Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path – Jason Richman

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

Jason Richman pic

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jason Richman’s dedication to “just keep writing” has led him to a successful career in both film (Bad Company, Bangkok Dangerous) and television (Detroit 1-8-7, Lucky 7).

ON HOW HE FOUND HIS WAY TO FILM WRITING

I always loved movies and I was playing in a band at the time. The guys in my band took off to go back up some guy on tour, so I had time to kill and I just tried it. I decided I was going to write an idea for a film and I just wrote one.

And you know, the first one is always really easy. The first time you write a script, somehow it’s just seamless, it just kinda comes out. And I knew nothing, so I didn’t know how hard it was.

THE JOURNEY TO A WRITING CAREER

That script got me an agent and it almost got made. It was kind of an amazing roller coaster. I really didn’t know anything about the business, but the movie almost got made. And then it all, of course, fell apart.

And so I then went into the independent world for a couple years, and nearly got a film made there. It was the second thing that I wrote. It was a paying gig, that was cool. And that sort of sustained me for a little while. That whole time my agent’s sending me out, I’m taking meetings and trying to break in and get someone to say yes, which is like an impossible thing. You just hear, no, no, no, no everywhere you go for so long you embrace it. And then finally somebody said yes.

The yes was a job at Bruckheimer for a movie called, at the time, Black Sheep. It was a rewrite that I rewrote. I turned in my first draft and the movie got green-lit, which was astounding. Then I got an overall deal there and worked there.

The film turned into Bad Company, which was a Chris Rock, Anthony Hopkins movie. That was really boot camp for me because I think I went into that movie when I got hired and they told me it was green-lit and they said, “Now you’re going to get replaced.” I didn’t really understand what that meant. But there were a lot of writers that ended up coming onto that film, but it was a great experience. I learned a ton.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FROM GOING OUT WITH THAT FIRST SCRIPT TO GETTING YOUR FIRST REAL, REGULAR GIG?

Four years. Four years doesn’t seem that long looking back on it now, but it felt like a really long time. I was kind of a struggling musician for a good 8 years before that so it all seems like one creative struggling period.

The pathway doesn’t feel apparent. When you’re looking and saying how do I get to a certain place, it doesn’t feel like you could ever get there. Just somehow, you’re put in front of the right person at the right time. Luck passes your way at the right moment that you’re ready for and all of a sudden you’re there.

WHAT WAS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE BREAKING IN?

Before I ever got into television, I had to take a meeting with a bunch of television agents and the thing that they told me was, “Make sure if you’re going to do a TV show that you love it.”

And that ended up being the best advice, because in my experience you end up surrendering so much of your life and your time. Time away from your family, time away from your kids and you’re so deep in it that you gotta love it. If you don’t love it, it would be really hard to do it every day. So that was the best advice I ever got. Now it helps in the selection if I’m developing pilots and stuff like that. I really consider that.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Be persistent, keep writing and keep going, because the breaking in thing is very strange. I thought I broke in and I really didn’t. I thought when you get an agent that you’re on the way; that you’re on the road.

But it took me four years to get hired for real on something in this town. That I think is short for a lot of people. A lot of people spend a lot more time than that. So I feel very fortunate. But I think the key is to just keep going. You can’t give up.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path – Rob Edwards Part 2

Second in a series of interviews with hard working writers – by another hard-working writer!

Rob Edwards casual headshot

by Kelly Jo Brick

Rob Edwards’ career is a fine example of how persistence and dedication can lead to great opportunities as a writer. From stand-up to television to film, Rob’s credits includes writing for A Different World, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as screenplays for Disney’s Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog.

Last week Rob shared his thoughts on getting started and maintaining a writing career. This week he gives us insights on the craft of writing.

WHY YOU ALWAYS NEED TO BE WRITING:

Always have a lot of stuff, a lot of plates spinning. A lot of stuff is just going to die on the vine. Not every idea that you have sells. It always cracks me up. I talk to a lot of other writer friends of mine who talk to young writers and they’re amazed that people are only working on one project at a time. It’s very strange.

