BPS 211: Writing & Directing an Independent Streaming Series with Aram Rappaport

Aram Rappaport is filmmaker based in New York. Originally from Los Angeles, he began writing, directing and producing in his late teens including the one-take experimental film HELIX starring Alexa Vega.

He later adapted, produced and directed Max Berry’s acclaimed novel into the film SYRUP starring Amber Heard, Shiloh Fernandez and Kellan Lutz and wrote, produced and directed the original film THE CRASH starring John Leguizmao, Frank Grillo, Minnie Driver and Dianna Agron.

Set in the future when the US economy is on the brink of yet another massive financial crisis, The Crash tells the story of Guy Clifton, a federally-indicted stock trader, who is secretly enlisted by the federal government to help thwart a cyber-attack aimed at the US stock markets – an attack that could permanently cripple the economy.

THE GREEN VEIL is his first episodic project.

It’s 1955 and Gordon Rodgers has a dream. It’s the American Dream. And he almost has it made. He lives in the suburbs with his wife and daughter. He goes to church, he works for the government. A respected job for a respectable family man.

Gordon also has a mission. A nefarious secretive mission on behalf of the US government. It’s going well except for one final plot: The Sutton Farm. Owned by Native Americans Glennie and Gilberto Sutton, they refuse to be bought out. So Gordon must force them out by any means necessary. Maybe even abduct them. And it almost works, until the Suttons escape…

At home, Mabel Rodgers is losing her mind. Playing housewife is taking its toll. How she wound up here from a military aviator career, she still doesn’t know. When she discovers Gordon’s’ work folder marked CLASSIFIED she is drawn to the file. When she recognizes wartime friend Glennie Sutton as the mission’s subject, she has no choice but to explore the case herself. And Gordon can never find out.

Gordon’s dream is slipping away. His mission at work is failing. He’s losing control of his family. At what lengths will he go to hold it all together? At what cost to himself and others will he preserve his American Dream? Is this dream even meant for him…or is it all a conspiracy?

He also runs the hybrid creative agency / production studio The Boathouse for which he’s created and directed campaigns for such brands as Apple, Netflix, Victoria’s Secret and SingleCare amongst others.

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Aram Rappaport 0:00
Or a production designer or an actor or a costume designer. If you sort of show up and tell someone you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around. Even though you know that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's gonna work. This is gonna work. This is the right thing. You know, let's, let's keep going.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
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Aram Rappaport 1:20
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 1:22
Thank you so much for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it. We had one of your compadres on last week. Mr. Little guy, your new guy coming up John Leguizamo.

Aram Rappaport 1:32
Arch nemesis my arch nemesis. I hope I never speak to him again. But he's semi talented. So you know, I put up with them.

Alex Ferrari 1:37
You put up with him? Yeah, he gets the financing sometimes. So you know.

Aram Rappaport 1:41
Yeah. So, you know, I mean, don't give him a big head. He's gonna watch this and think he's, you know, powerful or something.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
Exactly. But, but I appreciate you coming on man. You've had you've had a heck of an adventure, you know, coming up to up the ladder as well. You've got some shrapnel, as well. Yeah. Without question, some indie film, some indie film shrapnel along the way, as well. So first question is Brother How and Why in God's green earth? Did you want to do this? business?

Aram Rappaport 2:08
The business in general? Oh, my God, what a? What a good question. I've never asked myself.

Alex Ferrari 2:15
I think I never did either.

Aram Rappaport 2:18
Right, exactly. It's such, you're just like, wait a sec, like now, existentially, I have to think about things. No, I mean, my, you know, originally I wanted to, to act and be an actor. And so, you know, I grew up in LA, my dad was a writer. And then he ultimately, you know, taught screenwriting as well. So when I was, you know, growing up in sort of training as an actor, and, you know, went through a lot of class and did that, you know, he had always said, you should really write for yourself, because that's going to, you know, be a mechanism to help you, you get things made. And so, you know, organic, sort of moved into writing a little bit, and then I realized, you know, it just feels better to sort of control the narrative from behind the camera. And really, you know, I was so interested in being on set, I would, you know, I did a couple little things. And I would always, you know, what are we shooting now, what's next, and, you know, the director would I was, but you know, I, you just stand over there until it's your turn to, you know, say your lines, but it's sort of interested me to be more, you know, mechanically, you know, involved in the process. And so, I think organically for me, you know, directing just helped control the narrative. And I think throughout the years, I've sort of learned that my skill set is really just, you know, helping everybody else who's actually talented, like, see the vision, you know, and motivating them to, to ultimately, you know, put their all into a project. And I think, sort of the only place for someone like that, that is inherently like, you know, not talented, but like, can rally the troops would be, you know, that leadership role, you know, to put it mathematically, but that that's so that's, you know, that's where I ended up and I, you know, I love it, and I think, you know, my, my trajectory, sort of odd, you know, you started with indie film, you know, did a few films and then and then sort of transitioned into commercials aggressively and did you know, for the last 10 years, been doing a lot of commercials and founded an agency called the boathouse where we're an agency studio hybrid. And so we do, we do a lot of commercials. And that's really, you know, where I've like, honed my skills, both on the storytelling side as well as really like, you know, from a production standpoint, and now this project to Greenville is like the first I mean, outside of Latin instruments, but this is really the first sort of like narrative driven thing I've done in quite a while so it was a really interesting transition back into that

Alex Ferrari 4:40
There is a an insanity isn't there for us to do what we do. It's because look at the beginning of the beginning, it's easy look when everything's going well, if it's never well, all the way it's never ever, ever, never never ever, like the doors all open. The money just flies in all you have is time and money to make your projects. That doesn't happen. But what When you're coming up, though, it's so hard. It's and there's so much. No, no so many noes against you. The grind is so hard you don't even there's no guarantee that anything that you're thinking of doing is going to actually come into life. That's right. Yeah, of course. How did how did you keep going in those early years, like when you were just grinding out short films and trying to just get your stuff seen and made and just just try to get your foot in the door?

Aram Rappaport 5:29
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, I never went to college. I never, you know, I, my mentality has always been sort of, like, you know, just get on the horse and pretend you can ride and, you know, see what happens. So, I mean, I admittedly made a lot of mistakes, right? You know, I mean, I would, you know, have always been very good at sort of pitching the vision or selling the vision, scrapping together a little bit of money, raising money, you know, pitching people on this sensational thing that we're going to do, and then really falling on my face, in the product in the production element, because I just didn't know what I was doing. So I think for me, it's a little bit backwards, right? Like, you know, a lot of people like, you know, I went to film school, I really honed my craft, and then I had a hard time getting into the business, I was sort of the opposite. I was very bullish in raising money and finding ways to produce things in a scrappy way, and then fell completely flat on the execution because that's where I was learning. I had never done it before. And I was just like, I'm, you know, this sensational, I'm gonna direct and do a movie and do this and do that, sort of usurped the craft itself. And I think that, you know, on my personal journey has been, like, really important, you know, moving away from this, you know, I want to do it, because it seems cool to you know, this is a craft and like, what am I trying to say, with these, you know, with these projects,

Alex Ferrari 6:47
So you were you were you were flying the plane while you were building the plane while you're flying?

Aram Rappaport 6:50
Absolutely! No, no. And I mean, we all are, I mean, I'm sure you have stories, where you're just like, I have no idea how I'm gonna shoot this this scene, but like, it might work. It might not work.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
It's, you know, isn't it fascinating dude, because so many of us and you know, and again, I had the pleasure of talking to some really insane legendary filmmakers, of course, of course, and I talked to them, and I asked them director questions, just direct questions that only a director doesn't matter what level you're at, you could be a short film director, or you could be a $20 million Oscar winner doesn't matter. But that what you just said is so indicative of a director like, Okay, we're here. Yeah, I don't know how we're gonna do this today. Let's, let's go. Because everyone thinks that the directors like Hitchcock, or like Fincher, that like did the shot 50,000 times in previous, and he's just basically just shooting with, with real people that get the shot, because he's already shot the whole movie and edited the entire movie and breathe is over a year, right? And then he's just like executing his vision. There's like, no wiggle room. And basically, that's the new generate that the 21st century Hitchcock in the way of approaching the project. But so many, most, if any, if not almost all, there's always scenes that just like, oh, well, the sun's not, says not where it needs to be, Oh, we lost, we lost the location. And so all my storyboards are gone. So you just have to kind of sit there and figure it out. But I wanted to kind of demystify that for people listening, because a lot of young filmmakers think that, Oh, you must be you're working with, you know, John, and you're working on these big projects with these big stars and all this kind of stuff. And you, you have it all figured out. And I and I know that you walk in with a plan, but the Fit hits the shed, bro, you got to roll and that's what makes a director is how to adjust and compromise and move through the stuff that's thrown at you all day. Correct?

Aram Rappaport 8:41
Totally. And I think it's like, you know, it's crisis leadership, right? Like, you, it's, it's, you know, everything's gonna go wrong. And that's okay. Like, you really have to embrace that. And I think the thing that I've learned, you know, in the beginning, you walk on set, and you think it's really exciting and sort of like it's a drug to have the power. Yes, yes. Right. I mean, you walk you walk on, and you think everybody's asking me things. Everyone's listening to me, I have all the answers. But but but then as you as you get very bad reviews on things, and people really sort of bring you back down to earth afterwards, you realize, you know, this is such a collaborative process, that it's okay to, to bring those trusted sort of pieces together, whether it's a cinematographer production designer, whatever, and be like, I know what I'm trying to say with this scene. I don't know how we're gonna get there. Let's all talk about it. And I think that's the biggest lesson that I've sort of learned over the years is this, you know, if you as a director have have have leadership and vision, but you can still be humble and execution, you know, you're going to thrive in a different way than if you have to pretend that you know everything because no one doesn't. Everybody says they had no idea how to I mean, Spielberg has stories about how the sun was in the wrong spot. And he's like, I don't know and he's obviously a genius on a different level where you think, you know, even though that son was in a different spot, he probably had eight ideas. And you know, he ran them by a cinematographer. And one of them was like the thing that they were going to do. But I think at all levels, I mean, especially for young directors, it's like, you know, rely on the people that you're hiring and and say, you know, I don't know this is my vision, though, that I'm steadfast and how do we get there, you know, and you're still going to be well respected.

Alex Ferrari 10:22
I love that this the you said the addictive kind of drug of the power. Oh, my God, like, and I have I'll tell the story real quick. When I was coming up, I made a short film that got a lot of attention around town and all that kind of stuff. And I had a I was like, one of the first to shoot like, which airsoft guns. So I was using airsoft guns was an action movie and all this kind of stuff. And I was using muzzle flashes and posts and stuff like that. So another filmmaker, another crew found out about us and like, Hey, man, can we rent your guns? And we're like, Sure. So I went down to the set. This is in Florida, like in the middle of South Florida, somewhere, went out one night, and I had a bag full of soft, soft.

Aram Rappaport 11:07
Bed full of weapons.

Alex Ferrari 11:08
Oh, no, no. This is early, early 2000s. So I'm walking in and then we go into the trailer where the director is, and the amount of pomp pompous, like arrogance of this guy. The he was three, three steps short of just having a monocle and a frickin bullhorn. I'm not joking. Like he was so far gone, bro. So I brought in he didn't know that I was a direct or anything. He was just talking to me like what's a PA? Which was like, even more disrespectful by just let it play it out.

Aram Rappaport 11:39
Right! Yeah. What do you think? It's his set?

Alex Ferrari 11:43
Whatever don't care you're gonna give me some money for these guns for the weekend. Sure. I'll take the cash. So he took the shotgun I shit you not do took the shotgun pulled out at a viewfinder. I'm not a viewfinder and pointed a shotgun at himself and said these will do and I'm like, Oh my God, even then I was still coming up. But even then I knew this

Aram Rappaport 12:07
Guy's out of his mind. Right, right. Right. Right. Right. Right.

Alex Ferrari 12:10
Oddly enough, the movie didn't go anywhere. But but it's just it's just the the joy to

Aram Rappaport 12:18
Call him out by name called bush.

Alex Ferrari 12:19
I wish I wish I did. I didn't even give the the memory bank and space for his name, the name of the movie. None of it. I don't remember anything other than like a couple of things that happened that night. But I never forgot him. I'm like, Okay, so that's an example of what I don't want to be as a totally, totally. So. So alright, so when you got your so you've been making these short films, and then you get your first feature off the ground? How did you get that first feature? Which is always the toughest one to get off the ground? How did you convince someone to give you cash?

Aram Rappaport 12:49
So you know, I think um, so the first thing that I did was this. So I had a friend, Thomas Decker, who's an actor, and he was in I forgot what it was a show called The Sarah Connor Chronicles on flowers for a while. The Yeah, the Terminator thing. Right? Is that Yeah. And he played he played John Connor. And this is like, right when that show was coming out.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
Yeah, of course. I love that show. I used to love that show.

Aram Rappaport 13:16
Yeah, yeah. It was a great show with Lena Hedy. It was like, very, it was a very exciting to end here. He had wanted to be a director, and he is a director, he drinks a lot of like, very cool stuff. And he, he went out with sort of this group of friends, you know, in LA, growing up this sort of creative little think tank, and he said, You know, I'm gonna go make a feature. I'm not gonna do a short, I'm just gonna make a feature, I have no money. I'm gonna direct I'm just gonna get a bunch of my friends. And we're just all going to be in it. And he did that thing. And he put me in it. And you know, I think Megan Fox was an insight. Like, there's Brian Austin Green at the time, like some very, like, cool people did this thing. Who knows what happened to it, but it was super inspiring to see him. You know, he did that thing. And I was like, Oh, yeah. Wow. Like, he just pulled favors and cleanup, asked his friends to be in this thing. And it was, that was my impetus for saying, you know, oh, yeah, I want to go and pull the same favors. And, you know, and see if I can do it also. And so, you know, sort of, to a lesser degree, I mean, I didn't have a show, like he did, but I, you know, I was able to pull some favors with people and, specifically, you know, Leonard Martin's daughter, Jessie, who's, you know, a great friend who I've known forever, you know, she really likes supported it and was like, you know, what, I'll do makeup on this thing. And like, you can use my house and like, well, you know, this is like, right out of high school. And she was just show some sort of like the process and really, like brought in some, some cool pieces. And that was like, the first thing that was like how I did a first sort of feature. I brought in a cinematographer who was also sort of coming up and wanted a feature, you know, that's also another like, sort of piece of advice is this. You know, a lot of people do short films, right? Like, why not just do a like a really shitty 75 minute short film and then people want credits and they want to be a part of it. You know, one needs to be a part of a short film, but everybody needs to be a DP on a on their first feature. So like those are, you know, thinking outside the box in that way, like is super helpful leverage. I think that that was my first real thing where I thought, you know, let me try directing and I'll figure it out and you know, totally stuck then there was another thing that sucked another thing that sucks but

Alex Ferrari 15:16
Did is like my when I did my first feature I did exactly I think got a bunch of my friends over in LA. Yeah, this insane cast together of all these comedians shot the whole damn thing and like eight days, I was like, You know what, I'm going to dp this thing myself. Yeah. And you have to, you have to and I just like, I'll figure it out. And I'm like, if I could get it down the middle, I'll fix it in post because I'm welcome to the caller. So I'll do that. And you just and you just kind of go for it. And at the end, you're just like, hey, you know, I gotta make it was like it was just me proving to myself, I could finally get a feature made after like, so many years of doing commercials and music videos and other things I've done. I was just like, Screw it. And then it just worked out. But But yeah, you're absolutely right that and that's a big tip for anyone listening. Shorts. No one cares about truly, no one. It could be honestly the Oscar nominated or winning short film. No one cares. But on IMDb, it says feature, it adds a lot more value to people and, and they will build the work for you for free that work for you for cheap discount, just for the shot. It's a great piece of advice.

Aram Rappaport 16:22
And it feels it feels like it feels like now, there's just so many more mechanisms to create something that's feature length, or episodic length, versus just doing something because shorts are great. Like, um, you know, there's some fabulous shorts that are insanely cool. Oh, but I don't, but I don't know. And I don't know enough about that world that you think like, I feel like you know, even 10 years ago, you know, there were shorts that would come out of Sundance and be greenlit at a feature at a mini major, something where you would do like a Fox Searchlight, you know, based on shares, it feels like that just doesn't happen anymore. It was like, at a time when it was hard to get a short made. It was like, wow, that's a proof of concept. Now you're kind of like, it's this weird, aggressive. You know, we're at this place in indie film where you were, you know, excited. It's exciting. You can get things made for cheap, it's also equally as hard. But I think it's just it's it's you have to be so relentless. And that that's such a good point. Like, you know, if it's a feature, there's like some great talent that just will want to be involved. And that's what happened on the Greenvale actually, we had the cinematographer that I shot a lot of commercials with, he hadn't Luca, he hadn't done Luca fontina. He hadn't done a feature yet, or he hadn't done anything in the narrative space. And ours was a show. But it's still it was it was a narrative and he just thought I need I need this right now. Like I need this, I'm gonna kill it. My agents are gonna, you know, this is this is going to bring me to the next level on them on the feature side, and so he you know, and we paid him a lot less than we would pay him on commercials. And you know, in the end, he did it. And I think that and that's why you know exactly what you just said,

Alex Ferrari 17:50
Because he needs and I think nowadays the feature is the proof of concept. Right? Anybody can make a short in one shorts were hard to make, then that was a thing. But now that anyone can make a short at a very high level. Now you've got to like, just keep going. Just keep like I was at a festival once I saw 45 minutes short. I'm like, What's wrong with you? Yeah, just keep going. Get up like 20 Morning. Come on, do just just break 70 minutes like 68 to 70 minutes and you officially call yourself totally soulless keep going.

Aram Rappaport 18:21
And I you know what, my first thing that we just sort of I guess got distribution was this thing called the innocent that I was kidnapped true story in Chicago when I was 18. And we I turned it I've adapted it into this single take thriller that Alexa Vega girl from Star spike in Star Wars Spy Kids. She she started and it was this one take thing and we did it in Chicago, you know, in choreographed and and I learned how to use steadicam. And I shot it. And that's something where I'm like, it's going to be a feature. You watch it and you're like, this could have been a short, like, it could have been 10 minutes. 15 minutes, it would have been brilliant. It was 80 minutes, and we all fell asleep. But you know, I learned I learned through that process. You know, that's where I was like, you know, I want it to be a feature it's and by the way we had so much support because there's a features is one take thing and ever you know is Oh no. Yeah, you built

Alex Ferrari 19:16
You built up look, it's like a system when you do some of these indie projects. It's kind of like you're building up the carnival. So you you're the carnival barker. So when I did my first big short, and I had like, nobody and nothing. It was all like, Dude, it's all visual effects. It's gonna be an action thing. And I had like these storyboards and I had our concept art, and I made it look like it was the next excellent, you know, and everyone was like, I'm just want to see how this guy can even pull this off. And that's how many people jumped on board work for free. They're like, I just want to see you either fail or make it either one's going to be fantastic.

Aram Rappaport 19:48
100% 100% And it's like it's like you. It is like a traveling circus because you're like you're on location with people. You will never spend carnies before. carnies. Dude, we're totally kind of new I think like we're like sort of like highfalutin society societal, you know, boudoir carnies, but like it's bullshit. Like we go out there and we don't shower for a month. You're like eating shitty food. You know, not you like your grandma's catering with baked bagels that she found in the back of,

Alex Ferrari 20:16
If you're lucky, if you're lucky, if you're lucky, you get that?

Aram Rappaport 20:19
No, it's true. It's true. It's so true. No, but it's but but it's so exciting. Because you're like, you know, it's so much fun. And every step of the way you think like the only people that go through that process? You know, the only people that really not not if the film is good, who cares? Like if it's good or not, like, if you can get through the process, like, it's because you believe that your vision was like, absolutely unequivocably untold in any other way. And like, that's the thing that gets you whether it's true or not, who cares? You know, there's reviewers, there's this, there's distributors, but the fact that you can just get through that process means that you had such like resolute power, to be able to not give up on that thing. And that's like, the most fun to me, is challenging yourself, where you're just like, we shot nights, we you know, is an it's a 20 hour day, do I try to get one more take when everyone's exhausted? Because I feel like I need it? Or do I? Or do we just go home and give up and say, you know, this was good enough, it's probably going to cut you know, and it's those moments that challenge you on such an emotional level and a physical level, you know, and you think you get through that. And there's such a rush at the end of production, where you're just like, we did it, like we did that thing. Who knows if it's good, but we did it, you know, we got through that.

Alex Ferrari 21:32
And that's like, when Kubrick you know, would say he's like, hey, you know, we're all here. They built the sets, stay until we get it right. At five takes later, we can move on.

Aram Rappaport 21:45
Totally, totally, totally. And that's like, I feel like the one thing I've learned in commercials is sort of how to cut and how to, you know, sort of maintain the sanctity of like those performances and like, you know, protect the actors in that process. In a way that, you know, especially for this most recent thing, where we shot like eight episodes, and you know, five, we shot like 250 300 pages. So we were shooting 15 to 20 pages a day with with a single camera. And it all looks really pretty.

Alex Ferrari 22:13
I mean, you did a single on this single camera.

Aram Rappaport 22:17
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We will, because it's so so this is another thing. So Luca RDP really did not want to shoot with two cameras. Fair enough. And he wanted, you know, and by the way, like, I would challenge him on that, because I'm like, we're never going to make our days if you're trying to light a single frame, you know, we need to cover this in the right way. It turned out that he was just so fluid in the way that he lit and these images look like, I don't know if you've seen any of it, but the images Yeah. Yeah, they look like Norman Rockwell painting.

Alex Ferrari 22:46
Like, you read my mind. They look like paintings. He did a fantastic job and the production design in the, in the the wardrobe and the way was all laid out.

Aram Rappaport 22:53
And yeah, it's a gritty, it's a gritty world. And you think like, you know, that was one of those things where I just thought, you know, I've worked with this guy and commercial so long, I know how we were gonna, you know, we have a shorthand, you know, if I'm trying to sort of cut in my head. And, and, and we we can maybe make it work with one camera, you know.

Alex Ferrari 23:10
So that's, that's the that's the other thing that a lot of filmmakers don't understand, too. So like, let's say, you're a young filmmaker, you get your first project out. And let's say there's a DP, who he just super advanced, has done $10,000,000.15 $20 million movies, and he's like, You know what, I'm gonna do your $100,000 movie. Yeah, like the story. That is a death sentence. Because they it's a death sentence. Right? I've been there too. Because if they're used to those kinds of resources, they don't understand how to make $100,000 worth of resources work. You can go the other way. Yeah, it's really hard to go back. So like I you know, you can't give James Cameron $100,000 to make a movie like He's incapable of talent. He actually I actually knew somebody who worked with him. And he was talking to somebody on a set. And the, and the guy said, oh, yeah, I just made my features like, oh, great, man. Great. You know what it did? He goes, Yeah, yeah, just, you know, grab the 100,000 bucks. And I meant to make it. And you could see Cameron's face, the computer started to crack. He couldn't understand. He's like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so far, he's been so far, so long, James Cameron, that he couldn't grasp the idea of 100 Like, it's just what

Aram Rappaport 24:28
Go and by the way, we should all be so lucky. Like, I would love to not grasp the idea of like, I don't I don't do work around ideas that like

Alex Ferrari 24:37
I don't like what I'm like, you've been James Cameron for 30 years. So you don't understand these things. At least got for 30 years and you've shot 10,000 commercials and

Aram Rappaport 24:51
I was about to mention that because you know, going you know to having done commercials for a while now. You know, whether it's like, you know for Apple or Victoria's Secret or whatever, I mean, those, everyone says they don't have any money. But when it comes to selling products, if, if a client believes that that's a, if there's a piece of creative that's going to help, the money will be there. It's so different, you know, when you go back to doing something on the independent level where you just think I can't convince anybody that this crazy one or

Alex Ferrari 25:23
That I need the technical crane for five days.

Aram Rappaport 25:25
Yeah, exactly. We can't, we can't do it. So that was, but that was also super exciting to me. Because for me, it was like, you know, having having, I don't want to say it's a sterile world, it's a very exciting world being doing commercials, but like, you know, you're reporting directly to a purpose. You know, it's it's, it's selling brother, you're selling product. That's its commerce. I mean, that's, that's, that's the thing. It's not art. So it's a different, it was a totally different mindset, which was such a rush to be like back in that space and be like, oh, yeah, no, I don't have as much money. But I also can just do it the way I want to do it, I can just, I can go do this thing.

Alex Ferrari 25:57
And I don't have to spend, you know, eight hours lining a bottle?

Aram Rappaport 26:01
Who? Exactly, exactly, exactly. And it's one of those things where, like, you know, it plays into, I feel like, you know, I always try to like double down on like, what's my purpose? Like, why? Why do I want to do this? Why I'm, you know, and like, at the end of the day, you know, you want people to really connect with what you make. And I feel like that that's been a through line for me in terms of, you know, any commercial I do, there's the really good ones that like people are like, wow, that was a good commercial, there's the really crappy ones that still perform well. And you think, Oh, I'm glad it worked. But oh, I just wish it would have created better. And those are the moments that remind me that like, oh, yeah, like, I want to be a storyteller. Like, my number one goal is not just to do a job or facilitate a thing. It's like, you know, I want to be able to tell narratives that like really, you know, really, really hit and so it's, it's, you know, that's why it's nice, you know, it's fun to fight for, you know, anything to you know, to create anything linearly. I mean, it's and it's a miracle that ever gets paid, period. No, it's a mere I mean, it's a miracle. I mean, it's impossible, but especially in COVID now, and COVID.

Alex Ferrari 26:59
Now, oh, that's even worse. It's even, it's even more impossible to get anything made.

Aram Rappaport 27:02
It's possible. And John reminded me of that every day as he was getting rammed up the nostril with a COVID test telling me that he, you know, he was doing this for me, and, you know, so, you know, I thought he was gonna walk every time he got, like, I said, we could move to the, you know, the anal COVID tests if he wanted, but he, you know, he's stuck with the nose.

Alex Ferrari 27:25
So don't be stuck with the nose, you know, but you know, that's, that's, that's John. But I'm just saying Meryl Streep would have done whatever it needed to be. I'm just saying she would have done whatever Daniel Day would have done whatever it took. I'm just saying,

Aram Rappaport 27:39
Can you follow up with John on that, actually, because that's a very good, that's a very good point.

Alex Ferrari 27:44
I mean, I heard Daniel Day and Denzel day where I had no problem with whatever it was.

Aram Rappaport 27:49
John, what I tell the story a lot just because I like the article exists. But you know, in China, like during, you know, during the Olympics, I read some, there was some article that said, you know, China brings back, you know, anal COVID swabs for tourists at the airport manual, anal COVID swabs. And I brought this article to set and showed it to John and I was like, John, this is the new this is the new norm, so we're swapping out the nose for the you know, the anus, and and then I just walked out and I walked out and I said, you know, I'm like, It's not today today, you know, we're still doing the nose. But tomorrow the hospital is going to bring in the guys to do the the AMA. It's a different crew. And you know, I just wanted to let you know, and you know, anyways, great day. I'll see you out there. And then his assistant came running out and he's like, is is that are we doing the animals is that what was that a thing? I'm like, No, it's not a fucking thing. What do you tell him? Of course not. Why would we ever do that? That's crazy. I'd rather get COVID What do you mean? So that was that was that's my relationship.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
Oh my god. That's amazing. Ah, absolutely. The best story I'm going to use I'm going to tell that story everywhere

Aram Rappaport 28:54
That's why you can google it exists I'm not just like some

Alex Ferrari 28:57
No no but your story with John

Aram Rappaport 29:00
Yeah. That's that's an exclusive that's

Alex Ferrari 29:04
So are we are we are we doing the Adel swaps are we

Aram Rappaport 29:07
I'm like tell him Yeah, you should know you should have you should have you should have kept that going for a little bit. I should have filmed it the next day and had seen you should know

Alex Ferrari 29:14
You should have done you should have done a whole Jackass thing. Like they can't bring it and bring that like get one of the grips that John didn't see the guy doing it like

Aram Rappaport 29:25
100% Meanwhile, we're doing this like super deep dark, you know, 50s Drama on oppression and he's standing there in his like, you know, 50s garb like Wait, am I getting anal swab? Like what what's happening here, you know,

Alex Ferrari 30:07
Alright, so as directors, when we're on a set, there's always that one day, that the fit. It's the Shan, the lights, not there, the camera breaks that the there's annual swabs on onset onset, something happens that, that you you feel like the entire world's coming crashing down around you on on Greenvale or on any project. What was that day? And how did you overcome it as a director?

Aram Rappaport 30:35
You know, that's a good question. I mean, I think that obviously, you know, there's different types of people, you know, some people thrive under, you know, that immense pressure, you know, some people don't, I think that, you know, whether I make the right decisions or the wrong decisions, I usually, I enjoy that level of pressure. So I think for me, like, you know, I sort of expect those, there's a level of anxiety where I just expect every every day go wrong. So when all things go wrong, it's like, well, I was a great day. So I think my mindsets will be different. But there's always your I mean, I've had instances where actors have, like, you know, disagreed with a note and walked off, and we've had to shoot coverage of his female counterpart by herself. You know, we've had instances where I had an actor fire our first ad, because he hated him on something some years ago. And we were sort of left pick, you know, choosing between an actor and the ad. And, you know, I mean, there were just, I feel like, there, there have been some sort of crazy instances where, you know, everything that I've sort of done on, like, the linear space has been, you know, a passion project. So like, when people come to do that, it's because they're passionate about it. So when you challenge that, or change the vision, or adjust, or it's not what they thought, like, there's emotions run really high, you know, and that's exciting. But it's also terrifying, because I think when you're, whether it's a DP, or a production designer, or an actor, or a costume designer, if you sort of show up and tell someone, you know, we can't afford that, or we lost the light, we're going to have to shoot it differently. You know, as a director, all you can do is really maintain like this even keel positivity around, even though you know, that it's probably a complete fuckup you're like, No, it's going to work, this is going to work. This is the right thing, you know, let's, let's keep going. And, and, you know, that sort of, like resolute need to like, keep the troops marching is really important. And I don't know if there's any one specific thing it feels like every day or every few every day. Oh, there's always something that's, I mean, we've lost. You know, I think the biggest thing is always been, you know, working on on this latest thing, I think, you know, this was like a drama that also had, you know, tonally was sci fi as well, as, you know, there was some levity to how the characters interact, you know, John would call it a play, you know, it was a it was the dialogue was sort of like repetitious, and it did you know, it felt lyrical. And so I think a lot of that was worked out on set in rehearsal, and we had no time to rehearse. So those were the things that were the most challenging. Were sort of, you know, we're shooting 18 pages today, if you rehearse that scene one more time. Everything was was pertinent, you know, we lose another valuable scene at the end of the day, where we have to get an insert on the gun. If we don't, no one knows she has a gun. And that's the tension, you know, so things like that, what I think were that were the toughest were was sort of like, okay, like, you know, what, are we going to compromise on that still, collectively, if I step back, you know, this world still works. We need to lead people to believe that this thing works. I think those those those are the sort of things I felt like I've learned over the years is sort of like when to really compromise and when to vocalize that we need to get it right.

Alex Ferrari 33:58
Then there's the other thing to man is like that they don't tell you, especially when you're coming up, man, I don't know if this happened to you or not. But you get you know, you're normally I remember when I was the youngest guy on set. I remember I'm sure you do as well.

Aram Rappaport 34:09
Yeah, yeah. I'm, I'm I'm 20 20 and a half,

Alex Ferrari 34:13
I tried to at least 20 and a half. So, but when you're the youngest guy, or you're just starting out, the crew, most of the time is most of the times a little bit more experienced than you. And sometimes the actors are more experienced than you. Yeah. And that's when and that's

Aram Rappaport 34:30
When we often write like, I mean, there's always going to be someone that's more experienced than you. It doesn't matter if you're who you are really like you train

Alex Ferrari 34:37
To a certain to a certain extent. Absolutely. Yeah, you're always gonna be, but this is when this is what they don't teach you a film school, which is who's testing you to see how far they can push you. And that's the actors and that's also with key crew people as well. I mean, I've had DPS who were interested in their reel and that's so much interested in what I was doing. They just wanted to get their shot, because they knew that was going to be in the reel and then didn't really care about working, they took the project cuz they're like, Oh, we're gonna be on this location, I'm gonna get the techno crane. And I'm gonna do this and this, or I'm gonna fight for this shot because this is going to get my, there's going to be on my demo reel,

Aram Rappaport 35:12
And how would you handle that? So how did you like how would you, you know?

Alex Ferrari 35:16
So first so the first time it happened, I didn't know what the hell to do. And I had to like kind of, you know, the very first time it happened I had to, and I told the story before but I'll tell it again. My very first time I spent on my demo reel when I shot my 35 millimeter commercial demo reel. Wow, yeah. Oh, yeah, I'm that old. I shot I shot a cost me about 50 grand back in the day. All right. And I hired a DP team. So problem number one. Have you worked with the DP team? No, nobody does because it doesn't exist. But with these guys, they had to had a grip truck. They had access to the film camera, I needed a high speed film camera. We were shooting at 90 frames, you know, I was doing some like really fashion commercial stuff that I was doing. You know, I had a model who was a friend of mine and we were doing this whole exports model thing. And they were so they were mostly industrial guys. And sometime commercial guys, and not la sometime commercialized. This is Florida sometime commercial guys. So that means that they didn't have the same experience as a California or sorry anybody living in Florida. I I know a lot of good guys down there. But you know what I mean? Is just they just didn't have the experience that that the crews on the other side have a lot of times so they came in and I was so terrified that they didn't know what they were going to do with this film stock because we were shooting reversal stock.

Aram Rappaport 36:43
Yeah. Oh my god, I can't see that. I've never shown some of my life the anxiety. I can't even

Alex Ferrari 36:48
So shot on shooting on a reversal stock because I wanted to do that whole like MC g 90s.

Aram Rappaport 36:55
Yeah, blown out by looks amazing.

Alex Ferrari 36:58
It's fast as Wonder I love that. It's still one of my favorite things ever shot. So it was it's so it was we shot this whole thing. But I was so terrified because I'm like this is with with with reversal stock. You've got to have stop. Yeah, latitude. You can you can check you can check around. Yeah, yeah. So I like literally printed out an entire packet on how to shoot reversal stock. I was so terrified for the day. Yeah. And gave it to them. Do they? They must I mean, we shot it and we got it in the can. But they they took forever to light. They both of them are running around with their light meters like clicking every frickin corner. Oh my gosh. And then wait, and then high speed. Here that film cam go. Oh, yeah. And you hear that sound? And all I'm hearing is like $5 $10 $20 Exactly, exactly. It was just flying by and I'm like please Oh snap, please. Oh, snap. Please don't stop because of snaps. Oh my god, we're done. And I didn't have like rolls and rolls of

Aram Rappaport 38:02
Exactly. Exactly. You know, how are you gonna get more rolls if you're out like that. So

Alex Ferrari 38:06
It was it was insane. It was insane. So those guys i Then I then we did another spot the next day and they were so bad. They were trying to like muscle their way into what I was doing. And I was looking at what they were doing. I'm like this is not good. And I just at the end of the day, I scrapped the entire thing. I burned the negative. Wow, I literally burned I burned it. And then I rehired a new dp and I spent another $20,000 and shot the spot that I wanted the way I wanted to do it and got it done right so but with that those days those guys I was just like I was just constant and I was yelling out where it half stop. Were one for one like I was the one constantly yelling out I know what we need to be out here. And I was I was on them on them on them on them because I was just so insecure. Yeah, they you know, the by the way, first day one, the entire grip team walked off within 10 minutes that's how ridiculous that's my first day first day I'm spending all my money and the entire grip department walks away in the first 10 minutes because they were so unprofessional they didn't know what to do. So I was just like oh my god so that's that extreme but then I've had other TVs who are like older guys who just for whatever reason wanted to wave their you know what in my face and just right right right? No, no, I don't think that's the way the shot is going to be so then that's the point where you as a director have to go look man, we're gonna have a half cup conversation. You and it's not and but that's how you get tested and then actors test you within the first five or 10 minutes and they test you just to make sure that they feel comfortable. You're totally safe and safe. If they feel safe, they'll give you the world but if they don't feel safe that's when the problem starts.

