. But within that film, it's perfect. It works brilliantly. It was. So that's, that's a good example of okay, let's tell a different kind of spider man story. And I think that that's a good challenge for anyone setting out to adapt, you know, something that is pre existing piece of material or characters that we're familiar with, even if it's not IP, per se, like Pokemon Star Wars, whatever. But even if it's degree night, you know, yes, I think that has existed for centuries. How do you tell that story in a way that is modern, that is fresh? And those are those are the stories that you know that there's something about the story that works to begin with? Because it's still with us, after hundreds of years, and all in some of these cases, Robin Hood? So now it's okay, what do we what do we do with this thing? How do we explore something that hasn't been explored before? Those are exciting moments as a screenwriter, I think

Alex Ferrari 57:52
Now, did you? Did you work with Ryan Reynolds? Was he involved at all in the writing process? Because I know he wasn't Deadpool a whole bunch?

Benji Samit 57:59
Yes. So he, at the stage where we were writing at the very beginning, he wasn't involved. Like we didn't, we weren't even writing for. Like, we were just sort of creating this character and writing the movie. And, you know, it was after they had that final script, and they brought him on board like, Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, Ryan, goes into the recording booth. And he's so brilliantly funny that I saw lines che so like, we're watching the movie. And we're like, we didn't write that joke, but I love it.

Dan Hernandez 58:31
So when you work with Ryan, yeah, someone who is so quick and so funny and, and has a great writing voice himself, you know, he's able to come up with this material that really works for himself. And not every actor is able to do that, as you can imagine, but he is he's able to say, I'm going to try this or I'm going to try so yeah, I don't know, I just, he knows he knows what you know, what works, what works for him and the kinds of things that he thinks are funny, which so happens, most people just date it. So before really fortunate, made us look good. A lot of the time when he would say something really funny, and we're like we didn't write that, but we'll take credit for having a credit. But, but I think, you know, the part that I am proud about is that we wrote a character that he really liked, and that that he felt like he could the foundation was there so that he could then run with it and do his thing, which is what you want.

Benji Samit 59:38
And coming from the world of TV where everything is collaborative. Like we don't have that sort of same preciousness that maybe other feature writers might have have. Like, that's not the exact word I had. Were like, you know, on one day at a time or any other sitcom we've written on like, we've got jokes in every episode, not just the ones with our names on them and you know the ones with our names on them. You know, everyone else from the writing staff has jokes in there, too. It's like, it is a collaborative thing. And, and we like that

Dan Hernandez 1:00:07
It's been useful to have that foundation in writing movies, because you just have to be flexible. And you have to not be like, No, it's y'all, especially these big sort of IP driven move.

Benji Samit 1:00:21
Like, there's, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen for that, like, that's just a nature project, you know, these are corporate owned properties, like there's they, they, they're bigger than just you, the writer of the movies. So, you know,

Dan Hernandez 1:00:38
How do you navigate that? How do you try to make everybody happy? That you know what you're doing? Yeah. That you have an opinion. You know, I think it's easy sometimes in those situations to say whatever you guys want. But sometimes it's actually more beneficial to a project, as the writer just say, Well, hold on, let's slow down for a second. Here's why we decided to do it this way. And to have a really good thought out reason. And sometimes people go, Oh, you know what, you're right. Or Oh, you're right. I didn't think about it that way. And so these big projects, gaining momentum of their own, and sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees, but we were fortunate, the Pokemon at a turning out as good as it did, because we love it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
And then you also jumped on another big property, which is Addams Family, which is huge. You know, it's been around forever. And so many people know that. I mean, everyone knows the song. Everybody knows the character's mind. By the way, my daughter's obsessed with Addams Family right now. Like they're obsessed with it. And I told him, like, you know, there's like, there's live action movies, just like they're like, What? They're like, there's live academic, yes, we'll get the live access as well. How do you like, I mean, that thing, I mean, that property, those stories, I mean, have been told again and again and told well, in other in other films, I had Barry Sonnenfeld on the show a while ago, and we talked about, like, how he had to deal with Addams Family, the first one. So how did you guys approach? You know, telling the story of the second the animated version?

Dan Hernandez 1:02:12
Well, I think that similar Lee to Pokemon, you know, we had a really, we had a real sense of these characters. Sure. I think that in the case of the love, deep affection for those characters, I think because of those live action movies, and then going back and watching the old shows, and the old reading the Old strips, you know, but I think that when you have characters like the Addams Family, unlike a Pikachu, whose personality can only be so defined, right? Yeah, each of them is extremely define and habit for decades.

Benji Samit 1:02:45
Yes. So it made the writing, like, it's rare to structure a starting a script where, right, you instantly on day one, know exactly the voice of every one of your characters. And like, What a joke would say, well, like, what's a good Gomez joke? What's a good mortician? We didn't have to create any of that, like that is set in stone. We know people, you know, people know and love these characters. We just have to do justice to those voices.

Dan Hernandez 1:03:14
Right. So I think that, you know, the Addams Family, too. And the animated series is a little bit different than the live action because they I think they are a more ad kids. So it's then saying, Okay, well, what's a story that honors the Addams Family tradition and isn't pandering and isn't dumbing down but also, is something that is emotionally accessible to to younger people that they can really look into and understand. And so then the question becomes, okay, yes, it's great that these characters are sort of fine. But we've also seen them in a lot of different circumstances over the years. And so it's like, what's left? That we haven't seen them do a million times before that we haven't explored fully in this case. One of the premises of the movie is is, is Wednesday, actually, a member of the fat and Addams Family by blood by birth or not. And that was a so it then became a question of, well, what makes an atom's what is an atom's? What? Is it a birth thing? Isn't an attitude thing? Is it nature? Is it nurture? Both of which I think the adversary would not like. So that was the genesis of of where that story idea came from. And then, like Benji said, the characters are so define that part for us was relatively easy, because we felt pretty confident to write in the voices of these characters now. Not everyone can. Not everyone likes doing that. Right,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:00
Right, they want to create their own thing, right?

Dan Hernandez 1:05:02
Right, they want to create their own thing. And it just so happens that we actually enjoy doing both. Sometimes we enjoy creating original new characters. And sometimes it's really fun to take somebody else's character for a spin, and get to try out some things that you wouldn't normally, you know, I never thought I would get to write Joe mess, jokes, characters in all of anything. So it was a lot of fun in that respect. And it also felt like, he didn't really feel like work, because so much of the work had been done for us, really, the bulk of the work was in the plotting. And in the, in the, the structure and the execution of that plot, as opposed to How's Gomez gonna act here? What's funny, a little faster? And then, you know, because this is animated, you can expand the range of what is possible for these characters physically.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:57
In cousin it. Yeah, like, cousin.

Dan Hernandez 1:06:00
You know? Yeah.

Benji Samit 1:06:02
Fester, slowly, transforming into an octopus creature is like, it's one of those things where it's like, in live action, you don't really do best in animation.

Dan Hernandez 1:06:15
It's like, Yeah, let's Yeah, we can do that. As long as it feels consistent with the faster that we know. And in this case, especially the, you know, that the kids are now familiar with. And we've been really fortunate that kids love. Yeah, I mean, they love the movie. And the first one, they left worrying for us to get to hear from people. My kid has already watched it five times.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:41
My daughter is obsessed with Wednesday, like obsessed with Wednesday. She's like, she's like, Wednesday is the coolest character.

Dan Hernandez 1:06:48
And she, she, my I have I have a four year old daughter, we just the other day, she she watched the movie for the first time. And she loved it. And she loved Wednesday and like, Yeah, I mean, for me, that was exciting. Because it was like, the first thing that we've written that my kid could watch, right? Yeah, it was thrilling in its own. She was she was very proud.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:11

Dan Hernandez 1:07:13
So that's how you, I would say that's how we approach something like house family, which is, you know, every project has its own idiosyncratic share on it. And you kind of have to be adaptable and tailor kind of what is required of you, as a writer to what the project is, and what the ultimate goal of each of those projects

Alex Ferrari 1:07:35
Now and obviously you were listening to the MC Hammer song on loop while you were writing this write the Addams Family

Dan Hernandez 1:07:40
We gave it a spin. not listen to it.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:47
Now, I'm going to ask you a few last few questions asked all of my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Benji Samit 1:07:58
I won't say that like, that is sort of what I was talking about earlier of like, the the moments of defeat and the low points, right. In hindsight, are actually every single thing is it is it is a path towards victory in the end or you know, it is a stepping stone. Like you you look at it as like this is the end. But really, in hindsight, you will see that like that was a that could have been a key pivotal moment, and to not, and just sort of like allow yourself to remain open to that possibility even and try when we're in the moment now. I think we're now a little better, because we now have this career that we can look back on of this happening again. And again, it's like when a bad thing happens, we can now sometimes say, well, like, maybe it's for the best because we made a good relationship here. And we can still turn it into like it's not the end. It's not as like doom and gloom as it may be was early on in our career.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:03
Yeah, it's great advice. Um, what is the what what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into TV or into the film business today?

Dan Hernandez 1:09:15
I think you know, like I said, there isn't one path that is the path. So you should disabuse yourself of the idea that you can replicate anyone's journey or that what you're doing is the way you have to do things or what the way someone else did it. It's just not true. I think that the part of it that will always remain true is having something that you can a piece of material that you can share with people where you say where you reach a point where you can say, if someone doesn't like this, I'm okay with that because I feel like I executed what I wanted to execute the best I could possibly executed knowing 50% or more people who read anything that you write, including us will just not like it for whatever reason. So you have to get comfortable with rejection, you have to get comfortable with judgment of things sometimes that are very personal to you. But my opinion is that if you write material that really is unique to your point of view, whether that is a personal ethnic point of view, cultural, societal class, whatever, some amazing experience that you have some point of view or philosophy that you have that is unique, like Larry David, you know, you. So when you when you can do something, when, when what you have written, really is a calling card into the shorthand of your being and your personality and the way that you look at things. That's the material that that inevitably is noticed, and is passed around and is well received. And so don't chase trends don't chase things that you think that you ought to do. Alright, fleabag, right. Like that was a play that she wrote, but it would be hard to say, Okay, I'm gonna write a fleabag, that I don't think it really works like that, I think that probably she had something inside of her that she needed to express and through, you know, because she's brilliant, you know, like that. It served, you know, in wound its way until suddenly, she is Vinny Wallbridge, you know, right. And fleabag is fleabag. But everyone I think has that thing inside of them that is extremely personal and extremely neat. That doesn't mean it mean, it needs to be super serious or heavy, it just has to be from you and you alone. And once you have that piece of material, then you can and it takes time, right, you may not hit on that piece of material, the first time out, or the fifth time out, or the 10th time. But if you make a little progress each time, now you're able to share that material with others. And the feedback that you're going to get is going to start to get better and better and better. And as if it gets better and better, better. The range of people who read it and the opportunities that are going to come your way are going to be are going to just expand. So I would focus on that first and foremost, and then start to strategize about the nitty gritty of okay, who How do I network? How do I get a name, right how to write. That's all good and important. But it doesn't really mean that much. It's not as high yield unless you have that that entry ticket. That is your script that

Alex Ferrari 1:12:45
Your voice, your voice.

Dan Hernandez 1:12:47
Again, that's like read a brand step. It's like yeah, but I think it's actually a little more nuanced than that. I wouldn't say the script that Benji and I wrote that got noticed by some of these people was a brilliant script, certainly not by our current standards. But what it was, was a true strip to who we were and the time that we wrote it. And I think that that came through in such a way that they were like, Okay, maybe this script itself isn't perfect

Benji Samit 1:13:13
We were not trying to emulate anything else, we were just writing ourselves on the page. And I think that's what excited people and, and sort of.

Dan Hernandez 1:13:22
So there's a difference between like a perfect script, and a script that is getting across a point of view and a person, especially in television, it's like if I read something that's not perfect, but it's really interesting, or I think that the brain behind it is really interesting. Nine times out of 10, I said, let's, let's talk this person, let's see what, what they're about. Because especially when I'm running a show, I don't need everyone to be the best at writing the show that I'm in charge of. They don't they don't need to that I don't need their own personal material to be so perfectly brilliant that that, you know, there's no criticism, but what I do need is to say, I think this person thinks in the right way, they have the right prerequisite amount of you know, technical writing ability. And if they're a cool person, and I like how they, you know, they are like if we vibe, I can teach them how to write how I want them. Sure, sure, sure. So I think that that's that yeah, that would be my first

Alex Ferrari 1:14:24
And last question. Kind of like rapid fire three screenplays that every screenwriter should read. Or three pilots, three pilots and every screen I should read.

Dan Hernandez 1:14:33
If you're a dramatic writer, you should read the pilot of the shield. Yep. It's unbelievably good. And it's just a special it's just a special script. It just does some things that are shocking and even to people who watch it now it's it's unexpected. It's just not what you think it's going to be so that that would be one for drama.

Benji Samit 1:15:01
You have one, one for comedy. Trying to think

Dan Hernandez 1:15:12
The pilot of I mean, I'm just thinking of scripts that I think you're you may be surprised the pilot of Glee is essential. It's, it's truly, it's nearly flawless. Actually, just in the way that it uses voiceover in the way that it uses the integration of the songs. And the characters are clearly defined a lot of characters in a period of time. It's very funny. It's really funny. In many ways, the high watermark of that show is for me, at least, it's really damn good. So that's a pilot that jumps out at me as as a really something to study and to like, just dig into what makes this thing work. And then as a movie, it really can't go wrong with Wayne's World, it's, it's really, really, really special. Yes, there are amazing performers of the heart of it. But if you really strip it down to its basic components, it is an underdog story that is perfectly articulated, and every step of the way, feels truthful. And it feels real to and the stakes, while in the wider sense of the world are pretty low. To them. It means everything. And sometimes that's, that's a hard actually pretty hard work to hit, which is like they're gonna lose their public access show.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:38
That's the world that's everything.

Dan Hernandez 1:16:40
For Wayne and Garth. That is the world. Yeah, that's their world. That is the one area in which they feel special. Right? One area in which they are anything coming from a rural coming from this town where there's not much in front of them. But what they do have is Wayne's World. And when you try to take that away from them, it is an existential crisis. And you do understand like, what are waiting guards without Wayne's World and and so there's a lot to really study and there's all kinds of craziness in the movie, but the core emotions, the friendship at the heart of the movie, the idea of small town, the idea of having a dream, all of it is in that screenplay, and I just think it's remarkably good.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:28
Well, guys, thank you so much for your time and thank you for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you for making Addams Family. Thank you for making Detective Pikachu. My daughters are very happy about that. Continued success to both of you guys and keep doing what you're doing, guys. We appreciate you.

Benji Samit 1:17:44
Well, thank you so much.

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BPS 147: Neill Blomkamp – Big Budget Indies and Creative Freedom

Ever since I saw District 9 and learned of all the mythical stories behind the short film becoming a feature, I have been a massive fan of today’s guest, Neill Blomkamp. Though Neill is here today to talk about his new sci-fi horror fiction film, Demonic, we also chatted up about his other films that have been successful over the years.

Released in August 2021, Demonic follows a young woman who unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed.

Neill is a South African Canadian film director, producer, screenwriter, and animator, best known for writing and directing multiple-award-winning films such as Chappie, Elysium, and the iconic District 9, along with a plethora of short films, commercials, and special effect credits.

If you have seen a few of Neill’s works already, you would already know and admire his dystopian, action, and sci-fi style of writing and filmmaking. He depicts the short film in documentary style, with xenophobic social segregation themes.

In 2009 Neill and his wife, Canadian screenwriter Terri Tatchell, co-wrote a short film titled, Alive in Joburg, which later became his feature film debut, District 9. Neill received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for this $210.8 million-grossing film from a $30 millionbudget.

District 9 was a critically acclaimed splash, earning multiple awards, including the Bafta, the Academy, Golden Globes, etc., for its visual effects, editing, screenplay, and picture. And a 90% on rotten tomato. But the success of this film is truly in the story it tells and the inspiration that drove it.

In 1982, a massive star ship bearing a bedraggled alien population, nicknamed “The Prawns,” appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor.

In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, was contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and must rely on the help of his only two new ‘Prawn’ friends.

As you will hear in our conversation, this project was inspired by parts of Johannesburg in South Africa’s history Neill was learning. His journey involved gaining awareness of xenophobia from relatively poor South Africans against immigrants from Mozambique, Nigeria, and Malawi — a sentiment is still prevalent with some South Africans to this day.

The initial short film, Alive In Joburg that preceded District 9, had a socio-political theme shot in realism-based style paired with sci-fi but of performers sharing real-life experiences of illegal aliens/immigrants in South Africa.

By the time he had to adapt the script for the feature, District 9, Neill had moved into an interest of South Africa’s history, including apartheid, and precisely its border war period in the 1980s.

As mentioned earlier, Neill started his career in this industry through visual effects and animation in commercials. When he moved to Canada at 18 years old, the pathway opened up for him to finally pursue his childhood dream of working in the film industry.

He did Ads animation for some years while closely following the works of film directors who had gone the commercials to film directing route. One of his most prominent commercials to date, which was shelved by the clients based on creative differences, was a short film Superbowl ad for Nike.

Even though he spent a short time doing commercials, Neill has held on to all the transferable lessons and tips to his filmmaking and screenwriting.

IN 2015, Neill released his third feature film, dystopian sci-fi action fiction, Chappie, co-written with his wife, Tatchell — starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, and Hugh Jackman. Chappie became a massive success at the box office with a gross of from a $49 million budget.

Chappie, an artificial general intelligence law enforcement robot, is captured during a patrol and reprogrammed by gangsters after being stolen. He becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.

Wanting to experiment and have more creative freedom Neill created Oats Studios. Oats Studios makes experimental short films, a testing ground for ideas and creativity leading to full scale feature films based on ideas created here. One of the studios most popular shorts is Rakka.

Not to give too much away, let’s dig into my interview with our incredible and inspiring guest, Neill Blomkamp.

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Alex Ferrari 0:09
I like to welcome the show Neill Blomkamp, man, how you doing, Neil?

Neill Blomkamp 0:12
Good. How's it going? Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:14
Thank you so much for being on the show. Man. I am a huge fan of yours. You know, ever since district nine, and, and also the mythical story behind the short and how it became the feature, and then this world when that you went on, and we're gonna kind of talk about all that. But first of all, how did you get started in the business?

Neill Blomkamp 0:33
I suppose the, I suppose it was through visual effects and animation, really. But it was always as a stepping stone towards directing. So you know, when I when I, when I was living in South Africa, as a teenager, I, I always was very drawn to film. But I wasn't really sure whether I would be able to work in film or not, actually, I should I should qualify that I, I was, it didn't even occur to me that I could have a career in film. So it was when I moved to Canada at 18. And I realized I could actually work in the film industry. And there was, there's a visual effects company that I started working for as an animator. And pretty much from the time I started there, I was looking at a lot of my favorite directors having gone through commercials and music videos before becoming feature directors. And so I thought that, that would be a that would be an interesting path to try to, you know, to try out. And that is kind of what I ended up doing. I just spent very little time in the world of commercials before getting into features. So but that was that was the the sequence of events

Alex Ferrari 1:44
And those those directors because I came up around the same time you did, and I was following I got into the commercial world and direct the commercials and stuff. And I mean, I was the same thing during that time period. Commercials was see it seemed to be a gateway in it was one of the one of the paths that you can get in

Neill Blomkamp 2:01
it still is.

Alex Ferrari 2:02
To a certain Yeah, absolutely. But I think it was the first time I think, obviously Ridley and Tony Scott were the ones who kind of busted open the doors with commercial directors getting into features but who were those directors that who you were looking up to? I'd love to hear those. Those names?

Neill Blomkamp 2:17
Well, actually, I mean, RSA, RSA ended up signing me so that was because of Ridley and because of Tony that it felt like that was that was a good way to go. But really the the actually the more famous company was propaganda film, Steve, Steve Golan, and like what Steve golin was doing with people like David Fincher, I mean, millions of of directors were coming out of propaganda films. Oh, I it's, it's like unbelievable. From you know, Adrian line to Dominic Santa to Fincher,

Alex Ferrari 2:48
it's a Michael Bay, Spike Jones. And the list goes on and on

Neill Blomkamp 2:52
Fuqua. Exactly so and but I mean, Ridley with RSA was, you know, was was, it was weird, because they, Tony and Ridley were the ones directing the movies, and then the, the commercial directors in RSA, it's hard to think of RSA directors that went on to do features at that time. But it was like, as the owners of the company, they were the ones who were doing it and then a propaganda all the directors were moving into from commercials, music videos into film. So it just it just seemed like a very, like a very good path to go on. And I did, I did this, like, completely insane short film about this, this bipedal robot in Africa, right, that Wyden Kennedy watched, which is the company that does Nikes advertising. And I was like, really super lucky because one of the executives at the company, Mark Fitz Lof, saw that piece and then had me direct, a really low budget small Nike piece. And then the next Nike piece that I did was was massive It was a superbowl commercial with like, you know, an absolutely insane budget and and then it was shelved. It was like Nike told me that if anybody ever saw it, I'd get into you know, legal trouble with them, which is pretty hilarious. But but but I went through that process quite quickly of like, you know, direct directing commercials and getting a certain amount of like notoriety behind them because Wyden Kennedy was so well known, so I owe fits off a lot for that.

Alex Ferrari 4:30
And but I just have to ask why did they shelve it? What was the problem with I mean, if you, I mean, I've never heard of that. I mean, I've heard that a little bit, but not that at that level.

Neill Blomkamp 4:40
I think I think there were two things happening simultaneously like the one thing was, I'm not totally sure about this, but I think that Nike went through, I think it was at the time that Phil Knight was stepping down and someone else's replacing him and there was like a change of regime regime change. Yeah. And and, and then also the ad itself was very I think it was, I don't know if aggressive is the right word, but it was, it was a little bit different for what Nike normally was doing. So it was a combination of those two things.

Alex Ferrari 5:10
Got it. Got it. Now, I also came in, I also came up in post production, more on the editing and color grading and post supervising side, I did do some VFX stuff as well. But you came in through VFX working on some cool shows like Dark Angel, I remember Dark Angel and all that stuff. What are the lessons that you brought from post production into your directing?

Neill Blomkamp 5:34
It's hard to say I mean, I guess maybe? I honestly, I don't know. I don't know. Because I think I think that the way that I think about doing visual effects isn't necessarily something that I brought with me from post production to directing. I think it's more like that's an artistic style that would have been there regardless of you know, so it's, it's, it's hard to say, I mean, I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 6:02
I mean, I think I think I think in your work, from my point of view, at least, the line between visual effects and story are so blurred, as opposed to, it's just incorporated so heavily in the storytelling process that it's, it just is, as opposed to, we need a transforming robot. Can we throw one in there? It's, it's, you know, it's a little bit different the way you did it, so I understand it, but but from at least from my point of view, post production, at least when I'm on set, I know what I can do in post production, hence helping me move a little faster on set that I'm assuming that helps you as well.

Neill Blomkamp 6:39
Right? Um, I don't know. I mean, I think that as time has gone on, I've definitely tried to shed everything and just only look at it from the point of view of directing. And and kind of, I mean, I suppose your besides besides trying to make something compelling with with actors, and cinematography, the only other thing that you have to do, you know, it's not blow the budget or blow your days, really. So, you know what I mean? So it's like, as long as you're as long as you're doing as best as you can creatively. I mean, that's all that really matters. And I don't know how much of it is influenced by that background? I mean, it's an interesting question. But when I when I think of, when I think of VFX it's, it's no different than mechanical effects, or prosthetics, or wardrobe really, or makeup, it's, it's, it's just another tool that's there to help flesh out the scale of the world, it's just that a lot of a lot of the fantastical elements tend to rely on VFX to a greater degree because they can do more.

Alex Ferrari 7:44

Neill Blomkamp 7:45
But it's like, you know, it's your job to try to convince the audience that that stuff is real, and the world that they're existing in for the duration of the movie Is real.

Alex Ferrari 7:53
Now, where did you come up with the idea for district nine? And how did that whole little short get put together?

Neill Blomkamp 8:01
Well, you know, it's, it's, it's weird, because when I lived in South Africa, I mean, I was obsessed with movies like Blade Runner, obviously. And, and films that have this kind of cyberpunk feel to them. And in South Africa, you can only get your driver's license at 18. But you can get a motorbike license at 16. So I had I had a bike where I would just ride through the streets of downtown Joburg, which is, you know, relatively cyberpunk on its own. And I started realizing that I was, like, a lot of South African directors or South Africans in general, that are creative tend to or anywhere in the world really tends to look at the US as like, the sort of the, you know, the, the creative landmark or sort of the milestone that you're going off to write like, you wouldn't you wouldn't set something in your in your backyard, necessarily, if you're from South Africa, or or Australia, you, you try to you try to emulate some sort of New York, LA sort of feel to things. And I started noticing that I was very interested in this city that I'd grown up. And as I got older, and when I moved to Canada at 18, I realized I was really, really interested in it. And so every trip back like besides besides seeing family, I was also seeking out parts of Johannesburg in South Africa's history that I hadn't really gone into much when I lived there. And one of the things that started that I started becoming aware of was this feeling among relatively poor South Africans that that immigrants from Mozambique and Nigeria and Malawi were taking jobs per seat where they were perceiving them as taking jobs from from them. And there was this like wave of of illegal and legal immigration into South Africa. And so initially, the short, the short film that I did was was real South Africans talking about real, illegal aliens. And, and when you mix that with having an interest in science fiction, but then also being interested in the socio political stuff, it kind of I turned that into the idea that the aliens were, in fact, actually alien. But the performances, but they weren't performances, the documentary based realism of what I was, I was, you know, interviewing people and what they were saying was based completely in, in reality. So that short was this kind of strange combination of, of real documentary filmmaking mixed with science fiction.

Alex Ferrari 10:44
When did you? Did you add the science fiction afterwards? Was that all? It was all planned?

