From almost the very beginning of TVWriter™, Herbie J Pilato has been part of our family. In fact, Herbie J was our first Contributing Editor.
For the last year and a half or so, Herbie J’s appearances on this site have been far too few because he has been working on his own TV series. We’re hoping to get him to give us the inside scoop on the process, but until we can corral him (as in tie him up and sit him down with his hands to the keyboard and his feet to the fire), here’s a little bit showbiz insider-ness, a sampling of several already shot episodes that, in keeping with the metaphor above is known to insiders as:
Herbie J Pilato’s Now & Then Sizzle Reel
From Council Tree Productions, headed by Joel Eisenberg and Steven Hilkards. Director: Steve Akahoshi, DP: Michael Walker, Sound: AV Viricel, Audio Mix: Brendyn Adams
Special Thanks to all celebrity guests, GeekNation Studios, and Sound With Motion for their contribution of time and support.
How do you spot a successful TV drama showrunner? Look for somebody “on the verge of bad health and insanity.” We’re guessing that isn’t what the folks who bring us “Writers on the Verge” mean. Or is it?
by Lacey Rose
A gathering of top showrunners can quickly devolve into a type of therapy session about dealing with audience pressures and network demands. But when this sextet — The Looming Tower’s Dan Futterman, 50; Power’s Courtney Kemp, 41; The Crown’s Peter Morgan, 55; The Handmaid‘s Tale’s Bruce Miller, 53; The Good Doctor’s David Shore, 58; and The Chi’sLena Waithe, 33 — gathered on a late-April morning for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Drama Showrunner Roundtable, it managed to avoid the usual subjects of writerly angst, save some musings from Morgan, who lamented a U.K. system that doesn’t nurture writers rooms as well as U.S. shows do.
“You can’t find people in the U.K. [to write on your show]; everybody’s got their own show,” he explains. “And we’re in this era now of boom TV, so the most inexperienced, fledgling writers have got two or three shows on, and it’s like, ‘But he’s only 18.'” When it’s suggested, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that by the time The Crown reaches the season about Meghan Markle, he’ll have had time to groom a room of writers, Morgan laughs: “I give you my word. I will not get to the Meghan Markle season.”
Over the course of an hour, the group talked instead about the value of writers room debates, the politics of who can tell what story, the future of pay parity and the lengths each of them is willing to go to for the sake of a truly safe set.
BRUCE MILLER The one that comes to mind is when I had a pitch that we were going to do a female genital mutilation story on Handmaid’s Tale. You don’t even know how to word anything, I’m just dancing around it as much as my upbringing would allow — and then you realize you’re doing it to Rory Gilmore! [Alexis Bledel starred in The Gilmore Girls before Handmaid’s.] But it was fine for them [at Hulu]; they loved it. I still haven’t recovered. I’m turning bright red just thinking about it.
COURTNEY KEMP I was very, very fortunate because the first show I ever pitched was Power.
LENA WAITHE Overachiever!
KEMP Yeah, I walked into the room with 50 Cent and, at that time, [the late music executive] Chris Lighty. It was like a hundred dudes and me. There were no other women. Everyone would sit down, and the people on the other side would go, “OK, so who am I listening to?” And I’d go, “Me, the girl from Connecticut, I’m going to pitch you the drug-dealing show.” It’s not a funny story, but it does speak to how much has changed, even in the past five years.
PETER MORGAN There isn’t such a culture of pitching in the U.K., so I pitched The Crown but really only to one or two people. [Of course,] when I wrote Frost/Nixon for the screen, I had a dozen unsuccessful pitches. Everybody thought it was a catastrophe….
Speaking of PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, as we’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks, it’s time to interrupt my meticulously crafted series on the competition, how it works, and how entrants can maximize their chances to do well with this column about, well, how entrants in any creative contest can maximize their chances for the most important result of all – feeling good about themselves.
In other words, a recent entrant into another writing contest – not PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, or any other year – send me the email the other day, and I believe it’s important to deal with the issues it brings up.
[Not PEOPLE’S PILOT] came back with its quarter finalists, and as I suspected from the terrible feedback I got from them, I didn’t make it.
[The Other Contest] says they want to hear our feedback on their feedback, and given that this is the second time I’ve gotten comments like “The act breaks fell on the appropriate pages,” and “I didn’t like the protagonist because she was a ginger. You should make her a more sympathetic hair color. Auburn comes to mind,” I’m feeling more angry than disappointed and am fighting off the urge to blast these people with both barrels.
