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IFH 584: Secrets to Creating Great Character Moments with Chris Riley

Chris Riley is a screenwriter whose first film, After The Truth, an award-winning courtroom thriller written with his wife and professional partner, Kathy, sparked international controversy in 1999 when it was released in Germany.

Other credits include 25 To Life, a dramatic thriller for Junction Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures; The Other White House, a political thriller for Sean Connery’s Fountainbridge Films and Intermedia; Aces, an action-adventure romance for Paramount Pictures; and a screen adaptation of the book Actual Innocence for Mandalay Television Pictures and the Fox television network. A veteran of the Warner Bros. script department, Riley is the author of The Hollywood Standard: The Complete and Authoritative Guide to Script Format and Style. He serves as professor of film at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego and previously taught in the MFA program in writing for screen and television at Pepperdine University.

He served as creative director at Yellow Line Studio where he executive produced the web series Bump+ and produced the feature Red Line. He is a founding partner of the online Story Masters Film Academy.

His new book is The Defining Moment How Writers and Actors Build Characters.

Aimed at both the head and the heart, The Defining Moment plumbs the depths of the most memorable characters ever to appear on the screen, the stage or the page. The book focuses on those moments so pivotal in a character’s formation that they create a distinct boundary of before and after, moments without which the character couldn’t exist and moments through which characters can transform before our eyes. Writers, actors and storytellers of all stripes will discover a powerful new key to unlock any character they seek to develop, write or portray. They may even unlock a deeper understanding of themselves.

Features:

  • The first in-depth study of the essential principles that will redefine the way storytellers understand their characters and themselves.
  • Essential insights into the forces that create character
  • Dozens of examples of character-defining moments from film, television, theater and literature
  • An exploration of pivotol moments: birth, death, discovery, decision-making, injury and healing
  • An examination of how writers and actors employ defining moments in their deepest and most unforgettable works
  • Insights into how directors, editors, cinematographers and composers dramatize key moments
  • Practical exercises for defining and redefining character
  • Tips for discovering the moments that matter most
  • Deeply personal stories from the authors’ lives to illustrate the variety of moments that define us.
  • For every storyteller, no matter their medium, The Defining Moment will redefine the way they understand their characters and themselves.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Chris Riley 0:00
Well, I think you do start with that kind of question. Like I know I have a character who's going to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Why?

Alex Ferrari 0:08
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome back to the show returning champion, Chris Riley. How're you doing, Chris?

Chris Riley 0:24
I'm doing well. It's good to see you again Alex.

Alex Ferrari 0:26
Good to see you. My friend. Last Last we spoke we talked about formatting and the Hollywood standard and how to format a script properly. And it was a very successful conversation and episode people really loved it. And when you wrote your new book, The defining moment how to write was it how writers and actors build character, I had to have you back on the show to talk about it. Because it's a really fascinating book on the process of character development.

Chris Riley 0:55
It's been a fun book to write. And it's, it's fun to talk about. Talking about script format is a little dry topic. But yeah, in this book, we get to sort of go straight for the heart,

Alex Ferrari 1:10
The more sexy parts of writing, it's like, that's the formatting not so sexy.

Chris Riley 1:14
Yeah, without, you know, it's necessary. But that's not what draws us to stories. It's the characters. And that's what this book is about.

Alex Ferrari 1:22
Absolutely. So let's get into it. How do you build deep characters in your pitch?

Chris Riley 1:28
Well, it's a, it's such an important part of the work we do. as storytellers, characters, are the most interesting thing. And it's, it makes sense characters represent people and people are the most interesting thing. So the challenge for a storyteller for a writer is the people and characters are complex, there's an infinite amount of stuff you could know about them. But what do we really need to know to go deep with characters and the idea of the book is that there are a small number of moments that define each one of us that define a character. And if we know what those moments are, that have been the moments that have most profoundly shaped a character, then we can get a deep understanding of them without knowing a million details about them.

Alex Ferrari 2:28
So you're, you're talking so so that so that the definition of a defining moment, or what is the defining moment,

Chris Riley 2:34
So a defining moment would be one of those moments that creates a before and after for us that, you know, we were one thing before that moment, where something else after it, so it can be a moment of birth or death, like literal or figurative, can be a moment? You know, we're talking to filmmakers here, the moment when the birth or the dream of making movies was born. And you're one way before that, and then after that, you're you're hustling, you're obsessed, and, and you but like nobody really could be said to understand you deeply. If they don't know what that moment was.

Alex Ferrari 3:18
So So Bruce, Wayne, was hunky dory until that night of the theater.

Chris Riley 3:24
Exactly. So that's a moment where something died, literally, his parents died. But something else was born in him what which was his drive, to stop crying to prevent other people from suffering, the way he suffered, it was also the birth of his lifelong emotional agony.

Alex Ferrari 3:48
I mean, he's got some issues. I mean, he's dressed up to the bat. So there's, there's other psychological things that he's going to have to deal with growing up. But but you know, I think the great defining moments in in Hollywood history are in films. A lot of it comes around death, the death of of a parent the death of Uncle Ben for Spider Man and Star Wars, the death of his his family, and forcing him to go with a with the Obi wan to, you know, train and so on. That seems to be the big catalyst. Can you give me example of birth and how birth? I mean, obviously, when a child is born into your life, life changes. That's in real life because I know I was one person before my kids were born. I'm definitely a person after the kids are born. A few more wrinkles and a few more gray hairs. But, but in movies, though, are there examples that you can kind of give for the audience as

Chris Riley 4:49
Well, so we can think about the events in Finding Nemo surrounding the birth of Nemo? There's deaths that precedes that Um, it's it's really a traumatic scene to open a children's movie with a barracuda shows up and eats mom and several 100 of the babies and just leaves dad Marlon, and one little egg Nemo. And so Nemo is birth represents the opportunity for life to go on for Marlin to build a family. But he also carries with him the damage of his losses. And so often, you know, birth and death are linked deaths, clears the decks for something new to come. The death of Bruce Wayne's parents leads to the birth of Batman key as you can understand, Bruce Wayne, if you don't know that moment of death that has defined him,

Alex Ferrari 6:02
Yeah, because if you look at you know, I use Spider Man as example. I mean, he was so brilliant at what Stan Lee wrote in that first step. And that first issue was, what would you do if you had superpowers as a kid? The first thing you're going to do is not fight crime. First thing you're going to do is like show off, and how can I get rich? How can I get chicks? How can like that's a teenage boy's mind is exactly what he did. And he went to go fight and he won. But when he was so self involved, he let that that burglar or that robber run by him, and then later that guy kills servitor. Spoiler alert, everybody kills Uncle Ben, which then sets him on his paths. So that was so brilliantly done, because you needed that catalysts are else who knows where spider man would have gone without the death of Uncle Ben, he might have gone into debauchery, and gone down a dark path, where he could have very easily turned into a villain. If he wouldn't have if he would have just kept going down the self indulgent ego state stick way of going about things. So Uncle Ben's death was absolutely necessary for his character development.

Chris Riley 7:11
Yeah, it was absolutely defining. And really, we've got two defining moments there. In that story, we've got the death of Uncle Ben, which sets Spider Man's course. But before that, we have the moment when Spider Man is born in response to the bite of the spider. So we have to understand both of those moments, if we're going to have an understanding of what's up with Peter Parker.

Alex Ferrari 7:37
And why and why does he do what he does and how he does it, and so on. Yeah, it's fat. And what I always find fascinating about story it is it's such a complete analogy for our own journeys. The Hero's Journey is our journey, we everything that characters go through in movies, and books, and novels and comic books. I mean, you know, to a certain extent, we go through in our own lives, we all have birth moments, we all have death moments, we all have defining moments of what makes us who we are. I was so funny when I wrote my first book shooting for the mob, which is about me almost making a $20 million dollar movie for the mafia. I said, we could talk about that later. I said it when I announced it on the show, I go, if you guys want to know what my origin story is, this is why I do what I do. And if it wasn't through that horrific experience that I went through, and all of the shrapnel that I've picked up since being in the film industry, that's what prepared me to do a show like this, to speak the way I speak about the business because I'm speaking from a place of being in the trenches, and going through it and and also having an urge to help others not have to go through those things. So if I said it out loud, this is my origin story, if you want to know where the grizzled voice comes from, this is it.

Chris Riley 9:03
Yeah, and it's, you know, it's so fascinating when we learn those things about one another or even about ourselves. And so I think it's fair to say that your closest friends, the people who understand you most deeply know that story about you. And if they don't know that story, they're more of an acquaintance. And to the extent that we can excavate our own defining moments, and face up to them, sometimes they're painful moments that we don't want to look at. We we understand and know ourselves more deeply. And we can then draw on those things. When we shape and develop character. So whether we're actors, directors, writers, we are then drawing on the real stuff of life rather then being derivative of something that we saw someone else do.

Alex Ferrari 10:04
I mean, those moments in our lives when we are tested, you know, like, the metal gets stronger. The more that you beat down on it, the more it's heated, the more it's beaten, the more it's it gets stronger and stronger. So those defining moments in our lives really do shape who we are. And if you could take those, those experiences in your own life and add them into your story. That's when you have really deep characters really deep story. That's not like you said, derivative. I always and I've said this 1000 times in the show, and please forgive me audience but Shawshank Redemption, again, it's one of those movies that has no reason to be as good as it is on paper. Not anything, particularly, you know, mind blowing, horrible name, one of the worst titles of a movie, ever. And yet, when you watch it, it touches you in a way, and it touches everybody no matter. I saw it when I was a knucklehead in my early 20s. And my knucklehead friends even felt something, you know, and I was like, if it can connect to that kind of mentality, what did Darabont do in the script that made those characters so, so vibrant, to the point that they connect with us on such a almost spiritual level, honestly. And if we want to look at Andy the frame, I mean, his defining moments, the finding of his wife, his wife is cheating on him to find the moment number one, to being charged with a crime he didn't commit, I pretty much said those are two big defining moments. But there are some defining moments within the story that he decides I'm going to fight back. And I'm going to, and then also the the moment that he finds out spoiler alert, that the rock is weak. Those are those defining moments in that movie,

Chris Riley 12:03
I think they are, you know, some of them have to do with plot finding out that you can you can cut into the rock wall is the, you know, the opportunities are different after you know that. There's this, you know, beautiful, defining moment when he makes his escape. And it is, it is a we can think about all the ways his life is different before and after. He's a prisoner. He is without hope. We actually believe that he may have taken his own life.

Alex Ferrari 12:45
Oh, that's a beautiful

Chris Riley 12:48
Yeah. And so he has at a moment of death. But he goes through this. We can all different kinds of transformative imagery. He passes through a birth canal. Oh, yeah. Into life. He has a baptism. It's a baptism in the sewage,

Alex Ferrari 13:07
Of life the sewage of life.

Chris Riley 13:10
And then he comes out, he comes out clean, he says, that is a that is a life transformed when we see him. Next on the beach in Mexico. He's a new he's a new man.

Alex Ferrari 13:24
Yeah. And so it's red. And so it's red.

Chris Riley 13:28
Yeah, red is also transformed. And red is also at that place where he could tip into death for a while. And and so he, and he has wrestled with this idea of hope and the danger, how dangerous is hope. And he's a guy who rejects hope and the before version of himself. But when he decides that he is going to go and get that message that's buried in the wall, he is choosing hope he's choosing life, that is a defining moment of healing. Now, I think the reason that it reaches us knuckleheads is because it's credible, I think it's drawn from life. And that's the great thing if if I can identify not only moments where I got broken, or where I got damaged, but moments where I actually grew and experienced some restoration or healing, then I can draw on that and create incredible moments for my characters that the audience will recognize and say, oh, yeah, me too. That is how life is.

Alex Ferrari 14:51
Yeah, I've said that as well that I feel that that story specifically is an analogy for life in many ways that we many times feel like Things are thrown up, like we're accused of things we didn't do, which could be or things happen to us. And we're punished and it's not our fault. And how he's able to transcend that almost again, it almost be I love the spiritual imagery that you use is like going through the birth canal, being baptized, you know, being coming up free. There's such there's so much subtext in those that imagery, and and that story that connects with arguably, almost anybody watches it, because I mean, it's not considered one of the, you know, ranked according to IMDb, even sometimes higher than the Godfather, you know, so it's really interesting, I always love using that as an as a movie to look at. Because on paper, it makes no sense that it's just like, it's a very basic, it's not a horror, like, okay, guy, you know, he, he's accused of something he didn't commit those through jail, escapes. Life is good. It's not, I mean, complex on paper and the pitch.

Chris Riley 16:05
The plot is not what's great about it, is the characters with the character transformation. So we both reveal character, but we also then transform character and defining moments are the basis of who we are when the story begins. But they are also the way then that we are transformed. So there, they both form the character, but also transform the character and storytelling concerns itself with both of those processes.

Alex Ferrari 16:38
So when you're writing a character, how do you discover what their defining moment is? So like, when when Bob Kane or I forgot, they just discovered someone else who wrote Batman? You know, writes Batman, like, what's the thing like I got, I want to dress this guy up isn't bad. But what does it cause this guy? What is what has to happen to this guy to dress up isn't bad, and fight cry? So like, how do you discover that moment for your characters?

Chris Riley 17:06
Well, I think you do start with that kind of question. Like, I know, I have a character who's going to dress up like a bat and fight crime. Why? Why? So that's both a a dream or a drive a goal. But it's also there's, there's damage. And so what sort of moment what sort of experience gives rise to that? The way that you find the answer, I think, is not by resorting to reading other people's comic books or watching movies. Because then your work is just derivative, I think you look to your own life experience. Why do I do what I do? Why do I go to the crazy lengths I go to achieve my goals? And why am I so messed up? And how did how does that happen? And out of that, you end up with something that is real? And that is relatable? Because, like, don't we all swim through a river of sewage hoping to come out clean? On the other end? Aren't we all? Yeah, as you say, we're suffering with shame, much of which somebody else dumped on us? And yet, how do you get clean? And so we can look to if, if we will do the hard work, first of looking at our own moments that have defined us and then pausing when we have this great idea of a man who dresses as a bad what a great vigilante, and we can just rush headlong, without pausing and asking ourselves the question you asked, why, how did he get to be this guy? And if we do that, and we think, yeah, there's probably a handful of moments that have defined him. And we look for those until we recognize a moment that rings the rings true to us. And then you grab on to that.

Alex Ferrari 19:17
It's fascinating. I'm gonna I want to bring two characters to the very famous characters into the conversation, Indiana Jones, and James Bond. Now, James Bond had multiple movies, without really is knowing anything about him. Indiana Jones had two movies, before we really truly knew why he does what he does. And which was going to bring me to my next question, can a character have a defining moment outside of the current story that happens before the story? And I think the answer is I'm going to answer my same question, I think is yes, if we use those two examples, because if you look at Indiana Jones The third part, we discover his relationship with his father And that that one moment when he was a kid, where he did the cross and all of that stuff with a guy in the, in the quasi Indiana Jones that he met when he was a kid launched him on his path. And then with James Bond, it was Casino Royale. And those are two probably, I argue, because it was probably the best Bond movie because there's so much character in it. And it's not just, I'm cool. I have a gun. I sleep with a lot of women, which is basically what James Bond was for decades. And then Indiana Jones you have that loving back and forth between him and Sean Connery is probably one of the most beloved of the Indiana Jones series. Do you agree with what I'm saying?

Chris Riley 20:37
I do. And I think that when you you know, when you find out the defining moments for your characters, you don't do it in a in a sort of a cynical Oh, that'll be a good scene and that I can put that you know, great ending back to, but you're seeking to understand the character, you don't know how you're going to play those moments, or if you're going to play those moments. In the book, I talk about my experience on the set of the movie Twister. And that movie was rushed into production before the script was finished. Helen Hunt plays this obsessive storm Hunter who's trying to place scientific instruments inside a killer tornado, which is a dangerous, obsessive thing to do. And there's a scene from her childhood in the movie where you come to understand why she does that. Well, that scene had not been written when I was on location with them. And they had decided we'll write that later, because we're not going to shoot it until later. So you can imagine, Helen Hunt the actor, running around chasing tornadoes, putting herself at risk. And you could imagine that it would actually help her performance,

Alex Ferrari 22:05
She might have done it in her own head that she created that.

Chris Riley 22:08
She's a yeah, she's an Oscar winning great performer. So she probably created that for herself. But wouldn't it be better? If she knew that, wouldn't it potentially shape her performance? If she knew that moment, even though it might never appear on screen, and for for writers and directors as well as actors? I think that knowing those moments that have shaped your characters, whether or not they appear on screen, helps you know what they'll do, what they'll say, and why they will say and do it. Many of those moments do end up coming into the story one way or another. But I would say maybe half of the moments that I developed for my characters. Really, I'm the only one who will ever know them. But I can write that character so much better. And I have more compassion for that character. So I'm not writing even my antagonist, I'm not writing with contempt for them. I'm writing with a sense of empathy for them, because I know what they've been through.

Alex Ferrari 23:22
Well, and that's the thing about writing good villains, and is that a good villain is not a villain in their own store. Nobody is the villain in their own story. We're all the heroes in our story. Even if you're doing gnarly stuff in the world and bad stuff in the world, you are that you're the villain. So I always find it. When you have the villain that is twisting their mustache at the railroad tracks. That's not very interesting. But you got someone like Thanos, who truly is actually trying to help the universe, but he's going about it the wrong way. Snapping half of it in existence is probably not the smartest way of going about it. But he actually has good intentions, if you will. The Joker, his I mean, the movie Joker, my God, you go into such deep understanding of the torture of that soul and you get it. You just you actually identify Joker as the hero of that movie. Which is is the antihero, Wolverine and other anti hero, Deadpool The Punisher, these kinds of superhero characters. But the greatest villains are always the ones that have the most traumatic or damaging backstories that you feel for them. You feel for Darth Vader, you don't feel for him in Star Wars, then you hope when you first see him, you start to feel a little bit more an empire and then you truly feel in return to the Jedi. And then when you go back to the prequels which we generally don't like to talk about. But but there are some moments in those films that you go, Oh, okay, I get why he is the way he is. So those are listening, please, when you're writing villains write something they have to have. They want it, they have to have a good reason for doing what they're doing.

Chris Riley 25:18
They really believe in the justice of their cause, even though it may be twisted, completely evil and destructive in its outflow. Michael Corleone is another great example of someone who does horrible things, destroys his family in the name of saving it. And yet, because that storytelling so brilliantly brings us along his journey, including in that moment in the middle of the first Godfather film where he picks up a gun, and guns down, the two men responsible for his father's shooting. That is the moment that that makes Michael, the godfather. And without that moment, you don't understand it with that moment. You go with him on that journey, even though you're kind of, you know, you're watching through your fingers, and you're recoiling at what he's doing. And with K, at the end of that first Godfather film, you recognize, Oh, Michael is now a monster. But like, I'm fascinated, and I get it. And it's because I was privy to the moments that shaped and transformed him.

Alex Ferrari 26:37
I mean, well, Tony Soprano, I mean, look at Tony Soprano. And there's a scene in, I think, episode five or six, that HBO had a major problem with it was a moment, it was a defining moment in his character, where I think there was a rat, or something along those lines, and he found the rat, and literally killed him on screen choked him to death. On screen, vividly, the camera was in, no one had ever done that before. I'm on a television show. Like, it was so brutal. And that's the defining moment for that character in the series, because it's also a defining moment for the audience. Because you gotta go, am I gonna follow this gut? Like, am I gonna keep watching this, this, this monster, you know, because he's not a good guy, and the whole shows about him and his family, what he goes through. So I feel that there was that that was such a wonderful moment that David Chase brought in, and he fought for it big time. That because the HBO says, like, you're gonna lose the audience. And he's like, No, we're not, he knew more about the character in the audience than, than anybody else did. Even the audience didn't even know what they wanted until they saw it,

Chris Riley 27:51
You know, exploring interesting characters who are like us in some way, revealing their secrets. I mean, that's such a draw to us, as an audience. I, I really think that, you know, one of our, one of our giant drives as people is to, to know to connect. And that's really hard in real life. People don't share their secrets with us. You know, you're at Starbucks. And you got so, you know, what was your most wounding moment that defines

Alex Ferrari 28:26
Those conversations all the time, Chris, I don't

Chris Riley 28:29
Tend to edge away from you. Right, but great storytelling, great movies, great television, allows us to know some characters better than we know, our closest friends. And I really do think we're hungry for that.

Alex Ferrari 28:45
And I think that's, I think that connection is your right, we all want connection, you know, we're all striving to connect with other human beings, and in a deep, meaningful way. And when there's lack of that, in our lives, we connect with the characters in movies. I know I did when I was growing up. You know, when you don't have friends, you can still pop in a VCR tape. That's how old I am. And and watch Indiana Jones or watch a movie and go on an adventure and connect with those characters. I mean, look at the Brockie I mean, I mean, Jesus, you you know, a movie like that, that still holds up from that there's very few movies from the 70s that can be watched today. And it still has the same impact that it did back then. Rocky is that that story? I mean, if you want to talk about defining moments in his in his story, I mean, the moment Apollo Creed shows up and says, Hey, do you want a shot? Pretty, pretty big, defining moment.

Chris Riley 29:45
Absolutely. He was he was a failed boxer sleepwalking through life, and someone opens a door of opportunity for him and he would He would talk about his life, if you, you know, interviewed him later on, he would say, well, before Apollo came along, this is me after, this is me. And that, for me is the great telltale sign of any defining moment that it creates this boundary of before and after. So, you know, your family would talk about, oh, that was before the house burned down. That's that was after the house burned down before the diagnosis after the diagnosis, before we met, after we met, not, it's not all sad. Some of them some of the stuff is good, you know, before therapy after therapy. And it is in discovering those things that we we recognize the person and we also recognize ourselves and and realize, Oh, I'm not the only one, I'm not alone. And that is, that's the great relief that comes from connecting with characters is just discovering. Like, oh, other people are, are struggling, like me, and then when Rocky Balboa is able to find meaning and triumph in life. Maybe I can do maybe I can't tell exactly

Alex Ferrari 31:31
What I mean. Isn't that interesting, though, that story is something that is so integral to us as a species. We're the only ones on the planet who tell stories. Truly tell stories. I'm going to show what some of the Apes do, but I don't think they'll you know, they're not they're not telling Batman stories. But we tell stories, it's not only that, we tell stories, it's that we need story in our life, we need that expression of this journey to help us understand what the hell this whole life thing is, it's a way for us to grasp on to something because we show up. And it's a this is a mess. And most of us walk through life as this is a mess. All this stuff is happening to me. I'm going through tragedy and going through highs and lows. What does this all mean? You're trying to find meaning in what you're doing. And story provides that, and it doesn't have to be a complex novel or movie or comic book. It could be like, Did you hear what happened to Bob down the street? That little little gossip of what might have happened? A tiger ate them around the corner? Well, there's a value to that concept, like don't go down the corner, because they're Tigers down there, and that can eat you. So there's that that function of it. But I think that I mean, without story, I don't even know how we function as as as a human being. Yeah,

Chris Riley 32:51
I don't I don't think we can. And I think that one of the insights of neurology is that when we lose track of our own stories of ourselves, and we can't remember, if we've got say Alzheimer's disease, we can't remember our stories. We're not just losing contact with our history, we're actually losing contact with our identity. Because our our identity is built out of our stories, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And as you say, we're also looking at the cause and effect of like, why did that happen? And what does it all mean? So a story that could look like a very lightweight comic book story may really be like, philosophically, undergirding our whole sense of the meaning of life. That's, that's what it's getting at is, what does it add up to? And the most satisfying stories help us understand what the events of the story add up to?

Alex Ferrari 34:02
And also, when you are able to go on a ride with a character and live vicariously through the character, it's a way for you to kind of almost disconnect as well, obviously, from your day to day stuff. But there's some times there's some times when especially when you're younger, you watch a movie and it just hits you in a way that you can't let go. I mean, Shawshank was not for me, believe it or not, I mean, I know it's it's just one of those movies that doesn't let go of me. The Matrix was one of those films, doesn't it doesn't a Fight Club was one of those from they don't let go of you. There's concepts in it that connect with you in a weird way you, you know, I don't connect with Tyler Durden. You know, but a lot of the concepts and ideas that Fincher and Jim rules and the writer Chuck was trying to portray in that story, connected with me personally. And in The Godfather and those kinds of things. There's just those things, but at the end of the day, it always comes back down again. Correct, because how many people say how many people can truly remember? plots from James Bond?

Chris Riley 35:07
Yeah, I mean, interesting.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
How many plots do we really remember from James Bond other than maybe something you just saw? You don't really remember plots? I vaguely kind of remember the plot of Temple of Doom, vaguely. But I remember key moments that have to do with character.

Chris Riley 35:26
Yeah. Yeah. Kathy, my wife and co author of the defining moment, and I draw heavily on Band of Brothers. Yeah, World War two series. There's so many life lessons from those characters. We think about there's a battle scene with a terrible leader, who, who sort of bogged down in the middle of battle. And winters, our main character, just keep shouting at him keep moving forward, you have to keep moving forward. And that refrain of keep moving forward in the face of Battle of danger of resistance. That's, that's something that we we draw on. And then there's, during the Battle of the bolts, there's the troops that just been there being shelled, for days, and days and days. And there's just a little line in narration that says, If a man could just get off the frontlines, even for an hour, it made such a difference. And, and we will, sometimes when we're engaged, and it feels like we're on the frontlines of the Battle of life, we'll look at each other. And so I think we need to get, you know, 45 minutes away from the front lines just to catch our breath and decompress. Yeah, and so those, those lessons of life, don't stay on the screen, we incorporate them into our actual lives.

Alex Ferrari 37:14
I mean, I mean, George Lucas said it very, very distinctly when he wrote Star Wars, and he used the hero's journey that Joseph Campbell laid out, he did it so perfectly, according to Joseph Campbell's work. He's like, stories are the meat and potatoes of society. And, you know, that's what keeps these big lessons, these big ideas moving forward. You know, there'll be generations who will watch that movie or read that that story about Star Wars, and there's obscene amounts of life lessons, that maybe you and I will look at and go, Oh, that's we completely understand that we know that we've been through, it's not that big of a deal. But imagine you're 15 Watching that for the first time. And you really haven't had those kinds of lessons before about life. That's pretty profound. It really is.

Chris Riley 38:02
Yeah, for me, when I was in that age range movies are some of my defining moments, because they taught me things about life that I didn't know. They were the first really well made. movies that I had ever seen. And the impact on me was, was life changing. I can say, you know, there's, there's me before, I saw ordinary people in the deer hunter, and there's me after, yeah. Wow. And the me, the me after, wants to make movies. And to do that, the me after also understands that I'm not the only one who struggles because those movies taught me that. And the me after also understands that because other people struggle, even though they don't look like it, they look like they have it all together. I gotta treat people with more compassion. And so I'm a different person in those three important ways after watching those two films, but I mean, these are defining moments,

Alex Ferrari 39:11
But according to Instagram, everyone's having a fantastic time. It's just me that's having horrible life. I'm just saying.

Chris Riley 39:19
Right, right. And so Instagram will not tell you the truth. That's either a news flash or a spoiler alert. But yeah, but stories can I mean, I think stories can also lie to us and send us chasing after mirages. But good storytelling can tell us the truth about us about life.

Alex Ferrari 39:46
Now, you speak about in the book, the awakening of longing in a character How do you awaken longing in a character? Because I know so many of us just as human beings walking the earth in so many ways where we're lost looking for that meaning in life looking for that thing that we're here to do. And it's so painful, become bitter and angry because you're not getting what you want. But when you happen to fall into the thing, that the door is open, that you happy, you wake up in the morning, and you're happy to go do it. That's what we're all searching for. We're also searching to be happy with our day to day business. Truly, I mean, in every way possible in our relationships with our family, you know, career based, we're looking for happiness. And but to find that meaning, and to also awaken the longing to find that meaning is not very easy. Took me a minute to figure out some get it when they're born, they get there, they know at four years old, I'm gonna sing and they become Mariah Carey, or they're 65 and start KFC. Like the Colonel Sanders did you know he started at 65? He's like, I'm thinking I'm gonna start a new company. And he was 65 when he started it. So obviously, it took him a minute to figure out what his purpose and purpose was to make chicken.

Chris Riley 41:10
Yeah. delicious chicken.

Alex Ferrari 41:13
Yes, very healthy, very healthy.

Chris Riley 41:14
I think that was one of the characteristics of defining moments is that we don't make them happen. They sort of happened to us. Bruce Wayne's, the death of his parents happened to him. But, and so the like a moment that awakens, deep longing in us, is not something that we can order up. But I, as an example of a moment where a longing was awakened, I think of my wife, Kathy's story of as a child. She had a dad who was not warm, who she cannot recall him ever saying the words, I'd love you. And I don't know that she knew what she was missing. Because, you know, life is normal to you as a kid, whatever it is. And then she was at a wedding sitting between her uncle and her aunt. And her uncle was the handsome uncle, the cool uncle. And he looked at that Kathy, he looked at his own wife. And he said, I'm sitting between the two most beautiful women in the world. Kathy had never been spoken to that way. And as soon as she heard those words, something woke up in her that said, Oh, that's the kind of man I want to spend my life with. Now, this is a little bit of a self serving story. Since I'm the husband,

Alex Ferrari 42:55
I was about to say, How did you how did you how did you end up in this story, Chris?

Chris Riley 42:58
So we'll leave it to her to say whether that longing was satisfied. But that was something that stayed with her. Forever. Sure, it wasn't there, the moment before. And then it was there the moment after, not because she chose for it to be because that experience, awakened that longing at her now she can write characters who have a moment like that drawing on her own experience. And it will be credible, because it draws on that authentic emotional experience of her life.

Alex Ferrari 43:40
It's so funny, because I look back when I was 18. And I was like, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And one day, I literally sit that sat down in my bedroom. I looked around, I had 3000 VHS tapes that I had collected, I worked in a video store. So I collected about 3000 in my collection at the time, I looked around and I said, I like movies. I guess I'm going to be a director. And that was it. And that was the moment. And this was also in a time that it wasn't cool to be directors. There wasn't YouTube, there wasn't a lot of information about writing or direct. I don't think so. I think Syd field might have just come out. Like there wasn't a lot of information within

Chris Riley 44:17
The first one though. And it was it was tough to learn anything, right?

Alex Ferrari 44:20
There was just it was not so it wasn't like in the zeitgeist of like, filmmaking, that's a that's a career option. You know, my parents were like, what do you what? Like so, but that was the moment I never forgot that moment. I was like, I guess I'm gonna be a director. And that was, I was before that moment. And after that moment, and that was it.

Chris Riley 44:41
Right. And it's, and it's lasting. I mean, it's we're here we are sitting about

Alex Ferrari 44:45
For better or worse, better or worse, or for better or worse. It's because it has been and it's, you know, I've documented well, and I think every filmmaker and screenwriter goes through this. It's not an easy path. It is not an easy path to go down. How to be an artist in general, it's not an easy path. But that is speaking of defining moments. That was the moment that I decided. And then there was other defining moments that you decide, do I want to keep going or not? How do I keep going or not? And that's also very difficult to, to understand. And like, again, we'll go back to Shawshank How does and it uh, Frank keep going 20 years of, or 30 25 years, whatever it was, he was in there. Going through that day in and day out and read just that little, that little montage, so beautiful one red light. Some days were good. Some days were bad. You know, some days he fought off the sisters. And one, some days he fought off the sisters and lost. And he goes, I would have feared that he wouldn't have made it if things kept going that way. But one day this happened. And then this character gets introduced, and his whole life changes inside the prison because now now he can go off and he needs someone needs to cook the books. He's good at that his life change that from that moment on. But those are those things.

Chris Riley 46:08
Yeah, I'm life, I'm that quality of life, that there are these seismic moments of of shifting, right. And then there are long periods of silence. And that life consists of both things. The moment the volcano erupts, or the default ruptures, and we have an earthquake, those are the exciting moments. They're terrifying, dangerous, but exciting. It's much harder on film to render the long expanses of just keep at it, just keep scraping away with that rock hammer, dig in that tunnel. And yet life, you know, to be fair, consists of more of those moments. But those are not generally the ones we tell. I talked to students about that. So you can look at my CV or my list of credits. And it looks like I've had this, you know, great, exciting life. But I have to tell you, you know, look at the dates, there are gaps. Five years here. I talk about my Time Warner Brothers in the script department, and I was able to write the Hollywood standard based on all that I learned there. But there were long days of me, you know, just reading script after script. That's, that's finding finding typos or sitting alone in the middle of the night. We've got 300 copies of script revisions for the Dukes of Hazzard and someone has to paperclip them. And that doesn't end up in the credits list. But most of life is that in between stuff. And so yeah, I admire Shawshank Redemption, for finding a way to give a nod to that because that's where like most people listening to us right now are in those in between moments. If they're in the middle of a defining moment. They don't have time to talk listen to

Alex Ferrari 48:21
Maybe this podcast is a defining moment. For them.

Chris Riley 48:25
It can be I think it can be.

Alex Ferrari 48:27
It can be like wait a minute, I listen. I've listened to podcasts before and I'm like, I've never thought of story that way before. You know, I remember talking to John Truby. And I was like, oh my god, he just something clicked after I talked to him. I was like, I never thought of story that way the plot the way he he explained it. I was like, oh, and other people will read other books and other people will watch a movie and go, Oh, I get I get something now. So there are moments that could be this could be a defining moment. I'm not putting any pressure on this episode, Chris.

Chris Riley 48:55
But I think it can be and, and and if you know if today is one of those in between days, then we have to take that lesson from Band of Brothers and keep moving forward.

Alex Ferrari 49:10
Yeah, it's like Rocky Balboa says How Hard Can you get hit and keep moving forward? And that's what in many ways, what life is all about. It's about being able to take the hits, and keep moving forward. And it's such a great talk. He doesn't end the movie Rocky Balboa, he does this like three minute monologue. And it's all about life and how hard life hits you and it brings you to your knees. And what are you going to do? Are you going to get up and keep going? Are you just gonna lie there and in your, in your story, all that mundane work that you did in the story department sometimes sometimes I'm sure it was a lot of fun. But all those in between moments. That is what prepared you to write the Hollywood standard. Without that stuff. You couldn't have moved in the direction that you are right now.

Chris Riley 49:52
That's That's exactly right. And all of those scripts I read are what taught me how to You write scripts. So I couldn't have gotten to where I am now, without that, and you know, writing a book, there's a lot of sittin alone. I wonder what the next word is? And oh my gosh, there are a lot of words on the page of a book compared to a script page. That's mostly air.

Alex Ferrari 50:24
Yeah, I remember it's like, how many were 50,000 55,000 words? I gotta do. Okay. A lot of words. All right. But we're trying to do 500 to 1000 a day. Let's just start cranking it out and just start, keep going, keep moving, keep moving and keep moving and keep moving. Take a bite of the elephant a day.

Chris Riley 50:40
Yeah, exactly. There's, I don't know where this phrase came from. I heard it from my wife. And the phrase is embrace radical, incremental ism. You're just going to take one bite of the elephant a day, you can eat a whole elephant that way if you keep it up over time, so I've learned, even working a full time job at Warner Brothers. If I, if I wrote every day in whatever minutes, I could scrape together, I could write a movie every year. And over time, that added up to my career breakthrough. And the script that was the one that we sold first. But we were, you know, overnight successes after 14 years of taking a bite of the elephant. And that's, that's the difference between the people who get there. And the people who don't is the people who get there just kept going.

Alex Ferrari 51:43
Well, and I think you can attest to this, in this business. It's not the most talented that wins. It's the one who doesn't stop. Because there's a lot of people who are not as talented, who are working in the business right now making big movies, who aren't the best writers in the world. But they're the ones that just kept showing up. And they just kept pounding it and kept pounding, kept pounding, grinding it out, where someone who was very talented, just maybe didn't have it in them to keep going. It was too hard for them. But they were more technically more talented. And I've seen it, I've seen it.

Chris Riley 52:19
Yeah, no, I see that as well. Though, the one who quits cannot when they definitely take themselves out of the running is only the ones who keep going, who are in the place where they can develop their skills. So level, they need to be there, and they've done the work. And they you can't sell a script that you didn't finish. And and in almost any case that I'm aware of you can't sell a script, you didn't finish a bunch of drafts. And you know, if you're a director, it's so many things that you have to figure out and get to go right to to finish any film to finish a good film. Oh, my gosh, it is a miracle. And then that there are great films is that shouldn't be possible. And yet we know there are great films.

Alex Ferrari 53:18
Yeah. And I just want to put a myth to rest. The rocky story of the script being written in five days or something like that. You've heard that story, obviously, right?

Chris Riley 53:27
I've heard other stories along those lines, but usually involve like the back of a cocktail napkin,

Alex Ferrari 53:34
Where he wrote that he apparently wrote the script according to sly, he's like I wrote, I wrote rocking five days. That was draft one. But he did get the first draft out because it was so he just he just didn't stop. And it wasn't like three hours here, two hours there. He sat down for 12 or 15 hours a day and just beat it out. And then beat the hell out of the drafts again and again and again and again afterwards. So there is no, there's no genius. There's no one who just there's no Mozart's of screenwriting, there's a couple who feel like it like Tarantino and Sorkin and Kaufman. But all of them work at all of our people.

Chris Riley 54:17
People work really hard. And I I think any good movie or television episode consists of hundreds of really good ideas. And it takes time to have those good ideas to collect them to squeeze out all the hot air all the stuff that's not brilliant. And so you end up like reading a great script, seeing a great film and going oh my gosh, that person's a genius. No, they just work harder than you. And they just kept at it until they had enough good ideas to fill the thing up.

Alex Ferrari 54:52
Well, I mean, if you look at Tarantino who everyone's like, everyone tries to emulate his writing. No one can ever emulate his writing because he had what 20 years of reading, every novel watching every movie doing, the amount of work that he put in, to be able to have the the bass and the ability to retain all that information in his head and retrieve it at will, is a talent that doesn't exist. He's a he's an anomaly he is. He's a genius in that sense. But even that I know people who work with him, and he is fairly brilliant, but he does work. Like he doesn't just Inglorious Basterds wasn't written in one pass, like he could go back, you know, Eric Roth and write Forrest Gump and one pass, he goes back and beat it up again and beat it up again and beat it up again. But someone like Tarantino like that you all those years you're reading at Warner Brothers. It's him working at a video store him reading every novel. Without all that information. He can't she can't be who he is. You can't write Pulp Fiction.

Chris Riley 55:59
That's yeah, no, that's exactly right. I, I was at the Disney Concert Hall recently to hear Itzhak Perlman play his violin. And for him, it looks like it's effortless. And in that moment, I think it's sort of is effortless. But that's because it's built on decades of practice, work, mastery. And then yes, you get to go and you get to play. And you you're able to do it, but only because you've done all of that work, to reach mastery, where you can sort of dance on top of all of the skill and the discipline.

Alex Ferrari 56:48
I listen, I feel very comfortable having a podcast now after doing 700 plus 800 podcasts at this point in my career. And I can I have no no issue in first first year, a lot different conversation much more nervous much. But you start building skill sets on how to talk to people how to feel them out, all the all this stuff, just, it just comes in, but it's just grinding it out. It's just grinding it out to the point where now they're like, oh, I can jump on with it. I'm not intimidated by anybody. When I interviewed and trust me, I've interviewed a couple intimidating. But you feel very comfortable in the space, you're in like, no one's going to come to you. You're not going to feel uncomfortable about format. There's nothing really that can be thrown at you about format that's going to shake you generally speaking.

Chris Riley 57:38
Yeah, yeah, that's right. I'm very comfortable. I'd stand up in front of any audience and and feel formatting questions because I spent 14 years fielding formatting questions. And so I have learned how to answer those.

Alex Ferrari 57:54
Now, in the book, also you talk about Dr. Showers, eight character traits. Can you talk about those?

Chris Riley 58:01
Yeah. So Sidney showers is a Minnesota based pediatrician who came to LA to learn TV writing, and is really a very good writer. And she talked to me about these eight character traits that she just kind of collected this list, they come from different places. And some of them overlap. You know what other people talk about. But I think it's a really useful grid to use to think about a character just to get prompt yourself to have more good ideas. So she thinks about what is the character's drive. And that's not that's different from their goal. Their drive is just what keeps them going. Whether or not there's a story happening. So for Michael Corleone she thinks his drive is to please his father, whether or not anything else, whether or not his father is still alive, he's still driven to please his father. And then the characters goal character, you know, has to be going after something. She thinks about a character's genius, which is really interesting to think that every character is really strong in some area. So Forrest Gump genius, obviously is not high IQ. But he tells us what it is. He says, I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is. So Forrest Gump genius is love, the way he loves Jenny, his purity of heart. That's a great thing to think about. And then what is the character's most closely guarded or embarrassing secret? That assumes that we all have one and I'm going to think that's probably a safe bet. You know, what do we most not want people to know what question do I most hope you don't ask me. What What will reveal me as a fraud and So that sometimes will certainly motivate a villain to protect a secret might motivate a protagonist to protect a secret. And then there's what's the character's flaw? What is their weakness? So the flaw might have the more of a sort of a moral failing, there's selfish, they're arrogant, whatever their weakness is the Achilles heel. It's not a moral failure. But it's, you know, it's their kryptonite. What is that? What's their redeeming quality? Why do we forgive those other things the way we do our friends? Yeah, he's a bit of a jerk. But he was there for me when I was in the hospital. And so that redeeming trait is is also useful to know and I don't know if I've hit all eight of them, but it's just an example of a way that we can give ourselves prompts when we think about a character to give ourselves the opportunity to discover more.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:02
So Hannibal Lecter, what, there's something so beautiful about his character, because we'd like him, but he's a cannibal and a murderer. Some others that yeah, there's that. But yet, there's something redeeming about him. What is redeeming deeming about Hannibal Lecter? Why do we? Why do we cheer that he's going to eat somebody at the end of the movie? Yeah. It's insane. But you're sitting there going? Yes. That's

Chris Riley 1:01:36
He's charming.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:38
There's that's a superpower he does.

Chris Riley 1:01:42
He's really smart. Yeah. Right. So his genius is his genius that. And so we admire someone he's working his plan. You know, Clarice is using him. He's using her. And that's brilliant. And so we will be attracted to somebody who is very smart, and who has a plan. Now, you know, why do we want him to eat someone at the end, I think that has more to do with will root for someone if they're up against someone who's even worse. Even more horrible. And that's just sort of the the sense of justice. There is a little bit of justice. Yeah, I will root for any football team. That is, you know, going up against Tom Brady, because for me, Tom Brady is the ultimate supervillain. Sure.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:37
And the Yankees were that for the Yankees were that?

Chris Riley 1:02:40
Exactly. And you know, and I have to, I have to admire the guy. He is a great, great athlete. But, you know, for me hearing that he's coming back. It's like, well, of course, it's the zombie movie where he's just you can't kill the guy. And I said,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:56
Listen, as as a guy who's just a couple years older than him. I'm rooting for him. And I did not like the Patriots. I'm a dolphin fan. I'm a very depressed dolphin fan, for many, many years. And when he said when I heard he was coming back, I'm like, you know, what, just makes me feel good. That dude in this age is out there doing it at that level. And that's just my connection to that story.

Chris Riley 1:03:15
Well, and that's another huge key to understanding why we connect with characters we we relate to them, we identify with them. And now there's a bit of an underdog quality to he's he's fighting the clock, he's he's fighting age.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:32
He's, he's not, he's not Superman. He's an aged Superman, who is now fighting against youth against other other football players who are in better shape, I guess. But he's at such a level of mastery, that he can pull off what he's doing that nobody had ever pulled off and has ever pulled off in the history of the sport. So even though I wasn't a Tom Brady fan growing up, as he's now passed over that level, and you're right, he's now an underdog. I'm like, can he take a team back to the Super Bowl? At his age? Can he fight that 22 year old kid from Kansas City? Like, who's arguably one of the best quarterbacks playing in the game today? So it's, it's fascinating, but you're absolutely right, I think. And I guess the older guys are looking at it a very different perspective than the younger guys are. Because they don't understand what he's going through. They're like, ah, get him off the field. He's old. And we're like, Nah, man, look what he's doing. He's giving us all hope that they're still caught for the rest of us.

Chris Riley 1:04:36
Yeah. Right. And so because we identify with him, then we were able to project ourselves into him as a character. And yeah, and then we, for me, like, I know people are gonna hear me say this, and I am so I shudder to say it, but I think I might route for a little bit of, of Tom Brady's success too, for that reason, in a way I never would have in the past.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:00
And same and same here. I mean, he's caused me more heartache over the years with my dolphins. Anybody else as and you were speaking about, we are attracted to you genius. I mean, I think one of the reasons genius or superpowers of one's word, and it doesn't have to be fifth like real, real superpowers, like superhero superpowers like Superman and things like that. But someone like Maverick from Top Gun, who's the new Top Gun movies coming up? Who's I'm really interested to see what they do with that character. Because in the first Top Gun, his superpower is his abilities. But he's arrogant. And there's all these flaws and weaknesses that he has to deal with. He has a fight the defining moment of his father's history, that baggage of him carrying his body. But but we're, we're attracted to greatness. We're attracted to highly skilled characters. So Rain Man, you know, Dustin Hoffman, who is you know, artistic is artistic. Right? Yeah. It's artistic, artistic. We, and he has no other superpower, other than what he's able to do. He completely deficient in every other way, socially, that he can be. But yet we are attracted to him because of what he's able to do with his mind. That no, that seems on, it seems super power like, and we're so attracted to that. And it was just like that, that movie. If you people who are younger, have not seen rain, man, please go watch it. It's it's an It's a masterpiece.

Chris Riley 1:06:32
It's fantastic. And it's a script that we had in the the came through the script processing department of Warner Brothers as they were working draft after draft after draft to crack the ending. So that's an example of a movie that was written over a long period of time. And then paradoxically, why we're attracted to people's genius, we're also attracted to their vulnerability. And going back to Tom Brady, he's now vulnerable, he never was before. And now because of his age, he's vulnerable, and that for the first time, to me, it makes him seem approachable and relatable to me. And so then that, that sort of combination of his genius and his humanity is vulnerability makes him interesting. And maybe James Bond is another example, you read my read more interesting to me when he's vulnerable than when you know, bullets bounce off of him, then how can I worry about him? Or relating?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:40
Well, this is one of the reasons why it's so difficult to write for Superman and make a good Superman movie because he's a god, he's walking around as a god and, and that's issues with all the DC characters. They're all very godlike, you know, and where Marvel characters are much more, much more vulnerable. There's not really many Marvel characters who are Superman indestructible at all levels. They all have powers, but they all have weaknesses, you know, Peter Parker, super strong, but he can get shot. He and he also has acne. And he's a teenage boy dealing with teenage boys stuff.

Chris Riley 1:08:19
So make him relatable to teenage boys.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:22
Right. And that was the genius of Stan Lee that he was able to do with all of his the characters he created. He made it. Even Thor, who was a god are literally a god is very vulnerable, extremely vulnerable. And in a way that Superman has difficulty being. I think it was one I think one of the writers of Superman said, you know, we knew we had a problem when we had him blow out of star. Because at that point, you just like, it's not interesting seeing someone win all the time. You need to have some sort of adversity to make it interesting.

Chris Riley 1:08:59
Yeah, you want a fair fight you you don't want to know how it's going to turn out.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:04
Exactly, exactly. Now, Chris, where can people pick up your new book, The defining moment?

Chris Riley 1:09:10
Well, they can find it on Amazon, they can find it at the publishers website, mwp.com. Or they can go to thisdefiningmoment.com, which is the books website.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
Chris it's been a pleasure talking to always have a great time talking to you. This is more interesting than formatting. I'll give you that, as far as a conversation is concerned, but I appreciate you putting this book out and hopefully this episode will be the defining moment in some screenwriter filmmaker slots. So let's help him pray.

Chris Riley 1:09:41
I would really hope that that's true. Thanks for a great conversation Alex.

IFH 581: Screenwriting & Showrunning Friends and Grace & Frankie with Marta Kauffman

Marta Kauffman is an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning television writer, producer and showrunner behind the hit series Friends and Grace & Frankie. After graduating from Brandeis University, Kauffman got her big break alongside David Crane when their pilots Dream On (1990) and The Powers That Be (1992) were greenlit. The pair then launched Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions with Kevin Bright and became the trio that created the iconic sitcom Friends.

Marta’s expansive and successful career includes creator, director, EP and showrunner credits on a number of television series, films, digital series and projects. In 2015, Kauffman started her production company, Okay Goodnight, with industry veteran Robbie Tollin and Hannah KS Canter.

Their first series, Grace & Frankie, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston premiered on Netflix in 2015 and is Netflix’s longest-running original ever. The series has received multiple Emmy and SAG nominations and is premiering the final episodes of its seventh and last season later this year. In 2018, the company produced the documentary Seeing Allred, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available on Netflix.

Kauffman has received a number of honors and awards including the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for lifetime achievement in television writing from the Writers Guild of America, the 2016 Outstanding Television Writer award at the 23rd annual Austin Film Festival & Screenwriters Conference, The Kieser Award at the 44th Annual Humanitas Awards, and Variety’s TV Producers Impact Report for consecutive years in 2019 and 2020. Okay Goodnight and Kauffman currently have numerous projects in various stages of development at multiple networks.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show, Marta Kauffman. How you doin' Marta?

Marta Kauffman 0:14
I'm good. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:17
Oh, my God, thank you so much for coming on the show. You know, I'm slightly geeking out because obviously I am of the generation of when Friends came about. So I was in I was there, I think I was their age when Friends was. So I'm about I'm a little, like, only few years younger than the cast. So I was really feeling it. And I always wondered, how can someone afford that apartment in New York, but we could get to that later. But, um, and I wanted to kind of go down the road of how you started, how did you get started in the business?

Marta Kauffman 0:53
Um, honestly, I started as an actor, and discovered when when there was nothing in college for undergraduates to act in David Crane, and I said, Well, let's write something that that we can act in. And very quickly realized that the writing was a lot more fun than the academic. Yes. And we wrote a musical. The following year, we wrote another musical that ended up off Broadway. And when that show happened, our theater agent at the time brought a woman named Nancy Josephson who said, Why aren't you two doing television? And we went, Oh. And she is to this day, still my television agent.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
That's amazing. That's amazing. So you, so Was there something that started you on the path of trying to even be in this ridiculous business that we call show business? What was the thing that kind of lit your fire?

Marta Kauffman 1:58
You know, I've always loved telling stories. I didn't growing up know exactly what that meant. But and it wasn't until I started studying theatre and writing myself that I sort of said, I There are stories I want to tell, there are things I want to say and things I want to do. And you know, my mother was a dancer. My father could play any instrument you put in front of them. So I grew up in a very creative household. So it as much as they didn't want me to go into the business. She told people for a long time that I was going to grow up and teach mentally handicapped people, and we told them forever, until I finally had to move to LA and said, You know, I'm really doing this and she was furious. But once we while we were still living in New York, we were going back and forth between LA and New York, and I had a baby at that time. David Crane was like the other parent. We do one rule, I couldn't nurse during a pitch. That was a decent rule. And we were writing stuff and nothing was happening, and nothing was happening. And then we got a meeting about dream on interest. And, you know, they were looking for writers to do something with these millions of, you know, tapes that they had of old TV shows, and they were scraping the bottom of the barrel talking to to, you know, musical theater writers. But we were able to come up with something and get it made.

Alex Ferrari 3:50
Right. Like it, it seemed like from your from your proof from your, your filmography that, I mean, it seemed pretty quickly you got something, you know, you got a pilot produced, like, which was Dream on. And, you know, and it seemed very, it seemed quick, but I always wanted to know, like, how did you get Dream on? Like, how, because there's not a lot of time between when you first got your first writing gig to being a showrunner like you jumped pretty quickly. And that generally doesn't happen in the business.

Marta Kauffman 4:25
You know, again, I have to thank Nancy Josephson for this, um, when when dreamin right before Drumond happened. We met with the agents, and she was there and they said, What do you want to do? And we said, we want to write our own show. And they said, no, no, you can't do that. Was miss you. You've got to work on somebody else's show. And my feeling was, I had a baby. If I'm going to be spending time away from my baby, I'm going to have it be my thing. And then dream on happened. We wrote a pilot, we shot the pilot. And we were trusted to run the show. But I, it's a miracle. I don't know who convinced who,

Alex Ferrari 5:22
Like, how does that happen? Like in? I mean, I don't want this everyone listening, you have to understand that this is not the normal route of things. You don't know young writers are not given shows to run. And that was an HBO show at the time, right? I think it might have had a little something to do with. Yeah, might have had some to do with H because it was HBO and HBO was in the wild, wild west at that time period. Is that a fair statement?

Marta Kauffman 5:44
Yes, it really was. We were one of their first shows. And I think they were more willing to take big swings, then then other places might have been a network would never have let us do this.

Alex Ferrari 5:57
No way. That's what Yes, that makes that makes a lot more sense. Now, you

Marta Kauffman 6:02
Also simultaneously, we got a job. And this is what brought us out to LA what we've just here working for Norman Lear's company developing TV. So that was also happening at the same time. Um, it was we did a suspend and extend thing, which means we suspended the contract for a little while. So we could do dream on an extended at that length of time. And then we had to do both a show for them. While we were doing Dream on. And David, nice to say we used to pass the baton on the freeway as we pass each other going to the other room.

Alex Ferrari 6:44
That's amazing. Now, your first writing gig was everything's relative. And that was the first as your first official writing gig as a writer in a room

Marta Kauffman 6:53
As a TV writer. Yeah. Well, I would say my first writing gig was we wrote questions for a game show.

Alex Ferrari 7:00
Okay. That's amazing.

Marta Kauffman 7:04
But we'll put that to the side. Fair enough. Yes, that was the first that was the first TV experience we have. So then as what was terrible,

Alex Ferrari 7:15
Which okay, so I wanted to get into that, was there a major lesson you picked up from being on that show as a young writer that you brought into the rest of your career?

Marta Kauffman 7:26
Um, well, one of the things we learned was, we want to do our own show, right? We were not in the room for the rewrite. And the rewrite was massive. And, you know, we didn't have the experience to understand exactly how this works, and that they're going to take it and put it in their own vernacular, you know, the way that their characters speak, which, you know, we watched the TV show was barely on the air for a minute before we did this. And it was a, an experience where there was very little communication, very little inclusion. So yeah, that was our first experience. Thanks for bringing it up.

Alex Ferrari 8:14
Anytime I'm trying to bring up the worst and the best of your past. Learning, I'm trying to I'm trying to pick up some learning tips along the way, some lessons that we could give to everybody. Now, what is with you and you and David, what is your writing process? Like? How do you start? You know, a show idea or have any kind of storytelling? What how do you start like literally your process? Do you wake up in the morning, every day? Go to the to the desk at eight o'clock, I'm there. How's it work?

Marta Kauffman 8:42
So that's a very interesting question. And my process has changed. Since you could no no longer writing together, I had to learn a whole new process, I used to say that I wrote out loud, because David was always at the keyboard. Got it, he won't be at the keyboard. And I had to learn that I wasn't going to be able to speak things out loud. So I started acting in my head. And what I discovered about the way I write is that I write in waves. I'll sit down, study a scene, do my vomit draft is what I call the first draft. Do that scene. And then I have to walk away for a little bit until the next wave comes and I know what the next scene is about. And I sort of let the first scene settle. And then let the second scene start to bubble up. And as soon as things start to turn, in my head, I jump back in and ride the next wave. Now sometimes it's more than one scene. But generally it's it's it's about riding waves as opposed to I'm picking these hours and these hours and these I leave my day open.

Alex Ferrari 9:57
So it just anytime that during the day you're Just like okay, Muse, I am here. Yep. Anytime you want to show up, it could be at eight in the morning, eight at night midnight whenever.

Marta Kauffman 10:08
Well, it's a little more disciplined than that, in that I, if I know today is a writing day? Sure, I'll sit down. And the reason I call it the vomit draft is I know that to get started, I just have to get words on paper,

Alex Ferrari 10:21
Right!

Marta Kauffman 10:23
However terrible they are. The words have to go on the paper. And once that starts, once you get past the blank page, then the waves start to come start coming. And it's it's not really I mean, yes, I do like to call my museum, but it's not a matter of I'm in the shower, for idea happens. You know, and I jump out and go sit right.

Alex Ferrari 10:50
I gotcha. I gotcha. Well, I always love asking this question to creators, you know, even when I write, there's that moment that, you know,

Marta Kauffman 10:59
Excuse me one second, I realized I didn't really answer your question.

Alex Ferrari 11:02
Okay. So go ahead. Oh, yeah. to process the process.

Marta Kauffman 11:05
Yeah, there's a little more about the process in terms of creating a new show, okay. There are a couple things. Sometimes there's IP, a book, an article or something. And those can be incredibly inspiring. We have a couple projects based on books, and they're very exciting. And and I hate to say this, but part of why they're so exciting is you don't have to start from scratch. You have a basic idea of characters, and perhaps the shape of a story. And yes, it has to change. And it's I'm not saying it's easy. But it's a different process than when you're doing a show from scratch. And you know, here's the logline ID and then you have to discover who each one of these characters is. And you have to discover what the story is. And it is a painstaking process. It's a painstaking process. But it's one that I mean, generally. It's one that I don't write down immediately. Okay, I percolate on it for a while.

Alex Ferrari 12:32
You let it simmer? You let it Yeah, you let it kind of, you know, satay in your head, if you will?

Marta Kauffman 12:37
Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I find that sometimes that the walking away, is when my brain is most productive.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
Agreed, agreed, 100%, it's sometimes you just gotta go for a walk, go take a shower, go into Drive, whatever that thing is for you. I always found it. And this was a question I was gonna ask you, with, with creators, especially writers, I've always found the moment that you're able to tap into the flow, huge that the wave, which is the first time I've ever heard it referred to as a wave that you kind of ride a wave of inspiration, or that the thing is coming through you. I always found it that we're almost conduits from something else. I don't know where it comes from whatever you want to call it. But writers generally, and I think most writers I've spoken to have agreed with me on this is that there's that moment in time where you, you're just writing and then you stop and you read it. Like who wrote that? Right? Do you find Do you find that happening to you? Like you kind of like in that flow? It's not all the time. Sometimes it's much harder than that normally. But you get those moments.

Marta Kauffman 13:40
I'm the pilot of friends was one of those moments.

Alex Ferrari 13:43
I imagine it is. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 13:45
That I mean, and mainly because we always say it wrote itself. Right? We didn't do anything. We just put the words on the paper it just wrote itself.

Alex Ferrari 13:56
It's just something some from some other place it just kind of like you guys were chosen, like you two are going to do it and it just all of us. And I've heard that from from from creators who've created these amazing properties and television shows and movies that when it's when it's so well received around the world, it's generally like something that just kind of like, like Rocky and Stallone like when he wrote Rocky, he's like I wrote in three days. The rough, the first draft, right? It was just there. It just it was it's like who wrote that? And that's

Marta Kauffman 14:28
Like, it's a little bit like one of my favorite pieces of sculpture is I think it's called the slave. Okay. Um, and it's a big square piece of marble. And coming out of the marble is a figure. The bottom half of this figure is in that big block of marble Sure. It exists in there. You just have to click All right, rest of that sculpture is in there. So it you know, it sort of makes me wonder if what we're doing is knocking away removing all the stuff that gets in the way from the piece of work that you're trying to create.

Alex Ferrari 15:21
That's yeah, that's what it is. Is it? Is it the VINCI or Michelangelo? Who said that? I think one of the Michelangelo? Yeah. He said, That is like I just there was, I just took the David all the pieces that weren't the David. Which sounds so simple. It doesn't, yeah, just just write, it should be fine.

Marta Kauffman 15:41
No, and the other thing, I think that gets in the way for a lot of writers and we've spoken to writers about this, but I think many of us feel like fakes.

Alex Ferrari 15:54
Oh, imposter syndromes. Absolutely. Imposter syndrome. Oh, big time.

Marta Kauffman 15:58
It's a big thing. It's a big thing, which is what makes it so hard to face the blank page. So hard to look at your vomit draft. And I always said, I'm a Rewriter.

Alex Ferrari 16:15
But the match. But let me ask you a question to why. Why do you believe that is? Because you're absolutely right. By the way, me speaking to, I mean, Oscar winners and Emmy winners and everybody. They all you know, they all seem to have that even after they've won Oscars after they've won Emmys. They're super successful. And yet, every time they get onto the page, there's like, I feel like someone I've heard this, like, I feel someone's gonna come into the door and go, What are you doing security? Get him or her out of here? Like it's but it's a weird thing is that thing is just inherent in writers weren't artists in general, because it's not only writers directors feel the same way? Actors feel the same way. Why do you think that is?

