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.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL & SCREENWRITING CONFERENCE

2016 Awardees panel with Paul Feig, Nancy Meyers, Marta Kauffman during the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

2016 Awardees panel with Paul Feig, Nancy Meyers, Marta Kauffman during the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Jack Plunkett)

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Annual Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference gathers professional and aspiring writers together in the celebration of the contribution writers make to film and television.

Attendees had the opportunity to see a jam packed slate of films as well as choose from a variety of panels on the craft, art and business of writing for television and film. TVWriter.com’s own Contributing Editor Kelly Jo Brick, was in Austin as a panelist this year and she brings some top takeaways from the event.

BREAKING IN 

  • Breaking in through the assistant ranks is a great way to show your personality to the people who are making staffing decisions. Getting a writing job is 50% personality, 50% writing. – Raamla Mohamed, SCANDAL, STILL STAR-CROSSED
  • Whatever entry-level job you’re doing, show up with a smile every day. – Jono Matt, DOCTOR DOLITTLE
  • Age isn’t a big deal as long as you don’t make a big deal about it yourself. – VJ Boyd, JUSTIFIED, THE PLAYER
  • For features, the toe in the door assistant route doesn’t work as well. There’s not a natural path in film. It becomes a question of do you find a job in the industry. This avenue helps with meeting people and morale, but it’s often hard to find time to write. The other choice is to take a non-brain taxing job. You’ll have time to write, but it’s hard on your morale. Whatever you decide, the most important thing is that your work is good. – Michael H. Weber, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, 500 DAYS OF SUMMER
  • Embrace failure. It’s all part of the process. A great baseball batter fails two-thirds of the time. – Kent Alterman, President, Comedy Central
  • You just have to write. Don’t obsess over details, just keep writing. Get out, network, get to as many people as possible. – Mark Johnson, Executive Producer BETTER CALL SAUL, BREAKING BAD
  • Try to make something. Doing that can help you break through. – Pamela Ribon, MOANA, SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE
  • Leap frog forward with your peer group. Find yourself a writers’ group. Find a like-minded group so you’re not alone. Shane Black, LETHAL WEAPON, IRON MAN 3
  • If you’re aiming for features, look for a reading job or get a job that gives you regular hours so that you can leave work at work and have more time to work on your own writing. – Christina Hodson, SHUT IN, UNFORGETTABLE

CHOOSING WHAT TO WRITE 

  • Think about what’s not on. Where is there a void, then write an original with a clear vision that is clever, emotional and relatable. We look for specific shows with specific visions. – Jennifer Salke, President, NBC Entertainment
  • Your first script will be your calling card. Just write what you want, don’t restrict yourself to a budget, get a script that people want to read. – Shane Black
  • Find a story that says something to you and write it in a specific life-filled way. You should absolutely write what you want to write. You can only go where your heart goes. – Michelle Ashford, Creator/Executive Producer, MASTERS OF SEX
  • Your point of view is the most important thing you have. Don’t tell people what you think they want to hear. – Kent Alterman
  • Write that weird idea you have that’s unique to you. – Amy Talkington, THE ICE QUEENS

PITCHING

  • When pitching, start from a relatable human character dynamic, that is what will pull people in. Who is in this world? Why do I care? – Jennifer Salke
  • Love and know your pitch. Find a personal attachment to it and set the visual and world right away.
  • Pitch the show as if you’re describing your favorite show to a friend. – VJ Boyd
  • Be ready with an answer if they ask what else you’re working on. Have a few ideas in your pocket.
  • Go in with confidence. Pretend you already have the yes. Know your story throughout and have a clear vision for it.

WRITING GREAT BAD GUYS

  • When creating a strong villain, be thinking of what specifically does he or she want and why do they want it now.
  • Stress your bad guys out as much as your leads. Give them their own ticking clock.
  • Characters reveal themselves through the lies they tell and expose themselves through the things they keep secret.
  • Use your own fears as inspiration.
  • Villains should be delicious and fun to write. They are the heroes of their own stories.
  • Art should make you look at monsters and see the evil inside. – Tom Szentgyorgyi, Executive Producer, BATES MOTEL

GETTING NOTES

  • Be wary of any writer who accepts all the notes. – Mark Johnson
  • Be easy to work with during the notes process. Even a bad note can hit on an issue. Be ready to educate/inform others on the notes you didn’t take. – Christina Hodson
  • Bathe in the notes. Let them wash over you. Take them. Listen. Deal with most and pick your battles over the choices you made and why. – Amy Talkington
  • Look at notes as an opportunity to make your projects better. – Pamela Robin

WHAT DECISION MAKERS LOOK FOR WHEN HIRING WRITERS

  • A clear and interesting voice, hearing a particular kind of voice and way with language and understanding of characters, that stands out. – Michelle Ashford
  • A room filled with unique voices. People with facile brains who write well. – Stephen Falk, Creator/Executive Producer YOU’RE THE WORST
  • Complementary personalities and skills, making a good balance in the room. – Kent Alterman
  • Imagination and the ability to translate it. Sheer uncontained talent over process and discipline, that can be learned. – Mark Johnson

    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.