I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude, or something like that, but I’m also sick of quietening down and sitting in a corner and otherwise playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.
I’m tired of being frustrated, ignored, led astray, and being afraid to expressed a contrary opinion, and I’m hoping that you, as someone with years of experience and mountains of knowledge, and a reputation for being one of the great contrarians of our time can give me a suggestion or three about how to get a grip with myself, this show business bit, and living with reality as well as with my dream.
Discombobulated But Not Yet Suicidal
I definitely have a lot of thoughts about what you’ve said, but I’ll keep this as short as I can.
I haven’t read your script or the complete feedback you got, but I certainly understand your reaction to the two examples you gave. The first one is incredibly patronizing (or is it “condescending?” I get those two confused), and second one is irrelevant, an example of an inept reader trying to appear helpful by giving a specific yet totally meaningless suggestion.
In the long run, however, what you say here is more important to your future, so let me dig into it a bit:
I worry that being too rough on these peeps would brand me as hard to work with, an egomaniac with a bad attitude…, but I’m also sick of quietening down and…playing nice with everyone so I don’t damage my chances of having a career.
The way I see it, your concern is totally justified and yet totally unjustified at the time time because while it’s true that in a professional environment those who hold onto their creative viewpoint when said viewpoint is totally unjustified (because the work just plain doesn’t demonstrate the necessary talent) are pretty much guaranteed to have a short professional shelf life, the situation here isn’t one I would consider professional at all.
The Other Contest – oh hell, just about any contest except those run by major media companies or shell-shocked veterans of those companies like, ahem, myself – isn’t a professional environment.
Far from being staffed by genuine gatekeepers or true creatives, most contests are staffed by people who, no matter how well-intentioned (or not, but Great Contrarian that I may be I don’t really want to open up that particular can of worms here) are just as new, naive, or inexperienced in the ways of our delightful Industry as you are.
Antagonizing them is meaningless in terms of your career unless they somehow become rich, powerful, and respected. And in a business where those who succeed are usually either those who are so good at what they do that the fact that their assholes gets overlooked or those who have played the corporate game so expertly even you would love them if you met them, even you do come face to face with the idiot who wrote your feedback (or hired whomever wrote the feedback), they’re probably going to have no memory whatsoever of any previous encounter.
And if they are true masters of the corporate game – and you truly are as talented as you hope and pray you are – even if they do remember they’re going to welcome you with open arms because they need what you can do for them…make ’em even richer, more powerful, and more respected.
Absolutely true story time:
Back in the early 1970s when I was freelancing for various broadcast network shows (yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore, I know, but keep reading anyway), I took an assignment on a highly regarded medical series and worked my butt off, as always, doing several drafts.
When they sent me the final, going-into-production-tomorrow version, I hated the further changes that had been made. The network had always said it was “uncomfortable with what I – and the show’s staff -had spent so many weeks on, and the discomfort was reflected by the fact that now original arena in which the story was set was gone, which meant that the premise – and the story itself – barely made sense
My Great Contrarian self went ballistic. I threw the script in the fireplace and burned it as thoroughly as I could while keeping it identifiable, then stuffed the combo pack of crisped pages and ashes into a 10 by 13 envelope along with a note that said, “Here’s what I think of your fucking rewrite!” and mailed it to the executive producer.
Did it harm my upward rise? Maybe, by keeping me from working at the studio the show was at for awhile, but everyone involved told their pals in the biz what I’d done, and that made me a kind of fascinating, idealistic rebel character that they all wanted to work with, and work with me many of them did, in a counterbalancing act that even my agent was happy about.
In other words, relax, DBNYS. Do what you need to do. Since you’re asking my opinion, though, I have to admit that from where I sit, I don’t really see much point in dumping on The Other Contest and its minions. That takes a lot of energy, and your energy is better off being focused on that place you call reality and how you can actively and positively combine it with that other place called your dream.
Next time: More specific PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 advice. Not just because I want to appear helpful but because I genuinely want everyone out there to succeed!
…And the lady definitely is worth listening too (even if she does also – OMG! – direct). Here’s some straight talk from the creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and writer for The Simpsons, Late Night with David Letterman and many more :
Ms. Scovell’s memoir, Just the Funn Parts:…And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood boys’ Club is ready and waiting for you to buy it HERE