Marta Kauffman 16:56
I think if you identify yourself as a writer, then your failures are more painful than you think like I failed as writer as opposed to well, I'm not really writer. So that's why that didn't work. Right? I think that's a little piece of it. Sure. I, another piece of it, is that, as artists, we strive for perfection, which we never achieve. We just want to make it better and better and better. And we, I think, come face to face with our limitations on every script. I mean, I watched friends, mainly, what I see are the things I wish we changed.

Alex Ferrari 17:49
But that's an artist. That's always the way it is.

Marta Kauffman 17:52
Right. Right. I think that's part of it. And I think, I mean, in my case, I actually had a teacher write on a paper, once that I was the least in my AP English. I was the least perceptive student she'd ever had. And like, never be a writer.

Alex Ferrari 18:10
Those are the best stories ever. I love those stories. But that but that that kind of fed the fire a bit I'm I'm imagining?

Marta Kauffman 18:17
Well, what I realized is, I can't write an essay. Right? I can't write an essay. I can write dialogue. But I cannot write it. I couldn't write a novel for I just couldn't do it. I write you know, dialogue. That's what I do. I act it out in my head. I play all the characters and, and I it's, you know, in shorter sentences, you know, I don't have to be descriptive. I have to be clever in how I do exposition, and stuff like that. So I think that's, that's certainly another piece of it for me. I haven't yet met a writer who doesn't feel the imposter syndrome.

Alex Ferrari 19:14
I really haven't either. Yeah, it's just it's not again, it's not just the writers I think directors to to. I mean, I mean, maybe James Cameron not but but even in the quiet moments of James's Mo, you know, I'm sure there was a moment of like, No, I don't think so. I think I think he's good. But most, but most mortals, most mortals do feel that especially as artists are concerned. Is there anything you wish you would have been? You wish someone would have told you at the beginning of your career? And like Man, why didn't someone tell me this?

Marta Kauffman 19:56
There are a few things I wish someone had told me I wish someone had told me that there was going to be misogyny that I could do very little about.

Alex Ferrari 20:10
I can imagine.

Marta Kauffman 20:12
I wish someone had told me that. And and I faced it a lot. I'll tell you one story, we writing a movie. And I had a had to have a minor, benign tumor removed from my breast. And it was happening on the day that we were supposed to meet with the producer for whom we were writing this movie. And David sat down with this producer. And he said, I love the script. I wish it had more TNA. They said, By the way, where's Marta, and David Flint, she's having her tea operated on.

Alex Ferrari 20:54
I can imagine in the, you know, the 90s 80s and 90s, that, you know, there was no me to movement, there was no awareness, there was no real way there was nowhere for, for females and people of color to, there was no, there was nothing, you just had to deal with it and move forward.

Marta Kauffman 21:12
Didn't really have role models. I mean, mine was Rosemarie from the Van Dyke Show.

Alex Ferrari 21:17
Minds was Robert Rodriguez from El Mariachi is the first time I ever saw a Latino filmmaker. I mean, they had been before but Robert was the first guy I saw was like, Oh, my God, I can I can be a filmmaker, I can go out and do what I want to do it with, you know, I'm sure Spike Lee was for other people and it of a certain generation, you know, Melvin van Peebles, and the list goes on and on. But you didn't see a lot. Now. It's, I mean, so much more, there's so much more to be done. But there's so much more representation out there. There's so many more different stories from different perspectives, which are so important.

Marta Kauffman 21:56
I think there's finally an awareness that we need to do that, that all people need to tell their stories. Right. Right. Exactly. And that there's an audience for that.

Alex Ferrari 22:07
Oh, yes. Exactly. It because at the end of the day, it generally always, you know, I, I had a, I had when I came up in a video store, you know, in the 80s. In the 90s, I worked in a video store. And there was one moment where I, there was a, I had some had a racist situation happened with a customer. And they called up my Oh, my boss, and he was like, I can't believe this Latino kids telling me I'm late charges or something like this. And I was first time I'd ever really been, you know, in front of fronted with that. And he said, I'm going to tell you one lesson, he was a Jewish man. And he said, the only color that people care about is green. If you can make the money, it all goes out the window and a lot of ways. And I found that that's generally the way it works. In Hollywood specifically. Do you agree with that? Like they just like if you're making a lot of money for the company, or for the movie or for things? doors, the doors, but just I don't know, it's I don't know. I would just love to hear your opinion on that.

Marta Kauffman 23:12
Yes or no? Yes. And no, I mean, after, during friends, you know, David, and I would go to a meeting and there were certain men who would not look at me, in the meeting, walk straight to David. And I'd be sitting right there talking. They'd look at me when I talk, but then they would talk to David. Um,

Alex Ferrari 23:39
And you had the biggest show, you had the biggest show on television.

Marta Kauffman 23:43
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's it. It's gotten better. I have seen a real change since I started in this business in the 80s. Short Course. It's, it's been massive. And I still think we have a very long way to go. But I feel like finally people are paying attention. And I won't get things like we were pitching a movie where there were two women at the center of the movie. And the executive said to us, if it isn't Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, you're not getting the movie made? Nobody wants to see a movie about two women unless it's those two.

Alex Ferrari 24:27
Even now, or

Marta Kauffman 24:28
This was maybe six or seven years ago?

Alex Ferrari 24:34
Still close enough. And that's, that's another thing I want people listening to understand. I mean, you've obviously had a lot of success in your career. It doesn't mean that you get to do whatever you want and that a lot of a lot of writers think that like oh, well you wrote friends and and Grace and Frankie you do what you basically all you do is make a phone call. You get something financed and you get something produced. I've talked to everybody I've talked to. I've talked to all these It's not the case, they all have to hustle, do it even even well into their 70s I've had people that like, yeah, I, I still lose jobs. I yeah, I still get rewritten.

Marta Kauffman 25:11
It's actually one of the pieces of advice I was going to say, young writers is you can never rest on your laurels ever, ever. Um, you know, because the next minute you're out there developing, and for whatever reason, just because you're an Oscar winner doesn't mean they're gonna buy the movie.

Alex Ferrari 25:32
Correct! Correct.

Marta Kauffman 25:34
I mean, we went through a year of Developer Summit this year, that was sheer hell, not the development part of it. But the part where, you know, the, just the pluses. Yes, that's what we want. And we write in the go, we don't want that anymore. The lion. We had quite a few of those kinds of experiences. We actually were writing something we pitched something about a pandemic. But it's not really about the pandemic. It's it. Anyway, it's based on a book. Sure. We pitched it right after the news from Wuhan came out. Oh, yeah, exactly. They bought it. We wrote it. And then we're like, yeah, yeah, we're not.

Alex Ferrari 26:27
There's nobody wants to watch a pandemic show. Nobody know.

Marta Kauffman 26:32
We're moving. That's another thing that happens is you get caught life life, the world where you have a great idea and you go pitch it and they go, Oh, we have an idea about brothers, even if they're completely different.

Alex Ferrari 26:45
Right! No, yeah, exactly. I'm assuming there were a lot of terrorist scripts were shelved after 911. Like,

Marta Kauffman 26:54
I That's true.

Alex Ferrari 26:55
I it's just it's, you know, it happens things happen in the world. And, and then also, sometimes the opposite happens. There's a script about something that all of a sudden you have Mandalorian. And like, Oh, we're looking for that. And it just happened to be the timing for it. So timing works.

Marta Kauffman 27:08
And there's also there's also a tendency to oh, that worked. Let's do more of that.

Alex Ferrari 27:18
Of course, that's Hollywood's bread and butter.

Marta Kauffman 27:22
Rather than let's find something new and fresh and exciting. Let's just do what's good. It's no, it's got to be Ted lasso.

Alex Ferrari 27:32
Oh, God. How many Ted lasses by the way, Ted last was absolutely phenomenal. I just finished binging it for the first time. Oh, it's wonderful. But now I'm sure how many Ted lasso rip offs are going to come up. I mean, I always I always go back to Pulp Fiction, how many Pulp Fiction rip offs were there, once Pulp Fiction came out, and there was like five or 10 movies that came out, they're all trying to be Pulp Fiction, because that's just the way Hollywood works. So I have to ask, so I have the question I've been wanting to ask you is how did you come up with friends? How did friends come to be? How did it get produced? How did someone say? Sure, six kids living in New York? I think you'll be okay. How, what's the story behind? I'm sure you've answered this question a couple times.

Marta Kauffman 28:15
Um, so basically, we had just finished doing Dream on, which was a show with a single lead, who had to be in every scene which was extremely difficult on him. Every scene he was in. So, David, and I said, the next thing we do is going to be an ensemble. Okay, we didn't want to do that. And we started developing some stuff. We did a couple of pilots that obviously didn't work out. And then we were doing this was our second year of development. And we started thinking about where we came from. We lived in New York, we were part of a group of six people who did everything together. In that case, four of them turned out to be gay, which was a shock honestly, at the time, who like really but we were extremely close. And then I was here in LA driving down the street and I saw a sign for insomnia cafe. And I thought, that's, that's where to go. You know, the place you go get coffee is the place to go talk and to be together and to you know, it just felt like besides the apartments, which you always see this is, this is the meeting place. This is the gathering place. We actually sold it to two places, ended up at NBC, obviously. And there was a period of time right after we did the pilot, where they said, you know, we're worried about doing a show about six young people, that's not going to get the audience except for young people. Can you bring in an older character? Maybe the guy who owns the coffee shop, the coffee house,

Alex Ferrari 30:35
Your Schneider?

Marta Kauffman 30:36
Yeah. We used to call him a cop. And we said, No, you don't need that. They are everything for each other. They are their community. They don't need to go to some old guy for advice, or women. They don't need to go to someone for advice, because they have each other. And they let us do it.

Alex Ferrari 31:09
In how so what point, you know, in the casting process that you go, Oh, we have something special here was it after the first pilot. I mean, that because that magic that that cast has, and I'm not I'm not saying anything revolutionary here. But the magic of the friends cast is so palpable, you could just say, you can sense it. When these six people got together, it just worked in a way that is unexplainable. Like you couldn't write your letter, write that as a story. It's, it's,

Marta Kauffman 31:41
You know, it was, it was not easy to cast with 140,000 people. I mean, it was it was not an issue. But at our first rehearsal, the first time all six of them are on stage together. I got to chill up my spine. And sort of when Holy shit,

Alex Ferrari 32:09
Really that early. You felt it

Marta Kauffman 32:11
It was the first time they were all on stage together.

Alex Ferrari 32:14
So you guys didn't do chemistry reads or anything like that. You just You just cast them individually, and then threw them together and what happened happened, essentially,

Marta Kauffman 32:24
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Alchemy happened. That's gold. Yeah, little gold. And this is one of those cases the stars were aligned. Things would have been different. The stars were aligned.

Alex Ferrari 32:38
Yeah. Wasn't there like wasn't is it Jennifer that was on another show? Or was on another show? Yeah. And she had to get she had to get out. And I think I think I think it was in the reunion. I just saw that. She said, Yeah, yeah, go to that show. He'll get canceled after a year. Something like,

Marta Kauffman 32:55
That shows not gonna make you a star.

Alex Ferrari 32:57
That's the quote. That's the quote. Yeah, that's the story. That's like gonna make your star.

Marta Kauffman 33:00
Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 33:02
And, and that was the thing too, with that show with the characters that were also beautifully balanced. You know, you had the flighty one, you add the you know, the series, you know, the not as bright one, the two bright, like, you balanced the characters, I mean, just a balance that you and David were able to put together of the characters just on a character development standpoint. How did you develop each of those characters? Or did this cast bring in some flavors that you later added and developed more with him? Or did were they pretty fleshed out originally on paper?

Marta Kauffman 33:36
The answer is a little bit of both. Look, a character you write is one thing in your head. And then when an actor breathes life into it, they bring something to it. And it elevates it, especially with this past, they elevated everything. One example is we didn't originally write Joey as stupid. But he played it so well. That it just became part of who he was. And that was not in our initial description of him.

Alex Ferrari 34:13
So he wasn't originally the dim one. Correct! Yeah, but he was the actor. He was an actor.

Marta Kauffman 34:19
He was an actor.

Alex Ferrari 34:20
So brilliant. Dr. Jake Romano. I mean, oh, God did all those lines. I mean, there's so many. I mean, the list of quotable lines from that show. Were any of them ad libbed? Or were they all broken in a room with with the writers do they you can remember like, Yo, how you doing and all these kind of things like that.

Marta Kauffman 34:44
Well, we may have written how you doing but but the way he did it, right is what made it incredibly special. How you doing as a line is like whatever.

Alex Ferrari 34:55
How many people have said I mean, we say that, uh, how you doing? Yeah, yeah, but it's performing made it

Marta Kauffman 35:01
His performance made it.

Alex Ferrari 35:02
Yeah. And anytime you refer to that you never hear someone guide that line how you doing as how you do it like everyone does. Everyone does that. Right? And, and to find six characters, six actors who melded so beautifully together and stayed best friends really to this day. such good friends is almost unheard of in a series environment for 10 years without somebody wanting to kill somebody look as look like his family, we all get families or families we all have, you know, fights and things like that. But generally speaking, they all stayed together for the entire show. Ah, it's remarkable it is it is I don't remember another series that had this kind of ensemble. And the other thing that I found so fascinating about the show, is there really wasn't a breakout star. And I don't mean that in a bad way, because they all were breakout stars. And that's unheard of, you know, it's your experience as well.

Marta Kauffman 36:03
Yeah, in my experience as well. And you know, it was also when we cast it, we didn't want to cast a star, right? We didn't want someone who was going to pull all the attention towards themselves. You know, by an audience, we wanted six people who worked as a unit, who made the characters come to life. And who could, you know, hopefully meld? And you just won't know, you don't know until you do it. But but you know, it worked out.

Alex Ferrari 36:41
Yeah. Wow. And Courtney was the only to my knowledge was the only kind of known person at that time, because she had been, she had been, you know, into movies, and obviously the perspex thing, music video, and she'd been around for a little bit at that point, but she wasn't a star per se. She was a known actress. Right? What is it? Like? Can you discuss the process of breaking an episode in the friends writers room? Like how do you do from season one to like season eight? Like, what are the main differences from breaking that first season, as opposed to breaking the eighth or ninth or 10th season?

Marta Kauffman 37:19
Well, the biggest difference is in the first season, you're making the arcs, you're creating the relationships between people. By the time you get to the eighth season a you really know who they are, and be there are things in the works. So what starts to happen is, the show begins to tell you what the stories are. Interesting, you know that the show tells you which direction to go in, for example, our idea with Monica and Chandler was they have a one night stand, and then it gets really, really awkward. But the audience reaction when we shot it was so huge had to go. Wait a minute. What are they telling us? Yeah, and we had just switched courses. But we had to, you know, you have to be incredibly flexible along the way. That's number one. In terms of breaking a story. You know, it's a bunch of funny people sitting in the room going, either. You know, what might be funny. And then it's spitballing and spitballing and spitballing. And sometimes it's I gotta tell you what happened last weekend.

Alex Ferrari 38:42
Right! And they bring

Marta Kauffman 38:45
As an example, the Taylor's story. Joey and the Taylor.

Alex Ferrari 38:53
Oh, god, that was amazing. I remember. Yeah.

Marta Kauffman 38:56
True story.

Alex Ferrari 38:57
That's a true story? He went he went a little too far. And he's like, up in the ball. And you guys will it has to be Joey has this up first.

Marta Kauffman 39:09
Ofcourse he does.

Alex Ferrari 39:12
Yeah, so Yeah, cuz I remember when, I mean, look, I've seen the show. I've probably watched it a ton of times over the years from the first viewing and when it hit Netflix, I want to hit HBO Max and I just, you know, watch it. Now my kids watched it. My kids are I think when they start watching it, they shouldn't be watching because it's inappropriate, because they were eight. But we'd fast forward they couldn't get a lot of the references. But they would now even to this day, they'll see Jennifer Aniston somewhere like oh, there's Rachel or there's Joey or there's Chandler and they that's that's how they refer to the actors because they just that's all they know. it's generational. Now. It's like one of those things that will be brought along to other to generate and that doesn't happen very often in television.

Marta Kauffman 39:56
You know, I have a My youngest daughter is two 23 now but when she was 16 and the show went to Netflix, a friend of hers said, Have you heard about that new show called friends? They thought it was a period piece.

Alex Ferrari 40:16
Yeah, they thought like this is a great new show. And remember when I hit Netflix the millennials were just like, this is fantastic this this period piece show. They're talking about CDs and stuff is amazing. The phones were this big and they used to go someplace and sit down. It's amazing. It's I heard about that couldn't stop laughing when I heard that. It's, it's remarkable. I have do you have a favorite episode? I know. That's hard to say without the hundreds of episodes. Is there something is there one that you just like, that's the one that really did it for me.

Marta Kauffman 40:50
No, it's a little bit like saying Do you have a favorite child? But yes, I do. The episode with the game and Oh, yes. embryos, the empty embryos. When the other part is Phoebe is getting her eggs fertilized Wright Brothers. Of course. That's the other piece of the story that's in there.

Alex Ferrari 41:25
But it was the game it was you mean the game when they lost the apartment? Why? Oh, it's it's that's an amazing episode one of many. But that

Marta Kauffman 41:33
I love that episode. So much. I love it so much.

Alex Ferrari 41:36
It's It's It's perfection. I want to ask you.

Marta Kauffman 41:40
I love to. Um, but but that to me is that's just my favorite.

Alex Ferrari 41:45
Now, is there something that you look for specifically in a potential writer for one of your rooms?

Marta Kauffman 41:51
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 41:53
What is it?

Marta Kauffman 41:56
That I can be in a room with that person for 12 hours a day. No matter how good the writing is, if the person is obnoxious or too shy, or too shy, it's true, are afraid to talk. I won't hire that person. Look, you read a script, you respond to it or you don't? Correct. Part of what happens is as you start to put together a writer's room, you go alright, this person is really strong on story. This person's really good at jokes. So the script I read of that person may have been hilariously funny with not a great story, but that's okay. In a writers room.

Alex Ferrari 42:47
Right! You're taking the best pieces, you're taking the best pieces,

Marta Kauffman 42:51
Right! You want to balance you want to balance but I also feel that when people stay with the show, they start to you know, gain depth as writers of course, you know, and and learn and learn to strengthen their weaknesses and show their strengths.

Alex Ferrari 43:11
I mean, the best advice I've ever gotten for being in this business is don't be a dick. Best advice I've ever gotten, and it's and people are like, Oh, you've got to be super talented like, that helps. Don't be a dick. I promise you. You could be the best writer you could be the second coming of William Goldman. And if you are an ass and you can't work with them at any in any any field in our business grip. Gaffer DP director, writer. If you're hard to work with, in maybe you get in, I've always seen this too. Maybe your talent gets you in and then you become the dick. The moment you stumble, the second you stumble, you're gone. And yeah,

Marta Kauffman 44:01
We we and I feel that you're right. It's about the whole business. I mean, as a showrunner, one of my priorities is a happy set. Absolutely. A safe and happy set. And anybody who can't participate in that can't stay on the show. There's nobody else there's no yelling, period. End of story. You don't yell. Right. You know, there's an end there are ways it's being show runners sometimes it's like being a camp counselor. I'm not always but sometimes that is what it feels like when you're sort of supportive, supporting uplifting cheering on your cast and crew. To make them feel good about coming to work every day.

Alex Ferrari 44:58
It's not easy. A lot of people think I mean, look at Hollywood and being in the in the show business and, and television. It's fun. Don't get me wrong. And I know you know that as well. It's fun. But it's hard work you work 1218 hour days sometimes. Yeah, everyone's well compensated at all, that's all great and dandy, but at a certain point, it doesn't matter how many, how many dollars come into your checking account, it's still 18 hours, and you're still busting your your butt and you and I can't even imagine the prep the financial pressure of being a producer, on a show like that, you know, and because at a certain point was one of the most expensive shows on NBC, his roster at a certain point, you know, that we're making a lot of money with it as well. But that pressure as long as well as trying to be creative, as well as trying to keep a happy set. People don't think about things like that. But it is an immense amount of pressure. I can't even understand this point.

Marta Kauffman 45:45
It's true. It's a lot of pressure. It's enormous stress. But and I would say this to a young writer. We work too hard not to find joy in what we do. Great as a writer, if whatever you're working on doesn't speak to you. It's not going to come out well, and you're not going to be happy doing it. Absolutely. It's got to be something that you feel in your soul in your gut that this is something I have to write.

Alex Ferrari 46:24
Well, I have to tell you, my new obsession is Grayson, Frankie, and I, my wife and I watching it and I saw the trailer for it when it came out originally. And I jumped on. I think I jumped on Season One. I was an early adopter. And I was just sitting there going, how in God's green earth that this get made? I can't I'm so happy it did. On paper. It doesn't play well. But you know, you mean like, you know what I'm saying? Like, you know, it's it's something that you never see you never see people of that age. On on a show. Obviously, you I think you had the same luck that you had with Dream on. HBO was the Wild Wild West, I think Netflix was very much the wild, wild west. To a certain extent. It's still it's the wild west over there. And you pitch them the show. I'm so happy that it exists in the world. And we're obsessed with it, by the way. So thank you for making it. How did you how did Grace and Frankie come to be? How did that idea come to be? Because some of the ideas in that show are just wonderful

Marta Kauffman 47:30
Umm, well, it was kind of a fluke how it started. I had lunch with a woman named Marcy Ross, who was head of the television department at Sky dance. We'd known each other previously. And she said the Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do TV. I thought she meant together. I called my agent and I said, Is it true? The Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin want to do a show together? She said, I don't know. I'll call you back. And 20 minutes later, she calls me back. And she says they do now.

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Because you were asking.

Marta Kauffman 48:19
Yeah. Well, and also because they hadn't thought about doing it together, you know, and it was like, their friends course, they were very excited about it. And then, you know, we knew certain things we knew we wanted it to be about what it is to be that age, sex and sexuality and friendship. And we have a few pads to it. And I was sitting in the car with my daughter who is now a VP of my company because she's so freaking good. And she's the one who said what if they are women who don't like each other? Their husbands work together in a law firm and the men fall in love and want to get married.

Alex Ferrari 49:08
She's the one that came up with that. What? Oh my god. What? That's amazing. And and the ketamine Martin and Sam it just

Marta Kauffman 49:21
And then it tell you Alex, there were days when you could do table reads. Look across the table, right. Am Waterston Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen, and I would go what is this real?

Alex Ferrari 49:46
It's remarkable and the topics Yeah, I mean, I've never seen a show like that because it's just something you never see characters of that age on on television as the main star, just just it doesn't happen. There's usually a side character But there's that then the topics they cover like you're talking sexuality, that's taboo. You don't talk about things like that. And then that they open up a vibrator company is just the most brilliant thing I've ever seen. And then the toilet thing and oh my god, it's just, every season keeps getting better.

Marta Kauffman 50:18
It was all for us about life starts at any age, right? Um, and also was a little bit about no one talks about Dr. vaginas but they're a real thing. Right about them and you know, on Netflix, you can talk about it.

Alex Ferrari 50:36
Right! This is not gonna happen on on on a network show. Guys, and fairly even not happened on any of the major networks. That's just not gonna happen. But, you know, by the way, did you I'm sure you've seen it at this point, the SNL wrap.

Marta Kauffman 50:52
Oh, my God. Oh my god. So it made us so happy. We watched it in the writers room, and we were just so happy.

Alex Ferrari 50:59
Oh, my God, Pete Davidson. It's just the it was the bet if anyone's not I'll put a link to it in the show notes. It is when I saw cuz I'm a fan of Saturday Night Live. So I was watching it. I'm like, are they? Are they doing a rap about Grayson, Frankie? This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. And that Jane and Lily showed up at the end

Marta Kauffman 51:16
I know it made us so happy. Made it.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
Yeah, it's not crossed over. Because that's the thing. It's because on paper. It's not a great pitch. Don't get me wrong. It's not a great pitch on paper. Because you're like, well, it's only going to it's earned this is what the studios would say it's only a certain demographics gonna watch us only an older generation. Is that kind of the generation that we're going after. But their biggest fan base is young millennials. Yeah. You know, and Gen X like myself and like and everyone in between because good story writing is good story. Good acting is good acting.

Marta Kauffman 51:51
Well, it's no similar to friends when they said, you know, you can't do a show about six young people right out we've always said and this was the case with Grayson, Frankie too. If the stories are identifiable, if you can connect with the characters and the stories or something you can empathize with, then it'll work. No matter how old they are.

Alex Ferrari 52:17
You're absolutely right. And in the you have the record now of the longest running show on Netflix. There is no other show. No other show that's ever done it and that was the thing in the wrap to I love that. It was like in the log is flicks. Again if on on on paper, you would have told me Oh, yeah, this is also going to be the longest running show on Netflix as Netflix is infamous for more than two seasons, you're out. Right to three seasons, you're out if you can make it the four or five my god you're at this point your Orange is the New Black or House of Cards. You know, but this little show and it's that little bit this little show about you know, older people talk about Dr. vaginas and vibrate. That's now longest running show on Netflix. I mean, do you do you believe? I mean, I think you said it already is like it identifies and crosses the generations. And that's why I think people connect with it so much. And I mean, obviously it's the performances as well and Jane and Lillian Martin and Sam are just their magic as well. You've you've hit you've hit the lottery twice. I did it.

Marta Kauffman 53:27
I'm very grateful and very lucky.

Alex Ferrari 53:33
So I have to ask you I heard the rumors. is Dolly showing up? Dolly is it is official out there.

Marta Kauffman 53:42
Yes.

Alex Ferrari 53:44
Because on Season Three I'm like when it's Dolly gonna show up as a cameo. Jesus, somebody bring Dolly back, please. When I see the three of them again, because I'm of a generation that remembers nine to five I love nine to five I watched it. Oh god so many times. It just was one of those movies at that time. That movie was a monster hit. Wow. She was it was in the zeitgeist at that moment in time. And the three of them are so magical together. I cannot wait to see that. I'm just dying to see what you guys do with them. And when our winners show up with the final episodes because I already binged the second you teased out a few episodes

Marta Kauffman 54:26
I don't have an official date yet. Okay. I don't have an official date yet hopefully in the next I think it's gonna be in the next few months.

Alex Ferrari 54:37
Next few months so yeah, as this we're recording this in January so hopefully in April sometime last what I'm hoping for Yeah, hopefully around April sometime it'll come out and how many episodes are left? Oh 12 total?

Marta Kauffman 54:52
12. Left. We were six. It was 16 episodes.

Alex Ferrari 54:57
Oh, that amazing you got extra because there's normally what was The normal episode run

Marta Kauffman 55:01
13

Alex Ferrari 55:02
So you got three. So good. I'm so excited. I cannot wait to watch Grayson Frankie again, see where this where this this start? I'm no seriously it's like there's very few shows that I get obsessed about Grayson Frankie. I'm also obsessed about Cobra Kai because it's a Cobrar Kai. So, but is is, I don't get obsessed by shows. Oh, Yellowstone too. I don't know if you've seen Yellowstone?

Marta Kauffman 55:28
I haven't yet but I am. I'm having my knee replaced. I'm saving it for that.

Alex Ferrari 55:31
Oh, it's off. Taylor is off. It's amazing, amazing writing. Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions I ask all my my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Marta Kauffman 55:44
Well, a couple things. One is, before you take scripts out there, get some friends together, read it out loud. So that you know that you have a product that is acceptable. And then I would say and I know, there's a lot of controversy about this. Um, I think agents can be extremely useful. I happen to have had a very good experience with mine. Other people have had good experiences. Some have not I understand that. But I think getting an agent is really important. And that's, by the way, one of the ways you do that is knowing other writers who can say hey, I met this person who has a great script and to do that. I really think getting into a writers room being a writer's assistant starters, a writers pa if you have to be a writer's assistant, we had every writer's assistant we had except for one ended up being a writer on the show.

Alex Ferrari 57:04
On what show Grace and Frankie are friends are both Chris and Frank.

Marta Kauffman 57:08
Quite a few on friends as well. But on Grayson, Frankie everyone, really? That's awesome. A woman who started as a writers pa ended up as a producer in our last season.

Alex Ferrari 57:20
How does and I have to ask how do you go from writers PA to producer in the scope of the series? Like why so people listening can understand what she did that.

Marta Kauffman 57:32
Well, in my room, I run a very democratic room. Okay. And if a writer's assistant has a joke to pitch, I want to hear it. Okay. Um, I, you know, I want to hear what they have to say for writers assistant has an idea. The room may not necessarily be the right place to do it, but then pull me aside and say, you know, I was thinking, what about this? And then we can go back in the room and I can say, Brooke just had this amazing idea.

Alex Ferrari 58:02
Because there is that there is a politics of the room that that that's not spoken about a lot is like how to, you know, especially there's a showrunner side of the of the room. But then there's the writer side and how to politically do it without stepping on toes and egos and things like that?

Marta Kauffman 58:17
Well, it depends on the showrunner. Exactly. It depends on the showrunner if you have a showrunner with an ego i It's tough, but you still would learn a lot in a writers room. And, and start to get to know writers. I mean, I a lot of my writers were working with the writers assistants reading their scripts, giving them advice.

Alex Ferrari 58:39
That's great mentoring them almost.

Marta Kauffman 58:42
Yeah. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 58:44
That's amazing. That's great. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Marta Kauffman 58:52
Wow, that's a really interesting question. And I could go in a bunch of directions. I'm not going to go to the dark place. You know, bringing it full circle. I think I learned that I'm a writer.

Alex Ferrari 59:15
Took you a while to figure that out?

Marta Kauffman 59:17
Yeah. Took me a long time.

Alex Ferrari 59:20
Really?

Marta Kauffman 59:21
Yep.

Alex Ferrari 59:23
I want everyone listening to hear this. That someone is as accomplished as you had a long time to figure out that they were really a writer that that imposter syndrome was was bad. Do you still deal with it? You have to not deal with it as much. Did you still deal with it? Really? But you but you figured out like that's just a voice in my head? I'm a writer.

Marta Kauffman 59:48
Yeah. Yeah, I figured out all right, I've done before I can do it again. And just get words on paper. Just get words on paper. And then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:02
Are there three pilots that everyone should read in their specific genre that you would recommend?

Marta Kauffman 1:00:11
Um, you know, my so called Life was an amazing pilot was I remember it was an amazing pilot. I learned a lot from watching that pilot. So that's one squid game had a pretty good pilot.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:32
She says, What the hell with that Jesus Christ that show? What a thing like how well like I don't even I have to do it. I have to get that show runner on the show. I've just if he speaks English, I want to speak.

Marta Kauffman 1:00:46
You know, I It's funny that I mentioned those because I don't watch a lot of comedies. Okay. I mainly watch dramas because watching comedies work for me.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:58
Right! You're analyzing it, you're picking it apart. You're like, oh, that didn't hit right. That didn't hit right. Why did that get through?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:04
Or how did they get to that? How's that the story? Why is that doesn't make any sense or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:10
So you know, alright, so So mostly drama. So squid games, my so called life and what was the third one? You think?

Marta Kauffman 1:01:17
I'm debating between a couple.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:19
Okay, you could toss them both out.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:22
Sopranos had an amazing pilot. David was I mean, Jesus. Genius, genius. But I have to say I recently watched a show that I've long since forgotten about. The pilot for lost is really good

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
The pilot was amazing. Amazing. Oh, remarkable. I mean, they kind of, you know, it took them. They went off. They went off the rails a little bit.

Marta Kauffman 1:01:53
They didn't know where they were going.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:54
They were just like, in a smoke monster shows up. Like, but that first season was yeah, some of the best television. Yeah, in a long time. I always throw in Breaking Bad because I think it's one of the Oh, that's a really good. I mean, you add another 15 minutes to it. It's the it's the best independent film of that year. It's true. It's remarkable. And just for fun three of your favorite films of all time. She's wiggling in her chair. She's wiggling in her chairs.

Marta Kauffman 1:02:29
I am, um, I loved there's so many. And some of these may be a little controversial. To Kill a Mockingbird. Fantastic film is an amazing film my favorite film made from a book, Now this one's a little strange. The original West Side Story. Okay. I grew up on I will sometimes just watch the dances.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:08
Oh, they're so beautiful. Amazing. Did you see the new one by the way? Did you see Steven? Yeah, I hear I haven't had a chance to see it yet. But I hear it's phenomenal.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:19
Watch it and then we can have a conversation.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:22
Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. Okay, and what was that and what's another one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:30
Um, what was the first one he said the favorite

Alex Ferrari 1:03:34
To mark To Kill a Mockingbird?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:36
Oh, the favorite.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:39
Oh, the favorite. Oh. Which one?

Marta Kauffman 1:03:42
The one with Olivia Coleman.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:45
Oh, god. Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:48
I loved that.

Alex Ferrari 1:03:50
I haven't seen that movie forever. But yeah, I remember that movie.

Marta Kauffman 1:03:54
Oh, it's just Oh, and I also love arrival. I do love science fiction. I watch a lot of science fiction. Really? Sad arrival. Great

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
See that you never think that Marta coffins like a big sci fi fan?

Marta Kauffman 1:04:06
Huge a huge sci fi fan.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:08
Did you see that? Have you seen Mandalorian Do you watch any of that stuff? Or? No? I do. Did you enjoy it? Yeah, I enjoyed it. This fun? Yeah. It's popcorn. It's popcorn.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:17
Exactly. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:19
It's popcorn. It's fun. It's you know, it's not changing dinner. Right? It's not a it's not going to change the world. But man, is it fun? And I just started watching the book of boba and just like, it's fun as hell man. If I saw I saw this meme of. It's like kids playing with Star Wars toys. And it's like Jon Favreau, David Fillion, and then making the Mandalorian and they're just literally having the fun playing with there. Isn't someone's filming it? Um, Martha, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and it has been.

Marta Kauffman 1:04:55
Thank you Alex. I appreciate your thoughtful questions.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:58
It was wonderful talking to you and continued success thank you again for bringing for Friends into the world and also a Grace and Frankie and I cannot wait to see what you're up to next. So thank you again so much.

Marta Kauffman 1:05:08
Thanks so much. Bye

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IFH 577: Directing & Showrunning Halo with Steven Kane

Steven Kane is an American television and theater writer, producer and director.

Personal Life: Steve Kane was born in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where he graduated from Cherry Hill High School West as a proud member of the 1985 and 1986 New Jersey Knowledge Bowl Championship Teams. His rock band, Next Century, almost came in third in back to back “Battle of the Bands” contests (Kane played key-tar) but he did manage to win consecutive “Best Director” awards in the school’s annual One Act Play festival. He also had a girlfriend.

Flush with these early successes, Kane went on to major in English and French at the University of Pennsylvania before attending graduate film school at the University of Southern California. His USC Masters Thesis, a short film entitled Heroic Symphony, garnered awards at film festivals around the country. He had several girlfriends during this time.

Career: Kane got his start in the entertainment industry writing and directing independent film and theater. His first feature film, The Doghouse, won Best Director at the NY Indy Film Festival. His collection of One Act plays, Out of Your Mind, had a successful run in Los Angeles at the GuerriLA Theater.

His television credits as a writer and producer include The Closer (for which he received an Edgar Nomination), Major Crimes, Alias, NCIS, and Without a Trace, as well as comedies American Dad and Curb Your Enthusiasm. From 2012-2018, he served as Creator, Executive Producer, and show runner of TNT’s The Last Ship, a post-apocalyptic drama based on William Brinkley’s novel of the same name.

In 2019, it was announced that Steven would join the HALO series at Showtime as Showrunner, Head Writer, and Executive Producer.

Dramatizing an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant, Halo the series will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future. In a war for humanity’s very survival, our deadliest weapon is our greatest hope.

See Master Chief, Cortana, the Covenant, and the other Spartans of Silver Team more in this epic trailer for the new Paramount+ Original Series, Halo. Find the Halo, win the war. Stream the premiere of the new original series Halo on Thursday, Mar. 24, exclusively on Paramount+.

In its adaptation for Paramount+, HALO will take place in the universe that first came to be in 2001 with the launch of Xbox®’s first “Halo” game. Dramatizing an epic 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant, HALO the series will weave deeply drawn personal stories with action, adventure and a richly imagined vision of the future.

The series stars Pablo Schreiber (the Master Chief, Spartan John-117), Natascha McElhone (Dr. Halsey), Jen Taylor (Cortana), Bokeem Woodbine (Soren-066), Shabana Azmi (Admiral Margaret Parangosky), Natasha Culzac (Riz-028), Olive Gray (Miranda Keyes), Yerin Ha (Kwan Ha Boo), Bentley Kalu (Vannak-134), Kate Kennedy (Kai-125), Charlie Murphy (Makee) and Danny Sapani (Captain Jacob Keyes).

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:52
I'd like to welcome to the show, Steve Kane, how you doin' Steve?

Steven Kane 4:01
Im doing great. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 4:02
Thanks for coming on the show man. I'm excited to get in the weeds with you about your process and that new little show you you the new show little thing that you put up to.

Steven Kane 4:12
It's a little indie thing I've been working on

Alex Ferrari 4:15
Little indie thing I think called Hey, hey, hey, Halo. Hey, something.Wow, look, it's looking nice for you know for an indie production. That's not bad for.

Steven Kane 4:25
No, you do a little this but some big

Alex Ferrari 4:29
Is that 3d printed? That's nice.

Steven Kane 4:30
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Alex Ferrari 4:34
You've had a very career. Let's go back to the beginning. And how did you get started? And why did you get started in this insanity?

Steven Kane 4:40
Well, it's funny. I'm from New Jersey and southern New Jersey suburbs. And I think like most kids, you know, we get into movies. The love affair starts early, right? So I just love going to the movies as a kid I go to truck character just drop me off at the mall and I'll just go and see any movie that was playing. Come in the middle of the movie and Then stay for the changeover and watch the beginning of it. You know, I've watched them over and over again. And I, you know, had many similarities, some moments where I just look at the light coming through the window and think, how's that magic happening? What does it mean when someone says written by you know, it just didn't make sense to me. So you know, as I got older, I got more interested in it. I just started watching everything I could VHS is were becoming a thing on the on that old where they became a thing. There was a library and watch movies and I watched like the Michael York Three Musketeers movie over and over again. And I discovered the godfather. I remember the first time I saw that, Michael shooting the sellouts in the restaurant, I was, you know, 13 or something watching at home, by myself, you know, after school. And I wish I could have that experience again, for the first time seeing it because that, you know, that's that moment. And jumping ahead. When I was in film school. I remember Walter merch was going to come talk to us about film design editing down. And I said I want to ask him about that shooting scene because there's this great elevated train sound that just fills the soundtrack, even though you'd never see the train. And the first thing he said when he came in was I want to talk about a thing I call Michael screen. And he said that train was the sound of Michael soul screaming out, you know. So anyway, my love film started early. And then I had a great teacher in high school who was an English teacher, but also taught them appreciation. So you know, we're reading James Joyce and third period, and then watching the Strada or landmark ordinance shame and fifth period. So, you know, I made little films with my friends, you know, on Super Eight cameras, video cameras, that I went to college and just studied literature, and French, but I knew I was always going to go into movies. So after college, I went to film school at USC. And I got three years just to live and breathe movies. And while I was there, I did like an internship at the Cannes Film Festival, met all these amazing people that Robert Altman, you know, I think I said, Nice to meet you. He said, Get out of my way. But nonetheless, I met him

Alex Ferrari 7:03
Wasn't a deep conversation.

Steven Kane 7:05
We didn't talk cinema like, that doesn't mean I'm not still borrowing from him every time every chance I get. And then I met Oliver Stone, I met his assistant and I got a chance to be his intern during Natural Born Killers. Again, I think it was more impactful in my life that it wasn't his. But you know, again, just as a kid, you grew up watching his movies, and then you get to work with these guys and more around these people, you know, and then I got to be on sets and studio lots and meet real working filmmakers and just get that, that thrill of being part of the process of filmmaking. I got I got I made a student film and you know,

Alex Ferrari 7:44
And the rest is and the rest is history, as they say, yeah, yeah, no, I have to ask you man, What was it like being on set of Natural Born Killers man? Like, you know, that's what, honestly, it's one of my favorite stone films. And yeah, you know, when you know that we had him on the show, and, and I had the pleasure of talking to him. And but I remember I was in film school, when Natural Born Killers have come out. And I had the sound designer, came to talk to the whole school. And they showed us the first 10 minutes of natural born killer. Yeah, before anybody else had seen it. And we were just like, Oba like the whole, like, the diner scene where the finger falls off. And it's like the dropping and, and I was just like, so what was it like, you know, being a, you know,

Steven Kane 8:28
Well, I have to say, I wasn't ever on set. I was there during the prep, which is actually to me, the more exciting because I you know, I drive around Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. and, you know, take him to the done Ranger, they didn't have to use the weapons met, they'll die and those guys, but also, you know, he would be working on a research so he would send the intern out to get things. So, literally, he was watching Clockwork Orange over and over again. I was reading certain books, I was like, they're just delivering those kinds of things in watching, trying to get a sense of how his mind worked as he built the thing. I was able to be around as they were rehearsing, you know, again, I'm like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I'm sort of on the edges of what's really happening. But, you know, now when I have interns and assistants and stuff, I always try to include them as much as I can say know how exciting it is to learn. Sure, and to sort of take away some of the mystery of it and let them see out. It's actually just people working very hard. And for all of all of us, you know, reputation. As you know, it's an ad genius. He worked really hard. Everything was built from the ground up. And so it was fascinating that, you know, collating the scripts and see the revisions coming in. So yeah, just just amazing. I've been very fortunate because I've ended up working for some big name directors, first as an intern then as a partner. You know, I made the student film, SD, which was sort of my homage to the male maj to the godfather. It was the Godfather Stryver basically is like a 20 minute version, you know, a knife And that little storyline about this young kid low level hood, he thinks he can make his bones you know by and achieve his life dreams by whacking that rival my mod mob boss for his bosses. And he gets everything he wants, and it destroys, you know, and it's all set at Symphony. So it's got this great music playing. And it's just like, all my influences were coming into one place. And then James Cameron saw the film, but his people didn't showed it to him. And he took me under his wing for a short time, we talked about making my short into a feature, but ended up doing something else altogether. back about John sales is writing a script for him, he hired me and a friend of mine to write a movie for him. I was like 26 years old, he sent me to Moscow for a month to do research on the Russian mafia. And this was like, the time when Yeltsin was in power, the Russia was the wild, wild East was opening up to all kinds of crime that was the formation of the oligarchs, and that whole thing, and I just was there for all of it, you know, in Moscow for a month. And while he was making Titanic, I was reading the movie, Titanic, sort of his little indie film, so it took off as well. So the film that we got made, but it was it was exciting. And then, you know, I wrote a bunch of more feature scripts that got bought, but didn't get made, which is sort of par for the course. And as a person who actually likes to make films, it was very frustrating for me. So that's when I actually friend of mine said, you should try TV because you write something and they actually put it on the air and not that long. They shoot it not that long after you read it. And so that's when I made my switch and haven't looked back. But again, even in that regard, I've worked with Michael Bay on a show where he was good, we're going to show so all my heroes are the people whose work I just admire, I get to sort of be around them still, which is great. And, and now, TV so cinematic, that I'm still making movies, you know.

Alex Ferrari 11:42
So I have to ask you, what was it like working with James? I mean, that must have been a James during Titanic.

Steven Kane 11:50
Yeah. So I was 26, his, one of his people saw my film invited me into Lightstorm at Santa Monica is company. I'm waiting. I have a friend waiting in the car. I think I'm just dropping off with VHS. But suddenly, he comes out to talk to me. And he's like, loved your movie. And I'm like, I like your movies, too. Yeah. And you said, What do you want to do next? They said, Well, you know, my mind, I had a 10 year plan when I was 15, or 16. You know, I'll go to film school and make a film. And then I'll get to be a director. I guess that's how it works. Right? wasn't quite that way. But you're I was at the end of that 10 years and lived in Cameron. And, you know, he, he said that they would, I'll give you an office here. And at the time, I was working with a friend of mine writing stuff. So we brought us both in and we had an office on the second floor, surrounded by Titanic, stuff like a scale model of a ship, maybe 15 feet long, with little penlight cameras that you can put into, you know, so looks like you're actually in a doll's house in a room, and pictures of you know, of the era and wardrobe. And so I was around as he was writing the script as he was casting Leo DiCaprio. You know, it was amazing. But as far as my interaction, you know, I pitched him stuff. And he was what was great about working with him. Even working with bae, like, these people, they really work well with writers, they, they respect what you're doing, and they want to help you achieve that. So no, I didn't get a lot of cameras time. But what I got was valuable and supportive. And that's bold, try that some more. That's great idea. It was it was like being in a writers room. You know, it didn't feel like I was talking to executives, or, you know, it was just filmmaker to filmmaker. But you know, with this great disparity at the time, of course, and ended up working on it for a year, I went to Russia and learned some Russian, again, these things happen to some doesn't get made, but they will experience and you know, he his watching his cuts, watching his works to having studied his work, and then being around him. He I took him with me, just like I took a little bit of all the stone with me, I take these mentors in these lessons with me as I do my own work. So you know, you'd be amazed or maybe you wouldn't be when you're on the staff of Halo or last ship or anything they've done. You know, the directors come in and you're like, you know, this is reach out the Kubrick did or this is really cool shot that so and so does let's copy that. Let's make this find our own way. So you know, it's it's an ongoing process of learning and being inspired. And I just don't get such a kick out of it. thrill.

Alex Ferrari 14:11
I mean, you mean you have probably one of the most interesting beginning stories of like, oh, yeah, so I was hanging out with stone and I was interning this and working with Spielberg and work. That's a pretty, that's a great start to a career.

Steven Kane 14:25
And the guy understood it at the time. Because

Alex Ferrari 14:29
You're probably like, oh, this happens to everybody. Right, everyone?

Steven Kane 14:31
Well, yeah, I mean, I remember being in someone's office and thinking you got a nice office, not really realizing I was talking to the head of the studio, you know, like I just, I, I sort of just thought this is how it's supposed to be and then I hit obviously rough patches and patches where you can't get arrested, you know. But yeah, I think you know, people I get all kinds of younger people now asking for advice, and I'm just like, just don't give up, you know, and always stay enthusiastic and just knock it down. Just get up again and keep trying and so yeah, I mean, it's that It isn't like I've gone from success to success. But these are the highlights of things that I experienced, you know. So as I said, when younger people come in, if I can give them a chance to have any kind of eye into what's going on, you know, at the higher levels and inspire them, that's, you know, paying it forward.

Alex Ferrari 15:28
Now, what was the biggest lesson you took away from working with all these giants in the business was like there was that one thing that you like? This is a common thing I see with all of these great filmmakers.

Steven Kane 15:41
Yeah, you know, it's actually a lesson I keep trying to teach myself because I'm naturally very affable, collaborative person. And I think it's worked well for me. But it's also it means I have to seduce and convince, sometimes 1000 People have the vision that I'm going for. And of course, you have to always compromise and you have to work together. And I'm not saying those guys don't do that. But what I was impressed with was their level of self confidence that at least whatever their demons might be, that everyone has their secrets, but whatever they have going on the inside, they evinced a certain confidence that this is the direction we're gonna go. And you need that you need to be a leader, with the plan. Because and have confidence and believe in yourself, even when things don't go your way. So even when you fail, don't turn around and destroy yourself over it, somehow find a way to learn from it and prove yourself, but keep your ego and your strength, have confidence in yourself. That there's a reason why you're doing this. And so, you know, those are sort of examples. Usually, they you hear about egos and sort of larger than life personalities. But I think do the stuff they do to be bold like that, you know, there was one moment, I saw two moments, I saw Cameron. Again, I didn't get a lot of time with him. But I saw some vulnerability. When he first finished the first draft of Titanic. He had this script man, it's like 85 page. It's famously driven. Yeah, he finally finished the script. Now he had so much on his plate, because it was already planning on shooting it. So the script was just like getting it off his chest. And he says, he walks by, he goes, Well, it's done. Like, I don't know if it's any good kind of thing. And yeah, he was struggling with it. And you know, it's nice to see that kind of human side. But at the same time, he put his career and his own money on the line to make that film because he believed in it. And he got, you know, hundreds of people to go along with it, and to finance it, and to make that come true. And it could have fallen on his face. Instead, you have this three hour movie that kids are coming in watching three, four times, you know, and I think it takes that sort of conviction, that strength of conviction, obviously have to back it up with talent and back it up to the hard work. It takes just having all ego no challenge doesn't get you very far. But I think the lesson I learned from the biggest players out there is that if you don't believe it, and you don't show you believe it, no one else will. And the bigger you dream, the more you have to be confident that that dreams don't work because we're asking people to risk their own time and money and reputations to Bali, you know, so I try to tap into some of that, that and not lose who I am and not be brusque, rude to people but also recognize that like, sometimes I have to fake it till you make it to you even if you're not sure it's going to work. You got to go forward and you know, find that balance between all the ego being a dick did wrong, you know? And so yeah, I think those guys they just showed what having vision is. In film school. Milosz Foreman came to one of our classes. Because Yvonne pastor, the great director, who was very close with below specking and Jeff's Avakian, 60s, they made films together he taught a class and he brought in Barbie Schroeder, Milos Forman, Dustin Hoffman Bogdanovich just a lot of great people. And again, it was one of those things where I wanted to ask you a form that the scene where they start the Requiem, and they cut to castonzo driving back and the coach racing back to him that's the first thing he brought up which I was so psyched about. But he was watching we're watching it on like a DVD player or something and all sudden you go stop and the whole room you know stops and that's a director right there. You can keep controls the room, you know, and it's a weird thing because you it's you know, even writing it's personal first but then it's not personal. Now everyone's involved in it. And if you don't stick to your guns and believe in it, no one else will. So I got inspiration from those guys.

Alex Ferrari 19:49
That's that's a that's a great answer to that question, my friend. Very good. Very good answer. Now you so you decided to go into television because you know, television you get stuff done quicker. And as they, as the old adage says, The money's in television. So money, you know, it's yeah, it's the closest to a business,you have your

Steven Kane 20:13
Middle class existence, right? You get a job, you can go to work, you can you know,

Alex Ferrari 20:17
Right. And it's it's opposed to the filmmaker that makes one movie every two or three years.

Steven Kane 20:22
If you're lucky, right? If you're lucky, otherwise, you're having lots of meetings to take meetings about meetings, and you're like, literally like, Oh, I'm very excited. Congratulations. That was a good meeting, you know? Exactly when he was definitely you know, where it was at when I started.

Alex Ferrari 20:36
So when you when you got your first job as a staff writer, coming into a room, what was that day like for you, like me, you had already been writing, you've been obviously hanging around with some some reputable people. So you weren't a complete noob. But still walking into a room. It's like the first day of class. And like, you know, who I don't know these people? Who am I going to be friends with? Who don't have to look out for? What's the room? Is the teacher cool? Or is he not? He was cool when it hired me. Right? Right. It's kind of like that football coach is really sweet when he's recruiting you. But the second you get on the field, he destroys you. How was it for you on that day?

Steven Kane 21:17
Well, it's a really good question, because actually, everything I just told you about finding a healthy ego and sticking to your guns, goes out the window, when you're a staff writer at a TV show, you realize your job is to make the boss happy to tell their story with them to contribute, but to recognize your place and coming out of independent film coming out of features, I was ready to just like, This is what we should do. And Joe Wyman, who's a great writer, and showrunner, given my first job on a show called keen, Eddie was a very short live show, which I think just got at that time slot, frankly. And it was set American American cop in London, very stylish, very fun. And, you know, I had just that a lot of enthusiasm. And so I was pitching and pitching and pitching. And at one point, he said, you know, we don't all swim in Lake Kane. And I was like, oh, man, and the water is warm, you know. It was humbling, but we ended up becoming really close afterwards. But it was a good lesson. I think that the great thing about TV if you if you're lucky. And you can start at the bottom and work your way up, you actually learn the politics of a writers room, learn how to be a contributor who doesn't, you know, them up the works. A friend of mine told me about a metaphor that people have used. When you're in a writers room, you're all pushing the rock up the hill, the same rock, and user are pushing it while you're watching it go up the hill, but you just don't want to be the guy who sits on the rock. And I said, my question of course, was doesn't have to be a rock. That's the person who sits on the rock, right? So you learn to to constantly adapt and adjust to what the showrunner is thinking. For him or her, they have a story, they want to tell you're trying to pitch to them something to make their story work. Sometimes it's a brand new idea that makes them think differently, and they're just totally into it. And sometimes they're like, No, I want to go this direction. And so you learn how to be a civilized human being in a writers room by being that kid who gets told to be quiet for a second and load your place and then work your way up and build trust. And so I learned how to be a show runner by working on those early shows, especially when I got onto the closer where the show on the gym stuff. And the producer director Michael Robin, were such classy people still collaborative, but at the same time, they you know, it was their show. So you learn how to write their show and how to be produced their show. And they also let you go on to set so you can you're involved in casting and locations and, and wardrobe and props, and you know, working with a director, so I had a lot of experience in filmmaking that other writers don't. But every writer gets a great experience if you can get on a show that actually teaches you how to run a show. So by the time I got my first chance to pitch, a show that I was going to run, I had all this experience in the politics of the writers room, and how post production works, how production works. And so I was extremely prepared for that. And again, having been at the lowest part I know now how it feels it helps me have more empathy for the younger writers on my staff. And I really believe firmly in promoting from within and giving people a chance I've had several assistants become writers become producers, you know, go off to do their own shows. And that makes me really happy and proud.

Alex Ferrari 24:29
Now, can you discuss a little bit of what those unspoken rules inside of a writers room? You mentioned the politics of the room. I love talking about the politics of the room because it's not something they teach you at school. It is it is something that you learn either the easy way or the hard way when you're in the room. So are there any kind of unspoken rules or advice you can give for writers, young writers that if they find themselves even if they're a writer's assistant in the room, whoever's in the room, what the what to do and what not to do.

Steven Kane 25:01
Yeah, I mean, it's part of it's just probably like high school and how to you know how to get along. But, you know, one of the things I was taught early on is it never has to be anything, the story doesn't ever have to be what you want it to be. There are many ways to skin a cat. Even if you don't like the idea, you can make it work if you can do something to make it work, right. So to be the person in the room, who gets locked on and fixated on one way of going, can get you into trouble. Because now you're not being flexible. You're not being part of the group, you're not helping. You're just being the person that shuts things down. There's that saying and improv Yes. And you know, so it's that idea of, okay, that and why don't we do this? And that can make that work. And maybe you're solving six problems. At the same time. Do you notice now focusing on the problems but focusing on the story. Other ones are don't pitch the problem, pitch the solution, which actually, I think works in lots of businesses. But you know, you can say like, I don't like the way the story is going, I don't like to it's too easy the way he finds this and that okay, well, great. Thank you for your criticism, any ideas? So you try to say, you know, I'm struggling with this moment, to here's how I'm thinking that we can make it work. Or admit I don't have a solution for this. But this is bugging me, I'd like to maybe ask if we could talk about it for a couple of seconds. And just you know, being respectful, catching the mood of the showrunner, who's got, you know, a million things happening at the same time? You know, I know from my point of view, keep leaving the room to be told, we just lost the actor. The sketches burned down, you know, they're shutting whatever it is, you come back into the writers room, the pandemic. Exactly. You don't want to come back into the room and have some guy going. Yeah, I don't like the story. You're like, No, tell me how to friggin fix it. If you got a problem. Otherwise, this is the way we're done.

Alex Ferrari 26:50
Act 2 is horrible. I don't even know is this horrible? Yeah, this is horrible. Well?

Steven Kane 26:56
Exactly. And you know, like any skill when you first do it, you're very methodical and deliberate about it. And then it becomes second nature. So at this point, you know, I can pitch a scene that is probably doing nine things at once. But I'm not elaborating on what those nine things are. But when I have younger writers, I try to explain to them that this allows us to push the story forward, to get back to this character to solve that plot hole to give exposition here, now we've Let's bury the exposition. So there's a lot of skills that you can learn if you're open to learning them. And again, you can be the greatest writer in the world, you can still learn a lot from being in the writers room. And you can also recognize that production needs will change your story in a heartbeat. Literally, on Halo, we lost an actor. The day before shooting a big episode, it was an actor who not only was important to that episode, but who have been established in previous episodes as being important. And I didn't have to think about what to do at all of this experience behind me, I thought about it, but I didn't have to curl up in a ball and die. I quickly rewrote 35% of the scripts and brought in a character in smaller part and even bigger, and I think actually a script ends up being better as a result. But I think that's the thing is, if you're a newer writer, you might just collapse like, oh, I guess we can't shoot the test. We gotta shut down, like, the show must go on, right? So I think if you keep your eyes open, and you've just watched the people with more experience, do their job. You learn from it, you know, and then pretty soon, like, I used to be on sets early, where we shoot the whole scene. The director returned to me Look at me, and I'd be like, Yeah, let's do it. Sure. Now, and then the last part of it, and then we'd walk away. And I'd say things like, Gee, I wonder if we should have done XYZ, or this and that, and the director looked at me and be like, Why didn't you tell me? I'm like, Well, I don't know. I didn't want to, you know, get in the way. You know, you're I was so nervous about like, being obtrusive. And so I had to learn how to, you know, stand up early and make these make these notes. But that's what you get from experience, because then you get to the place where you have confidence in yourself and you go, you know, guys, I think we should do another another take, and here's why. And that takes you know, some people come with lots of arrogance and confidence early some have to develop it with experience, but I think I you know, a lot of people now sell shows off the bat, and they have no experience working in TV and they become a show runner. And I think they're better served if they've had more experience with the politics of the room with the the way the

Alex Ferrari 29:25
Politics of the studio politics. Yeah, notes and exactly everything, all of it.

Steven Kane 29:30
Exactly. And to be to be that showrunner you do have to be as I was saying about the those big directors I work for, you have to be harvested competent in what you're doing. You have to be a cheerleader for your show. You have to be able to get people to go that's the way we're gonna go. On the last ship, which was a huge Navy show, I had, you know, Michael Davis, my partner, he had a lot of experience being, you know, working with the Navy and stuff, but he wasn't involved in the day to day basis after the first season and so

There were times when I needed to get the Navy to give me the entire, you know,

Alex Ferrari 30:13
So you actually, you actually had the Navy working with you.

Steven Kane 30:17
We shot on the ship for two, three weeks every season to all the exterior stuff. We had Navy people in the writers room, sometimes we had them on call, if I needed a navy subject matter expert on any subject, Navy Seal, a flyer, air, submarine or anything, I can call them up and get their help. And we got assets from them, you know, and they were very nervous because they said, you know, this is tolerable. We don't want you guys to show us in a negative light. Because why are we going to bother giving you any support course, of course. And I said to them very, and they didn't trust me whatsoever, or at least I'll tell you what I said to him, guys, look, this is not going to be commercial for the Navy. But if you let me do my job, it'll be the best commercial for you guys ever, because we're going to show you guys we're going to test all your values, the honor, courage and commitment, the way you guys work, we're going to forge the strongest deal in fire to come out even stronger, we're going to test those values, right, so we're not gonna make you guys perfect, but when you're gonna come out on top, and once they saw that that's what the show was doing. Because it was set during a global pandemic. And it was. Yeah, but they were they were trying to be heroes, but they're also human beings. And by the third or fourth season, you know, even the second season, they were like, look, what else can we give you. But I'd have to walk into the room and convince the, you know, marine Commandant that I need to get access to a beach landing I want to do Saving Private Ryan on TV at the end of my series, and I want to shoot, you know, marine storming the beaches of Camp Pendleton in an exercise, you know, and so they give us full access. We showed that up there with 12 cameras and drones and GoPros filming that entire beach landing then went back there six months later with our actors when I was directing it, and and they still brought in, you know hovercrafts and stuff for us. And we shot this amazing sequence that we you know, it looks like $100 million movie, you know, just because of that stuff we had. But again, that that took, being able to look them in the eyes with competence and say, This is gonna be great. This is gonna be really great. And have the buy in and buy it. Yeah. So it's, you know, but again, that confidence doesn't come from just blind arrogance that comes from you know, having done the homework, you know, but you still have to present it in a way that makes them feel confident.

Alex Ferrari 32:32
So I was going to ask you about the last year because it was a pretty awesome show, man. And it was, it was it was so big for television. It's a fairly large looking show. Now I know why? Because I didn't like there's no way a TNT show is gonna I mean, I get topped out it's gonna get it I get that right. Michael Bay's gonna get it for his movie that again, I didn't think that I thought it was, you know, oh, they make decommission ship. I didn't know the Navy was actively working with you. So that explains a lot. But so January 2020. Hits. And you're going, Oh, God, because you just spent four years prior? All right, a couple of years, I think when it ended what 2018?

