Case #16: Lisa Klink

Interview by Rae Hanson for RamblingsofaTVWhore.com

Lisa KlinkWhen Lisa Klink approached us about being adopted, I jumped on the chance to interview her. Not only am I a huge fan of Lisa’s TV credits (Star Trek: Voyager, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Roswell to name a few), I’ve also been enjoying her blog since she started it last June. And, in fact, I had actually met her on the picket lines during the first fan day back in November. It was an honor to meet her and an even bigger honor to interview her for this project.

Before I go any further, I have to apologize for taking so long to get this interview posted. Lisa was kind enough to talk to me back in the beginning of February and I feel bad that it’s taken this long to share what she had to say. We were just finishing up our interview as the Guild was preparing to vote on ending the strike. I didn’t want the interview to get lost amidst that news and then life, as it often does, interfered. But we’re finally getting it posted and I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Lisa as much as I did.

As a writer who works primarily in television in the genres of sci-fi and action, Lisa’s many credits include Flash Gordon, Painkiller Jane, Missing, Roswell, The Fearing Mind, Martial Law, Earth: Final Conflict, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In addition to television, Lisa’s also written a feature film, comics, CD-ROM games, and even a themed attraction. Since Lisa has a great summary of how she got started in the business on her website along with the story of her very first produced episode, I decided to skip those questions and get right to the nitty-gritty…

Was telling stories something you did when you were younger? Were you always interested in writing or something you realized later best fit your desire to tell stories?

I’ve always loved stories, both reading and telling them. When I was a kid, my friends and I would make up plays. In high school and college, I wrote for the school newspapers, and considered going into journalism. I also wrote plays in college, and had one performed in a one-act festival. But when I moved out to Hollywood, I didn’t have enough confidence in my writing skills to pursue that as a career, at least at first. I thought I wanted to direct, until I worked for a director for a while and realized it wasn’t for me. I think two things steered me back toward writing. First, I read scripts for the director, and frankly, read a lot of crap, which reassured me that maybe I was good enough after all. Secondly, I tried writing for TV, which seems to suit me better than screenplays. Once I wrote my first TV spec, a Star Trek: Next Generation, I felt I’d found my niche.

In addition to your TV work, you’ve also written a feature and for comics, a CD-ROM game, and a theme park attraction. Are these all challenging and rewarding in different ways or is there one you definitely prefer to the others?

Writing for television, for me, is the right balance of freedom and limitations. There’s an established world and characters, and there are budget and production considerations, which provide a nice-sized empty box to fill with story. I find screenplays a little intimidating because there are no boundaries. I tend to second-guess every decision: is this the right story, the right characters, etc. – which makes it tough for me to finish a screenplay to my satisfaction. At the same time, I do enjoy challenging myself. I like trying new formats. I very much enjoyed writing the Batman comics, and am working on a new graphic novel now.

I used to work at Universal Studios and I like going to theme parks way more than any thirty-something should and yet for some reason it’s never even occurred to me that someone obviously had to be writing those scripts. What exactly goes into writing for a ride? Is it almost like writing a short TV episode? Do you help shape what happens before the ride is even built or do you just get a breakdown of what will happen on the ride and have to write around that?

Working on the “Borg Invasion” project was a lot of fun. I worked with the designers of the attraction to find out what was technologically possible and how to best take advantage of that. There’s a mechanism in the audience’s seats which simulates the injection of Borg nanoprobes, and we actually had a debate on how badly we could freak people out without giving someone a heart attack. There were other unusual challenges, like how to work the 3-D glasses the audience had to wear into the story. Once we had the premise and basic storyline worked out, I wrote the script, then revised it several times for both creative and production reasons.

Are there other types of writing projects you’d like to try?

One thing I’ve always wanted to try is adapting a novel. I think it would be an interesting challenge to break one down to its essential parts, then put those pieces back together in a different format.

The majority of your work is sci-fi and action. Is there something in particular about those two that appeals to you? Has it been a conscious decision to stick with them throughout the years or is that just where the jobs have been?

I love sci-fi and action, as a writer and as a viewer. That being said, the reason I started with a Star Trek spec is that they were the only show in town which would accept an unsolicited script. That’s where I got my first job, which classified me in the TV world as a sci-fi writer, which has led to more sci-fi jobs. I’ve made some effort to expand my options. I wrote specs for The Practice, CSI and House, and I’ve gotten interviews for staff positions on “mainstream” dramas, but haven’t been hired. Ideally, I’d like to be able to write for several different genres, including sci-fi, if for no other reason than to have more job opportunities.

Star Trek has such a loyal (and huge!) fan following. What is it like being a part of that franchise?

It’s been amazing and overwhelming to be part of Trek, especially since it was my first job. We all knew that our work would be under a huge amount of fan scrutiny. The show, and everyone associated with it, got a lot of press, so I was interviewed by magazines before I’d really accomplished much. I learned to be a little cautious about telling people what I did for a living, because sometimes when someone would hear the word Trek, I’d be stuck talking with them about it (and listening to their story ideas) for the next hour. The toughest thing about writing for “the franchise” was the fact that so many stories had already been told in that universe. It was really difficult to come up with something original. Of course, there were perks. There was a big 30th anniversary celebration, which included a TV special and some real live astronauts who’d been inspired by the original series. Meeting someone who’d actually been in space was pretty damn cool. Trek also brought other opportunities: the Borg Invasion project, obviously, and also the chance to write Batman. One of the editors at DC comics had seen my work on “Voyager” and invited me to write an issue or two. Overall, a fantastic place to start my career.

Since Star Trek is a series that gained popularity long after its initial run, it seems like a great example of how important DVD residuals can be to writers and an appropriate time to move on to a couple of questions about the current strike. Can you talk a bit about why the issues on the table are important to you?

One of the best things about working for Trek is its long, long ancillary life. It’s always running on some station somewhere in the world, and the residuals just keep coming – which has been a godsend during those times I’m not working. Every writer, no matter how talented and successful, will have downtimes. They’re unpredictable and you never know how long they’ll last. Without residuals, it would be extremely difficult to be a full-time writer, especially with the spec work we all have to do to stay in the game. That’s one reason the WGA has been fighting so hard on this issue. The other reason is basic fairness. If the studios are continuing to make money on something I wrote, it seems reasonable for me to get some small share of it. The internet complicates the residuals picture, because the studios are making episodes available to download, and rerunning them on TV less – which, under our old contract, would dramatically decrease our residual payments. Under the contract we’re currently voting on, we’ll also get residuals for downloads and streaming. Whether that equals what we’ve been getting from TV-only reruns remains to be seen.

As a writer who has openly discussed the strike on your blog, have you felt any added responsibility to be careful exactly what you say in that forum and in expressing your views of how things are going?

I haven’t felt too self-conscious about posting about the strike because I genuinely supported it. If I’d disagreed with our leadership, it would have been a stickier moral question, because the last thing I’d want to do is support the AMPTP’s divide and conquer strategy.

