S.W.A.T. Creator Shawn Ryan got started as a radio station ad man

Most of us here at TVWriter™ are beginning or aspiring writers, which means that we’re insatiably curious about how more established and successful writers got their start. This article from Adweek gives us the skinny on the not-so-secret origin of writer-producer Shawn Ryan. We hope it inspires you as much as it has us.

Is this what you thought Shawn Ryan (left) looked like?

by Jason Lynch

The Shield was one of the most groundbreaking series of the past two decades, putting FX on the map while proving that envelope-pushing dramas about antiheroes could thrive on cable outside of HBO. However, creator Shawn Ryan says the show, along with his many others, may have never existed without the skills he learned during his first job as a copywriter for a Vermont radio station.

Ryan, who is now the showrunner on CBS’ new reboot of S.W.A.T., graduated from Vermont’s Middlebury College before landing his first postschool gig, writing ads for a Top 40 radio station in Burlington, filling in for someone on maternity leave.

“There are a lot of things where it was simply, ‘We’re having a mattress sale this weekend, everything is 30 percent off, sleep better, come in.’ Just-the-facts-ma’am ads. But every now and then, you’d get a chance where the client would be like, ‘Write something! Present it!’” recalled Ryan.

Ryan explained that Burlington was a “small enough market” that there weren’t many advertising agencies.

“The radio station sales people would come back and say, ‘We’ve sold 20 spots for this company. Call the owner, Joe, at this number, and see what they want to sell,’” Ryan said. “Sometimes Joe would be very specific about what Joe wanted, and sometimes Joe would be like, ‘We know we want ads, but what do you have in mind?’ And they’d let me go off and write something. That’s when the job was fun, when you could write something.”

The job required Ryan to do a lot more than just write the ad copy—he also had to produce ads. “I’d grab DJs and say, ‘Here’s the copy. We’ve got to do this,’” he said. “And, ‘What music are we going to use?’ I had to make sure it was actually hitting the air.”

But how did advertising experience help in the television world? Ryan said all of that juggling, prepared him to call the shots on The Shield, which debuted on FX in 2002, as well as his current shows, S.WA.T., which he created with Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, and NBC’s Timeless, which will return next year for its second season.

“In a strange way, it was the beginning of being a showrunner,” said Ryan, whose previous series include CBS’ The Unit, FX’s Terriers and Fox’s The Chicago Code.  “There’s different aspects to the job, and it’s working with talent, and writing….”

Read it all at Adweek

Diana Black: Compelling Characters Make a ‘Real’ World

by Diana Black

Lulu: “Honey, so sorry, can’t make it tonight… no, it’s not my, ‘I’m washing my hair’ night …I’m just busy… No, you’re wonderful but.…”

A great story idea, well-written script, skillful cast and crew with an intelligent director and showrunner at the helm – surely the recipe for a winning TV Series, but what ‘essential ingredient’ compels us to ‘tune in’ religiously?

Is it the hooks and plot twists, the lighting, sound, mis-en-scene? What makes the fantasy drama, Game of Thrones, now going into its 7th Season SOOO interesting and compelling to watch? And not only by adolescent nerds but by, for all practical purpose, everyone?

According to A.G. Walton – a contributor to Forbes, who in turn is commenting on the findings of Josue’ Cardona of “GeekTherapy.com”, it’s a range of elements that include the following attributes: intellectually challenging and multiple plots; unpredictable twists; an intricate and elaborate story world, and dramatic events that border on the visceral.

But what of character?

In this epic panoply of political manipulation; one which would be right up there with Rome under Caesar, it is according to Walton, the creation, destruction, and resurrection of archetypes. So what is an archetype and why, having been ‘done to death’ long before Shakespeare took up a quill, are they still so useful?

Aspiring TV and screenwriters may think long and hard before referencing them – the Queen, the Trickster, disgruntled Prince, foul-mouthed Washerwoman etc. But they work, precisely because they’re ‘character’ in a neat package.

We instantly ‘get’ them. They come into ‘our space’ with their over-night bag stuffed with accouterments that we instantly recognize – greedy, debauched, vile, manipulative, pure, sweet etc.

But is that all there is to the Game of Thrones characters? Are they merely just a bunch of one-dimensional archetypes? No – in our jaded world of hardened, cynical ‘little box watchers’– it requires more than that; as the revolving door of short-lived TV shows attest.

The secret to these guys is that they not only shamelessly embrace their archetypal nature, to the hilt, everyone one of them has a level of complexity that makes them seem real and as a result hated, feared, loved, reviled etc.