It’s like only having one pair of shoes or a pair of socks. You have to keep a bunch of irons in the fire because some things, some movies take 10 years before somebody makes them. Some things go right away, but some things it takes a while for the pieces to come together, for the right people to read your stuff. If you go one project at a time, you’re gonna maybe sell something one time in five years, ten years or so. That’s terrible.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY:

I think all writers have to study pop entertainment because you look at record albums; somebody will have a great debut record album and a terrible sophomore album. And the question is always well, what happened between the two albums? Sometimes it’s just the person doesn’t trust themselves. They don’t trust their voice from the first album.

Because really what people want to hear is more in that voice. You know it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same thing, but you’ve found something. You’ve found a collection of sounds or themes that resonate with people. Don’t all of a sudden turn that around.

That consistency is a big, big part of any kind of marketing. If you’re a pitcher, you throw strikes. If you’re a singer, sing on key. If you’re a writer, write what you write. Find out where your heart is, write that and stay in that zone.

WRITING STYLE:

How I started was just writing on a pad and handing it over. The idea of formatting was just never a big deal. The last thing I think when I’m writing is the most important thing in Final Draft, which is exterior/interior, where is it. Is it day or night? I don’t care, I just want to have two people talk, I want to have two people to have an argument and I don’t know if it’s outside or inside.

When you’re writing it, it’s like ahhh, slug line, slug line, slug line. And everything that happens is just, there’s so much formatting, it’s slowing down the writing, it’s slowing down my thought process. I’m to the point where I’m just putting two dashes and writing what happens. I’ve found that I’ve been able to do that well in either just Pages or using Final Draft and just typing in general mode.

Writers should check it out. Just try to type it in general and then go back through, Ctrl R then reformat. And then you can just reformat and build it out. You’re going to rewrite it anyway, but while you’re composing you just want to get it down.

WHEN YOU’RE WRITING A NEW SCRIPT, DO YOU PICTURE AN ACTOR AS EACH CHARACTER OR IS IT A FACELESS TYPE? WHAT WORKS FOR YOU?

Archetypes, I used to feel ashamed of it until I heard Alfonso Cuaron and his son talking about it, talking about Gravity and they were saying that they wrote in archetypes. The problem sometimes when you’re writing for a specific actor, is that you can bog down into stuff that that actor has already done which is usually stuff that the actor does not want to do the next time.

Every so often I’ll go specifically into an actress, just to check the reality of the scene, just to check the dialogue I will kind of mentally act it out as that specific actress and then back out into the archetype again. But I find that if I write it too specifically for one thing, for one actor, everybody knows what I’m doing and they’re like, “No, he’s never going to do it, nice try.”

ABOUT TAKING NOTES:

I once had a note, and I’m as guilty of this as anything, I was at NBC and an executive gave me the notes and said, “The one big strike against you, Rob is that you take everybody’s notes.” And I said, “Is that a bad thing? Is that really a bad thing?” Yes, it is. And she said, “Because most of the time we’re just filling the air. Nobody really knows. We want you to know. We hire you so that you will know. So if you don’t think it’s a good note, you don’t have to tell us, you just don’t have to do it. You just write it down and don’t do it.”

DON’T GET BOGGED DOWN. GET TO WORK:

For new writers it is a craft, you have to just sit down and learn it and do it, do it, do it. Don’t be too precious about your own writing. Don’t wait for it to get perfect. Just get the idea down and get it out. The first thing that happens when you sell something is you’re in a room with 6 people and they all give you notes about how you’re going to revise it. So if you think it’s perfect you’re kind of fooling yourself a little bit. Just get it out there and get going on the next thing.

— You can hear more from Rob at robedwards.net, a website dedicated to providing people with the tools and info they need to succeed as a writer.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path – Rob Edwards Part 1

First in a series of interviews with hard working writers – by another hard-working writer!

Rob Edwards PR Pic

by Kelly Jo Brick

Aspiring writers often wonder how the pros got where they are. The truth is, everyone’s story is different, but there are some common elements: dedication, persistence and hard work.

Rob Edwards’ career is a fine example of how persistence and dedication can lead to great opportunities. From stand up to television to film, Rob’s credits includes writing for A Different World, In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as screenplays for Disney’s Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog.