Besides the obvious of getting paid to write, is there something that you’ve realized you’ve missed during the strike?

The thing I always miss when I’m not working is the writers’ room. I love the creative energy that comes from a group of talented people attacking a story.

In a recent blog post, you talked about the strike forcing writers to think outside the network/studio box and to catch up with the opportunities on the internet. Do you think this is an arena that writers will continue to explore once the strike is over?

I do think that writers will continue to explore the internet – which was already happening before the strike, but may have been accelerated by it. There was a lot of talk on the picket lines about when we’ll see the first breakout hit show on the ‘net. Sites like AskANinja are plenty successful, but I think we’re still waiting to see if conventional, scripted drama or comedy can come from the web.

Speaking of the strike being over, with the rumors of the end being in sight, will it be easy to fall back into work or will it take a little time to get over the “US vs THEM” mentality? I’m sure it’s easier for me to hope the strikes ends tomorrow than it will be for everyone who has to actually deal with the aftermath of it.

Unfortunately, there’s always an “us vs. them” mentality between writers and studios. That’s partly why the strike happened in the first place. But I suspect we’ll all get back to “business as usual” pretty quickly, because the “bad guys” from the strike – the studio heads and AMPTP – won’t actually have to face any of us. Writers deal with development executives, who really had nothing to do with the contract negotiations, and may not be any more fond of their bosses than we are.

This is a related question and mostly something I’ve been curious about now that things are looking more optimistic. The Strike of ’88 ended near enough to when production would have begun again that it couldn’t have been much different (logistically anyway) than normal procedures for starting a new season. That’s not the case here, though. If the strike ended tomorrow, even with the time it would take for the writers to return to work and break/pound out new episodes, would it even be possible to be back in production quickly enough for us to see any new episodes before next fall?

For TV shows, it would probably take at least six weeks to crank out any new episodes. It’s certainly possible to produce more episodes for this TV season. The question I’ve heard discussed is: should we bother to produce three or four more episodes for this season, which may not be real satisfying for the audience, or just wait until next season? Of course, the schedule has become increasingly flexible as some shows (especially on cable) premiere in January, or over the summer.

Here’s a less complicated question though not necessarily one less complicated to answer, what do you think will be some of the long-term effects of the strike on the industry?

To continue the thought from that last question: I’m hoping this strike may push the networks to become even more flexible in their development, pilot and premiere schedules. Their current system, of hearing pitches in the fall, producing pilots in January and premiering them in the fall, is silly and counterproductive. It forces them to compete for the same talent in pilot season, and against each other’s programming in the fall. As a writer who pitches every fall, in competition with every other writer in television, I’d really prefer a year-round development schedule.

As an avid TV fan, I’ve really hated the absence of my favorite shows due to the strike and the AMPTP’s general lack of respect for people I’ve come to admire over the years. But I think there’s also been some positive side effects as well (for instance, the writer/fan interactions via the internet and on the picket lines). I hope it’s shown the writers that we all really do know where our shows begin and end. What is something positive (for you) that’s come from the strike?

For me, the positive aspect of the strike has been the time spent with other writers, both meeting new people and getting reacquainted with old friends and colleagues. I certainly hope to maintain those relationships. I also hope that the writers as a group can maintain some of the unity and confidence I think we’ve gained from this experience. It’s really easy for writers to feel isolated and marginalized in Hollywood. The strike forced us to overcome that, and I hope it lasts.

One last question, what’s something people would be surprised to learn about your lifestyle in Hollywood and your life as a working writer?

People sometimes ask if I know any movie stars, which I don’t. I don’t spend my evenings at premieres and Hollywood parties. Most of the time, I’d rather stay home and watch TV.

Case #15: Joel Metzger

Joel MetzgerInterview by Juliana Weiss for PinkRayGun.com

Pink Raygun is a parent!

We’ve adopted our first writer through “Adopt a Writer,” a program organized by entertainment bloggers in support of the WGA during the recent strike. Although the strike ended less than a month after the project began, “Adopt a Writer” lives on, and Pink Raygun was lucky enough to be able to adopt Joel Metzger, a writer whose credits include many geek favorites: Andromeda, Sliders, The Pretender, The Outer Limits, Cleopatra 2525, and Earth: Final Conflict.

In this interview, Metzger shares with us Hollywood horror stories, insight into his new podcast series in development, an episode of Xena that could have been, and a hilarious anecdote involving Leonard Nimoy. Intrigued? Read on…

How did you become a TV writer?

I slept my way to the top—only to realize I wasn’t in the entertainment industry at all, I was in the senior healthcare industry, and man, that was a rude awakening. No, I worked as a script coordinator for years on a slew of different television shows. Well, “slew,” I don’t how much a slew is, but maybe a dozen-fifteen shows and pilots and features at just about every major studio and network. Usually for nightmare bosses, but sometimes for nice ones. Then through a friend I got to pitch to The Outer Limits, and I sold the story. That was to Mark Stern, who now runs the sci-fi channel. They shot the episode in Canada, and it starred Ryan Phillippe. Then for the next few years while I was still an assistant, I managed to sell an episode of this show or that, always in the sci-fi vein. Becoming “Sci-Fi” wasn’t by design—once you get credits in a certain genre, then you tend to get pitches and meetings within that genre, and the next thing you know you’re a “sci-fi guy.” I guess that’s better than “QVC guy.”

Why television rather than features?

I came out to Hollywood to write features, but I started working as an assistant on TV shows, so my contacts in TV grew, while my contacts in features remained nil (as they do to this day). I also got more interested in TV as the quality went up over the years. Not across the board, of course, but I’d say the upper echelon of TV shows has better writing than most studio releases. There used to be a great divide between TV and Movies as far as Hollywood’s own caste system/hierarchy, but I think that’s over now. And with the internet coming into its own, I think soon people will just say “content is content.”

At what point in your career did you feel like you had “made it” as a television writer?

You get this rush of accomplishment when you sell your first pitch, shoot your first episode, or get your first staff job… you always feel like “whew, made it! Everything will be easier now!” But of course you never really “make it,” because the business is so unstable and unpredictable. Even popular showrunners can sit out one season and have a hard time breaking back in. So you have to hold on to the little moments of victory as best you can.

Personally, my best little arm-pump moment was when I was on the set for a show called Sliders. They were shooting my episode on the Universal backlot , somewhere off the “town square” area seen in Back to the Future. I’m watching them shoot when here comes the Universal tour tram, which slows down so the tourists can snap pictures—and my mind flashed back to when I was 13-14 years old sitting on that very same Universal tram—just a tourist from the Midwest—and now these people are looking at my film set. That was an incredible moment.

Of course by “very same tram” I mean a similar one, not the exact same tram. I’m sure they rotate out the old trams due to maintenance, wear and tear, etc.

Do you have any horror stories or funny anecdotes you can share about working in the entertainment industry?

