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

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with writer, producer, former studio executive and diversity thought leader Kelly Edwards. Many of us want to be able to pitch our shows to a network or studio but just don’t know how the game is played. Kelly not only knows how the game is played she wrote a book on how to do it.

Her new book is The Executive Chair: A Writer’s Guide to TV Series Development. 

To make compelling television, our industry depends on enthusiastic new voices with fresh ideas. While there are plenty of books about the mechanics of writing, this is the first time an insider has detailed the invaluable TV executive perspective. As key pieces of the entertainment puzzle, executives hold institutional wisdom that seldom gets disseminated outside network walls.

The Executive Chair breaks down the business from the gatekeeper’s point of view, illuminating the creative process used by those who ultimately make the decisions. Whether developing a project for the entertainment marketplace or merely probing the executive mindset, The Executive Chair dispels myths about the creative process and takes the reader through the development of a pilot script.

There are a million ways to break into Hollywood. Your journey will be unique to you. Meet all the people. Work all the angles. But most of all, enjoy the ride.” – Kelly Edwards

Kelly Edwards recently transitioned from inside the network ranks into a writing and producing deal with HBO under her Edwardian Pictures banner.

In her former executive role, she oversaw all of the emerging artists programs for HBO, HBOMax, and Turner. The pilots she produced through the HBOAccess Writing and Directing fellowships have screened at major film festivals including Tribeca and SXSW, and garnered multiple awards.

Prior to HBO, Edwards was a key corporate diversity executive at Comcast/NBCUniversal for over five years where she oversaw over 20 divisions, launched employee resource groups, and introduced diverse creative talent to NBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and Telemundo.

Edwards’ career spans both television and film. Early in her career, she worked as a creative executive in features at both Disney and Sony under such talents as Garry Marshall and Laura Ziskin.  After moving to television, she served as a senior executive at FOX where she developed LIVING SINGLE, CLUELESS, and THE WILD THORNBERRYS.  While heading up UPN’s Comedy division as the SVP of Comedy Development she developed GIRLFRIENDS, THE PARKERS, and MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.

In 2000, Edwards co-founded the non-profit organization Colour Entertainment, a networking group for diverse creative executives in TV, Film, Digital, as well as assistants, all designed to connect current and future industry executives with one another.

Kelly and I had an amazing conversation about the business, how to pitch a television project to a studio, and much more. Enjoy!

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome to the show Kelly Edwards how you doin' Kelly?

Kelly Edwards 0:14
I'm doing great. Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm excited to talk to you because you've got your new book coming out the executive chair, which is the executives point of view for of the entire television process, and actually what it takes to make a television show and all of that, and I really wanted to kind of dig in, because that's kind of the mystery that's like, the man or woman behind the curtain for a lot of writers. Yeah, they want to know what's going on. They all want to go to oz.

Kelly Edwards 0:44
Everybody wants to go does everybody thinks they want to go to oz?

Alex Ferrari 0:49
Oh, I understand. Everybody wants to be in the film business.

Kelly Edwards 0:52
There are a lot of wicked witches in Oz.

Alex Ferrari 0:56
And there's not nearly enough houses dropping on them. Anyway. So how did you get started in the business?

Kelly Edwards 1:04
Oh, well, let's see, I got into the business right after college, I came home. And my dad's like, you've got to, you've got to get a job. And I'm kicking you out of the house. And so I knew I needed to work. And I always wanted to be a part of the industry. I just didn't know in what capacity. And I ended up getting a sort of a hookup from a friend who was working for a very well known manager, talent manager. And he was leaving the job. And there was another person coming in a month later. And they said, Oh, would you bridge the gap between, you know, him leaving and this new person coming in, and it was only a month. And so I went to work for this manager. And then I proceeded to be terrible at it. I was just an awful assistant. And I screwed up more things than I care to admit. And before I got fired, there was another job across the street working for a casting company called the casting company. And I went I worked work there and vowed to be a better assistant that I had been before. And that was sort of you know, I was off to the races it was. I've always said that every job that I've ever had in this business has been a hook up for a friend from a friend. So one thing has led to another and led to another. I've never gotten a job as a cold call. I've never just blindly sent my internet my resume in and it had an interview. It's always been there's been some connective tissue from the last job to the next job. And so I got on this road working through as an assistant for this casting company. And one of the casting directors who was their days champion happened to be friends with a guy named Jerry was again, who was just coming off of a deal. He's just been writing with Don Segal on the Jeffersons and they were looking for an assistant. So I went to work for them. And that really was the real, I think, kickoff to what I'm doing now because I was a writer's assistant, and we were in development. And then there was a they had a show on CBS. And they weren't development on a number of projects. And I got to see the real nitty gritty of not only being in production, but also the develop development process from the writer side. And I really thought I was going to be a writer than but looking around the landscape of television at the time, there wasn't a lot of black women on shows. And, and so I decided, well look, I've got to get a job because my dad's breathing down my neck and I've got to make some money. And and so I ended up I end up going into the into the executive route, which I loved. And, you know, it was still working with the written word, it was still working with writers it was still being super, super creative. And I I went on that road for many, many years, I started in features, and then went into film, and I'm sorry, pictures. And then when I went into television and rose up the rings on the television side and then watch it at Fox worked at UPN as the head of comedy development and then decided that I needed to have another skill set because you know, there's a life expectancy to every executive and I could see my expiration date coming down the pike. And I left UPN to go have my own production company, I partnered up with a guy named Jonathan Axelrod, who had a deal at Paramount And together, we were in business for about six years, we had a show on the air, and I got to see, you know, the selling side of it, which was an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. Because as a buyer, you know, you're in this reactionary, you're receiving pitches, but you're not really in it. And then as the as the seller, and working with the studios and then going out and pitching. I was learning a whole new skill set that was really, really important to having career longevity. And so I did that for about six years and then We founded the company in 2007. And, and I went to work for NBC Universal on in the diversity capacity. And it was a very big corporate job. And I had 20 networks reporting to me and did a lot of work with the presidents of all the different divisions. We did a lot of diversity workouts and a lot of big, big gigantic projects in the diversity space. And then I went to HBO, to work for to set up their their diversity efforts, which really consisted of the writers and directors, programs, a set of topics and some photographers programs, and a lot of emerging artists programs over there.

And then, and then at the top of last year, they came to me and said, there have been a big shift, because, you know, the at&t merger had happened. And a lot of things were changing. A lot of people were, were changing chairs over there. And they came to me with a with a big offer and said, Look, you could have this, this huge, huge increase in pay, we're going to give you worldwide diversity. And you know, don't you want to do this. And I said, I said no, because by that time, over the last couple of years, I had gone back to, to school to get my MFA in screenwriting in TV writing. And also I had gotten into Sundance and the experience of those two things together really showed me that I had really been living in the wrong skin for a long time, I was probably supposed to be a writer all along. And I had poured all of my energy into making other people's dreams come true, and helping them and really learning along the way as I was teaching them about television writing. And this was my chance to do it on my own. And it was a huge risk, because, you know, you've given up a 401k and a Cush paycheck every other week, and great healthcare to, to go off on my own and start my own thing. So that was a long story. That's the that's the whole that's the whole megillah about how I got from here. But it's been a crazy, crazy, fulfilling last 12 months that I have been on my own. I do this, I'm gonna say it's a first look, HBO deal, but also I'm on a staff of a show. So it's, it's my dream has really come true over the last 12 months. And I feel like I feel so renewed where I feel like you know, many people get to this part in their career, and they just kind of go well, let me just write it out until retirement, I only have a few more years left for me just sort of enjoy it. And I'm just getting started.

Alex Ferrari 7:38
Yeah. And you know, what I love about your story is that, and this is only because of age, because as we get older, we don't realize this when we're in our 20s or even our 30s for that matter, is that your I love the comment I was in the wrong skin the entire time. And we don't kind of realize what makes us happy, too late or some people are very lucky they get that right away. But most of us don't. And but we played in the arena. We weren't the gladiators but we but we help the gladiators put their armor on. Right We were next to it. We could smell it. We organize the the the battles, if you will, if you use this analogy, but we really wanted to be in the arena. And I did that for a long time. I mean, I wasn't sure I wanted to be a director. And before I started directing, was imposed and I lived in post I was like I'm close to it. I'm adding skill sets. And that's great for a year or two but then you fast forward 10 or 15 years just like am I I'm not happy anymore. I'm like I'm not happy at this. I got to do what I love and then when I start doing what I love, then that's what made me happy. I think that's a big big lesson everyone listening should really understand is Be true to that voice inside of you. Because you can you can muffle that voice for years. It'll come back, it'll come back out. It'll come back out at one point. But you're like I've turned down my God when I was I only had two staff jobs ever in my life and I got fired promptly from both of them because I was so miserable in them, but they were Cush jobs, obscene money for the time, and I just let but I'm not happy. So it's not about the money and it's not about this it's like you guys very seductive though. Oh, so I said oh man not having to hustle for that check every week. As you know, freelancing you gotta hustle. But when you got that check coming in. oh 401k oh, I don't have to worry about healthcare. Oh it's it's it's very seductive. But it's something

Kelly Edwards 9:37
Your soul could die a little every day inside. Oh I was feeling I was feeling after a while that my soul was dying. And I knew that if even if I got out and did it for only a month or two months or I you know if I had to go back and you know, you know work work for McDonald's or you know, scrape tar For somebody shoe or something after that, that that, however many months I had would have been worth it. And that's when you know that you just have to do something, it's sort of like when we get what I think of. I'm not even sure if I'm going to articulate this well, but it's almost as though you have this light inside you. And you know that if you keep keep trying to patch it over, you know, you keep trying to sort of put something or said it doesn't really shine, but then eventually it's going to eke out somewhere, it's gonna burst out somewhere. And you might as well just open up the bag and just let it burst out everywhere. Because I've literally never had this much joy in my entire life in any job. And I loved my job. I loved working, you know, in development, it was a great experience. But there's nothing that compares to what what I've been living this last year.

Alex Ferrari 10:50
And we were talking a little bit before the before we started recording about the angry and bitter filmmaker and screenwriter. And, like, I always think the joke is, you know, in front of a film of an audience, I'll go everybody here knows an angry and bitter filmmaker. And if you don't know an angry, bitter filmmaker, screenwriter, you are the angry and bitter screenwriter, those angry and bitter filmmakers and screenwriters are the people who are not doing what they love to do, and they're in a job or in a place, that they're not fulfilling what they want, generally speaking, right? They're probably variations. But because I was, I was pissed. I was so bitter and angry. And I used to be in an editing room. And I used to see like a 25 year old walk in with a $3 million movie I'm like, and I'm looking at the movie. I'm like, this movie sucks. I'm fixing everything for this guy. And he does. He's never even seen Blade Runner. What's going on? Like, it's

Kelly Edwards 11:43
So so what changed for you then

Alex Ferrari 11:46

Kelly Edwards 11:49

Alex Ferrari 11:49
40, I was 40. And I launched Indie Film Hustle. And the film also was the thing that really took me to a place of happiness, because I was able to give back I found my I found my calling, my calling is to be an artist, and to be a creative, but in the film possible, affords me the opportunity to do that, whenever I want, when and, and also, my joy comes from writing a book, doing a podcast, writing an article, show a movie, shooting a movie, uh, speaking in front of people, I found all of that, and I was like, Oh, great, I don't have just one outlet anymore. Because if I can't, because that sucks. When you only have one outlet, if that outlet closes, you're screwed, I found five or six or eight different things that make me truly happy that gets me up in the morning. And, and they all work within the same world for the most part. So that's what kind of, and then when I turned 30, I was like, I gotta I gotta go shoot a movie. And I want to try to film my first feature, sold it to Hulu, and, you know crowdfunded into the whole thing. And that was that that was a turning point, really. But it was the audience that really gave me the strength to do that I was, I was scared to do that prior to having any film hustle. So for me, it was just like, you know what, I'm gonna go do this. And if it doesn't work, I got I got my show, and come back to my show. You know, and, and also just the joy I get to meet meeting people like yourself, you know, to sit down and talk to someone like you for an hour, there's people out there that would kill to have that opportunity to get that kind of access to someone like yourself, or any of the other wonderful guests, I get on my show. And I get that opportunity daily or weekly. And that is massive. And I get to talk to people at a very high level in the industry, and very high level executives and high level writers and Oscar winners and all this kind of stuff. And it just, it gets me jazzed.

Kelly Edwards 13:48
Right. So well you know, you said a couple of things that I think are really interesting. First of all, you didn't really wait for anybody else to give you that opportunity. Correct. You made that opportunity and not only that, but you said you found many avenues for that. And I love to tell people sometimes your vision you can't have such a myopic vision of what success looks like that you think oh I need to work at x like if you said you know to yesterday tomorrow whenever I want to go work at ABC you would then work you would then completely miss working for Hulu and working for you know, audible like your your creative muscle might might be doing something completely different. That still gives you that same satisfaction. And I think you did that you found the speaking you found the book, you found the podcast, you found the film. All of those are creative endeavors. And you're able to get that satisfaction of that love and that joy in your in your life through things that didn't necessarily look like well, I had to do my $50 million universal picture. Because I think that's what we sometimes when we when we think about oh we want this career. That's what it looks like.

Alex Ferrari 14:59

Kelly Edwards 15:00
All the things that can give you joy.

Alex Ferrari 15:02
Oh, there's absolutely no question. And I know people listening right now are like, well, what is what is success for you? Well, I have to go win an Oscar, I have to work on $100 million movie, I have to go work for Marvel or I have to go work for HBO. And do you know a game of thrones spin off and have to be in the writers? Like that's, it's a very specific goal. And my experience I don't know about you is, whenever I've made goals like that, the universe laughs at me. Because it's just does it does it never falls into, if you would have told me 10 years ago, and I would have a podcast. And that podcast would give me access to some of the biggest minds and highest big powered people in Hollywood. From my little room in Burbank, at the time when I was starting this now I'm in Austin, I would have laughed at you. Of course, it sounds ridiculous. Oh, and because of that, you're gonna be able to do this and this and this. And this, none of which were in my none of which were my plan. But you have to be open to what the universe gives you. And that's the thing that I always find. I found in my in my elder years because I'm geriatric now because I just broke my foot. But But no, in my in my years come is being open to what comes. And as a young man, I was not I was closed off. It had to be I had to be tweeting Tarantino had to be Robert Rodriguez had to be Steven Spielberg, do you have any directors walked into this? Because like, I'm going to be the next Steven Spielberg like No, you're not. Not because you're not capable. But you're talking about I'm going to be the next Michelangelo, like, that's who you're talking about. Like, there's a hand there's a handful of masters, who we all look up to. And even Spielberg was looking up to Kurosawa and Kubrick and all these other, they all do it. But you have to be the best version of you. And whatever that takes you. It's okay, as long as you're happy, and you're helping people and you're expressing yourself as an artist, and you're making a living. That's the goal of life. And that was the other thing. I don't need millions of dollars. And that was another big thing. Because a lot of people think filmmaking is about millions of dollars and fame and fortune. And when you're young, that's what you think about. But as you get older, you're like, you know, what, can I pay my bills? Can I support my family? I think I'm good. Like, I don't need, you know, $10 million a year, it'd be nice to be able to do some fun stuff with it. But it's not gonna make me happy. What makes me happiest,

Kelly Edwards 17:33
Right! I do so and it may or may not come the millions of dollars may or may not come? Who knows? And that's fine. If, if you're enjoying it. Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I think you're, you're you're just as much of a fanatic about film as I am. And I listen to your podcast. And I love the fact that you do these deep dives that you have the screenplays that you can sort of dissect on line, that I never get enough of just having conversations about content. And I think that for me, if I if I had to go work at a desk job and push paper, I would just shoot myself in a little ball. Absolutely. So any chance that I get no matter where it is, being in touch with other people who love this is life giving for me.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Absolutely, it is a it is it is a joy to be able to do what I do every day, and I have the privilege and I tried it. I try to take advantage of it as much as I can every day. But it's about giving back Honestly, I mean, so much of our conversation, I'm asking you questions that I want answered personally. And then everybody gets to kind of listen into our conversation. These are conversations that you would have at a bar at a festival, or at a commentary or on a set. And I was like, you know, I want to have those. I've had so many of those in my career like Man, I wish I would have recording that one. Or always, you know, like that little gem that would have been great. And that's what I do for a living and I'm able to jazz myself up, but also give the opportunity to millions of people around the world to listen to to our conversations and hopefully help them along their path. Because I would have killed for an opportunity to have a podcast like mine to listen to when I was coming up in my 20s exactly Oh my god. It would have saved me but we've gone off

Kelly Edwards 19:16
Dealing with JVC tapes and you know,

Alex Ferrari 19:19
God don't don't go How old are we? Oh god Stop it. Stop it. I was cutting out a three leg. I was cutting I was cutting on a three quarter inch. Sony raises them putting putting reels together for a commercial house back in the night. And I was there I was there sell old I am. I was I was there Apple tech. For all the whole production company. I was the tech for all the computers which were all the little Macs and a little boxes. Yeah, axes. And there wasn't a Wi Fi. So in order to network everything you had to use appletalk and that was cable that you would cook and it was just like a long daisy chained cable across the entire company. And if somebody had to have I swear to God, if someone kicked one open and knocked the entire network out, and I would literally have to go and hunt down, where did they get kicked out and then plug it back. It was seen, but we have

Kelly Edwards 20:17
Okay, all right. Well, I when I was first, so I used to work on a Selectric typewriter when I was doing my first thesis and my you know, working for my, my two writers. And then I was so excited when we when we converted to Wang computers. So that was the big thing. And I loved typing on it because it made a little clicking sound. And I thought, Oh, this is so cool. So yeah, I'm gonna go toe to toe with the only person on the planet.

Alex Ferrari 20:45
Hey, listen, the struggle was real. The struggle was real. I just want to put that out there for everybody. And everyone listening is like, okay, Alex, enough with the old telling the two old farts. At least one old fart. You look much younger than me. Yeah.

Kelly Edwards 21:02
Sorry. I'm just I'm saying we're right there. This is this is the good news though. I just made a transition in my life and my career. And I'm I 30 plus years into the business. So I just turned 58. And I've just gotten stabbed for the first time. So if anybody does out there listening, go, I don't know if I can make a change. Absolutely. When I'm, you know, an adult. I've got three kids. They're all adults. They're all legal, then, you know, you can't you absolutely can't you just have to put your mind to it. And you have to make a plan. But don't ever let anybody tell you you can't make a change, man.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
Amen. Amen. Now, the executive ranks which is is a mystery to me. Executives get a bad rap. As a general statement in the film side and the television side. It's the evil executives, this is this is a lot of writers think this way. It's your evil executives who come down with their notes, they have no idea what they're doing, they don't understand what's going on. What First of all, what are the executive ranks? Is there like a specific kind of pert? You know, like, I have no idea what the ranks are. I mean, obviously, I know the studio head and head of television and things like that, but the hierarchy. And then let's first go into the hierarchy, what is the hierarchy of a standard, you know, executive ranks at a studio?

Kelly Edwards 22:27
Well, I delineate this in the book pretty early on, in laying the groundwork, because it is important for you to know what the levels are when people come in. Usually in the executive ranks, you start out as an assistant, sometimes there's a level lower than that, like an associate some of the programs that they used to have it I don't think they have any more use to start with associate, then you go to assistant and then coordinator, which is interesting, because years ago, back in the 80s, coordinator and assistant were were reversed. But now it's assistant coordinator. And the coordinator is really the junior executive on that track. And they they go from, you know, just answering phones to and creating, you know, coffee meetings, and you know, lunches, and all of that and scheduling. Travel to, okay, now you're a junior executive, and you're probably getting writer's list together, you're doing a version of notes, you're sort of you're in the meetings with the executives, and then you've got a manager. And that's even more on that scale. So as a manager, you're really fully an executive, but but you're still a junior executive, you're not necessarily running the meetings, you're not necessarily the person who's giving the notes to the higher the higher ups. But you are absolutely a utility player, you're reading a lot of scripts, and you're in the game. And then there's director level, sometimes there's an executive director level, that's really just a half step. You know, somebody, somebody HR is trying to squeeze in another steps that you don't have to get to VP, you can't be top heavy in your department. But then after director, it's VP and then Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President, and then you're going to sort of get into the, you know, the president ranks of the of the company, and then you get up to CEO. So there are there are steps in there, and you learn different things at different places along the way. By the time you're a VP you are, you can be heading your own department. Usually a director is not heading their own department, but a VP would be SVP for sure. EDP is in charge of a division most likely. And then present year and taught in. And I think, also what's interesting is that the more the higher up you get, the less creative sometimes it gets. So if you're a president of the network, you're not necessarily in the creative meetings all the time. You're not necessarily hearing the pitch you you've sort of aged out of the fun stuff. And I know a number of people who, who can get to that level they go oh gosh, I really Love the process of being in the middle of it with the with the writers. And now I'm dealing with marketing and sales and

Alex Ferrari 25:07

Kelly Edwards 25:08
And ratings. Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 25:11
So how So how has the when I said the evil executives, because I mean, I mean there it's been infamous like that's in Hollywood for a long time. Can you just from the point of view of the executives now you've been on both sides of the of the table? Wow. I've heard from many writers, and, and filmmakers, there are some excellent executives out there that give great notes. And really, they have an outside perspective, and they really have an understanding of story The and to have that understanding of character, and they really do help. And then there's the the egocentric, you know, climbers who are just there to like, I can't, I gotta get I got to stick my nose into this. If not, why am I here? Kind of executive? How do you deal with that kind of an executive as a creative? And how would you, because they have the power, they have the keys to the car that you're driving. But yet, if you let them drive, they're going to run it off the road. So there's this balance of creativity versus politics, which is, there is no book that I know of, there is no course that I know of that talks about the true politics of this industry. And it is yeah, it is important to understand

Kelly Edwards 26:23
It is there are a lot of things. And I think a lot of little pieces to this, because you have to remember it's not just on the executive side that you're looking at, you're looking at the status of the writer. So if you come in and your baby writer and you're getting notes from somebody, you pretty much have to take them. If you're a baby writer who's paired up with someone who can help, then you have a different level of influence. If you are coming in and you're the you know, the top eat me Shonda Rhimes, you're not necessarily taking anybody's notes. So you're depending on what you're what you're, you know, you can listen to them or not. So I think it depends on where you are as a writer on the food chain as well. Here's the thing about executives, though, if every executive comes into the business, as someone who is a fan of entertainment, the way that we are, they hopefully they're doing the work that we are, they aren't always but they love content. So they love television shows, they love film, they love books, they love the creative side of the business, just like the writers do. They're just a different part of the process. And hopefully a good executive has taken the time to figure out you know how story what you know, they read all the good books they read, you know, the hero's journey, they read, they, they know what they're, they're talking about, some people don't do that work. And I think that's when you see a bad executive, when you see somebody who's come in who hasn't been on the production side, you can always tell I can always tell somebody has or has not been in production, because you see that they give notes that aren't doable, or workable or even make sense. But they don't know that because they're they're dealing with limited information. But the executive who is a really good executive, is trying to help you realize your dream, your goal, you have a story to tell. If you've gotten to the place where you're having a conversation with an executive, it's because they like your work. So already, that's a good thing. It's not like they're coming in and saying, Hey, I read your script, and I hate it. And let me you know, tear it apart for you. That's not the goal. Everyone's goal is always with good intention. So they're going to see your material and say, This is how I think you can make it better. Sometimes the way that they deliver those notes is not great, is it can be demoralizing. I think, again, that's part of the executives journey on trying to figure out how do they become the best executive they can be. And they may be. I was telling, I was talking to the director on our show this today, who happens to be Joe Morton, who's who's in our show. And I said, I just cringe at some of the notes that I must have given as a junior executive, back in the 80s. I want to apologize to every single person that I ever gave a note to back then because I am sure I came with so much arrogance, thinking Oh, I know better than you do. And I'm going to help you make this better. Not realizing that that's not the way to to anybody's heart. And I say now I actually don't give notes anymore. I I asked questions. Because I realized along the way that the writer had a goal in mind. If they didn't make that, that if they didn't hit the mark, then it's not because they didn't try is that there's probably some missing information you probably haven't earned those moments. You probably haven't given us enough information about The character you haven't done it done the hard work, but there's something missing. That's that's not connecting. So I ask questions because usually through a process of asking questions there's a revelation that happens for the writer it's not I'm dictating the note to you but it's I'm helping you discover what you want to say and how to say it better and that's how I put things down but people don't come into the business to be horrible to be to be to be negative and they're the goal is let me help fix it. And I think that's sometimes where the disconnect is between writers and and executives in a writer can can receive that information in a terrible way if it's not if it's not given with the spirit of collaboration

Alex Ferrari 30:49
Right and there's always that thing called ego as well that gets thrown into the mix on both sides of the table this is the deal and as we get older we you're right when oh god the arrogance when you um I couldn't even sit in a room My head was so big when I was younger oh my god and my 20s oh my god it was I will fix it you have obviously you people who've been in the business for 20 years you don't understand I'm here to exactly I'm here to fix this Just listen to me I know that we will guide you right to the promised land now how has how has streaming changed the game because you You came up in a time when there was no internet no streaming there was no Netflix there was none of that stuff both of us did. So in the 80s and 90s you know we were still you know, there was cable and then there was more shows but now there's literally how many how many scripted shows are there now the 1000 a year?

Kelly Edwards 31:44
Yeah probably a gajillion I'm sure

Alex Ferrari 31:45
It's insane how is the game changed and it's a lot of the stuff that we're talking about still apply in the streaming world as well as the network world or has streaming completely changed the paradigm

Kelly Edwards 31:58
It has changed it in very significant ways. And in some ways it hasn't changed at all. You still need a camera at a script and an actor so that doesn't change it's not like the it's revolutionized to the point where we don't recognize what we're doing. It's it's very similar in that way. You still call cut you still call to action and but it's changed it in obviously how the business works. monetarily change Did you ever zoom in on the executive residuals well yeah residual Exactly. But if you think about it even on the executive track you know if you go from working at a regular network to going to work for Netflix you all of a sudden become a millionaire in a couple of years so it's changed a bit a big way you know every no how's that work? No.

Alex Ferrari 32:47
So how is that work holiday let's back up for a second so if you're an executive working at CBS, then you jump over to Netflix why at Netflix is your what is the compensation difference? Why is it it's just because Netflix is just giving money away? Like it's water? Oh, yeah.

Kelly Edwards 33:01
Oh, yeah, it's it's many times just putting a time is next to that number. It's double, triple, quadruple what you can get paid at a regular network. But they also don't have contracts, they also don't have the same kind of titles. So things are different. You know, I don't think that they have pension plans in the way that you know, you have a 401k at an at another network. So I do think that there's given take a little bit but yeah, you are getting paid. Some nice, nice paychecks are coming into your direct deposit. But it's changing also in a lot of other ways in that if you think about the way people are developing content, obviously when when we went to from broadcast and a certain number of act breaks now let's go let's let's actually jump back in time, let's back in the time when I was coming up, and I was working for Don and Jerry, you know, we were working in for camera tape shows, you know, and we were looking at quad splits and we were and the directors were in the booth and they were you know, she kept the shots. It's very, very different that we went into more when I was working at UPN in particular we started to work in more of the single camera area and by that time you know Seinfeld was around and so shows became have our comedies were not just two acts with a you know, a teaser and a tag. All of a sudden it's three acts. It's you know, when Seinfeld came out the scenes were so much shorter. They were a lot of you know, comedy stings. And there's just a lot of things that change in terms of the, the way that we made shows if you watch the the pilot of Sex in the City, they have these little Chi rods in it, there's a lot of DIRECT address. There was a lot of gimmicks that were happening around that time. We don't see those necessarily as much as we do we did then. So things are always changing the evolution of television, always changing the boundaries in terms of what you can and cannot say, are always changing. When you get to streamers, we're now dealing with no act breaks. You know, we had that it. We had that at HBO, we had the HBO and Showtime and all that. But now we're dealing on a massive scale with no act breaks for your, for your, your shows. So you have to make sure that you are keeping a structure to it so that things are moving forward. Oh, there are you have to do, you have to find a way to get people to push next episode in a way that you didn't have to before. So in broadcast from before, you'd show up every Thursday night for mercy TV, or you show up every Monday night for whatever you're showing up for. And it was one episode at a time. And now we're in bingeing. But in order to get somebody to binge on the writer side, my goal is now to get someone to binge. Well, I then have to figure out what is going to get them to binge. That means a more serialized kind of storytelling. And that means I need to find a way at the end of episode one to get you to press episode, you know to get to next episode. So that changes storytelling quite a bit, you have to figure out a whole new paradigm for telling a story that might have been really successful as a one off. Let's just say you're doing lawn order SBU and everything is self contained. Well, the good news about lawn orders to you is that you might want to do next episode, just because you love Mariska Hargitay, but there's no reason that you need to do it next episode. Unlike watching queens Gambit, I have to get to the next one because the story's not finished. So we're dealing with very, very different ways of storytelling that we didn't have before.

Alex Ferrari 36:57
Yeah, like, you know, watched castle that was, you know, that was on forever on an ABC. And that was a procedural show. It had a small arc through the season, but it was a procedural show a fun, procedural SBU. So every week basically, it was a self contained episode, but there was a small like, will she ever find her mother who killed her father or something like that? There's always that one little arc that carries throughout the entire episode, or the entire series a season. But then something like Queen's gambit. Like that's just crack. It was absolutely it was absolute

Kelly Edwards 37:31
Or squid game. If you watch squid game

Alex Ferrari 37:32
I have not seen it yet. I my wife says no, because that means I have to do it on my own now and that's gonna take me more time to do because she saw she's like, that looks violent. I'm like

Kelly Edwards 37:43
It is so it's terrible.

Alex Ferrari 37:46
I've been hearing nothing about it. I have to but I have to watch it. I have to watch it right, or Narcos, when Narcos was the first three seasons of Narcos was just like Jesus every week he just wanted to keep every week every episode you want to keep going. And it just changes the whole way. You look at story structure. You were saying evolution? You know there was one. There was one show that really changed the game. I'd love to hear your point of view on it. You know when the sopranos showed up? And David chase created the sopranos. It really just changed everything. Like it changed. storytelling and television. And you know, you had you know, Breaking Bad Mad Men, Dexter, Game of Thrones, right? All of these the lineage goes right back to the sopranos, pre Sopranos. a show like Breaking Bad would have never even It was tough to even get breaking up the air.

Kelly Edwards 38:41
I really wanted a shield Come on, it was that just before it was around the same time it

Alex Ferrari 38:46
It was I think it was either around the same time or a little bit after this a little bit after I think the sopranos was the first time that was that anti hero. In a way. It was the episode The episode. It's fresh in my mind now because I just had the pleasure of talking to David chase on the show. And and that was a that was a trip. There was an episode five, I think it was episode four or five. It was happening. It was Episode Five was called college where Tony strangled a rat. On Air, like full blown. The rat didn't do anything to him. It wasn't like the guy what? And HBO had a major problem with it. They're like you're going to destroy this character before he even gets off the ground. Nobody's gonna want to follow this guy. He's your little and they murder him right on, like a glorious daylight like it's bright and everything. And that was the moment it shifted. Because prior to that, you just saw instances of that, but you never saw the brutality of Tony Soprano. And that moment, after that episode came on, everybody was even more jazzed about seeing the show. And the executives were like, oh, things are changing. We we don't need to have a hero anymore. We don't need To have a guy who has moral a moral compass, we can root for the pet guide. And that was right. It kind of just shifted everything. And movies have been doing that for a while. I mean, I mean, Goodfellas. You know, if you want to go into that genre, I mean, we were all sure we were all rooting for Scarface. I mean, you could I mean, we are all falling, but in television that would never done never ever prior to that. So what did you What's your opinion on the legacy of the sopranos and then also these other shows that kept pushing the envelope after the sopranos like a Breaking Bad like a madman, like, like, Dexter for serial killer. We're rooting for.

Kelly Edwards 40:42
Yeah, and I remember being out there, I think around the time that Dexter came out with something similar. We were pitching something with a with a couple writers under my deal at Paramount, and yeah, it was a it became a big thing. I think, I think a couple things happen at the same time, which is, when you think about the sopranos, it was remarkable. And I would love to I did not hear your David Chase.

Alex Ferrari 41:07
It just came out. It just came out, as of this week, as of this recording. Came out right there. So you can listen to that, like,

Kelly Edwards 41:13
Where is he? Like, what is he doing now? Because I, I mean, he dropped,

Alex Ferrari 41:19
He dropped the mic. That's basically I dropped the mic situation like he he's been in television for what 40 years braved the rock for files and all this stuff. But then he was given that opportunity to do the sopranos. And when he was doing the sopranos, he literally just like, I don't care. I'm gonna do it my way. And I'm gonna be bold, and I'm gonna fight for whatever I want to do. And that's and they just let HBO let them do it. It's an it's a weird. Just everything aligned. So perfect. Right at that. The timing for a show like that. And I think and I think HBO was really trying to get into television, and they're trying to make Yeah, big swings, right? And they took that. And I actually said that to David. I was like you I'm so glad you took the swing at the back because we need creators on the on Bay at home plate, taking those swings. And I go, what would what would have happened if you would have missed because it Sopranos could have absolutely missed, right? And he's like, Oh, no, I would have just gone back into something else.

Kelly Edwards 42:19
I don't care. Yeah, it was low stakes for him, I guess. Because Yeah, for I and correct me if I'm wrong, but my guess is, I think the story was that he had it at Fox first. And they didn't want to do it. Well, it was

Alex Ferrari 42:31
It was a feature. It was a feature. And, and he he wrote a feature first and he still tried to go around town with it. Nobody wanted it that somebody at HBO pitched him an idea about it wasn't a feature about the mob. It was about. It was about a studio executive who had an issue with his mother, his psychotic mother, because it's based on his life. That's his mom. The Sopranos mother is his mother.

Kelly Edwards 42:58
So when they say right, which, you know, right, which you know, it's

Alex Ferrari 43:01
exactly that, but then someone's like, hey, do you want to do a mob, a mob show? And then he then he connected the two. And that's how, and that's how the sopranos game. And then he did pitch it. I think, I'm not sure who who paid. I got to HBO somehow. And then HBO said yes, to whatever I mean, I mean, the episodes the first season was, and they just kept going with it. But then it was just this, this magic that you can't, as a writer, as a writer, and a creator, you could do so much on the page, but then the actors show up, then the director show, then the location show up, and then you're rewriting there. And then on the edits, you're rewriting there, it's like it's, he said, it was like when you saw Tony talking to this other character, you're like, Oh, I didn't see that before. Why don't we try this? That's a magic that it's lightning in a bottle. You can't get the free, you know, this as well as anybody having the freedom that he had, at that budget range on a network like HBO is unheard of, especially at the time. Right? basically let the the lunatics run the asylum for a minute. And then by the time Yeah, and by the time the show was off, the lunatics completely, do whatever they wanted. Along the way

Kelly Edwards 44:17
Exactly. But that But see, here's the thing. Remember that? When I went to HBO, they make you read a book, at least they write made me read a book about the history of HBO, and they talk about the fact that it started off with, you know, sports and movies and Fraggle Rock, would you go that doesn't make any sense amazing Fraggle Rock, and then you've got Dream on and some of those shows that we're trying to burst out, then didn't make it really, you know, for the long haul. And by the way, where is Brian? Ben Ben, because I think three years Thank you. So I feel like then, and then they had to court. big name. They had a court people, they did court people because they didn't just like when I was at foxing UPN. We were the also RANS and Everybody wants to go to NBC and ABC and CBS because that's what everybody knew. And so when you're building a fledgling network, you need to, to entice people and so we we kept going out to people and saying, you can do whatever you want. Why do you want to do just push the envelope? We can't look like a ABC and CBS, we have to look different than they do. What? What would you like to do? We'll, we'll let you have creative freedom. I think that's probably what HBO was doing at the same time, which was like, let me bring the Michael Patrick kings over, let me bring the Darrin stars, we bring the David chases, let me bring the people who would like some creative freedom who have the ability to run a show, and who have something that has, that's a big swing, and let's just give them the keys to the kingdom. And then they had, you know, the David Simon's of the world and they they took off with that model of let's let the creator be the Creator. So I do think that there was probably an evolution to at HBO that was saying, how do we entice people over here because we need to be not the weird thing on the side of

Alex Ferrari 46:09
They were not able they weren't cable they're not even Fox or UPN whether they were networks. This is cable, it was like oh,

Kelly Edwards 46:18
How do you do that you make it really really enticing and you take a big swing on something that nobody else is going to do and what's that well nudity, it's going to be violence it's going to be pushed content and it's going to be freedom for your creatives to come in

Alex Ferrari 46:33
And as an oz came out before Sopranos which was also a very big show as well but it was different than the sopranos how they they worked it and it's it you know doing doing the research I did on on that episode just as you look at us it's just it's one of those moments that just changed television forever and and and we wouldn't have i mean i'm a big Breaking Bad fan like I love Vince Gilligan and I love everything he does and and you would have never had a show like that it barely got on yeah get right they got on to a network a network a cable network like AMC that like what do you don't you play like Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind you want to make shows now. So that's the only reason again let the lunatic in. Let's but

Kelly Edwards 47:22
I think madman's the same thing. Yeah. Matt was like, you know, he was on the sopranos, he he was right. He had this thing that he loved and, and then somebody allowed him to do the thing that he loved. And he just went for it. 100%. And he asked, Where do you get those?

Alex Ferrari 47:38
Sorry? No, no, no, I'm sorry, Matt. They asked Matt, like, would you have been able to make madmen without Sopranos? And he's like, no, first, I wouldn't have been able to make it because it didn't exist. Secondly, I wouldn't have been able to make it because I didn't get to sit in that writers room for as many years as I did, and see how David broke it down and break down his stories and stuff. One other thing that was really interesting about and I'll get off the sopranos kick in a minute, but it's, it's just good. It's just a good educational television conversation. He now he loved doing singular stories episodes, that literally didn't really feed the plot of the series. Just like character development, just like right episodes of just like, Hey, we're just going to talk about these three characters that have nothing to do with the overarching arc of the scene. That was also new. That was something that was it's not a procedural it's it's it's the right so it was like a weird I

Kelly Edwards 48:30
Love that. Don't but don't you want more of that? Yes. I feel like I want more of that. And I don't feel like I get enough of that. I feel like sometimes we are. There's so much of a draw. And again, it gets back to executives who's got the courage to just let you have a two person conversation between you know what to do a play. Why don't we do more of that? Why don't we just sort of sit in the moment

Alex Ferrari 48:53
It takes it takes a it takes some courage. It takes some courage and he was able to do it early on like episode like Episode Five college is that is that that episodes his favorite. And that's the one that really changed. That's when the sopranos became the sopranos was Episode Five. And it was that whole episode had nothing to do with the story. It was about his relationship with his daughter, and this rat that just came out of nowhere. And the executive forced him to make an scene to make the rat look a little bit worse than he did originally, there wasn't even a scene. It was just like, Tony just killed a random guy that he says because they were scared that they were really scared. It was such edgy stuff at the time. And now you look at something like Dexter, which is like you're literally following a serial killer. And, and you're rude,

Kelly Edwards 49:42
But a serial killer with a moral code. That's the thing right? And you're invited into his thought process and you understand why he got the way he got. They were very, very smart about how they constructed Dexter I think, and how you really went along for that ride because you're just killing the bad guys. And who wouldn't want that.

Alex Ferrari 49:59
It's Yeah, it's when you're writing like that. And when you're creating a show like that, or a character like that, it is such a razor that you're dancing on. It's the bullet the blade of a razor, you're just like, at any moment, you can slip and get your head cut off. I mean, it's great, because if you're if you do one scene the wrong way, or you break that code that you've created, just just a smidge, you lose your audience. So you're on the creative, bloody edge of writing. And it's this is a terrible visual, but it's all visual. It's a horrible visual, but it's but it's you're really our omens dexterous, that's why I was bringing this horrible visual into mine. But your, as a writer, you you are dancing, a very, very thin line. If you if you just go a little bit off, you can lose an audience. And that's why I think in that episode of Sopranos, the executives were like, I think, I think you're going way off the reservation here. And nobody's like, well, no one's ever gone that far. Let's see what happens. And oh, right there with us. They're still with us. Oh, they want more. And, and you keep going. But again, Tony Soprano as a character, his, his, he had somewhat of a moral compass. And he wasn't just a horrible bad guy. He was a horrible human being. But yeah, you fell for him because of his mother issues.

Kelly Edwards 51:21
Right! Well, he was but again, you know, go back to the Godfather. Everybody has a code. And they he followed the code. And so what he was doing, he had completely understandable reasons for what he was doing, even though we wouldn't do that. It made sense in his world. And I think that that's when you when you do misstep is because you completely got out of the work. Here's a perfect example of that. I was just having this conversation yesterday was somebody about walking dead when they killed Glenn. Oh, and they said they crossed the line, because that's not the world they'd set up for us. That's they completely took our trust. And then they bashed it when they bashed his head in. And I stopped watching I was a rabid rabid fan, yes, loved every moment of it. But when neguin did that, I said well, that they have betrayed my trust, and I will no longer I will no longer give them my time. So I think you have to make sure that you're working within the rules of the world too.

Alex Ferrari 52:15
So can I also say I was a rabid Walking Dead fan, until Negan showed up. And it wasn't for me it wasn't the moment that he hit Glen that was pretty horrible and painful. But for me, it was a whole season because they made a cardinal mistake in that they created a villain that was too powerful. He they never gave him any wins. You didn't I don't know if you saw that scene or not, but they never gave any wins to our heroes that we loved. The problem with a villain is they have to be able to be balanced with the hero the hero has to have the ability to beat the villain. If not, it's a boring show, or a boring game story and that's the mistake they did because there was no the whole season it was just they were just getting beat up and be rocky was getting pummeled again and again by Apollo play and he never got a shot and and at the

Kelly Edwards 53:10
Lost battle every single episode exactly right. And then at

Alex Ferrari 53:13
The end of this at the end of that episode that season, they're like, Oh, look, you got to punch in FU. Screw you, man. I am angry. And we and we stopped watching. So even a show like that cuz and then you start and when neguin showed up, you saw that the ratings just go. They start dropping, because before walking dead was like the biggest show on television. Right. But neguin showed up and they handled it. That was that bloody edge I was talking about, right and mishandled it and the zombies had got cut off, I'm sorry.

Kelly Edwards 53:48
It was such a beautiful, beautiful show up into that point, it went really well.

Alex Ferrari 53:52
It was a wonderful show. Before that, I have to ask you, you've probably seen a bunch of pilots, you've written a few pilots in your life, I'm sure what makes a good pilot,

Kelly Edwards 54:01
That's like, wow, you just completely you want to be with that

Alex Ferrari 54:05
I just making you with that. I just love from cutting zombies head off to bam.

Kelly Edwards 54:12
Obviously, there are a number of things that make a good pilot, it's not just one thing, but it's a confluence of things you have to be you have to be timely. So even if that thing does not take place in this time, it needs to be relevant to that to today. So I think you have to be seeing something that makes a really great pilot, you need a great character with a new very unique point of view. And you need a construct or a world that they are in that is antithetical to who they are. So that makes the world hard for them to navigate. And I think if you have those things, you have the makings of a great pilot. So if you think about any of your, your favorite pilots, let's get back to Breaking Bad. He is a very nice chemistry teacher and he gets into the most violent world possible. So he is a very, he's got a very specific set of skills, just like Liam Neeson does. And taken, he has very specific set of skills, he is ill equipped to handle them against a very formidable world that he is entering into. So it's completely antithetical to who he is. And I think at the time, it was very, it was a, you know, we're dealing with, you know, epidemics constantly in terms of the drug world. So, I think it's incredibly prescient kind of television making. Think about any of your favorite pilots think about if you think about scandal, I talked about scandal in my in the book, and you've got a, a woman who is a hard charger, she's a badass from the very moment that she shows up on screen. And even before that, because there's a scene before she shows up on screen. And you have a character telling another character, don't you want to be a gladiator and a hat? Gladiator for this for, for Olivia? And the woman goes, yes, of course, I want to be Gladiator. And then you cut to Olivia Pope. At the time, I think it was a different name, but cut to her coming in. And she's she the way they described her in the in the, in the script. And on screen. She's just a badass. And then she comes into a scene where she's negotiating basically a kidnapping, and then you realize the kidnapping, they've kidnapped a baby. And you just go, I'm so sucked in. And I cannot wait to see what happens next, because I've never seen this character before. So she's a very, very great, amazing character. And what what world is she in she's she's a rebel, a rebel, she's a cowboy. She's in one of the most highly regulated rule. I don't know. regimented kind of businesses in the world. She's in politics, and only that but she's in love with the president united states. So we've set everything up against her she's gonna have to come up against the most formidable foes we tweet. And it's exciting and we're, we're leaning forward. And we're all into politics. We've all been in politics and you know, Brock, Obama's president, maybe it was, even Bill Clinton, where there were really charged, you know, sexy men. And then in the, in the White House, like, there's a lot of stuff that that you can sort of glean from probably the time that it was it came out along with his character and this particular place, but you want to then lean forward into character and into the world. So if you have those things, you're going to have a really great shot at pulling a pilot together.

