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 Craig Silverstein, Part 2

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

TN_110_AP_0320_ 0160

From making films on VHS with his middle and high school friends to being the creator of Nikita and TURN: Washington’s Spies, writer Craig Silverstein shares his experiences and insights from being a showrunner and what he looks for when hiring writers.

TELL US ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM BEING ON STAFF TO CREATING YOUR OWN SHOW.

In my case it was working my way up and learning the ropes and experiencing production, which I was very lucky to get to do and to have really encouraging showrunners.

By the end of the second season of The Invisible Man I had directed an episode. From going from just being a staff writer, I became a Co-Producer by the end of the thing and they let me direct once.   That was about the best first experience that I could have had.

From there I had kept going up and then when you do your own show, it starts with a pilot. So you have to do that. And my friend Dave, who was actually that guy from Ithaca that I drove out with, he had an idea for this thing called Town of Tomorrow and we developed it together into a pilot called, Newton, while I was working on a show called The Dead Zone.

We sold it to UPN and they picked it up as a pilot and that’s the thing that really put me into another category because the script became very well known. The pilot wasn’t good. We screwed up the pilot.

So how do you transition into that stuff? My experience is, you make mistakes. So I wrote a pilot script, figured out how to do that and then screwed up the pilot. I kind of trusted all these people who were more experienced than me to do their jobs and when they didn’t, I was kinda like, “Oh, my God.”

I had the wrong, trustful attitude going in, so in my next show, Standoff, I fixed all the mistakes and the pilot process went well, so it got picked up to series. Then I screwed up the series. The way I hired writers, the way I ran the room. Different things. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely made mistakes and I learned from those mistakes and applied them to the next thing, which was Nikita. And now I know how to run a series. That’s how it happened for me.

WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING TO HIRE A WRITER FOR YOUR STAFF, DO YOU PREFER TO READ ORIGINAL WORK OR A SPEC?

Definitely original. I want to hire someone to write like them, not like me. How they are at mimicking someone else’s voice or show is less interesting to me because I actually want something that is a little bit of outside of myself, like I wouldn’t have gone there. And so I need to see their original voice.

I also need to see how they would structure something given no parameters. You know how an episode of whatever is supposed to break out if you study it. I like to see how in their pilot or feature, they can structure. When I hired this guy, Albert Kim, for Nikita, his script that I read was a pilot called How to Cheat. It was a romantic comedy. It had nothing to do with action, spies or anything like that, but I came away going this guy knows how to structure a script and structure a scene. That’s more valuable to me. You can teach all the rest of the stuff.

BEYOND THE WRITING, WHAT ELSE MAKES A POTENTIAL STAFF WRITER STAND OUT TO YOU?

That’s a very intangible thing. For me it’s just an energy between two people. It’s sort of like if someone is going off and off and off about themselves, that’s kind of a warning sign.

I think that I can also sometimes tell now who really wants not just a job, but wants to work on this show. There is that difference and you can see it.

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

I think it is, “How did you get your start?” The thing I always say is, “Do you have your script together?” Because a surprising amount don’t have a script. They want to know where to pitch, but you have to have the paper, you have to have that. It has to be good and so it’s sort of like you have to have your sample. You have to have that original pilot or that feature. That is key because everything flows from that. It’s still all about the script.

ANY OTHER ADVICE FOR WRITERS LOOKING TO MAKE THEIR START?

I always feel like to really love your characters and to write from your heart and your gut and not so much what you think. Don’t write with a reaction in mind, what you think someone else is going to like. There’s always going to be somebody who can come along to help you shape it and tailor it into something.

Write alone, but don’t be alone. Try to have friends and live your life because that stuff ends up creating more for your writing but also, it’s your thing to get your script around.

Didn’t read Part 1? It’s HERE


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.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Craig Silverstein

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

TN_110_AP_0320_ 0160

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.

Writer Craig Silverstein (TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES, NIKITA) built the foundations for his writing career back during his days at the University of Michigan where he had the great fortune to study under screenwriter Jim Burnstein (Renaissance Man, D3: The Mighty Ducks).

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

The first time that I said I wanted to write movies was when I walked out of seeing Ghostbusters, I was ten. I think I tugged on my mom’s sleeve and said, “I want to write movies.” A couple years after that, I made some movies with my friends in middle school and high school. They were pretty elaborate for the time. We composed our scores for them and everything. It was all VHS. We edited it on decks and stuff.

HOW DID YOUR COLLEGE EXPERIENCE HELP YOU GROW AS A WRITER?