Neill Blomkamp 10:48
When you would do it was it was planned? Yeah, it was planned, but it was it was it the idea came from speaking to South Africans like, I mean, if you, you know, if you live in Johannesburg, the sort of north of the city would be wealthier. And then when you get in, when you go beyond downtown, you'd get into Soweto or areas within Soweto or other townships, townships, like tembisa, or, you know, there's a whole bunch of them, and got those areas, I just didn't, I didn't spend much time in those areas when I lived there. And when you go into them, and you start actually speaking to people, it just it's sort of like a different, it's a different point of view of things. And it started to it started to merge with some of the science fiction ideas that I was having, where at the time, I was really interested about using science fiction in, in socio political or just discussions about culture, and, you know, economic stratification across clauses, class warfare. And I think all of those topics are kind of inescapable, if you if they reside in your mind a lot. If you're, if you come from a country like like South Africa, you know, or India or Brazil, where there's huge wealth inequality and huge different class stratification. So, yeah, I guess it's almost like two pieces of two things that are interesting. Like one is just the filmmaker kid interested in Blade Runner. And then the other one is, is more of a look at the culture that I had come from. And the short film is sort of a merging of those two things. But then in the space between making the film and making district nine, I started to become more interested in in the 1980s. I mean, apartheid, you know, is much longer than obviously, just the 1980s. But the 80s is what I lived through, up until basically either 1990, the early, very early 90s, when Mandela was released, or 1994, when the the ANC actually took over when Mandela's governments actually took over. So I was 14, when the government switched. So in the period between making the short and then district nine, I had kind of moved away from the idea of illegal immigrants in South Africa with how native South Africans were perceiving them, and moved into an interest of just the history, the entire history of apartheid, and specifically the 1980s, because South Africa was also fighting the border war over the same period where they were fighting, and golance that were supported by Russia and by Cuba. It's weird, like South Africa went to war with 50,000 Cubans in Angola.

Alex Ferrari 13:25
That's insane. I'm Cuban. Yeah, that's insane. Yeah, I've never I've never even heard of that.

Neill Blomkamp 13:30
Yeah, you probably there probably be people in you know, far enough into your family history that may have been involved in that somehow, because Fidel sent 50 to 60,000 Cuban troops to Africa. So what was happening was, was the the perceived threat of communism was was pushing down Africa, because Moscow eventually actually wanted the cape from South Africa as like, obviously, as the strategic points in the in the, at the height of the Cold War. So they were building bases and, and, and turning a lot of African countries communist on the way down to putting pressure on on South Africa, which, despite apartheid was a massive ally of the US. And, and so it boiled Oh, it started to get kind of crazy in the late 60s. And then in the 70s, they went to war with one another. And it just, it just continued in this upward intensity, where the 1980s was, was, you know, just it was like, completely intense through all the way through the through the 80s. In the end, that in 1989, the conflict ended, but that there was still Africa had this weird mixture of militarization outside of the country, fighting a war and then it was using some of those tools within the borders to control anti apartheid, you know, probe pro black movements that were happening within the country over the same period of time. But yeah, it was it was, you know, pieces of Angola had become communist and they were they were basically fighting over Namibia and and at the time South Africa controlled Namibia. And so as the Angolans pushed down south africa pushed up and then and the more pressure they put on Angola, Russia started to put started to use Cuba essentially as as a as a communist ally to to funnel troops into a goal that pushed us Africans back down. So at its height, it was like 60,000 60,000 Cubans, and tons and tons of Russian, like Russian generals and Russian advisors that were that were fighting with the Cubans and the Angolans against the South Africans, Jesus man.

Alex Ferrari 15:43
Well, so with with the short, and the feature, it was the first time I mean, I was raised here in the states all my life. So it was the first time I'd seen kind of like this bigger budget action, sci fi film, not set in the United States. It was kind of mine, it was kind of mind blowing. Essentially, the short, you were like, Wow, man, this was it just I think when the short came out, it kind of it was in 2004 2005, if I'm not mistaken. And the internet was, you know, 505 and YouTube was YouTube is just getting started.

Neill Blomkamp 16:18
How did I even remember if it was on YouTube? I think it may not have been because I think YouTube didn't exist? I'm not actually sure. I don't think it really, I don't think it was didn't exist.

Alex Ferrari 16:28
I don't think it I think 2005 it launched I think in February of 2005. Because I put some stuff up in August 2005 with my films. But what I'm How did it get into the hands of Peter Jackson, who eventually helped you get the feature made?

Neill Blomkamp 16:47
That was because of RSA. So like I was saying earlier, I joined RSA with an eye to getting into feature films, I only really cared about filmmaking, like features. I never never really wanted to do commercials. So when, when I signed with RSA, Jules Daly ran the commercial division, and I told her exactly what I wanted to do. And so now all of a sudden, I was in a production company that had signed me that was, you know, that was well known and had had a lot of creative force behind it. And so she, she was like, let me introduce you to a bunch of agents, because you're gonna need an agent to you know, start directing films. So I was like, Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And so I met a man a few agents that she put me in contact with, and I really just didn't like, at all. And then she was like, Listen, there's one more agent that you should meet, but he's like, way more unusual than the other ones. And, and he's, he's, he's, you know, he's down to meet with you. And at the time, I didn't realize how much of how much how much of a massive beneficial leg up this would be. But the agent was Ari Emanuel, who, you know, like, I mean, our he's our is what very well known in Hollywood, so and I, when I met him, I really liked him. I liked how honest and just I really, really loved him from the minute that I met him. And so I think at the time it was endeavor, it wasn't totally me, but endeavor assigned me and the second that that Ari, and two ever signed me. And then there was a younger agent at the time. Who's you know, is my age now? Phil gammacore. Those guys put my work in front of Mary parent who was producing Halo at Universal, and she was producing it with Pete So she gave Pete all of the stuff and she was like, you should check out Neil stuff. This is like a, you know, a young, commercial director. And, and then Pete was into it. So I flew down to New Zealand and met him and met the team that was assembled to do Halo, like, you know, everyone at whadda. And when it's digital, and I just moved there with my family and started working on Halo. But But I did have a it was interesting, because I kind of had a discussion with myself beforehand about I mean, before before anything to do with Halo came up. I had a pretty firm idea, because I had already made and I live in Joburg, which we were just speaking about. And I had a pretty firm idea of wanting to only do things that were kind of my own ideas, or I like the weirdness of of what alive in Joburg had turned out to be. And I felt like that felt like me and I wanted to make films that were like that. So I didn't want to do the spider man's and you know, the Hollywood stuff. I just didn't want to really do it. And I was incredibly aware of that. Like it wasn't like a small thought it was. It was a strategic. I mean, well, it's anti strategic because you're shooting yourself in the foot. But it was it was incredibly clear to me that that is not what I wanted to do. And and then I was in New York, and I got this call where endeavour was like Peter Jackson wants to meet you for Halo and I was like, fuck it. I'm doing it. I just threw it out. Funny. It was like Tesla testing the theoretical mental model, which was put to the test and it failed miserably. It feels completely fucking bottomed out. So, yeah, and the second I got there it was, it was reinforced with how much of a brilliant decision it was because of just you know how amazing weather was, and I never I, the the world that Peter had created for himself is sort of a creative, you know, structure around him was just so it was just really cool. So I started working on Halo. And I was like, you know, very heavily invested in it for six or seven or eight months until universal and Fox just collapsed the whole process and the film, that particular incarnation of the film died.

Alex Ferrari 20:51
And then and then Pete said, hey, let's make district nine, I'll help you produce it.

Neill Blomkamp 20:56
Well what happened was, I think there were at least 50, if not 60 or 70 people that were on payroll on Halo, right. And we'd spent a bunch of money building stuff. And, you know, we had a few different writers that we were working with, and the second that that collapsed. I was there with my wife and young daughter, and we'd been living there for well over half a year, she was in school in New Zealand. And it was like, Well, okay, I guess I'm packing my bags and leaving. And I think Peter and Fran Walsh, were both they both felt that it was it was sort of it was just a terrible ending to the way that all of the work that we had put into Halo had happened. And they and they said, what, what else do you want to do? Is there something else you want to do? And I think it was actually Fran that suggested doing a live in Joburg into a feature. And by it was literally like in the morning, the film collapsed. And in the afternoon, we were working on what would become district nine. So then, yeah, so then everyone, you know, like the crew diminish to like, basically, my assistant, Victoria. Everybody else, like there was just nothing really to do. And then and then as we started slowly writing it and conceptualizing the movie, then wet a workshop came back on board and started designing the creatures and, and the world. And I went to South Africa a bunch of times to sort of, you know, from a writing perspective, but also to shoot tests of certain things. And one of the tests that I shot was with Sharlto who, who hadn't acted in anything, but, and I wasn't putting him forward as the actor for the movie, I was trying to show Peter and Fran, what this South African bureaucrats might look like, because I knew that he would be really good at judges bringing that kind of thing to life. But he was so convincing, that it felt like we should just put this guy in the lead of the movie and because and because everything was sort of really happening only with Peter and Fran and there was no there was no typical studio structure to how we were doing things we could make creative choices that were that crazy.

Alex Ferrari 23:10
Yeah, because I mean you normally don't put a no name actor note without any bankable you know, anything or in believable I felt

Neill Blomkamp 23:17
like that. It's not even that you that it was a no name actors that he wasn't an actor,

Alex Ferrari 23:22
even even, again, taking it to another level.

Neill Blomkamp 23:26
He was more like Sasha Baron Cohen in the way that like he would mess with people he would he wanted to, he will not want it to be Shaw was a sort of, he was very much a filmmaker behind the camera. But he would do he would do things that were more like, more like Sasha Cohen like skits that he would have been doing in front of the camera, where he'd be manipulating people. And, and it was that level of manipulation and improvisation that I always knew him as, as my friend in South Africa that I knew if I explained what this character was, he would just pull it off amazingly, for a test for us to then later get some other actors. But he was so convincing that it was like, let's just use Sharlto and that's that's what happened.

Alex Ferrari 24:08
So then so then the movie gets released it you know, it explodes around the world, people love it. You get nominated for a handful of Oscars. What is it like being in the center of that? That kind of world when that nightmare hurricane? Because it's it's intense. I've spoken to others who have been in that in that little eye of the storm it What was it? Like? How did you handle it? What was that all about?

Neill Blomkamp 24:32
I mean, I definitely was aware of the fact that I felt very, very lucky that things have turned out that way. You know, you never, you never really know how something is going to be especially especially when it's a little bit weird. I mean, obviously, if you do if you make films that are a bit more generic that could be economically very profitable by by being very predictable, and that fit between the rails perfectly. The outcome may be more, more predictable, but with something like that, I mean, it's obviously high. unpredictable. I remember when we were filming it, I remember absolutely clearly thinking to myself, like, I know that I like this movie. And I know that if I was an audience member watching this, I would like it. So I'm going to assume that there is at least a small number of people that would be like me that would like this. But beyond that, I cannot really imagine other people liking it or not liking it. It's It's It's absolutely unclear to me, like South African setting. Right, you know, political statements and political concepts wrapped in science fiction, it just just didn't, wasn't clear to me. So I know that when it was received, well, I felt very, I felt lucky. You know, like that, that, okay, like, it turned out in a way that the people liked it.

Alex Ferrari 25:47
You got it, you got the puck through the through the net, if you will. Yeah. You just sneaked it through. And that's, that's always amazing when I see films like district nine, and many of your other films that have a budget that have the scope of story, and you're either either able to work within the studio system, or at least get it made, it's so much more interesting than the kind of homogenous the things that come out of Hollywood, and I enjoy to enjoy some of the superhero movies and things like that. But at a certain point, you'd like to have something with a little little meat to it. District nine has a lot of meat to it. There's a lot of stuff, you're saying a lot of stuff. It's not just aliens fighting, you know, you know, shooting around and killing people and stuff. It definitely says something. So I always find it so interesting. And you've continuously seem to been able to do that throughout your career like with with your next film after that. It's I can never pronounce it. Utilize, at least at least him? Thank you. illicium. Yeah. What was it like jumping from district nine to a basically a big studio movie with big movie stars? And you know, all that.

Neill Blomkamp 26:50
Yeah, it was interesting. I mean, you know, again, at least cm at its core, is the core topics that it's talking about are not completely normal inside the genre that it was being presented as. So it was also an unusual enemy. Now, it's another film that like it could have could have worked or not works, or, you know, you again, you just you just don't know, if you're doing chappies even more, it's like, each one of them was like slightly more unpredictable in the way that they would be received. But no, at least, you know, people often ask me about because now I've spent a bunch of time essentially making YouTube videos without studios, and demonic is a self funded paranormal activity. And so it's like, well, what's, what's it like? You know, what, what is the difference between the high budget stuff and the low budget stuff, and what's really interesting is, day to day stuff doesn't actually feel that different to me, the day to day shooting of it is not different, which is interesting. Because maybe it's like you're facing the same problems, and you're facing the same, you know, thought processes, about how to deal with things, but it's only really on a theoretical level. Like if this, if this endeavor doesn't do well, you know, will it make it harder to get other things like the screen lads? It's sort of bigger theoretical questions like that, because working with working with Hugh Jackman, or or Matt or something, you know, or Jody or or Sigourney, it's like, it's, they're just very cool actors to work with. They're very easy to work with. It's not. Again, it's not like a radically different situation. So yeah, it's more, it's more on the theoretical side than the practical side, I would say the differences.

Alex Ferrari 28:34
Now on, you know, as a director, there's always that moment on set, at least on all the projects I've ever worked on, where you feel like the world is this is the world's going to swallow me up. This is like, everything's going wrong. I'm losing the light, the actor is not working. The practical effects isn't working, you're already giggling because you're already going through. But so what was on either on either district nine or chapter, or lithium, which was the day that sticks out in your head is like the like the like, this whole thing is going to come crashing down around me. And what did you learn from it?

Neill Blomkamp 29:12
Well, I mean, in a way, you're asking two questions in one question. Like, are you when you say the whole thing is going to come crashing down around me? One way to look at that is, is this day just sucks and it's incredibly difficult to make this day. But another way to look at it is, is I'm completely fucked. And the entire movie is a piece of shit. Like which, which one do you

Alex Ferrari 29:32
see? Yeah, you're absolutely right. Because it could be like, this is just a really bad day. Or what and then generally, like Martin Scorsese says is like if you don't look at your first cut and think it's absolute crap, you've done something wrong. So I guess it would be like the I think it's a combination. So it's a combination of like, maybe it's been getting a couple days have been bad and other things have been going off and it just pops on this day. You're just like, oh my god, am I gonna get this movie finished is the story. Definitely. I

Neill Blomkamp 30:00
definitely remember a lot of incidences of just difficult shooting days. But there were always sort of buffeted by the feeling that you could make up for it the next day. Like I never, I never totally felt like I had lost in La Mancha kind of situation.

Alex Ferrari 30:15
What a great movie, you know what I

Neill Blomkamp 30:16
mean? But, but I mean, like one of them was in illicium, when we were shooting and in the area where Carlisle's ship crashes the billionaire's Bugatti crashes in the garbage dump, and they basically heist the information out of him. That was the second biggest garbage dump in the world. And it was a real garbage dump in Mexico City. And the top layer of soil was, you know, completely toxic because of all of the garbage and so production at the scrape the whole top of the garbage dump, like the sand, it's sort of like the Utah herbs, the salt flats, were to remove that and then put in fresh, you know, Art Department soil that looks similar. Similar. So in that environment, there were there, we were using a lot of helicopters to and there were there were days there that were just those were probably the hardest shooting days, I think, just in terms of how rancid the environment was how hard some of the shots were, that we were trying to do how we were running out of light. Yeah, it was those were those were consciously memorable as being just really difficult for me.

Alex Ferrari 31:28
And did you and those on those days did you like why did I come up with Why did I? Why is there a scene in this garbage dump? I've written this somewhere else.

Neill Blomkamp 31:36
Yeah, I think I do think that often. But I would also say that pretty much all of District nine felt that way.

Alex Ferrari 31:42

Neill Blomkamp 31:44
It was district nine was by far the most difficult shoes. And you know, there's this thing that happens sometimes where, where art and reality kind of line up in a way that there's some serendipitous alignment with the universe. That I mean, in the, in the story, district nine is the flipped digit where district six in South Africa has its own real history, it's in the cape. It's not, it's not by Johannesburg, but it was a forced eviction under apartheid, where this in this entire community was forced to relocate, the government just drew a circle around that and said, like this is no longer where you will be living, and they moved everybody out of it. And so the district six relocation is quite quite a well known thing. And so the nine is a play on the sixth just being rotated. So, that was a way to, to, from a plot engine device to say that, that as as the as the story engine in terms of plot, we will say that this entire group of aliens needs to be forcibly evicted and relocated. And then the the the character and emotional storylines can intersect with that with that plot storyline. So we needed to find an area that looked like, like a South African shanty town, that preferably was real, because we couldn't afford to build something at the scale that I wanted. And that we would then you know, have ownership over and we could we could move all of these these aliens out of this area in the story. So in real life in southern Johannesburg, in Soweto, there's an area called kliptown which is where we shot and we ended up shooting there because the the government although this is the ANC government so it's it's Mandela's government's even though he wasn't around at this point, was forcibly relocating. 1000s of residents of this part of club town to somewhere else, unlike apartheid, it wasn't a racially based thing. And it was more about there's these government funded houses called RDP housing, which are built by the government and you know, have proper plumbing and and they're theoretically much better for the residents than living in, in tin shacks that are, you know, true poverty. But still, a lot of people didn't want to go because they're from here. I mean, obviously, it's like the government comes in and just moves you maybe the house is better, but you it's it should be your choice, whether or not you're going to move. So they were moved out of this area, like forcibly by the government. So this event that I base, the plot structure on of was was occurring in real life in a way that was happening in front of us, and we were moving into these shacks that were left over by the residents that were moved out. So that's pretty that's pretty crazy, you know, for that, for that level of of I don't know whether it's alignment or, you know, I mean, it's not misfortune because it was good for the movie, but it was bad for the people being moved out, I think. But how how bizarre is that? So anyway, the point is we had, you know, 50 or 60 vehicles that would go into this particular area, which was super rough every day for the duration of shooting, and that's where we were based. And it was, it was. That's why I say it was just it was just really difficult on multiple levels shooting that film. I mean, and psychologically, I guess I was, you know, maybe the crew didn't feel it as much as I was because there was a bunch of different things, but the crew would agree that it was pretty tough.

Alex Ferrari 35:28
Right? And, and they tell you also your first feature, and you know, you're you're taking, you're taking a big swing a bat on your first feature here. I mean, if this doesn't go well, chances of you getting the second feature, and I'm sure that was weighing on you as well. And I think a lot of filmmakers listening.

Neill Blomkamp 35:42
I don't know, I don't know about that. I don't know, I the statement is true. If this doesn't go well, you may have trouble in future that is a true statement. Whether it's weighing on me, I would say I don't think it's weighing on me. Too many other things. give a shit like that way. I don't care. Like, I'd never ever have cared.

Alex Ferrari 35:57
That makes that makes all the sense

Neill Blomkamp 35:59
that we spent four years making YouTube videos and then shooting to Monica self funded film. You don't mean I just don't care. I don't care.

Alex Ferrari 36:07
And that is why your films are the way they are met. Because you just don't give a shit in that in that the best way possible with that statement. And you're a brave filmmaker and a lot of filmmakers who aren't brave that they go down the safe route and you definitely are like, Nope, I'm going to go down the road that makes me feel the way I want to feel. Yeah, tell the stories I want to tell. Which brings me to chapter four good or bad. Yeah. Exactly for good or bad. Now which brings me to Chappie which I absolutely love Chappie, man has so much heart in it, man, how did you come up with chubby? You know, I

Neill Blomkamp 36:42
think choppy is choppy, maybe the weirdest of all of them. But it was a combination of I'm really interested in, in gnostic ideas and Gnosticism in general, which kind of dovetails a little bit into pessimistic philosophy. But there's this idea in Gnosticism, that, that, by existing in the physical world, like if you're a soul, there's there's a, there's a de Cartesian dualism to to, to Gnosticism where, with dualism, obviously, you're saying there is the immaterial which is the soul and then there is the material, which is the physical body in the physical world. So this immaterial, you know, non dimensional thing is injected innervates the the material body and when the material body dies, the soul leaves again, right. And it may be reincarnated. I mean, everyone has a different religious point of view, or not a non religious point of view of what all of this means. But the Gnostic point of view is that immaterial being and immateriality is true, and it's good. So there, the the soul, prior to being infused into a physical body is pure, and it is correct. And the act of physical lising, it just the nature of basically, of birthing into the world is already an act of Defilement. So the physical world is actually it's actually a jail. It's like a prison that's here to break you. Right? It's why it dovetails into pessimistic philosophy, because there's a lot of Schopenhauer and Spinoza and gore, Jeff and you know, all of them talk about these similar ideas that the world will just kind of break you and physical reality is no good. So so the movie is not about AI, the movie was using a robot to, to try to put forward the idea of that, over time, the physical reality will corrupt you. Okay. And then it was also it was also meant to be presented in a totally absurd tone. So these massive philosophical concepts were meant to be presented as like bubblegum pot. Fucking insanity that looks that is irreverent and looks like it should never be talking about these topics. And the unfolds as a South African rap group seemed like a really interesting way to say that, like, none of the serious, it's all fun and crazy. But actually, if you look more deeply, it is serious. So on the surface level, it looks like D on foot music video, and then on the deeper level, you know, it's it's, it's, it's meant to put forward these huge ideas of these existential questions. That's what the goal was, and I don't know really what order that took in the way that it was conceived. But it that's kind of what happened. And then I think one of the main reasons that the audience didn't, didn't click with it was that was the exact thing that I was trying to do, which is that why are these two tonal things existing in the same movie, like either it's serious and it should just be Serious or it's like totally, you know, not serious, which is. And that schizophrenic nature is what I love. Even though perhaps it's a bit too, you know, a bit too out there a

Alex Ferrari 40:11
bit too out there for, for normal for normal people to accept as far as their entertainments concerned. Now I love that it challenges you and I love that kind of erratic nature of the film. And I was when I saw it, I was a very big fan of it. And again, it was just like, I always wondered about how you were getting this how you were getting the puck through? Like, I was always wondering like, man, how is he? How is he taking these swings with these budgets? And that's the thing is like, you know, there's there's, there's a handful of filmmakers out there who do take some big swings at bat. And Nolan is taking huge swings at bat with massive budgets, and there's very few guys like him in the world. But you do it as well with your projects. I always just found it fascinating how you were able to do that. So when I saw champions, like how the hell did he get this thing made? Like, it's amazing. How do

Neill Blomkamp 40:59
we get it I kind of agree with you like looking back on it, like I saw it, I saw it, you know, six or eight months ago or something? And I was like, how in the fuck is going on? Yeah, just makes me more stoked that it's,

Alex Ferrari 41:14
what's the wait a minute, so I got this one made, maybe I can get another. Maybe I could get another one. We could take another swing, which and then I saw, you know, four years ago when you came out with old studios. Like, what how did that whole because again, now you're just like, you know what? Screw it. I'm going to YouTube. Which of course was what most studio most, you know, big directors or successful directors do is like, I'm just gonna make shorts on on YouTube. How did that whole How did the whole concept about studios and what you're doing with old studios come to be?

Neill Blomkamp 41:47
Well, it was initially not meant to be YouTube, it was meant to be steam, actually. Yeah, and because steam is a way to monetize it, if you you know, eventually you could you could start charging for things. But But video on Steam went through some some changes and stuff, and it may not be the best, the best destination for oats. So in the process of trying to reconfigure it and figure out what would be another version of steam, we just put everything that we had made onto YouTube, because it was going to be free initially. Regardless, no matter what we did, it was gonna be free. And so now i'm i'm pretty involved in in figuring out a different way to release another batch of stuff that that later could not being monetized is the wrong way to describe it. But figuring out a financial model to continue to release stuff like it, right. So that's, that's what I'm busy figuring out and it should be separate from Hollywood, you know, it shouldn't, it shouldn't be connected to Hollywood, it should, it's meant to act almost more like a video game company really than anything that would be in Hollywood. And what I mean by a video game company or an animation studio actually be another way to think of it. Because Because physical production is just a bunch of nomads that are brought together, they're they're coagulated for one production, and then they disseminate back into the wild. And that configuration would never really occur that way ever again. And if you look at Pixar, or you look at a lot of Game Studios, that isn't the case, right? These these, these are artists that are working under one roof for many years on many different projects. So I wanted oats to be a live action version of that, where everyone from production design to costume to visual effects, like everything would be under 111 roof. And it would make everything from start to finish. So it was just it was just a theoretical film studio concept that I'm still very drawn to and I want to continue to try to figure

Alex Ferrari 43:49
out now it's good, because you're always on camera, like deleting, you know, the bleeding edge of technology with a lot of the stuff that you do. Is there any filmmaking technology or technology that you see in the in the horizon that you are hoping comes to be that they're like, oh, man, if I could just have this, like what they're doing with the Mandalorian and the volume there and all that kind of stuff? I know, that's but is there anything else that is coming? No, no, you're good right now?

Neill Blomkamp 44:17
No, I don't think so. I mean, I think all of the tools that filmmakers need have been there for a long time. You know, it's more just the case now of like, ease of use maybe or something, something that makes it easier, you know, because film making films is very difficult. It's super, super difficult, but ya know, there's, there's, I don't really look at it that way. It's, you know, the, the the, the volumetric capture that we used into Monique was something that I had sort of earmarked for, for one of the old studios film short films, right. It was like that. That's what I thought I was doing with it. And Oates is a perfect avenue to look at stuff like that where it's like, well, let's just use this wacky Technology. Oh yeah, let's do that sort of like we made a puppet show that we haven't released. But it's like, let's just make a puppet show. It doesn't have to be about technology. It's just about like interesting things that are maybe stuff I haven't done before. So volumetric capture was something that I was becoming increasingly more interested in, right up until the pandemic where prior to COVID-19, I, I thought that the next film that I would do would be in a in a sort of like, you know, a Chappie ish budget range. And and then I would have separately I would have this old studios, creative stuff that I was doing. So let's use the experimental volumetric capture in something like oats, which is where it should be, and then we can fuck around with it and put it on YouTube. So we started speaking to Mehta stage in Los Angeles, who was really helpful and super cool. There, there were volumetric Capture Studio. And I would speak to them about like, well, how would you do this? And how does this work and you know, just because I was obsessed with with volumetric capture, and I knew what that what the three dimensional outcome of that would would look like, and what it would be like to you to play with it in 3d and figure out stuff. So when the pandemic happened, it was like, well, instead of doing an old studios thing that we release online, why don't we make something that's more like paranormal activity, just scale it up to like, you know, one and a half hours. And then we can use some of the stuff that we were thinking about, like volumetric capture. So demonic is also an unusual film, because this stuff that normally wouldn't have been in it in a feature sense just kind of came to be because there was some, you know, a good gap of time and a way to experiment with it. So, but in answer to your question, though, I don't sit around going like what technology could I use? It's, it's more a case of one half of my brain kind of looking at just being interested in stuff that is coming out and going, Oh, that would be fun to play with. Like, that would be interesting. Oh, that would be a cool look. You know, that could that could be interesting, in some story sense. And then the other the other part is like, if you have a pre existing idea or a script, then then does any of this make sense? And or is it worth changing something in to incorporate these ideas? And like often it may not be you know, it could just be the story. The story is story first, and then look, look in reverse demonic is weird, because it happened the other way around. So yes, it was birthed out of this reverse engineered way of coming to be

Alex Ferrari 47:32
so yeah, so tell me a little bit about demonic and how, how that actually got put together and you shot during the pandemic and what that whole process was like?