The funny anecdotes are the horror stories. I used to work for a screamer that ran an entire girl’s softball league. When I say he “ran” the league I mean he went to the games and foisted off all other duties on me. And I’ve had more than my share of driving the boss to the airport on the shoulder of the 405 because we’re late. I had a boss whose wife habitually locked herself out of the house, making me run across town to let her in. I’ve had bosses throw chairs in frustration over various/typical studio backstabbings. Hey, if you’re Bobby Knight you can throw a chair, but this is just a crappy show, you know?

One time we were doing re-shoots on a pilot, which was very tense because we were over budget and “on the bubble.” And I’m walking around the set and I accidentally step on an audio cable with one foot and just by walking yank the cable out of its plug with my other foot. No one saw this and I was terrified of getting caught because, like I said, over budget and on the bubble. So I only had a second to scan the back of the audio doohicky and pick a place to plug the cable back in. Next day, when the shoot was over, I hear my boss screaming on the phone: “What?! What?! No sound?!”

And I also had a pitch so bad when it was done the guy just looked at me with a face of stone, stood up, put his glasses on, left the room without a word, get in his car, and go home.

What would you say to a young writer about to pitch for the first time?

Have an actor friend, someone who is much more outgoing and better looking than you, go in and pitch in your stead. Barring that, you have to prepare. Do as much research on the company and people you’ll be meeting as possible. What is the company structure, what kinds of projects do they do, what are their needs, who might they know that you know, what school did they attend, etc. Remember, whatever the company does, you love it. If you’re pitching episodes to a show, you have to know that show backwards. Give them the logline right out of the gate, and give them a chance early into each idea for them to stop you and say “we already tried that.” They’re thinking in terms of thumbnails, premises, so you don’t want to waste their time trying to figure if this is an idea they already tried. When they shoot an idea down, just move right into the next one, don’t let it phase you for a second. However, don’t go in there with too much — these guys live in fear of “the binder.” That’s the guy who comes in with a binder and pitches everything he’s ever thought of since the crib. Keep it moving and don’t overwhelm with detail. Have your pitches memorized, but memorize them in a conversational style. You know that one funny story you’ve told a million times at parties? It should roll off the tongue like that. If you’re pitching to a firing squad, keep directing your pitch from one to the other, but try to figure out who the head guy is—let him know in your delivery that you know he’s the head guy. You’ll either be in a conference room or you’ll be in somebody’s office—if it’s somebody’s office you can comment on some knickknack that obviously has some meaning to them or they wouldn’t display it in their office. There’s always the “chitchat” up front—weather, news, who you know that they know… saying something that’s actually funny as you sit down might loosen them up. When the chit-chat is over they’ll shift in their seat and say something like “so what do you have today?” Don’t let the energy dip at that point, the energy has to go up—you’re excited about what you’re bringing in. If you’ve prepared fully, you shouldn’t get lost, but even so, I recommend having cheat notes or even the whole pitch typed out in your hand. Just for a security blanket. They really don’t care if you get lost, it happens all the time. Don’t sit back in a big soft couch and disappear, sit up on the edge and shoot right at them. Different people take pitches in different ways—they might get really somber and take notes, they might do a fake smile and nod at everything you say, they might stare out the window so they can visualize what you’re saying—just keep going, don’t let their body language derail you.

What project are you most proud of and why?

I’m most proud of my pilot, Hothouse Bruiser, which was the top drama chosen out of 500 entries in the Slamdance Teleplay Contest. It was a blind read—no names, no agents, no credits, no inside track—just words on the page. I was very proud when that script rose up the stack to stand out among so many good writers.

What was the most challenging episode to write (from any of the shows on which you’ve worked) and how did you overcome that challenge?

Every show throws out at least one script or outline every season. All the writers attack it from every angle, but for whatever reason, they can’t make it work. The only time that happened to me was on Xena, Warrior Princess, where we tried to do a “Prehistoric” episode. It all started because wardrobe had these leopard-skin bikinis and we were trying to think of a way to get Lucy and Renee into them. So we started talking cavemen and dinosaurs, but of course dinosaurs tend to be expensive, so I said maybe we could do it the old school way from the 50′s where they would shoot extreme close-ups of iguanas in slo-mo and process that behind the actors. We were going to do it fun and cheesy with big hair like an old 50′s B-movie. But draft after draft it got farther away from that, and I really killed myself trying to sculpt it into something before we finally threw in the towel. Lesson was: don’t try to write a script based on two pieces of available wardrobe.

Are there any episode ideas floating around in your head from shows you previously worked on that you really wish you could write? Could you share with our readers?

I’d say it’s pretty rare for TV writers to have “I wish we’d have done that” ideas left over because it’s so difficult to think of anything that hasn’t been done a million times already that if you are lucky enough to get on a show and you pitch a fresh idea, chances are good they’ll do it. That said, there was an episode that I wish we had done on Xena we were trying to think of a “bottle show” (a show with only one or two locations so you can bring it in way under the usual budget) and I pitched a story inside the “Minotaur’s Maze.” Okay, I didn’t have a story per se, but I had the production idea that you could have the set designers build a few twists and turns of a maze, and we could march the characters round and round the same hallways, dressing the walls a little differently, but making it seem like a never-ending maze. You could shoot the whole thing for a fraction of the cost of a normal episode, because it was all on a stage. The idea never flew in the room. I guess I’ll have to add it to the gigantic binder I use to frighten development execs.

Many of your credits are in the sci-fi genre. How have you seen that genre change since you first started writing for television? Do you consider those changes to be positive or negative?

I think genre content on television has become more accepted by the studios since I first started. When I started, most of the sci-fi content was on cable or syndication. Then when Lost hit it big, suddenly the networks wanted on that train, so you saw a glut of Sci-Fi pilots the next year. All those shows died early as I recall.

I also think the content has gotten a little more sophisticated in the last few years. When Xena and Hercules were raking in the syndicated dollars, they spawned a lot of copy cats that were really lacking in value. I think everyone takes genre content a little more seriously now, from an executive salability viewpoint and from a quality of product viewpoint.

How do you think the industry will be altered by the strike? How will the new pilot development system affect writers? The quality of television?

Did you know “Broadcasting” was originally an agricultural term? The “casting” of seeds over a wide area. There’s a manure joke in there somewhere but it’s not forthcoming. In any event, I think the Networks are talking quite a bit about belt-tightening, and we may see some in the short term—but the strike itself won’t change the development cycle as much as the changing economics that helped cause the strike in the first place. The thing is, the TV development system is highly wasteful, with lots of product being written and shot that never sees the air. Guess what, all that waste is exactly what keeps all the agents, executives, and muffin basket delivery people employed in this town. We all live off of the “waste” (when we’re lucky enough to find employment). Lots of major industries have this kind of model—i.e. bigpharma and aerospace—funding projects that never see fruition.

