Today’s guest is screenwriter Brian Herskowitz. He wrote the book called Process to Process to Product: From Concept to Script: A Practical Guide for the Screenwriter.
Like millions before him, Brian Herskowitz moved out to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He soon learned that there was a dearth of roles for shorter leading men and began searching for other outlets for his creative passions. In 1980 he wrote his first screenplay, an action thriller about a young man who moves to Tokyo to train for the Olympics in Judo and gets caught up in an intrigue with the Yakuza.
Through that script, based on his true-life experience as an international judo competitor, he uncovered a knack and passion for writing. As a writer, Brian has completed well over a dozen feature films. His first produced feature was a low budget slasher titled DARKROOM. He currently has several projects in active development including, THE ABDUCTION, THE EMPRESS OF ELSEWHERE (co-written with Theresa Nelson based on her best selling novel), TAKE A RIDE, and FAIRIES (co-written with Pam Dawber and Andy Tobey).
His TV credits include a staff writing position on the NBC sit-com BLOSSOM, multiple episodes of the syndicated series HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, and ACAPULCO HEAT, the HBO hit comedy DREAM ON, CBS’s RENEGADE, THE EXILE, MURDER, SHE WROTE, the FOX Network’s YOUNG HERCULES, and CBS’s critically acclaimed was series TOUR OF DUTY (associate producer). Brian co-wrote the FOX pilot MANTIC with Jason Alexander. In addition, he worked as a punch-up writer on BOB PATTERSON, and LISTEN UP.
Brian currently holds the title of lead faculty in screenwriting for the prestigious BOSTON UNIVERSITY IN LOS ANGELES – WRITER IN HOLLYWOOD PROGRAM. Brian has taught online for UCLA EXTENSTIONS and has had students from every corner of the earth.
Enjoy my conversation with Brian Herskowitz.
Right-click here to download the MP3
- Process to Product: From Concept to Script: A Practical Guide for the Screenwriter
- Brian Herskowitz – Official Site
- Brian Herskowitz – IMDB
- Bulletproof Script Coverage – Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible – Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:33
I like to welcome the show Brian Herskowitz. How you doing, brother?
Brian Herskowitz 2:39
so far? So good. Good,
Alex Ferrari 2:41
man. Thank you. Thank you for being on the show. I truly appreciate it. We are going to talk some shop today, some screenwriting and craft shop today. But before we get into it, how did you get into the business? Well,
Brian Herskowitz 2:53
I started off I was a, a quote unquote, child actor in Houston, Texas, and then dinner theater, and always had it my my mind that I was going to eventually come out to LA and become an actor. And I did part of that, and did come out to LA and started trying to work as an actor and found that Michael J. Fox had all the short parts rolled up. So I was like, Okay, now what do I do? And my father is a writer, not a screenwriter, but he's written over 60 books, and quite a few bestsellers with people like Jean tyranny, and Bette Davis. And I don't know George Bush, a lot, a lot of people that people would have heard of, and I guess, the apple Phil, sort of next to the tree, and I started looking at screenwriting, and I was actually in my youth, and I still am a martial artist, and I tore my anterior cruciate ligament in the Olympic trials in 1981. And I spent about nine months in a cast, and couldn't, couldn't go out on auditions, couldn't really do anything. And I sat down and I said, I have an idea for a screenplay. And I sat down, I wrote it in five days. And this is easy. And got an agent and was optioned a few times. And then I said, I'm going to do another screenplay. And then about 70 pages into that went, I have no clue what I'm doing, not even an inkling and started kind of studying the craft and then over the years developed my own blocks and process.
Alex Ferrari 4:24
Very cool. Yeah, it's easy, right? It's five days you should knock one out every it's on that you could knock out for a month easily. Yeah, with the in the weekends. I still do that. And the weekends off and the weekends off on top of that. Exactly. You know, many people I talked to think that that's the way it goes. You know,
Brian Herskowitz 4:42
you you're looking at what he did, I thought oh, this is you know, why haven't I been doing this? It's like going to Vegas The first time you go to Vegas, and you win. Oh, you think oh, why haven't I been gambling my entire life. I won't just box I could do this every day I'd be a millionaire You know? And then you find out that it doesn't quite go That way.
Alex Ferrari 5:00
Yeah, that's exactly what happened to me when I first gambled when I was like, in my teens in a cruise ship. I was like, Hey,
Brian Herskowitz 5:06
I plan it that way. I think I actually there was some sort of like, you know, algorithm. Yeah. Okay. You know, there's SMERSH or chaos is sitting there, right? Okay. I think if we get these guys set up so that they think they're gonna win, they'll come back and lose their entire life say,
Alex Ferrari 5:22
Is it because I put in a court I never forgot, I put in four quarters. And I was like, 16, I was working International. I was gambling international waters. And I got the 60 bucks off of a quarter slot machine. And I'm like, this is amazing.
Brian Herskowitz 5:37
I'll just similar experience.
Alex Ferrari 5:38
I'll just stay right here until I make is the $1,000. And then when I was back down to $5. I said, You know what, I think I should probably quit.
Brian Herskowitz 5:48
Five times my money. I'm good. Yeah. At least you learned one in one go. It took me a couple of guys go. Oh, oh, wait a minute. You mean you don't win every time? What What is that about?
Alex Ferrari 5:58
Exactly? Exactly. Now, you've been in the business for a while? Yes, you've been just here just just starting out. Yeah. And you worked on some really fun shows back in the day back in the 80s. Specifically, three that I remember very well as blossom. Which was was a great was was a hit a huge hit as a comedy is a huge hit for i don't know if i forgot what network it was on. It was NBC, CBS. And then two of my favorite to my favorite 80s action. Shows Hercules and Renegade. Like that's so abs, we have
Lorenzo Lamas godsakes. And it was great. So how was it working on those kind of hit shows like in the in the writers room? Like how was it that those times, you know,
Brian Herskowitz 6:53
they were all very different. Renegade was kind of a one off, so I was a guest, writer on that freelance writer came in. And that was a great experience, but it was really just that show, and then out with Hercules, banner, and and Renegade. Also, they were both the syndicated shows. So one of the things about the syndicated shows is they didn't have the kind of money that you have on the network. So a lot of them really relied upon the freelance writer. They have a very small staff or almost no staff, and they would do most of the shows would be people outside of the office. So on. On Hercules, I ended up doing four episodes for them, and then kind of spot off to do one of the young the Hercules with Ryan Gosling. People forget that he was young Hercules.
Alex Ferrari 7:42
Was he on Hercules? have to look? Oh, my God. I have to look that up. Yeah.
Brian Herskowitz 7:48
We don't keep in touch. I don't I never call. We're so close and then nothing. But the Hercules. I loved working on the Hercules series for a myriad of reasons. One. You could do virtually anything. If they were open to it just about you know, I mean, I wrote some I don't know if iconic is quite the word but I wrote some interesting episodes. I wrote one called the miserables, but no, it wasn't miserable. It was a les contemptible. That's what it was okay. And it was, they came to me and they said, Hey, we want to do a wraparound show. And I said, Great. And they said, let's set it. We want to set it in revolutionary France and I would. Hercules in revolutionary France. You got to give me a little more here what they said, yeah, we just want to do something where it's, you know, revolutionary, for instance. Okay. So I took, I took I can't remember what the dangerous les isms. I took the movie dangerous laser guns and I basically, I took that concept and married it to the Scarlet Pimpernel. I took that and I said, Okay, so they had ceremonious, which was one of the kind of recurring characters in the show plays this Scarlet Pimpernel like character, I think they called it I called him the chartreuse box. And he is with this beautiful woman, and he's talking to her about how he can turn anybody into a hero. And then, of course, he runs into iOS and Hercules, who are just these kind of bumbling thieves, and he kidnaps them and forces them to listen to the lessons from other shows of Hercules to become heroes. And that was kind of the concept of the pretty wacky, pretty out there. The other one that that was interesting, for a lot of reasons was, I did a show an episode called a start a guide, which was a retelling of the birth of Christ. Just in terms of history, doesn't really make a lot of sense since if you think about the Greek mythology and Gods probably not in the same time that that Christ was being born. But
Alex Ferrari 10:00
dinosaurs or humans were around the same time. So it doesn't matter.