Neill Blomkamp 47:40
Well, I mean, each one of the shorts on the bigger shorts, like if you look at something like zygote, those are like, there are over $2 million, right? Like each of them. So demonic is under 2 million. So it was like we can we can make another short. Or, because there seems to be a bigger chunk of time. Now we could make something that's maybe more like paranormal activity, paranormal activity was always my reference point. Like I loved how, you know, the filmmakers just shot something that they just shot in their own house. And you know, the actors were the ones operating the camera, it just felt like a like a creative, interesting way to get a visceral response from the audience at a very low budget number. So it was like because the pandemic has has allowed for this gap in time where like, normal production is just on hold. And it was right at the point that I wanted to go back into Hollywood and start making stuff in a feature sense, then I just thought like, Well, why not make a feature just at this lower budget level. And we'll use the same approach that we use with a lot of the old stuff, and then use some of this weird technology that we want to play with. So that's basically what happened. So we, you know, it was it was a case of reverse engineering what we had access to like the locations and right. Yeah, and then just playing in that sandbox, which is what happened.

Alex Ferrari 49:03
So yes, it very much like parallel activity, like or El Mariachi is like, what do I have? I have a Mexican town. I have some guns. I have a turtle. I have a mariachi case. You are like, Okay, I have a volume. I have volume. So your tools just happened. You were just yeah. Reverse Engineering based on the toolset that you add.

Neill Blomkamp 49:19
Yeah, exactly. El Mariachi is an interesting reference point. like no one's brought that up. And I haven't thought about that, but it's true. Actually. I should I should go and watch that.

Alex Ferrari 49:28
Yeah, mariachi, I mean, I've seen it but I haven't seen it recently. We know the history of it. Right? Exactly. It's just kind of like that backing into a story based on the stuff that you have in paranormal did dad and I think even Blair which to a certain extent did that as well but mariachi was specifically he wrote the script around like, what I have a bottle of great bottles in the scene. Yeah, that's

Neill Blomkamp 49:48
exactly that was exactly what happened. I mean, that's that's pretty much like exactly how it was. It was it was conceived which is even more constraint, way more constraining than the old stuff actually, because the old stuff was still a relatively normal process in terms of just think up any idea, right? And then let's figure out how to execute it. This This was because it was a longer running time, it was like, you know, you're taking the smaller amount of money over a longer period of time, you can't just make up whatever you want. So what what do you have access to around here, and Originally, I was on a filament in my own house, I mean, that's not what ended up happening. But and the initial idea was, let's just film it in my place.

Alex Ferrari 50:25
So in this is the thing that I find fascinating about your career, you've worked on, you know, big studio projects, but very few directors who work on big studio project, this will go all the way back down to the indie level and do something as insane as I'm gonna go shoot in my house. That's, that's extreme bravery. Or you just don't care, which is what you've stayed admitted to, like, I'm just gonna do what I want to do. Yeah, I

Neill Blomkamp 50:53
mean, I think, you know, yeah, it's, it's just a personal preference thing. Maybe like I, I really do feel I don't like being told what I have to do. And I don't I don't like there being any expectation on what I meant to do. I want to just do what I want to do. And if I want to shoot something that's like, really low budget, then I should be allowed to go and do that, you know? And, yeah, I'm curious to see, I mean, the next film that I want to do should feel it requires quite a lot of resources, I think, because it has some real scope to it, like, has some serious scope to it. So it'll probably feel you'll probably feel a lot bigger than what I've been doing lately. Are you? I mean, that's because I want to do it. It's because I had an idea that I love the idea behind it.

Alex Ferrari 51:43
So are you are you going to go back to this kind of demonic style of filmmaking again, because it's so free. It's so free. As an artist, you just like, let's just go I don't have to worry about anything. I don't have to go. You just go and do?

Neill Blomkamp 51:56
Yeah, no, it's definitely possible. I mean, it's like, yeah, you know, it's, it's completely possible. I mean, the thing that I would say is more almost more certain, in a way is more is more of the oats kind of stuff. That that is that is almost certainly going to happen. The features at the lower budget level, it's like, sure, if there's something cool, like I'll probably do it. So your stuff is a real goal.

Alex Ferrari 52:21
Got it. So you So what you're saying is you want to be a YouTuber for the rest of your life is what? I'm joking, because remember,

Neill Blomkamp 52:27
I was saying it wouldn't be. It wouldn't be. It wouldn't be YouTube, like it was steam. It was steam. And I know I'm joking. I joke it. Actually, it could there's a possibility it could be YouTube.

Alex Ferrari 52:37
That'd be that'd be interesting.

Neill Blomkamp 52:39
I mean, again, like there's a lot of there's a lot of creativity happening with YouTubers that I don't necessarily see happening at the same level in Hollywood is so it's so stilted. I mean, there are there are a handful of directors that are doing super interesting stuff. But for the most part, it's that's not the feeling that I get, the feeling I get in general is just highly homogenized, like least the what is the least offensive thing that we can do that checks these boxes of whatever particular particular genre that it's in, like, I'm not overly stimulated by stuff that I'm seeing, unless it's from a handful of like directors that are that are, you know, pretty awesome. So the youtubers, on the other hand, just fucking do whatever they want. And it's like, that feels much, you know, much more interesting to me. Like, they're not making feature films, but they're, they're doing what they want to do. And, and I really enjoy that. And anytime you can give an artist free rein and some resources to do whatever they want to do is cool stuffs gonna

Alex Ferrari 53:38
come out and you've been able to build that world for yourself in a in a very large way. So I applaud you as a fellow artist that you have been able to do that for us and that you are just brave beyond compared to some you just don't give a crap. And that's what's so wonderful about it. Because the best filmmakers in the world are the ones who just did you hear like what copalis doing now? Yeah, I just read. That's insane. He's like, How old is he now? He's like, I'm just gonna throw $100 million. I'm gonna write a check for $100 million. Because of all that, why all that wind money I've been making over the last decade. And I'm just gonna make the move because I'm crazy. He was destroying it in the wine industry. He's been crushed like he's been crushing it. No pun intended. He's been crushing. Yeah.

Neill Blomkamp 54:22
And the cool though, I mean, it's definitely like, it's refreshing to see that.

Alex Ferrari 54:27
Exactly. And if anyone's ever seen hearts of darkness, you understand the documentary about Apocalypse Now? You just know. He's as insane as they come. And he's he's the originating one of the originating insane guys.

Neill Blomkamp 54:40
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, yeah, Coppola is very cool American zoetrope, you know the whole the whole thing is pretty amazing.

Alex Ferrari 54:46
The whole thing that he did you hear what he tried to do multiple times and and is able to been able to pull off with American zoetrope is, is is interesting. Now I have to ask you a question. Is there any piece of advice that you would give You wish you would have gotten, or you would be able to give yourself your younger self? If you can go back, is there anything?

Neill Blomkamp 55:11
Jesus? That's an interesting question. I mean, it would probably be something along the lines of just sticking to what you believe in, like, don't let people knock you off the rails that you're that you're on, you know, like, really just double down and, and completely commit to what you believe in and don't let people talk you out of things will probably be something along those lines.

Alex Ferrari 55:31
That's a great piece of advice, because you're right, people are always always in for good intentions or bad intentions are always trying to either work you or push you and tug you in different directions. And director says it has to stand firm sometimes.

Neill Blomkamp 55:44
Yeah, I think that would, you know, that would be I mean, I'm, I'm relatively like that, but I could be more, it could be more like that. And I think if I was younger, it would have would have been something that probably would have been like, quite helpful. Now,

Alex Ferrari 55:58
what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life,

Neill Blomkamp 56:09
I mean, I don't know whether I have even learned this. But one thing that I'm aware of, now as I get older is, regardless of how fucked up things become, or how, just how, like, you know, how, how terrible it things may appear to be, or maybe a different way of describing it is regardless of the level of pressure that you are under. Always just try to try to not let that infect the way that you treat other people and try it try to always have a sense of politeness or dealing with other people in a way that you're not bringing your bullshit into the into the situation. I don't know if that makes sense or not. It's, yeah, it's something along those lines that I'm more aware of lately, that I that I'm trying to do.

Alex Ferrari 57:03
You know, you seem very fearless. When you do all of the work that you've been doing over the course of your career, is there a moment where you were definitely afraid, and you had to break through that fear to get a project done? Or to do something that was really testing you? As a writer or director?

Neill Blomkamp 57:32
I don't know. I don't know. I mean, I, you know, when the films aren't received? Well, it's difficult because it makes you question who you're making the films for, that's probably the closest I've come to just, it just makes you question things. And maybe maybe that's the closest when when I'm, I'm pretty good at when I'm making stuff, just make it the way that I want to make it like the way the way that I look at it is, like we were talking about before, if you're doing a bunch of generic stuff, you can be highly predictable with the outcome, right you can be you can be relatively, you can be relatively assured in the way that the film will be received. If you do certain things. The more the more you venture away from that, you're you're venturing into a place where the film could be a massive failure, and it could be a massive success. And it could could be somewhere in the middle. But But what is definitely happening is that you're venturing into the world of unpredictable and and and that there is no, there's there is no way to know how the audience is going to take it. So over the course of my career, I would prefer to have made even if I make a bunch of films that really don't work with audiences, there will be some in there that massively do work. And the only way to discover which those are is to continue to like hold the course and make stuff that you know, you just feel like you believe in, right. So there's there's something in that approach that I think is quite mentally challenging and quite difficult. But that that also feels truthful. So yeah, it would be somewhere in there that

Alex Ferrari 59:11
I think Yeah. And then you and you basically live in that place with every project you do. Essentially, you've as you've been telling me every single feature that you've done, and that is much with the old stuff. Maybe I shouldn't do that so much like and what are three of your favorite films man of all time?

Neill Blomkamp 59:30
Well, one right at the absolute top would be Dr. Strangelove. Awesome. And, yeah, I think I think Strangelove is is very extremely applicable to me in the sense that there's this, this dark satire about you know, it's humorous satire about these, these incredibly dark concepts that that lie at the core of human nature. So strange love would be like way up there on the list. The Matrix may be like, almost I don't know. Number two, like the matrix is the matrix is a huge deal to me, because it's it's philosophical. And it's just pure popcorn entertainment. It's both things wrapped up in the most amazing way. Right? So that the matrix would be, you know, would be there. And I guess, probably, potentially alien. I'm talking about three films. I mean, obviously, that list changes, but like, yeah, alien would probably be in there too. Yeah, man is, is all of these other elements like, the, the it's operating on a psychological level that is very interesting. And then it has all of the design elements. And as the straightforward science fiction elements, you know, the way that it's shot, it's just, yeah, it's another home run.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:50
So all three of those movies are something in the front, on surface, but then they have a big debt, well goes really deep. All three of those films do I mean, obviously, there's no fighting in the war room. But the matrix I mean, when I remember seeing the matrix, when they came out in 99, I saw it four times in theater, like, yes. So I mean,

Neill Blomkamp 1:01:12
I was just talking to a friend of mine about that. And yeah, we thought it was like five times.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:19
It's insane.

Neill Blomkamp 1:01:20
It was the same thing. He actually went, he actually went on to do the VFX on the next two, on two and three, because, you know, like,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:28
he thought he needed to be a part of it, you want to just jump on it. And that was the thing is like, when that movie came out, you just like, for people that weren't around at that time, you have to understand there's just like, a, like an atom bomb going off. And in film, it just changed the trajectory of I think there was, yeah, there's certain movies that just change the trajectory of cinema. And that's just one of them. Like, how, how could you stick a popcorn movie with so much immense philosophical conversations and themes that on the surface, most people don't even get, but if for other people, and you can get it at multiple layers, and that's like Kubrick's work. I mean, Kubrick, you just keep seeing layers and layers and layers. And it ages very well. Even that film ages extremely well.

Neill Blomkamp 1:02:10
Yeah. Yeah, the matrix is pretty incredible. How old are you?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:16
I'm 47. Okay. Yeah,

Neill Blomkamp 1:02:19
yeah, I was, I would have been, I think I was 19. When it came out. It was exactly at the point that I realized I could work in that I was working in film as an animator, but I mean that I could direct movies. So it was it was like, ground shattering for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:35
Yeah, exactly. So yeah, it does. There's certain movies that hit you at certain points in your life and that was definitely one for me. I was 24 I think at that point. Yeah. And it just like afterwards, just like Jesus Christ. Now where can people see demonic man and when is it coming out?

Neill Blomkamp 1:02:51
Well, it was out on August 20, in a very limited theatrical run and now it's just video on demand.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:59
It's um, it's available right now on video. I'm doing Yeah. Awesome. So I will definitely put the links in the show notes for everybody to definitely check out your latest man.

Neill Blomkamp 1:03:08
You know what another another I mean, this isn't it's not the same in terms of depth but it came out I think a year off to the matrix was that I just loved I saw it multiple times was Gladiator. Oh, I mean that it's like I mean office Jesus I could

Alex Ferrari 1:03:21
turn that on right now.

Neill Blomkamp 1:03:22
The way Ridley shoot stuff you know like it's it's I'm such a fan of his just because of the variety of stuff that he does but also it feels like it's one of his films and Gladiator very much feels like it has this kind of this classic Ridley Scott feel to it. That I just love

Alex Ferrari 1:03:42
me. You can see me you're looking at like, alien. Then Blade Runner Thelma and Louise. Gladiator like you just like oh, in the movie he did with Russell in the in the French and in the in France. A good a good year, a good year, which I love as well. Like it's so all over the place. Like he has so many different things.

Neill Blomkamp 1:04:04
But you know, you know what one of my favorite films is that he's done and and it's a movie that I love in general, but it's probably because I love Cormac McCarthy. And I feel like it was just not at all given a fair a fair shake was the counselor. Yeah, I actually really like the counselor. I like how dark and and sort of nihilistic it is. I love it. And I love that it was Cormac McCarthy's only feature script that he's written. I love that movie. But you know, it's a lot of people haven't seen it.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
It's just I just had a quick curiosity who are the directors now who are inspiring you who are working like who are like, you know, the top three or five guys or gals out there just going like they're nailing it, man and I just I'm first first, first in line when something comes out.

Neill Blomkamp 1:04:54
Well, Ridley Ridley would be up there. James Cameron would be like, you know, the next avatar. ours, Cameron I love

Alex Ferrari 1:05:03
Fincher. Yep.

Neill Blomkamp 1:05:07
Yeah. fengjia and Nolan. I love Nolan stuff. I love the dark. The Dark Knight is the The Dark Knight trilogy is some of my favorite films. I love those movies.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:18
Yeah. And also again, they're supposed to be popcorn movies, but they have a lot of conversation going on underneath it. Yeah. No, man. It's been a pleasure talking to you, brother. It really has. Thank you so much for not only being on the show, man for fighting the good fight out there taking those big swings at Batman. We really appreciate you what you do, man. So keep up the good work, brother. Okay, thanks, Alex.

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John Milius Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

Below are all the screenplays written by iconic 70s screenwriter and director, John Milius that are available online. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link in the comment section.

John Milius became a prominent figure in the film industry after graduating from the University of Southern California. In addition to that, apart from all the movies he directed, he is still famous for producing powerful volumes of screenplays, and each of them bound in leather.

Before he joined the film school, Milius wished to become an Army officer, but fate had other plans for him, and thus, he ended up joining the film school. He was rejected from the Army school due to his asthma issues.

However, when he joined the film school in California, he did not expect anything more with his life. Two years after he joined the Film School Mafia, John Milius began writing one of the best screenplays that are appreciated by people even today. Even as a teenager, he was a fast writer who always came up with original ideas and thus, during those days, he was also known as a ‘bad boy mad genius’ who is stuck in the body of a teenager.

Due to his amazing ability to write an impressive body of screenplays, he is considered ‘the hottest screenplay writer in Hollywood’. His initial body of screenplays gave him enough confidence and experience to write further.

The initial screenplays written by John Milius include Jeremiah Johnson, Judge Roy Bean, Magnum Force, Apocalypse Now, and Dirty Harry. On the other hand, Milius said that he was initially influenced by his teacher Irwin Blacker.

This acclaimed writer and director is well-known in today’s time mainly because he made some of the most masculine and testosterone-filled movies of all time, which is considered to be an influence of his wish to join the Marine Corp. Nevertheless, his movies Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, and the TV series Dirty Harry remains as one of the prominent works of John Milius.

When you are done reading take a listen to Apple’s #1 Screenwriting Podcast The Bulletproof Screenwriting Podcast, with guest like Oscar Winner Eric Roth, James V. HartDavid ChaseJohn AugustOliver Stone and more.

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).

Clear And Present Danger (1994)

Screenplay by Donald E. Stewart, Steven Zaillian, and John Milius – Read the screenplay!

Farewell To The King (1989)

Screenplay by John Milius – Read the screenplay!

Red Dawn (1984)

Screenplay by John Milius and Kevin Reynolds – Read the screenplay!

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Screenplay by John Milius, Oliver Stone, Edward Summer, and Robert E. Howard – Read the screenplay!

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Screenplay by John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola – Read the screenplay!

1941 (1979)

Screenplay by John Milius and Robert Zemeckis  – Read the Screenplay!

Big Wednesday (1979)

Screenplay by John Milius and Dennis Aaberg – Read the screenplay!

Dillinger (1973)

Screenplay by John Milius – Read the screenplay!

Dirty Harry (1971)

Screenplay by John Milius, Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Dean Riesner, Terrence Malick, and Jo Heims- Read the screenplay!

John Milius: The Craziest Writer/Director in Hollywood?

The world knows John Milius as the craziest man in Hollywood mainly because of his unconventional style of filmmaking and choosing a rather different storyline for the movies. He is an ultimate legend of the film industry and a friend to Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Born in April 1944, John Fredrick Milius is a famous American screenplay writer, director, and also the producer of motion pictures. John Milius is also known as the Viking Man or the dog trainer.

He is one of those first few significant writers to receive an Academy Award nomination as a screenwriter. Basically, he came to prominence in the 1970’s, after he associated with Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, andGeorge Lucas. Milius was one of the first film industry professionals to be a graduate from a renowned film school, after having matriculated from the University of Southern California.

However, he won the first prize at the International Student Film Festival Award, at the USC School of Cinema-Television, for his film, Marcello, I’m Bored (1970).

John Milius: His Influence

The macho self-image he presents in his movies, concerns his socio-political perspectives, his radical ideas, and so much more, represents the influence of Milius for his films. During his youth years, he was a lifeguard, and also, an enthusiastic Malibu Surfer. Therefore, there are many different things that influenced the writing and directing skills of this renowned director and screenplay writer.

He also said in an interview that he was always influenced by the people who hired him, and thus, there are a lot of things that influenced John Milius and helped him in becoming the man that he is today.

On the other hand, he was fascinated by Vietnam War, which is one of the reasons why he was completely heartbroken when he was rejected by the Marine Corps. John Milius started writing scripts during those times, which mainly featured both of his obsessions, and these are basically the major reasons why he is interested in creating such masculine movies.

Due to his love for guns, he is called gonzo, the gun-loving genius. He believes that he is the only one director and screenplay writer in Hollywood who would dare to do a movie like Red Dawn. John Milius says that Hollywood is basically very left wing and he believes in rugged individualism hogwash.

These are one of the reasons why he considers himself as a ‘zen anarchist’ and a ‘Nazi’ too at times. Other than that, the most admired film of John Milius, Apocalypse Now, includes a scene which is considered the most iconic scene of the movie in the middle of the debris of war, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”, this scene and line was the influence of a dream that John Milius had.

It is said that his parents once sent him off to a private school in Colorado, which is one of the reasons why he loves mountains, tracking, hunting, and guns, and his love for these things can be easily seen in his movies. According to most of the critics, he uses his personal experiences to create the scripts and that is why the originality in his movies is preserved.

Due to his unconventional techniques of filmmaking and the uncanny ideas that inspire him, he is recognized through his fascist violence and the glorification of lawlessness that is represented in his films, even if it is through screenplay writing or by directing. There is no doubt in the fact that John Milius always has a definite vision of the world, which he exceptionally expresses through his work.

The characters he builds for his movies are always committed to a moral code and they stand by against the winds of the society in order to protect what is right or just to stand the morals. His characters are undoubtedly larger than life. Other than that, John Milius has managed to build his reputation as a respected classic chiefly due to the surfing culture he represents.

Other than that, he is an enthusiastic gun collector, who currently serves on Shotgun Committees and Public Affairs.

The “Macho” Movies

According to John Milius, the modern day Hollywood is admirable but most of the scripts that are made today have rubbish scripts, with no shame, and he also called the writers broken, with no set pattern of writing a screenplay. The writer-director was quite impressed with Teddy Roosevelt and his TV movie Rough Riders was based on him.

He also made the film The Wind and the Lion (1975), concerning Teddy Roosevelt. He contributed his ability as a writer to the movies Jaws andDirty Harry, which were immensely different from his movie, Red Dawn. Red Dawn was basically based on the conservative themes that represented a couple of American teenagers that take on the communist invaders.

The story of this movie was something that was hard to digest for the Americans, as most of the American directors focused on making left-wing movies. When John Milius was still striving to make better films in Hollywood, his movie Big Wednesday turned out to be a flop creation. However, eventually, the movie became a slow-burnt hit on video and later on, it was a famous DVD.

There is no doubt in the fact that the movie had a lot of flaws due to which it was harshly received by the public. Other than that, Conan The Barbarian (1982) remains as one of the best films directed by the exceptional writer and director, John Milius. However, Conan The Barbarianwas assumed to be an R-rated in nature, and thus, Universal found the film too violent to release it in the first go.

The epic breadth of the film is appreciated on a larger scale even today, from the sets to everything else. The outsized presence and the overwhelming power of the former bodybuilder, Arnold Schwarzenegger, created a world where morality falls secondary to conquering. The film is also known for the extreme politics included in it, with a lot of information and supplies to support the main idea of the movie.

The Wind and the Lion and Farewell to the King are two other movies which had to go through a tough time. On the other hand, he was specially hired for the Vietnam-based version of Heart of Darkness, originally written by Joseph Conrad.

Other than his love for the masculine strength and guns, he is known to express his views even if they are extreme, un-Hollywoodish, or illiberal. The reason why John Milius choose to be a director, other than just being a screenplay writer, was mainly because he believes that being a director is the next big thing after being a star, and it is also the only way the people would listen to your views and watch them.

Apart from all this craziness, John Milius has proved to be one of the most admired screenwriters in Hollywood.

BPS 111: The Art of Television Showrunning with Steve DeKnight (Marvel’s Daredevil, Spartacus)

Showrunning is a mysterious art form to many so I wanted to bringing he someone who can shine a light on what it takes to be one. Today on the show we have powerhouse show runner, writer, director, producer, and all-around good guy Steven Deknight. Best known for his work across the action, drama, and sci-fi genres on TV shows like Smallville, Spartacus, Daredevil, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Jupiter’s Legacy.

Realizing his strengths early on in his career, Steven is a jack-of-all-trades who studied acting at the onset of film school transitioned through to writing, playwright, and screenwriting. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was his big break – starting off as writer and story editor on the show, Deknight went on to produce 42 episodes of the Spin-off show, Angel.

The vampire Angel, cursed with a soul, moves to Los Angeles and aids people with supernatural-related problems while questing for his own redemption.

Steven went on to direct and co-executive produce 66 episodes of the 2001 show, Smallville which set a viewers rating record of 4.34 million viewers per episode and had an amazing 10 seasons run.

The series goes along with Clark Kent through his struggles to find his place in the world as he learns to harness his alien powers for good and deals with the typical troubles of teenage life in Smallville, Kansas.

In 2009, He briefly wrote, directed, and consulted on the short-lived Dollhouse series. Almost immediately after, Deknight got an offered to executive produce and write the hit sensation and everyone’s guilty-pleasure, Spartacus.

A fictional historical drama series inspired by, Spartacus, the show focused on Spartacus’s obscure early life leading up to the beginning of historical records.

We do a deep dive on how Steve brought the Marvel universe’s darker and grittier character Daredevil to Netflix that help launch The Defenders superhero on the streaming giant.

Blinded as a young boy, Matt Murdock fights injustice by day as a Lawyer and as a street-level superhero by night, in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.

His feature-film directorial and writing debut Pacific Rim: Uprising. We go into the weeds on his experience bring a studio tentpole to the big screen while under extreme pressure and restraints.

Steve was a blast to chat. Enjoy this conversation with Steve Deknight.

Right-click here to download the MP3


  • Steve Deknight – IMDB


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Alex Ferrari 2:04
Well, guys, today you're in for a treat. On the show today, we have showrunner, writer and director, Steven D night. Now Steven started working as a writer on shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Smallville and doll house. But he really came into his own when he created the series Spartacus, which went on to be a huge, huge hit. He later jumped on the Netflix series Daredevil, which was the introduction to the dark greedy superheroes of the Marvel Universe and Daredevil launched that whole group of shows that aired on Netflix. In our conversation, Stephen and I talk about the business, talk about the highs and lows of being in the business, how to navigate working in Hollywood. And we also talk about his feature film directorial debut, which happened to be $150 million budget film, part of a franchise started by Guillermo del Toro, called Pacific Rim uprising. And Steve really was extremely candid about his experience on Pacific Rim uprising, how it came to be all the craziness that happened and some of the reasons why the story wasn't what he wanted it to be. And so, so much more. So, without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Steven tonight. I'd like to welcome to the show, Steven tonight. How you doing?

