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BPS 080: Writing for TV/Streaming Platforms in Today’s World with Michael Jamin

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

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

Michael also launched a new course to help writers interested in working in streaming/television.  It’s called The Showrunner’s Guide to TV Writing. Here’s the pitch by Michael.

I’ve watched a bunch of Masterclass videos. They feature amazingly talented writers talking about their craft. At $200, it’s a great way to get exposed to their genius. My course is not about getting you exposed.  And I want to do more than just inspire you.  I do a lot of hand-holding in these lessons. I show you how to take a kernel of an idea, break it into a story with act breaks, then develop that story from outline to script.

I lay out the exact process that I use every day to write stories that make people laugh and cry. It’s about creating an easily managed structure so that the creative process isn’t so daunting. You should continue to draw inspiration from the masters. I certainly do. But if you need more than just inspiration, I can be your guide.
Click here to take a look. 

Enjoy my conversation with Michael Jamin.

Right-click here to download the MP3

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Alex Ferrari 2:04
I'd like to welcome the show Michael Jamin man, how you doing?

Michael Jamin 3:27
Good. Thank you for having me.

Alex Ferrari 3:28
Oh, thank you, man. We're just trying to survive the the COVID onslaughts right now in our industry.

Michael Jamin 3:34
Yeah, here. Yeah, it's not easy out there.

Alex Ferrari 3:37
Yeah, it's not easy. And unfortunately, I don't foresee it getting any better anytime in the near future.

Michael Jamin 3:43
I don't even know how they thought it was gonna get better. Like how do you put people on a set together? Like I like they're all gonna be wearing masks on camera? How does that kind of work? So I don't know.

Alex Ferrari 3:51
We'll talk about we'll talk about like, specifically TV cuz at least features you might be able to get outside a lot. And maybe you can make some stuff work on location, but or you just shoot in New Zealand, which is obviously COVID free.

Michael Jamin 4:03
But they don't want us

Alex Ferrari 4:04
there. And no, nobody wants us anywhere. Else, right. Oh, that's another podcast for another time. So before we get started, how did you get into the business?

Michael Jamin 4:18
Well, right at you know, in high school, that's why I wanted to be comedy, right? I saw tears on TV. I was like, that's what I want to do with my life like that now. And then I went to college and two weeks after grad college, I got into my car, drove to LA and didn't know anyone. And I was like, Well, I'm not going to leave until I make it. So I struggled a couple years. I was a PA for a couple years. I wrote on some horrible projects. But then I finally broke in with my partner. And we got a job as a staff writer on a show called just shoot me. And then we've been working ever since.

Alex Ferrari 4:50
That's actually a I remember that show. That was a pretty popular show back in the day. It was a big show. Yeah. And that was your first gig in the writing room. Yeah,

Michael Jamin 4:59
yeah. staff writer you All staff, right?

Alex Ferrari 5:00
How did okay, so Okay, let's let's let's dissect that for a second. How did you get that first paid? Like, how did you get that gig because it's not easy to become a staff writer, even though even at that time, it was still fairly competitive, not as competitive as it is now. But now I'm still fairly competitive. So how did you get in? How, like, did you use the sample? How did it work?

Michael Jamin 5:19
To be honest, my first job before that I was I was at an assistant for executive producers, and they were running a TV show. So I was answering their phones. And then they gave us a screen my partner, a script, and they were running a show called Lois and Clark Superman, of course, right. So that was my first professional script they gave us they say, Okay, well, what you pitch and we pitch to a couple ideas, and they love one. And that wouldn't became like a big, I wonder, you know, for Lewis and Clark. So with that, we were kind of able to solicitations. And then we found an agent and my together my partner, we must have written probably eight or 10 spec scripts together. And the first one we wrote was a friend's but a spec script. And then we kept on writings, we didn't get any more work. But ironically, that script got into the hands of Steve Levitt hands assistant when he was staffing for just shoot me, the first script. That was the one that got us work, even though we had written eight others after that.

Alex Ferrari 6:14
So it was your very first script, which they always say is the garbage script. That's the one yes, no, we're told we're gonna look, it's just it's a sacrificial lamb in your example, exactly.

Michael Jamin 6:24
The agent was like, and not that good. You know, whatever. That's the kind of work. You know, she's no longer our agent anymore.

Alex Ferrari 6:31
Obviously, obviously, I'll talk about agents in a little bit, which I know I'm sure you have a lot to say. So, so you Right, so that was my big question. A lot of I always talk to screenwriters, and they always want to write like an original, if they want to get into television, or now television slash streaming, which is basically the same thing at this point, right? They always like I want to do I want to, like write an original or I want to write a pilot. And that's going to be my writing sample. Right? do you suggest writing sample scripts of existing popular shows? Just as a writing sample, or to go in with a fresh idea?

Michael Jamin 7:07
You know what? That's a really good question. Like back when I broken, it was easier because there's four networks, and everyone knew the big shows by Seinfeld friends, like everyone watched those shows. Now, what's the one show that everyone's watching? There really aren't that for sitcoms, just really,

Alex Ferrari 7:21
it's just Tiger Kane, obviously. But other than that,

Michael Jamin 7:24
like, last year, there was big bang theory. But that's no longer you know, on the air, so ever. Maybe Barry's the big hit. But that's still that's not like, it's a great show. Everyone's watching it. Not

Alex Ferrari 7:35
everyone was I mean, Big Bang was probably it was the big bang was kind of like the last run of that of those kind of models, friends or cheers or signs out there. That was the last one. Is there one going Modern Family just left? Exactly. So there really, there really isn't.

