Today on the show we have Hollywood Story/Career Consultant and former Studio Executive Jen Grisanti. Grisanti is also a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former studio executive, a blogger for The Huffington Post and author of Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story, TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells, and her recent book Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Using Shamanic and Jungian Tools to Achieve Personal Transformation.
Over twenty years ago, Jen Grisanti started her career as an assistant to Aaron Spelling, who served as her mentor for 12 years. She quickly climbed the ranks and eventually ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Charmed. In 2004, Grisanti was promoted to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount where she covered numerous shows including Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 4400 and Girlfriends.
In January 2008, Grisanti launched Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc., a highly successful consulting firm dedicated to helping talented writers break into the industry. Drawing on her years of experience as a studio executive where she gave daily notes to executive producers/showrunners, Grisanti personally guides writers to shape their material, hone their pitches and focus their careers.
Since launching her consulting firm, Jen Grisanti worked with over 1000 writers specializing in television, features, and novels. Due to her guidance, over ninety of her clients have staffed as writers on television shows, fifty-three have sold pilots, and six of those pilots have gone to series.
Enjoy my conversation with Jen Grisanti.
Alex Ferrari 0:47
I'd like to welcome to the show, Jen Grisanti. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Jen Grisanti 3:16
Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. You are a very, very busy lady, and doing lots of lots of good work for a lot of screenwriters out there. So thanks for taking the time out to talk to the tribe. It is my pleasure. Thank you. So how did you get into this crazy business? You know, I went to USC and I studied cinema communication, never heard and.
Alex Ferrari 3:42
And I and then I yeah, I got out of school. I really didn't have anybody contact wise. I knew I wanted entertainment. I didn't know exactly what capacity. So I went to Friedman, a job pining agency, which is focused on entertainment, jobs. And that helped me build my resume. I also, which is great for people to know, like, just take cold calling and called all my top places that I want. I wanted to work and I said I'm willing to intern and that helped me build my resume. And then I real quick is that something that you think that is is doable, even in today's world with so much more competition? I definitely do. I mean, I talked to so many people who do cold calling, and it's fat. Well, first of all, when you're offering to work for free as an intern there that that that certainly has its leverage, you know, it's just can you afford to do that? So I don't I recommend like what I didn't know and of course I was in college is a whole different time than now. But what I didn't know is like I should have started
Jen Grisanti 5:00
During college doing all my interns what I did, yeah, save, that's the smart way to go. And so and yeah, I've definitely believe in the cold calling is a good way. And then the great thing is when you do apply to an agency, like the Freedman agency or the COMAR, agency in Beverly Hills, then you have a resume already started. So you're not like going into these companies with nothing on your resume. And, and then you get placed, I got placed in the spelling office. So you know, through Freedman, and that changed my entire career. I mean, you know, that was a pivotal moment, in the deciding of what direction I was going to go with my career. Now, let's talk a little bit about the spelling office and your use a spelling office, you're talking about the legendary Aaron Spelling for them. For the audience. for audience members who don't know who Aaron Spelling is, please tell a little bit about who he is and what he did. And then how, what was it like being mentored by by a giant horse, of course, so Well, Aaron Spelling, APU, I'd like the younger audience doesn't have near as much knowledge and I and I totally understand and appreciate that C W has done a new Niner to one hour and a new Melrose Place. But Aaron Spelling was the originator of like, dynasty TJ hooker in a million shots like he is one of the most prolific producers in history with the number of hours of television that he produced. And then when I started in his office, he 902 When I had been going for a year, like there was a point near his career that
that they call the ABC because he had seven shows on ABC, they called it Aaron's broadcasting company.
And then and that didn't go over too well. So so that you know, so he went through that era, and then he and then he all of his shows got canceled at a similar time that were happening at that time. And then he kind of went through a dry spell before nine or 210, which really so when I entered his office, he was in such a place of he was so humble and so open because of what he had experienced and, and 92. And I was taking off at the time that I was in the office, it was the first year and then Melrose Place was the day that I started Melrose Place was being cast. So the original the original Melrose Place in the original Beverly Hills Niner two went out. So that that was you know, then spelling was on fire again. And then everybody wanted to be in business with them. And he did a lot of business with Fox obviously because of 90210 and Melrose Place, and then branched out into CBS and other network NBC and I and it really things took off again. So it was a very good time. I was 24 he was 69 So it was a very good time because he was in a life place where where he wanted to mentor and he really wanted to teach me how to be his eyes and ears for you know, for scripts and story coming in. So I was very blessed. You know, I'm at the right place at the right time. I was yeah, it was a good good thing for people listening I mean the can't underestimate the power of what nine to one no did and Melrose Place did at the time. It was a phenomenon. It really it really was. I actually lived down the street in Florida in that mall where Luke Perry created the the riot. Oh, I love that. Great. I mean, it was a pivotal time in my life. And even though like I had graduated college, when it was first started, it was still such a pivotal time because High School is such a time for every single one of us. It's such a growth period that wewere going through like a huge arc of growth. And so looking at them kind of go through their their joys and their trials in their tribulations. It brings us back into it, but they weren't but they were all 27 At least Yeah, exactly.