Steve DeKnight 3:40
I'm doing great. Great to be here.

Alex Ferrari 3:42
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I truly truly appreciate it. Like I was saying before we started I'm a I'm a fan. I'm a fan of what you've been for you've been doing for a while man and I can't wait to get into it. So before we get started, man, how did you get into the business?

Steve DeKnight 3:58
Oh, now that's a story. I I actually grew up in South Jersey. Back in the 60s 70s 80s. I was born in 65. You know back in I literally was born and grew up in an area that didn't didn't even have a zip code. It was so small. I lived on a tiny little road called Dutch neck road. It sounds it sounds made up. Rd 4. I think it was rural District Four way out in the sticks in South Jersey. And I grew up love loving monsters and horror movies and science fiction movies. I used to spend hours building the old Aurora horror models. I just loved that kind of stuff. Eventually we moved to a town called Millville which was about a hour hour and 20 minutes from Atlantic City down in South Jersey. And that's where I spent, you know, my, my teen years, all the way through high school. And I just again at one point, I wanted to be a stop motion animation guy, because I loved Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. And then I switch to I want it to be a special effects makeup guy. Because I was a huge fan of what Dick Smith was doing. I actually remember you know, and I back then without the internet and only three stations on the TV. information was hard to come by. People don't understand that we're born after the age of the internet, just how hard it was to find stuff. So my lifeline being way out in the sticks was magazines like starlog and Famous Monsters of filmland Fangoria. And I remember in an issue of Famous Monsters of filmland, they they usually had a page or two that highlighted fans who were doing amazing model work or or makeup work. And they had some pictures in there from a young teenage, aspiring makeup artist named Rick Baker. And I think the picture showed he had done this prosthetic that showed like a broken arm with a bone poking through. And I thought, Oh, man, I want to do that. But I couldn't get any of the materials. I didn't know how to get in any materials. And I was just lost. So eventually, I started wanting to be an actor. I did a lot of acting in high school. And when I finally went to college, I went to UC Santa Cruz from 85 to 89. And I went primarily as an actor to study acting. And after about two years in the undergraduate program, I realize I was an OK actor. I wasn't a fantastic actor. And I'm not a big guy. I'm about five, seven. At the time, I weighed maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. So I wasn't a leading man, I didn't have the chops of a Dustin Hoffman or an alpha cheetah. But I'd always been interested in writing. So I started writing plays and putting them on at UC Santa Cruz. From that I got accepted into the graduate playwriting program at UCLA, which to me was always one step closer, I love the theater. I will always love the theater. But trying to make it as a working playwright in this day and age is such a small target. And, and I had always loved movies and television. That was my main thing that I was a big fan of. So I went to UCLA with the idea of going through the playwriting program and then eventually breaking into movies. So I spent two years at the playwriting department then I stayed an extra year to go through the screenwriting department. And then I got out, this was in 89. And I thought, well give it about six months, and I'll be writing features. So I got a part time job as a English as a second language teacher, and a little Japanese private school, in the valley, in Van Nuys. And I thought, well, I'll be here six months, maybe seven, before I break in six and a half years later, I'm still an English teacher at this little Japanese school, getting older by the day, and you know, I would work during the day and then I would go home and write all night. And I kept writing one feature after another that nobody wanted, you know, excitement whatsoever.

And I was entering all the contests and one of the big ones, of course, is the Nicolle fellowship, screenwriting contest, and one year I made it, you know, there's 4000 people that entered the contest, and I made it down to the final five, and I lost,

Alex Ferrari 9:13
But that's. That's a win. That's a win at that point.

Steve DeKnight 9:15
It's a win, but it's it's a painful when I was that close. And it was a kick in the nuts. Um, so but I dusted myself off and because of that, I got some interest from some some agencies. Oh, very, very, very small. So I was able to sign my first what I consider real agent, I had tangental agents and I had one manager that went really poorly. So I never had real Rep. So I signed up. Very small. It was actually an actor's agency that had one literary agent in it. A lovely woman, but I think she was she was getting towards the end of her career. But she was great. I really still couldn't get a lot of traction. Um, but I had a friend that I went to Santa Cruz with a guy named Dale Ward Robinson, wonderful friend of mine. He calls me up out of the blue and says, Hey, I'm working as a production coordinator on this MTV show, being produced by of all people, Roland jofy, the guy that did the killing fields, the mission, and it's a, it's a weird little teen sex comedy called undressed. And he said, I don't think it's going to be picked up. But if it does, I can get your stuff to roll and jockeys, people. I go, Okay, great. Six months later, he calls me up and says, Hey, they picked it up. Send me whatever you have in TV, and I'll give it to roelens people. At the time, I was doing just features. So but I did do, probably about six months before my friend called me up, just an exercise and television. And I wrote a spec Deep Space Nine, which was a show I was really enjoying at the time, as I discovered later, nobody wanted to read it, including the people Deep Space Nine. But it was a it was a really it was kind of a big adventure story with a lot of humor in it. It was about why Ferengies are so small. And it was basically through genetics. It starts off with Worf encountering a ferengie as big as he is where you find out they used to be that big. But through genetic engineering, they made the cell smaller, so people wouldn't know that they were they wouldn't think they were a threat. So I send this Deep Space Nine scripts to my friend for Roland jofy is teen sex comedy on MTV. And he asked me Do you have anything else? I don't know. That's it for TV. So he goes Alright, great. So he sends it to Roland Joffe. He's people and this was my first big bit of luck is that it was a huge Deep Space Nine fan. So he read it, he loved it. And based off that I got on to this crazy MTV sex comedy, which was a great learning ground of how to write fast under pressure. Because the first season we did 30 half hour episodes that aired four nights a week. And we from start to finish from scripts to post, you know, shooting the whole thing. I think we had 15 or 16 weeks to do everything. So it was just a machine. We were just grinding. And the show became a hit for MTV. I so I was on there for about four seasons. But it's like dog years, it was like, maybe 18 months, we did four seasons. And by the last season, we were doing I think 40 episodes in like 20 weeks, and it was such a grind. And there's only so many ways you can get undressed,

Alex Ferrari 13:09
in a character. Undressed.

Steve DeKnight 13:11
Literally, I remember my breaking point was these two teenage girls were having a conversation. And my edict was you've got to get them partially undressed. And literally one of the girls goes, this tag on my shirt is driving me crazy soup. And I thought my soul just left my body. I thought I you know, I'm appreciative that I have a paying job. But my God, I've got to try to parlay this into it because who knows how long the show is going to go. On a side story. I work with some great people. Lizzie Weiss went on to write the crush in several TV shows. And of course, the big name that came out of there was Damon Lindelof, side story for everybody out there struggling. Um, Dale and I thought Damon Lindelof was an amazing writer, just an incredible find. The head writer didn't like him and didn't like his writing, and kept rewriting him rewriting his fantastic dialogue and making a terrible. So that can happen to the best of us. So while I was in that last season of Undressed, I thought, okay, I've got an agent, I actually have a paying job. I need to try to maybe get an agent at one of the bigger agencies so I can get more opportunities. So I thought it's time to write another spec another TV spec. My two favorite shows at the time were NYPD Blue and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I had stories for both of them. And I decided to write the Buffy spec and I always wondered that where my career would have gone if I went into my PD blue. So I write this Buffy spec called Zander the slayer and it was basically Zander accidentally gets Buffy his powers transferred to him and it was all about why men can't be slayers because basically it goes to their heads and they become uncontrollable. Um, I so I finished the script, and my friend, Lizzie Weiss, who had worked on undressed, she was repped at UTA. So I call up Lizzie. And I say, oh, Lizzie, could you pass the script to your agent? And she said, Yeah, sure. So she passes it over to UTA. And then a couple of weeks later, I get a call that says they liked it, but they just don't think it's for them. So I'm like, Oh, well, that's this point. So I gave it to my feature agent, who literally only knew three people on TV. But one of them was the head of Joss Whedon's company. So it gets over there. They read it, they like it. I go over and I interview for a job on the animated show that Jeff Loeb is trying to get off the ground. But at the end of this interview, they say but Josh has to read it. And just to warn you, he usually doesn't like puffy specs. I go, Okay, great. So like they give it to Josh. And a couple of weeks later, I get a call that he wants to talk to me. I go in and we talk about movies and comic books. And at the end, he says, I know you were talking about the animated show. But do you want to come do an episode of the live action show? And I was like, hell yes. So I, I did a freelance of the live action show. And they invited me to the production meeting. And after that was over, they told me to hang around. So I was sitting in this big empty room for like 15 minutes wondering, you know, what do you need more rewrites? What do you want? And then a PA popped up and took me down to the magic box set. And Joss was there and oxen, and they said, Look, we'd like you. We'd like your work, you want to come join us full time. And I just about burst into tears. Because it was my absolute favorite show on TV. And I love all the writers that I've been working with. So I said, Absolutely, of course. So I always really consider that. The real start of my career. That's when things really started to happen for me, right. And again, all based on a spec. And you know, there's this thing that goes around town where people say, Ah, you know, you can never get hired on the show, if you write a spec for that show, write complete bullshit. When I was doing Spartacus, if some writer had handed in a script that was at least 80%, close, I would have scooped him up in a hot sec.

Alex Ferrari 17:36

Steve DeKnight 17:36
umm to know that somebody could could write the show, it's tricky, because you have to really be able to nail it.

Alex Ferrari 17:44
You got it another way because I was gonna say that because I love hearing that I'm like, that's generally against the common knowledge of don't write a spec of the show you're trying to get on. So if you want to get on Big Bang Theory, don't write a big bang theory spec. But when you were saying all that, you've just got an the window to hit it is a lot shorter and closer. If you're if you're writing a big bang theory to get on a friend's I know there's two different errors, but you know what I mean? That's, that's a looser, a loose Oh, he, I could see the talent. But if you're nailing the characters that these writers like, if someone's Spartacus, you know that those characters so well, they got to really understand the voice and really understand that but but if you nail it, you know, you go in

Steve DeKnight 18:30
And and and the next year when I was on Buffy, Jaws hired another writer that have written above spec, Drew Greenberg. So it absolutely can work. But I wouldn't suggest that somebody like write a spec script have a specific show specifically to get on that show because that's not why I wrote that. I wrote it as a sample to show what I could do it just so happens that I ended up on Buffy I was considered that winning lottery for me at the time. I'm more than anything when you're writing a spec script my my big advice is you've got to kill it. You have to love this story. And it has to really be something special not just for the reader but for you. Don't just pound out a spec scripts because you know you feel like you have to even with the Deep Space Nine thing I wrote that one from my heart because I was really excited about this story about a giant for ringing you know you just in that kind of passion. It's what I look for as a showrunner now when I read a sample is that I don't care. It could be you know, I could be looking for writers on a big sci fi show and gifts. That's like a a spec Friday Night Lights. As long as it's good. I don't care. Action The sci fi stuff. Yeah, as far as I'm concerned, anybody can do that. I mean, that's its character and dialogue. That's difficult.

Alex Ferrari 20:07
So I mean, so you spend some time over on Buffy and Angel, which is the spin off of Buffy. I was a huge Buffy fan. I mean, but when Buffy came out, it was it was revolutionary in many ways, like there was just nothing like that strong female lead. You know, I mean, and I think the only way a show like that could have done on air is by a fledgling media channel, like the web that was just trying to find its its roots. And I've heard Sarah, Sarah Michelle, say many times, like, a lot of people look at this as it was a hit like there was apps It was called, was a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a show with a dancing frog. There was there's no guarantees of anything happening with that.

Steve DeKnight 20:49
I remember when I first heard about it, I thought they're making a TV series out of that movie that wasn't so good. It's an interesting choice. And, and of course, at the time, I didn't know anything about the backstory about the movie. Um, but yeah, it was such a surprise, especially since if people remember the web, at the time, was really known for half hour urban comedies. That's what they were doing. That's what their bread and butter was. And the quickest way I have realized in my 20 years in the business, the quickest way to rise meteorically, in your career as a writer, showrunner is be the guy that launches a network. It's their first it's like, what? It's like what Sean Ryan did with the shield. And it's it's also what Matthew whiner did with madmen. I remember for a couple of years in a row, I would get calls from my agent, I remember they called up and said, Hey, AMC is doing original programming. Do you want to talk to them? This was before Madmen. And my reaction was AMC. I'm on a network with 22 EPS a year, why would I want to go to AMC? And then I had the, you know, the same thing with several of these. And then when it finally got to, they called me up and said, Hey, stars, wants to do original programming. And I said, Yes, I'll talk to him.

Alex Ferrari 22:28
Yeah, obviously, over there. Oh, what's the address? Let me go. Exactly. So you also so you, you, you, did you you did your time over Buffy and Angel, then you jumped onto Smallville, which was also fairly kind of revolutionary of a show. I remember because it was, you know, you're tackling one of the most famous characters in history. But it seemed like you guys had a ball, just exploring all of those things in in, in Clark hands and Superman's early life. That must have been a balton to be working on.

Steve DeKnight 23:02
It was a you know, it was it was completely different from the way we worked on Buffy and Angel. And again, this goes back to my Jeff Lowe, who I'd met through Josh on Buffy and Angel. He was working with Miles Miller and Al Gough, who created Smallville. And he was over there on Smallville, and he was trying to get me to come over so I came over and interviewed with him and really liked the guys and ended up going over there. It wasn't as Smallville was interesting, obviously, it's a different animal. In many ways. A Smallville was much more hard on your sleeve, honest, then Buffy and Angel, and also with Smallville. You had all the Superman mythology. And you had to get the approval of the feature side to bring in characters. Like I remember Alan Miles always wanted to bring in. I would never let them

Alex Ferrari 24:04
which one said well, this character,

Steve DeKnight 24:06
Bruce Wayne.

Alex Ferrari 24:07
Oh, yeah, I was always wondering. And it wasn't true that you could they couldn't wear the cape, like the cape was not allowed?

Steve DeKnight 24:16
I didn't want him in the suit. Right. Not until it i think that that very last shot. Um, and you know, my time on Smallville was I had a blast. I also look at you know, I was doing a lot of writing on the scripts. And every year, you know, like fan sites would put like the top five episodes in the worst five. And I was always in both. It was like I was always in and they were completely right. I did some really shit episodes. That, you know, haunt me to this day. I always joke about the exploding baby episode. There's an episode called ageless where Clark Atlanta find a baby that's rapidly in spurts getting older until explodes.

Alex Ferrari 25:06
I vaguely remember that episode. Because it was, it was a horrifying imagery.

Steve DeKnight 25:11
Yes, a horrifying episode. The funny story about that is I was in the room breaking this and this was the first one that I was directing for them. I directed three episodes of angel. This was my first directing for Smallville. So we were in the room breaking my story. And I was very excited to tell this story about kryptonite zombies, which is basically let LexCorp a truck classic like, you know return to the living dead. set up this Lex core truck is transporting the radioactive sludge from their experiments with the kryptonite, obviously, through a rainstorm, the truck overturns and it leaks into a graveyard. And it's kryptonite zombies and Clark is powerless against the kryptonite zombies and they surround the farm. And they can't get out of the farmhouse and he can't use his powers. And I was like, oh, kryptonite zombies. Now you're talking this is my stuff. I go off to do a rewrite another script I come back in. I bump into Al out in the hallway and he goes hey, we've changed your episode. Great news. This is a great story. Clark olana find the baby. And I'm like the fuck just happened?

Alex Ferrari 26:18
What what? Where did the crypto zombies go?

Steve DeKnight 26:22
So we did that episode. It did not turn out well. I mean, it's true. True. No one's fault except my own because I just couldn't get my head around it. And I almost stopped directing. Then I was supposed to direct the next season I passed I said Ahh and then in the third season I I directed the the the Justice League episode justice. Yeah. Which I felt like kind of vindicated myself after the exploding baby episode. But it was great fun to work in that world. And yeah, everybody was the actors were so wonderful on that show, especially Tom Welling. I can't say enough good things about Tom Welling. You know, you would think that he would have a big head and be very difficult quite the opposite. I remember we were in some tuning in some gas station way out on the outskirts of Vancouver. And I'm sitting in my chair prepping for like the next scene and he walks by with a sandwich and he goes hey, they have sandwiches you want me to get you on? I'm like what? What star of a show does that and he was gracious and wonderful all the way through the show. Just really and Michael Rosen bomb who played Lex brilliantly what what I loved about him one of the funniest guys I've ever met, he would be telling this crazy story. He told some story about when he got into a fight and got knocked out and we were literally in tears listening to him it was so funny. And then they were ready to go to shoot the scene and just like that he becomes Lex Luthur. Like the opposite of a method actor he could just switch from one to the other

Alex Ferrari 28:12
it's every every time I see actor do that on set I in the back of my head I hear Jon Lovitz yell acting. Acting, it's like it's just exactly it's so amazing to see them just honor. It's scary actually, sometimes it's very off putting when you could see, and I've seen them turn on the tears, the tea, like they could turn to tears on like water, and then they'll stop them like so once lunch. I'm like, Oh my god, like how do you do that? It's a

Steve DeKnight 28:41
I know a story. I don't know. It was a our jobs or who told me working with an actor, or an actress, and they needed her to cry. And she asked which eye, which eye he want the tear to come out. I'm like, Jesus now. That's a talent.

Alex Ferrari 28:59
Oh, yeah, that's, yeah, I've worked with actresses like that. It's just, it's just remarkable. It's amazing. No, you know, writing is such a solitary profession. It's something that you do alone in a room. But Nick, I mean, obviously, it's in a room like yours, which is super cool. If no one's locked. If no one's seen the video. You've got toys and audio books everywhere. It's very inspirational to me, as we should be exactly. But um, but since it's such a solitary profession, how do you work within the hive mind of a writer.

Steve DeKnight 29:41
There are a few things I love more in the writers room and I was really spoiled with the writers room in Buffy and Angel, because it was such a great group of people and we had so much fun. I always Marvel I was talking to Jeff Bell the other day. From Angel, he ended up running season four and five. There's marveling about how did we do 22 episodes a year? How did we get all that done because we were always having so much fun. It was just literally nonstop hilarity. And the writers room, to me is one of the best places you can possibly be. I enjoy and you know, a really loose fun writers room. The I also don't believe in staying till like midnight. No good has ever come in a writers room after dinner. It is. It just doesn't it is.

Alex Ferrari 30:41
It's like It's like if you're going to an eighth note, nothing good has come from an ATM at three o'clock in the morning. Nothing good is happening with the money you're pulling out.

Steve DeKnight 30:49
Nope. not at all. Not at all. So so for me once I became a show runner, um, I, I always tell everybody coming in look, everybody has a life, we should be able to get everything we need to get done from 10 to four. You know, if we're here on the weekends, or we're here till nine o'clock, something's gone horribly wrong. And that should only be like in a, you know, break glass in case of an emergency. So for me the writers room, it's, it's such a it's almost like college. It's like being back in college. It's just a joyous rock is fun. Is it a hard work? Is there a lot of pressure? Yeah. Um, but also most shows aren't 22 episodes anymore, which is a which is a positive and a negative. Because while most shows aren't 22 episodes, they're usually you know, eight to 13. Now, especially on streaming, oftentimes, it takes almost as much time in the writers room as it did for 22. Because there's they're they're much more handcrafted episodes. Instead of more of a mass produced when we were doing 22. I remember on Smallville, we would always come in and say, well, it's 25 are going to be great, there's going to be a bunch that's going to be pretty good. And there's going to be five to eight that are just suck because we ran out of time. Man, that's just you just have to accept that we ran out of time we ran out of money. When you're doing eight episodes, you can't have two of them. So they all have to be fantastic. So you sweat every single one. But the writers room is just such a fantastic place. It's a place that's changed for the better. As I remember, when I got the opportunity to run Spartacus, I really wanted a diverse writers room. very inclusive, I was looking, you know, for a broad range of voices. And at that time, which was I think I started working on it in late 2008. Sounds about right. When I was brought in 2008 2009 It premiered and you know, it would be 2008. So I sent out word to all the agencies what I was looking for. And all I got were white males. Because at the time. That's what the agencies we're used to dealing with. And that's what everybody wanted to hire. Right. And I had a devil of a time. I remember that a fantastic Asian writer, Miranda Kwok that I found through to a friend said hey, you should read the script. It's pretty good. Um, and so it was really difficult, but flash forward. About eight, nine years later, when I was putting the room together for Jupiter's legacy. It was a completely different story. Finally, the agencies had caught up the studios had caught up. So I was able to put together a room that was half female, half diverse, and very inclusive. And it made for a much better experience in my opinion, and not just on the words on the page, but being in the room. And, and just having such a fantastic time.

Alex Ferrari 34:19
You kind of got your your own footing, if you will, with Spartacus, like how did you? How did you bring Spartacus to a contemporary audience? Because when you think Spartacus, you think they'll Kubrick the old Kubrick film, you know, Kirk Douglas and stuff you like okay, sands and swords got it, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I think this is post 300. Right? So 300 already come out. So 300 and also Gladiator obviously had already come out as well. So there was reference other than the Kubrick thing, but what do you think? What do you think Spartacus? That's the first thing that comes to mind. So how did you write so how did you bring it to a contemporary audience? How did you tackle this?

Steve DeKnight 34:55
So that's the story. Um, so actually After after Smallville, I wanted to do something new, something exciting and I I've always been a big fan of the Dennis Potter musicals, the singing detective and he's from heaven. Um, so I finished my three year contract on Smallville. And I was looking for my next thing and I was talking to the people Chuck about possibly coming on there. I was talking to the people over on the Sarah Connor Chronicles, possibly over there. They were both Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, low balled me on what they were willing to pay me. And out of the blue. Sony pops up with a remake of a of a British TV musical that I loved, called Viva Blackpool. They were doing a version with Hugh Jackman called Viva Laughlin. And I I saw like a clip from their pilot, and I said, that's what I want to do. My agents were like, are you sure I go, yes, that's what I want to do. And it turned out to be one of the most hysterical debacles I have ever seen in my life.

Alex Ferrari 36:13
I didn't see the Four Seasons at that. I don't. I didn't see

Steve DeKnight 36:17
Two episodes. Exactly. Yeah, literally. So I and there was a whole kinds of craziness going on. For people that know la la. We were originally our offices, our temporary offices. When we first started up, I came in after the pilot was shot. I was a co executive producer on the show. We're over by Universal Studios in that area. And and I thought, Okay, great. I live in West Hollywood. It was like as a commute, but it's not that bad. So I'm there for about two weeks when they said Oh, great. We're gonna be moving to our new permanent offices. Next week. I'm like, what, who? What? Where are we going? Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita.

Alex Ferrari 37:01
Oh, Jesus Christ.

Steve DeKnight 37:02
Yeah. Whoever we're Magic Mountain is so I had to go from West Hollywood, Santa Clarita every day,

Alex Ferrari 37:08
hour and a half hour 45 minutes or longer, isn't

Steve DeKnight 37:10
it? Yeah, like an hour and a half because everything's fine until you hit the traffic on the 101 near Hollywood. You're there for 45 minutes. Um, so that was that was the first warning sign. Their major casino set because it's centered around Laughlin, Nevada in this guy opening his own casino. The major casino set was in Beverly Hills. So if we wanted to visit that set, you know, I had to go from West Hollywood, check into the office, go to Beverly Hills. Go back to Santa Clarita. And then it was it was it was a nightmare of epic proportions. And the show CBS test. It was a CBS show. They tested the pilot, which tested fantastic until people started singing and it was like somebody unplugged the equipment. It just went went dead. So a CBS kind of tried to hide the fact that it was a musical and all the promos. And so the show premiered on a special slot Thursday after CSI, where we lost like 10 million viewers from from CSI. And then it the second episode aired that Sunday at his regular slot. I think we lost 10 million more viewers and driving into work on Monday. Yeah, you cancelled and it was also one of the strangest experiences I've had. So we everybody gets there. We go to the office in Santa Clarita. We tell them we've been canceled. You know, we're having kind of the the wake for the show. And we get an urgent call from the building's facility manager saying everybody has to evacuate now. Santa Clarita is on fire, of course. So, so driving out the hills are on fire. It was like a hellscape. A, like 1000s of crows descended. I'm not shooting I don't know where the crows came from. It was literally apocalyptic. It's like God didn't like the show. It's like you're done. You're out. So he this is all the I swear it's leading to Spartacus. So a couple of weeks after that the writer strike happened. So now I'm out on a picket line. And in my mind, it was like, really the strike couldn't have happened a few weeks earlier, so it wouldn't have so much been canceled. We just would have disappeared. So I find myself on a picket line outside of Fox and who do I bump into Joss Whedon. My old boss and he said, Hey, I just sold a show to Fox right before we went on strike. I'd love to talk to you about coming to work on it. after this is over. I go Yeah, great. And that turned out to be dollhouse. So I came in and thought how After the strike was over as a consulting producer, one of the sweetest deals in my life. I was originally talking about coming in as the second in command. But then it went another way, and I'm totally fine. I'm fine with that. But I'll come in as a consulting producer for three days a week. I'll do a little writing, I'll do a little directing. I said, I'll come in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Don't talk to me Friday through Monday,

Alex Ferrari 40:25
because I need to rest

Steve DeKnight 40:26
because I need to rest, which gave me time to work on some other stuff. So I did that. I was gearing up to direct Episode Two of doll house. And I get a call from my agents. And this was the call I referred to earlier where it's like, hey, Starz wants to do some Gladiator series with Sam Raimi. They want to talk to you you're interested, like I'll be right over. More than anything. I love Sam Raimi since I was a kid, I mean, ever since I saw the first people dead movie at a drive in. So I hotfoot it over. And it's the stars executives and at the time a stars. I think they had one comedy and I think they were getting ready are just about to air a crash. But that was produced by Lionsgate they wanted this show to be the first ones that they actually produced the known themselves. So I get in the room with the stars executives and I want to speakerphone is Sam Raimi was nowhere to be found. I think he was shooting a movie at the time. But Rob tapper, his producing partner, who was with him all the way back, you know, back in the Michigan days with Evil Dead, was on the speakerphone from New Zealand where he he had relocated when he did Hercules and Xena. And so they tell me Yeah, we want to do Spartacus. And I was like Spartacus, whoo. I don't know, you know, I was a huge fan of the Kubrick movie. And that's daunting to try to take that on. So we talked about it. And we all liked each other. So at the end of the meeting, they said, great. We love what we're hearing. When can you start and I said, in about two months. I'm about to go direct this thing for just Wheaton on the show I'm on and they said oh, well, we can't wait that long. We're gonna have to keep looking. I go. Uh, Godspeed. Sorry, I'm tied up. So I was actually on set shooting this episode of dollhouse when my agents popped up and said, Hey, stars called again, they've talked to a lot of people. They haven't found anybody they liked as much as you would you still be interested? And I said hell yeah. So like literally on a couple of weeks later on a Friday locked my cut that episode of dollhouse. And then on Monday, started on Spartacus. And a I've mentioned this before in interviews, I didn't know anything about Roman history. The extent of my knowledge of Roman history was Kubrick Spartacus, Gladiator, Gladiator Ben Hur you know, all the all of those old swords and sandals, epics. Um, so I quickly started reading up about the third survival war that Spartacus was involved in. And, and I realized that so much of the story is just made up, because there's not, you know, there's a lot of information about who won this battle and who won that battle. But there's not a lot of character stuff. And even if this comes into play in the show, his true name has been lost to the ages. Nobody knows what his real name was. He was named Spartacus after an ancient King. by the Romans, no, you know, nobody knows who he was. And no one ever found his body after that last battle, because there were just 1000s of dead bodies. Um, so so we launch into it. And this is where I find out is how Rob Halford sold this show to stars, which is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. He showed me after I was on board, he basically sent them a DVD. It was like an old William castle kind of thing. It's him sitting at his desk, and talking to the camera, and he's saying, wouldn't it be great if we did a show about Spartacus and it looked like this. And then they showed clips from 300 and Gladiator. And, and, and people at first were saying, Oh, it looks like a 300 ripoff. And we were always very honest and upfront that we love what Zack Snyder and Larry Fong did with 300 and we wanted to take that technology and take what they did, and see if it would translate into a TV show, a weekly TV show. So we always A huge debt to Zack Snyder and Larry fall with the work they did on 300, which was just revolutionary.