Steven Kane 33:15
And then like, end of 17, beginning of 18.

Alex Ferrari 33:17
Yeah, something like that. So then you had two years. Right! So for a five year run. And then you stayed in that five year run in a in the mind of a pandemic. So when pandemic actually hit? What was your reaction internally, like, because you knew things about pandemics that most people walk in the streets didn't because you had to do the research to write all the shows and so on. So So what was that like for you just as a am I gonna get up today?

Steven Kane 33:45
Yeah, yeah. Well, first of all, the last ship, you should know, it started with Michael Wright, who ran TMT at the time it was a brilliant programmer and brilliant studio network had. And he talked to Michael Bay and had this book called The Last Ship and said, this is this would be a great Michael Bay show, we want to do a pair of Spielberg's Falling Skies and Sunday night, you know, big movie night kind of things. And days, people found a writer hengstenberg, who I grew up with, who came to me and said, This is your cup of tea, you come on board, and I said, okay, but the book is about a nuclear holocaust, which is obviously still timely, but it felt very dated. It was right 80s, you know? And I said, you know, what scares me more is pandemics. And I said, Can I change it? And he said, Sure. So I came up with this whole thing. I cold called a bunch of virologist who all said, this is our worst nightmare. And we started talking when we built this virus. And we talked about the effects on society as well, you know, I don't think I got I got some of the craziness that come that came out of the pandemic in our second or third season. But

Alex Ferrari 34:49
Was there was was there a scene of toilet paper hoarding, did you

Steven Kane 34:53
There was no hoarding of toilet paper because we were we were with this navy ship and that's true, but they did loot they did lose a lot. had different cruise ships with a bunch of dead people on it. And they had to get, grab, grab, get all the food they can get and get out. So, yeah, so I was very aware of pandemics and had a lot of conversations. So I remember being on the set and hungry, we were in some boy scout camp, shooting a sequence, and people are talking about this virus decided not to hurt. It's in Italy and might come to Austria tickets gonna come here. And I said, guys, we're going to we're going home soon, we're going up. So they said, What do you mean, I said, it's going to be here. And what I'm reading about, it's, it's serious. And so sure enough, two weeks later, we took our two week hiatus, which lasted six months, and I called home, I said, I'm coming home. And this is gonna sound weird, but you should go out and buy toilet paper, staples, water, because people are going to think that they're going to run out and they're going to start to afford it. So you might as well do it too, you know, can't fight it. And so I came home and hunker down for six months and talk to my biologist, friends who, who told me, you know, there's going to be an mRNA vaccine, you know, in six months, it's been this and this and that, and I sort of followed what they're talking about. The one thing that I thought will be worse, but seems to have crept up crept up over the last six, eight months is the supply chain stuff. I thought it would live in more instantaneous. But you know, not a lot of people didn't didn't get sick or didn't take the shots and didn't stop working. But you know, the idea that the supply chain is still messed up. It's a natural recurrence. But what's fascinating is the way your mind shifts to the reality. And during a pandemic, we obviously had a much worse pandemic in the show. So we shifted people's minds more, but it's, yeah, it was. I was sad to be right about that. But now even now, I watched the first episode of Halo, and I rocked watch it at Austin at the film festival, and actually made me cry because it reminded me of Ukraine, obviously, this fiction is is not as serious as Ukraine, but people being slaughtered by an enemy that they can't control. Like, suddenly I started for no reason, residences, you know? Yeah. And I started kind of thinking about the just as you get older, I think these things they don't feel like make believe anymore. They feel like no possibilities of life. And it's, it's frightening.

Alex Ferrari 37:23
You used to and you start thinking about your kids and you start thinking about in like the next generation and you like there's a shift as you get older, where you stop thinking about yourself only because you're now you're like, Okay, I'm, you know, I'm past my 20s now. Yeah. And you just know a little bit more. Could you just walk the earth a little bit like cane? Yeah. So you've walked the earth a bit more, and you start to you're like, wait a minute, how is what I'm doing now gonna affect my kids? And, and then I need to get my grandkids. And that's when it starts to get so yeah, you start thinking about things and what's going on now. It's just horrific. And you know that. I don't want to get into that, because that's not the show. But,

Steven Kane 38:06
But on the bright note. Speaking of my kids, after we show we have the la premiere of Halo we show two episodes. And my 16 year old 18 year old who there and afterwards, it also has to be good job, dad. That was really cool. So when your kids think you're cool,

Alex Ferrari 38:23
That's the better better than a monster.

Steven Kane 38:24
Yeah. I did a dumb dance throwing up. Nevermind. Not cool. Not cool at all. Yeah, not that cool at all.

Alex Ferrari 38:31
I don't think you could. I mean, I was always I always wonder like, does Brad Pitt's kids think he's cool, right? Like, you know, does you know, these cool, these cool icons. Do they think their kids think they're cool? They're like, now they're just nerds. Now, is there something that you wish you were, you were told at the beginning of your career, that if you could go back in time and go, there's this one thing that I wish I would have told myself? Or I wish someone would have told me?

Steven Kane 39:00
Yeah, I think I've told this to younger people. I was so single minded and fixated on making it in the business and being a director and being a writer and filmmaker, like the ones I admired. And I was stubborn about that. So a couple things. As a result, I stopped enjoying the day to day. Imagine being in your 20s and not just realizing I'm in my 20s This is awesome, you know,

Alex Ferrari 39:25
Oh my god, I wasted my I wasted my 20s is certainly Steve Harvey say something was so brilliant. He's like, You waste your 20s and you make so many mistakes in your 20s that you end up your 30s you end up fixing all the mistakes you made in the 20s Yeah, but if you would have and then the flat and then the 40s you start doing the things that you should have been doing in your 30s Right, because if your 20s you're screwed up. I was like, that's fairly brilliant.

Steven Kane 39:50
I remember being 25 Turning 25 and being depressed and saying Orson Welles made Citizen Kane. Oh, I mean Ha, ha, right? And so

Alex Ferrari 40:02
Spielberg 27. Did Jaws Oh yeah, we all do. And isn't it so stupid? We all do it all filmmakers do it. We all click click the times like, yeah, I only got two more years before 27. So I better hurry up and make jaws.

Steven Kane 40:15
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So so I look back, and I don't, but you know what to throw. The fun thing is you can tell, like, working for Oliver Stone was I mean, I have some great stories, right? All these experiences, appreciating them now and saying, I wish I actually enjoyed them more when I was going through them. The other thing is, as I said, like being flexible was, you know, for a while if I wasn't making feature films that I was writing, directing, I wasn't doing anything else. And then as reality hits, you know, I literally found myself because at a young family, I was making industrial videos for cancer hospitals and engineering schools at USC. And thinking, Am I going to be the, you know, James Cameron of, of

Alex Ferrari 40:55
Industrial

Steven Kane 40:56
Fundraiser dinner videos. But you know what, as a result, I actually learned that's where I met my first virologists got interested in that stuff. So I learned stuff that I brought to my writing, but also going to TV, I would thought I'd never do TV when I was going to be a young filmmaker,

Alex Ferrari 41:12
TV. TV was taboo. I mean, let's be honest, like when we, when we were coming up, TV was like, you know, TVs, like, you go there, if you got no nothing else to do. We're not

Steven Kane 41:23
Exactly, but if you flexible to things, you'd find yourself getting alternate routes to the same place. So, you know, I wanted to direct I made this film, I was gonna be a director. And then I was doing work as a writer, which is, again, how great is that, but at the time, I thought, but I'm a director too, you know. And so my directing was kind of put on hold. And so I didn't get my DGA car until my mid 40s, you know, and I was like, You can't believe I thought I'd be a director and I'm, I'm just a writer of shows. And, but then when I got to be a showrunner and they got to be really, you know, in charge of the whole process of directors are working with me, everyone, and I'm able to tell because I feel like filmmaking is writing is the most important part of it. Without that you don't have anything to work with. But it's it just lives on the page. It's not really a thing. It's like an opera, it's got the music, it's got sound, it's got everything you know. And so, being a showrunner, and doing these shows, allows you to be the filmmaker in a graceful way. And then I got to direct I got to hire myself as a director anyway, eventually, you know, on the last ship, so a little bit on Halo. So, you know, it's, I think I tell younger people, don't sweat it. Don't take yourself too seriously, enjoy what you're doing. Now, never lose focus on what you want to do. But recognize that there's many ways to get to get there and go with the flow go with follow your bliss. All those cliches are all true, though, with what makes you happy, you're enjoying it, and I still get a thrill of walking onto a set, you know, that throw those away, but I'm gonna quit because everything else is so hard about the business that I only do all that to get back on the set. So if that's not fun, then do something else, you know,

Alex Ferrari 42:57
You know, and as a filmmaker you you work, like we said earlier, three, three years to be on set for if you're lucky 45 days, and that's a hell of a nice budget. If you're in a studio, it's 60 or 90 days, right? But you spend most of your life chasing the ability to be on set and televisions a little different and television you can be on set all the time. And I think that's a really much nicer place to be. I do like that. You said that in your 20s nothing hurt. people listening who are in their 20s Enjoy it. Yeah, it will end. If you go to Taco Bell right now at three o'clock in the morning, eat whatever you want.

Steven Kane 43:38
Yeah, you're in Hungary filming. I was like, Can I get a salad and my script coordinator was like 20 times eating like goulash and pork this and rooster testicle and I'm like, Yeah, I'm like, No, I have to get up in the morning. I gotta you know, give me some seltzer water, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:56
Oh, no, no, it's the two old fogies talking now. Yeah, my, my sciatica. Ah,

Steven Kane 44:03
Listen, not to betray competencies, but I did have to buy orthotics for Oliver Stone for issues.

Alex Ferrari 44:08
Hey, listen, listen, listen. That is some of the most directing kita directing and a Steadicam operator good shoes. Right good shoes. I talked to the guy who created that steadicam. Once I was taking a class, a class up in Maine years ago. And he was teaching the class and I go What's the best advice? You could give a Steadicam operator he's like, good shoes. I was like, and as your onset you real and I've been dragged direct it's onset with that use? Yeah, because you're 12 hours sometimes.

Steven Kane 44:41
Yeah. camera operators are my heroes on? Yes, I've seen you know, it's like Ginger Rogers. They do it backwards and in heels. They're running backwards being shot at blanks and stuff. And they're and they're catching the shot and the great ones. They know how to tell the story with the camera. It's the great partners on the set. I mean, I just I just love the whole process.

Alex Ferrari 45:00
So let's get to that little independent film thing that you just did Halo. I, you know, there's been a beautiful, beautiful moquette there's been, I mean, Halo has been in development for what two, since basically the damn game came out. So many different, you know, directors and, and projects is going to be a feature, it's not going to be a features this or that. And it's come and gone so much. So when I gave up on it, I truly like it's never it's gonna be production hell or developmental forever. So then when I saw the the news that you were doing, and I was like, I still don't believe it till I see a trailer. I've been I've been burned before. So so how did you get Halo? Like, that's a pretty big, you know, feather in the cap, because everybody wanted to do Halo, some of the some of the biggest filmmakers, you know, in the business wider to Halo. So how did you come to how did a little get dropped into your lap sir?

Steven Kane 46:07
Well, I kind of did, actually. I mean, I had been following the project's development like everybody else hearing about it. And actually, some friends of mine were writing scripts for it at one point when I was doing the last ship, and I was kind of jealous of that. But I was busy. And last ship had ended and I was developing and working on my own stuff. And my manager, my agent called and said, Look, they're they're making the show. The guy who they were working with does not want to continue does not want to get too hungry to make the show. And you know, he's been working on stuff for a while, but there's still a lot of room for you to come in and do something. Would you be interested? It's it might mean going away for a few months. I didn't realize it'd be two years.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
A few months for production.

Steven Kane 46:51
Right. So I was like, Okay, I didn't know what I was getting into. And but I walked into a situation where you could feel there was a lot of history in terms of the development process. Yeah. And I had to put that on my head and say, This is the show that I think we should make. Well, you have here you a lot of great stuff, Kyle killin. And his team did some really good stuff, which I kept a lot of us a great guy, we had a good partnership for the time we overlapped. But I said look to make this thing work. Both story wise, and production wise, these are my opinions. But again, had to show, you know, everyone that this is the way to go. And it was it was hard. Because there's a lot of money at stake. A lot of people involved a lot of pressure. And everyone really wanted this to be great. Especially of course, the people 343 Who whose baby Halo is they wanted to make sure they didn't disappoint. The loyal fan base that they also expanded their fan base, it just was a lot of I felt for all of them that there was an impossible situation.

Alex Ferrari 47:49
And I have to ask that I have to stop for a second. How did you deal with the pressure of dealing with such a huge character like masterchief? The franchise? The budget, I don't even know what the budget is. But I know it was fairly, fairly disgusting. So that pressure on the showrunner, how can you be creative? In that scenario? I mean, I know you're built for them in the last the last ship was no joke either. Right? But But yeah, it was a big show, you know, but this is a we're at a whole other level here. So how did you even function and seriously,

Steven Kane 48:23
You know, I compartmentalize my body did a lot of the reacting for me, where my mind ignored it. So suddenly, I'm like, What is this rash? You know, things like that, you know, like, why, why haven't I eaten anything? But now honestly, it was, it was I was, uh, I was alone a lot and hungry too. So I was kind of homesick it was emotionally and psychically difficult. But I think what I always focus on no matter if the show is, you know, $10,000 or $10 million, or whatever, it's still about how do I tell the story. So you know, making a big show. You just have a bigger budget to play with, right? So if you if you're a family of four with us fixed income, and you have to make sure you can have food and gas for your car. That's what you do. If you're now a billionaire, and you had but now you got 17 houses, you have to manage just, it's just bigger problems, right? But it's the same issue of like, okay, we have X number of days, what you've written is gonna take five extra days, we can't do that. Can you rewrite it and make it suitable? That happens even when you're doing a $3 million chef or a one. So you focus on the stuff you can control, which is the filmmaking process. Trying to take on everyone else's stress as your own. It's hard because an empathetic person and I feel the stress and I know they're counting on me. So I honestly don't know I think I just did a lot of compartmentalizing, focusing on what under what the work is for today. And also again, it goes back to having that joy because like when you walk onto the set instead of looking at the hundreds of people on the set, and that all the equipment and And my days are gonna rain. I think, holy cow, we thought of something that now we're shooting it now man is jumping off of a mountain top of the hook landing on a Styrofoam purple thing that's gonna eventually be a spaceship. You know, I mean, like, so you focus on the exciting stuff. But yeah, I'm not gonna lie to you, it was balancing the desires of 13 different partners. All there before I got there, dusted in this show. You know, last ship, the first season was also stressful, because it was a big swing for TNT and Michael Bay show, blah, blah, blah. Everyone was watching everything we did, debuts on our on our button making sure we were not making them look at. So let's similar in that regard they keep the bigger, the bigger the arena you play and the more pressure you're gonna get. But if you look at it, the same way you look at making something small in terms of this is what I can control. This is the creative. You know, you just, you can get through it. But I remember one point, saying to the people at Showtime about the budget, they've given us a number we are over that number. And they said, I said, well just give me a number. And they go, we didn't give you the number. I said, Oh, you were you were serious about that number. Okay, all right. Well, we'll figure it out, you know, when we cut the budget, and you know, it's just about like, honestly, I want to go from here to there, how am I going to get there, and everything else is just an obstacle to getting there. But you know, you also you're not alone, you have tons of people supporting you. You've got a crew, which is amazing. You got producers who want to make this thing work. No one wants to shortchange the show. So you know, it's my job. That was one sequence in an upcoming episode, where half the show is supposed to be shot in snow. That's for outdoors in snow driving these were hogs having conversations, nothing about it made sense practically. And frankly, the story wasn't does that say to me anyway, so I said, you know, why don't we save $10 million right now. And we'll shoot that entire sequence, a whole storyline, I'll change the storyline, same principle idea. We'll put up on our sets, we'll focus on the characters, we use this as an opportunity for these characters to get to know these characters, and really enrich and deepen the sort of the emotional stakes. And we'd want to be outside not to look for snow, and literally will save millions of dollars. And so that's the kind of decision making process that happens in every show, you know, you decide like, well, if we shoot it outside, you know, I'm the last ship, I used to make these giant opening episodes, and we'd be $2 million over budget from the first day. And everyone's like, Oh, my gosh, we're out of control. And guys, don't worry, because the fourth episode, I've already planned it, we're gonna be in the shift the entire time at night. Literally no visual effects, no guest cast, no extra sets, we'll shoot it in nine days instead of 12 days. And we'll save a million dollars in one episode. You know, of course, they didn't first believe me. But once we did that a few times they started recognizing, okay, at the end of the season, these have to be net zero. And we actually ended up being on budget the entire time. So you gotta you have to think nimbly, and be on your feet and just let the pressure excite you and not crush you. There are definitely times when I wanted it to crush me, but I think I was gonna let it crush me. But I think you just gotta keep your eye on the prize and just say, Okay, I can't go left, we'll go, right, I can't go up, we'll go down first, then we'll go up. And you know, usually, like when I suddenly lose an actor the day before shooting, you just, you pivot, and in the end, sometimes that makes it even better.

Alex Ferrari 53:32
I found that it always, you know, at the moment, it's the worst thing that could possibly happen to you something. If you lose a location, you lose an actor. Every time throughout my career, it always ends up being better. It only always ends up doing something that you never in a million years thought of. That's so much better than what you had in mind. I've never lost something and just like it ruined it. Yeah, I've never had that happen in any of my projects.

Steven Kane 53:58
So all those cliches are true like you asked what the advice you give people again that making lemonade out of lemons Absolutely. Is a big COVID was a huge blow for the whole world. And it shut us down and it cost the studio a fortune and they were such champs about making sure we stayed safe and get bring us back safely. And it was hard. We were hungry now couldn't go home family can visit me couldn't visit people at night with curfews, so I was literally in a van with a mask, going to work going home, barely having any social interaction, but we pulled it off. But even so the six months that we were shut down, I use those six months. So we all did to get visual effects to get editing done to re examine the scripts and rewrite them so we took a terrible situation and we spun it and made the most of it. And I think the show actually is better for it again, I would never trade that. I'd rather have no COVID But sure, sure, of course you take the the bad things and let them crush you. Then you get nothing out of those bad things. You can take the bad things and spin them around some positive, then at least you've made.

Alex Ferrari 55:03
Yeah, there's no question about it. I always find it that what I had on, I sat down with the firm with a script of mine with the first ad of a really seasoned first ad from like he's been doing, you know, work with Fincher and all these kind of crazy people. And he's sitting there and he's looking at he's like, does this have to be at night? Yeah. Why is this at dawn? Right? Why? Why is this at dusk? You need in those little tricks, the budgetary things, because as a writer, you're just like, it's gonna look so good at sunset. Sure it will. But you've got 15 minutes. Yeah, exactly. You're on the Mandalorian. Then you have a sunset all day. But unless you're. But other than that, yeah. So those little tips that they don't teach you, they don't teach you those things. That's just practical, everyday stuff. So that's what you were saying. Like, let's take all the snow. Like, you know, the rain. Why? Why is it raining? Does it need to rain? Do we need to have rain that's going to add so much money to the budget.

Steven Kane 56:03
On the last ship we used, we decided season four, we've never had any storms at sea. That's ridiculous. We're, we're a ship at sea. So we we wrote that storm episode. And we planned it six months in advance. We were looking for footage of storms to be able to use for CG, we were retrofitting the ship to make it be able to water water cables. And you know, you plan for it. But you don't just go like rain, you have to go okay, we're having a meeting. today. We're talking about rain. And I think the other lesson for young writers is you can write anything you want when it's on spec. But when you everything you write, some department head is highlighting it. And they're going to try to get you what you want. So I've been on sets where they say, we're having a tough time getting sharks. I was like, what's that? They said, Yeah, you said that sharks I said, Oh, no, that was just I was just writing now. That's fine. You don't need sharks. Okay, cancel the shark Wrangler, you know? Yeah, I told you our visual effects died. In the last ship, I had written that the enemy I wanted to show the enemy was badass. And that as they're being fired out, they were like acrobatically, diving out of the way. So I wrote Matrix style, meaning like that like that, like, what time bullet time, suddenly we're having board time conversation. So I'm like, I'm so sorry. I hope you didn't spend any money on this. Yeah. So even as a show when I was doing the making those mistakes. So the point is, is that everything you write has to have a reason. And you're better off not writing something and letting the let's say the wardrobe department come to you and say, What are you thinking about for the scene, or here's what I was thinking, having read the seat, but if you write she's in a purple MooMoo, they're gonna go get a purple. Yeah. And if you were kidding, or you really were thinking, you're just making it look pretty on the page, then you know, you're going to cause people a lot of work. So that's the thing is, especially when you're a young writer, you think no one cares about your stuff. Guess what, when you're on staff, even if you're the lowest person on staff, you write a script, it gets to a set, it's the Bible. Now every department is going to make what you wrote come true, which is why you got to be appreciative of them, you got to be collaborative with them, you got to be smiling and thankful with them. You have to respect them and their time because they're trying to make your dreams come true. You know, the guy pushing the dolly doesn't always have the same. Look at me on the screen. They're just pushing Medallia for the day. But the good ones do they take pride in it, they only take pride in it is if you welcome into the process. So if you raise your camera team, embrace your electricians and say, we're all going to make this amazing show together, then you get better work from them and happier people.

Alex Ferrari 58:37
Right, and I think I'm gonna get that I'm gonna get what you said on a t shirt. Cancel the Shark Wrangler. I think that it's a great crew t shirt.

Steven Kane 58:46
We actually had a cricket wrangler on the last. And I actually was so lucky because I the time and I still have my son was obsessed with his lizards. I was always buying crickets for him. Sure, I learned you don't want to buy the large crickets because they're the ones that make all the noise that the medium and small, don't, don't croak. Whatever the word is, they don't make that noise. So of course, you're on the movie set. You don't want to have noise. So I said no, no, no, there has to be medium crickets because the large ones make a lot of noise. I know this because my kid. So those kinds, but we had a cricket Wrangler. And after we were done, she had to collect all 1000 of them make sure that they were all okay. And they all got their, you know, the per diem. Exactly. I think a few of them may have gotten you know, didn't quite make it, you know.

Alex Ferrari 59:30
I mean, no, of course they all made it. No crickets were harmed in the making of your show, sir. There was done cricket, so they were fine. There was cricket made out of little Styrofoam. It was amazing. Hollywood magic. So was there a day and I know the answer is yes, but I'm gonna ask it anyway. Is there a day on Halo that the entire world came crashing down around you? And you said oh my god, what the hell am I doing this entire thing is gonna go down and smoke. I know we've already talked about the losing the actor But is there another moment? It wasn't every day?

Steven Kane 1:00:14
Well, yeah, I don't think I don't think we ever I ever had an experience where I said, the whole thing is gonna come down crashing, there were times where I thought, that's just too much to do right now. Because what happened was, by the time I came on board, the train was already speeding out of the station. So they were sort of building and looking for locations based on old material that I was gonna be changing. So I keep giving them new drafts, like the story that got out, you know, they said glibly, one day to get two out of the 65 drafts, which I did. But that was because literally, I would get to work on Monday, and the producer would say, we need another draft for props or for locations to start their work or so I printed out another draft in 24 hours and get it just for that department, you know, and I'd say it's not done yet. It's just enough. But I had to get every script ready at the same time. So I was working on one and then two, and then three, four, then five, and then nine, and then seven. And then you know, so I was constantly having to shift gears. And remember, remember where I was in the season, and deliver because they needed production needed the lead time to be able to prep for whatever I was doing? So again, that's also why were the COVID break helped a little bit where we could do some planning, but so I think every day felt like you're being chased by an avalanche. Oh, great analogy. I love that. But at the end, when you kind of get to the bottom, you kind of go through and it goes right by you're like, that wasn't so bad, you know, but, but look, I'm still I'm still mixing shows as we speak, you know, and still doing score and visual effects as we speak. And, again, if you take it, sorry, you know, dogs barking. The if you if you can take it day by day, and just sort of say I can only do what I can do. You know, I didn't I had some help here. Once in a while a writer come out producer with a mountain helped me. But otherwise, there was no writing staff. Once I got to Hungary, so it was literally like just a stack next to me of like, okay, now I have to deal with this now. Oh, we lost this after. Okay, let's get to work on that. So the risk for me was I had to show my ass a lot, right, I did write drafts that weren't perfect that weren't great, because I needed to get scripts out for production. So it's, you never want to show work that you don't feel is ready, but you had no choice. So what would happen was you do it then you didn't get like dolts who criticisms and stuff. And I know guys, those is just a temporary thing. So I can get the art department going, or I can get casting going or, you know, like I would get calls? Can you give me some audition sides for Episode Eight? Like, Well, I haven't written episode eight yet. You know, so I have to write scenes for Episode Eight, just to give it to you, you know, that kind of stuff. So it was it was a lot. But again, it was so absurd that I just sort of had to laugh. But in the end, like I said, I had a really strong idea of what I wanted the show to be. I tried to stick to that every single day. And I think, you know, I'm really proud of the season. That's actually when you stick to landing it comes out and we didn't get buried by the avalanche. But yeah, there was some hilarious things, we built giant sets that ended up going, I don't think we're gonna use that now. You know, stuff like that. Lots of lessons learned, certainly ways to save money next season and other stuff like that. But any first year show is like that the last ship was no different. It was, you know, craziness. How are we gonna shoot on the ship? How are we gonna do this? And you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:03:32
It just sounds like you said, the train left. So you were like, thrown into a machine, a giant machine that was already moving, and was going to keep going no matter what you were just tossed into the gears and you're just trying to oil things up and try to keep things going. And no, no guys, not East. We were going west. We gotta move the whole ship over. And yeah,

Steven Kane 1:03:53
That was that it was like a train speeding with no tracks in front side to keep throwing down the track there to keep us from crashing. But yeah, your metaphor is perfect that that's how

Alex Ferrari 1:04:02
It was. And you were the only writer in Hungary.

Steven Kane 1:04:06
Yeah. So when I first took over, I grabbed two writers that I was close with from The Last Ship days, just in had three weeks just to sort of go okay, well, how are they gonna redo this? Because the scripts aren't lining up. Yeah. And so we worked in LA for a few weeks, then I went to Hungary. And then it was just, that was just me. And then I begged them, and I would get one of the one of the writers, Katie would come out for a couple of weeks, and then that would send her home. And then we brought in another writer for Mickey Fischer, a great guy for a few weeks, but then he wasn't gonna be able to stay. And so, you know, a young woman came in and I said, you know, she'll help us work on the Cortana stuff. And then, you know, it was a two week deal or whatever. So it was a lot of like, piecemeal. It wasn't like I had a staff that was like, Okay, you're covering Episode One, you're covering episode two. It was. I think there was a misconception that well, this show was this fine. It's gonna be fine. It's already written. You're just going to manage it, but it turns out it wasn't already written in There's a lot of story to tell and to make. So it was it was like you know you remodel your kitchen and go Well now that the kitchen is so nice living room needs some work. It's horrible. Now the now that I'm sitting here, what the frick is that on the wall, you know, so it became sort of a full on remodel teardown was what originally predecessors, right?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:23
It was just the bathroom. But then all of a sudden, like, well, the bathroom looks so nice. The kitchen looks horrible. Now now the kitchen looks so nice. Yeah, I gotta do the second bedroom.

Steven Kane 1:05:31
Like, by the way, none of this is to criticize any you know, who were working on because it was just different is the shot to get made. And, and honestly, it's such a tough show that you could sit there and and ponder every decision until you're paralyzed. Oh, you can say let's just make this show. And I think that in the end, I learned a lot from the stuff that came before me. They learned a lot from the stuff that came before me, we ended up coming up with a story that everyone really liked, and got behind. And what was great too was there were still moments where I could I could surprise myself, you know where I would go. limit what if this happens at the end of this episode that would change the entire story, and give me more work to do later on. But like, there are some moments where I was still able to find surprises and joy and epiphanies and, and things like that. And they even come up down in post production. But this is not to say that this show was like haphazard, or it was just the nature of making this kind of show. It was a battle from start to finish. But there was always a sense of what we wanted wanted the show to be it just was getting it there was you know, at the scale was Jonathan.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:38
Oh, my God, I can only I can't even imagine that the amount of peep amount of people that are interested in making sure this is good at the history of the other kid. It's kind of like, you know, being given Jurassic Park. And it's never been made before somebody who wanted to make Jurassic Park, and it's 1000 Different people trying to and it's been 10 years trying to turn 15 You're trying to make it. I mean, you've done is pretty gargantuan, but at Titane in a Titanic, no pun intended event that you were able to put together.

Steven Kane 1:07:07
And I helping people look like it because I know there's people who are diehard to the game, we're gonna say we are too far away. Others are gonna say we were slaves to it. Others are gonna say something else. Like, you know, we, our hearts are in the right place. I worked very closely with Microsoft, we tried our best to honor the ethos of the game and the feel of the game while telling a story that's cinematic that you know, is different, so you don't just watch the game on TV. And so we try to give rewards to the people who love the lore and also people who don't know the game at all. Or the tannin can also just enjoy it as a powerful story about humanity's quest to avoid being extinguished by an alien race, you know, so.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:50
And then of course, of course, your next year will be Metal Gear. So

Steven Kane 1:07:54
Next one is going to be two people in a room to be waiting for Gadot this series

Alex Ferrari 1:07:58
Dinner with my dad with Andre.

Steven Kane 1:08:02
But I'll call I'll call Michael Bay, and we'll see if we can make it we can judge it up a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:07
Yeah, I have one last quick question. What do you look for in a writer in a room? Because I know a lot of writers want to get in a room. What do you personally look for in a writer?

Steven Kane 1:08:17
First Person, first thing is, can I see myself spending a lot of time in the room with this person seriously? Like is this person gonna be you know, a fun person to be around, or at least not a bad person to be around? You don't always know that up front. But that's super important. You know, it's a little bit like you know, getting a baseball team together a basketball team, you gotta you look for like, Is this person a good shooter as person, a good runners or whatever. And so some people might be, like, really quiet in the writers room, which is not great, because the writers room is where you want ideas to flow. But if there's one person who's quiet and just takes notes, it's not so bad, because it's kid takes the kid not everyone can talk, right? But if that person is thoughtful, and then one note, and it's great, or their scripts are phenomenal. There might be others who's writing isn't perfect or great maybe takes a lot of rewriting but they're they can be they can be trained, they can learn, but they're fantastic in the room because you're always pitching ideas. Like my thing when I was coming up was I would go What about this? And they'd say no, I'm like, Okay, how about this, then they say no, I'm like, Okay, well, what about that, and then eventually, I never gave up. So my sort of doggedness is what you know people could count on me to sort of always be trying you know, so I think you look for a balance you don't want you don't want everyone to be a big alpha you don't want everyone to be to the meek one. Ultimately, though, when it comes down to writer for writer, you want someone who has a voice has an opinion has a life that's interesting. You want diversity so you want to have people who come from different walks of life because that they bring that into the room. You know, it's amazing how you get different perspectives. You know, if you've got people from on different socio economic, racial, sexual, anything backgrounds, it keeps you from getting into your bubble too much you don't do it to pander, you don't do it to sort of be woke you do it because trying to tell a full story. And so you know, like, you want the young person to want a person with a young family, you want a person who has kids in college, you want a person who's retired, a person who's lost, you know, you just want people to bring their life to your show. And, and then to have a point of view and a passion for writing and for filmmaking. But yeah, I think ultimately, though, it's really about who do you want to be collaborative with? Who do you think you can work with on a day to the basis and we'll you know, we'll have your back to, you know, though, the thing that happens is sometimes you get people who their show didn't sell, it's another working on your show. And they don't really want to be there. And they're like, why your job? Yeah. And they're on the phone with their agent and trying to sell other things. While you're like waiting for a script, like, I want the show to be as important to you as it is, to me, I know, it's impossible, if it's not your show, but I want to feel that way, when I was on the closer, I gave that show all my attention. And you know, really wanted to make it great, because that's where I spending my days. And, you know, I think that also, you rise up faster that way too. Like, I was talking to a young kids every day who's wanting to make it, you know, I was interning and stuff. And I said, you know, if you just show the people you're working for that You are the hardest working person, the easiest person to get along with. They'll recognize that if they're not jerks, they'll recognize that they'll want to promote you. But if you walk in thinking I deserve better, from the very getgo and this is beneath me, you won't you know, I learned that the hard way because I did come out of being my own independent film guy. And then suddenly, I'm on staff. So I'm being told, you know, we don't all swim in late came. And, and once I changed my attitude, I rose really fast. And I had a show runner. I went from executive Story Editor scope to co executive producer in one season. And I've done the same thing for other writers I've had on my show I people start off as staff writers, by the end of the last ship, they were co VPS. Because I could just see it in them. They were dedicated to the show, they were dedicated to working hard into putting in the hours outside of work. You know, it's so I think I've got the question, but I think that's,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:14
Well, like the best advice I ever got. is don't be a dick. Dont be a dick. Yeah. Best best advice you could get is don't be a dick. And I'm gonna ask you a couple questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Steven Kane 1:12:28
I would say you know, there's no excuse these days for not making making products that someone can look at whether it's a script or a short or you know, play. I think that more and more people want to see people with their own unique voices. And they can teach you the business side of things they can teach you can surround you with people to help you. That's always been the case. But now I think with technology and the internet, and it's even more so that you can you can make your own portfolio and your own world. I think you know, Steven Soderbergh. Have you ever had him on yet?

Alex Ferrari 1:13:05
Not yet. I'm trying to. I'm trying. I'm trying.

Steven Kane 1:13:09
I've read a lot of his stuff. And he's, he's great. I met I met him briefly after I made an independent film at a lot at the movie theater, it was so nice. But he has got one of those books, which I always think is a good formula for success. Talent, plus perseverance equals luck. So that, to me is like it's like, literally, if you gave up too soon, doesn't matter how talented you are, you're done. Right? If you have no talent, but you keep trying, of course, that's going to leave you in a tough place because people don't like your work. But even if you have both those things, you gotta you have to get a break. You have to get a lucky break. You know, and I do think you make your own luck. You know, I look back on things. I've made plenty of mistakes. But I'm not here to talk about those. That. No, I remember being in film school, and I was working on a little Super Eight sound film and this young woman I was working with, she was applying to the Cannes Film Festival as an intern. I'm like, that sounds cool. How do I do that? I applied and I did not get the job. I called the guy up, was a publicist. And I said, Come on, you gotta send me I speak French. I'm a film student, I have to be helpful. That could be a translator, whatever you need, got the job and went there. And that'd be Oliver Stone, this assistant, you know, like little things like that kind of workout. If you don't give up. You know, I also had several years where I couldn't get a job. You know, I couldn't get arrested. I would get a freelance episode of a show, but I couldn't get staffed. I'd have great meetings, but then nothing happened. And then, you know, actually, I got the job and the closer up till the story a million times. But I met the showrunner team stuff after having a long week of rejections. And I was like, complete mope. In the in the interview, I was like, whatever, you know, it's great. Sure. Nice to meet you. I'm sure I'll get the job but whatever. Thanks for the free water and he for some reason, we still talked about to this day, he called my agent and said, What happened to this guy? And they said, he's just going through a tough time, he can't get a job. He's so good. You know, we think he's great. But whatever is like, well, please have him come back and be normal. I want to make sure he's not crazy, because I like his writing. So I went back, I was myself I was, you know, I pitched some ideas. And I ended up working on the show for like, seven years, you know, and we would joke about, like, why do you do that? Why do you give me a second chance? And he's like, Oh, I couldn't have done it. I am so glad I did. It was good for me. I said, What was was good for me too. So, you know, don't get down with things. Don't take things too hard. every setback is only a pause before the next success and literally be resilient. Just bounce back, be nice and be resilient. Because eventually, someone's gonna notice that and go get your shot.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:58
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Steven Kane 1:16:02
Still working on it! I still working on, you know, not getting too down on myself. But things don't go well. I'm still working on. You know, as much as I present to my partners, then like, through that this is the best thing ever, and we're going to do great. There's always that doubt of is this really a thing, you know? Imposter imposter syndrome. You know, at one point, after we sold the last ship, one of the producers turns to me, I sold it in the room, literally, Michael Wright said, Let's do this, let's shoot this as soon as possible. One of the producers turns to me afterwards and says, This is really a show. I'm like, wait a minute, I have to write this, you know, so. And that. And I don't need to hear that. Because I'm already hearing that myself and hearing my, my my grandmother saying, Are you making a living? Like, you know, that kind of stuff? Like, why don't you get a real job? Yeah, so. So the last thing I need to hear is that you're an imposter. So it's hard sometimes, because you really are putting yourself out there. I mean, in fact, the most frightened I've ever been, was when the stakes were so low, I wrote a couple of plays, when I placed in there put together as a show in LA, I ran for like six months, like 10 years ago, or more. And, you know, a small theater, and an Arab being in the audience and being so anxious, couldn't sit still, because I felt so exposed. Because it was me, that wasn't on a staff, there wasn't I couldn't say when my boss rewrote me, or, you know, this is what the network wanted. And it was, it was my personality, on display my works on display my thoughts on display. And, you know, it felt so great when people liked it. But at the same time, I hated the fact that I had put myself out there to be so vulnerable, but at the same time, that's what you have to do. Right? And so how do you protect that, that piece of you and still present to the world in a business where you know, people are cruel, or, you know, Doctor, do you read your reviews? You worked on something for three years? And someone does? Yeah, it was all right. They should have talked to the Navy, or they should have talked to you know, what? So I think that's something I'm still learning just how to keep a thick skin. And also keep that part of you. I look back at that kid who used to read some comment at 15. Wow, yeah, I want to be in more Birdman. Or I'd want to be you know, and I think who's this kid from New Jersey who could thinks he could be more Bergman? Right. So yeah, you just gotta, you gotta keep faith in yourself and surround yourself by people who are supportive and loving. And you know, and then turn around and hope that your kids like your work.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:37
Exactly. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time.

Steven Kane 1:18:42
Ah, I would say Amadeus, Barry Lyndon, Oh, wow. And I would say the toss up between. This is a little pretentious, I know. But in my bourbons persona or Ecuador's contempt, like when I watch when I want to get rich, super inspired again, Amadeus because I just love music. I love the way that film is directed. I relate to solitary too much sometimes I feel like a fraud. Yeah, Barry Lyndon, I keep putting it on for people and then watching the entire thing with them. That's the beauty of it. And then I just I just love I love persona and shame by Bergman, because they're just so stripped down just about the faces and about the interpersonal stuff. And like, I borrowed from those movies in ways you would never expect for the stuff I'm making. And then And then other the other kind of, sort of North Star for me is has always been Hitchcock because I like making films that are entertaining and unpopular and like you can eat popcorn and just enjoy them. But that if you wanted to, you can look deeper and find something into like you could read a paper about them, you know, we're Windows appropriate sample it's it's just this great mist Three story, but really, it's about one guy who can't commit to a relationship, right? And he's paralyzed because of the cast is that this beautiful woman and wants to be his girlfriend or wife? And what does he see out the window he sees the young newlyweds. He says Miss lonely hearts, He sees the sad sack he sees the Playboy sees the young couple doting on the dog that gets a job. All these things are sort of built into the story. If you want to go deeper and realize the metaphors, but it's also just fun. And I think like, that's to me, great filmmaking. Redox. So just saying, This is my message and being pretentious about it, you're telling the story. First and foremost, you're entertaining people. But then there's deep, there's depth beneath that, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:20:36
That's the it's amazing that Amadeus and Barry Lyndon are the favorite films of the guy who just put Halo out like, that's awesome. That is an awesome, because, you know, it's like, no Blade Runner and this and that and stuff. I know. That goes that goes without the Godfather we could deal with you can list them all off. But it wasn't a sci fi heavy list. And that's what I love. Because that's, that's where you get the more interesting stuff like you're gonna do. Yeah, when you start colliding genres and colliding ideas, and you know, things like that is is remarkable. Steve,

Steven Kane 1:21:11
I'll say one more thing. I 2001 has always been one of my favorite films, and I was able to honor it. In episode two of Halo, I was able to do homage to 2001 by casting here delay. Who was such a joy to work with such a sweet guy? Somewhere I have his autograph with a picture. 2001 But so yeah, I like I'd like to be able to speak to some history. You know, you listen to Spielberg talk about the movies or reference references when he makes, you know, Indiana Jones, whatever, it is the same thing. Now we're referencing those people, right, so the next generation, so I'm always trying to honor and pull from those greats.

Alex Ferrari 1:21:54
And someday some kid is gonna go Halo, I was watching Halo and I pulled the shot from Episode Three in

Steven Kane 1:22:02
That shot, that was an accident. We were running out of light, and we had to do something.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:07
And that's the funny thing. So when I've talked to some of these amazing filmmakers, I'll go, yeah, that's shot and they're like, Oh, God, that was horrible. It's so amazing. When you see from a different perspective. Yeah, it's the best we could keep talking forever. But I appreciate you so much for coming on the show. It has been a joy talking to you are you are a match, sir, you are a match. So I appreciate that. I appreciate you. And thank you for getting haloed out man finally,bringing it out to the world.

Steven Kane 1:22:34
I love it. And honestly, I'm honored to even have been invited on the show looking at the people you've spoken to before me. They're all legends. So it's a it's a thrill to be part of this. But I hope that helps add to the conversation. And you know, to anyone out there trying to get into the business, you know, welcome aboard, man. It's great. It's a great ride, if you can get into it.

Alex Ferrari 1:22:55
Thank you, my friend.

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IFH 573: Vampires, The Devil and Working in Hollywood with Brian Nelson

Today on the show we have screenwriter Brian Nelson. 

Nelson holds degrees from Yale University and from UCLA. He worked as a drama instructor at Langley High School in McLean, Virginia in the early 1980s, where he taught Gilmore Girls actress Lauren Graham, Little Miss Sunshine screenwriter Michael Arndt, and UCLA screenwriting instructor Brian David Price.

Nelson’s numerous writing credits include episodes of the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict, JAG and the Disney television series’ So Weird and In a Heartbeat as well as the feature film Hard Candy. He also wrote the play “Overlooked” and co-wrote the script for the vampire film 30 Days of Night, which was released in late 2007 and helmed by Hard Candy director David Slade.

Nelson wrote the script for the M. Night Shyamalan-produced thriller Devil. Nelson wrote episodes 3 and 8 of the Netflix original series Altered Carbon, as well as executive-producing the show.

His new project is Agent Stroker.

AGENT STOKER is a paranormal thriller – part Raymond Chandler, part Philip K. Dick, and all macabre all the time. AGENT STOKER is the love child of The Shadow and Black Mirror, it’s “The X-Files with a drinking problem.”

AGENT STOKER is the tale of a wounded man working for the Night Brigade, tracking data points that might just indicate coming apocalypse. AGENT STOKER is scripted supernatural fiction created by Chris Conner and Brian Nelson (both from Altered Carbon). 

Brian and I had on heck on a fun time talking shop. Enjoy my conversation with Brian Nelson.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show Brian Nelson. How're you doing? Brian?

Brian Nelson 0:14
So far so good.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
We have been talking for I don't know, 20,30,40 minutes before we even got started. So I have a good feeling about this conversation. I think we're gonna have a lively, a lively, you know, trip down the rabbit hole of screenwriting in the craft and a few other surprises, I'm sure. So before we get started, how did you get? First of all, why? And how did you get started in this business? Like, this is a ridiculous?

Brian Nelson 0:42
Why would anyone get started?

Alex Ferrari 0:44
This is this is an insane business. Like, you know, it's insane. How did you get started?

Brian Nelson 0:49
I had the fortune not to know how insane it would be before I am.

Alex Ferrari 0:53
Fair enough,

Brian Nelson 0:55
You know, long version or short version, which would you like,

Alex Ferrari 1:00
Whichever you'd like to whichever one? Whichever, whichever feel you feel like you like because we're gonna be here for a minute

Brian Nelson 1:06
I make my own grave.

Alex Ferrari 1:07
Right, exactly.

Brian Nelson 1:08
Right. All right. Um, for for various reasons that are part of the long version, I had this notion that, oh, maybe I'll try to like work a number of different jobs over my life. So I worked for a little while as a high school teacher and I worked for a little while as a theatre director. And then I'm thought, you know, I'm gonna move into writing. And of course, once I moved into writing, that means working in new jobs all the time. So I didn't have to actually continue that model. Because I was constantly as a writer, you were, you know, reinventing yourself all the time, and you are taking on new territory and responsibilities all the time. 10 years ago, I had to learn everything there was to learn about Florence and the Italian Renaissance for Da Vinci's demons. Little later, I had to learn everything there was to I read every word we still have written by Lee Harvey Oswald, because I was doing a deep dive into the Kennedy assassination for 1122 63. So so that is part of it was that I had this sort of sweet, idealistic notion of, oh, let's just live a life where you're constantly reinventing yourself. And then I stumbled upon this career where I'm, in fact, already constantly reinventing myself. So get Be careful what you wish for. You know, having said that, I mean, I've always on some level, you know, I was that kid in first grade, I was writing little episodic stories, like, wow, yeah, I know, I stumbled upon this one day. And I was like, I did this. But yes, here's like, in my little first grade handwriting, there's chapter five, where there's like a team have, like, sort of Mission Impossible type, operatives. And, and, and they all kind of happened to be my friends, but they all had code names. And I was x five, who was secretly the robot, which, what does that say about my like, self image, and we'll leave that for later. At any rate, so So I've always, you know, since since my earliest memories been, sometimes despite myself, I've been a storyteller and, and, and to get like, a little more thoughtful about it, you know, I think that on some level, that's our job as humans is to take a universe that seems without reason frequently and figure out the reasons make things make sense. You know, that's our gift as humans is to be able to interpret a possibly meaningless reality and ascribe meaning to it and make sense of our lives that way. So I figured out somehow within all that, how to actually make a living doing the thing that I think humans should be doing anyway, so, so far, so good.

Alex Ferrari 4:22
Yeah. And you're absolutely right. I think it's, it's, it's it for a writer, I think it is our responsibilities to to be able to give some sort of meaning to this insanity, that we are just our life and why we're here and what's going on and doing these deep dives, especially you know, going you know, doing research on your career. And you just mentioned a couple like the you know, the Renaissance and the the Kennedy assassination and there's those a couple of vampires in there and there's a devil in there as well. There's a few other things that you've you've really delved into a lot of things but as storytellers you're absolutely right. It is our job to kind of do that in an entertaining fashion because That's what we were doing around the campfire. You know, 1010 20,000 50,000 years ago, it's, you know, and stories I always tell people stories are they saved your life because if you didn't tell the story about the tiger who ate that guy around the corner, down by the river, if that story didn't get out, the tiger would still be eating people left and right.

Brian Nelson 5:22
Well put, and you know, I have a friend who told me once, like, I actually get into that whole campfire thing when I'm pitching a story to executives, like, I channel all of like the 1930s radio drama energy that I can. Yeah, a friend says, Yes, Brian, you have this, what he calls this, your dark campfire Mojo, where you're telling this story and you're making it clear that like, if people don't listen, something terrible might happen. So yeah, your your best, Orson Welles, your best Orson Welles. This is not the first time that that analogy is true.

Alex Ferrari 6:06
Now, you did a movie called Hard Candy in back in 2005. I remember when it came out. And it kind of it was very risque for that for its time. I remember, people were like, what? Like, they were really It caught? It really caught a lot of fire. How did you get from the How did you get from the script, to production, to Sundance and then and then you know, finally getting it distributed.

Brian Nelson 6:35
I mean, hardcat it was a tremendous experience. For me, I had been working as a writer for a little over 10 years where I'd done I've been in a writers room on a series, I'd written a miniseries written a mini series that did various freelance gigs. But also, I was like, trying to figure out how to, like, let things catch fire. And, and honestly, I had no idea that hard candy would be the thing that caught fire, but a producer named David Higgins had read a play of mine and head said, let's figure something out. And and he had a sort of clever idea. He was at the time a development executive himself who wanted to move into producing and his thought was I'm going to sort of see if I could come up with like, logline sentences for movies that could be made for like $15 and and find writers and develop them that way. And so we kicked the idea, various ideas around and one day he said, You know, there's this there's this story that I read about in Japan where these underage teenage girls would lure businessman up to their apartment with the promise of illicit dangerous sex, and then beat them up and rob them. And and we talked about like, it's really interesting, this dynamic of you start the story thinking, Oh, I should be afraid for this person. And then you realize, except maybe I should be afraid of them. And that was a felt like a juicy dynamic to consider and so we kept talking I shaped out really of a shockingly miniscule treatment I think it was like maybe four four and a half pages. And and David managed to say you know, I think we got something here but of course, I have no money but if you thought about specking it I bet we could sell it and it happened to be New Years and so I was like well, resolutions Fresh Start Sure. Let's give it see what happens if I give two or three days a week to just seeing what happens if I move forward with this story which at this point on the on the treatment was called Vendetta is very lame.

Alex Ferrari 9:17
Very beat very be very 80's be movie

Brian Nelson 9:20
Yeah. How to call it something. And fast forward on the title theme when we eventually were in production. We were like, well, we need a new title. I pitched her a while the idea of let's call it snip snip. Oh, and amazing. Always get some reaction but Hagen's Hagins to his credit, maybe not the reaction a

Alex Ferrari 9:52
Little too little too far.

Brian Nelson 9:54
So so he said, You know, there's that there's that movie where like the cheerleaders robbed the bank where it's called Sugar and spice. And maybe there's something in that vein where we talk about the like, bad dynamic. And so, along those terms, I pitched hard candy and as the title and that's what it became. So I've written the script, the script wrote remarkably fast. I mean, I, it just felt like I'm onto something here, it was one of those situations where like, you know, you, you set a certain quota for yourself of how many pages you want to try to draft a day. Sure, routinely, I was like, exceeding my quota and like, hitting dinnertime and going, I could keep going, I'd maybe I should stop now, while I still know what the next lines will be. I mean, it was just, it felt very fluid. I was at the right point, I think in my life and career to like, channel a lot of different influences. And it came also partly out of my theater experience. I had trained as a director in theater, Hagen's his plan B was, if we, if we never get any money to make this, then you know, Brian, you know, actors, we could just, you know, max out our credit cards and rent a digital video camera, and shoot it in my house. And so while I was writing, I was actually had in the back of my mind, right things that can shoot in David's house. You know, I was sort of choreographing it. I was writing it sure, you know, like a stage director thinking, Alright, now we should move to the kitchen, or when in fact, one day I got a ladder, and I walked up on the roof of David's house, you know, to see what that would feel like. David lived in a house all that also at that time that had a little interior rock garden with that, that we were like, there could be a safe under there, and so forth. So So I wrote it in a way for production, which I think was smart, something that helped. We sent this script around, we got a lot of great response. We got we got people who were like, people from studios were like, This is so great. Don't send it to us. Because we'll only screw it up. You know,

Alex Ferrari 12:26
That's just what you want to hear. Just what you want to hear

Brian Nelson 12:29
Fascinating response. And I mean, on some level, they weren't wrong, that they were like, you know, they they were basically saying, no, if you, if you do it here, then like you'll the development process will make will bleed everything special out of it. And it will turn out to be not a movie, where you know, this, this young kid executes this diabolical revenge, but she'll turn out to be Holly Hunter pretending to be a young kid or, you know,

Alex Ferrari 13:00
But isn't. But isn't it amazing, though Hollywood has I've never, I've never found another industry or another place where Hollywood, other than Hollywood, that they give you the nicest efuse I've ever heard. I mean, it's it's artistic. It's art. And that was that is I agree with you, although in this case, I prefer not to think of it as it No, it was, it was a little bit of it

Brian Nelson 13:23
Like wise, you know? Sure, counsel. So we started looking into how to how to make this independently. And Higgins thought, you know, if we find a director ourselves that we like, then we could present ourselves as a package. And frankly, a great aspect of this as well was that then the directors relationship would be with us. Because it turns out that you're your biggest loyalty is is often to the people that you saw as bringing you into the project. And so having that bond with a with a director that way was was tremendous for us. So we looked at reels of various people. And, you know, one of 17 Incredibly lucky things that happened on this project was we ran across the work of David Slade, who had been directing commercials and music videos, but had not done a feature was looking to do his first feature. And you know, we'd like very quickly realized, Oh, my God, here's a here's someone who could, as you see in hard candy, he could take a teenager looking through a file cabinet and make it look like The Bourne Identity.

Alex Ferrari 14:43
That's what commercials and music video directors have. They have that eye

Brian Nelson 14:47
He knows he knows how to shoot the hell out of something. And so we became this package. I will refer to them by their last names a lot since they're both David and but we became this package of me and Higgins at Slade And we looked to various indie funders. There was one group that actually gave us offered us twice the money we made it for. But their deal was, but you'll have to, like make it with our people. And Slade had very strong feelings about know if I'm going to make this for a price, it has to be my team that I know. Right? And I already have shorthand with that I can work with instantly. And so we were funded by Vulcan production productions, which was Paul Allen's company. And and they basically wrote us a check for a million dollars, which was a lot and not much at all. And we we hired an ingenious line producer whose job was to lie to us and tell us there was not much money left. Right. And, you know, we kept coming at him, he would eventually say, Well, I did squirrel away some money. And

Alex Ferrari 16:11
Yes, I love I love like producers who do that they're like, Well, you know, I I hit a little bit of money and put in design, so you can pull that out there. Oh, and props. I threw a couple extra grand over there. Oh, it's the best.

Brian Nelson 16:23
And, and so I'm gonna try to angle my camera here. Yes, yes. If you could see it,

Alex Ferrari 16:32
Oh, it's an amazing poster. That's an amazing poster. Yes,

Brian Nelson 16:35
That is this kind of collector's item. This is the poster that we made ourselves to take to Sundance

Alex Ferrari 16:45
Amazing, amazing design amazing design.

Brian Nelson 16:48
You know, equally amazing was the Lions Gate design when Lions Gate eventually picked us up?

Alex Ferrari 16:55
Oh, yeah,

Brian Nelson 16:56
That design of Haley in the hoodie, standing of that giant bear trap. Oh, unbelievable design. And I have that right and elsewhere. But this particular poster is always special to me, because it was seen only by, you know, 190 people at Sundance.

Alex Ferrari 17:14
So I'll tell you what, in 2005, we did you guys go into the it was the Sundance 2005. Sundance, right? Yes. That was my first year at Sundance. And I remember walking, and I was walking, I was walking Main Street. And I remember seeing the poster. And I remember hearing about an A here and we were there promoting our short film. And it was just like, Man, that's a great idea. And I just like in the in the marketing for that looks really cool. And it was just, you know, for people, Sundance was a whole lot different in 2005 than it is today. It's just a whole other. It hasn't turned into what it is today. And but I do remember oh five, and I remember walking the streets. And I remember seeing the poster and I remember hearing about that movie. So yeah,

Brian Nelson 17:57
It felt I will say it felt like a lot today a lot lot in 2005 Even I mean, it was it was that the place was jammed. And, you know, Sundance is is also I will take a moment to say, you know, wonderful in many ways and helped launch as and at the same time. Boy, they are focused on directors. So like, you know, the artists so much on the writer, not so much the writer. No, no, the artistic director introduced the film as written and directed by David Slade and David had to say I actually. And Sundance had not made a badge for me.

Alex Ferrari 18:38
Oh,

Brian Nelson 18:41
I tell that not to shame send it well, no, a little bit, just a little bit. But actually, not having a badge turned out to be great. Because they were like, well, we have a badge, but the name of your film. So I walked around town all week. And my dad said I was hard candy, and take that the wrong way. But I'd be on a bus and people would see my badge and they'd go, Oh, my God, I love that film. And, you know, whereas had I been wearing a badge that said, Brian Nelson, I just, you know, I wouldn't have any nobody would have talked to me, but I actually was wearing my own PR. And really that turned out to be honest. You know, if I'm at Sundance again, I probably want to do the same strategy and not have a badge but just have a badge with the name of my film because that was magic.

Alex Ferrari 19:43
Oh my god, that must have been amazing experience. And then it goes on to to do you know, well, it got picked up and it does well it gets critically acclaimed. So now how does the town treat you? Because you've been around you've been around for a few years. You're not you know, you didn't just show up with Your first spec script you've been writing.

Brian Nelson 20:03
It's interesting, because, you know, I got about three years later, my previous agent left the business and I signed with new agents. And when I'd see their resume that they'd send out on me, it began with hard candy. And I was like, Oh, that's interesting. For you guys. I didn't really exist before that. Right? That's fine. But um, you know, the fun thing about going on meetings in the wake of Hard Candy was that people read it. And they tell me all their experiences of reading it. They'd say, it was like Sunday at 1130 at night, and I was tired. I thought, I'll burn off one more script. This looks fun. It has candy in the name. And then I'm like, 20 pages in and I'm like, What am I reading at this hour of the night? Why am I all alone? And not very dressed? I should put on more clothes. So people loved telling me those stories. Oh, that's awesome. But also, I'd walk in and people would meet what you're seeing now people would meet a guy whose looks and sounds like me. Right! And they'd go. You're not who I saw.

Alex Ferrari 21:34
What did they? What did they think

Brian Nelson 21:36
Hard candy so they expected Marilyn Manson.

Alex Ferrari 21:39
I was about to say, like, with some emo kid to walk it

Brian Nelson 21:43
And I Yeah, exactly. And, and, you know, so I walk in and I mentioned I'm amusing and not right, you know, come in with a kind of a light touch and I'm easy to talk to, and I'm not like glaring at them. Like why you think you have the right to exist? No, no. So that was but maybe that was that was a surprising like comforting to people that oh, we wait to be scared of this guy.

Alex Ferrari 22:17
Now, so after you made your rounds in town, you and David Slade worked on another project shortly thereafter. A little vampire film independent vampire film that we call 30 Days of Night, which is a fantastic I mean, I love love, love that movie. And I love the shot. I love the way it was written. How did you approach adapting? Uh, this was a graphic novel, if I'm not mistaken. right it was .

Brian Nelson 22:44
It was a graphic novel, graphic novel created by the amazing Steve Niles. Yeah. With with art by the equally stunning Ben temple Smith. Yeah. And you know, it had been a sensation in comics. I'm one of those guys who you know, knows way too much about comics for someone my age, you know, here's this wall you see behind me with like Shakespeare and pincher, but literally on the other side of this wall comics are 29,000, Marvel and DC comic books. And so

Alex Ferrari 23:20
Well, we can get we can geek out then

Brian Nelson 23:24
Fair warning anyway, So So I, you know, I certainly knew of the project it had been through. It had been through several writers and the studio had reached a point where they'd said, we're not sure what to do with this, maybe we hire a director, and then the director sort of supervises a writer. And yet, this is Studio thinking for you, then they were like, but maybe we shouldn't hire the writer that the director wanted. Because then the writer won't listen to us. They'll only listen to the director which you know, having heard my you know, thesis about who hires you into your loyalty. I mean, that certainly makes sense. So therefore, I even though Slade wanted to bring me in on this, I still actually had to, like enter a derby for this. I was one of three riders pitching it I have never pitched two more people at once. 11 people included on the pitch including two on the phone, you know, from from the studio and two production companies and the publisher of the graphic novel. And so, so it was a lot but somehow, luckily, I won through and was tremendous fun to write. I can imagine and and what I what I look, Steve Niles had this brilliant premise for his story. So Like, the first, the first 20 pages, like, we're already home, and he had a brilliant ending. The challenge of various writers along the way was that, you know, there was there was not there was not much in the way of character arc yet or a second act. And so that's a lot of what I brought brought to that. But it was an interesting case, because also, you know, Josh Hartnett had been cast and won as part of his deal the right to like consultant script and, and, you know, we were like, holding our breath about, oh, what's, what's this actor gonna say? But Josh brought interesting ideas to it. Josh said, this is a small thing, for example, it's hardly like, when people list the the things they love about 30 Days of Night, nobody says, oh, and his inhaler. But actually, you know, Josh was like, I want to be an ordinary guy. I don't want to be a secret superhero. And so, so like, Could we just, you know, give me like, a little asthma issue and silver so that, like, when I run around the corner, we're not going to do the scene of like, must get inhaler, right. Yeah. You know, it would be great. If I just had to take a moment every once in a while to just puff, you know, I just need a little help. I'm human. I'm an ordinary god. That was an example of something that's actually suggestion suggested that I thought would be great. Josh also suggested, what if? What if I have like, a little brother, because the little brother was not in the graphic novel. And and Josh suggested, you know, if I had a little brother, then that would be go to like the themes of family in the story. And when I thought about that, I thought, Oh, this would be great. Because if his brother is like, 1719, he is like, Josh is the sheriff. Josh plays Evan Evans good at his job. You know, so, so Evan didn't have technical challenges of can I really do this, you know, he, he steps up to the moment, but his little brother is his little brother. And so like, having to watch his little brother have this coming of age where it's like, Oh, my God, I just killed a vampire. Maybe I need to go throw up. Now, you know, that was a tremendous dynamic to have. And, and, you know, watching watching that character have that little arc, again, not something that a lot of people when they, when they list things about the movie, they nobody ever says to me, oh, have a little brother. But it was part of the texture of that, right? It actually made it so human and so rich, and that to me, in everything I write, I'm looking for that humanity. I'm, I'm, I will often say to people that regardless of what genre I'm writing, I write about people who find themselves someplace where the rules have changed. And now suddenly, it's up to them to decide, whoa, what are the new rules is going to be? And when they make those decisions about what's what's going to be right and wrong in this new paradigm? What did they discover about themselves, that maybe they didn't want to know? So that's what I love is taking people putting them in a gray area where they have to make those hard choices, look in the mirror and go, Wow, that's who I am, what the hell do I do with that? And that is hard candy. And that is 30 Days of Night, and that is altered carbon, and that is Agent Stoker. And it's and so you know, even though I write in various genres, and have have, you know, a sort of complicated resume, that's my sort of unified field theory of what I write,

Alex Ferrari 29:21
And that's a that's a really great point of view. Because I mean, I've never heard it illustrated that way before. Because, you know, obviously, the the ordinary world and you go into the, you know, the New World, and that's the concept of that, but putting them in a place where the rules of their environment have changed, like in devil or, or like in 30 days a night where you were, I mean, obviously, you know, you've got vampires in the sun's never coming. Like that's a great such a such a wonderful concept for a vampire movie. It's like, if you're going to do a vampire movie, it's such a great thing but that and then also I just love the idea of the vulnerability of Josh's character, not only because of the inhaler, which is a brilliant mood, brilliant, brilliant idea. But having the brother and having to watch his brothers back as well gives him another vulnerability. He's like, he's not only dealing with asthma, he's not only dealing with a town full of vampires, he also got to watch his little brothers back and take care of them as opposed to so it's just all those little, those little parts of the tapestry add so much to the character. You're absolutely right. But I love that idea of the throwing them in a gray area where the rules have changed and see what they do when you apply these new, this new paradigm to them.