Aram Rappaport 39:39
We agree that that's like you know that's why we did this project is because John and I haven't worked together you know we've shot too thin we you know, we shot a movie we shot the Netflix special and then you know we've done a handful of commercials together that he started that he's brought me in on to direct which has been amazing. But there was sort of a level of trust that was there. And the trust wasn't, you know, that's what people sometimes hear, they hear that and they go, Oh, he trusted you to make it to make him the best he can be. It's really, it wasn't about that it wasn't about the final result, it was trust, to explore, you know, and this trust, to be able to take risks, and own those risks. And that's the thing that, you know, you'll find a lot of actors will either, you know, really don't want to do, they're gonna give you what they're gonna give you, because they don't trust that when you're in the editing room, you're not going to completely fuck it up. You know, or there's the other ones, there's the actors that just go totally crazy and need you to hold them in linearly, you know, and remind them where we're at in the arc. And if you don't, you're not going to have a project, you can piece together, you know, from from a story beat perspective, but I think with John, like, the thing that I, you know, admire about him so much is that, you know, we sat down, and I pitched this thing to him. And, you know, he said, you know, he's a character who never played before, and he wanted, I mean, maybe he talked about already, but, but, you know, to be able to get on set and watch him do something different every take, that still was in the world, but they were different decisions, you know, based on different, you know, sort of like organic, you know, justifications, you know, what, whether it was an action or you know, you know, linearly he thought, oh, maybe I should be at a different point in my journey here. Let's try two things. The fact that he was so open to explore that is why this ultimately works and is successful, because we block shot, you know, 300 pages, and he was shooting, you know, seven dinner scenes back to back from episode one, episode eight, back to episode three, Episode Seven. And, you know, if we didn't have that trust, to sort of stumble through it together, you know, I think it would be like a very different projects. I think he you know, he's one of those rare guys that you just think of like, like, you've done everything in your career, you've, you've been everywhere worked with everybody, and you're still just trying to be better, like, better at everything, you know, and he and he's doing it. I mean, every step of the way, he bests the last year of his career. You know,

Alex Ferrari 42:01
It's interesting that, that that concept of allowing the space to explore Yeah, is so important to actors. And John spoke about it in the interview that we had that he's like, let me bump around. Yeah, me, me. There's a box. Yeah, I might not know where the end of the box is. Yeah. But that's your job to bring me back in if I'm going too far off, or the box that we're putting in, but let me play within the box. And don't just try to throw me down the middle because that's when you stifle me, you stifle me, you're not gonna get anything out of me. Totally.

Aram Rappaport 42:36
So and you think that you know, this is a guy that's like, a Tony winning playwright, you know, I mean, this is a guy who has a Smithsonian where like, you can't put them on set and say, you got to do this one thing I mean,

Alex Ferrari 42:47
He didn't align read him, give him a line reading see what

Aram Rappaport 42:50
His story is about that from from from certain movies where he goes, you know, a director was given me a line reading and it was like the three worst months of my life I just showed up. I was a robot. It's like, that's just some people like that. I mean, there are actors that want to go to work and just do the one thing go home like he's just not that guy, you know, and that's what you know, that's what Well, yeah, I mean, that's what I love about working with him. It's the most incredible thing in the world and like between that and his activism in this sort of like, I mean, he I don't know if he sleeps one hour a day or what but like, you know, I mean, he just was like, put on this earth to make waves in that way and you can't stop it.

Alex Ferrari 43:23
No, and it's really interesting to see you know, and we want to turn this into a John love fest because then he love that he'll love his his head's gonna get too big and you know, it already is was trying to know but no, but but in all honesty, though, like you look at look at an actor like him who's done so many different varieties, I mean, Moulin Rouge, and yeah, Juliet and casualties of war and, and you just, and then that the list just goes on and on. And just like, you know, I was when I was preparing for his conversation. I just went back through his IMDb in his filmography. I'm like, Jesus Christ. Like, there's so many movies that you just like, that's right. Carlitos way. Yeah, that's right. Oh, he was in that too. Oh, my God. That's right. He was and you just go back. And you know, like, I brought up spawn, because I'm like, no one ever no one ever calls out spawn the clown. It's one of the performances, one of his best performances ever since sanity, and he taught and that he said he, they didn't know what he had no idea what he was going to do up until the director yelled action for this entire time.

Aram Rappaport 44:30
I believe it Yeah. And I mean, he just blew up. We were talking at some point about the voice of the sloth and Ice Age and how he tried a bunch of stuff and also didn't know what he was going to do and, and the studio liked what he did or something like that man might be telling the story wrong. But then eventually, you know, he got behind the mic and did something and it was like, you know, that's it. That's the thing, you know, and it's it's incredible to see that. I mean, I hate him as a person but he's a talented.

Alex Ferrari 44:53
I mean, he's a horrible human being.

Aram Rappaport 44:56
As an actor, he's he's he's phenomenal to watch and hammering

Alex Ferrari 45:00
No but to be to be as to be as a performer. And this is also the way it is with directors or certain directors who work this way. That work kind of like on the on like my last film I did. I shot and four days at Sundance, about filmmakers trying to sell a movie at Sundance, I still owe the entire movie. I got there, and I just like, let's roll. And let's see what happens. And I was like, Oh, my God, this is what like, what it feels like to be an actor in many ways, because we were all as a collective Creative Collective, figuring it out along the way, to the point where when we got on the we're on the plane that like I said, Do you have it? I'm like, I don't know.

Aram Rappaport 45:38
Yeah, we don't know. Yeah, we'll put it together.

Alex Ferrari 45:40
I have no idea if we have a movie. I have no idea. If we haven't, I think we have a movie. My experience says, but it was in a such a low budget. And it was just kind of like me just experimenting, having fun, that you were just like, oh my god, this feels so you feel so alive, as opposed to being on a commercial set, where you're working with a client, and that has its own energy and its own thing. But this you feel like,

Aram Rappaport 46:03
Oh my god, there's an immediacy to it. There's such an immediacy to it.

Alex Ferrari 46:06
Right, like the Duplass brothers or John sweat Joe Salzberg, who did these kinds of like, you know, mumblecore films back in the day, that they're just kind of like, Here's an outline. Let's all figure it out today.

Aram Rappaport 46:17
Yeah, totally.

Alex Ferrari 46:18
Exciting is how to do that. It's terrifying. But it's so yeah,

Aram Rappaport 46:22
Yeah. It's exciting. Totally, totally. i It's more exciting. If it turns out well,

Alex Ferrari 46:28
Yeah. If it didn't work out, yeah. You're like,

Aram Rappaport 46:31
Oh, we went through that. Okay. I don't know if I'll do that again. But so

Alex Ferrari 46:34
Is there. Is there something that you wish you would have told yourself if you had an opportunity to go back at that first, the first beginnings of your career? To tell yourself Listen, Adam, this is you gotta watch out for this.

Aram Rappaport 46:47
Yeah, that's a good that's a really good question. I think, you know, there was this. I did a movie some years ago, called syrup with Ambit was with Amber Heard Shiloh Fernandez never heard of her. I never heard of her. Never heard of her never telling lots of other people. And it was based on a book and it was, you know, it was it was probably like, sort of the first, like, bigger thing that I did was an indie. You know, it was it was

Alex Ferrari 47:14
I saw I mean, it looks it looks amazing. It looks good to camera. You were talking to cameras that had a little vibe to it.

Aram Rappaport 47:20
Yeah, they talked to cameras, but you know, but it was it was also from a structural perspective is problematic, you know, we had to go back and do reshoots, and we had to, you know, it was, that's one thing. I've also learned, just as an aside, you know, there's a script that can read really well. But but but with experience, you learn what's going to play to an audience, sometimes that isn't on the page. And I think that's, that's the difference between those really, really good directors that can seat that can read a script, or a writer director, who can write something that they know is going to translate, because that was one instance, where we wrote a lot of direct to camera, talking at the audience Edrick in the fourth wall breaking, we started, you know, testing it, and we realized that like, audiences don't want to be talked to they want to be shown things, you know, and so it read really well, because it was this sort of flippant, cheeky dialogue about marketing, and people read through the scripts, agents love that actors love that. I mean, it was like we, you know, is a beloved script based on a great book. You know, we went and shot the script. And, and we were excited about it. I was excited about it. And then we watched it. And I was like, Wait a second, we got to go back. And we work things. Because it just doesn't, it doesn't we're not rooting for these characters in the same way. But I, you know, back back to your What was your question? I didn't remember. If there's something that you wish you would have told you younger self? Yeah. So so so I screened this, this film for a producer, and, and she said, You know, it's not there. But trust me, when I say it's not going to be your last movie, you're going to be fine. And I was wrapped.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
You don't? You'll work again,

Aram Rappaport 48:58
That's literally your work. You know, and that's like, I mean, because I always try to get back is really honest about these things. Like, you know, I've made a lot of shitty, like very, very bad things. Because I that's how I learned to make to try to make better than hopefully my work is getting better as we go. And this is hopefully not the best thing I'll ever do. And hopefully there'll be more, that's better. But you I think there are those guys that are those, you know, those filmmakers that just, you know, they pop onto the scene. And that's like, they their first movie is like a hit, you know, that was like, definitely not me, you know. And that was the biggest piece of advice I wish I actually took in was this notion that like, every time I did something bad I thought, well, this is the last this is the end. It's never it was never a learning experience. It was always like, this is shameful, you know, I'm shamed no one ever talks and

Alex Ferrari 49:42
You know, and you know what, and you're not looked at that stop me from making my first feature for almost 1520 years because

Aram Rappaport 49:48
Right there you go, there you go. Exactly exact cause of that energy of

Alex Ferrari 49:51
The the, if I got to make a movie, it's gotta be Reservoir Dogs. No, it's It's gotta it's gotta be. It's gotta be paranormal activities got to be something that it's explodes out of it. And that's then that's the mentality that was the kind of the Kool Aid that I drank from the 90s coming out, because that's what everything was like it had to be this huge thing.

Aram Rappaport 50:10
And those were those zingy indies where it was like the only indies you heard about were those indies that were just the best movies that had ever come out in those years like period, perhaps.

Alex Ferrari 50:19
Absolutely. And the directors all went off to have insane careers. So that was what I thought I had to do. I was like, Oh, I'm going to make something that has to be like, yeah, it has to be Reservoir Dogs. But then then you look back and you go, no, nobody else made a Reservoir Dogs. They all made their own things. Kevin made clerks. Linkletter made slacker that they they all did their thing. But and they were right time, right place, right product, all that kind of stuff as well. But at a certain point, you just got to just do it. That's when I when I finally hit 40. I just said screw it. I'm just gonna go make a movie. And from the moment I came up with the idea to the when we're done with production was two months.

Aram Rappaport 50:56
Yeah, yeah. Well, and that's what happens, right? You just you get that motivation. You just go and do it. And you have to be sort of like, you know, erotic about it. And blinded by it.

Alex Ferrari 51:05
No, I did it so fast. I couldn't talk myself out of it. Because if you said Yeah, six months, eight months, you're like, Oh, well, I need this camera. Or I need Yeah, right. This cast I didn't want to give myself so it was like a experiment on myself to just go I'm just gonna get it done to prove to myself that I could tell a story and I could sell a movie and and did all that. It was, it was fascinating. Now we've been we've been dipping around or toying around the Greenvale tell me about the green veil. And it's really interesting. John talks a bit about it in in his interview, I find it fascinating that you guys kind of did an indie series. So you know, self financed indie series that now you're out in the marketplace trying to sell, which is something that doesn't get done often has done been done, but not at this level that I know of it. Yeah, we're just kind of cast in this kind of production. So tell me about the project.

Aram Rappaport 51:53
So yeah, I mean, so So we, you know, I knew having been in commercials for a while, I knew that I wanted to try to get back into like, some linear expression, you know, some content that we you know, whether it was serialized content, whether it was a film, whether whatever. So we you know, just because I launched this agency in studio, we sort of had the facilities to launch a television film division as a financier. You know, we've sort of been blessed with our clients and subsidize that film and television production with money that we, you know, made on the agency side. And so this was sort of that first project. For me, that was like a proof of concept as a quote, unquote, like studio that's financing, just to kind of prove that we could do this. So I think for us, it's like, we knew that we wanted to be in TV, we've never done TV before. You know, we could pitch for years and try to figure that out. Or we could just go out and do something and sort of stumble through it. That's sort of always been my approach, obviously.

Alex Ferrari 52:56
As we've made many points of in this interview, it's great. And works for you, sir.

Aram Rappaport 53:03
And if you learn anything, it's don't do it this way. I'm sure there's an easier way it will take. But but but no, but I mean, you know, so I having worked with Java for John and I were just coming off the the Netflix thing that was a lot of fun, and, you know, received well, and, and John, I was reading these articles about alien invasions that happened in the 50s. And it was this very sensationalized period when there was a lot of, you know, repression and oppression, from housewives to, you know, Native Americans to immigrants to to everybody really, you know, was very oppressed in a certain way. It was post world war two women were working during World War Two, and they were, you know, really running things while men were off at war. And then they came back and there was this reckoning, you know, where women were now suddenly, housewives. Again, men were trying to like re command control of their families. And, you know, there was this insane eradication of sort of, like Native Americans. So anyways, I wanted to put all that stuff together because it just it felt like if we could sort of sensationalized you know, a story that sort of is grounded in a sci fi element where there were these, you know, these these sort of like, true reported UFO sightings with, you know, the themes of assimilation and oppression in the 50s it would make for like, a really interesting world. Like, at that time, I didn't know what it was gonna be, but it just felt like it was a really interesting, you know, let's do an anthology on oppression in America with a really interesting tone that feels like it's not just a drama and it's not just preachy, that it's you know, we've got a hook so I loop John in and said, you know, we can you play this like all American dad who's like Latin, but we don't save these Latin and there's these really hidden bizarre undertones of his patriotism. And John was like, you know, I've always wanted to play like a self loathing self hating, you know, Latin I mean, what he calls his you know, like a Trumpian lat Latin we are Trumpian you know, this supporter, you know, Latin Trump supporter of something. Got it. Got it. And, and so, you know, he was always fascinated with like the leader of the proud boys who's like this Latin guy and he's like, what what is he doing? Like how is that? Real? You know? And so, you know we

Alex Ferrari 55:15
Oh, I gotta stop. He's like, did you ever see the Dave Chappelle? Bit? Where he was the the blind? Ku Klux Klan? Yes, yes. Yeah, he was, oh my god, or something like that.

Aram Rappaport 55:29
It was literally it was literally that, you know, and so that's what we, you know, I said, Well, you know, why don't you play this all American guy who like, you know, obviously, there's some like, you know, deeply rooted, like systemic issues there. But you're tasked with, you know, assimilation, like native assimilation at the FBI, and you're, you're an American, you're an American and a patriot. And, and let's let you reckon with those issues, and he's like, I've never played that role before I trust that we can have fun with this and see where it goes. And from a from a, you know, not a therapeutic standpoint. But like, as an actor, it was something that he like, you know, wanted to embrace, and that that was the project. So we thought, you know, let's root it in this family with you and sort of, like, see where this thing goes. And that that's the Greenville. It's a story of Gordon Rogers, who's played by John Leguizamo. And he's tasked with native assimilation on the East Coast, which is something that happened was rampant, you know, in the US and in Canada's, you know, evident by the discovery of these boarding schools, and, you know, these mass graves under these boarding schools that we just found in Canada recently, but, you know, John's character is making way for a pipeline, and there's a lot of nefarious things he's doing. And his wife finds out that there was some, you know, he was investigating an alien invasion that may or may not be an alien invasion, and, you know, shit hits the fan from there. And, you know, John's character ultimately is forced to sort of reckon with, you know, who he is. And, you know, and where he's going, you know, in this in this world. And that's, and that's, that's how we got to eight episodes.

Alex Ferrari 56:59
And you got to Tribeca, did this screen yet or not?

Aram Rappaport 57:02
It screen yet screens on Monday night? And it's, we had an online thing on Wednesday, and then we just screened last night was our our second screening?

Alex Ferrari 57:11
And how's it? How has it been received?

Aram Rappaport 57:13
It was great. I mean, it was received really well, you know, we got a couple really positive reviews. And, you know, people seem very into it. And I think, you know, the challenge for us is obviously, you know, educating a marketplace on an independent TV show. And that's something that is, you know, it's it's, you know, we know, the sort of indie model of acquisitions. And,

Alex Ferrari 57:33
You know, isn't it isn't that fun? Isn't it? The fun part?

Aram Rappaport 57:36
It's just, it's a lesser known, you know, it's a lesser known reality, but I think like, you know, it's something that we feel really passionate about, I don't think we would have gotten this show made, had we not, you know, financed it. And, and developed it with John in a way that just, you know, he wanted to play this role. And that's, and that's what we did. And I, you know, he's, I would never want it, that's something I've learned is that, you know, working with new exciting actors is great, but working with like, your best friends that you trust and who trust you is, is is the best thing in the world. It doesn't matter what the project is.

Alex Ferrari 58:07
And that's because because you go because you've gone into war together. Ready, man? Yeah, you just you just use it. You've been in the shit, you've been in different level,

Aram Rappaport 58:16
It's a different level of trust that you just can't overestimate you.

Alex Ferrari 58:20
No, no, absolutely. Absolutely. The DP, I took the Sundance with me, I'd use I've done a couple projects with them. And I'm like, I could I just knew, shoot, just shoot, I know, it's gonna be done. And it's like, I don't have to worry about that. Because you just know, they're gonna get you back. And then you work with actors again. And again. You're like, Yeah, I know that they're bringing that toolbox with them today. And yeah, yeah. And they got your back. And when you're going, if you're going into the war, man, it's like full metal jacket, man, you just, you know, or, you know, you Joker, you know, or

Aram Rappaport 58:51
You just want to do better work. Also, when you're working with Yeah, I want you to be that, you know, that's the like, you know, yeah, I mean, there's something about I mean, that was always my thing with John is like, he has always just challenged me to, like, you know, let's make it a little bit better, a little bit better. Let's watch someone else show notes. Let's go, you know, and he's always had to, I mean, he's been vocal, but he's had to work harder than everybody else to get to where he is. And that is, you know, I was saying, I reckon with online history for morons, right? Like, you know, I'm a white Jew from the valley directing Latin history for morons, you know, I mean, that was something that I would have conversations with him about and be like, am I the right guy for this? Am I Are you sure you want me to? You know, and he would always say, you know, yes, you're the right guy. Because the vision that you your vision is what I want within this project. And like, that's ally ship, and it's okay to be an ally and it's okay to still support and try to be the best you can be. And so I feel like are, you know, something about, like you said, going into battle but with really dissonant views on things, and then challenging those views and sort of coming together with like, you know, a common narrative is the thing that, you know, I love most and sort of cherish about that relationship.

Alex Ferrari 59:57
Well, I mean, I really, I really hope you do well. With this in the same room I hope this is a new model for a lot of people out there because Look man, it's it's it's a tough slog doing indie films, man, you know, and I'm, I'm in the trenches every day talking to people every day about it from every aspect from the scripts all the way to distribution. I know what's going on with that. And this might be another avenue where creatives I mean, look, all the indie guys from the 90s. Most of them are going into television. Right, right, exactly. All of the early 2000s. Like, they're all into, because that's where the cool stuff. That's why television is. It's so cool. Yeah, so good. Because the writing is good. And it's just, you know,

Aram Rappaport 1:00:37
Explore a story and like multiple episodes, and

Alex Ferrari 1:00:39
You may take your time and build it up and all that stuff. It's, I've never done anything like That's incredible. Yeah. So I'm gonna ask you a few questions, ask all of my guests or what advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Aram Rappaport 1:00:56
A filmmaker is gonna try to break into the business. I mean, again,

Alex Ferrari 1:01:00
Just do it and see how it works out.

Aram Rappaport 1:01:02
I think you just got to do and and see, I mean, there's, like, you know, you just got to do it. I mean, you just gotta like, if you have a vision and a story that no one else is told, you know, that's something worth risking everything for. So go do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:17
What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Aram Rappaport 1:01:21
What did I learn from my biggest failure? You know, to just dust it off and get back up and shrug it off and do it and keep going. I think that's, that's always I mean, this is like, such a brutal town. You know, I mean, like, you know, if a movie is bad, an agent won't get you a job anymore. Yeah, an actor won't work with you or whatever. But it's all bullshit. I mean, who cares?

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Like, everyone, everyone's you know, when you're hot, you're hot. And when you're not, you're not. And it's like next. But then, five years later, you write something that everyone wants now and like, I don't know, I'm

Aram Rappaport 1:01:52
100%. Like, Ben Affleck. I think when he wanted his academy award, not the first one. But like, the second time like afterwards, like sort of his was surgeons or whatever, I think, you know, he said it best. He's like, you know, this business is about like, just not holding grudges, forgiveness. And just, you know, that's just I mean, it's certainly personal. Don't take it first can't take it. But because again, like you're like, as creators, like we're throwing everything into these projects emotionally and no one else is, the agents are not the executives are not no one's no one is throwing themselves into these things like so we take everything personally, of course, like we're going to, but at the end of the day, like, you know, you have to just expect the unexpected. If it doesn't work, you know, you get up and you do it again, if you were meant to do it, if it's truly what you have to do to survive, like you're gonna do it again.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:41
I tell you, I heard I was watching an interview with Taylor Sheridan this last weekend, and I'm just the biggest Taylor shattered and found in the way he's like, so amazing what he's doing. He's, he's working at a level that all afraid to be working at. Yeah, right now. And he said, You know, I've been in this town for a long time. I've never seen anybody bumped their head against the wall or crushed her head against the wall for 20 years. And then pop. Yeah, yeah. I was like, wow, that's such a profound comment, man. It really is. Because he goes, I've seen eight years. I've seen 10 years in 12 years, but I've never seen 20 years. And that's when I decided I'm always going to be the 11th on the call sheet. I'm never going to be number one on the call sheet. Right. And that's what he did. Yeah, because he's, you know, and he's working. And when he wrote his when he wrote the pilot, the first thing he ever wrote was the pilot for mayors of Jamestown. After he wrote the pilot, he's like, dammit, I wish I would have been doing this 15 years ago. Yeah. wasted all that time. Just just trying to make it I can get out as an actor and I really wanted to do this is where it needed to be. So and he goes, and this is something I think everyone listening should I think you might agree with this. The town will tell you what you are supposed to be doing. To a certain extent. To a certain extent, it's like, I'm never going to be a leading man. I'm not gonna be Tom Cruise. I'm not built to be Tom Cruise. I don't have the talent nor the looks to be Tom Cruise. But in my mind, I was like, I'm gonna be the next Tom Cruise. The town's gonna tell you maybe you're not Tom Cruise. Right but Tom Cruise I appreciate that sir. Thank you, I but but but you could be something else that is actually going to make you happier and actually more true to your path. So that you just gotta listen. Keep the ears open for that kind of stuff. Now what is the lesson that took you what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Aram Rappaport 1:04:28
I don't know if I've learned it yet. What's the lesson that has taken me the longest to learn? You know, to not try to do everything? Yep, I think that would probably be the biggest lesson I think. You know, it's easy for people on the outside to say you know, why don't you you know, delegate. And it's easy for us on the inside to say well, we don't have enough money. We don't have enough this. I have to do it. I have to do it. When you have the right support team around It is exceptional, like the things that you can accomplish are exceptional, no matter how much you want to control everything. You know, it's a movie. And sometimes, you know, you have to, you have to do multiple things, you have to wear multiple hats, and that's fine. But I think, you know, early on, I always felt like I really had to control things. Well, because no one's going to do better than you. Right? Right, right, or no one knows. Or it's proving the narrative that I'm the director, or whatever it is, you know, but I think like, yeah, as you you know, as you grow, you learn that the best thing you can do is let everybody else thrive, and then just take credit for

Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
I, you know, what, the masters have said that so many times, you're like, that's all you can do. Just, you know, whoever you're gonna get the credit at the end of it, just let it all.

Aram Rappaport 1:05:50
That's what, that's what I say, That's what I always say to the Chrome like you can give me if you want to, you know, over work to give me all these ideas, I'll still take credit for it. So that's fine. Work harder than many ideas. Let's go. No, I'm just joking. I mean, it is it is, I mean, you know, to be humble, and to be able to say, you know, what do you think, I don't know what this is gonna look like, let's let's talk about is, I think the biggest lessons,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:14
But that also, but also takes you minutes to get to that point.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:16
So you have to you have to, you have to go through that process. I don't know, if anyone on their, you know, their very first movie was like, you know, oh, yeah, I am going to just ask for everybody's advice.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:30
Because you're like, I'm not the director anymore. And then you get that chip on your shoulder, like, am I, the director, I have to, I have to prove them, the director, I have to have my name as a director, it can be only directed only and written by only an eye, and I have to do everything. At the beginning, you have to feel that way. But as you get older, and you get more settled into your and more comfortable in your own skin as a director, that's when you just go best idea wins.

Aram Rappaport 1:06:50
Right, right. And I think and I think also not over directing is also another big thing not over controlling, you know, I mean, there's, there's, there's actors, that you just need to set the camera and just watch them surprise you. And then there's actors that you really have to work with. And then there's actors that are somewhere in between one a little bit or whatever. But like really, recognizing that with actors with behind the camera talent, with the production design team with whatever it like there are, there are people that will feel more empowered and do better if you let them you know, and I think, you know, really understanding how to lead different departments, you know, in unique ways is something that, that is super, super important. And it's like, you know, I always tell people, like just ask, like, you know, ask someone like Simon, I talked to John about the first day about, you know, how do you want to work? Like, what how are you most successful? Like that's going to? Is it one take, or you warm up with three? And then we get into it on four? Do you want me to stop you in the middle of takes? Do you want me to let you complete even though we know it's wrong, like there's so many different avenues for how to, to lead a set. And I think, you know, very early on, it's like, you know, I'm going to do it this way. And this is what I'm doing. It's, it's my show, and But why now it's like, you know, it's, you know, really understanding the mechanisms that help people thrive is just the biggest thing that you can do. You know, as as a director and I there were multiple times, I think Donald Petrie told me once you direct, like Miss Congeniality, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 days, and he, he said, you know, don't be afraid to ask for help, like, Don't be afraid. And he was this is after this is I think I was going to syrup in New York. And I said, you know, what, what do you have, you know, I'm shooting in New York and blah, blah. And he said, you know, don't, you got to ask for help, you know, when you need help, you have to, it's going to be more endearing when you say, I don't know how to shoot this scene, let's talk about it. And people are going to work harder for you than if you just stumble through and just pretend you know what's going on. And everyone thinks, I don't know if this is right, you know, and that was like a really, you know, a really powerful thing. And then I was shadowing Rodrigo Garcia, who did a bunch of really cool movies. And he was doing this thing with a net Benning and I, you know, I think I was just shadowing him a couple days. And he said, you know, he just let her work. You know, he let her dictate everything and he covered the scene in a way that would let her roam around if she wanted to pick up a cup if she wanted to, you know, he knew he played your talent, you know, and that was like such an important lesson also, which Oh, yeah, like, you know, if you've got a great actress like you have to support what they're trying to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:22
You can't box him in you can't you can't like Okay, hit mark a hit Mark be but if she wants to flow. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's the thing they don't teach you man like sometimes when you and especially when you're working with these these actors who are at a different level, like John or a net and you know, and I've had the opportunity to work with some actors as well that I've just, you know, when they when you when you have an Oscar nominee on set, you just go oh, oh, that's how that's done. Yeah. Yeah. You just feel the difference. You just like oh, okay, so how do you how do you want to work? How do you want to do this? How do you flow? It's it's, it's a remarkable experience when you get to work with really, really talented people on all levels on every every every every crew member and actors.

Aram Rappaport 1:10:05
Yeah, and I think you learn how to you know, in film school or whatever I don't I didn't go but you learn you could learn how to technically lay a marker you know, marks you know and this and that or whatever but like the reality is you get to set and like that actor is not going to want to hit that mark and they're gonna want to have freedom they're gonna want to do so then what do you do? Like what happens that you know, and I think that's that's the thing that is it's so important that you go out and do it not just like within your community but like with random actors that you've never worked with before with a lot of crazy personalities because that's the thing that's gonna get you honing craft.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:41
Now, last question, sir, three of your favorite films of all time,

Aram Rappaport 1:10:45
Oh my gosh, okay. Big fish is I think my number one favorite movie of all time. I just, there's just something so magical about what Tim Burton was able to

Alex Ferrari 1:10:59
Add John on the show, John August on the show. Oh, did you really I talked to him about big fish do and it was just such a beautiful it's one of my favorite Tim Burton movies.

Aram Rappaport 1:11:08
Same, same same I know, I know. It was just something I mean, he tapped into something so magical with that film and the way that he tried to say I love most is the way he tracked that narrative. Those those those there were multiple narratives and by the time you get to the end it paid off to like I was sobbing you know at the end the movie I just wanted to do my whole life is just make people cry in that way and like be rooting for something and you think this is the you know, beautiful promo. That was number one. Number two Cider House Rules is a movie that I really love being back in the kitchen, right? And I just it just something was so you know, so moral and there were these multiple storylines that just really fit what they were.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:47
Michael Caine was in that too, right. Michael Caine was

Aram Rappaport 1:11:51
He played that in Charlize Theron was in that as the young Charlie, Charlize. I guess that's just a long shot. Yeah, she and then and then the last movie Pirates of the Caribbean. I just I love a spectacle, man. I just love it. Like, there's just something so powerful about like, like, everyone asked me, you know, oh, what do you want to do? Like a toy? This? I'm like, No, I want to direct like Pirates of the Caribbean eight. Like that's like, that's where I want to be. It's great. You know?

Alex Ferrari 1:12:19
You never know who's listening. You never know who's listening there. So if you wanna if you want to make the pitch now for Pirates of the Caribbean

Aram Rappaport 1:12:26
You know, I've got the pitch. Let's wait a couple years. Let's see what Johnny you know where Johnny lands, but

Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
You can't do without Johnny. You can't I don't care what you

Aram Rappaport 1:12:33
You can't do that. No, but I come I mean, pirates was just I mean, Gore Verbinski. He's again, he's one of those directors where you just this guy who's like cutting the scenes in his mind? Well, and he came from commercials and he and he's out there and he's shooting and he only shoots the things that he knows are going to make it and then he moves on. And you just think this guy is so efficient in the way that he is crafting scenes. And it's it's, it's, you know, it's it's incredible. Whether you love them or hate the movie, it's, you know, it's popcorn movie, whatever. But it's just, you know, the way that he sort of put that movie together and was able to get Disney over the line with what you know, Johnny Depp was doing and you know, Tony, it was just very cool.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:07
And I have to say, and I'm just gonna say it out, because what Johnny did, I've never seen an actor. Basically take an entire franchise on his shoulders. Yeah, he built it without Johnny without captain. Captain Jack Sparrow. It's another it's another movie based on a ride from Disney. Yeah, yeah. He and gore working together really transcended that to a place where it's made billions and billions of dollars. And he's beloved throughout the world because of this character. And he was able to tap into something I don't remember another man, another actor who has done that it

Aram Rappaport 1:13:51
And they know that and if you fail, if you break it down from like, I'm gonna go back to marketing but like a marketing perspective, like from from from a purely business perspective, like he was playing an inebriated Right. Like you imagine you imagine that like, if I wasn't exactly I'd be like, well, he can't do like, there's no way he can do that. Like, it looks like he's popping pills. And then they rolled and then he forgot his lines. Like what like, you're watching dailies from that, and you're just thinking how this does not fit into like our cinematic universe. So I just think it was just so like, how whatever happened, there was just the most amazing.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:31
Did you ever hear the story about the gold teeth from Johnny? No. So cute. When he was doing Jack, this is before anybody knew what he was gonna do with Jack. He already had it in his mind. And he's like, I really wanted five gold teeth in my mouth for for Johnny and they were like, little teeth, I'm not sure. So he walked in he goes, I need 12 gold teeth. And they're like, Okay, I'll give you 12 That's too much. like, alright, five, he's like, Okay, you got five. And that's how he got his five gold teeth for Jack Sparrow

Aram Rappaport 1:15:10
Back to the five gold teeth were offensive. I mean, he shouldn't have had those.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:15
I mean, obviously, I mean, obviously come obviously is a very offensive and nobody you're right on paper, it makes no sense why that character should work in a movie of that magnitude based on the property and the IP it was for a company like Disney like it doesn't make any sense.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:33
Right! Well, and yeah, and you're like, so you're gonna test that with 12 year olds and their pet you know, your parents can be you know, would you let your kid watch? You know, this misogynistic pirate who's dragging and stumbling around drunk all the time? Would that be endearing for you? What do you think? Like? No, it would have never I mean, that's crazy. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:52
I don't even I would love to hear the story of how like after day one of like, what when the dailies came back, not good.

Aram Rappaport 1:15:58
I mean, I heard that they were freaking out. I'm sure like, why who wouldn't?

Alex Ferrari 1:16:02
But they were but the ship but but the train left the station already. And it's Yeah, John and Johnny was a star. And they're like, look, we're here. We're shooting. We're in the Caribbean. We're gonna make this movie. And he just, he just kept going and Gore was with him. And he's like, Nah, man. We're rolling this

Aram Rappaport 1:16:16
Part of the dailies for long enough for them to not have to reshoot or something because you think like that. I think that's what a crazy No, I would have loved to know what if you interview him? You gotta let me know. Let me know

Alex Ferrari 1:16:28
When I get shot when I get Johnny. He's a little busy these days. I think everybody in the world wants to talk to him when I get home. Hopefully I'll get go around one day. I'd love to talk the army. This has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. It really? I feel like I feel like you're I feel like your brother from another mother. Man. I think we both got the same similar shrapnel in our in our in our stone. Totally. How we do things, brother, this gratulations man, congratulations on the project on the Greenvale and I hope it does amazing for you and continued success brother, I appreciate it and and don't let jump push you around brother Seriously, just you know, sometimes, you know, just slap up a rock.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:06
I think I I blocked his number I bought. He's impossible. Isn't. He's impossible. He he made me promise not to tell the animal swap story. I told it because I'm just so bitter about him. You know right now because he always wants to work with me. He says, You know, I need to work with you. I hate all these other directors. You know, you're the only one I want to do everything with John calm down.

Alex Ferrari 1:17:30
Your little needy.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:33
Desperate. You know, I don't you know, I don't know. He's not busy. He's not working. I don't know what it is. But

Alex Ferrari 1:17:37
He just sits at home just waiting for you to call

Aram Rappaport 1:17:41
No we wouldn't have pressed for this thing last weekend on Friday. And they're asking him about seven other projects. And he's opening up musical the same day. And I'm like whiplash, I'm like, What do you mean, you're doing all this?

Alex Ferrari 1:17:52
He's like, Yeah, I'm doing this movie with De Niro. I'm like, of course.

Aram Rappaport 1:17:55
Yeah, I know. Right! Right. Of course. That was the that's the other thing. I mean, he was in Greece on Tuesday flew in. He said, Oh, I get this great thing with De Niro. De Niro was amazing. It was just beautiful scene and blah, blah. And I'm like, wait, you were in Greece with De Niro yesterday, like, what's happening right? And then he's opening a musical arm.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:12
That's a different world brother. That's a different world that you and I get to get to get to dip our toes and every once in a while? No, it's a different it's a different existence of life.

Aram Rappaport 1:18:23
And I hope people see this because he literally did something that he's never done before. And I think that's the thing I'm most proud of is being able to champion that that performance.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:31
No he's he's amazing, and I hope nothing of the best for you in this project. Brother. Thank you again for coming on the show

Aram Rappaport 1:18:37
Let's do this again!

Alex Ferrari 1:18:38
Anytime! Anytime!

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BPS 202: The Art of Showrunning a Hit Amazon Show with Naren Shankar

Naren Shankar is the Executive Producer/Showrunner of the critically acclaimed television adaptation of the international best-seller science fiction novel series, The Expanse, an Amazon Prime Original Series from Alcon Television Studios.

Naren spent eight seasons as a Writer-Executive Producer and Co- Showrunner of the most-watched show in the world, CSI:Crime Scene Investigation. In 2011 he helped launch NBC’s Grimm as a Writer- Executive Producer.

Prior to CSI, Naren was an Executive Producer on the SyFy Channel cult hit series Farscape for The Jim Henson Company, and spent three seasons as a writer-producer on Showtime’s The Outer Limits.

Naren began his career as a writer and science consultant for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he holds a PhD in Applied Physics & Electrical Engineering from Cornell University.

Naren has been honored with multiple Emmy nominations for Best Series, a WGA Award nomination for CSI’s two-hour event “Grave Danger” directed by Quentin Tarantino, and has received WGC and Saturn Awards for The Outer Limits, CSI, and Farscape. The Expanse won a Hugo Award for “Leviathan Wakes” in 2017 and was nominated in 2019 for “Abaddon’s Gate.”