So we dive into Spartacus, I I start reading every book on Romans and the third survival war, we hire a couple of PhD Roman history experts who are just invaluable. And then we start, you know, forming the story together. And I approach Spartacus, like I do, almost everything I work on is a love story. First and foremost. It could be you know, love between trends love between a husband and wife. Um, and so we start working on it. And, you know, the first episode, which I think is the worst episode of the series, and not because of the actors or the directors or anything, it's basically the way the script was constructed. Um, you know, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I think we bid off a little bit more than we could chew, we had a very limited budget. And there was it was just too expensive. So at the last minute, we had to start whittling things down. And unfortunately, a lot of the things that got whittled down was the connective tissue. And also that first episode, if you look at it, it's very comic book II graphic novel, because we were still trying to figure out exactly the techniques. And also we were shooting it in New Zealand. So there was kind of, we used a lot of the same crew as Hercules and Xena. And it just took everybody to realize that that's not what we were actually doing. Right. Um, so by the time we got to Episode Four, thankfully, we had figured it out. That's an episode called the thing in the pit where Spartacus is is sent to this underground fighting pits. And at that point, everything started to click on the writing side, we kind of dialed it in on the production side, we dialed it in. And from there we took off. It's also it was one of the one of the early shows that went straight to series instead of doing a pilot, which is why the pilots a little wonky, it was something pretty new back at that time that now we do it all the time. It's mostly just a straight to series order. And thankfully, the thing that I think made the show a big hit because we were airing each week it wasn't, you know, dropping all the episodes at the same time. And I remember when the first episode came out, stars send you a big book of all the reviews. And it was just page after page trying to find something that somebody said good, but everybody hated it. One reviewer said it was the worst TV show of the decade. And this came out January 2010. So the decade just started. But thankfully, we had completed all the episodes we had already shot all 13 and stars was airing all 13. This wasn't network television where they were going to cancel it. And we knew starting in episode four things got a lot better. And stars made a deal with Netflix to show the episodes weekly. And that's what really helped us right, because it really found an audience between stars and Netflix. It found an audience and by the end of that first season, a lot of the reviewers that saw that first episode and hated it circled back around and said you know what, you all should check this out, because it actually gets a lot better.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
That's so that's awesome.

Steve DeKnight 48:46
Yeah, so we had a bit of a bumpy start. And and then of course, sadly, as everybody knows, our star Andy Whitfield passed away. We were prepping season two, when we found out that he had non Hodgkins lymphoma. So we had a lot of talks about do we cancel the show? Do we shut the show down? We can't wait two years to do the next installment because we'll lose the audience. So we started we kept working on season two, but we kept talking about you know, we want to give Andy time to go through treatment and get better. And so I approached stars and Rob Halford about what if we did like a two episode like Mini Movie prequel. And star says, Well, two episodes, it's not worth the money to do two episodes. And then the suggestion was made what about four episodes, and I felt like it's too many episodes for a concise story, not long enough for a full story. And then eventually they came back and they said, Well, what about six episodes? And we're like, yeah, that's just right. So that's why we did God's in the arena. The prequel to give Andy time to go through his treatments. And it's also a you know, it's one of those things it was born through a very tragic situation. But it's also, I think, one of the seasons I'm most proud of, because it just seemed like everything was clicking. And we got introduced Gannicus, which we were not going to bring into the show, but we got to introduce them in a way where you really got to know him. And then Andy, Whitfield got a clean bill of health. And we went to Comic Con, and we brought him and we announced he was coming back. And then we started to gear up for season two again. And then we got the call that the cancer came back. And he passed away a couple of months later, which was really, really sad. And and, and, you know, we we were faced with the choice again, do we keep going and Andy was was very firm at us to finish telling the story. So we did a big, worldwide search. And we found Liam McIntyre, to carry on the show, which was I can't give enough props to Liam, it was such a hard thing to step into. And Liam was a huge fan of the show, and Andy's work. So that made it doubly difficult. But yeah, it was a and what really made it special is our executives at Stars at the time. Most of them were used to programming, you know, movies and specials on stars. So when they would have a question, or they were uncomfortable with something, we were doing a Rob tapper, and I would say, No, trust us this is this is how it should work. And you're going to be very happy. And they would say, well, you're the experts Go ahead. So they were wonderfully supportive, very hands off. And, and the way we approached the show, Robin, I had some very early conversations, because stars want to do a male driven action show, which I'm all for, but I have ulterior motives. You know, I'm a bit of a lefty and I wanted to work in the ideas about, you know, social justice and equality. And my big thing at the time was, I felt like, and you see it even more today, that there was an economic slave class being created in the United States that you had the super rich, the middle class was being eradicated. And then you had the poor, that were basically there to funnel money to the super rich, which unfortunately, is still the case. So that was really all of my subtext. And stars was was fine with all of that. And we also I, you know, I don't think we could, we could do that show today. Because I mean, it was beyond our radar. It was nc 17. But Rob Halford and I early on made a decision, when we're talking about who we making this show for, we decided we're not going to make it for anybody. We're gonna make it for ourselves, we're gonna make the show that we would want to watch and just trust that other people will want to come along for the ride. And one of the biggest surprises is it you know, it was very popular a young, you know, among young males, you know, 18 to 34 you know, that sweet spot. But it was also hugely popular with middle aged women.

Yes, who really, they love the romance, they loved all the male nudity. And that's also something we came into it. We were like, you know, this kind of stuff has naked women in it all over the place. It's a gladiator show. They're gonna be naked, they're gonna be fully naked. Everybody had to understand coming in with with the guys, you are going to be more scantily clad than the women in this, because it's, you know, it is what it is a gladiator show. That's what people want to see.

Alex Ferrari 54:11
that's amazing. So you, I mean, you were you had some time on Daredevil. Obviously, which was, I mean, amazing. I mean, I love what you guys did with Daredevil. I mean, it was just like, it was such a it's such a lot of pressure because you had to, you had to get to make that fans happy. But you also have to make Netflix happy because this was the first big launch of the Marvel stuff on on Netflix. If Daredevil would have failed. We might have not gotten the rest of the rest of the guys or not. Yeah, it would have it would have been a lot less seasons of all these other great characters. Yeah. How did you deal with that pressure? And how did you just kind of like run into that or do you just you just said, screw it. Let's just write.

Steve DeKnight 54:53
That was a, you know, I was on an overall deal with stars. I wrapped up Spartacus, I mean, in the writers room, had written a full season of a series called Incursion, which was kind of like aliens meets Band of Brothers. And we were actually at the point prepping to cast when they pulled the plug because it was too expensive. But I was still on this overall deal. So I was being paid a handsome amount of money to sit at home and think of ideas. And I had, I did a script for stars based on the Italian crime series, or Mondo criminality. And then I was I was working up some other ideas, because they didn't feel that was quite right for them. So I had about three months left on this very sweet deal. When I got a call from Jeff Loeb, again, out of the blue, saying, Hey, you know, I'm working with Drew Goddard on Daredevil, which I knew I had met with Drew about a year before he and he asked me if I'd be interested in coming in and co creating it with him. And I said, Man, I would like nothing better. Drew Goddard is one of the most brilliant sweetest guys you could ever meet. And I said, but I'm on this stars overall deal, I can't leave that that would be silly money to leave behind. So Luke calls me up and said, Drew Goddard has to leave. He has a previous commitment to writing directly Sinister Six movie for Sony. This was before Sony and Marvel made the deal to share Spider Man. And I said, Jeff, I'm on this overall deal. He goes, Well, you know, we can really just just come in and hear what we're thinking. So I went in, and Drew Goddard and Jeff Lowe, pitched their idea for the show. And drew had written the first two scripts, a couple of rough drafts for the first two scripts. And I read the scripts, I heard their pitch, and my reaction was, dammit, now I've got to do this, because I really like it. Um, so I came onto that. And when I came on, you know, we were, everything was really far behind. You know, we had the first two rough scripts, the third one was being written out of the first 13. We had, you know, we had no production designer, no cash, no anything. And we were going to start shooting sooner than I would have liked. And our goal was to try to get eight scripts done before we started shooting, I think we got the six or seven because everything was so far behind. But drew had drew it basically set the table, and, you know, gave me the menu. And so I was able to cook up the meal. And it was, it was brutal, because we didn't have enough time. As often the case we didn't you never have quite enough money. And, you know, we realized that it was a bit of a tricky situation, because we're going into it. People, for whatever reason, didn't really care for the Ben Affleck movie. And I always say, Ben Affleck is a great actor. I think he was he was a good choice for that role. But this was a time where they made the movie where, you know, it was a different time for comic book movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:33
It was more comic bookie,

Steve DeKnight 58:34
it was more comic book II. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. It was it was a little over the top. And what really drew me into it into the TV show was the fact that they wanted to do a darker, grittier corner of the Marvel universe with the street level heroes, and I grew up loving Daredevil. And the character, and we all just wanted to really do justice to the character, but we realized that the comic book fans would come at it with a bit of hesitation because of the movie. And people outside of the comic book would also be influenced by the movie or didn't know who Daredevil was at all. So really, the way we approached the show was the origin story of Daredevil and the origin story of kingpin both at the same time they were both two sides of the same coin. And, and there was a lot of I mean, it was a difficult show because there was all the pressure because it was the first one in this multi million dollar for show in a you know, spin off with the defenders deal. That was completely unheard of. And as we started working on it, there were Marvel started to get a little nervous that it was a little too dark. Um, so there was some wrestling and and and i gotta preface by saying I loved everybody at Marvel, Joe casada everybody I would i would be in a foxhole with those guys any day of the week. But of course, you know, there's going to be creative wrestling. So I remember at one point to lighten the show up, the suggestion was made that there should be a funny Russian character that keeps trying to say things in English, but it's wrong. It's kind of a running joke. And I about blue blood vessel. And I said, No, the Russians don't work unless they're scary. They have to be scary. Let's not water this down. Of course, we can have humor in the show, not that kind of humor. Um, so it was a it was a grueling and there was there was a lot of talk about how far do we push it? Like

Alex Ferrari 1:00:59
You push it pretty far.

Steve DeKnight 1:01:01
Yeah, I obviously I mean, they brought in the guy that did Spartacus. So

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
some of those. Some of those scenes, I was just like, wow, they did for it.

Steve DeKnight 1:01:12
Yeah, it's like the infamous episode. At the end of I think it's Episode Four. We were Wilson Fisk crushes the Russian brothers head. In the car, which Druid pitch to me, it was the trunk at the time, not the door. But it was the same idea. So when we got the point of shooting it. We knew if you look at the scene, you never really see the head being crushed. You see the aftermath. It's more suggestive than anything else. But it's still disturbing. The original cut was like three times longer. I mean, it just kept going on where he was banging that guy. And which also brings me to Vincent D'Onofrio, um, when I we hadn't cast anybody when I came on. And I saw a picture. I was looking, you know, just randomly on the internet. And I saw a picture of Vincent D'Onofrio, with his head shaved, and I like, it's the kingpin. The guy's gigantic. He's a phenomenal actor. I mean, there's nobody else that really fits this bill. And so so I went, everybody, I said, we should go after Vincent and offer you and they said, What are you crazy? He makes like a million dollars in episode with the law and order stuff. There's no way we can afford him. I'm like, ah, can we just try and think oh, no, it'll never work. And then they called me up and is a side story. They called me up and said, Hey, we got a great idea. It's a little bit outside the box. I'm Richard Gere. I'm like What? I said, I think Richard Gere is a phenomenal actor. He's amazing. He's not the kingpin. No, it'd be like casting me as Superman. It's, it's just not it's just not right. So but we went down the road and but Richard Gere, turned it down. He wasn't interested. I think he made the right choice. And then it turns out our casting director Larae Mayfield, ah, was friends with Vincent D'Onofrio, she knew him socially. She said, Look, let me just reach out to turns out he's a huge Daredevil fan. And he agreed to do it at a greatly reduced price because he loved it. And I remember Jeff Loeb and I having the initial conversation and he said, let's talk about his shaved head and we thought, Oh, shit, you know, he's not gonna want to shave his head. But Vincent said, he's got to have a shaved head, right? I'm gonna shave my head. But just so you know, if I've got to come back and do reshoots, or something, we might have to use a bald cap if I'm doing another show when we submit anything you want. And him coming on, really made such a difference. Him and Charlie Cox, Charlie Cox, who is probably the sweetest man alive, um, and Joe Casada, had saw that had seen Charlie Cox and something years ago, and was convinced that Charlie Cox was the guy. And Charlie came in for an audition. And it was one of the best auditions I've ever seen, but completely wrong. He didn't really know much about the character. In fact, he tells a funny story that shortly before he came in for the audition, he called up his agent and goes is, is this guy blind? And they go, yeah, yeah, he's blind. So Charlie came in, and because he had read up about Daredevil and Matt Murdock, and about his heightened senses, his take on the character was that there was so much information coming in, that he was very withdrawn. So he came in and basically, kind of played Matt Murdock is kind of like rain, man. And it was it was a stunning performance. It was mesmerizing, but wrong. Because you know, Matt Murdock is a bit of a ladies man. And you know, and, and and we told him, that was fantastic. Not quite right. So we gave him some notes. He went away. And he came back a couple of days later and did a completely different performance that was just as fantastic. And a side note there is that he was a very svelte guy. Um, he had never really, you know, he was fit, but he didn't go to a gym or anything, that wasn't his thing. So we immediately put them on a program with a trainer, and the like eight to 12 week transformation this guy went through is just stunning. When you actually see him with a shirt off, and he's got a six pack. And I mean, he worked out like a devil.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55
No pun intended. I mean, yeah. Oh, no, he was no, I, every time I see Daredevil mechanic, I come back to the gym. Yeah, to get back to the gym.

Steve DeKnight 1:06:04
He just, it was amazing. What he did in such a short period of time

Alex Ferrari 1:06:09
You jumped into your first feature film, if I'm not mistaken, which is a small feature was an independent film. And there was there was a guy who did something before then that you just kind of didn't see. So you jump into the studio side of the bit like the high end studio potential world. Yeah, doing the sequel to Pacific Rim, called Pacific Rim uprising. So you wrote it, and you directed it. And and you worked with Guillermo. Guillermo del Todo, who's the creator of this insane, beautiful world. What was it like? getting thrown into that machine? Because I've spoken to so many directors on the show, who are at the $150 million $200 million work. It's a completely different kind of filmmaking and and that's for experienced guys in that space. This is your first time there. What was that? Like?

Steve DeKnight 1:07:15
Who the hell gave me that job? It was the best and worst job I've ever had. I'm gonna go back to how how did I get that job? I had written a script called the Dead in the Dying, which was a very Hitchcockian psycho Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with three people in the house. And it was very contained, very small movie, arm, Mary Parent, the the Uber producer, x studio head of MGM, Reddit, and really loved it. I met Mary a few years before because she was a big fan of Spartacus, and she knew my agent. So my agent put us together. And I remember at that, at that meeting, I think it was a breakfast meeting, I gave her the rough pitch to this movie idea. And she said, that sounds great. You should write it and you should direct it. And you know, if you ever get around to writing it, send it to me. We'll talk so years later, I sent it to her, she really liked it. And so we set it up at Paramount. This was a little $8 million movie tops. And Paramount was going through a lot of changes. And as I discovered, it's very difficult to get a huge studio to pay attention to a little tiny $8 million thriller, at least at the time. I mean, this is before, you know, Get Out, came out

Alex Ferrari 1:08:39
And streaming and all that

Steve DeKnight 1:08:41
Streaming and all that. So um, so we couldn't get any traction. We had Kerry Washington who wanted to do it like right before Christmas, I met with her. She said I really liked it, I'd love to do it. Paramount just wasn't geared up to move fast enough. By the time they got around to contacting or people after Christmas, she'd signed up for something else. So we lost her. And then I got a call from Mary saying, you know what, maybe this wasn't meant to be your your first movie, and I thought, Oh shit, she's pulling out. And then she said, What do you think about Pacific Rim too? I'm like, hell, it's like going from 8 million to 150. That's just massive shooting all over the world. And I said, Yeah, sure. I'm a huge Del Toro fan. I mean, you know, all the way I remember. When I was in college, I think I think it was when I was in college and seeing Kronos as a theater. So I had followed him all through his career. I loved what he did. And I said, Yeah, she says, Okay, well, you've got to get the approval of several people. So I had to go in and meet with the people at legendary. This is before Mary took over legendary And they gave me the thumbs up. And then I had to go meet Thomas Tall. The the owner of legendary, who's a great guy, I went to a deep deep deep in the, in the West Valley to his mansion. I think I met him right after he had sold the company to Wanda and for like $3 billion right freshly freshly minted billionaire.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:28
He's gonna he's gonna write

Steve DeKnight 1:10:29
But he's was a guy like me, you know, he came from a blue collar, blue collar background, you know, pull himself up by his bootstraps and made his fortune. And it's funny when we were talking. When I first met him, we were talking about movies. He mentioned Humanoids from the deep. And I go Humanoids from the deep. I saw that at the drive in, you know, back when I was a kid, and it always really stuck with me. And he said, Man, I talked about that movie all the time. And nobody's seen it. And I said, me too. I reference that movie all the time. Um, so we bonded over that. And I was driving home when I got the call from Mary sang, she she had talked to Thomas and he gave me the thumbs up. And she said, Okay, the last one, you got to go meet with Guillermo del Toro. And I thought, well, that's if nothing else comes of it. I got to know you enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:23
I gotta meet again. Did you go to his cool back house?

Steve DeKnight 1:11:26
Yeah, his house I didn't eat. So I I get two weeks later, I go to see him. I meet him at this modest little Ranch House, also in the deep valley. And I knew it was it was Bleak House, you know, his his famous archives of movie memorabilia and art. And I walk in and there's the original Caine's spacesuit from aliens. And the original stop motion animation models from Jason and the Argonauts, and all of this other amazing stuff. And I tell them Garin well I, I've dreamed for years, about coming to see Bleak House and he says, All Stephen, this is not Bleak House bleak houses next door, is that this is just where I take everything in and catalog it and then move it I go, are you kidding me? So he takes me next door to the actual Bleak House. And I could have spent a year there. And it was, it was my childhood dream, you know, because I grew up reading. Like I mentioned, Famous Monsters of filmland. And Forrest J. Ackerman had the Akra mansion in LA, which was basically the same idea. But this was like that on steroids. And he was just showing me everything and I could not have been happier. And then we talked about the movie. We talked about some ideas. And afterwards he called Mary and said, Yeah, he's the guy. And I guess the one downside to all this is I love Guillermo so much anybody that's ever met him. He is such a brilliant, pure soul who loves cinema and loves art. And the breadth of his knowledge about both is just astounding. It's all inspiring.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:19
I've had the pleasure of meeting Guillermo two or three times in my life. And he's, he's so sweet, so down to earth. And it's like, the genius that spawns from him is remarkable.

Steve DeKnight 1:13:31
It really is. And he curses like a sailor. No, I don't know. hysteric

Alex Ferrari 1:13:36
Can I can I tell you the one I saw my Comic Con once and he This is the story that's working in Hollywood is like eating a shit sandwich. You could put some mayo on it, you could put some nice cheese, but at the end of the day, you're eating shit.

Steve DeKnight 1:13:50
pretty much it. One of my great regrets is the movie didn't turn out nearly as well as any of us had hoped. And I'll get into that in a second. But, you know, Guillermo couldn't do the movie because he was going off to do his passion project, the shape of water did okay with that. Yeah, he made the right choice. And the studio needed to get this movie out because it was coming up on five years since the last one and anything beyond that. They felt like was too long. So unfortunately, you know, cuz he went off to do the movie, and we did this thing. So he wasn't involved because, you know, he was busy, which I always regret. I haven't had a chance to talk to him since those original couple of meetings. And they I would love to see him come back and do the third movie, and really get things back on track. So the movie so I get hired. I think it was a I want to say it was March of 2016. I think it was that sounds right. With the idea that the movie would shoot around that time, the next year, because there was, Guillermo had developed three scripts. And we were using some of the influences of some of it. But the studio at the studio had a very strong opinion, there are several things they want it. They want it to bring in a younger audience. So they want it kids to be part of the movie on screen. They also they, they didn't want the action to be at night in the rain. They want it to be in the daytime, and more brightly lit, and they want it the jaegers to move faster. So this is also three of the things that people complain to me the most about when they see the movie. I'm like, No, that's, that was my that was my marching orders. And I understand why they wanted it. I have to preface by saying I don't have a problem. I love the executives on the movie, we had some battles. But they had a point of view. And I understand their point of view. I didn't always agree with it, but I totally understand where they were coming from. And also they put a lot of faith in me. So because we had not a lot of time, I suggest it let's put together a TV type writers room will break the story. And then I'll take two writers from that writers room and the three of us will write the script so we can get it done very quickly. So we break the story, we go through, you know, a lot of back and forth. During that time, Mary takes over legendary. So she's no longer my producer. She's my studio boss. So we break the story, we turn in the outline, we go back and forth with with some changes. And then we we dig into the scripts. And, you know, we wrote it very, very quickly. I think it was like three weeks. Once we had the outline, we had like three weeks to write. Ah, we turn in the script. And Mary calls me up and says, Wow, I I'm surprised I really liked it, which was a really, I'm like great, fantastic. She was really happy with the story. The story we broke was with Charlie Hunnam is the lead as Raleigh, and Max Martini as his co pilot, playing Herc. So it was very much tied to the first movie. Mako had become a mucky muck in the PP. Bam, Pacific defense Corps. So huge really, they liked the script. Everything's great. I'm not shooting you. The next morning I wake up, I sign on to deadline Hollywood. And it's announced that Charlie Hunnam is doing a remake of Pappy on that shoots at the exact same time we are. And and I met with Charlie, wonderful guy. And he had mentioned this passion project that he wanted to do. So I don't fault him for doing that. It's something he's wanted to do for many, many, many, many years. But of course, it put us in a bind. We couldn't push production because of the release date. And other actor contracts. So we had to throw out a large chunk of that script and quickly come up with a different idea. So the writers and I came up with the idea of this new brother and sister as the leads that were basically like proto protegees of Max Martinis character.

So we wrote a completely new draft with these two characters. Nobody liked it, including us. So we're like, ah, the hell did we do now? And I think was Guillermo and Mary, who came up with the idea of Stacker Pentecost, son, Jake. And my initial reaction was, how do I read Khan? That doesn't make any sense, but, okay, I'm willing to give it a shot. And then Mary said, What do you think about John Boyega? And I knew him from attack the block, and obviously Star Wars, and I said, he would be amazing, but there's no way we're gonna get John Bodega. He's doing Star Wars. He doesn't need another big franchise. She said, Well, he's coming in for a general meeting. Let's put up all the concept art that we've done in a conference room, and I'll walk him by. So that's what she does. She walks him by and goes, Oh, by the way, here's some concept art for this sequel to Pack Rim. And he really dug it. It turns out that he's a huge anime fan. So he was very interested in signing on as as the star and a producer on the movie. So once we got him, we kicked it into high gear to try to retool the scripts with the idea of Stacker Pentecost. Son, which is very tricky, because now we've we need to explain why isn't Raleigh in it? And why does stacker have a son that we've never heard of. And we address all that in the script that eventually gets cut out of the movie, particularly what happened to Raleigh gets cut out. So of course, when fans go see the movie, it's like the fuck is this? where's where's Raleigh, and you killed Mako? The whole killing Mako thing in the original script was it she had much more screentime in the original script. But she had scenes with Charlie Hunnam. She, in the original idea, this didn't make it to the script. But the original idea was, her helicopter goes down in Sydney, like it does in the movie, but she doesn't die in the crash. She's in a coma. And we had this whole sequence where the Raleigh character went to the hospital with portable drift equipment, and got inside her mind to try to bring her out of this coma. And while he's inside, she starts to die in the world starts to collapse around him, it was really cool. But everybody thought the idea of coma was too depressing for this movie. So we had to jettison that. And there was also a big sequence in the movie at her funeral, where it was like a 20 Jaeger column, 20, jaegers of them carrying the funeral down the coffin down in Japan with the cherry blossoms blowing across. And it was this huge moment that we had to cut because we couldn't afford at the end of the day. So

Alex Ferrari 1:21:48
it means your trip to so the process and I want people to understand listening. When you're dealing with $150 million film, and the studio wants a release, they say now you're backed into a release date. Yeah, everything, the creative process becomes much more complicated. Because when you're just in this machine, the hat the train is going there's nothing you could do to stop it. And, and it's gonna go and you're building track. As you go, you're building track as a. You are building track

Steve DeKnight 1:22:18
you don't know what the final destination is.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:20
Right, exactly. But you have and you have no choice as opposed to sit down. Build a long track, you know where you're going take your time, Dan, get this thing rolling. That's what a normal film kind of does. But at this, and I understand why because the first one was such a huge hit. I think overseas is what really green greenlit the sequel, right was is that is that?