Alex Ferrari 9:46
Outside Yeah. Nobody who was a creative Liberdade.
Jen Grisanti 9:52
No doubt about that.
Alex Ferrari 9:54
I mean, Luke Perry, I think was like 3030 years old man.
Jen Grisanti 10:00
That's so funny. I remember all that went with that choice. Yeah. Yeah.That's a good guy.
Alex Ferrari 10:09
Now, what did you What were some of the biggest takeaways you got from Aaron?
Jen Grisanti 10:15
You know, I mean, I, I, again, it was a gift to be taught by a gentleman who was so about the work and so passionate about the work. And so, like, he expected a lot from you in that he expected, you know, expected perfection. And that was a very hard thing to learn to really operate on that level. But it was the greatest training ground and because he expected perfection from himself, and he gave it at, it really helped you to look at things and really operate at a high level. Now, it's not to say like, when I say the word, perfection, you you are going to make mistakes along the way in every path. And, and it really, I think what a lot of what he taught me was, you know, If a mistake is made, then it's how you fix it that makes the difference in it's how you respond after it, how you take responsibility for it, how you move forward after it, he he was a master when it came to story. So watching him in the we would have rough cuts in his office of the episodes and a rough cut is after production is done. And it comes into the producers office. And then you watch what's called Rough Cut. And, and it was always a really amazing to see how you could take a script and do all your notes on the script. And then when it would be filmed then recognize Well, there are changes that I want to make, and through editing, like just watching how he would do things to like, make the outbreak more impactful, or how he would move around scenes so that the story will work in a lot stronger way. And and really, you know, learning about I think the thing that made him the happiest was, you know, knowing that he had the ability to discover young talent. And by young I don't mean age, I just mean young at the beginning of the career. So he to discover newer talent and and know that he could open a door that could change someone's life. Now how long were you with Aaron's filling? 12 years? Wow. So you were there for a while? Yes. Yeah. And you and yeah, I'm assuming you, you rose in the ranks? I did I buy now, again, it's always good for people to hear like, it's really focusing on what you want. I was lucky that at the time I was in his office. Um, my mom had given me tapes from Tony Robbins. And that tape set had really helped me hone in on what do I want? And how do I get there? And what are the action steps that I need to take? So when I was in his office, I recognized there was no one reading scripts in his inner office in his immediate office. So because he would always do like five or 10 calls, trying to find the answers to things I thought, Well, why don't I just read the script. So of course, that meant that I worked till 830 at night and read scripts till 1130 At night, but it was worth it. And so that is what began the process of me reading scripts, and then we go over the script the following day. And that's really what taught me and then from there, I became a coordinator of current programming than a manager than a director. And then I ran current programming at his company for my last two and a half years before I was promoted to CBS Paramount where I was vice president of current programming. And were you there during the charm dears? I was yes, I used to love that show. Yeah, yes, charmed was a blast. It was amazing with that show to see where it started and see where it went as well. I think that was the most rewarding part of current programming was, you know, really watching a show develop and find its voice and find its audience within the time and certainly we're in a day and age where a to the TV shows don't have the luxury now that they did when I started my career and that now they really, you know, ideally, a current show usually can take anywhere from five to eight episodes.to really find his voice and to really blend the network, the studio and the showrunners vision into something that really works. And now, the hard thing is, is very often you don't have that kind of time. So you have to find what the show is sooner,
Alex Ferrari 15:19
Right because there's just too much competition. I mean, before there was too much out session, there was three channels, and you could just sit, you could either watch what we're putting out, or you can watch nothing. Exactly.And there was three, there was three shows on at nine o'clock.
Jen Grisanti 15:34
I know, I knew when I started my career, the only specs people were writing were sopranos and Sex in the City. You know, I mean, it was like, you know, how fascinating how different things are now? Very much. So. Can we talk a little bit about about the explosion in scripted series? And the opportunities for writers today? I mean, isn't there like 450? Yes, years now. It's fascinating. Like, even though there's massive opportunity on television, and there definitely is, it doesn't make the path to getting a job much easier than it did.
Alex Ferrari 16:15
There's nothing it's just more competition there is if there would have been 450 shows in 1990.
Jen Grisanti 16:24
Alex Ferrari 16:24
then yes. Anybody who could literally just drag it up to a typewriter?
Jen Grisanti 16:28
Yeah. And write a script,
Alex Ferrari 16:30
something like a monkey could get a job. Yeah. But there's so much more.