Alex Ferrari 57:50
But so from what you've just said, the one thing I grabbed on to was that unlike movie, because you only have 90 minutes to two hours in a movie, you generally have a villain, you have one villain, maybe two or three or group of villains. But there's, there's a very specific, you know who the bad guy is. Whereas in those both those shows, yes, there are some adversaries, but there are brand new adversaries that can come in on a weekly basis, season wide basis, that will constantly give the character the leader that lead character issues. So I'm breaking bad. He's basically you're you're entering a new world. And in that world, there is 1000 things that can kill you. And that's what's exciting, as opposed to on Batman, you're the Joker. And that's the series that doesn't work that and I think that's where a lot of pilots make mistakes, if they lean you up against a villain and that could be one villain across a season, maybe even two or three seasons. But there are also others come you really should be. And correct me if I'm wrong, in Intellivision that we're talking about and we could talk about the sopranos, Mad Men, Dexter, all of them. They're not against one person or even a small group. It's generally an environment a world that they're entering, that there's 1000 places where they can get they can get their heads cut off. And absolutely, that's what makes really interesting television. Is that the fair statement?

Kelly Edwards 59:20
Yeah, they have to have many photos. Because it's if you whether you do it it's one it's like an SBU we go back to SBU or you go back to you know, whatever those procedurals are they're going to be it's going to be the bad guy of a week. Sure. But then there's got to be Yeah, a system in place it's the world is a is a dangerous place. So I have to fix the world. So yes, it's you're absolutely right.

Alex Ferrari 59:44
And it just keeps in that and that opens you up for many seasons. You can keep going. Exactly. Like with with Heisenberg, he, there was a point there was an end point there was a certain point where like You there was even even my wife when she was watching it with me. She was like, he's he's starting to cross the line a bit. He's not the guy I started liking. I'm not rooting for him anymore. He's turning into why am I Why do I like why am I following that guy? And that that it took us off the show still was a genius, so, but there were moments that you're just like, he's not a good guy anymore. He's not doing what he's doing. And he even said, He's like, I don't I'm not doing it before I first it was for my family. Now is because I like it. And you're just like, Oh, this is awesome. He's so is. It was like what it said, is turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.

Kelly Edwards 1:00:38
And Right, right. And it's and I think that that's also the beauty of Now, again, when you talk about dreamers, and how are things how have they changed, we're no longer necessarily going to 100 episodes. So we don't have to keep it open for forever, you can have a story that does arc like a movie over, you know, five season eight episodes, or whatever it is that you can tell the story that that needs to be told in that amount of time. And you don't have to belabor it, and you can see an end game, which I think is it actually makes our content better. You know, when you think about something like lost and you go Oh, lost was probably trying to figure out Hey, let's throw another monster.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:20
They were lost. They were lost. Yeah, they were definitely go.

Kelly Edwards 1:01:23
Well, it was probably a factor of Well, we've got a we've got another 22 episodes. What do we do now? We have to figure it out. Let's bring in what were those characters the three characters that nobody liked, and everybody wanted to kill off a monster. It's like the same

Alex Ferrari 1:01:39
Monster. It was I stopped I couldn't. The pilot was fantastic. It was wonderful. But at a certain point, you just like what's going on? And you're absolutely right. They needed to fill air. As opposed to the streamers you don't like I know Stranger Things has, I think they're going to do five seasons. And that's it. And I think Cobra Kai, another big show on Netflix. They're only going to do five seasons. And that's it. Like there's an out like there's only so many more seasons, we can see how many more characters you can bring back from The Karate Kid universe. Like at a certain point you're like, Ah, okay, so now Daniel and and Johnny are okay, they're fighting together against the ultimate bad guys. Okay, they're bringing back the guy from Karate Kid three. Okay, we ran out after Karate Kid three. So how many more seasons do we got here, guys? And they know in the Creator, Mr. Miyagi is not coming back. It would have been Mr. Miyagi would have been amazing magic Pat, was still alive. Oh, my God, I know, I would have made that show even better than it is. But anyway. Let me ask you, what are you up to now? What do you What's the what are the new shows you're working on now.

Kelly Edwards 1:02:44
I am a staff writer on a new show that just premiered on Fox, Tuesday nights at nine called our kind of people it is amazing. I have had the best time of my life working in this writers room. And it was again, it was a goal from when I was first in the you know, coming out of the gate, and never got a chance to get in the writers room. And this has been an amazing, an incredibly fulfilling ride for me. So we started in May, at the end of May. In the writers room, we are now shooting Episode 107, we have an order for 12. So we're writing episodes 910 1112. And it's I learned a lot I've learned a tremendous amount. I thought I knew a lot about the business and about development before I got in here, which has helped me quite a bit. But also just being in the writers room and seeing how stories are broken, and how things change and the reasoning for certain things and how to protect characters in the show. And it's been just phenomenal. And every single day is like Christmas. I cannot wait to get to work every day.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:57
Isn't that a great feeling? It's like we skip to work. Yeah. It's like you. Yes. It's like you skip to work and a smile on my face every day. And it's it's hard for people to understand, and I'm not doing it to rub into anybody's noses here that listening like Hahaha, no, it took us a long time to get here. And now we're like, oh, I'm happy. And you know, I'm like, it's just such a fulfilling feeling. As opposed to like, Okay, I got some money, but I'm miserable. I got that big paycheck. But I'm miserable. I'm like, Oh, the paycheck might be smaller, but I'm happy. And as you get older you realize happiness is a really big thing. Much more than money. Well, it's much I mean, you need money to live but at a certain point like okay, what's, where do I have enough? And I don't have to great doing something I don't like just to get more money to do what it's like happiness means so much more. And being creative is even. And being creative is even more than that. Now I'm going to ask you a few questions asking my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life

Kelly Edwards 1:05:00
I will say this, this sort of ties into what what you were saying and what we're talking about. I got. I was married for 23 years, the last five, we were separated. So my big lesson was that I deserve joy. And I wasn't living in joy. And didn't I deserve to live in joy. And so I had white knuckled it for quite a while. Now this is granted, I'm best friends. I love him so much. My ex husband is an amazing person. We are besties, we talk multiple times, we're always on. We're always texting. So I don't this is not about him. This was about I think this was really about being in the right place. And being the right being the right me being 100% mean. And when I found the right combination of what I needed in my life, my joy level just shut up. Incredibly. And I think it was all precipitated by the divorce because the divorce in 2015, when we started divorce proceedings, the year of 20 2016 was I did a year Yes. And I just say yes to every single thing. And I ended up on six different continents got a tattoo met, the Dalai Lama was at the White House twice. I was I just had a complete I did, I asked twice, I just had this complete, let's just busted open and do all the things that I felt like I had missed along the way. I had kept living in this very, very tiny little box and thinking that I was like, Oh, I'm an executive, I've got it all, whatever it is. And I thought to myself, what have I not tried? And why have I said to myself, that I needed to do certain things in a certain way. So I just started living a bigger life. And part of that was I needed to not be attached to my ex husband. Because I felt like he was part of that rigidity of you have the kids, you have the house, you have the dogs, and you don't do certain things. So I kind of went off the rails a little bit in 2016, which then snowballed into, let's go back to two to get my education. my MFA, I was almost gonna say High School. Let's get out of high school, it kind of felt like it. But I went back to school, I applied to Sundance and again, it was I was thinking, Well, what why? Why would I ever move out of this executive box? Because I'm, everyone's gonna know me in a certain way, you can't switch? I always have that mindset. You know, I was I was drinking that Kool Aid. And then I went, well, why? Why was I thinking that? So why not change that thinking, just start to challenge, everything, every assumption that I had made about my life, and get back to what I wanted to be and who I wanted to be when I was 15 and 1413 years old, loving content and movies and wanting to be a writer. So it really did take 35 years for me to get there longer. But it was so worth it. Because again, it's about living enjoy. And why was I why was I okay, not living in joy every day.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:22
Oh, because we could talk ourselves into a lot of stuff gateway. Oh, God, can we? Yeah, yes. But actually, when that check shows up?

Kelly Edwards 1:08:29
That's right. But if there's one, let me be honest, you know, I, my transformation, let's just say my becoming the butterfly out of the cocoon. I don't know, for everybody, I'd like to think it is. But I have friends who complain about being where they are, and just and never make the move and don't change. And I then have to say, look, I I appreciate that you are feeling this way. But I can't listen to this anymore. Because either you do something or you don't. But not everybody is equipped to make that move. And I completely understand that. And that can be their journey in their life. And that's okay. So what I say I went out and I made a big change it just not to mean that everybody needs to go out and quit their job and completely go off the rails and do something different. It worked for me because I think I had I had set myself up for it. There was a chain of events that made sense for it. I did go back to school and might get my degree. You don't have to do that. But I was working and I was writing and then I was starting to show my stuff on social media. And I was getting positive feedback that they gave me courage to go back to school that gave me courage to go to Sundance that they gave me courage to be to say no to a big opportunity at HBO. So there was a very specific chain of events. I didn't just walk in and quit and say I'm just doing this I was financially ready to do it. I had saved some money. I was rolling into a first look deal at HBO. So I Have a support system. So there were things that happened that made it possible. But as you started off talking about the universe, the universe making plans, you make plans, and then the universe blows them apart. The universe also will catch you if you're living in that truth. And I had a perfect example of that, which is not only was when I said, I'm going to leave HBO, and when they when Christina Becker had kept coming to me, and she said, Do you want to have this big motion? I said, I really don't I'm, I'm content to sit here for another 18 months off my contract. And I'll just write and I'll just enjoy it. And I know the job, I'll just write it out. And she said, Send me your script. She read the script within 48 hours, and she called me back and she said, No, you have to do this. Well, that's part of the universe say, there's support there in a big way. And by July, I had my deal in place, I was rolling out. And I was rolling into a deal. So the universe was then providing funding finances for me. Now, did I take a big hit? financially, yes, it's half of what I made at HBO. But it was still it was enough. And that's all I needed was enough. So I got this deal. And a week after I left HBO, so it was a Thursday. That was my, my last night was a Thursday, July 17, something like that was my last day at HBO. The last day I was gonna get a paycheck from, from my regular job, and I was rolling into this deal is gonna pay me half. And a week later, I had the book deal. A week later, I got the call that I had the book deal. So again, it's the universe saying, You think you're going to fall off the face of the earth, you think you're probably going to drown, you don't know what's going to happen, you may or may not sell anything, you may or may not get on staff. Guess what I'm going to give you I'm going to show you this book, this book is going to come and be part of the next part of your life. And I had that book to deal with, deal with to write over the next four or five, six months or whatever. And it was, again another another piece of the puzzle. So I do feel as though even though we sometimes feel as though the universe's is kicking us in the teeth constantly, the universe can also bring us some of these blessings and joy that we are expecting that can help nurture and satisfy us in a different way.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:18
And where can people find your new book executive, the executive chair

Kelly Edwards 1:12:24
It's going to be released on Amazon next week, on Tuesday, the 12th so that's, so by the time this comes out, it might already have been but it's gonna be on Amazon, it will be on mwp.com. The Michael weezy Productions website, it will eventually be at Barnes and Noble. I think you can probably search for it online and probably find other booksellers that that will have it but but if you like it, please leave it. Leave it out. Yeah, a nice review on Amazon. I hope people get something out of it. My goal with the book is really to give people the tools that they might not have otherwise had about how to navigate some of the ins and outs of the industry and to know what's an executive head so that you can navigate that more effectively than you might have not otherwise had the had that advantage. So it's with good intentions but I put that out there in the world.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:23
Kelly It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you on the show today. I know we can keep going for a little while longer for sure. We could geek out about television for a while but I appreciate you coming on the show and thank you for putting the book together. And I wish you nothing but the best in your new endeavors and I'm not to sound condescending, but I'm proud of you. I'm proud that you that you took the you jumped it's the it takes bravery to leave a cushy job and to leave a good paycheck and and and as you get older it gets even more risky so that you did it and you've landed on your feet and you're happy is a hopefully an example that everybody listening can can take to heart so thank you so much Kelly.

Kelly Edwards 1:14:04
Thank you for having me. This has been amazing. And I appreciate what you do. This is what you do is is is just gives me like it really does I love with your podcast. So thank you for having me.

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BPS 143: How To Become A Professional Screenwriter w/ Brooks Elms

Brooks Elms has written more than 25 scripts over the term of his career for companies like Gold Circle Films, Base FX, and Broken Road. 

We connected through a mutual friend and I couldn’t wait to have him on the Bulletproof Screenwriting podcast. 
Elms is a member of the Writers Guild Of America and a part-time screenwriting instructor at UCLA Extension where he’s shared his filmmaking and plot structuring skills with his students since 2016 through two classes he currently teaches; Story Analysis for Film & TV, and Story Development.

You may have seen films and television series he’s directed such as The Ultimate Fighter, Snapshots from a .500 Season, Montauk Highway, Drew, Trip and Zoey and So Happy Together.

Elms have consulted with all levels of creatives across Hollywood, including studio directors, rewrites for the oscar-winning writer while also writing and directing his own indie feature films. 

In his free time, Elms loves to coach other writers who have a burning ambition to deeply serve their audiences. We both should be working on a project of mine in the near future, so stay tuned.

I’m always down for a good screenwriting 101 conversation and my interview with Brooks will not disappoint

Enjoy my conversation on how to become a professional screenwriter with Brooke Elms.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:11
I like to welcome the show Brooks alums How you doin Brooks?

Brooks Elms 0:14
I'm great. I'm excited to be here.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for being on the show, man. I truly appreciate it. You reached out to me a little while ago. I think you heard me that I was gonna write a screenplay. And you're like hey if you need any help man, I'll coach you through it I'll do that honestly and I appreciate that by the way thank you so much. I don't even know when I'm going to start writing this thing but but I'll I'll let you know

Brooks Elms 0:39
One of the many things that interests me about you because I you got on my radar like like maybe 10 years ago through a mutual friend Scott who did this podcast film trooper

Alex Ferrari 0:51
Of course and Scott yeah a friend of the show yeah

Brooks Elms 0:55
yeah he's awesome and it was funny because he kept going oh yeah there's this guy Alex Ferrari like who is this guy was like all jealous like who is this guy? Who is this man this guy's bringing it you know and so I I've watched how like you always help an indie filmmakers and then it's just kind of snowballs on now you're like the Amazon of helping indie filmmakers. It's amazing. That's

Alex Ferrari 1:16
awesome. I might steal that the Amazon of helping filmmakers.

Brooks Elms 1:21
You're welcome you're welcome to it I actually you can you can use that when I came up with the the tagline for the blacklist calm. Where Where? screenwriters meet filmmakers. There's something like that. They sent out their beta. And it had some terrible you know, line. I was like, This is awful here. You should do something like this. Blah, blah, blah. And they go Oh, that's great. We're awesome. I do marketing stuff too. So it comes comes naturally.

Alex Ferrari 1:47
So how did you start in the businessman?

Brooks Elms 1:50
Oh, man, I started making movies my friends back in high school. And it was just so much fun. I I got started. I was 15 years old. And my friends came up and said, Hey, we're making a kung fu movie you want it you want to do and I was like, Oh, hell yeah, that sounds great. So we made that movie and and then we have another one another we showed our friends. They were laughing their asses off. And I was like, Oh, my guy was so completely and utterly hooked and bite. And that was in high school. And I probably made 50 short film experiments before I even got to NYU film school. Because it was just it was intoxicating. And I loved it. You know, you know how that is? So

Alex Ferrari 2:27
the disease the diseases, I call it the disease? Yes. You get bitten by the bug and you can't get rid of it. It's it's with you for life. It

Brooks Elms 2:35
is it is yeah, consumers are recovering independent filmmaker.

Alex Ferrari 2:40
I'm a recovering independent filmmaker. is always Yeah, we're always constantly recovering. And then and then we and then of course, of course we fall off the wagon. Because we because we go and see you know we watch a Kubrick film or we watch a Nolan film you're like oh my god I gotta go back into God I got it I gotta make another movie. It's it's the we're we're very weird creatures. filmmakers and screenwriters. There's very strange in the world of all creatives, because it's just such a I don't think there's many other forms screenwriters are different but filmmakers need a team need to gather the troops need to get the parties together to put the tent up the pit put on the show. It is unlike any other art form not a writer not a painter even a musician could do something alone if they want to they could be a singer songwriter and do their own thing for us it's it's just weird we got to convince other people to jump on Crazy Train with us as an independent

Brooks Elms 3:42
there there was a moment So after I graduated NYU film school that summer I made my first feature and I was it was was about this based loosely on on the I play them mlu soccer team and the movie was about how our team was like perfectly average they were a great team there were a terrible team we were really good at drinking after games right? So I made this movie that was okay about about the soccer team and I was a four or five days into the shoot and we were doing the soccer sequences so there was like 3040 people on set. I'm 22 years old don't really know what the hell I'm doing but it went around I looked around I was like, oh my god this is the best thing ever. But it was it just and that's that it's just I guess it's like you know that love for movies. And then the love for creation kind of come together when you're directing.

Alex Ferrari 4:32
Yeah, when you're on set I love being on set set is one of the favorite places to be and we get to do it so rarely. You know unless you're Ridley Scott who's working 24 seven every day and he's on set every week. It's it's a tough it's it's tough because as an artist, you only get to actually do your art handful of times really unless you're doing commercials or, or doing something else but like as a feature director. If you're lucky once a year, and In a retina insanity if not you're working every couple years if you're lucky as getting a project off the ground getting the financing it's a weird art form and then you're depressed every the rest of the time. And is it like you when when we when you go off set, and it's the last day of shoot, I'm like depressed? Like I go into the post so it gives me something to look forward to. But when on on the day of like this family, these carnies are my family I've been with for a few weeks now. And it's like this whole, it's just, it's such weird creatures.

Brooks Elms 5:34
It's intense. It's absolutely intense, because it's just it's such a hurricane of intention, and hope and dedication and awesomeness. And then it just goes, Oh, there's a void when it's done.

Alex Ferrari 5:46
Oh, and it's and then and then after post, it's worse. Yeah, now you're just like, Oh, I got I got nothing to do now except, like hope the distributor is gonna send me a check.

Brooks Elms 5:59
I actually love the marketing. So I even saw that film that I made when I was 22. When we finally finished it, I took it on like a college tour on the east coast. So much fun. I did that I like we showed it cuz it was a college movie. But we showed it. I showed a bunch of different colleges on the east coast. And we did like a month long screening event in in an off off Broadway space in New York that I called the New York City gorilla cinema. So I'm from the jump I've always loved the marketing promotion side as much as I love the the creation side

Alex Ferrari 6:29
as I do, as you know, as I love, I love the marketing promotion side it gets me jazzed up big time. Now you work with a lot of screenwriters. And you know you consult and you coach and you help screenwriters break through their own crap. As we all have our own walls we have to grow through Why do you think screen Why do most screenplays fail? In your opinion?

Brooks Elms 6:53
Because they Well, a we have to define how they fail right there's there's failing for story my own Yeah, story well, ultimately like if I mean it, because it's part let's take off the subjectivity right? Because what might be a failure for me might be my favorite or vice versa right so let's take that apart so let's say it's not even by the by the writers own standards it actually didn't hit the mark generally you're talking about its hero goal conflict the the hero probably wasn't as defined as it could be the goal probably wasn't as compelling as it could be. In the stakes, the conflict was it wasn't quite right.

Alex Ferrari 7:31
Now do you when you start writing do you write with starting with character with plot?

Brooks Elms 7:39
Neither I start with concept basically,

Alex Ferrari 7:43
concept. So concept would be more plot esque, I guess, kind of,

Brooks Elms 7:48
if I had a theme. If I had to squeeze one, I don't know I think concept kind of bridges them both right as a great concept, we'll have people kind of you can say in a sentence, and it'll sort of crack open people's mind, they'll go Oh, hey, that sounds like I get I get a lot of the stuff that's happening there. And it's really compelling. Oftentimes, there's a bit of an irony in there that helps you sort of unlock that sort of magic and you can do great work especially if you're a good director or you have a good director do your stuff with a sort of not a great concept right? But like when you start with a great concept everything else gets easier because of that quality of the foundation

Alex Ferrari 8:28
So talk to me about theme because I think that's also another where another place where a lot of screenplays and stories fail if they have no no no compass and the theme is that compass and they just they you see it all the time you watch some of these movies and you're just like there's no theme here there's there's just like Oh look there's a bunch of people fighting or there's a bunch of action or scares but like when you look when you study like a horror movie specifically, you study a Halloween you study you know Exorcist the storytelling is so solid that the scares are just bonus as opposed to films that just focus on the scares and not the thing and there's that theme underneath it that really is the backbone What can you tell me about that?

Brooks Elms 9:14
Yeah, that's it's interesting question so theme is tricky because it's it's a gravitational center point. And yet it's kind of ephemeral. If we kind of hold it too hard it kind of slips through our fingers and it's fine it gets more confusing right? One helpful way that feels kind of concrete with you because you can be theme is like, you know, crime pays or crime doesn't pay or or love conquers all, or we will talk about Shawshank at some sometime we hope versus despair, right? So, but like, a very sort of grounded concrete way of thinking about it is really sort of your character's misbehavior. And then their behavior. So they start out here with some sort of obstacle and problem and they're doing it the wrong way, right. And this is an expression have our own life like we've had, we all have life challenges. And when we're in no more human side of ourselves, we're not meeting our challenge and well, we're running away from something we're cowardly. We're, we're gluttonous, or we're doing something some sort of misbehavior. And, and our screenplays are a metaphor for this real thing going on in us if they're really great. It's some sort of metaphor for something we did. And we did it kind of the wrong way. And the script is about how we learn to do it the right way through painful trial and error. Your theme is a is a word that kind of speaks to that transformation. So in particular, with your idea of shooting for the mob, right? We were talking, I was watching your awesome Episode 501. RV, and I was, and I was listening to it, it was like I was interesting. So if, cuz my understanding of where you're at is, it's like you've written the book, and you know, and at some point, you want to do it, and maybe you have some great tours and might be helpful, but you're kind of like, I'm not sure kind of where to start my, to my mind, cuz that's sort of like my specialties I help I take, I take a writer, and I clarify their superpower. And I walk with them step by step on how to completely powerfully realize it. And what's exciting to me about, at least where you are with your stories, your theme is always is already so light and clear. It's like it's about uh, you know, and I haven't read the book, I'm just basically on the concept. It's about an independent filmmaker that that is so you know, urgent to make his movie that he ends up doing it the wrong way getting that with the wrong people and then realizing he can't do that, right. So that it to me thematically, you're in a really good place. And a lot of times, especially independent filmmakers, they don't have a theme that's so clean and simple. So to my mind, structuring your story, even again, having read the book, I'm sure it's probably pretty good cuz I know you and I, you know, I know what you're doing. But like, just based on a conceptual thing, what's going to make a good film, I can already see potential for how you could structure that thematically and really powerfully, just because your theme is so good.

Alex Ferrari 12:01
Well, I appreciate that. That for me is a tough conversation, just because it's, it's such a, it took me so long to get the courage to just even write the book, and the emotions that were attached to that story. And you know, it was real life. And I literally, you know, was crying through some chapters as I wrote it, because I was like, going back to the darkest times of my life. But I felt that I needed to get out there to help other filmmakers and other not only filmmakers, anybody in a tough situation that they can't they think they can't get out of, but they can. But for me, it's just tough to even think about starting to write it again, going back to that place mentally. Going back to that, that world, I don't mind directing it. And that's actually what I had to prove. It's a precondition of anybody who wants to make the movie with me, is that I have to have, I have to direct and my dp has to be the DP because he was Boris in the movie. And that was in the book. And that's it. Those are the only two. That's it, that's all I need. But I don't know, I think I might be too close to it. But I will I have to, I'll figure that out. Next year, when I begin that process,

Brooks Elms 13:05
I can help you out offline this really quickly in terms of how to, because this is the stuff I started doing. First I like I want a screenplay award at NYU doing this very personal senior thesis film, right. And it was about how I, the previous summer, I brought my girlfriend home to my hometown, and like she and my best friend didn't get along. So it was a very personal film about my best friend, I had to choose between my best friend or my girlfriend, right. And it was very wrong, because it just happened. And then and then the first feature I made was about my friends on the soccer team and how I was frustrated with the coach and blah, blah, blah, so and then when I broke through to the next level and started really selling scripts, I was able to take my superpower as a guy that could write grounded characters and tension, and then put it into a genre that was just more accessible. Because again, I wrote this alien invasion movie that was very gritty and grounded, and it felt like felt like a shooter event or a terrorist attack. But it just kept unfolding from there into being this alien invasion. And it did it did really well. So anyway, so and I work with writers who are working with all sorts of deep personal issues. So one of my specialties is figuring out how to because we have to come in from the personal places exactly what's going to make that movie really great, Alex, and yet you're right, if you're too close to it, it just triggers too much stuff because you lived it. And you wrote about it already. And it's

Alex Ferrari 14:23
and it's tough to make a move because a book is one thing but to make a movie, it has to change, his characters are going to be added storylines, and plots are going to be added that that have to be there to make it into a movie or else and that's the thing that it's hard for me to even comprehend. I'm like, well, that's not the way it happened. And even even if I even if I don't, even if on a conscious level, I say no, no, I'm gonna let that go. On a subconscious level. It's going to it's going to read or it's going to rear its ugly head. So it's your stuff,

Brooks Elms 14:53
and he will hear it and here's how I would advise you or somebody in that situation, right? Because it happens a lot. The key is that unlocking is thinking of it as the same but different of something else. So for example, the last script that I sold, it's a father and son story and I basically ripped off the the form of Kramer versus Kramer right. So Kramer vs. Kramer Dustin Hoffman in 1980 is a workaholic, add man, last guy that is actually a good father, Meryl Streep, having a nervous breakdown takes off and goes, you gotta you got to watch our kid. He's like, what? He has to learn painfully how to be a dad. And then at midpoint, she's like, okay, I've had my breakdown, I want to come back and take custody goes, whoa, whoa, whoa. Now I like being a dad. So then it's them fighting, right? So I took that basic pattern, right? And I swapped out everything, all the characters all the same. And I wrote this script, called the art of the knockout that's going into production next year. And it's about this Bare Knuckle brawler that travels around the circus in the 1920s. he fathered this kid eight years ago that didn't even know about that kid's mom dies, and they stick him into the last guy that should be a dad, his bare knuckle brawler is stuck watching this kid, he hates it and tries to get rid of the kid is awful. And then slowly learns to actually really love being a father. And that has to fight to keep them at the end, right? So it's the same but different. And when that got set up, and I was getting notes, nother notes on the structure, structured, perfect, the only notes were they had a couple ideas on how to raise the stakes and this and that. So my invitation to you, or anybody like you that has something based on personal experience, see if it helps, it'll help you to vote and to sort of differentiate it from what actually happened and thinking that as a movie. And if once you think of it as a movie, oh, it doesn't have to be the same genre, oh, it's kind of like such and such, or this or that. And then what you think of as that, and then you use what actually happened in the book about as a buffet of elements to serve the vehicle of the story. Now you're just making it more accessible, that you might not want to do all that stuff, is independent filmmaking, we can do whatever the hell we want, right? So. So you got to do it the way you want. Most importantly, and if you want to lean into what Hollywood does best in terms of concept and structure, that would be my invitation, find a form of a story that you can kind of use you because you don't, because here's the other thing that happens, Alex, I kind of I liken it to people that put like a triangle wheel on a car, right? really creative, but that car's not going to go anywhere, because it's not gonna run. So what I say is, don't be creative, round wheels, big wheels, small wheels, fine, but round wheels. And then once we know it goes, then get creative. And so for me, for you, I think the most accessible and powerful version of what actually happened and sort of vision would probably be something like that, pick up a movie that you love, and then has an it around wheels from that, and then swap it out and make it completely personal to you. And to me, that's a way of being completely 100% authentic to the to that theme and the feelings because that's what we really care about. But the actual move that story that comes out, you know, is some things exactly what happened and some things that are just there to serve the new truth of your metaphor. That makes sense.

Alex Ferrari 18:15
Yeah, it makes it it makes all the sense in the world. I just had something that was really interesting. And I think it's a lesson that we can can we pass on to the listeners is the Utah Kramer vs. Kramer structure and swapped it out. There's so many screenwriters, working screenwriters, who do that all the time, that they'll take a movie their favorite movie, and they'll swap out the theme, they'll struggle, they'll swap out the conference, they swap out everything characters, it's not like they're stealing anything. Sometimes, sometimes it isn't, I'm going to give you an example of what it was. But, but but, but you can use that structure because the hard work has been laid out. It's kind of like already having a blueprint, and you're putting up new walls, you're dressing it differently, you putting new finishes on, but it's the structure that's been sound and it works already. And it's been proven to work. And that's something that a lot of lot of stress if you especially and again, it's also a good starting point to if you start looking at a movie and you break down there scenes, and you're like okay, I'm gonna replace this scene with this scene and this scene with this scene and I'm just gonna literally copy the the blueprint of that, that's a good starting point to get the juices flowing. And it could shift a bit as you go, it's not going to be exact, but the basic foundation is is is the is the same. And I found that to be really, really valuable. I always look at movies like What movie do I want this to be like it doesn't have to be same genre could be completely different. Perfect example of a movie that we all know that started one of the biggest franchises in the world. Point Break, Point Break. Wonderful film. Love it. One of the best action movies of the 90s Keanu Reeves and all of his glory pastor Patrick Swayze and all of his glory. It is Basically it was stolen. 100% is fast and furious. The first Fast and Furious is Point Break. Look at nice if you look at it and analyze it. Fast and Furious one is the it's actually the they just switched out surfers for cars. That was the only difference.

Brooks Elms 20:16
That's the only difference in the movies same but different.

Alex Ferrari 20:20
It's the exact same movie. It's like it's not surfers. And it's the same thing. And

Brooks Elms 20:27
another interesting example of that I in the script that I just finished now I was using the model of Dead Poets Society, a mentor comes in, gets really overly influenced that goes to a tragic place, but then they still celebrate the mentor at the end, right? And I was telling people when I was getting notes, I go Yeah, this is kind of like Dead Poets as it were, and people would read it and go, there's nothing like that posts it without you talking. So I had been so creative with around and I knew the screamer No, it was exactly exactly that pattern. Those were the exact same round wheels, but they couldn't tell because I made it 100% authentic to me and my characters, despite the fact that I had a rock solid foundation. So that's I think the key for you is that if you find a way of telling an aspect of what happened that feels like really beautifully in harmony with one of your favorite movies sort of patterns, dude, that that to me, I could see you just amazingly telling that story in a really powerful way.

Alex Ferrari 21:24
I appreciate that. Well, we'll see. We'll see I got a couple things I got to do this year.

Brooks Elms 21:30
And the broader thing for everybody is like anybody anybody who's doing memoir write something that's that's starting from a really personal place. It's tricky if we're too close to it, right? So this is a game of getting a real healthy distance. It's great that you're writing what you know, because it's going to resonate with authenticity, the game is to put it in a in a package that's more accessible to more people. depending on whatever audience size you want to serve. It's fine to do something obscure if that's really where your heart is. But if you want to do something that's really bigger and breaks through with a bigger audience, they're looking for a cleaner foundational package. And you can do that just by sort of, you know, understanding how the same but different works in terms of concept.

Alex Ferrari 22:09
Now, you mentioned Shawshank which everyone listened to the show knows my my love for Shawshank. And anytime we get to talk about Shawshank and analyzing and breaking it down, I think it's a benefit to every listener. I love to hear your thoughts on Shawshank and what Shawshank can teach us as writers as storytellers and the brilliance of what Frank Darabont did with a short a short story from Stephen King. Arguably still the worst title in movie history Shawshank Redemption it's absolutely horrendous title for marketing i'd love the title and it makes all the sense in the world but try to market that movie and they couldn't

Brooks Elms 22:53
terrible marketing decision

Alex Ferrari 22:56
but what do you call it though? But let me ask what do you call it if you can't call it a redemption will be but what do you call it?

Brooks Elms 23:01
No you it's about hope you basically not and obviously not like hope this or hope that but like something that evokes hope I would love to bring some really good title for that because I guarantee you won't look you can't do worse than that title right?

Alex Ferrari 23:15
Yeah it's pretty bad but it's like one of the worst titles that I still remember it was nominated for it was nominated for Best Picture didn't win anything down. I think it was not my first screening for I think it had to be nominated for Best screenwriting might have been might have been he got like it got like three or four Oscar nominations like some acting

Brooks Elms 23:32
i think i think its initial release I don't think it did very well i think it didn't buy but it kind of just limped along and then it got some awards and it got another bump but then it really picked up I think in in video dealing afterwards Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 23:45
yeah home video and then it then became number one on IMDB it beat the Godfather as the best movie of emotion love the movie of all time.

Brooks Elms 23:52
That's right That's right so um okay so here's here's here's my thoughts on the number one takeaway for anybody listening because I know these were all star fellow storytellers is to if you happen to like the movie, or especially if you love it, the best takeaway is really theme because the way they talk about hope versus despair is so beautiful and so powerful, and so clean and simple. But again, a lot of times with theme, it gets heavy, it's really hard to kind of track but with Shawshank it's so damn clear and compelling, but not like beating you over the head of head with it. But, but really easy to track. So and what you have is a really interesting dynamic of the way it's structured. So you have read play by Morgan Freeman, who I would characterize as actually the protagonist, even though Tim Robbins in 82 frame is driving the narrative so it's unusual usually are almost always our protagonist drives the narrative. But in this case, I would call read the protagonist because he changes in the end he goes from despair. Look, you can't use hope in this place. Hope will get you killed. You have to disappear. You have to be cynical about life. And then slowly he sees Andy like an effin freight train getting beat up and raped and all these terrible things happen over and over again. And he's afraid chain of hope and hope and hope and hope and hope and digs himself out and breaks out of with a break out of prison with like under a rock hammer for 10 years. I mean, that's the most magnificent expression of hope you could possibly believe. And he finally makes it out. And I think it's such a triumphant expression of hope over despair, and we all feel both of them. But to me, thematically, it's so powerfully laid out, and I think that's why it resonates so deeply. Plus there's some charm in those characters a warmth between that friendship between those two guys, but thematically it's a great model to study if you're confused about theme, or this or that. The thing

Alex Ferrari 25:50
that's so fascinating about about Shawshank for me, is that it on paper, it's it's a horrible pitch. It's a horrible, you know, you see the trailers like it's about a prison. It's a prison movie. It's like it doesn't hide that. Only once you experience it, do you understand the depth of it. And I remember seeing that it was what 94 so I think it was came out in 94. So I had just gotten out of high school a few years. And I was with a bunch of knucklehead friends of mine who were not movie goers, and they were touched. And when those guys were touched, I was like, wow, this is this hit this cut through everything. At that time, I even felt it. When I saw it into theater, I was just like, wow, this is this is a different kind of film. And Hollywood. Yeah. It was a very different kind of film. And I always my analysis of the film has always been like what I always ask the same question, why does it connect? Because we could all just pray for a connection with an audience like Shawshank, Kaz and in work What is it about that film because it's not obvious. It's not like rocky we get why people connect with rocky we connect with what people connect with. With Indiana Jones or or sort of Star Wars. We get it but Shawshank is so under the radar on the surface, you can't What do you think? here's

Brooks Elms 27:14
here's, you're gonna love this answer, because it's clear as day to me why it connects. And you can use that for your own story. It's because we feel despair. And the despair that I feel in my life as you know coddle white male and you know, in the richest country ever, is still hurts, it's scary to me. And when I see a depiction of it like that, like you know, the guys in prison and people are coming after him and he's his physical safety's his, and he was wrongly imprisoned and all these things, all these terrible things. And if that guy can have hope, in that place, holy crap, and then have it pay off by him actually getting out because that hope paid off after like, 1520 years, and it wasn't like, like a week. And to me, that speaks so deeply to all of us, because we all face oftentimes in a daily basis, an aspect sort of much lesser aspect, but an aspect of hope versus despair. Should I even got a bed you know, you feel despair. You don't want to get a bed and but you have hope and you climb out or whatever. So but it's that to me, it's so universal in our own way, that sense of Do we have hope? Do we have enough? Is there an opportunity for something to happen? And so like for your you know, your story about this guy who has this urgent hope that this movie is going to get made and he wants? He's got this beautiful dream? And then he's in this despairing place where he's getting involved with these people that are that are difficult so it's to me what you love about Shawshank? I you can bring out cinematically and what you love about your movie. In fact, when I work with people, that's exactly where I go to so I have the list of favorite movies. And we get into why they love them why Shawshank speaks so deeply to you? What does that hope versus despair really feel like in your real life? And I? Again, I haven't read the book, but I promise you, there are written there are things that went on in your real life that you sort of associate with this idea of hope versus despair that you also connect to Shawshank. And then what I do is I connect those things out so that when people write a movie that feel that has the same sort of pattern as Hollywood but it's authentic in a way that's really deep and personal. That's when it crackles with authenticity. And so that makes sense

Alex Ferrari 29:26
that may it makes it makes perfect sense. I mean I've always come I've always had a I've said this on the show before but I think the analogy of Shawshank and Andy the friends journey is what connects with people because you feel you are Andy defraying and in many ways, many of us in the world depending on where you live in the world. At one point or another feel imprisoned. Feel like the that the universe is doing is wrongly beating you attacking you. Bad things are happening to you, and you're innocent. And you're innocent of these bad things. And then that not only does he have hope to fight through all of that, but he literally crawls through a mile of shed. Then he literally gets out of that his cleanse from the gods of the shit, literally, this shit is coming off of him. He's taking the old clothes off of him, putting on a new suit, living the life that he has been dreaming about, for 15 years. And then on top of it all, he gets revenge the sweetest revenge on his jailers. And he literally lives on a frickin paradise. And that's, but that's why I think it feels so for me, for me, I mean, let's not get into the psychoanalysis of Alex Ferrari for a second, if anybody cares. For me, when I saw that movie, I didn't feel it as much as I felt it years later, where I hadn't been beat up by the business yet, as much. I had been beaten. I had I think when I saw Shawshank I hadn't The thing with the mob had happened to me yet. It was years away. So years later, that movie took another meaning for me, because of all the abuse that the business has given me. And failures that I've had that I'm like, why is this happened to me? Why can't I get the opportunity? Why can't someone open the door for me? Why can't I have my pickaxe, and to knock into some doors, and I felt imprisoned in miles. So there was a lot of that going on. And I think that's one of those things that when people watch it, they identify with,

Brooks Elms 31:47
so and that's exactly it, right? So the metaphor of being in prison, and even getting in and crawling through the shed. And all that stuff is, is a really good metaphor for how so many people feel about their life, how we psychologically process our life. And so when you do that, your own version of that, which is really great, because like most people don't experience prison, most people don't experience a run in with a mob. So it's a really beautiful, exaggerated metaphor for most people. Plus, you've got this hero with this beautiful, innocent Sweet dream. He wants to be a filmmaker, right? So it's, the key is in sort of, the takeaway I would invite for you to take it is just look at how much every scene there's conflict and conflict and conflict and conflict. So that allows us to feel like it's earned so much when it comes a lot of scripts you talked about what are some main things that sort of trip people up in terms of a great screenplay, a lot of times the conflict isn't strong enough. They, they take a little too easy, especially an Act to be when things that's when like Blake Snyder would say things are, because when bad guys close in, things can get much harder. A lot of screenwriters take their foot off the gas, we feel bad, because we love our hero, and it's hard for them. But now we need to burn their house down we need to because the more we torture them in act to be, the more powerfully they can rise from the act from the ashes in Act Three and be the hero they are meant to be.

Alex Ferrari 33:08
Without a good villain, you don't have conflict without a good villain, you can't have a hero be a hero. And that is as simple as that. And the balance is not to make the villain too powerful that the hero has no chance.

Brooks Elms 33:23
Well, well, I would I would do I would say it is, um, make the guy as absolute powerful as you can without losing plausibility. Right, that's Godzilla. I'm not going to win. It's stupid. Right? Right. And that's Godzilla then it's a decent fight.

Alex Ferrari 33:39
Right? Exactly. I know you want to make you know, Darth Vader's Darth Vader, you know, and you want that you want Hannibal Lecter to be Hannibal Lecter. But there's a chance like Apollo versus Rocky, which is I mean that there's not many movies from the 70s that still resonate To this day, in the way that they do, you know, like I could, I could show that to a 20 year old now. And they'll be like, Yeah, it looks a little dated, but I get it, and the music and all that stuff. But the Apollo and Apollo and the thing that was so brilliant about Rocky, in the first Rocky is that rocky didn't have any aspirations to beat Apollo. That was the brilliant move, and Stallone script. He didn't want to beat him. He just wanted to stay with

Brooks Elms 34:25
him was to let me jump in to things that I love about that as an example. So two things. One is one of my favorites is the double refusal of the call. He gets the opportunity to fight the champ and he goes, No, no, I'm just a bomb. I can't do it. Right. And then MIT comes so he basically says no, at first, right? And then Mick comes over and goes, dude, I can train champions, I can train you, you know, and he goes, No, No, I don't. So the double work because a refusal of a call is always a wonderful moment in Act One and they do it twice powerfully, then to your point at the end of Act Two I To my mind, I remember correctly he Oh, he once you committed to answer the call and commit, then he's like, Okay, I'm gonna take on it'd be the champ and at the end of Act Two, he's studying the tape over and over again and goes, I can't beat him. He's not darknight insulting. I can't beat that guy. But to your point, if I can go the distance, if I can hold my own, then I have the real win, which is my redemption and my dignity. That gives me chills just speaking. That's what we all want.

Alex Ferrari 35:29
I mean, it's it's fun when eight movies now it's more still, every time we're like, Okay, I'm gonna watch another one. I'm gonna watch it again. I could watch rocky 134 bolt six

Brooks Elms 35:44
and all the non renewals not a fan of Rocky two

Alex Ferrari 35:46
I don't mind rocky two as much I don't mind rocky two, but five is we should not discuss Five. Five is not to be discussed. It just goes right from four to Rocky Balboa. That's the way and that's actually the way he did it. I think. I think even still, I was like, Yeah, I don't know what I was doing back then. But the thing that was in it for everyone listening if you if you analyze Rocky, there literally could not be a villain like Apollo. There is absolutely no credible chance that Rocky Balboa should even be in the same room with him let alone in the ring with him. And as the movie goes on, you start seeing well wait a minute, he's cracking ribs of of cows. You're giving he's got a shot now is Kenny can he possibly beat the Titan? It's like the it's the mortal going after the Titan it's insane it's a wonderful thing.

Brooks Elms 36:38
It really is wonderful and I hadn't thought about it to to to just the way you said it there but but what's lovely about that construction is at the beginning Rocky's such a low point in his life he's so severely feeling self doubt and just hates himself and it just is and what is the opposite of that Apollo Creed perfect everything just content everything's the rich yeah with a beautiful mirror of each other which is a metaphor for us and part of us always feels that despair part of us feels that that power right and the movie really beautifully. You earn step by step to the point where the part of us that feels despair finds redemption in actually not even beating that beating the world champion just holding his own against the champ

Alex Ferrari 37:25
it's beautiful and the way and I love the way you were saying the the analysis of like he's the mirror image so he's the champ he's perfect he's got everything rock he's got nothing he's got self doubt so they're opposite they're mirror opposites of each other which is exactly what a villain and a hero should be his mirror opposites but as the movie continues and this is the brilliance of what Stallone did the the characters start getting closer together thematically, he starts to lose his confidence a bit he starts to gain it a bit till at the end of the movie they're even there even rocky has gone the distance with the champ the champ has now had a lost the fight or honestly lost the fight to rocky because he allowed a bomb to quote unquote bomb to hold them off and survive against the champ so when rocky two starts they're starting on even keel yeah that's the brilliant and it's just such a brilliant way of looking at it and you look at that now it's it's just it's been stolen a million times I mean how many times we've seen rocky it's like Star Wars

Brooks Elms 38:28
That's right. That's right well yeah and and if they steal it in the right way like we've been talking about the right amount of the same but different it's amazing and that's the tricky thing like when I do my own stuff and I work with other people it's really about dialing in the same amount of the same but different or the right amount because if it's too familiar then it's like boring. And if it's too different than it's like weird right? So you want familiar enough and fresh enough? You know the same but different.