Michael Jamin 7:55
So that's why people are writing original stuff. But the problem was the originals. Like, that's a whole different skill set, creating characters in a world and a fresh, original pilot. Like, if when I'm hiring a show, I don't need to know if you can do that. I need to know if you can write for existing characters. I don't need to know if you can create your own. That's not the job requirement. And so I think it's a lot harder for people trying to break in now because they have to show original work. Just because no one's no one's watching those other shows. You can't really spec those other shows. So the bar is a little unfair. That's why Yeah, it's a it's a little unfair for people breaking in.

Alex Ferrari 8:30
So would you. So if I want to get a job on Stranger Things, or on or on a, you know, on any of the like, it's a Netflix streaming sitcom, one day at a time. Let's say you guys come to mind. Do you write a spec? script for that show? No,

Michael Jamin 8:49
no, because you'll never do it as well. And whoever reads it was like, that's not that's, that doesn't count. That's not how it works. They'll be like, that's not No, you didn't catch the voice. And you never will. The best way not to get hired on a show is to spec that show. Like I remember even when I was on just shoot me reading specs for just shoot me don't that's not No, no, no. And, you know, because everyone is writing like Nina, like a giant horn like Nina's not a horse. But I can see why you're watching that show why you think that but for us on the inside, there's a there's a very fine line that we play on how we create, you know, right for those characters. So you're never gonna get it as an outsider. If you want to get a job on one day at a time, don't submit a one day and time

Alex Ferrari 9:29
spec. So you always do something, another show popular in that same kind of genre.

Michael Jamin 9:35
Exactly the same tone right?

Alex Ferrari 9:37
Right now. Now, how do you when you're in a writers room because you've been a showrunner and you've been a staff writer? Yeah. You're when you're in the writers room, which we'll talk about the future of writers rooms is a general state. But when you're working, when you're working in a writers room, what is that dynamic of a sitcom you know, a fully functioning you No hitting on all cylinders, kind of writers room in a comedy world.

Michael Jamin 10:04
I've been I've been I've been in some great writing room and some ones that are not that great. It all kind of depends. The tone of the show is is dependent on the showrunner, what kind of are they? collaborative? Are they kind of jerks? You know, there, you got all sorts, obviously, job of a staff writer, I think, I think many people make this mistake, they think that your job is to make the best show possible, which is not what your job is your job as a staff writer, and then any level that can be the bottom staff writer to go all the way to coexist. Your job is to make the best version of the show that the CO showrunner wants to make. And there's a big difference. So you could there's no point arguing with the showrunner about what what's going to be good or bad? That's up for him or her to decide. It's your job to please them. You know how you don't shouldn't argue and say no, I think America like this, that's not for you to say nothing, you know, you just do what your boss give your boss what your boss wants.

Alex Ferrari 10:58
So it's a very much of a hierarchy, system and television, much more than amateurs? Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Michael Jamin 11:05
yeah. And also, you know, as the higher up you go, the more responsibility, the more you're expected to contribute. So staff writer doesn't isn't expected to do the same amount of work as a co executive producer. And so sometimes they think, well, that person is talking X amount of time, I need to talk x as much, but you don't, you have to talk their pay, they're getting paid a lot more than you. So you don't have to do as much. So you don't need to fight with them. You know?

Alex Ferrari 11:30
So when you do, that's the one thing I always see 1000s of CO executives and executives and producers and all these credits when I see my shows, can you explain what these are? Because I mean, yes, it's it just because it's, it gets stupid sometimes, like literally, I would watch a show, and there's 10 or 15. co executives and then executive producers, and then the Creator. And it's like, there's just so many can you explain why that is? Right.

Michael Jamin 11:57
So you have the showrunner. That's the boss, the head writer, that person's usually the executive producer. But from starting from the bottom, you have the staff, the writing staff, the lowest one writer is a staff writer. And then you get then you get to story editor, executive story editor, got to co producer, producer, supervising producer, co executive producer, these are the CO executives maybe like the number two, the second in command when the executive producers out of the room. And then you have other executive producers, who might be a manager, they might be talent might have a credit, you might have executive producer who created who sold the book that it's based on. So there's a lot of people who are non writing executive producers that might get a current credit, but they're not writers. Is that and also some network executives might be in that world. Some Yeah. studi Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 12:47
How do you deal with hidden executives that come in and just

Michael Jamin 12:54
smile, and you smile

Alex Ferrari 12:55
a lot into a heart and just say, No, I'm not gonna go do that behind closed doors.

Michael Jamin 13:00
Sometimes you get great advice and great notes. And sometimes you don't. But that's part of the you know, when you work as a writer, and you're getting paid part of the job is to like, Listen up, you know, you got to take your ego out of the game, and you have to play ball, you have to be nice and polite. If you fight everybody, you know, you can you want to use them as allies. So you want to work with them. And if you can give them a note, you give them a note, and you give them take their No,

Alex Ferrari 13:24
no. Can you talk a little bit about the politics inside of television writing? world? It just what television show in general? There's politics involved. There's politics and everything. Yeah, I think it's something that's not really spoken about. So like, a lot of the stuff you've just said, are invaluable. little tips like, you don't tell the executive, the the showrunner or the CO executive like, No, I think the character would do this if you're a staff writer. But that's not kind of the hierarchy, I think you'll get you'll get, you'll get, you'll get axed fairly if you have no time. Really, yeah, it's ego, and you're not gonna win that battle? Well, it's I think it's because

Michael Jamin 14:02
staffers want to prove they, they want to prove their job, they want to prove that they can contribute. And the easiest way for them to prove that they contribute is by shitting, on your idea, that that's what they think. And so it's much harder to come up with a good idea, it's very hard to come up with an idea that we're going to that you're going to use, it's much easier to say why your idea is terrible, or why it's not going to work. And they think that part of the creative process, but it really isn't. In the rooms, there's an expression, it's pitch, don't pitch. So if you have a problem, don't come up with a problem, come up with a solution. And then everyone will love you, but don't point out problems unless you have a solution.