Steve DeKnight 1:22:38

Alex Ferrari 1:22:39
And that's why they were like we gotta get, we got to get something else out.

Steve DeKnight 1:22:43
I left out the most important part. So when I sign on and march of 2016, supposed to shoot the next year, a week into me working on the movie, they say, oh, by the way, because of schedules and everything, you've got to start shooting in October of this year. I'm like, what we don't have a script, we don't have a story. We don't have a production designer. And then we had all the delays because we lost our main star. And we're trying to get a new one and rewriting the script. And we really never recovered from that. We started shooting I think late October, early November of that same year, which is for movie this size is ridiculous that basically our prep time was cut in half.

Alex Ferrari 1:23:23
And it's a much it's a super complicated.

Steve DeKnight 1:23:26
Yes. So a lot of that is you do previous for the visual effects, which in a movie like this is vital because you do the previous of what's going on with the jaegers in the kaiju. And then you can match the action inside the con pot with the actual people. Well, we never had a chance to lock down the previous. So on some of those battles, you know, I'm just kind of winging it inside the cockpit. As close as I think we can come to what we think is eventually going to be in the movie. Because we just didn't have enough time. He just and literally because we didn't have enough time. There were multiple times. We'd show up on set and we'd have to wait for hours because the set wasn't done. Like literally a crew of people would hairdryers trying to dry the set so we can shoot and you just you just have to roll with it. You have to take all your your shot lists in your careful planning and go okay, how can I boil down 20 shots into two which oftentimes can result in something better? And and many times it did on this movie, but yeah, and then after that you go into the audience previews. Oh, no, which is a special kind of hell, especially for a movie like this, where there's so many visual effects, but we didn't have them in We didn't have it in the budget for post this. We put in tips for people to see. So we go into these previews. And it's just a mess. And you know, the audience hates it, because most of it is incomprehensible because you can't tell what's going on. And then everybody gets nervous. So you do a bunch of reshoots and retooling and you take things out. The first cut of the movie was two hours and 20 minutes. What ended up on screen at the movies was about 90 minutes. So you can imagine there's a lot of stuff that was taken out of the movie, including what happened to Raul. And so it's a and again, would I do it again? Absolutely. Listen, when somebody drops out of the sky and say, Hey, do you want to write and direct $150 million? Science Fiction fiction epic? You don't say well, do I have enough time to do it? Right? No, you

Alex Ferrari 1:25:57
say yes. And, and figure it out. So you were just basically if you said earlier, you were just holding on for dear life, essentially. It's like the machine the machine was just, I mean, and for and this is in you're a guy when you get this call, you're not a kid. This is not your first rodeo. This is your first rodeo. This is the first rodeo at like the big arena. But you've been you've been playing around for a while directing for a while. You've a showrunner you understand how the whole process works. And even you with the experience you have, once you get thrown into this machine, it's a completely new experience for you. And you're literally just tried to hang on.

Steve DeKnight 1:26:32
Totally. And, and plus, you know, I shot a bunch of episodes of TV, right? But in the states in Vancouver, I mean, now I was flying to Sydney. And you know, I had to relocate to Sydney for like seven months, and shoot there. And then we shot a month in China in Chiang Tao. And then we shot in Iceland. So you know, I was going all low and I was just just freshly married. I'd literally got married and I think the next week flew off for seven months. Was it? So it was a Yeah, it was it was difficult. And you know, look, you hear about movie, Jaws being the classic example. movies where everything's going wrong in the movie turns out fantastic. This was not quite that experience. There are things in the movie that I'm very, very proud of. And there are things that I'm very, very embarrassed of.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:26
Um, it's not an exploding baby. It's not an exploding babies.

Steve DeKnight 1:27:30
Yeah, I'm not I'm not that embarrassed.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:31
So it's so it's a win.

Steve DeKnight 1:27:34
Yeah. And look, I I was surrounded by the John Boyega is fantastic. I would work with him again in a second. No matter what was going on. He was always funny and charming. And he knew his lines and he knew what he was doing. You know, we got to discover Cailee Spaeny, who is she played the young girl, Amara, who's gone on to just do amazing things. And it was just really a fantastic, fantastic I got to work with a dp that I always love Dayman Dell, who is JJ Abrams, main D dp, who was just fantastic. So many great people and working with people like Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. Just just made the hardship easier to swallow much better. But really, if we had had like a full year to prep the movie, and really dial everything in, I think we could have worked out a lot of the very obvious kinks that ended up on screen. And the movie went through some radical changes when we were doing the test screenings. It had a completely different ending in Tokyo in a lot of other things that we we altered and and also, it's something we all I think now regret is because of the test screenings, it was testing really well with little kids, like, you know, eight to 12 year old kids Um, so a decision was made to retool the movie skewing that way. And to me it's it's kind of the mistake that Conan the Destroyer did when Conan the Barbarian was fantastic. And then Connie on the destroyer they made for little kids, which was just wrong. I'm hoping the animated series that's coming out on Netflix helps to revive the franchise. It also it kills me because like when people say oh my God, I hate you. You killed Mako.

Alex Ferrari 1:29:48
I did it.

Steve DeKnight 1:29:51
I always say well, you also have to understand Yes, but that had a lot more meaning when it originally started. It was a lot neater And then it got whittled down to I agree. It's like a blip, and I'm upset about it. But also, I had a plan for the third movie, where she does come back in an unexpected way. And the third, the end of the third movie, I had always planned to set up a crossover with the monster verse if that's the way that legendary wanted it to go.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:23

Steve DeKnight 1:30:24
Um, but you know, then the movie came out. The critics hated it. The audience, the movie, I think broke even, but didn't do as much money as the first movie. So it kind of I think put the kibosh at least in the short term for and again, if there ever is a third movie, I hope everybody has enough sense to have Guillermo, come back in and and do the third

Alex Ferrari 1:30:50
and play in that and play in that world again.

Steve DeKnight 1:30:52
Yeah, it's Yeah, because I personally, as a fan would love to see that.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:57
That's an amazing, amazing story of how that because I always wanted to know what happened behind the scenes of that because I'm like, he does Spartacus, he did Daredevil and there's obviously something that happened in Pacific Pacific Rim rising like there's something there I don't know what it is. It's not that if you just want something there's I'm so thankful for setting the record straight on what happened behind the scenes.

Steve DeKnight 1:31:19
And again, I don't want people to come across thinking that I'm saying all those damn executives know it, it's totally understand where the executives are 50 million bucks, if million dollar mark. The thing that people really want to do is is idiot proof. $100 million gamble. But often by doing that, you can alienate the very people that you need to make it a success

Alex Ferrari 1:31:47
very much, though. And that's basically the the theme of Hollywood for the last 150 years, or 100 years or something. I have a couple of last questions that are rapid, rapid fire. What is the what is the what are three films screenplays that every screenwriter should read?

Steve DeKnight 1:32:14
Oh, ah, the sixth sense, which is a screenplay that I read before I wrote my little thriller. And I love the movie. I'd never read the screenplay. I read the screenplay, cried my eyes out. It's just an amazing, amazing screenplay. Highly recommend that. I highly recommend you read anything by James Cameron, particularly alien.

Alex Ferrari 1:32:41
Oh, aliens. This is so good that

Steve DeKnight 1:32:43
aliens is a masterclass in brevity, and how he describes things. It is a phenomenal, phenomenal screenplay. And I would also say anything by Shane Black, also, is just the way Shane does seem direction I envy and drool over because I can never condense it as much as he does.

Alex Ferrari 1:33:10
I've read I like reading long kiss goodnight, or the original last less the boy scout before before it gets switched over. Just like he takes what would take a normal human five paragraphs and he'll whittle it down to five words. And it just it pops and it's his descriptions are amazing. So they're they're artistic. They're almost, they're almost haikus.

Steve DeKnight 1:33:34
Yeah, they really are it. It's like a magic trick. And that's what when I first started writing screenplays, I made the classic mistake that everyone does. My scene direction was like, you know, huge chunks. And eventually you learn you want to have as much white on the page as possible. Because these scripts have to be read by executives and agents who read 100 scripts a week. And if they get something that's all dense text you know, they'll they'll read a page or two but that's it.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:08
Unless Unless it's like by Quinten Tarantino and then they'll sit down or by Shane Black.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:13
And then there are some people that just defy the rules

Alex Ferrari 1:34:18
Yes. Sorkin Kaufman, these kinds of guys that just

Steve DeKnight 1:34:21

Alex Ferrari 1:34:22
whatever. And people always say like, you have to have everything that your punctuation has to be perfect global. I read a Charlie, I read a Shane Black script, and there was some grammatical errors unlike when you're Shane Black.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:32

Alex Ferrari 1:34:33
It's okay. I promise you they're not going to throw it away because the thought was in the wrong place.

Steve DeKnight 1:34:38
Yeah, exactly. And to this day, I obsess over the proofing. I'm a terrible proofreader. So I haven't proved by other people, usually multiple people. And it just like every screenwriter you talk to will tell you, you send out your script to everyone. And the second you do you find another typo.

Alex Ferrari 1:34:59
So ture. Now what advice? What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Steve DeKnight 1:35:07
You know, it's interesting. It's a, I think it's easier and harder. If you're trying to break into day, I highly suggest you target television, televisions a lot easier. Movies, the number of movies that have been made have shrunk dramatically. And the number of studios making movies have shrunk dramatically, because of all the consolidation. So and also right now trying to break in the movies because of the pandemic. The release dates are so backed up that if I were to do Pac rim, uprising today, it would be a couple of years before they would have a slot to release it because of all the big movies that are backed up, which is you know, one of the reasons that Warner Brothers is premiering movies on HBO max. The other big one is that they want to promote HBO max. TV, on the other hand has exploded in an insane way. You know, back when I started 20 years ago, there were like, four and a half networks. And

Alex Ferrari 1:36:13
I remember

Steve DeKnight 1:36:14
And yeah, and really premium cable. Places like AMC FX had hadn't started doing original content and

Alex Ferrari 1:36:26
even HBO early was Yeah, I mean, Sopranos was like, early 90s 90s. Yeah, yeah. So it wasn't me. So,

Steve DeKnight 1:36:35
um, since then, now with the streamers, I mean, there's over 500 scripted TV shows on per year. Now this is a plus and minus, because when I started shows were 22 to 24 episodes a season. So you knew going in that you had a job all year. And generally you would take three or four weeks off, and then you would start on the next season. So it was it was also great, because there was enough episodes and enough time, when I was starting out, I got to be on set in casting in editing. You know, the whole gamut, which really taught me how to run a show and taught me how to direct nowadays, it's more standard to do eight episodes. Because there's an algorithm out there that says that's the sweet spot. We're an audience we'll finish all eight. creatively, I think eight is not good

Alex Ferrari 1:37:32
enough for us not for season four miniseries, it's too long for miniseries even six isn't the sweet spot for a series.

Steve DeKnight 1:37:39
Exactly. That's what I felt with with Gods in the arena that it was a real sweet spot. But for me, 10 episodes 10 to 13 episodes is satisfying as a storyteller. You take a look at Daredevil, if we had only had eight episodes, you wouldn't have gotten this backstory when he was a kid, we wouldn't have done stick. You know, there was a lot of things that we would have just cut, and it would have felt rushed, quite frankly. But because there are so many shows going on, there is a constant need for writers. So TV is just it's boom, it's a Boomtown.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:21
Right? Yeah.

Steve DeKnight 1:38:22
Yeah, there's so many things being done. It is so hard to put together a staff these days, because there are so many shows vying for those writers.

Alex Ferrari 1:38:33
Now and what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,

Steve DeKnight 1:38:39
film, business or life? Um, that's a good question. I feel like I'm still learning lessons. Um, I think really, the hardest lesson is that I'm still struggling with is balancing creatively What I know is right, in balancing that commercially, what is necessary, those two things can be very, very difficult. And that's the other great thing about TV now is all the streaming services, they're willing to try things that are very, very, very much outside the box. And that's why now you get shows.

Alex Ferrari 1:39:17
Queen Gambit, Queens Gambit, perfect example

Steve DeKnight 1:39:18
You get Queens Gambit, you get The Boys. Even things like the Oei right was completely batshit crazy, and I loved it. There's no way 20 years ago, when I was starting out, anybody would have done and things like Wayne, that I think is just absolutely stunningly brilliant. Um, the streamers are willing to take chances. Because there's so many shows, you have to do something to roll those dice. You know, everybody will keep doing the standard stuff. But they're also willing to take these outside of the box chances which is completely thrilling. For me to see at this point so yeah, that that an MTV because of that you have a lot more creative leeway than you do in features, features it has become a very, very difficult business that's dominated by tentpole movies. And you know, I know there are critics out there that say all the Marvel movies, they ruin the cinema. I love the Marvel movies. I think they are. They they encapsulate everything that I love, they're exciting. They're technically brilliant. They're funny, and they are emotional. You know, I have cried a horrible movies probably more than than any other movie.

Endgame. Endgame. I mean, come on,

Endgame. Endgame and Infinity war. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:40:54
it's I mean, but to be fair, if you pull Marvel movies out of the last decade, the entire theatrical business would have, I think crumbled. I think they held it up for this last 10 years, honestly.

Steve DeKnight 1:41:06
Yeah. And Kevin Feige. I I met Kevin Feige many, many years ago, when he was Avi Ross, right hand man, back when Avi really controlled most of the Marvel properties. And I yeah, I would go in with meetings for Avi, like, twice a year, I would get a call. avi wants to talk to you about this. I don't know if anybody knows Avi. avi is, is he's a character. Um, he was, I think, an Israeli toy guy that he made his fortune in toys. And he would always come into the room, he would have a ring on every single finger up his hand on marble ring from the characters and always wearing a Marvel t-shirt because he loved the world. And I actually got hired to write a script for the Punisher 2 my Punisher 2 never got made. There were many, many writers after me, they brought me in because at the time, this was before I worked on Spartacus. But they wanted a gritty R rated. They pitched it to me as like imagine taxi driver night at the Punisher. And I go, I'm your guide sold. So I wrote a very, very, very fucking dark Punisher movie. And they read it and they said, No, we can't do this.

Alex Ferrari 1:42:34
This is this is way too dark.

Steve DeKnight 1:42:36
Yeah, but it but with Kevin Feige. Kevin Feige. Yeah, I could not have more respect for this guy. Because he was on his right hand man for many, many, many years. And he saw, you know, Marvel movies, with, even with the best of intentions, kind of done wrong. Right, you know, and he got his chance. And he built this incredible. I can't believe the amount of movies they did in 10 years.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:01

Steve DeKnight 1:43:02
And the quality is just absolutely

Alex Ferrari 1:43:07
an honor. What interweaving of all the stories and the characters running. I mean, he just did what the comics have been doing for four decades. They just did a movie for like crossovers and stuff that just was never done in 10 films

Steve DeKnight 1:43:20
the changes they made in the movies, were all really good. You know, especially, you know, I remember growing up and reading the Infinity Gauntlet. Yeah, yeah, still. And, you know, they didn't try to translate that directly into a movie, which would have been nearly impossible, because it was all cosmic and very out there. And the way they took it, and made it so emotional, and so grounded despite the epic cosmic content was just absolutely stunning. I mean, those two movies wrecked me when when Peter Parker is is awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:05
Oh. Stop stop. stop. Stop.

Steve DeKnight 1:44:08
a grown man cry, but really, it's like, all of those movies. Um, just when I watched them, no pun intended. They are a true Marvel. Yeah. And, and I don't think a lot of people, especially at other studios understands why they work.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:25

Steve DeKnight 1:44:26
Because they, they try to replicate it. Mm hmm. There is a magic and it starts with I firmly believe I love DC I grew up on DC and Marvel. Marvel's characters are something very, very special. Growing up and reading them the way Stan Lee and the whole bullpen put together those characters with real world problems. I remember going back to when I was a kid and I read the you know the classic when when Stacey dies

Alex Ferrari 1:44:59

Steve DeKnight 1:45:00
And I was gutted as a kid. And then I went back many years later when I was on Buffy and I reread it. And there's a whole subplot with what's his name? Osborn, not Norman Osborn. He's

Alex Ferrari 1:45:14
a kid. That kid I know he's talking about. Yeah.

Steve DeKnight 1:45:16
You know, I'm talking about where he got hooked on, I think heroin or something,

Alex Ferrari 1:45:22

Steve DeKnight 1:45:22
So it was a whole thing.

Alex Ferrari 1:45:25
That wasn't, that's insane to do that back then and say,

Steve DeKnight 1:45:27
yeah, and there were all these great moral choices, that great Daredevil issue when he's fighting Bullseye, and they're hanging over the city, and he decides to drop him, because he doesn't want him to kill anybody else. I mean, those kinds of things just really, really got me. And the genius of Kevin fighty is taking all those stories, making them forming, helping form them into the real world. And just stunning. I mean, Avengers Age of Ultron. I know some people didn't like it. I personally really loved it. But the whole all four Avengers movies, when you look at them, it's just such a marvel. It's also when people say, oh, CGI is ruining the movies. I'm like, Are you kidding me?

Alex Ferrari 1:46:15
I look, you can't look the stuff like I'm all about, like what Nolan's doing and do as much in camera as you can when you can do stuff in camera. Absolutely. But you can't do in camera stuff in the Marvel Universe a lot of times because it's just so

Steve DeKnight 1:46:28

Alex Ferrari 1:46:29
It's just doesn't exist, like try to do Doctor Strange in camera. Like that's gonna be a bit rough. That's gonna be a

Steve DeKnight 1:46:37
Doctor Strange is a perfect example, a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. And one of the best characters in the movie is his cape. He's had so much personality, that's great. And also when the magic starts to happen, and the city's folding in on so much a mind bender. But with visual effects, I also go back to Did you not like the visual effects in Brokeback Mountain? And people say what visual effects I'm like, exactly. There's a ton of visual effects in Brokeback Mountain, but you don't notice them? Because they're designed not to be noticed.

Alex Ferrari 1:47:13
Right? Exactly. And every every major thing, and I always find the problem, I always tell people and I've had this conversation with a lot of other screenwriters on on the show is where DCs characters, you're writing for Gods and it's really difficult to create conflict with a Gods like Superman. Like there's not much that can beat him and then throwing the rock on him. Isn't rough. It's like okay, that's old we get kryptonite. But with with every single Marvel character, even a god like Thor is so vulnerable.

Steve DeKnight 1:47:43

Alex Ferrari 1:47:44
And and even though he I don't know if he can die or not, but the way they write him the way he worked the Hulk, you feel it, whereas in the other character, that's why I always think Batman is a Marvel character who's in the DC Universe. That right, he could so fall right into Marvel's universe and not even blink.

Steve DeKnight 1:48:03
Yeah, if you've hit a very, very salient point is that in the DC Universe, a universe that I love? There's a lot of the main a list characters are Gods trying to be human. We're in the Marvel it's humans trying to be gods, basically. And it's tricky when you have you know, a wonder woman or Splash Green Lantern. At least with the Flash he's a guy who got powers and you know, is

Alex Ferrari 1:48:34
but still a god, though his his powers are absolutely God. Like,

Steve DeKnight 1:48:38
yeah. And, and I I love both universes. I mean, I know DC has struggled with theirs. But I also think part of that struggle is they saw the success of Marvel, and trying to catch up to them in a short form just doesn't work. Not with no, I mean, that's, I mean, Justice League was obviously plagued with the difficulties. But one of the biggest difficulties is, you know, the Marvel Universe spent years and years and years introducing these characters before they put them all together. So you had time to get to know them. With with the Justice League, with Batman vs. Superman, most of them you just saw briefly on a hard drive. Right? So you didn't get a chance to live with them and I don't fault DC for it at all for trying to get there because you know, the Avengers movies were making billions of dollars. Let's, uh, let's get there and I am an unabashed fan of Zack Snyder's work.

Alex Ferrari 1:49:45
Oh. I I agree with you and I'm very looking forward to the Schneider cut. I really do. I'm really looking forward to the Schneider cut and I think DC is starting to find its its legs. I think they're finding their legs now and we'll we'll see where it goes.

Steve DeKnight 1:49:59
So I think a lot of the shift that Zack Snyder gets is that I think a lot of times people have a hard time separating screenwriting from direct, because I've had a lot of people saying, I love your directing on Spartacus. It's like I never directed one episode. I'm just writing the show. And with Zack, I think they often blame him for the exact story. Because you cannot look at Zack Snyder's work and say he's a bad director.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:28

Steve DeKnight 1:50:29
he's an amazing director.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:30

Steve DeKnight 1:50:31
Look, I feel the same way about Michael Bay. You can't look at Michael Bay work and say he's a bad director. You can disagree with story stuff. But my god having directed $150 million movie, I can tell you this Michael Bay's a fuckin magician. I don't know how he does.

Alex Ferrari 1:50:46
He does it like while he's drinking coffee. And he's just like, it's smoking a cigar. He doesn't even it's like when Tony like Tony Scott and Ridley. When they do that. They just they've just done it so long. I've actually been a defender of Michael Bay on multiple my shows. I'm like, Look, when Michael Bay came out. When the rock came out, all action films changed after the Rock. Yeah. After after the rock after Armageddon. All action films changed after 300 completely changed the way

Steve DeKnight 1:51:12

Alex Ferrari 1:51:12
so many things was shot. Because those you got to give that credit that the technicians behind it the craftsmanship. You can't I mean, bay, I mean, visually. Amazing. I mean, when Spielberg goes, you know, he's a pretty good visual director. that's saying something.

Steve DeKnight 1:51:31
Yeah. And, you know, I, I always think about Sucker Punch. I know a lot of people have problems with not talking about any the story of the shot. There's that scene on the train where they're fighting the robots. And I met with Larry Fong. Uh, we were briefly discussing possibly him coming on to do Pacific Rim uprising, and I love Larry. And I asked him, Larry, I gotta ask you, how the hell did you shoot that? Because I've watched it like, a dozen times, and I can't figure out how you shot it. And his response was, I have no idea.

Alex Ferrari 1:52:08
I just turned the camera on.

Steve DeKnight 1:52:09
But I have no idea how we shot that it was. But you know, ignore script ignore story. Just look at that sequence. And looking at it from a director's point of view. There are so many times I will look at a sequence and say, I don't know where to start. I can't tell you where I would start to try to shoot I feel the same way. Kill Bill with the the big fight. in the, in the in the nightclub. It's like how you even start the plan this?

Alex Ferrari 1:52:41
Oh my god

Steve DeKnight 1:52:42
Just it's just I'm much more comfortable with two people in a room talking. You know that, that that's my sweet spot. The other stuff I I always consider myself first and foremost a writer, I will be learning how to direct for the rest of my career. And I'm just I'm inspired by by all of these amazing, amazing directors and I studied their work, trying to figure out how the hell would I even approach something like,

Alex Ferrari 1:53:10
Listen, I've talked to I've talked to people on the show who are really very big, accomplished directors who've done a ton of stuff. And then we start geeking out about Fincher like, we'll just start. We'll just start geeking out about Fincher and how he like they're like, oh, man, did you see that shot? Like how the hell did he do that? And and how is this? Like, there's just certain guys in our and gals in our in our in our space? Who do things like Kathryn Bigelow could shoot the hell out of any action made? I mean, she's one of the best action directors of her generation, there's no question. She doesn't get the credit she deserves. But you start looking at these directors and you just go, I don't even so when you as a director can look at another director in the business and go, How the hell did you do that? That's, that's a that's a highest compliment you could do. And obviously, you look at Kubrick or something like that. You just like, What the Hell

Steve DeKnight 1:54:02
yeah. And I think that's important for anybody in the business. To realize, I mean, there's the rarefied air of like, Spielberg. But even Spielberg when you watch the documentary about him saying that, you know, there's a bit of terror every time he steps onto the set, because he doesn't know quite what he's going to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:54:20

Steve DeKnight 1:54:21
Um, but I think it's so healthy to admire other directors, other writers, and really Aspire, because I can't tell you how many times I've seen a TV show. And me and my other professional friends who have bad long careers, saying, Man, yeah, it just made me want to stop writing. Because I don't know how many. We all felt that way. When we watched Wayne. It's like, what the fuck am I doing?

Alex Ferrari 1:54:50
Right? Yeah, you watch you watch something Nolan. Does he just like Well,

Steve DeKnight 1:54:54

Alex Ferrari 1:54:54
I I'll never get there. I'll try. But it's I don't even know how he's doing this. And when you watch and like I've watched the opening sequence to the first 20 minutes of Clockwork Orange the other day and my God,

Steve DeKnight 1:55:09

Alex Ferrari 1:55:10
It holds to this day like it's

Steve DeKnight 1:55:12

Alex Ferrari 1:55:13
a would you hold those first 20 minutes? You just like, how did he get away with it? That would, there would be there will be riots in the streets today, if that was released by a major studio.

Steve DeKnight 1:55:23
Yeah, it's it's just there's so many inspiring people. And, you know, ultimately, for me, I always come back to the little kid in New Jersey, who was I like Luke Skywalker, I if there was a center the universe I was furthest from, where I grew up. In New Jersey, we didn't even have a movie theater, I had to ride my bike to the next town over a half hour away, which was brutal in the winter, let me tell you. But to me, whenever things get really hard or tough, and they get hard and tough a lot, I always remind myself that I am living the dream of that little kid. Because I love what we do. I love trying to create that magic and I love taking big swings, and sometimes they work and sometimes get an exploding baby.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:13
Can I quote you on that? When you take a bit sometimes it works and sometimes you get an exploding baby. Best quote of the show. My friend, Thank you, Steve, so much for being on the show, man. I know we could talk for at least another couple hours.

But I appreciate you taking

Steve DeKnight 1:56:27
some time after my next big failed movie comes out

Alex Ferrari 1:56:32
I appreciate that brother. Thanks again man.

