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.

Herbie J Pilato: It’s A “Mad Men” World (But We’ve All Been Here Before)

Patterns_Serling
All the elements of MAD MEN are here in Rod Serling’s 1955 drama, PATTERNS. For reals.

by Herbie J Pilato

According to a recent report from Reuters of Rome, Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci, during a tribute in his honor by the American Academy, claimed disappointment with the Hollywood feature film world that once inspired him. Instead, he prefers to watch television shows like Mad Men, explaining that such programming offers superior casting and direction above and beyond movie-house productions.

Bertolucci, who guided classic cinema gems like Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor and Novecento, said his “generation had an affair with American culture, there’s no doubt about it. A street lamp and a fire hydrant made me sing in the rain….But the American films I like now do not come from Hollywood studios but from television series, like Mad Men,” among others.

Bertolucci may have chosen the 1960s-based Mad Men as one of the best TV has to offer because this particular show presents itself like classic shows of days-gone-by… and not only with regard to premise, setting and style. The show may be presented as a nostalgic period piece of a bygone era (which, by the way, was inspired by the work-world of classic TV advertising man Darrin Stephens on Bewitched), but there is nothing organically revolutionary about its core content and presentation.

As such, it’s somewhat amusing that Bertolucci, and others of his stature, find Mad Men so enthralling and media-mind-altering when, in reality and ultimately, its production is not innovative at all. In fact, the show is rather mundane and simplistic. We’ve seen this style before, executed countless times – by any number of classic television programs and feature films.

With its lengthy, still camera shots on its actors such as the hammy Jon Hamm, and minus the manic pacing and swift dialogue exchanged (that was so overtly-ignited by Gilmore Girls in the early 2000s), Mad Men displays a tranquil elegance and sophistication that harkens back, yes, to a more fashionable era, but it’s receiving way too many accolades for allegedly paving the way for genius.

DarrinStephensOfficeDarrin Stevens, Mad Man Ad Man

The innovative style of classic TV’s top attorney (as portrayed by the iconic Raymond Burr) was evident from the get-go, as in this still from the show’s opening credits

That path has already been gaited, certainly on the small screen, by the likes of Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, and yes, even Father Knows Best (which contrary to popular belief, was one of the most realistic family shows of its time). Each of these properties, and hundreds more, were produced in the traditional manner of filming a television show (or feature film, for that matter). There were no spastic camera angles…no hand-held cameras…no constant, chronic musical score to hide a less-than-worthy script. Music was utilized almost as a character and for certain emotional effect; but not in every frame (like so many TV-movies, in particular, today).

Actual stories and characters were allowed to develop, as opposed to being thrown at the audience, seemingly and shamelessly begging for their attention. Unfortunately, such strategies are employed by contemporary programming-powers in hopes of preventing viewers from changing the channel (or exiting the theatre).

But no such gimmicks are required by the likes or dislikes of today’s Mad Men, or were deemed necessary by the roads and by-ways of yesterday’s Route 66.

In each of these cases, whether in first run airing, syndicated reruns, or on DVD, viewers are invited into the small and big pictures with grace and sophistication; the audience feels that a measure of respect is placed upon them by the given show’s producers and writers. And the reward for that regard is a following of loyal fans, with high-ratings or, if for theatrical release, solid box office.

What else could any television or film writer want for his or her creation?

TV Reality Vs. TV Fantasy

by Theresa Wiza

Arthur Godfrey & Alan Funt, who were big deals once upon a time

When Alan Funt’s Candid Camera television program made its debut in 1948, Funt unknowingly created the reality TV genre. From that first hilarious peek into the human spirit came shows like America’s Funniest Videos, Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d, and more.

The same year Funt debuted Candid Camera, Arthur Godfrey showcased struggling artists in his Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.

1948 – Two shows. 2012 – How many reality series and talent competitions are on TV today? Does anybody know? I don’t and I don’t want to take the time to count them all. (If YOU would like to count them, please visit Reality TV World.)

Do we really need that many real-life soap operas and talent competitions on television? Are our lives so boring we have to rely on other people to entertain us? Surprisingly, we devote only one and a half hours a day to television according to statistics provided on the blog Yo, Americans, You Aren’t Watching Enough TV (written by TV Writer™ administrator and television writer, Larry Brody).

I find those stats hard to believe. Statisticians must have included babies, both born and in utero. Because with all the media coverage about reality series like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, along with talent competitions like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, I think some people are lying about the fact that they don’t watch much television.

Maybe they watch too much. Our definition of entertainment has dramatically changed over the years. Reality shows have proliferated to a point I refer to as “ridicule us” – yes, audiences and tabloids alike seem to enjoy mocking participants of reality series, and judges derive great pleasure in taunting competitors.

In defense of audiences, tabloids (I can’t believe I’m defending tabloids), and judges, some of the people who appear on televised competitions really haven’t mastered their talents enough to compete. Some people just want more than their fair share of “15 minutes of fame,” something Andy Warhol intuitively predicted in 1968 when he said that in the future everybody would be world famous for 15 minutes. Then again, some of those auditions are hilarious and give us all something to talk about at the water cooler the next day.

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate talent competitions because I love the fact that people who might not otherwise be given an opportunity to showcase their talents have a venue to do so. But I have to be honest with you – I’m not at all fond of reality series, especially when they delve into lives of people I don’t care to know.

Honey Boo Boo Child, for instance. HOW, I repeat HOW did that show happen? I don’t get it. According to Mitch Albom, in his blog, This honey child is a real boo boo, nearly 2 million Americans watch her: “Two million people find this entertainment. Two million! And forget about the train wreck defense. Sorry. People stare at a train wreck and then move on. They don’t set up shop to keep looking every week.”

Train wreck aside, the reason I don’t like these types of reality shows is because “reality” shows are not real. If they were real, nobody would watch them. Nobody can convince me that drama queens act like drama queens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I know some drama queens. Even drama queens (male and female) have down time. These shows may not be scripted but the actors are certainly persuaded to exaggerate (dramatize) their situations. After all, drama makes for good TV.

I do like reality shows, though – my kind of reality shows. Most of the books in my bookcase are nonfiction. As a writer interested in research on diet, exercise, nutrients, vitamins, and health (mental and physical), I watch The DoctorsDr. Oz, and Dr. Phil for tips and information. To satisfy my creative cravings, I tune into The Nate Berkus Show. For real comedy, I rely on EllenThose are my kinds of reality shows.

The kinds of fantasy I prefer are fantasy shows that could be real. From 1993 to 2002, I couldn’t wait to run home to watch X-Files, for instance. X-Files was exciting and entertaining.

In my early years, I sat mesmerized as Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone took me to the Outer Limits and One Step Beyond. I was also intrigued by suspense and mystery in shows like, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Yes, mystery, intrigue, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, and creativity all draw me into a program.

But I’m also fascinated with the mentality of criminals. Two of my favorite shows are NCIS and Criminal Minds. And I’m always ready for a good laugh. So sometimes I reminisce with reruns: The Dick Van Dyke ShowNewhart,Everybody Loves RaymondFriendsFrasierM*A*S*HCheersSeinfeld, and so many other excellent sitcoms that no longer stream live.

But back to fantasy – to suit my eclectic tastes, every once in a while, maybe once or twice a week, I want a show that takes me outside myself, outside my own imagination. I first began watching The Vampire Diaries to feel closer to my son. It was one of his favorite shows. Because he is a U.S. Marine and has been away for most of his adult life (Iraq four times and now living several states away – still a Marine), The Vampire Diaries became something we shared. Ian Somerhalder didn’t hinder my appreciation of the show either. :)

Supernatural was another of my son’s favorite shows and it appealed to my love of all things paranormal. Though lately the show has become somewhat complicated, the writers have an amazing sense of humor, especially when it comes to conversations between brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.

Creative shows like Fringe stretch my imagination and take me into the realm of unexplained phenomena where worlds rip apart to expose other worlds.

Fantasy and psychological insights into character are abundant in Grimm and Once Upon a TimeOnce Upon a Time is probably the most creative program on television these days. The action takes place in Storybrooke, a magical place filled with princes, curses, fairy tales, castles, and more, where every character alternates between two lives in two different time periods. Fairy tale characters who think they’re real – how imaginative! Always entertaining, each week is more surprising than the last.

That’s the kind of drama that sustains my interest – not the fluffy “let’s-watch-foo-foo-who-who-go-to-Rodeo-Drive-to-get-a-pedicure” stuff. I want SUBSTANCE. I want ESCAPE. I want the world around me to dissolve as I become one with the program. My life is dramatic enough – I don’t need to see that kind of drama on TV. When the lights go down and the television turns on, I’d rather be in Storybrooke than Jersey Shore.

This article originally appeared in Theresa’s blog, which you all should be going to. Big thanks to TW for letting us reprint it here.

LB: Rod Serling on Censorship…and Sponsors

by Larry Brody

My writing hero talked to Mike Wallace back in 1959, and Rod wasn’t exactly a happy camper:

Thanks, Robin!