As far as the quality of television, I think there will always be a handful of great shows floating in a sea of crap. That’s my own subjectivity, but I think just very hard to do good show and very hard for it to find an audience to sustain it.

Have you had the opportunity to work with a writer, actor, director or other artist that you particularly admired or were a fan of from afar? Can you share your “fanboy” experience with us?

My inner geek came out when I was an assistant on this short-lived show called Deadly Games. My first day on the job, I had to bring lunch in to Leonard Nimoy, who was one of the producers. He invited me to sit down and suddenly it was just me and Spock eating Chinese food out of cartons. That was cool. Later in the season I was hunched over my computer and he walked up behind me to see how the work was coming and he put a hand on my shoulder. I thought it would be funny if I keeled over as if from a Vulcan nerve pinch, and I almost cracked my head on my desk.

What can you tell us about the audio podcast series that you are developing?

I’m very excited about this. I’m taking the aforementioned “Hothouse Bruiser” pilot script, and I’m expanding it into a ten-part audio podcast. That’s right, audio: you’ll have to use your imagination, which, turns out, is kinda fun. And somewhat cheaper than financing a TV show out of your own pocket. It will be ten half-hour episodes, each with a cliff-hanger into the next episode. I’m going to put the whole season up at once on RSS and iTunes. You can listen in the car, the bus, on the treadmill, in the back of Social Studies, whatever. It’s been a real challenge writing for an audio-only medium, but I’ve found it fascinating. It can be a very powerful medium with a lot of freedom. Is it in the budget to have a dozen elephants trapped on the top of a burning skyscraper? Sure, no problem, it’s audio. I love listening to podcasts but I haven’t come across a lot of story content—I want to fill that vacuum with really suspenseful, sexy, surprising, edgy stuff.

Who would win in a fight?
A) Xena
B) Buffy
C) Draw

Xena would probably win, but Buffy would have more and funnier sarcastic comments between kicks and punches.

 For more interviews with the women (and men) who make genre film and television awesome: writers, costume designers, hair and make-up artists, and special effects crew, go to Pinkraygun.com.

Case #14: Peter Murrieta

Interview by Travis for The CineManiac (conducted in February 2008)

Peter Murrieta on strike (far right)Peter Murrieta’s writing career began in college when a professor recognized his gift for humor and introduced him to a Comedy Corner, a sketch comedy group. After writing and performing with them he made the big move to Chicago to try to join the famed Second City improv group. After taking some classes he found himself as part of the touring company where he understudied Stephen Colbert (which Murrieta says was “a real fun time” and that Colbert is a “real smart writer, and someone I really enjoyed talking with”). During his five years in Chicago, Murrieta met his wife and his manager.

Eventually Murrieta moved to LA where he found himself as part of the set decorating crew on The Mask before being selected as a Walt Disney Writer’s Fellow, which was his first job writing in the industry. After that Murrieta worked on NBC’s Hacienda Heights, Common Law, Between Brothers, Ask Harriet, Jesse, and Three Sisters before creating his first show, Greeting From Tucson, which lasted one season on The WB. He then moved onto All About the Andersons and Hope & Faith before landing his current job on Wizards of Waverly Place.

I met with Murrieta virtually, thanks to the magic of e-mail, to ask him about writing, the strike, and what he does during his free time.

What made you want to be a writer, and did you always want to write specifically for TV?

I think three things made me want to be a writer–the show MASH, watching my dad and mom watching The Dean Martin show when I was a small child and seeing them laugh, and having people tell me I was funny. And yes, I always wanted to write for TV. TV is where writers get to create characters that you live with for year after year, and the idea of that has always appealed to me more than movies, where it’s a two hour drop in on someone’s life and then it’s done.

You’ve worked on several series that only lasted a few episodes, has that been difficult?

Not really. Or I suppose I would say it’s not MORE difficult. The only hard part is that you spent the time getting to know a set of characters and then they’re gone, forever.

You created Greetings From Tucson for The WB. What was it like having something you created on the air and was it difficult when it wasn’t picked up for a second season?

It was one of the most amazing experiences of my career. The show was about my life growing up in Tucson, so it was very personal, very close. Being what the WB was, I considered it a success because we got a back order of 9 episodes. Most of the comedies at that point weren’t getting that, even. And of course being canceled is never good. But two things made it bearable. The day I got the call was May, 9 2003 — the day my second son, Daniel, was born. And with perspective, I’ve got 22 shows that are all stories about my life that people got to see, and I’ll get to share with my sons when they’re older. I’m also very proud to have been one of the first Latino shows on the air. And a true ensemble show, as well. My God, it sounds like I’m campaigning for the DVD to be put out or something, doesn’t it?

Now your working on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place. What’s it been like working for a kids show and how different is the atmosphere in the writers room versus a typical comedy?

First time on a kid’s show, and it’s been a lot of fun. Most of the writers are all people I have worked with in the prime time world–and the honest truth is, the atmosphere isn’t that different. You want to tell a great story and you want to not talk down to your audience. Those things never change.

How has the strike affected you and your family personally?

The strike has affected me immeasurably. In both good and bad ways, I suppose. I get to see my two sons and wife a lot more, now that I’m not writing and producing a show full time. But, it’s balanced with a constant gnawing feeling that you don’t know when it’ll ever be over. Financially, of course, I’m hurting like almost every writer is.

Since the end of the summer, I’ve gone from being an executive producer of Wizards of Waverly Place, to Contract Captain, to Strike Captain, to “Showrunner 180 of 200” that walked off his/her show, to some jackass who’s just tired and wants it to be over, no matter what. Then I volunteered to serve on a Guild committee, only to find out it was the Strike Rules Compliance Committee. That’s the committee that goes after scab writing. And my feet hurt. Because I walk. Every day. Four hours a day at the start and now three. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure there’s been emotional roller coasters unlike any I’ve been through.

I’m leaving out the pit in my stomach that makes it feel like I’ve been at the beginning of a panic attack for eleven weeks, without the physical release of actually having the panic attack and putting my fist through some dry wall, while my wife or whoever’s near me looks for some wood I can bite on so I don’t chew off my tongue. But who doesn’t feel like that, right?

What hobbies do you enjoy outside of writing?

I coach baseball. My oldest, Joaquin, is a two time all star switch hitting catcher for his little league team. I’m kind of bragging, but there you go. I have a couple of old cars I work on, my fav is a 1964 Lincoln Continental. And I own, with my wife, Aliza, a Comedy Improv Theater in Hollywood, “Bang Comedy Theater”. You can find us at bangstudio.com.

And finally, what are some of your favorite television shows?

Battlestar, Lost, Heroes, The Wire, old Rockford Files, MASH, Bilko, Sanford & Son, Taxi, Family Ties, Buffy, 30 Rock, The Office

I’d like to thank Peter Murrieta for his time and wish him and all the other writers good luck as they return to their jobs in the next week or two as the strike has thankfully come to an end.

