Today on the show we have television writer and showrunner VJ Boyd. VJ is a producer and writer, best known for his work on the critically acclaimed Justified (2010), the CBS smash hit S.W.A.T. (2017) and creator of Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (2020).
Deputy Raylan Givens has his own, Wild West-style methods of upholding justice, putting him at odds with the criminals he hunts and with his bosses in the U.S. Marshals Service. And an incident prompts his reassignment to the Kentucky district where he grew up. The character is based on one created by author Elmore Leonard in several books and short stories.
If you ever wanted to know what it takes to get into a writer’s room this is the episode for you.
Enjoy my conversation with VJ Boyd.
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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Vj Boyd, how you doing, Vj?
Vj Boyd 0:14
Hey, doing all right. Happy to be here Alex.
Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for being on the show, man. Before we get started, man, first of all, huge fan of justified like huge, huge fan, I watch I binge the entire series with my wife. So thank you for that.
Vj Boyd 0:29
Oh, yeah, thank you for like, that was my favorite job. And that well, that I probably had ever. That was a lot of fun. I learned a lot. And we had a lot of freedom on that show. Um, we didn't like it, when we would break an episode, it wasn't super tight, we kind of knew the basics of what was going to happen. So then when I went away to write it, I got to put in all my fun little idiosyncrasies. And we had a lot of fun with that show.
Alex Ferrari 0:55
Yes. Cool. So we'll get we'll do a little deeper dive into that. But first, how did you get started in this ridiculous business?
Vj Boyd 1:02
Oh, well. Okay. So, you know, when I, when I was a kid, when I was 11, I got interested in writing, just as a hobby. And although you know, anyone, like as they're a kid or a teenager, you know, like anyone else who's interested in it, I certainly had dreams of, Oh, I could do this for a living and would daydream about that. But I didn't think that that was really within my reach. It was one of those things where well maybe like, like, my might win the lottery. And so I got a business degree. And I worked at IBM for a while in Dallas, where I grew up. And I started going to grad school, because I wasn't super happy working at IBM, it's fine place to work. I was in sales, but I started feeling like everyone around me was insane. And what I realized is, oh, no, no, they're not insane. It's that I think they're crazy, because they're liking what they're doing. And I hate what I'm doing. So it's just that I'm in the wrong place. They're not crazy. They're just enjoying their job. And I need to find what I enjoy. And so it was going to grad school and thinking that I would teach, thinking, Oh, if I teach, then I'll have more time to write, which is very stupid, which I quickly discovered, teachers don't have free time. It's not like they have all summer off. And so I then transition to Okay, well, I'll get my Master's in literature, and then maybe my PhD, and I'll teach at college, you know, because then, you know, it's adults, I don't have to worry about the responsibility of like taking care of like teenagers. And then I realized that, oh, adjunct professors don't make barely make a living wage, and no one really gets tenure anymore. So I'm still going to have to have a second job. And I still won't have time to write. And I had a professor at grad school, Tony Daniel, who's a novelist, and an editor at Bane books. And he was like, you have real talent. In screenwriting, you should try and do that for a living. And I was like, Yeah, but like, there's not really a career path. It's like you write a feature, and either sells or it doesn't. And then you spend another six months to a year writing a feature, and it sells or it doesn't, that seems very dangerous. And, and he was like, Well, my good friend, Mike Taylor writes on Battlestar Galactica, and says that in TV, there's kind of a career path, you can, you know, start in the mailroom, so to speak, and start as an assistant and, and work your way up. And that I started researching that. And that made sense to me, that was a thing that I could see, okay, I can see the steps to that. It doesn't feel like I'm just, I'm moving out to LA on a wing and a prayer, whatever. So I thought about for a little while. And honestly, it was like less than a year after Tony recommended, I should just pursue it, that I quit my job at IBM had to, like sell the BMW, you know, and because I was gonna end up like working for minimum wage in LA and I needed all that money, I cashed out my pension. My wife cashed out her pension. So kudos to her for being willing to do all that. So we'll use that savings moved to LA in 2008. It was right when the writer strike was ending, which was good timing, because, unfortunately, so many assistants at that time had had to leave LA, because there were no jobs because of the writer strike. And so I came in, right when the writer strike was ending, and I started cold calling looking for assistant jobs. Because I was like, Hey, I've got this savings. I'll start at the bottom. And I so I would look in the trades. It's like when a show would get picked up, I would find the number for the production company and call them and be like, Hey, can I send my resume I'm looking for assistant job. And one of these times the show the beast, which is Patrick Swayze, his last thing before he passed that that had just gotten picked up to series and so I called the number in if anyone remembers the Hollywood creative directory, because this was before everything was just on the this was before IMDb Pro and stuff. And I and so a guy answered Hello. And I was like Yeah, is this the the beast the writers room for the beast and it was just the cell phone if one of the producers and it was actually I just This guy, Stephen Pearl, who's become a friend of mine. And I actually last week visited in new in New Orleans. And he showed me around I never been to New Orleans. But anyway, so Stephen was like, No, this is my cell phone. I said, Hey, I'm looking for an assistant job. You know, is your writers room starting up? And he's like, I don't know, I'll call you back. And he actually did call me back and was like, Yeah, we actually we are starting up next week. We don't have any assistants come interview. And I can't i When interviewed with the job, I interviewed with Vincent Angel, who was one of the creators. And you've also seen in stuff, he's an actor, he always plays the other man in California. Keishon. He was like banging Dickov nice wife and a great guy, Vince. And so he interviewed me and hired me as the lowest level assistant, the writers pa so there's normally three tiers of assistant, I was the lowest one. And I was super lucky honestly, that everyone in that writers office was such a weirdo, because like I didn't like I was coming from a different world like a corporate world corporate world. I never worked in the show business I just moved to LA right there were like, it's a different culture. And so I just didn't quite I definitely made some missteps and everything but the fact that so, so many of like my bosses and the other writers are honestly such weirdos, one of the weirdest writers offices I've been in that I just fell through the cracks. It was like That's another weirdo. So it was a perfect spot for me. They were all super cool and read my stuff. And then when that show ended, I ended up I was out of work for like a year and the cold calling thing wasn't