Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Marc Zicree, Part 2

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 1 is HERE

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.

From animation to science fiction, Marc Zicree has written hundreds of hours of TV for shows including SMURFS, SUPER FRIENDS, SLIDERS, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and BABYLON 5. His drive and desire to learn from the writers he most admired helped Marc develop his career in television. Currently, he is writing, directing and producing SPACE COMMAND, a series of science fiction features starring Doug Jones, Armin Shimerman and Mira Furlan.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

When I was growing up, the three shows that made me want to be a writer were the original STAR TREK, the original TWILIGHT ZONE and the original OUTER LIMITS. My heroes weren’t the actors, they were the writers: Richard Matheson and Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury. As soon as I was old enough, I started going to science fiction conventions and meeting a lot of these writers.

They became mentors, many of them. So the thing I think served me the best was recognizing who are the best people doing the work I wanted to do and then learning from them directly and learning from what they were doing. Really studying how they did these things. Reading their scripts, talking with them, finding out what the ins and outs were of both the art and the craft and the business too, because you need all three to have a career.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS TAKING THEIR FIRST MEETINGS?

Be present. Many, many meetings you’re so in your head and you’re so thinking about the past, the future, you’re not present. There are many pitches I took as a producer where I would ask a question and the person would answer a different question because they weren’t present. So be present. Be friendly.

Be warm, be genuine. Authenticity is very important. Don’t flake. You’d be amazed at how many people flake. All you have to do is do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

AND ONCE YOU GET ON A TV STAFF?

Have a work ethic. Work hard. I know some people who have done very well because when they got on staff they were the first person at the office and the last person to leave and that was noticed.

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be pleasant. Be positive. Be upbeat. Don’t complain. Don’t gossip. It’s pretty obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised by how many people fall into negativity, complaining, all that stuff.

ON GROWING YOUR CAREER ONCE YOU GET IN THE DOOR.

It’s not an easy road. You want things to go smoothly, but they don’t. People ask me how I broke into television and it’s more like a burglar working a neighborhood. It’s always about reinvention and I’ve always been extremely ambitious. My goal from when I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years old was to create and run my own science fiction series and now that’s what I’m doing with SPACE COMMAND.

You have to break in and break in and break in. It’s an ongoing process and I’m still doing that even now. You have to be endlessly inventive. You have to be driven and enthusiastic and surround yourself with people who will believe in you even when you falter.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?

Often people want to know how to break in and what I say with that is right now the best way is to apply to the writing fellowships. The real question is how can people know you’re a good writer without reading you. Everyone hates to read and there’s not enough time in the day to read everybody’s scripts and so if it’s like, well, I’ve won this ABC Fellowship or I was in this Sundance Screenplay Lab or any of these things, then it’s like, well, OK, let’s check out this person’s writing.

Also with a lot of these studio and network writing fellowships, they’ll give you money and they’ll give you a career. So that’s one way, but the main thing is to not expect some agent is going to take you on board, wave a magic wand and make it happen.

You have to figure out how to kick the door down, how to get attention. It might be making a web series; it might be doing an indie film that wins at a festival. It might be writing a spec script that you get to some actor and he starts blogging and tweeting about it because he loves it and he has several million fans. It’s anything that’s going to get you attention. It always starts with the work.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK.

What I would urge writers to do is first of all, write well. Get feedback from professionals. Make sure that you’re getting feedback because most scripts aren’t strong enough. They’re not well written enough. Write and write and write and get feedback.

Ray Bradbury told me he wrote every day for 10 years before he wrote a single word that he thought was worth anything. So don’t just assume that because you’re working hard that you’re accomplishing what you’re setting out to do. Writing is a two way street. It’s what you intend to say and what the audience perceives, so you have to make sure what you intend to say is what they’re getting.

HOW CROWDFUNDING HAS BEEN A GAMECHANGER.

There are two things that really sabotage writers. It shouldn’t be this way and the other is, it used to be like this. It used to work, why doesn’t it work now? Those two things you have to totally let go of. Say to yourself, what’s the problem? What are some actions I can take? One of my bosses, it was Richard Manning, an executive producer on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, he said, “Sometimes it doesn’t matter which direction you choose as long as you choose a direction and march.” I believe in that. So you say, okay, let’s take an action, if that doesn’t work we take another action. If the old things don’t work, try something new.

I mentor a lot of people through my roundtable and through classes that I teach. I started hearing about Kickstarter and Indiegogo. So I looked into them and saw that things were getting financed and because it frustrated me that executives at the studios and the networks were gatekeepers, I turned toward crowdfunding. I thought let’s try something else. Let’s see if I can raise money on Kickstarter and then I sold investment shares. With that I was able to shoot the first SPACE COMMAND movie.

It’s inventing an entirely new way of doing things. I love the new methods, the new modalities because I can utilize them and don’t have to ask permission. The lovely part is that I wrote the script exactly the way I wanted to write it. I cast all the actors I wanted to cast. I shot it exactly the way I wanted to shoot it. I didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission and if I’d gone to the network with the cast that I wanted to cast, I probably couldn’t have gotten most of these people, because the networks wouldn’t have wanted them.


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.

Kelly Jo Brick Attends the Sundance Institute Film Financing Intensive

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by Kelly Jo Brick

With research showing that film financing and going out to ask investors for money are big challenges for female independent filmmakers, Women In Film and Sundance Institute have teamed up for a Female Filmmakers Financing Intensive.

TVWriter.com Contributing Editor, Kelly Jo Brick, was one of the filmmakers selected to participate in this event. She shares these takeaways from her experience with the Financing Intensive.

1.  Creating opportunities: As part of a small group selected to workshop our current projects with Sundance advisors, I was quickly caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of those around me, both advisors and participants, real examples of people who aren’t waiting to be chosen, but are going out and making things happen, which is something anyone can do.

If you have an idea for a feature, short, documentary, television show, get to work. Research, outline, write, get your friends together and film. People are filming shorts with their iPhones. Develop a proof of concept and go out and raise money through crowdfunding or seek out investors. Look at projects you admire and reverse engineer, see how those projects were put together, learn from those and use them as a roadmap. There’s nothing holding you back.

2.  If you don’t know, ask: If you don’t know how to do something, seek out those people who do know and ask for advice. You’ll find that people are generally very willing to share advice.

3.  Don’t be afraid of the no: Don’t walk in to a meeting with a Plan B. This is something that women do a lot more often then men, but no matter who you are, stop going in with a backup plan. All this does is set you up for failure because you’re presetting yourself for a no. Energetically you’re cutting yourself off by thinking in advance that it won’t work.

Be positive, believe in your project and give your best. If someone doesn’t like it, want it or connect with it, that’s okay. They’re not your people. Learn from your experience and get ready for your next meeting.

4.  Leverage your success: When you’ve had success of any kind, use that momentum to keep moving forward. A completed film, selection to a festival, an award, getting funding, whatever it is, don’t stop there. Build on that success for your next project.

5.  Always be worthy of being looked at: Make any and every opportunity count by working hard and being authentic. When it comes to a project, let people see your tie in and passion for what you’re working on. If you’re not connected, how can someone else connect?

6.  Don’t hyper focus: When it comes to financing independent films, funding comes from all kinds of sources. Don’t lock in on one stream. Most projects find the most success by reaching out to multiple sources including grants, private equity, donations and crowdfunding.

7.  If you’re not doing it, someone else is: Go out and do it. Build on your strengths. Get help from people in the areas that are your weaknesses. Ask for funding.   Make your film. And don’t settle for a no. If you believe in it, go find a way.


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. 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.

Best Crowdfunding Project of 2013 – KUNG FURY

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Oh, Lord, how could we have forgotten this? Forgive us, KUNG FURY creators. We were so busy searching for yearly “bests” in other categories (and mostly not finding any) that your awesomeness got away. Time now to fix all that:

Run, do not walk, to Kickstarter and empty your credit card. David Sandberg and the other geniuses at Laser Unicorns have already gotten way more than full funding, but these guys deserve at least another mil. Whatever you contribute, we can’t imagine you regretting it.

Angelo J. Bell: I Am Crowdfunding a Thriller Called A PERFECT WEAPON

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by Angelo J. Bell

What’s the story, Angelo? 

It’s insane to even want to make a movie…so call me crazy. With whatever you do in life, you must build on your past success. I’ve made no-budget films and I’ve made films with $10,000 to $100,000 of my own dough…

Now, I want to make something bigger and more badass!

In 2010, I got into the “Screenwriter’s zone” and went on a writing marathon. I completed two 119 page feature film screenplays in one month and one of those scripts later evolved into “A Perfect Weapon.” It was written like an adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, to be directed by Michael Mann for the silver screen. Ha!

“A PERFECT WEAPON” is about a disgraced US Marshal who is mysteriously reinstated to track down an escaped convict with ties to terrorist organizations, but he learns the hard way that some people — maybe even the CIA — will do anything to keep him from accomplishing his mission.

In 2012, #PerfectWeapon became the most-viewed project on the Juntobox Films web site, which is chaired by none other than Forest Whitaker. A member of Juntobox Films’ development team even said my project was “very sexy.”

In the past, ALL of my films have been funded mostly out of my own pockets, but “A Perfect Weapon” is super badass and much bigger than any project I’ve ever make. $200K is a good start.  I’d have enough to start shooting, and find production partners to obtain more money to make the kind of film I want.

After my filmmaker friend Sujewa Ekanayake told me about several successful, celebrity-driven crowdfunding campaigns I thought, “Maybe the fans are ready for a true unknown, up-and-coming indie filmmaker to step up to the plate with a strong project and cast attached.”

SPEAKING OF CAST…

I’m excited that Alimi Ballard from the hit TV show “Numb3rs” agreed to take the lead role! After Alimi read the script he responded with a single Twitter message to me saying, “Weapon is F*CKEN BADASS!”

And pinch me to make sure I’m not dreaming; the lovely Tehmina Sunny, rising star of the critically acclaimed Ben Affleck-directed film “Argo” and “Children of Men” read the part of the female lead, Femi, loved it and understood every nuance of the character. She “got” it!

Then there’s the talented and stunning Emayatzy Corinealdi, star of the Sundance award-winning film for Best Director, “Middle of Nowhere.”  I’m happy to say I knew Ema before her star started to rise when she auditioned for a fantasy drama project of mine you may have heard about called “Legend of Black Lotus.” I quickly became a fan.

The main cast is rounded out by the amazingly talented journeyman actor from television’s “Crossing Jordan,” Mr. Ravi Kapoor.

And for all you sci-fi/fantasy fans, hold onto your unicorns…  I’m conversing with the lovely Jessica Duffy from the indie sci-fi fantasy film phenom “INK” for a pivotal role in my movie.

Okay, enough background material. What’s the movie about? 

In “A Perfect Weapon” Shey is a US Marshal with a weakness for women and the good looks and charm to get into a lot of trouble. Suspended indefinitely for fraternization, Shey is reinstated to track down Femi, an escaped Indian/Nigerian criminal. Shey is an expert, intuitive tracker, but as he gets closer to finding coquettish Femi he learns disturbing things about her past in war-torn areas of East India, Africa and the Middle East. Shey is drawn into the mysteries surrounding Femi, even to the point of sexual obsession, but he begins to suspect that both she and he are pawns in a deadly game that someone very powerful doesn’t want him to win.

The result is a thrilling pursuit wrapped in a dangerous international conspiracy, with action and sexual tension so obsessive the lines between fiction and reality blur.

More about A PERFECT WEAPON and the crowdfunding campaign HERE

LB: Are Crowdfunded Web Series a Good Way to Launch a TV Writing Career?

Glad You Asked Department 8/5/13

question_ditkoToday’s question comes from Andy, who wants to know:

“I saw your post on the Kickstarter Film Festival and was wondering, what are your thoughts on creatives using Kickstarter, Indigo and the like, especially with regard to TV? Is it good, bad, the future of the industry? Are crowd funded Web series a good launching pad for TV writing careers?

“Are those who go this route blazing a trail or trying to push a bolder up a hill only to watch it roll all the way down at the end?”

If that isn’t a reasonable inquiry, then I don’t know what is. Especially since I have a definite (read “violently strong”) opinion on the subject. Time to let it fly:

Dear Andy,

I am such a believer in crowdsourcing it’s insane. Best thing that’s happened in the entertainment biz since…well, since the last best thing. TVWriter™ regularly features our picks of the best web series (and other peer produced material) on Kickstarter. We’d go beyond Kickstarter to the others but just don’t have the time to monitor all the sites.

Sisyphus_by_von_StuckSome of the projects we’ve tried to help are Travis Richey’s THE INSPECTOR web series, which is a spinoff of the series within a series he developed and starred in on COMMUNITY; BECOMING RICARDO, a show by/for members of the Hispanic community; and, just the other day, MISDIRECTED, a web series entering its second season.

THE INSPECTOR and MISDIRECTED have gone the Kickstarter route, and each got the money for its first season that way. MISDIRECTED also got its second season funding just a few days ago, and, hell, my own daughter recently raised enough money on Kickstarter to enable her to greenlight a new music video for her band, Yevtushenko.

None of those campaigns was easy. Everyone involved really had to work the web – especially the social sites. But they got what they needed and took or are taking their best creative shot right now.

As far as I’m concerned the real risks are to contributors who may not get the little goodies they’ve been promised or may be duped on a larger scale by frauds. The fraud thing hasn’t happened very often to my knowledge, but the risk will always be there.

crowdsourcing-2For those who are serious about their work/careers, I don’t see much of a downside other than, oh, some embarrassment if the project doesn’t get fully funded. And that’s much more in the eyes of the creators than the world, which quickly forgets and moves on to other concerns like the latest internet meme.

And, yes, a great way to get your writing career launched is to have well shot samples of your work that producers/execs/agents/managers can look at. Because even though it’s supposed to be all about the writing, these people find it much easier to watch a finished product than to read a script…and let’s face it, a professional quality production always makes the writing look better.

Of course, if your production sucks, then, sorry, it’s more likely to hurt your writing career than help it. But yours will be great, right?

Speaking of pushing boulders uphill – of course anyone who does the crowdfunding thing is taking on a Sisyphean task. But know what? We all are. Every single human being is pushing dozens of boulders up a hill every single day. And all our boulders will eventually roll back down one side or the other. Big fucking deal. That’s life. I mean, what else have we got to do with our time except try?

Good luck, dood!

LYMI,

LB

My purpose here is to help as many undiscovered creative geniuses as possible. But I can’t answer if you don’t ask. So send your questions and make everyone’s day!

Want to Kickstart Your Teleplay or Video? Try This Strategy

Of course, it turns out to be what every salesman has to do in every medium because, dammit, there really aren’t any shortcuts, are there?

How I Launched a Successful Kickstarter Campaign – by Sarah Gilbert

“You can always back out,” a dear friend who had successfully completed a few Kickstarter campaigns told me a few days into my own campaign. “You just have such a short timeline.”

“You probably aimed too high,” said another, just beginning her own campaign, having carefully lined up a roster of advisers and marketing backers. “Next time, shoot a little lower.”

“Let’s try for $6000,” said one of my partners when I said $8000 was really the minimum sensible goal. Then, a few days before the end of the campaign, “If we need to, we can contribute more to unlock the Kickstarter piggybank.”

“We can do it!” I said, over and over. “We will do it.”

And you can do it too. If you’ve ever wanted to create something — a magazine, like mine, or a documentary video or a line of handmade jewelry or the next thing in pooper scoopers (I will not divulge my b-school friend’s Big Idea on this topic here) — but don’t have the money, crowdfunding is a fantastic way to do it.

Are you sure?
This is what my friends kept asking: “Are you sure?” They wanted to make a backup plan in case we didn’t reach the funding goal (which, for the record, is a smart idea). In Kickstarter — as in most crowdfunding sites — you have to reach the full funding goal to get any money at all; your friends and new fans won’t be charged if and until the campaign successfully ends.

I was sure. Part of this is my sunny optimism and part of it was just…my certainty. I knew this project (a literary magazine for parents) was a winner. I’d spent my life doing (informal, social, and honestly quite lovely) “user analyses” for the product. I knew what my market wanted and I knew I could sell myself as the person who could deliver. The thing is that you have to be sure, at least in your interactions about the campaign; like any small business, you need to be your biggest cheerleader and your biggest fan.

Very few goals are truly out of limit. I’ve seen campaigns succeed from $235 to $200,000. And part if it is just that people enjoy being part of a winning campaign. As Kickstarter founder Yancey Strickler said, he didn’t know what was the reason, but 90% of campaigns that get to 30% funding eventually succeed. I think it’s because everyone believes if the central figure in the campaign believes — and that’s critical mass.

This is the really key thing. You have to believe, and you have to love the product you want to produce in a way that is very much like a mother loves her child, and you have to believe you can do it better than just about anyone. You have to believe all that (and be ready to tell everyone else that, too).

Find your choir
The best thing I did with this project was to assemble a choir to whom to preach. From my Twitter and Facebook pulpit I announced my idea and I had more of my team sign up to support me with a couple of 140-character tweets than any long eloquent blog post. (I hope they were eloquent.) Getting an editorial team behind me was integral.

The platform of the crowdfunding model is star-based. One person has her name and profile attached to the campaign; typically, it’s hard to fit a bunch of voices into a one- or two-minute video. But I may not have achieved this on my own.

My editorial team (and even my logo designer) had a vested interest in getting this project funded. We put a bunch of time and effort into creating the campaign, launching a web site, writing essays and stories and spending countless hours reading and editing submissions. Everyone wanted to see this be real. A partner’s dad was the one who made that contribution to send us to 100% funding. Another partner’s friends began contributing and encouraging still other friends to contribute. My husband posted about it, and his cousin gave a generous donation. I would see a donation come in from someone I’d never met, and someone would say, “That’s my high school friend!” or “That’s my uncle!”

You need to preach to your choir, and your choir has to sing it. You probably can’t do it all alone, so line up talented friends who are willing to go to bat for you simply on the promise of eventual, possible payment. What I discovered? The love of their family and friends will be so greatly felt that they probably can do without money for a while.

Get so excited, you just can’t hide it.
One day when we were nearing 100% funding, I was very literally so excited that I could not hide it. I downloaded the song on iTunes and played it over and over at top volume, dancing in my kitchen. That was me, when my friend’s dad contributed, screaming so loud all my neighbors could hear.

And I spent two weeks (the maximum time I thought I could conceivably spend constantly promoting myself) dancing, literally and figuratively, singing the praises of my project. I posted, sometimes, four or five times a day on Facebook and Twitter. I sent emails and direct messages to friends. I went up to strangers or bare acquaintances at coffee shops and parks to tell them about my project (only if they said something that seemed to connect them to, as I saw it, my customer base). I posted photos of my project on Instagram and left fliers at ice cream shops and only avoided Pinterest because I didn’t get around to it.

Every day, from the day you make your video to the day you complete the campaign, you are going to have to be amped up! This is something you should prepare for and something that should guide the timing of your campaign.

Be strategic. Be calculating.
I didn’t go to business school to avoid doing math when it came down to it. Nor did I forget any of my marketing lessons. Here are a few practical things I learned:

  • Guess at the monetary size of your friend base. You’ll need at least five times the amount you’re shooting for in “capacity…”
  • Facebook, by the way, is it… 
  • Give and ye shall receive…
  • Add up the cost of your promised rewards. Be practical here… 
  • Give people rewards they might want even if they’re not your friend...
  • Make a short video. Be adorable...

Read it all (including the details we left out!)