Adopt a Writer Update

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The organizers of Adopt A Writer would like to thank all the writers who allowed us to interview them for this project. We truly enjoyed getting to know them and telling their stories and while we would love to continue to “adopt” writers, after much consideration we have decided to let this site die a natural a death.

The strike is over and so is this project.

But before we sign off for good, we have a few more interviews to post. They were conducted when the strike was still going on or just ending and we hope that you enjoy them. We apologize to the writers and the bloggers who interviewed them for our tardiness in posting them. Sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging.

The strike might have ended, but we haven’t stopped supporting the writers. The participating bloggers made a lot of great connections during this project and we hope to continue the spirit of this site by posting interviews with lesser known TV writers whenever we can. We hope all the new readers we’ve met here will come over to our individual blogs to read them.

Thanks again to everyone who made this project a success: writers, bloggers, and readers alike. We’ll miss it.

Case #13: David Leaf

Interview by Jo for Jopinionated

As someone who loves and works with music, I was tremendously honored and excited to be given the opportunity to interview David Leaf. As I prepared to speak with this amazing music historian and writer, I popped in my Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE CD and re-read David’s eight page liner note introduction.

David LeafDavid Leaf is the king of pop culture and music retrospectives. He is one of the Peabody Award-winning writers of the 9/11 telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes, for which he also received an Emmy nomination, and he won a Writers Guild award in 2003 for The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of Performing Arts. In addition, David is a documentary filmmaker: he wrote, directed, and produced the Grammy-nominated Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMiLE, and co-wrote, co-directed, and produced The U.S. vs. John Lennon.

David has been called “Brian Wilson’s biographer,” and he’s authored the books The Beach Boys and the California Myth and Bee Gees: The Authorized Biography. He also received a Grammy nomination for “Best Historical Recording” for writing the books that accompanied The Pet Sound Sessions 4-CD boxed set, which he also produced.

In addition to the WGAW, David Leaf is a member of the Authors Guild, The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, ASCAP, The Society of Professional Journalists and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He even gets to vote annually for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

At what point in your life did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

I always told stories. I just didn’t start writing them down until I was about 13. I’m lucky in that I believe I was born with a certain ability to glibly synthesize information and tell a story. What my high school history teacher used to call “BS.” In junior high, I was writing about sports for the school paper and was even sports editor of the Latin newspaper. In school, I was a class clown. Or at least I thought I was funny.

How were you first introduced to Brian Wilson, in what was to become a lifelong friendship?

For my college newspaper, I had written an article about Brian. That was inspired by reading about his roller coaster of a life in Rolling Stone. At that time, I was inspired by the work of Edward R. Murrow, and thought I could be a crusading journalist. So I decided that I wanted to write a book and tell the real story of Brian Wilson’s life.

I met him just after moving to California. I was shooting baskets with a friend at a local YMCA in 1976. Brian walked onto the court with his cousin, who asked us if we wanted to play 2-on-2 with him. What really makes this story even more unbelievable is that his cousin was an NBA player. Anyway, a few years later, when I wrote and published my biography of him, we weren’t friends at that point. Thanks to some friends of his, who wanted me to have a better understanding of what he was really like, I’d gotten the chance to spend a little time around him while I was writing the book. Through the 1980s, I continued to see him around town. Ironically, given what inspired your “adoption” of me, it was during the WGA strike in 1988 that I got a job at Warner Brothers Records that put me into regular contact with Brian. So it was around then that we began to develop a friendship.

Are there any writers who have had an influence on your careers? Who are your mentors in this industry?

For sports writing (which is how I started), Larry Merchant. For journalism, Pete Hamill. Both wrote for the New York Post, which had an amazing, diverse collection of columnists when I was a kid. As for authors – Kurt Vonnegut. To me, his world view was essential, letting me know it was okay to see things differently than conventional wisdom would suggest. And of course, I’m the cliché: J.D. Salinger. In fact, the first chapter of The Beach Boys and the California Myth opens with a quote from The Catcher in the Rye.

I guess if I had a mentor, although he would have laughed at the idea, you could say my comedy writing mentor was Greg Fields. Working with him was like getting a Masters in comedy writing. He was extremely influential for me, teaching me how to spend every minute in the office making comedy out of life, teaching me that nothing was off limits when it came to comedy. He knew how to make everything funny without being mean. I think he was an extraordinarily talented comedy writer.

How long have you been a member of the Writers Guild of America?

For just over twenty years now. I wrote my first spec features and spec sitcoms in the early/mid-1980s. Then, I earned my WGA membership in 1987 writing a Beach Boys anniversary special for ABC television. A year after that, I got hired as a staff writer on The New Leave it to Beaver.

How has the Writers Strike affected your current development deals and projects?

Being on strike and picket line felt like being inside a TiVO and waiting for someone to hit play. Everything was in suspended animation. It was a frustrating yet unavoidable situation for everybody. I had spent most of last year writing, developing and pitching, and I guess the way it affected my current deals was to bring everything to grinding halt. Now we all hope to reignite the momentum that our projects had.

What level of involvement with the Writers Strike have you had? Have you been out on the picket lines? How often are you able to participate? Can you describe that experience?

I was on strike in 1988, but it was different back then in terms of organization and membership involvement; we only picketed sporadically. This time, it was very well organized. I was on a specific team with a specific assignment, 4 days a week for four hours a day. From my point of view, it was very important to be on the line every day. And from the team I was on, there were about a half dozen regulars who walked together and became friends. It was like being in a writers’ room, without any deadlines or scripts to write. It was a very good support system during what were tough times for everyone.

Unless you’re on staff on a show, you probably don’t spend that much time with writers. Being on the picket line provided the opportunity to reconnect with other people trying to do same things you were; writing, selling, pitching, developing, etc. We had some great days out there and were lucky with the terrific weather in California. We’d tell each other stories, talk about the business and the creative part of writing. It was a positive part of the strike – the sense of being in it together.

Another positive thing was that we were able to walk and talk with some of our own writing heroes; major screenwriters, legendary TV writers like Allan Burns (Mary Tyler Moore), Jay Tarses (The Bob Newhart Show), Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers and Frasier) and writers from The Simpsons. It was a community of writers and ideas. Unlike the strike in 1988, we felt like we were working together in battle. We were on strike; that’s where we should have been, out on the picket lines. We didn’t start the fight or pick it, but once we were in it… we were in it for the duration.

How did you become involved with FremantleMedia, the company responsible for shows like American Idol?

Can you reveal any details about your future plans with them?
I was approached a few years ago to work on a multi-part History of Rock and Roll project. We’re still developing it and hope to get it made sometime soon. They contacted me after Beautiful Dreamer appeared on the BBC, and I was flattered to be considered by them for such a prestigious project. And there’s a production from my company that’s “in the works” that they’ll be distributing.

