Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With BETTER CALL SAUL’s Gordon Smith

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

Photo by Arnold Wells

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence, hard work and not giving up.

Emmy-nominated writer Gordon Smith credits much of his career success to luck. A friend got his resume to BREAKING BAD just as they were looking for a PA. After landing that job, Gordon’s career grew from working as a writers’ PA and assistant to Vince Gilligan, to landing a position as a staff writer on BETTER CALL SAUL. Now a producer on BETTER CALL SAUL, Gordon signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures TV earlier this year.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I don’t often think of myself as a writer. I went to school for writing at Michigan and then I was in the production program at USC, but I primarily focused on writing and editing. It’s that weird thing in my head that I don’t necessarily think of myself that way, but it plays to my skills in the arts. I don’t think I would ever be particularly well suited for things outside of the arts. Within that discipline, I think writing suits me.

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

Usually people want to know how I got my job, because everyone is wondering how you get your foot in the door. Unfortunately, my answer is usually luck, because it was luck. I started as a PA. I got my foot in the door. It’s luck, but I think it really can’t be overestimated how social the industry is, how many things happen because you know somebody and somebody else knows you and you can kinda say yeah, that person is okay, I know them and vice versa.

HOW DID YOU FIRST BREAK IN TO TV?

I was working at USC where I went to grad school. I wrote and edited a short film for a young woman, Nicole, who was a friend of mine and she went on and is very successful. Her first gig was as an intern, I think on MAD MEN, where Genny Hutchison was Matt Weiner’s assistant at the time. They became friends and I had been friends with her, so it happened that when I was looking for a job, she was J.J. Abrams assistant. So I was like, “Do you know of anything?” She told me, “No, but I know somebody on BREAKING BAD, maybe I can get your info there.”

My resume landed in their hands just at the right time when they happened to be looking for a PA. Towards that end, be somebody that other people are willing to say, I worked with this person, I like this person. I’m willing to recommend them. You want someone to be in your corner in that way. You can’t turn the switch, but it can happen if you’re ready and you’re in the right place for it.

WHAT TV SHOWS INSPIRED YOU WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER?

In undergrad, I was mostly writing fiction and plays. Theater was especially something that I took seriously. It wasn’t until later that I started thinking about TV as a viable place to express myself. When I did, there were all these shows I loved or felt passionate about and followed. I was a huge X-FILES fan. I wrote a bunch of scalding papers about it at one point. I was and remain a TWIN PEAKS fan. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, I love that show.

My sister has a history of sitting me down and being like, “You have to watch blank.” BREAKING BAD was one of those shows. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was another one. She was like, “You have to watch this. You haven’t. You’re going to and you’ll like it.” She was right.

ANY ADVICE THAT YOU RECEIVED EARLY ON IN YOUR CAREER THAT REALLY STOOD OUT FOR YOU?

I think not being a jerk is a big piece of advice. Be somebody that other people want to be around for ten hours a day, every day for eight months, which seems intuitive, but I think people also learn a lesson that the thing to be is the person who fights for their vision, which is important, but you have to balance that against there’s a bunch of people around you who are also fighting for their vision and you’re all trying to be on the same team.

The other piece of advice that I’ve heard Genny Hutchison give many times, and she’s dead on, is to do the job you have. If you are an assistant, there’s a thinking that the way to go is to dress for the job that you want, not the job you have. You hear that, but there is something kind of misguided about it. It works for some, but you may also alienate some people. You’re likely to end up with people who are like, I needed you to do this job. I needed you to get coffee. I needed you to write the descriptions in a line that are going to go on VOD for the episodes, which are evocative enough that they tell you what the episode is, but they’re bland enough that they don’t have any spoilers in them.

Those kind of things, they can be boring or they can be tough. They are actually quite tough, which is why they are sometimes done badly, but doing them well makes people go, “Oh, you could handle that. Maybe you could handle more.”

AS A WRITER, WHO INSPIRES YOU?

Lots of people. I’m inspired by a lot of the people I work with. I’ve been lucky. They’re a great group of people, because they’re very giving with their time. Tom, Genny, Peter, Vince and the people I’ve worked with a long time now have been very supportive and good mentors. I think they’re all really great writers. So I’m very happy and proud to be part of the team.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS IN THE EARLY STAGES OF THEIR CAREERS?

Yes opens a lot of doors. It’s hard to sort of look and say, well, I don’t know if this is worth my time, because your time’s precious. But for a good while, saying yes is going to be way better than saying no. It’s going to open more doors.

I took gigs for a long time that I’m like well, I don’t really love this or don’t know about this. Some web writing gigs, even some projects that weren’t perfectly in tune with my sensibilities with BREAKING BAD or things that I wanted to do, but doing them opened up opportunities. That would be my advice. Say yes to opportunities when they come, because eventually you’ll be able to say no. You’ll get to that point.

Also, keep writing. Keep polishing your stuff. It’s hard to find the time. It’s nearly impossible sometimes, but the more you can keep your head in that, the more you can stay engaged with what you’re passionate about.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Stream ‘Doctor Who’ Audio Dramas – Free!!!

If you’re a Doctor Who fan – of any Doctor and from any era of the show – you’ve probably heard of the various audio drama versions of the series put out by the company Big Finish, but you haven’t actually listened to any of them.

Now, thanks to Redditor electricmastro, who got it from dudles78 of Gallifrey Base you and I and everyone else who is interested can now stream the following Big Finish episodes legally via Spotify. (And also Google Play, but the links below are from Spotify).

Here’s the very helpful – oh, hell, to this TVWriter™ minion very exciting – post:

Dozens of stories have been put out for free, legal streaming on Spotify. Thanks to dudles78 on GallifreyBase for pointing this out:

Main Range:

  1. The Sirens of Time
  2. Phantasmagoria
  3. Whispers of Terror
  4. The Land of the Dead
  5. The Fearmonger
  6. The Marian Conspiracy
  7. The Genocide Machine
  8. Red Dawn
  9. The Spectre of Lanyon Moor
  10. Winter for the Adept
  11. The Apocalypse Element
  12. The Fires of Vulcan
  13. The Shadow of the Scourge
  14. The Holy Terror
  15. The Mutant Phase
  16. Storm Warning
  17. Sword of Orion
  18. The Stones of Venice
  19. Minuet in Hell
  20. Loups-Garoux
  21. Dust Breeding
  22. Bloodtide
  23. Project: Twilight
  24. The Eye of the Scorpion
  25. Colditz
  26. Primeval
  27. The One Doctor
  28. Invaders from Mars
  29. The Chimes of Midnight
  30. Seasons of Fear
  31. Embrace the Darkness
  32. The Time of the Daleks
  33. Neverland
  34. Spare Parts
  35. …ish
  36. The Rapture
  37. The Sandman
  38. The Church and the Crown
  39. Bang-Bang-a-Boom!
  40. Jubilee
  41. Nekromanteia
  42. The Dark Flame
  43. Doctor Who and the Pirates
  44. Creatures of Beauty
  45. Project: Lazarus
  46. Flip-Flop
  47. Omega
  48. Davros
  49. Master
  50. Zagreus

Special Releases:

UNIT: Dominion

The Davros Mission

Fourth Doctor Adventures:

 

  1. Innocence
  2. Purity
  3. Corruption
  4. Guilt

Cyberman:

1.1 Scorpius

1.2 Fear

1.3 Conversion

1.4 Telos

2.0 Cyberman 2

….

See the entire list on Reddit

Check out Big Finish

BuzzFeed is Looking for Writers

A very positive looking post about an available gig, found at BuiltinNyc.Com:

BuzzFeed Entertainment Group is looking for a pop culture obsessive to write about movies and TV! We’re looking for someone who has a vast knowledge of movies (old and new) and watches television religiously that can channel their knowledge into shareable content that’s entertaining and engaging for fans of the entire pop culture spectrum. (More light hearted, to-the-point, and fun posts rather than essays, reviews, or cultural critiques). You should feel comfortable writing about fan theories, easter eggs, and other incredulous details that fans know and love. You should be able to write from the POV of a fan, as you’ll be creating content for them.

We’re looking for those who truly know the deepest corners of the internet, consume pop culture like air, and have a passion for telling stories in a unique voice.

This is a full-time, staff role based out of our New York or Los Angeles offices, available to start immediately. Must have a flexible schedule as working weekends might be required.

Read it all HERE

Oh, and if you’re a New York City based startup, builtinnyc looks pretty damn cool too!

New, Improved 2017 PEOPLE’S PILOT Opens in 2 1/2 Weeks

tv_writer_peoples_pilot_smby Larry Brody

Get ready, gang, because we’re coming soon!

The 2017 PEOPLE’S PILOT contest, TVWriter™’s 26th running of what may well be the longest running TV pilot competition on the interwebs, as of this writing is a mere 17 days away.

As usual, we’ve done some tweaking based on things we learned from last year’s contest.

I’m not going into specifics now because the PEOPLE’S PILOT means so much to me that it’s very likely the tweaking will continue right up to the new opening date, June 1, 2017. 

The closing date remains the same as last year, November 1…but in 2017 as opposed to, you know, 2016.

You can get a not-so-secret preview of where we heading on the PP landing page, conveniently located RIGHT HERE. Please accept my cordial invite to check everything out…and also to write to me personally, HERE, to let me know what you think.

Or, to put it in a more mobile-friendly sort of way:

More PEOPLE’S PILOT info is HERE

Email me with your thoughts on the contest HERE

Hope you like where we’re going. The PEOPLE’S PILOT and everything we’re keeping and changing in regard to it is all about our hopes for your successful career!

