Who Inspires You: TV Writers Share Their Creative Inspirations

by Kelly Jo Brick

Whether a beginning writer or an experienced veteran, admiration helps fuel our creative endeavors. Writers from film and television share who has inspired them through the years.

JASON RICHMAN (LUCKY 7, DETROIT 1-8-7) – I always admired Lawrence Kasdan. First of all, as a viewer, as a fan of movies, but he was an inspiration because he did all kinds of different things. He wrote THE BIG CHILL, he wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. I admire that, someone who has an idea that interests them, a world that interests them and then just goes where their creativity takes them. I think that he’s sort of the model to me of that person who just won’t be pigeonholed. To be so good in so many different genres is a real feat and to direct and do all those things is pretty cool.

DANIEL KNAUF (THE BLACKLIST, CARNIVALE) – Rod Serling inspires me. Harlan Ellison, and Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Charles Bukowski, a lot of prose writers. I think today, I love Joss Whedon’s work. I love Vince Gilligan’s work.

There’s some peers. John Eisendrath, is a terrific writer. Steven DeKnight, I worked with him on SPARTACUS and he’s a wonderful writer and showrunner. I just try to work with people I’m going to learn stuff from. I’m still a sponge.

STERLING ANDERSON (THE GABBY DOUGLAS STORY, THE UNIT) When I first started, Horton Foote inspired me, the movie that made me want to become a writer was TENDER MERCIES.

I liked those movies that didn’t have shoot ‘em up and helicopter crashes. I like character driven films like ORDINARY PEOPLE. One of my first really super favorite films was SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT, Spike Lee. He inspired me. Probably those two were the biggest inspirations I had.

CRAIG SILVERSTEIN (TURN, NIKITA) – I remember really being impressed with Shane Black, his screenplays. A lot of people talk about his writing, like he comments on the page or he comments to the reader and stuff like that and it’s actually not that. What it is, is that he is very effectively giving you the feeling in the right amount of words of exactly how this moment feels and looks.

That’s something that’s sort of where screenwriting crosses the transom between prose and poetry. Are you able to break the rules of grammar and exposition and this proper stuff to say exactly, oh, I know exactly how that’s going to feel on screen? He does that.

LIZ TIGELAAR (CASUAL, LIFE UNEXPECTED) – As a TV writer, I am very inspired by other TV writers. I love when people kind of embrace TV and embrace what being a TV writer means and embrace that type of storytelling.

Certainly Winnie Holzman is an inspiration. Winnie’s such an iconic voice, a wonderful person and someone who really is able to infuse herself in everything she does.

Jill Soloway really inspires me because I feel like she took great control of her career. She kind of made it exactly what she wanted it to be and did it well, infusing a really personal story into it that also was incredibly timely, relevant, political and provocative.

So many of the women writers that are my peers really inspire me with what they do. There are so many great people, like Lisa Zwerling is someone I worked with and I found her very inspiring. Kerry Ehrin, I love how her mind works. She approaches everything in this really sideways, interesting, unexpected way. A lot of the women I work with are peers and mentors and writers I that would like to emulate and take certain skills that they have and incorporate them into my own writing.

LaTOYA MORGAN (TURN, INTO THE BADLANDS) – My favorite writer is John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is my favorite book, just because it’s a family story. It’s a journey. Tom Joad is one of my favorite characters.

I am not a snob when it comes to storytelling, so whatever the genre or medium, I love it, so I love all kinds of sci-fi stuff like BATTLESTAR, THE X-FILES and then I love something gritty like SONS OF ANARCHY, GAME OF THRONES, fantasy stuff.

MARK GOFFMAN (BULL, LIMITLESS, SLEEPY HOLLOW) – John August is just brilliant and so inventive and a great spirit too. Aaron Sorkin was an early influence and somebody I’ve always looked up to even before I got the opportunity to work with him.

Tom Stoppard also, early on I really tended to gravitate towards both playwrights and people with a knack for dialogue. As a former speechwriter, I just love words and wordplay and people who are inventive with their language.

RAAMLA MOHAMED (SCANDAL, STILL STAR-CROSSED) – Who inspires me are people like Donald Glover, Issa Rae, Lena Dunham. People who have an idea, they act in it, they write, they have a vision. It’s not always perfect, but they go for it and they push the envelope. They have a clear point of view. I find that so cool.