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Naren Shankar 0:00
If I have an idea for a character and or a moment and somebody goes, that's just doesn't make any sense this character would never do that. And if the argument is good, then change it.

Alex Ferrari 0:11
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by top Hollywood professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I like to welcome the show Naren Shankar how're you doing Naren?

Naren Shankar 0:25
I'm good, man. How are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:27
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Man. I, I've I've watched many of your shows over the years, you've been you have a very unique story on how you got to where you are. And hopefully it's going to inspire some people along the way. So first question, sir. Why in God's green earth? Did you decide to go into the film business? When you have a real degree with real skills that could actually help the world?

Naren Shankar 0:53
Wait, wait, are you my parents? Oh my gosh. I you know, I did have I did have kind of a strange path into the business I, I started in when I went to university. I started as undecided pre med, medieval studies, classics, French literature, I didn't know what I wanted to do. My dad was a doctor. And so I told my parents, I was going to be pre med, I didn't really want to be a doctor. And I spent the first two years at Cornell in the College of Arts and Sciences. But in that time, I started thinking about, Oh, what happens after college and I was like, I don't think any things I really love are gonna get me any kind of job. So I had always loved math and science. I was kind of I think I'm a generalist at heart. And so I transferred into the College of Engineering and, and the College of Applied Engineering Physics. And I ended up staying all the way into the doctoral program. So I stayed at Cornell. So as I was, you know, in the midst of writing my dissertation and working in the lab, I just started going back to the things I love, which were history and literature and just started taking more and more courses in the arts college. And I literally remember the moment where I was coming out of this amazing course told by a professor guy named Walter LeFevre is amazing historian, he taught a course a two semester course in the history of American foreign policy. And we had this amazing lecture about the early republic and Aaron Burr. And like, I walked out of the I walked down the hall, and I was going back, and I could see my labs sort of on the other end, across down the street, and another quad as like, God, I just don't want to be an engineer. And I think I think what it was was, it was part of what happens when you're in the hard sciences is, you end up becoming more and more of an expert in the smaller and smaller corner of the universe. And I think that's what was happening with me, it's like I had this, you know, I was doing this thing, and it was really, you know, and it was my thing, and you're adding, you know, original research to the world, which is the whole point of a PhD program. But it just wasn't the thing, that kind of jasmine, it's like, you know, and, and I had also very early on my sophomore year, freshman year and sophomore year, I joined the Kappa Alpha Literary Society, which is a Greek letter, social fraternity, but it's also a literary society. And you do every two weeks, the the members would meet, and like we would, you know, do original writing and present it to the rest of the gang is a very nerdy geeky fraternity. It's like, really, I mean, but, but I think those are the things that really got me excited. And the friends I was around, you know, like, we loved movies intelligence. So after I finished my thesis, I had some friends out in the business, who are just who had come out to LA and we're breaking into the show business side of things. And I said, Come on, tell me screenwriter. And I was like, That sounds amazing. I'll do that. And it was super easy. It's super easy. You'll be oh, oh, Ignorance is strength. It's like, it's like, for me, it was literally because I had no concept of what how high the bar was or how difficult it is to break into the business. Had I known those things I might not have come. But I also I was I had skipped a couple of grades and I was really young. And so I started college and just turned 16 I had like my parents, you know, I told my parents, you know, just let me do this. And my parents, I think felt like oh, he'll just get it out of his system and then he'll he'll go and do something sensible because, you know, it's a good Indian kid is like doctor, lawyer, engineer, businessman. It's like that's that's those are the only things that are okay, you know,

Alex Ferrari 4:53
Screenwriter not so much.

Naren Shankar 4:54
There's no tradition of it. There's no idea of what that means. Even it's like like, you know, was gonna pay you for that.

Alex Ferrari 5:02
And so right, I can write, who's gonna pay me and so no one's gonna pay you.

Naren Shankar 5:06
Exactly, exactly. So, but they were so sweet and they were so supportive. And yeah, and I came out and and started to make this such a long story. But in my in my fraternity in Kappa Alpha, it my best friend was Ron Moore, who created Battlestar Galactica. And he at the beginning of his career, he was actually a political science major. And we had a third friend who, who was the guy who wanted to come out to LA and be in the business. And so he went out to drag Ron out there a couple of years later, after Ron decided he didn't know what to do with his life. And then a couple of years after that, run convinced me to come out and I slept on his couch for like eight weeks and, and so that was literally the chain that brought me in and, and through Ron, I got a, a spec script to Star Trek The Next Generation that brought me to the attention of the producers. And then that led to a Writers Guild internship on the program. And that really was the start of it, it led to a staff job a little while, then a little while after that.

Alex Ferrari 6:19
So that's the long story. That's obviously like a standard Standard plan that every screenwriter, only I can only imagine the conversation with your parents. I know the conversation that I had, but I didn't have a PhD in engineering.

Naren Shankar 6:39
My mom was so sweet. years later, years later, after things were going well, it's like, because I remember like, you know, I just threw, like some suitcases and stuff in my car. And I drove out of sight. My parents were like, waving it back. Years later, my mom said, As soon as your car goddess got out of sight, I burst into tears.

Alex Ferrari 6:59
I went to I have kids, I would just I would be like, Oh, my God, I can't. Because that's one of the reasons why I do on the show, like, how on God's green earth that this this engineer and physics get into, into into writing for television, it's just,

Naren Shankar 7:17
You know, there's, there's a part of it that is actually I think that's like, you know, Self knowledge is somewhat important is that, I don't think I would have been a good engineer. I mean, I certainly had aptitudes for it. But part of what what I, I had problems with is I was a little impatient, you know, I got bored doing the same thing, you know, for focused amount of time. I loved certain aspects, but I loved it. It's an incredibly creative field. And people, you know, don't they really misunderstand the hard sciences and they go, that's not you know, that's not creative, like music, or, you know, or writing, it's absolutely as creative as all of those things. It's just in a different way. But, but if you don't have the sort of, you have to be meticulous you have to be you know, there's so many factors that when I took a look at myself, I was like, I just don't think that's me. And so, maybe there was one job actually, that I came so close to getting that I absolutely would have taken, I I got a I gotta get down to the last two people at Apple Computer in in the, in the early 90s, that I was going to be the engineering software evangelist in the one of the absolute bottom terrible times darkest times in Apple history. But but they flew me out to Cupertino, I interviewed and I just didn't get the job, that job I would have taken. And now I look back I go, Oh, would have been in Silicon Valley in the 90s may not have sucked.

Alex Ferrari 8:47
If that's what they paid you in stock options backs up. And so yeah, $8 it was $8 a share something.

Naren Shankar 8:56
Anyway, so, you know, but But you know,

Alex Ferrari 9:01
Being self aware, it's very important being understanding that you're like, you know, what, I've had, I've had staff jobs twice in my career industry and been fired, probably from both. And it's just, I just am not, I work well with others, but it's not something I can't It's not me, you just have to be aware.

Naren Shankar 9:18
Yeah. It's a tough thing. And it's like, you know, being in a staff. It's so interesting, like, you get different. It's so personality driven. It's like, especially television, it's like, you know, it's like it is a I've seen playwrights who are amazing, who just can't deal with being room feature guys who are like, completely used to like going off for weeks and thinking about three lines of dialogue. It's like, they can't handle the pace. It's like, and you know, and people who are just not gregarious, because it's such a social thing. It's such a it's such a group collaboration, you know, it's like a true collaboration. If you have the right mindset, and you enjoy that it's an incredibly fun experience. That's one of the things I love about television is part of the reason I think I've been And then for so long.

Alex Ferrari 10:01
So you so you get on to Star Trek Next Generation, which is arguably one of the the pinnacle sci fi shows, arguably television shows. I mean, it was just so well written, it was so bad. It's just so well written. I mean, if you go back to those episodes now and you just like damn, and they hold up the effects and the makeup, maybe not so much. But, but this, but the writing is solid, some of those storylines. I remember watching them in high school when I was coming up, I was just like, damn, and this was really well, well written. What were some of the lessons you learn from that first job? I'm like, when you walked on the set, for the first time? What was that feeling like?

Naren Shankar 10:37
Well, it was amazing. I mean, you know, the thing was, Star Trek was an unusual show, in a lot of ways in an unusual structure. It was. It was the first show that was, you know, really the kind of open the syndication market. I mean, this is a long time ago. And so, you know, it wasn't a network show. But it was a very high profile show. It was the reboot of this thing, which had been, you know, before the word reboot existed. You know, it was this thing that was kind of Beloved, and it was, but it was its own thing, but very different from the show. It went through its own kind of struggles at the beginning. What was unique about it, I think, was as a learning experience, because what had happened on next generation was at the end of the third season, which I think that was third third season, I think, was Ron's first season on the show, the entire writing staff got fired, except for Ron and Michael Piller, who was who was the showrunner kept on on and kind of rebuilt the show and in His image in a way and just in terms of how stories were told, and, and, and when I got there. By the time Star Trek ended the last two seasons. I was like a freelance in season five, and then six and seven, I was on the show. It was it was a very young staff, it was everybody was a first timer. It was their first gig in the business. It was Ron, Ron Moore, Brandon Braga, Renee, Murray and myself. And we were the core staff, Jerry Taylor was a was our boss, supervising producer who basically ran the room with us. But it was just kind of like all first timers, we had never, you know, never had other gigs before, it was really really spirited, good. You know, we all liked each other. We're all still friends to this day. It's you know, and, and Jerry had had, you know, essentially taking the position like, look, this is a room where best idea wins. That was like, you know, Mike Nichols, like his, his mantra. And so the arguments were passionate, but it was fun. Nobody was mean to anybody. And Michael was like, he was a really good editor, he gave us great discipline on how to break a story. So as a, as a school, it was a tremendous school for learning how to how to do sort of the work of television writing. And so it was, it was great discipline, I think that all of us took, you know, into, into our careers into into the rooms that we have run ourselves and the shows that we've made. So that was kind of amazing. There was also like, there was this rigid wall between the writing staff and the production because Rick Berman was in charge of sort of, like the, that side of it. Initially, like writers weren't allowed to go to the set. They didn't want us anywhere near the cast. It was like, yeah, it was, that's, that's slowly changed over the years. And, you know, I think, you know, being fair, as, as wonderful, as many of the episodes of next generation are, and there are some terrific episodes that really hold up to this day. You know, it was, it was very much a creature of its time, I think it owes a lot of, to like television in the 80s, highly episodic Instructure you freaking out, it's a kind of hitting the reset button every week. It was also, you know, going to the people of the planet with the problem. You know, it was like, it sort of had that vibe.

Alex Ferrari 13:57
There was a red shirt, there was

Naren Shankar 13:58
Exactly that guy, you know, that guy was, you know, he was not gonna make it. And so, you know, but and it slowly loosened up. I always, you know, I think Ron has said this too, in his interviews over the years, you know, what he did with Galactica was as much a reaction to, you know, to next generation, you know, in a lot of ways, like, Deep Space Nine got much, you know, I think, much more complex and dirtier in many ways in good ways. That was always a struggle the young guys had with the bosses, because they felt like that they were like, This was Gene, you know, Gene Roddenberry's? You know, dictum, this is this is the story that we wanted to tell and how we wanted to how next generation was people were kind of perfect, and they had gotten past all of the terrible parts of human age and we were like, but that's where the fun is.

Alex Ferrari 14:47
You have no conflict. You have no no story.

Naren Shankar 14:49
That's that's, that is really the issue. And the first thing that I wrote the first script that I wrote with Ron was was the first duty which was about like, move the world. Keaton's character Wesley Crusher, like lying, you know, to protect his friends and we're like, he would never lie. And like, of course he would lie. And that was, he's a kid. Exactly, exactly. It's like, and that's how you view the world. And so, you know, those are the some extent that show was like, a bit like writing in a straight jack in some ways. In many other ways. It was a phenomenal training ground and a great way to learn the discipline of writing. And so I look back very fondly on those years. And it was a great staff. And I think it's very rare to this day, when you have so many, like all of us first timers, we've all gone on to do so many things. It doesn't always it doesn't always happen that way. And I think it was a special staff.

Alex Ferrari 15:46
And it was an anomaly, too. I mean, that was just a special place at a special time. When things like that happened. It was a wild, it was almost wild, wild west, like in like to bring in a group of first timers in a writer. That's not doesn't happen now does it?

Naren Shankar 16:02
It doesn't it doesn't. Because what happened was one was hired off of a spec script, Renee was hired off of a spec script, Brandon was an intern for the Television Academy. I was an intern through the Writers Guild. Again, no experience in the business. But part of it was also in a successful as next generation was it was also a backwater. It was like it was like, oh, Star Trek, it's just its own weird thing. I like coming off of that show. Agents wouldn't even want to read a Star Trek script. They wouldn't. It's like, Oh, can you do like a like a real show? It's like, that was kind of the attitude.

Alex Ferrari 16:35
Yeah, I do remember that. It was Yeah. It was like, Oh, that's a movie they do for the geeks. And that's before Geekdom was where the money was.

Naren Shankar 16:44
In it took it took like, I do remember, like, probably about 10 or 10 years later, or so after leaving next gen. Somebody told me Oh, they want people to come from the Star Trek school. Because they understood that, that that, you know, he's a sports metaphor. And that coaching tree was actually incredibly applicable to anything, which is what we always would say it's like, you know, in the context of a science fiction, in the context of Star Trek, we would do a legal show a murder mystery, epic drama. It's like, you know, our version of Shakespeare and war. It's like everything. It's like that science fiction was a superset of genres. It was never treated that way. And I think that the business actually became educated to it. And and now it's like, I mean, you know, here, you know,

Alex Ferrari 17:29
Here we are now. We have geek beyond geek beyond everything. No, there's no outskirts now. No, I told I told you before we started work before we started recording that you and I have a connection. So yeah, yeah. Okay. Tell me. Orlando 95.

Naren Shankar 17:46
Orlando. 95.

Alex Ferrari 17:48

Naren Shankar 17:50
Oh, my God. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 17:52
I was working downstairs, out on fortune hunter. For Fox.

Naren Shankar 17:58
Oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 18:00
Remember that? Do you remember I do remember that show I worked on I worked as a PA on an office PA on fortune hunter. And then on my side hustle. I worked on the other show that was right underneath your office, which was us, which was the sketch comedy show, syndicated show, and I was working. Yeah. So I was there during that season. I was there when I was there. In between the last season so was when Roy was his last Roy's last writers last season. And then Michael Ironside. So that's where I went to I went to Full Sail.

Naren Shankar 18:32
That's that's the that's the that is the third season of the show. That's the one year I was on. seaQuest fortune hunter was that was that Steve Aspersa show?

Alex Ferrari 18:40
No, that was Boris. Oh, God, the guy who did Swamp Thing was his big thing. He did swamp show Okay, then. Yeah. So fortune hunter he was it was fortune hunter was on for one season did 12 episodes. And then it got canceled. But it was on Fox it was I was so excited to just be working on a show that I can go on on Saturday night and just look like my name's My name is like, like, you know, and then

Naren Shankar 19:06
I never got down. I never got down to Orlando because we had no I never got down because we all the writers and posts were based in in Los Angeles right at Universal. Okay, yeah, yeah. And the bosses went down to Orlando but I never got to and I think I was supposed to but we got canceled like after after 13 or 12 episodes that season. I can't remember but yeah,

Alex Ferrari 19:30
Because I didn't know anything. I knew a couple of the guys up and I mean pas and stuff like that. But I was on the set of requests all the time and walking around and I'm crazy.

Naren Shankar 19:41
Crazy time man. It was bananas. Bananas.

Alex Ferrari 19:47
It was insane. I remember I remember working because I worked at MGM. And then I also am studios. I think for one of the shows and then they they set up at Universal and man like the kids the star or the kid star would like jump out of the tours would have to stop. And yeah, and then there's like Royce rider walking around him like, where am I? And this is our Lando I know, I know that is our that is our slight connection, sir.

Naren Shankar 20:16
God, I was sad actually, I never got to go down there because the show looked great. I mean, it had many, many, many problems on the page, but the physical production and the sets were beautiful. They were really fun.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
So the set that I worked on was right next door to the soundstage was right next door sequence and then UCC quest props all over the damn Yeah, I mean, there was just so many vehicles and stuff like that was so cool, man. But again, when you're starting out when you're starting out, like it was like the coolest thing ever. And it was the 90s

Naren Shankar 20:51
Well, it was you know, I mean, I do remember those days, like we would go down to we would go down to the bridge when it wasn't obviously in use and eat lunch down there on the enterprise. Because what was cool about the set would close up and for those days, I mean, it was like, you know, internally let the ceiling would come down. And so you can just sit on the bridge and like, you know, eat a sandwich. It's kind of cool.

Alex Ferrari 21:14
Speak to my Subway sandwich. These are the things that like you people don't like yeah, I was like eating lunch on the enterprise. Like, you know, you take those are the kinds of little things that no one really knows about. No one hears about, but that's what you're doing in the production when you're there. Oh, yeah, I used to sneak on I just sneak on the set of sequence. Yeah, of course, constantly, constantly on the weekends when nobody was there. I bring relatives in from out of town. And I would just walk in.

Naren Shankar 21:42
They have those those built in tombs for Darwin, which were for real. I mean, it's like, animatronic fishes like and it's like that is that was a beautifully designed set. It really was.

Alex Ferrari 21:53
It was it was pretty stunning. It was pretty it for its time. It was insane.

Naren Shankar 21:57
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It was insane.

Alex Ferrari 22:00
Now, so how many times so you've been working on set for for I mean, you've been working in television for many years now. Can you pinpoint one of the worst days of something going wrong? Like some crap, something the days you're losing light, something, something really bad happens? And in how did you overcome that day?

Naren Shankar 22:21
Well, the one that really kind of sticks out is I was doing a show for NBC called UC undercover. It was it was, you know, early 2000 was on for one season. So it was 2001. And so I had written it was basically about the US Marshal Service. And it had Odette Farah was the star of your Farmiga was that was kind of her first show. I mean, it's like so great look great production. Shane Salerno created it. It was his first show, as a show runner, and I was I was the number two brought in there. I had written a script about domestic terrorism, a couple of psychopathic brothers who will like

Alex Ferrari 23:10
I already I already know where you're going.

Naren Shankar 23:14
And and the script opened with a sarin gas attack at a football game in which like, you know, I had like 100 people die. And my wife, my wife would read my scripts, and she goes, That's too many. That's just ridiculous. It's like, there's no way that that could happen. So I write the script, we are in prep, and I'm in bed, and I get a call my phone rings at Shane. And he goes, tariffs just slammed into the World Trade Center. We're throwing out the script. We're shutting down to talk later. Oh. And, and, and it is it was like, that was a surreal moment. We went back to the office. Like two days later, a day later. The whole writing staff was like, why don't we do?

Alex Ferrari 24:03
Yeah. Anyone living during that time? No, you just knew.

Naren Shankar 24:07
What do we do? We're in an absolute days. We have no script. The director who was being Ken Fink, who I worked with, you know, for years on seaQuest. Phenomenal director. We had to drive him up to Vancouver because there's no planes. So he can we put them in a truck with a Teamster. And we drove them up to Vancouver, because we needed a director to prep a show, which we no longer had a script for. And there's this place in Vancouver that was called crease clinic. It was a it was an old old hospital from like the built in like the 40s or 50s. And it had become it closed down and it become like this place in Vancouver. You could turn it into anything. It could be a hospital, it could be a prison, it could be it could be whatever, you know, and so film shot. It was it was it was used for locations for a million things over the years. And so Shane goes, Okay, we're gonna we're gonna book that thing. Um, we're gonna make a prison riot episode. And we're like, okay, and so the whole staff and this show was, I just have to say was a was a messed up nightmare. It was like, it was like, every every episode was some various form of disaster, highly dysfunctional in many ways is like, it's like, you know, people quitting as I was, oh, it's one of it was a crazy experience. And I'm actually fond of che, it was like, it was a nutty experience. But this was like, the one time where everybody just pulled together because we just have to get it done. And so we broke a story. We like we, we each like, wrote an act, turned it around real fast sent the the acts one by one up to production, Ken was like, I'm cool. It's like, like, everybody just got their shit together. And the episode turned out great. It was like one of the best episodes of the show. And it was, it was a, it was a terrible, terrible moment. And I still have trouble. I've looked at that script, like once or twice, but it's hard to disconnect it from the experience of that times. And and yeah, it was, it was just that was like that. I still, the memories are very vivid. The memories are very vivid at that time.

Alex Ferrari 26:19
That's well, that's, that's a heck of a story, man. I mean, having to get a phone call Jesus, I can only imagine. Well, so. Alright, so you've been doing this again for a while. I've talked to so many so many writers at high levels in the business. One thing that always surprises me is that every single one of them deals with impostor syndrome. Is that something that you deal with still to this day? And were like, Oh, my God, they just I'm just an engineer. Why am I here? Or do I just kind of just go away as you get go through?

Naren Shankar 26:54
I can't I don't think it says we're like, you know? No, I don't. You know, I don't feel that way. I think I think there is a you know, I think what what definitely happens is, and maybe maybe impostor syndrome is a narrow way to define it. But it is like, it's like you go oh my god, I've been so successful. Do I deserve this? It's like, that's, that's, that's part of it. And that's and that that is much more a psychological thing about yourself. And if you're, if you look at yourself as a good person, or as a bad person, or whatever person or you're being too mean, or you're being intolerant, whatever it is, those are things that are very complicated. And I think that those speak to that ideas, like more like, do I deserve what I've been given? Because, because, you know, it is a look, this is a low percentage success business is there's no question about it. And I think, for me, it's like, I'm very open. And Frank about the fact that I think I just got lucky, you know, I had I had, I had the right, I had the right, I had the right friend, you know, who, who and he had the right friend. And you know, and it's just like, I kind of blundered into it. And, you know, by the way, I came out to LA like a year and a half later, I was on staff, you know, that's like, that's, that's ridiculous. Like, my wife would, you know, she was an independent producer for years, and she never quite got anything, you know, running, she seems so close. And it's like, she got you didn't pay your dues. And I like, I'm like, I kind of didn't I mean, I I suppose I could lie and say, Oh, look, I was in school for 10 years. It's like, that's not I didn't want to be a filmmaker. I didn't I didn't think that that was a thing. You know, it's like, so. So I think, to me, it's it's acknowledging the people who helped you, and, and being humble about the role that luck plays in these things, right. It's like, it's like it is you have to acknowledge that it's like, I think, I think, you know, this idea that, Oh, I'm successful, because I deserve it. It's like, well, it may be you have talents and skills, and again, but it is timing, luck, you know, being in the right place at the right time. It's like, if you're convincing yourself that you're special. It's like, I don't I don't think it's as simple as that. And so, I, you know, basically what I tried to do is acknowledge that I try to I try to be very attentive to the, to the notion that we are an apprenticeship based guild, it's like I take I take the idea of mentorship really seriously. And, you know, I like I like bringing writers into into the business giving people chances promoting from within, because those are all the things that you know, enabled me to get, you know, further. So, it's like, so I don't have impostor syndrome that way. I also feel like every single experience I have is a learning experience. It's like I and I, and I take this back to I did a lot of martial arts and I was in college and the first Time or since they came in to teach us. It's like he like, you know, plus that everybody's asking at the end of the classes like, here's like, and he said, he said, Remember how you feel this way you feel stupid, you feel like you don't know anything, you feel like you're bad. It's like he goes, keep that keep that idea. In your head. It's called fresh mind. It's like me, there's always more to learn. There's always things you don't know. And just, you know, keep that idea in the business. And it's like, then it's joyful, right? You're always learning, you're learning from other people, you're learning new skills. You don't ever have to be the person and you shouldn't be the person that says, oh, no, I know everything. I know how it absolutely has to be like, and so that's sort of how I approach it.

Alex Ferrari 30:45
And of course, you've never met anybody in Hollywood that acts that way. Of course. Never nobody, right? Yeah, no, never, never, never, never, ever.

Naren Shankar 30:56
There there's, there are There are meanings like, a couple of times, I dabbled in features that were so hilarious. Like, my first time I got to write a feature. It was like this won't even specifically give you the names. But it was like it was it was adapting a novel, which is like this thriller, sort of with a slight science fiction bent. And, and the producer had the book, the first thing he said was throw away the one science fiction thing that made the book specialist like what, and then and then he and then he proceeded to draw a graph for me about, about how the audience should feel at any moment in a thing. Because like, they got to be here. And then they got to be there. And there's like, and then you got to build up here. And I'm like, I was literally, just, there's one guy in the room. I knew I was like, I looked, I turned him and I was like, why is he talking? Like, I didn't even understand what was happening. And it's like this. I've been on staff for years at this point, like, What are you talking? It's like, so, so mechanical, and it was, I don't know, if it was like the Robert McKee thing. It was like you're saying, gotta have this here and kind of just do this here.

Alex Ferrari 31:56
And you might have read the hero's journey, and then just all of a sudden,

Naren Shankar 32:04
It's like, but it was so mechanical is like you must write a story this way. I'm like, must

Alex Ferrari 32:12
17 This happens on page 27. This happens like,

Naren Shankar 32:16
Like, why must it happen? Can we have some control over?

Alex Ferrari 32:21
We're the ones creating this. I don't know. That's, that's funny. That is funny. So you, you worked on another little show called CSI for? Small independent show just started out. You worked on that for a while? Eight years? Yeah, eight years on that. So I wanted to ask you, how do you approach because I know a lot of a lot of writers coming up? Don't know this. How did you How do you approach procedural storytelling for a procedural show like CSI, which has an overarching arc of a story for the characters, but there's a new body of the new death a new mystery every week, as opposed to like the expanse, which is much more of a narrative, you know, storytelling with a full arc without the individual, daily or weekly things? How do you approach that storytelling differently?

Naren Shankar 33:15
Well, I mean, you know, procedural, every show has its own sort of specific problem in one way or another. And with CSI, you know, the classic one, our mystery has a lot of has a lot of, you know, built in inherent structure to it. If the intention is to solve a crime, it's like, it naturally goes in a particular way. And CSI had those had those rhythms built in, right. It's like, you have to start with a crime, you have to have different theories of the crime, there has to be some resolution to the case. So in a sense, the kind of show that you're telling dictated that structure. Now, you can say that's formulaic. Yeah. I mean, to an extent but but it's also it's like, couldn't you say the same that any detective mystery novel is formulaic? Sure. Right.

Alex Ferrari 34:06
And it's and there's a crime, you got to figure it out. It's at the end of the day. That's Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes story is a Charlotte som story.

Naren Shankar 34:14
Here is a Sherlock Holmes story. Exactly. So So you have to embrace that to some extent. I mean, I was probably the most, you know, experimental, of the writers on the bosses and writers on that show, is because I was constantly looking for ways to break the format and to change things and make things because I felt that was, I felt that was something that you could do in a show, is that successful is that and I think that we were much more experimental than we needed to be, like, I think we were much more experimental than Law and Order was Law and Order was, was like a rhythm. Right? And so I tried to break those rhythms in a lot of different ways. Over the years and and but but again, you know, I could point to episodes of CSI that are like straight formula episodes of the show. that are phenomenal. You know, and I think that what I liked about that show was it was a different way to tell a mystery story. You know, I watched it first as a fan. I mean, it's like, and by the way, hilariously, I was working on a show when CSI came out, and as an anthology science fiction show and the other one of the other writers on the show goes, you just because of the way I thought or you know, like we would talk about so he does, you'd be perfect for that show for CSI and I go, I'd rather be dead than tell mystery stories. That's like, fucking hell, man. That's just a nightmare. You got to come up with a crime and you come on come up with a it's like, of course. years later, I'm on the show.

Alex Ferrari 35:45
And yeah, I mean, it is it is it is. I mean, thinking about as a writer, you just like, Man, how do you got to come up with a crime every week? And it can't just be like, Oh, someone got stabbed. It's got to be like, some crazy thing to make it interesting.

Naren Shankar 35:58
I think the way I approached it, and the thing I liked about it was, in the early years of the show, it was a very serious crime drama. It was done with incredible high style. I mean, that was that was really, you know, Jerry Bruckheimer. He wanted to look a particular way. And it was beautiful. I mean, it was like, and it was very, very striking on the technical side. And it really used, you know, like, almost like a fashion photography, sort of like a quality to it.

Alex Ferrari 36:24
And then we're in 90s, and 90s, to early 2000s. Style, Bruckheimer.

Naren Shankar 36:28
But you you look at it, it still looks beautiful, it has a look, you know, and I think the television so often didn't have a look that it was, it was so beautiful, just to watch. Right. And so that was part of its appeal. But also it was the inherent message of the show, which was, which was that, you know, expressed by by Billy Peterson character, so many times was like, you know, if you're smart, if you're methodical, if you don't let yourself get confused by lies, you know, just objectively approach the evidence and the facts in the case that you'll get to the truth. That that is a that to me, is the DNA of the show. And so it was, there's so many times when, you know, the show with this unique, unique approach told a mystery story and a crime story in a different way. Um, that's really what I what I liked about the show, as it got bigger and bigger and more successful. There was a pressure on it, I think, to become much more sensationalized, much more fetishized. I think the show in its later years, really, kind of grotesquely fetishized violence, it was, it was part of the thing that I didn't like, as I was towards the end of my time there. Because, you know, one of the, one of our consultants on the show is a criminalist, with the LA County Sheriff's Department said, you know, and that this line made it into the show, it's like she said, you know, we meet people on the worst day of their lives. It's like, you know, it's like, it's like, and, and what she was talking about was, was understanding and the psychological trauma and connection to loss that these crimes had and the show had that focus very early on, and it got further and further away from it, as the show went on, and I found that very disheartening. And, and there's like, there's, there's a, there's a beautiful episode from the second season of the show called Chaos Theory. And it's basically every act is like this girl who dies a college student dies, and, and they can't figure out what what's going on what has happened. Each act they follow Ay ay ay, ay promisingly lead to a dead end and then the next act is okay, let's look at something else. And at the end of it what they realize is it's just some crazy accident it's like she was she was trying to get a cab in the rain and she gets hit by a car knock literally into a dumpster. And and it's just a random occurrence it's just a tragedy and and Billy Peterson's character tells us to the parents and the parents go no, we refuse to accept that no way there's no way it could have been something like that. And they just leave angry and he doesn't understand he goes I thought the truth would actually make them feel better. And Martin burgers character says, you know, it's like, that's not what's happening here. You got to understand that that's a deep idea you know, and it's like it's a those are the things a show did early on that they that they did less than less of the show did less and less of later on. And so I think it kind of went away from my from I think it's true mission. But you know, it also did some great episodes later I mean, we did one of my favorites was it was an episode called killer. And it was the first episode shows like we revealed the murder at the beginning. No, you kill killed. One of the beginnings William Sadler did this part and can think directly this is a beautiful episode. It's not a it's not a who done it. It's a wide done it turned it turned it over. little bit on his head is that you develop the personality this person you understand what he did and why he did it over the course of the episode. And it's just, it's one of my favorites of the entire time. And then we did you know, we did kind of style breaking episodes as we ended up having a lot of lab technicians on the show who are great comic actors, while the Langham was Vasey. They were and they were fun. And they were being underused, they'd come on the show, because they were you know, they had but they were being under use. So I started these episodes called the lab rats episodes, which were once a season, we would turn the entire show over to the supporting characters and just do like a black comedy. And, and they became like one of my favorite things. It's like we introduced them in a season where we had like an ongoing arc about a killer who leaves perfect scale miniatures of crime scenes at crime scenes, which is probably my favorite season of the show. But the lab rats like make this incredible break in the case, like, like, in their, in their, you know, one little episode and then year by year, we would do other shows. And maybe the most fun was, was one call is I think it was called Yeah, it's called you kill me. Which is, which is the entire show is the lab rats discussing about how they would murder each other. How they would, how they would just murder people, and how they how, and it is it's just like hilarious. Like, like, you know, imaginary, dark, dark humor. And it's like, it's, I loved working in those guys that Liz VAs you and I are good friends now. And they were they were super fun. And yeah, so I you know, the show had lots of rhythms, I think. I think it became culturally more of a caricature, in some ways.

Alex Ferrari 41:56
A generation of, of women specifically really became CSI investigators, because of that show.

Naren Shankar 42:04
I mean, that's, that's one of the things I loved about it. It's like, when the show started, there were like five forensic programs around the country. And after and, you know, 10 years into it, there were like, like, 500. You know,

Alex Ferrari 42:15
I mean, it became a real thing. So the show did a lot of good. It did a lot a lot of good. For for the world. Without that. You can't say that, about many shows.

Naren Shankar 42:27
You know, I actually, I liked that. I feel like Star Trek was that way it had that it had that quality CSI was that way. I mean, especially with women, because again, I think it's like their disproportion. It was not a show in which you resolve conflicts with violence. He was writing thought, thought your way through that. And I And so many times, you know, people would come up like a mother and her 12 year old daughter's like, this is our favorite show. We watch it together. It's like, I know, I know. And I'd be like, that's got intense, but it is it is it is a you know, it's just an interesting observation is like they would always gravitate to the puzzle solving aspect of it.

Alex Ferrari 43:05
Now, obviously, you've worked in a lot of rooms over the years, there's this kind of unspoken rule or unspoken information about the politics of a, of a writers room. Can you talk a little bit about what the politics are in the writers room as far as a young writer walking into it? So they understand what's going on

Naren Shankar 43:27
Unspoken politics in the writers room? How do you how do you mean, could you elaborate on that,

Alex Ferrari 43:31
So just kind of like how you know, because I know that everyone, every every show runner runs differently, sometimes they they're in the rooms, and run the actual room, sometimes they have, you know, the second command runs the room, how to speak what not to do, don't try to you know, you when you're throwing out ideas, don't throw out the problem throughout the solution. These kind of ideas. I've picked this up just from interviewing showrunners so those kinds of those kinds of things that young writer might not understand about a writers room and listening to this will give them an idea of how they should approach being in a room not theirs. Some people are too quiet some people are too out there. You know, everyone there's I know there was one writer I had on the show that when he was your showrunner, but when he was a writer, he's like, Yeah, I just kept throwing out I solved the ideas for everything. And the showrunner is like Wow, your universe, everyone, everything gets all thrown away. So these are those little things. I just love to hear from you what your opinion is,

Naren Shankar 44:28
You know, every every room is different. Every everybody who runs a show runs room a little differently. I can only really tell you how the way I look at things and and also sort of describe what I think are the bad rooms that I've seen running. Right. Yeah, you know, I feel like there there are maybe the extremes are one in which everybody is trying to please the boss in which in which it is as, you know, step on everybody else to get your hand raised. And so you get noticed, some people run rooms that way. Some people are very absent, they let their second do something, and then they come in and they blow everything up and say, you're all stupid, and then they leave. It's like, that happens as well. It's like, I, I feel like I don't, I don't think it's really a good idea for show runners to be out of the room. It's like a lot of a lot of bad show runners, I think. They say, Well, I gotta go fix, I gotta go fix Episode Five, it's like a disaster, I gotta fix it in editing. The reason everybody hides out in editing and why it's a very bad sign, is because you don't have to deal with another person's opinion. You don't have to, you don't have to defend anything, really. Because all you said do that do that do that is pure control. And so it's a, it's a, it's a hiding out kind of a behavior. The best rooms that I have ever been in, in the way I try to conduct ours is, is, again, it's that best idea wins. Everybody has a voice, everybody gets to make a contribution, everybody needs to listen to everybody else. If an idea isn't strong enough, and it can't withstand an argument, then you need a better idea. And, and that is there's no hierarchy, everybody's voice is equal. I've taken notes from, you know, suggestions from our pas, you know, it's like, we're sitting there in the room, it doesn't matter to me, you know, it's like, my job is, is probably like a hand on the rudder, right? It's like, I have to guide it, I have to give it shape. Sometimes, if you know, if the question is, should the dress be red, or the dress be blue? If I like red, then the dress is red. That's an aesthetic, you know, that's an aesthetic decision. If I have an idea for a character and or a moment and somebody goes, that's just doesn't make any sense, this character would never do that. And if the argument is good, and change it, right is the answer. It's like, you have to be able, you have to have the courage to do that. And I think part of it, for me, it goes back to my, you know, my background in in hard science, because it's like, it's essentially peer review, right? You write a paper, you put it up, and then you sit back with your colleagues. And then you question the fundamentals of it, you question the foundation of it, is it you know, that's what that is, right. And so you have to have, I think you have to have that is like that kind of when everybody feels comfortable like that, they're going to be listened to that everybody can make a contribution. I think you get the best out of people that way. And I treat departments on the physical production side the same way. It's like these are these people are experts in what they do. It's like, I don't tell them how to make everything, I tell them what I'm looking for, but then let them go and be creative.

