A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!
by Kelly Jo Brick
EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 1 is HERE
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, hard work and not giving up.
From animation to science fiction, Marc Zicree has written hundreds of hours of TV for shows including SMURFS, SUPER FRIENDS, SLIDERS, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and BABYLON 5. His drive and desire to learn from the writers he most admired helped Marc develop his career in television. Currently, he is writing, directing and producing SPACE COMMAND, a series of science fiction features starring Doug Jones, Armin Shimerman and Mira Furlan.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU RECEIVED AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?
When I was growing up, the three shows that made me want to be a writer were the original STAR TREK, the original TWILIGHT ZONE and the original OUTER LIMITS. My heroes weren’t the actors, they were the writers: Richard Matheson and Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, D.C. Fontana, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury. As soon as I was old enough, I started going to science fiction conventions and meeting a lot of these writers.
They became mentors, many of them. So the thing I think served me the best was recognizing who are the best people doing the work I wanted to do and then learning from them directly and learning from what they were doing. Really studying how they did these things. Reading their scripts, talking with them, finding out what the ins and outs were of both the art and the craft and the business too, because you need all three to have a career.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR WRITERS TAKING THEIR FIRST MEETINGS?
Be present. Many, many meetings you’re so in your head and you’re so thinking about the past, the future, you’re not present. There are many pitches I took as a producer where I would ask a question and the person would answer a different question because they weren’t present. So be present. Be friendly.
Be warm, be genuine. Authenticity is very important. Don’t flake. You’d be amazed at how many people flake. All you have to do is do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
AND ONCE YOU GET ON A TV STAFF?
Have a work ethic. Work hard. I know some people who have done very well because when they got on staff they were the first person at the office and the last person to leave and that was noticed.
Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Be pleasant. Be positive. Be upbeat. Don’t complain. Don’t gossip. It’s pretty obvious stuff, but you’d be surprised by how many people fall into negativity, complaining, all that stuff.
ON GROWING YOUR CAREER ONCE YOU GET IN THE DOOR.
It’s not an easy road. You want things to go smoothly, but they don’t. People ask me how I broke into television and it’s more like a burglar working a neighborhood. It’s always about reinvention and I’ve always been extremely ambitious. My goal from when I was 10, 11, 12, 13 years old was to create and run my own science fiction series and now that’s what I’m doing with SPACE COMMAND.
You have to break in and break in and break in. It’s an ongoing process and I’m still doing that even now. You have to be endlessly inventive. You have to be driven and enthusiastic and surround yourself with people who will believe in you even when you falter.
WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET FROM ASPIRING WRITERS?
Often people want to know how to break in and what I say with that is right now the best way is to apply to the writing fellowships. The real question is how can people know you’re a good writer without reading you. Everyone hates to read and there’s not enough time in the day to read everybody’s scripts and so if it’s like, well, I’ve won this ABC Fellowship or I was in this Sundance Screenplay Lab or any of these things, then it’s like, well, OK, let’s check out this person’s writing.
Also with a lot of these studio and network writing fellowships, they’ll give you money and they’ll give you a career. So that’s one way, but the main thing is to not expect some agent is going to take you on board, wave a magic wand and make it happen.
You have to figure out how to kick the door down, how to get attention. It might be making a web series; it might be doing an indie film that wins at a festival. It might be writing a spec script that you get to some actor and he starts blogging and tweeting about it because he loves it and he has several million fans. It’s anything that’s going to get you attention. It always starts with the work.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK.
What I would urge writers to do is first of all, write well. Get feedback from professionals. Make sure that you’re getting feedback because most scripts aren’t strong enough. They’re not well written enough. Write and write and write and get feedback.
Ray Bradbury told me he wrote every day for 10 years before he wrote a single word that he thought was worth anything. So don’t just assume that because you’re working hard that you’re accomplishing what you’re setting out to do. Writing is a two way street. It’s what you intend to say and what the audience perceives, so you have to make sure what you intend to say is what they’re getting.
HOW CROWDFUNDING HAS BEEN A GAMECHANGER.
There are two things that really sabotage writers. It shouldn’t be this way and the other is, it used to be like this. It used to work, why doesn’t it work now? Those two things you have to totally let go of. Say to yourself, what’s the problem? What are some actions I can take? One of my bosses, it was Richard Manning, an executive producer on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, he said, “Sometimes it doesn’t matter which direction you choose as long as you choose a direction and march.” I believe in that. So you say, okay, let’s take an action, if that doesn’t work we take another action. If the old things don’t work, try something new.
I mentor a lot of people through my roundtable and through classes that I teach. I started hearing about Kickstarter and Indiegogo. So I looked into them and saw that things were getting financed and because it frustrated me that executives at the studios and the networks were gatekeepers, I turned toward crowdfunding. I thought let’s try something else. Let’s see if I can raise money on Kickstarter and then I sold investment shares. With that I was able to shoot the first SPACE COMMAND movie.
It’s inventing an entirely new way of doing things. I love the new methods, the new modalities because I can utilize them and don’t have to ask permission. The lovely part is that I wrote the script exactly the way I wanted to write it. I cast all the actors I wanted to cast. I shot it exactly the way I wanted to shoot it. I didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission and if I’d gone to the network with the cast that I wanted to cast, I probably couldn’t have gotten most of these people, because the networks wouldn’t have wanted them.
Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.