Brian Herskowitz 10:02
You know, you have to you have to go with it a little bit. So that one was actually written by the executive producer. And then he left the show. And they called and asked me on a Thursday, when I come in and do a rewrite, I said, Sure. They I said, When do you need it? They said, Monday, spellers. Yeah, of course. So I took that show and rewrote it, and on Thursday, delivered on Monday, and that was an episode where I Oh, this is kind of, again, I'm married, Close Encounters of the Third guide with, with the birth of Christ, where he gets hit by a star and it suddenly, you know, he has to follow this path to this manger where Christ is being born.
Alex Ferrari 10:49
So you're basically kind of like the originator of Sharknado. Like, you threw two things together, and just like, well, sharks and tornadoes, obviously, why wouldn't you do? So? Of
Brian Herskowitz 10:57
course, Who wouldn't? Who wouldn't think of these exactly, mash up, I'm all about it.
Alex Ferrari 11:02
So but back, you know, when during the syndication days, because I remember watching a lot of the syndicated shows, it was kind of carte blanche on a lot of these shows, like you could do almost anything, as long as the rating stayed, you are kind of free to do whatever you want. And I feel that there's no reason, within reason, within reason, as long as you stayed within the rules of the world, and even then you can still break them a little
Brian Herskowitz 11:23
bit. And they didn't mind breaking the rules. And they're actually I worked on another show under a pseudonym, which called Acapulco heat,
Alex Ferrari 11:34
I remember Acapulco.
Brian Herskowitz 11:36
So he, I did two episodes on. And when they first pitched this is, this is apropos to what you're talking about in terms of they can do anything. Um, a couple he was pitched to me as an international spy thriller, with a professional diving competition team. Okay, we're gonna go all over the world have gadgets, and do international spy stuff.
Alex Ferrari 12:00
Cool. Diving James Bond. Got it?
Brian Herskowitz 12:02
Yeah, exactly. Well, the first episode I wrote had to do with an athletic event taking place in Israel and, and the Palestinians are trying to infiltrate and they think that one of the people in the shooting competition is actually going to end up being an assassin and all this stuff. Great. By the time we went into production, they said, okay, we couldn't find enough people that can dive. So they're there now swimsuit models. Okay, that's fine, great sense of them. And that was fine. And we did that episode. And then they came back and said, we're going to do another another episode, but there's some budgetary constraints. I said, Okay, what are those? They said, well, you can only have one guest star with two other speaking roles. And you can only have one other outside location besides our standing sets. So it went from this huge international spy ring to you can have one location and three actors. And I was like, okay, basically, I got people on a beach saying, I will kill you. You can kill me. I will, Gary. But that so a lot of it had to do with what what are the, you know, the monetary budgetary constraints. Hercules was fun that they never heard them say, Oh, we can't do that. We can't afford that. Other shows? Sometimes, particularly in Yeah, they gotta go. Well, we can't really have you know, a hoard. How about two guys?
Alex Ferrari 13:29
in a dream two guys in a dream? Yeah. Yeah. No, Hercules was fairly popular. And it's been off the Xena and spun off young Hercules is off to a lot of things. So there was a
Brian Herskowitz 13:40
there was a there was actually also there was a an animated series and yes, but yeah, in fact, the last time I went in to meet with them, they asked me to come in and pitch and almost everything I said they came back to me and said, Oh, we did that on Xena I can't do that. So okay, well what about this though? We did that on the on young Hercules get to that? What about this? We did that on the cartoon. We did that in the features of the cartoon we did that on the feet is like okay, I give up. So they had they had a universe they had a complete universe?
Alex Ferrari 14:09
Well, not. So now you you do a lot of teaching and you and you do a lot of instructing a young screenwriters. What are the biggest mistakes you see young screenwriters make?
Brian Herskowitz 14:18
You know, really coming right out of the box? The biggest thing that I see is that they want to do something that is not that is heartfelt, which is great, but not necessarily commercial. And I think one of the things a lot of young filmmakers forget is that films have to be producible. And that means several different things. It means one, there has to be a commercial angle. That doesn't mean it has to be you know, x men or the Marvel Universe. But what it does mean is it has to have a place in the industry. So for instance, if you're going to do something that's very interpersonal and very kind of, you know, small, you have to express That you're going to have a budget and contained enough that you can do it in a on a very low budget that allows it to be done on a on a small scale. And in you know, art houses are directed to video, if you can't do that, then you've got to be able to get to the stars and generally, the writer right out of the box, they're not going to have that access. So my my advice is, you know, look for something that is absolutely personal and touches you but find a way to couch it that is that attracts a wide audience. Because I think a lot of times, you know, you're and it's it's 100%, understandable, you write what you know. And when you're young, you know, you're, you're full of this kind of anticipate anticipatory anxiety and, you know, where's the world going to go? And, and it tends to a lot of young writers tend to do things that are very dramatic and very small. And they're not really, you know, that's not really the popular popular genre right now.
Alex Ferrari 16:02
Exactly. I mean, unless you can make it for a budget that you can afford to do it yourself. If you can make it you make a feature for 20 30,000, which is very, very doable in today's world. Yeah,
Brian Herskowitz 16:11
I mean, right now, there's, you know, unlike 2030 years ago, you know, you you can take your iPhone, you can take your Samsung, you can go out, you can shoot a movie with it, you really can't. And you know, there's all kinds of gimbals and gadgetry that you can use. And there's there's plenty of opportunity, if you have the will, and you have the courage to just jump into the deep end. Do it. But you know, I work with a company right now called horror Equity Fund, which is focused on the horror genre, and for a lot of different reasons. One is, it is a fairly low bar in terms of the entry into the industry, and it's the highest return on investment for narrative films. And, you know, there's, there's still, you know, we get a lot of stuff that's very, it's not commercial. And, you know, maybe it's horrific, but it's not commercial.
Alex Ferrari 17:02
That's actually quite surprising, because you would think almost anything in the horror genre would be commercial, but apparently, it's not. What's an example of a non commercial horror idea? Because I mean, generally horror is like a ghost story. You have a slasher film, you've got a serial killer. There's multiple different genre sub genres within that, but like,
Brian Herskowitz 17:21
Yeah, it really it really has to do with the quality of the writing. Talk about what what is and isn't commercially viable. And I mean, I'll give you an example. We had we had someone who came to us who, whose kind of mantra was I make really bad movies.
Alex Ferrari 17:38
Well, there is that sub genre that mean, Lloyd Lloyd Kaufman has kind of cornered the market on that without pushing trauma.
Brian Herskowitz 17:45
Yeah. So So those kind of things, but, but my feeling is, you know, yes, there's a place to aim for that. But the market has become so saturated and everything that you really have to do something that stands out. I watched a movie the other the other day part of a movie The other day, which was I think it was either killer, I think was killer doughnuts attack that.