Alex Ferrari 47:53
You know, you don't micromanage you don't micromanage you,

Naren Shankar 47:57
There's an inevitable amount of micromanagement that happens because, because it's hierarchical, right? Everybody is responsible for a piece of it, every department is responsible for a piece of it. But the people who are responsible for the whole thing, it's basically on my shows, that's basically me, right? I am the one that that ultimately says, this is the shape of it, this is a story want to tell, this is the cut, this is the, the sound, this is the music, it's like, but you're gonna get a better thing. If everybody at every stage of that process gets to make the thing that they do really, really well. All you have to do is guide them, because you're just gonna get tremendous stuff out of people, I think that way. And that's how I prefer to do it.

Alex Ferrari 48:37
Now, is there a piece of advice you wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career, if you can go back and tell yourself when you when you when you were sleeping on that couch? Is there something that you wish you would have known?

Naren Shankar 48:51
I, you know, I actually had the initial my formative experiences in the business were really positive ones, they really were Star Trek was a very positive place to learn good people, good stories, you know, a stable place for several years, you know, seaQuest for negative examples, you know, it's like, like, things that were very clear that you shouldn't do. You know, and but but at that point, I was I was confident enough in my own abilities, that I could understand those. The Outer Limits was my next gig, which I did for three years, the Showtime anthology show, which was a phenomenal training ground just to learn to learn almost every aspect of production because an anthology you're creating a new world, every building yet making it you know, and the range of shows you got to do were tremendous. I mean, because we did, you know, an old western and then a futuristic show that a spaceship show and then a contemporary show, and it's like it's like, all like one after another. And so the amount of The amount of learning you get for literally any kind of production problem was astonishing, you know. And so, you know, I just I think I just got lucky in that sense. I just got good experiences upfront. So I think and good mentors, you know, who were, you know, gave me a lot of opportunities, a lot of freedom.

Alex Ferrari 50:25
So no, no, how did you get involved with the expanse net? Because that's been doing that's been doing pretty well for you. Over the years. I just had Thomas on by the way, I just had Tom. He's great. He's like, Oh, my God, Thomas. Jane is just an amazing human being. He's sitting there with his pipe, clicking on the clicking on his pipe, he has skulls in the background. And I'm like, Thomas, the level of cool that you are, is just not it's natural to it's not it's not manufactured. And you can see it in expanse, too. You could see that cool. Just come right off the street. It's pretty amazing.

Naren Shankar 51:02
He was he was he was so he was such a delight to work with it. I think initially, he was, you know, he's a little guarded when you're getting to know him. And I think he was guarded about just sort of, like, attaching himself to this weird thing on the Sci Fi Channel. But, you know, he. He really I think Mark Fergus, who Mark Ferguson Hawk Osby wrote the pilot, Link Mark, he really connected with Mark, and just in sort of the love of the same kind of movies. And Tom is such a cinephile is, you know, oh, my god, like, hardcore. And then I think he started, he became, you know, he started trusting us when we were delivering on the things that we said we were going to do in a way that we were going to do and, and I think that by the end of it, he became really, he was really choked up, like, like, on his last days of, you know, leaving the show, and it was like, it was really, I think, I think he feels proud of the work that we did on the expanse.

Alex Ferrari 52:07
So how did you get involved expense,

Naren Shankar 52:08
I was like the last element I was. Because the books had been optioned by Alcon mark and Hawk had been attached to write the pilot. They, they had never done television before. So the pilot was sold to sci fi with an on air commitment. And so Alcon was a small studio done, you know, done some, you know, they did the blind side, but they'd done you know, features and, and they were getting a little bit more in that space. But they had never done television show before. And Sharon Hall, who's the president of Alcon at that time, I'd worked with her. She'd been at Sony for many years, we've done development together. And she thought I would be a good fit for this show. And so I just came in and met with with the guys and this was at the pilot stage. They just had a script, they didn't have the production wasn't up and running. And so they just needed somebody, you know, who, who could mount a show like this? And it was, I mean, I'll be to be honest. I had, I had been away from science fiction for a very long time, but 10 years almost. And I was not a fan of what, you know, the Sci Fi Channel was putting on because other than Battlestar Galactica, they had a pretty grim slate of things, and they would send me stuff I read, and I go, and so my agent sent me the script. And it's on the Sci Fi Channel, and I went, delete. And I just deleted it. The first time, I just didn't even read it. And they came back to me, like three weeks later, I said, Look, please read the script, they really want you. And this time, I scroll to the bottom, and I see that mark and Hawk had written Children of Men. And and which I loved, and I'm like, okay, all right. And I didn't know the books. And so I read the script. I was like, Are they really going to make this? It's like, because this is not like the thing that they had they this is not the kind of material that they had. They had embraced, you know, but it was a new regime. Bill McGoldrick had come in there and, and I met with the guys and we talked about the script, and I liked them, and they liked me. And then, you know, there we go,

Alex Ferrari 54:11
The rest of this industry

Naren Shankar 54:13
Six years later,

Alex Ferrari 54:15
Naren I'm going to ask you a couple questions. I asked all of my guests three questions. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Naren Shankar 54:23
It's tough. Realistically, it's a very difficult business to break into. One of the big changes in the business from when I started was, you don't have this regular broadcast TV machine, making a zillion episodes of a show. What you have are really big productions making way fewer episodes with much tighter staff. So the abilities to get into it are actually I think tougher. It's like because the pathways have changed. It's like you don't really have a freelance writing market like you did 2530 years ago. The ways into the biz dentists are becoming a writers assistant, which is a highly coveted job becoming an executive producers assistant, which is another pathway into the business. And so aspiring writers are always trying to find that way in. That's right. Because yeah, you can write scripts, you can get agents to read them, you can get put up to staff, you know, there's always that available. But that's a numbers game too, right? Because it's like, he's just a lot of people in the business. But getting that shot at being in a room really learning. It's just tough. I mean, it's like, so the key is, right, network and try to get one of those gigs, you know, take advantage of internships and fellowships that are all, you know, they're out there at the studios. Those are all really, really good programs and the gills, you know, and, and that's really, and that's really the trick, it's like, and you know, even if it's like, even if the job is a pas job that gets you in the writers room, it's like, take it, take it, take it and learn, you'll learn something, it's learned something. And if you show people something and a desire, it's like, hopefully, if you're on the right people, they'll give you those opportunities and give you a chance to take a step up. I mean, we promoted several writers, from writers assistants and, and EPSS. On the expanse, we did that on CSI. I mean, even into editorial director, writers, like we did a lot of homegrown internal production, I mean, internal promotion. I'm a big believer in that. And I think that's the way things should work.

Alex Ferrari 56:35
I'll tell I'll tell you what I mean, I worked as I learned more as a PA working in Orlando, than I did at film school, I would skip school to just go and be on the set and learn and being and being in the office and seeing things run. I just You just learned so much more than you do at a school because you're just seeing it happen. You're picking up things that are not in books, and the teachers generally don't talk about and like those nuances of stuff that that go on, on set. You just, you know, I remember the first day as a PA, they're like, a bunch of grips like you want to intern in the grip department, or go to the grip department first in the grips did a giant pile of cable that's like 15 miles long, untangle that for me. I learned I didn't want to be a grip.

Naren Shankar 57:18
And the guys, that's hilarious. You know, and when you're on a set, people, people will talk to you, they will they they're happy to share knowledge with you, everybody really does understand this sort of like inherent apprenticeship model. But, you know, you should never be afraid to ask questions. What's the worst that can happen? It's like, Stop bothering me. We'll talk later. And it's like, but I would be like on CSI, we had this amazing experience, you know, focus puller, and his name's Gary Mueller. And he had worked for ever, like he worked in a fifth plug in the 50s and 60s for like, you know, Billy Friedkin, and it's like, he was like, a grouchy perfectionist, but like seeing everything. And whenever I had a question on CSI ago, I could give her as this where he's like, I'll go to Gary and ask him and he told me and I remember was I had this question about like, lenses and lens systems and CSI was, was really interesting, because all of the effects were almost all of them were practical in camera effects. We didn't do any any post digital stuff, really. So we experimented a lot. And I said, this is work because I don't I don't quite understand it. He goes, he goes, would you like would you like me to take you to Panama vision, and just go look at the camera, and I'll teach you like, and he arranged for visit, we went on the weekend. And he said like he said all of his years working. None of the bosses had asked him these questions. And it's like, I'm like, How the fuck do you learn this? Like, how do you learn? It's like, there's so many people who are afraid of looking stupid, because they don't know something. Right? I say, I don't know how that works all the time. Or tell me how that works. And I know a lot. I've been doing this for a long time. It's like, but you got it, you got to take those opportunities. There are people who knows so much and their knowledge is so specialized. And filmmaking is such a weird combination of pure, creative and highly technical. It's like it's an unusual thing. And so, you know, I think a lot of reasons these days that like writer showrunners like what's happening a lot of times now you see pairings like have a writer showrunner. And then a producing director. It's like, you know, because there's a whole side of post production that they don't even that they're terrified of people like to edit. But when you start talking about sound mixing when you start talking about music and talking about color and VFX they just get no you got you do that. That's fine. You show me it's like, I feel like that's like that's, you know, a little bit like a director saying we're just gonna do half a movie. You know, it's like, the right it's like all of those things are part of the experiences like I I have had friends who like I remember I was I was I came into a meeting on some show, and I'm still doing posts on the expanse and, and I said, Sorry, it's like, you know, are mixed with nine hours yesterday. And they're like, what, nine hours. And I'm like, about normal. It's like a seven or nine hour mix is what I do. And it's like, I just go to playback and then just say, you know, give them a couple of notes and then elite, I'm like, you're missing out on a lot of shit. Because you learn you learn you sound sound is half of the way you perceive the world.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:31
You could also see mistakes if it's there any mistakes being made on set you now because if you're just listening to a match, you don't see the details. But like, Man, this boot is not getting it. Oh, man. It's like it's offer. Something's happened and the sound guys not doing his job, right? You're in the mix, you're in literally in the mix, literally,

Naren Shankar 1:00:47
Literally in the mix. So you know, I feel like, you know, that is a That's the deal. It's like, just gonna learn a lot doing that.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
What lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Naren Shankar 1:01:03
Okay, I'll limit it to the film industry, because there's probably many things I'm still learning. I think I personally have a tendency to, to take on projects or ideas that I probably shouldn't, because I want to prove that I can do it. And that, that that sometimes is not good. It's like, just to show somebody, oh, yeah, you think that's not adaptable? Fuck it, I'll do it. And then I'll beat my head against it forever, just to try to show somebody that it's not necessarily the best way to really do something, I would do that on shows a lot. And I think I would also I don't know, it's, there's a sort of like a Pruvit mentality, sometimes it's not healthy. And I think that maybe another aspect of that is, is I would, if something isn't working early in my career, I would force it, I would just try to ram my way through it and just just make it happen. I got good advice, saying, You know what, it's a creative thing. Maybe today isn't the day just step away from it and come back to it. It's like, you have to learn that too. It's like you have to learn when you're forcing, you have to learn when it's not being productive. And don't be afraid to just just let it take a step back and go for a walk or take a shower or go for a drive or something because your brain sometimes needs time to make connections between things. And so I'm think I'm much more comfortable doing that now than I was early in my career for sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:48
And last question, what are three pilots that every screenwriters who listen read, or every television writer should read? More episodes or episodes of a show?

Naren Shankar 1:03:01
It changes, I would say that changes era by era, and, you know, genre by genre, like, like, what is a? Like, what's a great, you know, if you if you like crime shows, like crimes and cop shows, like, what's a great show to watch now, you could make, you could make a lot of different, you know, you could say the sopranos if you wanted to go back aways, you could say mayor of Easton, you know, if you so it's like, it's really that's very much of a moving target. Because there are, I used to collect like pilots, I thought were really, really terrific. The problem is, they may not be so terrific. When you go back a few years. You know, you're it's like it really does change.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:47
I mean, like the Breaking Bad pilots still. You're absolutely brilliant, even though it was so many years ago when that came out, but you just read it. Well, that's, that's remarkable.

Naren Shankar 1:03:57
They can they can they do last? I mean, you know, I think Game of Thrones is a terrific pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
And men, bad men.

Naren Shankar 1:04:03
Yeah, Mad Men is a great pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:06
Yeah, Mad Men. Sopranos? I mean, David chases. I mean, it's it's the firt the first one. Yeah, there's so many. There's so many. But just,

Naren Shankar 1:04:14
I mean, I used to keep, I used to keep the X Files. I love that. I think I think what it is for pilots, for me, it's like, if you can think of pilots, first episodes of shows that were tremendous. Inevitably, there are like, one or two moments that are so striking that you always remember them. It's like, you know, you like feel

Alex Ferrari 1:04:38
Like a guy with a gun in his underwear. You know, with a mess with

Naren Shankar 1:04:44
The very first image of Breaking Bad, right? It's like, but that's but that's what I mean. It's like I think those are the pilots that stick with you. It's like even you know, independent of era or style or anything like that. I think that I think that really is what it is.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:57
Naren man. It has been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank You so much for coming on the show and sharing your sharing your knowledge and experience with with my tribe and hopefully somebody listening out there is terrified now and won't be in the business but or at least understands what they're getting into. Or you know, get a degree in engineering and applied physics.

Naren Shankar 1:05:20
You know, there are times you just what I really do go like, you know, man, really lucky and it is ridiculous that people pay me to tell stories and make cool shows for a living. It's like it is just a it is just, you know, pinch me and you know, I'll do it as long as I can because it's really fun.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:43
Man, it was a pleasure meeting you and thank you again for being on the show, brother. I appreciate you.

Naren Shankar 1:05:47
My pleasure.

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BPS 199: From Adult Films to Showrunning with Barry Sonnenfeld

I can’t tell you how excited I am for today’s episode. I had the pleasure to speak to the legendary director Barry Sonnenfeld. We discuss his idiosyncratic upbringing in New York City, his breaking into film as a cinematographer with the Coen brothers, and his unexpected career as the director behind such huge film franchises as The Addams Family and Men in Black, and beloved work like Get Shorty, Pushing Daises, and A Series of Unfortunate EventsWe also chat about the time he shot nine porno films in nine days. That story alone is worth the price of admission.

I don’t think Will does get upstaged because his reaction is always funnier than what is actually happening. That is also the reason Tommy is funnier than Will.

In his new book Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker shares his laugh-out-loud memoir about coming of age. Constantly threatened with suicide by his over-protective mother, disillusioned by the father he worshiped, and abused by a demonic relative, Sonnenfeld somehow went on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful producers and directors.

His book is written with poignant insight and real-life irony, the book follows Sonnenfeld from childhood as a French horn player through graduate film school at NYU, where he developed his talent for cinematography. His first job after graduating was shooting nine feature-length pornos in nine days. From that humble entrée, he went on to form a friendship with the Coen Brothers, launching his career shooting their first three films.

Though Sonnenfeld had no ambition to direct, Scott Rudin convinced him to be the director of The Addams Family. It was a successful career move. He went on to direct many more films and television shows. Will Smith once joked that he wanted to take Sonnenfeld to Philadelphia public schools and say,

“If this guy could end up as a successful film director on big-budget films, anyone can.”

His book is a fascinating and hilarious roadmap for anyone who thinks they can’t succeed in life because of a rough beginning.

Barry Sonnenfeld’s philosophy is,

“Regret the Past. Fear the Present. Dread the Future.”

This EPIC conversation is almost two hours and had me on the floor laughing one minute and in absolute shock the next. This is by far one of my favorite interviews I have ever done on the show.

So sit back, grab a drink and enjoy my conversation with Barry Sonnenfeld.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 2:40
I'd like to welcome to the show Barry Sonnenfeld. Barry, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Barry Sonnenfeld 5:10
It's a pleasure. Good to be here.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
I'd like I was telling you, before we got started, I've been a very big fan of your work for a long, long time. I actually, I was in the video store in the 1980s and 90s. So you had a big impact on me with some of your early films, especially stuff with your Coen brothers and, and the stuff that you were shooting as a cinematographer, which we'll get into. But I remember the big standee for Addams Family, right in the front of my my mom and pop store. Yeah, and and man, the whole family, right? Yeah, it was, it was a very interesting in the 80s in the 90s. Were a very fun time. So we'll talk about that as well. But first and foremost, what made you want to pee in this ridiculous business that we call the film industry?

Barry Sonnenfeld 5:56
You know, it was totally accidental. I was I didn't grow up with any sort of love or interest in films. I was not a film buff. I didn't go to a lot of movies. I thought I wanted to be a still photographer, you know, and I bought a Leica and I had, you know, a series of lenses that use like a Believe me, not a new one too expensive. And I realized a I didn't think I was ever going to be good enough and be I thought it would be a fairly lonely profession. And I wanted to find something with just more you know, people in it, you know, more communication and collaboration. But I graduated college and I had I took a year off couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. And my mother had this weird fear. She's very over protective. tend to name is above Barry sonnenfeld call your mother and she's very over protective and said, Why don't you go to graduate homeschool, you should go to NYU graduate film school you love photography you love writing. Movies suggests a lot of still photographs with writing, which by the way is totally not true. Even though I went to NYU for three years of graduate film school, and my parents had no money and they did not pay for my education, I ended up taking out massive student loans. But while at NYU, I discovered I had an ability to shoot I was one of the two really good cameraman at graduate film school. Weirdly, the other graduate student who was a good cinematographer, was my next door neighbor in the East Village. And that was Bill Pope. Pope shot, you know, the matron ambrane the he shot the three matrix movies, he's shot, Sam's, you know, Spider Man movies he shot man and black three for me. So we were the two cameramen at NYU, as it turns out,

Alex Ferrari 8:03
That's that's very you see. that's those are great stories. Those are great, sir. And within that early years, those were the that was the 70s if I'm not mistaken, right. And NYU? Yeah. Mid 70s. Yeah, mid 70s. So Marty was already Marty at that point. And he's already making stuff, obviously.

Barry Sonnenfeld 8:21
Yeah, well, he was he he did teach at NYU undergraduate school, which was on a different campus and all that he had already made a couple of movies I think he had made even had made Main Streets by the time we were either in or getting out of graduate film school. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 8:41
That was a must. That must have been a very exciting time to be in not only NYU specifically but around in, in the film industry, because the Hollywood system was kind of breaking down the old studio system was breaking down in the week giving opportunities due to the young uns to the to the film school crazies.

Barry Sonnenfeld 9:00
You know, what we we weren't in the film industry, we were barely making a living working at network couriers delivering packages from seven to nine in the morning while I graduate film school, while I was fun, actually, at the Graduate film school is that we often had cameraman and, and directors come to the school and show their movie, you know, before it was coming out, you know, sort of. And that was interesting, because, you know, we would have like, who was some of the people there? Oh, there was one cinematographer who was really angry at everything. And no matter what we asked him, he'd say, it took me 18 years to get into the union and then 17 years to move up from assistant operators had dp and I'm, I'll be damned if I'm going to tell you why it took me 30 years to learn and he kept talking like this. And then finally I raised my hand and said, Why You hear? It's a great, great instructor. Great instructor. Yeah, that's great. Yeah. Well, we also had one night that the chairman the first year I was there was a guy named Mel Howard, who is very in the indie world. And he was going to show Bob Dylan who was a friend of his Bob Dylan and several of his friends, the Robert Frank unreleased movie called cocksucker blues about a Rolling Stones tour. And the stones had paid for it, saw it and realize we can't release this movie. But so Robert Frank came, we and the offer. The other thing about it is it was a double system print, which meant the soundtrack and the picture track were not yet combined. And then why you graduate film school is one of the few places on the East Coast that had double system projections. So Mel in order to let his buddies you know, Bob and Roger Gwyn, and Robert Frank, see the movie. He had to let the graduate students in as well. So we got to see this movie that no one's ever seen called cocksucker blues, by Robert Frank and how was it? Oh, it's it's, it's last suitable. Because you're constantly seeing the stone with groupies on their private jet having sex. So it was it was not something that really should have ever been shot. By the way, it was fun. And after the movie, I saw Bob Dylan getting into a Cadillac of Roger McClintock and I said good cards. I said to him as we passed by a good car to drive after a war which is one of the lyrics one of the songs and he gave me the finger which I'm very proud of.

Alex Ferrari 12:00
Now, which which leads me to my next question, can we you discuss the nine pornos that you shot? Well, oh, well, I mean, his his graphic is just just try to keep it as a very hard pG 13.

Barry Sonnenfeld 12:22
Okay, all right. Very hard as ironic, I'd say. So, when I got out of film school, I felt that if I owned a camera, I could call myself a camera man without feeling like a delay. Because I owned the camera there from a camera man. So a buddy of mine from film school and I bought a used 16 millimeter camera called a cp 16 reflex. Now this is way before video. So nowadays, anyone can just buy a Sony A three or Nikon or Canon or a seven and call themselves a you know a camera man. But back then no one was shooting videos. There was no you know, video except you know, in studios and stuff. So I own this camera when my buddy and he knew a guy who was a porn producer and director. And so he got us this job shooting nine feature length movies in nine days. They were 20 hour days. But by having nine days of rental for the camera, it paid for two thirds of what we paid for the camera. So it was worth it because now we you know, we were two thirds of the way there and but it was horrible. You know? I made a contribution because at film school, everything you know film is so expensive, you know 400 feet of Rostock to buy it, develop it, rent it, you know, so at film school, you always pre pre planned everything you did shot list, you knew exactly what you're going to shoot. You never shot masters, you always knew where you're going to be in the close up and only shot those lines. So what I introduced, block shooting to pornos, and why block shooting means is once it block shooting, let's say if you're doing a streaming television show, and you can only get Alec Baldwin for two weeks. Let's say you shoot all of his scenes in those two weeks, no matter who he is. Even if if he's in Episode 147 and nine, that's called block shooting. So what I convinced Dec the producer and director to do

Alex Ferrari 14:46
No pun intended,

Barry Sonnenfeld 14:48
no pun intended either. Very hard 13 is is that once we let a sat be at the bathroom or the kitchen In the bedroom, we would choose all the scenes for any movies that took place in a bedroom. So we would shoot scene three for movie one, shoot scene seven for movie two. If it was in that bedroom, we were already lit, and we would just shoot, shoot that. We also had a dentist that which was incredibly under erotic and because who wants that? in our heart and also water picks are really not sucking devices. They're, they're sucking devices. They're not projectile devices. So it made no sense. And also, you don't want to think about having sex and dentist Yes, or I didn't. But

Alex Ferrari 15:43
That doesn't seem very app. I mean, the dentist is probably one of the more painful non comfortable places to be in your life as a general statement, let alone thinking about having sex in that environment.

Barry Sonnenfeld 15:54
And there's not a lot of room there. Yeah, so in any case, we shot those nine features the nine days and things went horribly wrong on the last day and without going into the details. I ended up when a double insertion some quota double penetration went horribly wrong. I ended up being covered foamy, liquefied, warm, effervescent, human excrement

Alex Ferrari 16:26
Oh, that's an amazing description.

Barry Sonnenfeld 16:29
The problem is I've always been very wide angles, I when I was shooting sales with my like I used to 21 millimeter, I would say half half of the shots in any movie I've ever shot or directed, have been a 21 millimeter, a wider and 16 millimeter, the equivalent of 21 millimeter is called a 10 millimeter. So I was this close to the action when Mark Antony pulled out of this woman's anus, and it was as if her body was a bottle of champagne. Oh, shakin way too. I was literally a fountain farmer, human excrement that immediately covered my face and the camera. I put the camera down and then threw up on them.

Alex Ferrari 17:29
Why is this? Why hasn't this? Why hasn't this scene made it in one of your many, many features? Or?

Barry Sonnenfeld 17:35
Well, I'll tell you the truth. I used to shoot commercial. And I was shooting a series of ups commercials for an agency called amaravati and purus. And I tell them the story people used to hire me to hear the stories, because it's about a 20 minute story. It goes on and on and on. Anyway, I tell the the ad agencies the story. I you know, I'm done. And the next thing that happens about I don't know two years later, turns out that the next director after me to shoot commercials for these guys was Kevin Smith. Okay. They told Kevin this star, the story. And Kevin stole my story and directed a movie called I don't know is something like someone in someone make a porno.

Alex Ferrari 18:33
Zack and Miri Make a Porno movie. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I think with jet Railgun Seth Rogen. And thanks.

Barry Sonnenfeld 18:44
Yeah. I never saw it. But I hear that he's stole my see. Wow, have you seen the movie?

Alex Ferrari 18:52
Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah. I've seen a lot of Kevin's Well,

Barry Sonnenfeld 18:54
I think that there's a scene where a I don't remember that was penetrate.

Alex Ferrari 19:00
Um, I promise you that they, I promise you there is I don't remember because I tend to block things like that out of my my psyche. But I haven't seen the movie in probably a decade when they came out. But I'm sure that that seems in there. And wow, that's Have you ever spoken to Kevin about this?

Barry Sonnenfeld 19:19
I haven't. But his people emailed me and said Kevin is releasing the Special Edition DVD and wants us to talk about your porno experience. And I said, Are you kidding? He stole my story. And now he wants me to also let him interview me for his DVD. So I didn't do it. Oh, alright.

Alex Ferrari 19:42
Well, so I'm, I'm kind of happy I asked you the question, but I'm kind of not so. Right. It's amazing. Because I've you know, I've heard I'm originally from South Florida and in the South Florida market. When I was coming up a lot. There was a lot of guys who I was I started off as an editor before I became a director and There was people like hey, you know, we gotta do porn gotta do porn and like that's the pays the bills. I never ever once got the opportunity I didn't ever he was even asked, I'm sure I would have done it as a younger man, I'm sure I would have edited it. But I could only imagine shooting nine full length feature film porn I was in nine days. Not only is that exhausting, but you must become numb to all of it. Like I'm sure like for the first five minutes, you're like, well, this is kind of cool. And then that's it.

Barry Sonnenfeld 20:30
That not even five minutes, maybe now it was never cool. It was never fun. I always say that if they released porn would smell vision. No one ever see it again. Although truthfully, they would probably dive in different smells like vanilla and cherry and stuff

Alex Ferrari 20:48
like pine and pine. And pine. It was it was terrible. It's horrible. I do learn something though. Did you learn stuff?

Barry Sonnenfeld 20:56
You learn nothing? Oh, yeah, I learned I learned. Well, here's what I learned. I learned that nothing about filmmaking. Okay, what I learned was that the set on pornos is a very feminist driven set. Okay, the females have all the power, the actresses have all the power, because they can. They can either help or hurt the guy, you know, help him with his erection or just be so mean to them that they're soft and flaccid for hours. I also learned that the average time between come shot is four hours, it takes four hours to get a come shot, it takes about 15 minutes to do the you know dialogue. Your sister home if someone

Alex Ferrari 21:47
orders some pizza with extra sausage.

Barry Sonnenfeld 21:52
And then it takes about 2025 minutes to shoot various sexual positions. And then Dec would say okay, we're ready for the come shot at which point the other camera man and I would dim the light we lay just rest our backs against some set wall and take nap. And then it would take between three and four hours for the guy to be able to come. So that's how we were able to work with so little sleep as we had many naps during the day while the guy and if you looked at your chart, so you could only do five come shots a day. Because five times four is 20 hours and you needed four hours to just I was the only one who went home everyone else. The crew was dick. The other camera man who I own the camera with a guy named Eric who was the gaffer and sound man. And then we had a woman whose job it was. She was a paper towel girl. And what she did is after

Alex Ferrari 22:54
that no, no, no, no, you don't have to go down. I completely can connect the dots. I hope I hope everybody listening can connect the dots because I don't want to detail something. It is fascinating. Yeah, honestly one of my favorite origin stories of any filmmaker. It's amazing.

Barry Sonnenfeld 23:17
That was That was my first job out of film school. graduate from 999

Alex Ferrari 23:23
on film no less. And I'm on film and 16 I'm assuming right it was a 16 Yeah, yeah. Amazing. Well, so from from and the guy's name is dick. I mean, you can't make things like that up. So from

Barry Sonnenfeld 23:39
The company was called Mr. Mustard production, which doesn't sound appetizing either,

Alex Ferrari 23:47
I mean, you can't write this stuff. This is amazing. Alright, so how did you go from your porno experience to getting involved with the Coen brothers. Right? Did they see your porno work and say, Hey, Barry.

Barry Sonnenfeld 24:04
I don't think anyone saw it. I don't know why I never traveled uptown. Again, it has to do with me owning a 16 millimeter camera. I was at a party, a Christmas party with people. I didn't know that I knew the hostess. But that was it. And there was one guy across the room who seemed to not be friends with everyone. But tall guy that kind of like howard stern and that was Joe Cohen. And we started to talk because we were the only guys not talking to anyone else. And he had gone to NYU undergraduate school, but I didn't know him at all. From there. And he and his brother Ethan had just written the screenplay for blood simple. And Joel was the assistant editor on Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, his first movie The End fam told Joe, that the way to raise money to make an independent film was to shoot a trailer as if it was a finished movie. And use that trailer to show it to you know, dentists investing clubs and Doctor investing clubs and trend rich friends of your parents or whatever. Because no one can read a script and say, Oh, yes, I I've never worked on it. I've never I'm a dentist, but I'm reading this script. And I think it sounds like a good blue BNL. So, Joel and Ethan had never done anything. So how do you know if they're any good. But by having this trailer, the dentists, the doctors, the inventors, the businessmen could look at the trailer and go, Hey, I can see this movie. Be this trailer looks really cool. See, you guys seem to know what you're doing. So Joel said, we're gonna shoot a trailer of the script we wrote and see if we can raise money. And I said, Well, I own a 16 millimeter camera. And he said, okay, you're hired to shoot the trailer, not the feature. And so we shot the trailer. And it looked great, and we got along great. And it took us a year. Joe went out to Minneapolis where they grew up and hit all the Hadassah women. That's the sort of Jewish you know, women's society out there. Ethan and I stayed in New York with a print and a projector. And it took us here, but we raised the 750 grand Wow. And went to Austin, Texas, and the first day, shooting blood simple, was the first day that Joe Ethan or I have ever been on a movie set. I had never been a camera operator or a camera assistant. On features, Joe had never directed anything except student films and eight millimeter stuff with Ethan. Ethan had never produced anything, he was a statistical typist, that mathys where you just typed invoice numbers for eight hours a day. So I always tell people, declare what you are. And you'll find a way to make a living doing, you know, and that you don't need to work your way up, you should just decide. I'm a cameraman, I'm an editor. And when people say well, you know, how do I? How should I get started in the film business? Truthfully, the best two things. What you learn the most actually is what you did editing, and writing. Those are your best ways to because you learned about the structure. And also the great thing about having a script is no one can take that away from you know, if you want to be a director, they can always find another director. If they want to hire another editor, they can get another editor if you have written a script, and you own it. And you say, if you want this script, I have to direct it. Though, they'll oftentimes say yes, if the script is good enough, because truthfully studios these days, want first time directors, they want to control everything they the studio does, they don't want people that have strong opinions or people that can push around. So I think right now it's almost easier to get a job as a first time director than someone who's been around directing for decades. That's what

Alex Ferrari 28:44
yeah, it is interesting, because, you know, I think Ridley Scott came out and said he goes I can't believe they're giving these $200 million you know, franchise films to to a 25 year old or you know, a young kid and he's very talented or she's you know, but it's not It makes no sense why wouldn't you hire Ridley or yourself or somebody who's been down that road and that makes absolute sense.

Barry Sonnenfeld 29:07
It's because they want the studio's want to control everything. the studio's don't really understand what directors do and think that they that they can do it and that directors are like traffic cop. And, you know, so all those Marvel movies. Look for first and second time. Directors for the most part until they're in the family. It's very interesting.

Alex Ferrari 29:30
Yeah, as of as of this recording, Sam Raimi just got hired to do the next Doctor Strange. Realize, yeah, it just got released today. The information the news broke today. So Sam actually officially signed to do Doctor Strange with a master of madness or something like that. Which makes all the sense in the world because that's a perfect movie for him. Right, which makes sense. I wanted to ask you something in regards to blood simple, and I know that Sam, actually I think he was the first To do it or at least popularize it is putting the camera on to a two by four. And having two guys on each side just run so you get this really insane kind of fast Dolly and then shooting the film a little faster. So it would get like this revved up kind of POV. You guys did that in blood simple as well, how did that whole thing come around? We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 30:33
Well, Sam kind of invented it, it was called the shakey cam, what gives you the energy actually is not under cranking it by using an extremely wide angle lens, you use a 9.8 millimeter. And this is 30 in 35 millimeters. So it's extremely wide angle, it's pi as a angle of view of 165 degrees or something. It's almost everything and because it moves to space, and changes perspective so quickly because it's such a wide angle lens. I mean like this is a wide angle lens to like, Look I'm I'm you see both my hands on with this tiny little move. Now I'm very tight. And it's because of the nature of wide angle lens is that a little move make two very different moves and perspective. So I'm trying to remember if we use it on blood simple we use it a lot on raising Arizona. No you did.

Alex Ferrari 31:30
There was a saw in blood sample. I remember that was like outside the house. It was coming toward the door or something. Yeah,

Barry Sonnenfeld 31:36
it's Danny had Dahlia had just grabbed Fran McDormand outside the house, and we're way back on the other side of the street and the door opens and, and hidayah is bringing her towards Atlanta, we raced towards him. And she breaks his finger, and then kicks him in the groin, and then he bends down and throws up which is another story. So we learned that from Sam, we use it a lot more in raising Arizona, there's a scene where we go over found over a car up a ladder through a window into Florida, Arizona is now in this fake one continuous shot. I always say that we could read, you know, blood sample cost 750 grand, I said we could redo that movie right now for 20 million. And it wouldn't be any better. We could reshoot raising Arizona, which I think was 5 million. We could reshoot shoot. Maybe it was 12 No, I think it was five. We could reshoot that for 15 million with techno crane sure that of using shakey cam, and then again, it wouldn't look any better. So it's great. How are we able to pull off all that stuff? And make it seem professional?

Alex Ferrari 32:50
No, I remember in blood simple, which I think was one of the I don't know if it was the first time but the lighting in there was a shot where there was bullet holes in the wall, right? And shafts of light would come in with the smoke coming out. And I still remember going back. I don't know where I heard about her Joel Silver, talking about that shot specifically. And he's like, I make action movies. Why doesn't my stuff look like that? And that's a testament I'm assuming to you because you were the DP on that. How did you know when was that something from your commercial world that you kind of brought into the film or like, because I hadn't seen that either prior to that, like something so cinematic, because blood simple is Yeah, it's in your film, but it is very cinematically shot.

Barry Sonnenfeld 33:32
Yeah, no, it's funny. It's one of the shots we also did from the trailer. Because Don't forget, you know, we didn't have actors or anything. So for the trailer, it was very abstract. It was like dotted lines on the road. It was following a you know, like cowboy hat or following like someone's boots, you know, an insert of a gun. And actually, in Hillary's loss. Hillary was a woman who had the Christmas party where Joe and I met. It's now eight months later. No, no, it's now two, three weeks later, we've now built the wall and Hillary's loft, and we're shooting that shot. Not the one that's in the movies, though. But our cheap version of it, which was we drilled these big holes, these big plugs in the wall. We literally had a wall that was probably 20 feet long by 10 feet high that we tackled and everything we drilled these plugs out and, and then we put screws in the back of the plugs and then we replastered the wall. And then I had a lot of little inky so I could shine all those light in different directions because they weren't just one light, like every hole that opened up to three different beings from each show. And so I had all these keys I taught Ethan Cohen, how to be my gaffer and how to put the light bulbs and without burning him. And all that. And as I dallied into the wall, in the back, this guy, Don was hitting the hammer to the screws and the plug, first of all, our side of the room was dark was pretty dark. And also the plug moved to frame so fast that you didn't just look like a hole opening up. And so that was in the trailer. And that's really what got us to 750 grand, I heard a story that Nestor almendros, who is a pretty famous cinematographer, and Nestor was a big believer in motivated light, which I don't believe in motivated lightning. If there's a lamp over here, that's where the main light should be from. If it's above you, it should be there. Nestor saw was a judge at some film festival where blood sample was shown. And he said was a great shot, but the lights not motivated. Cuz, obviously in a bathroom, you wouldn't have multiple beams of light. But anyway, it worked.