We’re left seriously wondering what word or deed they’re going to express next. ‘Warts and all’ they reflect us mere mortals – who will no doubt have to deal with the same, albeit modern-day equivalent conundrums, issues, and angst, tomorrow or next week, come Tuesday.

And the moral of my story here is….drum roll…invest like hell in your character/s if you expect your actors to lift them off the page.

The quickest, surest path to having those words and deeds appear perfectly natural and justified is for the writer, as well as the actor, to get under the skin of the character; to become that character, for better or worse.

The old adage still and will forever apply, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

Peggy Bechko: Overcoming Brain Fatigue, Stress & Overdoing It – For Writers

by Peggy Bechko

Alrighty folks, time to put it on the table. Writing takes a lot of brain work, and brain work takes focus.

Consider this: There’s research to squeeze the brain, plotting to squeeze it harder, and just plain thinking about everything else related to your writing project. And that doesn’t include the acttual writing.

So, today I’m going to talk a bit about brain fatigue, stress, and just plain over-doing it.

Now immediately there are lots of folks who’ll think the younger the brain the better because the younger brain can stand long periods of demanding work much better than the older…but know what? It ain’t necessarily so.

And working for very long stretches doesn’t cut it either. I’ve known folks who put forth their insanely long hours at the keyboard like they’ve gone to war and somehow won something. Like it’s some kind of badge of honor.

Just because you’re twenty-something, work all night, then crash, doesn’t mean you’re putting out a better product or that you get more done or that you’re super cool.

Seriously.

While it is true that while in our twenties our brains can process information more efficiently, that doesn’t mean it works more effectively. The folks who do best with inductive reasoning, verbal memory and vocabulary are somewhere between forty and sixty-five according to research. (Take that twenty-somethings!)

What’s the key to overcoming brain fatigue? Turns out that it’s taking breaks. Yep, you overdoers probably don’t want to hear it, but people perform at their best, with middle-agers out-performing younger folks when breaks are planned.

Again, research tells us our minds and bodies have natural rhythms. If you’ve come this far and haven’t figured that out in life what rock have you been living under?

Dream cycles flow in ninety-minute cycles so it’s not too far a stretch to presume (correctly) that waking cycles and rhythms are pretty close to the same as those sleeping cycles, about ninety minutes to two hours.

What to do? Take a break. Yes, it’s time we all realize life is not a race. You’ll produce much better material at a more efficient and quicker pace if you take breaks. This applies to writing, creating, pretty much any kind of work one pursues.

How long should these breaks be?

Twenty minutes seems to be ideal (again, according to our friendly neighborhood researchers). And, stepping completely away from the work environment is best. What that means for  writer is that you – and I – should step away from the desk. Avert our eyes from the computer screen. Go outside for a few minutes if we can. Grab a cup of tea or coffee.

If you can take a short brisk walk, all the better. If you can take a moment to watch the interplay of sun and shadow on a sunny day (or enjoy some flowers, or watch the ducks fly, whatever) great!

We may want to think we’re superhuman and we can do this writing thing straight through, powered by caffeine or whatever, but it’s not true. To sustain your level of production give yourself a twenty-minute break. Now.

Get in tune with your natural rhythms and you’ll outstrip those driving all-nighters who believe they’re really punching it.

Writing is brain work. And the brain wants to rest. And to play. Surely you’ve noticed that when you step away from a story sometimes that’s when the best ideas hit for its continuation or revision.

Set a timer if you have to. Give yourself a break…and take a break. You want to give your brain a chance to forge new neurons no matter your age.

Your writing will improve and so will your mood.

Which reminds me. Time to stand up and walk around the house. I’m starting to feel grumpy.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

John Ostrander: Forces for Change

by John Ostrander

By now, everyone has heard (or should have heard) about the sexual depredations of film producer Harvey Weinstein (and James Toback, Kevin Spacey and others of their ilk). This follows revelations of the sexual depredations of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly (seriously, what can you do that commands a $32 million settlement?). And everyone in all the other walks of life who have been playing predator.

The constant refrain that has been heard is that this kind of stuff has been going on out in Hollywood since there has been a Hollywood. Among the reasons that there have been so few direct accusations is that all the predators have been powerful men who could really exact retribution. And the fact that the women speaking out would be shamed, discounted, and not believed. And they would literally never work in that town again.

That’s changed. Women are coming out in droves, speaking up, making themselves heard. Makes no mistake – Weinstein, Ailes, and O’Reilly were extremely powerful individuals. The women have spoken up anyway and it’s the men who have, justifiably, suffered.