Brian Nelson 30:39
I mean, not that, you know, my feeling is sometimes the gray area happens for various reasons. Sometimes it's thrusting upon you, without your being prepared for it or having asked for it other times, you semi wittingly or unwittingly created it because you were pursuing something and then guess what it puts you now in this new territory? Right? You know, you to be careful what you ask for kind of situation, like so people, people can find themselves in the new paradigm for different reasons. But, you know, on some level, I'll even say that that's, you know, that is me as a screenwriter, that I was a guy who was like teaching school and directing theater, and then I entered screenwriting. It's like, whoa, the rules are different here. I have a lot to learn. Even though I thought I was pretty smart, man, there's still a lot to learn. So

Alex Ferrari 31:34
And the game change, and the game changes almost weekly.

Brian Nelson 31:39
Always asking myself, am I capable of what am I capable of a while I and and surprised? I didn't know I could write that. But I guess I just did. So yes, exactly. And it's fine.

Alex Ferrari 31:54
Let me ask you. So I always love asking writers this, about the flow about being able to tap into their creative. Well, I believe that we all have a creative Well, I think Spielberg said it best is like ideas float in the universe. And they will come to you. And if you don't do something with that idea, it will go to somebody else. And that's why he's like, Oh, I had that idea. But I didn't do anything with it. And like six months later, oh, it's in production. Damn it. I have a great print store, if you want to hear Prince story about her. So Prince, Prince, I was writing as

Brian Nelson 32:29
Another Nelson. So, you know, I'm automatically in sympathy.

Alex Ferrari 32:33
So prince, the the late great prince called up his, you know, he has like 1000 songs. And yeah, he's got a new album up into the year 3000. So a new album every year up into the year 3000, we will continue to have prints. So he would just call up his his backup singers and his musicians at whatever time whenever he got struck with with inspiration. And one night he calls up his his, uh, his back of one of the backup singers and says, Hey, what are you doing? It goes, I'm sleeping Prince, it's three o'clock in the morning. Like, I need you to come down to the to the recording. So we're gonna record it. What can you just wait, like, for four hours? Like, no, I've got to get it now. And I got to get it recorded now. Because if I don't Michael Jackson's gonna get it. And that was such a amazing, like little peek into his creative process. He really understood when he had an idea or an idea came to him. If I don't act on it, it's gonna, I'm gonna lose it. So I always like asking writers What do you do to get into the creative flow and how to tap into that well, of creativity that is that is yours that you get that that Muse if you will, to tap into that?

Brian Nelson 33:46
I mean, that's a very interesting question. Because like, I'm, I want to answer it in at least a couple of different ways. And this may be my, like, Libra quality, you know, my wife's complaint about me? Is that the answer to every question that she asks me as well, yes, and no. You know, and so there's a part of me that wants to say, actually, no, you don't have a choice. There's nothing I do. I it does me, you know, that, like, I, I will just have to come downstairs at 1230 at night because I can't sleep and I know, I have to write it down so that I can sleep. You know, because otherwise, you know, the ideas just gonna keep kind of going, hey, hey, anything about me? You know, so, so there's that, you know, having said that, I will also say obviously there are you know, I mean, like I you know, spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to work Pandora to find a way to curate for myself a collection of music. That would be only so interesting. to keep my mind occupied a little, not so interesting to distract me.

Alex Ferrari 35:07
So find balance.

Brian Nelson 35:09
But interesting enough that when my mind goes on, do you want to think about something else? I've already fed it. This, this minimally interesting music. Okay? Yeah, no, yeah, I was too if I were writing in silence, I would go and, and, you know, go do something else. You know so so knowing you know, knowing something about how your brain works and what your capacity is, uh, you know, I I'll arrange various treats for myself, you know. I'm a big believer in you know, the, the animal moths book Bird by Bird and then feeling like, you know, you don't have to do it all at once, break it down into little chunks, Bird by Bird. And lo and behold, you write about enough birds and you got an aviary. I don't think that's quite the way she put it. But brick

Alex Ferrari 36:05
Brick by Brick a piece of the elephant a bite of the elephant at the time.

Brian Nelson 36:08
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So um, so those are, you know, that I certainly have my, my schemes. Having said that, once I had two kids, I also got really good at writing whenever there was the time, because, oh, yeah, I used to be a guy who like, and still am somewhat a guy who like I love writing, you know, in the middle of the night, when the house is all asleep, and I have everything to myself and no distractions it's over. But being a parent, man, I learned to write in like, the little time from 1005 to 10:23am, or whatever, you know, that, that, you know, being a parent of young kids meant you were signing on to a life of none of your plans going like you thought. And so, so as a sort of evolutionary survival strategy, I acquired the ability to write when I got the shot.

Alex Ferrari 37:14
And it was very much like Stephen King, you know, when he was writing carry on a typewriter on his lap, in the laundry room, you know, and he was just like, as he's doing laundry, he's just typing away on carry his first novel, and you just do what you got to do. And if it's five minutes, it's five minutes, it's it's five hours, it's five hours, it's whatever you can, but you just got, I think the key is also just writing, just just write in, all the bad stuff is gonna flow out

Brian Nelson 37:37
Absolutely. And, and, you know, the world is full of people who want to have written,

Alex Ferrari 37:46
Oh, they want the glory, but they don't want to do the work.

Brian Nelson 37:49
Maybe not even necessarily glory, but they want that feeling of I have written them. So I am, you know, I'm able to, like, look back on it, and so forth. But you what, what one needs to acquire is the pleasure and the joy of, of writing, as opposed to having written and if you don't have that I enjoy is actually writing. Again, it's got to become an insufferable slog, and you're going to very quickly find a way to do something else. That might also tangentially involved stuff you forced yourself to write, but, but the actual process of writing is, I mean, again, I was I was doing it when I was six years old, without even knowing why I was doing it, you know, right. It's unfortunate in that way that it's, you know, I'm not a musician, I would love to be, oh, same here. But, you know, I have a musical instrument here that my wife gave me that I took some lessons on. But as much as I love the ideas of musician, I don't have music. I don't actually yet, maybe that'll change. Maybe I can tell myself, but I don't yet find pleasure in the actual like, playing in the actual making of the music, whereas I do and always have found pleasure in stringing a mess of words together and seeing what happens and and changing the words that go wait, maybe maybe, in fact, a shorter sentence here and so forth, you know, and that that is is feels like home.

Alex Ferrari 39:34
Yeah, and that's another thing that you know, as creators, we a lot of times want to want to be at the end of the road and don't enjoy the journey and it's always about the like the end the finished screenplay, or the finished movie and but the painful for many people, it's painful to get to that point. That won't you can't sustain a career that way you need to enjoy this process. You need to enjoy any process you're doing because As the bulk of the time you're on this planet is in the journey, it is not in the, it is not the one that is not the one that you win the Oscar. It's the 20 years that you were working towards that process to get to the Oscar, if that's a goal of yours, or whatever, but it's that's it, those moments are so short. And you can live in them for a minute, and then you're done. And you're like, Okay, now what? You but

Brian Nelson 40:22
I mean, I feel secure, saying, Alex, I'm not gonna win an oscar. That's alright.

Alex Ferrari 40:29
You're right, me, you

Brian Nelson 40:31
Kind of work that gets considered for that. And that is perfectly fine. Because I love the work that I'm doing. Right! If it ended up that way, am I gonna turn it down?

Alex Ferrari 40:41
No, no, no, I don't want

Brian Nelson 40:45
No, I'll take it. But

Alex Ferrari 40:47
Give it to Eric Roth again. Don't give it to me. No, I understand. No, I understand completely. And I think you and I are both in that same category. So it's not bad. It's not bad. It's not like most of us are in that category. Now, I have to ask you, you got to work with arguably one of the better, one of the best voices in his generation, I think for as a writer is M Night. And, you know, coming out with sixth sense. And, for better or worse, always having to live up to success with the rest of his career. But he's a brilliant writer, and I'm such an admirer of his because he had reinvented himself a few times. Because there were moments in his career where Hollywood just wrote him off. He's like, up, that's the end of that. But he just kept his head down and kept putting out great work. And then he's had this, this resurgence in the last, you know, five, eight years of just putting out great work, what was it like working? And how did you get involved with nit for devil,

Brian Nelson 41:53
You know, time and again, I find myself saying, Well, I was really lucky. And you know, of course, you know, luck is partly that I kept my head down and kept working. And so you know, the more work you do, the more luck finds you. But nonetheless, I was approached about devil by night. My agent called and said, I'm not channeling wants to meet with you and okay.

Alex Ferrari 42:27
And you're like, who does? Who does? Who does? This is a joke?

Brian Nelson 42:30
Well, well, so he says he's the what I'm told is he's he's in a hotel in town. So go to the hotel, and he'll come down and meet you and was oh, so friendly. It's sweet. It was like, amazing, because I remember being in the lobby of this hotel. And they say, All right, well, here, you can call up to his room. And so I'm on this, you know, the hotel phone saying, Hi, this is Brian Nelson. I was told to call this number and, and I hear this voice saying, Hey, buddy, it's night. And like, alright, we're off to the races. So night hat, the way that he framed it to me was he said, You know, I, I've had two or three ideas that feel like little films that could be fun, but maybe they're maybe their ideas that would suffer under the weight of written, produced and directed by Night Shyamalan there, there. There's smaller films, and I've made this deal with this company, media rights capital that I will produce and supervise writers and directors in this. And we'll we'll make these three films, and I don't I, I'm not sure they all got made. But I was the first out of the box. And he gave me like a 678 page treatment for for what became devil and said, Is this is this something that you would want to write? And I told you earlier about my sort of what I frankly call my mission statement, you know, what, like, is it about a character who like finds themselves? And, and I frankly, I use that as a rubric. So I mean, look, of course, there was a part of me it was like, well, if I'm my channel and asked you do you want to write something? Of course you say yes. But also, frankly, no, I also had to ask myself, does it fit the mission statement? Because I have found in my life that like, if I try to write things that are not in that zone that I've identified as my zone, right, they're not going to go well. Right? But devil totally fit that. And so I was happy to sign up and And I did a number of drafts, I worked a lot in close consultation with the dowels, John Eric Dowdle who directed it and his producer brother Drew, we, we hung out quite a bit talked about the story from different perspectives. And so it was it was a very effective collaboration and a film that, you know, again, I'm, I'm very lucky that people you know, come up to me all the time and go oh my god, I just literally a guy I know. Last month said to me, I was watching this film and I didn't know you wrote it. And at the end of the credits, I was like, ways that Brian Nelson that I know. You know, frankly, it might not be because they're turned out to be a couple 36 Brian Nelson's on IMDb, of which I am Roman numeral two. High up there has because I've been around so damn long. You know I joined IMDb I started logging on to IMDb when it was run by a little college in like Louisiana. And there were two. And I was I was on IMDb too, because my last name is between M and Z. You know, that's how primitive it was in those days. Wow. But there's a lot of Brian houses in the world as it turns out, but I wrote Devil and that my friend was like, I didn't even know. And it still continues to haunt people's nightmares. And, and so

Alex Ferrari 46:43
It's, it's it was terrifying. I remember when it came out, I saw it was terrifying. And and I remember people just talking about it like did you see devil? Do you see that? Like it was just there was a little thing in the air about it. I

Brian Nelson 46:57
I have a very good friend who's a very accomplished director. And maybe I won't mention her name because I'm going to talk about this phobia of hers. But like she called me up and said, I'm so happy for you, but I can't see it because I just got through months of therapy to be able to enter elevators.

Alex Ferrari 47:19
Oh my god, so you've tear up? Yeah, of course, she would never be able to ever, never ever be able to get into an elevator again. Now, you know, working with them night is is Was there something? Was there a lesson or something that you saw in his working in his writing process, and his storytelling process that you kind of nugget that you pulled away from working with him?

Brian Nelson 47:40
I mean, you know, night is a tremendously inspirational figure in terms of like, never be afraid to do the next pass. There's always more to do. You know, we You talked a moment ago about people saying, well, they want to, like, have that finished screenplay. But you know, there is also a saying that, like, no work of art is ever finished, it is only abandoned. And, you know, and and, you know, I remember hanging with knight in his study, and he's got all the drafts of everything in his study, there on that shelf are like 19 drafts of signs there on that shelf are 12 drafts of late in the water or whatever it is and so forth. And and, you know, he, he is a demon for work. And that to me, I always find very inspirational is that, because I believe that at you know, I've talked quite a bit already about you know, that you have to find a pleasure in writing. And that means, of course, absolutely the pleasure in rewriting. And you know, and I remember night saying what's, you know, sometimes sometimes it's interesting, Brian, you'll do a draft and it's got problems and then the next draft has like moved it forward so much and and, and then maybe the next draft will have more problems, but then the next draft moves it again. And it's yeah, you you go through, you know, you go through a sine wave sometimes of of finding things in a story and he was a great companion in those terms.

Alex Ferrari 49:21
Now, you you've written some very suspenseful stuff in your career. What, how can you create suspense in a scene? what's some advice you can give writers on how to create suspense within a scene? Not a whole movie, but just within the scene.

Brian Nelson 49:39
So years ago, I was working with producers at BBC Worldwide. And they asked me to write a piece. I wrote a pilot for them that was about the Georgian era in England. And I said had, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm not like that person who would normally come to about this. I'm like, the vampire guy, right? And, and they said, we don't think of you as the vampire guy. And they said something that I was like, one of the nicest things people have ever said about my writing. Because they, they said, you know, we look at heart candy, and we look at devil and we think no, Brian writes about two or three people who go into a room have a conversation. And at the end of their conversation, both their lives are changed. And, like, if that is what ends up is my epitaph.

Alex Ferrari 50:46
That's a great epithet cheese, you know.

Brian Nelson 50:48
And this is part of my training as a stage director is, if something is going to be in front of our eyes, then it needs to earn its key, and it earns its key by in any given scene, something must change. And that change happens as a result of. And I'm going to sound extremely academic here, but each per each character's active intention, what is each person trying to do to affect the other person and create a change in that other person, and then one of them wins, or maybe they both win, maybe they both come to, you know, a realization, or, or their conflict creates a new problem or possibility. But But every time if a character is going to earn their weight in a scene, then they need to show up with a goal and intention, something that they want in that scene, and a plan to get it. And then they change. If that is true of the whole script. The entire script is how did this person change as a result of the choices and plans that they made? And what sacrifices did they have to make. But it's true of any five page scene as well is when characters leave that scene. If that scene was just about, oh, we want to establish the house or we want to show how sexy these people are, or whatever it is, then to me, it's not earning its caveat that that something must the status quo must have evolved by the end of that scene. And the other going to your suspense question. Ideally, I think every scene ends with a question that that that if a scene doesn't have a what will happen next at the end of it, then maybe you need to keep working on that scene. The only scene that shouldn't have a what will happen next is the final scene and even then, you're usually happier if you still have that movie ends and you're still wandering away. Isn't there more what next? Right and so so I'm, I'm obsessed with, with story questions, what do people want and what will happen next?

Alex Ferrari 53:32
Now in your, in your travels, you you've written in a few writers rooms. Couple, the one thing that in schools and in in academia and just general that's not talked about a whole lot at the politics of the writers room. Are there any tips you can give young writers who if they're lucky enough to get in a writers room? A couple landmines they should look out for as far as political, the politics of room and obviously that changes per room and per showrunner, but generally,

Brian Nelson 54:04
I do well in writers rooms, I think because I'm there to be part of a team and they're to engage and I'm not precious about my words, because I know everything's being rewritten all the time. You know, and so, so I really enjoy rooms because I think partly because of my theatrical background that I you know, grew up working in stages where, you know, even if you're a one man show, you're still gonna need a stage manager and a lighting designer and writer and so, you know, and so, so I I really feel at home in collaborative art forms. If I wanted to do it all myself. I would be a novelist or a poet. Right? But I don't actually Want to do it all myself? I want to work with partners and people who will, people whom I can challenge people who will challenge me people who we can all make each other better. The more voices This is partly an exciting time in television, because we are bringing out more voices than we ever have in maybe even the history of culture. And, and so that's, that's a thrilling thing. So, so I, you know, if, frankly, it sounds a little simple, but my my just advice would be, first of all, just be open, be open minded and be willing to contribute. And don't be, don't be precious about oh, this is my idea, or, or what, or this is how I wanted to say it, because it's all gonna change seven more times. Anyway, right? Later. But, but the more that you engage in a spirit of not about oh, what you said versus what I said, and more about, what is the story? What what did these characters want? As long as you're talking about the stories and characters, then you're getting it out of the realm of ego and into the realm of craft. And that's what I think makes a successful room.

Alex Ferrari 56:26
Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What was what was the biggest fear you had to overcome to write the first screenplay, your first screenplay? Because I'm assuming you didn't just go in all guns blaring. I'm assuming there was some, Hey, can I do this? Or you know, things like that?

Brian Nelson 56:46
Ah, you know, I've been around a long time. So now you're asking me to cast my mind back? decades? decades. I mean, I, you know, I, it's, it sounds very simple, but probably the biggest fear I had was, am I wasting my time? Is this something that I could be good at? Right? Um, you know, and I, I gave myself a certain, like, clock by which I needed to see some signs of success, or I would decide, you know, don't knock on a door that nobody's out. On the other side. You know, and, and luckily for me, someone knocked pretty early before that, because I didn't give myself frankly, the longest timeframe for that. So

Alex Ferrari 57:45
What was the timeframe? By the way? Was it like a couple years two three years?

Brian Nelson 57:48
Oh, no, no, no, my charter the math.

Alex Ferrari 57:50
Oh, really? Now, what was your timeframe?

Brian Nelson 57:54
I, I had written I mean, effectively, maybe it to turn out to be a couple years, but I didn't think of it that way. I, I was, I was directing plays, I was making money on the side writing script coverage. I was also working a day job while my wife was in grad school. So I didn't have a ton of time. I wrote two episodic specs, samples, like back in those days, you wrote samples of shows that were on the air. Sure, sure. I sent them to agents, people were like, this is nice, thank you. Send them what status? What else? Everybody else here? Right? I'm like, Okay, I got to do some more. I wrote a spec movie the week setting reaction. And so then I was like, Well, I'm going to write a screenplay. And I'm going to write the best damn screenplay. I can imagine writing and I'm not going to think about whether it's commercial or whatever I should you know, I you know, I people were like saying, but could you write under siege to Shouldn't you think of that and you know, and and I was so so no, I'm gonna write the best possible thing I can write and if it goes somewhere then it goes somewhere and if it doesn't, that will be that then that then that will be that and I will focus on where people seem to be interested in my so you ask luckily for me, that script out my even hardly trying God response I because through theater, I had a friend who worked in script development, his his day job at night, he was working in theater like me, but his day job was he was he was worked in mo W's for for a studio. And I asked to just as a pal, could you give me notes on this to try To help me get an agent, you know, I'm not submitting it to you. Right Man. Yeah, just please. I will benefit of your wisdom, any notes you could give me. And then timidly like two or three weeks later, I poked my head in his door. And I was like, I don't mind. Yeah. Yeah. And, and Eddie said, yeah, no, no, I have no notes. I think it's great. I think we should buy it. Well, they didn't buy it. But He then got it to a producer who actually optioned it and got me an agent out of it. And suddenly I was like, Well, I guess I can do this. And I guess all. So persevere. So so.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:47
So the advice you're giving screenwriters is give yourself 12 months, write one screenplay. That's it. And if it doesn't work out, then go do something else. That's basically what you're saying.

Brian Nelson 1:01:01
All I could do is report my journey. Of course, no, no, of course, I have friends who have worked in this for years. And it is their dream to write movies. I as I think I told you way along was like, there could be a lot of things I do, maybe I'll be a sociologist, you know, I need that was actually something I considered for a bit, you know, so so, you know, I, I love telling stories, but I was also prepared for this not to work out. And, and it's awesome. So, again, lucky for me, because it did.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:45
But the thing is, but the thing is, you've spoken about luck, a bunch in this conversation. But the thing is that you, you created your luck, because you actually did the work. It's not like someone knocked on your door like, Hey, man, do you got any ideas? Hey, I'll pay you to write a script. Now. That's not the way it was you you put in the labor? And then look happened?

Brian Nelson 1:02:05
Sure. So now I will tell you, I've told you my unified field theory of what I write now, I'll tell you my Unified Field Theory of careers. Okay, so these back in those days, I was watching and going, Why are those people who are so brilliant, but they are not. They are not getting their careers are not moving forward. I mean, while some other people who frankly, I don't think are so brilliant, but they are working like oh, what's that about? And so I devised this theory where you have to imagine a triangle. And each of the points of this triangle is a different aspect that might help you get a career. But the secret is, you don't need all three. Your career is a line that connects the two, you only need two of them to have a career. So the three points are talent, perseverance, and luck. So you might have no talent. But if you persevere, and you are lucky, you will have a career. But you might have no perseverance, like writing one script. Wow. But yes, but if you have talent, and you are lucky, you will have a career. And then we all know people that have no luck at all, but they have talent, and they never

Alex Ferrari 1:03:44
Rightand they build something out for themselves.

Brian Nelson 1:03:47
And I constructed this theory at about the same time that I was writing that script so maybe I've always been trying to talk myself into persevering now, you know, that's not fair.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:00
No, that's not fair. Because you you've done a lot sir.

Brian Nelson 1:04:03
I work a lot. Yes, you do. But but the corollary to this triangle is my talent is what it is I could improve I could look study craft I read other people's scripts all the time. I I like watching bad movies, because it's like, oh, what can I learn from this? How did this go awry? You know, but, but at the same time, to a certain extent your eye is your eye you got a little bit what you got through the the vagaries of fate and genetics or whatever else I don't know. Your Your talent is somewhat of a fixed quantity. Your luck, you have no control at all, but that's why it's called luck. So really the only thing you could control Is your perseverance? Absolutely. And so so that is my actual advice to people. Alex Ferrari is persevere,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:13
Or possibly even hustle.

Brian Nelson 1:05:18
Yeah, yeah, you might you might know it's true, because because look, that whole anecdote about that screenplay is on the other hand in the context of, but I was I've, I've been working, you know, since high school in the arts and I've been like, you're reacting directing. You play writing, we're honing out.

Alex Ferrari 1:05:41
You were honing your craft.

Brian Nelson 1:05:42
And well, I mean, yeah, I guess I don't ever think of it as honing my craft. That sounds so kind of,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:51
Well, no, but you I mean, but you were telling stories. You were working in the art. So you were you were gathering things left and right.

Brian Nelson 1:05:57
I'm, I'm, I'm pursuing the story. I, you know, I was I was in graduate school at UCLA. And there was a professor named Michael Gordon, who had this amazing career he had worked with a group theater. Then he directed the film of Cyrano de Bergerac. Okay, which one the Jose for? Yeah. And then he got blacklisted. didn't hardly work through the 50s. When he came back, he managed to direct again, but not Cyrano de Bergerac his comeback film was Hello, Taw with Rock Hudson and Doris Day, but he took that job and made the most of it. And continued working for years of years. And so he was a guy who just managed to build his career out of what is the story? What will people what will make people want to wonder what happens next? And I, I looked at the plays that I had directed, and the ones that had we had worked and the ones that have not worked? And I was like, Oh, the ones that work? Or what are the ones about story? The ones that made people wonder what would happen next, right? The ones that were just about a theme or an idea? Yeah, maybe there's people who can make pieces about theme or about spectacle, right? We're without story. There's people who do that.

Alex Ferrari 1:07:36
Oh, and I won't say their names into out loud. But yes, there's there's more pillar to them build careers upon

Brian Nelson 1:07:42
I would never harsh anyone else's jam. Absolutely. But what what makes my work work is story and character. And, and I, I I realized I could be intellectually tempted to work on a piece that's just about like, the fascination of language or whatever. But no, those pieces, those pieces are going to be only interesting to me. Fair enough. Fair enough, you know, and so that's, that's what I learned. And and so so maybe I'll revise my my, my screenwriting origin story to give myself a little more credit.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:24
You should you should, I think a little bit more credit. I mean, though, because you, it's not like you just like you were working fries, at a Burger King. And all of a sudden, like, I'm gonna give myself 12 months in one script to write and I've never haven't barely written anything in my life. That's not what you said, You've been working hard to get.

Brian Nelson 1:08:40
Now, it's totally fair. In fact, even even the day job actually was I got a job in a studio legal department, right. So I was in fact, watching the business of how you were being put together. I was like honing, Travolta get to fly his own plane to the sad why does that matter? Hmm. Interesting. Okay.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:04
So, um, that's a whole other episode. Just what you learned during that process time. If all the inside stuff of those those deals. I have two more questions for you one. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Brian Nelson 1:09:22
The lesson is make sure that Alex asks me in the second question about agent Stoker, which I'm dying to talk more about. Okay. Okay, now ask me that question again. That's all I could

Alex Ferrari 1:09:38
Well, tell me about yourself at first.

Brian Nelson 1:09:41
I did last year.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:46
I've heard this thing about HS dopa. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Brian Nelson 1:09:49
Um, so look, this is i This has been such a fascinating, fun journey for me. I met Chris Connor On earth through altered carbon, where he played Poe, our AI who believed he was Edgar Allan Poe. He crushed that role. Shortly into the pandemic shutdown. He was like, Hey, since nobody can like shoot anything. What if we like created a podcast? I have like this feeling that like, I keep thinking, Is there a way to do black mirror meets the old radio plays of the shadow? And I said to him, you know, if someone worked in a lab, and tried to figure out the phrase to fastest penetrate into my cerebral cortex, I don't think they could do better, like very relevant. Yeah, I write that. And so what we cooked up was this scripted supernatural podcast, call it a paranormal thriller. It is called agent Stoker. And it is we have various line log lines for it. One is of course, Black Mirror meets the shadow. Another is part Raymond Chandler, part Philip K, Dick, and all McCobb all the time. Oh, sounds amazing. Another logline for it is the X Files with a drinking problem.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:33
What a great image. That's amazing.

Brian Nelson 1:11:35
Ancient Stoker works for a covert organization called the knight brigade, that is tracking incidents that have no explanation. But maybe the explanation if we can all hook them up is that the end of the world is coming. And maybe we should try to get ahead of that. Just my agent Stoker is facing the loss of his partner and is not really necessarily sure he is up to the job. He is, you might say, thrown into a gray zone where the rules are not clear, right.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:16
And I've heard that before. I've heard of that before.

Brian Nelson 1:12:19
And it's very it's up to him to figure out how to persevere, but perseverance in his case also requires in every episode, the examination of some artisanal cocktail,

Alex Ferrari 1:12:33
Obviously,

Brian Nelson 1:12:36
Which is one of the easter eggs that we put into every episode we also managed to put into every episode a little bit of baseball trivia, we also managed to put into every episode, an actual real world indie bookstore that we're doing a pro bono shout out to ah, that's amazing. And yet in every episode, he also deals with schizophrenic AI and sentience mold and demon where cats and a number of you know terrifying other sounds that this fall into another another one of our loglines for the show, which is think of it as CSI apocalypse. So so we cooked up this show we approached wonderful actors who are not household names but who you know through you know being fans of television and share with you who've been a bunch of people from altered carbon Amy Hill from Magnum P I. You know, we're our biggest name probably is our announcer and and later the voice of the night brigade is is Emily de Chanel. Wow. But also Peter Jason from Deadwood

Alex Ferrari 1:14:09
I do do do do a voice. Do you do a voice in it?

Brian Nelson 1:14:12
I do not do a voice you show you sit back No, no actually because we thought you know what, we're going to do this exactly like we would if it were not the shutdown and we're doing it for live TV. So all the actors are are being paid sag minimums and you know, Chris and I created knife brigade LLC as a SAG signatory. And yeah, it's funny, one of my high school friends just wrote me and said, You Aren't you doing your voice and this and I, you know, actually I, I love all of all of the voices in this coming from the universe of actors that Chris and I know and love that we've just always been dying to do something more with. That's and we brought in and we brought Actually, you know, directors that we love to So, the So, the the, the pilot and the finale are directed by Rachel Talalay from Doctor Who and Sherlock and, and Superman and Lois. Several episodes are directed by us Scott who's done everything from for color girls to swat MJ Bassett, whom I met on des Vinci's demons and nightflyers, and also did altered carbon does does a block of three episodes. So, so we've been having a hell of a time. Our sound design is by our our CO producer, Patrick Hogan, who currently does sound for little things like Cobra Kai and so forth. Our line series and amazing woman named Dana Brower, who I met on nightflyers. Our music we have a theme music by an indie composer we know named Christie Kuru we have entitled music by Portland Indie band, the parson redheads I mean, it sounds awesome. A lot of elements here you should listen I rather

Alex Ferrari 1:16:13
Where and where can and where can people listen to it?

Brian Nelson 1:16:16
Wherever you get your podcasts.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:19
And what's the name of the show again once again

Brian Nelson 1:16:21
It's Agent Stoker.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:23
Okay, so everyone listening

Brian Nelson 1:16:26
Bergerie that you can find on Spotify or Apple or you name it it's it's out there and and you better find it before it finds you.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:35
I will put it I will put it on the show notes. One last question three screenplays, three screenplays every screenwriter should read

Brian Nelson 1:16:47
Ooh you should have warned me because you know this sort of thing that like a certain questions that when people people ask them of course the things that you think go out of your head right you know I literally keep a posted here so that when people say what have you been watching lately? I have the answers so that I'll remember this otherwise you know you go right I have been watching things what are they so look ah we you talked earlier about night nights screenplay for unbreakable. It's incredible. I remember reading it back when I was starting out and I've like saved it I've still got my copy you know, it's it's, it's I would recommend that to anyone. This might not be this might be an unexpected answer. But when I think over the years of like pilots that I've read and blown me away that you know that there there have been there have been shows that there have been pilots that I that I I might recommend but I also when I think about screenplays, I am going to I'm going to toss in the third man I love the third man I think about that all the time. A screenplay that I might not recommend except I love it. It's structurally a mess. Well, it works. The best movie ever made maybe is the big sleep. Oh yeah. Yeah. I was hired on altered carbon in part because I came into the meeting and I said, you know, this story is like the big sleep and Lita calligraphic greatness was like, Yes it is. I'm so happy you know that. You know, so So I think about the big sleep all the time. I I'm not stopping it three. You're doing dirty pretty things. Dirty pretty. Is is is is an amazing script to me. You know, it is exactly what I've talked about. It is a guy thrown into a place where the rules are not clear. And now he has to find ask himself what am I capable of to faceless? I am a giant fan of Days of Heaven. The Terrence Malick masters I I'm a big fan of neem Creek. Yeah, yeah. Which I think is a very under discussed film. But again, a film where people discover what they're capable of that they never wanted to know about themselves. You know, I, that's five.

Alex Ferrari 1:20:11
I think you're good. You're good. You're good. We could keep going forever. I mean, we could do the podcasts of just like scripts you should read. And we just do like 20 every episode. Fair enough. But that was excellent. Brian, I know we can keep talking for another few hours, but I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for coming on the show and dropping your knowledge bombs on on our tribe. So I truly appreciate it. My friend. Thank you so much.

Brian Nelson 1:20:36
It's my pleasure. Great, great to talk and I will see you again when you least expect.

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IFH 571: The Ugly Truth of Being a Hollywood Screenwriter with Rich Wilkes

Get ready for on heck of a ride. Today on the show we have screenwriter Rich Wilkes.

Wilkes’ major-studio debut was as screenwriter of the 1994 film Airheads. The story revolves around a group of loser musicians called The Lone Rangers who take a radio station hostage to get their song played on the radio. Airheads was directed by Michael Lehmann and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

This was followed by a co-writer credit (alongside director James Melkonian) for the 1994 comedy The Stoned Age, set in the stoner subculture of Southern California during the 1970s.

The same writing and directing team then collaborated with The Jerky Boys to create the 1995 production The Jerky Boys: The Movie, featuring the eponymous comedians (self-described as “low-lifes from Queens”) as New York City youths who get into trouble with the Mafia when one of their prank calls leads them into a money laundering business.

Wilkes is credited as the sole screenwriter for the 2002 action-adventure film XXX and a “based on characters created by” credit as being as the creator of the XXX franchise.

Wilkes co-wrote the Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt, based on the New York Times bestselling book by Neil Strauss and Mötley Crüe. The film took 17 years to get made. David Fincher was initially attached to direct in 2004, followed by Larry Charles in 2008.

Rich and I had a raw conversation about what it is really like to be a screenwriter in Hollywood, warts and all. This episode should be reqired listening for any screenwriter thinking of getting into the Hollywood screenwriting game.

Enjoy my eye-opening conversation with Rich Wilkes.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Rich Wilkes how you doin Rich?

Rich Wilkes 0:14
Hey, man, I'm doing great, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 0:16
I'm doing great, man. I'm doing great. Thank you so much for for coming on the show, man. I think we're gonna have a fun thing. Gonna be a fun episode. I have a good feeling about this. Because based on your credits alone, I think you're not gonna have a beer even though I don't drink but I definitely have a beer.

Rich Wilkes 0:33
Good. I want to learn something from you.

Alex Ferrari 0:35
So how did you? First of all, why did you get into this insane business? And how did you get into this insane business?

Rich Wilkes 0:43
It started I went to UC Santa Cruz. And they didn't have a film program. But I wanted to do film. So I did theater arts with a film emphasis. And they didn't have screenwriting major. So I did. I wrote my own major, which was a screenplay and submitted that rather than doing a film or a play or whatever. And then I went to American Film Institute for screenwriting. It's a two year MFA. After the first year, my one of my scripts got optioned by touchstone. And so they were going to pay me $10,000 For this option, and AFI at the time cost $10,000. And I figured, well, why don't I just pocket the $10,000 and quit? So I quit. Halfway through AFI never got my masters. But I figured the whole point of going there was to get a script. So since I got since I got the thing sold or optioned anyway, I bailed as quick as I could. Did that get produced? It actually did. Yeah. It wound up being the one. You had Chris Moore a few weeks ago on the podcast. It was the first movie that he produced. He was my agent

Alex Ferrari 1:57
It was glory days. It was glory days. That's right. Yeah. Alright, so we'll get we'll get into glory days in a minute. Was there a film that kind of lit your fire man, it was, is there not one movie that we that you saw you were just like, oh, I want to go into this business. I want to join the circus. It's it's that's what it is. We're we're all carnies and we've joined the circus.

Rich Wilkes 2:14
Yeah, I never really thought about going into the movie business until college when I met people that, you know, whose guy whose dad worked on mash. And I was like, Really, you can do that you can actually work on mash, you know, and that made it real for me that that, you know, maybe I could move to LA and work on something. But prior to that, I never had any clue that it was possible. I thought it was you know, it was very insular. And you had to grow up here and no, somebody. My favorite movie growing up was Gallipoli. The Peter Weir movie.

Alex Ferrari 2:48
Yeah. Mel Gibson. Yeah. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 2:51
So I'm not of the I want to make jaws and Star Wars and Raiders kind of crowd those movies I love but they aren't the ones that maybe say, Hey, man, I want to do this for a living. I thought that Gallipoli was such a great combination of history and a personal story, that it blew my mind. So the after finding out that it's possible, and then studying it and going to AFI, and getting it set up, I've actually managed to since oh, I want to say 1991 30 years now, do this for a living without having to have another job, which is like, you know, ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 3:31
And isn't that the isn't that the goal of this whole thing? It's like we can make a living writing or directing or just being part of the circus. I mean, that's,that's that's the goal

Rich Wilkes 3:43
That's the entire thing. Yeah, my initial thought was, I want to get into movie business because I don't want to work that hard. And this will give me a lot of free time. And he realized that doesn't really work.

Alex Ferrari 3:56
That that didn't work out that way and that's why people think that oh screenwriting, you wake up, you write for a couple hours and then you goof off all day and the rest of the day and that's it. And then some and they just and they throw up obscene amounts of money at you. Because you're you know, because everyone is shamed. Black and Joe Osterhaus back in the 90s so Well, it's funny because you know, like I was saying earlier before we got on you and I are similar vintage. So you know, we were coming up in the 90s which were it was a magical time it was a crazy magical time screenwriters. Were getting the you know, the, the option booms are the spekboom of Shane Black Joe Astor house and you know, two 3 million $4 million for a movie that lit a lot of fires of like, well, I'm going to be a screener. I can get rich being a screenwriter.

Rich Wilkes 4:45
Yeah, I you know, for me, it was it wasn't the boom time for that it was the boom time of being able to pitch a movie and then get paid to write it and by pitch it I mean a five minute pitch

Alex Ferrari 4:58
Like the player like the player

Rich Wilkes 5:00
Exactly. And then now you know, it's you have to have the script written with the star, the director of the financing before anybody consider it, but back then you'd go in and say, I got this idea, it's going to be Dog Day Afternoon in a radio station, it's going to be, you know, a lot of rock and roll music, blah, blah, blah, great fun, go, you know, go write it. And I would between me and my friends, you know, I would, we'd have five movies, five pitches, setup around town, and you'd knock out this script, and then go on to the next one. And it was so fucking easy. Because they had this incredible budget to develop their own material. They all the studios wanted to do that. So they would commission 125 scripts in order to make 20 grand, right? Right. So that was a lot of writers making a living off of, you know, these, these scripts for hire, which just, unfortunately, has completely gone away. And now I think if you're lucky, they'll put out six movies a year, a particular studio, and of those, maybe they make half and the rest are coming from financing from somewhere else. And they're just distributing the damn thing. So they aren't paying writers to come in and pitch and write these, these scripts for them. There's just there's no need for them to do that anymore.

Alex Ferrari 6:21
And the funny thing is, is which is which is bizarre is that now there's more need for content ever. There is a content boom, and there's been never been more money sloshing around in town than ever before. What is it 17 million? Excuse me 17 billion for Netflix this year, 33 billion for Disney plus, I mean, and you know, HBO and everyone's everyone's looking for content, but you would think that pitching would be the easiest way to get things done. And to be more of that, but you're absolutely right. It is gone the complete opposite way. You need the script, the star, the budget, the financing, you did literally, you know, plug and play project for them for them to look not even guaranteed for them to even have a conversation with you nowadays. It's insane.

Rich Wilkes 7:09
Yeah, this this changed. It was a market change, right when the Writers Guild was going on strike and Oh, yeah. So there was the housing bubble. And then the writer strike was coming and I had a pitch with Amblin and it was right before the strike. And I you know, they called me up the day of and they said, listen, we're changing our policy. Unless you're coming through the door with Will Smith attached to your pitch don't bother coming. And I'm like, if I could get Will Smith attached No, I think what the fuck do I need you for? Right? This is your function. I'm supposed to be the idea guy. You guys are supposed to be the MC the fucking movie. Guys. It's completely swamped now where producers who used to have deals on lots and a development budget and have their own you know, Slate are begging writers to write on spec in the hopes that that we can lower director to hop on board to lure a fucking actor who means something to lure Netflix into paying for it. And that's where I am on several different projects. It's it's a fucking joke.

Alex Ferrari 8:12
You know, it's, it's insane. And I you know, I know a lot of writers who you know, they have, because a lot of times, you know, people will look at an IMDB and they'll go, oh, you know, he only made that one movie. I'm like, yeah, that he might have made that one movie got produced. But he's been working in town for 15 years, on projects that never and he's made a really good living as a writer, but those days are, are slowly just going away to spec market. There is still a spec market, but it's literally a minuscule amount. It's very, very small. And there's basically just a one dude, one agent, Boxer bomb, who does all the specs.

Rich Wilkes 8:50
I mean, it just did the writers of these specs get Shane Black in 1994 money or no,

Alex Ferrari 8:56
No they're getting they're getting seven figures. They're getting some, but they're getting they're getting a mill maybe, you know, and again, we're throwing numbers around like you and I are like, you know, pooping out, you know, $100 bills, but it's not. It's not the way it is. But generally they are getting those but we're talking about one or two, where they were like, there were one or two a week. Now there's maybe a handful a year and they're not getting shamed black money. Do you know that? Do you know the story of though? What's the last Last Action Hero the same black class action hero story?

Rich Wilkes 9:30
Wait, last boy scout or

Alex Ferrari 9:31
No, no. Last Action Hero. Okay, the story this I heard this from a good buddy of mine inside the business who told me this is how this is how crazy the stock market got. And this was the top of the bubble. This is when it popped after this. It popped. The agent from Shane Black, called up. He called up Shane, what do you got going on? Because I've got this idea and they went out to dinner. They told us that he was right the idea down on the napkin. And it was the idea for Last Action Hero for everyone listening Google Last Action Hero honor Schwarzenegger, you know, I like it. But you know, we had a rough time. Anyway, he wrote, he took the napkin, went back to his office called every studio head in town and said I have shamed blacks next log line, no script. I have his next logline on a napkin. If you want to bid on it, you have to come to my office and read it. Don't send anybody you've got to come. So all six or eight studio heads showed up to this office read read the napkin. Two days later there's a bidding war he got 4 million

Rich Wilkes 10:38
Okay, I I I may be wrong but I think you have the wrong title because Zach pen and Adam left wrote Last Action Hero

Alex Ferrari 10:47
Are you Are you sure it's last? No.

Rich Wilkes 10:51
You're you must be thinking of Last Boy Scout. No,

Alex Ferrari 10:54
What's the last Boy Scout? Alright, we'll I think it was last year because I know but Shane Black wrote Last Action Hero. Alright, hold on everybody. Everybody stopped for a second we're gonna we're gonna now it's because I have to I have to check this. I'm almost positive he did because it made the most sense that he did. So let's go to handy IMDb live on the show. And let's see if if Rich's right or if I'm right because I've been telling that story for a while now. No one has ever called me on it and I'm almost I've almost bet money I'm like

Rich Wilkes 11:31
You know who would have called you on it is Chris Moore who is Adam and yes James at the top

Alex Ferrari 11:37
So Last Action Hero one second my modem is still loading up

Rich Wilkes 11:49
Good Lord let me do it.

Alex Ferrari 11:52
My my modem is still loading up. I have the free AOL disk.

Rich Wilkes 11:59
Are you plugged into the Pete's coffee down the block?

Alex Ferrari 12:08
So writers are Zack Pen. But hold on for a second. And you know what? Shane Black? No, it was Shane Black.

Rich Wilkes 12:15
He rewrote our guys Zack and Adam wrote the original spec Shane rewrote.

Alex Ferrari 12:23
So then it must have been Last Boy Scout then you are i by mistake. So I was corrected. Thank you, sir. For. For me saving face now for all the stories ever tell again. But anyway. Yes. Okay. But that's but that's how crazy this market was at the time and a lot of screenwriters out there still think it's the 90s? Yeah. And they're acting as such, where I think just you saying what we just discussed about, you need a package now you need Will Smith attached. That's news to a lot of screenwriters, a lot of screenwriters think that you could read the amazing script? And that you're going to get, you're going to get a produce just because of its genius. And I know you and I both have read scripts that are Oscar quality, that have never been produced are sitting on shelves right now. Is that fair?

Rich Wilkes 13:14
And then there's ones that you wonder how it got all of these movie stars attached? And yeah, made for a record amount of money. Right? When if it was a spec script, no one would look at it twice. Right! I don't know. I you know, it's not up to me to decide what's what's good and bad. But from my perspective, there's a lot of things that are are happening because it's from the production company of the star, and he's hooked up with a director and they've done three things together, and they know blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And so it's like, okay, we know they're responsible for the money we know x amount of people are going to watch so and so do a fucking action comedy or whatever the hell it is. So we're gonna go with that, which is great. If you can be in that business. If you can be in the Adam Sandler read. You read my mind. It's fantastic. But there's not too much room in that bubble. I know.

Alex Ferrari 14:07
No. And which brings me to one of your first films. Airheads which had a young Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi, and I love that movie when it came out. I watched that movie when it came. I was like, it's so much fun. And it was Adam it was Adam it already come out with Billy Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore or not yet.

Rich Wilkes 14:29
No, this was he had only done a movie called it was something about a clown. Maybe he was in the bobcat Goldthwait clown movie, shake. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Maybe he was in like a ballroom scene or something. So he was in small stuff like that. But Airheads was his first studio movie. They wouldn't let him be the Brendan Fraser character. He had to be the the supporting guy. And from that, I got hired to rewrite Billy Madison which shot Right afterwards, okay, that's how I know that it came in that order. Okay. That's how I know about the Adam Sandler bubble because I'm not in it after doing two movies with him earlier. I had not known him since I think the cutoff was SNL. You either knew him in high school in college or an SNL. And then you're you're part of the crew, and then afterwards, I'm being facetious, but it feels like Yeah, I mean, he's still working with with Alan covert who he knows from, you know, college and and obviously, all of the cast members from SNL that he worked with, he's just got this wonderful group and why mess with something great, unless you're going to go off and do some, you know, uncut gems thing, which is brilliant. Yeah. All right. So let's talk about those guys. What about guys like them? The guys that do the guy who did Blue Ruin, man, I did. synchronic how are these guys getting money to make these movies? about forgetting about synchronic? Because that's got you know, that's already coming after the other one they did with with actors that weren't big. How do you get a Blue Ruin made?

Alex Ferrari 16:10
I mean, thinking about like uncut gems, specifically, as an example, I think, a film like that you need a you need a you need a 100 pound gorilla and Adam was that 800 pound gorilla. He'd already done punch drunk glove. So he's, you know, he's like, Oh, this is his other punch drunk love and he's done a handful of those serious roles he likes to do everyone's wrong. I think he's actually a really good actor.

Rich Wilkes 16:36
I agree but forgetting about him I'm talking about from the filmmaking side, right. Yeah, brothers,

Alex Ferrari 16:41
Right. But they but did they have Adam before?

Rich Wilkes 16:44
No, before that they had Robert Pattinson right and before that they had nobody right same with the Blue Ruin guy and the synchronic guys are now doing what they're doing Star Wars.

Alex Ferrari 16:56
Right? Probably yeah. Well yeah, same thing with Gareth Edwards and those kind of guys from

Rich Wilkes 17:02
So they start out doing a movie with with nobody in it and then on the next one they get an Anthony Mackie or a patent sin or a Sandler. And then now they're doing King Kong fights in Tron or whatever.

Alex Ferrari 17:15
I'd watch that.

Rich Wilkes 17:18
The money to do a blue ruin

Alex Ferrari 17:20
The thing it's like anything else man, you know, from you know, for me speaking to so many people on the show over the years and just my own shrapnel in the business trying to get my own projects made over the years. It is it is almost impossible to figure out what it is for it there's no one there's no one formula. So there is generalized formulas like it you got Will Smith you've got the rock you're gonna get you're in it's done. You know you got gal got you got Sandy Bullock. Yeah, you're gonna get a movie made. But it's luck, man. There's so much luck meets preparation meets opportunity. In I've talked to Oscar winners. I've talked to guys who just made a $5,000 movie I talked to everybody in between. It's always about Right place, right time. Right product. And, you know, if you if you happen to have a pandemic movie, at the beginning of 2020 script running around, yeah, it's gone. If you had a terrorist movie in 2001 Yeah, not gonna, you know, had a Vietnam movie in 76. Not so much it took Oliver Stone for ever to get to and made for and he had to do it. And look, that's a great example. Oliver, when he was on the show, I talked to him about platoons. Like I had to go out to this independence like absolute crazy man who did Salvador with him. Right? And from there, they're like my friend, and he's, I forgot. He's like, I forgot who the producer was. I can't remember the name. But he Oliver even did this act. He was he was a shyster. He was an absolute crock. But he's like, we're gonna go make this movie. Go go to Philippines make this movie the blue. Let's make it. And but that's, but that's interesting. That's insane, though. So there was an insanity. You found this one guy who had the money at a time period where it made sense because video VHS was starting to come home video was coming. I make the money and make the money. It's okay. It's okay. And he went up and let him go do platoon. And then that launched one of the greatest atour filmmakers of his generation. And then from that point, he had a run of 10 years that no other filmmakers ever had, like year after year after year after year, you know, but that's the thing. So there's a there's a level of this kind of like look, I mean, look at mariachi, I mean everyone always looks at Robert and mariachi. How did that get? How did it blow up? Right Place

Rich Wilkes 19:44
It seemed like you know Blair Witch Project is not going to it's an anomaly route. It's not going to punch through today. No way. But you know, guys like Ryan Johnson that are parlaying small independent movies into now doing the biggest movies in the business the roost So brothers were all of these people, you know, the guy who did a Jordan void Roberts who did that wonderful kings of summer. Yeah, I love that movie. And then he's gone to these $150 million movies that I, you know, all of the stuff that I loved in Kings this summer is is gone from those because they're not personal and they're not whatever. But God bless him. He's making these goddamn huge movies, they're blockbusters I'm just in fascinated by all of these guys who get to do it, but as you well know, go into Sundance or slam dance or what have you. When I went to slam dance, it must have been 9605 There was already 20,000 movies showing up, you know, being submitted 20,000 feature films, I can't imagine how many it is now. So

Alex Ferrari 20:53
It's 70. Think Sundance had 70,000 pre pandemic submissions.

Rich Wilkes 21:00
Yeah, So So the ability to to bust through, it is 99% luck, because I'm not more talented than 99% of the population. But I've managed to get a 30 year career out of it. Right. The same with with Keanu Reeves. Is he the most talented actor from his generation? What happened to all the other guys from that? From that same era? The Emilio esta vez and Charlie Sheen's and Kiefer Sutherland and all that kind of stuff. It's just like, wow, boom. Bertolucci wants to work with him. Scorsese. Great, and then suddenly.

Alex Ferrari 21:36
I mean, look, you got the matrix after will. Smith said no. And Brad Pitt said, no,

Rich Wilkes 21:41
Absolutely. But then he did it again. I'm John Wick. That's

Alex Ferrari 21:44
But he is, I mean, let's just He's the second coming of Christ. I mean, we all know that Keanu Reeves is the second coming of Christ. That's all just agree that that's the way it is. He walks on water. It's it's it's a weird thing. I mean, trying to try to pinpoint success in this business. And trust me, I've made a career of analyzing early in my career, I read every biography, I absorbed every DVD commentary, and laser disc commentary on that old, all of it, trying to figure out what the secret sauce was like, how did this get in? How did that get in? Well, I have to just Okay, so I have to make a short film, but then have the script ready for it. And then okay, so I needed to have a short film that blows up, then I have to have the script ready for it. Then I also have to have some sort of financing. Maybe I have to have a package ready together for it. So I went through all of those. It because I had I had a short film and oh five that blew up online in oh five before YouTube or any of that stuff. And I was being called by big producers, and I was being you know, courted around town and all that stuff. And they're like, Well, what do you have? I'm like, I have ideas and the like, well, that's not enough. So then the next time I did a few years later, I'm like, I had to have the script. Now. I had the script now. That wasn't enough. Okay, now I need to get a package. Okay, great. I have to break it down. I gotta get a budget schedule. I gotta get a pitch deck now. It's just nonstops. But then somebody will walk walk in with a script or an idea. And someone's like, Oh, I like that idea. How much do you want for I've heard that story. How much do you want for it? Oh, do you need a million I have a million. Let's go make a movie. It's like, it's resilience, man. It's just being in the game. And I think at a certain point, you just got to continue to be in the game. You know, I always talk to people from you know, people from the 90s Like, they're like a foreign thing. We are kind of our generation is but but you know, like talking to, you know, to, you know, let's say Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez and Ed burns those guys that came up in the 90s You know, I asked Ed burns specifically ago Ed, wood wood Brothers McMullen even make a dent today. He's like, No, no way in hell, Brothers McMullen would even be anywhere in the conversation. Clerks wouldn't be in the theaters, much less make $20 million in the theater like his did. Like off of a $30,000 movie. mariachi probably wouldn't make any noise today. Clerks wouldn't make any noise today. Like there's none of those movies would make nice today.

Rich Wilkes 24:16
I think I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but but movies still make noise. It's just not those movies. Because I just mentioned like, what like whiplash or Blue Ruin, or these ones, the smaller ones that I'm talking about. They do pop through and whether it's, you know, those $5 million Blumhouse kind of movies. There's some brilliant filmmaking going on. So it's not clear it's but it's a different genre. It's a different movie,

Alex Ferrari 24:40
But the backyard personal film, you know, like slacker that for that to do what it did like slacker, not in a million effin years, would that get attention today? It just it just wouldn't it be an arthouse film, but it wouldn't it wouldn't do what it did. Like it wouldn't go into theaters. But Also don't forget different timing, different place. There was an industry, there was an industry coming around business coming around independent film, which there wasn't in the 80s, really, in the 90s. And then VHS showed up and, and all that kind of stuff. So it's it's, you know, yeah, like someone like Jordan Peele with get out. And you mentioned whiplash, both of those are Jason Blum. Yeah. They're both Jason Blum. And how did you know Jordan Peele, nobody wanted to make it out. And you're like, Who are you the guy from Comedy Central. And you're doing comedy? Now? You want to do horror? Like, what is this?

Rich Wilkes 25:38
So So I don't I don't think it's fair to be so negative on. You know, Linklater wouldn't have a career now. And

Alex Ferrari 25:45
It would be different. It would be different different.

Rich Wilkes 25:47
Those guys are gonna, they're survivors anyway. And Jordan, Peele wouldn't have got his movie made in 1992.

Alex Ferrari 25:54
No, there's no way in hell. But the difference is, get out might have been made as a backyard as a backyard, India, and maybe would have gotten some notice. But the difference between both of those films is they had an 800 pound gorilla attached, which was Jason Blum. Yeah, true. And that that pushed that push that opened the doors and gave them a little bit of a budget game. It's like Jason's given a lot of opportunities to filmmakers, that wouldn't get opportunities in today's world that Jason Blum is an anomaly.

Rich Wilkes 26:25
Yeah, okay. But what did you see this movie called Under the Silver Lake? Oh, takes place in Silver Lake. Here in LA. It's another one of these little movies like the one that the synchronic guys did.

Alex Ferrari 26:37
Okay. I haven't seen it.

Rich Wilkes 26:38
Oh, who the 800 pound gorilla is behind these things, but they're fucking amazing. Little tiny movies. But I wanted to talk about a blown opportunities. Yeah. Just because you know it to switch it up. I worked in the late 80s, I believe was late 80s. With Chris Tucker. Right. Chris Tucker was on a roll from his movie with Charlie Sheen. Easy money or whatever the fuck

Alex Ferrari 27:04
Money Talks, Money Talks. Yeah,

Rich Wilkes 27:05
Yeah. And then he was on rush hour. And he was in Jackie Brown and whatever. And I was working with a guy named Antoine Fisher, the screenwriter. I was, he was a friend of Tucker's, and he had come up with this idea about Chris Tucker being the first double o agent. It was called double o sol. And he had set up the pitch. And it was with a producer I knew at Universal and they were like, Okay, this guy's done a couple of movies, and they partner me up with Antoine. So Chris Tucker is on the verge of Eddie Murphy. Will Smith style. Absolutely. Absolutely. We're working on this project. And he continuously is undermining himself and fucking himself up like we wanted Mariah Carey to be in a role in the movie. And there was this divas concert in New York. And he was supposed to fly from LA to the deepest concert, meet her backstage and picture on CO starring in this movie with him. Instead, they get a call at the production company and it's his brother or assistant or whatever. And they go, Yeah, I'm looking at our window. And I see a towncar. Yeah, yeah, it's to take him to the airport. goes, no, Chris Tucker doesn't ride in no half a car. He needs to stretch so get him stretch, or he's not going to the airport. They don't get him to the airport. That wasn't the only thing he did. We were rewriting the script continuously based on his whims where he would go, I ran into Tiger Woods at a party. Can we do a scene with me and Tiger at a golf course? And you're like,

Alex Ferrari 28:49
How do you jam that in? Yeah, how do Yeah, sure.

Rich Wilkes 28:51
And then we turn in the draft. Everyone's excited about him and goes, I've changed my mind. We want I want the whole movie to take place in Africa. Because he'd gone to visit Africa and had been inspired by something. And we're like, just shut your fucking mouth. And you would have had, you know, a spy movie. God only knows if it would have been a success, but it never got made and his career didn't go the Will Smith way. Because he got so fucking in his own head. He ruined it. Yeah, he did. He did, which was a bummer for everybody involved. And you know,

Alex Ferrari 29:26
Yeah, it was so funny because I always you know, I was a fan of him in the rush hour films and and money talks. And he was he was right on the brink of being Eddie Murphy. The new Eddie Murphy. There was no question. Yeah, but I always wondered like, what happened behind the scenes that his he just, it just fell off a cliff. He just fell off a cliff. He didn't he wasn't nothing. Like he didn't just do bid parts he like did nothing at all

Rich Wilkes 29:51
That I don't know. But I know that universal did not want to work with him after he fucked everybody around for so long.

Alex Ferrari 29:58
Of course, of course and that gets around town.

Rich Wilkes 30:00
Yes. The other one is is my cautionary tale which was I wrote a movie called Triple X is Vin Diesel. Yeah, of course. Yeah. But he call it a X game sort of James Bond. Sure. And then after that, every job I got, they were like, We want you to triple X this motherfucker. We want this to be just the same. But so I wrote Castle Wolfen Stein and I wrote another one for Vin called the wheel man about a, you know, getaway driver. But I was actively resisting doing triple X. I was like, I did triple x to get you know, to get into the blockbuster business

Alex Ferrari 30:40
In the party. You're invited into the party now?

Rich Wilkes 30:42
Yeah, so the first thing I did after Triple X, before it even came out, I got the dirt adapting the Motley Crue biopic I was like, that's what I really want to do. I wanted to do what the whites brothers did. Remember, they did American Pie. And then immediately, they jumped to you know

Alex Ferrari 30:58
About a boy, right? It was about a boy. Yeah, in Golden Compass.

Rich Wilkes 31:01
And all of these. Yeah, that's what I wanted. But everybody wanted it. So I would say, Okay, I'm going to write Castle Wolfenstein, or whatever it is, but it's not going to be filled with X Games craziness. I don't want to do that. I want to do it this way. And they go, Yeah, of course, that's exactly what we want. And then I turn it in, and they go, we don't want this, we want the shit that you said you weren't gonna do. And I was so resistant to being pigeonholed that I refuse to write one of those kinds of movies. And as a consequence, it took from between triple ax and when the dirt finally got made, it was a span of 17 years, right? Where I didn't get a feature film made, right? Because I was like, I need to write the classy. And I wrote a shit ton of classy book adaptations based on bestsellers, and whatever. I had one with the Russo brothers with Johnny Depp that didn't get make, you know, I mean, it's just an endless litany of classy movies that didn't get made. When I could have been,

Alex Ferrari 32:00
You could have been bussin out. Yeah, yeah.

Rich Wilkes 32:03
So anyway, that's a really my own bit of shooting myself in the foot the way Chris, Chris Moore was talking about the other day when he had the 5 million for the startup and refused to do podcasts. And

Alex Ferrari 32:17
So, um, yeah, no, that's a really interesting story. Because, you know, I always look, we all we all wish we have the the option one day to get in our own way. Because that like most people will never get to the place you got with Triple X. Bottom line, it was a huge hit. Big, big, big action franchise. And you know, when when the biggest stars at the time in the world and all of this stuff. Most people listening will never get there. But there's a lesson here, even for those who don't get to that level. It's getting in your own way, stopping things like oh, I don't want to do that, or I want to. So I'll tell you my story really quickly. And this is this is this is my early on story. Not nearly as exciting as yours. But I think there's a lesson here. So I was I was 20 caught I don't even know I was 20 something. And it was right before I wanted to turn into a commercial director. So I was editing. I was editing a lot. I was like the big one of the big editors in Miami. At the time in the in the late 90s. I was up getting paid obscene amounts of money to edit. And I got so far up my own ass that I was like, I'm gonna throw down 50 cheese on my demo reel to direct the image and I had to shoot on 35. And you know, the whole thing? Sure, yeah. So when I did all of that, put it out, I spent my and then I stopped editing. I just said, I'm not an editor anymore. I am a director. I am a director. I don't, I do not sell myself with editing anymore. When I'm dirty. I will not go down to that level. That's that the mentality that you had that I had at the time because it was so full of myself. And then I will get calls. I'm like, Nope, don't add any more. I'm a director only. So I start shipping out my my demo reels and spending money. Like it doesn't end. Because I'm like anytime now all I need is that one gig, it's gonna kick in. Yeah, one gig, I'll get paid five G's a day, you know, I'll get 3040 grand and in about a month or two anytime now, that day, never showed up. And then I got thrown into a dark dark hole that it was harder and harder. And then weirder things happen. I wrote a whole book about what my next adventures but that was the beginning of this hole that I fell into. That took me years to come back out of and I was able to crawl back out of it by just hustle and getting out of my own way. But so many of us as creatives we will start overthinking getting in our own heads. And man I can only imagine how old were you when you hit we need to triple X

Rich Wilkes 34:51
30 31

Alex Ferrari 34:53
Yeah, so at 30 31 I was still I was still it wasn't a complete moron. But I was slightly more on it might be my own personal journey. There's 20 20 year olds are much smarter than I was at 30. Sure. But at that age still, you still haven't lived. You've got a lot. Yeah. And you haven't been See, you haven't been beat up enough yet.

Rich Wilkes 35:15
But dude all of the people that we talk about, that we admire from Talentino, to Kevin Smith, they all made that jump and said, Fuck it. I'm doing it my way. I'm not going to cast so and so I want it to be my Michael Mann said, whoever the fuck all of those people did it and made the jump, but they stuck the landing where we did not. So the does that make them stupid? I mean, does that make us stupid for making that leap just like they did? Because we didn't have the luck to stick the landing.

Alex Ferrari 35:45
But the thing is, but that's the thing, though. So let's, let's analyze Kevin for a second. Because I've started Kevin, you know, Kevin came up with my movie because I worked in a video store. I was very upset about the clerk's because I work in a video. So when that came out, I'm like, son of. God, why did I think of that? And, you know, maybe video clips around the country were like, Ah, god, but after clerks, he did Mallrats his way. He wanted to do it his way. Studio gave him money, and it tanked and it was over for Kevin. It was over. The only way he came back out was because of chasing me. And there was the Weinstein's who gave him $150,000 To make as a throwaway. Like, Look, kid, here's 100 grand go make your movie, but that's all you're getting. And he got a Yeah, I happen to have a young Ben Affleck, which I know you worked with a young Ben Affleck as well, that happened to hit. If Jason Amy doesn't hit. We don't know who Kevin Smith. He's just a blip in history.

Rich Wilkes 36:43
Exactly. He is you and I. However, he did that stupid thing. But he stuck the landing and was successful at it. And that's why we admire guys like that. And we tried to emulate them. And it didn't work out in quite the same way.

Alex Ferrari 37:00
And that's a mistake that a lot of filmmakers and screenwriters make to this day they'll look at someone like Tarantino luck will Tarantino don't like and I always like to say, Tarantino is probably the most original writer of his generation, the skills and the way he tells stories is unprecedented. You'd like them or hate them. I don't care. There's no one who writes like him. He is the the Hemingway of his generation. Again, whether you love them or hate them. You can't deny what the man has done. Yeah, you can't compare yourself to him just like me comparing myself to Spielberg or to Fincher or to Nolan. Like these are people who are at the highest level. And look at Nolan. Like, that's a good point. Because you can't compete. You can't like, you know, can you compare yourself to Robert Rodriguez, how many people to this day people are still talking about mariachi to this day, people still use it as a reference point. And I'm like, you can't like Robert. He didn't he? He stumbled into it. It no one was ever supposed to see mariachi. It was supposed to go straight to the Spanish video market. And it just happened that someone said we're gonna release the and he said no, don't release this. This was like my practice movie. Yeah, Jesus Christ. Let me remake it. Don't let me so he did remake it and Desperado. Essentially, but a little bit better, like a little bit bigger. But that's but that's what he felt he literally stumbled into it. You know, you can't do that brothers MC Bolin. If he wasn't working at ET at Entertainment Tonight. And Bob Redford didn't jump on an elevator and he didn't have a VHS copy of brothers Bolin rough guide. And he handed it to Bob. And fucking like two months later, someone from Sundance called them is like, is your movie ready? We'd like to screen it. That doesn't happen. You can see what I'm saying. Like there was no way a PA from Entertainment Tonight was going to get into Sundance for an unknown like Edward Burns. But that's exactly what happened. So you can't you can't plan for that stuff. You can't. You can't like I met like I had the pleasure of meeting Roger Ebert. Before he passed at a screen I thought Amida I mean. But um, but I had the pleasure of being flown up to Toronto, because I was going like there was some producers and financiers who wanted to finance my short film of my feature film version of my short film in 2005. So I fly up there. And he's like, here's some tickets to a movie that we're distributing. go see this movie. So we went to the theater, we're sitting down, and in the back of the frickin theater is Roger Ebert. And people who don't know who Roger Ebert is, please google him. He's one of the greatest film critics of all time. He's the only one who's ever won a Pulitzer. That's how great he was. And we haven't, we haven't run up to him and start talking to him like, oh my god, this and that. And this is our movie like this before the movie starts and we We'd like to start talking to him. He's like, you know, I can't watch your movie. I'm like, of course not. You can't watch our movie, your Rodri. But why would you watch our little $8,000 action movie? And then all of a sudden, halfway through the conversation is that Can I take your picture? I'm like, Yes. And he's like, You know what, this will make a nice little, little piece for my blob on my blog. I'm like, Great, can we can we take your picture, and here's a copy of our movie. By the time we landed back in Florida, he'd already watched a movie and written a small review of the film on his website. And all of a sudden, I'm the only short film on the planet that has a Roger Ebert quote, and that and that, just but you see what I'm saying? How could you plan for that?

Rich Wilkes 40:43
You're welcome to do differently. I mean, if I guess in retrospect, if I had service, the, you know, if I milked the triple X vibe, as much as it was worth Sure, would I have been happier, spending my time writing movies that I wasn't excited about, rather than the time I've been spending on on adapting books that don't get made, I get a lot of satisfaction from all of these scripts that are sitting on my shelf that no one's ever going to read or see. It's weird. You know, it's, would I be happier the other way?

Alex Ferrari 41:17
So that's the question. So and this has turned into a therapy session, which I absolutely love. And I think it's something that we all need to hear therapy session for both of you. And I think and everyone listen to kind of get into it. But what I, this is my feeling like, again, I didn't have your experience, you had a huge hit, you were the belle of the ball, people wanted to work with you, because you had a monster hit in town. So the question is, could you have, the way I would have looked at it is this at 30, I would have put my big boy pants on, I would have written a handful of things that they wanted me to do. Gain and then step up a little bit more and step up a little bit more. Yeah. And, and maybe get a couple of maybe get another triple X, like style, success. And then and then at that point, start like once you once you establish yourself a little bit more, continue to write those for for a few years, not gonna hurt you. At that point on the side. You're working on other stuff, and like in trying to get other things made. But you're building up your reputation in town. And I've seen that from so many screenwriters who told me I didn't want to do it. But I did it because it was a paycheck. It kept kept me in the conversation. Yeah, and that's the difference.

Rich Wilkes 42:34
But here's what happened after I realized that I needed to make an adjustment, which it took me like, I don't know, let's say five years. Sure. I started taking these assignments that were very straightforward. You know, a remake of cliffhanger. You know, various action movies and whatever. Lightning didn't strike twice. They did not get made. Alright, it's fucking difficult to build one on top of another. Like the guy who wrote it triple X two starred. Ice Cube, right. Different director, different writer than that guy was. King Simon Kinberg. Yeah, I just had Simon on the show. Okay, so his version of Triple X grossed 25 million, and mine had bros 275 or two or whatever it was, yeah. quarter of a billion. Yeah, I guess it was 250. I don't know whatever the fuck it was. He went on to have a string of these action movies that were consistent, consistently getting made and moneymakers and whatever, and obviously more talented than me. But it has been consistently building to the point that he's a producer on movies, in addition to writing in addition to directing and whatever. So lightning struck with him even though his Triple X was a failure.

Alex Ferrari 44:00
But the difference with Simon is that he was lucky enough to land in the X Men universe at Fox. And the second he landed in the X Men universe of Fox, one hit left to another hit lead. And then he stayed in the end. He said, Did you see what he did? He stayed in the excellent up to Deadpool up to Logan as a producer. And he kept he understood, he's like, I'm gonna stick to this and he just finished releasing 355 With all the girls, which is unlike anything else he's been doing lately. But it's taken him years to do that. Now there are some there's some and there's nothing wrong with that because I still think some of the stuff he's done like he'll get Deadpool made, which is one of the best superhero he got Logan made. He wrote, he wrote days Days of Future Past which is probably arguably one of the better superhero genre time travel movies ever made. You know, he's definitely a talented dude. But he got on a train at the right time. When things were like, oh, and the way you know, studios work, oh, you know X Men. Well, let's keep him on. Okay, you wrote 1x movie, you could write another x movie. So same thing for you. I wrote one triple X movie. I want to add your spice to this. He kept riding that train, you decided to go against the trend and five years?

Rich Wilkes 45:20
Yes. So what I wound up doing is that what I wrote for legendary years ago, I wrote it adaptation of Kung Fu, they already had a director attached, they were excited about Sure. Because of that, I got recommended to write Iron Fist for Marvel,

Alex Ferrari 45:36
Okay. The movie, the movie or the show?

Rich Wilkes 45:39
The it was the movie,

Alex Ferrari 45:40
Okay, the movie Okay.

Rich Wilkes 45:42
This was they, they were doing the first for the first phase, and they were trying to figure out who's gonna be in the second phase. So they developed eight characters and picked four and made movies out of them. So my Iron Fist movie was not chosen. Right. But if it was, I could have been in the Marvel Universe. So even when it when it came time and getting the chance to write a Marvel movie early on, you know, when they were still in phase one. It did not work out for whatever reason, and I've had so many things that everybody does have movies fall apart, we have the financing, we have a director, we have everything lined up, and then it blows up with through none of your own, you know, so it's key to luck being a factor of bad luck is a huge factor in shit just blowing up and the quality of the movies that I've had that slipped through my fingers with the Russo brothers with Fincher with the thing with Dr. Dre, all of these great thing with Vince McMahon, all of these things that that fucking blew up on me. They, I'm fine with it, because it's happened so many times that Alright, here's what nobody knows about this one. But when they were shooting from dusk till dawn, sure. I was writing Green Hornet for some for Larry Gordon. Okay. Robert Rodriguez gets a hold of the script. I heard it to Clooney. They're going to do it together. I meet with Clooney. And he's so excited. We're going to start shooting. We got the money. We're going to start shooting in March. Right. Then he gets a phone call from Steven Spielberg saying I just started SKG DreamWorks. I want you to start our first movie Peacemaker with a call Mimi leader. So he had to drop out of ours because you don't say no to Spielberg. He did that one. Once he dropped out. Robert Rodriguez dropped out. They brought in Michel Gondry. He was involved with it 10 years before he actually made it at another studio. And it went nowhere with Michel Gondry. But we were I don't know, it was December when they pulled the plug. And we were going to be shooting the beginning of March. And that would have been fucking huge. You know, of course, me Clooney at that time. Robert Rodriguez at that time, it would have been really any of those that that have exploded and like so

Alex Ferrari 48:12
Alright, so then I'll tell you, I'll tell you my story. And then yeah, I want you guys because that is a 32nd story. This is a get together. Yeah, this these are great. Okay, so I'll tell you my story. I wrote a book. I wrote a book. Here it is. And everyone listening knows about everyone listening. Listen to the show knows about this. The book is called shooting for the mob. Oh, nice. Okay, so this book is based on my, my experience of almost making a $20 million movie for the mafia. Now, I was 26. See, no, no, let's let you know, we'll throw it down. Well throw it down. Don't get me wrong, you got much better, much better, higher quality stars in your story. But my I wasn't about to get whacked. There. But there's that. So I had a bipolar. Basically sociopathic gangster who gave me the shot, quote, unquote, to direct his life story. And I was then I was then our production offices were in a racetrack from the 1960s. So literally, I was like in a lounge and they built an office partition for me in the lounge. We hired production designers we hired DP flew in from LA, we weren't, we weren't prepped for a year, a year in prep a year. So while this is going on, he's hustling money to keep the office open, because he can't get the 20 million. But the crazy part and that's a that's a fantastic story, just a mobster trying to get his movie made with a young director. And I kept asking him like, and I've been directing already a little bit been directing commercials and, and all this kind of stuff. And I said, Why aren't you going after some like, like somebody who's Morrissey And then me, and he's like, Oh no, I don't like those. Those Hollywood guys. I want someone honest like you. Oh my Alright, great. So I'm there. But don't forget I was raised in the 90s under the 90s indie boom for everyone. Yeah, which were like the lottery, the lottery ticket. Everyone had a lottery ticket. The Kevin Smith's the Edward Burns. The Robert is slacker everyone. So I'm like this is got to be my lottery ticket. Right? So then Hollywood takes his guy seriously. And I'm flown out to LA. And I meet billion dollar producers. I'm in the penthouses of a huge producer like it's the scene from a true romance. I mean, his screening room, showing him the trailer that I'd shot that spent $10,000 I didn't have to shoot a sizzle reel of the movie that we shot it on film flew and actors it was a whole thing. So we did that whole thing. So I'm there with him. I'm at the Chateau Marmont, I'm at the fucking IV everywhere. And I'm like this got a discount to be this has to be real. Well, but while this is all going on, he's threatening me all the time. You're basically going to work with Joe Pachi. From Goodfellas. Like, one moment, one moment, he's the best, funniest dude, ever. And the next moment, he's like, I will, I will hit you over the head with a shovel and bury you somewhere. And imagine a 26 year old. I'm green as all hell truly. And I didn't know what the hell I was doing. And I'm like, I didn't have any defense against a guy like this. When I saw the adults are like, called the adults. The seasoned professionals around me were all scared to death. And these guys were all in movies for 20 years. And I'm like, What the hell am I gonna do? Then I'm like, flown out and I'm meeting I went to go meet Batman. So I go to Batman's house. Wayne Manor, like one of the actors who played Batman. Oh, these shall remain nameless. They're all they're all remainings. I'll tell you, I'll tell you after after we get off. Because in the book, my rules are if I met you, your name has changed. If I talked about you, we talked about you know, I had, we had meetings with producers. Mel Gibson, Robert Downey, Jr. William Hurd, Gabriel Byrne, like all the hot people from this is all 2001. It's all like, early 2001. This is all started. So I go to Batman's house. I'm there like this, like this close to Batman, Batman's, like, I want to be in your movie. You know, do you want to sleep over tonight, so we can work on the project. Like I think he's on a 25,000 acre ranch, you know, three days after Christmas. And then all of a sudden, after all of that, it's gone. It just goes away. And the gangsters like you know what, we're gonna go another direction after a year of this. And the movie never got as close ever again, to getting made than it was with me. But imagine, and I know you have this, you've experienced this at different levels, being so close to your dream. And again, yanked away from you constant like you know, constantly. I know you feel me because it's happened to you. But you've had but you've had success and you've had a career, doing what you love to do. It might not be in the way that you might have envisioned it. But you've had a career, you've had a career, like you said at the beginning of this entire conversation I've made I've made a living doing this. And that's great. But I but the frustration of all the money's about to drop. All this package is almost there. Oh, we're almost we're almost greenlit, I can only imagine that happened to me once at a large level. Then multiple other times at smaller levels, like you know, being flown around and meeting producers and having sit downs with actors. And you know, this and that I've gone through all of that. That's why That's why I have shrapnel that we all both have that's that's trapnell from from the war that we've been in, which is the business. But I could only imagine you going through this as well, because you're having that happen again and again and again. And you were in a position where this this really could happen. Like you weren't a young kid sitting down with George Clooney, you were already a seasoned screenwriter, it just everything kept falling apart.

Rich Wilkes 54:13
The thing that's interesting is that it happens at every level, anybody who's trying to get a student film made, try to shoot their own short film so high school, the actor falls out the location falls everything always is a problem. And so my thing when talking to somebody who wants to be in the industry is it is going to be a lot harder than you ever imagined it would be if I had known all of the things I don't know if I would have dared to enter this right right right knowing in advance how many setbacks there were going to be but I like to be realistic with people you're not going to you know star in one movie and have a career for the rest of your life right one hit and have a you know For dinner with Spielberg the next week, it is always in a constant struggle. And when you consider it took Spielberg 15 years to get his Lincoln movie made. It doesn't change no matter what level you're at. Amen. And I know for a fact that that George Clooney has movies that he wishes he could get made that he cannot correct. Same with any director you can think of the same with. I don't want to name the names, but it's the same. Across the board. No one is where they want to be, with the exception of maybe,

Alex Ferrari 55:35
Nolan, Anderson, Nolan Tarantino, and James Cameron.

Rich Wilkes 55:42
Wes Anderson, yeah, the Coen Brothers, you know, maybe this many. Yeah. And we're just talking in feature films. So it is an endless life or death struggle. Every single time, no matter what level you're at, and you have to be ready for that it doesn't turn into easy street ever. And this is the thing that impresses me most about Tarantino is, every time he sits down to write a movie, he has to write a movie better than a Quentin Tarantino movie, because below the level of a Talentino movie, it's a failure. He's competing with Pulp Fiction Kill Bill,

Alex Ferrari 56:20
He's competing glorious bastard Right, right.

Rich Wilkes 56:25
It's, it's insane. And everybody's doing that Spielberg's complete it competing against his entire, you know, filmography, so it never ever becomes easy. And Chris Moore, who you just had on Yeah, Oscar nominated movie right? Off the bat. Yeah. Never became easy after that. For him. He's still slugging away. Ben and Matt have had their this and that. It's never ever, ever going to get easier. So you better enjoy what you're doing. And by and working with the people you're working with. Because that at the end of the day, that's what it is, you know, 30 years into it and looking back and going Well, shit, either. I'm pissed off this whole time. Or I've loved every minute of you know, nowadays, like moving my Vince McMahon thing blew up a year ago. I am so appreciate the time I got to spend in the world of WW Yeah, yeah. And talk to his daughter and talk to him and talk to his right hand man. And, and, and have all of that no matter if it mounted up to anything. I really appreciate all of those things. And it's the same whether you're doing a short film, you're doing your $100,000 you know, feature, you're going around begging for money and people are trusting you and believing in you. And that's the thing that you got to that you got to appreciate.

Alex Ferrari 57:47
I mean, Rick Linklater said said it best he gave me the piece, best piece of advice is like, I asked him the question, like what advice you'd give for filmmakers, because it's gonna be twice as hard and twice as long as you thought. That's how long it's gonna take. It's gonna take twice, it's gonna be twice as hard as you think. And it'd be twice as long. I'd probably say it's 10 times harder. But that's, yeah.

Rich Wilkes 58:09
Maybe for him. It's twice but I mean, he's not he's not getting Oh, he wants to be

Alex Ferrari 58:13
Ohh I can I can tell you for a fact that Rick is not doing everything he wants to do. Because he told me directly. He's like, I want to do this, this, this and this. And I'm like, I'm like, but you're Rick be Richard Linklater, you're like an Oscar like, you know, I mean, boyhood. Seriously, who the hell makes boyhood? Like other than Richard Linklater? Like who's insane? It was insane enough. Yeah, to shoot a movie like boyhood. Like, oh, yeah, we're gonna shoot something. And maybe we'll have something in seven years. Like, that's insanity. But that's right. And but Rick doesn't care about. He's an artist, man. He is one when I met when I met him, and I've spent some time with him. He is a artist, and he doesn't care about markets and this or that he just has the pleasure. He's lucky enough to be able to do what he does, because he keeps his budgets low. And that's why you know, the Coen brothers get to do what they do because they keep the budget low. Woody Allen back, you know, when he was making movies, he kept his budgets low so he could do whatever the hell he wanted to.

Rich Wilkes 59:09
And stars want to work with guys like that. Because they're artists too. And they'll do it for a discount rage. And that's why Wes Anderson gets all of these brilliant people, you know?

Alex Ferrari 59:18
Yeah, PT, PTA, all of them. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 59:21
So, the long and short is take the pleasures where you can get them. If at any point you get to make a movie, write a screenplay, act in something. That's something that most of the planet doesn't get to do, and most of the planet wants to do. So if you get close, if you get to edit your own movie that you shot on your phone, you are so far ahead of the game.

Alex Ferrari 59:45
It's your absolute you're absolutely right. And I call what we do the beautiful sickness, because it is. It is. It is it is it is the beautiful sickness because once you have it, the sickness you can't get rid of it. Like I can't, I can't. You really can't. It couldn't go dormant for decades. Honestly, I've had people come in, who are doctors and talk to me like, I just retired. Yeah, I really what I really want to do is direct. And it's it's a true sickness that doesn't go away. But it's a beautiful sickness. And I think that's a weird thing about our business, is that this is not I mean, I've talked to so many different people about this. We're the weirdest business on the planet, we're the only business on the planet that could spend $200 million, and literally have a worthless piece of product. Yeah, literally could have, it could literally be in it's happened before, that you've spent $100 million, and it just dies. And it's like, it's worthless, where at least when you spent $200 million in construction, you got to $200 million, you know, building or, you know, cookies, you could buy $200 million with a cookies at least you have some cookies you can sell. There's a product we have we sell air, we sell intangible dreams. It's such a weird business. And that's why it's so intoxicating.

Rich Wilkes 1:01:01
There are two things about it. One, we'd be doing it anyway, whether or not we had success. Whether you got that book published or not, they're sure that you would keep writing it. And to the thing that keeps you going is you're always one thing away from massive success. Oh, always, always. One I weigh up one script one performance and the

Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
One person you meet one person you meet one. Yeah, everything. Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 1:01:30
Yeah. So which makes it beautiful, you know, and especially when somebody like comes out of the blue and writes green to Reno, or somebody gets access at a later age, or somebody makes a transition like Jordan Peele did, from one genre to another, or the way Tom Hanks did. It's, that's what's intoxicating about it and and keeps you going.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:51
But, but the thing is that people listening have to understand is that that is the that's the sickness part of the sickness. That is the sick, that's the sickness part, because it's almost like a gambler. Like the next the next bet is the one that's gonna pop the next bet. And there's how many professional gamblers out there who make a living as gamblers a very small amount, but everybody like but Vegas runs on people who are not professional gamblers.

Rich Wilkes 1:02:18
It's funny because we started with God, we should we fucked up, we've got to temper our dreams and be realistic and we're ending with It's the fucking greatest slaughter you can possibly imagine one step away from working with Scorsese.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:31
But the thing is that the key is that if you bet on black, more likely you're not going to, it's not going to hit. So you have to find your own path that makes you happy. And that's the kitten that and that was the one thing that I kind of finally came to grips with later in life, which is like, I need to find what makes me happy. And it's not, it doesn't have to be working on a Marvel movie. And as I say, in every episode, anytime I bring up Marvel ongo Kevin Fahey, if you're listening, I'll take the meeting. So, but it's not about that anymore. For me. It's more about how am I enjoying what I'm doing? Yeah, am I am I providing value in one way, shape or form to my community in one way, shape, or form? Can I go off and make my own movies that are personal, and I don't give a crap if they make money or not? Because I make them for very little money.

Rich Wilkes 1:03:24
You know, it just made me realize that I've made this adjustment in my own life of trying things where I have no intention of making a penny from it. Yep. And having it be so satisfying. I wanted to be a singer in a punk rock band. So I did that and went on the Warped Tour. I always wanted to try stand up comedy. So right before the pandemic get like, in my 50s I went on stage for the first time at open mics and I've been doing it now for a couple of years. I'm terrible. I get no laughs But I hate it. I'm so nerve racked by doing it, but I'm forcing myself to do it because one day I hope to get comfortable doing it. And then I can at least look back and go Yeah, all right. I did it. I did it until I got comfortable. I'm not that funny, but it was fucking you know, it's a bucket list thing that I don't want to go back when I'm 90 If I make it that far and and and wish that I given it some effort. So it seemed when I went to cooking school because I wanted to do that and I was shitty at that too. But it was personally rewarding. So if you can do that with with music or poetry or like, what's the name? Seth Rogen now is doing pottery. You see him on Twitter doing all of his pottery is vases that he fires.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:44
Oh, and then Jim Carrey with the paintings.

Rich Wilkes 1:04:46
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So yeah, all of that shit is I think there's even more satisfaction when you have no plan on trying to make a living at it.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:56
You know, and I have to tell you that you're absolutely right. I mean, I look I stopped Did this podcast six and a half years ago? Wow. And I've been doing this for six and a half years, I was in a podcasting when podcasting wasn't the cool thing to be. And now everybody's like, Oh, I got a podcast. So I came in just because I wanted to, I wanted to give back to my community. I wanted to build an online business. I wanted to, to see what I can make a go of this. Sure. There's no way I would have told you, if someone would have told me like, yeah, you're going to be able to make a living doing this, you're going to be able to shut down your post production company, you're going to be able to retire from doing post production. And you're going to do this full time in a few years.

Rich Wilkes 1:05:37
What we're doing now you're making a living at this?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:39
110% This is all I do, this is all I do. This is not my, this is not my side, hustle. This is all I do. This is all I do it but it started as a side hustle. And I started it with an intention to make money with it at some point, but not to this level, I didn't think it was going to get to where it is I didn't think I was going to be talking to people like yourself or other the many guests that I've talked to, I would have never, if you would have told me that I would have had access to the kind of people I talked to, I would have said you're absolutely insane. You're absolutely insane. But

Rich Wilkes 1:06:14
What what you're providing is a resource for all the kids that want to be making films or doing whatever writing television writing books that didn't exist in the 1990s You'd have to buy Linklaters book or see, you know, oh, to a q&a at a film festival to find out what somebody did. And now on a weekly basis, I don't know how often you put these things out,

Alex Ferrari 1:06:42
Two to three times a week.

Rich Wilkes 1:06:45
Wow, that's a lot of talking.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:47
That's all I Yeah.

Rich Wilkes 1:06:49
But like you said that the Chris Moore one that that you just put out is filled with so much useful information from the past to the present. That's just invaluable. And I think you're putting giving everybody such a leg up. And then I'm hoping that it, you know, kicks it that we get some kick ass movies to watch out about, you know, you know,

Alex Ferrari 1:07:13
I've been I've had I've had a few listeners who've been able to go off and make their movies. And they and I've been I've had the pleasure of having the back having them on the show. And they've told me like, if it wasn't for you, it wasn't for the show, I would have wouldn't have done this, this this or this. I had one I had one guy who wrote you like the story. He wrote a million dollar movie. He financed that himself because he's a commercial director, big commercial director in Australia. He's like, I want to go make a movie. He made a movie in Cambodia, about robots who come in and start like, you know, like, like, Soldier robots who come down, they drop them into the jungle as a test and they start killing tourists, American tourists. Alright, great, right. And you think that sounds like a asylum movie that doesn't sound like it's gonna look good at all. He sent me the trailer for it. It looks like a $50 million movie. It looks so good. He's like x outs after reading your your second book. This one about being an entrepreneurial filmmaker. He goes I'm not going to go with the studio's as I got a million dollar offer, but I'm not going to do it. I'm just going to self distribute it as an experiment. And he goes, I'm gonna do it because you because of you. And I talked to him a bunch and I guided him through it. I'm like, Alright, man, this is gonna be a hell of a test to my to my theories. And all he's made, he made his and he made his budget back in three months, three months. And he's gotten called from every studio on the planet, including, including, you know, the mouse and everybody else wanting him to because the quality of what he did was unheard of. And that was something that the show helped nothing his talent but helped him get to where he's at with this situation.

Rich Wilkes 1:08:55
I feel like we've we've taken a turn into the to positive, and I'm more cynical and sarcastic by nature. So I want to I want to get away from from

Alex Ferrari 1:09:06
No, no, it's all to hell. It's all the hell it's all to hell. No, this whole business, you're good. Why even be here? I mean, seriously, why even? Why even start down this path? You're going to fail? No, I'm joking. Look, I know where we're sitting, we are allowed to be cynical because we're both old farts. And that's and that and that's fine, because we've been around the block a couple times. But I hope what this episode has shown people is you know, the truth of what it's like being a creative in the business. And from two different perspectives, my perspective from someone who's really been I've really been looking outside into the party. I've snuck into the party a few times. I've even been invited into the party a few times. But security shortly thereafter, finds me and kicks me out. And that's fine and that and now I get invited to more parties, but it's all fine and dandy. You were in the party and then you had issues inside the party, and you've been able to maintain yourself inside the party. Even though there is a room with a rope, and that's where you really want to get

Rich Wilkes 1:10:06
Yeah, I feel like I'm in the NFL but I'm on the bench on the right you see everything on the team.

Alex Ferrari 1:10:14
You get the rig baby, you get the rig, you get the ring if I want to dress with the big boys. Yeah, you know, but it but it's it's a really facet. I'd like this conversation, I did not plan it to go this direction. So I'm so happy it did because this is this has been one of the more interesting, you know, conversations.

Rich Wilkes 1:10:31
I'm gonna be honest with you. This is the second best of your podcasts that I've listened to the I've only learned this is my second one listening to it. And this is definitely

Alex Ferrari 1:10:40
Your Listen, listen to yourself.

Rich Wilkes 1:10:43
Chris Morris here and then this one is down here. But I'm already getting sick of myself talking. So we better we're

Alex Ferrari 1:10:50
I'm gonna ask you I'm gonna ask you a few questions I asked all my guests. I think we've already asked the one question What advice would you give a filmmaker or screenwriter trying to break into the business today? I think that's been the scope. Yeah, I don't even no. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Rich Wilkes 1:11:10
It was thing we talked about, take pleasure in the process. It's the journey not the destination, which is the worst cliche ever. But that is the that's what it is. You're not going to ever get where you want in life. So you better fucking enjoy whatever it is you have for the time you're here with me. You know, my one of my best friends getting a brain tumor and dropping dead in his 40s We're behind two teenage daughters. That teaches you everything you need to know. sad that it takes something like that. But you're like, Okay, that's it. I'm set for the rest of my life. My mental state is this is it. It's gonna it could leave anytime so fucking it.

Alex Ferrari 1:11:51
Absolutely. Tomorrow, like no, it's cliche this Tomorrow is not promised. And it's not guaranteed. But we all think it is. It's such a weird thing that we as humans do, but like oh yeah, I'll be here tomorrow. I'll be here tomorrow.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:03
All right. Well, we're both getting into Tony Robbins territory.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:05
I listen, man. Hey, listen. I'm gonna walk on the coals. I'm gonna walk on the coals. And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:15
Okay, Project bay park to Gallipoli and Caddyshack.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:21
Man, that's a hell of a that's a hell of a hell of a of a screening.

Rich Wilkes 1:12:27
I normally have a top five and Goodfellas is one? Yep. And I forgot what the other one is. But it was great. It's a great movie. Now recommended. In the cliche, it's always, you know, Star Wars and those are great and inspirational. But there's ones that just you know, are part of your life and Caddyshack and Jackie Chan. And these things have just sort of burrowed into my into my head and reflect a lot of it. Mostly, mostly it's it's music that drives me everything that I write or work, I can see how involved with music.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:05
Yeah, I get there's no question. I could see that your filmography. Without question, and well, for me, it's Shawshank Fightclub matrix.

Rich Wilkes 1:13:16
It's not a bad list.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:18
That's it. That's the those are the ones that just and again, of course, Star Wars and of course, you know, Clockwork Orange and shining and all of Kubrick and you know

Rich Wilkes 1:13:28
I wanted to be different though. I remember a Cuckoo's Nest mostly we're like,

Alex Ferrari 1:13:32
ah, can you imagine trying to get that movie made today? Huh? By studio. Good luck, taxi driver get get get Sony to do taxi driver today. Let me see how that works out. My friend. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It has been it's been eye opening to say the least. And I hope it helps some filmmakers and screenwriters out there, man. So thank you, brother.

Rich Wilkes 1:13:55
Yes, I was trying to hold up something that could hike that I could try to get it to pimp and my website. I don't know

Alex Ferrari 1:14:03
We'll put links to the to you in the show notes if you want to reach out man. I appreciate you.

Rich Wilkes 1:14:08
Alright, thanks, man.

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IFH 569: How to Build a Career as a Screenwriter with J.Mills Goodloe

Today on the show we have director and screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe.

J. Mills Goodloe grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. He began his career at Warner Brothers working for director Richard Donner. Goodloe worked from 1992 to 1995 as Donner’s assistant on Lethal Weapon 3 and Maverick, both starring Mel Gibson, then segued into producing where he developed and produced Assassins starring Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas and Julianne Moore.

In 1996, Goodloe produced Conspiracy Theory, once again starring Mel Gibson, along with Julia Roberts, and Lethal Weapon 4, the fourth installment of the billion dollar grossing Lethal Weapon series.

In 2001, Goodloe wrote and directed A Gentleman’s Game starring Gary Sinise, Dylan Baker and Philip Baker Hall. In 2005, Goodloe wrote the adaptation for the John Grisham novel Bleachers for Revolution Studios. Goodloe also co-wrote the screenplay for the inspirational sports film Pride, released theatrically by Lionsgate and starring Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac.

In 2014, Goodloe’s adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Best of Mewent into production, starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden and directed by Michael Hoffman.

Based on the bestselling novel by acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, two former high school sweethearts who find themselves reunited after 20 years apart, when they return to their small town for the funeral of a beloved friend. Their bittersweet reunion reignites the love they’ve never forgotten, but soon they discover the forces that drove them apart twenty years ago live on, posing even more serious threats today. Spanning decades, this epic love story captures the enduring power of our first true love, and the wrenching choices we face when confronted with elusive second chances.

In 2013, Academy Award nominated director Hany Abu-Assad was hired to direct Goodloe’s screenplay Mountain Between Us, a Twentieth Century Fox project based upon the novel by Charles Martin.

In the Spring of 2014, Goodloe’s original screenplay Age of Adaline began principal photography, starring Harrison Ford, Blake Lively and directed by Lee Toland Krieger. The film will be released by Lionsgate in the Spring of 2015.

After miraculously remaining 29 years old for almost eight decades, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) has lived a solitary existence, never allowing herself to get close to anyone who might reveal her secret. But a chance encounter with charismatic philanthropist Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman) reignites her passion for life and romance. When a weekend with his parents (Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker) threatens to uncover the truth, Adaline makes a decision that will change her life forever.

In 2014, Sony Studios hired Goodloe to write the screenplay Christian the Lion with Neil Moritz’ Original Film producing. His other projects include a scripted drama for Bravo Television called All the Pretty Faces which he and Jennifer Garner are producing.

Enjoy my conversation with J. Mills Goodloe.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome the show Mills Goodloe how you doing Mills?

J. Mills Goodloe 0:14
Very well, thank you.

Alex Ferrari 0:15
Thanks so much for being on the show my friend. I appreciate you coming on before I just want to even get started and how did you how did you get into this insane, insane business?

J. Mills Goodloe 0:26
It was a total fluke. And it had nothing to do with any pre determined strategy whatsoever. I was in college on this thing called Semester at Sea. And I ended up getting kicked off of it for many reasons, but I don't want to get into here. Yugoslavia. Now now Serbia and I had was with some girl that I was dating and she lived in went to USC. And I had I decided maybe I should go to California and what I do in California, I guess they could get involved in the film business. Because people do there and I had one friend of mine who I was went to Berkeley, his name is Chris Silberman. And he's now the chairman of ICM. Oh, nice. And he was a Cal Berkeley guy and his dad was a publicist and his dad got me my first job. And I had no idea about movie business. I'd never read a script. I didn't major in film studies. I didn't braider in English. Very not well. versed. I wish I could tell the story that I saw Star Wars when I was six years old and came out of the theater with my life. It's different and but it's completely fluke. And happenstance had no rhyme or reason whatsoever.

Alex Ferrari 1:45
So I like that story more because I've heard the Star Wars Story 1000 times, I'm part of that generation as well. So this whole like I just fell into it is probably infuriating to some people listen,

J. Mills Goodloe 1:57
Well, If I be like I would have fallen for some girl that was living in Seattle. In the 90s. I don't know maybe I would have gone to Seattle and whatever they do in Seattle,but it was like

Alex Ferrari 2:07
Coffee. You would have been in coffee. You would have been in coffee or Microsoft.

J. Mills Goodloe 2:10
Yeah, exactly. I could have been on the ground floor of Starbucks. But it was it just happened to be the one guy that I knew that could get me a job was in the film business.

Alex Ferrari 2:19
That's amazing. Now, doing a little bit of research on you. One of your first jobs was working with the late great, Richard Donner.

J. Mills Goodloe 2:29
How, how did you get in that was the gentleman was Chris Silverman who said he's, you know the name Chris or No,

Alex Ferrari 2:36
I know the name but I don't Yeah,

J. Mills Goodloe 2:38
He's the he's, I see all he runs all ICM and he was a film student that came out of college and his dad was a publicist. And they were doing this film called Radio Flyer. I remember Radio Flyer, yes. Directing that, and he was already shoot, he had just had finished it actually. And they were gonna do some pickups on it. And I somehow found out that he needed an assistant, a driver. And through a through luck and circumstances I ended up getting an interview with with Dick donner. And he, I did something really crazy in the interview, and I got the job basically being a gopher. Third.

Alex Ferrari 3:21
But what did you do? What did you do? But you have to what did you do? What was that crazy thing

J. Mills Goodloe 3:26
During the course of the my interview with him. And like I said, I'm just out of college. I never been on film set before. I'd never read a screenplay before. I didn't know anything about anything. But in the course of the interview, Dick had mentioned part of the job as being very, almost like an investigative reporter. It was all personal stuff. For him. It wasn't short films. And one of the things he said was, you know, like, this morning, I was talking to someone in my office about, I read somewhere, this is pre internet, by the way that you can, there's these devices which detect lightning. And he said, you know, like, I would just say, he's using this an example of the job. So I'd say to someone that's, you know, I'll say someone on my staff, you know, see if you can find out about that we can use it for shooting, let me just use as an example. And I had this epiphany that night. And the next morning, I woke up really early, and I called some people I know on the East Coast, and then I wrote my obligatory thank you letter for the interview. Once again, pre email, I wrote the obligatory thank you for it's a great opportunity, I'd love to be blah, blah, blah, all the same normals. And at the end is, by the way, if you're still looking for those devices that detect lightning, there are three companies that make them and I listed the three companies and the price and their address done. And later he said, while the guys they interviewed are the only one that actually paid attention and wanted to follow up with some throwaway comment I made in the meeting. So because he had brought up lightning detectors, I had had the foresight to be pre emptive to preemptively kind of go out there and give them an answer on a job that didn't have. And I did that. And that later kind of turned into something that I did when I was trying to get writing jobs, rather than doing your normal pitching, I'd go and write the first 20 pages and send it to a producer before I get hired, really. So that was another thing we did 18 pages.

Alex Ferrari 5:23
And that were obviously that worked out okay, for you.

J. Mills Goodloe 5:26
Well, it's, you know, if you're trying to hire someone to write a script for you, and you meet with six people, and it's a pitch situation, and all of them, they're kind of having the same things. And you can, you can make yourself a little bit different by like, Hey, you don't have to hire me. But look, I just wrote the first 12 pages, I wrote the first three scenes. If you like them, then clearly, you know, I've got a grasp of material.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
That that is absolutely the most ingenious approach. I mean, I've done this for a long time. I've never heard that approach. I have, I've never heard that it's so simple.

J. Mills Goodloe 5:59
Well, you also have to preemptively tell them, if you don't hire me, once again, I'm married to a lawyer, you have to say preemptively, if you don't hire me, that's fine. I'll send a I'll sign a release, you can throw them away. But hey, this is you know, I'll write the first three, four scenes for you and you. And you, if you like them, I'm listed, they hate them. They're not gonna hire you. And I'm glad they didn't hire you in the first place. Because they don't like your writing. But if you I mean, you've read you, you and I've read 1000s of scripts. Sure. If you, if you're a producer, and you read the first 10 pages, and you're like, yeah, that's kind of what we're looking for. You get the job. If you read 10 pages, then you're like, No, he's the wrong guy. And it takes me, let's say, it takes you a week to write those 10 pages. You know, otherwise, you're going to spend, you know, two months trying to get a job.

Alex Ferrari 6:50
Right. And it's the equivalent of like, I'll just shoot the first five minutes of the movie that, um, it's a lot cheaper, though.

J. Mills Goodloe 6:57
Yeah. Or if you're, you know, if you're an independent film director, right? Well, I mean, it's, it's a lot cheaper. Also, if you're going to try to direct a film, it is nice to see I'll shoot the five minutes, but then you're relying on actors.

Alex Ferrari 7:07
Oh, no, no, it's much more complicated.

J. Mills Goodloe 7:09
Yeah. Cinematography, no, you have to but with writing, it's just you. And these are the 10 pages, you know, and it's only up to you, it's only how you're taking the material

Alex Ferrari 7:21
And costing your time. And it's just costing you time. And it's just costing you a ton of time,

J. Mills Goodloe 7:25
But you know, what you spend. So I mean, you waste so much time in this business anyways, trying to get jobs, right, and spend weeks and weeks meeting the people and trying to get through the three levels to get to the guy that actually can say yes to hiring you. It's always labor intensive. So I'd rather labor intensive work to like write 10 pages. And you also find that if you write those 10 pages, they're not going to come back and say, Yeah, we kind of like you. But hey, can you write you know, the last 10 pages? Come back and say that? They're like, Yeah, but what do you think about the second act? Or the third act was like, no, they either get it or they don't get it? Right. So it's pretty great. Hey, you're going off the wrong track? You're not fine.

Alex Ferrari 8:09
Fair enough. So when you're working with Dick, I mean, I mean, Nick is such a legendary director, what was like the biggest lesson you pulled from working with him? Because I mean, you started off as a driver, but you eventually ended up producing and running and running Donner productions.

J. Mills Goodloe 8:22
Yeah. He said, if you if you produce my, if you can produce my personal life, you can produce my movies. That's great. And his personal life was much more competent in personal life, meaning that he had, he had three houses, and he had all of this stuff that he's always tinkering. And he's got cars, he's got houses, there's always things that he was about his personal life, and he had dogs, and you'd always kind of run his personal life. So the biggest the biggest thing, by far I learned for him is anticipating what's gonna happen around the corner, and you can also never tell him? No, he could never say to him, like, I don't know. Like, I'll give you an example. This is just multiple, I can give you so many examples of stuff that you do. But one of the things let's say is he's he would come on and say, I have an idea that, you know, my pool hat goes from three feet to seven feet. But you know, I don't ever use the deep end. This is how his mind works. So I get the pool. So it'd be three feet, three feet in the middle of the five feet. So I can have two, two, a shallow into the pool, and you're like, okay, and then I go out and I talk to people and meet with people, they come back and I give them a presentation about these are three companies that do it. This is the price this is how long it takes. And you'd kind of apply that to making films or you kind of have a task to get something done. And you can ever go back and say, I don't know how to do it. I mean, I used to jokes like I would go back to and say hey, the solution for something you want for your house in the Hollywood Hills is we got to tear down your entire house. It's gonna cost you $7 million to do it. But at least you had a solution. It's something, it's something you cannot go back and say you can't do something years to process information and find solutions to problems. And that helped with producing because when you show up on a film set at six o'clock in the morning, and you lose your location, right, you have to be rational and go to the director and say, Okay, we lost our location. I've thought about it I've anticipated there might be a problem. These are the three different solutions for us, ABC. And he taught me to think like that. And he taught me not to freak out not to panic. And in that situation, if you get to the film set, you need to have producers that that aren't saying, Oh my God, you're not gonna believe the worst thing to happen. We showed up this morning, and the building caught on fire and we have nowhere to shoot. I don't know what to do. Who are we going to call?

Alex Ferrari 10:51
Yeah, you can't do that.

J. Mills Goodloe 10:54
So he that's he really ingrain that in through his own. And, you know, through his the way that his mind works for the three through all the different things that he would do as we tried to train me to think that way. And he trained me to just be rational to always be looking ahead always anticipate contingencies. And basically, you know, just always have a cool level hadn't I had none of those skill sets when I started working for him.

Alex Ferrari 11:17
Now, I do have to ask because I'm such a fan of a lethal weapon, man. What was it like working on on those? You worked on the last one? For sure. Right?

J. Mills Goodloe 11:25
I did the last one. And the very first job I the film first films that I had with lethal weapon three, and I never been on a film set before. Okay, literally, I've never been to California before. I never been I was driving him to the set and the Suburban. And I'd be like, Oh my god, this is a film set. Like this is what people do for a living. And it was very intoxicating. And we made two of those films. And the first one I didn't I mean, I didn't know what a gaffer was, I didn't know what I completely over my head and like, but my job was just basically to get him to the set, and like go take his dog to the veterinarian. But by the end on the fourth one, which is the last movie I did with him, you know, but that was a different, you know, I was at the end those films were made at the end of an era. And that was in the late 90s, Terry Semel, Bob Daley studio films, and they kind of let him do make those films and there was no script. You get pages, you know, three days before you're shooting, and it was very, very a different system than it is right now of making films. Very old boys big office, Donner had an office on the Warner Brothers lot that used to be Frank Sinatra's bungalow. And, you know, you had one, Terry Semel and Bob Daley, if they just said, Hey, we're gonna make the movie, they make the movie, there's no meeting with marketing executives, there's no international people. There's no accountants involved. He just kind of did it. And they've trusted the people. And they made the film. And, you know, there's, I could write an entire book about the stories that I learned during the 90s, making five big studio films for Warner Brothers during those times and how they came together and how they were shot and how they were made, which will never exist in our business again.

Alex Ferrari 13:13
And is that just because they because basically, the studios have been bought out by all the big conglomerates now. They're just giant monster marketing machines, essentially.

J. Mills Goodloe 13:22
Yeah. And there's not less gut. There's less guys that just say, Hey, that's a good script. It's a gut to do it. I think there's so many other decision makers involved in it, as well as analytics. It's kind of like sports, you know, football, it's turned into analytics, and it's taken some of the fun out of it. But I assure you when they made those films, there were no analytics involved. There were no Donner never saw budgets, there was we never really no, there was no signing off in the budget. He but he was a very responsible guy. He was always he never went over budget or over schedule, but there was no tightening the screws on a budget, there was no CGI. And, like, very we didn't, we didn't have to like send, we can rewrite. See, we have writers rewrite scenes and never even send them to the studio to get approved. It sounds about the dailies.

Alex Ferrari 14:15
It sounds it sounds like this is like a magical alternative universe.

J. Mills Goodloe 14:21
It probably happened from the 60s until probably what do you think? 2000 2005? And then it all changed?

Alex Ferrari 14:29
Yeah. And then yeah, yeah. And I mean, I guess it's a movie like conspiracy theory. You know, there's no way a studio would make that today. I mean, just just

J. Mills Goodloe 14:38
THe didn't have an accident Julia Roberts in that and you know, Joel solver would pull stuff and put these movies together and how would they ever got made as but no one ever they've kind of left them alone. I think people haven't been in the studio world and that as a producer 20 years but they really left him alone and didn't give him a hard time about anything. And I'll tell you One quick story about making the movie assassins which was Yeah, easy. That was a which hausky brothers script.

Alex Ferrari 15:05
Yeah, the wachowski. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 15:07
Well, now wachowski

Alex Ferrari 15:09
Siblings

J. Mills Goodloe 15:10
Okay. Yeah, siblings. But at that time there with these two guys. And I had this office at Warner Brothers and these two guys would walk behind my office every morning. They're trying to make matrix. Yeah, yeah, yeah, remember it? There. bookbags like walk back and there. This is before the first major came out. And they had this script called assassins. And Joel Silver for all of his foibles and all the things that are probably wrong with him. He's really great at busting down doors. So we have a script and this is this is will never happen again also. So he has a script on his own. And he goes to Sylvester Stallone, he says, look at slide. They're going to pay you $7 million dollars to do this. Here's a script. Donna's gonna direct it and the studio wants to make this film with you. And sly would read the script he says, Okay, great. Now the studio not read the script. And Donna did not read the script. Smart now, but he doesn't know that that day. He just knows that the IRS here they want so he told him the Warner's wants to Bob and Terry want to make it Donner's gonna do it and pay this amount of money. No one is that then he goes to donner. He says Guess what? He wants to do the film with you and Warner Brothers gonna pay you $5 million to direct a movie. But it's all ready to go. It's just read the script like it's ready to go. Then decrees like Oh, Sly wants to do it. Okay. And scripts pretty good. And and these guys are really hot because they did this movie bound and they're gonna matrix and Alright, maybe I'll do it. Then he goes to Bob antarious has got great news, guys. I got donner. I got sly. All you gotta do is paying him Place. Place. Pay sly seven. Pay donner, five. Here's the script. Let's go make the movie. So basically, he had a producer that completely packaged and put together movie and negotiated their deals without the other two parties knowing about it.

Alex Ferrari 17:11
That's brilliant. And that's also something that just doesn't happen to

J. Mills Goodloe 17:14
No. Now everyone know everything. Yeah. Anything and everyone's confirming like, like funds and never called dick to see if you actually read the script.

Alex Ferrari 17:24
But it was also Joel saying it. So there was there was a level of

J. Mills Goodloe 17:27
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Dick wants to make this with you. Sly wants to read the script. Oh, Jake wants to make it. Okay. Shall I want to make it with him? Okay, that's good.

Alex Ferrari 17:33
All right. And it's Joel Silver, saying it you know, at, you know, arguably

J. Mills Goodloe 17:36
He's kind of got away with it. And by the time he said, The greenlit and worked for it, because no one knew what the other hand was doing. It was a shell game, and they make the movie and then it's only at that time, it was only two guys that could say, Alright, here it looks like the movie. Let's make the movie. And that was it. And then once you've just convinced two guys to make the movie. You could I guess maybe it's a little bit like Netflix right now where there's a lot more autonomy but and the last thing I'll tell you, which is really crazy about those days is I'll tell you who's in the office. So I was in the office and I was donner. I got bumped up to kind of be an executive with him. And I hired a guy this kid from Michigan State named Jeff John's okay to be my assistant. Now Jeff, John, do you know who he is? I don't ended up running DC films. He was the head of the head Content Officer for DC films from Warner so all of the Batman's and everything that all that stuff now. He's the main DC guy now, across the way in Laurens office, Dick and Lauren, obviously we're married. There's a little guy in the front desk, named Kevin fight.

Alex Ferrari 18:39
I thought this was Kevin was

J. Mills Goodloe 18:42
On a desk that was about half the size of mine in my office right now. And he didn't have his own office and he was Lauren, second assistant. Lauren's first assistant was Scott Stuber.

Alex Ferrari 18:53
And that name sounds familiar.

J. Mills Goodloe 18:55
Scott's do around runs all of Netflix. Oh, there you go. That's why Cooper is he was head of use of his credit budget universal and now Netflix. He's, he has a green light. He's been there for maybe eight or nine years to greenlight, everything like that. So between Stuber Geoff Johns, and Kevin fygi, I was by far the most underachieving of that group. That's a that's a heck of a roll like and I was at the time I literally would be like, like Kevin fygi and I would go take their cars to this carwash on Lankershim on bank, and he would take Donner suburban and he would take Lauren's BMW, the seven series old school BMW, and we'd go twice a week like and sit and watch car get made but like the carwash that was like and detailed and detailed, of course, detailed once a month we had so that was our that was how we started out

Alex Ferrari 19:48
You mean the one that you mean not the that the old school carwash, right by Warner's? Yeah, that's yes. It's exactly where I lived. I lived down the street from Kevin

J. Mills Goodloe 19:58
Murphy go take turns. We take their cars to get washed. And that was like part of our mornings.

Alex Ferrari 20:03
That's amazing. That's amazing story now Alright, so

J. Mills Goodloe 20:06
It was a fun anyways, it was a fun era. It was the last gasp of a dying system. Yeah, a system that unfortunately died. But it was it was a really a fun fun time. And then it all went to shit. And Donna was off the lot goes off the lot. You can't pull that stuff anymore. And it kind of about all screwed up after that.

Alex Ferrari 20:27
Yeah, I mean, all we keep doing is remaking stuff. It's so hard to find original IP now. Because it's just so much money and so much. It's corporate. Everything's corporate like, yeah. And the funny thing is that everything that remaking is because of a system that allowed that kind of creativity to flourish. So like the 80s and the 90s. There was like, you know, can you imagine a lethal weapon today? No way. There's just no way a lethal weapon or conspiracy theories or assassins or any of those kinds of great Donner flicks in this inside of the studio system.

J. Mills Goodloe 20:59
Well, if you said the Goonies you know, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 21:01
Can you imagine the Goonies at a studio?

J. Mills Goodloe 21:04
I mean, that's, you know, when they're, when they're remaking Planes, Trains and Automobiles, that's when I started to really lose my mind, but they can't make I mean, you can't remake who they are. Kevin Hart, and

Alex Ferrari 21:15
Oh, no what with planes trains. Yeah, yeah, I know. He, there's certain because now they're starting to run out of stuff. Like, he can't just, I mean, there's only so many movies that were made in the 80s

J. Mills Goodloe 21:26
Make it another time. I heard that I heard though, that I've always remembered I'm sure you've heard it as well. Miss Stevens. smote Soderbergh said something really smart. And he said, rather than making successful films, they should go back and remake really great ideas that turn films that weren't turned out very well. So movies that you're like that was a really brilliant idea. And in the movie, either to the casting or whatever, it didn't really work but like go and mine the really great stories as opposed to only mine them bait made based upon box office.

Alex Ferrari 22:05
Oh, yeah. Like if you go back to point break when they remade Point Break, I thought that was just an atrocity. And, and the thing is, is like you can't read you can't that that that lightning in a bottle was then it was Bigelow is Swayze it was Reeves. It was that moment in time. You can't bring that into this world, but you could bring something that didn't maybe pop properly in that era. And then because no one will have any emotional attachment to those right.

J. Mills Goodloe 22:32
There was a great idea. Right? I have this I read this week. They're remaking Roadhouse.

Alex Ferrari 22:38
Yeah, I just read that to what Jake Gyllenhaal like

J. Mills Goodloe 22:40
Roadhouse was a great idea.

Alex Ferrari 22:43
It's Patrick Swayze. It's silly to me.

J. Mills Goodloe 22:46
That brilliant about the idea of Roadhouse.

Alex Ferrari 22:49
No, it's a bouncer in

J. Mills Goodloe 22:51
Harley Davidson. the Marlboro Man. Absolutely should make me

Alex Ferrari 22:53
Oh, God. Yes, yes, yes. Oh, God, that would be amazing. But yeah, you look at something like Roadhouse. And you're just like, well, it's to bouncer. And there's like, it's not a really great idea. But also at the time it came out because I was working at the video store at the time in high school, and I came out so I'm very familiar with. I love that movie. It was that moment in time that that thing that that that was Patrick, it was that moment, it was, you can't bring that out, like you can make something else that's kind of something like it. But it's not that you can't read it, you can't.

J. Mills Goodloe 23:26
Because the only this dalje would be is for people of our generation, right? That film and they're not going to be predisposed not to like it. They're No, no one's ever going to come out. So that point break was so much better the original wonder that rode out, I never Alger for people who have have an affinity for the original film, who are not going to like to remake and anyone that's younger than that. Doesn't care will have no idea what the film is. I think the scary thing is a few years ago, I was a writer, one of two writers on mountain between us. And I was talking to I've got two young children, but I had babysitter's who were 18. And I was telling them at 19 years old, and our I was telling them about Kate Winslet being in the film, and then not seeing Titanic. And you realize, wait a second, they're they're born in, you know? 2000 right at 91 was Titanic 9797. So like, you think that our references are very iconic references because you're like, oh, yeah, it's the girl that was in Titanic. But if you're born after that movie came out, you're not going back to rewatch Titanic. Because your upbringing has been social media, YouTube videos, tic TOCs and so forth. So you're not going back like you know, I'm gonna think about Netflix. I'm going to go back and start looking at really popular films the 90s so they had no idea about Titanic.

Alex Ferrari 24:55
Oh, my daughter's my daughter's were, you know, like nine They, they just saw Titanic. And it's probably because you asked you Oh, I know. I know because my one of my daughters is obsessed with Titanic. And the the actual event, not the movie, and I showed it to them and, and they're like, Oh, I've seen Jack before. And now they don't know it's Leonardo DiCaprio. It's Jack. So anytime a trailer pops up like oh, it's Jack, you know? And then oh, that's Oh, that's, uh oh, that's rose. Like they don't they don't see them as they just see them as those. But it was only because of us poking them to go into those like, Hey, you got to watch Star Wars. Or hey, you got to watch this movie or that movie.

J. Mills Goodloe 25:36
Star Wars now because there's they can go and you can get them caught up on Oh, offers that you know, but you look at Roadhouse. 17 year old 20 something year old kid right now he's going to see Roadhouse, they're gonna say I have no idea what Roadhouse is, I've never seen the film. And then the people that they actually are attending for that film detract, which is people like you and I won't we're not gonna like it.

Alex Ferrari 26:01
I mean, the only reason I would even remotely even considered it's because I'm a huge fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. And I'd be curious out of almost a morbid curiosity to see what he does with it. Because he's such a fantastic actor. Yes, but it's not I'm I'm not going because of Roadhouse. I'm going because Joel Hall Yeah, exactly. And it's just a warrior to

J. Mills Goodloe 26:18
Make it you know, if PT Anderson makes the move,

Alex Ferrari 26:21
Well then I'm gonna I'm gonna

J. Mills Goodloe 26:23
I want to get a normal off the off the conveyor belt director. Three, you know, can you do like 21 Jump Street, right?

Alex Ferrari 26:31
Oh, yeah. What you completely turn it on its head. And, and that's a completely reinvention of, you know,

J. Mills Goodloe 26:38
I don't like this thing be reading. I don't want break was not a reinvention of it?

Alex Ferrari 26:43
No, not so much. Not so much. Now, going back a little bit. So you you obviously got you start as a producer, how did you jump from producer to writer and writer, you know, what

J. Mills Goodloe 26:53
I wanted to always direct because of donner. And I realized that it's really hard to be a director without learning how to write. So I did it to be to direct films. And I directed a film that was not terribly successful financially, but it kind of forced me to be a writer. Then I wrote a second script to direct my second film. And that was basically kind of a lot of Magnolia is kind of a film called August and everything after, but I was only writing to direct films. And then that film, the second one didn't get made, even though I got really close with Michelle Pfeiffer and Annette Bening and crazy stories about that one, and then basically, I ran out of money. So you had to start writing, start to realize, if I want to be an independent director, I got to make some money. So I better start writing for other people. That was the only it was only it was kind of a backwards way of doing it. It wasn't it was I'll try to make my own films. I had an agent at Uta, because they really liked the script that I wanted to direct. And then I spent a year and a half trying to make that movie, and I couldn't make it. And then I said, I'm literally broke. I need to make an income. Maybe if someone would be stupid enough to hire me to write something and pay me to write a script, maybe I can get money that way.