Alex Ferrari 18:10
I had I had the producer on the show.
Brian Herskowitz 18:12
Okay, so I apologize. I
Alex Ferrari 18:17
don't know. It's okay. It's not supposed to be gone through.
Brian Herskowitz 18:21
Yeah, well, then it succeeded and exactly what it was, but I want I really marveled at the fact that one people got it done. You know, they got
Alex Ferrari 18:29
an actor in it. They got it, Thomas. Khalid it.
Brian Herskowitz 18:31
Yeah. And and they and they got it into the theaters.
It's what it was.
It I don't know if I went to theaters. Okay, well,
Alex Ferrari 18:39
I'm not sure if it went theatrically. But it did go international. And he did make money with it. A lot of it, actually. But the thing was that the don't the the poster was so brilliant. That's why I got him on the show. When I saw the poster like I have to, I have to, it's just like, you know, doughnuts with like teeth coming to bars. And it's all very ad style. And there is definitely an audience for that kind of movie. And when I saw that, when I saw the trailer was like, Oh,
Brian Herskowitz 19:04
so So I mean, the thing about that is and and we do look at this is that, you know, that film had a hook very much. You know, you look at it, and you're the poster. Oh, I got to see it. I got to see a movie where doughnuts are attacking and killing people. Because it's and then don't they don't they become giant donut students. And I've
Alex Ferrari 19:21
never personally seen the whole thing. So I think they do.
Brian Herskowitz 19:25
I think they become donut. It's a little bit you know, 3040 years ago, there was an attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Well,
Alex Ferrari 19:31
of course, that's
Brian Herskowitz 19:33
the same. Kind of it's in that same wheelhouse for sure.
Alex Ferrari 19:36
But the big difference was that back then there was no competition. And there wasn't as much saturation on media and like to have
Brian Herskowitz 19:44
people that said, I've got a stupid idea. I'm gonna go out and play. Although, yeah, you didn't have you didn't have to sharpen
Alex Ferrari 19:49
and it was and it was it was and it was also shot on film back then.
Brian Herskowitz 19:52
Yeah, that's right. That's right. Yeah. And the expense of that has changed significantly.
Alex Ferrari 19:56
That would you do I mean, I always tell people this too, like, there are certain time periods and certain windows of opportunity where certain things will fly, certain careers will flourish, where in today's world, they wouldn't or in a different in a different time it wouldn't. So, Lloyd Kaufman and troma got was able to build their their foundation in the 80s and 90s, during the DVD revolution, during the VHS revolution, where you were renting stuff like the blockbusters, and that's your mom and pop that doesn't exist anymore. So if someone like trauma shows up today, it's a tough sell. Is
Brian Herskowitz 20:32
there the differences you know, where we're used to be direct to DVD? Now you've got the streaming service, and there's too much. Yeah, it is, but it's changing. And right now, you know, you have there are a lot of entities that are getting into the game that are going to have to have a ton of content and they're going to all be competing against each other. Apple is getting in the game. You've got you know, got got Netflix and Hulu Disney is now in the game. I
Alex Ferrari 21:00
mean, I'm already bought it. I mean, Disney's Did you hear what they're doing with frozen too? So
Brian Herskowitz 21:05
no, we're so
Alex Ferrari 21:06
frozen two will be the first Disney movie that will go theatrical, and then will only live on their on their
Unknown Speaker 21:14
Alex Ferrari 21:14
it will not be available for rental, it will not be available for purchase, it will only live on Disney plus, so how many subscribers will you think they're gonna get off of that? Sure.
Brian Herskowitz 21:25
And it's been that's been the formula, you know, when when Netflix came out with Arrested Development? Yeah, you know, and rebooted that when they when they had House of Cards, you know, they there are things that that the streaming services have doing. To em. Disney has an incredible library and at some point they can say, you know, you want to watch a Marvel movie you come to us you want to watch you know, I mean, they've got starting Pixar
Alex Ferrari 21:52
Star Wars, Pixar Star Wars Marvel, Fox, the entire Fox and
Brian Herskowitz 22:00
they bought Lionsgate today, we mean they bought Lionsgate. Today they bought Lionsgate. Disney bought Lionsgate. Today, I didn't even know that. That's right. I mean, I think no, double check me on that. Yeah. Double check. They
Unknown Speaker 22:10
Unknown Speaker 22:13
I think so.
Alex Ferrari 22:16
I really thought it was gonna be Apple, I thought it was Apple is gonna buy Lionsgate because someone was gonna buy them. We all do. We all knew. And
Brian Herskowitz 22:22
I think it was, well, it's not on here, but we'll look it up.
Alex Ferrari 22:26
It will be determined anyone listening, this will be in the future. So you'll easily know if it's true or not.
Brian Herskowitz 22:34
But yeah, you can fact check me It's okay. Sure. You know, with that all of those different, you know, studios, because they're going to have to have original and exclusive content, there's going to be a full while there's going to be a huge boom in an acquisition. I don't know if they're going to go out and produce the you know, thing about Netflix, Netflix is output is producing a ton. But they're acquiring just as much as they're, they're producing. And they're very, they have the pick of the litter right now. So they can go and they can get JJ Abrams, and they can get you know, Guillermo del Toro or they can get, you know, speed scrollbar or whatever they want. They can although Spielberg and he's he's not a fan, Apple might take that piece.
Unknown Speaker 23:16
He's over an app, he's at Apple.
Brian Herskowitz 23:18
So you know, there's, there's gonna be this fight for who's going to have the greater talent and, and the content that only can be seen there. HBO is another example where you know, if you want to see Game of Thrones, bam, you went to you went to HBO, and HBO has changed their model a little bit, you know, there used to be the network of really high quality, and they are seeing the landscape and going that's not going to be enough. We have to have we have to have quantity as well as quality so they're cheap. So yeah,
Alex Ferrari 23:50
it's it's funny because HBO could have you know, they had they had the potential to own that space as well. Let's not even talk about blockbuster. That's a whole other conversation. But but it's fascinating. At the end of the day, the 800 pound gorilla is actually apple. Yes. Yeah. Apple Apple could buy Disney cash.
Brian Herskowitz 24:11
Didn't like saying it out loud. It No, it's it's it's really awe inspiring to think about. The question is what are they going to do with it? You know, and they've, they've started off with,
Alex Ferrari 24:23
they're just like, like 2 billion. They think they spent like 2 billion I think this year, it's like they're slow, slow. It's a slow burn for them.
Brian Herskowitz 24:31
twice what I spent last year, so I
Alex Ferrari 24:32
obviously obviously Me too. But, but like someone like Netflix is spending eight to 10 billion a year, Disney. Disney came out. I don't know if Disney could definitely outspend Netflix, but they have the properties that everybody wants. And then they also have the libraries that everybody wants. Yeah, that's,
Brian Herskowitz 24:51
that's one of the things I'm wondering you know what's going to happen in terms of, you know, I presume that the deals at Netflix and Hulu and Disney owns Hulu Pandora, you know, Disney entrepreneur?
Alex Ferrari 25:02
No, no, they they're the majority when they bought Fox, they became the majority stuff and and Hulu.
