Category Archives: television

New Year

I don’t usually make new year resolutions but last year, in this blog, I made a resolution to blog faster and more often. I failed completely. And in public, no less. Oh well. I could beat myself up about it or I could do what we should all do when we fail at something…try and do better the next time.

So here I am at the end of the first “work-week” of the year and honestly, it’s been going fine. Last year I co-created a new horror/comedy web-series called 20 SECONDS TO LIVE.

20STL logo web

It’s taken a lot longer than we’d anticipated for a couple reasons: we had no money but we were adamant that the series look fantastic. It’s been said before: fast, cheap, good…pick two. We picked cheap and good. But coordinating schedules with talented people generous enough to donate their time meant we pushed shoots often. By the end of the summer, we had three in the can and wanted to shoot two more before the end of the year and call that our first season. Then I got married, which took me off the grid for nearly a month. Then the holidays came and…it was looking like we’d never shoot them.

But someone (not me) suggested we start the new year on fire, shooting two episodes back to back on the first weekend of January. I thought we were crazy to consider it…but we did it! We worked with a fantastic crew and a stunning gang of actors. I can’t wait to share specifics but honestly, we’re focused on getting everything ready to unleash the series as soon as we can. I have to admit, it feels good to hit the ground running, as opposed to easing into the new year.

In addition to the web-series, there are a couple of TV opportunities I’m waiting to hear about and I’m starting work on a new feature screenplay. All that and I’m going to blog more! I’m not calling it a resolution. I’m just saying it out loud. In public. Let’s see how it goes this time.

The Big Show

Thought I’d follow up my last blog, where I discussed how much mental real estate you can contribute to multiple projects. I was tracking about five categories of stuff in my head. Here’s where I am now:

1) Getting married.

2) What was the question again?

Seriously,  our big day is almost here and my brain is fried. In theater terms, I describe it as putting on the biggest show of your life…one performance only! You have one hour to rehearse and tech and there’s no dress rehearsal, but your cast and production team are the people you love most in the world and everyone’s allowed to drink during the show. And if you’re lucky, you have the greatest co-star ever (which I do).

In addition to our endless wedding-related to-do list, I’ve managed to squeak in some other stuff.  My feature script THE FREELANCER is making the rounds. My producers and reps are going out with my new spec TV pilot. We shot a third episode of 20 Seconds To Live, the new web-series I co-created with Ben Rock. Along with out amazing producer Cat Pasciak, we’re shooting two more for the first season, but we recently pushed production until after the wedding.

And we got a new kitten. If I have anything to teach you it’s this…maybe getting a kitten a few months before you get married is not the best idea. Luckily, she’s a lovable little scamp.

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I also got a random bit of good news. Earlier this year, I submitted a short play of mine to a one-act festival in NYC, then promptly forgot about it. Turns out they received over a thousand submissions and picked twelve including my one-act “Rocket Sex”! So if you’re in NYC, you can see it in Program A of the Collective:10 Play Festival. I’d be there to check it out, but would you believe, it’s during our honeymoon.

In other random news, my friend Courtney Rackley created a cool rom-com web-series called “Firsts“. Last year she asked me to write an episode that ended up being the season one finale. So here’s my episode, First I Love You. I think there’s some dirty language in there (I should remember, but y’know, brain fry).

There. Now I can cross “update blog” off my to-do list. The big show opens in a couple days, closes the same night, and it just might be one of those legendary “You really saw the Beatles live?” kind of events. I know it will be for me, since I get to marry the best girl in the world.

My brain may be filled with way too much real estate right now, but there’s room enough to squeeze in something important that I always need to remember: I’m a very lucky guy.

Real Estate

A few months ago, I was chatting with my manager about what I was working on. I pitched one of my projects as “something just for fun, it won’t take much time.” This is a code for saying, “I’ll still have time to work on stuff that could make us money.” He instantly made his own point: “You only have so much mental real estate.”

This has stuck with me. Learning how to balance multiple projects is a must in Hollywood. Unless I’m on a writing staff or getting paid to write a feature, then everything is written on “spec”…which means I’m writing it for free in the hopes of selling it or using it to get work. When it’s all on spec, you can work on as many things simultaneously as you can handle.

But can you really? There’s the time I’m actually at the computer, working on one or more of my projects. Then there’s the rest of my day, and it’s interesting when I realize much work is done during that time. Taking a shower, walking to the store, driving to a meeting…those are times when the brain gets to wander. And almost always, my brain wanders to the most pressing of my projects. And I know I’m in trouble when during those precious times, my brain wanders to something other than my latest script.

Here’s what’s currently taking up my mental real estate:

1) I’m writing the first draft of a spec TV pilot. It was brought to me by a producing team and it’s based on an upcoming graphic novel.

2) I’m two drafts into a new feature screenplay, probably only a draft or two away from showing it to my agents and “sending it out”.

3) I’m co-creating a web-series called 20 Seconds to Live with my good friend, director Ben Rock. Along with our producer Cat Pasciak , we’ve shot two episodes (they’re very short) and are getting ready to shoot another batch of episodes before releasing them later this year.

4) I’m the marketing associate for the upcoming Sacred Fools Theater Company main-stage show, the world premiere of TASTE. It’s a very cool, very dark show directed by horror icon Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). My job is to get butts in the seats any way I can, but mostly by writing press releases, doing community outreach, and blasting out the word via social media outlets.