Alex Ferrari 36:04
It's still it's still a cool shot. Yeah, it's still a cool shot. Now you brought up raising Arizona, I have to ask you, how in god's green earth did that film get made in a studio? I mean, like, like you can't you read that script, I have to believe you read that script. And you see blood simple, which is completely different. I mean, it has some tones, but it is the other side of the Coen Brothers is like they're serious. And then there's the the Miller's Crossing and the and the Big Lebowski, they have those two, those two just opposite positions of their sensibilities. So you've come from blood sample, which generally in studio world, you got to they just want you to do the same thing again. But they've completely changed and go to raise era, is that a, how does that script get financed? And then how do you explain like, how you're going to shoot? It's such a unique piece of art that was made within a studio, even back then, I mean, now that would never ever in a million years get made. But back then even how did they even get fine? It started, how did that happen?

Barry Sonnenfeld 37:03
Well, Fox was a distributor, but Fox was not putting up the money. The money came from a guy named Ted Pettit, who owned a lot of movie theaters, and who eventually bought the rights to blood sample. So the Cohens at to, you know, be the distributor. So the Cohens had a relationship with Ted Fox was very involved. But you know, the thing about Joel and Ethan is there, they would never do a film for hire, you know, they boys had final cuts. They're always willing to walk away if they don't have Final Cut. Joy says, I don't know how to direct a movie, if I'm not in charge of it all the way till the end. So I think it was a little risky, but it wasn't that risky. It wasn't an expensive movie. So the other reason that Johnny's and can have Final Cut in there movies don't cost a lot of money. As I said, I think it might have been 5 million bucks to do raising Arizona and so that the downside of that cost is not that much per studio.

Alex Ferrari 38:17
Right? Yeah. And they took a risk. Basically, they just kind of rolled the dice a little bit.

Barry Sonnenfeld 38:22
Yeah, but it's not that big of a risk if you lose 5 million bucks. And you can even release it for a big studio. It's not that big a deal.

Alex Ferrari 38:30
Right. Exactly. In the sense, the well, you also went on to you know, you not only worked with the Cohens on a would you did Miller's Crossing as well and right. And three those three correct and the but you also did you did a couple other little films, as a cinematographer that they made a couple a couple bucks. Again, this this is my golden time in the video store. So I know these movies very, very well. Big. When Harry Met Sally and misery just to name a few. There was a few more in there, but those three were massive hits of of their day. And you worked with Penny Marshall, you worked with Carl anacron Korea car car, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob, Rob sorry Rob Reiner. And and Rob Reiner again from misery. What is the biggest takeaways you got from working on those kind of big hits? Because I mean, racing Arizona wasn't if I remember correctly, wasn't a monster hit by any stretch. It was kind of like a cult. It's a cult thing. But was big. The first kind of big thing that you'd worked on. That was a big box office, or was it

Barry Sonnenfeld 39:39
the movie? The movie before big was Throw Momma from the Train? Yes, yeah, that was the first movie. Although I had been hired to shoot big. And then after I was hired about two weeks into it, the studio shut it down. Because they didn't Petey wanted. De Niro for the lead and Barry Diller wanted to hang so we shot shut down to wait for Hanks and that allowed me to go shoot Throw Momma from the Train with Danny DeVito who became a good friend of mine, but I think that it's funny that I think Danny's movie was the first movie where I was sort of like, you know, in Hollywood, making, you know, a real movie unreal stages. And what's funny is throw Mama was shot on stage three, eight, at Hollywood center studios. It was before that it was zoetrope, which Francis Ford Coppola. So the first movie I shoot in LA is throw Mama. And it stage three. And then when I'm shooting When Harry Met Sally, part of that takes place. Some of this, we had some of it in New York, but all the sets we built, and we were on stage three, eight at Hollywood center studios. Then what? What, then we shoot, misery and misery is shot on stage three, eight at Hollywood sent it to you. And then I become a director. And, and the first thing I'm ever doing as a director is we built the mansion, The Addams Family mansion on stage three and eight at Hollywood center studios. So I said to my wife, I call her Sweetie, I said, you know, everyone says Hollywood is the film capital of the world, they seem to have one stage. That's the ceiling where they give you probably four different times, the first four times they ever shot anything in Hollywood, was all on the same stage.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
So what So what are some takeaways you did had from shooting those kind of big movies like big and when he gets out and just being in the, you know, I've had other guests on the show that they've been in the middle of like a cyclone of like big hits. And I always fascinated, you know, you're still you were cinematographer at that point. So you weren't like the head. You know, the the creative force behind it at that point. But, but you know, when you're the DP of big and then When Harry Met Sally, and Throw Momma from the Train and misery, back to back to back to back, there's a very few guys in town who are doing this. How does it feel like to be in that time period of your career?

Barry Sonnenfeld 42:21
I really enjoyed being a camera man, I really loved the job. I wasn't looking forward. I wasn't saying I should be a director. You know, I wasn't that guy. I was really happy. Being a cinematographer. It was interesting to watch how different directors worked, although truthfully, because one of the things I believe in, both as when I was a cameraman, and now as a director, and a producer is I believe that the camera can be more than more than a recording device. The camera can actually be our storytelling device, it can be a character in the movie, you will get blood sample, you look at Throw Momma from the Train, you will go raising Arizona, you look at Addams Family, or what I did for three years on a series of unfortunate events for Netflix. The camera is a character in the show. So even though I was a cinematographer, I, I was very involved very, very involved in in everything, you know, I would often you know, after lunch actors are usually tired, they've just eaten all the Bloods, you know, working to digest your food, you know, so, you know, I would always I would I always put myself not to cinematographer but the friend is a director. So I could say to rob or Danny or whoever, I think they had more energy in the master before lunch, you want to just remind them to pick up their energy, which is stuff that if a cameraman said to me I'd be really annoyed by but somehow I got away with it. I guess I was always a bit of a filmmaker. You know, I did most of the designing of the shots to the other directors less so with Joel and Ethan. But like on big I designed, you know, all the shots and stuff like that. And we're Rob on his movies. I was very instrumental in the way those movies worked and all that. I recommended the ROB hire Kathy Bates to be the lead in misery. Not a bad choice. Not a bad choice and Kathy and I became really good friends. Every morning she'd arrive on the set and go fuck you son and fell and I go fuck you, babe. That was like our way of saying hi. Here's a horrible moment on the set of misery. Jimmy kamino spent most of the movie in bed and at one point You know, Kathy Bates goes into town. So he gets out of bed and he's, and he's in pain because his legs all screwed up. And he has to crawl across the floor and I'm underslung with a very wide angle lens, you know, the cameras right on the ground, and Jimmy's crawling towards me. And Jimmy says to rob and myself, Jimmy says, Hey, back. Oh, he says, Hey, hey, Rob, how far Should I crawl and Rob looks at me and goes back, and I go, and I spit on the floor. And Rob Reiner, because I have no respect for Jimmy at this point. And Rob Reiner says, crawl to the loogie. Jimmy, Rob has respect for Jimmy either at this point. So you know, the, the main difference is on big features. You've got more money, you've got more equipment, you've got more cranes, you've got bigger crews, you've got more light. And also, it's easier, actually because if you fall behind schedule, the studio has more money, you know, I'm blood simple. There was no more money. If we needed reshoot. We shot a lot of real little inserts and stuff for blood sample in my backyard in East Hampton, Long Island. You know, there was there was no more money to be found on big budget films. There's always more money this studio isn't going to like say we're not finishing the movie. So I found the bigger the budget actually, the easier it is.

Alex Ferrari 46:40
Now I heard stories about Mr. Khan on misery. And I heard that a bunch of different things it was there. No when you say no respected you guys did just like Robin him and you just have a bad situation back then.

Barry Sonnenfeld 46:55
No, no, no, it wasn't no fights or anything like that. It's just that Jimmy is the most frantic, energetic, sort of on able to sit still, you know, you're talking to him, and his knee is doing that, you know, got it. And for that actor to have to spend 80 pages in bed, the wrong guy to have that job. And he just, you know, I remember you often told me that, that he would spend a lot of time in the Playboy Mansion. And, and he said that he had slept with he had had sex with 17 straight playmates for the month. You know, this is decades ago, as I said, I said, as a joke. I said, so Jimmy, what month turned you down? I didn't ask for her name. I just said what month turned you down? and Jimmy are bad. I can't tell you that. I said you can't tell me the monitor. Nothing you year. I mean, that's a year know what you were talking about. And this was, you know, years earlier, it wasn't like a momentary story. It was a story about when he was hanging out the Playboy Mansion, you know, years ago. Bad. Can't tell you that much. So anyway. But he's, he's a lovely guy. He's just got way too much energy to be at bedframe he paid?

Alex Ferrari 48:28
It's like It's like trying to strap down Robin Williams for 80 pages, like in a batch. Right? Just Right. That's just ridiculous.

Barry Sonnenfeld 48:36
Well, and in fact, you know, and I write about this in my book, you know, I directed Robin in RV. And one of the issues is that Robin and I really liked each other's people. But Robin did not like me directing him because I didn't want his, you know, his jazz his improv, I wanted a really sort of controlled performance. And Robin is all about improv and joking around and this and there were too many kids on the set that needed to know when to come in with the next line. And they you know, kids know, okay, my line is after he asked me what my favorite color is, and I'm going to say green. So for Robin to improvise and say So how old are you? The kids going? Do I say green? Do I say eight? Do I is that even dress? So I kept trying to convince Robin this was a wrong movie. And there were too many kids for that wild improvisational stuff. And I loved his improvisational stuff but didn't want it in the movie. And I don't think Robin had a good time. There was it but it was tough.

Alex Ferrari 49:54
There was I've only met a couple people who have actually met or worked with Robin and I had the pleasure of Meeting Robin once, and I had never met a human being whose energy literally just kind of like vibrated off of him. And when I met him he wasn't on. He was just right. He was just hanging out, not cracking jokes, not looking for attention, not trying to make a smile. He was just a human being with his wife doing his thing, but I had never met a human being you could literally feel it. Is that something that you felt as well working with him?

Barry Sonnenfeld 50:29
Oh, yeah. No, it was it was. It was amazing. Here's some other things, you know. You'd have to have six pair of all wardrobe because he's sweat so much. He was the hairiest human being I had ever met, you know, every day, they would have to cut whatever hair was from here up, it would come out over the top. And yes, to that, I knew that they had shaved it yesterday. It does. And he would sweat so much that after four or five tanks, with all of this energy, you'd say, the wardrobe person would say we need to change your shirt. And so there would be all these wardrobe people with hair dryers in the distance drying shirts, because we only had six of everything. And he was going to them after every four takes. So it was those section go there. The other thing about Robin is one on one with Robin, and again, this is in the book, but one on one with Robin was a pleasure. All comedians do three things. They collect fountain pens, they collect watches, and they collect cards, Robin was fountain pens, watches and bicycle. You know, he is a major biker. And he had hundreds of bicycles. But Robin was great one on one. I remember being at this restaurant called chinchin in Vancouver, which is where we shot RV. And we're sitting there I'm learning about astronomy and the Kabbalah and about comparative religions. And then the waiter comes over. But so now instead of two people, there are three and that means Showtime. And Robin became a different person. He made fun of the guys tie. He did this, he did this. And years later, I'm back in Vancouver, 13 years later, producing a series of unfortunate events. I go to chinchin and the maitre D comes in it's his day off he comes in he goes, sir, you don't know who I am. My name is Richard. I came in on my day off 13 years ago, I was your waiter when you had dinner with Robin. And for several years after that I went to terrible pstd as did every other guest who was into a restaurant that night I saw your name. Remember this so well. I had to come in to see you to see how you were if you had to work with him every day. So that's Robin was incredibly talented. You could give him a stick and say give me an hour. And he'd give you an hour of comedy pure comedy and stuff. Yeah. Yeah, no, he

Alex Ferrari 53:11
was he was he was a remarkable human being no question. Now you say in your book that you really weren't looking to direct you kind of fell you kind of fell into directing? Well, your first movie was Addams Family. How did you fall into that? Because if I remember correctly, Addams Family was not a small little movie. It was a it was a studio film. It was on a on a stablished IP. And you guys were trying to basically rebooted before reboots were reboots for movies. So how did you fall into that? Like most people are dying to get that job? You just fell into it?

Barry Sonnenfeld 53:46
fell into it. I was in LA. I was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and I was finishing up misery. And was Sunday morning. And sweetie and I were watching the Indianapolis 500 on the television and the front desk, rang and said, Scott Rutan just dropped by a package. We're sending it off. And in the package what was a letter from Scott saying read this and meet me in two hours that you goes, which is a restaurant, sort of a hippie dippie restaurant, and if you like scrambled eggs, and spaghetti, that's your restaurant and read it and meet me in two hours. And it was the script for Addams Family and I had grown up I was not a fan of the TV show. But I liked the monsters more weirdly. But I loved the Charles Adams drawings that appeared in The New Yorker and The Addams Family is based on those drawings. So I read the script. I didn't think it was very good. I said this witty, the script isn't good. And she said take the meeting, which God maybe he knows it's no good to so I go and have the meeting. And I say say to Scott, why me And he said, Well, there are two reasons. One is I went to Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. And they both pack. And I thought if I can't get those two, if he said all the good directors path, instead of taking the chance on some comedy hack, I'd rather hire someone who has a very specific visual style. And who knows comedy. And Scott before he became an independent producer, ran Fox, when we did, raising Arizona, and when I shot big, so he saw all the dailies, he heard all the stories about MIDI and Penny and, and he knew that I had designed all the shots and all that stuff. So Scott knew that I might be capable. And, you know, I told him what was wrong with the script, he agreed, we got Paul rods neck to do an uncredited rewrite. And next thing you know, I said, I said this guy at the end of the meal, I said, Look, I'll tell you what, this guy's very persuasive. I said, if you can get me the job directing the movie, I'll do it. But I didn't think he would. Right. So he, he and he and myself went up to Orion, which was the independent studio at the time. Who was famous for being the most director friendly studio, it was like the Netflix of the day. You know, right now you want to be working in Netflix, because they really respect directors, etc, etc. So, um, so did Orion. So, Orion thought I was a nice boy. And they trusted Scott. And, and we, they agreed to let me make Addams Family.

Alex Ferrari 56:55
No, but wasn't. was The Addams Family Paramount?

Barry Sonnenfeld 56:59
Well, that's a really good question. And of course, this story, which is also in my book. So here, what happens there? Orion partially because they were so director friendly is on the verge of bankruptcy. Yeah. And the one piece of property and we were halfway done shooting it. Right. So the one piece of property they had and we were halfway done, that might get them some some money to stay solvent was Addams Family because it looked commercial, it looked like it was going to be a hit. So I also had the best editor there ever was Didi Allen, who cut Bonnie and Clyde and you know, flash shot and red Serpico so the the kind of 15 minute reel of some scenes, and Scott Rudin took it around to all the studios. Universal almost bought it but they didn't offer enough and on Friday morning, Frank Mancuso, senior of Paramount Pictures, buys, the book buys the movie, so it's going to become a paramount movie. Orion will make get some money, just to keep them afloat for a while. independent of him buying the movie later that day, he gets fired. And the new guy that comes in is Stanley Jaffe, who looks at the same 15 minutes and Stanley is humorless. He sees the same 15 minutes and says this movie is uncomfortable and unreasonable. So for the next six weeks or eight weeks I'm working at a studio that hates the project that looks at dailies every day and the the, the studio people assigned to my movie are calling Didi Allen and Fang. We saw the dailies we don't think this scene will cut together. And Didi says Well, of course it will cut together it's a really funny scene. But faster and went they are never in the same frame. Indeed. He says yeah, that's what makes it funny. Okay, well we don't so okay fine. So now they hate me they hate the movie etc, etc. I get done. The day you get done the director on on DGA movies studio movies have a 10 week director's cut right. During that time, no one can see the movie no studio executive can come in and look at it. You don't have to show it to anyone. It's 10 weeks for you to rearrange the movie which is now just in dailies and rough cut into the movie you want to show the studio. The day I get finished the not the chairman of the studio, but the president Gary Lucchese calls me up and says Can we have lunch?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:00:14
Sure. Gotta have lunch with him in the studio Congress and the executive commissary, you know, like where bill Shatner and the members of the bridge from Star Star Trek, have lunch to not to cling on. But the, you know, the Star Trek guys get to have a deck. And I meet Gary and this other guy named Bill, who's creative executive scientists. And Gary says, show us a movie now. Don't take your 10 week DJ cut, show it to us now. I go, Gary, it's not going to happen. It's a union thing. I have these 10 weeks that don't have to he goes, Oh, I know. You don't have to but show it to us so we can help you. I said, I don't want you to know. Because we're your friends. I said, No, you're Oh, you're not. And I said, You know what, guys? This has been fun, but I gotta go. Thanks for the Cobb salad. And I get up to leave. And Gary says, take a bath. If you won't show us the movie, Will you at least tell us what it's like. And I go, I really shouldn't do this, but I will. It's like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I leave I go back to my office. I guess there's a phone is ringing down the hallway. I pick up the phone and Scott rude. Did you just tell Gary Lucchese that Addams Family is a sadder version of Sophie's Choice. I don't know. Because why did you tell him? I said, I told him it was a much se that says, Oh, I'm back. He believes you call them back. Scott, how could I turn? If they had seen dailies? How could you look at those dailies and think I could turn this into a sadder version of Sophie's Choice? Because, first of all, everyone's frightened because family doesn't like the movie. Second of all, executives don't know how to look at dailies called Gary back. Okay. Hello, Gary Lucchese, please. Barry sonnenfeld calling one more. Okay. All right. Hello, Barry. Hi, Gary. Hi. Hey, listen, Garr. Remember when I told you that Addams Family was like a much sadder version of Sophie's Choice. Yes. Well see. Here's the thing. It was like kind of a joke. I didn't actually mean it was just like a joke. Well, then, what's it really like, Barry? I said, Well, really? It's really really funny. Are you serious? Close. That's fantastic. So easy, easy, equally willing to listen to whatever I thought Sophie's Choice, very funny movie. And, and then, you know, it was it was tough. You know, Stanley saw the movie, you know, after the 10 weeks and hated it. In fact, it was in my contract. When I did add some family values that family had to bring his wife to any recruited audience screenings of the movies so that she could tell them when it was fun. That's how I was in your contract. Yeah, because the man had no sense of Oh, I had other things to my contract. Like that. I was in charge as a set and Scott couldn't tell me what to do or whether to scout drove me crazy. He was on the set on the first one every single minute screaming at me and screaming at me, you know, when the you know, in pre production. We often met in his office and things were so difficult between the two of us because he you know, he, you had to God thinks he's right until proven wrong, which is what a producer should do, or director should do. But I also believe that I was right until proven wrong. So there were a lot of disagreements, a lot of fights and at some point with him, screaming at me, I would make a fort out of his couch, I would take all the pillows and bolsters off, and I would build a fort and I would crawl into the fort and then put the pillow last remaining pillow where the entryway was. And I would yell at him. I can't hear you. I'm in the form. And Scott would scream. Get the fuck out of there. I don't have time for this shit. This is full of shit. always obey the sanctity the fort, he always knew that I was there, he never kicked.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:06
He never kicked it open and never kicked that open.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:05:08
He never went like that and said, Hello, and so forth. He paid me to get out of the for the couch, right? And I'd say a nod to tell you apologize. All right, then we got to know. And then he'd say, All right, I'm sorry. Get out of the fucking court. I got that. Okay. And I, you know, raised my head out and build the couch, back into a couch. And we would continue, because here's the thing. Everyone's afraid, everyone tempted to or, and, and, and if you have any strong opinion, and fight for those opinions, you'll usually when it's what I learned from Scott, rude, Rutan, his whole thing is Maggie Smith. You want her and everything. So like, I'll be in the car with him driving somewhere, and he'll be on the speakerphone with some studio and he'll say, If I can't have Maggie Smith for that role, I'm going to quit and shut down your fucking production. And without Phil, they go, Okay, okay. You can have Maggie Smith. And I'm thinking really, Scott, you've got all these other things. And if you can't have Maggie Smith, for that one scene that she's in, you're going to shut down, are you? And Scott says they don't know that they're just afraid. You know, Scott taught me that if you stand at the edge of the cliff with a studio executive and say, let's hold the hand and both commit suicide. They'll back down. They'll say no, no, no, I don't want to die. They won't say all right, let's do it. shithead. Come on, you want to die too? They won't do that. Because, God, such a bully. Just like Donald Trump. They're such bullies. To some point. Everyone goes, Okay, okay. Like, I want what Russia gave Trump on. Lindsey Graham. I'm sewing. But I digress.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:01
But so let me ask you, I always like to ask directors of your statute. This when you first walked on the set, on the day one of the Addams Family as a director, you had been on many sets before you've worked on many things before. What was that feeling? You're like, Oh, this is all on me. I everything is riding on my shoulders. I'm the director now. I'm not, you know, you know, working with a director as a cinematographer. How did that feel?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:07:29
Well, two things. One, as a cinematographer, I always felt everything was on my shoulders. Yeah, that we had to make the day. I mean, any martial would do 15 master tapes and then go into coverage of extras who now are getting upgraded quiches giving them lines. And you know, none of this will be in the movie. And I'm looking at my wife saying, Oh, my God, we have 20 setups today. And we're about to have lunch in an hour. And we're still on the master. It was I always felt it was always my responsibility in any position was here in the director. However, having said that, and by the way, as a director, I was equally nervous and threw up constantly because at a weak stomach, I was constantly showing up on the set of blood sample, which was the first thing I ever did. What I did on Addams Family, which was, if I may say so myself, really smart, and I continue it to this day, is I never understand directors that hire weak people so that they can feel stronger. Yeah, I feel like I'm gonna get all the credit. Anyway. Let me get people way smarter than me. So I had DD Allen. So instead of thinking, I want a first time editor, so I don't feel insecure around someone who's done this for 40 years. I said, I want to find someone who's done this for 40 years. So I've got DDL and as the editor and also as the camera man, this was a really you got a minute Oh,

Alex Ferrari 1:09:07
we've got all the time in the world, sir.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:10
So you know as as a cameraman becoming a director. I looked at the other cameraman who had become directors. Gordon Willis, one of the great shot of the Godfather movies. Prince of Darkness heaven without

Alex Ferrari 1:09:27
reference of darkness. You

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:29
are into darkness right as Bobby green hood says this man lights for radio.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:35
It's a great line to I'm gonna steal that line. Oh, that's a fantastic line

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:09:40
Yeah. So Willis direct one movie called a window. Bill Fraker, one of the great direct one movie called The legendary The Lone Ranger and john Alonzo, who shot Chinatown and Farewell my lovely one of the great tunes. One We'll be called FM. Why did none of those three cameraman all much better than the really great cameraman? Why did they fail? Why were they only able to direct one movie, in each case, they move that camera operator up to being the DP. What that meant is they didn't want to give up the camera. They didn't want to get someone better than them then which would force them to be the director. They really wanted to feel comfortable by being able to go back to that camp. So I said to myself, if I'm going to succeed, I need the camera man, so much better than me that I won't say shinza 10k go over there. Because, because then I'm not talking to the actor, right? And what my biggest fear was, was the actor because I had never I've become friends with the actors as a dp, but I've never directed actors, you know. So I hired Oh, and Roy's man who shot The French Connection movies. You know, all Tootsie, all these great movies. So that it would force me away from the camera, and forced me to actually direct actors. And what I discovered was that I loved actors, which I didn't love when I was a dp, I liked them and what hang out with them, but they never hit their marks. They would rehearse things one way, and then play it another way when they came out of hair and makeup and knew their lines. So for me, the actors were the big unknown, because I knew my way around the set, obviously, what I didn't know is, did I have any method of talking to actors. And what I discovered is, all I want actors to do is talk fast. They talk fast, they don't have time to act, and you don't want to see acting, you want to see reality, you want to see pace, you want to see energy, and you never want to see acting. So after every take, all I ever say to act is is can we do one, like, do one more like 10 times faster? Everyone 10 times faster, just for fun. One more time, everyone talks much faster. And that's always the one you use. And that's what I kind of discovered. And as little as I know about film history as someone who has exclusive work exclusively directed and shot comedies. And by the way, stylizing comedies is really hard. Yeah. And so I think that's why Rutan hired me because it's rare to see a comedy with visual style.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:50
It's usually very flat or very, you know, just because this comedy is playing for the gags not

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:12:54
playing for the lights. That's right. That's right. But so my favorite movies were Howard Hawks, comedies like bringing a baby and his girl Friday, and all the press and surges comedy, Palm Beach, don't raise solvent travel and everyone, no one's listening. They're just talking. No one's even waiting to understand what someone just said. They're just talking right over the next line. And that's the way I love it. And on Thursday, unfortunate events. When other directors were directing, sometimes I'd be up in my office, working on Edit to previous episodes and all that. And Malena Weissman, who played violet on the series would come up to me when there was another director and and say, I always know when you've arrived on stage, because the director will come to all of us and say, let's just do one much faster. Meaning Oh, Barry's here. He's gonna like say that. So let me say it before he does. So. Yes, it was really scary. But it wasn't because I was on a movie set. It was because I was going to have to talk to actors, and I didn't know what that was going to be like.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:02
Now you shot a little movie called men in black. Which, correct? Yes, yes. Yeah. You directed a film called men and black. It was just a small film with a young upstart. William something. Yes, Mr. Smith, Mr. Willis, Will Smith. When you were directing men and black? What What was it like? Well, I was probably the biggest thing. You'd have a director at that point. I'm assuming the budget was much larger than Addams Family at that point, correct. Yeah. Right. And then and then you had Will Smith was who was fresh off of independence day if I'm not mistaken. Correct. Now, yeah. It was meant meant back first.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:14:42
Independence came at independence game day came out first, but Well, we're shooting the last two weeks of independence day when we started shooting men and black so the only movie he had done was called six degrees of separation. That You know, obviously Fresh Prince. And that's

Alex Ferrari 1:15:02
how I know so he wasn't a star. He wasn't a monster star while you were shooting, he was still Fresh Prince of Bel Air who got the lead in a huge studio movie basically. That's right. Yeah. And I guess they I guess they saw him on an independence day or something. And they said, Hey,

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:16
Nathan, they had nothing to do.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:19
Did you? Did you cast?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:15:21
Yeah. Oh, what happened? Okay. So I get the script. And, and I, we didn't I read our scripts together. We like, this is before email. So we got sent two copies we do is give me a 60 page Head Start because some of the flow reader and we finished the script. And I turned to her and I said, Tommy Lee Jones. And she turned to me and said, Will Smith and I said, Who's Will Smith? And she said, Have you not seen fresh print? And I go? I guess not. She says you want Will Smith. And you always do what your wife tells you. So. So the studio and Spielberg and the producers don't want Tommy Orwell they want Clint Eastwood and O'Donnell.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:11
Oh, that's right. I heard about that. Yes. That was the original cast that crystal Donald.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:16:15
Right. Yeah. So Bill bird says, you know, Chris is in LA, I want you to come to LA and convince Chris to do a movie. He's staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, we'll put you up to Cyclades LA, said support season. Same place. I was when Scott Rudin sent me the script for Addams Family. And Chris says, look, you know, I read the script, I think the script has potential, but right now, it's not very good. And I also have this other project that I'm being offered that has the loan in it. So tell me why I should do men and black. And I said, first of all, you should definitely do the movie with Stallone. He's really smart. He knows everything about camera. In fact, Stallone fired me off of Tango and cash. I heard about Africa. So he's really smart. So you should do that. And second of all, in terms of the script of men and black, it's not very good. And I don't know how many how to make it better than true. who's really, I'm not much of a director, Chris, Chris path. Shockingly. Okay. So Chris path. By the way, Chris is a really, really good actor. It's just that my wife told me that I wanted well, Smith. So that's the end of that story. So I lived around in East Hampton for 30 years. And Bill Burns spent the summers there. And so we were both in the Hamptons. And I knew Will Smith was in Philly at a wedding. And I arranged for a helicopter to come up and fly well to meet Spielberg. Wow. So Bill Berg met well in East Hampton will was very funny and charming. And and they agreed to let me hire will. In fact, Independence Day didn't come out until about two weeks before we wrapped Principal photography on men and black so I had 18 weeks before well as a movie star he was just a television star so that was easy for me. The last two weeks when that will be open will became will became a movie star.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:41
Did did he become a movie star in those last two weeks?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:18:44
He's always been great is always then relaxed and funny and you know irreverence?

Alex Ferrari 1:18:51
Yeah, that's that must have been amazing. And how was it working with like was I know you did some visual effect work in in Addams Family but men and black was a whole other world

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:19:03
Yes or no? You know, the truth is I was very lucky to have hired Rick Baker to do the the creature design. And Rick taught me and it's something I believe in to this day. Rick taught me that anything you can do with puppets or you should and was so like all the worm guys seemed in men and black, you know, our our rod puppets, you know, we built we always placed the worm guide so that we can have rods coming through a wall behind them. Because then you can add lead. Then your actors are working with other actors because all puppeteers are funny and charming. And are members of sag. And, and they have senses of humor. So you can I there's a line in the First Men in Black where, which wasn't written I threw it into the set which is I said to Tommy, Tommy Yes, the worm guy. pouring your coffee. if, if, if, if it's the same old shit today, and the worm guys goes now Vinnie cinnamon was my favorite kind of coffee when I lived on the Upper West Side was Viennese cinnamon, you know, cinnamon infused in the beans. So you couldn't do that with visual effects. Because most visual effects, supervisors and designers and animators, their strength is not comedy, you know. And also, I gotta tell you, I really, really, really don't like the luck of most modern visual effects movies. I cannot look those Marvel movies. they disobey all they look like video games. First of all, they obey all rules of physics. You can't have Hulk in the foreground on the San Francisco Golden State gutten, the San Francisco bridge, super close up. And all of the San Francisco in the background also be in focus. As soon as you do that, as soon as you don't play depth of field, the audience knows it's not real, the audience knows they're watching a video game. And it just takes you out of the movie. So like even the whole ending when dinajpur yells spacecrafts that he's stolen from the World Fair, crashes into the ground and comes racing up to will and Tommy and a good break through the use of fear. Those were all miniatures, they were giant miniatures, they were all 2025 30 feet big. But it was all shot. Real. Because if that was visual, whenever you go the visual effects, you can put the camera anywhere, you can cheat, you can play with depth of field, and the audience knows that. So Truthfully, I always thought that men and black was a buddy movie with a few visual effects. If you look at it again, it's very rude. And I mean, it's real. And it looks great. But there's not a lot of VFX in it.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:07
I guess you I guess I guess you're right. It is a lot of miniature work there. I mean, it started getting a little bit more like in by two and three, there was a little bit more visual effects in it. But the first one I think was You're right, it was very more pure in the sense of in camera as much as you could.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:22:21
That's right, whatever you can do in camera, whatever you can do with puppets, even if they're, you know, radio controlled puppets or whatever, the whole Men in Black three, you know, the whole Cape Canaveral thing and all that that's all visual effects. I mean, we built the big, fat, but you know, it's way enhanced and all that. But the first one was not a big visual effects movie. But I've always been comfortable around visual effects, you know? Until you know why, because visual effects require pre production. And we talked about this earlier at NYU, when film stock was so expensive. Yeah, always, always design shots way early, because the worst place to ever make a decision is on a movie set. The worst place is not knowing where you want the camera and you'll look out the window as a set. And the crew is all lying on like sound blankets and sunpad we're playing frisbee and a day is a couple of $100,000 a day to shoot and you're wasting time while crews are sleeping. That's devastating. But all visual effects acquires the same thing that low budget requires which is everything is pre planned and there are no surprises

Alex Ferrari 1:23:40
if I you know men and black reminds me of like 48 hours with with aliens basically. In a sense, in a sense like that, because this is the buddy cop movie and they're complete opposites and stuff. I I'm trying to I'm just racking my a crack in my band back and I can't think of a movie. Like men and black or like the buddy. Action sci fi. I think it was the kind of the first one to do that. Am I wrong?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:08
I don't know. Because I'm not a film buff. But you might be right. What's the other one? Midnight Express? No, not Midnight Express. Brolin. Josh? No, no, that's

Alex Ferrari 1:24:19
midnight run. But I'm talking about sigh run. Yeah, so

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:24:23
midnight run is like 48 hours and that it's a buddy movie. This comedy disguises his big mob thing. And in fact, I always thought that Marty whenever there were those big chase scenes and police cars, that I didn't want that I wanted more buddy stuff. And so I think men in black may have been the first buddy science fiction movie, but I don't know. I don't want to take credit for it. But I will say it's a buddy movie. And chemistry was fantastic.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:55
Yeah, that's the thing that people when directors and filmmakers don't understand chemistry We can save you. And so much like if you have good chemistry with actors, it can save that production value. It could save other things like because people are so drawn in by that chemistry. And you could mean Well, we'll just just oozes chemistry, you know, like his his his his energy, but with mixed with Tommy Lee, who is completely opposite, but they get, it's kind of like the ying and yang just works so beautifully together.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:25:26
It's George Burns and Gracie Allen with Will Smith is Gracie Allen and Tommy Lee Jones is George Burns. And, in fact, Tommy, on the first movie hated me because he thought he was in a comedy and kept trying to be funny. And I kept explaining to comedy, Tommy, that. You're going to be funny by doing nothing. You are the audience's point of view. You are the reaction shots. The reality is that more or less, you're the straight man. And he didn't understand coming at all. Well loved him. I loved him. Tommy loved Well, I loved Well, we all love each other. But Tommy really had a problem with me. Luckily, well, so it's okay. And the other problem with Tommy is, he's like a little kid. He was always playing with it. neuralyzer and breaking them. And whenever they had to shoot their gun, because they were space guns, you know, and they didn't make any sound. And he didn't have where he would make a town so he'd go. Army. Go don't make the sound of the gun. I didn't. Well, Tommy. Yeah, you you did it again. Sir. You made the sense. No, I did. Tommy will tell it. Alright, we do. Eight takes where Tommy would one after another like that and not hear a sound so he would do it. Go he was making the gun sound. It's fun. But it was great.

Alex Ferrari 1:26:56
It's funny that my short film had the same problems in it that men in black did because I had guns and my actors would go, I'm like, dude, stop that. We can't, you're ruining the audio.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:09
Right? And we're speaking you make sound.

Alex Ferrari 1:27:12
That was the thing. It was like you got to stop to the Pew Pew or the Chuck Chuck.hat's amazing. Now you also directed another film, which I absolutely loves one of my favorite comedies of all time is Get Shorty. Love, love, love Get Shorty. And and the way you got Get Shorty was through mama Throw Momma from the Train all those years back and you kind of explain that that whole little connection.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:27:42
Studio didn't want to make Elmore Leonard movies no movie that Elmo that had been turned into a movie from an Elmore Leonard novel had ever made money and no studio wanted to make movies that were inside Hollywood. The reason I bring that up is because I bought the paperback of Get Shorty and no one has the rights to it. You know normally right everyone would think you know before you know in galley, they would have read it bought it. Elmore was like not someone that the studio wanted to work with, because none of his movies had done well. Not that he had written, but that he had written a novel not the screenplays, but in any case, I'm on this cruise in my wife I read Get Shorty. And for me Get Shorty is about a guy who's so self confident the Travolta role that he will go from a numbers runner to a big time producer just because everyone in Hollywood is afraid. So if someone comes in with any self confidence, they will rule. Right? Well, I was thinking, who's the most self confident person I I've ever worked with, for no apparent reason. And that's Danny DeVito. So I read the book. I say, sweetie, read this book. Bufalino really, really read the book. She says, Danny, I know exactly. Because Danny is so self I called Danny. I go, I just read a book that you should read. He goes, Okay, I'll buy it. you produce, I'll produce it. You'll direct it. I'll start I go great. He gets the rights to it. He calls me up about six weeks later, says we got the rights. I said you love it. He goes I don't know. I haven't read it. I just bought it because you wanted it. Right. That's pretty great. Wow. So it takes years every studio passes for those two reasons. Elmore Leonard. It's a movie script about moviemaking, Holly. Yes. God Frank has written a brilliant script. For years, no one wants to make it in fact, near the end of the five years it took to even get a studio to agree to make it I get 10 men and black. I get hired to do men and black. I quit men and black, because I'm not getting along with the producers.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:11
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:22
I direct Get Shorty. And then men and black is still available. I see the head is the president of production at the IV at this shore with Huma Thurman. I go up to him and I go by the way, I finished Get Shorty I'm in post production if you want to rehire me to do men and black so now avail so

Alex Ferrari 1:30:43
You shot half of men and black. And then you you have left?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:30:47
Oh no, no, no, I quit before we ever shot and Scott that I like. So I quit. And also because we finally got MGM, who agreed to make Get Shorty. And I'll tell you another story about confidence. And how we got Get Shorty made the budget forget shorty was $30,250,000 mg, MGM said, we'll make the movie for 30 million US to lose 250,000. So Danny DeVito and the line producer and I went to MGM. And I said, All right, have you want to lose the 250? And they said, Well, we've been looking at the budget and truthfully, the budgets very tight. You know, but we do have a few suggestions. You've got 20 $500 down for parking. Isn't that a lot? Can we lose it? Granted? Nope. can't lose it. You got to it's a union rule. You got to pay for parking. If you're on a set instead of sage. But couldn't we do it for 1500? I go, Oh, Jesus, we're gonna save $1,000 here. And Graham says no, it's 2500. And then someone else says, Oh, wait, in this scene. Look at these first four lines. We use the first four lines. Yeah, and I go you know, that won't help because they still need exactly the same setup. repaid see so and then I said look, I'm going to tell you how to lose $250,000 and if we lose the 250 do we ever green light can I leave this room with a green light and we can do this movie if we can lose the 250,000 and now Danny and grammar shot because they know the budget and they know we can't lose 250 and Mike mark is the head of MGM says yes, if you can lose the 250 It's a greenlit movie. And I said okay, there's a scene where Travolta's visit Gene Hackman, his character on the set of one of his 10 day wonders, Gene Hackman is basically playing Roger Corman, you know, Pac Man does these 10 day movies, I said, it's a great scene and it'll be bloody hatchets. And we've got Ben Stiller, who's willing to play the young, and why you recently graduated director. And I said, that scene takes place over two nights. Each night costs $125,000. It's a great scene, but it doesn't move the story forward. If we lose that theme. No one will ever say How did he know? It's just a great scene. But it's not a plot scene. It's a comedy scene. And my philosophy is if you can take a scene out of a movie without it hurting the movie, get rid of it. It's why Get Shorty is the only movie that's over 90 minutes that I've ever directed. And that's because the script is 20 pages longer than a normal movie. So I said we lose that theme. It's two nights 125,000 a night. We save 250 we're on budget and we can get a green light. Mike says find another way. I love that thing. I said you don't need it, Mike and you can't afford it. seen this house? Because it's not out. I love that scene. I said the budget 30 million. With that scene out. We're on budget. We're on schedule. Now. You can't have it. You could Don't tell me I can't have it. I'm the head of the studio and have it because why would take the habit. I said you got it. So I said okay, just to be clear. up this movie is now $30,250,000 with that theme in there. He says I just told you that so I said okay, just checking. So, but the reason I had power was because I was willing to lose the thing. If I wasn't willing to lose the scene, if I was faking it. They would have known it, but I meant it and I met And by the way, this scene is not in the movie. We shot it. And it's a hilarious scene. And Ben Stiller is great. And there's a joke because Travolta who's never been on a movie set who loves movie movies keeps sitting on different director chairs. And people keep saying get out of my fucking chair. So that's sort of a comedy runner. Ben Stiller was hilarious. But it didn't move the story forward. And I could tell the audience was going to get antsy because it came after two other scenes, that were really good thing, but also didn't move the plot forward. It came after the scene at at the movie theater where Travolta is watching Touch of Evil, great thing, you could cut that out of the movie, it's just the scene that shows how much Travolta loves movies. And he's mouthing lines, you know, he's mouthing the line, the fat guy did you know, whatever. So I have my first recruited audience screening. And I have Final Cut on that movie. And Mike Marcus comes to the first recruited audience screening. And the scene isn't in there. Because I knew it wasn't going to work. I didn't even want to try putting it in. Even though it was a great thing. Because once you lose an audience in a comedy, it takes 1015 minutes to ever get them back again. And you hear them scratching their butts and coughing. So I didn't want to ruin the first recruited audience screaming so Marcus is sitting right next to me, Mike Marcus, and he says, Hey, fucker, where's the scene? I said, Mike, it's not going to work. Even look, you have Final Cut. Will you do me a favor? at our next recruited screening? Will you just put it in there so I can see it and convince you otherwise? I said, Mike, I'm going to lose it. shithead you have Final Cut. I've seen it this way. Just do it. Everyone calls me shithead and little fuckers. The next recruited audience screening we have I put the scene in there. Halfway through the scene is starting here. The audience cough and Russell. And Mike leans over to me and says, You fucking piece of shit. You were right.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:31
But what's fascinating is that you pull the Jedi mind trick on him. in that meeting is like for that extra 250,000 it was fascinating how you turned it on. On on its head. It's it's Hollywood 101 it really is a masterclass of how to work that room, if you ever able to get into that room.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:37:50
That's right. But the secret is, you have to mean it. And you have to be what dumped off at. Scott Rudin does the same thing, but he's full of shit. When he says, Come on, let's jump off the cliff. Or if I can't have Maggie Smith, I'm gonna you know, shut down. I don't believe Listen, did you ever see Jake has been movies a TV set?

Alex Ferrari 1:38:14
No, I haven't. I know that.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:38:17
Jake has been directed this fantastic comedy about pilot season called the TV set with David's the company. And part of the issue part of what David's the company is a writer director. And they what they do is they they know they want this actor. They want actor a, but you never bring one actor into the studio room to audition. You always need someone who the studio can say no, don't like them, right. But you usually bring in an actor who's good enough that if they say we want after being you're not stuck, but in Jake's movie, they bring an actor a who they all want, you know, except the studio and then the Worst Actor ever and the actor and the studio of course as well. We love that terrible actor we so the company's characters stuck directing the Worst Actor ever. So you don't want to pull a fast one and and be called on it. Like you don't want my markets and say, All right. 30 million means not having that theme. So I'm not having it. So that's why don't pick a scene you really want pick a scene that you really believe. If that's and I'm always a big believer, I always say I'd rather do 90 scenes perfectly, where I have the right budget and the right cranes and the right actors and I didn't need a day player and I was able to cast this guy, the 91 scene where every scene is compromised because there's just too many scenes. So I couldn't have the techno crane and I had to go with a day player. So I'm always willing to pare down the budget to lose stuff I don't need to the stuff I have left, I can do really well. They're very smart. By

Alex Ferrari 1:40:12
Now. Can you tell me what your favorite part of the whole filmmaking process is?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:40:18
My two favorite parts of pre production and post production. The worst part is directing and being on the set, because I have to, to follow his favorite part, his post. And it's kind of my favorite part too. But you know, to follow says, the worst your movie is ever going to be in the last day you're shooting, and then you get to make it good again. Now, you wanted a sunset, but it was overcast that day, there's no sunset, but you have to shoot anyway. It's only disappointing. You never leave the set at the end of the day thing. That was surprisingly much better than I thought you leave the set every day. I don't know if we have the theme or not. But that's we're moving on. On down tomorrow, so. And then in post production, you lose stuff, you get rid of stuff. You have ADR, you have music, you have visual effects. You suddenly discover I remember there was a scene in Addams Family. And Didi and I were about five months into cutting and I said to dt, should we just lose the thing and vd one? Yeah. And I said, How long? Have you known that? She said, Well, a couple of months. And I said, Well, why didn't you tell me? She said, like a good psychiatry. She said, you had to discover, to lose. And I suppose we lose it. She said, yeah. And or sometimes when the third act isn't working, don't touch the third act, touch the second act. Oh, people are so bored in the second act that they've given up on the third act. just shorten the 32nd. Act and change nothing the third act, and people say, why don't you change is the third act, not a thing. It was all an act an act. So post production, what you learn is that film is a very fluid plastic medium where you can change things. Also audiences are so stupid about continuity, and oh, yeah, change things. And, you know, in blood simple, we use five different cars for race. There's a Fiat, there's an Oldsmobile, a bow, a Buick, and another Buick one Buick was yellow and one was green. And no one notices that they're fun that ray is driving five different cars. And they think it's just one cartel. My favorite part is, post. My second favorite part is prep, where you have all the time in the world to design the shots and figure stuff out. And suddenly, you're with the writer saying, Hey, listen, I, you know, can you add a thing here? Because I need more space to get from A to B for the actor because I want to be tracking with him the whole time without a better way? Or do you say the production designer? Can you move that window so it's exactly opposite the door so roll can open the door and I could pull back through the whole set out the other window and see pubert been jumping off, whatever. So post and prep, anything that's not dressed related.

Alex Ferrari 1:43:24
I like and shooting is the most stress related there is and what I find what I find funny is that no matter no matter how big the movie, or how small the movie, The problems are similar, and they're just the same like everything you just said, I have gone through on my indie movies, my indie productions, my indie commercial, doing commercial work a music video work a TV work, it's all the same $300 million dollars or $30,000

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:43:54
it's absolutely blood sample had the same problems that men and black three had except men and black three, actually, we could just throw more money at it and play simple. We could. So but it's the same problem. You know, losing fat, that kind of stuff. Wrong actor.

Alex Ferrari 1:44:12
Yes, yes. Now, can you tell us about your new book? Barry Sonnenfeld call your mother.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:44:19
Yeah, well, the second half of the book is pretty much what we've been talking about you know, it's about meeting the colon and blood sample and there's a lot about Addams Family and there's a lot about there's very little about men and black or any of that stuff because it says you know always hope for sequel but to the second half is about my career in the movie business, Scott Rutan, all that stuff. So first is how I got to where I am today, which is by having totally insane narcissistic parent. The title of the book Barry sonnenfeld. Call your mother is because at 220 in the morning Night, April, January 1970, while Jimi Hendrix was warming up Madison Square Garden 19,600 people over the PA system, Barry sonnenfeld call your mother titled The bug, my mother was very protective over protective I said I'd be home at two, it was 220. So therefore in that 20 minutes, she assumed I had died, obviously, obviously obvious. And this is, you know, way before painful as this is before you know pagers or cell phones or anything, he has to go to the payphone. And call your mother weeping because you assume your father has died. because how else would someone be able to convince anyone who picked up the phone to go through enough levels to get this Weeping Woman to speak to the person who has to decide Yes, we will make this announcement. I mean, it's truly amazing. And I'll tell you a funny story. I was there that night with my girlfriend, we were seniors at the highest School of Music. And, and due to the Coronavirus, she had been looking to some bio boxes and found the ticket stub of the fact that she and I went to the mats at Shea Stadium. The day the Mets won the World Series and had sent me that stub and she said, You know I couldn't find your dress. So I did some research. And I see you have a new book out called Barry sonnenfeld call your mother. I remember that evening. So well, you must really remember it. So I have proved that I'm not making up the story that my girlfriend from 50 years ago, found me send me the ticket stub for the Mets game. And remember that, that it referred to the Madison Square Garden. So the first half is about my young life, how I became sort of a person fed with neurosis. And based on all the sort of adventures I had growing up. And they they sort of interweave like in the middle of a story about my fear of flying based on my mother's convincing pilots to drop the oxygen mask because she thought she was having a heart attack while flying on our first commercial flight to Miami. I'll make our move. I'll interweave that with having a meeting with MC Hammer. At the end of Adams family, you know he wrote this great family, of course, yeah, they do what they want to do say what

Alex Ferrari 1:47:44
They want to say live, how they want to live, play how they want to play, of course.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:47:50
But that that fear of flying sorry, becomes leading MC Hammer, the fact that I knew I was going to sell one of my 1962 Lincoln Continentals to a black person. And when I was meeting hammer, I parked my Lincoln right in front of where we were having our meeting at Paramount so that he could see the the car and I said to hammer how many cards do you own? This is after, you know, we convinced them to write the song. He says, Well, I have 12 and I said I think it's going to be 13 and he says, Wait, that's not your Lincoln, is it? So I felt MC Hammer my Lincoln. So these stories are into woven within the body of the book for the most part,

Alex Ferrari 1:48:30
You are fairly well adjusted for a man raised like with a mother that neurotic I I too had a Cuban mom, a Cuban Cuban mom from Miami. So absolutely, if it's 202 you're dead. If you're dead, you're dead. You're dead in the streets. If it's two, if it's 220 The devil is taking your soul. So there's no there's no confirmation of the dead body. So now we have to up it dead is not enough. The soul is gone.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:04
By those Cuban mothers can give the Jewish mothers who run for their money.

Alex Ferrari 1:49:08
Man, I feel you my friend, I feel it. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:49:20
Okay, if you're a writer, write a script because what we talked about is that a script is something that you own, that no one can take away from you. You can either sell it or insist that you're the director or they you ever producing credit or whatever. write a script. If you want to learn how to make films, I would say try to get a job in the cutting room. Because editing is where you learn to structure and storytelling. The great thing about nowadays is because there are video cameras that are very available and cheap and because there's so many outlets. The other thing I would do is if I wanted to be a film director or a cameraman or something Or filmmaker, I'd find a couple of friends that are very good actors. And I would write some stuff for them and shoot these eight or 10 minutes things and start to develop storylines or characters for these little show. So, you know, I did recently did a q&a with Jerry Seinfeld and said 92nd Street y in New York. And someone said, to Jerry, how do you become a writer? And I loved his answer so much. He said, How do you write there, he said, You got a pen, and you get a pad. And you turn off your phone, and you turn off your computers, and you sit there. And he said, you're writing, even if you haven't written anything, just don't touch your phone. That's, and at the end of the day, maybe you've written four lines, maybe you haven't written anything, but you your process of sitting there with that pen and that pad, you are writing. And I think it's so brilliant and so true. And then the same way, if you declare yourself a director, and you start directing, you are a director. So get out there, make those small, little films, find a couple of great actors write some funny or interesting or, you know, there was this guy, when GoPro first did this amazing parkour thing. And he got himself a feature from it. And I don't think this feature did well, but it was just so visually arresting was about an eight minute video, you know, where the camera went everywhere? So what I would say is, start doing stuff, don't talk about it, go out and start shooting.

Alex Ferrari 1:51:44
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:51:50
Okay, I'm going to talk about that film industry. The lesson I took me the longest time to learn, and I finally learned it is, although this book might queer that deal, because I might anger some people. But in any case, I would always when I had disagreements about the studio, you know, with on the men and black movies or whatever. And we were going to do some reshoots, or whatever. And some and, you know, head of the studio, whatever had ideas I go, I couldn't disagree more, or can I totally disagree with that? That's what we need. Will Smith kept saying to me, he called me bad. Keep saying bad. That's, that doesn't help. Don't don't take that approach, because now they're on the defensive. And I'm many black three, I wanted to do some additional photography. And the head of the studio had one, one series of ideas, and I had a totally different set of ideas. She presented her set of ideas. And instead of saying, I totally disagree, I said, I so. So see why you think those scenes are great, and I so appreciate why those seeds are exactly what you think we need. And without any more saying why I think those are great ideas. Here, here's what I have come up with, that would say totally different stuff. But I would get it and I was allowed to do what I wanted to do, because I didn't immediately anger everyone by saying, I disagree. Or that's a stupid idea, or that's not what we need. Instead, I'd say, totally understand all those reasons. I think they're all great ideas. I have some different ideas. And I'll tell you what I think my ideas will do for us. But I no longer say bad idea. I disagree. I start out totally agreeing with them. So that they are no longer adversary. But we're on the same team. And that took me decades to learn.

Alex Ferrari 1:54:01
You're very Jedi Master esque. When you speak like this

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:07
250 grand. I came to Jedi very late. You don't want that person you want. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 1:54:19
These are not the droids you're looking for sir. Now, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome when you made or you were first walked onto a set, whether that be blood simple, or like that convinced you to? I can do this? Like what was that fear you had to overcome?

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:54:39
Well, as a cinematographer, I needed to start to see dailies and to see that the way I thought because this again, is way before video tap even. So it's not like now you're on the set and you look at a monitor and what you see is what you get, because everyone uses video cameras. So I had to discover that I was good. And that I didn't know what I was doing as a cameraman. I mean, literally, I had shot a bunch of porn and some industrials for Rabbi Gelman picture. boxes. So, on the set of blood symbol, I had never done this before, literally had never shot a feature. So I hadn't started to see stuff to see, oh, I'm okay. I can do this. And, and then when I became a director, again, I had to spend enough time with the actors. And believe me, I was totally stressed out. I fainted on The Addams Family set one morning, I, I then convinced myself just overtime, you know that. The other thing is, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get doing it. Right? is why I was saying to your audience, when they're starting out, just keep doing it, do another one, do another one, do another eight minute video, do another format. Do that. Because the more stuff you shoot, the more you realize, Oh, I see if I'm over the shoulder here with a 50 millimeter and then I come around to the other over the shoulder. And I'm on a 21 millimeter, it doesn't match and they don't look like they're in the same roomy than I should use the same lens on both over the shoulder stuff like that. You don't know until you do. And that's that's the great thing about film school. Although now you can do it on your own. Which is it allows you to make movies and until you actually make them. You don't. You can't watch a lot of movies and figure out all those things. You got to do it.

Alex Ferrari 1:56:43
Right. Yeah, you could look at someone writing music. But until you actually start kidding. I listened to a symphony. It's easy. I could do this. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Now the toughest question of all three of your favorite films of all time.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:00
Oh, that's easy. Dr. Strangelove. That's my number one. I really like taxi driver. I haven't seen it in a long time. I want to say taxi driver. And I'm going to say Palm Beach story, which is a comedy directed by Preston Sturges.

Alex Ferrari 1:57:22
Now, since you said Dr. Strangelove is your favorite, I have to do a follow up question which is your favorite Kubrick film? I'm assuming you're of Kubrick fan. Dr. Strange.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:57:32
It's a strange job is my favorite movie ever. My favorite Kubrick movie number two, I would say it's 2001. I didn't like Eyes Wide Shut. I don't think I saw Clockwork Orange because it seemed too scary. You know, I've never seen a scary movie I've never seen like, shiny now, or Exorcist or anything like that. You know, the prom was when I was a kid. I want to see Jason and the Argonauts. And there's that scene was a skeleton. And it was scary movie I ever saw. I think it was like 10 and I would never do I've never seen a twilight zone or or an outer limit or anything.

Alex Ferrari 1:58:20
Never seen so sorry. More. So in your wheelhouse the comedies the comedies in the action. Yes, yes. Yes. And can you tell the audience where they can find the book and when it's out.

Barry Sonnenfeld 1:58:35
The book came out on March 10. And it's hard to get right now because Amazon, the bookstores, the claws, so I what I would say is either buy the Kindle version and read it on your iPad, there's about 100 photos in it so the iPad is a really good way to read it. Or the audio book is read by me. You get 10 hours of this voice but I'm very sarcastic while reading it I don Katz is the CEO of audible.com told me that rarely does he has he listened to a book where the reader knew where to put the quotation marks within their voice and I have great thing and I pause and just the right place. So he thought I did a very good job reading it which was surprising to me because I didn't want to read it I wanted max Greenfield curry that Max's as become a friend of mine but they wanted hash one is the publisher wanted me to read it. So I did. So you can order it as a hardcover from either you know, Amazon or Barnes and Noble it just takes a while because your backlog because of shipping other things for Coronavirus and stuff like that. But I would say if you want immediate gratification even the audio book, the audible dotcom book or the download the Kindle version,

Alex Ferrari 2:00:03
And it makes the most sense that you, you would be a good audio book reader because you tell stories you've been telling stories your entire life. So you have that knack already to just the pacing, the story of just listening to you tell your story so brilliantly. The pacing, the timing, it's it's there. I'm sure at a party, you are the center of attention.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:29
Well, I'm an only child and I'm Jewish. So I'm supposed to be.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:33
Exactly. And before we leave, can you tell the audience your philosophy of life?

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:44
Yeah, nine words.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:47
Go ahead.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:48
Regret the past. Fear the present. Read the future.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:55
Very optimistic.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:00:57
Well, okay, I'm gonna leave you with this.

Alex Ferrari 2:00:59
Yeah, go ahead.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:00
There's no upside in being an optimist. There is only an upside in being a pessimist. And I'll tell you why. If you get on a plane, and you stand with a guy sitting next to you, and you say, this plane is going to crash before we get to Cleveland, either one of two things happens. If the plane starts to nosedive, you get turned to the guy sitting next to you and go, Oh, was I right? or walk? Or if the plane doesn't crash, you win. Because you've landed successfully in Cleveland. It's a win win, as long as you're a pessimist.

Alex Ferrari 2:01:38
Because if you would have been positive in that situation, like yeah, I think we're gonna be clear sailing. And if it starts going nailed down, you're just like, Well,

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:01:46
No win, no elbowing the guy next to you going Hello. Oh, yeah. Sorry, always be a pessimist that's my.

Alex Ferrari 2:01:56
And on that note, sir, I truly thank you for all the time you dedicated to to the show today, it has been an absolute pleasure. I know, we could probably speak for another four or five hours. But thank you so much for your wisdom and your humor, and your entertainment today. Because it's been an absolute joy talking to you. So thank you, Barry.

Barry Sonnenfeld 2:02:16
You too, it's been a total pleasure and I stay safe. And we'll see each other when I eventually get to LA.

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Top 15 Television Showrunner Writing Podcasts

Behind every great television or streaming show lives a showrunner that is running the creative and business journey. Below are some of the top showrunners working in television. In these interviews they discuss ow they got their start, what they look for in a writer for their writer’s room, 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 list 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.

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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BPS 162: Writing Blockbuster Movies & Television with Danny Strong

Today on the show we have writer, producer, actor, director and Emmy® winning show runner Danny Strong.

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.

Strong transitioned into directing with several episodes of Empire. He made his feature directorial debut with Rebel in the Rye that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by IFC Films.

Over the years he has continued his acting career with recurring roles in many highly acclaimed TV shows including Mad Men, Girls, Justified, Billions and The Right Stuff. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California and attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Danny Strong.

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Alex Ferrari 0:17
I like to welcome the show Danny Strong how're you doing Danny?

Danny Strong 3:36
Good, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:37
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've I've been following your career for quite some time. And, and of course, a fan of many of the shows that you've worked on and things that you've written. So I'm excited to kind of jump into your process and what we do. So before we get started, how did you get started in this insanity that is the film industry?

Danny Strong 3:59
Wow. That's a very good question. So I was a theater major in college. And I did plays in high school. And I was able to get an agent while I was in high school. But I never booked anything. So I was it was wasn't exactly a successful time. So I never booked anything. But I kept you know doing theater non stop and then majored in college and then I booked a couple jobs in college. You know, I booked a couple commercials and then a roll on Saved by the Bell, the new class probably the favorite show of your audience. I think that's all they want, I think their audiences and not even the original set by about the new class that they're particularly. So I did that and then and then I didn't really start booking jobs as an actor until I graduated college. And it was a few months after I graduated that I booked an episode of Third Rock from the Sun which was a huge cinema And then a month later, I booked an episode of Seinfeld. And so now I kind of went from no resume to two biggest sitcoms on television, which was incredibly exciting. And then in the next six months, I booked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and did that for several years as a recurring. So so things started happening pretty, pretty fast out of college, although it seems like endless at the time. And then by that by the time I was 24, I was working full time as an actor, in that I was supporting myself. And I didn't need a day job. So that was very exciting. And it was, by the way, I wasn't even working all that much. But I was making enough money with sort of a combination of small guest stars on TV commercials, voiceover an occasional movie. It was real scrappy, of just anything, I can land, voiceover radio, jobs, you know, anything I could get I did and, and then I started writing when I was about 25. And that's when I wrote my first script, and didn't sell my first script until I was 32. So it took seven years of writing before I was able to get my first paycheck as a writer. That's kind of the faster the fast version

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Of the beginning of your career. And that's, that's fascinating, because, you know, as so many filmmakers think that it takes in screenwriters think it's overnight? Like oh, yeah, Danny Strong, he must have just jumped in like, Hollywood loves to put you in a box and you're the you are in the acting box. So when you try to break out of that box to do something else, it's even that much harder than if you try to go in at the beginning. Is that correct?

Danny Strong 6:43
Well, to be honest with you, that wasn't my experience at all. Okay, it was it was the second I started writing scripts. A couple people were a bit I Rowley about it, but but the scripts speak for themselves. Okay, so I, you know, once I was able to get some people to read that first script, I wrote what people really liked it. And then it didn't matter that I was an actor. And most people in the development world, which are the people who read scripts for a living, they know that actors that can write, make can make really good writers. So it's sort of understood that that's not an unnatural progression from actor to writer, they've got a real good grasp of dialogue, usually a good grasp of character. And it's in its many are many a writer, and many writers I've worked with either on staff on one of my TV shows, or just screenwriters that I know, started off as actors. So it's, it's a natural progression. So now I find that Hollywood can follow your lead times when you say what you want to do. So I want to do this. It's like, okay, well, are you doing it? Are you trying to do it? And if you are, then then people respond to that. It's usually not a situation where no, you're an actor, and you will never write you will never write. It's, it's really not as close minded is the perception is

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Very, very cool. So then, as an actor, what did you bring it from being an actor to writing? Like, what were the skill sets that you brought in? From just those two years of work and I'm assuming being on sets and watching everybody and all that stuff over the years.

Danny Strong 8:23
Yeah, I think that my background is an actor is sort of my biggest weapon as a writer, director, producer, everything it is, as a writer, it's I spent years and years reading and working on the best plays ever written in the history of humanity. Right, working on the plays of Shakespeare and check off and Ibsen and Edward Albion, Arthur Miller, and, and I spent years working on that material, and you're reading it, you're analyzing it, you're inside of it. And I think it's the inside of it. That is one of the biggest tools for me as a writer, because I write is someone who, you know, when I when I, when I start writing the dialogue, I write as if I'm inside the scene, playing the scene as the characters and and that comes from my background as an actor from spending endless numbers of years just doing that for a living or doing it for free. And, you know, doing all the plays that I did, and all the auditions I did, it didn't go anywhere. You're constantly just working on material. And and that's a different stage of the writing process than the early stages, which is the outlining stage for me. That's what I do. You know, it's sort of the the beginning stages. So, so less my acting background comes into play there. But then when it comes to actually writing the scenes, the acting background is a huge part of it.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Do you recommend screenwriters take an acting class or two just to kind of get inside?

Danny Strong 9:57
Oh, yeah, I mean, why why were you how that'd be a bad thing. And I've been in acting classes. So I stayed in acting classes. Like I said, I was a theater major at USC, graduated. And then I stayed in acting classes the whole time until my first movie went into production when I was 33. So I spent 11 years in acting classes. And in my attitude was I treated it like I was a professional tennis player. And I just need to be hitting balls as much as possible. So I was constantly in class. And there would be writers and directors that would, from time to time come in, and they would, you know, be there for three months, two months, that sort of thing. And they go, yeah, their director and the writer and, and I couldn't think of a more valuable thing for either one of them to do than to do that.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
Now. Is it true I read somewhere that you used to rent videos from video archives, and there was a young store clerk they used to talk to quite often about movies is that true?

Danny Strong 10:59
Yeah. So I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, very different now than it was then it's like it now it's very wealthy. When I was a kid there, it was lower middle to lower middle class, sleepy beach town, right. And there was this avant garde video store where they would have foreign films, and the films would be categorized by director. And, and my mom knew I loved adult movies as a kid. So she would, she would take me there. And the clerk was this really eccentric young guy. And I was 11. But I looked like I was seven. And, and I would just spend all this time with him, getting advice on certain movies, and I spent so much time talking to him that it made my mom feel uncomfortable. She's like, why are you spending so much time talking to him while I'm like talking to him? And it was Quentin Tarantino. And it was and so I and because I was in there so much. They called me little Quinton. And that was my nickname. Wow. Yeah, it was little Quentin. And then many years later, Quentin got this huge award from the home video Association. And he asked if I would come to the ceremony. So and we live in stay tight is a you know, in my adult age, but but perfectly friendly, you know, and he loves that I became a writer. And he and he, he, in his in his big speech to the big to the audience, he had me stand up and introduced me as a little Quinton from the video store and told the whole story about how I used to read videos from him. And he had the funniest and that was literally he ended his speech. It was so funny, he said, he said, So now when I look back upon my career, and I see that little Quinton is so successful. Oh, I just think God that I was successful too. Because of little Quinton was successful. And I wasn't, I would blow my fucking brain.

Alex Ferrari 12:54
One of the amazing that it does it oh my god, that's an amazing story. Because it's on brand for Mr. Tarantino.

Danny Strong 13:03
It is very, very much on brand. Yeah. And then he finally cast me in a movie, which was so exciting. I was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 13:10
Oh, right. That's right.

Danny Strong 13:11
My scene was cut, although it is in the DVD. And it was, it was an amazing experience getting to watch them direct for a day.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
That must have been awesome. Now, you know, with all you know, being an actor, you deal with a tremendous amount of rejection. And I'm assuming as a writer, you do as well, how do you deal with rejection? Because we get mostly, if I may say we get mostly no's then rather than yes's in this business, correct?

Danny Strong 13:40
Yeah. Yeah. It's all no all the time. I mean, now, that was why I started writing was that I was working as an actor. Like I said, I was supporting myself, but yet all year long, I would hear no. And the no would be no, they don't want to see you for the part. No, you didn't get the callback, or no, you didn't get the part. And that's literally, you know, three, four times a week. That's what you're getting. And it's maybe once every three or four months, you're finally getting a yes. And a great song you. So for me, I actually started writing to deal with the sort of subconscious trauma being rejected all year long. And then I remember there was a period of about 18 months, when I couldn't get arrested as an actor. I just went into this. I don't know what happened. I just couldn't get hired. And then that was part of the seven years where no one was buying my scripts. So it was like a brutal 18 months of, of things not working out. Now, what's great about writing versus acting, is that as a writer, you can go do it. So you can just you can just go write a script, it doesn't matter if someone has bought it. If someone's interested in it. You can literally just sit down and write whenever you want or whenever you have availability based on if you have a job etc. Right but you can Go do it. And so for my attitude is particularly on the writing, when you write a script, and then you're ready to show it to people or to take it out to market, whatever that means. You should be working on your next scripts. So that when the nose do start coming in, and the noes come to people at the highest levels of the industry there have the biggest screenwriters and biggest directors, you know, they're well this only get made if I can get one order to Caprio or Tom Cruise, and then they send it to an art gallery or Tom Cruise and they go, No, we don't want to do the movie. You know, so everyone deals with that. But as a writer, what you can do is you can just go start working on your next script, and it really does help get your mind off the rejection because you're creatively grooving on something new.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
No, do you? What is your writing process? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? Do you outline?

Danny Strong 15:54
Yeah, it's a combination of things. It's sort of hard to say, because it differs for every project. But I will say the one place that is pretty kind of a standard starting point for me is research, right? So if I'm writing a true story, like in dope sick, it's the opioid crisis, well, I just start reading books. And then I'll usually read two books on something, just read it without even taking notes. So I get a sense of the global macro of the story, I get a sense of characters that have kind of popped for me, you know, hopefully, these books are good. Hope you pick the right ones. Yeah, yeah. Well, and by the way, I go to a certain amount of research to figure out what are the right books, you know, sometimes there's only one book, depending on what it is, but, but um, or even if it's a fictional piece, I'll start with research. You know, when I started, when I wrote Empire, the pilot, I started just watching documentaries on hip hop, right? Just let me just watch some Hip Hop documentaries. So so so that's phase one, which is just get information coming in, and then maybe notetaking, maybe not, then once I kind of feel like I've got a sense of the global. So let's say there's two books on something that I've read, and I'm like, Oh, I really get this now. Then I go reread those books. But now I'm taking careful notes. And I'm writing notes, I'm writing characters, I'm writing scenes, I'm writing all this information. Because things can inspire other things. Right? So I can get I can get it will be like, Oh, this Oh, look at it, there's a whole sequence that I'm coming up with based upon a sentence. You know, when I adapted the book, Game Change into the movie game change. There was one paragraph that was the gave me the inspiration for the entire film. And I was like, oh, that's the whole movie right there. That one paragraph, we're talking about Steve Schmidt did this and then he did this. And then he had to do this. And I'm like, oh, that sounds like my entire movie. It was and it outlined it for you. But film, yeah, was was essentially inspired from that paragraph. But so. So that's what it is, then it's like taking notes, writing scene ideas, character ideas. Sometimes it's stuff from the books or the documentaries, sometimes all it does is it starts inspiring ideas, and then I go off on my own tangent entirely. And then once I've finished the that stage of the research, and this is important, don't get bogged down in definitely in the research, because you can, you can do that for three years if you want, right. So what I do is literally, I try to do enough of it, where I feel like, Oh, I've got a sense of what this is and how I could pull this off. Um, then I'll start actually outlining from those set of notes and kind of freeform thinking that I've done. And then once I have an outline, before I go write the script, sometimes what I'll do is I'll go read another book, or I'll go read two more books. You know, sometimes there's like 20 books on something, right? And then there's a new set of ideas that come in. And then from there, then I go, actually, write.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Now, I always love asking creators this, there's I always say that there's this kind of, well of inspiration that is ours, that we can tap into. It's kind of like almost being in the flow or in that state of mind, the flow state of mind. What is it in your actual writing process that allows you to tap into your creativity, that inspiration, the muse for better or worse, because sometimes the Muse shows sometimes she does it, you know, how do you tap into that?

Danny Strong 19:42
So I don't I just show up every day.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
And she shows and you let her know, hey, I'm gonna be here. If you're ready.

Danny Strong 19:48
I'm just there. I'm there every day and I'm going to do something. Some days. There'll be today I had all these great plans. Those plans did not succeed, but I did get something done. Yes. Clearly it happened today.

Alex Ferrari 20:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 20:13
And but something was achieved today, right? So so it's really a matter of just showing up every day. And you know, I say that inspiration is for amateurs. And I don't mean that in in a hostile way. You know, if you're, say, a lawyer, and you want to write a book, and you've always had this novel, you want to dry it, or you wanted to write a memoir of a case you had, right, but you're not a professional writer. But you're gonna try it by the way, you may be great at it, it's very possible that you are, but that's the kind of person who's like I need to be inspired. And maybe I need to rent a house by a lake, you know, and go away, because that's what writers do. And it's very romantic write, for me, I'm a professional writer, I've been writing now for 22 years, and and of those 22 years, I've been getting paid 15 of those years, which has its own set of, I mean, it sounds incredible. But there's a whole lot of stress that comes from taking people's money, and then delivering a script to them, right? So so it's literally a matter of, no, I just have to go do it. Now I'm at a point where I'm trying to take days off, where I'm like, just you shouldn't write on Sunday, you need to take Sunday off. You know, my fiance does not appreciate it, she would like me to take Sunday off. Yeah. And so it's it's um, but that act of doing it consistently, what it does is that you do it, then for the rest of the day, your mind is processing things that you don't even know it's processing. You may have hit some walls that day, then you come back the next day, and you have solutions to those walls that your mind has just figured out on its own throughout the course of the day. I've had so many solutions to problems company when I wake up in the morning. And it's sometimes it's it's that period where you're not fully awake, but you're kind of starting to get away. Oh, this is the best part. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and then I'd be like, but that solution would have showed up that next morning, had I not had the session the day before. So it's it's the consistency of the back the back of it is is what I think is is what I do. And I think it's incredibly important.

Alex Ferrari 22:27
Now your one of your scripts got to the top of the blacklist, which is recount was that the was that the you know, was? Was the town or was Hollywood taking you like taking notice of your writing? You know, heavily? I mean, because when you get to the top of the blacklist, everybody in town knows who you are. Was that like a career defining moment for you as a writer?

Danny Strong 22:50
You know, it actually wasn't because the script had already exploded. Okay, gripped, had blown up and become a huge deal. And then had already gone into production. And I actually found out about the blacklist on the plane ride home after we wrapped production. Oh, Jesus, isn't that crazy? Like I was sitting on the plane going through my phone and someone congrats, and I didn't really know what it was. And what was great was, that was the year the blacklist kind of became famous. And there were all these newspaper articles on the blacklist. And so to be number one on the blacklist the year was on payment. That's a very cool year. So, so it didn't add that disrupted already sort of changed everything for me before that, that was just a really neat kind of cherry on top.

Alex Ferrari 23:37
Now, how did you approach adapting the Hunger Games? Mockingjay? Because I mean, at the point that you came in on it, it already is a pretty well established franchise, and there has to be slight pressure on you.

Danny Strong 23:52
Yeah, the pressures enormous. That was a very strange job, because there was this enormous, you know, it was one of the biggest jobs in the business at the time, everyone. Yeah, I mean, it was just like, the first one was the biggest movie of the year. The second one was in production. Um, and so you had to go pictures. The franchise was particularly strong, in that that first movie was really terrific. Everyone really respected it. The book, The books were really beloved amongst a huge swath of age range. So it was a it was just I was really flattered when I got asked to pitch on it. I was told they'd gone out to 10 writers and I'm one of the 10. And to me, that was the when I'm like, Oh my God, how cool was that? And I'm like, one of the 10 that they've asked to, to pitch on this. And then lo and behold, I get the job right. Now, I hadn't even read the books before. They come to me to pitch and they asked me in that in that meeting, they said have you read the books? I said, No, I haven't. So I saw the first movie, and I loved it. And they said, Well, okay, read the next two books as fast as you can, and then come up with a pitch. So that's what I did. And then the job itself, it was very unusual because it was they wanted it to be really close to the book. There wasn't a lot of room for veering away from the book, which I totally understood and didn't disagree with. Then at the same time, they wanted some new ideas, of course, but they didn't like my new ideas. Right? Well, I thought I'd pick shag new ideas. And I always get like, Now now, you know, and so I, you know, and it was just this weird tightrope where I was like, Wow, I'm a really, really high paid plagiarist. You know, they just want me to stick to the book. So then I wrote the first, you know, part one of Mockingjay. And they really liked it. And they hired me to write part two. And I was, I was like, okay, it was, by the way, wasn't, I didn't love doing the job to be honest with you. Because of everything I just explained. Just weird. I mean, it was like, it was like, we want this really close to the book. Okay, but but then we want other things, okay, but we don't like what you're pitching. Okay, but we do like you now, you know, um, and it was I didn't, I just didn't enjoy working on it. But then they hired me to do the next one. Which was, I mean, it was like, Well, I can't say no, right. So so then I did, I did the next one. And then they brought in another writer, which was the first time that had happened to me, you know, they had me do rewrites? No, no, they had them do rewrites on three. And then I finished four, and I turned in four. And then by that point, they really liked the writer who did rewrites on three, and they had them do rewrites on four and they sent me on my merry way. They said by It was a pleasure. Not really. And and I was actually quite happy to move on from the job to be honest with you. Very honest answer.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
They're very, that's a,

Danny Strong 27:13
But that's what but yeah, that's how it went. It was it was like I wrote three they liked it. They hired me to write for while they simultaneously hired someone to do rewrites on three, they did that because they were shooting them at the same time. So there was they in their minds, there wasn't enough time. And and then so then I wrote four, then that same writer came on here, Craig, lovely guy. And then they had him do rewrites on four. And that that was the end of my journey on the Hunger Games.

Alex Ferrari 27:40
And that's the thing that a lot of writers don't think that there's a glow. Well, you know, Danny Strong is not going to get, you know, rewritten or that it happens to everybody. I talked to Eric Roth, and it happened to Eric Roth.

Danny Strong 27:51
Oh, yeah, it's not so not in movies at that budget. It's extremely common. And in this case, there were two movies before, in which these huge writers of high Academy Award nominated or winning writers were rewritten. So I kind of knew going into it that that's kind of the deal. And it was it was pretty common for big budget. tentpole movies to have multiple writers on them. So it's not like you I go in, I don't go into that job, thinking, Oh, this is my artistic vision. I sort of go into the job hoping that I can get through it without having people upset with me. Which, by the way, is not, you know, and I haven't done a job like that sense. Because of it, though.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
And you I'm sure you've been offered a pitch or you've been offered.

Danny Strong 28:40
Yeah, I get offered all the time, you know, different things. And, and I'm and I have done a few in that time period since then. But for the most part. It's a it was a very good life learning experience of situations I'd prefer not to be in.

Alex Ferrari 28:58
Right. And that's kind of where you've made your bones heavily in television where the writer is more keen, especially.

Danny Strong 29:04
Yeah, well, it's a combination of a few things, which is, right if it's time that the medium started changing, right where movie dramas started becoming smaller and smaller are not being made at all. And then there's massive tentpole movies, you know, like what I was working on, but I didn't enjoy working on it. So I didn't want to do that again. So literally for the next year and a half after Hunger Games. I was getting offered a sort of big tentpole things and I didn't want to do them. So then the drama that I want to be working on, they're not really making anymore, so I but I go and I make an independent film. And then simultaneously, television is now starting to take off dramatically, creatively, in many ways to a number of writers feeling like that's actually a much more interesting space to work in. On a multiple different levels, so it was like the business starts changing. I was very fortunate that right when that happens, I created the show empire that was a massive hit. So now I've gotten cachet. And some, you know, a lot of interest in me in a space that is simultaneously kind of becoming the booming space. So the timing was was really great. And I feel very fortunate.

Alex Ferrari 30:27
Now I have to ask you, because I mean, I'm a huge empire fan. I watched every episode and loved empire. I think I caught up to it on seas. I think you guys were in season three. And someone said, You got to watch empire. So I binged the first seat and I was just like, the writing was so tight. The characters were so outlandish. They were beautiful. How did you? What made you jump into this world? I mean, I'm assuming you haven't been hardcore hip hop your entire life. So how did you jump in?

Danny Strong 30:54
What was great was the only person who knew less about hip hop than me was Lee Daniels. Literally would joke about how we know nothing about hip hop, right. But when it happened was I wrote the movie, the butler that leaving directed, and then we'd become pretty close and post production on that project, where he really valued my feedback and notes. And it was the kind of thing where he started, you know, just saying, like, what are we doing next? What are we doing next? We're magic together, we're magic together. And that was before the film came out and succeeded. Right. So then I came up with this idea to do King Lear and a hip hop empire, you know, which is what Empire was. And, and I pitched the idea to lead annuals as a movie, he loved it. He just said that I love this idea. And then it was his idea, which was good as a TV show instead of a movie. And I thought, that's perfect. You're absolutely right. It's about a family fighting, which is what TV shows are about is about families fighting with each other. So that's how it all came together was, was an idea I had that I brought to Lee, based on the fact that we had just done the belt were together. And then the butler comes out and it was a huge hit. You're not remember it was one of the sleeper hits of the year, particularly for a movie that no one wanted to make. Yeah, not a tentpole by any step by any stretch, the opposite of a temple, right? It's kind of like, sort of in the category of one of the last dramas of that era when they would make these kinds of dramas, right, that have this kind of sweep and a motion to it. And so, uh, so we took this pitch out with with having just had this big hit drama, and then we had multiple bidders. And then and then that was that. So that's how it began, it was a random idea. I had one day listening to a radio news piece. On a deal, Sean Combs it just closed. And I just thought hip hop. So so cool, and dynamic and exciting. And I got to do a musical and hip hop, that's back that I knew nothing about hip hop did not determine, whatsoever. And then it's funny, because when I did Pixley, thinking, Well, I don't know much about this world, but I'll dive into it, but we will know a lot about it. And then literally, he's like, I don't know anything about hip hop. I'm like, really? He's like, No. And I'm like Me neither. So it's so that's where that's where Empire began.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
That's amazing that neither of you had a hip hop knowledge that you could bring to the table.

Danny Strong 33:23
No, he was really into Marvin Gaye. And like, like, it was like, loved Marvin Gaye and kind of that era of Motown. Sure. And, and I loved that era of Motown. Now, even though I feel like some of my tastes even went further back to the 50s. And pretty funny how these things can happen. But I think I think the lesson in that is, you don't have to live a life to write about it, or to direct it. And that is a that is not a popular opinion right now. And there's very much discussion right now of who gets to tell what story and if you haven't lived it, you don't have the right to tell it. And I fundamentally disagree with that. And I just think, well, if you had to live, everything you wrote, then just let's go set fire to most of Shakespeare's plays, you know, all the Shakespeare plays that don't take place in England, you know, even Macbeth, that doesn't count. Is that Scotland? Who the hell is he think he is? Right? Someone in Scotland, you know, I mean, let's just take let's take ship set that on fire right? So I just I just fundamentally disagree with it. It goes against sort of my entire background as an actor, stage actor lover of cetera so so an empire is as a prime example of literally two guys that didn't know anything about hip hop. And then we draw upon different things and what we don't know we weren't. And then you know, and then when it goes to series, in that writers room, we've got multiple writers in there that know a lot about hip hop. And they some real huge assets to it and in keeping the show alive,

Alex Ferrari 34:59
You know, It's funny because, you know, I had Taylor Hackford on the show. And we were talking about Ray, which is one of the one of the best, you know, musical movies. credible, incredible film. And he was telling me, he's like, Ray wanted me to do it. And but in today's world, I would have never been allowed to do Ray. And I'm like, Wow, what a devastating blow to cinema that you wouldn't have been able to make. Ray. It's I agree with you. 100%.

Danny Strong 35:23
Yeah, yeah. And by the way, there's there's like, I don't know, that doesn't mean to not be cognizant of certain sensitivity course. It's like, yeah, I don't know. I think everything has its own sort of has its own path. And we're doing a pilot right now that I'm producing. And it's it's basically eight women are the leads of this pilot, right. And this, the network wants a woman director, and I could not agree more. I'm like, Yeah, of course. Of course. It should be a woman director. It's about eight women. Right? It's like in the creator is a woman. But I just seems to me like I you know that that's a perfect example of as us out looking to hire a director. My partner on it on the producing side is a famous male director. And he completely agrees he's like, Yeah, we need to find a woman. So it sounds like every every kind of project has its own path or life. But as a writer, if you're not getting, you know, this is not an open writing assignment, and you want to write something that has nothing to do with your life experience. Go write it.

Alex Ferrari 36:30
That's your absolutely, you're absolutely right.

Danny Strong 36:33
I know what you're passionate about.

Alex Ferrari 36:35
One of my favorite characters of empire, and arguably one of the best characters written for television. That's 15 years. Cookie. How the hell did you come up with cookie? And how much did the Hajah I can never pronounce your dad? Yeah. How did she influence that character?

Danny Strong 36:52
So cookie lion, which I think is hilarious that it could be on my tombstone, he co created cookie lion is a is a it came from. So the show is King Lear and a hip hop empire. But it's also the line in winter and a hip hop empire, sort of both of those classical pieces. And Eleanor of Aquitaine is Henry, the second wife that he would put into a dungeon, you know, this, he put her an exile all year long. And then every year at Christmas time, he would let her outs of exile to see the family. And in the play the line and winter, the play takes place during Christmas time when he lets Eleanor of Aquitaine out of prison, and she just fucks his shit up, right? Like, literally, she just shows up and tries to derail all of his legacy plans. And that was one of like, the early ideas I had for Empire, which was that it would be sort of a fake. You know, like, like a fictional Jay Z, who was a older, you know, a, like an he had an empire like Jay Z, but he was older with these three older sons. And that and that his wife went to prison, selling drugs. And that drug money is what created is what is the origin story of his empire. Alright, so that the pilot would begin with, what's the inciting incident? She gets out of prison, and he doesn't know it. And she's coming back to get what she wants, what she deserves, what's hers, right? And she wants half the company and she wants her beloved Son, the only one that would visit her in prison, and the most talented to be take over the family company. And he shouldn't take over the family company, except for the simple fact that he's gay and his father fucking hates him for being gay is a template homophobic, right? So that was that was like the genesis of cookie wine that she was very much inspired by Eleanor of Aquitaine. It comes from that and then we Daniels had a sister that kind of had this vibe that he would talk to me about. And I remember when I pitched Lee, the movie when it was still a movie. And I talked about Eleanor aqua and everything I just said to you, I said to him in a shorter version. And I said, so this role, she's going to be like an expert in music, and she's going to become the music manager to her gay son. And I said she's gonna be like, Mama Rose on crack, and lead and you'll start screaming. Yes, darling. Yes. Darling. I love it. You know? It was, like I said, the perfect thing to get really excited about about this idea. And that was, that was that was the genesis of it.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 40:04
Then, once we got to shooting it, it went from the writers role to terace his role. And terace is a genius a to Well, I don't know, day two into shooting, Lee and I were an offer the pilot, we knew this can be if this show was successful, we felt this would be a breakout character that she was just just like she blew us out of the water, you know, on just everything he did. And the part very much I think it was an amalgamation of the writers but of her two, as far as she would, she would sometimes improvise, sometimes just tweak dialogue just a little bit. Sometimes she would pair dialogue down. And and I actually really learned how to write cookie by following terace Li and seeing kind of the stuff that she would reject or the stuff that she would, she would improvise really inspired a lot. And I remember in shooting the pilot, she had a Nika shows up and it's it's her her ex husband's new girlfriend, right? And it's literally it's the first time I think the audience sees and Nika and it's certainly the first time cookie season Mika and I had written some, you know, calm some just like dig that she does. And drazi took me aside we got along like gangbusters mean to Rosie? And she said, she's like, I don't know about this. And I remember what I'd written. And I said, oh, we'll just say whatever you want. And she went really I go Yeah, I say whatever you want. Right? At this point I had I've come to understood that this woman's a genius. And and so those, she starts to exit she stops. She looks at her and she goes, Huh, booboo kitty, and then walks out a herd of booboo kitty, I had no idea what she was talking about. I was laughing so fucking, that I almost ruined the take, except Lee Daniels was laughing as hard as I was. It was just like, oh my god, like, Oh, you're genius. Just you do it, and it will follow your lead.

Alex Ferrari 42:14
That's amazing. That's a great cookie story. It's a great story that you have obviously run a lot of writers rooms, what is it that you look for as a showrunner in writers for your writers room.

Danny Strong 42:25
I look for writers that. And I look for writers that are bold, that aren't afraid, that have a sense of originality. You know, one of the first things I say on day one day one of school is I say I don't want you to think about what you think the network wants, what you think the studio wants, or what you think the audience wants, or what you think what I want, I don't want you to think about any of that, I want you to think about what you think is great, right, we're gonna follow our own instincts, because of many writers that have been stamped on a lot of shows, you know, they're very, they seem very kind of programmed to clean about the network because of network notes. And then and then they write to the network's AST. Um, I don't do that ever, um, I write to my taste, and then I use the network to help me make it better, right. So I don't do what they want, I do what I want. And then I listened to their notes, though, on how I can improve it. And it's very collaborative. And it goes very well. You know, I don't have big blowout fights with my studio in my network. In fact, most of the time, we have a very fun positive relationship and experience and I'm very open to notes, but I'm not open to dictation. And I think it's a bad idea. Because if, if they could, if they're in charge of something, well, they should be writing it. Right, like I'm the one that has to execute it. And that philosophy which is highly respectful of them as essentially editors, has served me very well politically, but more importantly served me very well creatively, where I get a lot of great feedback from from from my my producers in my studio executives in my network executives, and I think people that come into that relationship a thinking that they're idiots and they're adversaries, I think it's a way to fail and then be people that go into that relationship just wanting to please them or wanting to write to what they think their taste is, is they're not following their artistic self and their artistic soul. And and I think the writer you know, particularly on a TV show needs to be there and on a movie that's what I meant to until until I'm you know, let go until the director has said thank you for your the script now go fuck yourself. happen in film, although most of my experiences on film has been that the director and I have gotten along very well, and I've stayed part of the process all the way through. But there is a power dynamic where once they're there, they're in charge. So then I have to maneuver, you know, kind of my way to either stay in their good graces or if you shouldn't have to then becomes like a different thing. But but a game worth playing, I think, for long term success on multiple fronts. Now, TV is different. You know, I'm in charge if I'm the showrunner creator, by the way, I supervise showrunner creators, and I don't boss them around, I don't tell them what to do. I'm like, they're to like, have, like, hey, what do you think of it? You know, I'll have a note. And then sometimes I'll pitch three or four solutions, only to help demonstrate what the note is, and then be maybe one of these ideas will work for them? Maybe not, but maybe it'll inspire something else. So so it's really, it's really going back to your question, you know, day one, it's like, let's not write for the network. And let's not write for what we think the audience wants. Because that's such a audience. I mean, the four people in a room and they'll all want different things out of story. Right? Right, we need to lead the audience. And and sometimes there are things that don't work in the story. Right, that it's not clear, or there's not enough depth, or it's or it's kind of lame, or, like there that can be improved. And that's what I'm open to, of like, how can I make this better? How can I make it deeper, funnier? If it's a if it's a thriller? More suspenseful, right? Depending on what genre you're working in? And then how can you find some things to subvert the genre so that it's rich and doesn't feel expected or, or it can be multi dimensional, and tone and style? You know, there's all sorts of things I'm trying to achieve. And worrying about what the network thinks is not one of them. I'm more worried, I'm more of like, looking forward to hopefully trusting them, so that it'll be like, Okay, so here it is. So help me like, give me some thoughts like, how can I make it better.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
Great, great answer. I love the answer. No, no, that was a great answer. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Danny Strong 47:24
Follow your bliss, like write, don't write what you think the market wants, right? What you think, is going to be great. You know, and sometimes the weirdest scripts and ideas make people's careers because they just loved it, by the way in the movie never got made, but it wants their career, I got them an agent and manager got them up. I know for jobs, right? So it's really about, it's really about writing every day, or five days a week is good, you know, like you can take the weekends off this week is four days a weekend, borderline three days a week, you're an amateur writer now, you know, it's so so you know, getting a lot of writing done, because you improve as you write, I'm constantly working on projects, and then don't write what you think the marketplace wants. Right? What you think is great, right, what you want to see, I've got friends that are professional, that were professional writers that had a lot of success. And for whatever reason, you know, things have have gone different ways for them. And sometimes they're still chasing the market. And I don't understand like, the market changes weekly. By the way, the markets are different now than it was five years ago, three years ago, years ago. I don't even really completely understand the whole market anymore, to a certain extent. And I think it's different for almost every buyer. I mean, I get you know, if you I know they all want to make spider man like that I get, you know, I just want to write Spider Man on every script, I write and turn it in and see if I can any motherfuckers exactly like that. It just becomes a whole intricate sort of dance. And I think the thing that I do is if I have an idea I'm really excited about I then we'll figure out okay, so how can this get done? What's the pathway to production to get this made, you know, oh, this is actually something you know, HBO Max could be really into or something that a 20 is a perfect age 24 movie, right? That doesn't mean you have a 24 passes, you're dead. But but you're like, it kind of gives you a sense of okay, this is a 24 this is more like a universal, like, I'll think about what makes these kinds of things. And then what budget does it need to be you know, if it's something that's a period piece that you know that that's like a period drama that's really small. While obviously I can't write a script, that's going to cost $60 million to make, right because it's most likely not going To get made unless David Fincher or Martin Scorsese,

Alex Ferrari 50:03
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott,

Danny Strong 50:05
By the way you made you couldn't end up landing one of them. Right. But but but for the most part, it's sort of like, okay, so So how can I make this for 5 million? 10 million, 1 million, 2 million? You know, is there a path to that? So there's, there's a number of things you can think about on the business side. But first and foremost, start with the creative side, and start with like, oh my god, I would love to see this movie. Oh, my God, I could write the hell out of this movie. I could crush this movie. Because that's how things get made. That's how writing careers flourish. Okay, is that that's my advice.

Alex Ferrari 50:43
That's great advice. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Danny Strong 50:49
What I just told you?

Alex Ferrari 50:51
Fair enough.

Danny Strong 50:53
100% true. took me six years, something like that to figure out? Oh, because I was writing high concept comedies all through my 20s. Okay, because Jim Carrey comedies were those those like real high like liar liar man, Bruce Almighty, those were the biggest hits, and I was trying to write comedies. So obviously, I got to write these because that's what the market wants. And, and they were pretty good. You know, I did a pretty good job. I got some attention from them. And, but none of them sold. And then all of a sudden, seven years later, I'm like, wow, I've just spent seven years writing movies. That is not really my thing. Good. Right.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Good advice. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time, or three screen pilots that anyone should the screenwriter should read either one.

Danny Strong 51:41
Well, I would say my three favorite films are Apocalypse Now. The Sweet Smell of Success. Why don't we say number three, we'll say Chinatown.

Alex Ferrari 51:57
All good choices. And three pilots.

Danny Strong 52:00
Those are all three of my favorites. Three pilots have a madman pilot? Yeah. Wowza. Yeah, that's something to behold. I'm trying to because pilots are hard because you're setting so much stuff up. They're really hard. I, you know, I don't know if it's one of my favorites of all time, but a great pilot, and a great show from this last year was hacks. Yeah. That's a great pilot. And in the show is fantastic. It's probably one of my favorite things of the year was hacks and, you know, really set up these two characters and these two different places. And I remember there was a scene towards the end, because one's a comic and one's a comedy writer, and they just start shit talking each other in comedy. And it was like, you know, it just was like, like Star Wars with two lightsabers battling each other, except in their case, their lightsabers. What were their comedy skills. And so it was hilarious in character driven and tense all at once, which made it pretty effing genius. So big big hacks fan. I don't know I it's tough. Get you know, it's a I maybe I'm biased. I have a limited series this year with dope sick, but I think the limited series space is pretty incredible. Shows out this year. They're so well done, you know, Mayor of Eastwood, per Mary's town, here. He's calling it Murphy's book, or is that correct?

Alex Ferrari 53:37
It might be No, I'm not sure if it's East. I

Danny Strong 53:40
Whatever it is fucking great. White Lotus is great. And underground railroads

Alex Ferrari 53:47
Queen's Gambit. Yeah.

Danny Strong 53:48
Queen's Gambit is unbelievable. So there's these pieces that there are I don't know to me there's in some ways more exciting the movies. I get more excited about these these kind of prestigious limited series right now. And in that there, I just get more caught up in them. There it is. And they seem to break out in a bigger way than movies have for a little while. I mean, I don't know what movie was as big as the Queen's gambit was that year, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Look at Squid Games. I mean, look at Squid Games for god sakes.

Danny Strong 54:18
Yeah, yeah, Squid Games is an ongoing but it's it's a it's just there's some really explosive rich stuff happening in that space right now.

Alex Ferrari 54:28
Dan, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend. I thank you so much for taking out the time and please continue to make great television. Great work out there. We really appreciate you man.

Danny Strong 54:37
Oh, Alex, thanks so much, man. It was so much fun chatting with you and and thank you to everyone listening to this. I really appreciate it.

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Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the Creator of Scandal

shonda rhimes masterclass

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she was so nervous she had to start over, twice. Since then Shonda has created and produced television’s biggest hits. In this class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, be a showrunner, and build your career. You’ll also get her pilot scripts, pitch notes, and story bibles. Welcome to Shondaland.

The internationally respected Shonda Rhimes, whose TV credits include ABC Studios’ Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Catch

In 5+ hours of video lessons, Shonda teaches you her playbook for writing and creating hit television. Watch, listen and learn as Shonda teaches you how to write, pitch, and create a hit TV show.

You can ENROLL in the course now to this game-changing television writing course. Click here to gain access

Shonda Rhimes Masterclass: Learn Television Writing from the creator of Scandal is priced at $90 and includes: 

  • Shonda Rhimes teaches you his unique approach to television writing in over 5+ hours of lessons (10 Videos)
  • Interactive exercises
  • A 15-page downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.
  • Lifetime access, with classes that never expires
  • Learning materials and workbooks
  • Accessible from any device
  • Watch, listen, and learn as Shonda teaches his most comprehensive tennis class ever.
  • Office Hours: Upload work to get feedback from the class. Shonda Rhimes will also critique select student work.

If this class is anything like past Masterclass’ you are in for a treat.

Screenwriting/Filmmaking MasterClasses:

BONUS: Shonda Rhimes Masterclass

Shonda Rhimes’s Top 10 Rules For Success

Keynote: Ms. Rhimes, MIPCOM 2016 Personality of the Year

Shonda Rhimes, creator and writer of groundbreaking hit shows and one of the most celebrated and influential producers in Hollywood, has been named MIPCOM 2016 Personality of the Year.

Shonda Rhimes at the 2015 Massachusetts Conference for Women

Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator and writer Shonda Rhimes spoke with New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,000 attendees at the 2015 MA Conference for Women in Boston on December 10, 2015.

Ms. Rhimes Delivers Dartmouth’s Commencement Speech

Shonda Rhimes ’91, the wildly successful television writer and producer, told the Dartmouth Class of 2014, “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer.”

BPS 152: How to Get Into a Hollywood Writer’s Room with VJ Boyd

VJ Boyd, justified, S.W.A.T, television writer

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).

Deputy Raylan Givens has his own, Wild West-style methods of upholding justice, putting him at odds with the criminals he hunts and with his bosses in the U.S. Marshals Service. And an incident prompts his reassignment to the Kentucky district where he grew up. The character is based on one created by author Elmore Leonard in several books and short stories.

If you ever wanted to know what it takes to get into a writer’s room this is the episode for you. Enjoy my conversation with VJ Boyd. 

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Vj Boyd, how you doing, Vj?

Vj Boyd 0:14
Hey, doing all right. Happy to be here Alex.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for being on the show, man. Before we get started, man, first of all, huge fan of justified like huge, huge fan, I watch I binge the entire series with my wife. So thank you for that.

Vj Boyd 0:29
Oh, yeah, thank you for like, that was my favorite job. And that well, that I probably had ever. That was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. And we had a lot of freedom on that show. Um, we didn't like it, when we would break an episode, it wasn't super tight, we kind of knew the basics of what was going to happen. So then when I went away to write it, I got to put in all my fun little idiosyncrasies. And we had a lot of fun with that show.

Alex Ferrari 0:55
Yes. Cool. So we'll get we'll do a little deeper dive into that. But first, how did you get started in this ridiculous business?

Vj Boyd 1:02
Oh, well. Okay. So, you know, when I, when I was a kid, when I was 11, I got interested in writing, just as a hobby. And although you know, anyone, like as they're a kid or a teenager, you know, like anyone else who's interested in it, I certainly had dreams of, Oh, I could do this for a living and would daydream about that. But I didn't think that that was really within my reach. It was one of those things where well maybe like, like, my might win the lottery. And so I got a business degree. And I worked at IBM for a while in Dallas, where I grew up. And I started going to grad school, because I wasn't super happy working at IBM, it's fine place to work. I was in sales, but I started feeling like everyone around me was insane. And what I realized is, oh, no, no, they're not insane. It's that I think they're crazy, because they're liking what they're doing. And I hate what I'm doing. So it's just that I'm in the wrong place. They're not crazy. They're just enjoying their job. And I need to find what I enjoy. And so it was going to grad school and thinking that I would teach, thinking, Oh, if I teach, then I'll have more time to write, which is very stupid, which I quickly discovered, teachers don't have free time. It's not like they have all summer off. And so I then transition to Okay, well, I'll get my Master's in literature, and then maybe my PhD, and I'll teach at college, you know, because then, you know, it's adults, I don't have to worry about the responsibility of like taking care of like teenagers. And then I realized that, oh, adjunct professors don't make barely make a living wage, and no one really gets tenure anymore. So I'm still going to have to have a second job. And I still won't have time to write. And I had a professor at grad school, Tony Daniel, who's a novelist, and an editor at Bane books. And he was like, you have real talent. In screenwriting, you should try and do that for a living. And I was like, Yeah, but like, there's not really a career path. It's like you write a feature, and either sells or it doesn't. And then you spend another six months to a year writing a feature, and it sells or it doesn't, that seems very dangerous. And, and he was like, Well, my good friend, Mike Taylor writes on Battlestar Galactica, and says that in TV, there's kind of a career path, you can, you know, start in the mailroom, so to speak, and start as an assistant and, and work your way up. And that I started researching that. And that made sense to me, that was a thing that I could see, okay, I can see the steps to that. It doesn't feel like I'm just, I'm moving out to LA on a wing and a prayer, whatever. So I thought about for a little while. And honestly, it was like less than a year after Tony recommended, I should just pursue it, that I quit my job at IBM had to, like sell the BMW, you know, and because I was gonna end up like working for minimum wage in LA and I needed all that money, I cashed out my pension. My wife cashed out her pension. So kudos to her for being willing to do all that. So we'll use that savings moved to LA in 2008. It was right when the writer strike was ending, which was good timing, because, unfortunately, so many assistants at that time had had to leave LA, because there were no jobs because of the writer strike. And so I came in, right when the writer strike was ending, and I started cold calling looking for assistant jobs. Because I was like, Hey, I've got this savings. I'll start at the bottom. And I so I would look in the trades. It's like when a show would get picked up, I would find the number for the production company and call them and be like, Hey, can I send my resume I'm looking for assistant job. And one of these times the show the beast, which is Patrick Swayze, his last thing before he passed that that had just gotten picked up to series and so I called the number in if anyone remembers the Hollywood creative directory, because this was before everything was just on the this was before IMDb Pro and stuff. And I and so a guy answered Hello. And I was like Yeah, is this the the beast the writers room for the beast and it was just the cell phone if one of the producers and it was actually I just This guy, Stephen Pearl, who's become a friend of mine. And I actually last week visited in new in New Orleans. And he showed me around I never been to New Orleans. But anyway, so Stephen was like, No, this is my cell phone. I said, Hey, I'm looking for an assistant job. You know, is your writers room starting up? And he's like, I don't know, I'll call you back. And he actually did call me back and was like, Yeah, we actually we are starting up next week. We don't have any assistants come interview. And I can't i When interviewed with the job, I interviewed with Vincent Angel, who was one of the creators. And you've also seen in stuff, he's an actor, he always plays the other man in California. Keishon. He was like banging Dickov nice wife and a great guy, Vince. And so he interviewed me and hired me as the lowest level assistant, the writers pa so there's normally three tiers of assistant, I was the lowest one. And I was super lucky honestly, that everyone in that writers office was such a weirdo, because like I didn't like I was coming from a different world like a corporate world corporate world. I never worked in the show business I just moved to LA right there were like, it's a different culture. And so I just didn't quite I definitely made some missteps and everything but the fact that so, so many of like my bosses and the other writers are honestly such weirdos, one of the weirdest writers offices I've been in that I just fell through the cracks. It was like That's another weirdo. So it was a perfect spot for me. They were all super cool and read my stuff. And then when that show ended, I ended up I was out of work for like a year and the cold calling thing wasn't working and I was like, Man, did I just get lucky and I'm not gonna like is this man am I gonna have to like start working on set which is another way of going right you set PA and then and then you know network with the writers for the show and try to get in the writers office and I I wasn't ready to give up. I wasn't given up. But then this guy Keith Schreier, who I'd met on the beast. He was one of the other Assistants, he out of nowhere, I didn't even asked him. He was like, Hey, I found out that like Vince Gilligan is looking for assistance for the show Breaking Bad. And, and also Graham Yost is looking for assistance for this show called law man, which was what justified was first called? And I was like, yes, yes, please send my resume. And Keith not only sent my resume around, he actually fixed made my resume look better. He's like, Hey, can you send me the word version? Because I think you need to format it better. So I ended up getting a getting interview with Graham iOS to be his assistant. And I thought the interview went pretty well. And then he called me a week later and was like, Hey, man, so I decided to hire this other friend of mine. Tom Hanks assistant wants to transition into like, the writing world. So she's going to be my assistant. I'm sorry, but we do have this writer's pa job. It's the lowest level job. I know. You already did that. And I was like, yes, yes, I'll do it. Yes, please. Right. And at that point, by the way, I had never read Elmore Leonard before. I knew who Elmore Leonard was but I mostly honestly knew who Elmore Leonard was because Quentin Tarantino talks about them were laid off and and so I was like okay, so I read like the short story that justified was based on and the other two books Raylan Givens in his in because I was like, I know I'm the assistant but I was like, what if they like ask for pitches because you know, like sometimes you know, you the you know, sort of the last the assistant what they think and I want to be ready anyway. So I ended up writers PA on that first season. Going into second season, I was justified was on hiatus, I was working as the writers assistant on Falling Skies, which Graham was also running at that time season one. And while I was there, I was about to have my first kid so I was about to be in a position where if I don't get staff then I'm going to be staying home with the kids because my wife has a real job and an insurance company so I'm going to be like holding the kid and writing my next like scripts back here. And Graham found out Season Two justified was coming and I was thinking okay, maybe if I can somehow be moved from writer's PA to writer's assistant, then maybe then I'll get a freelance script, right like and then maybe the next season I can be a staff writer right. I'm thinking that so Graham offers all the writers their jobs back and one of the writers that the lowest level writer staff writer chose not to come back. So there's one spot up and Graham was like Graham hates like having to which I understand having done it now a few times having to interview like 2030 people know and Harlan turned a bunch of people down and and so he was like, he had read a couple of my scripts. And he was like, Do you want the job? And I was like guess that'd be obviously what the job is. So I was able to like jump over those extra two years that you often have to do of being the Interim Assistant and then and then being and then getting a freelance and then finally getting staff writer so I went right from writers, PA to staff writer and very very lucky, but I always say that I was prepared for the opportunity, you know, because like when Graham said he'd read my stuff, I had a lot of quality pilots that I felt comfortable giving him, you know, and, and I should also add, I always think this is funny, I gave him two scripts, and one of them was a crime, procedural, and I was like, this is what he's gonna like. And I was like, I'll throw this sci fi one in as well. Because like a sci fi script for justify that. And, but the crime, procedural he didn't like, and he ended up I found out this later, he gave the Sci Fi script to his assistant, and was like, Yeah, tell me if I should even read this. And she was like, I really like this, you should read it. And he read it and really liked it. And if if she had said something different, or if I'd only given the crime, procedural, I wouldn't have gotten that job. Like, like, hopefully, something would happen eventually. But getting on justified, which ended up being a really well respected show. Yeah, and was a great show to learn. I mean, that was in a kept coming back huge for my career. You know, instead of keeping on what happens to so many people, you're on a show and it gets canceled. So you have to go on new show and he gets cancelled. It's and so it makes it hard to move up, and it hurts your resume. So

Alex Ferrari 11:14
Right. And, and what I I mean, I personally, I mean, I discover justify during the pandemic, and I just binge the entire

Vj Boyd 11:22
Oh, wow. So that's a very, that was a very interesting way to watch it. Like, honestly, I have not watched the whole series since I left the show. Yeah, I want to do that and see is it must be such an odd experience? Because for us, we're making it over the course of six years, right? Yes, of course. And so if you're watching all of it, you're going like straight from season one to two to three, you probably see those changes so much more clearly.

Alex Ferrari 11:46
Yeah, just the adjustments in tone sometimes in adjustments in just character. Yeah, I mean, but yeah, I mean, we found that we discovered it, cuz I always heard justify was a good show. I always heard about in the background, but like, you know, like everything else, there's 1000 Good shows. And there's people get busy. So like, what am I going to sit down? And like, really? So when we were looking down and my wife's like, hey, why don't we? Why don't we give justified a shot, Mike? All right, let's give it a shot here. It's great. Let's give it a shot. And it just we got hooked. And we're like, and we're really looking forward to hopefully the spin off. That is happening. I heard in the in the trades that they are going to come back somehow.

Vj Boyd 12:21
Yes, yeah, there's there is there we worked on that. Which by the way, that was awesome this year. So we did 20 weeks or something like that of a room for city primeval, the justified spin off. And it's one of those things where you never expect in this industry to end up working with the same group that you worked with in the past, like maybe one or two of the same people, sure the same group of people with with a couple of additions, because we had Walter Mosley in the room for a little while, who I knew from snowfall is awesome. And also Easter Davis, who's an actress and writer, so we had added them, but other than that it was the old crew. And it was it was very cool. So we'll see we have no shooting date yet. Because one of those things where they did a room, but they didn't commit to shooting it. And also like we have to like figure out, it's obviously a big deal to bring that back. And we want to do it right. So hopefully, we'll get the go ahead to shoot it this next year. But I like what we came up with.

Alex Ferrari 13:21
Well, I'm, I'm excited about that. And I always find it fascinating, you know, with writers and writers rooms, when you are writing in a writers room, and especially early on in that like season one and you start seeing what the actors are doing on set with your words, does the writers room start to adjust the tone the language to take advantage of the performance of that actor?

Vj Boyd 13:45
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that honestly, I think that that is one of the advantages to the old way of doing things of you make a pilot, and then you get picked up and make the rest of the show. You know, I get the disadvantages of okay, we have to like make a whole pilot and then wait around to see if we get to make the rest I get that that everyone's kind of waiting around not getting paid and everything but once you start writing the rest of them, you know exactly how everyone talks and you can write to that if you use the the model that the streaming uses that Hulu Netflix Amazon use. Although Amazon sometimes makes pilots not so much anymore, but like Netflix, certainly you go in and you write them all right, all six, eight episodes, right? Then you go shoot them all, and you're you absolutely are going to end up rewriting stuff on the fly because you're like, Oh crap, this guy's really popping. Or oh, man, I wrote this character this way, but that's not quite the way they play it. Right. And and that's also one of the downsides of the streaming model of it's only a couple of the writers who remain through the shooting. Like you have the room for 20 weeks or so. But then it's just the creator and maybe one other producer there for the rest of the time. And you're absolutely going to end up like, like you're talking about rewriting for the actors. But no, it is a it totally changes. It totally changes things. Just being on set with the actors with the director, it changes the way you write things, because you've now had discussions with people who do these other jobs and you understand the way they think. Anyway, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 15:23
Yeah, I mean, cuz I mean, I'm just on a comedy standpoint, like I'm assuming for season of Big Bang theory when they start seeing Sheldon pop. I mean, I'm assuming that like, wait a minute, we didn't think this character was going to be the breakout, but let's start working or the friends crew. I mean, the friends writers room like that first season a friends

Vj Boyd 15:41
Or think about family matters.

Alex Ferrari 15:43
Oh, yeah. Oh, my God.

Vj Boyd 15:44

Alex Ferrari 15:45
Jesus. Can you imagine Sophia, like all of a sudden Sophia like, okay, she's poppin. We got to do something here and rework things. But yeah, I always find that fascinating on how writers will start. Because you don't get to do that in feature. You get into TV in the streaming, but you don't get to do that and feature all that

Vj Boyd 16:04
Although, although, yes, I mean, certainly big. I would say though, that the way big features are now they do so many reshoots, so many reach students that that I'm sure that I'm not as familiar with it, but I'm sure that sort of thing happens, where they'll watch a screening and be like, crap, like that character, write a subplot for that character and reshoot that and will delay the release for a couple of months or something. I'm sure that sort of thing happens not so much with like, indie film, but if you have the money or time to reshoot, like, I I know people who were producers on the new James Bond movie, and when they were shooting that like they were already shooting, obviously huge production, right huge. They were already shooting it. The script was not finished. Like they literally they had like 250 pages of script. And we're just shooting the scenes they knew we're going to stay Wow. What's your name from fleabag and love was was like whittling it down to what it was going to be? You know? So even with the big movies things change on the fly.

Alex Ferrari 17:11
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely no question. Now I always find it fascinating as well how to how writers in a writers room break a story so can you kind of go through the process at least in your in your experience how you approach you know as a showrunner but also as a as a writer in the writers room. Let's let's take it back to justify first season your your the second season, you're in the writers room now. How do you approach breaking a story? And what do you seeing around you?

Vj Boyd 17:41
With justified we had a lot of lead time because we were a cable show. So if you're on a broadcast show, like when I was on Swat, we would only have a couple months to like start writing and have lead time before we it was time to shoot. So we only had a little bit of time to blue sky or just brainstorm. Justified we had more like four months before we started to shoot if I remember correctly, so and we're doing fewer episodes only 13. So we would spend like the first three weeks, sometimes even a month, but the goal was always like two or three weeks, just sitting in the room and throwing out like anything that could possibly happen that we're interested in. You know, like we could be like I remember I remember season four. That was the season with Drew. What's it in the bag that was hidden in the wall and the guy who liked crash landed in the teaser lane? Yeah, we there was a there was we talked for two or three days about a version of season four, in which there is going to be a flashback story we were going to tell episode two episode about a Raelians dad and Boyd's dad doing crime back in the day. Like we started breaking that and then we abandon it after a couple days because we realized people aren't tuning in to see these guest actors play their dads and less so unless we're having Oliphant and and Goggins play their dads, which wouldn't work for Goggins, he doesn't look a thing like MC Gainey. Then we were gonna have to like abandon that idea. And so we would go down to various paths. So, like thinking about season two, we had just visited Harlan. For I think for the first time Yeah, cuz we didn't go before season one. So several of us went down to heart, the actual heartland. And Graham had a lot of specific ideas from having been in heartland and he wanted to do something in the world of weed. He knew he wanted to do something with a criminal matriarch. So we had those ideas that he had thrown out. And so then there's the eight of us or how many there were that season, and we're pitching Okay, well, the matriarch could be like this. And I don't remember who pitched it, but it could be like, it was like, Okay, what if she had these sons that Raila knew because that's the whole idea with justified right is He's going back to the place he's from. So running into people he knew or knew of or the know of him. That's a big part of the show. And we were like, Okay, what are the sons like, right? And so we started pitching on what they could be like, and, like, what we oftentimes will have, like actors that we will call them by like, oh, the Nick Milty character or the whatever, before we've given them names to kind of get in our head like who they are. And, like, I remember Season Two of justified there was, what was the oldest son's name because it was Coover and Dickey, and then the oldest son here. Yeah, I can't remember. But he cuz obviously Coover and Dickey kind of steal the show. But like, but like, I pitched like, he could be the sheriff. Like, he could be like a cop. Uh, yeah, like so that he has, there's some color of law. So it's law man against law, man. And that ended up sticking. So it's that sort of thing. And sometimes, again, we're always going down paths that we ended up like, okay, that doesn't work. Let's go down the other path. So anyway, the first, you know, three weeks to a month, we're just coming up with the big broad ideas. And as things land, we put them up there as tent poles for the season, like, well, maybe mid season, this kind of thing could happen right now. And by the end of the season, we want this sort of thing to happen. So then, after those three weeks or so, now, we're in the room, and it's time to make up what's going to happen actually in episode one, right? And so then we got to get more specific and we draw those columns on the board, like teaser, Act One, act two, blah, blah, blah. And we just again, we start pitching off sometimes chronologically, like, okay, like, first this then this and sometimes more like, Well, I think it could end with this, it very much. It's very much how, how one might imagine eight people sitting in a room making up a story, right? And, and then it is important and was justified. Graham was in there most of the time on some shows. The showrunner is not able to be in there all the time. And so you end up you're making up stuff, and then he'll come in for an hour and you pitch it to him. And then he'll fine tune it. But it was very helpful and justify the Graham was in there most of the time. So if we're going down a path he doesn't like he can immediately say, No, I don't like that. So we can go another direction. So we don't waste three hours on a thing that he's going to come in and say no to in like five minutes. So yeah, go ahead.

Alex Ferrari 22:18
So the one thing I loved about the show and also being able to see it all at once in a binge was Boyd's character. Boyd is such a fantastic character because and for everyone listening, he was the he's the bad guy for some of it for some of the seasons. But yet, he's bad. Like, he's a he's not a nice guy. Like at all. There's there's very few redeemable things about them. But the way Goggins plays him is an absolute like he should win an Emmy every year for that show. I mean, it was so brilliantly performed, that towards the end, I started seeing it as I could start seeing it that I saw the writers were like, Wait a minute. Yeah, we can't, we can't kill him off. Like they're gonna get people gonna get pissed if Boyd is gone. And I think there was a moment I forgot what season it was where that kind of crossed over like you like, up until that point was the point. And that was the point of no return. Like, you know, what, if we want to kill him off, we could still kill him off, and we could keep moving forward. But there was a certain point where you pass you're like, yeah, there's no way and now he becomes almost Beloved. And he partners with Galen, and it's like, it was just like this. What that's the that was the engine that ran the show. For me, just watching those two characters constantly going back and forth. And the way it was just so brilliantly done, and that's very hard to pull off a character like that, like a bad guy like that with such depth and to make people feel love for him, even though they're, it's like the Hannibal Lecter thing. Like he eats people. He eats people and he's a cannibal, but yet he's charming as hell.

Vj Boyd 24:02
Yes. And I mean, with Boyd part of it is a huge part of his Waltons performance, you know, like he's so like, I love him and righteous gemstones, his baby belly, he's so amazing and righteous gemstones. If you haven't seen it, that's probably one of my favorite shows right now. But I like Walton is so charismatic. So that helps, but also, like, very early on in season one, you have you have Boyd actually questioning his own motivation. You know, when he has that scene where he's like, sitting there, like praying because he started this cult. Right? And he's like, he said, He's, like, all his guys get killed. And he's like, was I just talking to myself this whole time? And you realize, oh, he actually kind of buys his own bullshit, you know, and or It's not bullshit, or he or he really is trying to, it's like, so it makes you realize, oh, he doesn't, he's not a sociopath. Right? He buys into this new thing. He's into whatever that happens. To be right, and sometimes he knows it's partially a grift. But sometimes he's really he really believes in what he's doing. And so because you can see that he's not trying to scam you, the audience, then you're like with him. And you also you see him as sort of occasionally like a Robin Hood esque character where he's standing up for the hauler, and he's against these other guys who are worse guys, you know, guys like corals or whoever, right? And but yeah, like, we had a long conversation beginning of season six about how do we end the series? You know, are we like at the end of the series, is Boyd going to die is really going to die, they're both gonna die, are they both gonna live is boy gonna be in prison and, and we put all those permutations on the board and discuss them for days. And, and and, and Graham had really long conversations with John Landgraf an ethics about that, because he's very heavily involved in story for the shows, and I am very happy with how we I think we stuck the landing with how I agreed.

Alex Ferrari 26:07
I agreed because he and not gonna give any spoilers out for people who haven't seen the show, but there has to be some sort of payment because he did do some bad stuff.

Vj Boyd 26:16
Yeah, no, absolutely absolutely. And I think one thing that's interesting is in the pilot, Boyd kills that guy who's like, one of his like skinhead, guys whose driver, yeah, and he's like, and then lay. And then he says, To Dewey, or someone who's like, he, he's like, he killed him, because he suspected he had betrayed him. But also, he just didn't much like it. You know, and he killed a man, and he was wrong about it. And he didn't really seem to feel that much remorse about it. But then as the show and but as the show goes on. It's like, okay, he's the same guy, but the audience, I think, and sometimes I think even we forgot that he's the guy who just killed that dude in the car for no reason. You know, like, that's who he is. And we wanted to remind the audience and ourselves who he was. And that's why in the final season, he kills Shea Whigham his character, you know, in that truck when he may not have needed to, I mean, that's a call back to that pilot moment. And what's interesting is in talking to some fans of the show, they felt like, Oh, I like how you made Boyd really bad in the end, so that we might think, you know, we might think, Oh, he's gonna die. It's like he that is the same as the thing he did in the pilot. We didn't make him really bad. He's doing the same kind of thing. Just reminding people. Yes, yes. So I don't know if we completely landed what we were trying to do because we weren't trying to do we didn't want it to feel like this cheap on that will make him really evil. We felt like this is totally in his character to do. He has to survive. Shay Wiggum. My he doesn't know this guy if the same thing.

Alex Ferrari 27:50
No, and Boyd's care boys character I agreed with you. He he was even towards the end. He was who He was like, he didn't change. There's just so many shades of him. And you forget that he is the guy who killed that guy for just no apparent reason. It again, I'll go back to Hannibal is like you forget that he ate people and until we start seeing him eat people. Do you go through? Oh, oh, cuz at the beginning, he's just like, oh, that's just a lovely, lovely man whose happens to be behind bars is very eloquent. It's a little creepy, but generally we haven't. We've only heard of the things he's done, but we haven't seen it. And then when you see it, you're like, oh, oh, he's a cannibal. What does that say about me that I like him. And then and then at the end of Silence of the Lambs, what happens? You're like, I hope he eats that guy. Yes, that's brilliant. Right? That's brilliant writing Berlin performance. And anyone listening if you want to study a character, develop the character development through a series. Boyd is such a wonderful character to just study how you guys were able to the nuance of Boyd's character was, again, like there's moments you're just like, God, man, I want him to die. And other and other moments, you're like, I still like them. Like it was just you. And again, because I benched it. I got the full, the full, you're making me want to binge watch the show. It was a was a great experience, being able to binge it all because you, I mean, would go three, four or five episodes a day, you know, sometimes depending on the day of the pandemic, so we just, we just cook through seasons, and you just really get a taste of these characters. And that's why we fell in love with them. We're like, Oh, God, I hope that series, the spin off goes, I hope so too. Now, when you're in a writers room, especially now, what are some mistakes you see young writers make in the moment

Vj Boyd 29:49
Well, I'll say a couple of things. In one one is not so much a mistake, but a thing that I think young writers should keep in mind. That listen, I When I got my first actual writing job staff writer on season two of justified, I'd been in the room, you know, many times before subbing for the writers assistant, just sitting in if I didn't have pa duties to do, then I was the in room assistant on Falling Skies, like I've seen people pitch and all this stuff. And I was like, Okay, I'm prepared to pitch stuff, and then have it rejected, I'll be fine. But when you finally are the lowest level person, and you pitch your thing, and everyone's like, No, I don't think so. And everyone just clearly hates it. It's like, oh, it makes you feel like everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I'm not gonna pitch the rest of the day I suck. And it's like, you have to be you, no matter how prepared you think you are, you're not. And you got to have that sports mentality of like a cornerback, who got beat by for a touchdown. Forget it. Move on. No one's staring at you. If they are, they're a bad person, like, no, it's like that. They're they're moving on to the next story idea, you move on to the next story idea. I would say another thing that a mistake that I made, and this may just because of the way I think, or whatever, I kept early on pitching things, and they wouldn't land. And then 45 minutes later, someone would pitch basically the exact same thing, and it would land. And I was like, What am I doing wrong, that I pitched that 45 minutes ago. And what I realized is, when you're pitching a thing, people and this may seem obvious, but it's not when you're in this room of eight people throwing out ideas. When you when you say oh, they need to find the to find the guy in the bar. And that's where the guys hiding. You need to talk everyone through your thought process, how you got there. Because you've had this whole process, you're just blurting out things, you find them in the barn? And they're like, No, I don't think so. But then as they do that same thought process, they come to that same conclusion. So you need to talk through and say, you know, I was thinking, based on what, you know, Taylor said, since he's this kind of guy, and he did this last episode, I think he should be hiding in the bar, you got to talk people through that. And that was not, that's not an obvious thing, because you already have those thoughts. So you got to talk people through how you got there. And though, the other thing that I have seen, and like my brothers talked about having my brother's a TV writer, also, and he's talked about having seen, he's been on more shows than me, actually, because all these streaming shows are so short, even though he started several years later, but um, his people in their first job, or even second shot, like a low level of writers not taking no for an answer when your boss says no, you know, and it's like, yes, if you have an idea, and whoever is in charge of the room, then whether it's the number two, or whether it's the showrunner says, I don't think so. If you are 100% certain that this is the best idea ever. Maybe you say, Well, can I just maybe you say one more time, right? But you only get a couple of those. But if the boss says no, no, we're really not going to do it. Let it go. Let it go. You're not in charge. Like I think a lot of people have this idea. And I've even heard even upper level writers say it. Well, we're all going to come to something we all like, No, you're not sure what anyone saying. It is not best idea wins. It's the idea the showrunner likes, wins, you know, and so you can think whatever you want, it's like our best idea wins. No, like keep pitching the best idea that will appeal to your showrunner you are making your boss's show, you know, you're not making what in your mind is the best version of the show. You have to figure out what it what is it that your boss wants out of the show?

Alex Ferrari 33:34
And that's something that I think that's another thing that is talked a lot about in the business is the politics of the writers room, the politics of a show, and how to maneuver through that, because that's definitely not taught at film school. And just what you just said, that little bit of knowledge that's just like, look, it's not about like, this is not a democracy. This is this is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. It is a creative dictatorship, and it is the showrunners job to you know, to to run the show. So are there any little other kind of landmines that you as a writer, if you're if you're lucky enough to get in those writers room or even as a PA or an assistant to kind of avoid in the in the political scheme of a writers room or have a show?

Vj Boyd 34:25
I think I would. So this is a really tough one. And I don't know what the solution is. But one to have in mind is because remember, I said that the showrunner, a lot of times isn't in the room, depending on the show, you know, they're in the room some but they have other things to do. They've got like two hour calls with an actor who has issues with a script, they have to be in post, they have to maybe be unset, etc. So oftentimes it's the number two who's in charge in the room, maybe the number three if the number two is rewriting people, and you have what you don't want to do is Let's say it's the number two or number three in charge in the room and you pitch a thing or have an idea that, you know, the showrunner would like, but you're told no, by the number two, you don't want to be the snake who's like when the showrunner comes in, I'll pitch it even. And that can be tough, because you might be totally right. You know, the showrunner would like that. But if you're, if you are going to do that, you need to like, ask the number two or number three, hey, I know you said no to this. Do you mind if I just pitch it to the boss? You know, don't just surprise them? Because I know people who've done that, and that, doesn't it? Listen, it's a small world out here. Travels, you're not gonna lie, it's gonna be tough to get another job. If you're if you're that guy. I would, but at the same time, remember who it is? Who has the power to advance your career and who it is, like we said a minute ago whose vision it is. So again, like maybe it once you get to know everybody, if it's like, Man, I know that number two is gonna look nothing like this idea. I know the showrunner is just don't even pitch it to the showrunners in there, like that's a fix. You know, instead of like creating like a conflict with the number two and being disrespectful to them. But also, like, sometimes, you're going to get if you're a staff writer, everyone outranks you. So sometimes you're going to get like, supervising producer or a co EP who's going to give you certain advice, like, oh, you know what you need to, you need to like pitch more, or you need to pitch less or whatever. You take that with a grain of salt, always unless it's coming from the person in charge, you know, because I've known people in situations where they were given this advice by people above them. And it turned out that was not what the showrunner wanted, you know. So just like with any other business, I think it helped me out a lot that I had been at IBM, honestly, for, like six years. So I've been in this corporate environment of ask of like, asking for feedback, and saying, How did I do you like, like, have those conversations? You know, and I think that that would be just being upfront and having those conversations is a huge help, politically, if you're not a person who's naturally politically savvy, you know, which a lot of writers aren't necessarily, there's so many things that go into TV writing, especially if you're like, a producer, you know, because if there's like writing, but then there's also politics, there's also management, there's also there's so many things that go into it, and not everyone's going to be good at all those things.

Alex Ferrari 37:31
Yeah, there's, there's forces that you don't even see that the show might be under, and the production might be under and the stress the stress of that. I mean, I can imagine being in the room, I worked in TV for a few minutes, early in my career as a PA and worked in the in the office and stuff. And I would see the pressure, like are we going to get picked up? And you could see the whole production is like, wow, why even bother? If we're not going to get picked up? That whole energy it gets it gets really weird. And these are things that you don't see, and especially when you're young, or when you're just starting out, you don't get you don't really understand the scope of what's going on. Like I got great. I've got a great story. This Pa was so amazing. I was on a show on Fox was one of the first shows I was on. And the first part the first episode finally airs. And the the one of the off of the head office ba takes all the reviews of the show and paste them on the wall. They were all bad reviews. So he like I don't even know what she was thinking. She put them all up and they were like all bad reviews. So then the showrunner shows up, reads them has a complete meltdown, goes into the room breaks down the friggin EP has to come in and like the producer has to come in and just like try to talk him off the ledge. And like I saw I was just first front row seat on like, what do you like? Just she got her ass handed to her.

Vj Boyd 38:59
That is so weird.

Alex Ferrari 39:01
It was so weird. Because she wouldn't she meant well, she met well, she's like,

Vj Boyd 39:05
She didn't read them. Some reviews.

Alex Ferrari 39:07
Here's the reviews from the, from the LA Times in from, you know, from variety. Let's put them all up and do it really bad. But that's it. She meant well. Yeah, but obviously these are kind of these I don't even know if she's still stuck. I don't think she stuck around very much. I think that might have been her last week.

Vj Boyd 39:29
Well and and has difficult to listen when you're first starting out. If you obviously you want the people above you to say read your stuff, right? Of course you know, but you it's tough to know when do I ask them? And so, honestly, you ask the people around you who've been doing it longer if there's an assistant on the show if let's say you're an assistant, if there's another assistant on the show who's been doing it a few months longer than you or who knows these people, ask them for advice. Ask the lower level writers who just got staff be like hey, when do you think is a good time for me to like ask them to read my stuff or like Like, make and make friends with all those people and let them read your stuff, you know, and because they'll they might be a staff writer now, but they'll be they'll have a show eventually. You know, I think that is one of the thing that let me let me throw out there that listen, you can absolutely succeed, being a very political animal who you know, flatters and sucks up to people that is a legitimate strategy. I know people, many people do it. I like it. It bothers me to this day when I think about even people I think are good people that I worked around when I was assistant or didn't matter as they say, you know, in LA, and it's like, you're having a conversation with this person in the lunchroom, let's say, you know, and then someone more important comes in. It is a Hollywood thing. I'm sure you've experienced it all the sudden, the conversation with you ins you do not exist anymore. And now it's time to talk to this EP who walked in. It is as if that conversation never happened. And that happened to me numerous times. And I at first I was super offended. And then I was like, I guess this is just how things work. But I You know what I remember I remember the people who never did that. I remember the people who were like, Okay, I know I'm talking to this pa who doesn't matter. But I'm going to finish that conversation before I like I'm not going to act as if royalty has walked in, you know, in the current scene. That's not to say you don't show respect to people who've earned it. I'm just saying, I would love to see a culture change where people just treat everyone like people. And I know that might be asking too much of Hollywood, but I'll throw it out there.

Alex Ferrari 41:33
It might it might be. It might. It might be a little much. I've I don't think that's gonna happen right now. But it is getting better. It is definitely getting better than where it was without question. But that's the thing in LA, you know, and by the way, I moved the exact same year you moved. I was thrilled. It's funny. It was three months prior to the collapse of financial. So I was lucky that I was able to skate right through all of that, thank God but I moved literally just a few months before before the

Vj Boyd 42:01
We were probably at the same coffee shops. Probably a lot of coffee shops.

Alex Ferrari 42:07
What part of town did you move into?

Vj Boyd 42:09
We were at Park LaBrea at first like so I would go to insomnia Cafe on Beverly and I would go to a lot of the normal spots literati and Santa Monica all those places I was

Alex Ferrari 42:20
I was over in Burbank so I was that was down the street from Universal and stuff so I was every Starbucks every coffee bean that was the one thing I don't know if you got the same experience the second I got I kept going to all these coffee shops and all I would see is laptops with Final Draft like Oh yeah, yeah everywhere everywhere everywhere.

Vj Boyd 42:39
Honestly, it depends on the day whether I like it or hate it

Alex Ferrari 42:44
It was just such a culture shock from coming from the East Coast when I when I moved now you also worked on SWAT which is completely very very different than justified because this is a procedural Now I always I always like to wanted to find out from you. When you want to watch procedures and I've watched a lot like I was a big big big fan of bones and and I would watch and that was another one we binge during the things I saw 13 seasons

Vj Boyd 43:12
That's a lot of a was a was with us about bones now like guys in general just

Alex Ferrari 43:17
Oh, I know way more than I should know about bones. But that was like, you know, a good three months of just like what are we watching tonight? Bones it is. So I but I was I always liked watching procedurals because there is an overarching arc of the characters. There's an overarching ARC of this the plot of the show of the season. And but things keep sticking in weekly, you know, the weekly order that we have, in this case of the week. Yeah, the case of the week. So how do you balance that in the writers room?

Vj Boyd 43:50
Yeah, so like with procedurals, like, before I had worked on one eye, definitely there was a little bit of an elitist vibe among those people like myself who were working on prestige cable procedures. And, but then once I worked on was like, oh my god, this is so difficult. It is its own, it is a whole other skill. It's not like like before I was working on one and I was like Okay, so the week Sure, how easy is that? You have to balance all this stuff. No, it is so difficult to keep the keep getting those fun character beats in there because people aren't watching it just for the mystery there. It's not like I'm a robot solving the mystery. They want these fun characters that they care about, you know, solving the mystery and for the it have ramifications on who the character is, and fitting that in along with an entire plot in the 42 minutes or whatever we have, because you still have to have that beginning, middle and end of a mystery of a case that week. You gotta have a client, you got the person that we're saving or like we're solving their mystery or whatever. And so that's a guest character who has to have an arc and you've got to have like little b stories. Relationship stories. And as you said, You've got to serve like maybe one or two beats of the overarching season long arc for for Hondo in the case of Swat. And I would just say it's a huge challenge I, it took me like half the first season of SWAT to really get a grip on it like fortunately there were a lot of people on that show who understood procedurals and could help me through that, but a big part of it. That is helpful. What's helpful for me is the way that Sean Ryan breaks TV, which is that he does not break sequentially. Like when you're putting up the teaser, Act One, act two, whatever, he doesn't do that first. The first thing we do is figure out okay, what's the a story? What's the mystery, this episode? And we just break that in a single line? Forget X. It's like what are the every single scene of the a story? Now? What's the B story? What's the relationship story? Or what's the who's our character who's learning something this episode like Luca is learning that he do we want to do a story where Luca learns that he actually doesn't want to be in a leadership position, you know, that he that he just pride that makes him want to do that he really is happy being like the wing man. Right, then. Okay, we're gonna break that story out separately on the board. You know, it's like separately of everything, no X or anything. Here are the scenes of that. And then is there a C story? That's the overall hundo arc like, okay, Hondo has taken on his friend, son as Darrell. He's taking care of him while while his friend is is in prison. So we want like a couple beats of that. What how are we moving along the story and we write those out. And that is a huge help, because there's so many things going on. And a procedural that if you for me, if you break it sequentially, you really lose track of like, okay, well, what storyline are we in and it's so helpful to me to break them separately. So like if I were doing a procedural pilot, now, that's how I would that's how I would break it is do the storylines separately, then weave them together. And what you often find is oh, this B story beat for Luca, where he's learning about leadership that can combine with this a story mystery beat, he can learn he can learn this thing about leadership as part of this mystery beat right? And if you watch the shield, which is a technical procedural, but it has it always has some case of the week whether it's Dutch and Clyde that might have a case or or Danny and I can read the cop she's partnered with have a case, there's always some storyline that ends, you can see the way or I can having worked for Shawn. You can see how Shawn breaks things in that show. Because you see the B story and C story and a story aligning. And you can imagine in your head how he broke them separately, and then they combined?

Alex Ferrari 47:55
No, no, like, as you're explaining all this. I've just My head hurts it just so many

Vj Boyd 48:01
Didn't make it easier by explaining

Alex Ferrari 48:03
No, because no, no, it was no, it was wonderful. But like just thinking about your absolutely like you walk it. Like if it was me walking into a writers room like oh, it's procedural. That's procedure one a week it's on, we do a couple things. But then you start thinking about all the characters have to have their own arcs, they have to have their own beats inside of each one. And then you've got to work in a beat for the main character, and then how those represent, like, there's so many characters, so many story beats, and then throw in the murder of the week or case of the week, right? And then and then interact those with the beats that you need to hit for everybody. And for the season. Like a head wants to explode like it's insane. It's like that seems so much more difficult than justified where it is not a procedural it's just like a story arc through the whole day.

Vj Boyd 48:50
And obviously like we especially season one we it played out more like a procedural early on season one, right and in justified the first half of every season, and maybe beyond would always have like some closed ended story. But the credit story took up like in Swat, that closed ended story is 60 to 75% of the episode and justified it was more like 25 to 50% of the episode. Right. But that was part of how Graham wanted to break it. And I think it was, I love that because it's very important to me, in a TV show that each episode has its own has its own thing. It has a character to it, like what I would always say and justified is okay, if this is the one where blank is this though you want when people are talking about the show, what are they going to say this one's about? You know, like there's some shows like damages is one of the most rare one most famously where it's just a serial, it's just 20 episodes 13 episodes that they're just like cutting the story at certain spots, you know, but to me, and I think honestly, that's one of the things that I think people love about succession. is so many prestige shows are so serialized where it's like you can't remember what episode things happened even like it in succession. It's like, oh, no, this is the one at the retreat. This is the one right? This is the one at this level, because I mean, they're shooting at all different locations. Like each episode has its own character. And I, you know, like it has, it's like, oh, that's the one where blank that's the one where blank. I think that's very important. And a thing that's in streaming can get lost. You know, I mean, one of the reasons people love squid game, this is this game. This is the one with this game, right?

Alex Ferrari 50:31
Well, I mean, first of all successions on the list, haven't seen it yet. So we're gonna binge it now it is on the literally on the bat and

Vj Boyd 50:41
I'm, I'm catching up. Also, I started it really late. I'm in the middle of season two. So that's why it's on the mind because I'm binging that right now.

Alex Ferrari 50:47
Right! Yeah. Cuz I was like, Oh, I keep hearing about and then I was in Austin at the Austin Film Festival. And then friends. I'm like, Have you not seen succession? What's wrong with you? Like, I'm like, Okay. Obviously. Have you not seen Ted lasso? I'm like, No, I've never seen Ted law. So I'm like, Okay, you gotta watch that last. I'm like, alright, we'll go we'll go we'll go through that. But it's, it's it's, it's, it's really interesting. The whole the whole process and how we, we do like in squid games, by the way, squid games. Let's talk about big kids for a second. What was it in your opinion? Being a, you know, professional television writer that caught our attention? What's good games, because I watched the whole thing, obviously. And I like after the first episode took me a minute. And then at the end of the episode, you're like, Oh, okay. And then you're in, you're in, they hook you with that first episode. And then it was just like me and my wife are just in there. Like, this is a well written show. I mean, I thought it was a well written show. And the way they keep the characters going, and even though the acting in my opinion was a little bit over the top sometimes and things like that, but emotionally they got me what was it about? I'm assuming you saw summit games?

Vj Boyd 51:53
Yeah, I'm I'm I think it's isn't that like an eight episode or nine episode? I think that I'm, I'm on episode five or six. I haven't finished it because that's one that I'm not. I haven't been binging partially. Partially. And this is because so often when I'm watching TV, I'm eating. And so if there's something with subtitles, then I keep missing stuff. Right. So I have to watch squid game last in the evening when I'm done with my snacking. So sometimes I don't make it to it. But no, I. I don't know. I mean, I think I along with every executive in Hollywood is trying to figure out what people love about squid game. I mean, it might honestly be as simple as it's, it's a really like wild premise. That then when you tell people about it's going to spread like wildfire word wildfire. Like yeah, there's this show. We're blank, right? Yes, it's high con super high. Um, it's, it has very interesting visuals. And like I said, like that first episode, like the first game, the red light green light. And like, though, like, that's not something those visuals the way that setup is not something we see that much in American TV. You know, I don't know how normal it is in Korean TV. And so it's like, Oh, I haven't seen anything like this. But I get it. There. It's not confusing. Because so so much. I don't I feel like streaming is doing a better job of not being confusing. But for a while there, I felt like every prestige show, I wouldn't be like halfway through the pilot and have no idea. Who's the main character? What what do they want? There's lots of people looking at each other. And like they're angry of the ocean, I don't know what's going on. Right? It's very clear what's going on. And it's very clear why people are doing things. You know, like some people would even argue it's like, simplistic, but you you you get it, you get it. You care about these people because they have understandable issues, whether they cause it for themselves or not. And you know, what's that huge? Do you want to see what happens next? You want to see what the next game is? You know, even though it's not a procedural it has an engine. You want to see what that next game is.

Alex Ferrari 54:01
Right, right. And now Now the show runners like, Oh, we're doing season two now. And it's like, and now you want I won't run the show for you. But now you're like, Okay, I want to go I want to go back to this world. As violent and insane as it is. Yeah. It says something about us to want to watch things. No, I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Vj Boyd 54:26
I'll say that on the feature side, I'll give the advice that my friend Dan Kymco always gives and he sells a lot of scripts is write your spec. Like I like every year there's an army of people saying the spec script markets over only this many scripts sold. And every year, hundreds if not more scripts still sell plenty of them for people who haven't sold them before. So like write that script. Yes, you can get caught up in Oh, well, I won this contest with this feature script. Now I'm getting offers to go pitch on Yeah, sure, go pitch, write your next spec, write a really good spec, still confined to buyer. And when you write a thing, you can you can sell it five years from now, if you pitch something based on someone else's IP, it's that was too much wasted. If it doesn't sell, I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying a script you write last forever. And on the TV side, also, I would say keep writing new things. I know a lot of people trying to break in who are like, Hey, we read, we read my stuff. And it's like, okay, what do you have, I have this one script I've been rewriting for five years. And that's easy to happen. Like you keep rewriting the same thing. No, at a certain, cut it off, write a new thing, you can go back and revisit it later, you can rewrite it for five years in the background, write a new thing, because you're gonna get better. Every time you write a thing, then write another thing, then write another thing. And if you don't have a workshop group, find one, maybe the first group you try to create or join doesn't work out, you don't like the people in it, find a group of people who you trust to give you notes, and for you to give them notes. Because number one, you will learn things when you're giving other people notes, you're going number two, you're going to make contacts with people who are trying to do the same thing you're doing. And number three, you can learn a lot about how to take notes, which is a huge part of this job, if you get to do it. That is a lot of this job is being able to take notes. And your stuff will get better through the workshop group. My I was in the workshop group in grad school, which helped me out, I'm still into workshop groups with other writers who we've kind of come up together, one of which we start, when we started the group, we were all assistants. And now we're all in shows, you know, and so we all like came up together. So I think that's a huge thing. And don't be shy about telling people what it is you want to do. Because you never know, like, who can help you don't be like, don't be precious about it. Like, oh, I'm just it's just a hobby, you know, or not telling anyone what you want to do. Especially if you've moved to LA and you're having contact with people in the industry. I don't care what they do. Let them know. Yeah, I'm, I'm doing this right now. But yeah, I want to be you know, a TV writer, and I'm working on this kind of this kind of a spec right now. Or whatever, let people know what it is you want to do. So those are those are the pieces of advice I'd give.

Alex Ferrari 57:13
Now. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? These are my, these are my Oprah questions.

Vj Boyd 57:26
Um, and this is something some people just don't have an issue with. Like, if you're someone who like was in improv, or did drama, or was a great salesman, you don't have to learn this lesson you already know it. But just like not being Don't be a rock star about things. And this is I'm stealing this for another person. And what I mean by that is, if you're a who's a who's a rock star now, like, if you're a who's the guy who did that, though, if you're the weekend, if you're the weekend, and you're like talking to some people, and you like tell a joke, and no one laughs at it. You don't care because you're the weekend. You know, like if you if you like, make a mistake, it call someone by the wrong name. You don't beat yourself up about it all day, because you're the weekend, who cares? And if you're and you're not afraid to go talk to a stranger you're not afraid to, you know, be honest about what you think about something or be up front because you're the weekend, you know, act, act like you're the weekend. You know, it's like, because you're the only one who's sitting around beating yourself up about a about that thing you said earlier, it's like, oh, I won't talk in you know, I just won't talk to groups of people anymore. I had to learn that networking is not a dirty word. You know, because it's like, no, you're just networking is meeting and talking to people about something you both enjoy and love. You know, like, don't be afraid to like break into that group of people if you're at Austin film festival or whatever, like, what is the worst that can happen? You know, and

Alex Ferrari 59:07
It's not the Squidgames. It's not the Squidgames.

Vj Boyd 59:09
Yes, that's right. I still have to remind myself of like, all your regrets are going to be when you were too shy and didn't speak up. So be the weekend this week.

Alex Ferrari 59:23
And I'll just be the weekend it's just the best advice you can you just get the weekend and three television pilots at every every register read.

Vj Boyd 59:32
Oh wow. I'm pilots that people should read not watch. Um, well, I mean, Breaking Bad. Probably everyone's already read that. What's these? I'm trying to do it where they're not all from the same era. But I think madmen is one because that's an example of what did Matt Weiner wrote that like a decade before they ended up making it something thing like that I know he made some changes but I'd say madman is one that's also one of my favorite shows what's uh what's another good one? Oh you know what read the justified pilot that is that's a really good pilot that from my understanding Graham got very few notes on so what you're reading is almost I mean it's never your first draft but as close to like a first draft of a pilot you know like I think he got one that basically one big note in any added a scene at the end. But apart from that it's and apart from talking about reshoots. Famously, Walton Goggins character died when they shot that pilot in the pilot Boyd died he tested so well this is a one time when testing actually worked out it tested so well they did a reshoot where the current amount in the stretcher and he's alive and where would the show be employed had not lived? Wow, that's awesome talk crap about testing and it is annoying. Like, but it worked out for justified but yeah, read just the justify pilot

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Vj man. It has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. I really has thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your experience and continued success are in the business. I appreciate you man.

Vj Boyd 1:01:18
Hey, thank you for having me.

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BPS 148: Writing Pikachu, & The Craft of TV with Dan Hernandez & Benji Samit

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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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 144: A Writer’s Guide to TV Development with Kelly Edwards