Your long list of credits as a writer/producer of music specials for television is very impressive, from benefit and live concerts to pop culture icon profiles. You’ve covered artists and performers as varied as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Christopher Reeve, Billy Joel, the Marx Brothers, the Bee Gees, Jonathan Winters and Nat King Cole. Do you approach an opportunity to write for and about these particular individuals as an admirer, as a writer, or both?

For me, the idea usually starts in the same place—what is it about these artists that I love and think is important for others to know about? I then figure out how to tell their story using their work to speak for themselves, which is essential when the artist is no longer with us. I don’t ignore sensational aspects of an artist’s life, but my focus is more on the artist and how they created their art. Naturally, their private life will come into the story as it affects their work, but it won’t come into the story unless it’s relevant. In some senses, I’m a fan and proselytizer, but more than anything else, I consider myself a storyteller. I ask myself, what is the most important story I can tell about that particular artist, a story that you as a viewer need to know.

Watching these retrospectives, if you are a fan, you might get a deeper understanding and love for the artist. If you’re not a fan, you might become one. Or at least come to respect the artist. The goal is to experience their art and at the same time, enhance your appreciation of their work. I want to keep the focus on where the art came from, but also get the artists to reveal something about themselves. Most of all, I make the show I would want to watch.

Besides specials and awards show, your career as a primetime television writer for series has been sporadic; a staff writer on The New Leave It to Beaver from 1988-1999 and Party of Five and Beverly Hills 90210 retrospectives. Were sitcoms and primetime dramas just not your cup of tea?

Not at all. I’ve always been a big TV addict, I love sitcoms and one-hour dramas. I started as staff writer on The New Leave it To Beaver in mid-February of 1988, but within three weeks the industry went on strike. When the strike was over, I did one full season of that show. That was just about my favorite job of all time, being on staff on a sitcom. I would love to do it again in the future. You’re paid to reveal your “inner smartass.” There is nothing more fun that trying to make people laugh all day long.

Now that the Writers Strike appears is over, do you look forward to a normal life of writing and producing again? Is there a specific project that you’ve been itching to return to?

I don’t know if there is any such thing as normal life for a writer. The last four months, however, have been very abnormal. During this strike, I shut down for the first time in a very long time. The only writing I did was e-mail. But the reality is that in the blink of an eye, many of us went from “striking writer” to “unemployed writer.” It’s very strange. But we are all pretty excited that we can get back to it. We’re all going to have to readjust, but we are all anxious to put this behind us and get back to where we were before the strike started.

There are two projects in particular that I want to reignite ASAP. One is a feature spec, the first draft of which I finished just before the strike started. I can’t wait to take that out into the marketplace. I’m really proud of it. I think writers often feel that ‘this is the best work I’ve ever done.’ But this is a script that really ties together everything I want to do as a writer, and hopefully someone out there will see that and also see the movie I see. The other is a feature spec pitch that I sold. I am looking forward to my agent completing the deal so I can start outlining and writing it.

But I’ve learned not to predict what’s next in my writing career, because I certainly didn’t plan my career to go the way it went. I didn’t plan to become a director and yet I became one. I didn’t set out to make retrospectives, but I’ve done a lot of them. I didn’t plan to spend lots of time developing and pitching as a producer, but that is what I’ve done. I came to L.A. to write sitcoms and write movies. Last year, with the developing, pitching, and writing I did, I was back in touch with “pure” writing. Even the picketing had that effect. I feel much more like a writer today than I did a year ago.

Thank you so much to David for participating in this interview, and for sharing some of his incredible experiences with us! To read additional questions and answers, head over to Jopinionated.

Case #12: Chip Proser

Interview by Paul for The Media Pundit

Rather than writing an introduction to this interview, I figured I would quote Mr. Proser directly — in order to give you sense of who he is, and what he considers important in his career — to give some context to the later questions and answers, if you will.

Chip Proser in action.Chip Proser: Upon arriving in Hollywood, I got a call that my great friend Horace Greeley McNab, “The Man With the World’s Most Beautiful Feet,” and the advance man for Chorus Line, had gone on his bi-annual bender and was missing in action in San Francisco. The girl he had hired to be his assistant was panicked because the show opened in three days and Horace was nowhere to be seen. Some days later he was seen in his underwear in the vicinity of the Jack Tar hotel with a snootfull of bourbon. Needless to say, two crazy people, thrown together by circumstance in such a romantic city… I bonded, if that is the word, with the girl, who, as luck would have it, was the babysitter of the wife of the Story Editor of Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios.

Coppola bought Interface for his short-lived Hollywood Studio. Lucy Fisher said “This is the most brilliant, absolutely perfect script I ever read. Now for the first rewrite…” Thereupon I lost interest in whatever it was she said next. Coppola needed fast cash to buy the neon for the Vegas set in One From the Heart and sold Interface to Paramount for ONE MILLION DOLLARS. He didn’t even leave me a tip.

Paramount bought it, then read it. They then promised never to make it, sell it, let anyone else make it or let me reacquire it. It was POV. You never see the main character. At present it’s been at Paramount for 28 years. AFI magazine called it “One of the Ten Best Films Never Made.”

I then became a hot writer and was offered virtually every re-write in Hollywood, most of which I turned down. I felt that I was a director/cameraman tragically trapped in the body of a screenwriter, but didn’t have the cash for the operation. The first three pictures I wrote and a TV pilot all got made, albeit apparently directed by baboons. I developed an attitude. I felt that if I created something, that somehow I was at least as capable of shooting it as the next guy. Call me crazy! You may have to get in line to do that. Actually Top Gun wasn’t that bad…

I told people I wasn’t really a screenwriter, and thankfully, after 17 years they believed me. I then created the documentary series Sworn to Secrecy (titled Secrets of War in foreign territories) which I also produced, directed and shot. Presently, I’m rather concerned about the future of humanity, being closer and closer to leaving it, so I’m making documentaries and new media projects on climate change, global warming, the energy crisis, and colonizing the Moon to mitigate such.

Paul: Would you like to explain which of writing, directing, etc, you consider your main interest, and between feature films, television, and other things, you like the most? I don’t want to just make the assumption that it’s writing.

Chip: Oh, yes, feature films take forever and there’s just too much time to screw around with them, and they cost so much they want them rewritten over and over until you can’t even remember what you wrote before. Television is better, because you’ve got to finish the damn thing and get it out. News is best because there’s no time to think at all.

I like documentaries because you can lose yourself in the material and because they can’t tell me I can’t direct them cause I just whack ‘em with the Emmys. I think writing without being able to finish what you started is just dry humping and I gave that up in high school. I really don’t know how real screenwriters do that.

Paul: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve worked on for writing, directing, and/or producing over the years?

Chip: I really enjoyed the doc series Sworn to Secrecy (Secrets of War) because I got to wander all over Europe and the Middle East to the weirdest places like Penemunde, secret underground war rooms, and Bletchley Park and because there was a great story of the deception war which had never been told on television. I didn’t have to create fiction. It was more interesting to do the research, meet the historic figures and try to put all the secrets into an exciting and coherent story. Best of all, I got to make the shows with no interference, or even script conferences from either The History Channel or Pearson/(Fremantle) so that was a real plus.