Alex Ferrari 14:38
So a lot of times, you'll hear writers do exactly that. They're like, Oh, there's this and this and this Well, well, how do you fix it? I don't know. Yes,

Michael Jamin 14:49
I didn't know what I was doing. So I was like, well, I might as well just tell you what, I think you're doing something wrong, as opposed to me being positive. So we're all guilty of that as I see it all the time with with staff writers. I always All the time.

Alex Ferrari 15:00
Now as far as the politics are involved, the hierarchy is that the showrunner is the absolute boss. Yeah, yeah. Other than the studio maybe above him. That's

Michael Jamin 15:12
right. The showrunner is never really the boss the shit, you know, cuz there's always someone telling you what you're doing wrong. It could be the studio could be the star network. So even when you're the boss you're never the boss.

Alex Ferrari 15:22
So it also depends on what where you are in the in the the lifespan of that show for season. Everyone's kind of hanging out. We're all trying to figure out we're gonna get picked up for the next season.

Michael Jamin 15:34
Yeah, everyone's operating out of fear. Especially.

Alex Ferrari 15:37
Exactly. So when you when a series is been around for four or five seasons, let's say then the power shift could be different. It could be the showrunner. It could be the star, that's now become a star. And now they start they start throwing their weight around a little bit more. And they're like, you know what, I have an idea. Yeah. And I think we should go I think we should make this character do this now and the entire the entire writers room goes. That's a horrible idea. And then the show runners like, if I don't appease the the star, this is going to be a problem. But if I do a pizza star, the whole show is gonna go downhill. So yeah, am I am I speaking?

Michael Jamin 16:16
At definitely happens. Definitely happens. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 16:20
What's your How do you? So as a showrunner, I have to ask you. How do you deal with that? Like, how do you deal with like, these kind of influences coming in from all over? And it's your job to keep the boat on on the path that you feel is the right path. I know this is this is just landmines everywhere.

Michael Jamin 16:38
Yeah. It's definitely hard. But you know, I've had my partner and I've had some easy experiences met. We ran a show called Marin starring Mark Marin. And he was in the writers from the whole time. So because he's one of the writers. And so we didn't have there was never a power struggle, because he was in there the whole time. And if he had a problem with something's Okay, here, let's figure it out together. I think it becomes trickier when the star is not in the writers room. When you put them in the writers room. You say, okay, we're going to work this out. We're going to figure this out. And then they go, Oh, I'm gonna be here all night. And then suddenly, suddenly, they play ball. But if you start is not in the writers room, and they go, okay, you're gonna be here all night. I'm going home. And that's when things get ugly.

Alex Ferrari 17:16
Yeah. fix it. And I'll see you in the morning.

Michael Jamin 17:18
Yeah, yeah. But we've had variances. So yeah.

Alex Ferrari 17:22
And it goes, I was sure. I'm assuming you have horror stories. And you have stories that are fantastic. And you're like, Oh, that's just a pleasure to work. Like Marin. I'm assuming he's, I've heard great things about him. And he's Yeah,

Michael Jamin 17:33
he's really he was always game like, you pitch something to him and be crazy going. Okay, I'll do that. And you like, really? Cuz he was just game. So he's very open. Yeah. So

Alex Ferrari 17:43
So let's talk a little bit about COVID. Right now, because we're, as we're recording this, we're in the middle of COVID. It's, we're arguably still in the first wave of this thing. I remember a month ago, or a month and a half ago, hollywood was reopening. It was going to be new guidelines. And as I was, and I was, as they were announcing all this in the unions were signing off on stuff and all of this, I'm just going to myself, this is you guys are insane. I know everybody wants to go back.

Michael Jamin 18:11
Right? The insurance would never saw you, they would never sign off on it. So it doesn't matter.

Alex Ferrari 18:17
Right. I was gonna say that, like if someone gets sick on your set, and then someone God forbid dies because of it. Yeah, you're liable as a production. So unless you've got some coverage, you are leaving yourself wide open. And then of course, there's the I think there were some productions that were wanting the actors and in this in the crew to sign off waivers going if you get COVID it's on you. Yeah, right, man. And I think I think sag said, No, no, no, no, we're not.

Michael Jamin 18:49
We're taking out a few animated projects, just because that seems to be the only thing that's safe right

Alex Ferrari 18:54
now. Right and so Okay, so with COVID How is I you know, writer room writers rooms are still going right now. But in the zoom style process, because a lot of the late night shows are still going from home. Yeah. And they have writers rooms, and I was watching an interview with Trevor Noah, and they're like, yeah, the first couple weeks we're just like, on top of each other who's muted who's not muted? Who's, who's talking who's not. But But then we just got into it. Have you had any experience with

Michael Jamin 19:24
Oh, I was on the last show. I was on DICOM AF D. And that's a live action show. But it hasn't come back for I'm sure it will but it hasn't come back yet for the third season. So I don't know what the plan if they are going to pick it up to the third seat. I think they are but I'm not sure when because when can they choose it? So I don't know what the what the network's plan is on that so we haven't I haven't been in a virtual writers room yet.

Alex Ferrari 19:47
How do you how do you feel it's gonna work in your from your

Michael Jamin 19:51
I think I think for it to work. It has to be a small room. I think you can't have the same number of writers as you used to because everyone's talking over each other. You know, it

Alex Ferrari 20:00
What is what is the standard register in the common?