Jen Grisanti 16:35
Now, if you're not the case. I mean, it really takes a village to get a person staffed. Like when I was starting as an executive. You know, really, I mean, I really worked hard on staffing, most of the shows that I worked on, I worked with my executive producer, and I was in all the meetings with the writers and I handled many of the calls with the agents. So you really saw you know, what went into why, why the people were getting stabbed? Were getting stabbed. And so it was an it shows you and I definitely think, and trust me and my, my, my business, Jen Grisanti consultancy, Inc. I've been doing this for 10 years. And I look at how many feature writers I've worked with that I I've gotten to write television. And just because there definitely is more opportunity in TV. So if the talent is there, in my opinion, the platform to be ivn his television right now.
Alex Ferrari 17:45
That's what everyone Yeah, talking to says the exact same. Well, there's a rabbit. It's a renaissance. Yeah, it really is. And it started with this approach. I would agree. Would you argue it started with the Sopranos? Yeah, I would totally agree. Yeah, it's kind of just went from there. Yeah. Cuz could Breaking Bad have happened in the 90s.
Jen Grisanti 18:04
I know. I mean, you do look at the pivotal shows. And the fascinating thing now like when you look at shows now like, like, Doa and sense, aid, and fleabag. And there's a great show on Netflix called a Depor. Song 10%, or call my agent is the English title. And that it's brilliant. And so, you know, I think the work being done right now, a lot of the shows that I teach from currently, I can't tell you like, like, so many of the shows that I teach from our British shows to, you know, that land on network, I mean, on Netflix, or Amazon or Hulu, and they get to go outside the box, they have more freedom, and because they have more freedom, and more creative liberty, I find that I'm able to create story tools from the writing on there that I'm able to pass on to the writer so that they can write the script that can't be ignored, that will lead to a sale that will lead to them getting staffed.
Alex Ferrari 19:15
And do you suggest that writers do a screenplay or teleplay first, which one do you think if there's if you're a screenwriter and you want to get attention? Do you write a teleplay first or do you write a feature screenplay first as a proof? Not proof of concept? Oh, no. I mean, you certainly like when you're looking at writing portfolio right? Yeah, you could have a feature script in it. Now you're never going to get someone in television to read a feature script unless they hear it so good. And the content in it is so right for the show that is being staffed. So So really in TV you want to write now. No, of course yet. What you're asking I think as well is do you write a spec script
Jen Grisanti 20:00
Have a show that's already on? Where do you write in original? And you know, there are different schools of thought, certainly when I came up the ranks, you had to have two spec scripts in your writing portfolio that were current No, no older than two years old. And two originals. And I would definitely say there's been a shift, and that there are writers out there who really don't want to write TV spec scripts, or the existing shows they only want to write original material. It used to be that you couldn't, you had to have it. And the reason was, because when you would try to, you know, when I would pitch a writer to my executive producer with a TV pilot, they would read the pilot first and be, you know, and really want to know, the original voice of the writer. But then they'd want they'd ask for the spec script, because they wanted to know that that writer knew how to mimic somebody else's voice. Right. And that's a really good point when you're when you're writing for a show, because a lot of writers have a very unique voice. You know, Tarantino has one of the arguably one of the most unique voices out there. And he did do some writing, he did a CSI episode with an ER episode. I love it. Oh, that's great. I didn't know that. They did. And they and he wrote them.
But he was Talentino. So they let him kind of go off a little bit. But generally speaking, generally speaking, when a writer comes on staff, he has to mimic the show, he can't just be himself or herself. Yeah. How do you? What kind of what kind of tips do you have for writers to be able to adapt like that? Well, you have to know I think, also now more than ever, you have to understand your voice. And and I always ask writers, do you know what your voice is? And then I'll get like, say, a third of a room
that knows? And then I'll say, How would you describe it. And then I'll have like, maybe four hands left, that, that really want really know how to describe their voice. And so I think part of the journey for the writer is, knowing what your voice is. And then when you're mimicking somebody else's show, I've had many writers say, Well, I can't really use my voice on someone else's show, because it's a show now that that's not true, because you want to write it, you know, I remember, Danna Shannon, who's an Emmy Award winning writer from Modern Family. He said to me, like one of his strategies, and I, I loved it, of winning the staffing for shows that the beginning of his career was, he would find out the character that they struggled the most with writing wise. And he would make, he would have a pitch ready with that character in a stronger light, so that they would realize they need him on that show. And so I thought that was such an such a great approach. But I, I think like for me when I remember watching a show, like save big glove on HBO. And I would know as soon as I saw the writers name, I would know if I was going to love the episode, because I so understood the voice of each writer and the capability of each writer with the story so so there's definitely even in mimicking somebody else's voice like you with your spec scripts, you definitely don't want to write a spec script that doesn't feel like a produced episode, you want to write a script that feels like a produced episode. But you also want to write a script that dives and digs deep into, you know, the emotional aspect of the story, or the uniqueness of the story that makes it so that yours is a script that can't be ignored. Like I remember, I remember there was a writer on Charmed, who I brought him into the executive producer and he got staffed in the room. Based on the strength of his spec script. He wrote a sopranos script that was so memorable. Like, I still remember it and it was, you know, Tony, when he they showed a flashback of Tony when he was a child, and he got caught masturbating by his mom. And and the shame that was in that moment, transferred to everything that was going on in the current plot. And so he threaded it through so that everybody could connect with what that experience must have been like, which brought you so much deeper into the story and it was a memorable script, you know, and then like, I mean,
People did stuff like I had writers write combination spec scripts, like I had, there was a writer that wrote a sopranos and Sex in the City mixed in. So there certainly were different strategies that people use. That's Tony and Terry, in the same episode. Yeah.
