BPS 031: How to Break into Television Writing with Steven Vitolo

Have you ever wondered what it takes to break into a network television writer’s room? Then this episode is for you. Today’s guest is Steven Vitolo and he did just that. His latest written episode is on the hit ABC show Black-ish. Steven has over 10 years of experience working in writer’s rooms, most recently as a script coordinator on the TV series Black-ish, where he co-wrote the episode “Dream Home”.

Steven Vitolo also is the CEO and founder of Scriptation, the script reading and annotating app for film, television, and video production. Steven developed Scriptation after seeing first-hand the staggering amount of paper that gets consumed onset and is dedicated to promoting sustainable practices that inspire productions to go paperless.

Enjoy my conversation with Steven Vitolo.

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Alex Ferrari 0:35
I'd like to welcome to the show Steve Vitolo. How are you doing, brother?

Steve Vitolo 3:23
I'm good. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 3:24
Thank you, man for coming on board. I've I don't know much about the television world and television writing overall

Steve Vitolo 3:31
happy to fill you in.

Alex Ferrari 3:32
So that's why you are on the show. I know. Exactly. So I'm, I'm dying to hear about all the inner workings of network shows in writers rooms and all that kind of good stuff. But first of all, how did you get into the film business?

Steve Vitolo 3:47
Well, I went to Boston University and graduated college human communication that a film and TV degree so did that whole thing. And as far as the actual degree? How useful is it? Not at all? Has anyone ever asked you in this industry to show you that? Oh, no one's no one's like, Oh, you got you know, here's where it does help. There. It helps in the connections that you make while you're there. So for example, I before I moved out to Los Angeles, I stayed at home for a year just to save money. So I could move out to Los Angeles to eventually blow that all in like three to six months, obviously. But, but where it where it really helped is that there was a contingency of people that moved out right after college. And they all got the crappy jobs that no one wanted to get. So there were all PDAs and interns and things like that. So there was such a big network at BU of current people and also alumni. So that's where it really helps you but no one's looking at your GPA for a film job and seeing what school You want to, although maybe maybe if you're a Harvard graduate that, you know, you kind of have a leg up anywhere in any industry.

Alex Ferrari 5:08
Really? Do you think Harvard film school really gonna open the doors too much?

Steve Vitolo 5:12
Well, it doesn't certain writers rooms for sure.

Alex Ferrari 5:16
Oh, no. And writers room is I actually saw that documentary about the Harvard Lampoon. And and those guys, it's almost like a club, a fraternity. If you're in the Lampoon, you automatically cut the line in a lot of ways.

Steve Vitolo 5:31
Yeah, that is true. I'm not all the time. But they have a big leg up, and they'll get meetings and they'll get signed and things like that. So if you're going to go to Harvard, yeah, you should put that on your resume.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
No, I mean, I went to Full Sail Film School in Orlando, and not once. Has anyone ever asked me in the entire time I've been doing this? Can I see your degree?

Steve Vitolo 5:57
Right? Yeah. I mean, you hope you get good training, and you're able to do what you want to do. I mean, I think if you're going to film school, you probably have an A, I don't think anyone go to film school is like, I don't know what I'm going to do. But usually when you go there, it's like, okay, I want to direct I want to write on produce, or maybe when do all those things. And hopefully, you get the training at the school to do that. And then you know, when you move out, some of your friends or schoolmates will be there helping you and then it's a connections game. Mm hmm. It really is. It really is. And Italian game, hopefully,

Alex Ferrari 6:31
it will, the talent is its has unfortunately, sometimes it's still like the lower, lower, lower on the totem pole sometimes. But a lot of times, it's like those connections do get you in the door, but you have to stay in the door. Exactly. And that's where the talent and experience and things come in. And

Steve Vitolo 6:49
you're you also have to get your foot in the right door. When I saw when I moved out here, I was, you know, I take any job. So I started in reality television, and award shows. My very first pa job was on Jamie Kennedy's show. What it was called blowing up. Yeah, it wasn't.

Alex Ferrari 7:14
I love what you said that, like it's called Love went up.

Steve Vitolo 7:18
I know, sell it, sell it. I think it was on MTV. I've really bad memory. But I think it was an MTV show. And I remember the first day I was there. My job was to hold an umbrella because we're outside. So my job was to hold an umbrella over Jamie Kennedy. So he wouldn't get sunburned.

Alex Ferrari 7:37
Nice as opposed to the star. So that's not bad.

Steve Vitolo 7:41
I know. And that so that was the glamorous I it was, you know, it's funny, I had that I got that job. It was like my second day there. And you know, my friend at college was like, Hey, you want to be a PA for this thing? And it's like, Great glamour is everything. And then yeah, that's my job.

Alex Ferrari 7:59
So from there, how do you parlay that into the next stages of your career?

Steve Vitolo 8:03
Um, yeah, so I kind of was a PA for a while, and I was working in reality and live event shows. I eventually, because I did a couple of, you know, Pa jobs like hearing there just for a couple days, because I didn't really have like a full time pa job. It's like, take a gig here, take a commercial there, that sort of thing. I eventually got on the Academy Awards as a PA,

Alex Ferrari 8:32
see, I wouldn't, I would have killed for a job like that coming up, I would have killed for that.

Steve Vitolo 8:35
It's a it's a it was a great experience. I mean, it's not like they prep three to four months before. It's crazy how long they've prepped for this show, I had no idea. So I was just and when you're when you're a PA on that show, for the production office, and there are so many different departments that don't have their own PDAs you're doing everything for everyone. So you're really you know, an errand person. And so that was my my first, you know, quote unquote, steady pa job, which was like three or four months. And then I actually kind of went back to that the next year and the year after, just because it worked out that I wasn't working at the time because that's, that's the life Right, of course. So, but eventually because I had that experience and because it it was you know, you're involved in so many different departments and it's it's kind of a harder pa job than most I would think I mean, I haven't had that many but it seemed like it. I was able to get a PA job on the pilot for the middle, which I wanted to get. I wanted to be a TV writer. So I wanted to get in scripted TV and a friend of mine who had moved on from pa found a job opening and referred me and I was able to get that job and it was actually not the not the middle show that was on for nine years or wherever it was on with Patricia Heaton. It originally started Ricki Lake. Yes. Wow. Yes, I was on that one. I think that was 2007. It started Ricki Lake, and a bunch of other actors and didn't get picked up. It went through a redevelopment they got Patricia Heaton, I think in 2009. And then it got picked up. And it went, but yeah, not many people know that, that it was not. It was not in its current form. And yeah, the script was actually pretty much the same. But yeah, I mean, actors, man, you got Patricia Heaton. And, and you're probably gonna go a little while Off, off off and running. Yeah, you're off and running. And what

Alex Ferrari 10:51
were you doing? What were you doing, and you just BPA still?

Steve Vitolo 10:55
Yeah, it was an office PA. And I was able to parlay that, you know, very luckily, into a writers pa job, which was, you know, people are dying to get into the writers office. And I was very lucky to get in there. Actually, my production coordinator was letting the PA go by picking names out of a hat, because she couldn't decide where to let go. And my name, of course, was the first name to get picked out of a hat. So like I was, because I'm on a pilot, you know, you're only working a certain period of time. And then, you know, pickups and all that stuff. So, so I was like, oh, first, my production coordinator said, I feel so bad. Because I was also like, brought on last. So I like the shortest amount of time. And she's like, but I'll find something for you. And I'm like, Okay, sure. And then, you know, to a day later, she got me an interview as a writers, PA on Hannah Montana. Nice. And the next day I was hired. And that was really a crazy whirlwind. And I was finally after a few years in the writers office, which you just want to get your foot in the door there. See what those people and it was a great show.

Alex Ferrari 12:14
So tell me, what is it like being in the writers room in the writers department of a network show?

Steve Vitolo 12:22
Um, well, you mean, as opposed to something that's a i You saying, as opposed to cable or just like,

Alex Ferrari 12:30
No, just didn't? Know, you've been specific about network TV? But like, no, Hannah Montana was cable, but I worked on network shows as well. I'm assuming they're not very different. Yeah,

Steve Vitolo 12:41
they're the same, especially now streaming services.

Alex Ferrari 12:44
Just there. How many scripted shows? Are there now? 250 300?

Steve Vitolo 12:48
A double that?

Alex Ferrari 12:50
Oh, is it? Is it? Is it really that much now? Like five or 600?

Steve Vitolo 12:53
It's, I believe it's over 600. Now. I think that, and that's just us. I mean, Netflix, I mean, you you turn on Netflix. And every week, there's something new that they've spent $25 million on Amazon, and Amazon. And you've had you had no idea you've never heard of it. Right? And like it has this star in it. Like why has a star in it? And and like it must have you must have skipped the trade that day. And it's like, oh, so they just made the show for like $25 million.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
I literally was just watching. I was on YouTube the other day, and I saw this trailer for like the outlaw King, starring Chris Pine. And it's like this Braveheart style. Epic on Netflix. Like I've never even heard of this. It's about Bruce. Oh, the something the Bruce was a Scottish guy. And it's basically Braveheart again, but different. And I'm like 10 episodes? No, no, no, no. This is not this not show. This is a movie. But there's shows like that that come up all the time. Like, who's this? How did this happen? Where did this come from? It's constant all the time. So it doesn't it doesn't surprise me that 600 episodes or six shows are being scripted right now. So it's a good time to be trying to get into the writers room.

Steve Vitolo 14:07
It's a good time to be working in the industry, for sure. There's definitely more opportunities. When I first started working, there was a certain cycle where you had pilot season, then you didn't work and then shows picked up and if it was canceled, which after Hannah Montana, I went to a show called Do Not Disturb. You probably haven't heard of it. It was the first show canceled that season. Of course. It was. We filmed six episodes, we aired three. And it was like it was at I live in Culver City. And it was at Fox and it was like a dream for me. I don't have to travel into Hollywood to work and like this is gonna be great. I'm gonna bike to work. And then two months later

Alex Ferrari 14:56
is there is there still a pilot season? I mean, there's some sort of pilot season now Like in January starts in January, right?

Steve Vitolo 15:02
Yeah. For network networks, they'll doing the pilot season. It starts around January, sometimes early pilots can go like November, December. But basically like, January, February, March, you shoot the pilots and then pick up so yeah, there's still that in a network. But with Netflix, they're not doing pilots. So they go straight to series. And with cable, because when I first started cable wasn't what it was either. Right now, there are so many shows on cable that SOS are all I mean, there's no set, seasonal thing for that their shows popping up all the time. So there's definitely more opportunity now than there was, you know, 10 years ago.

Alex Ferrari 15:41
So what is it like to be in a writers room and any kind of show?

Steve Vitolo 15:45
Yeah. Fantastic. It's fantastic. If you have nice writers and funny writers, and your boss is great. And I've had, I've been very lucky in that I've had great bosses. So my, I worked on blackish most recently, and Kenya Barris created the show. And he's just so brilliant. He'll just come in the room and just, you know, sort of Jedi mind everything into what the story needs to be. And, you know, a writer that has a clear voice is refreshing because you you know, you know exactly what he wants. And also Corey Nickerson ran the room. And she, you know, she's able to address notes and and just the way she can craft a scene and get us through the script, make it great and funny and get us out of there. So we're not working till two and three in the morning is a real talent. And everybody loves her for that. So if you're working in a writers room like that, it's great. You know, I've worked on some shows, when you work on a show, that's a first season multi camera show, for example. There's a lot. First of all, the multi camera schedule is not great for writers. It's fantastic for actors, but for writers, actors are often rehearsing at two, three, sometimes four. And then after that rehearsal in the writers room, you go back and you rewrite the entire script. So you're starting the rewrite at four or five. And it's not just your notes, but it's network and studio notes that you have to address. If something's really not working, it could be a problem. If it's a first season show, there's going to be a lot of scrutiny so that you can start working till you know one or two in the morning. But luckily, I haven't had that experience too much. And I've worked for great people like Kenyon Cory, Susanne Martin, I worked with, she created Hot in Cleveland, and a show called crowded Victor fresco, who I worked on for man up and Shawn saves the world. And now he's got Santa Clarita Diet on netflix. He's just a great guy, fantastic person, nicest boss you can have. So yeah, being a being in the room is great if people in the room are great.

Alex Ferrari 18:12
So what are like the politics of the room? Like you say, the show, the showrunner, the executive producer, pretty much is in charge. Right? Right. And then there is someone who is in charge of the room underneath them kind of like sometimes sometimes, or sometimes not.

Steve Vitolo 18:32
It depends on the show, usually on a multi cam show because of the way it's structured. The showrunner is running the room, because as writers on a multi camera show you do everything together. So you go down to the set together, you watch rehearsals together, you come back together. So the person who created the show, usually, the showrunner is running every aspect of it, if work on a single camera show, because it shot like a movie. Sometimes that person will be on set Sometimes. It depends how it's structured. And then there's a number two, so kind of the I don't know there's no like real title. But sure, the weekend later, basically kind of idea. And then yeah, and that person will be will be running the room. And then what happens is then the showrunner will come back to the room if they've been on set. And then we'll review everything that we've done in the room, kind of how it works.

Alex Ferrari 19:28
Now, how are ideas incorporated in an episode in the writers room? Like? Are people throwing out ideas to people go away, write an episode, come back and then get beat up? How does it work?

Steve Vitolo 19:40
Yeah, it's different. There's no one way to do it. But in general, everyone breaks a story together. That's how it's done. I would say for 90 something percent of writers rooms is that either someone comes in with a story or we just start pitching around funny. Live our comedy so we just start pitching around funny ideas or something that happened and if we could build a story around it, but but everybody, for the most part is sitting around a table breaking the story together. And it's done in stages. First, it's, you know, a rough outline or some notes. And then you make a more complete outline. And then on blackish, for example, we would all come up with the story together, we would have on whiteboards, we would write the scene, what happens in the scene and the jokes that we like. And it would be, you know, two boards full of the story, or sometimes three. And then we would give that to the writer. And the writer would turn that into an outline, the outline would be reviewed by the showrunner or some of the writers and the studio on the network, they would get notes, they would write a draft. And that draft then comes in to before it goes anywhere, the writers draft comes into the writers room. So it gets distributed to all the writers, the writers read it, make notes, and then we talk about the draft, and then we make changes in the room. So that's generally how it's done. It's not like a hard and fast rule. I've worked on shows, for example, crowded and Hot in Cleveland, we did it a little differently, where we broke the story together. And then we each took scenes. So all the writers would go home and they would write a scene, and then send it to the script coordinator, which was me. And I would put all the scenes together in a script, send it back out to everybody, everybody would read it, and then we'd discuss in the room. So that's how it's done sometimes, too. And on Hannah Montana. Stop me if I'm being boring.

Alex Ferrari 21:52
And I think everyone listening everybody, everybody listening wants to hear this stuff. So please continue.

Steve Vitolo 21:57
And on Hannah Montana, it was all room written. So I think that's the way it works on Chuck Lorre shows I've never been on one. But where everybody writes in the room, and then it's assigned to a writer afterwards.

Alex Ferrari 22:14
Okay, so everyone beats it beats the story down or breaks the story outlines and then they give it to one writer to like, go write the script.

Steve Vitolo 22:20
No, not for that one for for Hannah Montana and the Chuck Lorre shows, once you break the story, then the writer's assistant opens up a blank document in the room, and people are literally dictating the script. So it all gets written to get with everyone together in the writers room.

Alex Ferrari 22:38
That must be insane, though,

Steve Vitolo 22:40
kind of I mean, it, it works. I've seen it work on certain shows, it doesn't work on other shows. Like I don't think that would work on Blackish. Because it really like that show needs a point of view, yes to that. And it needs a writer to to sit with the material and really think through the story and scenes. But on a multi camera show, for example, when you're going beat by beat by beat. That's something that maybe is unnecessary. So it works much better, at least in a multi camera to have to be room written.

Alex Ferrari 23:17
Got it. Now you mentioned to you were script coordinator. Can you tell the audience what a script coordinator on a television network show does?

Steve Vitolo 23:26
Yes. And I'm so glad you said script coordinator and not script supervisor because pletely different fancy use nine out of

Alex Ferrari 23:33
10 so good to tell the difference between the script supervisor script coordinator.

Steve Vitolo 23:37
Sure, so script supervisor and script supervisors forgive me if I'm messing this up. But they are their onset. They they deal with continuity. They work with the director, they deal with timing and they get they make notes and give it to the editor. So they're on set. They're really important there with the director and the writer and making sure all they got all the shots and things like that. So that's what the script supervisor does. A script coordinator is not on the set a script coordinator is and it's it's kind of different comedy and drama. But the main job of the script coordinator is to be the liaison between the writers office and the production. So your job is to get the script in production shape. So scene numbers, scene headings, you deal with legal and clearance issues. So once a script gets gets distributed, it goes to the clarinets department and legal and they'll say what you can and what you can't say. And also your so I also want to say the liaison you are also dealing with the departments and helping them with clearances as well. So art departments will say, hey, we need to sign for this thing. Can you clear these five names? So that's a job as a script coordinator on a drama, that's mostly what they do their script coordinators are in an office, they get so many revisions on a drama, that that's kind of their whole job is to is to work, you know, in the script in that way, on a comedy a lot of times, and has been my experience, always, script coordinators also act as a writer's assistant. So there they are in the room working in the script, or taking notes when people are outlining or things like that.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
So what is it a writer? What does a writer's assistant do, then?

Steve Vitolo 25:36
writer's assistant, is responsible for taking notes. Doing some research may be working in the script for rewrites. So once a writer brings in a script, and we all talk about it, the writers assistant will take the notes that we've just talked about. And then once we go back into the script and room, write it together to do the, to do a pass, the writer's assistant will work in the script, changing the text. So you need you need typing skills for that. And you need knowledge of script writing software to be able to hop around in the script. And yeah, I mean, it's, it's not so easy. It's, it's something that you definitely get the hang of, and it's a skill, knowing who to listen to, because you get a lot of voices coming at you. So being able to get all the pitches down, and know which ones the show run or wants and kind of who to listen to in the writers room and who to definitely get. That's a that's a writer's assistant skill.

Alex Ferrari 26:41
Now, you, you've been going through all of this, you've been a script coordinator, you're a writer's assistant, and done all this kind of really heavy lifting throughout your career. And then all of a sudden, they point to you and say, you're going to get to write an episode. What was that, like?

Steve Vitolo 27:00
Amazing.

Alex Ferrari 27:02
And that's the end of the show. Thank you know, it's

Steve Vitolo 27:04
worked out different on different shows that happened on on blackish, where I was there for, like a year and a half. I didn't expect to get a script my first season. But the second season, I you know, it was one of those shows where you don't have to ask for it. Because that's been the culture of the show where they'll give scripts to the writers assistants, if they think the writers assistant or script coordinator is good. And yeah, on blackish, I had heard rumors around it, and then they made an announcement in the room. And when you're an assistant, the writers applaud for you. That happened. That also happened on Hot in Cleveland, where they made an announcement in the room, which was super great. And then on crowded. I had worked with Suzanne Martin on HUD and Cleveland. So when I was hired as a script coordinator on the new show, she was kind enough to let me write a script for the show as part of being a script coordinator. But yeah, it's it's a, it's a great feeling. And the great thing about blackish and sort of the humbling thing is that I was writing it with the other writers assistant on the show, and it was the finale of the season. And it was good episodes.

Alex Ferrari 28:25
That's a good episode.

Steve Vitolo 28:27
And it was a tough one. In the last episode of a four episode arc. We're getting separated and we're coming back together.

Alex Ferrari 28:35
Yes, it was a brutal, brutal Ark was brutal was a

Steve Vitolo 28:39
watch show is a perfect word. It was brutal. And it was necessary. And people didn't really like it.

Alex Ferrari 28:48
Nope, nope. Nope. did not like it. Thumbs up. I'm gonna be honest with you. i My wife and I are going, they're going too far. They need to stop this. I have enough troubles in my world. I don't need this.

Steve Vitolo 29:01
I know what that was a lot of the feedback on the Twittersphere Yeah, people was bawling. So it was bold. It was bold. And Kenya really wanted to show that because they never showed that thing. You know that that kind of thing on The Cosby Show. And he felt it was kind of, you know, that that's life. You know, you kind of go through these ups and downs. Yep. And but yeah, we were we were tasked in the in the writers assistant task with writing the finale. And it was one of those things to where it was obviously an important episode. They're getting back together, which is great. But also it was at the end of the season. So like we've done 24 episodes and like everyone's burnt out. So when we got the outline if you know we had in the writers system, we had some room to play with, because we knew like we knew the story wanted to tell and we had the outline and then like we noticed like okay, Like act three isn't as broken. And there's no tag, it's kind of up to us. So we can play a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 30:08
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Steve Vitolo 30:20
And, like, a lot of times when you get outlines, in writers rooms, it's like paint by numbers. And this we actually had some room to do some things. And luckily, we succeeded on most of them. And it wasn't a major rewrite coming in. And our tag, I'm happy to say, went all the way through. Shockingly, it was I don't know if you remember that the tag but it was pops in and Ruby in the, in the shared home that Trey was no longer there anymore. And they, they thought they should get it on? Yes, I do remember that? Yes. Yeah. So we're so happy that that sell through. Because a lot of times when you bring a script in, it looks stuff gets changed. That's the nature of the beast. And it's it's 99% going to get changed for the better. It's better when you have you know, 1015 writers that are smarter than you think here's how we can improve. So yeah, when something when something sticks past the goalie, and they're like, Yeah, okay, we'll go with this. That was pretty cool.

Alex Ferrari 31:23
Now, what does it what does it do for your career working on a show like blackish in such a pivotal episode as well? I mean, has it opened doors that weren't open before?

Steve Vitolo 31:33
No, not really. Fair enough. Fair enough. Yeah. I mean, you know, maybe in the future, I mean, it's a good credit, for sure. Sure. And as far as, you know, Writers Guild residual goes, it's gonna be fantastic. Because it's a syndicated show, and it reruns and so, but yeah, as far as like, agents, managers knocking on my door, not so much doesn't really happen. I would think you would,

Alex Ferrari 32:03
you would think well, that I wanted to kind of bring that up, because I want to make sure everyone listening knows the truth. Oh, they know the truth. Like all of a sudden, like most people like, Oh, you just wrote the season finale for blackish a huge show on ABC. You know, they must be just rolling up to your door with cash. Waiting for you for your like, what show would you like to run,

Steve Vitolo 32:26
sir? Yeah, exactly. No, it doesn't really work like that. Unfortunately, I was I was the most naive person coming out to Los Angeles. So I would have totally like, like, I, my idea was, hey, I'm gonna write a script for Two and a Half Men and show it to the showrunner and he's gonna hire me. Yeah, now, which is the exact wrong thing. Anyone listening out there? Don't Don't do that. Don't ever do that. Don't ever do that. What you want to do just for aspiring writers? Write a pilot. Some? Well, it's okay to write a spec for a show that everybody knows. And now that was kind of okay to do. Back then when I was writing specs. And there were only 20 shows? Like, I look, I wasn't, you know, I didn't I didn't start in the 50s. Right. And 10 years ago, there weren't that many shows. And people would watch it. So you know, so writers would write a spec for like, so I wrote a spec for two and a half men. And anyone who read it had seen Two and a Half Men and understood the characters and understood, like the voice of the show. Sure. But now, like, you'll write for a show no one's ever heard of, or no one's ever seen. So that's probably not the best idea to write a spec for a show, unless maybe you're doing monitor family, because what everybody's seen that show. But nowadays, write a pilot, and, and make it good. And get some good feedback and rewrite it and rewrite and rewrite it and try and do something with it.

Alex Ferrari 33:57
I mean, my experience in television from the directing standpoint is that it is a very much of a club. Because the it is a good job. If you get on a show and you get on a good show. Even if you do you know, as a director, at least, even if you do five, six episodes a year. You're good, like financially financially, you're doing very well.

Steve Vitolo 34:20
And a residual. So you're doing good. You're doing

Alex Ferrari 34:24
good, right? So it's so difficult to break in. I'm assuming that's similar to the writers because I do all the writers get residuals off everything or how does that work?

Steve Vitolo 34:34
writers get residuals on the on the shows that they write. And I don't know, I know the creator gets residuals on every offer on everything. But I don't know what other levels or how that works. I think only if you have points in the show. sure that you get you get that but yeah, for writers it's it's the episode you write and if it airs again in primetime You get half your script fee, which is fantastic, which is fantastic. And then you could get I mean, if you're a syndicated show, you could get a big check just because they made a big syndication deal. So so like

Alex Ferrari 35:12
the guys from friends and Seinfeld says friends and Seinfeld are doing okay. Yeah. All those writers in that writers room they did all

Steve Vitolo 35:20
right. Yeah, I mean, even like the I knew a writer that worked on The Cleveland Show and he was like, he said to me here, I want to show you something. This was he's like, I know you guys are, you know this. He's like, I know you're, you know, getting your first scripts and but I want to show you what it could be. And he kind of showed his Writers Guild residuals, and they were

Alex Ferrari 35:39
fantastic from from the Cleveland Show, the canceled on The Cleveland Show,

Steve Vitolo 35:43
and like some other shows, but yeah, I mean, like a show goes into syndication. Not even like a super successful show. Yeah, it could be pretty good. It's a nice career. And the Writers Guild benefits when you retire great, too. So

Alex Ferrari 36:00
can I ask you a question and I'm gonna be that guy. What is the range of like money that you get off of residual so people I'm in life standing?

Steve Vitolo 36:09
I'm not the right person to ask. Okay. Just because I've, you know, I've written three

Alex Ferrari 36:15
checks. I mean, yet?

Steve Vitolo 36:17
Yeah, it's hard to tell. I mean, one was, one was a syndicated show Hot in Cleveland was a syndicated show. Yeah, that has not been as good as you want it to be. Right. But finger you know, I'll just throw out numbers. Sharon is these are these could be totally wrong right out of the air. So let's say on a half hour network show, your you get paid if you write it if it's you know, story by written by you. You you've written the script, it's your name only. That for half our network that's $26,000. Bad. If it gets rerun in primetime, you get half that fee. You get $13,000. Okay. Okay, so there,

Alex Ferrari 36:59
that's good. Right there. That's good. Right there. You're doing really good. You're doing

Steve Vitolo 37:03
good. If it airs again, in primetime, it's probably half that. So maybe it's like 6500 or something. Okay. And then your guess is as good as mine. On syndication? On syndication? Yeah. I mean, you could get I mean, no one, like I've gotten a syndication check for on Cleveland. And I wrote, it was a cable show, and I wrote half the episode. And the syndication check was, like, not not even half of what the original fee was. So it wasn't it, I felt like that check should have been more, right.

Alex Ferrari 37:42
I mean, I always feel checks should be more, but that's just me. Anytime I get a check, like this check should be for more. I mean, well, I don't want to be the crass guy asking about money. But it was just, it's a lot of people out there who just don't even understand what people make. And there's all this information. A lot of this information could just find the Writers Guild Writers Guild.

Steve Vitolo 38:03
Yeah, if you if you go online, and do WG a schedule of minimums, it's right there, you can find out everything that you'll make for TV and for features too. But I don't even think the real. I mean, that's not even the real money is in the script. I mean, it's great. It's like bonus money. If you're, if your producer level or CO EP, I'll forgive your then forget. But even if your story editor, so again, you can look at this schedule and minimums. But if you're a TV writer, or a network show, if you're a, if you're a staff writer, it's something like three plus 1000 a week, if you're a story editor, it could be five 6000. So it's, that's the real money. If you can get on some of these shows, writers make a good living. I have not been a staff writer, or a story editor or anything on a show. So I don't have that experience. Sure. But it's that's the money.

Alex Ferrari 39:00
That's that's where that's But as always, you get paid to be there. And then you also get paid per episode that you write.

Steve Vitolo 39:06
Yes, that's just it's however, if you're a staff writer, and they're, they're just never gonna change this. You don't get a script fee, which is insane. I think just know, buddy. The people that are fighting just don't seem to care, because they're so upper level. But yeah, so for example, if, as a script coordinator, let's say you write a you got to freelance episode you get paid $26,000 is for the script. If you're a staff writer on the show, that's making 3000 plus a week and you get a script. You don't get that script fee. You get residuals, but not script fee. And it's for I don't know why, but it's still around. And no one seems to ever want to pay for that. It's, it's crazy. That's insane.

Alex Ferrari 39:48
Yeah, that's insane. Yep. So with all of this now, you've told us all this kind of work that you've done over the over the course of your career, you've then decided to jump into the technology game and come and invented an app called script notation to to fulfill a need that is desperately needed in the in the world of film and television. Can you talk a little bit about script station?

Steve Vitolo 40:15
Yeah, so being a script coordinator, I was the one responsible for sending out scripts and script revisions. And I come from the TV world. So I was working on this, it was a pilot, we had a, we it was a weird production schedule, we had 10 days from the table read to when we started shooting. And every single night, we're putting out a full 50 page script to 100 plus people. So I get the script together, give it to the PA, they make copies handed out to people, people make notes on them. The next day, same process all over again, people are rewriting their notes on the new drafts. And they're dumping the old draft in the trash, or hopefully the recycle bin. And that's a crazy process that we've been doing for years. And at that time, everyone on this show, at least in the writers office was feeling this is an incredible waste of paper. And I was I was thinking that too. And not only is it a waste of paper, but productivity, where you get one draft, you make all your notes, whether whatever department you're in, if you're a writer, if you're a set decorator, if you're in sound, if you're a director, you make a lot of notes, if you're a director, same thing with a DP. And you're making all of these notes on a script that is going to be obsolete in 24 hours. So I knew that we could annotate on an on a tablet. So people had iPads at the time and iPhones. And you could you could use Adobe write to you know, annotate PDF document. But the real problem was once you annotate the draft, so let's say you have a table draft of a script, and then you get your production draft, how can you move all of your notes and annotations from the table draft into the production draft? And that was the problem that we're trying to solve? And I hired a developer, I said, Can you do this? And he said, I think so. And that's what kind of launched discrimination we, we figured out this problem. You know, after two or three years, it took us a while to figure out how to transfer notes from a draft to a new draft and do so intelligently where we could tell you what change and if you handwrite, a note that's on the top of page three, and now is on the bottom of page two, we can move that handwritten note in that same spot. So yeah, that's, that's how we kind of came up with it. And, you know, we put it in the app store. And it's been pretty successful. And we've had directors that that tell us, it saves them four to five hours a week. That's a lot. And that's four to five hours in BS work. That they don't, is when you're directing what you want to spend your time recopy notes and figuring out what changed, or you want to see how it's going to look and get the right performances and set up the shot. Right. So that's the time that that we're saving. And it's it's been really great that not only have people on the crew been able to use it, but also agents and managers and studio executives are using it to because they've got a ton of scripts and that are carrying around a giant binder, they've got a tablet,

Alex Ferrari 43:38
in brain, of course, it's it's insane. When I'm directing myself, I have to carry around this huge binder full of you know, and I tried to put my notes in and it's, it's such a pain in the butt. And I was like, this is such an old fashioned way of doing things in today's world. But now your script scripts, as has alleviated that pain?

Steve Vitolo 43:58
Well, on your next production, you're going to need to use it

Alex Ferrari 44:01
obviously I know somebody's in the in the company. So hopefully there'll be no no. So so how much does it cost? Where can people get it?

Steve Vitolo 44:11
Well, I kind of have an announcement to share about that. So we script station for the past almost two years has been in the iOS App Store that you can get an iPad iPhone for 999. And what you get with that is you get annotation you also get no transferring, you got another feature called actor highlighting, which is useful for actors that table reads because instead of manually highlighting all their lines, they tap a button and boom, all their lines are highlighted genius. Also useful for sound mixers, which we found out I didn't know I built it for actors and then sound mixer say hey, we highlight lines too. And you do X, Y and Z. So yeah, so script has been in the store for 999. You get all those features and a couple other things. We're gonna make that free one. Yeah. So the core script tation, core of sortation, you're actually going to be able to get for free and use as much as you want with as many scripts as you want and transfer notes as many times as you like, no limit on,

Alex Ferrari 45:20
okay? And then what's the, what's the rub? They know you have to be a business. So what

Steve Vitolo 45:29
good to be free,

Alex Ferrari 45:31
it sounds too good to be true, is this should I just buy real estate with no money down.

Steve Vitolo 45:39
So what we will be offering is we're going to be offering script tation Pro, which is going to include cloud storage, and will be able to actually sync all of your script tation, metadata, actor highlights, no transferring deletions, etc. In the cloud, you can access it device to device, we also have our document editor, which lets you add facing pages to write notes. And actually, in the note transfer, this is really cool. So if you're a director, and you're at a table read, and you make all of your notes, and you insert shots and diagrams, and then you get a shooting draft, you can actually transfer all of those inserted pages into the new draft as well. The way the algorithm works is actually find the like page and then moves that page there. So you really don't have to do any work when translating notes. That's amazing. And we're also offering a reader mode for the iPhone, where sometimes it's hard to read scripts on your iPhone as a PDF, and we're going to make that easier for you. That's actually being included in the free version. But that's that's going to be launched with Scriptcase. Pro. And then we've got a couple of other features that we're launching with pro there. And yeah, that's

Alex Ferrari 46:57
that is that is the rub in a good rub it is sir. And then what and where can people find the app on just on the App Store?

Steve Vitolo 47:05
Sure, yeah, you can search, go to the App Store, search for script tation. It'll be there. You can also go to the Windows store and get some rotation. It's available on any sort of Windows device that you have.

Alex Ferrari 47:16
Fantastic, man. And I'm going to ask you a few questions that I asked all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Steve Vitolo 47:26
Right.

Alex Ferrari 47:27
Fair enough. You're next. I'm joking.

Steve Vitolo 47:31
Yeah, I'll elaborate a little but it's really simple. If if you want to be a writer, right. And if you have no outside responsibilities, like you're a single guy living in a city, right, because maybe you'll get a girlfriend, maybe you'll get married, maybe we'll start a family, maybe all bills you'll have to pay, and then you won't be able to do that anymore. So if you can do it, write write as much as you can write, rewrite. Find a group of friends who don't send your script to everyone to get notes, and then try and appease everybody. Find a group of people that you trust, you trust their opinion, you trust their taste. Three people for Max, send that to them, get their thoughts become a better writer with that.

Alex Ferrari 48:16
Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career?

Steve Vitolo 48:21
You asked that to everybody, everyone and oh my god. Dr. Stephen. Let's see the New York Times crossword. I think it doing crosswords makes you a smarter person. Fair enough. And yeah, I'd recommend everybody to you can. You don't have to get the New York Times to do it. You can actually they have a crossword app in the App Store. So get New York Times crossword start with Monday. Be really upset that you can't get the easy ones, but eventually you will.

Alex Ferrari 48:54
Fantastic. All right now What lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

Steve Vitolo 49:01
Oh, man. There are so many things I have learned. I've been so naive in this industry.

Alex Ferrari 49:10
What took you the longest to

Steve Vitolo 49:12
learn? Patience? Probably.

Alex Ferrari 49:15
So that's a very popular answer. On my that's my answer to No, it's

Steve Vitolo 49:19
It's true, though. You know, you can't do everything at once. Plans are gonna I mean, you know, I've learned this a lot with rotation too. But you got to be able to pivot, whether in a company or in life. If things like, like patients, but at the same time, be willing to change what you're doing. And I don't know all about you know, be mindful of things and have a good attitude. These are like, what am I saying right now? But all of these things are Yeah, I mean, all go to yoga,

Alex Ferrari 49:56
meditate.

Steve Vitolo 49:58
Do all of those things. You can't do everything for everybody. You can't do everything at once. Sure. Do what you want to do, do what you know, is right. And hope that you succeed and have faith that you will.

Alex Ferrari 50:11
And what are three of your favorite films of all time?

Steve Vitolo 50:16
This is gonna sound so cliche go for it. It's okay. Because it's so of my time. I know. I was in college, so that's why it's gonna sound cliche. Sure. Um, office space.

Alex Ferrari 50:28
Now I love that movie. I really Yeah, really. It's a it's a brilliant piece of cinema. It really is.

Steve Vitolo 50:34
It really is. It is so perfect. In almost every way. It's so ahead of its time. It's so ahead of its time. It's just so Mike Judge is just so brilliant. That movie I could watch over and over again

Alex Ferrari 50:49
and hit that other one. He did a video Krasny or, Oh, Idiocracy, Idiocracy. Oh

Steve Vitolo 50:54
my god. Oh, you mean what's happening right now?

Alex Ferrari 50:56
Exactly like where we are in the world right now. It was the writer I saw the writer or read the writer like he was when I wrote this. I never thought that this would actually happen. Yeah, it is scary. Scary. That's that's a frightening movie to watch now while we're

Steve Vitolo 51:11
watching it right now we're all watching rolled watches this movie. Another movie just because I can't think of my favorite that I can just put on and watch is Midnight in Paris. I I love them. I love wish fulfillment movies. I wish more movies were like that because that's what I want to go to the cinema for. And so I there's just something you know, it's just comfort food for me to watch that movie. And when I was a kid growing up, Superman.

Alex Ferrari 51:41
The original Superman is so good. It's good. It created Donner created without donner. There is no Avengers. Agreed. I mean 100% There is no Batman. There's no Batman. There's nothing without Donner setting up the entire genre. He's the first one to do the genre and in theatrical environment. Oh, and

Steve Vitolo 52:02
making it feel real everything I mean, no way. I mean, that's sort of what Chris Nolan did with the Batman movies is make it feel like this could happen right and and just make it feel grounded. You know, Chris Nolan took it to the next level Batman Begins that's up there one of my favorite movies. Yeah, but yeah, Superman man that as a kid and and today Superman one and two, I should say. Yeah, those

Alex Ferrari 52:25
two together are I look at about three are holy God for I mean, let's not go there, though. I actually was a kid when three came on. I love three when I was like, you know, 10 voted on

Steve Vitolo 52:35
Yeah, to like Richard Pryor when I was. I don't want to look for oh, maybe I didn't even love for and I was 10 I was like that

Alex Ferrari 52:42
I was already a teenager by that time. And I even I could go this is not right. There's

Steve Vitolo 52:49
there's something there's some weird there's some don't like that guy's fingernails. Why

Alex Ferrari 52:53
is why? Why can you cut Superman's hair? This makes no sense. It makes no sense. I don't understand what you're doing. Did you ever see the Donner cut of Superman to

Steve Vitolo 53:06
it? Yeah, it's the best thing I it's the best thing i i have that DVD or maybe illegally downloaded it.

Alex Ferrari 53:12
Wow. It's amazing, though. But it's amazing. This was

Steve Vitolo 53:16
like it came out like 10 years ago. Something like that. Right? It not that oh, it probably

Alex Ferrari 53:19
within the last 10 years it came out. But the Donner right was so much better. They got rid of all that funky, throwing the Superman signal that turned into some saran wrap.

Steve Vitolo 53:30
Oh, that was That was crazy. Like, where

Alex Ferrari 53:32
did that come from? Like, Superman can't do that.

Steve Vitolo 53:36
Yeah. How did you even think of that? That is that.

Alex Ferrari 53:40
That's when they lost? They ran off the rails with that one. But when you go back to the Donner cut, you're like, Oh, this is what it was supposed to be. We could have had more of this. Right? Yeah, it wasn't for those damn producers, which should be a t shirt in Hollywood. But anyway. Now, um, let's see, where can people find you, man?

Steve Vitolo 54:01
Well, I'm on. I mean, I'm not really on the social networks. I'm only on it through my scripts can handle that. So but you can contact me through there. So at script tation app, on all the on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And yeah, if you want to contact me then send a message through any of those social media services.

Alex Ferrari 54:24
Steve, man, it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you, man. Thank you so much for dropping some knowledge bombs on the tribe today, man appreciate Yeah, man.

Steve Vitolo 54:30
This was fun. I hope it's useful. I

Alex Ferrari 54:33
want to thank Steve again for coming by the show and dropping those knowledge bombs on the tribe today. If you want to get links to anything we talked about in the show, please head over to the show notes at Indie film hustle comm forward slash BPS 031. There you'll get links to script tation as well as anything else we discussed in the episode. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com And leave us a good review on iTunes. We are a new show. And it would really help us out in the rankings and getting all this great information out to as many screenwriters and filmmakers as humanly possible. I really do appreciate it guys. And also on a side note, I wanted to let you guys know what we will be bringing to ifH TV in January, we've got season three of the dialogue, which is really if you have not watched that show yet, guys, please watch it as some of the best interviews with some of the biggest screenwriters in Hollywood. And we're also going to be releasing lectures by some major authorities in the screenwriting space. We are just finalizing the negotiations of those writers, but some of them are really, really big. I know we're going to be getting Richard Walter, who is the chairman of the UCLA screenwriting program for 30 odd years, he has written many books, and more people of his caliber are going to be on the on ifH TV as well. So definitely check out all the cool stuff we're going to have just get head over to www dot indie film hustle.tv and sign up. And that's it for this episode of The Bulletproof screenplay podcast. Thank you guys so much for listening. This might be the last episode before the end of the year but definitely before Christmas. So if you if we don't speak, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, all the holidays. May you have a great holiday season. And when your families come over and drive you nuts, and there's all this drama, and all this stuff going on with families and friends coming over, take it, put it into your scripts, put it into your stories, be honest, be truthful with where you are, where you're coming from as a writer, and I promise you it will lead you to places you don't even see right now. So, as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening to the bulletproof screenplay podcast at bulletproof screenplay.com That's B u ll e t e r o f s CR e n PLA y.com


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