ON GETTING STARTED AND DEVELOPING A WRITING CAREER:

The way I always looked at it was nobody knew me out here and so the worst I could do was everybody would hate me, they’d say terrible things, whatever. I’d go back home and nobody would be the wiser. I wasn’t gonna lose. If I failed, I wasn’t going to live here anyways. So why not? It didn’t make any sense to not let everyone in Los Angeles say no to me. If there was one person who would say maybe then there was still a shot.

I look at Hollywood as it’s like you’re the batter and the pitcher is gonna throw an infinite number of strikes right across the plate. All you have to do is connect with one at some time in the 30 years that you’re out here. You just need to connect once every once in a while. On an average year, even now I’ve been writing for 30 years, I will pitch about 20 projects a year. I’ll sell one or two and that one or two, that’s my year. And then the next year I’ll go out and I’ll pitch 20 more.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST INDUSTRY JOB?

I wound up at Mary Tyler Moore’s company and they had a great program. They called it One Year Up Or Out. It was like you would interview, but you wouldn’t interview as a production assistant, you would interview as a writer. They would say, “Are you serious about writing? Do you have samples? How many samples do you have?” I think they would go as far as to read your writing.

This was MTM and at the time they had Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, The Newhart Show and Mary Tyler Moore had a new show and they had this reputation for winning the most Emmys every year because they just had these fantastic writers.

And so they gave me this hot box, this building on the lot that had a storehouse of cases of soda, my job was to when the various production offices would ask for soda, I would deliver the soda. With most of my free time I would just write and then deliver sodas the rest of my time. Eventually I had a spec and the Xerox guy turned his back for a little while and I copied a hundred copies of my script and I put big yellow covers on them. As I would deliver the sodas I would deliver the scripts and I would say, “Here’s the soda and here’s my script, both are equally refreshing.”

Fortunately a lot of people started reading my script and some gave me notes. Everybody was very generous about it. Two guys called me in the soda shed and said, “Do you have an agent?” And I said, “Well, no I don’t.” They said, “Well now you do. I’m going to have my agent call you. You’re really good, you should be represented.” And so before I even had anything going, I had 5 agents call me.

THEN HOW DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST WRITING JOB?

It was while I was working on the Mary Show, while I was a production assistant and my script was all over the place. I got this call, I actually hate to admit it, from the new Love American Style and they just needed a lot of comedy scripts. So they read my thing and called me up and said, “Would you like to write one?”

I took a break over lunch, went down and we pitched out what episode I was gonna do. I wrote it in whatever air between stuff and I watched it while I was working. I actually asked them if I could have a little time off during dinner so I could go and watch the show. And so I watched it while it was on TV and then went right back to work getting lunches.

I continued revising, copying and sending my stuff to all the other writers and two of the writers wound up having a conversation about me over lunch. They’d gotten shows picked up and they were talking about it over lunch and they said, “You know what, I’m thinking about hiring Rob as one of my writers.” And the other guy said, “Oh wait, I was gonna do that.” And so all of a sudden, boom, I’m in play.

WHO INSPIRES YOU NOW, AS YOUR CAREER HAS MATURED?

I like everything that Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio do. Simply because I get exactly what they’re doing, how they write, where their background is from, what they’re trying to do with their movies. And they make me smile with the stuff they do. It’s always tight. I like Joss Whedon. He’s just got some great stuff. I’ve always liked Shane Black. And he’s fun. His scripts are fun to read.

ARE THERE SCRIPTS YOU’D RECOMMEND PEOPLE READ?

For me it’s kind of like as the year progresses I’ll look at Box Office Mojo and see what has really done well and I always read those, the top 5-10 screenplays of the year. Anything that gets nominated I’ll read. I do try to read everything simply because screenwriting evolves so rapidly and people are doing things on the page that are really, really cool, really wonderful.

AS A WRITER, YOU NEVER STOP WORKING:

And that’s why I’m like, I’m not sure how different people will do it, but for me it was just don’t sleep until it’s done. Either it’s important to you or it’s not. And then once you’re done, you’re not really done. Your entire career is sales. And there’s no way around it. You’re never going to get to a point where you’re just sitting on the sidelines and you got 20 scripts to write.

Coming next week, more insights from Rob Edwards on the craft of writing.