I’m always impressed when I watch something and I’m like how did they come up with that. How did they think of that? I think there is a really cool new wave of people coming in who are in some ways like TV auteurs who are making such great TV.

WENDY CALHOUN (EMPIRE, JUSTIFIED)- Alan Ball, his work on SIX FEET UNDER I thought was fabulous. Elmore Leonard, only because I had to read so much Elmore getting ready for JUSTIFIED, and while I was doing JUSTIFIED, that I just fell in love with him. It wasn’t work at all. It was just fabulous, fun pop writing that the world needs more of.

I love The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I read Roots as well and I really enjoyed Alex Haley. I’m so glad that his works were made for the screen as well, because I wouldn’t have been introduced to them, same as Alice Walker and The Color Purple.

ROB EDWARDS (THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, A DIFFERENT WORLD) – Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, they’re all guys who had started as stand-ups and then wrote for some variety, some sitcom, then wrote movies and then wrote and directed movies and I thought it’s just a great way to always be confident in your comedy, your sense of storytelling.


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: The Write Path with VJ Boyd

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

Photo courtesy of the Austin Film Festival

Photo courtesy of the Austin Film Festival

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 and hard work.

VJ Boyd came up through the assistant ranks before breaking in as staff writer on JUSTIFIED. He’s gone on to write for THE PLAYER and is producing his pilot THE JURY for ABC. He, along with writer Mark Bianculli and producer Carol Mendelsohn, recently sold the drama DOOMSDAY to ABC.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?

I started writing when I was eleven. I wrote a story that I thought was going to be a novel, but it ended up being 21 pages, which was a lot for me. It was basically just a rip-off of CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, but I thought from then on that I wanted to be some kind of writer and so I wrote a screenplay when I was 16. I started reading all the books at the library about how to write fiction, short fiction, how to write screenplays and kind of advanced from there.

EARLY ON, WERE THERE ANY TV SHOWS OR MOVIES THAT GOT YOU EXCITED ABOUT WRITING?

I can’t really remember what movies made me want to write movies when I was 16. I know there were a lot of movies I hadn’t seen, so I would read the screenplays, like I read the screenplay for THE USUAL SUSPECTS, PULP FICTION, RESERVOIR DOGS and also SHAWSHANK.

When I was much younger, STAR WARS was a huge thing for me. I knew I wanted to do something with movies and so for a long time I was like, “I’m going to do special effects.” Then what I realized was I just wanted to tell stories. In grad school, when I started leaning toward writing for movies and TV more heavily, THE SHIELD was a big inspiration. That’s probably the show that made me want to write for TV. Watching the behind the scenes stuff on their DVDs on how they broke story, I was like, “Oh, I can do that. I can write these kind of stories.”

WHAT ADVICE DID YOU GET ALONG THE WAY THAT REALLY HELPED YOU AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

Someone said, “If you can think of anything else you can do that you’d be happy doing other than writing, then you should go do that, because it’s so difficult to succeed at and there’s no guarantee you will succeed, even if you’re good and even if you do all the right things.” You may be a great writer and a great person, but you just don’t get the opportunity, so you have to really love it. I made the decision to move out to L.A. and do it and to stick with it because I couldn’t think of anything else that I’d be happy doing.

Also always be writing. If you’re a writer, you should be writing. If you haven’t written anything this year, maybe you’re not a writer or maybe you need to try to write something and see if you really love it as much as you thought you did.

When I was assistant for Graham Yost, season one of JUSTIFIED and then also on FALLING SKIES season one, when Graham had a script he needed to write, he went in his office and he wrote it and then he came out and it was done. It was a job. It’s important to remember to treat it like a job. It’s not always going to be perfect. You can’t sit around waiting for inspiration. You gotta set a timeframe and get it done.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

I was a writers’ P.A. on the show THE BEAST, the Patrick Swayze show. I got that about a month after moving to L.A., which is a pretty quick timeframe. I was very lucky. This doesn’t work for everybody; in fact I don’t know anybody else who it’s worked for. For me, I cold called production companies when I saw that shows were getting picked up to series and I asked, “Hey, I’m looking for an assistant job, can I send my resume?” I ended up being able to send my resume to THE BEAST and they interviewed me and hired me.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE FOR A SHOW?