Alex Ferrari 28:15
I love your perspective on everything because it's just such a, I mean, universally, I've talked to 1000s and 1000s of screenwriters and filmmakers over my career. And it's always the struggle in this thing. And I've got the watch Star Wars and you know, it's you know, it's James Cameron and it's Spielberg and, and all of this stuff and you're just like, I ran out of money, man. And I just,

J. Mills Goodloe 28:38
I just because I liked a girl.

Alex Ferrari 28:41
I mean, I got into the business because this you know, the girl I liked was in it and I you know, it's so refreshing to hear your your take on it. And I love like, how did you start writing? I needed money, man. I mean, I ran I ran out of money. I was like, Well, someone hopefully hire me.

J. Mills Goodloe 28:55
So broke. I found someone. I found this the one who and through some I found someone give me $10,000 Right, right. Karen bio pic. Okay, sure. And that was like, awesome. I got $10,000 My rent was 1400 a month. I was single. Where we

Alex Ferrari 29:15
Where were you living? In LA? Where were you living in LA?

J. Mills Goodloe 29:20
I was living in the flats of Beverly Hills. Oh, wow. I live in a studio apartment and $10,000 Allow me to live for three months.

Alex Ferrari 29:28
There you go. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 29:30
And I was I was one of those guys. I went from producing really $120 million movies at Warner Brothers with donner. Who by the way in the nine years I was with him. We flew commercial twice. Twice. So I probably spent well over two or 300 times at Warner Brothers jet golf G fives all over the world. She's as he would do junkets in Europe. We take the Warner jet from Burbank to JFK spend the night the four C's the next morning take the Concorde to Paris where they the private jet go to all different our tours all around their life for nine years with him because I was always with him and that was those days vexes. I went from that to, I can't be here later, really hating the month of February, because there's only 28 days in February, which means I had to pay my rent faster earlier than I normally am used to. And I love those 31 days because it squeezed me another two days, two or three days to try to come up with my 14 bucks in rent.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
That's brilliant. Alright, so Alright, so you wonder the amazing story. So you're one of the films you did the gentleman's game, which you wrote, which you wrote and directed. You know, you've been obviously you've been watching dick, do his thing, you know, and he's a master at what he did. On your set. When you are directing What was the worst day you had, and how did you overcome it? Because we all have that day dread?

J. Mills Goodloe 30:57
That's an interesting question. My worst day that I had to set is when my cinematographer went rogue on me. Oh, that he stopped listening to me that he was going to set up stuff and shots on his own. And he was a very well known that had this. This is his this cinematographer named Conrad Hall.

Alex Ferrari 31:18
Oh, yeah. Conrad. Yeah. He's kind of famous in cinematography.

J. Mills Goodloe 31:22
Or his father Yeah. His father was famous. This is the son. Yeah. So his father was a DP on, you know, American Beauty and 1000s of other things. That was I but I realized, I learned so many things. Because when Donner would walk on a film set, people knew his reputation. And no one would ever Can you swear on this thing. So you can if you want to throw a couple articles in there, and no one mess with him on the film set, he carried a certain weight to him that he demanded respect. As a young first time filmmaker. I we've never been around a situation where you have to go to your crew, and have them believe in what you're doing. Because I never saw that. Right? For donner. In, you know, the 90s. He had been directing films since 1976. With the Omen, he had a direct salt and pepper with Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford. He had been directing the original with Steve McQueen, the rise of Superman. Yeah, yeah. So when he walked on the film sets, I never understood that you have to earn that level that people listen to you. And that was something I wish that I would have known. I thought that by virtue of my title that I would be in control of the set. And then people would listen to me. And also, I didn't know exactly, you have the answers to everything. So I was a little bit and I was very inexperienced as my first film. But that was an eye opener for me that you have to go on to the film set and really have the crew know, and feel that you know what the hell you're doing.

Alex Ferrari 32:56
And they will in a season crew will smell it out in the first five Melis fine pre production. Oh, God, you walk on that set, and you just go, Oh, this guy or this gal is way over your head, and then they'll tear and if you got a DP, who's somewhat seasoned, yeah, they'll take

J. Mills Goodloe 33:13
His mark. Yeah, he's trying to undercut me. And they really they smelled it, and it was a fight. And I knew, but you don't get that you're young. Now. I understand that now. Like, now I get how that works. But you know, I didn't, I wasn't aware at the time that if you lose the not the respect isn't the right word.

Alex Ferrari 33:32
But you lose the group. If you lose it. It's mutiny. It's mutiny.

J. Mills Goodloe 33:35
I'm gonna go the extra job the extra mile for this guy because I really see what his vision is. I was reading interview with PT Anderson yesterday. And I'm sure that you know, when that guy goes on the set because of who he is, and his resume, no one's gonna question him, whatever he says is golden. And he's the tour of that film set. If you don't have that reputation, and you're a first time director, they're going to be kind of crossed arms. You're going to get a paycheck, but they're really not going to bend over backwards.

Alex Ferrari 34:02
Yeah, his experience on Hard Eight versus his experience on his latest movie, slightly different pizza. Licorice pizza. Fantastic title. Yeah, it's a little bit different because he got railroaded on Hardey.

J. Mills Goodloe 34:15
But that's because it was a terrible experience on that

Alex Ferrari 34:17
terrible experience on harday and, and that was the producers. He hated the studio. He hated everything. Yeah. And he's like, I'll never do it again. And then that's when he got Boogie Nights. He finally they he said, I'll only do it, but you gotta leave me alone. And that's the first time he got a little bit of freedom. Just a bit. Yeah. Now, you also adapted a film for a book by Nicholas Sparks. How do you approach adaptation because you've done it a couple times? A few times.

J. Mills Goodloe 34:46
Fortunately, with with Nicholas Sparks on that particular film, it was very easy because he had made so many films during that time and he was really amenable to having you change things. was not. And I'd done a couple things. Also with John Grisham, both those guys were really good at understanding it's a different medium, and that they are going to be very loose with their material. So the first thing right off the bat would I had a source material that no one was holding as scripture in terms of what you could do with and there was also a certain I hate to use this word, but there's a certain formula, and how those films were made. And the producer that I worked with, right, had made two other films with him. So you kind of go in there went into a machinery that, you know, kind of what it is, and, you know, that film, you know, it was they were making a lot of those films those days as Michelle Moynihan, you know, it did, okay. There's some things I would have done better, but it was a it was an interesting experience.

Alex Ferrari 35:55
So but when you actually like the actual technical process of adaptation, do you like take the book and outline everything? Do you take what you like out of it,

J. Mills Goodloe 36:03
They go through the book a few times, and I get the idea of what it is, and I just start, I just kind of look at it as a, you know, this is the characters these the story, I'll just kind of know what the story is, I know the characters, okay, that that B, C, D, that doesn't work, this works out, it just kind of structurally kind of putting it all together. And that was more important on mountain between us because mountain between us as a better probably a better example, for an adaptation because that originally was a 400 and some odd page Christian fiction book. And that was going there and saying, okay, know what the story, you know, here's the story. But there's, you know, how much stuff got thrown out of that adaptation? It's like, it's really mainly a job of figuring out like, how much do I need to get rid of how much things can I condense? And how can I kind of streamline the narrative and come up with a narrative, but I look at it as just kind of like a little thing that I can refer to, as you're going through the script, to, you know, but unfortunately, this is the biggest problem that you have is you wish that in source material can take more dialogue? And you don't really can't really, you really notice how much dialogue in in in source material and novels do you have to is different. There's just something about it different than film dialogue than prose dialogue. I don't know what it is. But I think everything everything was an adaptation. There's so much of the prose in prose dialogue that I wished it'd be make my life a lot easier if I could just go in there.

Alex Ferrari 37:46
And just copy copy and paste.

J. Mills Goodloe 37:49
Yeah, I feel like it's much more difficult than that. So it's always a nice thing to have. I think both of them are both originals. And I think the misconception I'm sure your audience knows it's wrong is that they think that, you know, or strictly to the public, the general public, they think your adaptation is just when a cliff notes version of the book is take it's different. It's shrinking it down. It's a whole different animal. But they're, everything's hard.

Alex Ferrari 38:18
No, no, I mean, I'm in the middle of adapting one of my books, and I've lived the story. And it's just like, it works as a biography, or an autobiography, but it does not work. In film like this. This is gonna be a horrible movie, if I make it exactly the way I read. So I have to like,

J. Mills Goodloe 38:34
Just pick you pick the things. You think that right man, that's cinematic, I don't need that. I don't need that.

Alex Ferrari 38:39
We need all that away. Yeah, we got to change this character on we got to combine a few of these characters, we got to throw a better argue out of your own autobiography. I'm not I'm trying not to. I'm trying not to

J. Mills Goodloe 38:50
Have any emotional distance from that.

Alex Ferrari 38:52
I don't. That's the problem. I'm looking for a screenwriter, if you're available, we can talk. And no, it's honestly, with the producers I'm working with. I'm like, I just don't want to do it. I'd rather get somebody else to do it. And I'll be standing behind them. And I'll talk to them and I'll help them but I need someone with a fresh eye. It's so hard. It's so so hard.

J. Mills Goodloe 39:10
You got to be pretty Mercy, mercyless. And I think that you know, I've I said I was fortunate with those situations that the authors of the source material were really, really cool. Although I did do something that I made it a huge mistake on everything, everything. And I think I wrote one of the better scripts I've ever written in my career on that and the film does not reflect a lot of the things that I really liked in there. And the big mistake that I made in that film was I went to off of what the source material was I started making some decisions and some choices and they broke it into I broke off a little bit. I got a bit too loose with it. And the producers in the studio got me because the book was number one New York Times bestseller. They reminded me you can alienate too many people, you got to go back to source material. So I learned also that you can be too. You can also be too loose with it. Right? They got to lose to that one. And it's a weird thing when you're writing and I don't know if any people that if you agree with this or other people to do it is sometimes you're getting paid. And they're cutting you a check to do an adaptation, you feel like you need to do a lot more work, because to justify your paycheck?

Alex Ferrari 40:29
Right! Because you're not

J. Mills Goodloe 40:30
On that project or felt like I could have like, not coasted is not the right word. But I didn't have to do as much heavy lifting. And sometimes you feel like you have to do that the lifting to justify the paycheck, right getting paid on this. I have to like change things, I have to reimagine a lot of things I have to kind of open up the world. And sometimes you can open up too much. And instead of saying you know what they pay you just to? Yep. Well, I'm a little more faithful.

Alex Ferrari 40:57
Right, exactly. And the reason that the movies gave me produces because there's an original IP that they attached, the only reason it's being produced,

J. Mills Goodloe 41:03
I went too far askew on that one. I wish I could use some things that I put in that script. And another I think scripts are a lot of times, there's so much material that I've on films, I've had seven, I think seven movies made, there's so much material that on previous drafts that are like, it's like you have a garage and a car and at least like part of the spare parts around my office that I wished I can put in there. They try to find it never never works into other scripts. There's so many ideas and so much great scenes that I've written that I thought was great that I just can't repurpose,

Alex Ferrari 41:39
Right! Yeah, I've had that problem, too, is like you like, so good here, but I can't,

J. Mills Goodloe 41:44
I know, I'll find it, I can find that. That's such that's such a great idea. I'll find it in another movie. And then you never find it in a movie. It sits there. And he just gets so frustrated. Because there's there's some really good ideas in there. Like I just as on that movie, everything, everything that the character that Nick Robinson played in there, I had this great eye, this whole thread, they get attached to a bar code tattoo. Okay, and what didn't exist in the novel, right? Like this. My my thought this was such a clever idea. And he falls in love with the girl. And one day when they're together, she asked him about his bark there in Hawaii after the after she runs away. She asked what was barcode. And he said that when he was 12, he was 13 I had this whole story you had sit somewhere to a tattoo artist, because it was a date of his 18th birthday when he'd be in massive pain from his parents.

Alex Ferrari 42:34
And that's what the barcode represents.

J. Mills Goodloe 42:36
When he was 13. Like for like, like someday, when I'm 18 I'm this pain that I'm going through with my parents, I can always look at the tattoo, because they tend to the bar code represents the man that whatever the date is two, seven, whatever the is my. So you like you find ideas like that? Do you think they're really interesting, and that that talks about a character's internal pain. It's a physical reminder of why he's waiting to get away out of his house when he can finally move out when he turns 18. And you build in his whole story as you build these whole scenes, and it's never in the movie and I can never use that idea for a tattoo again.

Alex Ferrari 43:12
Geez, that's a that's a good idea, though. That was would have been that would have been fun. Now what

J. Mills Goodloe 43:18
Will that kid is like, my parents suck my dad's in a hole when I turn 18 And I can get out of here and I'm gonna force myself to brand myself to basically say on this date when I turn 18

Alex Ferrari 43:33
I'm happy. That's awesome. Now there's another film you did the age of Adeline Yes. I absolutely love that film. I'd love to.

J. Mills Goodloe 43:42
Well, that's my favorite movie. I've done that's my by far the most favorite thing and the thing I can't complain about

Alex Ferrari 43:49
Now I loved it and my wife and I watched it and we were just like, this is your kids? Nine they're about nine Yeah. Yeah, they're Yeah, they're kids aren't gonna watch it at Adeline just just yet. But um, can you tell me the story behind it? Because I Is there a little bit of a story of this one. I I've heard through the grapevine that there might be a little bit of an interesting story behind this.

J. Mills Goodloe 44:12
Yeah, this is this is crazy. There's a producer, unfortunately no longer with us. But a great man named Steve golden. And he started anonymous content. And he was he was, you know, he wanted Academy Award for Babel and for Birdman. And he was a really, really great producer. And I had written this script called August and everything after which never got into production, but it got people as I said it got a I was able to get an agent. And I was trying to direct that film. And I had a meeting with him when I go to Culver City. And I sit down with Steve and he's like, look, I love your script. It's a great script. I'm doing this movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind right now. And it's a total little pain in the ass. The other thing, too, it's good. But it's like it's hard. It's independent because I had written the script is kind of like magnolia. It was like this kind of big, sweeping, independent, interconnected items. It kind of later turned out to become the crash kind of thing, but crashing out by then. But basically what he said was, I'm doing Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. It's another was another great script. Great, Charlie, you're not Charlie Kaufman, but you're kind of like trying to do some interesting. I just don't want to do it. And he said, at the same time, because he's shooting two films simultaneously. He's also doing 51st dates with Sam.

Alex Ferrari 45:38
Both imagine the sides of the spectrum

J. Mills Goodloe 45:40
And the shooting simultaneous. And he said, You know what, so I'm just, it's just too hard. It's too hard. You know, anything, that's good. I could that's more digestible, that I can sell, I'd be really interested. And I said, Steve, you're in luck. I've got the best idea. I got the most high concept really that I can. It's like a one sentence perfect pitch. Hi, you know, because 51st days was a pretty high concept idea. Sure, the great he says, what is it? I said, Well, look, I need I want to go back and kind of put all my thoughts together. He says, he says, Can you come back next week? I said, I want to come back next week and pitch it to you. I can do it proper, because I wasn't ready to pitch in that meeting. Because I went into the meeting talking about this movie August and everything after mentioned this to me, I said great. So he calls out to a secretary or assistant he says, you know, have Mills Mills has come back Wednesday at 10 o'clock. Did you know okay, I shake his hands walks out. I'll see you Wednesday. 10 o'clock. I walked out there. I had no pitch.

Alex Ferrari 46:39
You didn't have an idea.

J. Mills Goodloe 46:40
Zero ideas.

Alex Ferrari 46:41
Oh my god. It's amazing.

J. Mills Goodloe 46:44
I got a really powerful producer. And I've got a meeting on the books.

Alex Ferrari 46:48
So you so you pull. So you pull the Joel Silver you you kind of pull the joseffer

J. Mills Goodloe 46:55
I got seven days to come up with something. And I have to do in seven days. And that's how I came up with Adeline Wow. And I came in there and somewhere on day like four I've heard a story. I think it was a short I think was Benjamin buttons or there's some things that yeah, that were percolating, like okay, maybe I have a girl that spent the entire 20th century as a 29 year old woman. And then I kind of did that and I went I pitched him on that Wednesday. And he said I really like it. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you I'll give you like $10,000 to write the script and I'm only going to be $10,000 to do it but I'm going to be attached with producer and once you write it then I'll produce helping you to made and I was great because once again $10,000 with some extra money that I could live for another two or three

Alex Ferrari 47:49
While you wrote this thing.

J. Mills Goodloe 47:50
Exactly. So I said great $10,000 And they wrote I ended up writing the script and that was just completely but uh circumstances thing but I'm a big believer in in like right now I'll do it right now cuz this is I don't want I should say this but I'll say it anyways they're trying to do a limited series on Adeline now as they should yeah do but to do it like a whole thing spanning I'd like to see her basically taking the flashbacks that are in Adeline from her in the 40s and 50s Biddle whole thing around it. But I'm a big believer in and I've done this unfortunately too many times where I will call a producer and I'll say I have my pit I want to I have my pitch ready can we put instead of the bucks just so I can have to back into something I have to give myself deadlines to do things like that. And I did that with Adeline where it's just like I've got till Wednesday to do it. You just have to like as a writer, tell people you're going to be ready and you're gonna be embarrassed if you show up and say I've got nothing so you better get your butt in gear and do something.

Alex Ferrari 48:56
It's like It's like posting on Facebook. I'm gonna lose 20 pounds and here's here's my before picture.

J. Mills Goodloe 49:01
Yeah, tell the world you're gonna do it you better do it and with and with Adeline if he would not if he would have that only Honestly, the only reason that script ever gotten written was because he didn't want to do the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Alex Ferrari 49:17
Because it was just too complicated. It's

J. Mills Goodloe 49:19
Too hard for him to do. And if he would have said no, I won't do that whenever it only happened because I saw window as an opportunity to do it.

Alex Ferrari 49:26
And but how long did it take to get made that took 10 years I was about to say it wasn't overnight for 10 years get made. And what was the

J. Mills Goodloe 49:37
I have to tell you off the record. I can tell you I can't do off the reg I'll tell you a really funny story later about that though. Okay, so then how public this is, but there's how what happened over those 10 years. That movie at one point was going into pre production on it with set in Boston with Andy Tennant directing. Okay. Katherine Heigl, starring in Donald Sutherland playing the Harrison Ford Harrison Ford part and they were in pre production. And then it went and I got a call saying that the producer is gonna fight with Katherine Heigl. Just shocking. Yeah, she's this in the middle of her like huge rush, you know

Alex Ferrari 50:18
Of pissing everybody in Hollywood off. Yeah.

J. Mills Goodloe 50:21
No, but but it was also coincided with her run of doing like the bridesmaids movies and not like not was that movie shoot?

Alex Ferrari 50:29
No, no. Um, then knocked up. Yeah, knocked up and all of that 51st Yeah. 50 for

J. Mills Goodloe 50:36
Bright, yeah, bright, or whatever it is, right. But anyways, the moral of that story is I was devastated when I got that call. And I was I was practically in tears. And I, I took a long walk. And I'm like, I was so excited about this. I'm super my big break. It's all gone down the toilet right now. My career is over. I was devastated. And then you look back on it and say best, my entire career was changed because that iteration blew up.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
If it would have been a very different, totally different film.

J. Mills Goodloe 51:11
Totally different movie and, and I just, it just, there's a lesson in there that when things go bad, and go sideways, and you're all upset about it, I always go back to that and saying, God think that we're so glad it worked I just these are jobs that I've gotten that I've been devastated. You didn't get jobs, and then the movie turned out to be really bad.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Yeah, and I literally was just talking to somebody I had on the show the other day about this exact same thing is like you look back on your life. And at the moment when you don't get the job or you don't get the girl or you don't get the production falls apart or something along happened. She's like, Oh my God, my world is over. And then a year or two later, you're like, Oh, my God, I I think thank God

J. Mills Goodloe 51:50
That that thing never happened me that I didn't get that job, or that movie didn't get made because it would have been a completely different movie.

Alex Ferrari 52:00
And I'm a big believer of it. What if the universe is pushing you in a certain direction? Something doesn't go the way it's supposed to. There's a good reason for that. I'm a believer of that. I truly because I've seen it so much in my life. Like, I mean, I was almost I'll tell you a little side story. I almost got onto Project Greenlight. Season two, I made it to the top 20 And I was this close to getting on and I was like, oh my god, I dodged a bullet.

J. Mills Goodloe 52:25
Then was the one at that time.

Alex Ferrari 52:27
Exactly. Who was the kid who won that that time? It was Shia LaBeouf. That was a Shia LaBeouf season. That was the Shia LaBeouf season. So it was yeah, the battle Shaker Heights.

J. Mills Goodloe 52:36
But again, you'd always that would have destroyed everything

Alex Ferrari 52:40
That would have I would have been known as the guy who was on Project Greenlight, nobody would have taken me seriously, which is what happened to unfortunately, to a lot of those directors. And then I did it again with on the lot. Remember that show on the lot. I made it to the top 20 of that show. And, and one of my best friends was the DP in it as well. So I'm like, Oh, this is gonna be great. I'll get on the show. You'll be my DP. We're gonna kill it. It didn't make it. I'm like my life is you know, I was I was flown out it was the whole thing. And then I look back. I'm like, Thank God, I didn't become a reality filmmaker.

J. Mills Goodloe 53:12
Yeah, and it would have never always been on your Wikipedia would always travel with you everywhere. Right? Really deep, deep hole to get out of so it does work. Yeah, remind yourself when things go sideways?

Alex Ferrari 53:26
Yeah, absolutely. That there's always a way. Um, I have to ask you, do you when you start writing Do you write? Do you start with plot or character? Oh, no, no, no. Okay. So do you. Listen, listen? Are you telling me that you just like sit down? Like, you know, I'm just gonna start writing and something will

J. Mills Goodloe 53:44
I ever? Any system that I do, and then I never write anything in screenplay form. Okay, so how do you write then I write in, I get a Word document. Okay, I'll get a Word document and I'll open on pay and I'll get one page. Okay, I'll say, Okay, what is the movie, this is the beginning the middle of the end, it will be, you know, maybe, you know, five bullet points. Like I know, at the end of the first act, this is going to happen. I know the, in the second act, this can happen. And this is you opening this again. And that's all I have.

Alex Ferrari 54:15
So not like a basically an outline, an outline, then basically,

J. Mills Goodloe 54:18
Yeah, but then day two comes around, and I'm like, okay, that's kind of the game. Now the first x gotta have at least I don't know, maybe 10 scenes in there in the first act. So like, okay, that it just starts growing and growing. And then I put a little dialog in there. And then I put too much description in there. And then it grows and grows and grows until about three months later. I've got a 50 page document that still in word form. That's just kind of building it out and only in the last day before I turned it in. I then turned it into a screenplay and I made it something that's very new. I don't know anyone ever does this, but I equate it to if you're a painter And you have two canvases, if I have a oil and acrylic, and I've got a paintbrush, and I'm going to the actual canvas to start to, you know, to do something, it feels like I'm really making a piece of art. If I have a second canvas over here and I've got a pencil and a pen was kind of playing around with like, I could put a sign here, I could kind of do that, okay, three months doing that, it frees you up mentally. So I've never believed I never had to believe I'm like India fade in page one interior office daytime, and then you're looking at something that's very structured in a very weird format. But if you just kind of let your mind free, just like the beginning and middle the end. So I do that in a very elaborate, I've done that to every script I've ever written. And that's the only way that I think even to the end, I get really specific about like, I just I think interior exteriors screws me up.

Alex Ferrari 55:56
And I tell you what, I do the exact same thing, but with my books. So when I write books, I do the same thing I never get into like the actual document that will become the book until like, it's like never know, I build all that out and I build notecards within each of those chapters that you Shriver. So it's just kind of go in there. And I just kind of organize it all and then when I feel that, it's all kind of written there, then I'll start copying and pasting into chapter one. And then I'll keep going Chapter Two

J. Mills Goodloe 56:23
You can also put a lot more stuff in also, like put as much stuff you want in there, right in, right. At your notes, I'll put in 50 note cards, 100 like I can add everything and then at some point, I'll just start cutting some of those things out and kind of shaving it down. But it feels like it's much more of a playful way of, of writing. And it just puts the pressure off of you, I think when you're starting a script, and you have to hate three and it descriptions very insane. And you know, like description should only be really be, you know, three law. And as you know, in screenplays that you have three, maybe four lines the most that you're you're writing small, you're writing tiny like this, whereas if you have some big huge piece of paper and you're like, oh, it never comes into play, let's say you know, I'm writing a scene, you know, an interior restaurant scene, you're like interior restaurant, there's this person, this person, there's a music, there's seven waiters, this is what's dressing, it's raining outside, you know, these three people are talking like this, the hostess is fighting with her boyfriend, the bartenders drunk, whatever you're kind of you create all that stuff. And I'll just write all that stuff down there. And then I can write the scene in the dialogue that two people, obviously, none of that's ever going to win the movie,

Alex Ferrari 57:38
But it helps you in the process.

J. Mills Goodloe 57:39
But it helps you just like, there's no I just write, I can write. And I just write a bunch of dialogue. And then and then the best line I've heard about write about writing, which is really smart is you always tell less experienced writers is you write a scene, you put everything in there, and then you start cutting it down. So if you took out one more word, the entire seat would make no sense. Meaning like you distill it down to like, everything is as tight as you possibly can be. And then to the point that if you change one little thing, then it's gonna collapse, but you shrink it down like that. So the point of what you said, what you do in your books, and what I do in screenplays is, you can't shrink everything down to the real essential stuff. Unless you start out here, and you can't, unless you write a bunch of stuff, and then you can start shrinking it down. It's really hard if you start if you start the scene only knowing that you're going to be shrinking it down, started big and shrink it down. Just don't mean working in the shrink down phase.

Alex Ferrari 58:40
Right! You're, you're you're creating a much larger piece of marble that you can start chiseling, as opposed to, as opposed to thinking like, Well, I only have three centimeters to chisel as opposed to three feet to chisel

J. Mills Goodloe 58:51
Yeah, and that'll be 10 feet of marble just I'll just do whatever I can do. It's maybe it's a psychological thing, but

Alex Ferrari 58:59
It's, you've done okay for yourself.

J. Mills Goodloe 59:02
I don't I'm not like I'm don't i I've never taken a film school class. I'm really instinctually Yeah, I don't really I'm not I'm not terribly well read. I don't really have a great film history. But just instinctually that's kind of a process that's worked for me. And if I don't, and I just get comfortable with it, and it just feels it feels freeing, because I know I never want to think about what I do too much. I think that's really important as a writer as well, and I'm sure you might understand this as well. If you really think about how you make your living or how you make scripts. It's very, very scary. Because it's so subjective. It's all in your head. Yeah, and it's really frightening so if you just kind of play around with it and don't really take it too seriously, and you're gonna be better off

Alex Ferrari 59:50
Preached my friend preach. Because, I mean, I don't know if you've had this experience, but there's sometimes writers, they they go up there But sometimes, and they're a little too in their own head, and then you're lost. When you get into that mind space you can't create. It's very, very difficult.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:00:09
It's scary if you think it's really, really scary, and I have a family and I've got a wife and you're like, my whole living is based upon the stuff that I think is right. You know, it's kind of like if you make it's the same thing making music. I mean, once your whole living was based upon being a songwriter, and the whole idea of being a songwriter is to say, that note sounds right, that song sounds good. Well, there's no empirical, Deaf Jack measure to it. It's a very subjective thing. Well, how I would freak out if I'm like, my whole career, my whole supporting my family is based upon a song that I think is good or bad or dialogue that's good or bad or or a scene or writing it's a really scary proposition to base a career

Alex Ferrari 1:00:55
With with that said, leaving it's all up Nope. Let me ask you a few questions. I asked. By the way, everything he said is absolutely true. And I've said this constantly it this is a ridiculous business. It's insanity what we do. And if you start to truly break down what we do as a business, it's not a business it really isn't like like a business is in Coppola said it the best is like, I was in the business from business for a long time. That's not a business. He wants to real business Wine, wine. At the end of the day, you stop some grapes, you put in a bottle, you market it, sell it, repeat. That's a business. Right? You never you know, and it's like, does it wine tastes good? Done. There's no question. It's gonna get sold because it's alcohol, as opposed to a script or movie. You can have the best filmmakers of all time who've made some doozies in their career. There's very few. I mean, the only one I've always said that has always hit a home run every time is Cameron. He's really never had a flop really.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:01:58
But every he's my neighbor. By the way.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:00
It was Jimmy, tell Jim, I said Hi, Tom. Can you get the avatars enough with the Avat? Can you can you can you please? But yeah, but other than that,

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:08
I'll tell you off the air. I'll tell you though. He's out of his house. And man, it's crazy. All right. Yeah. Like it's like Fort Knox over there.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:15
No, I've heard I have some friends who have worked with them. So I know a little bit about the house.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:19
That place is like I he has a he has a whole culdesac here if i is called a sack. You feel like

Alex Ferrari 1:02:28
All you see all you see is Terminator.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:30
Yeah. I mean, it's it's like, East Berlin. Like a Berlin wall there. It's like, why these guys on fire department

Alex Ferrari 1:02:39
Oh, no, I know. Yeah. The fire department. Oh, yeah. Yeah, the navy seals that are on

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:43
Secret Service guys. I'm scared to go down that

Alex Ferrari 1:02:47
We will we will talk off air. I'm not going to ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:02:55
I think the best thing to do if I was to if I was to start out fresh right now doing it. I would be writing and directing. I'll be writing small things that I can get made. The advantage of the business right now is when I first started out there were very small distribution channels. I mean, now there's so many distribution channels. And so many ways to do the film, I would say, to show off your writing, try to find something that you can write on a very, very small budget, maybe million dollars or less than million dollars, or 100,000 or 50,000, whatever it's going to be write something you can get made. That can be shot and use that as a calling card. Because people are more inclined to see a finished product that you wrote than a screenplay and you might have five great screenplays. It's really hard to get. No one's got actually known as five brains. But maybe one has one. One good screenplay that they read that they have written is really hard to get people to write that screenplay to read that screenplay and to pay attention to it. But it's very easy to shoot, or pretty easy to shoot something and to get a final piece of product into their hands to say, Hey, can you watch my movie? And if you can get if you can make a film, you can watch a film, you can get that first thing that people can notice your talent or your abilities. I don't think you can do it well from a script. I don't remember the last time that people said oh, that's I know the blacklist is a big thing right now. But that's been co opted I think in certain ways. But I think if you can have a finished product, you can be a lot more successful.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:31
What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:04:36
I just keep slugging away at it. I think you just keep keep trying to get away with it. Don't take it too seriously. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. And certainly I know that's can you ask more specific question?

Alex Ferrari 1:04:53
Okay. Um, how about three screenplays that everyone should read? You're now you're gonna go ahead. But if you've never read a screenplay, know what?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:06
I don't really I read. I don't really Alright,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:08
So three, three of your favorite films of all time.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:11
Jerry Maguire,

Alex Ferrari 1:05:12
Great screenplay.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:14
Jerry Maguire is one of my favorite things. I love a lot of PTN and stuff. But Jerry Maguire is something actually the screenplay that I have read, which also breaks every rule of screenwriting you ever can imagine. And that's another example, Alex of the film that if you tried to make Jerry Maguire today, it would be devoured by Studio notes, because you're saying, Can you the first movie opens up with VoiceOver, which never comes back in the rest of the film? Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, he marries Dorothy boy, they break up at the end of the second movie. Do you know why do you remember the film why they broke up? I found a man you remember what it is?

Alex Ferrari 1:05:51
I forgot. What is this? I don't remember specific reason. I've seen the movie 1000 times. What was the specific reason they broke up?

J. Mills Goodloe 1:05:57
She says to him, I'm so lucky. I found a man who really loves my son, and really likes me a lot.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:05
The great line, oh, great line.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:06:08
And she breaks up with him, basically, because he's just isn't into her that much. Or at least he hasn't shown. He hasn't shown it. And then after the rod tubewell thing, and he shows up as he had me Hello. He says, You know, I do love you and I want to be with you. But there is no precipitating or whatever the word is, there's no incident that happens, which causes them to break up. And if you would go to a studio right here, right? What causes the two of them? And they're married by the way? They are married? Yeah, they are to break to break up. Well, they're married. He's working a lot. He likes her. He's not cheating on her. His he really loves her son. He's just not into her that much. How can you possibly get through that? And I think those are that maybe that's those are the things that I find inspiring about any script is the ones that kind of get away with stuff that aren't notes. The best example of that is The Blind Side. Meaning that somehow John Hancock got away on making a film on the blind side. Every rule in there because I asked you, what is her arc in that movie?

Alex Ferrari 1:07:14
It I mean, and I had John on the show, and I asked him about that. And I think it was I think it had a lot to do because he had the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which was Sandy. And she protected the project a bit and that's you need that.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:07:28
That art. Does she have a bad relationship with her husband? No. Your kids fine. Yeah. She rich and wealth in the beginning? Yeah. At the end? Yeah. Every if you if you filter that through a studio notes, yeah, I know for a problem, they would give her an obstacle to overcome just no obstacles in that film. Anyways, if you look at those things, whether it be the blind side, or Jerry Maguire, that if you really empirically or dispassionately look at it, how many things would be noted to death on that by people that would say, you know, there's no reason for her for Renee Zellweger to break up with him. Make something make him more dramatic. Maybe you should get caught with another girl. Maybe you should be

Alex Ferrari 1:08:13
It but it would have been so formulaic. If they did that. It would have been a

J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:17
Thing for me. My other favorite movie is lost in translation. Yeah. Like what relations a great film it is. And you know what? This is another crazy thing, Alex? They're both married in the movie. Right? Yeah, I'm gonna make a movie about two married people who are each other. Right? One of them is much, much younger than them. They don't, they don't consummate that relationship. We don't see the last line of dialogue that they have a great arc with Bill Murray in that movie.

Alex Ferrari 1:08:47
You know, he's pretty much the same guy. She's She changes

J. Mills Goodloe 1:08:49
In time she changes a little bit nicer. She kind of maybe she's trying to figure out her life. There's no extra obstacles. There's no antagonist. There isn't. There's no antagonist in that movie. And it's a brilliant movie. And it works so well. So those are the things I look at. My two favorite films would be lost in translation, or Jerry Maguire. They break a lot of rules. They're they're they're walled off from bad development notes. And they're somehow were made for people not to give them a hard time about it. And those will those always look up to, because they're really, really hard to pull off.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:29
Mills, it has been a pleasure talking to you, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I hope everyone is off. I hope everyone's off the ledge. Because there were some moments on the show. Like this is tough, but I saw Star Wars and that's what I need to do from now on. So all these all my future. I saw my future but Thank you my friend. I appreciate everything.

J. Mills Goodloe 1:09:54
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it and you've got a wonderful show and I want to read your book.

LINKS

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Screenplays: FREE Download 2021-2022 Oscar Contenders UPDATED

UPDATED January 2022: If you want to be a screenwriter you need to read a lot of screenplays. And if you are going to read film scripts might as well read some of this year’s best. Below is an active running list of 2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays. I’ll be adding new screenplays as they become available so check back often.

PLEASE NOTE: These Screenplays Are FREE And LEGAL To Download For Educational Purposes. The Studios Will Only Keep Them Online Throughout The Awards Season So The Clock Is Ticking. Enjoy. 

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2021-2022 Oscar Contending Screenplays


2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

The Father – (Sony Classics) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
Promising Young Woman – (Focus Features) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Adapted Screenplay)

2020-2021 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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2020 Oscar-Winning Screenplays

Parasite – (NEON) – OSCAR WINNER (Best Original Screenplay)
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2020 Oscar Contending Screenplays

2019 Oscar Contending Screenplays

Netflix has removed its scripts, though some of the links work. I will keep you updated…

2018 Oscar Contending Screenplays

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BONUS: Oscar Nominated and Winning Screenplays

IFH 567: Inside Pixar’s Brain Trust Turning Red with Julia Cho

Award-winning playwright and co-writer of Pixar’s TURNING RED, Julia Cho was born and raised in the arid suburbs of Southern California and Arizona. After a fairly uneventful childhood, she unexpectedly discovered theater as a teen and subsequently foiled her parents’ expectations of a life of respectability and normalcy.

Disney and Pixar’s “Turning Red” introduces Mei Lee (voice of Rosalie Chiang), a confident, dorky 13-year-old torn between staying her mother’s dutiful daughter and the chaos of adolescence. Her protective, if not slightly overbearing mother, Ming (voice of Sandra Oh), is never far from her daughter—an unfortunate reality for the teenager. And as if changes to her interests, relationships and body weren’t enough, whenever she gets too excited (which is practically ALWAYS), she “poofs” into a giant red panda! Directed by Academy Award® winner Domee Shi (Pixar short “Bao”) and produced by Lindsey Collins.

Instead, armed with an MFA in writing from NYU and a prestigious fellowship at The Juilliard School, Julia launched herself into the New York theater scene. She soon landed residencies at the Sundance Lab and New Dramatists and productions at high-profile theaters in NYC and across the country. Memorable productions include “The Language Archive” (winner of the Susan Smith Blackburn Award), “Aubergine” and “Office Hour.” For her body of work, she received the 2020 Windham-Campbell Literary Prize for Drama which wrote: “Alternately lyrical and sharp, rigorous and whimsical, Cho’s plays demand that we listen.”

Alongside her theatrics, Cho has also cultivated a career as a writer and producer of a broad range of television shows from cult sci-fi (“Fringe”) to character-driven drama (“Big Love,” “Halt and Catch Fire”). She also adapted the critically-acclaimed novel The Madonnas of Echo Park for HBO and Starz, which showcased her ability to transform eloquent fiction into dynamic and propulsive narrative.

Driven by keen curiosity and a passion for language, Julia strives to create work that expands our worlds and sparks our deepest empathies. She’s currently under commission for South Coast Repertory to write a new play and is a Co-Executive Producer for the Amazon series, “Paper Girls.” In other words, she’s following a movie about four thirteen-year-old girls with a series about four twelve-year-old girls. A project about four eleven-year-old girls is forthcoming.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:00
I'd like to welcome to the show Julia Cho. How're you doing Julia?

Julia Cho 0:14
I'm doing great. Thank you so much for having me.

Alex Ferrari 0:16
Thank you so much for coming on this show, I am excited to talk to an Pixar insider, what it's like to work inside of the magic machine that we all have grown up with and love so much. But that's not your only claim to fame. And we're gonna get into your whole journey, which is not, you just weren't born out of, you know, Pixar is womb, and you've been there all this time. You're you've done other things in life. So how did you and why did you want to get into this insanity that is the film industry?

Julia Cho 0:48
Oh, well, that's a how long is this podcast? I was not necessarily a decision, like an intention that I had. I mean, my first thought was theater, right? I had kind of grown up loving to read and wanting to be a writer. And for me, I got the theater bug as a teenager, and then just kind of found myself veering towards writing when I was in college and started writing plays. And at that point, I would say I was just a fan of the movies, I would just watch movies as a normal a person. And I do remember watching the Pixar movies even back then as a young adult and just being like, I love these. I know they're for kids, but I love them, you know. And there was one moment where I think I'm on a date with my who's my gangs, my husband now but we went on an early date to say Monsters Inc. And I remember, like, at the time, I was really just still a struggling playwright. And I just couldn't imagine anything more diametrically opposite to what I was doing. Because it was like what I did with these, like really heavy sad plays and tiny rooms the size of a closet that like 10 people saw. And then here I was watching Monsters Inc, which made me cry, but also just made you laugh. And, and it was so exuberant. And I just remember articulating to my husband, I don't know what to call somebody who becomes that, but we're walking out and I'm like, oh, it'd be so amazing to work at Pixar someday, you know. So I do, I start to become like a firm believer of putting it out there in the universe. Because I think the fact that I actually said that just started some atomic ripple maybe years later, came back to me, because then I continue to do plays. And then I was doing a play at Berkeley Rep. And just to make the long story short. Pixar is always looking for writers and Mary Coleman, who's the head of development there, among many jobs that she does. One of them is to always kind of be looking for writers to come to Pixar. And through a friend, who I have a friend who's a playwright screenwriter named Keith bunion who was working on onward, she, I think, came to me and actually came to see the play that I was doing in Berkeley. And so I think that's kind of how it started. So I would just say, in a kind of accident, the way through my theater, I actually ended up being tapped to come to Pixar, which I never would have ever predicted.

Alex Ferrari 3:05
It's so funny, because so many people who have the intention, like I'm going to work for Pixar, I'm going to do everything right to get on the radar of Pixar and do this or that and that and you did none of that. You just said hey, how cool would it be? And then if you would have gone back to talk to that person coming out of Monsters Inc. You're gonna go, Hey, you're gonna work on Pixar one day. And you're like, who are you? You're psychotic. Get away from me.

Julia Cho 3:25
Yeah, you're insane, Never gonna happen? No. And I do find that. Like, he keeps doing that, to me. Like I keep seeing ways in which you think that way to do life is to like, figure out exactly what you want and just head straight towards it. And some people maybe that works for them. But for me, it's always been kind of just steering towards writing as honestly as I can writing the things I want to write, you know, and just sort of pursuing that and then completely out of the blue come something that I couldn't have anticipated. And that's just been the way it's been for me. And Pixar was definitely like that, because I never never made that a goal. And I even think you could make it a goal like and to this day, I think, yeah, you can't it's Pixar has to find you. You can't you can't go knocking on the door and and hand them your scripts.

Alex Ferrari 4:15
It's yeah, it's kind of like, you know, I've had so many writers and directors on the show who've told me that Spielberg gave me a shot I'm like, how did you get this feeling? Like it's like I didn't like knock on his door and hand them a script. It just like that kind of that energy will eventually find you when, if that's the path that you need to walk and it's so interesting that no matter what you did along your path, nothing even there wasn't even an inkling because I looked at your your resume. There's nothing that says Pixar, like there's not even there's not even a short film. There is not like any even your story that shows you work that nothing says this would make a good Pixar screenwriter.

Julia Cho 4:55
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, and then and then I yeah, I think it's also been illuminating. because, you know, once I got there, I felt like yeah total fish out of water. And it was really gratifying then to meet the other writers and realize a lot of them had Motley backgrounds to you know, other playwrights I ended up at Pixar, not just me. And um, so I do feel like the perception is that there's a certain thing you'd expect at a Pixar writer. And then I have found that the actual writers are much more idiosyncratic. Interesting budge,

Alex Ferrari 5:23
Right! Exactly. Because it makes it makes the writing more interesting when you have a motley crew and Motley background, as you say.

Julia Cho 5:30
Yeah, yeah. And I think that, you know, no one there, I don't think I've encountered yet did feature animation before coming to Pixar, you know, and when you think of what that world is just feature animation riders, it's really small. And I think that Pixar feels like we've got that covered. You know, like, it's just like your know how to do feature animation. So what that kind of frees up is that the writer can come with a different set of skills. And I think that's been really great. That's sort of like, you don't have to overlap on our Venn diagram, you can actually have your own thing and we can have a place where we all meet, but we actually want people who think differently or have different experiences.

Alex Ferrari 6:09
Now you, you also went to Julliard and in the Sundance lab as well, early in your career

Julia Cho 6:15
Is that right. Yeah, I got to develop a play at Sundance and go to Juilliard. Yeah, I do playwriting residency there.

Alex Ferrari 6:24
Again, both things don't suck at all. If you're a writer, so what are some of the biggest lessons you took away from you, since you were such a young writer at that point, from working in those two amazing, you know, programs.

Julia Cho 6:38
Well, gosh, Sundance was really illuminating. Because I was so young, I think that was one of the first kind of professional ish experiences I had. And I just remember feeling like that first play I was trying to write, I really struggled with. And I just had a moment where I got to the point where I was so lost, and I was working on a piece of writing, but just felt like I couldn't like really land it. And I just remember getting on my knees and praying, I like literally prayed to God, I was like, I don't know what to do. And this play, I need to present it before the entire Sunday. You were all doing readings for each other. And I just remembered doing a prayer that I don't remember word for word, but the gist of it was like, please help me get out of my own way. Please, just larger force. I don't know what you are God, the universe just just take over, you know, because like, I think it, it's like, I think I couldn't articulate it at that age. But I think it was a sense of like, rather than trying to generate something from my ego, like, please help me tap into something and be a conduit to something instead, you know, and I think that was maybe the first time I'd really thought about writing in that way. Because I kept seeing writing as like something I did that was out of my ego and my identity. And, and I think that that was maybe the beginning of feeling like writing was if it was working right, it was actually me tapping into something or me channeling something, you know. And so I don't think I succeeded, to be honest, completely. But at least that was where I felt that first intuition of like, oh, there's a different way to to write. And then I think the thing I learned from being at Juilliard, which was some years later, I was a little bit more experienced, not very, I just remember so many teachers that were Marsha Norman Chris Durang, who are both like lotted, amazing, you know, American playwrights with a capital A and a P, you know, they're, they're amazing. And we would come in with our, like, 10 pages, like, we were just kind of the 10 pages. And I just remember that at the time, I was writing a lot of really just sad, dark stuff. And we would talk about our voices and what we're trying to write and actually our Marcia being like, you know, we all want to be Neil Simon, we all want to just write funny and happy, you know, and she's like, You are who you are, there's nothing you can do about that. You can't wish you're a different type of writer than the writer you are. So don't even bother, don't even waste time doing that. And that helped because I think I was in that mode of like, why can I write funny or happier things and he was just like, too bad. You just You are who you are. And then the other thing she would do, which has stayed with me, she always kind of referred to writers as warriors. You know, like, like, you know, I think the image of us is we're drunken and saw often. Just like lay around in her bathrobe was like, excited. And she really reminded us of how much courage it takes to write and how tough you have to do to write and she always spoke of us as you know, warriors if we were really engaged in doing it, right. So and then that kinda stayed with me.

Alex Ferrari 9:56
So you know, that's so funny because I you know, I've had the again the pleasure You're talking to so many amazing screenwriters and filmmakers. And I always ask, especially with writers, I go, is there ever a moment where you just wrote something down? And you go back to read and you go, who wrote that? That's not the amazing, not the amazing, but But you just like how to, like something literally hits, you tapped into something that wasn't you. But it is. This is what I found as a writer myself, when you tap into that thing, it is that that energy and this goes for Oscar winners, Emmy winners, Tony winners I've spoken to, they tap into that thing, but it comes in filtered through you. So it is a filtering process that you are the filter. So it comes out through your voice, but it still comes through you. And if it comes if you're not in the place of ego when you're doing it, because I've written in a place of ego, horrible, horrible, horrible to write in that place. But when you write when you're like what you said, then you feel something coming through you. It's so much easier.

Julia Cho 10:58
Yeah, it is. And it's rare. I think that's the thing. It's like you can't plan it, you just kind of and I really do feel like it started to come like you know, the way surfers go out every day, you just they go out every day. And some days, the waves are awesome. And some days away slack. Increasing felt like writing was like that I would show up every day. And someday I catch a nice way but other days they'd be like, Oh, nothing happened today.

Alex Ferrari 11:22
Great analogy. That's a great analogy. I love that.

Julia Cho 11:26
And because the waves aren't generated by the surfers, right, the waves are coming from. I don't know, whatever it is that causes waves, the tide the moon, the gravitational pull of the universe. Yeah, it definitely feels like I'm not generating the wave. I'm trying to catch it. But I can't catch it unless I show up. Oh, my God is just to show up.

Alex Ferrari 11:46
I will steal that. Because that's an amazing analogy. I love love that analogies. You're absolutely right. Because as a writer, as a creative, you're trying to catch waves, but you have to show up every day because you never know when the really gnarly wave is gonna show up and you're gonna be there to catch it.

Julia Cho 12:02
Yeah, and how many times I mean, I'm sure you've also experienced it like showing up and feeling like crap, like, oh my god, I barely slept. I feel depressed. I feel awful. Nothing good can come up today and then ends up being a great day like something happened. And vice versa. I've had days where I go in. I'm like, I'm ready.

Alex Ferrari 12:17
I was like,crickets

Julia Cho 12:21
Yeah. You're just like, Oh, my God. I woke up for this.

Alex Ferrari 12:27
This is really is this what it is? I'm not from your work as a playwright. How did that prepare you for writing in Hollywood writing in a writers room?

Julia Cho 12:37
It didn't, at all. Completely different and weird and hard. I mean, I think as a playwright, like other than the actual production part of it, it's like really built for introverts, you know, like, so solitary. And I think to go from that to being in a room with seven people, it really felt like Sorry, there's like no exit like it kind of like oh my god. I'm in like, a room with like, seven people that may or may not like me, and I may or may not like them. And there's a lot of vying because like, television was more so before like, really hierarchical, right? Like, everyone would show up and be like, Who's, who's the staff writer who's the code. Monkeys are trying to figure out where we are in the pecking order. And so I think that took a while to adjust to and I was really lucky, though. I mean, I ended up on great shows with a great show runners who were so amazing and nurturing about helping this poor little new the staff writer get her feet wet. But yeah, I remember being completely bewildered. One of my early shows is a show called fringe. And we would sit there Right, yeah, so again, somewhat similar to Pixar. Nothing in my experience.

Alex Ferrari 13:44
I was gonna say, prepared you for friends. I was gonna ask you, I was gonna ask you for because you're in the first season of fringe. You were a bunch of episodes in the first season of a fringe according to your IMDB. And I'm looking at it and I'm going, how the hell does she get fridge? Like that's a hell of a good plum first job.

Julia Cho 14:00
Yeah, no, seriously. Uh, yeah. So again, very similarly, I had written like, sad clauses for dumb people. But you know, the thing is, like, the place I wrote were just very relational and very, like, they were real, like, they weren't, like, you know, crazy high concept plays and abstract or experimental. So they were readable, which helps, I think, but you know, what, I think what I loved about television, though, is because they're like seven writers. It really is more like a team. And you don't need every single person to have every single skill, right? Like you literally have people playing different positions, like the way you would on a football team or something, you know, so like, at French, it was a really big room. Actually, it was like, I don't know, like 11 or 12 or something. I don't know. It just it was a large room as the fitting a large network kind of tentpole show, right, which doesn't really exist anymore, but back then, you still had those right? And I just remember being like, oh, like There's certain niches that we all play are all in, right? So there's the action guy, the Sci Fi person. And I realized quickly early on that I was like, Oh, I'm like the I'm the relational person.

Alex Ferrari 15:13
I deal with the relationships.

Julia Cho 15:15
Yes, yeah and I'm like, oh, like, I'm the one who like, does the emotional like, talk. And what was really great is by the end of the season, like I'm pitching crazy sci fi things to, like, I'm learning all the other way to be to, you know, like, there was a moment where I pitch some insane teaser that didn't go which was like the main character like, like, being attacked by like, like a troop of paramilitary and like laying them all to waste or something insane and unfilmable. But I just didn't on my show about her being like, look, we'll be dead. As is quiet play, right. And now she's, like, doing his big movie. You know, he was so proud.

Alex Ferrari 15:55
It was like, Look what we have done.

Julia Cho 15:59
Look how far she's come? But um, yeah, so So in that sense, I think that was my, my foot in the door is like the the feeling that like, oh, they still need, you know, like, one of the main characters was a woman, you know, fringe was the main character was, you know, this female. So I think just this recognition that like on a big series like this, we need lots of points of view and a lot people with different tools. So yeah, so even though my tool wasn't like a sci fi tool, I felt like I had other things that helped me. But yeah, how I got on and I look back, and I do think that that was really

Alex Ferrari 16:35
How did you like how did you get on there? Like who was?

Julia Cho 16:39
So I was on. That was actually not my first year, my first year was legal procedural, which what made more sense, frankly, that I was kind of approached for that because it's by a production company that was in New York. And the first showrunner, who didn't stay and become the boss of that, initially was supposed to be a man who was also playwright like so there were some, you know, reasonable things with fringe. I think it was just like that my agent at the time, was not the agent of the showrunner. But he was somehow like, just really involved with it. I forget exactly how, and so he could at least get my work read. So I think just being able to get me read was part of it. And then my. And then I think there was one play I had, where it was like a play called Durango that was about a dad and his two sons. And it was all just happened going a long road trip together. Yes,

Alex Ferrari 17:34
Now it makes all the sense in the world now.

Julia Cho 17:35
Yeah, I mean, I think like the showrunner and the other people, the production me read that and could really connect to it. And

Alex Ferrari 17:42
It's so funny how Hollywood works, because they're like, when it walked through the door, like, We need someone who's literally written the story about a father and a son who have to kind of go on a road trip, and then you walk in you're like, perfect hired. Like, that's so weird.

Julia Cho 18:00
And I think you're but you're kind of right because like French there was a female main character, but it was a father son story. It was like, you know, and so yeah, I think there's that but then I started jumped through the hoops of like getting read and and then also doing my interview and but we just, I just really got along with the showrunner and we click in the interview, so somehow, miraculously, I ended up on that show.

Alex Ferrari 18:25
Now how you also worked on another one of my favorite shows Big Love. Oh, really interesting. I love Big Love. Because I was I was a Paxton fan like such I mean, oh, I like rest rest in peace.

Julia Cho 18:40
He was wonderful to work with.

Alex Ferrari 18:43
I've heard nothing from people who I know who've worked with him. They said he was just a doll like a sane. Wonderful to work with. Uh, what was it like working on a show like that? Cuz that's a pretty big was ah, it was HBO if I'm not mistaken. Right. Yeah. So that's a big tentpole. HBO shows in the in the in the heat of sopranos like HBO had now. HBO was HBO at this point. It wasn't like at the beginning of like, we're just starting to figure out narrative like they you they've already broken through so much stuff. What was it like working on that show?

Julia Cho 19:16
Well, then that was a real experience, too, because I felt like I had gone from fringe, which was this JJ Abrams. You know, Alex Kurtzman and Bob RC, you know, huge thing. And then to go on to Big Love is kind of wonderful because it was more specific. It was more personal. It was more idiosyncratic reflecting the tastes of you know, the creators. And it just felt like going from something that was more mass, like mass market to something that was more like boutique, right? Yeah. Like and both really good quality in their different ways. But their tastes are so mellow. It was such a melodrama, right, like so to learn that genre. Like it was like I remember like the touchstones of this shows couldn't be more different because then

Alex Ferrari 20:06
Versus artful arthouse almost.

Julia Cho 20:08
Yes, exactly. So like fringe it was like you had to know, you know, X Files and things like that on Big Love It was like, you know, you had to know like Joan Crawford movie. It was like, you know, what do you mean, you haven't seen, you know, what was a Mildred Pierce, I was like, you have to watch Mildred Pierce and I'm like, okay, you know, and then and I loved it. And I was like, wow, like, how different to be in that world. And it was really amazing, just because like, everything was just, I mean, just the quality of everything was so high. Like, there was a bit more time and even even the quality of the food was like, wow, like,

Alex Ferrari 20:48
Listen, when you're on a suit when you're on a studio set, and that it's that crap, that crafty boy that crafting that lunch is a whole other world. I remember working out I walk on some shows. And it was like some Fox shows I was working on I walked on, I'm like, Wow, is that lobster? Or is literally are the grips eating lobster right now like is this? Because I come from an indie world where like, everyone's like pizza is like, whoopee. It's a it's a whole other it's a whole other experience. I mean, so you've been in a few. So you've been in a few writers room? Do you have any advice for young writers? Who if they have the opportunity to either be in a writers room as a writer, or as an assistant, or as a runner, what to do when you're in that environment? Because for my understanding, I've never been in a writers room. But for my understanding, it really all depends from the showrunner, it all starts at the show, like the showrunner could be a tyrant, or they could be the most wonderful, you know, kind of like inclusive, and I want to hear everybody's idea. And then that could be the tyrant who's like, it's my way of the highway. And everyone's fearful to even say a thing. And I've heard both, both of those stories. So I sounds like you had to lay the ladder, the good, very encouraging, fun environment. How do you navigate the politics of that room? Because they're in politics in those rooms?

Julia Cho 22:05
That's a great, yeah, that's a good question. I mean, you know, the funny thing is, like, I have had really nice show runners, but even so it's been a really complicated and very often kind of tense environment, just because everyone is under such an enormous amount of pressure. I mean, I would say that for anyone starting out, being in the room, in any capacity is actually a huge education. You know, it's like, if you want to be a writer, I do think the best way if you can find it is a position of being a writer's assistant. And I would say that, you know, I could be wrong. But even if the showrunners difficult, the writers assistant, the job is pretty clear cut, you know, you're just basically taking all the notes of everything that people are saying, and pitching, and then having to sort of disseminate them. So in some ways, it's like, I don't know how much better or worse your job can get. In some ways, like, unless there's, you know, interpersonal stuff. But I do feel like the job is pretty, pretty direct. And what it allows you to do is to understand how to pitch and understand how to listen and give feedback to and you're, basically you're learning all those things, you're seeing people in real time, do those things with each other. And I do think that perspective, makes it so that whenever I need an assistant, number one, if you're an assistant, I am always impressed, because that is not an easy job to get it. So you are some kind of rock star, just to get there. Yeah, I'm like, you're a rock star. I don't know what your background is. But you're super smart, and you're on it. And then the second thing I feel like when I am with these writers assistants is that I have been in rooms, I'm in a room now where the assistants regularly pitch like not often because I think that they are actually you know, busy taking the notes or doing other things. But their perspectives are always valuable and are always like, really smart. And so I think that as a writer's assistant, or someone starting out, initially, your job is to listen and to understand what the flow of everything is in the content. And then gradually, I think you can start contributing. And what I find nine times out of 10 is that if the contribution is very personal, like, Oh, we're talking about, you know, there's a story point of car accidents, and you know, and if you're an assistant who's been in a car accident, then by all means you should speak up and be like, I owe this one. This happened. I felt this way, I felt that way. Because that kind of stuff is always invaluable. You know, I think where assistants can get more into trouble is if they start like judging what's happening. Like, I don't think that's a good idea. Because, like, that's going to be hard for anyone to say or do. But I think as long as you're just contributing to the personal like, that's almost always like a really great way to begin getting, like winning the trust of the room and then eventually, you know, building on that and yeah, I think it's a really hard job but a really I mean, the ones who have been writing assistance writing assistance before, I think just have a complete leg up on the other writer.

Alex Ferrari 25:05
So if you if so if you have been attacked by a paramilitary group, and you have to lay waste to them with your superpowers, speak up, speak up.

Julia Cho 25:14
For you were developed your super mutant powers. sure how that works?

Alex Ferrari 25:19
How does that make you feel? Is that Is it like X Men? Does X Men get it? Right? Like, how does that work? But no, but so, on a writer's assistant side, that's great. But as a writer, you know, there is that it's that, like you said, tense, weird political environment. And I don't mean political in a bad way. It's just the nature of any time you get seven or eight people in a room together, there's a hierarchy. How do you not step on other people's toes? How do you like because there are do's and don'ts that are not written down anywhere? So like, you don't, I forgot, I've heard somebody in a writers room telling me like, you know, don't go behind somebody's back, say it in the in the room, things like that. But these are things they don't teach you. And you have to learn the hard way.

Julia Cho 26:07
Yeah, no, I think that's all really hard and difficult. I guess the main thing I would say is that if you're stepping into that room, whether as a writer or an assistant, like, I think the main thing is openness, you know, just to like, always assume people coming from a good place, as opposed to they're out to destroy me, which they might be, but at least initially,

Alex Ferrari 26:32
Let's walk in let's walk in with a positive attitude, as opposed to guns blaring, guns blaring.

Julia Cho 26:38
Yeah and you know, and then what I've also learned is that actually, I think everyone's nervous in the beginning, every now Yeah, everyone's nervous, even the higher ups, I think, because they're also trying to establish that I know what I'm doing. And I, who am I in this room and group. So I think there's that and then there's also, gosh, staying out of the line of fire as much as possible. Just like, you know, your head down. And if you're the new one, then it's sort of like, you know, perhaps the parents might argue at times, and you know, what is your role is to you're Switzerland, you're neutral, unless something really bad and unfair is happening. You know, I think he tried to just do your best fighting. But then you want so you're sort of like, you're the apprentice. That's how I felt when I was a staff writer, I really felt like I was the apprentice. And my goal was to exude an air of being everyone's little sister. Like,

Alex Ferrari 27:36
That was your way. That was, that was what you were doing? Yeah. So yeah, it's always horrible when mom and dad are fighting in the room, and you're just like, I'm not going to get on either person side. I'm just gonna stay here. Very quiet. And yeah. And they go Julia, what do you think? And you're like? No, it's so it's so it's Yeah. And it happens on a set, too. And you're on the set? You know, you see my, the producer, the DP and the director fighting or the producer director, why did you just like, Yeah, I'm over a craft.

Julia Cho 28:05
Yeah. Yeah, I'll just be over there eating frozen, you know, mocha bars or something? Yeah. You know, and I will say, like, I have, you know, been through difficult rooms, too, you know, and what, at least the silver lining on all that is that some of my fondest connections are came out of the hardest experiences, right? Because you actually do them really bond with the people that you're going with. There is something you know, it doesn't redeem the entire experience, but then at least you can be like, well, but I came out of it with these really tight, tight connections.

Alex Ferrari 28:39
That's awesome. That's awesome. Now, if you happen if you were able to go back to your younger self, the one that was going into the Sundance lab, and you could tell her listen, you're gonna have a crazy situation in the next few, these next year is going up. What piece of advice would you want to give her? And like, this is the one thing I wish I would have known.

Julia Cho 29:04
I guess I haven't been kind of thinking about this, you know, like, what would I have extended to my younger self, you know, because I am somewhere that I never anticipated. And this sounds a little hokey, or kind of like, I don't know, maybe to self compassion, a but I think I would have tried to unburden my younger self, from so much of the fear that she carried, you know, like this fear that I'm never gonna make it I'm never going to succeed. I remember like, when I was playing that earlier story about being on my knees praying. Yeah, no, exactly. It truly was because I felt like a failure. I felt like I am not able to do this. And I can't you know, and I guess what I would want to tell that younger self is this feeling. Go this. This is just a feeling. It's not True, you know, and that everything I have now was always in me, you know, it may not have been I had all the tools or all the skills, but I am the same person and I was always capable of the things that I could do. I just didn't know it. And so I think, where I don't want to necessarily give my, my younger self like an ego complex.

Alex Ferrari 30:26
Okay, dude, like, Dude, you're gonna Pixar in like, X amount of years, you're gonna kill it, you're gonna be with JJ Abrams, you're gonna be on an HBO show, you're gonna be no, you're not doing that. But I think what you're saying is so profound, because we all carry as creators, we all carry imposter syndrome with us at every level, every level of, of your career, there's a sense of imposter syndrome. But that fear of like, we're not good enough. I don't have I don't have the goods, this or that. And a lot of times, I know this, just from talking to you from your, your path. You might have been fearful of what you were doing. I don't I'm not good enough there. But you didn't even have the understanding of like, I'm not good enough to be a Pixar writer, because that wasn't even on your radar. Let alone low scale. Yeah, yeah. So it's, uh, you add so much more stress to your life for things that really are out of your control in so many ways?

Julia Cho 31:25
You know, and I guess it is, it's, it's complicated, because I'm not, I'm still sort of sorting through it. Because, you know, at the same time, my dreams were much more humble when I was smaller, which was like, yeah, just get to the Sundance data lab, I also realized that, like, my goals, were always kind of crazy high, because it was like, I felt like a failure, because I was trying to write something sublime. You know, like, I wanted to write something great. And you know, that that's not ambition, I think it's kind of just a sense of, like, I want to make something really beautiful, you know, and, and so feeling like I was failing at that was also just like, a profound kind of sense of it was like, an existential crisis or something. And, and I do think there's something to like, going back into your earlier self and being like, have the right goals, you know, what I mean, because like, don't make the goal, the success or the job, or the money or the glory, because all those things, you actually have not that much control over. But you can make it your goal to write something beautiful and honest and moving, or something that that helps you heal, or, you know, those are things that are in your control of what you can aspire to do. And the crazy thing is, if you do those things, then all the rest of this stuff will come by itself.

Alex Ferrari 32:45
That's so again, I'll use the word profound, because you're absolutely right, only from being on the path for a while, you can go back and say something that profound because you're absolutely right. When you're younger, you're like, I want to win an Oscar, or I want to, I want to I want to make, you know, seven figures in a year, like these kinds of goals that are really empty goals. But if your goal is I want to, with my work, help somebody I want to help myself heal. I want to help other people here. I want to really take somebody out of their busy day and have them last for an hour and a half. Like those are the goals that because everything if you do that, well, yeah, everything else comes because there's so many people looking for that writer.

Julia Cho 33:31
Yeah, and you know, there's a there's an Andre Agassi story that I really like he was raised by so cuz, you know, he was the child of an immigrant who, like drove him crazy hard. And I guess the story goes that he when he was growing up, he was a tennis prodigy, right? But what his, what he would do is he would just wail on the ball as hard as he could, he could just hit the ball as hard as he could. And his dad encouraged that, like, instead of telling young little Andre Agassi hit within the lines, he would say, hit the ball as hard as you can. And then eventually, it will be in the lines, but don't worry about that, like don't pull back your swing and hit the ball less hard. So that will go into the lines. Like what what you want is to actually have the hardest forehead anyone's ever seen. Right? And and it goes into line. But but don't hold back on that, you know, and I think there's something in that about like art and writing. It's like, if we're aiming towards the job or the salary, then that requires hitting in the line. You know what I mean? 90% of the time, but what you want as a young artist starting out is just hit the ball as hard as you can like, right out of your mind. Like right, the craziest freakiest like, and then

Alex Ferrari 34:40
You could pull it, you could pull that back.

Julia Cho 34:42
Yes, but once you're in the line, you can't, you can't hit it out, you know, start just

Alex Ferrari 34:48
Go big. Go Go big first because as you develop the big swing all the time, you can then learn how to pivot that swing a little bit over to the left just to get in the line. but you have the biggest swing on the court. And that's where

Julia Cho 35:03
All the crap is. But like do not, do not, you know, hold back on the power.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Yeah, exactly what's great, good stuff. I love this conversation. Good stuff. Now I'm now now let's get to your new film turning red, which is a wonderful film. I saw it the other day. And I was really, it was blown away by the heart of it, the humor of it. It is such a movie of its day, meaning that the young people in it are not the young people that were in Monsters Inc, or in other older Pixar movies. This is a very relevant, updated, you know, experience of what it's like to be a young person. And I have two little young people in my life that I see through their eyes what they're going through now. And it's so different than what you and I went through. Thank God, there was no internet. That's all I'm saying. Yeah. Back there. So how did you so we were discussed how you got it you got into Pixar. As far as you know, getting courted to come in. I have to ask you, so you walk into the Pixar building, first day of work to start working? What is that like? Like just the pressure of like walking through those halls? You've seen the behind the scenes, I'm sure in some, some videos, and you're walking, you're like, Oh, God, what am I doing here? And that thing is so big. You must feel like this big.

Julia Cho 36:31
Yeah, it's a lot. It's a lot. I mean, I think I felt that way even just coming because you have to have an interview, of course, you get hired, right? So just like coming to be interviewed was really intimidating. And it's a beautiful campus. Like, it's just gorgeous. You know, and again, like coming from theater, which is like cramped, sticky floors, rats running through the dress. Shirt, like, oh my gosh, yeah, the aura is kind of hard to, to, like, yeah, you come in and everything glows. But I do remember, my first day of work. I couldn't remember the particulars. And I should also say my first day of work was not this project. I my first Pixar job was actually another project that then I didn't stay on and and then I ended up on Jomi. But when I showed up for that first official Pixar day of work, the aura lasted only about 10 minutes. And then I started working and it was so intense. I quickly, because because like I feel like a lot of their projects are like under wraps. Right? They have to be very careful. And so I felt like once I actually showed up, it's like, you're here, finally the writer sit down. And then they turned a firehose of story on it is like, here's all the things I've been thinking about, here's what we need to actually put into a script now, you know, and and you're just like, fire hose, fire hose, fire hose, you know. And so that that is sort of what it feels like that like 10 minutes of aura, and then eight hours of Firehose

Alex Ferrari 38:04
And then and then the aura is gone, though now this is just yeah, I gotta work. I gotta

Julia Cho 38:08
I hear a magical Mount Olympus where the gods live. And then you realize the gods are all really busy making their own.

Alex Ferrari 38:17
And here's a fire hose of story that you got to deal with.

Julia Cho 38:21
Here. You're not even a demigod you're just plaib

Alex Ferrari 38:24
A peasant. You're a peasant that has been allowed in. And now we're, yeah, now get to work.

Julia Cho 38:32
Get to work.

Alex Ferrari 38:33
Now get to work. It's so funny, because I think that I think we were talking about a little bit off air how pics are builds their story. Can you talk a little bit about your analogy of how Pixar so different than other animation studios or other studios in general and how they develop story?

Julia Cho 38:51
Yeah, I think that I was used to a more linear development process where you would have like a first draft. And then you have iterations of that first draft that just refined the first draft. And I think Pixar encourages you to throw away that and restart from scratch almost with your second and third and fourth. So it was kind of surprising to me how, how bold and even encouraging of boldness, they are at Pixar, every other place I had been had been about retaining as much as you could. And they were really about finding the best thing, even if it meant completely letting go of what you had. And I think that they had done it enough with enough movies that they have a certain confidence that that actually can work. Because it felt insane and hard to do that. Like what do you mean, we can't, you know, build off of the first iterations you know, and you know, we didn't throw out 100% of it, but it just felt like with every so take care reels process, you know where once you're greenlit into production, you have like six to eight screenings. And those first screenings, you're presenting the entire movie, and getting thoughts and notes on it. And so depending on how each goes that, so the first screening was a certain version, the movie, but then the second screening because of the notes and thoughts we got on the first was a totally different movie. And so I was saying to you how I feel like it's almost a prototype way of looking at story development, where I would imagine that if you could look back and see the I don't know, let's say, eight prototypes that the Apple iPod had, you know, you might have seen, like, the first prototype was maybe really different, you know, but what they're saying is like, oh, but the, the wheel works in this prototype. So let's keep the wheel and change everything else. And that's really kind of what it felt like, with each screening that we did, it'd be like, this part of the movie works. So let's keep that and then not go forward until every other part of the movie works as well as this part, you know. So with every iteration, you're trying to create the best movie as opposed to refining the first movie that you had.

Alex Ferrari 41:11
Right! And it's, it's like, I think, like you were saying, off air is kind of like because they are in Silicon Valley, up in up in Northern California. They are, they're their founders are tech, you know, Steve Jobs. And I've got it forgot his other name, not last year, but the other one there tech guy, so they come at it from a tech.

Julia Cho 41:35
And that's just my own pet theory, why the process is like this. But when I think about Pixar, you know, so often it's lauded as this creative, incredible company, which it is, but to me, when I really think about it, it's also squarely a tech company, because everything they do is based upon technology. And I think what doesn't get the credit is how unbelievably advanced their technology is, because they the technology is why the movies look so good. Like the animators might be doing the incredible animating that they're doing. But there are programmers who are creating, to rigging the movie, like, like, all the tools are made by Pixar, nobody, nobody's making the tools and Pixar is like, you know, buying them at Home Depot, like they are literally making everything they do. So it's it's a pretty incredible approach. And I think that, you know, way of creating technology, maybe even what the way programs are created might have influenced the creative process as well.

Alex Ferrari 42:35
No, did you work with the famous Pixar brain trust?

Julia Cho 42:40
Oh, of course.

Alex Ferrari 42:41
So what is that? What is that? So what is that process? Like?

Julia Cho 42:44
A really terrifying, I would say, I think the first time it was like, who's coming? Are you kidding me?

Alex Ferrari 42:52
So for everybody, so tell everybody what the brain trust is, if they don't know,

Julia Cho 42:55
So the brain trust, I don't even know where the term came about. But it's just that at Pixar. All the directors and creators weigh in on each other's projects. And so there is a brain trust of producers and directors. So for us, you know, the people who around who are weighing in when I initially came, it was Leon Krige Andrew Stanton And Pete Docter, of course. So you have like these people who are enormously intimidating because like, like I said, as I've said, like I came in not ever have you done any feature animation before. And here are the gods of feature animation, you know, like, you walk into the male building, main building, and there's like a whole case of the Oscars that these people have won just

Alex Ferrari 43:37
The director of monster Monsters Inc. is literally there.

Julia Cho 43:42
Yeah, so that was that was really like, Thank God Pete Docter is such a kind and grounded person, because it was really like I had to not fan girl when I saw him, you know? up all those movies. Oh, no, no, incredible, right? So so the brain trust is amazing. Because they come in and they they read the script, like so one of the first things we had to get greenlit into production was they had to, as a group approve the script. But then just with every reels like there's a long session, there's like, a whole thing where it's like a ritual now, right? It's like you present the movie, everyone watches the screening. And then there's like a two to three hour notice session, you know, of just going around the room and everybody chiming in. And the brain trust at one time can be as small as you know, 10 people or as big as 20 or more. So it's really intimidating, but it's also really, really helpful. And a big part of our brain trust was also I mean, Pete Docter was one of these producers, but Dan Scanlon who just you know, was doing onward and they came off it, and Adrian Molina was, I think the AP on it. So they all would kind of help not so there was a branch office, but then the three of them also felt like they really got kind of helped shape the conversation and pull out what they thought were the most pertinent things. And they gave us deep notes, they were not easy notes, they weren't just like my you just change the scene, or maybe this line we were, they were like, deeply structural nodes. And I think what makes it effective though, is I get, I mean, I get notes all the time. And being in TV, you get notes and executive notes from all sorts of people, you know, but what makes it nice at Pixar is you're getting the notes from other people who have wrestled with these same problems who have suffered through these same things. That sense of like, mutual understanding that they were coming at you from a place of people who had been there before, I think was enormously reassuring and made it a much more nurturing process than a destructive process.

Alex Ferrari 45:53
That Yeah, cuz I've always wondered what it was like to be in that room and go through that again. And again, it's not one time to it's you do it multiple times, over and over again. And it's that's that's that kind of deconstruction of the stories I was telling you, one of my one of my dear friends used to work at Disney animation, and they would just, like, completely throw away their entire movie. And they go, Okay, we got nine months to do the entire thing from scratch. And I asked you Is it is it like that a picture? And you're like, absolutely. It's insanity. Like, I have no idea how they do this. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. No, because also because they'll throw away like months of work. Like, it's not just like the writing has been thrown away. sets that digital sets have been built characters have been, I mean, there's been worth millions of dollars of development and a&r and everything and it's gone. If it doesn't work gone, the brutal

Julia Cho 46:45
Yeah, and you know, and I think the ideal is to do as little of that as possible.

Alex Ferrari 46:49
Obviously.

Julia Cho 46:50
Not the goal to throw things away, but but I do feel like there is a kind of commitment that is really nice, which is, they will they will fight for a movie that works and is up to what they believe in, you know, they will not let it go. Just you know what, forget it. It's good enough. I never heard that. I never heard it.

Alex Ferrari 47:13
I doubt that you ever will. Now when is when is it coming out? And where can people see it?

Julia Cho 47:21
So the movie is coming out tomorrow on Disney+, which is exciting. And I think actually today it's rolling out globally I want to say so I think other countries are seeing it in their theaters and there are some theaters that are showing it for a limited release. So I would say if anyone out there thinks this movie is up their alley, whether it's because you're Canadian or love boy bands or whatever. Yeah, like the widest net possible but I would say like if you can safely watch it in a theater it's really an amazing fun experience to watch it with a large group of people so whether it's streaming or in person, the movie will be out tomorrow so

Alex Ferrari 48:05
And there was and there was that's one of my favorite parts of the movie is the boy band scenario is just such a Brit like as I'm listening to him like oh my god these are all my girlfriends like that's how they you could tell that that came from that had to have come from personal experience of like you know who the between the director and you like it was so perfectly on point of the love that a young girl has for ridiculous boyband just lose their mind over it's perfectly done.

Julia Cho 48:39
Yeah, no, I think that was really a fun discovery to make like that her only goal in life

Alex Ferrari 48:46
Is to go to a concert for it was it? Was it called Otown?

Julia Cho 48:51
Well, there is an actual band called Otown, but the band for the movies purposes is called 4town

Alex Ferrari 48:57
4town. That's right now, but there was five of them.Brilliant. That's right. That's just absolutely brilliant. Now I'm gonna ask you a couple questions ask all of my guests. What What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Julia Cho 49:12
Just love it. Love what you're doing love writing love writing so much that nothing can make you stop writing and and pray.

Alex Ferrari 49:25
Lord, please help me get through the scene. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Julia Cho 49:36
There's so many things I'm still trying to learn. And I think the thing I've only started to learn now is how to integrate all the different parts of my writing selves. Because I did have a playwright self and a TV self and then it picks ourselves and I would keep them compartmentalize because I thought it would be I don't know what I thought. I guess I thought I couldn't be all those things at once. And I think now is me trying to be one coherent writer who does all of that. And does it all, you know, uses all of herself with each project she writes, no matter what the genre.

Alex Ferrari 50:16
So the dark movies, the dark plays are in a room with 10 people could be over at Pixar.

Julia Cho 50:23
Yeah. Actually, I used to think they were all so separate, but those boundaries were imaginary. They were illusions, you know, that I put there.

Alex Ferrari 50:34
And is there are there three pilots or three screenplays that all screenwriters should read?

Julia Cho 50:43
Three pilots of screenplays that all scriptwriter should read? Oh, my goodness. Three pilots, this is such a great question. Oh my god, I'm okay. I don't know how to answer this question.

Alex Ferrari 51:06
Whatever comes to the top of your head.

Julia Cho 51:09
Ah, can I also throw in some plays? Sure has actually like there are texts for sure. Sure. So I know it's like really esoteric, and I brought it up in something I was writing the other day. But there's this like really great play. This is so esoteric. It's it's a, it's Antigone. It's a modern adaptation event ticketing, which is like this really old play. Right. But it's one of my touchstones of like a young woman's independence and voice. And it's translated from the French. Again, this sounds so pretentious, and I don't mean it to you. But it's just such a good play. And it's called Antigone by John onwy. It's just filled a n fo UI LH or something. But Google Antigone. But then I would say that in terms of scripts, I think, I think there really is something to learn from, from reading Aaron Sorkin scripts, I'll just say this, because I think because he's such a master of dialogue. And I think he shows a way to kind of break the rules in a way that everybody it's like, he almost reinvents the rules, you know. And I think there's a lot to be inspired by with that. So I think reading his dialogue is like a masterclass in how to have a two hander. But then in terms of a pilot, gosh, I will confess, I don't actually read pilots too much, because I myself. I don't know what it is. But I think like, I don't want other voices to get in my own way. Sure. But if you are going to read something, I guess I just because I recently looked at it, and it's not TV Exactly. But I still find the the voice of something like Juno really inspiring because, like, so specific. So I would say that, and, and you know, I'm just gonna keep thinking about this question, because it's such a great question. Thank you so much. I had to really think about that. Like, what should you read? Oh, I would say this, I would read moonlight by Barry Jenkins. Oh, such a great beauty of something. You know, that's beautiful. Yeah. So yeah, a lot of light. And what's amazing is all those scripts are actually available. So yeah,

Alex Ferrari 53:21
Yeah, absolutely. They're available online. A lot of them are available on our site, so you could definitely check them out. Julia it's been an absolute pleasure talking to you. It's been so much fun going down down the path with you on your journey and getting an inside look at you know, one of the greatest story telling machines in modern history and and seeing your perspective of the whole thing. So, continued success, and I hope everybody goes out and sees turning red, which is and maybe watches a boy band here there. Who knows. But I appreciate you so much. Thank you for for doing what you do.

Julia Cho 53:54
Oh, thank you for doing what you do. Are you kidding? Yeah, totally. Thank you.

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IFH 565: Inside Creating Top Gun & Writing in Hollywood with Jack Epps Jr.

It is an absolute thrill to have Jack Epps Jr. on the show today. The award-winning writer, USC Cinematic Arts professor and filmmaker is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He’s best known for writing Top Gun, The Secret of My Success, Turner & Hooch, and Anaconda 1997 screenplay

Jack first became involved in making films while doing his undergraduate at Michigan State University. Inspired by a student film festival, Epps made his first film the following semester which became Pig vs. Freaks that was later titled Off Sides.

Top Gun was Epps’ big break. He partnered with Jim Cash who was his screenwriting professor at Michigan State University, to write several projects and Top Gun was one of those screenplays. Top Gun’s success was seismic. It became a box office number one grossing $ 357.1 million on a $ 15 million budget while also stacking several accolades including an Academy Award, Golden Globes, and a number of other international film awards. 

As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be the best in the class, one daring young pilot (Tom Cruise) learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.

Epps is credited for the original screenplay in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick which will be released this November.

Epps shares co-writing credits with Jim Cash and Hans Bauer for the screenplay of the Anaconda adventure horror film series of 1997 and 2004. The first story follows a National Geographic film crew in the Amazon Rainforest that is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who forces them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.

While the first film did not receive critical acclamation, it grossed $136.8 million worldwide against a budget of $45 million.

In the second film, Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, the premise is quite similar. A scientific expedition team of researchers set for an expedition into the Southeast Asian tropical island of Borneo, to search for a sacred flower for which they believe will bring humans to a longer and healthier life, but soon become stalked and hunted by the deadly giant anacondas inhabiting the island.

Here is a clip of Gordon (Morris Chestnut) after being paralyzed from a spider bite, who comes face to face with death.

These are some classics and I couldn’t wait to chat with Jack about his creative journey—from his work as a cinematographer and an assistant cameraman on various local productions, to his love for writing or reviewing romantic comedies films like Viva Rock Vegas, and Sister Act.

Let’s dig in, shall we? Enjoy this conversation with Jack Epps.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:04
I'd like to welcome to the show Jack Epps Jr. How you doing Jack?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01
I'm doing really well. Nice to be here. Thank you!

Alex Ferrari 1:09
Thank you so much for coming on the show. Um, I'm excited to kind of get into the weeds about your career because you've written some of some of the some, you know, classic 80s and 90s films that I grew up with. And again, the audience will get tired of me saying this, but you had an impact on my video store days when I was working at the video store. Great days. Oh, those. Exactly. So all of all of your films and your especially in the 80s and early 90s, all the stuff that you wrote was like I was there moving the boxes, rec recommending them to the customers got me good. So. So let me ask you, how did you how did you get started in the business?

Jack Epps Jr. 5:41
Well, you know, it's one of those sort of long stories in the sense of, I became interested in film as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. I'm from Detroit, Michigan, moved out to California because I just fell in love with movies. And I said, this is what I want to do with my life. I actually came out to California be a director, because I was making short films, had no money, virtually no contacts, and the best way to direct was on paper and started writing. And in through a friend I met at Michigan State Anderson House, his dad knew the producer of Hawaii Five O and said, If we wrote a treatment, he could get it to him. So we actually put together treatment called the capsule kidnapping, sent it to his dad who sent to the Phil ECOC, who sent the the showrunner, who then called us and said, We love this idea. So quickly, I sold it exact. So we sold this script, and and had a Hawaii Five o produced very, very quickly, I mean, and then we worked together for a couple years trying to get other things produced. And we sold a Kojak and things like that, but didn't really move forward a lot. At the same time. I had to pay rent. And so I was because I was a filmmaker. I was actually an assistant camera man. And so doing a lot of work on stuff like that. I actually worked for Orson Welles on the other side of the wind. River, what was that? Like? You know, it was really great because it was there is Orson Welles. In the story. How it happened is my wife was my girlfriend at the time. She was working as a typist. And so she got a call from her temp agents agency and said, Orson Welles needs somebody and she she was in Peoria now to film family. So she goes Orson Welles, I know the name but don't worry, just go meet him. Because I knew the less she would know the more he would like her. And so he hired her. And then I said, he got to get me on this film. You got to get me on this film. So I spent a couple months with Orson and Gary Graver on the piano was great because it's Orson Welles omit really nice. I mean, he didn't throw a temper tantrum. He wasn't like this big. He was just Orson Welles. And there's the guy and you some pitching myself. I said, I cannot believe I'm pulling focus on Orson Welles here.

Alex Ferrari 7:58
That's, that's amazing. And that booming voice that he has,

Jack Epps Jr. 8:01
And the whole persona.

Alex Ferrari 8:03
Oh, my God, that must have been amazing. So yeah, so and everyone listening, when you're starting off as a screenwriter, generally it works out that you write a spec pilot for a television show or a television show, and it gets picked up right away and then you start making lots of money just like yourself, correct?

Jack Epps Jr. 8:20
Absolutely not. What happened is I then my my college screenwriting teacher, Jim Cash had contacted me and said, We should write together. And so Jim and I went back to Michigan to pick up my motorcycle to drive back to California. I looked him up. We sat down at the school union, and we pitched out eight ideas. I didn't think anything work. We said, Thanks, goodbye. I was riding back cross country. And I said, you know, this idea actually works. And Jim and I spent the next two and a half years doing about five different drafts and figure out how to write together long distance because he was in East Lansing and I was in Santa Monica. We wrote a script finally, that I felt was ready to take it to go into the business to let out because I had learned enough through internships and things to know that you really have to enter the business at a high level, the script has to be very, very good read. It's got to be a good story and show off your work as writers and storytellers. And that script was called Izzy and Moe. And we got representation to major agency through a friend who recommended us and it got optioned by Bud Yorkin of Yorkshire and Lear. And so suddenly, we were paid some pretty good option money that may both of us say we should stay at this. So we were lucky that our first spec actually got options.

Alex Ferrari 9:47
That right and again, a lot of in a lot of times when a lot of screenwriters think that just because you get the option, it's an automatic production, and that's not the case. At all, most most option scripts don't get into production is that is that a fair statement?

Jack Epps Jr. 10:00
All right, is that the truth? I mean, it's what it what it does is what it puts it. So yes, no is emo never got made, but Yorkin, who was a European leader could not get it made. And so but what it did is it put us on a spotlight, people knew we were there. And then we did a second script, a second spec script, which was called old gold. And that was a sort of Charmin Chase adventure set in San Francisco, about a fortune 100 looking for lost gold from the Nazis that ended up in San Francisco. And then that got that got bought on an auction. And so we earned good money and he was like, Okay, this is now we're throwing ourselves into it. But that didn't get me

Alex Ferrari 10:46
I've spoken to so many screenwriters over the years and known many during my time in the in the business that sometimes you look at an IMDB filmography, and you're like, oh, They've only done three movies. I'm like, Yeah, but they've been working steadily for a decade. And just because they haven't been produced. I mean, they're still pulling in six figures a year, and working on major projects that just either they're rewriting or polishing or Script doctoring. And don't get don't get made. Is that your experience as well?

Jack Epps Jr. 11:16
Absolutely. And what I learned very quickly is that if a studio has a choice between their idea or your idea, they're always going with their idea. So why not develop their ideas, which they already invested in. And SmartKey has yet been tricked into your idea. You have to you have to make it, you've got to own it, but realize that you're writing for them, and you want to make the producers in the studios happy. So we then started writing an assignment. And we had six unproduced screenplays and then yeah, we did Dick Tracy. For four directors that got shelved wasn't kidding me. We then Simpson Bruckheimer. We actually through Jeff Katzenberg was involved in Dick Tracy because it was actually owned by Universal and Paramount. So as a joint production, they had international and domestic rights. And so Jeff Katzenberg liked our work and wanted to hire us after Dick Tracy and I had a breakfast meeting the famous ADM breakfast meeting with Katzenberg. And he rolled out six ideas of which I thought this really interesting idea be stood out to me. Yeah, based on this school pilots called Top Gun. And I thought, wow, I actually got my private pilot's license at Michigan State, they had a flying club. So I thought, Well, if the movie doesn't get made, I'll get to find a navy jet. So okay.

Alex Ferrari 12:46
It's a win win win,

Jack Epps Jr. 12:48
That one get made. So why would this one get made but flying a navy jet? That's a hard thing to get to do,

Alex Ferrari 12:54
You got to go through, you have to jump through a few hoops to get to that tough life to say the least. So So okay, so the original idea for Top Gun was basically it was Jeff Katzenberg, kind of throughout the like, hey, there's a school pilots figure something out.

Jack Epps Jr. 13:09
Well, actually, it was actually, Jerry Bruckheimer, okay, we found an article in a California magazine. Based on that there was a school and there are these pilots, and they were having fun. There was no story, no characters, but it was a potential world. And so Jerry brought it to, you know, the producer will do product to he was had to deal with Paramount, but Don Simpson and Paramount want to develop the idea. And so for for us, it was like, Okay, we had just finished a Tracy and that was not going into production. And so

Alex Ferrari 13:42
This is at 84-85 for Dick Tracy?

Jack Epps Jr. 13:44
Actually, if Dick Tracy was actually in the early 80s, right, I went in for directors on that project.

Alex Ferrari 13:51
And we'll get to that we'll get to Dick Tracy it a little bit down the line. But so so with Top Gun so you're basically on assignment, essentially you you got it was an open assignment. Jerry came up with the the concept of just the world and you guys came up with Maverick and Iceman and the whole thing. I mean, so Okay, so when you're writing this, it's another assignment. You're like, this is not going to get me both hell, we'll have some fun. And we're getting paid to do it. So you didn't think it was Did you have any idea that it was actually going to go into production? Did you feel something?

Jack Epps Jr. 14:24
Well, so basically, sips and Bruckheimer when I met with him, I said, Look, guys, I don't want to do this unless we can actually get the planes but I really don't want to have these like little CGI is not what it is today, right today. Hold off, but then you could not and so they agreed. We went back to the Pentagon. We got approval by the Pentagon. They gave me a technical adviser but even Pete Pettigrew. I went to doubt the NAS Miramar and I got to fly jets and

Alex Ferrari 14:57
you and you were in the back like you The Oh absolutely. Oh, absolutely.

Jack Epps Jr. 15:01
Yeah, that's amazing. A couple of things happen. One is the f 14. Wow, I fell in love with the plane. I really didn't know about military planes at that time. And I fell in love with it for one or two reasons. One, it looks incredibly cool on the ground. It's like, wow, this thing is just the fastest, most beautiful thing ever designed. And to it had two people flying in it a front seat or in a back seat. And I didn't really know about that. And that gave me a relationship. So I already went, Yes. I don't have to have guys going from plane to going on Maverick are you doing in Qatar? Are you so I can actually have these two people and form a relationship, which gave me a core to develop in the story. So I said, Great. We've got a relationship. But I'm looking for all the guys there are great. Get along. And I'm going for where's the conflict? What am I writing here? I've got to look for the conflict. And then it came to me, like one of those bolts of thunder. Lightning is what if one guy doesn't get along? What happens if you got a guy who sticks out like a sore thumb? What happens to this environment? Maverick is born. So I had the conflict. And then we just start building out the story from there in a sense. And I pitched the DOD and Jerry said, Look, we're gonna do a school movie, but it's kind of a real fight in the end, guys. We're not going to have a school. It's got it. He said, Yeah, like Star Wars at the end. Absolutely. That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna do Star Wars. You know, the big dog fights for real stakes at the end. So I did all this research, Simpson Bruckheimer. Great. I said, Look, guys, you got to leave us alone, just let us go away, we're gonna have to find a story. I can't pitch it to you, you got to trust us. And if you don't want to trust us get somebody else because we just can't go through this development process. We have to find it. And they were great. They said guys go away. Afterwards, they said they will never do that again. So we're at able to just find the story, you know, and that was a hard story to find this set in the school. And I mean, so yeah, it's a school guys flying around. What's the story there? And so for us, that was the big thing, breaking that story, finding what that art was, and who those characters were in the relationships and what the whole, the drama of it was.

Alex Ferrari 17:09
And, and I mean, obviously, the top cons of a classic film, and you know, when I was when I've seen I've seen it a million times. But that whole movie is all about character. It's like, the plot is the plot moves things along, but it is about character so heavily as opposed to like, Sherlock Holmes story, which is all plot and character kind of rides along. It. Would you agree? I mean, this is the Iceman and Maverick and his interest and his father and that, that baggage that he's carrying and, and the conflict between him and Iceman, which is just amazing. And we'll talk about all the stars aligning in a minute, but as far as the character, do you agree with that?

Jack Epps Jr. 17:52
Oh, yeah, I mean, I think that that's why we couldn't pitch it. It's almost unpickable script, because it's like, well, what happens? And it's like, because so much came out of the research, I did about 40 hours worth of interviews with pilots. But first, the Pentagon had insisted in there with me, and they wouldn't talk and I said, Look, you gotta get out. I'm sorry, I got to talk these guys alone. And they know I won't, and then they call the Pentagon. So yeah, leave me alone. And then the guys opened up and you know, learn about their lives and met these guys. So they were inspiring as people. But also Gemini were athletes. So we knew what it meant to be on a team and to and to try to make sure you're, you know, the sense of being, you know, one of the stars on the team, you know, you got to be the best, you know, that's part of what sort of the drive for excellence is. But it's a long way to get to your question. We had in the script shift, since the break ever loved it. They loved this movie, but Paramount said, I don't get it. I don't get it. Of course, it's all these planes in the sky. It's like this. So they said no. And they put it on the shelf. So there's number seven unproduced motion picture and so we thought we had something we believed in and so so did Simpson Bruckheimer but not going to happen. So we want went on to a next project Legal Eagles with Ivan Reitman.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Not a bad, not a bad

Jack Epps Jr. 19:16
project. Not a bad thing. And Ivan was great. And it wasn't until the studio changed. It. You know, the executives and new chickens came in TrackMan cuzzo, who called Simpson Bruckheimer. I said, Guys, we have nothing in the cupboards Do you have anything you want to make? And they pulled the script down and said, Yeah, we got this project we'd like to make and they say go do it.

Alex Ferrari 19:37
That it's just just like that. And then what I find so fascinating about that film specifically is it was a perfect alignment where Jerry and Don where we're coming up they had they had already started building from Flashdance. I think it was in probably a little bit before, but they started to build but they weren't yet. Jerry and they weren't Bruckheimer Simpson company. pletely yet that Top Gun is what took them to the next level. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So you have young producers who are about to explode, they bring in a commercial director who had done one other I think he did what did he What was the other film that he did? Oh, hunger, the hunger. So, vampire so in brought him in, and then this young actor who had been had success with risky business, but yet wasn't Tom Cruise. All these things aligned. And it exploded into this this supernova, essentially. And that movie was a massive for people understood triple net wasn't around at that time. It's a massive hit. And one of the best recruitment tools The Navy has ever added probably still as to this day.

Jack Epps Jr. 20:59
We wrote the movie for Tom, yet we wrote it with him in mind from the very beginning, when we gave the script to Don and Jerry, I said to Don says Jerry, I said, think Tom Cruise when you read this? And and they said Yep, absolutely. And that was the only person that they they went after Tom. Yeah. But Tom, but the ability factors. Part of it was because because of character. You know, Mary is a bit of a jerk. And so he's, he's really arrogant. So you've got to have an actor that you're going to like that you're going to stay with, or else just going to go after this guy. I'm out of here. And so and Tom did that he was the young American, so to speak, and he represented that sort of this bravado and, you know, pushing it at the limit. And, and, and, and they nailed it. They got him and that was in he was great. He actually he understood it. And he's played Maverick for the rest of his career.

Alex Ferrari 21:49
It's such a Top Gun in the car and Top Gun. He said that's well, he developed who Tom Cruise is and Top Gun basically. And he's, I remember some comedians like I love that movie with Tom Cruise with these young cocky white guy. Oh, you mean every movie? Got it? Okay, got it. All right, great. Yeah, I got it. But but but to be fair, though, that is a very slippery slope as an actor and a character to play because you're right. He's arrogant as hell but yet for some reason. You love him. What do you think about Mavericks character? Is it partly how it's written? And obviously how Tom performed it. But I think there there was meat in the script that allowed you to feel empathy towards him. And I think it might be the father baggage that you kind of, because if you don't add that baggage, I don't think he's as there's no empathy there. I don't know. What do you think? Yeah, no, I

Jack Epps Jr. 22:45
think that's all part of the story. And I'm part of it, we made him a second chance character. He was the underdog. Remember, he didn't have he wasn't going first. He had to win. A Cougar had to hand in his wings for him to get in. So he was he was always the underdog. And we tend to root for underdogs. And Iceman, of course, immediately is is a is a great counterpart. And, and that rivalry makes your root for Tom, you want that you want him to stick a nice man's face and you're rooting for him. And and, you know, you also feel for him, you know, he's he wants to do it, right. He's got some stuff. He's got to work out. Hopefully you can work it out. Right. And

Alex Ferrari 23:22
he put but at the end of the day, he's a good guy trying to do good work. And you know, he's trying to be all you can be, as they say,

Jack Epps Jr. 23:31
we've got some things to learn.

Alex Ferrari 23:32
Yeah, no question. And and I mean, how were you excited to know that they were breaking making a sequel?

Jack Epps Jr. 23:37
Yeah, yeah, I was excited. And I was happy that one times involved and Jerry is doing it because Jerry be true to the to the movie. And I know that he'll keep the continuity going with that. And so I think, you know, I'm excited to see it. I've read it. I know, I know what they've done. I can't talk about it, because there's any talk about it, but I think people will like it because it is a continuation.

Alex Ferrari 24:01
It's a true sequel. It's a true sequel. Yeah.

Jack Epps Jr. 24:03
Yeah, it is. It's a continuation. It's it's not just a different movie. It's the characters come back and there's some there's growth and development.

Alex Ferrari 24:10
That's amazing. That's amazing now, so you're ready. Are you worried working to Legal Eagles when before Top Gun gets into production?

Jack Epps Jr. 24:19
Yes. So we went from having seven unproduced screenplays to three films in production in 11 months. Jesus, that's unheard of. It was insane. It was insane. Because suddenly, you have Tompkinson production legalese in production. See for my successes in production,

Alex Ferrari 24:35
she's so so and for people again, that weren't around at the time Legal Eagles will start obviously, Robert Redford, Daryl Hannah and Debra Winger. That was a massive hit. It was and then and then secret of my success, which by the way, personally, one of my favorite 80s films of all time, I watched that. When I was a kid I watched I must have watched that story in that film 100 times because I was I was Michael J. Fox. I wanted it you know, it was During it was during the Wall Street day. So yeah, I wanted to make it in business and all of that kind of stuff. And it was just such a wonderful film. And that was a huge that was a massive hit as well. It was it was Michael J. Fox at the peak of his powers.

Jack Epps Jr. 25:14
Yeah, right after back to feature one. And he was great. I mean, Michael was fabulous. We wrote it for him, we were brought into a rewrite. So basically, it was a screenwriters dream. Frank Price, who was the executive of universal new as well, like, at work? I pitched him an idea. And they said, what if we took that idea and put it into this movie we have wasn't called secret of success, success at that time, something else? And they said, Yeah, sure. So we did a page one and just went through the whole script. But it was great. As they said, We have to start on June 1, because we have Michael J. Fox, and then we have to end by August, something because he's going back to his show, family ties. And, and so they had to shoot what we wrote.

Alex Ferrari 25:56
Oh, so there was no chances to rewrite. So it was perfect for you guys.

Jack Epps Jr. 26:00
Exactly. So we just we just bust through it had a great time. And really, you know, no, you don't you write from Michael J. Fox gives you a lot of fun in the script. And we also wanted to not demonize business as it always is. But as you were saying, people with ambition, and that character, I have a you know, coming to want to make his place in the world. And also, I wanted to do a, I've always wanted to be a big Billy Wilder fan, and wanted to do a, you know, a character who's assuming an identity. So a guy who's playing two identities, I always want to work that and that's really difficult to write that and, and but it was fun. There was a lot of fun to do it. And we were really pleased with the outcome. And Herb Ross, who was the director was a Broadway director, so he liked the words. He wasn't one of your Broadway direct, you direct the words and he wasn't playing with him and was really just going for it. And I thought I thought the movie really worked out well.

Alex Ferrari 26:57
Now with those three films, I mean, it's kind of unheard of for a screenwriting team, a writer screenwriters in general to have that many hits back to back to back in such short amount of time as well. How did the town treat you? I mean, after top gonna loan? I mean, I'm sure your phone was ringing off the hook at that

Jack Epps Jr. 27:15
point. Well, in my as my agent would say, at that time, don't ask they're not available.

Alex Ferrari 27:22
Everybody was reaching out to you at that point. It was you were the belle of the ball, as I like to say,

Jack Epps Jr. 27:26
right, it was that stuff. And because we knew Katzenberg and liked him. We worked at Disney worked on SR act. You know, he did a major rewrite on that. Turner and Hooch You know, Jim, Jim didn't want to write Topcat originally, because he didn't like planes, like flying planes. So he had a phobia. I said, don't worry about it. We'll do it. So he did it for me. And then he wanted to do Turner and Hooch because it's a, you know, he's has dogs. He's like four dogs, and I want to write a dog movie. i Okay, I owe you one. So we sort of traded off it, you know, things just came our way. And so it was it was it was fun. It was different. Because we were unknown people left us alone. And and the more unknown, you got the more of a looking over your shoulder. And that was a very different experience in terms of just how that could change a little bit.

Alex Ferrari 28:15
And for people listening, especially young screenwriters coming up, I mean, yeah, you had a lot of success in a short amount of time, but you had been putting in the years of work. Prior to that, like you said there was seven unpaid or six unproduced screenplays. Yeah, you had representation? Yeah, you'd optioned a few things. But you would have been, it's not like you just woke up one morning and like, Oh, here's Top Gun, like it took you years to get to that place. And I think screenwriters young screenwriters need to understand that you've got to put in the work, and it's not gonna happen overnight.

Jack Epps Jr. 28:45
I think we were actually fortunate that we didn't get our first movies produced, I think we would have grown as writers. No, you're right. You're right. I think we have tapped ourselves in the back and say how brilliant we were. And we would have been very happy at that level. And, you know, first movers are fine, they're good reads. But we had to grow. And we had to work harder and dig deeper, to basically teach ourselves how, you know, just because they were trying to figure out how does this thing work, and to basically, and the more and more we got to character was was really, really the breakthrough, you know, telling stories about people lives in crisis. You know, rewriting is a big part of what Jim and I did together. And it you know, we just realized you had to dig in. I mean, like I said, for Dick Tracy, we went through four directors, and for each director, we did two drafts

Alex Ferrari 29:33
now, so let's jump into Dick Tracy really quickly. So I remember 9090 Very well, it was right smack in the middle of my video store days. So I was it was in the heat and that was Dick Tracy, I think and please correct me wrong. This is my assumption. Dick Tracy got greenlit and got fast tracked into production after Batman came out in 89. Because that kind of just changed. It just changed the landscape. All of a sudden superhero movies. Were it because Prior to Batman for people not understanding because now every week there's a new Batman or Superman or Marvel film coming out, but there was a time there was a time where there was one maybe and it took every two, three years before you'd get orders something like that. Before Batman, there was Superman and Superman had pretty much petered off after Donner left. So when Batman came out, which was a absolute insane, massive hit, Dick Tracy showed up and then Dick Tracy, I, you know, watching it, I mean, it had Danny Elfman music, it had a lot of tonality. From Batman, it was a dark Dick Tracy was, you know, that the world was so it was that way just so beautifully constructed. And the colors were so vibrant, and the PErforM I mean, you had to look at a cast, but Donna ALPA Chino will enforce I am Warren Beatty, it's just amazing. Was Am I Am I correct in saying that? That was the reason why I got fast tracked?

Jack Epps Jr. 30:56
Yeah, I think so. I think it was the, at that point, looking for something to the big superhero type movie like that, and it was ready to go. The script is ready. And in Warren, people saw him as the only that was one of the problems getting that movie made is that Warren was who everybody saw is the Tracy. There's nobody else. And that becomes a problem because we only make it with Warren. And when we start we first started the script with John Landis, who for my business would have been probably the most interesting, wacky, crazy. Tracy. John had that terrible Twilight Zone accident. He exited. Then we got Walter Hill, who was who taught me a lot. Walter was a screenwriter editor. Oh, a good director. Yeah. And he basically taught us a lot. He was funny, because we're a little arrogant, you know, you know, we've been doing really well. And Walter SS do a fix on the script. And we push back to No, we don't want to do this. And he said, Well, okay, I'll do it. I'll write it, don't worry about it. And we went, Oh, hold on a second here. You know, that's not a bad idea. We'll do it. Because you don't want to direct your writing. You want to stay the writer. So we said, oh, I think I understand what you mean. So you know, Walter taught us a lot how to hang in the game, and also how to focus the characters. Well, I mean, you know, and then, Walter, the, as I understand the story, you talked to Warren and Warren said, Can I watch the dailies? And Walter said, No, I never let actors walk daily watch dailies. And Warren said, Thank you, God. Movie crashes, Dick Benjamin comes on to do a cheap version, Dick Tracy. We cut the script down for budget. That doesn't happen. And then Warren ends up after a couple years, languishing, walking over to Paramount and getting the rights and moving the rights to Disney. And then once he's on board, he's driving I taught him we met, you know, more and more. I went met and talked and he's a good director, you know, I mean, so he was should I direct this? I said, Absolutely. You know, we're doing better than you.

Alex Ferrari 32:55
Yeah. And it was it was, I think people wanted it to be the next Batman and I don't, but it wasn't it was a hit. It didn't didn't do good business, right.

Jack Epps Jr. 33:04
It could business it wasn't quite what everyone wanted it to be. It didn't it didn't get the debt super numbers in there. There was to me, there was a lot of things crammed into that movie. Like me, it's even Stephen Sondheim songs. You can't complain about that. But they took up a lot of space. A bit of a musical. You know, Madonna's done. Yeah, I'm surprised no one's done. Dick Tracy, the musical so far since it would work?

Alex Ferrari 33:30
Yeah, Madonna was at the height of her powers as well. So they had to put there has to be a couple of you know, song and dance numbers Madonna, and it has, that's why we're hiring her. So and that's another thing that screenwriters and filmmakers sometimes don't understand is that there's there's just politics involved here. There's a lot of politics involved. And there's a lot of not only egos, but you know, agendas that need to be cramped like you said a lot of things were crammed in because there was so much pressure on that film I'm surprised that it did as well as it did because of the amount of pressure you they were they were hoping for another Batman and that's like that's you know, lightning in a bottle that doesn't happen very often. And it's still it was still good enough that it did do good business but obviously didn't you know break out into what what Batman was but it still holds up very well today. I watched it the other day it was it still holds up very well.

Jack Epps Jr. 34:21
Or the look is great. Richard silver did amazing art direction let's say the colors and Warren was working to create a sort of a comic book structure if you look at the setups are almost like it's by panels comic panel. He was trying to do that specifically. And you know, you've got great roles with with Dustin Hoffman doing mumble Oh, yeah.

Alex Ferrari 34:38
Forgot definitely, of course.

Jack Epps Jr. 34:40
Yeah. No, he's all in everybody come in and do this little stuff.

Alex Ferrari 34:44
Like, exactly. He's just like, hey, can you just come down to do this character for us, please. But when you're Warren Beatty, you could do things like that? Not but I have to ask you though. How did you convert or adapt a comic strip to Twitter? feature film. I mean, it's not like a comic book, if I'm not mistaken. Right? It was mostly comic strips right? There wasn't like this all comic strip was just comic strips like you would read in the Sunday paper. So how do you take that and adapt it into a major motion picture?

Jack Epps Jr. 35:14
I'm a big believer in research. I did a lot of research on Top Gun secret success. We had a technical adviser from business so I could ask him questions about business because I didn't really I didn't want to make stuff up. I wanted to, you know, to, so I could put totally could feel like it's based on something for Nick Tracy. I asked, universal Can you get me all the comic strips that Chester Gould wrote? Like, can you get them and they got me from 1932 The first one Oh, all the way up into the mid 50s. So I sat down and read it like a book. I just literally read every comic strip. And I felt I could I want to understand Chester Gould's writing style, his intention, his storytelling, I want to know his characters. Because I had to be true to this. And I was, I was not the fan on the strip the gym was but I became a huge fan of Chester Gould, the creator, because He created all these wonderful characters. And I fell in love with characters, all that all his ghouls characters, and my favorite being the blank. I just thought the blank was so interesting. So it's like, okay, we're going to construct your own story, because I can't do none of the strip stories at work, but I can take the characters. And at the very beginning, John Landis said he wants to set around big boy Caprice in the roaring 30s, so to speak, 20s 30s. And so that was our original walking orders. That big boy Caprice at the center of the story, so we had to figure out okay, what can we do? And then once I found the blank, I said, Okay, now I've got a character I love. Let's figure out what the story is. And we and we started building that out with the blank at the center of the mystery. And then telling basically, you know, a basically prohibition style type story, which is sort of funny, those tropes and reach out and do those things.

Alex Ferrari 36:52
And the funny thing is now that, you know, Dick Tracy, always just speaking to his watch, and now we speak it to our

Jack Epps Jr. 37:00
exact Yeah, exactly.

Alex Ferrari 37:02
It was pretty rare. It's taken. I think that was even part of the Apple ad campaign. They put a little bit of Dick Tracy in there, I think was even the Warren shot of him talking into it as part of the that's part of the ads. Now, you when you did Legal Eagles, you worked with Ivan Reitman, who's, you know, a legend in our business? What was it like working with Ivan and Ivan right after ghostbuster. So he was he was on fire and Fago as they say,

Jack Epps Jr. 37:31
Well, part of that was that our agent was frustrated too, that we didn't get anything made. We didn't get Top Gun produce. So he said, Look, I'm gonna put you in. I'm gonna put you with Ivan Reitman, because they'll make anything he wants to make. At that point, Ivan was the hottest director in the world. And so he had this amuse his idea. He wanted to do a thing about the art world, and why to do sort of a romantic comedy set in the art world and so is up for us to once again, figure out you know, what's the story? Who are the people? You know, it's like, okay, that's the assignment. Now, let's go figure out what it is. So again, I went to New York, went to the pace gallery, interviewed people, you know, just to figure out the environment of building building out the story. He did originally this this is one of the funny things originally he wanted to take the characters from Tootsie, the Dustin Hoffman Bill Murray characters and and that was the original cast idea, and wanted to put them build a movie around those guys. A whole different story, but that's what we got the district attorney and then we got the, you know, the whole the fleabag sort of guy, which gives us the relationship that I've been wanting to explore. Well, he said he we had half a script, he said, Look, I can't wait. I gotta send it to these guys. They won't sit around. Wait, I've been to half a script notes. Give it to me now. So yes, sir. You know, exactly half a script. They said to Dustin Well, Warren had just, you know, talked him into doing what's that crazy movie where you know, that horrible film?

Alex Ferrari 38:54
Which one? Oh, God.

Jack Epps Jr. 38:57
Oh, it star. It's just all right. The Tyson needs to do a star. So yes. So Dustin was available. A Bill Murray said I hate attorneys. I'll never play an attorney in my life. So suddenly, that idea crash. We've got half the script. So either goes, what about a romantic comedy with Robert Redford? You think you could do that? I said, Yeah, we can do that. I can do that. So we got to fly in the Columbia plane out to St. George, Utah, meet with Bob hung out for a couple hours into that world. And, you know, found out that he was, you know, sort of self deprecating guy and make jokes about himself sort of clumsiness, which we Yeah, exactly, really, and, and we see that and said, Well, Bob, we would love to make that as part of the character, which we did. We wrote it with that sort of character. Although when it came to set, he wasn't quite thrilled to play that character. So we got a couple beats of him, you know, dancing to singing in the rain in his apartment chewing on ice cream, so we got a couple of beats out of them. They're sort of out of character, but not as far as we want to go.

Alex Ferrari 40:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. Now with the thing about Legal Eagles is in those kinds of films. I remember them so clearly where it's a romantic comedy, but there is act, there's action and there's like thriller esque things in like, there's danger. There's real danger. I like remember, like movies like stakeout. And those kinds of that kind of time period. There were a lot. They don't make these films anymore. They're not really made anymore. And they're so wonderful.

Jack Epps Jr. 40:41
Yeah, they are wonderful. I mean, they get made us you can make a thriller like that, right. Hey, you can cope with a good idea, your thriller but but romantic comedies Gemini call them charming Chase movies, right? We were really influenced by North by Northwest in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks started, Preston Sturges. And then these sort of big romantic comedies were something that we did well. But now they don't make those anymore, and they sort of fell out of fashion. You know, a lot, I have to do with the Apatow comedy, and how that came in and changed the whole comic tone. And it just, they became dated, in a sense, I think that's why they've ended up on lifetime. And you don't see those movies anymore. It's just it's it's sort of comedy changes a lot. And in the comedy and and so those will be just sort of went away. I mean, you can still do the biggest action movies like that you should do them in action, and create that the fun. I mean, I think it's Tom's done Mission Impossible. He created that sense of that.

Alex Ferrari 41:41
But those are those but those are mostly action with some humor, as opposed to romantic comedy with some some really thriller esque elements and real danger elements. But it is a romantic comedy. But yeah, action films with humor. I mean, that goes yeah, even bit Beverly Hills Cop, you can argue is it's more of a comedy than it is an action film, but it's pretty even keel as far as thriller and comedy. It goes. Without question. Now, when do you when you start working on a script Do you outline?

Jack Epps Jr. 42:17
Well, you know, the greatest, the greatest piece of advice I got was from a writer I was doing an internship on a movie called Hearts of the West was Jeff Bridges. And the writer was really great. I Tony, Bill gave me the job. I have six months, three months of pre production, three months of production, which really showed me what a movie is. Not not a screenplay. But here's what movies are. And Rob Thompson gave me a piece of advice. I was talking about how you know how he does scripts and all this stuff. And he said, I used the card method. I said, What? Yeah, I use index cards, I break each scene into an index card. And, and that was like a light bulb within on my on my head and changed my life. Because from that moment on, I've been using index cards. So I, I beat out a story, not an outline, because an outline to me. I want I don't start on page one, I don't start the first scene, I start with scenes I like to see. So what's what is the scene I like to see. And then I'm going to look at that scene, it might be a middle scene might be the ending scene. And so I don't work in any linear map method, I basically start to visualize how I see the movie and start to fill in the pieces. And for me, that allows and I also have to see my movie, if I'm doing an outline, it's I'm looking at one page, what's on page four, or five. So by laying it out in a big table, and I married the right woman, she allowed me to have the dining room table for 20 years filled with guards. Wait the small table. And I basically I'd have i movies about 55 cards, something like that. But I go through literally hundreds of them trying to figure out the movie and I replay them. And I use colored cards to code relationships. So the main characters, the white card, and then different colored cards for the relationships to show. So I can track my relationships and subplots through the movie. But I'm able then to read them in columns and see my movie in one glance, I can sit down and I can show before I work in a scene, I can get the beats the character development, and I got a hole here, I can work on the hole and fix the hole. And I also can change cards around it will because there's no it takes a couple seconds to write a new card. There's there's no like resistance to making a change. Right? And when I feel I'm ready, I've got it, then I've got something to write.

Alex Ferrari 44:26
Do you do you start with the scenes or plot? Or do you start with the character first?

Jack Epps Jr. 44:33
Question. The biggest two things I'm looking for is one, what's the story? What's this about? What's the movie? What's the essence of it? And two, I'm always looking for where's the conflict in the story? Because I learned early on you write the conflict. I don't have the conflict. I've got nothing to write. So and then I'm looking for who lives in this world. Who is the person what is their story? What do they want? What are they trying to achieve? What's what I'm looking for? What are they pushing against what's the antagonistic force? What's the opposition? So I'm trying to find whose story it is. I'm looking for major relationships. So I'm looking to build all these things and understand it before I start going to cards. So I have to pretty much know whose movie it is and what I'm trying to tell. And, and that's something that I work out well in advance of beginning to plot the movie. Now, I pretty much know the story. It is.

Alex Ferrari 45:24
Gotcha, gotcha. Now, another film that you did in that time period, which I literally just watched with my daughters, who are young, Turner and Hooch. And I am sorry, I'm

Jack Epps Jr. 45:37
sorry. I always apologize, because I held back, show it to my kids until they were like, a 12 and 13. So to break their hearts,

Alex Ferrari 45:47
it was like, so we watched it. And that was the other thing, dude, like, by the way, spoiler alert, something happens at the end. But but the thing is, but the thing about that is that they were concerned about the ending when it was happening, because they were just like, Oh my God, oh, my God, is he is he? Yeah, but the way you were able to just bring in that light at the end with the puppies was absolutely brilliant, because I hadn't seen it. Since my video store days, I really hadn't watched in a long time. You know, like, sat down and watched it all the way through. And my wife and I both were just looking at like this so much. And Tom Hanks in the 80s was just so brilliant. And that huge. Oh my god, that dog was remarkable. How would it turn around who show up? Because I know Tom. Tom loves to make jokes about these like, Yeah, I did the doc movie. I don't know why did the duck. But he always jokes about it in interviews.

Jack Epps Jr. 46:41
No, no. All the time. Good. Saves money except his academy word Philadelphia. Yeah. That's right. Better accurate. Exactly. I know. I know. Well, it was it was once again, we're working with Disney and Katzenberg, these things go into production. And they literally didn't have things for Tom to play, Tom, you know, because what we what we became known as the guys to come in and bring character to it. Bring story. We're really good. We're good at fixing things. Like I can read the script and say, Okay, I like this. But this, here's what it needs to make it a movie. And so that was they had the dog but we just double down on the world's messiest dog, and we double down on Tom being the world's cleanest guy, and letting that sort of OCD character sort of, you know, be a problem for him and creating a love story and creating a relationship in there. So

Alex Ferrari 47:29
conflict, a conflict was in there just from the beginning.

Jack Epps Jr. 47:32
Right? Absolutely. And, and also, and making you fall in love with hooch is just this grisly, the worst thing that could happen to the character is the best thing to happen in the character. And what was so much fun about that project is that Tom was involved in development. So I would meet with the director and Tom would be there, and he'd be thrown out lines, I'll be writing all these lines out. Thank you. No doubt, you know. And the thing about Tom Hanks, he is who you think he is. He's a remarkable guy. And great to work with as generous as can be. And it was just such a pleasure to have somebody like that in a development meeting, just just helping develop the character because he and his concern was his relationship with OCE, he wanted to make sure that relationship was solid, because that's the core of the movie. And and we worked on that.

Alex Ferrari 48:17
Now the one of the one thing I really think is a learning moment here in the in the in the conversation is conflict, and how perfectly you know, Turner and Hooch were the conflict was self evident. There's no working for the conflict, like you just put two forces on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. And you just threw them together in a room. And it writes itself almost because of that. And I think that is something that screenwriters writing screenplays now are in their stories. I've read so many screenplays, and you know, you're doing coverage and things like that, where the conflict is almost forced, like, it's like, I don't buy that, like, oh, that there's no motivation there. You know, like, the bad guy has this motivation. And the good guy has this motivation. And it's like, really like convoluted. But the core of conflict from just something as simple as Turner and Hooch. It's built in. And I think as you if you're writing a story, having two characters who are just completely on two opposite sides of the spectrum, without any major details, but it's it's very basic, I'm clean, you're dirty. Oh, my God, we've got to live together. It's the odd couple with a dog and a guy is actually do we agree with that?

Jack Epps Jr. 49:32
Oh, absolutely. And it's one thing I learned early in, you know, figuring out how to write and what's what screenplays are about, is using relationships to produce conflict. And I'm a big believer in having multiple layers of conflict. I call them opposition forces. I want to make sure that my characters have a lot of opposition. And no matter where they turn throughout the story, there's a point of opposition there. And there are different degrees. It's not like it has to be everything's huge. It doesn't matter the main character is going on a journey. And the journey is fraught with challenges of different degrees. And what that character is is trying to do is get what they want, but ultimately what they need at the end and in the process trying to get what they want, they bump into opposition characters and opposition situations, which, which helps define the character because we see who is this character? Who is this person? Why do we root for them? What do we want? Are they you know, what's their growth arc through the story, and by using plot and relationship to help tell the story and create conflict. It allows me to explore the character from from multiple points of view, and allows a character to express themselves to different people in different ways depending upon the relationship and a lot and then I'm a big believer in in you don't want to rely on plot all the time. It's just plot. Because what I say is curiosity. Oh, what's gonna happen but emotion is character. And character is about relationships. It's not no no character exist by themselves. I mean, you know, a castaway. They had to create Wilson, because he needed somebody to relate to so what does he do? He creates this character Wilson, who I don't know about you, but Wilson falls off.

Alex Ferrari 51:13
Oh my god. Oh my god, volleyball. Oh my god. It's a volleyball.

Jack Epps Jr. 51:17
Used emotion to it. I'm going Wilson though.

Alex Ferrari 51:21
And you're like I'm Why am I crying for damn volleyball? Like, what? If that's the brilliance of Tom Hanks. That's the brilliance of Bob Zemeckis. It's just the built brilliance of all of that. I mean, that. I mean, how he did not win the Oscar for that before. She's it's great. It's, it's remarkable. And I have to also ask you another great 90 film that you made Anaconda. I mean, where did that come from? The giant snake movie. It's like, it's pretty sharp, NATO. And it's not nearly as bad, by the way. So please, I'm not I'm not comparing them. But the big fun, there's so much fun. There's so much fun. It's fun. But Anaconda. I remember when it showed up. And we're like, Well, this is genius. I mean, this is like, why hasn't? Why hasn't there been a giant snake? Where did that come from?

Jack Epps Jr. 52:09
You know, it was once again, the agents call and said, By the way, you know, Sony is looking for rewriting this. They said, Yeah, you know, whatever, you know, so we just sort of dropped in our laps. And it was a very interesting, it's very different than any other film we've done yet is there, all the CGI was already being done. So the graphics were already being worked on. So we could not change the basic graphic attacks of the snake. But the story from our point of view didn't work, the characters didn't work, there was no antagonist in the movie. And so our job was to basically rethink the story of the characters. So we came on board and recreated, who the characters were all new story of why they're going up to the Amazon, what was happening, all the relationships and people, we created all of that material, and had to weave it around all the CGI effects.

Alex Ferrari 53:02
It's because the attacks were already that's when you have your cards up on the board, like, yeah, these are the 10. We got to we got to navigate this.

Jack Epps Jr. 53:11
We got to make those things happen. So we had to create new characters, and new relationships and new problems and different characters being caught by obviously, because that's not a problem because it hadn't been cast yet. And so that was sort of a fun thing to do. And it's just sort of fun to you know, to kill people. The way I read

Alex Ferrari 53:33
is, yeah, it's Yeah, it is. There's a bit of humor in it, but it is definitely not your typical, you know, as far as your filmography is concerned, it's definitely not secret of my success.

Jack Epps Jr. 53:43
It is yeah, but I'll tell you, it gets from residuals, I can see how many people watch it and it's still one of the most watched movies. So that it was actually during the pandemic. It was a top 10 of Netflix for one week. I was going through my list. Yeah, I'm going down. Oh, what's the top 10 ago? What? Anaconda is number nine for the week. Okay, so that's like

Alex Ferrari 54:02
23 years old. How is that?

Jack Epps Jr. 54:05
Well, it's cast I didn't have any to do with casting. The casting is

Alex Ferrari 54:08
remarkable. Oh, yeah. Ice Cube JLo JLo

Jack Epps Jr. 54:11
Ice Cube. I got to beat Ice Cube years later. And I said by the way, I'm the guy who stuck you in that swamp with the camera. He goes oh, man, he did that.

Alex Ferrari 54:21
He did okay. He did. He did okay. He did well, he did fine. Now one thing you you've said a lot of that you do a lot of rewriting and you worked on on you know massive hits like Sister Act and diehard three and now that I know that you had a hand in diehard three. It makes sense because there's a lot of my two favorite diehards is diehard one and diehard three with four coming up and then two is the last one and I don't even consider any of the other ones. But three was such a wonderful buddy and talk about conflict. I mean, Sam Jackson and John McClement and Bruce on that was great. How do you approach rewriting a script? Because you've done it so often in your life and you have also have a book, called screenwriting is rewriting. So I'm sure you have a couple things to say about that.

Jack Epps Jr. 55:11
Well, you know, rewriting is the key, every writer is going to tell you that, in screenwriting is rewriting is where the title came from. Because you have to be willing to dive in, you've got to be willing to take notes. And you know, we become very precious with our material. We don't want to, we don't want to, you know, make changes. But when you're a professional writer, and the studio tells you, here's what we want, you can't you can argue and get thrown off the movie, that's not going to help you. Or you can stay there and try to protect the movie. And that's, that's what basically my approach is, let me work with and not everybody's an idiot. Let me work with the best I can let me work with their ideas. And the key is trying to figure out not just the specific notes, but what's what are the notes saying in general, and trying to work on the bigger notes, which is the response you're getting from from people. We always were pretty lucky that took the notes we got were brought to one, we're never huge. The biggest note we ever got was John Landis. When we do the first draft of Dick Tracy, we didn't put Jr into the movie. And his first note was Where's Jr. Tracy? We went, Oh, yeah, right. Okay, we have a junior Tracy, in which we had to actually start all over again, because that's the core relationship of the movie. So suddenly, we can't just what you can't do in writing is just plug things in, you have to realize that there's a cause and effect of everything in the screenplay. So if you put something in this scene, it's going to relate to scenes later. And part of that is realizing the way the puzzle fits together and the way that everything sort of works. So we're always approaching, I'm always approaching rewriting, as, you know, while I'm trying to figure out what the assignment is, to figuring out what the notes are, three, getting a game plan, I'm going to address this in a certain way, I'm just not gonna have at it. As a professional writer, I'm trying to save every bit of work I can. So I don't want to rewrite the whole script I love people throw the baby out, and they start all over again. No, I'm gonna try to preserve everything I can, and try to weave it in the new elements into this existing story if I can, but also, I've had words changed all the time. So I'm not precious, super precious on things. I'm only precious on things I know the story has to have. So what's the heartbeat of this story? What's the core emotional moment of this movie about? How does the audience relate to this movie, I'm not going to give that up. Because that does get damaged story. So rewriting is about figuring out what's a game plan and then going at it my approach is to do a series of passes, not to try to do everything at once I like to do character. First, let's make sure we get this character story. Really well told we know who this character is. I like to know what the theme is. And then I thematic balance, I want to make sure that I understand the plot elements are not only telling a good story, but they're helping reveal the character. And this is really important plot reveals character, how our character responds to the plot. Problem is what tells us a lot about the character. And so using my storytelling techniques to tell a story about a life in crisis is what I like to say movies are about lives in crisis. So is my character in crisis is the crisis substantial is enough to motorhome movie.

Alex Ferrari 58:32
Right, exactly. And well, let me ask you a question, though, when you're working on projects, like SR act, and diehard three, I know a lot of a lot of screenwriters don't understand why some people get credit and while others don't, you know, Lee, you know, technically on their name on it, how does that work? And can you explain a little how the DG that the BGA kind of, you know, police's, that situation. Sure. Well, the

Jack Epps Jr. 58:56
WTA was founded basically, for to to award credits, that's what went on strike for because in the 30s, you know, the studios would give credits to their brother in law and whoever it was, and so writers had no say in what how they were credited, and that's what the original one of the original strikes was for. So the DGA, WGI handles all of the credit determination. There's a a anonymous arbitration panel that is convened, and they basically read the materials and there's rules that the guild is laid down and how credit is determined whether story credit screenplay credit written by credit the different layers of different different credit and depending upon the work that you've done on the script depends upon what credit you deserve

Alex Ferrari 59:43
so it so that all right so that makes perfect sense because obviously Sister Act had and diehard three both have a lot of your touches, I can sense a spirit

Jack Epps Jr. 59:53
is there Yeah, they definitely do and sister acts as sort of a sore point with me because we were advised not to see credit because The movie was a disaster on the set.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:13
And, and I always felt bad about that, because I really liked the script. And so then of course, we went to well, you know, but we went to the premiere and I went like, Well, that was unfortunate because it there's a lot on Gemini in that movie, and we we feel a kinship to it. But you know, that's when they got away. So we're glad that we could basically put so much into it. It

Alex Ferrari 1:00:34
was it was it was there. I didn't I never heard that. I mean, I think I might have heard something in regards to the being a disaster onset and in nobody I knew no one was expecting subtract to be a monster hit.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:00:46
No, no, but I think any. Right and then from the first I was sitting at premiere for the first note, I went on it. And it was, it was not read for whipping Whoopi Goldberg. Originally, she was at Les cast, who was the winner for I'm trying to think of the actress to Broadway actress. I can't think of right now.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:08
Okay. Oh, she did. She did other movies. Yeah, yeah.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:12
I can look it up.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:14
Because now I'm fascinated because I cannot see Sister Act with anybody else other than the will be called her.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:18
No, no, she was the perfect cast. Absolutely. She was a perfect cast. That Midler.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:24
Oh, that myth. That would have been an interesting Sister Act. It wouldn't have been the same by any stretch. No, but it would have been interesting.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:01:33
Yeah, that was for bet Midler. And she didn't want to do what she said about two rows in front of me at the premiere. And I could tell that she slouched I think she even knew Oh, I you know, but what the was the perfect cast? Yeah, I think I think we bet I think she was in a good job. She's a talented actress, it would have been funny, but what the elevated that movie and made into what it was, what it is. And I think that was a brilliant casting that made it as a standout film and still is.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:57
And where can people find your book screenwriting is, is rewriting.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:02
It's on Amazon,

Alex Ferrari 1:02:03
it's on Amazon. And you run and you run it basically, because you want to help screenwriters, I wanted to kind of help them in that kind of process. Because rewriting it's hard, especially when you're not a professional writer, and you're like, become precious, and like, I can't do this word. And I know Stephen King's, like, just kill your babies.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:02:20
Well, it is you have to let go and letting go is really hard. And also how to approach it is hard. Because people get overwhelmed by notes, they get overwhelmed. They don't want to do it. They tend to take it personally, they tend to feel they've lost. You know, part of things about being a writer is the creative, creative people, we have a lot of insecurities, we there's a lot of imposter syndrome. And so now you're rewriting Oh, they found me out, and all this sort of stuff. And it's important for writers to know you're not alone. All writers virtually feel that. And that what you have to realize it's a process and that scripts don't get, you know, oh, I've written something. It's brilliant. Well, maybe there's some brilliance in there. But right now you got to get to work and make it into a movie. And be willing to let go of your darlings. And and realize that notes and feedback are what help you to write a better script. But my book is about how to approach it. How do you approach a rewrite, and it's not easy. And I tell you that you get 100 screenwriters in a room together, they all do it differently. So there's no one way to do it. This, this book presents My Way, which is really about organizing, I believe that you organize a rewrite and prepare for a rewrite. If you organize it, then all the sort of the right call the circle confusion of these notes, what should I do? Where's the answer? I don't know I'm doing it, you're gonna find me out. If you start to put it on paper and you start to organize it into categories, character plot, theme, scene structures, you know, just relationships, if you start to break those notes down and then address the notes that you're going to the most important for you. Oh, okay. These are the ones that start first to lay this thing out. It will get better over time, if you're willing to give yourself time which it's, it's, you know, it's the process, not the product. And that's where we're young writers have had, they want the product. And I can tell you that what was what the advantage of Gemini having seven unproduced screenplays is it became the process. We didn't believe there was a product

Alex Ferrari 1:04:24
right? Apparently our career is just gonna be writing stuff that never gets made.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:04:28
And there are guys who have as you say, you've earned a good living and never gotten a single thing made right. But are super talented writers. Absolutely talented. And there's no good reason that and my favorite script is never got produced. And it just Well, there it goes. That's just how it happened yet got close, got close and never got got done.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:47
I've read I've read script by by scripts by screenwriters that I'm like, This is awesome. This shoulder masker like this. This is amazing. This is remarkable. And there's tons of those scripts scattered on shelves and how Would from decades and decades, I remember when Billy went back and got the body guard and Unforgiven, out of the archives, and they brought it back out and look at turn into two hits, there's always these two. So it's about not only the talent, and the skill, but luck being at the right place at the right time.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:05:18
There's a lot of luck, but I also think it's staying with it. Right? Just you know, Damien Chazelle, said he had he had no the plan, you know, there's only a plan. And that's it. If you're in for it, you're in for it. Which means that you've got to be willing to dive in, do the hard work that has to be done. I also any writer listening to this, find yourself a writers group. Don't be out there. There. No matter where you are, what city you're in, there are people doing what you're, what you're doing, find them get together, give each other feedback, you're writing support group, it helps, it helps to get feedback. Secondly, you need people just to help keep you in the game. And realize that you will get stronger, the more you stay at it. And if you want to become a better writer, learn to be a rewriter because that's where you get stronger, because it teaches you how to be a better writer, because what you find out is I want to rewrite, so I'm gonna make sure I have all this shit down right from the beginning, so that I don't have to do this next time. So I'm gonna make sure my characters have a really good story. They have a really good strong one. I'm gonna make sure that I have great opposition in my story that I understand, you know, what is what is driving this movie and what the emotional stake is for the reader in the audience. I mean, those things you've got to have.

Alex Ferrari 1:06:35
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:06:41
Chinatown. Robert Towne who I basically interviewed my book, which was great talking about his rewriting process, and I think it really was because everybody's different and but Robert, it's he's really opens up and he's honest guy. It's, it's really amazing. I think that's a great script. And not on old script, but I love it is the apartment. Yep. Oh, yes. Come up a couple times here. Yeah. And I say that because to me, that script had a huge influence and Gemini because the character development, the storytelling, the emotion of it, Billy Wilder and Aiello, diamond are amazing. Just amazing screenwriters. You and I don't, it's always hard to say what is that other one? I'll tell you what's a good one to read? Okay. Read go look for the first draft of goodwill. Honey. Not not the one that got produced? Yeah, go read the first draft, or the first draft of Back to the Future? Hmm. Okay. Because what you see there are two scripts that that don't work too well, they got some real problems, especially back to future. And then you see what they ended up doing through a series of rewrites and needs. It teaches you that, that those guys you know, they didn't hit the ball of the park in the first swing? You know, they barely got the first base. And and it's it's I think the port is read scripts and didn't work. But the movies did because it shows you okay, they really work this they took the idea and and built it out. And they see what works. Oh, I see why this movie works. Now of course. Yeah. How could why were they it seems obviously to have those elements that they weren't there. And that the back the future off? You know, it is the the ending takes place. They had to get to a nuclear power plant to power the car back to get back to the future. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So it's this whole big thing that goes through this news. There was no clock tower. But But universal said, Guys, we don't have the funds for this. We can't do this. You got to do we got to do it on the standard lot. So they looked at the clock tower, and they said, alright, well, we'll have lightning hit the clock tower. You can't imagine the movie without it. I know that but he wasn't there. And they basically, you know, they just they just were okay, here's how we made it work.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:01
And it gives us hope. When you read when you read scripts like that gives us hope as screenwriters and filmmakers. You're like, look, they look like geniuses. And they are in many ways, but they don't not everyone hits it out. Like no one comes out of the womb, and writes the great American novel or the great American screenplay. It takes work, and even the best ones. I remember Casa Blanca, they were writing it on the on the set,

Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:23
writing on the set. Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 1:09:25
And it's one of the best screenplays ever written. And it's like they were just trying to figure it out. You know, what looks like genius to us was some some screenwriters in there going, I don't know how we're gonna get to next.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:09:37
You know, I asked Robert Towne. I said, Does it ever get easier? And he said, eff No, no, and he wrote to me is one of the great screenwriters of all time and Robert, you've written all these great things is never easy. You know, it's so I mean, and that's the truth. It is a hard thing to do. But the most important thing is, is that one you're telling a story you you're passionate about. You have characters that that have a story to life going On a crisis at the heart of your movie, and or your TV show, why do we care? What's our emotional state? What does the audience care about? Why is it important for this character to basically achieve their need at the end of the movie, what it is emotionally that they need not only just the physical thing that happened, but what does it mean to them emotionally?

Alex Ferrari 1:10:20
Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business

Jack Epps Jr. 1:10:23
today? I would say that don't be frustrated, it's going to take time that what you need to do is to read a lot of scripts, see how they work. Make sure you have a support group writers group so that you know you're getting feedback as you're going along. Know when your script is ready, that's a question I get a lot is, when do you know your script is ready? You know, because there's a thing of, I don't want to send it out, I don't want to send it out. I don't want to send it out. Eventually, you have to let it go. Which means that you're telling your story as best as you can, or the feedback you're getting from people and you do need to get feedback. Is it you know? Is it not like to the heart of the story, and then send it out, take the bumps, whatever happens and then start another one? You have to continue? It's not it's not? I've seen so many people I have this one idea. My one idea. No, no, my pitching story is so I go, you know, you try to go pitch ideas, right? So I got the pitch I want to sell. I walk in there, it's my you know, my eight minute pitch. I've got my song and dance routine of doing the whole thing and they go, what else you got? Alright, now I got my three minute pitch. Alright, here's this one. I really like this one. They go Alright, what else you got? I get my thumbnail is 20 seconds ago. I love that one. I mean, so you just don't know what is going to hit. You don't know what's gonna strike the chord. Right? But if you write from your heart, and you write from your passion that will come through as a writer, and it's got to be a good read. This is a reading process. It's got to be a good read. And again, Damien Chazelle is listening to an interview he had on on fresh air. And Robin, I think it's Robin grosses and said, Damien, you did all these sort of horror movies and all these rewrites. What did you learn from that? He said, I learned how to make them turn to the next page. Credit. Is that to me, I CIA? Holes. I got chills because I think he's a cool character. And no, he learned how to hold their attention and make them read to the end. And I thought that's just brilliant and simple and honest.

Alex Ferrari 1:12:31
That's amazing. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Jack Epps Jr. 1:12:39
I think understanding character, understanding what character was and I had a tough stay ahead. here's the here's a story how I learned the meaning of what how to write character and what true character was. This, Andy and I had sold a Kojak and we pitched the idea of a cop who shoots his partner. And we want to get the script screenplay. So we sold the idea for it. Right? Okay, they bought the idea. So we kept going and pitching to the showrunner. Okay, here's what the show is. He goes now I don't like that we can't came back and came back. We never got the script. We didn't get it. We watched Kojak. I watched the hired somebody watch the episode. And it blew me over like like a bolt. Okay, we were pitching plot. This veteran writer wrote story of a character. And the whole episode was about this character, and about his life and about his wife who was having a drug habit. And she was chained to a bed, and he was out there and he kills a partner and his whole life is falling apart. And all we were doing was doing people chasing running around shooting is like, no, the emotional core. That's what character is. And that taught me that I needed the center of my stories to have stories about people and lives that we relate to.

Alex Ferrari 1:13:48
Yeah, and I think and I've said this many times on the show before is that you remember character, you remember Indiana Jones, you remember James Bond, you might not remember all the details of the plots of those films, but you definitely remember those characters. And that's, that's what we're not emotionally attached to plot plot is just a vehicle in my opinion, you're attached to the you're emotionally attached to character, what happens to them, if they're going to make it if they're not going to make it, they're gonna find love, they're not gonna find love, or they're gonna beat the bad guy, or they're gonna beat are they the bad guy, whatever that is. That's what you are attached

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:21
to. But you still have to have a good plot.

Alex Ferrari 1:14:24
Again, it's a vehicle. It's a it's a vehicle because it's

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:28
what it's what pulls us through it. But you know, and you have to have isolated you know, cool shit happens. You have to be a part of it's a piece as well, it's sort of it you know, I'm good at set pieces. I love writing set pieces. They're fun to write, I think it's one of the joys of writing action movies is creating thinking of big set pieces. And it's hard to think they're really harder to write than people would think of, because it's all been done. You know,

Alex Ferrari 1:14:49
it was a lot easier in the 50s 60s. To come up with these kinds of things.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:14:53
It's really hard to write something new and so but but if there if we don't care about that person at this center of it. It doesn't matter what happens. Um, it's not about the explosions. It's about the person in the explosions. And we're worried is he going to get out of these motions? and at what

Alex Ferrari 1:15:09
price? Right I mean, drastic Park is about dinosaurs. But we're not emotionally attached to the dinosaurs were emotionally attached to the characters and running around in that park. It's yeah, and I think sometimes I think some sometimes screenwriters get a little bit too uppity when it comes to plot. Like you were just saying with your when you were pitching Kojak.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:15:30
Yeah, yeah. Well, that's it. I mean, you have a tendency to Well, it's funny because you actually have to pitch plot, it's very hard to pitch character, because character development you but you have to have it there. And you tell it, and then you guys say, Okay, here's the story, because I'm looking for what are the events, and then how this person was woven into the story. But it's, that's that's pitching, which is a whole different game in itself.

Alex Ferrari 1:15:51
I've had many episodes about pitching just on pitching alone. And it's always tough. It's an art. It's an art form. It's an absolute art form. And last question, three of your favorite films of

Jack Epps Jr. 1:16:01
all time. Oh, three are favorite films of all time. Okay, well, we already mentioned one, which is the apartment because it just, I saw that when I was really young, and I never could forgive Fred Astaire no matter what made me Fred. About Yeah, no. Okay. All right. So and so I love that movie again. I like Chinatown for how it works and how it weaves? So isn't it? Yeah, it just is one that is, you know, you it's got a great sense of place. In the end, I'll tell you a movie that really had a huge influence on Gemini was the sting. Oh, that makes him ID that makes sense. I mean, yeah, it's because it totally kept you off guard off balance expectations. And the movie just it tricks you so many times. It was really and David S word want to wrote a wonderful script that basically I went to school on June, but we broke that script down every line every just the way it was done.

Alex Ferrari 1:16:59
And do you do you advise that to screenwriters to actually like take structure from other other screenplays and just maybe use it as inspiration to, because if it's been if it's been not storyline, but structure of like, this happens at this point, this happens at this point, and kind of start off, it's kind of like a roadmap a little bit. And it's gonna probably change obviously, as you write it. But I've seen a lot of I mean, if you look at I've said this so many times, if you look at Fast and Furious, it's Point Break, it's Point Break with cars. I mean, that's exactly the same story.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:17:27
Yeah, no, I think the danger is make copies, right? The danger is, I'm going to make a copy of something because I really liked a lot, doing homage to it, you can love it, and have a feeling and tone of it. But you got to tell your own story. And yes, you can learn how we structurally put this type of movie together what have successful movies, I mean, I I'd like to break down and understand how movies work. And and you know, what the core of the storytelling is? So yeah, I mean, absolutely. You can go in I mean, every all art is referenced from something else. But you want to make it yours. And yours is who that character is, what is the story? What's that emotional relationship going on? Because that then makes it yours. I'm not a big believer that this things have to happen on page 30. And page 40. In this sort of, I'm a big, I don't believe in that. There are there we definitely have a three act structure and culture. So as a beginning, middle and end we'd have we definitely have coming out of a first act where a character is thrown into a situation. I believe that I've learned that a mid mid term midpoint Plot Turn is really good. If you have something happened in the middle, it makes your second act easier to write because as a writer, the hardest place to write is the end of the second act. That's that's really hard, you know, easy. First acts are easy. endings are fairly easy. If you know if you set it up well, you can edit. But that big middle is really where it's hard. So you got to keep that middle moving. And that's where that's where I use relationship to keep that middle moving.

Alex Ferrari 1:18:56
But Jack, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to the tribe today and in sharing your knowledge and experience in in your screenwriting journey with us today. So thank you so much, Jack. I truly appreciate it, man.

Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:08
It's been fun. It's been fun chatting with I feel like we've been chatting for a long time. Like, I've known you for a while.

Alex Ferrari 1:19:12
Thank you my friend

Jack Epps Jr. 1:19:15
Pretty comfortable to do.

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IFH 563: Writing Blockbuster Movies & Television with Danny Strong

Today on the show we have writer, producer, actor, director and Emmy® winning show runner Danny Strong.

Danny started his career as an actor in numerous classic films and TV shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls, then transitioned into screenwriting, exploding onto the scene with his 2007 script Recount which was #1 on the Hollywood Blacklist and became an award winning HBO Film.

Since then he has become a prolific film and TV writer, director and producer, garnering numerous awards for various projects, including two Emmys, a Golden Globe, two WGA awards, a PGA Award, and the Peabody Award.

Through out his career he has shown a wide range and versatility moving between mediums and genres with films like the political docudramas Recount and Game Change, the civil rights epic The Butler and the big budget action blockbusters Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part I and II).

He co-created the smash hit TV show Empire which won him the NAACP Image Award and he produced the civil rights drama The Best of Enemies starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. He has also written numerous theater projects having made his theatrical debut with a new book to the musical Chess that premiered at the Kennedy Center.

Strong transitioned into directing with several episodes of Empire. He made his feature directorial debut with Rebel in the Rye that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by IFC Films.

Over the years he has continued his acting career with recurring roles in many highly acclaimed TV shows including Mad Men, Girls, Justified, Billions and The Right Stuff. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California and attended the USC School of Dramatic Arts.

Enjoy my enlightening conversation with Danny Strong.

Right-click here to download the MP3

Alex Ferrari 0:17
I like to welcome the show Danny Strong how're you doing Danny?

Danny Strong 3:36
Good, Alex, how you doing?

Alex Ferrari 3:37
I'm doing well, my friend. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've I've been following your career for quite some time. And, and of course, a fan of many of the shows that you've worked on and things that you've written. So I'm excited to kind of jump into your process and what we do. So before we get started, how did you get started in this insanity that is the film industry?

Danny Strong 3:59
Wow. That's a very good question. So I was a theater major in college. And I did plays in high school. And I was able to get an agent while I was in high school. But I never booked anything. So I was it was wasn't exactly a successful time. So I never booked anything. But I kept you know doing theater non stop and then majored in college and then I booked a couple jobs in college. You know, I booked a couple commercials and then a roll on Saved by the Bell, the new class probably the favorite show of your audience. I think that's all they want, I think their audiences and not even the original set by about the new class that they're particularly. So I did that and then and then I didn't really start booking jobs as an actor until I graduated college. And it was a few months after I graduated that I booked an episode of Third Rock from the Sun which was a huge cinema And then a month later, I booked an episode of Seinfeld. And so now I kind of went from no resume to two biggest sitcoms on television, which was incredibly exciting. And then in the next six months, I booked Buffy the Vampire Slayer and did that for several years as a recurring. So so things started happening pretty, pretty fast out of college, although it seems like endless at the time. And then by that by the time I was 24, I was working full time as an actor, in that I was supporting myself. And I didn't need a day job. So that was very exciting. And it was, by the way, I wasn't even working all that much. But I was making enough money with sort of a combination of small guest stars on TV commercials, voiceover an occasional movie. It was real scrappy, of just anything, I can land, voiceover radio, jobs, you know, anything I could get I did and, and then I started writing when I was about 25. And that's when I wrote my first script, and didn't sell my first script until I was 32. So it took seven years of writing before I was able to get my first paycheck as a writer. That's kind of the faster the fast version

Alex Ferrari 6:19
Of the beginning of your career. And that's, that's fascinating, because, you know, as so many filmmakers think that it takes in screenwriters think it's overnight? Like oh, yeah, Danny Strong, he must have just jumped in like, Hollywood loves to put you in a box and you're the you are in the acting box. So when you try to break out of that box to do something else, it's even that much harder than if you try to go in at the beginning. Is that correct?

Danny Strong 6:43
Well, to be honest with you, that wasn't my experience at all. Okay, it was it was the second I started writing scripts. A couple people were a bit I Rowley about it, but but the scripts speak for themselves. Okay, so I, you know, once I was able to get some people to read that first script, I wrote what people really liked it. And then it didn't matter that I was an actor. And most people in the development world, which are the people who read scripts for a living, they know that actors that can write, make can make really good writers. So it's sort of understood that that's not an unnatural progression from actor to writer, they've got a real good grasp of dialogue, usually a good grasp of character. And it's in its many are many a writer, and many writers I've worked with either on staff on one of my TV shows, or just screenwriters that I know, started off as actors. So it's, it's a natural progression. So now I find that Hollywood can follow your lead times when you say what you want to do. So I want to do this. It's like, okay, well, are you doing it? Are you trying to do it? And if you are, then then people respond to that. It's usually not a situation where no, you're an actor, and you will never write you will never write. It's, it's really not as close minded is the perception is

Alex Ferrari 8:10
Very, very cool. So then, as an actor, what did you bring it from being an actor to writing? Like, what were the skill sets that you brought in? From just those two years of work and I'm assuming being on sets and watching everybody and all that stuff over the years.

Danny Strong 8:23
Yeah, I think that my background is an actor is sort of my biggest weapon as a writer, director, producer, everything it is, as a writer, it's I spent years and years reading and working on the best plays ever written in the history of humanity. Right, working on the plays of Shakespeare and check off and Ibsen and Edward Albion, Arthur Miller, and, and I spent years working on that material, and you're reading it, you're analyzing it, you're inside of it. And I think it's the inside of it. That is one of the biggest tools for me as a writer, because I write is someone who, you know, when I when I, when I start writing the dialogue, I write as if I'm inside the scene, playing the scene as the characters and and that comes from my background as an actor from spending endless numbers of years just doing that for a living or doing it for free. And, you know, doing all the plays that I did, and all the auditions I did, it didn't go anywhere. You're constantly just working on material. And and that's a different stage of the writing process than the early stages, which is the outlining stage for me. That's what I do. You know, it's sort of the the beginning stages. So, so less my acting background comes into play there. But then when it comes to actually writing the scenes, the acting background is a huge part of it.

Alex Ferrari 9:53
Do you recommend screenwriters take an acting class or two just to kind of get inside?

Danny Strong 9:57
Oh, yeah, I mean, why why were you how that'd be a bad thing. And I've been in acting classes. So I stayed in acting classes. Like I said, I was a theater major at USC, graduated. And then I stayed in acting classes the whole time until my first movie went into production when I was 33. So I spent 11 years in acting classes. And in my attitude was I treated it like I was a professional tennis player. And I just need to be hitting balls as much as possible. So I was constantly in class. And there would be writers and directors that would, from time to time come in, and they would, you know, be there for three months, two months, that sort of thing. And they go, yeah, their director and the writer and, and I couldn't think of a more valuable thing for either one of them to do than to do that.

Alex Ferrari 10:48
Now. Is it true I read somewhere that you used to rent videos from video archives, and there was a young store clerk they used to talk to quite often about movies is that true?

Danny Strong 10:59
Yeah. So I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, very different now than it was then it's like it now it's very wealthy. When I was a kid there, it was lower middle to lower middle class, sleepy beach town, right. And there was this avant garde video store where they would have foreign films, and the films would be categorized by director. And, and my mom knew I loved adult movies as a kid. So she would, she would take me there. And the clerk was this really eccentric young guy. And I was 11. But I looked like I was seven. And, and I would just spend all this time with him, getting advice on certain movies, and I spent so much time talking to him that it made my mom feel uncomfortable. She's like, why are you spending so much time talking to him while I'm like talking to him? And it was Quentin Tarantino. And it was and so I and because I was in there so much. They called me little Quinton. And that was my nickname. Wow. Yeah, it was little Quentin. And then many years later, Quentin got this huge award from the home video Association. And he asked if I would come to the ceremony. So and we live in stay tight is a you know, in my adult age, but but perfectly friendly, you know, and he loves that I became a writer. And he and he, he, in his in his big speech to the big to the audience, he had me stand up and introduced me as a little Quinton from the video store and told the whole story about how I used to read videos from him. And he had the funniest and that was literally he ended his speech. It was so funny, he said, he said, So now when I look back upon my career, and I see that little Quinton is so successful. Oh, I just think God that I was successful too. Because of little Quinton was successful. And I wasn't, I would blow my fucking brain.

Alex Ferrari 12:54
One of the amazing that it does it oh my god, that's an amazing story. Because it's on brand for Mr. Tarantino.

Danny Strong 13:03
It is very, very much on brand. Yeah. And then he finally cast me in a movie, which was so exciting. I was in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Alex Ferrari 13:10
Oh, right. That's right.

Danny Strong 13:11
My scene was cut, although it is in the DVD. And it was, it was an amazing experience getting to watch them direct for a day.

Alex Ferrari 13:23
That must have been awesome. Now, you know, with all you know, being an actor, you deal with a tremendous amount of rejection. And I'm assuming as a writer, you do as well, how do you deal with rejection? Because we get mostly, if I may say we get mostly no's then rather than yes's in this business, correct?

Danny Strong 13:40
Yeah. Yeah. It's all no all the time. I mean, now, that was why I started writing was that I was working as an actor. Like I said, I was supporting myself, but yet all year long, I would hear no. And the no would be no, they don't want to see you for the part. No, you didn't get the callback, or no, you didn't get the part. And that's literally, you know, three, four times a week. That's what you're getting. And it's maybe once every three or four months, you're finally getting a yes. And a great song you. So for me, I actually started writing to deal with the sort of subconscious trauma being rejected all year long. And then I remember there was a period of about 18 months, when I couldn't get arrested as an actor. I just went into this. I don't know what happened. I just couldn't get hired. And then that was part of the seven years where no one was buying my scripts. So it was like a brutal 18 months of, of things not working out. Now, what's great about writing versus acting, is that as a writer, you can go do it. So you can just you can just go write a script, it doesn't matter if someone has bought it. If someone's interested in it. You can literally just sit down and write whenever you want or whenever you have availability based on if you have a job etc. Right but you can Go do it. And so for my attitude is particularly on the writing, when you write a script, and then you're ready to show it to people or to take it out to market, whatever that means. You should be working on your next scripts. So that when the nose do start coming in, and the noes come to people at the highest levels of the industry there have the biggest screenwriters and biggest directors, you know, they're well this only get made if I can get one order to Caprio or Tom Cruise, and then they send it to an art gallery or Tom Cruise and they go, No, we don't want to do the movie. You know, so everyone deals with that. But as a writer, what you can do is you can just go start working on your next script, and it really does help get your mind off the rejection because you're creatively grooving on something new.

Alex Ferrari 15:48
No, do you? What is your writing process? Do you start with character? Do you start with plot? Do you outline?

Danny Strong 15:54
Yeah, it's a combination of things. It's sort of hard to say, because it differs for every project. But I will say the one place that is pretty kind of a standard starting point for me is research, right? So if I'm writing a true story, like in dope sick, it's the opioid crisis, well, I just start reading books. And then I'll usually read two books on something, just read it without even taking notes. So I get a sense of the global macro of the story, I get a sense of characters that have kind of popped for me, you know, hopefully, these books are good. Hope you pick the right ones. Yeah, yeah. Well, and by the way, I go to a certain amount of research to figure out what are the right books, you know, sometimes there's only one book, depending on what it is, but, but um, or even if it's a fictional piece, I'll start with research. You know, when I started, when I wrote Empire, the pilot, I started just watching documentaries on hip hop, right? Just let me just watch some Hip Hop documentaries. So so so that's phase one, which is just get information coming in, and then maybe notetaking, maybe not, then once I kind of feel like I've got a sense of the global. So let's say there's two books on something that I've read, and I'm like, Oh, I really get this now. Then I go reread those books. But now I'm taking careful notes. And I'm writing notes, I'm writing characters, I'm writing scenes, I'm writing all this information. Because things can inspire other things. Right? So I can get I can get it will be like, Oh, this Oh, look at it, there's a whole sequence that I'm coming up with based upon a sentence. You know, when I adapted the book, Game Change into the movie game change. There was one paragraph that was the gave me the inspiration for the entire film. And I was like, oh, that's the whole movie right there. That one paragraph, we're talking about Steve Schmidt did this and then he did this. And then he had to do this. And I'm like, oh, that sounds like my entire movie. It was and it outlined it for you. But film, yeah, was was essentially inspired from that paragraph. But so. So that's what it is, then it's like taking notes, writing scene ideas, character ideas. Sometimes it's stuff from the books or the documentaries, sometimes all it does is it starts inspiring ideas, and then I go off on my own tangent entirely. And then once I've finished the that stage of the research, and this is important, don't get bogged down in definitely in the research, because you can, you can do that for three years if you want, right. So what I do is literally, I try to do enough of it, where I feel like, Oh, I've got a sense of what this is and how I could pull this off. Um, then I'll start actually outlining from those set of notes and kind of freeform thinking that I've done. And then once I have an outline, before I go write the script, sometimes what I'll do is I'll go read another book, or I'll go read two more books. You know, sometimes there's like 20 books on something, right? And then there's a new set of ideas that come in. And then from there, then I go, actually, write.

Alex Ferrari 19:15
Now, I always love asking creators this, there's I always say that there's this kind of, well of inspiration that is ours, that we can tap into. It's kind of like almost being in the flow or in that state of mind, the flow state of mind. What is it in your actual writing process that allows you to tap into your creativity, that inspiration, the muse for better or worse, because sometimes the Muse shows sometimes she does it, you know, how do you tap into that?

Danny Strong 19:42
So I don't I just show up every day.

Alex Ferrari 19:45
And she shows and you let her know, hey, I'm gonna be here. If you're ready.

Danny Strong 19:48
I'm just there. I'm there every day and I'm going to do something. Some days. There'll be today I had all these great plans. Those plans did not succeed, but I did get something done. Yes. Clearly it happened today.

Alex Ferrari 20:04
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 20:13
And but something was achieved today, right? So so it's really a matter of just showing up every day. And you know, I say that inspiration is for amateurs. And I don't mean that in in a hostile way. You know, if you're, say, a lawyer, and you want to write a book, and you've always had this novel, you want to dry it, or you wanted to write a memoir of a case you had, right, but you're not a professional writer. But you're gonna try it by the way, you may be great at it, it's very possible that you are, but that's the kind of person who's like I need to be inspired. And maybe I need to rent a house by a lake, you know, and go away, because that's what writers do. And it's very romantic write, for me, I'm a professional writer, I've been writing now for 22 years, and and of those 22 years, I've been getting paid 15 of those years, which has its own set of, I mean, it sounds incredible. But there's a whole lot of stress that comes from taking people's money, and then delivering a script to them, right? So so it's literally a matter of, no, I just have to go do it. Now I'm at a point where I'm trying to take days off, where I'm like, just you shouldn't write on Sunday, you need to take Sunday off. You know, my fiance does not appreciate it, she would like me to take Sunday off. Yeah. And so it's it's um, but that act of doing it consistently, what it does is that you do it, then for the rest of the day, your mind is processing things that you don't even know it's processing. You may have hit some walls that day, then you come back the next day, and you have solutions to those walls that your mind has just figured out on its own throughout the course of the day. I've had so many solutions to problems company when I wake up in the morning. And it's sometimes it's it's that period where you're not fully awake, but you're kind of starting to get away. Oh, this is the best part. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and then I'd be like, but that solution would have showed up that next morning, had I not had the session the day before. So it's it's the consistency of the back the back of it is is what I think is is what I do. And I think it's incredibly important.

Alex Ferrari 22:27
Now your one of your scripts got to the top of the blacklist, which is recount was that the was that the you know, was? Was the town or was Hollywood taking you like taking notice of your writing? You know, heavily? I mean, because when you get to the top of the blacklist, everybody in town knows who you are. Was that like a career defining moment for you as a writer?

Danny Strong 22:50
You know, it actually wasn't because the script had already exploded. Okay, gripped, had blown up and become a huge deal. And then had already gone into production. And I actually found out about the blacklist on the plane ride home after we wrapped production. Oh, Jesus, isn't that crazy? Like I was sitting on the plane going through my phone and someone congrats, and I didn't really know what it was. And what was great was, that was the year the blacklist kind of became famous. And there were all these newspaper articles on the blacklist. And so to be number one on the blacklist the year was on payment. That's a very cool year. So, so it didn't add that disrupted already sort of changed everything for me before that, that was just a really neat kind of cherry on top.

Alex Ferrari 23:37
Now, how did you approach adapting the Hunger Games? Mockingjay? Because I mean, at the point that you came in on it, it already is a pretty well established franchise, and there has to be slight pressure on you.

Danny Strong 23:52
Yeah, the pressures enormous. That was a very strange job, because there was this enormous, you know, it was one of the biggest jobs in the business at the time, everyone. Yeah, I mean, it was just like, the first one was the biggest movie of the year. The second one was in production. Um, and so you had to go pictures. The franchise was particularly strong, in that that first movie was really terrific. Everyone really respected it. The book, The books were really beloved amongst a huge swath of age range. So it was a it was just I was really flattered when I got asked to pitch on it. I was told they'd gone out to 10 writers and I'm one of the 10. And to me, that was the when I'm like, Oh my God, how cool was that? And I'm like, one of the 10 that they've asked to, to pitch on this. And then lo and behold, I get the job right. Now, I hadn't even read the books before. They come to me to pitch and they asked me in that in that meeting, they said have you read the books? I said, No, I haven't. So I saw the first movie, and I loved it. And they said, Well, okay, read the next two books as fast as you can, and then come up with a pitch. So that's what I did. And then the job itself, it was very unusual because it was they wanted it to be really close to the book. There wasn't a lot of room for veering away from the book, which I totally understood and didn't disagree with. Then at the same time, they wanted some new ideas, of course, but they didn't like my new ideas. Right? Well, I thought I'd pick shag new ideas. And I always get like, Now now, you know, and so I, you know, and it was just this weird tightrope where I was like, Wow, I'm a really, really high paid plagiarist. You know, they just want me to stick to the book. So then I wrote the first, you know, part one of Mockingjay. And they really liked it. And they hired me to write part two. And I was, I was like, okay, it was, by the way, wasn't, I didn't love doing the job to be honest with you. Because of everything I just explained. Just weird. I mean, it was like, it was like, we want this really close to the book. Okay, but but then we want other things, okay, but we don't like what you're pitching. Okay, but we do like you now, you know, um, and it was I didn't, I just didn't enjoy working on it. But then they hired me to do the next one. Which was, I mean, it was like, Well, I can't say no, right. So so then I did, I did the next one. And then they brought in another writer, which was the first time that had happened to me, you know, they had me do rewrites? No, no, they had them do rewrites on three. And then I finished four, and I turned in four. And then by that point, they really liked the writer who did rewrites on three, and they had them do rewrites on four and they sent me on my merry way. They said by It was a pleasure. Not really. And and I was actually quite happy to move on from the job to be honest with you. Very honest answer.

Alex Ferrari 27:11
They're very, that's a,

Danny Strong 27:13
But that's what but yeah, that's how it went. It was it was like I wrote three they liked it. They hired me to write for while they simultaneously hired someone to do rewrites on three, they did that because they were shooting them at the same time. So there was they in their minds, there wasn't enough time. And and then so then I wrote four, then that same writer came on here, Craig, lovely guy. And then they had him do rewrites on four. And that that was the end of my journey on the Hunger Games.

Alex Ferrari 27:40
And that's the thing that a lot of writers don't think that there's a glow. Well, you know, Danny Strong is not going to get, you know, rewritten or that it happens to everybody. I talked to Eric Roth, and it happened to Eric Roth.

Danny Strong 27:51
Oh, yeah, it's not so not in movies at that budget. It's extremely common. And in this case, there were two movies before, in which these huge writers of high Academy Award nominated or winning writers were rewritten. So I kind of knew going into it that that's kind of the deal. And it was it was pretty common for big budget. tentpole movies to have multiple writers on them. So it's not like you I go in, I don't go into that job, thinking, Oh, this is my artistic vision. I sort of go into the job hoping that I can get through it without having people upset with me. Which, by the way, is not, you know, and I haven't done a job like that sense. Because of it, though.

Alex Ferrari 28:37
And you I'm sure you've been offered a pitch or you've been offered.

Danny Strong 28:40
Yeah, I get offered all the time, you know, different things. And, and I'm and I have done a few in that time period since then. But for the most part. It's a it was a very good life learning experience of situations I'd prefer not to be in.

Alex Ferrari 28:58
Right. And that's kind of where you've made your bones heavily in television where the writer is more keen, especially.

Danny Strong 29:04
Yeah, well, it's a combination of a few things, which is, right if it's time that the medium started changing, right where movie dramas started becoming smaller and smaller are not being made at all. And then there's massive tentpole movies, you know, like what I was working on, but I didn't enjoy working on it. So I didn't want to do that again. So literally for the next year and a half after Hunger Games. I was getting offered a sort of big tentpole things and I didn't want to do them. So then the drama that I want to be working on, they're not really making anymore, so I but I go and I make an independent film. And then simultaneously, television is now starting to take off dramatically, creatively, in many ways to a number of writers feeling like that's actually a much more interesting space to work in. On a multiple different levels, so it was like the business starts changing. I was very fortunate that right when that happens, I created the show empire that was a massive hit. So now I've gotten cachet. And some, you know, a lot of interest in me in a space that is simultaneously kind of becoming the booming space. So the timing was was really great. And I feel very fortunate.

Alex Ferrari 30:27
Now I have to ask you, because I mean, I'm a huge empire fan. I watched every episode and loved empire. I think I caught up to it on seas. I think you guys were in season three. And someone said, You got to watch empire. So I binged the first seat and I was just like, the writing was so tight. The characters were so outlandish. They were beautiful. How did you? What made you jump into this world? I mean, I'm assuming you haven't been hardcore hip hop your entire life. So how did you jump in?

Danny Strong 30:54
What was great was the only person who knew less about hip hop than me was Lee Daniels. Literally would joke about how we know nothing about hip hop, right. But when it happened was I wrote the movie, the butler that leaving directed, and then we'd become pretty close and post production on that project, where he really valued my feedback and notes. And it was the kind of thing where he started, you know, just saying, like, what are we doing next? What are we doing next? We're magic together, we're magic together. And that was before the film came out and succeeded. Right. So then I came up with this idea to do King Lear and a hip hop empire, you know, which is what Empire was. And, and I pitched the idea to lead annuals as a movie, he loved it. He just said that I love this idea. And then it was his idea, which was good as a TV show instead of a movie. And I thought, that's perfect. You're absolutely right. It's about a family fighting, which is what TV shows are about is about families fighting with each other. So that's how it all came together was, was an idea I had that I brought to Lee, based on the fact that we had just done the belt were together. And then the butler comes out and it was a huge hit. You're not remember it was one of the sleeper hits of the year, particularly for a movie that no one wanted to make. Yeah, not a tentpole by any step by any stretch, the opposite of a temple, right? It's kind of like, sort of in the category of one of the last dramas of that era when they would make these kinds of dramas, right, that have this kind of sweep and a motion to it. And so, uh, so we took this pitch out with with having just had this big hit drama, and then we had multiple bidders. And then and then that was that. So that's how it began, it was a random idea. I had one day listening to a radio news piece. On a deal, Sean Combs it just closed. And I just thought hip hop. So so cool, and dynamic and exciting. And I got to do a musical and hip hop, that's back that I knew nothing about hip hop did not determine, whatsoever. And then it's funny, because when I did Pixley, thinking, Well, I don't know much about this world, but I'll dive into it, but we will know a lot about it. And then literally, he's like, I don't know anything about hip hop. I'm like, really? He's like, No. And I'm like Me neither. So it's so that's where that's where Empire began.

Alex Ferrari 33:18
That's amazing that neither of you had a hip hop knowledge that you could bring to the table.

Danny Strong 33:23
No, he was really into Marvin Gaye. And like, like, it was like, loved Marvin Gaye and kind of that era of Motown. Sure. And, and I loved that era of Motown. Now, even though I feel like some of my tastes even went further back to the 50s. And pretty funny how these things can happen. But I think I think the lesson in that is, you don't have to live a life to write about it, or to direct it. And that is a that is not a popular opinion right now. And there's very much discussion right now of who gets to tell what story and if you haven't lived it, you don't have the right to tell it. And I fundamentally disagree with that. And I just think, well, if you had to live, everything you wrote, then just let's go set fire to most of Shakespeare's plays, you know, all the Shakespeare plays that don't take place in England, you know, even Macbeth, that doesn't count. Is that Scotland? Who the hell is he think he is? Right? Someone in Scotland, you know, I mean, let's just take let's take ship set that on fire right? So I just I just fundamentally disagree with it. It goes against sort of my entire background as an actor, stage actor lover of cetera so so an empire is as a prime example of literally two guys that didn't know anything about hip hop. And then we draw upon different things and what we don't know we weren't. And then you know, and then when it goes to series, in that writers room, we've got multiple writers in there that know a lot about hip hop. And they some real huge assets to it and in keeping the show alive,

Alex Ferrari 34:59
You know, It's funny because, you know, I had Taylor Hackford on the show. And we were talking about Ray, which is one of the one of the best, you know, musical movies. credible, incredible film. And he was telling me, he's like, Ray wanted me to do it. And but in today's world, I would have never been allowed to do Ray. And I'm like, Wow, what a devastating blow to cinema that you wouldn't have been able to make. Ray. It's I agree with you. 100%.

Danny Strong 35:23
Yeah, yeah. And by the way, there's there's like, I don't know, that doesn't mean to not be cognizant of certain sensitivity course. It's like, yeah, I don't know. I think everything has its own sort of has its own path. And we're doing a pilot right now that I'm producing. And it's it's basically eight women are the leads of this pilot, right. And this, the network wants a woman director, and I could not agree more. I'm like, Yeah, of course. Of course. It should be a woman director. It's about eight women. Right? It's like in the creator is a woman. But I just seems to me like I you know that that's a perfect example of as us out looking to hire a director. My partner on it on the producing side is a famous male director. And he completely agrees he's like, Yeah, we need to find a woman. So it sounds like every every kind of project has its own path or life. But as a writer, if you're not getting, you know, this is not an open writing assignment, and you want to write something that has nothing to do with your life experience. Go write it.

Alex Ferrari 36:30
That's your absolutely, you're absolutely right.

Danny Strong 36:33
I know what you're passionate about.

Alex Ferrari 36:35
One of my favorite characters of empire, and arguably one of the best characters written for television. That's 15 years. Cookie. How the hell did you come up with cookie? And how much did the Hajah I can never pronounce your dad? Yeah. How did she influence that character?

Danny Strong 36:52
So cookie lion, which I think is hilarious that it could be on my tombstone, he co created cookie lion is a is a it came from. So the show is King Lear and a hip hop empire. But it's also the line in winter and a hip hop empire, sort of both of those classical pieces. And Eleanor of Aquitaine is Henry, the second wife that he would put into a dungeon, you know, this, he put her an exile all year long. And then every year at Christmas time, he would let her outs of exile to see the family. And in the play the line and winter, the play takes place during Christmas time when he lets Eleanor of Aquitaine out of prison, and she just fucks his shit up, right? Like, literally, she just shows up and tries to derail all of his legacy plans. And that was one of like, the early ideas I had for Empire, which was that it would be sort of a fake. You know, like, like a fictional Jay Z, who was a older, you know, a, like an he had an empire like Jay Z, but he was older with these three older sons. And that and that his wife went to prison, selling drugs. And that drug money is what created is what is the origin story of his empire. Alright, so that the pilot would begin with, what's the inciting incident? She gets out of prison, and he doesn't know it. And she's coming back to get what she wants, what she deserves, what's hers, right? And she wants half the company and she wants her beloved Son, the only one that would visit her in prison, and the most talented to be take over the family company. And he shouldn't take over the family company, except for the simple fact that he's gay and his father fucking hates him for being gay is a template homophobic, right? So that was that was like the genesis of cookie wine that she was very much inspired by Eleanor of Aquitaine. It comes from that and then we Daniels had a sister that kind of had this vibe that he would talk to me about. And I remember when I pitched Lee, the movie when it was still a movie. And I talked about Eleanor aqua and everything I just said to you, I said to him in a shorter version. And I said, so this role, she's going to be like an expert in music, and she's going to become the music manager to her gay son. And I said she's gonna be like, Mama Rose on crack, and lead and you'll start screaming. Yes, darling. Yes. Darling. I love it. You know? It was, like I said, the perfect thing to get really excited about about this idea. And that was, that was that was the genesis of it.

Alex Ferrari 39:55
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Danny Strong 40:04
Then, once we got to shooting it, it went from the writers role to terace his role. And terace is a genius a to Well, I don't know, day two into shooting, Lee and I were an offer the pilot, we knew this can be if this show was successful, we felt this would be a breakout character that she was just just like she blew us out of the water, you know, on just everything he did. And the part very much I think it was an amalgamation of the writers but of her two, as far as she would, she would sometimes improvise, sometimes just tweak dialogue just a little bit. Sometimes she would pair dialogue down. And and I actually really learned how to write cookie by following terace Li and seeing kind of the stuff that she would reject or the stuff that she would, she would improvise really inspired a lot. And I remember in shooting the pilot, she had a Nika shows up and it's it's her her ex husband's new girlfriend, right? And it's literally it's the first time I think the audience sees and Nika and it's certainly the first time cookie season Mika and I had written some, you know, calm some just like dig that she does. And drazi took me aside we got along like gangbusters mean to Rosie? And she said, she's like, I don't know about this. And I remember what I'd written. And I said, oh, we'll just say whatever you want. And she went really I go Yeah, I say whatever you want. Right? At this point I had I've come to understood that this woman's a genius. And and so those, she starts to exit she stops. She looks at her and she goes, Huh, booboo kitty, and then walks out a herd of booboo kitty, I had no idea what she was talking about. I was laughing so fucking, that I almost ruined the take, except Lee Daniels was laughing as hard as I was. It was just like, oh my god, like, Oh, you're genius. Just you do it, and it will follow your lead.

Alex Ferrari 42:14
That's amazing. That's a great cookie story. It's a great story that you have obviously run a lot of writers rooms, what is it that you look for as a showrunner in writers for your writers room.

Danny Strong 42:25
I look for writers that. And I look for writers that are bold, that aren't afraid, that have a sense of originality. You know, one of the first things I say on day one day one of school is I say I don't want you to think about what you think the network wants, what you think the studio wants, or what you think the audience wants, or what you think what I want, I don't want you to think about any of that, I want you to think about what you think is great, right, we're gonna follow our own instincts, because of many writers that have been stamped on a lot of shows, you know, they're very, they seem very kind of programmed to clean about the network because of network notes. And then and then they write to the network's AST. Um, I don't do that ever, um, I write to my taste, and then I use the network to help me make it better, right. So I don't do what they want, I do what I want. And then I listened to their notes, though, on how I can improve it. And it's very collaborative. And it goes very well. You know, I don't have big blowout fights with my studio in my network. In fact, most of the time, we have a very fun positive relationship and experience and I'm very open to notes, but I'm not open to dictation. And I think it's a bad idea. Because if, if they could, if they're in charge of something, well, they should be writing it. Right, like I'm the one that has to execute it. And that philosophy which is highly respectful of them as essentially editors, has served me very well politically, but more importantly served me very well creatively, where I get a lot of great feedback from from from my my producers in my studio executives in my network executives, and I think people that come into that relationship a thinking that they're idiots and they're adversaries, I think it's a way to fail and then be people that go into that relationship just wanting to please them or wanting to write to what they think their taste is, is they're not following their artistic self and their artistic soul. And and I think the writer you know, particularly on a TV show needs to be there and on a movie that's what I meant to until until I'm you know, let go until the director has said thank you for your the script now go fuck yourself. happen in film, although most of my experiences on film has been that the director and I have gotten along very well, and I've stayed part of the process all the way through. But there is a power dynamic where once they're there, they're in charge. So then I have to maneuver, you know, kind of my way to either stay in their good graces or if you shouldn't have to then becomes like a different thing. But but a game worth playing, I think, for long term success on multiple fronts. Now, TV is different. You know, I'm in charge if I'm the showrunner creator, by the way, I supervise showrunner creators, and I don't boss them around, I don't tell them what to do. I'm like, they're to like, have, like, hey, what do you think of it? You know, I'll have a note. And then sometimes I'll pitch three or four solutions, only to help demonstrate what the note is, and then be maybe one of these ideas will work for them? Maybe not, but maybe it'll inspire something else. So so it's really, it's really going back to your question, you know, day one, it's like, let's not write for the network. And let's not write for what we think the audience wants. Because that's such a audience. I mean, the four people in a room and they'll all want different things out of story. Right? Right, we need to lead the audience. And and sometimes there are things that don't work in the story. Right, that it's not clear, or there's not enough depth, or it's or it's kind of lame, or, like there that can be improved. And that's what I'm open to, of like, how can I make this better? How can I make it deeper, funnier? If it's a if it's a thriller? More suspenseful, right? Depending on what genre you're working in? And then how can you find some things to subvert the genre so that it's rich and doesn't feel expected or, or it can be multi dimensional, and tone and style? You know, there's all sorts of things I'm trying to achieve. And worrying about what the network thinks is not one of them. I'm more worried, I'm more of like, looking forward to hopefully trusting them, so that it'll be like, Okay, so here it is. So help me like, give me some thoughts like, how can I make it better.

Alex Ferrari 47:11
Great, great answer. I love the answer. No, no, that was a great answer. Now, I'm gonna ask you a few questions to ask all of my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Danny Strong 47:24
Follow your bliss, like write, don't write what you think the market wants, right? What you think, is going to be great. You know, and sometimes the weirdest scripts and ideas make people's careers because they just loved it, by the way in the movie never got made, but it wants their career, I got them an agent and manager got them up. I know for jobs, right? So it's really about, it's really about writing every day, or five days a week is good, you know, like you can take the weekends off this week is four days a weekend, borderline three days a week, you're an amateur writer now, you know, it's so so you know, getting a lot of writing done, because you improve as you write, I'm constantly working on projects, and then don't write what you think the marketplace wants. Right? What you think is great, right, what you want to see, I've got friends that are professional, that were professional writers that had a lot of success. And for whatever reason, you know, things have have gone different ways for them. And sometimes they're still chasing the market. And I don't understand like, the market changes weekly. By the way, the markets are different now than it was five years ago, three years ago, years ago. I don't even really completely understand the whole market anymore, to a certain extent. And I think it's different for almost every buyer. I mean, I get you know, if you I know they all want to make spider man like that I get, you know, I just want to write Spider Man on every script, I write and turn it in and see if I can any motherfuckers exactly like that. It just becomes a whole intricate sort of dance. And I think the thing that I do is if I have an idea I'm really excited about I then we'll figure out okay, so how can this get done? What's the pathway to production to get this made, you know, oh, this is actually something you know, HBO Max could be really into or something that a 20 is a perfect age 24 movie, right? That doesn't mean you have a 24 passes, you're dead. But but you're like, it kind of gives you a sense of okay, this is a 24 this is more like a universal, like, I'll think about what makes these kinds of things. And then what budget does it need to be you know, if it's something that's a period piece that you know that that's like a period drama that's really small. While obviously I can't write a script, that's going to cost $60 million to make, right because it's most likely not going To get made unless David Fincher or Martin Scorsese,

Alex Ferrari 50:03
Ridley Scott Ridley Scott,

Danny Strong 50:05
By the way you made you couldn't end up landing one of them. Right. But but but for the most part, it's sort of like, okay, so So how can I make this for 5 million? 10 million, 1 million, 2 million? You know, is there a path to that? So there's, there's a number of things you can think about on the business side. But first and foremost, start with the creative side, and start with like, oh my god, I would love to see this movie. Oh, my God, I could write the hell out of this movie. I could crush this movie. Because that's how things get made. That's how writing careers flourish. Okay, is that that's my advice.

Alex Ferrari 50:43
That's great advice. What is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Danny Strong 50:49
What I just told you?

Alex Ferrari 50:51
Fair enough.

Danny Strong 50:53
100% true. took me six years, something like that to figure out? Oh, because I was writing high concept comedies all through my 20s. Okay, because Jim Carrey comedies were those those like real high like liar liar man, Bruce Almighty, those were the biggest hits, and I was trying to write comedies. So obviously, I got to write these because that's what the market wants. And, and they were pretty good. You know, I did a pretty good job. I got some attention from them. And, but none of them sold. And then all of a sudden, seven years later, I'm like, wow, I've just spent seven years writing movies. That is not really my thing. Good. Right.

Alex Ferrari 51:29
Good advice. And last question, three of your favorite films of all time, or three screen pilots that anyone should the screenwriter should read either one.

Danny Strong 51:41
Well, I would say my three favorite films are Apocalypse Now. The Sweet Smell of Success. Why don't we say number three, we'll say Chinatown.

Alex Ferrari 51:57
All good choices. And three pilots.

Danny Strong 52:00
Those are all three of my favorites. Three pilots have a madman pilot? Yeah. Wowza. Yeah, that's something to behold. I'm trying to because pilots are hard because you're setting so much stuff up. They're really hard. I, you know, I don't know if it's one of my favorites of all time, but a great pilot, and a great show from this last year was hacks. Yeah. That's a great pilot. And in the show is fantastic. It's probably one of my favorite things of the year was hacks and, you know, really set up these two characters and these two different places. And I remember there was a scene towards the end, because one's a comic and one's a comedy writer, and they just start shit talking each other in comedy. And it was like, you know, it just was like, like Star Wars with two lightsabers battling each other, except in their case, their lightsabers. What were their comedy skills. And so it was hilarious in character driven and tense all at once, which made it pretty effing genius. So big big hacks fan. I don't know I it's tough. Get you know, it's a I maybe I'm biased. I have a limited series this year with dope sick, but I think the limited series space is pretty incredible. Shows out this year. They're so well done, you know, Mayor of Eastwood, per Mary's town, here. He's calling it Murphy's book, or is that correct?

Alex Ferrari 53:37
It might be No, I'm not sure if it's East. I

Danny Strong 53:40
Whatever it is fucking great. White Lotus is great. And underground railroads

Alex Ferrari 53:47
Queen's Gambit. Yeah.

Danny Strong 53:48
Queen's Gambit is unbelievable. So there's these pieces that there are I don't know to me there's in some ways more exciting the movies. I get more excited about these these kind of prestigious limited series right now. And in that there, I just get more caught up in them. There it is. And they seem to break out in a bigger way than movies have for a little while. I mean, I don't know what movie was as big as the Queen's gambit was that year, right?

Alex Ferrari 54:16
Look at Squid Games. I mean, look at Squid Games for god sakes.

Danny Strong 54:18
Yeah, yeah, Squid Games is an ongoing but it's it's a it's just there's some really explosive rich stuff happening in that space right now.

Alex Ferrari 54:28
Dan, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you, my friend. I thank you so much for taking out the time and please continue to make great television. Great work out there. We really appreciate you man.

Danny Strong 54:37
Oh, Alex, thanks so much, man. It was so much fun chatting with you and and thank you to everyone listening to this. I really appreciate it.

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