LYMI LB

LYMI
LB

 

 

Larry Brody’s Poetry: ‘Two by LB’

 

by Larry Brody

NOTE FROM LB

If not proof at least evidence that sometimes people really do change. Short poems (the first probably could have been a tweet but we don’t have them back in the 1990s), yet oh-so insightful. Maybe. I hope.

Anyway:


Relative Values
(by Kid Hollywood)

To Indian People an eagle feather means manhood.

My bar mitzvah symbolized the same thing,

And I netted three grand.


It’s The Bells That Have All The Magic
(by No Longer Kid Hollywood)

It’s the bells that have all the magic.

They announce the coming of the gods.

Indian dancers wear them around their

Ankles, and every jingle brings the gift of past

Glory closer to the dust of today.
When I watch the fancy dancers in their

Feathers and beads, I long to join them,

And be taken over by some greater force.

To give yourself up to the bells’ jingling

Is to feel a power beyond any on earth.
It’s the bells that have all the magic.

My soul vibrates with their call.


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. He is posting at least one poem a week here at TVWriter™ because, as the Navajo Dog herself once pointed out, “Art has to be free. If you create it for money, you lose your vision, and yourself.” She said it shorter, though, with just a snort.

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – May 15, 2017

Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our 5 most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Going in Style‘

TV’s Haught Lesbian Cop Girlfriends

LB: Where Did THE FALL GUY Live?

Confessions of a paid Amazon review writer

And our 5 most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

The Logline

Spider-Man Unlimited

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT

TVWriter™ Writing & Showbiz News Feed

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

Rocket Raccoon Saves His Creator

A sad story, yet filled with hope. Thanks, Bill, for all you’ve given us. TVWriter™ is rooting for you:

Rocket and co-creator Bill Mantlo back in the day

by Mike Mantlo

For those new to the story, my brother, Bill Mantlo, was one of the most prolific writers in the history of Marvel Comics. During a span just shy of 20 years, he penned tales for nearly every title in the Marvel Universe. His was an unbridled imagination fired by all the “marvels” he absorbed from his voracious reading appetite in his 1950s-’60s childhood.

Starting in the “paste-up” department at Marvel’s New York City “House of Ideas,” Bill was literally chomping at the bit awaiting any opportunity to put his fantastical ideas into print. In almost Hollywood-like fashion, one day editor Tony Isabella frantically scoured the bullpen for someone that could provide him a story to fill in for a writer that had missed his deadline, and Bill jumped at the chance. Whipping up a tale on his lunch break, Isabella was pleased with the result, and Bill earned his first writer’s credit. The floodgates were opened, and would not soon be closed again. The writing assignments grew steadily, and Bill became known as the “fill-in king” at Marvel. His imagination and creativity flourished, and within a few short years he was churning out upwards of eight different titles every month.

Flash forward to the mid-’80s: A change in managerial styles saw Marvel struggling to hold on to its audience. Many of the artists and writers were dissatisfied with being denied the opportunity to take ownership of, and benefit directly from, their creations. Bill was torn between earning a paycheck or risking the loss of income by fighting the powers that be. With the new editor switching, or taking away, more and more of his assignments, Bill decided to enroll in law school and pursue a career that “meant something.” He attended night school at Brooklyn Law, and earned his degree in 1987. After a few half-hearted stints at established law firms, he found his niche at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx. Bill immersed himself in defending the defenseless, and earned a rapid reputation as a thorn in the side of the Bronx prosecutorial staff.

In his personal life, Bill was going through a bitter divorce battle when he discovered a new passion — rollerblading! He took to it like a fish to water, entering competitive events around NYC’s Central Park, and skating marathon distances daily. It was a hot July afternoon in 1992 when he was skating home to his apartment in Upper Manhattan when a maniacal driver whipped around a corner in front of Bill, throwing him across the hood of the car. His head smashed into the windshield, and when thrown off the other side, his head hit the pavement as the driver sped away. Rushed to the emergency room of St. Luke’s Hospital, he was in a coma, and diagnosed with a closed head traumatic brain injury. The prognosis was bleak, and proved to be as devastating as all of us feared it might be.  Despite a few false glimmers of hope during his first three years post-injury, Bill has never recovered the cognitive skills that were stolen from him.

In 2014, Marvel Studios produced The Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring one of the characters that Bill created, Rocket Raccoon. Marvel negotiated and agreed to a very nice compensation package for the rights to use Bill’s characters, and thanks to their acknowledging Bill’s contributions, he will now be able to leave the institution he’s lived in since 1995, and have in-home the care he needs for the rest of his life.

I have been Bill’s guardian for these past 25 years, and the outpouring of love, the praise he’s received, and the accolades he’s earned from fans and industry professionals alike is absolutely astounding. We have received cards and letters from all around the world, and Bill has an enormous fan base that continues to grow to this day. There is nothing that makes him prouder, or happier, than when someone writes and tells him how he, Bill Mantlo, changed their life is some magical, positive way….

Read it all at Hollywood Reporter

The Bill Mantlo Support Page is on Facebook