Alex Ferrari 38:54
Did you see the movie warrior?

Brooks Elms 38:57
I did yeah. The MMA

Alex Ferrari 38:58
MMA fight. I absolutely love war. I think it's a master masterwork. It's easily the best MMA movie and there had been a few other MMA movies but then nothing that nothing that hooked it. But the thing that was so brilliant about warrior and because it's a rocky it's kind of a rocky ask there's an A you can mention rocky in the movie which is great. A Rocco you can bring Mickey that but the the emotion I remember seeing that in the theater I was bawling at the end I was bawling. My wife and I were sitting there and I was absolutely just like sniffles boogers coming out. I was on the ball and I connected so well. It because of the the emotional connection with the brothers. And the end of that, but it was just such a brilliantly constructed story. And then Tom Hardy was you know fabula it was it was amazing. It was amazing. Sorry, went off on a tangent there. But no, this is

Brooks Elms 39:55
great. My next project is like it's a fight film. So I love like a raging bull is my favorite fight. So

Alex Ferrari 40:00
I mean in Raging Bull, but like, you look at something like Raging Bull, and you just go, Well, why do I even bother? Sometimes, sometimes you make it. It's like watching you, you walk in and you see the Sistine Chapel. You're like, well, I just dropped the brush right now. It's, it's been done. But the thing is, it's not it's never been done to your, what you can bring to the table, and never underestimate that power. Not that you're going to be better. But there's something inside you that Martin Scorsese doesn't have. And vice versa.

Brooks Elms 40:31
Yeah, no, that's exactly right. Exactly. Right. One of my favorite stories about Raging Bull is, is that I heard that when they went to get this thing set up at a studio, you know, dinero is in there with with Marty, and they're talking in the studio execs like, this thing. This guy's character is kind of like a cockroach. And dinero goes, No, he's not that it was just like, it was that conviction. And that non judgement of this is a human being. And I'm called the plan and that he was, he was a force of an actor, playing a force of a man. And it was to me that was like, yeah, that's why that movie is so good. The guy is really in a lot of ways. He's a terrible husband, a terrible brother, a terrible, he's what makes him amazing in the ring makes them terrible in his personal relationships, which you know, is this is a metaphor that lots of people can do. But like Scorsese, and Schrader and dinero all, we're so devoted to the authenticity of that character and those relationships, that they didn't judge them. And that made it so compelling because we all have those parts of ourselves that go too far in this way

Alex Ferrari 41:40
or that way. Yeah, there's no no question. And sometimes you you like to wallow in the dark areas of your life and you rarely wallow in the good I mean, sometimes you do, but it's it you have to learn, I know you have to learn it's a skill,

Brooks Elms 41:57
it for sure. So that's actually one of the other things I do in my own life. And when I help writers, we practice wallowing in the good stuff, because it makes it more you know, it's a marathon right? And it's easier it's less challenging to run the marathon when we have more good good feelings more often. So this this flow state I'm an absolute champion of getting people into the flow state staying in the flow state as long as possible when they get bumped out getting them back in because it feels better and be you get better results because it's more sustainable than then sort of cynicism.

Alex Ferrari 42:37
Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that flow state for a minute because it's an interesting thing I've brought this up on on a multiple shows that I host because his I always find it fascinating when I when I talk to you know, some of these you know, Oscar winning or legendary writers or something like that, and I go, how how do you tap into that? Because you know, like when you're writing Forrest Gump, there's something going on, like you're, you're tapping into something else. And then and it's always there's the one offs that do that want a great script, and they never they never can reach that height again. That's one thing and they were just able to get in there for a second and then they left but then there's the people that just hold that career. And they just hit boom and boom and boom and boom, and you're just like, how do you continuously connect to that that state and what is that state and Where Where is that coming from? is always a bigger like Who's the man behind the Who's the man or the woman behind the curtain sending you this this information? I always feel that we're as writers we're just conduits we're conduits of something coming in. I think Spielberg said this, that his like ideas float around the universe and they pop into your head and if you don't do something about it, someone else will pick it up. And you might get the first crack at it and that's why he's always so like it was it was it him know as Prince Prince, I was talking to somebody who worked with Prince and Prince would call three o'clock in the morning to is like a singer. And like a musician like hey, when you're done like I don't know Prince's three o'clock in the morning. What do you what do you need? Ah, do you want to do want to come in and record like it's it's three o'clock in the morning? Can Can I wait four or five hours? He's like, no, if I don't get this Michael Jackson's gonna get it and I want to record it first. It's great. It's this great story but that's a true story.

Brooks Elms 44:33
It's fascinating that you went to a musician because the the the examples that popped into my mind right away are from a few different musicians because they just hear it. So one of them was Chris Martin in an interview and there was just and you just see it, he goes, it was like he was in a listening state. He just said it just I was listening and it came through it came to me, Paul McCartney was like, one of his best songs. He woke up in the morning. He heard The song in his head he was like, Oh, yeah. Who Yeah, who sings this one? Who's this? And he kind of is, like, I'm not I've never heard that one. You know this one? Oh, he realized, Oh, no, but it was me. So it's this thing. It's a state of listening as opposed to like leaning forward. I'm writing my story. It's I'm listening to the universe in this flow state. And that's when we get to the height of our creativity. Same thing with Bob Dylan. I listened to an interview with him a couple days ago. And there it was, like in the interview was a 60 Minutes interview. He's like, he said, You were blown in the wind in 10 minutes. And he goes, yeah. And it was like, and I was looking at him. And it was the same energy. I saw around the other two, same thing with Prince he. And he was like, Well, how did you do it? And you just see him. It's almost like he's radio tuning. You just see him going here. And he was like, yeah, it just, it just came to me, he opened up in a way, and it came through. And then he also didn't, he also said, the same thing is like, I haven't been able to get to that quite flow state

Alex Ferrari 45:54
channel, that channel again, I can't I can't tune into that channel, again,

Brooks Elms 45:57
that that's what he said, but but to the people that are musicians or filmmakers, or whatever, that are able to sort of sustain optimal creative flow over decades, they have a repeatable process of getting into that listening mode, a way of sort of opening up and being soft, and you, you know, you'd have you spoken to all these amazing people, and I'm sure you see, there's almost a lightness of energy, when you talk to those people that are really hitting on that level, at least when they're doing their thing, it'll open and it'll flow and then you don't know where to hide, you're almost like a stenographer. It's like Oh, I didn't write this there's it's coming through me through me in service to the audience. And so that's one of my as a coach is one of my favorite things to do is make choices in my relationship when I'm listening to somebody to induce that flow state really deeply and as often as possible, and then when they show up on a call in and they're, they're having a tough day or whatever, I make choices that kind of just nudge them slightly up or give them really hold space I listen to them and let them unfold into that flow state so that they optimize their creativity. I love it.

Alex Ferrari 47:03
It's no it's amazing. I've actually felt that in an editing I've done that a lot like you feel the flow of the cuts and you just and then all of a sudden you're like I've been sitting here for six hours that's the state

Brooks Elms 47:16
that's all you know. Yeah. But with my

Alex Ferrari 47:19
books my two books that I've written both of them I'll go back to and I'm like who wrote this because it's just channeled through me it really I mean yes I obviously shooting for the mob is my story but the words of putting the story together I would just write and then I would go back and read it I'm like who wrote this like I see Same thing with Rise of the entrepreneur which is a it's a more of a nonfiction it's actually a nonfiction book, instructional book. Even then I'm like the concepts and stuff I know all of them but like who put I don't remember writing that. I don't remember writing this like how who wrote the book? This is good.

Brooks Elms 47:57
So so here's here's an interesting thing. So um, one of the reasons I love one of the things I did about Shawshank I Shawshank Redemption, I made this video about how you can read Shawshank Redemption as a law of attraction story, right? So law of attraction is this idea that you basically, however you show up, you will attract the energy of how you show up. So if you show up feeling successful, you attract success in general, right? That's a lot of other parts to it. But I did a video where I was showing you sort of walking through Shawshank with that lens of law of attraction. So instead of hope versus despair, it was sort of attracting versus sort of repelling. But it's significant in this context. Because when we, because some of those law of attraction people that when they're talking, they actually say they're channeling and they're saying it's coming from some people say aliens, or some people say spirits, right? And look, they might be I don't have that personal experience. But from my perspective, exactly what you said, it's like you felt like it almost wasn't coming from you. And so when some of those law of attraction, people talk about it, they believe literally, it's not coming from them. And who cares, because it puts them in a state of them being able to say, I'm spreading more joy. I'm helping people better on coming up with really deep, powerful ideas more often more consistently. So to my mind, I don't give a crap where how you're talking about it, whether it's aliens or spirits, or just like you or I see it as a sort of the Muse or creativity that comes through. If you're getting to those really beautiful, powerful ideas in a flow state. Great. That's what matters. Yeah. And

Alex Ferrari 49:32
I'm always fascinated about where creativity comes from. You know, I've been fascinated by this. Why always, I'd love asking some of these heavy hitters that come on the show of like, how do you do it? Like, how, where does it come from? And I was I was interviewing on another show, Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden. Wow, cool. And what a great conversation that was. And when I was talking to him, I was I asked him I'm like, Man What does it feel like? Being in Wembley Stadium? With 90,000? People? Like what it like, I'm never gonna get that i don't i don't i don't i don't think anytime soon 90,000 people gonna show up to hear me talk. So maybe one day, I don't know, but that's not happening right now. So, not many of us are ever going to feel that. But what does that feel like? And then when you're singing? Where does that come from? Because it's it's one thing to sing. And then there's another thing to perform at a level like that. Regardless if you'd like his music or not, is irrelevant. irrelevant. And he's like, he goes, Oh, it's not me. It just comes through me. Um, am I gonna complete I don't even I don't even know where I'm at when I'm on stage, almost. So it's flying through me. And then I go, Well, how do you get off that train? Like when you're on it? He's like, Oh, I have I have a whole routine after the show. Because like how the high of 90,000 Pete that energy coming towards you. Like as read as screenwriters and filmmakers. We don't get that the closest we get to that is that audience in a movie theater, or at a festival? That's the that's the closest we get to it. And that's really intense. It's Oh, God, if you have I've had been that I've been in that room when that standing ovations and people asking you questions, and all that attention and all that stuff.

Brooks Elms 51:28
And that's hot, explosive energy.

Alex Ferrari 51:31
It is someone like but can you imagine 90,000? like Paul McCartney, like, if I ever got a chance to talk to him, I'm like, How? Like, how is it? How do you live as you know, being the most, most famous human being on the planet?

Brooks Elms 51:48
Here's a great little poll. If you look at the clip of when he was doing a carpool karaoke with

Alex Ferrari 51:56
who's that guy does. James James Gordon James.

Brooks Elms 51:58
There's a really beautiful exchange. And it speaks to this idea that lightness of energy, where they're, they're talking, and, and he's going a while, you know, this is amazing, my dad who died if he knew that I was talking to you right now. And then Paul McCartney goes, he is he's listening. And there was again, there was this this lightness and other worldliness of how he's able to open to something. And, and Dave coordinates are crying. And that's it. And we our job as storytellers are, is to elicit emotion really deeply. And when we can get into sort of this open sort of flowing, ephemeral, sort of spiritual state, those ideas flow, and we're able to elicit motion much more deeply. And so there's a craft to sort of inducing it more often. And if you sort of make those choices, and there's things like meditation, or all sorts of different things, but like, whatever your sort of process is to find your own way. And to make that really the priority, like my priority is I get up and I find that flow state and from that flow state, all these other good things happen, as opposed to my job is to write a screenplay or to cross this next milestone or whatever those are to concrete and they put you down to sort of earthy, what you really want if you're being in the creative, professional creative, to find a way into that floaty, daydreaming state as consistently as deeply as possible because that's where your best ideas are gonna come.

Alex Ferrari 53:25
You know what's funny, I talking about light energy. You know, when I talk to some of these, some of these amazing creatives, the ones that are like that are at the top of their game. Almost all of them had an extremely light energy. They weren't heavy, they weren't heavy. Then there's very accomplished writers and filmmakers who I've talked to who who it seems like they almost grind it out they almost like by pure force are grabbing and creating amazing things. But it's their own physic almost their own will that's pushing them where someone like a Paul McCartney could just go Hey, dude. Hey, dude, okay,

Brooks Elms 54:14
here's my theory on that I love you brought it up. My theory is the grinders are succeeding despite the grind, correct that it's the flow is what works for everybody. Some people are able to more easily flow. Other people have to grind it out and haven't learned to sort of soften the grind part. And they're so good and so talented. There's, they're succeeding despite that sort of effort, grinding, hard work, kind of constipated energy. You want to let that thing flow.

Alex Ferrari 54:41
And that's the thing and that's constipated. Energy is a great word to use. Because, you know, and we talked a little bit about this before we started recording, but like someone like Spielberg, he has a very light energy to him, and everybody and I've talked to a ton of people who worked with him, you know, and I've hear stories on air and OFF AIR about Miss Spielberg and you just go I understand I get I get I get why he Steven Spielberg

Brooks Elms 55:07
I've heard that same exact thing that it's not that you talk to him and there's a there's at once a normalcy. He's totally normal and totally infatuated with the process at the same time. And that's that and that's that sort of light light balances, it's Yeah, it's amazing, it's and, and he makes it sustainable. That's why he's able to hit in multiple decades, because he's able to put himself in that flow state so deeply, so consistently in so many different variables and variations, cuz you're, it is a shark infested business, right? So can I It's one thing for you and I to kind of have a cool conversation about flow here. But can I keep that flow going, a when I'm writing and be when I'm on meetings, and see when I'm in all the more places in your life, you can up that volume of that flow state and be in there, the more success you have in to me somebody like Spielberg is master

Alex Ferrari 55:56
and you but you, but I think also the thing that stops us from doing that is just the the, for lack of a better term, the crap that is surrounding us in living life, the the crap that then in the the frames goes through, like literally, it's this heavy shit that's been thrown on to us. And that could be childhood stuff that could be anger, that can be, you know, envy, that could be ego, all of that is, is holding us down. But if you can shed it, shut it, shut it off. That's when you can become lighter and open up to these other areas.

Brooks Elms 56:35
And here's here's how to how to help you shift that, who put that shit on me. A lot of people say, Oh, it was my parents. No, no, I put it on myself, maybe because my parents were modeling it or whatever happened to my thing. But here's the powerful thing is, I created that reality as a kid, I created how I respond to that. I'm creating my reality now. So if I have if I have a shitty reality, I have the power to create a little less shitty reality, less shitty, less shitty, and eventually really magical, amazing reality. It's us owning our own perceptual system. I mean, it's got to be based on on objective reality, right? There's a there's definitely a consistent reality outside of our subjectivity. But we have a tremendous ability to choose how we respond to objective reality. And that's where that real power comes in our life.

Alex Ferrari 57:34
I'll tell you from my point of view, you know, coming up, I was an angry and bitter guy, because I felt that it was just I wasn't getting that. First of all in my 20s I'm like, why hasn't anyone recognize my genius? I mean, obviously, why don't they don't they understand? Don't they understand who I am? I mean, come on. So when that didn't so you when you didn't become Steven Spielberg or my our generation Robert Rodriguez, because he was the one that kind of like that was the that was the lottery ticket for our generation, no question. So like, if we're not Tarantino or Robert or Linkletter or Smith or any of the guys that came up in the 90s, we have failed. So when I couldn't get to that place, or for whatever reason the universe didn't open up that that those opportunities I became extremely angry, extremely bitter, and that completely stifles any sort of creativity. It stifles everything the moment I launched indie film hustle and let go of Allah all that anger and started to give and started to be of service and start writing my energy became lighter. Don't get me wrong I am perfect I'm definitely not Gandhi. But but I noticed it and this is something only us old farts can talk about. As you get older you start seeing these things some people never learn in a lifetime yeah but I started seeing that entered in then that's when things start then I made my first feature that I made my second feature that I wrote my books then doors that were shut to me all my life doors that would i would kill to talk get into are wide open now. So it was it's really interesting and if you look at some of the I don't want to get religious if you look at some of the spiritual leaders even some spiritual like a Gandhi, sure, sure. There they are not a heavy energy. There they there's a very light lightness to it and I don't want to get Fufu about it. But when we say light energy is kind of like this. You feel it when you meet somebody. People feel like when you meet somebody you just like, I gotta take a shower or Oh my God, I want to be around them. Like I don't know if you've ever been in a room with a movie star. Before I you know, when you when you meet a movie star, who is a real, real movie star, not a fallen star, not a star up and coming movie star. And when you're in the room with them, you'll go Oh, I get it. Don't say Word, and you just get that energy from them, you're like, Oh,

Brooks Elms 1:00:03
this is that's it's that it factor that they talk about. And it absolutely is an energetic thing. They're one way or another able to sort of, sort of show up with a certain type of energy that just is different than the way most people can do it. And part of its, there's an authenticity to it, and a sort of probably a lack of attachment to it. I mean, there's a qualities of how you sort of, sort of facilitate that in yourself. But you're right, they have a politician, I had a friend that met Bill Clinton, he was at some show, like at the Met. And he said, Man, after he walked on stage, and he said, he'd literally never seen somebody that like, literally looked like a million bucks. It was just an aura of energy. And he's not like an energy guy. But he was like that dude had this. And that's the thing. It's like he just, and obviously the President is there's a lot of stuff going on, right. But in terms of like, I mean, that's a need, but like, but movie stars have. And what's great about everybody that's listening, it's not anybody can do it every all of us can be we all are limited by what our own sort of biology believes. But we can be at the max of our own ability. By looking into these in your own way. What sort of spiritual shifts are energetic shifts, there's things you, I promise you, you can do in the return on that investment. It's so phenomenally better for your joy. And as you do that inside job and make those shifts, everything else is better. You write better stories, you have better relationships, it all happens, but it's got to start inside first. Like Like, if you don't do that, and you win the Oscar or whatever, you still feel miserable. And sometimes you feel even more of a fraud because you haven't got the inside job worked out.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
Oh, yeah, I've seen I've spoken to people like that, that have won an Oscar and I'm like, so what's it like afterwards? You're like, I feel worse sometimes. You know, it was cool that night, but then afterwards, then what? Then at last for a little bit, and then it's heartbreaking. It's you got a gotta get back up there again, like and then just like, this is like one of the Super Bowl like, Yeah,

Brooks Elms 1:02:05
well, that was where I was going. My one of my favorite stories around this is Phil Jackson's is he, before he like after the bowls, I think when he started coaching the Lakers, he wrote this book called sacred hoops. And he talked about when he as a player won the NBA championships for the Knicks. And they went to like Tavern them green and Robert Redford was there and Dustin Hoffman was there. And he was like, Oh, my whole life was like man to win an NBA championship. And I'm here, and he felt empty, F and felt empty. And he was like, What the hell. And it was because he was, which most people do, he was saying, the outcome defines who I am, as opposed to, I'm just, I'm just a soul that's expressing myself and my, my, my, my sort of purpose on life is to be happy is to be in this flow state. And then from there, I'm a great athlete, or great this or great, whatever. And he and for him, it was a real threshold moment that he was supposed to be the happiest point in his life. And he wasn't, it was a big part of the spiritual journey. So no, it's every day I show up every day, I chop wood and carry water. I can't go up and find my state of happiness in service to people. I love that story for you is that you found that that that place from I'm kind of a victim, things are happening to me to No, no, I'm going to take ownership in my life, you knew so much about independent film, and you started helping people this way and that way the other way. And that spiraled you up and up and up and up, and you can see it your your energy really shines in a way that's different now than it was 10 years ago. It's really awesome.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:36
I appreciate that. I truly appreciate that. And one other area that we all go through we talked we've talked about a little bit is failure. And we all had those those those blocks those things, you know, things not working out the way you go through how do you approach failure in the business in you know, because that script didn't get picked up, that didn't sell that script, I couldn't get the money for the movie. Oh, that's that that actor dropped out or a million things that could have happened. me with my shooting for the mob, I literally got as closest to hanging out with Batman at his house. And I mean, that's as close as you're going to get literally other than being on set, and then getting yanked from you. And that threw me in a two year depression and all of that kind of stuff. So how do you break through these because we all go through it. And it doesn't matter what level you're at. I mean, Spielberg still goes through it, you know, all of them do. Yeah, they go through their own versions of failure, obviously. But how do you get through it?

Brooks Elms 1:04:31
It's exactly what I just said it's it's prioritizing flow state and joy and service above all, right, because when we can be you know, and it's and it's a practice, right, and I'm really, really good at it, and I still stumble with it, right? But when my priority is I'm going to show up, and I'm going to find, you know, authentically, you can't just be like DS, you know, head in the clouds, whatever. You have to sort of be in your body and be of spirit right is the balance of those things. And when you can do that legitimately with authenticity, differentiated from outcome, that's when you know you're nailing it. And so the outcome could be deal goes through good or deal goes through bad you can be gotta be differentiated from either one could be a health crisis, relationship, crisis, business, it's all the same thing, all those things, you will be happy to the extent those things are secondary to your number one priority is I show up, and I'm an open human being. And I'm existing, and I'm trying to help other people. And that's, again, it takes practice, but anybody listening to this, if this sounds like Oh, you know what, there's some truth in it, find your way to practice, because you can do and I promise you, the more you practice this in your own way, in own style, the dividends are amazing. And what happens is you get the end, once you get the inside job shifted, that everything else out in your life, your relationships are gonna get better businesses getting better, you're just not because you know how it works in Hollywood. So you can't be desperate, and you can't be boring, right? You're not boring, you're authentic, and you're not going to be desperate. If you differentiate from outcomes, then you become that cool kid in high school. It's like, Okay, all right, everything's fine. Everything's great. And so wherever you are in your journey, if you have this energy of it's perfect the way it is. Now, it's effin awesome. More good. Things are coming and I'm already here. Everybody wants to work with that guy. If you're the crankier one, then it's it gets sketchy.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:26
Yeah, and the that energy of death I I always joke about the desperation as a cologne. We all can smell it in the business. It's it's called desperation by Calvin Klein. And we can and we can smell it, Amelie, and I know it because I used to wear a desperation quite often, especially when I first got to LA. And you would meet one producer somewhere in a set and you'd be on them like white on rice. And you were just like, what can you do for me? How can you help me How about Baba Baba? And is the wrong way of approaching it. And it's only afterwards where you just go when you sit back and you're like, hey, that works out great. If it doesn't, it's all good. You got that kind of energy to it. People want to work with that energy is much more so than somebody like me. Maybe I can help Canada desperation. It's horrible. And I don't know about you. I've only met a couple of desperate screenwriters in life. Not many. Not many. Never just as rare to meet filmmakers or screenwriters who are desperate. No, I'm joking. I kid who I love. Because we all have been there we've all been that desperate person and if you can break through that, that's where that's why you see some people make it

Brooks Elms 1:07:40
and what's so interesting is screenwriters. What do you Who is the screenwriter, you imagine stuff you imagine worlds you imagine things so screenwriters imagine this beautiful life for yourself. And again, an authentic way, not in a BS way. But like, look at the abundance in your life, the abundance of air, the abundance of like you're going to eat today problem, you're going to have all these few friends, there's so much you can frame legitimately, again, not be asked but like, authentically frame your life in abundance, no matter what's happening. And when you do that, in using the same muscles that you write screenplays in use, imagine this grounded, beautiful, blissful life for yourself and frame it that way. There was a way it struck me. A couple months ago, I was walking to Trader Joe's with my, my, you know, 14 year old son, we're going in there to you know, run an errand. And I had this really beautiful moment of going, Oh, if I was like 10 years, or 20 years in the future, thinking back to this moment, it would be so sort of romanticized and lovely. And then I was like, oh, but I can do that now. And so in that moment, totally mundane error. Aaron with my son, I romanticize that and it was so beautiful, just to be there as a as a dad with his son did nothing. We picked up some lettuce for lunch or whatever, you know, but it was so beautiful. And that ability for me to go, Oh, I can frame my existence in a way that's really beautiful the way we might frame a shot as a director, whereas the way we frame a scene as a screenwriter, you can frame your own existence. And I'm telling you guys, the more you do that, everything slowly up levels.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:15
And I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Brooks Elms 1:09:25
Um, the longest to learn? Yeah, was was that the nowness you know, that I that I have the power to celebrate, right now.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:38
What did you learn from your biggest failure?

Brooks Elms 1:09:43
Um, that it was not the failure. It was my response to the failure and how I what I was talking to myself about what I said, you know, because I failed, that I'm not good enough for this enough or whatever. And as I got more familiar with that voice, And kind of befriended that inner voice then the failure became a really beautiful lesson but in the moment that it happened it didn't feel that way.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:09
And what are three screenplays every screenwriter should read

Brooks Elms 1:10:13
Oh, your favorite three Oh really? yeah yeah no I hate and one of the things at NYU film school I had this one instructor that was like oh you have to watch this Lester's movie and I was like you know what if you I'm never watching them and it was a movie I would have liked but I just I resented that he was telling me I should so I'm very much the mindset that whatever you personally want to read or watch and just the amount that you want to watch it or read it is the ideal amount so five minutes in a Netflix you don't like it, turn it off, five minutes into my screenplay. If you're reading it five pages you don't like it put it down I want you to put it down I want you guys focus on what you love most by your personal perspective because to me that is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself

Alex Ferrari 1:11:03
and where can people get a hold of you and find out what you're doing?

Brooks Elms 1:11:08
Brooks alums coaching comm is my website for if you if you want to sort of explore working with me and there's two main programs that I that I do one is helping people develop a script one is helping people get it sold and and if not me I mentors that I that I because I don't I don't do hourlies sometimes people want our leads and I have other people that that I basically refer them to Although you are the guy to hire if for any sort of independent films guy's telling you because here's the here's the thing let me let me plug you for a second because he's got the Amazon of of internet information for for independent filmmakers you got right and you got everything a lot of it's free. You got premium, you got the whole damn thing. But I'm telling you guys, you don't know what you don't know. And so hire Alex for a couple hours and tell them I think I know this about making my next film or I think I know this or that. And he will go Yeah, you're right here, you're This is correct. But this, you're totally off. And you'd rather get that in one hour from a master like Alex and grow for years to figure it out for yourself and go god dammit, Alex could have told me that last year, but I didn't figure it out. So hire somebody that knows at whatever budget you can, and I'm telling you that's going to speed up your game so much,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:22
I I appreciate that wholeheartedly for that plugs. Or I can tell you from my experience, coaching could save you I've literally sometimes I've had someone give me an hour of their time. And they hire me for an hour and I save them. He's like you just saved me 50,000 bucks. I'm like, because you didn't know I mean, I know I've walked this path man, hire someone who's walked the path. It doesn't have to be me, it could be anybody that you feel comfortable with. But if they can give you an hour to talk into someone coaching that could be Oh my god, it's it's seen what you can learn in in an hour and 16 minutes on your story. It could save you six months, it could save you $60,000 it could save you so much time talking to someone who's just walked and they don't have to particularly be a master, they just have to be ahead of where you're at.

Brooks Elms 1:13:15
Right? Exactly right. It doesn't exam because some people will talk themselves out of getting that help because oh, I haven't heard of anything they've done or this or that or blah blah blah. But it doesn't matter if the guy at Trader Joe's has a good idea to help you with your script or whatever hire him do whoever can help you move one step forward is great. And you don't we don't know what we don't know. So even if here's what happens, this is never gonna happen. But if you guys hire Alex, and he goes, do you got it? Awesome. Yeah, I'm not worried about this, your ideas great, this is great. And he gives you no other tips other than to you are in great shape. That's like the best money ever spent, you're gonna have so much more confidence. It's so great. And of course, that's not going to happen. He's got all sorts of good ideas. But like that feedback loop is really where we make the most progress as quickly as possible. So find some sort of mentor in some sort of way. And that's the fastest way for us.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:06
Brooks. It has been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. I'm sure we'll have you back on the show in the future day. But thank you so much for all you do for screenwriters and filmmakers and thanks for being on the show brother. I appreciate it.

Brooks Elms 1:14:17
Completely, my honor. And my pleasure.

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George R.R. Martin: Masterclass with Creator of Games of Thrones

George R.R. Martin, George R.R. Martin masterclass

George RR Martin is one of the most beloved and hated storytellers of his generation. He’s best known for his international bestselling series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (FREE AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS HERE), which HBO later adapted for its dramatic HBO series entitled Game of Thrones.

Ever since HBO released the Games of Thrones television series, the world can not get enough of Geroge RR Martin. People also prayed every week that George RR Martin would not kill off their favorite character. As the t-shirt says:

“Guns don’t kill people, George RR Martin kills people”

George RR Martin is not only an American novelist and short-story writer in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres, he’s also a screenwriter, and television producer. He has written for shows like The Twilight Zone (1985), Beauty and the Beast (1987), and The Outer Limits (1995).

Martin serves as the HBO series’ co-executive producer, while also scripting four episodes of the series. In 2005, Lev Grossman of Time called George RR Martin “the American Tolkien”, and the magazine later named him one of the “2011 Time 100,” a list of the “most influential people in the world.

George RR Martin’s work has been described by the Los Angeles Times as having:

“complex story lines, fascinating characters, great dialogue, perfect pacing.”

I came across this amazing master class George RR Martin gave at TIFFon his life, career advice and how he comes up with his stories. He goes into some detail on the craft of storytelling and techniques that work for him. Enjoy!

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George RR Martin

BPS 142: Changing Television Forever with Showrunner David Chase

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.

The series has been the subject of critical analysis, controversy, and parody, and has spawned books, a video game, soundtrack albums, podcasts, and assorted merchandise. During its run, the film earned multiple awards, including the Peabody, Primetime Emmy, and the Golden Globe Awards. 

Even though David has continued to dominate his craft, with other works like The Rockford Files, I’ll Fly Away, Not Fade Away, Northern Exposure, Almost Grown, Switch, etc, he is still most known for his television directorial debut, The Sopranos.

The genius is back with the Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, which stars Alessandro Nivola and James Gandolfini’s son Michael Gandolfini as a young Tony Soprano. It has been in theaters and on HBO Max since October 1, 2021.

The plot explores the life of Young Anthony Soprano. Before Tony Soprano, there was Dickie Moltisanti, Tony’s uncle. Young Anthony Soprano is growing up in one of the most tumultuous eras in Newark’s history, becoming a man just as rival gangsters begin to rise up and challenge the all-powerful DiMeo crime family’s hold over the increasingly race-torn city.
Caught up in the changing times is the uncle he idolizes, Dickie Moltisanti, who struggles to manage both his professional and personal responsibilities-and whose influence over his nephew will help make the impressionable teenager into the all-powerful mob boss we’ll later come to know: Tony Soprano.

We also talk a bit about David’s five-year, first-look deal to create shows for HBO parent WarnerMedia. More culture moments, please!

Let’s get into the chat, shall we?

Enjoy my entertaining conversation with David Chase.

Right-click here to download the MP3


  • David Chase – IMDB
  • The Sopranos (Season 1) – Amazon


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Alex Ferrari 0:08
I'd like to welcome to the show, David Chase. Thank you so much, David, for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time.

David Chase 0:16
Nice to see you.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Thank you, my friend. So, you know, I'd like to just start off with how did you get started in the business? How did you What was your first entry into this business?

David Chase 0:34
I went to film school. And while I was there, I co wrote a script, a spec script, which our film, which our screenwriting teacher sent to a TV producer named Roy Hogan. And so we created Maverick. You know, that is, of course,

Alex Ferrari 0:57
it was Jim's spot for us, I think garden

David Chase 1:03
Maverick and run for your life and a bunch of other stuff. And he liked the script, my friend had given up and go back to Chicago. And like a year later, this guy called me or I don't forget, we got he got in touch with me universal, gotten in touch with me and said to call him and he hired me to do an episode and professional writing job.

Alex Ferrari 1:34
Now how but what made you want to become a writer? What made you want to become a filmmaker in general?

David Chase 1:43
Well, something was drawing after a certain age. In high school, I think something was drawing me to what we now call showbusiness. Right. And we call it that then, but it wasn't showbusiness that was drawing me it was. I didn't realize it then. But it was art, I guess. We didn't say it was pop art, but it was art. because of things like Twilight Zone

Alex Ferrari 2:21
I chose.

David Chase 2:23
But mostly, it was the Beatles and The stones that plan doing that got me interested in creating things. And I wanted to be a rock and roll performer for a long time. I played the drums and I was also lead vocalist in this nothing band that never went anywhere. And at the same time, I was I had switched schools and I was going to school. No, no, I remember now see you ever gonna regret this? I went to a school, a college in North Carolina called Wake Forest college, which is now Wake Forest. University. And it was a very, I don't know why I went down. There was a was a mistake. There was the South in 1963. And the Klan was active and all those bad things were going on. And I don't think there was one black student there was one black student in the freshman class. And I believe he was from Africa. And Ghana gambling wasn't allowed on campus. Dancing wasn't allowed on campus. Drinking wasn't allowed on campus and playing cards was not allowed on campus. It was it was the Sunday I don't know whether they owned it or who was affiliated with the southern baptist church. And somehow or other on Friday nights. So you can imagine. Listen to Tim. Well, here's the thing. It was still. It was a good college. I mean, the teaching was good. It wasn't really anti diluvian. You know, we're not talking about Jerry Falwell Academy or whatever. And on Friday nights, I don't know who did it or why they had a foreign film night. And so I saw Well, you name it. All the ones you need to see. I saw eight and

Alex Ferrari 4:35
of course our Fellini. Yeah.

David Chase 4:37
Yeah, it is. I mean, I don't know how many weeks you're in the semester, but it's all one every week. And I was I was completely blown away. I mean, I had like movies. And so I was a kid and I like television, you know, I just liked it. And maybe always wanted to be part of something like that. So I saw I saw those movies. And then comes Bob Dylan. And then comes the Beatles, and within a few months, the Rolling Stones, and that to me, was art. And that's what I wanted to do. And I had seen one Fellini film the age of 15 or 16. It was part of a trilogy. I forget what it was called but the his part was called the something of the temptation of Dr. Antonio anyone I've seen a movie like that. I couldn't conceive. It was just so wonderful. It was so imaginative It was so out there.

Alex Ferrari 5:52

David Chase 5:54
always loved movies but I'd never seen a movie like that.

Alex Ferrari 5:57
So all those years that you were working in, especially in the early years working in the writers rooms on on shows like The Rockford Files and and things like that. Did you what was the biggest lesson you took out of working in a writers room like you know either tips or tricks that to survive in a writers room or thrive in a writers room or how to crack a story? What does that less than that the one thing that you took from the early years

David Chase 6:25
well, I did not work in writers rooms until until I got the Northern Exposure okay there were no writers rose at the time when I was starting Rockford house was written by Stephen Cannell Juanita Bartlett, me and occasionally Gordon Dawson. There was no writers rooms and we our whole way of breaking story was different. And I before my time, I guess when I was still a kid, the standard I guess the Writers Guild definition of television was there was a producer, a story editor. And like for the defenders, you know, that is I remember the defenders. Yeah, but the defenders are Naked City or whatever. There was a producer, a story editor at an older writers were hired from a freelance world of freelance writing. And we've got more and more group oriented as time went on,

Alex Ferrari 7:37
do you like the older way or the writers room way?

David Chase 7:47
I think I like the writers room way. Honestly, because you could, you were swapping stories and memories. I mean, the other way was great, too. But when you sat down to break a story, that's what you did. You talked about the story. And it had very little to do with your real life. But writers rooms for whatever reason, at lunch, or even whatever it was, people would start the bullshit, start to shoot the shit. And that was always fun. Obviously, it's like, you know, like, seminal guys hanging out at a gas station in Virginia, you know. And let's read a lot of the stories we come from. If you and I were in with six other people, you tell a story about what happened to you when you crash the car into your father's station wagon or whatever. And that becomes a story somehow not in that form. But of course, it was a story. And I really liked I liked the socialization of the writers.

Alex Ferrari 8:51
Now when you when you had the idea for the sopranos, how did the sopranos come to, to life into an agenda?

David Chase 8:59
It came to life because my mother Norma Jace was I would say, mentally ill. And he took care of me. He wasn't like institutionalised, but he took care of me if you worried about me, she was a good mother. She did. But she was full of fears, obsessions, hatreds, and all that which was passed down to me. And also which were many of which were ludicrous. And I would tell people stories about my mother and I would always get a laugh and I My wife said to me when we got we weren't of your late 20s. So you got to write something about your mother someday, you got to write a show about your mother. And I didn't, didn't have any idea of how to go about that. And then later on, I was doing a show. I was I created and was running called, almost grown. And one of the writers Robin green said, you ought to write a series about your mother, like a producer with a mother, a troublesome mother. And I, I heard that, but I thought, who wants to see that a TV producer and his mother looks like anything. And then I realized, well, maybe if it was a tough guy who was a guy in the mafia, and his mother, maybe that would be good. And I tried to pitch that as a movie with Robert De Niro and Anne Bancroft. And wasn't much interest in my agent told me forget about it, mob comedies are going nowhere. And mob movies, so I let it be. And then someone. Years later, when I was signed with a company called Brillstein gray, to develop TV shows, they told me that they thought, how would I like they said, I had a great sick TV series, and it's inside me. I had never thought of and didn't want. I wanted to be in the movies. I was intelligent, because I'd gotten in there and and took the jack took the money. But I didn't want to be there. I want to I was always writing movie scripts on spec. So they said, How about do a TV version of the Godfather? And I said, No, I have no interest in that random. I thought the Godfather has been done. You get a bunch of guys, long coats and 50s cars. And then I was driving home. And I thought I'm going to a movie but the model mid level mobster with a troublesome mother tries to kill him because she, he put her in a nursing home. I thought maybe that'd be a TV show. And about him and his family and his work. And maybe that would work in TV because it's got a lot of interesting women in it. And TV, in many ways is kind of a was a woman's medium. At least that's what I thought. And so we pitched it to Fox, they bought it. I did a script. They didn't buy that. But two years went by Brad gray, the head of the company, went to Chris Albrecht at HBO told him the story pitched it to him. I went there. And then there's it also in my version, they bought it.

Alex Ferrari 13:02
And so when you when you started doing the it seems to me from watching the series, that I mean, you were breaking rules left and right. I mean with the you know, with Tony Soprano is the protagonist and, and the anti hero and television It was kind of like not really, there was nothing like that in network television before. No, nothing like that before. And you You didn't just sit on that you kept pushing. You kept like Episode Five, specifically a college, which is one of my favorite episodes. It's really a game changing episode because of the way Tony is the first time you see the main character of a TV series, do some extreme violence. On screen. No, no fluff. I and I've heard from from other interviews, you've done that. At the studio, HBO was like, you're going to you're going to destroy the show before I even get started.

David Chase 14:00
Chris Albrecht, who never gave me a moment's aggravation about anything. And said some very smart things when we were getting started. Crystal Breton's really angry. And I said, Well, you had the script. You know, that's the purpose of giving you the script. So you read it say they at that time before we spent all this money. Stop. Well, it didn't dawn on me until I saw it on the screen. Anyway, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 14:33
And, and, and I also notice that you love to do kind of almost one offs. Kind of like episodes that are standalone, that are not specifically about the overarching plot of the season, which is also against the grill against the grain as well, because normal normal shows, at least prior to its paranhos would you know every episode had to move things along, but you almost went to crap. character development in life, specifically, episode college. You know, it really didn't have anything to really do with the overarching plot. But but the development of Tony Soprano and his daughter's relationship is, is game changing? Is that is that did you did you love going into this when you were doing series? to do these stand? alones just to kind of explore characters? Oh, yes,

David Chase 15:26
I did. Well see, my whole thing was okay, I've got a, they want me to do 13 episodes of this thing. But what I can do, what I want to do is 13 little movies that are just making movies. But with this show. And I think it was, I don't know, HBO or Brillstein gray or whoever it was said notice the the the episodes she tied together, there should be an overall plot in in the season, and I was really against that I don't want to do that. It's I said, it's gonna be like Dallas, like a fucking soap opera. I don't want to do that. Right. And I don't know whether they talked me into it. All right. I just knuckled under. And actually that you know, they were it. I think we really made something that I think it became one of the best part to the show.

Alex Ferrari 16:32
But you but when you're doing all of this, I mean, you're you're really going against the grain on on so many things of television. I mean, when you were doing the

David Chase 16:44
officially because you said something like normal show, all the episodes would have to be connected. Not true. Most television the episode, it's the same fucking characters, but the episodes are not connected. Just Maggie and David, fall in love. Next week. Maggie and David are involved.

Alex Ferrari 17:08
Yeah, but like you were saying like Dallas like soap operas, it was kind of like that kind of overworking thing is what I was talking about. But when you were in the middle of season one, when, you know, did you know that you were pushing in breaking these rules that had been in place for so long? With these characters? Did you? Did you consciously understand that you were really just, I'm just gonna do whatever the hell I want. And, and I'm just gonna go for it.

David Chase 17:31
Yes, I did.

Alex Ferrari 17:34
That's exactly. So you're literally just like, I know what I'm doing. And I'm just going to push the envelope to see how far I could push it before someone stops me.

David Chase 17:43
That's true. Except for I did not say I know what I'm doing. Usually what I said was, okay, put your money where your mouth is. And it's all a big experiment. And that's what life is like. So

Alex Ferrari 17:59
you just went in? Yeah. You just wrote this kind of like, Okay, let's go. Let's see what happens.

David Chase 18:04
Yeah, I had been in the TV business a long time. And I was so fed up. And I hadn't gotten. I hadn't gotten my dream come true, which was to make movies. And I've been in TV a long time, I was thoroughly fed up and disgusted with network television. And I was 54 years old. And I thought, you know what? If it doesn't work, doesn't work. You'll have to come back and try something else, if they'll let you back in.

Alex Ferrari 18:40
So this was your swing at the play is what you said this was basically a similar play.

David Chase 18:44
That was it. That was my swing at the plate. And and I'm trying to keep the baseball analogy alive. But

Alex Ferrari 18:54
it's either well is either I mean, if when you take big swings like that, which I'm so glad you did. But when you take big swings like that you could easily strike out and then kicked out and get kicked out of the ballpark, which could have very easily happened with the show. Or you hit a Grand Slam, which is

David Chase 19:10
right. Yeah, right. And whichever happens more often a Grand Slam or getting escorted out three to nothing.

Alex Ferrari 19:20
Or getting escorted out of the game, period and make sure that when he can't play anymore anyway. Now, I'd love to hear your opinion is what is the job of a writer in network television today? What should they be? What should their goal be?

David Chase 19:41
What is the job of a writer and network television to the

Alex Ferrari 19:45
story wise, story wise or what you know, just in the end the craft of it not as much the actual technical job at the the craft of it. What should they be striving for?

David Chase 19:56
Well, I mean the way you phrase it If it's a job, that means you've been hired to do the job. Yeah. You have to give them some with what they want. That's why you're there. No, that's not why you're? No, yes, it is. I mean, you're there because they saw something which they think could be beneficial to them. So you need, you need to be aware of that. But you have to express yourself, that's your your, they wouldn't want you to, they wouldn't want to say this. Your job, if they're paying you for it, is to express yourself the best way you can, as completely and thoroughly that honestly,

Alex Ferrari 20:59
in the entire run of the series. Was there an episode that you said, I think I might have gone too far? No, not one.

David Chase 21:08
You just know, we're somewhere I said. I don't I don't like this as much as other ones. The Italian of the trip to Italy. probably could have done with that. But no, I never thought we would go too far. Never.

Alex Ferrari 21:25
And I also and I know I mean, one of the more controversial parts of the entire series was the ending. I personally loved the ending because of what the ambiguity of it and that he I know everybody wanted to see Tony's face in a bowl of Marin era, but many didn't. Many did. Many did. But you see, that's the thing. It's so it's like you're either on one camp or the other. But I just love that you left it open to the interpretation of the viewer. And I love the song that you chose is at the end, which was a nice nod.

David Chase 22:03
Well, you know, Steven Van Zandt, please Silvio, and, you know, was guitarist in any street van was in Florida when the last show aired. And he had booked an appearance the next morning on a talk show, radio talk show. And he All he did was defend and fend off all this criticism, people cursing at him. That's horrible. You know, motherfucker, this and we got robbed and all that stuff. And finally, he said, All right, well, what's your ending? Did you want to tell you to be killed? Oh, no, but you want to be here? Oh, what? Did you want to get away with it all? Oh, but I mean, well, what's your what's your great ending? Let me hear it. And most of them just, you know, some of them went away saying I see what you're saying. Now. I'm sure what they're really thinking was I'm not a professional writer. Don't ask me what I would have done. David. Jason had done what he was supposed to do. But nobody knew what that was.