Jim Burnstein was a working Hollywood screenwriter who lived in Michigan. I think his class is the one that really changed my life and then also changed the whole film and television program at the University of Michigan. Literally, the script that I wrote in his class, is the one that I got a job off of out here. Not right away, but down the line and not even rewritten.

The school was primarily a theory and criticism kind of school, but everybody who goes to film school wants to make movies. The way they distinguished themselves is with that writing program spearheaded by Jim. The key point was that you wrote a feature length screenplay in one semester, which was not being offered anywhere at undergraduate level as far as I knew.

In this you had to write the entire thing. You had to write your outline, and learn, but you had to have a feature length screenplay done by the end of the semester. Then the most revolutionary thing he did was he had this class called Screenwriting 2. Screenwriting 2, all you did was rewrite the script you wrote in Screenwriting 1.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

I was the assistant to these two producers, Harvey Kahn and Jonas Goodman on an independent feature called The Break Up starring Bridget Fonda and Kiefer Sutherland. It was a few months since I had arrived and I was starting to freak out. The money that I had come out with was pretty much gone. Then this guy said, “Oh, they’re looking. The producers on it are looking for somebody.” And that’s how it happens.

Actually the best job I had while trying to become a writer was I worked for Lucas Film THX in something called TAP, which is their Theater Alignment Program.   What it was, was the studios hiring TXH to check the work of the labs. Technicolor, Deluxe, whatever. They have a movie coming out. They’re producing all these reels. And the job was watching these individual reels of these movies. Literally the job was just you in a theater, at the screening rooms at the labs and a projectionist and that’s it. And you’re just watching these reels. My shift was from midnight to 8am.

WHEN DID YOUR WRITING CAREER REALLY START TO TAKE OFF?

So a friend of mine, her friend at the time was Bryan Singer’s assistant and he was prepping the first X-Men movie. She gave my script, that same script that I wrote in that class, to her high school friend who was out here too. He read it and gave it to Bryan Singer and Bryan Singer wanted to produce it.

The fact that Bryan Singer was interested in my script, even if not for him to direct, was the thing that got me an agent. By the way, the deal never came together, but the fact is for like three or four days when he was interested, I met with a few agents and I signed with one of them, at a kind of midsized agency.

Even when I signed with them it was still another year until I actually got that first writing job . During that year, I continued to get the THX shifts that I could and try to write. I did stress out and I gave myself an ulcer at a very young age, at like 24, 25, I had a flare up of ulcerative colitis.   I was in the hospital and it was a real big wake up call for me. I was fed through IV, they took me off of food.

It really ended up being a great thing because I came out of there going, “Oh wow, okay, hold on. Calm down. Maybe you’re not going to make it right away, but you definitely don’t want to be in the hospital so just calm down. Do whatever you need to do. Work at Starbucks, just keep writing your shit. Don’t set a time limit on it.” I don’t know if it’s because my mindset changed, but within 6 months I had my first writing job.

TELL US ABOUT THAT FIRST WRITING JOB.

It was from that same script. You know things kind of come around and what happened was those agents used to represent a guy, Matt Greenberg, who they were still friendly with. He was a feature writer who had started up his own television show called The Invisible Man. He had written this two hour pilot. They made it. They were going to series. He had never done TV before, so he was very comfortable reading a feature spec, which is how my script was sent to him. I got the call, it was like, “This guy has read your script. He likes it. He’d like you to come in and pitch ideas for The Invisible Man, maybe to be on staff.”

I read his script. I loved it. I came up with 6 ideas for episodes, two of which I thought were very good. I went in and I met with Matt and he was very nice and I pitched him these things and he loved these two or really one of them and said, “Look, you have no credits so I can’t hire you on staff because the positions that they were looking for were a Supervising Producer position and a Story Editor position. They couldn’t hire me as a Story Editor, having not done anything. But he said, “We’ll definitely, no matter what happens, buy that story and you can write the script or at the very least, buy the story.”

And what happened was they ended up hiring me on staff because they ended up breaking the story editor position into two term writer staff positions. Which is you’re paid scale, which was ten times more than I had ever been paid anything, but it’s a 6 week trial and it’s their option at the end of 6 weeks of what to do. If you make it through the 6 weeks, you get an additional 14 weeks.

One of the coolest things ever, was when I got the call that I was going to start on the show, it was on a Sunday, I was at Technicolor on a THX shift and I was in the theater by myself. I got this call from Matt and he said, “You know what, you’re going to start tomorrow. It’s at Universal.” And I’m like, “I’m at Universal, that’s where Technicolor is.”

On my first day as a paid writer, I pulled in to the same guest lot at Universal. The same exact spot that I had parked the day before, but instead of getting out and going left into Technicolor, I walked right, into the Universal lot and that place. I knew I had 6 weeks to prove myself and so I wrote this script and got picked up for 14 weeks and never looked back.

WHAT WAS SOME OF THE BEST ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

So much I learned, I learned from the guy who ran the Invisible Man after Matt Greenberg left. David Levinson came in and became my mentor. One of the things he did was show me how you could be yourself, a very real person and still do it. You didn’t have to put on or be a certain kind of way or act a certain kind of way in order to do it.  He had stripped away so much of the politics and you know, he had a desk a computer and a phone, and he’s like, “This is all you need to run a show.”

Coming soon – more from Craig on becoming a showrunner and what he looks for when hiring writers.


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.

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 11/30/12

Latest News About Writers Doing Better Than We Are

  • Rumors abound that Kevin Costner’s 1995 feature film fiasco, WATERWORLD, is headed for Syfy as a series. No writers have been mentioned, so, hey, now’s the time to put your hat in the ring. (In other words, how long will it take you to write a complete spec science fiction script to prove your genius expertise adequacy?)
  • Chris Cantwell & Chris Rodgers (SHADOW RUNNERS, feature film) are writing HALT & CATCH FIRE, a drama about the PC boom in the early ’80s intended as a series on AMC. (In other words, nerds are in, for which we at TVWriter™ give heartfelt thanks.)
  • Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies) is the basis for Craig Silverstein’s (NIKITA) AMC pilot, TURN. (In other words, why let a good, descriptive name get in the way of confusing TV viewers, right?)
  • It’s official. DOWNTON ABBEY creator Julian Fellowes will write and produce NBC’s THE GILDED AGE, described by the network as “a sweeping epic in the style of DOWNTON ABBEY. (In other words, the U.S. finally gets its own overly-manipulative soap opera about rich people nobody in the audience will be able to stand. Awesome.)

The Hudsonian Sees ARROW

Arrow Hits a Bullseye – by Joshua Hudson

***The pilot episode originally aired on the CW on October 10, 2012 at 8 p.m. EST. What follows is a love triangle between myself, the CW, and Oliver Queen.***

When a movie based on comic book characters makes $1.5 billion worldwide, everyone wants a piece of the action, right? Especially when you have your own catalog of cool characters, and you have yet to make that much. Being shown up by your competition is never a good thing.

Suffice it to say, Arrow is a television show, so it’s not likely to make that kind of money. But, and I can say this with the utmost confidence, Warner Bros. and the CW have themselves a hit TV show.

Arrow is based on the DC Comics character Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, and details his journey from being a notoriously spoiled playboy – Tony Stark, anyone? – to a hooded vigilante who’s out to protect his city from those that stand to corrupt it.

This show is everything you want not just as a fanboy, but as an introduction to a character that may get you excited about comics. I personally have never read a Green Arrow comic, but I’m ready to pick up DC’s latest trade paperback featuring Queen. And I read comics every week.

Oliver Queen was aboard a boat with friends and his father when a hurricane tore it apart and he was left to float away in a life raft until stumbling upon an island in the Pacific Ocean. Everyone on the boat died, including his father and his date for the trip, Sarah Lane; who also happened to be his girlfriend’s sister.

When Queen is rescued and returns home, everyone is shocked, surprised, elated, and/or disgusted. Depends on whom you ask, really. Living a life of debauchery will create jealousy amongst peers, but in the case of Dinah “Laurel” Lane, it’s simply anger because he survived and her sister did not. Oh, and she’s hooking up with Queen’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn. It’s the CW. Would you expect anything less than a romantic love triangle?

Queen takes the last dying words of his father to heart, and sets out to help his city become what his father helped destroy. He is targeting the wealthy aristocrats that siphon funds from the poor and manipulate the system only to benefit themselves. To make life easier, Queen turns his father’s old factory into a “home base” of sorts where he trains and plots his next move.

He takes down Adam Hunt in the form of $40 million dollars, and closes Laurel’s case against him. (Oh, she’s a DA, and doesn’t know how to turn down a fight.) Of course, he’s not the only one on the list. There are many others, which will essentially make up the basis of each episode. Luckily, it’s a pretty long list.

There’s a little twist at the end, which I won’t spoil, but it involves Queen’s mother and trying to find out what her late husband told her son. Too much? Do yourself a favor, and watch this show. It’s a good mix of story, action and romance, and will make you appreciate Wednesday nights more than you did before.

