Larry Brody on “When Do We Decide We Did Our Best & Give Up On Writing?”

Evolution of a Writer
by Larry Brody

Nothing and No One Stays the Same

Don’t believe me? Have a look at…sigh…a certain Beloved (or not) Leader over the past 25 years:

Hmm…that latest version looks kind of shellshocked, huh? And that’s the retired me. The earlier three are all writin’ fools, oh yeah.

Careers start, grow, wane (and if you’re lucky grow again), finally – ulp – die. Some version of this happens not only to those of us who leave our homes and come out to Hollywood to roll the dice but to all of us, no matter what we do and where we are.

I, however, don’t get a lot of questions from chiropractors in, say, Butte, or architects in Iowa City. Mostly, this page is visited by men and women preparing to embark on, or embarking on, careers in TV and film writing. Young, old, anywhere in between, working their buns off and hoping to become the next Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, whatever.

Some succeed – in fact, a startlingly large number (see this for some shows they’re working or have worked on). Some get tantalizingly close. Others…fill in the blank.

Which brings me to the point of this post, a question I received last week, which I’ve been thinking about long and hard.

DP asks:

LB–

I’ve watched this clip of you many times: https://youtu.be/TjfkuN73EtM

And I feel as though you’re speaking about/to me. As I approach the one year mark in Los Angeles, I feel my ambition to break into writing is making me focus so much on the goal that I’ve forgotten to live.

The obsession has gotten to the point where I hate writing when I’m writing, and all I want to do is write when I’m not writing. Perhaps I’m just chasing validation in the one area I’ve felt myself best suited for so many years, but I feel trapped: Do I keep chasing a dream that may no longer be my passion, or do I leave, always wondering if I was just a day away from breaking into the big time and finding my purpose.

Seeing my work on the screen sounds amazing. Millions of dollars sound amazing. Hearing how my work has affected others sounds amazing. But when do we decide that we did our best and move on to new things? And once we’ve made that decision, how do we follow it?

Do you or the Navajo Dog have any wisdom to impart?

Dear DP,

The Navajo Dog never really saw herself as imparting wisdom. Like all good medicine people, she simply spoke the truth. She was the first one to let me know how pointless allowing ambition to guide me was because even if I achieved my goal I would still be only a partial human being. To the Navajo Dog, being was what life was all about. It was an end in itself, with the doing thing merely a part of it.

In other words, long before “being in the moment” was popular, D’neh was seeing our individual human awareness as more than merely individual at all because it exists within the context of the wholeness of life.

Which helps you not a bit, so while you mull over the philosophy of it all, I’m going to completely blow off any attempt at being wise and try to give you some more practical advice.

Anyone pursuing a showbiz writing career in L.A. needs to be aware of a couple of Basic Truths.

Basic Truth 1: No one in the biz feels an affirmative duty to discover or help new talent. Their major duty is keeping their jobs, which more often than not conflicts with the use of new talent because new obviously means “untested,” and if the new talent fails the test of any new job whomever hired him/her is one big step closer to a big slide down their own career ladder.

Basic Truth 2: The absolutely most important part of starting a showbiz career is networking. Yes, in spite of the fact that you can’t count on anyone to help you. Because you have to do everything you can to help yourself, it’s an absolute must to get yourself out there and interact with every human being who can take you from being an outsider to a member of the creative community we call showbiz.

I’m not talking about using people but about making them genuine friends. Because friends do hire friends, especially those they have learned can deliver – not necessarily to help them but to make their own lives more enjoyable and their jobs easier.

Bottom line: If you’re as shy as most writers are, you need to blast through that or things probably won’t go well. More writers are hired to be on TV staffs because they’re “good in the room” (meaning they’re fun to hang with and sometimes come up with good ideas) than because they can write the hell out of anything. Being able to do both is, of course, a great career bonus.

The above advice is predicated on the idea that you’re searching for a BigMedia career. That you want to do national/international broadcast work, have films you’ve written be made or distributed by major companies, etc. Which means I have to give you another tip you might not expect.

The big successes in BigMedia I’ve known have pretty much all been assholes, and becoming a major success often means that you too have to be an asshole. It’s likely that any employer you deal with will be at least as difficult to be around as Donald Trump. Trump, in fact, is actually at the low end of the showbiz asshole spectrum that I was part of for so long.

Is devoting your entire life to making it given what I’ve told you so far worthwhile? While I was doing it, it seemed worth it to me. But as I got older I more and more realized something was missing – a genuine home life with genuine love, a relationship with someone who demonstrated true tenderness toward me and life in general, an ability to face reality and allow both my emotions and my intellect to react to it, et al.

In the early ’90s, guided my desire to find these things, I severed all ties with my showbiz life and went off with the Navajo Dog to search for what I jokingly called magic but which was, I think, a deeper reality. A reality that didn’t involve sacrificing everything on the altar of writing.

It all worked out for me. I’ve been happy and content and easy in my own skin. I realize, though, that I’ve always been an extremist, and over the last couple of decades, I’ve learned that I probably didn’t need to make such a clean break. There was at least one other direction I could have gone in that eschews many of the pitfalls of narcissistic bosses (and coworkers) and financially based creative decisions that usually end up not being creative at all.

If I had it to do all over again, knowing what I know, I most likely would avoid BigMedia from the get-go and instead plunge into Indie Prod.

Shocking, yeah?

See, here’s the thing. Over the last 20 years I’ve helped hundreds of people start BigMedia careers and careers as indie creatives. I’ve watched them climb their ladders and been part of many of their lives as well as their work, and generally speaking it seems to me that in the long run filmmakers who concentrate on indie production are happier with their lives than those doing the H’wood thing, no matter how much or how little success those in either group attain.

More students, friends, and even family members than I ever expected have made fortunes writing and producing TV shows, running major and minor studios, being A-listers or just a notch or two below, and so many of them in shared moments of reflection have ranted and raved and even cried about how totally unfulfilled they feel, how unfaithful to their original talent and purpose they see themselves as having been.

Know what their daydreams are? They’re of chucking it all and doing web series and what used to be called “art films.” To a man and woman, they don’t care if anyone ever sees the films they daydream about but express the hope that if they at least make them they will be putting their talent and skills to genuinely good use.

Meanwhile, students, friends, and you guessed it, family members who have avoided BigMedia and gone indie instead seem in large part to lead lives of genuine joy. Some took that route from the beginning, others headed that way later (some much later). Instead of daydreaming, they now are making shows and films (and museum installations!) that they find meaningful and exciting.

Almost all of those in the indie group are far from household names and don’t have many fans. Many of them, to their frustration, haven’t made a penny through their oeuvres. But most seem to have more time for living “real,” grounded lives and are proud of the intrinsic value of what they’re doing. If having to work day jobs is what gets them to this point, “Well, hell,” they’ve told me time and time again, “it’s worth it.”

This reply is taking forever so I’ll cut to the Big-City-Destroying-Superhero-Fight-That-Ends-this-Career-Discussion. Take it from a guy who thoroughly enjoyed every moment – every argument and knock-down-drag-out creative difference – of a very successful TV career but has enjoyed my current lifestyle of being with my family and working with talented newbies and rooting from the sidelines even more: Making my definition of success “doing what I love, with those I love, instead of throwing myself away in search for fame, fortune, and a couple of interviews at TheWrap.Com has given me a far better life than any I could have imagined before.

So here’s my overall answer to your questions. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you do it. Commit yourself to a process that fulfills you and makes you proud…and enables the rest of your life instead of crippling or even destroying it.

EDITED TO ADD: One final thought. I’m glad you’ve seen that We, The Screenwriter clip. It was 50-year-old me, a few years after returning from various adventures, and misadventures, tracking the magic with D’neh and my wonderful and magical wife. I don’t fully recall what that version of me said, but you’re getting the absolute, most recent update right here, right now.

Yes, Kids, There Really are TV Writers in New York City

This is very, very cool:

The first Made in NY Writers Room Fellows

City Agencies, WGA East Announce Inaugural ‘Made In NY Writers Room’ Fellows

he inaugural Made in NY Writers Room fellowship class was announced today, marking a major milestone in an innovative program to develop diverse writing talent in New York City’s entertainment industry. The twelve fellows – whose scripts for television pilot episodes were selected from a competitive pool of nearly 500 entries – will each be paired with a mentor to develop a work plan to get their submitted pilot pitch-ready. As part of the six-month fellowship, they will also have the opportunity to attend a variety of professional development events and workshops.

The mentors include Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning writers Richard LaGravenese (The Divide), Brian Koppelman & David Levien (Billions), Anya Epstein (In Treatment), Beau Willimon (House of Cards), Robert Carlock (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Michael Rauch (Royal Pains), Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky (Odd Mom Out), Matt Williams (Roseanne), Lee Daniels (Empire), Jonathan Tropper (Banshee), Norman Steinberg (Cosby) and Julie Klausner (Difficult People).

The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), the NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS), and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) shared the news at a launch event at The New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium. The event also featured staged readings of the top-scoring comedy and drama scripts.

“Production is booming in New York and there are more opportunities for talented writers than ever,” said Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin. “What’s so great about the Made in NY Writers Room is that it provides writers from diverse backgrounds with access to these opportunities. It ensures that their stories are told and that the television shows we watch reflect the rich diversity of our city. We’re so proud of the talented writing fellows who were selected and thankful to the rock-star mentors who’ve graciously participated in this groundbreaking program.”

“The Guild’s partnership with the City will increase opportunities for diverse New Yorkers to build careers, enhancing their reach in the industry and, we hope, their exposure to people who make decisions about what shows get produced,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East. “We know that diverse writers in New York possess enormous talent, and this project will empower them to apply that talent and to create compelling television. “

“The entertainment industry is an essential part of New York City’s identity, and it’s important that it reflects the diverse voices and talents of all New Yorkers,” said Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “As every New Yorker knows, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, and this fellowship program is helping more people have a shot at their big break.”

The Made in NY Writers Room program officially opened for submissions in September of 2016, aimed at supporting writers from diverse backgrounds and perspectives in New York City, and amplifying their voices in the entertainment industry. The program also seeks to increase the number of teleVision Productions written in New York City, which has not kept pace with the record number of series now filmed in the five boroughs. The call for submissions attracted an impressive collection of scripts. Each applicant in the first round received notes from two WGAE members with television credits – an unmatched opportunity for early-career writers. There were 170 pilots that qualified for an additional round of feedback, before 30 finalists were selected.

The inaugural fellowship class for the Made In NY Writers Room includes 11 individuals and one writing team: Madalyn Baldanzi, Kaitlin Fontana, Olen Holm, Sarah Kraus, Ian Olympio-Nyanin, BRyan Parker, Sofia Quintero, Joyce Sherri, Maegan Smith, Natasha Vaynblat & Zack Phillips, Albert Wang and Joyce Wu….

Read it all at BroadwayWorld

LB: If This Series Doesn’t Become a Hit I’ll – erm – um – uh-oh…

by Larry Brody

All I’ve written is part of the headline and I’ve already buried myself? If that isn’t the definition of real trouble for a writer, what is?

Well, I wrote myself into this mess, so let me try and write myself out of it.

What I’m trying to say is that considering the subject matter and the presentation in this trailer, I’ll be very, very surprised if Glow, featuring the writing and producing talents of Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, Jenfi Johan, and Tara Herrman, who have brought us some little entertainments likeHomeland, Nurse Jackie, Orange is the New Black, and Weeds doesn’t become one of Netflix’s biggest successes.

Will it kick the butt of all of Netflix’s Marvel projects? I of course can’t be sure, but just between us, I think it should. Because the most fascinating thing about the following trailer is how shockingly tasteful, perceptive, and genuinely dramatic it is.

Especially considering the subject which shall go unnamed here, but you’ll catch on fast once you click below:

Bottom line: Glow is trash. But it’s trash written by real writers – good writers – and it’s so far above audience expectations I can’t really predict if it will be the biggest trash success ever, or a total fail.

Or which of those two results I think would be the right one.

WGA-AMPTP Ratification Vote Results are In

This just in from the Writers Guild of America:

The good news: 99.2% of the voters said yes, so this now is an official, done deal.

The puzzling news: Only 38.63% of those eligible actually voted.

What does the size of the turnout mean for the future? We’ll know eventually, but for now…?

More on the Changing Face of TV

Yesterday, TVWriter™ presented an article about the effect of cord cutting on standard TV distribution, and if you’re a cable or satellite exec you had to have been upset by what you read. Today, we’ve found another article, and while this one won’t exactly ease the pain of those favoring the status quo, it does give audiences and creators everywhere something to eagerly await.

(Another reason why the recent WGA-AMPTP negotiation was so important!)

Time Is On Our Side?
by Mike Gold

I had an interesting conversation last Sunday night with Glenn Hauman, ComicMix’s Empirical Wizard. He was giving me a lift from Martha Thomases’ place to Grand Central Terminal following a remarkably productive yet still highly entertaining staff meeting – a rare gathering indeed, as this time it did not involve fried chicken. Hey, every business has its own work ethic.

We were debating the machinations of the then-threatened Writers’ Guild strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Fortunately, the strike became unnecessary yesterday when the Guild and the AMPTP agreed on a new contract.

Overall, the business changed radically between this current action and the last one in 2007, which screwed up things pretty nicely. The media ain’t what it used to be back then, or last year, or even last week. There is so much production going on that in some cities arranging the services of a qualified production crew, equipment and sound stage space has become extraordinarily difficult. Usually, when operations such as Netflix or Amazon Prime acquire a series they shoot the whole season all at once. There’s no cancellation and subsequent halt in production, or even (necessarily) downtime between episodes. That’s very, very different from the way television shows were manufactured before February 1, 2013, the debut of House of Cards, the first high-profile direct-to-streaming dramatic series.

Growth and expansion increased exponentially. The Internet (which I continue to capitalize because I live in fear of it metastasizing), mobile computers, digital video recorders, streaming, live streaming… change keeps coming faster and faster, and whereas we are not certain what will be next we do know it’ll come to us within months.

What we have today is something I never dreamed of just a few decades ago: far more programs on television that I want to see than I’ll ever be able to get around to seeing. I’ll bet you feel the same way….

Read it all at ComicMix

Living in the Future – How Things are Going for TV

The paradigm, she is a’changin’:

Cord cutting is battering away at traditional distribution – big time!

by John Biggs

A report by MoffettNathanson found that the pay cable industry lost 762,000 subscribers in Q1 2017, the worst drop ever. To compare last year’s Q1 saw a mere 141,000 subscribers lost.

Analyst Craig Moffett said that the “Pay TV subscriber universe [shrank] at its worst ever annual rate of decline (-2.4%)” and there have been 6.5 million cord-cutter (and the new “cord-never” user who doesn’t install a Pay TV source at all) watchers since 2013.

What does this mean? First it’s clear that cord cutting his here to stay. Now that nearly every must-watch program is available via streaming and, in many cases, all at once via Netflix and other services there is even less impetus to channel surf, once the primary mode of TV discovery.

This means networks have to work harder to get their content in front of receptive audiences and it also means that services like Netflix and Hulu are truly taking a huge chunk of the TV entertainment market. Now that sports and international programming is headed to streaming we can only expect this trend to accelerate.

All of this churn is making the cable carriers restless. They are currently blaming retention offers for their inability to keep customers. Moffett, however, isn’t fooled….

“Whatever the cause, it seems naïve to suggest that we have seen the worst of the trend. Instead, this is almost certainly just the beginning,” Moffett told Multichannel, a news outlet covering TV and cable….

Read it all at TechCrunch

Inside the WGA-AMPTP Negotiating Room

A succinct and, overall, quite fair report on the negotiation process in the 2017 WGA-AMPTP contract negotiations from one of H’wood’s favorite trade mags:

by Cynthia Littleton

The dam broke at about 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. With 90 minutes to go to the strike deadline, the WGA and major studios began to find their way to the compromises that had been elusive during the previous five days of contract negotiations.

By 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, after a break for caucusing, the sides returned to the big table at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to declare that the deal was done.

What tipped the scales? From the WGA’s perspective, it was the pressure of the ticking clock and the unquestionable demonstrations of unity among guild members to strike if the leadership didn’t feel like they were being offered a fair deal.

From the view of the AMPTP, the WGA’s strategy was one of brinksmanship. With the threat of a walkout hanging over the room, the WGA, led by chief negotiator David Young, used their leverage to successfully push the studios for incremental gains nearly to the last minute before settling. Young once again earned the admiration of many members for his steely resolve and confidence that the guild was on the right course, even if it meant a work stoppage, to secure justified gains for writers.

Sources close to the situation credited the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, with the tactical decision to not throw down the gauntlet of a last, best and final offer. The absence of such take-it-or-leave-it pressure allowed the sides to keep talking well into the night, a process that helped both camps move toward common ground. The desire to avoid the disruption and financial losses incurred a decade ago during the 100-day WGA strike from November 2007-February 2008 was also a motivating factor for both sides.

In the heat of the negotiations, sources on both sides of the table noted the leadership demonstrated by Christopher Keyser, who co-chaired the negotiating committee along with Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen. Keyser, a veteran showrunner who served as president of the WGA West from 2011-2015, is said to have made an eloquent final pitch for why the guild was pushing so hard for a codified family leave plan in the master WGA contract. He cited the hardship that job insecurity has on young writers in particular when starting a family. In the end, a source said the family leave agreement does not give TV writers paid time off but does guarantee for the first time that they will be able to return to a job after up to eight unpaid weeks off, as long as the series remains in production.

Sources close to the situation also credited the high level of engagement in the talks by top industry leaders — including CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Networks Group’s Peter Rice and Disney/ABC TV’s Ben Sherwood – in providing the will for AMPTP negotiators to address the most pressing issues raised by the WGA. Throughout the talks, Lombardini with the support of the CEOs gradually met a significant number of the WGA’s most urgent demands in order to neuter them as strike-worthy issues. The studio chiefs weren’t thrilled about writing a big check — said to be about $90 million — to shore up the WGA’s over-taxed health plan, but they knew that was a central issue for writers at all levels that would have fueled strike sentiment had it been ignored….

Read it all at Variety

Read another view – more entertaining, maybe, but who can tell these days? – at SFGate