What I find really interesting now is the next hundred years where I believe we are in a race to get off the planet before our ever increasing numbers destroy the ability of the earth to support us. We’ve just lived through years of complete venal stupidity, with billions of people in thrall to greed and medieval religious fantasies. But I’ve been able to spend the time with space scientists, brilliant engineers and visionaries. I think the average person doesn’t really grasp how possible colonies on the moon, the asteroids and other planets are. With the new cameras and editing software I was able to write and produce a feature documentary on this and I’m working on a sequel. Of course I could always use an investor…

Paul: I see that you attended the American Film Institute in 1993 for what I understand to be producing related courses. What did you learn there that has helped you since then?

Chip: At the AFI I studied computer graphics with Harry Mott and got a jump on what was happening with the Internet. I used that to get into 3D animation which I use to illustrate my documentaries. I’m not all that good at it since I can’t draw but since the software is 3D it’s more like being a lighting cameraman, in that you place objects in a scene, light them and move the camera. With this software I’m able to waste months of time in order to avoid writing. It’s a screenwriter’s wet dream.

Paul: Based on what you’ve learned working with software such as this, and how you’ve used it yourself, do you see this becoming more common in the future? Is this a stepping stone for writer-owned content to make its way into the real world on a larger scale at a faster pace?

Chip: Actually, I’ve been a proponent of this since before CGI, when they were trying to develop a means to sync live foreground and background cameras. Obviously building and tearing down huge sets is much more expensive than creating them in a computer. A number of people are doing this since it makes so much sense, especially for Sci-fi, where you can’t shoot practical locations. For a project I’m doing, Tranquility Dome, which is set on the Moon, I’m going a step further in using Poser figures as actors. This also eliminates the need for a live stage, costumes, hair and makeup, etc.

Craft-service is my refrigerator. Actually, in a continuing production, you would still need all the crafts, but instead of a costumer dealing in fabrics and laundry, they’d be dealing with pixels. You’d still have your art but without the need and expense of physical production. I think this is a positive step for all the creative fields, as it is more efficient, less costly, and therefore more in the control of the artists rather than the financiers.

Paul: Would you recommend people get their feet wet working in news before moving into other areas of writing to gain experience and perspective, or is more just a benefit in the right situations?

Chip: I’d recommend some kind of life-experience so that maybe we can get away from stuff like when the hero cuts down everybody with a .45 pistol from a thousand yards, while all the henchmen in the world can’t hit anything with ten thousand shots from their assault rifles. And I think it’s very valuable to have to do things on impossible deadlines. I’m a big fan of adrenalin.

Paul: I recognize many of the films you’ve worked on before, such as Top Gun, Biosphere, Innerspace, amongst others. They seem like a pretty eclectic bunch. Are there any types of stories that you gravitate towards, and how did you come to work on those three films?

Chip: My first script, Interface, basically predicted what the Internet would be. This was in 1980. The Internet or ARPANET was developed in part by MIT and Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Boston. Leo Beranek was one of the owners of WCVB so I don’t know if somehow I got the idea by osmosis. Anyway, naturally, I was then offered all the sci-fi jobs in Hollywood. The first one I did was Iceman. The script was actually a lot more like E.T. than the movie you (didn’t) see. They apparently then decided the Iceman should be scary. But how much of a threat can a guy be who doesn’t know what a doorknob is?

Innerspace was basically a rip off of Fantastic Voyage. My idea was that the big guy was up and moving around and could react to what was going on inside. That’s about all I remember. I never actually have been able to sit through it all at once. They don’t pay me to watch this crap. Like H.L. Hughgly, I wear a mask to cash the check.

Top Gun, they brought me in because neither the Navy nor the Studio would make the script they had. The Navy wouldn’t approve because the planes were flying all wrong. The first writers didn’t understand what going ballistic meant. (It means your airfoils aren’t working and you are acting like a bullet.) The dialogue sucked. Naval Aviators are mostly brilliant type A characters, (not that I’d vote for one for President). They had to have someone they could relate to on their level. Why was I asked to do this job? Because I was hot at the time, I did sci-fi and high concept and I knew aviation from a lot of the stories I shot in Boston and from flying gliders. Also I’m a U.S. Naval Intelligence Section 8 official government certified mental defective. That helped.

Paul: Which script that you’ve worked on, either original or rewrite, are you the most proud of (produced or otherwise)?

Chip: “The Ultra Enigma” was the pilot for the series, Sworn to Secrecy. It’s the story of the Enigma Machine, the secret coding device the Germans thought unbreakable, which was, in fact broken by Polish and other Allied mathematicians including Alan Turing who invented the first computer to break the Enigma. It’s all about codes and deception and the official secrets which weren’t disclosed until 1973. In doing the research we found many heretofore unknown and unsung heroes including Hans Thilo Schmidt, a German who changed the course of the war and was executed by the Gestapo. I found the story absolutely fascinating and difficult to tell. It’s the basis of the secret history of the war and it’s interesting that all the Allied governments lied in all the official histories for nearly thirty years. Sound familiar? Also David Kahn, the code and cypher expert said it was the best doc on the subject he’d seen, so that’s like a geek Emmy.

I also like Gaia Selene – Saving the Earth by Colonizing the Moon because I think the subject is so important.

Paul: What kind of fight is it to get things like this made and on the air?

Chip: Actually, it’s easy for you to see it. Just go to my webpage MoonColony.tv or Amazon DVD’s or Unbox, or, in a few weeks Jaman.com. It was pretty easy to make. I just had one too many pitch meetings, got fed up, threw my equipment in the car and took off across America. And I can tell you one thing for sure. If you’re ever on Route 40 and see an Olive Garden, pull over right there and eat. That’s the best you’re gonna get.

I financed the project myself, so the only fight was with the wife. The kids need shoes to go to school… so what? The hardest part was teaching myself Final Cut Pro without reading the book. The fight is to get publicity, so thanks for all your help. Discovery wouldn’t even look at it. Perhaps they’re still pissed they didn’t get Sworn to Secrecy. But I made a deal with Journeyman TV for foreign. I’m really big in Finland and Portugal. It’s a one-off and really doesn’t look like the normal PBS documentary, so its US prospects are probably not so good. I know from that confrontation at Sundance that P.O.V. pays only $30K and wants all the DVD rights, in perpetuity throughout the universe, so that’s not gonna happen. I think I’ll take my chances with downloads, and, of course, word or mouth from astrophysicists.

Paul: I would be remiss if I didn’t also ask if there’s something you aren’t all that fond of. I think most of us have made something we’d rather bury under a stump somewhere and forget about.

Chip: Innerspace. It’s really embarrassing. And the pilot, Micronauts. I was actually on the set watching that train wreck, begging them not to let him have the luma crane on a comedy. Talk about flop sweat. I was drenched. There’s nothing like hearing your lines land with a thud. Reminded me of the gangster talk show. At least this time nobody was packing.

Iceman. I walked out of the screening in the middle. That song in Top Gun which I didn’t put in there. It really creeps me out. And the naked beach scene which I also didn’t do, so screw yourself, Quentin.

It’s really difficult to watch something you’ve created go horribly, horribly wrong. Most of what I write that’s really bad is stuff that I never finish and the good part is that sooner or later you forget you even did it. Until you’re cleaning out the closet and you go “Jesus what was that? What was I thinking? I’m glad nobody ever saw that.” The other thing I learned is that I probably need some more therapy.

Paul: It’s ironic that the studios end up paying for driving their own employees nuts.

Chip: We are not employees but independent contractors. Employees would get parking and healthcare. You wouldn’t constantly tell your employees that everything they just did was all wrong and to do it again, different, and would they mind working for a few extra weeks for free.

Paul: I’ve learned that you’ve been very active during the current writers’ strike, producing video for the Writers Guild of America, United Hollywood blog, and something called Strike TV. Could you tell me a little about these things, and why you think they are important?

Chip: Actually, I told the Guild about a year ago that they needed to get a video unit together and start using the new media for propaganda. So on the day of the strike I walked in and volunteered. It was selfish, of course. Much more fun screaming through traffic and acting like a news crew than marching in a circle with a sign. Most people seem to think that we did a good job getting our video up on the web and countering Counter. Who am I to argue with praise? I think it helped to demonstrate to everyone that there was a new sheriff in town. We actually found a bunch of volunteers in the Guild who could shoot and edit and we put a unit together that could cover daily news while others did videos on their own and posted them. Stuff on the WGA site had to be vetted and approved….They’re soooo serious over there, so stuff that we wanted up quickly we posted to United Hollywood, where there was some plausible deniability. Personally, I like to blame everything on Ian.

Strike TV is an experiment in having professionals do our own shows directly for the Internet. It’s a great learning experience. And I think the sum may be a great bit greater than the parts. I’m personally involved with half a dozen projects and I’m really impressed by how much underused talent there is out there. People are having a great time doing their own stuff with four thousand dollar cameras and two thousand dollar laptops. The great thing about this all is the sense of community not only in the WGA but with SAG and other unions and Guilds. A lot of people will go back to the studio model, but some will keep working in the new media for one big reason, creative control. And ownership of your copyright. The best thing is the migration of professionalism and union coverage to the new distribution channels.

A real eye opener for me was in monitoring our opponents; the established media… When six international conglomerates control virtually all media outlets, they control information, culture and thought. If you’re not careful, they could, for instance, sell you a war. They can keep you dazzled with celebrity hijinks while, the treasury is looted. Their pundits can distract you while the constitution is destroyed. All of these corporations use the public airways for which they pay nothing, zero. They’ve had their broadcast licenses since the dawn of television and reform from the top is problematic and unlikely. So, the migration of professional creatives to the Internet may be even more important than we now realize.

I’ve personally been shooting practically every day for three and a half months and frankly it’s been great to get out of the house. I had been starting to dress up the cats in children’s clothes.

Paul: Are they really that stiff to work with?

Chip: No. The Guild was totally right in vetting all video. They were in the middle of a strike and would be held responsible for anything on the site. They were also, as it turned out, all far too busy to screen video. That’s why United Hollywood became so important. There were things like David Tuohy’s brilliant vampire send-up of Nick Counter, which was great viral propaganda, but which would have been totally inappropriate to be posted to the official WGA site.

Paul: How do you think the AMPTP and WGA handled themselves in the month prior to, and leading up to the expiration of the previous contract?

Chip: The AMPTP forced the strike to try to break the unions and control new media. It’s Disaster Capitalism. I’ve always believed that denying writers fair compensation with all the deception of the net profit participation and other cheats was not about the actual money. The studios could easily afford to pay writers fairly. It’s about control. When writers get rich they don’t want to put up with the conditions of a studio project. They’d write and produce their own stuff. If this new deal is unfair, with the new equipment and distribution channels you will see more people doing that.

I think the leadership did a remarkable job herding writers who are slightly more difficult to herd than cats. I hate to see all this blogging about how we all love to write and would do it for free. That just weakens our position. No. We hate to write. It’s hard and when it comes out bad, really embarrassing.

Paul: Is there something stashed in the back of your mind that you’ve kept simmering on the stove, that one magical and intriguing “thing” that will be the *first* thing you’ll tackle once the strike is over?

Chip: I really love to direct and shoot, so I’m shooting a bunch of pilots for Strike TV, including Don’t Get a Boner, and two of my own, Tranquility Dome, which is all CGI and The Crew which is the recent action from the point of view of the video crew. The finale will be behind the scenes at the Shrine Auditorium, where the switcher failed, the intercoms failed, the camera designations got screwed up so the wrong camera went live, the video guy had a seizure, some people were bouncing on the risers, the fluid heads stuck and the entire audience turned and screamed at us. I haven’t had fun like that since George Wallace tried to get the mob to kill us during School Busing.

I’m also going back to looking for financing for my sequel, Colonizing the Moon in Ten Easy Steps. I can’t wait to find out what those ten steps are.

The Strike has actually affected me deeply. I’ve suddenly made friends with all these other writers, even Ian. You know, if you had to pick a pick a subset of people to hang out with, what could be better than a bunch of writers? So I’d like to get on staff of a series because I’ve heard they also serve lunch.

If you enjoyed reading this interview, a more in-depth version of Paul’s conversation with Chip Proser can be found on The Media Pundit.

Case #11: Bill Kunstler

Interview by Trevor for TVSeriesFinale

Bill KunstlerBill Kunstler has written for many television series over the past 13 years. After working on The Jeff Foxworthy Show, he spent a season on Murphy Brown, the hugely popular TV newsroom sitcom of the 1990s that stars Candice Bergen. From there, he went on to numerous short-lived shows like Inside Schwartz, DAG, Quintuplets, and Oh Baby — working with talented performers like David Allen Grier, Andy Richtor, Delta Burke, Charlie Finn, and Christopher Rich.

Bill recently spent over a year on the FOX sitcom The War at Home which stars Michael Rapaport as an outspoken and prejudiced husband and father of three teens. On first glance, the series might appear to be just a crass FOX sitcom, but the series actually tackled some tough issues in a wonderfully astute and sensitive way. Despite a loyal core audience, the show was cancelled in 2007.

In this interview, Bill talks about working on Murphy Brown, the challenges of working with cancellation-crazy networks, the “lost” episode of The War at Home, the episode in which Larry’s best friend Kenny (Rami Malek) comes out of the closet, the end of the sitcom, and what the third season might have held for the characters.

We also discuss the current writers strike — how it’s affected him personally, why it’s so important, and what he’s doing to help his fellow writers in his work with United Artists.

TV Series Finale PodcastTUNE IN!

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