My only gripe? Arrow should be paired with Nikita to create the best action-packed two hours on television. And this is on the CW. Who saw that coming?

Thinking Man Reviews: Nikita Season Two Finale

BY ANTHONY MEDINA

**This episode originally aired in May 2012. If you are unfamiliar with the series, be aware this review contains spoilers.**

“Power Mr. President. Real power.” – Percy

It was another fast paced and action packed finale for the CW’s Nikita, as her war against Division finally comes to an end and she is forced back into the life she abandoned long ago.

That’s right. Nikita (Maggie Q.) has finally defeated the wonderfully evil Percy Rose (Xander Berkeley) in the season two finale “Homecoming”. But rather than destroy the organization she hates, Nikita and the gang must take control of Division and reform its practices in order to save the lives of the Division agents led astray by both Percy and Amanda.

But how is it that Nikita came to such a precarious position?

(EDITED BY munchman TO ADD: Ooh! Ooh! I know the answer to that question. Because somebody at the CW saw the last season of ANGEL, where he takes over the Demon Law Firm that’s been the enemy for years and said, “Hey, I have a bright, fresh and new idea! What if we–” Nevermind. Sorry to interrupt.)

Well, it all started when Dr. Evil Percy called up the President and told him he had sharks satellites with freaking lasers pointed their way under his control, which he proved by blowing up a power plant. After that the Nikita crew mobilized to disarm the satellite and take it out of Percy’s hands. Nikita and Michael (Shane West) achieved this by infiltrating Division and not-so-subtly blowing up a big computer.

Problem solved. But, hey, this is Percy we’re talking about, ain’t no way he’s going down that easy. Percy calls the President again and reveals that it was all a fake out. He had convinced the President of the United States that he was shooting laser beams from outer space when all he really did was plant a bomb in the power plant. Oh Percy, you so crazy.

He also tells the president that his top man (Roan) will set off another big bang unless Percy gets immunity and a nice retirement package. Little do they know that Percy had been given membership in an international shadow organization (the Evil League of Evil I assume) that will take him to the next level of… evilness?

Meanwhile, Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) and Shawn (Dillon Casey) were having trouble tracking down Roan (Rob Stewart). Inside Division Nikita was forced to protect Percy and get him out safely so he could call off the attack.

It seemed as though everything was coming up Percy. But just as they made their way to the surface, his pride and ego refused to cooperate and he turned on Nikita beating her down and threatening to kill her. Unfortunately for him, the only reason any of us are alive is because Nikita allows it. And as you might expect, she quickly turned the tables and caused him to fall to his death.

Fortunately, Alex and Shawn managed to find Roan before the bomb was set and gave him a nice one-two punch to save the day. Crisis averted. Nikita wins. Huzzah!

With Percy down and Division disarmed, the government considered killing the remaining Division agents but Nikita and company decide to take control of it themselves and hopefully return it to the principles for which it was originally created.  And with that it’s all over. Except one thing, Amanda is still out there and in the final scene we discover she has a deciphered blackbox. Season three here we come!

Season Two 

Thinking Man Rating: 15 Thumbs Up

Season Two Finale

Thinking Man Rating: 14 Thumbs Up

**Be aware the Thinking Man rating system is based on awesomeness and should be disregarded if you are not now, or have never been, awesome.**

Craig Silverstein, NIKITA Showrunner, Tells All

For reasons beyondeth our comprehensioneth, NIKITA is a huge hit with TVWriter™ visitors. We’ve even carried duplicate reviews of at least one episode because the guys really, really, really wanted to write about it. Which means you’d damn well better enjoy this:

Highlights of the discussion, courtesy of ClickClaque.Com:

  • Spills what happens in the first 5 minutes of season 3!
  • Status of the international nefarious organization that Percy worked for next season
  • Percy is dead. Roan? Have to listen for that answer.
  • “Hell hath no fury like an Amanda scorned.” — Amanda will be making Nikita suffer.
  • Decision to bring back Devon Sawa’s Owen.
  • Nikita’s new life.
  • Season long arc is Amanda. Love and sex arcs are larger this season. More standalone episodes.
  • Influences for the show from TV and movies.
  • Who is going to be the first to rebel against working for “the man?” Nikita!
  • Relationships that will be driving the story.

For more about season three of Nikita watch ClickClaque’s interviews with the rest of the Nikita cast. (Although we really aren’t sure why anyone wants to.)