Why now? What makes this era different than eras in the past?

There are a lot of different reasons and possibilities but I would like to offer one that, at least in part, contributes. That is our own “pop culture.”

We have seen recently the rise of the strong woman hero or lead. Witness two Star Wars movies, both Episode 7 and the standalone, Rogue One. Episode 7 not only centered around Rey but Princess Leia is now General Leia, a full and equal commander of the Resistance. And, behind the scenes, you have Kathleen Kennedy, who is head honcho of the whole Lucasfilm legacy.

Rogue One centers on Jyn Erso, the daughter of one of the principal designers of the Death Star and the main person responsible for obtaining the plans to the battle station that will enable the good guys to destroy it and save the galaxy.

And we have also had this year an amazing Wonder Woman, not only played to perfection by Gal Gadot but directed by Patty Jenkins. lt’s unheard that a woman would get the opportunity to helm such a big ticket film and Ms. Jenkins really delivered. Thank Hera both are returning for the sequel!

It extends these days to TV as well with Supergirl who not only gives us a Maid of Steel who may be stronger than her cousin, the Man of Steel, but shows women in so many different roles, including a very strong and positive lesbian couple.

I’m not forgetting Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games movies or Ripley in the Alien movies, or Hermione in the Harry Potter films or Buffy, the redoubtable Vampire Slayer and many others.

My point is this: seeing positive and strong heroes who look like you is important and they need to be seen on a regular basis. Will and Grace had gay characters in it and, because of the show’s popularity, they are invited into peoples’ living rooms every week. It normalizes meeting LGBTQ folk for straight people who may never have knowingly met one.

In the same way, movies and shows such as Wonder Woman or Star Wars or Supergirl give us the image of women heroes who are strong, brave, resourceful and are examples to other women and to men as well. You need to see what you want to be, something the black community knows very well.

I’m not claiming that the pop culture examples I’ve given are the main reason that women now are speaking up against the Weinsteins of this world. However, I think they are a contributing factor. No single film or TV show alone but all taken together they contribute to the change. Make no mistake; “pop culture” is a potent force in our society. It entertains and bypasses our brain to reach the heart – and that’s where real change comes from.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Diana Black: Characters in 3D

by Diana Black

“No man (or woman) is an island”. If we’re not relying on somebody in our day-to-day, we’re influenced by them – in admiration of them, jealous, shocked, outraged, repulsed, confused, sympathetic, empathic etc….

As creators of characters, why not use these universal human responses to ‘the other’ in your teleplay? Sounds like ‘a given’ BUT… do we want to be that deliberately formulaic in our ‘what if’/ brainstorming session? It stifles creativity, doesn’t it?

We need some form of dynamic interaction (usually conflict) between characters – across the Series arc, within each episode and within each scene. Does that mean we develop the characters on their own first, then set them free to play well (or not) with others, or do we deliberately designate their response to the lead…they hate them, love them, is enraged by them etc.?

Visualize this:

A police procedural… where some hard-nosed Sergeant (aka you as writer) divvies up who’s going to investigate/deal with what and how. We might see the ‘task’ delegated by the Sergeant barking out orders or, police officers (aka characters) stepping up to the plate and taking on their choice of assignment – depending on their past successes or failures (aka the character’s previous experience – wins or loses, with the lead character).

If we map this analogy to its fruition, it might sound something like this, “OK boys and girls who is going to hate [lead character], who wants to fall in love with the schmuck, who wants to be rescued…?”

Well, in a roundabout way, we’ve come to realize we need each character in 3D first (complete character profile – yes???!!) before we can set them free to play. Otherwise we might find the supporting character/s written as falling in love with the lead character but according to the character profile you’ve previously devised , they’re incapable of loving or forming a relationship.

Or, if the profile hasn’t been created, we’ll see inconsistencies across the narrative – in the Pilot and subsequent episodes – because you don’t have a reference frame (aka Bible) to fall back on.

Essentially, the character profile has to be written in full and ring true on the page – consistently. Recall that the choices you’ve made on that Character Profile inform the character’s action and responses via dialogue.

These aspects underlie them and something they can work with or against – IF they’re fully-fledged and intelligent beings capable of modifying their modus operandi if given enough provocation. Or, maybe they’re ‘damaged goods’ – incapable of making an adjustment …their fatal flaw…it all gets back to that Character Profile doesn’t it?

If you’ve done your homework and the characters are 3D and you’ve ensured they define each other, the characters will interact organically and start making their own choices – dialogue and action as if by magic and you’re left in ‘catch-up’ mode sans writer’s block.

To put it another way, if you’ve got a balanced and solid interweave between character strengths, weaknesses and traits – in this way they’ll strengthen and define each other. They’ll be ‘off the page’ and you’ll be simply documenting via the script, all that they do and say.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer who frequently contributes to TVWriter™. (She used to contribute more frequently, but then she moved to Hawaii. Go figure.)

D.C. Fontana – How ‘Star Trek’s’ Top Writer Came to Be

Yeppers, kids, we said it. Dorothy Fontana is first and foremost a dear, dear friend to our Beloved Leader LB.

Secondly, she was the Story Editor of a little series now called Star Trek: The Original Series. 

Thirdly, she also just happens to be one of the biggest influences on Senor Brody’s life and work. So, without meaning to denigrate any other of the writers on this most important show, she’ll always be #1 with TVWriter™.

With that taken care of, here’s some cool stuff y’all need to know:

Dorothy (D.C.) Fontana wrote her way into ‘Star Trek’ lore
by Nick Thomas

In the Star Trek universe, D.C. Fontana is legendary for her role as a scriptwriter. She contributed, at least in part, to almost half the original series’ scripts and went on to write in various capacities for the Star Trek animated series, as well as The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. She even contributed to the recent fan-created online production of “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.”

While the vast majority of her work involved television (including other shows such as “Babylon 5,” “Dallas,” “The Waltons,” “Logan’s Run,” and dozens more), she has penned novels and is currently turning her attention to films.

“I’ve got 5 or 6 scripts out for consideration with themes such as science fiction, fantasy, and historical romance, as well as a contemporary murder-mystery horror story,” said Fontana from Los Angeles.

Young Dorothy’s writing journey began in 5th grade, composing horror adventure tales featuring her classmates as characters.

“I’d write stories out on yellow notepads and pass them around to my friends. So I always wanted to write and hoped to become a novelist.”

That all changed after graduating from New Jersey’s Fairleigh Dickinson University when she became a secretary for the head of Screen Gems in New York.

“At the time, it was the television arm of Columbia Pictures, and scripts for various TV shows would come across my desk. I remember thinking, ‘Gee, I could write those!’ In 1959, I moved to Los Angeles which was the place to be for TV productions and worked in the typing pool at Revue Studios (later to become Universal Television).”

She was encouraged by the studio’s writer/producer Samuel A. Peeples.

“He knew I wanted to write and said if I came to him with a good story, he would buy it. In June 1960, I sold my first story for the TV western ‘The Tall Man.’ I was 21-years-old and have been writing ever since.”

“Leonard Nimoy was a guest star,” she recalled. “He was such a fine man and became a good friend. Leonard, William Shatner, and I all have a cluster of March birthdays, just a few days apart and we got along well.”

Nimoy would find immortality as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, and Fontana emphasizes he was the only actor creator Gene Roddenberry ever considered for the role. Despite claims to the contrary by others, it’s a piece of TV history Fontana says she knows firsthand, having worked briefly as Roddenberry’s secretary during his pre-Star Trek days.

“In 1964, Gene was working on his (short-lived) series, ‘The Lieutenant,’ and asked me to read a 15-page draft of a story that would become Star Trek. I read it overnight and told him it was really, really good and asked who would play the Spock character. He nudged a photo of Leonard across the desk to me. I’ve heard stories all my life that others were considered or auditioned for the role, but it was always only Leonard. Never anybody else! It really fractured me when I heard Leonard died in 2015, a month before his birthday….”

Read it all at The Spectrum

Bri Castellini: Men Are Trash – @BrisOwnWorld

 A Deconstruction and Dramatic Reading

by Bri Castellini

Yes, it’s true. We here at TVWriter™ luvs us some Bri Castellini. After you’ve watched her video, above, you’ll understand a whole lot more about the topic, Bri, and maybe even us. And we’re sure you’ll agree that this is “better than litmus paper.”

Presented with Love and Rockets!

More about Ms. Castellini:

Thesis: The title is a flippant phrase meant to comedically capture the very real distrust and fear women experience around men.

Bri on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/brisownworld
Bri on Tumblr: http://brisownworld.tumblr.com
Bri onInstagram: http://www.instagram.com/brisownworld
Bri’s Website: http://www.BriCastellini.com http://www.BrisOwnWorld.com

 


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on Bri’s most excellent blog. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE!