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.

Netflix Sends ‘Arrested Development’ Banana Stand on the Road

Arrest_Development_2_Capture

Looks like Netflix genuinely believes in this show. They’re taking ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’s most recognizable icons out on the road.

Yeppers, “Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana” stand is touring the world. Well, the civilized part of the world. That is, the part of the world that’s most likely to have viewers who’ll go to Netflix.Com to see the show.

In other words, we’re talking London, New York, and L.A.

So if you’re in one of those great cities in the next couple of weeks, stop in and, you know, have a banana and walk the orange carpet.

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There’s Money In The Banana Stand (or so Netflix hopes…)

There are a lot of reasons I’ve been closely following the reboot of Arrested Development scheduled for 2013.  One of the big ones is seeing what will happen when Netflix picks up a show cancelled by a network and distributes new episodes (which they will also be doing with the short-lived Terra Nova).

All hail the Bluth family!

In keeping with the Dan Harmon theme of yesterweek, I’m very curious about the Power of Fandom in the internet age of television, and what it has achieved in this case. It’s not news that ratings are the dinosaur of television trend-telling, since people no longer rush home from their insurance-selling jobs to have a scotch and watch Happy Days (clearly what everyone did from 1950-1999).

The majority of viewers watch television whenever, wherever, and however they like. They may not even know when a show actually airs in real time. So, the new million dollar question on the table is how to tell what’s resonating with them and what isn’t, and once we know that, what we do about it.

Arrested Development is an interesting case, because we can actually track its considerable influence on the vocabulary of television comedy since its cancellation.  Shows like 30 Rock, Community and The Office all draw elements from it, whether it’s humor taken to logical extremes, jokes dependent on awkward silences, or even the prevalence of single-camera in the half-hour format (remember when it was just Friends and Seinfeld?).

We can also track the rabid fan community that’s grown up around the show in its absence (believe it or not, there’s an Arrested Development Wiki) that, given the accessibility of the first three seasons, continues to grow nine years after the network cancellation.

That’s right, it continues to grow – because people relate more and more to television as an on-demand phenomenon. Over time, television shows are controlled less and less by the networks. This Arrested Development move made by Netflix could mean that the ultimate network control – the television death sentence of cancellation or relegation to the time slot equivalent of Siberia  – is slowly losing power.

This isn’t even taking into consideration the high-profile programs, like the Fincher-produced House of Cards, that are bypassing networks altogether and going straight to on-demand content providers.

As creators at this moment, it’s all good news, because we are in an in-between moment where all kinds of content are being thrown against the wall, simply because no one is quite sure what will work and what won’t.  One need look no farther than the shows Hulu distributes to see the wide gamut of content made available.

However, I think it’s also a time to start figuring out where the market is going next, and get ahead of the curve when it coms to building a career.  In my humble opinion, the true power is in the fan communities online, who not only watch shows but are influenced by them, which means long-term revenue in the form of show merchandise and episode sales – continuing long after the show is created and distributed.

Seriously. There always is.

“Best Cult TV Series Ever, according to “Entertainment Weekly”

EW Picks the Best Cult TV Series Ever. Here’s EW’s Top 10. In at No. 1 Is a British Import – by TeamTVWriter Press Service

Entertainment Weekly has published its choices for the best cult TV series ever. Counting from No. 10 to No. 1, here are EW’s choices. The only show that might be hard to place by some is EW’s choice for the No. 9 slot, “The Comeback.” It was only on one season — 2005 — on HBO and starred Lisa Kudrow.

Dunno if we agree with these choices. For example, we here at TVWeek would put at least these five series in our top 10 of the best cult TV series ever: “Action,” the little known, bitingly funny Hollywood satire that lasted just 13 episodes on Fox in the 1999 season; the long-running HBO comedy “The Larry Sanders Show”; the outstanding ABC series from David Lynch “Twin Peaks,” the sci-fi favorite “The Prisoner,” with Patrick McGoohan, that ran in the 1967-’68 season; and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” starring Darren McGavin, which was on duing the 1974-’75 season.

Here’s EW’s top ten cult TV series of all time:

10. “My So-Called Life.”

9. “The Comeback”

8. “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

7. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

6. “The Wire”

5. “The X-Files”

4. “Mystery Science Theater 3000”

3. “Arrested Development”

2. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

1. “Doctor Who”

Yeah, the new guys are missing but we thought this would be fun

Agree? Disagree? Wanna make something of it? Give us a holler.

The Papparazzi are All Over ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT

…Which makes us pretty damn happy:

         

         

No specific links here, sorry. But pics of the series, currently – finally! – shooting again are everywhere.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’s Return is Real

If Ron Howard says so, it must be true. Right?

Ron Howard, Jason Bateman Celebrate Arrested Development‘s Return: ‘IT’S ALIVE!’
by Matt Webb Mitovich

At some point, you can stop pinching yourself. But until then, we’ll bask in any and all photos and tweets — such as these from executive producer/narrator Ron Howard and cast member Jason Bateman — that double-secret confirm the long, long-rumored return of Arrested Development.

In a series of messages shared via Twitter on Tuesday evening, Howard offered a peek into the writers room, where AD‘s 10-episode Netflix resurrection is being brainstormed, saying: “Arrested Development for Netflix. IT’S ALIVE.”

Read it all

Thank you, Jesus Netflix!