Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path With Marc Zicree, Part 2

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.

Peer Production: S(HER)LOCK

Now this looks like something worth contributing to:

new take on Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock as a woman has wonderful possibilities. Find out more about this upcoming (we hope) series on Kickstarter!

Robin Reed: Trying to Kickstart the web series “Pastor Damien”

by Robin Reed

pastor-damien-season-one

…so I don’t have to be the entire crew any more.

When I was a shuttle bus driver on the graveyard shift at a parking garage near LAX, one of the valet parkers was a tall, goofy guy who liked to run around making monkey noises.

At break time, when we late night workers sat and talked, I found out that this fellow, Roger Sonnier, was an actor who worked the night shift so he could go to auditions during the day. In L.A., where everyone wants to be in show biz, it was not an unusual story.

Since I was a writer and had some experience with shooting and editing video, we vaguely talked about doing some sort of video project together. Then I got the chance to quit that job, and didn’t look back.

Months later I got an email asking me to help Roger and a friend of his with a web soap opera they were planning. Basically they needed me for my DSLR, a camera I bought mainly for still pictures but knowing that it could do video.

Another camera person got involved who had better equipment, and I became his assistant. We shot many hours in several locations. The lead camera person was not a nice guy. He had a very low opinion of me and my low-end camera. So I decided to leave it to him and not subject myself to his insults any longer.

Not too long after that Roger contacted me again. He too had left the soap opera. He had an idea for another web series. It would feature a pastor who was a serial killer, and be titled “Pastor Damien.” I went along just because my ambitions to work in show biz had atrophied to nearly nothing but I still liked the process of shooting and putting a show together.

I didn’t plan to become the editor, but there was no one else and no budget, so I ended up stuck with that job. I spent many a frustrating hour on iMovie, and when I reached the limits of that, found out I could subscribe to Adobe Premiere Pro for twenty bucks a month. Premiere Pro was even more frustrating.

We had no boom mike or any real sound equipment for the first episode, and it shows. Sound has improved but making it good also makes the shooting and editing harder.

Now we have five episodes. Roger is a people person. He can get actors to show up, and he can get locations. We have used a car repair shop, a tire store, and a school. We had quite a large cast for the church scene and later for a church picnic. We have also had actors quit after one episode so we had to write out their characters.

Writing is my main skill in video production, and on this show I do very little of it. My writing contribution is to try to keep some sort of story logic going, while Roger likes to shoot off in new directions all the time, forgetting to tie things together. He has never written before, but he does have interesting ideas and an ear for how people talk.

We started with a police procedural and now we have spies, ghosts, demons, and a very funny church lady who thinks she is holier than everybody.

Doing your own web series with no resources does allow for a lot of freedom. No one gives you notes. You don’t have to check anything with the network. You just write and shoot. I don’t know of any writers who have built a career on it yet, or of any web series that makes money. Having actual footage to show, not just scripts, is good for your resume. It does feel good to be out there doing it, rather than waiting for pitch meetings and the approval of people who disapprove of almost everything.

Now Roger and I are throwing ourselves on the mercy of Kickstarter, hoping we can find people who appreciate our weird little show and want to see us make it bigger, faster, and stronger. We have asked for a pretty good chunk of cash, but if we can pull it off we will create a little studio of our own and branch into other projects as well.

Please look at our Kickstarter page and see if you want to help. I hope you do.

You can see our five episodes HERE.

Why Spike Lee’s Kickstarter campaign is not the success you think it is

What? You didn’t think Spike Lee’s Kickstarter campaign was a success? You didn’t even know he had one.

Sheesh! Get with the program, kids. How else are you/we ever gonna be taken seriously as, you know, being in the biz?

Luckily for all concerned, The Bitter Script Reader’s been keeping his eye out for all of us:

SpikeLeeKickstarterAugust.jpg

by The Bitter Script Reader

Spike Lee’s Kickstarter campaign ended this morning with him topping out at over $1.4 million dollars in donations.  He’s the third-highest film campaign in history after Veronica Mars ($5.7M) and Zach Braff’sWish I Was Here ($3.1M).  After Veronica Mars walked away with its windfall, there was no shortage of editorials proclaiming that this could be the start of a trend – for good and for ill.  Some hoped it would bring independent filmmakers more opportunities, while others feared that studios and the privileged would take advantage of their supporters by getting them to essentially pay for the movie.  So does Spike Lee’s success confirm any of that?

No.  In fact, I’d submit that when you stack up the number’s on Lee’s Kickstarter against Veronica Mars and Braff’s, you’ll find it hard to declare it a genuine success.

The website Mars Investigations has done a fantastic job of breaking down the numbers for all of the high-profile Kickstarters.  If you have any interest at all in crowdsourcing, you owe it to yourself to look at their charts.

First, let’s consider the average donation to the Kickstarters.  Veronica Mars had 91,585 donors and a total of over $5.7 M, which makes their average donation $62.36.  Even though Braff raised less, $3.1 M, his average donation was pretty close – $66.76.  Spike Lee’s average donation? $220.98

If you look at the “Pledges” chart, you see that Veronica Mars (36%) and Braff (40%) got a sizable number of their donations from the range of $100-$499.  Lee’s donations at that level come out to only 9.1%.  So what’s going on here?

Read it all

munchman: Showtime Prez Sneers at His Audience

-The-Borgias-2012
Oh them crazy, zany Borgias
munchman
by munchman

Or, to be more specific. At us. You and me. I wanted to title this post “Showtime Prez Affirms His Belief in Kickstarter,” but then I got all freaked about people missing the irony…and my anger.

Cuz Showtime President David Nevins wasn’t being positive about Kickstarter in any way when he mentioned it the other day. In fact, he was being a dick. In other words, if you think the Borgia family is a bag of bad, wait’ll you get a load of this guy.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Nevins was on his way into the Beverly Hilton Hotel for a Television Critics Association press tour event when he saw a protester with a message to save Showtime’s recently cancelled series, THE BORGIAS.

His first reported response was the “right” one, as in:

“You can’t do it all. I would love to do the final two-hour movie, but you have to marshal your resources and put it behind things that you think have future growth,” Nevins tells The Hollywood Reporter of the save-our-show campaign.”

But then Nevins went on to complain that he’d talked to the protester “and he’d never watched the show. He’s a paid protester.”

Which led to his next comment, referred to in the Reporter article as “a message to The Borgias dedicated and vocal fan base:”

“‘Kickstarter seems to be the financing mode du jour,’ he says.”

Considering that a Kickstarter campaign to continue a much-loved TV series in some form can only be initiated by those who, you know, own the rights to the series, Nevins either was demonstrating remarkable ignorance for somebody who’s supposed to be smart enough to run a network, or it was a dick move, pure and simple, an asshole way of showing his contempt for fans. And by fans I mean those who support Showtime by subscribing and watching its output.

Congratulations, David Nevins. TVWriter™ is proud to make you our first Very Special Television Dickwad of the Week.

Hmm, I like this idea. Something tells me we’ll be doing it again. There are lots of candidates in the wings, that’s for sure.