5) Oh yeah, I also have a life. There’s spending time with my fiancée and our two cats, planning wedding events, studying kenpo, working out, my monthly writers group meeting, seeing my friends, and every once in a while, I write a blog.

There’s a lot going on in my brain. Too much, probably. Luckily, things are sorting themselves out. But the lesson remains. There’s tons of fun stuff to get involved with, plenty of ways to pack my schedule with projects involving people I love.

But I only have so much mental real estate. And so do you. So fill it carefully.

Finale

My lady Jen and I watch a decent amount of TV shows together. From the pilot on, we were fans of USA’s “White Collar”. During the first season, I was at the Office Depot near our house and waited in line behind Agent Burke himself, Tim DeKay. I told him how much we loved his show and he was so thankful. He asked if I was in the business and I told him about my script “Five Killers” that was nearing production. He congratulated me and we parted ways. It was really the nicest “celeb” encounter I’ve ever had.

After the retitled “Killers” came out, I pitched a couple of TV ideas around town. People really liked me and my ideas, but something was missing in my pitches and I wasn’t selling. To better understand the form, I wrote a spec pilot in 2011. My agents were excited about the script and sent it out. I got plenty of “we love this but can’t buy it” responses, which resulted in several general meetings. One of those meetings was with an exec at Fox Television Studios, the studio behind “White Collar”. We shared our affection for the show and he offered to show my pilot to show-creator Jeff Eastin.

I know how things work. The chances of my script moving up the ladder onto Jeff’s desk was not something to bet the farm on. But wouldn’t you know it, several months later, Jeff was about to enter production on both season 4 of “White Collar” and the pilot for his new show “Graceland”. They decided to add one person to the writers room and I was asked to interview for the position. And that’s how I came to work on “White Collar”.

Last year was a whirlwind. I went form working in my home office and setting my own schedule to showing up at the writers room five days a week and working my ass off with an outstanding team of writers. I was lucky enough to go to New York to help cover the episode I co-wrote. Hanging out near craft services, drinking coffee on a rainy day, I told Tim DeKay about our meeting all those years ago, a meeting he faintly remembered. Life’s funny sometimes. I complimented a star on his excellent new show, having no idea I’d be working on that very show years later.

My stay at “White Collar” was a short one, only the one season. Now I’m back in my home office, writing a feature script and developing some new TV ideas. Tonight is the season 4 finale, the last episode I’ll be credited on. Working on “White Collar” was a beautiful accident and I’m deeply grateful for my time there. From the crash-course in making great television to the friendships I made, it was truly a blessing.

And now I get to be a fan again. I know how season 4 ends, but season 5 is a mystery. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Making Stuff

I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, and began making a living as a screenwriter a year and a half later. Got my first movie made in 2006, my second movie in 2009. All in all, I’d spent about a decade making a living as a screenwriter with two produced credits to show for it, something I am VERY proud of.

Getting any movie made is an impossible journey. Movies are expensive. They’re hard to get right.  At the executive level, a sure-fire way to lose your job is to say “yes” to a movie that doesn’t do well. Only slightly less dangerous is to say “no” to a movie that does great for another studio. What this reinforces is a culture of “maybe”. As in, maybe they’ll read it, maybe they’ll pass it up to their boss, maybe they’ll buy it, maybe they’ll hire a director, maybe maybe maybe. It can be maddening, which is why, whenever something actually gets MADE, when enough maybes are dodged, when enough people say yes, it’s a flat-out miracle.

In 2011, I wrote my first spec TV pilot which, in a crazy round-about way, led to my first job in TV, as a story editor for one of my favorite shows WHITE COLLAR. The best thing about this gig was getting to work with a warm, funny, ultra-talented team of writers who know a hell of a lot about writing television. So all the time, I would ask them a gazillion questions about TV. In return, they would ask me questions about the feature world. I could write many blogs (and probably will) on the differences between writing TV and writing movies. But far and away, the most important difference between the two worlds is simple: the movie industry doesn’t seem like it really wants to make stuff, while in television, they TOTALLY want to make stuff.

Once a show is picked up and put on the air, the clock starts ticking. Episodes must be written, re-written, put through the ringer of notes, rewritten again, shot, edited, all because on a particular day at a certain time, SOMETHING has gotta be on those airwaves. It is a stunning difference. Features are a culture of maybe, while television is a culture of YES, C’MON, LET’S MOVE, FASTER! Now this kind of schedule creates it’s own craziness but compared to the “hurry up and wait” mentality of features, it’s a dream.

I started in the WHITE COLLAR writers room a few weeks late, and show-creator Jeff Eastin and his writers were already well on their way to “breaking” the season. But there was still plenty to do. I worked with the other writers breaking story, writing outlines, reading and giving notes on drafts. But late in the season, I got a surprise. I was assigned an episode to co-write with the excellent Matt Negrete. And that episode, titled “Shoot the Moon”, airs this coming Tuesday night, February 19th, on the USA network.

So in February 2012, I started working in television, and one year later, I have my first produced credit on the air. That fast of a turnaround is a dream for a writer who spent ten years working in the land of maybes.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love movies and want to make them. But there are things to love about TV, and number one on the list: television is all about getting stuff made. And this Tuesday, I can proudly say…I helped make some stuff. Check it out if you can.