Alex Ferrari 23:17
And honestly, as much as it's kind of, you know, divisive. You're absolutely right. Like, did you want to get away with it? Did you want him to die? Did you like there's no way to make everyone happy? There's just no way?

David Chase 23:29
No? Well, not many people have made everyone happy. You've seen the Wizard of Oz?

Alex Ferrari 23:36
No. But with the with the show with show endings in general are very difficult to pull off. I mean, did you when you were going into that last episode? What would I mean? I mean, I can only imagine the pressure that you were under, just because of the fans and everybody and it was the biggest show on HBO when all this stuff like how do you feel as a creator when you're ending something that you created?

David Chase 23:59
Well, the show was so popular. And it was such a you know, at that period of time, you'd read a news. People would always in newspaper Ruby's editorial, that's what Tony Soprano would have done. Or that guy behaves just like one of the sopranos. You kept hearing that all over the place. Sopranos Sopranos, Sopranos, it was that it was a phenomenon really not just a TV show. And I guess, like gave me a lot of balls.

Alex Ferrari 24:36
That's so big because of the success. It gave you the the wind underneath those wings.

David Chase 24:41
And most likely, had it not been a big success. It would have probably been more angering to a lot of people who knows what I would have done out of anger and disappointment. Just Kneel ism?

Alex Ferrari 25:01
Did When did you realize that? Or did you ever realize while you were making the show that it's kind of changed the game a bit, because after obviously years after all these other great shows with anti heroes like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Dexter, which were some of the writers worked with you on your show? At what point did you kind of realize like, I think I might have changed the target directory of television? I mean, that's a fairly large statement to say. And maybe you don't want to say it. But many people have said it. Did you ever realize, like, maybe I've given other creators, I've opened the door for other creators to explore these kinds of characters.

David Chase 25:41
Well, that's a hard one. I guess I did feel that way. Good. This, other people can now do more interesting stuff. But what I also saw was like a lot of like, copying Sopranos I don't mean, like plagiarism, but just not doing something really, like the sopranos was way off the mark for network television. And I was hoping I guess that people would start to do things that were way off the mark. But they didn't really, you know, I was good shows. But I did feel that I felt glad that something had cracks and couldn't be replaced. I did, I did feel that way. But I remember saying at the time in print, which is also true, I don't take responsibility for any of those shows. But I don't take any blame either.

Alex Ferrari 26:44
That's a great, it's a great way of looking at it. Now, what made you want to go back to the world of the sopranos with the many saints of Newark? How did you Why did you? How did that come to be,

David Chase 26:57
you know, in 2012, coming off as, as front as over in 2007. And my dream was coming true, I was hot, and I was gonna be able to do a movie, or two. And I could do anything I wanted to do. I remember my agent telling me that back in 2004, you're a brand now you can do it, whatever you want to do, you'll be able to do. So we've reached the end of the sopranos, what I wanted to, and I wanted to do the story, semi kind of autobiographical about a rock'n'roll band in New Jersey that never makes it. And I wanted to do that. And I thought people would like it. And I got a chance to do it. Because Brad gray, who had been an executive producer with me on the show on Sopranos was now head of Paramount Studios. And he gave me the money to do that movie. I don't think any other studio would have done that. I don't think that movie was going to get made. And move No, but nobody went to see it. Nobody saw it. I mean, a few people did. And some people thought it was very good and liked it, but it was basically ignored. And there's a reason for it. Really, if you want to tell me the movie was shit, I wouldn't argue with you. But I also know that the movie had no support, or no marketing support, no advertising, because the guy was really in charge of that hated it. Anyway. So from that I did a couple of other projects. I wrote a couple of other things. One for HBO, which fell apart because of money budget. And then another another feature that Paramount bought, but they would only make it was an A list actress. And we got some actresses that were interested in doing it. But they weren't big enough. They couldn't open the movie, right? So I wasn't really doing anything. And then there was some illnesses in my family. And they had a warner brothers had been after me for 14 years, having coffee and talking to make a Sopranos movie. And he right around that he hit me again. And I thought you know, my friend, Larry Connor said, Yeah, you should do this. We should. You should work. Let's get back. And as well, this will get made you back.

Alex Ferrari 29:39
And that's it. And that's how it came back to me. And with the with the release of the film, how? Oh, hopefully it's going to be it's going to be released. I think, as of this recording, a Friday, Friday, Friday. What do you hope to happen? How do you hope the fans Receive the film.

David Chase 30:04
They love it. They love it. We had a premiere in New York. I've never been through anything like that in my life. The amount the amount of joy, excitement, laughter, suspense, it went over like, gang, like gangbusters. That's amazing. Unbelievable. I can't even express it. 2000 people in the Beacon Theater? Will we ever have another audience like that? No.

Alex Ferrari 30:39
That's amazing. Now, with all the success you've had over your career, what advice would you give a writer starting out in the business today?

David Chase 30:57
Well, you have to write. You can't talk about writing. You can't plan out stories that you don't write. You have to write as much as you can. And there is no simple no single way to quote unquote, make it just any opportunity that comes along. That brings you closer to the business say yes. Even if it's not what you're interested in doing. Just say yes. You will learn something from it, and you'll be one millimeter closer. I even use that phrase to business, you'll be even closer to a lot of people okay to business. You'll be one millimeter closer to your dream of being an artist. I mean, obviously, if you have to clean toilets, you're gonna say no, but Well, I don't know about that.

Alex Ferrari 32:02
Well, I mean, if you're cleaning toilets in the mailroom, it's like the mailroom is a perfect example like that.

David Chase 32:08
Yeah, say yes. Because you won't be cleaning toilets for long you're gonna be promoted in the mailroom. And then from the mailroom you go on, but you know, that's really attract to being an agent or a producer. Sure, of course. Oh, mailroom sorry. Yeah, what?

Alex Ferrari 32:34
The game has changed so much the game has changed so much over the years,

David Chase 32:37
the game changed so much. And well, we will go into that. I wish I could say something that

Alex Ferrari 32:52
Well, let me ask you this

David Chase 32:54
bold, but I guess it just be bold, on the page, and in the road, or on the street.

Alex Ferrari 33:05
Great advice. Not when you're about to sit down to write something like when you set when you sat down to write the the many saints in New York? And how do you be? How do you do outline? What is your process? When you're writing? Do you outline? Do you start with characters when you're starting a new new project? Or are you starting with plot? How do you approach the craft?

David Chase 33:28
I've done it both ways where we outline outline the whole movie or TV, well, each one of Sopranos episodes was complete outline, that you will see the outlines, you would say, this is really like naked, there's hardly anything here. That's true. It was just the scenes in order. It was the writers job to bring that to life. I've done it that way. And I've done it where you just start writing. And I think probably most of the great writers just start writing.

Alex Ferrari 34:04
Because they've already have a lot of the stuff that you have to work on in regards to structure and, and subplots. It's what it's

David Chase 34:13
about is they, they don't really know what they've got. But you only find out what you're doing. from writing.

Alex Ferrari 34:24
From just going down the path, you only find

David Chase 34:26
out Well, really into reality, you really only find out what your movie is, or your TV show is after you've edited it. Because all those pieces that make up the show can be rearranged to it the only difference where the emphasis is completely changed. And what you thought it was about isn't what it was about. Because two actors who sparked off each other. We're not around when you wrote it. But now you see all of that relation. That's when you Yeah, and I know, that's what's so great about it. They call it a plastic medium. And that's what it is. But they can be moved on.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Yeah. And it's like, As the old saying goes, you write you, you write the story three times, once you write it, once you shoot it, once you edit it, each one is a different, different version, or draft of the story.

David Chase 35:22
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, no, exactly. Yes. All right. When you

Alex Ferrari 35:27
write, do the characters talk to you? Do they? Do they talk and you dictate? Or do you like, because I've heard that so many times from writers where they're like, I've just said, I'm just a dictator, I just do this. But is that the way it works for you? Or do you creating the dialogue for them? Feeling it?

David Chase 35:45
I've had it happen a couple of times, where there was this transcendent experience, where I felt that some power was working through me. But that doesn't happen all the time at all. But do it to the characters speak to me, like say, hey, David, do this and David do that? I don't

Alex Ferrari 36:08
know. Like the dialogue like, you know, two people sitting in a room and you're just like, you're sitting in a room,

David Chase 36:13
I pictured it. I picture a conversation we do. And Tony and Carmela and I

Alex Ferrari 36:25
just talk,

David Chase 36:27

Alex Ferrari 36:28
you touched on something there real quick, when you said you had a transcendent moment. And I mean, I've had it and so many other writers and creators have it it's almost the zone, or when you feel like something is you're channeling something. You're like, when you're writing, and you're like, Who wrote this? This is this, this, I don't know who wrote this, and let's just spurts out of you, without you actually thinking. It's worthwhile. It's in those moments when you can, when you can, when you can literally, I don't know, tap into tap into that thing that brings in the creativity, where it's just flowing through you. And you're just a conduit.

David Chase 37:06
I think it's the closest we come to being a musician.

Alex Ferrari 37:11
Yeah, that's right.

David Chase 37:14
Yeah. And being a musician. I mean, I have always wanted to be one and I have great. What do you call? Jealousy, especially to be one of four musicians and you are playing together? One going off the other and it's coming out of your head. There's no pre that those moments when you're writing are the closest we come to that?

Alex Ferrari 37:41
Yeah, like I can only imagine Lennon and McCartney. I've seen some of those, those sessions when they were just like writing stuff. And just like, like, all of a sudden, hey, Jude just showed up.

David Chase 37:50
Like, right? No, I mean, I mean, those sessions where you're writing big, um, something's working through me or when you're finished, you go, woof. I was always coming through. I mean, a musician playing. It's the most like playing music. Got it. But like you're it's all you're you're feeling all of it. You're not thinking it.

Alex Ferrari 38:17
Now, is there anything you've learned from your biggest mistake? Or biggest failure in your career? Something that a lesson that you learned from one of those?

David Chase 38:49
Don't take the money?

Alex Ferrari 38:52
It's a great. Don't, don't do it for the money. Don't do it for the money. Alright, and working? And where can people watch the new movie?

David Chase 39:06
Their movie theaters, movie theaters? That's it's also going to be on I shouldn't even say it's also going to be on HBO max on the same day, October 1. Okay. As it opens, the mutated it's going to be on on TV. I'm disgusted by that. But

Alex Ferrari 39:24
I would say everybody goes see that in the theaters without question.

David Chase 39:27
It's really good. And you didn't do that.

Alex Ferrari 39:30
I couldn't good. I couldn't. But But David, thank you so much for your time. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. And thank you for all the work you've done. And everything you've done for television and for storytelling in general. So thank you, my friend.

David Chase 39:45
Thank you. And those are good questions.

Alex Ferrari 39:47
Thank you, my friend.

David Chase 39:48
Okay. Bye bye.

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BPS 135: The Way of Story with Catherine Ann Jones

We have award-winning author, playwright, actor, teacher, and writing consultant, Catherine Ann Jones on the show today. She’s authored a number of consciousness-raising books, plays, film, and television scripts, including, The Christmas Wife (film), Unlikely Angel with Dolly Parton, The Way of Story: the craft & soul of writing (book), Freud’s Oracle (Play), and several others.

Unlikely Angel stars Dolly Parton who plays a self-absorbed singer who meets an untimely death and gets an opportunity to earn her wings if she helps a family lost in the tragic death of their Mother find each other again. This should be a Holiday movie tradition.

In our interview, we talk about her book, The Way Of Story which offers an integrative approach to writing all forms of narrative.

This illustrated book contains evocative insights from the author’s own professional journey. The emphasis on the integration of both a solid craft and an experiential inner discovery makes this writing book unique.


She helps others on their writing journeys through workshops, consulting, and writing

Following her passions for truth-seeking and dramatic self-expression Catherine’s written six books. Her most recent book is a 2013 publication, Heal Your Self With Writing.

Catherine was a writer on the popular 90s TV show, Touch by an Angel.

The series generally revolved around the “cases” of Monica (played by Roma Downey), an angel recently promoted from the “search and rescue” division, who works under the guidance of Tess (played by Della Reese), a sarcastic boss who is sometimes hard on her young colleague but is more of a surrogate mother than a mentor. The trio of angels is sent to Earth to tell depressed and troubled people that God loves them and hasn’t forgotten them.

Let’s delve into Catherine’s writing process and how she helps others achieve excellent stories, shall we?

Enjoy my conversation with Catherine Ann Jones.

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Alex Ferrari 0:07
Catherine, thank you so much for coming on the show. I truly, truly appreciate it. We had the pleasure of getting to know each other on one of my other shows. And we've just started talking like, Well, I think you'd be a great guest for the next level soul podcast. So thank you so much for coming on. Glad to be here. So I wanted to dive right in. And it's just a heavy question to start with, I'm going to start with it anyway, to see how where our conversation leads. What do you believe is your mission in this life?

Catherine Ann Jones 0:40
Well, in India, where I've spent several, many years, there's a word Sanskrit word called dharma. And Dharma means the law of your existence, it's more than career or job. It's what you were kind of what you came here to do. And if you can be fortunate enough to hook up with, you know, to know what that is, life really becomes magical. So I think my Dharma is writing and teaching. I love both. And I'm fortunate that I've been able to do both.

Alex Ferrari 1:20
And you've been able to, and you've done so much in your life, start, you know, acting and play writing and you know, playing in the shark infested waters of Hollywood, survived and survived with a smile on your face no less. Did you? How long did it take you to find that path? Because I'm assuming when you came out, you didn't like Well, I'm gonna go right and teach. I'm assuming it took a minute to get there.

Catherine Ann Jones 1:48
Well, when I was 12 years old, I wanted to raise Arabian horses.

Alex Ferrari 1:54

Catherine Ann Jones 1:55
When I was 18, I wanted to be a missionary in foreign lands. That last my first year of college, then I read and thought too much became an agnostic. And so I had been acting, so I switch to universities to drama school. And then my passion was acting, which I did for several years in New York. And, but I always had a parallel passion. I guess what we called it, finding the truth, whatever that is, you know, at that point. So those parallel instincts pulled me each way, the passion to dramatically express myself, and the passion to go to India or wherever life took me to find the answers to my questions. And does that? Yes, that was,

Alex Ferrari 3:00
yeah, that answers that. But let me ask you, do you think that we have to go through figuring out what we don't want to do in order to find what we do want to do? or do something? Some people just find what they want to do in life? Because I mean, so many of us have to go. I think every one of us almost every one of us. does things like you said acting you enjoyed acting, but that kind of led you towards the writing world.

Catherine Ann Jones 3:26
Yeah, that was all connected. Right? I think I said, when we you interviewed me last about the writing. I can't think of a better background to write plays and movies and television than to be a professional actor. Moliere and Shakespeare started as actors after all, they're not that I'm quiet. Anyway, um, I think it depends. Everything is individual. I, one thing I believe passionately, is there's no one way to write. There's no one way to live your life. It varies person to person. So the search is really to find yourself and discover your own path and process and honor that

Alex Ferrari 4:17
Yeah. And that's the thing I it took me it's taken me 40 years. To find my path, though. I dabbled a little bit in it. And I would see hints of it. And I'd be like, and I would reject it, which is the third of the thing that we do is, as human beings is like, no, that's no, I don't want to do that. Because I have my mind. Like, I want to be a missionary. I can't go teach and stuff or I want to be an actor. I don't want to go teach and stuff. And I've had that happen. But the moment that I ran into my my calling, which is what I'm doing now, is I became so much more happy because I was angry and bitter and oh Oh my god, I was so angry and bitter at people. And I felt that I'm like, I need to do this, I need to do that I need to be this. And those those wants and needs, by the way, haven't gone away. And I think they all still work within the world that I'm in. But I'm much happier now. Because I've fallen into

Catherine Ann Jones 5:17
that's what I call one of my exercises and heal yourself with writing both the workshop and the book is I call it the coming home exercise. And finding your Dharma is a coming home experience. You know, there can be other coming home experiences, meeting someone for the first time and you feel you've known them all your life. Acting was that for me when I first started, it just seem almost too natural. No. So coming in what you describe when you found what you want to do, that's the coming home, you're coming home to your self, your capital SELF.

Alex Ferrari 6:04
Yes, exactly. And, and it's so funny, because when I first picked up a microphone to be a podcaster, which is insane thing, I liked it. And then I was like, wait a minute, I kind of really enjoyed doing this. And I've actually really kind of enjoying talking to people and, and meeting people. And it's just and then I'm able to help other people and things like that. But it took me a minute before I accepted it, you know,

Catherine Ann Jones 6:29
doesn't matter. As long as we get there. Some people lead their whole lives and haven't found what what did for them. I think the thing to remember, there's a saying in India, it's better to be a good servant than a bad King. So it doesn't matter what it is your Dharma is there's no judgment on that. It's just finding what's right for you.

Alex Ferrari 6:58
And connecting with it and when it does show up, not to reject it.

Catherine Ann Jones 7:03
Now, well, my word could be honored. Yeah, I think that's the word serve it

Alex Ferrari 7:09
Serve it. Because it's true. Like it's I think that most of us go throughout life, walking against the current. And we like fight, what our incent instincts, our nature is and things like that. But the moment you sit down and let that current understand that there is a current taking you where you need to go, life becomes so much easier and so much more happy you become.

Catherine Ann Jones 7:34
It's the kind of surrender really, my go when you find your spiritual path. When you find your Dharma, once that's in place, you can it's there is a kind of surrender of the ego, and that the invisible and visible allies magically appear to help you on that journey. against it the opposite.

Alex Ferrari 8:01

Catherine Ann Jones 8:01
It like climbing upstream.

Alex Ferrari 8:03
Yeah. And I love I love the term you use invisible and visible ally show up? Because, yes, because there was definitely forces of things that happen you just like, how did that happen? And in my, in my journey, just with my simple podcasts, I've had access to talk to people who are just insane kind of people I've been able to get access to. And sometimes it's just like, oh, an email dropped in, you're like, how did that happen? Like, how did that connection happen? Like it's it's mind blowing. But I would have killed years earlier, to have a sit down conversation for an hour or two with some of these individuals. And now they're asking me to this conversation, which is mind blowing.

Catherine Ann Jones 8:49
Yes, but it's made you who you are. Maybe you wouldn't done it as well, it should do it now. If you had done it 15 - 20 years ago, who knows?

Alex Ferrari 9:00
That's very true. That's very true. Now one of the things we've been talking a little bit about is finding that inner mission, the inner, inner purpose of yours, how can you better connect with the inner voice? Because we all have that inner voice that thing in the gut, which we ignore a lot of the time. How do you attune yourself to that?

Catherine Ann Jones 9:25
Well, it just so happened so wrote a book about it that it's that book called heal yourself with writing, Scott double themes. It's about self healing, grief and trauma, my graduate degrees and depth psychology young in psychology, and it's about deepening the dialogue with the self capital S, not the ego but the self, that deeper part of us and and I've created short exercises prompts that I use in the workshops and the book. And that seems to it's amazing people have come out of that workshop and say this was life changing. Because they find parts of themselves. They didn't know they were there. And they read what they've written. And they say, Where did that come from? So they're writing from a deeper place.

Alex Ferrari 10:26
So when you're writing, you're almost tapping into that inner voice, because you're just kind of letting it flow of consciousness almost like that.

Catherine Ann Jones 10:34
Yeah, it's, I call it in a way an intuitive inner voice. You know, it's inside. It's a kind of thing. I know an example i given. I also have in the book, heal yourself with writing anecdotes, from my own journey to illustrate the points I'm teaching. And show it to you tell you one, this is it's a pretty good story. I was living in New York, what I call my theater years. And an actor, actress friend of mine had just come back from making a film in Europe, and invited me to her flap her apartment on Central Park south. So I went there. And as soon as I walked into her apartment, something I felt very uneasy. There was no logical reason why should I know this woman for years, there was no problem. But I felt very uncomfortable. Like I shouldn't be there. And I should leave. But of course, my logical left brain came in and said, Oh, that's nonsense. So she placed me in a big chair by the window overlooking Central Park, where she ordered out for tea and snacks and things, and sat in that chair. And then it was even stronger. It was like get out of dodge now. And I stayed about 5 - 10 minutes more struggling with that, and it became so overpowering. I suddenly stood up and I said, Patricia, I have to go. I will talk to you later. You know, which was quite rude of me. And so I got home about 15 minutes later, 20 minutes later, I live not far away over by Lincoln Center. As I was walking in the door to my place, the phone rang. I picked it up, it was Patricia. She says Catherine, you won't believe what happened five minutes after you left. I said what? Now in these old buildings in New York, they often have AC you know, been huge box the size of a room on top of the building. It was a very windy day in the winter. Somehow that big, huge thing as big as half a room, fell off the roof crashed into her window, landed on the chair I had been sitting here I wouldn't have been killed. So the moral is, listen to that intuitive voice. It may even save your life. True Stories. So from then on, I was in my 20s. Then, from then on, I never doubted my inner voice says something like it might say don't walk the usual way home go around. I just follow it. It never lies.

Alex Ferrari 13:47
It's always got your best interests in mind. Yeah. Well, the thing is, when dealing with your inner, inner voice, or gut instinct, or whatever you'd like to call it, how can you balance the voice in your head with the feeling in your gut, because that mind is the most powerful and wonderful thing but it's also your darkest enemy sometimes?

Catherine Ann Jones 14:11
Well, they're both our highs. We don't want to throw out one or the other. I love integrating the two giving because we're conditioned in a way and educated in a way totally listened to the logical left brain, right? And the intuitive voice gets short shrift. So the work is bringing you know listening to both at least equally.

Alex Ferrari 14:38
So but there are moments where that brain that brain when you overthink something and your guts telling you just do this and then you start making excuses, or there's fear involved, which there's generally always fear involved. Things like that their fear our desire, fear or desire writing for us. Exactly. So if your mind is creating, let's say fearful thoughts or fearful thing, like, take that job, no, don't take that job because if you take that job, this will happen or this or Apple, this happened, but your guts telling you no idiot take the job?

Catherine Ann Jones 15:17
Well, there's an interesting something in Young's autobiography. It's a wonderful book. He wrote it when he was in its 80s. And one of the things he says that always stuck with me is that, you know, that intuitive voice gives you little murmurings, like, do this, or don't do this, like little whispers in your ear. And when you don't listen, sometimes you need to be hit over the head with this stick. I had a feeling for about three years, I should leave New York. But logically, my son was still in school with one attempt to finish high school, before I got out of the city. And I did a Fulbright year took my son with me, came back and my apartment was stolen by a student, I had let stay there. Now there's a saying in Manhattan, people will kill together great apartment. Right? You know what, she didn't do that. But she changed the locks. And anyway, I would that was my head over the head. So it was a terrible thing to happen. But in the end, it was a blessing because I realized this was my hit over the head. It was time to leave New York. And about that time I won that award in how in Los Angeles for one of my plays, and it was optioned by MGM studio. So I had no reason to get out, you know. But for three years, I had the I had the gentle whispering in the ear from that inner voice. But I didn't listen. So it had to be something extreme to

Alex Ferrari 17:11
say yeah, and yes, the structure of the universe will try to teach you lessons. And if you don't listen to, when it's a gentle, they will then sometimes literally will crash into you, literally a car crash, something will happen that will force you to go down the path that you need to go or less or learn the lesson. I hear

Catherine Ann Jones 17:32
all the time from participants in my workshops, that like someone got cancer, because they were doing a job that hated or whether or in a relationship that was not positive. And the cancer woke them up. And they live in they said the cancer is the best thing that happened to me, it changed my life. My life is so much better. Now. I would recommend though listening to the gentle voice and not go through having your home stolen or cancer.

Alex Ferrari 18:08
There's so much pain that we as as humans go through unnecessary if we would just be more connected within ourselves to go inward as opposed to go outward. There's so much we look for happiness outward, we look for peace outward. Everything's outward. But all of that lives within us. Do you agree?

Catherine Ann Jones 18:31
Not only that, psychologically, I think there's a fear of change. I lived 20 years in New York City, you know, and to suddenly start a new life a new career in Hollywood. It's daunting, you know, on the way. So sometimes, even though the current status quo doesn't make us happy, it's familiar. It's happened is vitual. But going on to what you're saying, you growing, you're going up to the higher level here. And yes, I think the most important part is enter. In the external will express the image

Alex Ferrari 19:13
with yes without question. Now, you wrote the book, heal yourself with writing. What do you see writing? How do you see writing as a potential healing force in a person's life?

Catherine Ann Jones 19:27
Well, first of all, I developed the workshop at Esalen Institute, Big Sur where I'm going Monday morning to teach a live class with real people. I know, right? I'm so happy. So I developed it there. Because I've wanted to do I had done the way of story workshop for years and the book, which is for people interested in writing, all forms of narrative. This was different. This is a course I wanted to do for writers and riders to use writing as a healing modality, a self healing modality, especially for grief and trauma. And anyway, I had very powerful results from the participants at our salon. And that led me to write the book. So it's not about learning to write, it's just letting I do it in such a way, these short 510 minute exercises, where you write from the unconscious, you know, and it's sort of automatic, but it's specific, I call it focus journaling. It's not about write whatever you want, you listen to the prompt, and you write whatever associations arise, and people are amazed what comes out, which is, it's also never the same because everyone's story is unique. So lucky for me, it's never boring.

Alex Ferrari 21:02
Now, I know a lot of people out there. You know, when we're born, when people are always telling us, you have to have to find a career, you have to make money, they have a stable life and all of this kind of stuff. How How do you? How did you balance a career in Hollywood, which is, I have a lot of experience in Hollywood. So I know how hard that is the very kind of physical or egocentric world of Hollywood, or of any career for that matter, and a spiritual path. And I think a lot of people have trouble balancing those two, not from Hollywood, but just as general career.

Catherine Ann Jones 21:44
Thanks to the pandemic, the last two years, you know, I these years, I usually travel all over the world teaching workshops. Thanks to the pandemic, all of that was cancelled, I had to stay in Oh, hi, California. And I had no excuse not to write, I had been asked to do my memoir over the last few years. And I kept putting it off. And so this year, I wrote two memoirs, they were published. And that's the theme of the main memoirs, which is really more than autobiography starting, when I was living in Japan at the age of four, the books called Buddha and the dancing girl. And that became, it was two experiences I had as a child in Japan. And that became an archetypal metaphor for my whole life. Buddha is a search for the spiritual dancing girl is the compulsion to express dramatically through acting and writing. So these two seemingly polar opposites, were the driving force of the last several decades. And at some point, they had to merge. And when they become integrated to use Young's word, then there's no out and in that sort of one, one, I don't know if that makes sense. In my experience,

Alex Ferrari 23:25
fair enough.

Catherine Ann Jones 23:27
So it's like, I was always having some success in New York as an actor and later as a playwright. And the first thing I do instead of opportunistically make, make something out of the success. I would get on a flight to India to my teacher and spend three months, two months, whatever. It's not the best career move to do that. But it was my way and it worked. And then when it merges, there's no where I realized there's nowhere to go. There's nothing to do. There's no one to be.

Alex Ferrari 24:10
You've mentioned, the India's one of your favorite places to visit in the world.

Catherine Ann Jones 24:18
No, no, that's not exactly what I'd say. The climates the worst in the world for me, right? Um, I get terrible jetlag. I said, India is my spiritual home.

Alex Ferrari 24:32
That's okay. So,

Catherine Ann Jones 24:34
I used to dream I told a friend of mine who also went there later, I said, if only our teacher had been born in Hawaii,

Alex Ferrari 24:46
but yeah, you do what you got to do. So can you do what you got to do to find you know, inner peace and enlightenment? When can you talk Can you talk a little bit about your journeys in India? I'm meeting either sages, gurus and what they've taught you along the way.

Catherine Ann Jones 25:12
Wow. Okay, I'm going to start with the dream. I have a rug. I'm a young yet not hard to fit the age of seven. Until I was 21. I had a recurring dream. All those years simple dream. I write about this in the Buddha book. But the dream was this I was in the backseat of a car. The car went into a hot desert. And there was no driver at the car, the car was driving itself. Suddenly the car stop this, my door opened by itself. And I looked up and on higher ground, there was a huge rock and a dark scan man appeared. He was wearing a white shirt and a white sheet wrapped around his waist that went to his ankles. And there was a feeling I've come home. That was the dream. This stream reoccurred over many years. When I went to India, I went to South India to a sage I had heard about hits what they call a householder sage, not a monk. He had wife and children. And the car, the taxi drove up, I was in the backseat, I opened the car door, I looked up and out of on a higher ground out of the big white house. This man came out with darker skin, a white shirt and a dhoti wire wrapped around him. It was the same man. It's in my dream. So I never searched anywhere else that was decades ago. And I was very fortunate and that so there was no question this was the right place, for me, may not be for someone

Alex Ferrari 27:17
else. Now, what were some of the things that he taught you along the way?

Catherine Ann Jones 27:23
It's not like this, that I can make a list. It's not a lecture. He didn't lecture he uses a Socratic dialogue. That means if there are no questions, he just sit silently. If there are questions, he would respond, not only to the question, but the questioner. In other words, if you and I asked the same question to the sage, we would get different answers. So that's one thing that struck me right away, he was answering the person who was asking the question.

Alex Ferrari 27:59
So can you explain that a little bit like when you mean he answered the question and the question, or was he answering the question,

Catherine Ann Jones 28:08
what the question are needed to hear what he has to know? Because sage, of course has those cities or powers.

Alex Ferrari 28:18

Catherine Ann Jones 28:19
It's more the presence of a sage. It's not just the words. The philosophy is a Hindu philosophy behind the religion. There's no God concept. It's it's called that Vedanta and vitae Vedanta advisor to means not to and ending with Bhagavad Gita. All these great Indian shoe polish sheds, Rama, Mama Ohashi, yoga, Nanda para Rama, Krishna, these are nisargadatta. These are former sages.

Alex Ferrari 29:03
So is there something that he said to you that changed your path in life? One thing

Catherine Ann Jones 29:11
was, yeah, but it's not what he said. Sometimes I used to worry, because after a talk, I would totally forget everything, anything that was said. Because just being in his presence, you would kind of dissolve you weren't there. So I couldn't and I said, I'm trying to be attentive. But why is you know, I was 23. So I asked a lot of stupid question. But I said, I'm trying to be attentive, but I can't recall what you said. And he said, that's good.

Alex Ferrari 29:48
Interesting, very interesting.

Catherine Ann Jones 29:51
It's a very different process than like being in a lecture at the university.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
Of course. Now, I'm assuming I know from our last conversation that you meditate and you've been meditating for a long time. What What does that practice done for your life? And how has it changed your path?

Catherine Ann Jones 30:13
Oh my goodness. Well, first thing, my worst trait is impatience. I'm an astrologer on the side. And I have nine planets in fire. So it's good for teaching. It's good for acting. It's not so great for the personal life. But, you know, so to meditate for the last 4050 years, which, that's how long it's been. You know, you have to sit still to meditate. And it's, it's given me I'm not home free, but I'm certainly a lot more patient and tolerant than I used to be.

Alex Ferrari 30:57
So, so yeah, so it definitely I am with you 110%. Because I'm a very, I was a very impatient person, I still am. And I'm not 100% there either. But meditation in my life has definitely caused me it is it is slowed things down a little bit. As opposed to

Catherine Ann Jones 31:14
something else Salix, I got a phone call half an hour ago, a friend I've known since I was in the drama department, undergraduate. And she lives in New York working actor, she and her husband, she called me from the hospital. She has cancer, and will face surgery. And so I told her, I said, Let the surgeons do the external work, but you have inner work to do. I said, Well, they're putting you under meditate, take deep, long breaths, and visualize something beautiful, or whatever your spiritual orientation is. I'm a firm believer in the power of thought. And that you can't just expect the doctors to do everything the inner work can help you heal. I've seen this enough times that you know, and she responded very positive to that.

Alex Ferrari 32:27
When you say inner work, what do you mean as far as because we all have inner work to do? So can you kind of define inner work for me?

Catherine Ann Jones 32:33
Sure. Well, the deep breathing helps make you still if you're have anxiety, or fear. And then to place your mind on something positive, I would think about my teacher, I would visualize him sitting in the chair, walking, whatever, eating a meal, whatever. And that would end in they put you can put you in a state of bliss. And then you if you go into a surgery in that thing, it can make a lot of difference. I've heard too many examples to confirm this. So So visualize, if you have a mantra, do that arm, wrist, if you're a Christian, the Lord's Prayer, whatever works for you, someone that's Frank Sinatra wants what he believed in. And you know what he said? He said, What ever gets me through the night? So whatever gets you through the night or the dark night, which surgery would be so anyway, I just thought that because it was half an hour, of

Alex Ferrari 33:47
course, not so many. I think that the world has an epidemic and I think we've had it since we, you know, we were put on this planet is dealing with the fear. Fear of you know, originally it was the fear of the Tiger eating you around the corner. And now it's the fear of your boss or the fear of failure or the fear of being you know, not accepted. Cow, do you have any tips on overcoming fear because it's something that every human being on the planet deals with?

Catherine Ann Jones 34:20
I have an anecdote to share. This, you know, life is story to me. so

Alex Ferrari 34:27

Catherine Ann Jones 34:28
Story. years ago, my first long play was produced in Aspen, Colorado at the conference there. And I met James Salter James halter, who died not long ago is a novelist. I think his most famous book is Downhill Racer, which Robert Redford played in the movie years ago. He said something I'll always remember he said, Most of the things I've worried about never happened. And I have an example of that a week ago. I've taught 1516 years. So that's the lunch. But of course I haven't for over two and a half years because of the pandemic. So they asked me to come back and teach. So suddenly, one day, I began to worry, I thought, you know, because of the pandemic, we may not get enough people to make the workshop. And if we don't, they'll cancel the workshop. And so I worried for one day, then the next day, I got a call. And because I told him, I don't want over 28 people at the most, because I like a lot of one on one. So SLN call me and said, it this is a month before I was to go there. I said the workshop is full, and there's 19 on the waiting list. And I've worried one whole day need what a waste of energy, right?

Alex Ferrari 36:07
It is, it is true. You worrying. I heard this crazy comment. Worrying is like trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum isn't a good one. It's like it doesn't. It's useless. It's useless. You know, I mean, it there's a certain level of worry, like, you know, if you're in a bad situation, you could worry about what's going to happen to you in the next five or 10 minutes.

Catherine Ann Jones 36:33
be concerned. concerned. Yeah. And you can think what can I do? Am I Is there something I can do to make sure this doesn't happen? You know, that's a good concern. Worry something else?

Alex Ferrari 36:48
Yeah, worry is a waste of think. Because if you're worrying about something, you have no control over like that, like your perfect example is like, you had no control over who and how many never happened, and it never happened on top of it. If you I think you should, if you're going to be concerned or worried only can be concerned about things you have control over. It makes no sense to be worried about something else that you have no control over. Now that we're going along with fear. So many people live their lives even based on the opinions of other people, the good opinions of other people, as Wayne Dyer used to say, do you have any advice on how to ignore that kind of thinking and trying to break away from other people's not only other people's opinions, but other people's thinking? I mean, it starts with our parents, you know, we're born this glob, and then all the stuff is thrown on us

Catherine Ann Jones 37:49
the first chapter and wait in heal yourself with writing us. What is your story? What story are you living? And I'd say it starts at home. Usually, so one of the exercises is, are you living your life or the life of parent want to doodle live? or so on? That's one of the things to tell you the truth. I don't know if it's a good positive or negative thing. Maybe it's because I'm an only child. Maybe because I'm an Aries astrologically I've never really cared what other people thought I love my friends. But I just feel strong. And whatever it is, I am you know that I've never been swayed. But I do know I've had friends that are are swayed to such a degree. They never follow their dream. They're so afraid of not having, I can't tell you how many people come to my way of story workshop, here and abroad all over the place. And like they want it to be a writer. And they ended up writing political speeches in Washington DC. They ended up working in advertising. They make good livings, they had families. And now they're 45 5055. Now they want to write the all American novel or whatever, the great American novel. So it's dreams don't die easily. And they can lay dormant for decades.

Alex Ferrari 39:30
I get that all the time in my in my other career talking to filmmakers all the time. I have 65 year old filmmakers like I just retired. I want to make my first feature film. I've always wanted to be a director and you just like, wow, like I was a doctor because my parents pushed me into that and I've been a doctor for the last 40 years. And now I want to I want to follow my passion.

Catherine Ann Jones 39:52
I actually I had a play open in New York and it got good reviews and they gave a party at the party and method doctor, he was a doctor on Park Avenue. That's where the high level big money doctors are in New York. And he said, My father was the doctor, he always wanted me to be a doctor. I'm good at it. But I always wanted to be a playwright. You know, I had a, I haven't, I didn't even have a fraction of what this man earned. But I was happy.

Alex Ferrari 40:30
In that's something that's I think we should talk about really quickly is finding that bliss, as your old friend Joseph Campbell, used to say, oh, follow your following your bliss. Yeah. It doesn't matter if you're not super wealthy, super rich financially, or have millions of dollars or anything like that. You can be happy, I think, I don't know where I heard this story. But the story of the fishermen and the businessman that the fisherman was in the Caribbean, somewhere in this new york businessman showed up and like, took them out for a fishing journey. And he's like, Oh, my God, what do you how many fish you catch a day. He's like, Oh, I could do this. He goes, Well, you could do this to build the business up. And then you can get a couple more boats. And you could do this, this, this and this. And he's like, at the end of that he's like, no, he goes, Well, why wouldn't you want to? You know, why wouldn't you want to be bigger, happier, he's like, I catch enough fish to feed my family, then I get to sit down, drink a beer, to hang out in the ocean, and I have time with my family. I'm happy. I don't need any of that stuff. Exactly. And that's it. And I think that's what in generally the American ideal is all about more and more and more and more and more, and I need to be rich, rich, rich, rich, rich, and that the American dream and all that kind of stuff. But how do you how can you like kind of any advice you can give for people to understand like finding happiness first. And oddly enough things follow when you find your, when you find that bliss, things follow? Well,

Catherine Ann Jones 42:06
I guess I was lucky, I never really cared about money or fame. That was never the driving force. I was I have ambition. But my ambition had a different hue. My ambition was I wanted to work with the best people. I got to work right movies for Dolly Parton. Olympia caucus, Jason robarge. Julie era's. That's my I didn't write thrillers or action films, I could have made more money, because that that's where the big money is. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. So I was never drawn. Here. We're talking about people who are overly influenced by other people starting with one's parents. So they may be living a life unconsciously, to satisfy something the parent failed out and wanted them to succeed in. That's one example of this first exercise. I do, I'll be doing next week. And sometimes it's unconscious. And people don't realize that until they write the exercise. And they've heard, oh my god, for 30 years, I've been living my father's dream, not mine.

Alex Ferrari 43:27
That's, that's pretty. That's a pretty profound realization, you know, 40 years later.

Catherine Ann Jones 43:35
And sometimes it gets more complex. Sometimes the unconscious dynamic can be because a parent failed. There's an unconscious pressure, an unspoken unconscious pressure on the child to succeed up to a point but not to succeed beyond what the parent did. Nothing spoken. It's just an unconscious and it's felt, you know, lose their love. The unconscious is saying if I go beyond my father, or whatever, you know, it's it's complex, sometimes.

Alex Ferrari 44:17
Very complex. I mean, I I truly want my my daughters to be much more successful than I was. Without question I want them to and I want them to succeed. I want them to succeed in anything they want to do. But I understand your point of view. I had to deal with that with my with my father as well. He is there's only so much it was just a weird it's a weird conversation. But that's a that's a that's a that's a session for another day. You could do a session on. Well, I mean, parents, look, our parents are our everything for the first 15 years, 18 years of our life there. That's our world. That's our world. And then when we get thrown into the Real World, hopefully we've been prepared and have enough knowledge and an armed enough with things to protect ourselves to deal in the real world because I do the world world's gonna throw things at you that your parents did and many times other times not but, but your parents are I mean, it's being me being a parent now. I see what my, my mother had to go through raising me and I see so many of her bad habits that I might have picked up or my father's bad habits I might have picked up as well as the good ones that I picked up things that they were really good at that I also drew on but the children are sponges, absolute sponges. And you don't have to say a word they just, they sense it, they just, they just absorb it. They absorb everything all the time, from their environment.

Catherine Ann Jones 45:54
they rebelled against it, too. So Alex, could I read just the introduction from the heal yourself?

Alex Ferrari 46:02
Yes, please, please

Catherine Ann Jones 46:03
give yourselves because you said you want to talk about this. And yes, before this might. I start with a quote from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. It's all right, it's over. It's just a memory. And then my that's the end of the quote. Our lives may be determined less by past events, then by the way we remember them. I'm gonna say that again. That's kind of the theme of the book. Our lives may be determined less by past events, than by the way we remember them. If we learn how to reframe the pieces of our past and revision, our life story, so that suffering becomes meaningful, we can radically boost our chances of self healing, empowerment, growth, and transformation. Focus journaling, short writing exercises designed to facilitate self healing is an extremely powerful tool to achieve this aim. There were two inspirations to the book and the workshop. One was a Native American parable I read years ago, and it was about an old Native American grandfather speaking to his eight year old grandson. And he says this, he said, there are two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is generous, loving, and kind. The other wolf is greedy, and violent, and mean. And these two wolves are fighting in my heart. Then the little boy looks up and says grandfather, which wolf wins the fight in your heart. And the grandfather answers, the one I feed. So in a way, the word in the workshop or if you do the book are there is an online course is how can we feed the good wolf?

Alex Ferrari 48:27
It's very, very profound. I've heard I've heard of that before as a great, great parable.

Catherine Ann Jones 48:32
The other inspiration. There was a great Jewish psychiatrists, New York, who was a Holocaust survivor. He was in Auschwitz. And he was called Viktor Frankl. And he saw his entire family, what doubt in Auschwitz, his wife, his children, everyone dead. And he had this epiphany. He's he realized he had no control over the external situation, not the only power he had, was how he perceived it. How he focused his mind, and this became the basis of his amazing work as a psychiatrist in New York. When he died, The New York Times gave him a full page obituary. And he wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning. Small book, but a powerful book, but that stayed with me cuz it was very close to the danta the philosophy that influenced me. So part of the work in the workshop is shifting perspective. Like if you've had a trauma, you see life as a victim, sometimes sexual trauma Say. So if you can shift away from the perspective of the victim, your whole life changes. I don't know I'm sort of simplifying it, but that shows up the work we do. So it's deep work, you know it is and work

Alex Ferrari 50:18
for no question and can be scary work because when you start knocking on those doors, those doors will open. Yeah. Sometimes you might not want to see what's behind there, but you're gonna have to deal with it.

Catherine Ann Jones 50:27
The first time I did this workshop at Esalen. I got a letter from I think she was in her mid 30s. Right at the age, she was very successful in Silicon Valley. She had carried a sexual trauma with her for years. When she was 15, she was sexually abused by her brother and her brother's friend. She did the exercises, she never shared what she wrote, she kept to herself. So I didn't think more about it. And then I got the letter and she said, I've been in therapy for 20 years, nothing has worked. After this workshop, I feel I've returned to myself. Now listen to those word, I've returned to myself. Because when you have trauma, there becomes a split between your soul and you know, the outside world, you're cut off. That's why often people who walk around with drama, say soldiers or whatever, they don't feel anything, they're numb inside, they've been split off. So finding a way to return yourself to yourself. That's a mighty work.

Alex Ferrari 51:47
That's, that's pretty powerful. Pretty powerful. Can Can you tell me what the biggest lesson you've learned in your life so far is? Is there one that you can point to?

Catherine Ann Jones 52:02
Well, what comes up is parenting. I, I've had one son, now I have two grandchildren. Nice. But I think I had my son when I was 21. So I was very young, and I had been an only child. So I didn't have a lot of experience with babies or children. And I love being a parent. It taught me as much as anything else in my life. But if I had to do it over again, I think sometimes I rushed in too quickly to try and fix things for my son. You know, I consider this a problem. I'd say what you could do, you know, I tried to have the answers. If I had to do it again, I think I learned it's better to just listen and just be there for someone going through something

Alex Ferrari 53:02
instead of trying to fix it. Yeah. Good. That's a great answer. what came to mind anyway? How do you think people can connect more with God in today's world? Well, you're talking to an agnostic First of all, but what the universal energy universal energy, the absolute pure consciousness, force, death force? Absolutely right. The force be with you. Yes.

Catherine Ann Jones 53:31
I don't think it's a white man with a beard.