Steve DeKnight 1:56:34
My pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:37
I want to thank Stephen for coming on the show and dropping his knowledge bombs on the tribe today. Thank you so much, Steven. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash 111. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com subscribe and leave a good review for the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thank you again for listening guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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BPS 110: What Talent Agencies Look for in a Screenplay with Christopher Lockhart

Today on the show we have award-winning producer, film executive, educator, and industry story analyst Christopher Lockhart. Christopher is renowned for his script editing acumen. He has read over 60,000 screenplays.  He is also an award-winning filmmaker and member of the WGA, PGA, and the Television Academy.

Chris got his start at International Creative Management (ICM), where he worked as script consultant to legendary talent agent Ed Limato, who represented industry giants such as Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Michelle Pfeiffer, Liam Neeson, and Robert Downey, Jr.

He later moved to the venerable William Morris Agency, which merged with Endeavor to form WME.  At WME Chris has worked on award-winning projects for A-list clients like Denzel Washington, Russel Crowe, and Rachel McAdams among others.

Chris branched off into film producing with the cult horror hit The Collector and its sequel The Collection, which opened in the top ten American box-office.   He wrote and produced the award winning documentary Most Valuable Players, which was acquired by Oprah Winfrey for her network.  Chris has set up several other projects, including A Rhinestone Alibi at Paramount, and Crooked Creek, a modern noir thriller.

As an educator, Lockhart shares his talent and 30+ years of industry experience as an adjunct professor at Screenwriting program and at UCLA. His writing workshop The Inside Pitch was filmed for Los Angeles television and earned him an Emmy Award nomination.

Chris and I also teamed up for a new webinar from IFH Academy called How to Become a Hollywood Script Reader from Industry Insiders

HOW TO BE A HOLLYWOOD READER is a webinar focusing on the secrets of one of Hollywood’s most vital and mysterious jobs. A reader evaluates screenplays and stories, practicing quality control through “coverage” – a written report that judges creative success. The reader wields huge influence that empowers Hollywood chiefs to greenlight film, television, and new media.

This webinar examines the core components of coverage, how to write it, and provides tools and pro tips to navigate the reading profession – led by two preeminent Hollywood readers. By pulling back the curtain on this creative process, the webinar also gives writers, directors, actors, and producers a rare look inside the mind of those who decide the fate of their material. To access the webinar Click Here

Chris prioritizes emotionality and his client’s character role and development ahead of the overall story solidity. He shared some tips for new writers, some lessons learned from bad scripts, what goes on behind the agency curtain and the blessing of untapping a story’s best version from re-writes.

Enjoy my conversation with Christopher Lockhart.

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Alex Ferrari 2:24
Well guys, you are in for a treat. Today's guest is Christopher Lockhart, who is a story editor at W m. e. William Morris endeavor, the world's largest talent agency, where he curates projects for a list actors and artists such as Denzel Washington, Rachel Mike Adams, Russell Crowe, and so on. He has read over 60,000 screenplays over his career and is also an award winning filmmaker and member of the WETA PGA and television Academy. He's also created the amazing Facebook group called the inside pitch where he helps screenwriters navigate the crazy world of screenwriting in Hollywood from inside the machine. And that's why I wanted to have Chris on the show, I wanted to talk to somebody behind the walls behind the walls where everybody wants to get to. He is there. And he has a very unique perspective on story on what sells on what movie stars are looking for, because this is what he does, day in and day out. And as you heard at the beginning of the episode, Chris and I have teamed up to bring you the How to be a Hollywood script writer webinar at IFH Academy, which will not only make you become a script reader understand the mentality behind script reading. But you will also become a much better screenwriter, just by understanding the craft of breaking down story after story and learning these pro tips that jack and Chris bring to the webinar. Again, you can gain access to that webinar at bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash script reader. Now without any further ado, please enjoy my eye opening conversation with Christopher Lockhart. I'd like to welcome to the show Christopher Lockhart thank you for so much for being on the show. Christopher.

Christopher Lockhart 4:27
Thank you. It's great to be able to talk to somebody

Alex Ferrari 4:32
Exactly as we're we're all locked up in our in our little quarantine caves here in LA. Well, I was gonna ask you though, like, you know, you being on the agency side, I've been hearing from a lot of agents and managers to say that the world has changed. They're never going to jump into a car for an hour and a half again, to go take a 30 minute meeting and then come back to their office. What are you hearing on your end?

Christopher Lockhart 4:54
Well, you know, my policy has always been that I try to get people to come to me for my meetings, generally speaking. But yeah, you know, I think that that we have been forced out of our comfort zone, believe it or not our comfort zone was driving an hour and a half to go to a meeting. And now, we realized that this technology works, it's equally as efficient, and perhaps more efficient, because now we can utilize our time more wisely. Let's face it less time in an automobile makes a very big difference. And I think we're gonna see this ripple through a lot of industries. I think, for example, the commercial real estate industries, you know, you're going to end up with a lot of vacant buildings, because I think a lot of a lot of companies might actually have people just work from home in the future. It's cheaper, it's easier, right, you know, less rent. It's less wear and tear, I think that there are a lot of people who would be open to that.

I haven't been in my office in many months. I look forward to getting back to it. Just you know, just because, you know, you never know what you have until it's gone.

And so I hope that a lot of us just generally speaking, not even with work, but just with life that we realize, I think sort of how lucky we are generally speaking, and then there are some pluses to this, perhaps some people spending more time with their families than they might have or maybe want to, but I think that there are some definite pluses to to, to this, need to cling to those at least otherwise.

Alex Ferrari 6:43
There's some sort of silver lining in this ridiculousness that is 2020. But yeah, you're right. I think it's going to up end the commercial real estate business without question, because there's going to be a lot less people renting, because they don't need to, like, you know, I know, attorneys and things like that. They're like, I'm shutting down my office because I don't need it anymore.

So, before we get started, how did you get into the business?

Christopher Lockhart 7:10
Ah you know, it's always just who you know, you know, who, you know, is very important. And I've been out here for a while, working as a writer, and, and and then, you know, I sort of had some crossroads and, and some things happened in my life. And an opportunity was presented to me to go and meet with this Uber agent named Ed llamado, who was the CO -resident at ICM and agent to the stars Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Richard Gere, Michelle Pfeiffer. Robert Downey, Jr, Liam Neeson, you know, go on and on. And he basically needed a script consultant, he needed somebody who could go through all of these projects that were coming to his office for his clients. And, you know, make a long story short, I took the job, and 25 years later

Alex Ferrari 8:15
And Big Bang, boom, we're here. Now, and did you when you were working with? Well, you've been you've been working with, you know, big actors and big, big agencies, because you move from ICM to over to WMA? WME? Excuse me?

Christopher Lockhart 8:31
Both, actually. Yeah. Because in 2007, we left ICM, we went to William Morris. And then in 2009, William Morris merged with endeavour and then it became WME.

Alex Ferrari 8:44
Right. And you've been working with clients, high end clients ever since then doing the same thing, just basically vetting their projects. So you've, you, you, you have a very inside inside information in regards to what big movie stars are looking for, in their movie in their projects, generally speaking.

Christopher Lockhart 9:02
Yeah. And believe it or not, it's, it's not always it's not really rocket science. You know, they're really just looking for good projects. And and I think the, the smartest actors are the ones who don't pigeonhole themselves. So very rarely do I get marching orders. You know, rarely do I get a client who says, Listen, I only want a script that does a, b and c, that that order comes down sometimes, but not often. And I think that's how actors really succeed because they are open minded to all different kinds of projects. And hopefully, the ones that I'm sending their way are, are good. They can't do all of the projects that are sent their way they can only do some. But, but yeah, my job is to it. is to be be a taster, you know, so to speak.

Sometimes I liken myself to a little, like a real estate agent, you know, where I'm trying to find a piece of property for a client. And the job involves other things as well. Yeah, there's a lot of reading. But I'm a little bit of a development executive, because I'll work with some of our writer, director clients, on their projects from the very beginning. Sometimes I'm called in in like a hail mary pass to go into the editing room and consult there. So I basically work with story anywhere from the very earliest of the development process, right through post, I even go on to sets, you know, and sort of work from there also. So, so so it the job entails a lot of elements that make it interesting, because each day is different. Maybe not right now. Right now, every day is exactly

Alex Ferrari 11:09
it's groundhogs day.

Christopher Lockhart 11:10
It's Groundhog's Day. But typically, it's it's, it is varied, but there's a lot of reading, there's no doubt about that.

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Lots and lots of homework to do. Now, obviously COVID has up ended the entire world, let alone our small little corner of the world that is Hollywood. How do you see COVID affecting not only Hollywood, as we're currently seeing it, what you're seeing currently, right now, because it's changing pretty much on a weekly, weekly, or monthly basis. At this point,

Christopher Lockhart 11:43
Warner Brothers just broke the news about how they're going to start to release their projects for 2021. And it's pretty shattering. Actually, it's really changing the game. Oh,

Alex Ferrari 11:56
God, how are they doing it? I haven't read that.

Christopher Lockhart 11:58
Well, there. I've only skimmed through it because it literally just came out. But they are going to do a day and date with HBO max with a 31 day license. And so it's it's it looks pretty complicated. I'm sure it'll be complicated from the agency end. As these deals of course have to be brokered. So ya know, not exactly sure yet, how it's going to ripple out, or what the other studios are going to do. But let's face it, everybody, everybody's improvising. And people always ask, oh, you know, what's the business going to be? Like, in six months? I don't know. I know, I know, just as much as you do. If you would ask me yesterday about Warner Brothers release plan for 2021. I wouldn't have told you that this is what they were gonna do. So maybe the writing was on the wall for other people who are more intuitive or pay more attention to that. But I don't, I don't have a clue. I'm literally riding the surf like everybody else.

Alex Ferrari 13:11
So I No wonder woman is being released. I think Christmas Day or something like that. Day in and day is where they're going to release in the theater. And they're going to do so it's a similar thing, but they're only going to allow it on the platform for 31 days, and then that's when it gets pulled off.

Christopher Lockhart 13:25
That's right, that's exactly what they are doing for all of their 2021 releases.

Alex Ferrari 13:30
Wow, that is a huge, that's really upside down. Yeah, because 2021 even with the vaccine with everything, we're not going to get back to where we were in 2019 for at least a couple years.

Christopher Lockhart 13:42
Well, what what might this news even do, let's say to the stockholders of AMC, you know, I mean, is this going to send complete panic through the ranks there. So, I, you know, this is just this has been a crazy year, and people who say, Oh, I can't wait until 2020 ends, like, there's just gonna be a hell of a lot more than 2021.

Alex Ferrari 14:08
I keep telling people that 2020 can make 2020 is when you want to make 20 look like 2019?

Christopher Lockhart 14:14
Very well might, I hope not,

Alex Ferrari 14:16
I hope not to trust me, because like, I don't know how much more I personally could take. I don't think any of us.

Christopher Lockhart 14:22
I just I it's like I'm on a 12 step program. I just I, I take this day, you know, one day at a time, I really think that's, that's just the best way to do it. Because things are changing so rapidly. You know, there were a lot of layoffs throughout the industry. And, you know, who knows, you know, who knows if anybody will even have a job in six months. So it's just, it's too much to think about. So I just sort of do what it is that I need to do day in and day out, and I just don't think about or try to control those things that are in the future.

Alex Ferrari 15:00
And how do you think all of this is affecting screenwriters? Because, you know, and how can they kind of adjust themselves to this new, this new world that's changing by the minute,

Christopher Lockhart 15:13
What's new about isolation for screening?

Alex Ferrari 15:16
Well, there's that

Christopher Lockhart 15:17
This this is, you know, this is, if there's anybody in the industry who can thrive during this time, it is the writer, because the writer should be writing. That's exactly what they should be doing. Now, it's hard for director to go out and direct or producer to produce. But a writer can be writing at this very moment, by the end of COVID, every writer in town should have two to three new scripts that they've written. And there are still deals, you know, so there are still still writing deals going on, and writers are working. So I think if, if anything, they have the the, they're able to make the best out of this.

Alex Ferrari 16:08
Now there was, there's I think one misconception that I hear a lot of screenwriters that I talk to all the time, is that they look very much like independent filmmakers. They think they're making films today, like it was 1992. So they like thinking of like, Oh, just go to Sundance, and I'll get this and that and they have this kind of magical world that was then I think screenwriters have the same thing with the spec market, which in the 90s. I mean, the Shane blacks and the Joe Ester houses. I mean,

Christopher Lockhart 16:35

Alex Ferrari 16:35
Can you talk a little bit about the spec market? And what is if there is a spec market? is it happening? What's the deal?

Christopher Lockhart 16:43
Yeah, there's not really all that much of a spec market right now, a few scripts have sold clearly this is this is not a banner year for selling a screenplay on spec, which is why screenwriter should be writing because there is a possibility that when this drought is over, that people will be looking for content much like after, you know, any WGA strike. You know, we've often seen remember a lot of that that spec boom of the early 90s was fueled by the writers strike in the late 80s. So, so there is a great possibility that that will be hungry for content once the industry is up and running again, which is why people should be writing now worry less about the business at this moment and concentrate more on the creative, because then I think you will be prepared for the business when it is reanimated.

Alex Ferrari 17:53
Now, what is some? What is one of the biggest misconceptions that screenwriters have about the industry about Hollywood in general?

Christopher Lockhart 18:01
Oh, boy, I don't know probably 1000s.

A few. I think I Well, I don't know, I think that, that maybe some more naive writers might think that they literally just sort of can write a screenplay, and then the doors sort of open for them. I don't really understand that. That process as to how the doors would just automatically open. But that's, but that's what they think. Or they feel like because they've written a screenplay that the industry owes them the respect the time to read their script, when that is definitely not the case, by any means. I'm not saying that they don't deserve the respect and time. Sure they do. But nobody's going to give it to me. So. So I think that's a really big misconception. I think another big misconception, of course, is that they're going to make millions and millions and millions of dollars. Write screenplays, when, like anybody in this business, it's a lot of struggle. And one reason of course, that writers at least in the WGA get paid what they get paid is because that might be all that they get paid for three or four years. And, and so they need that money to hold them over. Right. You know, this is why actors get residuals and etc, etc. Because the work is often far and few between. So so there's a lot of struggle. There are, I think, misconceptions that a writer sells a script and their career is made. I would say probably the majority of writers who sell scripts never, never go on to a career.

It's a you know, it's like a one hit wonder. You're always working, it never gets easy. It never gets easy. And I really think that a lot of writers who haven't been out here they think Yeah, I just I just need to sell that one script with no, you know, listen if, if you sell it in it, and it and it rocks the town, that's one thing. But that's not most, that's not most scripts sales. You know, most script sales are for load and no money. And they go under the radar, the movies never made. Or if the movie is made, nobody sees it.

Alex Ferrari 20:26

Christopher Lockhart 20:27
So there's just so there's so many ways for your career not to get started after it's got started.

Alex Ferrari 20:36
It's funny because I always tell people about Kauffman and Sorkin like the you know, they have scripts that they can't they can't produce, like they they can't, that they're amazing. But no one's willing to give the money. And I was telling if Charlie Kaufman and Aaron Sorkin are having problems, what do you think you could have? right to be? It'd be as realistic as possible about this.

Christopher Lockhart 20:59
That's well, and, and, and not every script that an A list writer writes, hits it out of the ballpark. So you know, I've read a lot of scripts by writers that I love. And unlike Yeah, this just doesn't work. This just doesn't work. And this probably wasn't a great project.

You know, that happens all the time. And for new writers. I think that they're often under the impression that because they wrote a screenplay that they've written a screenplay, and yeah, often when you read it, yeah, sure. It starts with fade, and it's got fade out. It's got slug lines. It's in proper format. It's got 120 pages, but it isn't a screenplay. Right? And, and so it often takes a lot, a lot of trial and error, to be able to get to that screenplay that eventually can help you break through. So impatience is certainly an issue with new writers thinking that they don't necessarily have to put in their time.

Alex Ferrari 22:09
So like, you know, a 12 month plan is not long enough, is what you're telling me to start my career as a screenwriter?

Christopher Lockhart 22:15
Yeah, I'd say 12 years. Probably would be more realistic.

Alex Ferrari 22:21
Right? I have a long Yeah. I have a one year plan, like you haven't had a 10 year plan.

Christopher Lockhart 22:25
And then you're just starting. And listen, there are always exceptions to the rule. I had always,

Alex Ferrari 22:31
of course,

Christopher Lockhart 22:32
I had a student many years ago named Josh Schwartz, who's a, you know, this phenomenal show runner. He created the the OC and, you know, Bob, lots and lots of other shows the runaways which is on Disney Plus, I think, yeah, and just, you know, right, on and on and on. Amazing kid. And, you know, he sold his first spec script for like, $1.75 million, or something like that.

Alex Ferrari 22:59

Christopher Lockhart 23:00
You know, yeah. And so, people look to that. And they're like, you know, I'm gonna do that. But that's the Powerball.

Alex Ferrari 23:08
No, it's a lottery, lottery ticket, I call it the lottery,

you know, somebody wins the Powerball lottery every week.

Christopher Lockhart 23:14
But that doesn't mean that you should quit your job, and wait for your numbers to come in. So, you know, that, that That to me is, is, is something that people really need to consider is, is the long term plan. And just having patience,

Alex Ferrari 23:36
Right? And that's that every time I was people always ask me, What do you What's your biggest piece of advice I could patients? It took me a long time. I mean, I was just, I just was talking to James v. Hart, who was on the show the other day, and after doing some research on him, he he got hook, when he was in his 40s. And he and he was, he was bumping around Hollywood for 1015 years, had a couple of things produced and he was writing and getting paid to write but nothing was getting produced. And it was, you know, then, Mr. Spielberg called and life changed.

Christopher Lockhart 24:08
Right? But and that can happen, but he really had to put in the mileage

Alex Ferrari 24:14
Correct. He had to get to that time. Now you said something about residuals earlier and I wanted to see what your take was on this. Because the game of residuals and, and those those kind of deals like the friends have and and Seinfeld and you know, all these residuals, Netflix has changed the game in regards to buyouts or and now I think even Disney is trying to do like maybe a two year season run or something like that, and then it's done. What what is what are your feelings on like that? Or is it you know, is that too touchy of a tough topic to talk about?

Christopher Lockhart 24:47
Well, you know, I'm not going to pretend that that I'm an expert on that. Thankfully, I don't have to negotiate deals. I'm not an agent. So you know, I get too strict. really stick with the creative. But all I can tell you is this that a lot of big talent is more than willing to work for the streamers. So and you see that, you know, so that isn't a secret. You know, we have a lot of big names, good names in series. And a lot of big names. Look at somebody like you know, Sandra Bullock and birdbox for Netflix. We've got George Clooney coming up in

Alex Ferrari 25:35
Can't wait for that movie.

Christopher Lockhart 25:37
Yeah, I can I read the script. It was called Good. Good morning. Something.

Alex Ferrari 25:43
I forgot the name of it.

Christopher Lockhart 25:45
But it changed the title now. And and

Alex Ferrari 25:50
Fincher Fincher, too, he's, I mean,

Christopher Lockhart 25:53
yeah, you know, and so we can go on and on. This is I remember, you know, 10 years ago, if your movie went to Netflix, you didn't tell people it was embarrassing.

Alex Ferrari 26:08
Right, right. Right. You're right.

Christopher Lockhart 26:10
It was it was, you know, it was like, a, it was like The Scarlet Letter. And, and now, you'd be lucky if you could get your movie on Netflix.

Alex Ferrari 26:23

Christopher Lockhart 26:24
So it's, it is amazing how it has evolved. And, and talent wants to work with the streamers very much. So. So there's clearly a big future in the streamers provided that the that their business model can be sustained. You know, I still ask myself all the time, how is Netflix going to sustain its business model when it spends so much money on content? Now, I did notice that they raised my monthly rate, like $1, or something, you know, eventually Netflix is going to be $25 a month. You know, like, I feel certain for that of that. Because that's going to be the only way to hold up that model. Because they have to they they must have content in order to compete.

Alex Ferrari 27:19
And to me, that's it, you got to feed the beast, it's like a constant feeding of the beast. And it's, I mean, I have a I have a streaming service and it's small. I mean, obviously it's like a miniscule thing. And I feel like I have to constantly be putting new content up obviously my my projects don't cost $200 million to to, to put them up, but it's just it's not never ending and also by the way, Netflix set that priority that that standard up to release 15,000 things every week. And I

Christopher Lockhart 27:50
Listen, I'm glad they do.

Alex Ferrari 27:51

Christopher Lockhart 27:52
Right. And when did they when they raised my rate $1 I was like, give me something like I appreciate Netflix. I appreciate the content I don't love everything but there's always something there that I can find to watch and and I suspect that it will only get better but again they you know they they are they are shelling out a lot of money for content a lot of money yeah and and that and that's why you see big talent flocking, there

Alex Ferrari 28:27
It is it's kind of like a gold rush. But I agree with you i just don't know how how long this can sustain itself because they are an obscene amounts of debt. They earn an obscene amounts of dead right now.

Christopher Lockhart 28:37
Well, we have to hope that they that they can figure it out. Because if we lose the streamers after having lost the movie theaters, you're then then we're screwed.

Alex Ferrari 28:49
There's no there's no, there's no because we lost DVD. We lost VHS. We lost DVD, which was so much money. And and then, yeah, you're absolutely right. Because if Netflix goes down, it's it shatters a lot of things.

Christopher Lockhart 29:02
Right? So they can't go down. And, you know, people will often say, Oh, you know, how does Hollywood feel about Netflix? And I'm like, Netflix is Hollywood. You know, we just it's just Hollywood is evolving. You know, there was a time when movies had no sound, you know? So

Alex Ferrari 29:22
no color.

Christopher Lockhart 29:24
No, no color. So it's evolving. You know, you got you got to go with the flow. So yeah, you know, I wish any venture the very best, because that means opportunities for my clients, which in turn keeps me employed.

Alex Ferrari 29:46
And then there you go. Now what when you're looking at scripts for your clients, what are you looking for, but I mean, is it just basically I just need a good story, but there's there anything specific in the scripts that maybe give some tips to screenwriters

Christopher Lockhart 30:09
You know, I think generally speaking, I do not have a checklist. I always say that I look at scripts holistically, I'll read any script that is given to me, I will read it from beginning to end, even if I know by page 12, that the script is terrible. Because actually, sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes on page 12, and 15, and even 30. I'm like, Oh, my God, this script is so boring. And then a little bit later on something happens, A Beautiful Mind. For example, I remember reading that for Russell Crowe and and just wanting to toss it aside. Because I was like, Oh, my God, this is just like a perfunctory spy thriller. And I was like, This is so boring. And then you get to that twist, you have the rug pulled out from under you, if I had tossed that script aside by page 30. And listen, I still think that that twist should have been moved up a little bit earlier in the script. But regardless, if I had tossed it aside, you know, things might have been a little different for Russell Crowe. So. So I've learned my lessons over the years to stick with scripts I I also learn a lot from bad writing, actually learn more from bad writing than I do good writing, but an answer to your question. Because of looking for talent, my eye is always drawn, most importantly, to the protagonist of the story, the role that might client might play. So for me, I'm looking at that. And how does that character evolve? What is the character's journey through the story? how active is the character? How does the character change?

Alex Ferrari 31:59
How does conflict inform the character? These are things that I look at. So often, I'll read a script, where sort of the stuff on the periphery, I don't think is very good. But I'll say this is a terrific role. And not all that long ago. And I'll make this a blind item. But there was a screenplay that I read for a client. And I thought the role was amazing. But I really felt like the story went off the tracks at about midpoint. And then for the second half of the script, I didn't really have a clue what it was about, but I was like, Man, this is a good role. And that client made that film and won an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.


Christopher Lockhart 32:50
So you know, so my eye is always drawn first and foremost, to the character. And, and, and how I see the client in that role. So that's first and foremost for me. So that's what's really important to me.

Alex Ferrari 33:11
I mean, in a lot of times, I find this I've been speaking to so many different people in the industry and writers and screenwriters. I've come to realize that character I mean, plot is very important. But you don't generate remember plots of movies you remember characters of movies like I can I remember Indiana Jones? Do I remember the plot of Raiders of Lost Ark? Yes, because I've seen it 1000 times. But if you put my my feet to the fire on Temple of Doom, kind of remember the plot, but I remember, I remember the characters I remember all of those characters. so clear.

Christopher Lockhart 33:43
And most importantly, at least from my experience is that we remember the the emotionality

Alex Ferrari 33:50

Christopher Lockhart 33:51
Attached to the character. Because ultimately, you know, movies, screenplays, any art form, at least in my opinion, is is an emotional experience.

Right You know, if you if you go back to Aristotle, it's all about catharsis. So it so it is, it is about emotion. And for me, when I read a screenplay, I want to be moved. For me a screenplay is never should never be an intellectual exercise. That doesn't mean that it can't be smart. It doesn't mean that it can explore intellectual subjects. But ultimately, it has to be emotional. And, and so if I read a screenplay, and I feel the same way at the end, as I did at the beginning, it's probably a pass.

Alex Ferrari 34:49
Now, you said something earlier about you learn more from bad writing that you do for good writing. Can you tell us tell us a little bit about what you learn when you read a bad script?

Christopher Lockhart 34:58
Well, you know, you often learn and sort of what you shouldn't do, and more importantly, why. But I also think that, because I've read so many scripts, I've read over 60,000 scripts in 30 plus years. So I, like I have so many stories in my head. So let's say that you write a screenplay, and I read the screenplay, and I don't think it works. Now, I can guarantee you that I have read at least a dozen screenplays, very similar to your story. Because you know, you're all using the same archetypes and, and tropes and motifs. And I can then think, on those other dozen screenplays and how they were able to make work. What you weren't able to make work, just and then I can sort of compare and contrast. And so often, I can sort of figure things out or even through rewrites because I have, I have to read a lot of rewrites, you know, I can remember, you know, a script like, like man on fire with Denzel, I must have read 17 or 18 different drafts of that script as it came in. But I can remember very specific scripts that I had read, that didn't work. And, and, and I couldn't figure out why it didn't work. I could articulate that it wasn't working. And I might even be able to say why it wasn't working, but couldn't tell you how to fix it. And then you get a rewrite that comes in. And whatever it was, that I was feeling has been altered, the rewrite is much more successful. And then I'm able to look at what they did, and compare it to what it was before. And then have a learning experience. through that. I always bring up Matchstick men. As an example. That was the Ridley Scott Nicolas Cage movie.

I don't want to screw this up. But in the film, he he Nicolas Cage is a con man who meets his a strange daughter. And then they go out and do a con together. And then spoiler alert, we find out that she has content, she is not his daughter. Right? So really clever. The first draft that I read, she was his daughter. She was his daughter. And so then you get so then you get to this third act, it never has a really interesting climax. And it really felt like something was missing. And I couldn't figure it out. And then seven months later, a rewrite comes in. And I read that I'm like, Ah, that's it. Of course, it makes total sense. This is a movie about cons. This is a movie about confidence men. So you need a great con, you need a twist in the third act. I love the sting.

Alex Ferrari 38:09

Christopher Lockhart 38:10
And, you know, this has been all sort of part of my learning experience through reading so much. And and you know, I studied dramaturgy as a graduate student at NYU, I've been MFA. But really, so much of my education has come through reading scripts, and of course, being forced to read scripts. So my education has been at gunpoint, so to speak. But a lot I've learned a lot as a result.

Alex Ferrari 38:45
So you're like a database of of stories and screenplays because of just just sitting around reading very much like I'm very much like, Bill Murray and Groundhog's Day, so I'll bring it back to that. He's like, maybe there is no God, maybe he's just been around so long that he knows everything. So I'm not saying you're a god, sir. But, but but you but you, but you do have a database of all these stories in your head that helps you, you know, has I mean, it's like a computer almost. So you could just kind of go in and dive into things. That's really where

Christopher Lockhart 39:15
You know, a lot. A lot of what I do is somebody saying, Hey, you know, we're looking for romantic comedies for this actor. Can you you know, come up with a list. And, and so yeah, you know, so I go into my database, which is not just here, but is also on my computer, although I have a very antediluvian kind of system. So it's, it's very tough. Sometimes I it's it's really weird how I have to find projects that can often remember the stories but titles now for me, because there's so many titles, I can't recall titles. Sometimes I'll have a co worker who will call me say hey listened. You know, last week you read the ABC script. And I'll say, Wait, wait, wait. I remember that script at all, what was the logline? Because you know, that was like 30 scripts to go from me already. So it's like I read it, I move on to the next. But once I get a prompt, everything opens up in my head, and then I can really remember the story.

Alex Ferrari 40:24
So can you talk about what a screen when a screenwriter is ready for an agent or manager? Because so many times I hear screenwriters say, All I need is that agent or manager, I just need that that champion to just get me that deal. When are they actually ready for an agent or manager to take them on?

Christopher Lockhart 40:42
Well, my glib answer to that is always they're ready when the agent or manager knocks on their door. Because ultimately, when, when they're coming to you, you're ready. And people might say, Oh, well, how do they come to you? Well, they come to you because you want the nickel fellowship?

Alex Ferrari 41:04

Christopher Lockhart 41:05
You know, or maybe you wrote some low budget film that you thought nobody would see. But you know it, it was Sundance on fire. So but ultimately, it's a one thing that any writer can do is turn to his network to get feedback on his screenplays to see what's working and what isn't working. Because sometimes the writer isn't the best judge, especially when you've been working on a script for so long. And right. Yeah, absolutely. So So having that network of people that you trust, who can read your script, I give you notes. And then eventually, I think you can get the feeling when the notes go from from this to this, that maybe your screenplay is ready to share with representation. But that still may not mean you're ready, because in some cases, a rep might read your script and say, Wow, this is great. You're a great writer. I can't sell this, though. There's no market for this. What else do you have? And then you don't have anything? Right? So maybe having that follow up script, I used to work with an agent named Brian Cher, who's a manager now.

He's a he was a real wonder kantipur he was selling spec scripts at William Morris when he was in the mailroom. True story,

Alex Ferrari 42:39
That's amazing.

Christopher Lockhart 42:40
Yeah, so I have a lot of respect for him. And he always used to say, you know, something, a writer only needs one script, that's all I need. I just need if a writer's has only written one script, and I can sell that script, that's all that matters. But the truth is, is that often you're not writing that one script that's gonna sell, it just might be enough to sort of get the door open a jar. So having more than one project. And then of course, helping a rep, a representative see you and understand who you are. So if you do have more than one script, and there's a little bit of controversy here, but I suggest that writers brand themselves and that and that they stay with one genre, because if an agent or manager reads your action script, and they love it, but they can't sell it, but they love it, and they want to see what you have next. And it is a historical romance. Oh, that's gonna be a big letdown. So it kind of sucks, I think because writers hate the thought of having to be pigeonholed. But I think branding yourself is wiser. And then eventually, when you break through, and you want to do other things, then your reps job will be to help you cross over and do other things. But branding yourself, so you become that guy. I also, I also think there's just some common sense in it. So it's like if you write action scripts, and you write one action script, and on a scale from one to 10, it's a five, then you write a second action script, this time, that's a six, then you write your third one, it's a seven, you write your fourth one, it's an eight. And then by the time you have your fifth one, it's a nine. Now you're now you've got a really great action script that you can share with the town that the town will be excited about. But if you started with your first action script you wrote that was a five and then your second script is a romance. That's a five, and then you write a mystery, and that's a five. You're not, you're not necessarily growing. And the truth is, is that every time you write a script, you're a new writer Anyway, you know, and but so it helps to carry over some of those tools and get really, really good at doing one thing, and then a rep can sell you because if you have all different genres, a rep doesn't know how to sell you.

Alex Ferrari 45:14
So thinking along those lines help, and just getting your work out there again, you know, sharing your work with people entering it into contests that are reputable, like the nickel fellowship, for example.


Christopher Lockhart 45:29
yeah, yeah, I, you know, like, really the, in my opinion, the only contest that that matters industry wide is the nickel.

Alex Ferrari 45:40

Christopher Lockhart 45:41
And the and the studio fellowships, which are these TV writers, fellowships, they're just good. Because often if you are, if you are accepted, and you do the fellowship, you are transitioned to a staff, TV job at any of those studios. And so clearly, that's a really beneficial program, but screenwriting contests like Austin or scripta, Palooza, or even final draft, I wouldn't say that they are accepted universally through the industry, I would say that a lot of them have fans. But they don't have the kinds of brand that the Nickel fellowship does.

Alex Ferrari 46:32
Got it,

Christopher Lockhart 46:32
for whatever reason.

Alex Ferrari 46:33
Fair enough. Now, you said something earlier in regards to a low budget, low wonder like a kind of like a hit low budget hit? Do you recommend that screenwriters write a low budget independent film that can actually get produced so they actually have something out in the world as opposed to just a screenplay in hand with a cup in hand?

Christopher Lockhart 46:56
Right. You know, I think if a screenwriter has access to filmmakers, and money, even if she's not going to direct or even produce the movie, then it would behoove her to do that. But trying to sort of second guess the industry. I don't always know if that's wise, sometimes I just think the best thing riders should do is write the best fucking crazy ass memorable script that they can write, whether it's a gazillion dollar budget, or a low budget, because the odds of it selling are slim to none anyway, right. And what you want to do is make a splash. You want people to read your script and go, Wow, I want to meet this guy. That's what you want. First and foremost, the idea of trying to sell a script is I'm not saying that you shouldn't think that way. But, but again, the odds are that you're not going to sell a script, what you want to do you want to get representation, what you want to do is get a job. You know, you want somebody to say, Hey, I'm not going to make your movie, but we have a project that is similar to this. And maybe we can bring you on to do a rewrite.

Let's face it most. The majority of writers in the business, their bread and butter is through assignments. It's not spec selling.

Alex Ferrari 48:24
Right. Yeah, exactly. The spec selling thing is that lottery tickets that Powerball. That's right, that and so

Christopher Lockhart 48:31
So I say right, what you're good at, right? What you want to write, and write the hell out of it. You know, we're doing a logline contest right now. On my writers group, my Facebook writers group, and, you know, so we got about 400 log lines. And you know, a lot of them it's like, you look at these and I'm like, Yeah, like, Man, this this just doesn't feel like a movie in me.

Alex Ferrari 49:03

Christopher Lockhart 49:03
You know, maybe the screenplay is different. Maybe the screenplay is gonna take me in some, you know, other direction. Surprise me. But like, Yeah, I don't know about this that just doesn't feel like a movie. It's not it's not very exciting. Doesn't really smack with with conflict, which is something that I always look for in a logline. You know, I want to know what the conflict is. And does it sound like it's compelling? Does it sound like it could, you know, hold up a script for 120 pages? And and so I just, you know, I think that that writers should just just really think about what they're writing, you know, the process starts at the beginning, when they're hatching an idea and come up with something that's really compelling, because you have to stand out, you know, if you're just going to write that's that relationship script.

Alex Ferrari 50:08

Christopher Lockhart 50:08
About You know, you and your dad and you know your estrangement, and you come together under some sort of circumstance. And like I've read a million of those look, it doesn't mean that your writing may not be brilliant to could be brilliant look at Juno, right, like, read a script like Juno. And the writing is really fresh. But if you heard the logline You know, it would sound like an after school special from the 80s

Alex Ferrari 50:36
You're right

Christopher Lockhart 50:36
It does, but the writing is amazing. The problem is that it The problem is that you have to get people to read your writing. You know, Diablo Cody was she had a very popular blog. You know, I believe she'd already written a novel I think she'd even been on like the David Letterman show. And, and Mason Novick, who was a manager, he he approached her and said, you know, have you thought about writing a screenplay? And and so she was already juiced in. It's like, if you're somebody from Iowa, and you have no connections, and nobody's banging on your door, and you write Juno, how, how are you going to get it out there, especially when the logline is an after school special from? Well, hopefully, you entered into the nickel and they recognize the writing, and you win, or place very, very high, which perhaps opens some doors for you, as we said earlier, but but I just think that writers need to think about what they're writing, and, and just light it on fire, you know, light it on fire, because I read a lot of scripts, as do many other people in this town. And a lot of them feel the same. They're just sort of homogenized is when you're reading a screenplay, and you come across a character who's making compelling and unique choices, in pursuit of whatever it is that he or she is pursuing. Right? And these choices result in very unique and compelling conflicts. Then you say, Wow, I'm going to remember this. And then also, as I said, earlier, we remember the emotion.

And, and so it's like, you know, if you can write just one amazing scene that is moving and that doesn't mean moving somebody to tears, it means you could move them to laughter moves into fear. Again, out of all screenplays that I've read, I could I could tell you moments in screenplays like oh, yeah, there was this one script. I don't remember what it's called. And it really remembered the story. But there's this amazing beat, where ABCD happens. I might even remember where I was when I read it.

Alex Ferrari 53:13
Because it hit you emotionally.

Christopher Lockhart 53:14
Yes, exactly. Right. So you know, those are the things that you need to be going for, you know, so, so think so think, original, think, think emotionally, write a screenplay that is going to grab the reader by the throat, even if it is on producible. That wouldn't matter.

Alex Ferrari 53:39
Yeah. Which brings me to the next question I had, do you should screenwriters that are trying to break into the business. Think about budget when writing? Do they write the $200 million original story that more than likely will never get produced? Because that's just not the way the system is working right now? Or do they make that they write something that could be done for $20 million for Netflix? What should it should that even be a consideration?

Christopher Lockhart 54:07
You know, I have there's obviously two schools on that. I am a pragmatist. I and I'm very realistic about things. And so yeah, I would say Listen, don't write a $500 million script. But at the same time, I just said before, nobody's gonna buy your script anyway. So go ahead and write an amazing $500 million script. The thing is, this is it's not about budget. It's it's it really comes down to whether the script is good or not. This is I wish this is what people would worry about. But this is what writers don't concentrate on. They concentrate on all these things that they can control. Like, oh, I shouldn't use we see in my screenplay. That's a no no. Or I can't write it. big budget, screenplay or you know all of these things that are in their control. The one thing that they don't think about is writing an amazing screenplay. because believe it or not, that is out of the control of most of most new writers. Because, look, to be honest, most new writers shouldn't be writing, they shouldn't be writing screenplays, they probably shouldn't be writing emails. And so, you know, it's worry about your craft worried about the quality of what you're writing, don't think about the business. Because Great, so you write a script that Netflix can produce, but the script sucks. And as a result, Netflix isn't going to produce it. So what does it matter?

Right, exactly. Now, if you if there's a writer who wants to break into television today, what should should they write a spec script on an existing show? Or should they write an original piece?

They should be writing original pilots.

Alex Ferrari 56:01

Christopher Lockhart 56:02
Yeah. However, I would say that a lot of the studio TV fellowships that I mentioned earlier, like Warner Brothers, for example. They I believe, also want to see an existing a spec from an existing show. So it wouldn't hurt a TV writer to have both. But definitely, original pilot.

Alex Ferrari 56:32
Now, what is the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make in writing screenplays? Because I'm you have a few written if you've read a few. So I'm sure you've read a few bad ones. What are these constant mistakes, story wise, structural wise, character wise, that you see that you just like, Oh, God, I wish they would just stop this.

Christopher Lockhart 56:51
Yeah, the number my number one on that list. And I don't really make lists. But this would be my number one is that they create a protagonist, who has nothing to do through the story

Alex Ferrari 57:06
Who's just like a just an observer, or just hanging out

Christopher Lockhart 57:10
in an active protagonist. So, you know, ultimately, in drama. And again, you know, this is, this is the way I look at material, this is not the way everybody looks at material. You know, I definitely when I, you know, first started writing and studying, you know, like, Aristotle was definitely my guy. So, you know, I believe that, that you have to give your protagonist something to do. And in a film needs to be something that that is active. And that can be filmed. So when somebody says, Yeah, so I have this really exciting story. It's, it's about a character who wants to feel safe in a world where she's lost. And I'm like, Yeah, I don't know what that means.

Alex Ferrari 58:23
Because I was watching a movie The other day, and I can't remember it because it was bad. But the character didn't, the main character was just along for the ride. They didn't, they didn't generate the story. They didn't because of their actions, nothing that they did affected the story, the story was going in the direction it was going to go regardless if they weren't, and they were the protagonist, which was just a weird thing, as opposed to someone that is constantly moving the foot moving the story forward in one way, shape, or form.

Christopher Lockhart 58:52
Right, it's it's it. So I will meet writers who will say, well, the character doesn't have a lot to do, because this is a character piece. And like, yeah, that doesn't make any sense to me. Because in drama, a character is defined by the choices that she makes. Yes, you will create little idiosyncrasies for your character that texturizers the character, but that is not what creates a dramatic character. So in a screenplay, you give a character something to do something important, like in Erin Brockovich, she spearheads a legal case. Right? So she, she sets out to win a legal case. She's even a lawyer, and she sets out to win a case for these cancer stricken people who have been screwed over by some utility company, right. And so that's her goal, right? Her goal is to win this lawsuit. That's her goal. And now through the movie, she sets out to achieve that goal, scene after scene after scene. And there are choices that she has to make things that she has to do. And these choices reveal who she is. So for example, she goes to some place and she needs copies. And so she lifts up her boobs, and, you know, she, she playfully seduces the nerdy clerk, that gives us an inkling of who she is. So the choices that characters make, let me just give you a very broad example, if I may. So let's say you have your your characters walking down the street, and he looks down at the sidewalk, and he sees a wallet, somebody had dropped their wallet, and it's filled with cash. And what your character does with that wallet, will help to define who the character is. If the character just leaves the wallet on the ground, and walks away. That's one character. If the character takes the money and leaves the wall behind, that's another character. If he takes the whole wallet, that's somebody else. If he takes half the money and leaves the other half, that's a different character. If he takes the wallet to the police station, to return it. That's another character if the owner of the wallet comes to the police station and offers the character a reward, if the character takes it or doesn't take it also reveals character, this is what reveals character in movies, it is the choices your character makes, it's not the novelistic details that people get caught up in, like these idiosyncrasies of well, this character drinks Coca Cola out of a bottle, Pan, it looks that's interesting. Like it that's, that is a fine piece of texture for a character. It's not dramatic, it's not speaking in the language of which you are trying to tell your story.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:21

Christopher Lockhart 1:02:22
So So and of course, you want these choices to be made within a dramatic framework. So Erin Brockovich is making these choices in this framework of her having to win a case, right, or Hamlet sets out to avenge the murder of his father. That's, that's Hamlet's journey through that five act play, or Sheriff protein, jaws has to kill the shark, you must give your character something to do, you must give your character a goal, because that keeps the character active. And it also keeps the audience engaged because we want to know what will happen. We asked ourselves, gee, will Aaron win the case? And we stick around for two hours to see if she will, will Hamlet avenge the death of his father, we stick around through five acts to see if he will, will Sheriff Brodie kill the shark? We stick around for two hours to see if he will. If you don't ask that question. There's no reason for the audience to stick around.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:31
Right. And we won't and you think it's that's story one on one, but a lot of a lot of writers don't get that

Christopher Lockhart 1:03:39
not a lot. Not a lot. Most.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:42

Christopher Lockhart 1:03:43
I'm saying for because I do read a lot of amateur scripts. You know, I also teach so I read a lot of students scripts. That is, it is it's like the COVID-19 of screenwriting, is not giving your protagonist something to do that is the virus. It is a pandemic. And no matter how many times I can say this, it doesn't matter. Like sometimes I'm at these events where people pitch. So they'll come up and they'll pitch and they'll you know, spend two minutes and then I'll say, Well, I'm not sure what is it that your character is doing in your story? And they don't have an answer. And I say, Okay, look, you know, let me hear a pitch where your character is active, where there is a goal and your character is, is traveling through the story to reach this goal. Let me hear and then somebody comes up and does the pitch. And there's no goal. Like Okay, I guess you didn't understand me. And so I explained it to get who has a story where the protagonist is active and has something to do. Every hand goes up and it doesn't matter you literally can go one after the other after the other after the other. So they seem to understand it but then it gets lost in translation somewhere. Listen screenwriting is an easy it's the reason why not a lot of people do it. It's really hard. It's really hard work. And and also, I think a lot of writers come in writing from from a perspective that they're writing. You know, I always say that screenwriters are not really writers. They're really not write screenplays are constructed, they're built.

The writing the the, the writing spirits, like you're committing mellifluous prose to the page is not what screenwriting is about, because nobody will see that.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:55

Christopher Lockhart 1:05:56
Nobody wants you to describe a sunrise in 1000 words, in a screenplay, like you wouldn't have novel, you have to describe that same sunrise in five words, in a screenplay,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:06
but get the same emotion but get the same emotion to say

Christopher Lockhart 1:06:08
of course. So screenwriting isn't about writing. I mean, you know, look at the word playwright, right. Like if if, if you actually look at the word play, right, it's w ri ght? Er, right? Like a ship, right? Right, a builder of so you're building, you're building, a screenplay, it's all about, it's all about structure. It's all about how it is constructed. The way one scene is juxtaposed to another, the ebb and flow, the cause and effect, the setup and the payoff. It's all about construction. And so a lot of people come at screenplays as writers, rather than builders. And I think it's the builders who are successful. First and foremost, look, that doesn't mean that you can't, you know, have beautiful writing in your screenplay. Sure, you know, but ultimately, that doesn't translate to the audience experience.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:08
No, I mean, you read a Shane Black script, or a Tarantino script and Tarantino's dialogue snaps, and you will hear it. But if you look at the Shane Black script, I still I still love Shane's descriptions. His descriptions are amazing, but no one loves it.

Christopher Lockhart 1:07:22
And, but he's also not trying to be literary.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:26
Right? He is.

Christopher Lockhart 1:07:27
He is sort of he is a storyteller. And he's telling a story as if he were in the room almost.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:34

Christopher Lockhart 1:07:35
And and you know, he has that very sort of specific where he's winking at the reader all along. And, but it's not Faulkner,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:44
you know, it's by any stretch. Now, I'm gonna ask you the last few questions I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Christopher Lockhart 1:07:55

Alex Ferrari 1:07:57
I read the pop into your head. I hear the questions.

Christopher Lockhart 1:08:01
I say this, you know, because I use it in my classes. insomnia. Yeah.Hilary Seitz wrote a screenplay that was adapted from a foreign film. Which country I don't recall.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:17
Swedish, Swedish Swedish perhaps? Yeah.

Christopher Lockhart 1:08:19
And I'm not saying the movie. Mind. Your screenplay is much better than the film. The script. I believe the screenplay for insomnia is the actual reading experience is interesting. I would say that is The Very Best Screenplay that I have ever read.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:40
And the Nolan remake the Nolan remake one not the original script of the remake the Hollywood

Christopher Lockhart 1:08:47
IMAX. Correct. But again, I'm not talking about the movie. So don't go out and watch the movie. I'm talking about reading the screenplay, because that was your question. And and yeah, I think that script was was an is brilliant. And and because it just does everything that a screenplay should do. And does it so well and in an in a fairly complicated way. So So I love that script. Andwhat do you want me to say Chinatown? You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:26
Godfather, Shawshank Redemption.

Christopher Lockhart 1:09:30
You know something? i? I honestly think that in some ways, once you've seen the movie, the the screenplay experience is ruined for you. I feel like I'm lucky in the sense that I read all of these movies before their movies.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:49
Do you think you read meant you were you were involved with a man on fire, which is I love man on fire but on the page. Please tell me that Tony Scott translation that he did for the film, that kinetic energy that vibe, the thing was that on the page was even close to being on the page, or was it just a completely different experience?

Christopher Lockhart 1:10:13
The, the, the thing that's in the screenplay is the emotionality right there, the relationship between creasy and the girl. And, and that's, that's, that's what sells the script. Tony Scott is Tony Scott. And then he brings what he brings. Of course, I knew that Tony Scott was I but I'm pretty sure that I knew that Tony Scott was attached to direct when I read the script, so I could probably imagine the way certain things would go. But ultimately, reading a screenplay before it's a movie, in my opinion, is the most beneficial thing for a screenwriter, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't also read screenplays of films they love. But I say this, because once you see the movie, when you read the screenplay, you are now interpreting that screenplay, through the director, through the cinematographer, through the performances, through the music, it's all been done for you. When you read a script, before, it's a film, none of that is done for you, you have to bring all of that to the page, I have read a lot of mediocre screenplays, that have been great films, because you end up with a really good director and a really good actor, and you have a good film. And, but if you're just reading that screenplay, you you can you can see the flaws. So, so I'm definitely an advocate of of that. So I'm gonna tell people that if they read in the trades, that screenplay just sold for a million dollars, try to get your hands on that script. You know, this is why you got to have a network of people, by the way. But you know, try to try to get your hands on that's good to read that script and try to understand why somebody would invest that kind of money into this project. Sometimes you just scratch your head

Alex Ferrari 1:12:27

Christopher Lockhart 1:12:28
And sometimes you don't, sometimes you're like, wow, like, I totally get this,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:32
Or have sold a bunch of scripts that never got produced, and he got paid handsomely for them back in the day

Christopher Lockhart 1:12:37
absolut, absolutly will, let's face it, again, the majority of scripts that sell never get made. So so that is not that is not unusual. I have read many scripts over the years, that I still feel sad that they have not been made. and and, and and I continue to promote those scripts. So I will always continue to promote those scripts. So when somebody asks me for a list, and there's that script that I love from 15 years ago, but it's perfect for this actor, that title goes on that list. And that's how movies get made.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:20
Yeah, I mean, I remember seeing an interview with john Cusack who said, he wants to his agents, he's like, give me the script that you can't, no one is ever going to produce. And then they ended up being john malkovich. Because you mean john, being john malkovich is not a commercial film. But it was, it was brilliant. And then you give it to spike Jones, and then you put that cast together. And it all it all worked. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Christopher Lockhart 1:13:47

Alex Ferrari 1:13:49

Christopher Lockhart 1:13:51
That is paramount, and create a network. So you start to create a network. And again, you can do that. If you live outside of the industry here in town. You can follow people on Twitter, and on Instagram. There's all kinds of Facebook groups. Again, I invite anybody to come to my Facebook group, it's called the inside pitch. And it is a place where you can meet people and have friends and exchange screenplays with them. And creating that network is really important. Those are the things that screenwriters need to be doing all the time. And in my opinion, it should almost be 5050 it should be you know your writing 50% of the time and your networking 50% of the time, because one without the other is fairly useless. It's great to have an amazing script but if you do not have a network in which to share it, then you're at a loss and yet at the same time if you if you have a network, but no work to share with it, then you're also at a loss. So those are those the things and those are things that you can do. Those are the easy, simple things. And then of course, you should be educating yourself. So watch movies and read screenplays. I mean, it's kind of just all basic stuff.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:17
And what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? I'd love your reactions. By the way, everybody who's not watching this, his faces are amazing.

Christopher Lockhart 1:15:33
Why don't you just ask me what kind of tree? I would be? What was the question again?

Alex Ferrari 1:15:38
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Christopher Lockhart 1:15:43
Oh, that's easy, because I actually just learned it very recently. You have to vacuum every day.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:51
The best answer to that question?

Christopher Lockhart 1:15:53
No, but it's absolutely true. You have to vacuum every single day. And then you don't get a lot of dust in your apartment. You know, I mean, I just, it has just just just come to me. You know, I'm like, because I'm always dusting all the time. It's a pain in the ass. And I just realized through COVID every day I vacuum, and I'm not hardly dusting. So my advice, vacuum every day.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:21
That should be the title of a book. Vacuum every day.

Christopher Lockhart 1:16:26
See? Maybe you and I will write it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:29
Christopher, I truly appreciate you being on the show. And if people want to reach out to you, I guess the inside pitch Facebook group is the best place. That's the best place. Thank you again, so much for being on the show. And and just your wealth of information has been very beneficial to my tribe. So I appreciate it my friend.

Christopher Lockhart 1:16:45
Right. Thank your tribe, and you'd be well.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:49
I want to thank Chris so much for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe. Thank you again so much, Chris. If you want to get links to anything we spoke about in this episode, head over to the show notes at bulletproof screenwriting that TV forward slash 110. And again, if you want to get access to Christopher's new webinar and IFH Academy, head over to bulletproof screenwriting.tv forward slash script reader. Thank you again so much for listening, guys. I've got some amazing guests coming up in the coming weeks and months. So stay tuned. Thank you again, so much. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.

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