Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth. A powerful lesson from Russel Friend of HOUSE, GLEE, and now BATTLE CREEK writing fame:
by Cary Tusan
Every working writer has their unique story about how they broke into the film and television industry. Russel Friend, Executive Producer/Writer ofHouse (Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of Glee(Fox), Executive Producer/Writer of Battle Creek(CBS), shared his story with us.
Q: How did you get your first job as a working writer? Friend: We were out pitching a feature based on the real life exploits of a private investigator who specialized in insurance fraud. Our agent had paired us with a much more experienced writer/producer who had optioned the guy’s life rights, and we collaborated with him on the pitch, and then took it out to “the town”. That was the first time we had ever pitched something, and it was truly nerve wracking. It became clear by around the third pitch that things weren’t going well. This wasn’t a “big idea” that you could pitch in one line; it had no special effects; no big trailer moments. It was more of a character piece, a dark comedy about a quirky private eye and his strange cases. Anyway, we ended up pitching it to a producer at Paramount, and he had a great insight: this wasn’t a movie. It was actually a television show. He’d be happy to attach himself if we were willing to reshape the pitch for TV. We regrouped and thought about this, quickly realizing it actually made a lot of sense. So with the help of our producers, we reformed the pitch and managed to sell it to CBS as a pilot.
Q: How did you get representation? What is key to know about finding that first rep? Friend: I met my writing partner at the USC Peter Stark Program, and we started writing together towards the end of our second year. I was working as an assistant to a producer on the Fox lot when we finished that script and first started looking for an agent. We were fortunate in that we had a friend from USC who had gone on to work at William Morris and was at that time just promoted to coordinator – which is kind of like a junior agent. We had stayed in touch and sent him the script when we were finished. And the great thing was, he actually read it. And the even better thing was, he really liked it and wanted to bring us to meet his boss – who ended up signing us.
Q: For those who want to get on a show as a writer’s assistant, what tips (do’s and don’ts) do you have for interviewing? What have you or your show looked for in the past when hiring someone? Friend: That’s a really great question. I think a great way to get hired as a staff writer – or get a job writing a freelance episode – is to first become a writer’s assistant. (As well as writing spec scripts, obviously). If you’re interviewing on an established show (as opposed to a new pilot), I think it’s smart to really get to know that show. If you aren’t familiar with the show, go back and stream as many episodes as you can. Also, try to get a hold of the show’s scripts and read them; get a feel for how the show is written. It’s also probably a good idea to find out what the job is going to entail. For example, will the assistant be in the writer’s room taking notes? Will there even be a writer’s room? Or will your job mostly entail getting lunch? Either way, these jobs can be really valuable because they give you the chance to be around working writers who can help you towards your goal of actually getting paid to write….
…Cuz dude’s a writer, you know? Our kind of writer. (Hey, us dawgs gotta stick together, right?
by Johnny Sugar
For more than a decade, Family Guy‘s Brian Griffin has been trying to forge a career as a writer. As Stewie once pointed out, it’s the only thing giving his alcoholism any credibility. But for all of his efforts, is Brian actually any good at writing? Let’s sort through 13 seasons worth of evidence and find out.
If you’re a dedicated Family Guy fan, you’re probably aware of Brian’s published works. His debut novel was Faster Than The Speed of Love, which in addition to a dreadful title, had a plot ripped directly from the Iron Eagle movies. The book sold poorly despite the presence of an Oprah’s Book Club sticker. Then, tired of his writing being rejected by the public, Brian decided to deliberately write the worst book of all-time, Wish It. Want It. Do It. An attempt to imitate the faux-inspirational pablum of books like The Secret. But there was an odd twist: People actually loved the book.
Brian quickly became a literary sensation, and in the process, he started to believe his own hype. In addition to treating Stewie — his publicist — poorly throughout that episode, he started to believe that his book is actually good. It all blows up in his face when the book gets critiqued on Real Time with Bill Maher. Unable to defend his work, he admitted that he doesn’t like the book either and thathe urinated in Bill Maher’s studio.
So, Brian’s literary works have been met with a fair amount of hostility, but what about his writing endeavors elsewhere? In “Brian Griffin’s House of Payne,” we found out that Brian had once written a television pilot called What I Learned on Jefferson Street under the name H. Brian Griffin. After reading it, Lois is blown away, saying that it was the best thing he’s ever written. She got him a meeting with a TV executive and soon enough, Brian had a TV show. Of course, a combination of network notes and James Woods turned his show into a trashy sitcom, but the reality is that Brian’s show wasn’t any good to begin with. The show had an interesting premise about a 25-year-old man going back to college while trying to take care of his young daughter, but the dialogue could not be more hackneyed. Consider this line that Elijah Wood reads in his audition:
Go ahead, Professor Watkins, fail me if you want. Give me an “F” on the exam. I don’t care because I got an “A” today…as a dad. Maybe this is news to you, but love isn’t some element on your periodic table. [Brian mouth every word Elijah said] So, you know what? Keep you chromium and magnesium, because I discovered a much more precious element. I discovered Dadmium.
Come on, there’s no world where that would pass for good writing. I have no idea why Lois thought Brian’s script was good, and my only guess is that it’s because his other stuff is even worse. So far, things are not looking good for Brian.
We all enjoy reliving the past now and then, but is Netflix’s approach going to give us enough time to create a new TV future? This definitely will get you thinking:
by Kate Knibbs
Netflix is apparently super close to inking a deal to reboot Full House, everyone’s favorite family-oriented sitcom about a grieving widower, his children, and his fuckup adult permanent houseguests leeching off his benevolence and remarkable real estate in San Francisco. And you know what? Uncles Jesse and Joey aren’t the only leeches in this situation. Netflix has cornered the market on milking 90s nostalgia, and the reboot fever it has inspired in the golden age of TV is bad for the art form and worse for our memories.