I'm sure he got some notice for it. I know, in the end, people remember this, I remember there was also a writing team who had been together for many, many years. And they wrote a pilot that was loosely blit, based on their split. And everyone wanted to know that story. So that became, you know, so I definitely think there are there are such original ways. And as I said, when you look at shows like fleabag, and the OA and Depor song, like, there, you there are ways to go outside the box with your voice, but still have a strong structure. There are also shows that
that are succeeding, quite honestly, that are, the structure isn't great, but the voice is great. And so you know, so So there's something to be said about this as well. That's why I think it's more important now than ever, to know your voice and create concepts that really utilize the strength of your voice. Again, that voice is so strong in a show like Stranger Things, which is a phenomenon at this point, they have an eye out. But that voice is so strong, and so specific. It is 13 reasons why I mean so many like there's just so many smells that's now up for Best Comedy. Yeah, there are so many shows that that people are going outside the box and they're taking risks, and they're not doing traditional structure. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn't. But there's a freedom to do that stuff. Yeah, we're they're included. You couldn't do it before. Yeah, I look at a show like Frank and Frankie and grace of Frankie. Yes. Which is I just love that show. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 27:16
Well written. Yeah. It is so funny. And it's so out, like they would never put that would never be on network television. It just couldn't. It couldn't I agree. So wonderful to see them all. Yeah, pounding. You know, the stories are just pounding at the, at a high level as you Yes. Now, what is the biggest mistake you see first time writers make?
Jen Grisanti 27:39
You know, I think it when it comes down to development story, I think the biggest mistake made in pilots is either too much character, not enough plot, or too much plot not enough character. So I think it's really recognizing that, you know, a TV is a character based business. So your audience is coming back because of your characters. So, so it's really doing the work on developing two to three of your characters in a very strong way. That brings your audience back. And I think that many writers, you know, first they'll populate their show way too much and have way too many characters and, and they'll have several characters serving the same purpose and doing the same thing. And so, you know, I think it's understanding, it's really understanding that less is more and and when an executive like when I would have 300 scripts behind me during staffing season, and I opened a script. First of all, with dramas you want to be around 58 to 60 pages Max, and I and you don't want it to be so complex that the executive would have to read it three times to really be able to grasp the concept. So so it's really writing toward that recognition. And I would say newer writers, you know, have the weight of oh my god, I have to make this stand out. And it has to be a dynamo. And in order to be a dynamo so many people think they have to reinvent the wheel. And in doing so they lose a grasp of what it is they're trying to say with their story because they're trying to impress Yes. No, with that, on that topic trying to impress, and this is something I've seen and I've heard from multiple places, I'd love to hear your opinion. What sometimes when you're reading a script, especially from a new writer, you you see them using not only 50 cent words, but dollar 50 words that are just you know, so out there, as far as you know, just reading Do you feel that by doing that you alien
Meet the reader sometimes because, you know, it's not supposed to be a vocabulary test. You know, I know that note is definitely given him writers on the verge of NBC. I'm a writing instructor they're like, and I've done that for nine years now. And I know that one of the notes that is often given
by my colleague, Karen Horne, who runs the whole diversity program at NBC, on all of the diversity programs, Karen, like, she's definitely given the notice, if I can't understand it, then you know what I mean? So, so you have to guess you have to think of those things. Like if it's one thing like to go, oh, I want to use big words, because I want to impress my audience. Now, it really is looking, I always say like, you always have to think what serves the story in the strongest way, right.
Alex Ferrari 30:56
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor.
And now back to the show.