Alex Ferrari 53:34
I agree with you. 100%. On that,

Catherine Ann Jones 53:36
I just wanted to clarify, sure. Um, well, I just finished a new book. And I found this quote, it's an unknown source. I think it's, I can't remember some unknown source. And it says, I went in search of God. And I found myself. I went to India in search of God or the truth. And I found myself and not the ego self, again, that capital S I think I shared with you when I finish this, this book is self with writing. And I was just about to send it off to the publisher. I did a read through and I kept looking at the title page. Because you know, heal yourself with writing yourself is one word, usually. And I kept looking, I knew something was missing, but I didn't know what and then it hit me. And all I did was separate the word so it's heal your self capital S self with writing and then I knew the book was done. I compare it to a painter has to learn not to over paint the canvas he has to instinct or intuition. Dibley know when to stop and lay the brush down. And that kind of changed things for me.

Alex Ferrari 55:08
Why do you think we're here? It's a general statement to find that self, not the ego.

Catherine Ann Jones 55:18
In other words, you, I think we're here for the growth of the soul, I could answer it like that. I think the purpose of each life is for the soul to grow. And the soul can be rather ruthless. Some people may grow when terrible things happen in their life, cancer, Death of friends, whatever. Or can be positive things. But I think we're here for that for the evolution of the soul.

Alex Ferrari 55:52
And where can people find out more about you? And the work do you do in the books that you've written?

Catherine Ann Jones 55:59
My website, I guess, way of story.com. And there, my online courses are there on the home page, I do writing consultant. I've done psychic readings for 14 years, mostly now. And I do a blog once a month. And some interviews, maybe we'll put the center of the thing so we have story.com, and they can email me through that

Alex Ferrari 56:34
to Gavin, thank you so much for doing this. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and, and doing this deep dive into into soul work, if you will. And and thank you so much for all the work you've done over the course of your life to help people and with your books and plays and stories and, and teachings and everything. So I do appreciate you and thank you so much.

Catherine Ann Jones 56:57
Thank you

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BPS 121: Save the Cat! Writing for Netflix & Television with Jamie Nash

This week, I invited author, writer, and director, Jamie Nash on the show to discuss his ‘Save The Cats Writes for TV’ formula in his new book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV: The Last Book on Creating Binge-Worthy Content You’ll Ever Need.

Jamie is a horror and children’s film screenwriter with fifteen years of experience writing projects for  Nickelodeon, Liongate, Discovery, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc, and also teaches screenwriting to college students.

Some of his most notable horror credits include V/H/S/2, Lovely Molly, and Seventh Moon, A Comedy of Horrors, and Two Front Teeth. And others like Adventures of a Teenage Dragon Slayer, Tiny Christmas, etc.

Screenwriting, for Jamie, was a side project he pursued at leisure when he wasn’t working his Computer gaming/programming job. It wasn’t until early 2004 that he sold his first script, a horror feature titled, Altered, to Haxan Films that was later directed in 2006 by one of the Blair Witch Project directors, Eduardo Sánchez. The story premised on a group of men whose lives were forever changed by a strange occurrence who, fifteen years later Now, will spend a night together … in terror.

With some financial success and notoriety from Altered, Jamie quit his computer consultant job with Citigroup and went full-time on screenwriting in 2008.

Jamie is one of those writers who stay busy. He writes about five to six scripts a year for pilots, TV shows, podcasts, novels, etc. This justifies why he has a Writers Guild

It takes a lot of brainpower to create multiple plots that are so different in many ways within a short period of time. An example is his 2017 screenplays, The Night Watchman and Tiny Christmas. Two very distinct writing and audiences. 

He co-wrote The Night Watchman with Ken Arnold and Dan DeLuca. It is basically a story of three inept night watchmen, aided by a young rookie and a fearless tabloid journalist, fight an epic battle for their lives against a horde of hungry vampires.

Tiny Christmas on the other hand is about a girl and her quirky cousin who are accidentally zapped by a shrinking ray at the hands of one of Santa’s inept elves on Christmas Eve and they must learn to trust and appreciate each other and work as a team to get back home before Christmas, or risk staying tiny forever.

On March 30th, 2021, he released his third book, Save the Cat!® Writes for TV in which he shares the essence of writing pilots as pitches for screenwriters considering television because more than 80% of jobs in the Writers Guild of America are skewed towards the television.

Nash takes up Snyder’s torch to lay out a step-by-step approach using Blake’s principles for both new and experienced writers, including:

-How to write and structure a compelling TV pilot that can launch both your series and your TV writing career
-All the nuances, tricks, and techniques of pilot-writing: the Opening Pitch, the Guided Tour, the Whiff of Change, and more
-The 8 Save the Cat! TV Franchise Types that will improve your story and your pitch

-The not-so-secret TV Pitch Template that turns your TV series into the necessary read-over-lunch industry document
-a how-to in creating layered characters who are driven by complex internal struggles
-Beat sheets of the pilots of Barry, Ozark, Grey’s Anatomy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, What We Do in the Shadows, Black-ish, The Mandalorian, This Is Us, Law, and Order: SVU, and more to help you crack your story

Create your binge-worthy TV series with Save the Cat! Writes for TV 

We talked some more about his own indie film hustle journey–working overtime to get a headstart in the industry, we also talked about his networking technique that keeps him booked and busy. 

I could talk another hour more with Jamie. He is so candid about his process and the drive behind it.

Enjoy this conversation with Jamie Nash.



Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:11
I like to welcome to show Jamie Nash, man. How you doing, Jamie?

Jamie Nash 0:14
I'm doing great.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thanks for having thanks for coming on the show, brother. I appreciate it.

Jamie Nash 0:19
Thank you for having me. I'm a big fan.

Alex Ferrari 0:21
Oh, thanks, man. Thanks. We're here to talk about your new book, save the cat writes for TV, and I am a huge save the cat fan. I've had multiple different authors who have written different saved the cat books on as well because I, you know, a lot of people, some people like, Oh, it's a formula and it doesn't, you know, it's like, oh, it's taking the creativity out of it. And you know what, for some people that might be the truth, but other people, it's not. So I always like to present every kind of system way structure that you can because you just never know what writers gonna connect with what person I remember when I saved the Redford save the cat for the first time. I was just completely blown away. And I was just like, I was young, early in my screenwriting career. And there's a reason why it's still one of the best selling, if not the best selling,

Jamie Nash 1:12
this is the best selling by the way. Hi, my book can't even knock it off. Its perks. So you know, it's We're number two, a lot of time staring right at it. And I'm like, Can we pass it for one day?

Alex Ferrari 1:22
And it's how old now? How

Jamie Nash 1:23
long has it been around? On 2007?

Alex Ferrari 1:26
So it's been around for a couple years now. And it's still so there's obviously some sort of value there. Because there's been a lot of spirit writing books between 2007. Yeah. And it's still there. So how did you I was reading a little bit before our conversation. You You met Blake, back in the day?

Jamie Nash 1:46
Yeah. Yeah. So I'm in Maryland. And it you know, most of my career is spent doing indie horror movies, especially back in those days. And somewhere along the line, I was trying to network over the internet back in the, you know, the 2000 internet like 2003 2004 internet. And I remember I met him through a writing group. There was some kind of writing group, I don't work. I can't remember how they met him. But he was there. And he actually wanted me to write the script with him. He had seen that I had sold stuff. I was just starting my career. And he kind of came to me and said, You know, I like your sense of humor, you have a good handle on structure. And you had this idea for a script, he pitched it to me. And he was, even though his days were probably a few years before that, like the 90s were his heyday, you know, he sold, I think he had $2 million dollar scripts sales. Of course, he infamously wrote stopper, my mom will shoot. That's how he broke into Hollywood. So he hidden I'm not sure if he had sold anything in the last couple of years. But to make a long story short, he asked me to write a script with them. And I met him that way. And that was prior to save the cat. And I mentioned this in the book, he was using the save the cat terms on me. And I just thought they were like standard Hollywood terms. Like, he wasn't doing it in the way the book does it. He was just like, you know, we need an all is lost moment here. Or we need a in the debate section. He was using these terms. And I was like, Oh, this is just the way you know, maybe maybe he just got this jargon through, you know, talking to producers and stuff like that. But I so I almost organically processed that stuff, even before the book out just him talking through that kind of stuff. So that's how I met him.

Alex Ferrari 3:36
That must have been that must have been pretty cool. And Mmm, it's been awesome. Coming up. But so how did you get into the business?

Jamie Nash 3:44
Yeah, so I was a computer science major. That's how I got into business. Now. I was a computer science major. I always loved film. I was doing computer games at the time, but programming them nothing really that created. I always thought programming would lead me to the creative side. It never really did. It was a different kind of creativity. I was always like, yeah, and then one day, I'll make my adventure game and I'll put my stories in there, that never happened. So So I wrote on this side. And probably in the early 2000s I started to write screenplays. And the first one I I sold a script called altered with Eduardo Sanchez. It was our word is Sanchez, the you know your listeners will know The Blair Witch Project one of the Blair Witch Project directors and that was his first movie after Blair Witch. And universal picked it up. And then universal kind of buried it. In some ways. It was a straight to DVD. Still to this day, people find it now it came out. I think 2006 2007 ish. And people find it to this day and they're like, I've never heard of this movie. You know that it has a lot of fans that just pick it up and find it and and enjoy it. But that was my intro to the business. I made some good money. I kept Random it because I was like, you know, I'm not it's not enough money, it's not going to change my my programming ways. Um, but then after that, made some more movies got a lot of indie gigs I was really I was really this weird indie screenwriter I was doing. And honestly I think it was because I was cheap. I wasn't in the W ga yet. I wrote really fast. I was game for anything, I just love to write and make movies. And I, I was, you know, when I compare myself to what I do today, what it taught me because I did finally go full time. I went full time in 2008 when the market kind of crashed, and I got laid off from my city group gig. And at the time I was I was a computer consultant for Citigroup. Not that I was laid off, they were just like, we're not making any money. We're not going to hire any consultants back next year, you get paid too much. And at that point, I said I'm going full time. And a couple years after that, so it's been since 2008. I've been a full time screenwriter, and probably around two. Yeah, in 2011. I finally got in the Writers Guild. So and what was the point I was going to make was when I was an indie writer, I had to write like 10 screenplays a year just to make a little bit of money to survive. Like I had to write so many screenplays and do so many gigs. Because the you know, I didn't have all those guild protections of minimum salary, residuals, all that stuff. And then once I got in the Guild, my muscles went away that was just used to writing 10 screenplays a year so so I'm kind of a nut in that I write about five, usually like five to six scripts a year or something pilots, television shows, podcasts, or write novels. And probably since that time, I've been doing it a screenwriting full time. But now on the WETA

Alex Ferrari 6:56
that's awesome man. That's, that's your your. You're a unicorn. You mean someone? full time screenwriter, like that's

Jamie Nash 7:04
full time screenwriter, unicorn, and also I'm in Maryland, which makes it even weirder.

Alex Ferrari 7:09
Right? Exactly. And that's the thing that a lot of screenwriters listening think that the only way you can make a living is if you're Shane Black Aaron Sorkin or a Tarantino where you know you're getting million dollar paydays. But there are and I've had on the show many, just workmen, craftsmen, just people, screenwriters, who are just you know, cranking out work, you know, job per job, you know, and making a good living and supporting their family. But they're just working as opposed to like this one and done lottery ticket mentality, which so many screenwriters walk into the business with? Yeah,

Jamie Nash 7:45
I mean, you're the title of your show your podcast, that's, that was my life. It was indie film, hustle. I legitimately, I had to do 10 scripts a year, because I don't know that I did. 10 I'm using that number is more like five or something. It's still crazy. And to this day, I get anxiety if I don't produce that many in a year. It's basically like you say, the shame blacks of the world, not even the shame blacks, but the LA folks. They have a different game they're playing where they have lots of meetings. They're, they're networking every day, they live and breathe it. But for me, I'm constantly feeling the need to remind people it exists. And the way I do it, is by writing. So I'm constantly saying, Look, I'm here, I got a new thing. and meeting people like after it goes out when I meet people. And that's, that's my life.

Alex Ferrari 8:43
So your network. So your networking technique is to actually create content and create projects. Wow, what, what, what, what, what a concept is opposed to just doing one script that took you seven years to mate to write, and hoping that that's the one that's gonna break you.

Jamie Nash 9:00
Yeah, yeah, it's it's definitely, I'm not sure that everybody can pull it off. But it's the only way I've known to really pull it off. And then when you get one friend, that friend is where you get most of your work, to be honest. So yeah, Eduardo Sanchez is a good example. I did a lot of work with Nickelodeon. So the weird thing is, I'm a horror person and a kid person. Like they're the two opposite arenas. Yeah. So I've done tons of scripts with Nickelodeon. And I did tons of horror scripts. And once you find that person that really wants to champion you and likes your work and sees it, then they become the majority of your stuff, but I've sold over the years. I mean, it's crazy. All the different places. We're the scripted blumhouse at one point, which is obvious, but then I also had something that like discovery. You know, I had a pitch that I sold the discovery at one point. I've had stuff at Amazon Prime all over the place.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
Yeah. So it's awesome, man. That's awesome. So He sat down and wrote a book called save the cat writes for TV. And right now, arguably television instead I use a television I use streaming is, as it's all all encompassing television and streaming, it is probably the most lucrative and easy, I can't say easiest, but you have a better chance of making a living in the television streaming world than you do off of independent films. Only because it's, I mean, when you were coming up independent films, there was money to be made. Now it's it's a lot different world we live in now the money is in streaming. So that's why I wanted to have you on the show. Because I feel so many screenwriters who've been who've been, you know, just hacking away at the the independent film script, which is fine. And you could definitely keep doing that are starting to transition like, you know, where I think streaming and television, I might want to start trying to get into the writers room, I start trying to develop my own show and all that kind of stuff. So first question I have for you is what are a few questions a writer needs to ask themselves when developing a show?

Jamie Nash 11:06
Yeah, good? That's a great question. Um, so I have this kind of magic formula in the book, that it's the first section of the book, that by the way, the book will take you from A to Z. And I should define what z is. Super quick, is because like you said, you put it perfectly. The number of jobs in the WGA, television to film if you do the comparison, they do a report every year. And the last I saw, this isn't the exact numbers, but it's super close. It's ballpark, I should have looked up the exact numbers is I think, of 9000 jobs. 7000 plus are in television.

Alex Ferrari 11:51

Jamie Nash 11:52
Yeah. So it's, it's super skewed toward television. And it makes sense because they're writers rooms and all these other things,

Alex Ferrari 11:58
right? more jobs, just more job.

Jamie Nash 12:01
Tons of tons of streamers. Each show has, you know, five to 12 writers, they're in rooms, they get jobs. So, which is part of the reason why we did this book, why we did this race television book. So the thing my book really tries to push is the reason you write a television pilot. And it's really concerned with pilots. So that's what I said a dizzy. A, you start with nothing, m z and up a pilot. A when I say a pilot, a pilot story, a save the cat outline, you know, you'll have the outline ready to go, all you have to do is get in final draft and crank out the fun stuff. a TV show pitch, and a TV show concept. So you could pitch your show, or you could send the pilot in either one would work. And so when a writer is considering doing television, what my pitch to you is or to your listeners is you need a pilot, a pilot is the key thing you're going to need. Because really, you're not one goal is to sell the show. That is one goal. But if you want one of those TV writers jobs, if you want to get one of those rooms, right now, they're asking for original scripts. So you know, back in the day, and you know, when I was coming up, they would ask you for spec scripts, which were like an episode of friends, for example, you just write like Episode 203 of friends, you know, nowadays, nobody wants that. And I, you know, I pulled a lot of people just to make sure because I consider putting that section in the book. And I said went out to my, you know, showrunner friends, my friends that are on staff. And they say nobody writes those anymore. There's some fellowships that actually take them. So it's not true. They're unicorns that still ask for. There's like the one in 100 that say, we want to see your friend script, decide if you're going to come in to Raiders room. But most people are looking for pilots, some will take features and some will take plays, but 99% of them take pilots, like pilots is what you need. So the book is really focused on the fact Hey, you might want to get one of these TV jobs. Hey, you might you might try to write a pilot. So that said, that kind of backtrack, to write a good pilot to write a great pilot. You need a good show. So that was this is your question. So what are the things in a show that you really need? And from my experience, and then from research as well, I came up with the three big things. These are the three. A unique world is really important. There are some like stand up comics and stuff that their point of view is kind of the world you know, like Seinfeld, it's a show about nothing so to speak. Yeah, but his unique view of it. comedy is kind of the world. But for the most part, you're trying to find some kind of world that you know, that's authentic to you. Because again, these are writers samples that you're trying to get a job with. So your script needs to say something about you. So it has to be something you love. Yeah. You know, in the book, I give examples of things I love. I love pro wrestling. You know, I love street performing. I love computer programming, you know, these are things I love. And I could speak about I could talk about I love to research.

Alex Ferrari 15:31
So can we can we can we do a pilot that is a pro wrestler, who's also a street performer and codes on the side?

Jamie Nash 15:38
I've done it.

Alex Ferrari 15:41
I've got four of those pilots. I've got those four pilots.

Jamie Nash 15:44
Yeah, exactly. I've got the funny thing you say I here's the weird thing. I've done two of those, those worlds for pilots, but the programming one, which seems the most obvious and the most relatable, I haven't figured out our fun take on that. It's it's

Alex Ferrari 16:00
I mean, Silicon Valley's a great. It's not coding, per se, but it but it was so wonderfully done. I mean, silicon was wonderfully,

Jamie Nash 16:08
wonderfully. That's the thing between that and Halt and Catch fire. Yeah, I don't need to do. I'm a huge Halt and Catch fire person. Yeah. And I love Silicon Valley. So what am I going to add to that? I can't find the fresh perspective. One day, I'll find it. I'm so so world is the first part. And then when I was going to pitch, the first thing you learn in television, at every meeting, you'll pitch this great thing. And they'll tell you, they'll sit you down, they'll say, we really care about his character, character, character, character. It's all about character and television. That's who you want to invite onto your DVR every single week. It's all about character. And they always say to put character first. And I have trouble. I'm a plot first guy, I'm kind of a concept first guy, you know, I came up loving the shame black kind of stuff. You know, diehard is kind of my movie. So I'm a concept, first type person, but I really had to over the years, especially over the last, I don't know six years, I've really kind of reinvented myself to try to think character first almost or that try to try to really get at what pulls at my heartstrings and what engages my own personal story and emotions in the script. So characters, part two. And then the last one is, and this is another term I never heard I got the Hollywood The term was somebody would say what's the franchise? That would be the first question you'd get. And to me it was a really cheesy kind of question, like guy with a cigar would be Yeah, what's the franchise kid or something. But it was a term that was regularly used. And what it meant was story engine. What's the thing that if you put you know, you kind of sit there every week and you say, we need a story idea? What's the inspiration for it? What's the comp? Where does the conflict come from? Where are the goals where the heroes come from? And it's that franchise? That's the thing. So in my in the book, just to give an example for a franchise. I came up these and Blake Snyder came up with these things called john rose. In his in his first book, and genres were basically story patterns. There were recurring stories we'd see over time so he has like, buddy love might be buddy copper romance he had he had a golden fleece, which might be like a quest movie or it might be a sports movie for you know you're trying to win the trophy. You're trying to win something at monster in the house. That was my favorite. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 18:38
it was a fish fish out of water. I think there's something

Jamie Nash 18:42
fishy out there. I do think he has a true fish out of water. He has a full triumphing as many as one that he so they're ones that kind of become fish out of water, but I don't think he has one. But he has a whole bunch they're trying to remember the number exactly I think there's 10 there might be 12 I should know they're in my book too. But so there's a bunch of them and they were the they were the stories so I came up with something similar which is the franchises I kind of went through and identified all the types of franchise types to help you figure out your show. And just you could probably come up with these just like you came up with fish out of water like that's a recurring theme. You know, TV shows there's the procedural shows I call the blank of the week, there's my blank OF THE WEEK chose so it could be anything from X Files, you know, monster the week to CSI, which might be case of the week to house which might be patient of the week or something like that. So that's one type of franchise trapped together so they're your family shows your you know, your the office space shows. So you're in an office, you're trapped with these people around you that conflict and the reoccurring stories come from those people In the interplay and the social dynamics, and so I came up with a bunch of these much like key genres. And the way I suggest, so they're the three things I think you've come up with, honestly think you start with the world, like, what are the worlds you love? Then say, who are the characters that really compel you in those worlds and make a big list? You know, in, in Silicon Valley, you know, you have the CEO, you have the kind of, you have the guy who runs the incubator, you have, you have all these things, and you write those down and have all your characters. And then if you start applying to the franchise type, you know, is this a? Is this a trap together? Is this a? Is this a blank that we you know, and then you can kind of brainstorm the kind of show you're creating through those three main pillars that you're creating? So what

Alex Ferrari 20:49
are some what are the so we have a blank of the week, we have trapped together? Are there any other ones?

Jamie Nash 20:55
There are? So a lot of the modern serialized shows so blank the week they're kind of the old, you know, episodic there's, um, there's a dude with a series long problem or season long problem. So great, Breaking Bad, Breaking Bad, or somebody that like 24, or something like that. Right? Right. Um, there's, um, there's one called man or woman with a plan. So it's somebody almost like, like the show revenge. Remember the show revenge, or something where somebody is like, they have a plan, and they're going to, they're going to enact his buddy love. So some of these are similar to the genres because they tell stories over time.

Alex Ferrari 21:38
And this is true, this does this trance, this go from comedy, to drama to action? lewdly. Absolutely.

Jamie Nash 21:44
So much like the genres, the genres, the Blake Snyder genres, which are very third, like cousins to these franchise types. A monster in the house, just as an example. So monster in the house is usually like a person trapped in a scenario with some monster. But something like what about Bob or cable guy? They're not horror movies, but they're still patterns that are similar to fatal attraction or something? Absolutely. So. Yeah, so one of my, one of the examples I give in the book is, is is dude or dudette, with a series long profit problem, or season long problem is the good place, and that's a comedy, but it could also be homeland, you know, or something like that. So, it they definitely cross genres. They're really just speaking to where you're going to find the conflict. Week, the week, you know, and they help you kind of brainstorm what your show is, but they also help you brainstorm what your pilot will be. And they also help you brainstorm what the season might look

Alex Ferrari 22:49
like. Gotcha. And, and obviously, select the procedural like, you know, blank of the week that is more network television, kind of world. That's not as much to streamers. Of course, there's always

Jamie Nash 23:02
exceptions. The one place you might see it in the streamers is animation. When you get the animation, some of those are like like Rick and Morty or something like that. They can be serialized, for sure. I mean, Rick and Morty isn't a streamer, but they have a big mouth or so you know, some shows like that. Maybe a

Alex Ferrari 23:22
little South Park, but that's more that's Comedy Central.

Jamie Nash 23:26
Show parks a good example. Again, it's it's network, but it's kind of streaming too. Right. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 23:31
When I say network, it's the four big ones. That's that's, that's what I'm thinking is NBC ABC, or

Jamie Nash 23:38
you know, something like that? They're definitely those procedurals there's television like Hawaii Five, oh, you know, things like that. They're definitely in the blank OF THE WEEK category, or even the trap together category. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 23:51
And that's one thing I've not really I've never seen a Hawaii Five o or, or that or, or CSI in the streaming world. It doesn't. It doesn't really exist originals, obviously, after the fact but never originals because I've because of the pandemic have been consuming quite quite a good amount of television. And we just it just sitting there just absorb. Like I just finally went back to Handmaid's Tale. I hadn't. I hadn't finished it yet, because I got pissed off when they caught her again. I was like, I can't I can't, I can't take it. And that's how I was.

Jamie Nash 24:23
I got to season two. I love season one. Yeah, I was like, This is great. I was like, I can't, it's got to go forward somewhere. I can't think when

Alex Ferrari 24:31
they pulled it when they pulled her back out. I was like, I'm out. I can't. But then I'm like, okay, they've got three seasons. So they got I got basically the third season and then as of this recording, the fourth season starts I think you're right a

Jamie Nash 24:41
You and I are the exact same one. It's so funny.

Alex Ferrari 24:45
I took I literally pulled her out of the spoiler alert

Jamie Nash 24:50
was like my favorite show when it was on. I loved it. I was like this is great. And then season two, I'm like, I still love it. And then once it got to the end, I was like I don't know if I want to watch season three

Alex Ferrari 24:59
I can't. And just a perfect example Walking Dead like walking dead I was a huge

Jamie Nash 25:05
Walking Dead fan omiya thing.

Alex Ferrari 25:07
And once neguin showed up, right? Once Megan showed up that whole season was so abusive to the audience. I felt it just you can't beat the characters you love to a pulp and never give them a win. It was just kind of like you were just seeing your favorite characters never win and his neguin was this. He was a villain that was so it's so so on. The villain can never be on on unconquerable. If you if you create a villain that's unconquerable, then there's no hope. And that's what I felt in Walking Dead. And then I stopped watching. I hadn't seen it since that last season. Yeah, at the very end. It was something but yeah,

Jamie Nash 25:50
yeah, I was a comic book walking dead person. So I'd read all the comic book. Yeah. And the comic book is easier to digest. Because it's, it's not as much story. You know what I mean? Even though it takes place, there's just not as much of it. It's not as much. So neguin is great. I love neguin in the comic book is. You're absolutely right, though. He's like undefeatable, he's always two steps ahead. He always finds a way out. He's definitely a tricky character. I think it's kind of the loss syndrome as well. Their win loss gotten to those middle years. And it just didn't feel like they were allowed to move forward.

Alex Ferrari 26:25
They jumped the shark, they jumped, they jumped the shark. Like if we if we can go back to the old concept of jumping the shark. For anybody who doesn't know what jumped the shark actually means it's from an old episode of happy days when Fonzie literally jumped the shark in his motorcycle. And we all said, Okay, you've gone too far.

Jamie Nash 26:45
I think the season before it was a cliffhanger episode and season before he jumped like a bunch of barrels, right? It's no, it's fine. So in the next episode, they had the top next year they topped it. He was in he was in LA jump some sharks, they were doing the whole evil evil thing. It was just bizarre.

Alex Ferrari 27:02
And that's where, and that's where jumped the shark comes from. But yeah, that's it is really interesting in regards to television, because I mean, I've consumed obscene amounts of television in my lifetime. And now this last year, I mean, we just literally just go searching like, we just finished we just caught up with this is us and watched. All of this is us like and cried a lot. But it's so

Jamie Nash 27:25
the pilot is in my book. So it's

Alex Ferrari 27:29
such an amazingly written SHOT Show to be able to work, multiple timelines, the same characters at different ages. The the the plotting that's involved with that, yeah, it's it is on something I've really on a whole other level, I've just, there's never been a show like it.

Jamie Nash 27:50
The pilot is a great example of what people should be doing when they're pilots.

Alex Ferrari 27:55
Yes. Good.

Jamie Nash 27:56
Not to spoil it. But it's been out a while. And

Alex Ferrari 27:59
I look at it spoiler alert, if everyone doesn't want to know that just I'm sorry.

Jamie Nash 28:02
Yeah, this absolutely. So this is us. It does this thing where it's kind of a mystery, you don't realize how the characters are totally connected. So you're doing the math, the whole episode. And then in the very final like seconds of it, it shows you how they're all connected. And it does it's like magic bricks and blows your mind. So you could just watch the pilot episode of this as us turn it off and sort of be satisfied with the show. It's like a mini movie unto itself. It's really a great, a great episode. And it was up by the way, it started as a movie.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
It did it. Oh, that the scripts are does the movie which

Jamie Nash 28:40
we've never read it, but I know it did.

Alex Ferrari 28:42
But that's the thing. And that technique they use constantly throughout the series, you'll be introduced to brand new characters, no and weird time frames. You'd even know what time of what the history of historical time did

Jamie Nash 28:56
much like last month, like last month when they did it. Yeah, you're

Alex Ferrari 29:01
just like, what, what's going on? And then you just like these weird characters, and then at the end, just like, and then my wife and I will be sitting there going like, well, who are these people? How are they connected? Like, where? Where is this line going? When are they going to meet and you just like oh, and I don't want to ruin it. But I just saw the one with the the guy with the internet who helped start the internet and there was like this the whole the whole series you saw this family and going through it and there's one of the guys who actually did the internet and created FaceTime and I was just blown away. I was like, Oh, that's brilliant. It was so well. Well I mean one of the best written shows on television currently.

Jamie Nash 29:39
No and and like i said i that so my book also breaks down a bunch of pilots. That's one of them. I there's a there's a whole bunch in the book. I tried to give something for everybody. I have Rick and Morty silent

Alex Ferrari 29:53
about breaking bad.

Jamie Nash 29:55
I didn't do Breaking Bad but here's my The reason I didn't. I guess I did. Only I tried to only do first of all, a lot of people have done Breaking Bad, right? And I mentioned Breaking Bad in my character section. There's a whole big thing about it. But I tried to only do shows that weren't yet canceled. So we're not finished, you cancelled as a rough word. But I tried to do shows that we get another season next year. Just the strategic longevity of the book.

Alex Ferrari 30:24
So Right, exactly. You're not going back to like Sopranos.

Jamie Nash 30:27
Exactly. And then I think they announced like a week later, this is also a next year, but still I have one year before it will be

Alex Ferrari 30:34
it is gonna it is. This is news to me. They are ending it next year.

Jamie Nash 30:38
Breaking News. They're built my wife and I but theory that maybe one of these spin off characters will just become some new iteration of this as us like a new family or something like of course, they could absolutely spin that off and continued same model, different family, different stories.

Alex Ferrari 30:55
Oh, yeah, you could absolutely absolutely, absolutely do that. Now, one question, had you, you talked about a beat sheet. How do you actually use a beat sheet in creating a Intellivision cuz I know how to do it in film, but how do you do it in television?

Jamie Nash 31:10
Sure. So what I did in the TV, and honestly, my experience comes from the place Snyder beachy, I teach college students, I bought cheats and stuff, so I know it really well. And in recent years, a lot of my students come and say, Hey, I don't want to write a feature, I want to do a pilot, can I do it your class, and I've, I've allowed them to do it. And over the years, I've learned some tricks. I've learned how it works and what doesn't have a lot of people that use the savings account, BG help. First of all, describe what the save the cat bt does, I guess the save the cat beachy is kind of this template that it spells out, what should happen when in a movie is the most crass way of saying it. So just as an example of a cue to the first act, just to give you a quick example. You start with an opening image, that's like page one, the first thing and it's usually something Matic image that shows captures the dramatic work or how the world is before the story starts. Usually its book ended with a closing image on the end. And you'd be amazed in a film if you took opening and closing image of your films, to see how there's a certain poetry there, how there's a certain book endedness there. Um, so anyway, opening images first, then you usually get a setup. The setup is all the things you'd think it's like the characters homework and play your main character who your main character is, what their life is like before the story starts. And that's the setup. And then you get to the catalyst, which is this lightning bolt moment that comes in like, it's Peter Parker being bit by a spider is a meteorite crashing into the earth. It's some, you know, some often random coincidence, some crazy thing that starts a story, it's meeting the person, you'll fall in love with that a rom com It's whatever that thing is. And that's the catalyst and that happens on page 12. According to save the cat, the first book of a feature film, so and it goes on and on like that there's a midpoint. That's that's like, you know, at your 50% Mark, there's the all is lost, which happens about 75% and that's the worst thing that could happen. That's Obi Wan Kenobi getting killed or your mentor dying or you know that point where you go into this woe is me thing because some horrible and then the darkness, the soul and the finale and everything else. So the 15 beats of the say that there's 15 beats in the save the cat beachy. You can get his book and check those out during my book I completely describe save the cat you can skip over the original book.

Alex Ferrari 33:47
I'm sure the save the cat people will not be happy with that. But yes, no, I'm joking. No, there's a lot. There's a lot you're getting bonafide, you can do it either way. Either way, you can get a lot you can get.

Jamie Nash 33:59
I'm sure Amazon has a buy to for cheap price right now. No, absolutely. I had people calling me right now on the phone

Alex Ferrari 34:08
like I understand I just

Jamie Nash 34:10
I'm so that that's the beachy. It's just kind of this thing. It's kind of like a fill in the blank. And again, these are all the most crass ways of saying it. It's a kind of fill in the blank template that you can go through and say, once I have this done, I'll have an outline for a movie. If I if I fill out all these sections, I'll have an outline for movie. The problem is, and by the way, there's a save the cat writes a novel book, that's hugely popular, because those people are even when I say those people, I'm one of them. novel writers are even more resistant to somebody telling them you know, here's a template, then film people are and it's, it's hugely popular in the Novel World. And it's the exact same template By the way, because the template is really Just a template on how to tell a good story. And, and it's really an adaptation of things that came before it was shared Aristotle journey. Yeah. Yeah Sinfield, all those things. It's, it's very similar to all all of those, but it has its own nuances and its own way of speaking the language, its own language. It's a language. Sort of

Alex Ferrari 35:25
now with with opening, like an opening scene of a pilot or a film for that matter. I love one of the reasons i'd love. I mean, Breaking Bad, arguably, is probably one of the best written Shows of All Time. That pilot though it is, it is a fairly, it's a it's a masterpiece, it really has you give another 15 minutes. And it's it's it's one of the best independent films ever made. If you do it, the opening scene, What's your feeling? Because with the templates, that you're laying out the beat sheet, you're laying down, the opening of that scene, and I'm a big fan of this opening of that movie is the end. And I love doing that because the audience is like, wait a minute, we How did it do? You're asking questions while you're going through it. And it's very powerful as a storytelling technique. Is that work inside the beat sheet somewhere?

Jamie Nash 36:14
It does. So this is I that one and I'm trying to remember Breaking Bad because while I remember the beginning, like I get mixed up later, because it starts blending in with the other

Alex Ferrari 36:25
so was when he so when he came when he comes out, it's like him coming out in his underwear in the middle of the desert. Yeah, which video right, that whole thing. And then I think it's ends with him pointing the gun at the camera, and then we cut to, you know, a week or two later or earlier, something like that.

Jamie Nash 36:43
So I, the reason I asked I'm not I never remember the the end of it, because it blends with the whole season. But I remember at the beginning,

Alex Ferrari 36:52
so that So my understanding if I, if I remember correctly, because it didn't just yesterday, I think we catch up to that moment. And then we continue. So like, that's generally it never ends at that moment, and generally is like a place where you pick up and then you keep going. So it's kind of like a really nice engine.

Jamie Nash 37:08
I was gonna say in a purest sense than it is a perfect opening and closing image because we're bookending you know, your your opening and closing on the same kind of thing. It's just that kind of thing. Um, one thing I realized, when I watched a ton of television shows getting ready for this book, I found some things that a lot of shares did. And there's a thing I call the opening pitch. And it feels like the first two minutes that teaser scene of almost every show is almost like something you could show up to an executives office, and just show them that two minutes. Like say, look, this is our show. What do you think, you know, what questions do you have? I'm breaking bad does it in more that teaser sort of way. Like, here's the coolest thing. We're going to give you mysteries and stuff to think about, like how did this guy in his underwear in this in this car in the desert and drugs and all that stuff. So they do it that way. But something like the Mandalorian for example, it gives you this Mini Movie at the beginning where he it shows his tools and shows how he fights it shows that it gives you Star Wars Star Wars Star Wars. And you could show that, you know, imagine if they showed that to us on YouTube, just that first. You know, that first teaser section in that case, it's longer than two minutes. If they showed you that you'd be like I'm in. I'm in I'm in. And the opening pitch. A lot of them are in character driven shows like insecure, or even marvelous, Mrs. maison, which is one of my favorite shows. A lot of times you get the main character just talking like, like, here's who I am. I'm just gonna pitch you me. so insecure. That starts with her, pitching herself to a bunch of kids and like it pulls back and she's talking to kids in the school. And they're like what, you know, you're going too deep here. Marvelous, Mrs. nasal. She's at a wedding and she's giving her wedding speech. And she kind of pitches her heart like who she is. And you see why she's funny. And it's like a stand up routine. And you could almost just put that like, here's who she is, and to an executive on the desk and be like, that's, that's who she is. So this opening pitch thing is something I definitely saw in the teasers where you get that first two minutes to just kind of lean forward and say this is our show. We're going to show it to you. I'm Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty. The first two minutes of that is a random Rick and Morty adventure. It's almost like a James Bond thing sort of like he gets the kid gets woken up they get taken on a spaceship there's a bomb or something going on. It's it's Rick and Morty in two minutes. It's like an episode of Rick and Morty in two minutes. So you find that this happens a lot and pilots like they that first two minutes they use so perfectly and even in shows like network tours like blackish was another show I analyzed. blackish is it's like a montage, but it has the main character giving his point of view, like what what kind of the blackish thing means to him. And it's basically an overview of the whole ship. It's like, it's like a teaser trailer for the whole entire show. So anyway, that's what I noticed about the opening pitch. Um, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 40:20
So you also talk a little bit about the wonky laws of pilot physics. What is that?

Jamie Nash 40:27
Well, it in some ways, it was really, in some ways that's there. It's two parts. In some ways. It's my catch all for all these weird things like the opening pitch. Like it was another thing I noticed I called the width of change stated. So in in pilots usually don't have full character arcs. But there's usually a change in almost all pilots, that might happen Episode Two, three, because if you change the character in every episode, it would be weird by you know, the season, it would be like they keep changing. But most pilots change the character in some small way like to make a commitment. So you know, there's some spoilers here for I'll give you a couple quick spoilers, but the Mandalorian I think, most people,

Alex Ferrari 41:12
it's on them if they haven't seen it, I'm sorry.

Jamie Nash 41:16
Exactly. But at the end of that, you have this bounty hunter who lives by a code. And he's touching fingers with baby Yoda. You know, it's like there's some change in the world that this bounty hunter is now going to protect. It's his minor change, and usually happens around the last scene. But another shows like, like justified or something and an older show, Christian get the character literally asking a question was I justified at the end of the show, like in a shooting in the in shows like Barry, which is one of my favorites, and I cover in the book with a with a sheet with a beat sheet. At the end of that, somebody comes up to him and they say, you know, I'm an actor, and he goes, I'm an actor, too. He's gone from a hitman to an actor at the end of the show. And he states it, he actually says it. It's amazing how many shows, you'll see that when you watch at the end of the pilots, they say what the change is. It's they verbalize

Alex Ferrari 42:14
it. So they actually show the character. So for us as an example, you start off James Bond starts off in the pilot as a mild mannered, whatever, you know. And then at the end of the pilot, I am now I am now a special secret agent. And then the show takes off from there. Now this is his adventures as a secret agent. And of course, he does change hopefully, throughout the series, somewhat, depending on the show, obviously, because some of these procedural shows these characters never change.

Jamie Nash 42:49
It's Yeah, no, but you got it exactly. Right. So whatever his arc is in that first episode, which kicks off the show, and it's not always this is why it's wonky. But it's so happened so often that I wonder if a memo went out, because you'll see it so often. But I think what it really points to is when you're writing your own pilots, while a TV show doesn't change a character, you know, every episode, your pilot should your pilot should add that movement. And the reason I think that's the case, your pilot almost needs to be cathartic. By itself, it needs to almost standalone a little bit like you could just go back to watch that Mandalorian episode, I'll say, Oh, baby Yoda missing that. And you could watch it almost in a vacuum and never watched another thing again, it has a beginning middle end. There's a change in the character. You get the feeling it's a pitch for the show. You're like

Alex Ferrari 43:46
oh, there is there there could be continuing adventures is the thing. Absolutely. The story itself solid. And when he touches baby Yoda, arguably Mandalorian could just okay, he you could stop right there and go well, obviously, he just returned the baby Yoda to the proper people. And that's the end of the story. Or,

Jamie Nash 44:04
yeah, we that's why the width of change as opposed to a character arc. It's not total character arc. It's usually a question. And in in a movie, I think it's very equivalent in a movie to when the character commits to that first act break. And the first act break a lot of times, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars The whole time he's like, I can't go I gotta help with the blue milk farm or whatever he's doing.

Alex Ferrari 44:33
It's a it's a What is it? It's a moisture and moisture was a moisture food basic

Jamie Nash 44:39
blue milk farm. I think that would have been a lot.

Alex Ferrari 44:41
I actually like the blue milk farmers when

Jamie Nash 44:43
I reboot it. It's going to be a blue, blue cow. So by the time his parents are, you know, are his parents, his aunt and uncle are killed and realize their spoiler alert. Spoiler alert. There's in his home Burt, He kind of looks in He's like, he has that slight whiff of change. He's going on an adventure. Now, the only thing I'd say is a pilot. They almost say what the change is they almost physically, they almost verbalize it. That's, that's the amazing thing. But usually there's a slight change where they've gone from a moisture farmer to adventure by the end, and they make some commitment. And that'll be the rest of the series. That'll be the season you're

Alex Ferrari 45:29
watching. And Mandalorian did it so beautifully, because and they did it without words. They did it with an image. Yeah. And it was like this hard ass, just militant Samurai of of the universe, for a moment softened. When he saw and connected with this little creature, who we all just were like, our minds exploded when we saw baby Yoda. And you're just like, Oh, this characters changed forever, just because of that motion of him touching the finger. All of that is like I'm getting chills, dammit, damage on favor. But it's

Jamie Nash 46:06
it's true. By the way. Mandalorian pilot is also broken down in my book was one of the ones I chose. Smart. You had to backtrack to the thing you said Mandalorian has a hint of serialization or a screamer. It definitely has a mission of the week quality kind of a throwback to the 80s. Almost,

Alex Ferrari 46:24
it actually has like an 18 mesh vibe to it.

Jamie Nash 46:28
It has a serialized story running on the higher level. Sure, like it gets more serialized, like toward the later episodes in each season. But it definitely has like we got we got to help this person.

Alex Ferrari 46:40
Although it's literally like every episode like okay, we're gonna go break this guy out of jail. Okay, we're gonna go to this moon and we're gonna go do this. Or we got to go to the, to this, this, this base that we got to sneak into like, every week. It's something and it literally leads itself to the next episode. Like, it's so beautifully done. Like, what do we got to do now? Well, well actually doesn't lead to the next episode start so a lot of times he'll just be like fly flying off into space. And then the new episode, like pick them up from space. Oh, we're going to land on this planet. new adventure.

Jamie Nash 47:08
We need some fuel. We need some we need to blue milk.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
We need some lumic Oh, look at Seven Samurai. Okay, let's do Seven Samurai now on this planet and it's great. No, it's it's it's a wonderful show. I wanted to ask you something, though. With with television, the old school way of television where you had commercial breaks, there was a very specific style of writing that plot point breaks, or that had to hit because commercials. So it's generally like a five act. I

Jamie Nash 47:38
think it was a five act. It the funny generally vibe. It really depends on the network. You're on in the show. I it's it's funny, they're actually heavily heavily negotiated things. So the you know, like, if you're Vince Gilligan, you might be like, I only want four, there's no way I'm doing five, you know what I mean? And AMC is like, Walking Dead is 10 or whatever you want and dead as a time they just do it. They put commercials all over the place. And he could say, well,

Alex Ferrari 48:07
we don't have zombies dammit. So we're doing for.

Jamie Nash 48:10
That's right. That's right. And then and then something like mad men. I think the thing with that show was the showrunner said, I'm not writing them in, you figure it out. And they had to figure it out. They had to go in and put ads in. So they come kind of abruptly and Mad Men.

Alex Ferrari 48:25
But what but when writing, but when writing a pilot, let's say you because now Yeah, there's many more streamers than there are

Jamie Nash 48:34
network. But my advice to people and people take this the hard way. In some ways, I don't think they like hearing this necessarily. I don't think you have to write act outs at all in your pilots anymore. You can just totally forget about that for now. Once you're hired, or once they buy your script, then you worry about it. But nobody's judging your script on your where you put your act outs or even if you know what they are, they're purely judging it on story. And most I wouldn't even say most almost everybody I talked to said yeah, don't worry about the act outs. However, there are some people that like putting them in just because it's kind of like when people put smash cut in their feature, you know, it just feels something like smash CUT TO interior gym night, you know, and I think people like to put him in for that dramatic moment. Like, it's almost like what I say in my book, I always say right, you could write to them. And I feel like if you've replaced them with dun dun dun, you know, in your head, and that works for you then feel free to write to them because you really, they serve a valid. They serve as a valid inspiration to write to these big cliffhanger moments and have five of those in your script and stuff like that. Like if that inspires you to write page a page turner, then put them in or put them in in the Take them out in the end, if that inspires you, but you don't need them. And if they give you any anxiety at all, like, where should they go? Or should they be here there, then I'd say take them out, I've written for shows that have them. And it's funny when you get to production. There, that's when you get like the network version, like on our network, we do it this way. And they're very specific, like you, when you're running a pilot, the advice is, you can put them wherever you want. So Act One, it can be on page 12, it can be on page 10. It's your call 20. You make it up here, your network when you write a pilot. But once you get into a phase where AMC buys your pilot, they have certain network rules like it might be act, your act one act out most common between page 10 and 15. If it's on page 15, you have to give at least six pages before the next one or you know, they have certain rules that are unique network to network. I would advise not worrying any bit about that until they pay you to worry about it. Because you don't know if your shows can be on Netflix, or Amazon Prime where they don't have ads for Hulu, which has ads but sort of doesn't there, you know where

Alex Ferrari 51:15
it kind of does if you pay you don't it's it's the wild wild west like before. I mean, for decades, it was pretty much the three, three then four networks and television was just written that way. And that was just the way it was. And then all of a sudden, now it's literally 1000 different ways and 1000 different approaches and 1000 different things you can never can you imagine getting breaking down on the air? She's never would have happened never would have happened. You know, so it's like that would have never been able to get on anywhere else. Or madman, you know, like that. Yeah, that that doesn't seem like a good. Well, breaking Bad's arguably one of the worst pitches of history. And Vince Gilligan says I think it's a horrible, horrible, but I remember

Jamie Nash 51:59
I didn't watch Breaking Bad at first. I was like, it sounds like weeds. It's like weeds a little bit. I was like, I'm not gonna I love the weeds. But I was like I saw we I like her. I'm not sure that I like yeah,

Alex Ferrari 52:11
I actually I actually caught I caught it. And I and I came all the way up to the last five episodes. So the last five or six episodes I watched live, but we binged all the way up until then,

Jamie Nash 52:24
this is great way to season two. I picked up on it somewhere in season two. And it's just Yeah, it

Alex Ferrari 52:32
is. Yeah, it is what it is. Can you explain what a board is? And how do you use a board in the pilot? Is there a way to use the board in the pilot? Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Jamie Nash 52:43
So the board. This is what's kind of interesting about save the cats to see the cat is mostly known for this 15 point, beachy, right. But it introduced a lot of other cool concepts like write your logline before you write us up to you know, and things like that. The genres that we we mentioned briefly, but one of the big things that had from day one was this thing called the board and in a film, basically what the board is, it actually translates really well to television, because they use boards like crazy and television. A board is just an index, a cork board, it could be a digital board, it's whatever you want to make it but usually it's some kind of those aren't those it's those index cards that you buy pack, you get them at the grocery store. I think I buy one dollars 100 cards perfect for a movie or a TV show. So for $1 you can have your your movie by we save the cat as pre printed ones now they have like things to fill things and

Alex Ferrari 53:40
I've seen post it notes people use post it notes as well.

Jamie Nash 53:43
I use post it notes I'm gonna post it guys just they're more disposable. I I don't have a good board. So I just want to put pop it in your write your scenes down on it. So you know let's say we were doing Breaking Bad it might be like confessional scene, we might just jot down the basics of that confessional scene in the desert. Walt thinks he's about to die. That'll be postcard. Kak that up on the board, you know, second scene satis breakfast in the world. He turns 50 bacon, blah, blah, blah, whatever. We tack that up on the board. And basically we construct an entire show with these index cards. In a in a film. Blake's guidance was 40 cut. By the way this this part was revolutionary to me, even though I knew them. He told me this and I didn't know what he was talking about. So when we were doing that script, he said, Let's Okay, I think we're ready. I think we ever beachy. Let's do a 10 2010 and I was like, what's a 10 to 110 I just assumed all writers. He made this up. I mean, he made it up. Let's do a 10 2010 so what a 10 2010 was, was was 40 index cards. That's what he considered a feature film 10 were Act One 20 were act two, and then 10 were Act Three. So Act Two, as you see is twice as big as the other two, it really is four acts, that's the dirty secret of feature filmmaking. Act Two is to a, you know, act two is you get to a into Bay, and they get splitted. In twit. TV works the same way. So, you know, you'd cork all those 40 up 1010 2010 or 1010 1010. Four times. TV works the same way. But there's a lot less beats. And it just depends on my, the big thing I found in adapting save the cat. It adapts find radio pilot, it adapts great, I use it myself to write pilots. But what it doesn't adapt to. And what I've pulled away is the beat sheet is more like a to do list. And less like a This must happen at page 12. This much happened at page 30. Because what you find is a show like the Mandalorian, that opening pitch that cool scene in the beginning where it captures the person. And I think there's a monster that attacks him in the desert, he flies away and they do the carbon freezing and all that stuff. That's like 12 minutes long, it's 12 minutes. So if you were doing at 10 2010. And that was just your opening pitch, you you'd blow up, it's like sucking up so much juice of your timeline that you'd be in big trouble. But what I found in television is they spend time where they need to spend time, a lot of times in pilots, it's the setup, because they need to set up characters, they need to set up character, they need to set up worlds, they need to set up all this stuff. So they need all that time for the setup the first act, but then sometimes Mandalorian is a perfect example. The funding game section, which is the first part in in save the cat terms, playing games is the first part of that, too. It's usually the promise of the premise. So if you're seeing a movie, it's like trailer moments, it's like the monster went wild, or the people are on an adventure or something like that. But in the Mandalorian because they they do all that cool stuff in the beginning. It's really small, like fun and games, like he ends up there, he has to tame the beast that that creature I think, to ride, right. And, and him and the dog not go off on the adventure. And that's kind of all they do for fun and games is really small and mid twist and stuff like that happened afterwards. So they Intellivision, you, as a writer have to pick and choose what gets the space, all the beats get hit. But they don't necessarily get all the space like in a regular feature, where you say, you know, it's very rigid and a feature, it's like 10 for the first act 20 for the second act, and for the fourth in a in a save the cat television show. It could be it could be like I got five for the for the setup. I have three Brack two, I have three for act to be and then I have two for the finale or something you might do some weird combination. And I give a lot of guidance for that. It's it's sort of where it's sort of where crew television writing comes into play. Because television writers, often in writers rooms if you google writers rooms and you look up the Breaking Bad writers rooms, what you'll see is these boards, you'll see note cards and boards. They live and breathe all note cards and boards even more than feature writers do. It's really how most of them break story.

Alex Ferrari 58:33
Now, do you need to show Bible.

Jamie Nash 58:37
You don't need a show Bible. You don't need a show Bible. I do have a section where I tell you how to write a sort of a Bible light, which is a pitch document. That's what most people have. Most people have the one two punch of their pilot and some kind of five to 10 page pitch document that, you know, it sets up what season one will look like in a very high level, like a couple pages at most. It sets up who all the characters are. It tells what your personal connection is to the story. And that's the pitch document. But the truth of pitching television pitching television is usually done face to face. It's very rarely done like submit your pitch document to us. I have you do that for preparation, but also to prepare in case your call like somebody reads your pilot, and it's time they're like, Hey, we're bringing in you know, come on, you're ready to go. If you have if you do the pitch document I described in the book which was given to me over many years from managers studio exact solid, I'm kind of giving you the one they gave me. You'll be ready to pitch.

Alex Ferrari 59:48
Nice. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all my guests. What are three pilots everyone should read?

Jamie Nash 59:56
Three pilots everyone should read. This should be in here. Let's, um, rock solid ready. I, the truth is I'm trying to be original breaking Bad's pretty darn good. I just can't get away from it. Right?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:10
I mean, if it I mean, it's like Chinatown is Chinatown. I mean, you're gonna have

Jamie Nash 1:00:13
to turn it down.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
I mean, godfathers Godfather, I mean, you gotta read it.

Jamie Nash 1:00:17
Exactly, exactly. Um, the other one that comes to mind. And it's not my book, because it's an older one is the shield. I think the shield is a great pilot. It has a great ending, that throws you into the next week. It gives you everything about those characters. But it also gives you a beginning middle end story. So it feels kind of procedural. But then it also feels like it also feels like it's got a continuing story, you want to watch the next episode, you want to get to the next episode. And I'll take one for my book. One of the ones I really liked for my book was berries pilot, it just fits really well if it does a really efficient job of being exactly what it is telling us surprising big beginning middle end story and setting up next week, all the while being the Matic character driven. So I'm a big fan of the berry one. I can't remember if I read the berry one I think I did. I think it's out there. I think you can get it because i think i

Alex Ferrari 1:01:15
think i think you don't get it as well. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Jamie Nash 1:01:24
I honestly I mean, this is no joke. If you can, if you can swing it television is the way. Honestly, that's why I wrote this book, because my students are going to television, I've been going to television for the last few years. Think television, think about these pilots, try to get yourself a good pilot. The other advice that I always give is you kind of have to prepare, yep, to make yourself better as much as you have to make your work better. Because it's a grind. Like we went over my screen in the beginning of this. If I told you, it's going to take you seven, eight years, before you get in the W GA, you got to be ready for that, you know, you got to be ready. And the way I got ready for it was I learned how to write five scripts and or six scripts a year 10 scripts a year. But I also had to like, understand failure and understand patience and understand all that stuff. So I'm a big fan of like, figure out how you're going to endure the long journey, as opposed to just find a way through the door. Like set yourself up so that you can be persistent. So you can be persistent over a 20 year period. And not like a wild person over a one month or one year period. You know, set yourself up for the long term, is what I'm saying?

Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
And what's the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Jamie Nash 1:02:58
Wow, that's a tough one. Um, because, you know, the lesson that took me the longest to learn in the film business is probably something I'm still needing to learn. That's, that's, that's the hard part about that question.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:14
Yeah, I get I get that answer quite a bit. And like, I'm still learning it I like but there's always something for me, it's patience. It's always been patience for me. Like, it's gonna take, it's gonna take twice as long if not longer than you ever expected to be.

Jamie Nash 1:03:26
I sadly I've learned patience. Not that it makes me happy. But I've learned that honestly. And honestly, it feels like I've just been ground down to the numbness of patients, you know what I mean? It's like, it's like, I'm so numb.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
You have no choice in the matter. It's the it's like, it's an acceptance of the inevitable. It's, that's all it is. When you're like I, I'm a patient person. No, you've just accepted the realities of the world. It's, and in our business, my God, nothing moves fast.

Jamie Nash 1:03:54
Nothing, nothing moves fast. I in sometimes that slow move. Like right now I have into three projects out there. One is getting notes at a super slow pace. The other is trying to attach a director at a molasses like pace because they're going to big directors and the others trying to attach an actor at them a lot. So when I say attach an actor, it's like a situation where you send a script out that goes to the agent agent takes a month to get back. Then they say yes or no, they usually say yes. And then it takes two months for the actor and you're waiting all that time to go to the next doctor. So it's like the slow slog.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:37
When I'm doing when I'm doing projects now I think of it as like it's a three years, three to four year project. Like I'm just I walk in knowing that if it's gonna be a three, like, Oh, yeah, in three or four years is going to get where I needed to be. But

Jamie Nash 1:04:51
I this isn't really one that I'd say to my lesson in regards to that. Like how I've learned to deal with that. It's not a lesson. It's a weird lesson because I, I don't want to put pressure on people to do it this way. I've learned that the only way I can stomach that the only way I can add patience is by spinning lots and lots of plates. That's why Yeah, that's why I'm doing that's what I'm doing save the cat rates for TV. While I'm writing a pilot, while I'm pitching a TV show while I'm doing while I'm reading a novel. If I don't have 10 plates spinning at a time, in some way, I mean, one of them could be an old script that's out there that's spinning, you know what I mean? It could be like a five year old script that I've kind of given rebirth through and sent to somebody. But if I don't have 10 things out there, I start getting anxiety. And that's part of what I'm saying for the long haul. Like, think about the stuff you're doing now may not pay off for like seven years, I've had a bunch of scripts that didn't sell for like six or like, I had managers that are people that would say, I don't think I don't think this one's very good. And then it's sold like seven years later. And it's not that they were wrong. It was just some it wasn't It's time. Yeah, the market changed. So get those things going. Think about them long term. But the only way I find to deal with failure, not failure, but rejection. And in the slow slog is that so many things, that today I'm talking to you, and I'm talking about safely cap rates for TV. I'm not thinking about all the rejections that are probably piling up in my email right now. I'll think about those once we hang up. But I have like 50 things going on. But right now I can only focus on this thing. So it's a great way. The best way to think you know, stem off that rejection, to stem off that that impatience is to start something else to keep moving to keep spinning plates. So it's a juggler, by the way. So plate spinning is great, great,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:55
great advice. I do the same thing I have. So actually have too many plates spinning to the point where it gets a little out of hand. And people are like, how are you doing that? I'm like, I'm just built to do that. I have 1000 things 1000 times and they're like, how many how do you put out that

Jamie Nash 1:07:10
circle? It can be weird because you probably couldn't stop it now. That's you

Alex Ferrari 1:07:18
know, like when I people were like, how do you put out for like three to four podcasts fresh every week with four shows or something like that five shows? It's like I'm like, I mean, if it was just one I'd be bored. Like I could do what I could do one episode a week in my sleep. Five is challenging. Are you telling

Jamie Nash 1:07:39
me I'd have to sit with my own thoughts

Alex Ferrari 1:07:41
for a while? No, I can't have a no, no, no, stop that. That's not possible. And very last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Jamie Nash 1:07:50
Yeah, this one. It's so funny. I keep changing this one for some reason. On my movies, by the way, are ones I've realized are ones I've seen in theater as a kid. Like they're my favorites, right enough. And unfortunately, I'm heavily in the Spielberg Lucas stare enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:07

Jamie Nash 1:08:07
I was in that, right. So I apologize for being lame as I'm about to be Raiders of the Lost Ark is my number one favorite. And now I start switching. These are the ones I start switching back and forth. Back to the Future. I'll put it number two. I love back to the theater. I like the mix of genres and the comedy. And then the third one is the one sometimes it's Robocop sometimes it's evil that too sometimes it's there's all these weird ones I mix back and forth. I'm trying to remember what I said the other day, sometimes it's Star Wars but first Star Wars. We don't call it a new hope in this house.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:42
Obviously, it's just it's just the star. Yes. Yes.

Jamie Nash 1:08:45
So it's it's and sometimes it's aliens. And I mix and match all those I saw him on the theater all good. I can't. It's It's strange, because even Back to the Future sometimes slides back to three and something else like et is another one. I mean, there's so many Joel's. But today I'm going to go with I'll just go with Star Wars because that'll make sense. Fair enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:08
Fair enough. I mean, you've had a Mandalorian I mean, you don't have to go too far with me. Now where can people find out more about you and where can they buy the book?

Jamie Nash 1:09:18
Oh, sure. Yeah, the probably the best place to see me is on Twitter. I'm at Jamie underscore Nash. I respond there. I do a lot of goofy messages, signup, follow me a lot of save the cat kind of stuff to a lot of writer stuff. So if you're in your writing stuff, I am definitely involved in the writer writing community on Twitter. So please follow me I'd love to have any interaction. And you can buy the book on Amazon that's the usual go to place but you can buy anywhere that sells books. It's it's in the markets in a couple Barnes and Nobles. It's funny. I'm constantly tracking like when's it going to show up at my Barnes and Noble like it's in. It's in like four places. In Maryland, where I live, but it's not in the one that's right across the street from my house. Think about it, I want it there. So that you can buy it. You can buy it anywhere you buy books, and the audio book is about to drop this week, or, I don't know this week, they Amazon says 30 days and it takes forever takes 30 days runs out like this week or next week. So soon. We'll be on your blog, if you prefer that. Some people do.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:27
Jamie, thank you so much. This has been a very educational conversation, I really feel that you were channeling Blake, when you were writing this book, because a lot of the things that you're saying ring, so save the cat in the way that you're presenting the information in a very simple, easy to understand method, which is what saved the cat is so brilliant and what Blake was so brilliant at doing so congratulations on the new book, and hopefully it'll help a few writers out there. So thanks again my friend.

Jamie Nash 1:10:55
Yeah. Thank you

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BPS 117: How to Be a Screenwriter in Hollywood with Marshall Herskovitz

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.

Marshall show, ThirtySomething, which only ran for four-season was quite successful. Co-created with Zwick, the follows the stories and journeys of seven thirtysomethings living in Philadelphia who struggle with everyday adult angst.

The show’s success earned over a dozen Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and personal honors for Marshall from the Writers Guild and a Directors Guild.

Herskovitz’s filmography is pretty adventurous. We discussed as many as we could in this interview and he was totally down for the ride. But if we are to highlight some must-mentions, Traffic will get the spot. Herskovitz co-produced Traffic in 2000 alongside esteem producer, Laura Bickford and directed by Zwick.

The film holds a constant 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won numerous Oscars BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globes awards in 2001. It followed through grossing a total of $207.5 million on its $46 million budget

The President appoints a conservative judge to spearhead America’s escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is a crack addict. Two DEA agents protect an informant. A jailed drug baron’s wife attempts to carry on the family business.

Another classic of his is the 1999 TV show, Once and Again. A divorced father and a soon-to-be-divorced mother meet and begin a romantic courtship which is always complicated by their respective children and their own life problems.

Marshall dropped all sorts of knowledge bombs on the tribe this week. You have to listen to the episode to hear all those extra deets he shared with us about the attempts at rebooting ThirtySomething and many more.

Enjoy this conversation with Marshall Herskovitz.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:05
I like to welcome to the show, Marshall herskovits How you doing Marshall?

Marshall Herskovitz 0:10
I am. Well, how are you?

Alex Ferrari 0:12
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for doing the show. I'm a fan of of many of your films, including the films that you've just written and produced, but directed as well. And we'll get into that in the future. But I, I heard nothing but good things from you from Ed, who was on the show as well. Edward Zwick, and, and I said, Well, I kind of get Marshall on the show, too. I can't just talk to Ed, I want to talk to Marshall as well. It's so thank you so much for doing this. I appreciate it.

Marshall Herskovitz 0:40
Well, I'm happy to do it. And just know if I say anything that Ed said. Yes. stole it from me.

Alex Ferrari 0:47
Fair. Fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, give me one second. Hold on a second. technology's acting up. So give me one second. You're

Marshall Herskovitz 1:00
just like your room there.

Alex Ferrari 1:03
Thank you. I worked hard on it. I give my wife the excuse that it's for business. That's how, and I always tell. I always tell people that the Yoda was a is a pre pre wife purchase is definitely a pre wife purchase. To say the least because it's a hard it's I have kids now. And it would be it'd be it. I can't have that conversation. I know the kids need money for school, but I need a life size Yoda. I get it. Alright, so. So before we get started, Marshall, how did you get into business?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:50
Well, you know, it's funny. I went to Brandeis back in the early 70s, which dates me severely. And I majored in English. In fact, I majored in Old English, I was very interested in medieval England. I was a Tolkien freak, and just loved sort of Beowulf and that whole kind of, you know, early medieval, epic poetry sort of thing. And at the same time, at that moment, for some reason, I can't explain. There was a huge interest in old movies. Like when I was living in Boston, there were two different revival movie theaters in Cambridge. And then on campus, one night a week, there was an old movie shown. So basically, I was watching three old movies a week. And when I look back on it, I realized that the real education I got in college was in movies. I just didn't know it at the time. And I fell in love with movies, I fell in love with classic movies. And by the time I was a senior in college, I wanted to be a filmmaker. And, and the odd thing is, all I wanted to do was make medieval epics. That's that was my goal, go to Hollywood and make medieval epics. And here I am, 40 years later, and I haven't made one. But, you know, there's still hope, at any rate, that is what propelled me into the film business. I graduated, I made a short film, which was not a medieval epic, it was a very intimate, you know, drama. And I, I came out to Hollywood, thinking that that would be my ticket to fame and success. And I literally could not get one person to even look at it. It was that was the most disheartening. And in those days, all you had was the Yellow Pages, I went through the Yellow Pages for all production companies, and called every single one in Los Angeles, and no one would look at it. So after about six months of floundering, I heard about this amazing film school called American Film Institute. And I thought, well, maybe I should do that instead. And so that's, that's where I went. That's where I met ad on the first day. And, and really, that gave me my start, really, and you guys just just, you know, school, school chumps who got together and then and just

Alex Ferrari 4:05
stuck together for the last 40 years working on projects together. That's amazing. That's

Marshall Herskovitz 4:09
right. That's right. We're the longest living partnership in Hollywood right now.

Alex Ferrari 4:13
Really? That's actually saying a lot actually.

Marshall Herskovitz 4:16
Yeah, actually is no, I told me I'm very proud of and, and I know he is, too, and we have worked independently all along, but nevertheless, our preferences to do things together.

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Yeah, absolutely. I, I had a similar education when I but I didn't, I had a video store. I worked at a video store for a while. So I did the same thing. I'd watched three movies a night, you know, high school, so there's nothing else to do homework. So I would just, I would just take home movies and just watch and watch and I got such an education. And that was before I even wanted to become a director at the end. I was like, I guess I guess I kind of want to be a director kind of similar to you. So you wanted to make Excalibur but never did

Marshall Herskovitz 4:55
is what you say that's correct. Yes, yes,

Alex Ferrari 4:58
but there's still hope. There's Till hope,

Marshall Herskovitz 5:00
I finally after 30 years got to write a screenplay of the story of 1066, the Norman Conquest of England, which was something I had desperately wanted to do. And, you know, I still have hope that we'll make that as a movie. But you know, it's not exactly a moment now in the history of the film business when you can make big films like that. So

Alex Ferrari 5:21
we'll see. I mean, you put a cape on the main character, I think you have a better shot.

Marshall Herskovitz 5:28
I know that's the world, you know, with superpowers could these various people have? It's?

Alex Ferrari 5:33
No, is that is that is that a serious conversation that someone actually have a conversation with you about that?

Marshall Herskovitz 5:39
Not about that, but about something as ridiculous. Something I don't even want to go into. It just, it was a thing about Vietnam. And someone suggested that maybe if they had different superpowers, people might be more willing to look at a story about the Vietnam War. upsetting

Alex Ferrari 6:01
It was kind of it's kind of like when when they went in and pitched James Cameron Titanic to, you know, Jack's back like that a certain point, you just got to go. It's enough. It's enough. Now I have I have to ask, I was looking through your filmography. And I have to ask, what was it like work writing for chips. I mean, I'm a 70s. Kid. So I have to go right there, I went straight to it. I went straight to chips because I had the By the way, I had the pleasure of directing Erik Estrada, and some commercials years ago, and the stories Oh, my God, the stories he told about what happened in the 70s. People just don't understand what the 70s

Marshall Herskovitz 6:39
I understand. By the way, I never went near that set. So I have no stories to tell about the production of it. All I can say is that that was the low point of my career. I wish when I got out of film school, right, I spent about three or four years trying to be a freelance writer in episodic television, which is, by the way, doesn't really exist anymore. They don't really have people to make a career as freelance writers and television anymore. And, at one point, chips was the only job I could get. And I read one of their scripts. And it was like it was written in another language, I just had no idea how to do this thing. There was no connection there. Once he went to the next dialog didn't make sense, I literally was completely lost. And I came up with it with a sweet idea, actually, about an old Native American who thought his grandson was losing, you know, was not knowing enough about the old way. So he was raising his grandson in Griffith Park, away from people, you know, hidden away. Nice. And they bought it, they liked that do and it was Michael ansara, who played him, of course, because in those days, Michael and Sarah play Native Americans. And so it didn't turn out so bad. But for me, it was a very humiliating experience, because I had no idea. I just was not the type of thing I knew how to write. And in fact, that was part of what catalyzed, I think, the most, one of the most important moments in my career, which was a decision I made after three or four years of doing that, that I just was going to stop. In other words, I sat down and wrote a screenplay as a spec thing. And I wrote out the work the story together together. And then I wrote the screenplay. And I said to my wife, I said, you know, either this is going to work, or I'm leaving the business because I just cannot go on doing what I feel to be a bad job, doing other people's voices, meaning the voices of shows, you know, and and. And so that willingness, I think, to take that chance, and to say, I'm either going to make it on my terms, or I'm going to walk away. What's what turned everything around. And the interesting thing is that that screenplay that I wrote, had never been made. It was almost made three times. But it did change everything for me, because people were able to see my voice and I got work from it. And the work I got from it was what then gave me my career. So the willingness to bet on myself, was a scary thing at age 26, or 27. But that was that was what made it happen.

Alex Ferrari 9:31
I mean, that's pretty enlightened for a 26 or 27 year old, to be honest with us, God knows I was in much worse shape than you were at 26 or 27. I was lost. I was in the darkest pit of my time. That's a whole other story for another podcast. But um, but in most, most 20 year olds don't have that kind of reflection or that honesty, that kind of bravery. to just go, you know, I'm gonna make it on my end, and people listening. It's a very different industry than it was when you were doing this. It was less competition that it wasn't cool to be a screenwriter or director. It wasn't. Nobody even knew what that was to just knew that movies were made.

Marshall Herskovitz 10:08
Yeah, I know, it's true. I mean, it was hard to break in it, by the way, there were trade offs, because there was much fewer product. You know, there were three television networks in those days instead of 200. You know, it's easier to get a job today, but harder to have your own voice today. You know, I think you could have a voice in those days. And, and, and I felt that I had one. And it was something that I that I felt I needed to listen to. So you know, look, the one thing has always been true, which is to make it in this business, you have to be driven, you have to be, you have to need to do what I remember, when I was still in Boston, talking to some person who had been to Hollywood, you know, saying, you know, how do I do this? And, you know, do I have a chance of making it? And this person said to me, basically, if there's anything else you can do, you'll end up doing it? If there's nothing else you can do, then maybe we'll have a chance.

Alex Ferrari 11:15
I don't listen, I don't know if it happened to you. But I mean, I've gone through this, I mean, I've got a lot of shrapnel, I'm sure as you do in this battle of these years working in this business. And there was times I wanted to leave, I'd like I just I can't take it anymore. I want to quit. It's I'm like I and then the voice in the back of your head, like what else you're gonna do? What are you going to go and get real job? What does he get it like it's at a certain point you just like, and that happened to you multiple times? And how did you break through that? Because it's still happening?

Marshall Herskovitz 11:53
I have to say about that, I have to say about that. First of all, I had an inherent belief in what they now call the hero's journey before he had any idea of what a hero's journey was, it's so deeply embedded in our culture, that I believe that everything was a test. And, you know, they're going to throw the shit at you to try to get you to quit, and therefore you just have to try harder. Why I thought that I don't know, no one told me that. That was just my belief. And so my belief was Okay, I get it. Oh, now, six bad things have happened. And I want to leave. Okay, this is the moment when you have to dig down and say, No, I'm not going to leave. I don't know why I believe that. I'm grateful that I did. Because I think it got me through. But the other thing is, it took me many years to realize this something somebody Ed and I talk about a lot. There's a cycle in this business and probably other businesses, but I think it's more of this business, because it's so speculative. The cycle goes like this, you are nobody, you have nothing to lose, you do something bold, you do something original. people notice it, you get attention, you they start to build you up, you start to make money, people start to believe in you, you start to think that you know what you're doing. And in thinking that you know what you're doing, you become cautious, and, and maybe arrogant. And then you make a stupid mistake, and you come tumbling down and are completely humbled by the business. And in the midst of your despair, you have nothing to lose, and you could start being original again. And I could chart five times in our career, when that sort of thing has happened where in some way, you know how they say in Southern California, fire is a natural part of the lifecycle of this environment and it you need to have fires. Well, failure is a natural part of the lifecycle of a career. You have to have failure, you have to fail at things. That's the only way you learn. That's the only way you you grow and become better. And I think people are so afraid of failure, that they become mediocre to avoid it. And the business now allows for that, you know, you know, we always talk about how people fail upwards, which means they're mediocre and they don't make a huge mistake. So they sort of keep sort of moving up. I'm not a believer in that. I'm a believer in you take the chance and then you take what happens

Alex Ferrari 14:32
you know like I mean there's a filmmaker out right now who's you know, taking swings at the bat that I'm so regardless if you'd like the movies or not but someone like Chris Nolan who oh my god is taking massive swings at the Bat believable. Yeah, unbelievable swings at bat and I'm so glad there's guys like him and Fincher and these kind of guys that just go up there and just take massive because there's there's you could take Creative choices are creative challenges and do things that are original at a lower budget. But when you get up to the 150 to $100 million, and you do something like inception, or 10.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:10
I know

Alex Ferrari 15:11
that's, that's a that's a risk. Because imagine if that really badly, you could put in direct to jail. And that's the thing.

Marshall Herskovitz 15:20
I understand. And I have enormous respect. And as you say, it's like I couldn't even follow Tennant. You know, I'll be honest, I couldn't follow it. I want to watch it again. Watch it backwards, you know. And then he makes Dunkirk, which is like, sublime. Do you know what I mean? And it doesn't matter, because he's an incredible filmmaker, who has a vision, who has the resources, the wherewithal and the courage to follow that vision. And, and and you're right, we need people like that. We need a business that will still support people like that. And if there's one big difference between today and 3040 years ago, it's that there were more people in positions of power, who were willing to trust filmmakers back then. That's just a fact.

Alex Ferrari 16:08
I mean, look, we wouldn't have Star Wars. Without Alan Ladd I mean, Alan lamb took a risk on a filmmaker who made THX 1138, which was a horrible bomb. He's like, Hey, you know what? I think let's give him like 9 million sure you can have the merchandising rights. I'm sure that that will work out fine for everybody.

Marshall Herskovitz 16:28
You know, one of the most famous stories in Hollywood merchandising story was amazing. Well, because

Alex Ferrari 16:34
all contracts were rewritten after that. I mean, it would have for that

Marshall Herskovitz 16:37

Alex Ferrari 16:39
Because like there's no money in lunchboxes and our action figures. What is that to a sci fi movie at? You're taking kid? It's, it's absolutely remarkable. I always talk I always talk about the the punch that everybody gets in this in this business. No matter how big you are, no matter how accomplished minor were what stage in life you are. punches continues to come all the time. And as you get older, as you get older, you learn how to duck, a bit. Like when you're younger, you learn how to take it, you learn how to take the punch and keep going like you were saying like, okay, they threw six or seven things at me. Screw you, I'm still going. That's the taking of the punches. But some people get that first punch and their outfit out of the game. They're cold cocked. Yeah, as you get older, sometimes you could duck sometimes you can weave, sometimes it gets getting off you and sometimes it just misses you all together. But that's that's age. That's experience.

Marshall Herskovitz 17:35
Well, can I tell you, I don't think Ed and I have ever learned how to duck or we've, I think we got one of the worst punches of our career this just this past year in 2020. And we were just destroyed by it just destroyed. And I'll even say what it is we we thought we were doing a reboot of 30 something. Yeah, I had a great idea. It basically, it wasn't a redo. It was basically saying it's another generation, all of their children are now in their 30s. And it's going to be as much about their children as it is about the original cast members. And we wrote seven scripts, and we thought it was going to go and we had our our whole heart and soul in this thing. And ABC decided not to do it. And we were just like, we were undone. So here we were, you know, there was no ducking, there was no weaving that was a straight punch right to the face. Yeah. And, you know, and, and the, you know, the thing about the business, if you're a creative person, meaning if you when I say creative person, we're all creative people, what I need is if you make your living by creating things, either as a producer, director, writer, that sort of thing. This is gonna happen over and over and over again, you have to be willing to endure that kind of rejection, which is not the same as failure failure is once you've made it, and people shit on it, you know, rejection is before you get to make it, and people don't take it seriously, or they don't think it's good enough, or they decide they don't want to do it for whatever reason, you know, and and, you know, the point is, it takes just as much work we have, we put months and months and months of work into that, even though we hadn't shot you know, anything. And it was it was awful. But that's why that's that's the that's the job if you can't handle that you

Alex Ferrari 19:39
can't do this job. And that's the thing that I want people listening to understand because a lot of people think, you know, someone like you and Ed, you know, all all doors are wide open. They just, you know, how much do you need? Marshal? How much do you need and because of your track record, I mean, you guys have an remarkable track record individually and as a team remarkable track records as writers producers and directors. And yet and I've said this so many times I look, I always use the example of Spielberg, but I'm going to use you guys as an example. But like Spielberg couldn't get Lincoln gonna get Lincoln, you know, finance, you have to go. So Scorsese couldn't get silenced finance for 20 years ago. And to do icon Yeah, they're too iconic. And yet, Graham, I

Marshall Herskovitz 20:17
don't read my go, Oh, they should be able to do it. Also, I know it would be

Alex Ferrari 20:21
impossible, right. And you know what I've said that story to other people like yourself, and they're like, you know what, I'm not crying for Steve. I'm not crying for Marty, either. But I understand your point. But there's people at every stage of their career at every stage, no matter what they've done Oscars, no Oscars, big box office hits non big opposite, you still is still a struggle. It's still a struggle,

Marshall Herskovitz 20:45
constant struggle constant.

Alex Ferrari 20:47
And that's what I want people listening to understand that, like, there is no magical place that you'll get to in this career. We're just doors, doors will be wide open all the time. It might happen once or twice. Yeah, after big hit after a big hit. You're that you're the toast of the town. You're the belle of the ball. What would you like, and that's when you stick in that that project that you've been wanting to get done for the last 20 years? Like a medieval Excalibur reboot?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:11
There you go. Correct.

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Now, when you brought up 30 something, how did you guys you and had come up with that? Because I mean, I remember when I was growing up, I mean, I wasn't in my 30s then but I do remember 30 something was a he was a monster hit it was a monster hit for ABC. When it came out? How did you? How did you guys come up with that whole that whole thing?

Marshall Herskovitz 21:33
Oh, there's a funny story behind it, you know, we Oh, my God, you know, I'm trying to figure out how far to back this up. But But essentially, out because we had done this TV movie called special bulletin, which I can talk about later, which made a big splash in the 80s. It was about nuclear proliferation and nuclear bombs and all of that, it kind of put us on the map. And we were offered a television deal at MGM television, right. And of course, we didn't want to do television, we want to do movies. We thought television was you know, shit. And so we took this deal at MGM television, explicitly for the purpose of the fact that I wanted to put a second story on my little tiny house in Santa Monica. And it would pay me just enough money to do that. And the idea was to try to get out of doing anything they wanted us to do, because they were going to pay us a guarantee. But we didn't have to do anything, you know, we were only obliged to try to sell the television series. That's That's it, just try to sell the television series. So the moment came, where we were going to have the pitch meetings at the network's. And, you know, we had come up with ideas for series and I turned to Ed, and I said, you know, these are all terrible ideas. What if we sell one of these? It's like, we would have to make this this is awful, you know, I and so, and this is not a joke. We sat down, we said, okay, what we need is an idea for a series that has no chance of going. But if it goes, we wouldn't mind doing. So we said, What would that look like? And I sat there and I thought well, you know, what's interesting is that on television at this moment, we're talking about now 1986 there is nothing that represents the baby boom generation except Saturday Night Live. And show called Kate nalli.

Alex Ferrari 23:27
Yeah, remember kitten alley? Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 23:28
Yeah. And that was it. Everything else would had nothing to do with baby boomers. And I said to add, you know, look, we know all these people in this moment in their lives, they're having babies are messy with their careers, you know, this person is afraid to settle down. And it's very interesting, because ed is normally so open to everything looked at me with this look, he gets, you know, we have the same. It's like, he gets this look, that looks like a grimace. And I go, why are you tilt down on this already? And he goes, I'm not down on it. It's just my face. I'm not making a face, you know, they right? He gave me that face. And he was he was just completely, you know, didn't buy this. And in those days, of course, we had this stupid little office at MGM and and at one in the afternoon, we could just go home because we didn't have anything we had to do. So we went back to his house, and his wife Liberty was there. And I tell her this idea I have Why don't we just talk about people we know know, Ed's will point was, but there are no cops in it. They're no lawyers, no doctors, how you going to sell a television series that doesn't have any of the franchises. And I said what do we care about that? Their story and and God bless her Liberty went, Oh my god, I love that idea. And she started just listing all the people she knew and all the dilemmas in her life. And because ed is added he loves liberty. Somehow when she said it, it made sense to him when I said it didn't make sense to him. So literally by the end of that afternoon, we had sketched out this seven characters. You know, by the next day, we had written this sort of manifesto of the series, we went in the day after that to ABC. And of course, who are the executives in the room, they're all in their 30s. One is pregnant, they were exactly the demographic for the show. And we basically sold it in the room to them. And, and, you know, it was the whole thing was kind of charmed. And the irony was, we didn't want to do it. We did not want to do it. You know, it's sort of, that's when Ed started quoting that great john lennon line of you know, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, because at every step along the way, you know, alright, so we wrote the pilot. And people loved the pilot, they said, Go make the pilot. And then I directed the pilot, which is the first thing I directed, and they loved the pilot. And then, in those days, they had what was called selling season in New York City, in May, where they would, you know, show everything to the advertisers and decide what they were going to pick up. It's what now it's called, whatever the sweeps, like sweep, sweep, not the sweeps, you know, the the, the TCPA is whatever they're called, up front, basically. But in those days, there were no cell phones. So you were ordered to go to New York and sit in your hotel room for five days and be within range of your telephone in the hotel room, because you might get a call that your show was picked up. So we sat there like idiots for for four days in New York on the on the fourth day, we get a call from the head of the studio. And that's a whole other story. David Gerber, who was one of the greats is such a character. Every second word was it was a curse word. And he says, and he had this, he said, they love this package. Oh, that's great. But you got to change the name. They don't 30 something, make no sense. But you got to change the name, they want to use grownups. And we go grownups. That's a terrible idea. He goes, Well, they don't know if they can get it because she'll swiper older, but they want to use grownups. And we go, Well, we hate the idea. We don't want to use grown up, we want it to be 30 something. So he hangs up. Okay, so we thought it was over, you know. And then of course, the next day at noon, he calls he goes, they're picking up the show.

Alex Ferrari 27:21
So you're actively trying to sabotage, sabotage.

Marshall Herskovitz 27:25
And not only that, I'll go further. We hang up the phone, and he's like, you guys are amazing. They're like, you could hear cheering behind that they picked up the show. We hang up the phone, and we look at each other. And the thing is, Ed, and I have this shorthand with each other. We don't speak very often, you know, in sometimes these situations, we just looked at each other. And we listed, you know, shook our heads, and went for a walk up madison avenue for about an hour, thinking that our lives had just been completely derailed. And now we were doing a television series instead of being movie makers. And in those days, remember, TV was the great wasteland in those days,

Alex Ferrari 28:03
right? It was about to say that it's not the thing like now TVs have no place to be.

Marshall Herskovitz 28:08
Yes, no, we were sellouts. It's like what are we doing with our lives? It's so and I say that in the full knowledge of how stupid we were at that moment. And I delight in our stupidity at that moment. But that's where we were, we thought, Oh, fuck, we sold a television series.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
I guess we're gonna have to go do it now. And that's the thing. That's the one thing I've I've heard this from multiple people in the business. If you want to get rich, you work in television, if you want to be an artist, you go to movies, because because there's a lot more money to be made, at least there was back, you know, when the residual there was much more money to be made in television than there was in syndication and all of that kind of stuff. As opposed to a movie. It's just a one. So it's like,

Marshall Herskovitz 28:54
That's right. That's right. Yeah, nowadays. You're one of those few people, you know, who, you know, the few directors who can make $10 million, a movie or they can make 20. But they're very rare. Very rare, and especially in today's world. I mean, look, the last few movies Ed and I have made literally, we ended up losing money on them. You know, we made a woman movie called woman walks ahead, we ended up not only giving up our fees, but each of us paying $25,000 you know, in the post process, and so we lost money on that film, when you know, so that's, you know, basically the movie business now consists of 90% indie films where nobody makes money and 10% these big studio productions that are $200 million productions, and that's a very small club that makes those movies

Alex Ferrari 29:45
right in you're absolutely right. And I mean, movies, some of the movies that you guys got made, like, glory, I can't see glory getting made in today's world. Sure, you know, legends of the fall. I mean, Even even if even if you still had Brad Pitt and and Anthony Hopkins in it, I'd still be a tough sell as a studio movie, it might be more as a mini major kind of scenario,

Marshall Herskovitz 30:12
we have a follow up to legends of all i don't mean a sequel, I mean a, a piece that said in 1905, not the same characters or anything like that, but it has a lot of the feel of Legends of the fall. We can't get anybody to even consider making that movie because they're, it's just a different world. Now.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
That's all again, super if you put a cape on them. I'm Jeff, hey, I'm nobody. I'm just saying it might be a lot. I'm just trying to help. I'm just trying to help Marshall. So, so obviously, you and Ed have been, you know, you've obviously been great friends since since the AMI days. What is the writing process? Like? What is the process? How do you guys actually do the writing? Like I always love to hear really good questions. Yeah, I love it.

Marshall Herskovitz 31:01
You know, what's funny is that when we started, I did the writing, we would do the stories together. And then I would do the writing. And when I was supposed to write the pilot of 30, something I was seriously blocked. I mean, I was so blocked, that after three weeks, I had written one act. And, you know, he and God bless him. He he came in one day we were, we had these little offices, like I said, at MGM, and he sat down next to me. And he just took the keyboard. And from that moment, we started writing together. We never said a word about it. We never had, we never discussed what the terms were how we would do it, we just started doing it. And it was all Him, He saved me a demo, he literally saved me. And I think over the years, what we've worked out is we just hand off, in other words, some period of time I have the keyboard some period of time, he has the keyboard. And by the way, this works just as well. Over zoom, actually, we use a thing called goto meeting, but it's the same thing. But you can at least look at the document while you're doing it. Or in person. And one person is looking at a monitor and the other person has the keyboard. And basically, the person with the keyboard is kind of the captain of the ship at that moment, the other person talks and yells and says no do this. And but the person or the keyboard says no, I'm doing it this way. You know, unless we scream too much, then you know, but basically, we we listen to each other. Um, we, you know, it's funny, when when Ed and I started out, he had a very specific set of skills, and I had a different set of skills. And over the years, we've learned each other's skills, but he's still better at what he started out at. And I'm still better at what I started out at. And that's part of I think, what makes us such a good team. And, and that differences that Ed has the greatest story sense of anyone I've ever met in my wife. I mean, I used to say, you could drop ed in any story. And in five minutes, he can tell you where it came from and where it's going, it'll his his ability to, understand the schema of what has to happen, what happened before where it has to go, where the other people fit into it is astonishing. And his speed at it's like speed chess, watching him work, sort of structuring a story. When I met him, he didn't really have much skill at sort of depicting how people actually speak or what happens, you know, between people in a scene, and that was my strength. I hadn't a clue what a story was no clue at all. But I could write a scene, I could, you know, get into the nuances of how people behave with each other, and why sometimes people say what they feel or don't say, what they feel and why they sometimes don't talk and why and other times, they can't stop speaking. Um, and so, you know, we quickly learned to respect the other skill. And so if I'm writing a scene, and he would say, why are you doing that back and forth? So many times, I would say just shut up. It's gonna work, you know? And then he would see that it would work because it would all go boom, boom, boom, just like that, you know, two people why? I don't know, we actually know. But you said that, that other people talking over each other. That was something I understood. Whereas he would say, this scene makes no sense. It doesn't fit into what you're doing, I would learn to understand that he's right when he says that. So. So we each apply our skills as it's going along. But there's a certain level of trust you have to have. I mean, I couldn't do this with anybody else. Because basically, you're like, you're you're just saying any stupid thing that comes to your mind. And what we've come to realize, by the way, and I think this is really important to understand is we've come to understand that if there's a moment where you hesitate because you think Your idea is dumb or embarrassing or revealing in some way. That's the moment where the other person has to say, what is that your thing? You're thinking right now? What is that thing? Stop right now tell me what you're thinking right now. Because whatever that thing is, that's going to be great. The thing you fear is going to be bad is going to be the good idea. And so we expect that in each other. And it's a vulnerability, that it's a sort of a mutual vulnerability, where you know that the things that are the truest are the hardest to say, and therefore you're, you're not going to want to say them. And by the way, corollary to that is that we both hate writers rooms. I mean, I, you know, I know we are far outside the mainstream, but I think writers rooms are terrible places for just that reason. Because the best ideas can't be said in front of eight people. It's too revealing to say it in front of eight people. And so when we do our shows, we don't have writers rooms. I mean, we bring everybody in, and we will sort of talk about the season in general. But then when we're working out each episode, we bring that writer in and we we we get we we work out the outline for that episode with that writer and let that writer going right in. And that works out much more efficiently. And with a much better product, we feel for that very reason. Because people then are less afraid to say what they're really thinking.

Alex Ferrari 36:25
Now, you talking a little bit about fear, and breaking kind of because there's this whole town is run by fear. Let's just be honest. Everyone in the entire town is run by fear. This entire industry is run by fear. And it's getting worse and worse and worse as the years have gone by even in my short tenure in this business.

Marshall Herskovitz 36:46
I've seen the corporate America is run by fear. And now the movie business is corporate America. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 36:52
So you always so did you ever write a loan before at or did you guys just start and just that's

Marshall Herskovitz 36:58
not always I wrote alone? I but we both wrote alone? I wrote a bunch of things alone before. Yes. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 37:04
Okay. So my question to you is, when you decided to say to yourself, I want to be a screenwriter. And you sat down and you saw a blank page, because I'm assuming there wasn't a screen at that point, it might have been more likely might have been a page or a screen. And up to you,

Marshall Herskovitz 37:18
though, it was a page, it was a bit.

Alex Ferrari 37:20
So when you looked at that blank page? Yeah. What did you say to yourself to break through the fear of actually starting to write because it is the most terrifying thing for a writer to see a blinking cursor, or a blank white page, it is a terrifying place to start.

Marshall Herskovitz 37:34
It's the most terrifying thing. It's the thing. And by the way, I would say did me and for 20 years, I mean, I think why was I blocked when I was writing 30 something because I have that fear you're talking about? I just, I couldn't break through that fear. I think, look, I'm a I'm a big proponent of psychotherapy. And I think psychotherapy in particular, when it comes to work, when it comes to the creative process is incredibly valuable. Because each of us has a voice inside our heads. That is self loading. Then you just wrote us a piece of shit. And it instantly goes into we'll tell you exactly. We humiliated you will be when people read that horrible thing you just wrote, and it's paralyzing. That kind of fear is paralyzing. That's shame. It's really shame is what we're talking about. Writing is so filled with shame, because you are exposing yourself. And you're exposing yourself to the worst kind of criticism, shaming criticism, how could you have thought that? How could you write that you bore me, you know, you're uninteresting, you're bad, all of those things. So you have to develop the ability in yourself the compassion in yourself, to say, I'm going to write this anyway, even though I might be shamed. You know the words it's about letting the shame wash over you and realize you survive on the other side. Now, Ed's wick, who is less afflicted by shame than I am, although he certainly is afflicted by it, for sure. But he's, I think we're able to cut through that his invoice is right at bad. In other words, go right for the shame. Just write it bad. Because it won't be that bad anyway. But the point is, except that it's going to be bad and write it anyway. Because you can always rewrite, rewriting is much easier than writing. I think, once I learned that, once I learned, I could try a scene. And if it's bad, it's going to take me 30 minutes to rewrite it anyway, what's the difference? It was very freeing. And so it's much easier for me to write now than it was 30 years ago because I was so consumed with shame and fear of shame at that time, so I feel for every writer, this is our lot in life issue is to face that shame. Every single day, but it's to understand that it's shame. That's what you're afraid of, is shame

Alex Ferrari 40:06
at the I've said this on other episodes about this, and it's something that I've, I think all creatives go through, but I think we, we, we go through it a little bit more as filmmakers and screenwriters is, the ego is a very dangerous, dangerous thing inside of ourselves. And that that voice that you're talking about, I always use the analogy is, if you go out and you have a big meal, and it's you're stuffed, and then the dessert tray comes, that voice in the back of your head goes, go ahead, have the cheese cake, you just work out tomorrow, it'll be fine, then you get the cheesecake. And then later that evening, when you're at home and you're undressing in front of the mirror, that same voice goes you fat pig, hi, could you have eaten that damn cheesecake. And that is, and that is the voice. And this is similar voice to the shame voice that you're talking about. You can have voices the one that got you to write, but then the other one, but it's also going to shame you it's it's it's horrible thing that we have to deal with,

Marshall Herskovitz 41:04
as human beings, as human beings. And by the way, I see it as two different voices. Okay, I see, we all have parts. And that's what I believe we all have parts. And there's one part that's a shaming part. And there's another part that has the appetite and the desire and wants to be a big deal or be creative, or be famous or be rich or any number of things. We have different parts, you know, and the problem is at any given moment, one part is Ascendant and the other part is pushed down. So yes, you look at that cheesecake, and the part that says, Oh, I can do this takes over. And then the next morning, the shamer says, You idiot, why did you do that, you know, and, and it's learning how to live with them, and, and sort of figure out some middle ground between all these voices. And also, I believe, very strongly at this point in my life, in the idea of compassion for yourself, I think that's the thing I did not have, for many, many, many years, I had no compassion for myself. And I, you know, I think most people would have described me as a very compassionate person toward other people. It was something that was very important to me, I had no compassion for myself. And that was very hard won and hard fought. And it's changed my life to be at a point where I do have some compassion for, you know, why I became that way why I'm so susceptible to shame. And here's the problem. People don't go to Hollywood, we go into this business, if they're all right up here.

Alex Ferrari 42:38
I've said that 1000 times

Marshall Herskovitz 42:40
1000 times some hole to fill, you know, you've got some deficit that you're trying to get over from your childhood, if you're out, you're trying to do this, instead of going into the family business in Pittsburgh or, or becoming, you know, what I mean? Honestly, they're, they're, we are propelled by by darkness, you know, in many ways to do this. And that, that's a part of our makeup that were damaged in some way. I believe that and and I have a lot of compassion for that, you know, other people and in myself, and as you know, I like the percentage of damaged people in the film is this must be higher than than other, per capita,

Alex Ferrari 43:21
or industry, per capita.

Marshall Herskovitz 43:25
I mean, patiently, you're surrounded by crazy people of one kind or another. This is one of the few, this is one of the few industries that rewards you if your bipolar rewards you if you have ADD, you know, rewards improve things that would normally harm you in other businesses. So, you know, look, we we are that thing about the tilted the country and all the nuts and bolts, all the nuts went to California, there's some truth to that, you know, because, because there was an ache that brought us out here to try to achieve something and you have to understand that that ache, that's never you're never going to find a source of that in success, you're going to find a source of that in healing yourself.

Alex Ferrari 44:08
Yeah. And I would agree with you. And I think that's something that a lot of writers go through is that that self compassion, and I mean, in my early years, and even into my mid to late 30s, I was brutal to myself, brutal, I just would just pound myself and beat so hard and literally just tear myself apart, where I was more compassionate to people outside of me. And it took my wife to be pointed out to me she's just like, you've got to stop Do you can't beat yourself up about that. Till Finally I I finally get into the place where I'm like, I gotta I gotta give myself a bit of a break, man, because it's, I'm only hurting. You're only hurting yourself. You're hurting your chances only makes it worse. The only makes it worse. It's tough enough, and it's tough enough. Yeah, it's really true. Now you you have gone through a lot of ups. You've got you've gone through a lot of ups and downs in this business, you've been at the highest of highs, and I'm sure you've been at the lowest lows. How do you handle? How does the the psyche, the ego handle, you know, being at, you know, the Oscars, you know, with a project or and then having 30 something, your new 30 something completely just get punched in the face? How do you deal with that at different stages of your life? What's your advice for that?

Marshall Herskovitz 45:27
Well, I think, you know, it's it's along the lines of what we've been talking about, which is, is understanding that, that you're free. There's a, there was a wonderful book 20 years ago called iron john by Robert Bly about what it is to be a man. And a lot of people made fun of that book, because there were all these men's group that respond from it, which were kind of silly, but the book itself is filled with incredible wisdom. And that book helped me understand the idea that, you know, that that failure is part of the lifecycle, and that no man can really avoid failure forever. And that, you know, you have to embrace failure. And so I think understanding that as a big, big help, but it's Look, these blows are just, you know, I had a terrible thing happened 1314 years ago, where I had a startup called quarter life, that was a, that was a social network, and also show an online show. And the online show was successful for a while, but the social network failed, because at that time, the whole point of our social network was it Facebook was only open to college students. And we thought, Well, what happens when you get out of college? You know, and of course, right, when we were developing our website, Facebook just opened itself up to everybody. So our entire financial model went away. And I lost a huge amount of money in this, this was a huge humiliation for me, and not just humiliation, it was destructive. And it was horrible. And I had to say, you know, what, I took a chance, this is something I believed in, and I took a chance and it didn't work, and I gotta move on, you know, and so, that took a while, but you pick yourself up. If you if you still have that fire inside to do something, then you have to listen to that and and say, there are more challenges ahead. So that's all you can do you live with the shame of that and you you move on.

Alex Ferrari 47:36
I mean, look, Katzenberg, you know, put out to put out kwibi. And yeah, he took a swing, he took a very billion multi billion dollar Swing, swing, and you know what, and he he was he was chatting, he was taking a chance and he's like, you know what, I think this is where it's going. I have a pretty decent track record. I think this is what's going and on paper it seemed like a solid investment. But unfortunately, it didn't go up but you know what, I give them nothing but props for taking the swing. You got to gotta have people like that. If not, you know, if it wasn't, you know, for SpaceX or Ilan Musk, or or Ford or Edison, or jobs, or any of these guys who took those big swings in every aspect. We wouldn't be where we are today. So Oh, boy, that's that bravery. And I think as a creative as a screenwriter. Sometimes you got to take that that swing as well.

Marshall Herskovitz 48:26
Absolutely. I I've lived that way I believe in that. And I and I'm willing to take my lumps because I believe in that because you will because you're going to take lumps if that's the way you're going to live.

Alex Ferrari 48:39
Again. No question. Now I wanted to I wanted to take you to your first your first directorial debut jack the bear with Danny DeVito. I love that movie. It was it came out during my my window, my window in the video store. my years at the video store came out so I remember recommending it. I remember the Bach the VHS box on the stage. Like, like I tell a lot of my guests 87 and 94 I'll beat anybody in Tripoli will pursue one movie serviette because that's the time I saw everything that came out. When you when you did that film, which was a wonderful film. You didn't write it you directed if I'm not mistaken.

Marshall Herskovitz 49:16
It was written by Steve Zaillian

Alex Ferrari 49:17
right, not about he's he's okay. He's done. Okay. He's done okay for himself. Um, what was the biggest lesson you learned directing that film? Because I'm assuming I know you direct to some episodic at that point. But

Marshall Herskovitz 49:29
yeah, you

Alex Ferrari 49:30
were you were you were you were at the game. You were at the at the Big Show?

Marshall Herskovitz 49:35
Well, I learned a lot of lessons from directing that film and most of them were negative lessons. Um, it was a very difficult film very, very difficult. There were a lot of problems attendant on that film. And, And truth be known. In retrospect, I think I should have withdrawn and not made it actually. And that's a hard thing to say. Yeah. But, you know, without going too deeply into it, here's here's the issue. I think that although I think Steve Zaillian is one of the greatest writers of our, of our industry, that script has structural problems when I got to the project, by page 60, you did not know what that story was about. And and I don't think a movie can sustain that. And so I, I wanted to make some serious structural changes in the first half of the movie. And Danny DeVito, who at that moment was very ascendant in his career. He was actually prepping hoffa, which was his going to be his big

Alex Ferrari 50:43

Marshall Herskovitz 50:45
big, big directorial project. You know, he had script approval, and Dan and, and Danny love the script as it was. And so they would not allow me to make any changes in the script. And I knew that it didn't work. It was a wonderful script, from page to page, in the scenes, the dialogue, you know, was wonderful, but structurally, it was very problematic. And, and so, I remember, it's very interesting. Danny and I had an interesting relationship, you know, in pre production. We argued a lot about the script. And, uh, and he is he, he's a very smart guy, Dan, and he got, he saw what my fear was, and he and he went right to it one day, he said to me, he said, Look, you're the director of this movie. And when we're shooting this movie, you tell me to stand here, I stand here, you tell me to laugh. I laugh. But right now we're talking about the script. And, and that's what's important. And, and he understood that I, as a first time director, I had anxiety that I was working with this big star, you know, and he was true to his word, you know, as an actor, he was great to work with and, and, and cooperative and, and collaborative. You know, the issues were about the script. And we went ahead and shot the movie, we had a lot of issues in the shooting, because the the, the, the schedule was too short. And I knew it, and the people in production knew it. But the studio didn't want to spend more money on it, because it was a soft kind of movie. And so we went behind schedule, as I knew we would, and got into big fights about that. But the big problem came in editing, the problem came in editing, because when we put it together, sure enough, the beginning part didn't work, as I had told them, it would not work, because, you know, it just it was it needed to be sort of condensed into something that you understood where you were going. And so they wanted to fire my editor. I said, You're not firing this editor. This is a guy Steve Rosenbloom, who we've worked with, both at and I've worked with since film school, who I think is the most brilliant editor in Hollywood. And, and, you know, I put my body in front of him, they actually brought in a second editor in addition to Him, who finally gave up saying, I don't know what to do with this. And, you know, we spent a year just editing that film. That's unheard of less than three months editing a film, three, four months, tops, editing a film, you know, a year just editing. And finally came up with something I suggested two days of reshoots to help knit some things together. And they gave me the two days of reshoots, and we were able to sort of create, you know, sort of knit together the story in such a way that that beginning part worked. And so, you know, it was a difficult painful process it you know, as a first movie, to have to do battle with the studio head to do battle with your star and all of that. It was it was, it was tough. It was tough. And then it came out and of course, did no business at all. And, you know, and critics, here's an interesting thing that I that you know, it you know, we talked about you you never see the bullet that hits you.

We, we knew the problems were in the first half of the movie. Once we got through the first half of the movie, it worked like a top. Okay. And so I'm sitting there with my editor Steve, in a in the first preview, and the audience is laughing and they're into it and we get to halfway through the movie and they're clearly loving the movie. And we're like high fiving like we solve this and then you get to that last part of the movie where it turns dark right and you know the the neighbor Norman you know, attacks the boy and oh, That you could feel the energy in the audience change immediately. And we realized, oh my god, people don't like this at all. And what I realized is that when you have a tone change in a movie, late in the movie, people don't like it doesn't mean it's not good. It means they don't like it. There's a difference, in other words, that they thought it was one kind of movie, and then it became a different kind of movie. Now, when you look at the movie, I put in 100 warnings, what's coming? Some of them, I think, very overt, of like, watch out, watch out, watch out monsters are real monsters that are real. But people don't listen to that. Do you know what I mean? They were taken by surprise. And they thought it became a different kind of movie at the end. And that was, you know, critics hated that. And, and it did no business. And so, you know, I look, I look at the movie. And to me, it still works as intended. And I think those warnings are there, and they work. But for audiences, it didn't work. So, you know, I learned also that you have to think, like an audience member,

Alex Ferrari 56:12
you can't

Marshall Herskovitz 56:12
just think, as a filmmaker. And now when I am writing, and when I'm directing, and when I'm editing, what I'm doing is on the audience, I'm not just the Creator, I'm the person. I'm looking through both sides of the telescope. And I'm saying what is my experience as an audience right now? And is it what I expect? Am I disturbed by it? I'm disturbed in a good way in a bad way. Am I taken out of the movie? I think about that much more seriously than I did before that process. So I think there were lots of lessons from that movie.

Alex Ferrari 56:51
So I love I love the concept of the tone changes because that is something that's a very dangerous thing to do in a film is to change the tone because you'll lose your audience. And the the, the one film that always stuck with my head is a Tarantino film, which he wrote but didn't direct which is called From Dusk Till Dawn, which was the first half of the movie is basically a kidnapping heist film right? Out of nowhere, vampires show up. And then the, and then it turns into vapor. And the tone shift just jars so jarring. There's nothing before that tells you. Hey, there's some vampires coming out even a poster on the wall. Nothing. Nothing. So that's something that writers listening really careful with that tone change because it can really just throw you off.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:38
Yes. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It's it's just one of those things. It's the difference between movie reality and real reality and real reality. Shit happens. You know, all of a sudden, you have a car accident and your life just changed.

Alex Ferrari 57:52
Tone shift, but tone shifted. Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 57:54
But but in movie reality, there has to be some unity of of not just tone of character of Overwatch thing. So that's what's what people expect.

Alex Ferrari 58:04
Yeah, like, you can't have Darth Vader all of a sudden be the nice guy at the end. Like, it's that that doesn't but but yeah, I've seen that happen in bad movies with characters that just, yeah, they weren't the guy. They weren't the kind of character that would kick the dog. But then halfway after halfway through the movie, they kick the dog. You're like, wait a minute, I know, No, you can't. You can't take me down a road. And then Sucker Punch me like that.

Marshall Herskovitz 58:28
It's Yeah, yes.

Alex Ferrari 58:30
It's very, very tough. Now, another project you were involved in as a producer, which I would love to hear any, any stories behind the scenes or how you even got involved with it with traffic? I mean, that that is such a I mean, obviously, it's at this point in legendary film, I remember when it came out. It's, it's bizarre Berg, who's, you know, brilliant, and so on. But, yeah, it was a risky film, like the way he shot it the way you constructed the storylines. How did you how did you get involved the movie? And how did that go?

Marshall Herskovitz 59:00
Well, first of all, that was mostly Ed. I mean, Ed wanted to do a story about the war on drugs. And, you know, I, I think, I think my participation in that was more supportive than than most of the things especially because, you know, we didn't write it. We didn't direct it. I mean, Ed was going to direct it. But when he found out that Soderbergh was doing something very similar and had the rights to the traffic miniseries, you know, he called Steven I'm sure he had told the story that he called.

Alex Ferrari 59:32
He didn't he didn't tell us Oh,

Marshall Herskovitz 59:34
it's very, very interesting, because he was kind of stuck and on, on how to make it work. And he called Steven and said, Listen, we don't know each other. I know you're doing this thing. We're doing the same thing. Let's not try to do two things. Let's work together. Would you be open to that? And Soderbergh just said, done. That was it. That was the whole conversation. You know, so from that moment on, you know, yeah, he was gonna direct it, we were gonna produce it. And he kind of, you know, got it together in such a way that the script worked and went and did it. And look, we had no interest in telling Soderbergh what to do. I mean, he was, he's amazing, you know, and, and we learned a lot from him. He has such a different style from us. And I just wanted to see how he worked. And I'll tell you an interesting thing that happened. You know, it's basically three or four different movies. I mean, the casts in their stories almost never saw each other. Okay. And yet, there's this incredible consistency of performance throughout the film. And I remember I was doing a panel when the film came out with with two of the actors. And one of the questions was, how did Sodor How does Soderbergh work with the actors? And they each said, Soderbergh never said a word to me. He never gave me any direction. He just I was so shocked, because you know, I spent a little time on the set, but not enough to really like, you know, first of all, Soderbergh was the operator.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:20
Yeah, he's he's the DP Yeah.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:01:22
And so you know, you're he's right there with the actors, you're back with the monitors. I didn't really know if he was talking to them or not, you know, so. But I was shocked that he, they said, literally, he didn't talk to us. And I, and it's funny, Ed has a theory that, that, you know, that a lot of directing is osmosis in the sense that your bio rhythms as a director, get transmitted to the actors? And you know, and and so you have to be very careful what your biorhythms are, because it's going to affect their performances. And what I realized at that moment was that Soderbergh if you know, him, he's very taciturn. He, he's not that expressive as a person, which I think puts a lot of people on edge and makes him seem very serious. He's actually not that serious. He's very funny guy, but he seems very serious. And but I think actors, when they're around Steven, they know they can't fuck around. They know they have to show up. And there's something about his, that that fear of being judged, because he's not judgmental. I'm not saying that. But when somebody is not expressive, or reactive, you put it in, you put out that thing, right? You know what I mean? Right, right. So I think having this guy six feet away from you holding the camera, and sort of in the scene with you had the same effect on every actor, which brought out sort of their A game, their most grown up self, you know, and, um, it's an amazing effect, that, that, you know, in some alchemical way, he got these consistent performances from everyone because of who he is. And that was a very interesting lesson for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:18
I mean, because the cast was I mean, the cast was remarkable and so many different styles of actor and actor

Marshall Herskovitz 1:03:26
yeah and performance are wonderful and they're so every single one of them is so internal and so available when I say internal it means I can see into they're actually not internal they are they are their windows of into their thinking process is so open, you know, and Benito Del Toro is, is sublime, just sublime. In the movie. It's like, just watching the dailies you're going this guy, I it's like, you can't even imagine. You can't even call it acting. It's something else. It's some it's some. He's some possession, possession, possession, whatever it is, you know, um, and Michael Douglas and all of them and Don Cheadle. They were all Catherine's place. Yes. All over some place that was so remarkable. And, you know, that's Soderbergh's gifts that he creates that that world on the set that allows these actors to to inhabit that place in themselves.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:27
Is that the is that the first app? Please remind me because I mean, I'm not I'm not that keen on Soderbergh's history, but was that the first time was the big hit cuz I know Erin Brockovich, and obviously the documentary was the same year.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:43
He was nominated. He's one of the first he's one of the only directors should be nominated against himself as a director cheese or an Oscar. He was up for two Oscars as director that year. And, and

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
and Best Picture two,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:04:57
I think right black Best Picture. Yes, yes. He wants to traffic. He wants to record. You want director for traffic. And I remember telling him on the phone I said you just have to beat that asshole Steve Soderbergh?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:10
I mean, he's everywhere. This guy, this guy is everywhere. I mean, he left.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:05:15
And by the way, when we were at the Oscars, it's just so terrible. You know, you're, we're in the second row. And you can see into the wings at the, in the in the auditorium. Right. So Michael Douglas comes out to give our best picture. And you could see that first of all, they had three Oscars for best picture, and we had three producers. And then as he opened the envelope, I can see that the film is one word. I couldn't read it, but I could see it's one word. And so I hit head, and I whispered, we won. And he goes, and the winner is Gladiator, which was one word and had three Oscars. You know, it was, it was one of those great, horrible moments where we thought we won, but we didn't. But you know, so what?

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
Yeah, it was all No, I made it. Overall. It you guys did. Okay.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:14
You know, just don't get ahead of yourself more. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:18
And honestly, talking about you know, guys who swing take swings at the plate. I mean, Jesus Sonnenberg I mean, he's not making use of his iPhones. IV is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:30
really absolutely remarkable. So much respect for him.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:33
I have to I have to ask, when you start writing? Do you add, start outlining first? Do you start with character? First, you start with plot first? How do you how do you start that process?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:06:44
It's a good question. What we have learned over the years, is not to try to structure anything at first, including the conversation. In other words, so much of what we do when we're starting something is just talk, talk about how we feel about it talk what what is it what ideas come to mind, how do we see the characters but not not in any organized way, we will just go from history to things we've read to what this reminds us of this is like my aunt Marcy, this is whatever, you know, that, that we just kind of inhabit that space. And that could go on for a week, you know, we're more where you're just kind of living in it. And, you know, it's like somebody wants said, you know, if you are want to make a sculpture of an elephant, just cut away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. Yeah, you know, that in some way the thing exists there. And you have to just pull it out that in some way, that's true. It's just harder when it's something like this, that's a story. But we still believe that in some way, it exists. And we have to find it. And that means being open to the most gossamer foggy notions that might be true and be willing to change and follow something down a line. And so it's the willingness to be unguarded and unguided in that beginning part that allows you to really start to have a sense of what the thing is, and then, you know, then we talk about the characters a lot. And I think we get to structure at the at, that's the last thing, you know, there may be some things we know we want to happen. Or we know we want the person to be this kind of person. And so that's going to dictate certain things are going to happen. But but to actually structure the story. That's the last piece of the puzzle for us before we start writing.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:40
Now, there was a movie you did that was in your filmography, that kind of like one thing, like that old song, like something in this thing doesn't belong, which was jack, jack Reacher, which is, I think the only sequel you ever did, right? And it's, you know, it's a, it's a, you know, Tom Cruise vehicle. It's an action movie. Obviously, there's a lot of action and a lot of like, Last Samurai and other things you've done, right? But this was different. How did you guys approach this? And I mean, when I spoke to Ed a little bit about it, he's like, I've never done it before. So I kind of just wanted to try it and see if I could do it. How did you guys approach the writing process of that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:09:16
Well, I think, you know, first of all, I mean, I'll talk about this I I tend to not want to talk about anything that pertains to other people what other people said or did and so I'm going to be a little bit circumspect, just out of respect. Sure, those people. But basically, the idea behind that film was to take one of the novels where Reacher is in relationship to someone, because usually he's not that much in relationship, because they wanted to humanize him a little bit. And so they picked that novel. And so our mandate was to and I think why they used us was because they wanted the relationships they wanted that sense of connection between him and the woman and the girl. And that's what we wrote. And that's what Ed shot. And they loved it. And I remember Tom, who we love working with, by the way, we're going to movies with Tom. And he's a great guy to work with. So he's, that's a whole other subject.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:22
No, I mean, I've heard john

Marshall Herskovitz 1:10:24
out. I'm happy to get into but he is. He's, you know, who was it? Who said, Tom shows up on the set each day and basically says, How can I make your dreams come true? I mean, that's how he looks at movies, he's full of gratitude, and wants them to be great. And it's so it's a great experience. So at any rate, we made the film, Tom looked at the film, he turned to Ed, and he said, this fucking film made me cry, none of my films make me cry. You know, thank you, then we test the film. And women love it. And young men go too soft. In other words, the idea didn't work for the intended audience of the movie. Now, have I said too much? Maybe? I don't know. But what the hell, it's past history. So we, you know, we did some work on it didn't take that much. We did some work. We we did some things together, we shot a little bit more action, we just kind of toughen it up a little bit. And that's something I believe in I look, I believe in the post production process very strongly, maybe because of my experience with jack the bear, but maybe also even from television, that you can surgically change something and make it into something that works better. And and we've done that a lot. And so that's what we that's what we did with that. And, um, you know, I think it's, it's, you know, it sounds some audience, it's just, it was each of these things looks to me, it's a miracle movie ever gets made. Amen. Is it good? No, I don't I look at that. And I go, Okay, I'm proud of it. We, you know, we did what we were supposed to do, and and then we did what we could do, and a lot of people liked it. So you know, if it's not the most popular movie of all time, we can survive, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:27
and, and I've spoken to multiple people who've worked with Tom and they say, I've never heard of a negative word come everyone's always like, he is the utmost professional,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:12:38
he shows up, he just is can I tell you, when we when we did Last Samurai with Tom, and we went to New Zealand. After we'd been there a week, it was an article in the local paper saying that everyone on the crew had to sign a affidavit that they would not speak to Tom and they would not look Tom directly in the eye. And not only was that not true, but the opposite was true, which is of all the people I've worked with, he's probably the most polite to fashion on the crew. If someone says hi to him, he will actually stop and say hi, how are you and talk to them? You know, he's incredibly available to people. And I suddenly realized, maybe that's never been true. Maybe there's never been an agreement where you're not supposed to look at the star. You know, we could we all think that that's like something that that people have and I thought maybe it doesn't exist because it certainly wasn't true with him.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:39
I mean, I'm assuming you don't want to be in an actor's eyeline. But that's just being professional.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:13:43
That's different. Yeah, different. That's just a that's just a matter of, and in fact, that that's just understood on the set. And anyone who is in the eyeline, we usually tell them to get out because it's just not nice to them. You know, that's different. It's called

Alex Ferrari 1:13:56
being it's called being professional bf. I've heard all the, I only want green m&ms. In my in my trailer, I heard that actually, I actually heard that the origin story of that, which was really the origin story, too. I can't actually say I'll tell you off there. Because there's it's a little it's a little saucy. But heard the story of that one. But yeah, you hear all these stories and look, you know, talking to a lot of a lot of people like yourself and professionals in the business when they work with these big actors. The amount of attention and and you know, that gets thrown on someone like a Tom Cruise or Will Smith the rock under these giant movie stars. A lot of times it sells papers. It's sensationalism. And a lot of times they want to tear tear them down. A lot of times. It's just a

Marshall Herskovitz 1:14:48
weird thing that with Tom. And by the way, the thing that always hurts so bad for me, was that thing about him jumping on the couch for show It's like, that's Tom every day, almost the most enthusiastic person I've ever met. It's like when we did the final battle of Last Samurai, and I came up with a set that day. And we have 500 men on each side, and he's in the full Japanese armor. And we've got seven cameras up on towers. And Tom comes over me and he grabs me by the chest, and he screams at me. This is fucking great. It's just fucking great. That's Tom. He does love the guy. He's the most enthusiastic person in the world. Why would you make fun of him for jumping on a couch? It's like,

Alex Ferrari 1:15:37
God bless him. They always wanted they always want to tear down and that's the thing. Look someone like Tom and then we'll stop talking about time because I could talk about Tom forever. I've been a fan of his since since the beginning, since all the right thing all the right moves. There is a charisma that these these these stars have, there's an energy that they project on the screen. There is a reason why Tom Cruise has been a movie star for 30 plus years. There's not a lot of movie stars. who have been who are still

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:06
movies. Exactly, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:10
movie star, he's still the biggest movie star in the world. He really he green lights a picture today, just like he did in 1990 after he did Rain Man, or Top Gun or any of these things. So there's a reason there's a reason for that. Yep. And you gotta kind of respect that about him. Yeah, look, we all have. And we all have bad days. And of course, when you have a bad day, and you're Tom Cruise, it's news. When you and I are having a bad day.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:38
nobody hears about it. No one cares about it.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:41
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all of my guests Marshall. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:49
Oh my gosh, that's such a good one. Um, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Alex Ferrari 1:16:54
comes up very often.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:16:56
Yeah. Um, Chinatown for sure. And I would say Annie Hall, probably. Because I'm Annie Hall. It's funny, because everyone's talking about this right now. And it's been a, it's been a very particularly difficult experience for me, because Woody, first of all, Ed has known woody since Ed was 23 years old. And in relationship with him, and he's not just a hero of ours, you know, creatively, he was such a touchstone for us. And, and, you know, it's just been a very painful, painful experience. And, and the only way I can live with it is to understand that many of the artists that we revere turned out to be monsters. Picasso was a monster, Wagner was a monster, a lot of people, you know, and, you know, artists art, and I cannot take away the fact that, you know, of, you know, Annie Hall is probably my second favorite movie of all time. And that's just will continue to be a fact because he packed so much about what it means to be a human being and what it means to be in relationship into that movie. It's, it's amazing, and you can't take that away from him.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:18
So I mean, how do you in that's a conversation about being able to separate the artist with the art. And, you know, his van, you know, his van Gogh? Do I appreciate Van Gogh differently? Because the way he lived his life? Yeah. I don't know. And that's a that's a much deeper question and a more controversial conversation to have. But at the end of the day, you know, any halls any hall?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:46

Alex Ferrari 1:18:47
It was any hall for a long, long time. You know, tomorrow morning, tomorrow morning, Francis Ford Coppola could go out and murder 30 people. But, but the Godfather

Marshall Herskovitz 1:18:58
made the Godfather, but the Godfather

Alex Ferrari 1:19:00
and the Godfather two and the Apocalypse Now and Dracula and all of these classics. It's, it's still the Godfather. Right? By

Marshall Herskovitz 1:19:07
the way. I think I should add a screenplay to that. Yes. Which is it's a wonderful life. You know, we named our company Bedford Falls FPL. And it's a wonderful life. Because for me, it's far and away the best movie ever made. But it's really the best movie ever made. Because it's the best screenplay. It because it shows what you can accomplish in storytelling, that this is a man that I think I once counted. I think there are nine different stories in that movie that are then turned around in the period when he comes back and he never existed where you instantly understand what has happened to those people because he didn't have an effect on them. And if you think it's easy to create nine stories, and in one second understand the effect this guy's had on people's lives because he didn't exist. It's an remarkable piece of work, and also filled with things that add an icon gifts to the audience, which is something I think I learned from George Lucas from from Star Wars, you know, that just thinks to delight you. In other words, when you look at It's a Wonderful Life, the fact that the squirrel crawls up uncle Billy's shoulder that they have a crow in the office and, and the little bits that they play and and, and that, that and he says at the end, I've been saving this money for a divorce in case I ever get a husband. It's like, there's so many great things in that film that are all in the screenplay, you know, and and, you know, as somebody said, you can have a shitty movie from a good screenplay, but you can never have a great movie from a bad screenplay. And that that's, that's the truth. It all starts with the screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:47
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:20:51
That's simple. I've given this advice a lot. I have a theory about this. I believe there are 1000s of undiscovered great actors. There are hundreds of undiscovered great directors. And there are no undiscovered great writers. Because if you can write you know, people will see it right away.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:13
And you're absolutely.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:21:15
And you can get people to read your stuff, you can get assistance. I'm a big believer in assistance, I think, you know, assistants run this town. And if you can get on the phone and get an assistant to read a script, because by the way, every one of those assistance is ambitious and wants to move up. And their capital is finding people especially like if they work for a producer, or they work for an agent, that sort of thing. And the thing is, if you can write, and I'm not saying this isn't, this isn't really about talent, per se, it's about whether your writing fits with the movie business. If you're writing fits with the movie business, people will see it, they will, they will recognize it and there will be an energy coming toward you. And what I usually tell people is that this is very Darwinian, and it's a sad, but true fact of life. Be willing to write three spec scripts. If by the third spec script, you don't feel that energy coming towards you, then you should probably do something else, because you're missing something. Now, maybe you can learn it from one to the next and see what you did wrong. But if after three, you haven't learned it, just it's not going to happen. Because you because because it's electric. When when people like what you've done, it's electric, that energy that comes toward you from people, because there's such a desire for good material. So I just tell people, look, it's the simplest way to break in you just right? It's not the easiest way. There is no easy way. But it's the simplest way. You don't need money. Yeah, you have to live. But I mean, you don't need equipment, you don't need to hire people, you don't need people to like you, you just have to write which is hard enough.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:57
It's one of the toughest things any artists could ever do is to write a good, solid story. And I've said this a million times as well, in the show, I feel that screenwriting is probably the toughest form of writing maybe next to a haiku that you can that you can do because of the condensed and the way it works. A novel is so much easier. And I've written and I've written, I've written, you know, books, and I just oh my god, when I when I've written scripts, and I've written books, when I started writing the book, I was like, Oh my god, I'm free. I could just write whatever I wanted. Right? I don't have to worry about it. And you just go Where is the screenplay? You're like, what is the mean in this in this description? is do I need the Can I do a B there? Can I do a to like it's,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:23:42
it's by the way rudall show true. Show true. We just go through and take out words, right like why do you need a complete sentence there? You know what you know? Um, yeah, that's why it helps to read the Great's because you realize how little they actually have people say, you know, and, and also the greats who have people talk over each other and and create a kind of a kind of real interaction between people that you could just see on the page. Yeah, and

Alex Ferrari 1:24:15
I've seen descriptions by some of those greats like the Shane Black's Aaron Sorkin's, you know, those guys, that you look at, in depth descriptions, like one word sentences, like,

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:24
just that, just because you want the script, you want the reading of the screenplay, to feel like you're watching the movie. So if you're going to spend a page describing the scene, you know that you don't have a minute of the movie to do that. You're gonna see that in one second. You know, so that's a really tricky thing. How do you convey a lot of information in a very short number of words.

Alex Ferrari 1:24:46
As you said earlier, this is our lot in life. This is our lot in life. This is why we get paid the big bucks. This is why we get paid the big bucks if you're able to

Marshall Herskovitz 1:24:56
do that. If you can do it, you can do it. Well, now you get the medium About a million bucks,

Alex Ferrari 1:25:01
media bucks, no residuals. Media bucks buy out. That's it. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:25:14
Oh boy. Um, well, I'm gonna tell you something that I don't usually talk about out loud. having to do with why I don't direct anymore. And when I direct, I'll direct an episode, but I don't direct movies anymore. Um, I suffer from an anxiety disorder. And it took me many years to admit that I've obviously affected my life a great deal. But all I ever wanted to be was a film director, I only became a writer so that I could direct films. You know, and I'm, after I made two films, because the second one was dangerous beauty, which is actually my favorite. And something I really loves Beautiful, beautiful film, I love that film and, and it still has a life today, people even though it didn't do well, when it came out, people still watch it. I realized that I paid too high a price directing a movie, that it's just too hard for me to get up every single day for 75 days. And go out there and function for 16 1718 hours a day at your top. I'm the kind of person that needs a lot of time to process, what's going on, that's how my anxiety, that's how I deal with my anxiety is that I need downtime. And you don't have that you're suppressing it constantly. And you know, you basically have to work all that time to be able to just fall into bed, fall asleep, immediately, get your six to seven hours of sleep, get up and immediately just perform at your best every single day for however many days of that schedule, and I it killed me, it just killed me. And I realized it was a very painful realization that the here's this thing that I had wanted so much my whole life was to be a director. And part of that was ego, let's face it, you know, and part of it was creative, that it just made me miserable. You know, it just wasn't worth doing if it made me miserable. And so I said, I'm gonna stop. And that was very painful. And, and by the way, still is because it affected my career. In fact, in how much money I made affected, you know, how people saw me. I think a lot of people didn't understand that it was my choice that I stopped, right? Because the movie didn't do well. So they thought maybe I couldn't get a job after that, actually, I was offered jobs, it was my choice to stop, because it hurt too much. And so you know, I think that was, I think coming to accept that you are who you are, you have your strengths, and you have your weaknesses, and they are all connected, you can't have one without the other, you know, my sensibility, my sensitivity, my ability to see and to help people feel it's very connected to my anxiety, you know, it's all it's all part of the same thing. So I think, again, it has to do with compassion for yourself that, that I realized, I just can't keep breaking myself on this rock, just to prove something that I don't need to prove for myself, you know, so I've had a very good time since then, as a writer and a producer and directing occasionally when it's only a few days, you know, to an episode or, or something like that. But it's very painful at the time.

Alex Ferrari 1:28:29
I first of all, I appreciate you sharing that because I think that's something that the audience needs to understand, first of all, to be being honest with yourself and who you are, is self realization. Huge, huge thing in our in our business, but as a human being in general. And the there's always this kind of myth of what a director does. And after I've talked to so many, so many, like, you know, I mean, I feel that I think I think it kind of started with, with Spielberg. But then I think Tarantino put fire on that with that, which is called like the rock and roll director was like, it was cool and hip to be a director when, like in the 70s in the 60s and 50s. No one knew who made these things. Really. I mean, Hitchcock probably, but that's it. But the reality of what it takes to be a director like I stopped directing commercials, because I just couldn't it suck my soul. Like I'm like, I don't want to sell a product. This is not what I do it paid well. But I just said you know what, I it's not me. I got a I got I'll just pull back I'll I'll go into post production. I'll open up a post house and I'll produce and I'll do my short films and I'll write and I'll do other things. But it was a decision that I made for myself but it was it's all about that self realization. So people who have the dream screenwriters listening now, they think I'm going to write and direct my friend like listen, it's it's a chore and I've also talked to so many directors on the show that they they've told me when I go to direct the movie, I got it. I go into training. physical training because it is

Marshall Herskovitz 1:30:02
brutal on the body route. It's brutal. It's brutal. Yeah. Brutal it. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 1:30:08
Yeah. And then and then mentally, it's your psyche. And, and that's a bet that's best case scenario without a star that's giving you problems without studio executives trying to sneak in other people trying to, you know, cut your knees out underneath you because it's their agenda. There's so many other politics. And, and that's one thing I never actually asked you about. This is kind of a side note. Can you please talk a little bit about the politics of being a director? Yeah, politics behind the scenes because so many screenwriters, so many filmmakers don't understand that. I mean, an agent told me once when I'm looking for a director, I'm looking for three people, I'm looking for an artist, a politician, and a business person. Because that's what I'm in the greats, all the greats have those three, have those three? Yeah. What? Can you explain just a little bit about your, your experience with the politics, you did another with jack, the bear? But any any any tips on how to deal with that?

Marshall Herskovitz 1:31:04
Well, I think it's, you know, every situation is different. And by the way, I think the business has changed a lot. I think that when we came up, it was understood and expected that as a director, or producer, you could be very difficult and take stands. And and, you know, and and go in the face of studio executives, and when now if you do that, that mostly fire you. So you know, unless you're Nolan, you know, you don't get to do that anymore. So you have to sort of you have to be more political today than you were then. But I think, nevertheless. Okay, I'll tell you a little story. I don't know if we're getting going over time or not. There was a wonderful book called Shogun in the seven about medium exam. Yeah. Okay. And there's a scene in that book, where one of the Japanese warlords had captured the English soldiers, and he was boiling one of them alive in a big VAT. And he was having his people sort of gauge the temperature of the boiling, so that the screams of the man would be just the right pitch for him. That would be like poetry for him. It was very brutal, and horrible and sadistic, and at the same time, spiritual in a way, you know, that, that he would do this, okay. And he's name was Yabu. That was the that was the name of that character. And I remember saying to Ed, that when you're budgeting a movie, and you're in pre production, the studio will grind you and grind you and grind you down. Until the pitch of your screams change. This is not a joke. I realize this is true, okay. They, either consciously or unconsciously, they depend upon the director to actually protect the movie, because at first you're getting, I'm not gonna cut that thing out. But there's a moment when you become desperate, and you feel like they're destroying the movie. That was the moment when they would relent, because they were actually depending on you to know what the movie really needed and not. And so when your screams change, that's when they would say, okay, that's the budget. Now, that was the old days. Now, they decide beforehand, by a mathematical model, what the budget is going to be, and they don't care what your screams are, and they won't make the movie. They just won't make it. It's like, they'll you know, they'll just, they'll just say, forget it, if it costs too much, you know. So it's a very different world now. And you have to decide, can I make the movie I want to make without help from these people, they say where your partner in those days, they might have been mean about it, but they were still your partner. They just don't want it a great movie. Now. It's different now. It's pretty much mathematical. It's the best. Yeah. And because we can get our money back, and you don't have that sense of that these were cowboys in the old days, who would take chances on things they believed in? You know, you don't have that now. I mean, it's rare. You occasionally have it, but it's rare. And we can you imagine taxi driver today?

Alex Ferrari 1:34:19
I mean, we had to put a superhero in it. And that was Joker. Yeah, there you go. That's the only way taxi driver would get made in today's world. I heard Guillermo del Toro say this once. And I think it's so an amazing analogy for working in Hollywood. He said, in Hollywood, you're going to eat a shit sandwich. Now, you can change the bread. You could put some avocado on it. You could put some really nice Grey Poupon. But at the end of the day, you're eating some shit.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:34:50
By the way, we have our own version of that, which we have which we believe to be absolutely true. It's based on an old sexist joke, where a man is hitting A woman at a cocktail party. And he says to her, if I paid you a million dollars, would you sleep with me? And a woman says, Well, actually, if you actually paid me a million dollars, yeah, I probably would sleep with you. And he says, Well, if I paid you $5, would you sleep with me? And she says, What do you think I am a prostitute? And he says, Well, we've already established what you are. We're just negotiating the price. a horrible sexist joke.

Alex Ferrari 1:35:23
It is it is.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:35:24
But but but the point is, that applies to filmmaking, right? Which is, and it's not about money, it's not about sex, it's about quality, that in the end, you're going to compromise the quality of your film, you're going to compromise, it's not going to be as good as you want it to be. And the question is, negotiating the price, how high quality can you get before you have to compromise? It's that simple. And each film establishes that sort of going into it, you know, based on how much money you have, how many sets you have, who the actors are, you kind of get, like how good that movie can be. And you fight that every step along the way for the highest price of quality that you can fight for before you give in. But every day you give in every single day you give in and and you have to understand that you give in it every day. You're just basically losing at the highest level you possibly can. That's unfortunately the truth. But if you keep it there, then you have a good movie, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:36:32
and it's about and and the filmmakers that get those masterpieces done. It's about the battles that you can wage. And when I mean Coppola was I mean, look, we had to go through with godfather Apocalypse Now Jesus Christ.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:47
Oh my god.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:49
I mean, she's his apocalypse is out.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:36:51
I mean, God for that documentary, so we know what he went through.

Alex Ferrari 1:36:54
Oh, that's by anyone listening prerequisite. You need to watch hours of darkness, the documentary, apocalypse that

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:00
was such him on the phone saying, You mean I paid Brando a million dollars of my own money. And he's now not going to show up when you see him in his kitchen.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:12
Yeah, you go, oh

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:14
my god. It's like, I never want to do this. As long as I live. I never want to be in a position

Alex Ferrari 1:37:20
where when my or my machine punches the mirror out. And he's like, he's about to he's drunk. And he's about to go after Frances mother while they're shooting. Yes.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:31
Keep it in the movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:34
His hands all bloodied out is that Oh, yeah, totally. I mean, it's it's it's insane. But it is about when riders it's tougher because you have less power. But as a writer, producer or writer, producer director.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:37:48
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 1:37:49
It's about fight. And and look, I'll say this man, you and Ed have have fought some good fights, because you guys have put out some amazing quality work over the years. Some of my favorite films. I mean, Last Samurai blood, I mean, Blood Diamond and other just everything that both you guys work together and separately together on it is you fight I mean, look, you can't get Last Samurai to where it was, without fighting a couple battles.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:38:19
Creative. Oh, we fought many, many battles. Listen, I feel very lucky, Ed feels very lucky because we spent our entire careers making only what we were passionate about. So very few people get to do that. Very few. And, and we are so grateful about that. And, you know, whether that was a combination of we're, you know, difficult or, or, or, or ferocious or, or people liked us or whatever it was, you know, to be given that gift to make movies and TV shows that you really love and care about and that you're not pushed into making is a great gift. And and and always be grateful for that. Marshall,

Alex Ferrari 1:39:06
Thank you so much for your time and your and your just transparency and your raw, brutal honesty, which is what, what what I'm all about and what this show is all about hope. I hope it scared and terrified people in a way that if it's not, if you're scared and terrified and you don't think you should do this don't. But if this is but if this is embolden you to like you know what, I can take that I can take that hit and I can keep going forward, then this is for you. But I'm so glad that you helped us with that. So thank you so much, Marshall.