working and I was like, Man, did I just get lucky and I'm not gonna like is this man am I gonna have to like start working on set which is another way of going right you set PA and then and then you know network with the writers for the show and try to get in the writers office and I I wasn't ready to give up. I wasn't given up. But then this guy Keith Schreier, who I'd met on the beast. He was one of the other Assistants, he out of nowhere, I didn't even asked him. He was like, Hey, I found out that like Vince Gilligan is looking for assistance for the show Breaking Bad. And, and also Graham Yost is looking for assistance for this show called law man, which was what justified was first called? And I was like, yes, yes, please send my resume. And Keith not only sent my resume around, he actually fixed made my resume look better. He's like, Hey, can you send me the word version? Because I think you need to format it better. So I ended up getting a getting interview with Graham iOS to be his assistant. And I thought the interview went pretty well. And then he called me a week later and was like, Hey, man, so I decided to hire this other friend of mine. Tom Hanks assistant wants to transition into like, the writing world. So she's going to be my assistant. I'm sorry, but we do have this writer's pa job. It's the lowest level job. I know. You already did that. And I was like, yes, yes, I'll do it. Yes, please. Right. And at that point, by the way, I had never read Elmore Leonard before. I knew who Elmore Leonard was but I mostly honestly knew who Elmore Leonard was because Quentin Tarantino talks about them were laid off and and so I was like okay, so I read like the short story that justified was based on and the other two books Raylan Givens in his in because I was like, I know I'm the assistant but I was like, what if they like ask for pitches because you know, like sometimes you know, you the you know, sort of the last the assistant what they think and I want to be ready anyway. So I ended up writers PA on that first season. Going into second season, I was justified was on hiatus, I was working as the writers assistant on Falling Skies, which Graham was also running at that time season one. And while I was there, I was about to have my first kid so I was about to be in a position where if I don't get staff then I'm going to be staying home with the kids because my wife has a real job and an insurance company so I'm going to be like holding the kid and writing my next like scripts back here. And Graham found out Season Two justified was coming and I was thinking okay, maybe if I can somehow be moved from writer's PA to writer's assistant, then maybe then I'll get a freelance script, right like and then maybe the next season I can be a staff writer right. I'm thinking that so Graham offers all the writers their jobs back and one of the writers that the lowest level writer staff writer chose not to come back. So there's one spot up and Graham was like Graham hates like having to which I understand having done it now a few times having to interview like 2030 people know and Harlan turned a bunch of people down and and so he was like, he had read a couple of my scripts. And he was like, Do you want the job? And I was like guess that'd be obviously what the job is. So I was able to like jump over those extra two years that you often have to do of being the Interim Assistant and then and then being and then getting a freelance and then finally getting staff writer so I went right from writers, PA to staff writer and very very lucky, but I always say that I was prepared for the opportunity, you know, because like when Graham said he'd read my stuff, I had a lot of quality pilots that I felt comfortable giving him, you know, and, and I should also add, I always think this is funny, I gave him two scripts, and one of them was a crime, procedural, and I was like, this is what he's gonna like. And I was like, I'll throw this sci fi one in as well. Because like a sci fi script for justify that. And, but the crime, procedural he didn't like, and he ended up I found out this later, he gave the Sci Fi script to his assistant, and was like, Yeah, tell me if I should even read this. And she was like, I really like this, you should read it. And he read it and really liked it. And if if she had said something different, or if I'd only given the crime, procedural, I wouldn't have gotten that job. Like, like, hopefully, something would happen eventually. But getting on justified, which ended up being a really well respected show. Yeah, and was a great show to learn. I mean, that was in a kept coming back huge for my career. You know, instead of keeping on what happens to so many people, you're on a show and it gets canceled. So you have to go on new show and he gets cancelled. It's and so it makes it hard to move up, and it hurts your resume. So
Alex Ferrari 11:14
Right. And, and what I I mean, I personally, I mean, I discover justify during the pandemic, and I just binge the entire
Vj Boyd 11:22
Oh, wow. So that's a very, that was a very interesting way to watch it. Like, honestly, I have not watched the whole series since I left the show. Yeah, I want to do that and see is it must be such an odd experience? Because for us, we're making it over the course of six years, right? Yes, of course. And so if you're watching all of it, you're going like straight from season one to two to three, you probably see those changes so much more clearly.
Alex Ferrari 11:46
Yeah, just the adjustments in tone sometimes in adjustments in just character. Yeah, I mean, but yeah, I mean, we found that we discovered it, cuz I always heard justify was a good show. I always heard about in the background, but like, you know, like everything else, there's 1000 Good shows. And there's people get busy. So like, what am I going to sit down? And like, really? So when we were looking down and my wife's like, hey, why don't we? Why don't we give justified a shot, Mike? All right, let's give it a shot here. It's great. Let's give it a shot. And it just we got hooked. And we're like, and we're really looking forward to hopefully the spin off. That is happening. I heard in the in the trades that they are going to come back somehow.
Vj Boyd 12:21
Yes, yeah, there's there is there we worked on that. Which by the way, that was awesome this year. So we did 20 weeks or something like that of a room for city primeval, the justified spin off. And it's one of those things where you never expect in this industry to end up working with the same group that you worked with in the past, like maybe one or two of the same people, sure the same group of people with with a couple of additions, because we had Walter Mosley in the room for a little while, who I knew from snowfall is awesome. And also Easter Davis, who's an actress and writer, so we had added them, but other than that it was the old crew. And it was it was very cool. So we'll see we have no shooting date yet. Because one of those things where they did a room, but they didn't commit to shooting it. And also like we have to like figure out, it's obviously a big deal to bring that back. And we want to do it right. So hopefully, we'll get the go ahead to shoot it this next year. But I like what we came up with.
Alex Ferrari 13:21
Well, I'm, I'm excited about that. And I always find it fascinating, you know, with writers and writers rooms, when you are writing in a writers room, and especially early on in that like season one and you start seeing what the actors are doing on set with your words, does the writers room start to adjust the tone the language to take advantage of the performance of that actor?
Vj Boyd 13:45
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And that honestly, I think that that is one of the advantages to the old way of doing things of you make a pilot, and then you get picked up and make the rest of the show. You know, I get the disadvantages of okay, we have to like make a whole pilot and then wait around to see if we get to make the rest I get that that everyone's kind of waiting around not getting paid and everything but once you start writing the rest of them, you know exactly how everyone talks and you can write to that if you use the the model that the streaming uses that Hulu Netflix Amazon use. Although Amazon sometimes makes pilots not so much anymore, but like Netflix, certainly you go in and you write them all right, all six, eight episodes, right? Then you go shoot them all, and you're you absolutely are going to end up rewriting stuff on the fly because you're like, Oh crap, this guy's really popping. Or oh, man, I wrote this character this way, but that's not quite the way they play it. Right. And and that's also one of the downsides of the streaming model of it's only a couple of the writers who remain through the shooting. Like you have the room for 20 weeks or so. But then it's just the creator and maybe one other producer there for the rest of the time. And you're absolutely going to end up like, like you're talking about rewriting for the actors. But no, it is a it totally changes. It totally changes things. Just being on set with the actors with the director, it changes the way you write things, because you've now had discussions with people who do these other jobs and you understand the way they think. Anyway, yeah,
Alex Ferrari 15:23
Yeah, I mean, cuz I mean, I'm just on a comedy standpoint, like I'm assuming for season of Big Bang theory when they start seeing Sheldon pop. I mean, I'm assuming that like, wait a minute, we didn't think this character was going to be the breakout, but let's start working or the friends crew. I mean, the friends writers room like that first season a friends
Vj Boyd 15:41
Or think about family matters.
Alex Ferrari 15:43
Oh, yeah. Oh, my God.
Vj Boyd 15:44
Alex Ferrari 15:45
Jesus. Can you imagine Sophia, like all of a sudden Sophia like, okay, she's poppin. We got to do something here and rework things. But yeah, I always find that fascinating on how writers will start. Because you don't get to do that in feature. You get into TV in the streaming, but you don't get to do that and feature all that
Vj Boyd 16:04
Although, although, yes, I mean, certainly big. I would say though, that the way big features are now they do so many reshoots, so many reach students that that I'm sure that I'm not as familiar with it, but I'm sure that sort of thing happens, where they'll watch a screening and be like, crap, like that character, write a subplot for that character and reshoot that and will delay the release for a couple of months or something. I'm sure that sort of thing happens not so much with like, indie film, but if you have the money or time to reshoot, like, I I know people who were producers on the new James Bond movie, and when they were shooting that like they were already shooting, obviously huge production, right huge. They were already shooting it. The script was not finished. Like they literally they had like 250 pages of script. And we're just shooting the scenes they knew we're going to stay Wow. What's your name from fleabag and love was was like whittling it down to what it was going to be? You know? So even with the big movies things change on the fly.
Alex Ferrari 17:11
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely no question. Now I always find it fascinating as well how to how writers in a writers room break a story so can you kind of go through the process at least in your in your experience how you approach you know as a showrunner but also as a as a writer in the writers room. Let's let's take it back to justify first season your your the second season, you're in the writers room now. How do you approach breaking a story? And what do you seeing around you?
Vj Boyd 17:41
With justified we had a lot of lead time because we were a cable show. So if you're on a broadcast show, like when I was on Swat, we would only have a couple months to like start writing and have lead time before we it was time to shoot. So we only had a little bit of time to blue sky or just brainstorm. Justified we had more like four months before we started to shoot if I remember correctly, so and we're doing fewer episodes only 13. So we would spend like the first three weeks, sometimes even a month, but the goal was always like two or three weeks, just sitting in the room and throwing out like anything that could possibly happen that we're interested in. You know, like we could be like I remember I remember season four. That was the season with Drew. What's it in the bag that was hidden in the wall and the guy who liked crash landed in the teaser lane? Yeah, we there was a there was we talked for two or three days about a version of season four, in which there is going to be a flashback story we were going to tell episode two episode about a Raelians dad and Boyd's dad doing crime back in the day. Like we started breaking that and then we abandon it after a couple days because we realized people aren't tuning in to see these guest actors play their dads and less so unless we're having Oliphant and and Goggins play their dads, which wouldn't work for Goggins, he doesn't look a thing like MC Gainey. Then we were gonna have to like abandon that idea. And so we would go down to various paths. So, like thinking about season two, we had just visited Harlan. For I think for the first time Yeah, cuz we didn't go before season one. So several of us went down to heart, the actual heartland. And Graham had a lot of specific ideas from having been in heartland and he wanted to do something in the world of weed. He knew he wanted to do something with a criminal matriarch. So we had those ideas that he had thrown out. And so then there's the eight of us or how many there were that season, and we're pitching Okay, well, the matriarch could be like this. And I don't remember who pitched it, but it could be like, it was like, Okay, what if she had these sons that Raila knew because that's the whole idea with justified right is He's going back to the place he's from. So running into people he knew or knew of or the know of him. That's a big part of the show. And we were like, Okay, what are the sons like, right? And so we started pitching on what they could be like, and, like, what we oftentimes will have, like actors that we will call them by like, oh, the Nick Milty character or the whatever, before we've given them names to kind of get in our head like who they are. And, like, I remember Season Two of justified there was, what was the oldest son's name because it was Coover and Dickey, and then the oldest son here. Yeah, I can't remember. But he cuz obviously Coover and Dickey kind of steal the show. But like, but like, I pitched like, he could be the sheriff. Like, he could be like a cop. Uh, yeah, like so that he has, there's some color of law. So it's law man against law, man. And that ended up sticking. So it's that sort of thing. And sometimes, again, we're always going down paths that we ended up like, okay, that doesn't work. Let's go down the other path. So anyway, the first, you know, three weeks to a month, we're just coming up with the big broad ideas. And as things land, we put them up there as tent poles for the season, like, well, maybe mid season, this kind of thing could happen right now. And by the end of the season, we want this sort of thing to happen. So then, after those three weeks or so, now, we're in the room, and it's time to make up what's going to happen actually in episode one, right? And so then we got to get more specific and we draw those columns on the board, like teaser, Act One, act two, blah, blah, blah. And we just again, we start pitching off sometimes chronologically, like, okay, like, first this then this and sometimes more like, Well, I think it could end with this, it very much. It's very much how, how one might imagine eight people sitting in a room making up a story, right? And, and then it is important and was justified. Graham was in there most of the time on some shows. The showrunner is not able to be in there all the time. And so you end up you're making up stuff, and then he'll come in for an hour and you pitch it to him. And then he'll fine tune it. But it was very helpful and justify the Graham was in there most of the time. So if we're going down a path he doesn't like he can immediately say, No, I don't like that. So we can go another direction. So we don't waste three hours on a thing that he's going to come in and say no to in like five minutes. So yeah, go ahead.
Alex Ferrari 22:18
So the one thing I loved about the show and also being able to see it all at once in a binge was Boyd's character. Boyd is such a fantastic character because and for everyone listening, he was the he's the bad guy for some of it for some of the seasons. But yet, he's bad. Like, he's a he's not a nice guy. Like at all. There's there's very few redeemable things about them. But the way Goggins plays him is an absolute like he should win an Emmy every year for that show. I mean, it was so brilliantly performed, that towards the end, I started seeing it as I could start seeing it that I saw the writers were like, Wait a minute. Yeah, we can't, we can't kill him off. Like they're gonna get people gonna get pissed if Boyd is gone. And I think there was a moment I forgot what season it was where that kind of crossed over like you like, up until that point was the point. And that was the point of no return. Like, you know, what, if we want to kill him off, we could still kill him off, and we could keep moving forward. But there was a certain point where you pass you're like, yeah, there's no way and now he becomes almost Beloved. And he partners with Galen, and it's like, it was just like this. What that's the that was the engine that ran the show. For me, just watching those two characters constantly going back and forth. And the way it was just so brilliantly done, and that's very hard to pull off a character like that, like a bad guy like that with such depth and to make people feel love for him, even though they're, it's like the Hannibal Lecter thing. Like he eats people. He eats people and he's a cannibal, but yet he's charming as hell.
Vj Boyd 24:02
Yes. And I mean, with Boyd part of it is a huge part of his Waltons performance, you know, like he's so like, I love him and righteous gemstones, his baby belly, he's so amazing and righteous gemstones. If you haven't seen it, that's probably one of my favorite shows right now. But I like Walton is so charismatic. So that helps, but also, like, very early on in season one, you have you have Boyd actually questioning his own motivation. You know, when he has that scene where he's like, sitting there, like praying because he started this cult. Right? And he's like, he said, He's, like, all his guys get killed. And he's like, was I just talking to myself this whole time? And you realize, oh, he actually kind of buys his own bullshit, you know, and or It's not bullshit, or he or he really is trying to, it's like, so it makes you realize, oh, he doesn't, he's not a sociopath. Right? He buys into this new thing. He's into whatever that happens. To be right, and sometimes he knows it's partially a grift. But sometimes he's really he really believes in what he's doing. And so because you can see that he's not trying to scam you, the audience, then you're like with him. And you also you see him as sort of occasionally like a Robin Hood esque character where he's standing up for the hauler, and he's against these other guys who are worse guys, you know, guys like corals or whoever, right? And but yeah, like, we had a long conversation beginning of season six about how do we end the series? You know, are we like at the end of the series, is Boyd going to die is really going to die, they're both gonna die, are they both gonna live is boy gonna be in prison and, and we put all those permutations on the board and discuss them for days. And, and and, and Graham had really long conversations with John Landgraf an ethics about that, because he's very heavily involved in story for the shows, and I am very happy with how we I think we stuck the landing with how I agreed.
Alex Ferrari 26:07
I agreed because he and not gonna give any spoilers out for people who haven't seen the show, but there has to be some sort of payment because he did do some bad stuff.
Vj Boyd 26:16
Yeah, no, absolutely absolutely. And I think one thing that's interesting is in the pilot, Boyd kills that guy who's like, one of his like skinhead, guys whose driver, yeah, and he's like, and then lay. And then he says, To Dewey, or someone who's like, he, he's like, he killed him, because he suspected he had betrayed him. But also, he just didn't much like it. You know, and he killed a man, and he was wrong about it. And he didn't really seem to feel that much remorse about it. But then as the show and but as the show goes on. It's like, okay, he's the same guy, but the audience, I think, and sometimes I think even we forgot that he's the guy who just killed that dude in the car for no reason. You know, like, that's who he is. And we wanted to remind the audience and ourselves who he was. And that's why in the final season, he kills Shea Whigham his character, you know, in that truck when he may not have needed to, I mean, that's a call back to that pilot moment. And what's interesting is in talking to some fans of the show, they felt like, Oh, I like how you made Boyd really bad in the end, so that we might think, you know, we might think, Oh, he's gonna die. It's like he that is the same as the thing he did in the pilot. We didn't make him really bad. He's doing the same kind of thing. Just reminding people. Yes, yes. So I don't know if we completely landed what we were trying to do because we weren't trying to do we didn't want it to feel like this cheap on that will make him really evil. We felt like this is totally in his character to do. He has to survive. Shay Wiggum. My he doesn't know this guy if the same thing.
Alex Ferrari 27:50
No, and Boyd's care boys character I agreed with you. He he was even towards the end. He was who He was like, he didn't change. There's just so many shades of him. And you forget that he is the guy who killed that guy for just no apparent reason. It again, I'll go back to Hannibal is like you forget that he ate people and until we start seeing him eat people. Do you go through? Oh, oh, cuz at the beginning, he's just like, oh, that's just a lovely, lovely man whose happens to be behind bars is very eloquent. It's a little creepy, but generally we haven't. We've only heard of the things he's done, but we haven't seen it. And then when you see it, you're like, oh, oh, he's a cannibal. What does that say about me that I like him. And then and then at the end of Silence of the Lambs, what happens? You're like, I hope he eats that guy. Yes, that's brilliant. Right? That's brilliant writing Berlin performance. And anyone listening if you want to study a character, develop the character development through a series. Boyd is such a wonderful character to just study how you guys were able to the nuance of Boyd's character was, again, like there's moments you're just like, God, man, I want him to die. And other and other moments, you're like, I still like them. Like it was just you. And again, because I benched it. I got the full, the full, you're making me want to binge watch the show. It was a was a great experience, being able to binge it all because you, I mean, would go three, four or five episodes a day, you know, sometimes depending on the day of the pandemic, so we just, we just cook through seasons, and you just really get a taste of these characters. And that's why we fell in love with them. We're like, Oh, God, I hope that series, the spin off goes, I hope so too. Now, when you're in a writers room, especially now, what are some mistakes you see young writers make in the moment
Vj Boyd 29:49
Well, I'll say a couple of things. In one one is not so much a mistake, but a thing that I think young writers should keep in mind. That listen, I When I got my first actual writing job staff writer on season two of justified, I'd been in the room, you know, many times before subbing for the writers assistant, just sitting in if I didn't have pa duties to do, then I was the in room assistant on Falling Skies, like I've seen people pitch and all this stuff. And I was like, Okay, I'm prepared to pitch stuff, and then have it rejected, I'll be fine. But when you finally are the lowest level person, and you pitch your thing, and everyone's like, No, I don't think so. And everyone just clearly hates it. It's like, oh, it makes you feel like everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I'm not gonna pitch the rest of the day I suck. And it's like, you have to be you, no matter how prepared you think you are, you're not. And you got to have that sports mentality of like a cornerback, who got beat by for a touchdown. Forget it. Move on. No one's staring at you. If they are, they're a bad person, like, no, it's like that. They're they're moving on to the next story idea, you move on to the next story idea. I would say another thing that a mistake that I made, and this may just because of the way I think, or whatever, I kept early on pitching things, and they wouldn't land. And then 45 minutes later, someone would pitch basically the exact same thing, and it would land. And I was like, What am I doing wrong, that I pitched that 45 minutes ago. And what I realized is, when you're pitching a thing, people and this may seem obvious, but it's not when you're in this room of eight people throwing out ideas. When you when you say oh, they need to find the to find the guy in the bar. And that's where the guys hiding. You need to talk everyone through your thought process, how you got there. Because you've had this whole process, you're just blurting out things, you find them in the barn? And they're like, No, I don't think so. But then as they do that same thought process, they come to that same conclusion. So you need to talk through and say, you know, I was thinking, based on what, you know, Taylor said, since he's this kind of guy, and he did this last episode, I think he should be hiding in the bar, you got to talk people through that. And that was not, that's not an obvious thing, because you already have those thoughts. So you got to talk people through how you got there. And though, the other thing that I have seen, and like my brothers talked about having my brother's a TV writer, also, and he's talked about having seen, he's been on more shows than me, actually, because all these streaming shows are so short, even though he started several years later, but um, his people in their first job, or even second shot, like a low level of writers not taking no for an answer when your boss says no, you know, and it's like, yes, if you have an idea, and whoever is in charge of the room, then whether it's the number two, or whether it's the showrunner says, I don't think so. If you are 100% certain that this is the best idea ever. Maybe you say, Well, can I just maybe you say one more time, right? But you only get a couple of those. But if the boss says no, no, we're really not going to do it. Let it go. Let it go. You're not in charge. Like I think a lot of people have this idea. And I've even heard even upper level writers say it. Well, we're all going to come to something we all like, No, you're not sure what anyone saying. It is not best idea wins. It's the idea the showrunner likes, wins, you know, and so you can think whatever you want, it's like our best idea wins. No, like keep pitching the best idea that will appeal to your showrunner you are making your boss's show, you know, you're not making what in your mind is the best version of the show. You have to figure out what it what is it that your boss wants out of the show?
Alex Ferrari 33:34
And that's something that I think that's another thing that is talked a lot about in the business is the politics of the writers room, the politics of a show, and how to maneuver through that, because that's definitely not taught at film school. And just what you just said, that little bit of knowledge that's just like, look, it's not about like, this is not a democracy. This is this is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. It is a creative dictatorship, and it is the showrunners job to you know, to to run the show. So are there any little other kind of landmines that you as a writer, if you're if you're lucky enough to get in those writers room or even as a PA or an assistant to kind of avoid in the in the political scheme of a writers room or have a show?
Vj Boyd 34:25
I think I would. So this is a really tough one. And I don't know what the solution is. But one to have in mind is because remember, I said that the showrunner, a lot of times isn't in the room, depending on the show, you know, they're in the room some but they have other things to do. They've got like two hour calls with an actor who has issues with a script, they have to be in post, they have to maybe be unset, etc. So oftentimes it's the number two who's in charge in the room, maybe the number three if the number two is rewriting people, and you have what you don't want to do is Let's say it's the number two or number three in charge in the room and you pitch a thing or have an idea that, you know, the showrunner would like, but you're told no, by the number two, you don't want to be the snake who's like when the showrunner comes in, I'll pitch it even. And that can be tough, because you might be totally right. You know, the showrunner would like that. But if you're, if you are going to do that, you need to like, ask the number two or number three, hey, I know you said no to this. Do you mind if I just pitch it to the boss? You know, don't just surprise them? Because I know people who've done that, and that, doesn't it? Listen, it's a small world out here. Travels, you're not gonna lie, it's gonna be tough to get another job. If you're if you're that guy. I would, but at the same time, remember who it is? Who has the power to advance your career and who it is, like we said a minute ago whose vision it is. So again, like maybe it once you get to know everybody, if it's like, Man, I know that number two is gonna look nothing like this idea. I know the showrunner is just don't even pitch it to the showrunners in there, like that's a fix. You know, instead of like creating like a conflict with the number two and being disrespectful to them. But also, like, sometimes, you're going to get if you're a staff writer, everyone outranks you. So sometimes you're going to get like, supervising producer or a co EP who's going to give you certain advice, like, oh, you know what you need to, you need to like pitch more, or you need to pitch less or whatever. You take that with a grain of salt, always unless it's coming from the person in charge, you know, because I've known people in situations where they were given this advice by people above them. And it turned out that was not what the showrunner wanted, you know. So just like with any other business, I think it helped me out a lot that I had been at IBM, honestly, for, like six years. So I've been in this corporate environment of ask of like, asking for feedback, and saying, How did I do you like, like, have those conversations? You know, and I think that that would be just being upfront and having those conversations is a huge help, politically, if you're not a person who's naturally politically savvy, you know, which a lot of writers aren't necessarily, there's so many things that go into TV writing, especially if you're like, a producer, you know, because if there's like writing, but then there's also politics, there's also management, there's also there's so many things that go into it, and not everyone's going to be good at all those things.
Alex Ferrari 37:31
Yeah, there's, there's forces that you don't even see that the show might be under, and the production might be under and the stress the stress of that. I mean, I can imagine being in the room, I worked in TV for a few minutes, early in my career as a PA and worked in the in the office and stuff. And I would see the pressure, like are we going to get picked up? And you could see the whole production is like, wow, why even bother? If we're not going to get picked up? That whole energy it gets it gets really weird. And these are things that you don't see, and especially when you're young, or when you're just starting out, you don't get you don't really understand the scope of what's going on. Like I got great. I've got a great story. This Pa was so amazing. I was on a show on Fox was one of the first shows I was on. And the first part the first episode finally airs. And the the one of the off of the head office ba takes all the reviews of the show and paste them on the wall. They were all bad reviews. So he like I don't even know what she was thinking. She put them all up and they were like all bad reviews. So then the showrunner shows up, reads them has a complete meltdown, goes into the room breaks down the friggin EP has to come in and like the producer has to come in and just like try to talk him off the ledge. And like I saw I was just first front row seat on like, what do you like? Just she got her ass handed to her.
Vj Boyd 38:59
That is so weird.
Alex Ferrari 39:01
It was so weird. Because she wouldn't she meant well, she met well, she's like,
Vj Boyd 39:05
She didn't read them. Some reviews.
Alex Ferrari 39:07
Here's the reviews from the, from the LA Times in from, you know, from variety. Let's put them all up and do it really bad. But that's it. She meant well. Yeah, but obviously these are kind of these I don't even know if she's still stuck. I don't think she stuck around very much. I think that might have been her last week.
Vj Boyd 39:29
Well and and has difficult to listen when you're first starting out. If you obviously you want the people above you to say read your stuff, right? Of course you know, but you it's tough to know when do I ask them? And so, honestly, you ask the people around you who've been doing it longer if there's an assistant on the show if let's say you're an assistant, if there's another assistant on the show who's been doing it a few months longer than you or who knows these people, ask them for advice. Ask the lower level writers who just got staff be like hey, when do you think is a good time for me to like ask them to read my stuff or like Like, make and make friends with all those people and let them read your stuff, you know, and because they'll they might be a staff writer now, but they'll be they'll have a show eventually. You know, I think that is one of the thing that let me let me throw out there that listen, you can absolutely succeed, being a very political animal who you know, flatters and sucks up to people that is a legitimate strategy. I know people, many people do it. I like it. It bothers me to this day when I think about even people I think are good people that I worked around when I was assistant or didn't matter as they say, you know, in LA, and it's like, you're having a conversation with this person in the lunchroom, let's say, you know, and then someone more important comes in. It is a Hollywood thing. I'm sure you've experienced it all the sudden, the conversation with you ins you do not exist anymore. And now it's time to talk to this EP who walked in. It is as if that conversation never happened. And that happened to me numerous times. And I at first I was super offended. And then I was like, I guess this is just how things work. But I You know what I remember I remember the people who never did that. I remember the people who were like, Okay, I know I'm talking to this pa who doesn't matter. But I'm going to finish that conversation before I like I'm not going to act as if royalty has walked in, you know, in the current scene. That's not to say you don't show respect to people who've earned it. I'm just saying, I would love to see a culture change where people just treat everyone like people. And I know that might be asking too much of Hollywood, but I'll throw it out there.
Alex Ferrari 41:33
It might it might be. It might. It might be a little much. I've I don't think that's gonna happen right now. But it is getting better. It is definitely getting better than where it was without question. But that's the thing in LA, you know, and by the way, I moved the exact same year you moved. I was thrilled. It's funny. It was three months prior to the collapse of financial. So I was lucky that I was able to skate right through all of that, thank God but I moved literally just a few months before before the
Vj Boyd 42:01
We were probably at the same coffee shops. Probably a lot of coffee shops.
Alex Ferrari 42:07
What part of town did you move into?
Vj Boyd 42:09
We were at Park LaBrea at first like so I would go to insomnia Cafe on Beverly and I would go to a lot of the normal spots literati and Santa Monica all those places I was
Alex Ferrari 42:20
I was over in Burbank so I was that was down the street from Universal and stuff so I was every Starbucks every coffee bean that was the one thing I don't know if you got the same experience the second I got I kept going to all these coffee shops and all I would see is laptops with Final Draft like Oh yeah, yeah everywhere everywhere everywhere.
Vj Boyd 42:39
Honestly, it depends on the day whether I like it or hate it
Alex Ferrari 42:44
It was just such a culture shock from coming from the East Coast when I when I moved now you also worked on SWAT which is completely very very different than justified because this is a procedural Now I always I always like to wanted to find out from you. When you want to watch procedures and I've watched a lot like I was a big big big fan of bones and and I would watch and that was another one we binge during the things I saw 13 seasons
Vj Boyd 43:12
That's a lot of a was a was with us about bones now like guys in general just
Alex Ferrari 43:17
Oh, I know way more than I should know about bones. But that was like, you know, a good three months of just like what are we watching tonight? Bones it is. So I but I was I always liked watching procedurals because there is an overarching arc of the characters. There's an overarching ARC of this the plot of the show of the season. And but things keep sticking in weekly, you know, the weekly order that we have, in this case of the week. Yeah, the case of the week. So how do you balance that in the writers room?
Vj Boyd 43:50
Yeah, so like with procedurals, like, before I had worked on one eye, definitely there was a little bit of an elitist vibe among those people like myself who were working on prestige cable procedures. And, but then once I worked on was like, oh my god, this is so difficult. It is its own, it is a whole other skill. It's not like like before I was working on one and I was like Okay, so the week Sure, how easy is that? You have to balance all this stuff. No, it is so difficult to keep the keep getting those fun character beats in there because people aren't watching it just for the mystery there. It's not like I'm a robot solving the mystery. They want these fun characters that they care about, you know, solving the mystery and for the it have ramifications on who the character is, and fitting that in along with an entire plot in the 42 minutes or whatever we have, because you still have to have that beginning, middle and end of a mystery of a case that week. You gotta have a client, you got the person that we're saving or like we're solving their mystery or whatever. And so that's a guest character who has to have an arc and you've got to have like little b stories. Relationship stories. And as you said, You've got to serve like maybe one or two beats of the overarching season long arc for for Hondo in the case of Swat. And I would just say it's a huge challenge I, it took me like half the first season of SWAT to really get a grip on it like fortunately there were a lot of people on that show who understood procedurals and could help me through that, but a big part of it. That is helpful. What's helpful for me is the way that Sean Ryan breaks TV, which is that he does not break sequentially. Like when you're putting up the teaser, Act One, act two, whatever, he doesn't do that first. The first thing we do is figure out okay, what's the a story? What's the mystery, this episode? And we just break that in a single line? Forget X. It's like what are the every single scene of the a story? Now? What's the B story? What's the relationship story? Or what's the who's our character who's learning something this episode like Luca is learning that he do we want to do a story where Luca learns that he actually doesn't want to be in a leadership position, you know, that he that he just pride that makes him want to do that he really is happy being like the wing man. Right, then. Okay, we're gonna break that story out separately on the board. You know, it's like separately of everything, no X or anything. Here are the scenes of that. And then is there a C story? That's the overall hundo arc like, okay, Hondo has taken on his friend, son as Darrell. He's taking care of him while while his friend is is in prison. So we want like a couple beats of that. What how are we moving along the story and we write those out. And that is a huge help, because there's so many things going on. And a procedural that if you for me, if you break it sequentially, you really lose track of like, okay, well, what storyline are we in and it's so helpful to me to break them separately. So like if I were doing a procedural pilot, now, that's how I would that's how I would break it is do the storylines separately, then weave them together. And what you often find is oh, this B story beat for Luca, where he's learning about leadership that can combine with this a story mystery beat, he can learn he can learn this thing about leadership as part of this mystery beat right? And if you watch the shield, which is a technical procedural, but it has it always has some case of the week whether it's Dutch and Clyde that might have a case or or Danny and I can read the cop she's partnered with have a case, there's always some storyline that ends, you can see the way or I can having worked for Shawn. You can see how Shawn breaks things in that show. Because you see the B story and C story and a story aligning. And you can imagine in your head how he broke them separately, and then they combined?
Alex Ferrari 47:55
No, no, like, as you're explaining all this. I've just My head hurts it just so many
Vj Boyd 48:01
Didn't make it easier by explaining
Alex Ferrari 48:03
No, because no, no, it was no, it was wonderful. But like just thinking about your absolutely like you walk it. Like if it was me walking into a writers room like oh, it's procedural. That's procedure one a week it's on, we do a couple things. But then you start thinking about all the characters have to have their own arcs, they have to have their own beats inside of each one. And then you've got to work in a beat for the main character, and then how those represent, like, there's so many characters, so many story beats, and then throw in the murder of the week or case of the week, right? And then and then interact those with the beats that you need to hit for everybody. And for the season. Like a head wants to explode like it's insane. It's like that seems so much more difficult than justified where it is not a procedural it's just like a story arc through the whole day.
Vj Boyd 48:50
And obviously like we especially season one we it played out more like a procedural early on season one, right and in justified the first half of every season, and maybe beyond would always have like some closed ended story. But the credit story took up like in Swat, that closed ended story is 60 to 75% of the episode and justified it was more like 25 to 50% of the episode. Right. But that was part of how Graham wanted to break it. And I think it was, I love that because it's very important to me, in a TV show that each episode has its own has its own thing. It has a character to it, like what I would always say and justified is okay, if this is the one where blank is this though you want when people are talking about the show, what are they going to say this one's about? You know, like there's some shows like damages is one of the most rare one most famously where it's just a serial, it's just 20 episodes 13 episodes that they're just like cutting the story at certain spots, you know, but to me, and I think honestly, that's one of the things that I think people love about succession. is so many prestige shows are so serialized where it's like you can't remember what episode things happened even like it in succession. It's like, oh, no, this is the one at the retreat. This is the one right? This is the one at this level, because I mean, they're shooting at all different locations. Like each episode has its own character. And I, you know, like it has, it's like, oh, that's the one where blank that's the one where blank. I think that's very important. And a thing that's in streaming can get lost. You know, I mean, one of the reasons people love squid game, this is this game. This is the one with this game, right?
Alex Ferrari 50:31
Well, I mean, first of all successions on the list, haven't seen it yet. So we're gonna binge it now it is on the literally on the bat and
Vj Boyd 50:41
I'm, I'm catching up. Also, I started it really late. I'm in the middle of season two. So that's why it's on the mind because I'm binging that right now.
Alex Ferrari 50:47
Right! Yeah. Cuz I was like, Oh, I keep hearing about and then I was in Austin at the Austin Film Festival. And then friends. I'm like, Have you not seen succession? What's wrong with you? Like, I'm like, Okay. Obviously. Have you not seen Ted lasso? I'm like, No, I've never seen Ted law. So I'm like, Okay, you gotta watch that last. I'm like, alright, we'll go we'll go we'll go through that. But it's, it's it's, it's, it's really interesting. The whole the whole process and how we, we do like in squid games, by the way, squid games. Let's talk about big kids for a second. What was it in your opinion? Being a, you know, professional television writer that caught our attention? What's good games, because I watched the whole thing, obviously. And I like after the first episode took me a minute. And then at the end of the episode, you're like, Oh, okay. And then you're in, you're in, they hook you with that first episode. And then it was just like me and my wife are just in there. Like, this is a well written show. I mean, I thought it was a well written show. And the way they keep the characters going, and even though the acting in my opinion was a little bit over the top sometimes and things like that, but emotionally they got me what was it about? I'm assuming you saw summit games?
Vj Boyd 51:53
Yeah, I'm I'm I think it's isn't that like an eight episode or nine episode? I think that I'm, I'm on episode five or six. I haven't finished it because that's one that I'm not. I haven't been binging partially. Partially. And this is because so often when I'm watching TV, I'm eating. And so if there's something with subtitles, then I keep missing stuff. Right. So I have to watch squid game last in the evening when I'm done with my snacking. So sometimes I don't make it to it. But no, I. I don't know. I mean, I think I along with every executive in Hollywood is trying to figure out what people love about squid game. I mean, it might honestly be as simple as it's, it's a really like wild premise. That then when you tell people about it's going to spread like wildfire word wildfire. Like yeah, there's this show. We're blank, right? Yes, it's high con super high. Um, it's, it has very interesting visuals. And like I said, like that first episode, like the first game, the red light green light. And like, though, like, that's not something those visuals the way that setup is not something we see that much in American TV. You know, I don't know how normal it is in Korean TV. And so it's like, Oh, I haven't seen anything like this. But I get it. There. It's not confusing. Because so so much. I don't I feel like streaming is doing a better job of not being confusing. But for a while there, I felt like every prestige show, I wouldn't be like halfway through the pilot and have no idea. Who's the main character? What what do they want? There's lots of people looking at each other. And like they're angry of the ocean, I don't know what's going on. Right? It's very clear what's going on. And it's very clear why people are doing things. You know, like some people would even argue it's like, simplistic, but you you you get it, you get it. You care about these people because they have understandable issues, whether they cause it for themselves or not. And you know, what's that huge? Do you want to see what happens next? You want to see what the next game is? You know, even though it's not a procedural it has an engine. You want to see what that next game is.