Jen Grisanti 31:07
And what you know, and but if the reader has to literally stop reading your script and go to the dictionary, because they can't really place the use of the word, then there's a problem. You're interrupting the process, you're interrupting the flow. But I am a person, I have to be honest, I like the high vocabulary. I am interested. And the people who get and I like the lyrical and the poetic use in the language. I'm a big person of I love when I read an action lines that they even get really creative with the action lines like that, for me is I love all that. Now that I read in, in Stephen King's book on writing, he actually brought that up, he's like, look, you know, and he's arguably one of the most successful writers in history. Yeah. He's like, look, I can use big words, watch. And he just lays out this little paragraph with 40. I mean, 45 words I've never even heard of, and he's like, Hey, did you understand that? No, that means I didn't sell that book. So stop it. Yeah. And I could not I could not agree more. I have to admit that. Like, I don't think I've ever put a script down and said, those words are too big. And I can't get it now. It rare now. But also very experienced.
For 25 years. Yeah, there's
no audience reading scripts today. Yeah, it's true. Now, it's very true. Well, and I have to say, it's fascinating thing to get in what people have to consider, like, you know, I have writers in my storywise community, and they're always on a private Facebook. And I always look at the comments and see what writers are talking about. And I knew recently, I've had several my writers from my story wise, 10 week, teleseminar end up doing incredibly well in the competitions, and writing programs. And so they were talking about this one festival, which I'm not going to name but they were talking about this one festival, where, you know, several of them had won or placed in several competitions based on the script, their one script and, and then they sent it to this festival. And suddenly the feedback didn't at all align with all the other feedback that they've gotten. And, and that's because some of these festivals pay their readers nothing. And their readers are 25 years old. And they don't have the experience with story, to be able to give the feedback that really, really reflects what the work is. And so when you're writing the big words, and you're going over the top, you have to think about things like that, like if you have a 25 year old reader who misses the whole point of your story because of your vocabulary, that's problem. It'll never get to a person like you who can actually understand it, because yes, the gatekeepers will let it go through. Yeah, it's it's strategy as much as it is writing. Yes, it is. No, everything is strategy. I always say to writers, like when you're designing your writing portfolio, you have to think, what are the three top shows that I would die to write on? And then you have to look at your portfolio and go does my portfolio support that outcome?
Alex Ferrari 34:47
Fairly simple, but very, it's something that is missed quite often. Yes. Yes. Like the director who wants to direct action movies, but he's only done period dramas.
Jen Grisanti 34:57
Yeah, you know, I am
Believe me that I see the dream happen all the time. So I'm definitely not a person who's gonna say the dream doesn't happen because the dream happens every day. And and you have, I think the biggest, the strongest component for the writers I've worked with that have made it in a big way, his belief, you have to have belief in your talent, because if you don't believe nobody else will. Now what is what stops screenwriters from being successful?
Getting in their own way? I mean, I see it all the time. I see it all the time. You know, you see writers who write too much, and don't know how to edit back. And, and they talk like that as well, when they're in a room like there, there is so much being said that you have to really fish out what is the main point of what is being said. So that's certainly a way and I know that's nervous energy. And that's, and you, you have to go through things to really know them. But things like in other things, ways people get in their own way is they'll, they'll, they'll be in a room and they'll alienate other people, or they'll,
they'll talk, they won't talk at all, they won't contribute. So that's a problem, or they'll talk too much. And you'll feel like, okay, they just want to hear themselves think and and, you know, there's not valuable stuff coming out here. So I think the whole editing process on the page, and in the room is the biggest part. And then I think you have incredibly talented writers who are very internal people, and to make a writing career happen, you have to be external. So so that journey, you know, the the perfect pilot that went into that was Silicon Valley. You know, Richard when Ehrlich said, Dude, you got to make something a pied piper, you're out of the house, Richard, then who was a very internal person had to learn to become an external and in the first scene, he's pitching his Pied Piper idea to these two guys at the sink at the office, and they laugh at him. And and that, you know, but that's the process, like the growth process is, yeah, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to pitch ideas that people don't like, that's okay. At least you're trying and you're learning and you're growing, and you're evolving, and you're moving forward. And that's what you want to be doing. You certainly don't want talent, like it drives me crazy when I see incredible talent may never be realized, because of one thing that gets in the way of the outcome happening.
Alex Ferrari 38:04
happens in every aspect of life. But in the film business, I've seen a two directors get in the wrong way. You've seen it publicly to some Yes. Oh, yeah. That's
Jen Grisanti 38:18
a whole new world going on right now. I think Do you know like, for me, though, and not to go into any thing on that, which I certainly could. Sure. But I you know, my feeling with that is now that it's been exposed, and and the careers and livelihoods and everything else or have are gone or have gone down the drain. And now it's like it has to be about the focus needs to move into changing systems. So that this doesn't happen. Like that is more important than ever right now. I certainly love that. Out of all this. Our young daughters are sewing to be able to go after the dream without having to go through that like that makes my heart very happy to know I don't have kids, but my go to vendors. Yeah, like that. It's an important thing. And so I think it I think it's a growth time for everybody in the business to really look at the behavior and understand it. Yeah, the one thing I find fascinating about it, and I've never seen this, I don't think ever other than maybe in the McCarthy day know McCarthy but it's the McCarthy. Well, they were they were doing the they're doing the communist hunt. Yes, yes. Yes. That I don't think that's, you know, everything that's happening right now is completely valid and needed without question, but I've never seen complete careers Oscar winning careers are now gone.
Like it's gone. Kevin Spacey will not work again. I can't see I can't see a path back. Yeah, I can't see a path back Hollywood love to redemption story. I do that I like there are people like Harvey Weinstein, he's gonna pay Bill Cosby that you look at and you know and there are other there are other big ones that I'm not even going to
look up you know you sit there and you go they can't they can't like it was too dark in there were too many people saying too many things that aligned and so you have to but I you know see stuff like this intrigues me on a psychological level because I would love to see a show done where the lead character is like a Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein and how do they move through life after that fall? So you bet interests so like a Breaking Bad, but yeah, selling meth that they're they're harassers depriving their life. I mean, they're having to figure out that's where they went wrong. And how do they get life back on track that intrigues me? Because that's a curiosity to like, after, you know, I mean, literally, they wiped Kevin Spacey from this movie. Yes. A few weeks before the release, that's wild. That is like you're raced. That's like you're gone. You're doing it now. Because now your house of cards and all this kind of stuff. And the funny thing is, I I'm talking to my friends who you know, are in the business, but you know, I've been around a bit longer than them. And I'm like, This guy's gonna come out next. This guy's gonna come out next. And next to it.
Funny that you said that, like, I was at dinner with a close friend of mine who had a big project with a big producer. And I said his days are numbered. And two days later, it was in the trades and the Yes, and surgery. It's I mean, I was talking to my buddy the other day, I'm like, you know who's coming out next. It's gonna be Ratner's coming next.
Ratner is the one we all heard. I know, we all knew. And I Oh, by the way, I heard those stories when he was in miami pre rush hour. Yes. Before he was a big so I've heard these stories. And then I heard about Bryan Singer. Oh, I heard about half before that happened. Yeah. Brian and Kevin. Both I heard about them back in 2001. Yeah, I was hearing about those two. That's how long ago it was. It's insanity. Well, and the thing that thing that's hard about this, too, is there, there's a lot of hypocrisy. So So you know, there's certainly a you know, things have to change. Absolutely. Has there. There are a lot of people that supported this who aren't being punished. Oh, yeah. And who were a part of this happening. So it things have to change so that we don't have a careers going down the toilet left and right every day. Like literally, it feels like a PR thing of who gets what day when they come out. I mean, it's It's so wild. It's insane. And it's not just our business. It's not every business and it's all over the world. London is now heavy into it. And then Australia with Geoffrey Rush. I mean, everybody is in it now. It says it's Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's gonna get pretty. We've got we've gone way off topic. Yes.
That's all right. That's what's going on right now.
But that is our lead draw from that and bring that to the page. Without question, and that's, that's very, very valid now. Um, can you can you talk real quick about some bad habits you see writers do all the time? Um, well, you know, there are people who will harp on typos and this and that. And I, I say, Whatever you can do have as few typos as possible, I definitely agree that it will distract you. However, I have also seen writers who just kill themselves worry wise after they enter a program because they find two typos. And what you have to know is if the content is there, that's what sells so so. So you really have to trust in the content, I would say, you know, so they, you know, things like things to look out, like, you know, study scripts, I mean, look at you know, look at scripts know how many pages are per act? No, you know, and there's no steadfast rule on how many pages prep but have a general
idea like don't have a 30 page Act One. And then five pages for every other act like really know things that you should know through that through looking at scripts, certainly you can go the Writers Guild library, there are many people who say, Well, I can't get a whole scripts number I on my website, and I'm sure you have resources as well, where you go to my resources, page and my links, and I have all the websites that have scripts, and so you can get scripts. And then I would say another mistake writers make is they're not prepared for meetings, they don't know who they're meeting with. And there's no excuse for this right now. Like the internet tells you everything about everyone. And so you you know, walk into a meeting, be prepared, be ready to I always tell writers to to think when you're going into a meeting, have three marketing points that you absolutely do not want to leave the meeting without sharing, have three points, then you could relax in the meeting, but know that you have to bring up those three points. Now, what are those? When you mean marketing points? What do you mean exactly? Well, anything that markets you as a writer, so say, for example, I'm
there I had, I had, I'm not gonna name him because I don't want to embarrass him. But it was actually I love that he shared this I had a very big show runner, one of my seminars share a story that he had gone into a meeting that was the medical show, and he had 13 years background as a medical administrator, and he forgot to bring them.