Just as the film industry has gravitated towards remakes and reboots because a known quantity is always a safer bet than the unknown, this ballooning roster of resurrected shows is happening because they have built-in audiences, not because the stories are especially compelling or the creators are especially passionate.
Netflix has already ordered reboots of Inspector Gadget and The Magic Schoolbus, so the reintroduction of Kimmy Gibbler into our lives isn’t unprecedented. Far from that, this Full House bid shows that Netflix is seeing how its competitors have recognized how potentially lucrative it can be to be nostalgia vultures, elbowing deeper into the wistful cesspool of sentimentality profiteering.
Netflix isn’t actually producing some of the most highly anticipated upcoming 90s reboots (no, not fucking Coach, though that’s a thing that’s happening). Fox is rebooting The X-Files and Showtime is reviving Twin Peaks, so those networks share some blame. But because Netflix offers a wide variety of older TV shows, like The X-Files and Twin Peaks, it gives these shows a second life and a new audience. And now that television executives realized that Netflix was essentially priming the pump for new decade of reboot material, it’s now open season on 90s TV retreads.
The weirdest thing about the remake fever is that it’s not even a very good scheme, financially. Remakes are considered fairly safe bets because they have that built-in audience, but more often than not, rebooted TV shows flop. So this is a fairly bizarre trend, one that prioritizes the asset of a known entity than anything else. In 2009, a former NBC programmer cited how well film remakes do to explain why networks are obsessed with reboots. That thinking clearly holds true here— maybe, just maybe, the rebooted Full House could be like the Jaden Smith remake of The Karate Kid, which pulled in nearly $400 million worldwide.
I’m not saying that these reboots will all be terrible, though I have an abiding fear that Chris Carter will somehow inject even more incomprehensible nonsense into the X-Files mythology and also that Skinner won’t be hot anymore. Some of them may be good! And in some cases, a reboot can be a chance to finish an incomplete story. But as an overall trend, they’re bad for the TV business because they peddle echoes of memories, not creativity….
Several years ago, I worked on a show that shot a series of interviews in what we referred to in post as the “God chair,” a big red chair set against all-white background, shot with a diffusion filter. The resulting effect made it seem almost as if our cast was addressing camera from the afterlife. It was a creative decision that seemed like a great idea but ultimately didn’t pan out, and the decision was made to go back in and reshoot the interview content. Problem was, it would take more than a week to try to wrangle everyone back in for interviews.
I went back into interviews from previous seasons to look for tops and tails that could be added to the interview content to give the editors something to show while the God chair content could be buried under picture. Simple phrases, like “All I have to say about that is…” and “I can’t believe he just said that.” Those phrases would be tacked to the top or tail of the God chair interviews to form phrases like, “I can’t believe he just said that. // This was an important day for me, and now it’s ruined” or “All I have to say about that is… // If she thinks she’s getting away with that, she has another thing coming.”
We actually managed to bury almost all of the God chair content by employing those tops and tails, and didn’t have to worry about doing pickups at all. The scene-specific stuff still packed a wallop buried under picture, but the generic interview look from the past season served well enough to show who was speaking. Best of all, it saved us a few hours of cast wrangling and reshooting.
Superheroes to the right! Comic book adaptations to the left! And here we are, stuck in the middle with:
by Nick Cannata-Bowman
Over the last decade, we’ve seen comic book movies go from passing trends to a full-blown epidemic, acting as the tentpoles for just about every major studio. Both Warner/DC and Marvel have their next five years of films planned out, featuring just about every superhero you grew up with. That soon spilled over into the TV universe, with Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and DC’s Arrow and Flash netting millions of viewers on a weekly basis.
Now though, DC’s pipeline of shows on The CW may be coming to a head. It all started when Arrow became one of the network’s most-watched shows in just a single season. Then they spun-off The Flash, and continued to see massive success. Naturally, their first reaction to this was to double-down, as all networks and studios do when presented with a well-liked superhero franchise. Plans are in motion now for yet another spin-off show featuring a gigantic superhero team-up starring upwards of seven heros from the Flash and Arrow universe. So when will enough be enough? We’re thinking that time is now for a number of reasons.
1. Eventually the well will dry up
So far, all The CW has seen is success, so naturally they’re not going to quit while they’re ahead. But at some point, they’re going to come up empty and topple the whole pyramid. Slyly introducing Barry Allen pre-Flash felt clever and well-done, and his spin-off felt earned. But introducing yet another spin-off featuring a smattering of various heroes and villains from both shows feels like an attempt to grow for the sake of growth. The Flash felt like a natural progression from a sister show in Arrow that had room to spread its wings elsewhere. Eventually though the bubble will burst and people will start feeling overwhelmed by the assault on their comic book sensibilities.
2. The seams are already starting to burst
Already we can feel the beginning of the end, with Arrow starting to feel more than a little crowded. The show started out as one man’s mission. Now, it features “Team Arrow,” with Oliver Queen’s collection of Arsenal, Black Canary (the second of her name since Caty Loitz’s character was killed off), John Diggle, and the effervescent Felicity Smoak. Brandon Routh’s Atom was also thrown into the equation this season, and now things are starting to feel more forced than organic. This of course is one of the driving forces behind spilling that over into the team-up series that will feature Arrow’s Atom, The Flash‘s Captain Cold, Firestorm, and Heat Wave, and new characters Hawk Girl, Rip Hunter, and an unspecified role played by Caty Loitz (since she’s supposed to be dead in the Arrow-verse).