I was an assistant season one of JUSTIFIED. Then season two, one of the staff writers left to go work on another show and so I asked my boss if he’d read my stuff. I really wasn’t thinking he’d actually staff me, but I thought maybe I’d get a freelance, which is much more realistic. He did read a couple of my scripts. He liked one of them and he actually hired me as a staff writer. It was a huge opportunity. It was very good timing and again I was lucky, but I was also prepared for the opportunity.

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

I get a lot of questions about how important is it to have a manager. Getting a manager isn’t that important. I’ve never gotten jobs through my representation really. They’ve set up meetings for me, but I got my first job through coming up as an assistant. Networking and making contacts on your own is more important than desperately trying to get a manager.

WHAT OTHER ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR UP-AND-COMING WRITERS?

Keep writing. Write something new all the time. I would also say don’t be afraid of networking. There are a lot of people, especially if they’re not from New York or L.A., who see networking as this transactional thing, as being a fake friend. I’m pretending to be your friend so I can get something from you, but you know what it is, it’s mutually beneficial for both of you. Like you both are trying to do the same thing. We’re both trying to be TV writers. We’re both trying to get assistant jobs, whatever it is. We’re not pretending to be best friends, but we’re like, hey, we’ll keep in touch, maybe we’ll get drinks and keep up with each other’s career every month or so. If I’ve got a job and I hear about one, I’ll tell you and vice versa.

It’s not being fake. Networking is a thing and it’s okay. You kinda have to get over the fact that Hollywood is all about relationships and networking is a thing. Don’t take it personally when people want to give you their card for networking and you’re like, oh, I thought we were friends. You can still be friends, but everyone is trying to do the same thing and trying to get that advantage and if you have a problem with that you might want to write novels.


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: The Write Path with Manager Zadoc Angell, Part 2

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

by Kelly Jo Brick

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Finding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.

Literary Manager Zadoc Angell of Echo Lake Entertainment brings with him the unique perspective of having worked first as an agent and now as a manager. He shares experiences and insights from his years building, growing and revitalizing writers’ careers.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A MANAGER?

The first is breaking in someone who’s totally new and hasn’t staffed before. It’s always hard to get that first job at the staff writer level and be taken seriously. People break in all different ways. It can be through your manager or agent submitting you to a show or it can be working your way up as a writers’ assistant or script coordinator or a showrunner assistant. It can be winning a contest, it can be getting into one of the network programs.

The other biggest challenge is career transition, when writers may have established themselves in some sort of fashion, let’s say as a comedy writer and now they want to be taken seriously as a drama writer or a veteran writer who has been around a long time, but has gone a little cold and you’re trying to reinvent their narrative and their story.

The good news about writers is that you can reinvent yourself through material. You can write that new special script in a different genre to help show people that you’re not just the category of writer they may have perceived you to be. We deal with these challenges all the time, but they’re big hurdles and they need a lot of strategy and thought and care put into achieving them for the client.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE WRITERS WHEN THEY’RE TAKING THEIR FIRST MEETINGS?

If it’s a showrunner meeting, the biggest thing I tell writers is to make sure that you’ve read the pilot script and you have very specific thoughts about it, meaning you responded to a particular character for a particular reason or particular joke or storyline or bit of dialogue or a key moment.

You have to realize that these showrunners are meeting with writers on the hour or the half hour and everyone’s saying they love it. Everyone says it’s great, but if you’re only speaking in generalities, it doesn’t mean anything to them. So if you really have read it and really have internalized it and really can talk about specifics, then that showrunner is much more likely to think that you actually cared about his or her show and you really thought about it.

The best is when you can take those things that you responded to and turn it into a conversation about yourself, where you responded to that character because she reminds you so much of your mother, then you’re talking about your mother and where you grew up. Then all of a sudden a showrunner is getting to know who you are and why you’re specifically right for his or her show, but you’re leading into the conversation by talking about that showrunner’s show and their writing.

The worst thing you can do is come out of a showrunner meeting and feel like they didn’t get to know you at all, because then why would I hire a writer that I don’t think is uniquely qualified for my show or that I got to know as a person on any level. You have to find ways to insert that in the conversation because quite often they only want to talk about their own show.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

It’s funny because the things that are the most challenging are also the most rewarding. So when you do get that client their first staff job, it’s just so exciting. You know someone’s life has just changed and a dream has come true for them. That’s really fulfilling on a lot of levels and the career transition, when you’re able to take that client and get them into a new side of the business or achieve a long-term goal that seemed really hard to pull off, that’s when you feel the most fulfilled and the most pride.