Yeah. So you know, there are things that you know, you get nervous, and you forget. And so,
yeah, so that's an example like you, you have to be prepared, you have to know, what is the show I'm up for? What do I have in my background that shows the executive that I have a huge well of story to be able to tell story. For this concept. If you're going on a specific show, if you're not going on a specific show, then you want to know like, what are my overall general story points? And that can you know, you definitely want to think about what is a personal anecdote that I have that reveals something about me, for example, you know, I can say for myself, when I started my own business 10 years ago, on my two main story points for our you know, I was in a long relationship that ended in a short marriage and represented the depth of the fairy tale. And I had a, my career was interrupted mid flow when I was a vice president, because I thought I was going to run a studio. And so when the job when my contract wasn't renewed on the heels of an unexpected situation, then I had to read, readjust and redefine and everything that I was a blogger for Huffington Post for like seven or eight years, and my books, my two books sold on those two story points. So you have to really, really, and you know, and when you share your emotional truth, that's how you discover your audience. That's how you find one I'll go into a room. And I'll say, oh, Aaron Spelling was my mentor for 12 years, and I've been in the business for all this time. I've been a writing instructor for NBC for nine years. I this I that people don't connect with that, because they don't know that life experience. But when I say I was in a long relationship that ended in a short marriage, and represented the depth of the fairytale how many people know what it is to have your heart broken than you ever have a room big everyone knows. And then I'll say how many people have lost a job then you're the other half of the room, raise their hand and it's like, then then it's like, I see you you see me? And that's what you want to do. Now, can you discuss a little bit about your books? Yes. Um, so storyline, finding gold in your life story is adding fiction to your truth. So as a an executive, the biggest thing I was known for was really diving deep in my writer meetings into the wealth of story of writers. And then I would say, Have you ever written about that? No, I'll say not in an autobiographical way, but in a way of sharing your emotional truth and, and the difference in the gift of sharing your emotional truth is that you can heal and writing is healing. You can heal and bury your truth in fiction, which is
Why people, right. And so, you know, it's really this book is all about through breaking down features and television. And both books are based on my philosophy of story, which, in simplistic terms, and I certainly go into a much more advanced look at it in my books. But in simplistic terms, my formula that I discovered that Oscar nominated, Emmy nominated Golden Globe nominated stories, what I found when I extracted a formula was that every story starts with a powerful trigger incident that pushes the character into a dilemma. And then the choice that is made in that dilemma is what defines the external goal. And then every action taken obstacle head needs to link back to that goal. And it's when the goal isn't defined that the story doesn't work.
So we have to know what the character wants and why they want it.
And so that philosophy is, in every single one of us, like you talked about Michael Hague, and everyone out there. And you know, Lee Jessup, Pilar, Alexandria, and Dara marks, you know, like everyone, the gift of, of storytelling people really is that we are sharing what we know through our lens through our worldview, a story I happen to come from the studio executive worldview. So that's how I see story I see story through that lens. And then, after leaving that view, and becoming a writing instructor for NBC and building my own business, then that lens became even more enhanced, because I was, I had the time to dig deeper into the story process and really see what it was and read every single thing out there. I mean, I, I highly recommend that every writer like read every script, you can get your hands on read every book that comes out on story and recognize there's a value and a gift through understanding other people's worldview and understanding how to utilize it in your voice and your worldview.
That is a very good point is understanding and when knowing when you're following people and it because there's so many people, so many podcasts out there, yes. So many blogs out there. Yeah. And a lot of them are saying a lot of the same stuff. Yeah. But it's all about perspective. And I think that's one of the reasons why it separates you. Right? Because I mean, look, a lot of the information that I put out there through indie film, hustle is out in other places, but I have a unique perspective. And you're right, never thought of it that way. But my worldview is coming from post production and film and kind of like the the trenches, if you will, but not from directing the $200 million movie. Yeah. value in your perspective, because we need to know all of it. You know, like, you'll have people who will say, I'll have people say, well, Jen, have you ever written a script and I have written a script, but I'm not a writer, like I am, I recognize that my strength is internal with writing. So writing articles, content and books is where my love and my passion is, and screenwriting is not my passion because I was raised on the analytical side of it. And that's, that's the side that I love. I love diving into why story works, and how to create tools to pass on to writers so that they can make their story work. Now, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all of my my guests. So this kind of like rapid fire. Yeah. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Ah, I think right, right, right. Is the probably the biggest I know so many writers who don't, right? So you have to have a body of work. You have to fearlessly move through every story and recognize that you grow with every script you write. So you have to you know, really and I think it's it's it's understanding your passion and your emotional truth. And then it's also looking at what the market but not But recognizing your passion is what sells so the market has room for new ideas. So don't think you have
After write only toward the market know that you have to write toward your passion because your passion is what sells. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? Ah, you know, I've had so many that's such a good question. I mean, like on a spiritual level, uh, you know, there are
a god, there's a book called
understanding the why I can't I forget the name. Exactly. But I would say in a in entertainment in writing my favorite books, and I have so many of them. I'd have to say, I love stealing fire from the gods great book. I love I love DB Geils book, The screenwriter within, ah, I love Oh, my God. There's a book that I'm reading right now. And I have to tell you, I have never heard of this writer. And his book is blowing me away. And his name is Matt bird. And it's the hidden tools of story. And in the wild thing is, is I think it's structured toward fiction writers not specifically television or film, but he goes so deep into television and film that, that I look at him and I think all right, if there were a book that I if I had the time to go at the level, he goes, like, that's a book that I wish I had written. What's the name of the book because it's got here I'm looking it up. I think it's the hidden tools of story. Um, it is. I'm looking at it right now. Um, but Matt bird Okay, I'm going to put it in just when I put the link in the description. Yeah, put it link in because that book I have referred to people and my my clients have been blown away by it. Like, literally, I dog eared so many pages. It was crazy. I'm I also love Crispo where I also love Michael Haig. Sure, no, I am a key Oh, here it is. I am a huge of the secrets of story. Okay, so it's called the secrets of story, innovative tools for protecting your fiction.