Alex Ferrari 54:01
Right, right. And now Now the show runners like, Oh, we're doing season two now. And it's like, and now you want I won't run the show for you. But now you're like, Okay, I want to go I want to go back to this world. As violent and insane as it is. Yeah. It says something about us to want to watch things. No, I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Vj Boyd 54:26
I'll say that on the feature side, I'll give the advice that my friend Dan Kymco always gives and he sells a lot of scripts is write your spec. Like I like every year there's an army of people saying the spec script markets over only this many scripts sold. And every year, hundreds if not more scripts still sell plenty of them for people who haven't sold them before. So like write that script. Yes, you can get caught up in Oh, well, I won this contest with this feature script. Now I'm getting offers to go pitch on Yeah, sure, go pitch, write your next spec, write a really good spec, still confined to buyer. And when you write a thing, you can you can sell it five years from now, if you pitch something based on someone else's IP, it's that was too much wasted. If it doesn't sell, I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying a script you write last forever. And on the TV side, also, I would say keep writing new things. I know a lot of people trying to break in who are like, Hey, we read, we read my stuff. And it's like, okay, what do you have, I have this one script I've been rewriting for five years. And that's easy to happen. Like you keep rewriting the same thing. No, at a certain, cut it off, write a new thing, you can go back and revisit it later, you can rewrite it for five years in the background, write a new thing, because you're gonna get better. Every time you write a thing, then write another thing, then write another thing. And if you don't have a workshop group, find one, maybe the first group you try to create or join doesn't work out, you don't like the people in it, find a group of people who you trust to give you notes, and for you to give them notes. Because number one, you will learn things when you're giving other people notes, you're going number two, you're going to make contacts with people who are trying to do the same thing you're doing. And number three, you can learn a lot about how to take notes, which is a huge part of this job, if you get to do it. That is a lot of this job is being able to take notes. And your stuff will get better through the workshop group. My I was in the workshop group in grad school, which helped me out, I'm still into workshop groups with other writers who we've kind of come up together, one of which we start, when we started the group, we were all assistants. And now we're all in shows, you know, and so we all like came up together. So I think that's a huge thing. And don't be shy about telling people what it is you want to do. Because you never know, like, who can help you don't be like, don't be precious about it. Like, oh, I'm just it's just a hobby, you know, or not telling anyone what you want to do. Especially if you've moved to LA and you're having contact with people in the industry. I don't care what they do. Let them know. Yeah, I'm, I'm doing this right now. But yeah, I want to be you know, a TV writer, and I'm working on this kind of this kind of a spec right now. Or whatever, let people know what it is you want to do. So those are those are the pieces of advice I'd give.
Alex Ferrari 57:13
Now. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life? These are my, these are my Oprah questions.
Vj Boyd 57:26
Um, and this is something some people just don't have an issue with. Like, if you're someone who like was in improv, or did drama, or was a great salesman, you don't have to learn this lesson you already know it. But just like not being Don't be a rock star about things. And this is I'm stealing this for another person. And what I mean by that is, if you're a who's a who's a rock star now, like, if you're a who's the guy who did that, though, if you're the weekend, if you're the weekend, and you're like talking to some people, and you like tell a joke, and no one laughs at it. You don't care because you're the weekend. You know, like if you if you like, make a mistake, it call someone by the wrong name. You don't beat yourself up about it all day, because you're the weekend, who cares? And if you're and you're not afraid to go talk to a stranger you're not afraid to, you know, be honest about what you think about something or be up front because you're the weekend, you know, act, act like you're the weekend. You know, it's like, because you're the only one who's sitting around beating yourself up about a about that thing you said earlier, it's like, oh, I won't talk in you know, I just won't talk to groups of people anymore. I had to learn that networking is not a dirty word. You know, because it's like, no, you're just networking is meeting and talking to people about something you both enjoy and love. You know, like, don't be afraid to like break into that group of people if you're at Austin film festival or whatever, like, what is the worst that can happen? You know, and
Alex Ferrari 59:07
It's not the Squidgames. It's not the Squidgames.
Vj Boyd 59:09
Yes, that's right. I still have to remind myself of like, all your regrets are going to be when you were too shy and didn't speak up. So be the weekend this week.
Alex Ferrari 59:23
And I'll just be the weekend it's just the best advice you can you just get the weekend and three television pilots at every every register read.
Vj Boyd 59:32
Oh wow. I'm pilots that people should read not watch. Um, well, I mean, Breaking Bad. Probably everyone's already read that. What's these? I'm trying to do it where they're not all from the same era. But I think madmen is one because that's an example of what did Matt Weiner wrote that like a decade before they ended up making it something thing like that I know he made some changes but I'd say madman is one that's also one of my favorite shows what's uh what's another good one? Oh you know what read the justified pilot that is that's a really good pilot that from my understanding Graham got very few notes on so what you're reading is almost I mean it's never your first draft but as close to like a first draft of a pilot you know like I think he got one that basically one big note in any added a scene at the end. But apart from that it's and apart from talking about reshoots. Famously, Walton Goggins character died when they shot that pilot in the pilot Boyd died he tested so well this is a one time when testing actually worked out it tested so well they did a reshoot where the current amount in the stretcher and he's alive and where would the show be employed had not lived? Wow, that's awesome talk crap about testing and it is annoying. Like, but it worked out for justified but yeah, read just the justify pilot
Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Vj man. It has been a pleasure talking to you, brother. I really has thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and your experience and continued success are in the business. I appreciate you man.
Vj Boyd 1:01:18
Hey, thank you for having me.
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