One of my signature clients is Ingrid Escajeda who started out as a comedy writer. I got her, her first job on HANNAH MONTANA when I was a Coordinator at Paradigm. That was a big first for both of us, because she broke in and it was my first time staffing somebody and we were so thrilled. And then she went on to BETTER OFF TED on ABC for 2 seasons and coming off that she was really interested in becoming a drama writer. She thought that was maybe where she would find more success.

So I told her to write a drama pilot. And she wrote a pilot about the LA Bomb Squad that was very RESCUE ME in tone and used the best of drama and comedy in one sample and it was gritty and compelling. I sent it to Graham Yost who was reading for JUSTIFIED.  He hired her and she was on JUSTIFIED for four years. Now she’s a Co-EP on EMPIRE and has an overall deal at 20th.

Her whole life has changed, but it changed through that one script. That piece of material that showed she could do it. And it didn’t happen overnight. We worked hard and were patient and did the right things. We got it to the right showrunner and the right show and it changed her whole profile as a writer in the community. When you do things like that, there is no better feeling.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES YOU SEE WRITERS MAKING?

Once you’re a successful writer and you’re working on shows full-time, it becomes very hard to write your own material and so it’s really important you find time to continue to write your own pilots or features or film shorts, even prose. Just have some sort of creative outlet for yourself outside of your day job, because the day job can be all consuming and it can drain you emotionally and creatively, but you’re writing for someone else, on someone else’s show that is their voice, their characters and what can happen is that you start to lose touch with your own creative fire. So it’s really important to keep that going.

You have to be incredibly disciplined to do it because it’s so easy when you have a full-time job and a life and a family and that sort of stuff to not find time for your own writing. But I find that the writers who do, they’re the ones who really need to write in order to breathe and ultimately have the most success.

WHAT CAN A WRITER DO TO HELP YOU DO YOUR JOB?

Write great material and be great in a room. There’s a marked difference when a writer goes into a room and has just an okay meeting and when they go into a room and they kill it, because when you call an executive for feedback, if there’s just middle of the road feedback, you made an introduction, but it’s not really going to add up to anything or go anywhere, but if the person that you met with is genuinely excited about you, there’s much more possibility of an opportunity coming out of that somehow, some way, whether it’s immediate or down the road, because they’re going to remember you for if not this thing, the next thing. They may be tracking that writer’s career. They’re excited about that person. You’re now on their recommended writers list when they’re thinking about writers for projects and staffing.

We work really hard to get our clients in rooms and get meetings and so if we’ve done all the work of opening the door, you’ve got to meet us halfway and barrel through that door and win over the people you’re talking to.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS IN EARLY STAGES IN THEIR CAREER LOOKING TO BREAK IN?

Write material that excites you, that is daring and different and bold. It’s bad when writers just try to write for the marketplace or try to copy something that’s popular right now. It tends not to be writers’ best work.

What’s probably going to break you through the clutter and get you your first representative and get you your first job is really compelling, exciting material that is a distinct voice, that is a distinct point of view, that people read and they get really excited about. Trying to write down the middle just doesn’t do anyone any good.

You also have to think of the kinds of content that the tastemakers in our business are watching. Most people are watching HBO and Showtime and Netflix and AMC and FX and so that kind of taste in material is quite prevalent in our business. So your edgy FX sample might be the thing that gets you a job on CRIMINAL MINDS. That’s the thing that people don’t realize sometimes, because the showrunner of CRIMINAL MINDS is probably watching FX’s programming.


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: Takeaways from the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference

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Terry Rossio and Shane Black in Austin, TX.  Photo courtesy of Austin Film Festival (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference, an event dedicated to focusing on writers’ contributions to television and film, celebrated its 22nd year by bringing together aspiring and established writers, producers, filmmakers, development executives, agents, managers and directors.

Attendees to the screenwriting conference had the opportunity to choose from a wide variety of panels on writing for television and film. TVWriter.com was there to bring you some of the top takeaways from the event.

ABOUT BREAKING IN –

  • “To me, a good script is a good script, is a good script.” It takes writing 12 scripts to finally hit your groove as a writer. Write pilots and features to find your voice, then write a spec or two of a current show just so you know you can write in another’s voice and, “Don’t submit a script unless it’s good. You only get one shot.” – Matthew Gross, Producer, BODY OF PROOF, DIRTY SEXY MONEY
  • “Don’t just write one pilot. Write ten of them. Don’t ever stop.” The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh are going to be better. Keep writing. — Mark Goffman, LIMITLESS, SLEEPY HOLLOW
  • Write plays. Many showrunners expressed their interest in reading and considering plays as a writing sample for staffing.
  • Writers tend to isolate themselves. Surround yourself with other writers and supporters. If you’re part of a herd, you’re protected. You might get jostled around, a little banged up, but when you’re in the group, a cheetah isn’t going to be able to grab you like it would if you were on your own. – Shane Black, LETHAL WEAPON
  • “If you can possibly give it up, give it up. The only reason you should do this is because you have no choice.” – Wes Brown, GOLIATH
  • “Don’t give out your script until it’s absolutely ready.” You only get one chance. First impressions are important. – Lindsay Goffman, Head of Development 3AD.
  • Always have something else, another script, ideas you could pitch. As a writer, keep cranking out content. – Matthew McDuffie, ODD GIRL OUT, BURNING BODHI
  • Your first script to get in will often never get made, but it helps you develop your voice and get in. – Mark Swift, FREDDY VS. JASON, FRIDAY THE 13TH

TAKING MEETINGS

  • “It all starts with the material and the talent.” Never undercut the value that you represent, so when you go into a meeting, own the space. You are worthy and deserve to be there. – Shane Black
  • Be confident. Breathe and remember, “This is my time. This is my space. This is the chair they’re paying me to be in.” — Pamela Ribon, SAMANTHA WHO?, HOT PROPERTIES
  • When you go into a meeting own it. If they ask if you’ve thought of changing something, don’t immediately say yes. Own what you created, so your passion shows. – Erika Weinstein, Director of Scripted Programming at AMC
  • Have questions. – Amy Berg, COUNTERPART, DA VINCI’S DEMONS

WHEN YOU GET ON A STAFF

  • The process of finding your place in the room can be interesting, “Figure out how you serve the showrunner and make his/her life easier.” — Chris Provenzano, JUSTIFIED, MAD MEN
  • “Working in a writers’ room is about serving the showrunner.”  Every showrunner is different so take time to learn what he or she needs and wants. – Stu Zicherman, THE AMERICANS

CHOOSING WHAT TO WRITE

  • “Write what excites you.” – Lindsay Goffman
  • “If you chase anything in the marketplace, it’s gone by the time you get there. So make something as unique as possible.” — Chris Provenzano
  • When you’re starting out, “Write your best stuff and forget about the budget. Get it down. Today that’s not your problem. Today your problem is to tell the story,” Jeb Stuart, DIE HARD.
  • An idea has no value. Write, write, write. – Nancy Pimental, SHAMELESS, SOUTH PARK
  • “There’s a channel for pretty much whatever you want to create.” Write to your strength and passion. Let the cards fall from there and with so many outlets out there, it will find the right home. – Mark Goffman
  • The next script can rebrand you. Only you can write yourself into a corner. – Amy Berg
  • “Starting is the hardest part.” You just have to start, period. – Shane Black

STORYTELLING

  • Action should always further story or character.  “If you imbed the story in the action, they can’t cut it.” – Jeb Stuart
  • Stories are like making coffee, they occur in drips and drops. You have to let it percolate, after a while, it be will become thick and rich. – Shane Black

DEALING WITH YOUR NEGATIVE INNER VOICE

  • Reason with it, then go watch TV. The people who wrote those shows got through it, you can too. – Issa Rae, THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL
  • Keep writing. Your mind gets distracted by the problems and interest of writing and loses that fear. – Shane Black
  • Enjoy the process. We all have fear and self-loathing. Celebrate all the small victories. – Mark Swift

GETTING NOTES

  • Listen first, because they’re noticing something that didn’t work. Even if the advice seems dumb, there is an issue and you have to figure out what they’re really noticing and find a solution. – Peter Craig, THE TOWN, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PARTS I AND II.
  • Hear the note behind the note. They’re not giving you the answer, but something isn’t working and it’s up to you as the writer to figure it out. As you approach the note, be humble and smart and remind yourself, “I can do it. I’m good enough. I can come up with something else.” — Chris Provenzano

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.