Okay, great. So um, so the Yeah, that will give you an I'm, I'm a very spiritual writers. So the type of
Alex Ferrari 57:34
authors that I'm drawn toward are people who think in the same way. Perfect. Now, what lesson took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?
Jen Grisanti 57:47
Ah, probably, you know, I do think the idea that I'm always learning is,
Listen, before you speak, like, really? Listen, I think the biggest gift and I do practice every day is really like, I think what we tend to do, certainly in the writers room, and meetings, and everything else is we tend to, like, either defend, or get ahead of like, we're, we're hearing but we're already thinking of our answer that we're not really listening. So I would say the thing that I am always, I feel like the greatest gift we give each other is our time and our attention. So so that is something I think when I think about my, my arc of growth in the business, and I think of when when we first start our careers, we always think, oh my god, we have to speak up. We have to say stuff, we have to make a point and and you do but you don't want to do it, just to do it. You only want to do it when you truly have something to say.
Alex Ferrari 59:03
And what are three of your favorite films of all time.
Jen Grisanti 59:06
I would say my very favorite film of all time is the lives of others, which is a German film that won
best foreign film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2007.
That is definitely and then I would say The King's Speech, I think was beyond perfect film.
I also I would say I mean there are so many that I love that it's ridiculous but I wish there were more I say that there are so many I'm talking over like a 10 year period. I wish there were more and one year Birdman I have to say like one word man, I watched I saw Birdman three or four times. Like for me that was that was just brilliant. It's it's a
At that movie when I when I saw that movie, I was watching the screener. And I was like, oh, that's what a director does. Yes. Yeah. Oh, I forgot, cuz I haven't done so long. Yeah, that's what a director does. It is. It's fascinating when you see something too, like, what I can say like, there was an remember when I first watched The Hurt Locker. And I thought, oh my god, there's something so special here, but I have to watch it again, because I feel like I missed some of it. And when I watched it again, it was so impactful. To really see just where true brilliance comes from, and and how we feel story, you know, so Yeah, Mommy, she did make one of the greatest action movies of the 90s. Obvious Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Yay for Katherine.
No, now, um, what can people find you online? They can find me. Very easy. Jen. grisanti.com. So I, that's very easy. My email is Janet. Jen Grisanti comm also very easy. And if you Google me, you can find out everything there is to know just like I've mentioned that you should do on every person who you go to meet. I also have to recommend to like it. I don't know. Are you familiar with film courage? Yeah, I know them. Sure. So it's interesting because Phil, I did an interview for film cards that they divided it into, like 10 parts. And I have so many people who say, Oh, my God, I learned so much through that. So that that's, that's if you want to know me and understand my philosophy. That is that dives pretty deep into it. Great. I'll put some of those in the show notes as well. Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time
on your show, and I love everything you're doing and I'm honored to be a part of it. And I love that you are getting out the word out and helping writers. I think there's nothing better. Thank you again, so much. All right, thank you.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:08
I want to thank Jen for being on the show and dropping those major knowledge bombs on the tribe. Thank you again, Jen. And if you want to get links to anything we discussed in this episode, including her contact information, her books or courses, things like that, just head over to indie film hustle.com forward slash BPS zero to one. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com And leave us a good five star review. It really helps to show out a lot. We are still a young show and trying to get ranked higher and higher on iTunes. So every review counts. So please head on over. And as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.
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- Jen Grisanti – Official Site
- Tell the Internal Story Workshop
- Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story
- TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells