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.

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