Marshall Herskovitz 1:39:36
Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

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BPS 115: Writing the Netflix/TV Drama Series with Pamela Douglas

There’s always been a feel-good, easy-times nostalgia for the 80s and 90s TV shows. More so now that we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the plethora of shows we have to pick from. If you feel me then you will enjoy this conversation. Our guest today is the award-winning screen and television writer, professor, and best-selling author, Pamela Douglas

Pamela is a member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America and a USC School of Cinematics Arts tenure professor for screenwriting.  She is credited for her writing on shows/series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Ghostwriter (1992) to name a few.

Aside from her awesome career as a screenwriter, she’s an international writer with multi-lingual adaptations of her books (German, Mandarin, Italian, French, Korean, and Spanish). Pamela packed her expertise in her 2018 revised fourth edition of her 2008 book ‘Writing the TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV‘.

The book is a complete resource for anyone who wants to write and produce for television drama series or create an original series, as well as for teachers in screenwriting classes and workshops. It leads the reader step-by-step through every stage of the development and writing process, offering practical industry information and artistic inspiration. The Fourth Edition leads readers into the future and engages provocative issues about the interface between traditional TV and emerging technologies. It’s also the single most comprehensive source on what is happening in original television drama around the world, with surveys of 15 countries.

As you will learn in this episode, Pamela’s passion for writing goes back to her childhood. Even though she’s dabbed in screenwriting for movies, she’s discovered throughout her career that television carries a bigger pull in terms of communicating ideas, stories, characters, life, and experience. Its essence allows for vertical story-telling, expansion, and continuity to reveal newer plots and characters.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is a classic sci-fi series set almost 100 years after Captain Kirk’s five-year mission, a new generation of Starfleet officers set off in the U.S.S. Enterprise-D on its own mission to go where no one has gone before – the exploration of the Milky Way galaxy.

Ghostwriter is an American children’s mystery television series that revolves around a circle of friends from Brooklyn who solve neighborhood crimes and mysteries as a team of young detectives with the help of a ghost named Ghostwriter who can only communicate through writing and words.

Chatting with a seasoned screenwriter like Pamela, there is so much wealth of knowledge packed in every word. We talked about presentation reelers, the forex structure and her approach to it, and why she thinks The Wire is the best show of all time in terms of character, layering, and sterilized storytelling.

Enjoy this conversation with Pamela Douglas.

Right-click here to download the MP3



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Alex Ferrari 0:18
like to welcome to the show Pamela Douglas. How you doing, Pam?

Pamela Douglas 0:21
Hey, good to see you. Alex,

Alex Ferrari 0:23
thank you so much for doing the show. I really appreciate it.

Pamela Douglas 0:27
You're very welcome.

Alex Ferrari 0:28
So I wanted to bring you on the show. Because you've written a book, you wrote a book, this is the fourth edition of the book now, writing the TV drama series. And obviously, if you I mean, the first edition is perfectly fine. Nothing has changed in, in television drama at all. It's pretty much the same thing as Hill Street Blues, essentially, though. Things have definitely changed at a beatnik pace in television. And it's even as a call television anymore. It's now streaming. It's like this whole thing. So we'll get into the details of it. As we get through the through the conversation. But before we get started, how did you get into the business?

Pamela Douglas 1:11
Well, I was always a writer. And by the way, I'm also a visual artist, so I have lives. And it seemed to me long ago, that the power in terms of communicating ideas, stories, characters, life experience, was all in television. I dabbled in movies. But nothing has the reach or the impact of television, even in the era before streaming. Because it's in people's homes. It speaks to them in an intimate person to person way. And that has sway over people's viewpoint and notions of what matters and who's in the world. So I think I was partly attracted to the scale,

Alex Ferrari 2:00
the scale of what you could do. And I mean, when you were writing, I mean, you worked with you written for Star Trek The Next Generation, which was amazing show, and a lot of a lot of shows in the in the 80s and 90s. How, I mean, I mean, for the youngins listening, back then it was three channels, and there was only so many shows, you can watch where now there is just an obscene amount of content coming through the doors all the time. How do you as a writer, kind of? Well, I mean, obviously, there's more opportunity now than ever before, to be a television writer. But how do you break through as a series? How do you try to get in? I mean, you know, both as a writer and as a series creator, and I know those are two very different?

Pamela Douglas 2:49
No. no, really, they're, they're a single track. And just once ahead of the other the way up, let me address the first point. It's true that most of my credits are from the later 90s into even early 2000s. Next Generation, bless its heart was a very long time.

Alex Ferrari 3:12
Yes, it was. Yes. And I don't know how that's possible, since you look like you're 25. So I've really don't

Pamela Douglas 3:21
it, it was an important show at its time. And it's the one that people cite, because it's familiar. Most of my writing after that really was was in originals, the the TV dramas, the TV, what was that one time called TV movies? So I've done us a large spectrum of things and television even before I started teaching it. But what has happened in terms of evolvement? Is that, yeah, when I was a beginner, there were three networks, then for sure. Now, the legacy networks, the traditional networks, they're still around, but even they are going to streaming. You mentioned something about, well, whatever television is if it's even a word anymore, and I think there's a simple answer to that, which is that television is inclusive in the language. In other words, television long since stopped being a box in the living room. People gathered. Most people watch television on their computers or on other kinds of screens now. The difference in fact between small screen indie films and large screen televisions is is almost disappeared. And as Netflix in particular and HBO is has also Amazon to another extent have moved into the two hour format, what used to be called featured films that blurs the line even further. So the question is, of what is television is, is an interesting one. The writers field has a definition. And it's a strange definition. Because it says, television is everything that is not feature films in a in a closed movie house. And that is in my

Alex Ferrari 5:25

Pamela Douglas 5:26
Yeah, that was because the problem with that not problem, but what that opens up to, is to what extent are games television, they are looked at on a screen, you know, so we're, we're off on that side. And then when you get to the whole international aspect of all of this, the definition of the range of television gets even more expansive, where television is made, how it's made, who was made for all of this is new. And I think it's, I think it's encouraging, really, to people who are coming into the industry, because you mentioned is it different to create a show or to write for a show? Well, the way in, which is the question you actually asked before a ramp back. The way in is twofold. The first thing is that it's basically a ladder, that the way into doing anything, including creating original series generally starts with whatever is the lowest rung on a series Ram. That's usually staff writer, but sometimes it's writer's assistant, which is a fine job. Sometimes it's researcher, there are people who have taken any job they could get including Secretary just to get their foot there. And once they're there, and you meet people, they might be embarrassed to not read your script. So that's that's the hope that you get in somewhere. Once you do that. If you're successful in your first forays as a, as a writer of an episode for somebody else's show, you will find yourself moving up and up and up and up until somebody offers you an overall deal or says, Hey, do you have an idea for a show you like to do? Because I see now you're a good writer. And that's that's normal. That's normal. It's not the only way. There are people who have with the tremendous amount of production, just immense amount of production, who have written pilots. I have had a number of students who have written pilots and sometimes been successful in actually placing them they don't get to be the showrunner if they're a new writer, because they wouldn't know how to run the manufacturing operation. But they do. If they're smart, they stay with the show, and come on in a mid range and can grow with the show. So yeah, I have seen it happen once in a while. Not often, but once in a while. I've often known of people who've written theatrical features that became backdoor pilots. So in other words, you got to a pilot, not by writing a pilot, that you admit that as a pilot, but by writing something that shows your voice and your characters and your world and gets get someone excited to go into further development.

Alex Ferrari 8:43
So is that a backdoor pilot, I was gonna ask you what a backdoor pilot, it's like me writing the script and then sending it into there. Like really, it's really a pilot for a show. It could be turned into a show. But you're disguising it as a feature script.

Pamela Douglas 8:55
Kinda. Basically, it's something it's not unusual to have a two hour pilot anyway. These days, a lot of readers, judges, agents, managers, producers, don't want to read 100 or 120 pages. Because you can tell in 60 pages or less, whether there's a voice, whether there's a personality, whether there is whether this is a real storyteller. So they figure they could no no it from that. If you marry that with the Bible. It goes on to the answer the question of why is this series and not a movie? In other words, how come it doesn't just end right there. Where are the legs where the springboards and where are we going to be a few years out? Now? You hear of everything though? I mean, if you look at something like Netflix that's been on a mad buying spree all over the world. You know, it's that's the Netflix joke. Somebody comes in and pitches I want a story about who? And they said yes, I love it. Here's some money.

Alex Ferrari 10:07
Exactly. Like it's perfect example like, you know Jaws can't be turned into a series like that's a pretty much beginning, middle and end. Jaws the series is going to be very difficult to to pull off for seasons of that.

Pamela Douglas 10:19
You know what? No, it i don't i wouldn't personally proposed Jaws the series. But but but somebody who is clever enough, just the movie and do what theatrical features often do look at all the Batman's. But the Star Wars, Star Wars,

Alex Ferrari 10:43
those are adventures that could happen where they just basically jaws is the one you can maybe stretch it out over to it like a season. But I can't see five, six seasons of

Pamela Douglas 10:53
it would have to change.

Alex Ferrari 10:54
Yeah, it'd be a nice thing. It has to be a whole new thing.

Pamela Douglas 10:57
Actually this is a question I'm sometimes asked from somebody who writes a finite script. And, and it is possibly because the character dies at the end. So you can't go on anyway. Or, or the quest is finished, the arc is finished. And they say, gee, I'd love to do this as a as a series. And I don't know how because it finished. And my answer to that is stop looking at the ending. Look at the middle, you don't expand from the end. The difference between episodic television writing episodic television and movies is partly that up, I've speech a film script or a finite script has an art. Somebody wants something here, the complex in the, you know, the complications. They go through all the obstacles, and at the end, they win it or lose it. Television and television can still have that kind of horizontal storytelling. But it also has vertical storytelling. And what I mean by that is that while you will also while you will do your plot in a horizontal way, there's so has to be so much depth in the characters, that you could take a character from the center and tell stories outwards from that. So it's not been the question of what happens to Jaws, the shark, or in fact any of those characters, it may be the story of one of the people in it, who is affected and how their storyline goes. Give you a perfect example. Classic, great example is what happened Breaking Bad.

Alex Ferrari 12:42
You read my mind. read my mind.

Pamela Douglas 12:45
brilliant, brilliant. That's Vince Gilligan, who is a great writer and expert in this whole thing. Walter Wade is dead at the end of Breaking Bad shows vastly popular. Where are you gonna go? And they brilliantly saw when the lawyer Saul Goodman, and did a prequel, which is absolutely a wonderful piece very often a spin off of any kind is not, you know, they just trading on. This is brilliant. It stands on its own feet as its own show with its own style, its own tone, its own cast. And that's a perfect example of expanding up from the middle from one of the characters and the richness rather than going from the end

Alex Ferrari 13:33
Right. And that and also with Saul is at first you're just like looking for the Easter eggs from breaking bad. But after a while, you just watching it because it's a good show. Not just like, oh, there's that thing from that episode of Breaking Bad. Oh, there's that one character is back. And yeah, that's all great, but at a certain point. Wow. It's just solved. And I was just like, its own thing, too. And it took them a little bit to find those legs. But yeah, they found out

Pamela Douglas 13:57
Well they had character richness. Oh, all right from its him also character, Mike. I mean, there's a whole episode co five. Oh, it's in the first season. I think it's the third episode or something. Where? Where Mike? I forgot his last name. You know?

Alex Ferrari 14:16
Of course, Mike. Yeah. Mike, I know he talked about Yes.

Pamela Douglas 14:19
Yeah. Where it's his life with his grandchild and his dad. You know? You can do that. If your characters are rich enough. You can't do that if all you've got is a plot. I mean, if all you've got is a scary shark, not that that's all Joe's had. But if that's all you've got, you really don't have anywhere to go. But great television. You can spin off vertically as long as characters have secrets.

Alex Ferrari 14:49
Right and or people are interested in like, I'm like what was saw like before breaking bad you like wow, like he's such a great character. He's a runaway in a show with 1000 great powers. Characters he was he stoled the scene anytime it was in it. I mean, literally,

Pamela Douglas 15:03
Yeah. Oh, well, that. And also, it posed questions like, how did this attorney get into this situation?

Alex Ferrari 15:13
What got him into the strip mall? How did he get into the strip mall?

Pamela Douglas 15:16
All of it? Yeah. And so what do you want a pilot to do is not answer questions but to ask them.

Alex Ferrari 15:22
Right, exactly. Now, one thing you said earlier, which I wanted to really emphasize, emphasize this to the listeners was a lot of writers out there who really don't understand the machine that is television, writing and television creation. You said the manufacturing process. And I've never heard television used in that, but it is so apropos because it's exactly it's it's in our industry, the closest thing we have to a product, because our industry is insane. I mean, the entertainment business is pretty crazy, because we create a product. And then if the products hit, we can't create it again. So if we have one big hit, that's why they're sequels and prequels and they're trying to reach, you know, one star was a hit that Like we need the sequel to Star Wars, but television is like, but if you have a like a bag of a bottle of Coca Cola, you can make 1000 million Coca Cola cans and keep making money. But you can't do that with entertainment. But television is the closest thing we have to that where you can recreate that product. And it's a manufacturing. Is that fair?

Pamela Douglas 16:27
I, I would depart from the analogy to Coca Cola. Yes, no, because every episode, if you again, look at something like Breaking Bad shirt from any of the great shows. Each one is a work of art in and of itself. Correct. However, you're right. The end, what I meant by the manufacturing process was actually the the act of what it takes from your first idea to things getting on television, or things getting on any screen. With a movie, there's also a manufacturing process, there are people who do the camera and the sound and the editing. So you are still manufacturing a product. With television, especially traditional television, you really had to say spill out a product every week raw, which means that you have to have a writing staff, you have to have a structure with a showrunner with executive layers, and with people who have jobs that you can depend on to deliver their many stories. Before streaming, which is structured a little differently. Of what happened when the script falls out. When you think you've got it, you've got a tight schedule, you have to shoot for seven days, you have to edit this number of days, you have these days, before it actually airs and it's already advertised. And the thing falls out and he ended up we end up with a repeat episode. It rarely happens doesn't happen really anymore. But it's a marathon. If you look at something like The Good Wife, which was probably the last of the great written series that tried to do 24 episodes a year my god was Nobody. Nobody does that anymore. Nobody does it anymore. And they did it. Well, they did wonderfully it's been compared to the Ginger Rogers who has to dance as well as, as Fred Astaire but backwards in heels. You know, that's what happens with trying to do something like The Good Wife with all those episodes. Nobody does that anymore series are now maybe Netflix might do 13. The number of episodes in a season has pretty much settled in at eight, eight to 10, eight. So there are shorter seasons. And because with streaming especially, they're all in the can in advance or almost all in the candidate, that intense weekly pressure to get that script done and out there is not what it used to be. And then it also makes other changes happen. But what I'm talking about with the manufacturing is when I see somebody who has a pilot, and a good idea, but as a beginner has really not worked on a show, or even if they've worked on the show a little bit far be it for them to have a clue about the budget for the rice, set construction or casting a million of the things and that's where and they say I'm going to be the showrunner it's my Shall I agree? Well, no, you're not. And you don't want to because you, you don't know what to do with the, with the various craft unions, you really don't know what to do in terms of directors, actors, even staffing your show. So that's why it takes some time actually being in the business to move up to that. And that's, there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with learning your craft. I must say, that's how I learned everything. I mean, now I'm a professor at USC. So my students all come out of school, you know, with some education in all of this and experience and they have a portfolio. When I was starting, I really hadn't gone to school for it. I'd been a creative writer, done other things. But I learned I learned because the showrunners took the time on a staff say, you know, no, they were not three acts and television

Alex Ferrari 21:07

Pamela Douglas 21:08
now. Or even this is how a page looks.

Alex Ferrari 21:14
basic stuff like that.

Pamela Douglas 21:15
Yeah, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 21:17
Now, what are some myths about writing television dramas that you would like to debunk here?

Pamela Douglas 21:25
Let me the book has a chapter on some of my favorite, terrible myths. I'm going to open the book to the myths. Let's see, where are my favorite myths? By the way, book, everybody. Everything you would ever want to know is in this book? Where the myths?Okay. All right. It is. Okay, here we go. It is in the very first chapter. And the first myth is that TV is small movies. TV is not small movies. TV is very, very, very, very big movies. Because if you've got something that's going to end in 90 minutes or two hours, you're off the hook pretty quick. If you've got something that's going to go on for 100 hours at some do, or even 36 hours, with the three series of 13. Or even if you've got a limited series of something that's going to be six or eight hours old together, it's much larger. Also, even the size of the screen sizes are changing. Yeah. Well, they're watching people watch everything on phones that drives me crazy. Somebody has taken the trouble to beautifully light and go

Alex Ferrari 22:49
go through color and everything. I think

Pamela Douglas 22:52
the size. But no TV is not small movies. Here's another one. TV is cheap. Well, it depends. Yeah, there is some cheap television, YouTube is cheap. There are some off of network platforms, especially those for a very young audience that pay lower salaries, and don't have much budget. But in general, he looked at HBO, Game of Thrones, please, you telling me that's cheaper than some feature films? No, it's much more expensive. There's more of it. There are cost savings in various areas, because you may have sets that you can reuse over time. So you amortize some costs. But no, unless you're getting a movie budget that's completely bloated because of a star salary or something like that. Movies, even very expensive ones are not more expensive than television and television costs cost plenty. So I wouldn't, I wouldn't even think about that. Now I do warn students to be realistic that if you're going to decide to create your own series, you're a beginner, you know, use common sense. I mean, if you're going to have people flying all over the world for you know, international locations, and you're a beginner, the answer is going to be no. If you're Game of Thrones, the answer is yes. But you're not game of thrones so. So common sense.

Alex Ferrari 24:34
Now what, um, you in your book, you talk about a presentation reel, can you can you explain what a presentation reel is?

Pamela Douglas 24:41

Alex Ferrari 24:41
And why writers need to do it if they do.

Pamela Douglas 24:44
No, I don't do it.

Alex Ferrari 24:46
Okay, so what is so what is it so we don't we avoid it?

Pamela Douglas 24:49
I'll tell you what it is and then I don't think it's worth the time. Okay. I'm advising you not to do it with the caution. That there is nothing that you can't do sometimes and won't work sometimes somewhere. Sure. So there's nothing hard about this. But a presentation Reelers is basically clips from other work you've done. Or it might be scenes from what you were hoping to do, that you were going to present to a network or studio as an example of, of your plans, that it's really not the way things work anymore. Generally, it's pretty straightforward in terms of brand new shows, they want to see your pilot script, the pilot script, accompanied by a Bible. Now there's a there's a story from long ago, and this story I don't think happens anymore. But this was way back in my beginning baby days, there was a movie called Star man,

Alex Ferrari 26:02
there was the John carpenter,

Pamela Douglas 26:05
it was a movie. And because it was a successful movies, for some reason, Michael Douglas, and I don't know Michael Douglas, the actor. For some reason, I have no idea what his connection to that movie was. Maybe he had an ownership in it, I don't know. But he decided this should be a television series. Well, there was really no way for that to be a television series. That was a classic cases, something that actually pretty much ended. And it was at a time before streaming, serialization was different, it wasn't a good idea. But because he is an important person, he decided that the way he was going to present this was no pilot with no nothing was to get some of his friends who are also professional actors, to ballpark some scenes that might be in the future. So this guy goes to top brass at the network, because he truly is, and says, here's some clips from how this is going to show if I take this franchise and make it into a series. And because he is who he is. They said, okay, pretty like that. realize what, there was nothing there. And he wasn't interested in staying with the project, he had other jobs to do. None of the people in those clips were in the show. I left with a commitment for a show on the air. I think this was like spring, and it had it be on the air in September or something with zip. So they brought in some very, very experienced producers, television producers who had just done a lot of work. And they put out a call to the agencies, please send us some writers who can tell us how to the show. And I was one of the people brought in, which is how I came to know about this. And they gave us a Bible, which was mainly their hopes for who would be in it and how it would work but no stories because they didn't know. It didn't last, I think they did get something on the air. I wasn't part of it. So I don't know the rest of the story that that story doesn't happen anymore. Really, I wouldn't bother making a presentation reel for anything I would just write well. Now, there are cases where people have done web series that are in effect presentation reels. In other words, you're showing something on screen that gives the look and feel of it. But it's not the way it mostly works. Honestly, the way most shows get on television right now is that they are they have underlying books,

Alex Ferrari 29:01
IP or IP of some sort

Pamela Douglas 29:03
of some sort. It could be a graphic novel, good example, or another movie could be played. But mostly novels, mostly novels. And so sometimes people who are struggling to get into the business because they have a deep sense of story, and character and really something to tell someone. And if they don't have an MFA, in screenwriting, and are not in one of the fellowship programs, they might actually be better off doing a graphic novel or a novel and taking that in to see if they can adapt that. The reason that is so attractive, is that it gives a buyer the sense that the project has a future. You see, because one of the questions you ask in television is besides is this well written do I like the characters? Is the story moving and all those things they're asking? Is there enough here? For many, many episodes, and a novel will answer that again back to the Lord of the Rings, and no or other other great examples like that.

Alex Ferrari 30:11
So then how the hell did Vince Gilligan ever get Breaking Bad made? That's arguably one of the worst pitches. He said he's like, was the worst pitch ever?

Pamela Douglas 30:20
Yeah. Well, Vince Gilligan didn't come out of the woods. He had a track record. Yeah. Andy wrote the script, he wrote the script of the pilot was not awfully different. The names changed, location changed. But it's not awfully different from what was finally shot. If you look at the original original script, that show benefited from a an oddity, which is the writer strike at the time. Yeah. Because they had time to do development that he hadn't done in advance. They were going to kill off Jesse. And fortunately, the show got suspended during the strike, during which time they said, Oh, wait a minute, that is the show.

Alex Ferrari 31:12
Right? Yeah, cuz that's exactly it. Yeah. Because it was only eight episodes. I think that the first season or something like that was a short run. And then they picked up afterwards. Yeah, I've, I've studied. I've studied that show. It's one of my favorite Shows of All Time. Great. It's a there's there's basically I think, two episodes that I wanted to kill somebody afterwards. But other than that, every other episode, the fly the fly episode, fly the fly episode. Please stop. I mean, I was watching the

Pamela Douglas 31:38
Hawks word course.

Alex Ferrari 31:40
I don't know what that was. But I'm just sitting there going. Why are we What is going on? Like?

Pamela Douglas 31:45
Mostly only two characters in the whole hour? A little bit of males, but not much.

Alex Ferrari 31:50
And there was a fly, fly two characters,

Pamela Douglas 31:53
just because it was a metaphor. It wasn't

Alex Ferrari 31:55
what I mean. Yeah, I know. I know. I know. But like, yeah,

Pamela Douglas 31:59
there. There were some other examples of things that once were what was called mini series, which is a word you don't really hear anymore. Like Battlestar Galactica, was started as a very tiny group of shows was so popular that it took off and ran for five years. But it was another case we were on more great show runner, an experienced writer, who, by the way, had his training on Star Trek, you know, knew how to draw out stories that come from character going forward, because it did have legs.

Alex Ferrari 32:36
Yeah. Yeah. And I think they're talking now about I mean, Queens Gambit was one of the limited limited minister and other ministers with a limited series on Netflix, which was it just exploded. And who knew it's the show about chess. And it's brilliant. And it's so popular that they're actually talking about doing another season of it. And I'm like, it ended like how, yeah,

Pamela Douglas 33:02
I don't hit I saw it. I thought it was successful. I really don't know where it's gonna go from there. I'm but in the right hands. Who knows? Maybe they'll develop one of the other characters in the depth, I forgot his name the boyfriend?

Alex Ferrari 33:17
Yeah. Or her as older? I don't know. Like, I don't really like is she gonna become the Mrs. Miyagi? And teach somebody else? Like, I don't, I don't know where you go with it. But it was so well done. It was

Pamela Douglas 33:30
that but those are the kinds of puzzles that are given to writers coming in who are new. And then somebody says, Look, I've got a quandary. I've got this product here. I don't know what to do with it. And then they hear pitches, and somebody comes up with a way to do it.

Alex Ferrari 33:46
Now you in your book, you also spoke about the four act grid? Can you can you tell us a little bit about that?

Pamela Douglas 33:52
Yeah. Again, people really need to see the book. Not because I get 10 cents for it. But because if

Alex Ferrari 34:04
you get 10 cents, you're you're good most only get

Pamela Douglas 34:09
no, because it really goes into depth in this. The forex structure goes back to traditional television where an act occurred, the act breaks occurred, because commercials had to be fit in roughly every 13 minutes or so 13 to 15 minutes, and you take the hour and you divide it and that's what you get. The template became teaser plus four. And then after that, sometimes teaser plus five. It was originally created partly because of commercial television, which doesn't make sense anymore on any of the streaming places. And we're setting aside Hulu that just interrupts things bizarrely, but that's their problem. You can Without the commercials

Alex Ferrari 35:01
I as I do as I do, I don't I don't have a title that could cause the peacock to I did with peacock, I just got peacock to watch Yellowstone. And I'm like, What is I don't know, how much is it a month? I just need to I can't do the commercials. This is ridiculous.

Pamela Douglas 35:13
Yeah. exactly, exactly. So that's how the structure emerged. But if you really look at it structurally, without being concerned about the commercial breaks, you discover that things that don't have commercials anymore, are still largely relying on something like that, in order to have some sort of basis for telling your story. And if you think about it, the three, the so called three act structure, the old Sinfield model is the first act is one quarter, the second act is half. And the third act is one quarter. But if you do a midpoint in the middle of that second half, which you need any way to turn it, you've got a forex structure. So it's it's a, it's a kind of a normal breathing structure. So I, I recommend that to students and people who are just struggling with laying out this plot. At an early time, it gets more complicated when you have a, b and c stories, when you have parallel storytelling, and it's not a single story that's broken up that way. But you might have this many beats of the beast story and this act and this many another act. And it's it's not quite as linear. And then you come over to something like Netflix and HBO. And they don't want to hear about that. They want to hear you break the story based on character on character arcs. But the truth is, even if you break the story on character arcs, the writer has to go home and organize the scenes somehow. And that's why I recommend that writers try filling in the grid just to get an overview of the layout of the story. You can be flexible with it to some degree. There are some template things that tend to work. So for example, at one is usually longest, in a classic script, it might end somewhere around page 18 to 20 at four is shortest, or if you've got a five act at five is very short. It's almost a tag. So there, there are ways to make adjustments, but you need something to hang on to. And that's why I put a grid in the book, just before you're even writing, just so you can see it laid out. In effect, you talked about chess, sort of like a chess board, where all the moves are going to be aware that things are going to be in where you can move stuff around in the earliest stage before you start writing.

Alex Ferrari 37:54
Now, how are you talking about a, b and c kind of stories? When you're structuring a four Act, or grid, let's say a four act grid or four acts to structure with these parallel stories? How do you allot the time in let's say, the first act, establishing the characters if you have big if you have ABC characters? And well, let's talk about the pilot because once the show is off and running, it's a different conversation. But But let's say the pilot, how do you how do you adjust or allocate time to these other plot points in the infrastructure in general?

Pamela Douglas 38:35
Usually, the a story is the dominant character of the series, or certainly the dominant character of this episode, for a pilot is probably the dominant character, the whole series. And you will probably want to tell that story throughout first. So if you have, let's say a scene is roughly two minutes. That's not always true. There was a time when we there was a lot of vignette storytelling and people were pushing the scenes to be one page long. There was also a kickback on that and something like mad men, which is very slow, we would have really, really long scenes. Which by long, I only really need three or four minutes. I mean, we're not back to Casablanca with a seven minute scene because people wants it for it. That is the audience is ahead of you now. But let's just use as a ballpark number. Let's say a scene is in two minutes. And let's say you've got 60 minutes, which nobody's got 60 minutes, but let's just imagine that two minutes into 60 is 30 scenes, you're not going to get 30 students let's let's go for 28 and then you say okay, so we the whole hour is going to be something like 20 Five to 28 seems as though you got people sometimes mistaken and they're up and 5060 scenes and they're doing, you know, some large movie it's not. It's shorter than that. So let's say, if you were to have 4x divided into 28 scenes, that would give you roughly seven scenes per act doesn't actually work out that way. Usually, at one is a little longer and more is less, as I said, but what you would want to look at is, okay, out of these 28 scenes, you're probably going to have many of them be your a story, is it going to be 1214? You know, maybe it's 14, maybe it's half of the whole show? Well, now you've only got 14 scenes left over to divide between B and C stories, probably a B story is going to be pretty important to also. And so you might have 10 scenes on the B. So now you up to 24. That leaves you only four scenes for the C story, which is fine, because the C story sometimes a runner, those are ballpark numbers, nobody should try to do that. Exactly. I'm just giving a sense of the rhythm. There are many shows with a and the b story, meaning the story for one character and the story for another character are almost balanced are almost the same size. There are also shows when they're when the pilot in particular will not have a B and C stories will really follow the central main character who's got a quest throughout the show. And that that is where you are going with your storytelling. That's what you want to hook the people on. So you may have only in a stories show. And that's okay.

Alex Ferrari 41:51
It which is which is fine. I mean, I mean, are you like something like Sherlock that was done over at the BBC. Sherlock is obviously the main driving force. And that's almost also procedural. But Holmes gets a little bit of a little bit of action every once in a while. But generally, what drives the show is Sherlock. And that happens with all you know, you could go down the line with all these kind of major shows. But yeah, I was just curious on how you felt to kind of like, we're really starting to break it down into the nuts and bolts of an episode, and of story and things like that. And obviously, we could talk for hundreds of hours about this. But this is just, this is a touch. That's why you want to go buy a go out and buy the book. Now you did talk about something, you refer to something called the staff ladder. Can you break down what the staff ladder is like in general? And so people that aren't understanding of what the pecking order? If it's, if you will, yeah,

Pamela Douglas 42:45
yeah, well, the lowest level, they used to be a job and a lot of shows called staff writer, a lot of shows don't do that anymore. And that entry level is now very often, the writer's assistant is actually not technically a writing job. But it's a lot. It's a way into a writing job. And it's a good job, you get to be in the room, where the stories are broken, you get to see all the scripts, it's a it's a wonderful postgraduate learning experience, then the first step after that is is staff writer, the staff writer may or may not get to write an episode, they might just talk in the room, or they may get assigned one or two. The problem with the staff not the problem. The situation with that beginning level is that you've got your salary, but you may not be paid in addition for the script. So it's a financial difference. The next step of that is story editor. And then executive story editor for in some shows a story editor is a high level position. And other shows it really just means a staff writer in their second year. So yeah, shows don't use these titles always in exactly the same way. So the story editor is going to probably be assigned one or two scripts, they will be paid for the script in addition to the weekly salary, and they may have some little bit of rewriting jobs. They're also continuing to learn. Again, it depends on your show, sometimes it's higher level. After that the next step up is producer, producer in this sense does not mean producer like you think of a movie producer. It's a writing title. And it's simply one more step up. You're getting a larger salary, you're getting paid for your scripts, you may be rewriting scripts for the lower level staff people and somebody a little more experience. After that you're supervising producer. All these get all these promotions. If you if the show goes on for a while you make get promoted up the ranks or you may go to another show and make a lateral move or you may be hired up depends how good your writing is and other things. supervising producer very likely is doing rewriting of other people's scripts or holding the hand of the beginners. Sometimes it's a complete rewrite that gets put on in the supervising producers lab, in addition to writing their own scripts. From producer on up, you're also probably sitting in on casting section sessions, and you're going to dailies. So you're seeing actually the process of it, you seeing how it changes, and you're learning you show, you're learning the strengths of the actors, you're learning all of this from supervising producer. Next Level up is executive producer, to very wiggly title. There are some shows where everybody on the show is called executive producers with meaningless it just means that the agents got them a bump up. And they're just still writing and rewriting. But on some shows, the executive producer, many shows is also the showrunner and showrunner is, is the person whose vision is guiding this whole, as I said, manufacturing operation, but it's also the visionary and has the look tone field style. And in some shows, depending on who's doing it, some some executive producers and showrunners will run every single script through their computer, even if it doesn't make changes, because they want to feel ownership of it. Or they want their own voice in it. So all scripts, in that sense, are written by those people. David Kelly is an example of somebody who runs a shop like that, where generally they do let the lower level writers keep credit on screen. But actually, it's a very much rewritten script.

Alex Ferrari 47:02
Interesting. Yeah. And so basically, the buck stops at the executive producer slash showrunner.

Pamela Douglas 47:07
The show writer. Yeah, you might have five executive producer.

Alex Ferrari 47:10
Yeah. So but the showrunner is that is the guy there and like, and like you said, it's such a different it's just such a different skill set than just being a writer. And a lot of a lot of writers like I wrote the pilot, I'm going to be the showrunner. I'm like, you have no idea what Yeah, and experience in the you could be inexperienced writer with a lot of credits and still not have the skill set or the personality to be a showrunner?

Pamela Douglas 47:36
Well, you know, it is a matter of personality. This is an executive job for him. He wants to be an executive, some people want to, you know, have more of their own time to really create. It depends what you want to do there are if you think of a great showrunner is john wells, one of the masterful show runners, john Mills is essentially a manager. When he graduated from USC, he had written some of his first jobs was where as a writer, but he graduated from the Peter Start Program, which is a producing business program. And that was always why he did such a wonderful job on whether it was West Wing, or er, or late, more lately, shameless. And you know, all his other credits, he's got a million credits. Because he was an outstanding manager, he is not just what he could write, but that would he could enable other people to write, which is what makes a great manager.

Alex Ferrari 48:45
Right, exactly. And I just wanted to make sure everyone listening, if they if they have any illusions of writing their first pilot, and then show running, it's just a different, it's a really different skill set. That's why a lot of writers who jump into the director's chair, get a stark, stark reality. And, and and vice versa, when a director wants to start writing. It's a different it's just a different skill set. It's a different skill set. And some people are that that wonderful combination, like a Vince Gilligan who could just bring it all together. Really. Yeah. But it's it's hard. It's that's why I've had a lot of show runners on the show. And I hear it, I hear the stories I hear what they've gone through and, and also, one thing we've never even discussed in this episode is the politics. There's an obscene amount of politics that go on behind the scenes of just dealing with the politics of person, like any office, but then when you're talking with studio execs, and, and execs,

Pamela Douglas 49:43
I can give you, your listeners a tip if you are beginners, and you get a first job on the show. And this was told to me by one of my graduates. Yes, Yasmin, Yilmaz. Google her very first job her very first show after graduating. And she said, she made a policy to be the first one there in the morning. And the last one there at night, regardless of what her assignment was, and after a while, the boss noticed that here is somebody who is really giving all she can, and never asked for an assignment and then got one, because she was helpful in the writers room, she made other writers look good. It was the generosity of spirit, not competing with them. But making other writers look good being available to do whatever job there was, and being there. And I'm sure she will do very well. And anybody else who's got that attitude, there's an arrogance that you want to set aside. It's it's not that it really is. I mean, there are people who really should just go, you know, to a private room in the attic and write their movies and produce them in the Bentley. And that's the kind of art they do. And that's the life they do. It's nothing to do that's really very different from from actually being in the industry, if you want to shape your work.

Alex Ferrari 51:16
And I look, when I first started out, I was I was driving an hour commute every day to work for free. I worked for free for like four months. And I just showed up every day as an intern at to this production company until they say, hey, you want to work? Hey, you want to do this? And then my boss quit. My boss quit. And they're like, well, how are we going to get this job to where he's been here every day? Let's give it to him.

Pamela Douglas 51:38
Yeah, and I was, that's life.

Alex Ferrari 51:41
But it was that you're right. That kind of work ethic is something that is really should be taught in school people.

Pamela Douglas 51:49
Yeah, I wouldn't call it politics so much as I would call it. A sense of participation and cooperation and making good relationships.

Alex Ferrari 52:00
And it's all and that is the one other big tip. I've heard from all the hundreds of interviews I've had. It's all about relationships. It's all about building authentic good relationships. I had a producer on the other day, who the craft service intern 20 years later, got him a job animating a huge studio movie that went on to make a half a billion dollars. And it was his. And it was his Emmy, they stayed friends all that time. But imagine if they would have never built that relationship, he would have lost out on that job. 20 years later.

Pamela Douglas 52:35
Well, it's another reason to either go to school or join a workshop because you hear about openings from your friends. You know, buddy gets it becomes an intern or finds out there's a possible job somewhere. And yes, when you're further along, and you have an agent, that's their job to do that for you. But you're not gonna probably have that starting out. So you know, for everybody out there who's just all alone in you know, Nebraska, wherever, you really got to get yourself to some kind of film school or workshop. You got to get in the mix.

Alex Ferrari 53:13
it does build the relationships. Yeah.

Pamela Douglas 53:16
Probably should be in Los Angeles. But But there are some other places too,

Alex Ferrari 53:19
for television, television. Like it used to be the case that you had to be in LA for everything. And that from what I'm understanding now, is not the case anymore. In the feature world. There are things of television is still very difficult. You need to be here, it helps a lot to be here.

Pamela Douglas 53:37
They were writers rooms. Yeah. You meet in person with people, right. So you pretty much have to be here. There are a few other places to be there are some shows that are based in New York,

Alex Ferrari 53:52

Pamela Douglas 53:53
Vancouver. Canadian work is another whole issue of a certain number of Canadians have to be on staff.

Alex Ferrari 54:01

Pamela Douglas 54:02
Georgia, Atlanta, for sure. Yeah. You know, so there are a few other hubs. But basically, it's, I see the people who do really well. They probably, you know, got an MFA at a film school or were part of some Writers Workshop, wrote a lot didn't write one script and say they're saying I'm done. Now I know I get it.

Alex Ferrari 54:27
I'm on ... where's my money, guys? Where's you? You could just back up the truck here. Yeah, so I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. What is the biggest mistake you see young screenwriters make or young writers make?

Pamela Douglas 54:53
I can let me enter the two ways I paused because I wanted us think about whether it's about right The pilot or the industry? This one, let me do a micro first students who want to write not students, but new writers who want to write pilots make certain key mistakes in the pilots. And the first one is to stuff that pilot too much. They say to those Oh, I know television is a big ensemble cast. Some they're put all 100 of them in the pilot. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 55:27
no, just like Lost, just like Lost

Pamela Douglas 55:29
Yeah. Right, exactly. But last, the series began close on Jack's eyeball, it follows one character right in. And so you need to hone in on the quest of a single character in your pilot to draw the story forward and to draw the reader in. So if there was one single mistake that pilot writers, that would be the one I've noticed in beginnings, students I teach. From the industry point of view, I think, misjudging the level that you are going to enter in that this is a, this is a process that's not one minute long, then you really want to try to get a fellowship, you want to try to get experiences in turn, start on whatever job is there. Join organizations, learn your way. Put aside that arrogance that you were the one and only most brilliant person, and your first draft is going to make you a star. Because you want a substantial portfolio, you want to have written a lot, believe me, every script you write will be better than the one you wrote before.

Alex Ferrari 56:48
Very much. So. Now, we're three pilots that every writer should read.

Pamela Douglas 56:54
Um, oddly, some of the best shows are not the best pilots. So let me just take a departure to recommend some of the best shows that people should see from beginning to end. And the top of my list, which is not a good pilot, actually, we're not they're not a useful pilot, most people is Thed Wire. imitate the pilot, do not imitate the pilot. That's an example of 100 people on screen in the pilot, don't do that. But if you can look at all 60 hours, you will learn so much about writing depth of character, layered, serialized storytelling, it is truly the great American novel, as it's been called. So you must watch that you should see all of Breaking Bad, the Breaking Bad pilot is one you should read so good. So that, you know I have to tell you that the actual pilot has produced doesn't exist. There's an early draft, but it's close enough. Enough that you could just watch it actually just. So that's it. That's another one pilots. Another good sample for learning is Orange is the Black. Because although it's going to spread and have many, many layers of depth in the many characters who don't even meet in the pilot, it gives you a wedge in to a single characters issue. And it has the example that all pilot writers should know that opposed to movies, it doesn't close at the end, it opens at the end. And so that's a perfect example of a structure. There are other fine pilots. I'm sure. There are many good pilots out there. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 58:46
that's excellent. Now where can people find you? Where can people find the new fourth edition of the book and so on.

Pamela Douglas 58:55
There are two ways to buy the book and I I plead with everybody to please buy the fourth edition plush in 2018. A lot of people have that third edition, but that was 2011. And the world has changed since then

Alex Ferrari 59:08
a little bit a little bit, a little bit.

Pamela Douglas 59:11
So even if you have a third edition, go get the fourth. And there are two ways to get it. One is Amazon is inexpensive, and they will bring it to you in a day. So that's but also my publisher, Michael Wheezy MWP calm. You can buy it direct from the publisher and they also have some discounts going. bookstores unfortunately don't don't exist much anymore. You could probably get it at Barnes and Noble or something. If you order it, they would have to go get it for you. But you can get it immediately at either Amazon or MWP.

Alex Ferrari 59:49
Britain. Is there a way for people to reach out to you Do you have a website?

Pamela Douglas 59:53
I'm not used. I have a book website. I don't really use it. So just I'll tell you what, I'll give you my email.

Alex Ferrari 59:59
Well I'll put it we'll put it The show notes, so don't worry about it. Okay. All right, Bobby, because I don't want, because you put your email out, you're gonna get inundated.

Pamela Douglas 1:00:08
Yeah, the best way to get to me is, is through the book, honestly. And you'll see the book also, by the way, has referrals to people who do consulting. Not, not me, other people who do this professionally. And if you can't go to school, go to something. And so there are some of the services here,

Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
Pam, it's been a pleasure talking to you and getting deep into the weeds of writing TV dramas. So thank you so much for the fourth edition of the book. It's been going strong for quite some time. And it's ever-changing. And I'm sure the fifth edition will be coming down any minute now. Thank you so much.

Pamela Douglas 1:00:54
You're very welcome, Alex. Nice talking to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 13:09
in a character. Undressed.

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

Alex Ferrari 17:36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve DeKnight 24:06
Bruce Wayne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 37:01
Oh, Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 40:25
because I need to rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 58:33
It was more comic bookie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:22:38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:29:48
I did it.

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

Alex Ferrari 1:30:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:34:21

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

Steve DeKnight 1:34:32

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:36:13
I remember

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:38:21
Right? Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Endgame. Endgame. I mean, come on,

Endgame. Endgame and Infinity war. Oh,

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:43:01

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:44:25

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

Alex Ferrari 1:44:59

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:45:22

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

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

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:46:28

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

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:47:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:50:28

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

Alex Ferrari 1:50:30

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:51:12

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

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:52:41
Oh my god

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

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

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

Alex Ferrari 1:54:20

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:54:54

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

Steve DeKnight 1:55:09

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

Steve DeKnight 1:55:12

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

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

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

But I appreciate you taking

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

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

Steve DeKnight 1:56:34
My pleasure.

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

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Vince Gilligan Scripts Collection: Screenplays Download

What can be said about Breaking Bad creator and screenwriter Vince Gilligan? Below are all the screenplays and television scripts written by Vince Gilligan available online. Watch the video below to get a deeper insight into his writing process. If you find any of his missing screenplays please leave the link in the comment section.

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

(NOTE: For educational and research purposes only).


Screenplay by Vince Gilligan – Read the screenplay!

AMPED (2007)

Screenplay by Vince Gilligan and Frank Spotnitz – Read the screenplay!


Screenplay by Vince Gilligan – Read the screenplay!

BREAKING BAD (2008-2013)

1×00 “Pilot”

3×01: “No Mas”

3×03 “I.F.T.”

3×05 “Mas”

3×06 “Sunset”

3×07 “One Minute”

3×08 “I See You”

3×09 “Kafkaesque”

3×10 “The Fly”

3×11 “Abiquiu”

3×12 “Half Measures”

3×13 “Full Measure”

5×16 “Felina”