Michael Jamin 20:03
It's getting smaller now, because especially if you go to cable and the budgets get smaller, maybe eight writers, but I'm married first season we there was just four, but four of us, there's four of us. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 20:15
And Mark was one of them. Now that's actually a pretty

Michael Jamin 20:18
tight that's me. That's true, because you have to do 13 episodes. And then that means everyone has to write a time, and you only have like, 10 weeks of pre production. It was really, it was a it was, you know, it was stressful. We had, you know, bang that thing out.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
So that's a great, that's a good segue to the next question. You You obviously started in the traditional television world, when there was only four major networks. Yeah. And now 1000 networks with 20,000 shows. But yes, have started to drop, drop, drop, drop drop dramatically, because that's the nature of the beast. And you've worked on both sides. And you've worked on cable shows, you've worked on streaming shows, how do you adjust? Because the budgets, the budgets keep going down and down? Right?

Michael Jamin 21:08
When we did Marin, that was the first show my part of my rant, and I remember the put the budget, and that was about a third of what a network show was. And so a network show you might shoot in five days. Marin, we had a shooting two and a half days, each episode two and a half days. And I remember getting a tour. They put us up in some kind of dumpy building in Glendale, some kind of low rent a production office, and the woman was giving me a tour of the Office of the room from the studios give me a tour of the office. And because I shouldn't tell you this, but we're all laughing at you in the office. And I'm like, yeah, you shouldn't. Why are you laughing? Because Because your budgets so low, we don't think you can make it. And I was like, This is not what I needed to hear on my first day as a showrunner. And I said, Well, do we get to have a whiteboard? I meant it. I like, do we have a whiteboard? And she goes, we have a supply room full of whiteboards. You can have as many whiteboards as you want. I was like, Oh, no, we'll figure it out. And that's no problem. You just write to what you can do. So that means when you have when you write a scene, you don't write a scene in an amusement park, you write a scene in someone's backyard, you know, you just make a small and you just change the way you write. It's and, and and when you watch the show, sometimes scenes were poorly lit. Sometimes the coverage was a little lacking. But no one the critics never said that. The critics never said the scene was dark. The critics never said, Oh, why is it Granville street? You know, they were like, Hey, this is great. The writing, they comment on the writing and the acting. And so no one said, you know, they were kind because no one watching a show for the lighting. You're not gonna watch a show on

Alex Ferrari 22:30
not specifically in the comedy comedy,

Michael Jamin 22:33
you're not gonna see what a wallet show you if it's no good, you're gonna turn it off. You

Alex Ferrari 22:37
know, right. That's the that's icing. It's not that it's not the foundation. It's not that the main meat of the cake, if you will. Now, there was another thing I wanted to ask you about the the world of the Seinfeld, the friends, the cheers, residuals of those shows, are are legendary. I mean that the friends cast still makes I'm sure the writing staff still makes obscene amounts, like you get one show. And it's a hit for eight or 10 seasons, you're good. You don't have to work anymore.

Michael Jamin 23:10
Well, not so much for writer for writer you used to get half every time it airs, you got half half of what you half and half and half and then it gets it's you know, it's a it's a you know, calculus, it's a limit you there's an excellent, you reach a cap. And you'll never make more than that because it gets half half in half. And then I have to go into like Netflix and they just give you a one time fee. Right? And they bought out and you don't really get residuals you got like a one time check.

Alex Ferrari 23:33
Right? So that that changes the whole conversation because the days of a modern family, the days of a friend, but even Modern Family that just finished this this year. Those were those residual packages that the studios are just trying to go away from that because they're like, Well, wait a minute, Netflix isn't doing so why do we have to do it now? Even Disney's like, yeah, we're gonna give you like two runs of residuals. And that's pretty much it, guys. And that's everybody's staff and everything. So that really changes the game for not only actors, but for show runners for creators, these these really fat packages that they would get the back end aren't going away. That's it? Yeah. Yeah. What's your feeling on that? How does that change the way you think about your career moving forward? And specifically, because you obviously started back in the day, when those packages were still around. And they are still around to a certain extent in the network world? Yeah, for some people, but how does that change the triadic trajectory of a writer's career? Because before you kind of like we're looking forward to those that mailbox money.

Michael Jamin 24:40
Yeah, it's it makes it a lot harder, to be honest, as a middle class writer, as he's kind of squeezes you out, because people were used to rely on those residuals and now they're just they're not there anymore. And the network, the orders are shorter and shorter. So in the past, I was on just shooting you do 24 episodes a year and you get paid per episode. Now you'll be on a cable show, you'll do maybe eight or 10 episodes a season. Then you got to find another job. You have to somehow you know, it's

Alex Ferrari 25:03
another job. Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Jamin 25:05
So it's definitely, it's squeezing out. It's gonna squeeze out writers. It's gonna squeeze out people who just can't afford to do it. You know, it's not good.

Alex Ferrari 25:14
It's it, but it's the it's the nature of the business the way streaming has changed everything.

Michael Jamin 25:19
Yeah, yeah. So you can pitch about it, or you got to just, you know, accept it and adopt without making something out.

Alex Ferrari 25:25
I mean, it's people like Shonda Rhimes, and Ryan Murphy, those guys are getting such upfront massive.

Michael Jamin 25:30
You don't need to worry about them.

Alex Ferrari 25:31
They're doing okay. They're okay. They were they were fine before. Yeah, Alex gave Shonda Rhimes $100 million.

Michael Jamin 25:41
Everyone else,

Alex Ferrari 25:42
but I wanted to kind of bring that up because I want there to be a realistic idea of what an actual television writer is going to be doing in the in the from now moving forward. There is everyone's like, Oh, it's the Golden Age, there's so much opportunity. Absolutely, there is a lot of shows, there's more shows. But the money is much less,

Michael Jamin 26:03
I spend as much time either looking for work or developing work, creating my own shows with my partner than I do actually writing working on a show. I mean, you know, the balance has shifted.

Alex Ferrari 26:14
So you know, it's much more much but you're also in a position to have you have track records, you have a reputation that you can walk in with a brand new show and kind of end up being a showrunner and all that stuff. So if you're in a very unique scenario that that makes, that makes all the sense in the world, you shouldn't be going after staff writing jobs at this point. Yeah. All right. You should be doing other things and packaging it out. But moving for like, can you Is there a standard is that what's the writer guild guild minimum now for? Like a staff writer on a comedy show on streaming?

Michael Jamin 26:44
I don't know. I don't know. offhand. I might be a few 1000 a week. I don't know if it's different for moms.

Alex Ferrari 26:50
Yeah, no, it's not. It's anywhere between a few 1000 to low five figures or not. It's not going to get to

Michael Jamin 26:57
that writers get paid per week, whereas other writers hierarchy paid per episode.

Alex Ferrari 27:01
Oh, there's just the straight up staff writer, and they're just there for the duration of bottom level. And

Michael Jamin 27:06
that's a weekly minimum salary. And I don't know, because I don't really know what it is, like two or three.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
I don't know something. Random. Yeah. So it's, it's Monday, but in LA?

Michael Jamin 27:16
Yeah. Yeah. Always for sure. I mean, when I was an assistant in La 25 years ago, I was an assistant. I was making dirt money, but I had enough money to make it Have I get my own studio apartment. But now forget, it wasn't

Alex Ferrari 27:29
where was that studio apartment?

Michael Jamin 27:30
That was in, in the Fairfax district in West Hollywood. So I couldn't get that out? No, no, I had a one bedroom for 650 a month now. Now, it's probably like 2000 a month, that same building an army. So

Alex Ferrari 27:48
all right, so you're gonna write a pilot? Well, first of all, before you that, can you explain what a show Bible is?

Michael Jamin 27:55
Yeah, and I don't really, I guess it. We don't do that. I don't do that. On my level. It's basically you're telling people when you sell the show, here's the pilot. But also, here's the show. And here's the run of the show. Here's what we think a season two and season three is going to be and I understand they kind of want that now for free for a lot of streaming shows, they want them to be serialized because people are because people are binge watching. So as opposed to like Modern Family, you can watch any episode out of water, and it's just as enjoyable. But now I want it to be serialized. So this one, because next one, that way, you can't stop watching. And so in that sense, they really kind of want a Bible they want. They want to know what the three our three season arc is, which, especially for a young writer, a new writer, I don't know how they're expected to know how to do that. For me. It's not it's not as hard but for new writers like

Alex Ferrari 28:43
Jay Yeah, you know, but also, I

Michael Jamin 28:45
find that limiting because when you as you work on the show, you discover the relationships at work and the dynamics and whatever you think the plan is, you throw it all out, because you go, Oh, this is working. Let's go with that. So the whole idea of Bible Smith find a little strange, but that's kind of what people want. So if you if you are,

Alex Ferrari 29:05
if you're writing a pilot for a new show, and you really are behind this pile, and you think this is this is good, or you have two or three of these pilots, should you attach Bibles to that, at this point, US New York,

Michael Jamin 29:15
or a young writer,

Alex Ferrari 29:16
a young writer,

Michael Jamin 29:18
I feel like for a young writer, their job is to write a good pilot script, because if it's good, they're going to get teamed up. They need to get teamed up with a showrunner like me to sell it anyway.

Alex Ferrari 29:27
And that's something that most writers don't understand, especially young writers that like if you even if you've got the next Breaking Bad, they're not gonna let you run the show.

Michael Jamin 29:35
No, no, and you're not going to even sell it without some other piece of the top piece of the package. Whether it's a showrunner or a piece of talent director, something else has to be part of the equation or you're not going to sell it. So do you if you have an idea for a script? Do you need to read a whole Bible? I don't think so. Your first the first challenge is to write the it's read a good script and then team up with the short run and the short run will help guide you

Alex Ferrari 30:00
Will that writer as a creator of the show, will they still have it? Let's say, let's say I write a pilot and and I attach you to it and you're like, I love this. Let's do it. You're the Creator, Alex, we're gonna take this over to Netflix, I got my boy Bob over there, he's gonna get us in there and you get a deal. Will I as, as the creator of it still have? Not creative control? Because that's not I'm not that delusional. But what what what can we what can a writer in my position expect to as far as creatively, and financially work in that world?

Michael Jamin 30:35
He creatively you would be hopefully attached to the project.

Alex Ferrari 30:40
Hopefully,

Michael Jamin 30:41
yeah. You know, if you make too much of it, if you make too much of extinct kick out, I okay. So, I worked. Uh, this is the year or two ago, someone brought us a producer brought us a talent. There's a writer who had a show, she created something on YouTube that had some episodes in there, like short little episodes, like five or 10 minutes, and some of them are quite good. And some of them were in. And so the plan was to attach her, they wanted to catch us to be sure when his first show we'd like the basic premise and the characters. And then she got a little greedy. And, and she wanted more and more and more. And we were waiting for the and I kept, you know, I was like, I don't need to deal with this. I'm, I'm part charge of that negotiation, you producers Miss studios are, they can leave me out of this. And then suddenly, the deal just went away. It just went, she became too much of a pain in the ass, and it went away. So you know, you got to understand your first first opportunity, you're going to get screwed. I got screwed on my first opportunity ever, but everyone does. You have to accept that you don't have leverage. So play ball, accept the fact that you know, hey, hoping to go I'm here along for the ride. I'm here to help. And I'm not here to make waves. And then in your second project, that's when you start making some money.

Alex Ferrari 31:56
So Larry, David's not gonna get screwed on his next project?

Michael Jamin 31:59
No, no, Larry, Dave is he's again, he's okay. It's it's no, he's fine. If someone was no credit needs to just Hey, you know, just not going along for the ride. And just and yeah,

Alex Ferrari 32:13
it just go. Yes, yes. I just want to credit I want to get paid a little bit. And this let's move on. And if you if you can, can you? Can you please express this is the biggest piece of advice I give anybody who asked me about being a writer, being a filmmaker being getting into the business, the number one piece of advice I gave is like, Just don't be a dick. Oh, oh,

Michael Jamin 32:34
I see it all the time. And I see it I think you're exactly right. Because you know, people, okay, assistance when you're talking to an assistant on a, an agency or whatever, they're not going to be assistant for a long time, they're gonna rise up to agents in a year or two. And same thing with anybody in any position a PA, you don't abuse them, you just be nice to them, just because you want to be nice, but also because they are going to be in power at one point. So don't be a dick to anybody.

Alex Ferrari 32:59
That's crazy. You never underestimate the power of just being able to sit and wait specifically for TV writers to sit in a room for eight to 10 hours if not longer with somebody and enjoy their company that is honestly sometimes more valuable than a super talented writer who's just a pain in the ass to work with.

Michael Jamin 33:18
I saw I worked on one show, we had a pain in the ass writer and he never came back for season two.

Alex Ferrari 33:22
So and then have you and have you worked with, you know, arguably writers who you knew the other guy might have been a better writer, but he was just such a pain in the ass or like,

Michael Jamin 33:30
not worth it.

Alex Ferrari 33:32
It's it's just not it's not worth it right talent.

Michael Jamin 33:34
You can find somebody else who, who's just as good and not a pain in the ass. There's a lot of competition out there.

Alex Ferrari 33:39
Right? You know? Yeah. And a lot of times they think that the last coconut desert as they say,

Michael Jamin 33:43
Yes, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 33:45
Right. Now, what advice would you give a writer or a young writer or writer who's just starting out? How do they get attention from a manager or an agent? And when is it appropriate to even approach them, but I think that's a very specific thing. That's

Michael Jamin 34:01
when I'm staffing for a show, I got to read a ton of scripts. And these are from writers who are young writers, but they have representation. Like I also wouldn't have gotten a script. And I'm telling you 95% of the scripts are just no good. And these are people who have representation. And I think what you're asking is actually the wrong question. I think the right question to ask is, how can I make sure my script is good? Or great? because no one's looking for mediocre writers? You know, if you're mediocre, right, there's, I don't know, unless maybe they want a good writer or a great writer. And so the question is, how can I make my script good or great, as opposed to how can I find a manager or an agent? Because once you have managed read it, so what that doesn't mean anything? You get to tell your mom, look, I got a manager and your mom's like, oh, maybe it's gonna work out. But it doesn't mean your table, you know, the money doesn't go in your pocket with a manager, you need to have a job.

Alex Ferrari 34:49
Right. And that's, that's kind of why I asked the question because there's this myth out there that people especially people who are not been in the industry for a long time that they think that once they get the agent in the manager all their dreams will come true the agents gonna start getting them in all those rooms and the money's just gonna start flowing in because they're gonna hustle for

Michael Jamin 35:05
you know, they're not. They Their job is to feel the offers. They basically if they if an agent has 10 writers, and they submit all 10 writers for this one job opening, they don't care who gets it as long as one of them gets it, they're happy. Like, you know that they're why they don't care who and so they're not gonna fight for you. Maybe they'll submit you, but they're gonna fight for the one who is who he gets the job easier.

Alex Ferrari 35:29
Now, what is the biggest mistake you see screenwriters make? And with television pilots, or television writing in general,

Michael Jamin 35:38
the single bit? Well, one of them is just not starting the story soon enough. And and that's just basic understanding how how to write a screenplay. And so if I am reading a script, and I, the story hasn't started by page five, if I'm not engaged, forget it. Goodbye. I pick up another one. Now that seems unfair, but I got a stack of scripts up to the roof. Why would I? Like maybe it'll get good at the end. But who cares? Like I'm not I'll just read the next one. Next one will get read good earlier, hopefully be you know, start the story sooner. And I think that's it may seem cruel, but it's actually fair, you and I do the same thing. If we're watching a TV show, and it's no good. After five minutes, we don't say well, let's give it another 30 minutes,

Alex Ferrari 36:16
we change the channel. Right? So exactly like right now my wife and I are We're in COVID land. So we're going through shows yet like we should that show that you've always wanted to watch you've had on your list. We're now starting to get to them. And then when we get to them, like we'll give them an episode, maybe two. And then it's finds out not not it's no,

Michael Jamin 36:38
but it's gonna get good later. I don't care. I don't care. Like,

Alex Ferrari 36:42
I know a lot of people listening will probably freak out. But like, I have never watched Game of Thrones. So I watched one or two episodes. My wife both watched it. And we were just like, I'm sure it's gonna get really good. Interesting, but I I don't have the time. And if my wife's not into it, right? It's just hard, man. I can't I can't take on Game of Thrones without the support of my wife because we only have so much TV. We can watch. We generally don't watch it separately. We generally watch it together. So I just I couldn't get into it. I'm sure one day maybe I will. But you know I love okay. I know. I know. A lot of people do a lot of people love it. Like, I'm a huge Breaking Bad fan. Like the best fiver I mean, it's the best show ever been selling some genius. And, you know, I remember I remember walking dead when it first came out. I'm not my wife got into the zombie show. Like it was insane. But then I after season six, I just like

Michael Jamin 37:43
yeah,

Alex Ferrari 37:45
I can't. But um, but at a certain point, you either lose people or you gain people and a show like in the comedy world like, like friends, I still think is probably as brilliant as Seinfeld. To a certain you know, Seinfeld. In France, both of them Cheers. is where I was watching. I went to my mom's house last year to visit and I was watching Golden.

Michael Jamin 38:11
Golden was great, man. What's a great shot.

Alex Ferrari 38:13
What a great show. Yeah, and like I haven't seen gold. I remember watching Golden Girls forever. And I was watching it and I'm just sitting there going. Hiding is so good.

Michael Jamin 38:27
Who ran modern Emily crystal I ran Modern Family. And then he also you know, he ran Frasier before then we in between we worked for them on a show called out of practice that he created. And he's a just a brilliant writer. But I think his very first credit was was Golden Girls. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 38:41
that's it's it's amazing to go back and watch some of those some of those early shows.

Michael Jamin 38:47
By the way, who now they would never make it because who's gonna sit down and watch five or four, you know, senior citizens? Who cares? It's funny, it's great. The cat, but they don't make those. They will make that show now because that what's the entry point? You'd have to be 25 year olds or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 39:03
You know, the funny thing is to that Blanche. Who was the that character Blanche? She was like 53 in the show. Yeah, Jennifer Lopez is 50 like two. Is that right? Wow. I saw that online somewhere. I was like, This is 50. This is 53 in 1985. Yeah, and this is 52 in 2020. And you're just like Jennifer Aniston's in her. Yeah, in her late 40s, early 50s. Salma Hayek is in and you look at these women like amazing but JLo is a freak of nature. She She obviously drinks the blood of infants who can blame? I mean, Jesus. So those are the deaths. The biggest mistake any advice you would give screenwriters who are trying to break into television or into when I say television, I mean includes streaming that's that's a given. Yeah. So tell. I'm trying to get a job right now. Television. Honestly, I,

Michael Jamin 40:02
I really think it's more important to focus on your craft and get your craft to a place where it's the writing is really good. As opposed to, you know, that will you make Hollywood come to you as opposed to, you know me coming Hollywood, but also with YouTube. And in Facebook, it's so much easier to put your own content up and make something splashy that people come to you. There's a comedian out Sarah Cooper, she she just hit it a couple of weeks ago by doing these Donald Trump impersonation where she just mows, she takes a speech and she nails, you know, to lip syncs to his speech, but she adds her funny expressions, and she became a hit. And now Hollywood came here, she just got signed with by way, Morris never because of that, because she was putting up her own content. And people were discovering great content. So it sounds like she was banging on doors. I think she was earlier before that. And when they weren't opening, and now she did it herself. And now Hollywood comes to her. And that's the difference between now and when just shoot me started. Like you can create your own content, and you have an avenue and distribution outlet to put those things out there. And comedy specifically doesn't have to be so high. I mean, it just has to be funny. Yeah, it doesn't have to be well produced. No, you don't need to spend a ton of money, you have your phone, you can edit on your phone with an app for $5. And you know, it's a little harder now with COVID. But whatever do a puppet show? I don't know, put up your content. And that's good. You know,

Alex Ferrari 41:24
do you suggest that writers create it because there's a lot of these amazon prime series that are out there? Like they they're just self produced? And they have like eight episodes, and I've seen these running and they're funny and stuff. Do you recommend writers? Does that have more cachet with you? That they have something produced that they produce themselves that you can send you an episode of that they see their writing? Or is it better the old fashioned way, but

Michael Jamin 41:50
it's not so much they should send me an episode, I should discover an episode. It should be so big people say Hey, have you seen this? Have you heard of this? So again, it's not about knocking on doors. Hey, Michael, we watch my stupid episode. It's the pound, you know, make something great. And focus on the writing. And then you'll be you know, you'll be sought after.

Alex Ferrari 42:10
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What are three pilots that all TV writers should?

Michael Jamin 42:20
Oh, wow. That's, you know, I read so many. I'll go back and I'll go back and reread pilots just to see how they do when I'm working on something else. So the Frasier pilot was terrific. The taxi pilot was as an interesting pilot, because it doesn't really have the show. But but there's a way there's so many. And they're probably all online, the more you read, the better, honestly, but yeah, Frasier was friends. And it was very good. But like the Seinfeld pilot is not what Seinfeld became right? You know? Right, right. Yeah. So you can see some ones like that's not the show. So but it goes, but you should read as many as you can just for story structure. Look, where are the act breaks? How are the characters introduced, where the the accurate moments are? Probably the most important thing to look at what kind of accuracy we talked, and what's the world? What's the main? What's the main relationship, we're going to be following this pilot?

Alex Ferrari 43:13
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Michael Jamin 43:17
It took me while learning how to break a story properly, that took years and years. And I remember, the first couple years of my career, I was like, this is a magic trick. I don't know how these guys are doing it. You'd pitch something. And in one of the writers room, no, that's not that's not an act like that goes here admit acting, but I didn't know this. I mean, it really was. That took me a long time to learn. And eventually, when became a shorter myself, you have to learn fast. So that's invaluable knowing how to break a story.

Alex Ferrari 43:44
So can you explain what breaking the story is that kind of definition of it?

Michael Jamin 43:49
So when you have an idea, you have an idea for an episode? And then the first question is, well, is this is this enough weight to carry an episode? Or is this just a scene? Just a funny, this is a line? And I think a lot of people a lot of people struggle with that I got a million ideas. I'm like, wasn't them I know you have in mind is I have a million ideas to half of them are shit. So how do we identify what are the good ones from the bad ones? Then once you have a good one, you figure, okay, I know what this the main dynamic is. But how do I break it into three acts? So that I'm talking about what's my first act break my second act break? What happens in the middle of Act Two, what, what are they? And so that's called breaking a story. And then you're, you're just doing them out on a whiteboard, you're just putting the, the bare bones of what the story is. And then from there, you make an outline, and then you write a first draft. So it's all done in stages. Now what what did you learn from your biggest failure? I remember, it was my biggest failure, but I never My first job was I was shorting Marin. And we wrote all the scenes writer, write a scene in the scene. My partner wrote this episode. And then in the writers room, we rewrote it with everybody that's common. The route is all work together. Mark was there, and we rewrote the scene. And then Went to shoot it. And Mark, we did a we did a rehearsal. And then suddenly Mark kind of flew, like flew off the handlebars. And he got really mad at me because I don't know what the hell I'm just be playing in this scene. And I was like, oh, and and I look at the scene and I'm reading it real fast like I gotta fix it. I got two seconds to do a quick rewrite of the scene. While all the camera people are waiting, we have a we have to move, we have to get off this because we have to shoot real fast. We don't have a luxury. And I'm reading the scene. I'm like, Oh, my God, Mark is right. I don't know what his character wants. No wonder he's getting mad at me. And we had one line, we fixed it with one line. And with that one line was basically saying what Mark wanted in the scene. And with that he was able to dial into the scene. And that kind of saved the debt. He was Okay, I got it now. But that's so important is knowing what each character wants in every scene. At some point during the rewrite. That line got cut, and I wasn't paying attention and got cut. And that's what ruined that scene at one line.

Alex Ferrari 45:57
That's the job of a showrunner to catch that. Yeah,

Michael Jamin 45:59
yeah, well, I've Well, all the talent is yelling at you and all the grip staring by laughing. That's the job.

Alex Ferrari 46:07
Obviously, the writer is the most respected part of the entire filmmaking process. Is that

Michael Jamin 46:11
Absolutely not. Because you know, you'd never tell the DP You know what, I think you need to switch lens, I think you should put an ND filter, you would never tell a dp that, but you have no problem telling the writer but I think this one could be that I see I hear that all the time.

Alex Ferrari 46:26
You know, it's because because unlike the DP, there's a extreme amount of technical knowledge on the surface, as well as nuance in the background. With writing. We're like, well, I write I've been writing since I was in first grade. I

Michael Jamin 46:40
know the pencil I can tell you what to do.

Alex Ferrari 46:42
That's, yeah, that's the difference. That's a huge difference. Um, and what do you up to now what's, what do you do during the COVID? world? I, about a year ago, I

Michael Jamin 46:51
decided I was going to write a collection of a personal essays, I was going to see what that would be like, like David Sedaris, I love these genius that I love. So I've been doing that on my website, Michael Jackson calm, and I kind of published one every month. And then that's been such a great journey, just discovering how to write a different form, different format, and I'll see you I'll seek out publisher, and in about six months or something like that. And then in the meantime, honestly, when this pandemic hit, I was like, I'm gonna be in my garage, I think, I don't see an end to this. You know, this is not three weeks, this is a year and a half. So I have a friend who kept hounding me, is he a PA and a show I work on? And he's like, you got to put together a course. And the guy who's got the time to do a screenwriting course, he goes, No, no, I'll be I'll build this site. I'm like, I don't have the time. Well, suddenly, I had the time. So I, I took me about five months to build this thing. But I was like, okay, so I built an online screenwriting course, and anyone who's listening in your audience, if you want to sign up, you'll get a it's still in beta. So you'll get a 10% discount, and you'll be in beta and you can get feedback. And so that link, is if you go to Michael Jackson comm slash hustle. So Michael jackson.com slash hustle, because it's your podcast. So we'll get it we'll get a discount at checkout, and get 10% discount, and then they'll also be in the beta. So it's lower pricing. So

Alex Ferrari 48:12
if they're interested, you can go to that. And that teaches you everything you need to know about being a TV writer,

Michael Jamin 48:17
that yeah, it's called the showrunners guide to TV writing. And it's basically everything that I wish I had known years ago. I mean, it's everything I've learned over the years from all the great writers I've worked on there. It's like, this is the class I wish I had so

Alex Ferrari 48:29
and where can people find you and your work? And

Michael Jamin 48:34
yeah, so if you go also at Michael jackson.com, you can see whatever I'm working on, and you can read my essay, you can see some of the videos, some of the guy make videos and stuff like that. Go check it out and sign up for my newsletter. I'll send you a new story every month. Are you being tied short whenever you want.

Alex Ferrari 48:51
Michael, man, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been an education to say yeah, he's so I really do appreciate it.

Michael Jamin 48:56
And also, Michael Jamin writer on Facebook, if they want to find follow me there, too. We'll put it.

Alex Ferrari 49:03
We'll put it on the show notes. Michael, thanks again and stay safe out there, man.

Michael Jamin 49:07
Hey, thank you so much. What a pleasure.

Alex Ferrari 49:09
I want to thank Michael for coming on the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the bulletproof screenwriting tribe. Thank you so much, Michael. If you're interested in writing for television, definitely check out his course, the showrunners guide to television writing, I put a link in the show notes at bulletproofscreenwriting.tv/080. I hope that this has been a help to you on your screenwriting path. And don't forget to keep an eye out for your surprise to Morrow. Thanks again for listening guys. As always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.


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