Brian Herskowitz 25:07
So Hulu will probably have continued to have some Disney content. But you know, I think eventually Netflix
Alex Ferrari 25:14
deals gone. Yeah. And the whole Marvel all the Marvel shows on there got cancelled because they're like, well, we don't want to do anymore because Disney is opening up their rival studio. I mean, I'll be the first one online for Disney plus, because I have kids. And I love Marvel and I love and I would love to just go to one place and just like I don't have to go hunting for a movie, I know it's there. And they have Fox and now you're saying they have Lionsgate as well, which is insane. They're huge. And, you know,
Brian Herskowitz 25:41
so they're they're going to be they're going to be formidable. And Apple can absolutely be a player in that space. But it's going to be what happens with their content, what kind of content you know, I just not my digress. But you know, DirecTV and at&t, they're another huge entity. But they haven't seen the quality of the content company, but
Alex Ferrari 26:01
they're there, but their quality of work is not good. And they're also they're also in legacy technology, cable cables, legacy technology dish is cable is legacy technology, it is not the future of where things will go. So they're just struggling to keep a foothold on things.
Brian Herskowitz 26:19
But, but that's a whole nother space that you know, could have, should have and didn't. And if Apple doesn't, doesn't, you know, rise to the level of a Hulu of an HBO of a Disney, they're not going to have the audience.
Alex Ferrari 26:35
Netflix will just have been purchased by Netflix. Let's just buy Netflix straight up. I think I think that's probably the acquisition that everyone's counting on that Apple's just really Netflix. I've heard that from multiple industry insiders, they're like, you know, Apple could easily just go in and buy Well, they can or as well, they can go and buy. I mean, they literally they have 200 and what is it 250 or 270 billion cash, cash sitting in the bank cash? It's not I mean, it would double what's the interest on that's pretty good, right? double double what I have at least, about the interest I can live off the interest off of a percentage of that, sir. But, but with all that said with screenwriting, though, that there the potential and the opportunity for screenwriters now is just massive. So many writing so many shows so many good shows out there. You know, there's not a day goes by with a friend like, oh, did you watch that show on x network? I'm like, Nah, man, I haven't.
Brian Herskowitz 27:32
How many hours in the day?
Alex Ferrari 27:33
I mean, there's like, I was just saying this to another guest. The other day, I was like, Look, you know, I would need multiple lifetimes, to watch all the good shows on on TV right now. Where, when I was coming up, and growing up when I was working in my video store in the late 80s, early 90s. I literally watched everything that got released every week, which was five or six movies, right? And TV, cable there was like you'd have 30 shows like that. Was it total? You know, now there's how many shows is like that? 2000 shows a month a year? Yeah, I there's so many shows. So there's a lot of opportunity for for screenwriters. But there's also a lot of competition.
Brian Herskowitz 28:12
Yeah, it's easy to get lost. And just for the reason you're talking about and one of the things that, you know, when I talk to students, I talked to a console with writers it's, it's really about how do you find a voice that is going to attract attention? How do you find a voice that's unique to you, and, and has a quality to the work? That's undeniable, right? And those are the things that you have to really focus on when you're, when you're starting in the craft.
Alex Ferrari 28:40
Now is a creative, it's a creative process for you different when you're working in TV rather than film.
Brian Herskowitz 28:47
There are different pressures, when you're on TV, you know, you you have, you have a time crunch that you don't have as a feature writer, unless you're hired to write, you know, a film for a studio. And even then there's flexibility. With television, you know, particularly if you're writing sitcoms, it's, you know, you write, you got a script to write, it's got its do, it's like the one you know, on Hercules, Thursday, we get a Monday. And you it's not that fast, but but they you know, you have to be able to perform under pressure, and you have to be able to get the scripts out quickly. And television, that's important. But ultimately, you know, and even now, it's more about quality, how good is it? You know, how much how much do people want to see that episode? How much do people want to, you know, what did you bring to the table in terms of the character voices in terms of, you know, a kind of a new take on on what we've been doing, and particularly in television, you know, when I was coming up, you wrote a spec script of a show, right? And, and then you didn't give that to the show that you wrote, because they wouldn't look at it, you gave it to somebody else and they looked at it and all this is great, and you got to get it again. golfer that. Now, most shows are not really interested in looking at specs as much as pilots. And certainly the the representation out there, much more interested in seeing somebody with original work. The problem with that from a showrunners perspective is, if you write a, an original piece of material, and I'm looking at you, as a staff writer on my show is can you really capture the purview and the characters and the voices and, you know, get the essence of my show? You can do your thing, great, but can you do mine. And that's where the idea of having a spec, samples are also a great idea. And I always recommend that if you're going to do that, have a pilot and have a spec, you know, find a show that you love, do a spec episode.
Alex Ferrari 30:48
There's so much more I feel freedom in TV now. And I use the term TV very loosely because it's streaming its web, it's whatever. But episodic, if you will, there is so much more freedom, I feel there. Because that I feel is where all the a lot of the independent filmmakers and those kind of people that would have normally found a voice in the indie world have found a stable job in the streaming world. And it's also there's, it's kind of, I wouldn't say it's the wild wild west, but there is things that like breaking bad or Better Call Saul, for those from that, that universe, those shows are like you would have never in a million years have a show like that 20 years ago, it just wouldn't have never happened, it would have never happened. And there's shows like that all the time coming out now. And there's, and they're everywhere. And they're all good. And I feel like the quality of everything has to go up now because the audience is so much smarter. But now there's so much more competition that it's not about the flashy, it's not that's why the era of the movie star is kind of gone. Like you know, just because you have Tom Cruise in a movie does not guarantee opening, like it used to, like you mean, you put Wilson you put Will Smith in a movie, it was 20 million minimum opening, every time those days are gone. Like really who there are, there's a handful of there's a handful of guys or girls that if you put in helps, but by no stream guarantees. It's it's all now about the event.
Brian Herskowitz 32:17
Yeah, you know, in a way, you know, the similar thing happened on Broadway. And you know, thanks partly to Disney.
Unknown Speaker 32:25
Brian Herskowitz 32:27
you know, the shows went from, you know, small musicals to we have to do you know, Spider Man turn on the lights, we have to do King Kong we have to do you know, really and, and the film industry is is kind of a microcosm of the world as well. And so you have the Marvel Universe you have, you know, did our Star Wars. Yeah, the Pixar, Disney, but you have those universes, which people will still go to the theater because it's an event movie, if you're going to go it's going to be a spectacular, you know, big screen event. You want to see it with an audience. But their shows like I watch Handmaid's Tale.
Alex Ferrari 33:05
Yeah, so good. brutal,
Brian Herskowitz 33:07
really, really beautifully made, right? Yeah, yeah. And, you know, terrifically acted, very well written gorgeously shot. They have a lot of talented people Game of Thrones on HBO, you know, you have that was an epic, epic series, I could, you could make the argument that had they done that as a feature series, that it probably would have garnered an audience and it might have because it was epic, but not every episode was epic. So, you know, it had its own journey on television, the thing that's happening, and in terms of what, what's available for the industry in terms of what's available for the for the young writer, the new writer. It's democratize it in some ways, but you're right. It's also the level has been raised so much, that it makes it very difficult for a young writer to break in on a higher level. So part of what writers need to do in my opinion now is anything. You need to do short content, you need to do web content you need to do and also produce
Alex Ferrari 34:07
and produce your own stuff. If you can produce you can afford to do it, produce your team up with someone who can produce a series I always tell I always tell screenwriters, you know, like, write a web series or write a streaming series, write four or five episodes at 10 minutes each. And join a filmmaker who has the means they're looking for content, you're looking for production, and all of a sudden on your IMDb you have a credit that states that you have an Amazon series. Yeah, it's better than nothing.
Brian Herskowitz 34:34
It's not a bad idea. It's you know, there's, it's the where's that guy who said he would team up with me, you know, how do you find those people that were
Alex Ferrari 34:42
in LA where we're at so that it's easier? It's easier here? But no, but you're right. You're right. It depends on where you are in the world. But
Brian Herskowitz 34:48
it is I you know, I shot a film in Wisconsin, and Appleton, Wisconsin, and we ran out of duck we ran out of gaffers tape and I Eddie I I ran over to every hardware store in the city and couldn't find it. And people looked at me like I was at this huge box store, you know, they were looking at me like gaffers tape. And they had no clue. And I went, well, that looks kinda like gaffers tape. And I brought stuff on. But you know, you, a lot of it is what, what, what is available around you? That doesn't mean that you can't get stuff done. In an acquaintance of mine, who I've had come and speak to my classes a few times is Oren Paley who did paranormal activity. Yes, is a director, writer, producer, editor on that. And you know, it was really a fascinating study on someone just going, Well, I can do that. And then he took 15 k out of his own pocket. But what he did the others who do the same path, the head didn't do. He worked for a year and a half on just, you know, kind of conceptualizing. How are the shots going to work? You know, what am I going to do? How do I make this effect happen? What, how do I make the door closed on its own? Well,
Alex Ferrari 36:03
you mean, he did his homework,
Brian Herskowitz 36:05
you actually, he actually did his homework beautifully. And the other thing he did that I thought was really sharp, is he got terrific actors. And he worked with them improvised with them for a long time before they got before the cameras, and that is a five day shoot when they actually sat down to shoot it. And they basically slept at his house. And you know, he'd come in and scare the crap out of them in the middle of the night. And anyway, you know, probably don't have to do that. But halfway through it, yeah, I probably shouldn't, shouldn't wake them up at three in the morning with, you know, scary noises. So, the he kind of learned on the job,
Alex Ferrari 36:37
like method method directly.
Brian Herskowitz 36:40
Yeah, exactly. So that, you know, those kind of things, absolutely can be done. But, you know, what people kind of universally make the mistake of, particularly outside of the industry is they think, well, if you can make a movie for $15,000, you can make any movie for 15,000 It's so not true. You know, movies cost what they cost. And, and, you know, it's fine to do it as kind of like, I've got to get something done, and I want to make something and go out and just do it in you bite and scratch and claw. But as a business model, not a good idea to do everything for $15,000 from feature leveling, nobody gets paid. You know, the food's crap. Nobody sleeps not you know, and you end up nine times out of 10 you end up with crap. You know, one out of 1000 you get paranormal activity. The rest are like, No, no,
Alex Ferrari 37:30
no more than one one out of a million million.
Unknown Speaker 37:32
Alex Ferrari 37:33
How many? How many other films? Can you count in the last 30 years that were made for 15 grand and Bolden $300 million on? None, you even
Brian Herskowitz 37:43
Blair Witch didn't do that? Because I Russia's 60,000 I think
Alex Ferrari 37:48
No, no, it was like 2735 2000 something like that. Yeah. And then it made just a smaller 180 million figure and and inflation inflation you're looking at it doesn't. It's a lot of money. I had Eduardo on the show. And he the his story, the story of The Blair Witch, from their perspective is Yeah, it was fantastic. And I love to get up Haley on the on the show as well, because he's, his story's just different. It's just the next generation. Yeah, he's he's out. Oh, yeah. He's
Brian Herskowitz 38:16
He's one of the things he said, You know, I, his journey was he was a, he was a programmer with a video game company, and hated it. And saw Blair Witch, when I could do something like that came up with this idea. He says, you know, and he said, I hit the lottery, I hit the jackpot. He said, I don't have to do anything else ever, ever. And he wasn't really all that interested in being a filmmaker as much as it was, this was I think I can do this. And then, you know, he directed a few other things. He produced a few other things. He had that universe that went on, you know, and continues to go on. And he kind of went, yeah, I'm done.
Unknown Speaker 38:54
I'm good. I'm good. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 38:55
you did fine.
Brian Herskowitz 38:56
So when you're when you're going, when you're doing writing, when you're doing writing, listen to me, is what I'm doing right. When you're doing writing, when you write? How do you approach structure, because I think that's something that a lot of a lot of screenwriters and writers in general, have problems with structure is
the two things that are probably, for me, the most important in writing our structure and logic, store logic. Okay, the idea that I create a world in a universe that makes sense, that doesn't mean that it's a real universe, or real world, it can be as fanciful as you can imagine. But you want to be able to track the motivation of the characters and understand why they behave the way they behave. And that's one of the things that for me, structure and character are, are really intimately tied together. Because it is what the character does, the behavior that they have, that makes the choices for the story. In other words, you know, the example I use in my book, I think, is that you know, Have you one of the first films that Sylvester Stallone did? was a woody allen movie? Where? Yeah, and the other trademark, it was called bananas. Yeah, he's a margarita tree. And if you switch those parts, and you put Sylvester Stallone seated in on the bench, and you know, somebody like Woody Allen coming in and messing with people, how does it change that? Well, obviously, those characters make very different choices. So every individual person, their lives unfold a certain way. There's a movie with Diane Lane and oh, gosh, unfaithful gal. Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, you there was a character that was played by Richard Gere as this kind of devoted husband, who's been betrayed. And throughout the film, he's very sympathetic. And I am I'm gonna do a spoiler, I apologize to anybody who hasn't, please. It's too many years. Okay. Yeah, it's been long enough, I think I think the pain is gone. So at the end of the film, he confronts his wife's lover, and in a moment of passion, picks up a globe, you know, snow globe, and yeah, and smashes them in the head and kills him completely out of character, and you believe it and understand it 100% nobody walks out of there moving on, he would not do that. And so that's what I mean by, you know, understanding the motivation of the characters, that that that becomes a pivotal moment of the story, because then it becomes, here is this good, decent guy now, what's he going to do? And he ends up of course, going in, you see him outside the police station getting ready to turn himself in. So one of the things that I look at is that kind of clarity in who the people are. So I to understand structure, I really have to understand one the world of the character, where are they? What kind of universe they in? And then the other is that character, who are they, at their core? What are their values? You know, sometimes I get like these little flashes of you know, gameplay where, you know, you have to decide their stats, you know, how much intelligence and how much you know, how much power and how much you know, speed and all the different things that make up who they who they are, because that's going to determine the choices that they make.
Alex Ferrari 42:26
It is it's about it's kind of like Captain America turns into Tony Stark all of a sudden he starts being the croc doing the crime, the wisecracks and, and starts being that character like that, that doesn't make a lot of logical sense in that world. You have to stay within the rules that you've created for us universe. And you can I give you
Brian Herskowitz 42:45
Yes, slightly, slightly better example. Okay. If you saw Superman versus Batman,
Alex Ferrari 42:52
okay, don't get me started. So.
Brian Herskowitz 42:55
And we have a moment where these two, you know, superheroes are going at each other. And Batman is ready to kill Superman. And he's got him down with a kryptonite spear don't kill him. Mm hmm. And out of something, Superman says, Martha is stupid and says, Why did you say Martha? And he says, Well, that's my mother's name. Is
Unknown Speaker 43:25
that his name?
Brian Herskowitz 43:27
Let's go. It is the stupidest moment of character logic that that just completely destroyed that film for me. Not that not that I was really what was
Unknown Speaker 43:37
that? What was it was that the moment that it
Brian Herskowitz 43:39
got lost? That was, but that was the one that was most glaring for me because I went, here are these two guys that are killing each other. And the idea that that the guy who he who has in Batman's eyes murdered half of Metropolis, you know, shouldn't shouldn't be destroyed, because they have a mother and the next step. Here we have a universe where Superman is one of the most powerful beings Batman has almost killed him. He's lying on the floor and Batman system. And I'm paraphrasing here. Hey, I know you're probably the most powerful being in the world. But you know, you've been through a lot right now. Just rest. I know your mother's about to murder, but I'll go. I'll go gas up my bat jet. I'm sure it's already take off. I'll go save her. Yes, you know, shooting through the window. I might hit her but I'll try not to. I'm gonna rescue her and bring her back. You just hang out. Don't worry about the flying thing. Do your thing. You know, it's like what are you talking about? That's Superman. He jumps up he go gets his mother What? Why are you getting his mother in this plane where you're going to shoot machine gun? It's insane.
Alex Ferrari 44:50
I just I love that, that you're trying to create some logic of one of the worst films in research. I mean, I know I know. You don't want to You know, he's like, horses, no logic at it. And let's not even get it to justice. That's
Brian Herskowitz 45:04
a whole nother conversation. But that film suffered for that, you know, and you look at that DC versus the Marvel Universe, see, you know, Marvel tends to have within the world, very logical, very well thought out structure. And that structure has to do the you know, the other thing about structure people talk about, and it's changed over the years a little bit used to be that you can have a slow burn, you can have a story that kind of rolls out. And now you really need to hook the audience immediately, you've got to get into the story quickly, you've got to build the suspense or the comedy or the drama, or whatever you're building and get to the heart of the story. So what what becomes a little more difficult now is filling the story with, with what is compelling to an audience. And that becomes really the bottom line.
Alex Ferrari 45:50
I mean, you can argue as well that I mean, the second that they've made Superman brooding. Who's not what is not his character, his character is not a brooding pissed off angry character. He's a very uplifting, very much like Wonder Woman, I think what what made Wonder Woman so wonderful, is that was so full of hope, and so full of, you know, just goodness and power, and power. oment.
Brian Herskowitz 46:14
Yeah, and that goes back to earlier Superman movies in this universe, when there wasn't just here.
Alex Ferrari 46:20
Oh, this man is the Man of Steel City, like he killed to kill Zod. Like, Superman doesn't kill you. He just doesn't kill, you know, like, you don't do that in this. You know, then you go back to the Christopher Reeve, Superman. And you're like, that's the Superman that is in the books. That's the Superman. That's the source. And but that's the one thing that Marvel does have many things. One of the many things that Marvel has over is they're really true to the source material
Brian Herskowitz 46:46
that they know, they have writers that are, you know, just their their sharpest tax.
Alex Ferrari 46:52
I mean, they made Ant Man, the movie, and man, the movie, and it was fun. And it was fun. It was a heist movie, it was fun. They made Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm a comic book guy, I barely knew who they were, right. They could do whatever they want, basically, whatever. I think at this point, they're drunk on their power. And watch the downfall of Marvel Universe moving forward.
Brian Herskowitz 47:15
Next is going to be can, you know, this is a heart Honest to God, you know, keeping that kind of level of quality up is not easy, but they did it over a large number of films for a long time and finding the talent that can continue to bring out that kind of level of quality. It's hard. And you know, it doesn't take a whole lot for a rabid fan base to turn on you. You know, it does. You know, if you look at look at Star Wars, and look at you know, jello Jar Binks, you know, and and Oh, yes.
Unknown Speaker 47:48
Alex Ferrari 47:50
yeah. Yeah. Oh, yeah. They'll
tell they'll turn quick, but kind of, but the difference between that is Marvel, the Marvel Universe is full of comic book geeks. And Marvel has been dealing with comic book fans for decades. So they're very comfortable with with the audience. Exactly. Now, can you give us some, I want to ask you, is there a film that you can recommend that has impeccable structure? Like when you see it you just like wow,
Brian Herskowitz 48:19
you know, that? I can think of a quite a few examples. And it really kind of, kind of has to do with what kind of story do you want to tell? You know, I'm a big believer in kind of, like your, your real estate developer, you look at the comps, you look at what's out there you looking at, you know, what kind of movies do you love that you want to write? You know, I do. And I've always thought it was one of the really, truly brilliantly structured movies was Trek.
Unknown Speaker 48:48
Oh, it is it's, it's, it's a breakdown, like
Brian Herskowitz 48:51
I break it down in my book, you know, kind of beat by beat. And, you know, it has everything that you want in terms of a story in terms of the structure. It starts with this hook that gets you in immediately into the story and tells you exactly what universe we're in what what is the world we're about to experience? You know, it starts out with him in a cracker, you know, with this fairy tale very lilting story, and then he says, Yeah, right wipes his ass with the book and we go, Okay, I get it, it's going to be irreverent, it's going to be funny, it's going to be, you know, unusual, then it goes into this kind of montage of him and the people who are getting ready to try and throw him out of the swamp, and, you know, he's taking racks out of his ears. And that, you know, that kind of completely described in a nutshell the universe that we're in. And it just goes from there and every beat is meticulous in terms of what happens structurally where it goes from there. So that was what I loved, I thought on kind of a comedy drama sign. I thought Silver Linings Playbook was very well structured, beautiful movie. And, and again, you know, really well structured. We, you know, we meet are kind of reluctant hero who, you know, is pining for the girl in his past that he wants to get back and has to put together this plan to try and win her and meets Jennifer Lawrence. I mean, it's all again, all there and we get, you know, it's it's a very, you know, way different story from from track in terms of you know how it's structured, where it goes, flows out because of different genres. I was mentioned, I went to China in January, to be a part of the first national, Chinese screenwriting competitions, one of the mentors, and one of the things that I did is they, they wanted to publish my book there. And they asked if I would look at some of the Chinese films, and one of the films I looked at was a film called The mermaid. Yeah, remember those? Yeah. So mermaid was the highest grossing film in China history at the time, made over $500 million worldwide. And they barely made a splash here. And I started to look at it in terms of not just structure Why, why didn't it work, it's from Steven Chow, who I love challenges, great kind of fu hustle, and, and soccer, very wonderful, and, and imaginative and fun and inventive. And I thought, you know, in terms of structure, I thought, kung fu hustle was wonderful. Not it's not typical to the American sensibility, in terms of structure. And in this film, again, he went into fantasy comedy. But there were two things that I thought stopped it from being successful here. One was, there, there was a tone shift in the film, where it's an extremely wacky comedy, you know, with this Mermaid, walking on our fins, you know, and seducing this guy. And, but then there are moments where we see dolphins and tigey being slaughtered. And, you know, the mermaids being killed by sound waves and slaughtered by people shooting them. And it's, it is, you know, that the, there was a mismatch in terms of the tone. And the other thing was logic. The story and character logic where it was a little bit about, we have to set up this this big, you know, overriding entity enemy for them to be for our heroine, heroine to be fighting against. And therefore it doesn't really matter, it's more a MacGuffin than anything else. But the macguffins in the world still have to come out of something, they still have to be able to come out because otherwise, what happens is an audience member, and I always try to put myself in, you know, in the seat of the audience. I think as an audience member, when we see something that we just even if we don't clock it, consciously or unconsciously, we sit there go, that doesn't quite reveal true to me, that doesn't work. And it just takes us out of the film a little bit. So we distance ourselves from the emotional impact of the movie. And that's, I think, what happened with this film though, even though ultimately, it's a fun ride. It's a it's a wonderful ride. But there just are these moments where you just go, Wow, what, what what happened to the world I was in. So the consistency of the character that consisted of the story logic, the world logic, and that tonal shift is what I think kept it from being a hit here. Doesn't mean that and I don't know enough about Europe and the rest of the world to say, Well, you know, they accept that that's fine. And you know, I do you know, the movie The lobster.
Unknown Speaker 53:35
Yeah. Okay. There's
Brian Herskowitz 53:37
a lot of people a lot of people love the last. parceling Not a fan, okay. And for the same reason about this idea of story logic. European films often will take a story and they'll go, they'll do two things. One is they'll say, it's not really important, why? We're just going to show you what. And the other thing is that you get to a point where in that movie for me, where where I kind of, you know, clinched on it. Besides it just being an odd film, and I like odd films. I love being john malkovich. You know, the what was odd about it was kind of fun, but it was also very dark. And what ultimately, kind of, you know, made me go, it didn't work for me was, we have a moment I'm going to spoil it again. We have a moment where in this world every everybody has to have a mate. And every mate has to have something in common. And at the end, this young girl that he's in love with a color feral, she's been blinded. And he's asking her What's your favorite color? And she says blue and he says, Oh darn, red. Do you speak German? No, I don't speak German. And they have this moment where they're going back for about what you know, what are you? What do we have in common, and the last shot of the film is him with needles, poised to poke his eyes out and I wanted to say to The film writer, have you ever laughed at a joke? Do you have two legs? About hair? Do you do you breathe? There are other things that they could have in common, right? And I just for me was logic, blind himself over this, and then they ended there. So we don't know if he finds himself or not, which is very European.
Alex Ferrari 55:21
Very, very open.
Brian Herskowitz 55:22
There's the movie the skin on him. Do you know?
Alex Ferrari 55:25
Brian Herskowitz 55:26
I don't know. That's Antonio van Dennison. It's a Spanish guy, the surgeon who takes the guy who rips his daughter, or attacks under National River, tax his daughter and, and forces them to have a sex change operation and then falls in love with her.
Alex Ferrari 55:42
Oh, yeah, that's, that's very mainstream. It's very much that kind of intervention that
Brian Herskowitz 55:47
that film. really well done, but had an ending where you weren't? Really, this is where you okay? All right.
Alex Ferrari 55:57
Yeah. That was like the, you know, I'm a huge fan of Tarantino's work. And one of his films that he wrote has this tonal shift. That is one of the one of the reasons why the movie I felt, I enjoy because it was fun, but full from dusk till dawn, which half the movie is a wonderful kind of caper, not caper film, but like a heist, you know, on the run kind of film with a psychotic, you know, sex driven, you know, pedophile, which is played by Tarantino and George Clooney, who's awesome, then all of a sudden, it turns into this bloody vampire movie, like, out of nowhere, like there's there's just not even a mention of a vampire anywhere before. Yeah. And I mean, it has gone on to spawn TV shows and a huge cult following. But everybody says it and never even to Tina Rodriguez, who directed it is they both said to like, Well, everyone says to movies, like it is.
Brian Herskowitz 56:56
Yeah, and here's the thing, you know, it's interesting, because, you know, you have to master filmmakers. And, you know, nothing wrong with what they did. But what happens, in my opinion is, you know, because people always, always talk to me about well, you know, don't you want to just break free from the structure, and don't you want to do something different, don't get the ABS 100%. But the difference is that you have a wide kind of, you know, V shaped audience, when you're in the structure zone. And as you change structure, and you change character logic, you can still have an audience, but it starts to shrink when you have masters like Tarantino and Rodriguez, you know, even though they they brought that in, they still had an audience, you know, you look at their death proof. Same kind of idea where, you know, no tonal shift, but it was, it was made to be kind of an homage to, oh, it's a very, it was very, it's a very, it's a very kind of targeted, this is who we're going to go after this is. And you know, you can hit a homerun with that. But, you know, they didn't say, Jim, Jim Hill, but you can who is it here? Jim Jarmusch, I think is Yeah, he, you know, he makes films, they're, they're arthouse films, he gets his friends to do it. You know, small budgets, though.
Unknown Speaker 58:18
Yes, got small budgets. And he's got a lot of,
Brian Herskowitz 58:20
but he's got a formula. You know, he knows how to do that. And he knows how to get it to where people want to see that
Alex Ferrari 58:26
was like Woody Allen films back before when he was, you know, did what he did, but but woody films, I mean, to that point, he was making a film a year for what, 30 years. And he had a formula, he had a wonderful formula. And I was a fan of his you know, as a director, I'm a fan of his work, you know, from Annie Hall and Crimes and Misdemeanors balloon over bro. I mean, there's so many did you know that must have been fun. But, but it was, but the point was that he was able to do small budgets, huge movie stars that would come on board for scale. It was a filmmakers dream, basically. And he had complete control.
Brian Herskowitz 59:08
And, you know, often his films didn't make money. And studios would do do a woody allen film because there was prestige to having a woody allen film. And now you go back, you know, to take the money and run or, you know, go back to what's up tigerlily or, you know, some of his earlier movies. That was not the formula at that time. You know, he wasn't getting the big stars. He was just he was just making his films. And, you know, I think in start it was it sort of memories Yeah, that he did the, the kind of the aliens come down and talk to him about you know, why don't you do more like your early films, the funny funny sounds like he has this kind of existential conversation with these aliens about, you know, artistic growth. He's, you know, he's got a mind that just doesn't stop and he's great on that level,
Alex Ferrari 59:56
on that level. Absolutely. So I'm going to ask you questions I asked all of my guests. So what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Brian Herskowitz 1:00:07
Don't say no. Keep writing. Write as much and as varied and as often as you can, and create things for yourself, if you can go out and shoot stuff, shoot stuff. Also, don't stop learning. You know, don't stop, start taking classes, don't stop getting into network groups don't stop, you know, trying to learn what's out there now. And be aware that this is, you know, as much as we all want to be artists, and I do believe we are, you also have a business to take care of if you want to have that as a career.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:48
Can you tell me what book had the biggest impact in your life or career?
Unknown Speaker 1:00:52
Brian Herskowitz 1:00:55
you know, I'm Mike, as a writer, I might actually have to go back to Syd field screenplay. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:01:03
that was my first book.
Brian Herskowitz 1:01:04
Yeah, I mean, the thing about that, that was the first book that really kind of laid out structure for me. And, and one of the things that, that, you know, I started, it took me a while to come to the understanding of is that simple, kind of reverse engineered film. So you'd look at a film and sell about a third of the way through, there's this happens, and then, you know, this happens. And then and that, that's formula, and formula can be dangerous. So you have to you have to take all of that with a little bit of a grain of salt. You know, every 10 or 15 years, there's some kind of seismic shift in the way that the people the other the other was permitted was, he wrote the 1000 faces. Sure, Joseph Campbell. And, you know, when I first started out, and I would go to meetings, people would say, Hey, you know, so what's a three act structure? You know, what happens on page 29? What happens on page three? And then people were saying, What's the hero's journey? And you know, and who's your wizened old man and what Boone is bringing back? And then, you know, eventually, more recently, it was, like, Snyder, safer guy. Yeah. And, honestly, I have I had negative reaction to save the cat for the reason that I felt like it might micromanage. You know, so there are five, page five, page seven, page nine. And but there were some nice things about it. The one thing about save the cat that, you know, they talk about, in terms of pitching is the idea of what's the same as but different from and for me, that there's a real risk and danger of being derivative. And I look at films like The the feature version of Hannah, with social rownum
Unknown Speaker 1:02:51
I love the movie.
Brian Herskowitz 1:02:52
Yeah, but but what that movie was, was the Bourne Identity with a little girl, you know, and I could just see the pitch. You know, it was like, here's so there. And, you know, Tony, Bill is the listing director is a director, producer, bodyguard
Alex Ferrari 1:03:13
untamed heart. He did untamed heart, I think was another one with Christian with Christian Slater and Marissa Tomi, maybe,
Unknown Speaker 1:03:20
Brian Herskowitz 1:03:22
He came and spoke to my class. And it was interesting, because he was the polar opposite. He said, I don't want to see anything that anybody's ever done before. And as much as I admired that, and a producer, I also thought, Well, good luck. There's only so much in the world in the universe that people haven't seen. And, you know, you you just like, there is a an audience that has a certain girth. You know, when you start to say, I'm going to show you something that no one's ever seen, you may hit that home run, because you're aiming, you know, for those those corners, you may be foul. So, use a baseball analogy, obviously. So that, you know, to me that that was one of the risks in doing the Blake Snyder idea of you know, same as but different from but but for a while, when you ended a pitch that's birthing Well, how is it? How is what is it the same as in different? How is it different? You know, that's a limited, so you want to know what the trends are? You want to know what how to be current. For me, like I said, hero, 1000, also, Bird by Bird, I enjoy very much and and I also really, really admire and liked Stephen King's book on writing.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:33
Yeah, it's great book, great, great, great book.
Brian Herskowitz 1:04:35
And one of my favorite quotes of all, which was, you know, as a writer, I create an image here, and I projected into the future, and in the future, someone receives it, as I wrote it, and I went, Wow, that's right. Because, you know, the clearer the image is to that person down the road is going to get it as you intended it, then it's well written.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
Very cool. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life
Brian Herskowitz 1:05:00
Wow, we're probably still learning it. First of all, you know, the one of the probably the hardest lesson is to, to listen to criticism. And, you know, I think that sometimes, you know, hearing from people that they don't just adore and love your work and that there are things that can be improved is difficult. And I think what the other thing about that is that you have to, you have to eventually learn to have a certain kind of core piece and center to say that that note is correct, and I need to change it or that note isn't right. And I'm not going to change it. And and know when you know, it's kind of God grant me the serenity, you know, to know what the difference is. And that's a hard lesson to learn.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:53
What is the what did you learn from your biggest failure?
Brian Herskowitz 1:05:57
Or my biggest failure? Well, first of all, let me think, what was my biggest failure? You know, what actually goes back to this idea of notes. And one of the I was a writer, for a TV movie, for universal. And it was for Angela Lansbury. And I was, at the time kind of sitting on top of the world, I was represented by William Morris, they had picked my script out of about 2000 submissions to be the one that they wanted to write the script. And I wrote the script. And I really was thrilled. And we missed her hiatus from Murder She Wrote, and they had a little extra time to think about it. And they asked me rewrite it. I ended up doing about 3030 drafts of the script, without being paid for it. And part of what happened was, and this is going a little bit to what's going on with the agents right now, the agency represented Korean War, the production company, and they were packaging for Korean War. And I was a writer so that I was very young and very stupid. And nobody said to me, Hey, you know, every time you write you're supposed to be paid for. And one of the one of the things that happened is, I got notes from Universal from the producer, universal from the executives and universal from CBS, from Korea, or from Judith Kristof, The New Yorker, everybody, and their cousin was giving me notes. And I was trying to do them all. You can do that. That was the lesson that that I that I really had to take in and go, okay. That failure taught me that I can't listen to everybody. I have to, I have to, I have to hear everybody. But I have to then follow what I think is the best course of action for the project. What makes it a better story? What makes it better character? What makes it more entertaining? Those are the things that are important. People don't always have the answer. They may have a question you have to look at why did you ask me that? What is it I can do to address that without blowing up? My concept of my idea, and giving away my heart and soul on project?
Alex Ferrari 1:08:06
What is the biggest fear you had to overcome to write your first screenplay?
Brian Herskowitz 1:08:11
Ah, my biggest fear. Um, you know, on my first screenplay was pretty fearless. So
Alex Ferrari 1:08:18
so your second screenplay that
Brian Herskowitz 1:08:20
Okay, let's go with this. Like, it's a lack of knowledge.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:24
Brian Herskowitz 1:08:24
the idea that I didn't know what I was doing. And it was really, the, the real, it was more a realization that a fear and that I wasn't afraid that I didn't know what I was doing. I discovered that I didn't know what I was doing. And I went, ah, okay, do I want and then and then the question is, you know, I had intended to be an actor. That's what I wanted. I didn't want to be a writer, I want to be an active. So I was like, do I want to give up that and pursue this? And if I do, how do I do that? That was a big step, in that I did.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:58
Three of your favorite films of all time.
Brian Herskowitz 1:09:02
Well, gosh, let me think about that. I gotta tell you, I'm a big fan of Deadpool. I thought it was a terrific movie. I really love this wonderful film. It was it was again, very well structured, very inventive. You know, took risks broke the rules, but within that universe consistent as it could be. I love that film. You know, I love I think fields of dreams.
Alex Ferrari 1:09:31
No, so good. It's
Brian Herskowitz 1:09:32
a wonderful phone. Um, you know, going way back I think Lawrence of Arabia was probably, you know, one of my all time favorites, just superb Li directed, beautifully shot. Excellent. Written everything. It's an and as far as you know, kind of a an epic that we don't see a lot of today anymore. You know, young every young filmmaker should study that film, you know, forward and backward. sideways, the I'd say those are three and
Alex Ferrari 1:10:03
there's many more of course but
Brian Herskowitz 1:10:05
tons I mean, you know in comedy Something About Mary I think was brilliant. I thought bridesmaids and then I love the woody allen so so
Alex Ferrari 1:10:13
now can you tell me a little bit about your book process to product?
Brian Herskowitz 1:10:16
Unfortunately no. Okay loud that I started that because I partly out of out of the concept of you know Syd field I felt was a fantastic book. But I thought that a lot I saw a lot of writers getting kind of straight jacket straitjacketed by the concept of you have this structure and you have to fit into it. And then with here with 1000 faces, I thought almost the opposite. It's a great concept in terms of how do you evolve character and a journey, but there's no real kind of, you know, pinpoints to say how do I get there. So I wanted to give writers two things, I wanted to give writers the freedom to explore within a structure without being straitjacketed and yet allow them a structure that if they got lost, they could come back to me. So that was the impetus. And it came out for 10 years, I taught at UCLA extensions. And all of my classes were online. And I'd written all of my my coursework. So it was taking that all of that information and kind of, you know, molding it over the course of a decade or two, to come up with, with the book. And, you know, I wanted it to be easy to read, clear to understand and specific and I think I succeeded.
Alex Ferrari 1:11:41
And where can people find you in your work?
Brian Herskowitz 1:11:43
They can find me on my website at Brian Herskowitz calm or at her equity fund.com and then the book, you can get an Amazon. It's readily available there. And there's also a link from my my website if you want to go there. Okay, and
Alex Ferrari 1:12:01
I'll put it in the show notes as well, Brian, thank you. It's been an enlightening conversation.
Brian Herskowitz 1:12:05
Yes. A lot of fun. So thanks for that anytime.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:09
Thanks for coming on. Thank you, Brian, so much for coming on the show and sharing your knowledge with the tribe. If you want to get links to his book or anything we spoke about in this episode, please head over to the show notes at indie film, hustle comm forward slash bps 054. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com Subscribe to the show and leave us a good review. It really helps the show get seen by more and more people really want to get this information out there guys. Thank you guys so much for listening. I hope I was a value to you today on your screenwriting journey. Thanks again. And as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.
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